02: THE PRICE OF SILENCE
The thing about Emilia Santangelo is that really, she's just a lawyer.
Sure, she works for the League, and she has a couple of pokémon, but one is a leftover from her trainer journey and so old she spends most of her time asleep, and the other is more of a personal assistant than anything else. Battling with either would be a spectacularly bad idea.
So she's not really a trainer, and though she has had some forensic training – it comes with this particular job, which she refers to in public as 'legal advisor with special investigatory powers' and in her head, off the back of years of bad movies, as 'fixer' – she isn't really a detective, either. You want to know the ins and outs of government law? You got the right person. Anything else and, well, she'll give it a shot, she's experienced enough now at thirty-seven to have learned to improvise, but privately she'll be counting the seconds till she makes a mistake. And then when she does, she will quietly and unobtrusively fix it and get back on with her work. She is, after all, a professional.
Still. When she gets the call from the Indigo Plateau that night, her first response is a certain amount of anxiety.
“Hi, Em,” says Lorelei. “Sorry to bring you in on a weekend, but something's come up.”
“Not a problem,” Emilia assures her, slipping automatically from her friendly to her professional voice. “I'll get the next flight.”
“This is … more urgent than that.” Lorelei is very professional, always has been, but there's the slightest hint of a strain to her voice. “We've contacted Sabrina. You can expect hs.zaiah
in a few minutes.”
Right. So: serious, then. The League doesn't burn its favours with the alakazam Consensus lightly. There's an agreement between the two bodies, which the League has down on paper and which the alakazam and kadabra maintain as a dream trapped in a length of carved bone, and when there are real risks to the public good the kadabra consent to coming down from the hills and bending their powers to the assistance of the Kantan people. As with so many alliances, however, the reason it works is because it isn't tested too often. The League, for the most part, doesn't ask, and the kadabra don't answer. Everyone ignores each other, and nobody gets hurt.
Except tonight, clearly. Something very, very big must have happened. Big enough for the Consensus' envoy at the Saffron League offices to step in and offer to teleport Emilia to the Indigo Plateau.
“All right,” she says, voice neutral. “I'll make my arrangements.”
“Good. I'll let you get ready. We've got a lot to discuss.”
Lorelei hangs up. Emilia looks at her phone for a minute, a little nervous, a little excited, mostly hoping that this time there won't be any corpses involved, and then starts gathering her things.
“Hey, Effie,” she says, stopping by the large pot plant in the corner of the room. “I've got to go, okay? It's work.”
The plant does not respond. It is a large, meaty sort of flower that smells faintly of rotting flesh even through the crisp scent of the air freshener that stands on a nearby shelf. Emilia closes her eyes, takes a breath, and tries again.
This time the flower wobbles, just a little. A visitor might think it was a draught, but Emilia knows otherwise. Effie is very old, barely ever uproots herself any more, but she's not gone. Not yet. With vileplume, you know it when it happens.
“I have to go,” she says. “You'll be okay, right?”
No response. Emilia sighs and pats Effie's thick stem, heedless of the smell that sticks to her fingers.
“Okay,” she says. “I'll be back soon, I promise.”
She straightens up, businesslike again. She wipes her hands and puts a few things into a bag.
“Nadia,” she calls, and hears a twittering answer from the other room. “Clear tomorrow's schedule, would you? I have a feeling this is going to be an all-nighter.”
knocks, the sound of their claws on the door echoing loudly in the night. Emilia nods to herself, slings her bag over her shoulder, and with just one last glance at Effie, she leaves.
“Okay,” says Brock. “I'm sorry to have to ask, but I'm going to need you to go over exactly what it was that you saw.”
Artemis is back in the Gym, sitting at a table in a spartan room somewhere in the depths of the staff-only area. She has her hands clamped as tightly as she can around a mug of strong, sweet tea, in the hope that this might stop them trembling too much. It's not going so well. So far, she's spilled it on her fingers twice.
On the other side of the table is Brock Chambers, head of Pewter's Pokémon Gym. This seems almost as weird as what happened out there in the woods. Artemis did think she'd meet him one day, as part of the Gym challenge, but not so soon, and not like this. He doesn't look like a Gym leader right now. He looks like someone who didn't get enough sleep to handle something this weird.
“I … there was this light,” she tells him, and he leans forward, nods encouragingly. “Like – a beam, I guess, going up into the sky. Red. Kinda like lightning – crackling. And it … there was music. I think it was music. I don't know. And a noise like something grinding.”
“Okay,” he says. “You said it was dark?”
“Yeah.” She wishes Jerry was here to help out with this. Unfortunately, he took to the spire even worse than she did; it was all she could do to get him back out of the woods into town. She was terrified, but he seemed physically ill, and when someone called the authorities the ambulance that arrived took him away. He hasn't been back since. “I mean no, not just dark, it was night.”
Brock frowns, ever so slightly.
“I'm sorry,” he says. “I don't follow.”
“I mean it was night. It was still three o'clock or whatever, but it was night.” Artemis takes a breath, tries to calm her thoughts. Find the words. You can do this, Artie. Why
was it night? “The stars,” she says. “The stars were out. Like it was night time. That didn't happen here?”
“No.” Brock looks thoughtful. “We've had no reports of anything else from anyone, even in the blocks closest to the woods. Whatever happened, it only happened on the hill.”
“That – that doesn't make any sense.”
“No,” he agrees. “It doesn't.”
He rests his elbows on the table. His forearms are tanned and bruised with handling rock-types that don't quite know their own strength. Above them, his face is carefully soothing, questioning.
“So it suddenly turned to night,” he says, “and then this light appeared?”
She shakes her head.
“It was already there. I think. We heard the music first, and then we just … followed it. We didn't know what else to do. When we got closer, we saw a light, and then when we got out of the woods we saw what it was.”
“It being this 'spire' you mentioned?”
“Yeah. That.” Artemis tries to take a sip of her tea, but as soon as she tries to lift it she can feel the tremble in her hands threatening to tip it, and she puts it down again. “I'm sorry, I really don't know what we did―”
“You're not being accused of anything,” says Brock firmly, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Uh – sorry if that's the impression I've given. I'm just trying to figure out what happened. One of my trainers is in the hospital and his pokémon is missing.”
Artemis closes her eyes. Yes. Leroy. That's her fault. She couldn't find him. She should have done, she knows, and if she was any bloody good she would
have done, but after the spire she could barely even walk straight, and it was so hard to get Jerry to do anything …
“I'm sorry,” she says again, feeling the inadequacy of it keenly. “I couldn't find him. All I could do was―”
“You did the right thing,” Brock tells her. “There's nothing in those woods that poses any danger to Leroy, believe me. He can look after himself, and I've got the bruises on my shins to prove it. You got Jerry back safely, and that's the important thing.”
He sounds like he means it, although also like he's struggling to remain professional in the midst of a conversation he doesn't know how to have. Artemis would very much like to believe him, but she isn't sure she can. The spire was called, it said. Who else was even there to call it? She must have done something, must have broken some kind of rule or said something wrong, and then that awful demon lightshow turned up and put Jerry in the hospital.
“Okay,” she says, hating how thin and weak her voice sounds. “Okay.”
Brock does his best to smile. Artemis wonders if this kind of thing is in his job description, or if it's something that was sprung on him once he'd signed the contract. Gym Leaders are trainers first and foremost. She can't imagine any of them have much experience dealing with situations like this.
“I have one very important question,” he says. “Please be honest with me here. Like I said, you're not in any trouble, we just need to know.”
Artemis feels a nameless dread rising in her stomach. Nobody ever said that sentence and meant it.
“What is it?” she asks, hesitantly.
“Did it say anything to you?”
She stares. He knows. He must do. Otherwise how could he know?
“What is it?” she asks again, only this time she means something different. “You know, don't you? You've heard of it? What is it?”
Brock raises calloused hands, trying to calm her.
“Hold on a moment,” he says. “I didn't say―”
“But how would you know it could speak if you didn't know?”
“I …” Brock sighs, rests his head on his fingertips. “Ah, sh*t
Artemis watches. He's given the game away, and he knows it. Now what?
“Sorry.” He pulls himself together and sits up. “Um – okay, I'll level with you, I'm not used to this cloak-and-dagger stuff. I can't tell you what it is. Before you say anything,” he adds quickly, seeing her open her mouth, “let me explain, I can't tell you because I don't know.” He takes a deep breath. “The League deals with a lot of weird stuff,” he says. “Anything that seems vaguely supernatural, people assume it has to do with pokémon and shoves it in our direction. I don't know everything about all these cases – hell, about most
of these cases. I just know that I'm meant to ask you if it spoke to you. Okay?”
Artemis calculates. He might be telling the truth. He might not. He does seem genuinely unhappy about it, which is a point in his favour.
“Okay,” she says, relaxing her shoulders a little. The shaking is starting to stop. She doesn't feel good, exactly, or even normal, but she feels a little less like she might die. This, by her standards, counts as better. “I guess that's okay.”
“Thank you.” Brock looks relieved. “Now, about my question …?”
“Yeah, okay. It spoke to me.”
“Right. And what did it say?”
The alien voice echoes through her head, cold and distant. Breach. Breach. Breach.
“I don't know, it didn't make much sense. Something about a breach? It called itself an omen, or a … a courier of some kind, I dunno.”
“Breach,” repeats Brock. “It said that?”
“Yeah.” She wonders if he knows what that means. Maybe it's just another thing he's meant to ask, in the event that he ever meets anyone who's seen a colossal spire of talking red light. God. That's what happened, isn't it? It sounds so silly when she puts it that way. And yet there's nothing silly about it at all. “Yeah, it did.”
“It said it was called,” replies Artemis. “Someone called it. I guess I thought …”
Her hesitation speaks volumes. Brock shakes his head vigorously.
“I know what you're thinking,” he tells her. “You can stop right there. It's not your fault, I can promise that. There's no way you could have called it.”
His kindness is his undoing. From what he's just said, Artemis is pretty sure he must know more than he's letting on. That's okay. It just means she probably can't trust him, is all. Nothing personal, but authority figures with an interest in covering up the nightmare in the forest are not people she cares to associate with. And if he's lying, she feels a little better about pressing for more details.
“How do you know?” she asks simply. “I mean there's no way of knowing. Is there?”
Brock pauses, clearly torn. When he speaks, it's with genuine regret.
“I can't tell you,” he says. “I really can't. But it wasn't you, I can promise you that.”
While he speaks, he reaches under the table and fiddles with something, and then a second later takes his hand back.
“Okay,” he says, in a completely different voice. “I turned off the recorder. Now look, I'm going to have to swear you to secrecy on this anyway, but this is even more
secret, understand? Someone else is going to come and talk to you about this, and you can't let them know I told you anything. Got it?”
“Uh – okay―”
“Good.” Brock takes a breath. “I'm doing this 'cause I don't want you walking out of here thinking it was your fault,” he tells her. “And I'm only
going to tell you enough for you to be sure of that. So take it from me, off the record – I think I know why this happened, and I think I'm going to be having some strong f*cking words with the people responsible, none of whom are you.” He looks deadly serious. “I can't say any more than that.”
“No, that's – that's okay,” says Artemis, a little shakily. She feels like someone has just drawn back the curtains on a window looking out onto something strange and terrible, and just as quickly let it fall again. She feels – well, she doesn't really know how she feels. Unstable. Uncertain. Fearful. All of those things, and none. “Thanks. I – I know that you're taking a risk …”
Brock shakes his head, waves her gratitude away.
“It's fine,” he says. “What am I going to do, let you think that you
did it? You've had a hard enough day without that.” He sighs. “Okay. Let's, uh, get back into character for the tape. Last thing I said was―”
“'It wasn't you, I can promise you that.'”
He looks impressed.
“Nice one. Ready? Turning it back on in three … two … one.”
“Okay,” she mumbles. “Okay.”
“All right.” Brock has gone back to his professional voice. “Sorry to keep pressing the issue, but is that all it said to you?”
“Yes. Something about being a courier, but I think I said that.”
“Yes, you did.” Brock clears his throat. “Nearly done now. Do you remember what happened to make it leave?”
“No. It just … went. Said something like it was called, and that it would stay till it was un
called. Whatever that means.”
Brock nods as if this is not complete nonsense.
“Okay,” he says. “Well, that's very helpful. I'm sorry to have taken so much of your time.”
She shakes her head. This is much easier, now she knows that she and Brock are just performing for the recorder.
“Oh, it's fine. I want to help.”
“We appreciate it. I
appreciate it.” Brock riffles through the papers he has in front of him and pulls out a sheaf. “I'm going to have to ask you to sign this,” he says. “Read it through, of course, but what it says is essentially that you're going to keep this secret. The League will have to mount a full investigation and we'd rather not spread panic before we need to.”
Artemis takes the proffered contract and stares at it. I, the undersigned, do undertake
… It goes on and on, in complex legalese that makes her tired to read.
“I don't think anyone would believe me anyway,” she says, turning the page. She lets Brock think that this is because what she saw was impossible, rather than because anyone she might tell would assume she was hallucinating.
“You're probably right,” he agrees. “We will of course arrange for you to get that starter pokémon too, don't worry about that. Something good. Courtesy of the League.”
Artemis looks up sharply.
“Yes.” Brock shrugs. “It's the least we can do.”
It sounds like a bribe to her, but okay. She's going to have to sign the contract anyway. She might as well take their pokémon too. All she's hearing here is that they really, really want her to keep quiet.
“Well,” she says. “That's very kind of you.”
“Hey, we were all rookies once. Nobody wants to spoil the start of anyone's trainer journey.”
She finishes reading through the contract. It seems okay, to her inexpert eyes; she doesn't seem to be signing away her firstborn child or anything. She asks for a pen, and awkwardly scrawls a signature that she hasn't quite got the hang of yet.
“Thanks,” says Brock, taking the contract back. “I think that's everything then. Come on, we can leave.”
As he gets up, he makes a subtle motion that Artemis would have missed had she not been looking for it, and flicks the recorder off again. He holds the door for her, and she abandons her undrunk tea to follow him out.
“Like I told you, someone's going to come to speak to you about this,” he says, as they walk down the corridor back to the lobby. “League, but not anyone you know. Tell them what you told me, and everything will be fine.”
“Coming to … wait, d'you mean to my house?”
Brock stops, raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah. Is that an issue?”
Artemis feels a deep, gut-wrenching shame tighten its coils around her belly. She'd almost forgotten this. She'd almost forgotten what makes her different.
“I'm not … out to my parents,” she mutters. Each word has to be forced out, like toads crawling up from her throat between her teeth. “Even my surname is – I mean they don't … can I come here instead?”
Brock hesitates, flustered.
“Um, uh, sure, I guess so,” he says, nodding a little too much and a little too fast. “I'll get a message to the right people. We'll call you in. Do we have your mobile number?”
“Good. Good.” Brock starts walking again, turning his face towards the lobby to hide his embarrassment. “We can sort out your pokémon then, too. We'll have several prepared. I'm sure at least one will accept you as a partner.”
“Okay. When is this going to be?”
“Not sure. Soon.” Brock opens the door to the lobby and motions for her to go first. “Within two or three days at the very most. I'm going to lean on them as much as I can, and I think they'll want to speak to you as soon as possible, anyway.”
They come to a halt by the lobby doors. It's still bright out, though several hours have passed. June is in full swing.
“So yes,” says Brock. “We'll call you. Or of course you can call or drop by if you need anything. This is, well. This is serious. It's lucky that neither of you were badly hurt.”
“I'm not sure I'd say Jerry got away without being hurt.”
“Yeah, I said that neither of you were badly
hurt.” He nods meaningfully. “It could have been a lot worse. You did good getting Jerry out as quickly as you did.”
“Oh.” Artemis blinks. “Thanks. Um – will you let me know if – when you find Leroy?”
Brock looks surprised, but nods.
“Sure,” he says. “I've got Edwin out there now searching for him. We should find him by the time it gets dark. If nothing else, he'll come home to be fed.”
“Okay.” Artemis tries a smile. It just about sticks. “Thanks, Mr Chambers.”
,” he corrects her. “Please. I'm not old yet.”
“All right,” she says, half-laughing. “Thanks, Brock.”
“Better.” He smiles. “Are you all right to get home from here? We can call you a cab.”
“No, I'm fine, thanks.”
“Sure? It's the League's money, not mine.”
“I'm sure. I need to, uh, stop off somewhere on the way, anyway.”
Possibly he sees what she means there. He looks embarrassed all over again and rushes his goodbyes. Artemis returns them as best she can while stuck on the wish that she hadn't said that, and then she leaves, out into the cool of early evening.
She checks her phone and sighs. Six missed calls from home. This is going to be fun to explain.
Well, whatever. After everything else that's happened today, this really can't be all that hard.
Artemis has a bad night, a really bad one, like she hasn't had in a long time. Dealing with her parents is fine, just a matter of lies and what trans woman isn't
good at lying to her parents, right, but hours after in the dark of her room the ghost people come to visit.
They are big and shapeless in their bulky white suits. They crowd at the foot of her bed, staring with grey eyes, silent but for the hissing of their respirators.
They point, and through her fear Artemis remembers what she's been taught, that they need her eyes and ears to live, and so she goes instead to her fingers, concentrating on what she can feel and touch: the smooth cool of the bedsheet, the grainy wood of the cabinet, the metal of the bedstead. She finds things she knows are real, groups them by senses: bed, cabinet, wardrobe, sight; car, siren, wind, hearing.
It won't banish them, but it lets her ride out the storm. Eventually, the ghost people have to shamble back into her subconscious and leave her alone.
She's relieved, but only until she falls asleep and has a nightmare about the spire. This isn't the kind of night that does things by halves.
Emilia was absolutely right. It was an all-nighter, and to make matters worse she had to do it all with the after-effects of being teleported halfway across Kanto churning up a storm in her guts and knocking out her sense of balance. Humans aren't really meant to be subjected to massively powerful fields of psychic energy, she decides, although the fact that she is the kind of person who gets seasick just watching the waves might also have something to do with it.
Still, she got through it all: the briefing with Lorelei, the emergency meeting of the Elite Four afterwards, the drafting of the initial steps to be taken in the morning to contain the matter. She arrived at the Plateau at quarter past eleven and didn't get out again until after six, a massive bunch of confidential documents in her bag and the beginnings of a headache thumping at her temples. She thought about getting some sleep on the flight down to Pewter, but there was too much to read.
And very interesting reading it was, too. Emilia is beginning to get a sense of why they called her. She's been working with the League for over a decade now, and directly with Lorelei for the whole seven years she's had the Elite Four position; when something like this happens, you want people you can trust, and for Lorelei, that evidently means Emilia Santangelo. By the time the plane touches down on the airstrip north of Pewter, bouncing across the tarmac in that godawful way small aircraft do, Emilia is starting to put the pieces together. Lorelei's been careful, obviously; she's technically the head of what the League coyly refers to as 'anomalous resources', and though she's as friendly with her as ever she won't offer her one word more than she has to. But she's given her enough for Emilia to know that this breach event, as everyone keeps referring to it, is not an isolated occurrence.
It's a worrying thought. Whoever transcribed the interview with the witness made it very clear that she was terrified. And while nobody has given Emilia any concrete information on what 'breach' means, exactly, the fact that this entity described itself as an omen really doesn't bode well.
More is coming, she's sure of it, and whatever it is, it definitely can't be good. But it's not her job to fight this stuff, just to make sure that it stays under wraps, so she tries her best to leave the worrying to Lorelei and her anomalous resources and concentrates on the task at hand.
The first order of business should be to call the witness, Artemis Apanchomene, but it's still only quarter past seven and though Emilia is used to irregular hours, she doesn't believe in inflicting them on other people, especially if it's a Sunday and the person in question is recovering from witnessing some sort of cosmic abomination. That will have to wait until later. Instead she takes a cab to the Gym, which, after a moment to compose herself in the cool of the early morning air, she enters.
Brock is waiting in the lobby, looking like he hasn't slept all night. Neither has Emilia, but she knows how to hide it, and she can see when he stumbles up out of his chair that she must look disconcertingly competent to him. She smiles, trying to set him at his ease, and shakes his hand.
“Good morning, Mr Chambers,” she says. “I'm Emilia Santangelo, legal adviser to the League. Lorelei should have told you I was coming?”
“Yeah.” Brock blinks the tiredness from his eyes. He looks very young, although Emilia has noticed that she thinks that of more and more people these days. He can't be more than twenty-five. “I'm – well, you know, Brock. Are you a legal adviser or a legal adviser
, if you catch my meaning?”
Emilia raises her eyebrows, and calculates her next move.
“Officially, the first one,” she says. “Unofficially? Well, it's up for debate.” That gets a smile, which is a good start. By all accounts Brock is not a very political kind of guy. He'll appreciate it if he feels she's being as honest as she can. “This is Nadia, my assistant.”
Nadia chirps. She is a natu, currently sitting in her usual position on Emilia's shoulder – a spot she has occupied for so long now that all of Emilia's jackets have dents in the right shoulder.
“Nice to meet you both.” Brock stifles a yawn. “Sorry. Been up all night. Lot of phone calls to make, and after I was done it wasn't worth going home for the ten minutes till you arrived.”
“Yes, I understand. I don't think anyone at the Plateau has slept either.” Emilia looks around. There's no one else here; most of the regular staff must not be in yet. Has Brock been sitting here alone all night? Poor guy. “I won't take much of your time,” she says. “I know you must be exhausted.”
“I'm all right. Just want this over with.”
“I understand. First of all, I've brought the pokémon you requested. If you could see that someone looks after them until Ms Apanchomene arrives, I'd be very grateful.”
“Right, sure.” The act of taking the poké balls from her seems to wake him up a bit, and he invites her in with an offer of tea or coffee. Emilia accepts, and follows him down the corridor to the back of the Gym. The balls are handed off to a burly man whose name she doesn't catch, and then she and Brock are left alone in his office, a small room with several geodude sleeping in a heap in the corner.
“Sit down, sit down,” says Brock, and she does. She smiles, and thinks very strongly, are you ready?
Nadia rustles her wings unobtrusively, and Emilia takes her notes out of her bag.
“Now, Brock,” she says, judging correctly that he would prefer she use his forename. “I've read your report, and a transcript of the witness' statement, but I need to ask a few more questions.”
He looks faintly surprised, but otherwise agreeable.
“I thought I gave a pretty full account of everything,” he says. “I'm happy to answer you, of course, but would you mind telling me what exactly you're looking for here?”
“Honestly, I'm not sure myself,” lies Emilia. “You know how it is – you get your instructions, you're damned if you can make any sense of them, but Lorelei comes down on you like a ton of bricks if you screw it up.” She shrugs. “I just know what I'm supposed to ask, is all.”
“Yeah, I get that, believe me.” He rubs his forehead. “Okay. Shoot.”
“All right. First of all, I'd just like you to talk me through your report, from the moment Ms Apanchomene and Mr DeWitt arrived to the moment that they left.”
This is simple enough. Brock launches into his explanation, sometimes wandering in his fatigue, sometimes needing to be prodded back on track. Nadia doesn't pick up anything here, but Emilia isn't expecting her to. The only purpose to this question is to get Brock comfortable and slightly bored, ready to be asked something more important. Emilia listens, nods, asks for clarification that she doesn't need, and makes a show of taking notes.
“Thank you,” she says, when she's done. “Now – what can you tell me about Mr DeWitt?”
“Jerry?” Brock blinks. “He's just a kid. Did well in the League challenge and the battling circuit, and now he's an apprentice here. Gym scholarship, you know? We put him through school and he works here part-time.”
“He's going to work here afterwards?”
“For a few years, sure. After that, it's up to him. I think he'll go far if he stays, but it's early days. Look, he definitely
doesn't have anything to do with what happened―”
“I know, I know,” says Emilia. “I'm not claiming that he does. I just have to ask, Brock. You know how it is.”
“Yeah. Right. Sorry.” He sighs again. “I'm a little on edge. He's still in the hospital.”
, thinks Emilia, make a note: visit him later
. The natu shuffles her feet in acknowledgement, and Emilia continues aloud:
“Yes, I'd heard. I'm sorry.”
“Thanks.” Brock shakes his head. “Sorry. Where were we?”
“We were done with that question. Next one.” This is the part that matters, now that he's been softened up a little. “What can you tell me about Ms Apanchomene?”
“Hm? I really don't think she has anything to do with this, either. She was just here to get her first pokémon. Doesn't have the first idea what any of this is.”
, says Nadia, a single solid word that lands in Emilia's mind like a heavy boulder crashing into still water.
Right, then. Just as she thought. Nadia's done her part; now it's up to her to figure out what exactly the lie is here.
“Is that so?” she asks. “Do you know anything about her background?”
“Well, no,” he says. “But she was scared out of her mind. You got the interview, right? If she'd had any kind of idea what she was looking at … no, no, she couldn't have known anything.”
Emilia waits for a second, but Nadia does not respond. Okay, truth then. Try a different approach.
“And you didn't tell her anything?” she asks.
“Are you kidding? Of course not. She was traumatised enough already. I didn't need to go making anything worse. And anyway, you know that stuff's all top secret,” he adds, a little too late.
Emilia is inclined to agree. Brock's first instinct seems to have been protecting the kid, to which his duty to the League came second place. That's not a bad thing, exactly, and she doesn't think he's done anything terrible, but something might have come out that shouldn't have. Something that requires her expert attention.
“All right,” she says. “Like I said, I just have to ask.” She scans her notes and goes back to the fake questions. “Last one,” she tells him. “I've got the names of the ambulance and police crew who responded to the emergency call. I'd like to know if there's anything you can tell me about them …”
The questioning goes on, but the interrogation is already over. Emilia speaks and listens on autopilot, her brain already considering next steps. She'll need to investigate the hillside where it happened, of course, but that's more Nadia's job than hers, and that can wait for a little while yet. First, she figures, it's about time she met this Artemis Apanchomene.
Brock's estimate was conservative. Artemis gets the call at ten am on Sunday morning, just three hours after she dragged herself out of bed to sit in the kitchen and pick weakly at the internet like a kid at a scab.
“Hello?” she asks, moving to the front of the house where the signal's better. “Who's this?”
“Good morning, sir. Is Artemis Apanchomene there?”
Something winds around Artemis' chest and yanks itself tight. Her breath catches and her cheeks boil, and through the fog of shame she reminds herself to expect this, that this is what she signed up for. Better get used to it, Artie. You're looking at the rest of your life, right here.
“Th-that's me,” she manages, doing her best not to stammer and finding that her best isn't good enough. “I'm―” She glances at her mother reading on the sofa. Definitely within earshot. “I mean, that's me.”
“Oh.” The speaker's shock is palpable. Artemis forces herself to pay attention to it, to memorise the way it seems to ripple through the silence. She has to learn these things. If she's going to prove she can do this, she has to learn. “Uh … sorry about that. My name is Emilia Santangelo. I'm with the League.”
“Oh,” says Artemis. She doesn't know why she's surprised, but she is, a little flutter of unease stirring in her guts and rising to mingle with the rest of her discomfort. “Okay, so this is about yesterday.”
“Yes. I understand you've requested to meet at the Gym. I'm here now, as it happens. Is this a suitable time for you?”
“Um, sure. That's fine. I'll come over right away.”
“That would be very kind of you. We'll speak more in person, then. I'll see you soon.”
Artemis lowers her phone and fiddles with her knuckle, trying to settle her nerves. It's okay, right? Yes, it's okay. Emilia is intimidatingly well-spoken, but all she has to do is tell her what she told Brock and then it's over. She gets a pokémon and she can forget any of this ever happened.
Except that you can't forget something like that, can you? Never. That stays with you. Even leaving aside the nightmares, it was so … impossible
. It shouldn't have been able to happen, and it did, and somehow Brock wasn't surprised. Something's going on, she's sure of it. Maybe it isn't her mystery to solve, and maybe she doesn't want
it to be – but it wouldn't hurt to see what she could get out of Emilia. Right? It's not like she'll give away anything really important, anyway. This is her job, after all.
“Who was that?” asks her mother, and Artemis blinks as she surfaces from the depths of her thoughts.
“Oh, the Gym,” she says. “Someone cancelled and they have an open slot today, so they offered it to me.”
“You think you'll catch something this time?”
Artemis tries to convince herself that this is not intended to hurt her, but it's a difficult argument to make. You're hearing things, Artie. She's just concerned for you. Sure, that's one possibility. She might also be hinting that Artemis should know when to quit.
“Yeah, I think so,” she says, keeping her voice bright and cheerful. “Anyway, they're waiting on me, so I better go now.”
“All right, ――. Good luck!”
“Thanks. See you later.”
She makes the trip again, to Chelle's (“Hey, Artie, you okay? You seemed kinda out of it yesterday”; “I'll tell you later, Chelle, I gotta go”) and to the Gym, and today she finds the lobby quiet and empty. Someone is logged in at the computer on the front desk, but nobody's sitting in the chair. Artemis looks around, nervous, and sees a woman in a dark suit approaching with a welcoming smile and a natu on her shoulder.
“Hello,” she says. “Ms Apanchomene?”
“Yeah. Uh, just Artemis is fine.”
“Of course. Emilia Santangelo.” She shakes Artemis' hand. Her nails are perfect burgundy rectangles. Artemis' fingers feel thick and clumsy against hers. “I'm a legal advisor for the Indigo League. This is my assistant, Nadia.”
Chirp, goes the natu. She has that unsettling stare that natu always seem to have, like she's looking right through you. Artemis smiles briefly at her and returns her attention to Emilia, who is just as intimidating but much less spooky.
“Hi,” she says. “So … I mean I get that this is about yesterday, but what exactly is it that you need from me?”
“Just some questions,” replies Emilia. “I promise I won't keep you long. I know you spoke to Brock yesterday, and honestly I'm not expecting to find out anything new, but, well, the Elite Four pay my wages, so if they want me asking questions that's what they get.” She smiles again. Her teeth are perfectly white and perfectly even, between two perfectly lipsticked lips. She's so full of charm and poise she's practically leaking it onto the floor, and all that grace sets Artemis' nerves on edge, despite her friendly demeanour.
“Okay,” she says, nervously. “Ask away, I guess.”
Emilia takes her back down the corridor that leads to the room where Brock questioned her yesterday. She wonders where he is. Maybe out investigating the hill up in the woods. From what he said, it seemed like that sort of thing came under League jurisdiction.
“You're just starting your trainer journey?” asks Emilia.
“Yeah. I mean, I was going to, yesterday, and then … everything happened.”
Emilia gets that look on her face that adults get when something reminds them of their journeys. A little wistful, a little self-deprecating.
“I remember mine,” she says. “My starter was an oddish. Effie. Still have her now, actually. She'll be waiting for me to come home, once this is all wrapped up.”
She says it like this is the kind of thing you sort out in a day. Artemis isn't convinced. Whatever this is, whatever breach might be, she predicts that that spire is going to have Emilia running around for some time.
“You think it'll be sorted soon?” she asks her.
“Hm? Oh, definitely. The League deals with all kinds of strangeness on a daily basis. Here. After you.”
She opens the door to what Artemis can't help thinking of the interrogation room, and Artemis takes up the same seat she occupied yesterday. Emilia sits opposite her, and though Artemis watches her hands closely she does not put either of them below the table, not even for a moment. This conversation, it seems, is off the record.
“Okay. Can I offer you anything to drink? Tea, coffee? All right, then.”
Emilia puts a notebook on the table in front of her and uncaps a fountain pen. Artemis watches, vaguely aware that something is happening behind the scenes but unable to understand what or why. She looks at Emilia more closely, and sees – well, nothing. She just sees a woman, thirties, dark-skinned, enviable eyebrows. Whatever she's looking for, Emilia isn't showing it.
“Are you ready to begin?” she asks. Artemis nods. “All right. Now, I've been brought up to speed on the statement you made to Brock yesterday, but I'd like you to go over that again for me, now that you've had some time to recover from the shock of it.”
This doesn't seem unreasonable. Artemis wonders if maybe she's just being paranoid. It's certainly possible; she has
been paranoid in the past. The ghost people are proof enough of that.
“Um, okay,” she says. “So, the Gym does like appointments with trainers to help you catch your first pokémon, right, and I came in yesterday for one of those …”
She can see the value in repeating it. Her story's a lot more coherent this time, without the panic vibrating up and down her nervous system. It's still frightening, and she's definitely not going to stop dreaming about it any time soon, but it's manageable. Slowly, it's starting to make the change from 'incoherent nightmare' to 'a scary thing that happened'.
Emilia is an attentive listener. She asks questions, makes notes and offers sympathy and breaks when Artemis gets to the worst parts. Some of this is her professionalism, sure, but it can't all be. Artemis finds herself warming to her a little.
“All right,” she says, when Artemis is done. “Thank you, that's been very helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to talk about this.” She turns a page in her notebook, inspects something for a moment, and looks back at Artemis. “That's most of what I need from you,” she tells her. “All I want to ask you now is a little about the Gym response. Obviously we need to make sure that our Leaders and their staff are equipped to handle events like these in the event that anything similar ever happens again, and as an outside witness your take on the situation would be very valuable to us.”
“Uh, sure, I guess.” It's comforting to know that the League is taking this seriously, Artemis supposes. She had a vague suspicion that maybe no one was going to believe her. “What d'you wanna know?”
“How would you describe Brock's handling of everything?” asks Emilia. “Just to be clear, we're not looking for evidence that he's not doing his job. We have every confidence in him, it's just helpful for us to know what people outside the League think.”
“He was great,” replies Artemis, honestly. “He really was, he … didn't have to be that nice, but he was. I don't know what else he could have done.”
“Mm-hm. What did he do exactly that was so good?”
Artemis pauses. Is it her, or … no, it must be her. Look at Emilia's face. You're imagining things, Artie. This is just some kinda ridiculous review thing that the League has foisted on her and she's trying to get it out of the way so she can get on with the real investigation.
Still. No need to let her know that Brock switched off the recorder for a while. She doesn't want to get him in any kind of trouble.
“We-ell,” she says slowly, “he was just really … patient. He seemed like he really wanted to help. I guess I felt kinda responsible, and he went out of his way to assure me I wasn't.”
There. The truth, but with all the incriminating bits cut out. She's actually quite proud of how she phrased it, especially with that natu staring and creeping her out like that.
“Okay,” says Emilia, nodding some more. “Well, thank you, Artemis, that's very informative.” She smiles, and Artemis sees real kindness in it. “That should be all we need from you. Now we have it, we can get back to the really important issue here: your trainer journey.”
Artemis starts. She'd almost forgotten why she came to the Gym in the first place. It all comes back to her at once, the Big Choice, the new life, the escape route, and suddenly she feels almost physically sick with the desire to get going. God. Just let her get out
of this damn town already. Away from breach, away from spires, away from the cold mausoleum of home.
“Hah.” She scratches her head. “I kinda forgot about that. Did you …?”
“Yes, I brought the pokémon down from the Plateau with me.” Emilia's smiling again now, at the expression on her face she thinks. Pleased, and indulgent, but not in a patronising way. She likes her a little more for it. “They're being looked after in the other room. If you'd like to come with me …”
Well of course
she would, even if she feels like she's a little too old to display her excitement that openly, so up Artemis gets and follows Emilia into a different room, some sort of practice court with reinforced walls and crash mats. There's a guy in here who introduces himself as Edwin, another of Brock's trainers, and he indicates a row of poké balls laid out on a bench. Nice ones, too – the fancy commemorative kind, white and sleek with red bands.
“Just got 'em all back in there,” he says, scratching at what looks like a recent burn on his forearm. “Tried to keep 'em occupied, but one stepped on another's tail and things got a bit, uh, rowdy.”
“Thanks, Edwin,” says Emilia. “Maybe let them out one at a time, then? Give Artemis a chance to find one she likes and that likes her.”
It's time. Nine years late, but it's time. Artemis steps forward, and knows that in this moment she is, after nearly two decades, finally doing something for herself.
As far as feelings go, it's a pretty good one.
Artemis' parents are less than thrilled with her choice.
“I've never heard of that before,” says her dad, peering suspiciously at the foot-long newt clinging to her jacket. “What did you say it was called again?”
“Salandit. Her name is Brauron.”
“And you caught this?”
“No, they'd got some more starters in stock.”
“So you chose it?” asks her mother. “Wasn't there anything less … slimy?”
There was, as it happens. Brock had said 'something good', and he meant it; Emilia brought a sneasel, a ralts, a petilil, a squirtle and a damn dratini
alongside the salandit, in a collection of pokémon from all around the world and of varying degrees of rarity. It was a difficult choice, but the pokémon themselves made it easier. Neither the sneasel nor the petilil displayed the slightest bit of interest in her, and while the ralts seemed to like her he kept dipping into her head in way that made her uncomfortable; Artemis has enough trouble keeping her brain in order without any outside interference. The dratini was too intimidating, and besides a pokémon like that is a hell of a commitment, with a lifespan running into the hundreds of years. That left just the squirtle and the salandit, both of which looked, as far as a turtle and a sly-eyed salamander can, eager to come with her.
And in the end there just wasn't any choice at all. The salandit is so small, and the dark colours of her back are marbled so beautifully. Sure, the squirtle was cute too, but Brauron is something special, Artemis could tell right away.
“Well, yeah,” she says to her mother. “But this is the one I liked. And she isn't really slimy, anyway.” She peels Brauron gently from her jacket and feels her coil her tail around her wrist, warm and dry. “Here, you can feel her if you like.”
“I think I might pass.” Artemis is a little hurt by the look on her face. She had an idea that her mother didn't particularly like things that creep and crawl, but she didn't know it went this deep.
Brauron plants her forefeet (with all their tiny, delicate, impossibly cute little fingers) on Artemis' knuckle, raises herself up and looks fearlessly at each of Artemis' parents in turn. Her eyes are a deep purple, gleaming with a clever light Artemis doesn't think you get in regular amphibians. This is the kind of salamander that schemes
Artemis can't stop looking at her. The marbled slabs of black and grey, the red sheen of the line down her tail. She almost glows with warmth and life.
She's beautiful, and Artemis is quickly remembering her other reason for going on this journey. It's not just an escape, is it? There's the old enthusiasm too, dormant for nine years now but still there. She's going to travel Kanto with this amazing little creature, and it's going to be like nothing she's ever done before.
“You're really doing it, aren't you,” says her dad, and something in his voice makes her look up at him from Brauron. He looks tired, and a little surprised. She realises with a jolt that on some level he was never expecting this day to actually arrive.
“Yeah,” she says, bringing Brauron back to her chest, letting her climb onto her jacket to hang like a little furnace against her heart. “I am.”
“I guess you're thinking of leaving soon, then,” he says. They hadn't agreed a date. Artemis had been too focused on sorting out the paperwork and the pokémon to finalise that particular detail.
“I guess so,” she replies. “Haven't really thought about it.”
Her parents look at each other. Artemis isn't sure what that expression is, but she is suddenly aware that despite everything they really do still care. Even if that care might not survive the revelation she is hiding in her bag, in the clothes and make-up concealed from view by just a thin layer of fabric.
She feels silly for forgetting. It's part of why she's going, isn't it? Because she can't bear to make things worse. She knows their politics, knows how deep the hatred goes, and she knows that if she tells them what she really is, what remains between them and her is over.
She did consider that maybe she could change their minds. If they knew they had a daughter … but no. She knows, deep down, that she's really not all that convincing.
Her mother reaches out and puts a hand on her arm.
“All right,” she sighs. “Do you need any help packing?”
Artemis shakes her head. Given what's going in her bag, she needs to do this alone.
“No, I'm okay.” She hesitates. “I … might go tomorrow.”
“Yeah. There doesn't seem to be much point waiting around, right? I have a year, I need to make the most of it.”
“I guess not,” agrees her dad, slow, sad. “I guess not.”
Later, up in her room, Artemis sits among the scattered remnants of her life, taking them apart and finding ways to fit the parts that matter into her backpack, and halfway through she stops and lets the skirt she's holding slip from her hands, overcome by a sudden wave of apathy. She looks at Brauron, perched on her dresser like a gargoyle, tasting the air with a long, dark tongue. She thinks of her parents downstairs, their faces and their tired, sagging shoulders.
It's worth it, right? It has to be.
She takes a deep breath, and blinks back a tear, and keeps on packing.