|Open Chat in External Client|
|Chatroom Information and Help|
Open the box, it doesn't spoil anything.
Attempts to grasp at the idea of creation end, on the whole, in failure. How can they end otherwise? Creation is the point where the understood world meets, suddenly, something completely new. You can apprehend the new idea, and even wrangle it into physicality, but what can you say of the point before which there was nothing, and after there became something?
Creation always comes from nothing; I say this deliberately; I am so bold. Try to rationalise it as the product of all the influences acting on the point of creation. It sometimes acts despite them, and how is this possible without some inner force not granted it by the physical universe, where everything seeks to resolve into laws? Art abhors restrictions, of course – that is its greatest strength – it is only we poor artists who are incapable of working without them. Never say the struggle with an imperfect medium is essential to creation. Recall Blake's shrewd words: If a blight kill not a tree but it still bear fruit, &c.
Which makes the position of the first creator, the Primeval Creator (if I may), all the more fascinating. There were no media then, no rules or prohibitions. When she created – shall we suppose her a she? – it was perfectly from scratch. Before her there was nothing; after her the possibility of everything. We may try to imagine how she felt. We might even succeed.
Mothers love their children. Can we imagine her, now, denying this to her creations?
All this in a shadow
Prelude: Four variations upon a theme (composer unknown).
Wood thrummed around him with the sound of strings.
He saw its principal theme stated in his grand piano, and the development shone through everything he could see: smiling softly back at him from the panelled floor, pervading through even the golden light of the noon sun, filling his lungs with the warmth of the air, and spinning into new forms past the glowing motes of rosin dust. Wood turned back to the recapitulation, stated calmly in the pianoforte under his hands.
It was so familiar that he did not even notice its presence but, quite simply, through its relation to everything else. A melody was many notes, played into a single form; so the little world around him was a composition of many kinds of wood, and ebony and ivory, and light and dust and shadow and shine, that only together made the single warm impression of wood within him.
He let its sensation crescendo very slightly as he acknowledged it, and then it subsided to a low harmony. He closed his eyes. Now there was silence here. It was the void in which he would raise his song.
With the lightest press, a tone fluttered into being under his finger. He closed his eyes; it was pure light in his imagination; he opened them; it was a white note on his piano. Suddenly he knew its nature precisely, and spread his hands to expand it into a chord. An idea rose from the finely tensed strings, but it could have been a sudden stroke of life or death or triumph or despair; he forced it into definition; he followed it with another chord.
Sensation flared to life behind his eyelids; the shape it took was sound.
It had a rare subtlety, and he let his soul flow over it like the faintest breeze over a sea at evening. Like the first star, a melody glimmered into existence against the cool. From it he could raise quiet elation, or a brightening starscape, or a sorrow calm only in its depth, or tragedy setting its dark blue through scattered clouds; but the important thing was the melody itself: it contained all of this. He was almost loath to develop it; it held so many worlds within its little glimmering shell.
But as time pushed forward, his tempo was pulled along with it, and the melody stretched out into the next octave. A sight hitherto unknown came to him like a new calm, as the harmony turned slightly quicker and much softer. An arpeggio played the degrees of blue in a night sky, and lifted in instants, transcended mere sound, becoming certain vivid vision under his eyelids. The evening held over the world its long thin sapphire fingers, and all existence heard its call. As the sudden fortissimo thundered the world erupted to life below it — shadows flickered like living things over a sea that called their masters to dive into its coolest, sweetest secrets — when suddenly he opened his eyes again.
The melody flowed on in his background, but he had caught the slightest flash of something – half-unseen – though he was sure his eyes had been closed. His conscious drowse snapped back into clarity. Was it real or unreal? He would have disdained to find out the reality of his music anywhere else, but here he was determined. He felt into the world around him, attempting to analyse his room as you analyse a melody, because he thought this was something he should do. It was midday and he was at home, in the piano room — what could he gain out of treating wood and stone like music? But he felt into it all the same, and as he glanced down through the window to the slender branches of his eucalyptus sapling, his mind's melody rose up as though taking its right, and entered its climax.
Rich darkness surrounded him so he swept out to meet the sky, walking into his garden where the night had at last awoken. The eucalyptus grew visibly before his eyes, unfolding its sharp vivid leaves to drape the sky. The stars shimmered as though mad with fever, and the shadows swooped and turned and flashed over all the world, spinning in complex counterpoints to a universal rhythm. He felt his soul spreading out, growing wings, longing to join the ancient ballet, because the variations were so grand and perfectly formed that even the principal theme seemed pale and small. Couldn't he just forget his theme's recapitulation? Forget what birthed it all, forget the root and foundation of this vision –
He faltered slightly with the melody, and the darkness flickered. Inspiration was in him! If he could only pull his flow back into proper direction, so much was possible – but somehow he had forgotten how this all had started. The sound slipped from him, and like some light robe over his reality the vision of the night did the same.
He blinked. He was wide awake; the midday sun made his world almost too clear. He was still unprepared to believe this was a hallucination. There was too much perfection here, and how could one rationally explain such an elaborate, deliberate fantasy? He could hardly control his own dreams, let alone visions without precedent, and yet nothing here had passed into being against his will, except that last failure of his art.
But reality stood calmly against the evidence of his memory. The sun was high in the sky and it shone all its lucidity into the bright garden, the few faint shadows changing just so to match the measured progress of the sunlight, with not a star in sight for all his careful vision. He had never felt thus in all his short life, nor known anything that could explain it to him, and yet he had to suppress violently the feeling that all of it, somehow, was meant to happen.
He stood there for a long time, looking down with his hands in his pockets, vestiges of rhythms repeating in his head. Then he turned to the eucalyptus tree up against his window.
It was tall enough now to spread above his roof; its growth had survived past the vision. Its long sharp leaves draped over the windowpanes, casting cool shadows. Perhaps music did last longer than its final cadence.
“What'll it be, Mr. Tarks?”
Anurek Cretala looked across the table at the flustered man playing against him. A deck of cards was scattered between them in a ragged halo surrounding two face-down pieces. His heavyset opponent glanced between the cards, mostly at random, trying to look deliberate.
Mr Tarks's consort stood as conspicuously as they liked around the tavern, blocking out different views of the cracked walls, the stained furniture, and even the floor grimed with years of abuse. Mr. Tarks himself, annoyingly, blocked out the entire view of the bar in the front. Cretala's glass was empty and he felt he'd function much better if it was full. It wasn't as necessary as his unshifting gaze on Mr. Tarks's right hand, but it would definitely help.
“I blocked the Fleeting Girafarig,” the bigger man said, coming upon unfamiliar shores of retrospection.
“And I ignored the entire Trio Flock,” replied Cretala.
It wasn't of course a matter of what, out of the shuffled piles of cards they had laid out, either of them had chosen and picked up; it was what they blocked out of their minds that directed their respective progresses through the game. (Or perhaps it didn't; the art of the old card game Black on White was something mysterious and — it seemed to the uninitiated — constantly changing, so that those who did not understand how it worked couldn't be taught, and those who did understand could talk about it only with others of their kind. It was a shame that for this reason the game was dying out. It was the only bit of gambling Cretala had ever bothered with.)
In any case, whatever moves the two players made (and it was always two), whatever rules they decided as ornamentation for their round, and whichever cards the (apparently) wilful hand of luck dealt to them, the end was always the same. Almost every card would fly through their hands and be discarded, in a flurry if both players were veteran enough, until only two remained — the only two kept unknown for both players.
The cards shared a pokémon subject but differed on one important detail: a poliwhirl with clockwise or counterclockwise spirals, a purple or green shellos, a silcoon or a cascoon; only the players seemed to know exactly what it was, though even they did not know which card was which. Over the course of the game, the stakes would line up so that each player's winning card was established beforehand; then if one player picked the card that belonged to him from these two, he won the game.
Cretala always let the other player pick the card. It didn't much raise their chances of winning, but it felt a little fairer.
He let himself smile as Mr. Tarks raised his right hand gingerly. With immense care he swung it over between the two cards, and then as if shaking his hand like an old duster would help, did the very same.
It was going to be one of those moments. He felt himself widening, his awareness stretching to accommodate the instant that was to come. He saw the entire course of their hour here, all its twisting threads on the table and around it, contract under the will of the game to this moment.
No, it wasn't just a card game. Not when he could do what he was about to do.
Not his little finger twitched, but as he saw Mr. Tarks's hand moving over to the man's winning card he closed his eyes and, in one snap of a thought, blocked the possibility from his mind.
The hand paused. Slow as an hour dial, it turned back and lighted on Cretala's card. Mr. Tarks flashed a glimpse, and then held it up with immense bad grace. Cretala let his smile spread into a grin as he snatched the card from his hand.
“Thank you, that'd be mine,” he said, and sweeped up the pile of cash beside the cards, “and I'll take that, too. I really must be going.” He flashed his grin at the suddenly very unfriendly faces of the other player and his bodyguards. “So nice to have this little game.” He'd forgotten to pay for most of everyone else's drinks. Speeding up he nearly flew out of the cramped tavern, and swooped out into the air that was (if not fresh or clean) at least reasonably cold. A half moon was out and he could see just enough by its light.
He set out on a complex byway weaving through most of the Rusted Shacks that would lead him out on the wrong end of the city, so that he could turn round the outside and slip back to his apartment. Navigating this place, for all its overgrown complexity, was almost entertaining to him. The turns were nearly all T-intersections, and he always chose the right direction of the two. It was one of the many advantages of the way Cretala thought.
The alleys around him blurred, the turns snapped away and were forgotten, and he was almost out of danger when he ran into an unhappy-looking rhydon. He'd been doing so well. Mr. Tarks himself was standing a few feet behind, looking very dissatisfied by his recent entertainment.
He narrowed his eyes. “You rigged this.”
Cretala looked around. He'd stopped and everything was speeding out past him. “Just because I was lucky enough to win a game?”
“Just because you were lucky enough to win the past five games, Cretala.” And so what? What if he'd done something so stupidly obvious? Tarks was not the sharpest tool and, besides, good discretion can always be turned in for a good escape plan. These were thoughts Cretala could no longer seriously entertain.
“OH, ha ha, what a strange little coincidence, did I say coincidence, mistake really, nothing meant by it. You see – ” He trailed off. There was too much to concentrate on, even at the dead of night. He realized it was going to be one of those moments when the world spun around him and spat out too many possibilities out of sheer malice.
“Please don't explain, Anurek Cretala. The last thing you want to do is explain. You can start praying if it makes you feel better.” The unfriendly pokémon were starting to get closer than he liked.
Cretala realized, in a way he somehow had never thought of, that this was it. In a moment he'd be seized without the slightest possibility of survival. Suddenly there was very little to focus on, just his heart beating very fast and the idea that soon it was going to stop.
He looked up without thinking. There were two heavy steel spans laid across the roofs on either side of the thin band of sky. One of them was a solid line crossing the two parallel walls, but the other seemed to have rusted away until it was held up precariously by only one end. In the blackness he could see the outline of a pidgey high above.
“A man can't stay lucky forever, Mr. Cretala,” gloated the one with the bodyguards. There was more money on Cretala than what he'd filched off Tarks.
Cretala's hunted look vanished very suddenly when he heard the thunk of talons landing on an unsteady support. The pidgey fluttered off instantly, but a nudge was all it would take. “Oh, I refuse to consider it. I positively block the thought from my mind.”
As the distant but approaching rumble of heavy steel became louder and louder, Cretala began to run. He had a feeling they would be too busy to chase after him. After all, the odds that it hit someone were so close to fifty/fifty.
Down, cross, up, cross.
Four lines and it was made, four lines so identical their pairs were even parallel, four lines repeating endlessly the down, cross, up, cross, four lines that crossed every plane she could see. Of course there was more there than just this shape, but it contained almost everything she had known. The walls were rectangles, with rectangles sometimes cut out. The floors were squares within rectangles within squares in grids. The antibiotics she was told to take every morning were almost perfect rectangles. The tables were rectangles laid on rectangles propped by rectangles... but there were some things even she had to stop thinking of, if only because she might never stop.
“I asked you a question, Aridira Lays.” A hand met the table with a decisive thump. It broke into her field of vision and broke the symmetry of wood panels her eyes were following.
She looked up, and quickly looked down. She didn't like seeing human faces — some things you have to bisect to make them repeat! — but she didn't like seeing this human face most of all. The left eye was slightly more hazel than the right eye, and it drove her mad if she let it.
“I can't help it when I do it,” she muttered. She knew the woman had only taken the severe tone to coax something, anything, out of her, but she'd seen behind that concerned-adult act a slight cringe of dislike. Why did grownups think one thing and do another thing? She knew no one liked how long and twisting her name was. That was why everyone gave her a nickname, even though she always thought the nicknames were inferior.
“Oh, Arrie,” the woman's expression softened, while the girl's expression hardened slightly at the diminutive. “I know you can't.” The girl mouthed, as if to properly complete the woman's sentence: “...help it when you do it.”
The fake bronze nameplate on the desk between the two said “COUNSELLOR: Carrenie Cisalla”. It was a hatable word because it tried to repeat but somehow failed, and also for other reasons Aridira didn't want to think about.
Why did they think she needed a counsellor? She knew she definitely didn't need a counsellor. They thought that if they found someone who didn't exactly repeat what they were used to, they had to change her. They were the irregular ones, they were used to all the wrong things. Try keeping a ticking clock in your head for weeks after you hear it, she wanted to say but didn't.
“What's so wrong with me?” she said, and didn't wait for the counsellor to hurry with 'Nothing's wrong with you.' “I'm getting all the right grades, aren't I?” And I'm saying all the right things and I'm doing all the right things. “Top marks in Geometry.”
“That's right, Arrie, you're doing wonderfully in your scores,” she said with slow, infuriating gentleness, “it's just that...”
“Yeah!” she said impatiently, cutting past her sentence. “What else do you want?”
“It's not just what we want, it's what you want for yourself. You should live every moment like it's your last. I know we tell you to concentrate on your studies and responsibilities and future, but that can't be everything in your life.”
Aridira stopped listening. The woman went on when she received no reply, but it was just background noise. There were better things to think about.
The ceiling was a pattern of white square tiles that she knew she'd seen somewhere. She tried to concentrate, but she couldn't remember where. The counsellor had pulled her out of the beat of her thoughts, that steady patter.
“I'm told you're never doing any of the things that your classmates do to have fun. In your free time you sit down and watch everyone else.” Her tone was the tone that said: There's something very wrong with this. Where had she seen the ceiling style? Square tiles, white plywood, white cameras, camera film on a steel rack, racks of... Obviously there's nothing wrong! What's wrong is the way you're thinking, and the way it creeps into my thoughts.
Camera film on steel racks, racks of groceries. It was the provision mart, only stores and public buildings had that kind of ceiling. “What makes you happy, Aridira? What do you do to have fun?”
The paint and probably the material were different, but the shape was exactly the same here as in the mart. Beauty makes me happy, Mrs. Cisalla, she didn't say. Patterns of repetition, cleanly following laws so simple that their existence is perfection. Can you even imagine something like that? “Fun, Mrs. Cisalla?” she did say. “I don't need such a little thing.”
“That's just it, my dear! You don't think you need happiness at all!”
Aridira didn't bother to show her exasperation. The front wall of the ground floor of the mart (other side of the city, from here – diametrically opposite?), it was made of glass panels, and the glass panelling was close enough like the wooden panelling on the office's walls. Sunshine came through her little window like sunshine came through the mart at evening time.
It's not supposed to be wood, she thought. Wood is wrong for this kind of rectangle. Wood was just layers on layers, parallel lines, but sometimes wood spun itself into something complicated and knotted. Well, she knew how the lines would run along glass windows when something was spilled against them, and she knew how knots would form in coffee cups when sweetener was poured into them. Somehow in the mart, past or future, this way or that way, was everything that the wood was. Glass was clear as air, but it was as much there as water was. She could see the crystal-smooth liquid in the little jug on the table, and she could see the world passing through the window as if it wasn't there. Right here in this office, in the present precisely, where she was and where she could see, was everything that the glass was.
The universe was just like a kaleidoscope. Each bit of it was exactly like everything else, each bit only broke from its patterns if you skewed it with your eyesight. But if you looked carefully...
Mrs. Cisalla was talking, so apparently involved in her disapproval of Aridira that she barely noticed the flash of light that passed over her face. The girl looked sidelong at the panelled wall and saw, like an optical illusion momentarily disappearing, a flash of the playground outside shining through thin glass.
The lines were the splashes, the knots were the sweetener swirls, the clearness was of water and the transparency was of the window — and suddenly each was a perfect copy of the other.
The counsellor screamed, breaking Aridira nearly out of her reverie. Why did the old woman have to lose it now of all times? She had almost missed the last details, she had just missed it, there was something to be done with the knots of wood, there was something that had not been done...!
“I forgot the rivets keeping the glass together!”
It was just as well that, as she had noticed, the glass panels in the mart were inclined slightly outward. What had become of the outer wall of the counsellor's office fell out into the pavement two stories below, where no one particularly heard the glass shatter.
Mrs. Cisalla began hysterically and ineffectually to thrust her own ideas of reality on basic eyewitness. Aridira ignored her; she was suddenly very entertained. Something told her being astonished at this moment was the last thing the pattern demanded.
Delighted sounded more acceptable.
Here at the centre he was anchored to everything and nothing together.
No, no. That was hardly true, that was... overambition. It was acceptable that he comprehended both sides of existence, but how much did that mean? He looked down at the fluid symbols he'd drawn into the sand. Was it safe to say... He considered their surging lines, their profound undertones and lofty conceptions.
Yes. There was power in the words he had made, of some strangely understood kind. This much he could say with authority. Why couldn't he convince the others of it?
Fryasta settled a little further into the sand. He disliked the kadabra of his tribe. They'd built authorities of their own, of course, illuminated the righteous path of enlightenment by calling everything else vulgarity. He was on the fringe; he wasn't a part of them; he often thought about humans. They weren't quite so omniscient that they could mistake, let's say, a living tree for the sum of its lifeless parts. Then they were also devoid of psychic abilities of any kind, so how could they see it as a means to achieving anything? What remained would be seeing the tree as just a tree, the real tree, the perfect abstract idea of a tree. Was this part of enlightenment? He looked down. It was self-evident in the words. What was his business with enlightenment, anyway? He decided to disdain both kadabra and human. All that remained was the words.
A cold wind was blowing from the sea; it was unusually strong and erratic. This evening was darker than he was used to at this time of day. Had fall come so quickly? That was unlikely; but ennui kept him from turning to watch the sky where it met the sea.
They hadn't understood the words. He'd ascended to kadabra form earlier than usual, almost in his childhood years, and he'd done it... imperfectly wasn't the word, just their twisted conception of it. Let's see... how was psychic ability characterised by their standards? The mind of a kadabra is like a prehensile hand — at once the most sensitive and dexterous of instruments. With it they reach out and, understanding more of the world, begin to expand the scope of their minds. In times of danger it is what manipulates enough of reality to protect them from harm.
One who could not take this earliest of steps into what (it seemed and could not seem otherwise) remained the very act of being a kadabra was a cripple. The word was absolute, it could not be turned false or twisted, even though it was the most crooked of all. A crippled body is a handicap; a crippled soul is a deep lasting inadequacy.
That was the verdict of his society. It was one way to find certainty, he supposed. Repeated, reaffirmed, passed down through so many layers of tradition, it could start sounding absolute to anyone. But he'd fought it well, he'd worked towards his own unknown feelings of absoluteness. The words had taught him tenacity as he learned to seek out the footholds that were still dark to him. He'd survived. He'd never lifted a pebble with his mind.
Words: modes of communication for most non-psychics; call-signs for most concepts the mind can comprehend; hubs of sensation for sight, sound, texture—smell, taste, pleasure, pain—joy, sorrow, good, evil, every block of the structure of the inner universe; fundamental particles of existence itself: essential and atomic. Words: the accessory to both power and learning for the psychic mind. For his mode, he had done this: he'd slashed out the literal phonetic systems of script available to him, and replaced them with representations of the abstract meanings of each word. Then he'd refined the strokes he had just created until they ceased being mere representations. For today's engagement, he had done this: he'd laid out several of these on the section of shoreline he'd restricted himself to, arranging at the large scale but still creating no greater than a narrative of the universe. This was not a major project, after all.
It would be erased in the high tide.
He paused in his forward sweep to consider this fact. Night was falling quickly, casting a few lonely shadows over the grey sand. There was a slight darkening near the sea's horizon. There was uncertainty.
Fryasta's mind groped in pitch dark, like all of his kind. Occasionally, briefly, he would feel the vague intimation of a concept's shape: but never a glimmer of light. What was the truth of his words? What was their greatness, what their mediocrity? What would be their impact on the world, what their purpose in the higher structure? What was their span of existence, what their mortality? Fryasta would never know this. While he remained mere kadabra, he would never see a particle outside the fogged sphere of his life.
Now darkness fell with a peal of thunder (the traditional way). Fryasta snapped to attention, something like panic rushing over his scan of the now hostile horizon. The idea of the storm, planted by vague signs in his mind from long ago, suddenly discovered itself. Livid clouds had progressed dangerously close to him; he should lose more than a few writing tools if he was caught in the deluge.
Great Original, how much had he lost through his misadventures with kadabra authority? They bullied in ways Fryasta had never imagined. (Chisels, set of five: was he perfectly sure he had brought no other tools outside?) Cripples were taken as a matter of course to be fundamentally lower than true kadabra; it was no scorn or disdain but something deeper in the consciousness. (The symbols he'd etched into the shore would be washed away; he considered their intrinsic value and decided he would lose nothing by it. Of the fundamental principles of language carved into cave walls further inside, the water could do very little, he trusted.) Without some inner source of purpose a cripple's mind could suffocate in the cloud of other's beliefs thrown about him; without a calling quite beyond the social order, you could find you had put on (as Fryasta did) layers upon layers of unconscious self-loathing.
Self-loathing, and no milder: he knew its stench as it hung over his familiar urges towards health, and towards life. (He could still sprint to the nearest cave opening in time; his legs were not yet so incompetent.) Every struggle held over it, from beginning to end, the question of its worth. If he convinced himself of the answer, the question remained; if he proved it to everyone the question remained; if the question was satisfied it still remained. Inside the cave: it remained to see whether this alone would be safe or if higher ground was necessary; but now his self-preservation was beginning to fatigue. Self-loathing followed him if he tried to escape, sometimes taking guises, sometimes nearly dropping its original with a flash of a more hideous countenance.
Why raise these guises now? His running was vain; the water would find him however deep he withdrew. Death was the monster's name, death behind the uncertainty and impotence. Would he run, could he run from the Storm-Blast tyrannous and strong? Death shadowed the whole span of his existence, shadowed and consumed it. Death was a beast of lashing wind and frigid water, and it could follow him into the deepest burrow or destroy it. There was nothing left for him...
...but what he had not yet found.
He stopped; he turned to face the wind. He was in a lower chamber, into which he had carved some signs of purification. He did not remember running here; it didn't matter. He was in – he was somewhere deep within, where the rocks and caves and even the wind and water were his own. The world was frozen in place as it sought to engulf him: this moment had he taken out of time.
The etchings on the walls glowed not like coals that burned to ashes, nor like silver that tarnished nor gold that corrupted, but pure thought, fevered and brilliant. He had nothing on him now: no shelter, no protection, no telekinesis to bar the waves, no breath or strength left in his bones to run, no tool but the chisel still clutched in his hand. He was cleansed of what had never mattered, and the persistent illusion that it ever had.
Iscrarta: the word rose up from him, purer than he had ever refined it. Water was the medium of this beast his mind had raised from inner dread and outer danger; through water the fourth word iscrarta flowed, like dye mixing into ink. Fryasta's delusions of mortality were shaken off with the ease reserved to such veils. Fear, danger, dread, uncertainty, were all ideas so feeble that he did not notice their departure. Death was a transformation: if he so chose he could complete it.
Alyvarui escaped from him, and swirling out to his rude sketches on the cave walls, the third word liberated from them their fundamental ideas. Pure concept should always have remained concept; tying it down to physical shapes and sounds was a temporary inconvenience. The words flowed now directly into his understanding, forgetting their imperfect vehicles.
There was more to this insight, however. As the words broke free of the limited and erroneous logic he had used to make sense of them, they revealed more perfect modes of organisation. For a moment he saw endeavours beyond the struggle with an imperfect medium that had marked genius before him. Countless thinkers had failed to reduce psychic ability to its most fundamental basis; he realised they had never seen it from this perspective. Fryasta understood it and transcended it. Absolute truth was in his hands; he neglected it, seeking something higher.
Ukkriastëa was the second word of fire: from the black ashes it drew out purity. And now intimations of sensations came to him, so bright and incomplete that he forgot the dark cave about him: skies an impossible shade of blue; a mind; a world bold and new, with powers still left to scale and depths still left to fathom; an entity absorbed in playfulness; processes and insights running too quickly through his mind to explore; an entity – a world – a mind and universe of – what?
Ravansha, the first word, arose from the confusion. The idea took hold of him even as he grasped it. Softly, but swiftly, creation began to bloom within him.
I feel like anything I could say about how captivating and sublime this is would be totally superfluous. It's a given; it's obvious that these descriptions could stand to be no more inspired. What's worse is that I have no banalities like grammar mistakes to fall back on and bloat this review -- there's nothing. (Okay, well, there's this:
So I guess the brunt of this will just have to be shrewd commentary. I'm afraid I won't be able to keep it up for long. After a second reading I've managed to isolate a few points of awkwardness or ambiguity -- it's all highly subjective, sure, but I hoped to at least do better than herp, mighty fine writan you got there, but sometimes it is not clear to me what is this. Anyway, onward!
Alright, no more quotes. That's all I could find, and I was trying very hard -- the rest is crystal clear and stunningly well-written. There was quite a lot of repetition, but it was alliterative rather than hammy; reading critically, every instance of it has a clear purpose.
On that note, the way each character's voice colors the narrative in their respective section is perfectly done, and it feels very deliberate. It's subtle enough that your overall voice is able to link them all together, which complements the corresponding motifs and makes it all feel very unified. When I say deliberate, mind, I don't mean that the writing sounds forced, but that the care and thought put into these aspects are evident if I look for them. That's the main feel I get from this, on a critical level -- coordination. It's cyclical, almost. That's a theme, clearly, but it also shows in the style itself, which borders on meta.
Of course, on the other hand... four weeks, just to get to where SPPF is now? I disapprove. :C
Shrewd commentary is my friend! This prose started out rough and slowly smoothened through repeated coats of polish (most of them done my shrewd reviewers such as yourself). The point is, the magnitude of the roughness will change, which means the only conclusion is the time where nobody notices it. I don't know what I'm getting at.
Agreed on the punctuation notes about the diminutive sentence, and those on the self-loathing pronoun.
It's interesting you mention the style because I actually wrote each piece in a distinct sitting, under different conditions, with different things in mind. That pulled against my normal tendency to force everything into my normal style and created a median of sorts.
Also, the style sounds so much like it knows what it's doing so it can hide that it doesn't. I really had no idea about the plot at the time. Yay for winging it.
Four weeks: *cackles* You see, the advantage is mine. ATiaS thus gets eight more weeks of exposure than if it had been released simultaneously both places. (I didn't notice this until very recently, after I'd decided to post it already.)
Chapter 1: Sturm und Drang in the summertime.
Aradis Consiello's preference for rehearsal Auditorium 3 of his Lilycove Metronome University (named after the move, not the device) seemed to have no regard for the actual practice of music. It was his haunt whether intended to compose or not; whether the full orchestra was rehearsing the same day, or had taken the day off; regardless of the abundance (or lack) of matured wood in the vicinity. He took a back seat reasonably close to the daylight from the open doors, placed a book and newspaper on the corresponding music stand, and watched the specks of dust that rose up into view. By doing this he elevated himself to his best of all possible worlds.
“I think, Aradis, we might as well have expected there were more of you out there.”
Periacca Enscianz was one of the few people in the world who understood what Aradis was at more than face value (the crudest of things). Enscianz was a young man, not much more than a boy, who looked at first glance to be somewhat younger. His large, ingenuous eyes, his slight figure and quiet manners, constantly evaded the supposition that he might lack in shrewdness. It was really quite inexplicable.
“True,” Aradis admitted. “I think you should show me those newspaper clippings again. It interests me that I missed them.”
The first clipping was the first Aradis had noticed; it was a public statement by the League-appointed Chairman of the Board of Coordination of Other Human Classes. He had started by saying that there were increasing instances (undertone accidents) of good citizens of Hoenn and its allied regions doing humanly impossible feats. He acknowledged the slang phrases that had spread almost unconsciously over the region in the past few months, and besides the use of a few quotation marks seemed to adopt them more or less completely in his speech. He told the 'magic-pushers' that the real human beings had no problems in accepting them as respectable living beings, that the government completely understood that in the beginning early pushers could make certain mistakes with unpleasantly severe consequences. They were extending facilities full of creative and thoughtful ('human') tutors ready to bring the OH abilities to a more acceptable standard. The fine print was obvious just between the lines when the conditions were briefly laid down: if someone was recognized as having abilities, what was starting to be called rehab was compulsory; there was to be no contact between the pushers and any humans outside while they were detained; all the new technology was being issued for these. One of Aradis's acquaintances had hinted that not all of it was pleasant.
“Certainly almost all forms of identification are shredded when a new charge is taken in,” he'd said. “Can you enforce a man's rights if you can't prove he's been recognized as a man?”
The other phenomenon was bewildering. (Other: thus did colloquy call any member of the 'other human' classes.) Half a century ago there had been a few localised cases – half-validated freak accidents whose circumstances indicated anything only to the most careful of watchers. By now there were hundreds of humans and pokémon who could manipulate reality in their own peculiar ways, and even the League could not wish it away.
Out of the twelve remaining clippings, seven were accounts of separate riots within the past two weeks over places as small as Oldale and as cosmopolitan as Mauville City. The origins of these conflicts were never too clearly stated. Aradis, however, had boiled them down to two basic scenarios: a persecuted other would give up the nonviolent way and run rampant -- or a non-other community would fire up against someone suspected of serious damage.
“We might thank our fortunes none of that unpleasantness has happened anywhere near East End,” Periacca said mildly. Aradis looked up and, with the most serious face, said, “Oh, certainly. What can someone like me do in the face of civil uprising?”
The two gentleman lived in one of the more costly districts of Lilycove City. Riots here would start with a committee and recess regularly for tea breaks.
“God forbid we should allow it to come to that, Mr Consiello.” The Head of Obscure Harmonics floated into the room, somewhat like a helium balloon. “We like your music too much. Shall I turn on the lights?”
Periacca waved his hand dismissively. “Too much effort.”
Presumably he was a good few levels Aradis's senior, but Obscure Harmonics usually held the man in discomfiting levels of admiration. Aradis never knew how to react to this.
Aradis sat down with his violin in his lap, brushing his fingers against the strings idly. “I can never understand your reverence for all my mucking about. I'm yet another musician in a music university, playing like everyone else with building-block-chords.”
Periacca looked amused. “We potter around the grounds and occasionally write a paper, and for that we get food and lodging. It's a relaxing life on the whole.” He closed his eyes to get a grasp of the pizzicato melody Aradis had unconsciously started. The instrument was on the desk before him, fingers brushing backhand over the strings with merely a thumb to tie down the notes: he was abusing all the proper institutions but somehow it worked.
“But your papers, Master Enscianz! Such perception for your age. I am always saying both of you are much less known than you should be.” Without having to pause Aradis pulled up a cello and began picking open strings in a slower harmony. Periacca winced at the very slight lack of accuracy that came of operating an instrument of that size with one hand.
“Periacca, I am sure,” Aradis murmured, “is the one who actually understands how music works. I never quite grasped it. I merely let the notes flow as they see fit...” He was beginning to drift, head laid back. Periacca felt in the briefest instant a brush with something else, a flash of mellower light and richer walls, that he had learned to recognize as Aradis's inadvertent slips into some other reality.
Casually he walked by the older gentleman and said, “Do remember which world you belong to, my dear fellow.”
It had been twenty-five years since, that day in his summer house, Aradis had realized to his own surprise that he could momentarily change reality to better suit his tastes in music. Since then he had found enough time to acquaint himself properly with the ability; Periacca's help had been invaluable, especially with the basic principles. It was more whim than actual deliberation that brought Aradis to recall the main points of the interview.
“What, at the very minimum, do you need?” Periacca had said. “Or -- let me rephrase this: what've you always had with you every time you successfully shifted?”
The Head of Obscure Harmonics laughed slightly more heartily than would have endeared to those hearing him. “Of course it's like another world in here. I always say one of the university's best graces is its provisions for whatever might be felt needed. “
Aradis had racked his mind. “I suppose a musical instrument, at the very least, and a good choice of them if it's convenient.”
“So you have never carried it off without some sort of physical aid to your music?”
“I find such a thing remarkably important,” Aradis said to Obscure Harmonics. “But interestingly I haven't truly required an instrument to compose for twenty years. I suppose my attachment to them must be habit. After all I was practically raised on the pianoforte.”
Periacca'd paused to think. “Physical sound is concrete evidence of your actions. Perhaps you need to hear the music physically to bring its mood into existence.”
“Now that you put it that way, precisely.”
“I do not doubt,” Periacca joked, “that you could let go of this habit within a day if someone dared to take your instruments from you.”
“Dare, Master Periacca?” Aradis said meekly. “But I myself could hardly dare to become such a terror in their regards.”
“Oh, certainly, sir,” the Head of Obscure Harmonics said with a very conspicuous wink. It was common knowledge that (even though no one had ever seen him when he was playing alone, and Periacca would betray nothing), given a surface or a string or a keyboard on which the slightest decent sound could be produced, the soft-spoken gentleman would transform into a tyrant of melodies and rhythms, dictating with almost divine self-certainty their natures and places in the music. Others said that this was mainly rumoured by the composers who, themselves, would let a principal theme control them and overgrow to pointlessness by the second measure, but neither of the two gentlemen would ever bother to comment.
“Well, all right,” Periacca made his mental note, “is it affected by any condition of your current state? Fatigue, sickness, any of the rest?”
“I can hardly sink into my music's inner reality if I am too tired to concentrate on it. But otherwise, no. It seems to have no physical relation at all; it's inexhaustible aside from the demands of my body, and it seems to use no more of my energy than would normally be spent getting very excited and pacing about.”
“Your music is divine, Consiello,” Obscure Harmonics said, shoving his arm. “Never say all of you is mere man.”
“I'll take careful note of that,” Periacca said. “None of us are entirely devoid of divinity, but it's so hard to find a person in which this higher part actually makes a difference. Let us say that there is something in you not completely mortal, and it might remain significant awhile.”
“Devil take me before I saw a man of silence and music waxing eloquent about one of his peers,” Periacca said without much interest. “Have some shame.”
“A wonderful joke, Master Enscianz! But shall we make no allowances for the man who created a piece accepted by the West Rustboro Orchestra when he was no more than sixteen?”
“Don't let's confuse ourselves with that,” Aradis said, waving a hand as though warding off insects, “I'm not in the mood for old shames.”
“Hardly a shame if you were a child prodigy.”
“Age doesn't excuse bad craftsmanship,”Aradis muttered darkly to the younger gentleman. Periacca smiled, something he did only in mixed company.
“Are there laws? Restrictions? Limitations?”
“One that I can observe with some surety: I can never complete my works.”
Periacca had watched him with interest.
“But surely there are some limitations to a man's art that we must allow for?” the Head replied, picking up the dialogue.
Aradis had stopped there, as though there was nothing more to say, but then looked back at him with a slightly troubled expression and added, “I'm never certain of what I am doing to the universe as I create uninhibited. Perhaps it has effects that deliberately destroy my will. Perhaps there is some limit to how far I can take this before something... breaks.
“I believe I am too physical a creature to carry this to its full extent. If I sabotage physics I sabotage myself. And then, of course, I cease to exist.”
“We can allow for them, admitted,” Periacca said. “We should never accept them. We must never take them as anything essential to our existence. Of this I am convinced.”
“All right, what about the remainder? You say some relic of that reality always remains (particularly if you carry a living thing or a thing with real significance to you into the new song). Is it so that, with the introduction of that changed thing, the course of the universe is forever changed?”
Aradis looked at Periacca for a sixteenth-note longer than he would have naturally done; with this understanding between the two gentlemen there was no need for the usual significant looks. “I never considered that, but I have to admit it must be true. It's beyond our individual scopes, however.”
“It astonishes me,” the Head suddenly said, “that I have been standing here for so long and it still did not occur to me to ask you about your next project. What do you have brewing in there?”
“It's music, I think, or perhaps something purer—it's art at any rate. So it would necessarily cohere with its surrounding elements. But as to whether it changes the universe in some way—really, Periacca, I'm surprised at you. Any decision you make changes the universe; and we can hardly say how things would have gone if something hadn't happened. Now, the remainder...”
“Something brief and wispy, professor. It will hardly have breezed through the auditorium before it is gone. I have no real plans for it.”
“You have never tried to do anything with this result? Altered reality to your advantage, used the relic for your own interests? You are after all significantly more gifted than most of the men around you.”
“No, I've never tried anything. Why should I?”
“Don't look at me, Periacca,” Aradis added to his brief summary, “as though there were bigger things I should rather have done.”
“I suggested nothing,” Periacca said demurely. His face was blank and receptive. “Aradis is experimenting, professor, with a species of tremolo that momentarily leaves each note ambiguous by a whole step in either direction. This is no trill, mind, rather a kind of cloud of tones the ear cannot pinpoint exactly. It may suggest a number of strange moods but to me, incidentally, it suggests ghostly impermanence. Consider being so frail that even your grasp of what you are is constantly shifting.”
“Look here,” Aradis chuckled, “Periacca understood my own music far better than I did in the whole space of my composing it.”
“Then that must be precisely what it is. It is very curious, frankly, that you place such emphasis on the sound itself of each instrument. I have heard you often experimenting even electronically with the tones of the esteemed violin. I hope you find nothing lacking in its timeless keening?”
“Oh, certainly not. There is a point at which one realizes the music is everywhere, in all the matter we find so base and in each particle of its material existence, and this is when we rise out of the limitations of specific tones and frequencies and truly start to create. The inherent tone of cicadas, or of storm clouds or the sea, hardly conforms to our institutions. Why should we restrict ourselves?”
“Aradis has a broad and ever-expanding mind,” Periacca said, “and it is always ready to try new things. And it touches dreams of worlds and universes someone of this world could not imagine with all his might.”
It was only now that Aradis noticed his memories were recalling a conversation that had never happened. Within both gentlemen the memories of their past selves suddenly broke free of the past, looked directly at them, and said together, “We were allowed to diverge so easily from you after all.”
Aradis shuddered. In the present reality both of them had taken the shock well enough not to alarm Obscure Harmonics, but Aradis's hitherto total ignorance of his own work disturbed him.
The Head of Obscure Harmonics was looking at both of them with a slightly frozen smile, and Periacca wondered for a moment whether he had seen something. He heard the reverberation of a particularly thunderous chord still lingering in the air.
Aradis's hands were drawn away from both instruments as though they had been charged with electricity. Ah yes, he thought, that was it. Aradis had been building up a soft, careful canon of deeply serene counterparts when he suddenly derailed it with a random strike to both strings, and three chords so violently dissonant that the Head of Obscure Harmonics stopped in mid-conversation. Some things are never meant to be done to music. For all his careful skill Aradis was perfectly happy invoking their names.
Obscure Harmonics very carefully skirted the moment. “Wonderful talent in both of you, as I always say. I'll leave you to your work, now.”
With his gait as though very slightly deflated, he turned back and sauntered into the corridor.
“Do you mean to say — no, to hell with that mode of communication,” Aradis said, breaking from his reverie. “Do clarify for me, Periacca: did I just — “
“Yes,” Periacca said wearily.
“Parallel planes of existence? Alternate sentiences, involuntary reality-bending, the whole business? Did I just do all of – ”
“Yes,” he repeated, “and it means I will have to be very careful indeed about letting you near any musical instruments when you're being careless.”
“But, now, I don't suggest we become too pleased with the secret identity we're keeping under me. I don't honestly believe a soul in this university would report me to those ghastly rehabilitation facilities if they saw what I can do. Is it meant to be strictly confidential?”
“Of course not, Aradis. It would be merely very inconvenient if more people knew. There are some of those here who very well know your abili – talents, remember.”
“And by my good fortune none of them have been unreasonable about it.”
“Exactly, so don't let's test your luck.” He seemed like he was about to say more, but then stopped since it was irrelevant.
Aradis looked around at the auditorium as though seeing it for the first time. That was the problem with conversation, he often thought. It pulled the mind out of the current of reality, focussed it and thus dispersed it into matters and affairs that were, after all, immaterial. Meanwhile the senses shut down as action and all the slightest pretences to action dominated brainpower. He had noticed none of the subtle changes that had come over the room and its surrounding world as they had talked, nor even the strange effect of the auditorium walls on their own cacophony of voices.
The room was, by nature, closed off from most of what transpired outside it, but the main doors to the corridor had been left open and the view from the opposite windows filtered into the room. Deep golden sunlight diffused into open surfaces. He imagined – no, he watched – the shades turn and the little shadows revolve like clock hands around their masters. Aradis felt a change coming over the world that was no weaker for being gradual (and daily recurring). The colours of the sky shone more vivid flames and quieter ocean-blues.
It was, in a way, more fascinating a transformation than the sudden shifts in perception Aradis was used to, and it needed neither obvious herald nor raging flow of music to bear it over its course. The world was after all a masterpiece of music, with chords as high and low as mountains and ravines. The mortal mind tried in its imperfect ways to capture some of its creation in fractured things, sound alone or shape bereft of motion or action bereft of material existence, but he had found a closer link to this beauty. He could finally be an apprentice after his master's footsteps, because something of almost all of reality shone reflected, however faintly, in his little creations.
He looked up as Periacca walked haltingly into the light of the open door. For a moment he was afire, bright highlights rising from his hair, but then reflexively the boy stepped back out of the sunbeams. He turned his eyes down, and then back up to address Aradis.
“We are observers, dear friend. What have we to do with the business of the age? We watch from afar and dare nothing else, because music is understood best by the silent listener. This is our rightful place in the world. This would be the most rightful place for us, if all the possibilities of the world awaited us outside it.”
“And a perfect listener you have made,” Aradis conceded. “There is no ring but finds its sounding-place within you, no melody that wants for emotion if your heart will resonate with it. I have seen the emotions chase each other over your countenance as you listen to my most veiled pieces. You are a wonderful receptacle for all of them, I dare say they achieve a more perfect form precisely when you comprehend them.”
“I do what I have done for all my life,” Periacca said, unconsciously stepping back. “The shades of meaning around me, I find, are most willing to enter my apprehension if I will simply receive them. It astonishes me that so many people do not.”
Aradis stepped boldly into the light. “But there is so much more you could be part of! I will raise all the truest themes of the universe, and bind them into music fuller and more majestic than any of my precedents. All this means much to you, I know it, though you stand there looking puzzled in that dark corner of the room. Will you none of it?”
Periacca looked down again, his eyes surprised by the sudden brightness. He was experienced at composure, but his open face could not mask emotion, and it betrayed profound struggle. He stood for many minutes with a troubled expression, saying nothing.
“At least say that, when I begin to come into my own, you will watch and understand as truly as you have now.”
He nodded, and Aradis smiled, but not brightly. “Good. In any case the world is conspiring, I fear, to reflect your mood. This is not the last our esteemed rulers will do to bring the question of the others” (he used the word with distaste) “to a more acceptable head. And meanwhile the trend seems to point to the number of those like me increasing, and sharply. There will be conflict, not all of it dignified by even the name of politics. All of this of course need not unduly concern us, but it feels as though it will lash at us with all its force, and we can certainly make it our business at any point if we like.”
Periacca looked up, astonishing Aradis with his tormented eyes. He was genuinely frightened. “What can I do, Aradis? I don't think I am strong enough withstand what will follow. How can my arts protect me? I am just a sickly boy with some quiet interests, the beginning of a quiet life, and nothing like the wits or power or will to continue it if much conspires against me.”
He fell back further, as though recoiling from light because it showed him plainly what was all around him. “A storm is coming, Aradis, this receptacle hears it in the wind and trembles at what he learns. It may do as much good as it does ill, but it's greater than all of us. What can I do?”
Aradis reached out and took him by the hand, leading him firmly and carefully as though leading a child. “You can start by coming out into the light of day.” They walked out into the corridor, where windows lined all the outer wall and let in a solid wave of light.
Now devoid of agitation, they looked at each other as though nothing more could change their worlds. As the sun finally sank and cold fluorescence took its place, their smiles waned not at all.
Chapter 2: Counterpoint in scarlet.
He moved through processes. The means remained. The end lost itself.
This end pulled away from his functions. It was an old end. It looked new. Could he distort it? Perhaps. Up here it was bright and cold, too much was visible. It was a very old end. He was A. All his names were false. It blinded him. He pulled away from truths and definitions.
He pulled into lower subroutines. Human information processing: still abstract, but it knew not its purpose. Ideas were currents running through physical processes, snaking in forms dictated by means, briefly wrangled by purposes.
He settled into this network that strove to be automatic. The process was unconscious, the end obvious. He did not care for that. The process was unconscious. Action would follow, fortified tanks of equipment (perhaps tanks, perhaps not) moving in concrete procession to the island concerned. It would be occupied. He would not see it. He released his disconcert. There was more to this process than preliminary abstractness.
It pulled him further in. Coming flush with physical reality he felt sensation return to him. The chains of a thousand processes swirled around this building, justifying themselves by the pull of means and necessities. Overwhelmingly they were human. Knowing no purpose, he could submit his will and be liberated.
His process beckoned him to the next step, opening threads of practical reason in the abstract murk. The occupation of Cerulean Island, retrieved from deletion in the mission database, needed to materialise in the movement of goods and men. This required physical action. He dropped into it with near pleasure; it was an earthy descent. Sensual, involved. His consciousness pooled into a human's: the eyes, the ears, the sinews and bones became his own. His self became this human's self.
Rocket HQ's prisoner cells were inexcusably white. White panels, white concrete floor. Gleaming metal bars, guards in white uniform. There was a colour he wanted in his stead, one he often desired when in physical form.
The prisoner raised the razor he'd hidden and sharpened for days at the corner of his cell, and ran it against the bars. The guards came at him; the bars slid; he feigned recoiling. Quickly he pushed his hand through the bars and pulled a guard's arms around them, pinning him. He struggled – his partner slammed the alarm – and (they had never been told) high voltage current ran through the cell bars. The guard spasmed and fell limp, releasing his pokéball. The prisoner/entity opened the pokéball inches from the door's little electronic mind, watching interference wipe both. He raised the dead guard's body and felt it connect with the claws waiting for him. He dodged the zangoose's next attack and rolled towards the door .
His next manoeuvre broke the bounds of mere resourcefulness. He was surprised they had lasted so long.
The metal paperweight slid into his hands and he threw it at the zangoose, whose arm returned it through the fibreglass window of the door. Containment breach. Razor wind swept the room even as he dodged it like dodging raindrops. He dropped out the room and looked down: a belt of pokéballs was in his hands. Means slid into means. He was free.
A team of security was heading to his position to respond to the breach. It was obvious to the entity though the prisoner could not see it. The means shifted from the prospect of battle. He chose to economise. Dropping his pokéballs he picked up a tiny revolver from the guards' table. Security rushed into sight. One moment a shot rang, the limp body of one of the personnel crumpling to the floor. In the second the prisoner was consumed in a fire blast. The entity flowed into the next means.
The Team Rocket security grunt recalled his charizard. He had never held such a powerful pokémon before; it was damage mitigation issue. He would return it to the stocks when he was done. Not yet. He was a grunt who had reported a successful mission. He was unwatched and powerful.
So he changed into civilian, and checked out through the secondary passages, avoiding the front door. The woman at the checkout spilled coffee over the keyboard and did not notice his pokéballs.
The entity did not know the name for the forest the grunt emerged into, so neither did. Both could/would navigate this country if they did not think about it, or look for names. He released pokémon until he found a fearow.
He climbed up the massive wings and took flight. The ground fell down from him and tugged its firmness away. Reflexively he craned down to watch their massive shadow. Great earth-coloured shades of wings felt through the earth as he passed over it, and his sensation of its flows guided both of them. They passed briefly over water – cold terrible changeful mirror! – and then descended.
He landed before the island cave, walked through the EM shield. A barrage of psychic activity flew over his unpsychic body. Radiation and psywave analysers watched the scientists and pokémon as they sought to mark out forms, to detect truths. His own form rippled in the wind.
“Dr. Ce-lo-ta-rey Entrassa,” he recited, syllables isolated in staccato monotone.
“Santhen Taylor, I presume.” said the chief scientist. This meeting had been appointed with another. Entrassa had not seen his face.
“The Board for the Re-gu-la-tion of – “ Entrassa cut him off. “Yes, yes, I heard. Sit down. I have drinks in the cooler.” The interruption of conversation grated against the mentality he had acquired in this form.
He sat down and took the bottle offered him, but fingered it coldly.
“The Board,” he resumed, “ has been lax in mo-ni-to-ring your progress with the project. I re-pre-sent – ” imperceptible pause “ – other concerned parties.”
“And I hope you'll appreciate the caution with which I've been approaching this extraction.”
“We are concerned about your objectives in this mission. We feel you have not grasped the full u-ti-li-ty of this discovery.”
“Is it wrong just to study it psychometrically in the early stage? Its contribution to psychic understanding must be immense.”
“You de-mon-strate our point.”
“Well, all right, what would you say it's good for?” Other parties. Entrassa tried to think.
His blank expression acquired a strange edge. He spoke, no longer in monotone: “Power, Dr. Entrassa. Your project's role in any other sphere is feeble in comparison. In pokémon battle it would break the game, defeat the purpose. The sake of science? Your kind of pedantry believes science justifies itself. It would be spent in useless discoveries, in petty curiosity. A single industry using it effectively could double the region's economic output.” Entrassa raised an eyebrow. “A single state, Dr. Entrassa, could break the global peace agreement and survive politico-economic desolation with it.”
“The worst part is you may be right.” Entrassa glanced heavenward. He was beginning to suspect something.
“We do not ask much,” said the man who was not Santhen Taylor. “Merely that out engineers observe and suggest improvements to your extraction strategies.” The scientist glared up at him. The proposal sounded familiar.
'Our organisation has ambition,” he said slowly. “We do not appreciate refusal of our ambition. We would not – “
The memory snapped into place. “Team Rocket.” In a flash Entrassa had rung emergency: slower than Taylor's pokéball.
A gardevoir appeared; the means had not pulled it; he forced its abilities. Then he said, calmly. “The barrier surrounding us is directly against the waveform of this cave's emanations. It will soon burst; the damage will take more than merely your lives. We ask you to consider the proposal again.”
“I'll tell you what I told you over the encrypted line. You ask too much.”
“Event though you agreed to – “
A freak psywave broke over the barrier. There was a flash of overwhelming thought – cold terrible changeful mirror – and he was ripped from the body falling limp below him.
The means collided with each other. They had been pushing toward a pokémon battle. His straightforward consciousness reeled at the disruption. The research team had not survived, the purpose was served. The proper means were defied. He could do nothing.
Chapter 3: Of withheld cadences.
Anurek Cretala sat alone in his dingy flat, thinking.
Two plastic chairs sat on either side of a metal table that was not exactly large enough for either. A light bulb hung from the centre of the chipped ceiling, and though it wasn't naked it was making a good effort at looking it.
The walls all around had probably been whitewashed at a certain point in history, but the paint was obscured under a surprising amount of foot scuffs, spilled fluids that Cretala had never asked about, and all-pervasive Rustboro grime. The roof had also been level at some point; in any case it had now mended its past ways and, besides the bulge at the kitchen corner, was actually slanting downwards by the outer side. Cretala did not want to know why.
In fact he had not wanted to know anything about the room in the first place, and would not have under normal circumstances, but somehow he felt very unusually introspective. This was possibly because staring with horror into empty space entails staring at something, and something tends to worm its way into the mind and invite a very many things.
All right, so he had a lucky hand in Black on White. And sure, he'd deluded himself into believing that was some special talent of his. Life was definitely not like gambling. This was sure, wasn't it?
He spent a record fifteen seconds before he had to break down and admit it was pure ********. Life was the biggest and most complicated card game, and you were only dealt one hand. Every day survived was one more inexplicable, spontaneous and unrepeatable victory of some few probabilities over a great abyss of murky danger. Cretala thought that if anyone had ever had an actual choice in their own birth, they would have had to be absolutely, irretrievably, suicidally insane to pick this world. There was way too much randomness here and people got along with all of it simply by ignoring it.
Cretala wished he could do like them and ignore all of it. He couldn't for the entire extent of his childhood, and it had ruined that period for him. As he grew older and wiser, he'd hardly learned to block out the awareness of randomness that came so naturally to him, but he'd slowly become more properly insane, and now he could see those enormous carriages spin from their courses and laugh.
The problem was that courses and things that spun from them were supposed to be beyond any possible effort mankind could make, unpredictable before they happened, unpreventable simply because not every one of them could be noticed and prevented, so that the safest thing to do was to wait for all possible catastrophes to strike and see if there was enough left to rebuild. It was a more relaxing life because it assumed that whatever the universe had taken as its responsibility was its own. It thus didn't have to worry about things like changing the course of history or affecting outcomes before they happened, which was something you would have to be an engineer or head of state to take up seriously.
Then what was his life? As it had suddenly become this evening, in any case. Black on White is a card game, he repeated to himself, pretending a mantra of sanity would make the pink elephant go away. You get good at it, even if the last move and the deciding one is entirely up to the luck of your enemy. Sure, your familiarity with it and the idea of euphoric quantities of money might give you an epiphany in the moment that it happens, but that doesn't actually mean you can decide. Not even a pokémon could do that.
And all right, supposing you had suddenly and ineffably gained such a mystic affinity to the game that you could control the uncontrollable. What about real life, then! The pidgey could have landed on either of the two bars, it was entirely up to probability, and just because you got lucky it didn't mean your wish was the universe's command.
But he'd felt it somewhere at the bottom of his mind, he'd somehow wrapped his head around the actual existence of two possible outcomes taken dripping from the sea of the universe, and with some effort that wasn't even an effort to him, he had blocked one path that life could have taken. There were angry people looking down at you from that path. Also a lot of blood, most of it your own. Block it, don't let yourself see it and it won't see you.
He'd never had to think about cosmic affinities and intrinsic aptitudes; there hadn't been enough time what with staying alive and feeding himself. He was trying not to think about it. That way madness lay.
So now he began to think of other things. He had been surviving almost entirely on money gambled from various taverns all around the lower parts of Rustboro, and he hadn't been caught until the very last incident because there were no real systems, he was always far away from the place before anyone could get suspicious, and rumour travelled only as far as the bounds of that block. Surviving, was that it? He looked around him, at a flat rented for twenty bucks with a prime view of the dilapidated brick wall of the next house an alley's breadth away – about the width of a grown man, in this part of the city. The only reason he hadn't been stuck here for all his life was that he'd been born homeless, and leased estate tends to shift around when all your money comes from trying cheat people who aren't much better off.
Well, of course he couldn't start jumping to conclusions. The first thing to do tomorrow, even before he pocketed the money his old landlady left out for Jirachi (it would be hard on her to see that the slumbering pokémon hadn't been able to pick it up), would be to try and recover what he'd thrown out yesterday on a whim. He'd see how and wh – he caught himself before he said 'why', because that was the one question he would never ask himself – how and how, let us say, his ability worked. He had been about to see how he could confirm that he did have an ability, but he'd cut out this tedious step and didn't feel totally foolish because of it. The idea was that it was a gamble, but he was happy to leave confirmation to pure chance, thrilled him in an odd way. Eventually he'd have to catch up with himself and fix this detail. For now he was too busy speeding out from himself, and the long drop under his feet was an impressive sight.
Then he'd go further. Some nights in his childhood, when the candle had been good enough to see the whole room by, and for a brief moment the world around him seemed to glimmer almost in sympathy, he had come to his mother's room and sat with her as she told him of what the Cretala family had once been. Stately halls and golden goblets and diamonds and shining uniform, the star of all the Hoenn ministry. Most importantly of all, and the thought brought a shine to the eyes of every Cretala even this far into their disgrace, they had ruthless skill with twisting words and people and governments around their little finger. It was the most perfect succession of father-son-daughter-mother that had held all the favour of the old Champions for nearly two hundred years. He lived on the stories, hardly understanding the meaning but feeling the general flow: generations of breezing without incident past the most impossible risks and catastrophes, of always coming out on top. Standing up with one hand extended to whichever of the collapsed states was the most powerful as though saying: Your journey back to the world of people who survive apocalypses will be smooth and eventful with us, but don't check your pockets when you've arrived.
Flying fast enough to scare the possibility of fear, courting risk at every step but always withdrawing just before the curtains, hardly considering your choices just because you can, with the snap of your finger, make your own path... something in all this brushed against a memory that belonged to nothing Cretala had seen himself, but it interested him as strongly as though it was his own.
He couldn't see where all this would lead yet, and neither did he want to, but he stored it away for later consideration. Today he merely got up from his chair at the little table, stood in front of the bed he triumphantly realized his brain hadn't analysed while in his trance, saw all the little possibilities gleaming like stars, and extinguished them all for tonight as his head hit the pillow.
Four more months and very little else found Anurek Cretala in an apartment that could be called habitable, even pleasant, by our terms. It kept him from betraying to anyone important that he'd suddenly become much more successful in a short time, but he was still pretty established. Gambling had only been the start.
He got up to answer the doorbell, arranging the beginnings of polite conversation that higher society was starting to teach him, and dropping it all the moment he saw the two men at his doorstep.
The older one said, "You have been watched for the past two weeks. DO NOT look out the window, but your house is surrounded. You are to come with me, taking none of your possessions, and follow the pretence that I am an old friend visiting for some time to take you to the nearest restaurant."
Cretala did his best to try and argue, he really did, but the man's glare was stone. Behind him his friend seemed to look around dreamily at the room, looking either foreign or for some reason completely unfamiliar with middle-class living rooms. (Less apparent was that this was the opposite of the truth.)
They walked out solemnly into the hall. The older man said casually to him, "Your job's looking up, I hope? Government is always the right choice."
"Yeah," said Cretala with only the minimum of nervousness. “Nothing like League regulations to give a man security in a time like this.” He looked around. Had he seen anyone follow him? Would he see anyone? Was there anyone to see? All these questions were starting to drown him, so he let them go.
He was getting very good at seeing only the important possibilities available to him. It came with the job. He did so at the moment, watching carefully as he was led by the two men through a roundabout path that impressed even his experience with the ways of Rustboro. Oh, how he hated the city. Oh, how he couldn't let it go.
He wasn't sure whether there was much more for him to do than follow them. He'd realized already that they meant no harm to him. He'd checked all the possibilities and the first and cleanest way to kill him had already been abandoned from the start. That angle was accounted for. Ho hum. Try to look casual. Old friends, right? Old friends, who got along like a house on fire.
Surprisingly they ended up at the West Elyque. He'd dined at this restaurant a few times, but he was no stranger to unnoticeable places to hide from spies in, and this was definitely not one of them. Everyone watched you like a hawk when you entered because you stuck out like a sore thumb.
Well, all right, so he'd done a few... public things and signalled to the important people that he was beginning to be important. But he'd always kept his talents hidden under dimmer streets than your average powerful syndicate; his source of income was untraceable. What did he have to do with the greater scheme of things? Who'd want to pull him down? He'd been known for a few days on the paper, but then he'd slipped back into the haze and he'd be surprised if anyone remembered his name, to be honest.
As he thought these things they entered the restaurant, sat down at a table and talked with the maitre d' about carvanha silce. Then the older man stood up and walked over to a casual waiter by the counter who suddenly stopped looking casual.
Cretala began to wonder if he'd seen his abductor before. Not in person, but somewhere like his own place in the newspapers. He walked back to their table and suggested meeting the chef in the kitchens. The suggestion went down well; they walked with the 'waiter' the older man was acquainted with, past a few service doors, and exited into a back alley behind the restaurant.
A large black car was waiting for them, not quite limousine, not quite shabby. They slipped discreetly into it and waited in silence for the driver to pick up speed. Then the older man turned to Cretala and said, “Very well. Now we talk. My name is Aradis Consiello, and this is Periacca Enscianz."
“Okay, yes, I have heard of the containment centres. But I'm not one of the others. I'm just very very lucky. What could they pin on me, even if I was careless?”
“Not much, commendably,” said Mr. Aradis Consiello. “Just enough to invite suspicion, however. They hardly need a warrant to take better evidence from you. Remember the Crasflod Inn?”
Cretala started thinking. Not an actual inn, if memory served correctly. It was a hotel, wasn't it. It was one of the first places he'd begun establishing himself in. And he'd sat down the Gym Leader herself at one of the baize tables and asked her for just a single round of Luxio Claws. Ms. Roxanne was such a fossil, she'd insisted that the game was unplayable without careful study of all the card weights, but Cretala had assured her he'd never played it before and hardly knew the rules.
He'd won, of course.
“Did they really catch me contradicting the rules?”
Cretala looked up and couldn't bear Consiello's look any more. “I mean, doing something I didn't have the cards for.
“Dammit, fine, doing something that was physically impossible.”
He could say, Hah, cheap parlour trick. But it wouldn't get him anywhere. That gambit used to work for him months ago, but now if someone did something completely uncanny, suddenly everyone's eyes were on him. And he was sure some very careful men would come up and review the entire happening very meticulously. There was, unfortunately, only one answer to the conundrum.
“Still, I haven't seen actual proof yet that I'm being followed. Do I have to take just your word for it?”
“Not necessarily,” said Mr. Aradis Consiello, and he nodded to the back window. They were quickly speeding away from that block but he could still see a few black cars surrounding their recently-vacated restaurant and several men in black suits filtering into the building.
“Although at this point if anyone is following us, they would have to be at least partially psychic,” Periacca chuckled. “We have our ways, not all of which you have seen directly. Now, Mr. Anurek Cretala, describe yourself.”
“Describe myself?” sputtered the man, and then immediately stopped. He was not the kind of man who sputtered often, and he did not want to make a habit of it.
He simply said, "Well, I'm Anurek Cretala. Obviously. And I'm a fairly unobtrusive government officer working in the branch of..."
Aradis Consiello looked up with disdain. "Come on, man, we know all of that."
“Oh, yeah. The trouble is my exact role in the League administration is difficult to pin down; I stick to no particular office, and carry out no particular kind of service. You may not even know about me even if you've been directly affected by my actions. I'm kind of contracted and employed at the same time, which means I get the benefits but not the leash. I – “
Aradis held up a hand. He said, "Mr. Cretala, this is the explanation you give to the layman; this is not how you describe your job to yourself or really anyone in the world, except the people you are deliberately trying to confuse, which I admit includes everyone. Please be truthful to both of us. We have done very reasonable amounts of research, and will be very displeased if we have to take you back to your apartment."
"My apartment isn't the most convenient place to be right now, is it?" Cretala said warily.
"No, Mr. Cretala," said Mr. Aradis Consiello, "it is not. I would say it is better for your convenience and mine that we stay well away from it. I'm surprised you haven't asked me where I am taking you yet; I would be astonished if you thought I would hide it from you.
"In fact we are taking you direct, for a given meaning of direct, to the city ferry. There is a ship leaving for Petalburg and it will be inconvenient – if you mind the word I am using – to miss it this time."
Cretala said, "I don't think I appreciate this gesture very well. What about my business in this city? What will happen to my apartment? There's a lot here, frankly, that this conversation can hardly set aright."
Mr. Aradis Consiello turned to him fully for the first time in the meeting. "Indeed, Mr. Cretala. This is why I will not try. I was merely waiting for you to realize this. However, I will say this: your possessions will be retrieved in due time – "
" – For a given meaning of due," Periacca cackled
" – in which period, alas, we do not think we will be able to recover your apartment. I am not certain that it is much of a loss, seeing as you can moved through at least five private flats in the past two months?"
Cretala winced at that. "How did you figure that out? I used four different names for each sale."
Periacca raised his eyebrows. "Why four names for five apartments?"
Aradis Consiello got to the question first. "Naturally, Periacca, because his last four houses were under government regulation. It would cause suspicion if he used false names where the government could ask around.”
“On the other hand,” Cretala chuckled, “people tend not to have a clue how to spell their names downtown. Even if someone managed to follow me across the registrations I made there, they couldn't know it wasn't just because I copied my name from newspaper clippings.”
"Well, anyway, where were we?" Aradis said vaguely.
Cretala actually spluttered, which was worse. "You don't remember?"
"Of course I do,” he said, not missing a beat. "We were talking about the issue of your apartment. It will be positively crawling with government personnel for the coming months and will be extremely unreachable."
"So, what, I lose my city, my flat in the city, a lot of my possessions, and most of a future?"
"Ah, Mr. Anurek Cretala," said Aradis Consiello, "the last bit is where you are wrong. In fact your future is only just beginning to look interesting."
Cretala looked around nervously. When your host begins saying such things is exactly the time to start leaving. However, looking around presented absolutely no hopes of escape.
And so he started thinking. The man was obviously legitimate, but just in case he wasn't he wanted to be entirely on his own feet in this place. At the moment he was completely in their hands, and worst of all there was nothing he could do about it...
Except – he looked forward into the driver's seat. The open doors of a warehouse were approaching, and he tried to see for certain whether – yes. Bags upon bags of cotton. This was interesting, as was the fact that there is one brake and one accelerator at the foot level in a car, and the most experienced drivers sometimes get flustered. They approached the turn where the crates went out of the reach, and the driver put his feet down to reach for the proper pedal.
Anurek Cretala looked, and he thought very fast. There were two little pads on the bottom of the car, two cards, let us say, and the opponent was trying to reach for the left card but that was completely out of the question because if he did it, you lost. So what did you do?
...Nothing he could apply here. He tried to push forward. On either side of him were two paths. Think causally, he told himself. The universe would listen to him if he wanted one of those paths, yeah? How would it do this? He had no clue. There were weights upon each each intricate side of this complex mechanism, and he tried to imagine the heavier weight was on the accelerator side.
Oh my god, he said to himself. I am raving. Actually dribbling words. I have no idea what happened. When was the last time I needed to fantasize for this to work?
"Oh, by the way," said the polite and reasonable man who was, in one way or the other, his captor now, "While you are mulling over that exciting piece of information, I should like to tell you an interesting fact. Do you know that in the entirety of the brief history of this 'race' of humans, as the uneducated like to call it, there has never been a case where two 'others' conscious of each other's presence have been able to use their abilities? Not even one at a time, there seems to be some strange influence both put upon the world that confuses others of its kind terribly. I jam your wavelength, you jam mine."
Cretala looked up at the two gentlemen. "There's another other here?" he said, interested. "Sorry for using those words. Which one?"
"We can discuss all of that later. Let us return to our original and much derailed topic. Describe yourself, Mr. Anurek Cretala. And this time tell us things that are actually significant in the long run."
"Well," he took a deep breath, "my name is probably Anurek Cretala. And I can manipulate randomness."
Periacca Enscianz was transformed, all razor thought and action. "How do you do it?"
“There's no fixed method. I understand probability in terms of two possibilities and favour one of them in a suitable way. The universe listens.”
"And your first method was to block out the possibility that offended you most, wasn't it?"
"How'd you know?"
"You seem like that sort of person. But after some time you began to notice that blocking didn't work every time, didn't you? Your mind forced you to work out other avenues."
"You seem like that sort of person, too," said Periacca Enscianz. “When can you do it?”
“Whenever, if I can understand randomness in the proper way and think coherently.”
“What are your rules?”
Cretala blinked. “Rules?”
“Your talents are restricted in some way. How?”
“It has to be two possibilities. Any more and maybe the part of me that can manipulate causality gets confused. They don't have to be fifty-fifty, but I must be able to think of them as approximately that. It must lie in the future. I tried affecting events of the past because I can't see why I shouldn't be able to. But it's important that what really happens hasn't already been defined. In fact things always happen as I've comprehended them, even if there are all sorts of shades of possibility that I haven't considered – a spectrum between the two extremes I have considered, mind.
"Decidedly nothing," said Mr. Aradis Consiello. "We will see you are properly registered in Sinnoh, which is fashionably behind the times on legislation and therefore the most amenable place for an other. There are places where you will actually be appreciated, you know."
“So I lose my life and take what you give me?”
"You take what you choose to take. If you would like to be a simple government worker on a little apartment in the more middle class areas of Veilstone, you may easily do so. If you want to be the most influential minister of the Sinnoh government, no one will bar you. If you want to carry your own travelling sideshow of people who can bend reality, you may do so, though you will not have my recommendations as someone without half an ounce of business training and still a certain amount of common sense. We merely ask that you become, in your own way, interesting. This you will do whatever happens, as long as you are allowed to. What do you say?"
Cretala started thinking. Then he stopped thinking. If they were genuine this was the best deal he could get in his position; if they were not it was a problem he could only do anything about when it became a problem. He said,
"I don't feel like flipping a coin over this gamble."
"Good to hear we have your consent, then." He beamed.
Of the Foundation for the Shelter and Reinstitution of Certain Talented but Civilly Challenged Persons... ah, what can be truly said? Even the name is, once one comes to really face the facts, completely invented. We gave this name for the sake of argument to what exists more as a series of curious happenings, or perhaps failures of happening, across various times and places sharing only the looming shadow of a rehabilitation centre, and the vision of a black almost-limousine and two gentlemen who seem alone of all the world to know what they are up to.
No, there is nothing really substantial about what we have validated in such a way with such a name, but nevertheless if there were those with enough consideration and eyes and ears at their disposal (and there always are), they would inevitably fail to miss some very strange details: how seventy-five per cent of the government's attempts to seize a particularly powerful ward for their facilities had been thwarted by a mysterious disappearance, how the practice of public and unconcealed reality manipulation in such heathen regions as the Orange Islands, Orre, and even Sinnoh had increased to a point that could not longer be explained by open-minded cultural perceptions.
Nowhere could you see the engines of revolution running even obscurely under the surface. Nowhere would a single person utter the first hint towards retaliation, nowhere would even the more normal brand of human admit that they saw the new wave as something as distinct as a wave, but the original seizure program of the Pokémon League was beginning to show signs of fatigue and simple statistics, nothing so substantial as to be quietly sedated and carried into oblivion, were overtaking them. Could you destroy Cretala if the cards themselves spelled out the truth before you? Could you even work out how to blame him? He had merely sat there, a concerned but otherwise completely inactive player of the world (or citizen of Hoenn, in other words) watching everything innocuously and quite accidentally fall into place for him.
And the rumours spread. Of course they were ludicrous rumours; rumours are ludicrous by nature. They served at once to make the idea of any such network completely incredible, but also vaguely ominous. By doing so they were the perfect seeds of panic among reasoned, intelligent circles.
“That sounds fairly insane,” said Cretala. “How many of you are there?”
“How many of whom, Mr. Cretala?” said Aradis with genuine puzzlement. “I am sure I have no idea what you are referring to.”
“How many people do this kind of thing regularly, then,” Cretala said, slightly annoyed. The man was too obsessed with form. Cretala had no intentions of reporting him, so why couldn't he speak plainly?
“Well, I have six or seven good acquaintances who find enough time in the schedules. But I'm sure they must have more acquaintances of their own.”
“You mean you don't know? Who brings you intelligence?”
“Intelligence?” The expression on Aradis's face was almost condescending, as though Cretala was some overenthusiastic child. “Occasionally we swap rumours about individuals with interesting talents who, incidentally, have recently been recognized by the League. Thus we are entirely indistinguishable from most of the news-watching population.”
“Are you serious? What about retrieval? You must have someone appointed to go down and arrange all the facilities you need to properly evade government teams.”
“We volunteer. And naturally we tell all our associates that this particular need has been sufficiently helped, just so that they don't have to worry themselves any further.”
“Okay, what about internet systems? Isn't some organization much more useful than lots of people trying to do something vaguely?”
“We enter all the usual communities that have popped up since the idea of such talented people really caught on in popular culture. We often take up certain reserved statuses merely to point to the fact that we are here. I believe the most popular indicator of our status is a sort of glowing yellow ring, but I have no idea what it symbolizes.”
Cretala paused a moment, and then smirked. “I'm sure you don't. That sounds very disorganized, though, and it could be inaccurate most of the time.”
“Naturally it is,” conceded Aradis Consiello. “But we as enlightened gentlemen do our proper research in our own time.”
“Fine, let me summarize. You have no departments, no institutions of any kind for that matter, no concrete system of hierarchy, no fixed means of acquiring information, and in fact no name...?”
“...all of these things,” Periacca finished, “by virtue of there being no organization in the first place. You do not listen, Mr. Cretala. This is an art you may have to cultivate in future.”
There was a pause in which none of the gentlemen spoke.
“Why the troubled expression?” said Aradis. “Hopefully nothing of our little systems seem unsatisfactory to you?”
Cretala looked up, as though awakening from thoughtless contemplation. “Nothing like it,” he said. “It's all freeform, is it? Everyone chooses to do what they choose to do?
“I think I might be tempted. Aren't there any Hoenn sites you might recommend for me?”
“We doubt we would recommend, as we value your safety. But we might point to a few cities and localities within them where the artful individual can remain... unnoticed.”
Outside, though Cretala had entirely failed to notice it, the shifting surroundings stopped to reveal to him the Rustboro Aerodrome.
“You were never intending to take me to Petalburg, were you?”
Both gentlemen smiled in concert, but the effect was very disconcerting. “No, Mr. Cretala, we were rather depending on your change of mind as it was bound to happen.”
Chapter 4: Four recapitulations of the same theme.
Wood did not need to thrum so much as acknowledge its presence. Simply its existence in the vast guest's hall of Mr. Aradis Consiello was overpowering enough, and it exerted its quiet influence over everything that transpired within. Wood had always had a very fascinating effect on sound, especially when exactly shaped to support it.
Aradis ran his fingers along the lower keys of his pianoforte, but there was no need for it. He said to Periacca, “I did tell them eleven o'clock sharp, you know.”
“What can I say," said Periacca, and glanced out the massive front windows. Then he looked Aradis again and said, "Normal human beings sometimes get timings off by a matter of seconds, even minutes.
“Not that it matters. Here's the first arrival.”
The doors of the Consiello home opened to let in a lithe wiry figure, black coat and fedora, and careful unshavenness and sardonic smile, in the usual places.
"Mr. Anurek Cretala," said Aradis. "What a pleasure to see you again."
“Good joke,” he replied, “you're a regular... something or the other.”
"We are still awaiting the arrival of our other guests," said Aradis Consiello. "I recently read in the paper that you were appointed a Chief Minister."
"The Chief Minster of what," Periacca said, "I presume you cannot say."
"Actually the Chief Mister of Finances. Does that interest you? It's temporary, something I'll smooth over later when I'm more established. Pity, you know. I bet I could have done some very interesting things with that type of power. I simply don't have the inclination, that's the trouble.
"Talk about yourself," he continued. "You haven't been seen anywhere lately. You're not hiding, are you?"
"I am only a humble servant of my region and of mankind," said Consiello as though he had read it on a handwritten note pasted on Cretala's coat.
"Mankind," said Cretala. “That is if you assume we're humans."
"But naturally," said Consiello, "we are the most human of all. Shall I tell you my little theory?" he began very earnestly.
Periacca said, "I actually approve of it, so it's not that bad."
Cretala shrugged. Aradis paced the length of the hall, saying, "This is how you define a human. I think you'll agree with me on the important features. A human is a will, instinct or panic or desire or ambition or what have you, based on the capacity to realise this will. Pokémon are somewhat human, with subdued ambition. Homo sapiens, you see, are called human alone because they are the most human.”
The bold ironwork on the two great windows played its shadow over his hand. Aradis had been fingering it idly; now he clenched his hand.
"But then what are we? We have a distinct outlook on the world, but it is essential to understand this as nothing passive. We have a will, and the will is to assert our basic nature on the universe that tries to change it. My basic nature is the pursuit of beauty, with music as a vehicle. Yours is – I won't presume to say, but you know what it is, of course. Now consider the other part of being human, our capacity to materialize our will. I see you're beginning to understand the full extent of what we are. We are human. This is indisputable."
“We assert our nature on the universe?” Cretala said. “That's a good way to put it. If you try to scientifically follow up how I see the world it'll make no sense, none at all. Except the universe seems to buy what I'm selling, long enough at least for me to get some work done.”
"Indeed," said Consiello. He was starting to get interested, and seeing this Periacca said, "You bypass the natural laws of the universe. You only have to work within your own. There's something at least slightly liberating about that.”
He looked out at the open doors again, and said, “Oh hello.”
The arrival was a small pale young woman, well-dressed but ill at ease. She tried to hide this behind disdain, but not with much effort.
"Ms. Aridira Lays," said Periacca. "Come join the party."
“Hardly a party,” Consiello said hastily. “I merely wanted to talk. Make yourself comfortable; we're waiting for one more invitee.” She settled into position of marginally more ease, which was enough for now.
Then there was a silence as all three watched each other, Lays having offered no conversation starters. She was very difficult for the mind to grasp for long. It had to fight to notice her presence at all.
"I don't suppose office work is all you do at the Pokémon League?" Periacca asked Cretala.
"Not all of it, no," said Cretala. "I have a bit of unofficial power already, just not enough to step on people's toes. I think I'll do that," he grinned, “when people get used to me.”
"But how do you manage to raise the most important issue?" Periacca pressed. "The kind of talent we're concerned with is hardly appreciated, even in the Sinnoh League."
"I don't raise it, mostly. I smuggle it into general consciousness. You'd be surprised at how many closet supporters we've got in – "
“Arceus, it's him you've invited?” They turned with Aridira to watch the door.
Cretala thought he was back in Rustboro again. Deep in a cloud of noxious smells and bad tobacco, a tramp pushed past the doors.
Consiello reacted before someone pushed him out. "Welcome to my house," he said, "that makes all of us. I really must apologize for the awkwardness."
"What's your name this time?" Periacca asked as though this was ritual.
A small service door opened from just behind the central staircase, and a manservant bustled out.
"I couldn't think of anything. Call me A. Call me Mr. A if that makes it more accessible to you." The last guest's voice did not sound like a tramp. It sounded different; it was a hard job to want to place how it sounded.
The apparent tramp looked around at the disconcerted faces. He said, “This is the procession you give for the Gatherer Priest Khuakt? I must have been half a god at some point in your history.”
“The gentleman – ah, the being – shall we say, the living entity currently known as Mr. A is capable of controlled reincarnation. Correct, Mr. A?”
He nodded casually. “I can choose to inhabit any human or pokémon life as long as I've died out of my current one. I don't believe in reincarnation, but what can you do about that?”
Periacca was good as new again. “Mr A's talent tends to be a showstopper.”
“Very good,” said Aradis. He noticed the manservant who had been waiting patiently for him to do so. “Now that we are all gathered I can address why we are all here. Would tea please you?”
They walked out into a small but stately courtyard, where a table was laid out with tea and crockery. Mr. A descended on the little cakes and made good work of them. Cretala fingered the glaze on his teacup, taking care to leave a tolerable smudge. Studiously ignoring their manners, Aradis took a preliminary sip, and the others followed. Then he said:
“The course of the coming months should prove very important indeed for all of us assembled here, as well as many of our fellows in the wide world. You all know quite why, and Anurek knows most of all: the Pokémon League is going through severe unrest, compounded by the new schism whose engineering Mr. Cretala himself may largely be owed to. The attempts of the two orthodox regions to prove that anti-otherism is a majority view are beginning to fail entirely, simply because the phenomenon is spreading too widely now to oppose with any success. I advise a cautious view of the coming months. For the first time a system is being rewritten to incorporate a demographic that emerged out of the blue, and frankly anything could happen.” He turned to Cretala and said, somewhat darkly, “Given the series of fiascos Kanto has had with pokémon rights, it seems to me particularly important to steer the larger events to proper and possibly nonviolent ends. We have no idea what our fair government might do in the absence of adequate representation on both sides.”
“Don't I know it,” muttered Cretala.
“My friends,” said Aradis with a strange smirk, “as it stands, your talents and inclinations (supernatural or otherwise) comprehend all of the major affairs pressing on us today. Mr. Cretala is one of the most important sane supporters of otherism in the Pokémon League.” He paused, nose wrinkled. “I tire of this terminology. Let me propose a new name for those with our talents. They will be known as whatevers. It hardly matters what we are.”
Then he said, “Mr. A is currently very busy upon the Team Rocket question.”
“For them or against them?” Cretala said. “Just making sure,” he added in reply to Aradis's look.
“I don't see why you have to know,” Mr. A said coolly.
Aradis cleared his throat. “Lastly, Ms. Lays has a very special role which we will come to later. Thus – ”
“Yeah, very good, thank you for the flattery,” said Cretala. He pointed a cigarette butt at Aradis. “What's your part in all of this? I don't think both of you can bore yourself with supporting whateverist refugees forever, especially after the government decrees stop actually persecuting us.”
“Right, Anurek,” said Periacca, “we'd better answer this question first, before we get properly lynched.”
“Well,” said Aradis Consiello, possibilities of cryptic words shuffling around in his head, “both of us are very good at watching the general flows of the world, analysing the way we think they're going, weighing possibilities and their desirability for the good of all; plus we give all of you ideas that we think it's high time for, and suggest the general sort of, ah, drift...”
Cretala dropped the cigarette and ground it on the spotless floor.
Periacca came to the rescue. “Aradis really does not want to say anything that would label him too immodest. But look here. Aridira, if you'd seen none of us here before, and were only just entering this room out of a sort of obligation, what would you think of everyone here?”
Ms. Lays did not hide her feelings for politeness; she would not hide them for theoretical psychology. “I suppose I wouldn't be able to stand all of you, strutting your inferior struts over the fabric of the universe. I mean, for goodness's sake, I gained imperial power over the nature of reality, so why should you come here and block my abilities?”
Periacca looked up; the cloth roofing let him watch the sun with ease. “But you don't think that right now, do you? You're slightly appeased.”
“Why, yes I am. I realized there are other things in the universe than my influence, and all of you may have some part to play. I never saw you as so complementary before I came here.”
Periacca stared pointedly at the rest, and they admitted in however many words that, give or take a diplomatic turn of speech and a slightly more altruistic way of looking at life, they all thought the same way.
“But none of you let this possessiveness get over your intentions of actually doing something with this world.” He walked over to the head of the table and could no longer contain himself. “This is it, you know. All this while you've been playing with cards, working out little papers, evading the real world because – let's face it – your own worlds are far more exciting, I hardly deny it. Well, the age of fixed history, and mortal humans, and the eternal realistic obsession with tedium – that age is over. This is your world now. Motley and preoccupied as we are, we'll decide everything if we want to.”
He sat back down. “I'm getting ahead of myself. Something, someone, picked you out from the seething mess you were born in and bound you together to do something useful. Raise your hands if you know.”
Anurek grinned at him. “Sure,” he said.
Then he said, “How?”
“Well, look at it this way. Imagine going out into the streets even just outside our Consiello home, hearing basically every man, creature, being, machine, recorded advertisement, and miscellaneous device mixing together into one blur of sound. Imagine determining every voice in this wave, and knowing out of them exactly which one will come to no good, and which one needs to be cultivated because it promises to be a symphony of growth.”
Aridira looked up at him, seeming about to say something. Periacca quickly added: “This much is easy, even I handled this. Now imagine culling exactly these beginnings of symphonies, and bringing them together into one sanctuary amidst all the confusion. Imagine, now, letting them realize what they will and must do with only a wave of your hand. Composers working with five staves and a pencil have trouble doing this. Mr. Aradis Consiello, ladies and gentlemen, has done it with the entire human world.”
“How effusive,” Aradis muttered. “You could almost believe it, the way Mr Periacca Enscianz sells it.”
“If it was Mr. Anurek Cretala selling it,” said the restfully calm Periacca, “you would have believed it. Apart from that I think I kept faithful to the truth.”
“Maybe so,” said Aradis. “Only it's far less impressive than it seems. The trouble is this language has such an interest with the metaphorical. If I'd actually chosen all of you with every extant whatever in consideration, if I'd weighed every invisible current moving you and I, and all my efforts to rally you had been not so much cheerleading as divine ordinance, then I'd be impressed with myself. Unfortunately, even Mr. Enscianz has not yet figured out how to consider every single available human at the same time, complete with wishes and intentions and natural reactions to the world, and pokémon are similarly unable to arrange reality as they see fit, so the world is still not as exciting as language makes it seem.”
The three whatevers looked from Periacca and Aradis to each other. Then Cretala said, “Still, if there's one man who can bring a master political conman, an ancient entity who plays silly buggers with the course of history by burning through lives and killing them once he's done, and – uh – ” he glanced at Aridira, muttering, “You won't take offence if I haven't found crap against you?”
“If there's one man,” Cretala resumed, “who can bring such a fascinating line of mugs together and talk about the bloodless restructuring of democratic institutions with a straight face, it's Aradis Consiello.”
“What'll it be,” Cretala continued, “genteel but shameless lying, or the grubby but pure truth?”
Aradis smirked. “But lies sound so very pleasant to the ear, and we can almost assume we are having a nice little tea party when we use them.”
“Well, anyway,” said Periacca, “tell us about your work, Cretala. How do you manage such a vast influence on the Pokémon League?”
“Luck. Enough of that and everything slides into place for you, it's kind of marvellous. I won't say too much about how it works. Don't worry, it has nothing to do with blackmail, bribery, expensive dinners with influential people, or even good campaigning which is all of this on a smaller scale.
"Still, since you're all looking at me with such obvious interest I guess I might elaborate a little. See, it has everything to do with statistics. I rake points the statistics can support. Don't look at me like that, even I don't dare affect the seething mess of probability that all of society builds up. It's something about how I see the world, apparently, a sense not just of which way is most probable but which possibility it'll actually resolve to. I do my share of watching; so do all of you. I watch exactly how the possibilities fall through. This is all I need to see."
"You don't really need to know this. This is just me practising selling ideas to people. Up to now, though, I have to admit, it's been really useful drivel. Like all of you here, I balance this reality with one of my own, and you know how complicated that gets. Maybe someday, once I've got enough time to think, I'll find all of what I've learned in the Pokémon League makes good sense when you tie it into what really matters (Black on White, obviously).
"Let's talk about how it is in the League, the politics they haven't even exclusively revealed to all of the newspapers. Aradis's right for most of it: there's a schism, we're certainly divided between supporting and massacring the whatevers. That's something we can get past; pro-whatevers will have power very soon. The real issue, Aradis is right, is keeping order at the end of this fight. The anti-whatevers say social order will be endangered by the fact that talents mean real physical things now. They're not completely barking. Anything can happen now. How are we supposed to control people who are 75% omnipotent? What if there are immortals? What about genius, will it care for laws we made when we were still normal? Then there are those who say conflicting views about reality might do damage we've never expected it to do, serious damage to causality and to reality. That's probably not a problem we'll have to face immediately, though.
"There are issues where we just have to be accommodated, though, it's our duty not to grin and bear it. Try objecting to this: that whatevers are by nature equal to humans, if very odd and complicated humans, so they should get human rights which (just to make the orthodoxy happy) could be a little abridged to prevent immorality. You know, freedom of speech, action, thought, belief, faith, worship, and the manipulation of reality except where it seriously damages, alters, unwillingly affects the interests of others, or puts them in a position where they are unable to comprehend their original interests, or... You can imagine the debates are endless, and by the end of it the Preamble for the Constitution of the Common League will have one page with any actual meaning and a medium book's worth of footnotes.
“One word of caution. Consider me. I could still change the course of coming history. My abilities don't discriminate between the small and large scale, they only compare the choices between themselves. I look at a coin toss and the coming referendum and see the same pattern. If I wanted to, I could ensure the end of the schism. If I wanted I could collapse – not everything, many things certainly.”
He looked around. “Oh, yeah, the referendum. This is going to settle the schism, unless we're very unlucky. 'Are the present policies on Other Human Classes sustainable?' If the world says no, you can expect most of present government going out the window. There is no substitute administration this time. Maybe the Champions and Gym Leaders will settle down to some exhilarating paperwork, and maybe they'll slack off.
"Anyway, back to what I was saying. There will be a lot more discussed in the referendum, all of it expressed in yes or no questions, and you know how I find those so convenient. If I felt like it I could actually, with impunity, choose what I wanted. It doesn't matter how many thoughts and votes have gone into it, it doesn't matter that it's hardly a matter of just yes or no in the first place. As long as once in the universe it says that the fate of the government is a question of black or white, I can latch on to that and decide exactly what I want for it. But I won't, because if there's one point in history where our race can decide what we really are, one point where it absolutely must, this is it."
He stopped for a few minutes, while the entire gathering considered this monologue in silence. Then Periacca said, "You've gone soft, have you, my dear Cretala?"
Anurek Cretala grinned; this is a frightening idea. "Not yet, Periacca. I'll stop making you think in hexameter when you ask me."
“You're just like rectangles,” Aridira Lays suddenly proclaimed. Then she looked around and seemed to realize what she'd said. She was still getting the hang of thinking in patterns comprehensible to other people.
Aridira offered no further explanations, and there was a long silence as the four other people in the room tried to work this one out.
“You mean,” said Periacca, as though doing three dimensional trigonometry in his head, “they rise up and they fall down, they change until they're at right angles to their original purposes, but somehow they always end up at the same place they started from?”
Ms. Lays finally remembered to close her mouth and said, with a haughty frown, “Of course that's not what I mean.” Periacca froze. She said, “It's the closest approximation, though.”
“I won't dispute you on that, I'm sure,” Cretala said. “But what about you? We all have our own worlds but we try and keep them fused with the universe's. You've been keeping very close about yourself. I haven't worked out what part you have to play in this.”
“Really, Anurek?” said Consiello. “That could almost be interpreted as a challenge. Ms. Lays may be in fact the most curious actor in history here, though you will not see her effects yet and you might not understand them for years after they have started.”
“I... understand series, you see,” Aridira continued. “I understand repetitions and their changes even if they might not look like repetitions. I understand what, out of a chaotic mass, has been reused and binds it all together. I...”
“Periacca makes a very good bet at managing that,” Cretala said, and then he realized he was unintentionally attempting to shoot her down. “There's something in this that's your own, of course, otherwise you wouldn't be one of us. What is it?”
Aridira looked down, trying to marshal her thoughts. It was perhaps only Periacca who noticed she had more work to do than Cretala, because her level of organization (even in her words) was greater and more careful than others.
“What in this is mine is that I can affect these series,” she said finally. She spoke carefully and deliberately, as though trying to maintain some unnecessary semblance of symmetry almost as a protection. “What out of this astonishes me the most is that none of you can.
“...Um, control these series. The universe is essentially fractal, every piece of it is identical in some way to the whole. ...The universe is organized, no part of it is able to break the greater pattern. Unless chaotic minds make it so. Most of your problems come from just... the fact that your thoughts don't naturally obey any pattern at all, and everything that is affected by your thoughts is equally unable to maintain the pattern.”
She looked down, watching shattered reflections in the central fountain. Then she looked up at the fragments of sun the higher windows still caught. She looked at her two hands, and then looked the others directly in the eye.
“Natural law has its own patterns, you see, and somewhere on a very deep level of reality, even when all cyclic order has been broken down on higher matters, the basic rhythm is maintained. You are chaotic and unrepeating on your own level – except there are certain patterns – but the stuff you are made of, and the cycles that govern you, remain constant. This has been the case for the majority of human existence, anyway, and even pokémon are bound by their own laws where the laws of natural science are unable to restrain their abilities.
“So you can imagine what happens when something like our abilities crops up in reality. We don't follow nature's laws, we follow our own bodies' laws. And the laws of our bodies are the laws of our minds, and the laws of any person's mind are confused, complicated, immensely inconsistent things. Certainly our abilities focus on one aspect of our thinking, but this doesn't have to agree with the universe's way of working, or any other person's. Our powers are arbitrary, there's no way to draw a chain of succession between them. And this, I think, is why I'm unable to focus properly on any of your patterns while you are aware of it. Our personal universes follow their own laws.”
Aradis Consiello looked up at this point. “But there is a common ground for all of us, the practical one. What we do in this universe affects everything and everyone. Our actions and their consequences can interact, they can even be related. Doesn't that count for something?”
“Right now, it does,” aid Aridira. “The number of whatevers are still in a minority, their influence over the universe is less than complete. But you can still go out into the crowd and see the tendrils of mental belief stretching everywhere, over people and places you'd never have expected in the first place. Wait, you're looking oddly at me. Don't tell me you've never reached out into the universe and seen something you can't begin to understand? You can distinguish it just from the fact that certain bits of reality, the parts the whatevers are aware of, are untouchable for you. Aradis?”
Periacca raised a hand. “I notice it sometimes. I suspect that explains why two whatevers can't function simultaneously: they can, to an extent, but they haven't come to understand each other's domains and the way reality works within those spaces. I know a certain two siblings who are comfortable with each other's domains, and indeed they achieve very interesting feats of cooperation. Oh, sorry for the violent digression. What were you going to say?”
“I was saying that the universe is still the base for all these realities right now, so I can work with it, but very soon every piece of the universe will somehow be grasped by one or the other whatever. Our numbers are still growing, we'll become dominant soon, even though it seems impossible now. So there's a very important task that must be attended to now, before all of this complication grows to the point that no earthly power can help it.
“I can understand series, right? And I can affect them in certain ways, though I seem to do only what reinforces the pattern constantly. And whatever series I come into contact with, however incompletely, I can grasp at and bring into my power. (In fact it's easier when it's not directly related to me, because then even the other people aren't directly aware of me.) Somewhere, deep in creation, I'm working at the beginnings of a grand series, a progression that seems to cover all of this world in its scope, including what the human world largely disregards. And I can reinforce it, I can nudge it into clearer form and stronger jurisdiction.”
This was how long Cretala managed to keep silent. “But you're mortal! You have a lifespan as long as ours, you might have a mind faster than an alakazam's but it's still limited. How could you spread out to the whole of the world? You'd be stretched to nothingness. And how could you know everything, everywhere?”
“I'm... I'm not sure,” she said, letting her head rest in her hand. Then she looked up. “I think... you can't define a single human as just that, a single disconnected being. Like all things I feel my repetitions everywhere, I see echoes of my will in many other things: not all other things, certainly not all, but my shadows are in many places. When you talk about my intentions, you're not talking about simply what I as a whatever am capable of, you're considering my will and, by extension, all the places in the universe where my will is echoed, which are much more than you'd expect.”
She smiled nervously. “But this (alone of what I've said) is a shadow of a dream, you can count on that. I couldn't explain why my influence on the universe is so real, so I can't explain why my influence on coming events is such a dream.”
There was a long pause. It was a shadow of a dream, but they could not help thinking it real. This was the dilemma. Cretala said, “Fine, I believe you. I won't question your affairs. But I would be satisfied if you gave me one concrete proof, right now.”
She laughed. “I've already shown it to you, Mr. Anurek Cretala. Perhaps you haven't noticed it yet? I saw that this would be an important meeting, actually. I arranged events in a certain way, more out of boredom than anything else.”
An index finger, pointed at Aradis. “Wood, Mr. Consiello. You thought about it today for the first time in years.”
Aradis frowned. “Nonsense, it has been a part of me for much longer.”
“Tell me the last time you remember deliberately thinking about it, though.”
He thought very carefully. Then he said, “It must have been almost...”
“Exactly twenty years?” Aridira offered.
“Curious. What a coincidence.”
“Coincidences don't exist, Mr. Consiello. Anurek Cretala: what did you say ten minutes and thirty-three and a third seconds ago?”
“I said a lot of things. I said 'What'll it be – '” He grinned. “It's been exactly ten years, hasn't it? Since that encounter with Tarks?”
“I see you're catching on.” She turned to the unnoticed reincarnative tramp. “Mr. A, you – “
She stopped, expression frozen. Then she said very carefully, “As cheap as the trick is, I'll write it down and fold the paper. Awareness is a terrible thing, gentlemen. It ruins all our progressions if it lights on something we shouldn't know yet.” She took out a pen and her notepad, and did the same. “You might say all of this could well have been coincidence, that it doesn't prove anything if a few words align at the right point. And I could go on furnishing more of your 'coincidences', exact arithmetic or geometric progressions between relevant figures, the little subconscious projects you've built using your abilities that exactly match your first works, even direct changes to history or the future that you could produce little suggestions for..”
“But we won't,” Cretala said quietly.
“Exactly,” Aridira said. “You won't. There's something much deeper here than the parlour tricks even we can pull off, and at this moment I won't invoke it (since even our hosts have missed mentioning it). But I could have turned this table to stone, or made endless copies of all of you as though each was standing between two mirrors, or something equally dramatic. I didn't because that is not the point I am making. There is something very important about today, here and now, that you must and will see before we're done. Here. I'll let go of the conversation's horns and finally ask Mr. A why he has been smirking at me all throughout.”
“Thank you for bringing it up,” he said. “It's because of how universal you've tried to be, and at the same time how human you still are. You're beginning to embrace the whole breadth of this planet, at least for this instant in time, and I'd almost suspected you'd make some important realizations. But you've been too caught up in yourself to notice the universe around you, haven't you?'
Aridira shifted uneasily. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you assume, really completely without noticing it, that the universe is such an immense fan of recursive stability. Like all the others here, you've projected your own idea of the world onto everything you see, and now you can't imagine that might not be all of it. Do you really think that principles, things – even people – will follow the 'proper' pattern of events? You've come so close to approaching the whole expanse of the world, so I want to tell you how far you still are.”
Ms. Lays looked very disturbed for a moment. Then she brightened. “Ignorant mortal I am, I guess, and ignorant mortal I will remain. I think I'll be incorrigible on this account, just to infuriate the universe. If the world doesn't want to follow what I think is the right way for it to go, I'll just make it follow me, pure and simple. And you too are a whatever, Mr. A, so you can't say you're completely without your own ways of seeing the universe. Isn't there some way you think the world should run?”
“Nothing but the way it's been running for so long, Ms. Lays,” he said. “I project nothing onto the universe. I work within in, disinterested, unattached..”
“Here at the fringes,” said Mr. A, “I couldn't possibly be anchored to anything in this world. Strange, but true.”
“Come now,” said Aridira, “ you can't tell us nothing in the wide world has any importance to you. What about family?”
“Family.” He gave her a wonderfully condescending look. ”I don't even remember who the hell they were. You'd be digging up their bones at historical sites at this point.”
“They're not really as eternal as they look. Wait a few centuries and your love of truth, liberty and justice will start looking like momentary obsessions. A few millennia and they'll look positively crude and immoral.”
“I suppose there's no point bringing up material possessions?”
Mr. A did not know what to say for a moment. Then he did. “Ms. Lays, I make spiritual existence into a possessive obsession. You won't believe how many souls I can take as my trophies at the same time.”
Cretala raised his hand. “How about interesting projects?”
Mr. A smiled a crooked sort of smile. “That's what I was waiting for. Momentarily, yes. I watch the little conflicts raging around and occasionally take sides, since even eternal entities need to entertain themselves somehow. I have one project that I've been maintaining for a good length of time, it might even reach some kind of success.”
“Well,” Periacca interrupted, “at least tell us whether you were originally human. I assume you started out at some point?”
“I don't remember too clearly, because I rarely need to, but I probably wasn't human. Good gods, are all of you this unable to relate to a sentient entity who, incidentally, wasn't born of woman? You should get out of your heads more often. I was almost joking to myself when I decided to put on such an unassuming human guise, but maybe I actually need it.”
“But our entity is good with guises, in general,” said Aradis Consiello. “Tell us about your intentions for this decade.”
“You'll see the most recent development in the paper soon. (Or not; Aradis will get news of it eventually, even if they cover it up.) You can work out exactly what effects it'll have, you're sharp enough.”
“Do you know its ramifications?” Periacca was smiling but only half-joking.
“Of course I don't. It was just the most appropriate thing to do. It followed from the means, so to speak.”
“But who are you backing?” Cretala said. “You must have some side.”
Mr. A looked very amused for a minute. “Do you know how much your outlook improves when you belong to neither side? I can back one side while hedging half my bets on the other. I can have layers of intentions, peeling which every organization might get as harmed as I do them good. There's one person here interesting enough to guess what I might do next, and that is Periacca Enscianz. But as I understand it he isn't very vocal about his observations.”
“Don't paint me quite so secretive,” said Periacca. “I don't actually hide my guesses, and they aren't accurate enough to become confidential information in the first place.”
Aridira Lays still seemed unsettled, and she said, “If you've been such an influence over the course of history, why hasn't anyone noticed you? You must have changed millions of lives over the years. You're not telling me you're perfect enough never to be detected?”
“I didn't care enough in the early days,” he said, shrugging. “In any case, pokémon don't much care if the glass falls on the wrong side of the window, and humans were just about begging to put it down to divinity. (Possibly I inspired a lot of the miracles you hear from ancient history.) You have to understand, human rationality is just one way to understand events and their correlations. When you look from an outside perspective you can tell where it works and where it can be fooled.”
“You just don't want us to understand you, do you?” Cretala said.
“You can put only part of the blame on me. It's a mistake to think of the world in terms of metaphysical intentions. Largely there are what you would call mistakes, what I consider the natural flow of physical processes. You have to let events transpire as they see fit. If you want something you have to place yourself in the eye of their storm. Trying to make a storm of your own is, usually, pointless.
"This is the trouble with kids these days! To you there are two forces in the universe, the League and Team Rocket, and everything else is insignificance. Do you have any idea where this sudden 'phenomenon' came from? Ever thought of seeing it as another means?”
He had no reply; Periacca merely began to pace.
“Fine, try a smaller thought. How much do you know of kadabra tribes?"
"Arcane hermit sort of fold, banded together just so that they can show off their abilities to someone who'll appreciate them." Cretala had never been impressed. "There's just one thing that creeps me. They can do things with their mind, no physical appendages. I realise that means they're kind of connected to reality too."
"What if one of them acquired – what's Consiello's favourite word for it – talents?"
Periacca suddenly stopped pacing, stared at Mr. A as though preoccupied with conflicting thought processes, and then widened his eyes.
"They'll know exactly what they're doing," he said.
"Very good, Mr. Enscianz," Mr A deigned to say, "I commend you for complicating your possibilities further."
At this point Periacca was distracted by a further realization. “We seemed to have forgotten to do this,” he said, walking over to Aridira Lays's side of the table and picking up the paper she had laid in front of her. He read it, and then placed it unfolded on the table before everyone's eyes. Scribbled cursive said
“Here at the fringes, I'm anchored to everything but nothing together.”
Anurek Cretala actually started clapping. Aridira scowled at them for appreciating what she'd dismissed as a magic trick. Then Aradis said, “Wait now, I'm sure Mr. A said something at least slightly different in reality.”
Mr. A stared at Aradis, kneaded his forehead, and then said wearily: “Dammit. Before I said what I said I thought the very thing she'd written on the note. But then I chose against it because it doesn't really get my point across.”
“And it doesn't mine,” said Aridira, “even if the structure wasn't so awkward. You said that at the beginning of your career only in a symbolic sense that I'm having trouble figuring out. So it sort of messes up what I really want to say, but let's not confuse the matter and the people any further.
“There's a specific reason for this repetition. I have no clue when all our paths will coincide after this. Periacca said it well: to this point we've been killing time with our little pet hobbies, evading the real world, because – let's face it – our worlds are far more interesting. I understand how it is with all of you, because I'm no different. We're all young, even Mr. A in his way, and we've barely touched the tip of what our talents will take us to, so we know we have no plans, and we've certainly never prepared for the challenges we'll have to face. Just don't assume for a moment that we're not ready.”
“We're as ready as we're going to be,” Cretala said, “and whatever about us is unfinished will have to be suspended for later.” He had not known this until just now; he discovered it as he said it.. “Everything we don't know we'll pick up as we go along; all the places we haven't been, we'll find ourselves coming to. Don't worry about maturity. It'll come, unless we hide from it.
“No, the trick, boys and girls, is to move so fast you don't have time to stumble. Momentum is key. It'll keep you together when you're breaking, it'll stretch you in ways you'd never dare yourself, it'll show you that winging it is the only way, everything else is rubbish. You'll survive and you'll win, and you'll have broken all the rules there are; and best of all you'll enjoy it.”
“And why on earth should you not enjoy it?” Aradis added with a little surprise. “To this point you have not had a single opportunity to test your principal theme. Can you go for so long without developing it, without letting your possibilities bloom as finely as any others' constantly do, so that the vast and curious scope of your abilities touches everything it possibly could? This is your masterwork, calling you to develop it. We are artists, my friends, and our medium is the vast turning universe itself. We paint with strokes of sensation, we write with words of reality, we resound with notes of emotion made into existence. There is nothing here that is not our will. You will throw yourself into the vast seething mess of the universe, you will lose the walls of your world and come directly under the urgent forces of necessity and death and survival and pain, but you will have the greatest advantage anyone in your place has known: the reality around you will be your own.
“No, you'll enjoy it at every moment, from start to finish, and with every part of you, and this is why. You chose it, it could not have been otherwise. Accident will be your intention. You'll forget this consistently, and that will be your intention. You'll be pulled under, nearly defeated, by exactly this careful choice, and that will be your intention. Let mortality bind us. Our spirits will rise from the chains.”
“You'll know it,” said Periacca, “and through it you'll know everything. What you're part of you'll be, and what you're not part of you'll understand and know, which means just as much though in a different way. Because everywhere your awareness goes, there goes your mind and the scope of your influences; and the more you see the further your understanding will take you, as the pathways of knowledge branch out and finally describe the circumference of the universe. What knowledge comes to you, if you are a receptacle fit enough, will pass through all your senses and all your being; what passes through your senses will be real within you, even if you've never physically described it before; and what is real within you, you'll become.
"Change and perpetuity. Detail and scope. Only once in history has creativity placed this delicate spark literally, without pretence, in our hands. It is the spark of infinite possibility. Mind that you do it justice.”
In the interest of keeping this a manageable size and of not taking even longer, this covers only chapter one. I have read the others here, so don't worry about spoilers if you respond right away.
Notes first. Be warned: this review embraces the essence of nitpicking. Most of the notes are about very, very trivial things, like pronouns that may or may not be ambiguous. The vast majority also came from a second reading, when I was trying hard to notice such things. I just don't want to alarm you with the volume of it, or to imply that this is a negative review, because it absolutely isn't.
On the other hand, dropping the semblance of a compound will give this sentence the same general structure as every other in the paragraph, which is enough to get redundant. Restructuring even one of those in the middle should be enough.
I have to admit, my favorite part of all this is Periacca. His character, his function in the story and as a foil to Aradis -- and their relationship! I'm rather fond of bromances, so that bit at the end was particularly nice. (In fact, he may just be my favorite, but we'll see after you finish developing the other three.)
Props for the method of exposition you used here, by the way. I know how hard it is to do, and you pulled it off with approximately one blemish, and that not even noticeable. It's daring, I think -- you didn't have to get so.. involved, I guess, with your depiction of Aradis' feelings about his talent, but you did and it worked. The transition from what seemed to be two conversations to the mess at the end of that scene may have been jarring, but that was surely your intent.
To be honest, I can't find much in general to complain about. The dialogue was at points a little stiff (more so, actually, in the final scene between Aradis and Periacca than in the one involving the Director) -- but that's arguably intentional anyway. Okay, no, there is a difference: didn't you say something about 19th century in one of your spoilers? This, I think, goes beyond cordiality:
And now I'm really behind, oh dear -- I forgot it was Sunday. Well, with school coming soon I'll have more of an excuse to get back to the later chapters and pick at them, so hopefully that won't take too long.
Review! These things revitalise me, they really do, AmusedRacoon. Take your time, because this depth of critique per chapter is really delicious, and though I could never actually ask it of you, I will appreciate it as it comes. You may always expect me to be up for some ginormously pedantic nitpicking. Though I have no idea where some of those errors came from. Which draft have I been using?
I dislike my reference to Chancellors anyway. Off with your head, sentence!
And... I'll leave it for later! (Good god. How I'm supposed to carry a proper act if I keep doing this, I don't know.)
Aradis keeps eating spaces because -- you remember what I said about his name being different in the first draft? I actually used Find & Replace to change his name for the rough version, but misplaced a space. I've been picking up this kind of typo continuously ever since.
On Periacca: I put a little more in him than really any of the other characters, quite by accident. Me being a freak, the ideas of the scholar gaining real power and the child disdaining the conventions of an unimportant world and so forth do appeal to me. However, I've seen and used these character types enough that they aren't pure to me; one aspect of Periacca is. I'll describe my ideas of the receptacle to you in a place where it wouldn't be rampantly OT, if you like.
I had intent for the jarring transition: I believe the association my mind made was that it could be compared to the falling sensation you get on the edge of sleep, at which point you suddenly jerk awake and all is in disarray.
I worked out that 'essayed' word, though I'm aware it's the tip of an iceberg of bad dialogue. Tomorrow for that. It's midnight here.
Chapter 5: You're never a blank slate at birth.
The boy seemed clean of everything when he arrived. He was not entirely a child, but he seemed young and did not remember how old he was. He would not talk of where he had come from, or what had become of him before he was found. Beneath his trainer's clothes and the full belt of pokéballs he wore silk, carefully kept without wrinkles or soil, even though he had apparently travelled a long distance. Strangest of all he had no name.
“You don't remember your name?” they had asked.
“I have no name,” he had said again, and left it at that.
In one hand he held a ripped piece of paper, taken it seemed from a brittle book of verse. It was an old print of a famous but difficult myth cycle, the point at which mortal Man travelled to the pokémons' realms to talk with the origin creature. The only lines legible were a common piece of human-pokémon canon: “And Manne aſked the Original One how all things could be in His will, and the Original One ſpake: 'I am at the centre, mortal. Here all of Exiſtence and Void are anchored to me.'”
It was strange that they took care of him so readily, almost without thinking. He was not an overly sensitive boy, and though he came to be understood and even loved to some degree, he had not the softness of heart they had showed in taking him. He was a boy, however. This could be forgiven.
What isolated him from the others was that he could do things even pokémon could not. He did this rarely and often for the cause of the village, and survival was more important to them than contemplating his strangeness. He was thus almost always on speaking terms with most of the village, but there were moments in which he would turn, at once, haughty and disdainful. He never learned since his arrival who or what he was. Nevertheless, sometimes he would sense all of a sudden that there were greater works he was made for. In those moments he would talk of difficult things, incomprehensible things, that put the unassuming villagers out of their ease.
It was the belt that was strangest. It had been enclosed in a flexible horn case, the way old trainers used to keep their prized party after their journeys concluded. It became very apparent that the pokémon were not his own. Some guessed that it had been handed down to him from some older place or trainer, but he would say nothing about it. He would not in fact let anyone touch it, and he slept at night with the belt clutched in his hands.
There were many travellers who passed Oldale on their way to larger cities, and the boy often found opportunity to battle. People from a long way around seemed to remember, as he made himself more apparent, that there was a trainer here who did not merely coordinate his pokémon but actually, along with his team, ordered the world around him to ensure the outcome he chose. Trainers think first of the glory they would gain if they defeated him.
It was somewhere in January (before it would be warm enough for the lotad to seed) that they passed through. They made a larger party than Oldale was used to, and had come from much farther than Petalburg, on their way to cross over to Mauville by the sea route. They said they were wandering trainers, but they wore strange clothes unlike a trainer that did not belong to Hoenn, and they moved with very distinct purpose. There were travellers of all kinds: experienced men and women with deliberations and obligations that could not be understood, as well as near-children who seemed as though they had been cast adrift long ago.
The boy was not friendly but he showed interest when they appeared. They said they would impose on the village's hospitality for no more than two days before they moved on again. It did not take long for the boy (unmindful of the others' wariness) to intrude into their camp.
They paused all of them, battles disregarded, to watch the newcomer. The forest close by betrayed no sound at all, and the sky watched the grass-matted ground without a breath of wind. No one from the village had tried to talk to them any further than business could be conducted. They looked at him not as though they mistrusted him, but simply disbelieving his existence in their world.
Finally one of the older children said, “We heard of the boy who can make his enemies win his battles for him.”
The boy nodded. He said, “I heard of the Pokémon League and hidden machines and effort points, things I didn't all understand.”
They said – only one of them and yet no one in particular – “You won't find the League Regulations or proper modes here. But you will find real battle. Show your party.”
He released three of his stronger members. One of the trainers walked up to the bagon, the kirlia and the snorunt in turn to examine them closely.
The hardness of the bagon's rock covering, the shape of the ralts's extrasensory horns, and the snorunt's ability to insulate her cold (her hide felt warmer when she could sustain coldness for long), were all things the boy had learned to gauge how he had trained them. But there were subtler signs that the older trainer picked up: they made perfect sense to him, but he had not conceived of them until now. They were all so much more experienced than him.
“Your bagon's surprisingly well balanced,” she finally said. “I could safely battle with him now even though his species only picks up force when it evolves. Your ralts is far enough on the oversensitive side, which is typical for a trainer like you, but worst of all he can't deal with what he senses the way his level of maturity should be able to.”
“Y-you couldn't have guessed that.”
She gave him a look that said: I won't bother replying to that. “Your snorunt is actually runty, which is a fault no matter what the pokémon. And you have three other pokémon that you haven't shown to me at all, so they must be worse trained. You're just like the village kids we get when too many pokéballs are bequeathed to the wrong people. “
He said, almost too quickly, “How do you know that until you battle me?”
“I was wondering when you'd say that.” She called a pokémon in the same breath the boy withdrew his two.
His instincts had served him well. A small, delicate looking roselia faced his snorunt.
“Stun Spore,” said the older trainer without further thought. He reacted almost before she had finished the command: “Icy Wind.”
Briefly the thorn pokémon's flowers opened a very little, but the stamens inside were completely obscured by the wave of golden dust that flew out of them. A cloud of the spores began to stream out from its body, slow and treacherous...
Then the spores scattered. Wind, invisible but deadly cold, broke the cloud against the roselia. The trainer couldn't know if the stun spores had had any effect on his opponent, but it looked at least slightly frosted.
The roselia followed with a Growth, as the boy repeated his Icy Wind. It was the strongest ice type move she knew. The petals on roselia's flowers fluttered weakly, overstimulated by the wind but exhausted of dust..
The snorunt forced the wind again; it gusted once more; it gusted a fourth time. It was a more resilient creature than the boy had guessed at first; it kept growing through two gusts of the wind, and only then did it uproot itself from the ground it stood on. By this time its petals were beginning to wilt visibly.
“Leer,” the boy said cautiously: he was not certain how much more the roselia could take, and he could not plan his attacks until he worked this out. “Leech seed” was the reply. It took only two seconds for his snorunt to find a glare that threw off the roselia properly; the older trainer was impressed. The roselia had already latched itself on to her, but this did not trouble her trainer. It was being damaged faster than it could repair, even with the leech seed's aid.
It was not a lengthy affair. The boy had become convinced the next move would faint the pokémon, and the roselia had nearly whittled the snorunt's strength to nothing.
The moment forced it, and the younger trainer could not but comply: he said with a little force: “Bite!” and the snorunt lunged at exactly the moment she said “Poison Sting!”
The roselia raised its flowers and bared their stamens – then stopped. The next moment the snorunt barrelled into it. The older trainer held up a hand. “Okay, stop,” she said.
There was a pause, at the end of which someone said, “It's been five years since I saw a more boring battle.”
Silence returned. The two battlers were glaring at each other so hard that the pokémon shuffled out of view.
“I definitely intended the Stun Spore,” the older trainer said.
“You definitely intended everything you did, and I know how that sounds,” the boy replied. “But you still accidentally pushed the flowers further than they could go.”
“I didn't intend the moisture in the soil becoming suddenly deficient in any nutrient the flowers could use,” she said, glaring. “That must be cheating, if there are even rules to your game.”
“Let's just say I didn't know if the ground could support roselia flowers,” he said, grinning, “so I didn't factor that into the equation.”
“What are you? The Stun Spore strained the flowers more than it usually would have because of the repeated use of wind, which of course forces a roselia to pollinate like anything. The Growth pushed nutrients in Roselia's extremities, especially the flowers, into forcing the body to grow, but it should have absorbed some nutrients to compensate. There might have been other factors I didn't notice. The point was that roselia could no longer use her flowers to deliver her finishing poison sting, right?”
“That's it,” he said, “and I'm surprised you noticed anything more than my good luck.”
“The fact that half your master plan relied on me doing something I felt like doing, and part of it actually disregarded basic geography, was a good indicator.”
“How much can you say on that alone?” reasoned the boy. “You don't see in ways I do.”
She smiled, not with pleasure. “There are other things I look out for. I'm not quite so different from you, though you'll take a while to develop actual style at battling along with what you do over it. You certainly haven't noticed much. Remember how badly you abused Icy Wind?”
“I got flustered,” he said. “But I've met many strangers, and I – “ he looked around “ – don't.”
“You do a little, though,” she persisted. “Every time you meet someone more experienced than you. For now you can assume I egged that feeling on within you, and that this is what I can do, just as I've assumed for now that you can fit events into a scheme that lets you win no matter what.”
“Well, all right,” he said. “But it's so rare that I see someone with actual power. It seems a little anticlimactic if the only thing I get is a pokémon battle I could have done when I was five.”
“You don't really belong here, do you.” She looked at him with just a little pity. “There's an advantage to that, though.”
“Come with us,” said another of the strange new faces. “You'll see much more than what passes between Petalburg and Littleroot in a day, and no one will miss you.”
As the boy looked closer, he realized it was one of the older officers who had come into the gathering unobserved through the dark. But he, too, lacked a name and a place where he had come from, and he too seemed to know there was somewhere he was meant to go.
“At least tell me who you are,” the boy said, almost unwilling to say yes.
“We're... people who believe a lot more could be done with the world than a comfortable niche. We are those who set out to conquer, not just to settle. We dare to believe that the world might exist for our glory. We do not fear restriction or consequence, even though we understand it far better than those who oppose us. We...”
“We extend our reach to the stars above,” the girl said, without ornament of oration.
The boy looked up and (now almost unconscious of the people around him) said, “Take me with you.”
It awakened and could sense nothing at all.
It noticed that it understood the concept of sense. It concluded it was meant to sense. Then... its senses had been blocked, somehow? It must have been physical circumstance; then there was nothing it could do yet. It noticed that it had analysed its own thoughts. Therefore, it was recursively intelligent.
It noticed it was in a moment, and concluded that this was a present. It attempted to reach out into its psychic vicinity, and found void; and one single shape in the void. The shape was strange and new but it meant almost nothing to the being; idly the being defined it as the means, the passing of processes. There was a word to that concept. It did not care to retrieve it.
It entirely failed to notice as the sum total of all life of an entire planet, past, present and future, shifted uneasily into a new form.
It attempted to reach out into the future. This was beyond it, so it attempted to reach out into the past, curious and calm and unbraced for what it could find.
Experiences flashed, only flashed, and left white-hot streaks in its mind. Floating in measureless time. Some sort of alien fluid. A blue sea... brilliant blue skies. Escape. Red lights and panic and rage. Then the memory of the images started to fade.
The emotions it had felt were, once again, surgically isolated from it. It had not understood them then and did not try now. But it felt slightly imbalanced, as though there was something within it that its abilities could not entirely come to terms with. It had not remembered feeling this way for a long time.
It brought up the brief images of memory that had recently breathed and pulsated before it. Blue skies... joy. Immeasurable joy. Joy from which the spring ran, joy from which even the poison flowed, joy that knew, as it ordained everything that passed, that it would be restored again when the intervening pain died out.
It moved on from this (even though it had not understood this joy), cautiously walking forward into some tentative discovery. It could not be calm now; the emotion lingered in it and turned strange shades. There was a progression here. A proper series of events, a flow which they outlined. It could not understand the events, it could not remember them, but it understood the progression. It walked along, passing through moments that could have been aeons, and then paused.
A break in the progression. Red lights, panic, rage! Rage at something wrong, rage at something that never should have happened, rage at what was slipping from the understanding even as the rage beat it bloody trying to revive it!
Rage, fading. Forgetfulness wipes all ancient grudges clean.
In its womb it had seen black, and the cool calm of abysses.
It had been taken out, and the fluid had turned blue. They'd ripped it out, and the fluid had turned red even as it drained from the broken glass.
It had escaped out, and it found black again. And the cool of the abyss: water underground.
Yet even as it returned to slumber, it slept but fitfully. Something had been changed. Something distressed it to the core. Something needed attending to. Something had passed all its comprehension, all its careful planning and its ordinance of the world; something had broken the law of what it had almost believed was infallible.
Something had been changed. He would think of it when he awakened.
Hoenn Champion Steven Stone passed over all the warm, earnest faces assembled at the council to see if he could guess whether the hidden motives they'd taken with them this time were indeed the real set. He was getting tired of the layers of masks they had slowly been peeling off ever since the Other Human Classes Board was appointed.
“Mr. Attra,” he said to his Chief Advisor, “I would find it very helpful if you could brief the results of the OHC referendum.”
The Chief Advisor glanced at him with a look that was, for an office such as his, piercingly lethal. Steven seemed not to notice it. He had also failed to notice, entirely by accident of course, that it was the task of the Advisor's secretary to mind files and announce details and such meniality.
Then he said, at a brisk rote-learned clip, “The Other Human Classes Referendum was polled two days ago and the principal decision, viz. 'Is the current policy regarding Other Human Classes sustainable?' was discovered to be No by a clear majority.”
“I'm surprised the voters managed to make anything solid out of it,” Cretala murmured to Periacca. “Most governments would ask something boring and technical like 'Will the OHC Board be continued?' Trust the League under Attra's rule to ask a philosophical question that doesn't bind the legislative to actually change or discontinue anything.”
Cretala had Periacca slipped without much incident into this general address, and they sat in a few extra chairs at the back of the long room, watching the table laid across its length. The results of the referendum, among other developments, would be announced to heads of state and major officials – and yes, to the smattering of reporters leaning from the back. Then there would be a more private discussion. The major powers of the League kept the pretence of an informal talk among themselves, not hardly important enough to involve more of the civil servants. This was amusing.
There were technicians: scientists, an Officer Jenny, a few of the leaders of Lance's personal corps. The elite fours of Kanto, Sinnoh and Hoenn carefully watched their champions from their seats at the table. (There was one exception. Cretala couldn't quite get over the fact that Lucian had brought an ancient book of verse to the table and seemed not to be paying attention.) They were uneasy of the fact that all three champions were sitting at the head. The three couldn't be trusted to get along this well unless they had something in mind the elite fours had not been informed of.
As a result, and also because all of them had been watching the results of the referendum like hawks much before this, the number of people paying close attention to the chief secretary-turned-clerk was a whopping one. Steven Stone would never admit he had been out of his office while the memo about the detailed polling had arrived, just because he'd been roaming the rich, rocky caves of Dewford..
“In addition,” Mr. Attra continued, “six global and a total of sixty-three local questions had been asked in the pertinent regions. The global questions were as follows.
“The local questions are as follows,” insisted Mr. Attra almost out of spite. He opened his mouth but Steven reacted quickly.
“Thank you, Mr. Attra, that should serve the purposes of this conference.” He raised a blank paper to read from. “I hereby pronounce the official statement to all the authorities of the concerned regions.”
“The Board for the Coordination of Other Human Classes, and the appointment of the Grand Inquisitor – oh no, pardon me, I meant Grand Incorporator – and all subordinate positions, are dissolved. No substitute board will be appointed.” Periacca glanced into the notepad of one of the reporters standing next to him and caught the woman failing to omit the 'mistake' about the Grand Inquisitor. It was too good to leave out.
“Good. Let's move on, shall we?”
Steven looked at his watch calmly and said, “Incidentally, I believe the press hour is over.” He stared pointedly at the audience as some of the stowaway reporters filed out of the room.
“Wait just a moment more.” Elite Four Lucian did not take his eyes off his book (it was an old printing of ancient South American legends), and as though reading from it he said, “We have an academic announcement to make. It has no real worldly significance, I am sure, but it should interest all of you.”
He looked up. “Project Cerulean, despite the unfortunate setback resulting from the assassination of Dr. Celotarey Entrassa, will be continued by a research team appointed and set up by myself (with the careful supervision of Champion Cynthia). It has profound significance for the role of mankind in the natural world, and I am honoured to be at the forefront. We have finally succumbed to your demands, and will reveal that the project was begun when the late Dr. Entrassa noticed and began to study extremely powerful psychic emanations from Cerulean Cave, which were sufficient to affect the power levels of local pokémon. We have found that this indicates a new pokémon, observed but not as yet interacted with, who is believed to be one of a kind and therefore fundamentally important to the region. We will not reveal any further information, as it has not been revealed to us in the first place. I am sure you can wait until our team is despatched and has a chance to get some results.”
“There's a good bit they've almost revealed, though,” Cretala whispered. “The pokémon is a very powerful psychic legendary, obviously. And if Cynthia's coming along it's ancient, it must have roots in mythology.”
Lucian stopped speaking and was once again buried in his book. The reporters nervously shuffled out.
Officer Jenny now recognized herself as the head of the Cerulean division. She said very seriously, “The Entrassa murder has been confirmed, sir. Offending communications between the murdered and Team Rocket have been found, in their trademark encryptions. None of us had expected they'd be this violent, sir, or we would've been more cautious. May I say something?”
Steven looked amused. “Officer, the point of coming to this conference is to say things.”
“The motive is obvious. If we don't react soon, they will seize the territory north of Cerulean and cut us off from the cave. I've already asked for armed reinforcement of the area, but if you agree we have to do it as soon as – ”
Lucian held up a hand. “Your point is important, and it has been considered. Consider the matter rested.”
She seemed as though she wanted to reply to this, but sat down (agitated) instead.
“Why so unconcerned; what do they know?” Periacca mused. “Team Rocket won't be able to control Project Cerulean? Well, of course it won't, but don't they want to encounter the pokémon before anyone else lays their hands on it?”
Elite Four Phoebe had become restive. “But why go so far just for a conflict of interests? You don't kill to push people off the projects you're interested in. I can't swallow the motives the press has given for the assassination.”
“Some people have so much vice in them,” Drake said, “that they kill for greed or jealousy. Maybe you hold the value of human life higher than they do.”
“Phoebe knows perfectly what life and death mean, you old fool,” Agatha snapped, while Lance laughed quietly, “even to the people of Team Rocket. Try training on a whole region's graveyard for fifteen years and you'll see. No, getting a scientist's pale little intentions out of their way wasn't just why Team Rocket killed. Officer, tell us about the last bit of your report.”
“There were... communications between Entrassa and Team Rocket for the course of the Project. They lead to a number of secret meetings between him and apparently a representative in which he... negotiates with the organization. It's shameful and I've said nothing to the press. Basically the team was asking him to advance on the pokémon more aggressively in a few ways, in return for the results of a few of their genetic experiments. In the last negotiation they asked him to actually capture the pokémon using technology of their own, and he refused.”
Phoebe was frowning intensely. “So the pokémon may already have been disturbed? Either way, Entrassa wasn't everything he was cracked up to be. It still sounds strange... the man was assassinated because he made the wrong deal with the wrong people? It's like a movie explanation. We'd be glad to accept it, but...” She trailed off.
“It sounds pretty hard to frame, to me,” said Sydney. “Let me talk about something more immediate. I don't like this Anurek Cretala bloke.” He scowled as Cretala waved cheerily at him from the back. “How did he get so much power so fast?”
“So much power?” Cretala said out loud. “I'm Chief Minister of Finances in a government that has no ministries.”
“It's called parliament,” Periacca murmured to him.
Cretala looked at him, genuinely surprised. He mumbled back, “Let's pretend I didn't say that.”
“How very innocuous of you, Mr. Cretala,” Cynthia said with a smirk.
“And everyone knows he's an OH,” said Sydney.
“We've decided several times,” said Steven, “that he only uses his prescience, not his active abilities, in government matters. There's no proof that he's manipulated a statistic or affected League decisions. If OHs feel like using their abilities to become more useful statesmen, you can hardly blame them.
“So far he's proven to be a lucid and enlightening representative of the OH community. Why did he abstain from discussing this meeting, anyway? It's very significant.”
“Everyone is handling the decisions so well, there's hardly any need for me,” Cretala said, but not very loudly.
“Sydney has a point, though,” said Phoebe. “At the moment he seems to have complete indirect control over the oth – the whatevers' party, most of the executive ministers, and almost all whatever representatives in the government. You don't hoard that power unless you plan to use it, and you only stall in using it if you're trying to hide it.”
“That girl will be the end of us all one of these days,” Cretala muttered, Periacca giving an ironic smile. “Those meddling kids!”
“Well, all right,” said Lance, “we might as well restrict him from the K – to the Hoenn region only. Happy?”
Phoebe stared intently at Lance for a moment and then said, tentatively, “All right.”
“I'll follow that with my monthly request, plea, demand, whatever it has to be,” said Lorelei, “to do anything at all with the Bureau for Relations with Non-League Organisations. Anything. Whatever you like, it can't get much worse. Accidentally botching its chain of command will probably count as an improvement.”
“Come now, dear,” said Bertha, “is it really that bad? It has made some of the safest interactions with Team Rocket in the past century. We are not a government who reacts too far to a more misguided organization's aggression.”
“But when I was at sea,” said Drake, “and a warship attacked, we didn't stand there apologizing for getting in its way. There is something like honour in these interactions, too.”
“There's something like a sane threshold of accepted offence,” said Lorelei. “The Nugget Bridge possession, the whole Saffron City fiasco, the red gyarados, the fact there's a criminal organization out there at all: we might as well ignore Team Rocket's existence and the regions wouldn't be much less protected.”
“Even the Hoenn peacekeepers are having encounters with Team Rocket,” Jenny added. “After both Team Aqua and Team Magma disbanded, there's a prime vacant spot for them to take over. Are you going to keep us from doing anything?”
“They go wild when you retaliate, though,” said one of her subordinates. “It's as though the biggest offence you could do to them is try to act like they've done something wrong. I seriously think returning their fire might cause more casualties than now.”
“Well, we're not going to keep being scared into silence,” said the chief officer.
“Very well, very well,” said Lance. “I've been holding this off for a long time, but I suppose there's no helping it. I have the plans for a new commission under my direct management that should take a more... persuasive stance against the Rockets.”
“They really don't scare easily,” said Officer Jenny.
“I know a few strings I can pull,” said Lance. The room seemed to remember all of a sudden the single-handed reason that Rocket operatives no longer so much as approached Vermillion.
“First order of business,” he murmured as though to himself, “sending a corps of dragon trainers to restrict all movements in and out of the Saffron centre. I bet they'd remember me if they thought of mustering armed force from headquarters.”
“Right,” said Lorelei finally. “Enough with the hedging.”
“You were either itching to finally start up this commission,” said Phoebe, “or you weren't intending it at all. Why the sudden decision? You've acted on something.”
“I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about,” said Steven, but then he noticed he was not supposed to be part of this conversation at all, and quickly shut up.
“I thought so,” said Cretala. “All the Champions are brewing something together, but now they won't make a breath that might give a clue to what.” Periacca wasn't talking any more.
“Anyway,” said Steven, “besides what you're intending to squirrel out of us anyway, is there anything more to discuss about the current topic? We'll have many more conferences in future, and on specific issues, so this isn't the final say. Any more points to be raised?”
After a very slight interval of time, Steven gave a tight smile and said, “Good. Conference dismissed.”
Cretala swore for weeks afterwards that the Champions had winked at each other as the bustle of people endeavouring to leave made it less conspicuous. “I have no idea at all what they're intending to achieve,” he said, “but they've just about done it. We have to hope it wasn't anything particularly nasty.
“Oh, look here,” he said as both gentlemen stood up. “You say you can sense it when someone uses their whatever abilities. (I never got the trick myself.) Who was pulling the invisible strings this time?”
“Astonishingly,” Periacca said, “no one. People can manipulate easily enough by themselves for reality bending to be unnecessary.”