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?
“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?
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.”
“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.
“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:
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.
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.”
“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.”