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Thread: The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World

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    Default The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World

    Right. New to these forums, but I've never let something like that stop me in the past. Ladies, gentlemen and assorted creatures of the Internet, I present to you the product of a wit every bit as diseased as Hamlet's: The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World.

    It's something vaguely like the story of the Hoenn-based games - but only vaguely. I took them as my starting point and let myself go crazy after that. It includes most of the major story events, as well as some minor ones that I thought deserved to be highlighted as epic/mind-bogglingly strange, but the reason for those events happening is pretty different. You know, in the same way that the way Ophelia went insane is different from the way Hannibal Lecter went insane.

    ...

    Moving on... Ratings? Let's see. PG-15, or something like that, for violence, swearing (although it is in Nadsat) and slight innuendo. It is a comedy, but not one you want to read if you don't particularly want a detailed description of a dragon's brain blown out. There is a warning in there, for all my levity. Don't come complaining when someone's skull gets crushed.

    Wow. I'm really, really good at digressions, aren't I? I guess I'd better start, so, without further ado:

        Spoiler:- Chapter List:


    Oh, and we have a PM list now! (And by 'we', I mean 'me'; I like to think there are about three of me.) It's in a spoiler, so you don't have to stare at it.

        Spoiler:- PM List:


    Chapter One: Introducing Robin Goodfellow

    The city at night. In the west, the chimneys of the industrial district cut across the eye of the moon; in the east, the townhouses of the rich gaze smugly down from their lofty perch on the Pelenine Hill. Most are asleep in bed, but a few people wander the streets, loudly and drunkenly proclaiming their worth. Two lovers laugh; a car alarm sounds. Another night in Rustboro.

    Through the night came a blurring orange comet, blitzing through the streets like a bullet, trailing blue lightning in its wake. It tore down a residential road, setting a horde of tame Poochyena barking wildly, and hurtled into a park, scattering the Zigzagoon that had come out to feed. It zoomed across ponds, whizzed past factories, flew by Pokémarts.

    After it came the thing.

    You couldn’t see it in the night; it cloaked itself in darkness, each streetlight dying as it passed. Huge, heavy paws thudded rhythmically on the asphalt from somewhere within the shadow, and deep, low breaths whispered through the air. When it passed the Poochyena, they stopped barking and retreated into their kennels, whining with fear.

    It was gaining on its quarry, and both of them knew it.

    The orange blur came to a huge car park and blasted through a car, leaving it undamaged but turning the headlights and radio on. It passed out of the other side and pulled up sharply to avoid another; behind it, the sound was abruptly silenced as the thing that chased it crashed onto the bonnet, snapping at the retreating orange light.

    The hunt continued over the tops of a row of cars, the fugitive flitting silently and the pursuer pounding craters in the steel roofs with each bounding step. They dropped to the ground, reaching the end of the car park; the blur halted, looking for an escape route, and for an instant you could see it possessed a small, anxious face – and then it bolted, hurtling towards the building with the blank façade that stood nearby, blotting out the moon with its great dark bulk and throwing puddles of light out through the windows.

    The thing let out a yarring growl, realising its quarry would be out of its reach once inside, and redoubled its efforts; the orange blur squealed in dismay as a set of great, yellowed teeth snapped shut just inches behind it. It spun around and launched a shower of sparks at the darkness behind it, and a surprised yelp told it they had connected; however, it knew that the thing would not be stopped for long, and immediately turned to flee again.

    As the chase drew closer, the gloom seemed to part a little and the building became visible: a huge block of concrete, studded with windows both illuminated and dark. There was a sign by this door – but the orange blur zoomed past too fast to read it, melting through the plate glass and into the brightly-lit lobby as if it weren’t there at all.

    The thing had more direct methods: it ran straight into the door at full pelt, shattering it instantly and setting off a hundred different alarms. The lights instantly died, and someone screamed; this building was still full of people, and the thing was not a presence calculated to reassure.

    Voices shouted as the lights died, and the clatter of feet on stairs sounded throughout the building, but neither hunter nor hunted were listening: the chase was all their world, and there was no room for anything else. Through a corridor, up the stairs... here the orange blur met a confused man in a white coat, carrying a torch, and rushed him with a high-pitched scream. The man dropped his torch and ducked, and the orange blur sped past him, trailing sparks.

    The doctor looked up, and saw a blot of utter darkness approaching him; it was darker than the surrounding gloom, and it seemed to suck in the light of his torch until it went out. He heard thumping footsteps, a low growl—

    —and then whatever it was, was gone, passing over his head in a single prodigious leap in pursuit of the light.

    The orange blur saw a door and sensed safety beyond; it passed through it like a ghost, and immediately dived towards a large object on the other side of the room. Oddly-shaped as it was, there was no way to tell what it might be, but the blur didn’t care: it just wanted a hiding place.

    The door exploded and the thing burst in, somehow leaching away the moonlight that shone in through the windows, plunging the room into pitch darkness. It growled, looking around wildly for its prey.

    Which was nowhere to be seen. Silence settled like a coat of dust over the room, and the thing began to pace around slowly, searching.

    From its hiding place, the orange light couldn’t see anything; it had to rely purely on its hearing, and all it could hear was footsteps, steadily coming closer and closer.

    Thump.

    Thump.

    Thump.

    If it had been able to breathe, it would have held its breath; as it was, it screwed up its luminous eyes tightly and hoped against hope that the thing wouldn’t find it here...

    Thump.

    Thump.

    A small snarl; something pressed against the dust sheet on the machine. The orange light knew that it was now invisible, but still, if that thing heard or smelled it...

    “What the hell is that?” someone said in an old, gravelly voice that had seen years of cigarettes. The thing pulled away from the machine and growled loudly; its footsteps bounded away and the gravelly voice cried out.

    Then all was silent, save for the sound of footsteps and shouting on the stairs outside. The orange light gave a silent sigh of relief. It had escaped.

    In the streets below, the thing crept away stealthily, sliding into the night like a professional thief. Exposure could not be tolerated; the orange thing had won tonight, and the thing had to return now.

    But it would be back.

    ---

    “Kester...”

    “Mmm?” I appeared to be floating just above a pink rainforest, but since it was a dream I wasn’t particularly bothered. Even less of a concern was the huge, warty clock that was talking to me.

    “I am your body clock,” it said, opening wide its bulbous lips and letting out a stream of bats.

    “Really...?”

    “All the body parts are having a party,” it said, and sort of melted away into thin air.

    “Come back!” I called, but I didn’t really care. Like I said, it was just a dream.

    “By the way,” it whispered invisibly into my ear, “it’s quarter past eight.”

    The rainforest disappeared, abruptly replaced by my bedroom ceiling. I thrashed wildly, trying to turn around, and eventually got myself into position to look at the clock on my bedside table.

    It was blank; the batteries must have died in the night. In such situations, I find that the only thing to do is to check your watch, which I did, and presently exploded out of bed as if there had been a lit firework under the sheets.

    “Quarter past eight!”

    An ecstasy of fumbling ensued, ripping drawers from the chest, trying to find clothes through a fog of half-dispelled sleep. If my watch was right – and there was no reason to believe it wasn’t – I had about fifteen minutes to get ready and get to school. This might sound reasonable to some of you, but if your school is half an hour away by bike, you, like me, will appreciate the difficulty.

    I suddenly stopped my frantic dressing, aware that something was wrong; after a few seconds, I realised that I couldn’t put my shirt on over my tie and that I really needed to wake up properly. To this end, I half stumbled, half flung myself into the bathroom and, after missing once and hitting the tap, immersed my head in a sinkful of cold water. This had the sort of effect on me that I usually only get when you poke me forcefully in the eye, and I leaped back up, instantly wide-awake.

    “Damn it!” I muttered as I finished dressing myself, this time in the correct order. “Why’d you go to work early today of all days, Mum?”

    It was horribly unfair, I reflected during my journey down the stairs, that the day my alarm clock had failed to go off owing to battery death had coincided with the one day each week my mother had to leave early for work, leaving me with no way of waking myself up in time; it was probably down to the alignment of the planets, or something equally unchangeable and nastily capricious.

    I looked at my watch, and the blinking digital figures looked back:

    08.21.

    Six minutes?” I cried in dismay, searching for house keys. “It took me six minutes to get dressed?”

    I found the keys, went outside and did something to the door that may or may not have locked it; I hoped it did because there was no time to check. I dashed into the garage, looking for my bike, and stopped dead.

    I’d forgotten about the Vespa.

    It stood there next to the bikes, a presence of infinitely more grace and beauty – and speed. I hesitated for a moment. I didn’t have a licence yet – in fact, I wasn’t actually that good at driving it. No, it was better to go by bike.

    But the Vespa’s faster, whispered a little voice in the back of my head.

    “That’s true,” I said aloud. “And after all, it isn’t that far...”

    I looked at my watch and saw I’d wasted another two minutes. That decided it: the only vehicles in my possession I was capable of operating (however badly) were the bike and the Vespa, and if I took the Vespa I might just get to school on time for once.

    Thus avoiding the detention that had been hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles all week.

    I leaped on, started it up, drove far too fast out of the garage and smashed into Mrs. Braithwaite’s car in her drive across the road. I had a brief glimpse of the sky as I flew over the handlebars, and then I fell down onto steel and onwards into a whirling black pit of oblivion.

    Which did, in fact, seem oddly familiar, probably on account of that business that occurred last year.

    ---

    The orange light was asleep when it happened.

    Actually, he wasn’t just an orange light; just like Kester Ruby, he had a name, though what that might be was unknown to anyone but him. But the important thing remained: he was asleep when it happened.

    If he had been awake, perhaps he would have seen it coming: voices, low and urgent, were all around him.

    “Get him in—”

    “—where’s the electrode jelly—”

    “—hurry, we need to know—”

    “—I’m trying, but the damn thing won’t start—”

    How was the orange light meant to know that what he had taken residence in, what he had temporarily possessed to escape the thing that had chased him in the dark, was actually a sophisticated piece of medical equipment, and one that would be in use that very day? Invented by Devon’s top medical research pair, the Phelps-Laurence Occipital Tampering Device was nothing short of a marvel of engineering. Based on a study of the power contained in an Abra’s brain, it scanned automatically for defects in thought activity that indicated damage to the brain.

    Today, however, it was doing something decidedly different, something it had never before done and was never intended to do.

    It started up with a low buzz, and that was when the orange light became aware that something was up. In the bowels of the P-L.O.T. Device, one of his large, electric-blue eyes snapped open.

    “Adjust it,” someone said, “it’s too high...”

    Both eyes flew open, and widened. The orange light gave a small squeal of dismay, and then the circuits all around him burst into life, electricity coursing through the veins of the Device at unimaginable speeds. Bowled away, the orange light found himself flying through wires, burning down cables faster even than he had been fleeing last night. He zoomed up, down, left and right like the hapless passenger of an insane rollercoaster ride; a thin, inaudible scream whistled from his mouth.

    Then, all at once, the track ended, and he was flying through the air, whizzing out of an electrode and slamming straight into something thick and meaty with enough force to knock him out.

    ---

    The P-L.O.T. Device whined loudly and gave off a shower of sparks; its operator recoiled in shock and motioned desperately for someone to get the patient out of it. Hurriedly, a couple of nurses tugged at the gurney, pulling it free from the Device’s clamps with a rough crunch of breaking plastic.

    “Shut it off!” cried someone, and the operator jabbed a button experimentally; the Device told him in no uncertain terms what it thought of this idea by letting that button, and the others around it, fall from its flank like shed scales.

    “What about the patient?” someone else said; rapidly, he was whisked away, and the operator was left to stare blankly at the machine that had suddenly gone so horribly, terribly wrong. With an air of one who knows he is flogging a dead horse, he pulled a small lever, and watched in surprise as the central section of the Device fell off with a flash and a whimper. The lights dimmed, and the whine ceased; the operator found himself alone in a dark room, staring at the husk of what had once been Central Rustboro Hospital’s most prized machine.

    Meanwhile, doctors were hurriedly checking over the patient in the nearest available room. His name was, according to his ID card, Kester Ruby, seventeen years old, occupation student, resident of 18 Guerama Road. There was a phone number, but they’d already tried calling and no one seemed to be home.

    Other than being unable to contact his parents, there were no other problems. It seemed that whatever had happened with the P-L.O.T. Device, it hadn’t affected him; it even, one doctor was heard to remark sourly, seemed to have been a waste to use the Device, since his head was, remarkably, intact, with no sign of brain damage at all.

    Of course, they did not know about the orange light; certainly, they were aware that something had broken into the hospital last night, but so what? There were still patients to treat, after all, still diseases in people’s blood, still bones broken in their limbs.

    Unfortunately for the patient, however, the orange light was of vital importance; in fact, it was going to be the biggest thing in his life for quite some time to come.

    ---

    I opened my eyes and blinked groggily; I tried to sit up but someone pushed me back down.

    “Where am I?” I murmured.

    Odd. I wanted to know the same thing, I thought.

    “You’re in hospital,” someone told me. “You had an accident.”

    The Vespa. I remembered now. I had crashed it...

    I want a better explanation than that, I thought.

    “Don’t get up just yet,” the someone said. “You’ve hit your head.”

    Suddenly, the world popped into focus. I was speaking to a doctor who was standing next to the bed I was lying on. At least, I thought it was a bed. And I thought it was a doctor – though I couldn’t see him.

    “Am I OK?”

    I hope so. Corpses are revolting.

    “You should be. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with you.”

    “Wait,” I said, sitting up, ignoring the hand on my shoulder. “Since when do I think with an English accent?”

    “What?” The doctor looked puzzled; he had a long nose and chin, and the whole effect was to make him look like the man in the moon’s idiot cousin.

    You’re not the one doing the thinking, meatface.

    “Who said that?” I glanced around, but the room was empty save for the doctor and I. Table, bed, counter – but nothing living.

    Looking too far, said the voice. It spoke with the kind of impeccable English accent that I had always assumed only belonged to either the greatest spies or the greatest supervillains.

    “Who are you talking to?” The doctor now looked like he suspected I might have brain damage after all.

    “No one,” I replied, realising he couldn’t hear it. I could do without people thinking I was crazy. “Just... thought I heard something.”

    Look, meatface, are you going to acknowledge me or not?

    I did my best to ignore it and tried to listen to the doctor.

    “...you are?”

    “Sorry? I wasn’t listening.”

    “Can you just confirm who you are?” The doctor had a notebook out, and a pencil. “Your ID card says you’re—”

    “Kester Ruby,” I told him. “Seventeen.”

    Kester. I’ve not heard that one before. Is it a contraction of something?

    “OK, that’s good.” He made a note. “We tried to call your parents—”

    “Oh – my mum’s at work. For Devon.”

    Devon? Next to Cornwall? I went to Cornwall, once. It rained.

    “Your father?”

    “Don’t have one.”

    I suffer that particular problem, too. He just faded away one day, into thin air. That’s how we go, you know.

    “Oh. Er, OK.” The doctor made another note. “Right. Do you have a work number for your mother?”

    I gave it to him, and he said he’d be back in a minute. The door clicked behind him as he left.

    “All right,” I hissed, as soon as he was gone, “who’s there?”

    Since you’re asking, said the Englishman, my name is Robin Goodfellow, though you may call me Puck, and I am currently stuck in your big, meaty head.

    “What?”

    Let me spell this out for you, said Robin Goodfellow – Puck – with a little sigh. I was in that damn machine they used to see if you had any brain damage, and it beamed me into your horrible, meaty body. Now, I am stuck here. He paused. Did you get that all right?

    “What?” I said again. This didn’t make any sense; how could anyone be beamed into my head? Who was this person? Where were they?

    I can read your thoughts, Puck told me. I’m in here with you. I actually find it kind of disturbing; you’re all full of meat. A shiver ran down my spine. Oops. Sorry, that was my shudder, not yours.

    “What?”

    Will you stop that, please? You aren’t endearing yourself to me. Seeing as it looks like I might be here for a while, I would appreciate it if you stopped saying that.

    “What?”

    The doctor came back in.

    “Your mother’s going to be here soon. She didn’t sound very happy.”

    “Oh, sh—” I bit off the curse halfway through and changed it into something else: “Oh, she is not going to be happy.”

    “I don’t think any parent would be,” the doctor said.

    “No, you don’t understand,” I told him. “I crashed the Vespa...” I put my head in my hands, found it hurt and took it out again. “Damn it.”

    Not knowing what to say, the doctor took the opportunity to slide out of the room, silently, as if he was on castors.

    I swore softly to myself. “This is bad, bad, bad.”

    Is it? What happened? Faintly, as if from far away, I heard the sound of paper rustling. Oh dear. That looked painful.

    “What are you doing?” I asked, temporarily distracted.

    Looking at what happened, Puck said, and it isn’t pretty. Your memory of it is of fairly low quality, but still... Another shudder went down my spine. Oh, sorry. That one was mine again.

    “Who the hell are you and how are you in my head?” I hissed angrily; it had suddenly clicked, just like that. This guy, whoever he was, was actually inside me. He was thinking to me.

    Oh, you get it now, do you? Puck asked, sounding amused. OK, here’s how it goes: Rotom goes to sleep—

    “What’s a Rotom?”

    You don’t know? Wait a minute, let me get a picture for you.

    An image of an orange globe of energy, a couple of jagged points sticking out of it on the top and bottom, flashed before my eyes. This orb had huge, electric blue eyes, and a mouth twisted into a grin that managed to be cynical and mischievous at once. Little flickers of blue lightning kept jumping off it like rats abandoning a sinking ship.

    “H-how did you do that?” A thought occurred to me. “This is brain damage, isn’t it? From hitting my head on the car. I’m going crazy, right?”

    Puck sighed.

    No. Regrettably, you are very much sane and I really am in your head. Believe me, I don’t like this any more than you do. Are you prepared to listen to the story of how I got here now?

    “O-OK.” This might clarify things, I supposed. If the story was believable, I might not be crazy at all.

    Rotom are poltergeist Pokémon, Puck said. We have the ability to possess electrical equipment and do what we want with it; we’re sort of electronic ghosts.

    “You’re a Ghost-type, then?” Now that made sense. Ghost-types could get in your head, after all.

    Yes. Electric/Ghost, a unique combination. Puck sounded a trifle smug there. But that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say is that I possessed the brain-scanning machine they have here. After that, it’s guesswork – but I think they tried to scan your brain to see if you had brain damage, and I, er, got zapped in here.

    “I see.” I’d never heard of Rotom, and I wasn’t entirely sure this wasn’t just a trick played on me by my evidently broken mind – but if Rotom did exist, then I guessed this scenario was somewhat plausible. “Would you mind getting out and leaving me alone?” I asked politely.

    I’d be happy to.

    There was a pause.

    “Are you going to?”

    No, Puck sighed. I can’t. Rotom aren’t like other Ghosts; we’re not psychic or anything. I tried to leave you like I’d leave a machine, but I got stuck on those nasty tendon-things. Eeurgh. Flesh is so creepy.

    “Having a Pokémon made of electricity in me is creepy,” I retorted, then stopped. Was I really arguing with a Pokémon claiming to live in my head? No, this wasn’t real; I had to be crazy.

    You’re not crazy! Puck cried. If you think you are, we’re not going to get anywhere in this relationship!

    “There is no relationship! Get out of my head!”

    I leaped up and started swatting ineffectually at my cranium; it was at this moment, while I was jumping around as if I was suffering from a nasty attack of St. Vitus’s Dance, that the doctor and my mother walked in.

    “What are you doing?” she demanded, looking startled.

    “Um... just... stretching!” I said, spreading my arms wide and making stretching, yawning sort of noises. “Ah, that’s better.” I sat down hurriedly on the bed and looked innocent.

    “Right,” she said, then snapped into relieved mother mode, hugging me and loudly proclaiming how fantastic it was that I was still alive, and that I had escaped serious injury, and that everything was all right; as soon as she touched me, though, Puck started shrieking.

    Aaah! What’s she doing? Is she attacking us? Aah, she’s all warm and fleshy! Get her off, get her off!

    “Shut up!” I hissed, as quietly as I could, but Mum heard me and gave me an odd look.

    “What?”

    Get her off, get her off! I think we’re being smothered!

    I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the screaming in my head.

    “Nothing,” I told Mum. “I didn’t say anything.”

    “Oh,” she said, and let go of me, standing up and turning to the doctor. “Can he come home?”

    “Well, I can’t force him to stay—”

    “So he can?”

    The doctor looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, yes, but I would advise—”

    “Right,” Mum snapped. “I’m taking you home now, so I can punish you.”

    “What? I almost died! How is this fair?”

    “If you’re well enough to leave hospital, you’re well enough to be punished,” she said sagely. “What the hell were you doing, driving the Vespa?”

    “I was late,” I muttered mutinously, but acquiesced. I’d had enough of the hospital too, to be honest.

    The drive home was tense; Puck seemed to have calmed down and didn’t say anything, to my relief, but I was aware that I was probably going to pay dearly for ruining the Vespa. I tried not to think about what the collision with the car had done to it.

    “You’re not going to use that machine again,” she said flatly. “You’re not going to take the test, either.”

    That doesn’t seem too bad, piped up Puck. I mean, it’s not like you were any good at driving that thing anyway.

    Silently, I willed him to shut up, but he was right: I had had enough of the Vespa for a while. The last thing I wanted was another head injury. Although, I mused, if I had gone insane because of that, then maybe another one would knock Puck out of my head and some sense back into me.

    You’re not insane. I’m really here.

    “Also,” Mum added, “you’re grounded.”

    That was to be expected, too. I wasn’t planning to go anywhere just yet, anyway; my head ached and I felt like sleeping for about a year.

    “Also, you’re paying for the repair work on the Vespa.”

    I winced.

    “Is it trashed?”

    “Yes,” she answered shortly.

    “Ah.”

    I bit my lip and tried not to imagine what it must look like.

    We pulled up outside the house, and Mum practically threw me out of the car.

    “Go inside and stay there,” she said. “I’m going back to work. I’ll call the school when I get there.”

    “You’re not concerned for me at all, are you?”

    She looked at me askance.

    “Why should I? The doctor said you were fine.”

    With that, she wound down the window and drove off. I sighed, and pushed open the door. It hadn’t been locked after all, which was a good thing since I seemed to have lost the keys. I plodded upstairs and pushed open the door to my room, to wander morosely into the mess within. My head ached, and I felt like sleeping.

    Puck, however, had other ideas.

    So
    , he said, what’re we doing now?

    “I’m going to sleep,” I told him, flopping onto my bed. “This has been a really, really bad day.” I looked at my watch. It was only twenty past ten. “And it’s not even lunchtime.”

    It’s too early to sleep, Puck said. Besides, I don’t think I can bear to sleep in here. It’s all so sticky and messy. All these neurons!

    “At least I have neurons,” I retorted. “You’re a Ghost Pokémon, right? Made of gas?”

    Plasma, actually.

    “Whatever.”

    I don’t want a body, anyway. It’s unnatural. All this flesh and blood – so delicate! Imagine if you got shot, there’d be blood everywhere. It would be a nightmare to clean up.

    “That would be the least of my problems. Now, leave me alone! I want to sleep!”

    But I don’t. And if we’re going to share this body, you’ll have to listen to—

    “‘Share’? We’re not sharing anything. This is my body. Can you please just shut up, if you can’t leave!” I took a deep, calming breath. “OK, I’ve got to stop talking to myself. There’s no such person as Puck.”

    Yes, there is. Look, if you don’t believe me, just go and look up ‘Rotom’. There’s bound to be lots of information online.

    “You can’t be real. Pokémon can’t talk.”

    Are you even listening to me? Just look it up!

    “But you can’t talk,” I said triumphantly. “You’re a figment of my imagination!”

    Oh, Arceus preserve me, groaned Puck. You’re right, I can’t talk. But I’m in your head. I’m not talking – you’re listening to my thoughts. He sighed. Just look it up, meatface.

    “Stop calling me that.”

    I’ll stop disparaging this disgusting body of yours when you believe I’m real.

    “Fine, I’ll look you up.”

    Since I was grounded, I shouldn’t have been using the computer – but this was a matter of my sanity. I felt it was justified: after all, if I found out Rotom was a real thing, then I’d be sane.

    And Puck’s story would be true. Because I hadn’t known that Rotom existed until he’d told me – and I couldn’t have invented a weird story about a Rotom stuck in my head unless I already knew what it was. Either there was no such thing, or all of this was real.

    So you can understand why I was nervous as I typed ‘Rotom’ into Google. Whether I was insane, or I really did have a Rotom called Robin Goodfellow in my head, I had a pretty serious problem.

    “Oh my God,” I said, staring at the screen.

    A spiky orange ball covered in lightning grinned back at me, next to a young man holding a Poké Ball. According to Wikipedia, this Trainer, Lincoln Marshwood, had been the one to discover Rotom’s existence, nearly 20 years ago.

    What did I tell you?

    “I have a Pokémon in my head.” I think I must have been in shock, because I just remember reading down the page blankly, not taking in anything at all. “Oh my God, there’s a Pokémon in my head.”

    That’s right. Puck paused. Hey. You’re not in shock, are you?

    “Oh my God, there’s a Pokémon in my head.”

    You are, eh? Well, I don’t know much about how these meat-brains work, but I think I can sort that out...

    Blinding pain erupted behind my eyelids and stars burst in front of them. I’m fairly certain I passed out for a moment or two, because the next thing I remember is opening my eyes to find my head was resting on the keyboard, drooling on the spacebar.

    “Wha...?” I lifted my head slowly, and suddenly remembered how I’d ended up like this. “Puck?”

    You called?

    “Did – did you just knock me out?”

    I think so. You fell over, anyway.

    “Pl – please don’t do that again.”

    Duly noted. So, now you’ve accepted me as a real being and part of your life, what’s next on the agenda?

    “Nothing,” I said, getting up. “I want to go to sleep. Even more after that.”

    I turned off the computer and went back upstairs, ignoring Puck’s protests. I wasn’t in shock any more, not properly – but I still felt as if the whole world had suddenly leaped on my head that morning, shovelling far more than anyone could cope with into my life. Tuning Puck out, I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 14th December 2011 at 5:43 PM.

  2. #2
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    Chapter Two: Bat out of Hell

    A long, long way away, deep under the earth, a man in a ruby-red trenchcoat was fuming quietly.

    “Sir?” asked a timid subordinate. He was answered with a death-stare of such power that he recoiled in horror and stumbled into the wall.

    “Please,” said the man in the trenchcoat, anger audibly suppressed in his voice. “Please, just tell me one thing.”

    The subordinate looked as if he wished the floor would swallow him up.

    “What might that be, sir?”

    “I want to know,” his boss said, “how exactly you failed to steal the goods from Devon.”

    “Well. There was another thief, sir—”

    “Ah, yes. I heard about this. The Pokémon.” The man in the trenchcoat looked up from his desk and delivered another withering death-stare.

    “Y-yes, sir, it was a Pokémon. Probably working for the blues, sir.”

    “And it was a better thief than you were.”

    “Y-yes, sir.” Sweat poured down the subordinate’s face in great glistening rivers.

    “And you don’t know where it took the goods.”

    “N-no, sir.”

    “Well.” The man’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Our benefactor won’t be very pleased about that, will he?”

    “No, sir.”

    “So, then.” The man in the trenchcoat looked behind his underling, at something beyond the door into his office. “I suppose you know what this means.”

    The other man turned around slowly, eyes wide in terror; he knew what was waiting for him there. It was what waited for anyone who failed the boss: the thing that wreathed itself in shadows and stalked its prey in the dead of night when the wind was at its face.

    Yellow fangs snapped; something red blazed in the darkness.

    Drops of blood hit the floor and pooled.

    “Clean that mess up,” said the man in the trenchcoat dispassionately, to some unseen servant. “And get me back those Devon goods!”

    ---

    Kester, said a little voice. Kester.

    “Not this dream again,” I mumbled.

    Not a dream. Wake up.

    I jerked my eyes open, startled, then remembered. This was Puck, the Rotom who had, through a bizarre, horrible series of mishaps, got himself trapped in my head.

    “What do you want?” I asked, rubbing my eyes and checking the time. It was four o’clock, and I was hungry; I hadn’t eaten all day.

    I have something to tell you.

    “What is it?” I got up and started on the way downstairs.

    Um... actually, never mind.

    “No, what?” I went into the kitchen. “You woke me up for nothing?”

    It was one of those things where you think it’s important, but when you think about it, it turns out not to be important... Puck tailed off.

    “Whatever.” I pulled bread from the box and cheese from the fridge and started making sandwiches. “Look, Puck, I think we need to have a talk.”

    I’m glad you’re using my name. Surely this must be a sign of our deepening friendship?

    “No.” I decided to be blunt. “I appreciate you can’t get out of my head and you don’t want to be there, but just... shut up and stay that way until you do, OK?”

    Ouch, said Puck. I’m hurt. He didn’t sound it; if anything, he sounded like he was suppressing laughter.

    “I – hey, what’s funny?”

    Nothing, nothing. It’s just... you’re so defeatist. Aren’t you going to try and get me out of here? Be a bit more... proactive?

    “I’m just making the best of a bad situation,” I said curtly, taking a bite of the sandwich. “Unless you have any ideas.”

    I don’t, as it happens. Hey, what are you doing?

    “I’m eating.” I paused. “Wait. Let me guess: that’s disgusting and something that only meat-faced humans do?”

    No! Puck sounded hurt. Well... maybe. I eat, too, though. But I eat electricity.

    “Well, you want to know something? I don’t care.”

    Puck sighed.

    Look on the bright side, he said. At least you don’t have a proper Ghost-type in your head. Can you imagine what it would be like if I were a Gengar or a Banette? All those angry thoughts. I’d probably eat your soul.

    “Puck, shut up.”

    But me, he continued blithely, I’m a much better class of Ghost. I don’t eat dreams, just electricity. I don’t hurt people, just possess a few machines now and again and play a few tricks.

    “Puck!”

    Yes?

    “I told you to shut up.”

    He seemed put out, but he stopped talking, and I finished the sandwiches in blessed silence.

    Kester?

    “Damn it, Puck, stop talking!”

    But I’ve got a favour to ask of you.

    “Why would I grant you any favours at all? You’re the most annoying person I’ve ever met!”

    Before I was ch – before I went and possessed that blasted machine, I dropped some, er, important goods off somewhere, and I was wondering if we could go and—

    “No.”

    You don’t even know what I was going to say!

    “Don’t care. We’re going nowhere.” I put the plate in the sink, and, deciding that I ought to try and curry some favour with Mum, started washing it and the bread knife.

    A little sigh echoed around in my head.

    I didn’t want it to come to this.

    “Come to what?” I paused warily.

    I can pull on some neurons again. Like I did earlier, when you were in shock.

    I winced at the memory.

    “You wouldn’t.”

    I would. I’m very serious.

    “I guess you would,” I said, realising that I hadn’t done anything to make Puck feel very warmly towards me. I turned off the tap and sighed. “OK, where did you put these goods?”

    ---

    “So, Puck,” I said as we walked down Teckerford Road, “what are these goods you wanted?”

    Er... If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not go into that right now.

    “Fair enough, fair enough,” I replied, eager not to be zapped in the brain again. “A man has to have his secrets, after all—”

    Kester?

    “Yes?”

    Shut up.

    Smarting at the insult of having the tables so completely turned on me, I complied, and kept following the Rotom’s directions.

    Left here.

    “Where are we going, exactly?” I asked; the alley we had turned onto was carpeted in trash and green-tinted puddles, and I was slightly concerned about being mugged.

    Don’t worry, said Puck, I am a Pokémon. If anyone comes after us, I’ll get them with Discharge.

    “Can you use that – when you’re inside me like this, I mean?”

    There was an ominous silence from inside my head. Then:

    Maybe...

    “Great.” I walked on, convinced that I was going to be murdered at any moment; these alleys led towards the industrial district, and in that direction lay the poorer neighbourhoods, the ones with high crime rates and desperate people who would kill for small change.

    Are you sure you’re not exaggerating? asked Puck. That can’t be right.

    “Oh, it’s true all right,” I said darkly. “I heard this story about someone who left his Ponyta there while he went into a shop, just for five minutes – and when he got back, someone had taken all the legs off it and it was just sitting on four little piles of bricks.”

    That’s definitely not true.

    “Well, maybe not that story. But it’s a scary place.”

    What are you, eleven? Start walking and go down that alley there.

    Cursing the bad fortune that had landed me with Puck, and the ability he had to knock me out with a painful attack on my brain, I complied, kicking a can moodily. The buildings either side of me got grimier, the alleyways got darker, and my mood blackened.

    Stop.

    “What am I looking at?” I glanced left and right, in case anyone had spotted me and decided I looked easy to kill.

    Behind these bins.

    I looked at the bins. They were old and rusty, and smelled strongly of boiled cabbage.

    “Do I have to touch them?”

    Not if you can move them with your mind.

    “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I muttered, and dragged them aside, doing my best to ignore the odd-smelling stickiness the handles left on my palms. Behind them was a black rucksack, sitting in a pool of water that was giving off the cabbage smell. “Why did you leave it in the water like that?” I moaned.

    I was in something of a hurry, said Puck evasively. Just pick it up.

    I picked up one strap between my thumb and forefinger, then realised it was too heavy to lift that way. Gritting my teeth, I grabbed it properly and dragged it out of the water, holding it at arm’s length.

    “OK, I got your stupid goods,” I said. “Can I go back home now, before my mum gets back and kills me for going out?”

    Yeah, yeah, Puck answered, unusually quickly. Let’s go now, Kester.

    “What is it?”

    Then I saw them, too: the two men in red suits at the other end of the alleyway. Their faces were impassive behind red-tinted sunglasses, and one of them was carrying a gun.

    “Puck, I swear, I am going to kill you,” I said, staring at them.

    What’re you going to do? Run over your own head? Actually, he snickered, you could probably do that, considering how good you are at driving – Wait! That’s a gun! Er – get out of here!

    I turned and ran, and heard footsteps behind me as the two men in red broke into a run, too. A bullet sang past overhead and buried itself in the brickwork of a wall; I broke out into a cold sweat and ducked down a side-passage, breathing heavily.

    “Puck, they just shot at us,” I gasped.

    Nice work, Sherlock. Now start moving, they’re catching up!

    “What do they want? And what’s Sherlock?” I cried as I started moving again.

    You’re disgustingly poorly-read, snapped Puck. But I guess I can’t expect anything else of a Hoennian.

    “Stop – gasp – avoiding – pant – the question!”

    Another bullet ricocheted off a wall just in front of me; I yelped and turned left—

    —right into a dead end. I turned wildly, but the two men were already there, blocking the exit.

    “So,” one of them said, “you must be the owner of that Rotom.” He looked me up and down. “Is it just me, or are crooks getting younger these days?”

    “They are,” said the other in a slow, lugubrious voice. He was the one with the gun, and he held it levelled at my head. “Remember that kid from Lilycove?”

    “Mm,” agreed the first one. He turned his eyes back to me. “Kid, do you know what this is?” He held up a Poké Ball.

    “Yeah,” I nodded. “Please don’t shoot me.”

    “You obviously don’t know what this is. It’s a Poké Ball – it doesn’t shoot, it holds Pokémon. Like this.”

    He tossed it down on the ground, and something large expanded out of it in a flash of blue light: a huge, blue-skinned bat, mouth held open in a permanent scream and great, fat tongue rolling out like the steam from a smokestack. I’d never seen one in real life, but I knew from TV that this was a Golbat. The great bat uttered a strange gibbering noise that sent shivers down my spine, and glanced over to the first man with shifty eyes for its orders.

    “Take that bag from him,” instructed the man. The bat advanced, standing upright on its hind legs and walking in a manner curiously reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin. Panicking, I threw the bag down in front of me.

    “Ah, wait!” I cried. “Don’t – just take it! I don’t even know what it is!”

    What? Puck cried. No, don’t do that!

    The Golbat halted, uncertain, and looked back at its master, who looked at the man with the gun. All three looked equally confused.

    “But why did you steal it, then?” the first man asked.

    “I didn’t! I – this has been a very, very bad day,” I told them, the words coming out too fast and becoming a babble. “There was a Rotom – but it went in a scanning machine – and then—”

    “I think ’e’s insane,” said the second man, peering at me intently. “Do we kill ’im anyway?”

    “A witness is a witness,” the first man replied. “Want to shoot him, or shall I do it?”

    “Don’ like shootin’ kids. You do it.”

    “Golbat! Kill him!”

    The bat gave an ear-splitting screech and rushed towards me, waddling fast on its ungainly little legs. I threw myself to one side, heedless of my head, and it turned on one heel, leaping into the air with one beat of its powerful wings and slamming down onto my chest, winding me. The small, sharp eyes glared into mine; the huge, python-like tongue emerged from the mouth and tasted the cloth of my shirt.

    “Oh, please,” said the first man, sounding disgusted. “Can you do it without all this dribbling? This is revolting.”

    The Golbat looked at him with an aggrieved air, as if to say: What do you expect, with a tongue like this?

    Kester, said Puck, fast as thought, hit him now.

    “What?” I hissed, and the Golbat’s eyes snapped back to mine. I felt its claws tighten on my ribs, slicing through my shirt and drawing lines of blood.

    Just do it! Trust me, we need to work together on this one!

    “You’d better be right,” I muttered, and punched the Golbat on the root of its massive tongue.

    Blue lightning exploded from my fist and the Golbat fell over backwards, dazed; I stared at my hand in wonder as sparks flew all around it.

    Don’t just stand there, get up! My legs spasmed in response to Puck’s order, and I scrambled to my feet as the Golbat reeled, wings clasped to its tongue in pain. Hit him again! I swung at it, but missed; a ball of electricity burst from my hand anyway and hit it squarely between the eyes. All of its muscles contracted at once; in a weird sort of death-flap, its wings snapped outwards and then in again, launching it backwards into a wall at high speed. It gave a single despairing screech, then its eyes glazed over and it fell back, unconscious.

    For the longest second I’ve ever lived through, no one said anything. All three of us (four, counting Puck) stared at the fallen Golbat.

    “What the ’ell was that?” said the lugubrious man at length.

    Go on. Threaten them, while they’re still surprised.

    I turned to the two men and opened my mouth, but no words came out; I was far too shocked to do anything as complicated as speak.

    Go on, Puck repeated. Speak!

    “I...” I closed my mouth, moistened my lips and tried again. “You should go.”

    “Can we still have the bag?” asked the first man.

    No.

    “No.”

    “Shoot him.”

    “I, uh, wouldn’t do that,” I said, holding up a hand. To my surprise, a few bluish sparks danced on my fingertips. “What do you think is faster, bullets or lightning?”

    The two men exchanged glances.

    “I think we might need to make a tactical retreat,” the first one said.

    “Migh’ be onto somethin’ there,” the second one agreed, holstering his weapon. The first one recalled his Golbat, and both of them ran as fast as I’d run earlier, obviously expecting lightning to chase them out.

    I leaned against the wall, suddenly weak at the knees. I didn’t even care about the dirt and slime on the brickwork; I was shaking all over, like a leaf in a strong breeze. And that pretty much summed up how I felt, too: utterly shaken and unstable.

    “Puck,” I said in a low voice. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”

    ---

    When you’re fleeing, you’re usually too occupied to notice anything outside of the thing behind you (danger) and the thing in front of you (safety). Thus, as the two men in red suits fled the danger – Kester – towards safety – their hideout in the industrial district – they didn’t notice the man in a green overcoat leaning against the wall in a nearby alley, watching them go.

    Furthermore, as Kester stumbled out of the dead end, staring at his hands with all the fervour of Lady Macbeth, he did not see the man in the green overcoat either. Puck, since he could only look through Kester’s eyes, also failed to see him.

    And that was how it came to pass that the man in the green overcoat, the man who had seen everything that had happened and had absorbed it with the greatest interest, was able to walk away in the direction he had come from, completely undetected.

    ---

    “So let me get this straight,” I said, lying back on the sofa and taking a deep draught of my drink. “When you tried to use your moves, they happened through me instead?”

    Kind of. Puck paused, and when he spoke again, he didn’t sound happy. Actually, you’re the one who has access to them now.

    “You mean I can use all your Pokémon moves?”

    So it would seem, Puck replied sourly. Then he brightened a little. Hang on, not all of them. From what I saw in the alley, you can do everything I could do about... eight years ago.

    “What d’you mean?”

    Put it this way, explained Puck, if you were a Rotom – and I suppose that, combined with me, you form an honorary Rotom, as it were – you would be about Level... 1.

    “What? I thought – that blast of lightning seemed pretty powerful to me!”

    ThunderShocking a Golbat does not make you Superman.

    “But still.” I held up my hands in front of my face and let a few sparks sizzle off my fingertips. “It’s kind of cool.” I grinned. “You know, you might actually have a use after all, Puck.”

    So glad to be of service, he replied, in tones that left me certain he meant the exact opposite. Is this what it takes to cheer you up? I have to donate my abilities to you?

    “Yes,” I replied firmly. “How else do you make up for the fact that you got yourself trapped in my head?”

    I could... possess an oven and roast you a goose?

    “What the hell’s a goose when it’s at home?”

    Puck sighed. I miss England.

    “You are English, then?”

    Yes. I came to Hoenn a few months ago, to – actually, never mind why I came here. Besides, added Puck slyly, a more important matter for you to consider would be the two men in red.

    “Oh yeah.” I hardened my voice and did my best to sound mean. “Explain exactly why they tried to kill me?”

    Puck coughed. Ahem. Er... I’d rather not go into that, if it’s all the same to you.

    “It isn’t. I’m going to throw that bag into the river if you don’t tell me.”

    Fine, he grumbled. But... don’t be angry, OK?

    “That means it’s something really bad, doesn’t it?” I groaned, putting one hand to my forehead.

    No, no, Puck reassured me, in a soothing voice. Not at all. He paused. They’re just two harmless killers from Team Magma.

    I leaped bolt upright, choking and spilling my drink; instantly, any elation I might have felt at my newfound electrical powers vanished.

    What?” I shrieked, slamming my glass down onto the table so hard that its contents slopped over the sides. “Puck, you’ve got me involved with the Mafia?

    Team Magma and Team Aqua; there hadn’t been a more famous set of rivals since the Montagues and the Capulets. Two crime syndicates, both alike in aspect, both calling themselves Hoenn’s Mafia, locked in a never-ending battle for supremacy over the nation’s underworld; their agents were spread over the region, scattered into fighting units in every town and every city. From the knife-fights in the treetops of Fortree to the shootouts in the depths of Lilycove, not a week went by without news of another skirmish, another clash between the two Teams’ forces. Neither was large enough to eradicate the other, and so the fighting wore on, little, indecisive victories won – the Magmas won this street, the Aquas won that dock – that didn’t really take anything away from the other Team. Their gang war had been raging on for fifty years, and showed no signs of letting up; the current underworld situation had developed against the backdrop of the fight, and now you could pretty much be certain that almost every crook in Hoenn supported, directly or indirectly, either the Magmas or the Aquas. The worst of it was that everyone in the country knew all about it, and the government did nothing: the Teams were essentially large armies, and the gang war might just become a civil one if they were interfered with.

    You’re only a little bit involved, said Puck in wheedling tones. I just stole that bag from Devon, all right? But the Magmas want it pretty badly. You can probably expect them to come for it quite soon, he added.

    “Puck!” I shouted, rising to my feet. “You brought the Magmas down on me? Why the hell would you steal that bag if you knew this was going to happen?”

    I didn’t know this was going to happen, snapped Puck angrily. I thought I’d still be free, not trapped in some semi-retarded meatface without a spine who’s stolen all my powers!

    “I’d gladly give them back if it would get rid of you!” I retorted. Then, all at once, all my fighting spirit left me, and I sank down onto the sofa, holding my head. “Oh, it’s too much, it’s too much,” I moaned. “What did I do to deserve this?

    There, there, said Puck; I wasn’t so stupid that I couldn’t detect irony and immediately got angry again.

    “Shut up!” I snapped. “You haven’t even answered my question: why did you steal that bag?”

    There was an odd silence in my head.

    “Puck?”

    Nothing.

    Puck?

    Still nothing.

    “Right,” I said, getting up and grabbing the bag, “this is going in the river—”

    All right, all right! Puck cried. Put the bag down and I’ll tell you!

    I did, and sat back down.

    “I’m all ears, you malevolent little demon.”

    I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, he said frostily, or see the thoughts that just flashed through your head about what you would like to do to me. I stole that bag... Here he faltered. I stole that bag... because Team Magma wanted it! And, after all, if they wanted it badly enough to kill—

    “Kill?” I yelped; the Rotom ignored me and kept going.

    —to kill, then it’s probably better off out of their hands, don’t you think?

    “What are we going to do, Puck?” I moaned, reverting to my despairing persona in this time of crisis. “What the hell have you dragged me into?”

    Puck was silent for a while. When he answered, he sounded uncharacteristically serious.

    Look, he said, if it makes you feel any better, I apologise for getting you into this, even if it wasn’t my fault. But we’re here now, stuck together like this, and we can’t sit around moping all day. Here he paused, and, reluctantly recognising the cue, I sat up and removed my head from my hands. We aren’t totally defenceless, the Rotom continued. You can use my ThunderShock, right? Maybe you can practise, and get better – like a real Pokémon. Maybe you can learn other moves of mine, stronger moves. We can defend ourselves against the Mafia, repelling wave after wave of lethal home invaders. It’ll be like Home Alone, only without any funny bits and lots of death. Er... What I mean is, we’ll be just fine.

    “No,” I said decisively. “We’ll just give them their bag back as soon as they come asking for it.”

    No! cried Puck, aghast. You can’t do that!

    “I can and I will,” I told him, in tones that, if you’ll permit me to compliment myself, really did brook no argument. “I can’t hold off a nationwide criminal organisation armed with the powers of a Level 1 Rotom. This madness has to stop.”

    Kester—

    “My mind is made up,” I said, watching a silver Devon company car pull up outside. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to let my mum in and try and get back in her good books.”

    Ignoring Puck’s increasingly feeble protests, I walked out and opened the door, whereupon someone who most definitely was not my mother threw something purple at me, and I suddenly found myself somewhere else entirely.

  3. #3
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    Chapter Three: Dance Like a Ludicolo

    “Puck? Where are we?” I didn’t really expect him to know, but he was the only person around for me to ask.

    I was standing in the centre of a little round room, window- and door-less, with steel walls, floor and ceiling. It was unpleasantly reminiscent of that business that occurred last year, though that’s something I’ve no desire to go into here.

    This has never happened to me before, said Puck, and he sounded like he was choosing his words carefully, but...

    “But?”

    I have heard about this from other Pokémon.

    A dark little suspicion began to take shape in a far corner of my mind, but I ignored it and asked him again, more forcefully.

    “Puck. Where are we?”

    I think, he said, and don’t be angry, but... I think we’ve been caught.

    “Caught?”

    Well... yes. Caught.

    “What do you mean, ‘caught’?”

    Like, er, in a Poké Ball, caught.

    And then I took to wailing and gnashing my teeth, and shrieking and battering the walls, and to the rending of my hair. It was a very biblical fit of wrath.

    Because, after all, I was in a Poké Ball.

    Now, I’d never taken that much of an interest in Training – that was why I was still in school, and not out roaming around the country with my own set of superpowered monsters – but I knew what that meant: someone now owned me, or intended to. And that was something that, to understate things, really quite annoyed me.

    “Hang on.” I paused in my ineffectual assault on the ball’s walls. “I thought these things could only catch Pokémon?”

    Yes. But, in case you haven’t noticed, we are a Pokémon, Puck pointed out. Together, we can use moves, and we have an elemental typing, Electric/Ghost. Don’t you think that makes us enough of a Pokémon to be caught by a ball?

    “Argh! This is all your fault!” I shouted. “God, Puck, I hate you! You show up in my head, you make me beat up mafia Pokémon and steal mafia property, and now you get me caught like a damn Zigzagoon!”

    In my defence, it isn’t mafia property as such, Puck said facetiously. It’s only desired by the mafia.

    “Another thing!” I cried. “You don’t take any of this seriously! You’re stuck in me, right? You have a vested interest in whether or not I survive, right? Yet you don’t seem to care at all whether or not I live through it!”

    There was a brief silence, during which I wondered if Puck was building up to zap my brain again.

    I can’t deny that my presence here is most likely what’s caused you to become captured, and that I have caused you considerable inconvenience otherwise, admitted Puck. But I urge you to relax. Just because they caught you doesn’t mean you have to obey them. Pokémon often disobey their Trainers, right?

    It was true. Every week, there’d be a couple of stories on the news about Trainers mauled or otherwise injured by newly-caught, untrained Pokémon; they were as dangerous as wild ones before they got to know their owners. It was one of the hazards that had led me to reject the opportunity to become a Trainer all those years ago, when I’d been ten. It was just too dangerous for someone like me, who liked the quiet life. Not that I thought I’d be getting much of that now, in a Poké Ball with a Rotom in my head.

    Just a quick question, Puck said, was that serious enough for you?

    “Yeah. You sounded like James Bond.”

    That’s fairly racist of you, but I think it might be a compliment so I’ll overlook it.

    “Whatever.” I raised a hand and shot a ball of blue lightning into the wall of the Poké Ball; the steel conducted it all around the room before it fizzled away harmlessly. I grinned a wicked grin, imagining what had happened to the Golbat happening to whoever had caught me. “You know what, Puck? I think you might be right for once. Let’s get some revenge.”

    Yes, agreed Puck. Let’s do that.

    If I hadn’t been so absorbed in thoughts of electrically-based revenge, I might have noticed he sounded less than certain of my scheme – but I was, and so I didn’t.

    It was going to cost me.

    ---

    Solomon Stone was a large man, stout and corpulent: his neck, if he had ever possessed one, was long gone, and his body flowed seamlessly into a head of precisely the same width as his shoulders. He resembled nothing so much as a great fleshy tombstone, crammed into an expensive dove-grey suit. His arms were too short and his legs too long, so that he was well over six feet tall but couldn’t reach high shelves; every single aspect of his proportions were anatomically wrong.

    Stone’s face was no less prepossessing: his mouth was wide and stretched almost from ear to ear, turning up at the corners and so giving him the expression of a benevolent frog. His eyes were wide and very large; in his youth, when he was very drunk, he had often amused other partygoers by popping them almost an inch from their sockets – a trick he now put to use in business meetings when he wanted to stun someone into silence. Pallid, straw-like hair, greying now, hung limply from his large cranium, and his ears were so small as to be inconsequential.

    Naturally, this remarkable appearance was the subject of much discussion among those who knew him, for Stone refused to tell a soul how he had come by it. The leading theory at the moment was that he had been born of the unholy union of Ludicolo and woman – which also explained his habit of shifting from foot to foot, waving his hands.
    Yet beneath this strange and alarming exterior lay a mind of unparalleled business acumen. The illegitimate son of a Kantan gravel merchant (possibly by a Ludicolo), he had been born with stone in his heart; he had taken it as his name and made a fortune in quarrying in Italy. He had acquired Silph cheaply when the company collapsed in the late ’80s, during the Kanto-Johto Depression, and, rebranding it the ‘Devon Corporation’, had resurrected it in Hoenn. Now, Devon had the kind of monopoly on Hoennian high technology that Silph had once had in Kanto, and Stone was, at just forty-four, among the planet’s ten richest inhabitants.

    Right now, however, Stone was not acting as a man of his status; he was not lying in a pool in his palatial mansion, absorbing the sun of the Hoennian summer, nor was he hard at work to increase the amount of money in the bank.

    He was trying to balance his pen on its nib.

    This was a problem that had absorbed him for about three days now. Stone knew it must be possible, but he couldn’t quite figure out how. His pen was one made by Devon, and consisted of a slim steel rod that tapered to a razor-like point; it wrote by leaving a thin line of metal behind when it passed over a surface, and hence could write on virtually anything. When held upright, it was perfectly symmetrical, so there could be no reason why it wouldn’t balance except Stone’s own imperfections.

    Stone did not tolerate his imperfections. When he encountered them, he strove to eradicate them – and for the most part, he succeeded, through sheer pig-headed determination and effort. That was why he had been sitting in his office for three days at the top of the Devon skyscraper, trying to balance his pen on its point on the surface of his desk.

    One problem, he had thought early on, might have been that the desk was on an incline, so he’d borrowed a spirit level from one of the engineering labs downstairs to check that it was even; upon discovering that it was about a degree out, he sawed a millimetre off the legs on one side of the desk. That then lowered it too far towards the other side, so he’d sawn some off those legs – and this had gone on and on, until his desk lay on the floor like a beached whale, surrounded by broken bits of wood.

    The next problem that he had encountered was that the surface of the desk was probably not entirely smooth. It might have microscopic dips and peaks that interfered with the ultra-fine point of the pen. So, of course, Stone had procured a plane and removed most of the wood from the top of the desk before varnishing it with a special lacquer Devon had created a few years ago for simulated ice-rinks; it was extremely slippery and, even on a molecular level, was almost entirely even.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was Stone’s ninth desk this year. His long-suffering receptionist had been forced some years ago to place a standing order with a nearby furniture firm, who, while unused to supplying clients with packets of identical expensive hardwood desks on a monthly basis, had accepted gladly and were now quite prosperous.

    There was a knock at the door, and Stone’s pen fell over again. He looked up absently.

    “Come in,” he called.

    A pair of Devon employees came in; one was a researcher, wearing a white lab coat and carrying something in his hand. The other was less easy to place, since she just wore a grey suit; however, Stone had a hunch she might be someone important from advertising.

    He regarded these intruders into his domain benevolently over horn-rimmed spectacles, specially made to accommodate his widely-spaced eyes.

    “Hello,” he said good-naturedly. “Who might you be?”

    “I’m Darren Goodwin,” the researcher replied, “and this is Theresa Ruby. Um, I hope we’re not interrupting anything, sir...” He was staring in some consternation at the sad corpse of Stone’s once-fine desk.

    “No, not at all,” said Stone genially, getting to his feet and settling into the impressive chair that had once sat behind his desk, and now sat behind a pile of very slippery firewood. “Take a seat.”

    He indicated two chairs on the other side of the ruined desk, and the two Devon employees seated themselves somewhat uncertainly.

    “I was just trying to balance my pen on the point,” explained Stone, holding up the relevant implement. “Quite difficult, as it happens.”

    “Er – right, sir. Well, do you remember those stolen goods?”

    Stone nodded. “Yes, of course. That was just yesterday, wasn’t it? Dashed bad business. They needed to get to Angel down in Slateport. In fact, I think they’ve been calling up, demanding to know where they are.”

    “I know, sir. I was tracking down those parts, as instructed, and I found this.”

    He held out a fist-sized sphere, half white and half purple, with two red blobs on the upper part. Stone peered at it.

    “You found a Master Ball?” he asked, puzzled. “I think you’ll find we make those. We have lots of them here—”

    “No, no, sir,” replied Darren Goodwin. “I found the boy in possession of the stolen goods.”

    “Well, where is he, then?” asked Stone, feeling put-upon. Honestly, the man was talking in riddles! Why couldn’t he just leave him to balance the pen on his desk? “Why are you showing me a Master Ball?”

    Darren Goodwin suppressed a sigh. Stone was an excellent businessman, but all other aspects of his personality, including common sense and reason, seemed somewhat... moronic.

    “No, sir,” he said. “He’s in here.”

    Stone blinked once, slowly, like a chilled lizard. Then, he spoke, with a calming, avuncular air.

    “Now, Derek—”

    “Darren, sir.”

    “Now, Derek, I want you to listen here,” Stone continued blithely. “It might have escaped your attention – and you probably work very hard – but our Poké Balls, even Master ones, only catch Pokémon.” He gave a reassuring grin; it spread his mouth so wide it looked like the top half of his head might come off.

    “That’s just the thing, sir,” replied Darren, through clenched teeth. “I think he might actually be a Pokémon.”

    And thus Stone found the story of the boy using Electric-type moves on the Magma grunt’s Golbat being related to him, by none other than the man in the green overcoat himself, though that coat was now hung up next to his desk nineteen floors below.

    “...and I’m sure it was ThunderShock,” finished Darren. “I have a Magneton, sir; I know my Electric moves. So I followed him home, returned to the office and borrowed a Master Ball to catch him with – on a hunch, sir.”

    “Very interesting,” observed Stone, nodding. “Spectacular work, Derek.”

    “It’s Darren, sir.”

    “Of course. How remiss of me. Let me apologise, Derek.” Stone paused. “This could prove quite the breakthrough. No doubt all sorts of tests can be performed on this lad.”

    “Excuse me, sir,” interjected the other Devon worker, Theresa Ruby, “but may I ask why I’m here?”

    Stone turned to her in some astonishment. Truthfully, he had forgotten she was there.

    “Why, of course you may ask,” he said kindly, “but I’m sure that I don’t know the answer.”

    “Actually,” Darren said, “I think this might answer your question.”

    He stood up, took a few respectful steps back from the carcass of the desk, moved his chair aside and dropped the Master Ball in a colourful explosion of purple-blue light.

    A boy appeared – or a young man, it was difficult to be sure; his long, thin limbs and skinny body argued for him lying on the cusp of adulthood, at the awkward age of sixteen or seventeen. He had messy, sun-bleached hair and a lightly-tanned face; a battered-looking school uniform belonging to an institution that Stone did not recognise hung from his thin frame. One of his eyes was brown, and the other, on the right, was the electric blue of distilled summer skies.

    “Hah!” he cried, and pointed at Darren Goodwin; a small ball of blue lightning shot from his finger and fizzled harmlessly against the man’s coat.

    For a long moment, no one said anything. Then, the boy turned around and noticed everyone else – particularly Theresa Ruby, at the sight of whom he looked inordinately surprised.

    “Mum?”

    ---

    Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Naturally. I mean, this was the worst day I’d ever had, after all.

    “Mum?”

    She seemed just as surprised as I did.

    “Kester?” She glanced at the man next to her – the guy against whom my ThunderShock had proved singularly ineffective.

    Er – about that, said Puck, I was going to say, but the only reason you beat up that Golbat with ThunderShock was because it’s a Flying-type, and they’re weak to Electric moves. Because ThunderShock on its own is, well, useless, really. Especially if you’re Level 1. Which you are.

    I wasn’t really listening to him; I was too confused. Happily, though, this was becoming something I was used to. I looked around for answers, and saw a Ludicolo in a suit sitting in a fancy chair on the other side of a smashed-up desk. I was about half a second away from throwing myself out of the window in despair and fury at the nonsensical nature of the world when I realised that it was just a very ugly man, which was marginally less stupid.

    “Kester... how did...?” Mum seemed to have swapped surprise for confusion.

    “It’s a long story,” I told her wearily, “but basically, this all started because my clock ran out of power in the night.”

    If anything, that confused her more.

    “Explain,” said the man in the white coat, who was holding something purple I recognised as a Master Ball. A wave of hatred surged through me; he must have been the guy who caught me. I folded my arms and looked him squarely in the eye.

    “I don’t want to,” I said.

    “Fine.”

    There was a brief red flash and I was back in the ball again.

    “Damn it!” I howled, blasting the walls with ThunderShocks. “That wasn’t meant to happen!”

    A moment later, he let me out again.

    “You going to talk now?”

    So, glowering mutinously, I told them everything: about the Vespa crash, about the accident with the brain scanner – a Phelps-Laurence Occipital Tampering Device, the white coat guy told me it was called – and about Puck stealing the bag of goods.

    “So,” said the man who looked like a Ludicolo, getting up and wandering over in a series of dance-like steps, “you’re now a human Rotom, as it were?”

    “Yeah,” I replied sulkily, “and much good it’s done me.”

    “But this is remarkable!” he cried, bending down to examine me better. “From what I know of our Device, that ought to be completely impossible!”

    I shrugged.

    “What do I know, I’m not a scientist.”

    “I presume this is why your right eye has gone blue.”

    “What?” This was news to me – and not welcome news, either. “What are you talking about?”

    “It’s blue. Like a Rotom’s eye,” the white coat guy said. I groaned loudly. Great. Another unwanted change that Puck had caused.

    “Actually, this has happened at a very convenient time for us,” the Ludicolo man said, straightening up and starting to shuffle from foot to foot. “This lad would be an ideal courier for taking the goods down to Angel, wouldn’t he, Derek?”

    “It’s Darren, sir,” replied the white coat guy through clenched teeth. “And that’s an inspired idea. We can’t risk sending them through the usual delivery service, not now we know the Magmas are after them.”

    “Whoa,” I said, holding up a hand. “No. No, no, no. I’m not delivering anything for anyone.”

    The white coat guy, Darren, sighed.

    “There are three reasons why you, in fact, are, Kester. Number one: you are a captive Pokémon. If you refuse, I’ll just recall you. Number two: the man to your right is the President and owner of the Devon Corporation. If you refuse, your mother will be fired. And number three: if you do this, I will personally oversee the extraction of that Rotom from your head.”

    “I would too,” put in the Ludicolo man or, as I now knew him, the President of Devon, “but I’m afraid I’m rather busy at the moment with a personal project.”

    Now that was an offer. But was it possible to get Puck out of me? He couldn’t get out by himself...

    “How do I know you can actually get him out?” I asked suspiciously.

    “I’ll get fired?” asked my mother, outraged. It seemed to have been the only part of the conversation she’d picked up on.

    “Please be quiet, Theresa,” said the Devon President. Mum opened her mouth again, then thought better of it, and closed it. Her eyes flicked to mine and communicated angrily: You’d better go and deliver those goods, or I’m going to kill you.

    “If the Rotom went in, the Rotom can come out,” said Darren simply. “I shall start research on how the Device managed to get him in there as soon as you leave.”

    Seems like a pretty good deal to me, said Puck. I’d take it. Also, you have a scary mother.

    “Tell me about it,” I muttered under my breath, so that only he could hear. Then, louder: “OK. What exactly do I have to do?”

    “It should be simple, for someone with your powers,” the Devon President said. “Do you remember that bag your Rotom stole?”

    “Yes?”

    “Deliver it to Captain Stern at the Angel Laboratories building in Slateport, defending it from any Team Magma rapscallions who come after it.” He smiled genially, as if this was the most reasonable request in the world.

    I stared back.

    “You must be crazy,” I told him. “There’s no way I can do that.”

    The President clapped a palm to his inordinately broad forehead.

    “Of course!” he exclaimed. “How remiss of me. We at Devon will, of course, provide you with the necessary funds for ferries, accommodation, food and suchlike—”

    “That’s not the point,” I snapped, not caring that I was talking to someone who could probably have had me killed if he’d wanted to. “It’s not the money, it’s just stupidly dangerous.”

    “Now,” said all three of the adults at once in the same placating tone; I gave a small cry of despair. They looked at each other, and then Darren spoke.

    “I think,” he said, “that your mother wants you to go so she doesn’t get fired, and President Stone and I want you to go in order to salvage this awful situation with Angel Laboratories. With such compelling reasons—”

    How are they compelling?” I shrieked, and found myself back in the Poké Ball. I stared around at the steel walls for a few moments before he let me back out. “Right,” I said sourly. “That’s how they’re compelling.”

    “I’m not going to get fired over this,” Mum said in quelling tones. I turned to her in stunned disbelief.

    “Don’t you care that I’ll probably die doing this?”

    “No you won’t,” she said, “you’ve got your powers now.”

    “Dear God,” I moaned. “The world has gone insane.”

    “Look, are you going or not?” asked the President, suddenly very businesslike. “I’ve got a pen to balance on my desk, you know.”

    I decided not to ask about that, and simply shook my head.

    “I’m not going,” I said firmly. “And before you return me” – I saw Darren raising the Master Ball – “I just want to say something.” I took a deep breath.

    Oh. Wait. Kester, wait – I don’t think this is a good idea...

    I’d seen Ghosts do this on TV, when the Championship Tournament came on. I hoped to God that Rotom could do it as well, and that they could do it at Level 1.

    The shout left my lips and instantly magnified itself to incredible volume; I actually saw the air ripple around my head as the sound waves tore the atmosphere asunder. President Stone, Darren and Mum slammed their hands over their ears, recoiling, and I closed my mouth and snatched up the Master Ball as Darren dropped it. The shout continued to echo as I ran for the door, the windows of the office shattering beyond the ruined desk.

    Dialga’s Orb! shrieked Puck. How the hell did you make an Astonish that strong?

    “Shut up, I’m trying to flee!”

    I shoulder-barged my way through the door and ran through the office of a very surprised secretary onto a red-carpeted landing. There were stairs and a lift; I thought they might catch me if I waited for a lift and hurled myself down the stairs.

    This was the first mistake. I should have thought about it: I was on the top floor of the Devon building – which was fifty-one floors above ground level. Thinking about it logically, a guy like me, with the fitness of a Slakoth, was never going to make it down even half of those.

    It took me five floors before I couldn’t go any further; gasping and spluttering, chest heaving, I staggered past a group of surprised office workers, tripped and tumbled heavily down the next flight of stairs, dropping the Master Ball and cutting the legs from under a young woman on her way up. In a confused tangle of limbs, we both crashed into the wall at the point where the stairs turned.

    “Ah!” I cried, jumping up and accidentally treading on her hand. “Sorry! Can’t stop!”

    I took a couple of steps towards the top of the stairs, but a strong hand grabbed my arm.

    “What?” asked an angry voice. “You can’t stop? You just knocked me down, then stepped on my hand, and you can’t even stop to help me up?”

    I turned around with a weak nod.

    “Uh – yes,” I said, quailing before a ferocious gaze from two bright blue eyes. “I – it’s a really – difficult – situation...”

    “At least apologise properly,” snapped the girl. She looked like she was my age, with brown hair that fell in two long arcs either side of her head and skin tanned to the colour of wood. “Go on. Apologise.”

    Is it just me, or are all human women utterly terrifying? asked Puck.

    “Please, just shut up!” I told him. Noticing anger flare in the eyes of the girl I’d knocked down, I hastily added: “Ah no, no, not you! I was talking to – someone else!”

    I heard shouting from the upper floors; my pursuers were gaining on me.

    “There’s no one else here!”

    “Yes, there is!” I cried. “In here!” I jabbed a finger at my temple. “I was talking to – oh, forget it! I’m sorry, OK? I didn’t mean to knock you over, I wasn’t telling you to shut up. Can I go now? There really is quite a lot riding on this...”

    “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” The girl put the Master Ball back in my hand. “You dropped this, by the way.”

    “Thanks,” I said, and started to run again just as Darren careered wildly around the corner of the stairs, shouting at the girl to grab the ball off me before I got away; I was a thief and a robber and up to all kinds of larceny. As fast as lightning, she snatched the ball back from me; instantly, I stopped running and started pleading. “No! Give that back! I need it to live a safe and ordered existence!”

    The girl looked from me to Darren uncertainly. Behind Darren materialised my mother, and a fleet of confused-looking Devon office workers.

    “He’s released the Pokémon from that ball,” Darren told her. “You need to recall it! Its name is Kester!”

    “Don’t listen to him!” I cried. “It’s me who’s in that ball, and he’s trying to trap me!”

    The girl looked at me as if I were insane, and raised the Master Ball.

    I can’t believe you thought that would work, Puck said in disgust, as I snatched wildly at the girl’s outstretched hand—

    “Kester, return!”

    And then red light pulsed in front of my eyes, and I was in the little metal room again.

  4. #4
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    I originally planned to be a `silent` reader, but you've posted three chapters and no one has replied yet so I think I shall give you a review, though a rather short one. First of all, I like the idea of a rotom getting trapped in the head of someone, that's what first got my interest (Nice touch with Puck thinking all tangible creatures are nasty and `unnatural`.

    Second of all, your fanfic strays pretty far from canon, so it isn't the same old story that we all know already. Another thing is that you have impeccable grammar and description, I can tell that you have writing experience prior to this and an IQ of over 100.

    I give all three chapters a 5 out of 5, now you know someone is reading this.

    -Resident evil

  5. #5
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    Even if I had only read the first chapter, I can completely agree with Resident evil. I loved the use of "Plot Device" in this - it reminds me somewhat of Missingno. Master's use of it in his fic. The language is nice and smooth; nicely described, short chapters allows for a fast read while still accomplishing everything you intended.

    I love Puck's personality and how the main character is practically going insane once he realizes what has happened. You really had me scratching my head until you revealed that the orange light was a Rotom. I would've been questioning that for hours.

    Just slow down on posting the chapters for two reasons: 1.) It gives you more time to edit and type more of the story while others read and 2.) It allows others to catch up so they don't get scared off by 10 chapters in a row. Plus, it also allows your fic to stay on the front page longer.

    I'll be keeping an eye on this fic; whether I'm able to respond or not I'll be sure to read more whenever I get the chance.
    Tamer's Archives
    A Pokemon fic. Chapter 4 is up [1/25/11]

    Heroic Potential
    A Yugioh! fic. Chapter 20 is up [12/14/13]
    ~Back from the dead!~
    No knowledge of the game is required to enjoy this fic!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by SerenadeSP View Post
    Just slow down on posting the chapters for two reasons: 1.) It gives you more time to edit and type more of the story while others read and 2.) It allows others to catch up so they don't get scared off by 10 chapters in a row. Plus, it also allows your fic to stay on the front page longer.

    I'll be keeping an eye on this fic; whether I'm able to respond or not I'll be sure to read more whenever I get the chance.
    Thank you for your comments. In response to your thing about posting: this fic is already complete up to Chapter Forty-Three, so editing times isn't an issue. I'm just posting it here to broaden the audience; it's been going over on the Pokécommunity for a while now. I do realise I was going too fast there, however, so I'll slow it down a little.


    Quote Originally Posted by Resident Evil
    I originally planned to be a `silent` reader, but you've posted three chapters and no one has replied yet so I think I shall give you a review, though a rather short one. First of all, I like the idea of a rotom getting trapped in the head of someone, that's what first got my interest (Nice touch with Puck thinking all tangible creatures are nasty and `unnatural`.

    Second of all, your fanfic strays pretty far from canon, so it isn't the same old story that we all know already. Another thing is that you have impeccable grammar and description, I can tell that you have writing experience prior to this and an IQ of over 100.

    I give all three chapters a 5 out of 5, now you know someone is reading this.
    Thank you, Resident Evil. I always appreciate having my ego fed a little. I hope you continue to enjoy the story.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 26th April 2011 at 9:55 AM.

  7. #7
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    Chapter Four: Ruby and Sapphire

    The scene: a comfortable living-room, with a fire flickering in the grate despite the fact that it was a warm summer night. Two well-stuffed armchairs sat near this fire, next to a table with a glass of port on it.

    The cast: two men and one woman, one in the right-hand armchair, and two by the door.

    “So you did not manage to steal the goods,” said a soft voice, rich with the accent of some far-off land. It belonged to the man in the armchair.

    “No, boss,” said half of the pair by the door.

    “What happened, exactly?”

    “There was a Rotom,” said the other half, the woman, “and it was too fast...”

    “A Rotom? They don’t live here, do they?”

    “No, boss,” answered the first person. “Must’ve belonged to the reds.”

    A florid curse in some foreign tongue came from the direction of the armchair; its utterer grabbed the port, downed it in one and slammed the glass onto the table so hard it cracked. “Well, why are you still here?” he snapped at the two people by the door. “Go back and get those goods!”

    His subordinates hurried out as the glass smashed against the wall where they’d been moments before.

    Everyone was on the move.

    ---

    Sapphire Birch was having a bad day.

    It wasn’t as bad as Kester Ruby’s – his day would take quite some beating, and it was only about quarter past five – but it was pretty bad by normal standards.

    It began at half past four in the morning, which is not usually a congenial time for any sort of day to begin, let alone a bad one. But it began then anyway, with the fire alarm going off in the Pokémon Centre where she’d been staying the night. Usually, this would mean a fire, and if that had been the case then Sapphire wouldn’t have minded getting up early – but it was merely the result of faulty wiring, and it took a whole hour for this to be discovered. An hour that Sapphire, and half a dozen other Trainers, spent standing outside in the cool summer dawn, desperately trying not to pitch forward and fall asleep on the pavement.

    Of course, once she got back inside, she couldn’t get back to sleep, in accordance with the twisted variant of Murphy’s Law that bad days observe. Sapphire tried everything – counting sheep, even reading her English dictionary – but nothing worked. She had had high hopes for the dictionary – foreign languages were not her forte, especially ones written in a different alphabet, and she was usually able to pass out by skimming a couple of pages – but they were dashed to the floor by the cruel hand of fate.

    So Sapphire had been tired and annoyed even before she got up later that morning, and matters weren’t helped when she realised she had no idea where she’d put the letter from her father that she was meant to be delivering that day. It had taken about an hour of searching to find it – by which time, the Centre’s cafeteria was deserted, and very little breakfast was left for her.

    Underfed and overburdened, Sapphire left the Pokémon Centre in the mood known as high dudgeon, storming off down the street to catch the bus that would take her to the Devon Corporation building; thanks to being late from breakfast, she missed it, and, as the next one wasn’t due for forty minutes, she had to walk.

    It was forty-six minutes later when Sapphire realised it would have been more sensible to wait for the bus; however, the Devon skyscraper was only ten minutes away now, and she decided to press on. Unfortunately, due to a series of closed roads and a close encounter with a poorly-skilled cyclist, it in fact took her most of the rest of the day to get there.

    It may, at this point, be prudent to offer a word of explanation. Sapphire Birch was, as can be divined from her surname, the daughter of the esteemed Professor Birch of Littleroot. A Trainer of seventeen years old, she had been released from her duties in helping her father with his research two months ago, and had come to Rustboro to set off on the true Trainer’s career: defeating Gym Leaders. She had elegantly and easily mopped the floor with Roxanne, and had then tried to go to Mauville via Verdanturf; regrettably, there had been some trouble with the tunnel that connected Rustboro and Verdanturf, and she hadn’t been able to. So, intending to go south and catch a ferry to Dewford Island instead, she had returned to Rustboro and received a phone call from her father.

    This call had asked her to retrieve an important package from the Devon Corporation, to be brought back to her father in Littleroot. A letter had arrived at the Pokémon Centre the day afterwards, to be taken to the President and used as proof of identity, and thus Sapphire had heaved a sigh and made plans to visit Devon and obtain said package.

    Plans that were currently in the process of being thwarted.

    When she’d finally got to Devon and convinced the security guards and receptionist that she was, in fact, there on legitimate business – a difficulty Sapphire had also had at the Gym – she had found that the lift was out of order, and had been forced to walk all the way up the stairs. Exhausted from lack of sleep and a long day’s walk, her patience has worn as thin as a caterpillar’s eyelash.

    Of course, we already know what happened next: a boy called Kester Ruby fell down the stairs and knocked her down, and, after a brief scuffle, was recalled into a Master Ball, which Sapphire was now holding.

    And this, if you are reading this in hopes of action, is where the narrative resumes.

    ---

    Sapphire stared at the ball. Then she stared at where the boy had been.

    This was not possible.

    “Thanks,” said the man in the white coat, advancing on her, “now, give me that, please.”

    “W-who was that?” Sapphire asked, holding the Master Ball out of his reach. “And did he just go... into the ball?”

    “Yes,” admitted the white-coated man. “Now give him to me.”

    “I don’t know what just happened,” Sapphire said, her voice slowly hardening, “but I do know that whatever it was, you’re probably the bad guy here. And I don’t like that. Not at all.” Maybe it was something in her eyes, but the white-coated guy and his gang suddenly stopped advancing, faltering a little. Sapphire continued, voice gaining strength now. “I have had a really bad day,” she told him, “and I don’t want it getting any worse. I mean, are you seriously expecting me to help you imprison someone who obviously doesn’t want to be here in an illegal and impossible way? For God’s sake, I come here to pick up some goods for my dad and I end up an accessory to a kidnapping! What kind of stupid operation is Devon running here?”

    Sapphire paused for breath, and the white-coated guy jumped in.

    “Did you say goods?” he asked sharply. Sapphire glared at him.

    “Don’t interrupt,” she said forcefully, and the man visibly flinched. The group of men and women behind him hurried back to their desks. “I did, but that’s no business of yours. I—”

    “You’re after them too,” breathed the white-coated man. “Of course! That blue coat... you’re with the Aquas!”

    “What the hell are you – hey!” The man grabbed her arm and started wrestling the ball towards him; Sapphire headbutted him on the nose and he let go, clutching his face. “What the hell are you doing?” she yelled angrily. “What is wrong with you people?”

    “Security!” cried the white-coated man, gushing blood. “Security!”

    When the two burly men in dark suits appeared at the top of the stairs, Sapphire decided to swallow the rest of her tirade, along with her pride, and run.

    In sharp contrast to Kester Ruby, Sapphire was in prime physical condition. Her father’s idea of research involved many long weeks spent outside in close proximity to wild Pokémon; on more than one occasion, she had had to run from a protective mother Swellow, or escape the wrath of an irate Dustox. Once, she had even had to fend off a group of four juvenile Mightyena, half-evolved from Poochyena, with nothing but a log from the campfire; thankfully, the lupine monsters hadn’t yet developed the unstoppable brave idiocy of their evolved form, and fled at the sight of the flames.

    All this meant that Sapphire was a damn fast runner, and she was out in the car park in just seven minutes; she vaulted the low border fence and tore off down the street. The guards were long gone, but, just to make sure, she ducked into an alley and ran through it down to the next road before she stopped, heart beating like a drum.

    Sapphire held up the Master Ball and stared at it, only now letting her confusion out from where it had been trapped behind the indignant rage she’d shown the white-coated man. Here was a boy – a human – in a Poké Ball. It didn’t make any sense. It was impossible. And yet...

    Here he was, right in front of her, inside the ball.

    And that wasn’t even the beginning of it: there was that creepy Devon guy in the white coat; there was the question of the ‘goods’ they kept going on about, and all the rest of it. Sapphire thought about it all for a moment, and felt a twinge of unease.

    “What,” she said aloud to herself, “have I got myself into?”

    ---

    I have to hand it to you
    , Puck said, that was a good try. You almost got away – and that was a very impressive Astonish.

    “Why are you so unconcerned?” I asked. “You’re inside me. I get caught, you get caught. So why don’t you care that Devon is endangering us?”

    They’re endangering you, Puck corrected. If you die, I’m pretty sure I’ll just float out of you, completely unharmed.

    “Oh, wonderful.” I kicked the wall and sat down heavily. “This is just great.”

    Look on the bright side, Puck encouraged. This will be a great opportunity for you to increase your powers.

    “Why are you so keen for me to do that?”

    It pains me to see someone so weak, said Puck; it sounded like a lie to me, but I didn’t press him for details, because blue light pulsed in front of my eyes and I returned to the real world, where the girl I’d knocked down the stairs was looking at me with curiosity.

    I looked around, and to my surprise I found I wasn’t in Devon; instead, I was standing in a small, messy bedroom, of a level of blandness that indicated it had to be a hotel room.

    “Where am I?” I asked.

    “In Rustboro’s main Pokémon Centre,” replied the girl. “I stole you.”

    She was so matter-of-fact about it that I didn’t know quite what to say; in lieu of a reply, I stared at her. She was a little shorter than me, and wore a blue coat, the same colour as her eyes. For some reason, she also wore a matching hat: a fedora with a Swellow wing feather stuck in it. Around her waist was the belt that marked her out as a Trainer, with attachments to hold Poké Balls – but only two of these were in use. There was another ball in her hand, and this was my Master Ball.

    “Right,” I said at length. “Do... do I get an explanation?”

    “You have to tell me your story first,” she replied. “Then I’ll tell you mine.”

    “Can I at least have your name?”

    “Same rules.” I sighed.

    “My name’s Kester. Kester Ruby. But you must have worked that out.” She nodded slowly. “Oh yeah, and his name” – I pointed to my head – “is Robin Goodfellow, but I call him Puck.”

    The girl looked at me as if I were insane – a possibility that I’d already considered and discarded, if you remember.

    “Ri-ight,” she said slowly. “I’m Sapphire Birch.”

    That rang a bell; wasn’t she related to the Birch?

    “Professor Birch’s—?”

    “Daughter, yes.” Sapphire looked at me with the air of someone who commands people, and whom people invariably obey. “Now you tell me your story.”

    So I told the story of how Puck had came to take up residence in my head for a second time, only this time I included my meeting with President Stone and Darren Goodwin. When I was done, Sapphire looked somewhat disbelieving, and had to sit down on the bed to keep from falling over.

    “This... this is crazy,” she muttered.

    “Yes,” I agreed. “Utterly, horribly insane. It’s been a really bad day.” I leaned against the wardrobe.

    “This can’t be true,” Sapphire said, looking up at me.

    “You’re holding my ball,” I told her sourly. “What more proof do you need?”

    Sapphire looked stumped for a moment, then said:

    “Show me your powers.”

    That suited me just fine. It could hardly be a bad thing to impress a pretty girl with some lightning tricks, so I poured a stream of sparks from my fingers while Sapphire looked on in amazement.

    “OK, now I believe you,” she said, eyes wide.

    “Good. Now, your turn to tell me about yourself.”

    Sapphire swiftly laid out the main points of her story: she too had been having a bad day, though not quite as bad as mine; she had been on her way to Devon to pick up some goods (at the sound of that word, the cause of so much trouble, I flinched) for her father, Prof. Birch; and she had been on her way up to see the President about it when I’d crashed into her.

    “Goods,” I repeated. “You’re after some Devon goods.”

    It had to be a coincidence. It couldn’t be the same lot.

    “Yes,” replied Sapphire. “I had a letter for the President.” She felt in her pocket, and pulled it out to show me. “From my dad.”

    “Your dad wanted Devon goods.”

    I couldn’t get the strange idea that I might have once briefly held those goods in my possession out of my head. Even though they were definitely not the same goods.

    “Yes,” repeated Sapphire, looking at me oddly. Her surprise and shock seemed to have been overridden by further fears for my sanity.

    “Can I see that letter?” I asked. Sapphire clutched it tightly.

    “No!” she cried. “Why?”

    “I have a hunch. Please.”

    Something of my urgency must have shown in my face, because she gave it to me then, albeit uncertainly. I tore it open, and scanned the letter inside.

    “Oh my God,” I said, head starting to spin. “This...”

    “What?” Sapphire came to look at it, too. “Hey – this says I’m a courier for someone called Angel Laboratories...” She looked at me. “How did you know?”

    “These goods.” I sank down onto Sapphire’s bed, holding my head. “They’re at the heart of all of this. Puck! Explain!”

    Startled, the Rotom fumbled for an answer.

    Er, um, I... He paused, then said hopefully: You won’t believe me if I say I don’t know what the goods actually are, will you?

    “No.”

    Well, tough. That’s the story I’m sticking to.

    “What? What is it?” asked Sapphire, confused.

    “Puck,” I replied succinctly, pointing to my head. “I’m talking to him. He speaks in my head, remember. He says he doesn’t know what the goods are.”

    Sapphire stared.

    “He’s got to be joking, right? You said he stole them!”

    “I know he’s lying, but I can’t persuade him to tell me. If I irritate him too much, he’ll fry my brain. But that’s irrelevant: the point is, Devon wants these goods to pass on to Angel Laboratories, and at the moment they have them. Team Magma wants the goods, too – but I don’t know why. And apparently your dad wants them too.”

    “So what’s so special about them?” asked Sapphire.

    “That’s just it. I don’t know.” I got up again. “And I don’t actually care. Thanks for saving me, Sapphire. I’m going home.”

    I snatched the Master Ball from her and made off towards the door.

    “What?” cried Sapphire. “You’re just leaving?”

    “Yep,” I replied, one hand on the doorknob. Slim, cold fingers gripped my free hand and adroitly twisted it backwards; pain flared in my wrist and I dropped the ball. I spun around, meaning to snatch it up, but Sapphire already had it and was stepping back. “Give me that,” I said warningly.

    “Think about it,” she said, sliding over the bed to the other side, “where are you going anyway? If you go home, your mum will just give you back to Devon, won’t she?”

    I paused. This was undeniably true.

    “Don’t care,” I said. “I’ll go... somewhere else. Or I’ll hide the ball. Speaking of which – give it.” I held out a hand.

    “I’ll tell you what,” Sapphire said, plucking another ball from her belt with her free hand, “I’ll make you a deal. I’m a Pokémon Trainer, you’re a wild Pokémon.” She glanced at the Master Ball. “Sort of. Anyway, I’ll give you your ball back if you beat one of my Pokémon in a battle. If I win, I can keep it and you help me investigate these goods.”

    Don’t do this, Kester, warned Puck.

    “OK,” I replied, ignoring him. “Let’s do this.”

    You might think I was an idiot to accept the challenge. I was, but let me explain why I did it anyway: I thought I could win. Sapphire had told me she was just starting her career, despite having helped her father with Pokémon for years; I supposed her Pokémon must be pretty weak, and thus that I stood a chance.

    One side of Sapphire’s mouth flicked upwards in a quirky little grin I later discovered was her signature smile.

    “Great,” she said. “Let’s start this.”

    She dropped the ball in a flash of blue light, and a little orange bird appeared on the bed. It had a large, round head and small, intelligent eyes; it stood on one leg and chirped endearingly.

    A bird, then. Probably a Flying-type. I grinned; if I was right, I would finish Sapphire’s Pokémon off even more easily than the Golbat.

    Kester—

    “Shut up, Puck,” I said, cracking my knuckles. “ThunderShock!”

    I pointed at the bird and a ball of blue electricity flew towards it; it hit it square in the chest and knocked it backwards, little wings windmilling to maintain its balance. It didn’t seem unduly concerned, however, and immediately hopped forwards again as Sapphire said:

    “Ember!”

    A thin stream of flame shot from the bird’s beak; I yelped and ducked, but it singed the top of my head as it streaked past.

    “Again.”

    Another jet of fire; I tried to dodge to the left, but the wardrobe got in the way and the flames caught my shoulder, setting my shirt on fire.

    “Ah! What – oh God!”

    I snatched a pillow from the bed and started smacking at my chest, trying to put out the flames; they were easily extinguished, but another flaming streamer hit me as soon as I put them out, and now my sleeve was on fire. Crying out, I blundered around helplessly before tripping over a pile of Sapphire’s discarded clothes and falling heavily onto a bag that seemed to be full of bricks. Gently smoking, I looked up at Sapphire’s grinning face with extreme distaste; the expression only deepened when the orange bird jumped onto my chest.

    I tried to warn you, said Puck regretfully.

    “Looks like you could use some training up,” Sapphire remarked. “And I’ve still got your ball, so I guess you’re mine.” She grinned broadly. “Cool. I have three Pokémon now!”

    I groaned loudly. I’d escaped from the sinister clutches of Devon to end up as the property of an irritatingly confident young Traineress. I didn’t know which was worse; either way, I had to participate in a dangerous undertaking that could very well cost me my life.

    Think of this as a career opportunity, Puck said helpfully. You were unemployed before, but now you have a steady job as a Trainer’s Pokémon.

    Oh yeah. And I still had that goddamn Rotom in my head.

    “You look burnt,” observed Sapphire, helping me up and recalling her Pokémon; unsteadily, I fell onto the bed. “I know!”

    She bent down to rifle through the bag I’d fallen onto and pulled out a small spray bottle, the contents of which she emptied into my face. Rather than making my eyes burn, as I thought it might, I felt a soothing sensation of coolness wash through my body, and I sat up, revitalised.

    “What was that?” I asked. Sapphire held up the bottle.

    “Potion,” she replied. “You heal Pokémon with them.”

    “I’m not a real Pokémon,” I began, but Sapphire cut me off.

    “You’re enough of a Pokémon to be caught in a ball and healed by a Potion,” she said. “That makes you one in my book. Now, tell me more about these goods.”

    “I don’t know what they are, you know that. Puck stole them from Devon last night, from what I gather, and Team Magma tried to steal them too – but Puck got there first. Now Devon have them again.”

    “And my dad sent me to go get the goods for him,” added Sapphire, looking thoughtful. “So he was after them as well.”

    “Unless you want to chase the Magmas or go back to Devon, then I guess you should ask your dad.”

    Sapphire smiled sweetly.

    “No, we are going to ask Dad,” she told me. “I won the battle, remember?”

    “Yeah,” I replied, “about that. What type was that thing?”

    “Torchic is a Fire-type,” she answered, “which is why your ThunderShock didn’t do more to it. You should have used Astonish to make her flinch before you attacked.”

    “I don’t know this stuff, I’m no Trainer—”

    “No, but you’re a Trainer’s Pokémon,” snapped Sapphire. “So shut up and start learning.”

    “Hey, don’t—”

    “Another thing,” Sapphire said. “I’m in control. You belong to me, Kester. Therefore, when I tell you to do something, just do it. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.”

    I opened my mouth to protest, but Puck spoke:

    Kester! Are you an idiot? This girl, in addition to being physically stronger than you, possesses Pokémon that are capable of annihilating us. Swallow your stupid adolescent pride and obey her.

    For once, I listened to him; he was too obviously right. I shut my mouth.

    “Good,” said Sapphire. “I suppose you did that because the Rotom told you to?”

    “How did you—?”

    “You’re too stupid to do it by yourself.”

    She’s got you there, Puck chuckled. You are a prize idiot. But tell her I do have a name. I won’t have myself referred to as ‘the Rotom’.

    “Puck would like to remind you he has a name,” I relayed monotonously. “But I strongly urge you to keep calling him ‘the Rotom’.”

    “It must feel like the whole world’s against you,” mused Sapphire. “Devon, Magma, me, Puck – even your mum.” She grinned that quirky grin again. “But I don’t care about that. Come on,” she said, getting up. “We’re going to talk to my dad.”
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 27th April 2011 at 10:16 AM.

  8. #8
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    So now Kester is officially a trainer`s 'Pokemon' and at the moment belongs to Sapphire Birch? I wonder if Kester will actually be used in battle? Eh, more than likely not due to all the legal issues and debates that would eventually come to be if anyone else found out. Anyway, I give this chapter a five out of five, yet another perfect chapter.

    I eagerly await more chapters of The Thinking Man`s Guide to Destroying the World!

  9. #9
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    Golbat walking like Charlie Chaplin made my day.

    And I really love this. The writing is superb, the battling and attacks are realistic but not too much so, and the story is extremely clever and incorporates many new ideas. The trainer also has an actual reason to go on a journey.

    I can't wait to read more!

  10. #10
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    First off, I found a few grammatical errors:

    Quote Originally Posted by Chapter One
    —and then whatever it was, was gone, passing over his head in a single prodigious leap in pursuit of the light.
    Sounds weird, most likely coz of the bolded phrase.


    Quote Originally Posted by Chapter Two
    “That means it’s something really bad, doesn’t it?” I groaned, putting one hand to my forehead.
    Isn't.


    I know I'll just be repeating what the others have said, but this is a really interesting plot you've got here. I like how you revolve around the theme of possession [Puck possessed Kester, Sapphire now possesses Kester, everyone wants to possess the Devon goods...] and you connect them nicely so far.

    My only qualm would be how everything seems a bit too rushed. You jump from one thing to another almost in a snap, and while it's not necessarily a bad thing, you run the risk of overstuffing your chapters. Instead of getting from Point A to Point B and filling us in with what happened, the moment you get to Point B, you're already in the works of getting to Point C. I don't think I made too much sense, but I hope you got it. XD

    Overall, I really like where this is going. As you said, the journey-fic in this only seems secondary now, and the primary story is far more interesting, and oftentimes amusing. I obviously can't wait for the next chapter - keep it up! =)

    [I am loving all the Shakespearean references, btw. XD]


    Berries -- Escape Rope -- A Friday



    images were taken from three specific pages of Serebii.net

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    Dramatic Melody and BynineB, thank you for your comments; however, Dramatic Melody, I think you'll find that this quote:

    Quote Originally Posted by Chapter Two
    “That means it’s something really bad, doesn’t it?” I groaned, putting one hand to my forehead.
    does actually make grammatical sense. The 'doesn't it' refers to the 'that means', in this case, as opposed to the 'it's something really bad'. Other than that, thank you; you were most informative.

    Chapter Five: A New Threat

    That must be it,” decided the first man in the red suit.

    They had both been sitting in their current base, in the industrial district, for several hours now. Their plans had been thrown somewhat awry by the kid with the lightning fists, and they had spent their time thrashing out an explanation for it all.

    What they had come up with thus far was this: the kid was the Rotom’s handler, who worked for Team Aqua. His offer to give them the bag had been a clever ploy, to throw them off-guard; in reality, he had ordered his Rotom to possess his watch so that it seemed as if he had no Pokémon to defend himself with. Then he had punched Goishi, and the Rotom had simultaneously ThunderShocked it, making it seem as if he had magical powers. This had sown confusion in their minds, and they had fled the scene like a couple of amateurs.

    Both of them, and Goishi, were in perfect agreement: the boss could not know about this.

    “We need to go after the kid,” said the second man (the mournful one). His name was Blake, though very few people cared.

    “That’s true,” agreed the first man. His name was Fabien, and a slightly greater number of people cared about that.

    “Eek ee-eeek,” concurred Goishi. Neither Fabien nor Blake could understand what Goishi said, but he was very vocal in their discussions nevertheless; he would bite them if they didn’t let him speak. Of the trio, he was the one who most people cared about: he had a girlfriend, a sleek Crobat named Stheno, who worked with another pair of Magmas and sent him letters every week.

    “Where can we find the nearest Aqua safe houses?” Fabien wondered.

    “There ain’t many ’ere,” Blake noted. “Devon’s men mostly ’ave this turf.”

    “Eee-EE-ee-e-ek,” Goishi confirmed.

    “That’s also true,” agreed Fabien. “And it wouldn’t be practical to keep the goods here, anyway. Devon would find them soon enough. They couldn’t take them down to Slateport to the big unit, since the Angels would pick them up there.”

    “Must’ve fled south,” Blake agreed. “Petalburg or Littleroot.”

    Fabien stood up and snapped his red-tinted sunglasses to his face.

    “To the train station,” he cried, and looked about expectantly for Blake and Goishi to leap up. They got up slowly, grumbling, and Fabien recalled the Golbat in disgust. “You,” he told Blake, “will never make admin. You’ve got to talk all smooth, like a mafia kingpin, and you’ve got to have a sense of style.”

    “I ain’t jumpin’ round for no reason,” Blake said in tones that brooked no argument, putting on his own sunglasses. “Now, let’s get on the kid’s tail.”

    ---

    Trees, trees, trees; that was all I could see out of the windows, a blur of foliage as the train raced through the Petalburg Woods. Sapphire, being the daughter of a famous Professor, was pretty rich and had procured two tickets for the fast train from Rustboro to Littleroot. As she had explained, she was doing this as a favour to me – she could just as easily have kept me in my ball for the fifty-six-minute train ride.

    She sat across from me in our otherwise vacant compartment, blue eyes boring into mine with an expression of triumph in them. By now, I wished I were back at Devon. Sapphire was one of the nastiest people it had ever been my misfortune to meet – even worse than the guy from that business last year.

    You’re too judgmental, Puck told me. It’s just because you’re cross.

    “Shut up,” I replied, mustering all of my available wit.

    “Talking to him?” asked Sapphire. I nodded glumly.

    “Why have you decided to ruin my life?” I asked plaintively. Sapphire looked vaguely surprised, as if she expected me to know.

    “You’re so pathetic,” she told me. “Just. So. Pitiful.”

    She has a point there.

    “Don’t interrupt, Puck. Is that why?”

    “I haven’t decided to ruin your life,” sighed Sapphire angrily. “I’ve saved you from your own monumentally stupid decision to go home to a mother who’d give you straight back to the company that kidnapped you.”

    Put like that, her argument was quite convincing, and I had to concede that she had a point.

    “You might have something there,” I admitted. “But – why do you have to be so horrible to me?”

    “I’m not horrible,” protested Sapphire indignantly. “You’re just really difficult to work with.”

    “It’s because I don’t want to be worked with.”

    “You need to be worked with. If you don’t fight, you won’t get stronger; if you don’t get stronger, we haven’t got much chance of getting any further ahead with this mystery.”

    “Here you go with the ‘we’.”

    Kester! Puck snapped. For once, he sounded quite angry. You’re being inordinately rude and pig-headed! Accept you need this girl’s help, and that the only course of action available to you is to go with her, and just try to be nice, for once in your life.

    Stunned into silence, I sat there for a moment, while Sapphire looked hurt, furious and confused at the same time.

    “Why can’t you accept that this is the only way forwards for you?” Sapphire asked angrily. “There’s nothing else you could do other than go with me, even if I didn’t force you to!”

    “That’s basically what Puck just told me,” I replied. “Except he told me I was rude and pig-headed, too.”

    “He’s right, you are.” Sapphire looked at my forehead. “Thank you, Puck.”

    I like her.

    “Why are you both on the same side?” I asked. “It’s eight o’clock, I just want to go home and sleep...”

    “Kester, get it into your thick head that you can’t. Just because you keep saying it doesn’t mean you can,” sighed Sapphire. “God, this is like talking to a three-year-old.”

    It’s probably the head injury, and the stress. The combination can’t be doing you any good.

    I told Sapphire what Puck had said, and she conceded that that might have something to do with it.

    “But if that’s true, I’m only going to accept this sort of stupidity today,” she warned me. “If you’re like this tomorrow, I’m going to put you in your ball and throw you in a lake.”

    “OK, OK.” I kneaded my forehead with the heel of one palm. “It’s just – I have no control at all. About anything that’s happened today. The clock breaking, Mum leaving early, the crash, Puck, being captured...”

    For once, Sapphire didn’t snap at me, just looked at me with those big, blue eyes of hers. “It must have been horrible,” she said in the end, quietly.

    “It has been.”

    For a while, there was silence except for the rattling of the train tracks. Then:

    Ask her what we’re going to do when we get to Littleroot for me.

    I relayed Puck’s question.

    “Go see my dad,” Sapphire replied. “Ask him about the goods.”

    “Is that it?”

    “Can’t plan any further ahead unless we have some more information,” Sapphire said reasonably.

    “You’re planning on pursuing this further than just finding out about the goods?”

    Seems sensible enough.

    “Of course,” replied Sapphire, looking puzzled. “That’s what any Trainer would do.”

    “Dear God,” I moaned. “You mean all Trainers are like you?”

    “Pretty much,” she confirmed. I threw up my hands in despair.

    “Why have I been admitted into this hellish world?” I cried theatrically. “Why couldn’t I have taken the bike this morning and not had a Rotom rammed into my brain? Why, why, why me?”

    A short twinge of pain shot through my head.

    Shut up, said Puck disparagingly. You’re beginning to annoy me – and I think you’re annoying Sapphire, too.

    “Oh, sure, take her side,” I muttered, but went no further than that. Between them, Puck and Sapphire had a lot of power over me, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to irritate them.

    The scenery had, at some point, changed to houses, and I realised that we had reached the outskirts of Petalburg. Halfway there, then; this train didn’t stop until it reached Littleroot, and didn’t go on the longer route via Oldale.

    “Why are you so opposed to all this?” asked Sapphire.

    “Because it’s dangerous,” I told her, in the same sort of voice I use when talking to small children or foreigners who don’t speak Hoennian. “This is going to get me killed.”

    “Don’t worry about that,” Sapphire said, waving my concerns aside. “You’re the only person ever to be able to use the powers of a Pokémon; if either of the Teams or Devon gets hold of you, they’ll probably keep you alive to experiment on.”

    “You honestly believe that’s reassuring?”

    “It’s better than being dead, isn’t it?” she replied practically. “Besides, they won’t even get you, thanks to me. I’ll train you up, you’ll learn new moves, and you’ll easily take care of anyone who attacks us.”

    “I got thrashed by a baby bird,” I said flatly.

    “Yes, but that’s because you’re ignorant,” Sapphire said. “You don’t know anything about type match-ups except Electric is good against Flying, you know nothing about statuses or tactics or special abilities; I bet you’re the kind of guy who watches the Championship Tournaments for the explosions.”

    It was true, but I didn’t have to like it. I glowered at Sapphire, and maintained a disgruntled silence for the rest of the journey.

    ---

    “That’s him.” Fabien tapped the door gently, so as not to alert the occupants of the compartment.

    “That it is,” agreed Blake. “Do we nobble ’im now?”

    Both men were disguised, so as not to give away their identities as Magma grunts. Blake had turned his red suit inside out, revealing that it looked like an ordinary black one on the inside; he had also removed his sunglasses.

    Fabien, for his part, had donned a long, tan-coloured trenchcoat and a snap-brimmed fedora in the style of the 1950s film noir detective. This was due to his so-called ‘sense of style’, and it made him, if anything, even more conspicuous.

    “No,” said Fabien. “Think about it. We’re on a moving train; where do we escape to?”

    Blake considered.

    “We could,” he said at length, “climb onto the roof and—”

    “No,” interrupted Fabien, “that sounds like a bad idea. What we’ll do is stalk him and his girlfriend to the Aqua safe house, then tail the guys who pick it up and steal the goods off them. That way, we get the location of an Aqua safe house, potentially the names of some Aqua administrators, and the goods.”

    Blake looked at him admiringly.

    “Now, that is a fine plan an’ no mistake,” he said. Fabien looked pleased with himself.

    “I know,” he said. “Now, we’ll just get in this compartment next door, and wait.”

    They did; however, it was full, and, apologising profusely, they backed out and looked for another. They were all occupied, and in the end they had to sit between a pair of old ladies who bounced astoundingly inane chatter back and forth between them at the same time as simultaneously knitting opposite ends of the same massive, multicoloured scarf. Next to these were a mother and her twin babies; these two were, despite the increasingly violent efforts of their mother, endeavouring to discover who could scream the loudest.

    “—and I said to Ethel, I said—”

    “What did you say, dear?

    “—waaaaAAAhhaaaahaaaha—!”

    “—sssshhh—”

    “I said, ‘Ethel, I—’ – do listen, dear—”

    “—please be quiet, Jonny, Jessie—”

    “I am listening, dear—”

    “—aaAAAAAaaahaaaahAAAahaa—!”

    “—I’m sorry, I thought you weren’t. I said, ‘Ethel, I—’”

    “—aaaaaAAAaaaahh! WaaaahhhAAAhha—!”

    SHUT THE HELL UP!

    “What did you say to Ethel, dear? I didn’t hear—”

    “I said, ‘Ethel, I—’”

    Fabien looked at Blake, and Blake looked at Fabien, and together they gritted their teeth.

    It was to be a long trip.

    ---

    Littleroot’s main train station was small, dingy, and had two hobos warming their hands over a small fire in a trash can. We didn’t linger there any longer than we had to, and Sapphire led me through the streets to Birch’s lab.

    “Actually,” she said, “I’d better show you my two old Pokémon, since they’re now your colleagues.”

    I was about to say something, but Puck advised otherwise.

    Don’t say that, he said. I can’t believe you just thought of that. Such foul words ill befit a maiden’s ears.

    “I don’t know about English girls,” I murmured angrily, “but Hoennians have heard plenty worse.”

    I know. It’s the same in England, too; I’m just a bit of a traditionalist, I guess. Still, don’t say it – it’s extremely rude to mention that sort of thing to a lady.

    Leaving aside the thorny issue of whether or not Sapphire constituted a lady – she did, after all, spend most of her time beating up wild animals in forests – I nodded at Sapphire, who took the two balls from her belt and dropped them. The orange bird from before appeared, and a strange little beast with stubby legs and a huge, iron head with big, liquid blue eyes. The two Pokémon scampered around Sapphire’s legs before settling into a steady pace beside her.

    “This,” Sapphire said, indicating the bird, “is Toro. She’s a Torchic, which is a Fire-type. She’s very rare and was a present from my dad for starting my journey with.”

    “OK,” I said, giving Toro a wary glance. The bird looked vapidly back at me; I don’t think she remembered who I was. “What does Fire-type mean?”

    “Fire-types have to do with fire, stupid. They’re weak to Water-type attacks, obviously, and also to Rock- and Ground-type moves.”

    “OK. I’m going to forget that, but OK. Who’s this guy?” I indicated the metal-headed thing.

    “This is Rono,” Sapphire said. “He’s an Aron, a Rock/Steel type. I've had him since I was little. Both the Rock and the Steel types are very defensive, so he’s good at taking hits, but has severe weaknesses to Fighting- and Ground- type moves.”

    “So your team is screwed over by Ground-types?” I stated, as we rounded a corner and edged our way around Littleroot’s famous roundabout network.

    “Uh... at the moment, yes,” admitted Sapphire. “Especially with you added. The Electric-type is weak to Ground, too.”

    Ah, put in Puck, sounding pleased with himself. Rotom float, you see, so we’re immune to Ground-type attacks.

    “Puck says Rotom float and are immune to Ground-type attacks.”

    Sapphire looked at my feet, which were planted firmly on the ground.

    “Well, you’d better learn to float then,” she said shortly, and led me down Littleroot’s main street, which was mostly pedestrianised. By ‘mostly’, I mean that it was, but the rules weren’t always strictly observed, and every so often a car would burst, horn blaring, through the crowds of pedestrians, taking a shortcut to try and cheat the one-way network. It didn’t work, of course; the system was designed to thwart that kind of cheating.

    We kept to the side of the street, staying out of the way of the crowds, and so we made reasonably good progress; in fifteen minutes, we reached the large, blocky building that was one of Hoenn’s most famous landmarks: the Birch Pokémon Lab.

    “It’s a bit... dull,” I said, staring at it. It looked like a large concrete shoebox with windows.

    “It’s old,” replied Sapphire. “They built it in the sixties.”

    She walked up to the door, which was made of steel and deeply inset, as if designed to withstand a nuclear explosion; there was a small window made of bulletproof glass next to it, and she waved at a vacuous-looking man through this. He blinked and pressed a button; something buzzed and the door clicked. Sapphire pushed it open, and pointed me in.

    The inside of the Lab was tiled with slabs of pale ceramic as large as paving-stones; these covered the walls and ceilings, and gave me the unwelcome feeling that I was back in the Poké Ball. It seemed to be one huge room, but towering bookcases and large, abstruse machines divided it into smaller segments, each little area containing various piles of books, humming computers and ancient cups of coffee. It was like a hospital crossed with my bedroom.

    From the dark recesses of the Lab came the growls, whines and chirps of various captive Pokémon; I recognised the pugnacious shrilling of a Taillow, but that was about it.

    “Come on,” Sapphire said. “Dad’ll be in here somewhere, I hope.”

    “You hope?” I queried, following her between two precariously balanced stacks of CDs, each about nine feet tall.

    “He’s out all the time doing fieldwork,” she replied. “I used to go with him, until I convinced him I could be a good Trainer, too.”

    “Is that why you’ve only just started?”

    “Yes,” replied Sapphire, looking cross. “I did want to start when I was ten. But he needed me to help him.”

    “What about all these aides?” I gestured left and right at the men and women in white lab coats who stood in the corners, rotating slowly on their own axes.

    “Do they look like they’re any use?” asked Sapphire disgustedly. “Talk to one.”

    I did.

    “Hi,” I said.

    “Prof. Birch is studying the habitats and distribution of Pokémon,” he told me. “The Prof. enjoys May’s help, too. There’s a lot of love there.”

    “O-K,” I said, backing away from his vapid grin slowly. “I see what you mean.”

    “They’re all like that – don’t even know my name. Bad reactions to some PoisonPowder or something.”

    I didn’t know what that was, but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of knowing that.

    It’s a highly toxic dust given off by certain Pokémon, Puck said. From a Tangela, it’d make you sick; from a Shroomish, it’d melt your brain. He sighed. I really hope I don’t just become your dictionary of battling terms.

    “Hey, here he is,” Sapphire said, rounding a tall pillar of mysterious computing apparatus. “Dad!”

    Prof Birch was broad and flat, like a piece of paper, and he had a small head and short, powerful limbs. He was also much taller than he looked on TV, and was currently engaged in poking a green and beige kangaroo with a stick through the bars of its cage. He looked up at Sapphire’s words.

    “Sapphy!” he cried, dropping his stick and rushing forwards to hug her. Neatly sidestepping him, Sapphire pulled out the letter from her pocket and thrust it under his nose.

    “What do you mean by this?” she demanded. Birch winced and drew back, and I felt a surge of sympathy for him. It seemed I wasn’t the only one Sapphire overpowered.

    “Er – what is it?” he asked, taking the letter from her.

    “You know what it is,” she snapped. “The letter you sent me to take to Devon’s President. The one that says I’m a courier for Angel Laboratories.”

    Birch recoiled as if stung.

    “Ah – Sapphy – you don’t get it—”

    “Then tell me!”

    Birch sighed and sat down heavily on a nearby crate. The green kangaroo Pokémon watched his discomfort with savage pleasure, much as I would have watched Darren Goodwin being burned alive.

    “A couple of Team Aqua grunts came around and told me that if I didn’t get you to get whatever it was from Devon, they’d release a Carvanha in here and let it destroy everything. And eat me.”

    Sapphire looked stunned, and turned to me.

    “They’re after them too,” she said. “What the hell can be in that bag?”

    Haven’t the foggiest, Puck reminded me.

    “I don’t know,” I replied, ignoring him, “and if you remember, I don’t really want to.”
    Birch looked at me in vague confusion.

    “Who’s this?”

    “My new Po – partner in crime,” Sapphire told him, “just ignore him. The important thing is these Team Aqua guys. What did they tell you to do with the goods once I gave them to you?”

    “They said they’d come back tomorrow to get them,” replied Birch. “Sorry, I didn’t get your name?”

    “Kester Ruby,” I said, wondering why he was so calm.

    And Robin Goodfellow, at your service.

    “He can’t hear you,” I murmured under my breath.

    I know, but good manners don’t cost a thing.

    “Who are you, my grandmother?” I blinked and returned my attention to Birch.

    “I’m Professor Birch,” he said, “but you can call me Alan.” He held out a hand and I shook it; I think I accidentally electrocuted him a little, because he withdrew sharply with a yelp.

    “Sorry,” I ad-libbed with a smile. “Static.”

    That’s not actually my ability, said Puck, but never mind.

    “Dad! What about Team Aqua?” Sapphire demanded, and Birch turned back to her with a sigh.

    “Sapphy, it’ll be fine. Just give them the goods tomorrow, and we’ll be fine. No one will eat me or destroy my Lab.”

    Sapphire looked at me. I looked at Sapphire.

    “You did bring the goods, didn’t you?” Birch sounded worried.

    No one said anything.

    “Oh God,” said Birch, putting his head in his hands, “I’m going to die.”

    ---

    Little has been said of the man and the woman who exited that overheated living-room in the small hours of that morning. They were just as important as Blake and Fabien – which is to say, not very – and they also wore coloured suits. In their case, they were a deep ultramarine, rather than the red of the Magmas.

    At the moment, they were attempting to negotiate Littleroot’s famous one-way road system.

    Originally a large roundabout at the centre of town, subsidiary roundabouts had been added to it, and then a few subsidiary subsidiary ones; at this point, it had been felt that some straight roads ought to be added, so that people didn’t get dizzy, and so they had been. The council had spread them across town with the crazed fervour of a drunken spider building a particularly convoluted cobweb; so confusing did they become that the entirety of central Littleroot was converted into a one-way network, in order to make things easier.

    Needless to say, it made them much, much harder.

    “You should have turned right there,” said Felicity, pointing at a road that was rapidly dwindling into the distance.

    “Shut up,” growled Barry, a vein twitching in his temple. “I know where I’m going.”

    “Men,” sighed Felicity, leaning back in her seat and twirling a strand of her hair between her fingers. “You can never admit you’re wrong, can you?”

    “Shut up, woman.”

    At the respectable age of forty, Barry was as manly as they come in the underworld; six foot eleven and muscled like an Ursaring, he held matters of honour and fighting spirit close to his heart, and a healthy disregard for all women even closer. How a man who had a personal code of honour came to be a common crook is a story in its own, but not one that anyone would care to read.

    Felicity was almost his exact opposite: a slim, willowy woman of tender years, headstrong and devious; she would rather have worked for herself instead of her current employer, but Kester Ruby was not the only one who had ever had a bad day, and as a result of one of those she was not able to leave the organisation at the moment. In a flagrant breach of uniform rules, she continually wore a single large, stylish grey headphone, which appeared not to be connected to anything.

    The two were utterly incompatible – and as such, fate had ordained that they become partners. Barry would complain about the music that leaked faintly from Felicity’s headphones, and Felicity would complain about Barry’s misogyny; it was a relationship that hinged on mutual hatred.

    Right now, Felicity was enjoying herself at Barry’s expense.

    “I could drive,” she said slyly. “You could rest your old bones for a bit in the passenger seat.”

    “Are you even old enough to drive?” rumbled Barry furiously.

    “Irrelevant,” replied Felicity. “The point is I can drive. Something that you’re struggling to do.”

    “I can do it, woman.”

    “You said that an hour ago.”

    “Shut up,” growled Barry again, his stock of responses exhausted.

    The car turned a corner and slid onto the main roundabout again. Barry gave an incoherent roar of rage and slammed his head into the steering wheel. This would have set the horn blaring, but he had broken it some time ago doing just this.

    “That’s good for neither the car nor your head,” observed Felicity. “So don’t do it, because the car isn’t yours.”

    Barry made a noise similar to a volcano that was thinking of erupting. Felicity smirked.

    They drove around the roundabout, navigating the tricky mini-roundabouts that were dotted around its rim, and shot off down another street towards the east.

    This is the right way,” Barry said triumphantly.

    Felicity glanced at the map spread out on her knees, which was a mess of ‘One Way’ arrows and black lines, and raised her thin eyebrows.

    “Sure,” she replied.

    Barry drove around a corner, and they emerged where they had started again, on the roundabout.

    Roar. Slam. Drive around again.

    “Don’t want to rush you,” Felicity said, “but we need to be there before noon. That’s when the goods arrive.”

    “I know,” growled Barry. The car clock read 11.43. Felicity raised her eyebrows again.

    “Just making sure, big guy.”

    “I said we would be there at twelve, and we’ll be there at twelve. Leave me alone, woman!”

    There was now a pause, broken only by the forlorn cries of trapped commuters, and the faint warble of music.

    “Turn the damn music off,” Barry commanded.

    “I don’t take orders from you.” Felicity gave him a belligerent look that made her seem especially attractive; angered at this underhand assault on his nature as a man, Barry gripped the steering wheel so hard the plastic cracked with an audible snap.

    “Turn the music off, woman!”

    “I have a name, you misogynistic jerk.”

    “And I have my pride as a man! Now turn the music off!”

    Felicity smiled, which made her look like a cat; it was this that had earned her her current name.

    “Ah, the ‘manly pride’ thing again.”

    “Shut up, woman.”

    Felicity threw her hands up in the air.

    “And back to square one.”

    The car drove into the central roundabout nexus again, and Barry roared like a bull as Felicity started s******ing.

    ---

    It had taken a lot of effort to stop Birch fleeing the town that night; having had the situation explained to her, his wife – who seemed of a similar disposition to Sapphire – had told him that he was going to stay and sort it out or she would eat him.

    I’d stayed the night there, thankfully as a human guest and not in my Poké Ball; apparently, it was fairly common for Trainers to form small groups, and neither Birch nor his wife commented on my presence with Sapphire. The only thing that was asked – in between Birch’s fretting about the Team Aqua hitmen – was what Pokémon I had; I had replied ‘Rotom’, and instantly drew a storm of questions from Birch, eager to see a rare Pokémon. It was only with Sapphire’s help that I’d managed to avoid having to show him.

    Now, Sapphire, Birch and I sat on crates at the back of the Lab, next to the green kangaroo thing, which I now noticed appeared to be wearing a large hat. We’d had to leave the house to escape Sapphire’s mother, who I had realised wasn’t at all like Sapphire – she was worse.

    “I should have skipped town,” Birch worried. “They’re going to kill me...”

    “Shut up, Dad,” snapped Sapphire. “It’s fine. There are two Trainers here; we’ll match their numbers, beat them up and send them on their way.”

    “Yeah,” I said, “about that—”

    “God, you’re as bad as he is,” Sapphire groaned.

    For once, Puck said, I think I agree with you. You can’t use enough of my powers to be able to fight a Carvanha, and Sapphire’s team is very weak to Water.

    “Puck says—” I stopped and looked at Birch, who was muttering prayers and hadn’t noticed. “Puck says,” I whispered to Sapphire, “that I can’t use enough of his powers to fight Carvanha yet. And that you won’t be able to because you’re weak to Water.”

    “Water!” cried Birch, having picked up on the last word. “Oh, great! Carvanha are Water/Dark-type; if they do come with one – which they will – it’ll beat Toro and Rono easily, Sapphy!”

    “Yeah, Sapphy,” I agreed slyly. “Too dangerous. We should get out of here.” Sapphire gave me a look that stopped my heart for three whole seconds, though whether she was angry because I’d sided with Birch or because I’d called her ‘Sapphy’ was unclear.

    “The boy speaks sense,” Birch said, slapping me firmly on the back and almost knocking me off the crate. “You know a lost cause when you see one!”

    “I try,” I said modestly.

    “Although,” continued Birch, not listening to me, “you have a Rotom, right? Half Electric-type!”

    Tell him also half Ghost!

    “Also half Ghost,” I said, trying to sound knowing. Birch looked very impressed.

    “Quite right, quite right,” he said, stroking his beard. “I see your point. Right! Kester, Sapphy, we’re leaving town!” He leaped to his feet, and Sapphire tripped him up with one extended leg, eliciting riotous wheezy laughter from the kangaroo-thing.

    “We’re not going anywhere,” she said forcefully. Birch climbed to his feet and sat back down ruefully.

    “I bet you didn’t want to get involved in this ‘Devon goods’ business either, did you?” he asked me. I shook my head, and Birch lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Sapphy’s always like this. Very stubborn, and very, er, belligerent.”

    “I can hear you,” said Sapphire, sounding bored. “I’m right here.” She flipped a mobile phone from her pocket and checked the time on it. “You said they were coming at noon?”

    “Yes.”

    “They should be here... now.”

    There was a knock at the door, and then a click and buzz. Birch had sent all his assistants, including the one at the door, home for the day to keep them out of the way.

    “Hello?” called a young female voice. “Professor?”

    Birch and I peered around the edge of the bookcase that shielded us from view, and saw a woman in a blue suit standing near the door. She wore, incongruously, a single grey headphone on one ear that didn’t seem to be connected to anything, and had very straight, snow-white hair that fell to her waist. I stared at her, for three reasons: one, she looked like a movie star; two, she was easily the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes upon; and three, she looked like she wasn’t any older than me.

    Hey, look, a pretty girl with elements of character design! cried Puck. I just bet she’s a main character.

    I ignored him – he wasn’t talking sense anyway – and was just working up the courage to get up and speak when Sapphire rudely pushed Birch and I into her line of sight. Sprawled inelegantly on the floor, we stared up at the intruder, then I hissed to Birch:

    “Is she one of the Aquas?”

    “Who’s ‘she’, the cat’s mother?” asked the white-haired girl irritably. “Get up, Professor, and your goon as well.”

    “Goon!” Indignantly, I leaped up; Puck chuckled softly in my head. “Who are you calling a goon?”

    “Stop it,” said Sapphire quellingly, stepping out and giving her father a hand up. “That won’t get us anywhere.”

    “Oh!” exclaimed the intruder. “A woman! At last, I can have an intelligent discussion with someone.”

    “Yes,” agreed Sapphire, “sorry about my friend. And my dad,” she added, grabbing his arm as he tried to slide back behind the bookcase. She pulled him back out again. “I assume you’re here for the Devon goods.”

    The Aqua girl sighed.

    “I would be,” she said, “but I’m waiting for my partner. He insisted on driving, so I walked.” Sapphire smiled, evidently sympathising; I glared at her, but it didn’t have nearly as strong an effect on her as her death-stare had had on me. “He has the Carvanha,” the Aqua girl added by way of explanation.

    “What do you have?” asked Sapphire, evidently seeing possibilities open up.

    “A shotgun,” replied the Aqua, pulling one out from behind her back. “So don’t think about doing anything stupid. We’re going to sit here until my stupid partner arrives, then you’re going to give us the goods. Then we’ll leave, and you’ll all get to live.” She smiled, and it was like a frozen rainbow had just appeared; I forgot all about the gun and stared at her, rapt.

    Guard your thoughts, Kester, warned Puck. I suspect you haven’t got any wish for me to see them right now and I don’t want you broadcasting them to me either.

    I coughed, embarrassed, and tried to think of things that weren’t the Aqua girl.

    Why are there monkey wrenches and feathers dancing before my eyes? Is this how humans reproduce? If so, that’s nast—

    “Puck! Please, don’t say any more!” I begged, then realised that everyone was staring at me. “Er, sorry. Just... talking to myself.”

    The Aqua girl narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to one side; faint strains of music escaped her headphones.

    “Right,” she said. “What’s your name?”

    Startled that this vision would actually condescend to talk to me—

    You’re getting near that thought again—

    —I fumbled for a response:

    “Er, um... Kester.”

    “Unusual,” she said. “I’ll remember that name.”

    There was the sound of squealing brakes outside, then some deep, Northern cursing, like they have in the cop movies from Fallarbor.

    “Here’s my partner,” the girl sighed. “I apologise for him in advance.”

    The door slammed against the wall, and a massive man, even taller, broader and more muscular than Professor Birch, burst in, glowing with fury.

    “Those roads!” he roared, picking up a nearby computer and throwing it unnecessarily into the wall, turning it into scrap. His partner winced.

    “We aren’t here to trash the place, big guy,” she said, and he swung around to face her; his shout of rage died on his lips when he saw the shotgun, and he coughed hastily.

    “Right,” he said, turning to us. “Hand over the goods, Professor!”

    Birch looked like he wished the ground would swallow him up.

    “Er...”

    “We refuse to hand them over,” Sapphire said authoritatively. “We won’t aid you, Team Aqua!”

    The two Aquas looked surprised; within a second, though, the huge guy had recovered, and one of his hands dived into his pocket, to re-emerge a second later clutching a Poké Ball.

    “I’m warning you!” he shouted. I don’t think he could speak normally, only growl, shout or roar. “Hand over the goods or the Carvanha gets released.”

    “Ugh. So brutish,” said the Aqua girl absently. “Get on with it, please. I’m going to need to charge my headphones soon.”

    “Please!” cried Birch. “Don’t kill me! I – we don’t even have the goods!”

    “Hah! You can’t fool me,” growled the big man triumphantly. “Your daughter’s here, isn’t she? So she must have come back to deliver the goods!”

    “What kind of logic is that?” cried Sapphire. “And Dad, I was trying to bluff!”

    Now’s the perfect time to say ‘You know, this isn’t exactly how I imagined an encounter with the mafia would go’, if you’re interested, Puck remarked.

    “You know,” I said, never too proud to take good advice when it was offered, “this isn’t exactly how I imagined an encounter with the mafia would go.”

    The Aqua girl and Sapphire exchanged glances and delivered twin withering death-stares; I staggered back a step under the combined assault and cursed Puck, who was laughing heartily.

    Oh, that was good, he managed in between chuckles. You are so gullible.

    “Just give us the goods,” sighed the Aqua girl.

    “I’ll be honest with you,” I said, trying to regain some standing amongst the group. “We don’t have the goods. We found out that Birch’s letter was a front to steal the goods, and just came back here to find out what was up.”

    “So you don’t have them?” the man demanded to know.

    “No.” Birch and I smiled weakly. “Sorry,” we said simultaneously.

    He gave a grin that belied both his lack of intellect and the brutal rage that simmered behind his eyes.

    “Fine,” he snarled, dropping the ball.

    And Hell with teeth exploded out of it.

    Note With regards to the pronunciation of Goishi - you could say Go-ishi or Goi-shi, whichever. I tend to use both.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 29th April 2011 at 8:06 AM.

  12. #12
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    One thing:

    It was to be a long trip.
    I think you're missing a "going"?


    I didn't mention it in my previous review, but I really like how Team Magma and Team Aqua are fitted in the story as two separate but equal mafias. I know that's how they are in Emerald, but here they at least have more character, and their will to steal the goods is thoroughly [and nicely] explained.

    I'm a bit confused at how Professor Birch would be threatened by a guy and his Carvanha. If he's the leading professor of the region, he would at least have some Pokemon [other than the starters] to defend himself out of necessity - if the presence of Team Magma and Team Aqua were truly recognized, then all of the important people would get their guard up for situations just like this. Eh, it's just a minor point, but I thought I'd put it here.

    I assume with the absence of Blaine and Fabien in the last scene that they'll become important in the next chapter, which would start off the whole Magma-Aqua rivalry. So yeah, can't wait for the next chapter.


    Berries -- Escape Rope -- A Friday



    images were taken from three specific pages of Serebii.net

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dramatic Melody View Post
    I think you're missing a "going"?
    No, that particular construction doesn't require one, I'm afraid.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dramatic Melody View Post
    I'm a bit confused at how Professor Birch would be threatened by a guy and his Carvanha. If he's the leading professor of the region, he would at least have some Pokemon [other than the starters] to defend himself out of necessity - if the presence of Team Magma and Team Aqua were truly recognized, then all of the important people would get their guard up for situations just like this. Eh, it's just a minor point, but I thought I'd put it here.
    A worthy point indeed. So worthy that I have no answer other than that everyone in Birch's lab is a PoisonPowder-addled moron. And since Birch himself feels threatened when a Poochyena/Zigzagoon runs after him (a situation he could easily escape from by the simple expedient of climbing a tree or kicking the offending Pokémon in the head) I think he's probably inclined to panic.

    Oh, and there was a guard, if you remember - he let Sapphire in. But he seems to have disappeared. Other than that, it's mostly just a disturbing lack of security on Birch's part, for no other purpose than that of advancing the plot.

  14. #14
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    Chapter Six: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

    “I ’ave to ’and it to yer,” said Blake, “you’ve done all righ’ this time, aintcha?”

    It took Fabien a moment or two to work out what his partner meant, then he nodded agreeably.

    “Yes. They’re right here. I expect the exchange is happening as we speak.”

    “We just need to tail ’em when they come out.” Blake nodded at the black car parked at an angle on the pavement a few metres away.

    “Goishi will do that. He’s fastest.”

    The Golbat nodded, which in his case meant bowing; his chin was more or less the same thing as his waist.

    “EE-e-E-eek,” he said.

    “You said it,” Fabien told him.

    Eyes on the door and minds full of dreams of promotion, the trio of Magmas settled down to wait.

    ---

    Duck!

    “Duck!”

    “Duck!”

    Puck, Birch and Sapphire all shouted it at exactly the same time and we dived for cover behind a rack of thick manila files; a blue-red blur shot past above us a split second later, for all the world as if it were a streak of summer lightning.

    “Puck!” hissed Sapphire. “Toro and Rono can’t do this – guide Kester through it!”

    Will do, replied the Rotom. OK, Kester, time to get moving.

    “What?” I cried, but it was too late; Sapphire pushed me out into the main area of the lab. I heard a whoosh behind me and threw myself to the floor, scattering papers everywhere, as what seemed to be a set of serrated fangs propelled by rocket engines zoomed by.

    Get up, Kester! We need to concentrate to take on this one!

    “That’s it!” Birch encouraged. “Now, your Rotom!”

    “Rotom?” roared the giant Aqua man. “It’s him! He’s the Magma thief!”

    At the sound of its Trainer’s voice, the fanged blur paused in midair, and I got a quick glimpse of a round body, blue-backed and red-bellied, with long, jagged yellow fins and shiny red eyes before it swivelled around to face me and disappeared in a flash of metallic grey light—

    —and reappeared to ram me savagely in the ribs, knocking into a pile of books that offered no support at all. I stumbled back onto my feet, and realised that I felt, oddly, fine.

    “What was—?”

    We resist Steel moves, said Puck tersely. Get some cover and retaliate!

    I leaped behind a bookcase as the monster slammed into the other side.

    “Puck? Help?”

    OK, first up, Carvanha are fast.

    “I hadn’t noticed!” I cried, hurling a ThunderShock at the fanged thing as it exploded through the bookcase, sending a cascade of literature to the floor; I was too slow, and missed it by a mile. It executed a U-turn and sped towards me again, teeth shredding the air before it.

    And they know a move called Bite, Puck continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. It’s super-effective against Ghosts – so don’t let it bite us, or we’re out, game over.

    “I wasn’t intending to,” I hissed as the Carvanha rammed into a computer next to me, destroying it and starting a small fire.

    “Finish it before it destroys the lab!” shouted Sapphire.

    Somewhere in the distance, the Aqua girl laughed. It was a very beautiful laugh, I mused; it brought to mind delicate harpsichord music, and angelic choi—

    The Carvanha smashed directly into my face.

    For a second, I had the weird sensation of being a bubble, and then it was gone – had passed clean through me as if I weren’t there.

    Or as if I had been a ghost.

    “What the—?”

    Rage, interrupted Puck. Normal-type move, hence we’re immune to it, seeing as we’re Ghost. He won’t make the same mistake again, get moving!

    Slightly dazed, I discarded the ruined bookcase that had formerly sheltered me and stepped out into the open central aisle of the lab, where the Carvanha was spinning around like a top, looking very confused.

    “What just happened?” asked Birch, who sounded even more confused. “Did it just—?”

    “Quiet, Dad.”

    Now! While it’s confused from going through you!

    I raised a hand and the blue lightning of ThunderShock spun across the room; a split second before it would have connected, the Carvanha regained its senses and sped off in the direction of the two Aquas, destroying a ceiling light as it went.

    Damn it! One good hit will kill it – they have poor defences, and they’re weak to Electric – but it’s too fast!

    “I know, I know!” I replied, aiming a series of ThunderShocks at the fleeing Carvanha’s blurred form. “I can see, you know!”

    The Carvanha circled the two Aquas – who looked as shocked and confused as Birch, the shotgun hanging forgotten at the girl’s side – and zoomed back at me, snapping its jaws like castanets, expelling little puffs of dark smoke with each bite.

    This is it! This is Bite – and you die if this connects!

    I yelped and threw myself to the side; having anticipated this, the Carvanha swung around to face me, and I ducked behind a cage containing a blue fishy thing. My pursuer crashed into it, denting the bars inwards and setting the fish-thing screaming. Breathing hard, I shot lightning between the bars, aiming for the red, dazed eye I could see beyond—

    —only to hit the fish-thing between the eyes, sending it flying backwards into the bars of its cage, unconscious.

    “Oops.”

    This isn’t working! Let me think, let me think...

    The Carvanha tried to move over the cage, but went too fast and slammed into the far wall; as an attack, this was quite effective, because it broke a shelf and sent enough boxes and books crashing down to completely bury me.

    Thrashing around in the mess, bruised and aching all over, I felt my hand brush against something like sandpaper; ignoring the pain, I tried to ThunderShock it, but it broke away and then returned, slamming into my hand and snapping the bones in it like twigs.

    What I said next was a mixture of a scream and a curse; what Puck said was this:

    Kester, I’ve worked out how to beat him.

    Trying to ignore the pain in my throbbing hand, I broke the surface of the sea of debris and saw the Carvanha circling like a shark; I raised my good hand and shot a ThunderShock at it to buy us some time. The strategy worked and it fled back to the central aisle of the Lab.

    “Talk to me,” I gasped, pulling myself back to my feet.

    At your level, you should be able to use three more moves of mine other than Astonish and ThunderShock, Puck said, very quickly, Trick, Confuse Ray and Thunder Wave.

    “Which one do I need?” I asked, spotting the Carvanha coming back. I charged at it, which seemed to surprise it; however, it countered this competently by rising a foot into the air so that I ran straight past underneath it and crashed into a bookcase. I then felt it ram me in the back again, knocking me to the floor, but no teeth drove into me and I knew I’d escaped its Bite.

    I rolled over, pinning it beneath me, but it broke free, shredding the back of my jacket with its file-like skin and rising into the air above me, clacking its teeth.

    Thunder Wave. It’s like ThunderShock, but weaker, and more difficult – it just paralyses the opponent, slo—

    “Slowing them down,” I breathed, rolling to the left as the Carvanha’s thick skull ruptured the pale tiles where my head had been a moment before. “So I can hit it...” I leaped up and took three steps back from the Carvanha as it rose back into the air. “How do I use it?”

    “I think he’s insane as well as impossible,” said the big Aqua man in hushed, awed tones, listening to me talk to myself. His partner didn’t reply – she was busy staring at me as if she’d seen a ghost.

    Good pun, Puck complimented. Right, Thunder Wave is just... I guess the only way you can learn is by trying it out. Now!

    The Carvanha rushed towards me, and while I leaped aside I tried to create a Thunder Wave; all that happened is that a few sparks rippled off my fingers, and the Carvanha passed by so closely that its rough skin ripped about three millimetres of skin from my fingertips.

    The pain was excruciating, a thousand times worse than breaking my other hand; I’d never felt anything that bad before. I recoiled, sucking my bleeding fingers, and was too slow to react to the Carvanha’s next attack: a charge followed by a Bite to the shoulder.

    Puck was almost right; I didn’t quite die, but I felt blackness crawl across my vision, and when it cleared I was lying on the floor, the Carvanha drawing back above me for another one.

    Kester, Puck said grimly, we can’t take another one of them – Kester? Kester, are you listening?

    I couldn’t think. My mind was paralysed; I learned later that this was the flinching effect that Bite causes.

    Move, Kester! Puck sounded desperate. The Carvanha began to fall towards my face, mouth gaping wide. It’s a miracle we survived one Bite, but two—

    “Got it,” I said suddenly, the Carvanha a foot from my face, and raised my bleeding hand. A shimmering ring of blue lightning appeared; the Carvanha looked alarmed, desperately tried to stop, failed and crashed helplessly into the Wave. Every muscle in its body tensed simultaneously and then relaxed and it fell, limp, onto my chest.

    I sighed and sat up. The room was covered in a thick layer of dead silence; every single person was staring at me in shock. I glanced at the Carvanha on my chest, and did a double take.

    “Puck,” I said, “this is a fish.”

    Yes? Just zap it, quick!

    “But how was it flying?”

    Carvanha travel at incredible speeds, Puck informed me. Fast enough to become airborne when removed from water.

    “That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “Then again, nothing has done for quite some time now.”

    I stood up slowly, letting the Carvanha fall to the floor, then took careful aim and ThunderShocked it five times. When the smoke had cleared, I kicked its twitching body back to the Aqua grunts.

    Once was enough to knock it out, Kester.

    “Don’t care,” I told him. Then, to the Aquas: “Now, take your damn flying fish and get out before I get any angrier.”

    It seemed they’d forgotten they had a shotgun, because they did exactly what I told them to. I watched them leave, then turned around to face Sapphire and Birch across the trashed lab. They were still peering at me from behind the rack of folders.

    “Sapphire,” I said tiredly, every bruise, break and cut throbbing like mad, “have I ever told you exactly how much I hate you for getting me into this mess?”

    Red light pulsed beneath my eyelids, and I sat down with a sigh on the cold steel floor of the Master Ball.

    Talk about gratitude, Puck said disgustedly, and that was the last I heard before I passed out from the pain.

    ---

    “Get ready, Goishi,” whispered Fabien. “Here they come!”

    The two Aqua grunts emerged from the Lab; the big one looked vaguely shell-shocked, and the little one faintly angry. They came up to the car, found it had been clamped for improper parking and started arguing.

    “Huh?” Fabien’s smile slipped. This was not what he thought would happen.

    In the end, the two Aquas parted ways: the girl walked off down the street to take the train, and the man, in an impressive and probably impossible display of strength, ripped the clamp off the car wheel – something that caused Goishi to have grave misgivings about following him.

    “Ee-ee-EE-eek?” he demanded in a furious whisper. Unsure of what he meant, Fabien decided to interpret it as a query about which Aqua to follow.

    “You just follow the big one,” he told the Golbat, “and we’ll follow the girl – ow!

    At this, Goichi had wrapped his enormous tongue around Fabien’s arm and tightened it with all the force of a python suffocating its prey. Aware that he was in imminent danger of having the bones of that arm reduced to dust, Fabien thought up a new plan.

    “All right,” he said, wincing in pain, “you follow the girl, and we’ll follow the big guy. Right, Blake?”

    His partner did not seem happy with the arrangement, but gave a sullen nod. Goishi released Fabien’s arm and flapped off after the Aqua girl.

    “Right, then,” said Fabien with relief. “Come on, Blake.” The two Magmas got up and crept over to the road, keeping crouched behind the Lab’s low boundary wall.

    “’Ow’re we followin’ that guy when ’e’s got a car?” asked Blake sourly. Fabien paused, momentarily thrown. Then his eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers, just as the Aqua grunt drove off.

    Fabien jumped to his feet and flagged down a convenient taxi.

    “Blake,” he called, “I need your gun.”

    Blake stood up, gun aimed through the taxi’s windscreen at the spot between the driver’s eyes; at this, the cabbie decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and, leaping from his vehicle, ran off down the street.

    “I ’ave to say, Fabien,” Blake said, as they got in and began to drive, “you do ’ave some good ideas. You get things done.”

    “Why thank you,” replied Fabien modestly. “Now – follow that car!”

    ---

    I woke up to find myself blissfully free of pain, and apparently floating. I lay with my eyes shut for a while, pondering the situation, and decided that there were two possible explanations: I was on a lot of morphine, or I was dead. At that moment, either seemed OK.

    Open your eyes, Puck said. They’ve been shut for hours, and I’m bored.

    I grimaced. Not dead then, or Puck would be gone. With the utmost reluctance, I opened my eyes to see that I was on the bed in the guest room where I had spent the night. I sat up and looked at my hands to see why they were so very much not painful, and was pleasantly surprised to see there wasn’t the slightest trace of any injuries on them.

    A Full Restore, Puck told me. Good stuff, that. Fixes you right up.

    “What do Pokémon do in the wild?” I asked, pushing open the door and stumbling downstairs.

    If they’re lucky, they might survive injuries like that. More often than not, they either can’t hunt properly and starve or become easy prey for predators.

    “Tough life,” I commented, scratching my head.

    Depends. If you’re a Ghost or a Psychic, you’re usually smart or intangible enough to survive most situations.

    “Kester?” It was Birch, coming out of the living room to see what was going on. “You’re all right?”

    “As much as I ever will be while I’m still enslaved to your daughter,” I said, more bitterly than I intended. He looked rather taken aback. “Sorry. That sounded less vicious in my head.”

    “Er... OK. Come in and sit down. Sapphire’s told us everything.”

    The Birch family were seated on the sofas, Sapphire looking vaguely put-upon and her mother looking very disbelieving.

    “Aha!” she said, upon spotting me. “You’re the boy who Sapphy insists fought off a Carvanha with your bare hands?”

    “Yes,” I replied warily. From the look in her eyes, I thought she might go for my throat.

    “That isn’t true, is it?” she asked. “That can’t be true.”

    My brain crashed for a moment while I tried to imagine how pig-headed she must have been to not believe it even when Sapphire brought me home battered and sparking like a faulty television; I recovered half a second later and smiled congenially.

    “It is true,” I contradicted her. “I blasted it with my super powers.”

    I wiggled my fingers and sparks dripped from them to fizzle out in midair. She stared at me in disbelief, then shut her eyes tightly and started counting down from one hundred.

    “Er... sit down,” Birch encouraged me. I did, sliding into the space between Sapphire and the armrest of the sofa.

    “Is – is your wife all right?” I asked him, concerned. He sighed.

    “Sometimes I wonder,” he replied. “No, she’s fine. This is her way of dealing with uncontrollable things outside her area of expertise.”

    I didn’t see how her behaviour would help, but didn’t say anything.

    Obviously, she hopes they’ll have gone away again by the time she opens her eyes, Puck said. Honestly. What do they teach them in the schools these days?

    “Don’t reference allegory disguised as children’s fantasy in my head!” I muttered angrily under my breath. “It makes me mad.”

    How can you justify that stance? And how do you get that reference, but not know who Sherlock Holmes is? What is wrong with you?

    I chose to ignore him and the inconsistencies in my knowledge of English literature, and instead make conversation with Sapphire and Birch.

    “So,” I said brightly. “We’ve driven off the bad guys now. Sapphy, what say you to calling an end to this insanity?”

    She drove an elbow viciously into my ribs in such a way that Birch didn’t see; it hurt almost as much as having my fingertips ground off by the Carvanha’s rough flank.

    He’s not exaggerating. Puck winced. These little pain receptor thingies are firing off like crazy. Gives me a headache.

    “No,” Sapphire said. “We still don’t know what those goods are.”

    “Devon have them,” I pointed out. “They’ll get to Angel Laboratories, neither Team will get hold of them – it’s all good.”

    “Er – Sapphy – I agree with Kester,” Birch put in. Sapphire looked at us both in disgust.

    “You spend most of your time outside poking dangerous wild animals with sticks,” she told her father. “How can you be afraid of a challenge? Besides, you don’t have to come. This is the sort of thing Trainers do, isn’t it?”

    “Is it?” I asked. “Really? I’ve never heard anything about this.”

    Sapphire snorted.

    “Of course this is what they do,” she replied. “You must have heard the stories. Those kids Red and Green from Kanto, and that guy Russell Curtis – they thwarted an evil team’s plan, didn’t they? And Monique Anderson from Johto – didn’t she stop the same team there?”

    “Wasn’t Russell Curtis in his thirties?” Sapphire waved the question aside.

    “Red and Green were what, twelve? And Anderson was nineteen.”

    “I thought she had the help of several expert Trainers – one of whom died during their quest.”

    “... one... zero!” cried Sapphire’s mother, flinging her eyes open. When she saw I was still in the room, she got up and left without comment.

    “Are you sure she’s OK?” I asked Birch. He shrugged.

    “Best just to leave her,” he told me. “She usually gets better in an hour or so.”

    “Kester! Dad!” We both turned to look at Sapphire. “Listen to me. We’re going to continue with this, and Kester, you are coming with me. You belong to me, remember?” She held up the Master Ball.

    “Er – about that,” Birch said. “Sapphy, I’m not sure if this is entirely ethical. I think you should release Kester.”

    I turned towards him, eyes shining with love for this kind beacon of reason. Before I could say anything, however, Sapphire snapped:

    “If I release him, Dad, he’s never going to help me. Your only daughter, darling Sapphy, will be off on a tour of Hoenn chasing the bad guys, without the help of the country’s very own superhero. Remember what he said? One of the Trainers who went to help Monique Anderson in Johto died.”

    Birch wavered. Evidently, he didn’t wish death upon Sapphire nearly as much as I did, despite the fact that she’d been annoying him for far longer than she had been annoying me.

    “Besides,” Sapphire continued ruthlessly, “you know that both Teams think he’s working for the other one, right? In Rustboro, when he met Team Magma, they thought he was an Aqua agent; back in the Lab, the Aquas thought he was a Magma thief. He’s in as much danger as me if we don’t stay together, because the only way he’ll survive any assaults on his life they may make is if a Trainer trains him. Not to mention the fact that Devon are after him, and if I release him he’ll go straight home – where his Devon worker mum will take him right back to the evil corporation’s clutches.”

    Silence followed this tirade. Faintly, I wondered how Sapphire had managed to make my slavery into a favour for me.

    You’ve got to admit, Puck said admiringly, the girl is good.

    “You could release me,” I said at length, “and then I could come with you. Because I do accept that I don’t have any alternatives.”

    Sapphire stared at me in a way that clearly said: you expect me to believe that?

    “How about we discuss this later?” she asked. That surprised me; she obviously wanted to say something she couldn’t in front of her dad, but I didn’t see what that could be.

    “Fine,” I agreed. “This isn’t going to be sorted out quickly anyway.”

    “All right, then,” said Birch. “So I take it you two are going, then? To investigate these goods?”

    “Yes,” said Sapphire.

    “Yeah,” I said morosely.

    “Do you know what you’re doing?”

    “I thought you might know something about it,” Sapphire said, “but you were just Team Aqua’s idiot stooge, so you wouldn’t. I do know that Devon have the goods right now, and they’re sending them to Angel Laboratories according to Kester.”

    “Who are based in Slateport,” I added, not wanting to be left out.

    “So I guess we’ll... go to Slateport,” Sapphire said. Birch looked doubtful.

    “But Sapphy – you know how you get with w—”

    “Shut up, Dad,” she hissed. “Look, I know what I’m doing, OK? Slateport is the nearest city with a strong Aqua presence, right? So that’s where the Team Aqua guys will be going, to report to their superiors or whatever. And the Devon people, too, in order to get the goods to Angel. And probably Team Magma as well, because they’ll still want to steal the goods, I guess.”

    “All right,” said Birch, defeated. “Just do it. Whatever. I wasn’t even talking about that, I was talking about your s—”

    “Shut up!” Sapphire hissed again, jerking her head towards me.

    I’m detecting a few faint signs that she might be concealing a weakness from us, Puck remarked dryly.

    Birch sat back in his chair, hands held high in a placating gesture and mouth shut.

    “Finally,” Sapphire said. “A respite.”

    Her mother’s head crept around the side of the door, gave a shrill squeal and retreated again. From the next room, I heard frenzied counting – starting at one thousand this time.

    I glanced at Birch, and Birch glanced at me, and then we both glanced at Sapphire.

    “I think it might be best if we stayed at the Pokémon Centre tonight,” I said tactfully.

    “That’s a good plan,” agreed Birch. “Look – it’s only half-four. If you leave now they’ll be serving food by the time you get there.”

    “Hey, wait—” began Sapphire, but Birch and I bundled her unceremoniously out of the door, through the hall and into the street; I held her on the front doorstep while Birch got her bag and put it out after us.

    “Goodbye,” he said, “it was nice meeting you, Kester. Bye, sweetheart!” he added to Sapphire, and shut and locked the door.

    “What – what was that about?” Sapphire wondered crossly, staring at the door.

    “I’m having an adverse effect on your mother,” I told her.

    “But we could have stayed and just put you in the Poké Ball!”

    “For a whole night? You’re such a wonderful mistress. You really care about your Pokémon’s feelings.”

    “Most Pokémon are fine with it!”

    “Most Pokémon aren’t human.” I sighed. “Come on, Sapphy. Let’s go.”

    “Another thing,” snapped Sapphire.

    “What?”

    “Don’t ever call me ‘Sapphy’ again, or I will beat your face into a bloody pulp, then heal it with a Potion and do it again.”

    I regarded Sapphire thoughtfully for a moment. She was shorter than me, yes, and a girl, yes – but I could see just from looking at her that she was way stronger and much fitter than me. I’d got tired running down a flight of stairs, and could easily get out of breath just running for a bus. She, on the other hand, had spent the last seven-odd years of her life (Some very odd, Puck couldn’t help but interject) sleeping in the woods and defending herself from wild Pokémon without even the resources of a Trainer.

    Your reasoning is sound, Puck told me. If you didn’t cheat and zap her – which she’d probably be able to avoid anyway – she would wipe the floor with you.

    “OK,” I said. “What can I call you?”

    “Sapphire. Or Mistress, since that’s what I am to you.”

    “That’s going too far. Not to mention very weird and with slightly disturbing implications. I’ll just call you Sapphire.”

    With that, I walked off purposefully down the road, heading for the Pokémon Centre. Then I stopped, and turned around.

    “Sapphire?”

    “Yes?”

    “Where exactly is the Pokémon Centre?”
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 29th April 2011 at 8:13 AM.

  15. #15
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    Apr 2011
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    Chapter Seven: No Peace for the Wicked

    “That boy!” Felicity’s blue eyes flashed with anger, and she chewed ferociously on her fingernails. “He’s... he doesn’t know. But it has to be...”

    There was no one else in her bedroom, and no answer seemed forthcoming, so she lay back on her bed and sighed, twisting her hair through her fingers. Her headphones were off for once, plugged into the wall socket and resting on top of her bedside cabinet, next to the lamp.

    “What was his name...?” Felicity swapped her fingernail for a knuckle, pinching the loose skin between her teeth. “Kester, that’s right.” She paused and chewed some more, ivory skin reddening in her mouth. “This isn’t good at all. Especially if he’s with the Magmas...” She sat up again, long hair falling back to its usual dead-straight style as she did so. “I need to do some independent investigation, without that chauvinist dirtbag – and without that guy looking over my shoulder.”

    She got up and checked the little light on her headphones’ charger; it had turned off, signifying that the batteries were fully replenished. Unplugging them, she laid them on the bed and changed clothes, from Aqua uniform to something more normal – for her, at least.

    Done, Felicity slipped her headphones back onto her head and turned them on; waves of electronic Japanese music began seeping into her ears. She glanced at herself quickly in the mirror before she left, and then came back to look again, frowning. The white of her right eye were slightly off-colour, faintly tinged with yellow as if she were suffering from jaundice. Felicity swore and recoiled, mingled fear and anger on her face.

    “When does this stop?” she asked of no one at all, voice trembling. “I... Damn it!”

    She punched the dresser hard, making the items on its top jump. She stayed there, breathing heavily, for a moment, then pulled away and fumbled in her drawer for sunglasses. They were blue Team Aqua ones, but they would do; she just couldn’t face looking at her eyes right now.

    “Calm,” she told herself. “Tranquillity.” She took a deep breath. “Time to go.”

    Felicity left her apartment, no sign of conflict on her pale face. There was still time. She was going to fix this – but first, she had some spying to do.

    ---

    “I thought Trainers hiked through the wilderness to get between towns,” I said.

    “Only when you don’t have to get to Admiral’s in time to get a ferry to Slateport today,” Sapphire replied. “We’ll do all that hiking stuff another time, when I want to train you and my other Pokémon up.”

    “Must you treat me as subhuman?” I asked. “It makes me feel like – like—”

    Just then, Puck gave me a very crude and highly immoral simile to fill the gap at the end of my sentence, which reminded me of that business last year; I had to remind myself quickly that what had occurred then was technically legal, in Hoenn at least.

    “Never mention that again,” I said hoarsely, with such vehemence that Sapphire looked at me in alarm.

    “What?” I pointed to my head. Sapphire sighed. “I wish I could hear what he says,” she said. “It must be good, to always get you so worked up.”

    “He talks more sense than you,” I replied belligerently. “It was him who worked out how the beat the Carvanha. Where were all your Trainer tactics then?”

    “I’m not getting drawn into this,” said Sapphire, looking like she desperately wanted to do the opposite. “Just sit back and enjoy the ride. I’m paying for you, aren’t I? You could be in the ball.”

    It was actually quite an effort for her to resist the temptation; neither of us had endeared ourselves to the other last night. Firstly, Sapphire had had to smuggle me into the Centre inside the Master Ball, since I wasn’t a registered Trainer and couldn’t use it; then, I had discovered the soulless and unsatisfying nature of Pokémon Centre food, and complained vociferously in a way that had resulted in Sapphire returning me to the ball, taking me back up to her room and releasing me into the wardrobe before locking it shut. This was infinitely less pleasant even than being in the Poké ball, and I spent a very miserable night banging forlornly on the door, wedged uncomfortably into a forest of coat hangers. In fact, that conversation on the train was the first time we’d spoken since last night.

    “You don’t have to treat it like an honour for me to be out of the ball,” I said. “It’s kind of my right, as a free human being and citizen of Hoenn. Are we not part of the UN? Do we not accept the UN’s list of basic human rights?”

    “It’s not your right,” she snapped. “You’re a Trainer’s Pokémon. Freedom doesn’t enter into it.”

    That was particularly nasty, even for her, and I sat and sulked in silence for the rest of the journey. For once, Puck commiserated with me; he was, I reflected bitterly, nothing if not fair – which regrettably meant that most of the time, it was I who was in the wrong.

    Admiral’s Berth: a dock and port that was curiously detached from both of the nearest cities, Rustboro and Petalburg. It had started as the cottage of a retired sailor who called himself Mr. Briney; he’d died in the 1960s, and when his possessions were retrieved it was found out that he had actually been a famous admiral of the Sinnoh navy. This surprised everyone, since all he had done since he moved into the lonely cliff-top house was sit on a rocking-chair on the veranda, stroking an ancient, devious-looking Wingull called Peeko and plotting to overthrow the Emperor of the Moon; nevertheless, it had proved incentive enough for the cottage to be preserved as the official Admiral Briney museum. This had swiftly grown into a tiny town, almost entirely composed of its rambling docklands. That town was Admiral’s Berth: one of Hoenn’s three main seaports, along with Slateport and Lilycove.

    It was into the bustling train station of this town that the train pulled into, grinding to a halt on salt-rusted rails. People poured off like water; this was the end of the line, and Admiral’s Berth was always a popular destination. Sapphire disappeared into the crowd, and I spent several minutes searching for her before she lost patience and recalled me instead of waiting.

    “What the – Sapphire!” I cried, kicking the wall of the ball. “That was unnecessary!”

    Leave it, advised Puck. She can’t hear you, and I doubt she cares.

    “Why is she like that?” I asked despairingly, dropping to the floor in a sitting position.

    I can’t tell you, Puck answered. I’m not the sort of Ghost that can read minds. I just play with machines.

    “But you seem to know so much – why can’t you work it out?”

    I’m not that perceptive. It’s just that you’re so very puerile and stupid.

    “Don’t you pick up on anything but my flaws?”

    Yes, but the flaws are what I need to work on if I’m going to survive my incarceration here.

    “Thanks.”

    Sorry. Forget I said anything. You’re perfect, and I can’t see any reason why Sapphire hates you.

    “You mean you do know why?”

    Sort of. You two are just too different to get along without a lot of work. She’s strong, self-confident and assertive – and you’re, well, somewhat weedy and pathetic. I don’t think Sapphire can stand that about you.

    “Again, thanks.”

    Any time.

    “Huh.” I lay down and scratched my neck. “Why does she keep me then?”

    Sheer bone-headed stubbornness, Puck replied succinctly.

    “S’pose you’ve got something there,” I admitted thoughtfully.

    About an hour later, Sapphire saw fit to let me out of the ball again; now, I found myself in a small, white plastic room with a rich blue carpet.

    “Sapphire! Why’d you— hey, where are we?” I looked around. Nothing graced the walls to hint at our location, so I looked at Sapphire instead.

    “On a ferry,” she said, sounding uncharacteristically nervous. “Going to Slateport.”

    “What’s this place?”

    “An empty room I found to let you out in.” She glanced around. “We need to get back to the main room.”

    We left, and passed down a short corridor before emerging into a large, semicircular room that seemed to be a cross between an airport departure lounge and a café. Round tables with arcs of cushioned seats around them were scattered about the room, and the walls were punctuated by wide, tall windows that showed the slate-coloured waves beyond. A counter ripped from a bar or light restaurant stood at the far end, and at it sat a dispirited-looking man in a green overcoat that I recognised immediately as Darren Goodwin.

    “Sapphire!” I hissed, pointing. “It’s the Devon guy who caught me!”

    She looked concerned.

    “It is? I thought he looked familiar... It’s OK, he doesn’t have to see us. Let’s just... sit down somewhere.”

    I looked at her oddly; she seemed much less belligerent than usual. Nevertheless, I followed her to a free table, dodging a couple of excited kids, and sat down.

    “Are you OK?” I asked. Sapphire started, and looked like I’d stabbed her.

    “I’m fine!” she protested unconvincingly. “Never better. Who said I wasn’t fine?”

    The boat wobbled slightly, and she went pale. I smiled, the light dawning.

    “You’re seasick, aren’t you?”

    “No!” The boat went over another wave, and Sapphire gripped the table tightly. “Yes,” she admitted.

    I laughed; I couldn’t help it. Sapphire glowered weakly.

    “It’s not funny,” she said petulantly.

    “Yes it is,” I replied. “You were completely calm in the face of a shotgun and a Carvanha, but you can’t deal with a bit of water?”

    “Shut up,” she grumbled. “The Devon man will hear us.”

    “He’s on the other side of the room,” I pointed out, “separated by about eighteen families, a group of noisy youths and a crying baby. It’s a miracle he can hear anything.”

    Sapphire made an attempt to reply, but a medium-sized wave rocked the boat slightly and she ended up grabbing onto my arm, expecting some sort of support. With any other girl, this might have been quite enjoyable (the Aqua girl came to mind) but since it was Sapphire, I looked at her as I might look at something stuck to the sole of my shoe, and gently but vigorously shook her off.

    “God...” she muttered. “This sea...” She looked out of the window, then looked away again rapidly. “Is this a storm?”

    “No,” I replied, “it’s pretty calm.”

    Ordinarily, Puck said, I would be sympathising with Sapphire right now, but... well, I’m a Ghost, and I like to laugh at humans.

    “Anyway,” I said, a thought coming to me, “what was it you wanted to discuss later? You mentioned it yesterday, at your house?”

    “Yes,” she replied. “About releasing you... What I wanted to say was that I will. After you help me unravel this mystery about the goods.”

    “You’re... Actually, what are you doing? Is that bribery, because you’re going to give me my freedom? Or is it threatening, because you’re not going to do so if I don’t help?”

    “Neither. Just a deal.” Sapphire looked at me seriously. “You help me, I set you free. Deal?”

    “This is shady,” I remarked. “I can see why you didn’t want Birch to know.” Then I sighed. “But I don’t have a choice, so...” I held out a hand, and she shook it.

    This is good, noted Puck. You’re learning to work together.

    After that, the conversation dried up a bit; we didn’t really have anything in common, nor did we know each other well enough to keep us entertained. I sat and watched the waves, my trance only broken when, at sporadic intervals, Sapphire emitted almighty groans of nausea.

    ---

    Naturally, Kester, Puck and Sapphire were not the ferry’s sole passengers. There were several others of note aboard; Darren Goodwin, the man Devon called ‘researcher’, has already been touched upon, but elsewhere we might find our man Barry of Team Aqua, partaking of whiskey at the bar, and the two charmingly bumbling goons, Barry and Fabien. You might perhaps have thought that our other character, Felicity, was to be found here – but she, by means of her feminine efficiency, had arrived at Slateport the previous night. There, if you remember, she had returned to her apartment to cogitate and recharge her headphones.

    Barry was, thanks to a curious quirk of fate, sitting right next to Darren, on his left. The barman regarded each of these men with the knowing eye of his profession; if any there was a man who knew the intricacies of the human soul, it was a bartender. Who else has had so many passionate tales poured out to him, who else knows best how to soothe a broken heart or a deep-seated grief? Not even a psychiatrist can claim to rival the barkeep in this regard, for the latter can not only cure all ills of the mind but gently and firmly remove drunks from his bar in such a way that they will come back tomorrow for more drinks. This is a feat that the psychiatrist wishes he could manage, for then his practice would be far more lucrative.

    This bartender was not, at first appearance, one of those wise men. At the centre of a bustling ferry at midday, it seemed he must have been unable to procure better employment – but that assumption would have been incorrect. When night fell, and the lonely midnight service ran between Dewford and Slateport, he came into his own; for the witching hour is the time when the broken-hearted, the down on their luck, and the retired, melancholy sailors travel the ocean, and need the comforts of the professional barman. His talents were as sharp as a razor, and so it was that he set a pair of drinks before Barry and Darren, and uttered the immortal greeting of the professional barkeep:

    “So, fellas. Why the long faces?”

    Barry glanced at Darren and Darren glanced at Barry; the two men seemed to reach an agreement that Darren was to go first, and so he did.

    “I’m a Devon researcher,” he said with a sigh, pulling at his drink, “and someone stole an important weapon we’re developing – it was this Team Aqua girl, wearing a blue coat. I’ve been dispatched to go and retrieve our weapon by our President, and I’ve also got to deliver this to Slateport.” He held up a black bag, and Barry’s eyes widened. “It’s just all a bit much, really. It’s my wedding anniversary tomorrow, and I’m going to miss it because of this.”

    The barman shook his head dolefully. “Perhaps you can catch the ferry back in time for tomorrow evening.”

    “Only if I catch that girl in time,” sighed Darren. “She’s got to be heading for Slateport, I guess, which is some small consolation.”

    “Did you have any plans for the evening?”

    Here was where Barry stopped listening; thoughts were whirling around his tiny brain like dervishes. A Devon researcher! This was terrible news. He was acutely aware of the fainted condition of his Carvanha, and the fact that Felicity had taken the gun with her. If the researcher discovered his identity... well, Barry didn’t like to think about what would happen then. He might have his pride, but Barry knew when to keep his head down. It was best to act as if he had nothing to do with the Aquas at all.

    Yet... the Devon guy had mentioned an Aqua girl. That couldn’t have been Felicity, since he knew she didn’t have whatever it was the man was after. At that moment, a tiny circuit sparked into life somewhere in the morass he called a brain, and he realised with a jolt that he must be talking about the girl in the blue coat from yesterday. The girl who was working with the Rotom kid. She was undoubtedly a Magma employee, rather than Aqua; the blue coat was probably a ruse to throw Devon off the track.

    “And what about you?” the barman asked, turning to him.

    “Ah... I made a mistake in my work,” Barry told him. “Didn’t deliver what I was supposed to. Probably going to get fired.”

    Despite his sorrowful tones, Barry was inwardly exultant; here was a fantastic snippet of information for the boss, and one that would more than make up for his failure to obtain the goods. Team Magma had stolen Devon’s secret weapon.

    And that was it: then he had one of those blinding flashes of genius that occasionally rushes upon you like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. These inspired moments come to even such dolts as Barry, and this one was a good one.

    The secret Devon weapon was the boy with the lightning powers.

    This connected in his mind with the Rotom thief; Ghosts could possess things, and Electric-types could shoot lightning – thus, Barry concluded, his fit of genius coming to an end, that the boy was somehow one with the Rotom, perhaps due to some sinister Devon experiments.

    Astounded at his own intellect, Barry sat and gaped for a long moment, during which both the barman and Darren Goodwin regarded him curiously. When at last he recovered, he coughed uncomfortably and hastily threw a handful of coins onto the table to cover the drink before hurrying off to vanish into the crowd, eager to contact his superiors.

    Darren and the barman watched him go.

    “Odd guy, that,” remarked the barman. Darren nodded in agreement.

    “Yes.”

    From a nearby table, Fabien looked on through holes cunningly cut into his newspaper, in a clichéd display that would have made any decent criminal groan; thankfully, neither he nor Blake were decent criminals.

    “Did you hear all that?” he murmured to Blake. Both men were still disguised, though Fabien had an inkling that his disguise might actually be attracting a little more attention than even a Team Magma uniform.

    “Yeah, I got it,” replied his comrade. “Secret Devon weapon?”

    “I was thinking that too,” Fabien said. “It’s that kid, isn’t it?”

    “Gotta be,” affirmed Blake, nodding his heavy head. “When ’e broke out, or the Aquas stole ’im or whatever, ’e must ’ave taken the goods with ’im.”

    “Those cunning Aquas!” Fabien shook a theatrical fist of rage. “Is there no end to their depravity?”

    “I s’pose it ends in abou’ the same place as ours,” suggested Blake.

    “You may have something there,” admitted Fabien. “Well, anyway, we have to steal that kid from the Aquas! It was an Aqua girl wearing a blue coat, he said – we must find her.”

    “D’you think it was that girl we saw yesterday?”

    Fabien shook his head. “He’d have mentioned the headphones.”

    “Fair enough. That reminds me – ’ave you got a message from Goishi yet?”

    “No, not yet. I think his target went to Slateport on the late ferry last night.”

    The two men sank into the same sort of contemplative trance that had occupied them shortly after fleeing from Kester in the alleyway, trying to puzzle out what to do next, what to tell the boss and where the girl with the secret weapon might be.

    Funnily enough, both she and the so-called ‘secret weapon’ were sitting just seven tables away, trying not to be sick and watching the waves respectively.

    ---

    The ferry took an hour and a half to reach Dewford Island, where we were to change for Slateport; by this time, Sapphire had been sick twice and was paler and shakier than a reanimated skeleton. This pathetic sight managed to touch me despite my dislike for her, and I helped her off the boat and back onto dry land, eliciting approval from Puck.

    That’s right, he said. Good old-fashioned manners, that’s what count.

    “I’m not doing it out of politeness,” I retorted. “I’m doing it because she looks so pathetic.”

    “I can hear you, you know,” muttered Sapphire weakly. “God! The ground is swaying...”

    “Oh, come on,” I said, exasperated. “You’re not even at sea any more.”

    Just sit her down on a bench or something, Puck advised. The world will soon stop swaying. I got something similar once, he added, as I steered Sapphire down the crowded pier and onto the promenade, when I first possessed a fan. It was like the world’s most terrifying Ferris Wheel. A shiver ran down my spine that didn’t belong; I presumed it belonged to Puck.

    I found a bench that overlooked the ocean and dumped Sapphire on it with some relief. The view was fantastic; to our left, on the north, there was the bustling pier from which we had just extricated ourselves; in front of us, a golden expanse of beach stretched out beneath the noonday sun, slipping under bejewelled waves to the east; and to our right, you could see the outlines of Dewford’s sole town, imaginatively named ‘Dewford’. I didn’t dwell too much on it, because it was mostly a hellish mix of cheap holiday resort and theme park, and quickly returned my attention to the sea. It was pockmarked with ferries and little sailing boats, and I wondered whether it was any fun to go out to sea like that, with the open air and the spray on your face.

    No, it isn’t, Puck told me. Believe me, I went out to sea on a boat at Brighton once, and it was awful. Got cold seawater right the way through my plasma – and some of it was heavy, which didn’t go down well, he added darkly.

    “Er... right.”

    You don’t get it, Puck said insistently. Heavy water contains isotopes of hydrogen that are suitable for nuclear fusion. With the energy in my body, they could do that – I had a nasty little cold fusion reaction going on in my eyes. Felt like a bomb had gone off in my brain—

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said, “and I don’t care.” I sat down next to Sapphire. “When does the boat to Slateport leave?”

    “Quarter to two,” she replied. I looked at my watch, which told me that the time was currently 12.37.

    “We have some time then,” I remarked. “Shall we get something to eat in the town?”

    Sapphire gave a deep and heartfelt shudder that started at her toes and moved all the way up to her forehead.

    No,” she said firmly. “I can’t even think of eating like this.”

    “OK, let me re-phrase that. Can I go and get something to eat in the town?”

    “I’m not stopping you.”

    I sighed.

    “Will you give me some money?”

    “Don’t you have any?”

    “This trip was sprung on me by surprise, so I left my wallet in my room.”

    Sapphire made a disgruntled noise, but handed over a couple of notes. I looked at them: two thousand-Pokédollar bills. In total, enough for, say, nine or ten Potions.

    “Is this it?”

    “What are you eating? A three-course meal with roasted Swellow?”

    “Fine, I’ll just take it.” I stomped off towards Dewford, muttering angrily. “Come on, Puck, agree with me here. She’s rich, right? So why can’t she be generous?”

    She hates you. I thought you knew that.

    “I suppose that’s right,” I agreed, passing the entrance to The Wurmple World of Adventure, probably Hoenn’s least likely theme park. “She just doesn’t want to give me anything.”

    It might help if you were nice to her.

    “If she won’t be nice to me...” The sentence didn’t need finishing, so I let it hang there in the air as we arrived at Dewford’s main street.

    It was horrible. That’s all I can really say about it. There was a crowd, yes, a nasty, hot, sticky crowd that pushed and shoved and jostled all over the road; I caught a glimpse of a car, hopelessly trapped in a sea of people, a little way off and felt a pang of sympathy for its harassed-looking occupants. As soon as I entered the crowd, I wanted to get out again, but as I turned around the entrance disappeared; a current in the wave of humanity engulfed me and sucked me deeper in despite my protests. At one point, I became stuck to the back of a fat guy and was carried along for several yards before I managed to peel myself free; at another, someone’s pet Pelipper sat on my head and slowly crushed me to the floor before I sent it packing with a weak ThunderShock.

    That was close, commented Puck of that last.

    “Yeah,” I gasped, struggling to avoid being stepped on. “It almost squashed me.”

    No, I mean you came very close to killing it. Water/Flying – quadruply weak to Electric. It’s a good thing that you weakened the attack.

    I thought about reprimanding him, but decided it wouldn’t do any good and said instead:

    “This was a mistake. I need to find a bench and – and regain my bearings.”

    It was lucky Puck was inside my head; if he’d been anywhere else, there’s no way he would have heard me over the clamour and tumult of the crowd. Unable to get to my feet in the crush, I wormed my way forwards between the legs of passers-by and eventually reached a lamppost, which I used to as support to draw myself up against. My sudden appearance startled a family of holidaymakers, especially as I popped up, exultant at my achievement, directly behind the young daughter of the group; I think it was the expression of triumph on my face that drove them to believe I had criminal designs on her, and caused them to flee into the crowd in a panic.

    Did you see their faces? chuckled Puck. Mew’s Liver, that was funny.

    “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I said as I wormed my way through the crowd, looking for higher ground, “what is with all these weird curses you keep spouting? Mew’s Liver, Dialga’s Orb, Arceus – what do they mean?”

    They’re the names of legendary Pokémon, the Rotom replied. Like you say ‘Oh, God’, I blaspheme using their names.

    “I see,” I panted, and then: “YEAH!”

    I had managed to break free of the crowd, and now stood just in the entrance of a small, sunlit courtyard, surrounded by tastefully built little houses and consequently deserted.

    These buildings are lovely, admired Puck. Those philistines out there really prefer the gift shops and stuff to this?

    “Yep,” I confirmed. “My mum insisted on me taking Taste at school, so I like this.”

    Ah, Taste! Puck sighed with happiness. When I lose faith in the education system, despairing at what it teaches youngsters, I just have to think of Taste to wash all my worries away. What could be finer than a class that actually teaches you good taste? You—

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up,” I interrupted, looking around. “Let’s see... if we go straight on here, maybe we’ll get to a normal street that isn’t full of tourists.”

    I left the little courtyard and continued on my way, feeling very hungry now; due to Sapphire incarcerating me in the cupboard, I had missed breakfast that morning. The sun shone down, Puck babbled pleasantly in my head, and the buildings around me were tall and beautifully designed; for once, it seemed as if things were going all right for me. There was no one here to mock or wound me, and I was away from Sapphire, which meant she couldn’t recall me; I even entertained thoughts of running off and leaving her, but in the end had to face the reality that that wasn’t going to happen, since I had almost no money and, after all, we had a deal.

    Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at the time was that there were, in fact, people at Dewford Island out to spoil our day. Later, I was going to wonder how I could have felt so carefree.

    Because while I was wandering happily around Dewford, someone I’d met the day before yesterday, someone who, in fact, might be pointed to as the one who landed me in this mess, had found Sapphire.

  16. #16
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    Apr 2011
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    Chapter Eight: A Grand Day Out

    “I found you,” said a dry, matter-of-fact voice. Sapphire looked up and sighed. It was Darren Goodwin.

    “So you did,” she replied. “What of it?”

    “Give me back the boy,” Darren ordered.

    “Or what?” Sapphire was unimpressed. What could a Devon researcher do to her – especially here, in broad daylight?

    Darren Goodwin smiled a very cold, tired smile.

    “You don’t know what a Devon researcher is, do you?”

    Sapphire’s heart skipped a beat, but she kept her eyes on Darren’s, and didn’t let her gaze waver. Something bad was coming, she just knew it – but she wasn’t going down without a fight.

    “You sit in a laboratory and research stuff,” she replied. “So, what are you going to do to me?”

    “I could kill you in any of a hundred different ways,” Darren informed her. “Given the right materials, naturally. And then there are my Pokémon – more, I’m certain, than a match for yours.”

    “I don’t believe you,” Sapphire began, trying to bluff, but Darren saw through it and interrupted by holding a Poké Ball very close to her face. A sticker bearing the number 1 adorned the top.

    “This is my first choice,” he told her. “Then this is the second” – he drew out another – “and this is third, and so on. Until we get to this one.” He pulled an Ultra Ball from his capacious pockets and held it in front of her. “This is my last resort. It’s not often I have to use it, and when I do, people always start doing what I want them to.”

    “What kind of researcher are you?” murmured Sapphire, feeling for the balls at her belt.

    “Don’t touch those,” Darren told her. “And you know what sort of a researcher I am. I’m a Devon researcher.” He withdrew the Ultra Ball and grabbed her forearm, dragging her roughly to her feet. “Give me the boy.”

    “He and I have a deal,” Sapphire said stubbornly, face just inches from Darren’s own. “I don’t break promises.”

    “Touching,” snapped Darren. “If you won’t do the sensible thing, I’ll just take him from you and bring you back to Devon for questioning.” He took the Master Ball from her belt; as he did so, Sapphire smacked her forehead into his nose and felt it crunch.

    Warm blood spattered onto her face, but she didn’t stop to look closely; she snatched the Master Ball from Darren and ran, easily twisting free from his slackening grip.

    He gave a yelp of pain and cried out – “Ah! What – the same trick twice?” – but Sapphire didn’t stop to see what the Devon man was doing, nor did she want to; she heard the small noise of a Poké Ball opening, and then a hoarse, rumbling shout that set her teeth on edge. A couple of people cried out; Sapphire didn’t want to know what was scaring them. “After her!” came Darren’s voice, and whatever monster he’d summoned started running after her, heavy feet pounding the ground, utterly heedless of the crowd around it.

    Sapphire ran along the promenade, past the docks, ducking and slipping between the people who flocked in her path. Her pursuer was less delicate; she could hear it ramming into people, giving deep, booming cries as it did so. People around her started running too – and then it became chaos, and it was all Sapphire could do to work out where she was.

    A way off the street presented itself: a little fence between two buildings, marked with a ‘No Entry’ sign. Sapphire vaulted it and freed herself from the panicked crowd, pelting now down a dirt track between palm trees. Behind her, she heard the scream of tortured steel as the monster chasing her ripped it aside. She shivered and bit her lip. Whatever it was, neither Toro nor Rono were going to be able to help her with it.

    Speed, speed, speed; Sapphire was good at running away, and she had the speed and stamina to back up her talent – but whatever was chasing her was so much bigger than her that its strides were too long. It was eating up the ground between them slowly but relentlessly, and her only hope now was to find some kind of shelter.

    She ducked under a low-hanging branch, hoping it would slow the monster down – but a second later, there was a sharp crack! and splinters of wood flew over her shoulders, jagged fragments catching on her hair and clothes. Sapphire let out an uncharacteristic cry of fright and went faster, turning a corner—

    —only to find that this was a dead end. A cliff rose from nowhere in front of her, a rocky wall that blocked any further attempts at escape. A vast, hulking shadow appeared on its brown surface, and Sapphire gulped. In a flash, she understood what Kester was driving at: it was all very well to fight a fair Pokémon battle, but when the Pokémon were attacking you, it was completely, terrifyingly different.

    The hoarse bellowing sounds and the pounding footsteps were close behind her now, but still Sapphire didn’t turn; she was locked in the rapid roar of her heart in her ears, in the shadow on the rock wall and the little shiver that was running down her forearms. For a second, the pattern of abject fear gripped her as tightly as a vice – and then suddenly she noticed that here was a sharp turn in the path, and it snaked off between the thick trees and the wall to the right. There was no dead end after all.

    Something big swiped through the air behind her, but Sapphire was already gone, feet barely touching the ground as she leaped into a sprint along the wall. The something crashed painfully into the rocks, and Sapphire gave a small grin of satisfaction at its pained cry. This swiftly faded when the pain turned to anger, and a huge, primeval roar ripped through the air like a thunderclap.

    Sapphire swore and doubled her pace, and before she knew it her trainers were stumbling over soft sand, and the warm sun was smiling benevolently down upon her unveiled by palm fronds. She blinked, and realised that she had somehow emerged onto a beach – and, unfortunately, a deserted one, with no one here to help her.

    She picked a direction at random, and ran left, slipping and sliding on the powdery sand. This beach would have been amazing had she not been running for her life, she noted detachedly; the sand was wonderfully soft, and the sea here was the brilliant blue of her own eyes.

    Suddenly, another rocky wall materialised in front of her, and Sapphire almost screamed in frustration and fear; as if sensing her agitation, her pursuer bellowed out something that sounded like a bass harmonica trying to laugh. Sapphire ran left along the rocks, but they circled up to the left and cut off her route off the beach; to the right, there was nothing except a small gap in the rocks, just past the surf—

    The gap in the rocks!

    Sapphire darted in there and kept going, surprised to find that there was a good-sized cave here. Behind her, the Pokémon that chased her slammed its great head against the entrance, roaring in fury: it was too big to follow. Once she’d worked that out, Sapphire flung herself onto the sand, not caring that it was covered in half an inch of water, and looked back at what she’d been running from.

    A single, baleful red eye looked back; the other lay somewhere outside the view through the cave mouth. Below it was a huge, gaping mouth armed with a formidable array of blunt tusks, set into a knobbly, gnarled face wrought of light purple skin. It looked like a hippopotamus that had been killed a long time ago and put out in the sun to dry.

    “An Exploud,” Sapphire breathed, staring at it. “I wonder—”

    She broke off abruptly and stood up; the Exploud was lining itself up so that its huge mouth fitted over the cave entrance, sealing off the outside. Sapphire had a horrible feeling that she knew what it was going to do next, and began to run—

    —just as the Pokémon began to inhale, a massive breath that tore pebbles from the ground and Sapphire’s hat from her head, sucking them down into the bottomless pit of the monster’s throat. Sapphire slowed instantly, colossal forces tearing at every part of her body at once, and grasped wildly for the wall; her fingers slid off the wet stone and she stumbled, almost falling. At the last moment, she grabbed a projection of rock, and hung there, horizontal in midair, as the Exploud’s breath screamed by. The roar of the wind was unbelievable; it howled and whirled and screamed as it tore down the passageway, picking up sand and stones and throwing them into Sapphire’s eyes.

    Sapphire knew that the Exploud could keep this up for hours; thanks to the pipes on its head and tail, it was capable of maintaining a single breath continuously, without any loss of oxygen in its blood. In sharp contrast, she couldn’t hold onto the rock for more than a few more minutes. For the logical Professor’s daughter, the meaning was clear: she had to move.

    She took a deep breath, which was difficult in the roaring, sandy air, and forced one foot to the floor, trying to get some grip. Her shoe struck a pebble embedded in the sand, and she wedged her leg firmly against it before stepping forwards with the other foot. At the same time, she pulled hard on the rock she was holding, dragging herself forwards against the air currents.

    As soon as her leading foot slipped Sapphire knew it was hopeless. There was nothing she could do; the Exploud’s breath was too strong. In a curiously disconnected manner, she wondered if Darren would kill her. It didn’t seem that big a deal, just a minor spot of unpleasantness in a business transaction; somewhere in the back of her head, a tiny voice screamed at her that she was in shock, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear it, and, closing her eyes, let go of the rock.

    ---

    “Bullet Punch!”

    A flash of scintillating steel; a blur of screaming rock. Sapphire’s eyes opened in midair to see a huge red block fly past her, even faster than the wind of the Exploud’s breath. For a millisecond, she was surprised – and then there was a curious strangled wail, and the gale stopped abruptly, dropping Sapphire softly into the wet sand.

    “What a loathsome creature,” remarked a voice; it was rich and full of culture, the voice of a man who has not only power and wealth but remarkable good taste as well. “Are you quite well?”

    A hand reached down to Sapphire and drew her to her feet; she felt like she was still floating, and swayed back and forth as a second hand descended to her shoulder to hold her upright.

    “Who – who are you?” she asked uncertainly.

    A face emerged from the darkness, tapering below to a pointed chin and topped above with spiky silver-blue hair, impeccably styled. This face housed malachite-green eyes that were presently engaged in looking concerned, as well as a fine nose of much merit and a rather handsome mouth. Below this countenance was a dark suit and red tie, and together it all formed a tall, good-looking young man who looked like he might have been more at home in the streets of the central business district than in a wet sea cave.

    “My name,” this young man said, “is Steven. This,” he added, indicating into the darkness behind him, “is my trusted partner, Deep Thought.”

    Something moved in the shadows, and the light flashed off it for a second, highlights dancing on polished steel. Twin red eyes opened and burned in the blackness. Sapphire stared hard, as if she could peel away the dark and illuminate the lurking Pokémon purely with her eyes.

    “Is that... a Metagross?”

    “Yes, it is,” replied Steven, almost absently. He didn’t seem to know, or perhaps didn’t care, that the creature standing behind him was quite possibly the rarest non-legendary Pokémon in the world; that it was a terrifying combination of supercomputer and predatory instincts, the planet’s most powerful calculator in a sheath of adamantine steel. “Are you all right?”

    “Yes, I think so.” Sapphire couldn’t take her eyes away from the red lamps. They were inexpressibly cold, devoid of all emotion; Metagross could not feel pain or pleasure. Their computer-like brains made them the closest that organic life could come to machines.

    “I’m glad to be of service,” Steven said, walking her towards the cave entrance. His shoes looked expensive, but he didn’t seem to care about ruining them with the water. Sapphire could only conclude that he was either very rich or very stupid – and she suspected it was the former.

    “Your Metagross... are you leaving him there?”

    “Deep Thought is a little large to fit through this entrance,” explained Steven. “I don’t want it to destroy it, so I’ll recall it once we have left.”

    They stepped out into the sun, and regarded the Exploud dispassionately. It lay on its side on the sand, twitching and uttering piteous moans.

    “What did you do?” asked Sapphire with some interest, retrieving her hat from where it lay next to the Exploud’s back, having passed through its throat and out of its rear pipes.

    “Deep Thought Bullet Punched a handy Nosepass into it mouth.” Steven nudged the Exploud with a toe, and got no response save a half-hearted twitch. “And ninety per cent of Exploud suffer from a serious Nosepass allergy, you know.”

    “Thank you,” said Sapphire, sincere for once. She already knew about the allergy, being the daughter of Hoenn’s Professor, and thus was not surprised. “Thank you very much.”

    There were very few people in the world for whom Sapphire had an out and out respect. Phoebe, of the Elite Four, was one, as was Wallace, Hoenn’s current Champion; Steven had just joined their ranks and gone on to eclipse them all. He was a man who possessed one of the oldest, rarest and most powerful creatures on Earth, and he didn’t seem to care unduly; he was obviously intelligent, rich and powerful; he was beautifully well-spoken; and he had a face that most other men would kill for. In short, he was the cloth from which heroes were cut. If anyone was cut out to be idolised, it was undoubtedly him.

    “That’s perfectly all right,” Steven smiled. “I was just passing by in the caves, you know – looking for rare stones. And I saw you needed help...” He turned around and recalled Deep Thought, the beam of red light lancing from the ball deep into the dark mouth of the cave.

    “Well, I’m thankful anyway. I suppose I was lucky that someone was here – I can’t imagine many people come here.”

    Sapphire gazed out on the empty beach and lapping waves. Steven took her by the arm and began to walk back towards the path with her.

    “It used to be quite well-known,” he informed her. “Only someone was stung to death here eight years ago by a very hungry Tentacruel, and people stopped coming. Now, no one remembers it.”

    “Oh.” Sapphire didn’t know quite what to say, and so said no more. When they reached the path, Steven spoke again.

    “Are you a Trainer, Miss – oh! I don’t even know your name. It is...?”

    “Sapphire. My name’s Sapphire. And yes, I am a Trainer.”

    “Wonderful,” Steven breathed. “Few continue the trade as long as you have. It’s a hard road.”

    “Oh – I’ve just started,” admitted Sapphire, realising he thought she was a veteran Trainer and colouring slightly. “My dad needed me around before.”

    Steven nodded sympathetically.

    “I have a father who required a great deal of maintenance,” he remarked. “But I find that now I can just leave him alone, and he minds himself well enough. He sets himself little challenges, you see, and won’t stop until he completes them.”

    “I see,” said Sapphire, who didn’t.

    “Well, beginning Trainer,” Steven said, regarding her with renewed interest, “are you here for your first Badge?”

    Sapphire remembered with a jolt that there was a Gym on this island, and she regretted that there wouldn’t be time to go there.

    “It’ll be my second,” she lied, “I got one from Roxanne in Rustboro.”

    “Very good. Rock-types can be tough. What Pokémon do you use?”

    “A Torchic and an Aron. Both fairly low-level, I’m afraid to say.” Sapphire felt almost ashamed to admit this to someone who so obviously possessed such strength, but tried not to let it show. Perhaps Steven sensed this, though, because he gave her a gentle smile.

    “That’s not so bad,” he noted. “I am a Steel-type aficionado myself, though I dabble with others. I have an Aggron – something you will have one day too, if you train your Aron well. As for a Torchic – well! They are rare indeed. If you have beaten one Gym Leader already, I should think yours should begin to evolve soon, for they start young.”

    “Really?” asked Sapphire eagerly. “What about my Aron?”

    “Wait a little longer, I think,” Steven replied, eyes twinkling. “They evolve late and become all the stronger for it.”

    They reached the bend in the path, and heard hurried footsteps and laboured curses; a second later, Darren Goodwin appeared, one hand covering his nose and covered in blood.

    “You!” he cried on seeing Sapphire. “Got you!”

    Steven regarded Darren with some distaste, and asked Sapphire:

    “Is this a friend of yours?”

    “No.” Sapphire shook her head. “He’s the one with the Exploud.”

    “I see.” Steven let go of Sapphire, took one step forwards and punched Darren firmly on the jaw; there was a surprising amount of force there, because the Devon researcher tumbled sideways into the undergrowth, apparently unconscious. “That will do nicely.”

    Sapphire watched, impressed. Steven was stronger than he looked. She glanced at Darren’s body, but didn’t see the black bag of goods anywhere; he must have left it somewhere else.

    “I would be concerned about him,” Steven told her, taking her arm again and resuming the walk back towards civilisation. “From the look of him, he is a Devon man, so I think it might be best not to contact the police. Are you quite sure you will be all right on your own?”

    “Yes, thank you,” Sapphire replied, as the fence came into view. “I just... need to train up a little more.”

    “That’s a good idea,” Steven said, and the metal fence came into view; he climbed over it and graciously helped her over, as she imagined a gentleman might. Sapphire would not ordinarily have stood for anyone helping her like that – but she felt that if anyone had the right to do so, it was Steven.

    The promenade had made a full recovery, and crowds were bustling this way and that as if they’d never heard of an Exploud; the injured people that the monster had rammed were nowhere to be seen, and no trace of its passage remained. It was as if the event had been entirely everyday and commonplace, and thus just swallowed up into the chaos of Dewford’s docks. Sapphire looked around, puzzled that this could be the case, and Steven chuckled.

    “Did you expect one rampaging Exploud to shut down the port?” he asked. “Remember, they transport all kinds of things through here. Just the other week a Dusclops got loose and stole forty dreams. They still haven’t found it yet – or the dreams.”

    “So they’re used to that sort of thing?”

    “Oh, yes.” Steven nodded. “Very much so. Well,” he continued, looking around, “I’m afraid I’d best be off. I have some things to do, if you’re quite all right now...?”

    “Yes. Yes, I’m fine,” Sapphire assured him, and with a bow and a smile, Steven vanished into the crowd. Sapphire searched vainly for him for a moment, wanting to say goodbye properly – but he was gone, melting away as if he had never been.

    ---

    Yo, Kester!

    “Since when do you say ‘yo’?” I asked, swallowing a lump of burger.

    Since I decided I was cool, Puck told me, so about five seconds ago. I think I’ll make it my catchphrase. What do you think?

    “I think that every time I think you’re a sensible, rational being you prove yourself a raging lunatic,” I replied affably, and took another bite.

    I was sitting on a wall at the side of one of Dewford’s side streets; below me, the world and its family sweated and laughed on a wide expanse of golden sand. If I had chanced to fall, it would have been a drop of about thirty feet onto the spike of a fat family’s parasol, but the view was so good, and the sun-warmed stone so pleasurable to the touch, that I had decided to risk it. Here I sat, eating the most expensive burger I could find and afford (just to spite Sapphire) and watching the sun dance on the crests of the waves that lapped gently at the shore.

    Anyway, I wanted to say: look down there.

    I looked down at the beach, and saw nothing but a sprawling city of blankets and parasols.

    To the left a bit... down... There! By that rock!

    I found it, and gaped.

    “Whoa,” I said. “Is that really him?”

    Looks like him to me... Isn’t that cool?

    The man in question was tall and heavily tanned from long exposure to Dewford Isle’s blazing sun; his face was rugged rather than handsome, but he was so lithe and muscular that he had attracted a fair number of female watchers, and a couple of male ones too. His blue hair stood up in ragged spikes, stiffened by the salt of the sea, and he was shirtless, revealing the powerful muscles of his chest; these muscles were straining and rippling right now, and his arms were locked around the torso of the Machoke he was wrestling in the surf.

    “Brawly,” I breathed. “So cool...”

    As I watched, something seemed to give, and Brawly was suddenly hurling the Machoke onto its back in the water. A moment later, he had leaped onto it, driving his shoulder onto the Pokémon’s chest and holding it down.

    “That guy is strong,” I commented. “Imagine being able to do that!”

    Yeah, Puck agreed. Very strong. And we probably could do that, with some work. We’d have an advantage, in that we, as a Ghost, are immune to Fighting-type moves.

    “I hope that’s not a suggestion to try it.”

    Er... Of course it wasn’t.

    We sat in silence and watched Brawly beating up the Machoke for a while longer; for a monster that was supposed to have to wear a belt to reduce its power to non-self-destructive levels, it was putting up a pretty poor fight.

    Yo, Kester.

    “What?”

    Did you notice I used my new catchphrase? Anyway, that’s not the point. What I was going to say was that we probably ought to get back to the docks. It’s twenty past one, and it’ll take at least ten minutes to navigate the main street.

    “You’re right,” I agreed, turning around and slipping off the wall back onto the pavement. “Let’s go.”

    Puck was right. It took me eleven minutes to pass through the sweat-fest that was Dewford’s main tourist street; when I finally emerged, I was slick with perspiration – both mine and that of others. I also sported a spectacular bruise on my forehead where an extraordinarily bony lady in a straw hat had elbowed me.

    Quickly, urged Puck. Ideally, we’d like to be on the boat before it pulls out of the dock.

    “I know, I know,” I muttered, making my way back up along the seaside road. “I promised Sapphire and all that.” I paused for a moment, leaning against a palm tree. “Do you think I have to keep that promise?”

    What? Of course you do! Puck cried, astounded. You can’t just go around giving out false promises. Think what poor old Kant would say! That’s his prime example.

    “What the hell are you talking about?”

    You need a basic education in philosophy. Try Sophie’s World, it’s an easy one to read – and I think there’s a Hoennian translation. Puck stopped, aware that he was heading steadily away from the topic. But what I meant was that you can’t start breaking promises. It never goes anywhere good, I can assure you of that.

    “I’ll take your word for it,” I told him. “Fine, let’s just go.”

    I arrived back at the bench where I’d left Sapphire, only to find she wasn’t there. A quick search of the docks found her sitting on the plinth of some kind of sea-related statue, on the pier.

    “Sapphire! You weren’t at the bench.” I sat down next to her, then blinked and looked at her again. Her hat was crumpled and the feather dusty; there were streaks of dirt on her face and hands and a liberal sprinkling of cuts and bruises down her arms and cheeks. “What happened to you?”

    “Darren Goodwin,” she replied shortly. “And the Exploud he brought with him.”

    “What? He found you?”

    “Don’t worry, he’s lying unconscious somewhere in the woods,” Sapphire replied, sounding tired. “This man called Steven and his Metagross showed up.”

    “A Metagross...” The way Sapphire said it left me in no doubt that it was something special, and I tried to say it in a knowing, wondering way. Puck sighed.

    Picture coming up, he told me, and moments later the image of a massive, steel-skinned monster appeared; it was like a flying saucer, ringed with four great legs that resembled nothing so much as pile drivers. In addition, its front was marked by a huge metal ‘X’ shape, with two deeply-set spherical eyes burning out from the inner corners, as blood-red as the fires of hell.

    I gulped. “A Metagross...”

    “Yes, I know. It was amazing.” Sapphire seemed to be seeing something that wasn’t there for a moment; then she looked at me and a stern expression appeared on her face.

    “Where’s the change?”

    I gave her a 100-dollar coin, and she stared at it.

    “What the hell did you buy?” she asked incredulously.

    “Just a burger,” I shrugged.

    It was nine inches wide, Puck reminded me.

    “For nineteen hundred dollars*?” Sapphire asked.

    “Just a burger,” I repeated.

    Also six inches tall, Puck added thoughtfully.

    “I...” Sapphire snorted angrily and stuffed the coin back into her purse. “That’s the last time I ever trust you with my money again.”

    “It was only two thousand Pokédollars...”

    “Only!”

    At that point, a voice burbled through the pier’s speaker system that the ship to Slateport was now boarding, and Sapphire returned me to the ball to avoid paying for my ticket.

    “Cheapskate,” I muttered, and proceeded to argue with Puck about whether or not I was whining.

    *Assuming the in-game Pokédollar has a value roughly equivalent to the Japanese yen, Kester’s burger cost (at the time of writing) about Ł14.40, or US$33.87.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 6th May 2011 at 8:15 AM.

  17. #17
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    My only major complaint is that you don't have each chapter linked in the OP, it makes finding a chapter alot easier, but other than that, great work, it's been a rather enjoyable read so far. I'd post more, but I'm on my iPod right now.

  18. #18
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    *Assuming cylindrical geometry, Kester's burger had a volume of 1.65 US gallons, or 6.25 liters.

    She ducked under a low-hanging branch, hoping it would the monster down – but a second later, there was a sharp crack!
    Missing verb?

        Spoiler:- To the author. (To other readers: [B]Don't look at these or else you will be spoiled.[/B] I went and read all 46 chapters on the other site. (!@#$ Google.) And no, the fic is not done yet.):


    Anyway, nice story, very original.
    Last edited by teamVASIMR; 6th May 2011 at 3:41 AM.
    If there was a like button, I'd have clicked it or something: (N.b.: fic recommendations may be outdated, haven't updated sig in years)
    First Contact (PG-13) (Galaxy_Hunter) | The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World (PG-15) (Cutlerine) | Morphic (R) (Dragonfree)

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by 11tjcoulombe View Post
    My only major complaint is that you don't have each chapter linked in the OP, it makes finding a chapter alot easier, but other than that, great work, it's been a rather enjoyable read so far. I'd post more, but I'm on my iPod right now.
    OK, I'll get to linking them all up. Thanks for that.

    Quote Originally Posted by teamVASIMR View Post
    *Assuming cylindrical geometry, Kester's burger had a volume of 1.65 US gallons, or 6.25 liters.

    Missing verb?

        Spoiler:- To the author. (To other readers: [B]Don't look at these or else you will be spoiled.[/B] I went and read all 46 chapters on the other site. (!@#$ Google.) And no, the fic is not done yet.):


    Anyway, nice story, very original.
    Yep, there's a missing verb there; I'll go correct that.

        Spoiler:- Response:


    Thanks for the review and all; I'll fix the missing word right away.

    Oh, and did I mention I love your comment about cylindrical geometry as it relates to Kester's burger?

  20. #20
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    Oh, this is just freaking hysterical. I love the dry wit and satire in this story. I particularly loved the battle against the Carvanha and the interactions between Kester (is that a real name?) and Sapphire. That's pure gold.

    This has to be one of the more original ways for a human to get Pokemon-like powers. It doesn't sound cheap at all. In fact, it really fits within the context of the Pokemon world, and it sounds much more realistic than, say, an experiment or magic. Of course, this is the Pokemon world, so magic and experimentation could actually work, but I digress.

    Of course, my favorite character is Puck. Who couldn't love Puck with his sophistication, elegance, intelligence, and grace? To be so natural while having all of those qualities...and I'm rambling again. Sorry.

    Like someone else pointed out, your grammar is extremely good. You obviously have experience in this field or you've been writing this for years.

    I have to admit that I tried to read it and couldn't get into it the first time (although it might have to do with the fact that it was late at night and my brain wasn't truly awake at the time).

        Spoiler:- Just in case this theory is right...:


    Again, thank you for writing this gem. It's one of the best humor fics I've seen in a long while (bobandbill's parody of the Orre saga is still probably 1a., but yours is definitely 1b.) This is great, and I will definitely keep an eye on this fic.

    Sincerely,

    Mem.
    COMING SOON

    Warmonger - A fantasy fic where peasants fight the wars of kings and lords, where monsters lurk in the night, and where depravity is not only expected, but encouraged...

  21. #21
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    Woo! Thanks for your kind words, SilentMemento. As it goes, I've only been writing this story a few months, but it's true that I have a lot of writing experience, and since I'm into linguistics, grammar has never been much of a problem for me.

    As for Steven Stone... well, let's just see, shall we? I can tell you that he definitely does return again, as he does in the games - but not for a while.

    Oh yeah, and Kester is a real name. It's a rare contraction of Christopher. I spent quite a long time researching that one; for the main character, I had to have something that felt right and would stay right in my mind throughout the story.

    Anyway, time to port over another chapter. *cracks knuckles and heads over to Pokécommunity*
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 7th May 2011 at 12:21 PM.

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    Chapter Nine: The Biggest Bet in Human History

    It was, I reflected as I sat in the centre of the metal sphere, definitely one of the least pleasant ways of fare-dodging I had ever encountered. I seemed to have been here a suspiciously long time, too; how long did it take Sapphire to get on board and find somewhere quiet to release me?

    I waited another five minutes or so until I finally found myself free again; I was in a small room similar to the one I’d appeared in aboard the other ferry. The main difference was that the windows in here were tiny and round, and there was a steel floor with a ring-shaped pattern on instead of carpet.

    “This another empty room?” I asked Sapphire. She shook her head.

    “This is a Training room,” she replied. “I had to pay extra, but it’s a three-hour trip to Slateport, and I want to train Toro and Rono.”

    “Do I have to do anything?”

    “No, I just thought you might appreciate being let out.” I stared at her for a moment, surprised, then thanked her profusely and went to sit in a corner and watch.

    Sapphire, who was a little pale but seemed to be holding up, sent out Toro; the little orange bird blinked and bobbed its head a couple of times before looking to her for instructions.

    “OK,” Sapphire said, leaning against a wall. “Toro, use Ember.”

    Obediently, the Torchic sent out a puff of flame from her beak; at the sight, I winced, remembering my battle against it.

    Grow a spine, Kester, Puck said, sounding disgusted. It’s what, all of two feet tall? Actually, he continued, now sounding disquieted, that’s pretty tall for a Torchic. I wonder if it’s drawing near to evolution?

    “Good. Now, Growl.”

    Toro let out such a cute little chirrup at that that I felt my heart melt; I wanted to rush over there and hug her.

    Don’t do that, Puck advised. That’s what Growl’s meant to make you do.

    “Focus Energy!”

    Toro suddenly tensed, dim black eyes sharpening as it concentrated effortfully. After a few moments, she relaxed.

    “OK. Now, keep trying Ember!”

    The little bird breathed repeated flames; on the third try, the fire expanded into something that looked like it belonged in a coal-fired power station, and coated the wall in soot with a ferocious whumph.

    “Whoa!” I cried. “What was that?”

    “Focus Energy raises the chance of attacks being ‘critical’,” Sapphire answered. “That means they’re stronger than normal. Like you just saw. OK, Toro,” she said, turning her attention back to the Torchic, “that was all good. Now, let’s try that move we’ve been working on. I want you to Peck.”

    The bird looked blankly back at her.

    “Peck. You know. Like this.” Sapphire made a jabbing motion with one hand. The Torchic hesitantly fluttered a wing. “No! Like – with your beak.”
    Toro swung her head forwards and rammed her beak into Sapphire’s leg. She stepped backwards with a muffled curse; I tried not to laugh.

    “Good – I think,” Sapphire said uncertainly. “Do it again, but don’t hit me.”

    Toro pecked savagely at the floor.

    “Peck,” Sapphire repeated. Toro looked blank. “Peck!” Sapphire cried. Still the bird made no motion. Sapphire sighed, and repeated the word a third time, this time making the hand motion again. Toro got it then, and pecked.

    This continued for quite a long time, until Sapphire was fairly sure that Toro knew what she wanted when the word ‘Peck’ was mentioned. She then motioned for the Pokémon to stand to one side, and released Rono instead. For some reason, the Aron made a beeline for me as soon as it appeared, and launched itself into my lap at high speed; the overall effect was like having an anvil land on my stomach. I yowled and sat bolt upright, but couldn’t dislodge Rono – he was easily as heavy as the Vespa, at just under the size of the average cat.

    “Sapphire! What’s he doing?”

    “I think he likes you,” she replied, smiling her lopsided smile. “Rono! Get off Kester, now.”

    Evidently the Aron possessed more brain than Toro, because he understood even this complex command relatively easily and scampered away to Sapphire. His stubby legs clacked noisily on the metal floor, and when he blinked his great blue eyes, the lids made a noise like scissors closing.

    “Rono,” Sapphire said, “try and avoid Toro’s attacks, OK?”

    “What if he gets hit?” I asked.

    Won’t do anything, Puck told me. Steel/Rock’s a good defensive typing. He resists all of Torchic’s moves except Ember, and he seems to be about Level 19 to me – he’ll take that easily.

    “He’ll be fine,” Sapphire replied, more succinctly. “Toro, Ember!”

    The Torchic leaped forwards, trailing fire from its beak; Rono curled up and rolled agilely to one side, then sprang open and turned to face the bird again.

    “Now, Peck! Try to find a weak point!”

    Rono’s weak point was obviously his eyes, but Toro didn’t seem to possess the intellect to understand fully what a weak point was, because she Pecked him square on his nose with a resounding metallic ring; her beak bounced off and she tumbled over backwards.

    “Try that again,” Sapphire commanded wearily. “Toro, use Peck and look for a weak spot.”

    This time, Toro missed completely; Rono curled up, rolled backwards and uncurled again, leaving the bird’s face to impact painfully with the floor. I was impressed by the little Aron’s agility – he didn’t look like he could move fast at all.

    Basic error, Puck said. You come across a Donphan or an Aron, and they look really heavy and slow. But you have to watch out – lots of Pokémon have ways of moving that don’t rely on their legs. And sometimes they can be unexpectedly fast.

    “Toro, Peck again.”

    “Why do you keep doing that if it isn’t a good move?” I asked, watching Toro’s beak slide harmlessly off Rono’s back.

    “Because she needs to learn the move properly,” Sapphire replied. “She’ll forget it unless she uses it properly, in a real battle. It’s taken me ages to get her to learn Peck even to this standard – Torchic are pretty stupid until they evolve. She isn’t like Rono. Toro, Peck and look for a weak spot.”

    “I see.”

    Whether by chance or design, Toro’s beak found its way into Rono’s cavernous eye socket; before it connected with the delicate organ itself, though, the Aron had hurled himself forwards and caught Toro in the chest in some sort of flying tackle. The Torchic uttered a dismayed cheep as she flew backwards and slid across the floor to come to rest at Sapphire’s feet.

    “Hey, get up,” Sapphire said, kneeling and setting Toro on her feet again. “Go on. Give it another go. Peck!”

    Toro gave it a good run up this time, bounding forwards on legs that seemed to stretch longer and longer with every stride—

    —and launched an unexpected kick into Rono’s face, sending the little iron monster tumbling head over heels; landing on one toe and spinning, she snapped the other foot into his belly, and the Aron flew through the air and hit the far wall with a metallic clang. She came to rest crouched in the centre of the floor, legs longer and covered with a thin layer of down; her wings were slightly longer too, and a single claw protruded from the feathers of each one. Her head had shrunk a little, and her plumage seemed slightly lighter. All in all, she looked like a rather scruffy turkey on a pair of fluffy stilts.

    “What just happened?” I asked, confused.

    “She’s starting to evolve,” Sapphire cried, delighted, and went down on her knees to examine Toro further. “Look!”

    I came over, and saw that slowly, like those time-lapse photography films of plants growing, Toro was altering before my eyes; millimetre by millimetre, her feathers were lengthening, and shade by shade, their colour was changing. She seemed to be getting taller, too.

    “That’s amazing,” I breathed. “Like... wow.”

    “Yes,” agreed Sapphire. “I’ve never seen a captive Pokémon evolve before.”

    “I thought it was slower than that?” I said, as Toro regarded us with steadily widening eyes.

    “It is in the wild,” Sapphire answered. “In the wild, Pokémon life cycles are pretty much entirely natural: there’s a slow transition from form to form. You know those black Pokémon you get around the edges of the cities – about this tall, really thin, with a slender head? Those are Transition Poochyena, in a growth stage between Poochyena and Mightyena. It usually takes a year for a Poochyena to attain maturity from birth. Same for a Torchic going to a Combusken – though to get to its final form, a Combusken will take about five years.”

    “So why is this so fast?” I asked.

    “Catching a growing Pokémon screws around with it,” Sapphire told me. “It makes their growth come in fits and bursts, like this. It’s fine for things that don’t evolve, but if they do evolve, they end up doing it like this – all at once, instead of a slow, gradual change.”

    “Do Rotom evolve?” I asked, suddenly nervous.

    “No.”

    No. We’re perfect just the way we are.

    “Good,” I said, relieved. Then I glanced up from Toro and noticed Rono wasn’t moving. “Hey! Sapphire – is Rono OK?”

    She looked up sharply, and then ran over to her Aron’s side, pulling something diamond-shaped from her bag.

    “He’s fainted,” she said uneasily. “I didn’t mean for that to happen... Toro, what the hell did you use on him?”

    The Torchic-Combusken – I guessed Sapphire would call her a Transition Torchic – tipped her head on one side and glanced at her Trainer, but otherwise did nothing.

    “Ugh,” Sapphire said, shaking her head. “Sorry, Rono.”

    A sudden surge of hatred welled up within me, and I was about to shout at her when Puck interrupted.

    Hey. I know you’re going to say, ‘Why do you care about those Pokémon so much and not at all about me?’, but shut up. Seriously, Kester, that’s going to damage your relationship – which has improved slightly, if you’re too stupid to notice. If you remember, she’s had that Aron for years, since she was just a little kid. You can’t spend that much time with someone and not get attached to them at all. On the other hand, you’ve just entered her life and have made things very complicated and annoying.

    “Well, sorr-y,” I muttered angrily, but held my tongue; Puck was right, and I hated him for it. How was it that he was always in the right, and I in the wrong? It just wasn’t fair.

    I’m wiser than you. Now stop moaning.

    Sapphire pushed the little diamond-thing she held into Rono’s mouth; a second later, the Aron opened his eyes and struggled to his feet. One spray from a Potion and he seemed as good as new, scampering around the semi-evolved Toro and looking at her with wide, amazed eyes.

    “A Revive brings around a fainted Pokémon,” she told me. “But you still need a Potion to heal them up fully.”

    Rono noticed me and regarded me with his large, soulful eyes; carefully, he climbed onto my lap, making sure not to crush me this time.

    “I like him,” I pronounced. Sapphire raised an eyebrow.

    “What, because he likes you?”

    “He’s the only one around here who does,” I said darkly, and stroked the Aron’s large metal head. Despite the fact that its skin was made of steel and it must have been difficult for him to even feel my fingers, he seemed to enjoy this and shut his eyes, emitting a little aura of contentment.

    “Huh.” Sapphire returned her attention to Toro, whose legs were thickening and lengthening.

    “You going to keep training?” I asked. Sapphire shook her head.

    “Not Toro. She’s using up a lot of energy growing right now; I don’t want her fainting from exhaustion or anything. Give me Rono.”

    I prodded the Aron, and somehow, he felt it; he opened one lazy eye and I pointed towards Sapphire. He got to his feet and scuttled over to his Trainer, who proceeded to put him through his paces: he used Headbutt, Metal Claw, Mud-Slap and Iron Defence. Sapphire then started to teach him a move called Roar, but Rono didn’t seem to have the necessary vocal capacity to pick it up – though he certainly understood what she was trying to get him to do. After a while, she gave up and just sat stroking him instead, looking like she was desperately trying not to be sick and gazing at Toro, who was still slowly mutating.

    She was over twice her original height now at nearly three feet, with longer, thicker feathers of orange and yellow. Her wings seemed to be halfway through the process of becoming arms, though they still only had one finger each. Her head was in proportion to her body now, and her eyes seemed to gleam with new intelligence. The most striking change, though, was in her legs; no longer were they tiny and useless, stumpy limbs that seemed more hindrance than help. They were long and lithe and powerful, and armed with wicked-looking talons.

    “This is a Combusken?” I asked.

    “Not quite yet,” Sapphire said, and there was a knock at the door; swiftly, she recalled me. I guessed that a member of the ferry’s staff had come to tell her that her time in the room was up, or that we’d arrived in Slateport; it turned out to be the latter, because the first thing I saw when she let me out of the ball again was the Wharf.

    It was the most famous dock in Hoenn: the Slateport Wharf, over a mile long and a full six hundred yards wide at its broadest point. It stretched from east to west, parallel to the main streets of the city, and it roared with life at all times of the day and night; no one noticed a lone boy appear out of a Pokéball amidst the confusion and bustle of the sailors, of passengers, of Pokémon; of the cargo cranes, swaying their long necks like huge drunken Girafarig; of the ships, the ferries and the supertankers, luxury liners and rowing boats, docking and undocking and gliding this way and that through the water. Some wrapped themselves in revealing cloaks of steam, others were dressed more demurely in puffed canvas sailcloth; some were large and some were small, and all were part of the great forest of masts and chimneys and funnels and spires that covered the sea on either side as far as the eye could see.

    And all around them swarmed the people and their Pokémon: sailors on shore, and sailors on boats; passengers too, and I could hear shouting and laughter, curses and commands, and through it all the high wail of the omnipresent Wingull, screaming in the sky and from every available wall and roof.

    “Whoa,” I breathed, looking around. “Now this is cool.”

    “Yes,” agreed Sapphire, similarly dumbstruck. “I think I have to agree with you there.”

    We stood there for a while, until someone pushed into us; Toro, who was still out of her ball, made a movement that suggested she might be going to hit them, but Sapphire held her back.

    “No,” she said. “Stay. Be good and don’t hurt anyone.” She looked at me. “Come on. It’s quarter to five and I want to get rooms at the Pokémon Centre here.”

    “‘Rooms’? Plural?” I queried, following her and Toro down the pier onto the Wharf proper; it was an uphill struggle, with the crowds as they were. “You’re going to get me a room?”

    “Sorry. Slip of the tongue.” Sapphire flashed me a grin. “You know I can only get one room. You aren’t a registered Trainer.”

    “You could let me spend the night outside the cupboard tonight,” I suggested hopefully.

    Fat chance, Puck said.

    “I don’t think so,” Sapphire said. “There’ll only be one bed, so it’s either the cupboard or the ball. I can’t have you sleeping in the same bed as me. You’re a boy.”

    “I thought I was a Pokémon,” I muttered sulkily. Sapphire smiled, grabbed my wrist and forcefully dragged me through the crowd and onto the streets of Slateport proper.

    It took us about half an hour to find and get to the Centre; since I didn’t want to go back in the ball, Sapphire made me wait outside while she got a room and dumped her stuff there. She reappeared fifteen minutes later, and immediately started walking again.

    “Wait!” I cried, chasing after her. “Where are we going?”

    “To investigate the Devon goods, of course,” she called back over her shoulder. “Come on!”

    Oh boy, murmured Puck. This is where things get messy.

    I ignored him, and followed Sapphire. I hoped to God she knew what she was doing, because there was a horrible feeling brewing in my stomach that told me that some kind of trouble was coming.

    I should have expected it. I mean, looking into the goods had brought me nothing but bad luck so far.

    But I was still a bit surprised when someone almost killed me that evening.

    ---

    “Blast! You’ve won again.”

    The young man threw his hands up in the air and settled back into his chair, looking unhappy. Stone smiled benevolently at him.

    “I have,” he agreed happily. “I knew I could do it.”

    They both stared at his pen for a while. It was perfectly balanced on its razor-sharp point, a slim vertical line of steel that looked as if it must be held up by some preternatural trick.

    “Here’s the money, then,” the young man said, grudgingly handing over several billion Pokédollars in notes. “I can’t believe I lost that one! I was sure it was impossible.”

    “Well, I’m afraid you were wrong,” Stone replied kindly. “Would you like another biscuit?” He proffered a dish, and his companion accepted eagerly.

    “These are very good,” he remarked through a mouthful of crumbs. “Where do you get them?”

    “I have a man who steals them from the kitchen at the TV station’s office.”

    “Why don’t you just buy them?”

    “I don’t know what they’re called.”

    The young man and President Stone went back a very long way; they had known each other for years, one mega-billionaire to another, and had a habit of making rather extravagant wagers. These could be on anything from what the weather might be tomorrow, to whether or not Stone could buy a certain company within a certain amount of time, to the outcome of the other man’s attempts to convince his friends and relations that today was National Centipede Advocacy Day.

    Or they could be about whether or not Stone could balance his pen on its nib. Having dropped by earlier and watched, with some interest, as Stone attempted this feat, the young man had bet that it was impossible. Now, he was forced to admit otherwise, though he didn’t seem particularly worried about parting with the money.

    “Here’s a thought,” he said, leaning forwards and brushing fragments of biscuit from his shirt-front. “How about another little bet?”

    “What would this one be?”

    “The very greatest,” the young man said, with a self-satisfied nod. “The biggest, most spectacular bet in the history of mankind.”

    Stone was interested now. This would be worth hearing.

    “Do go on.”

    “I wager that I can destroy the world,” his companion said, spreading his arms. “All of it – break it into pieces – and that I can do it, moreover, in less than, say, six months.”

    Stone was flabbergasted, a word that does not suit many people, but fitted him admirably; his peculiar face seemed perfectly designed to express that emotion, with just the right slackness of jaw and roundness of eye.

    “But – surely not!” he cried. “That’s quite impossible!”

    “You might think so,” replied the young man, leaning back and steepling his fingers. “But I have a plan. In fact, I’ve already spent a month and a half preparing the first bit. It’s quite elaborate.”

    “Well, I suppose I don’t have any choice but to accept your wager, then,” Stone said good-humouredly, not for a second believing that he was capable of losing the bet. “You’ve gone to all this trouble.”

    “It’s settled, then?”

    “No, first we must agree on the stakes.”

    “Ah! Of course, the stakes.” The young man made a big show of thinking, stroking his chin and adopting a studious air. Then: “How about this: if you win, the world is saved, since I won’t have destroyed it.”

    “And if—”

    “—and if I win,” the young man continued with a grin, “then the world is over. That’ll be it. End of the game.”

    Stone thought about it, and came to the conclusion that this bet was very heavily weighted in his favour – and it wasn’t as if he stood to lose anything by it. He smiled genially and held out a hand.

    “Right.” The young man took the hand and shook it, and they both sat back and laughed over fine Rhenish wine.

    Stone didn’t know it, but he had just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. It was a mistake that was going to cost a lot of people very dear, and the person it was going to damage the most was the supremely unlucky Kester Ruby, who was, at present, already in more danger than one could have safely shaken a stick at.

    ---

    “Stay very still,” whispered a voice in my ear. “If you move, I’m going to shoot you.”

    I froze instantly; if the threat wasn’t enough, the ring of steel pressing against the back of my head definitely was.

    “Step to your right. Into the alley.”

    I threw a glance at Sapphire, still walking down the road ahead of me, and thought about shouting for help – but decided I valued my life more than that, and meekly obeyed.

    A hand spun me around, and I found myself looking unexpectedly into the face of the Team Aqua girl from the day before. She was no longer in uniform – she now wore sunglasses and a short, sleeveless blue dress that appeared to be held up predominantly by her neck – but I would have known her anywhere; no one else was even half as good-looking.

    “Oh,” I said. “Er, hi.”

    “Shut up,” she hissed, poking me in the chest with the barrel of her shotgun. “Go further into this alley.”

    Remember what I was saying a few days ago about what would happen if you got shot? Puck asked. I don’t actually want to find out, so please do what she said.

    I obeyed both of them, stepping cautiously into the depths of the alleyway. It terminated halfway down the length of another alley, each side of which led into darkness; here the Aqua girl stopped me and pushed me backwards into the wall, cold slime seeping through my coat from the bricks. The shotgun pushed up underneath my chin.

    “OK, Kester,” she said; I realised for the first time that she had a slight accent. Hoennian was definitely not her first language. “You and I need to have a talk.”

    “OK,” I replied readily, eager to maintain the state of life that I currently enjoyed. “Whatever you say. What do you want to talk about?”

    “That Pokémon,” she told me, jabbing a finger painfully into the side of my head. I noted distractedly that for some strange reason, she was wearing sleeves of transparent plastic attached to armbands clamped around her upper arms. “What is it? How did it get there?”

    I stared at her, amazed.

    “How did you kn— ”

    “Answer me.” She didn’t shout like Sapphire would have done; her voice was quiet and somehow old, and it was far scarier than anything Sapphire could have done. I practically gabbled my answer.

    “A-a Rotom, his name’s Robin Goodfellow but he likes to be called Puck, and he got in there because of a horrible brain-scanner accident—”

    More detail! More detail! Don’t die on me here!

    “—because I crashed a Vespa—”

    “Enough, enough,” the girl interrupted. “It was an accident, you said?”

    “Yes, that’s right, I crashed—”

    “I don’t care about that. Tell me about this brain-scanner.”

    It’s a P-L.O.T. Device, tell her that!

    “It’s called a P-L.O.T. Device, and the Rotom possessed it and when they scanned me it sort of... blasted him in...” I tailed off in response to the gun barrel shifting.

    “A pure accident,” the girl muttered, more to herself than me. “But it can’t be... it can’t just be a coincidence that you...”

    Quick! While she’s distracted, make a break for it!

    “Are you crazy?” I murmured. “She’ll shoot me!”

    “Don’t talk to him,” the Aqua girl said, jiggling the shotgun so that it stuck yet more painfully into my throat. “Or I’ll shoot you.” She seemed to size me up for a moment, then added: “My name is... You can call me Felicity.”

    “Er... Hello, Felicity.”

    “Just like a man. Glib to the end.” Felicity’s eyes cast a sardonic gaze over my face.

    I wanted to shout: “How is that a defining male characteristic?” but wisely held my tongue.

    “Kester, we need to talk,” Felicity said. “There are things you ought to know. Things to do with that Rotom.” The headphones clamped to her ears buzzed suddenly, and the faint music that escaped them changed to a low voice that I couldn’t make out properly; listening, Felicity grimaced. “Something’s come up. Another time, then,” she said, and without another word of explanation she withdrew the gun and vanished down the left-hand alleyway.

    I stood there for a long moment, unsure of exactly what had just happened.

    Kester, said Puck. Is it just me, or was she the weirdest person we’ve met yet?

    “Don’t know about that,” I said. “President Stone takes some beating. But she was definitely the scariest.”

    Oh yeah, Puck agreed. Without a shadow of a doubt.

    I walked unsteadily back to the main street, and bumped into Sapphire, coming the other way to look for me.

    “Where the hell did you go?” she demanded furiously.

    “I just had my life threatened by that Aqua girl from yesterday,” I replied tiredly. “She rammed a shotgun into my neck and told me to tell her about the Rotom in my head.”

    Sapphire looked taken aback.

    “How did she know about that?”

    “I don’t know. She said she had things to tell me that I ought to know, but she got some sort of message through that earpiece thing she wears and just ran off without telling me.”

    “Her bosses must have called her with a job or something.” Sapphire scowled. “I don’t like this.”

    “Funnily enough, I didn’t exactly enjoy it, either.”

    “Shut up. Come on, this doesn’t change anything. We still have to find out about those goods.” Sapphire began walking briskly down the road, back in the direction we’d been going before Felicity showed up.

    “Wait!” I cried, running to catch up. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going!”

    Sapphire paused and looked back over one shoulder.

    “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked. “Where else would you go to find out about the goods than Angel Laboratories?”

    “Ah – hold on!” I cried, alarmed. “That sounds like it could be just as dangerous as going to Devon.”

    Sapphire shrugged and started walking again.

    “Potentially. If they realise who we are, then yes.”

    She’s right. They’re probably nastier than the Devon guys down there – weirder, too.

    “You’re not helping!” I hissed violently. Sapphire sighed, stopped again and turned to me. At her side, Toro chirruped impatiently.

    “Look,” she said, “if you can think of another way to find out about these goods, I’m all ears.”

    “Well – I – er...” I trailed off, disheartened. Sapphire nodded triumphantly.

    “Thought so,” she said. “So – to Angel.”

    “I really hate you,” I told her. “You know that, right?”

    Sapphire’s quirky grin twisted her face into something unexpectedly pretty.

    “I know,” she replied winningly. “Let’s go.”

    And she walked off down the street, Toro at her heels and me trailing disconsolately behind her.

    ---

    Fabien and Blake stood and stared.

    “You think ’e’s alive?” asked Blake, prodding the ragged heap of skin and fur before them with the tip of one shoe.

    “Maybe.” Fabien crouched down for further analysis; the subject of this examination was freezing cold to the touch, and beads of icy water had formed on its blue hair. The delicate wing-skin was cracked, a net of reddish lines running across its surface like crazy paving.

    Most arrestingly of all, Goishi’s massive tongue was frozen into a rigid spiral, wrapped around his body as if it were a python caught in the act of suffocating him. His whole body was stiff, and his great mouth gaped in an even more motionless grin than usual.

    But the most chilling feature was not his tongue, or his mouth: it was his eyes, those small, beady white eyes; they were fixed wide open, and the pupils had shrunk to tiny pinpricks of abject terror.

  23. #23
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    Chapter Ten: A Disguise Too Far

    Angel Laboratories: a vast, perfectly cubic mass of brown-green stone, pockmarked with tiny windows that looked like the first symptoms of some ungodly tropical disease. I later found out that the company researched new naval technologies, but for all the clues the façade gave me, they might as well have made sweets.

    “How did you know where it was?” I asked. We were a long way from the Pokémon Centre, down at the Wharf, about thirty blocks east of the pier where we’d arrived. It had also taken an unreasonably long walk on our part to get here – it was now a little past six, and I was hungry and tired in equal measure.

    Stop complaining, Puck said wearily. It makes my plasma quiver.

    “It’s not my first visit,” Sapphire said. “About two years ago, Dad brought me here to get some radio tracking beacons to tag migratory Swellow with.”

    “Oh. So, do we...”

    “Go in, yes.” Sapphire strode confidently up to the revolving doors and into the lobby. I hesitated – partly due to a rational fear of Angel Laboratories, and partly due to an irrational fear of revolving doors (born from the business that happened last year) – and then followed.

    Much to my surprise, there wasn’t actually a lobby; the doors opened straight onto what seemed to be some sort of shipyard, half greenish tiles and half water; cranes arced around the vast, girder-braced ceiling like Gothic fan vaulting, dangling cables and hooks as thick around as my waist. A cobweb of catwalks criss-crossed the upper reaches of the chamber, and in the pool of seawater lay the near-complete hulk of a colossal submarine, the letters S.S. CANGREJO painted neatly on its gleaming white flank. Workmen scuttled over and around it like ants stripping a carcass, and scientists dashed to and fro with alarmingly large quantities of number-stained paper tucked under their arms. Every wall space that didn’t house a crane or a random girder seemed to have a computer terminal built into it, and every single terminal had four or five men and women fighting to use it. Overall, it seemed to me we’d stumbled into a nightmarish mish-mash of low-quality disaster movie and a whaling novel.

    Hey! Puck cried, annoyed. That ‘Gothic fan vaulting’ thing is my description!

    “Who’s point of view is this?” I asked under my breath.

    Do you even know what fan vaulting is?


    “Shut up. Whatever thoughts are in my head are my property – regardless of who thinks them.”

    That’s not fair...

    “My head, my rules. If you don’t like it, get out.”

    At this point, a round-faced man in a pale blue suit with violently green hair (his hair, not the suit’s) came over to us, and asked if he could help.

    “Yes,” answered Sapphire. “Yes, you can. We’re here about the goods.”

    The man looked shifty all of a sudden.

    “What goods? We don’t have any goods. Do we have any goods?” he called out to the rest of the room. All two hundred-odd workers stopped simultaneously and answered with a deafening:

    “No!”

    “There you go,” said the man. “There are no goods.”

    “We’re from Devon,” Sapphire said. “We’re... researchers.”

    The man’s expression changed again, now to a politely disbelieving smile.

    “Really?” he asked. “You don’t look it.”

    “Undercover,” Sapphire said.

    “Deep undercover,” I put in, feeling left out.

    “So deep that we seemed to have fooled even your self-evidently sharp senses,” Sapphire concluded. “The point is, we’ve... we’ve been assigned to guard the premises while the operation takes place. I’m sure you know that Devon has a vested interest in its success – we’re not disparaging your own guards or anything.” She nodded sagaciously. I was so impressed by the sheer audacity of the lie that I almost believed her. Obviously, the man in the blue suit was taken in as well, because he replied:

    “I see. I didn’t know that, but that’s to be expected. Huh! Mister Michaelangelo never tells me anything.”

    That is most definitely not how you spell ‘Michelangelo’, Puck said suspiciously.

    “Mind you,” said the man, “that is a masterly disguise. The Combusken’s a nice touch – really gives that air of hopeless newbie Trainer. Anyway,” he continued, “we ought to continue this discussion somewhere quieter.” He glanced around at the chaos that filled the rest of the room, and led us to a small door to one side. We passed through it into a narrow, dimly-lit corridor that reminded me of the Akumano Hospital back in Rustboro; as soon as the door shut behind us, the noise of the shipyard entirely ceased. “That’s better,” said the man. “If you’ll just follow me to my office...?”

    We did so, and it turned out to be a small, Spartan affair, furnished with nothing more than two old chairs, half a candle, and one old jug without a handle. The lack of filing space was acute – papers were piled waist-high in several stacks in the corner.

    “I’m sorry about this,” the man said apologetically, “but I don’t have a desk. Or enough chairs, it seems.”

    “Don’t worry,” Sapphire said brightly. “My partner will stand.”

    “Wh – yes, I suppose I will.” I gritted my teeth and watched as Sapphire dropped happily into the nearer of the two chairs; to my eternal disappointment, it failed to give way beneath her. The blue-suited man sat across from us.

    “My name is Usher,” he told us, holding out a wide hand for us to shake, “Usher House.”

    “Sarah Willow,” Sapphire replied. “And this is my partner, Jack Tennyson.”

    At this, Usher’s eyes widened, and he shook my hand with no small amount of reverence and fear.

    “A Tennyson,” he breathed. “Devon thinks this is that important?”

    “Um, yes,” I admitted, not understanding at all but happy to have upstaged Sapphire. “It’s a matter of, er, stupendous gravity.”

    “Well – um – I’m honoured,” Usher said. “Is there anything I can get you, sir? Tea? Coffee?”

    “I’m fine, thanks,” I assured him, though I would have liked both, and a massive sandwich to go with them.

    If you ask for that, he’ll get them for you, Puck said with amusement. ‘Tennyson’ is the highest rank of Devon researcher – semi-mythical, the stuff of urban legends. He’s terrified of you.

    “Er – OK. What was it you wanted to talk about, then? Sir?”

    Sapphire jumped in with the answer, obviously angry at being outranked by me.

    “The goods,” she answered. “We’ve been so deep undercover we don’t have any idea what they actually are. I was wondering if you could help us with that.”

    Usher looked regretful.

    “I’m so sorry,” he said, addressing me, “but I can’t help you there, sir. You see, a Goodwin researcher was meant to deliver them a short while ago, but he hasn’t arrived. And I don’t actually know what they are – only Mister Michaelangelo knows that. I do know they’re of vital importance, though.”

    “We already knew that,” I replied authoritatively. “It’s a pity you can’t help us. Is there a way we can speak to Mister Michelangelo?”

    “Ah! Sir, if you’ll permit me to correct you” – here he flinched a little, as if afraid I might see fit to strike him for this insubordination – “you have to pronounce the extra ‘a’. It’s not Michelangelo, like the Renaissance artist – it’s Michaelangelo. Quite a different name, sir.”

    It sounded the same to me, but I repeated the question anyway.

    “Goodness me, no,” Usher said. “No one sees Mister Michaelangelo. Not even I do – and I run Angel for him. He’s always out, you see.”

    “You must have an idea of where he goes? Or have some other way to communicate with him?”

    “No, sir,” replied Usher mournfully. “That’s why I run Angel for him. He never turns up to work; we’d have him fired but he’s the boss, and we can’t. I met him only once, sir, when I came to apply for my job here – he said he would be out a lot, pursuing his hobby.”

    “His hobby?”

    “Needlessly harassing young Trainers, sir.” Usher regarded us for a moment. “Actually, you might be able to lure him in, you know – with your disguises and all.”

    “Well, thank you for your time,” I said, hauling Sapphire from her seat. “We’ll be in touch soon, to make further arrangements for the guarding.”

    “We need to sort out our lodgings,” Sapphire explained, wrenching her arm free from my grip and surreptitiously treading on my foot. Usher smiled broadly.

    “But sir, we can put you up here,” he told me. “Angel is like Devon, you know – we have luxury suites for honoured guests such as yourselves. Why, we own the Calavera Tower.”

    I tried very hard not to look surprised; the Calavera Tower was famous throughout Hoenn as the most enigmatic and unnerving edifice in the country. One hundred and forty-three floors of black glass, topped with a massive skull carved of a single, colossal block of jet, it stood near the Slateport Wharf, staring out to see like the reanimated corpse of Rhodes’ Colossus; no one seemed to know what it was for, only that the gates were always locked, and not a soul went in or out. In that respect, it was rather like a chocolate factory.

    “Yes, we were aware of that,” lied Sapphire. “We – er – didn’t think we’d receive quite such an offer from you.”

    “It’s nothing, sir, I assure you,” beamed Usher. “I’ll take you there right away.”

    Sapphire looked helplessly at me, and I looked back, similarly worried. This was an unforeseen and not at all welcome development. It didn’t help that Puck was laughing like a hyena in the back of my head.

    Usher got up and, beckoning to us, left the office, threading his way through the surprisingly expansive corridor network until he reached a large, intimidating steel door, beside which was a black stone plinth with what appeared to be a mantrap mounted on top. Before I could fully appreciate the nonsensical nature of the set-up, however, Usher plunged his hand between the jaws of the mantrap, and a red light passed over his palm. The door slid open, revealing another dark corridor beyond, and I guessed that if he hadn’t had authorisation to go beyond that point the trap would have taken his hand off.

    The corridor beyond was so dimly-lit that the only way to progress was to follow the faint, inexplicable glow of Usher’s brightly-coloured hair; Sapphire, Toro and I felt for the walls more than once, but they always seemed to elude our hands – despite welcoming our heads with open arms.

    “Why is it so dark?” Sapphire asked.

    “Security reasons,” Usher replied. “There are certain guardian Pokémon in here that... react badly to light.”

    “Such as?” I asked.

    “But sir, of course a Tennyson like yourself will know,” Usher protested. “Wasn’t it one of your own who designed the system?”

    “Uh... yeah. Just – just testing you.”

    “Ah. Of course, sir. Very good.”

    After some time, Usher stopped, and all three of us bumped into his back; he made sure I was all right, then scanned his palm again and unlocked a door, setting loose streams of blinding light that we stumbled into with varying degrees of grimacing and screwing-up of eyes. When I could stand to open them again, however, I was amazed.

    We stood to one side of the fanciest lobby I’d ever seen; a richly-patterned carpet cloaked the floor in a thick, shaggy veil of red and gold; Corinthian columns of white Pentelic marble (such as you would find at the base of some of the columns at the Pantheon) made a ribcage of the walls, and a splendid example of fake lierne quadripartite vaulting executed in moulded plaster turned the ceiling into a veritable work of art. Even the desk was carved from a beautiful piece of solid Imperial Porphyry.

    Kester! cried Puck. Stop stealing my descriptions! You don’t even know anything about architecture.

    “Like I said,” I whispered, “my head, my rules.”

    Usher exchanged a few words with the beautiful lady at the desk, and she glanced reverentially in our direction, though Sapphire and I were mostly distracted by our amazing surroundings, and by our gnawing worry about what was going to happen to us when Darren Goodwin arrived with the goods and recognised us.

    Before we could discuss any of it, though, Usher ushered us – Ha! That’s the worst joke we’ve had all day, and that includes this new running gag about architecture – into a lift that ascended with the speed and silence of a striking cobra. If I’d been in there for more than the twelve seconds it took it to reach the top of the Calavera Tower, I probably would have been in more awe of the mirrored walls, solid gold handrails and the string quartet, but as it was we left too quickly for me to take them in properly.

    Usher led us down another corridor, this one light and airy rather than claustrophobic and dark, and stopped at one of three widely-spaced red doors.

    “This is our finest penthouse suite, sir,” he told me. “I hope you find it to your satisfaction.”

    He opened the door, and I stared in to see a veritable profusion of glamour and good taste; across a wide expanse of Persian rug, I noted a pair of windows that displayed beautiful reticulated tracery, with foliated ogees—

    You’re taking this too far, Puck said sourly. Seriously. The same joke three times in two thousand words? It’s just not acceptable. He paused. Also, those are ordinary French windows, you stupid meatface. This is an apartment, not a cathedral.

    “Sorry,” I whispered. “I couldn’t resist. I’ll skip the rest of the description, then – I’m sure they can guess what it looks like.”

    “There are several bedrooms,” Usher was saying. “I’m sure you can find ones to your satisfaction.” He let us get in, then continued. “Is there anything else you require, sir?”

    “Er... not right now,” I said, thinking hard. “Um... I don’t want to be rude, but Devon flew us in from Kanto for this. We’re pretty tired, so could you please leave us alone to get some sleep, and tell us when the goods get here?”

    “Of course, sir.” Usher bowed a bow made up of obsequiousness and terror in equal parts, and left hurriedly, shutting the door behind him. I let out a sigh of relief and dropped onto the sofa, placing one hand on my brow and shutting my eyes wearily.

    “God. That was tense.”

    “Yes,” agreed Sapphire, pushing my legs out of the way and taking the lion’s share of the available sofa space. “What was with that ‘Tennyson’ thing?”

    “It’s the highest rank of researcher, apparently,” I told her. “Puck? Further explanations?”

    Devon researchers are named in code. Their first name is their real first name – but very few people know their true surnames, because when they become researchers they have it replaced with a ranking. ‘Keyes’ is the lowest, and ‘Tennyson’ is the highest. Our mutual friend Darren is a Goodwin – third-highest rank, authorised to use lethal force as and when they see fit.

    I relayed this information to Sapphire, who asked another question:

    “What is a Devon researcher, really?”

    Believe me, kid, you don’t want to know.

    “Look,” I said, after giving Sapphire the message and regretting it, “we should be thinking about how to get out of here.”

    “I have no idea how we do that,” she replied. “You think of something.”

    “No, you think of something,” I snapped angrily. “I wanted to get some food and sleep, but you were like, oh, let’s go to Angel, see what we can find out about the goods. Now we’re in the lap of luxury in a beautifully-decorated building!”

    I think you placed emphasis on the wrong aspects of your situation there, Puck pointed out, but I ignored him. Sapphire looked surprised at my sudden outburst; I think she’d got used to me as nothing more than irritating background noise, and certainly not anything with feelings or a spine.

    “What do you expect of me?” she asked at length, all the pugnacity gone from her voice. “I’m seventeen and kind of arrogant. I made a mistake, and I really don’t know what to do.”

    I almost felt sorry for her, I really did; she sounded so small and defeated, and looked so lost with her shoulders slumped and her head down – but she was cruel and oppressive, and so I just glowered and said:

    “You got us into this mess. You get us out again.”

    A long, heavy silence settled over us; we sat at opposite ends of the sofa, resolutely not looking at each other, faces set into the same expression, beloved of teenagers the world over, of petty fury mingled with loathing. A large, ornate cuckoo clock told us in a clicking voice that exactly ninety-one minutes passed before either of us moved; it was me, reaching for the TV remote. As soon as I touched it, however, sparks crackled around my fingers and the gigantic screen opposite us burst into life, displaying a round orange face with curious bisected blue eyes.

    “Yo, kids,” Puck said, “this is Robin Goodfellow broadcasting. Kester, don’t drop the remote or this picture disappears.” He paused, presumably to see if I would let go of the remote – but I was too busy staring at his image onscreen in slack-jawed astonishment to do so. “Right. Explanation: I’m a Rotom, we can control machinery, blah blah blah. More importantly: will you two stop acting like you’re twelve?”

    Sapphire and I simultaneously jerked backwards, as if we’d been slapped.

    “Yes, you heard me. Grow up, the pair of you. You need to get out of here soon – or haven’t you realised that dear old Darren probably woke up in time to catch the evening boat to Slateport, which means he’ll be getting here at about nine?”

    I exchanged a brief glance with Sapphire. She hadn’t thought of that either; like me, she’d worked out he’d come here, but not when.

    “So,” continued the Rotom, “you’d better swallow your pride, make up fast and get us out of here. Because it’s now almost eight o’clock, and at this rate you’re going to be right where Darry-boy can get you.”

    He gazed insolently at us for a while after that, as if expecting us to say something in our defence – but we were still too surprised at his sudden appearance.

    “Go on,” he urged. “Say you’re sorry, give each other a hug and get over it.”

    I looked at Sapphire, and Sapphire looked back. The expression of revulsion on her face was probably only equalled by the one on mine; the idea of either of us going anywhere near the other was completely out of the question.

    “Kester, if you don’t do this I’ll fry your brain again,” Puck said, sounding bored, “and Sapphire, if you don’t, well... Darren’s getting closer.”

    “Fine,” I said slowly, after great deliberation. “Sapphire... I’m sorry.”

    “Me too,” she replied, speaking as if through a mouthful of treacle. “Really... sorry.”

    “Now hug, to make sure you’re completely reconciled.” Sapphire nodded at me, and I hurled the remote across the room; as soon as it left my grasp, the TV flickered and died, the picture disappearing.

    Aw, said Puck, disappointed. I was enjoying that.

    “I know you were, you sadistic little freak,” I murmured. “That’s what worries me.” Then, more loudly and to Sapphire: “So... what do you suggest we do?”

    “I could put you in your ball and drop it out the window,” Sapphire suggested. “When it hit the ground, you’d be released. Then you could... um... get help, or something.”

    That would actually destroy the ball, Puck objected. It would break on impact, then Kester would take all the force of falling a hundred and forty-three floors by himself.

    I relayed this interesting piece of information to Sapphire, who conceded that perhaps that plan wasn’t the best after all.

    “I don’t really have any other ideas,” Sapphire said, anxiously chewing a fingernail. “Kester? Anything?”

    “Er... Toro?” I asked, hoping against hope that she’d have a plan. The Combusken – for such she was now; I think she’d fully finished evolving – was obviously blessed with greater intellect than she had been as a Torchic, because she shook her head and gave a distinctly mournful chirp.

    “This is really, really bad,” Sapphire noted unnecessarily.

    You’re telling me, said Puck. I really don’t wish to... um... you know what? Forget I just said that.

    “Puck, stop alluding to things and then not telling me what they are. It’s getting really annoying.” I sighed. “Sapphire, I think we’re stuck here. Really. You think Darren Goodwin will fall for being headbutted on the nose for a third time?”

    She raised one sardonic eyebrow, and I sighed again.

    “Thought not.”

    Silence fell again, only it was now a desperate one full of frantic thinking; however despite the speed with which we schemed, we came up with nothing. At least, Puck and I did – but twenty-five minutes later, Sapphire said slowly:

    “What do you suppose they do if there’s a fire, and someone’s trapped up here?”

    “I guess they have – a way out!” I replied, seeing the light. “Sapphire, that’s brilliant!”

    Immediately after I’d said it, I regretted praising her – but it was too late, and the quirky smile spread across her face, turning it into a picture of triumphant glee.

    Actually, I think she’s just happy to be praised, Puck ventured, but I ignored him.

    “So,” Sapphire said. “Either there’s a fire escape – which is impossible on a skyscraper like this – or there’s some sort of emergency lift.”

    “What about a warp?” I asked. “Or an Abra or something?”

    Sapphire shook her head.

    “Warp panels tend to malfunction at very high or very low temperatures,” she told me. “They’re not safe during a fire. And an Abra couldn’t take more than one person at a time – nothing less powerful than an Alakazam would be able to Teleport two or more at once, and they’re too expensive. No, there’ll be an emergency lift.”

    “OK,” I said. “So, how do we find this lift?”

    “Not sure,” Sapphire replied. “I guess I might not be right. There are lots of different ways to get people out of a fire, I suppose.” She grinned.

    “How will we find out?”

    “How do you think?” Sapphire asked. “We start a fire, of course.” As one, we looked at Toro.

    “That’s a bad idea,” I pointed out. “What if we don’t get out?”

    “We will, though." Sapphire sounded so certain that I was almost convinced. "Look, Kester, this is a very valuable building. Correct?"

    "Correct," I replied.

    "Belonging to a rich, powerful organisation?"

    "Correct."

    "This organisation has just received a pair of very important guests?"

    "Correct."

    "So, in short, there is no reason why this building shouldn't be fully fire-protected!" cried Sapphire triumphantly. "They wouldn't put us here otherwise, and they definitely have the money to defend it."

    "OK, OK," I said wearily. "You win. But if this doesn't work, I am going to be so angry."

    Sapphire raised an eyebrow.

    "You? Effectively angry at me? Dream on, Kester. Toro, Ember!”

    The Combusken made a curious motion that looked something like a salute and extended her arms, placing her hands together at the wrists with the palms outspread; a plume of fire shot out from her hands and consumed the coffee table. Taken in all, the action seemed to be one the sort found in films of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nature.

    “She’s much stronger,” I commented with no small amount of alarm; the fire spread swiftly over the carpet, and Sapphire and I retreated to the doorway.

    “Cleverer, too. She must have finished evolving,” Sapphire said, recalling Toro. The fire alarm suddenly began to shrill from some unseen location; fat blobs of black smoke were beginning to fill the air in the penthouse apartment, and the nasty smell of burning luxury to waft towards our noses.

    “So,” I said, as the fire reached the door, and we were forced to back down the corridor, “how was this supposed to reveal where the exit is?”

    “I’m sure there’ll be some sort of instructions,” said Sapphire as calmly as possible; we had our backs to the lifts now, and most of the corridor was ablaze. The size and speed of the fire was uncanny – almost as if the place had been soaked in petrol. The lights had all gone out, and the sole illumination came from the red-orange glow of the flames, throwing flickering, creeping shadows against the walls. Pungent black smoke swirled above our heads, obscuring the ceiling.

    “Sapphire,” I said.

    “Yes?”

    “Please admit that I was right, and this was a bad idea. It would mean a lot to me, seeing as it’s the last thing I’m ever going to hear.”

    There was a long pause.

    “OK,” she said at length, “I’ve made a mistake, and I think we’re going to die.”

  24. #24
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    Apr 2011
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    Chapter Eleven: The Power of the Goodwin

    Fabien and Blake sat on hard plastic chairs in the waiting room in the Pokémon Centre’s medical wing; Goishi was somewhere in its depths, being ministered to by the doctors. Rarely did they find themselves in this position; of their two Pokémon, Goishi was by far the more reliable, and he hadn’t been injured badly enough to be hospitalised for about a year. That time, Fabien recalled uneasily, had been during the battle for Lilycove’s Shamuta Canal, when a Sharpedo’s lucky Ice Fang had clipped his wing and sent him tumbling to the asphalt; the frozen flesh had shattered into four pieces and had required intense surgery.

    Ordinarily, of course, no Pokémon Centre would serve a Magma or an Aqua, in the same way they wouldn’t serve a Devon researcher or an axe murderer, but as long as you weren’t obviously a crook they would do it, fearful of reprisals from the Teams. As long as the appearance of respectability could be maintained, the Centre management were happy to do pretty much anything.

    “Mister Latch?”

    Fabien and Blake looked up, to see a Nurse Joy emerging from the double doors, carrying a clipboard. Traditionally, the role of Nurse to Pokémon was allocated to women – but this one was a rare male, perhaps in his mid-thirties, looking tired and harassed with two days’ worth of stubble on his chin.

    “Yeah?” Fabien stood up; it was he who possessed the surname ‘Latch’.

    “Your Golbat is... more or less OK.” Fabien exchanged a relieved glance with Blake, then turned back to the doctor sharply.

    “Mostly OK? What does that mean?”

    The doctor took a deep breath.

    “He’s been fully thawed out and the bleeding stopped, don’t worry about that. But... he does seem to have acquired some sort of mark on his back that we can’t seem to get rid of.”

    “A mark?” Fabien looked puzzled. “Can I see him?”

    “He’s right here.”

    The doctor handed him Goishi’s ball, and Fabien released the Golbat; he took one glance at his master and turned away from him in disgust.

    Fabien and Blake stared.

    On Goishi’s back was a curious, claw-like symbol, like a talon crossed with a broken sword, printed in very light blue and outlined with dark. It looked like it was done in paint – but it didn’t seem to have been brushed on.

    “Do you have any idea how this happened?” Fabien asked, crouching down to examine it.

    “No,” admitted the doctor. “We do have a Kirlia here for reading thoughts and memories in cases where it’s necessary, but we can’t use her on a Golbat – it’s the Poison typing, you see. Psychic moves just kill them.”

    “Yes,” Fabien agreed, recalling Goishi. “They do that.” He straightened up and shook the doctor’s hand. “Well, thank you very much anyway.” With that and a pleasant smile, he walked out, Blake trailing behind him.

    ---

    “If I were free,” Felicity muttered to herself. “Oh, if I were free...”

    She was back in Aqua uniform, still wearing the sunglasses and trying to ignore a headache. Around her, the Aqua’s main Slateport garage dripped acidic water from its cracked ceiling; the tarpaulins on a hundred nondescript cars of varying model, make and colour rustled gently in accordance with some unknown wind. It was not the most pleasant garage she’d ever been in by a long way, but here she was and here she had to stay, for now at least.

    The man who she worked for – unwillingly, she would have stressed – had ordered her to return to an Aqua base, where the Team would have orders for her. These orders now required the arrival of her absent partner; despite her earlier words to Barry, Felicity did not know how to drive. She had never needed to.

    Felicity sighed and started chewing her knuckle. She knew, and her boss knew, that the two Magmas that Team Aqua had just ordered her and Barry to detain had not appeared for the express purpose of taking the goods from Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch. She knew this because her boss had told her that Ruby wasn’t working for the Magmas at all; he and Birch were just trying to unravel the mystery. The goods themselves were in the possession of Devon – though the Aquas seemed to think that Ruby and Birch had somehow stolen them back again, based on reports of a rampaging Exploud mysteriously defeated on Dewford Island.

    Why, then, was there a Magma duo in the city? Felicity could only imagine that they were heading for Angel Laboratories, hoping to catch Devon’s man as he delivered the goods. She scratched her head. It was all ridiculously complicated; the main point was, she thought, that both Teams had the wrong end of the stick, and that the only person in possession of all the facts was her boss.

    At that point, Barry came into the garage, stubbing out a cigarette on the palm of his hand; doubtless this was meant to be impressive, but Felicity just found it mildly repulsive.

    “I’m here,” he announced, though his size rendered this statement somewhat unnecessary.

    “Get in the car,” Felicity ordered. “I’ve been here long enough.”

    “Shut up,” growled Barry, but he got in anyway, and Felicity slid into the passenger seat.

    “We’re headed to Angel Laboratories,” Felicity said, as they drove out into the sunlit evening streets. “That’s where the Magmas are going.”

    “How do you know?” asked Barry. “Why would they be going there? I saw the Devon man on the boat to Dewford, and I think the Magma weapon-boy stole the goods off him on the island.”

    Felicity resisted the urge to pound the truth through his thick skull and simply replied:

    “We have information. I don’t know why they’re going there.”

    “Well, if we have information...” Barry’s tone of voice made it very clear that he would rather the Team gave him all the information rather than pass it to him via this woman, but he turned left in the direction of Angel anyway.

    A few minutes later, Barry spoke again.

    “Turn off the music.”

    Felicity sighed.

    “No.”

    “Do it.”

    “No.”

    “I’ll break your headphone—”

    “I’ll shoot you,” Felicity replied baldly, waving her shotgun precariously near his face. At this, Barry seemed to accept he’d lost the battle – for now, at least. Red-faced with anger, he hunched low over the wheel and muttered darkly to himself in whispers of a similar resonance to the rumble before a volcanic eruption.

    And so on they went, the two Aquas, as if nothing untoward was happening; as if Felicity was normal and free, and as if there wasn’t something growing inside her that wanted to come out, and as if she wasn’t currently bound in slavery to a certain young man who had a certain unfathomable hankering for the apocalypse.

    ---

    Tomorrow was his wedding anniversary, and Darren Goodwin was not pleased.

    His wife knew what he was, and what his job entailed; she knew that he often had to go away for periods of time – and she had been so understanding when he had told her that he had to miss their anniversary. If anything, that had made it worse, just deepening the guilt and distemper that rotted like a misshapen cancer in his mind. He had walked out of his little house in Rustboro in leaden spirits, and, if anything, those spirits had dropped further over the course of the day.

    All this and more he contemplated as he lay on his back in the dirt next to an obscure path on Dewford Island, staring up at the ultra-blue sky and the occasional scudding cloud.

    After a little while, he closed his eyes and hauled himself to his feet. There was a slight pain in his cheek from where he had been punched – but Darren was a Goodwin, and he did not let such trifling injuries hold him back.

    He walked down the path, following the small footprints left by Sapphire and the large ones of Giga; the sun grew oppressively warm on his back, and he found that he had to remove his green overcoat and carry it over one arm.

    When he got to the beach, Darren was discouraged but not surprised to find Giga stretched out on the sand, apparently unconscious, taking great wheezy breaths through all his pipes at once. Red blotches had appeared all over his leathery hide, and his eyes, wide and unseeing, were so bloodshot as to resemble a pair of tomatoes.

    “So much for ball number one,” the Goodwin said aloud, and bent down to dislodge the Nosepass from the back of his Pokémon’s throat. Shoving the stone monster’s body into the cave, Darren recalled Giga and put his ball back into his pocket. Next time he met the Aqua girl or Kester, he thought, he would use his second Pokémon. There was little or no chance that either of them would be strong enough to tackle that – not at their current levels of strength, anyway.

    Darren walked back to the docks, and inquired about the next boat to Slateport; an hour later, he was aboard a ferry, this one full of day-trippers making their way back home after a day at Pickly Towers or whatever the current fashionable Dewford theme park was.

    He read a little, after examining the goods to make sure they hadn’t been damaged, and the time passed swiftly for him. It was not long until he arrived at the roaring tumult of the Wharf, and he walked through the gathering twilight to Angel Laboratories. A faint hope fluttered in his breast that perhaps the girl and Kester would be here, and that he could detain them tonight. That would be perfect; he could catch the midnight ferry and be back in Rustboro by six in the morning, or even earlier if he was lucky.

    The great blocky body of Angel rose before him, like some vast, cubic fungus, whose hyphae, unseen, ranged underground all over the city, feeding off the chaos it generated. Darren scowled at it, and walked up to the lobby.

    At this point, two men in red suits stepped out of the shadows, blocking his path.

    “You’re the Devon man, I presume,” said the one on the left. Darren’s hand went to his pocket, but there was a warning click and the man on the right had raised a gun, aiming it directly at his head. Absently, Darren’s combat-trained mind categorised it as a Browning nine millimetre.

    “You’re here for the goods?” the Goodwin asked coolly.

    “What do you think?” rejoined the one on the left. He had withdrawn a Poké Ball from his pocket, and now dropped it to the ground. “Goishi!”

    From the ball emerged a lithe Golbat, possessed of a larger-than-average tongue; it looked around wildly for a moment, adjusting to its new surroundings, then fixed its eyes on Darren’s.

    “When the nice Devon man decides to hand over the goods,” its Trainer said, “get them and bring them over here.”

    “Ee-e-eeek,” agreed the blue bat, and cycled through several expressions before settling on a pugnacious glare. Darren was mildly surprised that it could express itself so well using only its eyes, but said nothing.

    “Well?” asked the Golbat-owning Magma.

    The Goodwin thought of the goods, and of what they were for; he thought of his imminent wedding anniversary, and of his wife back home in Rustboro; he thought of the gun, and of the Golbat, and of the blank red glass discs that hid the Magma men’s eyes.

    And he reached into the black bag on his back and pulled something out, something wrapped securely in oilcloth and tightly tied with a steel cable, and held it out to the Magmas with a smile.

    “Catch,” he said, and hurled the Devon goods high into the air with all the strength he possessed.

    Both Magmas traced its upward flight with their eyes; their Golbat screeched, beat its wings and launched itself after it. Darren reached into his pocket, fingers scraping over the sticker marked ‘2’, and rushed forwards, intent on disarming the gunman—

    —when a blue car ground to halt, tyres spinning and fishtailing wildly, just in front of him. He stopped dead and leaped back as the door in front of him opened, disgorging a giant in Team Aqua uniform and a lightning blur that could only be a Carvanha.

    “If anyone moves,” said the accented voice of a young woman, “I’m going to kill them.”

    Darren froze. Until he knew what this new threat was, it was best to take her words as truthful. He searched with his eyes, and found the woman on the other side of the car, holding a shotgun.

    “Where are the goods?” growled the giant, grabbing Darren by the lapels of his greatcoat; in response, the Devon man looked up.

    The oilcloth package had, by some strange whim of fate, become lodged in the corner of a telegraph pole and its wire. The Magma Golbat had landed on the wire and badly electrocuted itself; it was flying in circles, dazed and confused. For a moment, no one could do anything but stare; then, as one, the Magmas and the Aquas leaped for the prize, the giant tossing Darren aside as he went.

    The gunless Magma was the first to get there, being closest, and he jumped onto the hand- and footholds projecting from the pole’s sides, scrambling for the top. The giant was hot on his heels, and rammed one mighty shoulder into the wood; it splintered and the whole pole began to sway ominously. The goods dropped from the top, past the first Magma, and landed in the outstretched hand of the second.

    “Blake! Get away!” cried the first one in what was, though Darren didn’t know it, a rare act of altruism; the other needed no encouragement and, firing off a few bullets at the Goodwin and the Aquas, leaped into the abandoned Aqua car.

    Darren leaned casually against the ruined pole as the Magma frantically revved the engine and the Aqua giant tried to rip the door off the car. Next to him, the girl kept the first Magma trapped at the top of the pole with the threat of her shotgun. It was, the Goodwin thought, all rather amusing.

    The car finally started, and Darren took a few steps back as its interior exploded into a violent, blinding storm of yellow lightning, sparking from every exposed surface and blowing out each window in a great screaming buzz; the Magma driving slumped in his seat, unconscious and scorched, whereas the giant – who had been touching the metal door – convulsed violently and was flung bodily away, coming to rest on the other side of the street.

    His partner stared in disbelief for a moment; that moment was all the Goodwin needed. He stepped forwards and twisted the shotgun lightly from her hands, then swung it hard into her head; it made an odd crunching sound, softer and somehow more ethereal than the usual sound of breaking bone, and she crumpled to the floor before he put a shell in her chest.

    At this point, the Goodwin turned around and kicked at the weakest point of the telegraph pole, as he had calculated while he had been leaning against it. It snapped easily and the first Magma fell to the pavement with a despairing wail. The pole then descended onto him with the sort of crash that is rarely heard outside cartoons.

    “Simple,” said Darren aloud, and glanced around at the street. It was deserted, as he knew it would be. No one sensible stayed around to watch a gang fight.

    Unseen by him, two forms converged on him from above, so blurred by speed that it was all you could do to tell that they were blue; as they sped downwards, the setting sun flashed on tooth and claw, and on long strings of soot-blacked saliva...

    “Raiders,” Darren said quietly, and twin beams of electricity shot into his would-be assailants with a crack! that split the air asunder; the smoking, charred bodies of a Golbat and a Carvanha fell heavily to the tarmac behind him.

    For a long moment, there was nothing but silence; then, very suddenly, an odd, growling, buzzing sound started, its pitch and volume continually varying. It sounded like the ghost of microphone feedback.

    A moment later, a cluster of metallic orbs floated out through the destroyed car window, bobbing and swaying around each other in response to the vagaries of some unseen force. They often moved closely, but never touched; the magnetism that bound their simple brains together repelled as strongly as it attracted. Each ball bore a single, blank eye, made of unblinking white enamel, and these roved around continually, examining their surroundings with all the fervour of a group of forensic investigators. Around this apparition floated various pieces of metal debris – the Magma’s watch, and his gun, and the metal core of the gearstick, along with some bolts and keys. Foremost, however, was a little oilcloth package, bound with twine; upon drawing level with their master, the set of orbs fanned out into a ring around it, holding it dead in the centre with uncanny precision. While the others had been scrambling to recover the goods, Darren had taken the opportunity to casually toss their Poké Ball into the car.

    “You did well, Raiders.”

    If the metal balls understood him at all, they didn’t show it; their bodies did not lend themselves to expressing emotion. They spun their rigid eyes, which could have meant anything, and drew back into a loose cloud shape as Darren took the goods from them – wrenching quite hard to free it from their magnetic grip – and put it back into the bag. He recalled the Raiders, letting their collection of magnetic objects clatter to the ground, and began to edge around the ruined car, fastidiously stepping over the giant on his way to the Angel Laboratories building’s main entrance.

    It was then that he heard it. One of the most terrifying cries anyone could ever dream of, a great, stretched out wail of sorrow and despair, mingled with hunger and wracked with heavy sobs. The Goodwin froze, then spun around, to find the Aqua girl’s face inches from his own – only now her eyes were shut, sealed by dry blood, and her mouth was open to reveal that her teeth were too small and too numerous to be true to humanity, and too sharp as well.

    Darren stumbled back, crying out in fear, but the girl’s long hair stretched forth and clutched at his shoulders, forming into thick, rope-like fingers that squeezed his torso tightly. Her body seemed to hang limp beneath her head, as if she was a marionette and the puppeteer scorned the use of any strings save those attached to the scalp.

    The arms of white hair drew him slowly closer to her, to that awful mouth and the small, pointed purple-black tongue within; he struggled, but it was no use. Whatever force had hold of the girl was far too strong.

    “Raiders!” Darren hissed, from between clenched teeth, and wrenched the ball from his pocket; he dropped it and the cluster of orbs appeared again, lighting up the darkening street with another display of lightning; the girl was either wounded or frightened by their assault, because she drew back sharply, gave another blood-curdling, despairing squeal, and sped away, moving under the influence of something other than her legs.

    Darren stared at her retreating back, leaning on his knees and breathing heavily. He had half a mind to give chase, but that probably wouldn’t have been wise; he distinctly remembered crushing her skull and shooting her in the chest – and if that hadn’t stopped her, he had no idea what could.

    “Raiders, you did it again,” the Goodwin said at length, straightening up. “Follow me and watch. If she returns, let me know.”

    He continued towards the Angel building, mind whirling. Who was that girl? What was she? In a way, she reminded him of Kester Ruby, oddly human and animal at once – but he had a Rotom in his head, whereas she... she was more like something out of an old story, a vampire or a gan-zuka, one of the monster women who wandered the winter nights in Hoennian legend, feasting on lone male travellers to assuage their never-ending hunger.

    There was very little that could spook Darren Goodwin, but the Aqua girl could. He shivered, and resolved to contact Devon at the earliest opportunity as he slid into place between the revolving doors.

    He made his way to Usher House as soon as he got in; that was what you always did, if you were visiting Angel. Mister Michaelangelo never visited the company he had created, merely pocketing the money it generated. He had hired House soon after Angel’s creation, and then left, never to return save to raise his own salary. House himself worked for a pittance; perhaps the man did not realise what a genius he was, to have built Angel from nothing to what it was today, but he had never, it seemed, even so much as considered changing jobs – though a thousand other companies would have walked over hot coals to get him.

    “You’re the Devon man?” asked House. Darren nodded.

    “That’s correct,” he said. “I have the goods.”

    He held out the black bag, and House took it reverently, staring at it hard as if, with enough effort, he would be able to see through the fabric.

    “These,” he proclaimed, holding the rucksack high, “will be of vital importance to us, Mr—?”

    “Goodwin,” Darren told him. “Darren Goodwin.”

    House’s eyes widened, but not as much as Darren would have expected.

    “A Goodwin,” he repeated. “Devon has really outdone itself today!”

    Darren frowned.

    “What?”

    “Well, earlier today, we had a Tennyson come around,” House told him. “He was with a Willow. They were here to guard the goods once they arrived.”

    A Willow... Darren knew that rank. It was a women-only class, five levels below Goodwin. A peculiar sinking feeling gripped his stomach, and he glanced at the Raiders as if for reassurance. No response was forthcoming from them, so he looked back to Usher.

    “These researchers,” he said, “they wouldn’t happen to be quite young, would they?”

    House nodded. “That’s right. They were deep undercover, disguised as a pair of young Trainers. They even had a weedy little Combusken with them, to complete the disguise.”

    “Where are they?” asked Darren Goodwin, voice low and urgent; House looked somewhat taken aback.

    “What?”

    “They’re imposters, you fool!” shouted Darren. “Now, where are they?

    Quailing before this unexpected onslaught, Usher pointed over to the little door in the side of the room. Before he could so much as twitch, Darren had grabbed him by the lapels of his ridiculous pale blue suit and was dragging him out through the door, the Raiders close behind.

    The Devon man’s face curved into a grim smile. It seemed like he was back on track at last.

    ---

    It was Fabien who came to first. With the sort of groan more usually heard between the lips of dying soldiers on the battlefield, he rolled slowly out from under the wrecked telegraph pole and came to rest on his back, arms splayed wide, staring at the evening sky.

    “Cops,” he said at length, to no one in particular. “The cops will get here soon.”

    There existed a tacit understanding between Hoenn’s police force and the two Teams that the former would give the latter half an hour after they had a battle, to allow the fighters to evacuate. This had come about after it transpired that interfering any sooner was quite likely to result in heavy police casualties.

    Fabien dragged himself to his feet and surveyed the debris. It had not, he felt, been a very productive battle. There was something he and Blake had done wrong here.

    “Blake?” he called, then stopped. The bruises on his chest made speaking something of a chore. He glanced around, but there was no one there to answer; the citizens of Slateport were too wary to dare interfere in a gang fight, and the people at Angel never came outside, too distracted by their own little world of noise and confusion.

    A few metres to his left, Fabien saw the Aqua giant sprawled in the middle of the road; his partner, the girl, was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the Devon man.

    “Blake?” Fabien repeated; the response was no more forthcoming than before. He wondered for a moment where he could have got to, then remembered in a flash: the car! Blake was in the car!

    He hurried over and wrenched open the door, burning his hand on the lightning-heated metal. Within, he found his partner, slumped over the steering wheel, scorched and distinctly lacking in consciousness.

    “Blake?” Fabien shook his shoulder roughly. “Blake!”

    A sudden fear gripped him; surely it couldn’t be that Blake was...?

    He groaned and sat up, pushing his sunglasses back up his nose to their usual spot and blinking slowly. Immediately, Fabien pretended not to be relieved.

    “What the ’ell was that?” he mumbled, half-stepping and half-falling out of the car.

    “I don’t know,” admitted Fabien. “He must have put a Pokémon in there at some point.”

    “Did – did you get...?”

    “No. But it doesn’t look like the Aquas did, either.” Fabien gestured to the Aqua grunt. “We need to get out of here. The cops will be here soon.”

    “Goishi?”

    Fabien clapped a theatrical palm to his forehead.

    “Of course!” he cried, and began frantically searching the area for him; he found him near the Aqua giant, next to a frazzled Carvanha. He seemed to have been struck by lightning, or perhaps lightly roasted. Recalling him, Fabien stood up, and he and Blake limped slowly off into the alleys, just as the thin shriek of sirens began to ring out in the distance.

    ---

    darkcoldhungrydarkhungrysoHUNGRY...

    Felicity’s eyes flew open and she gave a small cry: where was she? How had she got here?

    She took the former question first, and sat up, which hurt. Looking around, she saw she was in a back alley somewhere, literally in the gutter; filthy water had soaked her blue Team Aqua suit, and her sunglasses were gone, long since lost in the battle or her escape.

    The second question was easier to answer. It had happened again. The thing inside her had come out again. Felicity thought back to the fight and bit her lip. She wondered if she had killed anyone; she very much hoped she hadn’t. Violence was one of the things she had left her native country to escape, after all.

    wateriwan****erhungry...

    “Shut up!” hissed Felicity, clamping her hands over her ears; her left hand found her headphone, and twisted the volume dial up to the maximum. Something melancholy and Korean blasted into her head, and immediately the voice receded, growing fainter, dwindling and disappearing like mist burning away under the sun.

    Felicity kept the volume at maximum for at least five minutes, curled into a tight ball in the corner of an alleyway, then slowly turned it down and climbed to her feet. Her fingers were trembling, and she pressed them together to her chest to hold them still; they came away bloody, and she looked down to see a huge bloodstain marring the front of her suit.

    Her mouth fell open, and for a moment she was paralysed; the next thing she knew, she was tearing away the cloth, trying to see how badly she was hurt; she ripped her shirt open and saw—

    —nothing at all, beneath a thin layer of crimson blood. There was no wound at all, and Felicity sank back against the wall in relief, suddenly weak. She’d been hurt before, and badly – but never seriously enough to put her life at risk. She supposed that she owed the thing inside her, that monster with the dark thoughts, for once; without its powers, she suspected that she would have been dead.

    Felicity breathed out in a long sigh of relief, and got unsteadily to her feet, re-buttoning her shirt as she did so.

    “I – I have to get back,” she said, more to hear the sound of her voice rather than anything else, and set off shakily down the alley, heading for the roads.

    If she had had a mirror handy, she would have seen that the whites of her eyes were now the colour of lemon peel, and the irises the hue of a summer sky.

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
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    I think I figured it out. I hope I'm wrong, but mounting evidence and some very strong hints suggest the resolution of the main plot will be
        Spoiler:- Just in case this theory is right...:
    Last edited by teamVASIMR; 13th May 2011 at 5:28 AM.
    If there was a like button, I'd have clicked it or something: (N.b.: fic recommendations may be outdated, haven't updated sig in years)
    First Contact (PG-13) (Galaxy_Hunter) | The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World (PG-15) (Cutlerine) | Morphic (R) (Dragonfree)

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