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Old March 12th, 2011, 02:05 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Oops. Have to apologise for the delay again. Blame Pokémon Black. That, and History of Art.

I wonder if these chapter titles even have anything to do with the chapters any more?

Chapter Twenty-Seven: All The Pretty Faces

“Will you please tell them you’re going to take me home?” asked Felicity. “I hate being here, and they won’t let me leave unless someone comes to collect me.”

She was sitting up in bed, a stick-thin figure of corpse-flesh limbs covered by crumpled sheets. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but she was still extraordinarily beautiful despite her emaciation.

Really? Those creepy eyes put me off, Puck said. I mean, if you ignore the blue bit, she’s got... GoldenEyes.

Shut it, I thought back. We were still not on speaking terms; I couldn’t find it in me to forgive him. I hadn’t told Sapphire about his past yet, and was not sure I was going to.

Huh. Everybody loves Ferris, but no one loves Robin. And really, what’s the difference in character between us?

“We’ll do that,” I said to Felicity. “You’ll want to come with us, I suppose.”

She nodded.

“Yes. I am finished with those bumbling pirates.”

It took me a moment to work out she meant Team Aqua, then I replied:

“OK.”

Sapphire was hanging around in the corner, looking uncomfortable, as if she didn’t belong.

“So,” she said. “Shall we... make a move?”

“Find a doctor,” Felicity ordered. “Tell them you’re taking me home.” I started to leave, and Sapphire stayed; Felicity sent her out after me with another terse command: “Leave then, so I can get dressed.”

“I don’t think I like her very much,” Sapphire whispered to me as we left the room.

“She’s... not well,” I said defensively. “I think worse things might be happening to her than to me, and God knows that could make a demon of a saint.”

Odd turn of phrase, Puck mused. Unexpected, like the Spanish Inquisition. He chuckled. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! he shouted, then lapsed into giggles.

I gritted my teeth and ignored him. I didn’t see how he could so easily slip back into his usual persona and pretend that nothing had happened between us; I certainly couldn’t.

“Why are you defending her?” asked Sapphire curiously. I felt the sudden heat that accompanies the swift flushing of the cheeks.

“No reason,” I said, far too quickly. “No reason at all.”

Sainted Cobalion, that’s the worst lie I’ve ever heard that wasn’t part of a trashy film, Puck said. Sapphire gave me a long, even look, which made me increasingly uncomfortable the longer it went on, and then walked on without comment. Ah, the fair sex, Puck said fondly, so very perspicacious when it comes to matters such as these.

“Shut up,” I muttered, and hurried after Sapphire’s retreating back.

We located Felicity’s doctor and wrangled a reluctant agreement to remove her from hospital care from him; then we returned to her room, where she was waiting for us, sitting on her bed and dressed in her battered blue suit.

“I need to go to the Aqua base before we do anything else,” Felicity said. “All my stuff is there. Including normal clothes.”

“What sort of ‘anything else’ are we planning on doing, exactly?” I asked, as we started walking out. Felicity moved oddly, as if on wheels; she almost didn’t seem to move her legs at all. “You never actually said how we’re going to take down Zero.”

“Do you think this is part of his plan?” Felicity asked suddenly, stopping. “Do you think we’re just furthering his cause?”

Sapphire and I exchanged glances.

Shrewd, remarked Puck. Insightful. A thought from outside the box. How many words can I come up with before you tell me to—?

Shut up, I thought.

There it is, he said with satisfaction.

“I don’t know,” I told Felicity. “But I managed to get away from his plan once. Maybe we can do it again.”

“Maybe.” She didn’t sound convinced.

“Look,” said Sapphire, “can we please just do something? This standing around is not getting us anywhere.”

“If you know what you’re doing, go ahead,” snapped Felicity, baring her teeth in a curiously feline gesture. “I’m sure you can do this without me.”

“You—!”

Sapphire’s hand darted to her belt; I grabbed her wrist and yanked it back.

Cat-fiiiiight, sang out Puck. This could only be more entertaining if we were in some sort of weapons storehouse!

“Will you two stop it!” I cried, harassed. “Sapphire, stop being angry! Felicity, stop... um...”

I was suddenly and unpleasantly reminded of my time in Birch’s lab, because they subjected me to a pair of withering death-stares that hit me so hard that I actually stumbled over backwards.

Ouch, said Puck, unimpressed. I can see this is going to be a fun trip.

---

“All right,” Maxie began. “Have you found a Meteorite, then?”

Tabitha nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, go and get it, then,” he said. Then, a thought striking him, he said: “Wait. How hard will this be to get? I don’t want to have to divert anyone from the volcano project.”

“Not very,” Tabitha judged. “The only potential obstacle is this Cozmo guy, but by all accounts he isn’t the most courageous of characters. He ought to be a pushover.”

“OK, then,” Maxie said. “In that case, you can have those losers we have looking for the Aqua’s Rotom-kid. Go call them and get them sent up on the train.”

“Yes sir,” Tabitha said, heart sinking. Those two were notorious throughout the Team; a pair of clowns to rival anything you might see at the circus, they had bungled their way through over fifty disastrous missions during their years with the Team, and only maintained their jobs through consistent and well-timed unction. “Should I replace them, sir?”

“Oh. Yes, I suppose you’d better. Send...” Maxie’s eyes roved around the room, searching for inspiration; at that moment, there came a knock at the door and Courtney walked in. His gaze lighted on her and he pointed. “Courtney! Organise someone to replace the two grunts we have tailing the Rotom-kid.”

Somewhat startled, she blinked, nodded, and left again.

“No, don’t go!” cried Maxie. “For God’s sake, woman, you’re too pretty to wait outside! Come in here until Tabitha’s done, then say what you want to say, then leave.”

Courtney came back in, suppressing a sigh. Maxie made a face that indicated the exasperation inherent in running an organisation like his, and spoke to Tabitha, keeping his eyes firmly locked on Courtney.

“So, Tabitha, go and get me this Meteorite. I’m going to build some sort of improbable machine to extract the power from it now, and I don’t want to be disturbed until it’s done. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly.” Another man might have questioned Maxie’s sanity, but Tabitha knew him better than that; the Magma leader was nothing short of a genius. A genius who was prone to objectify women and lose his temper, but a genius nevertheless. He nodded, gave a little bow, and walked out.

---

How much moxie would Maxie have if Maxie could mock sea? Puck pondered. Nah, I can do a better tongue-twister than that. Give me a moment...

“I hate you with a passion that eclipses rational understanding,” I murmured in a flash of lyricism, and ignored him.

“I’m ready now,” Felicity announced, emerging from the mouth of the alleyway that led to the Team Aqua base. She was wearing the same outfit she had the day she had accosted me in Slateport, and during our disastrous lunch at Blintzkrieg; the only difference were her shoes, which were blue and appeared to be made of either plastic or painted steel. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Sapphire asked.

“To Lavaridge,” Felicity said, starting to walk.

“Why Lavaridge?” I asked.

“Because Team Magma is based there, and they are starting to make a move,” Felicity replied without looking at either of us. “You won’t know this, because they’re forcing the police to keep it quiet, but they have killed Uriah.”

Sapphire and I stopped dead.

Uriah?

“Uriah,” she confirmed. “Evidently they don’t want him interfering with whatever they have planned; I suspect they will have a hand in choosing his successor, so they can have a puppet figure and do whatever important thing it is they plan to do – or should I say, that Zero plans for them to do – without interference.”

Moxious Maxie mocked Mickey...

Shut up! You’re ruining our stunned silence!


“So, do we want to go to the train station?” asked Sapphire. I could tell she was trying very hard not to leap at Felicity’s throat, and I liked it.

“Yes,” Felicity replied. “Unless you would like to pay for plane tickets.”

“I wouldn’t,” Sapphire said with forced cheer. “So I suppose we’re going to the train station.”

It wasn’t far to the station, and we only had to wait fifteen minutes or so for the express to Lavaridge. In all, it could have been no more than an hour before we were sitting in a compartment full of uncomfortable silence, accompanied by two young men and a woman who looked in danger of suffocating on the tension we were generating.

“This should be nice,” the woman said to one of the men, in an attempt to break the oppressive silence.

“Yeah,” he replied quietly.

“Don’t you think?” she persisted, turning to her other companion.

You’ve got to admit, Puck said admiringly, the girl’s tenacious. I like that.

“I swear to God,” I muttered in low, dangerous tones, “I have a view to a kill here, and I’m going to make good on it.”

Whoa, Puck said. Another Bond joke, but... also a death threat. I can’t tell if you’ve forgiven me or not.

“I haven’t.”

“Is it annoying you?” Felicity asked me. All eyes in the carriage turned to her, and she pushed her sunglasses further up her nose self-consciously. They no longer fully hid the discolouration, but it seemed to make her feel better.

“Um, a lot,” I replied, shifting uneasily under the scrutiny of the three holidaymakers.

“Does it hurt?”

“Ah...”

I couldn’t quite remember ever being so embarrassed before, save for during that business that occurred last year; I was bright red and as capable of sitting still as eating my own head.

“No,” I managed eventually. “I don’t – it doesn’t hurt.”

“OK.” Felicity nodded, and we lapsed into silence once more.

That was some serious tension, Puck remarked. In fact, it’s still pretty tense now. If I could get that knife off Will, I could probably cut it. But then I’d be contributing to the decay of the multiverse due to the escape of Dust, so, y’know, it might not be such a good idea.

“For the love of all that is holy, shut up!” I cried, and everyone stared at me again. If it was possible, I went even redder; I muttered something about a pestilential thief and a liar, and tried to retreat into the seat.

“He hears voices,” I heard Sapphire explain apologetically. “They tell him... horrible things. We hope the water at the spas in Lavaridge will help him.”

“I – I see,” came the reply of one of the two men.

Crazy now, are you? Puck asked. Funny, because I’m sure we ruled that possibility out twice already.

Well, I am hearing voices, and they are telling me horrible things. Like how they’re a liar and a world-famous thief who’s managed to land me in more trouble than anyone should ever be landed in!

Hey, I thought you weren’t a coward anymore? You said you were up to continue this quest.

I’m OK to stop Zero. That has to do with me, remember? And there’s a chance I can get rid of you by doing it. However, I’m not OK to get involved with international art theft!

I thought we were going to put that behind us
, Puck wheedled. Let bygones be bygones. Or Zygons, if you’re an ardent Tom Baker fan. Which I’m not, but only because he’s a bit before my time. I’m a Tennant man myself – you always love the one you grew up with, don’t you?

I have no idea what you’re talking about—

It’s the Doctor—

—and I don’t care
, I finished. Now shut up.

I looked at my watch, and groaned silently. We had only been travelling for ten minutes, and there was at least an hour and a half to go.

---

“I got one question for you, Matt,” Archie said. “Is he a Sicilian?”

Matt looked confused.

“No sir,” he said, slowly and deliberately. “I believe they’re from Admiral’s Berth.”

They were in the overheated sitting-room that was the Aqua Leader’s private sanctum; the Admin was reporting to his boss about whether or not to promote a certain high-ranking grunt to the status of Administrator, and struggling, as ever, with the man’s conviction that the Team was equivalent to the Family.

“No, not like that,” Archie said, a trace of annoyance creeping into his voice. “Is he a Sicilian? Does he act like a Sicilian?”

“I honestly don’t know, sir,” Matt said. “I’ve never been to Sicily.”

“Some consigliore you are,” Archie replied dismissively. “Fine. Is he a man?”

“No sir.”

“Then no.”

“If I might be permitted to say so, sir, that’s kind of sexist.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You can’t not promote her just because she’s a woman, sir,” pointed out Matt reasonably.

His boss swore floridly in fluent Italian. He was not actually Italian – he had been born in S****horpe – but he had learned the language many years ago, in the hope of one day carrying out a conversation with a Turkish drug dealer and a crooked cop in a small Italian restaurant, before killing them both.

“That’s not what I meant,” Archie said. “I meant, does this person possess manly qualities? Are they Administrator material?”

“Oh. Well in that case, yes sir.” Matt smiled brightly and stupidly.

“Then promote her!” cried Archie. “You are a fool, Matt. A shameless fool.”

“Right. Thanks then, sir,” said Matt, and he turned around to walk out. As the door shut behind him, Archie put his head in his hands and gave an almighty moan, slipping out of character for a moment.

“At least,” he said, trying to console himself, “she can’t be any worse than him.”

After a moment, he stood up and stretched, shaking lethargy from his body like water.

“I need a walk,” Archie decided, and stepped out into the corridor. Immediately, and to his great dismay, he bumped into Matt, coming the opposite direction with a young woman in tow. She had a great mass of curly hair the colour of carrots, and a distinctly evil look on her face. Archie had pity for people like that. An evil-looking face often drove its bearer to a life of crime they would not otherwise have chosen. “Oh, Matt. Who’s this?”

“This is Shelly, sir,” said Matt. “The new Admin.”

Archie inspected her with renewed interest.

“You’re Shelly, are you? I see. Well, good to see you.”

He walked past them both and would have made good his escape had not Shelly called out:

“Wait, sir!”

Archie stopped, gritted his teeth and turned around.

“Yes?”

“Don’t you have any orders for me...?”

He thought for a moment.

“No,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

“What about the W.R.I. stuff, sir?” suggested Matt helpfully.

Archie paused, struck. A sound thought, coming from him? Bizarre.

“Yes,” he said. “Tell Shelly all about that. It will be her responsibility from now on.”

And then, at long last, Archie was able to escape his incompetent Administrator and the confines of the headquarters, and get some fresh air on the coastal path above the beach.

---

The boy with jade eyes was restless.

He paced around the gardens like a caged lion; there was still a week until the official trials began, and though there was plenty to do he couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the fight that had got away.

He passed a bed of hydrangeas, paused by a fountain that, in a phenomenally unsuitable clash of cultures, depicted Poseidon wrestling a Lapras, and continued down to the town. Despite its many attractions, there was nothing that held any interest for him; he cared not for cinemas, or theatres, or shopping malls. Right now, the only thing he craved was the battle that those two Trainers back in Mauville had refused him.

“Damn it!” he exclaimed, punching a wall and regretting it when his knuckles hurt. “I want to fight them!”

A blue-skinned Pokémon lumbered up to his side; being lamentably slow of pace on land, he had taken a long time to catch up with him. Usually, the boy would only keep Machina out of his Poké Ball, but he was currently training this creature and so had him with him instead.

“Coast,” he said. “Coast, go and beat something up for me.”

The creature – Coast – tilted his beaked face up towards him and uttered a long, questioning noise that sounded something like Currrrrr?

“Oh, for God’s sake!” cried the boy, displeased. “Remind me never to train anything less intelligent than an Arcanine again.”

Coast could understand this no more than he understood the previous command, and went Currrrr again.

“Nothing. Be quiet.”

This Coast could understand, and he fell silent.

The boy with the jade eyes walked on, his Pokémon struggling to keep up. Everyone he passed on the streets was an expert Trainer – some were, perhaps, even as good as he was – but he didn’t want to challenge any of them. There was only one battle he wanted to fight, and he’d left it behind in Mauville.

“If I were the main character,” the boy told the armoured Pokémon as it plodded ponderously along, “I wouldn’t have any of these problems.”

“Currrrrr,” stated Coast, blinking laconically.

“Why do I keep talking to you?”

The boy with the jade eyes left the town and started up the stairs that wound around the tower; at its peak lay the helipad, though there was no point going there. He’d signed the contract; he couldn’t go anywhere until this was all over.

There were around a hundred and fifty steps, but though he wasn’t particularly strong, the boy was used to extended periods of physical exertion and managed it in just a couple of minutes. When he got there, however, there was no sign of Coast; the reptilian Pokémon had fallen behind some time ago, since he was supremely defective with regards to stair-climbing.

A strong wind gusted into the boy’s face, and his hair stood out in a fan behind his head; he narrowed his eyes against the cold air and squinted across the hard expanse of steel. The helicopter was gone today, and Scott with it; doubtless, he was searching for a few more competitors at the last moment. The boy wondered how long the contest was going to be – there were already sixty-three entrants, and all of them were either incredibly talented or incredibly experienced. None of them, as far as the boy knew, were from anywhere other than Hoenn, which was one reason he was keeping himself to himself. He wasn’t entirely sure he approved of this country, with its rampant crime, cheerful insanity and singularly weak government.

“President Loganberry,” he mused, “has a lot to answer for.”

He turned and started back down the stairs. Halfway down, he met Coast struggling to reach the next step, and in a moment of compassion recalled him. There was no sense tiring him out before they got any work done, and it was time for a spot of training.

For despite his impatience, the boy with jade eyes had no intention of losing this tournament. He had never lost before, and he didn’t intend to start now.

---

“Hot springs,” mused Zero. “They’re supposed to be good for illness.”

“Lies,” spat Courtney. “Lies, all of them.”

They were leaning on a low stone wall, looking out over the sunset-illumined water. It was a mark of his trust that he was not wearing his trademark mask for once; it was tucked under one arm.

“You’re not in a good mood,” observed Zero.

“Of course I’m not,” replied Courtney. “Do you know what I’ve been through today?”

“Yes,” Zero said.

“Right. I forgot about that,” Courtney said sourly, and flicked a piece of gravel into the pond.

“You can complain to me if you like, though,” Zero offered. “I am human, remember.”

Courtney’s furrowed brow softened a little.

“I know,” she sighed. “Sorry.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” Zero told her. “We’re moving on. I’ll have it all over soon. No more Teams, no one left to oppress or oppose us at all. Just you and me, and the world’s unresisting population under our feet.”

Courtney smiled.

“God, I love you,” she said with feeling, and leaned into his shoulder. Zero smiled, put an arm around her and gazed at the setting sun.
__________________

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