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January 5th, 2012 (10:59 AM). Edited January 5th, 2012 by Cutlerine.
Gone. May or may not return.
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
This is my entry for the Holiday Hop's SWC, in which it came first. I rate it 15, for foul language (in English, unusually for me), violence, dark stuff and a bear.
Christmas in Sinnoh was always white; it was a northerly country, and the turning of the season always heralded snowfall.
Christmas three hundred miles
of Sinnoh was even whiter. Not even the bitter cold of Snowpoint City compared to the midwinter temperatures on Batten Island, and no one but the most dedicated researchers actually wanted to be there then.
Melissa Argent was not one of these researchers.
In fact, as she sat at the table in the common room and looked through a report on Snow Sawsbuck herd structure, she thought very hard about the possibility of giving up this job and looking for work elsewhere. Fourth Station, while prestigious, wasn't really the sort of place anyone wanted to spend the winter.
“My God, it's cold,” said Yewtree amiably, coming in and pulling off his gloves.
Melissa pondered this. There didn't seem to be any point in arguing with him: it was indeed cold. But Yewtree was looking at her as if he expected an answer, so she gave a tentative response.
“Yes?” Emboldened by the way he then caught her eye, she went on: “Yes. Yes, it is.”
Melissa was twenty-four and halfway through her first year at Fourth Station; Alistair Yewtree, at fifty, was somewhere in the middle of his fifteenth. She was reliably informed that he had been repeating his sentiments about the cold ever since his arrival.
Yewtree shut the door carefully, making absolutely no difference to the overall temperature, and came over.
“What are you up do?” he asked in an avuncular sort of way; one could accuse Yewtree of many things – long before she had ever met him, Melissa had heard tales of his escapades – but not of any avuncular deficit. Some would have said that there was no one more avuncular on the island; still others claimed that there was no one more so in the
. Either way, it was actually rather tiresome.
“I'm reading a report on Snow Sawsbuck herd structure,” she replied. “What were you doing? Why'd you go out?”
“Collecting snow,” he said, holding up a sealed plastic bag that was, true to his word, was full of snow. “I'm going to subject it to some spectroscopic analysis.”
“Very festive of you,” remarked Melissa.
“Isn't it just?” he said happily, and went off to put his snow in the freezer before it melted.
Perhaps a person unacquainted with Yewtree would have considered this a strange task; Melissa, however, had been here long enough to know that every single week, on the Saturday night, he would go out and collect snow for spectroscopic analysis. He had now been doing it for so long that no one quite felt confident enough to ask him why; they felt sure it must be a tradition, or an ancient law, or something similar, and didn't want to be the first to admit their ignorance about it.
Melissa judged she had about ten minutes before Yewtree returned and, not wanting to get caught up in conversation with him or really to do any more work, got up and left.
“We could go to bed,” she suggested, pausing just outside the door, “but that'd be kind of a waste of a Christmas Eve, wouldn't it?”
The person she was addressing made no reply, for she wasn't capable of doing so, or indeed of understanding most of the things she said. This was because she was a Roselia, and blessed with roughly the same quantity of intelligence as the average cat, though considerably more loyalty. Her name was, imaginatively enough, Rose, and she was a constant companion of Melissa.
Rose's origins were closely tied to the reason Melissa was at Fourth Station at all: Melissa had spent a year as a Trainer when she was ten, as a lot of kids did; she had then decided she wanted to go more into the theory and study of Pokémon than their capture and battling, so in the end she’d released and given away her team and gone back to school. Upon starting the course at university, though, she’d been told to go and obtain a Pokémon from the Laboratory in Sandgem Town, as it would be necessary to own one for practical study purposes. Thus, she had ended up with a Budew, which in the end had proven too weak to actually use for the practical study it was intended for, and so with which Melissa had done a little battling in order to make it evolve.
Now, even after her course had ended, she kept Rose around; she liked her, and in a research station where people came and went all the time, it was nice to have a constant companion. It had taken Rose a while to adjust to the temperature here, and for the first couple of weeks she had wilted a little – but Roselia were tough, and as long as she stayed inside, Rose was fine nowadays.
“What else could I do?” wondered Melissa. “The Christmas party doesn't start 'til tomorrow, and I think I've read every single book I have about seventeen times...” She sighed. “We're here for three years,” she told Rose, shaking her head. “Jesus. That's another two Christmases like this one, with five more visits home in between.” Melissa sighed again. “I suppose I'll go to bed, then.”
There were six levels to Fourth Station: two above ground, one devoted to the radio mast's maintenance and one comprised of living space, and four below ground, three of which were labs and one of which was bedrooms. The whole building was cylindrical, with rooms arranged around a central lift shaft, and this was where Melissa was headed: the bedrooms were on the fourth sub-basement, as low down as possible for maximum warmth. Quite why the living space itself wasn't down there too was unknown; she guessed it had something to do with the fact that it was nice to have windows, and windows only really worked above ground.
As they approached it, Rose recognised the lift, and held out her arms for Melissa to pick her up; she did so, and let the Roselia press the button – for some reason, it gave her immense satisfaction. Having savoured every moment of the button-pressing, Rose slithered back down to the floor and made a small leafy noise of deep contentment.
The lift came, and Melissa stepped in. There was a small, mousy woman in there, who looked utterly ordinary except for her large black eyepatch, a permanent reminder never to drink and drill; this was Shannon Moss, resident geologist and former professional card-sharp. On her first night in Fourth Station, Melissa had been inveigled into playing poker against her, and had lost a small fortune; if they’d been playing with real coins instead of chocolate ones, Melissa would probably have never forgiven her. As it was, she had still found it difficult; she
like chocolate coins.
“Oh, hi Melissa,” Shannon said brightly. “How's the Sawsbuck work going?”
“I was reading this report from Siberia,” replied Melissa. “But Yewtree came in then.”
“Ah.” Shannon nodded sympathetically. “What're you doing now?”
“Not sure. Shannon, your hair's on fire.”
Shannon’s eyes darted upwards nervously, but saw no cause for alarm; a look of dawning light crossed her face, and she reached behind her back to pull a large, chubby orange lizard from her shoulders, the tip of its tail wrapped in a shawl of yellow flames.
“A Charmander?” Melissa asked, confused. “Since when...?”
“My sister sent him to me via the Storage Network,” Shannon said, tickling the fiery lizard under the chin; he took exception to this and snapped at her, causing her to withdraw her hand hurriedly. “An early Christmas present, to stave off the loneliness. His name’s Monsanto.”
“Monsanto.” Shannon put him back on her shoulder. “Do Charmander normally like climbing this much? He won’t set foot on the floor.”
“It’s probably just because the floor’s cold,” Melissa said. Hang on – Charmander? Wasn't she supposed to have fed the Pokémon today? Damn, she
. Well, it would give her something to do at least.
“Oh, right,” Shannon said, nodding. “I’d never have thought of that. You deserved that degree, didn’t you?” The lift juddered to a halt at the first sub-basement, and the doors slid open. “My stop. See you later!”
“Actually, I'm getting off here too,” said Melissa, and followed Shannon and Monsanto out. Though Shannon was correct – she never
have thought of that on her own – Melissa's degree in Pokézoology had nothing to do with her answer. It was just common sense; sadly, Shannon was lacking in this department when it came to animals. Put her in front of a rock and she could tell you its age in a second; give her a Goldeen and in the same time she’d have managed to drown it.
“What are you doing down here?” asked Shannon, turning right to go to the geology lab.
“I just realised that I forgot to feed the Pokémon,” replied Melissa, turning away in the opposite direction. “Hang on, though – I'll see you in geology in a moment!”
The subjects studied at Fourth Station were as motley as the people that staffed it: a prime spot for fossils, its location, Batten Island, was the perfect spot for palaeontologists, palaeo-Pokézoologists and palaeobotanists; in addition to this, there were regular Pokézoologists, geologists, climatologists and even two eschatologists. Quite what they were doing there was completely unknown, but both their intellect and their loquacity was prodigious, and no one bothered them for fear of being talked at.
The Pokézoology department was one of the larger ones – Batten Island had a great number of unique species to its name – and occupied an entire floor on its own, if you didn’t count one lab that belonged to the geologists. This laboratory was where Melissa worked, and it was rather impressive, as rooms large enough to contain numerous specimens of wild Pokémon tend to be. The cold made excessive time outside somewhat unpleasant, and so any research that necessitated a close analysis of an individual creature rather than just the study of its behaviour was usually facilitated by capturing the Pokémon and examining it back in the lab.
As Melissa entered, seventeen pairs of eyes turned towards her hungrily, and she winced.
“Sorry, guys,” she said, opening the door to the storeroom and searching for hay. “I forgot.”
She found a couple of bales and, with some effort, got them into the enclosure where the three Snow Sawsbuck lived; they were there so that her colleague, the oddly-named Gill Sans, could study exactly what their antlers were made of. Next was the Beartic, which was there purely because Melissa had found it on a nearby beach with a whaling harpoon in its leg, and had then persuaded the others to take it in and heal it, if only because its species was severely endangered.
“We should probably let you go in a couple of days,” she said, casting a critical eye over what had once been its wounded leg. “Before you break out and kill us.”
The Beartic growled softly, and turned its head on one side, wrenching the offered meat out of her hand and through the bars. Melissa drew her hand back sharply, and glared at it.
“Yeah,” she remarked to Rose. “It's definitely time this guy went back outside.”
After that, she fed the Blue Kingler, the Dragonair and the wildebeest – this last was not really in their field of expertise, but anyone who inexplicably finds a confused and anguished wildebeest on an Arctic island feels they have some duty of care to it – and went across to the geology labs, where Shannon was peering at a round, greenish stone through a small eyeglass. Monsanto was wandering around on top of a table, occasionally coming near the edge, regarding the floor dubiously and edging back to the centre again.
The geologist held up a hand.
Melissa dutifully waited, and Shannon said:
“Mmmm... I see.” She straightened up and turned to Melissa. “Yeah? What is it?”
“Are you free at all? It's just... it's Christmas Eve. I don't want to work and I'm bored out of my skull.” Melissa sighed. “I'd even consider playing cards with you.”
Shannon's eyes glittered, and a pack of cards shot out of her sleeve to land neatly in her palm.
“Cards? Always happy to oblige, Meliss—”
your cards, Shannon.” Melissa raised an eyebrow. “I
Shannon's face fell, and then recovered.
“That's fine,” she replied. “I like a challenge. Don't I, Monsanto?” She turned around. “Monsanto?”
It appeared that the Charmander had taken the opportunity to climb into a rock tumbler, and Melissa hauled him out a moment before it switched on; Shannon castigated him firmly, and though he displayed no signs of having understood a single word she said, Shannon said that she was of the belief that he was obviously sorry now, and wouldn't do it again. Melissa wondered whether or not she ought to tell her how wrong she was – but then decided against it. It was Christmas Eve, after all; this wasn't a day for pointing out inadequacies.
“Are you sure you can spare the time?” asked Melissa as they left. “I mean, I don't want to wreck any research—”
“Wreck my research? Please!” Shannon laughed. “Geology can always wait. It's pretty much the slowest science there is.”
“What about volcanoes?”
“Yes, except for volcanoes. They tend to be quite fast. Worryingly fast, even.”
They reached the lift, and Shannon pressed the button (which sent Rose into a temper she was not to come out of for some time) for the ground floor. A few moments later, they were comfortably ensconced in the living-room (now mercifully devoid of Yewtree), and there they played cards right up until the monsters arrived.
It must have been about twenty past nine when Melissa first became aware that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the way Rose and Monsanto seemed suddenly on edge, huddling under the table and occasionally making small and indescribable noises; perhaps it was the way the night outside the windows was all at once cut off from view by abrupt condensation; perhaps it was the snowman that tried to tear her face off. We may never know what made her realise that the base was under attack; what
known, however, are the consequences.
When the first snowman crashed through the door, Melissa stared for a while. It was the sort of thing that you really would stare at: six foot of snow, arranged in two spheres with coal lumps for buttons and eyes; about the only way it differed from the snowmen kids were probably building even then back on mainland Sinnoh was in its arms, which were made of snow rather than sticks. It even had a carrot for a nose.
“Shannon,” said Melissa slowly, as the snowman hopped towards them, “can you see that...?”
“Yes,” she replied, equally slowly. “I can. Is it...?”
“Yeah,” confirmed Melissa. “It is.”
And then the snowman lunged for the table, the line of coals that formed its mouth curling into a cruel smile; instinctively, Melissa leaped backwards, tripping over her chair and falling over as she went. A second later, the snowman sent a storm of cards whirling through the air as it smashed its heavy hands into the tabletop. Fear wrestled wonder to the floor of her mind and stamped on its head for good measure; this done, it lent a surprising speed to her movements, and she scrambled to her feet faster than she'd done in years.
Shannon wasn't as fast, but it was all right; the snowman had directed its attack more at Melissa than at her, and she had time to get up and join Melissa over by the sofa before the snowman had regained its footing.
“Melissa,” she said, breathing heavily and watching the snowman draw itself up to its full height, “I think something's happening.”
This was not something Melissa could dispute. Something was indeed happening, and since it involved something large and hostile, she responded in the one way open to her in such a situation.
“Rose! Attack it!”
From under the table, Rose stared at her. The snowman hopped closer, and Melissa looked around for a weapon; she picked up a book and threw it at it, but all she achieved was the snapping of its carrot nose.
, Rose!” she cried, and the Roselia flicked a tentative flower-hand in the direction of the snowman; a cluster of oddly-coloured leaves burst out, and each zoomed individually up to embed themselves in the ice man's head. This caused it, naturally enough considering it was made of snow, to fall apart, and the headless monster swung around, searching for the thing that had hit it. Emboldened by this success, Rose tried another Magical Leaf, and took out the snowman's left arm.
At this point, Melissa judged it was probably safe to kick what remained of their aggressor, and so she did. Being now almost perfectly spherical, it rolled helplessly over into the wall and crumpled into a heap.
Melissa and Shannon stared at it for a long moment, and then looked at each other.
“We were just attacked by a snowman,” said Melissa.
“Yes,” agreed Shannon.
“It had a carrot nose.”
Shannon shut her eyes and shuddered.
“Yes,” she said softly. “Oh God, yes!”
Monsanto ventured out from under the table, sniffed at the slushy remnants of the snowman's head suspiciously, sneezed and ran over to climb up onto Shannon's shoulder. He did not approve of such cold, wet things. A moment later, Rose followed, only she stopped to stand over the snowman's corpse, and spread her arms to show just what a mighty predator she was.
Just then, Melissa heard a scream from somewhere downstairs, and she looked wildly at Shannon.
“Do you think—?”
“Oh Christ,” said Melissa, and, snatching up Rose, ran out of the living-room to see what was going on.
To cut a long story short—
—they had been invaded.
The corridor immediately outside was free of them, thankfully, but if the screams were anything to go by, the snowmen seemed to have penetrated deep into the building.
“That one sounded like it was from a couple of floors down at least,” Melissa said, thinking aloud. “Oh, this is
If they were down there already, where the hell could they go that was safe? This was a research station, not a fortress; they'd never expected to be attacked, and there was no fortified area they could take cover in—
“Ssss!” hissed Rose urgently, and fired a stream of glowing leaves over Melissa's shoulder; a second later, snow pattered down about her shoulders, and she whirled to see a partially-decapitated snowman swaying back and forth behind her, desperately trying to steady its head on its shoulders.
“Again!” cried Melissa, backing towards the living-room. “Rose, use Magical Leaf again!”
For a second time, the leaves appeared; for a second time, they hung as if from wires in midair; for a second time, they jerked into motion and homed in on the weak connection between the snowman's head and body, and severed the two neatly.
Melissa wasted no time making sure the thing was dead; she had no idea if it had brought any friends along with it, and so she picked up Rose, retreated back to the living-room and slammed the door shut behind her.
“What? What is it?” asked Shannon, single eye wide with fright.
“There are more,” Melissa replied grimly. “I don't know how many.”
“I don't know. Perhaps this is their idea of Christmas?”
“That isn't funny.”
“I know. Sorry. I'm just... nervous.”
Shannon asked incredulously. “I'm
. There is no way that
is an appropriate reaction here!”
“Calm down!” snapped Melissa. “Look, I know what I'm doing. I was a Trainer for a while; I've fought off worse than sodding
.” She paused, to check that Shannon was taking this in; she seemed to be, so she went on. “Rose's Magical Leaf seems to do a pretty good job of taking them apart, so I'm not too concerned unless they come all at once.”
“What happens if they come all at once?” asked Shannon, in the tone of one who dreads the answer to their question.
“Magical Leaf is a homing attack,” replied Melissa, long-buried knowledge and ways of thinking resurfacing in her head, “so it can only effectively work if there's one target for it to concentrate on. If there are many, the leaves will spread out and they won't really do anything.” She chewed her lip. “What can Monsanto do?”
“Monsanto?” Shannon stared at the little orange lizard clinging to her arm.
“Monsanto. What can he do?”
“I – I don't know...”
“Do you know how old he is?” That would give her some indication, Melissa thought; though she'd never come across a Charmander during her time as a Trainer, she seemed to remember from her university lectures that they were fairly typical of the Fire type, and should have most of the same abilities.
“About nine months, I think—”
“Perfect,” said Melissa. “He should be able to breathe fire by now. Since those things are made of snow, I think it's fair to say they won't like heat. So we've got some defences.”
“What do you suggest we do, then?” asked Shannon.
She was very obviously scared, Melissa noted; fleetingly, she wondered why she wasn't as well. It must be true what they said about Training, she thought; her parents had claimed it would toughen her up and prepare her for adversity in later life, and their prognostication seemed to be coming true.
“OK,” said Melissa, thinking hard. “We're stuck in a research station on Christmas Eve, being attacked by an army of snowmen. We have no idea how long the siege will last, or what's causing it.” She paused. “And... crap, that's pretty much it, isn't it? We know absolutely nothing.”
“Are we going to die?” asked Shannon.
“I hope not,” replied Melissa. “There's got to be a way out of this situation...”
“Attention,” said the speaker on the wall, “this is Dr. Crabstone. If Dr. Argent, Dr. Moss or Professor Yewtree can hear me, try and get to the geology labs. Everyone else is accounted for. So” – here Dr. Crabstone's voice caught a little – “if you're... still alive... please get here as, uh, as soon as you can.”
Melissa looked at Shannon, and Shannon looked back.
“Looks like we have a plan,” said Melissa. “Thank God for the PA system.”
“How are we going to get down?” asked Shannon. “What about the snowmen?”
“We'll take the lift,” replied Melissa. “I think they'll find it difficult to get the doors open, or to climb down the shaft.”
She turned to the door, and opened it a crack. The corridor seemed deserted, but the trails of snow argued that danger couldn't be far away.
“OK,” she said, turning back to Shannon. “I'll go first. Follow me, and keep Monsanto ready.”
asked Shannon, frustrated. “How do I make him fight? You saw what he did when the first snowman arrived – he hid under the sodding table!”
“Just keep him between you and the snowman,” she suggested. “If he can't hide, he'll probably decide that the best option is to attack.”
“Melissa, I have to say that I have my reservations about this—”
“Do you want me to leave you here?”
“No,” replied Shannon quickly. “No, actually, let's go.”
“Good,” said Melissa. “Come on, then.”
She opened the door and crept out. The base seemed to be silent; she could hear no more screams, or even the soft thumping of a hopping snowman. Was that a good sign? She decided it would be more encouraging to think it was, and signalled to Shannon to follow her as she started down the corridor.
“I don't like this silence,” whispered Shannon. “What does it mean?”
“I have no idea,” admitted Melissa. “But—”
The doors on either side of them burst open, one of them flying clean off its hinges, and Melissa saw a familiar headless shape bounding through the one on the left—
“Run!” she yelled, and they did – only to see that there was another group of snowmen approaching from the direction of the lifts. She looked back, but the first few snowmen blocked that way; it seemed they were surrounded.
“This'd be a
time to start breathing fire,” Melissa snapped at Monsanto, as Rose shredded the first of the approaching snowmen. They were about twenty feet away on both sides now, and approaching uncomfortably slowly owing to their lack of legs.
“Melissa!” cried Shannon. “What—?”
“I don't know!” she replied, heart racing. “Melt a way through!”
The leading snowmen were about fifteen feet away; Rose spun around on one foot and sent another Magical Leaf into one of them, but it went awry when it sensed the presence of its compatriots, and scattered harmlessly. Coal mouths curved sharply into victorious smiles, and more than one snowman pulled its nose off to hold like a knife. It was ludicrous, but the thought of being stabbed to death with a carrot was still serious enough to sober Melissa considerably.
“Come on,” Shannon said, shaking Monsanto furiously. “Breathe some fire!”
He stared at her with large, limpid eyes, and Shannon turned him around to face the snowmen.
“Look!” she cried. “Scary ice men! You'd better melt them!”
Monsanto had other ideas, and did his best to hide behind his own tail.
“If you don't get him breathing fire soon...” said Melissa warningly. The snowmen couldn't have been more than ten feet away now, and one enterprising one tore a chunk from its abdomen and hurled a snowball at Rose; a combination of the missile's extreme cold and its deadly accuracy meant that as soon as it hit her head, she squealed softly and passed out. “Shannon...”
“I'm trying!” shouted Shannon, peeling Monsanto's tail away from his face. “I'm trying!”
A second snowball hit Melissa square in the face; not being Grass-type, she was alarmed but not particularly hurt. The snowman who'd thrown it was only a few feet away, and Melissa could feel the freezing cold of its hands even from here. She shut her eyes and held Rose close, trying to calm her hammering heart – and suddenly she was aware of a surge of warmth and light, and she heard a bizarre noise somewhere between a sigh and a shriek.
Melissa opened her eyes to see the snowman gang staring in alarm at the lead one; it had leaned in too close, and the coal that formed its mouth had touched Monsanto's fiery tail. Now its mouth was on fire and its head was melting, and was thrashing around like a madman; as she watched, Melissa saw one of the coals in its mouth fall and hit, with the unerring accuracy of fate, the chest of another snowman, setting the coal buttons alight.
A surge of hope filled her chest: if that flame could just stay alight for a few minutes more... A swift glance behind her confirmed her suspicions that the snowmen there were just as frightened of this new fiery threat, and a vague plan formed in her head.
“OK, Shannon, let's
Melissa darted forwards and kicked the half-melted lead snowman in the chest; it collapsed, and she ran over the wreckage, clutching Rose close to her chest. All around her, the snowmen looked wildly from her to the flames and back, confused and alarmed; Melissa didn't spare them so much as a single thought: her whole mind, her whole
, was focused on the grey rectangle thirty feet ahead of her, the lift doors that promised safe passage to the floor below...
And then suddenly they were right in front of her, the distance having vanished under her feet, and Melissa pressed the button so hard that she could have sworn her finger snapped under the strain. A second later, Shannon all but crashed into her, jabbering breathlessly about coal, and a second after that, a snowball hit the wall next to her head. Melissa yelped and ducked; either all that snow had put out the fire already, or the snowmen had simply got over their confusion and abandoned their erstwhile brothers-in-arms. Either way, it meant that they were in danger again, at least until—
They all but fell through the doors, and once again Melissa was first to her feet. She looked back, and saw the snowmen advancing once again; she was about to press the button for the first sub-basement, when her eye fell upon the topmost button, and the label next to it:
1F – RADIO TOWER
A succession of thoughts winged across her brain in seconds, and added up to one rather good idea – and so Melissa's finger came down firmly on the
button. The doors slid shut, and she had a brief glimpse of the snowmen drooping in disappointment before the lift began to judder upwards.
Melissa let out a huge sigh, and sank back against the wall.
“Well,” she said eventually. “I thought that went quite well.”
Shannon, sitting on the floor, froze. Slowly, very slowly, she turned her head to look up at Melissa, and spoke in a voice that was less than a whisper.
“That went... well?”
“Yes,” said Melissa. “We could have died, after all. Monsanto managed to set them alight, though not really in the way I imagined, and... well, we're all still alive.”
That reminded her of Rose, and she tucked her inside her jacket; the Roselia was fine, she knew, but needed to be warmed up to regain consciousness. She was the Sinnish subspecies, and therefore better at withstanding low temperatures – given a few minutes next to a nice source of heat such as Melissa, she'd be up and Magical Leafing in no time.
“Why are we going up?” asked Shannon, getting up and changing the subject.
“I had an idea,” said Melissa, feeling rather pleased with herself. “We're going up to the radio room to try and contact the mainland for help.”
Shannon stared at her.
“That is a
idea,” she said. “Absolutely fabulous.”
“Well, I don't know about that,” replied Melissa modestly. “It just occurred to me, you know?”
The lift stopped and pinged at them to let them know their journey was over. They got out, and Rose woke up abruptly; for a moment, she looked confused, and then realised that they had just got out of a lift without letting her press the buttons. She gave a tiny harrumph and slithered out of Melissa's jacket to stalk about crossly on the floor.
“Someone's woken up,” observed Melissa, crossing the tiny landing to the door to the radio room. There were only two doors up here, one leading outside to the actual mast, and the other to the room where the radio was manipulated from. “Hey, don't look at me like that. You were unconscious, and if I hadn't pressed the button, we'd all be dead.”
Melissa pulled the door open and stepped in to see a bank of lights and switches, along with a large window that gave an attractive view of the night.
“...if you're there, we're gathered in the geology lab,” Crabstone was saying over the PA system. If there was any way to reply, Melissa would have done so – he seemed worried – but there wasn't, and so she didn't.
“Haven't been here for a while,” she said. “Er, Shannon, do you know how any of this works?”
Shannon looked hopefully at Monsanto, who looked back and licked his own eyes in that endearing way that lizards do.
“Nope,” she said.
And they probably would have had to figure it all out, had not at that moment Melissa become aware of something flying towards the window from outside.
“Hey, what's that?” she wondered, moving over to peer through them. There were quite a few of them, she saw, though they were obscured by the gloom; they seemed to be all pointy bits and sharp angles, with something trailing from them.
“Oh my God,” said Shannon staring. “Melissa, do you know what those are?”
“No,” replied Melissa, squinting hard. “Do you?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes I do, but it's – it's like snowmen...”
“That didn't make sense,” said Melissa, as the shapes drew closer. “Can you be more specifi—”
“Duck!” howled Shannon, flinging herself at Melissa and bearing her down to the floor, just as a team of flying reindeer, the leader's nose bright red, shot through the window in an explosion of flesh and glass, legs tangling in the chairs and the wires and antlers ripping holes in the carpet. For a moment, the world burst into a storm of noise and confusion and then, just as quickly, all was silent as the reindeer crumpled into a single broken mass against the far wall, wrapped in the remnants of their reins.
Shannon and Melissa lay to one side, silent and staring.
Monsanto and Rose made the first move; they jointly decided to investigate the wreckage, and the Charmander discovered that reindeer blood was quite delectable. Rose, for her part, sniffed at the corpses and wandered back over to Melissa, unimpressed.
“Shannon,” said Melissa, in a low voice, “is it me, or is Christmas trying to kill us?”
“I think it probably is,” replied Shannon, equally quietly. “And we need to move, because that broken window is letting in the wind.”
It was, and since they were within the Arctic circle right now, that was not at all welcome. Melissa got up stiffly, had another look at the reindeer and did a double take.
“Shannon,” she said, “those aren't reindeer. These are Snow Sawsbuck.”
And so they were. What they had mistaken for reins were the straggly fronds that hung from their antlers; the red nose of the leader appeared to be merely the result of the tip of its snout being torn off. This wasn't Santa's sleigh team – this was just a small and unlucky herd of Sawsbuck.
“So they are,” said Shannon, following her gaze. “But how did they get in here?”
Melissa, fighting the Arctic wind, went over to the window and peered out; the outside lights were still on, and she could just about make out the plains shifting and swelling below, as if they were alive. Then she realised that she was looking at about five thousand snowmen, and gaped.
,” she breathed. A few of the snowmen seemed to have heard her, because they looked up and scowled; they signalled to some of their brethren, who promptly threw another dead Snow Sawsbuck at her. Taken aback, Melissa ducked, and the Sawsbuck sailed over her head to land on the console and impale it neatly on its antlers. “Well,” she said shakily, straightening up and coming away from the window, “I think I found out how the Sawsbuck got in here.”
“There are a few thousand snowmen outside, and they're throwing them at us. They must have seen us through the window.” Melissa poked a large switch marked 'ON' on the switchboard experimentally, but without result. “More to the point, I think that last one broke the radio.”
“What?” Shannon shoved her aside and pressed all the buttons she could find; however, she was no more successful. “Damn it!” she cried. “Now what?”
“I guess we just get to the geology lab,” Melissa said. “It's too cold to stay up here, and it seems to be safe there.”
They made their way back to the lift and pressed the button; while they were waiting, Shannon voiced a concern:
“If they can't use the lifts, how have the snowmen been getting down the floors?”
“I suppose they found the stairs,” Melissa replied. “Aren't there stairs somewhere?”
“Oh yes.” Shannon nodded. “There are.”
It had now been about a minute since the button was pressed, and a little shadow crossed Melissa's mind; it seemed to cross Shannon's at the same time, because they looked as one towards the door.
“If we were the last ones to use this lift—”
“—then it should still be on this floor—”
“—which means someone else is using it—”
“—which means we're in trouble,” concluded Melissa, backing away from the doors as the lift pinged. “Shannon, some fire would probably be a good idea.”
The one-eyed geologist held Monsanto like a gun and pointed him at the opening doors; as they slid open to reveal a long sliver of monochromatic face, she gave him a good shake – but
he refused to breathe any fire.
Rose reacted more appropriately: as the snowman reached out of the lift, she cut its arm into three equal pieces with a Magical Leaf; unfortunately, it seemed to have been expecting this, because the arm she sliced appeared to be a decoy taken from a dead snowman, and before she could attack again, the festive monster had leaped from the lift and swept its mighty fists down at her head. Melissa grabbed her arm and yanked her back a moment before she became a pressed flower, and Rose, gibbering in fear, clung to her leg like a scared toddler.
A second snowman appeared behind the first, and then a third; Melissa and Shannon attempted to back away, but the landing was far too small, and they were soon up against the far wall with nowhere else to go.
“Monsanto!” shrieked Shannon. “Do something!”
The Charmander twisted around in her hands and looked at her; he then turned around and looked at the advancing snowmen, one of whom had whittled its nose carrot to a deadly point, and was making fancy slashing motions with it in an alarming sort of way. He looked at Rose, who was right now insensible with fear. He looked at Melissa, who looked back at him with an expression of ferocious desperation. And he looked back at the snowmen, and at the flashing carrot-knife.
Monsanto's little chest swelled up, and he drew back his head, cheeks bulging with the internal pressure. For a long moment, he stayed like that; all eyes were on him, and the snowmen, recognising a potential problem, paused to give him uneasy looks.
And then, all at once, he snapped his head forwards, and belched out—
—a tiny little flame, about the size of a golf ball, which seared through the centre of one of the snowmen's heads and passed out the other side before going out, leaving a neat hole.
The snowman in question carefully reached up and patted the gap in its face. Its companions looked at the hole, and then at Monsanto, as if to say 'is that it?' Then, with a shrug, they continued their advance.
Shannon looked at Melissa.
“You said that would get rid of them!”
“I said no such thing!” cried Melissa, outraged and terrified all at once. “I said they probably wouldn't like it, that was all!”
While they argued above him, Monsanto, evidently deciding that he'd better take matters into his own hands before they all perished, started spitting more fire, burning tiny holes in the approaching snowmen; little fountains of water erupted from their chests and began to splash on the floor. He dimly recognised this as bleeding, and deep within his primitive reptilian brain, a long-dormant predatory instinct rolled over – and woke up.
Monsanto leaped clear of his mistress's arms, and Melissa and Shannon looked down at him in surprise as, growling and hissing, he swaggered towards the approaching snowmen with the professional belligerence of a prizefighter. The snowmen halted once again, this time to regard him with bewilderment. Shouldn't this small lizard be fleeing in terror? Did he have no regard for his life? What was he thinking?
“What's he doing?” asked Shannon quietly.
Melissa watched Monsanto thoughtfully. He was glaring up at the nearest snowman with such force that it actually seemed to quail a little before him.
“You know how snakes hypnotise their prey so it can't run?” she said.
“He's not doing that,” she replied. “I think he's just realised that he's meant to be a great and vicious predator, and the snowmen are just confused.”
It was then that the snowmen decided that they weren't going to be put off by this small interloper, and bounded forwards with renewed vigour; at this, Monsanto snarled with surprising volume and depth, and blew a series of bright orange fireballs at the belly of the closest. They collided with each other as they hit, and seemed to conflate into a small explosion; the underside of the snowman melted instantly, and it and its comrades descended from their hop into a large puddle of water. Since none of them had any legs, they were utterly incapable of steadying themselves, and fell over heavily, sliding along in the slush and smashing into the walls. Within moments, the trio of golems were nothing more than snowmelt and coal.
Melissa and Shannon stared at Monsanto, who stood amid the wreckage, unmoving and unblinking. Partly this was due to the fact that he lacked eyelids, and so couldn't blink in the first place, but no doubt it was also due to the fact that he was at that moment a paragon of predatory heroism, at least to the two women he had just saved.
what I'm talking about,” said Melissa, picking up the Charmander and planting a kiss on his high forehead. “Good lizard.” She handed him over to Shannon, in whose arms Monsanto reclined, looking as pleased with himself as a Roman Emperor, though completely incapable of drawing the parallel. “I think he just became useful,” she said.
Shannon nodded dumbly, and clutched the little lizard all the more tightly. She then had to relax her grip to avoid setting her blouse on fire, but the sentiment was there.
,” said Melissa, scowling down at Rose, who was now standing nonchalantly at her side as if she'd never clung to anything in fear in her life. “Get a grip, Rose!”
“Uh... Melissa? Shall we go?” asked Shannon. Melissa looked up, and saw she was already in the lift.
“Oh. Yeah, let's go.” She joined her in the lift, pressed the
button herself to spite Rose, and leaned against the wall as they descended to the first sub-basement.
Melissa rapped sharply on the door of the geology lab, casting harried glances left and right.
“Open up!” she hissed; she didn't want to raise her voice for fear of attracting attention. “It's Melissa and Shannon!”
The door opened a crack, and Crabstone peered out.
“Yes, and Dr. Moss,” Melissa replied. “Can we come in? It's a bit deadly out here.”
“Yes! Come in, quick!”
Crabstone hauled open the door, and Melissa and Shannon darted in, dragging Rose and Monsanto with them; barely had they entered the room than he slammed the door shut behind them, and sealed it with a heavy bolt that hadn't existed earlier that afternoon.
It seemed like the entire staff of the research station was in here: as well as Dr. Crabstone, there were the other geologists, the eschatologists, Melissa's two colleagues in the Pokézoology department, the palaeontologists and palaeobotanists, even the cleaners... it looked to Melissa as if everyone had managed to make it here except Yewtree and a couple of the climatologists. That wasn't too bad though; no one really cared about them. It was generally felt that they were a little redundant, since you didn't need a doctorate to tell that it was cold here.
“We've been very worried,” said Crabstone, who was widely considered to be the one in charge of Fourth Station, though no one could have told you why. “I'm glad you're safe; we're just missing Neil and Che.”
“Could be worse,” replied Shannon, waving to one of her friends across the room. “But where's—”
“Yewtree?” said Crabstone. “We don't know. I think we have to assume he's gone the same way as Neil and Ch—”
“They're dead? In that case, we're all here,” said a voice from within a cupboard, which at that moment swung open to reveal the unmistakeable form of Alistair Yewtree.
The room fell silent, and all eyes turned to stare at him.
“Why,” enquired Melissa, who was by now getting used to recovering from surprises, “are you in the cupboard?”
“I was waiting until everyone was here,” replied Yewtree, stepping out onto the floor and dusting himself off. “I didn't want to have to repeat myself.” He strode over to the table in the centre of the lab and spread a large piece of paper out over it.
“What are you doing?” asked Estrangelo Edessa, a professor of palaeobotany.
“I am explaining,” replied Yewtree, “exactly what is going on.”
The room was already silent, but that didn't stop a deathly hush from falling over it.
“Thank you,” said Yewtree. “Now, do any of you know what a Jellicent is?”
Everyone in the room looked at the nearest Pokézoologist; an uncomfortable number of eyes fell on Melissa, who had no idea what a Jellicent was beyond that it was some sort of unusual Water-type. The remaining attention was divided equally between Gill Sans and Akzidenz Grotesk, her equally clueless colleagues.
Eventually, Gill made a tentative suggestion:
“Isn't it... the only known Pokémon that's classed as a member of both the Water and the Ghost type?”
“That's right,” replied Yewtree. “It's one of the most unusual forms of life on this planet. I have dedicated my life to the study of it.”
A collective murmur of understanding ran around the room; until that moment, no one had been entirely certain what it was that Yewtree studied.
“The Jellicent consists of up to a cubic mile of sentient water,” he continued. “It hunts by forming what we call
, phantasms made of water vapour that usually resemble a cross between blimps and jellyfish.”
Ah yes; Melissa vaguely remembered something like that from a textbook. Didn't they have little crown or something?
“It can form these at any point within the area it covers,” Yewtree said. “Now, before I get to the important bit, are there any questions?”
Dr. Futura raised her hand.
“Why were you in the cupboard?”
“Any questions about what I'm
: 'what's the relevance of all this'?” suggested Dom Casual.
“Ah!” cried Yewtree. “I'm getting to that.” He cleared his throat. “In 1816, summer in the Northern Hemisphere was entirely eclipsed by a volcanic winter following a string of eruptions the previous year, culminating in the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Tambora. But I'm sure you all know
,” he added with a chuckle. “Anyway, Unova was particularly badly hit by the winter; in June, heavy snow fell over the entire island, and a particularly large Jellicent resting offshore was frozen solid. What's more, what is now the Castelia area was subject to a massive earthquake a few months later, which reduced a large quantity of the frozen Ghost to powder that was then carried away on the wind. It ended up as a cloud over the Arctic, and fell as snow over this very island.”
Melissa felt a chill running down her spine. She had a funny feeling that she knew exactly what Yewtree was about to say.
“That's why I keep analysing the snow here – to see if it's woken yet,” Yewtree went on. “And so far it's remained frozen in stasis. But now, rising global temperatures have begun to heat it and bring it a little further towards consciousness. Just far enough, in fact, that it could use its Ghostly senses to perceive the peak in emotions on Christmas Eve – a peak that to a Ghost was the equivalent of a thunderclap. Quickened by a blast of Christmas spirit, it woke up, detected prey in the middle of it, and started making projections. Only it's no longer water, but ice, and so all of those projections are—”
“Snowmen,” finished Crabstone soberly. “Er, yes. Thank you, Alistair.” He paused. “But why do they have coal buttons and carrot noses?”
“I presume the coal comes from the coal beds underneath the island,” replied Yewtree. “A for the carrots...” He shrugged. “Ghosts often have a rather strange sense of humour. I wouldn't be surprised if one turned up wearing a top hat.”
“Professor, why didn't you tell anyone any of this before tonight?” asked Dr. Sabon. “We could have used the warning. To say the least.”
“Suppose we change the subject,” said Yewtree abruptly. “I suggest we figure out a plan of action. The Jellicent is physically incapable of leaving until it melts and trickles away, and
not going to happen overnight. We can't stay in here and wait; it's going to take years before this place is safe.”
“We went up to the radio room and tried to contact the mainland,” said Shannon. “But the snowmen threw Snow Sawsbuck at us through the window and broke the radio.”
“They threw Sawsbuck in through the window?” asked Dr. Georgia nervously.
“Don't worry,” Melissa assured her. “I don't think they'll be able to do that here, since we're underground.”
“But what are we going to
cried Crabstone, thumping his fist on the table. “If Alistair is right, we can't just sit around in here – we have to
“All right,” said Melissa, holding out her hands in that way people do when they're attempting to placate others. “Calm down. What assets do we have?”
Shannon, who was by now used to Melissa's method of dealing with crises, held up Monsanto, who was eyeing everything in sight and growling at it.
“He's pretty good at taking out snowmen,” she said.
“Since when have you had a Charmander?” asked Dr. Futura.
“Since yesterday,” replied Shannon. “His name's Monsanto.”
“Monsanto. Why is everyone so confused by that?”
“Never mind that now,” said Melissa, retaking control of the situation. “Rose is good at destroying the snowmen too, probably because, as we just learned, they're Water-type. Do we have any other weapons?”
Gill raised his hand.
“I have a Kricketune,” he said. “I've never battled with it, but it's got blades, so I imagine it could do some damage.”
“That's... great,” replied Melissa. “A Kricketune... great. Anything else?”
“Not really,” replied Crabstone. “Those are the only three pet Pokémon in the base, and we don't actually have any other weapons except the tranquilliser rifle, which probably doesn't work on monsters made of snow.”
“OK,” said Melissa. “So we probably can't liberate the base by exterminating every single snowman in here, then.”
“No, we already thought of doing that and decided it was impossible,” Dom Casual told her. “It's not going to work.”
“But it doesn't have to,” said Akizidenz suddenly. “Dr. Moss, you said your Charmander defeated the snowmen, yes?”
“He melted them, didn't he?”
“Yes, he did, but what—”
“And they didn't come back as jellyfish-blimps or whatever?”
“No, they wouldn't have done,” replied Yewtree sagely. “Melting any part of the Jellicent without melting the rest at the same time would make them separate entities. In other words, they would form into Frillish, the immature form of Jellicent, and instinctively head for the sea, since they're too weak to feed off anything larger than a sausage roll at present.”
“I understood about one word in three there,” said Akzidenz, “but if we can melt them and they won't come back to attack us, why don't we just raise the temperature in here?” He looked around the room. “The boiler room's on the fourth sub-basement. Three people with Pokémon might not be able to liberate the whole base – but you could get to the boiler room and turn the thermostat all the way up, couldn't you?”
Another silence fell, this one a stunned one. That really was an excellent plan, and it only involved three people risking their lives; everyone except for Shannon and Gill was very much in favour of it.
“I think that's the best idea that's ever come out of this lab,” said Crabstone. “Dr. Sans, Dr. Moss, Dr. Argent – we're all relying on you now.”
“Sure,” began Melissa, but Shannon had other ideas.
“Wait,” she said. “I didn't agree to this! I have a Charmander – that doesn't make me a Trainer!”
“Well,” said Professor Edessa, “if it helps, you could look at it like this: you have a choice to either stay here and definitely die a slow, prolonged death of dehydration and starvation, or to go out and only
die a swift, relatively painless death of combined polytrauma and hypothermia.” He shrugged. “Your odds of survival are actually better if you go and fight the monsters.”
Shannon pondered this for a moment. On her face was a curious expression that Melissa could only describe as 'agonised'.
“Fine,” she sighed at length. “If it's like that...”
“Splendid!” cried Yewtree, clapping his hands together. “Off you go, then. We'll wait here.”
Gill made his way over to Shannon and Melissa, and dropped a Poké Ball; an unfeasibly large and rather metrosexual insect appeared, flaunting a burnished red carapace, scything claws and a well-waxed moustache that Poirot would have been proud of.
“Uh... Are we going, then?”
Crabstone drew back the bolt on the door.
“Good luck,” he said. “You'll need it!”
Melissa strode over to the door and was about to step outside when Shannon called out again:
Melissa stopped, sighed and turned around.
“Shannon, if you need
“No,” she replied. “It's not that. It's this.”
She picked up the greenish stone she'd been looking at earlier, and tossed it over to Melissa, who (much to her surprise and satisfaction) caught it with one hand.
“What is it – oh,” she said. “A Shiny Stone.”
“Yes,” replied Shannon. “We're going to need some extra firepower.”
“A very good idea,” said Yewtree. “Jellicent are known for being ruthless and deadly opponents.”
Gill looked, if possible, even more nervous.
“Shut up, Yewtree,” snapped Melissa. “You're not doing a great job of keeping up the morale here.”
“Sorry!” called Yewtree unapologetically.
Melissa felt Rose tugging at her trouser leg; she looked down and saw that she was reaching up for the Stone, making the little hissing noises that she used when she'd seen something she wanted. It was amazing, she thought; Rose had never seen a Shiny Stone before, and yet somewhere in that tiny floral brain of hers was an impulse to direct her toward them, the ghost of a memory of shiny green rocks.
“I love Pokézoology,” she murmured to herself, handing the stone to Rose and stepping away from her. “Stand well back!” she cried. “Stone evolution is very sudden, and very—”
A pillar of white-hot light shot up from floor to ceiling around the Roselia, expanding until it must have been a metre thick; heads snapped around to look away, and arms flew up to protect eyes—
—and then, very suddenly, the light was gone, and Rose had evolved.
“Violent,” finished Melissa quietly.
Rose was much taller now, and had an air of menace about her; her flower-hands had lengthened and their curls tightened, and her mouth ran from ear to ear and was full of tiny, razor-edged teeth. She looked like she could race the North Wind and win, and still have enough energy left to assassinate someone that night.
Right now, she also looked very dizzy and not a little confused, which dented the image somewhat, but the overall impression was of danger. Ordinarily, Melissa would have allowed her a few days to settle into her new body, but that wasn't an option right now: Rose, who needed sunlight to live, would survive underground for an even shorter period of time than the rest of them, and if they didn't rid themselves of the snowmen before dawn, she would become far too weak to be effective in battle.
“OK,” said Melissa, taking Rose's hand. “Let's go.”
She took Rose's hand and led her over to the door, and to a resounding chorus of 'Good luck!', she and the two other would-be saviours of Fourth Station left the laboratory.
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World
The Rocket Case
The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There
Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol
Stranger Than Fiction
My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon
A Smell of Petroleum Pervades Throughout
For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click
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