Land of the Roses
Chapter 7: Station Search
Originally published on June 20th, 2017
Chapter 7: Station Search
Originally published on June 20th, 2017
A soft jingle came over the train's intercom system.
"Thank you for riding with Silverline today! We have just arrived in Aughrim, two minutes ahead of schedule! The time now is 6:03 PM, and the weather outside is a cool and refreshing 16°C. If you are--"
Andrea filtered out the announcement; her attention was buried in yet another game of Tetris. She worked at a feverish pace to move the colored blocks around the screen in a desperate attempt to continue, but the pace was starting to overwhelm her. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple and white tiles piled up too fast for her to deal with, but a lucky string of well-timed and well-placed tetrads cleared a majority of the board, bringing her back from the brink of failure.
Level 29!!! flashed on the screen as her score past the 290 line mark.
"Yes... Yes!" she aggressively cheered to herself as she continued to focus on the falling blocks. "I just might do this!"
Despite her joy, she continued on with unparalleled concentration. The colors flashed before her eyes as she moved each incoming tetrad into position, or at least attempted to. Red... red... green... blue... Row complete! Red... purple... Row complete! Yellow... yellow... yellow...
"Come on, give me something else..." her thoughts begged.
A white line appeared on the screen next, a very welcome sight to her. She positioned it perfectly and cleared four rows at once, giving her some much needed breathing room. The piling up of mismatched tiles resumed; red... purple... blue... purple... Row complete! Yellow... red...
"Excuse me, Ms. Andrea?" a voice called from beside her.
Her concentration was shattered and she looked up. "Huh?" The game continued without her; while she was lucky to clear another row without moving any of the tetrads on her own, they quickly piled up and reached the top of the board afterward. "Oh! Kimberly! Sorry, I was, uhh, a little..." she bleated as her attention returned to her phone. She was heartbroken to see the words 'GAME OVER' taunting her from the screen. "Oh... great..."
"A little distracted?" Kimberly said with a giggle. "The train has been stopped for a few minutes now and most of the passengers have gotten off. Aughrim was your destination, correct?"
She placed her phone into her left stocking, something that earned a strange look from Kimberly. She did it for her own sake, as past experience told her that the upcoming walk through the train station had the potential to be dangerous; if any thieves tried to swipe her purse, at least they wouldn't get the most important thing she carried with her as well. It hadn't happened to her, but she had seen it, and she was determined to make sure it didn't happen.
A look around the train showed it to be mostly empty. "Oh! Yes, it is. I probably would have completely missed my stop if it weren't for you, thanks." She gathered up her belongings, slung them over her shoulders, stood up and let out a long and relaxing stretch. As she looked around, she noticed that Kimberly's Skitty was missing. "Where's your Skitty?"
Kimberly reached down towards the ribbon that dangled from her waist and grabbed a pink Pokéball that was hooked to it. The strange Pokéball was adorned with fuzzy, faux-fur ears, and the central button resembled a feline's nose; while she wasn't very familiar with designer Pokéballs, this one was completely new to Andrea.
"She's safely back in her Pokéball. I anticipate the arrival platform to be quite crowded and I don't want to separate myself from her."
"Good call, but I'd put those Pokéballs of yours somewhere more secure if I were you. Someone could yank them right off of that ribbon... Especially that purple one, that's a Master Ball, right?"
Kimberly reached down and grabbed the purple, gem-studded Pokéball that hung next to her pink Feline Ball. "It is!"
"Yeah, you're going to get yourself killed flashing that thing around here. This station can be a little dangerous, much more so during the evening rush hour."
"Dangerous, you say?" Kimberly asked. Without waiting for an answer, however, she followed the advice; she detached both of the Pokéballs from her ribbon and placed them into her purse.
"No, no, I wouldn't put them in your purse, either," she warned. "Too easy for someone to grab a hold of that and run off with it."
Kimberly retrieved the Pokéballs from her purse, but struggled to find a place to put them. "Umm... I don't have pockets, friend."
She pointed to the very ribbon that they dangled from in the first place. "How tight is that thing around you? Could you put them inside your dress without worrying about them falling out?"
Kimberly returned them to her purse once again. "I'll take my chances. I appreciate your advice, however."
The two began to walk to the door together. "It hasn't happened to me, but I'm in this station often enough to have seen it. Lots of thieves and scammers around here. They'll rob you blind before you even hit the floor. Hell, they might even strip that fancy dress of yours off of you and disappear into the crowd before you realize what happened."
"Oh! Oh dear..." Kimberly answered with a wavering voice. "Perhaps it would be wise if we stuck together?"
She shrugged. "I was about to suggest it, but I don't know if you've got the time to hang out around me. It could take me awhile to find this lady I'm supposed to meet... This is the biggest and busiest train station in the country and I don't even know where the hell I'm supposed to be meeting her."
"I have some time to spare."
"Suit yourself, then!"
As they stepped onto the arrivals platform, they two were immediately assaulted by the roaring ruckus of the evening crowd. A sea of densely packed, impatient people covered large sections of the platform, making it difficult not just to exit the train, but to move deeper into the station as well. Despite the fact that she barely knew her, Andrea could tell that this was the first time that Kimberly had visited Camden Station, and she felt it was her civic duty to guide her new acquaintance safely through the station; she wrapped her arm around Kimberly's shoulder and pulled her in close, then led the way as they fought through the endless horde of busy travellers.
"This is intolerable!" Kimberly protested as she was jostled left and right by the crowd. With every bump, she checked to make sure that nothing had been pickpocketed. "How are you so calm right now!?"
"It helps that this is actually kind of tame compared to the last rush hour I experienced," she replied. "You don't travel much, do you?"
"On the contrary, I travel a lot... But I usually fly on a private jet if it makes sense to."
It took a moment for the comment to register in her mind. "...private jet?"
"Yes. My father, he..." Kimberly started, then held her tongue. She eyed the people around her with suspicion before leaning in and continuing with a lowered, intimate voice. "My father is a wealthy businessman. I usually have access to his private jet, since he doesn't use it much anymore."
"Oh... that's interesting... That does explain the Master Ball and that fancy silversilk dress of hers..." she thought to herself. "Why not just fly into the city then? Beats sitting on a train for... however long you were on it."
"There was no airport where I spent the last few months of my life. Besides! I wouldn't give up a chance to see the countryside now that it's in bloom. The shades of green in the Northcountry are lovely this time of the year..."
"Can't argue with that."
It took some time, effort and many half-hearted apologies, but they finally managed to make their way to the main hall of Camden Station. The crowds were thinner than they were on the platform, but only slightly so. Andrea quickly realized the difficulties of finding her business partner among the masses; she knew vaguely what Tamara looked like, but there were thousands of faces to scan and study, with hundreds entering and leaving the main hall every minute. She lamented the fact that there wasn't a more solid plan when it came to meeting Tamara. 'Just go, you'll find her! Have fun!' seemed like a terrible waste of time, but it was the only plan that she had.
Kimberly suggested they reach a higher vantage point and they ventured to the second story promenade. While it helped her to investigate the crowds more quickly, the finer details of the people they were looking at were now lost on both of them. Kimberly dropped her backpack to the floor and began to dig through it; she retrieved a small pair of binoculars and offered them to Andrea.
"Oh, yeah! I won't look like a terrorist at all with these!" she joked before raising the binoculars to her eyes. Every now and then, she'd lower them to focus on another group of people, then raise them again for a closer inspection. She was making very little progress in finding Tamara in the crowds and it was starting to frustrate her. A few more minutes of searching were fruitless. "I sure am glad to know what I'm looking for! " she began to rant; the sarcasm in her voice was clearly obvious. "Why do I always get stuck with--"
"Who are you looking for, exactly?" Kimberly asked.
"Some girl named Tamara Dahl."
"Oh! I've heard of her! The world famous Pokémon trainer, correct?" Kimberly wondered.
"You're going to be working alongside her?"
She lowered the binoculars one last time and handed them back, then pulled her phone out of her purse. She started to dial Dr. Reiland's phone number. "That was the plan..."
"That's quite an honor! You're lucky, Ms. Andrea!"
She stifled a laugh as she sent the call. "Something tells me I'm not so lucky... I'm just a punk kid, there's no way she's going to have the patience to deal with me."
The phone rang five times before it was finally answered. "Hello?"
"Yes, Dr. Reiland? It's Andrea, your new employee!"
"Ah, yes! Ms. Dennison!" Dr. Reiland jollily answered. "You should be in Aughrim by now, correct?"
She nodded. "Indeed I am."
"Good! How was the train ride?"
She peered over at Kimberly, who was still examining the crowds below them. "It went well, but I slept through most of it."
"Heh, sleeping on the job, huh?" Dr. Reiland asked, then let out a long sigh. "To do that again... I envy you! Have you met with your partner yet?"
She hesitated for a moment. "Uhh... I haven't. That's what I called about. I've been looking for over half an hour now, but I can't find here anywhere."
"Oh, is that so?" Dr. Reiland asked, intrigued. "Ms. Dahl's employer tells me she is usually very punctual... Have you tried the main lobby, under the grand clock?"
"That was the first place I looked." She took another casual glance in the direction of the large clock tower that stood in the center of the lobby. "She wasn't there, and I don't see her now."
"Huh... That's where I was told she would be..."
The fact that Dr. Reiland apparently knew where Tamara was supposed to be waiting made it difficult for Andrea to contain her frustration, but she tried her hardest to be respectful about it. "It would have been nice to know that! It feels like I came here without a plan."
There was a momentary pause before Dr. Reiland spoke again. "...Did I not tell you about that? My sincerest apologies, Ms. Dennison. This medication I use can... affect my memory sometimes."
"Don't worry about it, I can't be mad about that... Whatever the case, I can't find her. I don't know where she could be hiding, I've looked almost everywhere."
"There's no way I'm going into the men's restroom to look for her, because I know I'm not going to find her there."
Dr. Reiland let out a hearty laugh, but that joy quickly gave way towards a more somber tone. "That's... worrying. Again, I've been told that she's always punctual... Can you give me a moment?" There was a long pause in the conversation, and the sounds of her struggling to lift something in the background came over the line. A few moments later, she continued, "I want you to call this number, it's Ms. Dahl's personal line. 12-1-105-6734. Please, don't share that number with anyone. She has gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from the public."
"12... 1..." she mumbled quietly as she took note of the number in her short term memory. "Got it."
"While you get on with that, I'll get in touch with his employer. It may be as simple as a flight delay, he may know. My part will take some time, though... You caught me on my way home. If you find her before I call you again, let me know!"
"Thank you, doctor. Will do."
"Keep searching. You'll hear from me soon." The phone clicked, then went silent.
She let out a sigh, then began to dial the number that Dr. Reiland had given her.
"Any answers?" Kimberly asked.
She shook her head. "Just crossed wires... My boss is a little bit forgetful, so she never told me where to meet this lady... but even then, we walked by and she wasn't there. So I'm calling this lady's personal number to see if I can get through to her." She clicked the send call button and puttered around in a circle. "You don't have to stay around, you can go and get ready for your competition thing."
"Hmm, I should prob--"
She put her finger up to quiet Kimberly down when the phone stopped ringing. An automated voicemail message began to play: "Greetings, you've reached Tamara! I can't answer the phone right now, so leave me a message and a number. I'll get back to you." A loud beep followed shortly after.
She grumbled angrily and began to mutter obscenities under her breath before she finally composed her message. "Uhh, hello! This is Andrea Dennison, Dr. Reiland's assistant. I'm supposed to accompany you to Doranshire to investigate some of the strange happenings that are going on there. I'm here at Camden Station but I can't find you anywhere. There's way too many people here! Get in touch with me so we can figure out where we're meeting. My number is 7-1-210-7240. See ya soon!" She ended the call and sighed loudly.
"I don't like the sound of that sigh, friend. Is everything okay?"
She shook her head and spoke in a melancholy tone, "It's fine..."
"It does not sound fine."
She leaned up against the railing and slid down to the ground. "It's... it's just been stressful, you know? This new job I mean. It's only been a few days so far, but... First that Miltank, then the swamp, all this travel, and now--" She caught herself muttering almost incoherently when she saw the strange look on Kimberly's face. "Maybe she just can't hear her phone, this is a pretty loud place... or maybe she's in a call with someone else, she must be a very busy person. And speaking of busy... how about you? I interrupted you, do you need to leave?"
Kimberly offered her hand out to Andrea and smiled. "I can stay a little longer. I shouldn't leave you alone here, this place looks quite dangerous to the solitary traveller."
She laughed and accepted Kimberly's hand, then pulled herself back to her feet. "You don't have to stay, but if you want to, two sets of eyes are better than one. Let's keep looking."
In spite of the nagging thoughts that it would be pointless, Andrea planned on sweeping the station once again in a more thorough manner; rather than just amble by, half-distracted as they had done previously, she wanted to pay attention to the details around her as close as possible. Part of it was her interest in browsing the shops present in Camden Station, something she'd never taken the opportunity to do, and the other part was that she just wanted to kill some time before Dr. Reiland contacted her. She could think of little else to do.
Their search led them across the main lobby and nearly every person they came across was meticulously studied, at least as much as time allowed. No luck, and they moved onto the relaxation lounge next. The dim lighting in the lounge was anything but helpful when it came to searching for Tamara.
"I can barely see anything..." Kimberly remarked.
"Hold on," Andrea said, her attention fixed on a brunette that was seated at a bar in an establishment known as The Conductor's Cabin. "I think I see her! Right there, in The Conductor's Cabin."
"I don't think--" Kimberly started, but Andrea had already wandered off.
She cut across the promenade, taking care not to bump into anyone, as she approached the entrance to The Conductor's Cabin Bar & Grill. A few steps later, she arrived at the bar, next to the person she had been looking at. She cautiously reached out and tapped them on the shoulder. "Excuse me, miss?"
"Wot," the figure said in a burly, masculine voice as it turned around. "Need somethin'?"
A look of shock came across her face; she had mistaken a man with long hair for Tamara! "Oh! Uhh, my mistake, sir. You're not who I'm looking for."
"Mmm. That so..." The man eyed her up and down. "Just so happens I'm lookin' for a pretty lady to spend the evening with. You'll do, how 'bout I buy you a drink?"
Her face turned bright red, and she politely shook her head despite the situation calling for anything but a polite response. "Uhh, uh-uh. Good bye!" She rushed out of the bar and back into Kimberly's presence, nearly knocking a distracted traveller over in the process. "Well... That was awkward."
Kimberly politely covered her mouth as she laughed. "I can tell! The look on your face when that man turned around... I tried to warn you!"
"Did you see the look on my face when he propositioned me? It took a lot of effort not to slap him."
"Oh dear, did he really? I'm glad you didn't."
"Yeah, that would have been a bad idea... let's keep looking around. I want to put as much distance between myself and that creep as I can..."
The next section of the station they searched was the economic heart that attracted more visitors than any other: the commerce center. There were lots of alluring distractions scattered about; another bar, the Gilded Kilt, had various sporting games on TV. The scent of freshly prepared Shinikari-styled seafood wafted from a restaurant just next to it. A public Dance Dance Arcade! match between two seasoned veterans was taking place just outside of Fynnster's Arcade. A jewelry kiosk filled to the brim with silver, gold and precious gems glinted in the overhead lighting.
They all fought for the girls' attention, and eventually the distraction proved successful. They quickly found themselves browsing the merchandise around them, rather than the people. The first distraction was the loud rave music that came from the Dance Dance Arcade! display, and Andrea found herself drawn in like a moth to a flame. The two blended in with the crowd of cheering spectators that had gathered to watch the heated competition that was taking place.
"Yeah! Ya got 'em, Lao, ya got 'em!" one of the spectators shouted as the match progressed.
The screen was crammed to capacity with flashing arrows that passed by at lightning speed, each corresponding to a specific dance move. Both competitors were able to keep up with the ludicrous pace and remained evenly matched for several minutes, but eventually one of them missed a step, a mistake that threw off his entire rhythm. The crowd erupted with boisterous booing and cheering as the young man stormed off in defeat before the song had even finished.
"Would you be interested in giving it a go?" Andrea asked as the crowd started to jostle back and forth and two new competitors emerged.
Kimberly raised her eyebrow. "Me? Sorry, I'm not the type."
"Doesn't matter. I'm well out of practice, and out of shape, too. You could probably take me."
Her words of encouragement earned a giggle from Kimberly. "I wouldn't want to ruin my high heels before my big night."
"So take 'em off, silly!"
"I'll pass. We have something more important to focus on, remember."
She smiled and playfully said, "Coward!" As the two contestants argued over what the next song should be and what difficulty they would compete at, she felt a deep rumbling against her leg. She pulled her phone out of her stocking, looked at the screen and felt her heart drop.
'Incoming call from Dr. Rebecca Reiland'
She stepped away from the hollering crowd and answered. "Hello?"
"Hello, Ms. Dennison, it's Dr. Reiland again. Have you heard from Ms. Dahl yet?"
"I haven't. I called her phone and left a voice mail, but she hasn't gotten back to me. I kept looking for her, too, but I haven't found her. I don't think she's here."
"I see... I was just in touch with her employer, Dr. Belmonte. He hasn't heard from her, either. The airline company that she booked her flight into Aughrim with said that she boarded the plane before it took off, so we do know that she's in the country. However, when we reached out to the hotel that she had rented, she hasn't checked in."
"Where the hell could she be, then?"
"I couldn't say... and I'm starting to grow a little worried. According to Dr. Belmonte, who has worked with Ms. Dahl numerous times in the past, this is unlike her."
"You don't think..." she started.
Her mind quickly drifted to the recent news reports that she watched on TV, complete with scary capital letters and sensationalist, even if they were fact based, claims: 'VIOLENT CRIME ON THE RISE', 'HUMAN TRAFFICKING RING OPERATING IN LANARK?' and 'VULNERABLE: CRIME AGAINST YOUNG WOMEN SKYROCKETS'. Growing up, she always thought of Lanark as a safe country, and it truthfully was; disappearances were a rarity during her youth, and violent kidnappings and murders even rarer, but that was evidently no longer the case. A recent article she read stated that in April alone, there were nearly 400 reported cases of missing persons, ten times the yearly average.
On top of that, she'd read stories over the years about famous Pokémon champions such as Tamara, and how dangerous their lives had become as a consequence of their achievements. The story of Brendan Odamaki, champion of the Hoenn League, came to mind; after years of harassment from his loyal 'fans', including a nearly fatal encounter with a female stalker, he eventually disappeared from his public life altogether and went into hiding. Such stories were common among accomplished competitive trainers, especially league champions, and perhaps that was Tamara's typical experience while out in public. The fact that something tragic could have happened was an easy leap of logic for her to make.
"Is it possible that she ran into trouble somewhere in the city?" she asked.
"As much as I don't want to... I'm starting to think that."
She sighed and shook her head. "So what should I do?"
"I'm not sure there's much you can do at the moment. Find a hotel and check into it, I'll let Mavis down in Accounting know to cover the costs for you."
"Oh! You don't need to worry about that. I still have my apartment here in the city, I can just hang out with my room mate for the time being."
"Ah, do you? That's very handy, that'll save the institute some money. In any case, it's much too dangerous for you to be travelling the roads at night, especially alone."
"Yeah, this city can get pretty rough at night..."
"In the meantime, I'll keep in touch with Dr. Belmonte and sort out a missing person report."
"Look after yourself, Ms. Dennison."
"I'll try." She hung up, placed her phone back into her stocking and then fell against the wall beside her, letting out a long groan in the process. "Son of a..."
"More bad news, I'll assume," Kimberly said.
"Yeah. I can't get in touch with her, my boss can't get in touch with her, her boss can't get in touch with her... so we're giving up for the night and reporting her missing. I'm cursed, one bad thing after the other..."
"What else can we do?"
A moment of silence overtook the two as they thought over the situation. They both wanted to speculate wildly to themselves about how it could have happened; Andrea's imagination ran wild with dozens of possibilities ranging from Tamara being kidnapped by traffickers to having a violent confrontation with the gangsters that typically loitered in the streets around the airport. Kimberly knew it wasn't her place to speculate, so she refrained from it too much. The worry that Tamara had been targeted stuck in her mind, however, and she was concerned that perhaps Andrea may be in danger as well.
"Hey," Andrea started in an effort to break the silence. "Thanks for sticking around and making sure I'm okay. You're a good person."
Kimberly joyously accepted the compliment. "I try to be!" She looked down at her watch and the joy quickly faded from her face. "Oh! I suppose I really should be going now. These coordination contests take some time to prepare for..."
"I shouldn't keep you any longer, run along now."
"I do want to stay, to make sure you're okay, but... I know this may sound insensitive, regarding the current situation, but will you be attending the show? It'll be a nice distraction from your troubles. You'll also be in a public place, safe from danger."
She shrugged. "I'll think about it."
"Very well. Will you be alright here by yourself?" Kimberly asked.
She made a dismissive gesture as she nodded. "I'm leaving, no sense staying here. I'm going to head home and figure out what to do next. Good luck with your contest."
"Good. Stay safe, and good luck to you as well, friend. It was nice meeting you, Ms. Dennison!"