Red wakes on the morning of the cruise and quickly staggers into the shower so he can wash the grogginess away. They added an extra hour when setting their alarms to make sure that, short of some city-wide catastrophe, they’d have plenty of extra time to make it, but he doesn’t want to get complacent because of that. He dries his hair as quick as he can, noticing that it’s getting shaggy and making a quick memo to cut it when he returns, then gets dressed and heads down to the Trainer House lobby to meet Leaf, constantly checking the time and traffic on the route there to see how much wiggle room they’ll have before boarding starts.
The elevator doors open, and Red is about to step forward when he looks up from his phone and sees Leaf, causing his forward momentum to halt as his heart thuds in surprise. Instead of her normal travel clothes, she’s dressed in an elegant black dress that leaves her tanned arms and knees bare, and her hair falls in a straight and shining curtain to her upper back.
She turns at the sound of the elevator opening, then frowns. “Really, Red?”
Red twitches, eyes guiltily jumping to her face. “I ah… I was…”
“You’re wearing that? We’re going on a swanky cruise! Don’t you have any dress clothes?”
Red blinks. “Dress clothes! Yes! I thought… that I’d change there…” His cheeks are burning as the elevator doors start to close. “Be right back…”
He rushes back to his room, suddenly glad his mom convinced him to pack a few sets of some nicer clothing. After a few months on the road, the thin material of the button-up shirt and khakis makes him feel vulnerable… particularly once he puts his hat on, then takes it off upon realizing that it looks very out of place. Come to think of it, his white and red hiking shoes clash a bit too, but he doesn’t have anything else.
Red quickly tries combing his hair into something neat, but eventually gives up on it once it’s passable and goes back downstairs with some trepidation. Thankfully Leaf smiles when she sees him. “Much better.” Her eyes flick down to his shoes, but she doesn’t comment, and soon they’re heading out onto the street to find their cab.
To distract himself from looking at her, Red takes his phone back out as they ride and starts checking his sites while he can; internet signal on the ship will be spotty, and he’ll hopefully be too busy to want to surf the net anyway.
What immediately catches his eye is a trend of headlines in his science news sub that follow a certain theme:
Study finds link between psychic ability and pokemon size.
New research on “psychic particle” shows link to gender.
Are psychics from certain regions stronger?
“Leaf, have you seen these?”
She leans over to read from his tilted screen. “Huh. They’re all from the same couple of journals, too. You think they’ve been sitting on this stuff for a while?”
“Maybe…?” Red starts reading the abstracts, his frown growing into a scowl. “I recognize these journals… they’re the ones that just churn out publications. One of them tried to get me to buy in after Pewter!”
“That bad, huh?”
He’s too preoccupied to respond to her tone. “Oh come on, look at this one, Psychic powers may be linked with nose size. Nose size! Off of a single correlation found in drowzee!”
“Do they mention that it’s just drowzee in the article?”
He opens the full text and does a search. “Yeah. Barely though. And people are already talking like it extends to woobats and spoinks.”
“Hmm.” Leaf reaches out and pinches his nose. “Sorry Red, looks like you’re not a natural.”
He bats her hand away. “This is serious, Leaf! They’re citing me!”
“What, all of them?” She looks impressed. “Oh, you poor thing, how horrible.” His scowl completely fails to affect her as she gets on her phone and starts tapping on it. “I’m more interested in how they’re all coming out at once.”
Red goes back to flicking from paper to paper, looking at their methodology. Evaluation of component parts… new interpretive technology… uncategorized matter, as shown by Verres experiments…
It doesn’t take long for Red to figure it out; some of the smaller labs must have gotten together and churned through hundreds of captured pokemon data, applying Pallet’s new scanning tech to categorize it legibly, then used some algorithm to search through the massive amounts of data and spit out correlations that would be publishable. Barely.
“I need to talk to someone about this,” Red says. “See if there’s something I can do…”
“No time,” Leaf says, slapping his arm. “We’re here!”
Red glances out the window just as the buildings on either side of the street fall away to reveal the massive, curving city harbor. Traffic picks up as they approach the docks where the SS Anne is waiting, with an intimidating amount of security already set up for early boarders.
Red and Leaf thank their driver, then take their tickets out as they strap their bags on and make their way toward the line. “So what did Bill say?” Leaf asks.
“About what?” Red asks, mind still on the articles.
“Last minute instructions?”
Red blinks. Right, Bill did say he’d send something like that… “I didn’t see anything…” He checks again, then sends Bill a quick message. He probably should have done that earlier, but he got distracted…
There’s no response by the time they reach the front of the line, and their tickets are closely scrutinized once the cruise agent sees the two of them. Red starts to feel nervous as they speak into their phone briefly, and then he and Leaf are taken out of the line while someone calls Bill to confirm that he gave his tickets to them.
“Still no response,” Red says, checking his phone. “What if he’s in some kind of work frenzy? Or asleep?”
“Just be patient. We’ve got time to work whatever confusion there is out.” Leaf seems utterly calm and unconcerned, and he does his best to mimic her, impressed by her confidence or acting ability. Eventually he decides to cheat a little, and mirrors her mental state. Turns out she’s not acting at all, and soon the nervousness in his stomach fades.
Eventually they’re let on and told to enjoy their stay, much to Red’s relief. Once they’re on board, however, it quickly becomes clear that they’ll continue to draw scrutiny for awhile yet; within the first hour they spy a few attendees in their mid to late 20s, but no one near as young as them, and dozens of others far older. They draw a number of looks as they make their way to their cabins.
“Yeah, arriving in my travel clothes might have been a mistake,” Red mutters as he sees all the people wearing fancy suits and dresses.
Leaf smiles. “Maybe they’ll stare less once we put our bags away.”
It’s a good point; both have their fully loaded travel bags with them, while everyone else’s luggage apparently fits in a container ball or two at their belts. Red sees that most attendants have pokeballs too, though none others have six like he and Leaf.
Their rooms are in the same hallway, with another door dividing them. Red wonders who the neighbor between them is, then enters his door and is taken aback by how fancy it is, even after seeing the other cruise attendees. He has a king sized bed, a huge wall monitor, and his own bathroom. Before Red can check out what looks like a whole separate room, the door opens and Leaf pokes her head in. “We have a living room!”
Red blinks, then follows her to see that the door between them actually leads to a shared common space that’s twice as big as his bedroom and just as luxurious. He walks around the couches to inspect a bar stocked with not just alcohol, but a variety of soft drinks and juices. “Think anyone’s going to come and take the booze, now that they know we’re underage?”
“Psh, whatever. We’re old enough to be trainers, we’re old enough to drink.” Leaf inspects one of the bottles, then puts it back. “That said, I’ve never liked the taste.”
“You’ve had wine?” Red asks, impressed.
“Beer, mostly. Grandpa gave me a sip now and then. He seemed to like the faces I’d make.”
“Well, we can always experiment.” Red takes his phone out to snap a picture to Blue, then changes his mind. He doesn’t want to look like he’s bragging. Instead he checks the headlines again.
“Come on, let’s go explore.”
Red follows her out into the common areas, where a number of guests have already settled in to have snacks, play pool, or just sit and chat. The rear deck has an outdoor swimming pool that’s currently unused, and there’s a fitness center that they can see a single person already making use of, lifting weights at one of the machines.
“Must be getting his daily workout in,” Leaf says. “Think they have pokemon training rooms here?”
Red looks around until he spots someone in the staff uniform and approaches him, glancing at his name tag. “Hey, Paul? Quick question, do you guys have rooms for pokemon training?”
The young man blinks. “No, sir. No pokemon battling is allowed onboard. This is a ship.”
“Not for battling, I mean for just training.”
“And… what would training entail?”
“You know, training.” Red makes a careless gesture. “Like… target practice, or…”
He trails off at the expression on Paul’s face. “Sir… this is a ship.”
Red opens his mouth to say that they’re not going to be training a tyranitar or anything, then closes it, recognizing the futility.
“We can run around with them though, right?” Leaf asks, sounding worried. “Just to get some exercise?”
Paul hesitates. “I think it might be better not to, Ma’am. It might upset the other guests.”
“What if I did it early in the morning? Or late at night?”
“I could ask the captain, and leave a message for you with his answer.”
“Please do.” Leaf gives Paul her room number, and watches him head off with a troubled look on her face. “A whole week without being able to take a run with Raff would drive me nuts.”
“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Red says. “If not, we can just move the couches around to set up an obstacle course in our living room.”
Leaf eyes him uncertainly. “Really?”
“Why not? They gave us all that space, we might as well use it.”
She grins. “Come on, let’s go watch cast off.”
Leaf leans against the railing to watch the people boarding the ship, and Red mimics her. He recognizes a few faces here and there from various tech companies, but most are utter strangers to him, probably the high and mighty among the business world.
Eventually the last few walk up the ramp, and the crew starts the process of unmooring the vessel. The ship shifts beneath his feet as it starts to move away from the pier, and Red looks up at Vermilion City to watch as it starts to slowly shrink.
“It looks so big, from this angle,” Leaf says, voice quiet.
“Yeah.” Red managed to see more of the city than Pewter or Cerulean, but there’s still whole districts and neighborhoods he hasn’t set foot in. “It’ll be weird coming back to a city after leaving it, for once. Want to explore a bit more when we get back?”
“It’s a date.”
Red’s cheeks heat at the choice of words, and he wonders whether it was intentional or not. He’s tempted to use his powers to check, and before he can really reconsider or stop himself his mind brushes hers.
Cheerfulness. Excitement. Impatience. Some other stuff. Nothing like what he’s feeling.
Red withdraws and chides himself for breaching her privacy, minor as it had been. He didn’t even get any kind of answer, really… and what kind of answer was he looking for, exactly?
“We’ve got an hour to schmooze before the welcome speech,” Leaf says, breaking him out of his thoughts. “Want to go check out the breakfast buffet?”
“Sure.” A moment’s indecision, then Red offers her his arm. She takes it with a grin, and his pulse kicks up as they walk toward the nearest dining area. Red knows he’s going to miss Blue and Aiko, but right now he’s absurdly happy that the coming week will just be him and Leaf.
The main dining hall is packed for the welcome speech, which is itself fairly uninteresting to Red. Some talk about the history of the Cruise Convention, thanks to all sorts of people and organizations, blah blah. He perks up a bit when the day’s schedule is finally revealed to the participants, eyes scanning the big screen as he quickly jots down everything mentioned. Without any further instructions from Bill, he just has to make do with what he was told before, and take notes on all the tech he sees… and particularly any on storage technology. He wonders if the inventor even remembered that the cruise was today, or that he sent them.
Eventually the host reminds everyone that recordings are strictly prohibited, and then the lights come on and people start to make their way to various exhibitions.
“See you at dinner!” Leaf says as she springs up. “Unless you want to see the artificial meat replication exhibit too?”
Red considers it, then realizes he just wants to spend more time with Leaf and shakes his head. “I think Bill will be more interested in the simulation stuff.”
“Oh yeah, I was going to check that one out during the third time slot.”
Red checks his notes. “I think I’m going to be at the ‘battle tech demo,’ whatever that is.”
“Ugh. Pass. I guess I’ll see you later!”
“Later!” Red watches her go, then gets up and makes his way to the room where the simulation technology is being showcased. It starts a few minutes after he arrives, and Red quickly jots down the basic premise; the makers are working on something that would allow a trainer to virtually interact with their stored pokemon in real time, rather than just use pre-set programs that borrow their likeness.
“Once your voice and appearance are uploaded, you then provide samples of hair, skin, sweat, and clothing so that your pokemon can ‘smell’ you,” the presenter says as he moves his hands in a petting motion, encased in their shimmering gloves, while on the screen they see him petting his pokemon up close within the artificially rendered battle arena. “For all practical purposes, you’ll be able to train your pokemon in any way you can imagine, short of actual human simulation!”
The following hour is spent going over technology specs and business models and compatibility with various existing software for training. A lot of it goes over Red’s head, but he dutifully writes down as much as seems important, feeling a bit like he’s in one of his nightmares about going to school and finding out there’s a test the next day on material he’s never seen before. Oddly enough he never had nightmares about the test itself, though occasionally he’d get ones where he finds out it was the day before and he missed it.
He wants to ask how the simulation will handle situations that have never occurred before. After some initial stage fright, he forces himself to raise his hand along with everyone else asking about investment opportunities and production plans and visual fidelity. Time runs out before he’s called on, however, and Red drops his hand to applaud along with everyone else. The tech will probably be a big hit among civilians and parents who want their kids to get some practice interacting with pokemon virtually, but he can’t imagine that professional battle trainers or coordinators would be able to push the envelope with it.
As the lights turn on, the presenter starts talking about the demo they’d be offering after dinner to those interested (and able to pay), and Red follows most of the crowd out as he checks the schedule, then heads to another auditorium. This one’s pretty interesting too; the stage has a pokeball mounted on the end of a robotic arm, with a camera and speakers on the end.
“So picture one of these at every corner of your house,” the presenter says as the screen shows them what the camera sees. “Pokemon comes nearby?” A rattata mounts the stage and approaches the arm, which immediately swings around to point the ball at it. Soon there’s a ping, then the arm throws it and captures the tamed rattata. “No problem, right?”
Red can see there’s some interest in the crowd. This tech has been around for awhile, though its reliability is still an issue, and it doesn’t work for pokemon in the air or that come underground, limiting its uses. This one seems more refined and flexible than the others…
The presenter replaces the ball. “What about this one?” The sound of wings comes from behind them, air blowing Red’s hair, and everyone looks up to see a pidgey flying above, no doubt released by one of the assistants. The arm once again homes in on it as it gets close, pings a lock, then throws, quickly, accurately, catching the pidgey mid-air. The people below it flinch as the ball drops, but it suddenly zips back toward the arm as some thin fiber is reeled into the center. There’s applause this time, and the presenter takes the ball off, then turns it to show them the custom shell.
“More accurate, responsive, and reliable than any on the market. But wait, there’s more!”
A third ball is placed on the robotic limb, and another rattata is sent toward the stage. This time the ball doesn’t lock on to catch it; it releases an oddish. “Sleep Powder,” a voice commands from the arm, and the oddish sends some spores at the rattata, who quickly slumps to sleep. The arm withdraws the oddish, and the audience applauds again, louder.
“Did I say every corner of your house?” the presenter asks. “Well now imagine a line of them around every town and city in the region! With seismic sensors and longer arms, our tech will be deployed by private citizens, governments, gyms, and rangers to finally bring us all what we’ve been dreaming of: peace of mind.”
More applause, more questions, more notes, and then it’s off to the third presentation room, which has a pair of rattata facing each other on stage as if ready for a battle, and their trainers each wear some kind of headgear with a screen in front of one eye that reminds Red of Bill’s gear. He quickly finds his seat as the presenter steps to the front of stage.
“Welcome everyone! We at Game Freak are happy to unveil our newest generation of simulation technology; rather than a VR game, we’ve been working on an AR program that will revolutionize pokemon battles the world over. For almost a decade now we’ve seen more and more professional trainers using some form of Heads Up Display to augment the amount of information they have during a battle. But what if we could give more immediate data about the pokemon battles themselves…?”
Red watches as the big screen lights up to show a split of what the two trainers see on their small visors. The clear glass displays a green bar floating beside each of their pokemon, and Red grins as he sees where this is going. Blue is going to FLIP! Sure enough, as soon as one of the rattata is ordered to tackle the other, the hurt pokemon’s bar goes down slightly on both trainers’ screens.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not pre-rendered. It’s a live calculation being made based on factors like species, mass estimation, contact type, velocity of contact type…” The rattata that was attacked is ordered to use Double Edge, a far more powerful version of the standard tackle. Red winces slightly at the bone-jarring impact that sends one of the rattata tumbling out of the small arena. Its trainer follows it with her vision, so that they can see its “health” drop quite a lot. Meanwhile, the attacking rattata’s trainer keeps his vision on his own pokemon, whose health has also dropped some smaller amount. Half? A little less? It’s hard to be sure with such a small bar and no numbers.
“Currently, the technology relies on the careful testing and simulating of pre-registered pokemon that have fought dozens of times. Useful for trainers to have a visual representation of how hurt their own pokemon are while training. But that’s just what the launch product will feature.” The presenter paces the stage as the monitor changes from a perspective of the two trainers’ HUD to recorded footage from dozens of other tests. “Imagine what the analysis of millions of hours of battle footage from hundreds of thousands of battles, not just in our labs but also in the wild or gym arenas, will eventually let it do. We predict that within a year of widespread use, our algorithms will be able to provide an estimation of damage for every attack by any pokemon against any pokemon, not just based on how and where it was struck, but by aggregated data from every time that pokemon has been struck by that attack by that opponent in recorded history.”
Red applauds with everyone else, though his gaze stays on the rattata that was tackled out of the arena as its trainer gives it some quick care before returning it to its ball. Watching the pokemon take such a powerful attack just to demonstrate some tech made him feel a pang of something he imagines is close to what Leaf feels when she watches trainer battles. He knows it’s silly, testing the technology would require all sorts of actual pokemon fighting each other, and it’s no less important than the training people put their pokemon through while not being recorded or analyzed.
After a moment he begins to applaud a bit harder, already thinking of all the ways this tech could make pokemon battles safer, and give trainers in the wild an edge in determining not just how close their own pokemon are to serious injury, but how careful to be with an opponent that might die before it’s caught.
The next couple exhibits are less interesting to him, one on travel technology and another on refined compression. Red does his best to follow along for the sake of the note taking, and practically forgets that he’s on a ship until he steps outside of the last one and sees that night has fallen on the ocean around them. He heads toward the dining hall to meet up with Leaf and compare notes. He notices that a lot of the people in the various lounge areas and then the dining hall are on their phones or laptops, and wonders how strict the NDA really is. It’s probably expected that many of them would already start talking with their various teams, as long as the information doesn’t reach the press before the companies are ready to go public.
He half expects Leaf to already be typing up an article about the meat production, but instead he spots her still at the notebook writing stage. It takes Red a few minutes to decide what to eat with all the options that are on display, and he finally decides to grab a little of everything before heading to the empty spot at her table.
“Hey. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?” he asks.
“Exciting, yeah,” she says. “Sorry, in a bit of a flow… talk after?”
Red stifles the little stab of hurt. “Sure.” He frowns at himself. Since when did he start feeling hurt from Leaf being productive? They spent whole weeks barely talking to each other, each lost in their own projects.
Red takes his phone out to work on one of his, but is distracted by the notification of new trending articles. It must be from while they were still in reception range…
He opens it and starts to read. Sure enough, more garbage. Psychic particle correlated with glucose… Psychic ability may be reduced by low melanin… Red blinks. Psychic power found to correlate with amount of gut bacteria?! He had made that exact joke, back in Viridian Forest!
Red feels himself getting angry again. All this “knowledge” is useless; it’s like overlaying a graph of “deaths by wild pokemon per year” and another of “amount of pop music videos created per year.” Whether they’re correlated in a positive or negative direction, the information tells you nothing about any causal link between them.
What’s worse is the imprecision of the headlines. He has to delve into each one’s methodology to figure out what exactly is meant by “psychic ability” each time the phrase is used. In Red’s papers, he was careful both times to specify in the title what was actually tested: strength of fear based mental projection for the spinaraks, and psychokinetic lifting strength for the abra. These headlines are all just treating psychic abilities like one unified thing, even as they specifically draw correlations between the Other category and various other metrics, then take his research about Other being linked to stronger psychokinesis as justification for the importance of their “study!”
The sheer amount of these things that have come out in the past couple of days is itself a problem. He sees comments by people already complaining about how it’s clogging up news feeds. Sites that allow for user voting have thankfully responded swiftly, consolidating them all to mega-threads or downvoting them into oblivion, but that latter just risks a negative response to any future claim of measurable basis for psychic phenomenon!
If someone had asked him yesterday whether he’d ever be upset at his research being cited in dozens of papers, he’d have said the more the merrier. But… not like this. His work is being used to justify all sorts of sensationalized nonsense.
He blinks and looks up. “Huh?”
“I asked if you’re ready to go?”
Red looks around. The dining hall is mostly empty, as is his plate. He barely remembers what he ate. “Yeah, sorry.” He gets up, and she follows. “Did you finish your notes?”
“Yeah. You looked really focused on something, so I didn’t want to bother you.”
He would have preferred the interruption to just getting more and more upset by headlines, but he can’t think of a way to say so. He doesn’t want to bring up the articles again, after she dismissed his anger earlier.
Instead they walk the halls of the ship in silence, until Red forces himself to think of something else. “I just realized, we never signed a non-disclosure agreement or anything when we got on board… are we allowed to talk about this stuff to anyone, or post about it online?” he asks. “Since they don’t want us recording anything…”
Leaf shrugs. “The majority of guests here are potential investors and collaborators. You only make someone sign an NDA if you have leverage over them or want it, which would be pretty counter-productive for the people the companies here want to work with.”
“We’re kind of an exception to that, though, right?”
“True. That might be why we had some trouble getting on board. But they let us on, so I don’t think they’ll have much to complain about if I write about some of the stuff we saw.”
When they get back to their room there’s a note waiting on Leaf’s door. “We can let out ‘small’ pokemon at the pool area, but not in the halls, and not if it would ’cause a disturbance,'” Leaf reads. “Well, that’s something I guess.”
The expression on her face belies her casual tone. It bothers Red that he won’t be able to spend much time with his pokemon for a week, but he knows that Leaf really values the time she spends working out and playing with them. “So, is Plan B a go?”
Leaf’s slow smile brightens the hall. “Really? I thought you were joking about that. We really shouldn’t, they might get upset…”
“So? What are they going to do, kick us off the boat?” Leaf snorts, and he shrugs. “At worst maybe one of the staff finds out and we just put everything back where it was.”
“Alright, twist my arm why don’t you!” They go inside, then take a look around. “Let’s see, if we push all the furniture into the middle we’ll have a decent amount of space to run laps in…”
“Yeah, and we can move those two couches back to back for a three-step obstacle, then stack the cushions for a small wall to climb.”
“Yeah…” She’s quiet for a moment as she looks around the room, and for a moment he’s afraid she’s going to tell him to just forget about it. Then she turns to him with a grin. “Think they’ll give us extra pillows if we ask for them?”
He grins back. “Can’t hurt to try.”
An hour later, the living room is transformed. To an untrained eye it may just look like they’ve just strewn things about at random, but the end result came from each pillow, couch, cushion, leg rest, and garbage bin being carefully placed after multiple tests and iterations. There didn’t end up being quite enough space for a satisfying outer track, so instead they set up a pair of parallel courses that go up and down the length of the room twice so that they can swap back and forth as they reach each end.
Red leaps forward with wide side to side movements, bare feet landing on cushions that get progressively higher until he reaches the end, hands reaching up to brush the ceiling, then coming down to balance his landing. Pichu leaps straight from the highest cushions to Red’s shoulder, and he turns and steps to the side to start on the other track, which uses the couches as a three step, followed by the coffee table that he falls onto his belly to crawl under while Pichu leaps off his shoulder and races ahead to his bedroom door, which is propped open so he can jump and grab the top, brace his feet on the handles, and leap back onto the start of the other track, usually just as Leaf and Raff finish it and leap up the couches.
Red starts to work up a sweat after a few iterations, but they’ve found the right rhythm to keep moving at a steady pace. After the training courses at Vermilion Gym, all the running isn’t too strenuous. “So how was the ball-made meat?”
“Good!” Leaf crawls under the table as Raff jumps up to run atop it. “It’s been so long since I had any that it tasted strange, but I think that was just me. The fake oddish tasted better, and the others there seemed to like it!”
“So you’re going to write a piece,” he huffs out a breath as he lands. “On that?”
“Yeah! I already talked to some of the engineers… they’ve been making meat for years now, but it was never economic or tasty enough.”
“Does it come out precooked?”
“They make both! I tried to get some for you, but they said you can get some at lunch tomorrow!”
“Will do!” Red uses his hands to vault over the couch without his feet touching it this time and stumbles, reminding himself to use more force on the next lap. “What about the other exhibits?”
“Nothing too exciting. Some new aerial surveillance and signal relaying drones for better emergency control. Useful for things like the Viridian Fire.”
“Or to start settling more of the wilderness. The automatic pokeballs will help with that too, so that it’s easier to set up defenses.”
“Yeah,” Leaf says, and he hears her slap the ceiling behind him before she asks, “This whole island chain isn’t totally inhabited, right?”
“No. There’s been talk of Kanto and Johto working together to push out past Mount Silver for new settlements, though some are worried they would be too far, and form a new region.”
“Why does that matter?”
Red shrugs as he runs. “Some political thing I guess. Never really got it.” He notices that Pichu’s energy is flagging, and unclips his ball. “Pichu, return!” He reclips the ball and unclips another without slowing down, bracing his arm as he points it to the empty space beside the bar area. “Go, Nidoran!” His pokemon materializes, and Red says “Follow!” as he reclips the ball and starts leaping across the pillow path again. “But I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon. Dad used to say there aren’t enough extra people yet who would want to live on the frontier until it stabilizes. What about around Unova?”
“The frontiers around it have been slowly expanding,” she says. “But there was a big setback a couple years ago. Thundurus hit one of the cities there, forced it to be abandoned, and there were calls to stop trying to push further for a bit.”
“Damn,” he pants. “And what do you think? Should they have?”
“I guess it made sense, at the time.” She leaps over the couches, and takes a deep breath before diving under the table. “But… eventually… I hope… we try again!”
The conversation lulls after that, the sounds of their movements and breaths filling the silence. The room is starting to feel hot and stuffy, and Red suddenly breaks from the course to go open the window, letting in the cool night air and smell of the ocean. He scratches Nidoran behind its ears, then approaches the obstacle course again and waits for Leaf to get to the opposite side before jumping back in. Nidoran has some trouble with the table, electing to run around it instead of trying to go under like Red or over it like Raff, and waits at the other end for Red to come out, somehow managing to look impatient. “Cheater,” Red accuses as he pushes himself back up.
“Do you think our ancestors ever imagined something like this?” Leaf asks eventually. “That we’d grow so much, connect with each other across the globe, start pushing out?”
“Maybe in a different way. Like a single empire sweeping across the island or continent, eradicating pokemon along the way.”
Red can hear the frown in Leaf’s voice. “That’s horrible.”
“Yeah. But much as we might treat them poorly now, people had even worse perspectives on pokemon before we were able to catch them.”
“I know. Grandpa talks about what it was like growing up, and even then it wasn’t so bad as in his grandparents’ days. But people’s minds are changing, same as our tech. So as long as both keep changing…” Leaf runs out of breath, and on his next lap, Red sees that she’s stepped to the side to rest.
He slows to a stop, then goes over to the bar and considers the options there. His hand hovers over the wine, curious, but then he grabs some juice for him and Leaf, as well as water and a bowl. He returns to the couch and hands hers over, then pours some water in the bowl for their pokemon.
“Do you think one drives the other?” he asks as he takes a swallow, enjoying the way the breeze from the window feels on his sweaty face. “Like, people are more accepting of other cultures today than they used to be, but part of that comes from the ability to learn about and talk to people around the world, and travel being so much easier. If the tech for fake pokemon meat never advanced, would people’s morals have changed eventually?”
“I’m not sure,” she says slowly. “There are other issues where it looks like cultures made moral progress without new tech, like most regions try to rehabilitate criminals rather than just punish them.”
“Unless they’re Renegades.”
“Sure, but even they’re killed more humanely now than they used to be, most of the time. So I want to think attitudes on eating pokemon might have changed on their own, but… morals are kind of a luxury, aren’t they? Like I know that people can only worry about not eating pokemon because they have other things to eat, now. Back then it was all about survival. But maybe they would eventually have realized what they were doing was wrong, but necessary.” She glances at him. “Taking for the sake of argument that eating pokemon is wrong.”
Red shrugs. “I don’t want pokemon to suffer on ranches, I just… don’t really care if they do, I guess.” He frowns. “It sounds bad, when I say it out loud.”
“Mmhm,” Leaf says with a raised brow, sipping her juice.
“They’re just really delicious.”
“I get it.”
“Stop!” she says, pushing his shoulder… but she’s smiling. “You’ll try the fake meat tomorrow?”
“Promise. I’ve got nothing against it.”
“But will you stop eating real meat after?”
Red tries to picture avoiding all meat. The food at Aiko’s was pretty tasty… but… “Is it… going to be available on the market?”
“I’m trying to be realistic!” he protests. “I don’t want to give an overconfident promise and then break it.”
“What about what we talked about in Vermilion? Can you at least keep to fish or something? Or just cut out any beef?”
“I think I can do that, yeah.”
Leaf turns to him. “Really?”
She looks so excited that Red smiles, warmth filling his chest. “Yeah. You know what, I’ll try it all. As soon as the cruise is over, I won’t buy any more meat that’s not grown in a ball.”
“Yay!” She wraps an arm around him and hugs him, causing heat to flush through his body and up his face. “You know it’s not actually grown in pokeballs, though, right? It’s just using the same tech.”
“Ah. Makes sense,” he mutters as she releases him, quickly raising his bottle for another drink.
“What about not eating any on the cruise too?”
“Oh come on, they’re already dead!”
She’s still smiling, and the sight makes Red smile again too. “Fair warning that I might change my mind after I run out of my own stocks.”
“Oh I know. But at least you’ve tried, then. And maybe you can just cut out one type at a time, see what works.”
They sit together in silence for awhile, and Red slowly regains his energy. He takes Pichu out so he can do the same, and watches as his two pokemon explore their surroundings. Now that he’s not following the order to run around with Red, Nidoran looks the most spooked. His nose keeps twitching toward the open window, and Red wonders if he’s ever smelled the ocean before.
“It reminds me of home,” he says suddenly. “The scent.”
“Were you on boats often?”
“No. But on a clear day you could smell the salt in the air from right outside my door.”
“That sounds lovely. I wasn’t there for long enough to notice.”
“We should go back sometime, when we can fly on our own pokemon. I know my mom’s not there anymore, but it’s strange to think that we’re going all over the region, and the place that Blue and I are most familiar with is the one you spent the least time in. Plus Aiko hasn’t been there at all, and she’d probably get a kick out of Pallet Lab’s ranch.”
“That would be cool, yeah. I’d like to see where you and Blue grew up. Maybe someday I can give you guys the tour of Unova.”
Just imagining it makes Red happy, and he smiles at her. “I don’t know if I mentioned it, but… I’m really glad you joined us, Leaf. I can’t really imagine the journey so far without you.”
Leaf’s looks surprised, then pleased. She picks Raff up off the floor and puts him on her lap so she can inspect his fronds, and Red notices that the ivysaur is positioned so that his plant hides her face. “Well. That was sweet. And I feel the same, of course.”
The warmth stays with him for the rest of the night.
Red wakes to the smell of the ocean, eyes opening slowly as he moves one sore limb at a time. Eventually he checks his phone and sees that it’s near noon. All the presentations are between lunch and dinner, so he should probably get up soon.
Instead he browses on his phone for a bit, first checking to see if he has any messages from Bill or Blue, then drawn irresistibly back to see if any new “research” on psychic particle or predictors has been published. There are some, and Red’s remaining sleepiness quickly fades as he searches through the headlines for anything remotely interesting.
Eventually biology forces him out of bed, and from there it’s easier to put the phone away and get dressed. He goes through the transformed living room afterward, and spots the note on Leaf’s door telling him that she’s already out “schmoozing.”
Shaking his head at her energy, he takes a walk around the outside of the ship, curious about what the other guests are doing and trying to avoid the temptation to look online again. He passes by various lounges, indoor and outdoor, and sees a lot of people either on their laptops, or in small groups and talking. Each time he tries to listen in as he walks nearby, it quickly becomes clear that they’re discussing some technology or aspect of business or investment that is way over his head, and he moves on before they can wonder whether he’s eavesdropping, interpreting the looks he gets as more wary or aloof than curious or inviting.
Red starts to feel a bit isolated as he walks from one floor to the next, seeing all the people involved in their interesting conversations that he can’t take part in. Eventually he starts to specifically look for Leaf, until he realizes he can try to use his powers to pick her mind out. He needs to practice anyway, and it’s been awhile since he tried a broad reading of his surroundings.
As he walks through a hallway and extends his senses outward as far as he can, he suddenly staggers and leans against a wall. His range is larger than before, and he senses minds in three dimensions for the first time. It feels like he’s standing in a storm, the mental impressions so spread out that their position is like a whole new level (or dimension, rather) of information for him to process. He doubts he could identify Leaf’s familiar signature even if she happens to be nearby. What jumps to his attention instead is the two psychic minds in the room above him. And a couple to his left… there are six in total… No, seven… nine… twelve… in all directions…
Red’s eyes fly open, withdrawing his senses as he recovers from the strain. After a moment he walks to the nearest room where he sensed psychic minds and looks around at the crowd of people in various types of casually formal attire, trying to spot anyone with more obviously psychic clothing. He sees nothing.
Why are there so many psychics here?
Red starts to wander again, occasionally extending his senses out to find psychics in the same room as him to try and identify them. Their minds quickly vanish however, blocking themselves from his senses, and he eventually gives up, not wanting to be rude even if his curiosity is burning. Also now he has to worry about thinking the wrong thoughts at the wrong time… how could so many rich and important people be okay with this many psychics around? Maybe they don’t know… he should find someone to ask about it…
“Good afternoon, everyone!” Red jumps as the PA system comes on. “This is your five minute reminder that lunch will be starting soon in the dining hall. That’s also where the programs listing this afternoon’s presentations can be found. Please make your way there if you’d like a copy!”
Red watches the mass migration begin, though some people seem content to wait where they are for awhile longer, at least. He considers asking one of them, but decides to find Leaf first, now that he knows she’s likely to head to the lunch room. He should warn her of the psychics’ presence as soon as he can, since he knows how wary she is of them after meeting Giovanni. Red decides to try and maintain his mental shield as best he can. It’s a good way to get some extra psychic practice in, anyway.
He doesn’t see her upon arriving at the dining hall, and goes to wait in line for the buffet, mind holding the default-mental-state shield in place as best he can while looking around. There’s a booth in the corner of the room where the artificial meat creators are offering samples, and he heads over after filling his plate.
“Hello! Interested in getting a taste of the future?”
“Yeah, my friend was raving about you guys last night.”
“You must be Red,” one of them says with a smile. “We told her that you might enjoy them more fresh. What can I get you?”
Red looks at the options. “Ah… pidgey nuggets?” He watches as they carefully serve him three. “You wouldn’t happen to know where Leaf is now, would you?”
“Haven’t seen her yet today, sorry.”
“No problem. And thanks!” He goes to find an empty table so that he’s easy to spot (and not because he doesn’t know anyone here and would feel awkward sitting beside them) and shakes some salt on his mashed potatoes, keeping an eye on the doors as he continues occasionally reinforcing his shield. Someone takes the chair to Red’s left, sitting with a contented sigh before they ask, “Could you pass that when you’re done, please?”
“Sure.” He gives it a couple more shakes, then turns and hands it to the president, founder, and CEO of Silph Corporation holy shit. The old man is wearing a simple button up shirt, suspenders, a red bowtie, and a kindly smile. A cane rests against the table, a white hat beside his plate.
“Thank you,” Mr. Silph says as he takes it from Red’s frozen hand. The Silph president gives it a few shakes over some strawberries on his plate, then places it aside. “Adds a bit of a tangy taste,” he confides upon seeing Red’s still-shocked expression. “You should try it, Mr…”
“Verres. Red Verres.” Red hurriedly wipes his hand and offers it before he thinks of how presumptuous it might be.
“Kazue Silph.” He takes Red’s hand in a firm grasp.
“I know! It’s an honor to meet you! I use your products all the time!” Tone it down, Red.
“Ah, a trainer!” The president’s eyes search Red’s briefly, then he releases his hand to begin eating. Red starts to dig into his food too. “I’d heard there was a young journalist on board, and thought it might be you.”
“Oh, no, that’s my friend Leaf.” He looks around for her again, then turns back to the company president. “She’s a trainer too, though.”
“I see. Well, I suspect she’s finding a lot of material to write on. Quite the interesting exhibits, wouldn’t you say?”
“Oh, yeah. Is Silph going to be presenting something too?”
“No, this year we’re strictly on the hunt.” He smiles. “Which technology are you the most excited for, so far?”
Red considers it a moment, then says, “Probably the remote pokeballs? In the sense that it’s the one that seems like it has a lot of potential to save lives.”
“Yes, that seems likely. Now, what about one that you predict most of your peers will purchase?”
Ah. I’m a one-boy consumer panel. The thought reminds him that he should put his shield back up, and he takes a moment to do so while considering his answer. “Probably the AR visor,” he eventually says. “I don’t see how that won’t be a huge hit, unless it just doesn’t work reliably. I’m tempted to invest in it myself, if I have enough money to matter.”
“Yes, that was my choice as well, assuming something else doesn’t come along that seems more commercially viable. Though these fake meats are intriguing.” He pokes his fork at a thin slice of some steak that Red assumes was ball-grown too. “Have you tried them yet?”
Red shakes his head, then takes a cautious bite of his pidgey nugget, chews, swallows. “It… tastes like pidgey,” he says.
Mr. Silph cuts a piece of his steak and tastes it, brow rising. “And this like tauros.” His jaw works as he chews. “A bit tough. Care to trade some for one of your nuggets?”
“Oh, sure!” They do so, and sit for a moment chewing the pseudo-meats. “A bit dry too, right?” Red asks after a moment. “Or is that from the way it was cooked?”
“No, you’re correct. Perhaps from insufficient fat generated in the meat.” He takes a sip of wine, and Red follows his example with his water. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be able to correct it eventually. In either case, the price of food will soon get much lower.” He eats the last of the steak, with some apparent satisfaction.
“Which means more money for people to spend on Silph products,” Red says, smiling.
Mr. Silph winks and takes another sip. “So, if you’re not here as a journalist or investor, what brought you to the Cruise Convention? It’s not often we have mere trainers here, let alone those so young.”
“Well, I’m actually a Researcher too,” Red says.
“Ah! Verres you said, yes? I thought your name was familiar. Something about psychic pokemon? There are quite a number of papers coming out now that cite you.”
Any pleasure Red might have had at being recognized fades at the reminder. “Yeah.”
“No, nothing.” He makes an effort to look cheerful as he starts eating again. “The accomplishment just feels a little muted, after seeing all the derivative discoveries that came out from a mindless algorithm.”
“Nonsense. As a Researcher, shouldn’t the information be celebrated, regardless of the source?”
Red frowns. “But all of it… or at least, the vast majority of it that I saw, it’s meaningless. They didn’t actually try to test specific hypotheses, they just threw a bunch of data into a computer and picked out the correlations that fell below the .05 or .01 threshold. It’s just… noise, noise that they get attention for without providing any real knowledge. Just look at the news sites, jumping all over every correlation and sensationalizing them!”
The older man snorts. “Believe me, there is no love lost between myself and the press. Incentives, Mr. Verres, are what the world runs on, even more than money. And the incentives of journalism are inherently destructive toward any values of truth or clarity.”
Red feels a bit of indignation at that, considering both his mother’s profession and Leaf’s current activities in the field. The Silph president chews some food while Red tries to think of a polite way to disagree, unable to before the older man continues. “But that’s often the case in a free society. That’s why we must understand the role journalists play, and approach them as warily as one would a combee nest while attempting to extract what honey their industry produces. The same goes for these mass produced studies. The incentives in science are to publish, and so publications are the first metric that matters, and so all else that matters falls under it in importance. True, the majority of them will be ultimately meaningless. But as a matter of efficiency, finding these correlations the way they have seems to have a minimal associated cost. Why not see it as a filter? A filter through which diligent researchers such as yourself may eventually gain some value, as you examine the data and consider new hypotheses?”
Red doesn’t have an immediate answer to that, and takes a moment to think through his objection as he eats. “That sounds good when you phrase it that way,” he eventually admits. “The problem is that it’s sucking the air out of the room. All the researchers that are now trying to pick through the results are wasting time and energy and grant money on things that aren’t directed by any intelligence.”
“That seems like a perfect opportunity for those with intelligence to stand out,” President Silph says, eyeing Red candidly as he eats. “Ignore these publications and continue on with your research as though they had not surfaced. Unless your ambition is already satisfied with what you’ve accomplished?”
“No,” Red says with conviction. “No, I’ve got a lot more work to do.”
“Then take the advice of an elder, not in age, but in facing adversity. Those things that vie for your attention, but do nothing to further your goals, should be cut out from consideration. Talent is easy to find, Mr. Verres. Great success comes first and foremost from the discipline to make productive use of your time.”
“You’re right,” Red says, frowning at his plate. “I know it’s better to focus on my next project than worry about the impact of the last one. Not unless the impact was from a mistake I made.”
“Do you think you made one?”
“Then there you have it. Let others chase false gold while you seek your own fortune.”
Red smiles. “Is that a personal motto?”
“I suppose so,” Mr. Silph says as he finishes his wine. “If a man can have more than one, it has a nice ring to it. But my real motto is ‘Every minute should be spent at least as deliberately as every dollar, and every dollar as deliberately as the first you ever made.’ And on that note, I see them putting the afternoon’s schedule out, and so my allotted lunchtime is over. But it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Verres.” He wipes his mouth with his napkin, then gets to his feet. “Perhaps we’ll talk again.”
Red hurriedly swallows his mouthful. “The pleasure was mine, Mr. Silph. Thank you for the advice.”
“Advice is also easy to find. Remember: discipline.” He puts his hat on and strides with purpose toward the exit, taking a folded program from the table by it. Red watches him go, then resolves to put his attention for the rest of the meal where it should have been; deciding what he’s going to do when he returns from the cruise.
At first consideration, the question might be what research he’ll conduct next. But in truth, there’s a higher level question he has to answer, a choice centered around what goals he’s going to pursue. Is he a trainer at heart? A researcher? A psychic? Sabrina made it pretty clear that he’d have to stop being a trainer or researcher while studying with her, to have enough time for his lessons. If he decides to put one of those on pause, then becoming her pupil is the right choice. If he decides to just keep practicing his powers on his own for now, he should stay on his journey, where he can make progress in all three.
He takes his notebook out and writes:
Trainer – Increased survival skills, new sources of fortune? protect others
Researcher – Learn secrets of the universe, leverage for fame and fortune, discover origin of species/change the world
Psychic – Lots of mysteries to explore, unique skills and insights, accelerated self growth
Red stares at the words. Taken as they are… he can’t imagine not continuing his research. He spends too much time thinking about things, working to test them, he doesn’t know if he could stop himself from trying even for a few months. And if he’s going to do it anyway, it would be a waste to never try and publish what he finds. And his psychic powers are a force multiplier; the things he gets from developing them are useful to practically everything he can think to do.
It seems the aspect he loses the least in giving up… is his trainer activities. It makes sense. He’s not going for badges, he’s not trying to be a Ranger, and while he does enjoy training his pokemon, and teaching them unique commands or getting them to pull off strategies… it’s not like he’s amazing enough that only he can protect others in ways no one else can.
Red leans back in his chair, gaze unfocused as he feels the decision crystallizing. It’s a little surprising how quickly he decided it, after waffling so much before.
Well, that’s it, then. He’ll tell Sabrina that he’ll become her student.
Which means he should keep practicing his powers. He lets his mental shield slip, then picks his spoon up and tries to feel the shape of it with his powers. His rock is in his bag, and maybe he just has some kind of block against beginner level techniques…
Red’s still trying to sense the shape of the handle past where his fingers are when he spots Leaf walk into the cafeteria, talking to a pair of women with her notebook out. That’s not all I’d be giving up.
The thought comes like a strike to his chest, concentration scattering as he suddenly imagines actually leaving the others in their travels. A hollow sort of fear fills him, a preemptive loneliness that he immediately backs away from.
Leaf spots him and waves, then says goodbye to the other two to get food and join him.
“Hey! How was your morning?”
“Pretty short, but eventful,” he says, amazed at how steady his voice is given the sudden hole between his ribs. He latches onto the imagery and uses his powers to quickly contain it, cut off its effects on him for now, keep hidden the sudden insight at the center of it. “What have you been up to?”
“Interviews!” Leaf puts her notebook on the table and starts to eat. “Lots of them. Everyone here is excited to talk about their work, it’s like trying to drink out of a firehose.”
Red smiles at the mental image, and her excitement. “I’m glad you’re getting a lot of material. Maybe you can solve a mystery for me. Do you know why there are so many psychics here?”
Leaf pauses with her fork halfway to her mouth, then looks around. “How many are there?”
“Right now?” He quickly checks, trying to juggle the two different effects as grief starts to creep through all his use. “Um. Over a dozen in the dining hall.”
She lets out a whistle. “That is a lot. Are they all clustered together? Like maybe they’re from some organization.”
“No, as far as I can tell they only ever group in two or three at most.”
“Are they ever in groups of just psychics, though?”
“I don’t… remember?”
Leaf flips to a new page of her notebook. “Draw it out.”
“No, where they are right now. Maybe we can get some ideas.”
He picks her pencil out of the spiral slowly. “It’s kind of hard to figure out people’s exact positions…” And he doesn’t know if he can maintain his concentration on the thing he’s containing in his chest that he can’t let out, particularly when the more familiar grief starts to come in force.
Red buys time by drawing a rough approximation of where the tables around them are, then starts to focus on one table at a time, quickly sending his senses out to glimpse the minds at each before drawing circles and stars around where the minds are at each table. Like pings of radar, giving him a quick and fleeting glimpse of sensations that he then tries to remember and draw meaning from, all from minimal use of his powers.
It’s hard, at times, to get a good read on exact position for each mind within a cluster, but he doesn’t worry too much about that. Instead he tries to make sure he only counts the people at each table rather than letting any minds from one blur into another table’s “zone.” He uses visual confirmation when he can to make sure each table has the right amount of people, though the occasional Dark mind throws him for a loop sometimes.
By the time Leaf has finished eating, he’s sketched out about three layers of tables in every direction. The grief is manageable, and his chest-vault is secure. He stares at it while Leaf looks over his shoulder.
“Not clustered, but also never alone,” Leaf points out.
“And symmetrical,” Red says. “Look, every time there are two in one place, there are two non-psychic minds with them. Or three… the individual psychics break the pattern, but even they’re never totally alone.”
“That might be unrealistic to expect, given how outnumbered they are,” Leaf points out.
“Yeah. Feel comfortable asking someone?”
“Sure. Who are you going to talk to?”
“Uh… well, I don’t really know anyone here.”
Leaf raises a brow. “Neither do I, Red. What you do is, you go up to them and introduce yourself—”
He rolls his eyes. “I just feel awkward doing it.”
“You mean you haven’t spoken to anyone else here yet?”
“Of course I have,” he says automatically. “I spoke to… a couple of the people from the ball-meat company—”
“—please don’t call it that—”
“—and,” he says with some pride, “I may have had lunch with President Silph just before you arrived.”
“Really? That’s awesome! What did you want to talk to him about?”
Red opens his mouth, then closes it. “Career advice,” he says at last.
Leaf gives him a level look.
“He was actually very helpful.”
“Uh huh. So what did he want from you?”
“I think he wanted my demographic more than me. But he was nice enough. Not a fan of journalists though, apparently.”
“Well, that’s no surprise. Most rich or famous people aren’t, given how easy it is for some hack to just write whatever they want about them and have thousands of people lap it up without interest in any kind of clarification or rebuttal.”
The bitterness in her tone takes him by surprise. “That’s fair, I guess.”
“Sorry, famous grandpa, remember? Anyway, Silph has more reason than most, lately.” She chews her food, eyeing him speculatively. “Did you tell him your last name? Because he might be a little miffed from the article your mom published.”
Red stares at her. “What article?”
“You don’t read your mom’s articles?”
“Hey, I’ve been busy. Do you read everything your mom publishes?”
“…Fair. Anyway, Laura wrote about some corruption from Silph employees not long ago. Bribing a mayor and stuff.”
“Huh.” Red considers the conversation in light of that. “I did tell him my name, but he didn’t seem to react to it. Not in that way, he actually recognized it from the science side of things.”
“Oh. Well maybe he doesn’t pay much attention to articles about his company. I’m sure there are a lot, and he’s probably busy.”
“He did give that impression, yeah.” Red shrugs. “I’ll ask my mom what she thinks after the cruise.” Maintaining the block around whatever’s in his chest has gotten slightly harder as the grief starts to build up at last. Just the mention of his mother makes him terribly homesick, for no particular reason. He clears his throat. “So what’s on the agenda today?”
“Presentations for some kind of holo-communication device, automated potion dispersal? What does that mean… uh… improved scuba equipment, trainer coordination software…” She starts to take notes of questions she wants to ask of each presenter, forehead creased with concentration as she works.
Red just stares at her, the words fading from his comprehension as he feels a warmth in his chest… She’s really pretty when she’s so focused. Red blinks, a sudden sinking feeling mixing with the warmth as the block around his chest suddenly cracks open, and the insight spills out to suffuse his thoughts.
“Hm?” His gaze snaps to hers.
“You okay? You spaced out a bit there, and looked like you just remembered something too late.”
It takes a moment for Red to shake his head. “Nothing important, just trying to figure out what Bill would want us to attend the most.” Just realizing that I have a crush on you, Leaf, you’re smart and pretty and confident and good, and I like spending time with you, and-
“Right. I guess we’ll just have to split up again to attend as many as we can.”
–and leaving you is going to be the hardest part of going to learn from Sabrina, and I’m just realizing all this as I’m about to leave you, and now I don’t want to. “I guess so, yeah…” The block is completely gone, and now he feels hollow inside, even as he tries to convince himself that it will just be for a few months, maybe a year at most, that she would be fine with Blue and Aiko, that he would still be able to talk to her and occasionally see her… “That’s probably for the best.”