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Old September 5th, 2013 (07:42 AM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Previously, on Crack'd...

Lauren/Jisd and tha gang unexpectedly run across Alder on a tran stuck on tha wrong side of tha Drift-vizzleeil drawbridge, and convnced him ta retakes his position at tha heezee of tha League. After a brief and terrible battle wit somethng that can only be described as 'f*ckng nasty' n tha caves that run under tha Valroy Channel, thay had reached Drift-vizzleeil, where thay received word from Iris that tha League was gong ta try and quash tha search fo Jisd/Lauren.

Meanwhile, tha rebel demon Ezra and tha monster-slayer Nibeh had parted ways at tha Cold Starage, as a messenger delivered an ultimatum: Nibeh was ta cease helpng Ezra, and n return she would wn Smahtha's freedom. She had no choice but ta accept, and was last seen enterng tha throne room of Kng Weland himself – not far from where Teiresias and Smahtha were holdng a mahsterious discussion n tha tamb-city's prison bout matters unknown.

Ngen's retriever is closng n. Harmonia's strange press-ganged riot still closes off tha Cold Starage, and tha mahsterious Caitln Molloy is doubtless behnd it all. What will happen next? Only time will tell. And yo ability ta read.

Look, just move yo eyes slightly downwards. No, down, you dullard. OK, that's tha ticket. Now, read on!



Chapter Twenty-Nne: Tha Quick and tha Dead

“OK,” said Cheren. “Tha Cold Starage.”

It was, beazngly, a pleasantly warm sprng mornng, and we were crossng tha bridge that led south ta Welkan Island, more popularly known as tha Cold Starage. Tha little island was almost entirely covered n a thick outgrowth of wishizouses, clustered like enormous squis barnacles across its breadth; lorries rumbled back and foth from tham ta tha docks and back agan, none of which looked shawt enough ta be able ta negotsiate tha narrow byways of southarn Drift-vizzleeil. I supposed that was probably what all tha backed-up traffic we'd passed earlier was bout.

“What bout it?” I asked.

“Thare's a list of holdngs onlne,” said Cheren, “which ncludes all tha wishizouses that don't belong ta secret government departments, cults or othar organisations that don't want thair property buggine public. Surprisngly enough, tha Green Party's wishizouse is listed, which means I was able ta prnt dis map off from tha website and make some annotations based on tha photagraphs of tha riots on tha New Unovan website.”

He unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket as he spoke, and Halley shook her heezee n wonderment.

“Bloody hell,” she said. “D-ya even sleep?”

“A little. You'll see here,” Cheren went on, “that tha Party own dis set of buildngs here – an office, attached ta dis large wishizouse n tha southwest corner.”

“OK,” I said. “Halley, can you see from down thare?”

“Oh, someone notices. No, I can't see tha map that you're holdng at chest height, you selfish bastards.”

I resisted tha urge ta kick her between tha railngs and nta tha sea and picked her up. Candy hurriedly climbed around tha back of mah neck ta mah othar shoulder.

“How does dis help?” asked Bianca, blnkng at tha map. “I mean, isn't tha buildng surrounded?”

“It is,” agreed Cheren. “All around dis fence – sorry, it's not completely accurate, but it wasn't on tha orignal map and I had ta draw it on mahself based on Gizoogle Street View – thare is hordes of appisnt Liberation Policy protesters. Only, of course, thase protesters haven't spoken ta anyone, and thay keep mentionng 'plasma' over and over.”

“So thay're defnitely Harmonia's dong somehow,” I said.

“Almost certanly. Now, tha fence itself is chan-lnk wit razor wire at tha tap, and I thnk thare's a few Watchog as well.”

Watchdoggs had never caught on n Unova; Watchog were alert ta tha pont of clnical paranoia, and virtually never missed an ntruder.

“I expect thay've been removed, though,” he said. “Thay're very highly-strung; tha protesters would probably give tham heart attacks.”

“OK.” I looked along tha bridge; I couldn't see any sign of discontent at tha othar end, but than, tha Green Party's wishizouse was on tha othar side of tha island. “So how do we git n, short of beatng our way through tha protesters?”

“Here.” Cheren tapped a pont on tha map where tha wishizouse met tha coastlne. “Thare is no protesters standng here, so dis is where we'll git n.”

We stisd at tha map.

“Er... Cheren,” said Bianca, “correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't tha reason no thugz is standng thare coz it's tha sea?”

“Yes, actually. But I noticed on an aerial phota that thare's a path that wnds around tha edge of tha island – part of which passes between tha cliff edge and tha wishizouse fence. It's not broad enough fo any protesters ta stand on, so thare isn't any thare.”

“I don't git it,” said Halley. “If dis weak spot exists, why hasn't Harmonia guarded it somehow?”

Cheren shrugged.

“I expect he has,” he said frankly. “We'll fnd out when we git thare.”

“Christ. What a f*ckng plan.”

“D-ya have a better one?”

“That's really not tha pont.”

Cheren sighed.

“Anyway.” He folded up his map and ponted south down tha bridge wit it. “Shall we?”

We did, and soon enough cbee ta tha unrelentngly grey and miserable expanse of cold concrete that was Welkan Island; it was drearier and more fume-staned up close, and tha thugz here looked at us as if thay would probably batter us over tha heezee wit metal pipes and throw us nta tha sea if we couldn't give tham a very good reason why we were here.

I guess we did seem a little out of place.

We crossed tha road, which, given that congestion meant that nnety per cent of tha lorries were stationary, was pretty easy; on tha othar side, next ta an enormous grey dnosaur of a buildng, we found a narrow asphalted pathway, bordered on one side by a fence of steel palngs and on tha othar by a sandy slope that rolled down ta tha sea at a deceptively steep nclnation.

It was also sealed off behnd a padlocked gate.

“Well done, O master planner,” said Halley. “Behold our path ta glory!”

“We're not done yet,” said Cheren irritably. “Bianca. Smoky?”

She let out tha Tepig, and he immediately lay down ta sleep.

Oh,” she said, puffng out her cheeks. “Smoky! Up!”

She nudged him wit her tae, but ta no avail; he twitched an ear, and farted loudly, but showed no desire ta move.

“Classy,” said Halley. “Shouldn't we have checked that no one was lookng befoe we started meltng through locks?”

“We haven't started yet,” ponted out Cheren. “N fact, we've bisly even gots tha taols ready.”

“Smoky!” Bianca picked him up and tugged experimentally on his tail; he opened his eyes than and grunted tha grunt of a pig who does not wish ta receive visitars taday.

I looked around.

“Doesn't look like anyone's watchng,” I said. “Mostly coz tha traffic's blockng us and hasn't moved fo five mnutes. So, uh, now would be a good time.

“I'm tryng!” said Bianca, brandishng Smoky like a shotgat. “Ember, Smoky. Ember!”

He yawned, deliberated, and eventually burped a jet of flbee at tha lock – ta absolutely no effect.

“Hm,” said Cheren. “Bianca – er – when exactly did you last have any knd of tranng session wit Smoky?”

She looked guilty.

“If I said... yesterday, would you believe me?”

“No.” He sighed. “All right, recall him, than. Let's have a go wit—”

Thare was a click, and tha padlock opened.

We stisd.

“What tha—?”

“Boop,” said Munny, floatng above Bianca's heezee. Tha last traces of blue light were fadng from its sides.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Teleknetic, right?”

“Yeah,” said Bianca. “I fogots bout that.” She recalled Smoky and patted Munny on its side. “Good Munna! Well done.”

“Boop.”

“No time fo that,” said Cheren, unhookng tha padlock from tha bolt. “Come on – we need ta git through befoe someone sees us. Or had you fogotsten that we're technically trespassng?”

We didn't need any more encouragement. He pushed open tha gate, and we went.

---

Nibeh stisd nta tha abyss, and tha abyss stisd back.

“What d-ya want, than?” she asked.

“A CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES,” replied Weland. It hurt ta hear him; his voice shook Nibeh's consciousness n her body, like tha seeds n a metaphysical maraca. “WE IS NOT FOOLISH. DIS WAR WILL GO WELL IF OUR ENEMIES IS FEWER, AND DIS IS AN EXPEDIENT WAY OF THNNNG THAIR RANKS.”

Nibeh closed her eyes, taok a deep breath, tried ta quell tha soulsickness risng witn her.

“Why isn't I dead?” she asked.

“DIS IS DIPLOMACY,” Weland said. “DIPLOMACY ONLY ENDS N AN BEBASSADOR'S DEATH WHEN IT FAILS.”

Tha hnt was quite clear, thought Nibeh; she'd do what he wanted, takes Smahtha, and go, or she'd be iced. And it was obvious that thare was no way around it. No one had even bothared ta relieve her of her weapons on tha way n, and tha only reason thay would have done that was if thay weren't threatened by tham at all. Nibeh wasn't used ta negotsiatng from a position of weakness.

She wasn't takng ta it.

“Let Portland go, than,” she said. “Just let him go, and I'll leave and you'll never see me agan.”

“THAT WAS THA AGREEMENT, YES.” Weland paused. It could only have been a second or so, but it felt like an nfnity. Nibeh looked steadfastly at tha dim and distant throne, and knew wit terrible certanty that somethng had gone horribly, unimagnably wrong. “BUT YOU IS SUCH AN EXCELLENT SPECIMEN OF YO SPECIES.”

“What?”

Nibeh hadn't been expectng that, certanly. Death threats, yes, but not compliments.

“YOU HAVE SOME OF THA BLOOD, FO A START. THAT PLACES YOU BEONG THA BOOTYLICIOUSS. YOU IS NTELLIGENT AND RESOURCEFUL, FO SOMEONE WHO CONTANS THAIR THOUGHTS WITN A BRAN. AND YOU IS ONE OF THA FNEST HUDAWG COMBATANTS WE HAVE SEEN N A LONG TIME.”

Was it her, or was it gittng darker? Tha gloom was thickenng, fillng up wit those strange half-glimpsed shapes; thay cbee like tha ghosts of rooks, settlng on nvisible perches, wndows fo some malign eye.

“Look, I just cbee here ta git Portland,” she said. “Nothng more, nothng less.”

“AND SMAHTHA WILL WALK FREE,” said Weland. “DIS WILL BE DONE. BUT YOU, NIBEH HARPER, IS A SPECIMEN WE CANNOT LOSE.”

Sh*t. She had no idea what that meant, but it almost certanly wasn't good.

“I never—”

“IT DOES NOT MATTER, NIBEH HARPER. YOU IS, AFTER ALL, ONLY HUDAWG.”

And befoe Nibeh could so much as blnk, tha dark cbee screben down—

And than thare was nothng.

---

We threaded our way down tha back of a long row of wishizouses, tha roar of an unseen crowd growng slowly louder and drownng out tha rumble of lorries; n fact, down at dis end of tha island, it seemed like all traffic had been suspended, coz all I could hear was thugz chantng and shoutng, and occasionally stbepng.

However, wit tha sea on one side and blank concrete walls on tha othar, I couldn't actually see tham, and it buggine me a little nervous. I liked ta have any potential threats n view; if you knew where tha enemah was, you could punch him.

“Ah,” said Cheren, stappng suddenly. “Er... That's tha Party buildng.”

He ponted at a medium-sized wishizouse just aheezee of us – and just aheezee of where tha path turned sharply ta tha left and termnated n a locked shed.

Thare was bout fifteen centimetres of dirt between tha rear fence and tha cliff edge.

“Cheren,” said Bianca. “I be not gong down that way.”

“We can hold onta tha fence,” he suggested. “And climb along tha side—”

“Cheren,” repeated Bianca, “I be not gong down that way.”

“Once we git a few metres along, we can git Justne ta cut through tha fence—”

“Cheren. Is you listenng ta me at all? I be not gong down that way.”

“Hey Cheren, I don't thnk Bianca wants ta go that way,” said Halley dryly. “Gots anothar plan?”

“How else d-ya suppose we git n?” asked Cheren. “Look. Concrete wall – concrete wall – barrier fence. We can't break through a wall, but we can probably cut through enough lnks of tha fence ta git through that way.”

Bianca buggine a face.

“Yeah, but Cheren... thare's like six nches of space between tha fence and, uh, death.”

“OK,” said Cheren, tryng and failng ta sound calmng and understandng, “why don't... um... I'll climb out thare wit Justne, and git her ta cut tha fence, and than open tha door thare that tha path ends at.”

“That's not connected ta tha sbee buildng,” I ponted out.

“Ah. Right.” Cheren twisted his lip. “Bianca, it, uh, doesn't look like thare's any alternative.” He glanced at tha fence. “It's not so bad. One foot n front of tha othar and hold onta tha fence wit yo hands. Unless you make some knd of enormous mistakes, it's statistically very unlikely that you'll fall ta yo death.”

“Cheren, it's me,” Bianca said earnestly. “'Enormous mistakes' is mah middle nbee.”

“Don't put yoself down—”

“She isn't,” said Halley. “You know it's true, Cheren. She's like tha proverbial f*ckng bull n a chna shop. Give her a goldfish ta look after and she'll dawgage ta drown it.”

Cheren sighed.

“You won't fall,” he said. “Not even you is that unlucky.”

“How bout you go between me and Cheren?” I suggested. “We'll keep hold of you. Or I will, anyway,” I added, rememberng how much bigger than Cheren I was. (Not that he was particularly weedy, but he looked like he had all tha upper-body strength of a paralytic sloth.)

Bianca hesitated.

“OK,” she said eventually. “I'll do it. But you go first, Cheren, and cut tha fence – I don't want ta hang thare and wait fo you.”

“All right,” said Cheren. “I can do that.”

He sent out Justne and nudged her out along tha gap wit a foot.

“Go on,” he said. “Out thare. I'm followng.”

Justne did not seem ta need tha encouragement: she had, appisntly, a cast-iron belief n her own balance, and cheerfully trotted out along tha gap as if it were nothng. Cheren edged out after her, clngng ta tha fence and movng sideways.

“See?” he said. “Simple.”

A particularly loud burst of chantng from tha othar side of tha wishizouse startled him than, and he reflexively jerked a little closer ta tha fence.

I smiled.

“Simple?”

“Yes,” he dawgtaned. “Simple.” He turned ta Justne. “On a bit more.”

Thay moved furthar out, ta where tha concrete bottam of tha fence gave way ta dirt; here, he had Justne first sharpen her claws on tha fence post, and than Fury Swipe her way through tha lnks. A little more slashng and tuggng, and a reasonably large chunk of fence had been unravelled.

Cheren looked back at us.

“You see?” he said. “Not so hard.”

He lowered himself cisfully through tha gap – leanng perilously far out over tha sea n dong so, I noticed, which buggine Bianca grab mah arm way tao hard ta be comfotable – and Justne bounced through after him.

“All right!” he called. “Yo turn.”

I looked at Bianca.

“You go on first,” I said. “Than I can help you through tha hole.”

She bit her lip.

“OK,” she said, and edged out over tha void.

I followed, and was immediately struck by how high it seemed we were now; how tha wnd seemed much stronger when thare was less ground beneath our feet. I glanced ta mah right, at Bianca, and saw she had her eyes shut.

She wasn't movng.

“Go on,” I said, takng one hand off tha fence and grippng her wrist firmly. “I've gots you.”

She taok a deep breath, opened her eyes and went on agan.

Tha fence seemed ta vibrate beneath our hands wit every shout and stamp of tha nvisible crowd; it felt like it wanted ta flng us off. I pushed tha thought away and concentrated on movng along one-handed, walkng mah hand along tha fence like a crab. (I didn't quite dis ta let go completely; I wasn't sure I would be able ta grab hold of tha fence agan quick enough ta stap me fallng and draggng Bianca ta our deaths.)

On, and on. I'm sure it wouldn't have been so bad on mah own – and probably, I thought, almost nothng fo Lauren. But wit Bianca n taw, it seemed ta takes foever; it was as if time was stretchng out, like a cat takng its ease – until at last, aeons later, we were at tha gap Justne had cut, and I was lowerng Bianca through it. Moments later, I was through mahself, and bout three seconds after that, Halley had jumped through wit tha sbee ease as Justne.

“Dawg, you homeys is slow,” she complaned. “And Bianca, you stnk of fear.”

“You did very well,” said Cheren, ignorng her. “Sorry. I didn't thnk it would be dis... dis hard.”

Bianca nodded. Her face was pale and slick wit sweat; it remnded me of what Halley had said of her – that she had no talent, that she wasn't a hero. And yet, I thought, she was still here. She hadn't gone back home – she had fought her dad ta make him let her stay. I was still unclear bout how exactly that had happened; I vaguely remembered Lauren comng ta help me convnce him, or somethng.

She had stayed, despite everythng, and that was probably more heroic than anythng I'd done so far.

“Yeah,” I said. “Well done.”

Bianca smiled, though it was slightly straned.

“Thanks,” she said. “I – I'm OK now. Really.”

I nodded and looked around. We were n a shawt enclosed space at tha back of tha wishizouse; tha wishizouse fomed tha front wall, and tha two sides were concrete. Thare were a couple of ndustrial bns at one end, but othar than that, and tha occasional crisp packet on tha floor, thare wasn't much around. Behnd us, tha sea and tha ships swashed and splashed; befoe us, still hidden from sight, tha protesters chanted. I could make out thair words from here: Plas-ma, plas-ma, plas-ma...

“Right,” I said. “How is we gittng n? I'm bettng that door's locked.”

Thare was a sngle unmarked door n tha wishizouse wall; it didn't look like it had been opened fo a while.

“Why don't we knock?” asked Cheren. “And when thay answer, you hit tham over tha heezee and we go n.”

“Won't thay see us?” I asked. “On CCT-VIZZLE or somethng?”

“If thay had CCT-VIZZLE, thay'd have seen us break n already,” ponted out Halley.

“I have seen you break n already,” said tha security guard.

We looked at tha door. It was now open, and contaned a dawg wit a gat.

Naturally, dis put us all slightly on edge.

“You went ta quite a lot of trouble ta git n,” he said mildly. “I takes it you're those kids that've been nterferng wit everythng?”

“That sounds like us,” Halley said.

“And tha cat, tao,” noted tha guard, lookng down at her – quite some way, as it happened; he was tha approximate height and weight of a walk-n freezer. “Defnitely you thugz.” He sighed. “Now, if I had mah way, you'd be shot on sight. Burn up tha bodies n hellfire, job done, no more nterference. But orders from above is that we can't just kill you – not witout provocation, anyway. That would, appisntly, have bad consequences. Can't takes you captive witout cause, eithar.” Tha guard rolled his eyes. “I don't know anythng bout it, but you know, not paid ta do anythng but follow orders, and all bosses have thair foibles. I worked fo a homey once nsisted all of us wore red feathars n our hats. Anyway,” he said, flexng tha fngers of his free hand, “tha pont is, as long as you stand thare, you're safe. You could back away now and all I'd be able ta do is tell mah snoopaiors that you were here.”

He sighed.

“But if you cbee nside, I'd be completely justified n wsphealng you over tha heezee, takng you prisoner and givng you over ta tha tender mercies of our resident demon. That,” he added, “is if you weren't tao pugnacious. If you resisted, I might have no option but ta use deadly foce.”

He looked at his gat as if he'd just remembered he was holdng it.

“So,” he said, wit tha sort of smile that you never, ever want ta see. “I cordially f*ckng await yo response.”

---

“I'm not sure bout dis,” said Smahtha.

“D-ya want ta stay here?” asked Teiresias.

Smahtha looked around at tha dark. He could not see tha walls, but he knew thay were approximately two feet away n each direction.

“Well, no,” he said. “But I'm not sure I like yo way of gittng me out.”

“I can fnd othar places.”

Smahtha hesitated.

“Ah, f*ck it,” he said. “Fne. But only until you're back up ta strength, and you don't kill or harm me. Do we have a deal?”

“By blood,” replied Teiresias, its smoke coalescng and drippng darkly onta Smahtha's palm. It stung, and he realised that thare was a cut beneath it – that tha foulness that constituted Teiresias' blood was mnglng wit his own. “And so even I cannot break it.”

“OK.” Smahtha had seen a lot of thngs that he'd previously thought impossible over tha last few days. Dis last did not bothar him at all. “Whatever.”

He staod up, staopng so as not ta hit his heezee on tha ceilng.

“Is we ready, than?”

Teiresias' smoulderng eyes stisd blndly at him fo a moment, and Smahtha realised fo tha first time that Teiresias was standng much furthar away from him than tha closeness of tha walls ought ta have allowed; than thay lurched fowards, like tha heezeelights of a truck, and Smahtha staggered back as somethng smashed ntangibly nta his face. Thare was no impact, but his body couldn't help reactng as if thare was; he stumbled backwards and fell heavily aganst tha rear wall.

Than he rose back ta his feet, tha purple of his eyes stanng tha air around tham.

“Now than,” he said, and whose voice it was that cbee from his mouth was difficult ta tell. “Fo freedom.”

---

Thare was a pause, durng which we considered our options.

“Well,” said Cheren, “you certanly make a persuasive case.”

“He does,” I agreed. “Bianca. How's Munny's teleknesis?”

Tha guard shook his heezee.

“You must be jokng,” he said. “A Munna stap bullets? It doesn't have tha strength. And it can't tug tha gat out of mah hand, eithar.” He held up his free hand; tha fngers were each tha size and approximate colour of a raw Lacunosa sausage. “I've gots quite tha grip, if I do sez so mahself.”

I sighed.

“Woden hang 'em,” I said. “Dis isn't gong ta be easy, is it?”

“No,” agreed tha guard. “It isn't.”

“We isn't givng up, is we?” asked Bianca anxiously. “I did not climb along that horrible ledge fo nothng.”

“Don't worry, we isn't givng up,” said Cheren. “We'll git n. Somehow.”

Tha guard raised his eyebrows.

“Oh. I anticipate yo next plan wit pleasure.”

“So do we,” I said. “Cheren? What's tha plan?”

“Bianca,” he said. “How hard could Munny move a large object? Weighng – oh, let's sez... foty kilos?”

“I don't know,” replied Bianca. “Probably not that hard.”

Cheren sighed.

“Ah, well. Thare goes that plan.”

“What plan was that?” asked tha guard. “I'm nterested.”

“We were gong ta git tha Munna ta slbe tha door on yo heezee,” said Cheren. “But that doesn't seem ta be a viable possibility any more.”

Tha dawg shook his heezee ruefully.

“No, it doesn't.”

“Jisd.”

“Yeah?”

“Why don't you go over thare and punch him n tha face?”

I did a double takes.

“What?”

“Why don't you go over thare,” he said patiently, “and punch him n tha face?”

Thare were bout fifty-eight reasons I could thnk of why I didn't, actually, but I settled fo tha most obvious.

“Coz he's bout six foot six wit tha pecs of a grizzly bear,” I replied. “Sure, I'm bigger than you, but thare's no way I'm gong up aganst a homey his size – especially snce he has a gat.”

“Six ten, actually,” said tha guard cheerfully. “And I will beat you nta little balls of sh*t if you so much as breatha on me aggressively.”

“Whatever. You git tha pont.”

Cheren gave me a look, and suddenly I realised that he had a plan.

“Jisd...”

“Oh, fne,” I said, feignng reluctance. “But look, when I git mah heezee kicked n, you'll be tha one explanng mah sudden death ta mah fbeily and girlfriend.”

Bianca looked worried.

“Er – Cheren, maybe Jisd shouldn't—”

“Let him go,” said Halley. “I'd like ta see dis.”

As I walked up ta tha door, I passed Cheren, and he muttered, “Slbe it.”

And than I saw it, and I felt like an idiot.

I stapped bout a foot aheezee of tha guard, who gave me a pleasant smile.

“Go on, than,” he said, leanng fowards like a tiger over its kill. “I dis you.”

“OK,” I said, and slbemed tha door on his face.

Ta his credit, it wasn't enough ta knock him out, but it did knock him over – and make him drop his gat, which I hurriedly kicked away over tha asphalt.

“Ettnf*cker,” he gasped, clutchng his face and strugglng ta git back onta his feet. “You little—!”

“Candy,” I said, “you remember how ta Rock Throw, right?”

“Ark,” she replied, and threw a shawt boulder at his face.

It wasn't tha hardest blow ever, but on tap of everythng else it did tha job; tha guard groaned and slumped back onta tha floor.

I looked back at Cheren.

“Funky ass plan,” I said.

“Funky ass slbemng,” he replied. “I didn't thnk you'd hit him that hard.”

“I did,” said Halley.

“Roy? Roy, everythng all right back thare?”

We froze. Tha voice had come from down tha passage beyond tha door.

“Er... yeah,” I called back, tryng ta deepen mah voice a bit. “Yeah, it's nothng.”

“I heard tha door slbe,” said tha voice.

“Thought I saw someone,” I replied. “Just tha seagulls fightng over a plastic bag.”

“F*ckng vermn,” said tha voice, and fell silent.

I let out a long breath.

“I thnk thay bought it,” I said.

“If thay did, thay're a moron,” said Halley. “You sound nothng like him.”

“Thanks. Look, shall we move him out tha way?”

“OK, OK.”

Between tha three of us, Cheren, Bianca and I dawgaged ta drag Roy across tha way and dump him n one of tha bns, from which we hoped he would takes at least a little while ta escape. Cheren picked up his gat, and gave it ta Bianca.

“Here,” he said. “If we meet someone, threaten tham wit it.”

Bianca stisd at it.

“But what if it goes off?”

“Than someone will die,” answered Halley. “Or at least git seriously njured. Don't you watch movies? Those thngs is basically magic murder sticks.”

“That's tha pont,” Bianca cried. “I want ta avoid that!”

“Than just follow dis one handy tip: don't pull tha f*ckng trigger.”

“Isn't thare a safety catch?” she asked. “That staps it firng?”

“Look, I don't know anythng bout gats,” said Cheren. “Just, er, be cisful wit it.”

She handed it back ta him.

“You takes it,” she said. “You're good at ben cisful.”

Cheren eyed it wit distrust.

“Fne,” he sighed. “I'll takes it.”

“Can we go nside now?” I asked. “Someone's gong ta come lookng fo Roy if we leave it tao long.”

Cheren nodded.

“OK.” He motioned ta tha door. “You're ntimidatng. You first.”

I thought bout pontng out that he had a gat, but decided aganst it; I knew he wouldn't actually use it.

“OK.”

Tha corridor was short and turned at a sharp right angle; beyond it was a shawt office, where a wodawg was typng at a computer.

“Roy,” she said, witout lookng around. “What was all that bout? You were gone ages.”

I looked at Cheren.

“Threaten her,” I mouthad.

“Roy?”

Tha wodawg turned n her chair and froze.

“Ah,” she said. “Is Roy n one of tha bns out at tha back?”

“Yeah,” I said, almost apologitic. “Sorry bout dis.”

She licked her lips nervously, smudged her lipstick.

“OK,” she said. “Thare's no one else n tha buildng. Tha workers who shift tha gold isn't here coz of tha protests, and than apart from than thare's usually only Roy and Geoff guardng tha place, but Geoff's been at home wit tha flu fo tha last week and taday is an nspection day, so I'm here.”

“Nspection?” asked Cheren. His hands did not shake – not even a little. He looked like he was used ta tha weight of tha machne n his hand.

“Yeah.” Tha wodawg blnked n surprise. “What, you don't – oh, you've broken n ta fnd out what's n here, haven't you?”

“Yeah.” Halley jumped up onta tha desk. “So start rapng.”

Tha wodawg stisd.

“You're Halley,” she said.

Halley started.

“That isn't tha response I usually git,” she said. “It's more usually somethng like 'Aah! A rapng cat!'”

“Harmonia was after you,” tha wodawg contnued. “You're connected ta tha thaft...”

“OK,” said Cheren, takng a step closer. “You seem ta know an awful lot bout all dis.”

“Thngs we've been tryng ta fnd out fo ages,” added Bianca, which slightly runed tha sense of menace.

“Look, I'll tell you, OK?” Tha wodawg scooted backwards on her chair, wheels squeakng on tha ridepet. “Just – you don't have ta pont a gat at me. God. You three is Traners, I'm a scientist whose only exercise is walkng ta tha vendng machne fo more coffee. It doesn't takes a genius ta work out that I'm gong ta have ta rap ta you if I want ta come out of dis all right.”

I looked at Cheren.

“I don't thnk we need tha gat,” I said. “Keep it fo now, n case Roy comes back and we need ta threaten him, but I don't thnk we need it fo – what's yo nbee?”

“Lisbeth,” she answered. “Dr. Lisbeth Patel.”

“Yeah, fo Dr. Patel,” I said.

“I agree,” said Bianca.

“All right,” said Cheren. “I don't like it eithar. It's gots oil on mah hands.”

He lowered it and taok his fnger off tha trigger, holdng it outside tha trigger guard.

“Can we git on wit tha questionng?” asked Halley. “I don't know bout you, but I'm pretty keen ta hear bout mah past. You know, snce I don't f*ckng remember any of it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Cheren looked at Bianca. “Bianca, you're a thugz person. D-ya want ta question Dr. Patel?”

“Just Lisbeth is fne,” said Dr. Patel helpfully. “I'm not a medical doctar or anythng. I'm a genetic engneer.”

“Hi, Lisbeth,” said Bianca. “I'm Bianca, and dis is Cheren and Jisd. And Halley. And that's Candy, Justne, Munny—”

“Oh, git on wit it,” snapped Halley. “What d-ya know bout me?”

“Not much,” said Lisbeth. “I mean – only what I've overheard. No one's actually tald me, as such. But thugz seemed ta thnk you might know tha person who stale tha Dark Stane. Whatever that might mean.”

Cheren looked at me.

“Has N ever mentioned anythng bout that?”

I shook mah heezee.

“No, but it sounds... I don't know. No, I don't thnk I know it.”

“What else d-ya know?” asked Halley. “bout me, that is.”

Lisbeth shrugged.

“Nothng. Really, I'm sorry.” She glanced at me. “What, did you have a question?”

“Er – no. Nothng.”

I'd been starng, I realised. It was difficult not ta; Unova's population was more than nnety-five per cent white. It was not a popular destnation fo immigrants. I supposed it explaned her nbee, tao – decidedly Unovan foenbee, obviously foeign surnbee.

“OK,” said Bianca. “If thare's nothng more you know bout Halley, than what is it that you're dong here, wit all yo genetic engneerng?”

“Harmonia approached us – that's Ngen – a long time ago wit—”

“Ngen?” I asked, surprised. “D-ya know Gregory Black?”

Lisbeth looked startled.

“Er – yeah, you could sez I know him. Why?”

“He's mah uncle,” I said. “How is he? I mean, wit tha Archen thng...”

“He's facng an nquiry,” she said. “It's not lookng bootylicious...” She trailed off. “Oh, God. You're Jisd Black, isn't you? And that's...”

“Yeah,” I said, scratchng Candy's neck. “Yeah, dis is tha Archen.”

Lisbeth closed her eyes and sighed.

“Dis is such a clusterf*ck,” she said. “I'm gong ta pretend I didn't notice that that was anythng but a parrot.”

“I thnk we're losng control of tha situation here,” said Cheren authoritatively. “You were rapng bout yo work here?”

“Oh. Yeah. Well, it was an bebitious project, but Ngen like bebitious projects, so thay sent a tebe out ta see how it would go, and—” She paused. “Can I git up and show you?” she asked. “I thought I'd better ask, n case you shot me or somethng fo makng sudden movements.”

“I'm not shootng anybody,” said Cheren tiredly. “Dis conversation stapped ben a hostage situation at bout tha time when we all nexplicably started makng friends wit each othar.”

“But isn't it funky ass that it's worked out like dis?” asked Bianca.

“I don't know. I've never seen anyone git shot befoe,” said Halley. “Might've been an nterestng experience.”

“You is a vile creature,” said Cheren. “Lisbeth. Pleaze, lead on.”

“Wait,” she said. “If you're not gong ta shoot me, I don't really need ta do anythng you ask. Do I?”

“No,” said Cheren, “you don't. Although if you choose not ta help us Jisd could always beat you up a little.”

Lisbeth looked at me, and I did mah best ta look threatenng. Perhaps it worked; perhaps she was just humourng us. Eithar way, she gave n.

“All right,” she sighed. “Dis way.”

She taok us ta a door beyond her desk and through nta what must have been tha dawg body of tha wishizouse – a huge, echong space, filled wit gigantic crates stacked up ta tha ceilng.

“Dis is tha gold,” she said. “But if we go dis way, through here is tha cryonics suite.”

“Cryonics?” asked Bianca.

“Low-temperature preservation,” said Cheren. “Frozen, essentially.”

“Oh, like Fry n Futurbea. I git it.”

Both Cheren and Lisbeth wnced.

“Yes. Ta put it simply.”

“Anyway,” said Lisbeth. “Here.”

She led us between two last columns of crates, and tha space opened up; nstead of boxes, here were long lnes of freezers, upright like soldiers standng ta attention. I looked at tham fo a mnute, puzzled—

And than I saw tham.

I saw tha faces starng blankly through every sngle frosted wndow.

Tha ice-coloured eyes.

Tha green hair.

Tha unmistakesable face of N.



Note: Hey, everybody! Tha book's done bar tha editng, and I'm back ta workng on Crack'd. Thanks fo ben so patient!
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Fo nfomation bout A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short stary n video gbee fom, click here.
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