It took everything in Cynthia’s power to sit still through Cyrus’s “talk.” First he introduced his club under the ridiculous pretense that they were merely a bunch of technology nerds who got together to tinker with their new inventions. Then he talked about his latest creation, a machine designed to dampen emotions for those struggled with feeling overpowered by them. This got the audience chatting, and Cynthia could have sworn she saw Cyrus smirk. She hated the way he held sway over the crowd. How level-headed he sounded about the whole thing. How nobody’s first reaction was complete and utter disgust.
Should I stand and say something? Of course, she wanted to, but she had to consider the consequences as well. Lear had invited the man to speak. If she cut him off, she might be overridden, which would only make Cyrus look right.
“I can’t believe he’d brag about his goals in broad daylight like this,” she said.
“Why not?” Caitlin said. “I think his invention has excellent potential.”
Cynthia stared at her. Perhaps Lear’s vision for the party theme had come true, and they’d all descended into an upside-down world where every inhabitant had gone mad. It was the only sane explanation for Caitlin’s words.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” Cynthia said.
Caitlin seemed to take no offense as she calmly explained, “Perhaps if I’d had access to such a device when I was younger, I’d have been able to battle without Darach stepping in for me. And I wouldn’t have gone overboard in suppressing my emotions later on.” She drummed on the table, watching the chattering crowd. “While my situation may have been a bit unique, I can’t imagine I’m the only one who could benefit from Cyrus’s invention in some way.”
Cynthia scoffed. Of course she couldn’t expect Caitlin to understand the danger Cyrus posed. Her past experience was clearly clouding her judgment.
Up front, Cyrus raised his hands to quiet the crowd. “I appreciate your time. Our fine member Sophocles has been passing out flyers the past few days with all the information needed to contact us. I look forward to speaking with you again.” He put his hands behind his back and took a step down the center aisle, but he paused as a voice called out:
Cyrus glanced up. He’d paused right beside Cynthia’s table but kept gaze only on the speaker.
A lone young man with hip-length green hair stood in the corner with his hand raised. “I have a question about the Pokémon you use to power this machine of yours.”
“And you are?” Cyrus asked.
“My name is N,” the young man replied. “And I–I used to be the king of Team Plasma.”
This got a few people talking, but most of them watched Cyrus to see how he would react.
“If you’re thinking to invoke my former association with Team Galactic to discredit me, then I’m afraid you have failed. My club is a social group only. In fact, one of our members is part of the Sinnoh Elite Four that helped disband Team Galactic in the first place.”
What? That can’t be! Cynthia’s first thought was Cyrus had told a half-truth and was referring the gym leader Volkner. He did love to thinker with things. But he also wasn’t terribly social or quick to forgive. Flint, on the other hand, was an actual Elite Four member who would chat up anybody. And he did always have a burning curiosity when it came to Volkner’s inventions.
N appeared shaken by this news but not deterred. “Your members are irrelevant. My concern is your Pokémon. Isn’t it true that Darkrai has been causing residents to have terrible nightmares lately?”
Cyrus’s expression remained impassive. “Like many Pokémon, Darkrai can sometimes struggle with understanding human needs and desires. I assure you it has people’s best interests at heart. I have spoken to it about this recent behavior, and I can only ask residents to have patience as it adapts to life here on Pasio.”
N crossed his arms with a confident smile. “Is that so? It seems awfully convenient, doesn’t it? Right when people’s feelings are most intense from their recollections of these nightmares, you come in with a machine that can dampen emotions.”
Cyrus narrowed his eyes. A subtle change for most people but not for him. Oddly enough, this was the first accusation that seemed to catch him off-guard. “I’ve heard of you, N. You’re a man of logic, as I understand.”
N frowned but nodded.
“Excellent. We have something in common, then. Now, we both understand that nightmares are merely illusions of the mind and pose no actual threat. Therefore, whether they are caused by Darkrai or not is irrelevant.” He extended his hands to the crowd. “If a person feels afraid after a non-threatening event, I would argue that their fear, not the event, is the source of the problem.”
N had no good response. Or if he did, he wasn’t bringing it up fast enough. Cyrus made the briefest eye contact with Cynthia as he resumed his walk out of the party. N, frustrated, sat down at his table.
Cynthia’s head was swirling. She couldn’t seem to hold on to any solid thought. By all accounts, Cyrus had made the better argument. In fact, the only thing keeping Cynthia from conceding his point was the fact that she knew, absolutely knew, this whole thing had to be a cover-up for restarting Team Galactic. If it wasn’t…if Cyrus was just trying to help people, albeit in his own misconstrued way…
“Excuse me,” she said to Caitlin. “I think I need to bow out early. I…I need some training to clear my thoughts.”
“Of course,” Caitlin said. “Do whatever you need.”
Cynthia thanked her and stood but didn’t miss Caitlin whispering to Darach as she left, “Make sure no one bothers the champion. I believe she will want some privacy.”
Caitlin watched until Cynthia had left the party. Nobody followed, partly because Darach shadowed her until she reached the exit but partly because they were all too involved in discussing their opinions on Cyrus’s new device. From the snippets she caught of conversations, their views seemed quite evenly divided. Well, this would no doubt keep life on the island exciting for the foreseeable future.
She almost signaled for more tea when her precognizance suggested she stay seated a moment longer. Sure enough, within a minute, the three young people she had spoken to earlier in the party approached her. “Red” and his two friends. She chuckled, knowing Red was not his real name, but content to play along until he told her otherwise.
“May I help you, Mr. Red?” she asked.
“Um, I hope so.” Red scratched the back of his head. “We were just wondering about what you said to us earlier? Something about us being curious?”
“Yes. As in, you are peculiar and unique, rather than inquisitive.”
Red nodded slowly. “Right, but…peculiar how?”
“Let me think.” Caitlin closed her eyes a moment, just to make sure no last-second vision came that would change her choice of words. “I had the sense that you two–” She indicated his companions. “–came from a reality where you know each other but not Red here.”
Red said nothing, but his two associates nodded.
“Whereas in your reality,” Caitlin said, turning to Red. “The three of you were very close, correct?”
“Y-yeah, we were,” Red agreed.
“So I thought. Based on this information, I would normally advise the three of you not to interact with each other for your own safety.” The group looked uncomfortable at this and she raised a finger to prevent any interruptions. “However…in this case, the future looks bright, and that is what I called curious. Most people who remember any part of another timeline become determined to recreate it. Either out of a need for familiarity or curiosity for what could have been.” Her mind flittered to the image of Emmet’s twin, who had rushed out of the party in disarray. “Such attempts can overwhelm the mind and prove fatal. But as long as the three of you commit to this as a new friendship, putting knowledge and curiosity about your other lives to rest, you will remain safe.”
“I…I see,” Red said. “Thanks for explaining that, then.” The trio chatted among themselves and returned awkwardly to their table. As they went, Caitlin’s vision for them did not change. Still a bright future. It was such a shame that the same could not be said for Emmet.
Cynthia couldn’t believe where she’d ended up. A hidden grove right near the skating rink. Out of all the places she could wander, why had she come to a spot where Ingo liked to hang out?
She sighed. At least he wasn’t here now. Nor was anyone else. Half the town was probably attending the tea party. Good. She needed to sort these confusing feelings out alone.
She brought out Kommo-o first. A trio of cherry trees, ripe with pink blossoms, stood about fifty feet away, and she instructed her partner to aim Clanging Scales to hit all three targets at once. The dragon Pokémon got close, but each time, only two of the trees would drop some of their petals. One tree stayed untouched by an inch or two.
“Try leaning forward with your attack,” she suggested. Then she stood alongside her partner to demonstrate the motion. As she did, one of her other Poké Balls slipped from her belt onto the ground. Not Garchomp’s but a different one. Its light aqua shell with its cloud-like patterns looked like a piece of sky had fallen into the grass as she scooped it back up. She might not have had Caitlin’s clairvoyance, but she knew the Pokémon inside would want to come out sometime.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But with all this fuss over Cyrus’s Darkrai, I don’t know how people are going to react when they see you. All those stories from Sinnoh…I know it shouldn’t matter to me, but–”
She straightened, sure she’d heard the snap of a twig nearby. But as she waited and scanned the area around her, the grove remained as still as ever. Had someone seen her? Was the sound only in her head? She walked back over to Kommo-o and resumed their session. After several successful executions of Clanging Scales, she suggested the Pokémon take a break and looked over the other Poké Balls she had with her. She stoked the strange sky-blue one, reassuring the Pokémon inside it wouldn’t have to wait much longer. She’d made a plan to present it to Pasio, and she wouldn’t be afraid.
Then she took out Garchomp. Not to train but to see how she was doing. The dragon Pokémon’s health had much improved with Kommo-o picking up the slack in battles. And when Cynthia brought her third Pokémon into the mix, things would be even easier. Perhaps even Garchomp could have an occasional battle again.
If everything is going so well, why does it feel like I’m about to cry?
Cynthia hung her head. Because she’d been avoiding the thought that had brought her out here in the first place. All her time as Champion, Team Galactic had been her adversary to take down. Nothing was complicated. They were the villains, and she was the hero. He was the madman, and she was the voice of hope and reason.
Except now Caitlin seemed to think Cyrus had invented something beneficial. Or at least potentially beneficial to people with her background. Cynthia was the one fighting against that for no logical reason she could express. Cynthia was the one who’d overworked her partner to the point that she’d suffered exhaustion. Cynthia was the one who’d gotten so caught up in grilling Ingo about any possible association with Team Galactic that she’d broken their friendship. Possibly behind repair.
I still have to talk to him about what Caitlin said, she thought. If Emmet is on the island, he should know. She cringed at the thought of how the conversation would go. If their friendship wasn’t dead already, it would be after a talk like that. And against all her willpower, she couldn’t keep a few tears from falling. Garchomp nuzzled her, trying to provide some comfort.
There was another crunch of twigs. She’d definitely heard it this time. Garchomp growled, and Cynthia whirled around, only to come face-to-face with Cyrus.
If he was startled to find her here, he didn’t show it. His attention seemed focused on her face more than anything else. “You’ve been crying,” he observed.
She quickly wiped her eyes. “Very astute,” she said. “And I’d rather not have one of your lectures about how this proves the incompleteness of my spirit or some such thing.”
“I only give lectures to those who do not yet understand my philosophy,” Cyrus said. “You do understand it and yet reject it anyway. There is not much else I can do for you.”
This time, Kommo-o let out a growl, and Cynthia recalled both her Pokémon. She still kept her hand near her belt, but the last thing she needed was for Cyrus to claim she’d picked a fight with him.
“What’s your real plan for this machine of yours?” she asked. She expected nothing but silence in reply. Perhaps a huff of disgust if Cyrus was feeling talkative. And yet…
“My plan is to allow anyone wishing to use it to do so,” Cyrus said. “Nothing more or less.”
Cynthia scowled. “Right. And once their feelings are erased, then what? They’re perfect Team Galactic recruits?”
“Did you listen to a word I spoke at that ridiculous party?” Cyrus asked.
Cynthia didn’t reply, which was probably all the answer Cyrus needed.
“I see. I shall have to repeat myself, then. Nothing is erased, and I have already vowed to reverse the process for anyone who requests it. Furthermore, I cannot recruit members for a group that no longer exists.” He sighed and massaged his temples.
Cynthia found herself wanting to do the same. “Has anyone actually used it yet? Your machine, I mean?”
Cyrus nodded. “One club member. Some bad memories of a war he participated in still haunted him. It was at his urging that I began my work here in the first place. Not anything you relate to, I imagine.” He stared past Cynthia, towards the blossoming trees. A single petal floated to the ground. “I confess it was disorienting to be…asked for help. I always wanted a new world, because I expected no one to see my view. I do not know what sort of future I seek based on this revelation. I can only move forward until my path becomes clear.”
His words sounded so sincere.
The silent seconds dragged on before he turned to Cynthia again. “That is why there is no more Team Galactic. A leader with no vision should not lead.”
“Well, that’s at least one thing we can agree on, I suppose,” she said.
“Small miracles,” Cyrus replied, then gave her a nod. “It was not my intention to interrupt you. I’ll take my leave.” Then he passed between the trees without another word.
Cynthia watched him go feeling more confused than ever. But at least one thing felt clear. She couldn’t be a neutral party on the sideline like Lear. She had to take a stand either in favor of Cyrus’s group or against it. And she couldn’t make this choice in a vacuum.
She waited until she was sure Cyrus had left the area and pulled out her phone to call Lance. A meeting of the champions would be the perfect opportunity to discuss this and get everyone’s insight. Given the way he had roped her into the Festival of Champions earlier, Cynthia had the perfect ammunition to strong-arm Lance into organizing such a meeting.
It worked like a charm. Lance promised to take care of all the logistics. All she had to do was show up. Cynthia turned off the phone, feeling like a weight had been lifted. Perhaps things were finally coming together after all. The only thing that remained was a talk with Ingo.