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This is my entry for the Holiday Hop's SWC, in which it came first. I rate it 15, for foul language (in English, unusually for me), violence, dark stuff and a bear.
Christmas in Sinnoh was always white; it was a northerly country, and the turning of the season always heralded snowfall.
Christmas three hundred miles north of Sinnoh was even whiter. Not even the bitter cold of Snowpoint City compared to the midwinter temperatures on Batten Island, and no one but the most dedicated researchers actually wanted to be there then.
Melissa Argent was not one of these researchers.
In fact, as she sat at the table in the common room and looked through a report on Snow Sawsbuck herd structure, she thought very hard about the possibility of giving up this job and looking for work elsewhere. Fourth Station, while prestigious, wasn't really the sort of place anyone wanted to spend the winter.
“My God, it's cold,” said Yewtree amiably, coming in and pulling off his gloves.
Melissa pondered this. There didn't seem to be any point in arguing with him: it was indeed cold. But Yewtree was looking at her as if he expected an answer, so she gave a tentative response.
“Yes?” Emboldened by the way he then caught her eye, she went on: “Yes. Yes, it is.”
Melissa was twenty-four and halfway through her first year at Fourth Station; Alistair Yewtree, at fifty, was somewhere in the middle of his fifteenth. She was reliably informed that he had been repeating his sentiments about the cold ever since his arrival.
Yewtree shut the door carefully, making absolutely no difference to the overall temperature, and came over.
“What are you up do?” he asked in an avuncular sort of way; one could accuse Yewtree of many things – long before she had ever met him, Melissa had heard tales of his escapades – but not of any avuncular deficit. Some would have said that there was no one more avuncular on the island; still others claimed that there was no one more so in the world. Either way, it was actually rather tiresome.
“I'm reading a report on Snow Sawsbuck herd structure,” she replied. “What were you doing? Why'd you go out?”
“Collecting snow,” he said, holding up a sealed plastic bag that was, true to his word, was full of snow. “I'm going to subject it to some spectroscopic analysis.”
“Very festive of you,” remarked Melissa.
“Isn't it just?” he said happily, and went off to put his snow in the freezer before it melted.
Perhaps a person unacquainted with Yewtree would have considered this a strange task; Melissa, however, had been here long enough to know that every single week, on the Saturday night, he would go out and collect snow for spectroscopic analysis. He had now been doing it for so long that no one quite felt confident enough to ask him why; they felt sure it must be a tradition, or an ancient law, or something similar, and didn't want to be the first to admit their ignorance about it.
Melissa judged she had about ten minutes before Yewtree returned and, not wanting to get caught up in conversation with him or really to do any more work, got up and left.
“We could go to bed,” she suggested, pausing just outside the door, “but that'd be kind of a waste of a Christmas Eve, wouldn't it?”
The person she was addressing made no reply, for she wasn't capable of doing so, or indeed of understanding most of the things she said. This was because she was a Roselia, and blessed with roughly the same quantity of intelligence as the average cat, though considerably more loyalty. Her name was, imaginatively enough, Rose, and she was a constant companion of Melissa.
Rose's origins were closely tied to the reason Melissa was at Fourth Station at all: Melissa had spent a year as a Trainer when she was ten, as a lot of kids did; she had then decided she wanted to go more into the theory and study of Pokémon than their capture and battling, so in the end she’d released and given away her team and gone back to school. Upon starting the course at university, though, she’d been told to go and obtain a Pokémon from the Laboratory in Sandgem Town, as it would be necessary to own one for practical study purposes. Thus, she had ended up with a Budew, which in the end had proven too weak to actually use for the practical study it was intended for, and so with which Melissa had done a little battling in order to make it evolve.
Now, even after her course had ended, she kept Rose around; she liked her, and in a research station where people came and went all the time, it was nice to have a constant companion. It had taken Rose a while to adjust to the temperature here, and for the first couple of weeks she had wilted a little – but Roselia were tough, and as long as she stayed inside, Rose was fine nowadays.
“What else could I do?” wondered Melissa. “The Christmas party doesn't start 'til tomorrow, and I think I've read every single book I have about seventeen times...” She sighed. “We're here for three years,” she told Rose, shaking her head. “Jesus. That's another two Christmases like this one, with five more visits home in between.” Melissa sighed again. “I suppose I'll go to bed, then.”
There were six levels to Fourth Station: two above ground, one devoted to the radio mast's maintenance and one comprised of living space, and four below ground, three of which were labs and one of which was bedrooms. The whole building was cylindrical, with rooms arranged around a central lift shaft, and this was where Melissa was headed: the bedrooms were on the fourth sub-basement, as low down as possible for maximum warmth. Quite why the living space itself wasn't down there too was unknown; she guessed it had something to do with the fact that it was nice to have windows, and windows only really worked above ground.
As they approached it, Rose recognised the lift, and held out her arms for Melissa to pick her up; she did so, and let the Roselia press the button – for some reason, it gave her immense satisfaction. Having savoured every moment of the button-pressing, Rose slithered back down to the floor and made a small leafy noise of deep contentment.
The lift came, and Melissa stepped in. There was a small, mousy woman in there, who looked utterly ordinary except for her large black eyepatch, a permanent reminder never to drink and drill; this was Shannon Moss, resident geologist and former professional card-sharp. On her first night in Fourth Station, Melissa had been inveigled into playing poker against her, and had lost a small fortune; if they’d been playing with real coins instead of chocolate ones, Melissa would probably have never forgiven her. As it was, she had still found it difficult; she did like chocolate coins.
“Oh, hi Melissa,” Shannon said brightly. “How's the Sawsbuck work going?”
“I was reading this report from Siberia,” replied Melissa. “But Yewtree came in then.”
“Ah.” Shannon nodded sympathetically. “What're you doing now?”
“Not sure. Shannon, your hair's on fire.”
Shannon’s eyes darted upwards nervously, but saw no cause for alarm; a look of dawning light crossed her face, and she reached behind her back to pull a large, chubby orange lizard from her shoulders, the tip of its tail wrapped in a shawl of yellow flames.
“A Charmander?” Melissa asked, confused. “Since when...?”
“My sister sent him to me via the Storage Network,” Shannon said, tickling the fiery lizard under the chin; he took exception to this and snapped at her, causing her to withdraw her hand hurriedly. “An early Christmas present, to stave off the loneliness. His name’s Monsanto.”
“Monsanto.” Shannon put him back on her shoulder. “Do Charmander normally like climbing this much? He won’t set foot on the floor.”
“It’s probably just because the floor’s cold,” Melissa said. Hang on – Charmander? Wasn't she supposed to have fed the Pokémon today? Damn, she was. Well, it would give her something to do at least.
“Oh, right,” Shannon said, nodding. “I’d never have thought of that. You deserved that degree, didn’t you?” The lift juddered to a halt at the first sub-basement, and the doors slid open. “My stop. See you later!”
“Actually, I'm getting off here too,” said Melissa, and followed Shannon and Monsanto out. Though Shannon was correct – she never would have thought of that on her own – Melissa's degree in Pokézoology had nothing to do with her answer. It was just common sense; sadly, Shannon was lacking in this department when it came to animals. Put her in front of a rock and she could tell you its age in a second; give her a Goldeen and in the same time she’d have managed to drown it.
“What are you doing down here?” asked Shannon, turning right to go to the geology lab.
“I just realised that I forgot to feed the Pokémon,” replied Melissa, turning away in the opposite direction. “Hang on, though – I'll see you in geology in a moment!”
The subjects studied at Fourth Station were as motley as the people that staffed it: a prime spot for fossils, its location, Batten Island, was the perfect spot for palaeontologists, palaeo-Pokézoologists and palaeobotanists; in addition to this, there were regular Pokézoologists, geologists, climatologists and even two eschatologists. Quite what they were doing there was completely unknown, but both their intellect and their loquacity was prodigious, and no one bothered them for fear of being talked at.
The Pokézoology department was one of the larger ones – Batten Island had a great number of unique species to its name – and occupied an entire floor on its own, if you didn’t count one lab that belonged to the geologists. This laboratory was where Melissa worked, and it was rather impressive, as rooms large enough to contain numerous specimens of wild Pokémon tend to be. The cold made excessive time outside somewhat unpleasant, and so any research that necessitated a close analysis of an individual creature rather than just the study of its behaviour was usually facilitated by capturing the Pokémon and examining it back in the lab.
As Melissa entered, seventeen pairs of eyes turned towards her hungrily, and she winced.
“Sorry, guys,” she said, opening the door to the storeroom and searching for hay. “I forgot.”
She found a couple of bales and, with some effort, got them into the enclosure where the three Snow Sawsbuck lived; they were there so that her colleague, the oddly-named Gill Sans, could study exactly what their antlers were made of. Next was the Beartic, which was there purely because Melissa had found it on a nearby beach with a whaling harpoon in its leg, and had then persuaded the others to take it in and heal it, if only because its species was severely endangered.
“We should probably let you go in a couple of days,” she said, casting a critical eye over what had once been its wounded leg. “Before you break out and kill us.”
The Beartic growled softly, and turned its head on one side, wrenching the offered meat out of her hand and through the bars. Melissa drew her hand back sharply, and glared at it.
“Yeah,” she remarked to Rose. “It's definitely time this guy went back outside.”
After that, she fed the Blue Kingler, the Dragonair and the wildebeest – this last was not really in their field of expertise, but anyone who inexplicably finds a confused and anguished wildebeest on an Arctic island feels they have some duty of care to it – and went across to the geology labs, where Shannon was peering at a round, greenish stone through a small eyeglass. Monsanto was wandering around on top of a table, occasionally coming near the edge, regarding the floor dubiously and edging back to the centre again.
The geologist held up a hand.
Melissa dutifully waited, and Shannon said:
“Mmmm... I see.” She straightened up and turned to Melissa. “Yeah? What is it?”
“Are you free at all? It's just... it's Christmas Eve. I don't want to work and I'm bored out of my skull.” Melissa sighed. “I'd even consider playing cards with you.”
Shannon's eyes glittered, and a pack of cards shot out of her sleeve to land neatly in her palm.
“Cards? Always happy to oblige, Meliss—”
“Not your cards, Shannon.” Melissa raised an eyebrow. “I know they're marked.”
Shannon's face fell, and then recovered.
“That's fine,” she replied. “I like a challenge. Don't I, Monsanto?” She turned around. “Monsanto?”
It appeared that the Charmander had taken the opportunity to climb into a rock tumbler, and Melissa hauled him out a moment before it switched on; Shannon castigated him firmly, and though he displayed no signs of having understood a single word she said, Shannon said that she was of the belief that he was obviously sorry now, and wouldn't do it again. Melissa wondered whether or not she ought to tell her how wrong she was – but then decided against it. It was Christmas Eve, after all; this wasn't a day for pointing out inadequacies.
“Are you sure you can spare the time?” asked Melissa as they left. “I mean, I don't want to wreck any research—”
“Wreck my research? Please!” Shannon laughed. “Geology can always wait. It's pretty much the slowest science there is.”
“What about volcanoes?”
“Yes, except for volcanoes. They tend to be quite fast. Worryingly fast, even.”
They reached the lift, and Shannon pressed the button (which sent Rose into a temper she was not to come out of for some time) for the ground floor. A few moments later, they were comfortably ensconced in the living-room (now mercifully devoid of Yewtree), and there they played cards right up until the monsters arrived.
It must have been about twenty past nine when Melissa first became aware that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the way Rose and Monsanto seemed suddenly on edge, huddling under the table and occasionally making small and indescribable noises; perhaps it was the way the night outside the windows was all at once cut off from view by abrupt condensation; perhaps it was the snowman that tried to tear her face off. We may never know what made her realise that the base was under attack; what are known, however, are the consequences.
When the first snowman crashed through the door, Melissa stared for a while. It was the sort of thing that you really would stare at: six foot of snow, arranged in two spheres with coal lumps for buttons and eyes; about the only way it differed from the snowmen kids were probably building even then back on mainland Sinnoh was in its arms, which were made of snow rather than sticks. It even had a carrot for a nose.
“Shannon,” said Melissa slowly, as the snowman hopped towards them, “can you see that...?”
“Yes,” she replied, equally slowly. “I can. Is it...?”
“Yeah,” confirmed Melissa. “It is.”
And then the snowman lunged for the table, the line of coals that formed its mouth curling into a cruel smile; instinctively, Melissa leaped backwards, tripping over her chair and falling over as she went. A second later, the snowman sent a storm of cards whirling through the air as it smashed its heavy hands into the tabletop. Fear wrestled wonder to the floor of her mind and stamped on its head for good measure; this done, it lent a surprising speed to her movements, and she scrambled to her feet faster than she'd done in years.
Shannon wasn't as fast, but it was all right; the snowman had directed its attack more at Melissa than at her, and she had time to get up and join Melissa over by the sofa before the snowman had regained its footing.
“Melissa,” she said, breathing heavily and watching the snowman draw itself up to its full height, “I think something's happening.”
This was not something Melissa could dispute. Something was indeed happening, and since it involved something large and hostile, she responded in the one way open to her in such a situation.
“Rose! Attack it!”
From under the table, Rose stared at her. The snowman hopped closer, and Melissa looked around for a weapon; she picked up a book and threw it at it, but all she achieved was the snapping of its carrot nose.
“Now, Rose!” she cried, and the Roselia flicked a tentative flower-hand in the direction of the snowman; a cluster of oddly-coloured leaves burst out, and each zoomed individually up to embed themselves in the ice man's head. This caused it, naturally enough considering it was made of snow, to fall apart, and the headless monster swung around, searching for the thing that had hit it. Emboldened by this success, Rose tried another Magical Leaf, and took out the snowman's left arm.
At this point, Melissa judged it was probably safe to kick what remained of their aggressor, and so she did. Being now almost perfectly spherical, it rolled helplessly over into the wall and crumpled into a heap.
Melissa and Shannon stared at it for a long moment, and then looked at each other.
“We were just attacked by a snowman,” said Melissa.
“Yes,” agreed Shannon.
“It had a carrot nose.”
Shannon shut her eyes and shuddered.
“Yes,” she said softly. “Oh God, yes!”
Monsanto ventured out from under the table, sniffed at the slushy remnants of the snowman's head suspiciously, sneezed and ran over to climb up onto Shannon's shoulder. He did not approve of such cold, wet things. A moment later, Rose followed, only she stopped to stand over the snowman's corpse, and spread her arms to show just what a mighty predator she was.
Just then, Melissa heard a scream from somewhere downstairs, and she looked wildly at Shannon.
“Do you think—?”
“Oh Christ,” said Melissa, and, snatching up Rose, ran out of the living-room to see what was going on.
To cut a long story short—
—they had been invaded.
The corridor immediately outside was free of them, thankfully, but if the screams were anything to go by, the snowmen seemed to have penetrated deep into the building.
“That one sounded like it was from a couple of floors down at least,” Melissa said, thinking aloud. “Oh, this is bad.”
If they were down there already, where the hell could they go that was safe? This was a research station, not a fortress; they'd never expected to be attacked, and there was no fortified area they could take cover in—
“Ssss!” hissed Rose urgently, and fired a stream of glowing leaves over Melissa's shoulder; a second later, snow pattered down about her shoulders, and she whirled to see a partially-decapitated snowman swaying back and forth behind her, desperately trying to steady its head on its shoulders.
“Again!” cried Melissa, backing towards the living-room. “Rose, use Magical Leaf again!”
For a second time, the leaves appeared; for a second time, they hung as if from wires in midair; for a second time, they jerked into motion and homed in on the weak connection between the snowman's head and body, and severed the two neatly.
Melissa wasted no time making sure the thing was dead; she had no idea if it had brought any friends along with it, and so she picked up Rose, retreated back to the living-room and slammed the door shut behind her.
“What? What is it?” asked Shannon, single eye wide with fright.
“There are more,” Melissa replied grimly. “I don't know how many.”
“But... what... why?”
“I don't know. Perhaps this is their idea of Christmas?”
“That isn't funny.”
“I know. Sorry. I'm just... nervous.”
“Nervous? Nervous?” Shannon asked incredulously. “I'm terrified. There is no way that nervous is an appropriate reaction here!”
“Calm down!” snapped Melissa. “Look, I know what I'm doing. I was a Trainer for a while; I've fought off worse than sodding snowmen.” She paused, to check that Shannon was taking this in; she seemed to be, so she went on. “Rose's Magical Leaf seems to do a pretty good job of taking them apart, so I'm not too concerned unless they come all at once.”
“What happens if they come all at once?” asked Shannon, in the tone of one who dreads the answer to their question.
“Magical Leaf is a homing attack,” replied Melissa, long-buried knowledge and ways of thinking resurfacing in her head, “so it can only effectively work if there's one target for it to concentrate on. If there are many, the leaves will spread out and they won't really do anything.” She chewed her lip. “What can Monsanto do?”
“Monsanto?” Shannon stared at the little orange lizard clinging to her arm.
“Monsanto. What can he do?”
“I – I don't know...”
“Do you know how old he is?” That would give her some indication, Melissa thought; though she'd never come across a Charmander during her time as a Trainer, she seemed to remember from her university lectures that they were fairly typical of the Fire type, and should have most of the same abilities.
“About nine months, I think—”
“Perfect,” said Melissa. “He should be able to breathe fire by now. Since those things are made of snow, I think it's fair to say they won't like heat. So we've got some defences.”
“What do you suggest we do, then?” asked Shannon.
She was very obviously scared, Melissa noted; fleetingly, she wondered why she wasn't as well. It must be true what they said about Training, she thought; her parents had claimed it would toughen her up and prepare her for adversity in later life, and their prognostication seemed to be coming true.
“OK,” said Melissa, thinking hard. “We're stuck in a research station on Christmas Eve, being attacked by an army of snowmen. We have no idea how long the siege will last, or what's causing it.” She paused. “And... crap, that's pretty much it, isn't it? We know absolutely nothing.”
“Are we going to die?” asked Shannon.
“I hope not,” replied Melissa. “There's got to be a way out of this situation...”
“Attention,” said the speaker on the wall, “this is Dr. Crabstone. If Dr. Argent, Dr. Moss or Professor Yewtree can hear me, try and get to the geology labs. Everyone else is accounted for. So” – here Dr. Crabstone's voice caught a little – “if you're... still alive... please get here as, uh, as soon as you can.”
Melissa looked at Shannon, and Shannon looked back.
“Looks like we have a plan,” said Melissa. “Thank God for the PA system.”
“How are we going to get down?” asked Shannon. “What about the snowmen?”
“We'll take the lift,” replied Melissa. “I think they'll find it difficult to get the doors open, or to climb down the shaft.”
She turned to the door, and opened it a crack. The corridor seemed deserted, but the trails of snow argued that danger couldn't be far away.
“OK,” she said, turning back to Shannon. “I'll go first. Follow me, and keep Monsanto ready.”
“How?” asked Shannon, frustrated. “How do I make him fight? You saw what he did when the first snowman arrived – he hid under the sodding table!”
“Just keep him between you and the snowman,” she suggested. “If he can't hide, he'll probably decide that the best option is to attack.”
“Melissa, I have to say that I have my reservations about this—”
“Do you want me to leave you here?”
“No,” replied Shannon quickly. “No, actually, let's go.”
“Good,” said Melissa. “Come on, then.”
She opened the door and crept out. The base seemed to be silent; she could hear no more screams, or even the soft thumping of a hopping snowman. Was that a good sign? She decided it would be more encouraging to think it was, and signalled to Shannon to follow her as she started down the corridor.
“I don't like this silence,” whispered Shannon. “What does it mean?”
“I have no idea,” admitted Melissa. “But—”
The doors on either side of them burst open, one of them flying clean off its hinges, and Melissa saw a familiar headless shape bounding through the one on the left—
“Run!” she yelled, and they did – only to see that there was another group of snowmen approaching from the direction of the lifts. She looked back, but the first few snowmen blocked that way; it seemed they were surrounded.
“This'd be a great time to start breathing fire,” Melissa snapped at Monsanto, as Rose shredded the first of the approaching snowmen. They were about twenty feet away on both sides now, and approaching uncomfortably slowly owing to their lack of legs.
“Melissa!” cried Shannon. “What—?”
“I don't know!” she replied, heart racing. “Melt a way through!”
The leading snowmen were about fifteen feet away; Rose spun around on one foot and sent another Magical Leaf into one of them, but it went awry when it sensed the presence of its compatriots, and scattered harmlessly. Coal mouths curved sharply into victorious smiles, and more than one snowman pulled its nose off to hold like a knife. It was ludicrous, but the thought of being stabbed to death with a carrot was still serious enough to sober Melissa considerably.
“Come on,” Shannon said, shaking Monsanto furiously. “Breathe some fire!”
He stared at her with large, limpid eyes, and Shannon turned him around to face the snowmen.
“Look!” she cried. “Scary ice men! You'd better melt them!”
Monsanto had other ideas, and did his best to hide behind his own tail.
“If you don't get him breathing fire soon...” said Melissa warningly. The snowmen couldn't have been more than ten feet away now, and one enterprising one tore a chunk from its abdomen and hurled a snowball at Rose; a combination of the missile's extreme cold and its deadly accuracy meant that as soon as it hit her head, she squealed softly and passed out. “Shannon...”
“I'm trying!” shouted Shannon, peeling Monsanto's tail away from his face. “I'm trying!”
A second snowball hit Melissa square in the face; not being Grass-type, she was alarmed but not particularly hurt. The snowman who'd thrown it was only a few feet away, and Melissa could feel the freezing cold of its hands even from here. She shut her eyes and held Rose close, trying to calm her hammering heart – and suddenly she was aware of a surge of warmth and light, and she heard a bizarre noise somewhere between a sigh and a shriek.
Melissa opened her eyes to see the snowman gang staring in alarm at the lead one; it had leaned in too close, and the coal that formed its mouth had touched Monsanto's fiery tail. Now its mouth was on fire and its head was melting, and was thrashing around like a madman; as she watched, Melissa saw one of the coals in its mouth fall and hit, with the unerring accuracy of fate, the chest of another snowman, setting the coal buttons alight.
A surge of hope filled her chest: if that flame could just stay alight for a few minutes more... A swift glance behind her confirmed her suspicions that the snowmen there were just as frightened of this new fiery threat, and a vague plan formed in her head.
“OK, Shannon, let's RUN!” Melissa darted forwards and kicked the half-melted lead snowman in the chest; it collapsed, and she ran over the wreckage, clutching Rose close to her chest. All around her, the snowmen looked wildly from her to the flames and back, confused and alarmed; Melissa didn't spare them so much as a single thought: her whole mind, her whole being, was focused on the grey rectangle thirty feet ahead of her, the lift doors that promised safe passage to the floor below...
And then suddenly they were right in front of her, the distance having vanished under her feet, and Melissa pressed the button so hard that she could have sworn her finger snapped under the strain. A second later, Shannon all but crashed into her, jabbering breathlessly about coal, and a second after that, a snowball hit the wall next to her head. Melissa yelped and ducked; either all that snow had put out the fire already, or the snowmen had simply got over their confusion and abandoned their erstwhile brothers-in-arms. Either way, it meant that they were in danger again, at least until—
They all but fell through the doors, and once again Melissa was first to her feet. She looked back, and saw the snowmen advancing once again; she was about to press the button for the first sub-basement, when her eye fell upon the topmost button, and the label next to it:
1F – RADIO TOWER
A succession of thoughts winged across her brain in seconds, and added up to one rather good idea – and so Melissa's finger came down firmly on the 1F button. The doors slid shut, and she had a brief glimpse of the snowmen drooping in disappointment before the lift began to judder upwards.
Melissa let out a huge sigh, and sank back against the wall.
“Well,” she said eventually. “I thought that went quite well.”
Shannon, sitting on the floor, froze. Slowly, very slowly, she turned her head to look up at Melissa, and spoke in a voice that was less than a whisper.
“That went... well?”
“Yes,” said Melissa. “We could have died, after all. Monsanto managed to set them alight, though not really in the way I imagined, and... well, we're all still alive.”
That reminded her of Rose, and she tucked her inside her jacket; the Roselia was fine, she knew, but needed to be warmed up to regain consciousness. She was the Sinnish subspecies, and therefore better at withstanding low temperatures – given a few minutes next to a nice source of heat such as Melissa, she'd be up and Magical Leafing in no time.
“Why are we going up?” asked Shannon, getting up and changing the subject.
“I had an idea,” said Melissa, feeling rather pleased with herself. “We're going up to the radio room to try and contact the mainland for help.”
Shannon stared at her.
“That is a brilliant idea,” she said. “Absolutely fabulous.”
“Well, I don't know about that,” replied Melissa modestly. “It just occurred to me, you know?”
The lift stopped and pinged at them to let them know their journey was over. They got out, and Rose woke up abruptly; for a moment, she looked confused, and then realised that they had just got out of a lift without letting her press the buttons. She gave a tiny harrumph and slithered out of Melissa's jacket to stalk about crossly on the floor.
“Someone's woken up,” observed Melissa, crossing the tiny landing to the door to the radio room. There were only two doors up here, one leading outside to the actual mast, and the other to the room where the radio was manipulated from. “Hey, don't look at me like that. You were unconscious, and if I hadn't pressed the button, we'd all be dead.”
Melissa pulled the door open and stepped in to see a bank of lights and switches, along with a large window that gave an attractive view of the night.
“...if you're there, we're gathered in the geology lab,” Crabstone was saying over the PA system. If there was any way to reply, Melissa would have done so – he seemed worried – but there wasn't, and so she didn't.
“Haven't been here for a while,” she said. “Er, Shannon, do you know how any of this works?”
Shannon looked hopefully at Monsanto, who looked back and licked his own eyes in that endearing way that lizards do.
“Nope,” she said.
And they probably would have had to figure it all out, had not at that moment Melissa become aware of something flying towards the window from outside.
“Hey, what's that?” she wondered, moving over to peer through them. There were quite a few of them, she saw, though they were obscured by the gloom; they seemed to be all pointy bits and sharp angles, with something trailing from them.
“Oh my God,” said Shannon staring. “Melissa, do you know what those are?”
“No,” replied Melissa, squinting hard. “Do you?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes I do, but it's – it's like snowmen...”
“That didn't make sense,” said Melissa, as the shapes drew closer. “Can you be more specifi—”
“Duck!” howled Shannon, flinging herself at Melissa and bearing her down to the floor, just as a team of flying reindeer, the leader's nose bright red, shot through the window in an explosion of flesh and glass, legs tangling in the chairs and the wires and antlers ripping holes in the carpet. For a moment, the world burst into a storm of noise and confusion and then, just as quickly, all was silent as the reindeer crumpled into a single broken mass against the far wall, wrapped in the remnants of their reins.
Shannon and Melissa lay to one side, silent and staring.
Monsanto and Rose made the first move; they jointly decided to investigate the wreckage, and the Charmander discovered that reindeer blood was quite delectable. Rose, for her part, sniffed at the corpses and wandered back over to Melissa, unimpressed.
“Shannon,” said Melissa, in a low voice, “is it me, or is Christmas trying to kill us?”
“I think it probably is,” replied Shannon, equally quietly. “And we need to move, because that broken window is letting in the wind.”
It was, and since they were within the Arctic circle right now, that was not at all welcome. Melissa got up stiffly, had another look at the reindeer and did a double take.
“Shannon,” she said, “those aren't reindeer. These are Snow Sawsbuck.”
And so they were. What they had mistaken for reins were the straggly fronds that hung from their antlers; the red nose of the leader appeared to be merely the result of the tip of its snout being torn off. This wasn't Santa's sleigh team – this was just a small and unlucky herd of Sawsbuck.
“So they are,” said Shannon, following her gaze. “But how did they get in here?”
Melissa, fighting the Arctic wind, went over to the window and peered out; the outside lights were still on, and she could just about make out the plains shifting and swelling below, as if they were alive. Then she realised that she was looking at about five thousand snowmen, and gaped.
“Oh, sh*t,” she breathed. A few of the snowmen seemed to have heard her, because they looked up and scowled; they signalled to some of their brethren, who promptly threw another dead Snow Sawsbuck at her. Taken aback, Melissa ducked, and the Sawsbuck sailed over her head to land on the console and impale it neatly on its antlers. “Well,” she said shakily, straightening up and coming away from the window, “I think I found out how the Sawsbuck got in here.”
“There are a few thousand snowmen outside, and they're throwing them at us. They must have seen us through the window.” Melissa poked a large switch marked 'ON' on the switchboard experimentally, but without result. “More to the point, I think that last one broke the radio.”
“What?” Shannon shoved her aside and pressed all the buttons she could find; however, she was no more successful. “Damn it!” she cried. “Now what?”
“I guess we just get to the geology lab,” Melissa said. “It's too cold to stay up here, and it seems to be safe there.”
They made their way back to the lift and pressed the button; while they were waiting, Shannon voiced a concern:
“If they can't use the lifts, how have the snowmen been getting down the floors?”
“I suppose they found the stairs,” Melissa replied. “Aren't there stairs somewhere?”
“Oh yes.” Shannon nodded. “There are.”
It had now been about a minute since the button was pressed, and a little shadow crossed Melissa's mind; it seemed to cross Shannon's at the same time, because they looked as one towards the door.
“If we were the last ones to use this lift—”
“—then it should still be on this floor—”
“—which means someone else is using it—”
“—which means we're in trouble,” concluded Melissa, backing away from the doors as the lift pinged. “Shannon, some fire would probably be a good idea.”
The one-eyed geologist held Monsanto like a gun and pointed him at the opening doors; as they slid open to reveal a long sliver of monochromatic face, she gave him a good shake – but still he refused to breathe any fire.
Rose reacted more appropriately: as the snowman reached out of the lift, she cut its arm into three equal pieces with a Magical Leaf; unfortunately, it seemed to have been expecting this, because the arm she sliced appeared to be a decoy taken from a dead snowman, and before she could attack again, the festive monster had leaped from the lift and swept its mighty fists down at her head. Melissa grabbed her arm and yanked her back a moment before she became a pressed flower, and Rose, gibbering in fear, clung to her leg like a scared toddler.
A second snowman appeared behind the first, and then a third; Melissa and Shannon attempted to back away, but the landing was far too small, and they were soon up against the far wall with nowhere else to go.
“Monsanto!” shrieked Shannon. “Do something!”
The Charmander twisted around in her hands and looked at her; he then turned around and looked at the advancing snowmen, one of whom had whittled its nose carrot to a deadly point, and was making fancy slashing motions with it in an alarming sort of way. He looked at Rose, who was right now insensible with fear. He looked at Melissa, who looked back at him with an expression of ferocious desperation. And he looked back at the snowmen, and at the flashing carrot-knife.
Monsanto's little chest swelled up, and he drew back his head, cheeks bulging with the internal pressure. For a long moment, he stayed like that; all eyes were on him, and the snowmen, recognising a potential problem, paused to give him uneasy looks.
And then, all at once, he snapped his head forwards, and belched out—
—a tiny little flame, about the size of a golf ball, which seared through the centre of one of the snowmen's heads and passed out the other side before going out, leaving a neat hole.
The snowman in question carefully reached up and patted the gap in its face. Its companions looked at the hole, and then at Monsanto, as if to say 'is that it?' Then, with a shrug, they continued their advance.
Shannon looked at Melissa.
“You said that would get rid of them!”
“I said no such thing!” cried Melissa, outraged and terrified all at once. “I said they probably wouldn't like it, that was all!”
While they argued above him, Monsanto, evidently deciding that he'd better take matters into his own hands before they all perished, started spitting more fire, burning tiny holes in the approaching snowmen; little fountains of water erupted from their chests and began to splash on the floor. He dimly recognised this as bleeding, and deep within his primitive reptilian brain, a long-dormant predatory instinct rolled over – and woke up.
Monsanto leaped clear of his mistress's arms, and Melissa and Shannon looked down at him in surprise as, growling and hissing, he swaggered towards the approaching snowmen with the professional belligerence of a prizefighter. The snowmen halted once again, this time to regard him with bewilderment. Shouldn't this small lizard be fleeing in terror? Did he have no regard for his life? What was he thinking?
“What's he doing?” asked Shannon quietly.
Melissa watched Monsanto thoughtfully. He was glaring up at the nearest snowman with such force that it actually seemed to quail a little before him.
“You know how snakes hypnotise their prey so it can't run?” she said.
“He's not doing that,” she replied. “I think he's just realised that he's meant to be a great and vicious predator, and the snowmen are just confused.”
It was then that the snowmen decided that they weren't going to be put off by this small interloper, and bounded forwards with renewed vigour; at this, Monsanto snarled with surprising volume and depth, and blew a series of bright orange fireballs at the belly of the closest. They collided with each other as they hit, and seemed to conflate into a small explosion; the underside of the snowman melted instantly, and it and its comrades descended from their hop into a large puddle of water. Since none of them had any legs, they were utterly incapable of steadying themselves, and fell over heavily, sliding along in the slush and smashing into the walls. Within moments, the trio of golems were nothing more than snowmelt and coal.
Melissa and Shannon stared at Monsanto, who stood amid the wreckage, unmoving and unblinking. Partly this was due to the fact that he lacked eyelids, and so couldn't blink in the first place, but no doubt it was also due to the fact that he was at that moment a paragon of predatory heroism, at least to the two women he had just saved.
“That's what I'm talking about,” said Melissa, picking up the Charmander and planting a kiss on his high forehead. “Good lizard.” She handed him over to Shannon, in whose arms Monsanto reclined, looking as pleased with himself as a Roman Emperor, though completely incapable of drawing the parallel. “I think he just became useful,” she said.
Shannon nodded dumbly, and clutched the little lizard all the more tightly. She then had to relax her grip to avoid setting her blouse on fire, but the sentiment was there.
“Unlike you,” said Melissa, scowling down at Rose, who was now standing nonchalantly at her side as if she'd never clung to anything in fear in her life. “Get a grip, Rose!”
“Uh... Melissa? Shall we go?” asked Shannon. Melissa looked up, and saw she was already in the lift.
“Oh. Yeah, let's go.” She joined her in the lift, pressed the B1 button herself to spite Rose, and leaned against the wall as they descended to the first sub-basement.
Melissa rapped sharply on the door of the geology lab, casting harried glances left and right.
“Open up!” she hissed; she didn't want to raise her voice for fear of attracting attention. “It's Melissa and Shannon!”
The door opened a crack, and Crabstone peered out.
“Yes, and Dr. Moss,” Melissa replied. “Can we come in? It's a bit deadly out here.”
“Yes! Come in, quick!”
Crabstone hauled open the door, and Melissa and Shannon darted in, dragging Rose and Monsanto with them; barely had they entered the room than he slammed the door shut behind them, and sealed it with a heavy bolt that hadn't existed earlier that afternoon.
It seemed like the entire staff of the research station was in here: as well as Dr. Crabstone, there were the other geologists, the eschatologists, Melissa's two colleagues in the Pokézoology department, the palaeontologists and palaeobotanists, even the cleaners... it looked to Melissa as if everyone had managed to make it here except Yewtree and a couple of the climatologists. That wasn't too bad though; no one really cared about them. It was generally felt that they were a little redundant, since you didn't need a doctorate to tell that it was cold here.
“We've been very worried,” said Crabstone, who was widely considered to be the one in charge of Fourth Station, though no one could have told you why. “I'm glad you're safe; we're just missing Neil and Che.”
“Could be worse,” replied Shannon, waving to one of her friends across the room. “But where's—”
“Yewtree?” said Crabstone. “We don't know. I think we have to assume he's gone the same way as Neil and Ch—”
“They're dead? In that case, we're all here,” said a voice from within a cupboard, which at that moment swung open to reveal the unmistakeable form of Alistair Yewtree.
The room fell silent, and all eyes turned to stare at him.
“Why,” enquired Melissa, who was by now getting used to recovering from surprises, “are you in the cupboard?”
“I was waiting until everyone was here,” replied Yewtree, stepping out onto the floor and dusting himself off. “I didn't want to have to repeat myself.” He strode over to the table in the centre of the lab and spread a large piece of paper out over it.
“What are you doing?” asked Estrangelo Edessa, a professor of palaeobotany.
“I am explaining,” replied Yewtree, “exactly what is going on.”
The room was already silent, but that didn't stop a deathly hush from falling over it.
“Thank you,” said Yewtree. “Now, do any of you know what a Jellicent is?”
Everyone in the room looked at the nearest Pokézoologist; an uncomfortable number of eyes fell on Melissa, who had no idea what a Jellicent was beyond that it was some sort of unusual Water-type. The remaining attention was divided equally between Gill Sans and Akzidenz Grotesk, her equally clueless colleagues.
Eventually, Gill made a tentative suggestion:
“Isn't it... the only known Pokémon that's classed as a member of both the Water and the Ghost type?”
“That's right,” replied Yewtree. “It's one of the most unusual forms of life on this planet. I have dedicated my life to the study of it.”
A collective murmur of understanding ran around the room; until that moment, no one had been entirely certain what it was that Yewtree studied.
“The Jellicent consists of up to a cubic mile of sentient water,” he continued. “It hunts by forming what we call projections, phantasms made of water vapour that usually resemble a cross between blimps and jellyfish.”
Ah yes; Melissa vaguely remembered something like that from a textbook. Didn't they have little crown or something?
“It can form these at any point within the area it covers,” Yewtree said. “Now, before I get to the important bit, are there any questions?”
Dr. Futura raised her hand.
“Why were you in the cupboard?”
“Any questions about what I'm saying?”
“How about: 'what's the relevance of all this'?” suggested Dom Casual.
“Ah!” cried Yewtree. “I'm getting to that.” He cleared his throat. “In 1816, summer in the Northern Hemisphere was entirely eclipsed by a volcanic winter following a string of eruptions the previous year, culminating in the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Tambora. But I'm sure you all know that,” he added with a chuckle. “Anyway, Unova was particularly badly hit by the winter; in June, heavy snow fell over the entire island, and a particularly large Jellicent resting offshore was frozen solid. What's more, what is now the Castelia area was subject to a massive earthquake a few months later, which reduced a large quantity of the frozen Ghost to powder that was then carried away on the wind. It ended up as a cloud over the Arctic, and fell as snow over this very island.”
Melissa felt a chill running down her spine. She had a funny feeling that she knew exactly what Yewtree was about to say.
“That's why I keep analysing the snow here – to see if it's woken yet,” Yewtree went on. “And so far it's remained frozen in stasis. But now, rising global temperatures have begun to heat it and bring it a little further towards consciousness. Just far enough, in fact, that it could use its Ghostly senses to perceive the peak in emotions on Christmas Eve – a peak that to a Ghost was the equivalent of a thunderclap. Quickened by a blast of Christmas spirit, it woke up, detected prey in the middle of it, and started making projections. Only it's no longer water, but ice, and so all of those projections are—”
“Snowmen,” finished Crabstone soberly. “Er, yes. Thank you, Alistair.” He paused. “But why do they have coal buttons and carrot noses?”
“I presume the coal comes from the coal beds underneath the island,” replied Yewtree. “A for the carrots...” He shrugged. “Ghosts often have a rather strange sense of humour. I wouldn't be surprised if one turned up wearing a top hat.”
“Professor, why didn't you tell anyone any of this before tonight?” asked Dr. Sabon. “We could have used the warning. To say the least.”
“Suppose we change the subject,” said Yewtree abruptly. “I suggest we figure out a plan of action. The Jellicent is physically incapable of leaving until it melts and trickles away, and that's not going to happen overnight. We can't stay in here and wait; it's going to take years before this place is safe.”
“We went up to the radio room and tried to contact the mainland,” said Shannon. “But the snowmen threw Snow Sawsbuck at us through the window and broke the radio.”
“They threw Sawsbuck in through the window?” asked Dr. Georgia nervously.
“Don't worry,” Melissa assured her. “I don't think they'll be able to do that here, since we're underground.”
“But what are we going to do?” cried Crabstone, thumping his fist on the table. “If Alistair is right, we can't just sit around in here – we have to do something!”
“All right,” said Melissa, holding out her hands in that way people do when they're attempting to placate others. “Calm down. What assets do we have?”
Shannon, who was by now used to Melissa's method of dealing with crises, held up Monsanto, who was eyeing everything in sight and growling at it.
“He's pretty good at taking out snowmen,” she said.
“Since when have you had a Charmander?” asked Dr. Futura.
“Since yesterday,” replied Shannon. “His name's Monsanto.”
“Monsanto. Why is everyone so confused by that?”
“Never mind that now,” said Melissa, retaking control of the situation. “Rose is good at destroying the snowmen too, probably because, as we just learned, they're Water-type. Do we have any other weapons?”
Gill raised his hand.
“I have a Kricketune,” he said. “I've never battled with it, but it's got blades, so I imagine it could do some damage.”
“That's... great,” replied Melissa. “A Kricketune... great. Anything else?”
“Not really,” replied Crabstone. “Those are the only three pet Pokémon in the base, and we don't actually have any other weapons except the tranquilliser rifle, which probably doesn't work on monsters made of snow.”
“OK,” said Melissa. “So we probably can't liberate the base by exterminating every single snowman in here, then.”
“No, we already thought of doing that and decided it was impossible,” Dom Casual told her. “It's not going to work.”
“But it doesn't have to,” said Akizidenz suddenly. “Dr. Moss, you said your Charmander defeated the snowmen, yes?”
“He melted them, didn't he?”
“Yes, he did, but what—”
“And they didn't come back as jellyfish-blimps or whatever?”
“No, they wouldn't have done,” replied Yewtree sagely. “Melting any part of the Jellicent without melting the rest at the same time would make them separate entities. In other words, they would form into Frillish, the immature form of Jellicent, and instinctively head for the sea, since they're too weak to feed off anything larger than a sausage roll at present.”
“I understood about one word in three there,” said Akzidenz, “but if we can melt them and they won't come back to attack us, why don't we just raise the temperature in here?” He looked around the room. “The boiler room's on the fourth sub-basement. Three people with Pokémon might not be able to liberate the whole base – but you could get to the boiler room and turn the thermostat all the way up, couldn't you?”
Another silence fell, this one a stunned one. That really was an excellent plan, and it only involved three people risking their lives; everyone except for Shannon and Gill was very much in favour of it.
“I think that's the best idea that's ever come out of this lab,” said Crabstone. “Dr. Sans, Dr. Moss, Dr. Argent – we're all relying on you now.”
“Sure,” began Melissa, but Shannon had other ideas.
“Wait,” she said. “I didn't agree to this! I have a Charmander – that doesn't make me a Trainer!”
“Well,” said Professor Edessa, “if it helps, you could look at it like this: you have a choice to either stay here and definitely die a slow, prolonged death of dehydration and starvation, or to go out and only probably die a swift, relatively painless death of combined polytrauma and hypothermia.” He shrugged. “Your odds of survival are actually better if you go and fight the monsters.”
Shannon pondered this for a moment. On her face was a curious expression that Melissa could only describe as 'agonised'.
“Fine,” she sighed at length. “If it's like that...”
“Splendid!” cried Yewtree, clapping his hands together. “Off you go, then. We'll wait here.”
Gill made his way over to Shannon and Melissa, and dropped a Poké Ball; an unfeasibly large and rather metrosexual insect appeared, flaunting a burnished red carapace, scything claws and a well-waxed moustache that Poirot would have been proud of.
“Uh... Are we going, then?”
Crabstone drew back the bolt on the door.
“Good luck,” he said. “You'll need it!”
Melissa strode over to the door and was about to step outside when Shannon called out again:
Melissa stopped, sighed and turned around.
“Shannon, if you need more convincing—”
“No,” she replied. “It's not that. It's this.”
She picked up the greenish stone she'd been looking at earlier, and tossed it over to Melissa, who (much to her surprise and satisfaction) caught it with one hand.
“What is it – oh,” she said. “A Shiny Stone.”
“Yes,” replied Shannon. “We're going to need some extra firepower.”
“A very good idea,” said Yewtree. “Jellicent are known for being ruthless and deadly opponents.”
Gill looked, if possible, even more nervous.
“Shut up, Yewtree,” snapped Melissa. “You're not doing a great job of keeping up the morale here.”
“Sorry!” called Yewtree unapologetically.
Melissa felt Rose tugging at her trouser leg; she looked down and saw that she was reaching up for the Stone, making the little hissing noises that she used when she'd seen something she wanted. It was amazing, she thought; Rose had never seen a Shiny Stone before, and yet somewhere in that tiny floral brain of hers was an impulse to direct her toward them, the ghost of a memory of shiny green rocks.
“I love Pokézoology,” she murmured to herself, handing the stone to Rose and stepping away from her. “Stand well back!” she cried. “Stone evolution is very sudden, and very—”
A pillar of white-hot light shot up from floor to ceiling around the Roselia, expanding until it must have been a metre thick; heads snapped around to look away, and arms flew up to protect eyes—
—and then, very suddenly, the light was gone, and Rose had evolved.
“Violent,” finished Melissa quietly.
Rose was much taller now, and had an air of menace about her; her flower-hands had lengthened and their curls tightened, and her mouth ran from ear to ear and was full of tiny, razor-edged teeth. She looked like she could race the North Wind and win, and still have enough energy left to assassinate someone that night.
Right now, she also looked very dizzy and not a little confused, which dented the image somewhat, but the overall impression was of danger. Ordinarily, Melissa would have allowed her a few days to settle into her new body, but that wasn't an option right now: Rose, who needed sunlight to live, would survive underground for an even shorter period of time than the rest of them, and if they didn't rid themselves of the snowmen before dawn, she would become far too weak to be effective in battle.
“OK,” said Melissa, taking Rose's hand. “Let's go.”
She took Rose's hand and led her over to the door, and to a resounding chorus of 'Good luck!', she and the two other would-be saviours of Fourth Station left the laboratory.
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.
“So, what are these snowmen like?” asked Gill nervously. “I – I haven't really come across any. I was in the lift and someone ran in screaming, so I came straight down here.”
“Well, did you ever build a snowman as a kid?” replied Melissa.
“They're not like that. They're like the ones you get on Christmas cards – proper snowmen, made of two balls of snow, with coal buttons and everything.”
“Yes, I have to admit that the craftsmanship's very good,” added Shannon.
Rose leaped from the floor to Melissa's shoulder, pressed the button for the lift and returned to the ground, all in one fluid movement. Melissa stared at her admiringly; if nothing else, she was certainly more agile. Her legs were definitely longer relative to her body length – that was probably a large part of it...
A soft thumping sound from behind them snapped her out of her Pokézoological trance, and she whirled around to see a cluster of snowmen approaching. These ones had apparently raided the supply cabinets, because two of them wielded ice axes and the others various pieces of cutlery. Melissa didn't really care for the idea of being stabbed to death with a spoon, and so she gently pushed Rose out in front of her.
“OK,” she said. “Let's see what you can do.”
Rose moved so fast she dissolved into a blur; the next thing Melissa knew, she had reappeared on the back of one snowman, flower-hands held wide. It paused for a moment, confused – and then its head fell off, neatly severed by the line of leaves jammed into its neck.
Monsanto moved next, charging headlong into one snowman and being casually batted away with the flat of the ice axe; his confidence crushed, he retreated shakily into Shannon's arms, who stared at him in abject horror.
Surprisingly, Gill's Kricketune proved itself quite capable; for whatever reason, it began humming angrily to itself when it saw the snowmen, and then flew blade-first into the lead one's chest. The snowman seemed understandably upset at this, and swatted at it with the ice axe; however, the Kricketune buzzed upwards to slash at its head, and the snowman merely succeeded in mining out a large chunk of itself with the axe. Its structural integrity ruined, it collapsed in a heap, reduced to no more than a pair of arms and a head. The Kricketune, who apparently would stand for nothing less than the total destruction of his foes, proceeded to stamp these into oblivion.
Meanwhile, Rose seemed to be rather enjoying her new power, and was wreaking havoc among the remaining snowmen in the group; she was far too fast for them to hit, and kept slicing little pieces off them here and there, so that they remained annoyed without actually dying, since that would have ruined the sport. In fact, she was having so much fun that it took Melissa a great deal of effort to coax her into the lift, which had arrived some minutes ago.
“Well,” she said, as they descended, “I think this might be a bit easier than before. Don't you think, Shannon?”
“He turned cowardly again,” replied Shannon, not really listening. “Oh, and he was doing so well...” She was looking at Monsanto, who was quivering in her arms and occasionally rubbing the bruise he'd received from the axe.
“At least Gill's Kricketune did OK,” said Melissa brightly. “You're sure he's never battled before, Gill?”
“No, I have no idea how he knew to do that,” admitted Gill. “I guess domesticity hasn't dulled your instincts, eh Lazlo?”
The Kricketune – Lazlo – looked up at him with a complete and utter lack of understanding, and hummed a jaunty tune. He was just devising a chorus when the lights went out and the lift ground to a halt.
“Sh*t!” cried Gill, in the darkness. “What's happened?”
“How am I meant to know?” replied Monique. “I guess the power's gone out. If we're dealing with a Ghost, then I wouldn't be surprised if it's got its snowmen to shut off the generator deliberately.”
“What do we do?” asked Shannon, an audible note of panic in her voice. “What do we do?”
“Calm down,” said Melissa, as much to herself as to the others; being trapped in a small, dark lift was much, much worse than being menaced by snowmen. At least that was sort of funny. “Think. Isn't there a hatch in the lift roof?”
“Er... yes, I think there is,” Gill replied. “No, wait, there isn't—”
“Yes, there is,” said Melissa, feeling along the ceiling and finding a hinge. “Now – ah, it's bolted shut. Shannon, uncurl Monsanto and let's have his tail as a light.”
Since Monsanto did not want to be uncurled, it took quite a while to get his tail out from where it was nestled between his ribs and his foreclaws; however, with Gill's help, Shannon managed, and soon the lift was full of soft orange light that cast very deep black shadows. Now they could see a little square outlined on the ceiling, just wide enough for a slender person to slip through, with a keyhole on one edge.
“OK,” said Melissa, looking up at it. “How's Lazlo with locks?”
“No idea,” answered Gill. “Lazlo?” He held the Kricketune up, and said: “Break the lock.”
Lazlo looked at him and tilted his head on one side.
“The lock,” Gill repeated. “The little thing with the hole in it?”
Lazlo tilted his head further, until it was 180° from the norm and made Melissa feel slightly ill.
“Like this,” Melissa said, taking matters into her own hands, and thumping the lock. “Hit it!”
Violence is a universal language, and Lazlo understood perfectly: he stabbed one scything claw deep into the lock, and then suddenly swung out of Gill's arms as the hatch fell open. He dangled helplessly for a moment, then managed to free himself and fall to the floor, where he began to compose a sonata.
“All right,” said Melissa, pleased. “Gill, give me a leg up.”
“You're going up there?”
“Well, do you want to go first?”
“I'll help you up,” he said hastily, and cupped his hands for Melissa to step into; she climbed halfway through the hatch, looked up and froze.
The doors that led to the first sub-basement were open, and there were a group of snowmen standing there. Furthermore, each of them was staring down at her with a wicked grin on its face.
A few lightning-fast thoughts went through Melissa's mind. Firstly, that the volume of four snowmen would probably be enough to fill the lift. Secondly, that there were currently six living creatures in the lift. And thirdly, that one of the snowmen was about to jump—
Melissa slithered down very abruptly and pushed the others aside; a moment later, a huge volume of snow sprayed down through the hatch, topped with a carrot.
“They're trying to drown us,” she said urgently. “This is bad.”
“What the hell?” shouted Gill, before realising that she'd just told him what was going on. “Oh. What do we do?”
“Why does everyone keep thinking I know what I'm doing?” cried Melissa. “I'm making this up as I go along!”
Another snowman hit the hatch and was reduced to snowballs on impact; about half of it fell through. The lift was now knee deep in snow, and Melissa was very thankful that she was wearing boots. Rose climbed onto her back, and Lazlo burrowed out of a snowdrift to be picked up by Gill.
“OK,” said Melissa. “Any ideas?”
“Yes,” replied Gill. “But you won't like it.”
“Will I like it more than being drowned in snow?”
“If you survive, then yes.”
“Then do it!” cried Melissa and Shannon at the same time. “Now!”
There was a loud thump from above, and a tiny bit of snow trickled through the hatch; it seemed the third snowman had missed, and sacrificed itself for nothing.
With some considerable effort, Gill waded over to the hatch and thrust Lazlo out through it – then recoiled sharply as another heap of snow tumbled through the gap. The snow beneath it gave way and the whole lot levelled out so that the three of them were now waist-deep in snow. Melissa couldn't help crying out; icy water was seeping through her jeans now, and it was so cold that it hurt.
“Ah, sh*t!” she yelped. “Gill, hurry up!”
“I'm trying!” he replied. “Lazlo! Slash!” He was looking out of the hatch, and suddenly Melissa realised what he was going to do.
“No!” she cried. “Don't cut that—!”
Time seemed to slow down. Gill turned to look at Melissa.
“I told you that you wouldn't like it,” he said, and time returned to normal as the lift fell.
Melissa lost her footing within half a second and fell into a faceful of snow; for a couple of unbearable seconds, she flailed in an agony of frost – and then she rose right out of it as the lift entered free fall. A moment later, her back was pressed against the ceiling, and Rose was flying past her, screeching in alarm; the next, the snow was rising up to meet her and—
Everything stopped in a grinding screech of tortured metal.
Silence. Dark. Cold.
Now there was a humming, a faint buzzing that drew nearer and nearer – and then something was coming through the hole in the dark, a little rust-coloured face.
Lazlo landed clumsily on top of the snowdrift and started to adjust his wings, but Melissa reached up and swatted him off her chest.
“Uugh,” she groaned. “Are we dead yet?”
“No,” replied Gill, rising out of the snow and shaking it out of his hair. “And you have the snowmen to thank for that. Their corpses have cushioned our fall.”
“Huh. That's what you call irony.”
“Yes. Now, we need to get out of here before we freeze to death.”
Melissa opened her eyes properly and sat up, snow falling her shoulders.
“Ah. Yeah, we do.” She suddenly became aware of the crushing cold around her; she was soaked to the skin in icy water. “F*ck. That is cold.”
“Hang on...” Gill struggled over to the doors, and tried to prise them apart; he got them open a little way, and a moment later Lazlo came to give him a hand. Between them, they managed to force them open just wide enough for someone to slip through, and slithered out. Gill reached back in and hauled out Shannon, who was, it seemed too cold to speak, and then Melissa. Amazingly, Rose was still conscious, and she tottered out a moment later, dragging Monsanto along behind her.
“Anything broken?” gasped Melissa; thankfully, it seemed there wasn't. “OK. Get to the bedrooms – need to get out of – these clothes.”
The thirty feet down the corridor to her room had never seemed so far; with every step, Melissa was sure she was going to lose a limb. She tried three times before finally managing to grab hold of the handle and pull open the door; when at last she got inside, she only just succeeded in managing to peel off her clothes before her fingers gave up and locked in place.
“Sh*t sh*t sh*t sh*t,” she whispered through chattering teeth, reaching for a towel and hitting herself repeatedly with it in a clumsy attempt at drying off. In the end, she gave up and simply wrapped herself in her duvet as best she could, leaning back against the radiator and willing herself to warm up.
Thankfully, Rose required less to revitalise her; once she was warm, she simply absorbed the remaining water around her and took to standing guard at the door. Once, Melissa heard a snowman hop past – but it didn't notice that the door was slightly ajar, and carried on without stopping.
By about two o'clock, Melissa felt almost human again; she got up and dressed, reflecting as she did that it was Christmas Day now, and so far it seemed that every member of Fourth Station's staff had been on Santa's naughty list. The only present they'd received was an army of killer snowmen.
“OK,” Melissa told herself, drying her hair as much as she possibly could without use of the hairdryer, “I'm alive, just about. Therefore there's hope.” She knelt down and tapped Rose on the shoulder. “We're going back out there,” she said. “Look out for snowmen, OK?”
Rose, having now heard the word 'snowman' quite a lot, had pretty much worked out what it meant, and nodded in reply.
“Good.” Melissa stood up and opened the door cautiously; about fifteen feet down the corridor was a lone snowman, which Rose reduced to powder with a Magical Leaf before it had even turned around. “Excellent. Come on, let's find the others.”
Shannon's room was a couple of doors down; judging from the puddles and lumps of coal all around it, Monsanto had been quite busy defending the place. In fact, Melissa could see him peering around the door.
“It's me,” she said, waving at him. “Shannon, you OK?”
“Ugh, yes,” replied the geologist, opening the door. She too had changed her clothes, and also her eyepatch: she now sported a rather disconcerting flesh-coloured one with a realistic eye drawn on it. “You wouldn't believe how much water I tipped out my eye socket,” she added, pointing at the patch.
“I could do without knowing that,” she said. “Have you seen Gill?”
“I'm here,” he said, and Melissa turned to see him standing behind her, Lazlo at his side. “Sorry about that.”
“It was better than dying in a lift full of snow,” Melissa told him. “Forget it. Shall we go to the boiler room?”
“Let's do that,” said Shannon. “I'd like to get this over with.”
They returned to the central landing, went around the other side of the lift and through a short corridor to the boiler room. There didn't seem to be many snowmen here; perhaps it was because it was the deepest part of the base, or perhaps it was because there wasn't any prey here, but they seemed to be congregating on the higher levels.
The boiler room itself was beautifully, wonderfully warm; a rat's nest of pipes, ducts and tanks, pervaded by a thin mist of steam. This was slightly worrying, since it implied there was a leak somewhere, but Melissa didn't care; she just wanted it to be warm.
“God, this is nice,” she said. “Where's the thermostat?”
“Here,” Shannon answered. “And it's going all the way up.” She turned a dial around as far as it would go.
“And that's that,” said Gill. “Actually, this mission wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, all things considered.”
“You cut the lift cable,” Melissa reminded him.
“Ah. Yes, that wasn't too pleasant.”
“We fell down the f*cking shaft.”
“All right. I did apologise.”
“I know, I'm just making a point.” Melissa clapped her hands together. “Moving on! I suggest we stay here for a while until the snowmen are all melted, then make our way back to the others via the stairs. They won't come in here, and we'll all be much safer.”
“Good idea,” said Shannon. “I don't ever want to see another damn snowman.”
And they settled down by the thermostat to wait.
By three o'clock in the morning on Christmas Day, it was beginning to feel very warm inside Fourth Station. So warm, in fact, that it was almost unbearable in the boiler room, and Melissa, Shannon and Gill decided to leave. However, when they opened the door, it was to a rather disquieting discovery: a spreading pool of water that flowed in through the space and around their feet.
They looked at each other.
“How many snowmen did you say you saw outside?” asked Shannon.
“A few thousand,” replied Melissa.
“And how many do you think have got in?”
“Could be any number...”
They shared a second look.
“I think we need to get to higher ground,” said Shannon, and both Melissa and Gill agreed with her. Carrying their respective Pokémon, they hurried out of the boiler room and down the now-flooded corridor.
“Where are the stairs?” asked Melissa.
“I don't know,” said Gill, “but look at that.”
He pointed ahead, and Melissa stared. There was a veritable river pouring out of the half-open lift, and more seemed to be splashing down the shaft; as they watched, a few coals plopped into the stream, and were washed down to their feet. Monsanto, alarmed by all this water, burrowed deep into Shannon's jacket; for their parts, Rose and Lazlo took refuge high on their owners' shoulders.
“At least the water's warm,” said Melissa.
“Relatively,” said Shannon. “It's still only, what – four degrees above freezing?”
“You were right, Shannon,” Gill told her. “We really do need to get to higher ground – which means we need to find the stairs.”
They splashed down the corridor, flinging open doors and hoping for stairs; thankfully, the third one they chose proved to be the right one. It was easy enough to tell: when Melissa opened it, she released an inordinately large quantity of meltwater, with the result that she immediately became soaking wet again.
“I think I found them,” she said, watching the water pouring down the steps. “But I think I might also have just doubled the rate at which the water level rises.”
“Well, hurry up then!” cried Gill, and did so himself, rushing up the stairs, slipping on the wet metal and falling down again. “Or we could go at a calm and measured pace,” he decided, getting back to his feet and wringing water out of his jacket. Lazlo, who had taken off as soon as Gill lost his footing, landed delicately on top of his head and began to hum again. “Oh, shut up,” his master said grumpily, beginning to climb.
Melissa and Shannon followed close behind, the latter feeling slightly smug about being the only (mostly) dry one there; the water was hot on their heels, rising alarmingly with every passing moment. Thankfully, the temperature inside the station was now so high that they might have been in Hawaii rather than the Arctic Circle, and none of them, despite being drenched, faced the same deadly chill as they had earlier.
“How is there so much water?” wondered Melissa, as the stairs ascended through a dark and narrow tunnel. “Are more snowmen coming in and then just melting?”
“Maybe,” replied Gill. “This isn't a Jellicent's natural state, is it? It's probably trying to thaw itself out by sending in all the projections it can to melt in here.”
“But they're just turning into Frillish or whatever, aren't they?” asked Shannon.
“Yes, but it may want to melt no matter what the cost to its own life,” replied Melissa as they reached the third sub-basement. “Imagine being broken into millions of individually frozen pieces for two hundred years. Wouldn't you want out of that too?”
At that, Shannon fell silent, for something that had once been a snowman lunged at them; however, Rose darted forwards and split it easily in two, and the halves dissolved on either side of them, the carrot coming to rest between Melissa's feet.
“We should be OK for a while here,” said Gill, closing the door to the stairs. “Even if the snowmen are just filing in to be melted, they can't fill up the base with water that quickly, can they?”
“We can't stop though,” protested Melissa. “If the snowmen are continually coming in, they will eventually fill up the whole base with water. Think about it: that'll leave everyone else trapped in the geology lab, where they'll die. We have to get up to the top and stop them getting in!”
“How? If they can throw Sawsbuck through the windows on the top floor, they can break down the front doors,” replied Gill. “What are we supposed to do to stop them getting in? We can't kill every single one of them.”
“I don't know,” admitted Melissa. “But we have to try, right?”
“She's right,” agreed Shannon. “There must be something we can do – build a barricade or something.”
“All right,” he said. “Let's keep going.”
He opened the door back to the stairs, and a small wave washed out and over the floor; Melissa stepped through, and continued on her way up the dark stairwell. It was a pity, she thought, that the power was gone – some light would have been very useful for seeing where they were going. Monsanto's tail was all right as a source of illumination, but he really didn't like it being anywhere near the water, and kept tucking it away under his belly.
By the time they reached the first sub-basement, they had agreed that one of them should go to the geology lab and warn the others to get out as fast as they could; the water was rising at an alarming speed now, and they didn't want anyone drowning. It was decided that Gill ought to go, since Melissa was determined to see the snowmen stopped and Shannon was the one with the requisite light source (in the form of Monsanto), and so he left the stairs at that point and headed back to the labs.
And so the mad dash for the top continued: praying that the others managed to get to the stairs before the water rendered them impassable, Melissa and Shannon climbed to the ground floor, and immediately backed down half a flight of stairs again – the place was packed to the walls with melting snowmen.
“OK, Shannon,” whispered Melissa. “Got a plan?”
Shannon shook her head.
“Great,” said Melissa. “Let's see, do I have one...? No. No, I don't.”
Think, Melissa, think... there's got to be something you can do...
She snapped her fingers.
“We'll go up to the top floor,” she said to Shannon, “and then climb down the cable on the lift shaft to get out near the main entrance.”
“That's really dangerous,” pointed out Shannon. “And the landing is probably just as full of snowmen as this corridor.”
“Then I guess the only way up is some sort of frontal assault,” said Melissa plainly. “After all, they're melting. Monsanto and Rose together can probably take them all down, right?”
“That's also really dangerous—”
“I suppose there's only one way to find out,” continued Melissa, as if Shannon hadn't spoken, and dragged her back up the stairs to fight the snowmen.
At first, the snowmen really weren't too much trouble: when they started melting, they lost most of their strength and much of their solidity, and Rose could break them apart without even resorting to Magical Leaf. Monsanto, for his part, saw the water as blood again, and hastened the melting process considerably with small but perfectly formed Embers.
It was when they got close to the living-room, near the entrance, that things began to get tougher.
Here, the snowmen were fresh and cold from outside, and put up more of a fight. Melissa and Shannon stayed back, and let the two Pokémon do the work; they were getting through them well, but the problem was that every one they destroyed still melted, and more kept on coming in. In short, they really weren't solving the problem at all.
“Shannon!” yelled Melissa, over the roar of the water crashing down the lift shaft. “I think we need a new plan!”
“You're telling me!” replied Shannon. “This isn't working at all!”
At that point, a large blue crab the size of a small car scuttled past them, walked straight through a knot of snowmen and out through the main doors.
Shannon and Melissa exchanged looks, and even a couple of the snowmen stopped to watch it go – which was to their detriment, for Rose and Monsanto promptly slew them.
“What was that?” asked Shannon.
“It was a Blue Kingler,” replied Melissa slowly. “Just like the Blue Kingler we have in the Pokézoology lab...”
It was then that they heard a deep, spine-chilling roar from below them, and realised that something even worse than snowmen was happening.
In the Pokézoology lab, things had been happening. Things that involved a lot of water, and some rather anxious animals.
The three Sawsbuck were the unlucky ones; they were not strong swimmers, and their antlers meant that as the room filled with water, they couldn't fit through the gap between the top of their pen's wall and the ceiling. Regrettably, the wildebeest went the same way, and took the reason for its being on Batten Island with it to its grave.
The other inmates, however, were different.
The Blue Kingler, a member of a noble cold-water subspecies, simply allowed itself to float up and out of its enclosure as the water level rose; the Dragonair, a powerful swimmer, waited until the water was high enough for it to leap its fence and then did so.
And the Beartic waited until the room was nearly full, then swam to the top and put its shoulder to the bars. Beneath its weight, the cage wall bent downwards slightly – and the big beast was able to twist its way through the slender gap between wall and ceiling, and swim out towards the door. It was free to hunt for the first time in two weeks, and it was hungry.
Melissa would later freely admit that when she saw the shadow fall across the snowmen in front of her, she thought it was Santa Claus, coming to join the Christmas legion in killing them all. It was an easy enough mistake to make: large, plump, with the distinct outline of a beard... The shadow had all the characteristics of old St. Nick himself.
Unfortunately, it belonged to a bear.
The Beartic came from nowhere, barrelling through snowmen like a bulldozer. Some distant calm corner of Melissa's mind analysed it: the characteristic loping gait of the rushing bear, down on all fours for increased speed, the beard of ice forming on its chin – that was the mark of the species; it could freeze its breath at will and often did so by accident, forming a rim of icicles on its muzzle—
Shannon grabbed her arm and pulled her backwards, just as the Beartic shot past and snapped its jaws shut on a snowman's head. Several of them tried to avenge their comrade, leaping at the Beartic and trying to choke the life from it – but the big animal was far too strong, rising onto its hind legs and sweeping its great arms straight through them, ripping the life out of them in shreds and flakes of snow.
“Where the hell did that come from?” shrieked Shannon. “Melissa, is that your bloody pet?”
“He's not my pet!” replied Melissa. “He's an endangered species and a valuable research speci— DUCK!”
They flung themselves flat on the floor as the Beartic, looking for real, edible flesh-and-blood prey, located them and swung a colossal paw through the space where their heads had been not a second ago.
“Monsanto!” yelled Shannon. “Do something!”
The Beartic took a step back, crushing a couple more snowmen; they, having now decided that they faced a vastly superior foe, had abandoned the fight and returned to their original plan of melting themselves out of stasis as swiftly as possible. The great bear, on the other hand, had no intention of backing down: the sole reason for its retreat was to breathe some of its frosty breath onto its paws, the vapour that left its mouth crystallising with unnatural speed into a pair of huge, jagged talons.
“That's not good,” stated Melissa unnecessarily, and rolled aside, just as the Beartic punched a long, ragged hole in the floor between her and Shannon. She leaped up and called for Rose; the Roserade looked up from her merrymaking amongst the snowmen and for the first time noticed that her mistress was in imminent danger of death. In a flash, she was on the Beartic's back, and at the very moment it drew its paw back for a second swipe—
—she sent a Magical Leaf spinning towards the crooked spike, slicing it clean off the paw. The Beartic roared and twisted around, whipping the icy blades on its chin towards Rose's face; she ducked with such speed that her head actually appeared to disappear from her shoulders, and jumped onto the bear's head.
“Rose, get down!” cried Melissa. The Beartic was an Ice-type, and made strong by years of hard life on the pack-ice; Rose was a Grass-type, four years old and barely strong enough to defeat a Prinplup. Given time, the outcome of their fight was inevitable: Rose would die. “You hear me? Come here!”
The Beartic whipped its head back and forth, its beard smashing on the walls; Rose dug in the thorns of her flowers and hung on for dear life. Approximately fourteen snowmen were destroyed by the bear's efforts, but they scarcely seemed important any more.
Then a little ball of fire hit the Beartic's chest, and it looked down sharply, flinging Rose forward into Melissa's arms; between its forelegs, a little orange lizard stood on its hind legs, glaring belligerently at the bone-white monster before it.
“Monsanto?” said Shannon shakily. “Get back!”
The Charmander didn't listen: he spat another ball of fire at the bear, which attempted to squash him flat with the heel of its paw; Monsanto, however, had had a lot of combat experience today, and had got quite good at dodging the slow attacks of Big White Things. He scuttled to one side and shot another Ember at the Beartic, hitting it in the eye; the bear felt that one, and its head snapped away from the hit, the right side of its face blackening as the fire took hold in its fur.
It was the opening they needed: Shannon wasted no time in grabbing Monsanto by the tail and hauling him with her as she and Melissa ran back to the stairs. The doors were twisted off their hinges; the Beartic must have come through this way—
“Stop!” said Melissa sharply, holding out an arm against Shannon's chest. The stairs that led down were no longer visible; the water covered them right to the top. There would be no retreat that way – not unless they wanted to drown.
“Water,” said Shannon, staring at it. “Oh God. Water. Melissa, that's wa—”
“Water, yeah, I get it,” replied Melissa, chewing her fingernails. “Shann—”
From behind them came the crashing footsteps of the bear, and Melissa, finding that there was no longer time for words, grabbed Shannon's arm and ran up the stairs to the top floor.
Behind them, the Beartic hit the wall, cramming its immense weight into the narrow passage and forcing its way through; the rails burst away from the stairs as its great shoulders pressed against them with more force than their designer ever envisioned them taking.
Melissa looked back, almost fainted and then looked ahead desperately – and yes! There was the door to the top floor, a narrow one that the bear would struggle to get through, even with its prodigious strength...
They burst through it and slammed it shut behind them; with the speed that only those who fear for their life can attain, Shannon rammed a chair under the handle. For a moment, she and Melissa looked at each other, breathing heavily – and a second later, they turned as one and ran for the door that led out to the rooftop, and to radio mast.
The cold hit them like a sledgehammer, and at first none of them could move, limbs locked by the freezing air. Some sort of vessel burst in Rose's eye and the yellowish sap that ran in her veins in place of blood spread across it as she passed out; Monsanto let out an almighty hiss and the flame on his tail dwindled to a pinprick spark. For their part, Melissa and Shannon doubled over in pain, every inch of exposed skin on their body instantly turning to frosted sandpaper, and every wet article of clothing they had freezing solid on their limbs.
Then fear came to their rescue for the second time that day, breaking the spell and releasing their legs. Shannon kicked the door shut and backed away; a second later, a terrible splintering sound told them that the Beartic had worked out how to open the door by applying its shoulder to the problem. Its deep roar echoed out over the rooftop, whirled around the frozen mast and whipped away into the distance, and Melissa managed to curse through frozen lips.
“Melissa!” yelled Shannon over the howling wind.
“We've run out of building!”
Even here, on a rooftop in the Arctic about to be eaten by a bear on Christmas f*cking Day, Melissa had to laugh. It was gallows humour, and just twenty minutes ago she would never have laughed at it. Now, there was nothing funnier left in the world.
Something big slammed hard against the door, the impact audible even over the wind, and she flinched. All right. This wasn't how she'd imagined her career would go – hell, she remembered writing a plan for her life when she was eight that involved her being married to a prince by twenty-five, and she hadn't even done that yet. It was funny, she thought, how little things like that stuck in your head.
A second impact, and the door burst open, the Beartic half-leaping, half-falling out onto the roof. Like them, it was blind in the Arctic night; unlike them, its nose opened up to it a new world, defined not by planes and lines but by trails and clouds, and it swung its great head unerringly towards them as soon as it appeared. It paused for a moment, perhaps enjoying the cold air after the tropical heat inside, and then began to stalk towards them. It knew its prey had nowhere left to run; inside, it had rushed things, the environment alien – but out here, it knew what it was doing. There was snow beneath its feet and wind in its fur: this was its kingdom, and here it was God.
“Shannon,” said Melissa. She felt kind of light-headed, although she wasn't entirely certain whether this was due to hypothermia or fear of the bear.
Shannon hesitated, and almost smiled.
“Merry Christmas, Melissa.”
What a day to die. Christmas Day. It ranked just below her birthday and wedding day (assuming she ever had one) on her list of bad days to die on. Melissa wanted to make some witty final words out of that, but she just couldn't think of any.
The Beartic stopped a couple of metres away from them, and for a split second Melissa thought she could see deep into its smoke-blackened eyes. Its legs tensed, ready to spring, and—
—a series of hideously bright lights shone down out of nowhere, blinding all and sundry and causing the Beartic to rear up, squeezing its eyes shut and roaring in pain. A second later, something fell out of the sky and landed next to Melissa, grabbing her arm and lifting her back up into the air. She had a fleeting glimpse of water spilling out onto the rooftop, and of something blue and white that trailed tentacles below it gliding out with it, a look of serenity in its eyes – and then the world rushed up around her and abruptly turned black.
“Dr. Argent? Dr. Argent, can you hear me?”
“F*ck! A bear!” Melissa cried, moving from horizontal to vertical in one instantaneous movement.
“No,” said the man kneeling next to her. “You're safe now. On a helicopter, heading south.”
Melissa woke up properly and took a long look around. Yes, this was a helicopter: metal walls, thick windows, roaring noise. She wasn't dead, which was great; instead, she was wrapped in an emergency blanket, regaining all that heat she'd lost to the elements. The man next to her looked like an aviator, for he was dressed in clothes befitting such.
“What – where... Shannon? Monsanto? Rose?”
“All fine,” replied the man, correctly deciphering her jumbled words. “They're on board and recovering nicely.”
Melissa closed her eyes and nodded; perhaps it was the adrenaline fading from her system, but she was suddenly very conscious of the fact that she hadn't slept in about twenty-four hours.
“How did you know to help us?” she asked.
“Professor Yewtree said that when the snowmen started melting, he and several others made a break for the radio mast; since you didn't come back, they thought you were dead, you see. It turns out it wasn't broken – one of the Sawsbuck's antlers had caught on the power lead and pulled the plug out, that was all. He plugged it in, called for help and, well, here we are.” The man smiled. “Now, I hope that made more sense to you than it does to me, because I have no idea what he meant by it. What the hell happened here?”
“We were invaded by an army of snowmen, who then melted, filling the base with water and releasing an angry bear,” replied Melissa, deadpan. “I'm going to kill Yewtree.”
The man hesitated, uncertain whether or not she was telling the truth.
“Uh, on second thoughts, maybe you should save the story for the commissioner,” he said. “I'm just here to save you.”
“So everyone got away?” asked Melissa.
“We picked up Dr. Sans a few minutes ago – he'd made it out the main entrance and was waving a torch to be picked up, which means everyone is accounted for except for Dr. Thompson and Dr. García Méndez. ”
“The climatologists. Uh, we think they're dead.”
“Thank God for that,” said the man. “Waste of space, if you ask me.”
Melissa didn't, but she agreed with him anyway.
“What happened to the Beartic?” she asked.
“Not sure,” he replied. “Last I saw of it, it was surrounded by these weird blue balloon things.”
“Of course,” said Melissa, more to herself than him. “We melted them all at once, didn't we? Therefore, we freed it. It's...” A sour look crossed her face. “It's going to kill my research specimens,” she concluded glumly.
“Ah well,” said the man. “Forget that. You're all safe, and it's Christmas Day. Isn't that good enough?”
Melissa thought about it. She thought about the dead climatologists, and about the snowmen. She thought about an ancient Ghost, waking up after two hundred years as flakes of ice. She thought about Sinnoh's premier research station, wrecked by flood and unusable for the foreseeable future.
“I suppose it is,” she sighed, thinking about the possibility of getting home for Christmas lunch. “I suppose it is.”
And the helicopter sped on, thundering south through the dawn, taking her back towards Sinnoh, towards home – and towards a genuine, warm, monster-free Christmas.
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.