Lear was trapped.
Deservedly, perhaps. He did know what a popular figure he was on the island, how much the citizens looked up to him and admired him. It was only natural that if he went walking the busy streets of Centra City at night, he would have a fan or three coming up to greet him.
Normally Lear was quite adept at appeasing folks and going on his way in short order. The girl in front of him, however, was an exception.
Her name was Tina, and she had encountered a very famous trainer named Red that Lear simply had to meet. He knew this because she had repeated it at least half a dozen times. She’d also snapped several selfies with the three of them, which Red seemed to enjoy.
Lear enjoyed it far less. But since Tina had stopped to speak with him right at the end of a shop-lined alleyway, he had nothing but brick walls behind him, Tina and Red in front, and an audience all around. A graceful, polite exit was impossible. Lear was starting to think he might have to call Sawyer and Rachel to rescue him when a blond-haired boy came walking up the sidewalk and paused to stare wide-eyed at the strange trio. “T-tina?” he asked.
The boy looked vaguely familiar. Then again, so did most people on the island. Wasn’t he someone’s rival? Maybe that Koko kid’s?
Whoever he was, he apparently had the mystical power of drawing Tina’s attention away from her storytelling.
“Paulo!” she exclaimed as she turned caught sight of him. “Hey, you’re not lost after all!”
“I-I…what?” Paulo flushed and pointed to her. “You’re one I thought was lost! You ran off into the woods and never came back!”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that.” Tina rubbed her head and sweatdropped. Then, to Lear’s great relief, she left him and Red alone to catch up with her friend. “Anyway, you want to go get something to eat? I just had dinner, but I’m pretty hungry, so I could go again.”
Paulo seemed hesitant to reply until Tina added on, “Plus, I can tell you how I met Red!”
“You did?” Paulo perked up.
Tina motioned behind her. Red gave a small wave and smiled, which threw Paulo into a kind of starstruck paralysis. His whole body went rigid, his motions robotic as he returned the wave. “N-nice to meet you, Mr. Red, sir!” he said, then made a bow. He bonked into Tina in the process and when he raised his head, Red was chuckling.
Paulo’s face soon matched his idol’s namesake. “A-anyway, my friend and I are going to go meet something. Erm, eat something. So I’m sure I’ll see you around, and I think you’re amazing, and bye!”
He grabbed Tina’s hand, and the two of them hurried off, leaving Lear to wonder where the heck Paulo had been on this island that he hadn’t heard Tina’s story of meeting Red five times over by now.
Red himself seemed embarrassed by the whole ordeal. He lowered his hat, and his own voice squeaked a bit when he spoke, like he couldn’t decide what it should sound like. “Y-yeah, people really like me,” he said. “Y’know, because I’m the famous Red and all. But, um…I don’t like to talk much, so I’m gonna stop now. Mm-hmm.”
“Fascinating,” Lear said sarcastically. He was all for having more celebrities on the island, but they needed to keep their fans under control. “Anyway, I’ll call our island tour guide to help you get settled in,” he said. “Thought you might have to wait a bit. We’ve had a lot of newcomers lately…” He glanced around and caught sight of another familiar face in the crowd. It was great to see someone friendly, but more important, it was great to see someone who knew the island and had a record of doing Lear favors in a pinch.
“Misty!” he called out and waved her over.
She seemed distant and distracted. He had to call twice to get her attention. But once he had it, she walked over and listened intently to his request.
“Would you might showing another newbie around the place?” he asked. When Misty looked hesitant, he quickly added on, “Just to see a few landmarks and give a rundown of the battle system here. A couple hours of work, tops.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow. “I don’t have to join his team and go around the island gathering badges with him?”
“Trust me, I don’t think he needs that,” Lear said. “May I present the biggest Kantonian celebrity, the mysterious Red!” He held out his hands, and Red flashed Misty a quick smile from beneath the brim of his hat.
“Mm-hmm,” he said.
Misty didn’t react. “O-oh, that’s nice,” she said. “I’m not sure if Rachel and Sawyer mentioned it, but Brock and I still don’t remember a lot from before we came here. So I don’t necessarily know all the celebrities from Kanto.”
For some reason, Red seemed to relax a bit at this news. Probably relived that she wasn’t going to tackle him for another round of selfies.
“Ah. Right, of course,” Lear said. “But you’re still okay with showing him around?”
“Do you only ask people to do favors for you?” Misty sighed. “Or do you actually do some in return once in a while?”
“I-I…that is, of course I do. I’m a very generous person,” Lear said. After an awkward moment of silence, he added, “Why? Do you have a favor you need to ask of me?”
Please say no, he mentally begged. Please say no. His schedule was crammed enough as it was. The Tea Party around the corner, at least half a dozen other events he wanted to follow up with after that…
“No, not that I can–” Misty began. Then she paused. “Actually, I do have one. There’s someone in the Gadgeteering Club who’s been trying to get a hold of you. If I give you his info, would you give him a call?”
“Oh? Sure, that’s simple enough,” Lear said. “I mean, of course! My pleasure!”
Misty didn’t look like she bought his faux sincerity, but she didn’t call him out on it, either. She simply pulled out her phone, and the two of them exchanged the information. Then, true to her word, she began to walk Red down the streets of Centra City, calming explaining the various training and battle opportunities the island had to offer.
Lear let out a sigh and stared at the number on his phone screen. Probably better to call this Cyrus guy sooner rather than later. Then it’d be done, and he wouldn’t have to make up excuses to Misty later for forgetting. It seemed like he’d been spending all his time lately trying to make the island bigger and better and more exciting for every new arrival. Was it possible that in all his enthusiasm, he’d lost track of the island’s original purpose? Or at least, the purpose he’d given it once he’d decided to stop sulking and make this place a real home?
I wanted trainers to form a stronger bond here than they could anywhere else, he reminded himself. For a human and a Pokémon to become a pair so closely connected, they’re like one. He massaged his forehead. Of course, close bonding didn’t make for great publicity, either. There had to be some sort of balance he could strike between the two.
In the meantime, he tapped the number Misty had given him. A good leader kept his promises promptly.
“…and let’s see, I think that about covers all the places you need to know about around town,” Misty said. They had walked a full circle of downtown Centra City, and although her legs ached a bit, it still felt good to share her knowledge on something. Especially when her knowledge on anything felt a bit limited these days. Plus, she and Red really seemed to click. He didn’t look familiar per se, but she just had this feeling they knew each other. She was almost tempted to ask if he knew her in return, but the guy didn’t seem too big on talking.
When he did speak, it was mostly to prompt her into talking about the battle system on Pasio. She explained the three-on-three layout, the bond between human and Pokémon that made up the sync pairs. Oh, and the weird part about how each Pokémon only had one type weakness here, and type resistances didn’t apply.
She had just wrapped up her speech and was about to leave him on his own when a Meowth exited a narrow alley and stood right in their path.
Stood. Not sat. Misty couldn’t recall seeing a Meowth that went around on two feet like that before, but maybe its trainer had taught it some special trick?
“Been followin’ you two for a bit,” said a voice. It had an odd tone to it, not like any human voice she’d ever heard. And when she looked around, the Meowth was the only creature she could see besides herself and Red. In fact, its lips had moved right when the voice spoke.
“Um, hello?” she said, waving at it. “Was that your trainer, little guy? Is he hiding somewhere?”
“Little guy? You talkin’ to me?” Again, the Meowth’s lips moved in perfect sync with the words, almost as if…
“Wait, you can talk?” Misty gasped.
The Meowth whistled. “Man, oh man, you don’t remember much at all, huh?” He then turned to Red. “How about you? The ol’ gray matter workin’ okay there for ya?”
Red stepped back. “When did you get here?” he said, which more or less answered the Meowth’s question. He cautiously looked both behind and above him.
Misty didn’t get it. Was he expecting an attack from the sky or something?
“Hold on,” said Red. “Does this mean Jessie and James are around, too?”
The Meowth rolled its eyes. “Hard to say. We didn’t arrive together. Thought I saw ’em once ages ago, but they ain’t been around since. My guess is they got here, made some Pokémon mad and got blasted right back off the island again.” It gave a casual, what-can-you-do shrug and grinned at Red. “But that ain’t really the big question here, is it? Since when do you go by ‘Red’?”
Red crossed his arms. “It’s just what people here call me.”
“Riiight,” Meowth replied. “And you’re famous too, eh?”
“I did win a pretty major tournament,” Red told him.
“Only recently,” Meowth retorted. “Seems odd you’d get so many fans so quickly.”
Red huffed. “Odd to you, maybe. You never appreciated my battle skills anyway.”
“Hmph. Touche.” The feline Pokémon stretched and yawn, then got back down on all fours, its attention on the alleyway it had crept out of. “Not like it bothers me, but uh…don’t go expectin’ me to bail ya out if it all backfires on ya.”
“Wasn’t planning to,” Red said.
The Meowth shrugged and walked into the alley, swallowed by the shadows.
Misty was starting to get a headache. Partially from having to deal with the fact that a Pokémon was talking, partially from having no clue what it and Red were talking about…
…and partially because the fog over her memory felt like it was getting thinner and thinner. Everything that had been locked away in the depths of her mind felt ready to cascade forward…a dam about to break.
What is it with me and water metaphors? she thought. She then turned back to Red, who seemed deep in debate about something. She was about to ask him what when the headache intensified. The space seemed to grow fuzzy around her. The lights felt too bright, the air too heavy. All she wanted to do was lay down.
“Hey!” Red called. “You all right?”
She nodded weakly. “I-I think so. It’s just been a long night. I need to get home and rest.”
“You sure?” he said, not sounding at all convinced.
“Positive,” she assured him, then began to stagger down the road. The good news was that the hotel was in view from here. If she had to ask a practical stranger to escort her home, that would have just been embarrassing.
Cyrus had to admit, when he asked Surge’s little friend to set up a meeting between him and Lear, he did not really expect the girl to follow through. It was more a matter of trying the simplest approach first, then in the likely event it failed, he could try something else.
So it was a most pleasant surprise when Lear actually called him and set up a meeting within a matter of hours. He arranged for Pasio’s leader to join him at the pavilions, where he could show off the prototype of his latest invention away from prying eyes.
“And…explains how this works again?” Lear said.
There was a healthy amount of caution to his voice, which Cyrus could not blame him for. Cyrus was never one for aesthetics. His creation had a certain science fiction vibe to it–a reclining chair with a robotic arm poised above the headrest. An untrained eye coupled with an overactive imagination could easily envision it brainwashing the user or transforming them into a mindless robot.
Thankfully, despite Lear’s caution, he gave full attention as Cyrus explained himself. “I have done extensive study on these sync stones. They appear with each of us when we arrive on the island. They connect with our hearts and minds, linking us with our Pokémon of choice to form what you refer to as a ‘sync pair.’ Correct?”
It was correct, but he found when people had to answer questions, they tended to better follow to what he was saying.
“That summarizes the stones quite well, I’d say,” Lear replied.
Cyrus continued, “My invention is designed to give more freedom to humans, allowing them to limit the extent of overwhelming emotions using the power of the sync stone.”
“Come again?” Lear asked.
Cyrus pointed to the chair, forcing himself to keep the explanation simple and straightforward. “A person sits here.” He then pointed to the finely-controlled tips at the end of the robotic arm. “Their sync stone goes between the robot’s fingers here. When the machine is turned on–” He motioned to the main power switch, though he obviously did not flip it. “–it sends out a special pulse that enhances the flow of energy between the person’s heart and their stone. This allows my partner to shift some of their…emotional energy into the stone, sealing it inside.” Darkrai loomed into view, appearing like a menacing shadow behind Cyrus’s back.
Which was not exactly the impression he was going for. He’d even gone out of his way to use the term “emotional energy” rather than “spirit.” The two were interchangeable as far as he was concerned, but Sophocles insisted that most people saw a significant distinction between them.
Lear twitched uneasily in his seat. “What you’re describing sounds…uncomfortable. And you say this’ll help people?”
Cyrus nodded. “I apologize if my lack of showmanship has given you any false impressions. I admit I am not nearly as skilled in this area as yourself.”
The flattery appeared to put Lear much more at ease, and Cyrus continued, “I assure you the effect is quite beneficial. Many conflicts arise because emotions overpower us. Surely you agree with that much?”
Lear debated for a while but ultimately gave a nod.
“When the device is used, a person’s emotional reactions are simply dulled. The extent of which can be fully adjusted and completely reversed if desired.”
Debate flickered across Lear’s face. If there was only one time Cyrus needed someone to understand his point of view, this would certainly be the most convenient. He had the advantage of speaking with a man who had no prior misconceptions about Team Galactic. He was also, statistically speaking, likely to be a man who had experienced a lot of stress in his position. If things were going right, memories of when he himself could have used some subdued emotions were now flying across his mind.
“Well,” Lear finally said. “If it works as you say, it certainly is an impressive feat of engineering.”
“I am working on a demonstration where you will see its effectiveness,” Cyrus said. “However, I obviously need willing participants. Perhaps at your upcoming event you could allow me some floor space? I will give the same explanation I have given you here, and to those who think it will benefit them, I will pass on our group’s information.”
“Hmm…it would make Pasio look good to have some healthy social groups that aren’t just about battles,” Lear said. “Okay. I won’t promote it personally, you understand, but I can give you a minute or two to speak.”
Cyrus came as close as he was willing to a smile. “I do appreciate your time and consideration,” he said. And with that, the two men shook hands, and Lear headed back to his duties as Pasio’s leader.
Once Lear was gone, Sophocles out from where he’d been watching around the corner. He gave Cyrus a thumbs-up and helped cover and secure the machine for the night. He also had a friend by the name of Koko with him this time. Apparently their electric rodent Pokémon had caused them to run into each other. Cyrus did not see how that could lead to friendship, but he would not complain about extra interest in his group, either.
“That was a great demonstration,” Sophocles said, throwing a blue tarp over the robotic arm part of the device.
“Thank you,” Cyrus said.
Sophocles gasped, almost dropping the tarp. “You…you thanked me for something!”
“You have asked me to use the word repeatedly in place of my usual affirmative phrases. It seemed an appropriate time to do so.”
“Your ‘affirmative phrases’ are just you huffing half the time.”
“If they convey my message clearly, then they are the most effective means of communication.”
Koko thought for a moment. “That actually is kind of true,” he said.
Sophocles sighed and gave up the argument. “Whatever. We should get going home soon. Walk with us, Cyrus?”
He never asked if Cyrus wanted to walk anywhere, since Cyrus would always answer the obvious ‘no.’ But when he said is as a statement with a slightly questioning tone, Cyrus gave an affirmative huff.
The walk to Sophocles’s friend’s residence was not too long. And it provided a moderately pleasant view along the way. The housing on this street was sparse, and the ocean stood in clear view at their backs. From a small house close to the beach, a small light shown through a curtained window on the second floor. Likely a bedside lamp or some similar appliance. Darkrai seemed to focus on the window, slowing down as they began to pass it.
Then Cyrus felt the telltale chill of Darkrai’s powers activating. It was trying to pull whoever was inside into one of its deep, and often nightmare-filled, slumbers.
“Easy now,” Cyrus warned. “It will not do to draw attention to ourselves with your powers.”
Darkrai muttered a reply in its deep ethereal voice. Then, to Cyrus’s bewilderment, Sophocles’s friend translated it:
“Darkrai says it’s being helpful. There’s someone in the house who can’t sleep.”
The Pokémon spoke a bit more, and the child’s expression turned solemn. “Oh. I see. Apparently, it’s a father? Or an…adoptive father, I guess? He and his son had some kind of conflict, and the father feels really bad for causing most of it.”
“Hmph,” Cyrus said, looking Darkrai in the eye. He did know how this child had gained such an ability, but he would take advantage of it. “Nevertheless, Darkrai, by most people’s definitions, nightmares are not helpful. We must stay within the parameters Cynthia will find acceptable.”
Some more muttering from the Pokémon.
“So Darkrai shouldn’t have helped that other person sleep either?” came the translation.
“What other person?”
Darkrai raised its ghostly arms like it was painting an invisible portrait. After a few more incoherent sounds, Koko replied, “It’s a…young woman? She’s trying to remember her life before she came here. Some parts of that life were a bit scary, so Darkrai put her into a dream earlier tonight. Its pretty sure the nightmares will help bring out her full memories like she wants.”
“It said all that?” Cyrus asked skeptically.
“Koko’s translations are usually spot on,” Sophocles said.
“I see,” Cyrus said, then stole one last glance at the window, where the bedside lamp had now gone dark. “I do not think any irreparable harm was done this evening. But yes, in the future, refrain from pulling either of these people into more dreams.”
Darkrai did not sound pleased with this, for as much as Cyrus could determine its tone at all. Perhaps Koko was rubbing off on him. Hopefully it would not have too large an effect. The last thing he needed right now was youthful enthusiasm.