Tag Archives: pokemon

113: A New Age

The first thing Leaf hears upon teleporting to Saffron is the emergency announcement blaring from the speakers on every street corner:

“—ade activity is ongoing at Silph Headquarters. Please evacuate from all surrounding blocks and seek shelter. Repeat, renegade activity…”

The air is full of pokemon carrying people above congested streets, while police guide crowds toward the city’s emergency bunkers. She scans the city skyline until she spots the silhouette of Silph HQ that stands tall against the cheerful blue horizon, then withdraws her abra and rushes down to the street level so she can bring out her bike.

Once she’s riding she taps her earphone to resume her call with Laura and Professor Oak.

“—when he arrived… Leaf?” Laura sounds calm, but Leaf knows her well enough to hear the tightly controlled fear under her words. “Have you arrived?”

“Yeah, I’m just a few blocks from the building, should be there soon.”

“Assess before rushing in,” Professor Oak says. “If the renegades are there for the master ball, the hunters might bring the whole building down.”

Leaf’s heart stutters. “Would the boys know that?”

“I hope so. But even if they do—”

“Right.” Even without the message that got passed along to the Professor, Blue isn’t the type to leave a situation like this once he’s in it. And so long as calls to both are still going undelivered, it seems likely Red is either trapped or fighting too.

Now Laura’s voice holds more than a fraction of the strain she must be feeling. “Sam, can’t you…?”

“No. I could run into the building myself and they’d still bring it down if they believed it necessary.”

Hearing the stark helplessness in his voice makes Leaf pedal harder. “How far are you now, Professor?”

“Just passing the western outpost, should be there in about nine minutes.”

“I’ll wait for you unless I—” Leaf’s earpod chirps, and hope shoots through her. “Hang on, getting a call.”

“Go. I’ll see you soon.”

“Be careful, Leaf.”

“I will, and I’ll let you know if it’s one of them.” She swaps. “Red? Blue?”

“It’s me.”

It takes Leaf a moment to recognize the voice of her and Laura’s informant over the blaring announcements. “Did you—do you know what’s happening?”

“Only what’s on the news. Are you there?”

“Almost. You coming?”

“No. I can’t.”

Leaf almost asks why not, then remembers that she’s dark. No way she’d make it here on time. “Then call me in an hour, one way or another it should be over by then—”

“Wait. I called because whatever’s happening there might be a smokescreen for something else. I wanted to make sure you go in there with your eyes open.”

Leaf tries to imagine what a public attack of multiple renegades on Silph Headquarters could be a smokescreen for, and fails. “You don’t think they’re there for the Master Ball?”

“I’ll decide after they succeed or fail. My guess is whatever happens, this benefits Silph in some way.”

…evacuate from all surrounding blocks and seek shelter…”

Leaf wants to say she’s crazy, too tunnel visioned on her vendetta to accept a scenario where Silph may not be the bad guys. But whether that’s true or not…”So what do you want?”

“If you get the opportunity to grab a computer, they’ll think one of the renegades took it. Any of the executive’s computers would likely have valuable info, but the President’s own PC would be best.”

“You are crazy,” Leaf says this time. “Or you think I am, to agree to something like that.”

“The Rocket Casino—”

“—had a secret lab full of renegades, it’s totally different!”

“Leaf, we won’t get another opportunity like this.” Her frustration is clear even through the voice filter. “Silph can be the victim today, but they’ll still need to be taken down tomorrow.”

Leaf turns a corner and ends up behind a group of police riding toward the Silph building. The streets here are virtually empty, and she pedals harder to try and catch up to them. “Have to go, almost there.”

“Just think about it.”

Leaf hangs up, heart pounding in her ears as she slowly closes the gap between her and an officer in the rear riding a rapidash. She takes deep breaths so as not to arrive totally winded, and tries to focus on what she’ll say to the police if they try to stop her from helping.

But the informant’s words planted a seed of doubt, and more keep sprouting. Is all this some trick? Red’s description of what Silph wanted him to do was only surprising because it’s never been done before, but it wasn’t confusing, and opposed as she was to Red helping him, the fact that Silph turned out to be right about renegades in his company set her suspicions entirely aside.

What level of paranoid is the right level, when real conspiracies are afoot?

Maybe the more important question is, should she act just on the suspicion? She’s spent weeks working on a story with Fuji that she hopes will affect public sentiment about things like the Master Ball. If she finds hard proof of the skeletons Laura and their informant have been working to uncover, it could be much more effective…

…renegade activity is ongoing at Silph Headquarters. Please evacuate…”

They reach the perimeter, where dozens of police and rangers prepare to face an unknown amount of pokemon, each trained to kill humans by people no doubt expecting exactly this response. She slows to a stop as the police in front of her approach someone that looks like they’re coordinating things. Nearby a pair of drones lift into the sky to join a dozen others that hover around the building, probably trying to get a clear view of what’s going on inside.

So many people, all working together to save the hostages inside, to save her friends, to stop the madmen trying to take power that would be even scarier in their hands.

No. She can’t do it, can’t enter this thinking of how to steal from Silph. It would make her like Yuuta, taking advantage of a crisis… not for personal gain, maybe, but still. Civilization has to pull together for pokemon attacks, and that goes double for renegades. Going against that would chip away at something precious, even if no one else found out about it.

Once the group of newcomers is dispatched elsewhere, Leaf walks her bike over. “Hi, I’m Leaf Juniper. My friends, Red and Blue… has anyone heard from them?”

The man shakes his head, and Leaf is about to ask if she can go in—

“Hello again, Miss Juniper.”

She turns toward the familiar voice and sees a tall man in a brown trench coat. “Agent Looker? I thought you were working in Celadon.”

“Got here about ten minutes before things went to hell. You could say I had a hunch.”

“Ah.” Laura. “Does this mean interpol is—”

“My partner is coordinating with them now, but this will likely be over before anyone else arrives.” He studies her for a moment. “Were you planning on going in?”

“Are you going to stop me?”

“If it was just your life at risk, maybe not. But there are civilians in there, and hunters that may be engaging the renegades as we speak. I know you’ve fought some before, but only in the loosest sense. Your wigglytuff isn’t going to catch these by surprise, and from what I remember you’re not a competitive trainer. Have you ever actually fought against a human trained pokemon?”

Leaf feels her heart sinking. “No. But…” She tries to find an argument, something that justifies the burning need to get inside, to at least make sure Red and Blue are okay… “Professor Oak didn’t say not to.”

It’s a weak defense and she knows it. Agent Looker just raises a brow at her. “Well he’s probably not thinking straight either. There’s a chance the police have a plan, and untrained outsiders are more likely to accidentally mess those up. Oak at least can hold his own and won’t become a liability.”

Leaf’s heart feels like a rock in her stomach, and she can’t keep the bitterness out of her voice. “So I’m supposed to just sit out here and… do nothing?” She never expected to regret her decision to not battle other trainers, but if it keeps her from helping Blue and Red now…

“If it makes you feel better, the Professor doesn’t actually have authority here, and might get stuck outside too.” Looker turns to the coordinating officer. “What do you think, Jiang?”

“Wouldn’t want to be the one to try to get between him and his grandson, but orders to bring the building down if there’s no opening to save the hostages in the next…” He checks his watch. “Eleven minutes.”

“He’s arriving in about eight,” Leaf says, feeling numb. She wonders a moment later if she should have kept that to herself…

Jiang sighs. “We’re trying to counteract the jammer to figure out if the commissioner can give us a sitrep, maybe change our game plan. But at this rate… well, let’s just say there are a number of people here who are probably willing to tackle Professor Oak to save his life. Guess I’m one of them.”

Leaf’s rising sense of horror and helplessness make it hard to think, and she wanders off without saying anything, trying to block out the sounds of the blaring city message.

…Please evacuate from all surrounding blocks and seek shelter. Repeat…”

She should call the Professor, warn him… maybe he can land on the roof, if it’s got a flat one… does it? Or fly straight through a window, if it doesn’t… Gods, this is just like what Red faced in Vermilion, but I don’t even have a choice… Or does she? She could probably make it through the perimeter without being stopped, but.. Looker is right, she’s fooling herself if she thinks she stands a chance in a fair fight against a renegade. Laura and the professor would say the same if they weren’t so desperately worried for Red and Blue… she would say the same if it was almost anyone else in there…

If I can’t win a fair fight, I should cheat. Good idea, but how? None of her pokemon are as good of an equalizer as Joy, and even if they strap her to another pokemon and fly her around the windows to sing through, there’s no guarantee that the renegades will be more disabled than those they’re fighting, even assuming they don’t have protection against sound attacks…

“Miss Juniper.”

She turns to find Agent Looker has followed her. “Believe it or not, we’re mostly in the same boat, and I don’t like feeling helpless any more than you do. But there’s something else we can do to help besides rush in and hope for the best. It may not help save whoever’s inside, but it could stop the renegades regardless.”

“I’m listening.” She’d sound more eager if she wasn’t sick with fear.

“Something has been bothering me about all of this. A bunch of renegades attack in the middle of the day, hold hostages, but only above a certain floor, all to, presumably, steal the Master Ball. It looks coordinated, maybe a panic response to Silph bringing Verres in, but my question is, then what?”

“Then… what?”

“Right. They get the Master Ball, or the blueprints for it, or whatever. Then what? The whole city knows they’re here, they’re surrounded.”

“Maybe they use a hardwired PC to transfer it?”

“First thing we did was cut off the building’s power and internet. It’s running on local power but we’ve got our own jammer up to keep them from using wireless.”

“Then they just…” No, Silph wouldn’t have had to do this special screening to find them if they weren’t dark, so they can’t teleport out unless they learned how to use Miracle Eye in the past few days… or…

Leaf’s eyes widen. Is it possible?

“You see it too, huh?”

“I thought… I thought Red had… caused this, by being here… Silph told him he suspected something already, but—”

“Right. What if Red didn’t just trigger them to attack instead of stealing it? What if him being here was part of the plan?

Leaf covers her face with her hands. She should have argued harder, should have told Red to leave…

“Hey. Deep breaths. If they’re going to force him to use Miracle Eye so they can teleport, they have to keep him alive, right?”

She tries to nod, head jerking too quickly. “What… what can we do?”

“Nothing for now. This is just a theory, and we can’t act on it right now anyway.” He studies her a moment, as if checking to see if she can remain calm. She does her best. “Miss Juniper, we’re some of the few people here who know everything that’s happening, and aren’t busy preparing for a raid or to stop an escape. More importantly, we’re not part of the local police network. Do you get me?”

It’s not hard, once you’ve spent enough time talking to Laura. “You think there’s an informant.”

“I think trust is a dangerous thing when facing an organization this secretive and well prepared. The renegades know they’re on a clock, regardless, but yes, they might have someone in the police to feed them info. I doubt they’re going to still be in there if the building gets brought down, so we need to figure out what their plan is before they execute on it. And it has to be people like us, to make sure they don’t hear about it if we figure out their plan. So I need you to poke holes in this theory. Maybe Verres has nothing to do with their escape plan. Then what? How else might they get out?”

Leaf keeps taking deep breaths, trying to think through the new fears being piled onto the old ones. “Roof? Fly away?”

“The hunters are setting up a perimeter of fliers for both speed and endurance. They won’t get away by air.”

“Digging?”

“They have to know that we’d use Earthquake if we had to. Same with any answer that involves hostages, it wouldn’t stop the hunters.”

Leaf tries to think of what else they might do. What would she do, if she had to escape a situation like this… “Maybe they… blanket the city with sleep powder, or…”

“Maybe. Start a list, alright? Anything you can think of, no matter how unlikely. We don’t have much time, but whatever they can think of, so can we.”


Once Lin and the CHRO have teleported to safety, the rest of those stuck in the security room line up in the order Burrell instructs. He checks to make sure everyone is ready, then nods to Jenson, who summons a machamp.

Its head nearly brushes the ceiling, and it looks around before zeroing in on the red pointer dot that Jenson is aiming at the wall beside the door.

“Three,” he murmurs. “Two… one… Cha!”

The machamp slams against the wall beside the door with all of its strength, body moving through the drywall in a single burst of raw strength. Jenson shoves himself through first, followed by Stocky (Red still hasn’t learned her name), Burrell, the young female cop (whose name he did learn, Mia), and Sicong. Valentin and Red listen to the sounds of battle through the hole, and only go through once it ends and Burrell calls “All clear.”

Red follows Sicong and Valentin out, stepping carefully around Jenson’s badly wounded machamp and the three dark pokemon around it. Nearly a dozen other pokemon are scattered around the hallway, broken and bleeding, but there are no renegades in sight. “They ran as soon as we came out,” Burrell says as they attempt to heal and revive their pokemon. The machamp is one of three that doesn’t respond to treatment, and each gets replaced with fresh Fighting and Bug types. “Not sure if they’re escaping or falling back to regroup, but we can’t give them time. Let’s move out.”

The hunters lead the way through the corridors at a jog, and for the first few moments Red is too busy trying to keep up to think of anything else. It’s hard to resist sending psydar pulses out, but he knows it’s not going to give him much info, and he needs to stay sharp, not risk destabilizing his thoughts any further. They pass the frightened faces of various office workers, and nearly make it to the stairs before more renegades find them.

Red has seen hunters battle renegades in movies. It’s usually depicted as being much quicker than normal trainer battles, each pokemon using their most lethal moves, and Red has occasionally thought about how he’d almost rather fight through a Tier 3 incident than get caught in the crossfire between a renegade and hunter.

Thankfully their environment limits what that means, on both sides, though it’s hard to tell if they’re holding back at all. He’s not sure how far a Hyper Beam would penetrate the walls and ceiling of this place, maybe the renegades are worried about bringing the building down themselves, but they’re doing enough destruction without it.

Acid splashes, fire bursts, and electricity arcs out as roars of pain and challenge by half a dozen pokemon drown out the commands of their trainers. Red pulls his gaze away from the sight of a pinsir using its horns to pin a mightyena to a wall as a weavile tears into its side, keeping his head on a swivel so he can watch their backs. That’s all he has to do, and so even when the renegades start to use non-dark pokemon, he doesn’t try to use sakki. He was given a task to do, and he’s going to let the professionals handle everything else rather than risk doing something that takes them by surprise and complicates their plans.

Which doesn’t mean it’s easy to turn his back on a lethal battle, even just for a few moments at a time, but he has to trust them, and his jangling nerves will just have to be endured.

No one attempts to flank them, however, and within a minute the battle is over. Red spares a glance back, dreading what he might see… but while there are once again numerous dead pokemon throughout the hallway, all the humans seem unhurt, and the renegades appear to have fled again.

“Something’s weird,” Jenson says as he heals his pokemon. “They’re not targeting us.”

“‘Us’ as in you and Hitomi?” Mia asks between checking the nearby offices with Sicong to ensure no one hiding in them got injured.

Oh that’s her name. Red stares blankly at the carnage for another few moments before he realizes he could be helping, and takes out some potions to heal their pokemon faster.

“Not just that,” Hitomi says as she aims her laser pointer at one of the downed renegade pokemon. Red looks away as the hunter’s pinsir braces its horns around the mightyena, but he still hears the crunch and wet sound of spraying blood. “They’re not targeting any of you, either. Our pokemon, yes, but not us.”

Red tries to recall the battles he had as best he can through the memories flooding him from multiple broken partitions. Did any pokemon directly attack him instead of his pokemon…?

“You think they’re trying to avoid killing?” Sicong asks, skepticism interwoven with hope. “That would make their threat against the hostages a bluff…”

“The hostages don’t know that.” Burrell says as he finishes healing his hitmonlee. “And it doesn’t make sense. They’d be branded regardless.”

“Still, if we reach them—”

“Hostages might get killed in crossfire,” Jenson says. He checks them over, then starts for the stairs again. “Power first.”

Red follows into the lingering smog of the stairway, and this time he does send out psydar pulses to make up for the lack of visibility. It makes it hard to focus, but this would be the perfect spot for an ambush…

“Couldn’t just exit here, hit it from below?” Valentin asks.

“We’d have to bring the whole ceiling down to be sure,” Hitomi replies, voice barely audible to Red over the sound of their feet. “They’d be able to collapse down on us before we do.”

One more flight of stairs without incident, and then they’re rushing through more hallways until they leave the offices behind and approach a door warning off any unauthorized access. Jenson holds up a fist and presses himself to the opposite wall, and they all quickly follow suit.

“Step light,” Jenson whispers between hard breaths. “They’ve had time to prepare a trap.”

Hitomi nods. “Two people could stay out, guard against being surrounded.”

“No, maximum push,” Burrell says. “Top priority is taking the power out.”

“They might take us all out in one blast if we go in together.”

“She’s right, Sir. It’s what I would do.”

Burrell frowns, and then they hear a “Hey!” that makes Red’s pulse spike before he recognizes the voice and turns with the others to see…

…Blue, shoeless and breathing hard as he jogs over from the direction of the stairs.

Nearly boneless with relief, Red reflexively steps forward to catch his friend in a hug. He belatedly realizes how unprofessional this looks, but Blue hugs him briefly back, and Red releases him at the same time. “Glad you’re…” He almost says ‘okay,’ but there’s something in Blue’s expression that Red can’t interpret, and he instinctively sends a psydar pulse out before remembering how dumb that is. “Alive.”

“Same to you,” Blue turns to the others and salutes the commissioner. “Blue Oak, reporting for duty, Sir.”

“At ease, Oak. You the one that turned off the lower backup generators?”

“Destroyed them. There was a renegade guarding. Came to take out these too.”

“Good man.” The commissioner glances down at Blue’s feet, seems about to say something, then turns back toward the others. “Alright Jenson, it’s your play. Who goes in first?”

“With Oak here, we’ve got more options. Mia and you will breach with me. Hitomi comes in with Sicong and Valentin a ten count later. The kids can make sure no one flanks us, or come in if it sounds like we just got blasted.” He turns to Hitomi. “Left or right?”

“I’ll go right.”

“Hold until I make the hole.” Jenson summons a rampardos and pulls a flashbang off his belt.

“Hey, I think this is yours?” Blue asks Mia as he unbuckles the police belt. “Thanks for it, saved my ass.”

“Keep it for now,” she says with a brief smile. “You might need it more.”

“Going in three,” Jenson says. “Two. One.”

He rushes forward, opens the door, and throws the flashbang in before using his laser pointer to indicate the wall between the group and it. “Cha!”

There’s a muffled bang just as his pokemon dashes headfirst into the wall and crashes through. Jenson is right behind it, followed by Mia, Burrell, and their pokemon. The sounds of battle are immediate, but continue for long enough that it’s clear they didn’t get blown away completely.

“Watch from the T-section,” Hitomi says to Red and Blue as she goes to the opposite side of the door with her poliwrath, who smashes another hole through the wall on her command and leads the way in. Once she and the other two are inside, Red moves to cover the hall opposite the way they came, while Blue steps beside him facing the opposite direction, then summons Soul.

“Shit,” Red says as he sees the state of Blue’s arcanine. His friend immediately starts spraying the patches of acid-burned flesh with potions, then sprays some antidote into his pokemon’s nose. “What happened?”

“Renegade filled the room with smog, then sent a muk at us.” Soul’s breaths are no longer rasping, and after another few moments it opens its eyes and carefully gets to its feet, though there’s hardly room for it to stand. Blue finishes healing his pokemon, then sprays some ether into its mouth and rubs his neck. “Maturin is down too, but she evolved, so… I think she’s alive. Gon didn’t make it.”

The pain and anger in his voice makes Red’s eyes water, and he almost goes to hug him again. “Damn. I’m sorry, Blue. I lost—”

A vibration runs through the walls and floor as something explodes in the room beside them. “Are they—”

Get a hold of yourself. Red sends out a pulse of psydar. “Everyone’s still alive.” Though two of their pokemon are dead or withdrawn, and one is in immense pain.

He takes deep breaths, trying to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the pull of different urges. Seeing Blue has quieted a lot of his anxious thoughts, but he still feels raw in some strange way, still feels like his thoughts are slipping against each other, or like he’s losing seconds of awareness. How long has it been since they left the security room? A minute, two? Are the hostages already dead?

He wants to bring Kadabra out to merge and check, but reminds himself again that he needs to conserve his power use—

Red only freezes for a second when the man rushes around the corner ahead of him, spots Red, and skids to a halt. Then his arm snaps up to summon his new lapras as the renegade brings out a cacturne.

“Icy Wind!”

His lapras is small enough that her shell stops just below his eye level, which means he has to rise onto his tip toes to see past where her body fills the hallway. The burst of freezing air slowed the attacking cacturne down, but eventually it manages to spit a Bullet Seed back, and Red drops to his knees behind his pokemon.

The lapras’s melodic cry is heartbreaking in pain, and Red claps his hands over his ears. “Icy Wind!” he yells, unsure whether his lent pokemon could even survive the next attack, and then—

“Red, swap!”

It takes him a moment to process the words—is Blue telling him to switch to his forretress?—and then he gets it and withdraws his lapras before pressing against the wall so Blue can send Soul barreling at their attacker. He resists the urge to watch how the battle goes, instead moving to where Blue was to watch that side as his whole body shivers with adrenaline and something else, something taut and strained near to the breaking point. He feels like he’s acting entirely by reflex and instinct, and while that might work for short periods he dreads the moment a difficult or complex choice is in front of him. He wishes he could use the battle calm, but it will take too much juggling if there’s an emergency and he has to use sakki… assuming he could still use it, in this state…

One more, he thinks as the sounds of battle behind him end. I’ve got at least one more in me, if I have to… He doesn’t know if it’s true, but when he glances over his shoulder at the sound of rapid footsteps, he sees Blue and Soul are the only ones in the hall, along with the bodies of the cacturne and an arbok. “He’s gone?”

“Yeah, but stay sharp. Might be back with help. When did you get a lapras?”

“It’s a borrow. Lost most of my team.”

“Damn.” Blue lets out a long breath, and Red can practically see the battle calm leaving him, now that he knows what it feels like. “I don’t get it, some of these guys fight till the bitter end, others scamper as soon as… wait, you hear that?”

Red focuses, but doesn’t hear anything… Oh. “The battle’s stopped.” He sends another psydar pulse out. “They’re alive.”

“Did they wi—”

There’s a crashing sound, and they’re abruptly plunged into darkness as the lights go out. “Guess so.” Red turns on his belt light a moment after Blue snaps his on, and they rotate to watch the halls. Any relief he might feel is overwhelmed by the creeping fear of an attacker making their way toward them in the dark. Come on, come on…

It feels like minutes later, but is probably less than one, when the door opens and everyone files out. “Everything quiet out here?”

“One came, we chased them off.”

Sicong is striding toward the stairs without slowing, and Red reflexively follows, only checking after a few steps whether the others are coming too.

They are, and the hunters quickly catch up to Sicong. “Careful. If they have nothing else to lose—”

“Wait,” Red says as he sends another psydar pulse out, then another. “Someone’s… going up the stairs…”

“Who?!”

Red takes a deep breath, focusing as hard as he can as he sends his senses out to their limits, merging with the mind for a brief moment-tension-fear-burninglegs-RENEGADES[?!]-dark-smog-before it goes out of his range—

“It’s the president!” he gasps just as his knees buckle. Blue and Mia catch his arms. “There are renegades with him!”

Sicong is already running, as are the hunters. “Go,” Blue says to Mia, and she releases him to follow the bobbing lights of the others. “Red, what’s going on? Are you hurt?”

“It’s… I’m fine…” The hallway is spinning, though he can distantly feel that he’s sitting with his back against the wall.

“He exhausted himself,” Valentin says. Red didn’t even realize he’s still with them. “Used his powers to take out a bunch of renegades before we went for the generators.”

“Oh. Right.”

Red remembers that there’s a conversation or ten that he’s dreading, but it’s hard to focus on anything right now besides Silph. “We have to go up…” He tries to push himself to his feet, only to be pushed back down.

“It’s fine, Red. There’s nothing more we can do now that they won’t, and it’s even more dangerous for us to battle around them in the dark.”

“I don’t get it, though,” Valentin says. “Why take the president up instead of down? Are they going to try to fly away with him?”

“They wouldn’t make it three minutes. I looked out the window on the way up, the place is surrounded. Actually, we should probably head down, tell them what’s going on so they don’t bring down the building…”

“They’ll know the power is out, but good call.”

“Oh, are our phones working now?”

“Already checked, mine’s not. Jammer must still be active, somewhere… I’ll go down, you stay with him until he’s more rested.”

Red tries to say he’s fine again, but the hallway is still spinning, so he just rests his forehead against his knees as they continue to talk briefly, then Valentin’s footsteps recede. He’s thinking of what the tech lead said, about why they might bring Silph up. It doesn’t make sense, they’re missing something… missing multiple somethings. Why did they let some hostages go but not others? Why didn’t they try to kill any of us?

“Something’s wrong, Blue,” he mutters. “We’re missing something…” Or at least, he tries to say it, but the words come out backward and echoey as he feels his back sliding against the wall, and then the darkness becomes absolute.


The thought hits her like the pichu’s thundershock in Viridian Forest, sending tingles through her body and tightening all her muscles as she sucks in a breath.

And then she’s up and dashing toward Agent Looker, who’s arguing with Professor Oak and a couple officers in fancy uniforms.

“The hostages!” Leaf shouts as she runs. “Looker! It’s the hostages!”

The group turns to look at her, their anger shifting to confusion… all except for Agent Looker, who looks like she just punched him between the eyes.

She had to go back to basics, think of everything the renegades had at their disposal, every resource and limitation. What do they have? Pokemon, office supplies, hostages. What can’t they do? Use internet, fly out, travel…

Could they have discovered a way for pokemon to teleport with objects? No, if she imagines that they learned how to do something completely new, the possibilities are endless. She has to stick to what she understands or else she has no chance of guessing something probable on time.

What doesn’t make sense? Letting some hostages go…

At first she thought they would just leave it somewhere in the building and recover it later, but no, it’s much easier than that. They let everyone below certain floors go, but kept them where they were operating. All they have to do is hand the data or Master Ball parts to one of them, and then it doesn’t matter if they escape or not.

So long as no one saw them acting as a renegade, any one of them could just walk out with it once the dust has settled.

Agent Looker turns to the man beside him. “Deputy Commissioner, I’m requesting a holding area within the jammed zone. Everyone who leaves the building gets a full search, understand? All of them.”

Professor Oak, meanwhile, has taken the opportunity to start walking toward the building. The cop from before who was organizing the response steps in front of him.

“Get out of my way, Son,” Oak says, voice low and calm.

“Can’t do that, Professor. This is an active—”

“The power’s out!”

Everyone turns as one toward the voice that shouted. It’s one of the drone operators, who’s staring at a tablet. He fiddles with some controls, and Leaf looks up to see one of the drones swooping around the building. “I’m seeing dark on every floor—”

“Me too—”

“I’ve got eyes on a stairwell, emergency lights have turned on—”

The organizing officer has a pair of fingers on his headset, looking distracted. Professor Oak steps around him and strides toward the building, but he doesn’t go after him, instead lifting the bullhorn from his belt and switching it on.

“Power is down, confirmed! Units one through four, breach!”

Everything happens very quickly after that.

Leaf wants to help, but Looker’s remark from earlier still holds true. Instead she watches for a few moments as police and hunters flood the building, some riding on pokemon that climb quickly to higher floors and break through windows. Her restless energy shifts her from foot to foot until she forces herself to go over to where Looker and someone she hasn’t seen before are speaking to a growing group of high ranked officers.

“No, this is an interpol operation now. My partner and I are going to oversee this. All you people need to do is ensure no one leaves without being screened, understand?”

Less than five minutes later some pokemon fly away from the building at high speeds in every direction. More rise to intercept them, and Leaf almost believes she was wrong for a moment, but no, she’s sure… almost sure, that those are decoys.

Fifteen minutes later the hostages are starting to trickle out, but by then there’s a cordon line set up and officers at every building entrance, watching to ensure no one leaves the area until their belongings are thoroughly checked.

“Building is clear,” one of the drone operators says soon after. “We’ve got multiple confirmations from unit leaders, all hostiles are down.”

“Understood. Requesting the city to bring the power back online.”

“Keep the internet connection severed,” Looker says, and the officer nods and repeats that to whomever is on the headset with him.

And five minutes after that Professor Oak re-emerges, spots her, and gestures.

He’s smiling.

Leaf’s feet feel like they barely touch the ground as she runs toward him, whole body light and tears leaking down her cheeks. She follows him through the halls, barely registering the signs of battle in one of the big office spaces they pass through.

Red and Blue have been given their own room to recuperate in, with police stationed outside. They’re half draped over a couch big enough for four, both looking like they’re ready to sleep for hours. Both have water bottles and snacks from the vending machine scattered around them, and Blue is flipping through channels on the wall monitor, each showing news coverage of the event.

Leaf doesn’t spare it a glance before rushing over to pull the boys into a massive hug. One of them smells like they walked through a burning chemical plant, which is as good a reason as any for the prickling in her eyes.

…word from the commissioner, who was also on site during the attack. Casualties are still unreported, but…”

“On reconsideration, Red,” Leaf says, and clears her throat. “I think you should charge Silph. Lots.”

Blue laughs, though Red only gives a weak chuckle. “It might be hard to put a market price on… everything that happened today.”

“Just means any number you give can’t be unreasonable.”

Professor Oak clears his throat. “We’re still not getting signal in here, and probably won’t for a while. I’m going to go call Laura, tell her you’re alright.”

“Thanks, Professor.”

Leaf pulls back as he leaves and takes in the sight of them both, gaze lingering on the strain around Red’s eyes. “You exhausted your psychic powers again, didn’t you?”

Red’s surprised and guilty look is answer enough. “How did you…?”

“Seen it too many times not to recognize it, I guess. Though I can’t tell if this is as bad as Celadon, or Vermilion? Or… Lavender?” He looks somehow more tired than he did at the tower, not that that means much, considering he looked well enough then until he suddenly wasn’t.

“He already passed out,” Blue helpfully says. “But he was fine after ten minutes or so. Well. Awake again, at least. That’s not what’s eating him, though.”

“What is eating you, then?” she asks. “Your pokemon…?”

“We both lost some, but it’s not that.” Red glances behind her, and she turns to see what he was looking at. The police standing by the door? But then he says, “I think we lost.”

Leaf looks between them, some of her joy fading. “Did they kill—”

“The President is okay, they got him away from the renegades. They didn’t kill anyone, actually, as far as we can tell all of the hostages are fine. But they managed to get two-thirds of the Master Ball, apparently, and a bunch of the renegades flew off.”

“I keep telling him they won’t get far, but he insists we missed something, and they got away with the info. I think he’s just paranoid.”

Leaf lets out a breath. “Oh, is that all. Well, I’m pretty sure I actually figured that out.” They stare at her for a moment, and she smiles. “See, I think one of them disguised themself as a hostage, or maybe got it handed off to them. They set up a checkpoint outside, all the hostages are being searched before they’re allowed out of the area. We’re jamming any signals, so they can’t transfer anything.”

Red is still staring at her, but some new life is in his eyes. “Leaf, you’re a genius.”

“Nah, I just thought about it for a bit. Everyone else was too busy, you know, actually trying to solve the crisis. It was Agent Looker who made me, he deserves a lot of thanks—”

…sorry, I’ve just received word that… a group of renegades has claimed credit for the attack.”

Leaf turns to the television in surprise. The news anchor is holding a hand to his earpiece. “What the hell?” Blue mutters, and lifts the remote to turn the volume up.

“A video was uploaded to the net just minutes ago, and appears to be… a manifesto of some kind…”

All three of them are staring at the screen, and one of the police officers has even stepped in to frown at the monitor.

“We’re going to play the video now, but be advised that we have not verified the authenticity of any claims within it.”

And then the news anchor at his desk is replaced by…

—Leaf’s breath catches at the wash of unreality, of this all being a bizarre dream—

…another desk, black marble, with a man in a white suit sitting in a chair. His face is cast in shadow, and on the wall behind him is…

A big red R, in the same style as the Rocket Casino’s sign.

“Greetings, people of the world. Greetings, people of Indigo.” The words aren’t distorted, but hold the artificial intonations of a text-to-voice program. “Months ago, a mystery was uncovered in your City of Rainbow Dreams, uncovered by chance… or if you’d like, by an act of gods. Renegades, beneath your very homes, working in secret for ends unknown.

“Police both local and international attempted to learn all they could. The public demanded answers. Where did they come from? What were their goals? Were they part of some broader conspiracy?

“I am here to give you all those answers and more, starting with the last: Yes. My conspiracy.”

“What the fuck,” the cop mutters, voice low.

“Our goal is also simple to answer: power, and survival. The Rocket Casino was among the smallest of our operations. It was a source of revenue, and a secret place to study stolen technology. We have many more like it, and will continue to use whatever means necessary to carve out a place for ourselves in a world that has rejected us.

“As for where they came from…” The man spreads his hands. “Everywhere. Nearly every region on the planet treats renegades the same, and so I have gathered them into one organization, and put them to useful purposes.

“Though renegades were employed at the Rocket Casino, none had orders to harm anyone unless threatened first. At least one disobeyed those orders, or perhaps believed the Casino to be under attack. It was an error that cost people lives, and we do not celebrate that. Our goal, as I said, is enough power to survive, not mayhem or destruction.

“And while many have wondered what other evils the Rocket renegades did in their time there, I can answer truthfully that up until the earthquakes, they did nothing. They acted as simple citizens, no different than any other criminal enterprise that keeps to lawful pursuits for most of their days.

“You see, renegades are not mindless killers, striking without reason. Celadon suffered not a single renegade attack in the five years it had my people there, up until the day of the incident, and while I regret the loss of life that occurred, I cannot fault my people for acting from a place of fear.”

“Bullshit,” Red whispers… but he looks uneasy.

“Your culture has lied to you. It has convinced you that renegades are not people, and deserve to be treated as less than people. And so people will continue to feel they need an alternative.”

The man opens his arms wide. “We are that alternative. We’ve operated in secret until now, but that time has passed. Psychics have had too much power throughout history, and with Miracle Eye they will only have more. So long as psychics are trusted in society, it is no longer safe for us.”

Red makes a sound Leaf can’t interpret, and she turns to see him staring with wide eyes. The next words pull her gaze back to the screen.

“Today we attacked Silph Corporation to steal the Master Ball. We did it because we know it marks a new age. An age where the regions have trainers, League or otherwise, who wield legendary pokemon. In this new age, any without one will be incapable of defending themselves. Having this technology was a necessary step for our fledgling region to defend itself, and so we took steps to secure it. I can say now that we mostly succeeded. I now possess two-thirds of the completed prototype, and my engineers will work tirelessly to recreate the rest.”

No. Leaf can’t tell if she says the word out loud or not, her whole body feels cold. She solved it, she stopped them, how did they…?

“And just as importantly, we accomplished this without harming anyone, at the cost of our own lives, to prove that renegades are no worse than ordinary criminals. Criminals that deserve arrest, if caught, and trial. Nothing more, nothing less.

“But we know that is unlikely. And so I say to you today, those of you who fear being branded a renegade, even if you have not committed any crimes… those who have been branded, and don’t wish to live your life as a monster on the run… those who believe it is wrong that your friends and family and neighbors will condemn you without proper trial or proportion… do not despair, for we are here.

“Join us, and together we will have enough power to fight for our own safety. And those of you who have used pokemon against others… we will hear you out, judge your character, and perhaps give you a second chance at life. You may not have freedom, but neither will you be discarded inhumanely.

“This past year has seen many changes in our world. For many, it seems clear we are entering a new age. And I declare this as true for renegades as anyone else.

“We are Team Rocket. We are everywhere. And we will defend ourselves from any attempt at annihilation.”

112: Hunted

The third time Blue thinks of the perfect attack to use, then has to revise to something far less effective due to environmental constraints, a calm and distant part of him swears that he’s going to make teams of pokemon built entirely for fighting indoors and keep half of his belt full of them at all times.

“TB! Hyp!”

“Ah! Ca! Bab!”

The renegade’s pokemon are outnumbered and at a type disadvantage, but they’re also smaller and more nimble than his: Rive’s Hammer Arm is easily dodged by the magneton, and while Soul gets a Crunch off on the hypno, it manages to stay conscious long enough to put the scarred arcanine to sleep.

Thankfully Rive blocked the thunderbolt from hitting Maturin, whose bubblebeam disorients the magneton and keeps it from getting its next attack off before Blue can yell “Sab!” The Body Slam connects and sends it reeling, and Blue has another moment to spare a mental grouse for the fact that his most effective tactic at the moment is to tell a Ground pokemon to use a Normal attack against a goddamn Electric/Steel type before that Electric/Steel type sends a Mirror Shot out to burrow three holes in his pokemon’s rocky hide.

Blue swaps the Awakening he pulled out of his bag to his other hand to spray it on Soul while he withdraws Rive—if that was a Flash Cannon he would be dead, he’s okay unless it hit a critical organ—then leaps behind one of the generators to avoid the next thunderbolt, which he only assumed would go for him instead of Maturin because he was closer. “Bab!” he yells again, and “Ca!” for good measure in case Soul has woken up to finish off the hypno. He might be dead right now if he wasn’t immune to psychic attacks, and has a brief moment to be glad that he didn’t stay Miracle Eyed through all this.

“Go, Gon!” His breloom appears beside him, then dashes toward the fight once he says “Pam!” He’s spent a lot of time tweaking the simulations to reinforce targeting priorities of certain moves against certain pokemon, so he’s fairly sure that Mach-Punch will get aimed at the magneton, but he knows he’ll have to risk a look at the battle soon to get a renewed sense of what’s happening…

Or the sound of another pokemon being sent out could force him to do it now.

Blue does his best to peek around the corner without exposing much of himself, and feels his heart sink at the sight of the magmar.

Three different commands burst out of his throat in a rush, “GonbackMaturinbabSoulsae!” but the renegade just has to give one, and does so while running: “Overheat.”

The magmar’s body begins to glow, turning Maturin’s Bubble Beam to hissing steam as soon as it hits. Soul slams into the renegade pokemon a moment later, but the magmar just keeps glowing brighter—

—Blue sends Maturin into her shell with a “Wa!” as he stretches Gon’s greatball out in one hand as far as it will go—

—until a torrent of flame bursts out of the magmar in every direction.

Blue toggles the return beam at the last possible moment, but his breloom is still too far when the fire washes over it, and he snatches his arm back to avoid the searing heat that radiates out.

The air goes from air conditioned cold to sweltering in a flash, but Blue barely feels it, anger burning white-hot in his core as flashbacks of catching Gon in Viridian Forest and training with him throughout his journey run through his mind. The shroomish was with him nearly as long as his starter, through every gym badge he’s earned, he’s always prepared to lose his pokemon defending people from wild pokemon but he just lost Gon to this nobody, this cowardly murderer

“I’m going to fucking kill you!” Blue yells over the roar of the flames, and knows that the sound swallowed his oath. He seethes fruitlessly as he cowers, sweat beading his face as he waits for the heat to fade…

…and when it finally does, quickly pulls out a burn heal and sprays it all over his prickling face and hands. The very air itself smells burnt to a kind of weird, empty scent-that’s-not-a-scent, but beneath that there’s a whiff of something else that makes his stomach turn. He knows what he’ll see before he even looks, but he has to confirm…

The magmar is on all fours, trembling with exertion, its colors dull. “Ca,” Blue reflexively says, and Soul stumbles to his feet, smoke rising from his fur, and pounces to sinks his fangs into the back of the pokemon’s neck. Maturin is okay, coming out of her shell and sniffing cautiously at the air. While Gon…

Gon is just a smoldering pile of brown fungal flesh. The magneton is a melted triple smear of strange mechanical innards, and the hypno is barely identifiable, making Blue wonder why the renegade didn’t withdraw his pokemon before realizing the underlying mistaken assumption that led to losing his own.

The renegade he fought upstairs ran for it as soon as it seemed like he might lose, and made sure to take his pokemon with him on the way out. This one is willing to sacrifice all his pokemon, maybe even himself.

It looked like he ran and used the magmar to cover his escape. But what if—

Blue whips his head around, hands dropping to his pokebelt… but nothing attacks him. Was he wrong? Did the Renegade actually run?

Well, he’ll just have to find the bastard, wherever he’s hiding. The room seems about as big as the large, open office he fought in upstairs, but much more cluttered, a virtual maze of equipment that is mostly large enough for a man to hide behind. But there’s just one entrance, if he goes there and waits, he’ll catch the renegade eventually if he hasn’t already left, and if he has left he can’t have gone far—

In the corner of his eye Blue sees Maturin suddenly pop back into her shell, and reflexively crouches as he quickly scans the area again, pulse racing. He waits for his battle calm, but…

Nothing. There’s nothing around them, and so he continues just being on edge. What was she reacting to…?

And then he remembers Red’s signal.

Shit. Something’s about to happen, and Blue isn’t in place to take advantage of it or help in any way… he hasn’t even accomplished what he came here for, and the clock is ticking.

He takes one last look around, then rushes to the generators, setting aside the need for revenge. Later he promises his anger, but the burning beast just paces more restlessly, knowing full well that if he doesn’t catch the fucker now, he probably never will.

Focus.

The metal is hot to the touch, but not damaged in any obvious way. It makes sense that they’d ensure it can’t overheat if something goes wrong, but Rive should be able to break it down… assuming his rhydon is still alive.

“Soul, Maturin, guard.” There are corpses taking up too much space now, so he backs up a little to summon his injured pokemon, two hyper potions at the ready. The rocky rhino’s hide has three holes in it, but the dark blood welling out of them makes it hard to see how deep they go. Blue quickly empties his potions into his pokemon, then grabs its lower jaw and pries it open to drop a revive down its throat for good measure.

He keeps his head on a swivel throughout, though his pokemon aren’t reacting to anything nearby. Rive’s blood has formed two small puddles around him, but hope stirs in Blue’s chest as he notices that they don’t seem to be growing.

The rhydon shifts, then opens its eyes as it takes a deeper breath in. “Good job, buddy. You did great.” Blue strokes Rive’s snout a couple times, careful of the spiral horn as his pokemon continues to shift, then steps back as his pokemon pushes himself to his feet. “Now, I need you to wreck some shit.”

Lizzy explained how building generators like this have pokeballs with electrodes in them, ready to release automatically if any fluctuation in the power goes below a certain point. He debates taking the time to remove the electrode greatballs from the generators, but he wouldn’t be able to command them, and they’re the least expensive part of what he’s about to wreck, so he just points to the container that houses them and says, “Rive, Ah.”

Rive moves gingerly to brace on his feet, and Blue almost tells him to stop so he can check for deeper injuries before his pokemon surges forward and slams his forearm down onto the generator.

“Ah,” he says again, and the next Hammer Arm dents the container enough to expose the inside. He’s pretty sure that’s enough to keep the generator from functioning, so he moves on to the next one, heart still racing as he looks around, expecting another attack just when he drops his guard.

It doesn’t come until the second generator is destroyed and he’s led his pokemon to the third. A series of flashes have Blue throwing his back against one of the damaged generator for cover as Soul growls and Maturin’s ears flare out.

Two commands get stuck competing in Blue’s throat. Should he tell Rive to destroy the third generator, or be prepared for battle? There would still be another one after, and even if he destroys all four none of this will matter if he can’t get to the second set of backup generators…

When he hears the thick hisss, it’s immediately obvious what’s coming next, and at last the battle calm descends as one hand flies to his mask straps to ensure they’re tight while the other points to the generator again. “Rive, Ah!”

THUD

“Ah!”

THUD

“Ah!”

CRACK

The smog is visible now, which means he only has a few moments… “Ah!”

There’s rending sound of metal tearing, and then Blue rushes to the last generator, points, and yells “Ah!” again.

Rive hesitates.

“Ah!’

Another hesitation, and Blue grits his teeth as Rive cocks his head from side to side. Blue can barely make out the generator himself, and rhydon have worse eyesight than humans.

Soul coughs, and Blue rushes over to spray an Antidote onto both him and Maturin to buy some time, then rushes back to Rive, unclips his pidgeot’s ball and braces his arm to aim it back the way he came. “Go, Zephyr!” There’s no guarantee that the smog will have somewhere permanent to go, but he just needs a few seconds.

His pokemon appears, but it’s a tight fit. “Gust!” Blue commands, and as soon as the pidgeot starts flapping, screeching in pain as it’s launched up and smacks its head against the ceiling, Blue points to the generator again as the smog thins for a moment. “Rive, Ah!’

THUD

“Ah!”

CRACK

Zephyr has stopped flapping, instead hopping awkwardly on one foot in a daze as he continually tries to keep his balance. Blue returns him to his ball before he hurts himself or anyone else, which is why he spots the muk that’s silently oozing its way toward his pokemon from behind, invisible to Soul’s nose in the smog.

“Soul, alert, Mat—”

“Sludge Wave!”

His pokemon haven’t managed to fully turn before the renegade’s command rings out, and Blue sees Soul’s silhouette get buried in a wave of gunk as the arcanine roars in pain.

He has to stop himself from rushing over, instead yelling “Chaf!” for Soul, “Bab!” for Maturin, and then, hoping Rive can still see enough: “AH!”

CRUNCH

It’ll have to do.

Three pokemon being poisoned at once is too much to manage, so he withdraws Rive rather than risk having him attack blind, then stops himself from rushing to where his other two pokemon are for a second time. Even against a wild pokemon that would be risky, in a situation like this it’s suicidal. The renegade took time to plan this out, if he just blindly reacts (literally) he’ll just get himself killed… plus, he’s pretty sure there were three flashes earlier, which means there’s still a third pokemon lying in wait, maybe creeping up on him right now…

The calm helps him think even through the sounds of a battle he can’t see, but no path to victory appears in his mind. Options. He has tools on his belt for disabling the renegade, but he has to get closer than this to use them…

…which may be the last thing the renegade expects him to do.

If it means letting his pokemon fend for themselves, it’s also the last thing he wants to do. But his opponent already took the strategy he thought of earlier, and with a better twist; he can’t just wait around or else his pokemon are going to succumb to poison. And still, it would be dangerous to assume the renegade will just wait, instead of having a next step that he’s carrying out even now…

Next step. That’s the key, always. Anticipating what the opponent would do with what resources he has.

Blue closes his eyes, which are mostly just showing various shades of light at this point, and breathes deep of the filtered air. What are his opponent’s goals and resources?

He’s here to protect the building’s power sources. So his goals will be to kill me or my pokemon or to stop me from destroying the generators…

which I just destroyed.

What’s he going to do when he realizes that?

He feels his battle calm slipping as he tries to think of what in the room might shield him from a Self Destruct explosion from a weezing, then realizes nothing can. He has to get out of this room, maybe get Rive to break through a wall, even if he can’t see…

No, that wouldn’t put him in a better position. He has to take the renegade out. And that’s probably not just a desire for revenge talking, though if he loses Soul or Maturin too…

Blue crouch-runs to the edge of the room, hands held out to push himself off things he runs into until he finds the wall. It feels a little like being back in Viridian, where the smoke was so thick he could barely see his hand in front of him, and the memory of the shiftry ambush makes him extra cautious as he moves toward the entrance.

The sounds of his pokemon battling continue all the while, and hopes they mask any noise he makes to whatever third pokemon the renegade surely has out, waiting for him to approach…

Blue slows, heart pounding as he imagines the possibilities and realizes he needs another edge. Something to take his opponent off guard…

He takes his shoes off, then brushes his fingers over Ion’s ball. The smog is too thick for it to detect any empty space to summon into, even if there is some. So he walks a blind circle, arms out, then unclips Ion’s ball, hefts it for a moment as he aims… then triggers the manual release.

As soon as his pokemon is out, Blue rushes for the opposite side of the room and yells “Fa!” along the way.

The flash of light isn’t particularly bright through the haze, but he hopes it’s enough to draw attention, while the memory of where his voice was draws them to a second false-location. Meanwhile…

He finds the wall again and sprints with one hand on it and the other ahead of him. His socks make each step practically soundless, and while part of him worries about stepping on something sharp (like a trap set by the renegade, if he has a pokemon to litter spikes at the entrance with), the main thing he’s thinking is that his ability to kick just got a lot less damaging.

He’s about to find out if his lessons at the dojo paid off. It wasn’t all parkour and trampolines and trainer battles, after all.

There are more flashes of light in the smog now, or rather one long illumination that he hopes isn’t Soul burning the last of his life away, and then his outstretched palm hits a body. He immediately grips and tugs as he ducks and steps past and to the side, one leg out to trip the renegade in the direction he just came.

He catches the man totally off guard, sending him down in a sprawl that nearly knocks Blue down with him, and his other hand grabs the man’s mask to tug up. The renegade grips his arm and pulls down to stop him, kicking against the floor to try to regain his feet, and Blue’s other hand brings the stun gun from his belt and presses it against the man’s stomach.

I really hope this doesn’t shock me too is his last thought before he pulls the trigger. The renegade begins to convulse, nearly yanking Blue’s arm out of his socket, but he doesn’t feel anything else, and after counting out ten seconds he releases the trigger.

The man’s grip goes slack, and Blue yanks his mask off, then stumbles to his feet and throws it randomly deeper into the room. A second later he’s taking the cuffs from his belt and yanking the renegade’s arms behind his back to cuff them together.

Finally he unclasps the man’s belt, which he takes with him as he finds the door, opens it, then closes it behind him, leaning against the cool metal and panting to catch his breath.

He feels like shit, but damn is it good to be alive.

The inner counter in his head hits sixty seconds, and now he has a choice to make. If he keeps the door closed, the renegade will die from the poison… but so will his pokemon, who are likely all injured by now. Much as he wants the renegade dead, and much as this would be a justified way to get there, he can’t lose Soul and Ion here too, and Maturin…

Blue takes one last deep breath, then summons Rive. “Guard,” he says, then opens the door and yells, “Soul, back! Maturin, back! Ion, back!”

And waits, as the smog spreads outward into the rest of the hall, to see if his pokemon are well enough to comply and follow the sound of his voice. He doesn’t hear any more sounds of battle, and after counting thirty seconds repeats, “Soul, back! Maturin, back! Ion, ba—”

Ion is the first to arrive, limping and covered in acid burns. Blue gives him a few quick sprays of potion and antidote, then says, “Guard,” and calls out again: “Soul, back! Maturin, back!” He hopes whatever Ion was fighting isn’t still conscious, let alone the muk… but they’re not wild pokemon, they won’t just attack randomly without the renegade’s commands, right? Unless the bastard was crazy enough to order that sort of thing…

He can hear the renegade start coughing, and the smog is thin enough now that he can make out his form on the ground. Blue steps forward and finds the stun gun handle, then presses the trigger again, this time until it auto-stops, which he counts at thirty seconds. He clicks the trigger again a few times, but it probably has some recharge period or safety feature, so he drops it and says, “Ion, come.”

Blue leads quickly through the thinning smog until they find the site of the battle. Soul is lying on his side beside a scorched and smoldering muk, and beside them looms a shape that Blue almost orders Ion to attack…

Until he makes out the two cannons poking up from the round shell, and realizes Maturin has finally evolved.

Blue’s hands don’t shake as they move to return his pokemon, but he does run back to the entrance once they’re back on his belt. The air is mostly clear now, at the cost of the air quality on the rest of the floor, and he hopes whoever else might be here has access to first aid kits.

Still, he doesn’t pause to find his shoes. There’s still the second power room, and unless Red has pulled off another miracle, they’re almost out of time.


Red only has a few moments to decide whether to try to keep picking the searching renegades off, or teleport back to the safety of the security room before the situation changes again: almost all at once, the renegade pokemon vanish from Kadabra’s psychic senses.

Did I win? The hopeful thought is mixed with confusion, but it doesn’t seem impossible that they’d decide to suddenly retreat in the face of the unknown. He should check with the president and see if those renegades with him are gone too…

He hears a crash somewhere on his floor.

Red pulls his mind away from Kadabra’s and settles into his own body again—

—and half-collapses against the office desk he was leaning on as the room wobbles around him.

It takes a moment to realize it’s not literally spinning, then another to recognize the vague ache in his head. Overdid it. It’s been months since he taxed himself beyond his psychic limits, he practically forgot that he could. His thoughts feel sluggish, so it takes him what feels like a minute (but is hopefully just a few seconds) to realize that what’s disorienting him is the lack of extrasensory perceptions. His own body feels strange to him.

Not a great sign. But he hears another crash, and so pushes the concern aside, almost reflexively using amnesia before catching himself and realizing that might actually be a bad idea.

Still, it might not be safe to stay here. The crashing sound is repeating, and seems to be getting closer. Is there a battle happening? And now there’s the unmistakable tone of a command, and—

BANG

Out the door and to his left. He braces himself as best he can, then sends out a psydar pulse, then another, then another. It’s less disorienting than he expected, if anything it makes him feel better, and he has to remind himself of his exhaustion to keep from the sweet surrender of immersing himself back into mergers.

He breathes in deep, grounding himself in the feel of the air in his nose and lungs. He also sends part of his attention down into his feet, to the press of the floor against him, and tightens his hands against the edge of the desks, feeling it bite into his skin as he sends another few pulses out, trying to make sense of the brief glimpses into the constellation of minds around him.

There’s an obvious cluster of sharper “excitation” down the hall compared to elsewhere. It’s hard to tell what emotions are dominant there but fear feels closest to correct… but he doesn’t sense any pokemon…

Another BANG, closer this time, makes him realize he has to risk it. Red takes one more deep breath, then merges with one of the buzzing/fearful minds on his floor…

fear[pokemon(RENEGADE)]pleasenodon’thurt[stay]smallquiethide[body]legsache[RENEGADES(how?!)]pleasesomeonecomesoon

He pulls back into himself and lets his breath out as pieces of the sensorium settle into a snapshot of what the woman was seeing/hearing…

…and abruptly merges with Kadabra to jump to another office as he finishes processing it.

There’s a renegade with a pokemon going from room to room, smashing through doors, clearly looking for something. The woman didn’t get a good look at the pokemon, didn’t recognize what she did see, so he has no idea what it was…

…but it was clearly a dark pokemon, if he can’t sense it. Which doesn’t seem coincidental.

CRASH

Red twitches, then sends his psydar out to scan the new floor he’s on (fifth? sixth?). Once again some minds are more scared than others, and again a quick and disorienting merger with one of them gives him a composite impression of a [RENEGADE] pokemon… no, he knows this one, it’s a scrafty.

He wishes he could delve into the person’s memories, but the woman he merged with isn’t actively thinking about the past—not important, he can extrapolate. The renegades have all switched to dark pokemon, which means some order went out to coordinate them in a way that feels not just deliberate, but prepared.

How did they arrive at this hypothesis so quickly? There should have been other explanations they assumed before jumping to this one, right?

A shiver of disquiet goes through him, and his heart rate redoubles as he realizes there could be a dark renegade with a dark pokemon outside his door right now. He wonders fleetingly if this is how abra feel all the time, then decides their strategy is a good one, and prepares to teleport to another office…

…to his room…

danger(?!)

Red’s breath stutters, and he frowns as he tries to concentrate. Yes, there’s danger here, that’s why he has to go home, where it’s safe…

danger!

room

silph

room

SILPH DANGER

It’s like bouncing off an invisible wall in his mind, and Red reels for a moment until…

…the partitions fall, and he’s back as his full self.

His full self is whimpering.

“Oh shit. Oh shit, oh shit oh shitohshit—”

He can’t teleport. He’s not sure why actually, are his partitions leaking, or has Kadabra just been exposed to his fear too much to trust the—FOCUS, he has to get out of here, he’ll figure out why it’s not working later—no, it IS important now, he has to know if Silph’s office still counts as safe enough to retreat to, or the security room…

Red feels his mind tipping in multiple directions at once, and one of them is the alarmed (and alarming) thought that he might have broken his partitions somehow…

Red you moron, your partitions don’t work if you’re psychically exhausted!

The inner voice sounds remarkably like Blue’s, despite the fact that he’s never really talked about psychic stuff much with Blue. Inner Blue is right, though, and in any other circumstance it would be funny that he forgot about this (and a bit nice, a sign that he’s come so far and it’s been so long since his early days of dealing with depression every night after training, forgetting about that would normally feel like a victory)—

CRASH

Okay that was definitely closer, he needs to focus, and also panic a little, because without his partitions he can’t teleport, and also lots of memories of the past ten minutes(?)twenty(?) are crowding at the same time, and also he can’t shield his secret memories from anyone who might merge with him, but then again he’s kind of revealing most of those right now anyway so he should probably be panicking more about the lack of teleporting.

Well, he should still be able to teleport outside normally, right? But that means running away, and if he does that Blue will get mad at him… well, not necessarily, not if Blue’s dead, like Aiko and his dad…

Tears prickle at Red’s eyes, and it’s a reminder from months ago to center and ground himself. Focus. Breathe. It’s hard to think clearly, and his emotions are now wildly swinging between sadness and panic, but if the renegade going door to door is about to find him, that means he’s about to be in a pokemon battle.

And now, thanks to Blue, he has an app for that.

It takes more time and effort than it should, but once he has each mental anchor in place the next gets easier.

I have a goal.

—a sense of something bright/shining/pulling/crystalline—

I have options.

—an endlessly outward branching—

The enemy has a goal.

—darkness/emptiness/contempt—

Predict their options.

—hemming of branches, cutting and winnowing down until—

Find the path.

—a bright line among the branches, a series of steps up toward the light—

Know victory.

The sense of anticipated completion/satisfaction/glory is fleeting, an echo, but its promise is enough to send calm through Red’s system. He still feels urgency, still feels a tremor of leashed energy in his limbs calling him to fight or flight, but there’s a clarity to the next steps, a sense of flow between what’s happening now and what will happen, and that flow becomes a current that pulls his limbs into movement as soon as he thinks of what he should do, what the right next move is…

holy shit Blue you battle like this all the time?—

But no, Blue’s version of this must be faster, or more efficient. Maybe it’s the mental overexertion, or the leaking partitions, or maybe it’s just because he’s new to this way of thinking, but it feels like he’s taking too long to reach each decision.

Still, it’s useful for not getting stuck on thoughts like that. What he needs to focus on now is the scrafty that’s about to smash open the door at any moment, and how Kadabra won’t be able to hit him, nor sakki affect him, without Miracle Eye, which means Kadabra needs something to buy time.

So Red will buy him time. Simple, right?

His unclips Forretress’s ball and almost summons the Bug/Steel pokemon, but stops himself. The sound would alert the Renegade, who might call for backup. He needs to surprise him.

Also, Forretress would block the doorway, which would get him stuck here, so the Renegade could just bring out a ranged attacker… if he has one that’s dark…

Magneton could Light Screen-electric attacks risky to use-fire pokemon?-kingler could block, but not much reach —

Possibilities spin out before him, but in this state of mind there’s a clarity to them, they don’t overwhelm him, they’re just a series of ideas/obstacles/problems that he checks solutions against. Snorlax and Nidoqueen were far too big for the offices, so other than Kadabra, he decided to focus largely on Bug pokemon that could beat Dark types, which meant bringing Aiko’s venomoth Winter, Ariados, and Forretress, as well as Magneton and Nidorino for wider coverage. His additional resources include his stun gun, flash bomb, sakki…

could flash bomb a ranged pokemon, buy time for Kingler to block until Miracle Eye, then use sakki…

…wait…. Can he project sakki while in this state?

The question feels like it tugs all the possibility strands into a loop. Every strategy he has relies on the ability to defeat a renegade with sakki by turning their pokemon against them, that’s the Path to Victory every tactic aims for, his only other options like the stun gun are temporary. If he can’t reach it without giving up this mental clarity…

The calm starts to fade as unease spreads through his stomach, thoughts still looping on the uncertainty until he hears footsteps approach the door. Red is still holding one arm outstretched, Forretress’s ball aimed forward, and it snaps up as he reflexively summons his pokemon just after the door is smashed open, while the other hand fires his stun gun at the renegade—

—who dodges to the side immediately upon seeing Red, but that buys time for Red to duck away from his own returning shot.

No fair! The fired darts embed in the desk, and Red scrambles away from the crackling wires that connect to them even as he feels the battle calm resettle, focus narrowing to the immediate next steps. The bulky pokemon will buy him some time, and the scary open loop in his victory path is unimportant if he just defeats his opponent’s dark pokemon he can use sakki on their non-dark ones, it won’t matter if he loses this clarity then.

“I found him, fifth floor!” the renegade yells just as Red’s “Bug Bite” sends his Bug/Steel pokemon rolling forward. It opens its metallic shell just enough to clamp hungry fangs on its stout Dark/Fighting opponent, while Red mentally commands Kadabra to use Miracle Eye—

“Fire Punch!”

Shit.

The scrafty rears back a fist that was TM modified to leak combustible fluid, and when it strikes Forretress it sends the otherwise steadfast pokemon rolling away, twitching in pain.

Red swaps Forretress out for Nidorino, but a “Zen Headbutt!” makes it clear that his responding “Double Kick” won’t even the playing field. Meanwhile the renegade is unclipping something from his belt, but it doesn’t look like a pokeball—

Red dodges behind the desk just as the second stun gun whips up and fires, and dips back into Kadabra’s mind just enough to tell that his pokemon can now see the Scrafty. He has to either use Psychic on it now and take it down, or…

He closes his eyes, merges with the scrafty, and projects the pure freedom-from-constraints that makes up sakki toward it, along with his focus on the renegade as dangerous enemy…

And then the renegade is screaming in pain as his own pokemon launches at him and shatters his pelvis with a headbutt.

Red withdraws his mind rather than stick around for the killing blow, breaths stuttering as the calm finishes leaving him entirely. “Psych-psychic,” he stammers, and the sounds of the scrafty pummeling the renegade abruptly stop.

Sweat breaks out all over Red’s body as he realizes how close he just came to dying, how much danger he’s still in, he has to get back to the security room, he has to get out of here… but he’s so tired

Nidorino…!

He forces himself to get up and look at his pokemon, who’s lying on his side without moving. Red quickly crawls over and sprays a potion onto him, hand shaking, then realizes he doesn’t have time to wait and withdraws him. More renegades are coming, he has to move…

But he feels the decision paralysis setting in again. Should he try to teleport back to the others, in case it’s “safe” enough? If that fails, would he have time to get there on his own? The renegade said this is the fifth floor, which means he just has to go down one set of stairs to reach the security room. Most of the renegades guarding the stairs and elevators are dead or crippled, so if he moves quickly…

No, if there’s even one person on the fifth or third floor that responded to the warning, Red will either have to fight them in the stairway or on the way there. He has to try teleporting.

Wait, first he should withdraw Kadabra, go to another room, buy himself a bit more time in case a searching renegade sees the body outside…

…unless taking the time to do that is what makes him lose his window of opportunity—

Battle calm, now.

He breathes in deep, head throbbing as he finds the anchors. Goal. Options. Predict enemies. Path to victory.

Okay. Better. He can recognize now that he’s not going to get any new information, and while there’s a sinking feeling in his stomach that he’s missing something, that there are options he’s not thinking of, clever paths to victory he’s not seeing… it doesn’t matter, time is the main limiter, so it’s probably better to just roll the dice with the odds he has rather than wait any longer and have them get any slimmer.

He forces himself to his feet, walks to Kadabra to put a hand on his pokemon’s shoulder, then closes his eyes and starts focusing on the security room, anchoring the experience of being there in his memory and projecting that to Kadabra…

Rapid footsteps in the hall goddammit I was so close—!

“Peter’s down!” someone yells, and Red’s hands fly to return Kadabra and unclip a flashbang from his belt even as he thinks what kind of a renegade is named “Peter?”

A moment later the newcomer runs over to the body in the hall and crouches to check Peter’s pulse, then turns to look inside the room and spots Red just as he throws his flashbang at the renegade’s face.

He has two seconds to turn and cover his eyes with the arm holding Kadabra’s ball, while his now-free hand unclips Ariados and aims it behind him, using his armpit as a brace and waiting until the BANG to trigger the manual release. “Fell Stinger!” he yells through ringing ears.

If the renegade gives a command to his own pokemon Red doesn’t hear it as he crouches and crab-walks behind the desk. Reclip Ariados ball, spray potion in ears, brace arm to resummon Kadabra—

When he peeks over the desk he sees Ariados fighting a mightyena with fire dripping from its fangs as it lunges forward and bites off one of his pokemon’s legs. It takes another jab doing it, but it’s not a lethal wound, and the next bite takes off his Ariados’s head.

Losing the spinarak he caught in Viridian at the start of his journey will probably hurt more, at some point. For now Red is too focused on making sure Kadabra’s Miracle Eye is working so he can turn the mightyena against its master—

—who withdraws it and swaps for a cacturne.

Oh come on Red yells in frustration… except he doesn’t, he didn’t drop the battle calm yet, so he just feels it in some part of him as the rest stays focused on the next step: sending Winter out and trying to predict what TM might give the cacturne coverage against a venomoth. He doesn’t think cacturne can learn any fire or psychic moves, and either way he should be able to take it out quickly with a Signal Beam which he does—

—just as the renegade also summons a golbat, which starts tearing into Winter before Red can switch mental modes and turn it back against its trainer.

Red tries to return the disemboweled venomoth to its ball, arm shaking, but the cacturne is just barely still alive, and hits it with a Dark Pulse first. Red doesn’t have time to check if Winter survived, too busy getting Kadabra to use Miracle Eye on the Cacturne so he can finish it off, then kill the golbat that’s feasting on the renegade.

His memory feels like it’s dropping seconds between events, things are happening too fast for him to track, and on top of everything the mixed smell of various kinds of blood makes Red’s stomach churn. He stays alert for another few moments, body buzzing with adrenaline even while his thoughts feel scattered and slow, but even without the battle calm he knows what his next step has to be.

If he’s right, this won’t take partitions, all he has to do is focus on the fact that it is, in fact, safe at the security room, which isn’t hard because it is safe, it’s in fact the safest he can be while still in this building—

—he could be leaving though, he could go to the top floor and teleport out—

—he can teleport out from the security room too if he needs to, but there are allies there that will keep them safe, now let’s go—

That last burst of projection makes the world twist, and Red is abruptly aware that the smells are different. He opens his eyes to see the others have their pokemon out, no doubt ready for to spring into action at his signal.

They don’t look particularly happy to see him, though maybe that’s more about how he looks. “Shit, kid, you alright?” Valentin asks.

“Fine,” Red says, nearly lightheaded with relief as his whole body seems to unclench. It worked. He’s safe.

“Did something happen?” Sicong asks. “Is the president—”

Like last time, Burrel holds a hand up to quiet the others before simply saying, “Report.”

Red just wants to curl up on the floor and rest for a bit, but he’s not safe yet, not really, no one here is. “The beedrill nest is officially kicked, Sir.” Not what he intended to say, it’s a line from a movie that he barely remembers, but he feels like he’s thinking through molasses and it’s just what came out, so he decides to just roll with it rather than clarify. He spots a cup on the desk and steps over to take a long swallow of whatever is in it… ah right, coffee, that’s what he was smelling, that makes sense. “Sorry,” he says to Valentin, guessing it was his, but a moment later the CHRO is handing him a fresh cup. “Thanks. What did I roll with?”

“What?”

“Sorry.” He takes another deep swallow of his new cup, not even minding that it’s too hot, and way too bitter. Caffeine might help him think more clearly, and sugar, maybe that would help too…

“Verres?”

“Right, yeah.” Focus. Breathe. Keep things simple. “Um. I can’t teleport anymore. Inside the building, I mean.” That’s not relevant. “I’m lucky this worked, I’m just… I mean what I’m trying to say is I think I’ve reached my limits, psychically.” Not untrue, and also less complicated than the full explanation. He’s probably leaking all over Lin, but if so the other psychic is being polite about it. So long as he doesn’t think about secrets, like… He quickly drinks more too-hot-too-bitter coffee. “But I think I got… maybe ten of them?”

“Ten,” Jenson repeats, voice flat. “Arceus wept. And there’s still more?”

“Uh, maybe? Sorry, I kind of lost count. Probably still the ones in the storage room, at least. I can’t tell because they all switched to dark pokemon.” All at once. Red feels another twist of disquiet, but he’ll think about it later, if there is a later. “Also two found me, and I’m down to just two healthy pokemon.”

“You beat two renegades in a pokemon battle?” Stocky asks, and she sounds more incredulous than impressed.

“I cheated. But… I think that’s all I can do on my own. Sorry.” Is he apologizing too much? He drinks more coffee, wishing his stomach would stop churning. He should check if Winter survived, and Nidorino…

“You’ve done more than we could have hoped,” Burrell says. “It’s now or never, but we’ve got a new target.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone deactivated one of the building’s backup power rooms,” Valentin says. “I doubt it was the renegades. If you guys take out the second one, I can take us off the grid and they won’t be able to turn on a light, let alone get anything out of storage.”

“We were just debating whether to send everyone, or split up to rescue the hostages,” Sicong says.

Even with his fuzzy/scattered thoughts it’s not hard to guess who was on what side of that debate. He drains his cup and puts it down. “What should I do?”

“Nap,” the CHRO says.

“She’s right, Verres, you look on the edge and sound over it,” Stocky says.

“My friend, Blue, he’s probably the one that took the power station out. I have to make sure he’s okay.”

Burrell studies him a moment, then nods. “Won’t say no to the extra help. What pokemon do you have left?”

“Kadabra and… magneton, my others might… hang on.” He takes his pokedex out and checks, heart sinking as Winter’s ball registers no life signs. Sorry, Aiko. His nidorino is dead too. He leaves both balls on the desk, then checks Forretress and feels some tension ease. “Forretress, with some healing.”

Sicong unclips a ball from his belt and says “Catch” as he tosses it to Red.

Red’s hand moves automatically to reclip Forretress and track the ball, which lands solidly in his palm. It’s a diveball, and he looks curiously at the head of security, who has his pokedex out.

“Your reflexes seem fine. Keep out your dex, I’m transferring that lapras to you. Just stay behind us and use Icy Wind on anyone that tries to take us by surprise. Understand? If you see an opportunity to use your powers on the renegades, do it, but other than that just play it safe.”

“Yes, Sir.” Red’s gaze lingers on the ball as he takes his pokedex out and waits for Sicong to transfer ownership. Lapras are rare, and pretty powerful. “Will it, uh, fit? In the halls?”

“It’s young, meant for personal ferry.” Sicong’s smile is wry. “I brought it specifically for indoor battles, in case… well, this.”

“Get your last preparations in order,” Burrell is telling the others. “The renegades said that if we bust that door they’ll kill the hostages, so we’d better hope they were bluffing, or that they’re too distracted by what’s been happening to follow through, because one way or another, we’re ending this now.” The police commissioner glances at Red. “Anything else you want to tell us about your powers, Verres?”

“Uh, I think you have the gist. But I might not be able to use them any more.” Especially since they might endanger the hostages, which is the last thing he wants them to be thinking he might do.

Still, he recognizes the calculating speculation in the two hunters’ gazes, and tries his best to ignore them. The pokedex chimes as it finishes registering the lapras, and Red clips the ball to his belt as it starts the basic training sims. He still feels like he’s thinking through quicksand, but he needs to see this through before he can rest.

And then he’s probably going to have to have a very long talk with the police.

111: Shell Game

Blue is just arriving at the elevator when Red and his kadabra pop into existence in front of him.

The utter weirdness of seeing someone do that indoors is buried by a wave of relief, and Blue’s steps only falter for a moment before he strides forward to pull his friend into a hug.

“Holy shit am I glad to see you.” He pulls back to look Red over. “You’re okay? What happened to Silph? Are there other hostages?”

Blue registers a moment later that Red didn’t hug him back, and there’s a disturbing moment where he meets his friend’s gaze and Red just stares back at him in blank incomprehension. Then his crimson eyes clear and he smiles and he’s the one hugging Blue, hard.

“Good to see you too. I’m fine, and I don’t know yet. I came to check on you first.”

The words send a wash of warmth through Blue’s chest, but… “What do you mean, first? Weren’t you with him?”

“Yeah, in the security office. But he left once all the major people here were vetted. Everything started a few minutes later.”

“How did you—”

“Hang on, sorry, there isn’t really time for questions, I only have ten minutes before the police chief tells the hunters to break out, which will kill the hostages. Which won’t matter since they’ll be breaking out to bring the whole building down.”

Blue boggles at him for a moment before he gets it. Hunters wouldn’t allow renegades to escape, with or without their prize. “Unless we can stop them. Where are they?”

“We’re not sure, but probably the lab on the fifth floor.”

“Alright, I was heading there anyway.”

“Blue, you should—”

“I’m staying, Red, don’t waste time—”

“I’m not, I know I can’t talk you out of it, but bring out Tops so I can tell him to Miracle Eye you.”

What for? Blue almost asks, but realizes that a moment later too. Red wants to make sure Blue can teleport away if needed.

Blue almost starts a different argument about how he wouldn’t use it even if he had the option; being willing to give up on everyone here is bad enough, but it would also be the end of his aspirations. No one’s going to follow him as Champion against the stormbirds knowing he’s the sort of person who will just teleport away and leave others behind if things get bad.

But if he says that, Red might not teleport out himself, and Blue’s not sure that would actually be the right choice for him. This is different than Vermilion, if the building is being brought down it would be an order by the commissioner to stop the renegades, and he wouldn’t be able to save anyone else anyway…

But none of that matters right now anyway. “I don’t have him on me, and I’m not leaving to get him either. Especially not if we only have ten minutes. Now what’s the plan?”

Red still looks like he wants to argue, but after a moment just shakes his head. “I don’t really have one yet. They’re probably in the labs, or storage if they’re trying to get the raw materials and blueprints separately.”

“Do they need Silph for that, or is he just a big hostage to keep security away?”

“Sicong—the head of security—said the Master Ball is in multiple parts that are each independently secured by lab workers, and each requires Silph.”

Blue runs a hand through his hair, staring at the ceiling. “So they need multiple hostages to get everything, but Silph is the only one they need for all of them. We either get him away from them, or save enough other hostages that they can’t get every part… but they still might get some parts.” Blue’s not sure how hard it would be for others to create the rest of the technology with a sample, but it makes his stomach clench just thinking about renegades trying.

“Less hostages also means less dead people if they bring the building down,” Red reminds him. “Or if the renegades clean their tracks.”

“Right. Either way, best strat may be to go up the floors taking out any renegades we find.”

Red hesitates. “That… may be right. But maybe we should split up first.”

“Ha, right…” His smile fades as he takes in Red’s expression. “Wait, you’re serious? What kind of shitty horror movie did you step out of? Just because you can teleport—”

“That too, but also because I can… uh, maybe turn renegade pokemon against them.”

Blue stares at him a moment, unsure of what to say. He’s aware that time is ticking by but can’t think of how to react to that besides “Red, what the fuck are you talking about?”

And it’s like the words had to be said before his brain caught up with things, and Blue holds a hand up while the other covers his eyes. It’s so obvious now, and he can’t believe he didn’t think of it, or put the pieces together after the casino…

“In Celadon,” he says, each word coming out slowly. “You used sakki on them. Who else knows?”

Red doesn’t respond right away, and Blue uncovers his eyes to see his friend’s naked fear. “I don’t know if now is the time—”

“Right, fucking meta-honesty, I know, it’s not. But we’re going to talk about this.” Blue realizes that the words are coming out too hard, and he takes a breath. “I’m not mad or anything, Red, I just… it’s a lot.” If the others in his group knew… if people assumed he knew…

Still. Not the time. And he can’t deny it changes things.

“What if you face a dark pokemon?” he asks, thoughts jumping ahead to re-analyze their situation with the new resource at their disposal. “Miracle Eye takes a moment, and if there’s more than one pokemon out you’re screwed. Hell, so is your Kadabra if you can’t get them to turn on their trainer first.”

“I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but I need to check the top floors, and I can’t take you with me. So the alternative is that you wait for me to find out where Silph is, and if he’s easier to reach from the bottom with two of us, I’ll come back.”

Now it’s Blue’s turn to hesitate, and it bothers him how much relief he feels. He’s not suicidal, he doesn’t want to face danger for nothing, but he resents the idea of just standing here and not helping as minute after critical minute passes by. Speaking of which…

“Look, there could be someone getting killed a floor above us—”

“There isn’t, unless they’re dark.”

“—two floors, then, or three, or whatever. See, this is useful, we know to skip a few now. Why don’t we at least start looking?”

“Because there’s no way we’ll make it to the top floor, and if the president is there, or the ones just below it—”

“I know, I know. Fucking… fine, just go. But I can’t just stay here, not if he might be a few floors up!”

Red rubs his face, then sighs. “I know. But even if you find him, won’t be able to find you, or find out. You might save him just in time for the renegades to run outside and blow the building up.”

Blue feels the bitter frustration over being dark rise up in him again for the first time in what feels like months. “You can find my pokemon, though, right? I’ll keep Maturin out as much as possible. If I find him and have a minute to spare, I’ll bring all my pokemon out. Then you can tell them to wait, and find a way to me.”

“Right, but I won’t be able to signal you if… okay, how about I can project fear into Maturin to make her go into her shell? If I do that, if she’s not in a fight and suddenly goes into her shell I mean, that’s a signal.”

“Of what?”

“I don’t know, I can’t make her pop in and out precisely enough to do any sort of complex message, I’m just thinking out loud because we don’t have time!”

“Alright, fuck, just… use it if you’re about to do something big that might be a distraction?”

“Yeah, alright. No wait, what if I use it to signal you to get out of the building?”

“I’d rather plan for success, now come on, let’s get moving!”

“Oh! Wait, hold on, one minute, okay? Don’t leave yet, I just realized when you said… you being here might change things!” Red steps back and puts a hand on Kadabra’s shoulder.

“Change things for what? Where are you—”

“Just hang on, I’ll be right back.” His friend’s gaze goes distant, and then he closes his eyes.

“Red don’t you da—”

Red and his kadabra vanish.

“—re fucking dammit!” Blue stomps in a brief circle, venting his frustration in a prolonged, low yell, then starts to count down from sixty.

Once he finishes he takes two steps toward the elevator before groaning and walking back to where he was to start counting down again from 30 while cursing Red throughout.

“…fourteen idiot thirteen moronic bidoof twel—”

And then Red is back. Once again he stares at Blue with a blank look on his face for a moment, then grins and hugs him, unperturbed by Blue’s scowl.

“Thanks for waiting. We now have fifteen minutes, and… here.”

Red pulls back and hands him a container ball. Blue raises a brow, then releases it behind him and opens the box to reveal a keycard, a datapad, and…

“Woah.” He picks up the police belt, slots between each pokeball slot filled with a stun gun, sleep spray, flash bomb… the good stuff, too, not what’s been sold to civilians. “You got this from—”

“One of the cops offered hers. Commissioner Burrell said to consider yourself deputized ‘for the duration of the incident.’ The pad has the building’s blueprints on it.”

“Right.” Blue feels the weight of the belt in his hands. It’s… heavier than he expected, even without pokeballs on it. He’d have to be careful it doesn’t throw off his movements. “Thanks.”

“Yeah. I’ve got some of my own stuff that I bought months ago, if you want extras?”

“No, you might need them. Even with sakki.” He still doesn’t know how to feel about that, but puts it out of his mind until later. Right now he just raises a fist, and Red bumps it, then pulls him into a third hug. Blue’s happy to squeeze briefly back before pulling away. “Be careful.”

“You too.” Red puts a hand on his kadabra’s shoulder, the second trainer-owned pokemon in the world to learn Miracle Eye, and the whole reason they’re here in the first place—

“Wait!”

—Red jerks his hand back as if stung. “What?”

“Copy my battle calm.” Blue’s heart is beating hard in his chest at how close he came to letting his friend leave without it, not out of a choice on his part, but just from forgetting that he’d asked and could copy it at all.

From Red’s expression, it takes him a moment to remember too, and then his eyes widen. “Are you sure? You said you wanted time—”

“I said I’d think about it, actually. And yeah, I meant over a few days or something, but I also meant what I said about not being able to live with myself if something happens to you and I didn’t give you every bit of help I could.” Blue shrugs. “Plus, something happens to you today in particular, I might not be able to live at all. So stop wasting time and do it.”

“It might not work, you’re not actually in a battle—”

“What, you think you’re the only one who can practice entering different mental states? Just do it, see for yourself.”

Red bites his lip, then nods, and Blue closes his eyes and thinks of the moments when his battle calm was the most clear: in the stadiums, facing down Brock and Misty and Surge and Erika and Koga. The eye of the world on him, no need to worry about unseen wild pokemon joining the fight, no need to worry about anyone else around him.

Just the purity of the fight. The purity of seeking victory, and the paths open for him to take.

It’s harder doing it deliberately, compared to the natural transition that happens as soon as he’s in a battle. He feels it settle around him, little by little, slowing his pulse and collapsing his awareness to just those things that matter right now; finding the renegades, and stopping them by any means necessary.

The paths immediately span out around him, leading outdoors where he could use Rive to try to bring the building down himself, or deactivate its sprinkler systems and use Soul to start an inferno. But those paths fade a moment later as new constraints are added. No renegade acts, nothing that causes casualties, strict time limit…

“I got it, Blue. You can stop.”

He blinks, then takes a breath as he lets his awareness spread back out again. Red’s tone was odd: calm and intense at once, focused and detached, and after a moment Blue realizes it’s what he must sound like, when he talks during battles.

Something feels hollow in his chest, hearing it coming from someone else. But at the same time… he feels less alone, too.

Red smiles, and Blue realizes he must still be feeling what he is, after which Red withdraws his kadabra. “Okay, you should be dark again in a few moments.”

Blue wants to ask how the battle calm feels to him, but there’s no time. He also wants to ask if Red picked up anything else when he was in his mind, or whatever he was doing, but just the thought of that makes him feel anxious and angry, so he just says, “Good.”

“Thank you, Blue. I feel like… I can do this, now, maybe.”

“You’d better.”

“I set an alarm to give me reminders. You should do the same.” Red resummons his kadabra, then checks his phone. “We’ve got thirteen minutes left.”

For a moment the sheer absurdity of trying to do this in that short a time sends a wave of hopelessness through him, making his knees suddenly weak. It’s not a feeling Blue is used to, and he forces it away to take out his own phone, setting alarms for the ten, seven, five, two, and one minute marks. “Set. See you soon.”

Red opens his mouth, closes it, then just nods and puts his hand on Kadabra’s shoulder. “You too.”

Blue waits until Red disappears, then rushes past him to press the elevator button…

…only to get an error message about damage to the machinery.

Because of course they’d do that. He just took for granted that if the power is on…

Blue groans and spins on his heel before he runs for the nearest stairwell, but sees the smoke before he even reaches them and wonders why the fire alarm hasn’t gone off, until he realizes what it must be.

It’s just a faint haze at first, but quickly thickens as he runs down the hallway until he can barely make out the smoke coming out the bottom of the door leading into the stairwell. He trusts his mask to filter it, but when he throws the door open there’s nothing but a wall of smog, and he finds himself suddenly wondering just what the limits on the filters are. Is there even enough oxygen in the air in front of him to breathe if filtered?

He closes the door before the whole hall gets filled, relying on his battle calm to keep him focused through the rising desperation. He summons Maturin, as he promised Red, but there definitely isn’t space here to summon Zephyr and blow the smoke back up the stairs. He could order Rive to break down the wall opposite the door, start venting the smog elsewhere, but if more keeps pouring down from above then it wouldn’t matter much once he starts climbing.

What are his other options? He could try to light it, but he’s pretty sure it’s the type that’s not flammable, and he’s not sure how to test that safely. He can’t take a slow and steady approach, he needs to get up the stairs quick. He can’t damage the building and risk hurting people, he could… fly through a window? Zephyr wouldn’t fit through them but he could get him to hover and try to climb through… But if they caught him as he was trying to get in he wouldn’t stand a chance.

He takes his phone out to look at the blueprints Red gave him, tapping the icons along the side of the digital model until he finds the one that highlights power flow. It looks like the backup power can come from generators in the basement or the sixth floor… so even if he takes out the basement one, they’ll still have the one on six, which he can’t reach.

As his eyes roam the blueprints, most of which are marked up in ways he can’t understand, he starts tapping the icons along the side at random, highlighting a different variety of objects and subsystems. Knock down a few pillars to cause the building to tilt…? Send powder through the air systems? No, they probably have masks…

His phone buzzes to warn him of the ten minute mark, and Blue feels his teeth gritting before he forces himself to take a deep breath. There has to be something he can do from here to disrupt them… Glen would likely be fighting his way up the stairs by now. What would Elaine do? Maybe find a way to bring the renegades to him… yeah, that’s probably right, though it would be hard given they’re here for something specific. He’d have to threaten their ability to get it, which would require reaching them…

…or maybe not. Lizzy made sure everyone on the team knew how to identify and operate them after the Rocket Casino. If he can cut power to the building, they’d rely on the backup generators. If he can knock those out… maybe use Ion to overload the internal grid?

For lack of any better ideas, he withdraws Maturin and carefully searches for the handrail, then moves down along it, counting out four flights before he starts groping for the door.

There’s just one more floor below where he is now, and it seems much of the smog is actually diffused before it gets here. Blue walks through empty halls featuring more office space, some labs, a workout gym, and… then there it is.

He summons Maturin, checks to see if she has an urge to hide yet, then walks into the building’s backup power room.

“Excuse me!” calls a voice from deep in the humming machinery. “Whoever you are, you’re not supposed to be in here!”

“How do you know that if you don’t know who I am?” Blue shouts back, walking around the room to mark each of the four generators that hold the voltorbs. Now he just needs to check if they’re hooked to automatic backups…

There’s no response right away, and Blue wonders if he’s stumped the inquirer. Then he hears rapidly approaching footsteps, until a thin, tall man in a white coat spots him and scowls. “You’re Blue Oak.”

“That’s right. Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“Me? I work here. Or nearby, in the labs.” The man looks nervous. “I heard there were renegades upstairs, and I, well, I thought I should just… hide. You can… join me if you’d like?”

Blue takes out Rive’s ball as his phone buzzes another time warning. “Nah, I think I’ll just wreck this stuff. You should leave the building, some hunters might bring it down if we can’t stop the renegades.”

“Oh.”

It’s just one word. One syllable. But the tone is enough to get Blue to turn to the scientist, which is why he catches him nudging aside his lab coat to pick two greatballs from his belt.

Blue has summoned Soul and Rive by the time the other man has brought out a magneton and hypno, and his last thought before the battle calm takes over is Not again…


Red appears facing the window, Saffron City spread out below him, and his first thought is Wait, this isn’t my bedroom.

The dissonance that spreads outward from the thought hitting another (of course not, it’s Silph’s private office) is almost painfully intense, and then his partitions all drop, leaving him his full self again.

He spins in place, hand dropping from Kadabra’s shoulder to his belt, but there’s no one else here, dark or otherwise, and the relief makes him brace against his pokemon.

Kadabra reflects his feelings with a mix of confused alarm, and Red quickly sends reassurance back as the pokemon strokes his whiskers. The motion would look thoughtful on a human, but Red knows it’s a sign of nervousness, a way to self-regulate back down from the triggered state of being prepared for battle.

He’s relieved this worked at all. The first floor hallway seemed like a more sure bet, given how unlikely it was for any renegades to be there. It was still a relief that he was right, and Red isn’t sure how many times his pokemon is going to keep trusting the fake feelings of safety he projects onto these teleport locations if this is how he keeps reacting afterward. It helped that Blue was the first thing he saw when he got downstairs, but for all he knows the trick won’t work after this, or after the first time a renegade or pokemon is around where he teleports to.

Speaking of which…

Red extends his senses past the walls around him. There’s one mind about where he estimates the front reception area to be, and a couple more on the opposite side of the floor. Even without a merger he can recognize the pulses of alarm and fear radiating from them all, and dipping in quickly confirms that they’re the receptionist and a couple other administrative assistants.

Barring potential dark minds or shielded psychics, there are no renegades on this floor.

Red pulls his senses back and takes a moment to look around before he starts searching the floors below. The room is as he remembers it, which is good considering how easy it is to disrupt a teleportation site. The most clear emotional memory Red has that’s rooted to a location was standing by the window, and if someone had moved the small desk beside the nearby armchair it would have invalidated it.

(Now that he knows that teleporting indoors isn’t a hard limit he can’t help but wonder how absolute the “unoccupied space” one is, but he’s also decided to never try it given the imagined risks.)

Whatever happened once Silph left the security room, it didn’t take place here, and he doubts anyone else will come in here during the crisis. Meaning if Red needs to teleport back here it’ll probably stay a valid destination.

So he reaches down to unlatch then open the window, stomach a painful knot. If he needs to teleport here again, it will probably be because they’re about to bring the building down. Which would mean abandoning everyone here, including Blue.

It’s hard to think about it without mentally flinching, so he doesn’t let himself dwell on the chasm of horror and pain and guilt lying on the other side of the thought. Instead he invokes Blue’s battle calm, and immediately feels the tension in his shoulders relax as his attention shifts with the change in his mood to one that better recognizes why he did what he did: namely, that not taking a few seconds to give himself the option to leave would have been more distracting. With the escape plan in mind, he feels like he can think a little more clearly.

Red takes a breath to center himself, then sends his mind down and outward through the 10th and 9th floors.

The most obvious draws on his attention are the handful of other psychic minds that are desperately reaching out to those around them, trying to communicate with someone or understand what’s happening. Red does his best to query them for information, but most psychics aren’t good at explicitly talking through their mental senses, particularly with strangers. When he sends them an impression of President Silph with the feeling of searching for, all he gets back is uncertainty and worry.

He also checks if Renegades are around them, but each denies that as well. One sends back the impression of elevators, and Red does his best to search in that direction without feeling anything.

He wonders if he should take it as a clue to get in an elevator and go lower, until he realizes he should be looking for the weaker signals of pokemon, the same way he plans to locate Blue, and a moment later he has them.

The 9th floor has a raticate and arbok radiating readied-alertness by where he guesses the elevators are, and there’s a distinct sharpness in the fear of the minds in the adjacent rooms. From what Blue explained happened downstairs, it’s easy to guess that a renegade is standing guard at the elevator.

Which confirms that they’re trying to restrict movement within the building. But then why not be posted on every floor?

Maybe because there aren’t enough of them, and they only need to stop people from getting on certain floors. It makes sense that there wouldn’t be enough to cover everything that matters, but does that mean they can’t cover the stairs? Or are there just dark pokemon there?

If so, his powers won’t do much for him unless he can hit them with Miracle Eye first, which means he’ll need interference. A flashbang might buy him some time, but it would blind Kadabra too. He’d have to run interference with his other pokemon in those cases.

Which means the first thing he has to do is get better pokemon on his belt.

Red enters the rest of the office space and goes straight to the PC, thankful for the opportunity to bring his strongest pokemon… particularly since the ones he has on him are also some he’d be particularly sad to lose.

He knows it’s a cold way to think about his pokemon, but he knows even Leaf would admit to favoritism like that, even as she pushes for people to treat all their pokemon as valued friends. It’s not like he planned it this way; if anything it’s more of a natural consequence of spending less time with pokemon he has that are already strong, which leads to less of a bond with them.

His fingers fly over the keys, hands swapping the balls in the slot again and again to trade each pokemon on his belt until…

Magneton, Nidoqueen, Kingler, Forretress… Hypno…?

His phone vibrates four times. Eleven minutes left. He skips Hypno and brings Dodrio instead, clips it to his belt, then takes a deep breath and merges with Kadabra fully to check the 8th floor…

Interpreting through Kadabra’s psychic senses, stronger though they are, comes with the downside of not being able to communicate in nearly as nuanced a way. The psychics can tell they’re being probed by a kadabra that’s merged with its trainer, and he can tell that they can tell that, but it’s much harder for them to know whether it’s friend or foe, and most minds immediately close up.

The non-psychics (and a few sensitives) don’t give him much info, so he searches for pokemon again and finds more by the elevator. Same with the 7th and 6th, and that’s where his pokemon’s psychic range ends.

Why all these floors? he wonders again. Is there really something they need on all of them? Or is it just misdirection?

No, that’s not likely. If he wants to get what they’re doing, he needs to think like the renegades.

They have a goal. They have a plan to achieve that goal. And they have expectations of what others might do to stop them. They may not be able to predict someone like him would be here, but if he imagines what others could try…

He closes his eyes and thinks. I’m a renegade leader who just successfully took hostages, including President Silph, and need to get something on a few floors. I have a bit of time before a big response comes, and I need that time to convince the hostages to give me access to the Master Ball, or maybe just hack it. What could stop me, after I trapped the hunters in a specific room?

Someone like Blue, coming in from outside maybe, riding up the elevator shaft or going up the stairs. Or someone they missed on a higher floor making their way down.

What would he be worried about, once the elevator shaft and staircases are covered…?

What Red thinks of is what happened in the Casino. Glen and Elaine couldn’t find a way down to the secret lowest level, so they created a way down.

He’s not sure how tough these floors are, but he doubts they’re harder to get through than those were.

And these renegades, whether they’re part of the same group or not, are clearly worried about the same thing. If they just defend the floor they’re on, they risk being dropped in on or attacked from below.

Which isn’t too different from wild pokemon safety precautions, now that he thinks about it. If the renegades are smart…

He sends his senses out through kadabra again, and tries his best to recognize the species through their sensorium, comparing each to his experiences merging with various pokemon.

Golbat… raticate… arbok… sandslash?…

Red’s heart sinks as he recognizes the pattern; pokemon that have particularly sharp senses for detecting sound and vibrations, the latter of which are unlikely to be put to sleep by sound attacks. The renegades themselves probably have earplugs, so using a wigglytuff is out. And now he recognizes the weezings in the stairwells, which are likely filling them with smog…

Something else stirs inside him beside the growing dread, however. As he finds more and more evidence for how well prepared these renegades are, there’s a sensation similar to the one he feels when figuring out how to win in a trainer match, but even more so. Not just competitiveness, not just the interest in how to solve the puzzle being presented to him, but something more.

They can’t get away with this.

And then—

I can’t let them get away with this.

These people came here with a plan for all this, preparing for people to try to stop them. But not for him.

Indoor teleporting and sakki are the two largest things they can’t account for. Sakki works through physical barriers, but he can’t use it through Kadabra. Which means his first step, to be able to do anything, is go to a lower floor.

If he assumes they’re all on the 4th-9th floors, whatever they need is probably on the 6th or 7th. He doesn’t have long to plan, but a quick premortem makes it obvious what would go wrong if he starts fighting renegades before he gets to where they are; those in charge notice their allies are being taken out, and kill the hostages before they escape.

No, that doesn’t make sense. They’re not just there to act as an early warning, they’re there to slow would-be heroes down.

But if he takes out the ones on one floor, then the next, then the next… at some point they’d probably run for it, right? Maybe?

His phone vibrates again, five quick pulses this time, and he forces himself to ignore that worry. There’s no sense trying to avoid any plan where they find out something is happening, he doesn’t have the luxury to think through a stealthy approach.

Which means he has to hit them fast and hard, and hope he can get where he needs to go faster than they can stop him.

Less than ten minutes. He can’t delay any more.

Red runs to the elevator, ignoring the surprised gasp from the receptionist as he runs through the entrance hall, then skids to a stop as he sees the Out of Order message above the elevator (Of course…!) and rushes for the stairwell… which is absolutely full of smoke so thick he can barely see anything through it.

Damn it, he can’t just rush down there blind, not if there might be some dark pokemon hiding in the smoke and ready to attack anything that comes near. Worse, Blue wouldn’t even have psychic senses to tell if non-dark pokemon are waiting for him…

“Graaah!” The sound pushes its way out of his chest as the frustration inside builds to a painful boil. He doesn’t have time for this, he needs a way down, now. If only he had another teleport point besides the security room and lobby…

Think. List your resources. Pokemon, survival gear… climbing gear? Projection/sakki, reception… mirroring…

mirroring…

The idea stills his breath, and he wastes a few precious moments vacillating between feeling like an absolute idiot for not thinking of it months ago and telling himself it’s too absurd to actually work before he finally convinces himself that the idea isn’t so absurd that he can’t try it.

By the time his phone vibrates again nine minutes he’s already merged with one of the office workers two floors down, taking in every part of their sensorium and emotional state he can and locks it into a distinct mental state even as he builds a partition around it all.

Now the tricky part: getting the office worker to move, without putting him in danger. Red could at least tell he wasn’t in the room with a dark renegade, but the man is lying on the ground as instructed, understandably scared of doing anything that might draw attention to himself.

Luckily it’s not hard to project a sense of urgency and restlessness. Combined with a bit of the man’s own natural urge to stay hidden, he decides after a few moments to find another hiding spot, after which Red puts his hand on Kadabra’s shoulder and focuses… first on the saved mental state, then on putting up the partitions to feel completely safe as he returns home…

…Red blinks as he looks around the strange room. Warm brown and tan rug, clean white walls, a fancy desk with some pictures of children beside the monitor… this is an office, not his bedroom…

…right. It worked.

It worked.

In any other circumstance he would be ecstatic. Forget “free teleportation,” he’s just discovered the next best thing to “perfect” teleportation. Being able to teleport to any point anyone he can make psychic contact with feels like it opens an endless sea of possibilities, like the world just became much smaller…

…but he has to survive today for any of that to matter, and so he sends his senses down through the floor and finds the highest weezing at the stairwell that he first detected after merging with Kadabra.

It’s still being commanded to keep spewing smog downward, but Red can tell it’s feeling the strain of keeping it going for so long. He can predict what would happen once sakki is projected well enough, but first…

He spreads his awareness down to the next floors to find more employees that seem safe to nudge into moving (reminding the anxious voice inside that insists he’s going to get someone killed that everyone here might die if he doesn’t do something so maybe we should put a hold on debating the morality of this and ignoring the protests from that part that ‘worry about morality later’ isn’t a good sign for whatever we’re doing), then copies their mental states too, creating partition after partition to set a number of teleport points that he can use to go between the floors.

Three more precious minutes pass five before he’s ready, and…

…a couple…

…hops later…

…Red comes back to himself in yet another individual office, and this time when he spreads his awareness out he finds President Silph almost immediately.

The older man’s mind radiates some mix of worry and outrage and helplessness, as well as something that feels like… guilt, and nervousness…

Red sinks deeper into the merger, throwing the usual confidentiality worries aside as he tries to process the president’s sensorium. It’s hard to get an accurate mirror of what a pokemon sees and hears and feels because of their different biology, but with humans the difficulty comes from not getting distracted by the richness of their thoughts and experience.

On one level, what Red perceives through President Silph’s mind is a room with about a dozen people in it, half of which have pokemon out. But it takes him nearly a minute to process all that, because what he actually experiences is—

room(storage), people-enemies-traitors(OUTRAGE)-renegades(?)-pokemon(DANGER)-actors(?)—

confidentmustbeconfidentdon’tshowfear—

legdiscomfort, painful, desire-to-sit—

—before he has to pull away from the merger and try to focus on the details of the room and its inhabitants. Three hostages besides Silph… three renegades, with… a crobat, a mightyena, an arbok, and a sandslash… lots of big containers and tanks around, along with a few PCs… the lab’s storage room, if he’s understanding the blueprints correctly.

The tightness in Red’s chest has eased considerably. Silph is alive, and hasn’t given in yet. He almost sends the president some psychic reassurance, but if Silph reacts in the wrong way that might tip the renegades off that something is up.

So instead he takes one…

…more…

…hop…

“I found him,” Red says to the room of startled police and Silph employees as soon as his partitions fall and he remembers what he’s doing here. “They’re in the lab storage, and I think I have a plan, if you guys are willing to risk fighting instead of bringing the building down.”

Commissioner Burrell is the first to recover, which is lucky since half a dozen people start asking questions, all of whom stop as soon as he holds a hand up toward them. “Tell us.”

Red turns on his blueprint and starts to point. “So far I can move here… here… here… uh, somewhere here. And I can use my powers to reach most of the renegades blocking the stairs and elevators.”

“All at once?” Jenson asks, and when Red shakes his head, looks more relieved than disappointed. Red supposes it might be more obviously worse for the world if all psychics could do something like what he can, but that’s a problem for future Red to deal with. “Then they’ll go for help and alert the others. They could kill the hostages right away.”

“I think I might be able to pick them off, actually. I can let you know through Lin when the rest of them notice, and I can alert Blue so he moves in at the right moment.” Assuming he hasn’t already started, which is another time pressure weighing on the back of Red’s mind. “I just need a little more time.”

The Commissioner has his hat again, and creases it between his hands as he stares at the clock for a few breaths, then turns back to Red. “This is the last extension. If President Silph isn’t safe in the next ten minutes, the hunters will have full permission to either join the fight, or do what they need to ensure they fail their mission.”

“Got it. Thank you.” He turns to Valentin, then the two hunters, battle calm helping him stay confident and steady as he says, “I might signal something like ‘open skies’ to Lin. If I do, it’s because I cleared a path for you to go straight for storage. The pokemon they had there were sandslash, arbok, crobat, and mightyena.”

“Why not just use your power to knock the non-dark ones out?” Stocky asks.

“It’s too dangerous to use it with civilians nearby, since it makes renegade pokemon hard to control.” Not a lie, but a more convenient answer given their time constraints. “I’m going to go start.”

A few murmur variations of “Good luck,” and then Red is back in one of the offices, recovering from the disorientation again. He can’t tell if he’s actually doing harm to his partitioned self or not, but either way that’s all also future Red’s problem.

He takes a breath as he closes his eyes and reaches down through the building for Maturin, whom he sends a burst of fear through. Then, once she reacts by hiding in her shell, he withdraws his mind and reaches out to the first weezing nearby, on the lowest floor they’re on…

And just lets it go.

The results are quick. Smoke can’t go through the mask, but acid can.

He doesn’t let his mind linger, instead finding another pair of renegade pokemon and projecting sakki at one of them so that it attacks the other.

That one might get messy, but he’s already on to another, then another. By the time his phone buzzes again, half of the renegades in his range have been killed, the other half injured or lost some strong pokemon.

And when he reaches everyone that he can from here, he teleports to another office and begins to do it again, despite the sickness churning through his stomach that not even the battle calm could alleviate.

That’s also future Red’s problem. Present Red’s problem…

…”Intruder!” he hears through a pokemon’s ears, shouted from one renegade to another…

…is what to do about that.

They’re confused, alert that something is happening to their people but not sure what. He can sense them coming through the hall, looking for him, and so he teleports to another floor so he can keep killing as many of them as possible before they find him.

110: Conflict Theory

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


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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who else is with you?”

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

“Were you invited?”

“Nah, I kind of talked my way in.”

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

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

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

“If it costs political power—”

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

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

“I figur—”

“Attention all personnel.”

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

“I heard.”

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

Well now Blue definitely isn’t leaving…

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

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

“You said the police are involved?”

“The city commissioner is here himself. Burrell.”

“Hm. I don’t know him.”

“Problem?”

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

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

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

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

“I know. I’ll do what I can.”

“Thanks, Gramps. I know you will.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s hope the rest do as well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If I need you, yeah, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THUD

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

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

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

“What in the h—”

BOOMMMMMmmm

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

“—above us—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m thinking.”

“They have Mr. Silph—”

“I’m thinking!”

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

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

No one answers.

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

We’re trapped.

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

They’re all trapped.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Renegade!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s not going to make it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not IT?”

“No, that’s fifth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m coming, Red.


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

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

My job is to keep President Silph safe—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The hostages—”

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

“Now wait just a minute—”

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

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

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

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

“Can you do it from here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Options, options, we need options…

What do the renegades believe?

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

So they need to get the hostages away from them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other psychic holds his gaze, then nods.

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

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

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

“I can teleport out, and—”

“Help won’t come on time—”

“—save the hostages.”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s imposs—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then I’m going to need your help…”

109: Market Theory

It’s a testament to how good the food is that Red notices it at all, given the circumstances. Nothing exotic or fancy, but the karp is buttery-smooth in his mouth, and he’s never had more fresh seaweed salad. President Silph eats slowly, clearly savoring every bite, but Red gulps it down as he listens to Commissioner Burrell explain why he’s here.

“Our investigation has been slow and careful.” The short, heavily built man creases and rotates his cap between his hands as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. When he noticed Red looking between him and the food, he gruffly explained that he had a late breakfast. “But this ‘Miracle Eye’ changed everything. As soon as it became possible, even hypothetically, for dark people to get scanned, we knew any dark criminals would start scrambling. And they knew we knew, so they scrambled as quietly as they could. Do you have any idea how many dark folk just flat disappeared in the week after your announcement?”

Red shakes his head as he slurps up some seaweed, suddenly feeling a sick turning in his gut. They predicted this sort of use case for Miracle Eye, of course, but it’s happening much faster than he predicted… and he should have predicted it, after Celadon.

“About a dozen reports in Kanto alone. Government, corporate, even some gym members, all in the wind. And we have to assume they were only the most cautious, or the least desperate.”

“Or maybe just the ones who weren’t close enough to completing their goal,” President Silph says and takes a sip of tea before clearing his throat. “I believe those in Silph can’t pull out now, because our latest project is too important to miss, and too close to being complete.”

Red pauses to drink some too, and is about to wipe his mouth with his sleeve before realizing he’s showing off bad table manners. Even the napkins are absurdly soft and comfortable. “Sorry, but just to be clear… you said ‘renegade,’ earlier. What makes you think they’re… that, instead of just, uh, spies, or thieves, or…?”

“It’s a fair question,” Burrell says, and glances at President Silph. “But not one we’re prepared to answer at this time. What we can answer is why you, in particular, would be helpful.”

“Today is just a normal day, as far as my staff knows,” Silph says. “Except I’ve allowed some controlled leaks to indicate that our most secret project will be ready for testing tonight, which means it’s in a complete enough form to be stolen, if stealing it is the goal.”

Red doesn’t imagine they’ll explain what this project is about, and they don’t. “So… you’re using it as bait? Isn’t that risky?”

“Risky is letting the renegades melt away, either with the tech or without it,” Burrell says. “Most don’t have access to the engineer labs it’s being held in, but we plan to do a full sweep of the building, just to be sure. Normally there’s only a slight chance something will turn up, if a previously scanned employee has been recently corrupted or blackmailed, but with someone to use Miracle Eye on each dark one we have a real chance at stopping them before they put their plan into action.”

“I would just change the testing date and location, but there’s no way to know who’s compromised,” Silph says. “If we coordinate with the police, however, we can ensure some level of preparation when our company psychics merge with them.” He holds up a hand to forstall Red’s objection. “And to be clear, all of my employees have signed paperwork allowing mental merger during internal investigations. The use of a pokemon to assist is new, however, and extensive legal consultation has produced new waivers. Anyone will be free to say no, upon which they will be asked to leave the building.”

Red frowns. “That still seems like they’ll be pressured into saying yes.”

“The alternative is to ask all my dark employees to leave for the day, and that we can’t do without seriously disrupting work, not to mention the test itself.”

It’s hard not to imagine that being something of a logistics nightmare, not to mention a PR one. Whatever Silph sees in Red’s expression, it makes him sigh and set his food down.

“I won’t deny that society has not always been fair to dark minds, but at Silph we have strived to treat everyone equally where possible, and I must admit to feeling some gall at the thought that this generosity may have been taken advantage of. At the same time, I take no pleasure in distrusting my employees like this.” He fiddles with his chopsticks, then puts them aside too and considers his linked fingers. “In fact I detest it. But it has been a difficult year for my company. I’ve seen and heard the seeds of suspicion blooming throughout it, and another piece of stolen technology may cause permanent division between my dark and non-dark staff.” He meets Red’s gaze. “But your new technique can change all that.”

“By letting people trust dark people,” Red guesses, feeling his stomach churn again.

“Yes. No longer will dark people have to deal with the suspicion of their peers, or their resentment at being exempt from such checks. Normally those feelings might be mixed with some pity over limitations they endure, like training psychic pokemon or not being able to teleport, but with that no longer a block, I worry resentment will grow. Instead, with these inspections everyone will be on a truly even playing field.”

Red hadn’t thought of any of this, and is unsure how much weight to put in that prediction. It strikes him as strange, and oddly petty… but Red knows that might be a blindspot of his. He’s never worked in any kind of corporate environment, while Silph has had decades of experience managing hundreds of people; if he thinks it’s a real concern, it probably is one.

A sudden feeling of rebellion rises up, and he remembers to be cautious in taking the older man’s word on anything that might persuade Red to do what he says. “It may have been unfair that some people could get a job with less scrutiny than others. But those who weren’t dark did sign up for the expectation of scrutiny, and those who were signed up without it, and that feels… important? There’s this thing called meta-honesty—”

“—yes, I read your post on the concept, and your own policies on it.”

“You did?” If so, it’s the first time in the past few weeks that someone he’s had to explain it to has actually saved him the time.

“Twice. My guess is you’re worried that those who were not dark and had some private secret that outweighed their desire to work here had the opportunity to make that informed decision, while those who were dark made a different mutually agreed-on decision, which is now being changed. How close am I?”

Despite the circumstances, Red smiles. There’s something like… relief, to be understood so quickly and easily. “Yeah, that was basically it.”

“It’s a reasonable concern, and I won’t pretend there would be zero pressure. But you have my word that I won’t fire anyone simply because they refuse, not least of which because it would set a terrible precedent. I simply must ensure that, while this research is being completed, we minimize risk as much as possible.”

“On that note, I want to reassure you that this would pose minimal danger to you,” Commissioner Burrell says. “We’ll have officers present in case anyone tries anything.

“Will you do this for us, Red?” President Silph asks. The older man’s voice is calm, his gaze piercing. “It is ultimately your decision, and I’ll understand if you say no. But this is the best chance we have to end this peacefully, and safely.”

Red doesn’t respond right away, simply stirring the remnants of his salad around with his chopstick. He understands that he’s being manipulated in every obvious way. The stakes are high. There’s a time pressure to give a response. He can’t ask others for help. And he doesn’t even have to take responsibility for the actual violation of others’ privacy; he’s just putting everyone on an equal playing field.

Still, it feels wrong.

“I’m sorry,” Red says after deliberating carefully on his words. “I understand that the prospect of a renegade in your company is a serious issue, but… the Miracle Eye is too new for me to feel comfortable making moral decisions like this with it. I’d like to help, but… I don’t think I can.”

President Silph doesn’t look disappointed, but he does set aside his chopsticks again and steeple his hands together as he inspects Red, who tries not to shift under the scrutiny. “Then I must tell you what’s at stake. It will be public information soon enough that we’ve developed a new pokeball that we believe will be able to capture legendary pokemon…”

Red listens as he describes the “Master Ball,” implications bouncing around in his head even before President Silph starts talking about their worries of one ending up in the wrong hands. The idea of a pokeball that could catch the Titans, maybe even the Beasts or Stormbringers, would change the world. It would provide real hope that things could change, might even calm people’s fears about the mysterious threat everyone’s been dreaming about… Blue is going to absolutely flip…

Oh shit, Blue! He completely forgot about him, he’ll have to remember to mention that he’s here at some point.

“…top secret, but I’m sure you can understand, now, how many degrees of caution feel appropriate.”

Red swallows, then drinks some tea. “I do, yeah. My friends and I talked about the idea of someone catching a legendary pokemon, and the good it could do… but also what it would mean for interregional peace. Is there… a plan for that?”

“Simply put, to sell as many of them as possible, so that all the power is not concentrated in any one person, or region’s hands. One of the features of this ball will be that it can capture a pokemon that’s already caught without causing permanent damage.”

“Woah. Okay, so using a legendary against anyone who might have another masterball would be a huge risk…” Red feels himself being convinced, little by little, and takes a breath. “Okay, so I get that this is important. I think… I need to get some outside counsel at this point.” It’s still strange to Red that he has a personal lawyer who he can call up and ask questions now, but he also means his mother. He knows she’s waiting to hear from him anyway.

“I completely understand. But I have one request: no journalists.”

Red meets his gaze and decides not to ask for the obvious exception. “If you expect all this to stay secret…”

“No, it’s not about the use of Miracle Eye itself; that will be public information soon after.”

“Then why?”

“Because I have little doubt there are many throughout my company that act as sources for them. Even in the best of times, it’s a troublesome thing to balance the good of the company and its proprietary information, and the freedom of individuals to freely associate as they choose.” There’s a stiffness to the way he says the second part, and he lets out a breath. “But in this particular case, it’s imperative that we not lose the element of surprise, and I don’t trust any journalist to hear of this sort of thing and not immediately reach out to learn more.”

Alright, much as he dislikes it, this seems like time for a firm condition of his own.

Even if it’ll end up sounding… really juvenile.

Red puts his pride aside and forces himself to say, “I’d really prefer to talk to my mother before agreeing to something like this.”

“I understand that you’d want some advice from those close to you—”

“Sorry, I wasn’t clear enough.” Ugh, why is this so hard? He feels like he’s pushing against some invisible force, some sense of… not just politeness, but basic decency, to be so openly suspicious.

But if his relationship with Silph requires keeping secrets from his mother then it won’t survive for long anyway. And if he wants it to be anything like an equal relationship, or one of respect, then just going along with everything Silph says is probably not the way to get there, if he can at all.

“I’m saying that I won’t do this without the ability to get counsel from anyone I feel the need to.” Red lets out a breath. “I’m not trying to be difficult, and will understand if you don’t trust me to be able to convince others to hold off on doing anything like that. But I at least want to be clear that it feels like a test of my judgment too.”

The older man across the desk meets his gaze for what feels like a minute straight, but is really just a couple rotations of Burrell’s cap in his hands before saying, “Of course. I suppose I’m extending enough trust as it is, and if you’re sure you can be persuasive about how dire the situation is… I have a private room to the side, if you’d like to use it.”

What he’d like to do is leave the building entirely, but saying that would imply that he’s being spied on, which he has no particular reason to believe President Silph’s own quarters would be. “That would be great, thank you.”

“I’ll go check with your people to ensure everything’s okay,” Burrell says as he puts his cap on. “Either way this goes, we’ll be ready to start within the hour.”

“Thank you, Commissioner.”

“Message me if anything changes.” He tips his head at Red and strides for the door.

“Uh, same for me. I don’t know how long I’ll be, but probably not an hour?”

“I understand.”

President Silph begins eating again, and Red looks at his mostly eaten food, scoops up one more piece of fish, then walks over to the door and enters a plush sitting room with a large screen in the wall and a minibar. Red messages his lawyer first, who asks for a ten minute wait while he wraps something up, then calls his mom in the meantime.

She answers before the first ring ends, and he can tell she’s trying to sound calm and neutral. “Hello, Red.”

“No emergency. Well, sort of. Also I might have to pause to take a call from my lawyer soon—”

Red…”

“Right, so I’m in President Silph’s private office, there’s something going on that he wants my help with…”

It takes a surprisingly short amount of time to explain it, and when he finishes he feels a little silly. What exactly is he expecting his mother to say, other than—

“You can’t trust him, Red. Whatever he’s got planned—”

“Okay, sorry, this will sound rude but… can we jump to when I convince you I don’t, and you try sharing your models first before giving advice?”

Part of Red winces as his voice comes out more annoyed than he intended, but he doesn’t take it back, and after a moment his mother says, “Your voice is changing.”

Red blinks. “It is?”

“Yes. Getting deeper.” She sounds… he’s not sure how she sounds. Not angry, at least. “I’m sorry, Red, give me a minute.”

“Sure.” Red paces the room a little as he waits, then wonders if he’s being watched, then reminds himself President Silph’s own office isn’t likely to be bugged… then realizes that it could have been, particularly as he invited Red over and probably predicted he’d want somewhere private to talk to others…

He keeps pacing, hand tapping a rhythm against his leg as he tries to decide whether he’s being too paranoid or not paranoid enough. Clearly not enough up until now, if he’s being this slow to think of these things… what if his mom is right to worry he’s trusting Silph too much?

He’s about to say so when she lets out a breath. “Okay, so I’m still in a bit of shock that he told you about the Master Ball—”

Red almost reacts out loud to the revelation that she knew about it, but stops himself at the last moment.

“—and that it’s nearly ready. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that makes this clearly a trap for you, so long as Burrell is there and you check with your lawyer and get something in writing.”

“You trust Burrell, then?”

“More than Silph, sure, but coming from me that’s not saying much.” His mom hesitates a moment. “He could be corrupt, but from what I’ve heard he’s clean, just a bit of an asshole.”

Red almost says that he seemed nice enough, if a bit understandably high strung, but a few sentences in a few minutes (while around President Silph) wouldn’t be a particularly good window into his character. “So if there’s no major risk for me, is there any for you?”

“It might undermine things I’ve said about him, when it comes out that you’ve helped him. But that seems like a reach for something this major, and also might serve to show impartiality if people assume we’ve got a more friendly relationship.” She sighs. “It also puts you in the middle, which I dislike on a number of levels.”

He understands why, but if he can act as a mediator or go-between, that seems better for everyone. Red wants to reconfirm that there’s no evidence Silph has personally done anything illegal, but is aware of the potential for bugs, and instead just says, “We’ll be okay. You know I wouldn’t—”

“Wouldn’t turn against me? Wouldn’t take his side?” Despite the words, she laughs. “No, Red, I know you wouldn’t. You’ll side with what you think is true, and I can’t be anything but proud of that.”

An unexpectedly strong surge of emotion fills Red’s chest, and he feels tears gathering at the corners of his eyes, and after a moment the wave fades, leaving him wiping at his eyes and trying to process what he felt. There was something in it that felt more like pain or grief than he expected…

“I’m just worried you’ll be misled,” his mom continues, and sighs. “But in this case, if there’s some hidden knife, I can’t see it.”

Red clears his throat. “Okay. Let me know if you do. I might still say no, but…”

“I understand. Let me call some people—”

“Wait, you can’t do that! This has to stay secret for at least the next hour, or else we might tip them off.”

His mother is quiet for a moment. “That’s Silph speaking, but I can’t argue the logic of it. I won’t check with anyone in the company.”

“Or anyone who might check with anyone in the company.”

“Yes, Red, I understand. But there are some people who need to know. Do you trust me?”

Red forces himself to relax. “I do. Sorry.”

“It’s alright. Be careful, Red. I love you.”

“Love you too, Mom.” He ends the call, then just stares at his phone for a minute, trying to untangle the stew of feelings he had during the call. A moment later he feels a renewed sense of urgency and messages Satori to let her know what’s going on.

His lawyer calls just as he finishes up, and Red goes over the details a second time. James doesn’t react particularly strongly to any of it, just going “uh huh” and “okay” and “right” through revelations that would set most people on the edge of their seat, until the question of whether Red might be liable comes up.

“Well, that’s an interesting bit of new jurisprudence you’ve landed in,” he says, and Red can hear his smile. “I’d have to see the waivers myself to be sure, but Silph is likely to be sure to cover their—their butts.” When they met, James told Red that he’s the youngest client he’s ever had, and it’s obvious now and then that he’s not used to it. But he never talks down to him, and Red enjoys the way he nerds out over legal things. “Send me a copy and I’ll let you know if they’re covering yours too.”

Satori is calling him now, so he says, “I will, thanks James, gotta go,” and swaps. “Hi Satori.”

“Hello, Red. I have… many questions, but I’m not sure which are time relevant.”

“I don’t want you to feel rushed. This was your discovery more than mine, and your primary project for years. If there’s any part of this that feels off to you, or like it might have a negative impact…”

She sighs. “When we talked about this happening, we imagined far less pressing scenarios. You know that this side of things always felt less interesting to me.”

“I do.” It was pretty clear she wanted the ability, or something like it, to exist for personal reasons, and her altruism extended mostly to what it would do for others like her or her sister. “Still, it feels important to make sure you’re okay with it.”

“For your own feelings of permission, or for potential public backlash?”

Red hesitates. “Both? But permission is the wrong word, I think. I just don’t want you to…”

“Regret having created it?” She laughs. “You know better.”

He smiles. “Okay, I guess now that you say it out loud, I do. It helps to hear it.”

“It isn’t ours anymore, Red Verres. We discovered it, shared our knowledge, even profited from it. But it belongs to the world, now, and if you are not the first to do this, someone else will be on another day. My legacy, such as it is, will be untouched whatever you choose yours to be. Do as you will.”

He’s not sure what to say to that, other than, “Thanks.” He almost says goodbye, but then has a thought. “I’m not seeking permission, but I am actually curious… what would your sister say?”

“You’ve met her. What is your belief?”

From what he could tell from a few conversations, what drove Koishi beyond the desire to be closer to her sister was to be like everyone else. “Insofar as this helps her, and those like her, be treated ‘normally,’ I guess she would be for it.”

“Having shared her mind as much as I have over the past weeks, I can confidently say you guess correctly. Be well, Red Verres, and good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Red closes the call and wonders if he should check with anyone else. After a five minute internal check, the only people that come to mind are Leaf and Blue.

He pulls them both into a group call, and for the fourth time goes over everything.

“…make sure you don’t say anything to anyone in the building obviously, Blue, and Leaf if you could avoid—”

“I can’t believe the Master Ball is almost done! This is way too early!”

Red blinks, then puts it together. “You and Mom knew about—”

“How do I get one?” Blue asks, voice hard.

“I don’t know, it’s not even done yet—”

“Blue you don’t want one—”

“The hell I don’t—”

“—there’s something Silph hasn’t told you about it, Red, it’s not just something that captures legendaries, it turns them into slaves!”

Red has a spare moment to notice his confusion in the ensuing silence before Blue says, “Uh, don’t you already think that regular pokeballs do that?”

“No,” Red says as it clicks. “She thinks it makes them tame, but the Master Ball… what, makes them completely obedient? Without the need to… get to know them or something?”

“Worse than that, it wipes their mind completely, turns them into robots!”

“How do you know that?” Red asks at the same time Blue says, “Oh come on, we’re talking about the Stormbringers.”

Red has a sudden sinking feeling, but he can’t think of something to say before Leaf retorts, “They might not only be used on Stormbringers, Blue, and they’re still feeling creatures—”

“They killed my parents—”

“Guys—”

“—and a million more—”

“Guys, shut up a sec!”

Silence, and Red belatedly remembers to lower his voice. “Sorry, but… I’m not really here to decide whether these things are good or not.” He’s also closer to Blue’s side on this, but it’s clear Leaf feels strongly about it and he’s not sure how to talk about it yet. “I’m just being asked to try and prevent them from getting stolen, which we can all agree is bad, right?”

There’s a pause, and then Leaf mutters “Right,” sounding more… surly, than Red’s ever heard her.

“Damn right,” Blue says. “What can I do?”

“Nothing, Blue, you’re not even supposed to know—”

“It’s been weird here, I knew something was off—”

“—I just wanted to check if you thought it was moral for me to do this with Miracle Eye.”

Silence again, and after a moment Blue says, “Huh. Didn’t really think about it, honestly. Kind of saw it coming, you know? Thought it would happen with people in power first though, what few of them are allowed. Guess that was naive of me.”

Red bites his lower lip. “Sounds like you don’t think it’s okay, then…?”

“I mean, it’s not my head being looked in. So long as they can walk away, not really my business.”

“Oh. Well. Alright, then.” He’ll dig into that later. “What do you think, Leaf?” He has a sudden worry that she’s mad at him…

“I’m not sure how to feel about it, honestly,” Leaf says. “It’s hard to put aside my feelings about Silph and the Master Ball enough to give any sort of answer. I’m not sure how to say this, but it feels bad to justify this sort of thing by how much is at stake?”

“What do you mean?” Blue asks. “If that was true we’d stop using hunters to catch renegades.”

“I know, I just don’t like that it’s being pushed on Red like it’s his fault if he says no and something bad happens. If they know there’s a renegade there then asking them to let their minds be read feels weird, because of course they’ll say no… but he’s saying they’ll just let them walk away and not treat them differently after? I guess they can’t know for sure who just has a really big secret, but I’m skeptical this will make people less suspicious of dark people. It’ll just make a new split between those willing to let someone read their mind and those not willing to.”

“Shit,” Blue says. “She’s right, and anyone not willing to will be seen even worse than they are now, since they have the option but are refusing it… ugh. Red, I may need you to casually comment about what merging thoughts with me is like at some point so people know that I’m not hiding any deep secrets.”

“Sure,” Red says, leaving unasked whether he’s actually going to want Red to merge with him first. He’s not sure how comfortable he’d be lying about that, though he does trust Blue… “So you think I shouldn’t do it?”

“Nah, doesn’t change anything. Was just saying, it’s going to happen, right or wrong.”

“Obviously if I had to choose between renegades getting it or Silph selling it to the Indigo League or whatever, I’d take the latter. Though that’s easy for me to say, since Unova isn’t near Indigo… no, obviously I’d still want it out of the hands of renegades.” She sighs. “I don’t know, Red. When this gets out, you’re going to get asked to do it a lot more by others before more people learn to. Are you ready to decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t?”

Red’s pacing slows, then stops as he stares out the window over the city. He didn’t think of that.

“I don’t know. I guess… it’ll depend on what’s at stake.”

“And how much they offer.” Blue says.

“What? I’m not going to charge for it!”

“Why not? Don’t tell me you turned down money!”

“They didn’t offer any, and I didn’t ask. That would be like charging for, I don’t know, saving people from a pokemon incident!”

“Nah, totally different. You think hunters and police don’t get paid? Is the Commissioner there on his off-time?”

“Blue’s right,” Leaf says. “Plus, it’s not like Silph can’t afford it.”

Red rubs his eyes, trying to decide if this is good sense or just a difference that comes from growing up poorer than the other two. “If I charge money for it, I can’t be sure I’m just doing it for moral reasons.”

“Hmmm… I guess from a PR angle…”

“Yeah, it’s a good point on both counts.” Leaf sighs. “Well, I’m out of wisdom on this one. Sorry, Red.”

“No, you’ve been helpful, both of you. Thanks.”

“Of course. Good luck!”

“Hey, seriously, if I can help—”

“I’ll let you know. But probably you should just sit tight, or maybe we can meet up later, in case this takes a while?”

“Fuck that, I’m staying.”

“Alright. Later guys.” Red ends the call and stares out over the city for another minute before he takes a breath and enters the main office.

President Silph is still sitting at his desk. Some dessert has appeared, and the older man carefully adds some crushed nuts onto his ice cream before he turns to Red. “That was quicker than I expected. Do you have your answer?”

“Mostly. I need to send whatever waiver you have to my lawyer…?”

“Of course. I’m still waiting on confirmation from Burrell and my head of security, so I’ll send you a copy now.”

He does so, and Red forwards it as he sits across from him again and looks over his own ice cream, wondering if it’s meant to further nudge Red into agreement. There’s an awkward silence as they wait for responses, or at least awkward for Red; President Silph seems to be enjoying his ice cream, and after a moment says, “Well, as we have some spare time, and didn’t have as productive a lunch as we might have liked… is there anything you’ve particularly wanted to discuss since our last one?”

Red half expected the President to bring up something related to his mother, and is wondering now if this is his way of inviting questions around that. Maybe give his side of the story, or judge whether Red is upset about it.

But Red doesn’t really want to talk about that, and bringing it up would put them in a frame of potential argument and conflict. He’s more interested in getting the President’s thoughts on his guilt over the pokemon prices going up…

“Yes, actually. I recently made a lot of money by selling pokemon capable of Miracle Eye—”

“Yes, I saw.” Silph’s smile is warm. “Congratulations are in order, not just for the discovery, but for capitalizing on it even better than you did the abra catching technique.”

“Right.” Red shifts in his seat. “It’s just, I’m not sure how to feel about the people who can’t afford abra, or other Miracle Eye pokemon, now.”

President Silph spoons another bite of ice cream up, but studies Red rather than eating it, smile gone. “You feel you’ve done something wrong?”

“Sort of, yeah. It felt good making abra easier to catch, since more trainers could get one, and it brought the price down so more non-trainers could buy them… but this feels like, I don’t know, I just made them harder to get than ever.”

“Nonsense.”

Red blinks at the older man. “Nonsense as in, I didn’t?”

“Absolutely not.” He gestures out the window behind him. “They are all there, just as easy to catch as they were before. Their numbers have not dwindled, their supply has not shrunk. What changed is that your discovery increased the value of them, and the market is merely reflecting that.”

“But… for those who can’t catch them, those who are too old or who aren’t trainers…”

“Believe me, Mr. Verres, when I say I share your sorrow that not everyone who has a want can yet have it fulfilled.” Put like that, Red feels a little silly, but Silph seems serious. “I am, after all, doing my part to help alleviate that problem. But that we have yet to reach utopia is no individual’s fault, let alone the fault of simple supply and demand. You would not blame physics for failing to accommodate our every whim, would you?”

“Well, no, but that’s different, isn’t it? People could choose to sell something for less than others…” Red trails off, because he of course didn’t make that choice for most of the pokemon he’d bought. Why would he, when those he sold to could just resell the pokemon for higher themselves? Not that everyone would, some might really want an abra or natu themselves, but he’d have no way of knowing that himself… maybe if some law was passed to keep people from reselling pokemon for a time after purchase… but wait, that would have stopped him from making any money off his discovery at all.

Red feels the guilt churning in his stomach again as he considers that maybe he shouldn’t have made money off it, and is interrupted by President Silph lightly tapping him on the nose with the handle of his spoon.

Silph meets his startled look with a level one. “I know the expression that was on your face just now, and it is a tragic thing on anyone, let alone those as bright and enterprising as yourself. While it would be no less proper for the price to rise due to scarcity, it would at least be regrettable. What you are failing to understand is that you have caused the price to go up because the knowledge you uncovered, the technique you developed, created value, and that is what the market is reflecting by the higher price.”

Red feels himself frowning, though the sick feeling in his stomach is starting to fade as he slowly realizes what the old man is saying. “But… what if people are wrong about how valuable something is?”

President Silph sprinkles some more nuts on his ice cream, and Red decides to try some himself. “Are you asking because you don’t know, or because you’re worried about your personal situation?”

“You’re right, I know the price will go down once people realize it’s not as valuable as they think.” Theoretically, at least. It might take a while. “And yeah, you’re right about the personal bit too. I guess I’m still not used to changing things on such a large scale…”

“And so you’re prepared to feel bad no matter which way things go.”

That’s not… quite right? Red takes a breath, finding the felt-sense in his chest and focusing on it as he speaks. “It’s more that… none of this feels real? No, none of it feels solid. In science there’s no certainty, but there’s at least knowledge that can be tested. There’s no right or wrong, morally, there’s just the pursuit of truth. I don’t have to worry about what it means for others if I succeed, because succeeding in science is always good for everyone…”

He trails off as he feels a painful twist in his chest as he says the words, but before he can focus on it he gets distracted by President Silph’s wry snort. “While business must always be zero-sum?”

“No, not always,” Red acknowledges. “Or at least, I get that on an intellectual level. But… well, now that I think about it, I guess all this is just an extension of what I was worried about before, with Miracle Eye’s effect on dark people. Overall the world will probably be better having it, but some people’s lives will individually be worse, and… that sucks.”

Red expects President Silph to scoff, but the older man stares into his ice cream bowl, spoon stirring it slightly as he slowly nods. “Yes. It does ‘suck,’ indeed, and it’s good to remind ourselves of that, once in a while.” The older man smiles slightly. “When my nephew was young, he said that I sound as though I worship the ‘invisible hand of the market’ that I was no doubt boring him with my repeated lectures on. I, a tad less jokingly, replied that I knew of nothing else as worthy of venerating, save perhaps for human ingenuity. But in truth, my god is as cold and impersonal as any other. I assume you have no faith?”

Red shakes his head as he sprinkle some of the nuts on his vanilla ice cream and takes a small bite. It is, of course, delicious, silky and sweet, and the nuts provide a grounding crunch. “Never saw a convincing reason to.”

“I’ll switch back to the scientific analogy, then. I made the comparison to laws of physics for good reason; there is fundamentally no difference between a man building his house on a faultline and his business unsuited to the market, save that it is easier for us to identify the outcomes of the first. It was not always so, and perhaps one day we will know better than to rail against the market for our failures to predict it, the same way we once couldn’t predict earthquakes.” Silph shrugs. “In either case, it is tragic that people may lose to forces beyond their ken or control. But to blame reality is childish. When one business creates a better product than another, it may put many out of a job. We can sympathize with them, hope that they find another, even collectively help via social safety nets. But as a society we’re improved by them losing that job, because they are no longer doing redundant, less valuable work, and we have the better service or product.”

“You support social safety nets?”

Silph smiles. “It surprises many people, but I do, within reason. They can encourage people to take professional risks that might benefit us all.”

Red’s not sure if it’s the ice cream or the words, but he is starting to feel better. He wants to take his journal out to make notes of why so he can check the reasoning later, run it past some others. Instead it strikes him again just how valuable this time is, and decides to jump to another question. “I’ve also been having trouble learning how to… spend money? I know that sounds silly, but it still feels like a rare resource, to me. On the ship you said to spend every dollar as deliberately as my first, and I feel like I’ve always done that, but now that I’m still doing it even with lots of money it feels particularly wasteful.”

Mr. Silph’s brow is raised. “Fear of wasting money is understandable, but ‘deliberately’ needn’t mean perfectly.”

Well, when he puts it like that… “Does that mean you sometimes regret purchases you make?”

“No.”

Now it’s Red’s turn to raise his brow. “Really?”

“Really,” Silph deadpans, then shrugs. “I used to, until I realized I was orienting to it incorrectly. I have goals, and I want those goals to be achieved, and so it feels bad if there are any wastes of time and resources that delay that. But if by regret you mean some sense of internal suffering, or self-flagellation, I have no time for such. It is much more productive to learn from failure and move on.”

Easier said than done, Red almost says, but the frame is familiar. “So if I treat every purchase as an experiment, something I learn from, whether I get what I want or not…”

“Precisely. Thus, ‘deliberately,’ but without dithering, and without frustration.”

Red smiles as he feels the new mental frame settling into place. “I’ll have to try that out next time, but I already think it’ll help. Thank you.”

“Of course, though I suspect it’s only half of the issue.”

“What do you mean?”

“Most people either are not used to earning regularly, or are on a fixed salary. This leads to—”

Red’s phone pings, and he checks it to see a message from James. “My lawyer says the waiver looks good.” He feels a strange mix of relief and disappointment, and knows the latter to be something uncomfortably close to cowardice.

“Excellent. Does that mean we can count on your help?”

Red tries to mentally shift gears back to considering what brought him here. He’d been enjoying the conversation, enjoying learning and having good ice cream, and he doesn’t want it to stop, doesn’t want to go around the building meeting strangers just to command a Miracle Eye on them over and over…

…but he doesn’t want renegades to steal the Master Ball either.

Assuming they really are renegades…

“Commissioner Burrell said he can’t reveal why you think there are renegades here. He looked at you when he said it, so if you’re the reason he can’t… I think I’d need to know, first.” He almost apologizes for adding yet another condition, but it feels appropriate.

Silph has finished his ice cream, and instead pours a small spoonful of nuts from the serving spoon into his personal one and eats that directly. “I am not the reason he ‘can’t,’ but rather, he is the reason I have not. There are ongoing investigations from the lab that held the stolen Silph Scope technology, and we’ve been keeping the details close. I suggested you be told, given your involvement in that incident, but Burrell disliked the idea. I could ignore his preference, but that would feel like defecting. Still, if it’s what you need, perhaps he would change his mind.”

“No,” Red says after a moment. “I mean, I’d like to be told, but there’s no actual reason for me to be, so long as I know there is good reason. No mental shield is perfect, and if it’s sensitive information…”

Silph is smiling at him again. “You continue to impress me, Mr. Verres. And so?”

“And so… yes, I’ll help.” Red tries not to let the compliment warm him too much, but he supposes it doesn’t matter if he does or not, now that he’s decided to go ahead.

“Excellent.” Silph lets out a breath as he picks up his phone. “I’ll let Burrell know. Thank you, Mr. Verres.”

Red just nods and eats more of his half-melted ice cream. Now that he has decided to go ahead, he feels lighter, though part of him still dreads the work itself. But at the end of the day, whatever the Master Ball is or isn’t, whatever people think of him for doing this, if there are renegades in the building and they get away, or worse, steal something that would let them capture a legendary… it would be partially on him. He can wish it were otherwise, but he can’t actually ignore what he knows about the world. There are older, stronger, smarter people than him doing their best to keep things together, but they’re not enough, and that he was asked for help means he can help.

And he won’t even be risking his life to do it. The more he thinks about it, the less it feels like a real dilemma at all.

“We have another ten minutes, and Burrell will be joining us with Sicong, my head of security.” Silph pours himself and Red some more tea. “Feel free to relax here meanwhile, and finish your ice cream.”

“Alright. Um, you were saying, about wealth?”

“Ah yes! Wealth…” He sips his tea, then pours the last of his melted ice cream into it and stirs. “Most people treat it as a fixed number, either saved in the bank or on a refreshing budget. What you must internalize is that you have something even more valuable than a large amount of money: what you have is earning potential. Many wealthy people do feel free to spend money because they simply have an enormous amount, but that is still the thought on the surface; the true secret is having an abundance mindset. To put it simply, your ability to spend money is a function of your ability to make it.”

Red suddenly remembers a thought he had while bored and scrolling headlines, about some superstar who had gotten millions into debt. It made him wonder, at the time, how anyone could spend that much money without realizing they were out of it… and how anyone could be allowed to spend that much money without having any.

But he was given tons of money just based on the confidence people had that he’d be able to make good returns, and in his mind there’s now a concept of wealth not as a fixed point, or even a trendline, but a range on an axis. “I think I get it, yeah. I was trying to internalize this earlier today, but I was just doing it from feelings of abundance and relief and success. The idea that I’m reliably able to pull off things like this more than once might take a while to update on, but… yeah, I see how that would help me feel less bad about spending money.”

“I’m glad, though I have to say, it is a bit odd that you felt confident enough to borrow money on speculation, but not to spend it. I suppose you felt it as enough of a ‘sure thing?'”

“Yeah, normally I think I’d be way too risk averse.” Red wonders if he should stop eating to let his stomach settle, then decides more nuts might be okay. “I guess I could also try to focus on the things I’m buying as ‘sure things’ too… just in a different way than I’m used to thinking of purchases.”

“Knowledge of a thing’s quality, knowledge of your tastes, unique experiences… there are many things we’re assured of, when we buy something, even if we dislike it.”

Red lets the thought and ice cream digest for a moment, sipping his tea and blowing on it. He feels like he should be preparing himself more deliberately, but he was told to relax, so he tries to relax, and finds himself still thinking of the financial questions that were dominating his thoughts before he came here.

“One last question?” Silph asks, watching him over his tea cup with a small smile.

“Yeah, actually. I was going to ask what you’d do with the money I have, but I guess that’s a silly question.”

“Silly how?”

“Because I assume you’re already doing everything you want with money? And we have different goals, so…”

The older man chuckles. “Another motto of mine, to add to our growing list: a man poor in fortune or spirits will only purchase that which already exists, while a man abundant in either will spend it to purchase what has yet to exist. Most of my wealth is being used to bring ideas into existence, whether material or systemic or conceptual. So what I would do with your money is, essentially, more of the same of what I’m already doing. You’re welcome to check my company’s site for the full list and explanations for which technologies we invest in and political causes we champion, but if you don’t find those particular arguments convincing, the important question is to ask what you would like to see done in the world, and spend money on that.”

Red thinks over all the many notes he’s taken throughout his journey about inventions he wished existed, or different policies or protocols that he wished were different. “What if I don’t know anyone working on those problems already?” He thinks of the CoRRNet incident report system, and how it doesn’t use Bayesian reasoning to determine what Tier a threat might be.

For the first time, Silph’s reaction makes Red feel like he asked a stupid question. “Then you pay them to do it.”

“Oh, sure, but… just like that? Even if they’re working on other things already?”

“Of course. What do you think money is, but a way to reallocate labor in a way you’d prefer?”

He’d never thought of it in quite those terms, but… “And if no one still wants to?”

“Then you didn’t offer enough.” President Silph shrugs. “I won’t pretend there aren’t other factors. Some work is so risky or unpleasant that virtually no one will do it, no matter how much you offer… though that is quite rare. The more difficult problem is finding people who are passionate about the thing you want them to work on, as they will, by and large, be much more competent and productive than those doing it just because of the money.” Something on his desk buzzes. “That is why talent searching is so important and valued.” He presses the button. “Yes?”

“Burrell and Sicong are here.”

“We’ll be right out.” He takes one last sip of tea, then stands, and Red gets up too. “There’s a PC here, if you need to summon your Miracle Eye pokemon.”

“I’ve got him on me.” Red’s fingers brush the balls along his belt until he gets to Kadabra’s. “I’m ready.”

108: Mistake Theory

Red stares at the numbers in his bank account and tries to really internalize what it means to have nearly three million dollars of personal wealth.

At first pass, it simply feels… impossible. When he tries focusing, the felt-senses that come up are a lightness in his chest and a numbness around his head that, when prodded, come up with phrases like “unreal” and “undeserved.” He wonders how much of it is due to the speed and the method of his wealth, and how much is just a carryover from spending so much time worrying about money.

Red’s research managed to earn him almost as much as he spent after his abra sales, which meant he had roughly $150,000 to buy up pokemon that could learn Miracle Eye… of his own money, that is. It wasn’t hard, with his name recognition, to get some sizeable loans; in fact, when one of the bankers remembered why Red first got famous, he offered to double the loan amount that Red asked for.

“So which pokemon is it this time?” the man asked as he filled out the paperwork, clearly joking but also clearly eager for some hint.

“What makes you think it’s a pokemon?” Red responded with a smile, and made sure to highlight that part of his request in his future applications.

By the end of it all he had nearly a million dollars in loans, which felt surreal on its own, and somewhat panic inducing. He had to keep reminding himself that this wasn’t a scheme that might or might not work; the price of abra and natu and male meowstic would go up, the only question would be how much. Even if he could only resell them at double the price he got them, even if he could only sell one per month, that would more than cover the interest, and those were some pessimistic estimates indeed.

So he borrowed more money, from Bill and Professor Oak and Dr. Madi and his mom and Leaf (who he offered much higher returns to, as apology for not being able to let her in on the secret), and then asked Leaf if she’d agree to take out loans that he’d cover, which she did.

By the end of that round of funding he managed to have nearly three million dollars, and the issue he faced was one of supply. Buying up the entire market would have been hard even if he wasn’t competing with Blue and Satori, but they made a game of it to keep things from getting too cutthroat.

Timing things so that others wouldn’t notice what was happening was also important, and they first reached out to the breeding farms to secure as many backorders as they could, which got expensive quickly. There was some debate about buying up other psychic types too, as the discovery would doubtless encourage a ton of research into finding others who could learn it, but they recognized this as more speculative, even if all psychic pokemon rise in price a little. Blue decides to dabble in some of that, which left more of the sure bet for Red and Satori to buy up.

Occasionally Red felt guilty about what they were doing. He spoke with his mother about it first this time, and she agreed that as it was their direct discovery, it was a different situation than the one with the clefairy. But he could also sense that she still found it… distasteful, maybe? Just a year ago he was struggling to decide what to spend his limited funds on, and once he imagined some new trainer eagerly saving up their money for one of the pokemon that are about to skyrocket in price, it was hard not to keep thinking about how many people just wouldn’t be able to afford these pokemon after their announcement.

They ended up doing a similar deal for Rangers and Gyms, which soothed the guilt somewhat, particularly since the decision was reached before they devised their selling strategy, which began with some talks with a couple experts that were well worth their consulting fees. As he looks over the amount of money he still ended up with, the guilt starts to creep back in… along with the fear that he’s wasting it by not spending enough of it for good purpose.

It might not make sense to increase his spending proportionally, he’s not sure he can actually get good value out of ten times the spending he was doing before, let alone thirty times. But he should at least be spending twice as much as he was before he got it, realistically closer to five times as much. At the very least he could be funding more research by others.

He could also buy a female dratini under the same reasoning he used with his ivysaur and wartortle; getting a pokemon with high potential power that could also be rented out to recoup its cost in the future. Or he could just invest it directly into the stock market. He doesn’t plan to save for retirement, but if he’s not going to be spending it anyway…

And yet instead he just keeps staring at the numbers, on some level worried they’ll disappear, on another worried about wasting them.

He thinks over the mental tools at his disposal, including some of the more recent ones he practiced with Dr. Seward, and decides to try holding both emotions at once.

First he summons the memory of what it felt like to be limited by money; the worry about not having enough to buy what he needs, the longing of wanting something that was out of financial reach… then he summons the feelings of abundance he gets while looking at the numbers on the screen. More than that, he summons the feelings of… triumph, and confidence, that came from watching each step work out, one after the other, from his ideas, of watching the numbers go up over time.

Then he switches back to the worry he felt, the sense of scarcity and limitation… and now the sense of overflowing possibility. He lets himself sit with each feeling for a handful of slow breaths, sinking deep into each set of memories and emotions until he can start swapping between them more easily.

Then he holds both feelings together, side by side, as best he can, and when he finally starts to feel like the edge has been taken off of the financial worries, he takes one last deep breath and slowly lets it out.

When he opens his eyes and looks at the numbers on the screen again, the worry about spending it is still there, but not nearly as strong. He looks up the cost of a female dratini, winces, then decides to start with something smaller, but still a larger purchase than he’s made before. A few minutes later he finishes signing up for and prepurchasing one of Game Freak’s headset prototypes. The one on the site looks more advanced than the one showcased on the cruise, and he wonders how closely the final product will match it.

He feels a small stab of pain and regret upon clicking the Complete Payment button, but also some relief and excitement. He expects that it’ll get easier, and takes another breath before closing his computer and getting dressed.

Blue’s return to Saffron is by the traditional methods, which for him means riding in on Soul. Red has to admit that the scarred arcanine continues to make his friend look impressive, but if Blue had a teleport point set to the city he likely would have saved himself the time; he did, of course, fly most of the way before riding the last bit so that word of his arrival would spread by observation.

The reality of dark teleportation is that it still requires a dark trainer to create enough of a bond with their pokemon that it will understand who they are, and Blue is still working on creating one with his second abra so that it will be able to teleport with him. Meanwhile he said he plans to keep Tops’s teleport point in Fuchsia.

Blue swings down off his saddle, and Red steps up beside him to help unstrap Soul. Sunlight makes the arcanine’s fur glow in ripples along its side as it breathes in and out, and Red enjoys the warmth radiating off the large dog while Blue feeds and waters it. “None of the others came with you?”

“Some are staying for the long haul, the others are waiting behind until they get their badges. It would have been nice to get them in clusters again, but unless I can convince Blaine or Giovanni to do scenarios too, that might just stay a Vermilion-only thing.”

“No chance Janine changes her mind?”

“They’re okay with them continuing, so maybe. But she still seemed pretty against it becoming a way to do challenges when I left.” Blue returns Soul to his ball, then sighs as he takes his helmet off and runs a hand through sweaty hair, then waves at a couple onlookers across the street. “I need a wash. Mind if I use your shower before I head to the TH?”

“Sure.” They head inside and up the stairs. “So what’s the plan for Sabrina?”

Red thought his voice was casual, but Blue grins. “Itching to get back to the drawing board, huh?”

“Maybe, yeah.” Red smiles. “Planning battles out is almost as fun as doing them myself now.”

Blue laughs as their steps echo through the stairwell. “You know, on the list of things I never thought I’d hear you say, that’s pretty high up.”

“I wouldn’t have predicted it either.” He wouldn’t have predicted a lot of the ways he’s changed since leaving Pallet Town, but the way he enjoys battling is particularly surprising to him given how he’s been surrounded by it his whole life. “It’s also surprising to me how battling wild pokemon isn’t nearly the same.”

“Huh, really? It’s pretty similar for me, even more intense in some ways.”

“In… good ways?”

“Sure. It’s less predictable.”

Red wonders if they’re just misunderstanding each other. “What about the danger?”

“Oh, well that’s different. Normally I feel totally in control in battles, up until something really dangerous happens.”

“Wait, the ‘Battle Calm’ from Elaine’s game? That’s real?”

Blue turns to him with a frown as they step onto Red’s floor and head down the hall. “When did you—”

“She’s been sending us all drafts to get feedback. Each is a different copy so we can’t see each others’.” Red pats Blue’s shoulder, enjoying his friend’s rare bit of self-consciousness. “I particularly liked your Dueler’s Attitude.”

Blue tries to flick Red’s ear, but he dodges. “I asked her to tone that down, but she disagreed. ‘Artistic license,’ she said.”

They enter Red’s room, and Blue summons his eevee, then does a double take when Red does the same. “When did you buy—”

“Oh, I didn’t. Remember that work I did for the Celadon police? While we were going through buildings, we found an eevee in a ball just sitting in a room that’s been empty for years.” Red shrugs, a little self-conscious himself now. “It was really random. Thankfully it was in a plugged in charger, but there was a huge layer of dust over everything. They’ve been trying to track down its owner for the past few months, but none of the contact info reached anyone. Apparently they finally got hold of a family friend who said they passed away and had no benefactors, so the CPD decided to give it to me.”

“That’s… bizarre. Lucky for you, though.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s a little funny, because I could actually afford an eevee pretty comfortably now.”

“Okay, so it’s not too lucky. I’m so sorry for your gain.” Now it’s Blue’s turn to dodge Red’s flick. “Been going on a lot of daylight walks?”

“Yep, and made a nest of sunstones, which to be fair I would have hesitated to buy before.” They’re still not sure what exactly causes each eevee evolution, but there are some patterns that are less noisy than others. Red examines Blue’s while the two fluffy pokemon sniff at each other. “She’s gotten big.”

“Yeah, reckon she’ll be ready before I face Sabrina.”

Red’s thoughts go back to the pre-Challenge planning they did for Koga, and what that might look like for Sabrina… “So is the ‘Battle Calm’ based on something you really feel?”

“That one’s… more or less right, yeah.”

Red tries imagining what battling is like for him. The best he can come up with is his own many-mirrors-and-a-dim-room, which feels like it would be too detached to have the proper motivation or carefulness for a battle. “How do you stay motivated while not feeling things?” The two eevee’s minds feel less curiosity toward each other now, and are searching for stimulation, so Red takes out a pair of stringed wands with bright charms on the end and hands one to Blue.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure, actually.” Red considers his own surprise, following the confusion it leads him to. “I think I had a subconscious model that, without emotion, we’d just be following some logical process to decide what to do moment to moment. And maybe emotions are, like, a shortcut for that? We don’t need to reason out why we should eat if we just feel hungry.”

“That’s an instinct, not an emotion. Or… a sensation, I guess?”

“I don’t know how distinct those things are.” He bounces the charm up and down for his eevee, who just sits and watches for a pattern rather than pouncing right away. He’s not as cuddly as Red expected, and Red sometimes wonders if that’s part of why the original owner left him behind, assuming it was intentional. “We don’t need to spend time and energy reasoning out why something is bad for us if we just get scared or angry and run away or hit it, and that saved time is probably really valuable.”

“Sure, I get that. But you’re saying now that emotions are more than a shortcut, right?”

“Maybe? The more I remember what it was like to block out most of my feelings in the abra field, the more I remember how hard it was to decide to do anything. I was able to reason things out, but it was hard to care about the conclusions. I almost just… stood there and didn’t do anything.” Red sits silently with that for a moment. “What if ‘feelings’ are just another word for ‘motivation?’ What if they’re how we decide everything we do?”

“Huh. Wouldn’t have expected you to say that.”

Red knows Blue’s teasing him, but he nods. “I know, it doesn’t seem right.”

“Doesn’t seem right up here?” Blue points to his head with his free hand, then his stomach. “Or down here?”

Well, now that he pointed that out… “I mean… logically, it seems wrong. People go against their emotions all the time.”

“Nah, they just go with a different emotion.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not like we feel just one thing. You can care about someone and be angry at them at the same time, and sometimes one wins out and sometimes the other does.” Blue shrugs. “Same with things like fear and courage.”

A familiar pit forms in his stomach, mixing anger and sadness and despair, and Red almost argues that it’s not that simple… but after a moment he closes his mouth, realizing that his friend might not even be thinking of that night.

Huh. Was that a counter example right then? “Just now I was about to say something, because of a strong feeling I had. And then I stopped myself, and I don’t think I had a feeling associated with that.” Though maybe he did… caution? But it “felt” like the thought came first…

Blue gives him a look, but stays silent for a moment before saying, “I just did it too. Was going to say something, then another emotion got bigger and stopped me.”

“Got bigger?”

“Yeah, like it… rose up? Took up more space or something.”

Red also chooses not to dig into what that emotion was. Instead he reflects again on what he felt, and what stopped him. Red’s eevee finally pounces, but Red felt the intention rising a moment beforehand and bounced the charm up just before it could be grabbed. “I guess… there was an emotion there, but… if so it was really subtle?”

“Worry?”

“No. Caution, maybe. But it felt like it came from the… the top down, rather than the bottom up.”

“Huh.” They’re both silent for a moment as Blue’s Eevee continues to leap around while Red’s sits and stares again, gaze flicking around to track the movements of the colorful feathers. “So maybe thoughts can stop you from doing things, but not get you to do them. Which means you’ve wasted how much time on all that rational stuff, exactly?”

Red rolls his eyes. “I’m not saying we don’t use reason to make decisions.” He thinks back to the decision he made on the cruise, when he was shifting back and forth between becoming Sabrina’s student or staying with Leaf and Blue. “But maybe reason only works because it changes how we feel? And how we feel is… well, it’s not always explicitly rational. People have biases and bad epistemics and blindspots. But we do update, eventually, if we’re given the right data or arguments or explanations…” He trails off, less sure as he realizes he doesn’t know how that works, exactly.

“Seems like you’re trying to have it both ways. What comes first, the pidgey or the egg?”

“Well we developed emotions first, obviously. And that analogy is terrible by the way, it’s just about how you label things, eggs definitely existed for longer than—”

“So what you’re saying is there’s an obvious answer to both, which means it’s a great analogy.”

Red opens his mouth, then closes it and rubs his eyes. “My point is, if reason developed after emotion, which is a pretty safe bet… then what caused it to stick around and grow as an adaptive strategy is probably the way it allowed humans to decide things other than just following emotion? Maybe? Or like, a way to explicitly alter emotions… so how much reason influences what decisions we make could just depend on how strong the emotions involved are?”

“Hang on, I’m pulling in Leaf.” Blue takes out his phone and starts tapping. “She’s spent more time trying to convince people of things than either of us, at this point.”

Red smiles as a light fluttering enters his stomach. “Right, good idea.” He’d been wondering what she would say about all this, but didn’t want to be the first person to suggest it.

“Meanwhile, I’m going to get cleaned up.” Blue hands Red the toy wand and opens a container ball to take out some extra clothes and a towel. Red plays with both eevee while Blue closes the washroom door behind him, and there’s silence for a moment before his muffled voice comes through the door. “Hey, what’s the latest research on trading pokemon to evolve them?”

Red raises a brow. “You’re thinking of trading Tops?”

“Of course not! Just wondering if I can game it somehow.”

“You know, I’ve been thinking about that ever since we proved Koichi’s methods work. I still think the trading thing is mostly a superstition, there’s even more noise in the data there than with eevee evolutions. But Professor Rowan’s got some interesting papers on pokemon like kadabra and machoke, so it might have a stronger effect in different species? Still, if the mechanism is that some trauma involved in losing a trainer and getting a new one causes pokemon to grow faster, it’s not obvious what actually triggers it.” Red senses his eevee about to pounce again, but it’s quicker than he is this time, and manages to snatch one of the feathers in its teeth. He lets it gnaw for a bit while he plays with Blue’s. “People have tried to exploit it a dozen different ways. Trading back and forth, trading to people in different regions, faking their own death while the pokemon watches… nothing reliably leads to measurable changes in growth.”

“But it does work sometimes?” The shower starts running, and Blue raises his voice. “No one’s figured out why?”

“Not that I’ve seen! The data is inconsistent, and no one has a good enough explanation to try something new!”

“You should work on that next, then! It would be huge!”

Red doesn’t respond, partially because he doesn’t want to keep yelling over the water, partially because he’s not sure how he feels about it. The truth is, as fascinating as Koichi’s training method and the Miracle Eye were, they’re not the main thing he wants to be studying.

He still hasn’t had the unown dream, and he’s increasingly becoming the only psychic on the islands who hasn’t, along with everyone else in the city. The omission is becoming large enough that people are starting to notice and wonder why, and Red has to keep his partition up more and more often to not leak that Sabrina’s ex-student or friend or whatever is actually the one going around warning people about the end of the world.

And he hasn’t fully grappled with that whole thing either, of course, because it’s scary and also because he has no idea what he could do about it. And also maybe because if he takes it seriously he’ll have to stop working on figuring out where pokemon come from.

But since both might be related to unown in some way, he could feasibly still end up working on both, if he can just find an inroad. Lulie’s idea of tracking unown flight paths caught on, and the What Comes Next forums have a whole section now to show pidove tracking charts, but there hasn’t been much time to set up a formal investigation team, and the regions are still bickering over what does and doesn’t count as pokemon creation research and how illegal it should be.

So maybe figuring out how trades might cause pokemon to grow faster would be a good thing to do, but it would also just be another side project that has more to do with battling than anything. And as much as he’s been enjoying trainer battles lately, and as useful as it might be for people to be able to grow their pokemon faster, he’s still not intrinsically as excited to do that sort of research. Maybe whatever he learns will have applications and insights that go beyond it, but…

His phone chimes with his personal assistant’s tone, and he puts both toys in one hand to check the message:

Call from President Silph, as in, the President himself(!) not a sec. Says you’ve met before? and he’d “like to speak with you.” Asked what it was concerning, he just said it wasn’t what you might think(?) and that it’s “somewhat urgent”(!?) so gonna call in a minute if you don’t respond. Gave his direct number…

“Red?”

“Yeah?!” His heart is pounding in his chest, thumb poised to start calling, then realizes he doesn’t know who he’s calling. The president, or his mom first, or maybe Leaf…? “Sorry, I got a message!”

“Alright!”

Silph said it wouldn’t be about what he’s thinking of, which means it’s probably not related to his mom’s investigations, assuming Silph would assume she’d tell him about that. Which he must have, if he said it’s not what he’d think… or maybe that meant…

Leaf first, definitely. She’d know if something happened with the informant, though if the President knows anything about their collaboration…

Red buys himself more time by typing a message to his assistant to thank him, and confirm for future reference that he did speak with the President in the past. It’s common practice, apparently, for people to report a connection to get through screened calls where there is none, but Red’s a little flattered by the idea that his assistant thinks President Silph might pull that sort of trick. He leaves the rest of the question marks unanswered, then calls Leaf.

“Hey Red, I was just messaging Blue to say I won’t be free until—”

“President Silph wants to talk and says it’s about something I can’t predict and he’s right.”

“What.” Leaf is silent for a moment. “Meta-honestly, I’m not hiding anything, I actually have no idea what he wants. Call your mom?”

“Yep, gonna do that now.” He still hesitates, enjoying the excuse to talk to her, however briefly. They’ve both been busier than usual lately, and he hasn’t even had time to come by the ranch to help out. It’s not as much of a problem now that more exposure therapy groups and friends of Blue are coming by to help more regularly, but… he misses her.

He almost says that, but instead just goes with, “How are you?”

“Good!” There’s a pause. “I’m good. Busy, you know.”

“Sorry, I can go—”

“No, that’s okay! How are you?”

“Yeah, good! Busy too. Got another few offers.”

“Anywhere tempting?”

“Kalos, actually, but only because of the things I’ve been hearing about the weird ways pokemon are acting there.”

“Oh yeah, there was something about a clefairy doing something odd, right? But they do unpredictable things more often than most pokemon.”

“A jigglypuff too, and there are reports of a granbull single-handedly taking down a wild machamp.”

“Huh.” He can practically see her brow creasing as she looks up and to the side… “That seems really unlikely, unless it was a really strong granbull.”

“Right? So that was tempting, but free-T makes a lot of things tempting.”

“I’ll bet. Still haven’t gotten around to visiting home, but I’ve been thinking about it more since I’ll have one fewer teleport spot soon.”

“The Safari?”

“Yep, it’s moved pretty far beyond me now, and I can conference call in. If it wasn’t for my new friend I’d hardly travel to Fuchsia at all.”

“Right.” There’s a moment of silence, and he tries to think of something else to say to continue the conversation…

“Should you be—”

“Yeah, gotta go, later!” He hangs up, then winces at how abrupt he was. His thumb hovers over redial for a moment before he closes his eyes and bonks his head against the top of the phone and calls his mom instead.

“President Silph wants to talk and says it’s about something I can’t predict,” he repeats. “Help?”

“That fucking—sorry, Hon, one second.” The background noise disappears, and he shifts his weight as he waits for his mother to finish cursing, or going somewhere private. Maybe he should have messaged her first.

She still sounds angry when she unmutes and says, “Did he reach out to you directly?”

“Yeah.”

“Then it’s something he doesn’t want others to know about. Record the conversation, don’t sign anything, make sure you choose the place you’re meeting, and bring someone else with you. Not me, obviously, but maybe Blue or Leaf… no, she’s not dark or psychic…”

Red hesitates. “Some of that makes sense, but… I don’t know, it seems a little antagonistic?”

“Antagon—Red, he sicced the police on me!”

“Right, yeah, I know that, sorry, I’m not… I get that he has a lot of power, and he might be involved in some shady things, but… what if this invitation is on the level? I don’t want to set things off on a combative foot. ” He was nice to me. It’s a naive thing to say, especially given that he had plenty of reason to have ulterior motives, but on the whole Red didn’t feel like Silph did anything bad to him.

He was angry on his mom’s behalf when he heard what happened, of course, furious even. But over time it became more clear that, from President Silph’s perspective, knowing that there was in fact someone stealing information from his company and (allegedly?) attacking his employees… well, even if he wasn’t doing anything illegal himself, alerting the police that someone may be working with them just seemed like the reasonable thing to do? Losing the Silph Scope technology didn’t just affect their ability to sell as many, their stock took a dive as confidence in the company went down. Red would expect a different CEO who was totally clean to also take the same actions.

“That’s not the point, Red.” He hears her audibly take and release a deep breath. “Even if it is, you have to protect yourself.”

“But if protecting myself signals that I don’t trust him, he might not trust me either! I don’t want to defect first when all he’s done is cooperate.”

“Defect on what?” She sounds alarmed. “Did you make any agreements with him?”

“No no, sorry, it’s a game theory term.” He realizes the eevee have been gnawing on the toys for a few minutes now, and tugs up to start waving them around again. “There isn’t a specific thing that I’d be defecting on, but… let’s say he has a value of treating people neutrally until they’ve done something that hurts his company first. That might not transfer between you and me, so I might still be off-limits to any unfriendly actions.”

“Those are far too many assumptions for dealing with someone as powerful as him, particularly since they all rely on Silph sharing your values at all! I know you’ve spent a lot of time around famous people, but he’s not a Professor, or a Gym Leader. He’s a businessman, and you’re playing with fire by assuming he has the same goals you do, or will draw the same lines.”

Red bites his lower lip, thinking of a blog post he read at one point that compared two opposing theories for social conflict that people tend to ascribe to. Mistake Theory said that people who are fighting for different goals than you just have different facts or the wrong reasoning, and if you talk things out, you might educate each other and reach some consensus. Conflict Theory, on the other hand, said that people in conflict largely just have different values or are too focused on competing for resources, and no amount of rational exchange of ideas would change that.

The article talked about this in a way that made it clear that the majority of people acted as though Conflict Theory was true by default, which often led to painting their political enemies as not just stupid, but malicious. He doesn’t think his mother views everyone that way, but because of her career she’s had a lot of exposure to bad people, and it makes sense to him that she’d be predisposed to think of anyone with different goals from her that way.

He’s not so naive to think he could convince Mr. Silph to drastically change his actions, particularly if he’s actually doing things like coercing researchers into working on secret projects, or hiring renegades to steal fossils. But there are already people working to stop him adversarially… it feels like Red has a better chance of changing things by pulling the rope sideways than joining one side in a tug-of-war, especially since he doesn’t have a lot to offer in direct confrontation or espionage.

Red winces as he realizes that’s not strictly true. He could become one of the best spies in history, if he decided to use his powers that way. But he doesn’t want to, and it would require revealing the secret to others, not to mention give perfect cause for people to distrust psychics all the more.

“I get that I need to be careful,” he finally says. “But I still want to keep my options open, and some of those things feel like they close things, or limit me, or something.”

His mom sighs. “Alright, Red. Let me think for a moment.”

“Sure. And thanks.” Red is worried about too much time passing before he calls the President… the message did say “urgent,” after all.

Not so urgent that I didn’t take an extra minute to chat with Leaf, of course…

He tries to focus on playing with the eevee again, and as his pokemon pounces for the third time, the sound of the shower cuts off. Red tosses the eevee some treats and steps outside so he can take the call in the hallway.

After a couple minutes, his mom sighs again. “Okay, so the things I said before about recording and not signing anything still apply. You don’t have to choose the meeting place, and you don’t have to bring anyone. I know he’s not going to do anything to you, and if you bring someone for moral support or to be a witness… that would change the dynamic, yeah. Still, don’t let him control the pace or feel of the conversation. If you’re in his office, then he might do little things to make you feel rushed, or like he’s busy and you’re bothering him with questions, even though he’s the one that reached out to you.”

Red almost asks why she’s assuming he’ll want to meet in person, then remembers her point about it likely being a private conversation. “Right.” He remembers what Leaf said about how talking to Giovanni while he was on his phone made her feel less confident in herself, and harder to push back on things or speak what came to mind.

“Also, don’t forget how subtle status effects can be. You’ll be in his place of power, and that’s going to manifest in a hundred minor ways. Be deliberate with every question you answer and any information you give. Even the smallest feeling of ‘well, I’m not sure if I should…’ is a sign that you shouldn’t, at least not without careful consideration for whether you’re seeking his approval or trying to avoid his disapproval.”

“Okay.” He thinks he can do that, particularly since he’ll be able to look out for his partitioned self… “Is that it?”

“All the other things I was going to say would set the tone ‘antagonistically,’ as you said. You can shield from psychics, so that’s not a worry, and you’ve already told relevant people… did you talk to Leaf?”

“Yeah, she has no idea what this could be about.”

“Honestly I’d suggest you not talk to him today. Something might have happened, there could be some information he has that it would be good to know going in. But the same is true in reverse… not that he’d tell you anything he’d be worried about me hearing… Red, I have to say I just don’t think you should talk to him at all, even later.”

Red hesitates, trying to take this idea as seriously as it deserves given that it’s his mom saying it. “But if I don’t…”

“I know. Can you blame me for caring more about your wellbeing than… all this?”

“No. I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, Hon. Call me right after.”

“I will.”

Red hangs up, then downloads a call recording app, takes a breath, then another, and calls the number President Silph left for him. He doesn’t even get through the second ring.

“Hello, Mr. Verres.” The old man’s voice is as he remembers it, papery in some hard to define way, but also strong and sure. “Thank you for returning my call so promptly.”

Right. It felt like forever, but actually barely ten minutes have passed since he got the message. “Of course. I never got the chance to thank you for your advice on the cruise. It’s been very helpful to me.”

“I can tell by your accomplishments. All things considered, it was a very productive lunch. I was hoping we could have another.”

“I’d be happy to.” Independent of all the stuff that may or may not be going on, he actually would. Unless their conversation goes worse than he expects, lunching with the president was surprisingly impactful for him despite how short it was, and he’s interested in hearing more about the man’s beliefs and ideas to see if they’re as useful. “So what was the urgent matter I could help you with?”

“That’s what I was hoping to discuss over lunch, if you’re free.”

“Ah.” He assumes he’s not about to be asked to taste-test things, but this does seem to confirm that he wants the conversation to be private. “I am.”

“I’m glad. I can have a car waiting at your teleport point in Saffron, which I presume is Sabrina’s school?”

Red wonders if he should be more worried or less that Silph is taking for granted that he’d be okay with meeting at his office, and tries to think of where he can suggest that’s more neutral. The school itself is a building full of psychics…

But no, even saying he doesn’t want to meet at Silph HQ would be acknowledging things that Red thinks would set a certain tone that he doesn’t want to set. In fact, going could actually be a useful show of good faith.

“I think I can make that work… give me twenty minutes?”

“Of course. I’ll see you soon.”

“See you.” Red hangs up, then taps his phone against his leg for a moment before stepping back into his room.

Blue is dressed in fresh clothing and playing with the eevees, his silver one bouncing around in an energetic blur. “Important call?”

“Yeah. Sorry, but I have to hold off on our plans, unless you want to come with me to Silph HQ?”

Blue raises a brow. “Woah. Why?”

“Dunno, but the President said it’s ‘urgent.’ Figure he’ll want to talk privately, but if you don’t want to wait in the lobby I can always meet you after.”

“Nah, I want to know what’s going on as soon as possible.” Blue smirks. “Unless you’re going to lecture him about meta-honesty and miss out on whatever juicy gossip he wants to share?”

Red grimaces. “Yeah, I’ll probably have to. Might be a short meeting.”

“Well, all the more reason to come along then.” Blue looks him up and down. “You should change your clothes.”

“Really? It’s just lunch…”

“With one of the most powerful men in Indigo. You want to impress him, and you also don’t want to feel too inferior. Trust me, it matters.”

This is similar enough to what his mom said that Red decides not to argue further. He changes into a black button-up and takes off his hat, then combs his hair and puts on the dress shoes he bought for the press conference. After that they spend a few more minutes playing with their eevee, then go downstairs to wait for the ride.

“I’m nervous,” Red admits as they stand on the curb. “I’ve never talked to someone who might actually want to hurt people before. Maybe even my mom.” The thought of something happening to her makes a surge of blackness pour through his mind, a heavy ekans curling in his stomach, but he takes a deep breath and lets the anxiety and fear out as best he can. “What if I fuck it up?”

“Just treat it like a pokemon battle,” Blue says, hands in his pockets as he scans the road. “It’s no more life threatening than those.”

“But I know the rules in those.” Red wipes his palms on his pants, wondering if it’ll be easier with his partition up… or maybe if he tries to dim just the negative emotions… No, now’s not the time to experiment with that. The thought reminds him of his earlier question, however, which suddenly seems more relevant. “How does it work, the battle calm? I mean, if you don’t feel anything, how do you still decide things?”

Blue shrugs. “Didn’t say I don’t feel anything. I still care about winning. That’s basically all I care about, in those moments. And that guides everything I do.”

“Huh.” A truly uncomplicated, singular purpose… That would be incredible to experience in chaotic or dangerous situations. He wonders how similar it is to the “flow state” he sometimes enters while researching or exercising…

And then he realizes there’s actually a way for him to find out.

Red spends a couple minutes thinking about whether it’s a good idea to bring up, then another couple minutes deciding how. Eventually a Silph car arrives, and they get in the back seat. Red scans his ID, confirms the destination, and they’re off.

“Look,” he says as the car turns toward the highway. “This is… I know this is a big ask, alright? And I know I messed up the last time I asked something like this. But I hope I’ve grown since then, and our friendship has, and… I hope that I can ask this, now, and you’d trust that you can say no without me getting upset. But also, I know it might upset you if I ask at all, so… it feels a little risky for me to ask in the first place, so I want to know if it’s okay to?”

Blue is giving him a wary look. “You know this is that thing again, where I can’t promise not to react a certain way, right?”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“Okay. And I get that you know you’re about to say something that might be fucked up.”

“That’s… not a bad takeaway, really.” Red runs a hand through his hair, then stops himself and tries to pat it back into place. “Okay, so the thing that came to mind is… I might be able to actually copy your battle calm, if I use Miracle Eye on you and merge while you’re doing it. Like, permanently, I can save the mental state then use it in battle.”

Blue is silent for a long time, staring out the window. Red’s nervousness grows, and he almost apologizes and says to forget the whole thing, but Blue doesn’t look angry, from what Red can tell. Just distantly thoughtful.

“You know, if another battle trainer asked, it would be really hard to say yes,” his friend says at last. “Bad enough to let someone else in my head, but to copy one of my greatest strengths… it feels unfair, that someone else would get to do that.” Blue shakes his head. “But it might save their life, too. That’s what matters, right? That’s why we’re all doing this. And if I say no, if I don’t let you in my head and let you copy what’s in there… if you ever die in a wild battle I’ll never be able to live with myself.”

“Blue, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”

“Shut up, I’m still talking.”

Red swallows and does so. Blue still doesn’t seem mad, however, and he actually smiles at Red.

“I’m not complaining. Not really. You helped give me something I never thought I’d have. That no dark person in history has had. And I meant what I said, before. I trust you. But it’s still hard to say yes. So what does that say about me?”

Red doesn’t answer, just meets his friend’s gaze until Blue looks away.

“I’ll think about it. And I’ll probably say yes. But either way, I’m not mad at you for asking. Well, part of me is, but I’ll get over it.”

Red swallows, and whispers, “Thanks.”

They ride the rest of the way in silence, until the car reaches the Silph office park. They drive through an automatic gate, then toward the main building… then past the front doors, and around the side between it and the walls surrounding the campus.

“Huh.” Blue sits up. “Ominous.”

Red feels his nervousness growing again, and one hand drops to Kadabra’s ball in case he has to get out of the car and teleport… but no, that would be leaving Blue behind.

The car finally stops once they reach a back door, where someone is waiting outside. Red takes a breath and brings his partition up…

…and steps out of the car on the same side as Blue, who’s also got a hand on his belt.

“Mr. Verres,” the man says, and frowns at Blue. “Mr. Oak. I wasn’t informed that you would be coming too.”

“I was planning to stay in the lobby.” Blue says before Red can speak up. His friend casts a disdainful looks around at the dumpsters and company car lot around them. “I guess I can hang out here instead, if this is what passes for hospitality at Silph.”

The man is frowning harder now, but says, “I’ll find somewhere suitable once I’ve led Mr. Verres to his destination.”

“Appreciated.”

The man opens the door, then leads the two inside and through some of the most opulent corridors Red has ever walked through. There are security cameras at every corner, and they pass through a scanner before reaching what looks like an exclusive elevator. It’s a short walk, but even still, Red notices that they don’t see anyone else the whole time.

“This will take you to the President’s Office,” the man says to Red, then turns deliberately to Blue. “I can lead you to a nearby break room, Mr. Oak.”

Blue gives the man an exasperated look, then turns to Red. “Call if you need me.”

“I will.” Red bumps fists with him, then watches them walk away before he takes a moment to calm himself and enters the elevator.

The penthouse is twelve stories up, but the elevator is quick, and Red barely has time to go over how he’s going to greet Mr. Silph before he finds the doors opening to let him out into a reception area with carved milotic fountains along the walls and live plant pokemon resting in pots around the couches. The receptionist is watching him, and Red approaches her quickly, shoes squeaking on the marble floor,

“He’ll be ready for you in a minute, Mr. Verres.”

“Alright.” There’s no nametag on her desk, and he realizes he never learned the name of whoever was waiting for them. Is that normal for corporate cultures like this? He realizes he has no idea, and wishes suddenly that he had a frame of reference.

Rather than sit on one of the incredibly comfortable and expensive looking couches (though part of Red realizes, with a start, that he can probably afford to have an office like this himself, now), Red wanders around the lobby examining the pokemon and registers with only mild shock that the tangela, ivysaur, cherrim, and sunflora are all shinies.

Okay, so maybe he can’t afford an office exactly like this. Not without losing a good chunk of his wealth, at least.

“You can enter, Mr. Verres.”

“Thanks.” Red goes for the door, making sure his shoulders are straight and his strides are confident, and then he’s inside the President’s office.

It’s nice.

Not as lavish as Red was expecting, but clearly expensive while still being muted about it. Thick, complex rugs, heavy, richly colored drapes, a large and solid looking dark wooden desk. There are paintings on the walls, along with a large monitor, while one of them is all glass. Without that part it would have reminded him of someone else’s office, but he can’t think of whose at the moment.

His attention is taken not by the man behind the desk, but the one standing beside him wearing a police uniform. A commissioner’s uniform, if it’s at all similar to Celadon’s.

“Thank you again for coming on such short notice, Mr. Verres.”

Red turns to President Silph, who has a pair of bamboo bento boxes in front of him, then slowly approaches, heart pounding so hard he’s sure it must be audible. Is he about to get arrested? He can’t imagine what the charge would be… so why is he so nervous? “I figured it must be important.”

“Very much so.” The President’s voice is casual, but his face is serious. “As promised, I have had lunch prepared for us. And then I and Commissioner Burrell are going to humbly ask for your help in finding a renegade, possibly more than one, that I believe is hiding in this building, under my very nose.”

107: Perception

Red stares at the branching tree of possibilities on the projected screen, a dizzying web of red and green and white lines that crisscross from and through various pokemon names, most of which pivot from a single node. “So you think you basically just have to beat the haunter?”

“I think it’s his best chance. It’s not as fast or strong as kadabra, but it’s faster than anything else he’s got.”

“Even his venomoth?”

“Yep, by just a bit. With enough training it could outspeed a kadabra, particularly a younger one… but Tops in particular is a beast. I doubt Koga’s got a top tier pokemon on his five badge team.”

Red looks over the rest of Koga’s team, thinking over everything he’s been learning from Blue about the competitive meta. “And it’s immune to your Ground attacks, and both will be Super Effective against each other, so whoever strikes first might just take it.”

“Now you’re getting it. If he does something to slow Tops down—”

“Or has something to set up a Light Screen—”

“—right, he might get just the lucky hit that he needs.”

“Bob can handle him, though, right?”

They turn to look at Blue’s snorlax, who’s idly scratching its stomach as it lazes beside Glen’s. “Probably, if he can catch him.”

“He’s getting big.”

“They all are. I think Maturin’s about ready to evolve.”

“You’re not going to wait for that before you challenge?”

“Nah, might not even use her, and it’ll still take a couple weeks I think. Unless you want to…”

“No.”

“It would just take a little—”

“No, Blue.”

“Hang on, hear me out. Winning this is more important than just the badge.”

“I know, you want to improve the gym culture to the one you’ve been pushing—”

“No, not that.” Blue gives Red a meaningful look. “There were some people who wanted to share something secret with me—”

Red rolls his eyes.

“—but after I told them about metahonesty, they said they’d have to spend some time thinking about it, and I think we should have warned people that explaining metahonesty may make them miss out on juicy secrets.”

Red gives him his best flat stare, which Blue seems impervious to. “You know it’s not meant to work like that, and also you gave away enough information that I can now guess who has the secrets. Doesn’t do much to inspire confidence in your ability to keep other people’s secrets, my own included.”

“Hey, they didn’t say I couldn’t share things they told me.”

Red almost asks if he’s referring to a plural they or a singular one, but reminds himself not to dig. “In any case, it sounds like winning was the precondition, but now it’s not. Of course they might not share it with you once you tell them you might share it with others, that’s the point.”

“It still sucks,” Blue grumbles as he looks over his chart. “Sometimes it feels like every time I get stronger I’m also being told to fight with another limb tied behind my back.”

Red eyes his friend, wondering if he’s talking about the conversation they had that night before he and Leaf left for the cruise. “Do you regret letting Koga know about Miracle Eye?”

“No, no. It was the right call. I’m seeing it more and more, what you said about the power in sharing my secrets and then winning anyway. It keeps surprising me that despite all your blind spots around social stuff, you saw the value in that before I did.” Blue’s smile is warm, but brief. “But there’s only so much optimizing I can do while also worrying about how people are going to see me.”

“Don’t people celebrate it when a battle trainer takes unusual paths, though?” Red asks. “Like that guy who won the world tournament with the pachirisu… there were parades and stuff back in his home region, weren’t there?” Little as Red paid attention to the competitive battling scene back then, even he heard of that.

“Se-jun Park. Yeah, he got lots of attention for that, but it’s not like it was his favorite pokemon; he picked it strategically, and it only worked because of some very specific things he knew about his opponents and meta of the time.” Blue shrugs. “I can bring a pokemon I bought, like Rive, but I still have to be too careful with which ones and how often.”

“He’s hamstrung too,” Red points out. “It’s not like he can just have his weezing self-destruct to take your kadabra out, because if he could that’s the obvious right play.”

Blue frowns. “That’s different, we both have to care about safety. If I went all out I’d also have more options.”

“But he’s holding himself to an even higher standard. Is there a way you can exploit that?”

Blue raises a brow, but he looks impressed. “Wouldn’t have expected that kind of thinking from you.”

Red shrugs. “I figure you have to take every advantage you can get. Have you ever tried to do something like that?”

“It’s tricky. You can get a bad reputation doing stuff like that, though I think what I did with Brock’s arena was borderline and mostly got away with it…” Blue is frowning at the team projection. “Now that I think about it more, he might use a haunter just in case it’s faster, but it may be too luck-based to be his real pivot…”

Blue creates another hypothetical Koga team and runs some simulations to see which of his pokemon might be best to match it, while Red keeps staring at the earlier one and trying to think through the various surprises the Leader might have in store.

The puzzle that competitive battles represent fascinates Red more and more each time he engages with the novel problems they can present. He remembered being surprisingly good at them back in Vermilion, but what he didn’t remember was how fun it was… maybe because back then he was just trying it for its own sake, rather than having a goal to prepare for and overcome. His experience with psychic pokemon makes him an extra valuable tutor for the group as they prepare for their challenges, and what started with simply demonstrating techniques and battle strategies with his own kadabra and hypno became full competitive battles where he did his best to model what psychics could do with the right training.

With research into the unown frustratingly stalled, he’s even found himself spending a few spare hours now and then looking over past competitive matches to try and find clues to what might be coming from Koga’s challenge.

His thoughts drift back to Blue’s suggestion to use the psychic projection training again. Since they’re not yet ready to fully reveal the technique, Red asked Professor Oak whether there would be any particular negative effects to pokemon only being in battles where they feel their life is at risk. The Professor recommended he talk with a few pokemon psychologists who specialize in battle trauma. One was even psychic, so they brought Tops to her to get evaluated.

The woman only took a few moments of merging with Tops to conclude that he should “probably spend a week out of the ball in relaxing situations” before going into battle again. Blue was disappointed, as that meant no more training before his battle with Koga, but dutifully spent every hour Red has seen him since in a place his kadabra could relax and recover a little from the ordeal they put him through; it wouldn’t be a week for the challenge match to happen, but Blue decided one match is probably fine, and Red only argued with him long enough to draw the line at using Tops or the technique again until they have more comprehensive studies on whether it will have any permanent effects.

Once Red found the right mental state to project, Tops’s growth was, in fact, measurably rapid, both in combat metrics, and in size. Red made sure they registered it in the pokedex throughout the process, plotting numbers against the average curve until it became more and more clear. Tops doubled in size within a day, and evolved into kadabra the next, going through enough food for a week.

By that point Red no longer needed the unique mental mode to get Tops to fight while fearing for his life, but it became more and more clear how powerful the technique was, powerful beyond even what Koichi must have experienced, since he would have to spend at least some of the time during training getting his pokemon to the edge… unless he had it get brutally hurt as soon as possible, of course.

Which is another reason Red is uncertain of how and when they should reveal this information. There aren’t enough psychics like Red for the discovery to change the world—which is a bit of a relief, given how many of those there already are—but the non-psychic version of the methods would still likely spread, which could mean a lot of trainers with stronger pokemon, faster… but also a lot of competitive trainers who are so eager to get the power boost that they end up actually debilitating their pokemon, either mentally or physically.

Red is mildly terrified that Leaf is going to hate him forever if that happens.

He’s also mildly terrified that it leads to less trainers having pokemon available to deal with incidents when they come up, but if he’s being honest with himself it’s Leaf hating him that feels more immediately relevant.

So when Blue explains why they might not want to share this secret training technique, Red doesn’t need much convincing. What’s one more secret? And it’s not like it’s relevant to the main thing they’ll be announcing…

It takes another minute before Satori joins them, and Red’s attention immediately catches on how different she seems than any time he’s seen her before. There’s a lightness to her movements, a calm that makes him feel more relaxed just by watching her walk straight over to Blue and pull him into a deep hug.

Blue looks as surprised as Red feels, and a little more alarmed than he would have expected. His friend awkwardly pats her back, and Red realizes Blue didn’t pick up on what he did, and is unsure whether she’s upset or not. “Uh… did it… were you able to…?”

“Thank you.”

The words are muffled by Blue’s shoulder, and he looks at Red again before awkwardly patting her back. “It… worked, then?”

“Yes.” Satori takes a step back, face filled with wonder. “It worked. My sister and I are truly connected, now. I can feel her emotions, merge our minds. It’s… strange, and wonderful, and everything I hoped for.”

Red grins. “That’s great, Satori! I’m really happy for you both.”

Satori gives him a long hug too, then turns back to Blue and straightens her dress. “I am eager to return to her, but first… are you ready to become the first dark teleporter in history?”

The first dark human, of course. They tested all sorts of psychic techniques on Dark pokemon before Satori built up to using Miracle Eye on her sister, and as far as they could tell nothing caused harm that didn’t intend to; the dark pokemon didn’t even seem to experience discomfort at losing their “darkness,” and though they do regain it swiftly after teleportation, mergers can last for minutes at a time before the psychic pokemon can’t maintain it anymore.

Besides the spirit of scientific curiosity, they also want to make sure they have as many answers ready for their press conference as possible. While dark people would likely have mixed feelings about the loss of immunity from psychic mergers, Red smiles every time he thinks of how life-changing teleportation would be for them. It’s nice to make discoveries that will unambiguously help people again, for a change… Though it required them to code Miracle Eye as a non-attack, a loophole in the programming allowed by psychic pokemon being unable to attack dark humans mentally in any case… until now, at least. He’s not even sure how to report the loophole given the lack of context, but he worked with Satori to write up the report, which would be sent as soon as the media interview starts.

It takes them just a few minutes for them to go outside so Blue can set up his teleportation point, then command Tops to use Miracle Eye on him, then rerun the training programs of himself as the kadabra’s trainer. Red merges with Tops as he reappears, and can feel the pokemon’s confusion as he looks at Blue, who he now recognizes visually and has a memory of a merger with…

“Wait,” Red says, holding a hand up, and Blue stops himself from commanding the Miracle Eye. Instead they all watch and wait, and just as Blue is about to speak again, Red feels the kadabra twist his perspective, a sort of shoving motion using limbs Red can’t quite feel, and suddenly another mind appears in the room.

Though part of him is terribly curious to know what Blue’s mind feels like, Red quickly tightens his senses until all he can sense is the vague cluster of thoughts and feelings. “He did it!”

“On his own?” Blue frowns. “That doesn’t seem good.”

“It’s natural,” Satori says. “Having the sort of bond the training programs create would make it hard for any psychic not to desire a merger when possible.”

Like she felt for her sister. But Blue is still frowning. “But I’m vulnerable as long as he does it, right? It’s not just from him.”

“Correct. Any psychic will be able to detect and attack you.”

“Will he still have protection against ghost attacks?” Red asks.

“I don’t… believe… that should be affected?” Satori shrugs. “Perhaps Jason will have a better sense for this, once he learns of it.”

“Still, not sure how I feel about this.” Blue glances at Tops. “Is he still doing it?”

“Yes,” Red and Satori say together.

“You guys aren’t reading my thoughts, right?”

“No,” Red says, while Satori shakes her head. “Do you want to withdraw him?”

Blue looks oddly hesitant, and Red realizes that despite Blue’s initial excitement at being able to teleport, he must have underestimated how used to having his psychic immunity he’s been.

Satori steps forward and lightly touches Blue’s shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. You are no more vulnerable than anyone else in the world, including your grandfather, who lived his whole life, and achieved all that he did, without your darkness.”

Blue takes a breath and nods. “Right. There might be situations where I want to summon Tops and not lose it, though.”

“We’ll have to see how strong this impulse is in him,” Red says. “Whether he can be trained out of it. Want to hold off until we do that?”

“No, no. I’m okay.” He smiles at Satori, and she returns it before stepping back. “Alright, let’s do this.”

It’s not dramatic at all; he just puts his hand on Tops, says “Teleport,” and disappears.

Red positioned himself so he could see the arrival zone without turning, and lets out a woop as Blue and Tops reappear. A knot of tension releases in Red’s stomach as some inexplicit part of him, convinced that Blue was going to disappear forever or reappear a hundred years older or something, relaxes.

Blue himself drops onto his rear and hangs his head over his knees, and Red feels a spike of alarm that quickly fades as Blue lets out a rush of air and says in a small voice, “Holy fuck am I glad that worked.”

“Congratulations, Blue,” Satori says. “Also, your darkness has returned.”

“Oh, really? Sweet.” Beside him, Tops is looking around, notices him, then…

“It’s gone again.”

Blue falls onto his back. “Okay, we’ll deal with that tomorrow. For now, let’s just focus on what comes next.”

“Yes, the significance of this on society will need to be evaluated most thoroughly—”

“Nah, not that. I mean, not yet, I’ll let the community talk that to death before I wade in.” Blue grins and sits up. “I’m talking about something more fun.”

“Ah.” She looks between them, brow raised. “Your battle with Koga, then?”

“No,” Red says with a grin of his own. “Buying as many abra and natu as we can afford.”


The stands around the arena are full enough that it’s hard to find a seat, but even with his newfound appreciation for competitive battling Red still doesn’t see much reason for being up close to the battles. The screens often provide clearer view of the action than a direct line of sight would, and even let you see things from the trainers’ perspectives, which Red finds particularly immersive.

He and the rest of Blue’s friends shuffle along the rows together until they find a space big enough for all of them, then Red plops down at the end of one beside Maria. Red feels a mental prod to give her an encouraging smile for reasons he’s not sure he fully understands, and she returns it looking faintly grateful, so he supposes his unpartitioned self knows something he doesn’t and lets the thought go with long practice.

Koga walks out into the arena first, and the gym members among the audience rise as one, then bow, which cues the rest of the spectators to do the same. Red cranes his head up to watch as Blue enters the arena a moment later, and Koga takes a moment to bow to both sides of the audience before bowing to Blue, who does the same. Once the gym members sit, Red and the rest of the guests do the same, and then the pre-battle speeches begin.

“Been waiting for this,” someone in the row behind Red mutters, and Red feels absurdly vindicated when he turns around and shushes them.

“We are all tools,” Leader Koga begins. “Tools for survival, tools for progress, tools for happiness, even. But tools nonetheless. So I believed, once, and so some part of me still believes, despite wanting something more for myself. For my daughter. For my region. And for all mankind.

“But if we must be tools, we must remember we are also our own maker, sharpener, and wielder. That is the only way we can ever become something more than what the brutal necessity of the world requires us to be, and since arriving at this gym, Blue Oak has proven himself to understand this, both as a guiding principle for himself, and an aspiration for those around him. In addition, he has shown us all his vision for another path… knowing that we must decide whether we wish to take it.

“Now the time has come to see what we’ve taught him in return. Blue Oak, what is your Challenge?”

“I challenge for Mastery.”

“Fuchsia Gym accepts. Our battle will be six against six, to the faint.”

Red thinks back to the battle maps Blue was studying, picturing the nodes that represented the most likely paths to victory for Koga; haunter, golbat, and venomoth seem the most likely, but he’s also likely to include at least one Dark pokemon, and they can’t guess which, but the heuristic that makes the most sense is fast versus bulky. Since kadabra are too frail to take hits, particularly physical ones, Koga’s best bet is to hit first or take at least one hit and hit back.

Koga’s problem is that kadabra hit hard in exchange for their frailty. It’s the quintessential glass dragon; even otherwise tough Poison pokemon like muk can be taken down in one hit if the kadabra is powerful enough, and Blue’s is one of the strongest on record. If he can’t take advantage of Miracle Eye’s setup, it’s too big a risk.

Koga’s other problem is that Kadabra are fast. Drapion are too, but kadabra still has them beat, and while something like a crobat could outspeed it, they’re too powerful for a 5th badge challenge, and golbat wouldn’t be enough.

One potential solution is the indirect, and obvious, route: poison…

“Go, Weezing!”

“Go, Pals!”

“Sal!” A shimmering Light Screen appears between the pokemon, though it does nothing to stop the toxic spikes that Koga’s weezing suddenly spits out. It also doesn’t stop the electricity that snaps through the air in the weezing’s direction as Blue follows up with a “Bat!”

“Toxic Spikes!” Koga yells again, and Red grins as the poisonous spikes on Blue’s side of the arena grow more dense. As he predicted, Koga’s hoping to poison Tops badly enough that it won’t be able to Recover past the building toxicity. What he could only have guessed is that it’s a kadabra whose recovery powers are strong enough that it has the rare ability to passively negate any chip damage, including poison.

It was worth a try, but the bet might cost him a pokemon. Only two rounds and Blue is already ahead, even if others may not recognize why.

“Bat!”

“Flamethrower!”

The weezing tanks the second Thunderbolt, clearly trained for toughness, but Blue’s magneton struggles against the stream of fire despite the attack only partially penetrating its Light Screen. Red judges Pals can get off one more attack before it gets taken down, but if the Weezing can survive another Thunderbolt…

“Return! Go, Ivysaur!”

Looks like Koga isn’t willing to take the risk, though Red wonders what an Ivysaur is supposed to do against a magneton. They hadn’t expected him to use one in most of their projections, and Red immediately feels models of the match falling away, leaving the possible worlds they’re in more narrowed…

Leech Seed and Synthesis.

The thought seems to come without him even thinking about it, and sure enough a moment later the seeds are flying out to cover Pals as the ivysaur takes the thunderbolt about as well as the weezing did, then starts to visibly heal itself of the damage even as the vines start to stretch around the magneton.

“Return!” Blue shouts. “Go, Nin!”

The golbat appears above the toxic spikes, and Red leans forward. Now they’d find out if Koga brought a toxtricity… a risky move given it would just be another easy target for Tops and stacks ineffectiveness and vulnerability to any Ground types…

Instead Koga replaces his ivysaur with a Galarian slowbro, which shrugs off the free hit Nin had already been commanded to give before Blue’s followup whistle brings it back to be replaced by Aegis.

Stealth Rock, Flamethrower, Rapid Spin?

There’s a clear sense of uncertainty attached to that last thought, and Red realizes what’s happening. His partitioned self is thinking ahead, less distracted by what’s happening in front of him, and able to predict—

“Ras!”

“Flamethrower!”

“Sar!”

And just like that the first pokemon is down, having accomplished little beyond setting out the Stealth Rock trap and clearing the toxic spikes. Red knows from their preplanning that this is all within Blue’s path to victory; his forretress didn’t even need to Rapid Spin, but Blue did it to make Koga think he’s concerned about avoiding the spikes.

The audience doesn’t know that, however, and there’s a tangible increase in tension as Blue appears to shift to the backfoot. He sends Rive out to deal with the slowbro—

swap to Ivysaur, Flamethrower—

And so it goes, Koga’s misplay re-doubling the crowd’s excitement. Red has to pull his senses in around himself, and he notes Maria shifting beside him.

“Is it always like this?” she murmurs.

“Dunno,” he whispers back, cognizant of the potential retaliation he might get from the person he hushed. “First time as a real psychic.” It’s impressive that she’s picked up on anything, and a testament to Jason’s tutelage. Red’s attention shifts back to the battle as Koga orders a Mega Drain, which Blue swaps Nin back in to take on, which causes Koga to return his slowbro, which brings back Blue’s magneton…

Red can see the threads of potential futures collapsing as it becomes clear who has what, and both trainers are able to judge their swaps to only take resisted damage, which will nevertheless add up in Koga’s favor if Blue can’t manage to take out that slowbro. But if he risks using Rive to do it, he might not be strong enough after to actually check whatever’s waiting in the wings.

Blue’s golbat checks the ivysaur, which checks his rhydon and magneton, which means

Pals tanks the psychic attack and re-establishes the Light Screen, and then—

Soul.

“Go, Soul!’

Blue’s arcanine brings a cheer from part of the crowd, who no doubt still remembers the part it played in his victory in Celadon. Its roar clearly intimidates the slowbro, and combined with the lightscreen none of Koga’s attacks hit quite as hard as they normally would.

What follows is a brutal exchange that leaves the combatants covered in burns and sagging from poison, until both are returned together, and then it’s 2-1, and Koga brings his weezing back out to reset the toxic spikes.

Rive, meanwhile, starts chucking stones at it, which miss, giving Koga the time to swap his ivysaur back in, which returns Nin, which brings out—

The Alolan muk shimmers like an oil slick, rainbow highlights playing over its sludge-formed body as it rushes forward to meet the golbat.

“Return!”

Trap, it will have Giga Drain

“Go, Pals!”

The prediction saves Blue’s rhydon, but magneton is already weak, and even the resisted attack visibly takes something out of it. A thunder wave is its last gasp, and then it’s taken down, bringing the score 3-1.

The audience is stirring and murmuring again, starting to believe they might just witness the end of Blue’s win streak.

And Red just smiles, because none of it matters until Tops comes out. Which should happen right about…

“Go, Tops!”

The arena goes silent, confusion and shock disorienting Red for a moment before he pulls his senses back into himself again, fingers gripping his armrests as the kadabra appears on the spike-littered ground.

This is it.

Koga doesn’t waste the lesson he learned from Janine, and sends his pokemon convulsing forward with a “Crunch!” as Blue yells “Eam!”

Without the paralysis, things might have gone different. But the muk is still struggling against the Magneton’s shock, and so is only halfway across the arena when Blue says, “Pa.”

The muk’s whole body vibrates, goo flaring out and then contracting, and the battle is done before the audience even understands what happened.

Koga withdraws his muk rather than risk it being killed by another hit, and sends out a haunter.

Many in the audience visibly flinch and look away, but Red’s gaze just stays fixed on Blue’s side of the arena, where he simply repeats, “Pa.”

And the haunter goes down, just a bit too slow to get its own attack off, followed by a venomoth that faces the same fate, and that’s the match. What would follow is a single syllable, two more times, and the sweep would be complete, unless the kadabra goes down to its poisoning… which it’s showing no signs of being affected by. Something Koga no doubt would be noticing, now.

So instead of sending his last two pokemon out to be instantly felled, Koga simply lowers his hands after withdrawing his venomoth, and smiles as he bows. “Well fought, Challenger. I concede.”

The audience is still silent, still grappling with what they saw, as Blue withdraws his pokemon and bows. “And you, Leader.”

“Wait,” the person behind Red says. “What the f—”

“Shhh!”

“You’ve not just earned your badge, but your place in history by redefining what is possible. Thanks to your gracious decision to share your discovery of a way for psychic attacks to affect Dark pokemon before our match, I did my best to prepare a fifth badge challenge that still might win against such a unique strength, and still failed. To luck, some might say… but you prepared the stage to create that opportunity, and it’s more than fair given what would have happened if I hadn’t known what to expect. Of the many changes in the days ahead, the world will have to prepare, now, not just for dark trainers who can use psychic pokemon more skillfully, but also psychic pokemon who can pose some threat to dark ones.”

“Thank you, Leader. It was Satori Komeiji and Red Verres who took my idea and turned it into reality, and they were gracious enough to hold their press conference after my challenge. The world will have plenty of questions, but I’ll leave answering them to those most equipped to.”

Many in the audience around him have turned to stare, and Red manages to withstand the attention until some of the cameras start displaying his face. He catches himself raising his hand to lower the brim of his hat…

No, we deserve this recognition.

…and instead tips it up, smiling as he lets himself lean into the feelings of excitement he’s felt around the discovery.

“I see that you’ve inspired more than the new culture in this gym, then, but also your friends. What will you do now?”

“I’ve thought long and hard about what my team and I have accomplished at this gym,” Blue says. “And while many of my friends have decided to stay and continue our work, I’ve decided to return to Saffron and claim its badge as well now that Sabrina has invited me to return for my Challenge.”

As always, Red wonders how often claims like that are cleared ahead of time with whoever is being referenced. The wording itself, even, implies things that are definitely intentional on Blue’s end, but that Sabrina might object to… unless she has a good enough relationship with Blue to not find it worth quibbling over in public. Which, from what Red has seen, is probably true.

His heartbeat is still higher than normal, the ambient energy of the crowd and atmosphere adding an expectation that anything can happen, even with the battle over. Or at least, the physical battle. Red still doesn’t know how much exactly is planned out and how much is improvised; Blue said it was always a bit of both, though denied having ever coordinated with a Leader other than Erika. But the audience doesn’t know even that much, and many are leaning forward with bated breath.

“And will you return, once you’ve claimed her badge?”

“I will, and even before. With this discovery, we also paved the way for Dark humans like myself to teleport.” The audience begins to murmur, but Blue’s amplified voice still cuts through the noise, and people immediately quiet. “I feel I’ve made bonds here at least as strong as those in Vermilion and Celadon, and with so many of my friends remaining to continue our work, I intend to keep a close eye on how the culture of the gym evolves.”

The implicit, ongoing challenge to Janine is obvious, but Red knows that it’s only the badge victory that makes this, in any way, not a failure… or at least, a retreat. Blue said he ended things close to ideally with Koga and Janine, but only in private; the public would see it as Janine’s win, which, even Red understands, is part of how his relationship with Janine is better than it otherwise would have been. It seems a fair trade, but if it slows his plans for group battles spreading through gyms…

“I trust that whatever direction the gym chooses to grow in, our culture will help us rise above the competition. We’ve built our strength in part on pushing the forefront of the Poison Type, and though part of our institutional knowledge is going to rapidly become obsolete, that means Poison, along with any Dark, Fighting, and of course Psychic gyms, are on the forefront of new strategies and tactics that will define the coming meta. Whatever the future holds, Fuchsia will prepare our region for it.”

The audience applauds, somehow both measured and disciplined while also showing fierce pride, but Red finds himself frowning. It’s not like wild pokemon are going to suddenly start using Miracle Eye; insofar as its discovery requires a change in strategies or tactics, it will be mostly for competitive trainers.

Red reminds himself he could be jumping to conclusions. This isn’t his field, after all, and he could be underestimating what new offensive tricks trainers would be able to utilize against wild Dark types. But if not, all this is a further reminder of why part of him feels so uncomfortable with the idea of being a competitive trainer, even if trainer battles are one of the most exciting things he’s experienced.

He’ll have to ask Blue about this. In any case, Koga and Blue have bowed to each other again, and the audience, so Red gets up, limbs still trembling with adrenaline, and starts shuffling past everyone to get out ahead of the still-stunned crowd.

He’s got a press conference to prepare for.


The Saffron Gym isn’t just aesthetically standard compared to places like Vermilion or Fuchsia, it’s also fairly plain, as utilitarian as Pewter without even the thematically appropriate stone structures. But the conference and press rooms are far fancier than any Red has been in, and as soon as he enters he’s glad Blue convinced him to dress up for this.

Satori is already waiting inside, and smiles as he joins her on the raised platform at the front of the room. “You look good.”

“Thanks,” Red says, and wipes his sweaty palms in his pockets as he looks out over the cameras pointed at them. Not recording yet, he hopes. “Is that your sister?” He can see the resemblance, though she has green hair instead of violet.

“Yes.” Satori waves, and the other girl cheerfully waves back. “She made you and Blue a gift.”

“Oh.” Some of Red’s nervousness fades at the warmth in his chest. “That’s very nice of her, but she didn’t have to—”

Satori turns to him, gaze level above her smile. “It was her quest as well, Red. She pursued it in her own way, and in far less valued a manner than my own studies.” She turns back to her sister and sighs. “Now we both have more time for other things.”

Red slowly nods, watching his friend and taking in her continued transformation from the solemn girl he’s known ever since he arrived at Saffron. It’s been a week, and yet she’s continued to exude the relaxed, happy energy each time he’s seen her… which hasn’t been as much as before. It’s understandable that she spend less time in Saffron now that she’s completed the main goal of her studies, particularly if she’s using the extra time to enjoy the fruits of her labor, but Red’s curious if it will end at some point, or if she’ll just keep drifting away until she finds something else more meaningful to do with her life.

That said, even after she got what she wanted out of Miracle Eye, she continued exploring its limits with enthusiasm, if not as frequently as before. In this case that just meant she’s actually been getting enough sleep.

More than he has, at least. After they told Sabrina about Miracle Eye yesterday to prepare her for the press conference, the Gym Leader entered what Red could only describe as a manic mode, trying to learn it herself since she could see psychic colors. Red did his best to help her, but she’s nearly as good as he is at mirroring mental states now, and mostly joins in the practice to be a sounding board and share in the discovery process, frustrating as it can sometimes be.

Red enjoys being treated as an equal by Sabrina. There’s something nostalgic in the way it reminds him of being a research assistant at Pallet Lab, where he was obviously there mostly to learn and do simple tasks, but where Dr. Madi and others would talk to him about their ideas and listen to his thoughts on them. He’s more aware now of how precious and unique a position he’s been in, both then and now.

But after that day when he believes he tripped over her secret, he’s been more and more restrictive with his partitions around Sabrina. He thought about having a conversation with her about meta-honesty, but realized that, of all people, he can’t do it with her in a way that doesn’t imply he knows, or thinks he knows, she has a secret she’s been keeping, and from there it wouldn’t be too hard for her to guess which. Not after all the ways they’ve already been honest with each other, and not unless there’s some broader context that lets him do it in a way that doesn’t single her out.

Of course, he did post his meta-honesty rules online, as did most people who were at their meeting. But he can’t exactly ask her if she’s read it without the same problem, and if she has, she’s given no indication.

He puts all that out of his mind as she enters the room, dressed in her usual public red and black finery. Satori is dressed in more formal psychic robes, and Red adjusts his lab coat to make sure it’s even. Blue insisted he start crafting his professional public image, but allowed that it needn’t be fancy, so Red went with the standard white coat over his usual black undershirt. Leaf insisted he add a splash of red, both for the obvious association and to build on the black-white-red trend of his usual outfit, so he bought a red vest, then a black one and a red shirt, then spent an hour debating with himself over which to wear until he gave up and called his mom, who advised him to go with black shirt with red vest.

Everyone vetoed his hat.

The leader raises a hand to those assembled as she makes her way onto the stage. “Hello Red, Satori. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Leader.”

“I think so.” He can see she’s wearing makeup to cover her lack of sleep, and almost asks how her night was before thinking better of it. “I think I’m getting used to these.”

Sabrina smiles and turns to survey the room. “I did my best to keep things manageable.” The crowd is fairly small, mostly some reporters and a few of the higher ranked gym members. Satori’s sister and parents are there, as are Red’s friends and mom, along with Professors Oak and Elm.

As none of the island’s regions have a Dark gym, Elite Karen is also present, presumably to say something about the effects of the discovery on her signature type, or just ask questions. He’s not sure what sort of emotions he’d expect her to be having, but she seems very relaxed, leaning against one of the walls beside Professor Elm’s lanky figure and teasing him about his new glasses.

Red returns his friends’ encouraging waves and thumbs up as they see him look over, and is tempted to go speak with them a little, but Sabrina has already stepped up to the podium, and so Red goes to stand beside Satori. After a nod to them both, the Leader turns forward.

It’s only then that Red realizes he doesn’t see someone.

“Where’s Rowan?” he murmurs.

“I don’t see him either,” Satori whispers back. “Is he sick?”

“Maybe.” The gym’s oldest psychic student has been nearly as absent as Satori lately, but Red just assumed he was being his usual reclusive self. Missing something like this, however, is even more unusual.

Lights start to blink on from the cameras set at various angles, and once they all do Sabrina places her hands on either side of the podium. “When I became Leader of Saffron Gym, I had one objective: to ensure the city’s defense and trainer culture were in capable hands. I became a Leader because I felt a duty, and a proud one. But a part of me also wanted more; in my heart, I’ve always been fascinated by the study of psychic phenomena, and that curiosity burned within me throughout my journey. Once I had the responsibility of Saffron in my hands, I knew I couldn’t devote myself entirely to that curiosity… but I also knew there would be others like me out there, Gifted from all schools and philosophies who would want to collaborate and grow their knowledge. So I began a school, and invited the most talented and dedicated to come learn from each other, and teach psychics throughout our region.”

Sabrina gestures to the crowd, and a few of the cameras swivel to pick Daniel, Jason, and Tatsumaki out of it. “Along with the natural collaboration of those who came to train at our gym, Saffron has become one of the leading hubs for original psychic research in the world… and while I expected most of our discoveries to be esoteric to our craft, I knew that eventually the right combination of talent would gather to change the world.”

Sabrina’s smile is warm, and it makes her look younger. “We watched in shock as Blue Oak used the new ‘Miracle Eye’ to secure his victory over Leader Koga… and by ‘we,’ I am in fact including myself. While my students and I often collaborate on projects, my duties frequently keep me busy, particularly lately. I can claim no credit for this latest discovery, and am happy to cede the spotlight to those who made it.”

Red takes a breath and steps forward with Satori to answer the flurry of questions that come. Most are predictable, and the two of them confirm that this does mean dark humans can have their minds read and teleport. Red recites the assuredly incomplete list of pokemon they’re currently aware of that can learn Miracle Eye and explains the concept of psychic colors, and how some pokemon can see them, while Satori describes the subtle differences between psychic and ghost senses.

Most questions come from the experts in the room, while a few are by the (surprisingly well-informed) reporters. Whenever one asks something related to social or political consequences, however, Sabrina steps in to simply say that she plans to hold a separate press conference on that once she’s had the chance to confer with various regional bodies.

The third time this happens Elite Karen snaps, “What are you implying, that they should have kept this secret?” The reporter looks abashed, and the questions stay on the scientific aspects going forward, but some part of Red feels uncomfortable, and he wishes he could reassure people… but the truth is, there probably are dark people out there with secrets they don’t want revealed, and they might well be pressured to submit to mind reading in the months ahead, now that they can be. It still would have been wrong to conceal a secret this big, of course, but Red still finds his thoughts distracted…

“Okay, that’s enough for now,” Sabrina says an hour after the questioning begins. “I trust the interested parties can meet in their own time and disseminate information as they see fit. Before we end, however, Satori had one last thing she wanted to share.”

The young woman steps forward again, and takes a breath. Her gaze finds her sister, and she smiles before turning back to the cameras. “I have lived my whole life in Kanto, and love many things about our culture, and that of our sister regions along the islands. Our history, our music, our food, our spirit. But one thing I have never been able to love is our still-lingering superstitions around those of us who are a little different.

“My sister was born of another mother, but we are both of one soul. I had no doubt of this from a young age, even when my powers began to manifest and I couldn’t sense her thoughts or feelings. I knew she had them, the same way a blind man can know their brother by the shape of his face. And yet I had a stark reminder of how this difference between us, so inconsequential in so many ways, led to such differences in the way we were treated by society.

“As soon as I was known to be ‘gifted,’ I felt admiration and deference from those around me. As soon as she was known to be ‘dark,’ she suffered suspicion and aloofness. A pattern I’ve seen, to some degree, repeated throughout Indigo and beyond.”

Satori’s voice shakes a little, but she takes another breath and sweeps the cameras with her gaze. “I have finally sensed her mind. I have felt her emotions. And I tell you now what I have known all along, and what the rest of society must surely learn: she is no different from any other person. None of those born dark are. And it’s up to each of us to find any part of our systems, our culture, and our own souls that might treat them as lesser in any way, and let those beliefs melt away to the past where they belong.”

There’s a pause as she lets her breath out, then simply says, “Thank you,” and steps back, freezing as many in the room burst into applause, Red included. His gaze finds Blue, whose expression is still vulnerable and uncertain, and then Sabrina, who for reasons he can’t understand, mirrors his friend’s.

106: Interlude XXII – Tools

Michio’s arms moved in automatic gestures, folding and tucking clothes as fluidly as though he were throwing kunai or pokeballs. It was still not fast enough.

That’s it, then? You’re leaving?”

His mother’s voice was soft, all her anger spent. He expected his father to come, but perhaps they’re not trying to change his mind anymore. The thought was a relief, but he kept his expression blank as he continued packing.

You should have told me.”

We never lied to you.”

You said we were preventing war. Not doing a criminal’s dirty work.”

That criminal’s wealth and connections gives her as much power as any Leader, more. She serves integral functions in the regional government, with full awareness of what she is by a number of politicians. She is just as focused on preventing war, and just as legitimate as we are.”

Michio stopped and turned to his mother. “You don’t believe that.”

No, but in the eyes of society, we are just as criminal as she. That our philosophy is different, that we refrain from holding power, is immaterial.”

Not to me.”

His mother was silent at that, and Michio finished packing his shirts and pants and began emptying his sock drawer by the time she asked, “Where will you go?”

I will stay in Indigo. For now, at least. After that, I am not sure.”

Will you come back at least once, if you decide to leave for good?”

Michio’s hands slowed, for just a moment. “Yes.” He speeds up again. “I’m not doing this with anger in my heart, despite what Father said. I just know I can not stay anymore.”

I understand.” Mother’s voice was low. “You are not the only one who has wished for more say in what we do, how we do it.”

Wished for. But done nothing.”

It is not our way to be both judge and executioner. To wield dark arts and rule would—”

Then I will not wield dark arts, or I will not rule. But in either case, I will at least do something in the world besides further the aims of others. I will not be a tool.”

Oh, Michio.” His mother sat on the side of his bed, and he kept his gaze from the compassion in hers as he finished packing his clothing box and closed the lid, then absorbed it into its container ball. “We are all tools of society, one way or the other. My parents did not force me to kill, any more than we forced you. There were many tools I could have fit in my hands, but none felt as natural, nor as important. Even the most moral of men must keep a hidden blade if their rivals do, and—”

“—’the hidden blade can reach beyond the brandished sword.’ I know, Mother. But if staying concealed means that is all we can be, then it will never feel ‘natural’ to me.” He began to fill the second storage box with the thirteen tools and weapons his parents gifted him on each of his birthdays. He was five before he began training with the first handful, all small, simple things that even a child could kill with. His fingers traced the handles of his small kunai set, then folded the leather into a roll and clipped it to his belt rather than putting them in his box. “The world needs leaders who know what lurks in the shadows, if we are to ever leave them behind.”

Will you go after this woman, then? Try to topple her criminal empire?”

If that’s what needs to be done.”

And the one that comes next? Or the multitude that fill the vacuum that gets left behind?”

If people find out—”

They will raise an outcry, and something will be done to show that the law is the law. But the powerful will continue to do what must be done, and within a year, perhaps two, the attention will fade, and all will return to normal.”

Michio frowned. “I know that I do not know much of how the world works, yet. But I will learn. I will not bury my head just because it is difficult.” His camping gear goes into his third storage box; it will be a long trip from the hidden village to the nearest city, but one he has made many times before. Still, this time he will not have…

His gaze moved to his belt hanging by the wall, and the pokeballs on it. In the rest of society, children are expected to catch and teach their own pokemon, to naturally scale the power they wield to their experience and skill as a trainer. In Kanto, the average age for new trainers to get their license is fifteen, but he was given fully evolved pokemon, and trained in how to command them, from the age of nine.

Still, he could not bring them with him. Though they’ve been his partners for years, they ultimately belong to the village… and were trained to attack humans and pokemon alike. If he were branded a renegade with them the investigations might lead back to the village, and if he chose the traditional path instead, he could not use them for the trainer battles he would be expected to win in his journey for power.

Which means he would be traveling alone.

He zipped his bag closed, slung it over his shoulder, and stepped up to the door. He took the belt off the hook, then pointedly unclipped each ball on it, placing them on his dresser before he clipped it around his waist. Then he reached for the door and began to slide it open.

Michio.”

He paused, and took a slow, centering breath before he turned back toward his mother, expecting one last insistence that he reconsider, or perhaps a final hug goodbye.

Instead the hands she held out to him were cupped under a pokeball. “I believe it is customary to gift a young novice with a pokemon, on the first day of their journey.”

Michio stared at the ball, then met his mother’s gaze, chest tight. There was sadness and worry in her eyes, but also a spark of something humorous, and warm.

He could take this simply as a mother’s desire for her son to be safe. But he knew it was more than that. It was a blessing, perhaps not of his goals, but of his will to achieve them, even if it meant leaving his home and family.

It was more than he dared hope for, and Michio lowered his head in a deep bow as he took the ball from her and clipped it to his belt. “Thank you, Mother.”

Go in peace, my heart. Go find your freedom.”

I go to find more than my own. Someday, I will free us all to be the tools we most wish to be. I swear it.”


Kyo Koga sits in his dojo and studies the kunai laid out in front of him as he waits for his daughter. His hands pass over each tool, and he occasionally takes one out of its sheath to pass the whetstone over it. The motions and sounds are soothing, meditative, and allow him to carefully inspect each as if seeing them for the first time, understanding their unique functionality with full appreciation.

The rightmost one is thin as a needle, and incredibly easy to hide in the sleeve. Another is thicker and leaf-shaped, capable of blocking as well as striking, and weighted for throwing. Another has serrated edges, thick on one side and thin on the other… so many variations on a theme, together creating a suite of tools specialized for a variety of purposes. Each made small enough for a child to wield, yet still able to fit in an adult hand.

These are not the ones he took with him from the hidden village he was raised in. Those he lost in battle, fighting alongside his pokemon in a way that most normal trainers would find wasteful and dangerous. And it’s true; even the most powerful crossbow would barely hurt many pokemon, would be utterly ineffective against entire Types, and those it might seriously wound are often too quick for all but the most expert marksmen to hit at all. The combat techniques his ancestors passed down were created in a time before pokeballs made anything else a human might hold in their hands during battle obsolete.

But they had another purpose too, a purpose that created the hidden villages centuries ago, and kept them relevant. Humans are not tough. Humans are not quick. Pokemon were trained to defend their humans even from other humans in historic times, but they had to recognize a threat to stop it, and a kunai from the shadows could be more deadly than a pokemon.

His gaze is drawn to the wall, where a hanging scroll depicts a tangela and machoke grappling in the forefront, with two katana wielding samurai locked in battle beside them. He was forced to learn many things in his first year leaving his village, transforming himself from Michio of the Endo clan to
“Kyo Koga.” The Koga clan was outed a decade before he was born, and had the size and power to survive the backlash. Now instead of training assassins and spies, it is famous for running historical museums, commercially successful martial arts dojos… and adopting those who leave their still-hidden villages, claiming them as distant family members to provide new, legal identities.

It has not been an unpleasant life, being Kyo. He has done much of what he set out to do, and his failures sting less with each passing year, or are not yet final. He even found a wife, birthed a daughter, raised her to be strong, clever, ambitious. It is something he has often been as proud of as his Gym Leadership, when he allows himself pride.

And he has not killed since he was sixteen. That above all else, he feels pride in. More than he would have expected, when he was young and angry enough to leave the village behind, but not yet sure if he would renounce its methods.

He picks another blade, this one broader, flatter. The first kunai were farming tools, or so he was taught. Simple equipment that could be used for not just cutting and stabbing, but digging or prying. In those days, adaptability held more value than specialization. But as humans began to work together in larger numbers, as technology advanced, a handful of specialists became far more valuable, until new, even narrower specializations continued to branch from the old ones…

…and yet people were still capable of doing more. With technology, everyone can calculate more complex mathematics more easily than most people in his great-grandparents’ age. Everyone can cook as many recipes as a master chef, heal better than the greatest pre-potion physicians.

The role of a ninja was no different. His grandparents were spies and assassins who barely used pokemon, but his parents’ generation could and did incorporate them into nearly every skillset. Thieves and spies became hackers, assassins and scouts became trainers.

If a tool for creation can be reforged into a tool for killing, then he has done his best to prove that the reverse is also true. And if his mother was right, and humans must all be tools of society, the same should apply to them.

The door slides open, and Anzu walks in with the same expression she’s had around him in private since he caught her returning home that night; a mask of neutrality over prepared defiance, and wariness. It hurts every time, to see it on her face, aimed at him. Just as he knows it must hurt her, to see his disappointment.

“Is something wrong, Father?”

“All the usual things.” He gestures, and she steps further inside and closes the door behind her. “Spar with me.”

The frown-line she inherited from her mother appears. “Spar… hand-to-hand?”

“Yes. Like we used to.”

“I’m not… I don’t have time for this.”

“What do you have time for?”

“Ensuring this gym keeps its integrity, as you well know.”

“Tell me anyway.” He stands and tucks his gi, then tightens his belt and moves to the center of the room. “As we spar.”

She sighs, then removes her shoes and joins him. They stand across from each other, bow, and begin to circle one-another.

He allows himself to take in her stance, her balance as she moves, watching for any sign of an impending attack… then meets her gaze and launches his opening salvo. “Do you really care about the changes Oak is making to the gym, or are you just upset that he is the one doing it, and not you?”

Anzu’s face shifts to a mix of surprise and anger, and he steps forward and strikes all in one motion, fist to torso and foot to shin. She backsteps, almost too slow, and he uses the kick to step forward and strike again.

She sidesteps and counters, and for a moment Kyo’s mind is blank, body moving in an automatic flow of strike, block, twist, counterstrike. He has superior reach and strength, but she is quicker, which means normally they can both keep each other from landing solid strikes, but she is still on the backfoot, and within seconds he lands an open palm against her stomach.

She takes it well, falling backward and down, slapping the ground and rolling back to her feet to be ready for his followup. He doesn’t chase, however, instead relaxing to regain his breath so she can too.

“It’s been a while since I fell for that,” she finally says.

“You’ve lost your focus.”

She understands immediately. “I was doing fine until you forced me into a contest.”

Kyo raises his brow. “I must be a powerful hypnotist, to have planted such ambition in Blue Oak’s head.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do not. He began his journey a year ago, started changing gym cultures by his third badge. Many have wondered how he would affect the ones he had yet to visit, and even how those who journeyed with him would affect those he already had.” Kyo begins circling her again. “Had you been paying attention, you would have seen him coming. Seen this coming.”

Anzu’s body tenses, but he doesn’t attack, and after a moment she visibly takes a breath to center herself before she begins to circle as well. “Excuse me for not spending all my time following each celebrity trainer’s journeys. Besides, I’m handling this just fine. He can’t beat me, and he knows it.”

“I see. So you believe he will soon give up, then, and leave?”

His tone is neutral, but she detects the irony. “Whatever deal you made with him, it’ll become obvious something’s wrong if he doesn’t challenge for his badge soon. He might try to spin it as a victory somehow, say he’s ‘planted the seeds of change’ or whatever, but I still have more students than he does, and more members. I’ve shown what the future of this gym will look like.”

Kyo does not regret the deception he recruited Oak into; that Anzu would fall for it at all is further evidence that she’s not ready. But he does regret the necessity, and wishes that they could be as close as they used to be again, aligned in both means and ends.

Perhaps that’s what makes him say what he does next so bluntly:

“All you’ve shown is that you’re not fit to run it.”

Again the flinch, and again he strikes. She counters seviper with zangoose, then drops into sandile and forces him to hop back a step, turn, kick.

She grabs his foot and wrenches, but he merely spins with it, other leg kicking as he catches himself on his hands and vaults back when she releases him to dodge. She begins to speak, but he’s not done, and two steps puts him back within her guard, keeping her backstepping as he throws strike after strike. His arms soon ache with the force of her blocks, but he’s forced her to the edge of the room, and when she tries to sidestep around him he ducks her strike and sweeps her legs.

She jumps, but not quick enough, and her whole body jerks toward the ground as his leg catches her ankle. Once again she slaps and rolls away, and once again he doesn’t follow.

“What the hell does that mean?” she asks once she catches her breath.

“It means that you’re still not taking this seriously.” He straightens. “I can tell from your movements. You’re still training your body rather than your pokemon, still focused on your crusade rather than securing your position in the gym beyond challenge.”

“I told you, I’ve beaten Oak—”

“Wrong.” Kyo shakes his head. “You are about to be defeated so thoroughly that you cannot even conceive of how, and thus can do nothing to stop it.”

Now he truly has her attention, at last. “What are you talking about? If you’re about to throw blatant endorsement behind him—”

“No, I had no part in what’s coming. I only allowed him to try his ideas here, and yes, even offered him an early challenge if he proved your superior in either leadership or training.”

His daughter stares at him, jaw clenched. “And?”

“I thought he failed, until yesterday, when he came to tell me of his latest breakthrough.” Kyo gives his daughter a small, wry smile, still feeling some awe at what he was told… and what he saw. “He’s going to challenge you tomorrow, Janine, and he’s going to win.”

Kyo isn’t sure how Oak would feel about him sharing this information; when the boy asked permission to use an untested battle technique in his gym, and explained what it was, Kyo asked for a demonstration more out of skepticism than adherence to safety standards. It was, all things considered, a more than considerate request; while accepted practice for experimental or risky techniques, it’s not required to show the Leader themselves any that might grant significant advantage if revealed in combat. Oak could have gone to Kyo’s Second or Third.

Instead he was shown something truly paradigm shifting, something that would change the entire meta of pokemon battles the world over. And yet Oak still shared it because it was new, and… perhaps… as a show of respect. Kyo was right to recognize him as a radical reformist, but was surprised by the show of wisdom of his deference.

Or at least, the wisdom to know that showing deference would be appreciated, which in this case is close enough.

Anzu’s eyes are narrowed, her mind clearly racing over possibilities both feasible and outlandish. “He can’t possibly have closed the gap that much…” Despite her words he can see her doubt growing. “Not unless he’s been hiding his true ability this whole time… If he bought some Elite level pokemon—”

“I will not reveal any more. I’ve told you this much because you are my daughter, and despite everything I still want you to succeed, but I am still acting as I would if I did not know. I cannot put my thumb on the scale by giving you answers. Only advice, if you have the humility to receive it.”

She hesitates, clearly still processing his confidence in her impending loss. He can tell that she is tempted to keep challenging it, perhaps even dismiss it entirely. Instead she takes another breath to center herself, then sits. “Alright. I told you I still value your teachings, and I meant it. What have I missed?”

He folds his legs beneath him, then takes a moment to organize his thoughts for what may be the most important conversation of his life. “First, I wish to better understand something. What are you so afraid will happen, if Oak succeeds in changing this gym?”

Anzu frowns at the new angle of conversation, but after a moment says, “That he’ll turn it into some cheap Ranger school knock-off.” Her jaw sets. “The League is about improving and evaluating the strength of the trainer as an individual, not as a group. That is what I’m fighting to protect, as much as to show I’m worthy of Leadership.”

“Does the League not exist to protect the people? Do its trainers not rely on each other to do that?”

“Of course they do.” She sighs. “I’m not against these ‘group scenarios’ in principle. I just don’t believe it should be what Gyms are for. If Oak were forming his own school or working with the Rangers, I might even support him. Instead he’s leeching off the existing system, the prestige of the gyms he visits, to force his ideas into the mainstream. It’s not right.”

“Spoken with true conviction. And yet this desire is not strong enough for you to commit everything you have to it.”

“I told you, I won’t just stand by while villains act freely in our city. What I’ve uncovered—”

“Has nearly gotten you arrested.” They haven’t spoken about that night in Celadon when she narrowly escaped the police. He’d hoped it would make her more cautious, and it seemed to… for a while, at least. “Or worse.”

“I’m being more careful now. Working with others, letting them investigate… but after what I’ve learned, I can’t just let it stand. Not just because I’m being challenged, not when I can handle both. And I can. Whatever Oak showed you, I’ll beat it—”

Kyo feels the anger flare up again, and almost snaps at her that this is exactly the arrogance that would get her killed, or bring ruin to the gym—

“—and I’ll take down the renegade conspiracies at the same time, with or without your blessing!”

—and instead blinks, staring back into his daughter’s angry gaze. “What are you talking about? You said you were investigating Silph.”

“And I have been. But Silph was connected to others, and I’ve allied with the people investigating them to learn more. Those renegades under the Celadon casino were just the most public.”

A coldness is spreading through Kyo’s stomach, and despite himself he asks, “What have you learned?”

“Oh, now you’re curious again?”

“Anzu, please. What have you learned?

He’s surprised her again, and he sees uncertainty in her gaze before she looks away, then back. “You said you’d stop me if I went too far. Is that what this is? You’re worried I’ll cross the line to fight an even greater evil than corrupt businessmen?”

The thought occurred to him, but… “That is not my worry at this moment. I swear it.”

His daughter still seems worried, but nods and begins explaining what she’s learned from her new allies. First of Silph’s rivalry in securing access to fossils and the renegade-thief that was murdered before his execution, then of missing and hidden scientists from around the world, and then stolen technology with foreign renegade guards.

Until she finally ends with their tentative conclusion; that Silph, though itself guilty of crimes, appears at times to be in contention with an actual criminal empire.

And so the coldness in Kyo’s stomach has spread, because he recognized these movements, these actions, these strategies. They were altered to be more clever, harder to detect, but also more ambitious… and more protected, if even other gym leaders are potentially involved.

It seems he has run out of time.

“Father?”

Kyo looks up from where his gaze had been staring through the earth into the void beyond, and sees his daughter’s concerned gaze on his. All of her hostility has faded, leaving her angular face appearing softer than he’s seen it in a long time. It may be the first time she’s completely dropped her guard around him in years, and he feels an urge to go to her, draw her into a hug. Not just to protect her, but also to reassure.

She’s not just concerned about what his reaction means for her. Whatever she sees in his face, it concerns her for him.

And so Leader Koga takes a deep breath, centering himself in the feel of the air rushing into his lungs, then back out. He tried running from his past, believing he would be able to, eventually, confront it on his own terms. And yet now that the parallels between himself and his daughter become clear, he smiles a bitter smile at how obvious it now is what he’s been doing wrong.

“I am alright, Janine.”

“I know you are worried for me, but if there’s something else…”

“There is, yes.” Kyo takes another breath, lets it out slowly, and cups his hands over his knees. “First, I must apologize. I was… not at my best, the last time we spoke about this.” The night he put a tracker on her, hoping against hope that he was wrong, that she was not responsible for the rumors of a vigilante in his city… “I was angry. And… frightened for you. But I never fully explained why.”

Her expression shifts back to a wary confusion. She expects him to go back to trying to discourage her. “What I mean is, I never told you why I left my village.”

“You did, when I was young. You had an argument with grandfather…” She trails off, face going blank and weight shifting back onto her ankles. “Was all that a lie?”

“It was not the whole truth. That argument was… long, and bitter, but it wasn’t just a philosophical difference.” He searches for the words, thinking back to who he was two decades ago, dusting the memories off. “I was taught that the life of the ninja was a necessary evil. That every warlord had agents that worked in the shadows, and so every region must have the same, or else fall to the others willing to use such practices. And it’s true that, for most of my young life I saw my family work to do good. What I said about my village tracking spies, hunting renegades, even training legitimate hunters… all that was true. Not everyone in the League and Council knew, but many did, and that was enough for us. So long as someone else told us what was needed to protect our region, we did it, even if others would consider it immoral.”

“And you said you weren’t satisfied with that.”

“I wasn’t. What I’ve told you before, about wanting to make a real change, about feeling like a tool, it was all true. Your grandfather called me selfish, and I… may have compared him to a tamed poochyena.” Anzu snorts, but Kyo still feels the ember of shame flare in his chest, even after all these years. “It… got worse from there, but it was only a part of the problem. What truly led to my departure was learning that those giving us orders… were not all as pure as I thought. Organized crime had its own channels of power and influence, and sometimes our services were sold to them, often for mutual exchanges of favors.”

Anzu stares as if seeing him for the first time, and it’s a struggle to not drop his gaze from hers. “The village did work for criminals? Did you do work for them?”

“Yes.” The word burns on the way out. “Worse, I didn’t leave immediately, when I learned. I was young, only went on missions with others. I trusted my mentor when they said it was rare, but necessary. When I was older, I saw it more and more, realized it was not an occasional exception. And still I stayed, thought there was something we could do about it. But when I began talking seriously about refusing such orders, or even making them public… the village elders insisted it wasn’t our place, your grandfather among them. And that’s when I realized what it truly meant, to view oneself as a tool.”

His daughter listens to his confession in silence, and he sees lingering confusion in her eyes… but also compassion that he’s not sure he deserves. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this?”

“I made an oath, Janine. When I left the village.” His hands are clenched, and he relaxes them with his next breath. “My life and freedom, and in exchange, I would not reveal anything that might cause problems for the village. I didn’t even tell your mother, though she knew there were secrets I had to keep, and said… that they didn’t matter.” Grief claws at his insides, for a moment, as deep and black as the months following her death, but a few breaths later the pain is back to a distant, dull ache. Most of his attention is already wondering if this was a mistake, if Janine will tell someone…

But he has been released from his oath by Janine’s own discoveries. If anything this might reduce the odds that the public becomes aware of the villages. He sighs. “I know it will sound like an excuse, but it was simpler to say that I disagreed with the philosophy. You’ve known what my ambition is. Now you better understand why.”

“But could you stop them, even as Champion? If they have that much influence—”

“It will be difficult, yes. And dangerous. I have made what preparations I can, and plan to make more once I am part of the Elite.” For one thing he’ll have even more influence than he’s gained by being the leader of Fuchsia; all the work he’s done with the stewards of the Safari Zone has won him many friends among the Rangers, which would be key. “And of course, I’ve made you as safe as I could.”

“By teaching me what you learned,” Anzu says, voice low, and now it’s her gaze that wavers, then drops. “Which I then used to put myself, and you, at risk.”

The stir of hope in his chest makes it a little easier to breathe, though it’s tinged with bitterness. His oath would have exacted a greater cost than he expected, if all he had to do to convince his daughter all this time was tell her of this…

But if he had, then she may never have discovered what she did, which means he wouldn’t have learned of it.

“You were doing what you thought was right,” Kyo says, the words strangely hard to say. He’s not sure why, when he believes them. Perhaps it’s just his pride.

“I was.” Anzu stirs, then straightens her spine. “And if anything, this makes it more obvious that these people need to be stopped. If they’re not just using renegades, but hiring ninja, working with council members… did you ever learn who was in charge?”

She’s leaning forward now, the familiar glint back in her eyes, and his hope sinks back into the dark depths. She won’t back down from her path. It was foolish of him to ever think she might.

But that doesn’t mean his concern was misplaced.

“No,” he says honestly. “She was referred to only as The Madame, and her reputation for ruthlessness made her more feared by criminals than the Rangers, League, and Hunters put together.”

Anzu frowns, but not in a way that seems aimed at him. “Alright, I’ll ask around, see what I can learn.”

“Janine—”

“Father, I know you—”

“Wait, please.” He takes a breath, wondering why this feels so hard to say. Perhaps because it would come off as an endorsement, an encouragement of her taking actions that might bring her harm…

He remembers his mother, handing him a pokeball with his starter. He’s always imagined that was something she felt compelled to do, out of love, despite her disagreement with his choice. But perhaps she was as conflicted, handing him that ball and knowing what he would do with it, as he is now, with these words balancing on the tip of his tongue.

“I think you should continue.”

“What?” She blinks, blinks again. “You… really?”

“I have always believed in your conviction, but… I also thought you simply needed something to challenge you. A sign that your efforts were needed somewhere, at a time when the Gym had no challenges left to offer you.”

“And now?” Anzu asks, voice cautious.

“Now I believe you should follow your conscience, wherever it leads you. But my position is the same as it’s ever been; a Leader cannot also be a concealed dagger. My ambition is to end such duplicity and abuse, and even if you disagree, on a practical level I say you cannot commit wholly to your mission and the gym’s demands, and excel at both sufficiently. You know this gym’s virtue. You must choose.”

Anzu seems taken aback, and he sees her hurt and disappointment before her face closes down. “So nothing’s changed, after all.”

“Much has changed,” he disagrees. “But Blue Oak is still here, and has devoted all of what he is to changing this gym and defeating you. That has not changed, and I would not stop it if I could. He has closed the gap on you, fairly, and it is the result of your split focus. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps you will defeat him, and show that I am underestimating you. But if not, then remember this conversation. Remember what it means, to hone one weapon at the expense of all else. It can leave you limited, but it can also make you strong, so long as you focus your energy where it is most needed.”


Kyo makes his announcement the next day, before Oak can find Anzu for his challenge.

“When I gave Blue Oak the opportunity to extend what he began in Vermilion, to teach what he and his journeymates developed, I did it knowing this would disrupt the culture of our gym. A culture of personal excellence, of competition and support, of discipline and respect. A culture I am proud to have developed and fostered.. But that was in a different time. A time before the world changed, thrice over. And I knew, sooner or later, we would have to change as well…”

He goes on to explain that, while he still believes in the concept of a gym that trains and evaluates individuals, he has been impressed by what Oak and his journeymates have demonstrated. Similarly, he heaped praise on the way his daughter and other gym members have given more of themselves to training others, sharing techniques and providing guidance above and beyond that which other gyms in the region could boast.

“…value of competition, of challenging our preconceptions, and devoting ourselves to what unique skills and ideas we can develop and spread.” Kyo takes a moment to find Oak in the crowd, then Anzu at the other side of it. “I wish to encourage more competitions like this, to reward more trainers for trying new things. To that end, to ensure no one is discouraged from trying such projects if it delays their Challenge. I am announcing that any trainer who contributed in some meaningful way to the culture of Fuchsia Gym, as judged by any member of the gym leadership, may Challenge for Membership or Mastery without going through the preliminaries.” He’s mostly just building on what Surge has implicitly allowed, but it feels like a turning point in the region to make it an explicit rule. Another ratchet along the path to further incentivize diversity and specialization. “Up until recently, the niche that this gym has filled seemed enough. But the world is changing, and so must we… whether that means using new strategies, or improving on what has served us well thus far.”

Kyo bows his head to his audience, who bow back, all at various degrees, then begin to disperse or talk among themselves. He steps down from the podium and reaches Oak just as the boy is approaching Anzu, who is waiting with her arms crossed. “I know,” she says before either can speak. “Another battle. I accept.”

Oak doesn’t seem particularly surprised, though he does give Kyo a look he cannot interpret. “Alright. Ready when you are.”

“Let’s get it over with.”

“I will act as referee,” Kyo says, and leads the way to the battle arenas before either can object. They draw many curious looks, but only Oak’s friends are bold enough to approach, no doubt also interested in watching the battle, until the boy shakes his head and they fall behind.

“Six on six,” Anzu says as they take the elevator down to one of the private arenas, and Kyo smiles. Without knowing what Oak’s trump card is, she’s giving herself the maximum range to have an answer available for it. “To the faint.”

Oak simply shrugs and nods, and when the doors open both pass by the PC and head straight to their platforms. Kyo takes a moment to deactivate the cameras in the room, then goes to stand at the side of the arena. “Are you both ready?” They nod, hands on their pokeballs. “Set…”

“Go, Mal!” Anzu shouts, again making the safe choice. Her toxapex is her most defensive pokemon, useful to scout out what Oak might do—

“Go, Rive!”

Oak’s newly evolved rhydon drops onto all fours as soon as it appears, which means his “Ras!” command sends it barreling forward within a second, horn tearing up the earth ahead of it as it spins.

“Bunker!”

Mal’s hard shell contracts around her, spines jutting out, but Oak’s pokemon is already slowing as pieces of stone start to break off its own hide, floating lazily around Anzu’s pokemon. Oak is ready for when the Baneful Bunker ends, yelling “Rad!” as Anzu shouts “Scald!”

The Drill Run hits first, and at such close range Mal gets trampled even as she sprays boiling water all over Rive. Kyo is glad to see both trainers withdraw their pokemon at the same time; toxapex are tough enough that Mal would likely be okay, but with such an all-encompassing injury the chance of a critical organ being hit is high enough that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

As for Rive, it’s possible with the right training or items for it to withstand that sort of hit from a toxapex; most of a toxapex’s body is oriented to defense, which means even with TMs they can only expel a little water or poison per attack. But Oak isn’t risking it either, and both send out their next pokemon within a breath.

“Go, Brutus!”

“Go, Nin!”

Anzu’s venusaur gets cut by the stones as soon as it appears, roaring in pain, while Oak’s golbat dives in for a Wing Attack. Anzu quickly swaps Brutus out for her crobat, which takes even more damage from the stones but easily defeats Oak’s lesser evolution before blowing the stones away in a gust of wind.

Normally, this would be the point at which Anzu’s victory would be inevitable. All of Oak’s remaining Ground types would be checked by Anzu’s crobat and venusaur, and while his wartortle may be strong enough to take down the crobat with a well aimed ice beam, it’s ultimately a tossup which would defeat the other, particularly since a single Cross Poison could wear Maturin down even if Oak battled defensively.

Combined with the fact that Anzu still has her tentacruel ready and waiting to further wear the wartortle down, Oak doesn’t have many options. Apparently he had spent time before their last match training his wartortle’s physical combat skills, but the gap between his pokemon and Anzu’s was still too large, particularly since she made sure to train plenty of Fire/Fighting pokemon to break through Steel types her enemies might bring against her.

What Oak has needed, all along, is Poison’s only other weakness; a Psychic type, one strong and fast enough to take down even a blaziken. But even if he somehow managed to train one of his abra enough to evolve and fight well, Anzu’s Drapion would be there to stop it cold.

All this, his daughter knows. And yet she’s still being wary, because he told her Oak would defeat her. He’s not sure what she’s expecting, perhaps a dragonite or tyranitar, but when the kadabra appears she freezes, for a moment, almost long enough for Blue to command his pokemon to attack.

And then she does the obvious thing, and swaps her crobat for her drapion. The purple and black scorpion rears up with a roar, tall as two men and long as three, towering over the kadabra.

“Tops,” Oak says, voice firm. “Eam.”

The kadabra’s eyes suddenly lock onto its opponent as Anzu commands her pokemon to fling toxic spikes all over the arena. She’s still acting defensively, still preparing for some surprise, but she can’t prepare for what comes next. As he warned her, it’s completely outside of her conceptualization space.

“Pa.”

Seeing it a second time still sends frisson down Kyo’s spine; the drapion’s body vibrates like a tuning fork as the invisible wave of psychic force crashes over it, causing it to stagger.

It took a long time for scientists to discover why Psychic attacks do so much damage to Poison pokemon. It was debated for decades, until the leading hypothesis emerged; the unique vibrations that run through a body when hit by psychokinetic force are similar to the vibrations caused by most Ground attacks.

Gas, acid, venom, sludge, whatever the form the “poison” takes in a pokemon’s body, it’s always kept separate from their vital organs. Internal bleeding is harmful to any creature, but combining toxic substances into the blood or surrounding tissue, even in a body resistant to them, causes more damage than would normally be sustained, in essence turning the pokemon’s own weapons against itself.

And so they all watch as the towering Dark/Poison pokemon sways in the aftermath of its first telekinetic attack, body twitching as pain spreads through it. To his pride, Anzu recovers from the unprecedented attack by shouting “Night!” within moments, but the kadabra is faster, and the next wave of force makes the drapion shudder, then topple.

Anzu’s hand darts out to withdraw it, and Kyo watches as his daughter’s limbs twitch to select her next pokemon, then pause, twitch again… then stop. He can only imagine what she’s feeling; confusion, shock, fear. Perhaps even awe.

And what she’s thinking, beyond how did he do that, is that she has no pokemon to respond with. Her crobat is the only thing that could outspeed his kadabra, but he can switch into a magneton, and both his wartortle and kadabra could defeat the blaziken she would send in to defeat that.

It all plays out in Koga’s head, strike and counterstrike, and he knows the same is happening in Anzu’s, and likely Oak’s as well. There is always some chance of surprises, a miss or critical strike, a clever deception or unusual tactic… but in cases like this, among trainers as skilled as they, that chance becomes smaller and smaller.

Oak waits, patient. He knows he’s regained the advantage, but he’s still being cautious as well. If Kyo hadn’t warned his daughter, if she’d treated this like any other match, Oak may have won already against a more reckless strategy… or he could have lost, if she treated his kadabra like it was any other threat.

Either way, he’s not taking his victory for granted. It speaks volumes about his battle philosophy, as well as his general worldview, that he did not start with the kadabra. He was feeling her out as well, making sure he wasn’t walking into any surprises of her own. Anzu did that to herself, in part, by working so hard to keep changing her strategies up. Generally a good thing, but the best opponents will always find a way to adapt, even if the thing they adapt to is unpredictability itself.

Nearly a minute passes before Anzu finally lets her hands drop.

“How?”

It is, perhaps, the most defeated Kyo has ever seen his daughter. And to ask an opponent trainer for their secret, so directly… to ask a rival for it…

Oak glances at Kyo. “I thought you might have told her,” he admits. “Sorry for doubting you.”

“I told her you would defeat her. That is all.”

Oak nods, then turns back to his opponent. “I’m happy to tell you, Janine. Really,” he adds at her clear surprise. “I only did this with the help of others, and they’re not battle trainers. They don’t believe techniques should be kept secret, and in this case I agree. It’s too important.”

“You could have revealed it in your Challenge match,” she says, voice tinged with confusion and wonder. “The whole world would have seen you do the impossible while winning a badge.”

“Oh, I’m definitely still planning to do that,” Oak says with a grin. “I’m not that altruistic. Sure, you can tell people first if you want, but that would just draw a bigger crowd and more hype. The plan right now is for Red and Satori to make an announcement about it in a week or so, since they’re the ones that actually discovered it, and if I show it off first, then great, more hype for them. In any case, I’d have shared it with your father before battling him. Not looking to humiliate anyone, and I’m pretty sure I can beat him even with him knowing.” Oak turns to him again and bows his head. “No disrespect intended.”

“None taken,” Kyo says with a raised brow. “I hadn’t selected my lineup for your mastery challenge yet, but among my fifth badge lineups I tend to prepare for at least a couple psychic pokemon on the challenger’s team, even if they are Dark.”

There’s been some debate over whether it’s fair to adjust a challenge lineup in that way; should leaders aim for a relatively consistent experience across badge levels, or adjust teams to the individual challenger? The Indigo League has no official policy, so some Leaders will use the exact same lineup for each number of badges (replacing them once they grow too strong) while others make minor adjustments based on the trainer’s pokemon, and yet others will tailor their lineups to maximally challenge particular trainer personalities and strategies.

Perhaps it comes from being Dark himself, but Kyo has always believed that challenges are meant for trainers to prove their growth, not just benchmarks to check-off… which means Dark trainers must learn to compensate for their more limited options, rather than expect others to adjust accordingly. Wild pokemon certainly wouldn’t.

Or, in the young Oak’s case, create new options.

“That doesn’t mean you should take the battle as a formality,” Kyo continues. “It may well be, but I find myself excited by the unique puzzle you’ve presented. It will be an honor to be the first Leader to test the new meta.”

Oak grins. “That, and you’ll have to prepare for the changes it will bring to future Challenges.”

“As you say.” Kyo’s own smile feels wry, but it’s still genuine. “Here we have been plotting the future of this Gym, and yet with this discovery, Poison as a type has lost nearly as much as Dark has.”

“No, it’s too early to be so fatalistic. There must be limits.” Anzu turns back to Oak. “It seemed to take your pokemon time to prepare for its attacks. Was it similar to charging a Solar Beam, or more like a Swords Dance…?”

“Neither, actually. In our training, Tops always has to spend some time seeing through the Dark pokemon’s aura first, but once he has, he doesn’t seem to have trouble seeing them until the Dark pokemon is recalled and resummoned.”

“When you say ‘seeing’…”

“Or sensing, whatever. Apparently the eyes are important though. Red and Satori even called it ‘Miracle Eye,’ which seems really dramatic coming from two non-battle trainers.” Oak smiles. “I was actually impressed.”

Anzu is frowning at him. “You’re continuing to show more humility than I expected.”

“How’s that?”

Kyo catches Anzu’s glance. “I believe she means that this seems, so far, like it was not your accomplishment. And if I know my daughter, it feels unfair to her, to be beaten by a trick you did not even help develop… or more accurately, it feels unfair to have her capabilities as a potential leader questioned over such a thing.”

Anzu shifts her weight, and Oak considers this a moment before shrugging. “Alright, well, it was my idea that got them looking into it, if that helps? And there’s another new training technique that I’ve been using which helped make Tops so strong so quick, though I’m not ready to share what that is yet.”

Anzu’s frown deepens, and when she turns to him, Kyo keeps his voice as gentle as he can as he quietly asks, “And what new insights have you inspired in others, in your quest to become the best Leader you could?”

He sees it hit her in stages: confusion, recognition, denial… and then a growing desperation as she tries, and fails, to come up with anything.

Kyo sighs. He’d hoped, still, that there was something he’d missed.

Oak looks back and forth between them, brow furrowed. “I’m missing something.”

“Indeed. Have you figured out the virtue of our Gym yet?”

“I think so, especially after your speech. People online said it was about discipline, focusing on your goal at the exclusion of all else, but once I got here and spent some time with the older gym members, it seemed like that wasn’t quite it.” Oak points his thumb at Anzu. “It’s what you were upset with her about, right? Lack of focus. But that’s a means, and a sloppy one. The real thing is the blend of means and end. Having a niche and leveraging it as hard as you can.”

“I refer to it as ‘specialization.’ When I was young, my father told me a tale of a blacksmith who discovered a forging technique to create a sword that would never break, and would easily shatter other swords… but only against other swords. It would be a weapon for disarming, never killing, as striking any armor or even a bone would irreparably damage the blade. Many samurai thought the man who mastered this sword would forever be at a handicap, unable to end a threat, whether human or pokemon. But for one swordsman, it was elegance itself. A blade that could only ever cut one thing would allow him to truly devote himself to a fighting style that focused on cutting that thing, mind, body and spirit.”

Oak slowly nods, leaning against the railing of his platform. “I get it. So now you decide if your gym is going to specialize in the sort of thing my friends and I have been exploring, or double-down on what it was before, with what Janine’s been doing.”

“No,” Anzu says before he can respond. “Father has already made his decision. I lost. You win.”

She doesn’t sound bitter about it. If anything she sounds… lighter, than she did before. Something between resigned and accepting.

Oak, meanwhile, looks conflicted. Kyo wonders if he’s thinking of admitting that he never intended to lead the gym, but instead he says, “I don’t know what you’ve been so focused on besides all this, but if it’s that important to you… maybe you need to settle it before you can really focus on being a leader.”

She turns back to him. “What are you saying?”

“I mean, I’ll probably need another year or so to become Champion.” Oak makes the utterly audacious claim with a completely straight face, and after what Kyo has seen in the past two days, he finds little skepticism in himself. “Maybe by then you’ll be done with whatever else you’ve been working on, and be kicking so much ass here that I’ll decide to go to another gym instead. Hell, I still haven’t been to Cinnabar. Might be even cooler than Fuchsia. Or maybe by then I’ll change my mind about being a gym leader altogether, especially if they start changing without me having to micromanage.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Anzu says, though she sounds more stoic than angry. “I’ve been arrogant, and that has to have consequences. I may have more support in the gym now, but I can see that you’ll just keep working at that until you find a solution to it too, while I… won’t give up my other project. Can’t.”

Even though it’s what he wanted, it still hurts to hear her say it. To hear the pain, just below the surface of her calm voice. But he’s proud of her, as well, and almost says so when Oak snorts.

“So why not work together? You’re acting like it’s all or nothing, and I don’t get why.” Anzu is silent, but her eyes shift to him, and Oak catches it. “Oh. Well, no disrespect, Leader, but without knowing what you’ve got against whatever else she’s working on, if it’s important enough to get someone like Janine to give up her dream of succeeding you, I’d just as soon make sure I can beat her when she’s not distracted, instead of beating her just because she is.”

Kyo watches Oak, meeting those steady eyes, while in the corner of his vision he sees Anzu… relaxing. Regaining some of her confidence, her poise, and most of all, her hope.

And he decides that the young Oak might be more than a simple tool as well. However much he’s grown to reach where he is today from when he started his journey, he likely has only just started along the path to who he will become.

Someone, perhaps, that Kyo will feel is worthy to follow. Someone who will help expose the corruption, rather than accept it.

“I think,” the leader says, “We should all speak more on this, after our match. There is a story I would like to tell you about my upbringing, and my ambition. And after that, Janine may feel more comfortable sharing her own.”

Anzu is staring at him in open shock, but Oak just raises his brow… then surprises Kyo by sighing and rubbing his eyes.

“Alright, but… first I gotta tell you guys about this thing called ‘meta-honesty’…”

105: Meta-Honesty

“Stop!”

Blue stops, brow raised, as Red sighs and starts rubbing his face, muttering that it’s too early for this. “Uh, okay, I wasn’t expecting that part to be what you had a reaction to…” They’re in a training room beside the one where Satori is currently merging with his abra, where he led Red after Red arrived and Satori explained her discovery. All Blue said once he closed the door behind them was I need to tell you something…

“It’s a secret, isn’t it?” Red asks, voice resigned. “Not like a personal secret, the kind that might get me or others in trouble if I spread it around?”

Blue stares. “…yeah, how did you—” Did Red already figure out how to see into dark minds himself? No, that’s ridiculous, no way he would keep that to himself…

“It’s been that kind of week. Month.” Red frowns. “Season.”

“Wait, what other secrets do you—”

“Hush! Before we talk about this we need to work out meta-honesty rules.”

“Seriously? I just drop the biggest psychic discovery of our lifetime on your lap, and you want to—why are you giggling?”

It takes a moment for Red to stop, still grinning as he shakes his head. “Ask me again later. You’re right, part of me really wants to ask Satori a million questions and get to testing dark aura stuff out, but… if that’s not considered a secret but whatever you were about to tell me is, then it’s really important we talk about how to talk about it.”

Blue doesn’t expect the dark aura stuff to be kept secret forever exactly, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like it kept under wraps for a bit. The same goes for Koichi’s theory, if it turns out to be true. Blue sighs and leans against the Fuchsia training room wall, settling in for a lecture. “Alright, go ahead. What’s meta-honesty?”

“Hang on, we should get Leaf here too, we were talking about this just a few days ago…” Red takes out his phone and starts typing.

“Wait! Uh, I’m not sure…” Blue can’t imagine Leaf being okay with the idea of making pokemon fear for their lives, even artificially, and suddenly feels unsure about whether he should tell Red after all; if he’s not willing to keep it from Leaf, then… “Okay I think I get why talking about how to talk about secret stuff is important.”

“If you don’t want Leaf to know I probably won’t tell her, but…” Red puts his phone away. “Yeah, that’s part of what we should go over. I’ve been reading about this online and it turns out there’s a whole lot of disagreement about what makes for a good policy on what amount of honesty is the right amount.”

“Doesn’t that just depend on how many secrets someone has, and why they keep them?” Blue shrugs. “It’s that thing you said once about trust, right? You either trust someone to not lie, or you trust them to have a good reason to lie, or you don’t trust them at all.”

“But what if two people disagree about what a good reason to lie is? They might think they trust each other in the deep way, but then find out that the other person lied about something they wouldn’t have thought. The best outcome is they understand why there was that confusion and don’t hate each other, but they might still think they’re on the same page but not be. If I think we’d both share any info about each other that someone tells us, and you don’t think that, I would take you not telling me stuff meant no one said anything to you, while you would think people might be telling me stuff that I’m just not telling you.”

“Sure, so we talk about it… okay it would be hard to talk about every situation…”

“Or what if there are competing vows of secrecy? If my mom tells me something about you, and she doesn’t know I tell you everything anyone says about you—”

“That’s something you’d say before she tells you though, right? If she doesn’t say it’s supposed to be a secret first, that’s on her.”

“But she can’t tell me what the secret is about first without revealing information that I might share if I say no! She might ask ‘Can I tell you a secret you won’t share?’ But then what, I’m supposed to say ‘Yes, but only if it doesn’t put someone’s life in danger, or if it’s not about Blue, or if it’s not something I think the scientific community should know, or if it doesn’t interfere with this secret project I have…’ You see?”

Blue does, and it’s getting harder to ignore the obvious implications. “How many secrets have you been keeping, exactly?” Red just looks at him until Blue holds his hands up in surrender. “Fine, don’t tell me, but if Leaf has a bunch too I’m going to end up feeling left out.”

Red rolls his eyes and starts pacing. “We can also think of it in terms of tiers. Like, there are some people who you’d have no secrets from, usually someone’s spouse, so it’s expected that if someone tells one something the other will hear about it. The next tier is close friends, where you’d expect someone to tell them something that they’d want to know. But then there’s also tiers for who secrets get told to. If you know me as someone who always holds on to secrets no matter what, then you might tell me a secret that someone else told you, breaking their trust, because you trust it won’t go further. So a meta-honesty strategy might be to say ‘I don’t tell your secrets to anyone of a lower tier than you,’ and then you have to explain what sorts of people or specific people that excludes—”

“Which itself might give stuff away, yeah, got it. But really, the thing I’m telling you isn’t even a secret, it’s just… it might be sens… if it’s even tr… stop that.” Red stops singing and uncovers his ears, and Blue sighs and rubs his eyes. “Okay, I give up, just tell me what to do.”

“What?” Red seems genuinely horrified. “Blue, it doesn’t work like that, I can’t just—”

“You can if I trust you, right? Like the real trust.”

The look on Red’s face makes Blue waver, for a moment, wondering how bad a secret Red can possibly be keeping… if he knows a renegade or…

And then he remembers, and mentally kicks himself..

They never really talked about Aiko again, or that whole situation. Not that they’ve been avoiding it or anything, it just hasn’t come up… they haven’t battled in the same incident since Lavender, and Red did great there, and he’s been active in helping at incidents…

But no, bravery was never the problem. He knows what Red would say; it’s about calculating risk, and if Blue’s being honest he has wondered, now and then, how Red decided on which incidents to go to, and who he was fighting alongside at them, and what lengths he’d go to to save them if they were in trouble.

Okay, so maybe he doesn’t trust Red completely. Blue shifts his weight, then sighs. “Look, that’s a different thing.”

“What is?” Red asks, voice cautious.

“The thing about… the burning building. It’s not about who you are, it’s… I mean it is about who you are, but not like…” Blue trails off, realizing as he says it that he might actually be wrong.

What if it is the same thing? What if Red kept or spilled a secret that was the equivalent of not running into a burning building to save a friend?

Blue tries to imagine what that would be, and immediately comes up with the reverse of the secret he was about to share. If Red discovered something about Dark types that would hurt Blue, but felt compelled to share it anyway… no, that’s not quite right. If Red knew a secret that had a small chance of saving someone but would, say, ruin his scientific career if it was wrong… no, that’s not fair, it’s just hard to imagine a secret that would put his life at risk.

Red is just watching him, expression hard to read. Anxious? Wary? Blue sighs and runs a hand through his hair. They should probably have talked about this again at some point, but it just seemed… easier, not to. “I can’t imagine you doing something with secrets that would break that trust, is what I’m trying to say.”

Red is quiet for a moment, then sighs. “But there are things I could do that you can’t imagine, that would break the trust. Which means it’s not the second layer, it’s not trust in me, it’s trust in your models of me.”

“Well shit, Red, no one’s perfect,” Blue says, starting to get annoyed. Here he is trying to tell Red how much he… no, wait, he gets it. “I mean, I’m not either, so okay, say you’re hiding a secret that I can’t even imagine you hiding and it totally changes who I think you are. I’d still know you were doing what you thought was best, even if I disagreed.”

That seems to surprise Red, for a moment. “So… you wouldn’t regret it? Trusting me?”

“That… come on, how am I supposed to know that? If you fuse all the Stormbringers into some crazy three headed mega-Legendary that destroys all of Indigo, yeah, I’ll probably regret trusting you a little bit!

Red stares at him a moment, then cracks a smile. Soon it’s a grin, and Blue finds himself grinning back as Red begins to giggle. “That’s stupid. How would that even work, fusing pokemon together?”

don’t know, I’m just saying—”

“Would it have six wings?”

“Of course it would have six wings, and three tails—”

“No, one tail, but it’s like, all their tails blended together—”

“And six legs—”

“What? No, that’s dumb—”

“Oh sure, that’s dumb. It’s my idea you know—”

“Yeah well I’m the scientist, and it’s my hypothetical mad-scientist creation. What would it even need six legs for?”

“For its long body!”

“Long body!” Red laughs. “Like a caterpie!”

“Not like a caterpie you idiot, like a bird body, just long! Where else would the six wings go?”

“I don’t know, the same joint?”

“So says the scientist. You are picturing each head on its own neck though, right?”

“Of course, like a dodrio.”

“Alright, at least we’re on the same page there.”

Silence descends, broken by the occasional chuckle, and eventually Blue shakes his head and sighs. “What were we arguing about again?”

“Were we arguing?” Red shrugs, smile fading. “I’m glad, for what you said. I just… I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid you’ll…”

“Yeah,” Blue says, voice soft, and clears his throat. “I get it. I just don’t know if, like, I should apologize, or—”

“No, it’s okay. It would be unfair of me to ask for that level of trust. We were always on different pages, I think, we just never had reason to know it.” Red grimaces. “Actually, that’s not… totally true.”

“What do you mean?”

“When we started our journey, I was thinking we weren’t ready for a Stormbringer attack. I… haven’t thought of this in a long time, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought about ways to keep us from one before we were ready.”

Blue stares at Red, anger and indignation rising up… then fading as he lets his breath out. “Yeah, well. That was shitty of you, not telling me how you really felt. But I’d be a hypocrite if I thought less of you for feeling that way at all, given that I—” The words get stuck in his throat, and he clears it. “After Vermilion, I changed my mind about going to every Stormbringer battle. It wasn’t what I thought it would be like, and we…”

We might have died.

Even after they lost Aiko, he feels rejection of that in his core. It’s possible, sure, but he doesn’t really believe it. Not if they stuck together…

Meanwhile Red is looking surprised, and relieved. “We would have been even less prepared.”

“Right. So we might not have been on the same page then, but we could be, someday, right?”

He’s not sure what he’s asking, really. He’s not sure what he’d do if Red says no. But he still feels conflicted and confused about how much he trusts Red, and how much he should. On the one hand he needs Red to be okay with hearing about Koichi’s theory if he’s going to get his help.

Not a great reason to share such a dangerous secret, really. And maybe he doesn’t need Red’s help, but it would take longer without it, and meanwhile he’s losing the soul of the gym, splitting it in two factions instead of making it a unified, stronger whole.

“We could be, yeah,” Red says, and his voice is soft too before he seems to shake himself. “And this is a good first step, I think. Talking about what honesty means for us.”

“Right. So, okay.” Blue sits on the ground, hands on his knees, and after a moment Red mirrors him, legs crossed. “How do we figure this out?”

“Well… first off, as a baseline, I think this quote makes for a really good starting point, though the person who wrote it might be really horrified by what we’re trying to do here… ‘Don’t lie when a normal highly honest person wouldn’t, and furthermore, be honest when somebody asks you which hypothetical circumstances would cause you to lie or mislead—absolutely honest, if they ask under this code. However, questions about meta-honesty should be careful not to probe object-level information.'”

“How the hell is anyone supposed to know what a ‘normal highly honest person’ would say? What if someone straight up asks if you know an embarrassing secret about your friend?”

“Well, there’s something called glomarization. ‘I can neither confirm nor deny that.'”

“I’m going to feel like an asshole if I go around saying that all the time.”

Red rolls his eyes. “You can also just say ‘no comment.'”

“And sound like a slimy politician?”

“Add whatever charm you want to it, the point is that you can set a policy of what sorts of things you won’t answer specifics to, and as long as you stick to it you won’t leak info or lie.”

“Right, but I can’t just start saying that if I have something to hide. Like if someone asks what I did last night, and I was in a secret meeting, if I say ‘the usual’ or ‘nothing special’ that implies I was training or hanging out with friends.”

“Yeah, that is a problem.” Red shrugs. “You could say ‘either I did the usual, or I don’t want to tell you what I did.” This time it’s Blue’s turn to stare at Red until he gives in. “Look, I’m not saying this is easy. But if you set an expectation—”

“Red, if you just say that at the end of everything you’ve reinvented lying with extra steps. Of course people might not want to tell someone what they did! That’s taken for granted in ‘nothing much!'”

“Privacy is different from… hm. I guess if it’s ambiguous and they’re just assuming… alright we’ll come back to that one as a general principle, but between the two of us at least, we’re on the same page about it, right? Our idea of two honest people talking will assume ‘or I don’t want to tell you’ is attached to the end of statements, and won’t get mad about jumping to conclusions?”

“Sure, I guess. Social convenience can’t answer everything though, right? What about white lies?”

Red shrugs. “My model of a ‘highly honest person’ doesn’t directly lie about something non-private for anything short of someone’s life being at risk.”

“Yeah. Okay, so… we both agree that a highly honest person doesn’t do white lies.”

“And that we know ourselves to want to be that honest, and know each other to be?”

Blue thinks about it for a moment. “I can’t actually remember the last time I said one.”

Red laughs. “Yeah, me neither.”

“I came close, with Glen. Not sure if it counts, when you’re really not sure what you feel but want to support someone… anyway, he wouldn’t have it.”

“I think if you’re unsure, and you don’t mention that you’re unsure, it’s still a white lie. I mean, no one can be absolutely sure, of course, but…” Red trails off, looking thoughtful. “I guess people can start including probability estimates—”

“Absolutely not. No one’s going to do that.”

“I—”

“Try it, Red, you’ll get sick of it in a week, and look like a total weirdo to everyone. And most people aren’t going to take it well if they ask if you believe in them and you say ‘I’m 87.34219—'”

Red’s glare is ruined by his twitching lips. “A number that high should be reassuring.”

“‘—12173% sure that you will, in most cases and circumstances—'”

“Okay, okay! So it’s unrealistic to be precise about reassurance. But still, I don’t think it’s a white lie if you’re reasonably sure and just say yes? Like if you’d bet 3:1 odds on it? Can we commit to that baseline?”

“Sure, but we can’t make a public commitment like that, right? Everyone’s going to assume we’re hiding things already.” Blue studies his friend, wondering again what secrets he’s been holding on to. Was he told something, or did he discover something new with his psychic research? It would be ironic if it turned out to be the same thing Koichi did. He’s not sure Red would have the social awareness to keep that secret, though. He may have… no, he definitely would have told Leaf, who would have even more to say about not spreading the news.

Red also could have told Sabrina, of course, and she would be perfectly positioned to explain it to him. Blue tries to replay his conversation with her about all this, but is distracted by Red’s sigh.

“I know. Someone online named Raymond even suggested a meta-honesty holiday where everyone posts their rules about metahonesty at the same time so there’s no reason to think that posting your rules about it indicates you’re hiding something. But for now at least, we can talk about ours.”

“We still haven’t talked about keeping secrets.”

“In what sense?”

“Does a highly honest person keep secrets for others if they know they’ll have to lie about it if asked?”

“Probably not. They’d probably let everyone know, or at least their close friends and family, that if a secret is shared with them they might glomarize but they won’t directly lie. And if there are some exceptions to that, depending on the situation, they should say that too.”

Blue considers this. “Should we invite anyone else to this? There are things I’d keep from Glen and Elaine, even Gramps and Daisy, but not a lot.”

“Okay, see, that’s good info. Uh, I’m not sure how to check this without getting object-level information…”

“No, none of them know the secret, mostly because they’re not dark or psychic. That’s another reason I’m not sure Leaf should know.”

Red groans and slaps his forehead. “Blue! I assumed that was why you weren’t sure she should come in the first place, now that I know that’s an extra reason, I can pretty well guess what this is about!”

Oops. Still… “Doubt it, unless you already know somehow.”

“Well I won’t try guesses out loud so I don’t get any extra info. Also, I think I’m still going to invite Leaf. Even if she doesn’t end up hearing the secret, it’s the perfect time to coordinate the meta-honest conversation, and each of us already knows why we might have secrets of some kind that having this conversation won’t trigger any extra suspicion.”

Blue considers this. “So, obviously you could be holding a secret about someone’s research that you helped with, and you’ve already worked with a couple Leaders, one about Renegade stuff, so it makes sense that you might have learned some things you can’t share while helping hunt for them in Celadon.”

“Right, and you might be keeping science related secrets for your grandfather, or secrets from the Leaders you’ve been talking in private with. Leaf might be keeping science related secrets for her family too, plus she’s done some journalism, so if she says she can’t reveal something people might just assume that it’s from a source for a story.”

“Huh.” Blue considers his journeymates and wonders if any of them could use him as an excuse. Probably not. “That sucks for normal people.”

“What, not having plausible deniability that people would take for granted?”

“Yeah.” Blue frowns. “I kind of want to bring the whole gang in, now. Seems important, in case…”

“Yeah, I should probably pull Jason in too, and Satori…”

Twenty minutes later they’ve sent out messages, dragged a protesting Satori away from the training hall, and holed themselves up in Blue’s room, which has just enough space for everyone, but not really enough space for everyone and their pokemon. Which means there are a lot of them on people’s laps or shoulders, which helps keep the chaos down a little, though Leaf’s buneary keeps hopping away from her to play with Satori’s torracat whenever Leaf lets her petting lapse.

“Alright, everyone, settle down,” Blue says. His two newest journeymates from Saffron, Jamil and Viraj, are the first to sit up and focus. It’s been interesting watching the way his fame has affected new people who join his group; both are really eager to prove themselves, and he expects they’ll settle down and relax by the time he finishes in Fuchsia and maybe picks up some new newbies. “We’ve got a scenario in a couple hours, and this might take a while.”

“Just to be clear,” Red says once everyone’s (mostly) paying more attention to him than their pokemon. “We’re not here to exchange secrets. Everyone got that?”

The group glances at each other, then nods.

“We’re just here to talk about how to be honest with each other, even if we sometimes have things we can’t share. And, if we have secrets that we feel morally compelled to share, at some point, how do we do that ethically.”

“Which you may not!” Leaf adds. “Either have them or ever feel it’s okay to share them. But just in case, this can be useful to do.”

Blue still sees some expressions that might be nervous, or skeptical. “If anyone wants to not be part of this, you don’t have to. You won’t lose points with me, and again, we’re not sharing any juicy gossip or anything so you’re not missing out.”

No one moves.

“Right,” Leaf adds. “This might just be boring for people who have no secrets, and irrelevant to people who have no intention of ever sharing them. So it makes sense for either sort of person to leave.”

The room is silent again, until one of Blue’s newer journeymates raises a hand. “But… if we’re not here, we won’t get secrets shared with us, if someone decides to share them, right?” Jamil looks around. “Because we won’t know the code, or whatever? Etiquette?”

Red looks pained. “That’s not…”

“It’s a fair question.” Leaf shrugs. “I can only speak for myself, but if I ever have secrets that I don’t want to lie about, or if I have to share information in a way that does its best not to violate trust put in me, it would be easier if I know someone’s meta-honesty norms and they know mine.”

“Same,” Glen says. “And it makes sense to me that someone would say that whether they have some major secret or not, since I feel the same way and don’t.”

Lizzy frowns. “Well I also don’t mph—!”

“Please hush,” Maria says, hand over her friend’s mouth. “It will reduce plausible deniability for everyone else who does not also say it.”

The others start looking around too. Some look suspicious, others look confused, and others, like Maria, look distinctly nervous. Then again, it’s Maria, so that doesn’t really tell Blue much…

But Jason is giving her concerned looks, and she’s been spending a lot of time with the psychic… medium… whatever.

Red sighs. “Trying to guess who here has a secret and who doesn’t isn’t really in the spirit of this. And yes, avoid saying anything that would pressure everyone else into saying the same thing to avoid suspicion. We’re here to find ways to talk about this stuff without having to say things like that without lying.”

“Sorry,” Glen says sheepishly.

Blue pushes his own curiosity aside and nudges Red. “Just get started, huh?”

“Right, so to recap what Leaf, Blue and I talked about already…”

Blue listens as Red goes over everything again, including stuff from a conversation he had with Leaf (who reveals she’s made a simple script for showing the higher number of multiple anonymously entered), the questions they asked each other and what they were unsure of. He’s actually getting better at lecturing, Blue has to admit. Maybe it’s because the topic is so juicy, or maybe it’s all the teaching he’s been doing in Saffron.

In any case, the room is rapt, and once Red finishes and asks for questions so far, practically everyone raises their hand.

“Society has some things we accept people keeping secrets about, right?” Elaine asks when pointed to. “Like, there’s stuff we consider personal and private, that everyone has a right to.”

“Yeah, good point. There’s also, like therapists and priests, who are expected to keep secrets for others even if it seems bad to do so, unless it crosses some specific lines…”

“Private companies keep projects secret, governments keep security risks secret,” Glen adds.

“Family,” Satori says, a cup of strong tea in her hands. “Spouses. Expecting one spouse to keep secrets from another would be difficult, unless they had already discussed this.”

Red nods. “There’s a few things everyone just sort of accepts are okay secrets for people to keep, and part of what makes them okay is that people know, more or less, what sorts of secrets will be kept by whom.” He shrugs. “It seems like that’s outward facing, at least?”

“But would it be okay if, say, a therapist said ‘I can’t tell you about that, therapy stuff,’ if it’s not?”

“No,” Red says, shaking his head. “Also depending on the question, saying that even if it is therapy stuff would probably be revealing information they shouldn’t.”

“But then, going back to that thing you guys weren’t sure about as a general principle… is it okay to not say why you can’t tell someone something, and let them assume it’s therapy stuff?”

Red hesitates. “I… think so?”

“The alternative would be bad,” Leaf says. “If being maximally honest includes having to correct people’s misconceptions, it would be easy for a bad actor to exploit that.”

“Right.” Red looks around. “Jason, think you had your hand up next? Different question?”

“The numbers,” Jason asks, turning to Leaf. “If the consequences of not keeping things secret seems too high, why not check with the one who originally shared it first?”

“It would be good to, for sure. But that might not be possible, if it’s time sensitive.” Leaf worries her lower lip. “Also, sometimes just telling someone if it’s okay to share a secret with someone, in enough detail to check if they’re okay with it, could break the trust of the one who told you the secret.”

There are some looks around the room that show clear skepticism, or maybe intrigue, but Jason just nods. The next few questions go over how people should evaluate their priorities, which is pretty personal and hard to make rules for, and how to balance different kinds of responsibilities to different people.

“Sharing secrets can also be dangerous for the listener,” Elaine says, and something about how forcefully neutral her tone is makes Blue suddenly wonder if Elaine of all people is holding some big one. Aiko used to tease her for how expressive her face is, how eager she is to talk about any ideas she has… “How do you warn someone just how bad the danger might be, without giving some stuff away?”

“That’s a good question,” Red says, and then lapses into silence, glancing at Leaf, who’s focused on her buneary, frowning thoughtfully. Blue has no idea what to say either, so he looks at the rest of the room, which is mostly silent.

“Maybe we should have invited someone who keeps secrets for a living?” Lizzy asks, and looks at Red. “Your mom’s probably kept a lot of secrets for her job, right?”

“Yeah, but… well…”

Leaf sighs. “It’s fine, Red, let’s just call her.”

Blue thought Red was just embarrassed to bring his mom into things, but it seems Leaf knows something he doesn’t. Probably related to the secrets talk they already had… he wonders if they’ll tell him what it was about, and if not, what made them able to talk to each other about it but not him.

Red dials his mom, then puts his phone on speaker. “Good morning, Sweetie. To what do I owe the early pleasure?”

“Hi Mom, you’re on speaker phone with, uh, a lot of people. Are you free for a bit?”

“Sure, I can chat. Who, exactly…?”

“Blue—”

“Hey, Aunty.”

“—Leaf—”

“Hi, Laura!”

“—guys, this’ll take too long if you all… Glen, Elaine, Maria, Lizzy, Jason, Satori, and, uh, sorry—”

“Jamil.”

“Viraj.”

“—Jamil and Viraj, new friends of Blue’s, are all here too.”

The phone is silent for a moment before Aunt Laura speaks again, voice cautious. “Hello, everyone. What can I do for you all today?”

“Okay, so… we’ve all just been talking about some stuff.” Leaf covers her face, and Red nudges her with his elbow, which causes her to nudge him back until he holds his palms up in surrender. “Uh, meta-honesty stuff, basically, like, how to be honest without lying when there are some secrets you’ve got to keep, right?”

“O…kay…”

“And anyway a question came up, if you had to tell someone a secret, but the secret is dangerous for them to know, how do you make sure they know how dangerous it is before agreeing to hear it?”

The whole room is silent, until Lizzy’s flaafy lets out a baa.

“What was that?” Aunt Laura asks.

“Uh, our pokemon are here too.”

“Oh. Red, are you… should we…”

“No, I’m not in trouble. We could talk in private first, but honestly, this is just a question we were wondering and thought you’d know. No one is about to reveal any dangerous secrets.” Leaf elbows him again, and he elbows her back. “I’ll let you know first if I plan to.”

“…okay. So. No information given but the risk profile, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright, so… infohazards come in a number of forms, but I want to dispel the myth that probably just popped up in your heads, which are sometimes called cognitohazards. As far as I know, there aren’t any so bad that just learning them will cause the one who knows it permanent harm. Obviously I might say that even if not true to keep overly curious people, like my son, from going looking to test this.”

The room chuckles, and Red looks like he wants to object before he stops himself, looking torn.

“But in this case I can say, under the umbrella of meta-honesty, that I don’t know of any that act like that. I could be wrong, but the closest things to cognitohazards I’ve encountered are spoilers for movies and gross pictures.” Glen snorts, and Blue can hear the slight smile in Aunt Laura’s voice. “And minds can get used to even really gross things, over time. Still, it’s true that some ideas can lead to people having a few sleepless nights, maybe some existential dread now and then. On top of that, some people might turn down a lucrative job or stop being friends with someone if they learn of secret immoral behavior. I think considering that ‘harm’ is debatable, they still have a choice in the matter and by that standard any unpleasant knowledge would be considered a cognitohazard, but it’s still worth flagging as a concern.

“Next are infohazards related to behavior, and those can be further split into active vs passive. Some information is dangerous to share because it would allow bad people to actively do bad things more easily. Think of some technique for training renegade pokemon more easily, or an easy to recreate combination of household chemicals that would make a clear, odorless, lethal gas.

“A passive infohazard isn’t risky because of what people might do with the information, but just from having it. This seems to be more the sort of thing you all are talking about, since the danger is to the person being told the secret.”

They hear the sound of water bubbling, and after a few moments it fades before liquid is poured. Blue feels a nudge as Eevee settles up against his leg, and pets her as he glances around to see everyone else staring as intently at the phone as he was. The pokemon are picking up on their trainers’ moods, becoming more wary and protective.

“So, that danger itself can come in two major forms, which I call social and targeted.

“Social infohazards are secrets that, if people knew you had it, would cause problems for you. This usually arises from expectations that the information puts on you if you don’t act; for example, if you’re told that a friend is being cheated on, and you don’t tell them, you might be judged for it if it’s found out. This can also include more serious social issues, of course, like being told of renegade activity and not reporting it.

“Targeted infohazards paint a target on your back. These are secrets that might bring harm if people even just believe you might know it, maybe because they notice your behavior changed, maybe because a psychic senses that the person who told you the secret did so. We have to be really careful of these when investigating organized crime, of course.

“For both of these, the goal is to ensure the person learning the secret is aware of what they’re risking. So you ask them that. You go over all the different risks associated with secrets to make sure they have an idea of what could happen, so they can decide what they’re comfortable with.”

Red is frowning. “But…”

“I know. That’s where my own invention comes in; after you go over the different kinds of hazards, you make a new category. I call it a penalty infohazard. You ask them what the limit they’re willing to pay you in damages is, if the secret were the kind that would cost you money if it got out. Not if they reveal it, just if it got out at all.”

Leaf laughs. “Oh, that’s clever!”

Lizzy nods. “If they say they’re okay with cognitohazards and social infohazards but not targeted ones, and you don’t tell them the secret, they know which it was. But with this extra category that’s an automatic no for them…”

“Right,” Aunt Laura says. “They can’t know if their number just wasn’t high enough, regardless of what kind of secret it is. It’s content-neutral, so it could invalidate their willingness for any of them.”

“For people who know the trick, though,” Maria says. “Would this still work?”

“It’s not a trick, though I understand why you’d say so. There are in fact some secrets that would cause financial loss if they became public knowledge, like, say, a pokemon you have a lot of that’s about to lower drastically in value. Everyone got that?”

Red looks around to see everyone nodding. “We got it. This was great, thanks, Mom!”

“Thanks, Laura!”

“Thank you!”

The rest of the room choruses their appreciation, and Red’s mom is back to sounding a bit apprehensive. “You’re very welcome, I think. Let’s talk soon, alright Red?”

“Sure thing. Have a good day!”

“You too. Love you. Goodbye everyone.”

They say goodbye, and Red ends the call and sits back, looking deep in thought.

“Well,” Leaf says once people start shifting. “I think we’ve got a lot to chew on from all this, and most of you have to go soon, right? And I’ve got some morning chores to get to…”

“Yeah,” Blue stirs, then gets to his feet and stretches. “And I still haven’t had breakfast. Let’s meet at the dining hall, everyone.”

His journeymates start withdrawing their pokemon and say their goodbyes to Leaf and the psychics before heading out the door. “The plan is still on,” he tells Satori. “I just need to talk to Red first. Why don’t you go get some sleep until then?”

The sleepy girl looks like she’s about to argue, but only yawns instead before giving a resigned nod. She follows Jason and Maria out, leaving him with Red and Leaf.

When he turns to them they’re staring at each other, and he gets the feeling again of missing something. They’ve all had their own projects, their own social circles, their own schedules, but ever since the Hoenn incident he’s gotten used to feeling like they’d be on the same page about important stuff again. He knows he’s been particularly focused on his own stuff lately, but… if the two of them were not just holding their own secrets, but also sharing them while excluding him…

Sure, he was about to tell Red a secret that would leave Leaf out. But only until they figured out if it worked.

“Okay guys, what’s been going on with you two?”

“What? Nothing,” Red says, too quickly. “What do you mean?”

Leaf rolls her eyes, though she’s smiling as she glances at Red’s flustered expression. “There’s some stuff Red may have discovered that might be relevant to something I’ve been working on.”

“If it’s important enough that you had to design that number thing, I want in.” If it’s just about the tech Leaf’s been working on to recreate sakki he doesn’t think that would be necessary, and besides he already knows about it. The only other recent big thing that’s been going on are those crazy psychic dreams, but he has no idea what that might have to do with Leaf.

Red frowns. “That’s not… we just had this whole talk—”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m not saying I’ll be pissed if I’m kept out of the loop.” He’d be irritated, maybe a little hurt, if he’s being honest. “I’m just flagging it, you know? If there’s anything I can do to help…”

“Of course,” Leaf rubs her buneary’s ears. “We just have to figure out if there is something first. I’ve sent a message to a certain someone who might shed some light on things, but they haven’t responded yet.”

“And my own research has been inconclusive too,” Red says, tone so careful that Blue can’t help but force a gasp, which makes Red turn to him in panicked surprise.

Blue’s laugh sets Leaf to giggling, and Red’s scowl quickly breaks into chuckles of his own, and Blue feels a little better. Maybe from the sign that they haven’t shared secrets yet, are still figuring out if they even have one to share, or maybe just from the laughter.

“Ah, fuck it.” He’ll take his chances, so long as they’re willing to. “I have to go, but first… let’s do the thing Aunt Laura mentioned. What sorts of secrets are you guys okay with hearing?”

Leaf and Red exchange looks, then look away, expressions growing thoughtful on Red’s part and cautious on Leaf’s. He gets Eevee’s ball and plays fetch with her for a bit while they think, thinking over his own. Being Dark means he doesn’t have to worry about most of the things people hearing secrets do… though come to think of it, given what Satori told him this morning, that might not always be true.

The thought is a strange one, and an exciting one, and a frightening one too. He’s had years to get used to the idea that he’ll never be able to teleport, never be fully trusted by some people. He’s barely had one to start to appreciate the value he’s gotten in return.

But he’s jumping to conclusions. For now, he should take for granted that secrets are safe with him. Which means…

“I’m okay with cognitohazards,” Red says. “I mean, I can just amnesia it if I need to, but even without that.”

“Big surprise there,” Leaf says with a smile, then nods. “Me too. If something is true, I want to know it. I trust myself to deal with the implications of it, and living in blissful ignorance… I mean, if I’m in a really fragile place, emotionally, maybe I’d want to wait a bit. But outside of that, I’m game.”

“Same,” Blue says. “Also fine with the rest of it.”

“Even target hazards?” Red asks, brow raised, at the same time that Leaf asks, “Even Social…?”

Blue chuckles along with them, then shrugs. “Yeah, both. I get it, I’m careful with my image, but… I’d rather know what sorts of social blowups are potentially around me. As for becoming a target… I’m an Oak. I’d like to see who thinks they can get away with putting one on my back. If one of you is in trouble, I’d want to help.”

They’re silent at that, for a moment, then Leaf sets her buneary down and stands to walk over for a hug. He returns it, only feeling a little embarrassed until Red joins them a moment later. He almost tells them not to make such a big deal out of it, but his friend’s expression looks deeply moved, and Blue decides to just shut up and let them hug him for a bit.

Blue’s embarrassment is just starting to grow when Red and Leaf pull away, and he clears his throat. “Uh, money stuff… I guess I’d rather not pay more than ten thousand? Not without some details of how important the secret is, I guess, which maybe those ‘how bad is this’ numbers are helpful for too.”

“Five thousand for me,” Red says. “And, uh… I’m fine with the other kinds of infohazards too.”

“Same,” Leaf says. “Except, don’t tell me active infohazards that might be dangerous in the wrong hands. I don’t trust my mental defenses that well. And, oh, I think I’d be okay with paying more. Let’s say ten thousand too.”

Blue frowns. “Hey, I didn’t mean to—”

“We did this wrong from the beginning,” Red says. “We should have written our answers out, then shared them. But I don’t regret it. Everything you said… these probably aren’t my standards for everyone, but for you guys, yeah. I’d want to know if you were in trouble too.”

“Same,” Leaf says.

Blue can’t help but grin at them. They’re still connected. He shouldn’t have doubted them.

Though now he has a problem. His secret is one Leaf can’t hear, but if he tells her that, she’ll know what kind it is. The number thing doesn’t work, he realizes, if they share them publicly like this and the person not okay with a certain kind of secret gives a higher number than the other.

Red’s right, they did it wrong. But he doesn’t regret it either, and in this case it’s an easy fix, thankfully. He’ll point out the extra flaw to them later.

“Right, I’m off to eat, then. Got a scenario after, so… let’s talk more later?”

“Sure.”

“You got it.”

They collect their pokemon and head out together. Once they’ve teleported away, Blue messages Red and tells him to come back in a few hours.

They’ve got some training to do.


It’s surprisingly hard for Red to remember what fearing for his life is like.

Not impossible, of course. A few situations stand out more than others, and with some concentration he can practically relive the moments of desperation. But the older the memories, the less sharp they are… with two exceptions. The night of the storm, with Pressure beating against his mind like a drum of fear, and the night of the incident, trapped in the casino rubble, desperation filling every moment.

“The real trick is projecting those feelings onto an abra without them teleporting away,” Red explains as he takes a break and Blue sprays some ether onto a berry and feeds it to Tops. “Being indoors helps ensure they can’t, and the pokeball conditioning makes them somewhat less likely to want to… around a normal trainer, at least. Since he can’t sense you, running away is still registering as the best option. Keeping him focused on fighting is difficult, he’s already fighting an instinct that says the best thing to do when in danger is make use of the nearly foolproof defense mechanism he’s had since birth.”

“I get it,” Blue says. “If this is too hard on you—”

“I can do it,” Red insists, and takes a deep breath. They’d only been at it for an hour, and while they can test the theory with another pokemon, abra would show the clearest signs of unusually quick growth. “I just need to find the right balance.”

Hearing about Koichi’s theory was fascinating, and horrifying. Red understands immediately why Blue didn’t tell Leaf; as he’d guessed, it had to do with pokemon welfare, but on top of that, it’s definitely a secret she would regret leaking if some psychic picked it up from her.

The implications, if it is true… well, he’d think about those later, once they have some data.

“Balance,” Blue muses. “Maybe not, if you mean balanced fear. Try a memory of when you were sure death was close, but you fought anyway.”

Red considers this, then sorts through every brush with death in his memory again, from the pikachu swarm in Viridian, to lying injured in the Rocket Casino basement as the renegades approached, to the pack of growlithe that nearly burned him to a crisp during one of the recent attacks near Saffron.

He sinks into those moments as best he can. Fear so strong he could taste it, metallic and suffocating. A trembling in his limbs, tightness in his chest, the urge to move fighting paralysis. He was able to make himself, time and again; he just needs to communicate why in a feeling that abra understands, particularly since fighting back for him involved doing things abra don’t, and abra fighting involves doing things he doesn’t.

If only abra had some killer instinct, but the sakki would be worse than useless here, and Red can’t exactly send his own, since…

“You just realized something.”

“I, uh… may have, yeah. Do you… want to kill pokemon when you fight them? Or hurt them, even?”

Blue furrows his brow, and after a moment shrugs. “Once in a while, after one of my pokemon gets hurt, or killed.”

And now Red remembers…

…”It has lightscreen!” Leaf yelled, and he knew her well enough to hear the way she was pushing past her heartbreak over the pokemon they’d just lost, past the Pressure making her feel guilty for fighting at all…

…”Be ready,” Red said, voice rough as his blood sang with a rage more primal than anything he’d felt before as he/Charmeleon opened their mouths and breathed death at their enemy…

…a time when he wanted his opponent not just disabled or captured, but dead. It wasn’t his feeling, not really, but he felt it as much as he could through his bond with Charmeleon, and maybe that’s enough.

Can abra feel rage? He supposes there’s one way to find out.

But rage wouldn’t be enough, according to this theory; what matters is the genuine fear for his life. Luckily, while being bonded with Charmeleon under the effects of sakki would normally wipe that away, the Pressure ensured he still felt it.

The only problem is he never deliberately created a memory of that mental state, which means he can’t perfectly reproduce and project it. He’d need to find another source of Pressure…

He almost asks Blue if he can reach out to the rangers he helped catch the absol, see if they’d let them run an experiment with it, then realizes it wouldn’t matter; he wouldn’t feel the same way he did in Vermilion, Pressure feels different depending on context and what you’re feeling in that moment. The best he can do is try to project from the memory.

“I’m going again,” Red says, and takes a deep breath before recalling that mental state as best he could… then merges with Tops and projects it onto the abra, who starts to tremble. Red’s own body twitches in sympathy, voice strained as he says, “Go.”

“Tops, Pa!”

Red feels the attack get sent out in a burst of confusing sensations (as always, he can almost feel what a pokemon is doing when it uses kinesis… almost) coupled with fear… and something else, something that’s not quite rage, but it’s enough to keep the abra focused on its opponent.

Red’s Drowzee twitches from the attack, barely hurt… but, for the first time, hurt, while the abra was in a state of mortal fear.

He lets the emotions go with a rush of breath, wiping sweat from his brow and smiling in triumph as he opens his eyes and sees Blue grinning just as wide as he slaps Red on the back. “I knew you could do it. Let’s see how many blasts it can send out like this!”

Red nods, and focuses on the abra again, doing his best to ignore the trembling in abra’s limbs as he remerges their minds. If this actually works, he could train his pokemon faster without putting them in mortal danger.

He can be ready, the next time a friend needs him to be stronger.

Chapter 104: Secrets

“Sabrina seems tired.”

Red glances at Rei, who sits casually in the carseat beside him with her gaze out the window, then looks back at his notebook and finishes writing out his thought before closing it with a sigh and a nod. “I haven’t seen her this exhausted since after the Hoenn incident.”

He’s still not sure what his relationship with Sabrina’s ex-student is these days. “Co-conspirator” seems the best one that fits; they’re not exactly friends, not exactly peers, and not exactly coworkers, but once in a while Giovanni or Sabrina want something done that requires a psychic, and both seem happy to offer their employee/student to the other if the job requires more than one, or if the other is busy. It’s often a great learning opportunity, and many of the tasks involve putting Red in new situations, facing new challenges for his growing abilities. He’s helped test young psychics in Viridian to see if they had the Gift and get a sense of their abilities, and once even helped diagnose someone who was hit with a mental attack. It felt strange handing someone the same form Psychic Narud gave him a year ago.

Today they’re interviewing psychics who have had The Dream.

It’s hard not to think of the words in capital letters after they’ve shown up in the media that way for weeks, and some part of Red insists this is totally normal given how momentous it all is.

He barely paid attention to it all until it started hitting entire cities, and then Agatha’s interview made it impossible to ignore as the “new central narrative of their time,” to quote some pundit or the other… and if he’s being honest, he’s getting a little sick of living through so many of those, even if this one is relevant to his interests.

Maybe he just wants some breathing room before the next massive and/or mysterious potential calamity rears its head.

Last week was the anniversary of the start of his journey, and the three of them all went back to Pallet to have a small but warm celebration with his mom, Daisy, and the Professor… as well as a surprise visit from Leaf’s mother and grandfather, who were fun to finally meet. Once he (more or less) finished peppering them with questions and answered a number of theirs (it was mildly shocking, despite everything, to hear that both Professors had read not just his papers but the loose collection of writing that passed for his blog), the conversation turned to what’s been going on in Kanto and throughout the island chain, which the Junipers of course followed on two different levels.

Eventually Leaf asked if it’s always been like this and she only just started noticing once she started her journey, and Daisy complained that her journey only had one world-changing discovery during it, while Professor Oak admitted that his own coincided with a fair few, but not so close together, which Cedric agreed with. Leaf’s mother said hers had basically none, which in retrospect she’s rather happy about.

None of course were anything like the Hoenn incident. It’s hard to know how much of what’s happened since can be truly traced back to it, and whether the incident itself was the result of some other series of events set in motion long ago, but Red wonders how much of his life is going to end up shaped by it.

“It set her back a lot,” Red says. “And then there was the ditto thing.”

“So you think it’s just been catch-up?” Rei says.

“She’s finally finished her Challenger backlog.” Red remembers mentioning her shift in focus to Blue a few weeks ago, who just smiled and implied it was part of some deal he’d struck with her. “It’s kept her busy on top of everything else.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

He turns to see her eyes on him now, and lowers his shields enough for a tentative probe that senses her curiosity, layered over a deep worry. “I don’t think she’s had it yet, if that’s what you mean. Not unless she’s sleeping in other cities, or she got it without the rest of us.”

“She could have been one of the initial ones, when it was just going to powerful psychics.”

Red smiles. “You don’t really believe that.”

“Believe what?”

“That it was just going to ‘powerful’ psychics at first, because you consider yourself one and you didn’t get it either.”

Rei smiles back in acknowledgement. “The only alternative that makes sense is fame, and yet we’re supposed to believe one of the most famous psychics in Kanto didn’t get it?”

“Why would she lie?”

“To you, you mean?”

“To anyone, at this point.” Red doesn’t ask why she’s so curious, given that her days of obsessing over Sabrina are supposed to be behind her; he’s been curious too.

“What if she got a different dream than everyone else?”

“Has that happened to anyone?”

“Would we know if it had?”

“Wild speculation, then.”

“If you have a better hypothesis…”

The car slows to a stop, and they step out in front of a small house with a white picket fence and a well kept lawn. Cerulean South is just as Red remembers it, mostly suburbs that stretch out in every direction, and he feels a quick squeeze in his chest as he sees the road he, Blue and Leaf traveled down to the bike store where they met Aiko.

But just a quick one, and then he’s breathing again as they walk up to the house and ring the bell.

It takes a minute for the young man to answer, and when he does it’s with a furtive look through the chain link lock before he opens it more fully.

“Hello,” Rei says. She always does the talking at first; she’s older and looks more professional, which makes sense to older folk, and she’s also not famous, which means those people who know Red by sight (mostly younger psychics) are less likely to ask him questions about himself if he’s not the one who starts talking. Instead he just focuses on his notebook unless he has a question to ask. “Mr. Garcia? I’m Rei, we spoke on the phone.”

“Yes, come in, please…”

They enter the man’s home and sit on his couch. Red accepts tea, mostly because it seems like the sort of thing that would calm their host’s obvious nerves. His features are drawn, his gaze constantly either a million miles away or darting nervously around, and he twitches occasionally, head tilting in an almost desperate attempt to hear something, or convince himself he can’t hear anything.

Red’s seen it all before, but not this bad. The Dream can often have that effect on people, but usually it’s temporary, particularly since a lot of psychics just amnesia themselves of it; there’s been a rush on lessons for that and other lessons in Saffron as laypsychics who’ve only marginally explored their powers are suddenly much more interested in ensuring it’s not used against them again.

“So,” Rei says after declining her own offer of tea. “Tell us what you hoped Leader Sabrina could do for you.”

“Well, I’m ah, not sure. I’m a sensitive, like I said, not a full psychic… I ah, wish I could just… forget, you know? If it’s possible at all… I heard it’s possible… I thought surely, she could…”

The pleading in his tone makes Red’s stomach clench. He still remembers what Narud said about one psychic giving another amnesia; like surgery done with fingers, or similar. Whatever Mr. Garcia heard, it’s clearly not as deterring… or maybe his experience is just that bad.

“It’s possible,” Rei says, tone neither flat nor sympathetic, merely delivering logistical information. Red asked her once, way back when they were trying to crack “perfect lying” together, why she doesn’t try being more friendly, and she gave him an assessing look and said that she forgets how young he is sometimes, and he decided not to ask for clarification until he could figure out whether he said something insulting or if she did. “But it would be a risky procedure that most psychics would not wish to attempt, even skilled ones. We will, however, ensure Sabrina knows of your suffering.”

“Thank you.”

“Meanwhile, we would like to learn what we can about your experience in more detail.”

“Yes, yes of course. Well, to start it’s been… ah, like I said, the first dream, in Goldenrod… it was bad, but not, you know. Wrecked my concentration for the rest of the week, but the important business was already done… drank a bit more after the meetings to help me sleep, and by the time I came home, it was… easier. To put it behind me.”

Garcia swallows, then drinks some tea, swallows again. “The second time was like… it was… it’s like, because I tried so hard to forget before, I got punished. And now it’s etched in there.” He taps his temple. “To make sure I don’t, this time.”

“But the dream itself was the same?” Rei asks as Red makes a note to point out whether recognizing that a whole city got it clearly points to bad luck rather than any evidence of fault. “Please think over your answer, and don’t hesitate to voice uncertainty; you’re the only person we know of so far who has experienced it twice, and even the slightest difference may be useful to us.”

“It… I’m sorry, I’ll take a moment…” He closes his eyes, mouth set in a firm frown as Red finishes making another note about how they should put out a general call for psychics to record themselves while sleeping in case they talk in their sleep during the dream.

As the silence stretches out, Red can’t help but send out a tentative, instinctual psychic feeler that picks up on something like… pain.

Red almost pulls back, but Garcia doesn’t shift to any of the exercises he mentioned knowing to reduce unwanted psychic contact, so he feels the way Garcia is struggling against strongly aversive thoughts.

Not painful the way an embarrassing memory or recollection of grief is painful… more the pain of dread, of a potential hopelessness that’s only held at bay by a lack of close examination. Once he understands it, Red quickly pulls his thoughts away as Garcia starts to speak again. “I think so, it’s… hard to tell, but the second time was… more forceful. It was like… things were clearer, but… maybe that’s just because I—”

“Remember, no filter, no second guessing. Just share whatever notions come up. Yes or no: was it more forceful?”

“Y-yes.”

“Was it more desperate?”

“Y…no. I’m not—” He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. “If I have to choose, no. Not more desperate. I’m not sure how that fits with it being more forceful, but…”

“It’s alright. Remember, it doesn’t have to make sense.”

“Did it feel like the same projector?” Red asks, writing the question out as he says it. “I know that’s hard to tell from just two samples, but again as best you can tell—”

“Yes, same projector. Their thoughts were… distinct. Strong. It really was like hearing words, not just getting ideas and impressions. I’m more sure than I would be with just anyone.”

Red frowns as he makes a quick note, then flips to another page and crosses out one of his hypotheses before returning to his current one. “And… was the order of the dream the same? Like did it all happen in the same sequence of words, impressions, feelings, whatever?”

“Oh. No?” Garcia considers another moment, then shakes his head. “N-no. It was subtle, and… some things stayed in the same order, but I have… two versions in my head, for the sequence of both.”

“But nothing was added to the second one, or obviously missing?”

“No.”

He’s getting more confident, which is heartening to see, but thinking about the dream does seem to still cause discomfort. Rei probably sensed it too, one way or the other, because she gives him a sympathetic smile before saying, “We have one last request, if you’re feeling willing. We’d like to experience this dream ourselves as best we can, despite not having had it.”

Garcia understands immediately, knuckles turning white as he clenches his hands around each other. “Oh… I…”

“Preferably twice each, so that Red and I are not merged at once and influencing each other’s impressions.”

“I… I think I…”

Red feels a tightening in his chest as the man’s stutter gets worse, and with rising alarm realizes the older man is on the verge of tears. “Hey, uh, I think it’s okay actually. From what you’ve described it doesn’t seem like it was different enough to be really necessary.”

Garcia’s whole body sags, and he takes a deep breath. “A-alright, then.”

Rei’s irritation is only evident mentally, but all she says is, “I believe that’s all, then. Thank you for your time.”

“One more thing,” Red quickly adds. “Uh, I mean I’m not claiming to know anything here that you don’t, but if you’re thinking that any of this is, like, a punishment or something…” Red remembers, suddenly, the young man in Vermilion City during the storm, who felt Zapdos’s pressure as divine punishment for something he was guilty about and grieving over. “Since entire cities got it both times you did, I think it’s probably just bad luck?”

“Luck,” Garcia sighs. “Right.” He sounds… tired, rather than relieved.

Before Red can decide to add something else or not Rei gets to her feet, and he quickly finishes his tea before joining her while Garcia pushes himself up as well, seeming a little surprised that it’s actually over so quickly. After unlocking the door he pauses and turns to them, seeming to build up his courage. “You will… tell Sabrina? Or… others, about my…”

“Yes, of course.”

“Th-thank you. I’ve been getting… desperate, lately. Had th-thoughts of… of training a drowzee, to… to—”

A shot of alarm races through Red as he realizes what’s being confessed, thoughts scrambling for something to keep the man from admitting he’s thinking of breaking a renegade law, until to his relief Rei puts a hand on Garcia’s shoulder, gently squeezing. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Sir. We’ll do our best to figure something else out.”

It’s the most compassionate thing Red’s ever seen her do, and the man looks ready to cry again as he bobs his head, then whispers, “Thank you.”

Rei gives his shoulder a light pat before pulling her arm back, and he opens the door for them. Red gives one last small wave, and then they step out of the house and start walking in a random direction together, simply seeking privacy to discuss what they learned before each teleports back to their respective cities.

“Thoughts?” Rei asks after a minute.

“I’m becoming more and more convinced Agatha was right with her first guess,” Red says. “When I look at the evidence, the best explanation that fits is that an individual is doing all this.”

“Go on.”

Red reviews his notes, ticking each point off on a finger. “It’s never repeated in a city, and it’s never hit the same place twice once it stopped targeting individuals. Why do that? The second dream wasn’t exactly like the first in minor details but not major ones—”

“Allegedly.”

He frowns at her. “Come on, in that state could we really have trusted what he re-experienced?”

“Perhaps not, but it still might have been valuable.”

Red thinks through all the previous times he experienced the memories of someone’s dream through merger and shrugs. “I can’t imagine how, given the way it all fades into a background blur of impressions for me anyway.” Which, after seeing Mr. Garcia, he suddenly feels thankful for. He doesn’t feel like he particularly needs another traumatic experience in his life right now, curious as he is to know what having the Dream himself would be like.

“Mm. Well, you’re right that trauma responses are hard to predict. I’m sorry, I interrupted you as you were saying…”

Red checks his notes again. “Right, there’s also the ramp up from individuals. It’s like someone hoped that just telling some important people would be enough, at first.”

“There’s nothing stopping a hypothetical spirit or god from being mistaken about something, or poor at planning.”

“Sure, but what actual value does that explanation add, then? It’s meant to answer the question of how someone can know what the dream insists is true, and how they can transmit it like this. But if it seems like it’s making errors similar to what a human would anyway, then we shouldn’t be as impressed. Whatever sent the dreams either didn’t realize they would be hitting the same person twice in Cerulean, or they didn’t care, or they didn’t have the ability not to and still cover the city.”

“Your focus is on the wrong part of the explanation. There’s no actual reason why a non-human entity should be expected to not fall into any of those categories.” Rei shrugs. “Your models implicitly assume any non-human entity is infinitely more benevolent or capable along some dimension, rather than more capable along one or two, and that seems irrational to me.”

Red scratches his neck as he tries to fit the concept of it into his brain. It feels wrong somehow, but he can’t really think of why, and has to admit it might just be expectation. “Alright, yeah, that might be fair. I still say it’s more likely to be a human with a uniquely powerful projection though.”

“Which you believe they’re hiding because it would mark their circumstances more similar to yours.”

Red shrugs, not bothering to deny it. It’s hard not to sympathize with someone who has a unique psychic talent that others might fear, even if they weren’t putting themselves at risk to spread some vital truth… or rather, something they believe is a vital truth. He doesn’t know how they became aware of the Dream’s threat themselves, but it must have been convincing enough to have them risk their own anonymity, which is an extra weight on how persuasive the threat is.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems far more reasonable to me that a human wouldn’t want people to know who they are than a spirit or whatever. If anything knowing it’s not a person would make the message more convincing, so if they understand anything about human psychology—”

“Which they might not.”

“—sure, which they might not, but then how did they know to target the most famous psychics first? Even putting aside the projector’s city-wide power, some people just don’t like the spotlight, which yes I personally relate to, but it’s still true.”

“Mm. Isn’t there a movie being made about you?”

“Hey, that was Blue and Leaf’s idea. I can feel uncomfortable about it and still agree it’s a good idea.”

“But surely the rational thing to do would be to become comfortable with it once you recognize it’s a good idea?”

“No, I can have different parts that each have a valuable perspective on something, and I can feel a certain way and still recognize—oh you’re messing with me aren’t you.”

“Just a little.” Rei slows to a stop and unclips a pokeball, and Red matches her. “I’m off to Viridian. Do let me know if Sabrina has anything interesting to add.”

“Same to you with Giovanni.” He wonders if she actually would, given he’s her boss rather than her teacher, but if she does he’s happy to reciprocate, assuming it’s nothing he thinks Sabrina would mind being shared. “Until next time.”

A few minutes later he’s knocking on Sabrina’s office door, then entering as she calls out to come in. The Leader does look tired, and more than a little distracted… but there’s something else, too. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s almost like she has more drive than she used to. He’d be worried she’s entering a manic phase if she wasn’t still so clearly in control of herself.

“So?” she says as he sits and accepts his second tea cup of the hour. “Is it bad?”

“Very, Sensei. I know it shouldn’t be done lightly, but if you saw him yourself I think you’d agree that he needs help.”

She sighs. “I’d rather wait at least a week to see if he starts to recover on his own, particularly if he can find a psychic therapist, but after that… I’ll see what I can do. Any new insights into the dreams themselves?”

“I can send you my notes—”

“Your takeaway is good enough for now.”

Red nods. “Nothing really meaningful. He says it’s more urgent now, but… that could just be from having had it before.”

“Of course. Well, it was worth a try—”

“Actually, Sensei, there is something else, but it’s not directly from Mr. Garcia.” She raises a brow and gestures for him to continue. “I’ve been thinking about this since Agatha’s interview, and after talking to Rei about it I’m pretty convinced that this doesn’t seem to be a supernatural source.” He quickly summarizes his points from before, then adds, “I didn’t mention this to her, but if it is a psychic with a unique ability, or a semi-unique one, like we talked about… well, would you have any guess for who it could be?”

Sabrina’s gaze shifted away from him at some point while he was talking, and she’s still looking into the distance, hands steepled on the desk. Red waits, though he does send out a psychic feeler to confirm that her shield is fully solid.

What’s unsettling Red at this point isn’t how long it’s taking to answer, but why she didn’t just lie.

She should have, if she’s protecting someone’s identity. Spending this much time thinking over her answer, however, would make it hard to believe if she said no now, even if she claimed to just have been searching her memory; she doubtless has had this thought already before he brought it up.

And she should know this, and yet she’s still seemingly paralyzed by some thought or emotion or decision.

“Sensei,” Red says after a moment of mustering his courage. “Why do you think you didn’t get the dream?” It’s the closest he can come to asking if Rei was right about Sabrina lying about it.

The Leader’s eyes flick to his, then away again, then back, and this time they hold. “I don’t know. But I suspect it’s because the one sending the dreams is… one of my ex-students.”

Even expecting it, the confirmation halts Red’s breath for a moment, then sends his pulse racing as new questions start to crowd his thoughts. “Have you… mentioned them before?”

“Yes, though I didn’t mention they had this ability. Because they didn’t, at the time. But it still seems likely to be them.”

“Who are they?”

“Not someone you would know.”

Something suddenly clicks, and Red asks, “The one who disappeared after Hoenn?”

Sabrina stares at him for a moment, then another, again too long. “What makes you say that?”

“I don’t…” It takes him a moment to piece together the intuition. “You’ve been a certain way, ever since then. Half grieving, I think.” He recognized it well enough, good as she was at controlling it. “But you’re not anymore. I thought it was just because of the new mystery of the dreams, but… how do you… why do you suspect it’s them?”

“The best evidence I have is that I didn’t get the dream, and that Saffron hasn’t either.”

Red blinks. “You think they’re avoiding you? Does that mean they were never really lost?”

“It’s… hard to say. I thought we were on good terms. But given all this… how much trust could there really have been?”

Red doesn’t know what to say to that, besides, “At least they’re alive.”

“Maybe. And I could be wrong, of course. It could be a coincidence. I’ve been trying to sleep all night, just in case it’s Saffron’s turn next, but it’s hard to fall asleep when I’m anticipating what might happen if I do.” She shrugs. “I can amnesia the expectation to help me fall asleep, of course, but I want to experience it knowing what it is, wake from it with my full memories intact.”

Red tries to decide whether he should be tactful or inquisitive at the moment, but he’s still not sure what might be comforting rather than presumptuous; he doesn’t know enough about the situation, or their relationship, and asking might be digging. “Blue and I were, you know, on the outs for a while. Maybe there’s still a chance of mending bridges? Especially if you don’t know why they’re upset with you…”

“I can guess.” Sabrina smiles. “I appreciate it, Red, but the situation is rather complicated, and I’m not really in the mood to discuss it. Ask what you want to ask.”

Red smiles back, a bit self-conscious but also grateful. “Do you know what they want? Why they’re doing this?”

“If you’re asking whether I think we can trust the dream, it’s hard to tell without having the dream myself, but… yes. I think so. Whatever they learned, it was enough to make them put themself at serious risk.”

Red leans forward. “I was right then? It’s someone like me?”

For some reason that makes her laugh, brief but with a startled quality that makes it warmer. “Not like you, no. But not entirely unlike, in terms of secrets.”

“Maybe I can reach out to them, let them know what we’ve been planning!”

Again Sabrina pauses, expression sobering before she sighs. “If you can find a way to contact them, I wish you luck. But they might avoid you out of principle given that you know me. And no, I can’t tell you any more about why that is. I’m sorry, Red, I don’t mean to be mysterious, but some things are private.”

“I understand.” Mostly. “Still, if they have any other friends that you haven’t checked with recently…?”

Sabrina shakes her head. “They’ve lived a fairly isolated life. Most of their interactions with others came from their psychic abilities, which were quite powerful. Since they weren’t taught not to invade people’s privacy, they had many acquaintances that they knew quite well, but never got particularly close to any of them.”

“Sounds lonely.” Something about this description is tickling the back of Red’s mind, and after a moment he gives a wan smile. “Reminds me a bit of the story Leaf’s been writing, actually.”

“She writes fiction too?”

“Yeah, been publishing it online. I don’t know where she finds time, but it’s about a half-human psychic pokemon who’s sapient and gets raised in a lab—”

The next few moments can be measured in heartbeats, but feel eternal.

Sabrina’s eyes went wide at the words half-human psychic pokemon, wider than he’s ever seen them, wider than when he told her his secrets, and she sucked in a sharp breath at raised in a lab, mouth going slack.

It lasts just a second before her lips close, her features smooth, and her posture shifts back toward relaxed attentiveness, all so smoothly he would have missed it if he blinked.

“—that learns… about people through…” Whatever Red was going to say next has been blown out of his mind by the shock of seeing Sabrina react so strongly, and the suspicion of what she’s just done.

Red, you are the worst liar!

It’s barely even a decision, in the end.

And then…

“…through those working in the lab around it.”

“Interesting,” Sabrina says, and sips her tea. “That does sound lonely, yes.” Sabrina’s gaze is distant again, and after a moment she frowns and shifts. “I’m sorry, Red, I’ve just remembered a call I need to make. Thank you for the debrief.”

“Oh, sure.” He’s still curious about her student, but whether there’s really a call or not, he knows a dismissal when he hears one and heads to his room for a shower.

He’s just taken his shoes off when the partition drops, along with the amnesia’d memory of Sabrina’s reaction.

“Oh shit,” Red breathes as he drops onto his bed. “Holy shit. Holy fuck.”

Sabrina’s student was a lab experiment.

There are labs studying psychics, probably helping develop unusual psychic powers.

Because of course there are.

And of course Sabrina would know about them maybe she even comes from one that’s why she can see psychic colors sometimes and she amnesia’d herself mid-conversation because she was reacting too much so it must be super secret, way more secret than what they’ve already told each other, and holy fucking shit what is he going to do with this information?

Who did she suddenly remember she had to call?

What would she do if she knew Red knows?

Suspects. I don’t know anything.

Her reaction replays in his memory, and he feels something twisting in his gut. He could be wrong, but… he doesn’t think Sabrina would have reacted like that to just an unusual or interesting story idea. Maybe he’s wrong about a lot of it, maybe it’s not ongoing and just somewhere she and her friend were raised together or something. Hell, Sabrina might have helped shut it down.

But the idea of a psychic going around secretly projecting a warning instead of outing himself makes even more sense, with this explanation.

He’s halfway through taking out his journal when he realizes it might be a terrible idea to write any of this out, then remembers that there’s someone else he should be talking to and pulls out his phone.

“Hey Leaf, are you free? Yeah I’m fine, just want to talk. In person. Yeah, been a while since we hung out at the ranch, right? Exactly. Great, see you soon!”

A minute later he’s on the roof, and a few seconds after that he’s at the ranch. He looks around, then starts pacing as he waits, then summons Charmeleon and practices some battle maneuvers. After two months of fairly frequent battles with wild pokemon, his starter now stands as tall as his shoulders, tail long enough to curl around its body. It’s a little disconcerting, sometimes, to be able to meet that fierce blue gaze so easily now.

“Been a while since I could keep berries out of your reach, huh boy?” He feeds Charmeleon some poffins, other hand rubbing the base of his pokemon’s crest bone. “Not that I ever really could, with your climbing powers.”

Charmeleon gives a crooning-growl as he licks Red’s palm clean, and then there’s a distant pop as Leaf arrives nearby.

“Hey, Red!” She withdraws her abra and walks over with a worried smile and furrowed brow. “I’m assuming I interpreted that call right and this isn’t just a hang out?”

“Yeah.” It’s always good to see her, and while the circumstances don’t allow him to take much time enjoying her company, he can’t help but just smile for a moment, happy to see her and be near her. She also looks tired, and he knows that along with all her other work, she’s been helping with local incidents too. It makes him worry about her, but he knows she can take care of herself. So he sends her that mental impression, and she returns his smile.

Over the past few months they’ve had a few more moments like the one at his mom’s apartment after the tower, moments where he felt like he could say something, or should say something, about how he feels. But instead he’s just projected parts of it, careful to use his partitions to keep from sending the whole thing at once. It feels easier not to break his promise and check how she feels as long as he can be open about his own, now and then. She’s also seemed to appreciate it, so the idea of doing anything more explicit feels… scary. “Sorry, were you busy? Because—”

“I can chat for a bit,” she says as she unclips a pokeball. “Though I have to get back soon for a meeting.”

“How soon? This might be important.”

Leaf bites her lower lip. “I can probably make it there so long as I leave within about twenty minutes? I can’t really risk more, since it’s with my Fuchsia friend…”

Ah, Mom’s informant. “And you can’t really call and tell them you’ll be late, yeah… well, that should be enough for covering the basics at least. It’s about your story.”

Leaf’s hand pauses from where it’s moving from her belt to an outstretched position. It’s only for a moment, but he was watching it, and her voice is carefully controlled when she says, “Go, Raff!” and then “What about the story?”

It’s a struggle not to send his senses out, to sample her mood at least. He and Sabrina’s other students have taught Leaf what they could for completely non-psychic defenses, and she’s good at them, so a full merger might not be particularly helpful anyway if she’s actively trying to keep him out.

Still, he’s curious enough to almost try before reminding himself that he promised not to. The thought that Leaf might lie to him feels like a stone in his gut, probably all the heavier because of how many things he’s been keeping from her.

He watches her take out a training tool (and toy), basically an elastic and tough cord that pokemon can play tug-of-war with. It’s mostly meant for fighting pokemon, but they’ve found that others enjoy it too; both starters are already looking at it with anticipation, and a quick command from their trainers has them gripping the ends in their mouths and pulling.

Normally they’d be cheering their pokemon on, but there’s an awkward silence between them now, and after another moment Red decides to just be straightforward. “Alright, so I’m not really sure how else to say this, and I get that there might be some things you can’t tell me. But… uh… is your story inspired by something you’ve been looking into?”

Leaf raises a brow. “When you say ‘looking into,’ what exactly do you…”

She trails off, and, before Red can say anything, sighs and rubs her eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do this part well with friends. It feels gross.”

“I know what you mean,” Red says, maybe a bit too earnestly. “I’m sorry too, I don’t know how else to ask, but I think it’s important. When you started it you said it was just something you were experimenting with to help people empathize with pokemon better, and I’m not saying that’s like, a lie or anything, but if, uh, if there really were like, secret labs training psychics—”

“Oh!” Leaf bursts into laughter, and for a moment Red feels sweeping, glorious relief… until her laughter cuts off, and her eyes widen as she stares at him. “Oh… Swords of Justice, there are secret psychic labs—

“No no, that’s double counting!” Red holds his palms out, one still slick with Charmeleon’s saliva. “I have no evidence that there are, if you just made it up then it’s probably nothing, it’s just… uh, maybe I shouldn’t say—”

“Red this is important!”

“I know, but—wait, is it important because you do know something, or—”

She tries once again to keep her face blank, but Leaf is no Sabrina, and after a moment she mutters “Fuck!” and covers her face with both hands. “We never tell anyone about this.”

“Agreed. Definitely not going in the second movie.”

She starts giggling, and then they’re both laughing as Charmeleon and Raff continue to tug at the rope, jaws occasionally gnawing for better purchase.

“This… is why society needs… meta norms around secrets,” Red says between breaths.

“Oh yeah,” Leaf gasps, arm across her belly.  “Or else just asking what someone’s meta-honesty-norms are would give information away!”

That sets them laughing again, and once it finally tapers off, they stare at each other for a moment until Red gives a helpless shrug. “So who goes first?”

“The one who has the least risky secret, I think.” She gives a wry grin. “Should we use a number scale?”

“You know what, sure, why not. What’s a 1?”

“A 1 is like, your friend will be exasperated at you for being a gossip. And a 10 is… something that will destroy the world if it gets out, I guess?”

Red’s smile slips, then fades entirely. “Right. And a 5 would be something that… brings about a region’s downfall?”

“That sounds more like, uh, an 8?”

“I think that would be all regions, if a 9 is… what, all life is at stake, but the planet will probably be fine?”

“I guess that sounds right. So a 7 is one region’s downfall, and a 6 is… multiple cities?” Leaf frowns. “If we keep doing this it’s going to make the number itself a metadata leak.”

“We could give the numbers to someone who doesn’t know what they represent, then just have them tell us whose was higher? They might get curious though, then we have to lie to them—”

She snorts. “Blue would probably roll his eyes but not ask questions. Also it would be easy to just write a script that would do it for us.”

“Right—wait, I’m an idiot, I can just amnesia myself after you tell me something if it doesn’t relate to what I thought!”

“Permanently?”

“Uh… not really…”

Charmeleon growls and falls onto all fours as Raff, feet digging into the ground and leaves rustling, starts to pull the rope harder. The flame on Charmeleon’s tail flares, and Red is alarmed enough to merge with his pokemon to check if he’s still in a playful mood. “Uh, not sure why but he’s maybe getting a bit too riled up for this.”

“They do get more competitive the closer they are to evolving. You should find some other charmeleon for him to play with.”

Close to evolving. He knows his pokemon just has a couple of feet of growth left before that becomes possible, but hearing it put that way makes it seem right around the corner. “Yeah, will do. Meanwhile…” He unclips two balls and holds one up as he sends a calming wave through his merger until his pokemon relaxes and lets the rope drop from his jaws, “Charmeleon, return! Go, Ivysaur! And before you say it, yeah, I still haven’t named him, sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize to me.” Her teasing expression fades as she checks her phone. “I really do have to go soon. Look, you’re right, your powers make telling you first the obvious right choice. But if you do decide not to tell me afterward, it’s going to be hard to justify why I shared the info with someone, and I won’t be able to lie about that either. Do you understand?”

“You’re saying it might draw more people into it.” And that whoever she wouldn’t be able to lie to, it would be someone as close to her as he is. While he’d like to think that’s not actually true, he knows there are plenty of others she would probably feel just as bad lying to, like Blue or his mom.

Red lets out a breath, rubbing his face. “Yeah, I get it. I’m actually still processing some stuff that I did actually learn and I’m not sure what the full scope of everything is. Maybe it’s better to actually just… both forget this for now?”

“That… might be the responsible thing to do, yeah.”

They both stand silently for a moment, staring at each other, and he doesn’t need to merge to guess her thoughts: “Responsibility sucks sometimes.”

“It sucks so much!”

“But we can both keep looking into it right?”

“Oh, totally! And if we find something out that wouldn’t be breaking someone’s confidence—”

“We could share that,” Red finishes, and smiles. “I wasn’t exactly looking for another project, but maybe my mom can h—really?

“I’m leaving!” Leaf declares, withdrawing Raff and summoning her abra while turning her back on him. “Goodbye Mr. Verres!”

“Wait, at least tell me—”

“Fuchsia!”

“—aaand she’s gone.” He turns to his ivysaur, who just unceremoniously lost his play partner, and picks up the other end of the chord. “Well boy, now we just have to decide if we should ask the Professor. If you win, I won’t.” Ivysaur cocks his head, then braces his feet against the ground… only to drop his end of the rope as soon as Red pulls.

He stares at the slack rope for a second and shrugs. “Well, guess that settles it. Just need to figure out some meta norms around secrets first… and hopefully not get any new ones to hold onto meanwhile.”


“I want to help.”

Blue blinks sleepily at the violet-haired girl standing outside his door. “Help with… Satori, right? Help with what?” It’s barely seven in the morning, and he went to bed around midnight after a strategy debate on how to better protect Fuchsia’s northern and southern tips went long past dinner, followed by a long walk and training session with Eevee beneath the full moon.

Satori doesn’t look like she got much sleep either. “Your project.” Her torracat is sniffing in the direction of his room, and takes a step inside before suddenly stopping and stepping back, probably from some mental nudge.

He rubs some sleep from his eyes. “I have a few of th—oh! My abra?”

“Yes. Red said you’re trying to do something like a reverse of my own goal, and suggested collaborating with Jason. He showed me your email about searching for psychic pokemon that have adapted defenses against Dark pokemon, and I began experimenting. I believe your abra would make a good test subject, first to—”

Blue’s sleepiness is rapidly fading as he tries to keep up with the exposition dump, and by the end he’s grinning. “Yeah, got it, one minute!” He slides the paper door closed and takes a step toward his dresser, then turns back and opens it again. “You’re free now, right? That’s why you came in person?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, one sec.” He closes the door and hurries through his morning routine, sending a message to his friends with one hand as he brushes his teeth with the other. Once he checks his schedule and confirms that he doesn’t have anything for a couple hours, he steps out while buckling his pokebelt on. “Let’s head to the training rooms. And start at the beginning for how you got involved.”

“Very well,” she says, and falls into step beside him as he strides toward the stairwell, being careful not to go down them too loud given how many others are probably still sleeping. Living in the gym’s trainer compound is nice in some ways and annoying in others. “But I don’t know what constitutes the beginning, for you.”

“By reversing your goal you mean you’re trying to keep your bond when your torracat evolves into a Dark type, right?” Blue vaguely remembers hearing about this and thinking this would be great for psychics but unlikely to help Dark people. “How does this help with that?”

“As I said, your email to Red was thought provoking, along with his and Jason’s investigations into how ghost and psychic phenomena are related. I began merging with a wider range of psychic pokemon specifically to see if any have unique defense mechanisms against Dark types that haven’t yet been exploited in light of the… how did you put it? ‘The self-perpetuating blindspot of not using Psychic types against Dark opponents?'”

He’s not sure he’s ever used the phrase ‘self-perpetuating,’ but… “Close enough. You found one?”

“Xatu was the first lead. Did you know they have natural anti-Ghost defenses?”

“I know wild ones can have Ghost attacks, sure. But it doesn’t really help them against Dark pokemon, since they shrug off most Ghost attacks anyway.”

“From a battle trainer’s perspective, this may be true. But it means you would focus on their Flying attacks instead, if you had to fight against one, yes?”

“Well, yeah. And I’d have to be pretty desperate to use a xatu to fight anything that would resist even that.”

“As you say.” They step into the bright morning air and start to make their way across the gym compound, where a few other early risers are already doing various chores or training their pokemon. “But Jason and Red have been making strides in delineating the boundary between psychic and medium abilities, without consideration of combat utility, and it’s become more clear how the ability to use Ghost attacks at all is a sign of some difference between one psychic and another.”

“Like a ‘ghost sense’ instead of just a psychic one? Wait, this is one of the first things Red researched with the spinarak, right?” He only remembers it because it came up in the notes Red sent to the production company making the movie about their journey. “He didn’t realize there’s not just one type of psychic particle at the time.”

“Only tangentially related; it would not have been evident through that alone, or his later research with the abra. But after a conversation with Sensei he became convinced that this sense is more broad, and may be visual.”

“Visual?” Blue frowns, hopes sinking. “I don’t get how that would be better than just using their eyes, if they have them? My abra knows I exist by now, or at least knows something like me exists even if it can’t sense my thoughts. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? For both of us.”

“Meowstic were the key; despite the similarities, both genders have different natural capabilities, complemented by expanded sensorium. Extended mergers with females showed broader electromagnetic range, as well as what we’re now calling spiritual sense. This does in fact help them detect dark pokemon from a distance, though it is hard to interpret this reliably, and they still can’t use their psychic abilities on them; only attacks of other kinds.”

“Got it, so if we figure out what female meowstic do, and someone creates a TM that imitates it—”

“This morning I managed, through my male meowstic, to see a dark aura.”

Blue stops cold on the threshold to the front door, then turns to look at her. “What the hell is a ‘dark aura?'”

She holds a hand out and waves it vaguely around him. “An energy field that I believe you and Dark pokemon ambiently have, which presumably keeps you from being affected by psychic abilities. What some Dark pokemon can project from themselves in attacks.”

“How do you even… wait, does Red know about this?”

“I left him a message. He should see it when he wakes, but I was too impatient to wait.”

He almost comments about how her impatience didn’t keep her from waking him up, but he’s glad she did. After a moment he steps aside so she can leave the building as well, then starts walking again. “How has this not been figured out before?”

“Gifted do not generally look through our pokemon’s vision.” She sounds mildly apologetic, almost embarrassed. “It is… disorienting, to see through multiple eyes, more so than other senses being expanded. On occasion it can be valuable for brief periods, but our preference is to keep our senses separate while linking our thoughts for communicating impulses and notions. If we link to psychic pokemon, of course, then their psychic senses are where we focus our attention, as they are as useful to them as vision is for us. It also feels more like a natural expansion rather than taking more focus the way paying attention to another set of eyes or ears does.”

The second half of this doesn’t mean much to Blue, and he tries to reorient to the bottom line. “So… okay so, you were saying meowstic can see dark auras, but psychics don’t use their eyes so they don’t know that?”

“Not ambiently, or else of course someone would have noticed by now. It takes intense concentration. Xatu can as well; as I said, they were the first lead, but we were unsure what they were reacting to due to their spiritual sense, and they do not naturally hunt dark pokemon.”

“But the spiritual sense isn’t necessary?”

“No, male meowstic demonstrated it’s not, as only females have it. And if it’s not for them—”

“It might not be for abra.” They’re almost to the training rooms, and Blue is already running his fingers over Tops’s ball. “What do I need to do?”

“First I’m going to get used to merging with your abra. But I suspect your abra will actually need to evolve to learn this.”

Blue stops for the second time in two minutes, frowning, then pulls his phone out. “Then evolving him just became a priority.”

“Who are you calling?”

“Red. Trust me, he’s going to want to be awake for this… and there’s something I think he can uniquely help with.” Sorry buddy. He’d hoped to protect his friend from the potential fallout of Koichi’s training philosophy, if it turns out to be true, but…

If he’s honest, he’s been starting to lose confidence in his ability to beat Janine. Sure, he might get the battle with Koga anyway, since he’s fulfilling his end of the bargain… but if he doesn’t leave Fuchsia a stronger gym than he found it, if his ideas aren’t at least somewhat adopted… he’s going to feel like a failure.

We’ll figure this stuff out together.