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Old March 30th, 2011 (01:58 PM). Edited May 13th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Thanks for your feedback, PEDRO12. It's very much appreciated.

Chapter Thirty-Six: All Things Bright and Beautiful

Darren Goodwin lay awake in his bed, the cool of the pre-dawn air playing across his upturned face. It was Saturday, his favourite day of the week, and next to him, Melissa was asleep, her arm unconsciously looped over his chest. Moments like these were his favourite times in life, but this one was more bitter than sweet: the higher-ups had decided that he had had a long enough break, and now it was time for him to begin again his search for Kester Ruby and Sapphire Birch.

Outside, birdsong rose and fell in high trills; the leaves of the old oak tree brushed the side of the house with a sigh. Mild-eyed and melancholy as a Lotos-eater, Darren sat up and slid out of bed. He needed to get ready to leave.

---

Fabien blinked once, twice, and then a third time. His eyelids felt rather like someone had varnished them: stiff, uncomfortable and unaccountably shiny.

Shiny?

Fabien sat up and looked around. Shaken into full consciousness by the startling realisation that his eyelids were shiny – something he now realised wasn’t true, and had probably been a mistake born of the fact that he was staring at a lit lamp – he took in his surroundings at a glance. This was a hotel room. There was a bed in it, which contained Fabien; on the floor was Blake. This seemed about right; Fabien usually managed to talk his partner into leaving the comfortable places to sleep for him.

The second thing of note in the room was a table. There were an alarming number of bottles on it, which seemed to indicate that Fabien and Blake had got very drunk the night before. There was also a Crobat on it, which indicated—

“Hang on,” Fabien said aloud, “a Crobat?”

He got up, realised his head hurt and sat down again, holding it gingerly. Either he had a hangover (and this hypothesis was supported by the bottles on the table) or someone had offered him a choice of pills last night, and he had chosen to dream on and take the blue one.

Fabien blinked. No. It had to be a hangover. Didn’t it?

Thinking about it, it could well be that this reality was a mere illusion. After all, he had been starting to get concerns about whether or not he was a main character. That could mean he’d been starting to uncover a terrible secret: that they were perpetually living in a dream of the year 1999...

No. That couldn’t be right. After all, they had much better computers than they had in the nineties.

“Hey,” he said, “I forgot about the Crobat.”

And he got up again and went over to investigate, putting his existential worries out of his head for a while.

The Crobat was, as Crobat are, large, purple and rather unattractive to all those who don’t particularly enjoy the sight of oversized bottom incisors first thing in the morning. It also had a strange blue symbol spray-painted onto its back, which could only mean—

“Goishi?”

The Crobat blinked and hoisted itself onto all fours. In this position, it reminded Fabien quite a lot of the pterodactyls from Jurassic Park, only smaller, less beaky and more purple.

“E-eeeeek?” he asked blearily.

“Goishi... why are you a Crobat?”

EEEEK?!

It seemed to be as much a surprise to Goishi as it was to Fabien, and the ensuing screech of shock woke Blake, who jumped upright, thought he was being attacked and reflexively punched Fabien to the floor.

“What the hell are you doing?” cried Fabien, rubbing his jaw and scrambling up again.

“Wha’ – ’oo – oh, sorry,” said Blake contritely, overcoming his confusion. “I though’ – I though’ we was under attack.”

“From who? We’re lying low, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Blake scratched his head. “Didn’ think of tha’.”

“Honestly.” Fabien massaged his jaw, then returned to his temples, which actually hurt considerably more. “Right. It seems that Goishi has evolved. Do you remember why?”

“No,” answered Blake. “Maybe ’e go’ really drunk and decided ’e liked you enough to evolve?”

Fabien considered this. It could well be true; Goishi was what is known as a happy drunk. If he had got even half as drunk as Fabien seemed to have done, then it was very likely that his friendliness could have increased to the point where he was ready to evolve.

“Ee-eee-ee-e-e-ee-ek,” Goishi said, which probably meant something like ‘will no one consider my feelings in this matter?’ He followed this up with ‘Eee-eeeeeeeee-eek’, which almost certainly meant ‘actually, forget it. You never care about what I think.’

“Well, leaving that mystery to one side,” said Fabien, completely oblivious to Goishi’s sentiments, “we need to decide what we’re going to do today. Something that’ll keep us off the radar.”

“Si’ in ’ere and take painkillers?” suggested Blake. “No one’ll find us, an’ we could use the res’.”

“Blake, Blake, Blake,” Fabien said, with a friendly shake of the head, “that’ll never do. Come on, man. Think about it. We need to keep moving; doubtless, there are Aquas working to track us down as we speak.”

“There are?”

“There are,” confirmed Fabien. “No doubt about that. When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, Blake, you get a sense for these things. A sixth sense.”

“Eee-eek?” Goishi asked snidely, meaning ‘Oh? You see dead people, do you?’

“A sort of criminal-vision,” Fabien said, and it was plain to see that he was warming to his theme. “Yes, that’s it. What do they call it in the business now, ah, it has a name—”

“Eek?” (‘A blatant lie?)

“Yes! That’s precisely it, Goishi!” Fabien cried, snapping his fingers and misreading the great bat completely. “They call it C-sense. For Crook, or criminal, or lots of other things. That’s the beauty of the abbreviation – it stands for all sorts of criminal things. Like... crime, and culpability, and – and cookery.”

“Cookery?” asked Blake, puzzled.

“Yes,” replied Fabien gravely. “Cookery is very important to criminals. Why, back when I first joined the Magmas, I, er, heard of a master thief who habitually robbed banks using nothing more than a good lasagne.”

Goishi slapped one wing across his face and let out an ultrasonic groan. He hated it when Fabien got carried away. Unfortunately, Fabien seemed to be permanently carried away, and so he was in a state of continual hate. Doubtless, this was bad for his soul, but he’d heard it said that Pokémon and animals didn’t have those, so that was one less worry.

“Righ’.” Blake seemed uncertain, but he trusted Fabien, and voiced no doubts. “So what do we do?”

“We find us some aspirin,” Fabien said, counting things off on his fingers. “That’s a prime consideration. Important stuff. Then we hit the brochures and see what the doubtless manifold attractions of Fallarbor are, and spend our day moving from location to location, always one step ahead of the blues, like ghosts in the night.”

He’d painted quite the image, and it was with deep satisfaction that Blake told him it was one of the best ideas he’d heard in a long time.

“You do ’ave these good ideas, Fabien,” he said, slapping the smaller man on the back and almost knocking him over again. “An’ this one’s a cracker, ain’ no doubt abou’ that.”

“I know, I know,” Fabien said, modestly waving his compliments aside. “It comes with practice. One day, Blake, you too will have these ideas. You too, Goishi.”
Goishi gave Fabien a look of great loathing and power, but his target wasn’t looking and so the effort was wasted.

“Now,” Fabien said, picking up the sheaf of complimentary brochures that stocked the bedside cabinet, “let’s see what they’ve got here. I’m sure we can find somewhere to hide out at...”

---


“Puck? Are you awake?”

I’m always awake. Mostly.

“Can we talk?”

It depends what you want to talk about. If you’re going to ask me about my past, or about what I might or might not be hiding from you, then no.

“I want to talk about Sapphire.”

Oh. Puck made a strangely indescribable noise, of which all that I could tell was that it was avuncular. The Jeanie to my Ferris. What do you want to know about Sapphire?

I stared at the ceiling for a while, collecting my thoughts. I wasn’t entirely sure why I’d gone to bed already; I didn’t feel tired at all.

“You know something about her that I don’t.”

We’ve been through this sort of thing before. I’m perceptive, you’re not. I’ve worked out we’re not real, you haven’t. So I know a lot of things about her that you don’t.

“What do you mean, we’re not real?”

It’s a philosophy thing, don’t worry about it. Or maybe it's a plot device. Puck paused. What specific thing that I know about Sapphire that you don’t did you want to talk about?

It took me a second to extract the meaning from his sentence.

“Earlier today, I asked if she would be waiting for me at the Centre, and you said—”

I bet she will, Puck finished for me. I remember.

“And then yesterday, she was—”

Surprisingly pleased to see you, Puck interrupted.

“Yeah.”

So what’s your point, Kester? I assume you’re not a broken pencil or an Uwe Boll film, and that you actually have one.

“Hilarious. I don’t know how you do it. My point is – is it me, or does she hate me less than she used to?”

Definitely, Puck replied immediately. It might help that you’re no longer a captive Pokémon. It’s so much easier to treat someone as an equal when they’re a free being.

“Mm.”

I mean, it’s like in that film... Puck trailed off. Damn it! I can’t remember it!

“You actually forgot a reference?” I asked incredulously. “You?”

I – hey, it’s not impossible! Puck cried defensively. I’m not perfect, however much you might like me to be.

“Than I might like you to be? You’re a narcissist!”

Narcissist? I’m no narcissist! I’m – I’m Echo, goddamn it – I love crazy people!

“Who’s Echo?”

Echo – Narcissus – don’t you get it? No? Gah, no classical education at all.

“I’m not Roman.”

Neither am I. Puck sighed. No, let’s not fight. I can’t be bothered. Go to sleep, Kester.

I looked at the clock on the bedside cabinet. The hands glowed in the gloom, and I thought they were pointing to the one and somewhen past the four.

“It’s gone one o’clock,” I murmured. “Weird.”

Go to sleep, Kester. Puck sounded tired, and I wondered how the mood had suddenly become so serious. We need to get up early tomorrow, to get to the peak of Mount Chimney.

I winced.

“Damn. I’d forgotten about that.”

We’ll take the Fiery Path. It’ll be OK, Sapphire’s Pokémon will take care of the wild ones – if they even dare attack us after today.

Using a clever yet nonsensical blend of amateur psychology and plain bribery, Sapphire and I had inveigled Stacey into giving the inhabitants of Mount Chimney’s interior a serious beating. She had KO’d every Pokémon in our path until one Slugma proved less lethargic than the rest, and had set her on fire with a belch of astonishing ignitive power. Stacey had flown around screaming, crashed into my head and collapsed unconscious on the floor. Before this disaster, though, she had managed to gain a level or two.

Is ‘ignitive’ a word? wondered Puck. If it isn’t, it should be... No! Go to sleep, Kester. Your body works better when rested, and it’s in both of our interests for it to be running well.

“Fine,” I murmured. “I’m sleeping now.”

Liar. Relax... Your eyes are feeling very heavy... limbs like lead... wait, that should have been eyelids, not eyes... your eyelids are very heavy... hey, this is actually working!

There might have been more, but I didn’t hear it: I was already asleep.

---

Felicity was very quiet during the train journey. She could sense people staring at her, but whenever she looked up they looked away; they didn’t want to seem insensitive.

Zero sat opposite her, reading a newspaper in Japanese. He was a widely-travelled man; Felicity doubted that anyone in the carriage other than he and herself could have read that paper – and she didn’t count, because she was actually from Japan.

The scene was not unusual. To the uninformed observer, they appeared to be father and daughter, or maybe uncle and niece; Zero’s silver-grey hair looked like it could have been related to Felicity’s white locks. As she thought of that, Felicity picked up a strand of her hair and stared at it. She wished it hadn’t changed colour, or grown so long; however, that was beyond her control. It was the thing within her that had altered it.

Felicity took in her reflection in the window, and was unable to suppress a shudder. Snow-white hair and skin, utterly bloodless; circles of purple flesh around blue-and-yellow eyes; arms and legs unnaturally thin. There was more, too, that couldn’t be seen: the patches of blotchy flesh that that had appeared around her waist, the twin aches that burned on either side of her head – and the way her hair would move when no one was looking, twisting itself into ropes and snatching at nearby objects.

“Oh, by the way,” Zero said, bringing her back from her trance, “I saved this for you.”

He lowered his paper and held out a single grey headphone. Felicity snatched it from him in her eagerness, and, clipping it back to her ear, pulled out the antenna once again.

“Say thank you.”

“Thank you,” Felicity replied. She didn’t need any prompting. She knew, and Zero knew that any rebellious spirit in her was broken. Maxie had seen to that.

She gave up on trying to tune in to the radio station she wanted – its signal didn’t seem to reach this far – and listened instead to the music that was already on there.

Zero watched her for a moment, an odd expression on his face, then he smiled to himself and went back to the paper. The train sped on into the night, and another piece of the plan fell into place.

---

“I don’t believe it!” Fabien exclaimed. “Boys, we are in luck today!”

He held up a glossy brochure and waved it to and fro; the front bore the words FALLARBOR ZOO.

“A zoo?” asked Blake.

“A zoo,” confirmed Fabien. “Not just any old zoo, either. This zoo has actual animals.”

“Animals?”

“Animals.”

“No, wha’ d’you mean, animals?”

“You know. Animals.” Fabien looked confused. “Like Pokémon, only... not.”

Blake looked blank.

“Blake,” began Fabien, in a patronising sort of voice, “have you ever left the country?”

“No,” was the reply.

“Have you ever seen any non-Hoennian films?”

“I’ve seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

There was a long pause.

“That was possibly the most unexpected thing you’ve ever said to me,” Fabien said, staring at Blake. “But... seen any other non-Hoenn films?”

“No. Bu’ Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was good.”

“Right.” Fabien glanced at Goishi, and the bat stared impassively back. He saw no reason why he should even try and aid his master. “Er... animals, animals...” Fabien stroked his chin and mused. “How do I explain what an animal is?”

“Maybe a dictionary migh’ ’elp,” suggested Blake. Fabien snapped his fingers.

“Right! Let’s find one. To the bookshops!”

Fabien bounded over to the door, forgetting his hangover, and collapsed in agony on the floor mid-step, clutching at his skull.

Akkkk, God, that hurts,” he said in a strangled whisper. “OK, first we go to the chemist’s, and buy some aspirin. Then we’ll hit the bookshops.”

Thirty minutes and one transaction later, Fabien and Blake were standing in a bookshop, leafing through the A section of a copy of the Epimetheus Hoennian Dictionary. It was not that Epimetheus had compiled it, but for reasons best known to himself, he had lent his name to the text. Goishi was outside, since he was too large to bring in, and his wings would have fanned up all the pages of the books.

“Animal,” Fabien said, pointing it out. “Any member of the kingdom Animalia, typically being complex eukaryotic multicellular organisms that differ from plants in lacking the capability to photosynthesise and requiring complex nutrients such as proteins. See also Pokémon.”

“Well, wha’ did all tha’ mean?” asked Blake. “I still don’ get it.”

“Hum. OK, this first bit, ‘complex eukaryotic multicellular organisms’ means they’re made up of more than one cell – that’s the ‘multicellular’ bit. The ‘eukaryotic’ means... it means they all have these things called eukas.”

“What the ’ell’s a yooka when it’s a’ ’ome?”

“A euka is... a special organ,” Fabien told him, “found in the brain of animals, and people too. It, er, contains their natural power.”

“Eh?”

“Well, people can’t use Pokémon powers, can they?”

“No...?”

“So there you go. The euka is what’s stopping you.”

“Can’t we ’ave it removed?”

“No. It also... controls your limbs. So if you take it out, you get paralysed.”

“Oh. I see.”

Fabien mentally patted himself on the back.

“Wha’s this ‘photosynthesis’ thing?”

“That’s what plants do. They can make light into energy.”

“Righ’.” Blake nodded warmly at Fabien. “You’re learned, you know tha’?”

“Oh, no,” Fabien said demurely. “Not me.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Oh, if you insist.” Fabien patted himself mentally on the back.

“Bu’ I still don’ understand,” Blake said, “wha’ animals acherly are.”

“You know what Pokémon are?”

“Yeah.”

“And you know what humans are?”

“Well, animals are a lot like Pokémon, only they’re like humans in that they don’t have any superpowers.”

There was a pause.

“Bu’... wha’ if they get attacked?” Blake asked. “Don’ they just die?”

“Oh, they’ve got ways of defending themselves,” Fabien said. “Some are very fast, some have thick shells and things. Some are very strong, some are very big, some are poisonous, some have sharp teeth and claws – they can take care of themselves.”

“Do they ’ave types?”

Fabien gave a short and very patronising laugh.

“No, Blake, they don’t. It gives them a massive advantage over Pokémon – they’re much more common in most parts of the world. It’s just that Hoenn is one of the few places where there aren’t very many of them.”

“We ’ave some?”

“Yes. Mostly insects and fish and things.”

“Oh,” said Blake, and the light visibly dawned on him. “I always wondered where fish came from.”

Fabien wondered if perhaps Blake had been replaced like a pod person since they had left the hotel room. Surely no one man could claim to have seen and enjoyed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and also to not know where fish came from?

“Hey! You two!”

A tall and irritable man in horn-rimmed spectacles came over to them; according to the badge on his shirt, his name was Mazuza. This struck Fabien as singularly unlikely, but he supposed it took it all sorts.

“What is it?” he asked.

“This isn’t a library,” he said. “Are you going to buy that or not?”

“We were just looking up the definition of ‘animal’,” Fabien explained. “My friend didn’t know what they are.”

“I’m still no’ a hundred per cen’ sure,” Blake added confidingly.

Mazuza stared at them.

“Don’t know what animals are?”

“I know, it’s surprising,” Fabien said. “It threw me at first, too.”

“Why, animals are like Pokémon, only they have different superpowers,” Mazuza said.

Fabien stared.

“No,” he replied, “that’s not true. They don’t have any superpowers.”

“I have a cousin who has a friend who has a sister who has a boyfriend who has a brother who has a pet dog,” Mazuza said haughtily, “and they got him in America.”

Fabien had to take a step back. This was getting serious. Bringing in America like that... Mazuza’s cousin’s friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother must be rich. Fabien knew all sorts of things about America (some of which were even true) and one of them was that everyone there was rich, and so it followed that the dogs must be very expensive.

Still, he couldn’t let a mere shop assistant bring him down like that. He would have to fight back, and establish his supremacy. It was his duty as a learned man.

“Well I,” he said, in a dignified voice, “I’ve actually stroked a rabbit.”

Mazuza’s eyes widened, Fabien noted with satisfaction. That ought to show him. It wasn’t even a lie – he actually had. He’d been on an English exchange trip, and the host family had had a rabbit. It was one of the most amazing things he’d ever seen. All the rumours and the legends had been true: the ears really were long and pointy, and it really did eat carrots and hop around. The only thing it didn't do was say 'What's up, doc?', but Fabien had never really thought that one was true anyway.

“You’ve been abroad?” Mazuza asked respectfully. “To... America?”

“To England,” answered Fabien proudly. It was the opinion of most people in Hoenn that America was the pinnacle of civilisation, but the English people he’d met had been so secure in their superiority over Americans that he’d worked out that their country must have been the real best in the world.

“Ah,” said Mazuza. “I’ve never been.”

It was true that it was difficult. The exchange trip had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; Hoennian Airways planes tended to stop working after being in the air for more than an hour and a half, and so it wasn’t really practical to leave the country unless you could get a seat on another airline’s plane – and those were rare, and highly sought-after.

“Well, then,” Fabien said, “I say that animals have no superpowers at all. Now, Blake, let us leave. We have a zoo to get to.”

He held his head high and swept out past Mazuza, eyes half-closed in an imperial manner. This and the head-lifting meant that he didn’t see the small table in front of him, and consequently suffered some injury, but he left the shop with his dignity, unlike his legs, intact.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.