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January 5th, 2012 (11:07 AM). Edited January 5th, 2012 by Cutlerine.
Gone. May or may not return.
The Misspelled Cyrpt
“So, what are these snowmen like?” asked Gill nervously. “I – I haven't really come across any. I was in the lift and someone ran in screaming, so I came straight down here.”
“Well, did you ever build a snowman as a kid?” replied Melissa.
“They're not like that. They're like the ones you get on Christmas cards – proper snowmen, made of two balls of snow, with coal buttons and everything.”
“Yes, I have to admit that the craftsmanship's very good,” added Shannon.
Rose leaped from the floor to Melissa's shoulder, pressed the button for the lift and returned to the ground, all in one fluid movement. Melissa stared at her admiringly; if nothing else, she was certainly more agile. Her legs were definitely longer relative to her body length – that was probably a large part of it...
A soft thumping sound from behind them snapped her out of her Pokézoological trance, and she whirled around to see a cluster of snowmen approaching. These ones had apparently raided the supply cabinets, because two of them wielded ice axes and the others various pieces of cutlery. Melissa didn't really care for the idea of being stabbed to death with a spoon, and so she gently pushed Rose out in front of her.
“OK,” she said. “Let's see what you can do.”
Rose moved so fast she dissolved into a blur; the next thing Melissa knew, she had reappeared on the back of one snowman, flower-hands held wide. It paused for a moment, confused – and then its head fell off, neatly severed by the line of leaves jammed into its neck.
Monsanto moved next, charging headlong into one snowman and being casually batted away with the flat of the ice axe; his confidence crushed, he retreated shakily into Shannon's arms, who stared at him in abject horror.
Surprisingly, Gill's Kricketune proved itself quite capable; for whatever reason, it began humming angrily to itself when it saw the snowmen, and then flew blade-first into the lead one's chest. The snowman seemed understandably upset at this, and swatted at it with the ice axe; however, the Kricketune buzzed upwards to slash at its head, and the snowman merely succeeded in mining out a large chunk of itself with the axe. Its structural integrity ruined, it collapsed in a heap, reduced to no more than a pair of arms and a head. The Kricketune, who apparently would stand for nothing less than the total destruction of his foes, proceeded to stamp these into oblivion.
Meanwhile, Rose seemed to be rather enjoying her new power, and was wreaking havoc among the remaining snowmen in the group; she was far too fast for them to hit, and kept slicing little pieces off them here and there, so that they remained annoyed without actually dying, since that would have ruined the sport. In fact, she was having so much fun that it took Melissa a great deal of effort to coax her into the lift, which had arrived some minutes ago.
“Well,” she said, as they descended, “I think this might be a bit easier than before. Don't you think, Shannon?”
“He turned cowardly again,” replied Shannon, not really listening. “Oh, and he was doing so
...” She was looking at Monsanto, who was quivering in her arms and occasionally rubbing the bruise he'd received from the axe.
“At least Gill's Kricketune did OK,” said Melissa brightly. “You're sure he's never battled before, Gill?”
“No, I have no idea how he knew to do that,” admitted Gill. “I guess domesticity hasn't dulled your instincts, eh Lazlo?”
The Kricketune – Lazlo – looked up at him with a complete and utter lack of understanding, and hummed a jaunty tune. He was just devising a chorus when the lights went out and the lift ground to a halt.
“Sh*t!” cried Gill, in the darkness. “What's happened?”
“How am I meant to know?” replied Monique. “I guess the power's gone out. If we're dealing with a Ghost, then I wouldn't be surprised if it's got its snowmen to shut off the generator deliberately.”
“What do we do?” asked Shannon, an audible note of panic in her voice. “What do we do?”
“Calm down,” said Melissa, as much to herself as to the others; being trapped in a small, dark lift was much, much worse than being menaced by snowmen. At least that was sort of funny. “Think. Isn't there a hatch in the lift roof?”
“Er... yes, I think there is,” Gill replied. “No, wait, there isn't—”
“Yes, there is,” said Melissa, feeling along the ceiling and finding a hinge. “Now – ah, it's bolted shut. Shannon, uncurl Monsanto and let's have his tail as a light.”
Since Monsanto did not want to be uncurled, it took quite a while to get his tail out from where it was nestled between his ribs and his foreclaws; however, with Gill's help, Shannon managed, and soon the lift was full of soft orange light that cast very deep black shadows. Now they could see a little square outlined on the ceiling, just wide enough for a slender person to slip through, with a keyhole on one edge.
“OK,” said Melissa, looking up at it. “How's Lazlo with locks?”
“No idea,” answered Gill. “Lazlo?” He held the Kricketune up, and said: “Break the lock.”
Lazlo looked at him and tilted his head on one side.
“The lock,” Gill repeated. “The little thing with the hole in it?”
Lazlo tilted his head further, until it was 180° from the norm and made Melissa feel slightly ill.
“Like this,” Melissa said, taking matters into her own hands, and thumping the lock. “Hit it!”
Violence is a universal language, and Lazlo understood perfectly: he stabbed one scything claw deep into the lock, and then suddenly swung out of Gill's arms as the hatch fell open. He dangled helplessly for a moment, then managed to free himself and fall to the floor, where he began to compose a sonata.
“All right,” said Melissa, pleased. “Gill, give me a leg up.”
“You're going up there?”
want to go first?”
“I'll help you up,” he said hastily, and cupped his hands for Melissa to step into; she climbed halfway through the hatch, looked up and froze.
The doors that led to the first sub-basement were open, and there were a group of snowmen standing there. Furthermore, each of them was staring down at her with a wicked grin on its face.
A few lightning-fast thoughts went through Melissa's mind. Firstly, that the volume of four snowmen would probably be enough to fill the lift. Secondly, that there were currently six living creatures in the lift. And thirdly, that one of the snowmen was about to jump—
Melissa slithered down very abruptly and pushed the others aside; a moment later, a huge volume of snow sprayed down through the hatch, topped with a carrot.
“They're trying to drown us,” she said urgently. “This is bad.”
“What the hell?” shouted Gill, before realising that she'd just told him what was going on. “Oh. What do we do?”
“Why does everyone keep thinking I know what I'm doing?” cried Melissa. “I'm making this up as I go along!”
Another snowman hit the hatch and was reduced to snowballs on impact; about half of it fell through. The lift was now knee deep in snow, and Melissa was
thankful that she was wearing boots. Rose climbed onto her back, and Lazlo burrowed out of a snowdrift to be picked up by Gill.
“OK,” said Melissa. “Any ideas?”
“Yes,” replied Gill. “But you won't like it.”
“Will I like it more than being drowned in snow?”
“If you survive, then yes.”
“Then do it!” cried Melissa and Shannon at the same time. “Now!”
There was a loud
from above, and a tiny bit of snow trickled through the hatch; it seemed the third snowman had missed, and sacrificed itself for nothing.
With some considerable effort, Gill waded over to the hatch and thrust Lazlo out through it – then recoiled sharply as another heap of snow tumbled through the gap. The snow beneath it gave way and the whole lot levelled out so that the three of them were now waist-deep in snow. Melissa couldn't help crying out; icy water was seeping through her jeans now, and it was so cold that it hurt.
she yelped. “Gill, hurry up!”
“I'm trying!” he replied. “Lazlo! Slash!” He was looking out of the hatch, and suddenly Melissa realised what he was going to do.
“No!” she cried. “Don't cut that—!”
Time seemed to slow down. Gill turned to look at Melissa.
“I told you that you wouldn't like it,” he said, and time returned to normal as the lift fell.
Melissa lost her footing within half a second and fell into a faceful of snow; for a couple of unbearable seconds, she flailed in an agony of frost – and then she rose right out of it as the lift entered free fall. A moment later, her back was pressed against the ceiling, and Rose was flying past her, screeching in alarm; the next, the snow was rising up to meet her and—
Everything stopped in a grinding screech of tortured metal.
Silence. Dark. Cold.
Now there was a humming, a faint buzzing that drew nearer and nearer – and then something was coming through the hole in the dark, a little rust-coloured face.
Lazlo landed clumsily on top of the snowdrift and started to adjust his wings, but Melissa reached up and swatted him off her chest.
“Uugh,” she groaned. “Are we dead yet?”
“No,” replied Gill, rising out of the snow and shaking it out of his hair. “And you have the snowmen to thank for that. Their corpses have cushioned our fall.”
“Huh. That's what you call irony.”
“Yes. Now, we need to get out of here before we freeze to death.”
Melissa opened her eyes properly and sat up, snow falling her shoulders.
“Ah. Yeah, we do.” She suddenly became aware of the crushing cold around her; she was soaked to the skin in icy water. “F*ck. That is
“Hang on...” Gill struggled over to the doors, and tried to prise them apart; he got them open a little way, and a moment later Lazlo came to give him a hand. Between them, they managed to force them open just wide enough for someone to slip through, and slithered out. Gill reached back in and hauled out Shannon, who was, it seemed too cold to speak, and then Melissa. Amazingly, Rose was still conscious, and she tottered out a moment later, dragging Monsanto along behind her.
“Anything broken?” gasped Melissa; thankfully, it seemed there wasn't. “OK. Get to the bedrooms – need to get out of – these clothes.”
The thirty feet down the corridor to her room had never seemed so far; with every step, Melissa was sure she was going to lose a limb. She tried three times before finally managing to grab hold of the handle and pull open the door; when at last she got inside, she only just succeeded in managing to peel off her clothes before her fingers gave up and locked in place.
“Sh*t sh*t sh*t
,” she whispered through chattering teeth, reaching for a towel and hitting herself repeatedly with it in a clumsy attempt at drying off. In the end, she gave up and simply wrapped herself in her duvet as best she could, leaning back against the radiator and willing herself to warm up.
Thankfully, Rose required less to revitalise her; once she was warm, she simply absorbed the remaining water around her and took to standing guard at the door. Once, Melissa heard a snowman hop past – but it didn't notice that the door was slightly ajar, and carried on without stopping.
By about two o'clock, Melissa felt almost human again; she got up and dressed, reflecting as she did that it was Christmas Day now, and so far it seemed that every member of Fourth Station's staff had been on Santa's naughty list. The only present they'd received was an army of killer snowmen.
“OK,” Melissa told herself, drying her hair as much as she possibly could without use of the hairdryer, “I'm alive, just about. Therefore there's hope.” She knelt down and tapped Rose on the shoulder. “We're going back out there,” she said. “Look out for snowmen, OK?”
Rose, having now heard the word 'snowman' quite a lot, had pretty much worked out what it meant, and nodded in reply.
“Good.” Melissa stood up and opened the door cautiously; about fifteen feet down the corridor was a lone snowman, which Rose reduced to powder with a Magical Leaf before it had even turned around. “Excellent. Come on, let's find the others.”
Shannon's room was a couple of doors down; judging from the puddles and lumps of coal all around it, Monsanto had been quite busy defending the place. In fact, Melissa could see him peering around the door.
“It's me,” she said, waving at him. “Shannon, you OK?”
“Ugh, yes,” replied the geologist, opening the door. She too had changed her clothes, and also her eyepatch: she now sported a rather disconcerting flesh-coloured one with a realistic eye drawn on it. “You wouldn't
how much water I tipped out my eye socket,” she added, pointing at the patch.
“I could do without knowing that,” she said. “Have you seen Gill?”
“I'm here,” he said, and Melissa turned to see him standing behind her, Lazlo at his side. “Sorry about that.”
“It was better than dying in a lift full of snow,” Melissa told him. “Forget it. Shall we go to the boiler room?”
“Let's do that,” said Shannon. “I'd like to get this over with.”
They returned to the central landing, went around the other side of the lift and through a short corridor to the boiler room. There didn't seem to be many snowmen here; perhaps it was because it was the deepest part of the base, or perhaps it was because there wasn't any prey here, but they seemed to be congregating on the higher levels.
The boiler room itself was beautifully, wonderfully warm; a rat's nest of pipes, ducts and tanks, pervaded by a thin mist of steam. This was slightly worrying, since it implied there was a leak somewhere, but Melissa didn't care; she just wanted it to be warm.
“God, this is nice,” she said. “Where's the thermostat?”
“Here,” Shannon answered. “And it's going all the way up.” She turned a dial around as far as it would go.
“And that's that,” said Gill. “Actually, this mission wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, all things considered.”
“You cut the lift cable,” Melissa reminded him.
“Ah. Yes, that wasn't too pleasant.”
“We fell down the f*cking shaft.”
“All right. I did apologise.”
“I know, I'm just making a point.” Melissa clapped her hands together. “Moving on! I suggest we stay here for a while until the snowmen are all melted, then make our way back to the others via the stairs. They won't come in here, and we'll all be much safer.”
“Good idea,” said Shannon. “I don't ever want to see another damn snowman.”
And they settled down by the thermostat to wait.
By three o'clock in the morning on Christmas Day, it was beginning to feel very warm inside Fourth Station. So warm, in fact, that it was almost unbearable in the boiler room, and Melissa, Shannon and Gill decided to leave. However, when they opened the door, it was to a rather disquieting discovery: a spreading pool of water that flowed in through the space and around their feet.
They looked at each other.
“How many snowmen did you say you saw outside?” asked Shannon.
“A few thousand,” replied Melissa.
“And how many do you think have got in?”
“Could be any number...”
They shared a second look.
“I think we need to get to higher ground,” said Shannon, and both Melissa and Gill agreed with her. Carrying their respective Pokémon, they hurried out of the boiler room and down the now-flooded corridor.
“Where are the stairs?” asked Melissa.
“I don't know,” said Gill, “but look at
He pointed ahead, and Melissa stared. There was a veritable river pouring out of the half-open lift, and more seemed to be splashing down the shaft; as they watched, a few coals plopped into the stream, and were washed down to their feet. Monsanto, alarmed by all this water, burrowed deep into Shannon's jacket; for their parts, Rose and Lazlo took refuge high on their owners' shoulders.
“At least the water's warm,” said Melissa.
“Relatively,” said Shannon. “It's still only, what – four degrees above freezing?”
“You were right, Shannon,” Gill told her. “We really do need to get to higher ground – which means we need to
find the stairs
They splashed down the corridor, flinging open doors and hoping for stairs; thankfully, the third one they chose proved to be the right one. It was easy enough to tell: when Melissa opened it, she released an inordinately large quantity of meltwater, with the result that she immediately became soaking wet again.
“I think I found them,” she said, watching the water pouring down the steps. “But I think I might also have just doubled the rate at which the water level rises.”
“Well, hurry up then!” cried Gill, and did so himself, rushing up the stairs, slipping on the wet metal and falling down again. “Or we could go at a calm and measured pace,” he decided, getting back to his feet and wringing water out of his jacket. Lazlo, who had taken off as soon as Gill lost his footing, landed delicately on top of his head and began to hum again. “Oh, shut up,” his master said grumpily, beginning to climb.
Melissa and Shannon followed close behind, the latter feeling slightly smug about being the only (mostly) dry one there; the water was hot on their heels, rising alarmingly with every passing moment. Thankfully, the temperature inside the station was now so high that they might have been in Hawaii rather than the Arctic Circle, and none of them, despite being drenched, faced the same deadly chill as they had earlier.
“How is there so much water?” wondered Melissa, as the stairs ascended through a dark and narrow tunnel. “Are more snowmen coming in and then just melting?”
“Maybe,” replied Gill. “This isn't a Jellicent's natural state, is it? It's probably trying to thaw itself out by sending in all the projections it can to melt in here.”
“But they're just turning into Frillish or whatever, aren't they?” asked Shannon.
“Yes, but it may want to melt no matter what the cost to its own life,” replied Melissa as they reached the third sub-basement. “Imagine being broken into millions of individually frozen pieces for two hundred years. Wouldn't you want out of that too?”
At that, Shannon fell silent, for something that had once been a snowman lunged at them; however, Rose darted forwards and split it easily in two, and the halves dissolved on either side of them, the carrot coming to rest between Melissa's feet.
“We should be OK for a while here,” said Gill, closing the door to the stairs. “Even if the snowmen are just filing in to be melted, they can't fill up the base with water that quickly, can they?”
“We can't stop though,” protested Melissa. “If the snowmen
continually coming in, they
eventually fill up the whole base with water. Think about it: that'll leave everyone else trapped in the geology lab, where they'll die. We have to get up to the top and stop them getting in!”
“How? If they can throw Sawsbuck through the windows on the top floor, they can break down the front doors,” replied Gill. “What are we supposed to do to stop them getting in? We can't kill every single one of them.”
“I don't know,” admitted Melissa. “But we have to try, right?”
“She's right,” agreed Shannon. “There must be something we can do – build a barricade or something.”
“All right,” he said. “Let's keep going.”
He opened the door back to the stairs, and a small wave washed out and over the floor; Melissa stepped through, and continued on her way up the dark stairwell. It was a pity, she thought, that the power was gone – some light would have been very useful for seeing where they were going. Monsanto's tail was all right as a source of illumination, but he really didn't like it being anywhere near the water, and kept tucking it away under his belly.
By the time they reached the first sub-basement, they had agreed that one of them should go to the geology lab and warn the others to get out as fast as they could; the water was rising at an alarming speed now, and they didn't want anyone drowning. It was decided that Gill ought to go, since Melissa was determined to see the snowmen stopped and Shannon was the one with the requisite light source (in the form of Monsanto), and so he left the stairs at that point and headed back to the labs.
And so the mad dash for the top continued: praying that the others managed to get to the stairs before the water rendered them impassable, Melissa and Shannon climbed to the ground floor, and immediately backed down half a flight of stairs again – the place was packed to the walls with melting snowmen.
“OK, Shannon,” whispered Melissa. “Got a plan?”
Shannon shook her head.
“Great,” said Melissa. “Let's see, do I have one...? No. No, I don't.”
Think, Melissa, think... there's got to be something you can do...
She snapped her fingers.
“We'll go up to the top floor,” she said to Shannon, “and then climb down the cable on the lift shaft to get out near the main entrance.”
“That's really dangerous,” pointed out Shannon. “And the landing is probably just as full of snowmen as this corridor.”
“Then I guess the only way up is some sort of frontal assault,” said Melissa plainly. “After all, they're melting. Monsanto and Rose together can probably take them all down, right?”
“I suppose there's only one way to find out,” continued Melissa, as if Shannon hadn't spoken, and dragged her back up the stairs to fight the snowmen.
At first, the snowmen really weren't too much trouble: when they started melting, they lost most of their strength and much of their solidity, and Rose could break them apart without even resorting to Magical Leaf. Monsanto, for his part, saw the water as blood again, and hastened the melting process considerably with small but perfectly formed Embers.
It was when they got close to the living-room, near the entrance, that things began to get tougher.
Here, the snowmen were fresh and cold from outside, and put up more of a fight. Melissa and Shannon stayed back, and let the two Pokémon do the work; they were getting through them well, but the problem was that every one they destroyed still melted, and more kept on coming in. In short, they really weren't solving the problem at all.
“Shannon!” yelled Melissa, over the roar of the water crashing down the lift shaft. “I think we need a new plan!”
“You're telling me!” replied Shannon. “This isn't working at all!”
At that point, a large blue crab the size of a small car scuttled past them, walked straight through a knot of snowmen and out through the main doors.
Shannon and Melissa exchanged looks, and even a couple of the snowmen stopped to watch it go – which was to their detriment, for Rose and Monsanto promptly slew them.
“It was a Blue Kingler,” replied Melissa slowly. “Just like the Blue Kingler we have in the Pokézoology lab...”
It was then that they heard a deep, spine-chilling roar from below them, and realised that something even worse than snowmen was happening.
In the Pokézoology lab, things had been happening. Things that involved a lot of water, and some rather anxious animals.
The three Sawsbuck were the unlucky ones; they were not strong swimmers, and their antlers meant that as the room filled with water, they couldn't fit through the gap between the top of their pen's wall and the ceiling. Regrettably, the wildebeest went the same way, and took the reason for its being on Batten Island with it to its grave.
The other inmates, however, were different.
The Blue Kingler, a member of a noble cold-water subspecies, simply allowed itself to float up and out of its enclosure as the water level rose; the Dragonair, a powerful swimmer, waited until the water was high enough for it to leap its fence and then did so.
And the Beartic waited until the room was nearly full, then swam to the top and put its shoulder to the bars. Beneath its weight, the cage wall bent downwards slightly – and the big beast was able to twist its way through the slender gap between wall and ceiling, and swim out towards the door. It was free to hunt for the first time in two weeks, and it was
Melissa would later freely admit that when she saw the shadow fall across the snowmen in front of her, she thought it was Santa Claus, coming to join the Christmas legion in killing them all. It was an easy enough mistake to make: large, plump, with the distinct outline of a beard... The shadow had all the characteristics of old St. Nick himself.
Unfortunately, it belonged to a bear.
The Beartic came from nowhere, barrelling through snowmen like a bulldozer. Some distant calm corner of Melissa's mind analysed it: the characteristic loping gait of the rushing bear, down on all fours for increased speed, the beard of ice forming on its chin – that was the mark of the species; it could freeze its breath at will and often did so by accident, forming a rim of icicles on its muzzle—
Shannon grabbed her arm and pulled her backwards, just as the Beartic shot past and snapped its jaws shut on a snowman's head. Several of them tried to avenge their comrade, leaping at the Beartic and trying to choke the life from it – but the big animal was far too strong, rising onto its hind legs and sweeping its great arms straight through them, ripping the life out of them in shreds and flakes of snow.
“Where the hell did that come from?” shrieked Shannon. “Melissa, is that your bloody
“He's not my pet!” replied Melissa. “He's an endangered species and a valuable research speci—
They flung themselves flat on the floor as the Beartic, looking for real, edible flesh-and-blood prey, located them and swung a colossal paw through the space where their heads had been not a second ago.
“Monsanto!” yelled Shannon. “Do something!”
The Beartic took a step back, crushing a couple more snowmen; they, having now decided that they faced a vastly superior foe, had abandoned the fight and returned to their original plan of melting themselves out of stasis as swiftly as possible. The great bear, on the other hand, had no intention of backing down: the sole reason for its retreat was to breathe some of its frosty breath onto its paws, the vapour that left its mouth crystallising with unnatural speed into a pair of huge, jagged talons.
“That's not good,” stated Melissa unnecessarily, and rolled aside, just as the Beartic punched a long, ragged hole in the floor between her and Shannon. She leaped up and called for Rose; the Roserade looked up from her merrymaking amongst the snowmen and for the first time noticed that her mistress was in imminent danger of death. In a flash, she was on the Beartic's back, and at the very moment it drew its paw back for a second swipe—
—she sent a Magical Leaf spinning towards the crooked spike, slicing it clean off the paw. The Beartic roared and twisted around, whipping the icy blades on its chin towards Rose's face; she ducked with such speed that her head actually appeared to disappear from her shoulders, and jumped onto the bear's head.
“Rose, get down!” cried Melissa. The Beartic was an Ice-type, and made strong by years of hard life on the pack-ice; Rose was a Grass-type, four years old and barely strong enough to defeat a Prinplup. Given time, the outcome of their fight was inevitable: Rose would die. “You hear me? Come here!”
The Beartic whipped its head back and forth, its beard smashing on the walls; Rose dug in the thorns of her flowers and hung on for dear life. Approximately fourteen snowmen were destroyed by the bear's efforts, but they scarcely seemed important any more.
Then a little ball of fire hit the Beartic's chest, and it looked down sharply, flinging Rose forward into Melissa's arms; between its forelegs, a little orange lizard stood on its hind legs, glaring belligerently at the bone-white monster before it.
“Monsanto?” said Shannon shakily. “Get back!”
The Charmander didn't listen: he spat another ball of fire at the bear, which attempted to squash him flat with the heel of its paw; Monsanto, however, had had a lot of combat experience today, and had got quite good at dodging the slow attacks of Big White Things. He scuttled to one side and shot another Ember at the Beartic, hitting it in the eye; the bear felt that one, and its head snapped away from the hit, the right side of its face blackening as the fire took hold in its fur.
It was the opening they needed: Shannon wasted no time in grabbing Monsanto by the tail and hauling him with her as she and Melissa ran back to the stairs. The doors were twisted off their hinges; the Beartic must have come through this way—
“Stop!” said Melissa sharply, holding out an arm against Shannon's chest. The stairs that led down were no longer visible; the water covered them right to the top. There would be no retreat that way – not unless they wanted to drown.
“Water,” said Shannon, staring at it. “Oh God. Water. Melissa, that's wa—”
“Water, yeah, I get it,” replied Melissa, chewing her fingernails. “Shann—”
From behind them came the crashing footsteps of the bear, and Melissa, finding that there was no longer time for words, grabbed Shannon's arm and ran up the stairs to the top floor.
Behind them, the Beartic hit the wall, cramming its immense weight into the narrow passage and forcing its way through; the rails burst away from the stairs as its great shoulders pressed against them with more force than their designer ever envisioned them taking.
Melissa looked back, almost fainted and then looked ahead desperately – and yes! There was the door to the top floor, a narrow one that the bear would struggle to get through, even with its prodigious strength...
They burst through it and slammed it shut behind them; with the speed that only those who fear for their life can attain, Shannon rammed a chair under the handle. For a moment, she and Melissa looked at each other, breathing heavily – and a second later, they turned as one and ran for the door that led out to the rooftop, and to radio mast.
The cold hit them like a sledgehammer, and at first none of them could move, limbs locked by the freezing air. Some sort of vessel burst in Rose's eye and the yellowish sap that ran in her veins in place of blood spread across it as she passed out; Monsanto let out an almighty hiss and the flame on his tail dwindled to a pinprick spark. For their part, Melissa and Shannon doubled over in pain, every inch of exposed skin on their body instantly turning to frosted sandpaper, and every wet article of clothing they had freezing solid on their limbs.
Then fear came to their rescue for the second time that day, breaking the spell and releasing their legs. Shannon kicked the door shut and backed away; a second later, a terrible splintering sound told them that the Beartic had worked out how to open the door by applying its shoulder to the problem. Its deep roar echoed out over the rooftop, whirled around the frozen mast and whipped away into the distance, and Melissa managed to curse through frozen lips.
“Melissa!” yelled Shannon over the howling wind.
“We've run out of building!”
Even here, on a rooftop in the Arctic about to be eaten by a bear on
Christmas f*cking Day
, Melissa had to laugh. It was gallows humour, and just twenty minutes ago she would never have laughed at it. Now, there was nothing funnier left in the world.
Something big slammed hard against the door, the impact audible even over the wind, and she flinched. All right. This wasn't how she'd imagined her career would go – hell, she remembered writing a plan for her life when she was eight that involved her being married to a prince by twenty-five, and she hadn't even done that yet. It was funny, she thought, how little things like that stuck in your head.
A second impact, and the door burst open, the Beartic half-leaping, half-falling out onto the roof. Like them, it was blind in the Arctic night; unlike them, its nose opened up to it a new world, defined not by planes and lines but by trails and clouds, and it swung its great head unerringly towards them as soon as it appeared. It paused for a moment, perhaps enjoying the cold air after the tropical heat inside, and then began to stalk towards them. It knew its prey had nowhere left to run; inside, it had rushed things, the environment alien – but out here, it knew what it was doing. There was snow beneath its feet and wind in its fur: this was its kingdom, and here it was God.
“Shannon,” said Melissa. She felt kind of light-headed, although she wasn't entirely certain whether this was due to hypothermia or fear of the bear.
Shannon hesitated, and almost smiled.
“Merry Christmas, Melissa.”
What a day to die. Christmas Day. It ranked just below her birthday and wedding day (assuming she ever had one) on her list of bad days to die on. Melissa wanted to make some witty final words out of that, but she just couldn't think of any.
The Beartic stopped a couple of metres away from them, and for a split second Melissa thought she could see deep into its smoke-blackened eyes. Its legs tensed, ready to spring, and—
—a series of hideously bright lights shone down out of nowhere, blinding all and sundry and causing the Beartic to rear up, squeezing its eyes shut and roaring in pain. A second later, something fell out of the sky and landed next to Melissa, grabbing her arm and lifting her back up into the air. She had a fleeting glimpse of water spilling out onto the rooftop, and of something blue and white that trailed tentacles below it gliding out with it, a look of serenity in its eyes – and then the world rushed up around her and abruptly turned black.
“Dr. Argent? Dr. Argent, can you hear me?”
“F*ck! A bear!” Melissa cried, moving from horizontal to vertical in one instantaneous movement.
“No,” said the man kneeling next to her. “You're safe now. On a helicopter, heading south.”
Melissa woke up properly and took a long look around. Yes, this was a helicopter: metal walls, thick windows, roaring noise. She wasn't dead, which was great; instead, she was wrapped in an emergency blanket, regaining all that heat she'd lost to the elements. The man next to her looked like an aviator, for he was dressed in clothes befitting such.
“What – where... Shannon? Monsanto?
“All fine,” replied the man, correctly deciphering her jumbled words. “They're on board and recovering nicely.”
Melissa closed her eyes and nodded; perhaps it was the adrenaline fading from her system, but she was suddenly very conscious of the fact that she hadn't slept in about twenty-four hours.
“How did you know to help us?” she asked.
“Professor Yewtree said that when the snowmen started melting, he and several others made a break for the radio mast; since you didn't come back, they thought you were dead, you see. It turns out it wasn't broken – one of the Sawsbuck's antlers had caught on the power lead and pulled the plug out, that was all. He plugged it in, called for help and, well, here we are.” The man smiled. “Now, I hope that made more sense to you than it does to me, because I have no idea what he meant by it. What the hell
“We were invaded by an army of snowmen, who then melted, filling the base with water and releasing an angry bear,” replied Melissa, deadpan. “I'm going to
The man hesitated, uncertain whether or not she was telling the truth.
“Uh, on second thoughts, maybe you should save the story for the commissioner,” he said. “I'm just here to save you.”
“So everyone got away?” asked Melissa.
“We picked up Dr. Sans a few minutes ago – he'd made it out the main entrance and was waving a torch to be picked up, which means everyone is accounted for except for Dr. Thompson and Dr. García Méndez. ”
“The climatologists. Uh, we think they're dead.”
“Thank God for that,” said the man. “Waste of space, if you ask me.”
Melissa didn't, but she agreed with him anyway.
“What happened to the Beartic?” she asked.
“Not sure,” he replied. “Last I saw of it, it was surrounded by these weird blue balloon things.”
“Of course,” said Melissa, more to herself than him. “We melted them all at once, didn't we? Therefore, we freed it. It's...” A sour look crossed her face. “It's going to kill my research specimens,” she concluded glumly.
“Ah well,” said the man. “Forget that. You're all safe, and it's Christmas Day. Isn't that good enough?”
Melissa thought about it. She thought about the dead climatologists, and about the snowmen. She thought about an ancient Ghost, waking up after two hundred years as flakes of ice. She thought about Sinnoh's premier research station, wrecked by flood and unusable for the foreseeable future.
“I suppose it is,” she sighed, thinking about the possibility of getting home for Christmas lunch. “I suppose it is.”
And the helicopter sped on, thundering south through the dawn, taking her back towards Sinnoh, towards home – and towards a genuine, warm,
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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