Today you are Jade Winstead, and you are no one. You have no family or friends, and your fingerprints are the fingerprints of a dead child. Your face is modeled after one of your favorite television characters, and more than once someone has stopped you in the street, mistaking you for her. This is more attention than you would like, but your attempts at building a face from scratch were worse.
This morning you are at one of your favorite paper-reading spots, by the window of the Fuchsia pokémon center with a cup of center coffee close to hand. It's terrible coffee, bitter as sin and almost slimy-tasting, but it's an important part of the scene.
The scene is very important. It also includes Togetic, who sits on the table just beyond reach, humming stickily to herself as she devours a melty lemon slush-on-a-stick from one of the street vendors outside. It will take her a few more minutes to finish it and longer still to clean the yellow residue from her face and feathers, so you consider her well-occupied for the near future. And the most important part of the scene is the newspaper spread open in front of you.
You're about halfway done reading it now, and your mind is starting to wander. You've already checked all the good bits—the funnies, the training section, and, of course, the obituaries. At this point you've even choked down most of the boring stuff—the news news, about people who do things other than train pokémon, some of whom are even foreigners, as though you have any reason to care about them.
Absol is very insistent that you read the whole paper, yes, the whole thing, regularly. It is important, she says, to understand what is going on in the world around you. You never know what you're going to find out if you keep your eyes open. You'd pointed out that she didn't read the paper. “Pokémon and humans have different ways of learning things,” she'd said, not even batting an eye. “I know what I need to know.” You had pointed out that you were just as much pokémon as you were human. “Yes. So you need to do both.” What exactly she'd meant by that, she couldn't explain.
Whatever her way of learning things is, you bet it's a whole lot more fun than newspapers. But at least your newspapers have ads, so it's not all bad.
So this is your scene: you have your coffee and your pokémon, your newspaper and your name, and you have the sunlight, too, pouring in through the center's tall front windows. You imagine it like you're a character in a movie, a real adult human, living her life. It's a normal life, just like the ones you've seen on television. And if you just turn your head a little, look out the window beside you, you can watch a parade of other normal humans going past on the street outside.
That's part of what draws you to the center and your other haunts. You're out in the public eye, when you could more safely take the news in at your house or some other secluded place. But there's some kind of herd instinct buried down deep in your body, and you like to be out here, where you can see and be seen by humans. You aren't one of them anymore, and you can't really belong to their little circle of being, but you can sit at its edge and watch, and to some extent, pretend.
You watch the adults, striding along on personal errands, ferrying children through the crowd, sitting outside a cafe for lunch—is that what you should be like now, settling into a life under your own power, caring about all those names in the newspaper, talking about money and jobs and sex the way they do on television? You watch the children—is that how you were, once, looking around with eyes joyful at the sight of ice cream vendors, the colorful tableau of the beach? Would you have been clutching a parental hand or running with a gaggle of young ruffians, loud and rude and thoroughly enjoying your age?
You wonder. This is what you come to Fuchsia to do: read the paper; enjoy the tropical weather; and consider what might have been. That's enough for you. Sometimes the city gives you something more, though. Sometimes it offers you a surprise.
The doors to the center slide open and two men you recognize walk through. One is short, dumpy, tanned; the other tall but stooped, pale and sunken and uncomfortable in his rumpled suit. Behind the pair a porygon-Z drifts, its limbs and head in constant, subtle motion, never all pointing in the same direction. These are Officer Feldhorn, chief of the Fuchsia City police, and Leonard Kerrigan, systems administrator of the Kanto Pokémon League network.
They approach the desk, Leonard setting a slender laptop on the counter, discussing something with the nurse. Officer Feldhorn isn't paying much attention, his eyes wandering over the room while he sips from the thermos that accompanies him everywhere.
A sharp rap on the table in front of you summons Duskull. He drifts up out of the wood, just enough so that his red eye can glow out at you, and you nod towards the desk. The red light swivels to look, and Duskull gurgles quietly in acknowledgement, then sinks back out of view, off to spy on Leonard. This isn't likely to gain you much, as Duskull finds human conversations dull and full of things he doesn't understand, so his reporting often leaves something to be desired. You'll take what you can get.
Even with your less-than-reliable spy, you've managed to compile quite a bit about Leonard. He's a special case, a person you care about, even though he is not in your little collection of souls. You've done your research, over the years, and grown to know him better than any other human, though you've never exactly been introduced. Above all, though, you know one thing.
Leonard has a calling. He wasn't expecting it. He hadn't been expecting the job, either, back when he was a grubby, arrogant teenager and they'd given him the choice: prison until he was old enough to be worrying about his prostate, or a second chance defending the borders he'd spent most of his adolescence attacking. “Take it, kid,” they'd said. “It's the best offer you're going to get, and who knows? Maybe you'll even manage to make something of yourself.” They'd said he'd be watching over all the trainers in the league, and their pokémon, too, just another member of the bureaucracy. They hadn't said he would be a grave keeper.
Leonard has a calling, and it's one he neither asked for nor wanted. Once, he had a job, and that was fine. It was a good job, frustrating at times, but interesting enough. He still has the job, but only because without it, he can't have the calling. What joy there was in it has been forgotten. Once, he had a family, a wife and a son. Now he has neither, though one was given up and one was taken away. Once, he had friends. Now he only has people who look on him with pity and whose phone calls he ignores. Soon, he will not have these either. But even then, he will still have his calling.
The great digital brain of the League records everything, from the first step each trainer takes after receiving their license to the origin and life history of every pokémon passing through their hands. Leonard stands at the nerve center, watching the data flow in from all the league's sensory organs, the pokédexes that every trainer must carry to be considered legal. The pokédex observes everything, records everything, surely knows more than the trainer herself about everything that has happened on her journey: every item purchased; every trainer battled, and the outcome of that battle; every visit to a pokémon center. It is Leonard's job to guard the ever-widening river of information, to see that it flows freely in the wires, to make sure that the grand architecture of the system is never undermined.
It is his job, too, to be the caretaker of all the league's lost souls, the children and adults who perished while pursuing their dreams. Once, he didn't think much of them. But then, one day, something happened. His son became one of the ghosts. And then, his son refused to stay dead. And then Leonard found he had a calling.
It had been a mistake. You were so young, then, so careless; you had no idea what you were doing. Certainly you had no idea who Leonard Kerrigan was, or why he should matter to you at all. But you'd screwed up, and now he's on to you, in his hopeless, blundering way. You don't really know what he thinks is going on, since he never speaks of it to the public, and you can glean little information from these infrequent sightings. All you know is that he can't possibly be right or, well, you would have been found out already.
For Leonard has a calling, and that calling is to find you. He will discover what happened to his son and, you have no doubt, he will make those responsible pay. He is no small man in Kanto, Leonard Kerrigan, not even after his fall from grace. And he is your enemy.
You watch him now, see the slump in his shoulders, the shuffle in his walk as he leaves the desk and selects one of the center PC's, the one you'd used earlier, when you were Nicholas Garret. You see the gray in his hair and the lines on his face. He's growing old, is Leonard Kerrigan. He's collapsing in on himself like an old piece of fruit rotting from the inside, and you revel in every moment of his demise. What would he do, if he knew the one he was chasing was sitting not fifty feet away, watching his every move?
“Hello there, Jade! Returning to the scene of the crime, are we?”
You start at the sound of the voice, tearing your eyes off Leonard and only just remembering not to bare your teeth. “No, Officer Feldhorn. I did not know there was a crime.”
“Just a figure of speech,” the man says cheerfully, and you glower inwardly over the misunderstanding. “Seems we're always running into each other when I'm checking out something at the Center.”
Now that the initial surprise has worn off, you aren't worried. Television has taught you that there are two kinds of cops in the world: the hard-bitten, driven servants of justice who will stop at nothing to put criminals behind bars, and those whose greatest exertions are in pursuit of donuts. There is no doubt in your mind which camp Officer Feldhorn falls into. Under the sharp bitterness of the coffee in his thermos, you can smell custard and powdered sugar about his person. “It's a small world,” you hazard.
“That it is,” he says, and you relax; a successful deflection. Perhaps this conversation isn't going to be a total loss after all. “How's life with you, then? I see your togetic's doing well.”
Togetic chirps assent, then goes back to grooming herself. The popsicle stick lies abandoned on the table in front of her. “It's going well. Nothing new.” Pause. “What about you?”
“Well, Fuchsia is Fuchsia, you know. It's pretty quiet. Last week some kids tried to break into the Safari Zone and bag themselves a few dratini, but that's about it.”
“Well. That's good. What brings you here today, then? You've brought that man with you again, whatever his name was.” You revel in your own cunning and subtlety.
Officer Feldhorn turns to look back at Leonard, who is going through his ritual at the computer station: a few mysterious incantations on the keyboard, then plug a cable from his laptop into the computer. Keys, keys, keys, then out with the cable, pack everything away. You know he has underlings that could be doing this for him; you know he can probably retrieve everything he wants remotely. But, alas, he has a calling. He has to be sure. He has to be here, to do it himself.
Duskull is there somewhere, hiding in the drooping plant on the center counter or haunting a ceiling light, out of sight of the porygon but able to get a look at what Leonard is doing. It won't do much good, since Duskull can't read, and all attempts at getting him to remember and recite the order of keys punched into the keypad have failed. He'll pick up whatever information he can, though. You never know what you might learn.
“Oh, yes.” Officer Feldhorn frowns, which makes him look like a morose granbull; it’s all you can do not to laugh. “It's the same old story. Glitches in the computer system, Leo over there getting all worked up about them and insisting we go off on some wild goose chase after the undead—you haven't seen the dead walking recently, have you?”
“I've seen a couple of ghost pokémon.”
“Is that so? Well, you'd better keep an eye on them for me, then.” Leonard has left the computer and is standing in the middle of the lobby, looking pointedly over at the two of you. Officer Feldhorn half turns and catches sight of him, grimaces. “Ah, but it looks like I'm about to be called away. Good to see you, Jade,” he says.
“Later,” you say, unable to resist showing off a little of your hip slang. You watch him go over and meet Leonard, the brief conversation—one man relaxed and jocular, the other tight as piano-wire, all indignation and irritation over not being taken seriously. They leave the center as they came in, and you can't help grinning to yourself as the center door slides shut behind them.
You like Officer Feldhorn. He has always been friendly to you, and you enjoy having someone human to talk to. It's good practice, talking with someone like him, someone harmless. Whenever you slip up, it doesn't really matter. You don't slip up so much anymore, though. These days, you consider yourself a downright sterling conversationalist.
Duskull returns and whispers what he's learned; there was some talk of a computer upgrade, replacing the old PC stations. No real news, then. Still no progress learning Leonard's login information, either, and you can tell by the tone of Duskull's voice that he wasn't really trying, either. You let it go. You're feeling too cheerful to let a little thing like that spoil your mood.
Things are coming to a head now. There's only two of them left, and Leonard has one. Once you've found the other, Absol cannot object to your confronting him directly. She even said it: wait, and if it has not come back to you by the time you find the others, then you must do what you must do. You look forward to it. For there is no one and nothing that can stand between you and the mission, especially not when its name is only Leonard Kerrigan. He's been a thorn in your side for too long; it will be a pleasure to finally remove him entirely.
You take a sip of your coffee, and your smug grin turns to a grimace. If it it's bad hot, it's unspeakable cold. Across the table from you, Togetic giggles at your expression. She's nearly done cleaning herself up. You glance out the window, past the rows of houses and down the slope of the hill to the beach. The waves sparkle invitingly in the sunlight. You look down at your unfinished paper, then back out at the surf and sand.
Why not? Absol will never know. Today is a good day. Everything is going right. What better time to celebrate?
Jade Winstead leaves the Fuchsia Town pokémon Center, her togetic following, a duskull ghosting along in the shadows behind. She weaves through the crowd and turns off onto a little side-street, disappears into a shadowy alley. She doesn't come out.