My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon
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September 6th, 2011 (02:02 PM). Edited September 18th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Gone. May or may not return.
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
And, like the beating of that hideous heart, you just can't get rid of me: I return from my trial by fire, marginally less sane and suffering from the remnants of yesterday's RSI. To celebrate my return, here is a long-overdue chapter.
Oh yeah, and if you like me, go and nominate my stories for Fic of the Month. And then vote for them.[/shameless self-promotion]
Chapter Six: In Which We Come to an Impasse
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I stared at the spot where Tristan had been for a moment, and then rounded on Ashley.
“You call that spying, do you?” I asked. “Now everyone in there's going to know we're here!”
“It can't be helped,” he said. “There was no way of evading him. The tunnel entrance is there, and the Windworks are here.” He pointed, to show me exactly where the tunnel and the Windworks were.
“I'm not blind,” I replied irritably. “But he's going to tell all the other Galactic people we're here, and—”
“I sincerely doubt that,” said Ashley. “Come with me. Quietly.”
We crept across the covered veranda, past the door and up to a window; Ashley pointed within, and sure enough, there was Tristan, staring intently at the front door as if it might leap forwards and attack him.
“He's not very clever,” explained Ashley. “And he was told to stand guard. So he's doing so – from the inside now, because we're on the outside.”
“He's an idiot,” I clarified.
“More or less.” Ashley began to walk around the edge of the Windworks.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
Ashley looked at me as if I were as stupid as Tristan.
“Pearl,” he said, “I'm going to spy on Galactic. I
already point this out to you.”
All right, maybe I
as stupid as Tristan, if I hadn't got that. Smarting, I followed Ashley around the side of the building, along the wide veranda that was built along its walls; presumably, it was here to protect people from the Staraptor that wheeled and screeched above. Every time we passed a window, Ashley would stop, inspect it and the room beyond – but every time, he'd shake his head and move on to the next one.
“What exactly are you looking for?” I asked him.
“A way in that won't make too much noise,” Ashley said. “I have no idea where Galactic's people are in the building, and—”
“Get down!” I hissed, and pushed him over; a moment later, a man in the inexpressibly weird uniform of Galactic walked past the window.
“Ow,” said Ashley calmly. “Could you please warn me before you do that in future?” He got back up slowly. “They were at the window?”
He nodded, as if this were very meaningful, and continued to the next window.
one apparently met with his approval, for he bent down and had a look at the catch.
Ashley pulled something that I vaguely recognised as a lockpick from his pocket, poked around with it beneath the lower edge of the window and put it away again.
“What's the matter?” I asked. “Not as easy as you thought?”
“No,” replied Ashley, opening the window. “I just unlocked it.”
So saying, he climbed up and swung himself in. Then he turned, leaned on the windowsill, and fixed me with his serious eyes.
“Now Pearl,” he said. “We are about to spy on a dangerous criminal syndicate who want us dead. If you want to come in with me – and I would be perfectly happy to find that you did not – you must be absolutely silent, and you must do everything that I tell you to. Is that understood?”
This was it. This was where reality would finally do the decent thing and turn into a movie. I tried very hard to keep the glee out of my voice when I replied.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding vigorously. “I get it. Silent and obedient.”
“Good,” replied Ashley, stepping back from the window. “Now get in here.”
The room the window opened onto was, like most of the rooms in the Windworks, full of pieces of abstruse machinery and computers that waited in silence until they calculated the perfect moment to beep. Some of them even had a little green light on. Yes, I thought, this was more like what I'd imagined. High-end windmill controlling technology.
We crept through this room and Ashley pressed one ear to the door; he then signalled that he heard nothing, and opened it onto a brightly-lit linoleum corridor. I say it was a linoleum corridor because not only was the floor covered in the stuff, but also the walls, and the ceiling.
“That's weird,” I said, looking around. “
Ashley gave me a look of intense frustration.
“Oh yeah,” I whispered. “Silence. Sorry.”
He slipped down the corridor, investigated a left turning and then beckoned me to join him. I followed, looked around the corner and saw a woman standing guard, wearing the stupid Galactic spacesuit and looking like she knew she was a walking fashion disaster.
“She's about the same height as you,” murmured Ashley, almost noiselessly, as we retreated back around the corner to confer.
I stared at him.
“Of course I mean that,” he snapped. He was still murmuring, but he snapped at the same time – it was a neat trick.
“No,” he said. “I'm not. Unless there are any child members of Galactic, we'd be very lucky to find one that fits me.” He had another look around the corner. “Besides,” he added, “the uniform looks stupid.”
I let that one slide.
“How do we do this?” I asked.
“You will subdue her, and then steal her uniform.”
“Fine. Hit her,” amended Ashley.
“I'm not hitting her!”
“If I hit her, there is an eighty per cent chance she won't even feel it.”
“Is that a real statistic?”
“Quite possibly. Now go and hit her. You did,” he reminded me, “promise to do everything I asked.”
I sighed, for which I received an admonishing look, and stepped around the corner. I crept up behind the Galactic woman, hoped that her skull wasn't as hard as it looked, and whacked her over the head.
, what was tha—?”
Oops. It seemed I hadn't hit hard enough.
I took a step back, shaking my sore hand and wondering what to do; the Galactic woman turned around and shoved a gun in my face. This showed pretty commendable presence of mind for someone who'd just been hit on the head, but I wasn't really in any mood to appreciate that.
are you?” she demanded to know. “And why did you just hit me?”
“Um – er—”
“Wait. You're Pearl Gideon!” cried the Galactic goon.
Oh, great. I'd forgotten about that 'kill on sight' order.
“Please don't shoot me,” I managed to say.
“I'm not going to,” replied the woman.
“That's good to know.”
“At least, not
That was less encouraging.
“I am going,” continued the woman, “to take you to Commander Mars.”
I didn't receive an answer; the woman just grabbed my arm, spun me around and stuck the barrel of the gun into the back of my head.
“Walk,” she ordered, and, as I wanted to remain outside my brains if at all possible, I obeyed.
Though I did curse Ashley very mightily as we walked past the spot where he'd once been.
Iago now had seventeen watches, one from every residential neighbourhood in Floaroma. His route had been worked out carefully beforehand: he never went twice down the same street, so that at no point would he run the risk of any of his marks spotting him. (Provided, of course, that they behaved like good little idiots and stayed at home to call the police – or failed to notice the missing watches at all. Either way was fine by Iago.)
Now, not daring to collect any more for fear of being recognised, he stopped in a park and hid in a bush, to give himself some time to run through his vast memory and locate the name and address of a suitable fence to sell the watches on to. Iago knew a great many fences, and the search took him a full ten minutes; eventually, he decided on a local crook with whom he'd had dealings in the past: namely, one Jake the Shaker. This was not an epithet that denoted cowardice, as one might expect, but one that instead made reference to the man's endearing habit of literally shaking his enemies to death.
Iago had witnessed it once. It was not a pretty sight.
But, whatever misgivings he might have regarding Mr Shaker, he was the only fence in Floaroma, and so he went in search of him.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked.
“If you keep asking, then definitely,” snapped the Galactic woman. “Jesus, don't you ever shut up?”
We'd been walking for a while now, through what seemed like miles and miles of identical linoleum corridors; I'd got hopelessly lost a while ago, and sincerely hoped that Ashley hadn't, because I couldn't really think of anyone else who might pop up and rescue me before the Windworks got redecorated with the contents of my head.
“I'll shut up if you promise not to kill me,” I suggested.
“How about you shut up, and I don't kill you
” asked the woman, jabbing me firmly in the back of the head with her gun.
On further reflection, I thought it best if I stopped talking.
Soon, we came to a set of sturdy doors, guarded by two more Galactics, who, like the one who'd taken me prisoner, seemed to know who I was. To my surprise, I recognised one of them as well.
“Liza,” I said. “Hello.”
My captor paused.
“Liza, you know her?”
“She attempted to kill my partner with a mushroom,” replied Liza, deadpan.
“With a... mushroom?”
“She very nearly succeeded,” said Liza gravely. She didn't seem surprised to see me here at all.
“It's not really how it sounds,” I explained. “It was just this – oh, this huge crazy misunderstanding, and—”
“Shut up,” said the woman with the gun at the back of my head. “Go through the doors.”
I did, and entered what appeared to me to be the bridge of a spaceship. It was a great semicircular room, a single curved window running around the edge; there were computer terminals all over the place, with lights and buttons and other input devices that looked so technical that I doubted they could be named by anyone who wasn't a
A lone technician was working at the biggest terminal, under the direction of a severe-looking woman with red hair and the impossibly large cat that strolled around next to her. Off to their right was a man who appeared to be the offspring of Albert Einstein and a rather burly clown, with a pale face, wild hair and a bright red nose.
I blinked, and pinched myself. Nope. They were real, and I wasn't asleep. It was just that – well, they didn't look that much like criminals, and I could have sworn that the severe woman had once taught me German in high school.
She looked up at our arrival, stared at me for a moment, and then said:
“Yes, ma'am!” cried the Galactic who'd brought me here. “She was sneaking around the Windworks!”
“So, Lacrimére shows his hand at last,” said the severe woman, steepling her fingers and looking over them in a distinctly sinister manner. “You
working for him, I presume?”
“No!” I cried indignantly. “I'm working
The severe woman raised her eyebrows.
“I sincerely doubt that.” She indicated a swivel chair. “Sit down.”
Since there was a gun and a Purugly the size of a small lion in the room, I did.
“You may leave, Miss – whatever your name is.” She waved a hand, and the woman who'd captured me left.
“I am one of the four commanders of Team Galactic,” she announced self-importantly. “My name is Mars.”
“What about me?” asked the mad scientist/clown in the corner. “I, whose genius even our glorious leader recognises—!”
“You're a consultant,” replied Mars shortly. “You are of no consequence.”
“Sorry,” I said, “but... you aren't a German teacher, are you?”
Mars looked surprised, and the man working at the terminal stole an odd glance at her. The Purugly took exception to this, and growled at him; he coughed and hurriedly resumed his work.
“You are not the one asking the questions,” she snapped.
I judged I was about thirty seconds from being mauled by a big cat, and resolved to adjust my attitude accordingly.
“What would you like to know?”
“I want to know what the Diamond knows about us,” replied Mars.
I didn't know anything about any Diamond. And I certainly didn't know anything about a diamond with the mental capacity to know things.
“The Diamond, Gideon, the Diamond!” cried Mars, agitated. “Lacrimére!”
Why was it that everyone I met thought I was an idiot?
The mad scientist guy stepped forwards with a low sjirachi, which was singularly disturbing.
“Ashley Lacrimére is known to the law enforcement agencies and criminals of the world as the Diamond,” he said condescendingly. “Haven't you Googled him? He runs a consulting detective agency, like the late Mister Holmes. The Diamond Detection Agency.”
Maybe I was an idiot, or maybe everyone around me was an idiot – but I was certain that Sherlock Holmes was fictional, and said so.
“She's right,” said Mars. “He is.”
“He most certainly is not—”
“Just – just get back in your corner!” Mars snapped, and when the strange scientist had complied, grumbling, she turned back to me. “Look, what I was trying to say was: what does Lacrimére know about us?”
“You don't run this organisation very well, do you?” I observed, with approximately five times as much bravado as I actually felt.
“Silence!” thundered Mars. “Answer my questions!”
If the poor technician had been working all day under these conditions, I thought, he deserved a medal.
“All I know is that he knows you're called Galactic,” I replied, eyeing the Purugly. “And that you're trying to kill us. And that you're based in Eterna.”
Mars looked slightly taken aback.
“Is that all?” she queried.
“Yeah.” I nodded, to show that this really was all we knew, and that she had no reason to attack me with her cat. “It is.” I paused. “Can I ask a question now?”
Mars looked at her watch.
“I suppose,” she said. “I'm going to be here all afternoon, and there's nothing to do until we're done.”
“So you're not going to kill me?”
“Is that your question? Because it's rather stupid.”
Mars fixed me with a pair of glittering eyes, and I was reminded unpleasantly that she was a high-up in a criminal organisation, and therefore probably had no qualms about murder.
“No,” I replied nervously. “That's not it.”
“Why are you here?”
“I wouldn't worry about that, if I were you,” she said. “You'll be dead soon, and it'll be the Diamond's problem.”
If I was going to die, I might as well die in the knowledge that I'd solved a bit of the mystery.
“We are here on the orders of our glorious leader,” replied Mars.
“Those orders being...?”
Mars' face darkened.
“I seem to remember that you asked if you could ask
,” she said. “You've asked it, and got an answer. If it wasn't the answer you wanted, tough.”
“Mars?” said the scientist.
“Not now, Charon, I'm talking—”
“No, really,” he said, and now I detected a certain note of urgency in his voice. Mars did too, and we exchanged a glance – then turned to look at the mad scientist.
“Good morning,” said Ashley. “Or good afternoon, I suppose, since it seems we've passed midday.”
“Ashley?” I cried, at the same time as Mars said:
He was standing there with his little revolver against Charon's head, which was surprising for two reasons: one, I was pretty sure there was only one way in here, and two, I'd never imagined he could ever be so heroic. It might have been the shock of it all, but I suddenly noticed how attractive he actually was.
Out of the two of us, Mars recovered first.
“You haven't chosen a very valuable hostage,” she said. “I don't care if you kill him.”
care!” cried Charon.
“Your so-called glorious leader might think differently,” I pointed out, feeling pleased with myself. Mars glared at me, and Ashley nodded.
“Quite right, Pearl. You played your part admirably.”
“I did? I mean, I did. Yes.”
Mars looked from me to Ashley and back again.
“The part of the helpless prisoner,” Ashley explained. “Pearl is a world-class actress, used by police forces around the world in sting operations.”
I ground my teeth. Ashley was doing that
again; abruptly, I forgot that I'd ever thought him handsome. On the plus side, I was still alive, so I thought I'd forgive him this once.
“This is a set-up?” asked Mars, looking around in horror.
“Does – does this mean I'm free to go?” asked the technician at the desk in a timid voice.
“It certainly does,” Ashley replied. “After you've answered some questions, of course.”
Mars glared at him.
“I guess you win,” she said, sounding resigned. “I always knew –
Jackson, hold that girl!
And with a startling burst of speed, the big cat leaped onto my chest, tipped my chair over backwards, and pinned me to the ground with its wide paws.
I stared at its little yellow eyes, and it bared a set of impressive fangs back at me.
“Um... Ashley?” I said, trying hard not to sound pathetic. “Help?”
“And now, if I'm not very much mistaken,” said Mars, drawing herself up to her full height and sounding smug, “I've just created an impasse.”
Iago strolled down the street, feeling pleased with himself and counting his earnings. Since he was a Kadabra, he knew within half a second of looking at the notes that he'd acquired precisely fifty-one thousand dollars and seven cents – but he liked to count it anyway. It made him feel richer.
The Pokédollar was not a particularly valuable unit of currency. There were around eighty of them to the US dollar, and so fifty-one thousand wasn't that much, really.
But considering that Iago had withdrawn his entire savings in order to pay for the bus tickets to Eterna, it was quite a lot to him. It was enough to pay back Ashley and much more besides. In fact, since Ashley was, for all his intellect, very good at wasting the not inconsiderable income his agency generated, Iago's windfall was probably going to leave him in charge of the group's finances for a while.
And that was the sort of responsibility that he liked.
“There's only one thing to do at a time like this,” he told himself, “and that's—”
“It's him! Lyle Langley!”
Iago's airy good mood turned to lead, and plummeted several hundred feet. He turned around, and beheld a policeman, in the ear of whom the familiar figure of Mister Bennet was shouting. As he watched, the former left the latter behind, and hailed the Kadabra in a loud voice.
“Damn it,” said Iago, and ran.
“So,” I said nervously. “Is there a way out of this situation that doesn't get me killed?”
There had been about three minutes of utter silence since Jackson the Purugly had leaped on me. No one had spoken; no one had moved. Well, Jackson had yawned and dribbled on me, but I didn't count that.
“This is why I work alone, Pearl,” sighed Ashley. “I only have plots enough for one.”
“I have a solution,” said Charon. “You could get that gun away from my head. It's my considered opinion as a scientist that this would end the stand-off—”
“You're babbling,” said Mars. “Don't do that.”
“I'm sorry.” Charon fidgeted. “It's the stress.”
We lapsed back into silence. Jackson shifted its weight a little, and almost dislocated my shoulder; I knew Purugly were heavy, but this one seemed to weigh about sixteen tons.
“I suppose I'm not free to go, then,” sighed the technician.
“No. Get back to work,” Mars ordered, and he did.
“Someone's going to have to move eventually,” said Charon anxiously. “It might as well be you, Mister Lacrimére—”
“Do you want me to shoot you right now?” asked Ashley.
Charon shut up.
A few moments later, Ashley's hand moved stealthily towards his pocket.
“Whatever you're going after, don't,” said Mars immediately, and his hand froze. “Or I'll kill the girl.” She took a step closer to him. “Now hand it over to me—”
“Don't come any closer,” said Ashley, tightening his grip on the pistol. “Or I'll kill the scientist. Or is he a clown?”
“I'm an eminent scientist!” protested Charon.
“Obviously not that eminent, or I'd have heard of you,” pointed out Ashley. “Now be silent.”
Quiet descended over the room once more.
“Sooner or later, someone's going to come in here,” Mars warned Ashley. “Perhaps a grunt, who might shoot you. Then I could have both you and Gideon out of the way.”
“Er, Ashley, this probably isn't the time to be proud,” I said. “I'd quite like to survive.”
“Oh, be quiet,” he retorted crossly. “You're the one who wanted to come with me. And if you hadn't, I would have succeeded here.”
“You are so arrogant—!”
“You are an idiot!”
“And I have your gun,” said Mars calmly.
Ashley and I looked. She did, having purloined it while he was distracted.
“Pearl, you distracted me—”
“I think you probably ought to stop fighting amongst yourselves,” said Mars, putting the barrel of Ashley's gun squarely against his chest. “You're about to die.”
Ashley sighed, which I thought was a bit of an underreaction for someone who was about to become dead.
“Pearl, if I have the option of returning as a ghost, I am going to haunt you for the rest of your life.”
“Which will be about fifteen seconds,” Mars informed him. “Since as soon as you're dead, I'll kill her.”
And then she pulled the trigger.
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