For all her time in Fuchsia, Leaf has never been to its gym before today, and is surprised how much she regrets that.
She doesn’t tend to have much business in them, of course, which is usually reason enough to not stop by on a week to week basis. But Fuchsia has also been relatively lucky with incidents in the past few hectic months. Most have been on the outskirts of the city, and with the Safari Zone’s high concentration of rangers, most meeting points have defaulted to their outposts.
But she was invited explicitly at least twice: once when Elaine asked if she wanted to see the scenarios that the gang set up here, and second when Blue’s usual emailed ticket offer to his Challenge match (something that might have felt pushy from someone who tried to get her to change her eating or battling habits, but from Blue just felt like him leaving open doors in their friendship). She declined both, despite being more tempted than she’s ever been before.
It’s been bouncing around in her head for months, the thought that being so squeamish about trainer battles made her less able to help others in a crisis, not to mention put her pokemon at higher risk of dying. She still remembers her argument with Aiko about it, an argument that’s tinged with some regret and embarrassment at her own self-righteous confidence.
She’s a good trainer, and knows it. She’s been proud of the way her pokemon can keep up with battle trainers’ during incidents against wilds, and Daisy has even urged her to apply for the next coordinator competition even without formal training as one.
But some part of her expected that, if she somehow ended up in yet another situation like the ones at Mount Moon and the Rocket Casino, if renegade activity was on the rise and she should expect to encounter one again someday, her ability to get through those was a sign that she could make it through others.
And maybe, in a world without Team Rocket, that might have actually been true. But it’s definitely not the one she lives in anymore, and she can’t afford to pretend it is. Viridian, Mount Moon, Vermilion, Celadon, Lavender… all the worst moments of her life, the times she felt the most powerless, none prepared her for what it meant to feel actually powerless as that day in Saffron, when Agent Looker directly told her she’d be a liability in battles against the renegades fighting her friends…
…and she’d known he was right. She had no delusions about her ability to beat someone who trained to battle trainers, and the renegades would be prepared for them. She wouldn’t be able to take them by surprise like she did in Mt. Moon and Celadon, and from what Blue told her about his battles afterward, she would have not just lost, but died.
She spoke with Natural about it, afterward. He was the only one she thought would understand… and he did. He admitted that he was as shaken by Rocket as anyone, and that while he didn’t plan to stop fighting for pokemon rights, he saw his father preparing for a world where renegade’s place in society changed, where they were more organized and active, and he knew he had to do the same.
Leaf suspects that most people will still never end up facing a renegade, the same way most don’t end up directly facing a wild pokemon unless they’re a trainer. Even trainers will more than likely just stay back and let the police handle it if a renegade attacks the city they’re in.
But she knows Red will end up facing them again, and she can’t properly face how scared that makes her… or how sad.
It makes her feel the urge to prepare too, even if she also doesn’t expect to face one herself. Not doing so would feel like… abandoning him to his fate, saying that it’s okay for him to shoulder the burden alone.
She knows by the way he’s back to racing through the badges that Blue feels the same way. Last she spoke to him he said he would be heading to Cinnabar today, before his friends all complete their own Saffron Badge challenge. Her Safari Zone project has come under scrutiny, but she’s not really that involved in it anymore, and it’s her other projects that she has to weigh against how far she should take this new desire.
Still, none of that is the primary reason she regrets not having come to Fuchsia Gym earlier. Right now, as she walks along the paper walls around the courtyard, what’s on her mind is just how pretty the gym’s unique aesthetic is, and how peaceful she finds it.
She takes her time to enjoy the carefully maintained landscaping that’s so different from Celadon’s lush grounds, pausing by each small pond and sand garden, admiring the splashes of greenery that stand out like islands throughout the gym. Now and then she sees a class of trainers attending a lecture, or a pair doing battle over one of the sand arenas, or a small group practicing some scenario that Blue and his gang popularized here, but so far she hasn’t seen anyone she recognized, which is fair given she didn’t tell anyone she was coming.
The invitation by Leader Koga took her by surprise. She couldn’t imagine what led to it until she realized he’s probably as aware of the vigilante running around in his city as anyone, and finally decided to speak with her about her investigations (which she continued, now and then, to make it seem like she still hasn’t been in contact with the informant). When she asked he only said it was a private matter that he’d prefer to speak about in person, so she agreed, and came a little early rather than arrive late.
Leaf eventually comes across a pair of trainers dueling on a sandy arena, and, still feeling the sting of Looker’s comment, pauses to watch the battle. A beedrill stinger clicks against a sandshrew’s shell, who swipes a claw back across its abdomen, only to then be pierced in the chest by the twin needles of its forearms, causing her to wince and look away.
She tries to shift her perspective, looking back and imagining she has Red’s powers to just… rearrange her frame of what’s happening in front of her. It’s a wild battle, they’re getting hurt because it’s the only way they can survive…
“Sandshrew, return! Go, Vulpix!”
She moves on before the inevitable fire attacks start getting used, heart pounding as her mind keeps flashing back to images of pokemon she’s seen being burnt to death.
It’s painful, painful and jittery in some way that makes it hard to hold onto, hard to sit with, and all at once Leaf is angry with herself.
What’s wrong with me? All around her there are trainers doing something for hours at a time that she couldn’t stand for more than a few moments, and it would be tempting to believe this is a choice on her part, some matter of taste or morality, but it would be a lie. She’s not choosing not to engage in trainer battles or watch them, she can’t, not if someone’s life isn’t at stake, no more than she can hold her hand in a fire, and normally she’d say that’s good, that people shouldn’t do something that’s painful for them, but it doesn’t answer why everyone else is able to.
She waits a few minutes for her pulse to slow, watching some goldeen get fed until her body feels mostly back to normal before she wanders close to another arena. A weezing is getting battered around by a kadabra’s mental attacks, and Leaf’s gut churns as she watches its body vibrate with each hit, knowing that the psychic attacks are upsetting its internal chemistry and causing it to feel more pain than the attacks imply. She focuses on how it’s pushing on despite that, tries convincing herself that the pokemon is learning to better fight through pain by experiencing it now, that it will be more ready in the wild… but when the weezing’s whole body undulates with a psychic strike and it falls to the ground like a half deflated balloon, she’s forced to look away again, staying just long enough to ensure that the trainer swaps it out rather than keep fighting before she hurries away.
She had this thought back in Pewter after watching Blue’s first badge challenge, and then just… never thought about it seriously again, not until she spoke with Aiko and noticed that despite also not eating pokemon her friend was able to enjoy trainer battles. That should have confused her more, it felt so clear to her that caring more about pokemon is right that she just wrote off trainers who didn’t mind seeing their pokemon hurt as not caring enough, and for Aiko… she just thought the same, really, that she cared but not as much.
It’s too easy, she knows, to do that with any difference between people. Just decide that caring more would lead to more ethical actions. And maybe it’s even true; if others don’t actually feel this level of pain and discomfort from watching pokemon get hurt, it’s probably accurate to describe that as “caring less” when they get hurt.
But if she lets go of the idea that this is the only reason for the difference… if she admits to herself that it might be a necessary part of the answer, but not a sufficient one…
She can feel it, some part of her wanting to reject the idea out of hand. It’s like a pressure, or a… slipperiness in her mind, a way in which the thoughts don’t chain as smoothly from one to the next.
Red taught her about the “focusing” thing his therapist taught him not long after he learned it, and she tried it a few times herself after. She’s not sure if she’s ever done it quite right, but even the process of paying more attention to how she feels, trying to put it into words, has been helpful for introspecting on things.
She pulls out her phone and sits on a bench in a stone garden, but doesn’t start writing yet. Instead she just watches the way a gardener creates swirling patterns in the sand with rakes, thinking around the slippery part of her mind, deciding on whether that word is actually correct. After a moment she decides it is, but there’s something more. There’s a… pulling, or like… a fear of being pulled, a sort of faint gravity in there somewhere.
She writes a few things out, testing different thoughts and frames before it becomes more clear. There’s a feeling of imminent slippage, of being on the edge of a slope and knowing that an extra step could send her careening down.
Once that’s recognized, finding the right words is easy.
I’m worried that if I’m able to watch battles, it’ll be because I care about pokemon less.
I’m worried that watching battles enough will make me care about pokemon less.
I’m worried that caring about pokemon less would make me…
She trails off there, staring at the screen as her thumbs twitch to start new words a handful of times. What is her care of pokemon, to her? Is she afraid she’ll start mistreating pokemon, even beyond trainer battles? Would start eating them? It didn’t happen to Aiko.
…make me less special.
That resonates more than the other two did, and she tucks her phone away, feeling vaguely embarrassed and guilty. She doesn’t remember what’s supposed to come next; thanking the part of her that she was focusing on? If so, she’s not sure it would feel genuine.
She does like being special. She can admit that there’s a part of her that’s proud of the way, after years of being treated like a weird extremist for her views, her connection with pokemon has turned out to have actual effects on the world, a tangible benefit that others have to pay attention to. It makes more people read her articles, even if some are just looking for a practical advantage. It gives her words some weight.
She doesn’t actually understand why she’s so different, though, and maybe that’s why the feeling of losing something that makes her special feels scary.
But maybe the two things aren’t related at all. Maybe there’s something that causes her to care about pokemon so much that it keeps abra from teleporting away, and maybe it’s different than the part of her that feels incredibly stressed by watching pokemon get hurt.
She just doesn’t have enough information to know, and she wants to know. Maybe it’s the sort of thing she should talk to someone about… a therapist doesn’t sound like the right choice, exactly, but it’s probably not a bad place to start, assuming she finds one that understands her values and doesn’t just assume there’s something wrong with her that she has to “fix.”
One thing that immediately springs to mind is to check whether there are studies of this sort of thing, or online groups for people who struggle with it too. She hasn’t heard anyone talk about it before, but if it’s rare enough, maybe they wouldn’t… particularly if there’s a stigma attached.
She’s in the middle of searching for that when she notices there’s just a couple minutes until her meeting, and hurries toward the Leader’s office, which is situated in one of the miniature houses near the center of the gym. There’s no one to talk to at the doors, not even a secretary, and she cautiously makes her way through a couple inner doors until she reaches a room that looks like it’s at the center. When the door slides opens, the first thing she notices is—
“Blue?” She closes the door behind her, then steps over for an automatic hug as he rises from the cushion on the floor he was seated on. “I thought you were on your way to Cinnabar!”
“I am on my way to Cinnabar. Got an invitation to stop by along the way.” He looks at Leader Koga, who’s sitting on the other end of the table in the middle of the room. There’s a tea set placed there, with four cups.
“Thank you for coming, Miss Juniper. I hoped to speak with you both without giving an opportunity to discuss this meeting with others, for reasons I hope will become clear soon.” Leaf isn’t sure if it’s meant as an apology, but she takes it for one, and approaches to sit beside Blue at the table. She’s just wondering who the fourth cup is for, and whether Red is coming too, when the back wall’s door slides open and Leaf’s informant steps into the room.
The shock of it dumps adrenaline through Leaf’s body, and she’s on her feet before she even realizes it, blood rushing through her ears. It only takes a moment for her brain to catch up enough to feel ridiculous; she’s hardly less safe meeting here than she is alone on a dark rooftop. But she normally has hours to mentally prepare for those meetings, and something about the masked figure in dark leather feels more obviously… aberrant, and potentially unsafe, when seen so clearly. It would look more comical if it weren’t so real, and instead comes off as more unhinged.
Blue is frowning as he looks between them, clearly tense but also confused, and Leaf realizes that of course he’s never seen her informant before. Koga isn’t reacting at all other than to patiently watch her, and Leaf’s shock starts to fade as it finishes sinking in how unlikely this situation is to be actually dangerous.
“Oh,” Blue says after what feels like a minute but was probably just a few seconds. “You’re her. And…” He looks at Koga. “You know her? Wait… Oh. Oooh…”
The informant sighs, then reaches up to pull down her mask, and Blue curses. It takes Leaf a moment to search her memory before recognition hits, and a mix of indignation, nervousness, and excitement blooms through her stomach. Leaf doesn’t know much about Janine Koga that she hasn’t heard secondhand from conversations between Blue or Elaine and the others who were here, mostly conversations that talked about how to attract more of the gym members she was giving lessons to, and that mostly concerned her general competence and severity (or outright unfriendliness, from Elaine’s perspective, though Lizzie disagreed).
“So,” Leaf says as casually as she can manage. “I guess I know why you’ve mostly stayed in Fuchsia.”
“My father hasn’t helped me at all,” her informant—Janine—says, sounding affronted by the implication. “He found me out, eventually, and told me to stop before he’d be forced to report me. He also told me some stuff that, combined with… recent events… convinced me that my approach has to change.”
A part of Leaf that wants to reach for her notebook marks the way Janine didn’t say when Leader Koga found out, but all she says is, “Rocket.”
“That is not their name,” Koga says, voice quiet but firm. “It is one they are using to connect them to recent events, to mask their long history in an illusion of recency. I am confident that the organization behind it is older than the Rocket Casino, and invited you here because the way they operate from the shadows is one I’m familiar with.”
Leaf takes a moment to absorb this before asking the obvious question. “Why me? Why not the police? Or Interpol, if you don’t trust them?”
“I distrust both. They may already know what I plan to reveal, and are unable to act, which makes them useless at best. If they are complicit, I would be risking much by revealing what I know.” Koga holds her gaze for a moment. “Janine told me how you refused to steal from Silph during the renegade attack. She may have had good intentions, but I disagree with her methods. I would equip you to be an ally of equal footing, such that the goal may be achieved through better means.”
Leaf has noticed how most of the Leaders in this region talk in a certain way, more formal, almost like Unown was a second language to them and they were compensating for it by speaking like a textbook, or like they were giving a lecture. Misty and Surge (obviously) were the least like this, and Giovanni stood out the most compared to Brock or Sabrina, until now. Koga speaks like he’s in some historical drama, though that might just be due to his accent, which is much stronger than most Kantonians; for him she could believe Unown really was his second language, which would mean an unusually old-fashioned upbringing.
All of this distracts her a bit from the substance of what the Leader was saying, which she doesn’t really know how to respond to given she doesn’t know the full extent of what Janine has actually been up to. She’s spared the need by Blue, who’s frowning slightly as he rests his weight on his ankles, hands on his knees.
“And me? If this is the thing you almost told me after my Challenge, what’s changed? I want to take Rocket down as much as anyone, but I’m focusing on becoming a different kind of tool.”
Leaf wonders at that phrasing as Leader Koga pours some tea for them, which she supposes is a polite way to invite her to sit back down. She does so, gaze on Janine, who’s watching Blue in turn.
“As you say, I had some thought to share this with you after your last battle with Janine. Your meta-honesty policy made me less certain you would keep the secret, given your relationship with your friends. But it is exactly because of what you hope to become that I wanted to include you in this conversation.”
Blue picks up his tea, brow raised. “Have you been speaking to Sabrina, by chance?”
“No more than is usual, given our roles.” Koga finishes pouring into his own cup last, and sets the kettle aside. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, not sure if you watched our match—”
“—but I asked her, after, if she let me win. There was a moment where it felt like she could turn the tables if she wanted to, but didn’t.”
“Hm. The Barrier?”
“Right, exactly. She said no, that I’d exhausted her pokemon enough by then. Anyway, she said she was treating the battle as a test of something rather than a normal Challenge, but she did nothing to make it easy.” He stares into his teacup. “I’m not sure how much I believe her, particularly since she made it seem like there was something she was looking forward to, about me being Champion.”
“Meaning she believes you’ll do it,” Janine says, and Leaf can’t quite interpret her tone. Irritated? Skeptical? “You don’t sound happy about it.”
“Oh, I was proud enough at the time. But if you’re basically saying the same thing, well… let’s just say I’m getting a little wary of conspiracies these days. If I’m about to learn some deep dark secret of the League, like that you all choose who’s going to be Champion… well, I won’t say I don’t want to know something like that, but I’ll probably be pretty pissed.”
Leader Koga smiles, and the expression is unexpectedly warm on his stern face. “No, nothing like that. But I admit that I hope, if you do become Champion, that you will reject a conspiracy that does exist among the regional powers.”
“Including the Champion?”
“That, I don’t know. Some previous Champions, almost certainly.”
“What you’re talking about is bigger than us,” Leaf says, hands warmed by her own teacup as steam rises from it, the scent bracing. “Way bigger. I’m not saying I don’t want the information, but I don’t get why, even if you don’t trust the police, Laura at least is not here, let alone Red, who can’t possibly be involved with the people he’s been fighting. Was it because of the differences in his meta-honesty policy?”
“In part, but not entirely. In truth, were it not for his current enmeshment with Interpol, the roots of which I have no knowledge of, I might have included him as well.”
Blue laughs, suddenly, and shakes his head.
“Something funny?” Janine asks.
“Nah. I mean, yeah, sort of. You’re trusting Leaf with a secret despite her not being psychic or dark, you’re trusting me with a secret that I can’t guarantee I’ll keep anymore because of Miracle Eye… but you’re not trusting the one person who is probably best in the world, now, at actually keeping secrets.”
Koga sips his tea, gaze flicking between them. “You trust him so much, even after what he revealed?”
“Yes,” Leaf says, somewhat surprised by the surety in her own voice. It’s not something anyone has explicitly asked her since the news conference, but she could see it in a lot of their eyes, the wonder about how changed her relationship with Red might be now. She was nearly as surprised as anyone by the revelations Red made, but they didn’t really change anything. Their talk on the SS Anne seems so long ago, now, but the idea that Red could perfectly deceive other psychics doesn’t feel scary to her, since she doesn’t think he could perfectly deceive her. It’s always been the other psychics she’s worried about, and that’s all the more true now.
Maybe that’s stupid of her. Naive and childish, to believe that someone who can perfectly mirror others’ mental states and alter his own personality couldn’t conceal things from her if he wanted to, even things that were the result of a mental merge.
A flash of warmth, a rosy glow…
Her cheeks are growing warmer, and she forces herself to push on. “More than ever, actually. He could have kept this to himself indefinitely. I get why people who don’t know him don’t want to trust anyone with the powers he has, but they don’t get how lucky we are that he’s the one that has them. Any other psychics who could do what he can have clearly kept it to themselves, people should be throwing him a gods damned parade.”
Everyone is staring at her, and Leaf realizes she’s raised her voice despite the paper walls. She picks up her teacup and sips it, wondering if she came off too strong… but after a moment Blue nods.
“She’s right. After what he did at Silph, if you trust us but not Red—”
Koga holds up a palm. “As I said, I’ve read both of your meta-honesty declarations, as well as Red’s. The reason I’ve invited you both, but not Red Verres, is that I do not know how to judge his candor and character. But I have judged yours, and Janine agrees. I share my secrets knowing that you will determine for yourselves what information you should or should not pass along, and to whom.”
“Same goes for Laura,” Janine says, looking at Leaf. “I trust her a fair bit, obviously, so I’ll get it if you want to tell her, but I don’t know how biased she’d be toward her son, and if she tells him for the wrong reasons it might get him killed, or it might get a whole lot of others killed.”
Leaf’s pulse quickens again at the idea that they might learn something that dangerous. She can’t seem to stop frowning, maybe because she can’t seem to stop feeling like she’s missing something. “So to be clear… you’re not asking us to agree to anything? You’re just… sharing information with us, and hoping we agree not to tell anyone else?” It sounds too good to be true, especially after all the careful maneuvering her informant has done with her and Laura.
“Correct.” Koga’s gaze is distant. “We are past the point where the secrets can be reliably kept anymore. I realized this as soon as the Miracle Eye was revealed, though it took me some additional time to emotionally accept it. Sooner or later, someone with the secret I’ve been holding my whole life will have their mind read, and the veil will fall.”
“A renegade conspiracy among dark people,” Blue muses, eyes narrowed. “And you want to fight it with a new conspiracy of just us four?” He turns to Janine. “I thought you were investigating Silph. Not you, I mean what I heard about the vigilante. For what it’s worth I agree this is an important thing to distract you from the gym stuff, now that I know, but if you knew about this your whole life—”
“I didn’t. I stumbled onto it recently, though I didn’t realize what exactly I’d found until Father told me.” Janine looks at Leaf. “You were the one that did it, actually, though you also didn’t realize how big it was.”
“Mount Moon?” Leaf’s stomach tightens as Janine nods. “You know for sure, now, who killed Yuuta? Who sent him?”
“It is a long story.” Leader Koga breathes in, sips his tea, then sets it down. “And it began, for me, in my home village…”
Red watches the countryside flow by the window, enjoying the freedom of being out in the world again… even if it’s in an air-conditioned car, going toward a set destination, rather than riding a bike beneath the warm blue sky.
Between his ability to free teleport and how busy he was even before the attack on Silph, he can’t actually remember the last time he was out in the semi-wilderness between towns and cities. Some incident after the ditto emerged, probably, but they’ve begun to blur together in his mind, and visiting Leaf at the ranch is the clearest he can recall.
Agent Looker—now a Special Administrator, technically—sits in silence beside him, gazing at his phone and quietly muttering the occasional voice-to-text responses to things. Red doesn’t see him as much as he expected at the start of all this, but they do usually meet on a daily basis so Red can answer some questions about how things are going… questions that seem as much a matter of checking whether Red is okay with his sudden workload as it is whether he can handle even more training more quickly.
He started training the day after his questioning and press conference, then got to take a day off when it was clear he was still in need of rest. He spent it sleeping for about twelve hours, waking up for a quick brunch, then sleeping for another four and spending his evening with his mom, eating dinner and telling her what he’s been up to and reassuring her that he’s alive and well, and that he’s doing what he thinks is right, even though it’s dangerous.
His second break was a week after that, and by then they’d set up a secure apartment building for the Interpol agents that had been arriving throughout the week. It was sad saying goodbye to his room at Sabrina’s school; he hadn’t expected to be there forever, but he’d been there far longer than he expected. It felt like his second home in many ways, and he wondered if he’d ever return to it.
Red got two days off, the first of which he spent sleeping for ten hours, then lying in bed for two more and checking the internet for the first time since his public announcement. He managed to keep himself from commenting on any of the posts, but only by writing all his thoughts up in a draft post giving his side of things “for later” that he knew he would probably never finish. The rest of his day was spent apologizing to various people he had planned to meet up with or have a call with before the recent events totally upended his life, and then a long session with Dr. Seward that he spent much of crying for reasons he couldn’t really put into words, though she didn’t push him too hard to try in the moment, which he appreciated.
He also got to watch Blue’s battle with Sabrina a week later, admiring the complete unity and sense of control she had with her alakazam and wondering how long it would take for him to get that synchronized with his own pokemon. Afterward it became unclear to him whether asking for the time was necessary; it’s strange to be doing something as structured as his current training regime, and he’s not quite sure how to relate to it yet.
School wasn’t this regimented, nor was interning at the lab, but it’s a strange mix of interesting and uninteresting. So far the majority of what he’s learned have been laws; specifically, a crash course on all the laws concerning the interregional police, what their mandate is (focused on the particulars of Kanto and Johto), as well as policies and protocols for how they interface with regional authorities, rangers, and common citizens.
Most of it would be pretty dry and uninteresting if it wasn’t so immediately relevant to what Red’s going to be expected to act on soon, but it’s all interspersed with the basics of Renegade hunting, and that he’s definitely not getting a short version of. There was some debate over Red attending the standard training until the security risk was brought up, and for now he just cycles through tutors every few days.
Security risk is a phrase that made Red’s stomach twist the first time he heard it in reference to himself, and that hasn’t really stopped. Thinking about all the people who might want to kill him is anxiety inducing enough, but the idea that he’s actually a danger to those around him, not because of anything he might do but just as a result of being who he is, sent him into a depressive spiral for a few days once it really sank in.
His mom didn’t bring it up when they talked, but he knows it’s been on her mind. Not the risk to herself, but the effect it would have on his relationships and dreams. Red would like to believe that dismantling Rocket would change that, but he knows better. No foreign regions have officially commented on him yet, but he knows, and Looker confirmed in the blunt way that he has, that they’re thinking about him, and worrying about him.
“First we figure out how to keep you alive against Rocket,” Looker said. “Then we’ll talk about how to keep you alive against foreign governments. If we handle this right I’ll have a lot of clout to try and work something out.”
Work something out wasn’t the most reassuring thing to hear, but Red appreciated the honesty. He looks over at Looker now, and the Special Administrator glances back, then tucks his phone away with a sigh.
“Fine. A few of my peers have been working in the region for years, some for decades. Given the varying ranks and priorities, developing more robust coordination and cooperation between us all is more difficult than I expected.”
“Don’t you have… uh, ‘full administrative power,’ or whatever it was called in the charter?” Red was given a look at that on his second day, something that he suspects Director Tsunemori pushed for him to have access to now that he has a better sense of the political tensions between them. Still, they seem mostly on the same page, so far as he’s directly observed their interactions.
“Only so far as I can make a reasonable case that it’s relevant in stopping Rocket.” He adjusts his tie, looking suspiciously out the window as if a renegade will ambush them in the middle of the bright day. Or maybe just watching for wild pokemon. “Most of the agents here before were part of their own projects, and most of those are need-to-know, which I don’t even with my new position. But one’s been working with Bill for nearly a decade, and he’s been passing along a bit of help recently.”
“You… don’t seem happy about it?”
“I trust Bill about as much as anyone outside of Interpol,” Looker says, which Red already understands to mean not very much at all. “It would be hypocritical to fault him for his paranoia but he’s the anarchic type, and it’s always hard to predict how much of that bottoms out to being against conspiracies on principle, or just against those by the government.”
“You think, what, that he might be helping Rocket?”
“I think relying on one person who’s accountable to no one to give us information on them is a bigger gamble than I usually like to take. But we don’t have the luxury of turning down his info either, so by accepting it I’m on net willing to bet his information will be more helpful than harmful, particularly if we can cross-verify.”
Red isn’t surprised to learn that Bill has a working relationship with Interpol—given all the stuff he’s been working on, Red would be surprised if he didn’t—and can’t help but wonder if the secret human storage project is part of it. After reflecting back over all the things Bill talked to them about, he thinks it more likely it involves his efforts to keep artificial intelligence from growing past a certain point, but the resources to do that probably extend to things like monitoring for activity by secret organizations.
It’s nice to have all of his partitions down, to be able to remember all the secrets he’s been keeping. It’s a perk of being in a car with a non-psychic as the only person around, their escort ahead and behind far enough that any psychics in them are out of range. He’s been able to keep more of them down than usual given his recent disclosures, but it was sobering to realize how many secrets he still holds for others.
The high concentration of partitions he created in Silph also took some time and effort to work through, relaxing each a little at a time until those few seconds of wildly different and totally nonsensical beliefs were integrated. He wished he had time to talk to Sabrina or Rowan about them, or even see Dr. Zhang, but he also hasn’t been sure what he should say about his capabilities and what made them possible. Something Looker emphasized to him is that they have to be careful not to give the impression that he’s teaching others how he does the things he does; he’s much less of a threat to people if they think he’s unique, strange as that might sometimes seem.
He knows he’ll have to bring some of the partitions back up soon, to allow him to perfectly conceal others’ secrets if he’s asked to merge with anyone at the meeting. But meanwhile, he has one thing that he wants to know without any division between his selves, so he can integrate it as fully as possible first.
“What drives you, so hard, Agent Looker?” he asks after a moment of thought. “What keeps your courage up, when you’re facing danger, or just feel exhausted by a rough week?”
Looker glances at him, as if trying to judge how serious the question is, or maybe worried it’s a sign of Red being at the edge. The silence goes on long enough that Red starts to think he won’t answer, and then:
“I have people counting on me.” The Interpol agent shrugs a shoulder. “That’s all it boils down to, really. When I think of the renegades getting their way, or the world thrown into chaos by some rampaging myths… I think of them. Not going to say who, it doesn’t matter. They’re enough, on their own, to make me know it’s all worth it. That giving up just isn’t an option. And if I can save the world, hey, that’s nice. But the world’s too big for me. I’m just one guy. It’s the few that are close that matter most.” He shrugs again and looks out the window. “We’re all in this together, in the end.”
It’s the least cynical thing he’s heard the Interpol agent ever say, and Red has to wonder how much he might be getting manipulated. Probably at least a little. But all he does is nod, say “Thanks,” and start putting his partitions up…
“Looks like we’re here,” Looker says, and Red snaps out of his random daydream to look through the front windshield.
Giovanni’s mansion has extra security compared to Red’s first visit, police interspersed with his private guards, but looks otherwise the same. Their forward escort has already stepped out of their vehicle to speak with some of the police at the perimeter, and Red sees Rei waiting at the door. She gives a small wave as they step out of the car before leading the way inside.
“The meeting room is this way,” she tells Agent Looker as she gestures down a side hall at the grand staircase. “Leader Giovanni would like to speak with Red alone for a moment before he joins the rest of you.”
“Leader Giovanni will learn to live with disappointment.”
She turns to Red. “He specifically asked that I put the request to you, if need be, since you’re a free citizen who can in fact make your own decisions about who keeps you company when in a safe location.”
“Who are you, exactly?”
“Rei. I work here.” She says this without turning away from Red.
“It’s okay,” Red says to Looker. “She’s an old friend. And I don’t think Giovanni is going to kill or kidnap me, or else we’re all kind of screwed, aren’t we?”
Looker’s gaze seems to be trying to bore a hole through Rei’s skull, but she’s studiously ignoring him, and eventually he turns on his heel and walks away, coat flapping slightly behind him.
“Charming,” Rei says once he’s gone, then leads on toward Giovanni’s office. “Nice to see you again, Red.”
“And you. Been okay?”
“The usual. No new dreams since the Rocket attack, have you heard?”
“I… didn’t, no.” Red wondered what to make of that. Probably a coincidence? It wouldn’t quite make for the longest gap between them just yet. “What have you been up to instead?”
“Trying to learn Miracle Eye, of course. I’ve nearly got it.”
Red musters a smile. “Congratulations.”
“So tell me, did you figure out how to lie to psychics before our experiments, during, or after?”
His smile fades. “After.” He doesn’t feel any guilt, which mildly surprises him. Maybe it’s because she might not actually be bothered. “It was the exeggcute experiment, actually, that did it.”
“Huh. Ironic. And you’re welcome.”
Red snorts, feeling relieved, on reflection, that Rei is being her usual self. If she’s experiencing any public backlash, she apparently doesn’t blame him for it. Which, to be fair, would be pretty hypocritical of her. “Want credit?”
“I’ll pass for now, but maybe once public opinion settles.” They reach Giovanni’s office doors, and she opens the door for him without entering herself. “Take care, Red.”
“You too.” Viridian City’s Leader is sitting behind the same desk as before, though he stands as Red enters, and steps around his desk to offer Red his hand.
“Good to see you again, Mr. Verres.” Giovanni says as Red takes it. “And good to know how right I was about you, last we met.”
Red knows immediately what Giovanni means. The thought of just standing aside… it is not in me. Nor is it, I think, in you.
“Thank you.” He’s not sure if it makes sense, as a response, but he’s not sure what else to say, and casts about for a moment before releasing Giovanni’s hand and asking, “Did it come out okay? With whatever you had in mind, or were doing to set things up… I wish I could have given some warning, but—”
“I understand completely. And yes, sooner than we’d hoped, but far better than we could have expected, given the otherwise unfortunate circumstances.” Giovanni’s smile has faded, though there’s a thread of dry amusement in his words. “I’m optimistic, though. Rocket is a unique threat, but it’s one I have more confidence we can defeat than, say, a new legendary, and in the meantime they’ve created an atmosphere that will let us review how our society treats all sorts of things.”
“Like how we treat renegades?”
“Exactly. And how much cooperation the regions are willing to do together.”
It takes Red a minute to notice, but Giovanni looks… different, than last time they met, and than he’s ever looked in videos. Lighter, somehow, more… excited? No. Hopeful? Free?
“You wanted to speak in private before the meeting?” Red prompts, unsure how long Agent Looker would wait before getting suspicious.
“Just to get a quick sense of how you’re doing without the Special Administrator breathing down your neck. You look well enough.”
“It’s a lot,” Red admits. “But I think I’m handling it okay.” He doesn’t really have a choice but to.
“I’m glad to hear it. Relatedly, I also wanted to make an offer that, if all this is ever too much, if you ever feel unsafe in any way, uncertain of what will happen to you… I know there are some you might reach out to for aid, and I’m offering to be one of them. Particularly if the situation seems hopeless, if you feel your situation is beyond anyone else’s power to solve. Do you understand?”
Red looks up at Leader Giovanni and wonders whether he actually does or not. “It sounds like… you’re telling me you’d be willing or able to do something extreme, if needed, to keep me from being arrested?” Or worse.
“Or even just trapped by some sense of duty or obligation.” Giovanni gives a gentle shrug. “It would not be a mild thing. It could cause scandal and worry for you. But in such a situation that warrants it, it’s a thing that I can offer in friendship, and that I trust you won’t share without good reason.”
“I… thank you, Leader.” Red feels touched, and grateful…
Red has a moment to wonder where the emotion is coming from, and whether it’s coming from his partition. But, well, he has noticed how spending enough time with someone who’s being blunt about their thoughts and perspectives tends to make him able to think like them. Considering the Leader’s offer further, he doesn’t even need to imagine what Looker would say to see his frown in his head.
Whatever allows Giovanni to make an offer like that, Red isn’t sure it’s entirely legal. And putting himself in the Leader’s power like that, even if in an extreme circumstance, would be putting a lot of trust in him not putting Red in a position just as bad as the one he was trying to escape.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” is all he says, and smiles. It’s a genuine smile, for what that’s worth; the offer itself is a sign of support, even if he doesn’t end up taking it.
“Please do. Now, let’s not keep them waiting any longer.”
The meeting room is like the inverse of the rented conference room in Lavender, a circle table instead of a square one, walls of dark wood instead of white, a colorful woven rug instead of gray carpeting. Sabrina is sitting beside Leader Surge and Erika, while Agent Notebook, as well as Director Tsunemori, are at their own side of the table.
Other notable attendees include a holographic Bill, who waves at Red as he walks in, Champion Lance and Elite Bruno, who are watching a tense-looking conversation between Tsunemori and Sabrina, and Ranger General Taira, who’s quietly discussing something with Agent Looker. For each name Red knows, there’s two or three more that he doesn’t, and for a moment he’s unsure which empty seat to head toward while Giovanni makes his way to one of the closest.
It’s the kind of gathering that Red is used to seeing Professor Oak at. But there are no Professors here, and Red feels so out of place that for a moment it’s dizzying. It makes the past few weeks feel more real, suddenly, and the months before that feel more distant.
After a moment he realizes he’s drawing stares, and moves blindly to sit at the nearest empty seat, which puts him next to someone that looks like a high ranking police officer on one side and Agent Notebook on the other. “Good morning,” he says to Red.
“Morning.” Notebook has been one of his teachers, now and then, tutoring him in some of the ways psychics are employed by Interpol, and he finds himself getting along well with the relatively young agent. Notebook is looking around the room, but not at the people. “First time here?”
“Yeah. Didn’t realize Giovanni had such a fancy place.”
“He barely stays here,” Red says. “At least, that’s what my friend Rei says. She works here, says it hosts a lot of meetings and conferences from groups in Viridian looking for a cheap venue. Did I miss anything, uh, important?”
“Nah, they’re just relitigating the ‘who told whom what and when’ thing. Felt kind of pointless without Giovanni in the room, but now that he’s here maybe things will—”
“The League is not meant to keep secrets like this from governance,” Tsunemori says.
“The ‘League’ did not,” Lance says, voice patient, but with a pointed look at Sabrina. “But the dates on the files seem to match.”
“The idea that these reports sat unread for months on end—”
“Seems like an inner departmental issue,” Sabrina says, looking almost bored by the discussion. “I shared what seemed relevant with my contacts, after due consideration for the nature of the disclosure and consultation with a peer.”
“And as one of the peers in question, I’m happy to speak to why I thought my contacts in your department would be sufficient,” Giovanni says. “But while it’s clear our system has some bugs that need fixing, for now the most relevant issue is how we’ll proceed with Operation Rocketfall. My resources have been consolidated, and are ready to be deployed.”
“As are mine,” Bill says. “The raw data is already coming in, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to get automated analysis, and then it’ll be up to you folk to do the final review.”
Director Tsunemori nods. “We’ll be running our own search, and with the Rangers and Interpol’s help that will allow us to split the region up into quadrants—”
“No,” Looker says. “Everyone reviews everything. It’ll take longer, but it’ll be more thorough. Once we’ve identified enough locations for a decapitating strike, we go in after calling for enough support to hit every single one.”
“That could take months,” Giovanni notes. “And we don’t know how close they are to completing their Master Ball.”
“That has a secondary effect, even if they don’t ever complete it,” Lance adds, leaning forward onto his forearms. “The threat of a renegade region with legendary pokemon at hand has resurrected the unown research issue. Many have pointed out, both within our region and outside of it, that renegades would have no such compunctions about developing pokemon generation. Kanto will have to begin our own if others on the island do.”
Giovanni rubs his face. “You know my position on this, I won’t recount it again.”
“And mine,” the Ranger General adds with a frown.
“I cannot change reality,” Lance says, hands folded in front of him. “I’d hoped that Master Balls would serve as sufficient deterrent, but this is where we’re at. If we can crush Rocket quickly, then—”
“No,” Surge says. “A battle like the one you’re envisioning, against massed and organized renegades fighting for survival, has never been seen before. Even in warfare, there are boundaries, limits, tested though they may often be. You are not prepared. Kanto is not prepared.”
“He’s right,” Looker says. “We do this methodically, and we do it right, or we’ll face the consequences for years.”
“And if they attack more of the region meanwhile?” someone Red doesn’t recognize asks. “How many are you willing to sacrifice for a flawless victory?”
“That is exactly what our defensive contingencies will be for,” Tsunemori says, and looks at Red. Heads turn with hers, until Red is the focus of the entire room. “With the proper training, Red Verres will become a Hunter like no other. A garrison stationed in every city and town, and multiple teleportation points for him to use in each, will ensure a swift response to anything they attempt.”
Red’s heart is pounding as he tries to sit tall and straight, to look more reliable than he feels. He wonders if they’re expecting him to say anything, until Lance stirs, golden eyes on his.
“I don’t mean to detract from your achievements, Verres. You did Kanto proud that day, as you have before.” It’s the first time he’s been addressed directly by the Champion, and Red has no idea how to feel about it. “But they’ll be ready for you next time. Will you be ready for them?”
Red instinctively wants to hedge, to qualify, to warn them not to put too much confidence in him. But before he can, a trickle of confidence seems to seep through his mind, relaxing his rigid muscles until he’s more confidently straight in his seat. Flashes of Leaf and Blue, of his mother and the Professor, of Jason and Maria and all the psychics whose fates may be tied to his go through his mind, and with the whole room watching and a warm desire to protect them in his stomach, only one answer seems right:
End of Part II