View Single Post
  #153    
Old July 12th, 2011 (08:49 AM). Edited July 23rd, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Sixty-Three: Nightmare on Bell Street


What d'you mean, go to the hospital?” asked Luke. “What's there?”

I don't know,” I answered, “but I have the weirdest feeling... We need to go there. I need to go there.”

Kester, you're not making any sense,” said Beatrix cautiously. “I'm not sure we should—”

This whole day isn't making any sense,” I pointed out, slightly irately. “All I know is that there's something at the hospital, and I need to be there.”

There was a pause.

There... couldn't be any harm in going, could there?” asked Luke hesitantly. “I mean, it's a hospital. There's nothing to be afraid of there.”

We shouldn't be following weird hunches,” Beatrix cautioned us. “Kester, you're not really rational right now.”

Do we have any other ideas?” I asked. The answer was evident in the ensuing silence. “All right then. Let's go.”

So we went outside – passing a wall display in which a Rotom exhorted young people to read, and me to wake up – retrieved our bikes, and cycled off to the Central Rustboro Hospital.

---


Supervisor Antonio – he who had once, on a dark and stormy night, entertained the bandits with a story – was not a happy man.

Usually, this phrase is used to indicate that someone is angry, and it would not be incorrect to say that this was indeed the case. But on this particular occasion, Antonio was more than angry. He was also rather frightened. And a frightened, angry man is not only unhappy, but also one who might do something wild and dangerous to those around him.

Supervisor Antonio was angry because his grunts had failed. He was frightened because Maxie would not be pleased to hear that yet another lead on Zero had come to nought. And the people around him were Blake and Fabien.

He was on the verge of doing something wild and dangerous to them.

The whole thing was a set-up?” he asked. He had asked this before – this was the time commonly referred to as the umpteenth – but he knew not what else to say.

That's right, sir,” said Fabien. “Looks like Devon are after Ruby, too.”

I'll draw the conclusions around here,” snapped Antonio.

Sorry, sir.” Fabien looked suitably abashed.

Devon must be after Ruby too,” Antonio mused. “Doubtless they want him for their research.”

It does seem likely,” agreed Fabien. “They do a lot of that sort of stuff, don't they?”

Latch, are you incapable of remaining silent for more than half a second?” asked Antonio waspishly.

Sorry, sir.” Once again, Fabien looked abashed.

Blake raised a hand.

Put it down, this isn't a primary school,” said Antonio witheringly. “What is it, Henderson?”

Wha' sor' of stuff is it tha' Devon do?” he asked.

Enhancement,” replied Antonio, with the air of one who knows he is wasted upon his audience. “Magneton made of nine Magnemite, super-soldiers, that sort of thing.”

He did some pacing, encountered an obstacle in the form of his hat-stand, and smote it viciously to the floor in vexation.

Why in God's name do I have a hat-stand?” Antonio demanded to know; as this was a question that neither of them could answer, Blake and Fabien kept silent. “I mean, who has hat-stands?” he asked, aggrieved.

I wouldn't know, sir,” replied Fabien. “Not knowing anyone who has a hat-stand. Except you.”

Bah.” Antonio came to a halt, drew out a large white handkerchief and mopped his brow with it; as it returned to his pocket, one could see that it was now distinctly grey. “Well,” its owner said, “I don't need to tell you how displeased Maxie will be.”

No,” replied Blake, thinking of the time the boss had called them in Slateport, “you don't.”

Good,” said Antonio, suddenly businesslike. “I'm sure you'll understand why I have to tell him this is all your fault, then.”

What?” cried Fabien. “Sir, we were set up—”

Hardly my problem.” Antonio sat down again and shuffled some papers on his desk.

But sir, we'd be being blamed for something that isn't our fault!”

In all honesty,” Antonio said, after a considered pause, “that doesn't really bother me. And it would make a nice change for you – usually, you get blamed for things that are your fault, don't you?”

Fabien looked at Blake, then back at Antonio in an impotent rage.

Sir,” he said stiffly, after a long pause, “I think we'll be taking our leave of you now.”

Go on then,” replied Antonio genially. “Just keep your phones on, so the boss can call to give you hell when he hears.”

It seemed the audience was at an end. Blake and Fabien left, and the difference in the two men's mettle could clearly be seen in the way they did so. The latter stalked out with an exaggerated air of haughty indignation; the former, a different breed of idiot, merely filed out – quite an achievement, considering there was only one of him.

This is an outrage!” said Fabien as they walked out into the street, and if Goishi had been there he would probably have had some unintelligible quip in response to that – most likely in reference to a Mister Tony Harrison – but he was, however, absent. For Goishi was in the Pokémon Centre, recovering from what had been identified as a rather serious head injury, and, no matter how much of an outrage the situation was, it was now the time to go and pick him up.

---


Something's not right here,” I said.

The hospital looked exactly as it did three years ago, when I'd come here with a broken wrist as the result of attempting to text while cycling: a great grey slab of concrete studded with windows, like a gigantic tombstone for everyone within its halls. There were ambulances at the front, and people rushing in, out and around it in that muddled, busy way people do at hospitals.

But for all that, something was very, very wrong.

I don't see anything weird,” Luke said.

That's because there isn't anything weird here,” Beatrix told him. “Kester, this is just a hospital.”

There's something inside,” I said, staring fixedly at an upper-floor window. “Up there, on the fourth floor.”

Kester—”

I was already off my bike and heading for the main entrance.

Kester!”

The automatic doors slid open and I stepped into a cool, air-conditioned lobby. I touched the reception desk and a nearby pot plant; somehow, they seemed familiar, as if my last visit had not been three years ago but just a few days ago.

Good morning,” said the receptionist. “It's Kester Ruby, isn't it?”

What?” I turned to look at her; catching up with me, Luke and Beatrix did the same.

Mister Goodfellow said you'd be here,” she said, smiling. “He asked me to pass on this message.”

She handed me a little envelope; I tore it open and read the two words printed on the paper within.

WAKE UP.

I glanced at Luke, and then at Beatrix.

Um... who is Mister Goodfellow?” I asked the receptionist.

He said you wouldn't remember him,” she replied. “I'm sure he's around somewhere.”

Uh, OK, but who is he?”

I'm sure he's around somewhere,” she repeated, and I couldn't get anything else out of her.

This is weird,” Luke said. “Kester, I think we should leave.”

No, I think we should find Mister Goodfellow,” I replied stubbornly. “Are you two coming?”

Luke looked at Beatrix; he was hopelessly out of his depth here. So was Bea, really, but she didn't show it.

It's probably better if we go with you,” she said. “I don't think you should be going anywhere on your own right now.” She sighed. “Where do you want to go?”

I don't know.” I glanced around. “Let's ask someone.”

I went up to a passing doctor and asked him where I could find Mister Goodfellow; it ought to have surprised me when he said that I could find him on the fourth floor, but it didn't really. That was where I'd sensed something was waiting, after all.

We took the lift up there; it was empty apart from the three of us. As it rose, I thought I heard a song in the distance:

It’s comin’ up, it’s comin’ up
It’s comin’ up, it’s comin’ up
It’s comin’ up, it’s comin’ up
It’s DARE.

Can you hear that?” I asked, but neither Luke nor Beatrix could.

The doors slid open and we stepped out into a long, cold corridor; it was completely empty, and, no matter how hard I listened, utterly silent.

Kester, I think we should leave now,” whispered Beatrix. I could tell she was scared. I was too – this was far and away the most unnerving thing that had ever happened to me. But I couldn't stop now, not when the answers were so close.

It won't take long,” I said, then realised how much more eerie the silence was when you spoke normally. I lowered my voice to a whisper, like Beatrix, and repeated: “It won't take long. I promise.”

I don't think we're meant to be here,” said Luke nervously.

It won't take long,” I said again. I didn't know what else to say.

I crept down the corridor, walking as quietly as I could; the silence felt alive, and it seemed that any sound at all might sting it into anger. I didn't want to find out what might happen if it were angry. Behind me, Beatrix slipped her hand into Luke's; alone at the front, I suddenly felt very small, and very vulnerable.

We turned left and went on a little further; a few metres down, I felt some strange sensation tug at me, and I stopped.

What is it?” asked Luke. “Realised we should leave yet?”

No,” I replied. “It's here... on the right.”

I turned, and there it was: a door, like any other in this building. This door, though – this door had something behind it.

My heart began to pound, and I felt all the moisture vanish from my mouth.

What's in there?” asked Beatrix fearfully.

I don't know,” I replied, trembling fingers closing on the handle. They rested there for a moment while I worked up the courage to open it.

We don't have to do this,” Beatrix said. “We could leave and forget all about the Rotom.”

I said nothing. I was willing my wrist to move, but I couldn't do it; I just couldn't turn the handle.

Kester, let's get out of here,” Luke said earnestly. “This place is bad. I don't know what's going on—”

Well, you wouldn't, would you?” I snapped. My voice boomed loud in the silent corridor, and we all flinched. “Sorry,” I said, almost immediately afterwards. “Sorry. It's just... I’m scared.”

We all are,” said Beatrix. “So, let's go.”

That's the thing,” I said, “I can't. So all I have to do is—”

My wrist jerked, the handle turned, and the door swung open; I started into the room, eyes alighting on—

nothing but an old and abstruse machine, dusty and cobwebbed, in the middle of an empty room.

Is this it?” Luke asked. “Oh. Makes you wonder what we were scared of.”

Yeah,” agreed Beatrix. “What is that thing, anyway?”

It's a P-L.O.T. Device,” I murmured. “It scans your brain for defects.”

How do you know—?”

I don't know.”

I took a step forwards and wiped dust from one futuristic wing of the Device; I saw now that there was a large crack running through it, and that part of it was dangling only by a few wires.

It's broken,” I said. “It must have broken when...” I trailed off, frowning. “I know this! It must have broken when – when...” I couldn't get it, and broke off with a sigh. “I don't know.”

Kester, you are really scaring me,” Beatrix whispered. “What are you talking about?”

I turned to face her and Luke.

I don't know,” I admitted. “The answer's here... Mister Goodfellow's here...” And then a clue came, suddenly and without warning, like the rest of this strange, wild day. “If I just... turn... left.”

I looked to my left, and it was painfully slow, as if the air had turned to tar; my own neck seemed to resist me, and I had to fight to turn. But when I had, I saw it: a door, just tall and wide enough to admit one person of precisely my size, with a Rotom printed on the front.

There it is,” I said breathlessly, taking a step towards the door. “That's the ans—”

A pair of hands grabbed each of my wrists, and, startled, I turned to see Luke and Beatrix holding me back.

We tried,” said Luke, “but you wouldn't listen to reason, would you?”

Luke? Bea? What's going on?”

You can call us Luke and Beatrix if you like,” Beatrix said, “but that's not really what we are. You might call us parasites, or conjurations, or, if you want to be precise, mind-hacks.”

What – what are you doing?”

I couldn't keep the fear out of my voice, and both of them grinned upon hearing it.

We were placed here to maintain this world,” Luke told me. “And to make sure you didn't leave. Our creator believed that Mister Goodfellow would be trapped in here too – but his incomplete synthesis with your mind has left him adrift, outside this world and yet incapable of wholly breaking free from it. Unfortunately, it seems he also has a modicum of control over it – hence his somewhat unnerving efforts to contact you.”

Luke, Bea, you are scaring me now,” I said. “Let me go!”

That's not an option,” Beatrix replied. “Remembering would cause you to realise the true nature of this place, and we just can't let that happen. It isn't part of the plan.”

I’m not sure what I did, but I know it hurt; something like flashes of light bounced around the inside of my head, and my arms felt like they'd been brushed with red-hot irons. Sparks danced through Beatrix and Luke, and they wavered like failing television pictures; it was just for a moment, but it was long enough for me to slip free, and run for the door with the Rotom picture—

---


Oh, at last!

It was dark here, and there was nothing around save a spiky ball of orange light, with two prongs of blue lightning growing from either side of it.

It's so good of you to drop by, said Puck dryly. I was beginning to think you might have decided that you preferred the illusion to reality.

I’m asleep, aren't I? I said, ignoring his snide remarks.

Yes, you are, and a little thanks wouldn't go amiss. Without any prior experience, I single-handedly freed you from one of the strongest psychic prisons I've ever come across, using nothing but my charm and poise.

Then why aren't I awake?

Oh, you're still asleep, Puck said. We're just backstage in the dream, as it were. The mind-hacks can't get us here. They can only operate within the dream.

Zero was going to keep me there, wasn't he? Until he wanted me awake again.

Which might very well have been never, Puck concluded. A nasty trick, that. Though I have to say, using ThunderShock whilst in your own brain was also pretty nasty. You probably reduced your IQ by about 15 points – but on the plus side, you wrecked the synapses where the mind-hacks were hanging out. Hence their wobbliness. He paused. Right, are you ready to leave now? Because I sure as hell am.

I've lost 15 points off my IQ? I’m more stupid now?

Don't worry, you were pretty dumb before; no one will be able to tell. And if you're lucky, it won't even be permanent. Are you ready to leave now?

God, yes. I don't want to spend another minute in this dream.

Good! Wake up, then.

There was a long pause.

You do know how to wake up, right? Puck asked, with a note of panic in his voice.

Usually, I do it automatically, I replied sardonically. But in case you hadn't noticed, this dream is a bit different to normal.

All right, all right, keep your hair on. Puck thought for a moment, his electric-blue eyes pulsing with waves of light. His whole being seemed to shift and change with every thought that passed through it; he was a bit like a living visualiser. OK, he said, after some time. Can you tell you're asleep?

Yes.

Can you feel your real body as well as your dream-body?

I shut my eyes and focused; yes, if I thought about it, I seemed to be lying down on something soft at the same time as standing in this dark abyss.

Yeah.”

That's good! You said that aloud, not in your mind. Open your eyes. Open your real eyes, and wake up...

A crack appeared high up in the abyss, a ray of blinding light pouring in through the hole in the dark.

That's it! Wider! Puck looked excited, his little orange body bouncing in midair. Keep going!

The crack swelled; it was more of a rift now, and beyond it was something blurry, white surrounded by black surrounded by white. I could barely see Puck now; defined by light, he was almost invisible against such a bright background.

Almost there! cried Puck, and then he faded away, and I was staring upwards at Sapphire's downturned face.

---


In a luxurious penthouse apartment on Lilycove's prestigious Bell Street, a conversation was taking place. It was, by the standards of normal people, rather a strange conversation.

This was because it was taking place between myself, Sapphire, Felicity and Steven (with the odd word from Puck), and the subject was my weird, Zero-induced coma, and the mind-hacks that had accompanied it.

You might be surprised that I was up and about so soon after being beaten to a bloody pulp by Matt's Swampert. The fact is that I wasn't: I was lying on the sofa, feeling like I'd just been pressed into serves as the floor of an elephants' ballroom, and doing as little speaking as possible on account of my sore jaw. And my sore face. In fact, my sore everything.

From what you describe,” Steven was saying, “this was the work of a very powerful Psychic-type.”

Definitely,” Puck agreed through the two massive speakers that flanked Steven's TV. “This ain't any of your Xatu or Gardevoir stuff. We're talking something on the magnitude of an Alakazam, a Gengar – real hardcore.”

Those are restricted Pokémon,” Sapphire said. She had been very pleased to see me awake again; so much so, in fact, that she'd almost compounded my injuries into something worse with the force of the hug she gave me. “You need a license to keep something like that—”

I sincerely doubt that Zero is worried about licensing laws,” Steven said, standing up and starting to pace. Since I'd woken, I'd noticed he was extraordinarily agitated; the result, I presumed, of coming so close to nabbing Zero and falling at the final hurdle. “No, whatever it is, we can't track it through the League system. Particularly since we can't contact them at present.”

How is he doing that, do you think?” asked Felicity. I'd liked her reaction to my awakening best, since it, like Sapphire's, involved a hug, and unlike Sapphire's, involved Felicity. “Something about it does not seem right...”

Nothing about this seems right,” Steven replied, scratching furiously at his head. “I can't puzzle any of it out. It shouldn't be possible for him to block off all communications to the League; it shouldn't be possible for him to bring a Ghost or a Psychic strong enough to create that coma into the country without being stopped at the border; it shouldn't have been possible for him to kill Rayquaza!”

Her hand happened to be resting on my arm, and so I felt Sapphire tense as he said this. She wasn't yet over it, then.

But we can look on the bright side,” Puck said cheerily. “I mean, we know where the Aquas are going, don't we? To a deep-sea cavern. In their yellow submarine.”

It was white,” I pointed out weakly.

As I so often say, and you so often ignore: that was a joke, Kester.” The speakers sighed. “The point is, I bet that's where the Orb is.”

Without question,” agreed Steven.

Now, I hate to impose,” Puck went on, in the sort of voice that conveyed precisely the opposite, “but, well, you had a private jet, didn't you, Steven?”

Ye-es...?”

So you don't happen to have a nice submarine knocking about, do you?”

No,” replied Steven. “Regretfully, I don't.”

I see,” said Felicity. “How will we follow the Aquas, then?”

There was a long pause.

I must apologise,” Steven said slowly. “I really must. But my resources are spent. There is nothing I can do to help you down to the bottom of the sea, or to find out where precisely this cavern is.”

You don't know a rich submariner or anything?” Sapphire asked hopefully. Steven shook his head mournfully.

I'm terribly sorry,” he apologised again. “Truly, I am. But the only rich submariner I know has just left for the bottom of the sea with his criminal team. I’m afraid I don't think there are evenany other submarines available.”

But...” I put one hand on the arm of the sofa and levered myself into a sitting position, wincing as I moved. “But... this can't end here!”

I'm afraid I can't see the way out,” Steven replied.

I cross-dressed, was beaten up and went into a coma all during the course of a single night,” I said baldly. “I refuse to believe I went through all that for nothing. And that,” I continued, warming to my theme, “doesn't even begin to take into account everything else I've suffered in the last couple of weeks. I've been shot at, set on fire, electrocuted, forced to crash a car without a seatbelt, verbally and physically abused and thrown down a cliff and the world's longest fire escape. And there's no way in hell that I can accept that all of that was a waste of my time.”

Silence greeted my impassioned speech, and, unsure of whether or not it should stay, lingered for a while before finally leaving as Puck said:

Well. I rather think we just got told off. How about you, boys and girls?”

Shut up, Puck,” muttered Sapphire. “Kester's right.” She turned to Steven. “There has to be a way of following them.”

I refuse to let Zero defeat me,” said Felicity simply.

Steven looked at our hostile faces in some bewilderment.

But I never said you should give up,” he explained. “I only said that I couldn't think of a way to progress.”

Oh.” Sapphire shot me a look; it told me in no uncertain terms that no matter how battered I was, I was in trouble for misinterpreting Steven and making her look unreasonable.

Well, it's nice to see everyone getting along so well,” Puck said, “but you're all being remarkably stupid. There's a very easy way to follow the Aquas.”

Everyone turned to look at the speakers. Then, realising that that was stupid, they looked at me; eventually, undecided as to where Puck actually was, they went back to looking in random directions.

That was also pretty stupid,” Puck sniggered. “You looked like meerkats who can't decide what they're meant to be looking for.”

Just tell us what—!”

Calm down, Sapphire, it's only a commercial. Now, gather around, children. I’m about to impart an absolutely fantastic idea, the like of which I can guarantee you'll never have heard before...”
__________________

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