Unlike most of my writing, I'm posting parts of this before it is complete.
Chapter 2b: Mirages, concluded.
-2- Mirages, concluded.
The day's newspaper caught Joe's eye with a headline reading, "detectives investigate human, pokemon remains." He sat on the love-seat, and Grace climbed upon its backrest to sit beside him. When Joe finished, he looked around himself and did not see Grace anywhere. Joe called her name a couple times while searching first the living room and then the kitchen before he spotted her through the kitchen's window, standing in the backyard near a survey stake, facing south, and holding something in her hands.
Joe entered the backyard and found her sobbing. The object in her hands was a blade of grass, painted red with dried blood. Joe realized that she had understood the article through his thoughts as he read it, and that she had left at the moment that he concluded that Grace's parent was surely one of the three dead pokemon.
Grace never expected her mother to return for her--she had made absolutely clear that night it was certainly goodbye forever--but Grace had hoped that she had at least succeeded in eluding the poachers, and together they would each go on knowing that the other was going to be okay.
Grace hoped no longer.
Joe crouched before her, placed his thumbs over her shoulders, and wrapped his fingers behind her back, hoping to comfort her, but she fussed and slapped his hands away, her sobs turning into a whining wail.
"Grace, I know that--"
He felt himself being pushed backwards and fell on his butt. Disoriented momentarily, he recovered his stance and attempted to address her again. As he spoke, he reached out to her again. "Grace, I just want--"
She again slapped his hand away with a shriek. Her hands balled into fists and shivered as she looked toward his window. Grace strained and tensed her body. It began to glow faintly, although significantly against the dark of night.
Reaching out yet again into the space that breifly shined, Joe groped at the cool night air for a few seconds before realizing where she disappeared to. He looked toward his window, and saw Grace sitting on the foot of his bed, her limbs tightly gripped against her body, with a bloody blade of grass in her right fist.
"Alright. We'll talk later."
Their fast food ran out just as Mr. Rainier turned right after crossing the western limit of Coumarin City's downtown to pass through the region's up-scale collegiate offering and onto a rural route that lead back to Rennin.
"My son wants to keep that pokemon, but I'm not going to let him put himself in danger for it. If Simon is willing to get his men killed for that thing, then I sure as hell don't want him coming after it inside my own home. My backyard was close enough."
"It's already been registered, so a prospective buyer won't be paying premiums for both O.T. and naming rights. Does it show an emotional or telepathic connection with your boy?"
James huffed. "Yeah, the damn thing is tapping into his thoughts every few hours."
"That's good, then. Once they pick someone to link deeply with, they'll never bond with another trainer the same way. Already, that puts her below the lowest market value that Simon would want to bother with. Get her evolved to her kirlia form, and her stock goes lower than any random ralts egg, except to trappers trying for a shiny collection, and to them, one damaged good is no better than another, so it's not like there would be a bidding war for this one."
"You think we're safe, then?"
In lieu of a reply, Nigel rotated his cane in his palms and looked outside James' car at the faintly-illuminated trees that passed by.
Joe gave his latest acquisition a grand tour of his new home. The torchic felt slightly overwhelmed. This home was larger than Percival's, or at least seemed more spacious, and certainly gave a more relaxing feel than the artificial habitats and clinical chambers of the breeding facility he hatched in.
Joe settled in on the love-seat again. "And, that's everything, except for my room. I'll show you that later. I want to give Grace a little more time alone. I hope you two get along okay."
Joe's torchic cooed and nodded after hopping up onto the couch and settling in beside his new master.
"You act like you can understand what I'm saying pretty good. Did you inherit that speech ability thing after all?"
The torchic chirped twice in a high tone.
"Or, are you just making sounds whenever I stop talking to fool me?"
At that, the torchic scowled slightly at Joe before pecking the back of his right hand and moving to the far end of the sofa.
"Hey, just making sure. Forgive me, and I'll promise to help you get leveled up fast so you can evolve and start talking like Uncle Ulysses said you could."
The torchic leapt across the love-seat, landing in Joe's lap, where he hopped and chirped three times before snuggling in against Joe's left arm while his right arm picked up a remote control and turned on James' television.
Mr. Rainier parked his car near the place that he picked up the retired rear-admiral from a few hours earlier.
Biltmore leaned heavily on his cane while exiting the vehicle. "You'll be fine, unless he decides to make it personal. Just hope that he didn't remember you as well as you remembered him."
"Goodnight, Skipper." James saluted his friend and set sail for home.
Two blocks away, Biltmore paused at a bus stop whose sign was decorated with an origami crane and sat on its bench. A minute later, a well-dressed young man appeared from the far end of the block and sat beside Nigel, silently for an uncomfortable period, before asking the question he was sent to ask.
"Ruined for your purposes. Rainier said that she has been synchronizing with his son often since they met."
"Be glad that you don't have to give him this news."
The young man walked back into the darkness along the sidewalk by which he came. Nigel called out from behind him.
"Hey! This is over, right? James is an old friend of mine; I don't want to see him getting dragged into anything stupid over a tarnished shiny."
Maximilian stopped briefly to reply over his shoulder. "Probably. But, that isn't my decision to make."
A minute later, Nigel saw a black limousine slowly drive across the intersection of the street that he faced and one perpendicular to it. He rose to his feet once again and walked directly to his home.
James scanned his driveway for his neglected newspaper but found none. He walked into his living room to discover his son asleep on the sofa, no longer able to pay due attention to the program that he had tuned the television to, which apparently featured an astronaut and three vividly-colored robots. James turned off the television and awoke his son with a stern question.
"Son; would you care to explain this?"
Joe quickly realized that he had fallen asleep, and that the 'this' in question was the warm ball of downy orange fluff snugged atop his arm and abdomen. He placed his right hand over his torchic as a defensive gesture. "I know. You didn't want me to get Grace and now I've got another one, but he's been really good and Percy said it isn't much harder to keep a second pokemon and it sounded like he was going to be sold off, like those guys who were chasing after Grace were going to do to her."
"Don't let your wish for more responsibility get out of hand. We'll see if it is or isn't much harder, hopefully without the fire department's intervention. Hit your bunk."
The torchic hopped off of Joe's lap, approached James, looked straight up at him, and squawked once before trotting behind Joe as he walked to his room.
James gathered up his scattered folders, binders, and old photographs, and carried them back to his file cabinet, returning them to its always-locked drawer.
Joe opened his bedroom's door slowly and saw that Grace had now moved up to the head of his bed, and was lying on her side, facing the same direction she did when he hid her from the poachers. Joe set his T.D. on his dresser and his torchic on what had been Grace's bed. He whispered to the chick, "you and Grace can get to know each other in the morning. She's very upset right now; she just found out that her mother died a few days ago."
The torchic bowed his head and ruffled his feathers, humming a low call and settling down on the towel-wrapped pillow that he had been placed upon.
Joe changed into night attire and gently slid beneath his covers. Knowing that Grace would sense his thoughts, he tried to fill his mind with whatever ideas of peaceful relaxation and comforting images he could picture before gambling to reach out to her again.
He felt thankful that she responded not by crying out and knocking him back, but rather by pulling his arm around her and coloring his thoughts with her own, accenting them in a strangely complementary way.
The next morning, Joe awoke feeling like throwing his old alarm clock at his new alarm clock, which had alerted him to the sun's first light with a shrill and vaguely rooster-like cry. "It's Sunday. Do you know what that means?"
Joe's torchic cawed softly, trying to communicate that it knew what the word meant, but not why today being a Sunday was significant. Failing that, it continued to nag until Joe rose and, carrying Grace with him, groggily led his pokemon to the kitchen for breakfast.
James was again last to rise. If nothing else, pokemon were good at getting his kid out of bed. He followed the sound of footsteps in the kitchen and found Joe with a box and few bowls in hand.
With the words, "I think we can do better on a day off than that," James decided to upgrade the family breakfast from cereal to sausage and eggs. Once the food began to sizzle, James stepped out to get his Sunday paper, having re-evaluated its potential for carrying useful information after last night's exchange. Crossing the foyer during his return, he heard his son call out, "hey, get away from that burner!"
Passing through the kitchen doorway, James saw Joe's orange ball of fluff flapping its stubby wings while standing on the skillet's handle, and re-iterated the command, "you heard your master, Burner. Get away from that."
The chick reluctantly retreated from the seductive heat source and hopped from counter to island, then island to table, taking a position next to Grace, who wasn't particularly comfortable with his sudden new presence. Part of that was born of jealousy. Her ability to communicate was limited, especially with concepts that were difficult to unambiguously visualize, but every time this Burner clucked, she could feel him eagerly awaiting evolution, and with it, gaining the ability to speak the words that he could now only suggest with tone and inflection applied to chirps and squawks. Another part of that was the simple fact that he ignored her presence, paying attention only to Joe. Not that he would walk into her as though she were not there, but she was unnerved by his singular focus.
Come Sunday's evening, beneath a bridge that crossed a channel leading ultimately southward from Lake Myrcene East toward the sea sat an early-middle-aged man wearing disheveled clothing and a denim jacket, visible at a distance only by the orange star that burned at the end of his cigarette. Between his arms and his chest sat a riolu that struggled to maintain her composure. He spoke to her with a calm, steady tone.
"You've memorized all of the human rules that I taught you, right?"
"And, every one of my rules."
"Yes, Daddy." Her voice cracked slightly.
"Then it's time. Well, after I finish smoking this cigarette and finish hugging you."
"I don't want you to finish hugging me."
"I don't either, but, all good things, Allie. Will you do me a favor?"
"Stop thinking about twenty minutes from now, and just hug me back. If you keep worrying about what's about to happen, you will miss what's happening now. Now is precious, and you only get a little bit of it; never let Now slip into the past untouched."
Alice turned around partially, sitting on his lap side-saddle and twisting to hug her master's torso. Too soon, the cigarette shriveled away, and she was compelled to let go to allow him to rise and begin a short trek northward to the nearest town. Alice continued struggling to maintain her composure. She distracted herself with a bold protest, stiffening her legs and halting the walk of the man whose hand she was holding. "You don't have to give up! I can protect you. I know I'm not lucario yet but I'll practice aura reading day and night so I can at least sense them if they ever get close and we'll just keep moving and never stop like we said we would someday, anyway. They'll have to give up eventually!"
"Allie. They will get me sooner or later, and they won't give up. Even if it's a big, crazy mix-up, you don't kill an undercover officer and walk away after giving a sincere apology." The man knelt and picked up his riolu, carrying her as he walked toward Zein's Pokecenter. "I love you, Allie, and I wish we could make a run of it, too." He stopped walking for a moment, wishing wishes could come true.
The riolu tried to piece together any excuse, but nothing held together long enough for her to utter completely.
"We only have about ten more minutes to be together, so even a few days would seem like being together a thousand times longer, but when time finally runs out, it will feel no less bad then than now, because I'll still be going away, and then you add to it that we failed to elude them. There's no sense in it. Now, let me hear your beautiful voice proving to me that you know the rules so I won't worry about you while I'm locked away."
Alice's beautiful voice became distorted into a tearful whine as Zein Pokecenter came into view and grew nearer and nearer, but to the man who supported her in his arms, its beauty was not at all diminished.
Stepping onto the thick rubber and olefin mat that welcomed the pokecenter's guests, the man hesitated and knelt before setting his riolu down to stand on her own two feet.
"Alice, as I walk through these doors, there is only one thing I regret. I never got to see you evolve." He took each of her paws in his hands. "Promise me that you will do whatever it takes to find the happiness and comfort you deserve."
Alice nodded enthusiastically, but her sniffling nose and tearful eyes betrayed her true emotion.
The man pulled her into one last hug. "No more tears, Allie. You're about to meet the next chapter of your life, and you need to make a good first-impression. What are you going to do after they take me away?"
"Run to Rennin, hide my ball where no one will ever get it, find a safe place to live, make as many friends that I can trust as possible, follow their rules, follow your rules, and make the world a better place."
The man kissed her on the forehead, and with a genuine--albeit forced--smile, took her left paw in his right hand, and together they stepped forward.
Zein Pokecenter's automatic doors glided open with a hiss.
Hearing the doors, an attendant swiftly donned her hat and name-tag, straightened out her uniform, and welcomed her late-night guest, whose eyes looked a little too serious.
"Good evening, sir. Welcome to Zein Po--"
"I want to emancipate my pokemon."
He listened to a standard explanation of the differences between the civil liberties of a human and of a freed pokemon, and how her ball would become the key to maintaining that freedom, since pokemon emancipation was truly little more than a legal loophole. Both he and Alice knew the specifics well beyond what the attendant rattled off, but it was a free refresher for Alice, and it did buy them a couple minutes more together. With each sentence the attendant spoke, he gripped Alice's paw more tightly, and she reciprocated. Soon, her grip's strength exceeded his own and his tolerance, but he did not let the pain show.
Finally, Candice's advisory ended with, "are you absolutely sure that you want to liberate your pokemon?"
"Yes." He placed Alice's ball on the counter.
As the attendant placed Alice's ball inside a hopper, the ball's owner warned her, "don't be surprised by what's about to happen, just free her and everything will be okay."
What he was talking about became clear four seconds later, when the machine finished scanning Alice's ball and flashed an alert on the attendant's display that the owner of the ball was a man, armed and dangerous, wanted for the killing of a police officer.
The attendant stepped back slightly, uncertain what to say, if anything at all.
"I said don't be surprised. I know that the computer calls this sort of thing in automatically and they'll have this place surrounded in a couple minutes. I'm giving up my freedom, and I'm guaranteeing Alice her own." His eyes narrowed a bit and he gestured toward the inside pocket of his jacket. "Do you understand that?"
The attendant nodded and entered a few commands into her terminal. The machine printed and issued an identification card with significantly rounded corners. "It's-s-all done, S-Sir." She placed Alice's ball and I.D. on the counter.
"Hands up, step back and don't move." The man took the ball, popped it open, and stuffed the I.D. and all of his wallet's cash inside, along with a tiny photo of himself and Alice taken at a mall's novelty photo booth. He closed the ball, spun the control ring to a locked position, and after a deep breath, offered it to Alice. "This is the last time I'm going to remind you. Make every Now count. Your first Now begins now."
Alice ran across the pokecenter lobby and out through its automatic doors. She turned north-east and never looked back.
The man ordered Candice and a janitor to give him their keys so he could lock them inside a closet, not admitting that this decision was for their own safety. He then returned to the lobby, placed his pistol on the floor, and dropped the key ring beside it. He removed his jacket and tossed it aside onto the public seating. He stepped back three paces, to the button of the floor's pokeball decoration, and knelt, placing his hands upon his head. Thirty-nine seconds after Alice departed, wailing sirens came within earshot.
Through his closed eyelids he could faintly see the flashing of red and blue lights. Then, he heard a chorus of cruiser doors opening, weapons becoming chambered, a couple pokemon being released, and a gravelly voice being pumped through a megaphone. He ignored it all and patiently waited for the inevitable tackle from an officer who would pin him to the ground, bind his hands, and throw him into a cage. He was too busy dreaming of a world where he and his best friend lucario were living out their grand plan of traveling the entire world, without being pursued by either the law or the lawless.
And, he was not about to let anyone disrupt his dream, for his dream was all that he had left.