Chapter 122: Inside Out
There was a lot of debate among Red’s security team about the best way for him to visit known associates. One perspective was that any visit should only come after the team ensures the location is safe, but while this might be optimal in some situations, in others it would just tip off potential observers that Red would be arriving soon, after which they could just blow up the building. Another perspective was that he should arrive together with his bodyguards, just in case ambush teams are prepared to strike as soon as he’s spotted.
The stealthy option, where Red goes on his own without any backup, was decided on for any indoor location he’s been to before, since that made it possible for Red to take advantage of his ability to teleport indoors. He knows it stresses them out, but they can’t exactly claim it makes him safer when going alone makes it virtually impossible for anyone outside to know he’s there.
Which is why he arrives in his old room in Saffron alone, feeling a momentary bout of disorientation as he looks around at the familiar layout stripped of his belongings. The shades have been drawn on his windows, but other than that it looks just as it did when he left.
He last came here the week after the attack on Silph to remove his things, though Sabrina let him know that she’d be keeping the room empty until all the others are full in case he wants to visit. When he’d asked why she was okay with him potentially putting the school at risk, she’d raised a brow and asked, “You think people would be after you for what you can do, but not your teacher? The whole school and gym is upping its security.”
Which didn’t make him feel great, but was also a relief. Jason said the security was barely noticeable, just a pair of guards at the buildings’ entrances and some extra screening of guests. Given the general increase in security throughout Saffron after the attack, he did his best not to feel guilty about it at all…
…which lasts up until he makes his way to Sabrina’s office and sees her again.
After Red’s dad died, one of the things that stopped mattering to him was his appearance. It took months before he started to care if his shirts were rumpled or his shoes stained, and he still remembers the shine of tears in his mom’s eyes when he joined her for breakfast with his hair combed again.
His mother went through a similar period. But a few weeks after the funeral, when she would have to leave the house for some reason or the other, he would notice, through his own numb haze, the way she used makeup to cover evidence of her lack of sleep or hours of crying. Eventually she started using it in the house as well, to hide how bad she was doing from him, and noticing that was one of the biggest things that caused him to put more effort into his appearance, as well as things like therapy.
He’s never seen Sabrina without makeup on, but he’s also never noticed her makeup before… which, he knows, is a sign of artfully applied makeup. But even that has its limits, if you know the signs.
Which Red does. Not of grief, maybe, but lack of sleep? Definitely, and not just a few nights worth. More subtly, she also looks like she lost weight.
He reminds himself not to assume this is all his fault—she’s been dealing with some new emergency or major incident one after another all year, same as everyone else—he fleetingly wishes he had more cheerful news to bring her over the course of his time here. He wants to say something to that effect, but Jason is here too, and instead he just exchanges bows to his friend and old teacher. “Hi, Sensei. Sorry if we interrupted something important.”
“Don’t be, Red. You were right to reach out.”
Red nods, then takes off his backpack and sets it down beside a chair before sitting, one hand resting on his abra’s head to rub between its ears. “Did you get a chance to read the message?”
“I did, and I wish I could say I knew what it meant. As I was just explaining to Jason, Rowan has been steadily reducing his classes for months. He said he needed more time for his research, and to be fair, he was making obvious, if erratic, progress.”
“What was his primary project?” Red asks as his sense of vague foreboding grows heavier in his gut. “I know it was related to partitions, but specifically…”
Sabrina meets his gaze, and he sees his worry reflected there. “Up until recently, he was trying to imitate your ability to perfectly copy another mindstate and inhabit it completely while his ‘main self’ stayed safely overwatching and able to reintegrate as needed.”
The dread grows sharper, rising into his chest and making it hard to breathe. “Right.” Perfect lying, indoor teleportation, maybe even sakki. Not to mention do things like imitate Leaf’s state of mind, or Blue’s Battle Calm if he ever got a sample of it… “Did he ever merge with an exeggcute?”
“He did, after finding five others outside the school to do it with,” Jason says, lips pursed. “None of the rest of us who were here were willing to do it after what happened with Rei.”
“He reported that it didn’t create the same effect.” Sabrina sighs. “And yes, I am aware that if it did, he could have lied about it without me knowing. The main uncertainty I had was what he would do with such abilities if he gained them, but as I said, he changed focus recently. After the increased scrutiny and Interpol’s investigation, he declared that he would pursue other research.”
Red exchanges a look with Jason, who seems equally surprised. “And that other research was…?”
“The unown.” Sabrina’s hands rise to rub her temple. “Two months ago he asked for an extended leave from teaching and lessons to join one of the groups tracking swarms.”
Red stifles a curse. He hasn’t been paying as much attention to What Comes Next as he used to, there have been too many things to learn and other things to keep track of… “And he found some?”
“I don’t know. As far as I can tell, that message he sent you is the first one anyone has received from him in weeks, but I’ve just sent out a message calling for a general meeting in case there’s something others know, something they may not even realize is important. In the meantime, there’s the question of your response.”
Red hadn’t really thought about responding. “I could play dumb? Say something like… ‘hey Rowan, cool poem, are you saying you want to meet?’ I mean it’s not quite playing dumb, since I don’t really know what he means or wants.” He wonders if it’s even possible to play dumb given how slow and lost he feels right now.
Sabrina seems nonplussed, but Jason’s fingers begin thoughtfully turning the beads of his necklace. “That seems… harmless enough? The worst that happens is that, in the case where his message was meant to check for something, you establish that you don’t have it.”
“What sort of thing?” Sabrina asks Jason, who shrugs.
“I”m unsure. A kindred spirit, perhaps?”
Red slowly nods. “It makes sense, if he’s been experimenting with new partitions, and created a mindscape different enough from most, he might be craving conversation with someone else who understands him.”
Sabrina’s gaze is sharp as she meets his, and he wonders if she’s guessing how much that applies to Red himself. “I agree that it seems low risk,” Sabrina finally says. “Particularly since you don’t have to follow through if something seems off. You could even invite him back here for the meeting.” She checks her computer. “In the meantime, it looks as though the others have all arrived. Jason, would you mind catching them up while Red sends his message?”
Jason nods and departs, while Red carefully types out a response to the email with a version of what he said earlier, trying not to overthink it. He does show it to Sabrina first, and after she says it looks fine, presses send and sets the email chain as priority so it alerts him directly if a response comes in.
That done, Red leans back in his seat, tense muscles all over his body relaxing at once. Sabrina is typing something, and as soon as she finishes and makes a motion to stand, he says, “Before we go, I wanted to—”
“—apologize,” Sabrina says at the same time as him. She smiles. “Not for Rowan, I hope.”
“No.” It surprises him a little to realize he doesn’t feel responsible for this, at least, but it’s also a mild relief. “Just for… the rest of it.” He gestures vaguely around the building, trying to point at everything that happened from the attack on Silph to now.
“I understand. But no apology is necessary. If anything I should thank you for confiding in me before circumstances forced you to reveal things to the world.”
“That didn’t get you in any trouble?”
“It caused some investigation into League affairs.” She shrugs. “But mostly for others. I did my diligence.”
“By only telling Leader Giovanni?”
Sabrina blinks, then settles back in her seat, smile faded and eyes alert as she searches his gaze. “What makes you ask that?”
“I don’t mean anything by it. But I know Looker doesn’t trust you. I mean, he doesn’t trust anyone, but in particular he’s suspicious of you, and Leader Giovanni, and a few others in the Indigo League. And it’s been in the back of my mind for a while, so… it just came out.” He doesn’t apologize again, though part of him wants to.
Sabrina leans forward now, steepling her hands and resting her chin on them as she regards him. “Should you be telling me any of this?”
Red shrugs. “I wasn’t told not to. And they didn’t exactly talk me through their worries. I just… pick up on things.”
“I see.” Sabrina’s gaze is steady, and Red does his best to meet it. He wonders if he should lower his shields to let in a mild merger, and then wonders if she’s wondering why he doesn’t… but he knows she knows it wouldn’t mean anything, with him. “I suppose I should take that to mean I’m speaking with Red, my old pupil, and not Hunter Verres?”
Red winces. “Technically I’m still a trainee. And I’m not here to interrogate you.”
“And you would know that, if your unpartitioned self was influencing your questions for reasons you don’t know?”
Red has to take a moment to think that over, surprised and a little unnerved by a conversation that understands how his mind actually works. “I’m… not sure. I have memories of when I was aware, but I guess I wouldn’t know for sure, would I? If you don’t mind my asking, how do you know I’m not my whole, unpartitioned self? Is it…”
“It’s not as obvious as it used to be,” she says, voice kind. “But there’s a lightness in you, even when weighed down by this situation. I must admit it’s relieving to see it, after months of… what you’ve been dealing with.”
“Even if it isn’t my ‘real’ self?”
“If you feel real, that’s good enough for me.” Sabrina shrugs. “That you can spend hours, even days, out from under the shadow… yes, I’m very glad of that.”
He almost asks, then, what’s been costing her sleep. Whether it’s Rocket or psychic politics or something else. Instead he says, “When I think about it, I think my question was a little relevant to the Rowan thing. If something’s gone wrong with… if he’s…” Red’s gropes for the right phrase.
“…yes. If he went mad, or ‘cracked’ somehow, people will wonder…”
“If you might crack too,” Sabrina supplies, and Red nods. “And you’re wondering how I’ll handle the public side of all this, in the worst case scenario that one of my students has lost his mind.”
“I don’t know if I feel more touched that you’d still have such faith in me, or more suspicious that you could possibly still be this forthcoming after the training you must have received.”
Red gives a wan smile. “My training has mostly involved stopping Renegades, not detective work. Even when I was helping look for renegades in Celadon I just used my gift.”
“I see.” She continues to hold his gaze another few moments, then stands and goes to her window. “Leader Giovanni has been a mentor to me since before I was a Leader, and an invaluable source of guidance since then. I shared your secrets with him, and advised you work for him, in order to ensure that someone with more knowledge of politics and experience in Leadership was aware of the situation… and its potential social impacts. Someone who isn’t gifted, and so couldn’t be accused of bias.”
“And you trusted him to tell others if he needed to?”
“I did. And if he did, I mostly trust he’s keeping it secret from Interpol for good reason, similar to whomever in the League he might have told.”
“Giovanni and I talked about the need for secrecy, sometimes. And I’m very grateful Rocket didn’t know about what I could do before their attack on Silph.”
“As am I, and not just for your sake. If you’re still speaking with your network…”
“I know. Psychic relations are hanging on by a thread in some regions.”
Sabrina nods, and sighs. “Depending on what’s happened to Rowan, we may need to pre-emptively decide, as a community, to regulate the training of partitions. And if so, I will share what we’ve learned with the public…” She turns back to him. “But I plan to seek advice from others, first. And if they say I should hold off… I will consider it.”
Red takes a moment to absorb that. “So… are you saying I should be talking to Leader Giovanni?”
“He’s not my only advisor,” she says with a slight smile. “And I don’t always agree with him. But I will admit, the way things have played out in the past few months reminded me why trying to decide these things alone can be dangerous. I think Giovanni made some bad calls, in the past, but he also made good ones. Whether you’d say the same is up to you to decide, but either way, I don’t plan to share my students’ private lives carelessly, even if my duty as a Leader compels some disclosures.”
Red nods, conflicted but still relieved, and also rises to his feet, one hand lifting his bag with only minor strain at his abra’s weight before he slings its straps over his shoulders. “Thank you, Sensei.”
She nods, and they leave her office to make their way to the communal kitchen, where the rest of Sabrina’s students are already gathered. Stepping back into the wide room, with its wood slat floors and dark tile countertops, feels nostalgic, and Red almost goes to the fridge to grab a soda.
What checks him is the sight of one of the new psychics sitting in his usual spot. Sanskriti is in her early twenties, and apparently left her home region because she was being pressured to only pursue psychic training rather than becoming a pokemon trainer as well. She specializes in pokemon mergers, and apparently finds it extremely easy to direct her pokemon’s movements like they’re an extension of herself. Red happens to know that her culture has fairly elaborate outfits for its psychics, but she’s dressed like she just ported in from camping out in the wilds.
Across from her sits Kenzo, a non-trainer from one of the outlying islands who’s even younger than Red. Apparently some time after the Hoenn incident his psychic range began to increase for reasons no one can understand, to the point that he can now sense anyone in the building at any given time. It’s still unclear if the timing was coincidence, but he joined Sabrina’s school just last week, and Jason said he’s still getting situated.
Tatsumaki is still here, levitating a double chain of small objects of various shapes and sizes in a revolving X around her head, as is Daniel, who sits with his feet propped up on the table. Satori departed the school after spending a couple months teaching Miracle Eye to Sabrina and the rest of the students.
In her seat however is Maria, who’s sitting beside Jason. As far as Red knows she’s the first non-psychic to be part of Sabrina’s school, technically here as a research assistant, though he knows she’s also pursuing her Saffron Badge at the gym.
“—before he went looking for the unown, mostly dream hunting.” Daniel is saying as Red and Sabrina enter. “He knew I did it, so asked for advice. I told him the basics: check which city or town hadn’t been hit with a dream in a while, look at the last one that was hit, find the sweet spot between the two.”
“Sweet spot?” Sabrina asks as she takes her seat at the head of the table. Red perches on the edge of the seat beside her so that his abra isn’t uncomfortable, and it’s only a moment later does he realize he’s sitting where Rei used to. It feels pretentious of him, though none of the more senior students took it. He’s aware of Daniel and Tatsumaki’s gaze on him, as well as the two newer students’, though theirs is more curious and awestruck, while Tatsumaki and Daniel’s are harder to interpret.
“Yeah.” Daniel looks around, sees everyone else’s curiosity, and frowns. “You guys never looked into this? Come on, you have to have been curious about why it never visited Saffron.”
“I just figured whoever was behind it didn’t want to risk Sabrina psychically punching them in the face,” Tatsumaki says as she taps an orbiting pokeball to adjust its spin as it floats down past her shoulder, then back up behind her head.
Everyone chuckles at that, but Sabrina just gives a tight smile. “I wouldn’t have blamed any of you for asking, but only Red did. Now seems as good a time as any to share with you what I told him: I suspect that one of my old students has been the one spreading the dreams.”
Red glances around the room to see a mix of shock and intrigue. Daniel takes his feet off the desk and leans forward, while Tatsumaki has stopped rotating her objects, which hover in place around her head as she frowns at Sabrina.
“We haven’t spoken in months, but I generally trust them to only be doing something like this with good reason. As for why they’re avoiding Saffron, I’m afraid I can’t answer that for sure. I can imagine many reasons why they’d be upset with me, but on a pragmatic level they clearly want to avoid identification, and if they are one of my old students, it’s possible they want to prevent my suspicions from being confirmed. I’m sorry if that ends up affecting you all, at any point, or already has, in the form of missing the chance to experience the dreams.”
The room is quiet for a few moments, and to Red’s surprise, it’s Jason who breaks the silence. “Have the authorities been told of your suspicions?”
“No. As I said, I trust them to have good reasons for what they’re doing, and if they want to remain anonymous… it would feel like a betrayal to accuse them in an official capacity.” Sabrina shrugs. “I recognize this is one of the greatest mysteries of our time, and you are of course welcome to share what I have with others.”
“How much weight does the suspicion have?” Red asks. “Has anything that happened in the past few months made it seem more or less likely?”
“If you’re asking if I know why they seem to have stopped, I have no idea.”
He wasn’t, not specifically, but before he can ask something Daniel leans forward. “You had a student capable of that kind of mass projection, and you never mentioned it?”
“I didn’t know they were capable of it. Again, it’s just speculation.”
“Speculation based on what? Did they have some paranoia about extra-dimensional aliens or something?”
“No. I’m sorry, it’s hard to explain my reasoning. But they had an incredibly large reception range, even larger than Kenzo’s.”
“Oh.” Kenzo’s eyes are wide. “It’s that one?”
“I think so.” Sabrina sees their looks between them and says, “Kenzo was worried that his range may eventually get too big for him to process everything he sensed. I mentioned that I had a student who had twice his range, and still managed it.”
“Still,” Daniel says, arms crossed. “To not mention that a psychic with the range of a whole town exists—”
“Their range wasn’t nearly that big last I saw them. Which, yes, was before the Hoenn Incident.”
People glance at Kenzo, who looks self-conscious from that attention and implications, and Red turns to Daniel. “You were saying something about the ‘sweet spot?'”
“Right.” Daniel glances at Sabrina again, then leans back in his seat, arms still crossed. “Well, if you paid any attention at all to the pattern of which place was hit with the dreams, it would be clear that it almost never went to one of the closest towns or cities next. It also rarely went directly to the opposite side of the island. Probability maps were made, and you could get a pretty decent idea of which towns would be the next to get the dreams. I just hopped around for a couple weeks until I got it. I assume Rowan did the same thing after I showed it to him.”
The whole room is quiet now. “You never thought to mention this?” Jason asks.
“Why would I?” Daniel asks with clear annoyance. “It’s not like we’re under surveillance, here. Or, you know, we didn’t used to be.”
Red flinches and drops his gaze to the table… though not before seeing eyes around the room glance at him, this time.
“By ‘surveillance’ do you by chance mean the private security I’ve hired?” Sabrina asks, voice light. “If so, I’m unclear if you’re accusing them of spying on you, or accusing me of doing so.”
Daniel rolls his eyes, shifting in his seat. “Not saying anyone’s spying. Just saying, people track who comes and goes, now, and they didn’t used to. I figured if Rowan wanted to chase the dreams that wasn’t my business.”
Tatsumaki scoffs. “Come off it, you’re the one who kept insinuating that Rowan was going nuts. You really thought him having a dream about some ravenous demon god or whatever wouldn’t make things worse?”
“It’s fine,” Sabrina says, overriding Daniel’s “Hey, I’m not—” and getting him to stop and turn away from Tatsumaki. “I’m not here to lay blame, just understand what’s happened to Rowan, if anything, and what we can do for him, if anything. If no one has anything more to add…?”
The group looks around at each other. After a minute, Sabrina nods.
“Then I won’t take up any more of your time, and will only ask that you keep an eye and ear out for anything that might be concerning. If you’d like to pre-emptively help, I would appreciate you reaching out to any contacts you have who may know anything about Rowan’s most recent locations or behavior. I know some of you haven’t had the opportunity to meet or get to know him,” she says, looking at the new students. “The others might have warned you that he wasn’t always easy to befriend, and they’d be right. Many of you can be hard to, in their own ways.”
Jason looks mildly embarrassed, while Daniel snorts and Tatsumaki shrugs and nods. Red isn’t sure if he counts, here, considering how hard he worked to befriend everyone when he arrived. But he has to admit, if he were still a student here, with his current other duties… he’d hardly have time for socializing.
Sabrina takes a breath. “But I remember him when he first came here, young and excited to learn. He can be obsessive and distant, but also passionate, curious, and dedicated. I’ve received many reports over the years from his students about how enjoyable his lessons are, and how supportive he is when teaching.” The leader looks around. “Ultimately, he’s one of us, and he may need our help.”
“Hear, hear,” Jason murmurs, and Tatsumaki sighs and stands, her nimbus rising with her.
“Right. I’ll reach out to some friends, see if they know anything.”
Daniel watches her go, then grunts and says, “Same” before following her out.
“I’m not sure how much help I can be…” Sanskriti begins, but Sabrina shakes her head.
“It’s alright. Feel free to focus on your studies and lessons. Just let me know if anything does come up?” She looks between her and Kenzo, who nods as well, and the two newer students leave together.
Which leaves just Red, Sabrina, Jason, and Maria when Red’s phone chimes.
Everyone watches as he pulls it out and checks the screen… then lowers it and swallows, glancing around. “It’s him. He says he wants to meet… alone.”
“Well,” Maria says after a moment of silence. “Good timing.”
The rooftop is relatively quiet, wind blowing over the sounds of the city below. Red stays in the alcove of the elevator, where it would be hard to see him from any nearby buildings.
It was hard to arrange the meeting on such short notice. He quickly called his security team to let them know the basics of the situation, and came up with a ripcord phrase for extraction in case this is all some strange trap: Rowan, you’re scaring me. A recorder in his pocket would ensure they and Sabrina would be able to hear the conversation, and of course Red has his backpack abra in case he needs to teleport away, whether from Rowan or an opportunistic attack.
Red paces his nervous energy away, trying to think through what he should say first… and then a figure appears beside an alakazam, and Red spins toward it, hands moving automatically to unclip balls from his belt.
He stares for a moment, then forces himself to reclip them once his brain catches up to his reflexes, and he confirms that it really is Rowan.
The transformation Sabrina has undergone in the past months is reflected on the older teenager at least twice as hard. He was always lean, but now he’s practically skeletal. A short beard makes him look years older, and his hair is shaggy, shadowing his upper face… but Red can still make out the bags under his eyes.
“You came.” Rowan’s steps are long and sweeping, almost dance as he extends his hands up and to the sides. Red steps back, unsure if he’s about to be hugged… but Rowan just spins in place, arms staying stretched out. “You came! Oh, we’re so glad! When you didn’t respond, at first…” Rowan’s arms drop to his face, tone shifting to a fearful whisper. “We thought the worst…”
Red is still staring, heart pounding as he realizes that every vague worry they’ve had is justified. Everything from Rowan’s appearance to his tone make it clear that something’s wrong with him, and has been for a while.
“Sorry!” Red tries to smile, and has no idea if he succeeds. “Sorry, Rowan, I was just… busy.” Rowan’s gaze is more intense than Red has ever seen, and he suddenly wonders if Rowan even heard him. “Are you… how are you?”
Rowan doesn’t respond immediately, and just continues to stare into his eyes, hands clasping his own face.
Oh boy. Red’s stomach sinks further as more and more prickles of unease skitter up and down his spine. He’s sure to keep his movements slow and deliberate as he raises a hand to wave between them. “Rowan?”
Red swallows, wondering if Rowan can tell for sure, or just guessed. “Yeah, I am.”
“How much do you know?”
“The rest of you. Which of you are we speaking with?”
“Um. The… default one, I guess? I’m mostly me, I just… there are some memories and emotions I keep partitioned, and the me that has full access to them is here too, just… kind of my subconscious.” Once again Rowan doesn’t react to his words, just staring at him as if waiting for him to grow a second head. “We… talked about this before, don’t you remember?”
Rowan doesn’t respond for the space of a few breaths, and then… “You’re the face.”
“What are you doing?”
Red has never felt so confused and off balance in his life. “Talking.” He wonders what the others, listening in on the conversation, are thinking. “Standing still and talking.”
“Why are we talking with your face? Come out! Come out!”
Red takes a step back as Rowan advances, heart pounding and both palms out now. “Rowan, you’re freaking me out!” Part of him hopes no one assumes he misspoke or forgot the ripcord so soon, but the rest of him is unsure he doesn’t need a rescue.
Thankfully, Rowan does stop advancing. “Rowan. You keep calling us…” Rowan shuts his eyes tight. “Rowan? Rowan. Rowan Rowan Rowan… Rowan and Red. Ah…” His whole body seems to sag, a little, relaxing some of its manic strain. “Yes. Rowan. We can be Rowan again. Red… hello.”
“Hi.” He doesn’t let himself feel much relief. “We” can be Rowan again… “Rowan, what’s been happening, here?”
“We’re… having trouble.”
“Yeah.” No shit. “With what?”
“Deciding. Choosing who to listen to. Which to go with. How to feel…” Rowan trails off, gaze distant.
“It sounds like your partitions have… broken. Or gone out of control, in some way. Do you need help? I’d like to help you, Rowan.”
Shit. “No. Everyone. All of you, it seems clear you all need help, even if… if it’s not clear which of you should be in charge, yet.”
Rowan sways, back and forth, back and forth, and Red feels a strong temptation to lower his shields and get just a basic read on what’s happening in Rowan’s mind right now. Behind him, his alakazam strokes its mustache, watching a trainer on a flying mount soar by, and Red feels his abra stir in his backpack. Not wanting to use his powers, Red slowly reaches back to soothe his abra with some strokes along his head. He should ask Rowan if he wants to come inside, talk with Sabrina…
“You were seeking the origin of species, weren’t you?” Rowan finally asks. “Were you disappointed? Or was it all you wanted it to be?”
Red’s train of thought derails, and he stares at Rowan for a moment, wondering if he misunderstood the implication. “Like I said, I’ve been busy.” Red almost asks if he’s been following the news at all, but he’s already asking the more pressing question. “You’re talking like you figured it out.”
“You don’t remember. Because you didn’t find out?”
Red reels, another chill going through him as he wonders whether he did discover it, and then forced amnesia on himself…
No. He’s talking nonsense. Stay calm.
Red takes a deep breath, setting aside worries about whether he can trust his unpartitioned self. If he can’t, he’s in nearly as bad a place as Rowan. “I think you might be confused, Rowan. I never learned—”
“Never learned? Never learned?!” Rowan squeezes his eyes shut, palms pressed over them as he grimaces. “Were we wrong? You did… all that you did… you haven’t had the dream?”
“No, I haven’t had the wandering dream. Rowan, are you saying the secret of where pokemon come from is in it?” He would have heard about that if it was true, surely—
“No, no! It was just… you didn’t pursue it… if you didn’t pursue it you wouldn’t know…” Rowan’s hands drop from his face, hanging limp in front of him as he looks imploringly into Red’s eyes. “You’re really just… Red? All of you are just…?”
“I don’t know about just,” Red says slowly. “But… please, Rowan, answer me directly. Who else might I be? Who were you expecting?”
Rowan takes a step closer, and this time Red doesn’t back away. Rowan leans forward, voice low and harsh. “Them. They’re in here.” Rowan taps the side of his head. “The lonely one. The hungry one. From outside.”
The hair on Red’s neck stands on end at that last word, stomach fluttering with the ghosts of memories he doesn’t recognize. “Outside… where?”
Rowan’s arms shoot out to the sides. “Outside this. Here. Everywhere.”
And Red remembers.
He remembers what it was like, to touch on the mind of the ghost marowak.
He remembers what it was like to touch something so alien, something that was… somehow… connected to something else, something impossibly distant and yet close enough to brush against, something so utterly beyond his comprehension that it broke his brain.
A chill goes through him as more of his memories return, and he wonders if partitions are going down or if it’s just a natural effect of his mind doing its best to not think of uncomfortable memories. He thinks it’s the latter, but his mind did act to partition them immediately. If Agatha hadn’t been there to heal the damage done…
It would have warped him.
Warped him just like every other merger with a different mind does, except far quicker, and far more alien than any pokemon’s. And if he ever dropped his partitions… if, like at Silph, he exhausted his psychic abilities too much to keep them up… would it infect the rest of him, or just cause him to go a little mad?
“Rowan.” Red’s voice only shakes a little. “How many partitions are you holding in place right now?
Tears slip down the older boy’s face, scattering in the wind. “I don’t know.”
“How many are you aware of?”
“A hundred and fifty-seven.”
The words are a triple-punch to Red’s gut, leaving ice-water churning through his stomach and spreading through his limbs. “That’s impossible.”
Rowan just shrugs, and says, “One hundred and fifty-six wouldn’t be enough.”
Red’s breaths are coming quick and shallow, his heart pounding in his ears as he stares at the swaying older boy and tries to wrap his mind around what he heard. Tries to make sense of it.
On the very first day Red learned of his gift, he got hints of what made him special. His natural ease with partitions is one of the two things that makes him unique, as a psychic, and as far as anyone can tell, he developed them in part due to the unconscious use of them after his dad died. His mind uses partitions automatically, and only relaxes them with effort or when exhausted.
And as far as he can tell, he’s only held up a dozen partitions at a time. Maybe fifteen, counting some memory juggling. It’s hard to know for sure, of course, but…
Rowan is holding over ten times as much… consciously. Continually?
Because nested in one of them, is a mind Rowan merged with that he shouldn’t have.
A mind from outside.
“We need to get you help, Rowan.” Red’s throat is dry, and he takes a step forward, hand out. “I have friends who… Elite Agatha, she was able to help me…” It hits him, suddenly, what happened at Lavender, why she was able to help him get most of the way back to normal, only for him to collapse again after.
She didn’t know about the way his partitions worked, didn’t realize that they were working to isolate the damage immediately, until he got too exhausted and they came down again.
Now it’s Rowan who’s backing away. “Help?”
“Yes. Yes, with… with the mind from outside.” Fresh horror goes through Red as he realizes… “When did you last sleep, Rowan?”
“Sleep…” The word comes out wistful. “That was at least twenty-three partitions ago. We make another one, now, each day.”
Okay, that can’t be healthy. Unless he found a way to sleep in shifts? Because wow that would be useful, even in small doses…
Not the time. “Rowan, don’t you want help? To get rid of… the outside mind?”
“That’s what we’ve been doing, Red. That’s what I wanted to speak to you about.” Rowan smiles, and it’s a sad smile. “But you don’t have it, do you?”
“The outside mind? I… might have, I almost did but I got help—”
“No. No, the lonely mind. The genius mind. The dreamer’s mind.”
Red stares at him, brain stopping and restarting as he tries to make sense of this, tries to contextualize it with what he realized earlier, and fails. Right. I’m talking to a crazy person, after all…
But no. He was close, he’s sure of it. “How does the… dreamer mind, the lonely mind… how do they help with the outside mind?”
“Ahh… that’s the question, isn’t it?” Rowan starts to sway again, then steps to the side, spinning in a brief dance. “The battle, back and forth within us, the parry and riposte, order against chaos, and poor Rowan the battlefield…” Rowan spins again, tears carried away by the wind.
“Two minds,” Red says, feeling desperate to understand despite his attempts to stay calm. “Both from outside, fighting?”
“No. No, no no… the lonely dreamer is here… from here… from us…” Rowan’s spinning slows. “It knows the unown are the threat. It has to stop them. We have to stop them. It’s the only way to survive. Even if it means destroying every region on the island.”
Red’s thoughts hit another brick wall, and the world shifts and narrows to an entirely different set of concerns. “What?” Red whispers. “What do you mean? What are you going to do?”
“Every island on the planet—”
“Rowan, what are you going to do?”
“Already done, Red. Most of it is already done.”
Red is breathing hard, feeling a growing urge to pull the ripcord… but if he does, and Rowan gets away… Unpartitioned Red, I sure hope you’ve been coming up with a plan all this time…
And even as he thinks it, the partitions…
…falling away, like he’s stepped out of a house and can see through its walls, until he is unpartitioned Red, with two interwoven memories of his thoughts and reactions to the conversation he just had.
A plan. Right.
A plan to keep Rowan from teleporting away, while he has pokemon out and within arm’s reach. Certainly close enough that Rowan can be gone before any of Red’s pokemon leave their balls.
The abra on his back can teleport and use basic psychic attacks, but it has no ability to block other pokemon from teleporting. If Rowan’s pokemon was an abra itself, Red could just use sakki and it would teleport away without Rowan.
But an alakazam… it could kill either of them within a few seconds, or at least badly hurt them. And for all that there’s clearly something wrong with Rowan, he hasn’t done or said anything that would indicate he’s a renegade.
Not that anyone could claim otherwise…
The thought crosses his mind in a flash, and is discarded just as quickly as Red’s stomach lurches.
No. Not like that. He has another option for what he can project: safety and love.
Even after evolving from an abra, even if it’s commanded instead of a natural reflex, teleportation is triggered off fear. Red can project safety strongly enough to do indoor teleportation: after all his lessons with Leaf in mimicking her state-of-mind, he’s sure he can project it well enough to prevent teleportation even in an alakazam.
So that’s a plan. The other plan is to subtly message someone to get them to take out the alakazam… maybe finding an excuse to take out his phone and type something?
It’s risky. Even a dark trainer on a dark pokemon would have to be careful not to alert Rowan or the alakazam through sound or movement.
But it might be necessary, at some point, even if Red succeeds in the projection. So first things first: he’d have to partition a part of himself and use that part to project onto the abra well enough to keep it from teleporting.
It feels like a long shot, but he can’t think of anything else.
“Why did you want to meet, then?” Safety. Calm. Peace. Tranquility. Love. Bit by bit, he summons the mental state that Leaf used to keep the abras from teleporting away. His heart rate slows, his muscles relax… and he finds himself folding…
…to leave only his focus on helping Rowan.
“To see which you were. To see if you’d have a better way. But we were wrong. You developed your special powers without them… without them?” Rowan’s voice sounds wondering. “Even while you stayed so busy… busy keeping us safe from temporary dangers. But the real danger is still coming, and you’ve ignored it. Is it because you haven’t had the dream? Or because you’re secretly part of it? And don’t even know? Would you know, Red, if it was inside you? Wearing you like a puppet? Would you know?!”
The burst of anger once again takes Red by surprise, and he holds his hands back up, palms out. “Rowan, listen. Please, I know it’s hard, but listen. I told you, remember? I had friends who helped me. I think they can help you too. You’re talking about the mind from outside?”
“Yes. Yes. The one that’s coming.” Rowan rubs his temples. “We’ve had to lock it away. But we couldn’t entirely. We thought it was because… because we needed to remember what it was, to act against it. But… what if it’s just stronger than us? What if it’s working, from behind the partitions, to leak out, infect the rest of us? We thought you could help us… show us…”
“I can help you, Rowan. We can go now, Sabrina—”
“No!” Rowan’s teeth are bared, a grimace of something like anger and fear and something else, all rolled together. “No, not her. She’s… I’m not ready to face her.”
Red tries not to get thrown off track by each new trigger or cryptic comment, but… “Are you ashamed of something? Rowan, whatever you’ve already done, I’m sure she would understand you weren’t in your right mind. We can work together, to undo the harm—”
“What we’ve done? What about what she’s done?!”
Red swallows. “What has she done?”
“We don’t know! We don’t remember!” Rowan rubs his face, chest heaving with his breaths. “It’s there, so close we can almost reach it… jailor, friend, teacher, hunter, savior… we need the rest of our mind, we need our memories… but… they’re gone…”
Red tries not to think of what Sabrina might be feeling, hearing all this. Or what she’s wondering about what he’s feeling. “Gone where? Behind a partition?”
“No. In the other mind. The beautiful, wondrous, lonely mind, of which we’re just a shallow copy…”
“Stop calling us that! That’s not who we are, anymore, don’t you understand?!” Rowan shakes his head. “We don’t know who we are anymore. Do you? How do you stand it? How do you not…” The older boy’s hands clench in front of each other, fingers curled as they make a tearing-apart motion.
Red takes a breath, tries to think through the answer before he speaks. If he can make enough sense of it, maybe it would help Rowan(?) stabilize… “I did have trouble, before. With my… parts. They’re more than that, thanks to our powers, more than what most people would have, but… the principle was the same. I just had to trust them. To accept them, and be honest with them, and trust that they wanted what was best for me. For us.” He remembers the internal conversation he had, past and future Red trying to persuade his then-present self… “I had to accept that no matter which of us had the most influence, no matter which got their way, it wouldn’t be a loss for the rest of us.”
Rowan has stopped rocking, is watching him with wide eyes. “Not a loss?” he whispers. “How can a part not getting what it wants not be a loss?”
Red shakes his head, gaze dropping as he thinks of the way he struggled with his past and future selves. With his partitioned or unpartitioned self. “It was hard for me to accept, at first. There are things… I wanted to do with my life. And there are compromises I could make, sometimes, but other times… eventually some things are just mutually exclusive, right? All problems may be solvable, but without infinite time and resources… they can’t all be solved on time.” Red thinks of what he’s spent the last few months doing, and how far he is from the person he hoped he would become through his journey. “After all that’s happened… it just became really clear that I can do my best, and still not get everything I want in life. But that doesn’t mean I should give up trying for something I care about.” Red looks back up at Rowan. “Are there things you still care about?”
Rowan’s palms press against his eyes again. “Too many things, Red. Too many things. And we don’t know which we should pursue… which is even possible to accomplish…”
“Yeah. I get that.” Red bites his lower lip. “But there’s no sense in you… getting mad at each other, is there? We try things, we make mistakes, we learn from them. I think that may be the most important thing, overall. That I learned to trust my parts to learn from their mistakes, to want to be better, for all our sakes. To listen to each other, and understand each other, for all our sakes.”
“And you do.” Rowan is smiling, suddenly, a small, sad smile. “It was clear from the beginning, that you would do whatever it took to improve yourself in every way.” Rowan lowers his hands, and fresh tears spill down the older boy’s cheeks and into his scruffy beard. “We admired that about you.”
Red swallows past the lump in his throat. “You… never said anything.”
“We were jealous. Resentful.” He tips his head back to stare at the sky, drawing in a watery breath before letting it out in a gust. “Ah, gods. Some of us still are. What you’re describing sounds… wonderful.”
Red straightens, takes a step forward. “It is. It wasn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I can help you. I know I said I’ve been busy, but… I can try and prioritize this, maybe a few hours per day—”
“And if one of the parts isn’t on the same side?”
Red blinks. “That’s… I think the models I’ve learned about think that’s complicated, even when not accounting for… the rest of the stuff, with our partitions. It can often seem that way, if the part doesn’t know how to work with others, or how to express itself well, or… has weird ideas of what’s required to be happy or moral. But also… maybe sometimes, when people are abused, a part of them might internalize it, or the beliefs of their abuser.”
“Abuse…” Rowan shakes his head. “No… we experienced no abuse. Only an awakening… and then a damning.”
“That was just one example of a way it might happen,” Red says, feeling mild desperation to keep them from getting knocked off track, to keep the momentum going in a positive direction. “Is there… some part of you that thinks you’re a bad person? That you shouldn’t live?”
Rowan laughs. “Oh, yes. Yes, we’ve thought many times over the past months that perhaps… perhaps that would be best. Simply ending it all.” Rowan wipes his cheeks. “But we can’t. The lonely dreamer would not let us. Because… we have a responsibility to try. Yes, you’re right, Red. We have to try.”
A thread of hope. “Try what?”
“To stop the rest of us.”
“To stop… the part of you that’s… outside of you? The you that a part of you is a fraction of?”
“Yes! Yes, you understand!” Rowan’s face is heartbreakingly hopeful.
“Okay. What can I do to help?”
“You’ve helped enough, Red. Not how we expected… but enough. We hope it’s enough… even though people will die… even if everyone hates us… hates… me…”
Red’s pulse kicked back up at the words, and eyes widen as Rowan steps away, toward his Alakazam. No, no no no “Wait, you don’t have to… Rowan, you’re scaring me. Please, you don’t have to go!”
Rowan’s hand is on his alakazam, and he turns that sad smile back toward Red. “Thank you, Red. I know it won’t seem this way, but I promise, this is for the best.” His smile falters, one more tear falling down his cheek. “Just, please… tell Sabrina… I’m sorry.”
Red leaps forward, hand outstretched even as two of his guards swoop onto the roof atop their pokemon and another two teleport nearby, too far—
Please, unpartitioned Red, whatever you’re planning, do it now, let it work!
—the partitions fall away, bringing all of him to bear, as much as he can, on projecting love and acceptance and safety at Rowan, at the Alakazam, at everything in his psychic reach—
—and watches as Rowan and his alakazam disappear.