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Chapter 127: Tests

Chapter 127: Tests

Blue makes an effort to slow down just before he walks into Cinnabar Gym’s coordination room, taking a breath and doing his best to shed any frustration or anxiety from his body language. There’s a knot in his stomach, a restless, jittery heat in his limbs, but by the time the door closes behind him he feels at least a little more like he’s stepping into a battle arena.

The room is dimly lit so that the various monitors on the walls easily stand out, and so the 3D hologram of Cinnabar Island being projected above the central table is vibrant and crisp. Normally the room would have a mix of gym members and rangers, but other than Chase the rest of the people in the room are “his” crew. Friends who flew or ferried over from all over Kanto, when he put out the call weeks ago. Friends who are relying on him to have a vision, to know what he’s doing, and he pulls those expectations around him like a cloak, reminding himself of all the things he’s done to earn their trust, until he feels even more fully in control and confident.

He raises his hand in greeting when people turn toward him, then wanders from one part of the room to another, listening to each group as they work, as he normally would. Elaine and Marcus are sitting face to face on their computers, while Glen and Maria are searching through the storage PCs. Bretta, Slava, and Sumi are standing with Chase by a trainer roster being displayed on a wall monitor, the latter two mostly listening in as the former debate some of the newer trainers’ merits and weaknesses. By the time Blue makes it to the central table, he feels like enough time has passed that people will take the news more lightly, but still he waits, bringing up the visual overlay of the island that puts the grid over it, then highlights sections by emergency level.

Within a minute the colors update, and he says, “We’ve got problems.”

Elaine looks up from her computer, then stands and comes around to his side of the table, and after a moment Marcus follows her. Glen and Maria walk over from behind him, while Chase and the others turn from the wall.

“Zone D4?” Elaine frowns. “And E3.”

“Back to yellow?” Bretta asks.


There’s a moment of silence, then Chase sighs. “Figured.” Cinnabar Gym’s Third is still wearing the dirt and stains of a hard battle on his uniform, and he looks even more tired than he sounds. “Heard G5 is also set to shift by the end of the week, if they don’t get that ranger outpost back up. Did they say what would turn D2 red?”

“Another few casualties might.” Blue zooms in on the region in question, a fertile plateau where some farm houses and ranches were set between Ranger outposts… until the whole area got overrun in the initial ditto stampede. “A new ditto outbreak would also do it, according to Mako.”

“He’s a worrier.” Glen taps another part of the table monitor to switch to the trainer roster the others are viewing. “Who can we rotate into the area?”

Blue glances around, trying to get a temperature check of the room. Maria seems grim. Glenn and Bretta, frustrated. Elaine is sad, but clearly focused. Slava and Marcus, disappointed. Sumi… dispirited? He’ll have a talk with her later.

They all look tired.

They’ve worked hard on this over the past few weeks. Lizzy and Alex are with the newer members, going over after-action reports while training Jamil to take over that role, while Maria and Viraj meet with Cadet Wendy and some other local trainers who like to do extra surveys with the rangers.

Together, they’ve built a system. A training program that weaves Cinnabar gym’s facilities, the group scenarios, and live field work side by side with the rangers to help ensure that the trainers here for their badge, most of whom have mainly focused on surviving wilds and battling other trainers, are prepared for… more.

Not just Cinnabar’s reclamation, but true wilderness taming. Expanding the reach of civilization.

But to do that, they’ve needed to both broaden and level up in a number of areas. Which means the team people Blue has gathered to guide them toward that goal needs to level up in a number of ways too.

First, evaluation. What trainers would work well together? What are their skills, and how balanced would the different teams be? They all help out with it, but Bretta, Sumi, and Maria have gravitated toward taking point, with a lot of input from Blue.

Second, scenario design. Elaine has become the main brains for those, working together with Marcus, Glen, and sometimes Bretta, who ran her own scenarios at the gyms she, Slava and Sumi visited if they didn’t already have them.

Third, field missions. Working side by side with rangers gives the trainers a wider range of knowledge, wider skills… and while most don’t translate to better skill in trainer battles, they do strengthen people’s pokemon, and give them opportunities to catch new ones.

Still, they’ve just barely managed to maintain the progress that led to CoRRNet downgrading Cinnabar’s risk profile. Something’s changed, on the island; stronger, higher stage evolutions of wild pokemon are showing up more often, and the stampeding patterns seem to be changing every few days.

Blue attended the ranger meeting at their city headquarters today to suggest the idea that a pokemon with Pressure is riling things up, like the absol in the diglett tunnels. It’s something they had already considered, apparently, but had no practical solution to discovering or dealing with if true. For now they’re just looking into ways to hold the areas they’ve worked so hard to reclaim lately.

Blue feels a resurgence of frustration and worry as he looks over how few strong trainers are left to do extra shifts, then reaches past Elaine to add his name to an extra D2 tour tomorrow. That done, he takes another breath. “I need you guys to tell me straight: how much more of this can you keep doing?”

The room is quiet. Blue turns to Chase, who has a brow raised. “This is your home, so I expect you’ll keep at it as long as you can. But I still want to know how long you think you can keep going at this pace, with your other duties as they are?”

“Blaine’s my Leader,” Chase says, as if that explains everything. “He says stop, give up some parts of the island, that’s what I do. He says keep trying, find a way? Then I go until I drop.”

Blue nods, but it’s not good enough. “Not doubting your commitment. But still, I want to know when you think that’ll be. Two weeks? Three? Can you keep your reflexes sharp enough to survive out there if you go through another month of this?”

Chase turns back toward the roster on the wall. Blue doesn’t fill the silence, and eventually Chase says, “Two more weeks, at least, if I start to get another hour of sleep each night. After that, even with a full nights’ worth, I’ll probably start making bigger mistakes, losing track of stuff, unless I cut down some shifts.”

Blue nods, then turns to Glen, because it has to be Glen next. His friend’s brow is furrowed, mouth set in a hard line. “This is my priority right now. The startup is going okay, new orders are coming in. Selling in Cinnabar has helped let me keep feeling good about both. I’m here.”

“For a month?” Blue tries not to sound like he’s pressing. “Three months?”

“Would you stay that long?” Chase asks, sounding more curious than skeptical.

It’s a fair question, and Blue turns back to him. “You know I’m aiming for the top, and more. If Cinnabar’s going to follow me the way I want all of Indigo to, I can’t leave it like this any more than Blaine could.”

“I’m here,” Glen says again, drawing Blue’s attention back to him. “So long as you are.”

Blue smiles, brief but sincere. “Good to know. Now how long can you keep this pace up?”

Glen’s expression softens, and he glances at Chase before turning back toward the projected island. “I was thinking of cutting down to five shifts a week. Now I feel like I need to stay at seven, but… at this rate, I’ve got a week of charge left, maybe two.”

Blue puts a hand on the older teen’s shoulder and squeezes. One of the many nice things about his growth spurt is he’s nearly as tall as Glen, now. He’s starting to think he might end up even taller. “Start with six. See how it feels.”

He turns to Elaine before Glen can argue. She’s got her arms folded, and the look in her eye reminds him of their talk, back in Fuchsia. When she confessed her feelings for Glen, and her worries that she was losing her edge. And her response to his fear, that he’d get people killed who weren’t ambitious or skilled enough to fight beside him willingly.

“I’m here,” is all she says. “I can go at least another two weeks at this pace.”

Marcus, standing beside her, shrugs a shoulder. “I’m still having fun with the scenarios we’re making, and the wilds getting stronger just means I get stronger too. Ask me again in a month.”

Blue nods, then turns to Maria and says before she can start, “Don’t feel bad if—”

“—two weeks. Then I have to get back to my training with Jason. But I’ll still come by, now and then.” She gives him a slight smile, and it rests easy on her face. “I might feel a little bad, but not as much as if I hadn’t come at all.”

Blue smiles back. “Fair.” Maria’s time with Jason seems to have finished the process of pulling her out of her shell, and made her a lot more… calm is the only word Blue can think of for it. His disappointment over her pausing her journey has been entirely replaced by a confused relief over the clear benefits to her after what happened under the Rocket Casino, and he keeps meaning to talk to Jason about what they’ve been doing in case it’s a skill he could have learned to do for her instead.

He turns to Bretta, Slava, and Sumi. Bretta looks at her two friends, clearly pushing them to answer first, until Slava caves.

“I think I can keep this up for another week. I’m willing to keep going for more, but… I don’t know how much more.”

Sumi runs a hand through her hair. “I’d like to stay as long as we can.” Blue doesn’t miss the way she subtly includes Slava, and possibly Bretta. “But if the island ends up going through cycles… I still have two more badges besides this one. Might take a break to pick them up.”

“I want a path to victory,” Bretta says, blunt as ever. “Even if we gain ground faster than we lose it, we’ll end up stuck if the lost ground gets stronger than we can easily handle. It’s like we’re facing a trainer whose whole team is a setup for a Toxic stall.”

“It’s not that bad,” Chase says with a shrug. “We can secure most of the island, except a handful of areas that only the strongest trainers can deal with. Blaine won’t be happy, but he’s a pragmatist at heart. If he sees it’s no-win, he’ll shift focus to containment.”

Blue shakes his head. He likes Chase, but it’s exactly this kind of thinking that he has to change, even here on Cinnabar where people are used to more “active” defense. “That’s not sustainable if it takes weeks of extra trainer rotations to bring the zones to blue. Anything could happen in that time to put the whole island back in red.”

Bretta nods. “Stormbringer.”

“Second new species outbreak,” Sumi adds.

“Renegade activity.” Glen glances at Blue, who keeps his face neutral.

He gave his friends simple tasks, if they had the free slack, tasks which he sort of regrets given the sudden slew of new difficulties the island faces, and how little they learned.

Glen’s startup has been going well, and it puts him in contact with a growing list of distributors for all the various restaurants, grocers, and supply stores in the region… and on Cinnabar, that list is fairly short. Elaine’s been scouting the island more than anyone else to find good locations for scenarios, which gave her plenty of reasons to check out the different potential places where other hidden labs might be set up. Maria, Lizzy, Bretta, everyone has been making friends, asking questions, trying to get a better sense from the locals of what else might be happening on the island.

The little bits of information shared with each other haven’t amounted to much, which Blue expected, but was still mildly disappointed by. All they had was a rough time range where odd people might have showed up in the city or nearby towns, a general location where weird things might have happened, and a vague idea of what sorts of things might be included.

Even the lab’s discovery hasn’t changed much, other than to raise everyone’s awareness of the potential stakes. Blaine’s arrival made it clear that there was no need to hide things anymore… but at the very least, Blue has kept the secret of what Leaf suspects the lab was for. He doesn’t want to betray people’s confidence, and also it might make him seem a little unhinged if they’re wrong.

But it’s what’s on his mind when he says, “Or another set of myths waking up somewhere and turning the world on its head.”

Bretta nods. “Hell, a big enough stampede could send everyone back to the safety of the city.”

“Alright, alright,” Chase says, and sighs. “Not saying I want that. But most of our trainers aren’t getting strong enough, fast enough, to make a meaningful difference in the zones that are flaring up. We’ve got an absurdly low casualty rate given what we’ve been doing, and you guys can claim some credit for that. It’s a part of why Blaine has been so willing to give you more autonomy. But if more trainers start getting maimed or killed, or even losing too many strong pokemon, we’ll lose even more to caution and worry.”

And Blaine might retract some, or all, of that autonomy. It doesn’t need to be said, and Blue nods to show he’s got the message, feeling some of the anxious churn in his stomach again.

“We’ve still got a quarter of the recruits to organize.” Bretta says. “Once they’re ready to run a scenario—”

“Just run?” Chase asks. “Half the groups from last week couldn’t complete theirs.”

“We need a path to victory, like Bretta said,” Blue cuts in. It’s so clear, in pokemon battles. It’s not always right, but it’s at least there. A series of steps that will force the opponent into a corner, strip their options one by one, until defeat is inevitable. A series of readied reactions for different possibilities, to adapt to the range of things they might do.

But there’s no opponent here, no single mind he’s trying to beat, with limited options on its belt. There’s just… the world. It’s the endless potential of the wilds, of new combinations of enemies showing up at times and places that are hard to predict, and in amounts that are hard to prepare for.

“I want to believe we could do it with the people we have,” Blue says. “That we just need to be more—” He almost says unpredictable. Which wouldn’t make any sense, in this case, but… “Adaptable. Something we haven’t thought of before, something gyms or CoRRNet couldn’t do before. But new options would be good, whatever form they come in.”

“More resources can also lead to new options,” Elaine says.

“Resources are tapped, if you mean money,” Chase says. “Emergency funding worked, as far as Indigo is concerned, and CoRRNet won’t re-escalate our ranking unless things get way worse. Cinnabar’s in debt for the foreseeable future, and the Gym’s only avoiding budget cuts because the League is helping out.”

“Do we know any charitable millionaires willing to offer a bunch of money?” Slava asks. “Maybe even bounty money? We could reach out to some, frame it as a charity thing, or…?”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Glen says, speaking slowly. “But a bunch of professional bounty hunters showing up would definitely create a different vibe.”

“Do we care about vibes?” Chase asks, brow raised. “Because I know Blaine wouldn’t care about vibes, if it makes people safer.”

“It might get trainers already helping out wondering why they’re not getting paid,” Slava says.

Glen crosses his arms. “If they’re as skilled as the professionals, maybe they should.”

“Okay, sidelining that debate for the third time,” Blue says. “Good ideas so far, keep them coming. Something besides money.”

“New outreach,” Elaine says. “We tapped What Comes Next, and there’s a lot of overlap with the others we know, but we could reach out to people directly?”

“Dragon Dojo.” Glen starts ticking off with his fingers. “Stormchasers?”

“Ew,” Sumi says.

“Agreed, but we’re in babble mode,” Blue says. “Just spit the ideas out, we’ll prune down to practical ones later. More suggestions?”

Bretta was studying the roster again, but turns to face them, frowning slightly. “Vermilion Gym? Might seem like poaching…”

The room is quiet for a moment. Blue tries to imagine that conversation, maybe between him and Surge directly, maybe just between Blaine and Surge…. “It’s not bad,” he says slowly. “But also might not be enough. At this point, we’d need, what, another fifty trainers with 3+ badges?”

“At least,” Sumi says. “Closer to seventy, all dedicating a few hours a day for three weeks.”

“Four to be safe,” Slava adds.

Bretta returns to studying the roster. “And yeah, three badges or equivalent would be needed to be extra careful not to risk new casualties. 4 badges would be better, with how absurdly fast the wilds on the island are getting stronger.”

“I’d be surprised if there are that many unattached high level trainers in Kanto that haven’t already come,” Chase says. “Or even all of Indigo. And if we want to attract people from further out, there needs to be a better prize involved, which leads us back to the incentives. If not money, then…?”

“Status?” Blue muses. “If we can hype participation up more…”

“Ditto,” Glen suggests. “People still need to hand over their catches until they’re safe, but maybe we can ensure everyone has a rotation through a ditto heavy area.”

“What about the area where a more stable ecosystem is developing?” Elaine suggests.

“It’s an idea. I’ll talk with Ira and Wendy. As for the earlier idea about rich folk, Red knows Bill, and Silph owes him a favor. Gramps also might have ideas about what’s happening on the island, and what we can do about it.” Blue switches the table setting to view the island hologram again, selecting the routes going through that area. “What about tactics? What sort of terrain are we working in, how can we change that?”

“You want to drain a lake or something?” Chase asks, sounding grudgingly admiring. “Flood some strong wild habitats? Because Blaine might have objections.”

“Babble first,” Elaine reminds him. “Pretty sure CoRRNet would too, but that’s for later.”

“Speaking of which…” Slava hesitates, then clears his throat. “Yeah, terrible idea probably, but uh… what about introducing some new invasive species?”

“Oh yeah,” Chase sighs. “This’ll go well.”

“And we’re live, in three… two… Hey Indigo, what’s bad, what’s good, what’s better than yesterday, cuz today I’m here on the island of fiery desire live with a random trainer you may have heard of named Blue Oak, currently acting member of the Cinnabar Gym. Mug for the camera, Blue.”

Blue smiles, a naturally wry expression he turns toward the held up camera for just a couple seconds before returning his gaze to the path they’re climbing. “Hey everyone. Watch your step here, it’s mossy.”

“Mossy, right.” Brightfire has bright blue hair swept up to a twirling point above his head, a cheerful disposition, and dark golden eyes that mark him as a member of one of Indigo’s “Dragon Clans.” To his credit, those gold eyes do sweep over the ground as he takes some careful steps up to the next ridge. The camera set in its swivel-mount atop his shoulder points down to take in the uneven terrain before lifting and turning to take in his profile again, and Blue’s face beyond. “Clan, Blue here says this is the best route to get a good view of what he’s been up to over on Cinnabar. It’s been a bit of a climb, but we’ll be there in…?”

“Few more minutes.”

“A few more minutes! During which, we have time for a few starters. Such as, what made you reach out to little old me? I’m sure all my clanmates who’ve been busy doing cool shit weren’t too busy to hear about that whole Miracle Eye thing, but you haven’t spoken to the press since, despite all the stuff you’ve been doing here, and I’m not exactly a journalist.”

Brightfire (born Bastion, as if that wasn’t already a cool enough name) may not be a journalist, but he’s got a larger online presence than most news sources. Child to a branch of the most famous Indigo Dragon Clan family, he started his journey under the massive shadow of his first cousin twice removed, Indigo Champion Lance. But unlike most in his family (and according to rumors, much to their displeasure), he aborted his gym circuit after his 7th badge, a couple years before Blue left Pallet Town. Instead of going on to challenge his aunt’s gym in Blackthorn, he ended up liveblogging a series of daring and extremely risky pokemon captures.

It exploded his already decently sized following, and the infamy he gained from some online commenters only brought him more. Blue had written him off as an interesting but somewhat dangerous influence, spurring people on to try things they weren’t prepared for to imitate his heroics, or gather some of his fame for themselves…

But the older teen is undeniably skilled, and undeniably inspires trainers to try harder and push their boundaries. Things Blue shares a natural affinity for, even if he’s more interested in reinventing gym cultures than rejecting them entirely.

“I invited you because I think you’d appreciate what we’re doing here,” Blue says, letting his voice carry the frank honesty he feels. “But I also invited you because I want your audience.”

“Uh oh, clan. Have we been duped? Top ten anime betrayals?” Brightfire is smiling. They didn’t rehearse any of this; it’s a point of pride for him to only record things live, and his reputation is built on authenticity. “You’ve got a pretty big following yourself, Oak. If they won’t bite, what makes you think my collection of free spirits will pay the price of admission for whatever you’re selling here?”

Blue feels a spark of heat in his chest. He wants to push back against the idea that his followers aren’t “biting,” but there’s a tangle of traps around claiming the people who follow him are people he can get to do things, comparing them in any way to Brightfire’s following, all while avoiding coming off as defensive if he says he did get plenty of people to come. “No price, and it’s not for me. I won’t even be on Cinnabar much longer, if things go well. But we’re doing something new here, something daring, and something hard. I’ll be pretty surprised if you or your ‘clan’ don’t want a taste.”

“We heard those airquotes, didn’t we, clan? But okay, Oak, we’re here and you’ve got us pegged. Just gotta see if whatever you’re doing is worth my time. The clan can decide for themselves, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Like any of them would do something their idol had spurned… though it might not be all-or-nothing. Brightfire could admit that the endeavor is daring enough, but say he’s not joining because he’s got other plans, and those people who want to be part of it could feel like they have his blessing to come. “How much do you know about what I’ve been up to, exactly?”

“I’ve heard about the wargames you’ve been putting people through at Kanto gyms. I’d say it’s a step in the right direction, but if you know anything about me—”

“Been watching your stuff since I was 9.”

“—you know what I’m going to say next.”

“‘No risk of dying, no point in trying.'” Blue shrugs a shoulder. “It took you far, and led a lot of your clan to greatness.”

“You mean my bio clan, or are you sucking up to the viewers?”

“Both. But there are still god-like, elemental forces wreaking havoc throughout Indigo, and I’d be dumb to call you a coward, but I am wondering when you’re going to go for broke.”

Brightfire grins. “He’s calling us out, clan. You bring me all this way just for that, Oak? What do we say, clan? You go for a dragonite, your belt better be loaded. Glory comes in the fight even if you fail, but fighting hard means fighting smart, and I’m not dumb enough to think I’m ready to beat the Beasts.”

“But you plan to be, someday? Does anyone from your clan plan to be?”

“Hey clan, he’s talking to you. Anyone gonna do something stupid enough to make all of us look like overeager idiots?”

Blue wants to say that’s not answering his question. If anything it’s implying the answer is no, not really, but in a way that makes them look noble and sane rather than afraid or hypocritical. But before he can, Brightfire slows, then grins and speeds up.

He heard it.

They make the rest of the climb quickly, spurred on by the distant shouts and other sounds of battle drifting from afar and echoing faintly around them, until they finally crest the final ridge, where a top down view of a plateau sticking out the side of a nearby mountain is waiting for them.

From this distance, they can just make out a squad of four trainers who are currently engaged against seven “wild” pokemon, their own trainers imitating a stampede that’s upping its pressure little by little, pushing them back toward the edge of the plateau. Brightfire seems at least a little interested, maybe just by how close the defending trainers are from the cliff’s edge. His left thumb and forefinger have sensor rings around them, and small twitches pan the camera on his shoulder left and right, followed by a pinching motion that sends its lens stretching forward.

They watch together as one of the trainers is forced back even further by rock thrown by a graveler. The figures are distant enough that it’s hard to differentiate them, but one of the closer trainers comes to their rescue, only for a fresh stampede wave to force the two of them further back.

“What are they trying to do?” Brightfire asks. “Not just survive, yeah?”

“Why not?” Blue asks, tone light. Obviously baiting.

“Too tame.” Brightfire’s gaze is fixed on the battle, despite his motto, and he detaches the camera from his shoulder, then holds it up to his eye so he can see more clearly. The four trainers are all being forced back again, and some are almost entirely out of room to maneuver. “And pointless. If it’s a real cliff, and they’re supposed to be in the field, they should have teleporters. Non-dark trainers hold them off while darks get on their fliers, then teleport away. Let them stampede off, or fight them somewhere better suited.”

It’s always nice to get reminders of how taken for granted it is, these days, that teleportation should be factored into any group of trainers’ strategy. “And if it’s not?”

“What, like the drop is a crowd of civvies or a hospital or something? And you just have them fight here to make it more intense?” Brightfire’s smiling now. “Still seems too tame. I thought you were doing interesting stuff. Come on, Oak. What’s the trick?”

“I’ll give you hints. One, they are just trying to survive.”


“And two, it is supposed to be a real cliff.”

Brightfire glances at him, then looks through his camera again. A moment passes before he says, “But there’s a trick. Alright. Clan chat’s probably exploding with guesses, but I’ll figure this out myself.”

Blue nods, and watches as the fourth trainer has finished healing their pokemon, and rejoins the fight. Some of the “stampeding” pokemon get ordered to move toward a path off the plateau, and the recovered trainer rushes to engage them battle, drawing them back toward the others and joining them in a more robust defense.

Brightfire’s lips purse, and Blue catches him looking up, then around, then down, and knows he got it, even if he doesn’t know the how, yet.

Still, the group has to survive a little longer, and it’s looking bad. A blast of heat from an arcanine sends a pokemon nearly tumbling over the edge, sending Blue’s heart leaping into his throat. It only barely gets returned on time, but the distraction causes the trainer to get forced back once more… and then they turn to leap off the plateau.

“What,” is all Brightfire gets out before the plummeting figure engages their parachute, which blooms above them and slows their descent before they drop too far or fast, letting them glide toward the valley below. “Ha! Okay, clan, that got me, and I bet it got most of you. If all their bags are parachutes… they’re all dark?”

“No, not all.”

“But some won’t have time to mount up before it happens.”

“Before what happens?”

Brightfire just grins. “Whatever ‘it’ is. Hoping some of you figured it out, clan. Assuming they last long enough…”

Nearly thirty seconds of more desperate fighting ensue, and a few of the stampeding pokemon “escape,” being returned to their balls and sent back out. The team training will lose points for each of those, but it’s as Brightfire said. They just have to hold out, and keep the majority of their opponents engaged…

It’s gotten easier since that first badge scenario he watched in Vermilion Gym, but Blue’s heart still pounds as he watches the battle, and he wipes sweaty palms carefully on his pants. He wants this to go well for the sake of convincing Brightfire, but he also wants it to go well because he wants their new strategy to work. They couldn’t exactly practice it, here…

Another trainer looks like they’re moments away from jumping when the CRACK sounds. Brightfire and Blue look up to see two trainers higher up on the mountain, who weren’t in position yet when Brightfire checked. Their summoned rhyperior and onix are hard at work striking at certain parts of a cliff, and another CRACK echoes around them, followed by a third, until the jutting earth finally starts to fall.

The trainers scramble to withdraw their pokemon and summon teleporters, or run for the edge if dark. Blue feels a stirring of awe at the sight of the mountain face just… breaking, melting, tons of rock billowing dust out as it starts to gain momentum, all that earth almost seeming to turn liquid as it rushes the rest of the way toward the plateau the trainers are on…

…but it’s already clear, the last one having just leapt and deployed their parachute as the first of the boulders comes bouncing down ahead of the landslide.

The noise is incredible, an echoing rumble that still manages to be quiet and steady enough that it sounds like a waterfall, but with the occasional echoing crackle of breaking trees or bouncing boulders. Blue’s heart leaps into his throat as a boulder bounces in the direction of one of the trainers, while Brightfire lets out a whoop. It’s not close, really, but Blue still lets out a long breath as the last of them gets far enough to be clear, the line of colorful parachutes floating steadily away. The mountain continues to feed the hungry beast that awakened on its surface, obliterating greenery and ridges far below them all.

The plateau the trainers were on is still standing, but it’s scoured clean, and most of the edge has been cut off as if by a giant knife. It’s a little surreal to be standing in the same place he was a minute ago, and have the world in front of him so drastically transformed. Blue looks up to the trainers who caused it, and sees they’ve withdrawn their pokemon and left.

Brightfire is laughing, and Blue turns toward him with a brow raised. “How close were you?”

“I thought maybe something would appear beneath them.” Brightfire shakes his head, still grinning, and turns the camera around to face him. “What do you say clan? Worth the show? Glad you tuned in?”

“I did promise a good view, at the very least.”

“You did, and delivered.” Brightfire is still chuckling. “CoRRNet really gives you permission for this, Oak?”

“They do. I’m working with them, and the gym, to make sure we’re all pushing toward the same goal, so we can do things we otherwise couldn’t alone.”

“Yeah yeah, message is clear, we got it, don’t we, clan? Stronger together.” Brightfire shrugs. “Impressive as it is, I don’t see how it’s supposed to turn the tide of what’s going on in Cinnabar.”

“It’s just a part of the overall plan.” Blue shrugs back. “Those trainers, they became more prepared to fight in an environment that limited their movement. They faced overwhelming odds in a battle of endurance. And the other team identified an environmental factor they could use to their advantage, and made it work for them within just a few minutes of scouting the area.”

“Assuming this wasn’t scripted.”

Blue just gives him a level look. “I didn’t bring down a chunk of a mountain just to impress you.”

“You did it to impress me and spice up the learning activity?”

Blue smiles slightly. “A bit closer. Like I said, there’s a few different parts to our new overall strategy. Will you stick around a couple days, so I can show you a few more?”

“Any of them as impressive as this?” Brightfire’s brow is raised. “Because I kind of doubt you’ve got something else of that caliber ready, and we already knew you were a showman. If that was your inner crew—”

“Wasn’t,” Blue says. “Veteran group, but all 3 and 4 badgers. My friends were the stampede trainers, not the ones being trained, or the two up top, who were just a couple well suited gym members given free rein to do whatever they expected would work, after setting eyes on the location for the first time.”

“Sure. Point is, if someone from clan gets here expecting to learn to parachute and bring down mountains, how likely are they instead to shovel shit for weeks, or handhold 1 and 2-badgers?”

Blue does his best to control his smile, to show his amusement without letting on to the sudden hope he feels. Brightfire definitely isn’t showing no interest… even if he’s only talking as if it’s about his clan, and not his own odds of staying to join up.

He addresses the camera directly. “That’s up to the trainer. The abilities of everyone here is judged as fairly as we can, so just showing up claiming to be part of ‘clan Brightfire’ isn’t going to give anyone special treatment. But I will say, I plan for this island to be back to where it was before the ditto appeared, and I don’t plan to waste any time—or anyone’s time—on minor shit. We’re going to be doing almost two dozen special ops a week, when the ball gets rolling, and we’re going to need strong trainers doing what they do best… and learning new tricks along the way.”

Brightfire is watching him with a wry look, and when Blue meets those golden eyes, he sees something both predatory and respectful. “I guess I can stick around another day. See just how strong the wilds on this island are, that they’re giving you all so much trouble…”

This isn’t how Blue expected to arrive at Viridian Gym.

Final gyms are supposed to be special. To have an extra air of reverence and anticipation. To inspire an extra level of confidence, a knowledge that everyone there would know he’s a step below being qualified to, perhaps, become their boss’s boss, or their boss’s boss’s boss.

But instead of seven badges, he only has six when he walks in to the Gym lobby for the first time.

He also hoped to come at the head of a small army, loyal trainers who were also strong enough to get an eighth badge, whether it was Giovanni’s or not, and would travel through Indigo Plateau with him, until they reached the very top of the League and had a final, intense, glorious battle to see who would be Champion.

But instead he arrives alone. In style, on the back of Soul, but not as impressive as he would otherwise be.

He even wondered if, along the way between arriving and challenging Giovanni, he’d get a sense of the gym culture, find some way to improve or revolutionize it the way he did Vermilion, Fuchsia, Cinnabar, or even Celadon.

Instead Blue just makes his way through the gym without recognizing or connecting with anyone (though he caught the extra stares and excited looks), nor does he even get a sense of the vibe… which is, as far as he can tell, just that of a standard, competent gym that has no apparent theme beyond the earth tones and geode displays lining the halls.

He enters an elevator, walks down more halls, and arrives at Giovanni’s office. A black marble door set in the stone walls meets his fist as he knocks.

“Come in.”

Blue does, and a moment later he’s sitting in the office of one of the most powerful trainers in Indigo, a room that encapsulates the cold, implacable power and authority of the earth, with mosaic walls of polished black and brown stones, geodes of various colors tastefully set in sconces by each corner, and a black stone desk shot through with veins of gold.

“Good morning, Trainer Oak.” Giovanni is wearing his usual dark suit, matching the stone of the walls and desk.

“Morning, Leader. Thanks for inviting me.” He would have preferred an online exchange, but upon hearing what the topic would be, Giovanni said an in-person chat would go better, and Blue is not the sort of person to turn down an advantage in any situation where he might need to persuade someone.

All of Erika’s lessons are on his mind as he meets the powerful Leader’s gaze, a distant part of him still capable of fanboying over the youngest champion in Indigo history. “As the nearest gym to Cinnabar, I’d like to suggest—”

“I agree. My gym will reach out to Leader Blaine today, and negotiate logistics.” Giovanni’s smile is small, but feels almost mischievous as Blue blinks at him. “I’m sorry, did you want to go through your pitch in full, first?”

“No, Leader,” Blue says, and the surge of relief as it sinks in that he won is mildly dizzying. Combined with the “Brightfire clan” arrivals, which started less than twenty-four hours after the livestream and within the past few days have totaled nearly a dozen new trainers, Viridian Gym members would provide a much stronger backbone to their roster. “Thank you for your help.”

But hang on, why did he invite him here, if—

“It’s nothing. I’d additionally like you to know that should you want to challenge me, the arena is ready at any time. A few basic battles with my gym members, to observe the formalities, one thrilling match between us that you can add to your legacy highlights, and the Viridian badge will be yours.”

Blue stares at Leader Giovanni, so surprised now that he can’t help but feel wary. Is he being toyed with? Why would Giovanni offer this? Did Blaine mention that he wanted to save Giovanni for last? “At what cost?”

Giovanni spreads his hands, and leans back slightly in his chair. “No cost, Blue Oak. You’ve made your intention to become Champion clear. I approve. Your skills as a trainer and as a leader are still growing, but you already command more loyalty than you know. You also wish to do so quickly, allowing for the occasional undertaken project. I believe you could beat me if given a chance, or two. Three at absolute most. Do you disagree?”

Blue relaxes slightly, hearing it spelled out so clearly. He feels like he’s speaking to Erika, in a way, appreciating the directness and honesty, but… more than that, there’s something warming, something empowering, about hearing the Viridian Gym Leader say he approves of Blue aiming to become Champion. “No, Leader.”

“Good. So why pretend that you’re like any other trainer? The things you’ve done and seen elevate you above the usual 6 badges you carry. Some of your companions may warrant a similar fast tracking, but they can arrive in their own time.”

It’s all so gratifying, and so still there’s the nagging voice of doubt… “Do you plan to throw the match?”

“Would you say yes, if I did?”

And maybe that’s it. Maybe this is the real test.

Should he? Would he be able to live with his legacy? Like Giovanni said, Blue knows he’d be able to beat him sooner or later… and he’d get the near-perfect record. Something that might make all the difference, when the time comes to rally the region behind him.

There’s no way for Giovanni to know if his answer is truthful. Maybe he’s delayed too long already.

He almost says yes. It’s the practical thing to do, and sitting here, in the Leader’s office, being so frank and direct… and he wants to be practical.

But he didn’t make it all the way here on practicality alone.

“I think,” Blue says instead, each word feeling heavy and firm as the earth. “That I would do myself more harm than good, carrying your badge into Victory Road like that. I’ve dreamed of facing you in a real test of skill for half of my life… and that’s something I could give up, for the sake of Indigo. But what I can’t do without is the knowledge that I deserve to be Champion, in every way that matters. And beating you, for my eighth badge… it’s a test that matters, to me, like few others.”

It’s rare to see Leader Giovanni smile as wide as he does now. “I look forward to it. So let’s see how we can deliver Cinnabar back the peace it’s lost, and speed up the day that test comes.”

Chapter 125: Interlude XXV – Shared Weight

Chapter 125: Interlude XXV – Shared Weight


The call dragged him from sleep, back protesting as he abruptly sat forward in his chair. His office was dimly lit, and it took him a moment to regather his bearings, separate dream from reality…

Blaine, they’re here.”

A jolt of adrenaline chased most of the remaining drowsiness away, and he rushed to unplug his workpad as he stood. Pins and needles made him sag against the desk, but he forced himself around it and forward, grabbing his lab coat on the way out so he could shove his arms through its sleeves.

Yuki paced the hall, looking like she got just as little sleep as he did. Still, her hair was brushed into a glossy dark wave, her white coat spotless over a bright yellow halter top. All of which made him acutely aware that he didn’t bring a change of clothes for the morning, because he didn’t plan to fall asleep here. Mistake. Should have predicted…

You okay?” she asked, voice low.

Yes. My coat?”

She fussed at its collar to make it lie flat, then straightened his tie. “You shaved.”

Bad?” He touched jaw and cheek. It felt overly exposed and sensitive to the air, all except for his upper lip, where he’d left a mustache.

No, looks good. You stayed here all night?”

Had to make sure.”

I could have helped.” She stepped back.

My responsibility. You handled yours.”

I still could have helped.”

He shook his head. Part of him did appreciate the offer, but… working in the field, at labs, or in corporations showed him time and again the dangers of a diffuse work hierarchy. Worse, of a structure where the responsibility was diffuse…

So long as one person was, ultimately, responsible for each task, it was easier to not slack off and hope someone else made up the lack. For most things, delegation is necessary, but motivation and error correction could only be clearly evaluated and ensured when the chain of responsibility is clear and singular.

A knock at the front door. “One more minute!” she called out.

You didn’t let them in?”

And bring them where, to see you napping?”

He sighed and straightened his tie, only for her to reach out and straighten it again.

Remember,” she said, letting out a slow breath as her gaze met his. “Slow. Okay?”

Blaine nodded and took his own slow breath over the pounding of his heart. She smiled, squeezed his arm, then went toward the front door.

He checked his pad once more, making sure it was on the right page, then followed. They’ve done enough. Surely, it will be enough…

“—pleasure to meet you.”

The two League officials appeared to be around his age, which could be a good or bad thing. Either his lab was too small to warrant a serious investigation, or too small to warrant someone senior enough for complex decisions…

Dr. Ueda.” The woman bowed to him. “I’m Minori, this is Kenzo. We’re here to discuss—”

Yes, hello.” He returned the bow, but not before he saw Yuki’s wince from behind them. He knew why they’re here, they knew he knew why they’re here, why delay things? “I’ve prepared a list of our efforts to—”

Would you like some tea, first?” Yuki asked, raising her eyebrows at him.

I’ll pass, thank you,” Minori said, and Kenzo nodded his own appreciation. “But we can start with a tour, if that’s alright?”

Of course.” Blaine led them back the way he came, passing the shared office he, Yuki, and the other three at his startup shared. Past the bathroom and closet, and into the living room. Or what used to be a living room.

The walls were lined with shelves, three large tables filling most of the floor space. “Chemistry,” he said, pointing to one, then the second and third. “Mechanics, materials.”

The two league officials stared at the crowded space. He wondered if they were waiting for more explanation, but surely they knew what the lab was working on from their briefing… surely they’d had a briefing?

And… the kitchen?”

Not for food,” Yuki said with a smile. “Some intersection of chemistry and biology. Samples go in the fridge, any disposal in the sink. Don’t worry, we ensure they’re safe for the piping, and water soluble.”

It’s all in my documents,” Blaine tried, holding his pad up again.

Capture ball prototype?” Kenzo asked, speaking for the first time. Blaine followed his gaze to the casing of Silph’s newest design. It’s a marvel of engineering, almost small enough to fit in one hand.

Alterations. Testing heat and pressure tolerance.”

Testing… where?”

Volcano and ocean.” Blaine tried to keep his burgeoning frustration in check as he avoided mentioning that it was in his documents. He knew they were here for direct observation, not just review their policies—that could have been done online. But he expected they would want to get on with their day as much as he did, and they would be able to ask more meaningful questions after reading the documentation…

And is this the state the lab was in during the license clearance?”

More or less,” Yuki said, skipping over the hours of cleaning, organizing, and cataloging they all put in. “We’ve added some equipment, but nothing that would add to risk profiles.”

Minori took another look around. “I have to admit, I expected your work here to be mostly theoretical, with the lab consisting only of simulation, or material production.”

We can theorize at home,” Blaine said, trying to restrain his sarcasm. It would serve no purpose. “Have either of you worked in chemistry or engineering?”

Material science,” Kenzo says. “For just a few years.”

Chemistry, but studied rather than worked in.” Minori said. “You likely don’t remember many names or faces, but our lab came to collaborate with yours in university. Unfortunately, the trip was cut short by—”

Moltres,” Blaine said, memories making his pulse quicken. Memories of air so dry and hot he worried his clothes would burst into flame. Of time slipping through his fingers, the waves of Pressure driving him to scramble from one minute to the next… “Yes, I’d forgotten that.”

Yuki was watching him. He should say more? He shifted his weight, cleared his throat. “It was a difficult time, after.” The reconstruction, the loss of life and destroyed work… the frustration he felt, after, with everyone’s lack of coordination, of ability… and his own powerlessness. “I’m glad you made it safely through.”

You too. I changed focus, after. Took up training again.”

Blaine nodded, then added, “I considered it.” He’d been good, as a trainer. Perhaps better than he was a researcher.

But his best efforts as a trainer weren’t enough. It wasn’t a path to keeping what happened that day from happening again.

There’s some more equipment through here,” Yuki said. “And then we can show you our documentation?”

They followed her, and it took another ten minutes before they were seated in the somewhat cramped office. Kenzo read from his phone after Blaine sent him a copy of the document, and Minori read from his pad, while Yuki and he simply watched them scroll. Blaine woke his computer at one point and tried to do some work, but he mostly failed to do anything more than check his mail numerous times.

Finally, Minori handed the pad back. Kenzo continued reading, but nodded when she said, “It’s an impressive list of measures, especially for a startup this small. I’ll let the League know that, by my judgment, your lab is being very cautious. Perhaps even overly so.”

His shoulders felt as though they were relaxing for the first time in days. He let out a long, slow breath, and beside him heard Yuki doing the opposite. “Thank you.”


He should have known.

I feel I should be upfront, and warn you that it’s possible their decision still won’t be favorable.”

He stared at her, saw the regret in her eyes, the way her hands clasped in her lap. Kenzo was slowly putting his phone away. “Why?”

We’re not part of those meetings. But my boss’s boss has been pretty insistent that what happened in Hoenn can’t happen here.”

But… we still have no idea why the computers became pokemon!”

Do we?” Yuki asked. “Is it being kept secret?”

Not as far as we know,” Kenzo said. “But the leading idea among the public is that maybe artificial pokemon come from places where things are being invented.”

Blaine opened his mouth to scoff, but Minori held a hand up. “I agree that’s not a good explanation. But the League is mostly deferring to civilian government on this, and the public has spoken. We expect a new category of zoning laws will go into effect, requiring laboratories to be away from residential areas.”

He felt the weight back on his shoulders, and deeper, in his chest. His hands were clenched on his armrests, and he took deep breaths, trying not to think of all the work they’d put into this, all the money and time… “We can’t relocate. We barely have the spare funding to move everything to another location, let alone build a whole new lab.”

And the prices of suitable places have already jumped,” Yuki murmured. “There have been rumors…”

Minori nodded, still looking sad, but didn’t say anything else. Blaine could feel himself wanting to yell, to plead. Their research wasn’t just a way to launch the company, it was important, it could change the kinds of pokemon everyone could tame, make the capture balls more durable…

But those would be emotional appeals, and none of it would matter. It’s not up to them. They heard his arguments and evidence, and none of it would reach those who are making the decision, ultimately.

Because those people didn’t exist, not really. They were everywhere, an amorphous blob of fear and superstition, made up of people who he can barely talk to on a normal day, on regular topics. No one person is taking responsibility for the decision or the counterfactual harm, not even the Champion or President.

The silence went on for over a minute, and it was Yuki who stirred first, and murmured, “Thank you, both of you, for your time.”

Of course. I wish we—”

You could have just said it.”

A hand gripped his shoulder. He almost shook it off.

It’s not a sure thing, Dr. Ueda. I just—”

The warning is appreciated.” Yuki’s fingers dig into his arm, but what harm, to be frank? What would it matter? “It would have been appreciated more a week ago, or even yesterday. If you’re visiting anyone else,” he grits out, heart pounding and jaw aching with his restraint. “I suggest you tell them up front how little their efforts will matter, and that you’re just there to check boxes off a list.”


They should know as soon as possible that—”

It’s not their—”

It’s alright,” Kenzo said, and stood. “Really. I think it’s better if we go.”

Minori stood as well. “I’m sorry. And thank you for the… suggestion, Dr. Ueda. It’s… not something I’m supposed to say, but I… would have felt bad, if I hadn’t said anything.”

Blaine’s mind buzzed, anger hot in his lungs, despair heavy in his chest. He couldn’t respond, couldn’t think of any words to fill the silence with that wouldn’t be just as hollow as the ones before. Eventually Kenzo touched Minori’s arm, and they bowed before leaving.

Yuki’s hand stayed clenched around Blaine’s arm until they heard the distant sound of the front door closing. Only then did her fingers relax, her hand sliding partway down to his elbow. “Blaine…”

It’s my fault.” The words were like hot lead as he forced them out. “I didn’t take it seriously enough, consider worst case scenarios. I’ll think of something. Look for new funding.”

I can help—”

It’s my responsibility. You go home, sleep.”

I don’t w—”

I’d like to be alone.” His stomach was full of acid, and he finally felt his hunger. He didn’t eat anything the night before, or this morning… “Please.”

She was silent, all except her breathing. Shallow. Uneven. He didn’t look at her, and eventually she squeezed his arm once more, and stood up, and left.

Slowly, he placed his arms on the table. Slowly, he sank his head down, until the acid stopped swirling in his stomach, until the burning fled, leaving only the weight over his heart, twice as heavy each time he thought of Yuki’s hand on his arm, or the way he didn’t even look at her before she left.

Also his fault. Also his responsibility. No one else’s.

He didn’t know how he’d fix anything, yet. But it was the only way he knew to try.

The manor was a ten minute flight from Blaine’s nearest teleport point, and he spent those minutes trying to imagine the confrontation ahead. Who might be there, what they might claim, how he would respond, and whether it would be better for Kiko and Mathew to be with him.

They ride behind him, now, their charizards trailing by enough distance that none of them get territorial about their airspace. They were the two at the gym when the call came who 1) had mounts who could keep up, 2) were senior enough, and 3) were available on short notice. That they happen to ride charizard as well is serendipity, and he’ll take the extra edge it might give them.

Anyone assuming it would be a show of status would be wrong; it’s a show of force, which he hopes won’t be necessary, but is rarely unhelpful in speeding things to their conclusions.

The sun gleams off Kokuyōseki’s dark scales as Blaine angles her into a slow, graceful swoop that brings the manor into sight, and it takes him a moment to recognize what he’s seeing around the manor as… a picnic.

Multiple picnics.

He notes his confusion, and sets aside the burgeoning frustration. He would be rather upset over this all being some misunderstanding that led to a waste of time, but he would also rather that be the case than whatever else might have brought him here…

Sudden movement draws his attention to the north, where a—

“Dragonite,” he says, pressing his earpiece.

—rises abruptly toward them. Kokuyōseki’s challenge roar sends a flood of adrenaline through him, kickstarting his shift to analyzing opening attacks and evasive strategies…

The dragonite roars its challenge back, but also turns to mirror them at a constant distance. Blaine is still processing the sudden shift while his head cranes to look around by trained habit, and he sees the honchkrow flying silently above them.

How long had it been there? Likely long enough to take them by surprise if the dragonite had completed its charge…

“We’ve got a tail,” Kiko says just a few rapid heartbeats after Blaine’s realization, but then she adds, “Kilowattrel.”


But they’re not being attacked, and when Blaine looks back down at the manor, it’s clear from the way the distant figures scramble toward the building that they’re not all combatants. Which also solves the problem of where to land.

“Kiko, perimeter,” he says. “Mathew, stay high and follow anyone that leaves.”

“On it.”

“Yes s-zzhshhhhh…”

Blaine frowns and taps his ear piece to turn it off, ending the static. As if the dragonite weren’t confirmation enough, jamming comms implies something more serious than a bunch of looters. More organized.

Kokuyōseki eases out of the glide for a gentle landing, her breath coming out in a slow, hot stream that washes over him like a sauna. He clenches his teeth to avoid biting his tongue as she hits the ground in a short lope that tears up some grass and a couple picnic blankets… which, on closer inspection, appear to be tablecloths.

None of the people around the manor have fled farther than it took to create a safe landing zone, and they also haven’t summoned any pokemon. By the time his boots have hit grass, a few are even approaching at a jog.

“Oak.” Confusion mixes with relief as he also recognizes Verres and Juniper, along with Ranger Neasman and the foreign cadet. “Explain.”

Juniper begins to speak. “With all due respect, Leader—”

The young Oak cuts his friend off by raising a hand in front of her, and simply says, “You first.”

Blaine’s eyes narrow, and he removes his flight helmet and exchanges the goggles for his sunglasses before he looks up to where the dragonite is flying a tight circle beneath Kiko’s charizard. He tests his earpiece again, then takes a closer look at those around them.

Men and women, all dressed for mining work, if he interprets the thick, dirt-stained material properly. He doesn’t see any obvious signs of digging, but perhaps within the mansion… “What’s the accusation?”

Oak hesitates, this time, and when Juniper looks at him, he nods, and she steps forward. “Delaying us.”

“Us?” He focuses on the expressions now, the way those around them hold themselves. Not confused, not intimidated. Level, assessing looks.

Not simple contract workers.

His gaze jumps back to Verres, who stands quietly behind, simply watching with those red eyes. The hunter beside him is scanning the skies with eyes hidden behind shades of his own, which Blaine guesses are more than they appear.

Interpol, or…? Blaine turns back to Verres, thoughts lapping around the edges of anything too private by focusing instead on his intent. “Yours?” He points up, where the dragonite and others are still circling.

The teenager shrugs. “Only some.”

Someone new is jogging toward them, coat flapping behind him in the wind, and Blaine shakes his head as the Special Administrator arrives to confirm his guess. “Warrant?”

“In the works,” Looker says, breathing deep. “There’s a lab under this ma—”

“I know.”

Everyone reacts visibly to that, and Blaine frowns. The implication of Interpol being here is obvious; that this is an illegal facility, like the one in Celadon, plausibly harboring renegades. Which means they believe he’s implicated himself, which would be twice as insulting as simply believing him a criminal. “Proof?”

“Forensics are sweeping each—”

“Nothing, then.”

Looker’s lips purse, and he shakes his head. “Still searching.”

Blaine doesn’t try to rein in his disgust, though part of him distantly appreciates the man’s lack of wasting verbiage. “It has approval. I ensured patrols didn’t reveal it.”

“It’s not on any of the manor’s paperwork.”

“Filed as a separate facility.” It was one of the principles he pushed for, upon becoming Leader. That Cinnabar would be a place that facilitated change, rather than feared it. And he would take responsibility for ensuring the safety of everyone on the island.

Looker snorts and sticks his hands in his pocket. “This isn’t a mom-and-pop living above their ramen shop. If you want to challenge our presence here—”


“Who even sent you?”

“The mayor’s office. Sensors were tripped, sending others risked revealing the facility.”

“Convenient,” Juniper says, drawing Blaine’s attention to her. The youth’s tone is light, though her gaze is not. “For the builders. They keep their secret, and a Leader as free security.”

The implication rankles, and Blaine’s anger almost comes out in wasted words, defending his ego, assuring her that anyone who sent him to be a tool of theirs had badly misjudged him.

His anger also almost comes out in a command for them to leave. He was granted the authority, and by his understanding, Interpol is clearly beyond its remit.

But if they suspect criminality, and the mayor is being used, or if he is…

Whoever invited you here is playing you against us.

Ultimately, responsibility is his.

Blaine glances around them again, then walks to his mount and takes her saddle off before he summons a water trough in front of her. “Rest,” he murmurs, stroking her snout.

Her breath surrounds him in a puff of heat, sweat and wind quickly cooling him back off. He drops the saddle on one of the tablecloths, then starts walking toward the manor. “Follow.”

“Stay sharp, everyone!” Looker calls out to the assembled workers as he keeps stride. He lowers his pitch, head turned behind them. “Were you inviting this lot, too?”

Blaine looks to see the teenagers, rangers, and hunter following as well. “It’s fine.” The lab’s secret is already out, and he has no authority over the two rangers if they were to claim they’re here seeking ditto. As for the others…

He picks a room that’s missing a wall so as to avoid staying in one that would be full of dust, and to allow them the sunshine as light. It was a bedroom once, and some furniture has survived the elements with minimal damage, though everyone remains standing. The foreign cadet, Wendy Burton, stays beside Ranger Neasman and mirrors his posture, while the hunter faces out the open wall. Looker paces around the room, gaze roving as if he’s searching for something with purpose.

Blaine turns back to the three teenagers. Oak meets his gaze, chin held high.

He’d been told that if he wanted to challenge for his badge sooner, the island had to be in better shape. And yet he was spending his time here.

Beside him is Verres, who somehow became the region’s best hope of holding off an organized army of renegades. Also spending his time, and his bodyguards’, here.

And then there’s Juniper, who acts like she knows something he doesn’t. Who the others seemed to be deferring to, in minor ways, even more so than they were Interpol’s Special Administrator.

“Explain,” he says. “Succinctly.”

She opens her mouth, then closes it and looks at Looker, who only spares her a glance before continuing his examination of the room and saying, “Assume the worst.”

Blaine crosses his arms, but holds his tongue and simply gestures for her to get on with it when she looks back at him.

“Okay. So… I met a scientist who told me a story about a secret lab performing unethical biological research to create a powerful new pokemon. When I came here to help find ditto nests… I recognized the manor from his story, and kept exploring until I found a sign of the lab.”

“In custody, or a source?”



“Oh. A source. He’s… I think he’s on the run, at this point, or… he’s been abducted, maybe.”

Blaine glances at Looker, who has finished his circuit and pulled gloves out of a pocket so he could start rifling through drawers. Blaine wonders briefly if the man is testing him, then returns his attention to Juniper. “Inconvenient.”

“I wouldn’t do all this just for… for a story, or some fame. I know it’s using up a lot of valuable resources, a lot of people’s time, but if the story he told is true, it’s important. And if you’re not in on it, the fact that you know just enough to have helped keep it covered up… Leader, what if the ditto were created here? Wouldn’t you want to know?”

The others give her sharp looks as well. Verres smacks his forehead, and Neasman swears under his breath, while Oak frowns and gives his friend a calculating look.

Blaine does his best to ignore the pageantry, other than to register it as a sign that she doesn’t have reason to believe it. Not that she’s shared with them, at least. “Proof?”

She closes her eyes and takes a breath. “That’s what we’re here for, to find some. If… I’m worried that, now that they know we found it—”


“—I think we’re against the clock, and if you send us away until the warrant—”

“Leaf,” Oak says, touching her shoulder. “He gets it. You made your point, and he dislikes emotional appeals.”

Blaine is already looking at the rangers. Neasman, who was among the first to face the ditto in the field. Burton, who suggested they search for ditto in ecological balance. “Nests?”

“Not yet,” Ranger Neasman says. “But the lab isn’t fully explored, and some parts might connect to a tunnel network.”

“Obviously.” Blaine studies him. “The first nest you found wasn’t far.”

“Right. That’s why I wanted to check this area in the first place.”

Blaine turns and walks toward the outside, gazing up to spot his people as they fly above and around. If they’re trying to communicate with him, he can’t hear them, and they may not even know he can’t. But they can see him, and they trust him. Each of them has a responsibility, and they can see to them, follow them well.

“Oak,” he says without turning around. “Lesson one.”

The teenager’s voice comes clear, confident. “You do not control fire. You take responsibility for it. Your pokemon, their attacks, what their attacks hit, what is around them, what else might get spread to. All of it is your responsibility. Others can teach you. Others can help you, if you make a mistake. But you own all the consequences, every time. If someone teaches you poorly, you can still learn from others. If others help you, it does not remove your responsibility. In this gym, that is your only responsibility. Learn well. Practice carefully. Fight confidently.”

“Well said.” Blaine turns back to the room, everyone’s attention is on him. Looker has stopped his endless searching, and the hunter keeps his attention outside. As it should be.

“Outside my gym, people take many responsibilities. You cannot fully commit to more than one. Splitting your responsibility evenly is worse than prioritizing. And I learned long ago that you cannot take more responsibility for something than you have power over. The two must remain proportional, or you will stumble.”

Verres blinks, then stands a little straighter. Juniper is watching him warily.

“I know what my responsibility is. I attend to it as best I can. I learned to ask for help over the years. I had to, to become an effective Leader. But I never stopped believing that I am the last one to decide, and live with those decisions, for all that I do and claim to care for.” He looks around at each of them. “You’re asking me to trust your sense of how severely this matters, and become complicit in whatever you do. In return, I ask you all now, each of you. Do you know what your responsibility is? Can you tell me, honestly, that you are serving it, here and now? Or is there some greater commitment that is worth the potential risks and sacrifices you’re making, by staying now that the situation has changed from what you hoped for?”

Looker is far enough from the others that they can likely tell he’s watching the Special Administrator first. The man has his hands in his pockets, face blank as he returns the stare.

Fair enough.

He looks to Juniper next, whose wariness has mixed with something else. Alarm? Guilt? He can’t tell, but he understands what might be part of it. The worry that Blaine is corrupt, and stripping them from the scene with more than fiat authority. By manipulation, by emotionally turning them from their resolve.

Words don’t even come to mind by which he might try to convince her otherwise. No words he says otherwise should convince her. He can only be forthright, and let their own integrity reveal itself.

She begins to look particularly uncomfortable with his stare, and he almost looks away when—

“There is for me.”

Oak has stepped forward, as Blaine hoped he would. The young challenger turns to the rest of them. “I’m only here because I think it’s important. But I trust you guys, at least one of you, to make sure it’s looked into properly. I need to focus on the region… or at least, the portion of it I currently have power to affect. And right now that means making sure Cinnabar is stable.”

“Me, too,” Burton says, only briefly glancing at Neasman. “I need to focus on the ditto nest we found. I’m just here because… well. It’s exciting, isn’t it? And has huge implications. But I don’t really add anything unique.”

Ranger Neasman sighs, then looks between everyone. “I can trust one of you to keep CoRRNet in the loop, when it’s appropriate?”

Looker nods. “You have my word.”

“And mine,” Blaine says.

“Alright. We’re off, then. Good luck, to the rest of you.”

They leave, and Oak begins to as well. He stops when Leaf raises a hand.

“Blue,” she murmurs. “I’m sorry, if I—”

“You didn’t.” He smiles at her. “It was on me, and I’m still glad you included me.”

There’s a sharpness in Blaine’s stomach, watching the ease with which the young Oak takes responsibility and reassures his friend at the same time. He understands. It wasn’t just knowing to recite the right words, and knowing that stepping forward would earn him favor. He understands, and he has the ability to show his care, at the same time. To smile, and leave his friend smiling.

For a moment, Blaine feels old, his heart heavy.

And then he straightens. Later. For now, this.

“I think… I should go too,” Verres says, before Oak starts walking again. “Now that Looker is here, I’m kind of superfluous. And… I’m worried they might try something somewhere.”

Looker nods. “It’s been on my mind. It’s what I would do; commit to a series of attacks, draw everyone’s attention elsewhere.”

“I should get some rest, let Jensen and the others rest too, then continue my training. Make sure we’re all ready.” He turns to Juniper. “Sorry—”

She shakes her head, and keeps her chin high. “No, you’re right. You got them to come, got Looker here. It’s enough.” She suddenly steps forward and hugs him. “Thank you.”

He hugs her back. “I’ll be back in a thought, if something happens.”

Blaine’s gaze rises to Looker again, and he can see the mask peeling, at the edges. The indecision, rather than being reassured by Verres’s departing, has only grown, as he feels his own contrasting responsibility all the keener.

Oak and Verres leave together, and the hunter goes with them. Now it’s just the three, standing in a loose triangle, Blaine at the furthest point.

Juniper’s hands are fists. Her shoulders unbent. She meets his gaze through his sunglasses. Defiant, or sure?


She turns, prepared.

Looker sighs. “I don’t trust people. I don’t trust you. But I trust that if you pull something, it won’t be in their direction. And that you know there’ll be consequences. We understand each other?”

The young woman nods. “We do. Thank you.”

“Don’t fucking thank me, Arceus’s sake, kid. I’m giving you a job and I’m not paying you except, maybe, in respect. You get to the bottom of this thing, and you tell me first. Not Mrs. Verres, not your friends, not even your mom in Unova. Or else you go it alone. That’s fine too, if that’s what’s in your,” he flicks a glance at Blaine. “Responsibility. Is it?”

“It is.”

“I figured. Then this is option two. Non-negotiable, take it or leave it.”

Juniper swallows. “I’ll take it.”

“Right. Reach out if you need something.”

He starts to leave, pausing at the broken wall beside Blaine. “Now’s the part where you either kick my men out until the warrant shows up, or I tell them to keep working.”

“Your men can stay. I’ll take responsibility.” As he must for everything on Cinnabar.

Juniper seems to sway, for a moment, but the Special Administrator just nods. “I’ll have a talk with your mayor about this whole secret lab registration thing later. Or maybe Tsunemori will, eventually.”

Blaine just nods, and then it’s just the two of them.

“What will you do?” Juniper asks. She’s recovered herself, but there’s still uncertainty, there.

“I’m going to get to the bottom of whatever happened on my island.” Blaine watches her for a moment, then another. He would like to say he’s contemplating something, examining pros and cons.

But in truth, he’s just uncertain.

The heaviness is still on his heart, now and then. He and Yuki parted ways, eventually. Amicably. He was, ultimately, able to get funding for his startup… but he burnt himself out, doing so. He knew he had to give leadership of it to her, keeping only his shares. They’ve done quite well over the years. She’s done well. They still talk, now and then.

But the weight persists, if lesser than it once was. It was a young Leader Giovanni who eventually gave him the funding he needed. A man who spoke with both brevity and eloquence, and who holds a very similar philosophy to his own. Nihil supernum, he said on one of a handful of nights spent sharing a meal and sparse but meaningful conversation. I’ve always found myself at my best when I reminded myself that if I fail, nothing greater could be relied on.

Giovanni. The man who helped him see, by example, how he’d neglected his ability to work with others well, even if he had to find his own way to stay true to himself. The man who eventually convinced him to pursue Leadership of his own, helped him realize that his style of leadership was better suited to a Gym than a lab or company. And the man who helped him realize how a single company, whatever its contributions, would be unlikely to accomplish as much as a whole island more amenable to easy innovation.

But it would be a mistake to believe everyone took their responsibility as seriously as he did, even as a young man in charge of a small company. And worse, if those who created this lab weren’t negligent, if they were duplicitous in some way, or even criminal…

The weight is still on his heart, but… it is lesser. And it still, with its occasional presence, helps him go slower. Reassess. Error correct.

“Would you care to help?”

121: Precedes

Chapter 121: Precedes

Blaine’s gym is nestled in the volcanic mountain that dominates Cinnabar’s skyline, facing the city so that it’s easy to see from anywhere in it. The roads there wind back and forth across the mountain’s base, and cablecars leave from various skyscrapers every five minutes, constantly shuttling people back and forth to the different facilities, including a small pokemart, two dorms, a trainer house, and a dedicated pokecenter separate from the smaller ones in various buildings.

But the quickest way to get there, outside of teleporting, is to fly, and most trainers who come to Cinnabar have at least one pokemon big enough to carry them up to the gym. Blue watches from Zephyr’s back as the white splotches in the mountain face resolve into individual structures, each with multiple roads and walkways crisscrossing between them.

It’s been nearly a week since they found the mansion, and so far they’re still in “holding mode.” Red said Looker put a team on it, but they’re moving so… damn… slow. Apparently they’re still on the research and planning phase, only recently having sent a someone to survey the area and figure out the safest way to get into the ruins of the lab.

Blue understands that time is on their side, so long as they move carefully and don’t tip their hand. But that’s only true if the people who ran the lab aren’t off somewhere creating more hybrids, or if there’s no reason for them to worry about the hybrid itself… which he’s not betting on.

Meanwhile they’ve continued canvassing the island for ditto nests, and finally found one small enough to tag and monitor, after having to wipe out a few nests too big to safely leave. On the plus side, they each managed to catch a ditto of their own, which might be useful if they ever end up trainable.

Blue was also surprised by how deftly Leaf used her new magmar against the ditto nests, given how averse she’s been to using lethal pokemon in battles. The first time, with the smell of burning purple goo filling the grotto they found them in, she hurried out and tore off her mask to start heaving into some bushes, which left Blue feeling mildly useless. He just awkwardly stood there, patting her back and saying some vaguely encouraging things until Wendy took over.

Leaf said she was alright, after, and though she looked a bit sickly for the rest of the day, insisted she would be back to search for more nests the next. Which she did, and seemed a bit better off, though that might have been helped by the rapidash she caught. Blue half expects she mostly wanted to return to keep an eye on the mansion, but he respects the hell out of her grit either way, and said as much.

Both she and Red have changed so much from when they started this journey. But he still feels a gnawing in his stomach when he thinks of what they said about the hybrid, and finds himself wishing again that it turns out to be a piece of fiction after all.

Now is a bad time for another civilization-ending threat to pop up. And sure, Blue might have said the same the last few times that happened, but that doesn’t make it less true.

The bottom line is that the closer he is to Champion, the closer he’ll be to having power to root out any rot in the League.

And he’d definitely prefer not having to potentially confront Blaine about the lab on his island while he still needs to get Cinnabar’s badge.

Blue lands on one of the jutting rooftops, then dismounts and jogs to catch an elevator called by someone who just teleported in. The woman steps off at one of the training rooms, but Blue keeps going down to the bottom floor the elevator will reach, then takes the stairs down another level.

Blaine isn’t a Leader who spends much time in his Gym, let alone his office. Normally if Blue wants a private talk he has to content himself with calls, which always feel limiting… particularly since the Leader doesn’t even tend to use video. The lack of tone or body language makes Blaine’s already blunt way of speaking feel… valueless. Blue didn’t realize how much info he got from just talking to people, even if things didn’t go his way.

Which means if he wants to even try to, he has to keep an eye on Blaine’s schedule and intercept him in the brief times where he’s moving between things. Thankfully, Blaine’s Third has become something like a friend, and is willing to share things like the Leader’s schedule so long as Blue doesn’t make himself a nuisance.

A new training wing is being built, and Blaine is supposed to be meeting with the builders to make some adjustments to their blueprints. Blue arrives six minutes before the meeting is supposed to end, and paces the hall in front of the closed off section of the gym, checking messages and drafting a status update summarizing his day.

Each new level of fame Blue has rises to makes him feel the pressure to share more about his life more often. He noticed it early on, how good it felt getting the influx of validation, thousands of pluses and hearts and hundreds of supportive comments, each a shot of extra confidence and reassurance that he has people in his corner. People who like him, and who, if he needs them, might respond to a call for action.

It’s more than enough to make up for the negative comments that come up no matter what he says, but something did change after Miracle Eye. The conspiracy theorists got a little louder, or more focused, or something. Once in a while some belligerent questions will get thrown at him concerning people or events he’s never even heard of, his lack of answer taken as a sign of guilt. He learned not to engage with that stuff, but he still skims them on occasion, just to get some sense of what people are saying about him.

More usefully, it can be helpful to avoid saying something that gives them more ammunition, though his assistant helps with that too; along with filtering his incoming messages, he forwards everything he might post first so she can let him know if he’s about to stick his foot in his mouth by saying something really dumb, or piss off some group or the other that’s not tracking.

He’s not going to mention anything about the mansion, of course, but he wants to say something that works as a temperature check, or sets the stage for more specific comments about pokemon experimentation. He feels like there’s a line between the unown research and what the secret lab did to create the hybrid, if they did… and if people are reading Leaf’s story and getting sympathy for something that dangerous, he’s already behind on setting a more sane narrative.

He’ll have to talk to Leaf about it, sooner or later. Maybe after he has some spare time to actually read her story.

The door opens, and Blue looks up from his phone to see Blaine striding out, white coat billowing behind him. “Leader,” Blue nods, putting his phone away as he turns to walk with the man.

“What do you want?” Blaine asks as heads for the stairs. Blue does his best, as always, not to read too much into his impatience, since that’s the Leader’s default mode as far as Blue can tell.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s not impatient, or even that he’s not impatient with Blue in particular. But he’s also not necessarily feeling hostility toward Blue just because he’s not slowing down at all. Despite the occasional ways it’s thrown off his balance and reflexes, Blue is quite pleased with how much he’s been growing over the past few months, but he still has to nearly jog to keep up with the tall leader as Blaine strides down the halls.

“I’m ready for my challenge match.”

“What changed?”

“I think I’ve 80/20’d my impact here, and—”

“Is this a test? You want to see if I really will slap the Erika out of you?”

“No.” That threat, delivered after Blue’s first private meeting with Blaine, had him immediately try cutting his sentences down to get as short and to the point as the Leader himself was when he spoke. It was a rebuke he should have anticipated, but he thought he’d adapted quickly and well, particularly given how much he, in principle, appreciates this way of talking too.

“Then stop dancing and get to the point.”

Blue doesn’t bother asking him why Blaine thinks he’s “dancing,” since it’s true enough. “Something came up and I need to shorten my timelines.”


“Not saying more.”


Can’t say more.”

“Still denied. MAS.”

Minimizing attack surfaces. Blue should have seen that coming; part of the reason Blaine is the way he is can be chalked up to just his personality, but another part is a deliberate effort to reduce people’s ability to persuade, cajole, or otherwise manipulate him… to keep people from even trying, as that would waste their time and his.

The frustrating thing is Blue isn’t even sure if this qualifies. He’s not trying to manipulate Blaine, he thinks, but he’s also not able to divulge everything he knows… which maybe means he is trying to be persuasive, which Blaine dislikes almost as much as being manipulated. Either way, he hoped his efforts in Cinnabar might have earned him a little trust.

He doesn’t say that, of course, since that would be an obvious effort to persuade. He recalls what Blaine told him early on about “how communication should go”: just the facts. He can share information, he can request information to narrow down what Blaine might benefit from knowing, but he can’t directly try to change how Blaine feels about anything.

“What if I don’t want to jump the line, just get back in it?” Blue asks as they start up the stairs.

“Your choice, but you’ve seen the state this island’s in.”

Blue has, and Blaine has never been shy about his priorities. Leaders like Sabrina and Giovanni often have occasional backlogs of challengers to get through, but Blaine gets so many fewer challengers that it’s not usually an issue when he focuses on some island emergency over dispensing badges.

He wants to argue that he’s done more than nearly any other gym member to help get things back on track, but he knows that’s leaning back toward emotional persuasion instead of sharing new information. “Got no intention of leaving it this way. Teleportation means I can be in Viridian and keep working here at the same time.”

They reach the elevator, and Blue follows Blaine in as the Leader hits the button for the roof. “Giovanni’s mostly hands off, thought you would jump at the chance to shake things up there.”

“I plan to do both. My friends Elaine and Glen are arriving soon, and they can cover trailblazing and organization of the newbies even better than I could.” He’s been getting used to leaving his journey mates behind each time he goes to a new city, to thinking of them more like allies on parallel journeys that occasionally intersect. Used to it, but he never grew to like it. Which may be why it felt deeply gratifying (on some level that he hasn’t had time to think about yet) to see those messages from them.

“People will follow you. Fewer will come here.” Blaine shakes his head. “Let Chase know you’re back on the Challenge list, but you still have to choose to wait here or go get Viridian’s badge and come back.”

Blue grimaces. Blaine is a common 8th badge battle for Kanto trainers, but… “I want Giovanni as my final badge.”

Blaine doesn’t even bother responding to that, which is fair enough. The door opens to reveal the open sky, though the looming volcano cuts off half of it once they step out onto the rectangular roof. Blue follows Blaine toward the edge, past which the city spreads out beyond the slope of the mountain as it continues below toward another building.

“I won’t be at my best, with the thing I mentioned hanging over me,” Blue says. “I’m not trying to—”

“Sure.” Blaine summons his charizard, whose black wings stretch out nearly twice as far as Red’s, and within a minute it’s saddled and he’s lifting himself onto its back. “But you can handle it.”

And with that he flies off, leaving Blue wondering if he’s ever received such a frustrating compliment.

After a minute of enjoying the breeze and playing the conversation back over, thinking of what else he might have said, Blue sighs and heads back inside to meet with Blaine’s Third, who’s waiting in one of the main arenas.

“Yo.” Chase is wearing shorts and a casual T-shirt instead of his gym uniform and lounging against the wall, looking like he just got back from the beach to work on his tan. In reality he’s probably been out in the water all day, diving to check various pokemon nests to monitor signs of ditto spreading via aquatic pokemon, which thankfully there have been no signs of so far. “How’d it go?”

“No dice. Told him to consider me back in line, but—”

“But that means you’re stuck here another month, at least.” Chase shrugs. “Sucks, but can’t say I’m sorry. You’ve done good work here, and battling you is putting me in arm’s reach of beating Sydney.”

“Do you actually want to be Second?” Blue asks as he goes to the PC against the wall and swaps out some of his pokemon. “Also, did you just admit I’m good enough to actually push a gym’s Third closer to a Second?”

“Hey, the lines are fuzzy, you know that. There are others here who can beat me in a straight fight but don’t want the responsibility. As for being Second, though, I could take it or leave it. Syd and I just have a thing going.”

“A thing like what, a rivalry?”

Chase smirks. “Sure, let’s go with that.”

Blue almost pursues it, then decides to let it go as he climbs onto his platform, battle calm descending as he unclips Maturin’s ball. “On three… two… one…”

Chase sends out a ninetales that uses Confuse Ray on Maturin while nimbly dodging her Bubblebeam, and returns with an Energy Ball that requires a quick swap to Soul, then back to Maturin for a Bubblebeam that Chase sends a turtonator in to tank. The turtonator blasts out a Dragon Pulse that shoves its 100 kilo opponent halfway out of the arena before nearly catching Blue’s hastily swapped in Rive with a Solar Beam fakeout.

Blue just barely manages to send Soul back in to take the hit, but the arcanine immediately has to swap back out for Sunny for lack of any way to put a dent in the enemy Fire/Dragon. Unfortunately Chase is happy to capitalize on that with another Dragon Pulse that Sunny would be lucky to survive getting hit by twice, and Blue calls time to check if his houndoom is okay.

It all happened in less than a minute, but quick matches are expected with hyper offensive teams, and it’s a rare Fire type that’s good for anything else. Blue’s battle calm is the only thing that kept him from flinching at the near miss of that Solar Beam… but he has to get used to battles with that sort of attack thrown in, now.

At 7th badge challenges the Leaders start to strip off most of the remaining safety handicaps, and Blaine is likely to try at least one trick that puts one of Blue’s pokemon at serious risk of injury, but Blue’s not worried. Thankfully he’s good enough that he rarely kills any challenger’s pokemon, but either way, Blue has to be ready for that sort of battle before he reaches Giovanni, let alone the League.

Which means he needs to get used to high stakes trainer battles, which feel like almost an entirely different meta. Normally he’d say Maturin, Rive, Bob, and Soul could handle most of what Blaine might throw at him, while still hitting back for at least neutral, since most of the types that would help cover a Fire pokemon’s weaknesses just make it more susceptible to others. But the Cinnabar leader hasn’t held onto his position this long without knowing how to make fire’s weaknesses less relevant than the challenger might hope.

If Blaine brings out something weird like a scovillain, it’ll be up to Zephyr (or the pelipper he caught while testing nests along a cliff for ditto) to take it out, while Sunny and his new poliwrath would be useful closers if Blaine throws a curveball and tries some weird defensive strategy… but both might be harder to rely on if the format is more limited, like a 3v3, and Blue expects some hard and fast attacks that bring his pokemon down despite resistances, like Overheat, and a strategic Burn Up could knock out one of Blue’s pokemon and remove Blaine’s weaknesses at the same time.

“Okay,” Blue says after healing Sunny up. “Let’s go again.”

This time Blue goes all out in his offense, trying to land a quick victory with Rive in a way that manages to take out Chase’s ninetales, but knocks the rhydon out too. Their next match pits Zephyr against Chase’s talonflame, whose Heat Waves cause the air conditioner to power on full blast just to keep the room from sweltering.

Blue almost misses the vibration of his phone as he braces against the whipping winds, and lets his whistle drop from his lips to yell “Stop!” as soon as there’s an opening. Zephyr aborts his dive and flies toward Blue, and when Chase calls his talonflame back Blue checks his messages. “They’re here,” he says, and withdraws his pokemon. “Free to meet?”

“Normally I’d pawn it off on some of my lessers,” Chase says as he tosses his talonflame a treat, then withdraws her and follows him. “But for friends of yours, I can take a personal interest.”

“Appreciate it,” Blue says with a smile.

Chase grins back. “You shouldn’t, I’ll be digging for dirt. Anyone who’s traveled with you has to have some stories of you landing on your ass.”

Blue laughs, and they head to the roof together, stopping along the way at the floor housing the gym’s pokemon center. The sun is just starting to set, painting half the sky in gold and pink as Blue searches the sky for his friends. There are a few trainers flying up from the city, but…

Within a minute he spots the swiftly growing black dots high up in the sky. Elaine lands first, her swellow flapping hard and hopping a couple times to shed momentum from its dive. Blue braces himself against the gusts of wind, which die down just as Glen’s pidgeot lands more gently, and he’s followed by a handful of others from the Saffron gym and dojo.

Blue finishes hugging Elaine in time to greet them all, as well as congratulate those that recently got badges before he introduces everyone to Chase. “Appreciate you all coming out,” the Third says. “Been a while since we had as many spare hands as we needed.”

“More are on the way by ferry,” Glen says with a wink. “Not often that a call goes out for newer trainers, and getting Blaine’s badge as their second or third will makes their journey more unique than most.”

“What’s the latest?” Elaine asks “Are lots of nests still getting found?”

“We found one today, actually.” Blue summarizes the encounter, how the nest turned out to be too big to tag and observe the way his group is looking for. “We’ll intro you guys to the rangers and gym members in charge of surveying and putting together squads. Within a couple weeks I expect you guys will be doing your own.”

“Damn,” Chase says as they pile into the elevator. “You’re as much of a taskmaster as Blaine. No wonder you two get along so well.”

Blue raises a brow. “We do?”

“Sure. He hasn’t chucked you off the island yet, has he?”

Elaine laughs. “Has he actually done that? I can never tell what are just stories of the guy, and what’s real.”

“He hasn’t physically thrown anyone out of Cinnabar, or even the gym, but he’s told people to leave and come back when they get their head out of their ass or learn to stop wasting his time or whatever.”

“Nice job, Blue,” Elaine says.

“Yeah, it’s nice to see you getting better at this whole taking-over-gyms thing,” Glen adds.

“Hang on,” Blue says. “I’ve never made a previous Leader mad at me.”

Elaine taps her chin. “Didn’t Surge start out thinking you were an egotistical upstart?”

“Oh yeah,” Chase says while Blue rolls his eyes. “That’s the good insider goss. Gimme more.”

The rest of the day passes quickly, with Blue and Chase giving the group a tour while introducing them to the others they’ll be working with. After they break for dinner, Chase says goodbye, and Blue invites Glen and Elaine to his room while the others head down to the city to meet the newer trainers.

As soon as the door is closed, they both turn expectantly to him. “So,” Elaine says. “What have you gotten us into now?”

She’s smiling, but Blue raises his hands, palms out. “Exactly what it looks like. The gym needs help filling holes the rangers are leaving.”

“But.” Glen’s arms are crossed, but he’s smiling too.

Blue wants to smile back. He can’t quite bring himself to. “I can’t tell you yet. But, yeah, there are things going on that might draw me into another mess.”

“Another renegade mess,” Glen says, not a question, and he’s not smiling anymore.

Neither is Elaine, but they don’t look scared either. “Blue, we’re here. I know you can’t count on us the way you do Red and Leaf—”

“That’s not true.” Blue’s heart is pounding, and he tries to take a breath, tries to summon his battle calm… but this isn’t a battle. These are his friends, and his allies, and… “I called you guys because I can rely on you. In different ways.”

“What do you need us to do?” Glen asks, voice soft. “I won’t lie and say I want to fight renegades again. I don’t. But it sucked, finding out you were fighting them at Silph and not being able to help—”

Blue doesn’t wince, doesn’t let any of his remembered conflict about calling Glen show on his face.

“—and if that happens again, I don’t plan to just stand back and watch if I see an opportunity.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to,” Blue mutters.

“To what?” Elaine asks. “Be there, or stay back?”

“Both. Either. But I might not be able to warn you, if that sort of thing is coming. What I need you guys to do is get this island back to its pre-ditto threat rating.”

“So you can get your badge faster.” There’s no accusation or bitterness in Glen’s voice, which some part of Blue did worry about. He also worries about Glen saying more, saying So you can leave us behind again. But instead the older boy just nods, as if expecting a couple mid-journey trainers and their friends to tip scales that already have dozens of rangers and gym members on one side is an obvious thing to do. “Because things got even more serious than before.”

“Yeah. That’s the basic idea.” Blue runs a hand through his hair. “I’ll go for Viridian first if I have to, but wrapping things up here… it’s not just the badge anymore. And I can’t do that stuff and prep for Giovanni and keep training for Blaine. I need some of this stuff off my plate.”

“We’re here,” Elaine says again, voice soft. “But if there is anything else we can do…”

Blue looks at them, staring steadily back at him, and feels himself weighing risk and possibility, hope and dread stirring in his chest as he finally lets himself think of the stuff thats been hovering around his thoughts since that day at the mansion.

Of what a crew of loyal, discreet trainers and gym members on the island could do, with the right instructions.

“There might be something. Might not turn anything up, but while you’re spending time with the locals and getting to know them, there are some things it would be helpful to watch out for… and some questions to ask, if you’re careful about how…”

Indigo’s interpol base feels like it’s something different every day. Some days are sleepy, with a handful of agents in the building working quietly at their computers. Some days are like a kicked combee hive, people rushing every which way and yelling orders and information at each other in response to some new event. Sometimes entire wings of cubicles get split apart, shifted to another area, or restructured under a new task force.

Red never had his own task force before. Or rather, he’s been part of multiple before, one could even say all of them to some degree… though that’s not true, there were some more secretive than others, in buildings he hasn’t visited. But he’s never had one with people in it that answered to him, or at least halfway did. In a way, it’s a little like he imagined being a pokemon professor might feel…

…if on a totally different set of topics than any professor would normally be focused on.

“So how likely is Rocket to make the same breakthrough?” Red asks. “Being able to store any amount of mass—”

“Not any amount,” Mink quickly corrects. The Silph-pokeball-engineer-turned-interpol-technician is leaning back in his chair, feet up on his desk as he spins his headset around his wrist. “That would be absurd. But an order of magnitude further than a heavyball is what we aimed for, and we got pretty close. As for them replicating it… hard to tell without knowing who they’ve got working for them. Theoretical physicists who can push poketech aren’t exactly growing on trees.”

“Physicists, specifically?”

“Sure. Ever wonder what the hardest part of pokeball tech is, even back when they were big as grapefruits?”

Red has, from time to time, but he never really researched it. “Digital training translating to physical changes in the reconstituted mind?”

“You’re thinking too modern. Think about it; you’re designing the very first tech that can convert mass to energy. What goes wrong?”

Red blinks, wondering if this is a trick question. “Uh. You can’t convert it back?”

“That’s what everyone thinks.” Mink says. “And don’t get me wrong, solving that was pretty, you know, central to the whole concept. But the real headache was not letting the mass carry over once it’s energy.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean energy still has mass.” Mink waves a hand at the desk. “Take all the atoms that make this desk up and turn it into light, and it’ll still weigh what a desk weighs.”

“Wait, really? Then how does—”

“Verres!” Looker’s voice, sounding either urgent or annoyed. Or both.

“Later,” Mink says with a wave as Red jumps to his feet and heads through the cubicle forest toward the shout, wheeling his office chair behind him. Looker is standing at the front of “Red’s” cluster, arms crossed.

“Verres, when were you going to tell me you’ve got a team of people excavating on Cinnabar?”

“I uh, told you last week?” Red shoves his chair into his own cubicle so that it rolls beside his desk as he continues to walk toward Looker. “During the morning meeting.”

The Special Administrator frowns, then closes his eyes a moment, lids flickering… “You asked permission to requisition more agents for…” Looker sighs and opens his eyes. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Digging into the lab, you said.”

“Right,” Red says, baffled. “What did you think I meant?”

Metaphorical digging, Verres!”

“Ah.” He knows he shouldn’t, but Red grins at his irate boss, already imagining Leaf’s reaction when she hears. “Well that’s an understandable, one might even say com—”

“Do you have any idea what Blaine will do if he finds out about this?”

“Well, I thought about asking, but once you said it was fine I sort of figured it’d be… fine?” Red’s heart sinks as Looker rubs his eyes. How big did he mess up, exactly? “Is it that bad?”

“We’ll see. Meanwhile, you have a visitor.”

Red blinks. Here? He follows Looker away from the cubicles and past another cluster before he sees…

…Director General Tsunemori. Red smiles, an upwelling of gratitude rushing through him at the sight of the woman who threw him a lifeline the night of the Silph attack.

He doesn’t like to think of that night, of how scared he was, both for himself and for the psychics of the region. But her words, her clear confidence in society, even as she expressed uncertainty… her sincerity was hard not to sense. And once he sensed it, he could experience it himself, feel it in relation to whatever else he was thinking and feeling.

It felt dangerous, in a way. Like potentially lying to himself, ignoring things that might have given him good reason to be afraid in order to retreat into comfort. But it felt genuine enough, and her position unique enough, that he figured she probably had good reason to feel the way she did, and if she was wrong, well, he wasn’t really in a position to do better from the place of dread and panic he did feel at the time.

“Hello, Red.” She reaches out a hand, which he squeezes. “I thought I’d come and see what Interpol is doing digging a hole through Cinnabar. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was your idea.”

“I’m sorry, Director—”

She holds up a hand, still gently smiling. “I’m sure you have your reasons. But it would be helpful if I—and the Special Administrator—knew those reasons, before Cinnabar’s Leader or Mayor ask.”

“Right, of course! Should I, uh… start from the beginning, or…?”

“The team has been sending me reports,” Looker admits, voice only slightly grudging. “I obviously didn’t give them my full attention, but Tsunemori will need an overview.”

“I was only told that you had a source that you trust, pointing you to a crime that’s potentially related to renegade activity.” Her brow is raised. “No offense to Interpol, but I decided to check with you directly in case they’re being… overly cautious on your behalf.”

Red appreciates the discretion, but yeah he’s pretty sure it wasn’t for his or Leaf’s benefit. “Right. Well, that’s basically true… but, here… I can share what we found out?” Red sticks a thumb in the direction of his cubicle, and at Looker’s nod he turns and leads the way.

He tries not to feel nervous, and a quick mental glimpse of Tsunemori’s mind shows she’s mostly curious, maybe a little frustrated or exasperated… but also slightly relieved? He files that away to ask about later.

“Here…” Red leads them over to the white board that makes up an entire wall of his cubicle, where he’s got a series of written words circled, squared, and triangle, with lines between them and post-it notes of various colors stuck on. “So, the first team—”

“Who made this?” Tsunemori asks.

“I did.”

Looker squints at him, then the board. “With whose help?”

“My mom’s. I didn’t tell her anything that would be on it, though! Just asked for help putting pieces of evidence together to see what patterns emerged.”

Looker grunts and waves his hand in a “go ahead,” gestured, so Red starts at the top-right corner.

“So the shapes indicate what kind of info it is. Connecting properties are squares, connecting people are triangles, and connecting topics are circles. See, once Murphy and Ichiro finished the initial research they uncovered a ton of potentially connected organizations—”

“I see them.” Most dead end quickly, but the main branch that moves out to unfold over the rest of the board has a green sticky note on it, which Tsunemori points to. “Green means, what, confident?”

“Yeah, and red are basically just wild guesses that we still need to follow up on.” There are a lot of red post-its around the corners of the mass of shapes, particularly in the direction where STAFF is written, though there are some yellows there. “Following up on missing researchers yielded a lot of fruit, and funders got pretty complicated—I still don’t really get why shell companies are legal, but Ben explained that they’re mostly benign and necessary—but the research output is where we really hit it big.”

“Research output,” Tsunemori muses. “You’re saying criminal scientists in secret labs still, what, care about getting their work published in peer reviewed journals?”

“Not exactly; they’d go through intermediaries, labs that could replicate what they’ve already done and present it as original research. When we looked into a few of them and sent some agents out, one broke down before any accusation was made, admitted that they received the idea in a mail package, with no instructions or claims of credit.” Red’s not sure how he feels about that, but the researcher clearly had a guilty conscience.

“What, they’re secret benefactors now?” Looker sounds half skeptical, half disgusted. “Just tossing out free scientific breakthroughs, no strings attached?”

“Some maybe had strings attached? Maybe some richer labs were asked to donate money or something, and didn’t ask questions about where their ideas were coming from. We can’t know how many we didn’t catch, it would take looking into tens of thousands of papers, maybe even pokedex entries, over decades… but once in a while at least, yeah, they seem to have spread their discoveries out so the wider scientific community could learn from them. Probably not all of them, but… it also wasn’t entirely selfless, since there’s no way they could do all the research they might want to on their own.”

“Spread a discovery, reap the benefits of whatever others discover from it.” Tsunemori is watching Red, and there’s an expression on her face that Red can’t quite place. “How are you feeling, Red?”

“Huh?” Red blinks, trying to switch gears. Was he talking too quickly before? “Fine?” As he says it, he realizes… “Good, actually.”

Looker nods. “You’ve picked up in the past couple weeks. Enjoying detective work?”

“I think so.” Red scratches the back of his neck. He thinks it might be more about the feeling of control he now has over stuff. He’s still spending a lot of time training with the hunters, still feels like he’s being molded into something he doesn’t want to be… but the investigation, it’s like solving a puzzle, and… “I feel like I can contribute something unique, here.” Not that his other work isn’t something he’s uniquely suited to… “Not a lot, but—”

“The research angle was your idea,” Tsunemori says. “And you chose to take it upon yourself to make this visualization, and you’re part of a team.”

“That stuff too, yeah. I guess I feel like I have more control over my life.”

“I’m glad. And yes, I’m seeing the connections.” She points to the lines connecting research to the Cinnabar lab. “How solid are these yellow notes?”

“There’s a few people looking into them now. We can’t know what kind of lab Cinnabar was, but if our guesses are right, it’ll lean heavy into biochemistry.” Red still hasn’t told anyone what Leaf suspects the lab was for. They’ll either independently discover it, or they won’t, and maybe for good reason. “Even a few glimpses of broken equipment could tell us a lot, though.”

Looker grunts, then glances at the wall to Red’s right. “That Silph guy, he paying off?”

“It’s hard to tell for sure yet, but he’ll definitely be useful once we get in the lab.”

“The timeline’s off, though. If they were building their own Masterball months ago… ah. You think maybe they leaked the tech to Silph.”

“Or had some deal with them,” Tsunemori murmurs. “Which would explain how they knew it was being built at all.”

Looker shrugs. “I’m the last person who’s going to call any idea paranoid. So, are you satisfied?”

“I am.” Tsunemori nods at Red. “Thank you, and well done. I assume you’re going to want to be part of the team that investigates the lab, once the way is open?”

“Yeah, and… uh, there are some others that should probably be there. They already know about it, and would really help in figuring things out.” Well, mostly Leaf and Blue. Red was impressed by the rangers, but he’s mostly including them because he wants to keep on cooperative terms with them.

“I’ll leave that up to the Special Administrator. My own people will also be joining, regardless.”

“That’s a conversation,” Looker says with a mild frown.

“Well, let’s have it now then.”

Looker grunts, nods, then glances back at Red and wags a finger between them. “You and I, we need to work on our communication. My fault for allowing such a sloppy chain of command, but if this kind of misunderstanding happens again, your boyish innocence isn’t going to protect you.”

“Yes, Sir.” Red is a little heartened by Director Tsunemori’s smile, which offsets Looker’s stern expression. “Sorry again.”

“Mhm.” He leaves, and the director nods once more to him before following.

Red collapses onto his seat, relieved and tired. He sends an update to Leaf and Blue, then checks his messages.

One of the odder quirks of his new position in life is that he had to get a new personal assistant, not to replace his old one, but in addition to her, and not just to manage the new volume of incoming messages but also to filter any that might relate to sensitive topics. But that meant his new one had to be well informed of certain things, which means someone from the local police who generally does this sort of thing or officers of higher rank was assigned to him… which brought his total number of PAs to three, the third of which works for Interpol and is the first screener, dividing everything he gets into two broad piles for the others to sort through in parallel and then send over.

This means he can generally choose what sorts of messages he wants to read and pick the ones that got through those general piles and sorted into more specific ones. Right now he decides on messages from his social connections, and reads a message from one of his old lab mates about new potential developments in how Dragon types are classified, which he forwards to Blue, and some followups from acquaintances in the psychic network he helped form, which continues to go better than he expected.

There are also a few messages from his old peers under Sabrina’s tutelage. Some others have moved on by now, and another two have joined, but most still keep in touch with the occasional well-wish, life update, or question, sometimes posed just to him, other times to the group.

It’s Rowan’s name that catches his attention, and he clicks that email with a feeling of pleasant surprise. He hadn’t heard from Rowan in a while… months, actually…

The message is short. Red blinks as he reads it, then rereads it again, slight smile fading and shifting to a frown as he reads it a third time…

Hello Reds

How are you all?

Is it peace?

Is it war?

How do you keep the peace?

How do you win the war?

We’re wondering which side you’re on

Which side you’ll be on

Which sides you’ll be

On the day




Red stares at the message another moment, tingles running up his spine as he swallows and checks the message timestamp.

Over a week ago. His pulse, which had started to pick up, starts to slow a little. He would have heard, if something odd had—

Message Sabrina now. Jason too. Everyone.

The thoughts are strong, urgent, and his fingers are moving to type out short queries again and again. Hey, how are you, have you seen Rowan lately? Hi, hope you’re well, just curious if Rowan still comes around? Heya, quick question, have you heard from…

Red finishes messaging everyone he can think of, then goes back to read over the (poem?) again. He wants to respond… but he’s also afraid to.

Why is he afraid to? And is it coming from him, or something his unpartitioned self knows?

No. Nothing concrete. But…

Red nods to himself. But.

The responses trickle in. Fine. Good. Doing great. No. Nah. Not lately. Now that you mention it…

And from Jason, the extra curious: Why do you ask?

Red swallows against the dryness in his throat, and instead of messaging, calls.

“Hey, Jason. Sorry to bother—”

“It’s no bother. I’m still in Saffron, Red, and I can’t remember seeing Rowan here for at least two weeks. Maybe fleetingly, maybe in passing, but he hasn’t attended classes, or taught any as far as I know. What’s happened?”

“Did you…?”

“Worry? Yes, but vaguely, and for months now. I didn’t realize how long it’s been until your message. What happened, Red?”

“Nothing, not really. Just… a weird message.” Red looks at it again, then forwards it. “Sending to you now.”

There’s silence as Jason reads, and then he says, “We should talk to Sabrina.”

“I’ll be there soon.” Red hesitates. “Are we… overreacting? You’ve known him longer than I have, even before I left… he was always a bit—”

“Strange, yes. And I know that’s an unfair label, perhaps, for one of us. But I don’t think we’re overreacting. I just hope it’s nothing serious.”

“Me too. Though I’m not really sure what serious would look like, in this case. Something to do with partitions, obviously, but…”

“But whatever it is, it feels off.”


“Except perhaps for Rowan himself, you know more about partitions than anyone else, Red. If this feels off to you, I trust that even more than my own gut, which has felt uneasy about Rowan for a while now.”

“Right. See you soon.”

“See you soon.”

Red ends the call, then straps on his pokebelt and heads for a balcony, gaze drawn to the message again as a fresh chill works through him.

Which sides you’ll be

On the day




61 – Subverting Expectations (Guest: Jamie Wahls)

Alex and I attended a writing retreat with some other authors in the rationality community, and while there decided to host an impromptu episode on subverting expectations, joined (primarily) by our Nebula nominated friend, Jamie Wahls. All I had to record with was my laptop, so apologies for the sound quality!

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected



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.


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!”






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.


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!’




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!”


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—


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…


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.


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…


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…






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)—


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.


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!”


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


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?”


“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…


“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.

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.


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, 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 in 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.


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 his mistake has been.

“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 has shifted 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…” Her face goes blank as she trails off, 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 for most of my young life, I did see 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.”


“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.


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.


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.


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 when 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


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.”


“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…?”


“Hey, Aunty.”


“Hi, Laura!”

“—guys, this’ll take too long if you all… Glen, Elaine, Maria, Lizzy, Jason, Satori, and, uh, sorry—”



“—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?”


“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?”


“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?”


“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.

32 – Multiple Perspectives (Guest: TK17)

Daystar and Alexander are joined by special guest Duncan Sabien (TK17) to discuss multiple perspectives in fiction, including common pitfalls and benefits.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

Special guest: Duncan Sabien, aka TK17, Curriculum Director at CFAR and writer of Animorphs: The Reckoning.

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Time Stamps

1:30 Archetypes vs Whole Characters

5:34 Choosing Who Gets what Scene

14:45 Shifting Focus and Disorientation

25:06 Different Character Dialogue

35:30 Differentiating Characters


Animorphs: The Reckoning by Duncan/TK17

Metropolitan Man by Alexander Wales

Shadows of the Limelight by Alexander Wales

Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Magic Color Wheel

Odyssey by Vance Moore

Daystar’s friends as magic cards, circa 2012:

View post on imgur.com


60 – Animorphs: The Reckoning (Guest: TK17/Duncan Sabien)

Today we’re joined once again by Duncan Sabien, aka TK17, to discuss his incredible rationalfic, Animorphs: The Reckoning. It was recorded shortly after the story finished and includes questions on not just his writing process, but the various decisions that went into changes made from canon, so spoilers ahead!

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected


Duncan’s “How the MTG Color Wheel Explains Humanity”

Animorphs: The Reckoning AMA

Duncan’s Previous Guest Appearance