Cracked, or How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova
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February 3rd, 2013 (3:09 PM).
Gone. May or may not return.
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Chapter Ten: Felidae
1983. The year Sytec went bankrupt.
The year the nightmares came.
Speculative weapons research was big business in the years of the Cold War, and Unovan labour at the time came cheap; glutinous chemical artillery, egg-bullets that hatched into flesh-eating larvae, arachnid mind control – the aims of the companies that opened factories in the country were as varied and bizarre as the abstruse machinery they imported.
Sytec was in the psychic missile business.
The idea was simple enough. Plenty of technology was available to track and destroy a conventional missile before it hit its target – but the only way to detect a psychic blast at long range was to ask a Kadabra if there was a disturbance in the hive mind, and the chances of the Kadabra choosing to cooperate were so slim as to be virtually nonexistent. The technology to guard against such a blast simply didn't yet exist.
It seemed a prime research opportunity, and Sytec was not willing to let the competition get there ahead of it. The company rushed an experiment into new and devastating forms of psychic 'mind-flaying' into production, eager to secure lucrative US contracts.
Unfortunately, 'devastating', 'experiment' and 'rush' are three words that should never be found in the same sentence.
No one could reasonably claim that they hadn't seen the disaster coming, but they did so anyway; the government didn't buy it, and Sytec was forced to dissolve and sell its assets to repay Unova for the horrors it had unleashed.
Now, thirty years later, the wounds had faded but the scar was still there, a ragged concrete nightmare embedded in Unova's verdant flank. The Dreamyard.
The home of the Musharna, and the monsters.
“I think it's time to put the gimp masks on.”
“They're not gimp masks, Halley, they're psy radiation helmets.”
“Jared, you can argue with me or you can put your gimp mask on. It's your choice.”
I glowered and got them out of the bag. I hated to admit it, but Halley had a point. They
look unnervingly like—
Stop thinking about it, Jared.
Formed of soft black neoprene with dark-tinted bands of reinforced glass across the eyes and at apparently random points on the cranium, they were capable of soaking up 98% of any psychic fields we might encounter, Fennel had assured us. I'd asked about the remaining 2%, and she told me that if we came across any of
we'd be dead anyway, so it wouldn't matter.
This, and the matter of the mutant cats, was weighing fairly heavily on my mind as I fastened the helmet with the zip at the back.
“Shut the f*ck up, Halley,” I snapped, voice faintly muffled. The world was slightly grey through the glass, but I could see surprisingly well.
“I'm just saying,” she said. “They're tight, black, cover the whole head...” She shrugged – a manoeuvre that looked very peculiar indeed when executed by a cat. “What is it that Zed says in
'Bring out the—'”
“Halley, you do know that you've got to wear one too, right?” asked Bianca.
“Yeah, but mocking myself is no fun,” sighed Halley. “Self-deprecation is so not my style.”
“If you don't shut up,” I told her, “I won't put your mask on you and you'll turn into a mutant monster like the other wildcats that come here.”
Halley clamped her jaws shut, and I smiled a secret victorious smile.
Her mask had caused Fennel some difficulty. She'd suggested we leave her outside, and we'd had to explain that due to very important but unmentionable reasons she had to come with us. Apparently that sort of cloak-and-dagger business wasn't that uncommon in the scientific world, and with the aid of a pair of scissors she'd sliced up one of her other helmets to create a makeshift one for Halley.
“Doesn't matter,” she said when I asked if that was all right. “I just got £750,000. I could cut up hundreds of these and still be in the black.”
At the thought of her new funding, her hands started shaking and she almost chopped her thumb off, and Amanita took over so she could breathe into the paper bag again. Twelve badly-punched holes and one makeshift lace later, she'd made a makeshift cat-sized helmet. Evidently she was as practically gifted as she was smart.
Now, I knelt down and laced the helmet onto Halley's head. It fitted as well as could be expected of something made in fifteen minutes, and by that I mean it didn't, but it would have to do; I didn't know if the tightness was important for keeping out the psychic radiation, but I guessed we'd find out once we got into the factory: if Halley keeled over or mutated, the helmet was obviously too loose.
Candy's head, of course, was nowhere near round enough to accommodate the curved glass panels of even a modified helmet, and she'd have quickly chewed her way out of it anyway – so Bianca had given me a Poké Ball, and reluctantly I'd enclosed her in it, where no radiation could get to her.
I was surprised at how strongly I was opposed to the idea of 'capturing' Candy; she was my pet, not my slave, and she belonged on my shoulder, not in stasis in some fist-sized metal prison. I could see the advantages of the Poké Ball – she'd be much easier to hide when I needed to hide her, for instance – but still, I promised myself I wouldn't leave her in there any more than I had to.
Munny, naturally, had no such problems: in fact, when Bianca had released it, it started bouncing with excitement when it saw the wreck of the Sytec plant. While the rest of us shivered at the sight of it, the Munna displayed every sign of actually wanting to live there.
“Ick,” said Halley with distaste once I'd finished with her helmet. “This thing is horrible. I didn't realise how much I valued the sensory input from my whiskers til you squished them like this. And my ears are all squashed,” she added petulantly.
“Tough,” I replied, straightening up. “You can't get it off without me, anyway.”
“Bastard opposable thumbs—!”
“Come on, guys, stop arguing,” pleaded Bianca. “Can we go now?”
As one, Halley and I looked through the fence at the Sytec plant – at the crumbling concrete, the twisted vegetation, and the awful shadow of the mind-flayer hanging over everything – and blanched.
“OK,” I said hesitantly. “Let's – let's go.”
None of us moved.
“You first,” said Bianca. “You're the fighter.”
“Go together?” she suggested tentatively.
“All right,” I agreed, and simultaneously we stepped over a section of collapsed fence, and into the heart of the Unovan Chernobyl.
Beyond the fence were the remnants of the car park, its surface rucked and twisted by invading roots; the asphalt had held back all but the strongest of the plants, and it was much less dense than in the surrounding forest. It might even have made a pleasant walk, if not for the vague sense of mental discomfort that I felt, even through the helmet. The roving psychic fields were evidently out in force.
“Munny,” said Bianca, “can you sense any other Munna or Musharna around?”
It seemed to have some difficulty with this question, which surprised me; from everything Fennel had said, I'd almost assumed Munna were as intelligent as I was. In actual fact, as I later found out, they were closer to monkeys in terms of intellect, and had difficulty with spoken language owing to their poor hearing (a result of over-reliance on their psychic senses). Wikipedia is a
“Anything else like you?” she asked, rephrasing it to see if it made any more sense. Munny seemed to get the idea now, and drifted off towards the large square building ahead of us.
“We're going to the Musharna to find where the dust is, right?” I asked.
“Yeah,” replied Bianca. “I don't know... Do you have any other ideas?”
I shook my head.
“No, sounds good.”
“How utterly banal,” said Halley acidly, but no one acknowledged her.
We followed Munny through the sparse woods and through a doorway that lacked a door; beyond was a vast, shadowy space that bore signs of the walls that had once divided into rooms and corridors in the lines of crumbling rubble on the floor. Shafts of light streamed from holes in the walls and roof, but made no real impact on the gloom and were swiftly swallowed up amid the tangles of brambles and creepers that grew towards them hungrily.
All in all, it was pretty damn ominous, and that was
the monsters lunged out of the shadows.
They came at us in a pair: twisted things that could have started life as either Purrloin or wildcats but which were now unrecognisable, eyes shrivelled, legs stretched, backs distorted with soft fleshy jags of meat—
I kicked one in the face reflexively, and it backed away, letting loose an baleful shriek; Munny dived towards the other, blue waves streaming from its forehead, but the cat-thing was unaffected, rearing up and swatting the Munna out of the air with one distended paw. Munny hit the ground, bounced and swung away dizzily, whirling on its axis like a top.
The first monster rejoined the second and both jumped at me at once; the world tipped crazily around me and my head hit the concrete floor with a sharp
of pain. Almost automatically, I rolled onto my side, trying to dislodge them, but their claws were long and sinuous, and wound through my shirt like corkscrews as they fought to get their jaws to my throat—
A gout of fire shot past my ear and set one cat-thing's fur ablaze; it let go of me with a shriek, slashing the other's leg in its haste to escape, and shot off towards the shadows in a trail of sparks. I seized the opportunity and grabbed two of the beast's three ears, pulling its head back and slamming it into the floor.
It let go of me then, and I scrambled to my feet, looking around frantically for something to hit it with; by the time I'd found a rock, it was up too, and had shot between my legs in search of some other target. I turned, saw Smoky spouting cinders from his nostrils, and almost relaxed; he was about to nail the monster with another blast of fire, I could see.
His nose flexed and flames spewed forth – but suddenly the beast's grotesque outlines blurred, and somehow it swept around and behind him in a dark flicker of light before sinking its claws deep into his back.
Smoky squealed in agony and bucked hard; Bianca cried out; Munny heard her distress and started emitting bluish waves that distorted the air like heat haze; I hurled my rock and missed, narrowly missing Bianca—
—and something knocked the monster off its feet with a
It flew off Smoky's back, rolled over on the ground and tried to crawl away, one of its legs apparently no longer working; there was another report, and it lay still with a despairing gurgle.
A sudden calm seemed to fall over the old building then. Smoky's screams died down to a whimper, and then ceased as Bianca recalled him with trembling fingers; the only sound that was left was that of footsteps – two pairs – coming towards us from across the room.
“Are you two OK?” I heard someone shouting. “Hey, you! You OK?”
I looked up from where Smoky had been to Bianca. I couldn't see her face, but she was gripping Smoky's ball so hard her knuckles almost glowed white in the dark. Uncertain of what to do, I patted her arm tentatively, and was surprised (and slightly alarmed) when she pressed her head against my shoulder.
“I changed my mind,” she said, voice shaking. “Let's go. I don't like it here—”
“I said, are you two OK?”
I looked up, saw the two people approaching us and nodded.
“Yeah, I think so.”
They both wore dark clothes – I thought maybe they were suits, but I couldn't be sure in the gloom, and suits would be ridiculously inappropriate for this place anyway – and had psy rad helmets of their own on; they also carried what looked alarmingly like handguns – alarming since possession of a gun was entirely illegal in Unova with the exception of police officers, soldiers and druids. I couldn't exactly say I wasn't grateful for them right now, though, given that they’d just saved us.
“Good,” said the one on the left – a man by his voice. “Those things are lethal... we ran into five on the way here. Every one different but just as f*cked-up.”
“What are you doing here, anyway?” asked the other, a woman. “'Sraven, are you
This place is too dangerous for that, you know—”
“We were looking for Musharna dust,” I told them. “But I think...” I looked at Bianca. “I think we might leave now,” I said quietly.
“Good idea,” said the woman. They were now close enough for me to see that yes, they were wearing suits – which had clearly suffered during their trip through the Sytec plant. “You were following Fennel's advert?”
“So're we,” the man said. “F*ck me if we can find a single Musharna nest, though.”
“I see,” I said slowly. These two seemed infinitely better-qualified to search this place than we did – for a start, they had guns, and I wasn't sure how much use Bianca would be now either, after the shock she'd had. “I guess we'll leave you two to it, then.”
Abruptly, Bianca peeled herself away from me.
“No, we'll come too,” she said, voice surprisingly strong. “I said I'd do this and I will.”
I looked at her in astonishment.
Guess she was just startled, then
, I thought.
Well, she is a Trainer, after all... I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised.
“Hey, look,” said the man, “this is serious business, and we don't have the time or ammunition to worry about looking after two kids—”
“We've got Pokémon,” Bianca said. “One of which is a Munna.” She indicated Munny, now recovered and in a more or less stable hover. “Munny can sense the Musharna and other Munna. It'll lead us right to them.”
The woman glanced at the man.
“What do you say, Steve?” she asked. “I mean, we've been poking around this dump for two hours now – and I really don't want to be here when night falls and the rest of the monsters come out.”
Steve stroked his neoprene-coated chin.
“All right, fine,” he said reluctantly. “You can come with us. Just don't get in our way, all right?”
“Fair enough,” I replied. “Deal.”
“Enough talking,” said the woman. “Get that Munna moving. We don't have all day.”
“Actually, Donna, that's all we
have,” pointed out Steve. Perhaps he thought he was being witty, but no one laughed.
We followed Munny through the eternal twilight of the ruin, keeping silent and watching out for any sign of attacking Purrloin or wildcats. Perhaps the fire and gunshots had driven them away for now, but I didn't expect it would last long; if Donna and Steve had been attacked multiple times already, I guessed the monsters didn't learn from the fate of their fellows.
Halley followed at a short distance, slinking along behind us and keeping to the shadows; I couldn't ask her why, but I supposed she thought Donna or Steve might shoot her if they saw her.
Munny wound its way slowly across the room, occasionally pausing to check whatever internal force was guiding it, and headed hesitantly for a small aperture in one wall that led into what looked like an unending void of darkness.
“Through here?” asked Bianca, pointing.
Munny bobbed as though nodding.
“We can't fit through that,” she told it. “Is there another way?”
“Don't need it,” said Steve. “Stand aside.”
She did, with some trepidation, and Steve tossed a Poké Ball through the gap. A flash of light illuminated part of a corridor beyond for a brief second, and then the darkness descended once more, leaving a bright after-image dancing on my eyes.
“Take down the wall,” he instructed, and took a few hurried steps back. Bianca and I copied him, and a moment later the little gap expanded into a very large gap by the simple means of exploding.
In the distance, something roared in response.
We froze for a moment – that something had sounded big – but nothing happened; Steve recalled his Pokémon, whatever it had been, and we hurried through the gap, eager to get away from whatever had heard the blast.
“Where the f*ck is this?” wondered Steve, as we made our way down a pitch-black corridor.
“If that last building was the main office, this is probably an access passage to the assembly line,” replied Donna. Evidently they'd bothered to check a map or two before coming – further evidence of how abominably badly-prepared we'd been. “Where they put together the components for the mind-flayer. The psychic fields will be strongest there; it figures that that's where the Musharna will be.” She paused. “We can't stay there long, though. The radiation will eat through the helmets in about thirty minutes.”
“I don't plan on being there any longer than it takes to fill those damn vials with dust,” replied Steve. (I found myself wondering what we'd been planning to put the dust in. Damn. We really hadn't thought this through, had we?) “We'll get in there, get the dust, and get out.”
“All right, all right,” said Donna. “I'm just saying.”
We continued onwards through the dark – no longer as total as it had first seemed; there was just enough sunlight filtering down the passage that we could see our way – and, a few minutes later, came to a doorway leading into a small room full of shrivelled, dry things that crunched unpleasantly underfoot and which I
didn't want to think about.
“The cats have been trying hard to get in here, haven't they?” observed Steve mildly. “Something's stopped 'em pretty f*cking conclusively, though.”
I swallowed, and Bianca's fingers suddenly dug into my arm like the teeth of a man-trap.
“It's the Musharna,” replied Donna, poking a mummified monstrosity with her gun. “This close to the source, they're a bit tougher than usual. Doesn't matter if you're Dark-type or not, they'll tear your mind out and leave you for the psy fields to desiccate.”
Bianca's grip tightened – something that I thought would have pushed her finger bones beyond the limits of their tensile strength. I winced and patted her hand.
“Bianca? That... really hurts.”
“Sorry,” she whispered, but didn't let go. I sighed, and tried to ignore the pain.
Donna and Steve straightened up and looked towards the door.
“I guess that's it, then,” said Steve unenthusiastically. “The factory floor.”
“Yes.” Donna turned to Bianca. “You've got the Munna, you go through first. They won't attack you, and hopefully not us either.”
Bianca was silent for a moment, then half a minute, and I could tell she was wavering, about to say she couldn't do it—
“OK,” she said eventually, voice surprisingly steely. “Let's go.”
She took a deep breath, and pushed open the door to the factory floor.
,” I breathed, staring up and out at the vast space beyond. “It's
The factory level stretched away for the length of a football pitch, the other end shrouded in darkness; the concrete walls soared upwards to an invisible ceiling, apparently interminable pipes running up their colossal flanks. Giant girders crisscrossed the shadowy heights, disappearing and reappearing in the gloom as if playing with each other.
Half-constructed pylons lay toppled amid pyramids of barrels; tools lay abandoned on benches and huge wheels reclined on beds of cracked stone where they had fallen from the conveyor belts that hung in tatters everywhere you looked, like grimy industrial tinsel. Once, catwalks had serviced the uppermost belts; now only a few remained, the rest hanging at drunken angles from snapped moorings or lying like fallen trees on the floor.
Then there were the Musharna.
They hung in the air like pink clouds, drifting slowly from pylon to barrel to catwalk in an aimless sort of way; rolls of fat drooped from their bellies, and I realised that most of them were hugely overweight – the psychic-radiation-rich atmosphere there must have been a continual feast for them. One suckled three tiny Munna, pouring bluish waves from its flank into their staring eyes; other Munna darted around in the air, livelier than their bloated elders, chasing each other and playing amid the wreckage.
I stared, spellbound, until I heard crackling and realised with horror that the helmet was beginning to dissolve, the surface coming apart like smouldering paper.
“Let me revise my estimate,” said Donna quietly. “We've got ten minutes in here before the helmets burn out – five if we want to have enough protection left to make it back to the fence.”
“Let's move,” said Steve decisively, pulling the vials from his pockets and handing them out. “Start scooping, kids.”
I looked down, and realised for the first time that part of the darkness in the room was due to the thick layer of dark purple dust that lay over everything; experimentally, I scooped a handful into the vial and watched as gravity effortlessly erased the gap I'd made. The stuff was deep; it would have taken years to harvest it all, even if the Musharna had stopped making more.
At the thought of the Musharna, I looked up at them, just to make sure they weren't looking aggressive; they seemed almost oblivious to our presence, carrying on with their sluggish, incurious lives. The only clue they were alive at all was the spicy flavour of the air, testament to their chemical language. I wondered if they would have been so placid without Munny here. Given the carpet of corpses next door, I thought probably not.
Munny itself had drifted a little way from us, twirling with two of its wild brethren in what looked like a game of tag; I hoped it wasn't having
much fun – we didn't want it staying here.
“Forty-five seconds,” said Donna urgently. “Time to go.
Bianca and I handed our vials to Steve, and that should have been the end of it. The danger was over; we should have walked out and gone back to Fennel's lab.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out like that.
You see, in the dark, Steve trod on Halley's tail, and Halley swore at the top of her lungs – and Donna noticed, and uttered four very ominous words:
“It's her! It's Halley!”
,” I breathed. “You're Green Party.”
My first instinct was to whack one of them over the head, but they had
, and that changed things; uttering a brief prayer to Córmi for our continued existence, I snatched up Halley with one hand and Bianca's wrist with the other and ran for it.
“Sh*t, that must be Black!” I heard Steve cry out, slow on the uptake, and then a moment later, as we burst into the corridor, I heard their footsteps crunching on the dead things behind us.
“What the hell?” yelled Bianca helplessly. “Why would they— the
I saw it now as well: the suits, the guns, the fact that they just happened to be here the same day that Harmonia sent the grant to Fennel's lab... The clues had all been there, if only I'd been smart enough to spot them—
,” I growled to myself. “I'm such an idiot!”
“You can say that again,” said Halley. “Also: wheeeeee! Despite the goons with guns, being carried along this fast is actually pretty fun.”
“Shut up,” I snapped, and for once she actually did.
I could see the main building ahead of us now, the aperture in the ruined wall looming grey against the black – but there were footsteps close behind us, and Steve was shouting:
“Stop running! You'll make it worse for yourself – if you stop, we won't have to shoot!”
“Frige save us,” cried Bianca. “Munny! Do something!”
All at once I became aware of the pink ball zooming along beside us; it wheeled around abruptly and blasted a rippling circle of blue light in the direction of our pursuers. The lack of screams seemed a decent indicator of its ineffectiveness, and I remembered too late the damn helmets—
“The helmets would have to be more badly damaged than this for
to get through them,” Donna called disdainfully. “Give up. There's nothing you can—
I heard a blood-chilling yowl from behind us and a flurry of gunshots, deafening in the narrow space; it seemed one of the cats had inadvertently bought us some time, and a moment later we were bursting out into the shell of the first building and sprinting across to the exit—
Suddenly, there was a huge flash of light, and a terrible hulking
materialised in the doorway.
It looked like it had been hewn from stone by the most ham-fisted sculptor imaginable; its body bulged out in crazed lumps between deep cracks and rifts in its skin, and its lopsided eyes squinted balefully out from under a brow broad enough to be used as an anvil. Squat and solid, it might have been a malformed, hairless chimpanzee – but I knew better. I'd seen one before, on TV; there, it had been tamer, dressed in a martial artist's outfit, but it had the same indolent savagery in its eyes, the same knuckle-dragging gait.
It was a Throh, and as we stopped dead in our tracks I suddenly realised exactly how it was that Steve had broken the wall down so easily.
“Nice to see you have
sense,” said Steve from behind us, drawing closer. I didn't turn around and look; I didn't dare to take my eyes off the Throh. “Rush at him and you'd all be dead right now.”
“You can't keep him out long,” Bianca said. “The psychic fields...”
“He'll be fine for long enough to bring you two under control,” Donna replied. “Now, you two – or three, I guess – come over here. We'll take you back to Castelia, Harmonia will do whatever it is he needs you for, your memories will be wiped, and all this will be over. Nice and easy.”
go all the way up to Harmonia, then, I thought. But why? What was he after? I pushed the thought away and tried to concentrate on finding a way out of the situation, which seemed to be getting worse by the second.
“I don't think so,” I said, working up the courage to look away from the Throh and face the two Party members. “We're not going anywhere.”
“You have two guns and a
pointed at you,” observed Donna. “What more persuasion do you actually need? 'Sraven, are you really that stupid?”
“You won't shoot us if you need us—”
“Technically, we only want you and Halley,” she said. “We could shoot her” – she indicated Bianca – “and leave her to be eaten by the cats. No one would question it.”
“Nice ploy,” said Steve admiringly.
“Thank you. I thought of it while we were running.”
I looked at Bianca.
She shook her head silently.
I looked back at Donna and Steve, who were still watching us expectantly. Behind me, I heard the Throth cough, an explosive rattle like a backfiring car, and punch the wall out of boredom. From the sound of it, that brought down rather more masonry than I was entirely comfortable with.
“Halley?” I asked desperately. “Ideas?”
“Please hurry up with this little charade,” called Steve. “My Throh is losing IQ points by the second, and he didn't have many to start with.”
“Yeah, just the one,” said Halley. “Munny! Zap the Throh!”
Everyone looked up abruptly: we'd completely forgotten the little Munna, still floating loyally above Bianca's head – and now, as the light began to bend and flex around it, I felt myself begin to smile. I wasn't a Trainer, but even I knew what happened when Psychic moves hit a Fighting-type.
“No—!” cried Steve, but it was too late: the air rippled and distorted in a shimmering wave, the latent psychic radiation in the air feeding the Psywave and magnifying it once, twice, fifty times, a maelstrom of energy funnelling directly into the Throh—
—which promptly lobbed a brick at Munny.
If there's one thing a Throh can do, it's throw: the brick flew straight and true, and smashed Munny out of the air with the sound of cracking bone. It hit the ground, painted eyes closed, and did not move.
At the same time, the Psywave reached the Throh, and twin fountains of grey fluid spouted from its ears as its tiny brain was shaken from its moorings; a moment later, it keeled over as if poleaxed.
“Munny!” screamed Bianca, running to her Pokémon's side. “Munny, Munny—!”
“Sh*t,” muttered Halley. “That definitely didn't go as planned.”
“Any more bright ideas?” asked Donna, ignoring Bianca and walking over to Halley and me. “You want to get anyone else killed today?”
I felt my nails digging into my palms, and realised my fists were clenched so tightly they were almost drawing blood. Those damn guns, I thought bitterly. Take them away and I could do this, I
“Come on, then,” said Steve, stepping forwards to join Donna. “It's over. You lost. Give me—”
A long, bass note like the song of a church organ resounded through the room.
We all froze.
“What was that?” asked Donna cautiously.
“I don't,” began Steve, but he never finished – for then he saw the things gathering in the corners of the room, and his voice died in his throat.
I never saw them clearly, and it's probably a blessing that I did. But I could catch glimpses as they passed: of transparent limbs and bulging eyes, of jagged prongs and ragged fins, claws and twisted toes and the horrid wet slap of webbed feet on stone—
—and the terrible, awful knowledge, creeping over me like cold water seeping through fabric, that all of these things, these eldritch abominations whose horrendous shapes I could only catch the merest glimpse of – that all these things had once been
It didn't take long. The things swarmed in close, and Donna and Steve broke and fled, their eyes rolling with fright, and a horde of half-seen terrors close at their heels—
Then the bass note rang out again, and all was calm.
I blinked and looked around. No Donna. No Steve. No Throh. Just Bianca and Munny, Halley and myself, all alone here.
No, wait. Not alone.
From the corridor came the Musharna, one by one, filing out and into the huge space like some curious ceremonial guard. They swept forwards to Bianca, nudging her gently away from Munny and moving down towards the little Pokémon, uttering strange spiced sighs that were all I could perceive of their psychochemical language.
All at once, I understood. They'd sensed Munny was in trouble – in their eyes, one of their own, a baby. And they had come to defend it.
“They made dreams real,” I said softly. “They made their nightmares into reality.”
“Childhood nightmares,” corrected Halley. “The fear of the monster under the bed and in the wardrobe. The fear of what the dark might conceal. The strongest fears we have.” She shifted and slithered out of my arms, still staring at the Musharna. “Munny screamed very loudly, and they heard.”
“I didn't hear anything—”
“Because of the psy rad helmet,” she said, stalking over to where the Musharna were gathered around Bianca and Munny. “But
heard, and they reacted as you would if you heard a toddler having his fingernails pulled out.”
“Thanks for that image.”
The air was so thick with chemicals now that I could almost see them, a kind of heat haze centred on Munny.
“Painkillers,” Halley said to Bianca, sitting down by her side. “They think it'll die, so they're numbing the pain for it.”
Bianca looked at her sharply.
“Of course,” said Halley, tasting the air with her tongue and grimacing. “It's pretty much one big skull. It'll take more than a brick to break through
. Bring it along to the Pokémon Centre and it'll be—
what the f*ck are you doing?”
Bianca had swept her up into a crushing hug, and I had to smile at Halley's wild and ineffectual attempts to get free; she'd gone, as only cats can, from elegant and collected to ridiculous and pathetic in less than a second.
“Oh, thank you thank you—”
“Thank the f*cking Musharna, not me!” yowled Halley. “And put me down while you're at it!”
Bianca dropped her, and was on the verge of hugging the nearest Musharna when she realised that its fur was crawling with centimetre-long ticks; shuddering, she settled instead for thanking them as loudly as she could.
“Thank you thank you
she cried. “Thank you so much!”
One Musharna blew a large bubble of spit, which she seemed to interpret as understanding, and Bianca nodded happily.
“I don't want to interrupt,” I called, “but we should really be getting the hell out of this place. Like,
.” I pointed to my helmet. “These things are falling apart,” I said. “I can see your hair through the back of yours.
“Oh!” Bianca got to her feet hurriedly and fumbled for Munny's ball. “Yeah, of course.” She recalled Munny and the Musharna stared at the spot where it had been in stunned silence; then they turned to look at her, blew out a few clouds of scented gas, and began to make their slow way back to the factory floor. “Thanks again!” she called out after them, and was answered by a strong smell of cinnamon.
She turned, and actually
over to join me in her joy.
“Christ,” murmured Halley. “Skipping? The girl's mad.”
“OK,” said Bianca. “Let's go.”
“About bloody time,” I muttered under my breath. Then, aloud: “Come on, then. Time to move.”
So saying, we took our leave of the Sytec plant, relieved, exhausted and not a little disturbed.
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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