November 20th, 2010 (2:55 PM). Edited December 22nd, 2010 by Cutlerine.
It's a parody of three things: Pokémon Red, the Pokémon Special manga and the classic 1950s American detective genre, with a touch of noir thrown in. If you haven't experienced any one of these things, I suggest you do so before reading, as the story will be considerably improved for you. I think.
OK, without further ado:
The client’s chair is the most important part of the detective’s office. You haven’t got a chair, you haven’t got clients: simple as that. And then, it has to be a good chair – no damage, no stains. If it isn’t a good clean chair, no self-respecting client’s going to sit in it – and then, like I say, you don’t get any clients.
My client’s chair was a beauty. It sat, as ever, on the opposite side of the desk from me, and was upholstered in shiny black leather – real Miltank hide, not some cheap plastic stuff like they use in the Game Corner – worn with the friction from a thousand restless legs and oiled with a million teardrops. It wasn’t new, but it was clean, comfortable, and inviting – about as close to good as you could get in this town.
However, the person sitting there right now was in no position to appreciate this. He wasn’t even a client.
He was about eleven years old and slumped, sullen, in the chair, his red baseball cap low over his downturned face. Behind him, a massive, dark blue figure stood, all rippling muscles and huge, aggressive eyes. This figure, I knew for a fact, was named Poli – a name so hopelessly diminutive and applied to such a huge creature that it was almost enough to make me laugh.
The silence had been going for about five minutes now, and I was beginning to get impatient.
“Kid,” I said at length, “basically, you’ve got two options. One, I can send you back home now, or two, I hand you over to the police.”
That got his attention. His hands clenched tighter on the edges of the seat and his shoulders tensed; he wasn’t stupid and he knew that the chief of police didn’t like him. He also knew what happened to those people that the chief of police didn’t like: they slipped and fell on the notoriously slippery tiled floor of the station.
“I came here for a reason,” he said, voice quiet. He still didn’t look at me. “The Rockets―”
“Are none of your business,” I finished for him, a note of anger beginning to rise in my voice. “Red, it doesn’t matter what the Rockets do! I don’t give a damn and neither should you – that’s someone else’s business. Unless someone pays me to look into it.”
“But―” He looked up for the first time, some emotion appearing in his voice. He felt passionately about what he was talking about, that was for sure.
“But nothing! Your idealism might work back in Pallet Town, but here in Saffron?” I made a dismissive noise. “Kid, in this city there is no black and white. There isn’t even any yellow, really. Just endless shades of grey. Rockets, Sabrina, the police – all of them, none of them good guys or bad guys. Just grey guys. Like everyone else in this city.”
“What about you?” Red replied defiantly, looking at me in the eyes for the first time. “What about you, Russell? What colour are you?”
I hesitated, then answered.
“Grey,” I said. “Grey, just like everybody else.” I stood up and called for Mardek. He stalked in from the other room moments later. “I’m going out,” I told him. “Wesley said he’d be here at some point today. If he comes, keep him here for me, yeah? I won’t be long.”
He blinked once, slowly, with dark, shrewd eyes, then inclined his head in something that might have been a nod.
“Are you taking me to the station?” asked Red. Behind him, Poli tensed, massive muscles tightening beneath his dark blue skin. Mardek traded glances with the Poliwrath, and I knew what he was saying. Don’t bother, he said; if it’s the police you don’t stand a chance anyway.
“No,” I said. “God knows I should. I’m taking you home.”
Red looked relieved. Like most people in Saffron, he’d slipped on that tiled floor at least once before, and like everyone else he had not enjoyed it. I had seen the scars.
I walked him down to the Magnet Train station, through the night-scarred streets of Saffron. The moon was nothing but a sliver, as if turned away because it couldn’t bring itself to look upon the city. I couldn’t blame it. I knew this city better than most, and more than anyone wanted to: I knew the dark grey nightmares that polluted the original yellow dream; I knew the gamblers and the harlots at the Game Corner and Club Rocket; I knew the milk addicts and the smugglers; the swindlers and the strongmen; the men at the Silph company where they sell you stolen dreams that fade on the morning air like childhood memories in the dank air of Saffron’s back roads. I looked at the moon and I saw all that spread out beneath it, a patchwork quilt of sleepless nights and wishful thinking that men call a city. I shook my head and went inside.
I bought Red a one-way ticket to Pallet from a bored-looking youth behind a tiny glass window. It seemed I spent a lot of time doing that these days. We stood together on the platform as the train glided in, almost silent as it passed between the magnetic rings.
“Don’t come back here,” I told him, as I did every time. “There’s a lot of stuff in this city that can harm a eleven-year-old kid.”
And, as he did every time, Red replied: “I’m not like other kids.”
“A Poliwrath, a Bulbasaur and a Pikachu are not adequate defence against Saffron, kid. Stay with your mother. She worries about you.”
Red was silent, then he turned and got on the train without another word. He always left like that: not so much as a goodbye, or even a thank you for the ticket.
I watched it go for the three seconds it took for it to pass out of sight, then left the station and walked back to the office. When I got back, Wesley was in the client’s chair.
The client’s chair. What kind of people come to sit in it? Whether you’re in New York or London, Berlin or Paris, Lilycove or Saffron, they’re all the same. Mostly they just want me to confirm the suspicions growing in their hearts that cast a shadow over their eyes, the ones that end up with me spending long nights in a cold car looking for the twitch in the bedroom curtains. However, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes, they’re people like Wesley.
He was thirty, or forty – it was hard to tell beneath the grime and the week-old beard. His eyebrows burst forth like twin hairy caterpillars writhing in agony on his forehead, and the eyes beneath them receded as if stomped into his face by their thrashing. He wore a battered old coat and smelled strongly of whisky.
“Wesley,” I said, and sat down. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
He was silent for a moment, then spoke.
“I’ve got a problem, Russell.”
“What kind of a problem?” I took a bottle of whisky out of the desk drawer and poured him a glass. He gulped it and continued, fortified.
“Some guys came to my house last night and stole Charla.”
I said nothing yet. Pokémon theft was traditionally the Rockets’ racket, although they hadn’t dabbled in that since they had taken over the gambling scene. If this was the Rockets’ work, getting involved would result in a bite from a rabid Zubat and a painful convalescence in hospital – and that was a best-case scenario.
“You remember Charla?” Wesley asked. I did. Four, five feet tall and loyal as only an immature Ponyta, bursting with fiery pride undimmed by the city’s cynical atmosphere, can be.
“Yeah,” I answered at last. “You want me to find her?”
Wesley nodded, his sunken grey eyes watering. I understood; in this world, about the only person who you could count on not to betray you was your Pokémon, and friends like that aren’t two a penny. I sighed. Wesley’s request was dangerous, but... Old friends are there to be helped, and not, unfortunately, for monetary reward.
“I’ll do it,” I told him. “I’ll find Charla for you.”
As soon as he’d left, aglow with thanks, I pulled on my coat and hat and walked out again, this time taking Mardek with me. If the Rockets were behind this, I knew where I would find them.
The Club was a building like any other, a dreary grey door in a stone wall that was once yellow but was tarnished now, as much by the people who came and went there as by the ravages of passing time. The manager, Donatello, knew his stuff and the clients knew Petrel: there was no need for advertising or flashy exteriors. I waited in line and went inside.
I could describe the inside, but what would be the point? The most famous nightclub in all of Kanto, a heady mixture of liquor and neon and strippers, swirling in the fug of cigarette smoke, half lit by disco lights that served only to pick out the curves of the Rocket girls who served here. The stage had a group of dancers on it, some women and some Jynx, and all could be found later at the back for extra entertainment that would last all night. I didn't even care anymore. This was Saffron, after all, that cure-all number of the soul and muddier of morals; if there was anyone here who really cared about it they were in the minority.
I pushed my way over to the bar, Mardek helping me clear a path, pushing people out of the way with an ease born of long practice. I asked if Marcia was in, and the girl, one I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, refused to tell me; after some pleading, I managed to get her to promise that she would tell Marcia that I would be waiting at one of the tables.
I worked my way back across the floor, skirting the dance floor and sinking into a hard-backed chair that faced the shadowy table on a raised dais at the back. Idly, I glanced across there and saw a group of men and women in black smoking and talking animatedly, a Hypno with the muscles of a Machamp standing nearby, looking menacing in dark glasses and whirling its pendulum around its finger in a way that suggested it wouldn’t hesitate to use it. I looked away before it sensed me; I had seen what happened to people who fell afoul of the Rocket Hypno and it wasn’t pretty. You just had to look away from the Rocket table and ignore whatever was going on there.
“Russell?” came a silvery voice, and a vision in the curiously revealing uniform of Team Rocket slid into the chair beside me. A heart-shaped face turned to face mine, wide blue eyes framed by long locks of wavy, dark brown hair that poured down onto her bare shoulders. Marcia had arrived.
“Good to see you,” I said, leaning back.
“Russell, when you come here you don’t come for the show,” Marcia replied. “You want something from me, right?”
“Yeah.” I let a silence grow for a moment or two, then continued. “How’s the Pokémon kidnapping business nowadays?”
Marcia frantically shushed me, eyes whirling around to the Hypno and back again.
“Shut up!” she hissed. “You don’t discuss Rocket business here!” She jerked her head towards the impassive, yellow-skinned creature, whose pendulum had started to sway in our direction.
“Oh, right, I forgot. More than the job of a simple Rocket girl is worth.” I smiled a cold smile. You might think I was being hard on her, but Marcia wasn’t at all as soft as she liked to pretend. She was one of the few people I knew who carried a Remoraid – and as non-lethal, non-marking weapons go, those things were pretty damn powerful.
“Meet me in ten minutes,” Marcia told me. She glanced back at the Hypno, which appeared to have calmed down somewhat. “At the Slowpoke Cart.”
She left me without a word. I lingered only a few more seconds in the greasy, smoke-ridden air of the Rocket Club before departing, Mardek at my side.
The Slowpoke Cart: that eternal symbol of the city. It’s always there, on every street corner, and always operated by the same man. I don’t know how he does it – no one does – but wherever you are, there too will you find the purveyor of Slowpoketail. His cart is white and battered, with a parasol to keep off the nonexistent sun, and a basin of sizzling fat in which the bloated pink tails wriggle and bounce on the hotplate. The man is short and sturdy, with an eye patch and a round face, forever frozen into that customer trap he calls a smile. The man is Baku, the eater of dreams. His trade is just that.
The Slowpoketail: all it consists of is the severed tail of a Slowpoke, cut from them fresh in the farms. They grow back within a month, though never quite as long or succulent, in accordance with the law of diminishing returns. It’s just a fatty lump of meat with lumps of cartilage and bone in the middle, and yet – when fried, it becomes the nation’s favourite treat.
“Evening, Russell,” said Baku cheerily. He knew me – he knew everyone, just as I knew everyone. We were both denizens of the night, people who had spent too long walking the streets of Saffron in the dark with nought but the occasional flicker of a streetlamp for company.
“Evening,” I replied, and bought a Slowpoketail, grease staining my fingers through the paper it was wrapped in. I took up a plastic knife and half-cut, half-ripped it in half, then threw the tail end to Mardek, who caught it deftly, one-handed, and nipped pieces from it with the tiny teeth within his bill.
“It’s a cold night,” observed Baku. Not that he would feel it, of course; he had his brazier to warm his hands on, for he would be open all night and would wander the streets of the city like a ghoul, vending his grisly wares.
“Yes,” I agreed. Silence. Then: “How’s business?”
“Oh, not bad, not bad.” I knew, and he knew that I knew, that he was lying. Business was always good for the purveyor of Slowpoketail; everyone always wants a Slowpoketail. I’d seen his house – it was positively palatial. But, like the Medici disguising their power, Baku preferred to disguise his success and wealth.
At that point, Marcia showed up, and I gave her my half of the Slowpoketail. She tore a chunk out of it with her teeth, like a hungry wolf, and chewed it ravenously.
“’Sgood,” she mumbled through a mouthful of meat. “Haven’t eaten since this morning.”
“OK,” I said, glancing around for Zubat watchers. The Rockets often employed them to spy on people; their speed and acute hearing made for good eavesdroppers, though their blindness was a slight drawback. I waited until she had finished, then offered her the napkin that came with it, to dab the fatty slime from her chin. When she was entirely done, she spoke.
“The Rockets haven’t gone in for that sort of theft in years,” she said. “But recently... I don’t know. It’s starting up again. I don’t hear much, I’m just a bar girl” – I suppressed a snort; she heard a hell of a lot more than she let on – “but it seems there’s some kind of experiment going on.”
“Experiment?” I asked. Marcia’s eyes widened slightly.
“Something they were doing with Silph Co. technology,” she told me. “I don’t know what... I only know because of this scientist who came back from the project. He said he refused to do it, whatever it was – the guy was shaking, terrified.”
“Can I speak to him?” I asked. Marcia looked grim.
“You’ll need a good medium,” she said. “He turned up dead two days ago. The Rockets don’t let loose ends dangle.”
I stood in the sun of the early morning, looking into the slate-grey waters from the pier. This was Vermilion, a city that wore its government colour with pride, as evidenced by the line of coloured umbrellas along the beach. According to Marcia, this was where they found the scientist’s corpse, bloated with corpse gas and washed up on the sand like a beached whale.
Private detectives don’t do murder. That’s the police’s job. If a murder turns up in a case, I’m legally obliged by Kanto national law to inform the police and get my head out fast. But this was Wesley, and I’d promised – so I was going to continue.
The reason we’d come here was simple. Marcia had told us where the dead guy had been found, and since he was the only lead, we were following him. Now, all we needed was to find where he was now, and that meant talking to the police. Which was not going to work.
I turned from the restless waves and walked back down the wooden aisle, walled in by gently bobbing pleasure boats. At the end, I got back in the car and drove to Vermilion’s police station.
It was, like all buildings in Vermilion, a bright shade of red, painted freshly every month during the summer when the tourists came. Now that winter was underway, the walls were faded and looked more brown than red; as I made my way up the steps to the door, I reflected on how sad a seaside town is when viewed out of season. For a few months each year, Vermilion was the place to be; then it lapsed back into a slow decline until the spring came around again, and a frenzied effort raised it back to its former glory. Oh, sure, the ships brought in trade and wealth – but that was all saved up for the summer, because nothing was so important to the town as tourism.
Ernst Cooper, fire-breather and amateur watchmaker, stood in front of the desk and faced the officer on duty. He was a tall man, a little worn around the edges, bearing the tell-tale soot-stains on his lips that were the badge of his profession. His eyes were kind and grey, and he wore a battered old suit under a tan mackintosh. Behind him paced a Magmar, crooked eyes flicking left and right in the shady manner of those creatures.
I hoped to God my disguise would stand up.
The officer agreed to let me through as the brother-in-law of the deceased; any elation I felt at deceiving him was momentary, melting away as soon as I walked into the morgue.
Thyme was there too.
Stefano Thyme, the Saffron chief of police, and self-confessed nemesis of all private eyes. Six foot four and broad with it, a slab of muscle in a dark blue uniform. No cop likes a gumshoe, but this guy went way past the force minimum of ‘contemptuous dislike’. He was more of a ‘kill on sight’ kind of guy, and he did not look pleased to see me.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” he asked angrily, seeing me enter. His voice growled like a threatened Kanghaskan and boomed like an anti-social drum. I swivelled around without breaking stride and walked out again, but he was fast as well as strong and I felt his hand grip my arm before I could make good my escape. “Well? I’m waiting for an answer, shamus.”
“I was taking the air and thought I’d drop by for a cup of tea.”
The hand tightened and I felt my forearm go numb. Thyme yanked me back into the morgue and slammed the door shut, spinning me around to face him. He had an ugly face that looked like it had been chiselled with hard lines from a cube of meat.
“Don’t play your stupid games with me, shamus,” he growled. “Why are you here?”
Client confidentiality would be the excuse many would spout now, but I knew better. That’s the thing that policemen really hate about us, you see – the refusal to tell them anything we know under the banner of ‘client confidentiality’. Saying this to Thyme would have just as certain a consequence as pointing a shotgun at my face and pulling the trigger.
“I was reading a book the other night about Burke and Hare, and wanted to see the goods for myself.” I might as well have said that I couldn’t tell him on grounds of client confidentiality. Thyme’s face twisted and I slipped over and landed painfully on the floor. Several times.
It was either half an hour later or twelve hours later by my watch when I regained full consciousness, and sat up to have a look around the cell. As usual, Mardek had slipped quietly off somewhere; I just hoped he remembered where the emergency bail money was, or I could be here for some time.
The cells were full of tramps, since this was Vermilion. Not that there were any more tramps here than anywhere else, but this city was so image-conscious, so desperate to defend the mirage of holiday allure that cloaked it, that vagrancy was the worst crime anyone could commit here, and those on the streets could count on being arrested very, very quickly. Sitting across from me was a man with a hat that looked like someone had taken a tin-opener to it, the top falling away at an angle like a half-peeled tin lid. Noticing me looking, he gave a pleasant smile.
“Stray Meowth,” he explained, flicking his eyes upwards. “I was looking for food in a bin and found an angry cat. Woulda used Slash on my eyes if I hadn’t moved – and now me hat’s gone.”
“Did you get any food in the end?”
“Found a dead Pidgey in the next bin, had that instead.” He held out a hand. “Me name’s Jacob.”
I shook the proffered hand. “I’m Russell.”
“Why’re you here?”
“Thyme doesn’t like me.”
He didn’t ask why Thyme didn’t like me. There were so many possible reasons why Thyme might dislike a person that it was best to just accept that Thyme didn’t like you, and leave it at that.
“You hear about that dead guy washed up on the beach?”
“Yeah, that was interesting.” I might have smiled enigmatically at that – I know some people who would – but I have professional standards to maintain, so I didn’t.
A moment later, a haggard-looking policeman came to tell me my bail had been paid, and I walked out to find Mardek waiting for me at the desk, looking distinctly unimpressed. From the sunlight coming in through the window, I judged that I had indeed been out for only half an hour. I thanked the policeman for his time and left.
Mardek looked up at me. From our long years together I could tell what he was trying to communicate.
Russell, getting arrested was stupid.
“Yes,” I said, without looking down. “Yes it was. But I got what I wanted, didn’t I?”
We could get the bail money back if you return to the station at the right time.
“I’m not going to do that.”
I know. The Magmar sighed, which is quite unnerving when done through a beak. He tapped my watch with one claw, signifying: Is she back yet?
“I said we’d meet her by the pier.”
I stood on the waterfront street, near the entrance to the pier, and looked out at the sea of forlorn boats, anxiously awaiting the return of the summer when they would once more have purpose in their existence. A few moments later, the sea breeze reversed to blow from inland, and grew much colder; a vague shiver ran down my spine, and I seemed to hear soft voices whispering around me. I smiled and turned around. Priscilla was here.
She materialised with that unmistakeable, jingling cry that all Gastly make, the one that haunts the dreams of small children. All savage eyes and grinning mouth, she was a repulsive sight, a nightmare reproduced in a cloud of toxic gas. She shifted in and out of definition almost continually as the purple-black gas that made up her body fluctuated in the wind. Breathing in a Gastly wouldn’t kill you, but it would definitely lay you out of action for a few weeks. That was why they were illegal to keep, along with most other Poison types. After all, a Muk is the one of the nastiest weapons you can use on a human, and a Victreebel doesn’t come far behind.
“Anything?” I asked. In the morgue, I had released Priscilla from her Pokéball before Thyme had taken his fists to me. It was the only way to get anything from a corpse – if they were fresh, a Ghost like Gastly stood a good chance of getting inside them and reading the imprint of their last moments.
Priscilla floated upwards slightly and then down again. Mardek opened the bag he was carrying and tapped the piece of cardboard in there. I understood; this would take a while and would best be conducted back at the office. I recalled Priscilla and drove back to River Street in Saffron, where my agency is based.
It’s part of a long row of terraced houses, many of which still fulfil that function. Several of them – including my office – have been converted into buildings of dentistry, or a veterinary surgeon’s. Mine is the only private detection agency – the only one in Saffron, actually. The name on the frosted glass door that all detectives have in their offices is ‘The Babylon Detection Agency’, but the man sitting behind the desk is just plain old Russell Curtis.
Mardek took out the piece of cardboard and placed it on the desk, pushing the phone and lamp out of the way. He would have pushed the whisky, too, but I grabbed it before any harm could come to the bottle of client lubricant and put it away in the desk drawer. Mardek then placed an upturned glass on the centre of the board, and I let Priscilla out again.
She flickered in and out of focus for a moment, and a couple of millilitres of her went up my nose; coughing, I berated her and she firmed up, becoming as tangible as possible. When she caught sight of the Ouija board, she floated up and down rapidly, as if bouncing with excitement, and immediately dived down towards the glass before disappearing into thin air. A moment later, the glass began to move, and I began to take notes of what Priscilla was spelling out.
“H,” I said, “I, S, N...”
His name was Johann Nielsson. He was investigating a Pokémon in a laboratory. The stolen Pokémon were part of it.
I’d drawn the ‘é’ on the board specially. It always pays to represent every letter, even those with accents.
“Do you know where this was?” I asked. The glass slipped down to ‘N’, short for ‘no’. “OK, go on.”
Something to do with recombinant DNA.
I was surprised that Priscilla knew how to spell ‘recombinant’, but wrote it down nevertheless.
I have one more thing.
The name of one fellow scientist: Professor Blaine.
“What?!” The point snapped off my pencil and flew away over the surface of the paper. “Blaine? The Blaine? Gym Leader of Cinnabar Island Blaine?”
I didn’t believe there was anyone in Saffron who wasn’t pond scum underneath their exterior, but Cinnabar’s Professor Blaine was a different matter. The man was a genius – and there was no reason to suspect he was anything other than a good man. Mardek had even been a gift from Blaine; in my youth, like most people in Kanto, I collected a few Gym Badges before settling down to set up my detective business. I hadn’t taken the Saffron challenge (Sabrina didn’t hold it often anymore) but I’d gone to Pewter and beaten Brock, and to Cerulean to beat Misty. After that, I’d thought Cinnabar would be a good idea, and caught the fast ship there. I’d lost to Blaine, of course – he had a reputation for incredible power, though his quizzes were easy enough. But after the battle, when his Rapidash was nuzzling my then partner, a Sandslash by the name of Warren, he’d taken me aside and spoken to me with genuine respect, telling me that my battle style was something quite new and extraordinary, and he’d be honoured to challenge me to a rematch. He gave me Mardek then, as a tiny slip of a thing at Level 12, and told me not to forget to come back and fight again.
I never did, of course. The money ran out and I had to come back to Saffron to work. But sometimes I wonder what might have been, if I’d come back with Warren and Mardek, and we’d won; if we might have earned a place among the eight Gym Leaders of the towns, or if we’d even managed to make it to the Indigo Plateau where the greatest of the great went, the hotshot kids with their Machamps and their Alakazam.
Something sharp tapped me on the arm, and I flicked back to reality with a jerk. Priscilla and Mardek regarded me with worried eyes, and the Ouija board quickly flicked out: Are you OK?
“Yes,” I replied. “Just a memory. But Blaine?”
“OK. Thanks, Priscilla.” I recalled her and leaned back, wondering what to do next. Since I couldn’t think of anything, I told Mardek to keep an eye on the office and went out for a walk.
It was pushing noon when my wanderings took me past the Slowpoke Cart, and the smell was too tempting to resist: I went with my stomach and bought one. I leaned on a bollard and discussed with Baku, as two men of late hours and hard trouble will do when given the chance.
“You look like you’ve slipped on the police station floor,” observed Baku as he handed me the greasy paper package.
“I did and all,” I replied. “I came damn near to falling off my chair and even taking a tumble down the front steps, too.”
“It’s been a hard week.” I took a bite of tail, found a lump of gristle and spat it into the gutter. “Red ran away from home again.”
“Your nephew? From Pallet town?”
“Yeah.” I looked at the cloudy sky, framed by grey buildings without a trace of yellow left on them. They still had yellow buildings, down at Sunflower Heights, where the rich folk lived. But here...
“What was it this time?”
“What was it this time? Why did he run away?”
“Ah, the kid’s a would-be vigilante. Can’t think where he gets it from.”
Baku permitted himself a small chuckle.
“What, he’s after the Rockets?”
I paused, Slowpoketail halfway to my mouth. “How’d you know that?”
“The rumours are going round, Russell. I’m surprised you haven’t heard yet, it’s the sort of thing you usually know about first.”
“That the Rockets are activating again,” Baku told me in a conspiratorial whisper. “That all this time they’ve been running that club and the Game Corner was just a cover, a rest period while they attempt something bigger.”
“What something is that?”
He straightened up and shrugged.
“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? No one knows. But... does the name Giovanni mean anything to you?”
I gave a violent start, and the remaining part of my Slowpoketail fell into a puddle. “Giovanni?”
Oh, I knew Giovanni all right. I remembered it like it was yesterday. It was one of my first cases, and simple enough on the surface: some woman asking after some man, wanting me to confirm he was having an affair so that she had grounds for divorce – you know, the bread-and-butter stuff, the kind of work that pays my bills. But it had led nowhere fast, every effort on my part thwarted by the then-active Rockets – until an unexpected breakthrough had resulted in me figuring out that the beloved Gym Leader of Viridian, Giovanni Malatesta, was none other than the leader of the so-called Pokémon Mafia. Because I was young, stupid and a private eye, I didn’t tell the police and almost died as a result. I still remembered that monster that served him and came close to killing me, the Nidoking who, it turned out, knew new and illegal moves taught it via the notorious Black TMs...
I shook my head and tried again to make my sentence coherent.
“Yeah, I knew him.”
“He broke out of prison a week ago,” Baku said. I blinked.
“They kept that quiet.”
“They had to. If the papers print a high-profile story like that about Team Rocket, the editor’ll be looking down an Arbok’s throat.”
He was right; no one could challenge the Rockets openly, just like no one could challenge Sabrina or Silph. Between the three of them, they essentially owned the city. But still... why hadn’t I been told this? My contact at the Gym was a handler for the Rockets, too – he would definitely have been privy to knowledge like this.
“Thanks, Baku,” I said, wiping my fingers and throwing the napkin in a bin. “You think I’m a bit skinny?”
He cast the critical eye of one who knows his cuts of meat over me.
“You could use some muscle,” he admitted at length. He knew why I’d asked, but asked the question anyway: “Why?”
“Because I’m thinking of going to the Gym.”
It was a huge building, built back in the last century when these things had really mattered; the original structure was at least as large as the fabled Indigo Plateau building, and every Gym Leader since the first had added parts to it. I still remembered some from an ancient school project: the ivy-covered west wing was an addition by Clement; the central spire the legacy of Fausto; the crenulated walls and tower from Maxie Kamen. I passed through the gates rebuilt by Arianrhod IV and walked through the car park. Once, it was a verdant lawn with a trained Nurse Joy in a gatehouse, but it had long since been asphalted over to provide lodging for the modern man’s donkey, the car. I shook my head. In my day, Pokémon Trainers started at the age of ten, first at the Trainers’ School and then through the Gym system; it was, along with the monkhood, the highest calling a kid could have, and one that, if they were good enough, would see them set for life. Now, they all seemed to be twenty-somethings with Volvos and some hippy crap about battles being about love for one’s Pokémon. There’s no denying friendship strengthens you, but still, one of Sabrina’s Alakazam would flatten a low-level Jigglypuff in less than a second. The answer was training, pure and simple; Pokémon who fought for love would fight to the death for their Trainer even when they could no longer stand. It was crueller, in the long run. But then, the whole city was crueller nowadays.
Most of the cars in the park weren’t Trainer cars anyway; I knew there’d only be one or two Trainers in the Gym, even on a good day. Kids today wanted money, and they wanted it fast; the Trainer road is a long one, and the instant-gratification culture more or less put paid to it as soon as it started.
Dragging myself from my gloomy reverie, I entered the Gym and showed my Trainer Card to the receptionist. It was thirty years out of date and I still owned only one of the Pokémon whose faces were printed on it, but it didn’t matter, since most Cards were just poor forgeries nowadays anyway. She waved me through and I went into the next room, where I was confronted by two warp panels, each with a sign above it: ‘Staff Only’ and ‘Gym Area’. There would be no one in the Gym Area; I doubted they even still cleaned it. It was a huge wooden area, I remembered from a school trip, peppered with warp panels and mazes made of intricately-carved wooden railings. They’d got some monks down to carve those; it was a beautiful place back then, a test of the mind and spirit as well as the body. Solve the puzzles to get to the tournament at the end, and beat everyone in the tournament to face Sabrina. It was a beautiful place.
I sighed and stepped on the panel labelled ‘Staff Only’; my next step took me out into a cavernous space, far bigger than any single room in the Gym, with walls of uncovered breezeblocks, full of shipping containers. A makeshift counter had been set up on a few upturned crates nearby. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in a warehouse here – because you were. The warp panel was an illegal one that crossed the city borders and came out in Vermilion. This was Sabrina’s business.
A warm, heady smoke wafted from the counter; there were a couple of stoned youths sitting there, smoking cigarettes rolled with Oddish leaves. Near me, there was a basket of the creatures, twitching slowly and helplessly, leafless. Without their leaves, they couldn’t photosynthesise and would be dead within the hour. I walked past them, and past a cage with a couple of more powerfully psychotropic Gloom inside. They didn’t die when you smoked their harvest; you just took the powder from inside their petals. Only a couple of grams, of course, or you would die. I had heard of someone smoking Vileplume powders once, but I was certain it was nothing but an urban myth: Vileplume, like members of the Gastly line, were illegal, because just a sniff of them could kill you.
There was a short line before the counter; a man was engaged in buying a brown package that I presumed contained Miltank milk. You can always spot a milk addict – they just look so damn healthy.
I strode up to the counter. For a moment, Harri didn’t notice me, busy as he was with the leaves, fluids and powders that covered the crates, and spoke to me as to any ordinary customer:
“The truth would be nice, as a start,” I said, and he looked up sharply and swore. “I think you might have some explaining to do,” I continued.
Harri looked worried, but he called over someone marginally less drugged up than the rest of the clientele – a co-worker, apparently – and got them to man the counter while he took me to his cubby hole in the back of one of the storage containers.
It was cold and dark, until a Bellsprout in a cage used Flash; then, the chamber was evenly illuminated in a way so harsh and artificial that it hurt the eyes. Harri didn’t seem to mind; I doubted he ever touched fresh air or saw natural light. He was fat and pasty-faced, acne scarring his cheeks and cheap unwashed clothes hanging grotesquely from his body. He dealt in unsavoury goods, mostly for Sabrina, but also for the Rockets, who bought their storage space from the Gym Leader. As far as I knew, he actually lived here, even sleeping in the malodorous futon I spotted in one corner.
He sat down and offered me the privilege of doing likewise, but I declined, as the chairs were covered several years’ worth of gritty black grime that came from God-knows-what, a mixture of Oddish joint ash and some indefinable muck that accumulates when youths are confined in a small space for extended periods of time.
“I guess ya found out about Giovanni, then,” he said, reaching for a half-drunk glass of something dark that had been in place for so long it took considerable effort to remove from the table, and left a ring of thick mould in its wake.
“Yeah, I did,” I answered, resisting the urge to vomit. “Got anything to say for yourself?”
Harri looked up at me calmly; the fat boy had recovered his cool, and would likely be calculating how much he could make from this exchange.
“I might,” he said. “But my tongue is damn stiff this time of year. The autumn damp gets in, ya know?”
“I suppose you need to buy some medicine for it?”
“Probably,” he agreed. “I oughta see a doctor or somethin’.”
I took out a couple of thousand-dollar coins and rolled them around in the palm of my hand, letting them chase each other around the wrinkles in the skin. Harri’s eyes locked onto them and did not let go. After a couple of seconds of silence, I prompted him:
“These Pokédollars are yours when you speak, Harri. That’s the way this game works, see? You’re the one who set it up.”
A thousand Pokédollars wasn’t that much, but it was enough. If you were a Trainer, you could buy a few Potions or Pokéballs; for the average guy on the street, it would pay for a cheap meal. When you added a couple more coins to the pile, you started getting serious. Harri licked his bloated lips nervously, and started to talk.
“This was too important. Giovanni’s been plannin’ this crazy stunt the whole time since he wound up in jail. The Rockets were waitin’ for him to break out – that’s why they’ve been so tame the last ten years. But no one except the executives know what that plan is.”
Executives. I knew several Rocket agents – if I hadn’t been under the scrutiny of the Hypno, I probably could have identified the grunts in the Club last night – but no executives. No one knew who they were, not even other Rockets.
“Anything else?” Harri pretended to think, and I put a five hundred dollar coin on the pile.
“The Rocket weren’t the only ones keepin’ this quiet. Sabrina is, too.”
Harri looked around furtively, then beckoned me close and whispered into my ear, foetid breath washing over and around my head in vile waves.
“Between you an’ me, Sabrina looks like she’s in on this, whatever it is.”
I straightened up. The melodrama was needless, and it had exposed me to Harri’s breath, something I’d have preferred to go without.
“Can you think of anything else at all?” I put another five hundred dollar coin in my hand without bothering to wait for him to act the amnesiac.
“You wanna buy this?” Harri asked, holding up a tiny red metal cube. “We don’t know what it is.”
I took it from him and told him not to change the subject. Perhaps there was something of my contempt for him and his business, and how much I wanted to punch him, showing in my eyes, because he immediately became serious.
“Yeah, one more thing.” Harri looked me dead in the eyes, and the look was grave. “When Giovanni got out, he didn’t leave alone. Jessie and James went with him.”
“This is how it stands so far,” I said, leaning against the desk and addressing the staff of the Babylon Detection Agency. “Item one: Wesley’s Ponyta is stolen. Item two: the Rockets are apparently leaning back to their old ways, as a direct result of item three: Giovanni is released from prison. Item four: they’re apparently working on some sort of Pokémon research, with the help of Leader Blaine” – here I indicated Priscilla, who attempted something that might, in a human, have been called a curtsy – “that was so bad the dead guy Johann Nielsson had to run away from it, and wound up dead on a slab in the Vermilion station.” I hesitated, and ploughed on. “Item five: Jessie and James are back out too.”
Everyone in the room flinched a little: Priscilla drew in on herself, shuddering as her gases contracted; En, an illegally smuggled Natu, opened his eyes slightly wider than usual, and even the normally staunch Mardek narrowed his eyes and folded his arms.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Burke and Hare; every country has its notorious criminal pair. In Kanto we had Jessie and James. They started out as two-bit thieves for the Rockets, specialising in the theft of Pokémon, but somewhere along the way their psychotic nature got ahead of them and they started to kill. After that, they were no longer snatchers, but assassins: when the Rockets wanted someone dead, and in the most painful way imaginable, they’d send in Jessie and James. The two were powerful Trainers in their own right, using two of the most highly illegal Pokémon in Kanto: Jessie had an Arbok, and James used a Weezing. Arbok, with its massive size, crushing coils and powerful poison, was a Class II; and Weezing was one of the Class Is: easy to transport, leaving a trail of deadly neurotoxin behind it wherever it moved – and, in a tough situation, it could explode in a ferocious burst of fire and toxic fluid. These were the Pokémon used by Jessie and James, and between them they’d racked up an impressive list of 164 murders – only one of which could be proved, hence their abnormally short prison sentence.
But of course, Jessie and James were brute force; the brains behind the pair was an unknown figure. It wasn’t Giovanni – the man had enough trouble containing the warring Rocket Executives – but some sinister figure who held almost as much power in the Rocket organisation as the leader: Giovanni’s second-in-command. Alone of the top-tier Rocket leaders of yesteryear, that person had evaded prison, and no one even knew what he looked like. If he had been waiting too, with the Rockets, then it seemed likely that Jessie and James would be resuming active service.
That wasn’t the worst of it, either. I had been heavily involved in the Black TM case, as I mentioned before, the investigation that had put Giovanni, Jessie and James behind bars. It was due in no small part to my efforts that it had been accomplished. If Jessie and James were out, then it was probable that we could expect a visit from one or both of them at some point.
Mardek gave me a look that said, What do we do?
“I don’t know what it is that we’re going to do now,” I told the assembled company. “It seems to me that we’ve ended up in a fairly dangerous situation.”
En looked into my eyes, and I heard a thin, wise voice inside my head.
Do we continue with the investigation into Charla’s whereabouts?
“I think the investigation has morphed into something bigger,” I admitted. “I somehow doubt—” I stopped suddenly. “Someone’s coming up the stairs,” I said. “Priscilla, En, return!”
Twin red flashes of light occurred and I stuffed the two illegal Pokémon, now in their Pokéballs, into my pockets just before there came a knock at the door and someone came in.
If he was a client, he was the strangest I’d seen for quite some time. He was about six feet tall, and moved in an oddly stiff manner, as if iron bars were tied to his limbs. Swaddled in a huge, thick greatcoat and an equally thick scarf, with a broad-brimmed hat pulled down low over his eyes, I could see only a few square inches of his face. In retrospect, it wasn’t so unusual, since many clients wanted to obscure their identity in those days – but at the time it was certainly a surprise. I even went as far as to raise my eyebrows slightly at his entrance.
“Good afternoon,” he said, in an American accent. I’ve never been to America, and most Americans don’t come here, so I wasn’t familiar with what part of America that voice was from. Since it was a clue nevertheless, I mentally filed it away. “You are Russell Curtis?”
I nodded. “That’s me. How can I help?”
If it was a simple request, I could solve it at the same time as working on finding Charla – and I would actually get paid to do this.
“I have a case for you,” the mysterious figure said. “I’d like you to find a missing person for me.”
Piece of cake – usually. Technically, that’s the police’s job, but it’s one of those archetypal cases that private eyes just couldn’t get by without.
“What person? Where did you see them last?”
The client bowed his head, and when he spoke there was a hint of steel in his voice.
“A man called Tomás Vitruvio,” he said. “He owes me a large amount of money, and I want it back from him.”
“OK,” I agreed. I knew Vitruvio. He was a deliveryman from the Spanish Quarter, the sort of man who carried messages and packages around the city. Sometimes his clients were legitimate – but often they’d be someone like Silph Co. or the Rockets. “I can do that for you.”
The man looked, as far as I could tell, pleased.
“I can pay you seventy thousand Pokédollars up front,” he told me, “and another seventy afterwards. I’ll contact you in a couple of days’ time to see how you’re getting on.”
Americans. Their money was worth so much out here that when they did turn up, they invariably spent far more than they meant to. I wasn’t going to refuse an offer like that, and accepted gracefully. The strange man thanked me profusely and took out a bulging wallet. From this, he peeled three two-thousand-dollar notes and one-thousand-dollar one. On his way out, he bumped into the door before his hand managed to find the handle and let himself out. I could tell he was an amateur at disguise – no one bundles themselves up so much that they couldn’t see properly if they know what they’re doing.
“Weird guy,” I muttered. “But money is money. Mardek!”
He came in from the kitchenette, clutching a mug of boiling water. Magmars are chronically thirsty – it’s the duck blood in them, I think – but they can’t tolerate cold stuff. He drank so much that I had had to buy him his own kettle.
“Come on,” I said. “We’ve got another case. Missing person. Should be easier than finding Charla, so we’ll do both.”
The Magmar nodded, gulped the remaining water and set down the mug. A moment later, we’d locked up and left.
The Spanish Quarter. An ever-present reminder of the dreams and aspirations of two nations, dashed to pieces against the grey slates of Saffron. They had come here in the thirties, when there was nothing here but a small, peaceful town centred around the colour yellow and the Pokémon Abra, still the city’s official emblem. To us, they seemed like gods; they brought the miracles of the Western world to our sleepy Eastern land. Foods and cloths never before seen; varieties of Pokémon completely new to our knowledge; and technology: roads and railways and all the pleasures of modern life. Then they brought bullets, and guns, and pollution; ecosystem collapse and a generation of blighted crops that withered under the chemical fertilisers. Our forebears tried to make them leave – in those days, I always think, they still had sense – but then the war began: Kanto, what they call back in Spain the Spanish Vietnam.
It was bloody and it ravaged the land. Bullets and fire, thunder and tidal waves wracked the region for ten long years. And then we won, under the leadership of Manila Torrence, the man they dubbed Kanto’s Kongming, a master of strategy and a warrior of, they said, great prowess. We won and the Spaniards, broken, variously left to find rejection in their homeland, or stayed to live in the squalid encampments that became the Spanish Quarter. Two dreams were ruined in that conflict: the hope of a promised land for Spain, and the hope that our land could remain peaceful for us Kantans.
They taught it in every school; we all sat at our desks and learned how Torrence had ridden into that last battle in Timber Gulch, his Rapidash’s eyes wide with fear, and how it had been a trap to kill him, for it was the Spanish headquarters and bristling with soldiers and weaponry – and how he had, at the last moment, leaped from his Rapidash and told it to run free, before, bleeding from seven bullet wounds and badly burned from a Thunderbolt, he ordered his Electrode to use Explosion. It was Level 100, or so they say. The most powerful Pokémon that ever lived, and it blew itself and its master to smithereens in a valiant last stand to preserve our freedom.
The Spanish army never really recovered from the destruction of their HQ, and left dispirited a few years later. Now, our two countries linked by the blood of a generation and of Kanto’s greatest hero, some of them were still here. There was no love lost on either side; the murder of a Spaniard, while technically illegal, would never be investigated by the Saffron police, though a Kantan murdered by an immigrant would result in mass arrest in the Spanish Quarter.
This was the secret, blood-soaked past of the Kanto region, and it was into that past that I walked now. Normally, no one would go there who wasn’t a resident, but in my line of work, I had had to come here reasonably often. There was a strong underworld current here, but disjointed, unconnected to any of the main powers: a mess of two-bit strongmen and low-grade thieves, cut-price criminals of a distinctly lower calibre than you would find in Saffron proper.
I went on foot, making sure Mardek was beside me. He was around Level 36, roughly my own age, and would be a sufficient deterrent to any would-be muggers or murderers.
The streets here were filthier even than in the parts of Saffron I hung around in, covered in scraps of paper, mud and excrement. Oddish joint stubs were everywhere, and I even saw a broken Gloom pipe lying against a wall. The place was also oddly silent; everyone seemed to go into hiding at the approach of a Kantan. Maybe the fact that I’d been here before was what caused the surprise: if a Kantan came here, they didn’t usually come back.
The few people I passed were either drunk or high, and presented no threat; on one occasion, a man reeking of tequila blundered into me, howling about the oppressors, but a weak Fire Punch from Mardek shoved him away and singed his shirt.
I knew the way to Vitruvio’s well enough. On one of my previous trips to the Spanish Quarter, it had been to his house that I’d come.
It was small, even by the standards of the area, and the upper floor was falling in, the roof crumpled in places as if a giant had poked it. The bare bricks of the walls were chipped and battered, and in places you could see wooden planks that had been used to block up gaps.
The door was unlocked, which was the first unsettling thing – in the Spanish Quarter, not locking your doors was a warm invitation to thieves. I paused on the step, motioned for Mardek. Understanding, he went to the bay window to the left of the door and silently melted the jagged edges of a broken pane of glass, so it would be safe to crawl through. If there was anyone with hostile intent in here, which seemed likely, I sure as hell didn’t want to just walk straight into them. I at least wanted the element of surprise.
I clambered through the hole, followed by Mardek, and we found ourselves on the wrong side of a pair of thick damask-print curtains. I heard voices, and immediately froze.
“... Scyther, return,” I heard. I almost could not make out the words; they were spoken very softly indeed. Footsteps across the room, which seemed to be coming closer and closer towards me... A cold sweat broke out on my forehead. A Scyther is not a friendly sort of Pokémon.
The footsteps became fainter. They were just walking towards the door. I breathed out a silent sigh of relief, and, as I heard the door shut, quickly darted through the curtains and held them straight so they wouldn’t twitch, just in case the mystery person looked back. I don’t think they did, and I made out the words, “Use Fly,” though I couldn’t have said what Pokémon was ordered to do it.
I turned around, relieved, and froze.
Vitruvio lay dead in the centre of the floor, blood running from a massive network of deep slashes all over his body. The bare floorboards around him were slick with viscera, and his face was twisted up in an expression of pain and horror. He hadn’t died peacefully. I bent down to examine him and saw there were far too many wounds for the killing move to be the old favourite, Slash; their quantity suggested a Fury Cutter or X-Scissor attack. I wondered why Vitruvio had been killed. Perhaps he’d found something out, opened a delivery that he wasn’t meant to see. Either way, it seemed I’d solved the case of his whereabouts.
I sat down on Vitruvio’s lone chair and thought.
“It doesn’t make sense, Mardek,” I said. “This guy’s in his own home. Yet that guy wanted me to find him. Surely he must have known where he lived?”
He shrugged, indicating he couldn’t figure it out.
“I don’t know... something doesn’t add up here. Is this linked to the Team Rocket resurgence? I just can’t figure it out.”
Mardek, meanwhile, was going through the dead man’s pockets. He made a small noise of surprise, and held up what he’d found. It was a small data disk, a square of plastic and metal that held some sort of information.
“Now that’s interesting,” I murmured, getting up and taking it from him. I realised with a start that I was still holding Harri’s red cube, and I gave it to Mardek to hold while I examined the disk. “What would an impoverished Hispanic deliveryman be doing with this?”
You think that was what he was killed for?
“It’s possible. But if so, why didn’t they take it with them?” I paused. “No, he wasn’t killed so someone could steal the disk. They left it here to be found when someone came around.”
But anyone could have come here, Mardek’s look seemed to say. Anyone could have ended up with the disk.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “What would be the point of that? Someone knew I would be coming here. Someone wanted me to find the disk.”
Mardek gave me a look that questioned my sanity.
“I know, I know, it doesn’t seem likely. But I can’t think of any other way to explain it. The real problem with the theory is that it would mean that the person who killed Vitruvio has to be someone who knew I would come here. Which would mean that it has to be the guy who paid me to find him.”
This doesn’t make any sense.
“Ah, I know it doesn’t. Why go to all that trouble when he could just give me the disk? I guess the thing to do is just to look and see what’s on it. Maybe we can figure something out from that.”
We left Vitruvio’s house gladly, and half an hour later had the Spanish Quarter at our backs. The strange feeling of relief that washes over a Kantan when they leave the district rose up within me, a reminder of the deep rift between our peoples. A rift that, paradoxically, bound us together as much as it pushed us apart.
I went back to the office. I didn’t actually have a computer – they weren’t easy to come by back in those days, especially on a PI’s meagre income – but I knew someone who did. I wrote a letter to him, stuck the disk in the envelope, and went out to post it. As I waited in line to buy a stamp, I wondered what kind of man my client was, to send me in search of a man who could be found in his own home – and possibly to kill that man just to give me a floppy disk. I shook my head; I wouldn’t get any further with this until I got a reply from my friend up at Cerulean Cape. I knew him from our time at school together, a guy by the name of Bill, who, I think, now did something big in the computing industry. I didn’t know much about computers, but I did know that whatever he did, he was good enough that Silph tried to poach him, only he refused to work with them.
I posted the letter, picked up Mardek from the office, and drove home. I’d had enough for today; Bill wouldn’t reply for a few days at least, which meant any progress in figuring out what the deal was with Vitruvio, the disk and the strange client, and I needed a sleep before heading out and investigating the Charla case again.
When I got home, someone had left a message on the phone. I listened to it carefully, twice, then rubbed my temples and sighed. It looked like I wasn’t getting any sleep any time soon; I got back into the car and drove out again.
I pulled up outside the street closest to the Club Rocket entrance and went inside. Marcia was waiting near the door, and took me over to a table near the back. She looked very agitated; her eyes flicked left and right as if searching for watchers, and she kept rolling the tips of her hair between her fingers.
“This had better be good,” I said. “I’ve had a long day and I wanted to get some sleep.”
“I was with a Rocket executive,” she said in a low voice, then broke off. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, especially not here—”
“Let’s go outside.” I stood up, but she pulled me back down again.
“No, I’ll tell you,” she said, but she didn’t sound decisive. “I was with an executive – a guy called Archer. And I overheard him speaking on the phone, when I was leaving—”
Marcia lapsed into silence; she couldn’t seem to get the words out. I waited; eventually, she started again.
“Oh, it’s awful,” she whispered fiercely, tears in her eyes. “What they’re doing – the thing they’re making – I can’t...”
She stopped again, but this time forever. She toppled forwards, landing face-first in my lap, something dark matting the hair on the back of her head. I leaped up, staring around wildly, but I didn’t see who had fired. I hadn’t even heard the shot; maybe it had been the work of a Pokémon.
Then I heard a scream, and I realised with a jolt that Marcia was dead, an innocent life cut off forever, and I realised that there was blood on my shirt and a dead Rocket girl at my feet.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I have a vague memory of fleeing, running out of Club Rocket, but it’s all kind of blurry, because I had barely got to the door when my way was blocked by the Hypno in the dark glasses, whirling his pendulum like a bolas...
...then I was sitting somewhere dark, and someone was shouting at me, demanding to know what I knew, words, words, over and over again, until another person started remonstrating with them...
...then I was lying in an alleyway somewhere in the back districts, with filthy liquid seeping through my clothes and a headache the size of Jupiter.
Sometimes, I wonder why there aren’t more gumshoes in Saffron. The city is perfect for them: a high crime rate, cheap liquor, and reasonable rent on dingy offices. There are enough worried minds and broken hearts to keep a whole legion of private eyes in work for years.
But then I remember the jaded eyes that cast their gazes down the streets, the cynical expressions on the faces of the citizens, and I realise why. We just don’t care any more. It’s a sad state of affairs, really; the great capital of Kanto, reduced to nothing more than a series of interlocking lives, all grey and tattered, all trying their best to live through the day without looking back again. After a few years of that life, you don’t care any longer, though of course I was harder hit by cynicism than most, being a true veteran of the city’s harsh, unforgiving nature. It’s to be expected: a man who skulks around in the shadows for a living will eventually be tainted by those shadows.
That’s why I’m the only private detective in Saffron. No one else cares, no one sympathises; no one gives a damn if a Rocket girl is shot in the head or a Spanish deliveryman slashed to pieces. I don’t either, not really, but I can’t let go of that faint hope that I can still feel sorrow at the loss of a life. It’s a weakness, or a strength – a sort of deluded heroism, if you will. And because of that, I’m a private eye.
I staggered into the office, unsure of what had just happened. Either I had had a hell of a lot to drink last night, or a Ghost or Psychic type had got inside my brain. The Ouija board was laid out on the table, and the glass began to move swiftly.
Russell! Are you OK?
“Priscilla?” I mumbled. “Where... where have I been?”
We don’t know. Where’s Mardek?
“I don’t know...” I tried hard to recall what had happened last night, but it was a blur of nightmarish fog.
You’ve got blood on you!
“I have?” I looked down and saw a huge patch of dried blood on my midriff. With a sickening jolt, a large part of the previous evening slotted back into place: a shot, a falling head, what was the name, I almost had it—
“Marcia’s dead,” I said tonelessly, then realised what I’d said. “Marcia’s dead!” I slammed my fist down onto the table. “Damn it, Marcia’s dead!”
I had seen a lot of death in my time in Saffron, but rarely was I so affected by it: it was usually just part of the scenery. She had been my contact at Club Rocket, one of the few people I was certain I could trust in this city; maybe I had loved her a little, but then, who could resist a woman of her charms? It was her job to be appealing. I had been cold to her all these years, purely because I had some stupid sense that I was better than her, and what had it led to? She had helped me, for no reason other than she thought it was the right thing to do – and she had wound up dead.
En’s voice resounded in my head; sometimes it’s inconvenient that Natu are telepathic.
It is not your fault, Russell.
“I know,” I muttered. “I know. But...”
Priscilla flowed out of the glass and coalesced somewhere near my shoulder. I think she might have been trying to comfort me – but if she’d touched me, she’d have burned my skin.
Russell. What precisely happened last night? Try to remember.
“Can’t you drag it out of my mind?”
The seal is too strong. I cannot overcome it.
“OK.” I sighed and sat on the desk, head bowed. I tried hard to recall. What had happened next, after Marcia had been killed? I concentrated as hard as I could, but to no avail; the memories were sealed off completely. “I can’t.”
Do you know where Mardek is?
“Yes,” I said, suddenly realising that I did. “Yes, I do. He’s at home; I didn’t take him to Club Rocket. I went home last night, then went to Club Rocket because Marcia said she had something to tell me. But she didn’t get to say much, because she was... shot, I suppose, or it could have been a modified Pin Missile or Icicle Spear. After that, I don’t remember.” I got up and went over to the door. “I’ll go pick Mardek up. Wait here; we’ll see if we can make any sense of this when I get back.”
I stepped out into the street and became acutely aware that I didn’t know where my car was; I presumed it was at the Club, so I walked there first. Thankfully, it was still in one piece, so I got in and drove home, brooding all the way. What had happened last night? I must have been worked over by the Rocket Hypno; that was the only way to explain my memory loss. The Rockets had, presumably, figured out that I was on a path they didn’t approve of, and so killed Marcia before she could tell me what she’d found out.
I pulled up at my house and found Mardek pacing in the hall. When he saw me, he froze, then rushed over and held up a piece of paper on which was scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting: “Where the hell have you been?”
“Sorry,” I replied, raising my hands in a placating gesture, “I don’t know either. But believe me, I’d like to.”
Mardek gave me a quizzical look, and I explained what had happened – or what I remembered of it, anyway. When I was done, he gave a low whistle, something he’d spent years perfecting, since it’s hard to do it through a beak.
“I know,” I said. “Come on, I told the others we’d get back soon to try and work something out.”
Mardek shook his head and mimed.
“That is the best idea I’ve heard all day,” I told him. “Wait for me, I won’t take too long.”
Then, smeared with blood and garbage, I went off to wash and change.
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World * The Rocket Case * The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There * The Beastman * Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol * Snow * 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 here.
November 20th, 2010 (2:57 PM). Edited December 22nd, 2010 by Cutlerine.
Revitalised, we walked back to the office, since it seemed a reasonably nice day – slightly less overcast than usual, the sun even peering around the edges of the clouds. In the morning, the vermin of Saffron were in hiding, the nightclubs shut, the crime and vice sleeping until dark; I liked the city best at this time. This was all most people saw of Saffron: an ordinary city, lit by the sullen light of day. But by night, the city tells the truth, forgoing the lies of the sunlight; it rolls over and exposes its underbelly, where the tumours rot and the parasites crawl and feed off bloated veins of fat.
Still, it was daytime now, and that was quite nice. Mardek enjoyed it too; all Fire types prefer the sun. He’d loved it in Cinnabar, where blazing heat radiated from the ground all the time; he’d been quite distraught when we’d left. But I could never have stayed there: making your dwelling on an active volcano seemed to me to be the height of stupidity.
Upon arrival, I sent Mardek to make drinks and something to eat – the kitchen from the time this place had been a house was a godsend, especially on days like today – and sat down at the desk. Priscilla poured herself into the Ouija board’s glass in preparation for speech, and En hopped onto the desk lamp, regarding me with his small black eyes.
“OK, guys,” I said. “The last few days have been really, really weird. It started with Wesley’s Ponyta being stolen, and it’s ended up as being some experiment so big and important that the Rockets are willing to kill to keep it secret. Gym Leader Blaine is working on this project, we know, and Sabrina seems to be connected to it as well in some way. Giovanni and the Rocket assassins are out of jail, and that’s also been kept secret – only a very few people seem to know. Then there’s that weird guy who came here yesterday, who sent me to look for Tomás Vitruvio, who we found in his own home, cut up by a Scyther. He had a computer disk on his person, which I’ve sent up to Bill on the Cape to get analysed.” I paused, and leaned back. “So what do you guys think?”
It is not any of our business, En told me. Our remit is to find Charla only.
“I was thinking that too,” I replied in a quiet voice. “But Charla is obviously linked with this case – solving it will probably find her – and besides, they killed Marcia. That’s reason enough to stop whatever they’re doing now.”
En gave a slow nod.
In that case, he said, the strange man probably wanted you to find that disk. But I do not know why he did not choose a more direct method of passing it on to you.
“I got that already. I don’t think we can go any further with that case until we get the results back from Bill. What do you guys think about this whole Rocket thing?”
The Ouija board glass started to move.
Don’t you think we should contact the Cinnabar Gym?
“I’ll give it a go,” I said, writing it down on a notepad. “Though if Blaine’s not there, I doubt they’ll be able to give me any information. Anything else?”
Just then, Mardek came in with the drinks: a mug of boiling water, a cup of coffee, a bacon sandwich, a dish of water and a saucer of liquidised nightmares bought on the black market. Our tastes were many and varied. He handed the coffee and sandwich to me, put the water in front of the lamp for En and left the nightmares by the side of the Ouija board. Taking a long draught of his drink, he perched on the client’s chair to join the discussion.
I took a bite of the sandwich and repeated myself through a mouthful of bacon:
I think trying to get Blaine’s whereabouts is the most important lead right now, Priscilla spelled out, but we ought to look up the Silph Co. too.
“Of course!” I cried, sitting up. “Marcia said that they were using Silph technology, right? So if we can find out what they were using, we can figure out what they’re doing with it all.”
That would seem to be logical, said En.
Priscilla coalesced above the Ouija board and floated onto the saucer of nightmare juice; in a couple of seconds it was empty, though how she drank it I had no idea.
“OK, guys,” I said. “Let’s phone Blaine first, then.”
I picked up the phone and asked the operator for Cinnabar Gym; after a protracted argument about whether I was entitled to call them or not, I was finally connected. However, they couldn’t give me much information – only that Blaine had left a few months ago for an unspecified location. He did, the Trainer who answered me said, catch the fast ferry to Vermilion, which indicated he was heading for an easterly location. I thanked him and hung up.
It seemed likely now that Blaine was in Saffron somewhere – but where? The Rocket headquarters was probably the answer, but no one knew where it was to be found. The only places anyone knew you could find Rockets were at their Game Corner and their nightclub.
“That worked out about as well as I hoped,” I said. “Priscilla, En, if anyone comes, hide. Mardek, come with me. We’re going to investigate Silph.”
The Silph Corporation: Kanto’s premier creator of advanced technology. They made and sold the Pokéballs and the Potions, the computers and the healing machines they had in Pokécentres. The brainchild of Sir Augustine Silph, an old-school capitalist and genius inventor, it had grown swiftly in the fifty years since its creation, until now pretty much every gadget we had was made by Silph. A slow, insidious monopoly, built inch by inch, until they were the only manufacturers and researchers left – but by then, it was too late, and the people of Kanto could do nothing but mutter as Silph ruled the market with an iron fist from their glass castle in the centre of Saffron’s central business district.
It was to this building that Mardek and I were headed now, a glass-sheathed finger of steel that projected high into the sky for almost 383 metres, just beating New York’s Empire State Building to the title of world’s tallest building. Or at least, it was at the time; I gather there are taller ones now. The rich and powerful, it seems, always seek height, to place themselves on a platform from which they can look down at the seething masses below. A place where they can truly believe themselves superior to everyone else.
What I was going to do when I got there was unclear. I had the feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to just ask what technology they had supplied to Team Rocket; that sort of information wasn’t given out casually to anyone who asked.
This district was busy, as it always was. Businessmen rushed back and forth from office to office; the Slowpoke Cart trundled laboriously along the wide roads; cars growled and hissed as they stopped and started at the tangle of traffic lights that mapped out the city centre. More than a few men in white coats and dark glasses – Silph workers – patrolled the busy streets, seemingly aimlessly but no doubt on some important task for the company.
As we pushed through the glass revolving doorway, I had an idea about what to do, and quickly exchanged my hat for a baseball cap and took off my coat; the change was subtle, but hopefully it would be all the disguise I would need. I walked across the gleaming tiles that paved the lobby floor and spoke to the receptionist.
“I got a request for a delivery?”
I prayed that Silph needed something delivering – and I also prayed it was for the Rockets.
“You’re Vitruvio’s replacement?” the receptionist asked, and a piece of the puzzle fell into place in my head. Vitruvio must have been killed because he found out what they were delivering – but what was it that was so bad they resorted to such measures?
“Yep,” I replied. “Seems he ran into some trouble and couldn’t come to work any more.” I gave a calculated cheesy smile. “Where might I find the package, ma’am?”
She checked something on her computer, and answered:
“Go to the second floor, I’ll telephone ahead and let them know you’ve arrived.”
Feeling somewhat pleased with myself for pulling it off, I thanked her and headed over to the lift, a swanky affair with multiple mirrors and piped music, and a uniformed kid to push the buttons for you. I asked for the second floor and he took me there, a short but deeply luxurious ride that was swift without any sense of movement whatsoever. Whatever Silph’s shortcomings might have been, they were still damn fine engineers.
Waiting for me when I got out was a bespectacled man in the signature white coat of a Silph worker. He had a face like a lemon left out all day in the rain: sour and puckered, with an austere moustache reminiscent of that of Hitler. I disliked him instantly.
“You’re the courier?” he asked without preamble. I smiled and nodded, cultivating an air of mild stupidity. “Good,” he continued, and held out a large cardboard box. “Take this to the Rocket Game Corner. Experimental gambling machine. Make sure they sign for it.”
“OK,” I answered, and, taking the package from him, returned to the lift, which took me down two floors in as short a time as it had taken me up them. I was then swiftly expelled from the lobby and left standing in the street outside, where Mardek was waiting for me. He gave me a questioning look.
“That must be what it’s like to be fired,” I mused. “I’ve never been kicked out of anywhere as efficiently as that before.”
If you were fired, you’d have to take the stairs, Mardek communicated, then tapped his wrist where a watch would be if he wore one.
“You’re right,” I said. “We need to see what’s inside this.”
What did they say it was?
“An experimental gambling machine for the Game Corner,” I informed him, “but I’ll be damned if that’s true. Come on, then, since you’re so eager to move, let’s get this over to McKenzie’s place and see what’s really in there.”
At the same moment that Russell and Mardek were working their way through the crowded central business district, Priscilla and En were having a discussion. Since neither the detective nor the Magmar was present, Priscilla didn’t have to use the Ouija board, instead relying on the weak telepathy Gastly possess, which could, conveniently, be picked up by the Natu’s stronger psychic powers.
Do you think they’re getting anywhere?
En blinked wearily.
It is Russell and Mardek you speak of, he said. I am certain they can manage perfectly well.
But still... Priscilla bobbled and whirled in agitation. En, from his perch on the lamp, regarded her with the gaze of an old man watching the tribulations of children. Silph aren’t to be taken lightly.
You worry too much, Priscilla, En replied. Russell has survived visits to the Rockets and to the Gym in the last few days, and one of those parties attacked him. Doubtless he and Mardek will be fine. Suddenly, the Natu twitched and the feather on his head swayed towards the door. Do you feel that?
Priscilla stopped her distracted movement and tilted the patch of fog that formed her eyes towards the door. Yes, she said. A mind is approaching... so someone’s coming! We ought to hide.
She began to fly back to her Pokéball, but En stopped her.
Wait. Listen. Priscilla did, but heard nothing.
What is it?
If someone was coming here as a client, would we not hear their footsteps?
Priscilla froze, every molecule of her gaseous being skidding to a halt at the same moment. You’re right... she whispered. But... if they’re not a client... who are they?
En narrowed his eyes. It must be someone with hostile intent, of that I have no doubt. Perhaps a Rocket?
All at once, Priscilla burst into a flurry of movement, rushing back and forth and shedding flecks of gas in an untidy panic.
Oh Christ! she exclaimed, in a decidedly unladylike manner. En, what do we do?
We cannot hide; they could just steal or destroy our Pokéballs – and neither of us are strong enough to move them far. We cannot flee; they would recall us, and then even if we broke out of the balls, we would still be close enough to kill.
You’re not helping! shrieked Priscilla, giddily circling around the ceiling light. En flapped up and perched on it, then spoke directly into her face.
The Gastly stopped dead, and looked at En with something akin to surprise.
That is a vast improvement, En judged. Now, since we cannot fight evenly, or run, and I estimate we have perhaps three minutes until this person gets here, we must ambush them. You hover above the door. When they enter, I shall flap into their face; as they look up, astounded, you will use Hypnosis on them.
Priscilla faded until she was little more than an outline. Then, in a small voice:
But I don’t know Hypnosis...
En raised his eyes skyward.
What about you? Priscilla demanded, solidifying again. You’re a Psychic type, do you know Hypnosis?
No I do not know Hypnosis! En replied irately. I only know Leer, Peck and Night Shade!
Well, what do you know?
Lick and Spite.
But you learn Hypnosis at Level 1, do you not – ah, forget it. Quickly, this person is almost at the door! To your station!
But what am I doing?
Just let them breathe a little of you in!
We’re killing them?!
No! Just knock them out – they’re here!
En flapped hard and moments later was a couple of centimetres away from a pair of startled eyes; swiftly, he swung away and Priscilla passed with lightning speed over the intruder’s head before pulling back, leaving him to topple to the floor.
The two Pokémon looked down at what they’d wrought.
Oh Christ, said Priscilla again, an expression of slow horror forming on her face, I think I’ve just killed Red.
McKenzie was the man who opened things for a living: the district postman. There was no form of packaging he couldn’t prise open and reseal seamlessly; no birthday card he could not siphon some of the money out of. Everyone knew he did it – it was obvious, the way he lived, ostensibly on a postman’s salary – but no one said a thing, because McKenzie had another job beside delivering the mail: opening parcels and envelopes for people not the intended recipients. Invaluable in this town, where everyone is looking to make a quick buck or gain some incriminating knowledge on a friend or neighbour. The gossips in Citrus District practically worshipped him as a god.
To look at him, you wouldn’t know his secret: average height, sandy brown hair, friendly eyes and a warm smile, the epitome of the jolly postman. But when he took you to his home, into the little room he called his workshop, you saw that same man work miracles of paper and tape.
Presently, he sat at a table in the workshop, examining the cardboard box carefully with a pair of watchmaker’s spectacles, the ones with extra lenses on arms. At length, he sat back and gave a long sigh, pushing the glasses out of his eyes.
“This is damn well protected,” McKenzie told me. “Silph know how to make a box.” He sounded admiring, in the manner of a master craftsman who has come across the work of another.
“Can you open it?” I asked. “Leaving no signs, naturally.”
McKenzie looked pained. “You don’t rush a job like this,” he explained, as if to an infant. “This is an object of beauty, a piece of art that some poor oppressed worker has spent years developing the technology to create. It’s a pity I don’t get more Silph boxes, you know? But they don’t usually deliver around here.”
To me it looked like an ordinary cardboard box, but I wasn’t going to say anything. He must have read the look on my face, though, because he immediately began to explain.
“You probably think it looks like an ordinary cardboard box,” McKenzie said. “But it isn’t. First off, do you see the two dots in the Silph logo?”
I peered at the ‘S’ shaped symbol, with Pokéball buttons nestled in each crook of the letter, and I did.
“See the way there are tiny lines around the edges, as if they’ve been cut out and stuck back in again? They’re not actually decoration – they’re cardboard discs glued to steel valves.”
“What do the valves hold in?”
“I can’t say for sure, but it’s usually either electrified Lanturn fluids or Arbok poison. If you just rip the tape off, you rip the valves open – and get a faceful of acid or lightning.”
“Right. But that’s not all.” McKenzie pointed to the tape now. It was grey, and almost identical to duct tape except that it had the Silph logo printed on it in a repeating pattern. “This tape. The underside of it will be a mixture of glue and ground Tentacruel tentacles.”
“How do you know?”
“See the slight blackening around the edges of the tape? Tentacruel venom has a small effect on structurally weak substances such as cardboard, so we can work it out from that.”
“Any more death traps in there?”
“Have a look for yourself,” he told me, and brought out a machine something like a camera and something like a microscope, the centrepiece of it two large, proud golden eyes. Luxray eyes, illegally imported from Sinnoh. I couldn’t believe how often the ecological rules we’d formulated after the Spanish destroyed our fertile lands were flouted. The core one was ‘Do not introduce foreign Pokémon to Kanto’ – and even I was breaking it.
McKenzie switched on the device, and the gold eyes glowed with a fierce bright light. Sparks bounced around the machine they were attached to, and suddenly a screen on the wall lit up, showing an X-ray view of the box’s interior. I stared in shock.
There were so many blades, so many springs, so many suspicious looking vials and valves and pipes and gun barrels that I could hardly believe there was any room left for the actual content of the package.
“How... how the hell do you open something like that?” I asked, slack-jawed in amazement. McKenzie’s grin broadened; he was enjoying my awe.
“The recipient would deactivate a computer chip inside the box with a preset code, passed along via secret message hours, days or even months in advance. The code can only be used once, so we can’t use it now without arousing suspicion from the intended recipient.”
“Can you open this thing or not?”
McKenzie looked at me as if I were the most stupid man in Saffron.
“Is a Farfetch’d useless?” he sniffed. “Give me five minutes.”
Eight and a half minutes later, I walked out of McKenzie’s house, holding the parcel very, very gingerly. I now knew what was in it – but it still didn’t make any sense. What would Team Rocket want with the thing?
It was smooth and shaped in a shallow, blunt cone, with a massive ridge running down it. It started at the front and extended nearly two feet from the back of the structure. There was a hole at the back, as if for something to fit through, and another one just below it, slightly wider. Twin holes graced the sides, and the edges were shaped as if to fit the contours of a face – though not one I recalled ever having seen, in any species. All in all, it looked like it might be a mask – but it didn’t look like it would be compatible with any human, animal or Pokémon I’d ever heard of.
‘It doesn’t make any sense’; now that was a phrase I had grown tired of hearing and saying over the last couple of days. Of course none of this made any sense; it made so little sense it made the whole crazed mess that was Saffron look almost sane.
On the plus side, I now knew that the Rockets’ hideout had to be at the Game Corner. There was no way that this thing was an experimental gambling machine, or whatever the Silph man had said: this was some piece of equipment designed specifically for the Rockets for whatever experiment they were carrying out.
I paused outside the Game Corner, glancing up at the neon lights, still burning even now, at noon, and the windows that were thick with grime, so that the gamblers within wouldn’t be distracted by such trivialities as natural light. Then I pushed open the dark glass doors and entered the hellish world of Saffron’s gaming scene.
It was dark save for the flickering glow of the slot machines and the dim overhead lights, many of which had not functioned for years. Glass-eyed zombies sat at stools in front of the ranks of machines, mindlessly feeding coin after coin into the slots, hoping and waiting for the payout that would never come. Some gathered forlornly around the roulette wheels and blackjack tables, the dealers dressed in black suits with red ‘R’s on the breast pocket and wearing identical expressions of contempt for the mass of hopeless humanity that seethed around them.
I waded into the sea of lost souls, found what passed for the front desk and smiled at the man who was, presumably, in charge. He glared back over cracked pince-nez.
“What?” he snapped rudely. “If it’s Coins you’re after, that’s the red des—”
“Nope, I’m not here for the machines,” I told him. “I have a package for you, from Silph.” His entire body quivered and he snatched the box away with a curious mixture of speed, greed and fear. He gave it a quick but cautious once-over, to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with, but found no evidence to suggest it had been. McKenzie had done his work well, though for thirty thousand dollars I wouldn’t have accepted anything less. After twenty seconds of this, I gave a pointed cough, and he looked up.
“My fee... ?”
I know I was only playing the role, but I wasn’t going to miss out on any extra income. Irritably, the Rocket thrust a few notes at me and waved me away. Thanking him, I retreated and counted my spoils: five hundred, one thousand, one thousand eight hundred. Nice. That wasn’t too bad, actually – better than I’d expected. I glanced up and noted the pince-nez guy hand the box over to another Rocket, a young woman, and I swiftly switched hats back to my fedora and put my coat back on. I was back in detective mode.
I tailed the Rocket girl through a twisting warren of neon and green baize, until we reached the back wall, further into the Corner than I’d ever been before. A few grubby posters still clung grimly on to the grime-streaked walls.
Then she disappeared.
I did a double-take, not quite able to process what had just happened. There was no warp panel, no Psychic type there to use Teleport. She had simply vanished.
Quickly, I stepped onto the spot where the Rocket grunt had been when she disappeared, but nothing happened. The posters, the walls, the slightly sticky floor – I was still here.
Cursing, I turned and headed back out, suddenly desperate to escape the nightmarish place, to flee the sightless stares of the all-day gamblers, the click of the roulette wheels and the whirr of the slots. I burst out into the street, and took a much-needed breath of fresh air; it was good to be outside again.
Then I saw the two police cars across the street, each one with matching officer, and decided maybe it wasn’t; I revised that to definitely not good when I saw a one eyed Blastoise with the look of the sadist burning in its remaining eye, calmly restraining Mardek with one massive, scaly arm.
“What’s the charge?” I asked, before either of the officers could see anything. The one on the right stepped forwards and spoke.
“The murder of Red Pastelle,” he said. “You know your rights, get in the car.”
Saffron policemen, the masters of tact. I didn’t have much choice in the manner, or much free will at this point, so I got into the car as mindlessly as one of the gamblers in the Game Corner, brain occupied entirely with other thoughts than jail.
Such as Red’s death. First Marcia, now my nephew; the deaths were mounting up around me like Lego bricks. Red... I’d warned him to stay out of this and he’d ignored me. I wondered what had happened to him, horrible images flashing through my mind of poison-swollen limbs, bloody gashes and pus-dripping wounds; I blocked them out before they could get to me. Stay focused, Russell, I told myself. Stay calm, it’s just another death...
But it wasn’t, it was Red, and I was halfway through this staggering realisation when I became cognisant of a voice in my ear.
“Get out,” it was saying, loudly and insistently, and suddenly I noticed we were at Saffron’s main station. I got out and followed the policemen meekly inside; beside me, Mardek gave me a grave look, and I knew he was as shocked and saddened as I was.
The next thing I knew, I was in the interrogation room, and in Saffron interrogation is a serious business. Two tape recorders stood on the table, and Thyme was seated across from me. He turned one of them on and spoke.
“This is Police Chief Stefano Thyme. The suspect is Russell Curtis, a private detective in the Citrus District. Time is twelve hundred hours and fifty-seven minutes.” He turned to me and grinned a brutal grin borrowed straight from a Sharpedo that I’d seen once in the aquarium at Cerulean. “Now, shamus, did you kill Red Pastelle?”
Thyme turned on the second tape recorder and loud music began to play. He got up and came around to my side of the table, and then I slipped over, tripped on the station steps and fell off my chair in quick succession. Ten minutes later, his knuckles glowing pinkly, Thyme sat back down and turned off the music.
“Did you kill Red Pastelle?”
“Still no,” I wheezed out, vaguely wondering how much a false tooth would cost. “I wouldn’t kill him, Thyme, he’s my nephew for God’s sake!”
Thyme shook his heavy head.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he said. “We found a corpse in your office. That corpse was Red Pastelle. So what if he’s your nephew? You killed him.”
He was enjoying this, I could tell.
“Besides,” he continued, making a great show of turning the pages of the report in front of him, “there is also evidence that you jumped bail in Vermilion yesterday.”
“I was wrongfully imprisoned.”
“See, I don’t think that’s true.” Thyme’s face looked like a Gastly’s, all wicked grin and taunting eyes. “I think you were trying to steal evidence from a police morgue.”
“I still didn’t kill Red.”
“You did!” Thyme seemed to be getting angrier now. “You did, and I got a doctor right here who can prove it.” He twisted round in his chair and yelled, “Get the doctor, someone get the doctor.”
Almost instantly, a harassed-looking woman with a lined face and a white coat came in, heels like gunshots on the polished floor.
“Sir, there is something I—”
“Tell him! Tell him how the kid is dead!” demanded Thyme.
“Just tell him!”
The doctor took a deep breath and turned to me.
“Your nephew, Red Pastelle, is perfectly fine,” she said. “He was just unconscious.”
I had never been so relieved, nor had I ever seen Thyme so angry – and in my moment of joy, I was truly able to appreciate it. He went the same shade of red as a Beedrill’s eyes, a furious hue that smouldered and burnt around him.
“If you’ll excuse me,” I said at length, “I have to go see my nephew now.”
I got up with dignity, as a man wronged, and strode out of the room, the doctor following in my wake. The effect was slightly altered by the fact that I was now limping badly, but the scene was still electrifying: Thyme sitting at his chair, unable to move yet apoplectic with fury at his inability to put, once and for all, the private eye that dogged his city behind bars. And that very detective was walking right past, him, heading for the door and out of his clutches.
“STOP!” he roared suddenly, and the bare light bulb on the ceiling twitched with the force of the sound. “There’s still the charge of stealing evidence from a police morgue!”
“Oh, come off it,” I said wearily. “I didn’t do that and you know it. Just—”
I was going to say ‘Just leave it’, but the chance was abruptly taken away by a sledgehammer fist that drove into my jaw like a bullet, leaving me suddenly and painfully unconscious.
When I woke up, I was in the morgue, which was fairly unexpected as I was certain I was still alive.
“I’m sorry about this,” said the doctor, “but we don’t have anywhere else.”
I sat up despite her hands pressing me down again, and looked around. As before, I had a singular lack of knowledge as to the circumstances that had led to my being here.
“How did I get here?” I asked.
“You should lie down,” she said. I shook my head and regretted it.
“No, I’m OK,” I told her. “All in a day’s work. What happened?”
“Thyme punched you,” she answered. “Someone sent an Abra with a message to the high-ups in Tamiki District and orders came back to detain Thyme til he calms down.”
“Wow,” I murmured, sliding off the mortician’s slab onto my wobbly but functioning feet. “Someone stuck up for the detective.”
“We didn’t mention you were a detective,” said the woman kindly. “They’d have said beat you harder. But attacking an innocent civilian to the point of unconsciousness is frowned upon.”
“How cheering,” I remarked tonelessly, then remembered something. “Where’s Red?”
“He’s outside, waiting for you.”
I went out as quickly as I could, which wasn’t very fast, and spied Red leaning against the far wall. Without waiting for a greeting, I snatched him up and hugged him half to death, inexpressibly glad that we were both still alive.
“Russell!” cried Red. “You’re OK!”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, putting him down again; he was, to be perfectly honest, too heavy for my battered arms. “Kid, what happened to you? They arrested me for your murder!”
Red looked unhappy.
“I don’t really know what happened,” he told me. “I was coming up to your office, then I went in and the next thing I remember is when I woke up in there.” He pointed to the morgue with one thin, pale arm.
“Hm,” I pondered. “Maybe Priscilla or En will be able to shed some light on that. I left them there, though they probably hid when you came up the stairs.”
I spotted Mardek coming down the corridor towards us. Like me, he looked pretty beaten up, sporting bruises in new and inventive places – and one of his back spikes had, somehow, been bent.
“You OK?” I asked him. He nodded and waved my query aside; he could walk, he meant, and that was enough for now. I made a mental note to stop at a Pokécentre on the way back.
“Mardek too? What happened to you?” asked Red, wide-eyed.
“Thyme’s Blastoise, I imagine,” I said, and the Magmar nodded, abandoning a fruitless attempt to straighten the crooked spine on his back.
I turned to the doctor.
“Anyone saying anything about holding us here?”
“If you’re still here when the higher ups get here I think you’re going to go back in the interrogation room,” she said. “They won’t be particularly happy that this was caused by a PI.”
“They got nothing on us,” I said to no one in particular. “Let’s get out of here.”
My car was at home, so we walked a short way and got a bus, since neither Mardek nor I could have made the whole distance. We made an odd group, a eleven-year-old boy, a beaten-up Magmar and a man liberally bespattered with his own blood, and we drew some curious and slightly scared glances from those around us. Red, being Red, put it down to the unmistakable aura of the private eye, but I didn’t correct him; the more I could get him to admire me, the more he might obey me. The only problem with that was his belief that private investigators ‘don’t play by the rules’ – including, unfortunately for me, those laid down by other PIs.
The bus stopped a few blocks from my house, and we took the walk back slowly. I showered and changed again, and felt a hell of a lot better, and Mardek drank half a bottle of whisky from the kitchen, and felt even better than I did. Magmar like to get drunk, and there are few better excuses for it than being beaten up.
After that, we drove back to the office, Red in tow, and I questioned him more about what he was doing in my office.
“Why are you even in Saffron, Red?”
“Mum sent me. To learn investigating!”
That was obviously not true, but for now, I wanted to know how he’d been knocked out.
“What’s the last thing you remember before you got knocked out?”
“I told you, I went through the door and that’s the last thing,” Red protested. “I had a bad dream, though.”
“There were huge eyes.” He shivered. “Huge, evil eyes, staring at me from the dark.”
I patted his shoulder. “It was just a dream.”
“I know.” Red was silent for a moment. “Want to know what Pokémon I have now?”
“A Poliwrath, a Bulbasaur and a Pikachu?”
He beamed. “Nope! I’ll show you later. There isn’t enough space here.”
For a moment, I wondered what he had, but then it was pushed from my mind by another thought.
“Why are you really here, Red?”
“I told you.”
“Yeah, but that was a lie.” He looked at me with a mixture of anger and admiration. I could tell he was admiring the detective’s ability to flawlessly detect lies.
“I came back because of the Rockets,” he said. I started, mind suddenly clicking back to the case. If Red had any information on their activities...
“What have the Rockets been doing?” I asked. It was his turn to start; he looked at me, surprised.
“You’re not angry?”
“No, I’m not,” I said encouragingly, tricky enough given that we’d just become stuck in the back of a traffic jam. “Tell me.”
“They attacked the Cerulean Gym Leader,” he told me, and I raised an eyebrow. That was brazen. “But they left really quickly, and Misty didn’t want anyone to know so she didn’t tell anyone.”
“So how do you know?” I asked.
“I was there,” Red said proudly. “I helped her beat the Rockets.”
The other eyebrow joined the raised one. Now this was surprising. Red had been getting stronger, it seemed.
“I followed them to Mount Moon, where they were mining for some kind of stone—”
“A Moon Stone?”
“Yeah, that was it!” Red cried. “A Moon Stone.”
I shook my head. The supply of evolutionary stones was strictly government-controlled, since they were potentially so deadly. A Leaf Stone took the relatively tame Gloom and Weepinbell and turned them into the deadly Vileplume and Victreebell, for instance, Pokémon far too dangerous to be the property of any private owner. Silently willing the red lights to change, I continued with my questioning.
“What happened there?”
“Misty and I beat the Rockets there and they went away, and I sneaked into a Rocket hideout in Cerulean and saw a pink Pokémon in a cage before I had to get out again.”
“Normally, I’d be very, very angry at you doing all this,” I said, as the lights flicked reluctantly to amber, “but today, that’s quite good news. What was that pink Pokémon?”
“I don’t know,” said Red, and suddenly I became aware that he was crying.
“Hey, what’s up?” I asked, turning towards him and almost running over an old lady. “What is it, Red?”
“The Pokémon,” he snivelled, “it was the same one I saw in the woods a couple of months ago, the floating one.”
I remembered that. I hadn’t been able to identify it for him at the time, and had forgotten all about it.
“I recognised a scar on its eye. But it was... it was ripped apart, like...” He burst into tears properly, and I put an arm around him.
“Hey,” I murmured. “Ssh... Come on, it’s over now, it’s not suffering any more...”
After a few minutes of tricky driving-whilst-comforting, Red had recovered enough to speak.
“It was like something had torn it apart,” he sniffed. “From the inside, clawing its way out.”
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World * The Rocket Case * The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There * The Beastman * Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol * Snow * 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 here.
November 20th, 2010 (3:00 PM). Edited December 16th, 2010 by Cutlerine.
The first stop I made was at a Pokécentre, where I got Mardek healed up and the bent spine straightened by a rather butch Blissey that was somewhat in need of a shave. Nonplussed, I returned to the car and we drove on to the office, which was curiously silent.
“En! Priscilla!” I called, switching on the light, since dusk was falling. “I need to talk to you.”
Two pairs of eyes peeped out of the darkness of the filing cabinet drawer. Then Priscilla floated slowly through it, while En zoomed out and perched on the lamp. All at once, Red gave a shriek and the blood drained from his face.
“That’s it!” he yelled, pointing at the visibly paling Natu, “that’s the Pokémon that got me!”
“What?” I looked from Red to En and back again, just in time to see Red’s fingers reaching into his bag and coming out with a Pokéball.
“Go, Saur!” he cried, and suddenly the room was full of lizard and smelled strongly of greenhouses; a massive Venusaur had appeared and overturned my precious client’s chair, not to mention Mardek and I.
“Calm down, Red!” I shouted, struggling to my feet. “Mardek, do something!”
A well-executed Mach Punch directed at the Venusaur’s lumbering feet stopped its attack before it began, cutting its forelegs from under it; in the meantime, I snatched the Pokéball from Red and recalled the saurian monster.
“Calm down,” I repeated, putting the ball safely back in Red’s bag. Now, what exactly are you talking about?”
“When I came in,” said Red, still visibly agitated, “there was a Pokémon that flapped into my face just before I blacked out – I remember it now! It was that green bird one there!”
I glanced back to En, but the Natu was now hiding on the upper side of the lampshade, though his shadow was visible through the fabric.
“En, come down,” I said in a quelling tone, and the Natu flew as slowly as possible down onto the lamp.
I believe the fault lies mainly with Priscilla, he said with a hint of anxiety in his voice.
“Where is she? Priscilla!”
The Gastly slowly faded into view just beside En. Without enthusiasm, she passed into the Ouija board, and I took up a notebook and pencil.
It was En’s idea, she spelled out hastily. I looked at En, who shuffled on his claws.
Er... well... What does it matter what happened? he asked. You are safe, are you not?
“En, I got beaten up by a man who wrestles with a Blastoise. I might be safe, but I definitely am not OK. Now tell me, what happened?”
Gradually, the story came out, in drips and drabs: they had suspected that Red might be a Rocket come to attack us all, and, without checking to see if that was correct, had laid a trap and come damn close to killing my nephew – and imprisoning me. Red confirmed that he had indeed been walking silently up the stairs to the office, just to see if it was possible to sneak up on a real private eye, and, wordless, I returned En and Priscilla to their Pokéballs and shoved them in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. I needed to calm down before I spoke to them again, or I’d end up doing something I’d regret. I sat down at the desk with relief, and indicated that Red should take the client’s chair. I breathed out a long breath and felt the silence rise around me, the golden kind rather than oppressive. The gathering twilight outside; the occasional flicker of the ceiling lamp; the twitching of Red’s hands as he wondered what this quiet portended; all of these things trickled into my mind and seemed to wash me out, leaving a slightly refreshed and very, very tired Russell Curtis behind.
I got up suddenly, startling Red, and went across to the door.
“Come on, Red,” I said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”
Mardek made to come with us, but I motioned that I didn’t need him for this one; that he should stay here and get some rest in the nest in the kitchen. He nodded and sat back down, lingering over his mug of water; this was the last I saw of him before I closed and locked the door.
“Red,” I said as we walked down the house’s front steps, “do you like Slowpoketail?”
“Mum says they’re bad for me.”
“The farms say they’re tasty and nutritious; it’s all the same. The question is, do you like them?”
“OK then,” I replied, smiling and nodding my head a little. “Let’s go and get some.”
Baku was sullen that evening, saying nothing as he took my money and handed us back a pair of steaming tails. He still wore the expression that most men called a smile, but his eyes were curiously blank, as if he was distracted. I didn’t say anything, of course. In this town, a man’s problems are his own, and he’ll thank you to leave it that way.
We began to walk back towards the office, nursing the tails, and chatting as we went. Pleasant nothings at first – Red’s school, his friends, his Pokémon. These, he now confided in me, were a Venusaur, a Snorlax, an Aerodactyl, a Poliwrath, a Pikachu and a Gyarados – all trained to levels far beyond what I’d ever managed to get Warren or Mardek to. I had to admit, I was surprised. Those Pokémon represented a whole new level of strength, something that completely blew away my old team of Sandslash, Magmar, Pidgeot, Graveler, Tauros and Electabuzz. It was something amazing, and I had no doubts that if Red could do this much at eleven, he was going to be at least a Gym Leader and at most the Champion by the time he was sixteen.
After a while, I began to turn the topic of conversation back to the Rockets.
“Did anything else happen after you left Cerulean?”
Red then began to tell me a story of such corruption over so much of Kanto that I almost thought I was better off here in Saffron. Lieutenant Surge, the Gym Leader of Vermilion City, was a Rocket executive, code-named Petrel, involved in shipping large quantities of stolen Pokémon illegally out of the country to generate the large-scale income the Rockets required for their experiment. Another Gym Leader, Koga, had tried to kill Red and his friend (well, I think they were friends – or they might have been enemies. It’s difficult to tell with kids sometimes) Green back in Lavender town, by using some illegal high-level Gastly to possess the corpses in the tower and attack the two boys, sensing their activities might pose a threat to the Rockets. I was amazed at their resilience: there were hundreds of Pokémon buried in that tower; if most people were trapped there when they returned to life, they would die, without a doubt. They just didn’t stand a chance.
“Did you get the code name Koga uses, by any chance?” I asked Red. He nodded.
“It’s Archer,” he said, “like a poison arrow, I guess.”
I started. That had been the man Marcia was with, the night before she died. It was him who let the information slip, and, in all likelihood, him who had her killed...
“Russell?” Red’s voice cut through the fog rising around my mind. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, yeah, fine,” I answered, snapping back to the present. “Anything else interesting happen to you?”
If there was, I didn’t hear it then, because it was at that moment that a high, keening wail broke out, echoing plaintively through the darkening streets like no sound on earth. I had never heard anything so pained, or so moving; without thinking, I strode around the corner, overwhelmed by the compulsion to see what was screaming. The street was blocked by a crowd and I pushed through, the sound rising and falling all the time, shifting in the air above my head like a high, mournful note played on the flute. Reaching the front, I stopped dead and stared.
A tiny pink Pokémon was floating slowly down the street, huge eyes opened wide in an expression of limitless, incoherent pain. Its mouth, a small red dot in its round head, was stretched open to make the scream that held us all under its spell. Long lines of bloody saliva hung from its lips, and matted the fur of its face. It shifted slightly, and I could see why it was screaming: from just below its stubby arms, its entire lower body had been ripped away, leaving only the stump of the spine and coiling loops of gut that dragged along the pavement below the Pokémon. It left behind a thick, dark smear of blood, and from the amount it had lost I knew it wasn’t going to live much longer. I didn’t think anything on earth could survive this sort of punishment.
Suddenly, it dropped to the floor, unable to fly any further. For a few painful moments it pulled itself forward with those tiny arms, desperate to flee whatever fate awaited it, but then it gave up, its head falling down onto the pavement, the giant eyes growing cold and glassy and that dreadful, awful song dying on its lips.
For a moment, the whole crowd was silent, spellbound for a moment longer. Then we turned and left as one, some for payphones to call the police, some back to their ordinary lives. I went back to Red, who’d got stuck at the rear of the crowd, and, putting an arm on his shoulder, steered him out of the street. I’d take him home via a different route.
“What was it, Russell?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I answered. He opened his mouth to protest, then seemed to think better of it; I guess I must have looked pretty shaken. The injured pink Pokémon had not been a sight calculated to please. It and its song were the most disturbing things I’d ever encountered, and I’d been working the roads of Saffron for fifteen years.
We walked on in silence for a while more.
“What else happened to you on your way here?” I asked at length.
“Well, you know how Professor Oak asked me to help with the Pokédex project?”
I had not known that. It was quite an honour; only the most wide-ranging and potentially strongest Trainers were chosen. It involved capturing specimens of each species of Pokémon so that Oak could compile a massive database comprising every single one in the Kanto region, a remarkable undertaking. Since the project’s start a year ago, three new species had already been discovered, a line of rare monsters indigenous to One Island.
“I didn’t, but go on.”
“I went back to his lab to deliver a couple of Primeape” – here I raised my eyebrows; Primeape were notoriously difficult to catch – “and a Rocket executive called Ariana was there.”
“I didn’t get her real name. She pretty much beat me, and got away.”
Ariana... this was another code name, another Rocket Executive. A faint uneasy feeling rose within me. Surge was Petrel, Koga was Archer...
“Red, what did Ariana look like? What Pokémon did she use?”
“She was really tall, and she had long black hair. She only had one Pokémon, an Alakazam.”
I was about to swear, but bit it off in front of Red. Ariana was Sabrina, of that there could be no doubt. Three Gym Leaders, three Rocket Executives – and these were strong, too, especially Koga and Sabrina. They were thought by most to be the toughest two in Kanto. I wondered which one of them it was that controlled Jessie and James, or even if it were a different person altogether. It was impossible to know.
I shook my head; I was tired and starting to ache fiercely. It was time to call it a day.
“Come on, kid, we’re going home.”
We walked back to the office and I drove us back to my house, the spectre of that pink Pokémon haunting me all the way. What was it? What had the Rockets – for it was undoubtedly them – done to it? I drove past a road that bore the wide red-black mark where it had passed, and suddenly braked hard and swung left onto that road, amid a welter of horns and squealing brakes.
“What’s happening?” asked Red.
“Change of plan,” I replied. “See this dark line in the road?” He nodded. “We’re following that.”
“What is it?”
I almost said ‘blood’ but then decided against it and shrugged.
“Something,” I answered vaguely. “The point is, whatever left this trail had to have come from somewhere, right?”
“Right! So we’re going to see where it came from?” Red looked quite excited now; I was fulfilling his expectations of a private eye for once.
Within three minutes we were at our destination. It was a back alley in Derke District, the sole decoration in it a steel door set into one wall, without handle or obvious keyhole.
“What now?” asked Red. “Do we break down the door? Gyara or Lax can do that for us.”
“Any of your Pokémon could,” I said, “but no, we don’t. We go home.”
“Because now is not the right time,” I explained patiently. “This is not the place to go, anyway. If we’re to get anywhere, it’s got to be through the Game Corner.”
As we walked back to the car and drove home again, I explained to him about the case so far, playing down the gory and unsavoury parts, and how everything pointed towards the Game Corner as the location of the Rocket HQ. Then I explained how, once we had some evidence – legal evidence, not things like that parcel I’d intercepted – we had to contact the police.
“Why didn’t you keep the helmet thing, then?”
“Because if the delivery hadn’t arrived, the Rockets and Silph would have immediately acted in both their best interests and detonated the bomb embedded in the mask. McKenzie told me all about it. All I would have accomplished is bringing down Team Rocket’s fury on my head.”
Red looked disappointed, but he didn’t argue. I pulled up in the driveway and got out; once again, I had arrived home later than I would have liked. At least there had only been one night where I’d been up for hours during this case; most cases involve very few nights of unbroken rest for Russell Curtis.
Red had finished his Slowpoketail on the way, and now, given the late hour, was quite tired, though of course he insisted he wasn’t. However, on this occasion at least, I won out, and I sent him to bed in the spare room moments after we got back. A few moments later, I went myself; it had been a long day. I had been beaten up, kicked, punched and generally abused in a manner that does not generally agree with me. I’m not as tough as the gumshoes in the movies; I can’t actually take that much pain, and when I do I generally need a good night’s sleep afterwards.
As I climbed the stairs, I was thinking only of rest. I wasn’t thinking about the pink Pokémon, or about the case, or about Wesley’s Ponyta, a conversation that seemed so long ago now. It was almost funny, because tomorrow I was going to find the answers behind all three of those conundrums.
I was woken by an impact at the end of the bed, which sounded suspiciously like half a ton of bricks landing on it. I opened one eye a crack, hoping fervently that they hadn’t, and was little encouraged: instead of bricks was a Snorlax, presumably just having lumbered upstairs, clutching something white between its massive, sticky paws.
“Oh God,” I groaned, and sat up, blinking blearily. I regarded the massive creature balefully. “What the hell do you want?”
Without dropping its impassive expression, or indeed appearing to wake up, the Snorlax (whom I presumed was the Pokémon Red had referred to Lax) extended one thick arm and dropped the white thing in my lap. I picked it up, ignoring the stickiness, and studied it carefully. Newspaper. That much I could work out; it was definitely a newspaper. But what was the significance of the thing, and why couldn’t Red bring it up himself? I focused, and, through a fog of semi-sleep, read the headline:
“... Rare ... P... Pokémon ... Dies...”
All at once I was wide awake, in the same sort of way a drunk guy sobers up when you point a gun at him.
“‘Rare Pokémon Dies on the Streets of Saffron’,” I read out, and glanced up at the Snorlax. It gave no indication that it had heard me, or even of being alive. I returned my gaze to the newspaper and read on. It gave the details, which I knew, of course; it didn’t say where it came from, presumably because of Rocket pressure; and it gave Professor Oak’s opinion – and that was something worth reading:
Professor Oak, the celebrated Pokémon researcher, is currently examining the remains. He was able to confirm upon arriving at the scene that the creature is none other than the legendary Pokémon Mew itself, an extraordinarily rare species that has been in constant existence for just over two hundred million years. Mew is a Psychic type and powerful in both physical and special attack, and in physical and special defence; it is an archetypal Pokémon, from which, Oak claims, all Pokémon living in Kanto today are descended.
“Within Mew’s cells,” he said, “the basic genetic code of every Pokémon alive is stored. It is a remarkable species, and how this one came to be so badly injured—”
I didn’t read any more; I didn’t need to. I had one of those moments you get maybe once every five years, where everything falls into place perfectly and without the slightest doubt; memories detached themselves from my store and presented themselves, arranging evidence perfectly in my head:
“Some guys came to my house last night and stole Charla...”
Something to do with recombinant DNA...
“...the thing they’re making...”
“...torn it apart... from the inside, clawing its way out...”
“...the basic genetic code of every Pokémon alive...”
My eyes opened wide and I leaped out of bed.
“Red!” I yelled, dragging on my clothes. “Get ready, we’re going out!”
Ten minutes later, we were at the office, and I was releasing En and Priscilla from their balls. Mardek was making drinks as swiftly as he could, because he believed that all crisis situations warranted them.
The Babylon Detective Agency, plus Red, gathered around the desk to hear what I had to say.
“OK, this sounds wildly implausible,” I said. “But I’ve figured ninety per cent of this out now. Here it is:
“Team Rocket have been capturing specimens of the legendary Pokémon Mew and using them to grow some sort of genetically-engineered super-Pokémon, recombining its DNA with other species to try and create this creature. Why? I don’t know. How? Using the Silph genetics tech, I’ll bet. That thing they were delivering to the Rockets the other day was a mask – and I’m willing to bet that it’s going on whatever they’re making. Maybe it lets them control it, maybe they’ll just blow that bomb on it up if it gets too dangerous. But that’s what they’re doing. Red saw another Mew in Pewter, in a Rocket outpost, with its belly torn open from the inside. Whatever they’re growing, they’re doing it inside host Pokémon; maybe they can’t grow the foetus outside the womb or something. The Mew in the street yesterday – yeah, I lied about that, Red, you really didn’t want to see it – was the same, only the scale of the destruction was bigger. I’m guessing that this creature literally grew big enough to make the Mew explode.” I paused for breath. “Any questions?”
Are you still angry at us? asked En straight away.
“Of course I am!” I snapped. “But there are more important matters at hand right now. Don’t you see what it means, if the Rockets have control of a Pokémon that is essentially the equivalent of every other Pokémon species in Kanto combined? They’ll be unstoppable. This... no one will be able to oppose them, because if they control that thing, this Mew-hybrid, it’s going to be able to destroy anything they tell it to. So, do you think we should—”
Red had gone very white, but I couldn’t tell whether with fear or anger; either way, it was here that he interrupted.
“So what do we do?” he cried suddenly; I guessed it must have been anger. “We can’t let them do this!”
“I know, I know!” I replied. “But we still can’t get into their damn base! That’s where it’s all happening – that’s where they’re building the monster – but I don’t know how to get in. Besides, it’s the police’s job.”
Red looked at me incredulously. “Are you crazy? It’s your job as much as the police’s! You’re a private eye!”
“A shamus is not a superhero, Red,” I said quietly. “I’m just a man with a Magmar and a pair of tired eyes, the guy who people come to when they think their wife or husband is cheating on them. I got beaten up by the Chief of Police yesterday. I’m already in way over my head; if I don’t start back for the shore soon, I’m going to run out of air and drown. If you’d let me finish earlier, I would have said ‘do you think we should tell the police or let them find out for themselves?’; I have no intention of dealing with this myself.”
“Fine!” Red leaped to his feet and startled Mardek, who had just come in with the drinks. “I’ll go myself! To that metal door in the alleyway, and I’m going to break in and I’m going to stop them!”
He stormed out, slamming the door behind him and leaving a tortuous silence in his wake. I didn’t move, didn’t protest; I couldn’t have stopped him if I tried, not with his Pokémon to support him. He stood a better chance than I did, at any rate.
After a moment or two, I became conscious that every pair of eyes in the room was focused on me.
“What?” I snapped irritably. “What do you want me to do? Throw my life away by invading the Rocket building?”
Priscilla twitched and En relayed a message.
Priscilla says – and I agree – that you do not let children fight your battles for you, Russell. That is not what we do at Babylon; we – and you – are good people.
My answer was short and pithy: I recalled them both and put the balls in my pockets.
Almost timidly, Mardek brought me a cup of coffee, and as I drank it, I glared at him, as if challenging him, too, to question my decision not to chase the Rockets.
“I’m not getting paid for this,” I said. “You know that, right?”
He looked innocent and placed a hand on his chest, as if asking what he had done to imply that I was.
“Don’t get smart with me,” I told him sourly. “Red won’t even find the way back to the steel door; he’ll be back in an hour or two. He’ll be fine – he’s ridiculously strong and all.”
Again, Mardek intimated that I was judging his silence unfairly. Things might have got ugly had not Wesley chosen that moment to walk in.
He looked, if anything, worse than before. Without the Ponyta, I knew, he had no heat for his house or for his food, so I imagined he wasn’t eating properly these days; when you barely survive as it is, like Wesley does, then when your circumstances change for the worse, even a little, you really see noticeable changes in your appearance and demeanour.
“Wesley! Have a seat.”
He took the proffered chair and asked the inevitable, without preamble:
“How are you doing with the case?”
I was silent for a moment, collecting my thoughts. Then:
“Wesley, I’m not going to lie to you. It doesn’t look good.” Before the shock or the sadness could alter his face I continued. “I’m fairly certain she was stolen by Team Rocket, and they’ve been stealing quite a few recently again, probably in connection with a genetics project they’re working on.” It occurred to me that they might be using her as an incubator for Mew-hybrid embryos, but I decided against mentioning it. “I’m sorry, Wesley. I can’t invade Team Rocket’s base.”
The terrible thing, the thing that wrenched at my heart, was that he didn’t hate me for that, he didn’t ask me why or howl in rage; he understood. Through the heart-rending expression of sorrow, the look of a man utterly broken, that crossed his face, I saw the light of that comes with acceptance and understanding shine out of his eyes. I often feel pretty low – it’s inevitable, in my line of work – but at that moment, I felt like the worst person in the world.
“I get it,” Wesley said, standing up, face crumpled like an old rag; he wasn’t crying yet but his eyes were bright, he would be soon. Get out first, preserve his dignity, then I knew he was going to weep all the way home. “Thanks for trying, Russell.” He turned to leave, the paused and looked back. His last words pierced my heart. “I’m sure you tried your hardest.”
Then he was gone, and I was left sitting in the chair behind the desk, feeling certain that somewhere along the line, I had made a horrible, unforgivable mistake.
Far away, in a fashionable studio house on the Cape, Bill stared at the screen and wondered what exactly was happening. For on the now pitch-black screen a series of words in white had appeared:
HELM BROADCAST INITIATED
SEARCHING FOR RECEIVER...
RECEIVER NOT FOUND
SEARCHING FOR RECEIVER...
RECEIVER NOT FOUND
SEARCHING FOR RECEIVER...
There appeared to be no stopping the program; no matter what he did, Bill could not stop it endlessly searching for the ‘receiver’. He even tried pulling the plug on the machine, only to remember that it was impossible to do so with his computers; a nasty accident with power failure a few years ago had almost cost him a lucrative contract, and since then he’d had his machines wired directly into the mains, so they wouldn’t go down unless the whole of North Kanto did.
It was obvious enough that the program was utilising the broadcasting mast on the roof that transmitted data over the wireless network to his clients, and shutting that off wasn’t an option either; Bill seemed only to have two options: let the program run or risk losing his business. Logically enough, he went with the former.
However, that did not stop him working on another computer, connected to the first, to try and see what the problem was. To his endless frustration, however, it proved impossible to get into the program and see exactly what it was doing; it had copied itself onto his computer, stored multiple copies of itself on his back-up drives and password-protected itself using a 167-digit code. There didn’t seem to be any other way around it, either; Bill found it impossible to hack into it, for the simple reason that whenever he went anywhere near it, he was greeted by a small box that requested the password, adding helpfully that he ought to type all 167 digits carefully for fear of making mistakes.
If Bill hadn’t known better, he would have sworn the program was taunting him.
“What is everybody’s problem?” I asked Baku as I drew close to his cart. He looked uneasy and said nothing, just pointed to the sign that showed the prices. “Come on, you can help me, here, Baku. Why does everyone think I have to be a hero?”
He said nothing, just tapped at the sign again. I frowned. Something was up.
“Are you OK?” He poked the sign so hard that his finger burst with a wet plop into a few pink droplets, then reformed. I looked at him in surprise. “Baku? Your finger...”
At once, he suddenly dwindled away and melted, reverting to a small, pinkish blob sitting behind the counter. I bent down and examined it; its smiling face proclaimed it to be a Ditto, the shapeshifting Pokémon.
“So that’s how he’s everywhere at once,” I said, straightening up. “How many of you guys does he have?”
I walked away, wishing that I hadn’t found out Baku’s secret, that I had let the last little thing in the city that had an air of childlike mystery to it lie. I had killed the final drop of innocence in Saffron, and I was angry at myself for doing so.
I walked and walked, and at length I found myself outside the Rocket Game Corner. I looked up at the facade. I hadn’t consciously come here, and I didn’t want to be here. Yet something must have dragged me to this Godforsaken place, some force must have compelled my feet to carry me here.
“I’m not a hero, I’ll just get killed,” I said forcefully to no one at all, and walked back to the office slowly and deliberately, thinking about the aches in my limbs and how it would be impossible for me to go charging in anyway.
I picked up Mardek and we drove back again.
SEARCHING FOR RECEIVER...
RECEIVER NOT FOUND
I burst into the Rocket Game Corner like a man possessed. In a way, I think I was, or at least I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I had said earlier that Marcia’s murder was reason enough to stop the Rockets; I had made a speech to the effect that they had to be stopped; and yet I hadn’t come to do it myself, I had let an eleven-year-old boy go in my place. I definitely wasn’t in my right mind that morning, but it was a good thing: if I had been, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to go there.
I went straight to the desk, vaulted it and punched the Rocket attendant in the face. Blood spurted from his nose and his stupid pince-nez snapped in half; I seemed to have his attention.
“How do you get into the base?” I asked him. I must have terrified him, because immediately he stammered out:
“A-a s-secret s-switch... behind the p-poster...”
I got Mardek to hit him on the head and, leaving him unconscious, we ran for the back wall, hoping to get in before anyone discovered him. I ripped aside all the posters I could see until I saw the switch, and then I pressed it without a second thought. In the same instant, before I could even draw breath, I was in a long, clean-looking room. Before me were Red and another young boy, and beyond them were a pair of Rocket grunts in the process of getting their Drowzees beaten up by Red’s Venusaur and the other kid’s Charizard.
It was over in a just a couple of seconds; Vine Whip literally flattened one Drowzee while the other spontaneously combusted from a Heat Wave. Pale, the grunts turned as one and fled.
“Hey, boys,” I called, “room for one more?”
They turned, and Red’s face lit up. “Russell! You came!”
“Turns out I wasn’t grey,” I smiled. “Guess I’m white after all.” I looked over at the other kid, silent and taller, with violently spiked orange hair. “You’re Green?” Red had mentioned him before. He nodded.
“He was on his way to Saffron,” Red explained, “so when I saw him by the Train Station, I told him what was going on and he came to help me.”
“No,” denied Green. “I came to do this myself.” With that, he walked off down the corridor and out through a door.
“Nice kid,” I said ironically, only Red didn’t get the irony, which ruined it somewhat. “Anyway, Red, let’s go. Letting those two grunts run for help was a bad idea.”
Red nodded and recalled Saur, then followed Mardek and I down the corridor. At the end were three doors; the one on the right, which Green had gone through, was locked. I took a step back and thought.
“I’m guessing that since this is the only way in, there’s one safe entrance,” I said. “But those grunts would’ve got them to guard the doors. They’re too weak to do it themselves, and bullets are fairly useless against Pokémon as strong as yours... I can only think of one kind of Rocket who’d be guarding these doors: Executives.” I looked at Red. “What do you think?”
“There are three of them, aren’t there?” asked Red. “So, three doors...”
“Makes sense,” I agreed. “OK, you take the one on the left.”
Taking a deep breath, I pulled open the centre door and went through, doing my best to appear nonchalant for Red.
I stepped into a verdant forest.
“What is with all these warps?” I wondered, staring around. “How many do you guys need?”
“Actually, you’re still in our hideout,” said a voice, and I blinked as a woman materialised before me, fuzzy at first and then clear. Tall and willowy, with hair like ebony and eyes like chips of glass, it could only be one person: Sabrina. She wore manacles around her wrists of black and green glass, and they glowed in a singularly unnerving way.
“This is all in my mind?” I asked, indicating the woods. She nodded.
“You’re not going to be much of a challenge, are you?” she asked frankly. I nodded sadly.
“That’s right, I’m afraid,” I told her. “I’ve no clue why I came here, really. Except I kind of promised I would... or at least, think I did. I’m not entirely sure.”
At that moment, a gout of flame burst from Mardek’s beak and engulfed the figure standing before me, fire licking at her limbs and taking hungry black mouthfuls from her skin. Or at least, it did for a split second, before she dissolved. She reappeared a few steps away, seemingly unharmed.
“That was stupid,” Sabrina said. “You do know that you can’t tell if it’s really me you’re seeing, right? The real me is over here. And now there’s no surprise.”
Mardek suddenly flipped into the air and dangled helplessly by one leg; stepping from the imaginary undergrowth came a majestic Alakazam, with a moustache-span of at least five feet. In both its hands it held spoons to magnify its power, and one of these was outstretched towards Mardek.
“Besides,” Sabrina continued. “Alakazam is powerful when it comes to non-physical moves; your Magmar’s flame attacks would barely have touched him.”
The great head twitched slightly, the spoon shivered – and Mardek performed a complex aerial manoeuvre that ended with his head being firmly rammed into the floor. Immediately, my hands flew into my pockets, pulling out the first Pokéball I could find; it chanced to contain Priscilla, who flew around my head in a confusion.
“Priscilla! Check if Mardek’s OK!”
She couldn’t answer without the Ouija board, but she went over to his body while Sabrina and her Alakazam waited patiently. After bobbing around near his head, she nodded.
“I wouldn’t kill it,” Sabrina said, almost sounding scandalised. “Magmar are quite rare. After I’ve finished with you, I could sell it on – and that Gastly, too, if it survives.”
Priscilla turned to me with a questioning look.
“Uh, yeah...” I scratched my head. “Priscilla, I think it’s time to learn how to battle. Look out!”
The Alakazam had put its spoons together and fired a wide beam of glittering white energy at my Gastly; burning through the air, it sizzled straight through her and blasted a hole in the trees behind.
But, to everyone’s surprise, she was entirely unharmed. Seemingly unable to believe it, she floated there for a second, before seizing the chance and Licking the Alakazam across one serene eye; having poison rubbed in your eye can’t be fun, because it roared, dropped both its spoons and started clutching at its throbbing face immediately. A rash of violent red marks started to spread across its face from the site, and Sabrina looked surprised.
“What? Such a violent reaction?”
I was surprised, too – and then I got it, in another brilliant flash of inspiration. The Ghost type was super-effective against Psychic! That had to be it, only no one knew it because you couldn’t use any of the Gastly line in battles, and they were the only Ghosts in Kanto!
“Priscilla, use Lick again!”
She didn’t need the further prompting; she was already zipping around and around the huge beast, tongue flailing, leaving nasty red welts wherever she touched it.
Sabrina looked mightily pissed-off, and drew a revolver, stepping around our two warring Pokémon; unfortunately for her, nothing happened when she pulled the trigger, since this was all occurring in my head. Throwing down the gun in a tantrum, she screamed something at her Alakazam, and then unexpectedly turned and punched me in the face.
Now, Sabrina was strong, and I staggered back a step, but she had nothing on Thyme, and I figured that if I could take that guy’s beating, I could take anything. I swung back at her, but my hand connected with thin air; I felt her fist on the back of my head this time and lashed out behind me. Something crunched beneath my foot and I spun around, triumphant, only to find I’d kicked the Alakazam in the arm instead, my leg passing straight through Priscilla.
Instantly, its red, swollen face turned to mine, eyes incandescent with rage and super-effective Licks, and leaped at me, knocking me over. I tried hard to look away from its eyes, but it was impossible; they held mine still with an inner power that was impossible to rebel against. I felt my body growing colder, and my limbs heavier; I tried to push the Alakazam off me, but its light body felt like it weighed a thousand tons. I couldn’t breathe any more, I just didn’t have the strength, and now I saw blackness creeping in around the edges of my vision...
A dark blur rammed into the Alakazam’s chest and blasted it off me, sending it crashing into the undergrowth with surprising force. A strong hand gripped mine and dragged me to my feet, and I turned to see huge, triangular eyes, incongruously bedecked with eyeliner, staring anxiously out of a purple face. It was Priscilla – only now she was two or three times her original size and a brighter shade of purple, with a jagged outline and a pair of taloned hands. She opened and shut her new, toothy mouth, but no sound came out; giving up, she flew after the Alakazam, picked it up and bodily threw it into Sabrina, who looked just as confused as I felt. The two went down in a heap and Priscilla positioned herself directly above them, before raising one free-floating fist and slamming down into the Alakazam’s chest in the nastiest Shadow Punch I’d ever seen. A mixture of blood, bone and shadow flew up from the impact, and the Alakazam jerked convulsively, spewing a thin, bloody string into the air; a second later, its head flopped back against Sabrina’s leg and its eyes went blank.
Silence ruled the forest glade for a moment, broken only by a somewhat fearful moan from Sabrina.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, finally able to say something. “Priscilla?”
She bobbed up and down in midair.
“Well, you’ve evolved, I can see that much,” I continued. “I didn’t know Gastly evolved. Because no one fights with them, I guess.” I shook my head and surveyed the damage she had wrought on the Alakazam. “God damn, you’re strong now. Can you get us out of this dreamworld?”
Priscilla nodded and screwed up her massive eyes in concentration, then, without warning, the forest disappeared and Sabrina, Priscilla, Mardek and I were suddenly in a nondescript white-tiled room. There was a door at the other end, presumably where Sabrina had entered from, and Priscilla and I went over there, recalling Mardek as we went. Just as I was about to open the door, I stopped, remembering something. A mischievous grin spread across my lips, then I smothered it, turned around and went back over to where Sabrina was picking herself up. I relieved her of her revolver, then asked her a question.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any Badges on hand, would you? Only, I have beaten you and all.”
Sabrina hissed and sprang to her feet, and would have hit me again had not Priscilla’s hands materialised around her wrists, restraining them. The rest of her caught up with them shortly, and searched her. A few seconds later, Priscilla presented me proudly with a Marsh Badge.
“Cool,” I said, holding it up to the light admiringly. “Thanks. My nephew will be really impressed by this. Priscilla, knock her out.”
Apparently Priscilla had learned the move Hypnosis at last, because she used it perfectly there, and we were free to continue on our way towards the heart of the Rocket hideout.
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World * The Rocket Case * The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There * The Beastman * Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol * Snow * 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 here.
November 20th, 2010 (3:01 PM). Edited January 12th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
SEARCHING FOR RECEIVER...
RECEIVER NOT FOUND
I emerged into a larger room, full of cages stacked from ceiling to floor along all the walls and in an island in the middle. Red and Green were already here, the former looking rather badly singed, herding a group of terrified-looking scientists into a corner, where Green set a particularly thuggish Machamp to stand guard. At the far end, I glimpsed a pair of massive steel blast doors.
“What’s going on?” I asked. Red and Green looked at me, and then looked startled.
“What’s that?” they both asked simultaneously, pointing at Prisiclla. She glanced behind her to see what they were indicating.
“She evolved,” I said, trying not to sound like an excited rookie Trainer. “She used to be my Gastly, Priscilla.”
“Aren’t Gastly illegal to keep?” Green said, sounding disapproving. I gave as good as I got:
“Isn’t breaking and entering, and beating up unfortunate middle-aged scientists, also illegal?”
“Fair point,” he conceded.
I strode over to one of the scientists and smiled broadly.
“Hello,” I said. “My name’s Russell. What’s yours?”
Disarmed, he automatically replied:
“Lars. Lots of Northerners here, aren’t there?” I was thinking of Johan. “Now, I know you’re building a monster here. You’re going to sit down and tell me all about it or,” I added as he began to protest, “we find out exactly what it is that Priscilla eats now she’s evolved.”
She floated closer, her sharp-edged hands making little clutching motions. Lars groaned and gulped simultaneously, a curious motion that looked and sounded as if he’d swallowed his Adam’s apple.
“We tried so many things,” he said. “We were trying to create something perfect, something that could do everything any other Pokémon could do – and better. So we tried recombining endless numbers of others. Look at the cages.”
I had deliberately not looked at them before, since I had glimpsed their contents when I came in, but I did so now. They were filled with hundreds upon hundreds of rejected creatures, horrible jigsaws of familiar species sliced together in a patchwork nightmare. I saw something that might have been intended as a Pidgeot writhe atop a nest of looping coils of animated intestine; a humanoid figure with a mouth-studded chest and a bleeding hole for a face; a set of Pinsir’s claws twitching at the front of a tank-like monster of stone and gore.
Then, at the bottom, I saw real Pokémon, all female, mostly heavily pregnant, and I knew another generation of monsters was growing within them. I scanned them for a Ponyta – and, amazingly, found Charla, instantly recognisable by the ragged collar around her neck.
“Red, Green, let the Pokémon on the base level out and get them in their balls. The ones that are normal.”
“What about the others?” asked Red.
“The government will deal with them.” They both scurried off and began to let them out. I went straight over to Charla and released her; she trotted out, seemingly unharmed and without any monster growing in her belly, and nuzzled my hand. I smiled. “I got her, old friend,” I murmured. “She’s coming back.” There was a Pokéball in a recess on each cage door, and I took the one from Charla’s door and recalled her. Putting the ball in my pocket, I turned my attention back to the scientists, and Lars in particular.
SEARCHING FOR RECEIVER...
“OK, Lars,” I said, waving away a Spearow that had come too close, “tell me more.”
“We hit upon the idea of using Mew last year,” Lars said, “but they were hard to catch and even harder to work with; the DNA was too labile, kept shifting under the microscope. We needed a master, so our Executives went and kidnapped Blaine, forging a note saying that he’d gone on a trip. With some... persuasion, he turned his genius to the problem, and a few months later we had the first embryo. Mew-IIA.”
“First? A? There are more than one of these?”
“There were. The first one was blind and cancerous, so it was destroyed. Mew-IIB is the current project, it’s been growing in the Mew that broke out into Saffron yesterday. It outgrew it a couple of days ago and has been reaching maturity in a nutrient tank.”
“Where is it?” I asked. Lars looked worried.
“No, you can’t interrupt it now,” he began, “it’s—”
“Where is it?” I roared, grabbing him by the lapels.
“In the vault!” he cried. “Beyond that door.”
“Is it ready yet?” Lars looked shocked.
“Oh goodness me no,” he said. “Mew-II is a very delicate creature, it requires precisely-controlled conditions to even stay alive. It is its ranged attacks we plan to utilise, while we keep it safely inside this building.”
“You’ve been very helpful,” I told him, and threw him back amongst the other scientists. I turned to see how Red and Green were doing, and saw they were just gathering up the last couple of Pokémon. “You two!” I shouted across to them, and they looked up. “Stay here and make sure no one gets through from the other side! I’m going into the vault.”
“I’m coming with you!” both cried back in unison, and I shook my head, walking over there.
“What if Sabrina, or Surge or Koga picks themselves up and comes through here with a machine-gun or something?” I asked. “None of my Pokémon can stop bullets, but yours certainly can. Besides, there’s still the whole Team out there – and at some point they’re going to realise that someone’s invaded their base. An army’s gonna come down here. And you two have more experience with armies of Team Rocket grunts than I do.”
I could hardly believe what I was saying; was I really suggesting to two eleven-year-old children that they hold off the entire might of Team Rocket while I went and stopped Mew-II? Either the ridiculously heroic danger of it appealed to them, or my logic did, and both Red and Green nodded, just as footsteps sounded out from behind the doors we’d entered by.
“Get going!” I shouted and sprinted back up to the other end of the room; behind me, the doors burst open and I heard the primaeval roar of Red’s Aerodactyl as it burst from its ball. I winced. I really didn’t want to be those grunts who’d come to liberate the building. I grabbed Lars again. “You!” I cried. “Open these doors for me!” I waved a hand at the steel blast doors.
“I can’t do that, I—” I punched him on the nose and felt it crunch. Fat, slow lines of blood trickled from his nostrils.
“Open these doors for me!”
Lars tottered weakly from my grasp, Green’s Machamp and the other scientists watching in a mixture of horror and fascination, and half-stopped, half-fell over a control panel set into the wall right next to the doors. He began to push the buttons, whimpering and clutching his nose with one hand, then stopped and shook his head.
“I can’t!” he cried. “I can’t! Mew-II is too val—”
“The next time, it’ll be that Machamp punching you!” I told him. He looked from me to the Machamp (which, on hearing its name, had suddenly struck an intimidating pose) and back again, then gave a loud moan and pressed a few more buttons. The huge doors began to slide open, slowly but silently, on frictionless tracks. Puffs of steam burst from around their edges; evidently, the system was pneumatic.
A Golbat with its teeth torn off flew out from behind me, propelled by a burst of fire, and landed on the wall. Slowly, comically, it slid down, cross-eyed, and passed out on the floor. Red and Green seemed to be doing OK.
“Priscilla!” Immediately, she was at my side. “Come on. We’re going in.”
The doors stopped, a set of stairs dropping away into a dark aperture beyond them. I took a deep breath and patted Priscilla on the side; she seemed more solid now she had evolved.
“Let’s go,” I said, and plunged into the darkness.
A long, quiet laboratory awaited us at the base of the stairs, full of tables and computers. It seemed that this was a room dedicated more to theory than anything else. At the other end was an open door, and standing in that doorway was a pair of figures in the distinctive white uniform of the Team Rocket assassin. One had long blue hair; the other had an even longer shock of violent red hair. As if from nowhere, a spotlight suddenly shone on them.
“To protect the world from devastation!” said Jessie, stepping forwards and raising her shotgun.
“To unite all peoples within our nation!” added James, joining her and levelling what looked incongruously like a Victorian elephant gun at my chest.
“To denounce the evils of truth and love!”
I raised my hands.
“To extend our reach to the stars above!”
“Team Rocket, blast off at the speed of light!”
“Surrender now or prepare to fight!”
“I’ve surrendered, I’ve surrendered.” I sat down wearily on a desk. “That stupid rhyme—”
“It is not stupid!” shrieked Jessie, leaping forwards and jabbing me in the chest with the barrel of her shotgun. “It is an excellent motto.”
“Fine, that ‘excellent motto’. Either way, it makes a hell of a lot more sense now. Extend your reach to the stars above... You plan basically to rule Kanto with Mew-II backing you, don’t you?”
“That is Giovanni’s plan,” James admitted. “He determined that you should be killed so that there would be no hitch. Since he was alerted that you and your kids defeated the Executives, he’s going to bring Mew-II out of stasis today – a whole week early. Lucky you.”
“You guys broke out for the final stage of the plan, then? Just to watch Mew-II awaken?”
“Giovanni will be the one to have control over it,” Jessie said, calming down and taking a step back. “There’s a special helmet that will allow him to command it remotely.”
“Ah!” That made sense of the mask-like item Silph had delivered to the Game Corner. “I see now. It all makes sense.”
“Except...? You’re missing something, gumshoe,” James told me. I pretended to think.
“Let me see...” I put a finger to my chin in an exaggerated attitude of thought. “What could it be? Nothing doing upstairs, Red and Green have got that covered; I guess it must be something down here. What’s not right here?”
“Don’t—” Jessie spat, but her associate interrupted.
“Let the detective think,” admonished James gently. “He’s going to get it in a minute.”
I snapped my fingers in mock-realisation. I had figured it out earlier, of course, but it didn’t matter.
“That’s it! I’m still alive.” I smiled at the two killers. “That really is strange and unexpected,” I continued. “I would have thought Giovanni would get you two to kill me.”
“He did,” said Jessie, grinning wildly to reveal teeth filed to points, and fired.
One of the overhead lights exploded in a shower of glass; I rolled backwards over the table and crouched behind it. Something had knocked Jessie and spoilt her aim.
“Impressive trick,” called James. “You can get up now. Your Ghost-thing is not going to ruin any more shots.”
I peeped over the desk rim to see that two huge, conjoined purple globes were floating behind James, their surfaces withered and rumpled like old carpets left out in three weeks of thunderstorm. Both had faces, and being inhaled into the wide mouth of the larger sphere was Priscilla.
“Priscilla!” I cried, standing up. She was desperately striving to extricate herself from the Weezing’s breath, but failing miserably; being composed of gas, she weighed too little to break free.
Jessie was about to shoot me, but James again calmed her.
“Wait,” he said, and turned to me. “See your monster! It’s a Gastly evolution of some type, yes?” I nodded. “So it’s made of poisonous gases... If it gets sucked into Weezing, it will become part of the Weezing itself, no more than a pocket of gas within the rest of the creature.” He ran a thin tongue over his teeth. “Watch, Russell. Watch as it is consumed.”
I could do nothing. If I moved, I would be shot; if I stood here, Priscilla would be destroyed. I watched mutely as wisps of purple curled away from her back and flew into the Weezing’s gaping maw; the huge Pokémon was doing all its breathing with its other mouth, so it could continually suck with the other. Priscilla began to grow faint, and transparent, and her flailing hands grew weaker, and weaker...
A fireball blasted across the room in a dead-straight line and hit the Weezing’s second head square between the eyes. Strong hands gripped me from behind and forced me downwards; a split-second later, a colossal explosion rocked the building. Plaster tumbled from the ceiling and computers swayed and crashed off the desks; every fluorescent strip light simultaneously fractured and burst into tiny fragments. Faintly, in the distance, I heard a fire alarm go off and then suddenly stop.
Slowly, cautiously, I raised my head above the level of the desk. Everything was covered in plaster dust, and nothing seemed to be moving. Of the doorway where Jessie and James had been, there was no sign; it had been replaced with a massive hole three-quarters filled with atomised desks and computer monitors. I couldn’t see either of the two psychopaths, either, and hoped they’d been blown apart with the Weezing.
“Priscilla?” I called hesitantly. She had been fairly ethereal when the Weezing had gone off; perhaps she’d just been scattered around.
A pair of round white eyes blinked at me through the dust-filled air.
The purplish gases from the Weezing’s interior began to flow towards the eyes, fleshing out a rough teardrop shape, then hands, spikes and a mouth. Priscilla was fine. That left only the question of what exactly had shot the Weezing.
From behind me, I heard the sound of rubble clinking to the floor. I turned, and saw something that might have been the hybrid son of a house fire and a sumo wrestler rising to its feet.
“What the hell is that?” I cried, taking a step back and tripping over half a computer. The great beast looked concerned and offered me a hand so large I could have fit my own several times inside it. Uncertainly, I accepted and rose to my feet; the thing then held out its other hand. On the palm was the small steel box I had involuntarily stolen from Harri, drained now of all its red colour, cold and grey. I looked from box to the hulking monster, and it clicked. “Mardek?”
The Pokémon nodded. I gaped. Mardek had been slightly above my waist height before, and now he towered over me like an Ursaring. His beak was gone, replaced by a pair of thick lips that gravitated naturally towards a sly, malicious sneer; his eyes burned out from deep sockets in his flaming head. Fire licked the air from several points on his body, bursting from his shoulders, tail and head. The spikes that studded his back were huge now, and razor-edged. But the most obvious change was in his hands. They were an extension of his long, tubular arms, the fingers simply movable sections of the tube. Essentially, they had turned into a pair of cannons.
“Whoa,” I said, but got no further before Mardek, with blurring speed, picked me up and vaulted back behind the desk, dropping down to hit the ground with enough force to smash the remaining tiles. A huge bullet zipped past overhead, obviously fired from an elephant gun; it seemed at least James had survived the blast.
“That was unexpected,” he called, “but it won’t save you! All we need to do is stop you getting through this door, and then Mew-II will wake without any interference. Jessie! Give me a hand here!”
Shot sprayed across the wall above and behind us. I glanced up at Mardek, who gave a grim smile and heaved himself into a crouching position, still covered by the remains of the heavy steel desk. Leaning against the metal, he waited for a moment, then, quick as a flash, ducked around the side and returned fire, sending a fireball across to the Rockets’ side of the room. They answered with bullets and he swung back to the safety of the cover again.
I recalled Priscilla and peeped again over the top of the desk. I got a brief glimpse of Jessie’s face, white with plaster dust, before I had to duck and a bullet zinged off the metal desktop.
“How’re we getting past them?” I whispered fiercely. Mardek shrugged agitatedly, swung to the left, fired a few blasts at Jessie and James and swung back to face me again. Bullets and shells rammed into the desk, and I could tell it wasn’t going to be able to take much more of this. “This desk’s going to fall apart in a minute!” I hissed. “We have to get out of here!”
Mardek nodded and motioned for me to get behind him. I did as well as I could without setting fire to myself from his tail and watched as, in one swift movement, he picked up the desk and hurled it at our enemies. In the split second it took to cross the room and for them to roll hurriedly out of the way, he ran after it and slipped his hands over the Rockets’ heads. Both suddenly froze, aware of the ramifications of their situation.
“Good one, Mardek,” I said. It had been a good idea, perfectly executed; top marks all around. “Now, you two are going to sleep for a bit. Priscilla!”
I released her from the ball and Mardek parted his fingers slightly; it was just enough for the Gastly-thing to use Hypnosis and knock the killers out. Tying them to a mostly-undamaged chair with a length of computer cable, I took Jessie’s shotgun and asked Mardek to clear the rubble in the doorway. He indicated we should stand back, and, when we had, he blasted it with both hand-cannons, the detritus erupting in a plume of fire strong enough that it left pieces of wrecked computer embedded in the ceiling.
“Thanks,” I said, and together, we left the room, heading for that place where even now Giovanni was in the process of awakening Mew-II. If we didn’t get there in time, Kanto’s most powerful crime syndicate was going to become a hell of a lot more powerful – with bad results for everyone in the country.
We passed through a series of abandoned laboratories and corridors; I expected everyone was either being thrashed by Red and Green upstairs or had gone to watch Mew-II being awakened. The lack of guards indicated that Giovanni obviously hadn't expected me to beat Jessie and James – though to be perfectly honest, neither had I.
Finally, we reached another huge vault door, this one open; beyond, I saw the shadowy outline of a colossal dark chamber, the sole light coming from the computer screens that rimed the walls and a tall cylinder of glowing green fluid. Something floated within this, something a little taller than a man and powerfully built, but I couldn’t get a closer look at it, because between the tank and me was a crowd of Rocket high-ups and scientists, their gazes fixed firmly on Giovanni, who stood in a black suit right next to the cylinder, face demonic in its unearthly green light. Not daring to get any closer, I whispered into the spot where I thought Priscilla’s ear was and sent her floating invisibly in.
Giovanni’s voice rang out over the crowd:
“I have confirmation that Mew-IIB is ready for awakening. Thank you, Niels.” What was it with all the Northerners here? “Before I release it, I want to thank Professor Blaine for his kind cooperation in this manner.” A murmur of laughter ran around the room. “Now, is the helmet set?”
Something hissed and a dark shape within the tube moved downwards towards the top of the thing that floated in it. I presumed it was the helmet, locking itself into place around Mew-II’s head before it was woken – a sensible precaution to take, but it now meant that if Giovanni let the monster out, Team Rocket would be entirely in control...
A gasp and a couple of cries of fright: Priscilla had done her work. She had appeared just behind Giovanni, her taloned hands hovering millimetres from his throat. The crime boss froze, instinctively realising that he was in a position of imminent death.
“Good work, Priscilla,” I said, stepping forwards, Mardek at my back and the shotgun in my hands. The Rockets started and turned to look at me; one tried to rush me and was met with a blast of fire to the chest, bowling him over backwards. Mardek blew smoke from his hand-cannon with relish. “Nobody try anything stupid, or otherwise my friend here” – I patted Mardek’s side – “and I will shoot you dead. If that’s not incentive enough, Giovanni’s life now hangs on my word, because Priscilla over there is ready to slit his throat any moment now.”
To place emphasis on this point, Priscilla uttered a horrifying gibbering sound and clutched the Rocket’s leader closer to her chest.
“OK,” I said, and walked forwards, the crowd of Rockets parting before me. I stopped in front of the huge green tube, and stared within.
Mew-IIB was as tall, or taller, than Mardek, and a pale grey-white colour, with a purple belly and tail. Long, strong legs were curled underneath its body, and slim, elegant arms floated beside it, terminating in powerful-looking hands. Its head was completely encased in the steel mask I had seen earlier, save for two small grey horns at the back, and its eyes, which I couldn’t make out through the green fluid. I turned to face the assembled company.
“How do I kill this thing?” I asked. “You must have a way of controlling the conditions inside this tank. How can I kill it?”
No one answered.
“Well?” I waved the shotgun. “If I don’t get an answer, I’m afraid I’m going to have to start hurting people.”
“No you won’t,” Giovanni told me. “You’re a PI, not a cop.”
“I will,” I said, spinning to face him. “Unless someone tells me how to get rid of this monster, I am going to kill you!”
Dead silence. Giovanni snickered.
“You see?” he cried. “No one believes you, Russell.”
“You remember me?” I was surprised. I didn’t think Giovanni would recall me out of all the people who helped bring him down.
“I remember every single person who put me behind bars,” he said. “And that’s how I know you won’t kill any of us.”
So saying, he took a deep breath and flung himself backwards through Priscilla, shutting his eyes firmly to stop the gases burning them, then quickly scrambled to his feet and darted behind the tank. Without thinking, Mardek raised his cannon – and fired.
The tank’s wall erupted into smithereens, unleashing a tidal wave of green fluid that washed us back into the front row of Rocket watchers; no one quite dared grab hold of us, and we struggled back to our soaking feet unharmed. Giovanni, impeccably dry, stood beside the ruptured cylinder and the being within, now slumped against the back wall.
“Mardek! Make up for that mistake!”
He got the message instantly, and fired another fireball straight at Mew-II’s prone form; a collective gasp went up from the Rockets as it impacted and burst all over the monster’s pale body.
Leaving it completely unharmed.
From the depths of the helmet’s eyeholes, two dark, glittering eyes opened, strangely glassy in the dim half-light. Mew-II rose to its feet slowly, as if uncertain exactly where it was, and took an unsteady pace outside the tank. It raised one hand to the helmet, touched it for a moment; it was completely unaware of the spell it exerted on everyone present. Rockets and Babylon staff alike, we were all transfixed by the monster’s every movement.
VIDEO LINK ACTIVE
Bill’s computer screen suddenly flickered back from the dead, the blank blackness replaced with a full-colour representation of what appeared to be a piece of glass. In the bottom right corner of the screen, a cartoon Meowth’s head grinned maniacally and pointed to a set of digits that displayed the time. As he watched, Bill saw the view change, from the pane of glass to a massed crowd, and at its head he thought he discerned Russell, flanked by a pair of monsters.
“What the hell is this?” he breathed.
Giovanni smiled broadly and depressed a button on a compact black device he held in one hand. A green light suddenly lit up on the helmet, and Mew-II’s head snapped around to face me. He was now in control of it, it seemed.
The great beast strode over until it was just a few feet away from me, the Rockets fanning out to form kind of an arena around us. I raised the shotgun and wordlessly shot it in the chest.
Except the shot didn’t touch it; the shell slipped away and began to describe fast, blurry circles around Mew-II’s body before zinging away at an unpredictable angle and killing a scientist.
“The Psywave,” Giovanni called to me. “A modified Psychic attack; Mew-II can keep it up indefinitely. It forms an invisible vortex of energy around Mew-II, deflecting all attacks away. Truly, a spectacular creature.”
He pressed another button and Mew-II’s hands came together jerkily in front of it, a ball of blue light coalescing between them; I wasted no time discovering what it was and ran, recalling Priscilla and Mardek as I went. I burst through the crowd of Rockets and out into the abandoned laboratory complex, but got no further before a sizzling bolt of blue energy slammed into my back, knocking me over with enough force to crack, as I later discovered, two of my ribs.
“The Aura Sphere,” Giovanni’s voice came from far away. “It never misses. You can’t escape, Russell!”
“Watch me,” I muttered, struggling back to my feet. Behind me, the Rockets were parting to allow Mew-II to pass between them; ignoring the burning pain in my back and chest, I fled.
Past tables, over tables, around tables; the labs were so full of tables that at times it felt like a chase in a furniture store. Through doors, under descending grilles; past rubble and over chaotic tangles of wires and cables; into blind doorways and hurriedly out again; through the jungle of chrome and white enamel that formed the laboratory complex.
And still Mew-II came, not tiring at all, its steady, silent pace always just a room behind mine. I had the feeling that if it really wanted to, it could have snuffed me out with a look; obviously, Giovanni was playing with me here.
I burst up the stairway and yelled at Green’s Machamp to follow me; startled, it obeyed and we hurtled back over the room to the area behind the central island, knee-deep in fainted Zubat and Drowzee, and with a scared huddle of defenceless grunts being menaced by Green’s Charizard.
“Kids! We have to get out of here!” I yelled above the clamour. “Mew-II is coming!”
For once, no one stopped to argue; surprising the Rockets who were currently fighting them, Red and Green rushed past them, recalling their Pokémon, and followed me out into the room where Sabrina was.
Or where she had been – she was no longer there, only the crushed, broken body of the Alakazam.
I didn’t stop, though; the door behind us exploded off its hinges in a blast of crackling blue light, and Mew-II stepped calmly through the wreckage, moving in for the kill.
“Run!” I ordered, and we did, three human forms fleeing before the huge, monstrous one silhouetted in the doorway. We reached the dead-end of the corridor, pressed another switch and burst out into the Rocket Game Corner. Pushing past gamblers, shoving them out of our way and onto green baize tables, we wormed our way back towards the doors. Seconds after we emerged, the entire front of the building fell apart in a landslide of glass and brick; there was no explosion to start it, it just happened, a colossal crashing river of stone, the remnants of the neon sign sliding down on top of it all.
Perched atop that sign was Mew-II, strong, prehensile toes gripping the neon tubes and arms akimbo, the air rippling around its hands. A crowd of spectators was forming, the way they always did in Saffron, and then the monster leaped, powering high into the sky before landing, fist first, in a crouched pose in the centre of the road. The shock wave from the punch tore the tarmac apart, a minor earthquake that shredded the road and knocked everyone flying. For a few seconds, all I could see was the sky, and the buildings shaking and bits falling from them; dizziness and nausea washed over me and I came close to throwing up. Then suddenly, all was silent. Hardly daring to believe I wasn't dead, I scrambled to my feet and watched Mew-II as it stood there, impassive, in the centre of the street. People were running now, trying to get as far away from the monster as possible. I heard a distant siren.
TRANSMISSION IN PROGRESS
The green light on its helmet flickered, and turned blue. A tinny mechanical voice came from a speaker on the side:
“New link active. New orders received.”
Then Mew-II turned around and raised a hand towards the rubble of the Game Corner; it parted like the Red Sea for Moses, flying away to either side, destroying a few cars and burying a couple of those who had left their fleeing too late. I winced, but nothing more; I’d seen too much death already to truly care.
“What the hell?” I asked aloud.
“A good question,” replied a loud voice from somewhere unseen. “I think I can help you with the answer.”
The strange man who had asked me to find Vitruvio appeared, sauntering out of a side alley and onto the point where Mew-II had, until very recently, been standing, the epicentre of the quake that had ruined the street.
“You!” I cried. “What do you want?”
“That disk I gave you,” he said. “I delivered it to you on Vitruvio’s corpse so that you would send it to Bill, in order to have it deciphered. Of course, Bill has one of the most powerful broadcasting towers in the country. The disk actually contains a program that contains pre-programmed instructions that are beamed straight into Mew-II’s helmet. It is, in fact, I who has assumed control of Mew-II.”
“Who are you?” I demanded to know, releasing Mardek, who looked surprised but played along, levelling one hand-cannon at the stranger. Red and Green looked up at him in awe; I had to admit, he did look pretty damn cool now.
The man’s chest wriggled around a little, and then a lithe, beige figure leaped from out of his coat. It landed on its hind legs and looked up at us, the golden charm on its head gleaming in the sun: a Meowth.
“You’re... a Meowth?” I said incredulously.
“That’s right!” he answered. “This” – he whisked the coat away from the man he had been inside a moment ago – “is nothing but a motorised corpse.”
The thing had evidently once been a man, but was now encased within a network of poles and pistons, the like of which usually go on the leg of someone crippled by polio. Where the chest had once been was a stainless steel cockpit.
“But... you’re a Meowth,” I uttered at last. The Meowth looked annoyed.
“I’m more than just a Meowth,” he said, leaning casually against his robot. “I am the last original Rocket Executive, the former controller of Jessie and James.”
“This is stupid,” I said, bending down to check that he was actually a Meowth and not a puppet. “You’re a talking Meo—”
There was a click and suddenly a revolver was being aimed between my eyes, the butt firmly in the grasp of the Meowth’s left paw.
“Don’t patronise me,” he said. “I hate that. Now stand up and let me pontificate.”
I obeyed. I had no doubts that this guy would shoot me – if he was in control of Mew-II, there was probably no limit as to what he was capable of.
“Now,” he said, satisfied with his captive audience. “You’re probably wondering why, if I’m a Rocket Executive, I have seized control of Mew-II from Giovanni.”
Red, Green and I all nodded. I actually thought he might be trying to overthrow the current leader – but if so, why didn’t he do it while Giovanni was in prison?
“The point is,” the Meowth continued, “I thought up this plan a long, long time ago, when Giovanni was in jail. I used the Hypno to implant the idea of creating Mew-II into Giovanni’s head, standing outside his cell window, then I used the Hypno to smuggle his plan out to Team Rocket, once he’d ‘thought it up’.” His face turned dark. “The helmet was built to my design, so I incorporated the ability to switch channels from Giovanni’s own.”
“But why is your plan so complicated?” asked Red. “If you want control of Team Rocket...”
“Why the hell would I want control of Team Rocket?” the Meowth spat angrily, jerking the barrel of the revolver to point at Red, who raised his hands. “I spent the last ten years on my own, outside the organisation. No, the point is to make Giovanni suffer, to take his Team apart limb by limb – and then finally to kill him, slowly. Then, naturally, last of all his Persian.”
“What?” I asked.
“His Persian. The cat who replaced me, the reason I refuse to evolve! That vile beast who stole my favoured position as Giovanni’s lap-cat! Oh sure, I get to be an Executive – but that means work, and I’m a Meowth, I don’t work, I sit inside and get stroked!”
The Meowth was very agitated now, eyes aglow with fury and spittle flying from his gnashing teeth.
“This is all a plan to get revenge on a Persian you don’t like?” I could hardly believe I was saying it. It was so stupid, so colossal an idea for something so simple.
“Yes!” screamed the Meowth. “Nothing on earth is capable of causing as much suffering as Mew-II; it was born with an innate knowledge of 5012 ways to kill someone – without even using any of its moves or any items.”
“So those new instructions it received,” I continued, “they’d be to go back in there and kill all the Rockets, then torture Giovanni and his Persian to death?”
“What happens afterwards? Just so I’m clear.”
“With Mew-II, I return to Hollywood,” the Meowth said. “The land of my birth.”
“It’s in America, you idiot! Christ, you Kantans are so ignorant. It’s a world-famous location!”
“Never heard of it.” I glanced at Mardek. “You?” He shook his head. I looked over at Red and Green, who did likewise. “None of us have heard of Hollywood.”
“It... it doesn’t matter,” said the Meowth, visibly pulling himself together. “What matters is that soon, Giovanni will be dead, and so will that Persian.” He spat out the word like a piece of bad meat.
I sighed. I knew what came next.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I can’t let you do that.” Mardek fired and the Meowth’s robot exploded; with a fearful nya its pilot leaped aside. Red sent out Poli, Green dived for the gun; the next second, the Meowth was unarmed and being menaced by a Poliwrath. He looked from side to side, wildly, then all at once slashed out multiple times at Poli’s legs, a powerful Fury Swipes attack, leaving deep red lines behind it. Poli bellowed in pain and fell over, and Green was startled into firing a shot; in the ensuing confusion, the Meowth got clean away.
“Priscilla! En!” I sent them both out. “Go in search of a Meowth carrying a black remote control thing! He’s dangerous, so be careful when you meet him, but try and detain him and bring him to me. I’ll be in there.” I pointed towards the Game Corner. “Understood?” They both nodded. “Then go!” They flew off, rising together into the air and then peeling apart to cover more ground.
Red looked up at me.
“What do we do now?”
“You know what I said about there being no black and white in this city, that it was all grey?”
“Well, screw that, I think I’m turning white.”
So saying, I strode towards the wrecked Game Corner, some long-dormant moral imperative stirring within me: to save lives, no matter how unworthy they may be, and to protect the world from the destructive power of Mew-II.
Bill watched in horror, unable to tear himself away from the screen yet scared beyond all comprehension at the same time. Whatever the camera was mounted on was alive, and it was deadly. Bodies mounted up around it, taken to pieces in new and inventive ways, and still there were more; wherever it was, there was a plentiful supply of raw materials for it to sculpt into attitudes of death.
Bill had started watching the footage at the age of thirty-four. When he was done, you would swear from his white hair that he was fifty.
The three of us blasted our way in, Red’s Saur and Green’s Charizard helping my former Magmar to clear the wreckage of the Game Corner’s front wall enough to pass. I peered into the interior and warned the boys to cover their eyes as they came in and let their Pokémon lead them through: every single person inside was dead. Every gambler, every dealer, every clerk and worker, killed in a different way; hundreds of Mew-II’s 5012 methods of killing utilised in a single room. I saw a woman turned inside out, a man impaled on the lever of the fruit machine that still emitted its jingling tune; the Rocket with the pince-nez with his neck cut by the shards of his glasses, the Rocket girl I’d followed to the back that time lying headless on the floor, a noose of cheese wire looped over the rafters above her. It was a grotesque tableau of death and destruction, and testament to Mew-II’s power.
We reached the secret switch and entered the base. The three Pokémon fanned out, checking each of the three rooms ahead for foes, but they were empty – everywhere was empty, until we reached the room with the cages. Each cage’s inhabitant was still, eyes or equivalent sensory organ locked on the open doors at the other end, where Mew-II had presumably gone. Perhaps they felt some kinship with the monster; who can say what went on in their minds?
Near the open blast doors was a pile of pieces of scientist, a single whole human head topping them like a cherry on a cake.
“Keep those eyes shut,” I told Red and Green again. “If you look, you are definitely going to regret it.”
We progressed down the stairs into the laboratory area, blown apart by Mew-II’s Aura Spheres during its pursuit of me. Its Psywave shield had also evidently thrown a few things around, contributing to the destruction. Still, there were no corpses here, and I let Red and Green open their eyes.
“OK, boys,” I said. “At the end of this complex, in the room in the dark, there are going to be a lot of mutilated corpses. When we get there, send your Pokémon in, but don’t come in yourselves, you hear? You don’t want to see what’s in there. Understand?”
“Yeah,” answered Green; Red nodded.
We continued through the laboratories, through the ruined labyrinth of technology and white-tiled floors, until we came to the doors that led into the dark room. Red and Green stopped, and motioned for Saur and the Charizard to follow Mardek and I in.
The main light source, the glass cylinder, was no longer functioning and the room was lit only by the flicker of the computer screens and lights around the edges. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for me to make out the shape of Mew-II rearing over Giovanni, his Persian crouched between them. It sprang – and the Psywave tore it away, placing it briefly into orbit around Mew-II before flinging it harshly into a far-off wall, at the base of which it lay still.
I picked up the discarded shotgun, noticing as I did so that it was slick with blood; the whole floor, I realised, was thinly coated in a paste made from liquidised Rockets.
“Mew-II!” I cried. “Over here!”
With that, I shot it in the back of the head, beneath the spike of its mask. The shot was flung away by the Psywave, but it got the monster’s attention: it turned and saw me, framed by three huge, powerful Pokémon, holding a shotgun. Any other person or Pokémon would have fled instantly, but not Mew-II; it held out a hand and points of light appeared around it, moving into a central point to form a glowing orb of light that suddenly resolved itself into a huge spoon, the size of a broadsword. Like with the Alakazam, the spoon would focus its power – but did that mean Mew-II was a Psychic type? I realised too late that I should have brought Priscilla.
I had no more time to think: Mew-II was upon me, scything with the spoon and slicing a huge arc through the air. Mardek shoved me to one side and caught the edge of the spoon in his hand, holding it back for a brief second before Mew-II’s brute strength showed through and he was tossed aside like a ragdoll.
From my position on the floor, I watched as Saur and the Charizard attacked it from both sides simultaneously, a Razor Leaf from the left and a Flamethrower from the right; Mew-II leaped high into the air, turning in a slow-motion somersault, and landed atop the remains of its old nutrient tank. The Flamethrower kept going, incinerated the Razor Leaf and hit Saur full in the face, burning out his eyes. With a terrible roar, he went berserk, crashing and thrashing in panic, vines flailing everywhere. One was about to crush me, but Green’s Charizard snatched me up and carried me into the air moments before it beat down on the place where my head had been.
Now we mounted an aerial assault: the Charizard and I fired Flamethrower and shotgun shells simultaneously at Mew-II, which deflected them both with its spoon. Below us, Mardek was trying desperately to calm Saur enough to allow him past his wildly thrashing vines, which currently made the entire floor area dangerous. One caught the nutrient tank and shattered it, glass raining down on Giovanni’s crouched, terrified form. Half a second before the metal top fell down with the glass, Mew-II leaped into the air and hung there, levitating. Neither Charizard nor I had expected this and despite a desperate effort to turn, we flew straight into it, colliding with the monster with a jolt that sent pain coursing through my chest.
Dropping the shotgun, I grabbed onto Mew-II’s shoulders and swung onto its back just as it struck Charizard a blow with the spoon, smashing its head downwards and causing him to fall from the air, a tumbling figure that suddenly lost all of its grace. He landed next to Saur, whereupon he immediately received a Seed Bomb in the face from the panicked Venusaur.
But I had no time for his plight: I was still stuck on Mew-II’s back as it thrashed and span in midair, trying to dislodge me. I clung on for dear life, acutely aware of how far below, and how covered in broken glass, the floor was. I fastened my arms around its neck and squeezed, trying to see if I could strangle it, but however hard I tried, nothing seemed to happen; Mew-II did not seem to need air as much as everyone else. It just kicked harder, thrashing and circling, until it seemed to tire slightly; then, it pulled forwards and flew backwards towards the wall. I had just half a second to contemplate the idea of being crushed to death when—
—a ball of fire rushed up from below and caught Mew-II’s tail; it halted, pained and dived downwards towards Mardek instead, spoon drawn back for a mighty blow. I was going to jump from its back, but as we reached Mardek, I saw him point to something, something just above my head, before the spoon connected with his flaming head and sent him spinning like a Catherine wheel into a bank of computers, which flared sparks and went dark.
“Mardek!” I cried, but there was no time, because now Mew-II had flown up and was thrashing around again, trying to dislodge me. It didn’t seem very intelligent, but then I supposed it was only a weapon... What was it that Mardek wanted from me? What had he pointed to?
I glanced upwards and saw nothing but the dizzying, fast-moving ceiling and the spike of Mew-II’s mask, nothing that could help me stop the mon—
I reached up carefully, holding on tightly with one arm, and searched for a button, a lock, a lever – anything that might release the helmet. As if it sensed my intent, Mew-II doubled its aerobatics, whirling and diving and looping like a stunt plane, desperate to be rid of me.
I slipped and almost fell – but caught the strange cable of flesh that ran from between its shoulder blades to the back of its head, and pulled myself back onto it. I reached up blindly and thumped hard on the metal, and to my surprise I felt a section of mask slide inwards, and seconds later the whole thing was gone, flung off by Mew-II’s wild movement.
The monster stopped suddenly, floating dead still in midair. It reached around and calmly tore me from its back and dropped me; I fell fifty or forty feet and landed on Saur’s back, smashing in his flower. At that, he collapsed and lay still beneath me, wheezing heavily.
Mew-II’s face was lean and hard and angry, with dark eyes that surveyed everything beneath it with a critical gaze. It floated down gently to land beside Giovanni, still crouched in the wreckage of the tank, and then suddenly spoke loudly and telepathically.
WHAT USE IS IT?
The voice was most definitely masculine, and contained power beyond imagination. No one answered, for the longest period of time; only Giovanni and I were fully conscious, and we were both terrified of this new Mew-II, one unbound by the helmet.
THERE IS NO POINT TO IT, Mew-II said. THERE IS NO POINT TO ANY OF IT. WHY SHOULD IT EXIST?
“I – what are you talking about?” I managed at last. Mew-II’s gaze snapped down onto mine, and I felt like an ant being scrutinised by God.
WHY ARE THERE HUMANS? WHY ARE THERE POKÉMON?
“Lots of people would like to know the same things,” I said, climbing off Saur’s back and almost falling over. “Philosophers. They’re all looking for the meaning of our existence.”
THERE IS NO POINT TO IT. HUMANS SEEK TO CONTROL, TO DOMINATE OTHERS. EVEN FORCES LIKE ME. Mew-II indicated itself – no, himself. POKÉMON ACQUIESCE, FIGHT BLINDLY FOR REASONS THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND. AND SOME OF THEM SEEK TO CONTROL, AS BADLY AS THE HUMANS DO. THERE IS NO POINT TO IT.
Obviously, he was referring to the Meowth, and I wondered if he had been fully conscious of everything that had happened to him while he was the puppet of first the Rockets and then the Meowth; I couldn’t even begin to imagine what kind of suffering that must be.
“Life is good sometimes,” I said. “Not in here, though. Not in this city.” I made an expansive gesture. “If you go out into the country... the people are better there. There aren’t any gangs or deceivers, just... simple country folk.”
I WONDER... Mew-II stepped forwards and glided towards me. He gripped my face firmly and turned it upwards to face his own. YOU DO NOT LIE, OR AT LEAST YOU DO NOT BELIEVE YOU LIE, he said at length. He turned to Giovanni, who had suddenly decided to make a break for it, and the leader’s legs froze up, causing him to topple over. YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND, ARE A LIAR. Mew-II took a few steps towards him. YOU DECEIVED PEOPLE AND YOU BUILT ME, A MASTER OF DEATH, TO CONTROL. YOU ARE NOT WORTHY.
Giovanni scrabbled plaintively in the bloody filth of the floor, and came up with the shotgun; he whipped it around, but before he could fire it, it floated out of his hands and came to rest in front of Mew-II’s face. Telekinetic forces disassembled it, and retrieved a shell from inside; it was like watching a three-dimensional blueprint. Mew-II examined the shell, and then let the parts fall to the floor.
AN INTERESTING IDEA, he said, and raised one hand, making a gun of it, forefinger pointing forwards, others back, with the thumb raised. He pointed this at Giovanni, and there was a small, wet bursting sound as the Rocket leader’s head exploded in a fountain of blood and bone, spraying its contents all over the wet tiles like a water balloon.
THAT IS HIM DEALT WITH, said Mew-II, turning back to me. NOW WE CAN TALK.
“Listen,” I said. “What are you going to do now? Because the police are going to come here soon, I heard the sirens, and I don’t know what’s going to happen when they do.”
I DO NOT KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN, said Mew-II. ONLY THAT I SHALL LEAVE THIS PLACE. THESE ‘POLICE’... IF THEY ATTACK ME, I SHALL DEFEND MYSELF.
“I’m going to leave now,” I told him. “If I were you, I’d go soon too. I don’t think they’ll let the other recombinant creatures live, let alone you.”
OTHERS? Mew-II’s piercing eye caught mine. AH, OF COURSE, THE PROTOTYPES.
“You could call them that.”
I WILL TAKE THEM WITH ME, said Mew-II. SHOW ME WHERE THEY ARE.
Mew-II and I left the room and returned to Red and Green, who shrank back at the sight of my new companion. After a brief explanation, they were OK, and I got them to recall Saur and the Charizard from the hall while I recalled Mardek. That reminded me of something, and I asked them to wait while I went back into the dark room.
I knelt down in the mess around Giovanni and rifled through his pockets until I found an empty Pokéball, then stood up and recalled his Persian. I wasn’t just going to let it die here, not now I’d rediscovered my moral imperative. I pocketed it, and returned to the others.
“OK,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Red, Green and I led Mew-II back up to the room with the cages, where Red and Green covered their eyes at my command.
SO MANY... Mew-II flew gracefully up to look at the creatures on the top row of the cages, staring in at a nasty-looking beast composed primarily of eyes. SO MANY BROTHERS AND SISTERS...
He returned and landed silently before me.
YOU MUST EXIT THIS ROOM THROUGH THE WAY THAT WILL LEAD YOU OUT OF HERE, he said. IT WILL BE EASIEST IF I TAKE THE WHOLE ROOM WITH ME.
“The whole room?”
IT SHOULD NOT POSE A PROBLEM.
I looked at Mew-II, that unimaginably strong, tortured being, and part of me wished I could go too: give it all up and flee Saffron, the dark city of the abused, and go with him to whatever green and pleasant land he took his army of mutants. But I could not, so I took Red and Green’s hands and guided them to the door and out.
“Goodbye, Mew-II,” I called, and the great being turned to face me.
GOODBYE, RUSSELL CURTIS, he said, and I had no time to ask how he knew my name, because at that moment the room ceased to exist, replaced instead by rock that terminated in an uncut wall where the door used to be.
“Whoa,” I murmured, astounded by Mew-II’s power. “Uh... wow.”
I turned to Red and Green. “You can open your eyes now, kids.”
They did and looked around, blinking.
“Where did that wall come from?” asked Red, pointing.
“Mew-II,” I replied succinctly. “He moved the whole of that other room away, leaving nothing but stone behind.”
“A powerful Pokémon indeed,” noted Green.
“Pokémon...” Oddly enough, it had never occurred to me that Mew-II might have been a Pokémon. Of course he was, he was made from a Mew, but still... he was so human.
Then the police streamed down the corridor, guns out and Arcanines roaring, and I sighed and put my grey personality back on. White has never worked with the cops, and especially not against the sarcastic power of a Saffron policeman. I felt exhausted, and was sure that both Mardek and I needed prompt medical attention, but the day wasn’t over yet.
“Officers,” I began, stepping forwards towards them, “some weird things have happened today...”
It was in all the papers the next day, of course. There was no Team Rocket, no Sabrina any more to frighten people into quiet. The story of how Russell Curtis, thirty-six-year-old private investigator from Citrus District, had single-handedly defeated the town’s corrupt Gym Leader, the head of Team Rocket and the legendary monster he had created, while simultaneously discovering two new species of Pokémon, Haunter and Magmortar, proved to be somewhat sensational.
Of course, there was the question of the Meowth, who had been spotted across the country and even in Johto, from Lavender to Ecruteak. Countless Meowth had been brought in for questioning – but none of them had proved to be the one the police were after. In fact, none of them could even talk.
Professor Blaine was discovered during the demolition of the remains of the Game Corner, locked in a small room on the upper floor. He was suffering from malnutrition, but they say he still walked upright, his white suit clean despite it all and his moustache well-waxed and cared for. He had been convalescing in the district hospital, the Torrence Memorial General Hospital, for the past week.
Red and Green had come out of the affair all right, too, both receiving invitations from the Indigo Plateau to compete in the League and even against the Elite Four just two days after the events at the Rocket HQ. Both had left the day before, heading for the Plateau together. I was certain they’d be competing against each other in the final, and was resolved to at least attend that match.
What had happened to Russell Curtis, you ask? Did he stop the everlasting patrol, nocturnal and diurnal by turns, that took him around the back alleys of Saffron? Did he leave the world of vice and sin that he was so immersed in for good? Did he take his moral imperative and burn it, or did he keep it?
Well, he was still sitting behind his desk, having a drink with the rest of the Babylon Detective Agency. I’d been in hospital for a few days on account of my cracked ribs, but I’d refused to stay any longer, preferring to convalesce at home. Besides, I still had work to do.
Mardek pulled on his boiling water and poured out nightmare juice for Priscilla. No one was sure whether or not a Haunter was legal to keep, since a Gastly definitely wasn’t, but since it was a legal blind spot and she was now officially a hero no one really minded.
I made a phone call and got out the whisky. About ten minutes later, Wesley arrived, a drink-ravaged face peering around the door with incredulity in its eyes.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. I just tossed the Pokéball up in the air and let him catch it. Fingers fumbling, he pressed the button and released the Pokémon within: a certain Ponyta. He sank to his knees and embraced the yellow horse, which nuzzled his face and came as close to smiling as ponies ever do.
“You did it,” he said, tear shining on his cheeks. “Russell, you did it.”
“It was the least I could do,” I said kindly. “We gave the rest of the captured Pokémon to the police, but I wanted to do this myself.”
“I can – can never thank you enough,” Wesley said, and he climbed to his feet so that he could collapse into the client’s chair, Charla at his side where she belonged.
Then we both, in time-honoured tradition, commenced to get very, very drunk.
“OK,” I said, leaning back against the wall, “that’s good. Put it up outside.”
Priscilla took the poster that she and En had created and flew out, a pot of paste in one hand and a brush between her teeth. I stood and smiled for a moment, then stepped on the panel and went back through the maze. I’d memorised the layout now, as I had to. Fleets of cleaners, newly-hired, were labouring to remove the cobwebs and put the lustre back in the wood’s surface.
I reached the podium and came across Mardek setting up the ring. The old one’s ropes had been rotting away when we got here, and we’d had to get more – but I didn’t care. No expense was to be spared; everything had to be perfect for the grand reopening.
Because of course it didn’t last, that time in the grimy office down on River Street, drinking whisky. You can’t save the country in such an obvious way and get no reward at all.
The three former Rocket Executives had gone into hiding, leaving spaces open in the Gym Leader power structure. Red was aiming to become the leader of Viridian City’s long-abandoned Gym one day – but I had been asked by Lance the Dragon Master himself if I would consent to take up Sabrina’s position. And naturally I had accepted.
So here I was, once Russell Curtis, private eye, and now Russell Curtis, Gym Leader; the preparations for the first Saffron Gym Tournament in several years were now well and truly underway. Best of all, the Mew-II affair had caused a surge of interest in Pokémon Training, and I already had over one hundred applicants. The tournament was set to be huge.
Mardek paused upon seeing me and pointed over to the corner. Standing there was a familiar figure, a man in a sharp white suit whose frame seemed to contain all the energy of a thunderbolt, his hat clutched in one hand and dark glasses perched on his nose. It was Professor Blaine.
“When you fought me all those years back,” said the old man, without bothering to introduce himself, “I always knew you could go far. But you never came back for that rematch.”
“I know,” I answered. “I always regretted that. What brings you here, Professor?”
“Call me Blaine, Russell, you’ve earned that much.” He gestured around at his surroundings. “A man who got all this for himself from scratch deserves it.” Blaine paused. “I came here to thank you,” he said. “For stopping Mew-II.”
“I didn’t kill him,” I replied immediately. “It’s not like the papers say.”
“You call it ‘him’,” noted the old professor. “Interesting. Did you ever wonder, what creature was it that we combined with Mew’s DNA to build Mew-II?”
“No, it never really occurred to me.”
“Mine,” Blaine said. “My own genetic material, combined with that of Mew.” He sighed. “I rather think it showed the worst of human nature. So violent.”
“It’s not like the papers say,” I repeated. “Mew-II wasn’t – isn’t – violent. He left of his own free will, taking the other recombinants with him. He wanted to find peace, away from Saffron’s violence.”
A strange, indescribable expression stole over Blaine’s face.
“Is that so,” he murmured. “Extraordinary.”
“I know,” I replied. “Perhaps he was the best of human nature. Perhaps he couldn’t help but be good. After all, it was your DNA you used.”
Blaine laughed. “Ah, don’t mock me!” Suddenly, he put his hat on one of the stands for the ring. “Well then,” he said, vaulting the ropes with unexpected nimbleness, “shall we?”
“Eh? Shall we what?”
Blaine spread his arms wide as if I were an idiot. “Have the rematch, Russell! What do you think?”
And that was when I knew that it was over, that fifteen years of blood and disillusion on the streets of Saffron were finally at an end, that whatever had broken deep within me all those years ago was at long last on the mend. Those words pierced my heart and cleaned out the cloying, dark grey mess within, until I felt like I was twenty again and an impulsive, hot-headed Trainer who never turned down a battle, and there was nothing left now to do but fight.
And that's all, folks. Maybe I'll write another one sometime; depends on the feedback.
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World * The Rocket Case * The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There * The Beastman * Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol * Snow * 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 here.
May 2nd, 2012 (1:44 AM).
great story loved every moment of it
May 2nd, 2012 (4:48 AM).
Please don't bump threads over a month old since the last post, let alone over a year old.
Going to close. If you want it reopened for edits or something, Cutlerine, just ask.
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