Sorry. I think I write too fast.
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.
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 FR 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.
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.
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.
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—?”
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
“Where exactly is the Pokémon Centre?”