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Old November 4th, 2012, 08:32 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
And I'm back! Yeah! An object at rest cannot be stopped!

Chapter Five: The Thick of It


Tock.

“Oh, sh— Short Round's baseball cap. This is doing my head in.”

I hauled my eyes open with the strenuous effort more often associated with dock labourers loading up a freighter, and stared at the green ovals hovering just above me.

“Whuh,” I mumbled. “Time?”

A voice issued from somewhere in the sea of grey around the green.

“The time isn't the problem, Jared. The problem is the fact that the world seems to have done a f*cking backflip again.”

Halley. That was the name of the voice – and those ovals were eyes, and those brindled waves were fur...

I sat up, and felt a lean furred weight fall from my chest.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Pokémon Centre hotel room,” replied Halley. “Not sure how you remember things, but Cheren got you in here claiming you were a Swedish Trainer. Apparently they don't use Trainer Cards in Sweden or something.”

Cheren... Yeah, I remembered that. He was cold, calculating and utterly calm; no one without his bland, omniscient eyes and quietly insistent logic could have pulled off such a ridiculous lie. In fact, I'm not sure he could have done it if he didn't know for certain that they didn't have Trainer Cards in Sweden; he seemed to draw strength from facts.

“Oh yeah.” I scratched my head. “Ouch. That fight didn't do me any favours, especially after Regenschein's.”

“Fight?” Halley frowned. “Did you do some fighting?”

“Yeah – I almost threw Smythe off the train, remember? While you and Candy were fighting the Liepard... thing.”

Halley stared.

“I so wish I could remember that,” she said wistfully. “It must have been glorious.”

“What?” I blinked. “Did you get amnesia again?”

She sighed.

“Don't tell me I have to explain this again.”

“Explain—?”

“OK, listen up and don't ask questions,” Halley continued without pausing. “Unova seems to be hosting two parallel universes – one modern, industrialised world in which you're a boy named Jared Black, and one old-fashioned, backwater nowhere in which you're a girl named Lauren White. I think they're connected through dreams or something, but I keep sliding between them – with you one day, with Lauren the next.”

A memory flashed into my mind with startling clarity – like a single pearl on a bed of rose petals, a lone white seal bounding through slate-grey shallows – and I saw, as if I had suddenly been recalled to sleep, my hand pushing a bangle onto my wrist before a sunlit window. Only it wasn't my hand, it was browner and slimmer, and the nails were painted the green of spring leaves, and I don't wear jewellery...

“Lauren,” I said slowly. “I never noticed before.”

Halley's ears pricked up, and she sat up straight on the bedspread.

“Noticed what?” she asked eagerly.

“That I wasn't me in my dreams.” I didn't know why, but I felt like the veil covering some great cosmic secret had been whisked aside; I could see something incomprehensible with incredible clarity – but I didn't quite understand what it was. “It always seemed so natural,” I continued. “But I wasn't me – not Jared. I was Lauren White, and...” I frowned; I could remember nothing more.

“And?”

“I don't know.” The secrets slid away and the curtains of reality fell back into place. “I just had a strange feeling.”

“So you believe me? About the two worlds and the dreams?”

After that experience, I didn't think I had any choice.

“Yeah,” I said hesitantly. “I do. It's – it's what they call the Dream World, isn't it?”

“That's what Lauren said,” Halley answered. “Strange, really... I'd have thought she would believe me more easily than you, not the other way around.”

“Did she... I... whatever, believe you?” I asked.

“I don't know. She was confused.” Halley yawned. “She seemed bright enough, but weak-willed. I guess she clings to what she knows.”

“So strange,” I murmured. “I... yeah.” I broke off.

There was a silence, which after a while Halley broke.

“So yeah. To answer your question, it's thirteen past nine.” She looked up at me gravely. “Now put some clothes on and have a shower. You stink of teenager.”

“Is that your heightened feline senses talking?”

“No. You're just filthy.”

With that, she turned around and slid under the beside table with the peculiar combination of grace and idiocy that only cats can achieve, curled up and went back to sleep.

---

Twenty minutes later, I was clean, dressed and descending the stairs to the Centre's lobby, a large, whitewashed area that smelled strongly of dog; asking the receptionist the way in a passable imitation of a heavy Swedish accent, I eventually got myself to the canteen, where I saw Bianca talking merrily to a composedly silent Cheren.

“Hi,” I said, sitting down at their table and letting Candy down off my shoulder. “Sorry. Have you been waiting?”

Cheren looked at me, and then at Bianca's plate – which, I saw was almost full. His own, needless to say, was scrupulously clean with the knife and fork lined up neatly at the side. I got the feeling he'd been done for about half an hour.

“Yes,” he replied, “but not for you.”

Bianca gaped, and Candy stole a strip of bacon from her plate to gnaw dreamily by my hand.

“Cher-eeeen,” she moaned. “I'm not being slow—!”

“You've taken about forty minutes so far,” he told her mildly. “In that time, you've told me absolutely everything you know about Jared, a sizeable amount of conjecture about what might conceivably be known about Jared in the future, and your attitude towards your Tepig – again.”

Bianca made a peculiar noise partway between a squeal and a yelp, and turned to me with a demand for support forming on her face.

“Jared—”

“I just got up. I know nothing about this.” I paused. “Actually, I don't even know who you are, except that you're Trainers.”

We hadn't spoken much last night beyond my explanation of who I was, why I had a talking cat and why we'd both been under arrest. I actually still had the handcuffs dangling from my wrists; Bianca's Tepig (a plump, affable creature that for some reason she'd called Barry) had been able to melt through the chain links, but I hadn't wanted to risk it cooking my wrists in trying to destroy the actual cuffs. Halley had told me that they, with my studded jacket and black jeans, made me look a lot like a moron who couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a punk or a Goth.

Anyway, Bianca's natural compassion and Cheren's desire to figure out exactly what was going on had combined to form an agreement that they would help Halley and I out, and so they'd got us into the Pokémon Centre. After a quick meal, I'd gone straight to bed, and this was the first I'd seen of them since.

“Get some food first,” advised Cheren. “If only to stop your Archen from eating Bianca's.”

I frowned.

“How did you know she was an Archen?”

“Toothed beak, long feathered tail, clumsy attempts at flight and clawed wings,” he replied. “Also, I read that there were some recent developments in re-engineering at Ingen's research facility at Nacrene. Which would explain why she's alive – though not why you have her.”

“She's... kind of illegal,” I said awkwardly. “Hang on. Let me get something to eat.”

By the time I came back, Candy and Bianca had become Best Friends Forever as only animals and people who like animals can, and Halley was sitting in my chair.

“I got bored,” she said.

“Shut up,” I replied conversationally. “You're trying to keep a low profile. Now get out of my seat and sit under the table or something.”

She sighed contentedly.

“I want to be pissed-off, but I have to say I've missed this. Lauren would've sat me on her lap and cuddled me, and I would have had no choice but to try and remove her spleen with my teeth.”

“Right,” I said, shoving her out of the way and sitting down. “What were you saying, Cheren?”

“Nothing. You, however, were talking about why you have an Archen.”

“Oh yeah.” I outlined the circumstances that had led to Candy's creation and subsequent exile to my house; as I spoke, the star of the story tried and failed to break the neck of a rather sturdy salt shaker.

“She doesn't seem very 'feisty', as you put it,” observed Cheren dispassionately.

“That's because she's fairly tame now,” I replied. “It's harder to make her angry these days. When we first got her she completely filled the garden with her kills.”

“I see.”

“Yeah. My uncle said it was fascinating, and the neighbours whose pets she'd killed almost murdered us.”

“But she's so cute,” said Bianca, watching Candy with wide eyes. “How can she kill anything?”

“She's trying to kill that salt shaker right now,” Cheren pointed out. “And when she ate your bacon she hit it on the table first to make sure it was dead.”

“She's not killing, she's playing,” decided Bianca, and I could tell that nothing at all was going to change her mind on that score.

“OK, whatever,” I said, swallowing a mouthful of egg and deciding never to eat at a Pokémon Centre again if I could help it. “You were going to tell me about yourselves?”

“Yes.” Cheren pushed up his glasses with his middle finger and sat up straighter, as if he were about to recite some well-learnt lesson. “We're actually fairly new to this; we started Training two weeks ago as part of Professor Juniper's summer journey scheme.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that.” It had been on the news a few months ago, and heavily advertised since; Unova's leading Pokémon researcher, Aurea Juniper, had been trying to revitalise Unova's lacklustre Training industry, and had somehow got hold of a government grant to send a few hundred sixteen-year-olds out into the wild with Pokémon for a few months. “But I thought that didn't start until this summer?”

“Not officially, no,” agreed Cheren. “A couple of us are going early, though – test cases. To make sure that there aren't going to be too many casualties.”

“Right.” I was about to say something about how disheartening that sounded, but at that moment my phone (which Halley had conveniently retrieved for me on our way to the station the day before) rang, and, apologising, I answered it.

“I'm sorry,” said Anastasia immediately. She sounded like she'd been crying. “Jared, I—”

“Annie? Hey, it's OK,” I replied, before she could launch into a downward spiral of self-loathing. “It's OK. We got away. Those government people... well, they're still looking for us, but we got away.”

She was silent for a moment.

“I'm still sorry,” she said eventually. “I just – Jared, that monster...”

Her voice cracked, and I felt a sudden aching desire to put my arms around her, to tell her that everything was fine, that I understood and forgave her – but of course, I couldn't. We were separated by hundreds of miles of city and forest, connected only by the imperceptible ripple in the air that carried our voices to each other's ears.

“It's OK, Annie,” I said softly. “It really is. We're all OK. We fought that Liepard off – and the guy with it.”

“I know, I know, but...” She couldn't find the words, but I knew exactly what she meant, and said so.

“It's OK,” I repeated lamely. “Really. The important thing is that you're safe – and you are, right?”

“Uh – yeah. I guess. Just, um, shaken up.”

“That's better than nothing,” I said gently. “Come on. Go and shoot some Swedish bears or something.”

She almost laughed, which under the circumstances was about as good as I was going to get.

“When are you coming back?” she asked, a note of pleading in her voice.

“I don't know,” I replied. “When it's safe, I guess.”

“And when will that be?”

“I don't know.” I hesitated. “Soon. I hope.”

“OK.” Her voice was not in agreement with her words. “There's someone asking for me now, Jared. I have to go.”

“Are you sure? You don't sound like you want to.”

“Of course I don't,” she said, a note of her old sourness creeping into her voice. “No, I... I have to go.”

“You can call me any time,” I told her. “OK? Any time.”

“Yeah.” She swallowed, and I wondered what that bastard Teiresias had done to her – what horrors it had shown her to reduce Anastasia to this. “I know. OK. Um... goodbye.”

“Bye, Annie. Call me soon.”

“I will.”

She hung up, and I returned to my breakfast to find I'd suddenly lost my appetite.

“How is she?” asked Halley, unusually gently.

“Bad,” I replied shortly. “I don't want to talk about it.”

“Fine by me,” she answered. “I'm told I'm not a good listener.”

“Sorry,” I said to Cheren and Bianca. “My girlfriend. She's not feeling particularly well right now. What were you saying?”

“That was it, really,” Cheren told me. We've plotted out a route through Unova that'll take us via all the Gyms; I'm not sure we'll be able to take on more than one or two before the summer's out, but we'll do our best.”

It made sense. I'd never been interested in becoming a Trainer myself, but I knew it wasn't easy. The Gym Leaders were tough; they had vast catalogues of Pokémon at their disposal, and so were always able to pick out a team just that tiny bit too strong for each challenger who faced them. I guess that was why there weren't that many Trainers in Unova any more – for a nation of kids that were used to immediate pleasure, it was too much time and effort.

“Right.” I thought for a bit. “Won't it take, like, several circuits to actually beat them all?”

“Yeah, that's what I said!” cried Bianca, as if this were the most amazing coincidence in the world. “But we want to travel too, you know? And see the world!”

“See Unova,” corrected Cheren dryly. “There is a world beyond this country. Difficult as it may be to believe.”

Unova was fairly isolated on its little island in the Atlantic; there were only two countries on our landmass, and the northern one, Patzkova, was pretty much the textbook definition of wilderness. The British had tried to conquer it, after they took Unova; however, the terrain, natives and wild animals had all put up one hell of a fight, and, given that there was absolutely nothing of value in Patzkova beyond the fighting spirit of its inhabitants, the armies of the Empire had decided it really wasn't worth the effort. Over a century later, Patzkova was still mostly unchanged: there was something vaguely resembling a modern city in the northeast corner of it, and the rest was a seething mass of hostile forest.

“Right.” I paused. “OK. So, um... what are we doing today?”

“Bianca and I were going to head north to Striaton,” replied Cheren. “You're welcome to tag along, if you like. I don't know what use it will be to you, but we'll be walking along the Trainer Trails rather than taking the train, so it would be a good way to get off the radar while you consider what you want to do next.”

That sounded like an excellent idea. Unlike conventional roads, the trails through the wilderness favoured by Trainers were overgrown and meandering, often led in several different directions at once and had patchy mobile phone coverage. If Halley and I wanted to vanish, we could do a lot worse than travel with Trainers – even if it did mean giving up the comforts of civilisation.

“I think I'll take you up on that offer,” I told him. “Halley? What do you think?”

She sighed.

“All that time I spent getting out of the f*cking woods into the city and we're heading straight back out there again? All right, I see the need to go, but... Christ. I'm not looking forward to it.”

“That's settled, then,” I said. “We'll go with you. Candy, put that down.”

She had grabbed the edge of my plate in her toothy beak, and bit down reflexively on hearing the reprimand in my voice; there was a crack, and she stepped away, spitting out a mouthful of porcelain and looking at me guiltily.

“Thanks a bunch,” I told her, picking her up and looking her in the eye. “Bad dog.”

“Dog?” asked Bianca.

“She doesn't understand the concept of birds,” I sighed. “Believe me, we've tried. But everyone we know who has a pet has a dog, so she thinks that 'dog' means 'pet'... Look, it's complicated.”

“It sounds it.”

“Yeah. Uh, is it OK if we go now?” I asked. “I really don't want anyone asking about the broken plate. Given that I'm supposed to be from Sweden. And that I'm on the run from some sinister government organisation.”

“Oh yeah!” cried Bianca, jumping to her feet and overturning her plate. “We should totally go!”

“How the f*ck did you two become friends?” wondered Halley. I'm pretty sure both Cheren and I were thinking exactly the same thing at that moment, but we didn't have long to ponder it. We'd broken two plates and spilled a considerable quantity of food: now was definitely the time to bail. We got up, retrieved Halley from under the table, and left.

---

Accumula was more or less the worst possible place that their targets could have escaped them, Smythe thought to himself as he trudged down the little town's main street. Given that the Green Party was currently canvassing here for the upcoming general election – and that Harmonia himself was actually going to make a speech here today – it seemed more or less impossible for him to avoid making a report today. It was expected of him; in fact, he was supposed to be meeting up with his superiors today, with Halley and her new accomplice in tow. What exactly he was going to say to them was beyond him.

Just as irritating was the fact that Teiresias had vanished. Officially, it wasn't supposed to be working with him on this; it had volunteered for it – it had some special interest in Halley, or something – and so its presence on the mission had to be concealed from Harmonia and the rest. Thus, Smythe would be taking the full blame for their failures to date – when in fact the convenient failure of Teiresias' vaunted powers had been responsible for most of it. It just wasn't fair.

A bell chimed, and Smythe leaped out of the way as a gaggle of kids on brightly-coloured bikes zoomed past, chattering wildly.

“Shouldn't you be in school?” he asked, far too quietly for anyone to hear, and, shaking his head in dissatisfaction, continued on his way.

Actually, now that he thought about it, Smythe disliked this whole situation they had with Teiresias' kind. Those... things were lending their support to the Party, and that was all well and good, but he didn't like them hanging around the place, popping up in unexpected places and generally creeping him out. He didn't like the way they'd become so important, that was it. They were changing the whole feel of the Party. Sure, they were doing better in the polls – but Smythe wasn't wholly sure that this was the same party he'd joined any more; it seemed darker now, more... demonic.

Bugger. There was a fleet of electric cars coming down the road – black, white and blue, for some reason the official colours of the Unovan Green Party. They swept by, overtaking him in an instant, and hummed along in the direction of Neurine Plaza.

Smythe checked his watch. Yes, it was almost time for the speech. He supposed he'd better get there; afterwards he had his appointment with Harmonia.

He sighed, girded his loins, and strode off towards the plaza, a lone hero striking out across the grey.

---

“Excuse me. Where did you get those?”

I blinked, and looked around to see who'd spoken; as it turned out, it was a rather Gothic-looking girl who was wearing far too much eyeshadow for so early in the morning.

“Get what?” I asked. Behind me, Cheren tapped his foot impatiently; we were all eager to leave the Centre, but I could tell he especially didn't appreciate delays messing up his carefully arranged timetable.

“Those bracelets.”

I stared at her. At my feet, Halley suppressed a snigger.

“You mean these?” I asked, holding up my wrists to show her the handcuffs.

“Yeah, those.” She smiled self-consciously. “They're cool, that's all.”

“OK. Uh, thanks, I guess. They're, um, home-made.”

“That is so cool,” she said, staring at them. “I've got to get me some of those.”

I nodded in vague confusion.

“Uh... thanks. Anyway, I, er, have to go now...”

“Oh, yeah! Of course. Sorry. Thanks!”

She waved and walked off in the direction of the canteen, doubtless going to tell her incredibly alternative friends about the seriously cool new accessory she'd discovered.

“I cannot believe that anyone would like those,” muttered Halley. “F*cking hipsters.”

“I don't think she was a hipster,” I said, as we entered the lobby. “I—”

“Shut up, you're meant to be Swedish,” hissed Cheren, and I fell silent.

“Still, I can't imagine anyone would like that look,” chattered Bianca blithely. “I mean, all that black and spikes and stuff. It's so aggressive! Not cute at all... I like cute things.”

I stared at her. Was she not aware that she was describing the very clothes I was wearing? This was fashionable in Black City – the latest thing. I didn't know what they did out in middle-of-nowhere Nuvema, but where I came from, this was just about the last word in cool.

“Ignore her,” Cheren informed me lightly, without moving his lips. “Some days, that's the only way I can survive.”

We left the Pokémon Centre, and almost immediately a wave of sound washed over us: a crowd was laughing nearby. A large crowd.

“What's that?” I wondered.

“I'm not sure.” Cheren frowned. “It sounds big.”

“It's coming from over there,” said Bianca, pointing down the street. “I think it's coming from that square we saw yesterday, Cheren.”

“People are staring at me,” whined Halley.

“That's because your species is technically classified as vermin,” I said. “Now shut up before someone realises you can talk.” I looked up from her to Cheren. “Shall we investigate, then?”

“Hm. I think we will. We can afford a short detour.”

“Oh, lighten up, Cheren,” moaned Bianca, as if she hadn't heard his answer at all. “Let's go! It might be fun!”

“All right, all right,” he sighed. “Lead on.”

Bianca bounced off ahead, and Candy launched herself off my shoulder to cling to her back, squawking with joy.

“So how did you two meet?” I asked Cheren conversationally, as we walked after them.

“When we were five, I was looking for an illustrated children's encyclopaedia in the school library,” he told me. “As it turned out, Bianca had it. She'd propped it up on building blocks to make a house for some stuffed animal.” He raised his eyebrows. “I'm still not entirely sure how we got from there to here, actually.”

Somehow, that summed up the pair of them perfectly: Cheren looking for a book, Bianca using it as a toy. I smiled, for a moment forgetting Teiresias, Smythe and the mess they were making of my life, and walked on down the street with an extra spring in my step.

The crowd noises were dying down now, and I heard a man's voice ringing out above them; I couldn't quite make out the words, but it sounded familiar. Eager to find out what exactly was happening, we rounded the corner and found ourselves at the back of a crowd several hundred people strong, gathered in a plaza and listening attentively to the tall man with the synthetic eye standing on a podium in front of a banner emblazoned with the words 'Green Party 2013'. He had just finished telling some kind of joke, I surmised, because there was a ripple of laughter spreading through the crowd.

“OK, OK,” he was saying, “enough joking around, or I'm not actually going to get to the end of this speech before the council throw us out the square. Times have changed – and so have we. I think you'll find that we're no longer the butt of every political joke in the country...”

“Who's that?” I asked Cheren, staring at the man. “He looks familiar...”

“Ghetsis Harmonia,” he replied. “Leader of the Green Party and, if I remember correctly, the second person to have a HawkEye fitted.”

That was it – I knew I'd seen him before, and now I knew where. He'd been on the news a while ago; having lost his right eye in some kind of accident, he'd volunteered to be a test subject for Ovotech's new artificial sight system.
“He's standing for Prime Minister this year,” observed Cheren. “He's doing quite well so far, too. I believe it's a combination of unusual name, the eye, and a winning personality.”

“I see.”

“...you all know our stance on climate change, on sustainability, and all that,” Harmonia was saying. “That's not news anymore – and neither are our policies. We've made them entirely clear to you over the last few weeks. No, what I really wanted to do with this meeting was to talk about something new we have planned – something that will be taking place if we make it into power.”

“Where did Bianca go?” I wondered. I couldn't see her in the crowd.

“Who cares?” asked Halley. “Isn't the real question here why his hair is green?”

“That's not that unusual here,” Cheren told her. “It's the world's rarest hair colour – most common in Unova and Patzkova and virtually unheard of anywhere else.”

“You know, it's really hard to be facetious when this guy knows everything,” sighed Halley.

“That's not true,” Cheren replied mildly. “I don't know everything, and I suspect you know it.”

“Pedant.”

“I refuse to be drawn into a slanging match,” Cheren said with dignity. “Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to hear what Harmonia has to say.”

“...liberation.” A murmur of confusion ran through the crowd. “Yes, that's correct: liberation. But not any old form of liberation, ladies and gentlemen; there's no ruling elite, no dictatorship to overthrow. There are no humans in our liberation scheme. Just Pokémon.”

Another babble of bewildered voices; I exchanged glances with Cheren, but he just shrugged.

“Mr. Harmonia!” yelled a reporter from near the front. “Mr. Harmonia, what exactly do you mean by that?”

“Come on now,” Harmonia chided gently. “Give me a chance to explain before hitting me with the questions at least.” That earned him a small chuckle, and he waited for it to die down before continuing. “Listen,” he said. “I know this is going to sound strange, but hear me out: I propose we set each and every one of the Pokémon currently in captivity free.”

The crowd practically exploded in uproar; for a moment, I thought a riot was going to break out, and wished I had my trusty iron pipe with me.

“Career suicide,” muttered Cheren, as Halley leaped up into my arms to avoid being crushed underfoot. “Why? Why would he say that?”

“I asked you to hear me out!” boomed Harmonia over the din, the speakers turned up all the way to the max – and abruptly, the turmoil in his audience ceased. “Thank you,” he said, motioning to someone out of sight to turn down the volume again. “I know this sounds strange. I expected that reaction. But I want you to understand what I mean – what thoughts went through my head when I thought of this – before you discount my plan entirely.”

He leaned forwards on the podium, that gleaming red HawkEye sweeping over the crowd like the single eye of Woden from atop the gallows.

“Pokémon are inexplicable,” he said simply. “We know the laws of biology – of physics – of the universe – and almost every species breaks at least one. A Charizard should not be able to generate fire from the empty glands in its throat. A Vanilluxe should not even be alive. It has no organs – nothing, just soft-scoop ice cream and teeth. These creatures are not part of the normal order of creation – and what do we do with them?

“We eat them. We farm them. We harvest their bones and we force them to fight one another. We have done it for thousands of years. And let me ask you – what is the result?”

Harmonia paused, and the burning red eye swooped over the crowd again. I could almost feel its presence on my forehead, as if it projected some kind of heat beam; irrationally, I found myself wondering if he could see right through us with that thing. Everyone in the audience was frozen in place; the man's presence was electric.

“We have been playing with forces that we are not capable of even beginning to comprehend,” he said. “In Unova alone, there are fifty-six fatalities and ninety severe crippling injuries among Trainers each year. Add to that the estimated nineteen thousand Pokémon undergoing mental or physical abuse, and the result is a huge pool of suffering in this one nation alone.

“And Unova is not a major Pokémon-using nation,” Harmonia continued, holding up one hand to forestall interruptions. “Look at Hoenn – people wanted power, drew on Pokémon, and the world was nearly choked in volcanic ash. Look at Sinnoh – they may not state it outright, but the destruction of Spear Pillar had its roots in the same cause.” He shook his head sadly. “Look at Kanto, twenty years ago,” he said. “One Pokémon asked why it had to obey flawed humanity. The authorities have not yet been able to finish counting the deceased.”

He sighed.

“I could go on. The Raichu storm in Malaysia. The uprising of the Ghosts in Dresden. The Decoyote attacks in Texas. This is nothing new, people. Every year – every month – some new tragedy occurs. The losses on both sides, human and Pokémon, are incalculable.

“So what do I propose we do?” he asked. “Simple. Our kinds go their separate ways. The Green Party is concerned with creating a better world for all species, and I have to say that in our considered opinion, this one act of division will save more lives, of more species, than any edict of sustainability or carbon trapping.”

Harmonia paused, head sinking slightly, as if wearied from his speech.

“I don't expect you to rally to my cause right away,” he said. “I don't expect you to agree without an argument. In fact, I welcome it: I would be concerned if people didn't challenge me on this. But I want you to think, and I want you to wonder if perhaps your opposition to my proposal stems from truth – or simply from tradition. It is the way things have always been, I'm told – but that's what we used to say about slavery, and human sacrifice.”

He drew back from the podium and inclined his head in a brief bow.

“Thank you for listening. I will be available to take questions later this afternoon, at the Bertram Hotel on Wooster Street. Ladies and gentlemen, my gratitude for your time.”

With that, he disappeared behind the podium, and the crowd dissolved into ranting, animated chaos.

---

“Well,” said Cheren at length. “He's never going to win the election that way.”

I stared at him.

“Is that it? He wants to have every Pokémon in captivity released into the wild. That's not just career suicide, that's bloody mental.”

“I agree,” he said patiently. “And that's why he isn't going to win the election. Come on, let's find Bianc—”

“Chereeen! Jareeeed!”

Bianca's voice cut through the chatter of the dispersing crowd like the needling sound of a screaming child; it was also pretty much just as irritating, and Halley, Cheren and I all winced at the noise.

“OK, found her,” Cheren murmured, as she bounced up to us, Candy clinging determinedly to her hat.

“Hi,” she said. “Where were you? That was weird, right? Why would anyone want to separate humans and Pokémon?”

“I'm not sure,” began Cheren, but Halley interrupted.

“Because he sees the truth,” she snapped. “That Harmonia guy's the first person I've heard in Unova who makes any kind of sense.”

That took us all aback, and we stared at her as she wriggled free of my grip and dropped lightly to the pavement.

“What?” I asked. “You're not saying you agree with him?”

“If I'm not saying that, then what am I saying?” she retorted. “He's right. When humans and Pokémon come together, bad sh*t happens. Like Zero trying to destroy the world last year. Like Rayquaza being shot down over London. Like that Arctic research station defrosting the frozen Jellicent at Christmas.”

“But Pokémon are people's friends,” protested Bianca, which was probably the last sentiment in the world that might have earned Halley's sympathy.

“Really?” she asked. “That's what you're saying? Do you not understand how animals work? They stay where they're most comfortable – where there's food, shelter, water and someone to look after them – because it's advantageous to them. Pokémon are no different. Those few that are intelligent don't exactly love us, either.”

“Us? You're a wildcat,” I pointed out, more to score points than to actually rebut her.

Temporarily. Anyway, look at the Kadabra and Alakazam. Look at the Ghost-types. Those are as close to the speaking representatives of the Pokémon world as you're going to get, and they all hate us.”

“The Kadabra were bound to hate us,” Cheren replied. “They lost the war.”

There were no Kadabra in Unova, which was just as well; most people found them kind of disturbing. They'd lost out to humans long ago in the race to be Earth's dominant species, and mostly kept to themselves in their reservations these days. In theory, the past was behind us; in practice, the Kadabra had never forgotten, and would in all likelihood never forgive.

“Because we deliberately infected them with Gastly spores,” retorted Halley. “So that their global hive mind was almost f*cking destroyed by the Gengar eating it from within. They never did anything like that to us – and it's taken them over a hundred years to rebuild their collective consciousness. And that resulted in an explosion in the Gengar population, which means that for the last century, there's been a massive rise in the rate of fatal Ghost attacks – on humans and Kadabra – worldwide.”

“Bravo,” said a soft voice. “And that's just one of so many examples, isn't it?”

“Yeah!” agreed Halley. “I – wait, who said that?”

I looked up, and saw that the crowd had all but vanished – all but one person, who was standing alone a short distance away, in the middle of the plaza.

“That would be me,” he said, stepping forward. “Excuse me. That was an interesting speech, was it not?”

“Yes, it was,” replied Cheren, swiftly nudging Halley behind him with one foot. “I don't think Harmonia will win after that, though.”

“We'll see,” said the young man thoughtfully, drawing nearer. “Sorry, I haven't introduced myself.” He held out a hand. “My name is...”

I didn't need him to tell me. I'd known the moment I set eyes on him; he had triggered something deep inside me, some strange response that came from a more primal place than reason or emotion: I knew nothing about him, but he was as familiar to me as the sound of my own name.

“N,” I said without realising, staring into his lifeless, ice-coloured eyes. “Your name is N.”
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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