Chapter 95: Eliminate the Impossible
"So I think I've got it," Red says to Sabrina and her students as soon as she enters the dining room where the rest of them are gathered.
Everyone's attention sharpens on him as she smiles and takes her seat at the head of the table, but no one's thoughts feel particularly surprised; they probably assumed as much, given this is the first time he called an "urgent meeting" and they all know what he's been working on.
But lack of surprise isn't the same as lack of skepticism, and he feels Daniel's as he asks, "You've replicated it?"
At one point it might have irritated Red, but he understands it, and is too excited to be annoyed. He can tell that excitement is having an effect on the room overall. "No, but I have a hypothesis that fits all the facts, and I know how to test it. But I can't do it myself, which means I need you guys."
"All of us?" Tatsumaki asks as she orbits a variety of lollipops around her head, occasionally guiding one into her mouth for a moment. "I can't even do free teleportation."
"We don't know for sure that it's necessary," Satori comments. Her torracat has grown since he arrived in Saffron, and now that it's unable to fit in her lap while she sits in a chair, she instead sits on the floor so it can curl around her.
Red nods. "I don't think it is, and the more people are willing to try the higher the chance of the test working."
"Uh… I don't think that's how science works," Rowan points out, and a moment later his expression shifts from skepticism to avarice. "But if there's a chance we can get it to work, we're in!"
Red waits before responding, and sure enough the young man's expression changes again, this time to an aloof disinterest. "Assuming your explanation makes any sense, of course."
Jason gives Rowan a concerned look, but doesn't comment. It's become normal for the partition specialist to do this even in public now, and Jason told Red that when he expressed his concern to Sabrina, she simply shrugged and said that as long as he doesn't become dysfunctional or dangerous in some way, it's his mind to evolve as he sees fit. "I'm also curious by what you meant," the medium says, attention shifting back to Red. "Why can't you test it yourself, given that you've done it already?"
"Why don't you just explain your theory?" Sabrina interjects. "In case that answers the question, and potentially others."
Red nods and uncaps one of the markers for the whiteboard against the wall. "When I first learned about the inconsistencies in teleportation, it didn't make any sense to me that an abra wouldn't teleport somewhere they'd already registered and teleported to if someone built something there, even if it wasn't an enclosed space. It felt particularly weird to me because they could teleport from spaces that are more enclosed than the places they'd teleport to. The problem was with my mindset; I was stuck on teleportation as a mechanical process that I could observe. But why think that when I can't even observe psychic phenomena?" He's writing as he talks, and feels the pulse of interest from Sabrina. "Noticing my confusion wasn't enough, I had to really boggle at what I was 'seeing' when teleportation occured." This time it's Jason whose mind touches the room with understanding. "And once I did, I wrote out every factor I could think of that might contribute to the process of teleportation."
He finishes the last assumption, then steps back for all of them to read.
Assumption 1: Pokemon will only teleport to places they have been before, imprinted as "safe," or that their trainer has been before.
Assumption 2: Teleportation is a single discrete action: either it works or it doesn't.
Assumption 3: Pokemon teleport by simple memory of locations.
Assumption 4: The melded psychic experiences everything their pokemon experiences.
The room is quiet. Even those that seemed the least invested are intrigued by the puzzle he's challenged them with, and Red feels it when Sabrina gets it. It makes sense, given their interview.
But she doesn't say anything right away, letting the others think it through as well, and within a minute Satori speaks. "They're checking for safety?" Her hand brushes her torracat's back, and she nods before he can confirm it. "Yes, it makes sense. I should have thought of that."
She says it without any particular self-recrimination, but Red feels enough for both of them. It's so obvious in retrospect, the sort of thing he bets Leaf would have figured out right away if she was psychic, or if he'd explained the process and problem in detail to her. "Exactly. Every teleporter develops the ability as a safety response, the entire process of 'registering' a location is a deliberate check for safety. Of course they won't teleport somewhere that's significantly different from when they registered it, and we should know that from the way they won't teleport into space that's already occupied."
Daniel frowns. "That's a mechanical limitation, a physical impossibility. We don't sense any fear when they fail… or refuse, I guess… oh. But you're saying either way, you think there's a sense that the abra is using to check."
"A sense that humans can't recognize," Sabrina adds, smiling. "Just like the ability to see psychic light."
"But you didn't sense any deliberate check when you returned to your old bedroom?" Jason asks.
"No, I didn't sense anything unusual." He's gone over and over that memory, those brief few seconds between recognizing something was odd, understanding what was different, hoping he could freely teleport, then attempting to… but though he spent the entire time fully merged with his abra, he just got the customary check of familiar safety for a teleportation that, this time, was coming from his own memory instead of the abra's. "But there's another thing that I keep thinking of. The way you described teleportation's psychic colors, Sensei, that it shifts to galo before emitting a burst of it. If I'm right about the way the colors reflect distinct psychic abilities—"
"Then psychokinesis is involved," Tatsumaki says. "And you believe you didn't sense it because you're 'missing' that ability."
"Right. I think my memory of my room as a safe place was strong enough, as the only reference frame, to overcome my abra's instinct. Once it got there, though… I mean, I probably freaked it out with my celebration, and then there was a stranger there… or maybe it's as simple as realizing it was teleporting to an indoor space, which I didn't focus on as part of my memory of it. Or something else I'm not thinking of, because I'm still not sure what exactly abra prioritize. But it makes sense, right?"
He looks around the room. Everyone seems thoughtful, and finally Sabrina nods. "As a hypothesis, yes. Still, as Jason said, you're the one who did it. Why would we succeed in sensing something you haven't?"
"For now I want to confirm this hypothesis. If I am, doing it again should be easier for everyone."
Daniel frowns at Sabrina. "What, you think only Verres can do it?"
"Why not? He has a unique psychic ability, and he has done a few things that no other psychics have. It's reasonable to tie each of those accomplishments to that ability—not to say you haven't worked hard, Red—and it's highly unlikely that he would be able to do yet another seemingly impossible thing that's unconnected to that uniqueness." She folds her hands, gaze meeting Red's. "Is there any reason to believe we could do this without your absolute mirroring?"
Red caps the marker and puts it away, then sits. "Well, for one thing, I think you might be putting too much weight on the ability over the mindset. I know this is an argument we've had before," he says with a glance at Jason, who smiles. "But even if my quirk isn't learnable, we shouldn't assume that everything I can do with it is only able to be done through binary capability. I believe you, Jason, Daniel, and Satori have all become almost as good as I am at mirroring, Sensei."
Sabrina considers this a moment, then nods, and looks to her students on either side of the table. "As of now, this is our collective priority. Whatever else you're working on, do it in your off hours. Yes, that includes you Tatsumaki and Rowan. That you can't do free teleportation yet is just a matter of practice. If it's possible for a human to recognize what their pokemon is doing at the moment of teleportation, I believe it will likely require the same level of deep merge that leads to free teleportation, so just consider it a bonus benefit to work you'd have to do anyway."
Jason rotates the beads around his neck. "We should record all our attempts, just in case each psychic can only do this once."
"Better yet, carry one of these in a pocket." Red takes out small tracking devices, copies of the one Professor Oak gave him after learning about Red's feat. "It's hard to determine pokedex location by height unless it's extremely high or low, so unfortunately mine's record could be explained by me teleporting onto my roof. With these there will be digital records of the exact coordinates you teleport to. Combined with video footage, it should be easy to prove that you ended up indoors at the moment of teleportation."
Everyone takes theirs, some putting it into their pocket right away while others, like Sabrina, examines it. "Are they always on?"
"Uh, I think so, yeah."
Tatsumaki's orbiting candy falters for a moment, and she immediately takes hers back out of her pocket and puts it on the table with a frown. Sabrina smiles and sets hers down as well. "For the sake of privacy, then, let's leave them in this room. Just come to pick one up if you're going to try indoor teleportation. Any questions?"
Red looks around, but everyone seems lost in thought. Jason is the first to stir and look at him. "So we are simply going to be attempting to merge fully with our pokemon as they teleport, and search for any sense being used besides those we're familiar with?"
"Essentially. Or maybe approach it from the other direction, and try teleporting somewhere unsafe while merged with your abra to see what it feels." He hesitates. "I did this a lot for my other experiments, but I can't recall feeling anything from mine. Still, replication would be good."
Another silence descends, and after a minute Sabrina nods. "Dismissed." People begin to leave, the last of which is Sabrina, who smiles. "Well done, Red."
"Thank you, Sensei." It's a relief to finally have something to show for the days of agonizing over this, even if it's not a full replication yet. He feels good about this hypothesis, though... "You've been teleporting longer than anyone else here, so if you don't end up sensing something while deliberately looking for it, I may have to consider the idea that it's not something they consciously do. Do you know anyone who can merge with a pokemon so deeply that even their subconscious thoughts are felt?"
"Isn't that a contradiction? Surely it would be mirrored in the subconscious as well."
Red sighs. "Probably. Still, maybe upon reflection someone would notice."
"Perhaps. I'll reach out to Elite Agatha, as well as Leader Morty." And with that she's gone, and he's alone.
Red sinks his head on his arms, letting himself rest for a minute. The meeting went well, and he finds himself hungry; he hasn't really eaten much lately, and particularly didn't eat much during dinner at the ranch last night.
He feels a wave of sadness just remembering it, and forces himself to stand and walk to the fridge. He might as well eat now, and figure out what he should do while the others test his idea… maybe get back to finding a way to merge with wild unown...
Red barely has time to assemble his sandwich, however, before he gets a call, and smiles as he sees Leaf's name. "Heya! How's your—"
"Red, how soon can you come to Fuchsia?"
It takes a moment for Red to register her words, but her tone is enough to have his smile fade and his heart leap. "What's… I'm not sure, the flights take… no, I can teleport to Vermilion and fly from there… thirty minutes?" He feels his pulse in his neck as adrenaline spreads through him, thoughts of Stormbringers or lower Tier events racing through his mind. "What's going on? Are you okay?"
"Sorry, it's… not that kind of emergency. But, um. There's someone here who wants to talk to you, and it's probably best done in person."
The words should calm him, but his mind is already racing through all the sorts of conversations that might have her sounding like this…
He feels a moment of disorientation as the partition weakens enough for his hidden memories to surface, all the secrets he's keeping hidden even from himself popping up alongside his fear and worry about being discovered. He ignores it as best he can and brings all of his attention to bear on figuring out how much trouble he might be in.
That Leaf is the one who called him narrows it down pretty fast; it can't be Bill's secret, or his ability to lie, or what happened under the Casino, and that only leaves one thing. They talked about what might happen if someone gets suspicious about the part of Aiko's code that originated from sakki, and if Leaf is asking him to come talk then whoever brought it up must not have been satisfied…
Which means it's time to enact some of the plans he made while pre-morteming this eventuality.
"Can you speak freely?" he asks.
"More or less."
Meaning she's probably not around someone right now, but she doesn't want to trust anything to the phone. "How much do they know?"
"Nothing, just suspicious. And it's not everyone, just one guy, David."
"He needs an explanation?"
"Yeah. A good one."
Meaning not just more evasions. "I'm in the middle of something," Red says after a moment of thought. "Could it wait until tomorrow afternoon?"
"Yeah, I think so. Are you… okay?"
"Fine." Is she picking up on the partition being down even over the phone? No, probably just predicting that he would be panicking. "Worried, but we've been lucky it hasn't happened sooner, really. How about you?"
"I don't know. Also worried, maybe more than worried. The project is showing such promise… plus I have no idea how people will react. Red, is there something I'm forgetting?"
He hesitates, realizing what she's really asking is whether he has a plan she doesn't know about. "No, but can you trust me to hold off on explaining for now?"
"I just want to make sure we're on the same page."
And that our stories match. That's a reasonable worry that he didn't consider, since he assumed... "You can't avoid talking about it for a day?"
"I think it would be easier without a complete brush-off."
"Okay." Shit. "Alright, so… does he know you're reaching out to me?"
"I just said I had to make a call."
"Right. So you can confirm that he's not the first one who knows, which is true, and he's probably guessed, and you can let him know that he'll get the full story tomorrow, but past that it's probably best to just say it's classified."
There's silence on the other line, for a moment too long, then another.
"Yeah, I'm here."
"Yeah. I mean, no, obviously, I just…guess I'm still wrapping my head around this..."
There's something in her voice, not quite an uneasiness, but enough hesitation to make him reevaluate how his confidence and words must seem to her. Like there is a conspiracy, maybe, that she's been kept out of. "I already got my panicking out of the way when I premortemed this. I sound more confident than I am, and if you have a better idea I'm open to it, but I'm going to talk to Sabrina."
"Oh." There's a pause. "And you think she'll..."
"I hope so."
"Right. I don't have a better idea, so… good luck."
"Thanks. I'll let you know how it goes."
As soon as the call with Leaf is done, he calls Sabrina, hoping she hasn't left the building.
"Hi, uh, I need to talk to you. It's important."
"Is everything alright?"
"Right this moment, yes."
There's a pause. "I'm on my way back down."
"No, I'll come to you, if that's alright? You're in your rooms?"
"Yes. That's fine, come on up."
She sounds distracted, even worried, so Red says goodbye and closes the call with one hand as the other grabs his sandwich. He eats it as he walks to the elevator, and it's gone by the time he reaches Sabrina's room, untasted and forgotten as soon as he's sitting on her comfortable couch while she sits on the other end, watching him with worried, searching eyes.
"So, yeah, like I said, there's something I need to tell you." His heart is beating fast and hard, and he takes a calming breath. "Part of me wishes I'd told you sooner, but I was hoping it could wait until you learned how to perfectly lie."
Before he first met Sabrina, when her amazing psychic abilities and trainer skills were just abstract things to him, what he most admired about her was how quick she is. "Like you have."
She says the words with just a faint undercurrent of emotion, surprise without shock, curiosity without disbelief. When Red simply nods, Sabrina takes a breath, expression wavering a moment, then firming. "Show me."
Red knew this day would come, and made the partition he needs weeks ago. He closes his eyes, dropping his shields and setting it up in just the right way as he brings all the other partitions up…
His next breath is easier, and he opens his eyes to find Sabrina watching him intently. What was she waiting for again?
Tell her to ask you where you met.
Red blinks, then frowns as the thought from his unpartitioned self automatically sends his thoughts toward his first meeting with the Gym Leader. What's so strange about that?
"Uh. Ask me where we met?"
He feels her thoughts touch his, senses her curiosity and trepidation, and underneath them an even deeper worry that borders on fear, which she's doing her best to control and doesn't show at all in her face or tone. "Where did we meet, Red?"
He does his best to ignore her shared feelings and just focus on the truth. "Here in Saffron."
He feels her shock, so strong that her expression actually shows it, eyes wide as she sucks in a sharp breath. The merger deepens, and he feels his hands tighten on the arms of his seat… no, her hands on her seat, even as his own confusion starts to blend with the worry he felt.
She doesn't believe him, but why? He can clearly remember their first meeting here, the way he bowed to her and thanked her for having him as a student… wait, how did they… right, text messages. She texted him before he went on the S.S. Anne, and…
...something's missing. He can't remember his decision to accept. He can't even remember their conversation, the details of the agreement… and still he can feel Sabrina's surprise, feel it shifting to calculation and admiration and even her own worry, all combined with a deep bitterness over—
The merger ends, leaving him with vague impressions of her friend, the one she lost during the incident. He can't make sense of them beyond the understanding that she was both afraid of and for her friend, and that she assigned them to learn how to lie to a psychic for his sake. There's more, her friend wasn't normal…?
Then it hits Red that he amnesia'd his memory of meeting Sabrina away, and it's hard to think of anything but what else he's forgetting, before suddenly the memories all flood back, each partition dropping until he's his full, unpartitioned self again. He lets out a heavy breath as he puts his shields back up.
Sabrina just watches him for a moment longer, slowly regaining control of herself. Eventually she slumps in her seat, looking more tired than he's seen her since just after she got back from Hoenn. "When did you learn how to do this?" she asks, voice soft, and Red suddenly gets the sense that a wrong answer here might ruin everything.
"Not until after Rowan taught me how to use my new partition to induce amnesia."
It takes her a moment. "After the incident."
It's not a question, but he still says, "Yeah." She seems relieved, but… "Though—"
"There's no way to know that for sure, yes. But I believe you. I remember how your thoughts felt, upon my return, and if you could do this then, and only pretended to need to learn from Rowan… well, perhaps you would have in order to throw off suspicion for just this moment, but such thinking is virtually endless."
Red swallows, then nods, deciding not to question it. Her gaze is distant, and he instinctively lowers his shield to touch her thoughts, but her own shield is firmly up.
She's learned enough about his sensitive shield to feel it, however, and seems to shake herself as she refocuses on him. "I have many questions, of course, but this isn't what you actually wanted to talk to me about."
"No. But uh, it could probably be talked about first? If it needs to be?"
"Let me hear the rest first. If it's important enough to derail this, then it should be derailed."
"Right. So um. I can… psychically… make a pokemon lose all its conditioning."
Sabrina stares at him a moment. She seems about to speak, pauses, then asks, "When you say all its conditioning…?"
"The actual mental state," Red says, pulse painfully quick, "Is a total freedom to do anything. No limitations, just… acting on instinct."
Sabrina closes her eyes, lets out a deep sigh, and covers her eyes with one hand as she rests her head against it. She doesn't speak for nearly a minute, and Red just quietly watches her, feeling more and more like this might have been a mistake. He tries to think of what to say, but his thoughts are circling uselessly, and he has to resist the urge to take his notebook out to try and give them a direction to move in.
"Who else knows?" the Gym Leader finally asks.
"Blue, Leaf, and a handful of others who were training with him in Vermilion." He feels a touch of unease giving up their names, but he understands why she's asking. "I'm honestly surprised it hasn't gotten out by now."
"Battle trainers are almost as good at keeping secrets as psychics." She finally lifts her head up, face weary but gaze calculating. "You used it under the casino?"
Part of him had hoped she wouldn't guess that, and yet again he's not surprised by the speed of it. Their survival against trained renegades must have looked miraculous by most experienced eyes. He takes a breath, then says, "Yes."
"I appreciate your candor, especially knowing that you could convincingly lie about it if you chose."
She doesn't seem shocked or horrified. "And I appreciate that you asked, knowing that I could have." He clears his throat, wishing he'd asked for some water. Well, no reason not to get it now. "Could I have something to drink, please?"
The question has some effect on Sabrina that Red can't quite place, and she nods and goes to the fridge to fill a pair of glasses. He shifts, uncomfortable in the near-silence. It's one thing he appreciates about these apartments, the whole building set aside just for them to ensure enough distance for both audial and psychic privacy.
He wonders if he'll be asked to leave, like Rei, then reminds himself that he's risking much worse than that and feels his stomach flip. He starts to second guess himself for admitting what he did to the renegades' pokemon, but no, he can't "come clean" now and risk it coming out later.
Sabrina returns with a glass for him, which he takes with thanks and begins to drink from. Once she's seated and sipping from her own glass, he wonders if he should say anything else. Her expression is still deep in thought, and he decides to let her process this at her own pace.
Perhaps a minute passes before her gaze returns to him, and she simply asks, "What do you want from me?"
It's a strange thing to ask, given what he revealed, but at the same time Red understands why she's asking it. "I'm not sure," Red admits. "I'm not asking for protection, exactly. I just thought… this is something that's going to affect all of us, and I trust you to know better than me what the best way forward is. I figured you had a plan for something like this—"
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, you were asking us to figure it out, the perfect lie I mean. You must have been prepared for the knowledge to leak in case we did?" Unless she expected to compel them all to silence, somehow, which… might not have been too difficult, come to think of it.
Sabrina watches him a moment, then gives a slight smile. "Yes. But this is… rather different."
"I know. I hope it's not too much at once."
"It may very well be. That psychics can lie to other psychics will destabilize a pillar of society, and turn suspicion against many powerful people who are in part where they are because of that lack of suspicion." He almost asks if that includes her, but no, she won her position through battles. "The ability to turn pokemon against humans will turn that suspicion into fear. Given the circumstances that force this topic to come up, I believe the best option, for now, is to share the latter without the former. Is there any way to plausibly make it so that your ordeal beneath the Casino is when you first discovered the full extent of this ability?"
"I don't think so," Red says. "The others who saw it—"
"In Vermilion, yes. But surely they didn't understand the full implications? Or else Blue Oak commands far more respect and loyalty than I imagined."
"Um. Maybe it's a bit of both? I haven't asked about it, really, to avoid drawing people's attention to it."
"Understandable. But the program?"
"Yeah, that's hard proof I've been doing this for a while. But… it is true that the Casino is the first time I actually used it on someone else's pokemon in battle. I didn't know what it would do, how guidable they would be once the sakki was on them… I was just… desperate."
He relives those moments again, the pain and darkness, the fear, both his own and Lizzy's and Elaine's and Leaf's and—
"I understand," Sabrina says. "And it will help that you used it explicitly in self defense, against renegades."
Hope and fear tug at opposite ends of his stomach as he imagines actually telling people what happened. "Then… you think I should go public?"
"Perhaps. This is not a decision to be made lightly, and I'll probably spend the rest of the week speaking to some other trusted…" Sabrina trails off as he fidgets, then sighs, face resigned. "Unless you have more bad news to share first?"
"There's… someone who might need to be talked to by tomorrow."
"Ah. The real reason you decided to speak to me now."
She still sounds more resigned than upset. "Yeah. One of the coders working on Leaf's new program doesn't buy the idea that our friend Aiko wrote it anymore, or thinks it's potentially dangerous… I'm not sure what to do, but I figured if a Gym Leader told him it was being looked into and handled…"
"You want me to mislead him into thinking this was all sanctioned. To imply that those at the highest levels of the region know about it, and to set his worry aside."
Red forces himself to meet her eyes as he nods, feeling cold sweat on the back of his neck. Her tone was flat, and he can't help but think that this is it, the moment she'll tell him no, that this isn't right, that he's on his own...
Instead the Gym Leader merely continues to speculatively search his gaze. "How long have you been thinking about this?"
He tries not to let her curiosity make him too hopeful. "Ever since I could do so while hiding it from my partitioned self." For weeks he essentially rode around in his own head as a mostly-silent passenger, observing and adding the occasional thought or suggestion in reply to his partitioned self's thoughts or concerns while the majority of his focus was on what to do about all this… not just for his own sake, but for all psychics. Part of his planning included worst case scenarios, including using all his money to flee the islands, undergo disguising surgery, and live out his life in another part of the world.
Desperate, foolish thoughts. But some were also constructive, and eventually he reached a conclusion that was difficult to accept, and frightening, but inescapable.
"First I thought of what the main problem is with us, psychics I mean, having these new powers, and the answer is it makes people feel unsafe. What makes people feel safe are governments and leagues, rangers and leaders. I think people may not be sure how to react, but will take their cue from those they already trust to keep them safe. So we mostly don't have to worry about convincing the average person to not worry about psychics… I mean, I think they will anyway, and that will still cause problems, but… mostly we just have to convince those in charge?"
"I see. A reasonable plan, though it raises the crux of the problem. Do you know what an infohazard is?"
"Yeah, Giovanni talked about them. Something that, once you know it, causes you harm."
"Essentially. What do you think of the concept?"
"To be honest, I didn't really agree with him. It's largely theoretical, right? Like, I know some argue that certain lines of thought can qualify by leading people into an existential crisis, but... there's nothing we know of that will reliably cause people, in general, harm through simple exposure. Maybe we could call certain lies infohazards, like if people are led to believe something will heal them that ends up hurting them, but the implication, from what I remember, is that infohazards are about real knowledge, or knowledge that could be real."
"And you don't think real knowledge shouldn't be known."
Red hesitates, recognizing the trap. "I guess I haven't acted like someone who believes all truth should be known. I… used to believe that. I think I still do, but…" Bill mentioned that he's sabotaged other projects that he worried might create a general artificial intelligence before they figured out how to align it properly. That would make knowledge of how to build one, without the proper safeguards, an infohazard, wouldn't it? "It's not that I think the truth would harm people, it's that I'm worried about how they'll act because of it."
"Is that terribly different?"
"Even if they're right to act that way?"
Red's breath hitches, and he sinks his face into his hands as he's forced to confront the thought he's put off again and again.
What if society would be right to fear psychics?
It was bad enough when the possibility of perfect liars was raised. At worst that would just make psychics as untrustworthy as darks; Blue told him about the ex-Fighting Gym Leader being at the dojo he's training at, and that he felt guilty for thinking that if only the man wasn't dark he could more easily trust him by just getting a psychic to tell Blue if Koichi is sincere.
But the sakki is different. And Leaf's fears, about influencing people's beliefs… he can't just pretend to know that it's not possible, or that everything would turn out alright.
What if psychics shouldn't be allowed to be Leaders, or trainers, or even researchers?
And what if he's responsible for ending all of that?
There's a tearing sensation between his ribs, and the sob that escapes him feels like it rips a hole in his chest. He begins to block the flood of emotions, to cut himself off from them and keep himself from breaking down in front of Sabrina, but a moment later he feels her hand on his hair and he's lost, fear and dread and grief washing through him.
"I d-didn't… I-I didn't m-mean to—"
"Shh, I know. I know."
She pulls him against her side, and for a time he just cries out all the fear and loneliness and dread he's kept behind multiple partitions since he killed the renegades.
There's no hiding from it anymore. He may have used their pokemon to do it, they may even have deserved it, but he used pokemon to kill them, sure as if he'd given the verbal command. If he's not branded a renegade, it would only be by technicality.
And it's worse than that, so much worse, because he has the potential to do more harm than any renegade that ever lived. He doesn't even need to train a pokemon to break its conditioning, doesn't even need to leave evidence.
And if he has the ability to teach others how to do the same thing… people who might actually use it for evil purpose… hell, if just knowing it's possible leads to a psychic renegade figuring it out themselves and using it to secretly kill people, maybe dozens of people, maybe hundreds...
Maybe he should be feared.
Maybe they all should.
Please, I'm sorry, I just wanted to do research!
What keeps coming back to him, again and again, is Yuuta's face as the votes for his branding were voiced, his pleading as Red first hesitated, then gave in and sealed his fate.
Counting him, Red's killed three people. He failed to save Aiko, and the people in the apartment building, and all of that pales in comparison to how many psychics he's condemned because he didn't stop to think about the consequences of what he was doing. Because he found something new and exciting and he experimented with it in front of others, released an infohazard into the world with no way to contain it.
I just wanted to learn!
"Shh…" Sabrina strokes his hair as he tries to apologize again, which only results in him crying harder, face buried in her shoulder as he clutches her tight. "It's okay. It's going to be okay. I promise."
The words are a liferaft that he clings to along with her, and for a time the fear and grief consumes him, all of him but the shard that holds onto her, feeling her hand in his hair. He wants his mother, but she's not here, and he'd be afraid to tell her even if she was. So he accepts Sabrina's comfort, and lets himself believe her words.
Little by little he calms enough to even his breathing, and by the time the tears have stopped he feels embarrassed. He loosens his grip, and Sabrina gently pulls away, then returns with some tissues, which he takes to wipe his face, cheeks burning.
She sits across from him again, seemingly unconcerned by the wet patch on her shoulder, and takes another sip of water as she lets him finish resettling himself. Once he drinks from his own glass he feels ready to continue.
"Thank you, Sensei. If there's… I'll do whatever you suggest, if…" He clears his throat and drinks again before setting his glass down. "What should I do?"
Sabrina is quiet for what feels like the longest minute of Red's life, and when she finally speaks it's only to say, "Nothing."
Red raises raw eyes to stare at her. "You mean…?"
"Just that. I appreciate your trust, and am glad you came to me. There may be some hard days ahead, and some difficult choices, but… right now, anything else you do has to be incredibly, carefully, extensively calculated."
"But… the programmer—"
"I'll speak with them," she says, and for the first time since he heard from Leaf, something in his chest unclenches. "Your plan, generally speaking, is a good one. I would like to make it as true as possible, however, which means we'll be speaking with some others about this."
Some of the tension returns as he considers what that might entail, but of course he expected it even if Sabrina agreed with his plan. "Other than you, the second safest person I considered telling was Professor Oak—"
"The Professor?" Sabrina asks, brow furrowed. "Really?"
"Uh, yeah. He's always been very supportive of me, and I know he'd want to help."
"Ah." Sabrina's face clears. "That's understandable, but…"
"If your criteria in telling me is that I have just as much to lose and am already comfortable with keeping potential truths hidden for safety, the Professor fits the opposite profile. He's not gifted, has no gifted family, and is dedicated to seeking and disseminating truth. Worst of all, he's not dark, and might reveal the information at an inopportune time… to a psychic, it's true, but we can't assume all of them would be as careful as we need to be."
Red bites his lower lip. He had worried about whether the Professor would feel duty-bound to spread the knowledge… and whether he would judge Red more for not sharing what he learned to do more than for what he did with it. "It's been hard to justify not telling him already. Keeping him out of the loop while pretending it's an official secret feels… wrong."
"I understand. How about this; we ask another, similarly respected leader first, and see what they think?"
There's only a couple others who Red can think of, in Kanto at least, who meet that bar. "Who…?"
"Leader Giovanni. I plan to tell him regardless, but I think you should meet with him as well. In fact, I was considering introducing you to him before the Hoenn incident derailed so many plans."
What? Is that what Sabrina meant when she spoke about rewarding loyalty? "But… I mean, I would be honored to meet him of course, but… he doesn't have any psychic family either, and… he also seems committed to spreading the truth."
"He's committed to spreading reason," Sabrina corrects. "Which often involves spreading truth. But I'm very confident he will see the reason in withholding this particular truth, for now, and being strategic in how it's spread."
It takes Red a moment to realize where that confidence likely comes from, but when he does it's enough to make him feel like he's fully waking up, finally, from the emotions that overwhelmed him:
There are other secrets the Gym Leaders know that they keep from the general public.
Of course there are. It was the height of egotism for him to think he was the only person to ever discover something new and dangerous. Hell, he learned a dangerous truth that he kept hidden before he discovered his own, and he suddenly wonders how many others know Bill's secrets. The most analogous one that he didn't even consider was the existence of pokeballs that can hold humans.
But he did consider it to some degree, specifically wondering whether someone else had discovered sakki. It's part of what made him feel so guilty, imagining that someone was out there using it for evil, and that by keeping his own discovery of it secret he was selfishly guarding his own safety rather than ensuring people could better protect themselves. He just didn't really believe it, because…
Because it seemed so horrifying? Because it would compel him to act?
He's not sure, but either way he feels ashamed of the thought, and all he says is, "If you think he's the right person to tell next, then I'm ready." Normally the thought of getting to talk with Leader Giovanni would be exciting, make him run for his old notebook to review all the questions he'd like to ask him… but right now, all he feels is a cold stone in his gut as he imagines what the man he respects so much will think of what he's done. And what Professor Oak would, when the truth finally reaches him and he realizes Red didn't trust him enough to tell him first.
Sabrina clearly picks up on this, and responds with a wave of reassurance as she stands. "I'll arrange the meeting. Meanwhile, just try to relax, and let Leaf know that I'll contact her."
Red takes a deep breath, then lets it out. "Okay." He knows it's a dismissal, and so he finishes his water and stands as well.
"You have a meditation class soon, don't you? If you need to cancel it—"
"No, I'll be alright." Red closes his eyes, and when he opens them again the world feels lighter, his body less tired. He smiles at Sabrina. "Thank you again, Sensei."
She's looking back at him with mild fascination. "What exactly are you thanking me for? What do you remember of our conversation?"
"Uh… your help? You said you'd talk to Leaf about the programmer." He remembers crying, can still feel the rawness in his eyes… "It was a big relief, because… I've been worried about how people will respond to sakki." It is scary to think that they might cancel Leaf's program or be angry about what Red might do with it, and though his stomach clenches with worry as he imagines Professor Oak's eventual disappointment or condemnation, he's a little surprised by the severity of the regret and fear he remembers. Of course, that's the point of his unpartitioned self using it to keep them productive.
He feels Sabrina probe his feelings, and allows the mild merge before she withdraws. "I see. Very well, then, you seem fit to teach. I'll speak with you later."
Red nods and returns to his room, where he calls Leaf. "Hey."
"Hey, Red. Thanks for calling me back so fast."
"Of course. How'd it go?"
"Alright. He seemed suspicious, but willing to wait. We're… friends, or at least I hope we still are. He's willing to extend a bit of trust."
"Great. Sabrina says she'll talk to you soon."
"Oh, thank the Swords." Leaf sounds almost faint with relief. "So… does that mean she's going to be the one revealing the discovery?"
"I'm not sure, actually, but she's all filled in. She's going to talk to other people now, sort of feel them out… I have to get ready for a class, but she'll probably be able to answer your questions better."
"Okay, thanks for talking to her. I feel better already, though I know it was a lie at the time… ugh. We should talk more, later, I know you have to go."
They say their goodbyes and Red hurries to shower and change for his lesson, which is an intermediate class on meditating where he teaches the psychics and non-psychics how to identify negative thoughts, particularly those with a negative emotion attached, and find related, countervailing positive thoughts and emotion. Then they learn to sit with negative emotions, examining their source and function while practicing calming techniques until, little by little, growing comfortable with them before switching to the positive, then back, and back again, until it's easy and effortless, until they can hold both feelings together.
It's often as useful for him to practice techniques like this as it is for his students, and never before more so than today. By the time he's done he feels even calmer about everything than he did after his talk with Sabrina.
That calmness lasts right up until he reaches his room, and sees Rei standing outside his door.