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Blackjack Gabbiani

Merely a collector
  1. shaymin
  2. dusknoir
This is the third part of Gakutensoku, with the first two parts being Safe Passage and All Together Now. To summarize, AI Turo has returned from the future.

The grand city of Mesagoza was an ancient and storied one on its own, the site being home to various peoples dating back to before recorded history. Even the modern incarnation encapsulated an older era, with the elegant brick and stone giving it a distinctive feel of an earlier time.

And yet, the presence of Uva Academy, itself over eight hundred years old, kept it firmly in the modern age. Within the grand facade, the school was constantly modernizing, keeping abreast of the latest in scientific and social advancements. All who attended were to be seen as equals, and the hopes were that this would extend to the greater world beyond, all Paldea partaking of the fruits of the academy's offerings.

The director's office hadn't always been in the same room. But the devotion of a young scientist, one who had carried the hopes of the academy on his shoulders from an early age, had influenced the decision of the current director to move his office to that boy's former private lab.

The room was filled with mementos of across Paldea, plaques and papers and rare stones and the like dotted around. The memories of Turo in his youth were everywhere. His accomplishments and discoveries and experiments were tucked into every corner of the room, the memory of the young student's brilliant mind shining as bright as the sun.

Shadow seeped around the edges of that memory, however. The knowledge of Turo's descent into obsession, his wicked plan of "Paradise", his mounting isolation, his sudden and brutal death at the claws of one of his test subjects, all weighed heavily on Clavell's mind. Turo had been the brightest star that Uva had known in centuries, perhaps ever, but Clavell would have gladly seen that potential squandered if it meant the man could have had a happy life.

So when Arven had entered the office with a grim expression and said he needed to talk, some part of the director's heart felt as though this was owed.

The children had told Clavell much that had happened. Over the past few years, either directly or through little things that came up in conversation, he had formed an image of what had transpired that day in the depths of the crater. The robot, the terrifying machine, the crystals sprouting from nowhere, the..."Guardian", they had called it. A few months later, Juliana had come to him in tears, having fought and captured the beast in a fit of anger and then not knowing what to do with it.

Nemona had confided that the battle in the lab had invigorated her, made her want to keep pushing forward, until it dawned on her later what was truly happening, what the fight had meant. She had bemoaned that such a promising trainer had been forced to leave to wherever and whenever the machine led, but admitted that losing out on such an opponent was nothing compared to what Arven had lost.

Penny had simply asked in passing "Do you think I could have fixed him? The robot, I mean," but hadn't waited for a response before returning the subject to her work with the League.

And Arven's words had avoided that day entirely, preferring to ask about his father's earlier life, before his heart and mind had been dominated only by whatever dreams that book had given him.

What Clavell had learned included the detail that the AI had looked exactly like Turo, but even knowing that the man he had spoken to that had given Miraidon to Juliana was, in fact, an artificial being and not the man that had been so dear to him and everyone else in Paldea, even knowing that he could not tell that anything was different, nothing prepared him for the man seated in front of him.

"I'm sorry," Clavell murmured. "Where are my manners? Would you care for some tea?"

The AI blinked. Why would a robot blink? "That is very kind of you, however, I would be unable to drink it."

"Ah, yes, that's right..." The older man nodded and brought his folded hands to rest under his chin. "You understand my hesitation, I trust. From what the children told me, your departure was quite final. They believed that it would be impossible for you to return."

"That is correct. I believed it as well at the time. The means I used to return do not exist in this era. Or..." The AI paused at exactly where Turo would have inserted a pause in a lengthy explanation. "...rather, it is not currently capable of that task."

Clavell drew in a sigh. "And of course there is the matter of uncertainty. How can we be certain that you were returned to the same world you left from?"

"Of course, the matter of infinite parallel universes. I do understand."

"So you will..." He sighed again, and though it was shorter, it carried much more weight to it. "...understand that I would like to ask you further questions."

That wasn't why, of course, and the AI knew it. But he nodded and, a moment later, added a short smile. "It is important."

The true reason, they both knew, was to ensure that the AI was who he said he was. "Very well. How did Turo and I first meet?"

Behind them, in the old lab, Arven slouched in an office chair. It was newer than the others, and that made it the only chair he would use. "Man, I thought Clavell would be happy to see him."

Penny fiddled with the surgical mask that the AI had worn on his way through the town and school. Hiding his distinctive features was key to avoiding undue attention. "He is, Arven. But people deal with their emotions differently."

"Like you," Juliana pointed out, gesturing to Penny. "You're twirling that thing around so much because Clavell won't let you use your phone in his office."

The younger girl bristled. "H-hey, the robot's the one getting interrogated here, not me!"

"I think you have to be asked questions to be interrogated," Nemona chuckled. She had donned the hat that the AI wore on their trip, an unfashionable bucket hat that Juliana had bought on a whim during their original journey. It didn't suit them, or the AI, or Nemona, and it was hard to imagine anybody it *would* suit, but it did the job. "Anyway, he seemed to enjoy the walk over. Even if it overstimulated him."

Penny groaned slightly. "It overstimulates *me* and I just have normal human senses. I can't imagine what it must be like if you can pick up on the vital signs of everything in your proximity, and hear the humming in electrical wires and from electronics...basically if a human sensed all of that, they wouldn't be able to function. There'd be too much data to process."

Juliana was about to ask wasn't it normal to hear all those things but decided against it. "So he can hear us right now?"

Arven blanched at that. "Oh god. Uh, if we're quiet will they think we're spying on them?"

"I donno. I'm not him and I'm not Clavell. I only hear conversations from far away if I'm hacking someone's phone and I don't do that anymore."

Nemona cocked her head and pouted comically. "Every time you say that, I feel like I should get it in writing."

"Hey," the younger girl smiled as she leaned back, "Cassiopiea's word is her bond."

"That doesn't do much to reassure me."

Clavell's questions continued. "What were the names of those who worked here alongside him?"

"Unclear. Define 'here'."

"Ah, yes, I suppose that was a bit indirect. Here in this lab."

The AI nodded a single time, firmly, only breaking eye contact briefly. "Thank you. In the first year, it was--" He rattled off a handful of names, one of which caused Arven to look up for a moment. But with the AI's back to him, the distressed look went unnoticed. "In the second year, it was--" The second list was nearly identical, but now included Clavell among the few changes. "I apologize. I do not remember the name of one of the researchers. He was only present for a month. In the third year, it--"

This time, Clavell cut him off. "Thank you, that will be sufficient. When I first began work with him, I was under a different name. Do you remember that name?"

That was the longest the AI had looked away, seeming hesitant to respond. "I do. But it would be impolite to speak it."

"I am giving you permission."

"Very well." The name he spoke was a relatively unremarkable one, but stood out as being distinctly feminine.

Clavell's expression was impossible to read. "Thank you. Now, I'm going to give you a few dates, and I would like to know if you associate them with anything."

The AI listened patiently to the series of numbers, saying no to most of them. At one, he smiled faintly. "A certain researcher told him to remember that date, as a movie she was eager to see was coming out. They went together."

"And who was that?" It hadn't been one of the dates that Clavell expected to hear anything from, but it seemed through sheer coincidence he had managed to hit on something meaningful.

The name was the one that had caused Arven's reaction. The simple name of Sada. "She had been very excited. Admittedly so had he, since he had greatly enjoyed the book, and looked forward to seeing how the ancient creatures would be portrayed. It did not age very well, but it was considered highly scientifically accurate at the time." The AI smiled quickly but it dropped away within a second. "I suppose that is the passage of time."

"It is. Shall we continue?"

"Of course."

Clavell read the next date and unconsciously narrowed his eyes. That was the first date he had expected to have meaning.

The AI's gaze dropped slightly. "That was...yes, of course. That is the day that Turo's father passed away."

The older man closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before reopening them. "I apologise for asking these things. But what do you remember about that day?"

"..." Though the AI's hands balled on his knees, though the question seemed to make him wince, his voice was calm and even, something so reminiscent of Turo's direct and professional manner. "I remember that the man had been ill for some time. That Turo had been expecting the call." He shook his head and seemed to sigh. "I apologize. The call itself was very personal, and I do not wish to speak further of it."

"Very well."

"I am aware that this may cause you to view me with some suspicion, as I am directly refusing to answer--" A small bit of distress marked the AI's expression, a slight creasing around the eyes, coupled with his refusal to look towards the older man.

Clavell nodded just a bit. "It's all right. We can continue."

The AI rubbed at his left arm, a gesture he hadn't made in a long time, but one Clavell knew very well. "Yes, thank you."

Behind them, Juliana tightened in their seat. "That sounded really upsetting."

Arven sighed. "Dad never...talked about his family. Like at all. I didn't know he had any until I was seven or something. I've never met any of his relatives."

Penny fiddled with her phone but, true to the rules, kept it off. "Ever tried to reach out to them?"

"Nah. They never tried to reach out to us. Same wi--" He stopped mid-sentence and shook his head. "They'll probably try once word gets out what happened to him, so I'm glad I'm going to be out of the region then."

At his sudden stop, Nemona had looked over at him. "Arven, if you ever want to talk..."

He brightened and stuck his arm out with a bold thumbs up. "It's ok. I know. I'm ok!" Relaxing, he brought his arm back down to his side and leaned back. "Once I get back, if I get accosted by reporters or weird calls or whatever, I'll need your help. But I'll be in food heaven for a few years and it'll be great. The only scientists I'll have to hear about are nutritionists! And I don't have to think about any sort of family drama with any of them."

"Unless the teacher invites their significant other to trauma dump at you for the entire class," Juliana laughed to themself. "But I don't think that would happen at culinary school. Least I hope not."

Penny smirked. "I'll live to a hundred and five and never forget that."

Nemona looked confused. "Wait, did that really happen?"

"Ok, so, this was a few years ago..."

Arven's focused had shifted back to the conversation at the desk, however, and he barely noticed.

The AI's eyes flashed at the latest question, and he was about to apologize until noticing that Clavell didn't react to it. If he didn't, the AI wouldn't draw attention to it, and would proceed as planned. "His primary inspiration was his boundless curiosity. However, I believe you expect me to cite the Violet Book, correct?"

"I'm not expecting anything but answers," Clavell answered plainly.

The AI tried to find any give or tell in the man's manner that would reveal his thoughts. Even his vital signs were neutral. His breathing was calm and even, and his heart rate, though slightly elevated, was within normal range and could be attributed to any number of unknown factors. "Very well. While he was certainly driven by the Violet Book, it merely fueled an already raging fire within him. He wanted to understand the great mysteries of the world, and there are none greater than Area Zero." The AI shifted a bit, though his gaze remained fixed on Clavell. "Even now, after all this time, I find that my understanding of the place is limited. It seems, perhaps, that even with every effort, it may simply be something that we are not meant to know. But humans cannot accept that, and..." He glanced for a split second at a fossil displayed on the wall. That had not been Turo's contribution, instead dug up by a researcher from an earlier age, but Turo had gleefully taken part in Sada's attempts at studying it. "...I myself struggle with that possibility as well. I wish to know everything as well, even knowing that I cannot."

Clavell noted that the AI made a clear distinction between humans and himself.

"It would frustrate my creator to no end that he could not know every answer." The AI brought a hand to his chin in that distinctive way that Turo had long had. "I of course inherited that from him, but I believe my questions would be different. Perhaps even my reason for asking them."

"And what would one of those questions be?"

"Do you wish me to answer in his stead, or for myself?"

Clavell's expression stayed as even as ever. "Both, if you would."

The AI glanced toward the window. "His most pressing question..." He looked back with a shake of his head. "I am sorry. There are too many of them, fighting for priority within him. It would be akin to trying to single out a droplet in a storm."

"And as for you?"

That was far simpler, and the AI answered immediately. "I would want to understand how to lead a fulfilling life."

"I see. And do you consider yourself alive?"

Despite the immediacy of his prior response, the AI pondered this new question, hands again curling and gaze again falling, drooping to the front of the desk but only passively taking it in. Before speaking, he released a simulated sigh. "I initially did not. I am, after all, entirely artificial, inorganic and constructed rather than birthed." His hand came to his forehead in that way of Turo's and he shook his head, expression subdued, before dropping that hand to his chest, splaying his fingers out over where a heart would be. "And yet over the years, I realized it. Though I am not human, though I do not draw breath nor does a heart beat within me, I am, for all intents and purposes, a living being. I possess thoughts and actions independent of my creator and even formed opposing viewpoints from him. I react to stimuli, both physical and emotional." He paused, thinking for a moment with a quirk of his head. "From a purely technical standpoint, I do not possess emotions as an organic life form would. But what I experience...it is functionally the same, in an entirely inorganic way. I believe you are familiar with Porygon, for instance--" But he drew back before he could launch into a fuller explanation, setting his hands on his lap once more. "I am sorry. You did not ask for me to continue as I did."

Clavell only nodded. "Very well. I believe we have diverted from our task. Shall we return to the questions?"

"How do you think it's going?" Nemona wondered, craning her head as if a better view would make a difference.

"I'm just wondering what Clavell is after," Arven sighed. "Obviously he's from this universe. Even if he went to another one, he came back to this one. He'd be really different if he was from somewhere else."

Juliana felt a sudden pang in their stomach and doubled over sharply. "Y-yeah, I'd think so too," they dismissed, trying to cover up their sudden movement.

It wasn't enough to dodge Arven's attention. "You ok there, little buddy?"

"Oh uh, I think breakfast just isn't agreeing with me."

"Well, I'll make you something for lunch that can clear that up!" The young man flashed a smile and thumbs up, but it lacked his usual enthusiasm.

"Nah, it's ok. I just need..." They shook their head. "I'm nervous. Anything with him still has me on edge. I was so worried about him for so long and it doesn't just go away."

Penny patted them on the back. "Yeah, I get it. I still get nervous about going to class sometimes. Nemona, you're lucky you've graduated already."

Nemona rolled her eyes with a smile. "Yeah probably. Though now it's the working world! Learning how to be the perfect champion is hard!"

Juliana had straightened back out, but looked towards the AI with concern. "...What do you think he's going to do now that he's here? After everything he's been through, and as alone as he's been, integrating into society is going to be hard."

For a moment it seemed like Arven was going to say something, but didn't. All four of them looked over at the artificial man without thinking about it.

The interview, such as it was, continued for some time. The sun shining through the windows had shifted, casting a golden pall through the room. Arven's thoughts wandered as he watched the light catch on a monitor, briefly imagining his father's youth in the same room.

Clavell unfolded his hands and set them on the armrests of his chair. "I see. You have given me a great deal to think about." His stern, professional manner softened a bit, with a slow exhale and his eyes falling closed. "Pardon me."

The AI watched with an impassive expression, but nodded slowly even knowing that Clavell wouldn't see it.

"Pardon me..." the older man repeated as he removed his glasses and set them on the desk before him. "Pardon--" And the normally composed director was overcome with tears, covering his eyes with a hand as the other gripped the desk with such intensity that his knuckles turned white near immediately.

At the back of the room, Arven shot to his feet but froze, eyes darting back and forth as he tried to figure out what to do. Nemona watched from her seat, concern creasing her brow. "Should we help?"

"Y-yeah," Penny stammered as she fumbled for a packet of tissues in her backpack and handed them off to Juliana.

Clavell seemed to hold in place at their voices. "I'm dreadfully sorry..." he muttered, trying in vain to hide his tears.

But Juliana and Nemona were already there. "It's all right," Juliana said, handing him the packet. "I cried too."

Nemona asserted this with a firm nod before gesturing for her companion to step back. "I think we should leave them be."

The younger trainer agreed, and Clavell was once again alone with the AI. He took a few deep breaths and wiped at his eyes with one of the offered tissues before looking back at his companion. "You'll have to excuse me. It's unacceptable for an administrator to cry in front of a student..."

With a gentle smile, the AI nodded. "I understand. Though I was not a student here myself, you knew my creator as one."

"I certainly did, yes...there is no doubt in my mind now that you are exactly who you say you are." He sighed and retrieved his glasses, wiping the lenses with a cloth before sliding them back on. "I'm sorry for my outburst."

"It seemed to be a reasonable reaction, given the stimuli at hand," the AI replied. "If you wish to apologize, I admit I do not understand what you believe you did wrong, but I will accept it just the same."

The corners of Clavell's mouth turned faintly up, hesitantly and smally, but enough to be distinctive as a sign of happiness. "Thank you," he whispered, still not back to his usual self, but determined to press on.

The AI glanced back at the younger visitors. "They have the utmost respect for you. I believe they always will." When he turned back towards Clavell, he added "As do I. If I may, I would like to speak freely."

"Of course."

"I know you cared deeply for my creator," the AI began. "That brilliant smile of yours when you heard from me, in his guise." He tilted his head back and wrenched his eyes closed, the same way he had in the initial call. "I did not want to deceive you, but felt that I had to, for the greater good of Paldea and potentially the world. And unfortunately, I was correct." He resumed that distinctly sharp eye contact. "I wish to make amends for my lie, and that is to tell you the absolute truth."

Clavell leaned in, just a bit. "Please continue."

"I know that you..." Though the direct address continued, the AI shifted his hands in his lap as he spoke. "...wanted to help. You wish you could have changed things. But the truth is that you could not. Professor Turo did not want your intervention, and would have rejected it."

One of Clavell's hands balled up on the desk again, but only a stray tear fell from his eye.

"He believed in his path. In Paradise. And nothing you could have said would have dissuaded him."

Arven excused himself from the room, with Nemona following after him.

After a long exhale, Clavell replied only "Thank you for telling me." His hand faltered as he drew it back to his side. A moment more and he stood up, slightly stretched his back, and extended a hand. "I would like to thank you further for meeting with me. I have no doubts about you, and you've..." His hand faltered slightly "...set my mind at ease over some things."

The AI looked at the offered hand for just a moment before reaching over to shake it in return. "I thank you deeply for listening to me. I feared you would not agree to do so."

"Nonsense. I would never turn away a person in need."

The AI paused the handshake, maintaining the grip but stilling his hand. "I am glad to hear you say such a thing. Not simply that you regard me as a 'person', but that you bear such a generous nature towards others." After a beat, he resumed, shaking the offered hand a few more times before releasing and taking a step back. "I am honored to be able to meet you in person."

"And I you." Clavell permit himself a small smile. "If there is anything I can do for you, please, let me know."

"Right now, there is only one thing that comes to mind."


"...I must go after Arven." The AI looked back at the door the young man had left through. "I believe our conversation upset him. So I must see to it that his emotions are not ignored."

"Yes, by all means!" Clavell returned to his seat and gestured back to the door with both hands. "Feel free to contact me at any time, but for now, yes, go to him!"

With a flash of that too-broad smile, the AI left, picking up his pace as he did. Behind him, Penny followed. Juliana grinned back. "Are you all right?"

Clavell sighed heavily and leaned back, pausing briefly to flick away a final tear. "I am. I will be. Thank you."
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