Flight of a Protector
I’m ready. Both in my mind and in my baggage. I’m traveling light, carrying only my leather guitar bag, with clothes and supplies stuffed into the side pockets. It may seem strange to carry a guitar on a life-changing expedition, but it’s important to me.
She’s almost ready too. She’s still in her room, packing. I use the word “room” loosely, because it’s really not a room at all. It’s a curtained-off section of my own bedroom. She doesn’t really mind it though. She thinks it’s cool.
Our apartment complex lies on the east end of Vistian town, not too far south of Frontier City(formerly the Battle Frontier). The east side of the town is comprised entirely of tall stone apartment buildings with tiny rooms inside. They were constructed to house as many people as possible in small spaces, to accommodate all of the mainland refugees. It’s not really a bad place to live, just not very comfortable.
She comes out of her room, pink backpack slung across her back. Her hair is in the usual ponytail, long, sleek, and black like mine. She gives me a smile, and her bright green eyes sparkle with excitement. Her name is Ariana, and she’s my little sister. The only part of my past that isn’t being left behind today.
“I’m all packed up.” she says. I smile at her, and stand up from the couch in our tiny living room. I sling my guitar bag onto my back.
“Then let’s go, kiddo.”
I lock the door behind us. The locks in the building are still shiny and new-looking, and click shut easily. This place was built in a hurry, to hold the masses who wanted safety. Many had to be turned away. We were lucky to get what we did, especially without any parents to vouch for us. I was 16, Ariana was only 8. A family who had lost their child in the evacuation took pity on us, and took us in.
When I turned 18, Ariana and I found our own apartment. We were grateful to the people who took us in, but I wanted us to be able to live by ourselves. The place we found was an abandoned apartment in a district called Black Oak. When we moved there, it was a nice enough place. The apartments were small, but liveable. We made do. But problems arose before long.
Not long after its settlement, Vistian Town began seeing a lot of violence in its more slum like, low-budget areas. Alliances were formed, and a few gangs were formed; some of looters, some of wanted criminals, and some of those who could find no other way to support themselves. For a long time it wasn’t anything to worry about. Sure, you frequently heard stories on the news about where the fighting was happening day-to-day, but it was all miles away.
At least, that’s what I thought. But then more and more of our neighbors abandoned their homes, moving to other, safer places on the island. They did so out of fear, as news came of gang violence spreading closer and closer to Black Oak. We stayed, mainly because we wouldn’t be able to afford housing anywhere else besides the slums. I figured that, if gangs spread here, it would be better to already be here than to have to come to them for help at their lowest levels, down in the slum districts.
Despite the news, we were safe for a while. The local police began cracking down harder on any illegal activity outside of the slums. But even that didn’t last forever.
One night around six months ago, I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of gunshots downstairs. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t let fear take me over, but I came pretty close. Ariana was terrified. We just sat in my bed, and I held her close. There were no more gunshots at this point, but we could hear the hoots and laughter of a large number of people; window smashes and car alarms in the street; it sounded like a pack of dog pokemon had been set loose on our building.
Then there were footsteps. Our apartment was near the stairs, so you could usually hear anyone coming up the stairway, through the thin walls. Then there was a knock on the door. We didn’t move. Two more knocks, strong and insistent. Ariana huddled close, shaking. “It’s okay.” I whispered. I slowly stood up.
“Damian, don’t…just please don’t.” I looked back at her. She was clearly scared, but her eyes looked eerily calm. She didn’t want me to go, but who knew what would happen if I didn’t. I heard a voice calling something loudly outside the apartment, but I couldn’t make out what it was. He sounded angry.
I exhaled slowly. “I’ll be right back. I promise. The cops are bound to be on their way.” I gave her a quick hug, and left the room.
Outside the front door was a tall, lanky guy in his mid-twenties. He had tribal tattoos all up and down his arms, on full display through a baggy, sleeveless shirt, and his hair was spiked up and dyed green at the tips. A Houndoor stood at his side, growling with teeth bared. It probably would’ve clawed my door down if I hadn’t opened it. Behind the pair, I saw several other similarly trashy-looking people with Pokemon outside several of the other apartments.
“Hey there.” The guy growled. “How many livin’ in here?” My eves moved downward for a moment, and I noticed a pistol in his hand. He wasn’t aiming it at me, but it seemed presumable that he would be glad to if necessary.
“Just two,” I say, deciding it wouldn’t help anything if I lied. “Me and my little sister. Who are you?”
“Good.” He says, ignoring my question. “Get her out here. Mind if I make myself at home? Of course you don’t.” He pushed me aside with his gun hand, walking into the apartment. “What a dump.” He scoffed, sitting down on the faded yellow couch of our small living room. I stood for a moment, staring at him as his Houndoor trotted after him.
“Well?!” He grunted, as if he had just noticed him. “Go get the chick and bring her out here!”
I tensed, and turned around. She was standing just barely in sight, her head peeking around the corner of the hall. Dammit, I remember thinking. If she had stayed hidden, maybe we could’ve had a chance to escape. I don’t really know what we would have done, it was just a fleeting hope. I certainly couldn’t balme her for trying to see what was going on.
“Ah, there she is now.” He said, sneering. “C’mere.” He said, waving her over with his gun hand.
“It’s fine, Ari.” I said, giving the most genuine smile I could muster. She looked from me to the man, and her eyes widened when she noticed the gun. She walked slowly over to me, and I put an arm around her shoulder. He aimed the gun casually at both of us.
“Okay,” I said, returning my attention to the man. “here she is. Now what do want? What’s going on here?” My voice came out calmly, but more demanding than I had intended, and I hoped he didn’t take that the wrong way. Luckily, he didn’t seem to, as he nodded calmly.
“Okay,” He said. “here’s what’s going down. I’m part of an…organization…known as Cerebrus. My employer, as it were, is in desperate need of a base of operations where he can find himself to be fairly well-protected. This building,” he waved his gun around the room, to indicate the whole apartment complex, before resting it back in our direction. “…is his chosen location.”
“The whole place?” I speak cautiously. “Then what’s going to happen to us?”
The man cackled loudly. “Oh…oh, that’s rich…we’re not going to kill you, if that’s what you mean. Thing is, my boss needs insurance on the place. That insurance…” he grinned widely. “…is you guys. Not you, specifically, but everyone unfortunate enough to live in this shithole building.”
I tensed, and my hand tightened around Ariana’s shoulder. “What does that mean?” I asked, keeping my voice as calm as I could.
The man chuckled. “Basically, you will be permitted to stay here, under the condition that you pay rent directly to my boss. You’ll find it to not be very much more of a bother than whatever you were paying before, but now you’re paying for the privilege of being kept alive. If we catch you trying to escape, we will kill you. If you successfully escape, we’ll start killing one person in this building every day until you are returned to us. And we are already making it clear to the police that, should a rescue attempt be made on the place…” he leaned forward, aiming his gun right at my head. I froze.
“Everyone here dies.” He flicked the gun, mimicking a shot being fired, and sat back on the couch.
“Now tell me,” he said. “Do you understand everything I’ve just said?”
“Yes.” I say curtly. Ariana can only nod, too afraid to speak.
“Good,” he says, standing. “I guess that concludes this meeting. Someone will be up here to give you the details of your payment in the morning, I guess. Have a nice night. C’mon, Rufus.” He walked towards the door, his Houndoor trotting after him.
When he left, I loosened my grip on Ariana, looking down at her. She had started to cry quietly. I hugged her, holding her close, staring at the door through which the man had just left. Everything that we had just been told stormed through my mind like a hurricane. My stomach churned with the fear that I wouldn’t let show. Not to Ariana.
The next months were interesting. Through word of mouth, I learned that the one who had started all of this, the head of “Cerebrus”, was a man named Malakai. Malakai had been second-in-command in another gang somewhere in the slums, but had been kicked out and was still being hunted by the leader of that gang after trying to start an uprising and make himself leader. He had had many supporters in the group who followed him out of there. These were the people who were now imprisoning us all in our own homes.
Some people did try to escape, leaving with the pretense of going out for shopping and then running to the police. What nobody expected, however, was that the police took any such people and handed them right back to Malakai. Reportedly, they had a task force working on a way to rescue us without any unnecessary deaths, and keeping everyone alive was top priority until that point.
Fast forward to about a month ago. After a long time of discussing it with Ariana and making my own mind about it, I made an important decision. Using a proxy server on my computer, I contacted the local government, and offered myself as a mole, in exchange for the complete protection of myself and my sister during the eventual rescue. The representative I talked to was very eager to take me on. There had been two past moles who had failed and been killed. The problem with them was that they were too obvious. Malakai and his men knew that I had a sister to protect, and so we believed that I wouldn’t be suspected.
From there, things began to happen very quickly. I was instructed on what to do, what information to collect, and how to stay discreet. It didn’t take long for me to discover a very useful tidbit of information from a passing gangster. Apparently Malakai, who kept his appearance anonymous even to us, went out to a club in town called The Lucky Spinda every Saturday night. I told this to my correspondent, and a few days later I was given the plan of action.
Malakai would be identified through force, threatening people at the club at gunpoint. This wasn’t something that would normally occur, but they had no other way of identifying Malakai. He would be arrested, or killed if necessary. Word would be sent to the gangsters in the apartments, with video proof. It was assumed that, at this point, the order would be given out by the second-in-command - Lucas, who was the man who visited our apartment on that first night - to start killing the residents. However, by this point we’d already be getting rescued.
My job was simple. Spread the word as widely as possible for everyone in the building to get to the roof as quickly as possible at 7:00 on the chosen Saturday. The plan was for the police to have helicopters stationed on the roof about a minute before, for quick evacuation. Also, the gang made their home in the basement of the complex, so we’d be relatively safer up there.
On the given day, Malakai’s capture went somewhat messily. He shot three cops, and managed to kill one of them, before the police took him down. When word spread, Lucas gave the order, as expected. Ariana and I made it to the roof, safely, along with most of the rest of the tenants of the upper floors. The lower floors were not nearly so lucky. Reportedly, over 50 civilians were gunned down or mutilated to death by Pokemon. Ariana and I were very lucky.
After the military moved in, things ended fairly quickly. The gangsters were outnumbered, and fled. Very few made it out however, and those who did had their faces in wanted posters by the next day. Lucas was reported missing, and presumed dead. After the building had been declared safe once more, some of us moved back in. Most people, however, did not. We only stayed because we had nowhere else to go.
Fast-forward another two weeks, and here we are. I signed myself and Ariana up for the mainland expedition quickly, because I thought it would be best for both of us. We had both begun jumping at our own shadows wherever we went, and I would sometimes wake in the night to the sound of her crying in her sleep. I had started having some pretty extreme nightmares myself. I decided we both needed a fresh start, and Ariana was very enthused at the prospect. Neither of us had any Pokemon, but we were promised poke balls and a brief training in battle once we reached the mainland.
Now, we walk down the last flight of stairs. The place feels very empty now. The walls are still lined with bullet holes and burn marks from the attack, which makes the place feel all more unlivable. It’s not going to be hard to say goodbye to the place.
The walk down to the docks is draped in a solemn silence. I would’ve liked to be able to say something profound about our leaving, but I find myself not wanting to speak anything about it. Ariana stays quiet too, so I guess she feels the same way.
The docks are crowded. Many people are eagar to leave, especially after everything that has happened. Ariana’s eyes widen when she sees the crowd, and she grins. I realize it’s the first time I’ve seen her smile this genuinely in weeks. It makes me smile too.
“Yeah. I don’t know why, but seeing all these people just…” She clenches her fists tightly. “I’m ready. I have a good feeling about this.”
I smile down at her. We make our way to check in at the desk near the boat, and are given our tickets. As we find a place to stand among the waiting trainers, I notice a man, about 20 feet away, watching me. I ignore him at first, but I meet his gaze after a minute when he doesn’t stop.
It takes me a moment to recognize him, but once I do I have to force myself from letting my face contort in horror. I put my arm protectively around Ariana’s shoulder, just like I had on the night when this man and I first met. She doesn’t notice, too preoccupied with admiring the boat.
His hair is different; no longer dyed or spiked, but let hang loose with bangs that stop just above his eyes. He’s dressed nicer, in a polo shirt and black pants. But it’s the same face. The same tribal tattoos on his arms. And the same Houndoor paces just in front of his feet.
Lucas meets my gaze coldly, from behind a pair of small, rectangular glasses. He’s completely transformed himself, but I recognize him. He gives me a sneering, ferocious grin, before turning away. He walks casually towards the boat, the Houndoor trotting obediently at his heels.
I snap out of it to look down at Ariana. “Yeah?”
“What were you looking at? You spaced out for a second.”
“Oh…nothing.” I say, faking a laugh. “I guess I just got lost in thought for a minute.”
“Really, Damian,” she says with a chuckle. “You’re so silly sometimes.”
Shattered Gemstones is (c) Jay petrequin, 2011