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Time and Tide

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by Cutlerine, Jan 26, 2015.

  1. Terry93D

    Terry93D Active Member

    No worries: Spoil nothing of the plot and you can't go wrong.
     
  2. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Edie you are a precious holographic rubber ducky and I can all too easily see how you could've commanded Avice's attention like that I mean holy balls I'm forgetting to format this gushing as separate sentences that's how precious you are and--

    Okay, that'll do for that.

    Anyway, Maxie. Don't let my return to relative coherence fool you--I actually enjoyed what that old ghost brought to the chapter even more than what Edie brought. I could listen to that nerd go on for hours, I suspect. Listen with my eyes. (Hey, I did say relative coherence. XP)

    Is it bad, meanwhile, that I kinda laughed at the thought of him getting his brains blasted out by a damn starmie? I'm not even sure why I find it funny. This is a giant whirling psychic murderstar we're talking about here.

    Definitely can't say I think very well of the powers that be in Tethys--I'm not exactly a fan of people who censor history for any reason. That said, I'm also disinclined to look at Mr. Starmiebait's goals as the perfect solution to the state of the world, unless he's come up with a means to do it without involving a creature that could very well turn the world into one great big desert. (That raises the question of "does groudon even still exist or did said legendary dissolve like a damn sand castle", but that's kinda beside the point.) Hell, even then I wouldn't call it a perfect solution. Whatever box he's left his nerdy old bones in, whatever he's become since, he's still, ultimately, only human.

    Probably.

    I don't even really know exactly what I'm suggesting at this point, pfff.
     
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I know, I love her too. Fortunately, she hangs around Avice a lot, so we'll be seeing lots more of her. (Fun(?) fact: She's based on the Pokémon you have following you around in HG/SS that emits speech bubbles when you interact with it.)

    We'll also be seing a lot more of Maxie! Although you probably didn't need telling that, since he's clearly still around at the time when Avice is writing all this down. We'll get a little deeper into his head in Chapter Five, when you will in fact get a chance to listen to him go on for hours. If you read slowly, anyway.

    We-ell, there's certainly a lot to be said for Maxie's aims, but I think the real problem is the method. The same, I guess, can be said for Tethys' Administration. They want a society that's stable enough to survive forever, and who wouldn't, after the making over? And certainly they've more or less eradicated some social evils. It's a pity that they've done so by setting up a tyrannical bureaucracy and destroying literature and history, though. And, er, murdering people. That's pretty bad too.

    Anyway, more about Maxie's problems to come. We're getting closer to the climax of this first arc of the story, so! I'll have the next chapter up later today.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2015
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    FIVE: THE REMEMBRANCE OF MAXIM VESELOV

    Tethys Edict 300.1, Appendix B: Grounds for such a procedure are: unauthorised acts of remembrance; construction of new chambers without a license; using forbidden names; keeping an animal not on the list of permitted pets (see Appendix C).

    I slept fairly heavily that night, as you might expect after all I'd drunk, and it wasn't until something started poking me that I actually woke. For a moment, I was terrified – was this it? Was someone here to make me disappear? – but it wasn't a sergeant, or some sinister nameless agent. In the face of all likelihood, the thing that had been poking gently into my ribs was a blunt, rounded beak, and the one on the other end of it was Edie.

    I blinked dumbly at her for a moment, surprised. I knew she could leave the Museum, but I also knew that she never did – yet here she was, flicking her tail anxiously and peering up at me with wide, worried eyes.

    “Edie?” I whispered, which with hindsight probably wasn't the most intelligent thing to say.

    She replied with a question mark: ?

    It occurred to me then that she wanted to know if I was OK, and I gave her a consolatory hug, her body buzzing faintly against my skin like an old computer monitor.

    ? she repeated, wiggling happily.

    I had a few questions of my own for her, but that would have to wait. Nine other people were asleep in this room, and I really didn't want to find myself having to explain to them what Edie was and why she was here.

    “Not here,” I whispered. “We've got to go somewhere we can be alone, OK?”

    ♪, she said, and fluttered silently away to let me get up. I pulled on my uniform sweater over my pyjamas and led her out into the corridor.

    “How did you get in here?” I hissed. “Is there a maintenance port we can use?”

    She jabbed her beak in the direction of an air vent and I clicked my tongue. Of course. It was much easier to get around Tethys unseen if you could get into a vent. They'd be no use to us now, though; I could have climbed into the one in the dormitory, but only by standing on the bed of the girl opposite me, and I was pretty sure that would have woken her up. We'd have to find another empty room.

    “OK,” I said. “This way.”

    I led her to the bathroom and locked the door behind us. The lights wouldn't come on – they were always unreliable after lights-out on that side of Long Hill; something to do with the timer circuit – but Edie turned her brightness settings up, and soon she cast enough light for the two of us to see each other by.

    “Great.” I hugged her again and pulled back again abruptly. “What in all blood are you doing here?”

    ♥, she told me, but her eyes were clouded; it was a reminder, not an exclamation. She had come looking for me – had left the safety of her little kingdom for the dangerous unknown – because she was worried.

    “Oh.” I bit my lip. How could I even begin to explain it? Edie was more than a mere animal, but I got the feeling that the strictures of Tethys citizenship were a bit beyond her. “I'm sorry,” I said. “The – the sergeants were after me. Stopping me from getting to the Museum. I'm OK,” I added, when she started to flap her wings in agitation. “No one hurt me.”

    Edie paused, eyes coruscating like phosphorescence on deep-sea crustaceans, and emitted one of those punctuation-mark faces that Maxie had taught me to read:

    : )

    I smiled and rubbed her head.

    “Yeah, that was good,” I said. Now that the shock and delight of our first meeting was wearing off, I was starting to feel sick. Edie must have tracked me down by trawling through everything I'd ever said about my life and accommodation outside the Museum. That was a lot of dedication – a lot of love – and I was not going to be able to reply in kind. “Listen,” I told her, as gently as I could. “They're watching me – no, no, not right now, don't worry – but they'll know if I go to the Museum. And then they might hurt me.”

    !

    Edie's eyes widened, and I held up placatory hands, trying to calm her.

    “Look, I'm not – I'm – I don't know if I can come back,” I said hopelessly.

    She lapsed into stillness, tail drooping, wings dragging on the floor.

    ?, she asked, in a speech bubble so faint I could hardly make it out.

    “I'm sorry,” I said, trying to harden myself and not succeeding. “They could kill me, Edie. I can't.”

    ☼, she said. I'd never seen the real thing, but I knew a sun when I saw one, and even scared as I was it made me hesitate. Sunlight. The land.

    Maxie's plan.

    There was a reason he was stuck in the Museum: he was a threat. His plan would have seen the end of Tethys as we knew it. I should have known that even hearing him out would put me in danger.
    I needed to know what he intended to do, I realised. I needed to know, and decide whose side I was going to come down on. If the city's, then it was all over. I'd stay here. I'd destroy my notebooks somehow, even if I had to eat them. I'd leave the Museum alone and become a lawyer and do as Virgil and Moll had said.

    If Maxie's side … well, if I took that side I would lose everything. My father. Moll. Any hope of a career here. Maybe even my presence in the minds of those who knew me; to stay safe, I'd probably have to hide out in the Museum, and then I too would be forgotten.

    But I might also bring us back into the light.

    “Drown 'em,” I said, kneading my forehead.

    I was going to have to go back to the Museum.




    I didn't tell Moll. I couldn't. If I'd gone to see her, she would have physically stopped me from going, and even if I had been strong enough to pull free (which was debatable; Moll was always brawnier than me, though I'm tougher now than I was) I don't think I would have had the heart to leave.

    It was a risk, yes. But with Edie to guide me, I could go through the ventilation system, and that would take me almost to the airlock itself without the danger of being seen. The vents also had the advantage of being pretty narrow; not only did you have to be slim to navigate them, but you had to be able to fight off the claustrophobia. Small spaces were never a problem for me – in fact, I found them comforting, which was probably the legacy of my voyage to Tethys inside the escape capsule – but I knew that mine wasn't a common view, and that if anyone did get into the vents they wouldn't dare chase me far for fear of getting stuck, or lost.

    Yes, I thought, I could do it. I didn't dare do it more than once – whether I escaped or not, if someone saw me Virgil would hear about it, and if that happened I was as good as dead – but I could do it.

    Edie undid the screws on the bathroom's vent by generating a tiny rotating magnetic field, and once I had climbed up via the cistern she replaced them carefully. She seemed much happier now that I was coming along; I didn't tell her that it might be for the last time. I didn't say anything at all, actually. I was concentrating on making as little noise as possible. My feet were bare, which helped, but the thump of my knees on the steel seemed incredibly loud. I hoped it was the echo that made it ring up and down the vent like that.

    Even if I hadn't been so afraid, crawling through the ducts would have been a strange experience. I knew Tethys well by then – all the Atria, the main corridors, the back rooms, and even a reasonable number of the maintenance passageways. Blindfold me and dump me anywhere north of Saviour's Nook and I bet I could find my way back home without opening my eyes, even now. But the ventilation system didn't seem to correspond to the map of the city I had in my head; it meandered up and down, twisted back on itself, wove around corridors like thread tangled around a needle in its mission to supply every room and passage in the city with breathable air. At any moment, I had no idea whether we were over atria or corridors, private rooms or assembly halls; I could have crawled through the bedroom ceilings of the High Administrators, or the walls of the sergeants' station. Sometimes I thought I heard voices or footsteps, and froze, heart pounding, until Edie turned around and nudged at me to continue – but it was always difficult to tell, with the air constantly hissing past in my ears. Warm and stale, I'd call it now, although back then I had no idea how different surface air is to the stuff they circulate down there.

    Maybe it was the way my sense of space disappeared, but time too seemed to warp around me. My watch was back on my bedside table, and without it, in the non-space of the ventilation ducts, I seemed almost to come adrift from time altogether. In here, there was no lights-on or lights-out; Edie was my lantern, glowing faintly ahead of me like the lure of an angler fish. I shivered when I thought of that. The chance of something dangerous waiting at the other end of this made the simile uncomfortably apt.

    And then, an eternity or a moment later, we stopped. Edie turned around and jingled at me, and I paused while she undid the screws on the vent below her. It swung loose with a rattle that sent deafening echoes vibrating through the duct, and, holding my breath, I dropped through and listened.

    Nothing.

    I exhaled, slowly, quietly, and glanced up to see Edie dive through after me. While she refastened the screws, I tried to work out where we were, but it was difficult going. I had no points of reference, and all maintenance passages look essentially the same; I was sure we must be near the Museum, but that was as much as I could be sure of.

    ♪, said Edie, descending to my level again and giving out a series of electric clinks. She flitted away down the corridor, wings sculling the air, and I followed. Without shoes, I was pretty silent, but I was also unprotected; I twice put my foot into pools of water, and only just avoided following that up with oil. On both occasions it took everything I had not to yelp in surprise. The second time, I thought the footsteps in the corridors around us sped up for a moment – but if I wasn't imagining it, then it wasn't in response to me, because no sergeants materialised to arrest me.

    Then we turned one last corner, and I realised with some surprise that we were at the entranceway to the Museum.

    If this were a novel, I might follow that up with a sentence like: So was Virgil. It would have made a great story if he'd been there. All the complicated events of the next few days would have been compressed into one easy-to-digest narrative – I enter the Museum, I'm seen, I'm branded a revolutionary and made an enemy of the state. That would definitely make my job easier, at least. Unfortunately, things aren't that simple. Virgil may have been there – I think he'd been hanging around near the Museum a lot after catching me there, making sure I didn't come back – but he wasn't in that passage at that time on that night. Nor was anyone else. Edie and I got to the Museum totally unseen, and anyway Virgil hadn't quite told me the truth when he'd confronted me there before. My path to exile was a more meandering one than I expected.

    But, well, I'll take the story one step at a time, and see if that makes it simpler. We got into the Museum, and as soon as the doors shut behind us I sank into the chair in the captain's study, weak-kneed with relief. We were safe – for now, anyway. Getting back would be a whole other matter, but until then I could breathe freely again.

    Edie chimed happily – ♥ – and pressed her head against my hand. I patted her absently, most of my mind occupied with slowing my heart rate and trying not to think of all the things that could have happened if I'd been spotted. Did I actually know anyone who'd been over Gaoler's Bridge and come back again? Was there even a prison there? Surely there was. Surely not everyone the Administration didn't like disappeared for good.

    “Avice?”

    I looked up and saw Maxie, pale and translucent with shock.

    “Avice, is― Jesus Christ, what happened? Are you all right?”

    He grabbed my hand, then seemed to wonder why he'd done so and put it down again, fidgeting with his cuffs.

    “I'm OK,” I said, to reassure both of us. “I was caught. Once. But it's not like you think.”

    I told him about Virgil then, and he sat down heavily in the armchair in the corner.

    “The one you had a crush on,” he said, and I winced at the memory. As cures for infatuation go, finding out that the object of your affection is a covert operative for your distinctly untrustworthy government is a pretty good one. “God! It's the Aqua/Magma split all over again.” He shook his head slowly. “Let me get this straight,” he went on. “Why did you come back? Was it for her?”

    I glanced at Edie, who had taken advantage of my movement to jump into my lap.

    “Kind of,” I said. “I mean, partly. But also because of your plan. I need to know everything now – everything. If I don't like it, this has to be my last visit.”

    Maxie was very still, as still as only dead things can be.

    “I see.” His voice was stiff and distant. “Quite right, of course. And, ah, if you do … ?”

    I took a deep breath. This was it: time to say it. To commit to something.

    “Then we've got to do it,” I said. “And I'll have to – to stay.”

    The shadow of a frown crossed his face.

    “Ye-es,” he said. “I suppose you won't have much of a choice. Although …” He paused. “If your so-called friend reports you, what then?”

    I kept my face blank.

    “They arrest me,” I replied. “And probably I die.”

    There was a long silence. Edie twitched uneasily in my lap, flicking her gaze from Maxie to me and back again. I felt unpleasantly sober.

    “What time is it?” I asked, at length. “If I'm going to go, then I need to do that way before lights-on.”

    “About two o'clock.” Maxie took off his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right, Avice. I apologise if I've taken too long to get to this point, especially since it seems to have put you in danger. But you're right. It's time you heard it all.”

    You know what? It's best, I think, if you hear it from him. Better to have more than one voice in this work, to stop me making this too much about myself. I've said it was bigger than me, and it was – much bigger, too big for me to handle alone. So, let me go and get him. I can play with Edie and have a walk on the deck, and he can have a turn at sitting here and writing. I'll see you soon, dear reader. In the meantime, I give you: the ghost of Maxim Veselov.




    MAXIE

    It pains me to admit it, but I am at least in part to blame for everything that happened. I ought to have handled the break with Archie better. I ought not to have let a child take on all that responsibility. When I think about it, I find it hard to believe that I made no protest – however good a trainer, no child should have to face that beast alone. It was a doomed enterprise from the start.

    You must understand, then – you, whoever you are, the unknown reader that Avice keeps talking about – that this is a difficult tale for me to revisit. Every part of this story is an indictment of me. I think, sometimes, that this living death is my punishment. At the very least, I can say that I don't know any ghosts with a clear conscience.

    But let me take a leaf out of Avice's book, and begin at the beginning. It was the spring of 1996 – late April, in fact, the cruellest month. Archie McLeod, whom you know as the Prophet, was with me in the Hoenn National Library, and we were both about to be thrown out. I was twenty-three and he was twenty-four, and we had two months ago split from the cell of eco-activists we'd been working with previously to form our own, more extreme organisation. Looking back on it, I suppose that was the start of our turn to eco-terrorism. We were researching legendary pokémon, I recall. We had absurdly grandiose dreams – we had no time for lesser campaigns, for little victories. For us, stopping one more factory opening here or having one more coastline protected there was ultimately pointless. We wanted power – the power to change everything at once. To put the world to rights at one fell swoop. Where exactly we were in our research on that day I don't recall, but I do know that at some point we started arguing.

    And that, subsequently, we started shouting.

    I believe that was the point at which we were thrown out.

    Simply put, we were divided on the matter of the use to which we would put the power, once we had it. Archie was of the belief that we needed to roll back the clock – if we undid the changes wrought on the environment by human civilisation, he argued, we would have a second chance. As a species, we could start things off on the right foot. Of course, that was a ridiculous proposition, and I told him so; what we needed, I insisted, was development in the right direction from the present moment, to mitigate the human impact on the world and eventually strike a good balance between nature and civilisation.

    It seems so petty now, but that was the argument that ultimately destroyed the world: two young men coming to blows over approaches to sustainability in the reading room at the National Library. After we were thrown out, I went home and he went off god-knew-where; he came back the next day for his things, gave me his key and told me he was leaving. I don't think either of us wanted to part, deep down, but – Christ, we were so prideful. Neither of us could admit that we were behaving like children who couldn't agree on what game to play. If only I had had the courage to say that I was sorry and that I didn't want him to leave, I truly think he would have stayed.

    But I didn't, and he left. And that was that.

    From there, we both went from bad to worse. Our research had led us to the two ancient pokémon that slept beneath Hoenn – the avatars of land and ocean, creatures with tremendous influence over the natural world. I suppose it was our conviction never again to share anything with each other that led us to pursue just one of them each; I became obsessed with Groudon, he with Kyogre – the leviathan that you worship, if you still do, under the name of Tide. How that even squared with our original philosophies I'm not sure. By that point, we were caught up in the rush of it all, and reviving ancient monsters somehow seemed the natural next step in our respective plans. It may be difficult to believe, coming from a fading memory like me, but we were powerful, back then. We were both of us skilled trainers, highly charismatic, and fortunate in our connections. Funds and recruits came to our causes as if it were fated.

    And perhaps it was. I have come to think, on reflection, that these things come in cycles. I later discovered that the ancient pokémon do wake periodically, perhaps in response to the rhythms of the earth. They wake together, so their gifts oppose each other, and the devastation is confined to what once was Hoenn; then they are laid to rest once more, and sleep for a few thousand more years. Perhaps that's all that Archie and I were – the pawns of some incomprehensibly vast geological will, prodding the giants back into life for one more round in the endless battle.

    Of course, in the end only one was woken, and water flows. Without a counterbalance, Kyogre drowned the world. Even my ultimate decision to not wake Groudon may have been the wrong one. If I had done it, perhaps only one country would have been lost, instead of everything. Not that this troubles me any more – or at least, not as it once did. Avice, though she won't say it in so many words, has saved me, as she has saved all of us. Another natural cycle, perhaps. The ghosts of the old world accumulated; we needed exorcising; someone who could see and lay us to rest was born. If there is anything that life and unlife have taught me, it's that this planet has ways of healing that none of us could possibly expect.

    Curious. She told me how easy it is to be distracted when writing like this. I was sure that I could manage a simple linear narrative, but it seems that once again my high opinion of myself was unwarranted. I apologise for the digression.

    To return to the point, I gave up my quest. By the turn of the millennium, I had everything I needed. I had a headquarters, an organisation, money, knowledge; I could have awoken Groudon right then – and yet I didn't. I, Maxie, who called myself 'the great', who had worked for this for four long years, was wrong. I have Tabitha to thank for that, one of the original Magma Administrators, and whose name I am glad to learn has been immortalised in a Tethys landmark. He worked it out when I was too blind with ambition to see what ought to have been obvious: that to wake Groudon would be to set the world afire. It is the equal and opposite of Kyogre, you see: where one brings the rain, the other brings the sun. If I had woken it when I did, I would have burnt the world to nothing. Perhaps some people would have survived. Perhaps not. After the first hundred years or so, one learns not to think about it, or at least not too often.

    I was not quite too far gone then to listen to reason, and listen I did. The plan was called off. Magma, for a time, floated in limbo. Our aim remained the same: the development of humankind towards a more human and sustainable system of civilisation through the expansion of landmasses. (Yes, you're right: it makes no sense. What can I say? I had shaken off my legendary pokémon obsession but kept the megalomania. I should never have been entrusted with the power that I was.) How to pursue that goal now was unclear, but one thing at least we were sure of. We had to stop Archie and Aqua.

    So began three years of silent war. We made the national news several times, when we clashed and people died, but I could never force Archie to negotiations where I might be able to convince him of the danger of his goals. Perhaps I did not want to. It had been nearly seven years since we had gone our separate ways, and I still was not really ready to see him, or he me. We had separated so entirely that we could not imagine ever meeting again.

    It took someone else to bring Archie out into the open. There was a young trainer, a recent immigrant, who in the autumn of 2002 ran into an Aqua operation in Petalburg Woods and sent their agent running with nothing but a torchic and a poochyena. Her performance there led to the Devon Corporation hiring her to escort a delivery to Slateport, and there she bumped into Archie himself. She drove off two of his bruisers at once, and he was impressed: he backed off. He liked to make such gestures; I think his self-mythologising was of a different sort to mine, making of himself a character from an action film.

    When I heard about that, I started paying attention. I was always a shameless manipulator of the naïve, and then was no different. I had people in place – prodded the poor girl along behind the scenes, in the direction of Aqua operations. To this day I am amazed that she survived it all. Perhaps Archie and his crew didn't want to kill a child, or perhaps she really was that formidable. Certainly that torchic of hers matured at a fantastic pace. Good training accelerates development, of course, but that was the first and only time I saw a torchic become a blaziken in under eighteen months. Her pokémon grew so quickly that it must have affected their health – but they were fearsomely strong, and she used them with uncanny skill.

    When I think of her, I am in some ways reminded very much of Avice.

    It was too late, in the end. I relied too much on her and not enough on myself: another mistake. Archie worked out how to awaken Kyogre at the end of 2002; in early 2003, he took the Blue Orb from the shrine atop Mount Pyre, stole a submarine, refitted it into the Alcmene and made for the bottom of the sea. Our hero followed, and so did Magma, but we were just too late. Kyogre woke, and Archie learned the hard way what I had discovered several years before – that Hoenn's ancient giants were far beyond the capabilities of humankind to control. The cave in which Kyogre slept was annihilated almost at once; we made it out, just, and on that tiny island we stood and stared as the sky turned black with angry clouds.

    When the rain began to fall, it broke Archie. That rain … no, I don't think I can describe it. It was not the rain you know. It wasn't even the rain that has been falling for the last five hundred years. In the early days, that rain was furious. Each drop, each gust, each peal of thunder was full of anger; one felt like the water might boil away with its own wrath.

    He tried to stop it. We all did – those last few people who knew what was happening and how to put an end to it. The Champion, Steven Stone. Wallace Artois, the Keeper of the Cave of Origin. Archie and myself. And the trainer, whose name drowned with her. I wish I could tell you what she was called; hers was the bravest and the most tragic death of all, and she ought never to be forgotten. But I have forgotten all the same. When Kyogre took her, it took her whole, flesh and spirit. I can't even remember her face.

    That was the last mistake. We chose her as the strongest trainer of all of us – the only one who was likely to be able to best Kyogre and bind it to her will. I don't know what we were thinking. I never knew how old she was, but God, she was a child! Fifteen at the very oldest. And we put her in that diving suit and gave her the Red Orb that opposes the Blue, and we sent her down to the bottom of the sea to tame the untameable.

    You know, of course, how that turned out. Six hours later, the Cave of Origin burst open and drowned the lower levels of Sootopolis all at once. The rest of the city simply fell apart, wracked by earthquake and tidal wave, and though some of us escaped we were very few in number.

    Archie was not one of us. I can see him still, standing on the terrace, black sky above and black water below. My crobat was screaming, and it was all I could to to stop her fleeing without him – but in the end, when I reached out my hand, he pushed it away.

    “I'm gonnae help her,” he said, and those were his last words. A wall collapsed and my crobat shot up into the sky in panic, taking me with her; I looked back, and saw him go under, sitting upright on his sharpedo as if he were simply crossing a river.

    Avice tells me she has written already about what I did next – recovering the Alcmene and trying to mitigate the damage, hoping that my base on the Jagged Pass would be high enough to keep people safe. What became of Wallace I never found out. It was him, with his Sootopolitan traditions and old legends, who pushed hardest for the girl to go as champion, and for her to do so alone. I believe he went down with his beloved city, Cave-keeper to the end. Unlike me, he did not come back. I have always assumed that was because he had no regrets about what he had done, but I know I am inclined to be uncharitable where he is concerned.

    After I had set things in motion at the Magma headquarters, and they had ships of their own to scout for supplies and survivors, I laid out my plan before my lieutenants. We would raise Groudon after all. Its power would oppose Kyogre's, and while Hoenn was already as good as lost we might at least be able to halt the storms now spreading out over the rest of the world. The Alcmene was prepared for a dangerous voyage, plans were made to take those at the Magma base north to Sinnish waters once the fresh wave of devastation started, and with an uneasy heart I set off once again for Sootopolis. The Orbs were down there somewhere, and if I was to raise Groudon I would need to recover at least the Red. I would have liked to find the Blue Orb too – it would have made Groudon a little more tractable – but if not, it was no matter. Groudon's natural hatred for Kyogre would point it in the right direction with or without my prompting. And anyway, I did not plan for any of us to stay and direct the fight.

    I never got the Blue Orb; it vanished with Archie and the ocean claimed it. Its Red counterpart, however, was proof against currents. In it was the solidity of continents, and despite the waters that raged around it – waters strong enough to nearly destroy the Alcmene – it remained exactly where it had been dropped when that trainer lost her last battle. Some of Groudon's obstinacy had rubbed off on it, I'll wager. My crew and I retrieved it, but more than that it's hard for me to say. The Alcmene was badly damaged on the way down, and somehow or other a wild starmie got inside. In its panic it smashed my head open with one of its arms, and that was that: Maxim Veselov blinked out like a light.

    All that was left was his memory, or his soul or whatever it is that I am, but I wasn't fully aware of what was going on for quite some time. I swirled about the submarine as a vivid mist for a while, and only came to my senses much later, when we were back at headquarters – where I discovered that we had lost more than my life. My notebooks, containing all my research on the precise method for waking Groudon, had been damaged beyond all hope of reading by the water that flooded the Alcmene and brought the starmie aboard in Sootopolis. Tabitha and Courtney, the Magma Administrators, tried to resurrect my techniques, but with the pressures of keeping the survivors alive, they never quite got there. More Administrators were elected to help deal with the workload and they, more concerned with survival than anything else, quietly stymied all efforts to work towards raising Groudon. Legislation was enacted. The unruly survivors were civilised. Little by little, my headquarters became Tethys, and Tethys headed towards stability.

    The new Administration thought it best if everyone believed that the salvation I had been working towards was not the revival of the old world but the stability of the new. My plans, my body, and my memory were all moved into the Alcmene to gather dust. That was before it had the name, but it was then that it became the Museum of the Forgotten, and I the first exhibit.

    The Administration made one mistake, however; one fragment of the past survived. With me and my original Administrators out of the way, no one understood the purpose of the Red Orb. To them, it was just a jewel, not the fulcrum about which my dreams hinged. They kept it for its size and lustre, and later it became the centrepiece of the city's other museum. It was there still, under lock and key and a plaque that named it the Star of Tethys, five hundred and forty-eight years later.

    All I needed, as I thought, were living hands with which to steal it, and I could at last make amends for the mistakes of my past.

    I suppose when one is as great a fool as I am, one really thinks that such things are possible.




    AVICE

    I'm back! Did you miss me? I'd understand if you did. Maxie's lovely, but a little dry sometimes – oh, gods below, that reads so much more arrogant than I meant it to. I really do like him, I promise. He's a good man, or at least he is now. Anyway, that was his plan: to get me to steal the Red Orb so that he could bring a giant monster back to life. It was all about balance. Tide had wrecked the world, he told me, because it lacked opposition. Groudon would remedy that. It might not happen right away, but sun and rain, leviathan and behemoth, land and ocean, would eventually reach an equilibrium. The world would still be unstable, of course – the battle of the gods (and I still hold that they're gods; it's belief that makes a god, not whether or not you're flesh and blood) would bring great waves and volcanic eruptions. But in that chaos, there would be safe havens. Places to live and grow and wait out the fight until the gods grew tired, or killed each other, or whatever it is that they do to turn themselves from living flesh to sleeping stone.

    All of that was true. There was something else, something less pleasant, that he omitted to tell me – but I didn't question it at the time. How could I? What Maxie was describing was energy, vitality, life; something utterly unlike the static gloom I had spent my life in. Rightly or wrongly, I believed in him and in his vision.

    When he had finished speaking, we sat in silence for a moment. He was waiting to hear what I thought, and so, in my own way, was I. No matter what the reward, it's not easy to commit to an attack on your rulers, your world, and your god. If I'd been more impetuous, maybe it would have been less difficult, but I never could be that. Being who I was, what I was, I learned the value of caution pretty young, and now that I had an opportunity to actually change the world I found myself thinking twice before taking it.

    “OK,” I said at last, making Maxie jump. “OK. I'll do it. I'll steal the Star for you.”

    At that moment, I couldn't have said whether I was more afraid or excited. Thinking about it now, I'm amazed I was anything at all; it was all rather a lot to take in for someone who had until very recently been quite drunk.

    Maxie nodded slowly, rubbing the tips of his fingers together.

    “As you wish,” he said, which I've always thought was a peculiar sort of response. “But … well, I think you should give it some more thought than that.”

    “What?”

    “Go back to your dormitory,” he told me, leaning forward. “Go back and get some sleep – sleep off the alcohol, anyway; not to be rude, but I can smell rum, and I don't have a good sense of smell – and give it a good few weeks. I'll deal with Edie,” he added, before I could interrupt. “Let the sergeants get complacent. Let your friend lower his guard. When a month or so has passed, when the way here is safe again, come back here, and then – and only then – will we do it. If you still want to.”

    I'll admit it, I was relieved. Confused, yes, and slightly offended (both by the accusation that I was still drunk and his rejection of my help), but relieved. I didn't have to come and live here after all – not yet, anyway.

    “I don't want you hurt, Avice,” Maxie went on. “But I also don't want you in here. Not unless you have to be.” His shoulders hunched a little, as if against a chill I couldn't feel. “Very little is whole in a museum, Avice. Nothing stored in here can ever return home, because that home has become something else, or ceased to exist. Do you see what I mean?”

    A month before, I don't think I would have done. And to be perfectly honest, I probably didn't then, either. It was the middle of the night, I was exhausted, and anyway I'm not sure I'd learned enough. Now, I think I have a better idea of it, especially after my time on the Golden Isles, where every other conversation was a philosophical revelation. The master-of-changes, I remember, when we went to discover books― ah! I thought I'd kicked that habit of jumping ahead to events in the future. Clearly I still need to work on it.

    “Sort of,” I said. “This is no place for the living.”

    “More than that. It kills them.” Maxie sighed. “No, hang on, no more of this. This isn't the time for that particular lesson. Go, get some sleep.”

    I opened my mouth to protest, because of course I knew what he was on about, why wouldn't I, but the argument I was about to voice turned into a yawn and I had to concede defeat.

    “Sure,” I agreed, suddenly extremely aware of how tired I was. “Edie, sweetie, can you take me home?”

    She wasn't happy about it – I don't know how much of our conversation she'd understood, but she seemed to know we wouldn't see each other for a while – but she did, after a few minutes of prevarication. Back into the air ducts we went, and back into the weird timeless non-space they inhabited; except for one nasty moment when I whacked my knee on the wall and heard someone moving around above me, we got back to the academy without incident. It was a hard parting, in the end. Edie didn't want to leave, and I had to take her back to the dormitory and get back into bed before she would move more than a foot away from me.

    I sighed and scratched her just above the beak.

    “Sorry,” I said, a little louder than I meant to. “I do love you, but―”

    “I love you too, Sebastian,” mumbled Natalie Brie dol' Tethys, from the next bed along, and rolled over in her sleep.

    I let out the breath I'd been holding and turned back to Edie.

    “I'll see you in a few weeks,” I said. “I promise.” I gave her my best reassuring smile, although given the time of night I doubt it actually was a particularly good one. “Goodnight.”

    ♥, she said, although with a sad kind of irony her heart wasn't quite in it, and phased through the ventilation grille above Lizzie Sabrina dol' Tethys' bed.

    I sighed again, hoped she'd be OK, realised suddenly that the Sebastian Natalie had declared her love for was the cute one in the mechanical science program, and fell asleep.

    For a night as momentous as that one, I've got to say, it was a pretty anticlimactic ending.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2015
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Let me just pause a minute here. I've got quite into this story, I've noticed, and I think I might be narrowing down too much. Everything's very tightly focused on me, isn't it? Even that bit I got Maxie to write only came in to explain to you what he said to me, although he's seasoned it with a few of his present reflections. I'm reading it back now, and I think― oh! Have you seen that bit where he says―? Actually, you know what, I'm not going to comment. That would be unprofessional. Although I guess I am an amateur― no, let's leave it.

    Where was I? Oh yes. I was saying that I think a lot of his present attitude toward himself has seeped into his retelling, so that it doesn't sound so much like what he actually said at the time, and now I'm wondering: is that happening to me? Am I reading my past through the lens of the present day? I must be. I know I've missed things out just because I have to – for example, it must seem to you like I only had two friends, whereas really I could make a whole other book out of my time at the academy, about Natalie and Tamiko and Helen and what we did during that incident with those gorebyss, and the time I broke a glass over Astrea Francesca dol' Tethys' head and was nearly arrested, and all the rest of it … Now I've lost where that sentence began. Great. Some historiographer I am. Let me try that again: I know I've missed things out just because I have to, but what about the stuff I'm not conscious of? I may be making the people I don't like more evil than they are. I might be finding patterns that aren't there, and which you can't see when I point them out to you. I might be totally untrustworthy.

    Well, I guess I just have to soldier on. It's not like anyone else would be able to avoid doing that, after all. Maybe I shouldn't even be trying for accuracy. Maybe I should be trying for fidelity to the story. But then, isn't that what the Administration did, when they commissioned that awful Complete History of Tethys? It told the story they wanted it to tell, and if there were a few unnecessary facts in there, the pages were torn out and sent to the Museum.

    OK, OK, no more of this. I'm sorry, dear reader – it seems I can't go even a couple of days without thrusting one of these anxious digressions in your face. I'll try and cut back on those. I said I'd leave my thoughts in the manuscript, but it's not like you need to see everything. That would just be tedious. For both of us, but especially for you. And I think a story needs to have some interest and excitement, even if it is a true one. Perhaps especially if it's a true one.

    I've always been a little anxious, I think, although apparently I'm brave. I've always liked the idea of exploring the unknown, and I suppose I'm fairly fearless about the little risks in life – but I do worry about things like that. You do them anyway, though, don't you – the big things? You do them because there's no other option. You flee the city of your youth. You pit yourself against a god. You explain to your aunt and father that you're a girl. Not because you're brave, but because you have no choice. And because you clearly love discovery and adventure, and you're tall and hard to hurt, people start thinking you're something special.

    Let's make it clear right now: we're all cowards, I think. That's all right. We can change the world anyway.

    … I have got seriously off the point. What is wrong with me this afternoon? I'm not meant to be delivering inspirational messages to the youth of today, I'm meant to be writing the history of the end of my world. If there's an inspirational message in there for said youth, then that's a bonus, but I shouldn't take time off from the history stuff to just throw them out there. It makes them sound sententious, and that's not how I want to be remembered.

    Right. Definitely time to get back to the action. Hopefully this digression will have broadened my mind a bit.

    The next morning I overslept massively, which to be honest I would have seen coming if I'd had the energy to think about it. When I woke, I found I'd missed one and a half classes already, so I decided I might as well miss the half remaining of the second and took a long shower instead. I felt good – strange, perhaps, after the night I'd had, but I really did. I didn't have to make a decision, you see. I didn't have to choose Maxie over Tethys. Not yet, anyway, and not yet was good enough for me. There's nothing like dodging a responsibility to get you feeling good about life.

    So good did I feel, in fact, that in the hour left before the refectory opened for lunch I rewrote my last essay from scratch, knowing as I did so that I'd just made it twelve times better. I ate lunch early, before most others had arrived, then dropped by my tutor's office, apologised for oversleeping but pointed out that it seemed to have cured my illness, and gave her the essay.

    It got six stars, I remember. I'd like to say that that was because of my rhetorical skill and thorough research, but really it was just a fluke. The world bent over backwards for me that day; everything I tried to do seemed to come off perfectly. At the end of the afternoon lecture, I asked an incredibly incisive question that impressed everyone and which I can't now remember; when I met with the other Legal Apprentices to study that evening, I had the answers to every question on hand; even at dinner, when I bumped into Virgil for the first time since our last meeting, I greeted him with a smile that cut through the awkwardness and left him still grinning at the last joke I'd made.

    Moll sought me out that night, while I sat in the bar with my friends and drank water. (I'd punched the last hole on my rum ration card the night before.) She leaned on the back of my seat and looked down at me for a moment with raised eyebrows.

    “Sure,” I said. “One moment, guys.”

    I got up and followed Moll out, to the bench in the yard where Chubb was slowly swinging his wings open and shut.

    “I'm almost dreading the answer,” she said, vaulting the back of the bench and onto the seat, “but. What happened?”

    “I don't know what you mean,” I said, perching on the armrest. “There's nothing different about me today at all.”

    She did that thing with her eyebrows that she does when she's amused but doesn't particularly want to acknowledge it.

    “Avice. Seriously.”

    I sighed.

    “You were right to dread the answer,” I told her. “I went back.”

    “I knew it!” Her palm slapped against the metal seat. “'Sflukes, I knew it!”

    “Before you get―”

    “Why'd you do it?” she demanded. “Are you trying to get yourself―?”

    “She came to fetch me!” I cried, hoping no one was listening. “Edie came to get me,” I went on, lowering my voice. “We went through the vents. No one saw me. And that was it. I explained that I can't go back.”

    She paused, surprised.

    “You said that?”

    “Yeah. Yeah, I … told Maxie about Virgil.”

    “Well.” Moll scratched her head. “Right. I wasn't expecting that.”

    “Yeah.”

    “I'm – well, I'm glad. I'm, um, really glad.” She squeezed my hand. “Thanks,” she said diffidently. “You're the kind of person who'd go up against the city, and I'm – glad that you're not doing that.”

    Something stirred uneasily in my gut. I was doing that, eventually. I was going to steal the city's oldest heirloom from the Civic Museum and bring a god to life – ridiculous, isn't it? When treason just isn't enough, commit heresy as well!

    “Yeah,” I said, putting it out of my head. There were still some weeks to go, after all. There'd be time to think about it all later. “Yeah. It feels good, I guess, to not have all that on my mind any more. They won't get me.”

    Moll didn't reply for a while, and the two of us sat there and watched Chubb clean his antennae with his forelegs.

    “I should get back to the others,” I said.

    Moll nodded.

    “There was one thing I wanted to ask,” she said. “What do you want to do about Virgil? Because we can drop him if you want. I'd – well, I'd understand.”

    I smiled.

    “It's OK, I won't ask you to drop your rival. And I can be polite, like – I saw him earlier and I was all right, but I think … I wouldn't choose to spend time with him, if you get what I mean.”

    She nodded. She knew what I meant. In future, she would try to avoid having the two of us meet – but if she couldn't, she wasn't to feel guilty.

    “Thanks,” I said, and she grinned her lopsided grin.

    “It's not like I've got a choice,” she replied. “He's just Virgil, and you're you. Big difference.” Her eyes flicked over her shoulder and back again. “Anyway, go on then. Get back to them.”

    “You going to join us?”

    “Nah,” she said mysteriously. “I've got some business to take care of.”

    I raised my eyebrows, but said nothing, and once back in the bar forgot all about it. Moll, for her part, went on sitting there for a moment, then sighed and held out her arm for Chubb.

    “Come on,” she said. “It's a screwed-up world where sailors avenge pirates, but we've committed now and I'm not going back on my word.”

    For I can now reveal what Moll's business was: the night before, after we'd got back to the dormitories, she'd sought out her friend Tobias Ethan dol' Tethys, a fellow student trainer, and had demanded he get her into Virgil's dormitory.

    He gave her a long look.

    “Should I even bother to ask why?” he enquired.

    “No,” Moll replied. “Look, I just need a reason to be in there for like five minutes, so pretend you're going to sleep with me, then we'll have an argument, I'll leave and on the way I can – do what I'm going to.”

    Tobias stared.

    “Are you drunk?” he asked. “You are. You are totally drunk. Go to bed, Moll.”

    “Toby, I have never been soberer,” she declared, swaying slightly. “And I've sworn an oath, so I'm not taking no for an answer.”

    “You're so drunk,” he said again. “Tooth take you, go to bed.”

    And at that she had gone to bed, but because she'd been lying about the oath, Moll swore dramatically that servant of the city or not, she'd have her revenge on Virgil for threatening me. After that she fell into bed and woke up the next day with an aching head and wishing she hadn't said anything to Tobias at all.

    But like she said, she'd committed. She'd sworn on the hallows and all three gods of the sea, and that isn't the sort of oath you go back on – not just because Tempest at least is always listening, but because swearing by the hallows and breaking your word makes you ill. I'm told that it does so because we believe so strongly that it will do, but I'm not convinced. The gods are real, after all, and so is their power. I've seen both at first hand. Why shouldn't the hallows be real, too? They were only human, before they were martyred. That's not so hard to believe in.

    So, Moll had committed, and after she'd spoken to me that evening she left to speak to a different friend, Valon Olek dol' Tethys. This time, her plans were more sensible: she told him that a third friend, Mark Herman dol' Tethys, was on duty at the Gym today but had left his bag in his room. Could Valon sign her in for a moment so she could get it and bring it to him? She was on her way over.

    “Why's Mark on duty at seven in the evening?” asked Valon dubiously.

    Moll's smile took on a certain rigid quality that masked an internal torrent of curses.

    “It's … preparation,” she said. “For an event. There's going to be … a display.”

    “I haven't heard anything about it.”

    “Well, you don't work at the Gym, do you?” she said. “Come on, Valon, I just need a couple of minutes.”

    With a little more persistence and a few more lies, she got in, and played the all-star trainer for an impressionable first-year, awing him so much (she was, let's not forget, Moll Kathleen dol' Tethys, one of the best trainers of our generation) that he didn't even ask why she wanted to know which was Virgil's dormitory. After that, she just had to wait until the the coast was clear and she was able to sprinkle a small dose of Chubb's poisonous wing-scales over Virgil's bed. Beautifly aren't as bad as dustox, but the powder from their wings can paralyse; Moll didn't put enough in for that, of course, but she did leave the dormitory pretty sure that the would-be Administration enforcer was going to be experiencing moderate to severe pins and needles in various limbs for at least three days.

    “Where's the bag?” asked Valon, when he signed her back out in the visitor's book.

    “Oh,” said Moll. “It wasn't there.” She shrugged. “He must've left it in the training yard. I'll have a look on the way over to the Gym.”

    I learned all that five days later, when I noticed Virgil walking oddly and Moll trying not to laugh and suspected something was up. A bit of questioning and Moll revealed everything. I felt like I ought to be angry with her – this was long before I started to really hate him; he still seemed so normal – but honestly, I couldn't summon up the willpower. He was sort of blackmailing me, after all.

    And anyway, I was in a good mood. That first day's luck didn't last, and after a while I started to worry a bit about how Edie was doing – but by and large, I felt good. I was free. Virgil had nothing on me now except the poetry, and if the Administration already knew about that then I was screwed no matter what I did. Not exactly sensible, maybe – it wasn't like I was totally out of danger yet – but relief is pretty intoxicating. When I was fished out of the ocean after being thrown off the Exceptional I couldn't so much as think straight for hours.

    Of course, life didn't stop just because I was taking a break from my seditious activities. My father, for reasons that I still don't fully understand, took up crocheting in his spare time; Moll put in a request for a place on a pokémon-hunting expedition to catch a second one for her team; Virgil's numbness passed, and he gradually got used to the strange game of denial and faux-politeness that he and I now had to play with each other. In the Museum, Edie began work on a substantial renovation of the main engines – probably to distract herself from my absence, but it was a good thing she did; they'd be back in use soon enough. Maybe she foresaw that trouble was on its way, and that soon we would be leaving Tethys. I don't rightly know. It's hard to be sure exactly what's going on in the mind of a porygon. She's so human, and yet so not.

    Maxie, for his part, began to exercise. Not physically – he had no muscles, and his body couldn't be altered – but in a way for which Tethysi is sadly lacking in appropriate words. Perhaps the clearest way of putting it is to say that he tested his bonds. For so long, he had been unable to leave the Museum, held there by forgetfulness and bureaucratic decree; now, though, there was someone outside the Museum to remember him. It wasn't much, but it gave him a foot in the door – and, little by little, day by day, Maxie walked closer and closer to the Museum airlock. A fortnight after he'd told me about Groudon and the Orb, he touched the keypad by its side before the city's collective imagination blew him back down the corridor. One week after that, he opened the door – and the next day, he took his first wavering steps into the city proper.

    There were still a couple of sergeants on patrol around there, but they didn't see him. As it happens, no one else I know of has ever been able to see him, or any of the other ghosts. I worry, sometimes, that they aren't real at all, and that I'm just hallucinating. Maybe I wrote that passage that I've attributed to Maxie above, and took the information out of one of the old books I found here. After all, there's no evidence of them outside the Museum. It's only in here, soaked in the nourishing echoes of the past from which they sprang, that they have any physical being. So―

    So nothing. They're real. I can't believe otherwise, or the whole thing falls apart. That's another limit to set on belief. It was the believing in two contradictory things at once that did for Oliver Saturnine dol' Tethys, the old high priest. I mean, you can believe in a little contradiction, but my ghosts – they're too big for anything but certainties. If they don't exist, two years of my life come apart in shreds.
    Which means that the reason Maxie went unseen is because the sergeants couldn't see ghosts – because no one can see ghosts except me, as far as I know. I can't even be sure about Edie. It's true that sometimes she seems to look at Maxie, but she's never interacted with him beyond that. Perhaps she's simply following my gaze, trying to see what it is that I'm watching.

    I've said that life's absurd so many times, and I hope you now see why. If we can't agree on that – if we can't both agree that this life is full of inexplicable, unprovable oddities – then you can't believe me when I talk about the impossible. So please, dear reader, let's say for both our sakes that ghosts are real and my sight is clear, and carry on.

    The effort of actually leaving the Museum sent Maxie staggering back inside to rest. Ghosts can't actually sleep, but they can drowse, sort of – let their minds wander through past and present while their substance is still – and he spent a long time slumped in a chair while shape and colour returned to him. Once he was a little more solid, he left the Museum again – and again, and again, fighting the indifference that would thrust him back through the airlock. Each time, he got a little further: to the end of the passage, then to a nearby maintenance hatch, then out into the corridors around Founder's Atrium – and, five weeks after we had last seen each other, he made it all the way to Long Hill, and the great iron doors of the academy.

    The next day, he turned up in the middle of class.

    He passed through the gap under the door in wisps of coloured light, like a spirit from an old story, and looked around as if searching for something. When he saw me sitting at the other end of the room, he waved and called my name.

    “Avice! Over here!”

    I broke off in the middle of my sentence and stared. I stared for so long and with such alarm that all ten other people in the room stared with me, although of course they couldn't see anything, and so they quickly turned their stares around and pointed them at me instead.

    “Avice?” asked Tamiko, who was sitting next to me. “Are you OK?”

    I tore my eyes away from Maxie and focused them on her with some difficulty.

    “Uh,” I said. “Yeah. I just – well, yeah, I'm OK. Where was I?”

    “The applicant in the scenario ought to be permitted the white ticket for meals outside the refectory because …”

    “Oh. Right. Thanks,” I said, glancing uneasily at Maxie, who had now taken a seat in an empty chair in the corner. “Yeah, so if you remember what Vince was saying about Edict 233, then it kind of follows that if there's a legitimate reason to believe that their requirements can't be met by the standard refectory set-up …”

    I fumbled my way through the rest of my reasoning, which fortunately was sound enough to stand up to scrutiny without much help from me – fortunately, because it's incredibly difficult to think about law when a spectral revolutionary is watching you from the other end of the room – and hurried out at the end without waiting to answer Tamiko's questions about what had just happened. Maxie drifted after me, and after darting into a deserted classroom I turned and glared at him.

    “What are you doing here?” I demanded to know. I don't know why I was so angry. Actually, that's a lie. I do. I was spooked by the mingling of the two worlds, my life in the city and my life in the Museum, and I was scared of the responsibility of choice that was currently hurtling towards me after my few weeks of normalcy.

    “You remember me,” he said, coming closer. “That gave me a way out. It's been hard, but I managed.” He moved over to the table, and I noticed his footsteps were out of sync with his forward motion. His strides were short and quick, but he seemed to float over the floor at a constant rate. “It's not quite what I imagined,” he went on, perching on the edge of the table. “I can't affect the material world out here, which has made it rather difficult to get to you. Until I worked out I could get under doors like that I had to wait for people to open them for me, and since no one can see me that took a while.” He shrugged. “That's beside the point. I thought you'd be a little more pleased to see me.”

    I bit back an unnecessarily savage retort and forced myself to think before answering.

    “I'm just surprised,” I said, in the end. “I mean, I thought it was me coming to you, not you to me.”

    “The times they are a-changin',” said Maxie, which was wholly outside his usual way of speaking, and was probably a joke that I didn't get. “And you are the agent of change, Avice. Do you know, the city's in more turmoil these days than it has been for years. I've been up to Chimney and there are Administrators going around with bodyguards. They're terrified beyond all reason about the disturbances at the Museum. One of them has even taken a pair of antique pistols out of a display case and put them loaded in her desk drawer.”

    I made a small involuntary noise of surprise, and Maxie gave me a quizzical look.

    “Those are mine,” I said. “They were my mother's. The Administration confiscated them when I came to the city.”

    Maxie started.

    “You mean those were actually in use? Good God! They look like something from the eighteenth century. But,” he added, seeing the look on my face, “I'm sure they were, er, very effective.”

    “Whose office are they in?” I asked. “Did you see?”

    “Er … Monica Rachel's, I believe,” he answered. “You're not thinking of stealing them, are you?”

    “I guess not,” I said, although I kind of was. Being reminded about my mother's ormolu pistols had given me a sudden rush of revolutionary spirit. Consequences be drowned! Those guns and the blood in my veins were the only physical relics of my mother that remained in Tethys; if I had to overthrow the Administration to find them, then I bloody well would.

    “Hm,” said Maxie, evidently unconvinced. “Maybe later. There are other things to be stolen, after all.” He looked at me over his spectacles. “Which brings me to the point of this little visitation. Have you come to a decision?”

    I had, of course. I'd never wavered from my initial impulse, not really. It was just the committing to it that was scary.

    “I have,” I said.

    There was a pause.

    “And it is?” he prompted.

    I sucked my lower lip for a moment.

    “I'll do it,” I said. “If you can promise me that this will help everyone – I'll do it.”

    Maxie nodded gravely.

    “I give you my word,” he said. “I promise you that raising Groudon will give the whole world back its rightful place beneath the sun.”

    Listen, Avice! Listen to those words! My past self can't hear me, of course, but oh, if she could … Let me be clear: Maxie and I are reconciled now, as we have to be, since without me he'd be nothing. But I wish I'd heard the dissonance between my words and his. I asked him to promise that his plan would help everyone; he promised that it would restore sunlight to the world. If I'd noticed that, maybe I would have foreseen what was to come, and have taken a different path. I could have confronted Maxie, and saved him so much sooner. We would all have been hurt so much less – him, and me, and those I love in Tethys.

    Oh! That's speculation, isn't it, and you know how I feel about that. There's enough weirdness in this story without me adding things that didn't actually happen. To return to the real: I nodded, tried to shake Maxie's hand, found that my fingers went straight through it and settled for saying that I agreed instead.

    And so it was settled. Moll had called me a pirate poet for a long time, but if I'm honest, I'd only really been a poet. I had the blood, but piracy is really something you have to do, and only then did I at last commit to doing it. Eleven hours after that conversation, I would perpetrate my first major act of larceny. It was all surprisingly easy.

    Getting away with it, unfortunately, wasn't.




    It's dark. I'm sorry; I planned to finish my time in Tethys today, but all those digressions took up time, and Maxie wrote slowly. One more day, dear reader, and then you and I will get my younger self out of there. She won't like it, but it's the best thing that will ever happen to her. I miss my family, of course, but it's been eighteen months since I turned my back on the place, and you can get used to a lot in that amount of time. Besides, we've made our own little family here on the ship, of sorts.

    Speaking of which, it's time I got back to them. I've got cramp in my fingers and an empty stomach, and that's a sure time that I should start thinking about dinner. Not that the ghosts eat, of course, but they like the warmth and the conversation.

    Goodnight again, dear reader. We'll meet again soon, and when we do we will be on our way towards the sun.
     
  6. Terry93D

    Terry93D Active Member

    Made it to Michigan safely and the Internet's been set up at last.

    I have to say, the more I read the more I am fascinated. (Though I've probably already said that a few times.) Especially with the revelation that this history's writing is happening only eighteen months later! My guess was 7 years at the least.

    I begin to doubt that the end will be the return of Hoenn/end of the Administration, though, which if anything makes me look forward to it even more.
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I'm glad to hear that things are getting more and more interesting; that's the intention, after all! And yeah, it is remarkably soon after the fact to be writing a history of it. Some parts of it don't even seem to have finished happening yet; whatever happened to Aranea, for instance? Perhaps there's something else going on there. Certainly there are a few things Avice is clearly not letting on. Yet.

    We'll see how it ends when it ends! Although once we leave Tethys, it'll hopefully become clearer what sort of direction Avice and her story are headed, though whether or not they get there is another matter entirely.

    And then there's one more thing: I've got exams coming up, so I might be even slower to update than usual. Sorry about that. This year hasn't been a great one for maintaining a regular updating schedule for me. Possibly deciding to write eleven-thousand-word chapters was less sensible than it seemed at the time.

    Anyway! Thank you for responding, and everyone else for reading. I'll have a new chapter up ... sometime.
     
  8. Terry93D

    Terry93D Active Member

    Take the time you need. I'm reasonably sure none of us are going to fall off the Earth anytime soon. And... yeah... eleven-thousand-word chapters probably seemed like a good idea at the time, I'm sure. Good luck with your exams.
     
  9. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Gosh I like how Edie communicates. She is just cute as all hell.

    Maxie's a pretty decent narrator himself. (Saying that immediately after what I said about Edie kind of makes it sound like she narrated at some point, but whatever.) His voice is distinct from Avice's, so mission accomplished there.

    No, Maxie, do not apologize for your digressions. You're a delight to read. And Avice: your little skip-aheads make for nice little teasers. No apologies needed there, either.
     
  10. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    She is. I'm so glad that's coming across. I mean, I have this image of this bouncy little duck-thing in my head and sometimes it's hard to know whether that's what I'm writing, or whether that's only what I'm seeing, so it's great to know that apparently I'm managing to do both.

    Good to hear! I tried to make him a bit more grandiose (and a bit worse at writing) than Avice, but not so different that it's impossible to believe that Maxie's influenced her writing style with all his stories.

    My characters remain apologetic, mostly out of guilt and secrets that they're not yet telling, but I have no such qualms. I'm glad you're enjoying the asides and teasers. That's why they're there, after all.

    As ever, thank you for reading and responding! I hope Chapter Six is worth the wait.
     
  11. Umbramatic

    Umbramatic The Ghost Lord

    OK, caught up!

    It's early in the morning and I'm not feeling coherent enough to directly quote things so... highlights!

    * I love the whole "literal ghosts of the past" thing you've got going on because as you've said it's a really fun way to tie this little AU back to RSE/ORAS. *hopes Steven and Shelley show up*

    * Edie is all the adorbs. I just want to hug her little pixelated self SO HARD

    * Also Maxie is great and best narrator.

    My only complaint so far is I kinda sorta wish Wallace was portrayed in a better light because... well, I'm fond of him, as Crater Dreams kinda shows and a possible future oneshot will show more, and I don't like when people take potshots at characters for no good reason in fanfic, especially when they're ones I like. But this is very forgivable given this is Maxie who's talking (and again you write him wonderfully) and given the circumstances his attitude has some good justifications. XD

    But everything else is wonderful and I can't wait for Chapter 6. And don't worry, I'll probably be more sporadic reviewing than you are posting, even if I'm still reading.
     
  12. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I'm honoured by the fact that you chose to leave a review early in the morning. That takes dedication. So, thanks.

    There are plenty of ghosts to come! Hopefully you won't be disappointed with the cast we have lined up. All of them are just as messed-up as Maxie, as you might expect of people who failed to stop the end of the world and spent the next half-millennium thinking about their mistakes.

    All the adorbs. I've never done an all-out super-cute Pokémon before and this has been a revelation. I've got to get a Porygon2 in Pokémon-Amie just to satisfy this urge I have to pet her and feed her cupcakes.

    I'm glad you liked his stint behind the pen! He's fun to write, since he's given to some absurdly pompous turns of phrase, and since he's trying to tell the truth even harder than Avice is, and still not managing it. How much you believe of his narrative is up to you; there'll be opportunities to doubt it.

    I've nothing against Wallace myself, and you can be sure that this is, well, it's Maxie. This isn't the only time that the story of the end of the world will be told -- it's just Maxie's version of it, and whatever he says about being over it, he's definitely still feeling guilty enough about it to try shifting the blame onto someone else. Will we ever find out what really happened, and who was really to blame? Maybe! It depends how reliable you think the other ghosts are.

    I'm very glad to hear it! Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope Chapter 6 lives up to all your expectations.
     
  13. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Some slightly stronger swearing in this one. Like, once, I think, but still: here's fair warning.

    SIX: UNDER THE DECKS AND ABOVE THE LAW

    Tethys Edict 102.23.4: In the apprehension of criminals, the use of lethal force may be permitted in exceptional circumstances.

    Here we are, then. The moment we've all been waiting for: the theft. Things really got going after that, and they got complicated, too. Far too complicated, really, to be dealing with at seven in the morning, but for the life of me I can't get back to sleep, and I felt I might as well take advantage of the situation to get some more work done. Not the smartest decision I've ever made.

    Right, the coffee's done. Back in a moment.

    All right! Let's take one particular complication to begin with – how did Edie get to me that night? She was there when we entered the Civic Museum, I'm sure. But I don't recall going back to fetch her from the Museum of the Forgotten, and Maxie certainly didn't bring her with him. So how did she get there? Even if she had sought me out on her own initiative, surely she would have come to the academy and not the Museum. It just doesn't make sense, whichever way you spin it. Maybe I'm not remembering it right, or maybe … well, I could maybe around all day, but since there doesn't seem to be any answer, I think I would only be a waste of time.

    Edie was definitely there when we entered at half past one, though. I'd been there to case the joint, as they say in the old audiovisual recordings, late in the previous afternoon. The Museum was shaped like a cross, with the Star of Tethys as prize exhibit in a case in the central chamber. The case was locked, of course – as a ruby the size of a child's head, the Star was pretty much the only thing in the Civic Museum with any actual value – but the main doors weren't. Who would have broken in, after all? You couldn't sell any of the exhibits in the city without the Administration finding out, really, and very few people outside the city would have been interested in a brace of dusty stone tablets.

    “You'd think there would be guards,” muttered Maxie, as we passed through the front doors. “Anyone could get in and vandalise this stuff. It would make a tremendous impact. This is where they store the city's self-image.”

    I didn't think the Administration had even considered that someone might do that, but I couldn't quite find a voice with which to say so. This was the biggest, riskiest thing I'd ever done. I mean, I was never exactly a law-abiding citizen – I obscured my name badge years ago, remember, and I've had my fair share of black-market food and drink – but apart from my unlicensed poetry, which could have landed me with a two-year prison sentence and subsequent enforced work with the repair crews, my crimes were no more than the petty stuff everyone got up to. Everyone snagged illegal food when it came their way, and though badge-tampering wasn't as common, it still wasn't exactly rare. But, as I hope is obvious to you, stealing the official jewel of the city was a fairly big step up from that.

    Edie chimed softly at my side, and I brushed my fingers absently across the top of her head. At least we had her. If she could build a synthesis machine, hopefully she could overcome any alarms on the case – and more than that, she was just comforting to have with me, casting a hazy pool of warmth and light on each exhibit as we passed it. She wasn't a battling pokémon, of course, and at that time I didn't even have the faintest idea of what she could do in a fight, but I knew with the certainty of love that should trouble come calling, it wouldn't find me alone.

    “Here we are,” said Maxie, as Edie's light flashed on the glass, and we stopped. The Star was ugly in the dark, the colour of clotted blood. Its surface had a dull sheen, like the eye of a sick animal. “The Red Orb.”

    He looked – what's the word I want? – avid, that's it. Avid, like a sea-goblin when it spots a clam that smells to it of pearls. If I hadn't been so nervous, I might have started to have misgivings when I saw that. Make me a promise, dear reader, and don't follow a man with that look on his face. I don't mean to write a moral history, but there are a few lessons you can learn from my life, and this is one of them.

    Maxie stretched out his hand, but it passed through the glass and sank without trace into the Star. He let out a strained breath and withdrew, avoiding my eye.

    “It's time,” he said, after a moment or two had passed and I had still done nothing. “Avice. It's time.”

    His voice was cold. In that moment, I was not his friend. I was only the one who would get the Star of Tethys for him.

    “Edie,” I said softly. “Check for alarms, please.”

    SCANNING, read her message, and a little beam of coruscating light pulsed from her beak to sweep across the glass. A moment later, a bulb lit up on the cradle in which the Star rested: red, then green. Edie looked up at me, and emitted a tick mark.

    “Glass felt thick,” said Maxie. “If you can't break it, get her to.”

    A sudden spike of irritation broke through my nerves, and, glaring at him, I leaned back and kicked in the glass. It splintered under my boot and the whole front pane fell off in shards, shattering around my feet.

    “There,” I said tersely. “I can do it.”

    I reached in and pulled the Star loose from the cabinet. It wasn't as heavy as it looked; though it was difficult to hold, it was more because it was too big for one hand than because of its weight.

    Maxie's eyes glittered in the dark like the glass.

    “So it's done,” he said. “Come, then. We've got to get up to Chim―”

    “Tide's flukes,” came a hoarse breath of a voice from behind us. I'd never heard the full version of the oath aloud before, I remember. That was what struck me, even more than the fact that we'd been discovered. I think somehow I must have been expecting it – must have decided that what we were doing was impossible, that even if I got the Star out of the case the Administrators would inevitably find me. As I turned, fatalistic, all I could think of was how strange it was that an Administration agent would use a banned curse.

    It was Virgil. Of course it was. His badge was blank, and Augusta crouched at his feet with her fins spread wide for intimidation.

    “Tide's flukes,” he said again, eyes round. “Avice, what – what in all blood … ?”

    I stared at him, unable to speak. There was nothing in me, not even words. It was as if I were hollow.

    “Avice,” he repeated. “What are you doing?”

    “He's shocked,” said Maxie. “Take your chance, Avice, and get out of here.”

    I ignored him: I had found words at last. These were my last days in Tethys, and in them I came into my inheritance. I would not leave without my father's gifts or my mother's legacy, and on that night I took the words that my aunt did not know she had left me and dedicated them to Groudon:

    “I'm on a mission from a god,” I told him, and took a step forward. Glass crunched, and Augusta let out a deep, throaty croak, her crest flicking up and down in warning.

    “What the hell are you doing?” asked Maxie, at the same time as Virgil held up a hand for me to stop.

    “Don't move,” he said. “You know I've got to arrest you now, don't you. I – I don't know what you think that means, if you've lost your mind or what, but you can't – I can't let you go.”

    “I'm on a mission from a god,” I said once more, and the words just clicked, as I imagine they did for Aranea twenty years earlier. Tide needed to be balanced. That took a god. I was in that god's service. I was on a mission from a god. I won't say that the thought slowed my heart and unstuck my muscles, because that sounds like a lie and it would be, but with it in my head I was at least no longer tangled in panic.

    “You're stealing the Star of Tethys,” corrected Virgil. “That's not holy work.”

    “And I suppose you would know?” I asked, armouring myself with sarcasm. “You're clearly an expert on these things.”

    “Careful,” said Maxie. “That marshtomp looks dangerous.” He shifted from foot to foot in agitation; in life, I expect, with a pokémon at his command, he'd have flattened Augusta, but now he couldn't so much as touch her.

    He was right, though. I needed to get past him somehow, and that was going to take some thought. Best to keep him talking, and try to think my way out of this in the meantime.

    “How'd you know I was here?” I asked. “Have you been watching me?”

    “Yes. You've been acting weirdly all afternoon.” Virgil's eyes weren't on me, I noticed, and for one giddy moment I thought he could see Maxie, but a moment later I realised he was looking at Edie. Sizing her up, probably, with that trainer's eye of his. Did he know she was a pokémon? It was hard to tell if you didn't know; she didn't quite look like a part of reality. If he maybe thought she was a spirit of some kind, I could use that against him. “But I needed proof, so.”

    “Proof … ?”

    Hadn't he already had evidence of my criminality? He ought to have just gone to the Administration and told them that the unlicensed poet was causing trouble, and I'd have been arrested then and there. Unless, of course …

    “'Sflukes,” I said. “The Administration doesn't know about me, does it? You don't even know, do you?”

    Virgil shifted uncomfortably.

    “There are rumours,” he began, but I snorted.

    “I can't bloody believe I fell for that,” I said. “For such an obvious bluff. Drown 'em. Drown 'em.” I took a step forward, and paused as the torrent sacs bulged beneath the skin of Augusta's throat. Marshtomp aren't big enough yet to store floods within them like swampert – but they know how to make what water they do have last, and jet it out hard. One misstep here and I'd end up not just under arrest but with a few cracked ribs for my trouble.

    “Don't move,” Virgil said. “Don't come any closer. Not yet.” He pointed at Edie, who was hunkered down on my left, watching Augusta with her head on one side. “What's that thing?”

    Edie grew slightly brighter for a moment with the attention, and with that I knew how I'd escape. Just like that. It seemed brutally straightforward, an idea that crashed through the tension like that frightened barbaracle through Balthasar Arnold dol' Tethys' wall; it made my heart echo in my ears and an electric rush of adrenaline course tingling through my limbs.

    “Avice,” said Maxie, and I gave him a sharp look: I've got this. I just had to keep Virgil looking at Edie.

    “She's a demon,” I said, wondering whether or not it was believable and deciding I didn't care. “You're right, Virgil. This isn't holy work. It's pretty much exactly the opposite.”

    “I think you might want to avoid pissing me off,” he said. Damn – now he was looking at me. Too theatrical. “Don't you?”

    Augusta croaked again, throat palpitating. She sounded like a hoarse, angry dog.

    “I don't know.” I shrugged. “You're not the one with the demon, are you?”

    Virgil's eyes slipped involuntarily back onto Edie, Augusta followed his gaze – and I spoke:

    “Edie, max brightness.”

    I felt rather than saw the light: my eyes were shut and my face turned away even before I'd finished speaking, and while Virgil shrieked and Augusta hissed I ran.

    “Excellent work!” Maxie cried, as I raced back down the entrance hall, clutching the Star to my chest. “Quickly! There's a maintenance access hatch on Corridor 46.”

    “I know where the drowned maintenance drowned access hatches drowned well are!” I spat, in between hurried breaths. (It's safe to say that I wasn't in the most accommodating state of mind.) On either side, shadowy monoliths flickered past; behind me, Virgil was swearing even more than I was; above, I saw a flash of motion and stumbled, my heart in my mouth, but it was only Edie, soaring back to join us with wings spread wide.

    >: D, she said, the bubble visible only for a second before she sped past it.

    “Good girl,” I panted, and saved my breath for sprinting. The footsteps behind me were regular now, and I heard the plap-plap of a bounding marshtomp. I hoped the flash had bought us enough time.

    Avice!” yelled Virgil.

    “Drown you!” I called back, and leaped down the ramp at the Museum entranceway into Underridge Atrium.

    “What's going on there?” asked a distant voice, and I saw across the atrium the swinging lights of sergeants' torches.

    “Dim yourself!” I said, and Edie quickly turned as dark as she could. It wouldn't help: in the pitchy blackness of Underridge, her glow was instantly visible.

    “Over here,” said Maxie, swooping past me to the turning onto Corridor 46, just visible in the gloom. “Quickly!”

    I ducked through with feet thundering in my wake, thumped the release button and practically threw myself into the maintenance corridor. Outside, I heard raised voices – “Not me, her! I'm with you!” – and smiled grimly. The sergeants had grabbed Virgil, it seemed. They'd know their mistake when they saw the badge, but it would buy me a little more time.

    We hadn't anticipated being followed into the Museum, but we'd had this escape route planned for hours, just in case: in here at access point 46B, then loop north and head up the crawlspace beneath the track of the funicular under the Grand Staircase. From there, I remembered, wrenching open an unexpectedly closed door, we just had to get into the Hothouse and Maxie would take the lead. He knew the old part of the city better than me – he had, after all, designed it. And he knew how to get to the chamber at its heart, the deepest room of the old Magma base, in which lava welled up out of cracks that pierced the ancient volcano to the root – cracks which would carry your voice down towards the monster that slept so far below …

    I can't believe that I never asked myself what might happen if a god of fire and stone woke up beneath my city.

    Well, we ran, and footsteps followed: Virgil, shoes clumping; Augusta, fins slapping; sergeants, jackboots crashing – and those others, the worn old boots of the ancient mariner, pacing unheard and unseen through deserted corridors. We didn't know he was following, of course; we didn't even know he existed. Nor did he know that we existed. But he had a hunch, and when you have as much time on your hands as him, you're willing to indulge that kind of thing.

    Returning to the moment at hand: our pursuers weren't as skilled as me, if I do say so myself. I never quite lost them – they were persistent, and the light Edie cast was probably always visible around corners – but I stayed ahead, and once we got to the funicular I was pretty much safe. The loading bay was empty save one night labourer loading goods for transport up to Chimney, and when Edie sparked and jangled at him he dropped his crate and ran. With him out of the way, I hauled open the trapdoor by the tracks and disappeared just as the sergeants entered the room.

    I lay still in the hot, close darkness, and heard shouts and boots tear across the room and out the other door.

    A moment passed, and then the furious beating of my heart was once again the loudest sound around, the footsteps fading.

    “They've gone,” Maxie told me from the room above. He didn't need to whisper, but he did. It was understandable. “I'll see you two at the top. Hurry!”

    Did the sergeants figure out where I was? I don't think so, since they weren't waiting at the Chimney loading bay, but even if they had they wouldn't have followed. Some of the more broad-shouldered ones probably wouldn't even have been able to. Only the leaner mechanics came in there, to worm their way along under the warm metal of the tracks, trying to avoid cracking their head on protruding bolts. The Grand Staircase is two hundred feet long, and the funicular beneath it slightly shorter. All in all it makes one hundred and ninety-four feet of suffocatingly close darkness, rivet-flecked metal pressing in on all sides, the vibration of the tracks making the roof sing above your head. Even I was glad to climb out at the other end, though that was mostly because of the heat and the fact that the Star of Tethys was digging uncomfortably into my sternum.

    The loading area in Chimney currently held a couple of labourers carrying a crate of wine out between them; they called out in surprise when they saw me, but couldn't drop it, and I hurried past them into the passages before they could put it down. Two sharp corners and I'd found an access hatch that took me back out of the maintenance corridors into Chimney Atrium. Edie glanced at me, and I pointed: there was Maxie, pacing nervously by the top of the Staircase.

    “Maxie!” I hissed. “Over here!”

    He looked up sharply and flowed over, legs barely moving.

    “Everything all right?” he asked. The light in his eyes told me he was only talking about the Star, not about me or Edie; I chose to ignore it. He'd been waiting for this for a long time, after all.

    “All OK,” I said. “Where are the sergeants?”

    “You lost them,” he said, glancing reflexively over one shoulder. “They're still down there, I think.” He turned away and motioned with one hand. “Come on, then. To the Hothouse.”

    I followed him across the darkened atrium, the stone strange beneath my feet. It had been a long time since I'd trod on anything but metal. I was especially aware of it that night; it mattered that we were on solid rock. This was the stuff continents were made of, and tonight its god was our master.

    Chimney, as the rest of the city at this hour, was deserted, and the flow of adrenaline in my veins started to ebb. I found for the first time since leaving the Civic Museum there was space in my head for something other than getting away, and all at once my nerves crashed back down on me: what was I doing? I'd stolen Tethys' most valuable treasure. I'd attacked Virgil – not properly, sure, he wasn't hurt, but I was a Legal Apprentice and I knew that according to Edict 3.44.6a what I'd done counted as use of a pokémon with intent to cause harm―

    Slow down, I told myself, and forced myself to breathe slowly. There was nothing I could do now. Any second thoughts had to be put aside; I'd well and truly committed. Even if I gave myself in, I would never be a lawyer now. I'd be lucky to be released from prison before I died – 'sflukes, perhaps lucky even to be left alive.

    Dark thoughts, and not ones I wanted to dwell on. I pushed them away as we neared the entrance to the Hothouse.

    “Let me see if anyone's in,” said Maxie, and wisped his way under the door. I kicked my heels for a while, rubbing Edie's head to calm myself and looking nervously around at every creak and distant bump. I didn't have long to wait. Maxie returned before the minute was out. “Clear,” he said. “I think the door's alarmed, though.”

    It was; I had Edie scan and disable it, and the door slid back on its rails to reveal worn stone walls and ageing fluorescent lights. I stared, interested despite myself. I'd visited Chimney before, but only briefly, and I'd never seen inside the Hothouse.

    “Some clerks on the night shift in the room at the end of the passage,” Maxie told me. “Stay quiet and they won't notice you.”

    I nodded and followed him across a lobby rich with faded velour and a real wooden coffee table. No radiators here, I noticed, and pressed a hand against one wall. The stone was warm, like the skin of some great stony pokémon. I wondered if this was perhaps what Groudon felt like.

    “Stairs,” said Maxie, as we passed a door from behind which came the rattle of typewriters. I checked my watch and raised my eyebrows in sympathy. It can't be much fun to still be at work at two in the morning.

    “What stairs?” I asked. Ahead of us, the corridor ended abruptly in a stone wall like any other.

    “Right …” Maxie frowned, and blinked. “You – did you see that?”

    “See what?” I glanced at the door. Hopefully the typewriters were too loud for the clerks to hear me.

    “I saw the stairs that used to be there,” he said. “And then that wall was superimposed on them, and now―” He broke off and removed his spectacles, then put them back on. “I'm seeing the building's ghost,” he said at last, his voice distant. “I can see …”

    He shuddered, and broke out of his reverie.

    “Well. We'll need an alternate route. Go left down this corridor and we should be able to go down one level at the intersection.”

    I didn't question him then – there was too much at hand without more ghosts crowding in. (And yet there was that other one, hurrying now through the upper pathways of Chimney, trying to find his way to the source of the sinking feeling in his belly.) But it wouldn't be the last we saw of the old world and its memories. One thing you learn from living in a museum is that time is a funny old thing. You can never quite tell whether something's over and done or not. The past throws up more ghosts than those of the men and women who acted in it.

    The Hothouse was built on three levels, each cut lower into the rock than the last, and the deeper we went the more Maxie seemed to feel the weight of the old world around him. He kept looking around at architecture and ornament that was no longer present, and listening to the footsteps that hadn't sounded in these halls since the time of Magma.

    “Are you all right?” I asked eventually, when halfway down the stairs he jumped and nearly fell. He glared at me like an angry eel – or no, not at me, but at something or someone that he glimpsed in me, some long-dead enemy. I turned away, and tactfully decided not to pursue the topic further.

    And then, just like that, it was over. At the bottom of the fourth flight of stairs, below the third sub-basement, we reached a steel door that was clearly not part of the original design, bolted crudely to the stone and held shut with a rust-eaten padlock. I halted expectantly, and Maxie sighed.

    “Nothing happened down here,” he told me. “Upstairs was where the business of Magma took place. Down here … I see here the stairs beyond the door, but nothing else. Nothing more.”

    “You all right?” I asked. I kept my voice low, but I wasn't too worried. We were far below any inhabited rooms by then.

    “Yes, I think so.” He hesitated. “I have rather a lot of demons,” he added.

    I nodded. Anyone would, after living through the end of the world.

    “Anyway.” He gestured at the door. “Have Edie break the lock.”

    I pointed her in the right direction and she sheared through the padlock hasp with a crackle of electricity. The door, however, still wouldn't budge; I tugged as hard as I could, but rust and disuse had effectively turned it into a wall.

    “Christ. Very vexing. I can see through it, but …” Maxie shook his head. “There's nothing else for it. We'll have to use more force. I only hope no one hears.”

    Edie seemed to enjoy blasting the door much more than I would have expected of someone whose job was to repair things, but it was a noisy business. Each burst of lightning she spat exploded on the door with a crack and a bang that echoed in the hall as if someone were hammering on the steel with a pickaxe. I had to retreat around the corner to avoid being deafened, and Maxie went upstairs to see if anyone had heard. Three floors up, fortunately, the noise wasn't quite as loud, and the repeater-gun rattle of the typewriters ensured the clerks heard little apart from each other working.

    Five minutes later, Edie was transparent and intangible with the amount of charge she'd used up, but there was a four-foot rectangular hole burnt through the centre of the door, its edges twisted and glowing gently red beneath a layer of soot. Beyond was the kind of darkness that only exists in places where humans haven't set foot for aeons.

    “Come on, then,” said Maxie, when I didn't move. His eyes were invisible behind the reflections in his glasses.

    “It's red-hot,” I said.

    “It's wide enough,” he replied, and stepped through the breach. I noticed then that his strides were in time with his movement once again, and indeed that he seemed a little less transparent. I shivered slightly, despite the heat. This was a place with a memory as long as Maxie's.

    Making myself as narrow as I could manage, I slipped gingerly through after him and tried not to breathe in the brimstone stink coming from down below. Was the air poisonous down here? It had been sealed off for so long, away from the city's filtration devices. I knew well enough from the safety lectures about abandoned corridors that that sort of thing could kill you.

    Maxie paused, a glimmering redness in the dark.

    “Are you coming?” he asked, and I didn't have it in me to resist. His voice echoed up the stairs like that of a living man.

    The air got hotter and drier the deeper we went, and we went a long way. I counted the stairs: eighty-six, and they were steep. After a while, I found I no longer needed the light coming from Edie or Maxie. Something else was shining from up ahead.

    “Gods below,” I managed, through lips half crisped with heat. “What is that?”

    On the threshold of the chamber, Maxie paused, and even in profile it was plain that his skin had regained the colour it had in life.

    “Magma,” he said, and we went into the Red Chapel.

    I call it a chapel, but I suppose it wasn't one, not quite. It was a place without a name – a place older than names, probably, a great space the size of Long Hill Atrium that arched up and out and below as if a god had taken a bite out of the world. Red rock flowed slowly from crevices in the walls and ceiling, pooled on ledges, fell in globules and rivers into the endless dark that yawned beneath the ridge we stood on. I could scarcely tell what was light and what was heat; the orange and the red mingled in a haze of brightness and burnt cheeks.

    That was the Red Chapel, the void in the world that led down to its heart. I named it that, because before me it was nameless, and because it's hard to face something as gigantic and magnificent as that without giving yourself some way to take hold of it. Besides, it was a temple, in its way. We made it one by coming there.

    Maxie strode past me, indistinguishable from his living self save for the white scar on his forehead, and stood at the brink of the precipice.

    “We're here,” he said. Only when I heard his voice did I realise how eerily silent it was. No ventilation hum, no electrical buzz; I couldn't even hear the rock as it shifted. The normal rules of reality didn't seem to apply here.

    Edie whirred nervously and pressed against my waist. I held the Star― no, the Orb; in the Chapel it no longer looked like a ruby. In there, it had bloody lights moving beneath its surface like distant fish. I held the Orb against my chest with one hand and cradled Edie's head with the other, the two of us equally afraid of whatever it was that we had found here, and the man that we had followed.

    “It's time,” said Maxie, turning to face me. “Hold out the Orb. Both hands.”

    I did, and he spoke words in a language I didn't understand for me to repeat; when I'd done it, he told me to take my hands away, and as I obeyed I saw that the Orb remained exactly where I'd been holding it.

    “Again,” said Maxie. “We must speak it three times.”

    I don't know if I heard the footsteps on the stairs while I recited the words a second time. I may be imagining things – there were a lot of other claims on my attention just then, with Edie jumping into my arms and the rivers of molten rock changing their courses to jet directly down into the void and the earth shuddering like a great beast shifting in its sleep. That kind of thing is hard to ignore.

    But footsteps there were, and as I began on the third recitation they were joined by a voice – and together they burst in on us not with the clamour of sergeants but with a warm burr of a sentence so strongly accented I could barely make sense of it:

    “Put down the bloody Orb, Maxie, you daft bastard.”

    I faltered and turned. The earth lurched in uncertainty at the broken invocation. Maxie turned pale.

    The ancient mariner strode over and punched him in the face.

    “What d'you think you're doing?” he demanded to know, flaring bright blue in his fury. “Was the first time not enough for you?” Another punch. He seemed to be knocking the borrowed life right out of him; with every blow, Maxie grew more translucent and more crimson. “You're gonnae kill another wee girl, eh?” And again. Maxie made no move to defend himself. “And destroy another world?” Another blow. “You told her about the volcano? About what'll happen to it when some daft bastard raises a monster underneath it?” He took a step back and fixed me with a piercing look. “This volcano will erupt,” he said. “You know what that means? Lava and ash and tidal waves. Your city, all of you – gone. Pompeii. Kraka-bloody-toa. And the waves'll tear every ship and town in the country to shreds.”

    He turned those vicious eyes on Maxie.

    “But you never cared about that, did you? It was always about what you wanted. You're the reason we don't remember her name.”

    “That's enough!” roared Maxie, starting up out of his shock so suddenly it made me jump. “You didn't go either! Not until it was too late. Don't you tell me you cared, that you really wanted to help, when you only went to assuage your bloody guilt!

    The mariner's― No. I've been being dramatic, holding his name back, but the time for that has passed. Now we ought to be serious. Archie's glare seemed to be a full-body effort; it welled up from the heels of his sea-boots and rose within him like a waterspout, bursting from his eyes with electric force. I had to step back, Edie pressed tight against my chest, and I wasn't even the one he was looking at. I don't know how Maxie stood it.

    “Why d'you think we're here?” he hissed, and somehow this was worse than his shouting. “Of course we're guilty. D'you know how many people we killed?”

    You killed them,” said Maxie coldly, adjusting his spectacles. “I worked to save them. I built this place.”

    “And you weren't there at the end? When we sent that poor lass into the―”

    “Stop it!”

    I don't know why I spoke. Maybe Archie's words about Tethys had only just got from my ears to my brain; maybe I just couldn't take any more of it – the screaming, the shouting, the earth rumbling half-awake beneath us with the Orb hanging over the abyss. But I did speak, and loudly, and both men turned to look at me.

    “Stop it,” I said, more softly. “Please. I― Maxie?”

    I couldn't say it, but he knew, and he turned his face away.

    “Yes,” he said, after a moment had passed. “It's true. Everything would have been destroyed.”

    I stood there for a moment, hands shaking, and then I seized the Orb out of the air with a sharp jerk that made the stones around me moan.

    “There's your drowned resurrection,” I said, and left the Red Chapel for good.

    It was a good exit. I'll give myself that much. It would have been even better if I'd done it earlier – perhaps before the sergeants, alerted by the tremors, had started to investigate the third sub-basement of the Hothouse.

    I came up the stairs onto the landing and froze, forgetting in an instant everything about Maxie's betrayal; the five sergeants facing me, none of whom had been among my pursuers earlier, it seemed, stared back in a more or less equal state of confusion.

    “Is that the Star of Tethys?” asked one.

    There was a pause.

    “No … ?” I tried.

    It didn't work. The sergeants advanced, and I took a step back towards the staircase.

    “You have something to do with these earthquakes, don't you?” said one, and the whole situation came back to me in an instant, the pain of the betrayal mingling now with the panic of being caught. It seemed to knock the wind right out of me; I just felt tired all of a sudden, and utterly incapable of putting up with this.

    “I'm going to smash this thing,” I said, and threw the Orb up into the air.

    Do rubies break if you drop them? I don't know, and neither did the sergeants. I knew the Orb wouldn't break, though – if it had survived the epicentre of the making over, it would survive this – and while the sergeants dived as one to catch it―

    ―I ran.

    There was a lot of running that night.

    As it happened, none of the sergeants caught the Orb. It hit the ground with a terrific crack that left it absolutely unharmed and rolled towards the stairs. By the time the sergeants had sorted themselves out, Edie and I were one floor closer to the exit and praying to any and all available gods that there was no one else between us and freedom.

    Well, I was, anyway. I think Edie was just startled, and maybe a little exhilarated. She'd been afraid of sergeants for a very long time. It probably did her good to beat them for once.

    It wasn't until I got out of the Hothouse that I realised I had no idea where to go. The Museum? Maxie's kingdom, where he had taught me everything – everything except, of course, the consequences of what he wanted me to do? No, not there, not if I could help it. I couldn't go back to the academy, either, not now that I'd been seen.

    I realised then with a jolt that made my chest tighten that I had just destroyed my life, and I hadn't even achieved anything by it.

    Someone was running inside the Hothouse, and emergency lights were switching on with angry clunks all over the Atrium. More sergeants were doubtless on their way, my mentor was gone and my one ally was a holographic duck. There was only one thing to do.

    I went home.




    Have I made it clear to you, dear reader, how much I love my father? He hasn't loomed too large in this narrative, but I think I've mentioned what he meant to me, and that we were never closer than during my last days in Tethys. That time began that night, when I showed up at his door at two thirty in the morning with a porygon2 in tow and burst into tears.

    “I've ruined it,” I kept saying. “I've ruined everything, I've drowned it, gods below I've ruined everything …”

    It went on, but my father was a librarian, and he had been to war, and he was much tougher than I recognised. He brought me in; he made cocoa with a generous splash of rum; he made certain that the whole contents of the mug got inside me; and then, without so much as batting an eyelid, he took up a nondescript panel of the flooring in his room and helped me and Edie down into a warm spot among the heating pipes. And all this without even asking me what it was that I had done.

    “They'll come here for sure,” he said. “But I'm the only one who knows this is loose. They won't find you here.” His voice was soothing, but his eyes were sad. He must have known then that his hunch had been right – that I was going to leave the city. “We'll speak in the morning,” he said. “You'll be all right there?”

    The initial explosion of emotion had passed by then. I was at home, my father above me and Edie in my arms, in one of those small dark spaces that I always felt so comfortable in; I nodded, and my father gave me a subdued smile.

    “We'll leave what you've done for later,” he said. “But Tide, sweetpea, whatever it is, you've roused half the city and all the sergeants. Your mother would be proud.”

    He kissed me lightly on the cheek and replaced the floor panel. I turned the thought over in my head – your mother would be proud – and wondered if she really would be, if she knew what I had nearly done.

    Edie pressed against my side, and I curled around her like a huntail around its eggs. It didn't matter what I'd nearly done, I told myself. In the end, I had done the right thing. My mother would be proud of that, if nothing else. Saying it was a lot easier than believing it, though, and I have to say that between the guilt and the commotion I got very little sleep that night. The sergeants visited at least three times – judging by the light coming through the cracks, they even ordered a Martial Dawn for the area, bringing lights-on forward several hours to aid the search – and the apartment was thick with the clamour of jackboots and voices. I listened to the words that filtered down from above, the catch her and the civic treason in the first degree and the vehement pirate's brat, and stroked Edie until she fell into the faded state that was the electrical equivalent of sleep.

    In hindsight, I'm mostly glad that that's what they chose to talk about. There are worse things they could have said about me. Perhaps they did, but probably not while they were in my father's apartment. That would have been in even worse taste.

    Speaking of taste! I've been writing for hours now. I think I'm going to get started on lunch. I won't be a moment. Or perhaps I will. It's not like you're going to know.




    Lentils yesterday, lentils today, and in all probability lentils tomorrow; I know I'm not that fond of Tethys, but I do miss its farms and greenhouses. The Alcmene was, in the old days, refitted with mechanisms to produce food – it has a little aeroponics suite near the stern, and a mycology shed behind Maxie's tomb chamber – but it just doesn't have the space to, for instance, farm manatee or psyduck. That means that unless someone goes fishing, we've only the everlasting rice and lentil stocks and the stuff churned out by the synthesis plant to live on. I say we, but I guess I just mean me. No one else aboard needs to eat, after all.

    We do have real coffee and cocoa, though, and in pretty fabulous quantities: I've been building up a stock at the ports we've stopped at. There's a lot I'm willing to put up with when it comes to restrictions on my diet – I grew up with rationing, after all – but drown it, hot drinks are serious business. As Berenice Enid dol' City's Regret once said to me: there is no limit, none whatsoever, to what I can achieve with a cup of hot black coffee in my hand.

    Where was I? Hiding under the floor panel in my father's bedroom, right. As I said, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep, and I was awake towards lights-on when my father received two more visitors, although he didn't realise they were there.

    “Look,” Maxie was saying, “what are you asking me to do? Yes, I admit it: I'm guilty! It's as much my fault as yours, perhaps more. And yes, I've carried on doing terrible things. I admit all of it! Do you not see? You don't have to convince me of my guilt. I've realised it and I'm trying to make amends.”

    “You're not listening to me,” came the growling voice of the Prophet. “I'm saying leave her be. I came here to stop you, and I'm here to make sure you do it.”

    I was calmer then, though still shaken, and I wondered for the first time how and why he'd come to interrupt the ceremony when he did. Had he known what was going on? Even if he had, how had he known where to find us? Was it possible that he too had been in Tethys all this time, unknown to everyone but himself?

    “Believe me, I don't mean to hang around if she doesn't want me to,” said Maxie. “But I owe her an apology. Don't you agree?”

    There was a pause. I squinted through the cracks, but couldn't see them.

    “Aye,” said Archie. “I guess you do.”

    More silence. Then, with a sigh:

    “Well, she isn't here anyway. I doubt we'll find her now. She knows this city much better than I do.”

    “You deserve it,” said Archie. “We both do.”

    “For God's sake,” snapped Maxie. “There are more productive things to do than wallow in our own guilt.”

    “Like destroy the world again?”

    There was no reply, and over the next few minutes I became aware that the room was now empty. Something nudged against my breast and I looked down to see that Edie was awake.

    “Hail,” I whispered to her. “Did you hear all that?”

    An ambiguity: was she confused because she heard nothing, because the ghosts weren't real? Or did she understand entirely, and just chose to keep quiet? I don't know. I'd like to think the second, but the closer you look at something, the harder it is to be certain of it. And I've been looking at my past and my ghosts pretty hard for a few days now.

    Well, whatever Edie thought, she didn't reply. She cuddled closer to me instead, and I found it was all the answer I needed. I shifted position, tightened my grip on her, and waited for morning.

    A little while after the third visit from the sergeants, my father came back and took up the floor panel. He didn't look like he'd slept, but then again, I can't imagine I looked too good either.

    “It's safe, sweetpea,” he said wearily, helping me out. “For now, anyway. I've tried to play the concerned citizen, worried but committed to reporting if I see you, and I think it's worked.” He rubbed his forehead. “They'll be back later, but for now, I think, they're convinced you aren't here.”

    I stretched and nodded. I wanted to speak, but I didn't know how. It was all too big, and too strange. Had last night really happened? Was this really my father? He seemed so much older, and so much less nervous, than I remembered. Was I even awake, or was this one of those awful dreams that compress a whole miserable week into fifteen minutes of restless sleep?

    My father sighed, and held my arm.

    “Who's your friend?” he asked.

    Edie huddled in my arms, eyeing him distrustfully.

    “Edie,” I said. “Her name is Edie.”

    He smiled gently.

    “Would you and Edie like some breakfast? We can't go to the refectory, but I'm sure we can make something out of what I have …”

    I'd never known that my father traded on the black market, but apparently he did: that morning he and I ate reformed oatmeal slices with clarified butter and a cup of coffee apiece. Edie, who seemed to have provisionally extended her trust towards my father on the grounds that he was feeding me, nosed curiously at the crumbs, occasionally scanning one with a little sweep of light. My father asked me about her while we ate, and I told him; that question led to another, and another, and by the time the coffee dregs were cold he'd helped me out of my reticence and got the whole story, from the hunt for Aranea to the doomed resurrection in the Red Chapel.

    He sat for a long moment, chewing thoughtfully.

    “Ghosts,” he said. “Well, I suppose if there's anywhere that would be haunted …” He cleared his throat. “Anyway. Ava, I'm proud of you.”

    I blinked.

    “What?”

    “You did everything right,” he told me. “You learned as much as you could. You used the Museum and all the things in it. And you tried to save us all.” There were tears in his eyes, which made me feel as if I'd lost something. I'd never known my father to cry. “Do you know how many people would have run away as soon as they learned where they were? And how many would have said no when they realised that they'd be acting against the Administration? And how many would have taken all those ways out that Maxie offered you?” He reached across the table and held my hand. “I was brave, once,” he said. “Once, when I was cocky and in love. But even then, before prison, I wouldn't have gone as far as you did. I would have loved the Museum, but … I could never have gone against the Administration.”

    “Dad,” I said – Dad what? There were no words to follow it up with; I couldn't think of any then and can't now.

    “You've got to go, Ava,” he said. “You can't stay in Tethys. I knew it would happen, but not – so soon.” He broke off and wiped his eyes. “Tide. Your mother would be so proud …”

    His voice caught. I slipped off my chair and went around the table to hug him, and we stayed there for a while, until the ticking of the clock reminded my father that he had a job to go to.

    “Stay here,” he said. “Don't answer the door. There are three more of those oat things if you get hungry, and you know where the hiding spot is now.”

    “Wait,” I said. “There's, um, something else.”

    He paused in the doorway.

    “What is it?”

    “My pills,” I told him. “They're still in my room at the academy.”

    I guess the time has come for full disclosure: it was more than friends and family that kept me bound to Tethys. Nowhere else in the world did the pills I took exist, because nowhere else in the world were there synthesis machines. I've been avoiding saying it, I think, because it feels selfish of me to place my pills above my loved ones, but― oh, 'sflukes, how can I make you understand, unless you're like me? I need them, more than art, more than love, more even (and it kills me to admit it) than Edie, my one living companion. If I stop taking them― but I can't stop taking them. Things are not now as they were, but still, the truce between me and the mirror can be broken, and I'm no ghost, no wandering mind; my body and I are one. I am this thing of meat and blood and soul. Even now it takes some effort to keep myself … keep myself what? What word do I want? 'Acceptable', I suppose, but that sounds so―

    Enough.

    Sorry. We all have weaknesses, dear reader, parts of ourselves that we don't dare examine because of the fears we're papering over, and I'm no exception. That doesn't mean that these things belong in a book like this. It's not my story, after all. It's everyone's, and I shouldn't poison it. So, here comes the last word on the subject:

    I love my father, and Moll, and Edie, and Aranea and all the rest of them. I do. But I can walk away from them too. I've always known that I could survive alone if I had to – as I have done for a long time now. That's what children do, isn't it? They move on, and love their families from a distance. Maybe they visit more than I have, but in my defence, there's an ocean and the entire Tethys sergeantry between us.

    Whereas. If you were to take away these pills, these little things composed of obscure chemicals I can name only as strings of numerals – I, Avice Amrit dol' Tethys, would fall apart. I don't know that I would survive – I mean, my body would, but I, not merely the I who sits here but the I who speaks to you – I don't think that I would survive. And if that part of me falls, I see no reason why my life would not once again dwindle into a series of lonely vigils, until one day the ghosts come in to check on me and find that there is nothing left of me but a bundle of charred clothes and the cold ashes of a once-burning life.

    Well. Today certainly has turned out bleaker than I thought it would. I don't want you to think that that's me – that my life is suffering. It isn't painful to be me, any more than it's painful to be anyone else with a problem or two; like anyone else, I'm fine, ninety per cent of the time. But, like anyone else, if you put pressure on me in just the right way, then I crack. And I've been writing about some situations in which a lot of pressure was put on me, and in the right ways. I have met an awful lot of people who thought that to be Avice Amrit dol' Tethys was to be forever yearning for death or bodily perfection, but that's just not true! I adore myself. Can't you tell how vain I am? Who else would interrupt their story tell you what colour clothes they're wearing?

    Right, right. I'm getting carried away, I know, but it feels so important that I let you know this. I'm a pirate, a poet, a saviour of worlds; I'm not in the grip of a permanent depression. The fear of inadequacy visits us all, dear reader. Everyone eventually comes to the time when they must turn back and descend the stair. And the rest of the time, well; we're more or less OK, aren't we?

    Anyway! Time to stop grinding that particular axe and get back to my father. Let's see – yes; my father listened, twitched his lips up on one side for a moment and clicked his tongue.

    “I'll call Moll from the library,” he said. “I expect she'll be here later today anyway.”

    That was enough, for that moment, to lift the weight from my back. Not for long – there was still Maxie to think about, and my future – but for a few seconds, I felt relieved enough to unclench my shoulders.

    “OK?” asked my father.

    “OK,” I said. “I'll see you soon.” He was halfway across the front room when I called out again. “I love you!”

    My father paused, and there was something about the arc of his shoulders, his face turned away, the grey spreading now through his hair, that seemed unbearably sad.

    “I love you too, Ava,” he said. His voice sounded normal. It had to. He was putting on his outside face. “See you later.”

    “Bye.”

    The door hissed, and I held my breath until I could no longer hear his footsteps.

    “All right,” I sighed, turning to Edie. “Looks like it's just you and me today.”

    : ), she said, because of course what else did she want but to be with me, and I couldn't help but smile.

    I was betrayed, alone, and soon to be exiled, but I had my porygon. And that, all things considered, wasn't quite such a bad deal.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
  14. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    How do you describe a morning like that? Being in there, in my father's little apartment, was no different to sitting in a study room at the academy or in the kitchenette attached to our dormitory, but somehow I noticed the enclosure so much more than normal. The walls seemed closer; the air, staler; my inactivity, more pronounced. I played with Edie, who had devised a game where you would throw something metallic up and she would knock it back into your hands with a little magnetic pulse, and that took my mind off things, though only momentarily. I examined the hiding spot in my father's room and found a wrapped bundle wedged beneath a cold water pipe – banned literature, I assumed, or black-market food. I didn't check to see what it was. Let my father have his secrets. I had mine, after all.

    Anyway, that didn't hold my attention either. The same thought kept coming back into my head, like a song that can't be shaken off: Maxie had betrayed me.

    Ah, but that didn't capture the magnitude of it; it seemed to imply there might have been a chance he would have worked with me after all. That wasn't true. No, he had abused my trust from the start. I saw it all now, with the uncanny clarity of the guilty woman staring back into her past―

    But I think it's best to be honest with you about what I hope to achieve―

    (and maybe he did think that, really, maybe he thought that omission was not lying)

    I promise you that raising Groudon will give the whole world back its rightful place beneath the sun―

    (and oh yes, how right he was, how clever he must have thought himself)

    His eyes glittering in the dark like cut glass―

    And it went on, round and round, a vicious carousel of regret: lines I should have read between, silences I should have listened to, dozens of carefully-cut gaps in Maxie's story that cried out retrospectively for my attention. I wandered around the apartment, staring at nothing and not knowing what to do with my hands, and Edie trailed after me, buzzing nervously, not sure why I was sad but desperate to make it stop.

    But it didn't stop. That's not how these carousel-thoughts work. Once you get on, there's no knowing when you'll be allowed to get off.

    Maybe that's a bit misleading. It did stop, eventually. Like I say, we're reconciled now. Maxie's part of the Alcmene's crew, part of my weird, mostly-not-alive second family. He's probably an uncle, but one that neither side of the family wants to claim. I guess that makes Archie another uncle, and S― but I'm getting distracted.

    Moll came by a few hours later. The knock on the door made my thoughts about Maxie instantly melt into fears about oncoming sergeants, and I was about to grab Edie and run for my father's room when I heard her voice:

    “It's me.” And, after a pause: “I brought them.”

    Suddenly, it seemed like I couldn't get to the door fast enough: here was friendly company! And more than that, here was Moll – my first crush, my first nemesis, my first and only true best friend. Edie was wonderful, but she couldn't talk, and I needed someone to talk to. I slid back the door―

    ―and got slapped in the face.

    The next moment, Moll was inside, arms around my neck in a ferocious embrace, growling into my ear that I was lucky she didn't kill me, and then I felt her tears against my cheek and I forgot anything I might have been about to say.

    “I have to shut the door,” I managed, after a little while. “Someone might see me.”

    Moll pulled away and slammed it, then gave me a murderous look through red-rimmed eyes.

    “This is the worst thing you've ever done,” she said.

    “Yeah,” I agreed.

    “I should hit you again,” she said.

    “I wouldn't blame you.”

    She hesitated.

    “That's why I can't do it,” she sighed. One of those patent Moll angry sighs. “I guess this must be Edie.”

    I glanced at Edie, who was trying to keep me between herself and the obviously dangerous young woman who'd just entered her life, and nodded.

    “Yeah.” It was my turn to sigh then. “Come on, let's go in.”

    I didn't really know what to say – what can you say, in a situation like that? – but as it turned out, it didn't really matter. Moll had questions that needed answering (what in all blood happened? what were you thinking? why?) and other than that, the conversation was not one that took place entirely in words. We needed to be close that morning, three days before we would be separated for good. Not that we knew when, but it was clear that it was coming, and though we had always suspected that life would draw us apart after a time, that we would never be so close as we were at the academy, we weren't ready for it to happen so soon. So we had to be close, had to feel the warm weight of each other nearby. After all, it could well be the last time. Death or exile, whichever came for me, we would not see each other again.

    And still, in the quiet spaces between her questions and my answers, and the memories that eddied between us, Maxie's name slunk back into my head …

    She had to leave eventually, of course. No one would blame her for skipping training today – everyone knew how close we were, and by this time everyone knew that I'd stolen the Star of Tethys and vanished – but there were limits to people's patience, and Moll's position as potential Gym member meant that she really couldn't afford to pass those. I understood. It was just Tethys politics; you had to take every chance that came your way to get close to the important people, or else you were no one.

    “Promise me you're not going to leave without telling me,” Moll said, holding both my hands tight. “Promise. Swear on the hallows.”

    I did, and I'm pleased to report that that was one promise that was indeed kept. Lots of promises get made in life, I've found, but not so many are kept.

    The day passed; I worried; the sergeants came calling; I hid; my father returned. What can I say? It was just one long ride on that awful carousel of doubt and guilt. I've admitted I'm distorting history a little, dear reader, and can you blame me for it? I learned from the best. No one lies like Maxim Veselov.

    That evening, while I ate the remaining oatmeal slices (he had eaten at the refectory), my father told me what he had managed to arrange during the course of the day.

    “Alsana,” he said, “you know, the Junior Assistant Librarian – Alsana's niece is a dock hand. She'll speak to her tonight and I'll tell you tomorrow how things go, but if we're lucky, we ought to be able to smuggle you aboard a vessel in the next couple of days.” He paused. “I think it's best if you go as soon as possible,” he said, unable to quite keep the sadness from his voice. “If you know what I mean.”

    I nodded slowly.

    “Yeah.”

    A moment passed between us, and I felt like the right thing to do would be to lose my appetite, as if that would illustrate my grief properly; my stomach, though, knows nothing about conventional representations of emotion, and I kept chewing, suffused with guilt. It's silly, I know, but it was awful. I couldn't help but think of it as a betrayal, of myself and of my father.

    It was a long night, and the next day was longer still. Even Edie was agitated by then, although I couldn't blame her – she'd been cooped up with me all this time, after all, and I was hardly good company. The guilt was ebbing by then, but the prospect of my future was opening up. Where was I going now? What would I do when I got there? I realised suddenly that I knew almost nothing at all about the world outside Tethys. Oh, I knew the rough geography from school; class, copy out this map in your workbooks, and label the major settlements after me: Nueville closest, to the southeast, and far beyond it Old Town. Semmerva of Iron to the distant south. The Sunken Gardens to the northeast. Jonah's Respite to the far east. And in the furthest southeast corner, past the deadly Blue Chapel of the Once Dead God, in a place where cartography was supplemented by mythology, the half-legendary Grand Cathedral …

    Yes, I knew all of that, and a few of the smaller places and other landmarks. But what was it like out there on the water? In Nueville? In the Sunken Gardens? What could I expect if I ended up among burrowers, ziz-lords, pirates, kadabra? Neither of my two educations had prepared me for that. I was going to be alone, horribly alone – a stranger in a strange sea. Even if Edie came with me – and let's not forget, I didn't know then whether she would consent to leave the city, or whether she would want to stay with the Museum – she would be no more familiar with any of it than I was. I would have to look after her, in fact, and take responsibility for both of us.

    It's hard to believe, I know, that just two nights ago I'd been taking responsibility for an entire city, but there you go. Things go a bit differently without someone around to chivvy you along.

    I was pretty tense by the time my father got home, as you can imagine, and thinking back I was probably more snappish with him than I needed to be. He bore up well, though, and he calmed me down. We talked long into the night as we never had before – as I never had before with anyone; my father had never talked down to me, exactly, but I'd always been aware that he was much older than me and that I was his daughter, and conversations had gone accordingly. (You know what I mean.) But that night, and on those last few days, we spoke as adults between adults. He didn't quite stop being my father, but he relaxed the pose a bit, and I spoke to the man he was more than his relation to me. And he in his turn, I like to think, saw a woman in me that was and was not simply his child. Although I would like thinking that, wouldn't I? We all want to think the best of ourselves, if only to salvage what we can before night comes around and we slip back into cynicism.

    But I've almost forgotten to tell you: he told me that Alsana's niece had agreed, and was making the arrangements. The day after tomorrow, I would be sailing east aboard the Solemn Oath, bound for the Sunken Gardens.

    When I got up the next morning, my father was gone, which sent me straight back into the arms of yesterday's anxiety. The game was up! I was going to be arrested! I would disappear, and no one would see me again, because I'd be … !

    The door closed with a thump that made my heart judder and the next thing I knew I'd grabbed a mug as if I was going to use it as a weapon. A moment later, my father walked in, lowered his hood and gave me a quizzical look.

    “What are you doing?” he asked, and I put the mug down, sheepish.

    “I was startled,” I said. “Where have you been?”

    “Sorry.” He put his bag down on the table and opened it up. “I went to fetch something for you,” he went on. “I got back a bit later than I expected.” He pulled out two things that gleamed, and I gaped. “It's dangerous out there,” he said. “And you have Edie, yes, but I think you might need more.”

    My eyes went from the objects on the table to my father's face and back again. Suddenly, it became clear to me how he had kept pace with a pirate in a swordfight. He was a librarian, I reminded myself. Even if he was older and fatter now, he still wasn't to be underestimated.

    “And, well,” he said. “There's a symmetry, isn't there? You came into this city with them, you should leave with them too.”

    I rounded the table, nearly tripping over Edie, and hugged him hard enough to take his breath away for a moment. I may even have been crying. It was the sort of thing I'd cry at.

    For, behind me on the table, and before me in my mind's eye, were the two ormolu pistols left to me by my mother. It had taken nineteen years, serious planning and some deft footwork on my father's part, but I had at last come into my inheritance.

    “Tide,” I said. My voice was thick and muffled. “Thanks, Dad.”

    His hand rested on my shoulder and squeezed it gently.

    “It's been twenty years since I did anything nearly that exciting,” he said. “Thank you, Ava.” He paused. “They're going to blame you for the theft, you know. I hope that's all right.”

    It was, of course. I asked him how he'd done it, but he just smiled and said that he had his ways. In a story as big and rambling as this one, there are always loose ends and mysteries, and this, I think, is one of them. I never did find out how he did it.

    Maybe I'll get my chance to soon enough. Assuming everything goes to plan.

    But we're not there yet – in this story, or even in real life. And since this is a history, not a prophecy, it's probably best if we stick to the past for the moment. We'll get to the future … well, when we get there, I guess.

    “There's more, too,” said my father. “Once you're out there, Tethys credits and ration cards mean nothing. You'll need something to bargain with.” He went to the cupboard and withdrew a roll of cloth from the very back of it; unrolling it on the table, he spilled out twelve forks, larger, heavier and more finely wrought than anything I'd seen before in the refectory. “Solid silver,” he said. “And old. From before the making over, if you trust the silvermarks.” His gaze lingered on them for a moment, and then he turned to me. “Take them with you,” he said. “They'll buy you food and passage.”

    I stared. Gold and silver, forks and pistols, glinted in a precious heap on the table.

    “Are you sure?” I asked. “Where did you get these?”

    “I'm sure,” he said. “We've had them – Tempest only knows. They've been in the family a long time. Your grandparents gave them to me before I met your mother, or we'd never have got our hands on them.”

    “Are you sure?” I asked again. I couldn't quite believe it. Wear my mother's guns and take my father's family treasure? I was starting to feel more pirate than poet.

    My father took my face in his hands.

    “I'm sure,” he said. And then: “This is your last day in Tethys, Avice.”

    I hooked my fingers over his wrists.

    “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah.”

    He opened his mouth, closed it, considered. A moment passed.

    “Moll will be here later,” he said. “I've told her. She wanted to stay the night, but I – it seemed too dangerous.”

    We both thought for a moment – about Moll, and about danger.

    “Well,” he said. “I'll see you tonight, sweetpea. There are some fungal crackers in the drawer, and you know where the butter is.”

    But by this point, dear reader, you've probably had enough. Get on with it, you're saying. I get it, everyone was sad; you were nervous; I get it, I get it. Bit harsh, if you ask me – but I'm joking, you're right. There's altogether too much melancholy here.

    So, the day passed. I worried. Moll visited. We worried together. I slept, as much as I could. And in the morning of the Quiet Day that followed, just as the shuttles were at their fullest with day-tripping families and boisterous kids in search of new stomping grounds, my father, Moll and I boarded the one that would take us down to Long Hill, and to the docks.

    It was actually quite easy to evade the attention of the sergeants. I mean, Tethys uniforms have hoods, and they render you pretty anonymous right off the bat. I could have dusted off an old trick and pinned my badge so that it would be difficult to see, but if a sergeant had seen that, they'd definitely have stopped me, so I thought it best to just leave it and clutch my bag to my chest as if nervous.

    Actually, there was no 'as if' about it. I was walking about under the full glare of the day lights, with a bag containing a porygon2, a pair of guns, a box of stolen bullets (librarians are well organised and thorough), several packets of black market crackers and a set of prize silver forks. Not only was I illegal, but almost everything I was carrying was, too – with the possible exception of Edie, who had switched from hard to soft light mode so that she no longer occupied any space at all, and so who might not have been real enough to constitute a breach of Edict 300.1.

    I thought about that on the way, which helped. It's a pretty dry point of law, the part where it intersects with ontology, and that was just what I needed to take my mind off the fact that a sergeant had just got on board and had sat down two seats away.

    We made it to the docks, though, as I'm sure you must have guessed, and there, outside the entrance to one of the docking chambers, we were greeted by a plump, swarthy woman with an energetic air about her that made me like her on instinct. She looked like a librarian's niece. She looked like someone who enjoyed defying authority.

    “Hail,” she said. “Francine Joyce dol' Tethys. Alsana's niece?”

    Her handshake was the strongest I'd ever felt, although I guess it might have been magnified by nerves.

    “Everything's sorted,” she told us, as we stepped out of the way of a passing vigoroth cart. “We're shipping medicine to the Sunken Gardens, so the hold will be pretty much undisturbed. You'll be safe down there, if you're quiet.”

    Medicine. That made me think of the two bottles of pills at the bottom of my bag. I wondered how long they'd last, and felt a tightness in my chest. There had to be other people like me outside Tethys, I assured myself. If I could find them, I could find help. They would understand, as no one else would. But, for now – best not to think about it. Not yet, not now, not until the time came. I had to get out of the city first.

    I nodded, too nervous to speak, and Francine smiled briefly.

    “I need to get you on board as soon as possible,” she said. “The cargo's loaded and we'll be setting sail soon. So, if …” She gestured at Moll and my father. “You know.”

    I turned around, and four grave eyes met mine.

    “Go,” said my father, hugging me tightly. “I love you, Ava. Don't forget that.”

    (And you might say that across the years today's chapter is my way of answering: No, I never have.)

    You know how partings go, I'm sure. I won't pretend that mine is particularly interesting for anyone except me. I said I loved him too, and we both said, both damp-eyed, that we would miss each other. Then came Moll and her fierce embrace, and a parting kiss, and a promise that we would meet again.

    “Even if I have to steal a ship and hunt you down,” she said. “This isn't the end.”

    In one sense she was right, of course. It was the beginning of something new. But in another … I wonder. I live in the Museum now. My memory is gone from Tethys, or at least it is outside the Administration and the CCC. Something really has ended. Moll, my father, perhaps even Aranea, wherever she is now – I must have disappeared entirely from their heads.

    It could have been avoided. I could have stayed with Francine, with the Solemn Oath and its cargo of medicines. My memory could have lived on, even after I went through that door, looking over my shoulder at my father suddenly turned into an old man, leaning on Moll for support.

    But it was not to be, and though I hate to say it, it was probably for the best. When I looked back, I saw something else: two men walking past, one red, one blue, and they saw me. As you might expect, I didn't want to talk to them, and hurried on after Francine into a cavernous room where the huge riveted bulk of the Solemn Oath floated in seawater, ringed by catwalks. This was it, I thought, smelling for the first time the salt tang of the ocean. The world awaited.

    “Avice!” cried Maxie, from behind me. “Avice, please listen!”

    “This way,” said Francine, and ushered me up a flight of stairs into the web of catwalks.

    “Avice, I am sorry!” I didn't look back. I didn't give a single hint that I had heard him. “I'm a terrible fool, and a monster with it. I never learned – please, Avice, at least let me apologise!”

    “You can't force her to accept your apology,” said Archie, but neither Maxie nor I paid him any attention. Francine led me past sailors leaning on the railings, smoking, and towards the ship itself. No one paid me any attention; I supposed I must look like every other crew member, with my hood up. Ahead of us the airlock yawned, like the jaws of a great beast. I could see flickering fluorescent lights beyond.

    “Don't let my sins stop you,” called Maxie. “Consider it before you go. There's still a chance to save the world, Avice. Do it without me, if you must, but there has to be a way to change this. If you're leaving, seek it out!”

    I stopped dead.

    “What's the matter?” asked Francine, but she got no answer.

    “If you'll have my help, I'll give it,” said Maxie. He sounded closer now. “I won't lead you. I'll advise and follow.”

    “Fool!” came Archie's voice, more distantly. Presumably he'd stopped by the entrance.

    “We really can't stop here,” hissed Francine. “What's the matter?”

    “Tell me how,” I demanded.

    “What?” she asked. “What're you talking about? Avice, we have to―”

    “I don't know,” answered Maxie. “I don't know. But Avice, you know that it's the right thing. Humankind needs the sun. Perhaps I and my plans are not to be trusted, but don't give up on the rest of the world because of that. Hate me, by all means, but not at so high a price.”

    The worst thing about it was that he was right. I hated how right he was, just then. I wanted to make him wrong somehow, to throw what we were taught about the goodness of the making over in his face – but how could I? He was right. Maxie was vile, was treacherous and untrustworthy, but he was right.

    And, just as awful to think about: if I was going to do this, then I would need his help.

    So, grudgingly, reluctantly, I turned around, and the history of the whole world turned with me.




    It's late. I've written way past sunset, but I have, at long last, got my past self out of Tethys. Or as near to it as makes no odds anyway, and besides, this seems a good place to stop. Pretty dramatic, isn't it? And there's no harm in a bit of drama to spice things up. If it's pure information you want, you might as well just read the shipping forecasts.

    One thing, though, before I leave you: Maxie is redeemed. They all are, the ghosts. I know they don't all share his views on their unlife, but they all agree that through this quest they have been changed, and for the better. So have I, for that matter, although in my case that might have something to do with the fact that I've just grown up a bit. There's an important difference between nineteen and twenty-one, especially if the intervening years are spent in adventure on the high seas.

    'Sflukes, but my hand hurts. No long sign-off this time. Goodnight!



    A note: Thanks for bearing with me while I got this chapter done. I'm afraid that there's probably no chance of another chapter for at least three weeks and probably longer than a month, so, well. Sorry about that. But, when it does come, we'll at last be out of Tethys and into some real (mis)adventure. If Avice doesn't get lost in a digression.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2015
  15. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    I approve so hard of Edie's apparent mischievous streak. I'm just going to keep finding more reasons to like her, aren't I.

    Archie sure as hell knows how to make an entrance, doesn't he. Glad he's in the mix now (and I should probably have seen that coming); he and Maxie get extra interesting in each other's presence.

    About Mysterious S-name-person: I know which name came to mind first when I read that bit. But it's not the only possibility, and I look forward to (possibly) finding out whether or not I ought to have trusted my first instinct on the matter.

    Avice may digress, or not, as she sees fit; I imagine I'll appreciate it either way. :D
     
  16. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I have plans for Edie, so hopefully yes! The further away she gets from the world that she knows, the more she'll reveal about herself -- like that mischievous streak. After all, she hasn't been in the Museum her whole life. She was around before the making over, too, and as I hope this story has already started to show, no matter how deeply memories are buried they always come out in the end.

    Archie always seemed so flamboyant -- like, he dresses up like a cartoon pirate and swaggers around Hoenn spouting nonsense about oceans which for some reason his whole team believes. I wanted to keep that performative streak in him, so. Dramatic eleventh-hour entrance. He bounces nicely off Maxie, too, as you say. The next chapter is mostly the two of them having angsty ghost conversations, which is hopefully more interesting than it sounds.

    We'll see! It'll be a while. That particular ghost doesn't join Avice & co. for a while yet.

    I'm sure she will, although she's getting better at focusing and structuring each day's work. But she has a lot to say, and isn't always sure what order to put it in, so I don't think we'll be going without her tangents any time soon. :p

    As ever, thank you for responding, and everyone for reading! One last thing: I have, somehow, managed to get Chapter Seven done, so that will be up in the next couple of days. After that, I think it's very likely that I'll be a week to two weeks late with Eight -- and after that, hopefully, all this nonsense will be over and I can get back to fortnightly updates.
     
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    SEVEN: THE REMEMBRANCE OF ARCHIE MCLEOD

    Alone, alone, all, all alone,
    Alone on a wide wide sea!
    And never a saint took pity on
    My soul in agony.

    ―Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner



    But wait! Aren't we forgetting something? I know we're just on the verge of something big and exciting – bigger and excitinger, even, since the events of the Red Chapel were big and exciting enough – but we mustn't leave out important details just because we want to rush on ahead. We've forgotten Archie and Maxie, and what they did while I was hiding. And we've forgotten that burning question: how did Archie come to meet us there?

    I'll let him field that one, as I let Maxie answer the questions about him. It'll be good for both of us to have a bit of a break. Yesterday's marathon writing session has left me more tired than normal today, and as for you – well, you'd probably welcome the chance to get out of my head for a bit. I don't blame you. The decoration in here is very idiosyncratic.

    First, however, let's talk about what they did. Let's go back a few days, back to the Red Chapel – traumatic enough the first time around, you might say, but needs must. This time, however, we'll ignore me. This time, we'll watch our two ghosts, standing and staring as the girl Avice storms out, Edie at her side, the Orb under her arm. We hear her footsteps on the stairs – and then she's gone.

    Back in the Chapel, awash in a hot light that they could barely feel, Archie and Maxie looked at each other.

    “Well,” said Maxie, dim with fatigue. “You did it. Congratulations.”

    “Don't give me that,” snapped Archie. “I don't want any of your irony.”

    “I'm not being ironic.” Maxie hesitated, uncertainty hovering over his features. In the distance, the rock groaned in pain.

    “You got something to say?”

    He shook his head.

    “No. No, never mind.” He looked towards the stairs. “I should find her. Apologise.”

    “Is that it?” asked Archie, as Maxie walked away. “No thanks for saving the bloody world? Not even a 'hello'?”

    Maxie kept walking, and Archie followed, eyes flashing again with that fearsome glare.

    “Are you not even curious?” he asked. “It's been five hundred years and you're―”

    “Archie, there is a time and place for everything, but not now and not here,” said Maxie, without looking around. “I have wondered, yes, if others might have – lasted. And I want to know how and why y― but as I said, not now. Not now. I've betrayed her.”

    Archie's loud, yes, but that doesn't mean he isn't perceptive. He must have known what was going through Maxie's head then: the nameless trainer who had died facing Tide; the fact that I could see and hear ghosts; the terror of what he had almost been. All these thoughts and more were visible to him, overlapping like murals drawn on serried sheets of glass, and when he saw them, his rage shrank a little. No one knows Maxie like he does. Not when they were alive, and not now.

    “Yeah,” he said, but there was no malice in it. “Yeah, I see that.”

    So began the search. They argued, on and off, as they made the rounds of the city – Museum, academy, my father's quarters. It took them a long time to find that one. Maxie, of course, had never been there, and they had to spy on the sergeants to figure out where it was.

    But as we know, they never found me. Lights-on found them sitting by the statues in Long Hill Atrium, exhausted; when you're all thoughts and no body, a night of high passions like that is especially fatiguing. They had been silent for a long time by then. It seemed that they couldn't open their mouths without starting to fight.

    “She can see us,” said Archie at last. “What about that.”

    “That's part of why I'm loath to lose her,” replied Maxie. “Have you ever found anyone who can see you?”

    Archie shook his head.

    “It's been terribly lonely,” said Maxie.

    “It's hell,” said Archie, with the assurance of one who knows. “This is it. This is our punishment.”

    “Perhaps.” Maxie didn't sound convinced. He never was, really. Everyone seems to explain the afterlife in their own unique way. Maybe that's all it is: a long metaphor, mangled in the interpretation. It wouldn't be the only thing.

    “They talk about Tethys a lot, out there,” said Archie. “I've never been. I had a hunch you were here.”

    “I thought I was alone,” said Maxie, and Archie lowered his head a little, abashed.

    “I got an itch,” he went on, after a while. “And I thought – but I hoped you wouldn't be. By the time I got here, though, I was certain.”

    “You felt it too?”

    “Toothache of the soul,” agreed Archie. “Just like when Kyogre appeared.”

    There was another long, slow pause. The first of the shops took up its shutters with a metallic whirr.

    “Archie,” said Maxie.

    “Yeah?”

    “Thank you.”




    It didn't last. You don't overcome the habits of a lifetime (and longer) in a single night, and though Archie didn't leave, he wasn't exactly supportive. Maxie kept saying that he wanted to apologise, haunting the docks in the hope of catching me fleeing the city. Archie trailed along in his wake, suggesting loudly that there was no point, that if I didn't want to speak to him then I wasn't going to, no matter how much he complained.

    Yet he stayed. I think he wanted to be punished, really – to come all that way, to save Tethys and find his ancient nemesis, and yet to be denied his redemption by missing the one person who could have spoken to him. Living with the long-dead, you become a bit more familiar with guilt than you're really comfortable with, and I can tell you now that people find some really terrible ways to deal with it. They rationalise it away into something so intangible that they end up repeating their mistakes; they wind it around themselves and make their penitence a macabre performance; they detach themselves from it and refuse to feel anything at all … I could go on, but honestly, it would be a bit disheartening. Today is bright and sunny, and there are glass eelektross suckered onto the side of the Museum. Do you know those? You might not, if you're reading this in the future, on solid land. They're a kind of – well, a kind of eelektross, not as big as the others, that live near the surface and ride on bigger fish, eating their parasites. I'm looking at one now, basking in the sun a few yards from my window. It flashes like an infinity of rainbows.

    The point is, why ruin a day like this with an anatomy of guilty tragedies? I know we're not at a particularly jolly point in the history, but let's not beat ourselves over the head with it. It turned out all right in the end.

    We've seen what happened next. Hanging around the docks (and putting up with Archie) paid off. Maxie found me, and just about managed to persuade me. I never stopped to explain what I was doing to Francine – think about it; how could I? It had taken me long enough to tell my family. Instead, I just left. You'd be surprised how effective that is. For a moment, she was too surprised to even wonder where I was going, and then she'd lost me in the crowd of red hoods.

    I'm sure you know my destination, dear reader. There was only one place I could go, only one place where I might be able to both escape the city and figure out a way to save the world, and it was the Museum. The maintenance passages were busy with search parties, but the sergeants were moving in groups and made so much noise that I could hear them coming from miles away; keeping out of their way and finding alternate routes took me a long time, but I'm fairly sure they never even managed to see me. It seems to me now that they really didn't know that much about finding fugitives. Apart from members of my family, people don't do a whole lot of disappearing in Tethys.

    At the Museum airlock, I hesitated. Stay in there and my memory would die. That meant the city authorities, yes – but also my friends, my family. I could do without the attention of one, but the other I'd have preferred to keep.

    “Avice?” asked Maxie, catching up. “What is it?”

    I glared at him, and he raised his hands in surrender.

    “We'll wait,” he decided. “Don't rush on our account, only, ah, I don't know how long we'll be undisturbed.”

    “Shut up, Maxie,” said Archie.

    “Thanks,” I said, though it must be said, I could have said it with a little more gratitude. “I just – I have an idea.”

    I took off my name badge and turned it over in my hands.

    AVICE AMRIT DOL' TETHYS, it said to me.

    “Remember me to them,” I replied, and tossed it back down the corridor, the white enamel flashing in the mingled light of the ghosts. I looked back for a moment, and felt the weight of all those untold tonnes of steel and air shiver through my bones. “Goodbye,” I said, to my city, to my home, to my name lying there on the floor, and I went through the airlock.

    They never found it. I mean the badge, obviously. I left it to anchor my name to Tethys, to keep my memory alive in the face of the Museum – but my family never saw it, and so they forgot. I know who did find it – who suspected where I'd gone; who went there and found it; who brought it, before my memory was cold, back to the CCC and had it copied out so that they could keep my immense and treasonable theft in mind. Who else could it be? It was Virgil. It has always been Virgil.

    Strangely, you know, his name is in here somewhere – his real name, that is, the one that we all forgot. They must have put it in here during the time that I was in hiding, when for his heroic attempts to apprehend me they made him a full agent. Sometimes I think about looking for it, but what would I do with it when I had it? I could brandish it in his face as a weapon, I suppose; that seems a bit cruel, though, don't you think? And pointless, too. Revenge is all very well – not always, of course, it's just that sometimes you have to make a stand – but that would be nothing less than petty. And 'petty', I'm determined, is not an adjective I will ever take on myself.

    When they put the name in here, the person remains. I've put my person in here, and my name – does it remain? I have heard bits of it, from Virgil and from others, but not the whole story. I wonder if AVICE AMRIT DOL' TETHYS is still there, creeping around the records like my own little ghost. Do the teachers at the academy call out my name when taking registers, before wondering who they're asking for? Does my father sometimes receive a ration card with those four words printed on it, before an employee of the Committee for Errata come to take it away again for pulping? Does Moll, when she lists to herself those she plans to go out with that night, find herself adding 'Avice' to the end?

    I like to think so. And on a day like this, when the sun is hot, the breeze is cold and the ice cubes clink in the jug – on a day like this, I think why not just believe? No need to think so, not today. As long as the sun is shining, everything is true that needs to be.




    Oh, you should have seen us. I was miserable, naturally, but even then I felt the wonder of it. And now, eighteen months on, I can look back and see it better still.

    Imagine it: you're standing in the Tabitha Wentworth Memorial Dome, high above the city, looking out into open ocean. Suddenly, you feel something beneath your feet – some vibration, some faint shudder, as if of an engine starting up; but how can you possibly sense an engine here? You're nowhere near the docks.

    There's one good answer to that: neither is the ship.

    And then you see it. It fades slowly into view through the murky water to the west, big as a wailord and much more solid. Hundreds of metres away Archie hits a switch, marvelling at how tangible he is in here – and suddenly the shape is punctuated by six great lamps, their light dimmed by the intervening ocean but still bright. They can see it elsewhere now, this enormous, unexpected thing sliding out and up from below the city – can see it through the glass roof of the Grand Staircase, the transparent vault of Founder's Atrium, the tall windows of Long Hill. All over the city, people are stopping and staring, because no one has seen anything like this for nearly five hundred and fifty years: a ship whose geometry is unfamiliar, its flanks still streaked with the remnants of a blue and yellow paint job, its bow dominated by the rusting, salt-pitted hulk of what must once have been a truly colossal drill.

    (Edie did a good job, but some things are beyond even a porygon. There just wasn't enough metal to keep the drill in working order.)

    Let's live dangerously: let's speculate. Let's say the torpedo-batteries atop the docks ground slowly around on their bases to face the intruder. Let's say that the intercom burst into excitable, terrified life, swamping the operators; let's say that the sergeants poured out of the maintenance passages en masse, crowding up to the windows, running to the battle stations with the little external torpedo-guns. Let's say the corvettes left their defensive patrols and swept in to investigate; let's say the kingdra-riders with their packs of huntail swarmed in close, trying to get as good an idea as they could of what this odd, huge ship actually was; let's say that down at the tower of the docking authorities, the big lights flashed red red blue red, the most basic code in the sailors' handbook: who are you?

    Picture that, dear reader. Picture Tethys, the city where nothing can happen, where it is impossible for anything to change – changing.

    And it was us that did it. It was us, and for a few glorious minutes we held the eye of the most powerful city-state in the known ocean. Even then I felt the thrill, looking back at pods and girders I had never seen from the outside as we steamed on by, the deck-plate thrumming with the power of those engines. They were old, and patched, but no one knows engines like Edie. The Museum is still as fast now as any ship of its size.

    Then it was over. We pulled away to the north, around the bulk of the sunken mountain – Mt. Chimney, I breathed, staring out of the window and thinking to myself that just a couple of nights ago I had actually been inside that thing – and out of sight. Were we followed? I'm not sure. I don't know if the defence corvettes or the kingdra-riders really saw us. Surely if they had come close, we'd have noticed? I didn't know how to work the Museum's sonar array yet, but the rear windows afforded a reasonable view, and I don't think I noticed much in the way of pursuit. We were observed, yes – no ships ever come so close to the inner core of Tethys as we did; in fact, if Archie hadn't been the skilled pilot he was we would probably have smashed into some of the city's supports. It's impossible that we weren't seen. But somehow – maybe because this was the Museum, even if people didn't know it was, and the curse of forgetting lay heavy on it – after we'd put a little distance between us and Tethys, the city no longer seemed to care.

    I heard, much later, about what it was like when the Museum left. Now, I've arranged most of this narrative chronologically, but I'm going to leave that one until the time it was told to me. It's … complicated. You'll see. For now, marvel with my younger self: we'd got away, we'd stolen the drowned Museum of the Forgotten, and for the first time in my life I was outside the city of Tethys and its Edicts.

    My breath caught, and my momentary excitement evaporated. I was alone now. Above, around, below – no power plants or dormitories, no friends; just cold water and the thousand darting creatures of the deep.

    Edie caught my eye from where she was monitoring an electrical display screen of some sort, and flashed up an anxious question mark.

    I made myself smile. No need to be nervous, I told myself. I was captain of a stolen ship, but I had piracy in my blood, and a deathless crew no ghost story could match. And besides, the whole world was out there. Waiting for me to see it – and, maybe, to save it.

    “It's OK,” I said to her, and nearly believed it. “I'm all right.”

    Archie hit a button and swivelled on his chair to face me.

    “Well, then,” he said. “Where to, captain?”

    It felt especially odd, to have the Prophet subordinate himself to me. I didn't even know why he was here – or how he'd found us, or even really who he was. He'd just appeared in a burst of rage, and now he seemed to have settled in as my navigator.

    “Um,” I said, not sure whether I was unsettled or excited, and deciding that I could probably be both at once if I tried hard enough. “How are we doing for food?”

    “The aeroponics suite is currently inactive,” answered Maxie, “so there's little enough there; the mycology shed was never designed to be shut off, so there is raw material for the synthesis machine to start producing something that you might mistake for bread, if you'd never seen wheat before.”

    “OK, so we need food.” I ignored the attempt at a joke. We were not yet ready to laugh together. “Water?”

    “The desalination engines are located in the stern, with the aeroponics suite and the mycology shed. I believe they are still in working order.”

    I nodded slowly.

    “OK. Edie?”

    She fluttered over, bouncy and excitable with everything that had been going on. What's it like, I wonder, to tend to an abandoned ship for five hundred and fifty years and then suddenly have it come to life? Maybe she was proud of her work, or happy to see that everything still functioned. Maybe she was just eager to leave Tethys. I wouldn't blame her.

    “I don't know how synthesis machines work,” I said, crouching and scratching her head. “Can you go and get it producing some kind of food?”

    She considered this for a moment, head cocked on one side, and emitted a tick.

    “Good girl,” I said. “Go on!”

    She zoomed away, and I straightened up.

    “I've got some fungal crackers in my bag,” I said. “But still, I think we'll need to take on supplies. Archie. You've been … outside. What's our nearest port?”

    “We're headed north right now,” he replied. “Which means … yeah, it'll be Cormac's Mourn.”

    “Can we get supplies there?”

    “If you have something to trade with.”

    I did. Silver forks, for one – and the whole wealth of the Museum. Almost everything in there was worth a fortune to the right person.

    “I think we can manage that,” I said.

    “A'right,” said Archie, and turned back to the controls.

    “OK,” I said, slowly. “OK, I'm going to … see how Edie is doing.”

    I didn't see the two of them exchange glances as I left, but I sensed it. It was difficult not to. There was so much still unsaid between them that the atmosphere felt charged when they were in the same room; besides, they were thinking of me, I know they were – wondering if I was all right, whether this careful calm of mine was feigned – and I could feel it, like a feather drawn slowly across the back of my neck.

    “Avice,” said Maxie, and I stopped abruptly.

    “What.”

    “Are you all right?”

    I turned, fast. I may even have actually spun on my heel.

    “What do you think? No, I'm not all right. Do you know what I've just done? And why I've done it? It's not for you,” I added quickly. “I'm not picking up where you left off. I'm starting again, starting this bloody quest over from scratch not for you but for me and my – my city …”

    Tears started from my eyes, and for a moment I struggled against them, trying to be angrier than I was afraid, but I never did have the self-discipline for that – and so now it seems we have to leave this sunny day outside after all, and talk about sorrow. I hate Tethys now and I hated it then, but, as the girl in the audiovisual recording said, there's no place like home. Maxie stepped forwards to do I don't know what – he must have known I would turn away from him, because whose fault was it that I was here, lost, alone, saddled with the responsibility of fixing his old problems? For whom had I thrown away my life? I pushed him away and it was, as surprised me even then, Archie who came forward – Archie, who I barely knew but who, in his way, already knew me. He stopped Maxie with a look as he approached, and took me by the hand, his fingers as cool and soothing as still water.

    “You've not been sleeping, lass,” he said. “For days now, I reckon.” He glanced at Maxie. “Keep her steady,” he said. “I'll be back.”

    I let him led me out and down to the captain's cabin – my quarters now, I supposed – and as the tears abated I talked to him, told him everything as I had told my father; he nodded and said yes in the right places until I was exhausted, and then I slept and he left.

    Perhaps you'll think it was childish of me. I sort of feel that way myself – I mean, I was nineteen. But then again, maybe I'm being too hard on myself. I had led a life less sheltered than many Tethys children, but still, any life in Tethys is a sheltered one. Something about the city's stasis seeps into you, makes even the most revolutionary child in some way complacent. I had never truly realised how much it would hurt to be torn from my home, especially by the betrayal of someone I had trusted so absolutely. (So naïvely, you might correct me. You wouldn't be wrong.)

    In any case, Archie was right, I did need sleep – I'd only got a couple of hours each night when I was in hiding, and my fatigue wasn't making me any more capable of dealing with the situation. So, dear reader, let's leave my younger self to it; it is childish, but I think we can cut her some slack. Besides, like I said, today's not a day for tragedy. It seems to me that for these last few chapters I've just been writing non-stop about how sad and conflicted I was, and it's time I put a stop to it. Life isn't all vanishing aunts and treacherous ghosts – there's witty badinage and interesting exposition too, and so much more than that!

    Therefore: back to the story that I opened today's chapter with, back before Maxie found me on the docks. Back to those questions – what were Archie and Maxie doing? And how and why was Archie there to begin with?

    When Archie got back to the bridge, Maxie was sitting down, tapping his fingers idly against the desk.

    “It's dark out,” he said, without looking up. “I'd forgotten what it looked like. All that water.” He swivelled his chair around. “How is she?”

    Archie gave him one of those thunderbolt glares.

    “You messed her up,” he answered, sitting in the chair opposite, by the other control bank. “Jesus Christ, Maxie. It's all down to you. D'you get that?”

    “Yes, of course. Why do you think I'm trying to make amends?”

    Archie shook his head.

    “Naw, man, you're not getting it! D'you have any idea what it's like – she's just a kid, for Christ's sake, just a wee girl, and she was desperate to find something in that city she could believe in. And you come along, ancient, practically omniscient, and bang! Hero worship. And then you go an' …” He threw up his hands in exasperation. “You never were good with people, were you?”

    Maxie was silent for a while. He sat, if anything, straighter than usual.

    “No,” he said. “I suppose I wasn't.”

    “I'm not claiming I wasn't a manipulative bastard,” Archie told him. “We both know that's just not true. But I knew what I was doing, and I set my own limits.”

    Maxie took off his spectacles, folded them up on the counter and massaged his temples with thumb and middle finger.

    “Christ,” he said. “I'd forgotten what it was like. All those years we were apart, and I boiled our time together down to the good days. Now you move back in with me and I remember how much we argued.”

    “I'm not mov― wait, hang on, I have.” Archie started. “How 'bout that? D'you know, I barely noticed.”

    Maxie smiled. His eyes were still buried beneath his hand.

    “Just like old times.”

    Archie laughed harshly, like a dog barking, and for a few minutes the only sound was the hum of electricity and the distant thump of the engines.

    “Why are you here, Archie?” asked Maxie, putting his glasses back on. “Why did you come back?”

    He shrugged.

    “I had a hunch. An apocalyptic hunch. And I've just been drifting, Maxie, here and there across the ocean with my sins hanging round my neck. I had time to spare to check out a hunch.”

    Maxie nodded slowly.

    “Fair enough. I … I'm glad you came back.”

    The two of them looked at each other for a moment. I couldn't tell you what they saw in each other's eyes, but it commanded their attention – even if perhaps they wanted to look away.

    “Do you remember the spring of 1993?” asked Maxie, his eyes full of sunlight. “That lecturer with the ridiculous hat and the penchant for Tennyson?”

    “Are you going to quote at me? Because I will laugh at you if you do that, appeal to shared memories or no.”

    Maxie spoke as if he hadn't heard:

    “Death closes all; but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.”

    He leaned back in his seat. “Did you ever imagine, Archie, that anything from that lecture would be relevant to us in the future? Let alone three lines from a poem already a hundred and fifty years old when he quoted it.”

    Archie hesitated. Whatever he was thinking, he did not, in fact, laugh.

    “A'right,” he said, and held out a hand. “Truce, till we fix the planet we broke?”

    Maxie shook.

    “I couldn't have put it better myself.”

    Archie got up and crossed to the main window, looking out into the dark and the blue.

    “Hey, Maxie,” he said, fingering the controls. “When was the last time you saw the sky?”

    Maxie started half out of his chair, that avid light in his eyes, but this time he regained himself.

    “I remember what it looks like,” he replied, settling down again. “Let's wait until Avice gets back.”

    Archie grinned in surprise.

    “Now you're learning,” he said. “Unbelievable. The old dog has a couple of new tricks in him after all.”

    This was what passed between them – between these two strange men, trading weary fragments of the past while I tried to come to terms with my future. There was more too, now that things had thawed a little between them. But, though I now know it too, this story isn't mine to tell. Sometimes it's best to let a man speak for himself.

    So! I'm going to find my sunglasses and see if I can enjoy some of this sunlight without going blind. And while I go about that, I leave you in the capable hands of Archie McLeod.




    ARCHIE

    I don't feel old. I'm going to start with that, I reckon, because that's been at the heart of all the things I've seen and done. It's been Christ knows how long – well, Christ and Maxie, I guess; he was always organised like that, keeping dates and all – and yet I still feel thirty. Nothing since I died counted, you see. It's dead time – literally, even. Time of the dead. Time for sinners.

    Because I am a sinner. We all of us are, those who are left. Maxie says it's regret that keeps us here, but what the hell? He's read as much as I have, more even, he must know what being an earthbound spirit means.

    Earthbound. Kind of a joke, isn't it? Ain't no earth left now, or there wasn't. We might see some more yet, before the time comes and we have to go. That's my fault – and yeah, I know what Maxie says, about all the ways he could have stopped me, but that's his way, you know. He takes things apart. I keep it simple: who thought it would be a good idea to bring a monster back to life? Who thought he could control Kyogre, wield the ocean like a gun pointed at the head of the planet? Yeah, Archie McLeod.

    That's not the kind of thing you get over. I've atoned, maybe, but I won't say to you that I'm over it. Wherever I'm going after this, if there is anywhere to go, I'll be taking it with me. No acquittals in the court of your own conscience.

    I'm not sure where Avice wants me to start. I could ask – but no, let's not. To be honest, I don't even see why she has to write this, not now. She's so young, too young for the tasks she sets herself. You're looking at a man with a misspent youth right here, and let me tell you, if I'd let myself live instead of focusing so hard on my pretentious bloody ambition, we'd all be sleeping on dry land tonight.

    Or maybe not. The ice caps were on the way out anyway.

    But back to me. Like I was saying, I went about my life in all the wrong ways. I wanted to change the whole world in one go, and well, careful what you wish for. Me and Maxie, we should've stayed together. We were a good team – more importantly, a safe team. We'd have stopped each other from going too far. Those early years, at university and afterwards, when we were kicking around Hoenn looking for trouble in the name of eco-activism – they were good years. Sure, we weren't always on the right side of the law, and we did a couple of things that maybe we shouldn't have – kids screw up, you know, and they learn from it – but no one died.

    Then we got into that fight in the National Library, and it all went to hell. Probably that was my fault, too. I think I was clicking my pen or something – annoying everyone in the room, I'll bet – and Maxie kept asking me to stop, but every time my attention wandered, I'd start doing it again without thinking, and he'd ask me to stop, and the people around us were coughing pointedly like academics do when they're trying to let you know that they're judging you, and when for the umpteenth time I started clicking it again Maxie got up and slapped the damn pen out of my hand.

    Things got a bit rougher after that, and when I was on the verge of whacking Maxie with a dictionary we were asked to leave – asked, that is, by a security man who looked like he could drop kick an ursaring through a plate-glass window. And that was it. Some kid clicks a pen and the world ends. You almost have to laugh.

    I didn't go back to our flat that afternoon. I went to my friend Matt's house instead, because I knew he would encourage me to get more angry – incredibly supportive guy, Matt, but not bright; whatever you were doing at the moment, he'd push you further into it – and after a night spent drunk and furious on his sofa, I went round to the flat, packed up and moved out.

    That's where that little maxim falls down. Kids screw up, and they learn from it – except when they don't. And I didn't, and Maxie didn't, and we went our separate ways in hatred and somehow we got to the idea that it would be a brilliant idea to bring these bloody great monsters back to life. Like that didn't have DANGER written all over it. I'll give it to Maxie, he picked his lieutenants well. That Tabitha knew we were onto something bad, and he got Courtney on his side. Put a stop to Maxie's plans to raise Groudon, at least for a while. It took him a few hundred years to get round to it again.

    But me – look, I take full responsibility. I picked Matt, and Matt, as I said, was a supportive kind of guy. You told him your goals and he'd push to achieve them without stopping to think about what was right or wrong. And I abused him cruelly, I know; I made him worship me. It wasn't hard. I'm a performer, see, and a bloody good one, too. I know how to be magnificent, and Matt lapped it up. I did it all because I knew he would be behind me till the end, urging me on if I ever had doubts about splitting with Maxie and taking on my own goal. And I did have doubts – do you think I wasn't aware, on some level, of what Kyogre is? It's more than mortal, and I knew that, I must've done. In my heart of hearts.

    So I made Matt into an audience for the performance of Archie McLeod, and so I killed him. I had Shelly too, of course – now there was a smart one. She could have been to me as Tabitha was to Maxie, but she figured it out just a little too late, and she was just a little too conflicted. It was a good performance, and she bought into it too – not her fault; she got loose from it, but not quick enough. The whole of my organisation fell in love with the myth of Archie McLeod. Have they been mentioned yet? We called ourselves Aqua, in opposition to Maxie's Magmas, or maybe they called themselves Magma in opposition to us. I can't remember now which one came first. Seems pretty apt now, eh?

    Well, I've not been reading Avice's book so far, but I'm sure she's mentioned what happened next; there's no point me putting it off any longer. Yeah, I'm your Prophet. I stole the Alcmene and I went to the bottom of the sea, where Kyogre was waiting for the Orb. Or maybe it wasn't there, exactly. Maybe it was on some other plane, out of step with our reality, and the Orb brought it back into alignment. There were texts that implied it was eternal, that when it seemed dead it was in fact outside time … but best not get into that. Given the mess I made of things, you can appreciate that I'd like to keep certain knowledge buried.

    When Kyogre woke, it barely even noticed me. It wouldn't have seen me at all if I hadn't had the Orb. A wave snatched it from my hands and brought it down towards the beast – and then it submerged, and we felt the cave quaking as the sea rearranged itself around us. I don't remember anything about how we got out of there. I don't remember much at all until we saw the sky. It looked like night out there – it was just after noon – and there was so much rain hitting the ocean that it looked like it was boiling, as if we'd taken the wrong exit from the cave and come out in hell. You couldn't look up. You'd have been blinded if you were – the rain hit you like rocks. By the time we got under cover, we were bruised all over, and Shelly had a broken nose.

    I keep saying we, but I haven't said who. Got to apologise for that. Clarity in writing never was my strong suit. Anyway, there was myself and Shelly, who I think was the one who got me out of there; Maxie, of course, who was shouting about what have you done – hadn't seen him so close since we split in '96 – I remember thinking how much older he looked; and there was the lass …

    I don't know her name. No one does. Can you blame me if I think Avice takes on too much? I saw what happens to kids who think they can save the world. It ain't like the movies. When she went down to stop Kyogre in the Cave of Origin, it ended her, just like that. Wiped her out of existence, name and all. I remember she had a raichu, and she joked with us that at least she had the type advantage.

    She was working with Steven, towards the end – Steven Stone, that is, the last Champion of Hoenn. A wee bit arrogant for my liking, but I can't say he didn't do a damn sight better than me or Maxie. It's not like he was consciously condescending, but he was always the rich kid, you know? Just never quite occurred to him that things were harder for other people. But I guess that's what we needed in a situation like that. Him and Wallace – Wallace Artois – he was Gym Leader of Sootopolis – they were calm, collected. They knew what to do. Steven got us all over to Sootopolis, called ahead to Wallace, consulted him as the Cave-keeper. I'm surprised now that I ever thought my knowledge was unique. They had all this stuff written down in Sootopolis, waiting in those scrolls for something like this to happen. Wallace explained it all: we had to choose a champion to fight Kyogre. The stuff of legend, right. Heroes and gods. That's the kind of thing we're talking about, and I tried to make it a tool.

    I hate how we chose, I really do. I wish I could have gone in her place, but Kyogre never even noticed me. Oh, I could play the part, swagger and swank, but I wasn't really a hero. Nor was Maxie, when it came down to it. And Steven was strong and all, but he didn't have the heart for it; he didn't think about the wee man. But she – that lass had proved herself. She'd fought Aqua almost single-handedly, and she nearly beat us, too. One girl against a small army, and all because it was right, because she saw how we were hurting the people and pokémon we said we were fighting for. Can you see why when she volunteered, none of us could say no? If anyone could do it …

    But that was the problem, wasn't it? No one could do it. The Cave exploded. The tide was loosed. Sootopolis drowned, and all I could think was that I should have done more. Maxie was trying to get me to leave with him, I'm told, but I hardly remember hearing him. I can just see that image of the water beneath me, and underneath it white houses, gleaming like dead coral.

    Everything's fuzzy after that, but I believe I went in to help. I'm guessing that I drowned. Don't you like it when the punishment fits the crime? It feels right to know that the man who flooded the planet met his death by water.

    A few years passed before I got myself back together – at least. Might've been more. People were just starting to rebuild back then. New Mauville had been sealed off to create a safe haven. The old Aqua base, too – most of my crew survived, if you can credit it. They were all right in Mossdeep, as well, at least on the west half of the island. But the rest of Hoenn was just shot to hell. I travelled for years to see it all, catching rides on ships when I could and walking along the seabed when I couldn't. I made it my business to find out the extent of what I'd done to the country, to stencil it into my brain with a pen of fire. There didn't seem to be anything else to do. Whatever this afterlife was supposed to be, I turned it into a personal Tartarus. Counting the skeletons floating up among the rafters of the government halls. Watching pieces of the Trainers' School caught in the currents flowing down old Rustboro streets. Walking among the desecrated graves of Mt. Pyre, the only ghost where there used to be thousands.

    Maybe to you this world looks alive, but it's nothing compared to the old one. There are new things now, true – those sableye that have learned to dive for pearls, or the mawile who use their horn-jaws as floats and snorkels – and yeah, they've got a beauty to them, how they've survived, and yeah, there's been some incredible advances in maritime technology … yet in the end, what's left, really? Scrabbling around for a few extra years of life in the corners of some ocean. I wanted to realign humankind and nature, but not like this. Not like this.

    Well; I've changed things around now, haven't I? Or rather, we have – or no, no; Avice has. Avice did it, and we assisted. I hope that's enough. I don't know what else I could have done.

    It's why I stayed. When Maxie started putting together that plan, I knew – I could feel it in my chest, like a broken heart. I had to see if I was right – and if I wasn't, who cared? Tethys was the one place I'd never been. Somehow I'd always thought that it wasn't my territory. I'd made my own hell; Maxie had made his. Didn't need to blame myself for that city, at least. And anyway, I thought, if Maxie too had lingered after death – I didn't know if I could face him, not when he'd tried to stop me and I'd refused to listen. I could only go there when I had ammunition to use against him, and his fool plan was what I needed to give myself a little confidence. And then, when I got here …

    There was Avice.

    How could I have left then? She could see me. Half my torture over with, just like that. And I didn't dare leave Maxie with her, either, not after how he used that trainer. Never quite knew how to say it to her – I knew it would come out condescending – and then afterwards, it turned out I had other reasons to stay. It's not that I wanted to put all of that on Avice's head, but Christ! To undo what we never dreamed could be undone. That was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up.

    And I hope, I hope, I'd pray if I knew what to pray to, that in taking it I have done enough.




    AVICE

    And here I am again! It is lovely out there, dear reader. I hope your day is treating you well, too. Now …

    Archie. I'd hoped that by now― well, I guess now that things are coming to an end, all the ghosts are concerned. At times like this, with the future breathing down your neck, it's difficult to keep the past out of your hair. Still, I think – I think I'd better finish up early today. Not only because I'm tired after the long session yesterday, but because we could do with seeing a little more of one another, all of us. We don't have much time. I don't want them to spend it alone with their fear.

    For now, let's conclude my brief detour into sadness. I woke, feeling much better; it had been one of those thunderbolt moods that strike you with incredible force and leave you oddly refreshed afterwards. So, I thought, I might be forgotten? Very well: I'd come back, bringing sun and shore in my wake, and we'd see if they could still forget me after that. I didn't know what to do? All right: I had two world experts on pokémon, gods and changing the face of the earth with me; we could figure something out. I'd manage. I was Avice Amrit dol' Tethys; I always managed.

    First things first, though. I was no longer a citizen, for better or worse, and that meant I was going to get rid of that uniform and its ridiculous hood before I did anything else. I went down into the hold and rifled through the clothing racks, looking for something as different to city wear as I could find. There was a blue dress I liked (sky-blue, I'd say now, but back then the phrase was meaningless to me), and I smiled: perfect. The people of Tethys wore red, and their enemies the pirates, for reasons lost to history at that time, wore blue. I was definitely more pirate than citizen now. I changed, hung up my Tethys clothes on a spare hanger, and pushed them in at the back of the rack. Excellent. Gone. I rocked for a moment on the heels of new shoes, wondering how they'd been made so springy, then made for the stairs. On the way, though, I remembered something, and paused. In the pocket of my uniform …

    I went back and pulled out a silver disc, stamped with writhing tentacles and a sideways mouth.

    “Let thy will be done, O monstrous, O mighty,” I murmured, and slipped the cord of my old Tooth token around my neck. If I was to follow in my mother's footsteps, I might as well do it under the aegis of the patron deity of pirates.

    Feeling suddenly light (which may, in retrospect, have had something to do with the springy shoes), I half-skipped back to the stairs and down the corridor to see where Edie was. Her synthesis machine – decidedly noisier and more unstable-looking than the ones in Tethys – was easy enough to find, but couldn't figure out where she was until her head appeared on the screen of the computer. I asked if she was doing all right, and her face was replaced temporarily by a thumbs up. After that, I left her to it. I'm a bit better with computers now, but back then I wasn't even entirely sure what they were for, let alone what I could do to assist a porygon2 who was currently inside one.

    “Back to the bridge, then,” I said to myself, for no reason other than that it seemed fun to hear the sound of my voice. “Back to the bridge.”

    I made quite an entrance, if I do say so myself. It had been centuries since either Archie or Maxie had seen anyone dressed in the clothes of their time – and well, let's be honest: a Tethys uniform isn't exactly flattering. That dress is probably responsible for most of my vanity; seriously, dear reader, I'm not sure I'd ever have discovered how good I look if I hadn't abandoned my uniform.

    “You've changed,” said Maxie, taking off his spectacles and putting them back on again in surprise. “You look. Er.”

    “He means you look good,” said Archie. “I always thought those Magma uniforms were ugly as sin,” he went on, with a sly look at Maxie. “Now blue – aye, there's a colour. That's Aqua colours, that is. One thing we had going for us: clothes produced by an actual designer, instead of a bad draughtsman with a thing about hoods.”

    “They were very practical back when there was still sunlight,” said Maxie, giving him a frosty look. “Protected you from sunburn, shielded your eyes―”

    “Cut off all your peripheral vision, made you look like a right kno―”

    “If you're done fighting, boys?” I asked, and they fell silent. “Thanks.” I stepped closer to them. “We're going the right way for this Cormac place, right?”

    “Yeah,” said Archie. “Northeast of Mt. Chimney. Where those hills were, north of the desert.”

    “OK, whatever. Where do we start looking for ways to undo the making over?”

    There was a long silence.

    “Well?” I asked – and, unexpectedly, Archie burst out laughing.

    “So you're all right, then,” he said. “Glad to see it, lass. I thought you must be something special to have got yourself tangled up in a plan that bold, but it was hard to see what exactly when you were upset.” He held out a hand. “Shall we start with the introductions, before we leap into trying to save the human race? Archie McLeod – loser, ghost, and apparently the Prophet.”

    I might have been taken aback, had my spirit been lower than they were. But I was well rested and ready to roll with any abrupt change of conversation; I took his hand and shook it without batting an eyelid.

    “Avice Amrit dol' Tethys,” I replied. “Former Legal Apprentice and the Founder's dupe.”

    Maxie winced.

    “Really?” he asked.

    “Absolutely,” I answered, coming perilously close to anger and steering myself away at the last moment. “Why are you here, Archie?”

    “I'll tell you in a minute,” he said. “Right now …” He shot a meaningful look at Maxie, who cleared his throat.

    “Er-hem. Avice, if you wouldn't mind – I think you may need these.”

    He handed me a pair of spectacles with smoked-glass lenses, which I turned over in my hands with some confusion.

    “What're these for?”

    “They're called sunglasses, lass,” said Archie. “You've been down there twenty-odd years. What do you think coming up here would do to you?”

    He gestured at the window, and for the first time I saw that the water was no longer blue-black, but green, and that above us …

    I put on the sunglasses.

    “Show me,” I commanded, and Archie grinned. He must have been looking forward to this. It's not everyday you show someone the sky for the very first time.


    “My pleasure,” he said, and twisted a handle.

    You'll laugh at me, dear reader – it really wasn't much, not by today's standards. It wasn't the sun. But as the Museum broke the surface and the sound of rain on metal made its way indoors and the great dizzying grey-white expanse of the sky shot up around us on all sides, flooding in at the window like – like light, real light, a kind that I had never known – as all that happened, I stood, and stared, and drank it in with eyes that ached even through the sunglasses, tender as if they had never before been opened.

    It feels to me now like it was only an instant later that I was out on the upper deck, tasting fresh air for the first time, amazed at how cold and crisp and flavoursome it was in my nose and mouth. I must have physically walked out – indeed, I must have got Maxie to show me the way out, because I didn't know it before then – but I have no memory of it at all. In my mind, all these sensations are mingled in one drawn-out moment of ecstasy: the cold force of raindrops on skin; the teeth of wind dragged knifelike across limbs that know no breeze; the flat alien light of a cloud-grey sky; the chill whistle of moving air and its frost in the lungs when sucked in deep; the smell of salt and oil; the flight of distant birds known only from pictures; and through it all, irresistible even when it seared my deep-weak eyes, that strange bright splotch in the midst of the clouds that some deep, primal instinct told me shrouded the sun.

    I went back in quickly. My eyes hurt; it would take me a long time to adjust. But I had seen the sky, and at that moment any last doubts I had were blown away. You couldn't see the sky and not know that there was something deeply, horribly wrong with my city – with all the cities, rooted down there in the gloom like great blind clams.

    As I sit here and look out, I fall backwards in time: so I sat then, so I looked. The blinds were down but not closed, just like today; the only difference is the sunglasses, and my clothes. And there's the weather too; what was then wet and grey is tonight marbled with sunset.

    This was what I dreamed of then, my eyes on the clouds, and more. This is, dear reader, what I struggled for.

    There isn't always a happy ending. And maybe there won't be one for my present self – who knows what will happen when I get back to Tethys, after all? But there was one for the Avice of two years ago, who dreamed of the sun and got it, and maybe, if we're lucky, there's one for my drowned world as well. Are there fields where you are, dear reader? Are there trees? I don't know how long it will take for the waters to recede. I don't know if I'll live to see it. If I don't – if I am dead when you read this – then please, for my sake, dear reader, go outside and taste the air for both of us. Touch a tree. Listen to the birds.

    That's today, I think. Perfect weather; perfect sunset – and now, a perfect end to the day's work, quitting just before it gets tedious. I'm off to call the ghosts together. We'll sit up there on the deck until the stars are out, and longer. We'll talk, and, perhaps better still, be silent.

    Goodnight, dear reader. Goodnight.
     
  18. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    D'aww.

    Well that sounds pretty as all frell.

    THUNDERBOLT GLARES. Hot damn, do I like that.

    I wonder if Archie and Maxie have any idea how curiously adorable they are when they regress, if only partially, to who they were back in the good old days.

    Archie being eternally 30, in a sense, makes me feel inexplicably old. Very inexplicably, since ffs I didn't stop being 30 that long ago.

    I certainly snickered.

    Archie's a rambler, too, but in a different way from Avice--kudos, again, for pulling off distinct voices among narrators. To me he reads like someone who's maybe more experienced in oral storytelling than in prosewriting, and like someone whose attention span might not be linear or a distance runner by nature. It's easy to imagine him just... there, somewhere in the room, in full-on anecdote-sharing mode. Casually theatrical. Kind of pleasant.

    lets eyes linger on his first initial but continues to not quite say anything on the matter

    snrks aloud
     
  19. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    D'aww indeed. Heartwarming ghost moments all around!

    It's easy to fall into old habits, I guess, when everything is suddenly so strange and the pair of you happen across each other again. It probably helps that they must be quite similar in many ways to how they once were. Archie is eternally -- well, not 30, if you accept Maxie's dates, but 33, which must make Maxie 32 or thereabouts (again, if you accept Maxie's dates), and if the time is as dead as he says, they must feel the same as they did. Sort of. Maybe. I've lost track of what I meant. Experience, memory and time are strange things when you think about them too much, which at this point in the story I probably am. I wonder whether Archie is deliberately trivialising that fight or whether Maxie is embiggening it.

    ... well, that was an off-topic ramble worthy of Avice. Time to move on.

    Thank you! That is exactly what I was going for, and since I've read that passage trying to see if I got it right so many times now that it's ceased to have any kind of meaning for me, I'm glad to hear that it actually worked. Like I said before, I wanted to keep something of his theatricality, and it's good to know the way he writes, and the difference between that and how he speaks (at least in Avice's reporting), has done that.

    Which means, hah, just three or four narrative voices (and three or four separate periods of wondering whether or not they sound properly distinct) to go. Yay!

    It would make sense, wouldn't it? He was there at the end, and all. But that isn't the only criterion for becoming a ghost ...

    I'm glad it was fun to read, because it was so much fun to write. I didn't think I'd enjoy their dialogue as much as I did, but I was wrong there. It was nice to have a chapter devoted mostly to them.

    Thank you for your response, and to everyone for reading! Next time: Cormac's Mourn, birds, and something that is almost but not quite Moby Dick.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2015
  20. Terry93D

    Terry93D Active Member

    It does make me wonder what the criterion for becoming a ghost is. Personally when I heard 'S' my name leaped to Saturn of Team Galactic. The likelihood is minimal that it'll happen... but it lingers within my mind, flitting around the edges.

    I'd imagine that some sort of unfinished business would be part of it - it's practically a prerequisite - or perhaps unfinished business that has a distinct and clear connection to one of the legendary Pokemon (otherwise we'd have lots of unhappy greedy little scheisters wandering around moaning about how they didn't get that one last paycheck).
     

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