Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Punk’s Tale
If the kind reader will so permit, we shall here make a digression from the main thrust of the narrative. We will not follow Kester, or the Magmas, or even Darren Goodwin. Instead, young Flannery of Lavaridge, more properly known as Spike, will form the focus of our narrative.
Spike had, as has been touched on already, something of a rocky relationship with her grandfather. What has not been mentioned is that the feeling of mutual hatred was one she also happened to share with the townsfolk of Lavaridge. It had all begun long ago, when she was more commonly known as Flannery.
Before her parents had died, Flannery had lived in Lilycove, home to all the youth and allure the country had to offer. By contrast, Lavaridge had seemed, like Denmark, a prison: it was full of the elderly, bursting at the seams with a slow tide of wrinkled age; it was a town that belonged to adults, and especially to the retired. Flannery could remember being eight, catching her first sight of the red rock from the Cable Car, and thinking it was like they had stolen the landscape from Mars.
Upon arrival, she found herself in a cage of tradition, wrapped round with loneliness; gone were the children she had played with in Lilycove, along with the familiar city streets and the bustle and hum of metropolis life. In their place, Flannery found a suffocating haze of stagnation. Lavaridge had nothing to offer a child but warm water and sand, and even that was out of bounds: her grandfather, suffering from the loss of his daughter and son-in-law, could not stand the thought of losing her as well, and would not let her play outside the grounds of his house or, if he couldn’t find anyone to look after her, his Gym.
Was it any wonder, then, that Flannery was a rebel? Lacking stimulation, she had to make her own, and this often took the form of petty vandalism and once, when she was nine, even theft from the vihara up on Jagged Pass. That last cemented the slow crystallisation of old Uriah Moore’s concern for Flannery into bitterness. With the last vestiges of compassion in his possessed, and after a protracted and long-overdue argument with Flannery, he had consented to let her visit Lilycove again in the company of a friend of his, the former Elite Four member Jericho Swolsfell. As the only young woman Moore knew, she was supposed to connect with Flannery and try to get to the root of her troubles.
Jericho was able to do just that – but far better than Moore had hoped. Flannery was ecstatic to be in Lilycove, but Jericho was so exalted in her eyes that the thrill of meeting her eclipsed even that. The Rock-type Master had something magnetic about her (so magnetic, it was rumoured, that she had once been able to inveigle even the normally cold Lance of the Indigo Plateau into accepting her offer of a date) and Flannery had adored her so much that her animosity towards her grandfather could only grow. Why was he old and strict, when Jericho was young and relaxed? Why did he speak to her only to tell her off, when Jericho just spoke to make jokes and have fun? Why, why, why?
Flannery came back from the weekend in Lilycove with her first piercings: her ears. This was normal enough, but, now embittered, her grandfather took grave exception to it; the resultant argument passed into Lavaridge legend, and would be told fondly for years to come.
“You’d never have known that a child could have such a pair of lungs on her,” Mr. Sponge was prone to say; Mrs. Wishpicket of 17 Grazina Avenue had a more colourful turn of phrase:
“She was screaming like a Loudred being raped, dears. You know, some people call that canola.”
Regardless of the way it was described, and whether or not Mrs. Wishpicket entirely understood the concept of canola, the argument was colossal. Jericho defended Flannery as best she could, and took much of the blame on herself – but the girl was still confined to her room for a week, though it wasn’t as if she had anywhere to go anyway. That was the last time she saw Jericho, as well.
Six months later Flannery turned ten, and received the application form in the post to become a Trainer. She had filled it out at once and sent it back without even telling her grandfather it had arrived, sure he would forbid her from going. On the part where she had to fill in her name, she had written Spike Temulence. It was technically illegal, but it didn’t matter; that day, Flannery ceased to be, and Spike rose in her place, twice as fiery and every bit as rebellious.
A week later a letter from the Pokémon League had arrived, informing her application had been accepted; unfortunately, her grandfather got to this one before her, and another argument had ensued. In the heat of it, Spike had snatched the letter from Uriah and fled the house. She swore it would be the last time she ever saw it.
Of course, the police became involved, but by the time they did, Spike was getting off a train in Mauville City, where she rapidly became invisible. She was a little scruffy, but that was the fashion in Hoenn at that time – a fact that had had several tourists rather concerned for the welfare of those they saw on their travels. She got her money by hook and by crook, and begged, borrowed and stole her way to Littleroot just in time to present herself at Professor Alan Birch’s famous Pokémon Laboratory at the appointed date.
It was a wonder she survived, at just ten. It helped, of course, that that was the age Trainers started at, and many people merely assumed that that was what she was. However she did it, she reached the Lab in time, and, her battered body eliciting sympathy from Birch, she received an unusually rare first Pokémon: a small, smoking tortoise, just two months out of the egg. It was a baby Torkoal, difficult to find due to their habit of living in lava and on sheer mountainsides, and it was hers to keep.
From then on, Spike went from strength to strength. She had a natural aptitude for Training, and soon she had defeated Petalburg’s Gym Leader, the Grass user Stephanie. If you know anything of recent Hoennian history, you will be well acquainted with her involvement in the infamous Black TMs scandal that forced her resignation, and the consequent appointment of Norman as her successor.
Spike now had money, through winning official matches, and she earned more by betting on herself. Gradually, over the next four years, she acquired more piercings, at first because her grandfather hated them and later because she liked them; at fifteen, she got the tattoo on her arm and decided to specialise in Fire-types, to rival her grandfather. She challenged all the Gyms (save her grandfather’s) again and swept all the Leaders away with her new team. Entering the League tournament at Ever Grande City, she had beat down the opposition easily, reaching the finals before losing to the man who went on to win. Undeterred, Spike had then gone on to take on the most difficult of challenges: the Elite Four itself. She had beaten Sidney and Phoebe before having to turn back; Glacia had poured an unrelenting wave of Walrein upon her, which in turn had poured an unrelenting wave of water over her Fire-types. However strong they were, they hadn’t been able to take the repeated Surfs, and so Spike had lost.
In short, Spike had turned her life around. She’d escaped Lavaridge and the life she didn’t want. The world was her oyster; she was even considering travelling abroad, to Johto or even America, in order to search for rare foreign Pokémon. Then her grandfather had died, and the bottom had fallen out of her world.
The base for Spike’s life was her hatred of her grandfather, and with his death it dropped away, replaced with soul-wrenching guilt. She could remember the day she left, and the last words she’d screamed at him – the last words she’d spoken to him before he died:
“I hate you! I wish you would die!”
They weren’t eloquent, but they were brutal enough, especially with the right feeling behind them. Spike found herself thinking that perhaps it was her fault; perhaps if she had stayed, had obeyed, he might still be alive. Uriah Moore was a bitter, twisted old man, but he was her bitter, twisted old man, and in a strange sort of way she still loved him.
And so Spike had headed back towards Lavaridge, taking the late train to Fallarbor with the intrepid adventurers Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch; she left them there to continue alone, back to the home she had sworn she would never see again.
Back to the house of the former Gym Leader Uriah Moore.
“Right away, sir,” replied the cabbie amiably, and slammed his foot down on the accelerator with such force that I was almost flung out the back window.
“Do you do this often?” I asked, struggling to fasten my seatbelt.
“Every two days, give or take,” the cabbie answered, slaloming wildly between two lanes of traffic as the Magmas sped ahead. “What’re you filming this time?”
“This isn’t a film!” Sapphire said. “This is an application of the law!”
“Ooh,” went the cabbie, screeching around a corner on two wheels and tipping Sapphire onto my lap, “that’s nice and all. Put my name in the credits, would you?”
Seems he’s mad too, Puck remarked. Ahead of us, the Magma car – a shiny black Buick Century – swerved onto the pavement, scattering pedestrians, and, dodging lampposts and ornamental trees, turned onto a side street. I’m mad, you’re mad – we’re all mad here.
“Just you, I think,” I muttered; the cabbie drove headlong through a fast-moving lane of traffic, losing the rear bumper of his taxi in a welter of horns, and shot out the other side after the Magmas. “OK, him too,” I amended, gripping the handle in the door tightly. “Oh God, this is terrifying.”
“Kester!” said Sapphire, now upright and firmly seatbelted. “Start firing at them!”
I stared at her.
“I’m not leaning out of the window!” I cried back.
“I’d do as she says,” the cabbie offered. “It’ll make the scene a whole lot better.” He paused. “Where are the cameras?”
“Gah!” I cried. Then: “I’m going to regret this...”
I pressed the button and the window slid down; a blast of fresh air rolled in and the sound of screaming tires rang loud in my ears. We were now on a broad, sunlit boulevard, the Century ahead of us parting the traffic like Moses and the Red Sea; all we had to do was follow in their wake.
“Get a move on!” cried Sapphire.
I took a deep breath, undid my seatbelt and leaned out of the window until I could aim effectively, then called up the now-familiar prickling sensation in my fingers. The energy was gathering, I could feel it – and then it was ready. I took aim at the rear window, dodged a telephone pole, and fired.
A streak of yellow energy cut through the air like a knife of lightning; the window exploded into fragments of glass and the Century swerved slightly, its driver surprised by the impact.
“Cor!” cried the cabbie. “That’s some special effect!”
“Come on! Hit the wheels or something!” ordered Sapphire.
“I’m amazed I hit it at all!” I yelled back over the roar of the wind, taking aim again. The Buick turned a corner at the last moment, and the shot went wide, burning a neat, round hole in a Stop sign. This time, I felt myself grow warm for a moment, and glow faintly orange.
You’ve powered up, noted Puck. Now duck.
I looked forwards, yelped and withdrew hurriedly into the taxi as we rounded the corner after the Magmas; I had come within three feet of having my head taken off by a Give Way sign.
“What are you doing?” asked Sapphire. “Get back out there!”
“You can’t order me around anymore!” I snapped back. “I’m free, remember?”
“Dialogue could use some work,” the cabbie said.
“For the love of—!”
I leaned out of the window again, charging another Beam, and loosed it at the fleeing Century. I didn’t hit it this time, either – but that was because I had to avoid being shot by the big Magma, who had just started to return fire of the hole that had once been the rear window.
“They’re shooting at us!” I cried.
“We’re shooting at them!” countered Sapphire.
What a commotion, Puck said. Looks like this might be harder than you’d anticipated.
“Shut up,” I growled, and shot another Charge Beam back at the Magmas. They responded with more bullets, which missed but still terrified me.
“This isn’t going as well as planned,” stated Sapphire. “Kester, you need to think before you act.”
I stared at her incredulously.
“This is coming from the girl who burned down a building to see if there was a fire escape!”
“Friction,” said the cabbie, “I like it. Adds flavour to the movie, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do.”
It’s like we’re in the hall of the mountain king, Puck observed. You know, because madness is reigning.
At that moment, a bullet burst a hole in the windscreen, sang between Sapphire and I, and exited the rear window.
“Oh, hell,” I said despairingly, “this has got really out of hand.”
Darren Goodwin pushed open the gate and walked down the path. His steps were slow, his heart calm; around him, wisteria curled over wooden pyramids and bracken tumbled in curly piles over the flowerbeds. Not many people grew bracken intentionally, but Melissa did; she’d always loved the rolled-up heads of the young shoots.
He stopped at the front door, took off his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It had taken a long time, but they’d agreed to let him go at last. Someone else would take over.
Darren replaced his glasses, opened the door and stepped inside with the silent tread of a Goodwin-class researcher. He put the keys down on the hall table gently, without making a noise, and raised the bunch of long-stemmed roses in his other hand.
“Honey,” he called out softly, “I’m home.”
“Drive faster!” cried Fabien. “They’re gaining on us!”
“All right, let’s see action!” replied the Magma driver, pushing the accelerator almost flush with the floor. The Buick bucked slightly and shot forwards across Adnoctis Plaza, scattering pedestrians left and right; they swerved around the fountain in the centre and continued off the other side, heading west.
“Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God—”
“Shut up!” Blake roared at the scientist they’d captured. “Or I’ll shoot you!”
As if to emphasise his point, he loosed a volley of lead at the pursuing taxi, putting three holes in the number plate and destroying a headlight. The Professor squeaked dismally and shut his eyes tight.
“Blake! Kill the driver – or the Rotom-boy!” Fabien shouted.
“What d’you think I’m tryin’ to do?” demanded Blake, ducking a Charge Beam that burnt a fist-sized hole in the roof above. The attacks were getting stronger; Charge Beam’s propensity to raise its own power was really making itself known. Soon, the Rotom-boy would reach maximum Special Attack – and at that point, a direct hit on any of them would reduce them almost entirely to ash.
“I don’t mind not being immortal,” the driver said cautiously, “but I really don’t want to die. So if you two could get your God-damned act together, that’d be great.”
“We’re doing the best we can!” Fabien snapped. “Blake! Shoot more, and shoot faster!”
“This is a Browning, not a Tommy Gun,” growled Blake, “an’ I’m shootin’ it as fast as I can.”
“Well – good, then,” Fabien said, then yelped and threw himself flat as a sizzling Charge Beam blew the back of his seat into shreds of stuffing and fabric.
“Struggle after struggle, year after year,” the driver said philosophically. “The fun never ends with you guys, does it?”
“I’m dying!” shrieked Fabien.
“You’re fine,” Blake asserted. Blam! “Oh, I got ’im!”
“Really?” Fabien sat up and looked back; the taxi was still in hot pursuit. “No you didn’t!”
“Damn,” said Blake, “I hit the stunt dummy in ’is passenger seat.”
“What kind of cabbie has a stunt dummy in the passenger seat?”
“A Fallarbor one,” said the driver knowledgeably. “For a cabbie, death or glory becomes just another story. You know how they like to talk about their exploits.”
“That makes no sense!” cried Fabien.
A Charge Beam blew a hole the size of a cocker spaniel in the boot, and the driver whistled.
“When the lightning explodes, I pray for your soul,” he said.
“Drive faster!” howled Fabien, and, sighing, the driver did.
They shot out onto the motorway, heading west through Route 114 now, and the taxi followed soon after; the speed limit here was eighty miles per hour, but they were going at least ninety. Amid the swerving and dodging, there was a temporary ceasefire as the driver and the cabbie adapted to the faster traffic, then the exchange of lightning and bullets resumed. Horns blared to add to the cacophony, and a passing motorist’s pet Loudred, encouraged by the noise, joined in with an unspeakably loud bellow that cracked the windscreen and caused a minor traffic accident.
“Take us off the road here!” screamed Fabien, clinging tightly to the remnants of his seat; there was a crackling sound and a yellow flash, and a crater opened up in the tarmac next to the left front wheel.
“Will do!” the driver said cheerfully, and spun the wheel; the Century lurched sideways, narrowly missing a white van; a Charge Beam blew the remnants of the roof away, and then they had slipped through the pre-cut section of barrier rail and rolled away into the fertile woods that cloaked the edge of Lake Perspicacity.
“They’ve gone off the road!” cried Sapphire. “Go after them!”
“Anything for the movies, little miss,” the cabbie replied amiably.
That guy sure has a strong mind, Puck said. Or maybe he’s just really mad.
We slewed through three lanes of traffic, almost dying several times, and drove straight down a steep slope towards a large stand of trees. Beyond it, I could just see the waters of a lake; if I remembered my geography correctly, the motorway bridged it a few miles to the west, after going past the scenic Prajna Falls.
The Buick, smoking now and partially wrecked, had come to a halt in the trees; we were almost at the edge of the woods when it started up again, accelerating and heading west along the lake’s edge.
“Someone got out!” Sapphire said. “I’ll go after them. Kester, keep following that car!”
“Ooh, diverging storylines,” the cabbie remarked. “Fancy. That ought to be good, if they come to suitably awe-inspiring parallel dénouements.”
He brought the taxi down to about three miles an hour, which hurled me from my seat but thankfully broke nothing, and Sapphire flung her door open and ran for the trees. Immediately, the taxi sped up again, eating up the distance between us and the damaged Century.
We bounced over the rocky plain at the motorway’s edge; we were heading across a barren area, devoid of grass, towards the lake, where the Century was labouring onwards. It took about four minutes to catch up, by which time the Magma car was roaring through the shallows, kicking up massive plumes of water; I was about to launch another Charge Beam when Puck cried out:
What? I replied, fingers hovering in midair, full of static.
The water – it conducts electricity. Be very careful, Kester, or you’ll end up transmitting a +6 Special Attack Charge Beam into the very water that’s splashing all over this car. It won’t kill you, but it’ll definitely fry the driver.
“Damn!” I exclaimed. “Can you try and drive this guy out of the water?” I asked the cabbie.
“Oh, I’ve got a couple of tricks,” he replied ambiguously, and the taxi lurched forwards a couple of metres, slamming into the back of the Century. Both cars shuddered with the impact, and we lost our remaining headlight, but it had the desired effect: the Buick no longer had the power to outdrive us, and it couldn’t dodge left into the lake – so its driver brought it to the right, back onto the shore.
We drew alongside it now, neck and neck; the bridge was beginning to come into sight in the distance, and if I looked right I could see into the ruined backseat area of the Century.
It’s empty! Both of them must have got out – and taken the scientist guy with them!
“You’re right,” I said. “So this is a decoy...”
All at once, a thought flashed into my head, and the rushing wind and groaning Buick seemed to fade away for a moment. I grinned, and leaned out of the window so my eyes met those of the decoy driver.
“From Russia,” I yelled into the wind, “with love!”
His eyes widened, and I waited for him to fling himself out of the door before I loosed a full-power Charge Beam into the bonnet of the Century.
It was truly a cinematic moment. The battered taxi shot forth, and behind it the Century’s front erupted in a fountain of smoke and flames. I wish I’d been in front of us with a camera, because it would have been a perfect special effect: no one got hurt, and it looked seriously cool.
“Yeaaaahh!” I shouted impulsively as we rocketed past the smoking wreck, watching the driver flee across the plain.
Yeah, that was pretty good, Puck said. Perfect use of that joke, too. You’re as good as the old double-O himself – you might as well be on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The cabbie gave a small cheer too, and slowed to a halt on the rocky shore.
“So then,” he said. “About your fare...”
Sapphire hit the ground running, trainers kicking up clouds of ashy dirt behind her. She headed for the stand of trees, and was there in less than ten seconds; ahead, moving swiftly between the branches, three forms moved in tandem. One was pressed against the back of the other, and Sapphire suspected that that was the gun-toting Magma, threatening the scientist with his pistol.
Long years of experience had left Sapphire with the ability to move almost silently through the forest should she need to; most Pokémon had excellent hearing, and the tracking of such species required this skill. Thus, the Magmas didn’t hear her as she approached, at first gaining on them and then staying a constant twenty feet away. They had crashed through the barrier rail on the motorway, which meant they had to have cut it previously; hitting it usually would have been tantamount to driving into a brick wall. Therefore, they had to have a plan – which meant they knew where they were going, and Sapphire wanted to find out exactly where that was.
They pressed on, slowly making their way around the perimeter of the lake; they had just reached its eastern shores, about half an hour later, when the woods ended abruptly and they walked out into the open. Sapphire hung back in the trees, watching.
There was a large burgundy jeep parked about fifty yards away, with a man in a red cloak and hood behind the wheel. On the doors and on the bonnet, the stylised ‘M’ of Team Magma was printed. Sapphire raised her eyebrows. If they were trying to keep a low profile, that jeep wasn’t going to help.
“We got him, sir,” said the shorter, thinner Magma. He sounded out of breath. “We were chased by the Aquas, but we ditched the car and they followed that instead.”
Aquas? They think we’re with Team Aqua? Sapphire’s eyebrows went even higher. How had they come to that conclusion? As far as she knew, there was nothing about Kester or herself that brought the Aquas to mind.
“Very good, Fabien,” said the hooded man, in a deep, slow voice like that of a cold crocodile. “This is Professor Brian Cozmo?”
“Yes sir,” affirmed the shorter Magma – Fabien. Professor Cozmo trembled, but said nothing.
“This almost makes up for the years of blinding incompetence,” the hooded man said mildly. “Blake, put the good Professor in the back of the truck and sit with him to make sure he goes nowhere.
The burly Magma nodded and got in the back of the jeep with Cozmo. Fabien climbed into the front, next to his hooded superior, and the engine started up.
Sapphire hesitated, and the jeep started to roll forwards, towards her; they were taking it around in a U-turn. She could undoubtedly make it to the truck and grab on – but she would almost certainly be found.
What to do, what to do...
The jeep was almost here, and Sapphire darted behind a tree as it rumbled closer.
Come on, Sapphire, think...
Then came the moment when, had it been a cartoon, a light bulb would have come on above her head. In one fluid movement, Sapphire’s hand flew to her belt and tossed a ball underhand under the jeep. She prayed it hadn’t gone under a wheel, and sure enough it hadn’t; unseen by the passengers, an intense blue light shot through with black flared under the vehicle, and once the jeep had passed over, a small white figure was left standing in the dirt, clutching a terrifying Dustox doll and sucking his claws pathetically.
“Grab on!” hissed Sapphire, as loudly as she dared; the Sableye probably failed to understand her words, but it saw her, recognised her as frightening, and instinctively scurried into the nearest dark place it could find: the underside of the jeep.
The vehicle drove away, and Sapphire could just see a flash of white beneath it, where the Sableye was clinging to the dark, oily metal for dear life.