My apologies, bobandbill; I clean forgot to reply to your review. Thank you for pointing out spacing errors; they have now been removed, along with the superfluous 'they'.
Without further ado...
Chapter Twenty-One: Styrofoam Peanuts
On a black-velvet-topped cabinet, next to a black-duveted bed in a black-painted room somewhere in a black-painted hotel in a dark, disreputable district of Slateport, Darren Goodwin’s phone was ringing.
“Hello?” he said, waking swiftly and answering it. Then: “You’re joking, right?” There was a pause, and then he said: “Fine. I’ll... I’ll get right on it.”
He hung up, swore softly and slipped out of bed. Once up, he donned suit, lab coat and green overcoat, and left the black-walled hotel as silently as a ghost. His contacts had informed him that his targets were no longer in Slateport.
Twenty minutes later, the Goodwin was speeding north in the first-class carriage of the 1.13 for Mauville.
“I can’t believe that woman,” fumed Sapphire, as we strode down the third-floor corridor at Mauville’s Pokémon Centre.
“What was she talking about?” I asked. It seemed to me to be a girl thing – or at least, I couldn’t see it.
It’s not a girl thing. You’re just a moron.
“She thought that you and I...” Sapphire looked physically ill, as if about to throw up. “That we were...”
I got it then, and had to confess that it was the most repugnant thing I’d heard in a long time.
“No!” I cried. “Surely not?”
“You’re an insensitive buffoon for not getting it,” Sapphire said, “but yes. That was it.”
Would it really be so bad to be Sapphire’s lover? Puck asked.
Are you insane? I thought back angrily.
You’ve been listening to me for days now. What do you think?
As he so often did, he had given me something I couldn’t think of an answer to, so I ignored him, and turned to the door of room 74 instead. Sapphire swiped the card key through the lock, and we went in.
The first thing that either of us noticed was the conspicuously large double bed in the centre of the room, but we both pointedly ignored it. Sapphire sat down on it and sighed.
“OK, Kester, the usual choice. Cupboard or ball?”
Go for the cupboard, Puck said.
Look at it. It’s a walk-in one, and it’s huge.
I glanced at it surreptitiously. It seemed I was in luck tonight.
“Cupboard,” I said.
“OK,” Sapphire said. “Not the big one, though. You can have the other one.”
She pointed to a different one, which was actually a credenza; it was long and low, and although I could have fitted in it, it would have been much like spending the night in a coffin.
“Can I ask why?”
“I need the big cupboard.”
“Why? Everything you have is in the bag, and we’re leaving tomorrow morning anyway.”
“Because I refuse to sleep in that bed.”
“I was psyched up to argue, but I can actually kind of understand that,” I said.
I can’t. It’s probably a human thing, isn’t it?
I think so, I thought back.
Sapphire got up and went over to the door.
“Right,” she said, “come with me. Let’s see if they’re still serving food.”
They were – though they were about to close, and we ate quickly and under the irate gaze of a small crowd of disgruntled kitchen staff who wanted to throw us out and clear up. After that, Sapphire took Rono and Toro to the Centre’s doctors, and, leaving them in the care of a licensed Nurse Joy, came back up to the room, where she and I entered our respective cupboards, bade each other a curt goodnight and shut the doors.
The boy with jade eyes sat on the bench, and waited for the midnight bus to Lantzarine Street. Beside him, a brown-skinned Pokémon crouched on the wooden slats of the seat, armoured head lowered against the drizzle. On his other side, a plump man in a blue shirt and sunglasses was reading a newspaper.
“Scott,” said the boy, “where is this place, exactly?”
“Southeast,” replied the plump man. “Out to sea, on an artificial island. Why?”
The boy looked to his right, and caught a fistful of raindrops in one hand.
“When’s our flight?”
“Tomorrow, at twelve.”
“Cancel it and book a different one.”
Scott looked up from his paper, the lenses of his sunglasses flashing in the streetlight.
“There’s something here,” the boy said. “Something happening. I want to see it first.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s someone here I have to fight.”
Despite Scott’s efforts to make him talk, that was all he would say; eventually, the man gave up, and went back to his paper.
The boy with jade eyes smiled to himself, and watched the rain splash into the puddles on the road.
At about ten o’clock the next morning, I rolled sleepily out of the credenza, fell a foot onto the floor and woke up with a jolt.
“Ugh,” I mumbled, staring at the carpet. “What was that?”
Then I remembered where I was, and got slowly to my feet.
Good morning, Dracula, said Puck brightly. How was your coffin?
“Shut up,” I said, heading to the bathroom. “You know I can’t take this first thing in the morning.”
Exhausted by the effort of this long sentence, I almost gave up halfway to the door; with a remarkable exertion of willpower, I dragged myself through, shut the door, and was immediately startled into full wakefulness by my reflection in the mirror.
Wow. Puck gave a low whistle. That eye looks nasty.
Yesterday, the area around my eye had been puffy, tender and bruised; today, the colours had deepened to a rich violet-black, shot through with red-yellow highlights. It actually hurt less, and the swelling had gone down a bit – but it looked incredible. I looked like I’d been set upon by a thug with a lead pipe.
That guy didn’t need a pipe, said Puck darkly. He was a living weapon in himself.
“Thanks for that,” I muttered, and started undressing.
After an extended and long-overdue shower, I emerged into the bedroom to find Sapphire up and considerably more awake than I had been. She had spread a map of Mauville out on the table, and was kneeling next to it with a pencil in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked.
“I’ve already been to breakfast,” she replied. “And I brought some back with me.”
“Any for me?” I asked hopefully.
“Get your own. Not now!” she added, as I headed for the door. “First, come here and look at this.”
Sighing, I sat down next to her, and looked dutifully at the map.
“What am I meant to see?”
“The Spectroscopic Fancy Company HQ, right here.” She jabbed at a small spot on the map, on a road named ‘Zinfandel Avenue’. “That’s where we’re headed today. After going to the Gym, of course.”
“OK,” I said. “Can I have breakfast now?”
Sapphire glanced at the wall clock.
“You have fifteen minutes,” she said, and I left the room at a sprint.
Half an hour later, the bus from the Centre pulled up in Mauville Central Depot; public transport was a welcome luxury after so much walking, and both Sapphire and I had agreed we ought to take it rather than walk. Twenty minutes after that, we arrived at the Gym, which was a massive concrete structure that resembled the love child of an electrical substation and a disused factory: its walls were blank and grey, and several of the windows on its upper floors were broken and boarded up; a complex series of wires swooped from pylon to pylon around the roof and perimeter, and some sort of machinery connected to a pair of smokestacks projected from one corner. The whole thing was surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with signs hung from it at intervals; these proclaimed it to be electrified, and also had a small and unpleasantly detailed picture of someone in intense pain being electrocuted.
“Charming place,” I said, eyeing the signs with unease. “How do we get in?”
“Not sure,” Sapphire replied. “Wait. Is that a gate?”
It was, but it too was electrified, and locked anyway.
“Bang on the gate and call for help,” Sapphire ordered.
I stared at her as if she were insane.
“Are you crazy? No way!”
It won’t hurt. You can’t be electrocuted with me in you. I’ll absorb it all and draw power from it. Delicious power.
“Go on,” said Sapphire. “You’re an Electric-type. It won’t hurt.”
I took a deep breath, then grabbed hold of the fence and rattled it; to my intense relief, I felt nothing at all.
“Hey!” I called. “Is this place open?”
A door on the Gym’s façade swung open, and a tall, blonde man ambled out. A guitar hung from its strap around his neck, and his skinny chest was bare. He spotted us, and walked over slowly.
“Hey,” he said. “That’s pretty brave, touching the fence.”
“It didn’t hurt anyway,” I told him. “Can we come in?”
“Sure,” he replied. “You passed the test, after all.”
“What test?” Sapphire asked, as he fumbled with a ring of keys.
“The fence isn’t electric,” he answered, pulling out the right one and unlocking the gate. He hauled on it, and it creaked open with a whine of protest. “It’s just a test of courage.”
“A test of courage, eh?” I remarked, coming in. “That’s surprisingly clever for Wattson. From what I saw of him, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”
And he was looking kind of dumb, with a finger and a thumb in the shape of an ‘L’ on his forehead, added Puck. It was probably meant to be a joke, but as usual I didn’t get it.
The guitarist paused, then leaned close.
“Between you and me,” he said, “that’s just the spin we’re putting on it. Wattson’s been a bit crazy for years now, especially about hobos and electric fences. We’ve had to tell him we’ve electrified the border fence to keep him happy. There are real ones, though – but they’re not strong enough to kill you. You need to get past them if you’re here to challenge him.”
“Very interesting,” said Sapphire, “but we’re not here to challenge him. We’re here to speak to someone called Shawn about claiming the reward for returning him to Mauville.”
The guitarist grinned.
“Hey, that’d be me!” he exclaimed. “I’m the second-in-command here, which means I do everything and Wattson sits around laughing like a madman. You must be Sapphire and Kester, right?” We nodded. “Cool names,” Shawn went on, locking the gate and walking us over to the Gym. “Never come across them before. Which one of you is which?”
“I’m Sapphire, he’s Kester,” Sapphire told him.
“Coolio,” said Shawn. “Well, come on in.”
He flicked the strings of his guitar absently, and ushered us into a grim grey corridor that looked like it had been borrowed from a concentration camp; it terminated in a solid steel door with a tiny hatch in it, through which I got a glimpse of a massive hall painted a lurid shade of yellow.
“That’s the proper Gym area,” Shawn said, pointing at it, “but we’re going in here.”
We stopped at a different door, set into the side of the corridor, and passed through into a small, cramped office; it contained roughly half a forest’s worth of stacked paperwork and files, and buried somewhere in the middle of it all was a desk with a computer on it.
“Sorry about the mess,” Shawn apologised, “but with great Gyms come great responsibility, y’know?” He waded through papers over to the desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a little enamel badge, circular, with a projection on either side. “Catch!” He flipped it across the room, and Sapphire caught it in both hands.
“A Dynamo Badge?” she asked, genuinely shocked. “But... I can’t accept this! I haven’t beaten Wattson!”
“I’ve got some TMs if you want those instead,” he said. “Wattson usually gives them to people who win the tournaments, but we haven’t had one of those since he went mad. There’s some Shock Wave here, and a couple of Charge Beam. Want one?”
Take Charge Beam, Kester, Puck recommended. We learn Shock Wave naturally, but it’s a hard move to use right, and if you struggled with Double Team I don’t think you’ll get it right.
“Can I have a Charge Beam TM, please?” I asked, and a box flew through the air; I snatched it up one-handed, and put it in my pocket to look at later.
“Sapphire?” asked Shawn. “What do you want?”
Sapphire looked from the badge in her hand to Shawn, and then gave it back to him.
“I’m going to come back later,” she said, “and I’ll get that badge legally, thanks.”
The guitarist shrugged.
“Whatever you want.”
He showed us out, and waved a cheery goodbye as he locked the gates again.
“He was nice,” I commented as we started walking again. “Pretty normal, all things considered.”
“Yes,” agreed Sapphire. “Are you going to use that TM, then?”
I pulled it out of my pocket and looked at it. The label read: POWER: MEDIUM. MAY RAISE POWER OF USER’S SPECIAL ATTACKS UPON USE.
“It’s a good move,” Sapphire continued. “You made the right choice for once. The more you use it, the more powerful your special attacks become.”
Sapphire sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Physical attacks are... well physical in nature, like punching moves or hitting someone with rocks. Special attacks are non-physical, like psychic attacks or shooting thunderbolts. Left here, it’s only another five blocks to Spectroscopic Fancy.”
“How do you use a TM?” I asked as we crossed the road.
“We need to go to the Pokémon Centre to do that,” Sapphire said. “I don’t have a TM Case. You put the disc into a slot in the case, you see, and follow the on-screen instructions. Or you can do it via Pokémon Center PC, because those have TM disk drives.”
We walked on for a few minutes, watching the buildings gradually grow in height as we neared the city centre. Then:
“Sapphire, what are we doing when we get to this place?”
“We’re just going to ask when the SuperBlast Module gets there, and what it is,” she said.
“And they’re going to tell us? Just like that?”
“They might,” argued Sapphire. “It’s worth a try, isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” I said, but I wasn’t convinced.
The Spectroscopic Fancy building was one of approximately fifty nondescript grey towers that lined Zinfandel Avenue; tall, broad and inelegant, it looked like someone had built it before realising exactly what an eyesore they were making.
“Here we are,” Sapphire said, glancing up at its somewhat overbearing façade. “Let’s go.”
There were automatic doors, which was good since I preferred them to revolving ones, and once these were navigated I found myself in a large, white-floored room decorated with a large piece of twisted copper hanging from the ceiling. Doubtless this was modern art, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell if there was any merit in it.
I thought you had Taste lessons? said Puck.
Only until last year, I replied. We never got as far as modern art. That’s pretty advanced Taste.
You had to take it to A-Level, I presume?
I guessed A-Level was the British equivalent of our Upper Qualification.
“Hi,” said Sapphire brightly, striding up to the receptionist and smiling broadly at him. “Can I ask who I would speak to if I wanted to find out about a Y-38P SuperBlast Module?”
The receptionist sighed and uttered a long, drawn-out noise of exasperation.
“I keep telling you kids, it’s coming on Thursday, and we’ll deliver it on Friday. Now clear off.”
“Huh?” Sapphire and I stared at him, nonplussed.
“I’ve told you already,” he snapped. “Now get out!”
Mildly intimidated by the ferocious aspect of his face, we left the building, somewhat confused.
Well, that was unexpected, Puck said. Any explanations?
“Puck wants to know – and I would, too – if you have any idea what that was about,” I said to Sapphire.
“Well... obviously, several other kids have been asking about the Module,” she said. “Do you think that means that Felicity has been here?”
I shook my head.
“She left when she did, right? Besides, I’m sure she wouldn’t have asked without that gun to reinforce the point.”
I’d actually be more concerned about this delivery that’s taking place, Puck said. They said that after they received it, they’d deliver it. What does that mean?
I relayed his words to Sapphire, who nodded appreciatively.
“You’re right,” she said. “Who are Spectroscopic Fancy going to deliver it to? That’s what we want to find out.”
“How?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she admitted grudgingly. “I can’t think of a way.”
“So we should just wait until Thursday, I guess,” I said. “Er, what day is it today?”
I’d lost track since coming with Sapphire; it just didn’t seem to matter much anymore.
“Sunday,” she replied. “Five days to go. Then we’ll turn up as it’s delivered, find out what it is, and stop the Teams from getting hold of it.”
“What do we do during those five days?” I asked.
“Remember what I told Shawn? That I’d be back to get the Badge legitimately?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You’re going to take on Wattson?”
“I am a Trainer,” Sapphire said. “This is what Trainers do. I’m going to train at the Gym, and then challenge Wattson.”
“Fine, fine,” I replied. “Do I have to come?”
“No,” she answered. “You’re an Electric-type, you can’t really train effectively at an Electric Gym. Go and... I don’t know, amuse yourself somehow. Meet me back at the Gym at seven, OK?”
“Can I have some money?”
“Yes, but only if you promise to buy me some more Potions and stuff. Puck will know what to get, right?”
Yeah, you can trust me.
“He says yes, you can trust him.”
“Good. I’ll want status healers, too, but no balls. Hang on, I’ll need to get some money out.”
We found an ATM and soon the size of our available funds was larger by sixty thousand dollars. I wanted to get a glimpse of how much money Sapphire had in her bank account, but she moved in front of the screen so I couldn’t see. It was almost certainly some insane amount that I could only dream of.
Her dad’s the leading Pokémon researcher in Hoenn, Puck agreed, so she’s going to be ridiculously rich.
“OK,” said Sapphire, “see you later.”
With that, she vanished down the street, heading back for the Gym. I watched her go, then spoke to Puck.
“So, what do people do for fun in Mauville?”
We’ll start by buying the Potions, Puck said. They’re more expensive than you think – after you buy them, you won’t have nearly as much money left.
It felt good, walking down the street on my own with sixty thousand Pokédollars in my pocket; I felt free, as if there was no such person as Sapphire, and I was myself again, the old Kester Ruby of Rustboro rather than a weird, human-shaped Rotom in the thrall of a feisty travelling Trainer.
Look, a Pokémon Mart!
I looked as instructed, and found that Puck was right: there was the blue roof and rotating sign of the regulation Pokémon Mart, exactly the same size and shape as every other Mart in the country, and probably the world. There was a notice in the window, informing us that there were currently Eggs for sale, but that there was a limited stock, and it would be advisable to buy them now.
Let’s go, Kester, Puck said, and I’ll tell you what we need to get.
On the inside, the store was surprisingly large, stuffed to the brim with racks and shelves containing every conceivable aid to Pokémon keeping and training in existence; if I looked left, there were piles of magazines, from the famous Pokémon Weekly to the somewhat strange Rock Breeder Gazette; if I looked right, there were stacks of Potions of every colour and strength, along with a mass of items with abstruse functions unknown to me; above me, long strings of Poké Balls in various colours hung from the ceiling like bunches of onions; and in front of me, half-hidden behind a display exhorting the benefits of feeding your Pokémon Devo Flakes, was the clerk, sitting behind a glass counter full of yet more merchandise and reading a copy of Bug Maniac magazine. There were about five other people moving around the store, examining the extensive range of wares on offer.
When you’re done gawping, Puck said, go over there and pick up ten Potions, five Super Potions and two Full Restores.
I looked around for anything that resembled a Potion, found them in the next aisle and pondered how to pick ten up in one go; I went back to the front of the shop, got a shopping basket and swept them in.
“Which ones are Super Potions?” I said under my breath.
Red, with orange lids.
I put five of them in the basket and asked the same about Full Restores.
They’re the square green ones that look like they could fit into a mad scientist’s genetic engineering machine... yes, those ones. Two should do it. Right, now go over there, to that box, and get a packet of Revives. Yeah, a five-pack should do it. OK, look for round bottles with long nozzles now. Status healers.
On Puck’s recommendation, I got seven each of Parlyz Heal, Awakening, Antidote, Burn Heal and Ice Heal; the basket was now rather heavy, and I was beginning to wonder how much this was going to cost.
“Twenty-seven thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars, please*,” said the clerk, sounding bored.
I gaped, but Puck warned me not to comment.
Kester, don’t make a scene. It’s not that much money, really. And we got a discount on the Revives, for buying the packet.
Gloomily, I forked over the money, and received a weighty plastic bag for my troubles. I walked out of the shop to find it was starting to drizzle again, like it had been during the night; I also faced the realisation that I was going to have to carry this bag around all day. I had no idea how Trainers managed to do it.
Don’t complain, Puck told me, it’ll be all right.
“I’ve only got thirty thousand dollars left, it’s raining and I’ve got a very heavy bag to carry,” I said. “I don’t see how this is all right.”
In some countries, thirty thousand Pokédollars is a lot of money, Puck said mildly. You could have a really nice meal out in England with that. Y’know, if you converted it to pounds first. Your currency’s ridiculously strong, considering the decrepitude of the Hoennian economy. I mean, your inflation rate’s amazingly low, isn’t it?
“I don’t know. Ask an economist.”
I walked up the street in the rain, the handles of the carrier bag turning into wires and slicing through the palms of my hand in that unexpectedly agonising way that they do after the first five minutes.
Oh, Uxie’s eyes, said Puck suddenly. She’s here.
“Who’s here?” I asked, but I had already seen her by that time. It was Felicity, wearing the same strange outfit that she had been when I met her in Slateport, and she was coming towards me, working her way purposefully through the crowd. I swore and turned to get away, but she was already right behind me, grabbing my shoulder and stopping me dead.
“Relax, Kester,” she said, “I’m not working for the Aquas right now.” She turned me around to face her. “I’ve got today off,” she continued matter-of-factly, “because of the unexpected resistance you two and that hobo managed to put up. They’ve sent someone down to find Barry – that’s the big idiot – and told me to just keep an eye out for you.”
“What do you want?” I asked warily. I was ready to drop the bag, ThunderShock her and run if it came to it.
“Remember I said we needed to talk?” she asked. I nodded. “Now’s our chance. Come on. You’re buying me lunch.”
Felicity took hold of my hand to stop me running off and led me away down the street. It was all very sudden, and, disarmed by her apparent lack of hostility (and also by the fact that she was actually holding my hand) I did very little to stop her.
I hope you trust her, said Puck, bringing me back to reality with a jolt, because I think you just scored a date.
*Assuming the in-game Pokédollar is of an equivalent value to the Japanese yen, the Trainer supplies cost £202.80, or US$329.49. Huh. Seems being a Trainer is a rich kid’s game. Or maybe everything’s more expensive in Hoenn. Yeah, that’d make sense, because otherwise the economy and relative pricing is not going to work at all in this story.