Hey everyone, welcome back! For those that missed it, I've added Red's Goal Factoring sheet to my site, if you want to check out a (realistically sloppy) example of one of the ways goal factoring can look. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask!
Next month I'm headed to London to teach a few classes at the European Summer Program in Rationality, which is very exciting. It's also very time consuming, as I'm leaving on August 14th and my return flight is on September 1st. As a result, be prepared for the next chapter to be published either a little earlier than usual if I manage to get it done ahead of schedule, or a little later if I manage to spend my whole birthday unconscious or in the air.
Hope you enjoy the chapter, and all feedback welcome as usual! Also quick shout out to /u/MarsFilms, who has continued to make audio episodes of the story on Soundcloud!
Chapter 46: Interlude VII - Connections
Laura's return trip to Celadon is quick and pleasant. After saying goodnight to Daisy and watching her fly away from the rooftop of her building, Laura takes a moment to look out over the city's night life. It's only been a couple months since she moved to Celadon, but she already feels right at home again. She knows she'll eventually miss the peace and neighborly atmosphere of Pallet Town, but for now it's nice to be back where every day something new and exciting happens, for those with the interest to hunt it down and interview it.
It isn't until she makes her way down toward her apartment that her mind drifts back to her conversation with Red, and a chord of guilt, anger, and sadness twists through her.
I was unfair to him.
He shouldn't have lied to me.
I should have raised him better.
Tom would have known what to say…
Her mood continues to darken until she reaches her front door and finds a sheet of paper folded and taped to it. Grateful for the distraction, she removes it and reads:
Laura stares, ice water trickling down her spine, then spins around, expecting a masked man with dark gloves to reach for her—
Nothing. She frantically looks around the hallway, heart hammering, then reads the note again.
Some prank or joke? Maybe a viral marketing campaign. She checks the other doors for notes taped to them, but sees nothing. They might have already removed theirs...
Laura weighs how silly she would feel calling the police for nothing against her vested interest in her personal safety, and compromises with knocking on a neighbor's door.
"Hi! Sorry to bother you, but I got this note on my door," Laura says, flashing it at the curious man. "You wouldn't have happened to get one too, would you?"
His look of bafflement is answer enough, even before he says no. "Want me to check out your apartment with you?" he asks.
"Oh, no, I'm sure it's nothing." And she doesn't want to get him killed if it is. "But would you mind calling the police if I don't come back and knock again in like, two minutes?"
He smiles uncertainly. "You got it."
"Thanks so much." She goes to her door and, in full view of the man still standing at his doorway, unlocks it and slooowly pushes it open.
Nothing jumps out at her. She turns the light on, then pokes her head inside and looks around. Everything seems fine. She exchanges a nervous smile with the man, then goes in and does a thorough search of the apartment.
Everything seems in its proper place. Her heart rate is just about back to normal when she thinks to check under the bed and through the glass door to the balcony, but those are fine too.
She goes back into the hall to flash her neighbor a thumbs-up. He returns it and closes his door, and she lets out her breath as she does the same. Exciting as that was, she hopes it doesn't keep her up: she finds flying exhausting, even as a passenger. She removes her shoes and gets a glass of water in the kitchen just in time to see the balcony door open and a figure dressed all in black walk into the living room.
Laura is too surprised to squeak, let alone scream. Her grip on the glass loosens enough to drop it, and the figure darts forward two steps and crouches, arm extended to catch it.
"Thank you for not screaming," a heavily synthesized voice says, and Laura registers the mask covering the invader's face. There's a portion for their mouth and nose that seems like a high tech gas mask, while dark cloth with some slits covers the rest of their face and a hood covers their hair. "I apologize for startling you."
Laura steps back, hand pressing against the wall as her galloping heart finally stops choking the breath out of her. She sucks in a deep one, and asks the first thing that comes to mind:
"How did you get inside? I… I checked the balcony."
"I saw you coming and hung from the one above you." The figure puts the glass down on her table, then sits on the couch. "Please join me. We have much to talk about."
Laura stares. Then, slowly, she crosses her arms and glares at the intruder. "What are you, joking? You leave a cryptic note on the door, come in here uninvited, with your creepy mask and voice, and just expect me to sit down and talk? You're lucky I didn't just call the police."
"I would have left if you had."
"I should just call them now!"
"I would rather you didn't. As I said, we have much—"
"—to talk about, yeah." Laura stares at the figure through narrowed eyes. "This isn't my first cloak and dagger meeting, you know, I just expect more sense. 'Don't scream?' That's the best you could come up with?"
The figure on the couch stiffens slightly, and Laura isn't sure if they're embarrassed or indignant. "I am not used to giving warnings before approaching someone. I wanted to avoid alarming you."
Laura rolls her eyes. "I do have an email address, you know."
The figure is silent a moment, and when it speaks again, Laura can detect a trace of wryness or amusement even through the heavy filter. "I snuck into your balcony while wearing a mask and disguising my voice, and you think I would have sent you an email alerting you of the meeting ahead of time?"
Point. "Well, let's start with the reason for your paranoia, then." Laura goes to the kitchen and begins making some tea, in part because this promises to be a longer night than she expected, but primarily just to have something to keep her busy and calm her nerves. She reminds herself that if the intruder is here to hurt her they easily could have without warning. Besides, if any part of their paranoia is justified, whatever they're here for must be something big. "You're here to talk about a story, I'm guessing. First off, why me? I'm not involved in anything hot enough for this spy movie crap." Unless I'm waaay off about the Kajima scandal's significance...
"No, it is not related to anything you are currently investigating, but those investigations and articles, combined with how long you've been out of the business, made it easy to ensure you're not ethically compromised. That combined with the quality of your work makes me believe you would do the right thing with this investigation."
Laura leans back against the counter as she examines the figure on the couch. Their body gives the impression of being lean beneath the bulky dark cloth, and before sitting they stood almost as tall as Laura, who's 5'7". Something about the shape of the shoulders and hips made her think "female," but beyond that, age and ethnicity are totally concealed. She tries to think of anyone she knows that matches the figure's stature and body type. "Have we met before?"
As if she'd answer anything else with such heavy attempts at disguise. "Then sorry, but I call bullshit. You didn't just pick me out because I'm some shining beacon of journalistic integrity. There are at least five others I could name who have shown their independence at least as much as I have, and are more experienced to boot. What are you really after?"
The figure is silent for a moment, and eventually says, "You're correct, there is another thing. You have a relationship with one of the most powerful figures in Kanto. I suspect you may need the support and resources that affords you, if you pursue this investigation."
Laura's eyes narrow. Taking some personal risks is part of the job, but she doesn't want to bring any trouble onto Sam. She takes the time to finish making the tea before answering, thoughts racing.
Eventually she sits across from the figure and places two cups of tea on the table. She doesn't expect the other person to drink it, but it seems the polite thing to do, even if she's worried about poison or whatever. "So let's get something straight. If you're just using me to get help from Professor Oak, it's not going to be that simple. I'll tell him whatever I deem fit, and ask of him only what I think is safe for him. Got it? You want me as a journalist, you've got me, assuming whatever you have is real. But if you want me as a friend of the professor, you're better off trying with someone else."
"It's you I want, Mrs. Verres."
"Okay. So what's so important that you couldn't risk an email with some basic information for me to dig into on my own?"
The figure reaches into a pocket and pulls out a flash drive, placing it on the table. "This has information on the Silph Company's communications and dealings, from a number of highly placed members. After reading your investigative work and articles on corporate corruption and influence, I believe you will be motivated to reveal their true criminal acts."
Laura stares at the flash drive, stomach churning with sudden excitement, and then dread. Her fingers itch to pick it up, and she tightens them around her mug. "Where did you get this?"
The figure is silent a moment. "That's not relevant."
"It is to me. Are you a whistleblower? Someone in the power structure? If not, if any of this was obtained illegally…" She thinks of the conversation she had with Red just a few hours ago, about moral compromises.
"I'm not asking you to publish this information," the figure says. "I'm asking you to use it to look in the right places. Or as leverage, if you need to."
"Why? What do you get out of this?"
"I want to stop their abuses of power. But recent events have convinced me that I may not be able to do it on my own. I need your help."
"That doesn't really answer my question. You could be from a competing company, or an ex-employee with a chip on your shoulder. I need to know who I'm working with, why I should trust anything on there as legitimate."
"I won't reveal my identity. Not yet. But I have confidence you can verify enough of the information to decide for yourself what to trust. I have more information of my own, but it is not verifiable. It's up to you to reveal them to the world. The password on it is 'purple Laura six Silph left.' Try to memorize it rather than write it down."
Laura imagines six of herself dressed in purple standing on the roof of Silph's megamart with their left hand raised. "Done."
The figure stands, and Laura holds up a hand. "Hold on. If we're going to do this, I need a way to contact you. You breaking into my apartment as you please won't work for me." She's pretty sure the intruder means her no harm, but even still, wondering if a masked figure is waiting for her every night she comes home would be hell on her peace of mind.
"Then I'll find you somewhere else. I have business outside the city, and won't return for another week at least. We can speak more then."
Laura frowns, ready to say that isn't good enough, but the figure is already headed out the way they came in. "Hey! Use the front door!" She doesn't really expect to be listened to, and sure enough they ignore her and disappear over the side of the balcony. Laura stares after them for a moment, wondering… then turns back to the flash drive sitting patiently on her table.
It could be a trap of some kind. Have a virus on it, ready to install a keylogger or something. She'd have to get it thoroughly checked out first…
Her fingers twitch, and she abruptly stands and goes to the balcony to lock it, then goes to the kitchen and puts the tea cups in the fridge.
Tomorrow. She'll deal with all this tomorrow.
With one last glance at the flash drive on the table, she flees for her bedroom. Even without drinking any of the tea, it takes almost an hour of tossing and turning for sleep to claim her.
The next day she walks through Celadon with what feels like a hot coal in her pocket. She woke without a shred of sleepiness, getting up and out of bed in seconds so she could get to work. Forty minutes later she reaches the apartment of one of her most trusted associates, and one of the few that's both in Celadon and available to meet on such short notice.
She knocks on his door, then waves to the camera set above it. Dominick opens the door a minute later.
"Morning," he grunts, closing the door behind her. His apartment's living room and attached kitchen is full of container boxes, most sealed but some open to reveal their various contents, everything from clothing to kitchenware. "Coffee?"
"Had tea, thanks."
He nods, then heads for the hallway in the back of the room. She follows and steps around the clutter as best she can. Dominick Bailey was a Celadon police officer years ago, part of the city's cyber crimes division. She met him while they were both working on the same investigation from opposite sides, and agreed to help each other out. Dom retired before she left the city, but still did some freelance work for the department, and other clients who needed computer help of the right kind. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"Y'r fine." The ex-CPO is getting on in years now, hair and beard grey and deep creases around his eyes, but he's still broad shouldered, and fit enough to lift what looks like a heavy box of electronics with one hand so she can pass through the hall easier. "Sorry f'r the mess."
"Not so bad this time around," she teases, which only makes him grunt again. Dom moves around a lot, seemingly on a whim. Most of the time it's within the city, but even still he does it often enough that at some point he just stopped unpacking all his things beyond removing them from their container balls. The only room that looks more or less habitable is the one his computer desk is in, and she sits on one of the boxes that still has its cover on as he settles into the chair in front of his many monitors. She takes the flash drive out of her pocket and hands it to him.
"Where'd you get it?" he asks as he plugs it into an older looking computer that's connected to nothing but a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard.
"Masked stranger came in through my window last night and gave it to me," she says, voice bland.
Dom grunts. "Need a better lock? I've got something, could help."
"No, I think I'll be okay, thanks."
"Encrypted," he says, and hands her the keyboard.
She types the password in, and he takes it back and begins monitoring some programs to ensure the flash drive doesn't contain anything but basic text files. "Think you'll need an extra hand on this one?"
Laura considers it. The figure hadn't explicitly told her not to share the information with anyone, and she'd already said she would tell Professor Oak whatever she deemed fit. "Not sure yet, I'll have to take a look through it first. But if it's as big as it was made out to be, probably. At the very least I might hire you on as a filter, if that's okay."
Dom grunts assent, eyes on his monitor. Laura hires a number of "filters" to do some of the more tedious research work involved in her job. It took a few weeks for Laura to build up her network again, made up of both people she used to work with and new ones. Most are private detectives that can do preliminary investigations into major crimes and legal conflicts that come up in the city, then email her with summaries so she can look them over. All have worked as cops or journalists in the past, and have an eye for what would make a good or impactful story. The rest are like Dom, proficient in more specialized fields of detective work.
"Some audio files too, but looks clean," Dom finally says, and goes to remove it.
"Wait. Make a copy."
"Yeah. If something happens to me…"
He eyes her. "The masked stranger. Wasn't a joke?"
She shakes her head, staring at the flash drive. Now that her suspicions of the visitor are a bit alleviated, the reality of the encounter settles in. "I'll spend most of the night looking through this stuff, see what's on it. Maybe send you a few things to follow up on, if you can spare a couple hours tomorrow?"
He grunts, then gets up and leaves. Laura has a moment to wonder if she should follow him, then he's back and hands her a small box that's heavier than she expects. "What's this?"
"Iron latch for the balcony door, and stun baton." She digs for her wallet and he waves her off. "Happy birthday."
She smiles and decides to add a bonus to his retainer. "Thanks, Dom."
The rest of the day is spent on various errands related to her ongoing work: a couple quick interviews, a visit to her old news station to finalize some freelance work, and a walk by the Contamination Zone where the grimer attack's effects are still being cleaned up. She ignores the flash drive in her pocket as best she can through it all, but afterward instead of going grocery shopping as planned she just picks up fast food on the way home, eager to begin her search.
When she does however, it quickly becomes clear that she badly misunderstood the nature of the task ahead. She expected to have to dig through hundreds of benign files to find the good stuff, and there do appear to be hundreds of those on the flash drive... but they're meticulously named and organized by event, so that all she has to do is click the folder named "Bribery of Public Officials" and be treated to a number of subfolders specifying names and dates and containing all the relevant information, along with links back to the directories that contain the rest of the data they were found in.
After returning to the top level folders and scanning their names, Laura's breath catches.
She double clicks it and finds another dozen files, each with names, dates, or both. She clicks the first one and finds…
Almost nothing. She clicks through faster, skimming a few text files with notes, some emails taken from Silph employees that might hint and allude to involvement in crimes, but don't confirm anything.
Laura lets her breath out. This is why her informant brought all this to Laura: to fill in these gaps. This is why they said she might need powerful resources and allies in her corner, when all is said and done.
No, finding something to send to Dom isn't going to be an issue. Deciding what to send him among all the various avenues to explore is. This will almost certainly be more than a two person job… which means she'll need to secure some funding.
Laura gets up and begins to pace her room, then goes out onto the balcony. She reminds herself to install the lock before she goes to bed, then stares out over the city and considers what her first move should be. Eventually she decides to investigate any breaches in Silph security, assuming they'd let any news of it slip out. Her visitor said that the information came from high up employees, so she should also look into any that were recently let go and might have an axe to grind.
All this assuming of course that the intruder themself isn't a Silph employee whistle-blowing on illegal activity. Much easier to get into some colleague's offices and copy their hard drives and emails over the space of a year or two. They may reveal themselves to Laura the next time they meet, but they also might not, and in the meantime…
Laura takes her phone out to make a call, then stops and curses herself for being an idiot, putting it away.
She was distracted when the intruder first came. Thrown off her stride both by the celebration she came from and the sudden fear of the note on the door. But now she has no excuse, and while it's been years since she was involved in a story that might be this big, she has to get over being rusty fast.
She turns around and looks at her apartment, which was so easily invaded despite being so high up. Even if she takes the intruder on faith, there's no reason to think someone else couldn't do the same thing.
Her phone was with her that night, so she knows it's safe, but everything else...
She leaves her apartment and walks around the block as she makes a series of calls, the first of which is to schedule a full sweep of her apartment for surveillance equipment and the second to install extra locks on her balcony and front door. She'd return Dom's, but happily borrow his stun baton.
Next would come checking with her various contacts for anyone interested in looking into the various claims on the flash drive so she can get independent confirmation of some. Speaking of which, she should tell her various filters to stand by for a new task.
Laura looks over each of the new stories they've sent her, occasionally flagging some to read later, then lets them know that she won't need any more for the immediate future and would have other work for them instead.
As for where she'd get the money for hiring everyone…
She calls her old boss at the Celadon Broadcasting Network, who answers after a couple rings. "Hey Peter, got a minute? Or are you already tucked in for the night?"
"It's almost ten, so naturally I'm still at the office. As you should well know."
"I didn't want to assume. What if you achieved a healthy work-life balance while I was gone?"
He snorts. "If you spot one of those let me know, we can run it in the new pokemon discovery section. What's up, Laura?"
"I have a story."
"You have a story? Not you think you have a story, or you have the beginnings of a story?"
"I've got multiple stories, actually. Big ones."
There's silence on the other end of the line, and when Peter speaks again he sounds worried. "What's happened? There's nothing on the other networks. Is this about the Flying Type discovery?"
"Jeez Laura, where you been? It was all over the news today."
"Didn't see it, was too busy working on this."
"Well, it must be good then. Whatcha got?"
"I can't talk details yet. I just need an open retainer and a safe port."
"An open retainer? If you have multiple stories already…"
"Some are going to be ready to go sooner than others, but I'm going to need a lot of manpower in verifying how deep the real story is."
"Shit. Aaah, shit." Despite his words, she can finally hear the thread of excitement in Peter's voice as it hits home. "Is it a whistleblower? A collaborative work? Private or government?"
"I really can't say yet. Is that a yes?"
There's another pause. "I'm interested, sure. And I understand the need for secrecy… but Laura, I don't know if I can get you an open retainer without more. We have history, but you're still freelance. I'd have to run it by the others, and Leo is probably going to want at least one article by the end of the week."
Laura frowns. "This is delicate, Peter. Putting something up that soon could compromise the real story."
"I understand, but anything more than that will take some extra promises from you on article count. Maybe there's another solution. You come in on it, limited contract, and I can offer you some interns to do the grunt work."
"No, I need my people on this." Laura paces back and forth in front of a bakery, the smells tempting her to go inside and grab a pastry. She forces herself to keep walking and escape the distraction as she tries to think of a realistic time frame for something substantive. "What about two weeks? Do you think you can swing that?"
"With a cap, sure. Maybe I can swing for dropping it if you come back in officially?"
Laura curses under her breath. She enjoyed her time there well enough, when she was still starting her career, but all the oversight and rules and meetings… she's not ready to give up her independence just yet. Maybe she can make it work with two weeks if she dips into her savings a bit… though she'd really rather not have to do that.
"Then you're still not taking this seriously," Red said, eyes unflinching in the lamp light.
Laura rubs her forehead. "Two weeks with a cap," she agrees. "But something high, Peter, I'm using professionals."
"I'll see what I can do. Let you know tomorrow."
She thanks him and says goodnight, then continues walking around the city to let the nightlife wash over her as she plans her next steps out. Eventually she stops to grab some food, and skims the news for a mention of the news Peter mentioned.
It's not hard to find, topping most of the web and news aggregators. Her brow rises in particular at the name of the person credited beneath the headline: Dr. Madi, one of Red's supervisors when he worked at the lab.
She clicks the article, then plays the video of the press release as she eats. Pallet Town's one news station has three different rooms they like to use for filming interviews: this one is their smallest and coziest, with warm dark colors that compliment Dr. Madi's friendly, open face.
Interviewing him is one of Laura's old neighbors and friends, Miho. "We're here with Dr. Madi of Pallet Labs, whose team has discovered a new particle they call the 'key' to understanding pokemon flight. So, what does this mean in layman's terms, Dr. Madi? Is the dream of human flight about to be realized?"
Dr. Madi adjusts his rimless glasses and smiles. "I'll leave that to the engineers, but I wouldn't be surprised if this leads to wingsuits that can generate and maintain lift, for a time at least. What we discovered is basically a type of… particle isn't the right word for it, but it's close enough, a type of particle that creates a minor burst of force when it collides with others in a vacuous enough space. The result of this in our relatively open, gaseous atmosphere is that it creates a cascading wave of pressure, which pushes the air around it outward up to a particular distance, creating lift and causing winds of high speeds."
Laura is already messaging Red to ask if he's seen this as the reporter nods along, then asks, "And this is the particle that all flying pokemon put out when they flap their wings?"
"Well, that's the interesting part," Dr. Madi says, becoming more animated. "Not all pokemon that fly seem to emit this particle, and of those that do, not all do so in the same way. In fact, this whole line of investigation was sparked when one of our interns, a young researcher currently on his pokemon journey named Red Verres, began questioning the very nature of what it means to be a 'Flying' pokemon." Laura grins wide, typing faster as a swell of pride goes through her. "Recent advances in pokedex scanning technology have allowed us to better isolate the root of that mystery. Mechanically it always seemed obvious that a pokemon's ability to fly justified the label, but the actual physics of it were mysterious, since wingspan, shape, and muscle mass appeared to have little correlation with how much wind force the pokemon could put out. It's been a constant source of frustration for everyone from scientists to inventors."
"Can you give some examples?"
"Sure, if you look at humanity's first attempts at flying machines, you see that it took contraptions with much wider wingspans than almost any pokemon to lift an equivalent weight," Dr. Madi says, spreading his arms wide out and flapping them. "We created dozens of artificial wing designs, and none were capable of the strong gusts that even a small pidgey can create, let alone the twisters and hurricane force winds of a pidgeot. Humans ultimately learned to fly in different ways, but this particle is the explanation for what we were missing by trying to mimic pokemon."
"And now that mystery is solved, once and for all."
"Well, now we at least know we're started on the right path, at least. There's still a lot of work to do to fully understand the particle's properties and effects."
"You said that not all pokemon that fly emit this particle. Such as?"
"I think flygon and carnivine surprised everyone the most. A lot of people lost money on those bets," he says with a rueful chuckle.
Miho seems genuinely surprised, shifting Laura's opinion that this was a rehearsed piece. "Flygon isn't a Flying Type?"
"If we decide to define the type by the emission of these particles to achieve flight, then no."
"Then how does it fly?"
"That's the question, isn't it?" He grins. "Now come on, ask me the other side of it."
Miho grins back. "Alright, since you seem so eager to tell us, what pokemon most surprised you by having it?"
"Do you want to guess?"
"Oh, gosh. Umm, tropius? But no, that makes sense now, doesn't it? Tell us!"
Miho's mouth drops open. "No."
"How? From where?"
"That took a lot of figuring out, I don't mind telling you. Ultimately some trainers and coordinators far braver than I am discovered that the scales on the gyarados underbellies can emit the particle in bursts, which is how they can launch their massive bodies through the air with such force when breaching water."
"But... does this mean gyarados aren't Dragon Types, then?"
Dr. Madi smiles and pushes his glasses up his nose. "I'm afraid that's outside my area of expertise, so I'll leave it to the battle trainers to debate. We're still in the early stages of understanding everything we can about this particle, and the various ways it might react to different substances and energies may shed more light on what it means for the battle scene, not to mention a better understanding of Flying pokemon abilities and weaknesses."
"Well, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say we're all interested in the results of that. Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Madi."
"You're quite welcome, and thanks to my team at Pallet Labs. A lot of people worked very hard on this, and like always with new discoveries, it's an exciting time for everyone."
"Alright then, we hope to have you back on soon with more to share!"
Laura's phone buzzes as she gets a message from Red.
Yeah, I saw it! Was pretty surprised, I had no idea they were working on that. And the namedrop was nice, particularly since it sets up my announcement about the abra and my research on the psychic particle, since both were discovered through Professor Oak's new dex tech.
Laura smiles. Yes, that does sound like something Sam would orchestrate. Are you all in Saffron yet, or have you passed it?
Actually we're still north of it. We spent the night at Aiko's house and it's been raining like crazy here since this morning, so we decided to spend another night.
Huh. She wouldn't have expected rain to stop the kids from traveling, especially since they should be so close to the underground tunnel. Maybe they're enjoying their time with Aiko's family.
Well take care hon, looking forward to seeing your press release!
Thanks, love you.
Laura smiles, feeling a warmth inside that has nothing to do with the delicious soup. Despite how hurt and angry she still feels at him, Laura wants to apologize for being so hard on Red soon. Not yet though. Some stewing would be good for him. Love you too, she types back.
Laura puts the phone away so she can focus on enjoying her meal, only to have it chime again a minute later. She briefly resists the urge to check it, then takes it out to look at the screen. It's Dom.
Night cleared up. Want apartment sweep now or morning?
Laura catches the waitress's attention and asks for her main course to go.
With her apartment declared secure from eavesdropping, Laura wakes early the next morning to talk with her various research aids, then prioritize her workflow. As soon as she gets the official go-ahead from Peter in the afternoon, she starts delegating tasks and sketching out various article frameworks based on the illegal acts contained in the flash drive, trying to pick the ones with the most publicly verifiable evidence and most isolated incidents. The last thing she wants to do is hint at a larger conspiracy that would make Silph lock down and start a cover up.
Unfortunately there's little of that worth publishing in its own right. Some unethical business practices aren't going to help Peter get authorizing for the extent of funding she really wants. She needs something meaty to justify that this is more than she can handle on her own.
For now she lets her filters take a pass down individual lines of inquiry and focuses on the broad patterns herself. After a few hours it becomes clear that the majority of the information comes from or concerns Fuchsia city. If her informant works for Silph, they're probably stationed there. What's more, the least recent information is from Fuchsia: once Laura starts focusing on the most recent conversations and business details, then cross referencing them to locations, she sees almost every major city in Kanto has had data extracted from it over the past two months.
She orders lunch to her apartment, eating on her balcony to give her eyes a rest from the computer monitors. This is more information than a single whistleblower should have access to, unless they've somehow compromised Silph's entire security network. It's possible her informant is in fact a hacker, but if so they would probably feel more comfortable with an encrypted message than with climbing onto her balcony to meet in person.
Speaking of which… how many people would be capable of something like that and also work for a corporation like Silph? Maybe they're a professional security hacker that was hired by Silph and found incriminating information, or a rival company…
Laura reminds herself that verification of the data on the flash drives is more important right now than anything else. Still, she can hardly ask Silph HQ to confirm details of illegal or unethical practices: even if they answered honestly, it would tip her hand.
But there are other ways of getting or confirming information, when you have some to start with. Laura considers all the personal information she has available from the flash drive, and tries to weigh the good of what she's trying to accomplish against the ethics of what she's contemplating. If she were still working for the CBN officially, she would need approval by senior editors and managers, and have stringent controls placed around her. Right now she's free of all that, but that means the liability is all on her too… and the ethical dilemma.
Laura thinks of the murders in Fuchsia that are alleged by the mysterious stranger's information to have been ordered by Silph. If even half of all of this is true, the company has some deep rot that goes pretty high up. By the standards of ethical practice, some deceptive practices should be justified in uncovering it.
Not that it makes her feel much better. Laura takes a deep breath, then calls Dom. "Hey. I need a way to spoof my phone ID. Mind if I head over?"
Two hours later she has a list of directory names, numbers, and titles in front of her, along with some key excerpts from the flash drive files. She twirls a pen between her fingers nervously as the phone rings, connecting her to a Silph finances office in Cerulean.
"Hello, this is Maddie."
"Hi, Maddie, this is Elsa over in Celadon," Laura says, pitching her voice higher and with just the right mix of cheer and exasperation. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I've got a problem with the accounts on this end and was hoping you could clarify the details of a pay order?"
"Oh, of course. Elsa, did you say? I'm sorry but could you tell me whose office you're in?"
"Mr. Hishida. I got lent over to help check the accounts before next month's audit. I've got to finish this by Monday, and it would save a lot of time if I could double check this with you."
"Sure, of course." Laura hears the hesitation in their voice, and then… "Do you mind if I just check with Mr. Hishida first?"
"Not at all! He's in a meeting at the moment, why don't I try to figure it out on my own and if I can't by the time he's back, I'll tell him to call you?"
"That would be great, thanks. Good luck!"
"Thank you!" Laura closes the call and scratches off the top entry on her list, then goes to the next one. And the next one. And the next, until:
"Sure, no problem! What's the transaction number?"
Laura quickly checks to make sure she has the right number for the office she called. This one was in the Pewter branch… "OT-733-1489-6-25."
"Alright, just give me one second… okay, and the date on that was?" Laura confirms the date, and even the account it came from. "Yeah, that was authorized by Mrs. Rhee."
Laura stares at the name on the file: Mrs. Rhee. Here it is. Not just independent verification of the information on the flash drives, but potentially damning evidence of criminal activity.
"Thanks so much, have a great day!" Laura ends the call, then rereads the files on the money transfer. A few of the documents in the chain are tenuous, but they lead to a politician with clear conflicts of interest. If she can find a few more and shore up the connections, this could lead to a solid story that justifies more investigation, but not in the direction of the really scary skeletons in Silph's closet that might put them on high alert.
Payments to known violent criminals. Coverups of crimes by those in the company. And something more… She frowns at the jumble of files that her informant clearly wasn't able to connect to any specific crime. Laura minimizes them and focuses on the money transfers again. She'll just have to trust her people to untangle that mess.
She goes back to her list and starts calling the next one.
It takes her a week and a half to fact check, write, and publish the article. Laura gives Silph Company a heads up to the allegations so they have an opportunity to respond, but they decline to comment. The very day it comes out, Laura comes home after an evening meeting with Peter for expanded funding to see a note taped to the front of her door. She feels her pulse speed up as irritation and wariness makes her walk faster. Did all her new locks really do nothing to stop the masked stranger? And they said they would find another place to contact her...
Laura quickly snatches the paper off the door and reads it:
Laura blinks, then opens her door and walks to the balcony, which is still securely locked. She can see the stranger standing out there and smiles. Good to know she didn't waste her money on the security upgrades. Though maybe they're just being considerate... If the intruder didn't place the note on the door from the inside, did that mean they were walking through the halls in that disguise? Maybe I should put a camera in the hallway.
Laura puts her things away and turns the voice recording app on for her phone, then slips it into her pocket and opens the balcony door to invite her informant inside.
"What was that?" they say upon entering, heavy voice modulation not disguising their anger.
"Hello to you too," Laura says, closing it behind them. "What was what?"
"That article. It was totally useless, just some shitty white collar crimes, and worse, now they might be aware of a leak! What were you thinking?"
Laura frowns as she watches them gesticulate and pace around her living room. Despite their clear agitation, they suddenly seem less imposing, somehow. Laura wonders for the first time how old they are.
"I'm sorry, which of us is the journalist here?" she asks at last.
The figure stops and turns to her. "What?"
"You came to me because you trusted me to do what needs to be done. If you wanted to be involved in the planning, you should have stuck around and talked it out instead of playing up the 'mysterious stranger' angle."
"I came to you because I wanted the real crimes revealed! People are getting killed, and you waste almost two weeks on some bureaucrats being bribed?"
Laura crosses her arms. "Do you want to let me talk or not?"
Her informant is quiet a moment, then goes to the couch and sits. "Explain."
Laura rolls her eyes and sits across from her, then goes over her restraints and plans. "This is the best way forward," she insists. "It'll take time to get all the evidence on the bigger crimes anyway, and whatever defense they try to mount against the white collar allegations might shake other things free."
"You're underestimating them. They won't just go on the defensive, this is going to prompt a retaliation."
"Legally I'm in the clear, I just came back from making sure of—"
Her informant is shaking their head before Laura even finishes. "Listen to me. You don't know these people. Whoever's calling the shots in the organization on this stuff, they're not acting like a businessman, they're acting like a strategist in an active war. I've spent months trying to stay ahead, and I'm not even their primary enemy, though they may be aware of me now. Do you have pokemon?"
Laura blinks at the sudden change of topic. "No, I'm not a trainer."
"Get some. You're going to need to get serious about self-defense now that you've revealed yourself so early."
A dozen thoughts go through Laura's head, but none of them attempt to minimize what she just heard. Her informant may be paranoid, but there's enough on the flash drive to make them have reason to be, even without Laura knowing what they've been through to get it.
"I told you, I'm not a trainer. If Silph is actually going to send hit men after me, my best way to stay safe is to be informed and cautious. I've already upgraded my security, as you may have noticed."
"They'll just wait until you leave."
"If you're this worried, why didn't you tell me all this earlier?"
"I didn't want to scare you off." Is that a note of peevishness in the electronic, synthesized voice? They really are new to this, Laura realizes. "Will you continue? Or are you still not taking this seriously?"
"I am, and I will," Laura says. "But I think it's time for you to be more honest with me. Who are you? How did you get all this information? I've had my apartment swept for listening devices already, we're safe to talk here."
Her informant stands. "I can't. Not now, especially not with you at risk like this."
"You're leaving again? Can you go out the front door this time, at least? I'll check to make sure the coast is clear and you can take the mask off in the stairway. Otherwise someone might see you climbing around out there."
"They won't. Besides, I don't know how fast Silph will move, but the usual ways into your apartment will probably be watched soon if they're not already."
Laura stands too, feeling frustrated. "So that's it, you just came to berate me and not give any more information or help?"
"I gave you both. It's up to you to take them seriously, or not. I'll be back to check on you soon."
"What happened to us meeting elsewhere?" Laura asks in exasperation as her informant heads for the balcony again.
"Too risky, now," the masked figure says before stepping through the balcony door. "The safest way to not be anticipated is to not have a plan."
Laura goes through the next day in a state of heightened awareness that has her stressed out by midday and exhausted by nightfall. She refuses to let her life be dictated by fear and stay inside all day, but in taking her informant seriously she can't help but crane her neck around as she runs errands through the city. Is that woman the same one that she saw at the cafe? The man sitting across from her on the subway, is he only pretending to read, or is he making note of where she exits? How many eyes are watching her as she returns home?
Some tension leaves her as she carefully opens her door and checks the tape she placed over the hinge and signed her name over, which is thankfully uncreased. Laura unpacks her new purchases, which includes a pokeball. Contained inside is her very first pokemon, a tangela.
A strange mix of feelings go through her as she holds its ball up, getting used to its weight. The last time she held a pokeball, it was one of Tom's as he took her out to practice with them. She never had the passion or interest in becoming a trainer, but knowing the basics was important for safety or emergencies, and her husband always practiced what he preached about the value of being prepared.
She's glad for those lessons now, even if she's a little rusty. It would be nice to use his pokemon again, who she would at least be familiar with, but as a ranger his pokemon were all taken for reassignment to others after his death. Just another sacrifice asked of those in the force. Before today it always seemed a justified one.
Laura shakes her head and clips the ball to her new belt. No, it's still better that Kage and the rest had gone on to help keep others safe over the past few years. It just means she'll have to spend a little more time practicing with her tangela. Besides, Tom barely had any pokemon suited for civilian self defense the way her new pokemon is, with its plethora of non-lethal abilities.
She puts the belt on so she can get used to it there, then goes to her computer to relax, catch up on emails, and check for the latest results from her filters.
Research altering and funding false studies on effects of Silph products…
Two murders that might be connected, in both cases pokemon were stolen from the houses…
Bribery of investigators or witnesses of crimes…
Relocation and concealment of people…
Laura sits up, attention sharpening. She clicks the subject line to read the full report.
Verified payments to housing and living expenses for people with no apparent link to company. Only aware of a few so far, the earliest of which starts about seven years ago. Maybe off-payroll workers, but info for who they are, what they do, or how they were hired seem purposefully avoided. All have little to no contact with others in Silph outside of R&D, and these communications are only mentioned in passing, no detailed logs or emails in the flash drive. Might be more info hidden somewhere, will keep looking. Not sure what it's all about, but seems sketchy. Let me know if I should stop.
Laura types out her answer with a sense of excitement that she knows is premature. Ever since her conversation with Professor Oak the night Red left home, she's had few leads on the missing researchers he mentioned. Finding out as much as she could about Dr. Fuji was her first step, and looking for patterns in the other missing researchers was time consuming work that she nevertheless spent a few hours a week returning to. It was quickly clear that he was right, there were dozens of scientists and engineers who had quietly slipped out of the public eye around the globe, but the why and where to was still a mystery.
That Silph might be behind it all on top of everything else seems too good to be true, but assuming these people are off the grid, how many secret conspiracies involving missing researchers can there be? Well, okay, probably a few… Still, while without mention of contact with R&D this would just be a curiosity, with it she feels justified in forwarding the email to Sam. She adds some context of what it's referring to, cluing him in on what's been going on lately.
He answers within an hour, and sends her the link to some "cyber detectives" that will apparently work on this particular task for free. Laura's brow rises. She wasn't aware that he had so many connections in hacker circles, but it would be useful to have them as an extra resource, especially to work off of data her more traditional private detectives find.
Meanwhile, she checks the various locations where people are being housed. Mostly rural areas, apparently, the first of which is currently in Lavender Town.
Laura reaches out to one of her people in Saffron to ask if they would mind taking a quick vacation to the east. It might teach them nothing, but getting a visual of whoever is living at the house in Lavender could help string more clues together.
Something begins to bother her as she writes the email, like an itch in her mind. It feels like she's forgetting something, but before she can devote attention to it…
Knock knock knock.
Laura glances at the door in surprise, then finishes typing her email out, sends it, and puts her computer to sleep to go check who it is. A quick look through the peephole reveals a nondescript man in a black suit, and after checking to ensure her stun baton is at hand beside the door, Laura opens it. "Hello, can I help you?"
"Mr. Silph humbly requests to speak with you."
Laura stares at the man, heart suddenly thudding in her chest. "Right now? I'm rather busy at the moment, I'm afraid I can't go anywhere."
The man turns to the side, and Kazue Silph, president of the largest trainer supply company in the tri-region area, steps into view. The old man looks smaller in person than he does on television, but no frailer. His bearing is as confident and lively as Professor Oak's, despite being at least ten years Sam's senior, any stoop in his shoulders or back hidden by a perfectly tailored suit.
Not an ostentatious one, however. Laura has learned enough over the years to judge, interviewing people in everything from off-the-rack generic two-pieces, to designer, custom fit three-pieces, to those made of ridiculously expensive patented fabric blends.
The president of Silph Co. wears a plain tan two-piece suit, with a red bowtie. Fitted, no doubt, but with what looks like a basic fabric and simple buttons rather than the flashy ones many rich favor.
He's also wearing a bowler hat, which he removes to reveal a balding crown of white hair. "Good evening, Mrs. Verres. I was hoping we could speak on some rather pressing matters."
"On the record, or off?" she asks, hoping her face shows none of her shock or apprehension.
He smiles. It's a good one, warming even his pale blue eyes. "Off, if you'd please."
Laura only takes a few moments more to come to her decision. Whatever he wants to talk about, it's better to know than not know. She steps back from her doorway, but he puts his hat back on. "Why don't we go to the roof?"
"Of course. Let me just get my jacket." She closes the door, then makes sure her phone is set to record before putting her jacket on, sticking her stun baton in a sleeve, and stepping into the hall. There's another man in a suit standing outside, keeping his gaze on the hallway.
"Excuse me a moment," she says, and goes to one of the neighbor's doors, a student with a pet purrloin that Laura has cared for in the past while its owner was out of town.
Laura knocks, and when the young woman opens her door, Laura smiles in relief. "Hey Danni, would you mind watching my apartment for a moment?"
Her neighbor's brow rises. "Sure. Got some food cooking?"
"Just have to step out for a bit." She moves out of the way to let her neighbor enter the hall, and only catches her shocked expression in her periphery, watching Mr. Silph instead. The president is still smiling, but with a wry edge now, eyes meeting Laura's as Danni stammers some greeting and throws Laura a confused look before disappearing into her apartment.
"Ready to go, now?" he asks once her door closes.
"Right this way," she says and leads him and his retinue to the roof. The night isn't really chilly, but she tightens the jacket around her middle anyway as they step away from the landing and teleportation areas and toward the railing at the edge. The president's bodyguards stay a distance away, which she appreciates. She still feels like her pulse is a galloping rapidash in her throat as she waits for him to speak first.
They look out over the city together, watching as a huge noctowl and its rider soar down toward another building's rooftop, wings flapping as it passes over theirs. Laura imagines she can see the concussive particles billowing outward as her hair and clothes stir. "I take it you're not here to set the record straight on my article?" she says at last, impatience winning out. She doesn't know what a billionaire's time is worth, but she has work to get back to.
"Not officially, with this being off the record and all, but our statement about those allegations will be ready tomorrow. I don't mind giving you a small scoop and letting you know that we'll be conducting thorough internal investigations to get to the bottom of such troubling charges."
Laura nods. And to see where the leaks are coming from, no doubt. "You're here about my gardening column, then."
He chuckles. "You must think me a very dangerous man, Mrs. Verres."
"What makes you say that?" she asks after a moment, trying not to let her wariness show.
He leans forward slightly, arms resting on the railing. "Your request of your neighbor was smoothly done, but entirely too cautious for a simple meeting with a businessman, however unethical you believe my employees may have acted. To say nothing of what's likely distorting the shape of your jacket sleeve."
Laura's heart hammers faster as she realizes that he's right. She might as well have held up a big flashing sign telling him how much wider her suspicions run than the simple accusations in the article. "I'm sorry, Mr. Silph, I didn't think of how that would appear. I'm afraid I'm paranoid by nature, and after living in Pallet Town for so long, returning to the city has been a change I'm still getting used to. I meant no offense."
"Of course. A woman on her own must look after herself."
His demeanor is still affable, and she does a mental sidestep, imagining she's in an interview so that she can more easily match it. "Remarks like that, which can be both reassuring and threatening, don't help," she says with a wry smile.
Mr. Silph chuckles. "You're quite right. I apologize, I'm not here to threaten you, far from it. I'm here to warn you."
"Still not helping."
"Oh, not from me. From the source or sources of your information."
"I'm sorry? I don't know what you mean," Laura says after waiting a second and knitting her brow together in confusion. She feels sweat on her neck and resists the urge to wipe it off.
"You do," he says with steady assurance. "I won't waste both of our time explaining how I know that you do. There are forces outside of your knowledge at work here. The information they've fed you that led to that article no doubt seemed genuine, and perhaps it was. If so I owe you and them some thanks, for identifying bad actors in my company. But I built said company out of nothing over the course of my life, and there are plenty of people who would love to see it torn down, taken over, or split into smaller, more easily manipulated parts, stifling its innovation and potential. I won't let that happen."
Laura is silent. He's wrong if he thinks Laura's informant wanted her to publish that article… or rather, that's not the impression she got from their second meeting. Maybe that was just an act: it wouldn't be particularly hard, with the voice filter and mask, to convincingly pretend to be upset about something.
"But you are just a pawn in this, I understand that," he continues. "It is not your fault that you have been deceived, and so I'm offering you an opportunity to reveal the criminal who has attacked my employees, stolen our data, and, possibly, inserted misinformation to tie our resources and attention up in legal matters."
"Mr. Silph, if there's been some crimes committed against your company I would be happy to talk about and report on them," Laura says, ignoring for now the implication that her informant is a violent vigilante. "I hope you don't believe I'm on some personal vendetta against you or your company. I can't reveal my sources, of course, but I assure you I did my best to fact check what I've written, and stand behind it, given what I currently know. If there's some bigger picture that I missed, or some of it is in fact false, I'd be happy to write a retraction and set the record straight."
"I appreciate that, Mrs. Verres, but there's nothing a public article on these actions would accomplish that would benefit me on net, or you can be assured that they would already have been written and published. As I said, I'm simply here to warn you that you are consorting with a dangerous criminal, or an organization of them, one of whom has already ruined innocent lives to pursue her mission."
Her? "And what is that mission?" Laura turns to regard Mr. Silph fully. "If your company has been targeted by some criminal, that doesn't mean there's a connection with my story. What if they're working independently?"
"That's not your concern," he says, voice gentle. "All that should matter now is that you assist police in apprehending whoever contacted you or provided you with the information you used. If you reveal whatever information you have now, I can assure you I will regard you as a tool, unwittingly used, and do my best to ensure you do not take any legal blame."
Laura shakes her head. "You know I can't reveal sources, on general principle."
"I know no such thing," he protests. "If you believe your sources innocent of any wrongdoing, your silence is commendable, but surely you have a different policy for being subpoenaed to testify against a proven criminal."
"Or charged with aiding and abetting said criminal?" It's remarkable how calm she feels now that she understands the general shape of the conversation and his goals.
"It's certainly possible," he says with a grave expression. "I would hope it does not come to that, however." He does sound genuinely upset at the prospect, for what that's worth.
Not much, on reflection. Shit. Shit shit shit, what did that masked maniac get her into? Have they really attacked Silph employees? And would she really be surprised if they did, considering their penchant for wearing disguises and climbing buildings?
"In a situation like that," Laura says slowly, "I'm afraid I would still have to insist that I can't be of any help, and hope the judge and jury believe me, even if you don't, Mr. Silph. But I'll certainly keep this conversation in mind, if I am at some point contacted by such a person."
He turns to assess her quietly in the rooftop lights. After a moment he nods.
"I suppose that's the best I can ask for. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Verres. I do hope our next meeting is under more pleasant circumstances."
He takes his leave, but Laura stays on the roof a while longer, replaying and digesting their conversation again and again before remembering that she left her neighbor watching the apartment. She returns to it and thanks Danni for her help, then sits on her couch and tries to think past the suspicions and worries gnawing at her mind.
Despite trying to look into the ways the data was gathered, Laura is still unclear about who her informer is. Mr. Silph confirmed that they're female, assuming his suspicion is correct. Maybe young, probably lives in Fuchsia, definitely highly skilled in physical, and possibly digital, infiltration… Laura never saw any pokeballs on her during their two meetings, but they might have been hidden inside her dark and bulky vest. But if Silph is right, he's certainly been keeping things close to the chest himself: there haven't been any news articles of attacks on Silph employees. Laura just doesn't know enough, and she finds herself getting more and more angry at her informer for keeping her in the dark.
She's also getting more and more nervous. There's a feeling of something being off that keeps her on the edge of her seat, wanting to stand and pace or run through the apartment checking for someone who isn't there. If she didn't know that her apartment was bug free she'd think someone was listening in on her—
Laura suddenly goes rigid. How had it felt, when Red was using his powers on her?
Like someone standing in the room with you, who you can't see…
Laura doesn't quite feel like that, it's not nearly so strong… but whether it's her imagination or her limited psychic abilities warning her of a mental intrusion, she knows that something is wrong.
She tries to control her breathing and think. What set her paranoia off? It started with her second meeting with her informer last night, carried on through this whole day… in a sense Mr. Silph's visit should have confirmed to her that something outside of her control was coming, that's what it feels like, it feels like something is coming—!
Laura jumps to her feet and runs to her computer, heart pounding painfully in her chest as she grabs the flash drive, throws it to the floor, and smashes it with her heel. She keeps stomping on it until it's a broken mess of plastic and silicon, then gets a plastic bag and scoops the pile into it, tying it off and going to her door.
She rests her forehead against the wood, listening. All is quiet. She can distantly hear the sounds of the city through her balcony door, and the bark of some growlithe or poochyena in the apartment a story above her.
She opens her door slightly, then looks out the hall. After checking both ways, she slips outside and locks it, then hurries down the stairs, pausing at each floor to glance down to the next. She's not sure what she expects, exactly… Silph's bodyguards in the stairwell, maybe, or police staking out the entrance to her building.
She sees neither, but walks through the city with the same lingering sensation of something being off. She wishes she'd paid more attention when the feeling started, so she could compare how it felt before to now: as it is, it's too hard to recognize if she's still sensing someone else in her mind, if that's actually what she felt in the first place.
After she walks two blocks, ducking into stores with more than one entrance and leaving through others, she waits until she can walk through a crowd that's passing by a garbage bin and quickly pours some of the broken flash drive into it. She doesn't pause, just continuing to walk from one place to another and taking whatever opportunities she could to pour the rest of the bag's contents out.
By the time she returns home she feels… better. Not much, but a little. She still feels like something is coming, but she feels much less unprepared now that she's done something.
Laura takes the elevator up and enters her apartment, some more tension leaving as everything seems the way she left it. She does a quick check through the apartment again to make sure, then goes to her computer and sends off some more emails, including a recount of what happened to Peter so he has the heads up for a potential legal response from Silph.
Her contact from Saffron says he's happy to take a trip to Lavender in a week or so, and after she sends confirmation and his payment, she finally turns the computer off and goes to bed for another night of tossing and turning.
The sense of unease lingers all the while, keeping her in a fitful doze as her clock ticks ever upward into the morning hours, and the other side of her bed feels as empty as it's ever been.
BANG BANG BANG
Laura is awake and up in an instant, reaching for her hanging pokeball belt as her mind jolts her out of some nightmare and into a waking one.
"Police! Open up!"
Laura freezes then looks at the clock. It's eight thirty in the morning, and the police are at her door, and she has no idea why, and every idea why.
BANG BANG BANG
Laura jumps at the violent sound, hearing her door shake in its frame. "Just a minute!" she yells, throwing a robe on and hating the way her legs tremble as she goes to the door. It feels like she can't get a full breath in as she presses her eye to the peephole, and it takes her a few tries to say, "Can I see some ID?"
The uniformed officer holds his badge up, and her hands quickly go to unlock her door. The Celadon police enter in force, five men and two women in full tactical gear, each with a pokemon on their shoulder or at their feet: two oddish, a spearow, a whismur, a growlithe, and she doesn't see the rest as they all spread out and begin checking the apartment, and shouting out all-clears.
Laura turns back to a third woman, who has a bellsprout wrapped tight around her shoulders and neck, a warrant in one hand, and a pair of handcuffs in the other. Laura almost brings her hands behind her back reflexively, recognizing at the last second what a bad idea that would be and halting the motion. "Please," she says, voice soft so that it doesn't shake. "What is this? Why are you here?"
"Just an investigation, ma'am," the officer says. "You're not under arrest. This is to search the apartment and seize any potential evidence of criminal collaboration. I just need you to stay outside and detained for now."
Laura wants to argue, but the look on the officer's face makes her simply hold her wrists out. The metal closing around them feels surreal, and she waits in the hallway with the officer, leaning against the wall and trying to listen for what the police are doing inside her apartment. She hears doors opening in the hall as curious neighbors poke their heads out and are told to stay inside. Laura closes her eyes, leans her head back, and breathes, trying to combat the feeling of lightheadedness that's accompanying the unreality of the situation. Fainting now would be embarrassing.
She keeps reminding herself that she's safe. She hasn't committed any crimes… unless the destruction of the flash drive would be considered obstruction of justice, but how could it be if she wasn't even aware of an investigation when she did it? Oh Arceus, what if there were some pieces she missed in the rug? No, even then there's no reason for her to be charged with anything, how would the police even know there was a flash drive? Unless they've somehow already gotten to Dom?
It feels like she's in the hallway for perhaps ten minutes before she starts hearing the sounds of pokeballs opening. "What's going on?" she asks the officer beside her in a whisper. She wants to talk louder, but she still feels short of breath.
"Assuming they didn't find any other incriminating evidence, your computer, notes, and phone are likely being confiscated," she says, keeping her gaze roaming the hallway.
Laura feels the words like a cold punch to the stomach. "Confiscated, for what? For how long? I need them to work."
"I'm sorry, I can't say. They may be returned to you in a few weeks, they may take longer."
"Who accused me of this? Mr. Silph shows up at my apartment last night threatening legal action, and now you guys show up to bully me? Is that how it works?"
"I don't know anything about that, ma'am."
Stop talking, Laura. She takes a deep breath, letting it out shakily. "I want to speak with my lawyer. His number is in my phone."
The officer steps over to the doorway and knocks on it. "Bring her phone," she tells one of the others who looks over.
Laura is handed her phone and a piece of paper and pencil. "Go ahead and write out any numbers you need."
She glares at the officer, who stares blandly back. After a moment she looks through her phone and copies out the numbers for her lawyer, Peter, and Dom. Red's she has memorized. After a moment she also copies out Sam's. The handcuffs clink and rattle as she writes, then hands her phone back, watching it get carried away with an empty feeling in her chest.
Soon the officers begin filing out. "Thank you for your patience, ma'am. You'll be contacted by the department soon. Please don't leave the region in the next few weeks without informing us first."
"For now, yes. We understand that you may not have been aware of who you were getting information from, but while the investigation and search for them is ongoing, you're advised to call us immediately if you come into contact with them."
Laura is uncuffed and handed a receipt for all the things that were taken. She checks her apartment to confirm that only those things are missing, feeling another, softer punch to the gut when she sees so many things moved out of place and disorganized, and her computer desk sitting empty. She wants to object that she doesn't have time to check and make sure that none of her other things are missing, but she has a feeling they would wait patiently if she insists on looking through her closet and jewelry cabinet, and she just wants all this to be over so she can get to the next step. She signs it and watches them leave, rubbing at her wrists.
Laura hears a doorway open and turns to see Danni staring at her in apprehension. "Is everything okay, Mrs. Verres?"
"It's fine, Danni," she says, trying to smile. "Just a misunderstanding."
"Okay. Let me know if you need anything."
"Thank you, hon." Laura closes the door and goes to sit on her bed, staring blankly at the wall. It wasn't too long ago that she warned Leaf about the perils of writing stories involving powerful people. She can repeat to herself as often as she wants that she's innocent and won't be charged with anything, let alone convicted… but looking around at her trashed apartment makes her innocence feel like a paper shield. Just being shocked awake like this, her home invaded, handcuffed, and having her things taken without warning, told she can't leave the region, and overall treated like a criminal… it hurts.
Laura's face works, lip trembling. She covers her eyes with her hands, and her shoulders shake, once, twice. After a minute she rubs her face and gets up to make some tea.
She sets about putting things back in place and getting dressed as it brews, then drinks a cup and heads out. She feels like people are watching her even though no one is in the halls. It's a different sort of feeling than the night before though. That sense of impending doom is completely gone, ironically enough. Instead she just has a much more solid lump of worry in her stomach, a worry of things seen rather than unseen. She walks with her shoulders in an unconscious hunch, feeling utterly exposed and vulnerable, despite the new pokeball at her belt. It can't protect her from the law, if the law has become corrupt.
She goes to the nearest electronic store and buys a new phone, wasting a precious hour going through the tedious paperwork for having "lost" hers so they can deactivate it and connect her new one. As soon as it's powered up and synced, she checks the contacts to make sure she doesn't need the numbers on the paper she wrote out, then tears it up and tosses it in two separate trash cans on the way home after buying a laptop too. She can only hope these won't get seized in a couple days too.
Along the way she calls her lawyer and Peter, both of whom express surprise, sympathy, and words of encouragement: "You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride," from her lawyer, meant to make her feel better about being over the hardest part, and "We'll get that old bastard" from Peter, meant to make her smile. Both did, briefly.
She considers calling Red and Sam, but doesn't want to bother them about it yet. Just the thought of telling Red makes her feel a little sick. If it all blows over soon, she'd rather not worry him at all, especially since he's leaving on his cruise in a few days.
She gets home and sets her new computer up, every minor annoyance of the experience amplified by her impatience to get back to work. At least they left her mouse and keyboard so she didn't have to buy new ones of those. The expenses from all this are already adding to her stress, but the inconveniences are what's most irritating. It takes another hour for her to set up the new computer and connect her various emails and social media accounts again.
Meanwhile she calls Dom to ensure that he's okay. She tells him what happened without mentioning the flash drive. He grunts a few times in response, and she knows he understands. There are new emails waiting for her when she finishes, and she spends the rest of the day trying to pick up the pieces of her investigations and side projects as best she can without the files on her computer, or her notebooks. She has an automatic backup for digital files, but it's only scheduled to do so every week, and the past few days of work is gone. It's hard not to be bitter about failing to plan ahead better, despite her action with the flash drive. If only she'd backed up her files too…
She feels a sudden disquiet as she remembers that the police will see much of the information she was working on. If they're in Silph's pocket, which she'd like to assume they're not but knows she has to be ready for, it would mean the element of surprise is gone for many of the other articles she was planning on putting out. That new realization hurts nearly as bad as losing the computer did, and she takes a few minutes of angry pacing to vent her frustration as a new cup of tea brews, night falling over the city outside.
She's still working to weave together the threads of her various non-Silph related projects when she hears a knock on her balcony door.
Laura bolts up and dashes to the living room, where she sees the informer on her balcony. Ice water floods her veins as she stares. What's she doing here, she just came a couple nights ago!
She rushes to grab a piece of paper and scribbles a quick message on it, then goes to the balcony and holds the paper against the glass with one hand as she calls the police with the other.
"CPD, what's your emergency?"
"Hello, there's someone on my balcony!" Laura yells. "I think they're trying to get in!"
The masked figure stares at the paper pressed against the glass, then turns and leaps over the balcony railing, falling down and out of sight.
Laura walks over to the kitchen as she gives the woman on the phone her address and puts the piece of paper in her sink, then lights a match and drops it on top. Some part of her feels regret that she'll likely never know what the informant came to tell her. Whatever remains of the story, Laura will have to find it on her own.
She watches as the fire creeps over the paper and slowly turns its message to ash.
Silph knows about you, called you "her." Police came and took computer/phone. Apartment may be watched.