Gone. May or may not return.

Age 26
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Seen March 15th, 2014
Posted November 15th, 2013
1,030 posts
9.7 Years
Chapter Thirty: In Which Things Come to a Head

'There is very little to be said about defusing bombs other than that which everyone knows: one must always cut the red wire, and if there is no red wire, then one must cut both wires. If there are no wires whatsoever, the bomb is impossible to defuse and one must immediately resign oneself to death.'
—Neverre Bonaparte, The Gentleman's Guide to Bombsmithery

Puck was worried.

This wasn't something that happened all that often. In fact, it was a downright rare occurrence. Usually, he waltzed through life without caring for the consequences of his actions or indeed whether they were the wisest things to do – but since a certain experience earlier that year, he had been suffering from a strange and unwelcome affliction: a conscience.

Granted, it was pretty weak, and he could tune it out without too much difficulty. But it was also damn persistent, and he couldn't hold it at bay forever. It might be three days, or it might be three years – but it always came back in the end.

Puck vehemently denied it was his, of course; he was firmly convinced that his mind and Kester Ruby's, after being entangled for so long, had come away with little pieces of each other stuck in them, and that he had thus inherited a few fragments of Kester's human concern for others. (The bright side of this, as he liked to tell himself, was that this meant there must be a bit of his recklessness left in Kester as well.)

Wherever it came from, it wasn't shutting up – and now Puck was worried, because it wouldn't stop telling him that he had to go back and see if he could rescue Kester, Sapphire and Felicity from the Galactic base. Even though this was directly contrary to his sense of self-preservation.

Arceus damn it
, he muttered to himself, as his car tore through the night towards Veilstone. Kester, you'd better be really freakin' grateful for this, or I am going to put you right back in that bloody prison.



As one, we all jerked back into life; every one of us had dozed off into our thoughts after the first fifteen minutes or so of waiting, once the conversation had dried up. Which admittedly hadn't taken long, since none of us particularly wanted to talk to each other: Iago was vicious, Ashley was uncommunicative, Crasher was annoying and everyone thought I was an idiot. Maybe if Rennet had been there instead of supervising the guards, we could have had a better go at it, but she wasn't, and we didn't.

Anyway, the ping brought us back to reality, and immediately Ashley's eyes flew to the screen of the machine.

“Ah,” he said. “Now, this is... impressive, in a way. It cannot have been easy to set up.”

“What? What is it?” I asked.

“A considerable threat indeed,” replied Ashley.

“That tells us nothing—” began Iago.

“Now I see how one quarter of Pastoria could be destroyed.”

“For God's sake, Ashley, tell us what's in there!”

“Each Poké Ball contains a Gyarados,” he said at last. “Thirty-two Gyarados, all to be released in one explosive burst.”

“Jesus Christ,” breathed Crasher. “How – cal!”

Even I knew that was bad. The smallest adult Gyarados on record was thirty feet long, and the largest had never been measured, as no one could catch it, but was estimated at one hundred and fifty. Almost impossible to contain within a Poké Ball, they were the only creatures in the world that required a second brain to help them process the vast quantity of anger flowing through their system; leaving aside the question of how Cyrus had managed to catch thirty-two of them, the damage they would do to Pastoria if they got out was unimaginable.

“Cal,” I said. “That's – OK, that's really bad.”

Iago clapped slowly, three times.

“Well done, Pearl,” he said. “Give the girl a sticker. Thirty-two Gyarados escaping into Pastoria, a bad thing? Never would've worked that one out on my own.”

“Shut up, Iago,” said Ashley. “Thousands of lives depend on this.”

“Don't give me that,” snorted Iago. “You don't care abou—”

“I thought I told you to shut up?”

“You did,” Iago confirmed. “But I just spent an hour doing absolutely nothing and I need to vent some spleen.”

“And are you quite done now?”

“I think so.”

“Then shut up.” Ashley looked at the timer on the bomb, which currently read 10:54:33, and took a deep breath. “Pearl, would you stand by with the good doctor's energy bars? I have a feeling I am going to need quite a few of them by the time we are done here.”

“You're going to disarm it?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Not even I can stop thirty-two Gyarados from escaping. Perhaps if there were no one else around to be injured, I might be able to try, but in a city... There's no chance of it.” He cracked his knuckles, and I saw the bones of his hands shifting out of place beneath the skin. “So. I suppose we ought to begin.”

I sat down and unwrapped one of the energy bars.

“How is this going to work?” asked Crasher. “How do you know how to disarm it?”

“I don't,” replied Ashley shortly. “But I shall take a look inside the bomb and find out.”

He held up one finger, and suddenly the tip peeled open to reveal a small eye staring out from within; I could say that this surprised me, but that would be an understatement. What I actually did was throw the energy bar in the air, let out an incomprehensible shriek and almost fall over backwards.

“Jesus!” I cried, staring at Ashley's finger – while it stared back. “That is sodding nasty!”

“You don't have to look,” he told me, blinking his new eye. “But it is necessary. I need it to see inside the bomb.”

“In all fairness, though, it is pretty horrible,” said Iago, carefully stepping away from Ashley. “Eyes do not belong there. On anything.”

Ashley clicked his tongue in frustration.

“Oh, stop complaining,” he said. “We need this bomb destroyed, don't we?”

With that, he grabbed the energy bar from me, stuffed it into his mouth and started growing his eye-finger into the works of the bomb. As one, Iago, Crasher and I turned away in disgust; now that it was moving, it looked like a snake born from a bad acid trip.

“I... I don't think I need to watch you while you do this,” Iago said, hurrying from the room. “I'll just listen from outside.”

“And I have... er... things... that need doing,” Crasher said, following him.

I glared at the slamming door.

“OK,” I said, trying hard not to look at Ashley's hand, “is there any chance you'll be able to unwrap these bars one-handed?”

“No,” he replied cheerfully. “You're not going anywhere.”

“I think I might be sick.”

“That's all right. I understand that most people find this extremely disturbing.”

“Telling me this doesn't actually make it any better.”

“My apologies.”

“Sometimes I really hate you.”

“I know. People tend to do that to me.”

“Please stop talking, because I think if I open my mouth any more I really will be sick.”

Ashley sighed.

“Do you want to hear what I think? I think that everyone should be forced to spend three weeks watching sausages being mass-produced in a factory or something similar. Then all this silly squeamishness could be stamped out of the population.”

“Knowing you, I am actually afraid that you could get the government to make that a law.”

Ashley laughed, which startled me; it was always surprising when he showed any signs of happiness.

“I probably could, if I tried.” As quickly as it had appeared, his smile faded. “Now, give me that energy bar and be quiet. I can see something that looks like a trigger here and I need to concentrate.”

He inhaled the bar and, closing his eyes to better concentrate on the images from their new sibling on his finger, plunged his other hand into the innards of the bomb. I winced and looked away. This was getting far too weird for me.


At around the time that Ashley was (quite literally) getting to the heart of the bomb case, our three ghosts were finally arriving in Veilstone. No unexpected wreckage had stopped them, no snowstorms delayed them; no hungry Ghosts had attempted to devour them and they had, in all, enjoyed a thoroughly peaceful journey, wholly devoid of interest.

Naturally, it couldn't last.

The moment the doors slid open and they stepped out onto the platform, they were struck with an almost palpable sense of dread, barrelling into them like a runaway train and very nearly knocking Ellen back into the carriage; the air seemed dim and the sun cold and distant, and the shadows seemed to crowd together by the walls, as if discussing with each other the best moment to strike.

“What... Bond, what's happening?” asked Ellen, shrinking back against his side.

“I must apologetically confess my ignorance, madam,” replied the estimable butler, eyes scanning the area for danger and not quite finding any. “I'm afraid I don't know what this is.”

It's bad, that's what it is, said Pigzie Doodle, contracting into a tight ball. Something wicked this way comes.

“That's Macbeth,” said Ellen, a distant memory of her long-dead tutor popping into her head.

Indeed it is, agreed Pigzie Doodle. But that really isn't our concern now. We need to get to the Galactic building – that's where we'll find our information about the weak spot in reality.


The gang to which Liza Radley currently belongs, he replied. Look, right now we need to move. Whatever... thing... is causing this disturbance, we need to get away from it.

Ellen relayed this information to Bond, who was wholly in agreement, and the three of them quit the station for the dusty streets of Veilstone.

Here, the shadows seemed less thick, but they lurked between the buildings and crouched beneath the motor-cars; the sense of fear and anxiety still lay thick upon them, and Bond could not help but keep checking for pursuers as they followed Pigzie Doodle down the street.

It's quite close, he explained. Just a few blocks away from this main station... I think they're doing the whole 'hiding in plain sight' thing – ah! What was that?

Bond had seen it too: the dark blot on his vision that flitted from ground to sky somewhere to his left. He turned to face it directly, but there was nothing there but pedestrians.

“Something is definitely here,” he murmured. “Madam, stay close. I think we may need to make a swift escape in the near future.”

“From what?” asked Ellen fearfully, clinging tightly to his arm.

“I don't know,” he replied. “But be aware that it is there.”

It's getting darker, observed Pigzie Doodle ominously. Whatever this is, it's getting closer.

They crossed the road and rounded the corner; they were coming to the heart of the central business district now, and the streets were packed with motor-cars and pedestrians alike. Yet between the hurrying figures and the rushing vehicles, the shadows were rising, thickening and darkening the air like ink spreading across paper.

“How much further is it?” asked Ellen.

Not far. Two blocks, maybe? Pigzie Doodle's voice was not a reassuring one; he sounded perhaps as frightened as Ellen felt. Not far, not far... oh, cal!

They had turned another corner now, and could see the huge white Galactic building at the end of the street; furthermore, they could see the vast, shifting cloud of darkness that hung all around it, alien and inscrutable as the mind of God.

“What on earth...?”

Oh my God, breathed Pigzie Doodle. Oh my God. Of course that would happen.

“What?” asked Ellen breathlessly, clutching Bond's arm so tightly he felt it would be pinched clean off.

Dusknoir, replied Pigzie Doodle shortly. My big brothers and sisters.

“Madam? What is it?” asked Bond. “What does he say we should do?”

We leave. Now.

“He says we should leave.”

Immediately, Bond turned around and started walking; the past few days had told him that when Pigzie Doodle said they ought to leave, that was exactly what they ought to do.

That's it
, said Pigzie Doodle, flying along beside him. Just walk away, before they notice—

Who is this?

Bond's limbs stopped abruptly, held in place by some external force; at his side, Ellen stumbled and almost fell, only to be supported at the last moment in an impossible position. Pigzie Doodle froze in midair, every molecule of his body stilled at once.

Behind them, the Dusknoir began to move.

The world around them slowed and stilled; colours drained away to grey and the cars ceased to move. The roar of the traffic, locked into a single moment, became a low, discordant hum, and the murmur of footsteps and voices merged into one rough note.

Dimensional separation, whispered Pigzie Doodle. More commonly known as Trick Room. Time frames peel away, and the only things left moving are those who can move outside the bounds of natural reality. In layman's terms, they froze us in time, while the rest of the world carries on, completely oblivious.

Bond heard none of this. He knew only that he could not move, and that something dark was coming towards him from behind.

I should have known they'd be here, said Pigzie Doodle, and he was practically gabbling now in his haste to get the words out. They're attuned to the vibrations of the membranes. That... thing the Galactics are building must be shaking the hell out of the spacetime continuum, so they're all drawn to Veilstone, unable to resist—

Now Bond could see the first of their pursuers, slowly circling around to the front of them; like Pigzie Doodle, it was a shapeless cloud of gas – but if you looked at it out of the corner of your eye, you saw something much worse, something in black and gold that looked like it had come straight from the gaping maw of Hell itself—

A motor-car crashed straight through the Dusknoir and swung to one side, drawing to a halt inches away from Bond's face; the Ghost, surprised, burst into a storm of black droplets and scattered wildly through the air. The door popped open, and an unfamiliar voice snapped:

“In. Now.”

And all at once the paralysis was gone, and Ellen finished her fall, and Bond's foot landed on the floor; a horrific wail went up from the Ghostly darkness all around them, and Bond needed no further encouragement to drag Ellen into the motor-car and slam the door shut behind them. Pigzie Doodle flew through the window, and abruptly they were slammed back into their seats as the car leaped impossibly from nought to sixty in less than a quarter of a second. For one terrifying moment, red eyes flashed in the black smoke around them like hellish stars in a demonic sky—

—and then they were free, tearing down the street away from the Galactic building and weaving through oncoming traffic with a complete and utter disregard for human life.


“Blast,” said Ashley, falling back against the wall. “I have to stop.” His fingers trailed in threadlike lines across the floor, stretched almost to nothingness, and he didn't look much better: I swear he'd lost about ten kilograms in the last couple of hours.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Do I look it?” With an immense effort, he wrenched open his eyes and gave me a baleful stare.

“I have to admit that you don't,” I replied. “Aren't the energy bars enough? You've got through half of them already.”

“Marvellous though his Energy Capsules may be, Dr. Einarsson does not seem capable of providing me with quite enough energy to fulfil the task at hand.” Ashley sighed. “I am shifting the position, number and type of cells in my body near-continually,” he went on. “Is it any wonder that bars designed to aid athletics are insufficient?”

“I suppose not.” I glanced at the timer, which read 08:23:09. “Have you got anywhere with that?”

Ashley was silent for a moment.

“Whoever built this,” he said at last, “was a genius. Or a lunatic, I'm not quite sure.”

“You can't do it?”

“I can,” he said indignantly. “It is just very difficult. This bombsmith is like a watchmaker and an accordion-maker, all rolled into one. The thing is half clockwork and half something else entirely, and full of hidden triggers. I think I have disabled many of them, but I still have not quite found out how to turn it off.”

He looked down at his hands, shook them out and watched his fingers retract back into place.

“Pearl, I think I might need you to get me some more energy bars,” he said. “I feel quite faint.”

I nodded, and a thought struck me.

“Do you want some toffee as well?”

Ashley looked surprised.

“Oh! Yes, actually. I think that might go a considerable way to reviving me.” He smiled a tired smile. “You're very kind to remember.”

For a moment I said nothing, for I'd suddenly realised just how fake his previous smiles and laughter had been, and how much more this real one was worth; the rest were mechanical, scripted reactions designated as appropriate to the circumstances, but this – this chance smile, born of fatigue and pleasurable surprise – was perfectly genuine, and it showed. It transformed his face in a whole different way to those concentrated blasts of charm he sometimes used; it made him look human, as if buried somewhere beneath that flawless skin and alien flesh there was the ghost of a real man.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, the moment passed, and I said:

“Uh, it's nothing.”

I got up – probably a bit too quickly – and left without saying goodbye. I felt as if I'd just wandered out of a dream; the world didn't seem quite real, and it wasn't until I stepped out into the fresh air that I was quite sure that I was awake again.


For a very long time, no one said anything at all.

Something dripped. Motor-cars drove by. People walked along the pavement.

The silence continued.

Clouds drifted across the sun. A bird landed on a road sign.

“What,” said Bond at last, “was that?”

“Glad you asked,” replied their mysterious saviour – who, as it turned out, appeared to be invisible, for there was no one in the motor-car with them. “Because that silence was kind of getting to me. I was like, oh, should I speak? No one else is speaking. Does anyone need to speak? Maybe I should speak. But then you spoke, and all the tension went.”

Jesus Christ, said Pigzie Doodle, sinking down onto the dashboard in relief. I thought we were done for there, I really did.

“What? Who's this geezer?” A single electric-blue eye opened in the centre of the steering wheel. “Oi! Get off my dashboard!”

Pigzie Doodle leaped into the air as if stung, and rolled his red eye around to stare.

A Rotom! he cried. Oh, God! How crass!

“A Duskull,” growled the eye, expanding into a globular orange head. “How outdated.”

Nouveau fantôme!

“Antiquated aristocrat!”

Scurrilous y—!

“What is this?” cried Ellen. “Why are you arguing?”

The orange head turned to look at her, trailing blue electricity.

“I just saved all of your lives – or what passes for life for you, I guess,” it said, and Bond realised for the first time that its voice was coming through the motor-car's speakers. “I think that gives me the right to argue with this old moron if I want to.”

“What?” Ellen looked at Bond helplessly, and then, since he seemed equally clueless, looked at Pigzie Doodle. “Will someone please explain what's going on?”

“Yeah, why don't you explain?” the head asked Pigzie Doodle. “Am I the only one with any manners around here?” It cleared its throat and extracted itself fully from the steering wheel, revealing itself to be something like a light-bulb and something like a marlin-spike, connected to the dashboard by electrical threads. “My name,” announced this strange apparition, “is Robin Goodfellow, known to all and sundry as Puck. Those things chasing you were Dusknoir, attracted by the minor dimensional rifts created by the Galactic experimentation. They've been there for about three weeks now, so they're all pretty hungry – hence why they came after you. They froze you in time so you couldn't escape, and I broke you out of it using nothing more than my innate charm and poise.”

I thought you used a red Volvo, said Pigzie Doodle snidely.

“Shut up,” replied Puck. “Oh. Wait. Let me rephrase that so someone of your advanced years can understand: hold thy tongue, venerable knave!”

I do understand modern Sinnish—!

“No you don't.”

Yes I do!

“Prove it.”

I'm talking to you right – gah! You're being facetious!

“And you're an antiquated old bratchny who can't see he's become obsolete,” replied Puck. “But hey! No one's perfect.”

Why, you—!

“Please, calm down!” cried Ellen. “I still don't understand.”

“Yes, I think an explanation would be appreciated,” added Bond, to whom the conversation sounded very one-sided and extraordinarily strange.

Puck sighed.

“Mew preserve us,” he said. “Is it me, or do I spend half my time explaining things to idiotic meatfaces these days? Honestly, the lack of perspicacity among organic lifeforms beggars belief...”

Tell me about it, said Pigzie Doodle. Finally, something we agree on.

“What are the odds, huh? Anyway, where was I?” Puck's eyes roved around the interior of the motor-car, as if searching for the missing topic of conversation. “Oh yeah, explanations. Right. So, first up, who I am – and that's Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck, international art thief and Rotom to the masses.”


The latest species of Ghost, said Pigzie Doodle with undisguised disgust. Very nouveau fantôme. Abominable manners and deplorably dependent on human technology.

“On my way to the Galactic building to – for my own reasons,” Puck continued, as if he hadn't spoken, “I noticed you were falling prey to the cloud of Dusknoir that had gathered there. And – um – I rescued you. Also for my own reasons. Which were not at all altruistic,” he added firmly. “In case you suspect me of such nonsensical kindness, I draw your attention to the fact that I parked this car on top of a stray Glameow. Its spine is currently more twisted than Josef Mengele.”

“What?” Ellen looked confused. “Bond, what is he saying?”

“He is a Ghost, madam,” replied Bond. “And he too is trying to get into the Galactic building. I surmise he saved us in order that we may join forces, since we are going there too, and an attempt at entry may well be easier with more participants.”

Yes,” said Puck. “That is exactly why I saved your lives. We need to, er, join forces.”

Is that so? asked Pigzie Doodle, his eye lighting up, or at least glowing more brightly than usual. Is that really all there is to it?

“Yes. That is all. There could not be more to it if it tried. So little more is there to it that if you removed what I've told you, there would be less than nothing left.”

That makes no sense.

“I know you are, but what am I?”

If anything, that makes less sense.

“I know. I do that. In fact, it's kind of my thing.”

That's something of a flaw, wouldn't you say?

“I wouldn't say, actually. I don't really have flaws. I'm like when Michael Caine and Demi Moore stole from the London Diamond Corporation.”

Pigzie Doodle turned to Ellen and Bond.

Are you hearing this? he asked. There's no way we can work with this guy. Even if you can get past the fact that he's a Rotom – and I'm not saying I can – he's stealing my part!

“I don't quite understand what you mean,” replied Ellen. “Surely he's right? If we work together, don't we stand a better chance of getting in?”

“You sure do,” affirmed Puck, grinning broadly. “In fact, it just so happens that I have a plan to get us all inside.” He looked around, and was satisfied to see he had even Pigzie Doodle's attention now. “You see, I need to get inside. And I'm also a professional thief. This, combined with years of experience and a pretty damn considerable quantity of raw talent, means that I have had a scheme ready for months for just this eventuality...”


At eight fifteen Ashley cracked it.

His whole body tensed, and he looked as if he'd just stumbled across the reason for human existence: face frozen, eyes slightly widened, eyebrows fixed a little too high to be normal.

“I think I've got it,” he whispered, whisking me out of my thoughts and back to reality. “Finally. I think I've got it!”

“At last!” cried Iago, who had got bored and come back an hour ago. “This has taken a long sodding time. Pearl could've done it quicker.”

Ashley didn't reply; his face was set, his brow furrowed and his eyes hard. His was the face of a man who was in the middle of some intense concentration. My heart suddenly leaped up three gears, pounding like it expected a dragon to come through the roof at any moment; in my mind's eye, I saw Ashley's fingers inching their way through the innards of the bomb, avoiding tripwires, hidden triggers and tiny rolling boulders...

“Done,” he said abruptly, sinking back against the wall. “It's done.”

I stared. Was that it? Surely there was something more impressive – the lights in the timer going out, or the Poké Balls being released with a pneumatic hiss?

“It's really done?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” he replied, eyelids fluttering shut. “Will someone call Cynthia, please? She needs to know.” He hesitated. “And I want to see her.”

I raised my eyebrows. Wow – another display of genuine emotion. Ashley really must be exhausted.

“I'm on it,” said Iago, producing a mobile phone from within his tail; for the first time, I wondered how he actually managed to store things in it. “Cynthia... Cynthia... Cynthia! There it is.” He put the phone to his ear and waited.

“I'll tell Crasher, shall I?” I asked; Ashley didn't reply, so I decided to do it without his permission and went off to find him. He wasn't anywhere in the boiler room or the corridor outside, so I told the policeman out there to find him and Rennet and tell them the bomb was defused and went back.

“...yes, I thought so too,” Iago was saying. “Yes. Yes. Now, that's probably overstating it a bit.” He glanced at Ashley. “No, he looks like cal. He has just expended something like your total body weight in energy trying to defuse a bomb.” He sighed. “All right. We'll either be at the Gym, the police station or the Hrafn Hotel. See you in a minute.” He looked up at me. “Honestly. I don't want to fall into one of your petty human stereotypes, but there is something about blonde humans, isn't there? I mean, there's natural human stupidity, and then there's that.”

“You do know that I'm—?”

“That you're blonde under the dye? Yes. Perfect memory, remember?” Iago tapped his temple. “I'm just being mean.”

“Saying that doesn't justify...”

I trailed off.

“Justify?” prompted Iago. “Justify what, Pearl? Come on, surely even you can finish your own sentences?”

I pointed at the bomb.

“Look at the timer,” I said.

And Iago looked.

And Iago swore violently.

And Iago kicked Ashley back into wakefulness.

“Get up,” he hissed. “You haven't disarmed the bomb!”

“What? I think you'll find I have,” said Ashley. “Please stop poking me.”

“This is a kick, damn it!”

“My apologies. It doesn't feel like one.”

“Open your eyes!”

With extreme reluctance, Ashley did so – and caught sight of the timer. When he had last seen it, it was frozen at 03:45:17.

It now read 03:39:56.

“Ah,” he said. “My mistake. You would appear to be correct about the bomb.”

“Defuse it,” ordered Iago. “Now.”

“I don't really need you to tell me,” said Ashley, leaning forwards again and rubbing his fingers. “I have considerable motivation already.”

“Just do it.”

Ashley sighed, scooped a handful of lard into his mouth (the shop had run out of energy products, so I'd had to get a little more creative) and plunged his hands back into the works.

“What happened?” I asked. “I thought you'd done it.”

“So did I,” he said dryly. “It seems we were both wrong. I have, however, managed to speed up the timer. Observe.”

I looked, and saw that it now read 03:31:12; the seconds were moving by so fast that I couldn't make them out, and the minutes seemed to be changing once every second.

“You'll notice that rather than three hours, we now have three minutes,” continued Ashley, without the slightest hint of worry, or indeed anything other than fatigue. “It would seem we have, at least, ruined Cyrus' dreams of a midnight dénouement.”

Three minutes?” Iago stared at him, pointed ears pressed back flat against his skull. He looked like an angry wolf – or, perhaps more aptly, a scared fox. “Three minutes – cal!”

He was past me before I could so much as blink; the door slammed and I heard rapid footsteps in the hall.

“A strong sense of self-preservation,” noted Ashley. “I expected him to run.”

I ignored that; I couldn't even begin to respond to it. There was only room for one thought in my head right now: in three minutes and four seconds, we were all going to be buried under several tons of terminally angry sea serpent.

I was literally minutes away from death.

“Ashley,” I asked, as quietly and calmly as I could, “are we going to die?”

“Not me,” he said sadly. “I shall stand here in the ruins and look at the bodies of people I was foolish enough to choose as friends.”

The timer read 02:57:12.

“However,” he continued, visibly cheering himself, “that is only if I fail to disarm this bomb in the next two and a half minutes. And I think I can do it – I almost had it last time – it requires only a minor adjustment—”

Something crunched deep inside the machine, and a spring popped loose from the top with what was probably the only instance of an ominous boing in the history of mankind.

“Perhaps a slightly greater adjustment,” amended Ashley.



I couldn't think straight – in fact, I couldn't think at all. My whole existence was my eyes, and the blinking red digits they were currently focused on. I was dimly aware of someone else in the room, and of the rapid approach of the Grim Reaper, but nothing more; those red lights, those burning dots and lines, were my universe right then, and anything beyond was unthinkable.


“Calm down, Pearl,” said Ashley, though his voice sounded strained. “No one is dying tonight!”


Now the machine began to move, huge wheels turning just beneath its surface; the accordion bellows started to pump, and tiny, intricate arms clicked in and out of place within its scrapheap skeleton.


“Almost there!” cried Ashley, eyes casting an unearthly yellow glow over the bomb, picking out glinting cogs and gleaming bars, black buttons and white keys...


I wanted to turn and run, but there was nowhere to go. There was no running from thirty-two Gyarados.


It didn't matter anyway. My legs were frozen in place; I couldn't separate my feet from the floor.


I could almost hear the Reaper now, pacing down the hall with bony feet. They were unhurried footsteps – quiet, calm, implacable.


The whirring and clicking of the bomb had reached fever pitch, but I could still hear the footsteps; they were almost at the door.


“I can feel it!” yelled Ashley above the whine of the machine, but it was too late. I knew it with the certainty of fate, and a curious sense of lightness settled over me as the timer rushed towards its inevitable conclusion.


The Reaper was through the door now, and I heard him draw back his arm for the blow—


Ashley was shouting something and drawing back from the bomb now, throwing up one arm to shield his face.


I closed my eyes—