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:
“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.”
“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.
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?"
"This organisation has just received a pair of very important guests?"
"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.
“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.”