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Old January 21st, 2011, 12:27 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
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 sniggering.

---

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 Roboy 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.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; February 13th, 2011 at 03:19 AM.