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The insight gleaned within this hidden memory seemed to lift an immense weight off of Tristan’s shoulders. He was relieved that the Rangers were likely not involved in any way, save for maybe a few rogue individuals. Sure, there was still the possibility that one of the Zodiacs themselves was a Ranger of some sort, but the way Pisces was remembered seemed to make this possibility less likely.

This greatly improved their odds of preventing whatever it was these Zodiacs were planning. However, how could, or would, the Rangers be used? The warning was clear - as long as the Rangers didn’t get involved, they wouldn’t be targeted. He supposed that was up to Hardy to determine on his own, but he figured the safest course of action would be the Rangers to offer clandestine assistance, but nothing tangible or physical.

This consideration was cut short when nausea threatened to make Tristan vomit while both Espeons guided their respective trainers out of Kline’s memory. Never before had he experienced something like this and it was terrifying. He imagined it must have been what Oracle went through. That thought only made him feel worse.

When they returned to their physical bodies to find Forrest cradling the Grand Watcher, Tristan could only blankly stare as his mind raced. Ether casually sprang into action to offer some Healing Pulses, if only to stabilize her for the medics and nurses to arrive.

Tristan also posited the ideas that Jonton wasn’t as negatively affected due to his unconsciousness, or possibly because Pisces Gorebyss had improved so much as to not negatively affect the host necessarily, and specifically the person who broke the barrier? He figured anything could be possible at this point. Still, shivers ran up his entire body at the thought of how many minds that Gorebyss would have had to destroy or melt to just be able to accomplish what it had with Kline those few years ago, never mind what it managed to do with Jonton.

Tristan nodded only once at Samantha’s invitation. “We’ll make our way there after I speak with Percival and have dinner with my parents. I need to read them in on all of this.” He was more thinking out loud, but was intensely curious about this Ms. Shade.

And to be able to go back to Lady Fairfax with this knowledge only strengthened the conviction.

Still, it was going to be a long night.

He agreed with Samantha’s position that Jonton was merely a pawn, and confirmed that if their plan had that long of a timetable that could help explain their desire for these Mythical Pokemon. He mentioned to Samantha that both Jonton and Taurus seemed much bigger and stronger than he considered possible, even with the use of performance enhancing drugs. And he figured that their Pokemon must have been similarly experimented on. He refused to believe that their Pokemon became so powerful through conventional means.

He voiced his thought that they might be attempting ways to elongate their lives before resorting to acquiring the Mythical Pokemon themselves. Indeed, if Pisces was the leader, and the rest thought as he did, he found it somewhat contradictory that they would use Mythical Pokemon to reshape and remake the world in such a way.

Samantha’s willingness to use lethal force against these crazies was as unsettling as it was comforting. It made the whole thing more straight forward. It was a rather simple matter to just try and kill them. Needing to subdue and somehow contain them would be inconvenient in itself, never mind in such a way as to prevent their escape when their allies undoubtedly came to break them out.

Still, again, it was the concern of making them martyrs and potentially drawing more to their cause. Indeed, all of them would likely need to be neutralized. Any one left alive would keep their dream possible, and their return likely.

Some time passed as Tristan continued to work on his notes after Samantha had left. Eventually a few knocks rapped on the door and Percival appeared. He looked concerned, but otherwise well. His business-casual attire looked fresh and clean, and in stark contrast to Tristan’s lightly soiled clothes. “Tris?”

“Yeah, have a seat.” Tristan spoke in a comfortable, familiar tone that he hadn’t with anyone else today. It was nice to finally be able to relax, if only a little bit.

Percival obliged, taking a glance at the open black file Tristan had opened on the desk with various pages sprawled about. However, for now he focused on his friend. “You know I have a Gym to run, right?” He was trying to ease the tension.

It didn’t work. “I know I’m sorry. Honestly, I’m worried for Mama P too, but we’ll get to that in a moment.” Percival knew from the speed at which he spoke that this wasn’t the time for that. He remembered that Tristan had been working on this all day and was probably mentally fried. Good thing Ether was here to keep him grounded.

Some might be taken off guard with how he referred to the former Mossdeep Gym Leader, Persephone Gutermuth. Especially after how he seemed to address everyone else, and perhaps more-so due to how he was dressed and typically presented himself.

“You’re alright, though?” Tristan seemed genuinely concerned, and this further indicated to Percival that this wasn’t the time for joking around.

“Tris, I’m fine. I promise.” He paused for a second, waiting for Tristan to look up at him. It took a few moments longer than it should have. When Tristan finally looked up, he seemed to be done looking at his notes for the time being. “I know what’s going on,” he continued. “The Master General read me in. I want to help.”

A giant weight seemed to lift off of Tristan’s body. He sighed heavily and slumped deeply in his chair - the first time all day that he wasn’t sitting upright in one. “Thank Arceus…” he breathed. “Though, why did Hardy want you to talk to Kline?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I’m just following orders at this point.”

Tristan considered this for a few moments before it dawned on him. “Well, you can't. She's... incapacitated at the moment. Either way, I have her file here. I’ll compile it with the rest of the intel that I have and we’ll go over it in the morning. You’ll be working with me from now on.” Tristan wasn’t about to have his closest friend report to someone else, after all. Even if it was the Master General. As well-meaning as he might have been, he had only proven himself to be wholly incompetent with this particular debacle. No sense in getting someone as talented and intelligent as Percival stuck in all that.

What perhaps struck Percival most was how professional and matter-of-fact Tristan was being right now. Whenever Tristan was home, he always seemed to just go with the flow - do what everyone else wanted to do. Percival realized in this moment that was because he was so used to giving directions all the time. As a member of the Elite Four and a Senior Inspector of Ranger Internal Affairs, and formerly a Detective Major of the Ranger Detective Corps, over half of his life had been telling other people what to do most of the time.

“What do you think Mac is going to feel about all this? We have to let him know.” Tristan was equal parts concerned and insistent. Of course he was going to let Percy’s cousin know.

“Yeah, I’ll let him know. I’m sure he’ll want to get in on some action. I know he gets bored on the mountain at times. My grandparents aren’t the party people they used to be.” Percy managed something of a chuckle, but Tristan wasn’t able to reciprocate. He was already thinking of next steps.

“And Mama P? I know she can cover in your absence, but I’d hate for her to become a target too. You think she should know what’s going on? I don’t want her to worry unnecessarily…”

“I’ll let her know too.” Percival said, cutting Tristan off. “Don’t worry about Mom. She’ll be fine. I’m sure she’ll do whatever you need.” He again chuckled, knowing that Persephone treated Tristan better than himself, just like Deirdre treated Percival better than her own son.

Still, no real response from Tristan in this. “I hate this… I fucking hate it. Like, seriously… what the actual fuck is going on? Why is this happening? Fucking idiots,” he mumbled, speaking of these Zodiac people.

“Tris, I didn’t see it, but the Master General told me about your encounter with this Taurus. I have to believe there are more of us than there are of them. They can be as powerful as Solgaleo and Lunala, but I don’t believe for a second that they’re smarter than either of us.”

It seemed Tristan was finally on the verge of breaking down. His eyes were red and tears started to drop from an eye. He’d catch himself, though, and inhale sharply, sit up straight, and exhale deeply. “We’ll see. Go see Mama P. We’ll talk in the morning.”

Percival wasn’t sure how he felt about this version of his friend. He’d sit there for a few moments, not used to being commanded by his old friend who had never spoken to him like that before. “Night, Tris. See you in the morning.” His tone was one of defeat, but he’d pause only to watch Tristan starting to pour over the notes again.

Eventually he’d sigh and leave the room to go find a Ranger who could teleport him back home.

Not long after Percival left the office, Ether teleported Tristan back to HQ, right outside of the Master General’s office. Despite the hour, he wasn’t quite surprised that Rich was still in his office, his secretary working late out of a sense of duty and responsibility.

Tristan was allowed entry only to tell Rich that it was likely that the Ranger Corps probably weren’t directly involved, but had probably been infiltrated to some extent at this point. “I can confirm that it’s a rather simple matter for most anyone to get in here and move about freely.” He spoke of Asuna, but wouldn’t reveal the specifics to the Master General.

He’d keep it quick as he wanted to finally visit with his parents. It had been a long day and he was ready to relax, if only for a little bit. As he walked at a brisk pace towards the dormitories where his parents were supposed to be, he called his own secretary to have dinner brought to his parents’ quarters. And something for Ether too, of course. Lucas obliged, of course, and Tristan returned to walking through the building to his destination. The most he had walked since the hike he and Forrest went on this morning.

That felt like a lifetime ago at this point.

“You really need to get some sleep.” Ether suggested. The two would walk side-by-side in silence as they conversed.

“You know I can’t. I need to meet with Ms. Shade and prep for my meeting with the Three and Percy. Probably going to have to talk to Hardy again too. We have to work quick if we’re going to have any chance.” Tristan’s mind was still a whirlwind.

“You don’t even really know what they’re doing. What their actual plans are.” Ether seemed more than a little incredulous about it all.

“All the more reason to keep working.” Tristan thought in a tone that Ether wasn’t quite used to. It was authoritative and single-minded. In their minds Tristan was always the wishy-washy one. The jokester and follower. Ether figured he was, as he knew, over tired and all of this was getting to him.
This woefully thin file made Tristan’s heart sink. He wasn’t sure what he hoped to get here, but it was more than this. Still, he’d thumb through what was here while she spoke, adding this information to what was already banging around in his head.

He’d allow her to speak as he scoured each word she wrote, and at points followed along in her notes with what she was saying out loud. All the while he was making mental notes on things he wanted to confront her about. And he was going to stop keeping things so close to his chest. This wasn’t like his normal jobs where he was more than capable of handling things on his own. He needed those he was going to be working with to know what he knew. Even if they were some sort of sleeper agents.

At this thought, he turned to feign looking at Forrest, really intrigued by what Samantha might think about all of this.

“So, you don’t know anything about all the people who were helping Taurus empty the base we infiltrated? They seemed to know who and what he was, as far as I could tell. So it seems they're still doing some sort of recruiting.” He’d continue going through her files while he waited for an answer. Ether could observe to pick up on her non-verbal cues while he listened to her words.

Once she offered her thoughts on that, he’d move on. “And you don’t remember anything about your meeting with him in Lilycove about three years ago?” He’d pause to allow her to answer or just think of the implication while he explained, “We’ve learned that his Gorebyss is rather adept at manipulating minds. Erasing a memory seems to be well within its ability.”

He’d, again, allow her some time to explain, perhaps unveiling some insight she hadn’t already.

Once they concluded with their conversation, Tristan requested that Forrest be teleported to his home at this point - his presence was no longer required. Of course, this was more that Ether finally revealed to his trainer that the man was mostly lost in all this and was just going where he was told. He figured it would be good for him to go home already - Tristan needed to speak with his parents soon as well.

When Kline let Tristan know that Percival was to be arriving shortly, he confirmed that he would stay and meet with the Gym Leader.

“You should go back to your family. I’ll be in touch.” His lips pulled in a forced, contemplative sort of smile. He’d see Forrest off and wait for Percival to arrive.

“So… any thoughts?” He asked of Samantha after a long enough pause. He hated himself for being desperately curious about where she was at with all of this. Still, he needed her insight if he was going to get any sort of grasp around any of this. While they talked he’d make his way to his office here in Zephyr Base. While making his way there, he had an Investigator let Senior Inspector Rachel Pevinces know that he was on site, but probably not for too long. He'd request the same Investigator, one he hadn't met before, to ensure Percival Gutermuth would meet with Tristan instead.

This office was somewhat similar to his own in the Rustboro HQ. It was minimalistic with a tidy desk and chair, a small conference table, and a couch and coffee table. She had a much better view out of her significantly larger window. At this point in the evening the deep purples and blues colored the clouds as they lazed by as the last remnants of sunlight gave way to night.

As they waited for Percival to arrive, Tristan would do his best to prod Samantha for her insight and perspective on everything that was going on. He wanted to know about the Mauville Attack, sure, but definitely wanted to know about these Zodiac people and what they might have planned for all the targets. He asked if she had any ideas about what their timetable might be, despite it likely being altered since they were caught infiltrating a base. He was also curious about her thoughts about Lady Fairfax and what Samantha thought she might do about all of this. He also wondered what she thought they should do with Jonton - have the Rangers keep him, or send him back to his mother.

He was also intrigued to know her thoughts on who they should target - the Zodiacs personally or their Pokemon. Should they try to detain the Zodiacs, or should they use lethal force? Would their Pokemon just go under the command of other Zodiacs at that point. But, also, what sort of message would it send if they executed these people? It would probably just make them look like martyrs.

Tristan had been impossibly busy since very early this morning. Sure, there was a nice little hike, but ever since they were caught, Tristan had been feverishly working on this “case”, if we wanted to give this whole thing such a mundane designation. His intense curiosity and need to know as much as possible as quickly as possible had brought him through most of the day. He was only now starting to realize that he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch and so called to have a meal brought to him in this office he had effectively commandeered.
While her serious and standoffish demeanor might put most people off, Tristan sort of appreciated it. While it kept him on edge - still not entirely sure who he could trust - he was glad that this would just be business.

He only nodded to her nicety about Oracle; he knew she wasn’t terribly concerned. Either way, it didn’t really need a response. Additionally, he was a little preoccupied with Ether relaying that she had met with Pisces here in her office. He was curious what the timing was for this in relation to their meeting “3 years ago” in Lilycove. Yet another thing to inquire about.

“I’d like to know everything you’ve learned about this Team Zodiac.” He’d pause a beat to observe her reaction. “Most importantly any information you have about the Zodiacs themselves - descriptions, personalities, Pokémon, last known locations, habits; anything and everything you know about them.

“Of course I’d like to know who and how they’re recruiting, where they’re working out of, and such.” After another similar pause to last time he’d add, “I’d also like to be read-in on this Project Shadow the Master General just made me aware of.”

He’d continue before allowing her a chance to retort, “Now, I know this is outside my jurisdiction, but I believe these circumstances allow me to fall back into my previous role, yes?”

He, too, was rather calm - doing his best to match her energy. It was nice, actually, to take it down a notch and allow all the nerves and stress from the past 48 hours to just fade away for a moment while he focused on the woman in front of him.

All the while he was rather annoyed that Ether wouldn’t be able to get any reads on Samantha. He was desperately curious to know what she thought and was going through her mind. All the more so probably because he knew he couldn’t. In a way, he took it for granted.
Gyms and Bases protecting one another was… better than nothing. It would have to do for now, if nothing else. And then needing permission for a raid on the Southern Base - the Master General had to say that, Tristan knew. He’d remind Rich that anything they did needed to be of the utmost secrecy. Getting permission for any such operation would be antithesis to that.

When Asuna described the encounter with Aries he couldn’t help but furrow his brows in concerning curiosity. So open about it? If she was so forthcoming, how have they been so good at staying under the radar and being so hard to track and gather intelligence on? How are they gathering followers, then? Or do the followers not even know what they’re actually helping with?

But, yes; he agreed that they shouldn’t trust anyone. And he made sure to pause and suggest that he wasn’t quite to the point of trusting Asuna, never mind Samantha, and far be it from this Ms. Shade. He assured her, though, that Grand Conserve Kline, at the very least, needed to be questioned and debriefed by him, given Rich’s incompetence. Or potential treason. Hopefully the former.

While conversing, he made sure to include a note to ask Kline about and investigate this cove off the coast of Lilycove where this alleged meeting took place.

The suggestion of working with Samantha made Tristan clench his jaw. He had absolutely no interest in the prospect. Sure, they had only interacted once, and in an admittedly stressful situation, but he took personal offense to being so unabashedly attacked. To be so willing to attack an Elite Four member’s person spoke volumes. Though, perhaps he needed to check his privilege there.

Even so, he knew that Samantha, and Asuna herself, would be instrumental on a raid on the Southern Island base.

“I look forward to learning what you find,” Tristan replied to her declining his offer to join him. A good idea, all things considered. He couldn’t trust whatever reports the Rangers submitted following their investigation after all. And, for some reason, he trusted her more than almost anyone at this point.

Scary.

”Veritas, keep your wits about you. If there’s any suspicious activity at all, get them out of there immediately.” This thought reached Veritas as Asuna described the ease in which she infiltrated, and her joke about getting out of here before it exploded. He knew it wasn’t entirely a joke, and he now desperately wanted to stay with them rather than go speak with Kline. But, he had to trust Veritas would do the right thing if anything were to happen.

It was a good thing that Veritas was able to deal with Tristan’s anxiety and stress separately from keeping his parents and Percival company and keeping things as calm as they could be given the circumstances. She picked up on his suspicion of any and all Rangers at this point and took that to put each one she comes across under greater scrutiny.

It was only after teleporting to Zephyr Base and being greeted by the security outside that he was still in the same clothes. His burgundy shirt, khakis and sport coat were rather wrinkly at this point, making him mostly miss the beautiful scenery here as he tried to straighten himself out.

He almost gasped out loud at Samantha’s voice in his mind. Ether’s tail twitched aggressively at first, slowly calming to just an annoyed sway. Still, his eyes widened and he looked around to see her with her Espeon and Bronzong behind him and Forrest. He’d do his best to play it off as they were escorted to her office. His eyes scrutinized Forrest to see how he would react and desperately hoped that he wouldn’t make a scene.

Once there, he only thanked the Ensign for his time and entered the office, Ether close behind. He’d find whatever seat might be available to sit in, Ether sticking right to his side the whole time, and casually rest himself upon it. And, as a way to see where Kline was at mentally and emotionally in this moment, he would wait until she spoke first.
Before leaving Rich’s office, Tristan asked the Master General to let him know what he figured would be better - scattering the targets or gathering them. If nothing else, it would help Tristan determine Rich’s state-of-mind. He also floated the idea of the Gym Leaders and Elite Four to perform a sort of blitz on the Southern Island base. Tristan only wanted Rich to consider it for now, and he would be sure to get Forrest’s thoughts about this on the way to his office.

The insight Hawley provided was, in its own way, valuable. If not for its factual substance than for its subjective observations. The description and Pokemon of the individual was noted, though he wouldn’t be able to put it with a name. Or title, or whatever it was they considered these monikers to be. He’d praise Hawley’s resourcefulness and discipline and would submit a commendation for his work.

Hopefully they would all live long enough to experience it.

If he were being honest, Tristan was taken aback by the playful nickname Asuna had decided to gift him. Sure it was cute, but he had a hard time figuring out if he was offended by her presumption, humored by her playfulness, or touched by her thoughtfulness. She was impossible to read, after all.

His annoyance at being so unaware only grew when she revealed they had long known about the attack on Mauville and were planning to stop it only to be undercut by the timing. This whole thing was a complete cluster. Rich really screwed up big time here, and he’d really have to outdo himself to make up for it. Otherwise, Tristan held no love for the man, so it wouldn’t matter to him if he was succeeded.

While Asuna essentially debriefed him on what she already knew he furiously typed this new information into his notes. He was surprised and annoyed at his surprise that this had been going on for so long with him not knowing a thing. Of course he had various matters to attend to on his own, and Internal Affairs, by definition, rarely found him looking outward. Only during the few tasks Lady Fairfax had given him was he out in the wider world. But he made a note to make some time to scour these missions to see if he could find any trace or hints of all of this going on behind the scenes. He didn’t want to believe that he had been so easily evaded all these years.

With the whole thing about Aries, he wanted some clarification. “How do you know it was Aries? What did she do, or what makes you suspect this person to be her?”

Once he was satisfied with the justification to add this description to his notes he moved on to his next steps.

“Ether, Forrest, and I just came from a meeting with the Master General. Ether was unable to find anything in his mind that would suggest he’s under any sort of influence by this Team Zodiac. I’m rather comfortable with his assessment, however…” he’d pause for this moment, thinking of how best to reveal this information to his new associate.

“We’ve encountered, first hand, what this Gorebyss can do to human minds. But if it’s able to create sleeper agents that can’t be detected, then it’s far more powerful than we anticipated.” He’d go on to describe Jonton’s interrogation, including the fact that Oracle was nearly driven mad by it all. Indeed, it was perhaps only luck that allowed her to regain her sanity. Or as much of as she could after something like that.

“You had the same concern that made us interrogate him in the first place. Knowing that they could, at any time, make this whole thing a crater in a moment if they wanted, it was suspicious to say the least that none of the plans that I pulled had anything about not only HQ, but any Ranger whatsoever.

“But, for now I trust him and Grand Conserve Kline,” He’d pause for a moment to observe her reaction to the mention of the Grand Conserve to see if he could glean any confirmation of his suspicion. “Speaking of, we need to meet with her.” He looked to Forrest at this point, indicating that it was he that Tristan included in that “we”.

With this he reached to pick up his phone to call the secretary. “Yeah, Lucas. I need you to get a hold of Grand Conserve Kline so we can meet with her. Ether will take Forrest and myself,” He paused, looking to Asuna to see if she wanted to be included in this conversation before continuing, “to wherever she is now. Ensure she knows it’s to be a private conversation.”

“Yes, Sir.” Lucas replied as he wrote the directive in a notebook he always kept handy.

“And I need you to set up a meeting with myself and the rest of the Elite Four in my office for first thing tomorrow morning. 9am, I think. Make sure you speak to them personally. And let me know if they need teleportation services to make the meeting.”

“Yes, Sir. Anything else?” Lucas kept his professionalism about him. He was rather used to the aloof, largely-absent IA Investigator to be somewhat demanding when he did find himself in the building. Though, Lucas appreciated the directness Tristan usually displayed.

“Oh, yeah. Can we make sure my parents and Percival are fed and they have everything they need for their stay? Oh, yeah, and Veritas is going to need something to eat as well.”

“Of course, Sir.” Lucas wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about running a hotel, but knew better than to complain.

“Thank you, Lucas. That’s it for now.”

“Yes, Sir.” And the call was ended.
”If there’s anything there, I can’t sense it…” Ether confirmed to Tristan as they listened to Forrest interrogate the Master General. ”It feels like he’s not trying to hide, either.”

This intrigued Tristan as he listened to Forrest’s somewhat impressive interrogation skills. Well, they impressed Tristan at least. And it was an admittedly low bar.

A whole separate file for the Rangers. Curious. It made sense, sure, but after experiencing the power of a single of these Zodiac members, he wondered why they would need any sort of elaborate plan requiring its own filing and plans. He fully believed that, if they wanted to, they could all blitz on the Headquarters and just obliterate it in a moment, killing everyone inside. This would have been especially effective if all the Grands were still here. Everything would have fallen into chaos with, he believed, minimal effort on their part.

However, overhearing that the Grands were returning to their bases, hope threatened to flutter in Tristan’s chest. The Zodiacs either weren’t powerful enough to do this, or they believed they were. The former would be ideal. However, as he had mentioned before, they had to overestimate these terrorists in all things.

Still, the Grands had scattered, and the Headquarters was still standing. The Master General seemed to not be in league with them and Grand Kline seemed to have been looking into them with this “Project Shadow” - intriguing. He was absolutely going to have that meeting with Regina as soon as he could.

However, he was going to follow through with his previous requests. He wasn’t about to rule out that Agent Hawly had nothing new to report. If nothing else, it might help add context if not new information altogether. Both of which could be helpful to someone who knew what to do with such intelligence.

At this point, Tristan only had two data drives; one for the intelligence gathered about the attack on Mauville and everything related to Jonton’s work. The other had all of the intelligence gathered about the Zodiacs specifically along with the locations they were to target.

“I’ll still speak with Hawley.” Tristan spoke with a rather flat and expressionless tone as he approached the desk again. He’d pick up the drive that he had left on the desk at Forrest’s first motion. He then gestured for the Rich to move out from behind his desk. His other hand lifted the drive and he asked, “May I?” referring to uploading the information.

After verifying that his system was secure and uncompromised he would start with the Mauville attack and Jonton intel first. As he did so he would give a brief summary of what it was he was uploading. Once complete, the drive was placed back into his pant pocket and the other drive was revealed and input into Rich’s computer.

As this information was uploaded, Tristan similarly provided an overview of the information - The Zodiac’s aliases, their targets, the physical descriptions of the three that they knew, and the Mythical Pokemon they were listed to acquire if they hadn’t already.

There wasn’t really much to discuss at this point. For now, Tristan wanted to relay his thoughts to Rich as he had with Forrest. He wanted to impress upon the Master General that, if the Zodiacs are all as powerful, or more so, than Taurus, then the Headquarters could easily be leveled in a moment if they wanted to. Clearly they had something else in mind, but he made sure to suggest that they not have another in-person meeting of the Grands if they could help it.

He would express that this would pose its own challenges and consequences. In keeping their authoritative structure spread out it would make a single sweeping blow less straightforward. However, with as many of these Zodiacs as there were, they could just split up and attack everyone all at once and likely overpower them regardless. Perhaps that was their plan.

So, they needed to decide if they were going to gather everyone in one location so it was potentially more defensible, or remain spread out to make their likely attack on the Rangers more inconvenient.

More importantly, though, they needed to quickly come up with a plan on how to evacuate or defend the remaining locations and individuals. And do so without creating panic among the general populace.

Most importantly, he needed to ensure that this information didn’t get out and that it was only disseminated to entirely necessary personnel. Even better was to compartmentalize the information, only letting individuals know the parts that were pertinent to their position and capabilities.

A difficult needle to thread, all said.

This was something he would leave up to Rich to make the decision based on his best judgement. An awful lot of trust to place into someone he found himself at odds with more often than not. It was ultimately his job and responsibility, after all. ”Veritas, HQ is clear… for now. Bring my parents and Percival here when you get them.”

On the way back to his office, Tristan suggested that Forrest should think about what to do about his parents. While Tristan debriefed Hawley, he instructed Veritas to acquire rooms and get his own parents settled in. He would visit with them soon enough, but had quite a bit of work to do before the day was done.

It was entirely disconcerting that there was no warning of someone entering his office. Both he and Ether hated it. While he tried to remember that this was how most everyone else experienced things, Ether’s tail flicked back and forth in annoyance. Tristan’s brows crinkled at the abrupt entrance, but he did his best not to outright jump as she approached.

Asuna was absolutely not someone he expected to see. Not here. Not now. While he was surprised and somewhat confused, his interest and curiosity was overpowering in this moment.

“Yes, Asuna. It’s good to see you. Please,” he said even after she already took Forrest’s seat. It was his way of confirming to Forrest that he, indeed, knew this young lady and this was acceptable. Acceptable only in that he didn’t want to act the reality that he was caught completely on the back foot here.

“I’m glad. To be honest, I was a little worried which side Ms. Shade was on.” It reminded him that he was curious what Lady Fairfax was up to and how she felt about all of this. How she would feel once she learned what he decided to tell her.

But, he needed to focus on the here and now. ”Ether, don’t let me forget that we need to talk to Kline and Frederick, Lois, and Bingham. Ugh, this is going to take forever. Veritas, let them know it’s going to be a late night, but I’ll get to them as soon as I can.” Ether impressed upon his training an affirmative while Veritas replied, ”Of course…

“So, as for what I found.” He had allowed just enough time for her to offer her opinion and thoughts on his previous spoken statement, half-listening and hoping that Ether would remind him of any important details that he missed. He would, again, pause while he brought up the summaries he had shown Forrest and Rich already.

He’d start with the information around the Mauville attack and Jonton, allowing Ether to focus on her reaction to this information. Even no apparent reaction might be something. However, he reminded Ether to keep out of her mind - not that he could infiltrate her defenses anyway. He was only to observe her non-verbal communication while he went through each set of intelligence.

After everything was relayed, Tristan - showing an uncharacteristically generous amount of trust and confidence in this woman he’d only met once - turned to her to ask, “And that’s all we gathered.” He’d wait a beat before asking, “How much of this did you already know?” He wanted to see her reaction and see if she was, indeed, who he thought - part of this Project Shadow.
Talk to him? Was Forrest really so naive?

Yes. Yes he was. Forrest’s line of work didn’t require him, necessarily, to consider everyone a potential hostile. His line of work didn’t need him to believe everyone had some ulterior motive or two. Forrest didn’t really need to be on the lookout for the subtle lies, half-truths, and re-directs from everyone.

When the good guys could do things that were just as vile and horrific as the bad guys, the lines blurred.

It required to believe that no one was to be trusted. Perhaps more importantly, that no one could be trusted. Not completely. Not forever. Goals could align in the moment, but they could just as easily come into conflict. These goals could change, or the individual could have a change of heart.

Tristan desperately wished that he could trust people again. He’d been burned too many times, though. That softness had long ago been worn away by harsh reality.

The only things Tristan could trust were Ether and Veritas. They were intrinsically linked to him unlike any of this other Pokémon. In a way they shared a mind and spirit. While that was comforting, when Tristan thought about it for too long, it was also incredibly lonely.

“We don’t have a choice but to suspect them. Look at it. Look,” he said, pointing to the map he had generated that highlighted all of the targeted locations. “See something missing?” He’d allow a beat for the rhetorical question to sink in. “Ranger Headquarters. And see this list?” He pulled up the list of people who were targets and had background checks performed on them. “You see any Rangers here? No.”

He’d pause for a moment in deep thought. “But why?” He was more asking himself at this point. “Why aren’t they listed at all? It doesn’t make any sense. They’re either leaving it for last, which would be kind of illogical. The only thing I can think is that they want to spread the Rangers thin so they can weaken them before they attack HQ.

“Or it’s their next target. If they’re really that powerful, then it would be a rather simple matter for them to come here and blow a crater in this very spot to deal a devastating blow and scatter the Rangers. Though, if they were going to do that, it would have made sense to do so while all the Grands were gathered.”

He looked up at Forrest with that. “They’re not all still here, are they?” This was a real question. Tristan had been too engrossed in his work to notice while walking in, or otherwise ask.

Ether immediately reached out to Veritas to let her know to not bring Tristan’s parents or Percival here yet.

“You’re right, though. We’re going to need all the help we can get. Of course we’re going to let everyone on the list know they’re being targeted. It’s safe to assume that they aren’t allied in any way with the Zodiacs. Anyone not listed, though, is suspicious as far as I’m concerned. Doubly so with an entire group and organization as important as the Ranger Corps.”

Tristan was hoping he was making sense to Forrest. His convictions were well enough, but this wasn’t the time to allow sentiment and feeling cloud proper rational judgement. They couldn’t afford it.

“We will question him together. With Ether. If he is innocent in all of this, then we’ll read him in.” With that, performed numerous clicks, saved the documents to an external drive, pocketed the drive, ensured nothing was on the computer, and stood up to place all the documents into his safe behind his desk. Finally, he faced Forrest, a signal that he was ready to go and interrogate Rich.

Oracle was returned to her pokeball upon leaving his office, and he made sure it was locked behind him.
While it was difficult to properly comprehend the scope of the coming pandemonium, it was palatable after having engaged with just one of these Zodiac people directly. These plans would utterly destroy and upend the lives of all the people in Hoenn. It would be overwhelming for most anyone to shoulder on their own.

Luckly, Tristan was never alone.

”How are you feeling?” He spoke to Oracle first, seemingly ignoring Forrest. Rather, he was preparing the documentation and his thoughts to debrief the now less-modestly-clothed man.

”I am well enough…” She never lied. She never particularly felt the need to. Still, she wasn’t incapable of placating and speaking around the full truth. Tristan pulled his lips in, knowing well what she meant, but knowing he couldn’t do anything about it. Either way, it was more important to relay the information and start to formulate a plan.

Tristan raised an eyebrow once he physically looked at Forrest. It’s like he was trying to get a rise out of him.

“Well, quite a bit. I guess Shaq’ti and I make a good team.” He looked at her and offered her a forced half-smile. “We found essentially exactly what we were looking for.” He was stalling, that much was clear.

But, it wouldn’t be for that long. “First, it seems that the Zodiacs weren’t directly involved in the attack on Mauville. Though, we do have a list of individuals that are allegedly involved, along with quite a list of names that worked under Jonton. Oh, and their business dealings too. I’ll be giving all of this to the Master General momentarily.” One of Tristan’s many gifts, other than his impeccable sense of style, was his ability to multitask. Even as he spoke fluidly to Forrest he was typing up some sort of report.

“Second, we have a list of targets. Luckily, you, your wife, and your kids aren’t one of them.” He paused, allowing Forrest to make the inference for himself. A moment later, Tristan pointed to the TV on the wall behind him revealing the report he was working on, scrolling back to the list of targets to which he was referring.

“I’ve already sent Veritas to collect my parents and Percy. I figure it’s better to have them here. I wanted to let you decide how to handle your parents.” He’d pause and allow Forrest some time to digest all of this.

And he had only just begun.

“Luckily, as you can see, HQ isn’t listed as a target. I’m not sure how much I believe that, though. Hopefully we can confirm this… somehow.” Tristan might have seemed worried, but he was at the same time trying to come up with some sort of solution.

“In any case, the personnel files here are 3 years old. I’m not sure if another location would have more updated documents. It’d be annoying if they were organized enough to not have everything in one location. Spread everything out, as it were. Makes our job harder.” Tristan continued to effectively mask his concern as he spoke. He tried to keep focused on the task and his job. His personal feelings and emotions would have to wait until later.

And it wouldn’t be pretty.

“Now, there aren’t any dates or indications of when or what they plan to do at the locations or with the personnel. So, we’ll have to come up with a few contingencies to account for possible plans of attack they might have. What I’m most concerned about, though, is…” and he would scroll down to the portion he had written up about the Zodiacs themselves.

Taurus, Sagittarius, and Pisces were the only ones with information regarding their appearance, Pokemon, and aliases (only in the case of Sagittarius as “Sarah”). They would also list the Mythical Pokemon, but the rest only had this last piece.

“I don’t know if they are already in possession of these, if they’re still looking for them, or what they plan to do with them. The only thing was their names next to the Pokemon. But…” He wasn’t going to allow them much time to consider the implications of this, and would rather focus on their next task.

“We need to head to the Southern Island base as soon as we can.” He’d finally turn to face Forrest. “How much do you trust Rich?” he asked. With the two of them here, with what they had just experienced, there was no mental energy remaining for formalities. Also, the question was serious, and his eyes bored deep into the man. Even managing to ignore his physique for the moment.

“I have 2 reports I’m prepared to send out. One with just the information about Jonton, the information regarding those that worked under him and their business dealings. And one with everything I’ve just told you.

“Now… I need you to be honest with me. I don’t care how you feel about the Master General. I need to know if there is anything that might cause you to hesitate to give him this information. Anything at all.” He was deadly serious, and would go on to explain why.

“Right now, the only thing we have going for us is that we have an inkling into what they might be doing. We know that they’re looking into all of these people. We can’t overpower them. So the only thing we can do is try to out-maneuver them, and even that is going to be near-impossible. We need to make sure they continue to underestimate us, and we need to overestimate them.” He paused, wondering if it were even possible to overestimate these Zodiac people.
While Tristan at first didn’t want to bother his family and was fine to wait on the report from the Rangers acting as a protection detail, once he organized the files and discovered what he did he had to. Veritas was released from her pokeball almost absentmindedly. He didn’t even look up from his work, but she would read his mind and soon enough teleport to his parent’s house. He wasn’t going to leave this to chance, and she was tasked with gathering Deirdre, Leon, and Percival to inform them that they were all targets and try to convince them to stay at the Ranger’s HQ until further notice.

Given that there was evidence that they were explicit targets, he felt comfortable allowing Veritas to inform them of this to convince them, if it was needed. Otherwise, he would have preferred to do it himself.

Tristan considered it curious that the Ranger Headquarters seemed to be the only important structure or organization that wasn’t to be directly targeted. He was also somewhat disappointed that there was nothing on the Mauville attack that would reveal what their mission was and what they had discovered through it.

In speaking with Frederick, he made sure to note her appearance, which pokemon they saw, and the name she had given to include those in their descriptions. This was added for Pisces and Taurus as well. Now only 9 more to learn about…

”Oracle? Please gather Forrest and his team and bring them to my office.” Oracle had been in touch with Tristan, along with Ether, all while he was going through the documents. It was actually nice; they helped him remember what he had just gone through so he could marry the papers together. They also guided him to make sense, and viable inferences, of all of this.

These Mythical Pokemon concerned him, though. Were they already in possession of, or otherwise have control over, these Pokemon? Were they still searching for them? What did they hope to accomplish with all of them? He figured one by itself was enough to reshape the entire world. But gathering them all together, he couldn’t fathom what they were going to try to do.

While Oracle went to find Forrest, Syressa, and Antligon, Tristan summoned the Secretary to ask him to procure the most current blueprints and personnel files of all the individuals listed in these Zodiac files. He wanted to compare them and see if they matched and were up to date. He would investigate any discrepancies to find who had the better and more accurate information. Even with this limited amount of documentation, he was going to determine how much they knew.

Getting into his work allowed him to ignore the near-hopelessness of the situation. He wondered if he was lying to himself, but figured it didn’t matter much either way. It was better that they knew as much about their enemy as possible. Especially about themselves, he figured. He knew that, moving forward, they would need to overestimate their enemy and underestimate themselves. By doing this, they would increase their chances of successfully thwarting whatever was going to happen next.

It was at this point that Tristan had the secretary reach out to the other Elite Four members to let them know that they are likely targets, and that he would like to get them involved in whatever was to come. He suggested that they join him at HQ, but knew that collecting so many high-profile, and clearly targeted, people in one location was unwise. The only reason he felt good about it was that they were capable battlers themselves and would be able to stall for time, at the very least.

It was weighing whether they should scatter and be easy pickings, or gather and be available in one convenient location.

And he’d need to inform Lady Fairfax of all this. They would have to discuss whether Jonton was still a target and perhaps on some burn list, or if he was now of no use and would be left alone. Admittedly the latter seemed unlikely, but still something to consider. Then they would need to discuss where to keep him. The background checks on the Fairfax’s would need to be combed through so they knew exactly what these Zodiacs had on them.

For now, he would allow this to play out and see what everyone here thought about this on their own without prompting them. He would be sure to give Lady Fairfax advance notice, though. It was the least he could do after leaving her in the lurch like that.

He also wondered what side Ms. Shade was on.

While he had managed to procure surprisingly pertinent and insightful documentation, it wasn’t everything. And when it wasn’t everything, there were always more questions. They were probably going to destroy and kill everyone listed, sure. But, when? Was it going to be simultaneous, or over a period of time? Regardless, when was it to start? How would they defend against all of this?

Tristan considered the Hospital the most vulnerable and important location. Objects could be moved or recreated. Hospitalized people, not so much. Sea Mauville, Ener-Geo, New Mauville, and the Pacifidlog Mills were next priority. If they went off-line, there would be utter chaos. Not to mention that mustering a response would be heavily impeded.

”They’re here…” Ether lifted his head to inform his trainer.

Tristan pushed his head back and pulled at his clothes to make himself more presentable as Oracle shuffled towards them. Oracle knew to take her time to allow Tristan some room to consider all of this before she arrived.
Oracle had a hard time standing and keeping her typical statuesque demeanor. Even though it was a glancing blow, it still hurt.

A lot.

Canting to one side, she waited for the rest to arrive. She was probably the most calm of everyone there as Rangers started scurrying about. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that she was staying in the moment and working on a few Wishes while Syressa and Shaq’ti were brought to this infirmary. They didn’t need to be within line of sight to enjoy the benefits of her Wishes, after all.

She spoke to the Rangers only enough to let them know the rest would be following momentarily and that they would need medical attention. Any debrief or insight into what happened would have to wait for her Trainer and his colleague.

Otherwise, she enjoyed the company of Antligon for the few moments before the rest began to arrive. ”I’m sorry…” More than the words, Antligon would feel her regret for being somewhat ineffective and not terribly helpful. Of course, from a more objective point of view, their collective struggle was ultimately futile, so it didn’t really matter who did more or less.

As soon as Tristan, Ether, and Damselraed arrived, Tristan was on his gauntlet to call Frederick. “Pick up, pick up…” he muttered to himself. “Frederick,” Tristan started before he could even say hello. “Where are you right now?”

“I was just about to meet up with Lois and head to Fallarbor, why?” He sounded confused, but could easily tell that this was serious and so a tinge of concern could be heard in his voice.

Tristan sighed heavily. “Good…”

“Tristan, what is it? What’s going on.” Frederick’s brows furrowed, his confusion shifting further to concern.

“If you’re still planning on checking the place out, do not engage. One of these… Zodiac people are probably there. We barely got out of there with everyone.

Look, I’ll explain everything later. I gotta go.” He ended the call unceremoniously as Forrest finally arrived. Looking to Vertigo, he looked around to see if the Master General was here yet. Not likely, given his age and physique.

Tristan replied flippantly, “Of course,” to Forrest’s largely rhetorical question. It was only after the “Thanks” that Tristan properly looked at the man and his injuries and overall state of being.

“Forrest,” he started, his tone soft and comforting; the nicest he had ever spoken to Forrest. “Of course.” He wasn’t going to get into it further, though.

Tristan only nodded to Veritas so she might offer Forrest some Life Dew to at least alleviate some of the pain while they waited for proper medical attention. The rest of his team would be returned to their pokeballs. He was glad, and lucky, that most of his team got out unscathed. Of course, the engagement didn’t even last a full minute, so it was really too quick for anything to really happen.

He’d stick with Forrest as they hobbled into the building. Tristan was already forming what he was going to tell Rich. First, it was going to be that the Rangers sent to the other locations were to not engage. Even better was to cancel the missions altogether.

As he debriefed the Master General he didn’t allow his despair to show. The only silver lining to all this was that Jonton’s bases were important enough for Zodiac members to personally oversee their decommissioning, as it were. Though, he wondered if these bases were given to Jonton and they were merely cleaning up his mess.

Tristan informed Rich that he was going to review and organize his findings so he could submit his report. It was his way of saying that he had first dibs, and the contents would be revealed when Tristan was good and ready. He didn’t want anyone else messing around in it. And he wanted to ensure that none of the documents might be compromising for him or anyone else.

While they spoke, Tristan demanded updates from the Ranger detail from each of their families immediately. It was unlikely that they would retaliate so quickly, but it would ease his mind at the very least. Allow him to dive into the documents in his office with relative calm.

Once in his office, Ether rested on his bed next to Tristan’s desk as he started to lay everything out and try to put it all back together. He’d get caught up on this document or that photo as he went through making the process take longer than it should have otherwise.

Ether was good with communicating with Oracle and Shaq’ti to request, when they were ready, to meet him in his office with Forrest. He also made sure to get Tristan fed and hydrated so he didn’t pass out.

The office of a Senior Inspector of the Ranger Internal Affairs division was rather nice. A small, plush couch with a glass coffee table by the door. A small rectangular table with four chairs for small meetings. And he managed a decent enough view out a tall, though slender, window.
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