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Old August 26th, 2011, 11:18 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
I've changed the wording there, Silent Memento. Oh, and the conman who worked with Iago isn't Cyrus. I'll tell you that much.

In other news, there will be no new chapters until Tuesday/Wednesday next, for I am heading off to oh-so-sunny Wales for a week, and then participating in the 3-Day Novel contest, which will leave me no time to write this story.

Chapter Five: In Which the Gardening Society Get Their Comeuppance

'The threat of raptor attack has decreased in recent years, but is nevertheless still present. In Dane Valley in particular, one should always be careful, especially in the spring, when the males attempt to attract mates by making as many kills as possible.'
—Bobby Muldoon, The Sinnish Countryside


“Oh. I see. Yes ma'am. Yes. Of course.”

Liza slid her phone shut and turned to Tristan.

“They already left the city,” she said grimly. “They took the bus.”

“Seriously?” Tristan took a step back, stunned. “Wow. That's dedication.”

“So I gather.” Liza sighed. “Get in the car, we're going to Floaroma.”

“What? Why Floaroma?”

“Because Commander Mars says so.”

This was reason enough for Tristan, and he got into the taxi without further complaint. As they drove off, he did attempt to inquire what measures were being taken to stop the trio of investigators that had discovered far too much about them for one day's work – but this was met with the curt reply that he would 'see'.

Something was definitely up, Tristan decided – but what exactly it was remained, as Liza had said, to be seen.

---

Ashley was walking back through the moonlit streets, wrapped in thought. The Gardening Society had been most informative, and he had a lot to ponder. If he had not had so much to ponder – if he had not been working on a puzzle in the middle of his brain – he might have noticed how quiet the city was, or that he was the only person walking down this street.

Regrettably, this was the sort of thing that would have been very beneficial to notice before the old ladies emerged from the shadows.

There were eight of them, and they materialised from doorways, alleys, the crevices behind lampposts; each of them wore the silver trowel pin that marked them out as a member of the Gardening Society, and each brandished a different garden implement in a way that made it clear that they intended to use them for something other than the manufacturer attended.

“Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar evidently thought herself insulted,” observed Ashley. He didn't seem to be unduly concerned, despite the fact that was surrounded by a ring of vicious pensioners.

“It's not that,” said Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar, who was heading the delegation. “Ordinarily, yes, we would sell information about Eterna's underworld. But these people are different. There are some powerful people involved. People who do not wish to have their interests threatened. And so we've got no choice but to make you disappear.”

Ashley raised an eyebrow.

“Really. You don't think people might have tried to have me killed before?”

“They probably have,” replied Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar. “But I don't see any way out of this situation for you.”

Ashley turned slowly on the spot, taking in each old lady in turn. He saw shears, secateurs, pitchforks, even a small lawnmower. He considered briefly the possible effects of being mown to death, and concluded it would be very, very unpleasant.

“This does look bad,” he admitted. “But there wouldn't be any fun in solving the problem if it was easy, would there?”

“Kill him,” ordered Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar, and the Gardening Society members advanced.

---

“Good morning, Sinnoh, and let me just say, it looks like today's going to be a scorcher. The weekend looks set to be perfect...”

I groaned, reached out and thumped – but my fist didn't connect with anything, which was weird because I’d hit the snooze button on the radio alarm clock so many times over the past year that I never missed.

“A quick round-up of the top news stories: the investigation into the explosion at Dürer Station is ongoing; raptor attacks in Dane Valley and the Wolds are at their highest since 1998; and Prime Minister Lionel Walsh has today set himself at odds with the President by opposing the proposed military operation in the Middle East...”

“Shut up,” I moaned. “I can't absorb news right now...” I lashed out again, and this time hit something that swore and punched me. Thankfully, whatever it was had all the strength of an anaemic Magikarp, and didn't do much other than surprise me.

Now I opened my eyes, and remembered that I wasn't in my apartment. I was in bed in a hotel room in Eterna, and in trying to hit the alarm clock I’d thumped Iago on the head.

“What the hell?” he cried, sitting up. “Jonas, I told you, I’ll have your money by—” He stopped abruptly. “Oh. Morning.”

“Good morning.” I blinked and registered the fact that he was quite a long way away – in the other bed, in fact. “Wow. I didn't know my arms were that long.”

“Neither did I.” Iago rubbed his shoulder. “You humans. Long-limbed and brutish.”

“Shut up.”

“...and here's Tiffany with the weather,” the radio said. I got it firmly in my sights, held it still with one hand in case it made a break for it and put it out of action with a well-placed fist.

“That's better,” remarked Iago. “The stupid thing was almost as bad as you.”

I turned to look at him.

“Are you going back to sleep?” I asked.

“Definitely,” he replied, and we were both just about asleep again when Ashley burst into the room.

“We have to leave Eterna,” he said, gasping for breath. “Come on! Get up, the pair of you!”

“Oh, what? How the hell did you find us?” I groaned, sitting up.

“I'm a detective, how do you think? Come on! We're leaving the city right now!” Ashley grabbed hold of both bedspreads and whisked them away from us. “Both of you, get up!”

“I'm up, I’m up,” Iago grumbled. “Jesus. Why do you never just shake my shoulder? It's always about the duvet-whisking with you.”

“We're in a hurry,” Ashley said, and I noticed now that there was a nasty-looking cut above his right eye. “Or rather, I am in a hurry, and you ought to be in a hurry if you don't want to be brought down with me.”

“What happened?” I asked, getting up and looking around for my shoes before realising I was still wearing them. “How'd your investigation go?”

“I'd rather not talk about it,” replied Ashley stiffly. “But please! We must go. Now!”

“All right, I’m coming.” Iago dropped lightly from bed to floor, staggered for a moment and clutched at his head. “Ouch. Did you get in someone's way again?”

“There's no time to talk now. I’ll tell you when we're safe.”

That sounded ominous, and Iago and I sped up our preparations accordingly. Thirty minutes later, we were aboard a train and heading west to Floaroma.

---

“Right,” said Ashley, peering out of the window. “I think we might be safe now.”

“What the hell is going on?” I asked him.

“I went asking about Galactic in the Eterna under—”

“Galactic? What's that?”

“The name of the organisation that want us dead,” Iago replied. “We didn't tell you because... yeah, we didn't tell you.”

I resisted the urge to punch both him and Ashley, sighed, and said:

“OK. Carry on.”

“I went asking about Galactic in the Eterna underworld, and though I got some information, I also made some enemies.” Ashley indicated the cut on his forehead. “I made the mistake of treating Eterna criminals like Jubilife criminals. My reputation doesn't strike so much fear into people here.”

Despite myself, I smiled.

“You made a mistake,” I pointed out happily.

Ashley glared at me.

“I'm only human,” he replied irritably. “I'm allowed to do that.”

“Was it the Gardening Society?” asked Iago. Ashley nodded. “Yeah, those old ptitsas are crazy.”

I wondered what connection a Gardening Society could possibly have to the underworld, decided that the reasons my imagination constructed would always outclass the reality, and just asked:

“OK, so what did you find out?”

“People calling themselves Galactic turned up about a month ago,” Ashley said. “No one knows where they came from or who they're working for. They came into conflict with Eterna's main criminal syndicate, the Gardening Society” – I suppressed a giggle; the idea of a gang of gardening crooks was just too stupid – “but they got over it quickly, since they actually didn't seem to interfere with anything that the Society does. Apart from that, all I found out was that recently, Galactic has been sending people east to Floaroma.”

“Why?”

“I don't know yet. That's why we're fleeing to Floaroma and not back to Jubilife; we need to find out what they were doing.”

“OK.”

There was now a silence.

“Have you nothing else to offer?” asked Ashley. “At this point, Iago usually offers a scintillating insight.”

I looked at Iago, who shrugged.

“Hey, you're playing the part of the sidekick here,” he said. “For once, I don't have to think; I’m just tagging along for protection from Galactic.”

“OK,” I said. “Er... Galactic want to steal flowers?”

Ashley gave me a long look.

“Honey?” I hazarded.

The look continued, and I was officially stymied. I’d named Floaroma's only two products, and now couldn't think of anything else.

“What's the only significant thing near Floaroma Town?” Iago asked.

“The big meadow?”

“No, you damn nazz,” he snapped, “it's the Valley Windworks.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “That. I forgot about that.”

“Now that you've remembered,” Ashley said dryly, “perhaps you'd like to apply your keen mind to the question of what Galactic might want there.”

“Do you already know the answer?”

“A process of deduction might have led me to a reasonable conclusion.”

“That's a 'yes',” clarified Iago.

“OK.” I sat back and thought hard: this was my chance to impress them with my skills as a detective. There was no reason why I couldn't do it; I’d been clever enough to get into the University of Jubilife, hadn't I? Besides, if I couldn't solve this one, I’d have to resign myself to being Ashley and Iago's idiot friend, which wasn't exactly what I’d had in mind when I followed them to Eterna.

“Some time today would be nice,” Iago said.

“I'm thinking,” I snapped.

What did I know about the Valley Windworks? It hardly ever showed up on the news, and it wasn't something I’d ever gone out of my way to research. I knew that they supplied Western Sinnoh with a large amount of its electricity, the way Sunyshore Electrics supplied the east; I knew that they used wind power, and I knew that the whole plant was almost entirely automatic from half a documentary I’d once been drunk enough to watch (though thankfully also drunk enough to almost completely forget).

“High-end windmill controlling technology?” I guessed.

Ashley looked surprised.

“I didn't expect that of you,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied, sitting up straight in self-satisfaction.

“But you're wrong,” he went on.

“Oh,” I said, and slumped again. “What do they actually want?”

“I'm not sure,” he told me. “But your thoughts might shed some light on what they do want.”

“Why did you say you knew?” I demanded to know.

“If you were listening, he never actually said that,” Iago said. “He only implied. It's called a test, and, exceeding all expectations, you came up with something half decent.” He sounded sour. “Can I pay you Monday?”

“No. By the end of tomorrow,” Ashley replied.

“Were you betting on how intelligent I was?” I asked suspiciously.

“We might have been,” admitted Iago.

“I thought you thought I wasn't very clever?”

“And I still do,” said Ashley soothingly. “Don't worry about that. It's just that I thought you might posses some rudimentary deductive skills. And it seems you do, so Iago owes me seven hundred dollars.”

“That's not that much.”

“It is if you're broke. Which I am, because I’m unemployable.”

That cast a gloomy tone over everything, and we lapsed back into silence until Stephanie called me again, and I had to defend myself against the combined might of her angry worries and worried anger. She called me childish, selfish and moronic, after which I suggested that she could always write my essay for me. After that, she hung up, and I wondered whether I ought to apologise.

Some time later, we arrived, tired and hungry, in Floaroma's lone train station, which was about as busy as a graveyard at midnight. I think we were the only people who got off or on, and we were three of approximately seven people who were actually in the station, including railway staff.

“I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere,” I complained as we stepped out onto the street.

“We are in the middle of nowhere,” replied Iago. “Which means... hey, I’ll see you guys later.”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Gonna scam some hicks,” he called from halfway down the road. “I'll find you two later.”

With that, he vanished around the corner, and I turned to Ashley.

“So,” I said brightly. “Shall we get some breakfast?”

He looked startled, as if this word was entirely unfamiliar to him, and he suspected it might be a weapon of some kind.

“Breakfast?”

“Yeah. The first meal of the day, usually had before eleven o'clock so as to avoid confusion with brunch, elevenses, the mid-morning snack and, last but certainly not least, lunch.”

“Oh. Are you hungry?”

I decided that this was probably the reason Ashley was so thin and so small, and said that yes, I was hungry, as were all sensible people at ten in the morning when they hadn't had breakfast.

“Fine,” Ashley said. “You go and have breakfast, and I—”

“Nope,” I said cheerfully. “I came with you to be part of the investigation, and since I know for a fact that you didn't eat anything for lunch or dinner yesterday, I insist you come with me.”

“Food is uninteresting—”

“There are a lot of women who'd kill to be able to feel that way,” I observed, then grabbed his arm firmly and guided him down the flower-lined street. He seemed fairly resigned – he must have already worked out that I was much stronger than him – and so I steered him into the Cherrim Café without difficulty. As soon as I’d entered, I backed out again, for it smelled more like flowers than the street outside, and the girl behind the counter was wearing a hat shaped like a giant rose.

Eventually, I found a café that wasn't hideously weird, sat Ashley down and finally got to eat something. He barely touched his food, and eventually I had to admit defeat: I could lead Ashley to breakfast, but I couldn't make him eat. I said as much to him, and it turned out to be witty enough to make him smile, which restored any self-confidence I’d lost when he'd told me I was wrong on the train.

“Can we leave now?” asked Ashley, as soon as I was done. I said yes, paid, and left with him.

“Where are we going now?” I inquired.

“To the Valley Windworks,” he replied. “We'll see if we can't find out what Galactic wants there.”

“What if they're already there?” I asked, concerned. “I mean, if I were them, I wouldn't want to lie low in Floaroma any longer than necessary. It's... weird.”

“If they're already there,” Ashley said, “we'll spy on them.”

“Is that safe?”

“I've done it before. As long as you do what I tell you, it will be fine.”

“Oh. How reassuring.”

It was a half-hour walk down the riverside path to get to Dane Valley. Thankfully, the flowers that were omnipresent in Floaroma didn't seem to have penetrated too far into the surrounding countryside, so after about five minutes everything stopped smelling like an explosion at a horticultural show and started smelling more like fields.

The motorway was just a mile or two to the south, running parallel to the river and the trail, but you'd never have guessed; I felt like I was wandering through some untouched paradise in a far-flung corner of the globe, which inspired in me a good mood that was only a little spoiled by the fact that there appeared to be no mobile phone coverage here.

After a while, the ground sloped downwards, the river swerved away to the north, and the wind picked up; a sigh at forty-five degrees to the field it stood in told us we were entering Dane Valley, the windiest place in Sinnoh and consequently the home of the Valley Windworks. I could see it below us, a forest of white turbines, rotating as if in slow motion – and at the heart of the cluster, a long, low grey building.

But there wasn't really much time to look at the wild beauty of the valley. The sky demanded my attention, and since it was full of raptors I was going to give in.

Dane Valley, for whatever reason, had the highest population of Staraptor in Sinnoh. There had been a breeding colony here for longer than there had been records of their existence; one flock seemed to live there permanently, and hundreds more flew in each spring to find mates.

Because of this, there was very little animal life left in Dane Valley.

If the name didn’t give it away, Staraptor were one of the biggest dangers in Sinnoh. Fond of blood, high winds and blood – in that order – raptors were a lot like men, in that they, as far as behavioural researchers could work out, bragged a lot to each other about how powerful they were. Unlike men, however, raptors always capitalised on opportunities to prove it, and since this involved diving out of the sky and killing anything that moved, they were treated with a certain amount of caution.

“Ashley,” I said, staring at the mass of wheeling birds in the sky. “Why the hell did they build anything here?”

“Because it's perfect for a wind farm,” Ashley replied, following my gaze. “But don't trouble yourself about the Staraptor. There's a covered tunnel.” He pointed, and I saw that there was: the road that wound down to the Windworks vanished into a hole that I hadn't spotted before, because it was covered in grass. This was presumably so that Staraptor couldn't see the people walking through the tunnel, and therefore didn't beat themselves to death by falling on them.

“Oh,” I said. I actually felt disappointed. I’d thought that this would be the first bit of real action that we'd encounter on our journey: a frantic dash down the slope of the valley, a big stick in one hand and a pistol in the other, risking certain death to evade the deadly raptors diving all around us...

“Pearl?” called Ashley, from the tunnel mouth. “Are you coming?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah!” I replied, and ran to catch up.

Curse you, reality, I thought as I went. Why aren't you a detective film?

---

“Good morning,” said Iago cheerily. “My name is Lyle Langley, and I represent a charity—”

At this word, the door was almost shut in his face, but Iago knew how to get someone's attention.

“—that aims to put a torpedo in every classroom in the country by this time next year,” he finished.

The man opened the door again.

“What?”

“A torpedo in every classroom,” Iago repeated. “Did you know that 99% of Sinnish students don't have ready access to a torpedo?”

“Why on earth would you want to give students torpedoes?” asked the man.

Iago grinned mentally. He'd taken the bait.

“The question is, why is our education system depriving our children of full learning opportunities?” he returned. “In the UK, every child in full-time state education has access to all the necessary learning apparatus – torpedoes, railguns, monorails—”

“Monorails?”

“We're building up to that,” Iago told him. “We thought we'd start small.”

“And torpedoes are small?” The man was getting quite worked up now, Iago noted with satisfaction. Things were going well.

“If you compare them to monorails, then yes. Statistics show that high-speed single-track train networks are less expensive than torpedoes.”

“I could have told you that.”

“Then do you want to get involved?” asked Iago triumphantly. “We could use men like you, Mister...”

“Bennet.”

“Mister Bennet, you've got exactly the sort of perspicacity and forward-thinking nature that we need at Torpedoes 4 Kidz. You could easily reach the higher echelons of our organisation.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I'm talking about cold, hard cash,” Iago said. “I'm talking about torpedoes, railguns, monorails – and a child's happiness. Can you put a price on a child's smile?”

“Well, I—”

“Can you?”

“I—”

Can you?”

“I don't know—”

“All right then, how about you just donate,” Iago said, holding out his tin. “Whatever you can, that'd be great.”

The man stared at him for a long moment.

“Please get off my property,” he said at last, and slammed the door.

Iago turned away and strolled down the drive, snickering.

“Humans,” he said contemptuously. “So easy to confuse.”

He held up the watch he'd taken from the man's wrist during the confusion, examined it for a moment, and put it with the others.

“Right,” said Iago, rubbing his hands. “On to the next neighbourhood...”

---

Tristan was standing guard.

Now, Tristan did not appreciate this. For one thing, he suffered from hayfever, and standing outside anywhere within a fifteen-mile radius of Floaroma Town guaranteed that a hayfever sufferer would more or less melt into one fluid mess of bodily secretions. Consequently, his eyes and nose were streaming, and as he stood on the steel-roofed veranda of the Windworks, he wondered if it wouldn't just be better to give up and commit suicide by throwing himself to the raptors.

Just as he had this thought, however, things started to look up.

For Ashley Lacrimére and Pearl Gideon were walking out of the covered tunnel, and heading straight for him.

“Halt!” cried Tristan, as they got to the veranda. He let them get that far at least, because he had no wish to watch two people being brutally killed by giant hawks right in front of him. “Stay there! I’ve got... a really big frog, and I’m not afraid to use it!”

“Gurrrp,” croaked his Croagunk, hopping out from behind him.

Ashley and Pearl regarded the Croagunk without fear.

“That's... probably not going to stop us,” said Pearl.

“No,” agreed Ashley. “I mean, I have a gun.”

He did indeed, and as he produced it from his inside breast pocket, Tristan appreciated that the tables seemed to have turned.

“Ah,” he said. “Well – it's only a little gun.”

Ashley had a look at it, as if he hadn't seen it before.

“Yes,” he agreed. “But I think that if I shot you with it, you would still get hurt.”

“You have a gun?” asked Pearl. She didn't seem to be keeping up.

“Yes,” said Ashley patiently, keeping the gun trained on Tristan. “Because frequently I end up in dangerous situations, and a gun is quite necessary.”

While he spoke, Tristan's mind was racing; what could he do, what could he do...

“Look out!” he cried, an expression of horror crossing his face. “A Staraptor!”

So deeply was the fear of raptors ingrained into the Sinnish consciousness that both Ashley and Pearl looked; seizing his opportunity, Tristan grabbed his Croagunk, ran inside the Windworks and locked the door, feeling smug.

“There,” he said. “That's stopped you.”

And, wrapped in the warm glow of self-satisfaction, Tristan leaned against the door and resumed his guarding duties from the other side.

---

Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar rose slowly to her feet, rubbing her head.

“What – what happened?” she wondered aloud.

It was close to dawn – faint bands of colour were appearing in the east – and she and her Gardening Society hit squad appeared to still be on the street.

The rest of them begun to rise, groaning and mumbling, and Periwinkle-Bazaar organised a swift retreat to the garden supplies shop, where they discussed how the hell they had come to be unconscious after charging at one unarmed young man with garden implements.

There was, they decided, no explanation that came to mind. However, they could be certain of one thing: Ashley Lacrimére lived up to his reputation.
__________________

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

Last edited by Cutlerine; September 6th, 2011 at 10:49 AM.