Section: YA (Young Adults)
Chapter One: The Hunt
Elizabeth Annika's sneaker stomped into the puddle, hurling muddy droplets everywhere. They coated her soaked jeans and landed on her eyes. Fast, she wiped them away and kept running, not sparing a glance for the lynch mob that screamed their fury and confusion in the dark.
They hunted. They sent ahead the Pokemon, the angry, the obedient, or the plain bloodthirsty. The nice ones, or the strong minded ones who knew better, stayed back in the village. Fear and sadness stuck to every building, every person, every Pokemon. Shame also radiated from a few villagers; they drank their guilt away in seemingly endless bottles of booze.
Elizabeth was unaware of the atmosphere back 'home'. It was no longer a real home to her. Any love she had for her friends was buried under horror and an ice cold block of anger.
Her breath came harder now. Her sneakers dug into the slippery mud as they pushed her uphill. Her hands grabbed the wet grass and leaves as she pulled herself up the last few feet of the hill and onto even ground.
"No! Damn!" She cursed as she tripped. Her face smacked a small boulder on the narrow forest path. Blood dripped from the fresh scratches on her pale face. The moonlight was fading fast as the trees grew thicker. Behind her, she heard the shriek of a Zubat and the pounding of a four footed beast.
In the distance, she could see the fuzzy outline people with flashlights. They were almost at the base of that darned slope. The creature running up the hill was a fierce Arcanine; his eyes were full of insane rage.
She must act. Reaching into a pocket, she pulled out a small violet and black Pokeball. Throwing it ahead of her, a flash of light illuminated the soggy path for a split second. Her Houndoom now stood a few feet in front of her, whining quietly.
"GO Mikal! I'll hold them off--no!" she snapped as Mikal took a few steps towards her. "Go now! They think you're to blame--just go! They won't hurt me, just--"
A shot rang through the air, followed quickly by the short howl of a dog in pain. The shot and the howling rang on and on in Elizabeth's ears. Her brain stopped thinking, stopped processing. The sudden violence froze her in place.
When a hand gently tugged her arm, she broke the trance. Wheeling around, she slapped the man standing beside her. Slowly, the local Pokemart owner's face came into focus, a large red streak on his cheek.
"GO! You worthless [bleepity] [bleep]! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW!? HE didn't kill anyone! I was with him when those Mareep were murdered! It WASN'T HIM YOU ASSES!" She bent down and started grabbing rocks and threw them, with force, at the dozen villagers or so now gathered around her and her dead Houndoom. Many hit their targets, causing several to cry out. Their cries of pain only angered Elizabeth. Her deep, cold rage had started to melt and burn into a frenzy of hate.
They left. When the last villager was gone, Elizabeth collapsed onto the ground, sobbing. Screaming, she crawled her way to Mikal. A surprised look was on his dark, furry face. A small hole leaked drops of blood. It was right where his heart was.
"At least you died quick, you wonderful, wonderful Pokemon," Elizabeth whispered, touching his warm fur. Anger rushed to replace the sorrow. Screaming again, she pounded the ground beside Mikal. Then reverted to sobbing into his fur.
She stayed there, with Mikal, for the entire night. No one from the village came to look for her. When dawn started to show its rays of light, Elizabeth had made up her mind. After burying Mikal, she would leave this "home" of hers and travel far, far away.
When Elizabeth walked into the village, nobody would meet her eye. She entered her small house. It seemed to take seconds to pack everything she would take with her into a couple large duffel bags. Where she would leave to, she didn't know. Her clothes were still covered with mud and she was shaking from hunger, shock and cold.
"Liza..." a gruff voice said. Elizabeth turned, glaring at her open door. The Pokemart owner, Sunny, was standing in the doorway, nervously clutching a hat and looking at the ground.
"What?" she snapped. How dare he? How could he be here? There was nothing she wanted to hear from him.
"More Mareep were killed, early this morning. And a Growlithe puppy. We...I'm sorry. Liza--"
"Goodbye," she replied coldly. At least Mikal's name is cleared, she thought.
"Where ya going?" Sunny asked as Elizabeth pushed past him.
On the ground, an advertisement for Ayray Town apartments lay, tattered and muddy. Ayray Town. The village was far from Ayray town...
"Ayray Town." She could live there, away from this. She could move on, maybe even another Pokemon--no, that was too early. She had to leave though--there was nothing remaining in this village that mattered to her anymore. Even her parents had passed on in that awful crash just a year ago...Mikal had been the only member of her family left to walk the earth.
But it was a place to get away, to start anew, to...
Chapter Two: A Zombie and Her Machine
Large groups of people and their Pokemon passed by Elizabeth, chatting loudly and laughing. It didn't hurt to hear others laughter anymore, but she could not take pleasure in it either. Being out in the sun, on a clear, beautiful day like today no longer caused pain either. It simply depressed her.
Pushing the Pokemon Lab doors open, she allowed the busy noises of Ayray Town to fade away. The cold, bright outside was replaced with a warm, darker atmosphere. Peace filled her ears. She almost smiled.
It had been a little over two weeks since she'd left the village. Her funds allowed for a tiny apartment in one of the middle class areas of town. With surprisingly ease, she'd sold some of her artwork. It had all been motions, all little steps to a general schedule she'd unfeelingly thought of, because she had to do something. She'd felt no joy, no comfort and only spurts of pain this past week. Even her hate had been slowly fading.
It was as if she was numb all over. She smiled and said thank you to the local store owners; forced a laugh at a child's joke; nodded at strangers who passed by in the street, but she barely remembered any of it. It was a nothing world she lived in now. Hardly a dream and deeper than a nightmare. Hours seemed to collapse into mere seconds.
How did this happen? Why am I here? Elizabeth wondered suddenly. She had never meant to care for a Pokemon so much that she'd wish she'd died along with it. A rare coherent thought worked its way through her mind. Was this what her life would be like from now on? If so, why keep going?
Elizabeth started, looking around the bare welcoming room, but spied no one. Perhaps it had been in her head. That thought sent a shiver down her spine. Madness was not comforting to her and lately she'd hear things at night--Mikal's howl or his soft whimper, as if he stood beside her.
"Hello?" she said uncertainly.
"You lost, dearie?"
Elizabeth smiled weakly. Maybe she wasn't insane. Maybe not. She frowned as the woman who'd just spoken to her walked out from a doorway behind the receptionist's desk.
"What is the matter, darlin'?" The lady, short and slightly plump with faded red hair, frowned back at Elizabeth.
Obviously, she thinks I am frowning at her. I guess. She can't know that I'm going mad--or maybe going mad. Or whatever. I need to stop thinking like this Elizabeth thought. She tried to erase the frown, replacing it with some wobbly line that vaguely resembled a smile.
Opening her mouth to speak, Elizabeth froze. Was she lost? Good heavens! Why was she here?
"I was just looking, er, around." Elizabeth flopped her hand around at the room.
"The receptionist is out. You should have rung the bell, sweet-ling. The lab is back here." The lady smiled in a grandmotherly sort of way at Elizabeth. In fact, she actually reminded Elizabeth a bit of her grandmother. That fact strangely comforted her, even though she'd never been close to her grandma.
I don't want another Pokemon! Even the panicked feeling shooting through her was dull. The lab was where they kept their Pokemon, many of which were usually bought or given away. She said nothing though, simply followed the lady past the desk and through the door, which led directly to the lab. It nearly sparkled, it was so clean.
"Huh? I'm Rachel McVick," the lady told Elizabeth as she took in the lab. "That there is Nick Kulask." She pointed at a thin dark man with striking black eyes. He nodded at Elizabeth before returning to his examination of a Pokemon.
Elizabeth stared. She'd never seen such a Pokemon before. True, she'd lived in a small village, but she must have seen a couple hundred Pokemon in her eighteen years of life and glimpsed pictures of even more.
Its body did not take in the light like most Pokemon did, but instead reflected it, as if it were made of metal. Its head was shaped like a small red bullet and was a little larger than Elizabeth's hand. It had a sharp edged red and baby blue rectangular body and a flat tail that slowly flipped back and forth. It looked so comical that Elizabeth burst out laughing, a high pitched, shaky laugh. Even though Rachel and Nick were staring at her in alarm, she couldn't stop.
That was until she locked eyes with it. She would have though it was some kind of toy, except that there was something in its eyes. A kind of life force that can never be duplicated. There was much distance and coldness in its stare, but underneath that glazed expression was a flicker of fire. The fire of life.
"What are those things on it?" Elizabeth heard herself ask, pointing at two angled pieces of metal-looking skin where the Pokemon's legs were supposed to be.
"Those are called prisms; they are its legs," Rachel explained, giving Elizabeth a slightly worried look.
Elizabeth frowned. Surely scientists should know the gender. "Why do you say 'it'?"
Nick stopped peering at the Elizabeth to look down at the Pokemon, surprise etched in his face. "Because it has no gender. It's a new species of Pokemon. Falsus Porygona. The first synthetic Pokemon of its kind. Well," he added. "Not this Porygon. This is the twenty-sixth Porygon that has been successfully made."
"It has no gender, no feelings, no loyalties. It will do as commanded, as par its hardware," Rachel added.
"So, it is a machine," Elizabeth said.
Nick and Rachel traded looks. "Yeeees and no," Rachel said slowly. "It is a machine; however, we had to use matter from real Pokemon to make it. We can't create life force from nothin'. In fact, you've asked the million dollar question." Rachel laughed.
"We don't know if it is a real machine or not," Nick said, frowning at Rachel. "It could have feelings of its own. It may even develop a gender, though having one would be useless biologically, as it cannot reproduce. It's here so we can test it and see if it feels anything."
Porygon swiveled its blunt tipped head around and looked up at Nick.
"Pory," it said in a shrill mechanical voice that made Elizabeth wince.
So, its alive, but dead at the same time. Like me.
"Isn't that what you were here for, doll? Everyone wants to see the Porygon," Rachel asked, raising a pencil thin eyebrow.
"Uhh," Elizabeth stalled. Why was she here? With a deep feeling of shame and horror, she completely and fully realized she did not know why. She couldn't tell these people she didn't know why she was here. They must already think her disturbed beyond reason. Quickly, she cast around for a lie.
"I'm new here and I came by to see if you have any classes coming up next month."
"We stopped offering classes a while ago, sorry," Nick told her.
"Oh, damn. Well, I'll be off then." She said it, but her legs didn't move. Porygon was staring at her again, this time with a hauntingly familiar expression of sadness in its large green eyes.
Something compelled Elizabeth to walk over to it and touch its nose. She started. It was made of metal, but to her surprise, it was not cold, but quite warm.
"We are still finding out about its capabilities. There is a megaton of unconfirmed date flying around the internet. Most of it is by wackos who haven't even seen a Porygon, but some of it is stolen from Silph--the original creators of Porygon. Amazing..."
Elizabeth vaguely heard Nick speaking, as if he were at the end of a distant tunnel. She was lost in Porygon's eyes, which seemed to stare right into her core essence. For a few minutes, she forgot about Mikal and let herself be captured by the Pokemon.
Elizabeth blinked, seeing but not seeing the world around her. Her brain seemed to have slowed to a crawl. Out of a fuzzy mist, she heard the words again, spoken in the clear voice of a determined, bright child.
"You really ought to go home, honey. Get some rest." That voice was loud and strong, spoken in the thick accent of someone from the Johto region. It was Rachel's voice and she was right beside Elizabeth.
"Sure. I'm not feeling well today," Elizabeth whispered, tearing her gaze away from Porygon. Softly, she sighed. She had been let down. For several moments, she'd been in another dimension, a dimension of calm, of sereneness, of understanding. She turned away.
Take me. I can show you a world you can understand.
Frozen in mid-step, her left foot dangling an inch from the floor tiles, Elizabeth began to shake. Oblivious to her surroundings, she turned to look at the Porygon. Trembles began to fill her, making her hands shake like jelly in an ocean earthquake.
Please...do it NOW!
Her insides began two simultaneous activities: a burning sensation filled her from top to bottom while her chest near about burst with a quivering, churning feeling, like she had been filled with highly active worms.
She walked back to the table. The words seemed to still hang in her head. Do it now...
Without regard to Nick and Rachel, Elizabeth's hands darted out and picked up Porygon. She gasped. Its weight was disproportionate to its small size; she nearly dropped it.
Then she began to run. Later, she would wonder why Nick and Rachel had not stopped her; they were right beside her after all. Right now, all that mattered was escaping.
Suddenly, she stopped running. The almost dream-like state she had been in had lifted. She could see, actually see, all her surroundings again and normal feelings and thoughts were rushing back to her. She was outside, on the street, with a cool wind blowing on her face and throwing her hair all around. How did she get here? She was in the lab a second ago and suddenly she was outside holding Porygon.
Porygon. She was in for it this time. Everyone would know she stole Porygon. What's wrong with me? She wondered, beginning to shake. I just stole a Pokemon! She was surprised passersby weren't grabbing her now and demanding to know where she had gotten Porygon. What will I do? She thought.
What you will do is take me to the Gadzet store up the street. Hurry!
This time, she did drop Porygon. It landed with a clatter that Elizabeth was sure would make everyone stop and glare at her. Fear, wonder, shock ran through her. Scrambling to her knees, she picked the Pokemon up again. It didn't even have a scratch on it.
Please. To the Gadzet store. Now! I can't hold them for much longer.
Blood shot from Elizabeth's head to her feet. She swayed for a moment, almost dropping Porygon again. Steady woman! she thought. I can do this. Slowly, she began to walk up the sidewalk, holding tightly onto Porygon. She didn't meet strangers eyes as they hurried past her, carting brightly colored shopping bags or children or both.
They had reached the store. A moment's hesitation and then Elizabeth pushed the door open. Her eyes revealed to her aisles and aisles with rows of odd Pokemon gadgets. Sunlight streamed through the store windows and bounced back on the sleek merchandise. At the back of the store, a counter complete with an frizzy headed clerk stood.
Elizabeth focused on the clerk, looking into his round pimpled face, partially obscured by a computer screen. The aisles of goods seemed to become fuzzy, then streamed out into streaks of color. Suddenly, Elizabeth was standing before the counter, staring at the clerk. Fear began anew in her. How was this happening? What should she do?
"Si--sir," she tried, but her voice failed. The man did not turn to look at her; instead, a glazed expression came over his face and his fingers, which had been tapping the counter absentmindedly, stopped mid-tap.
He is fine. Come behind the counter. Set me beside the internet router.
She obeyed. Porygon rolled its way to the router and stopped beside it, its metal just touching the router. It then turned its eyes on Elizabeth. Once again, she experienced that feeling of calm, but her senses remained. Mixed in with the calm, she felt a touch of sorrow and a burning hunger for life. That made her step back. She hadn't come in contact with that intense attraction to life for what seemed like decades.
If you want, you can come with me. In fact, I ask you to, please. You must trust me. I believe I can do this, but I need your cooperation.
Elizabeth stared at Porygon. A rampage of feelings tore through her, but hovering above it all was that calm.
"What do I have to lose?" she whispered. Tentatively, she reached a hand out and touched Porygon's forehead. "What must I do?"
Just look at me.
She did. She stared into those eyes, admiring how real they were, especially in comparison to how dead the rest of Porygon was. They glinted different shades of green from top to bottom and they snaked into her, touching every bit of her.
Elizabeth gasped, but she couldn't turn away from Porygon. An itch was in her brain, something she couldn't scratch. Her skin seemed to burn, then freeze, then burn again. Her insides felt...nothing. Her breath came out as black wisps of smoke that crawled to Porygon. Through all this she couldn't turn away from the Pokemon. Then it blinked.
Everything was gone.
Chapter Three: The Internet
Something raced by Elizabeth's right eye. She tried to open her other eye, but couldn't. It felt heavy, as if weighed down by bricks. She tried again: now she could do it. Several more things zoomed by. But she couldn't hear them. Everything was strangely silent, more quiet than a grave. It was also white. Stark white. But her eyes didn't water from the brightness. She stood up. The world around her seemed to blue for a moment, then settled. A light heart-ed, empty feeling filled her.
Then something floated directly in front of her vision. It was a rainbow colored macro: 'Welcome to the Internet!'
The Internet? Elizabeth looked around. She was on a white plain that stretched as far as the eye could see. Strings of words and numbers rushed by, some of them yelling rude obscenities at her as they were forced to change course to avoid running her over. At least she could hear now.
She looked at her body. Nothing. But how could she see then? She reached her hands out in front of her, willing herself to see what she knew existed. Two heavily pixelated tan things appeared where her arms should have been.
A roaring sound suddenly reached her. It grew louder and louder. Looking around, she screamed. A huge black train was bearing down on her, only feet away. There was no time to run. Suddenly, the train stopped, mere inches from Elizabeth. Its two upper headlights lights blinked and from somewhere on its gigantic head a black lipped mouth appeared.
"Hello," it said in a friendly, chirpy voice. "I'm Loopy. I am officially known as an Internet Helper. I help internet travelers reach documents, web browsers, special locations and sites and all. How may I help you?"
Bewildered, her heart beating a hundred miles per hour, Elizabeth looked around, as if hoping to see a knight in shining armor offering his help. Of course, nothing of the sort was there. Though a very vulgar website address paused to suggest something that made Elizabeth blush.
This must be what it feels like when you go around the bend, she thought. I don't know why I was upset; madness isn't so bad. This is actually a good place to live if you gotta live. I don't feel so...bad. I feel kinda, sort-of happy.
"There you are! I have been searching all over for you!" It was that determined child's voice again, but stronger. Elizabeth turned to see Porygon racing across the white plain. It stopped just at her feet and looked up, its eyes sparkling.
"Well, if you have an aid, then I'll be off," Loopy chirped and with that, the train vanished.
"Where did it go?" Elizabeth wondered aloud. She didn't know why she asked as she didn't really care.
"Down," Porygon said. Elizabeth glanced at Porygon. "How come you guys have bodies? And what do you mean down? And why are you speaking aloud instead of in my head?"
Porygon opened its blunt beak and laughed. Not the shrill noise made back at the lab, but a soft laugh.
"We have bodies because everyone around us knows what we look like. On the Internet, unless you're really good at disguising yourself, like a Trojan, then you appear as you really are. Except to yourself. You're kind of fuzzy to yourself 'cause you rarely see yourself for what you are.
To answer your third question, I no longer need to use my psychic powers to speak in your mind.
And for the second question...look down." Elizabeth obeyed.
"It's bright and...solid." She stamped her foot experimentally. It was dense as stone. She looked up. The ceiling stretched on and on, as white as the floor.
Porygon laughed. It seemed so much happier than when it had been at the lab. "Only 'cause you are silly enough to think it is. Look!"
Suddenly, they were dropping. Elizabeth screamed as she passed through the floor and onto what seemed to be an endless stream of words and numbers. Codes, smileys, revolving numerals all twirled around her and Porygon as they were swept up an a stream of data. Abruptly, the sensation of falling ended.
"Whew! We got caught on a major highway. That was all World of Warcraft data, mixed with some off shoots of Wikipedia and some vBulletin message boards," Porygon told her.
Elizabeth stared for a long moment at it, then something inside her snapped. She'd been through too much these last two weeks. Far too much to deal with this garbage.
"WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO DO THAT TO ME?" she yelled. Porygon shot backwards, its wheels squeaking on the ground, surprised at the sudden attack.
"What gives you the right to bring me here? To drag me all around the internet? I can't go back; they will want to know what happened to you! You made me steal you! I know you did."
Porygon looked uncomfortable, but also defiant.
"I'm sorry I did not warn you of the fall. I thought you would enjoy it. I forget others do not always enjoy the same things. I did not mean to scare you." Porygon paused a moment, then continued.
"I brought you here because I thought you wanted to come. You said you did. More importantly, after seeing into your mind, I felt you needed to come, to get away from the Real World. We both needed to escape."
There was enough truth in that statement to shut Elizabeth up. She'd raced past the stages of grief like a tornado. Denial, rage--she'd felt plenty of that--, bargaining--well, she knew no bargaining would bring Mikal back, not that hadn't tried late at night. She was an educated girl. She knew she had quickly fallen very deeply into depression, mixed with shock.
Here, with Porygon, she felt better than she had in days. He didn't try and pry into her past; he knew what it felt like to be a walking zombie. Hold it. Why was she calling him a he?
"If we're going to go exploring, we gotta get some things straight. First of all, what gender are you?"
Porygon tilted its head to the side, as if pondering the answer. "I believe I'm a male," it said finally.
"Thought so. Name?"
That took a while. It seemed as if Porygon had to go over every name in his database thrice before he could finally say, "Luke."
"Good. You are Luke, the male Porygon. Where to--actually, one more question. What do I look like to you?" She looked down and saw nothing more than a very fuzzy outline of her old body.
Luke again took his time before answering. "You were very shadowy when you first came here. You looked a bit like your human self--thin, slightly plump around the waist; white skin; curly black hair; gray-blue eyes, but it was all like it was under a strange shadow. Now the shadow has lifted a little."
"Okay. Where to?"
Luke grinned, his metal skin stretching to reveal steel teeth. "Let's explore."
And they did. Elizabeth soon found out that in cyberworld, you could move up, down, left, right, diagonally, any which way you pleased. She also found that there were planes of many different colors, not just white. Everything was as dense as you wanted it to be and time only existed where it was programmed.
There where even locations. They found a miniature of the Amazon rain forest--though as Luke showed Elizabeth, they could easily make the miniature three times the size of the actual Amazon rain forest. Elizabeth could have stayed with the trees, exotic animals and rivers forever, but Luke dragged her away to adventure some more. Everywhere they went, Luke directed, being much more capable than Elizabeth at judging distances on a virtual geometric plane.
She felt so relaxed now, more so than she had in what felt like years. So she spent the time questioning Luke on his experiences of the digital world. He laughed.
"Where do you think Pokemon go once they are in a Pokeball? Myself, I came here."
"Oh look!" Elizabeth cried out. They had been seemingly flying along--which was how you moved in the Internet, since walking would get you nowhere fast--when she'd spotted a vast canyon in the distance. A ton of code ran in twelve lanes of highways between them and the canyon.
Luke stopped, staring nervously at the highways of information. "Where is a crossing guard when you are in distress," he muttered.
"Here sweeties! Jump aboard!" A bone raking cheerful voice bellowed behind them. Both Elizabeth and Luke jumped, nearly flying into the information highways.
It was Loopy, the black train that had nearly ran Elizabeth over earlier. It stood behind them, steam issuing from its pipes.
Elizabeth looked at Luke, but he was already floating up and landing on top of the train. Elizabeth shrugged and followed, except that it took her several minutes more because she overshot the first time and ended up somewhere near what she guessed was the official Pokemon Storage Computer. Luckily, Loopy knew where to find her.
When Loopy asked where they wished to go, it froze in the middle of a giant puff of steam. "Troll Bridge? If you insist!"
"Troll wha--" both Luke and Elizabeth started to ask, but Loopy had already shot off back to the twelve information highways at an astounding speed. Within a few eye blinks, they had flown through the highway, barely avoiding a head-on collision with a semi that was labeled "YouTube Codez".
They were now hovering above a vast canyon. Beautiful rocks in shades of gray, reds and browns stretched far and wide. Small trees and bushes grew from the sides of the dusty canyon and at the very bottom a river flowed. From one side of the canyon to the other was a large bridge painted an appealing mixture of colors.
"Be careful! Bye!" Loopy said and shot off before Elizabeth could so much as open her mouth.
"I wonder what she meant by Troll Bridge," mused Luke. "I see no trolls, though I do see some caves. Look." He rolled along the bumpy ground, stopping just short of the rim of the canyon. He inclined his head at a small opening to a cave, or perhaps a deep crevice, opposite them. Elizabeth shivered.
"I'd be afraid to live there. Let's go over the bridge. Do you see all the colors its painted? I just wanna go there!" And before Luke could stop her, she had raced forward and placed a foot on the bridge. Nothing happened. She put her other foot on the bridge.
Luke carefully followed her, rolling nosily along on the wooden planks, which felt as real as anything.
"You must stop rushing off like a small child!" His voice was stern. Elizabeth merely laughed and broke into a run.
They were halfway across when problems arose. Two large creatures appeared on the bridge, blocking their paths forward and backward.
They looked human, but were oddly distorted. The one in front of them was male and looked like a very polite young man. The one behind them was female and she too looked quite nice and normal, except that she wore a micro mini-mini-mini skirt and a spandex tank top. She smiled sweetly at Elizabeth, while twirling a lock of red hair around her fingers.
"Not lost, are ya?" she asked.
"Er, no. Just exploring," Elizabeth replied, trying not to stare at the girl.
Luke, who wasn't human and wouldn't notice if the whole world went naked, asked the man to please move. The man smiled and began walking forward, allowing Luke and Elizabeth to follow, with the girl bringing up the rear.
"We help protect travelers. 'specially the ones that are meek and stupid looking; they get picked on the worse," the girl spoke again.
A bubble of anger rose through Elizabeth's chest at these words, but she remained silent and kept walking. The bridge was swaying a good bit now and she almost froze every time she looked down. Her mind began to question why she'd even considered touching the bridge. At one of these moments, she bumped into something rather solid. Looking up, she saw it was the man. They were almost at the end of the bridge.
"Er, move?" she said, annoyed. The man just grinned down at her.
"Boobs or you won't exit this bridge," he said.
Elizabeth stared at him. "WHAT?"
He grinned even more and crossed his arms over his chest. "Boobs or no go. Look, she knows." He nodded at his companion. Elizabeth turned around and her mouth fell open. The girl had taken her shirt off and was twirling it around her head, cackling wildly.
"Make me a sammich after you're done," the man added, laughing at his own joke.
"Trolls," said Luke firmly. "Let us do a 360 and depart."
That started them. Both the man and woman nearly fell off the bridge laughing.
"You know why they call the Xbox--" the woman choked out, but Luke had already propelled himself up and away, with Elizabeth holding tightly onto his tail.
"They always fall for that," Luke murmered.
Chapter Four: The Fantastical Safari
They went up and up, following a clear path in the Internet that broke through several planes--or were they all on one huge plane? Elizabeth was confused. Moving in the Internet was strange. There was so much space, so many things whirling past in a blur of colors, so much to do, it was overwhelming. Mind seemed to trump matter here. When they weren't moving, Elizabeth felt almost normal; when they did move, depending on the speed, she either felt a rushing sensation in the pit of her stomach or a relaxed floating feeling. It was amazing.
"I didn't know about the trolls. How many are there?" Elizabeth asked Luke. He turned his head 180 degrees, like a Hoot-Hoot, to look at her. Elizabeth's lips parted as her last meal tried to unsuccessfully evict itself from her stomach. That's not right she thought, unconsciously touching her own neck as Luke stared at her.
"Are your systems functioning correctly?" he asked her.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I'd just snap my neck if I tried to do what you just did."
"Don't then," was his helpful reply.
"Though maybe I could..." An idea was forming in her mind. What could she do in cyberspace? She was free to explore, to turn things upside down. Here it seemed you could do almost anything...
"This isn't Wonderland. I wouldn't try." Luke derailed her train of thought.
She glared at him. "And why not?"
"I transferred your cells to a kind of code. It's complicated. I believe that nobody else has ever transferred a human from real world to the Internet. Your code can be hurt, even if your actual body--well, the flesh and blood doesn't quite exist anymore."
The force that hit Luke and Elizabeth slammed them hard enough to bounce them off the ground and into the wall again. Wall? Gasping, Elizabeth pushed herself up, brushing away her curls. Their errant lack of attention had led them from a series of empty planes and right into a huge wall that towered over them into dark emptiness and stretched lengthwise into white clouds. No longer had they the blurred areas of the Internet, but a vast plain of dirty gray bricks. Gray-silver mist hovered above the bricks, growing thicker the further away from Elizabeth it got.
The wall was so vast it took what little breath she had away. It was a woven tapestry of crimson and emerald flames intertwined with gold. While the flames pulsed with energy, making the colors of the wall fade in and out, it let off no heat.
"Luke! You okay?"
Elizabeth hurried across the floor and scooped Luke up. He'd flipped tail over head and landed on his back. Carefully, she placed him right-side up on the ground.
"Fine. Now what have we here?" Luke inspected the wall, keenly taking it all in, but refusing to touch it. Elizabeth followed his lead, though she dared to lay a hand on a block of flames. It was as solid as Luke, but freezing cold. Hurriedly, she drew her hand away.
"I believe it is called a firewall," Luke said finally. "I've never seen one though. I wonder what it's doing out here, in all this empty Internet space."
"I never use the 'net," Elizabeth whispered. "How do we pass through?"
"I think I can help."
Elizabeth and Luke quickly turned around. The source of the voice was the oddest creature they'd ever seen. It was a swirling vortex of vivid pink gas about three feet in height and width. Ten electric green balls hovered around it, trembling slightly as if they might explode any minute. The freakiest thing was its face though--its jagged green mouth, not unlike a Halloween pumpkin's mouth and its two slitted green eyes. In each eye, the pupil seemed oddly distorted, as if it were spiraled.
It spoke again, in a friendly way, a warm Sinnoh accent to its voice.
"I'm Mr. Jawok. I might be 'o some help here, eh?" It--no, he--floated a few feet across the bricks, stopping just short of them.
Elizabeth opened her mouth, then promptly closed it. Luke too seemed to not know what to make of Mr. Jawok. The silence stretched on ungracefully. Elizabeth began shifting back and forth, becoming more awkward by the second. Luke was seemingly not disturbed in the slightest by the social predicament they were in. He just stared with interest at Mr. Jawok.
"I'm a Spiritomb," Mr. Jawok said unhelpfully, breaking the silence.
"Oh, good. Umm, what do you, er, mean to, uh, do?" The words stumbled out of Elizabeth's mouth before she quite knew what she wanted to say.
Mr. Jawok surveyed the firewall for several moments while licking his lips with a scarlet, forked tongue. Shivers slid down Elizabeth's spine whenever that tongue came out from his mouth. It was one of the few truly negative feelings she'd had since entering the Internet.
"There usually be a backdoor 'round the wall. They need one, see." Mr. Jawok hovered so close to the firewall that his face was nearly pressed flat into it. A sudden, wild thought raced through Elizabeth's mind, like weird thoughts always do when you are stressed. What if Mr. Jawok was sucked right through the firewall, leaving nothing behind but his freaky grin and crazy eyes on the ground?
"Here we go!"
"Wha--stop instantly sir!" Luke cried out. Elizabeth barely had time to register the rare note of anger in her companion's voice when one of Mr. Jawok's green balls clamped itself to her chest. A sudden pulling sensation was all the warning she had before both her and Luke were jerked forward. She screamed as she was yanked towards the firewall, unable to stop. They were about to crash into it, she closed her eyes and braced herself for the impact...and nothing. She opened her eyes and looked around. She, Luke and Mr. Jawok were standing on the opposite side of the firewall, the outline of a glimmering silver door behind them.
"Jus' have 't have good eyes," Mr. Jawok said nonchalantly.
Elizabeth had got her breath and her temper back. But it was Luke who beat her to the punch.
"That was very rude! A warning is standard protocol before doing a procedure like the one you just performed!"
Elizabeth glanced at Luke, raising both eyebrows. She would have used stronger words. Much stronger. Then again, Mr. Jawok had managed to get them to the other side of the firewall. Unexpectedly, it looked just like where they'd come from. Almost. Far in the distance, the peak of a weather vane poked through the cool mist. Frowning, she squinted into the fog. She thought she'd seen something moving.
"--'cross the barrier, didn' I?" Mr. Jawok was saying. Boredom filled his voice, though his eyes glittered dangerously and the orbs circling him were urgently blinking.
"While we are discussing the firewall, I have a question Mr. Jawok: How does it happen that you knew how to get past it?"
"Luke," Elizabeth hissed under her breath. "We're not alone."
But Mr. Jawok drowned her out. "I dun need to answer 't a smart mouthed robot, y' hear? Ya comp-re-hend?" One of his little green balls flew over and tapped smartly on Luke's head.
Without warning, a flood of rage washed into Elizabeth's veins. She hadn't felt this angry since Mikal's death. Her heart picked up speed as her mind filled with a torrent of emotions and thoughts. She hadn't felt so human in weeks.
"Ho--How dare you hit him?" Her voice surprised her. It was cracked by sheer fury.
"I dare qui' easily, girlie." Mr. Jawok's voice was as clear and cold as an icicle. He locked eyes with her, daring her to make a move. Those eyes softly, slowly turned into little spirals, closing in on themselves. The hues in his eyes changed from pale greens to black forests. They reminded her at first of a warm summer day spent on the fresh grass, of laughter and sunlight, then suddenly everything became dark and she was back to that horrible night she spent in the forest, crying on Mikal's body. Tremors took over her body as her mind replayed that scene over and over, Mikal's howls filling her ears...
"Oww!" The yell came not from her, but from Mr. Jawok. Elizabeth looked around, slowly coming to from the hypnotism. She hadn't even realized she'd fallen on her knees. Three beams of light--red, blue and yellow--tightly intertwined with each other were shooting out in spurts from Luke's mouth and striking Mr. Jawok. Enlightenment descended upon her at once.
"What a dirty trick," she croaked, slowly standing up. Her mind still swam with memories, pain and shock.
"Oh really?" Now that Luke had stopped his attack, Mr. Jawok hovered just a few feet away from Elizabeth, his breath coming out ragged and angry. With a snarl, he turned his back to Luke and her. They barely had time to wonder what foul trick he was up to when a booming sound rocked the air. Following it was the most repulsive wind Elizabeth had ever smelled. Rotten eggs, cat piss and wet dog all rolled into one.
Falling to the ground, chocking, her stomach churning as she fought to not throw up, Elizabeth grabbed Luke as an idea forced its way past her pain.
"Elizabeth, what is wrong?" Luke was saying. Of course, he was not affected by the stench.
"Smell. Be fine. I thought you said we, we almost never hurt. Be hurt. I hurt!" She could hardly get the words out.
Luke's eyes widened. "Of course. What an imbecile I have become. He must be a--"
"Trojan horse," a sharp, commanding voice finished the sentence. From out of the fog, a person emerged. Or was it a penguin? First his long black beak, followed by two webbed feet, then his bare scaly legs came into view. Then his thick white shirt, dangling just below his legs. A fine black tuxedo shirt hung loosely off his shoulders. Finally his whole face came into the light. Black and white furry patches, with gleaming blue eyes.
"Penguin!" hissed Mr. Jawok. He turned around and shot over Elizabeth and through the door, leaving her and Luke alone with the new stranger.
"Trojan horses usually gather and spread information, though certain types can cause significant damage if they so chose. That was a Trojan acting as a Pokemon, I'm sure of it. Now, answer me a riddle: why should I not annihilate you right now?" Penguin said this very rapidly.
Elizabeth stared at him, her mouth hanging silently open, her coughing having vanished as soon as Mr. Jawok had fled. She wasn't a stupid girl, per say, but no words could cover her feelings at the moment.
"We're just travelers. Mr.--that is to say, that Spiritomb, he took us here against our will," Luke spoke up.
"I'm Elizabeth, that there is Luke." She had found her voice again--and her old courage. "Who are you? You look a lot like a penguin, but not quite."
Penguin looked at her for several long moments before speaking. He seemed to be trying to decide how much he should tell them. "I am Penguin 2.0. I am the guardian of this firewall and the protector of this whole domain." He waved a huge flipper around. "I am a unique program made to protect unwelcome--" Elizabeth looked down, red faced. "--guests from accessing the Fantastical Safari."
"The Fantastical Safari. Follow me--no, you may not leave." He added when Elizabeth opened her mouth. "Once in, you must stay until you log out, which you cannot do as you never logged in, or until you are released."
Experimentally, Luke tried to focus his mind on sliding through the floor and into another area. Nothing. He tried to push himself up, imagining the floating sensation that meant he could fly. Nothing.
We're trapped here.
Elizabeth started. It was Luke's voice speaking in her mind again. It hummed with anger and something else--worry?--but it was his voice.
We have no choice. We don't know how many friends he may have hidden. Let us follow him, Luke spoke to her again.
So they followed Penguin, walking for what seemed an eternity. Penguin said nothing, just kept waddling along, like a six foot stuffed shirt. They had to hold onto his coat tails because the mist became so thick.
Suddenly, Penguin came to a stop. Luke and Elizabeth stumbled, nearly falling on him. He turned to them, sweeping both of his flippers gracefully out to graze their heads. A sudden jerk on their necks was all the warning they had before their surroundings melted and reemerged as a whole new location.
"Wow," Elizabeth breathed. Luke just stared, slowly blinking. Wow about summed it up.
They were standing on the brink of a valley that stretched onward for as far as the eye could see. A dirt road reached from their feet and down to a grand three story house, complete with a silver weather vane.
Unlike the rest of the Internet, where the landscape seemed to radiate its own light, sunlight streamed down on the valley. Except this sunlight was a two-toned violet and gold, effectively turning their vision purple-gold. The ceiling was shaped like a mellow blue sky with cute little fluffy clouds.
The real breath taker were the things in the valley. A sea of grass and several small buildings dotted the land. A glistening deep blue lake was right in the middle of everything. They could just see pods of Magikarp jumping in and out of the water and glimpses of other finned and webbed things. And sunbathing, walking and racing all over the property were the strangest assortment of creatures they'd ever seen.
Human-animal combinations, Pokemon, freaks and geeky looking things. Cat tailed parrots, ants with bunny ears, bunnies with human faces, shiny robots and some perfectly normal looking animals and Pokemon all loitered around the area. Stupid, cheerful smiles coated their faces, as if they had no cares in the world.
"Why are they so happy?" Elizabeth whispered. Something tugged inside her. Throughout her stay in the Internet, she'd felt almost dreamlike. Moments of happiness, anger and physical pain had shot through her, but overall, she'd felt...complacent. Neither black, nor white, neither steaming, nor freezing. Not the numbness she'd felt in the Real World, but not happy either. Now a familiar note of heaviness began to play in her ears.
"It is paradise. You're lucky. Usually only members may stray on this land."
"I was under the impression we were more like prisoners," Luke said shrewdly.
"I was under the impression you were more like trespassers and wannabe thieves," Penguin replied smoothly. "No worries, just stay here, enjoy yourselves. You aren't in trouble; however, Mr. Jawok will be very...displeased and who were his last two best friends? On the whole, it is best for you to stay here."
"We can handle ourselves. Once we get started, he shall not find us. I can hide Elizabeth and I--"
"Are you a jingleknob? Do you believe you can defend yourself from a Trojan and his friends? Oh yes, he has many friends." The words were harsh, but Penguin's tone remained neutral.
"Enough," Penguin interpreted. He wrapped his flippers around them and sprang forward. They sailed through the air, Elizabeth and Luke stuck to him like glue. Elizabeth dug her head into his side and avoided watching the ground fly by them.
"You look thrilled to have landed," Penguin commented when they set down beside the lake.
"Well," Elizabeth said as she wiped her mouth. "You know what they say: the second greatest thrill known to man is flying--and the first is landing!"
Penguin and a couple of the surrounding creatures chuckled, but Luke roared with laughter. Elizabeth stared at him.
"Make some new friends. Swim, or take a nap in the house. I must go on patrol," Penguin said, suddenly serious. Before Elizabeth or Luke could say anything, he'd vanished.
"Woah. Just like that." Elizabeth snapped her fingers.
"Not concerned at all?" Luke asked, his voice suddenly chilly.
"What's with you?"
"Well, for starters, we're trapped in the epic friggin' Safari land. We don't know who is holding us or why---stop shaking your head!"
"I know. This sucks. But we can't do much right now, can we? Worrying over it isn't going to solve anything. Might as well enjoy the stay."
"I'd listen to your girlie, sonny," a cracked voice said. A knobbly old lady walked up to them. She was hunched over a cane and looked normal except for the sleek black cat tail whipping around her waist.
"I am unsure of what you mean by 'girlie'. I am Luke and this is Elizabeth Annika."
"Rose Anthony. I'm a hucat, or catwoman, so don't bother asking about the tail. If you touch it, you will find my claws."
Luke and Elizabeth shot startled glances at each other. They didn't see any claws, but the old lady seemed perfectly serious.
"This place is alright. Reminds me of my childhood actually. Grew up back when the Internet was barely a few locations connected by some old rich schools. I was a brand new pet project at the time--one of the first online games, complete with stunning graphics in sixteen-bit colors. Well, that's what the jingleknob humans saw anyway." Rose gave Elizabeth a going over, but merely continued.
"We were just discovering all the shite you could do. Staff here is alright, I 'spose. Well come on!" She waved an arthritic hand at a gathering of people standing several feet away. Now that Rose had broken the ice, they ambled on over to the trio.
"'Allo. I'm Wataberry," said the first of the group. Elizabeth and Luke nodded at him, too shocked to say anything. The lighting turned Wataberry a violet-gold, but his wrinkled leather skin seemed pink underneath the light. He was also an elephant. A pink elephant that easily stood three heads taller than Elizabeth.
"Janice," a squeaky little voice introduced herself. It took Elizabeth a few minutes before she found the source of the voice. At her feet was a small striped raccoon. Across her two black eyes, the raccoon had a pair of platinum red glasses.
"Aren't my glasses cool?" Janice spoke again, standing up on her two back feet while resting her front paws on Elizabeth's legs. "I stole them from a drunk girl ages ago."
"They are pretty," Elizabeth conceded.
A Gardevoir was the last of the trio that had come to stand beside Rose. "Methought it 'twas dishonor in its corest form to steal thine glasses. I shan’t quarrel--" the Gardevoir raised his green hands in defense as Janice glared at him. "My name, thine ought to know, is Perry."
"Ooookay Perry. Nice to meet you," Elizabeth said.
"Nay! It 'tis on my honor to meet a damsel liketh you and yonder fine companion."
"Er, great. Umm, well, I think I'll go sit down. If y’all wanna join me..."
They all nodded approval and followed Elizabeth to the edge of the lake, Luke backing them all up with a sullen expression.
It wasn't long before they were all friends, roaring with laughter and playing silly games like Tag and Hide 'n Seek with each other. They even got Elizabeth to swim with them in the lake, racing the Magikarp and laughing as the fish performed amazing acrobatic feats. The water feels great. It even tastes good--sweet and tangy. Wish Luke would jump in, Elizabeth thought as she swam under two Magikarp taking turns jumping out of the water in a great arc. Luke had firmly planted himself on the shore beside Rose and Wataberry, a perpetual frown on his face.
"See? Why would you even want to leave?! This is good for you," Rose called as Elizabeth, Janice and Perry splashed onto the shore. She was laying on her back under a palm tree, her tail lazily flicking back and forth.
"Good?" Elizabeth coughed, expelling water from her lungs.
"Good! Laughter is good. It's like jogging for the soul."
Luke made a noise that could have been a poorly disguised snort.
"Luke-y! What's the problem? I feel flee--I mean, free!" Elizabeth laughed, giddy as a drunk parrot.
"You are an idiot," was his cold reply. That stopped her insane giggles.
"Luke! Ruuuude! With a capital R baby. Er, no! I mean, I want to say, uh, its a bit hard to think." Elizabeth laughed. "I mean, this isn't like you. Your personality--er, I'm not too sure about your personality. But anyway, this ain't like ya."
"Not sure, huh? Well I am fairly certain you are acting in the most strange and stupid manner I have ever seen. We are trapped and you are flopping around like a dingleberry!"
"Why be worried? I like this place. I feel good. You would too if you'd stop being such a dummy."
"Me? Me the dummy?"
"I say Jack, I smell trouble in paradise," a voice drawled from just above them.
All heads turned up simultaneously. A mask--no, two theater masks hovered above the group, floating just under one of the palm tree's limbs. One mask was a bloody red and the other a pitch black. They were connected to each other by a cloud of swirling, curly gray smoke. The red mask had slitted evil openings for eyes and a sneering mouth turned up in a grin.
The black mask had a narrow mouth turned down in the most woeful looking expression Elizabeth had ever seen. Its eye openings were wide and circular, as if it had been shocked and then frozen in time in just that expression. Like the red mask, instead of having actual eyes, it had that same gray smoke behind the eyes.
"You're not supposed to be here, little maggots," Rose growled. Shakily, she stood, and pointed her cane at the two newcomers. "Come a little closer and I'll whip you with this!"
Both masks started laughing. The red one in a light, cool voice. The black mask in a deep, sorrowful tone.
"Who are you?" Luke asked, narrowing his eyes.
"I am Calvin," the red mask replied calmly. "The quiet little buddy beside me is Jack."
"I thought Dr. Horatio was keeping you two in the sick house for observation." That came from Janice.
Both masks started laughing, their voices twisting together to form a haunting melody.
"My poor, naive raccoon! They just threw us out of your little safari. Of course they told you we were mental and in need of help. After all, only a mad person would say such awful [i]lies[/i/]."
"Horatio is a real doctor and you need help--" Janice started, but Rose interrupted.
"What you need is a good kick in the ass. Being so very nasty to people who are enjoying life in a quiet, out of the way spot. Trolls is what you are!" Rose shook her cane at Calvin and Jack. Her eyes, a tired looking shade of orange, had turned into cat-like slits and tiny fangs began to protrude over her lips.
"Oh shut it, granny! You couldn't hit a Pidgey that had two broken wings!" Calvin snapped. "And I'm not denying Horatio is a real doctor. I know for a fact he is taking care of an ill computer at this very moment that has come down with a Freudian virus."
"A what?" asked Elizabeth and Wataberry at the same time.
"Freudian virus," said Calvin and Luke at the same time. Calvin's grin spread wickedly as he looked down on Luke.
"You explain it then," Calvin said, his voice taking on a false sweetness.
"It is a virus based on the Freudian concept. Basically, the computer is trying to mate with its motherboard."
"Urgh!" said Elizabeth and Janice.
"Atrocious!" cried Perry.
"Indeed," growled Calvin, his voice overflowing with relish. Jack let loose a deep, somber chuckle.
"Well, perhaps its not too late for these two new guests to depart," Calvin inclined his head at Elizabeth and Luke.
"Don't listen to them!" snapped Rose, finally having to sit back down on the grass.
"Shut up, stupid old bleepin' cuddy!" snarled Calvin. Even though it was Calvin speaking, it was Jack whose eyes seemed to temporarily burst with gray flames.
"Don't speak to her like that!" snapped Elizabeth, standing up. Promptly, she lost balance and fell on her back, laughing.
"You've already drank lake water. Your, er, friend here?" Calvin looked questioning at Luke.
"Luke," he replied, his eyes flicking between Calvin/Jack and Elizabeth.
"Luke, okaaay. You haven't had any water--don't even think of touching the liquid. It's poisoned so you dimwits will have a deep desire to stay in the Safari. It will make you feel like you're floating on the fluffy 'lil clouds. After a week of drinking it, your memory will fade. You will barely remember, let alone question when some of the old faces around here vanish for a while. Some come back; some don't. Your friend there is soaked with whatever they put in the water. I'd leave her and run while you can."
"Tauroshite! It's perfectly fine here. You are just jealous because you can't stay here--because you are sick trolls," Janice hissed at them. She put a black paw to her face and pushed her glasses up so she could more easily glare at Calvin.
"Why would I lie to you? I am not a friggin' troll and I do not gain from you finding common sense and getting while the getting's good."
"How do you suggest they--we do that?" Luke asked.
"Well, first you find a yellow brick road. Then you follow that road until you meet a man. Ask that man for a brain. Presto!" It wasn't Calvin who spoke this time, but Jack. Calvin looked shocked.
"Oh my! The end is near! Jack actually made a funny! Bury me with a red rose in a casket of velvet on a calm stream!" Calvin yelled. Jack laughed again, that sad, pathetic laugh.
"Hey!" Penguin had suddenly appeared out of thin air under the two masks. His fluffy cheeks were burning the pale pink of rage.
"Adios amigos!" Calvin and Jack began to twirl rapidly, expanding their little wisps of smoke into a huge cloud that obscured everything. By the time the smoke cleared, they were gone. Like they never existed.
"Those scoundrels. They must have escaped the hospital," Penguin muttered.
"What hospital?" Luke inquired.
"The sick house. It is a small house we keep those who have been infected by viruses and the like. We do are best to help them and contain them so they don't spread their nasties around."
"May I see it?" Luke said politely.
Penguin glanced at him. "Why would you want to see it?"
Luke merely swished his tail back and forth. After a few minutes, Penguin replied.
"No, I don't want you catching anything."
"We could have caught something from those two--Calvin and Jack already," Luke argued.
"Could have, but doubtful. Why chance catching something else? Look, I'm going to make sure they have left the premises. I'd have some more fun in the lake if I was you, before the sun goes down completely." Penguin waved a flipper goodbye before he too vanished.
The sun was going down. The violet-gold sunlight was being replaced with a mixture of deep violet and navy blue moonlight. The sky showed just the edge of the sun behind a cloud far off in the horizon and in its place a silver moon rising.
"Let's take a walk, Elizabeth," Luke spoke up. He rolled over to her and nudged her until she struggled up.
"Okay, okay. I'm coming. See you guys soon." They said their goodbyes as Luke began to roll north, past the lake and house. They had gone well past the fellow Safari goers--so far that the lake had become a distant spot of glimmering water, before Luke began to speak.
"Look at the moon," was all he said. Elizabeth did look. It was an astounding moon. A kind of pearly white, so bright against the dark sky that it looked like a flashlight peering down on them.
"It's cool. Luke, I think we should stay here. At the Safari." She cut straight to the point.
Several moments passed in silence. "I thought you would say that," Luke said finally.
"I think it is a terrible idea. I have been trying to propel myself out of this domain and am unable to do so. I haven't seen any cracks in this fortress of a plain. I feel very...tight. Constricted and unhappy...Elizabeth, I want to go."
"Why? What is it with you and being stuck here? It makes sense we can't leave right now. You aren't trapped, not as much as you think so."
"Really? Do you have any idea how it feels to be a captive? Have you ever found yourself suddenly existing in this world, with barely any time to grow and right away being dragged to a cold, clean lab? They would catch you if you try to run away on your own and all the time you must endure their constant observation, except for when you are thrust away in a Pokeball." Bitterness dripped from his words.
"It's nothing like that. Luke..." Elizabeth's voice was shocked.
"Oh please! You could escape from that village of yours. You have never been trapped!"
An arrow of pain cleanly shot through her elated feelings and buried itself in her heart.
"I don't want to talk about that Luke," she whispered.
"Oh really? When shall you talk about it then?" His voice bordered on mocking.
"Never! What is done is done."
Luke stopped rolling through the tall reeds and looked into Elizabeth's eyes.
"You think that it is over? You think if you shut that memory away into a little prison in your mind and throw away the key, then it will stay there? Dormant until the day you die, never causing you any problems? Are you that daft?"
"Shut it," hissed Elizabeth. "Just, just let it go."
"It's easier, isn't it?" Luke goaded. "To just drink that water, to become oblivious to your surroundings, to not have a care in the world while you put your life in danger. But you're happy you say. Happy as a lark. Why bother doing anything remotely worthwhile with your life? Why bother caring for your friends? Hell, you don't even care about yourself!"
"You bast--you, you imbecile," Elizabeth barely got the words out. "Don't talk about what you don't understand! You're a machine! You don't have feelings, you don't have any kind of a personality other than dry old cardboard!"
Luke did nothing for several moments. For a second, Elizabeth thought he might attack her. His eyes were glowing a dangerous green.
"I have feelings. You know better. I--" his voice cracked for a second, but he continued. "I don't know if I have a real personality. I honestly don't. Sometimes I feel like a little robot. I don't know if I am a kind, serious guy, or if I take things head on, or go at them sideways. I don't know what makes a good personality, I don't know how good of a one I have.
But you...you're feisty. Curious. Wild. Sad. I know you are. Think of him, think of Mikal..." He stared into her eyes and not for the first time did she feel like he was reaching inside of her and poking around her brain with a stick.
Memories. She was ten. The Pokemon Lab had found an abandoned puppy. It was warm and fuzzy, covered in black fur. It had the most sparkling blue eyes. It was nuzzling itself against her jacket, its tiny pink nose cold against her skin. Warmth spread out from her heart to the rest of her body, filling her with a comforting love.
She was eighteen at a Thunder 'Mon concert. Her boyfriend and her were laying on an old beach towel, drinking from two cola cans. They were laughing and rocking to the music. A flash of her glittering cherry red lipstick on the soda can. He was leaning in for a kiss...they were both rolling on the ground laughing. Mikal had shoved his furry snout between the two of them and was howling along to the music.
Now she was back in the forest, two weeks ago. The air was chilly, the ground muddy. She was panicked and yelling. The ringing of a gunshot. She was kneeling beside Mikal, her hands covered in his blood, tears streaming down her face. She was burying her hands in his warm fur; shrieking her fury when his fur became colder and colder.
"I HATE YOU! You cold, worthless excuse for a Pokemon! STOP IT!" It was present time now. She was laying on the grass beside Luke.
"I hope you don't hate me. You hate your old friends, your old neighbors. Those that betrayed you in a moment of extreme stupidity and fear. I saw your mind. You were thinking of attacking them, weren't you?"
"Drop dead! No, I wasn't."
"Yes, you were! Why did I feel an incredible, if erratic volcano of rage inside you? Why did I feel the growing depression and despair in you? You only paid for another week of rent..."
"I...I...what's the point?" she whispered.
"I don't know. Good memories, friends, love. Faith. Mikal would want you to keep going on, wouldn't he? He loved you."
"He...no. It's not fair. He, we...he was so wonderful. I LOVED HIM! I do love him. He was a symbol of everything that I had left!" She began to sob, burying her face in the ground, whilst pounding it with her fists. She kept it up for a good time, all happy feelings she'd had erased without a trace.
Time passed. Elizabeth did not know how long. A year may have come and gone and she would not know.
"Liza?" It was Luke.
"Don't call me that," she rasped. She forced herself to sit up, shoving her right palm into the ground for support. "The--they used to call me that."
"Why don't you say their names?" Luke demanded. "Sunny, the Pokemart owner. Ginger, your best girlfriend for who knows how long. Alice, your favorite librarian. George--"
"SHUT UP!" Elizabeth roared. "What gives you the, the right? To do this. To pry into my life, to talk to me about things you have no idea--"
"But I do have of an idea of these things, don't I? As for the right...I don't really know. I have been trapped from my birth to just a short while ago. I began to look for a way out, I began to explore all the human minds I came into contact to. It became a habit. I learned so much of others experiences, fears, beliefs, anxieties, love..." He paused a moment. "Elizabeth, sweetie, I think the only way you can allow yourself to truly be happy is to forgive your old friends."
"They aren't my friends," Elizabeth said automatically. Then her brain caught up with her. "What? Er, no? I know what they say, forgive and yada yada. But it's soooo easy to say that, isn't it? Why don't you forgive them?"
"They were scared," Luke said, ignoring her question. "And so angry. Their own Pokemon were being killed. They were not thinking. Now they have not only lost their Pokemon friends, but also a human friend. And the human friend they lost by their own doing--by murdering her best friend! I know you can't feel pity for them, but I can and do."
"Good for you. Pity 'em. Forgiveness may come, I dunno, but it is too much to talk about now, so shut it--please."
"What better time to converse? What--"
"WHY haven't they come looking for me then? Ginger, I would have expected her to come looking for me, at least. They made the error. If they really loved me, why haven't they come?!"
"Perhaps she is dead."
Elizabeth took a step back. "No! She's not."
"How are you so sure?" Luke asked shrewdly. "She wasn't part of the hunting party that got Mikal, I know that from you. But her Meowth and its kittens were killed. She was pretty depressed herself. Or, and perhaps this is the more logical conclusion," he added when Elizabeth's eyes began to tear up again. "They cannot find you. Ayray Town is more like a small, bustling city. They have no idea where to find you. You aren't living in those apartments Sunny saw advertised in the paper and that is their only lead."
"Maybe." Elizabeth was a little taken aback. She was frowning, as if deep in thought.
"You still care for her. Admit it. Your problems are twofold: you are dipping between hate and depression and you are also in need of fun and friends. You've recently had a taste of the latter, but you can't really enjoy it letting go of the former. Forgiveness dissolves the ties of hate between you and your pain. I learned that from seeing the minds of other humans."
"I, I...maybe." Elizabeth ran a hand through her curly hair. "I miss him, so much," she whispered. " And...I do love Ginger. And Sunny. And Alice. And the rest...most of them, anyway." Tears slid down her cheeks.
Luke rolled over to her, lifting his head so his nose just touched hers. She wrapped her hands around his warm metal body and closed her eyes. They stayed like that as the moon kept rising and rising, until the distant sound of screaming disturbed them.
"They are yelling back at the Safari house," Elizabeth said, her voice rough. She wiped her face, removing the last of the tears and stood up.
"Uh...yes. I do, actually. Not so sad, so confused."
"Great. Now, do you still want to live here?" Luke asked.
Elizabeth looked startled. "No. I mean, I don't think so. It's a great place, but something is not quite right. I felt so weird after going into the lake and I can only kinda-sorta remember what happened right after I got out of the lake. Good, but addled."
"They are doing something with the residents here. I don't know what, but it is not to the resident's benefit or ours. We need to find a way to leave, as soon as we can."
The screaming continued, louder than before. "Sure. Let's go back. Maybe we can find a way through that wall, or something."
"Alright," said Luke. Elizabeth bent down and picked him up before starting their journey back.
Chapter Five: Escape From the Fantastical Safari
It had seemed to take forever to get out to their patch of grass, but no time at all to come within sight of the lake. The yelling had abated and as they trumped over to it, they could see only a handful of people around it, lounging or napping beside its sandy edges.
"Luke, why didn't you just blast away those people who captured you? Those lab workers, Rachel and er--"
"Nick," Luke supplied. "And then what? After I blasted them, I mean. Teleporting around the 'net isn't too hard, but doing it in Real Life is difficult. It's not one of my best skills. I can't run very fast and surely someone would catch up with me. Then I saw you..."
"Why me? Why not pick someone else, so you could leave sooner. It seems to me that if you really wanted to go, you'd be gone."
"I'm not some fabled creature of old, Elizabeth. I had to think things out, try and figure the best way to run. And how do you think I knew you were the right one to talk to? I took a chance. how many others would have run, screeching their heads off after I'd talked to them? Or fainted? Or simply walked away, silently promising themselves that it was time and past to take a vacation?"
"Hmm. How do we get the others to listen to us? 'cause there is something in the water. I dunno what. Makes you feel kind of giddy and thoughtless," Elizabeth said. She pulled up short of a tree near the lake.
"It's cold out." Luke shivered slightly. The air had felt temperate just an hour ago. Now a slight chill was descending on them and a wind blew through the branches of the tree. "Eh, I don't know if we can make the locals listen. Calvin and Jack tried, but the others weren't listening."
"Cal and Jake? Weren't they the masks?" Elizabeth rubbed her forehead, thinking. "They weren't real polite, were they? I can't remember. Look, Cal--Calvin and Jake, or Jack or whatever, know a way out. Maybe they can help."
"How? Aha! I have an idea!" A light bulb appeared over Luke's head. Elizabeth stared. "Hmm? Oh, the bulb. Sometimes the Internet is comical. Anyway, let's try and call them. CALVIN! Jack!" Luke began to yell.
"Er, Calvin? Jaaack?" Elizabeth joined in, keeping her voice low in case Penguin was nearby.
"You called, darlins'?" It was Calvin's drawling voice. He and Jack had appeared just in front of Elizabeth and Luke.
"Er, yes. We want to leave," Elizabeth spoke up.
"And we'd like to know...can you release any prisoners in that 'hospital' Penguin spoke of?"
Calvin hooted with laughter as Jack said in his somber voice: "Yes, I think we can. What do we receive in return?"
Luke looked startled. "Er, well, what would you like?"
"Wouldn't breaking these lambs out of this place be good enough? And seeing the look on Penguin's face..." Elizabeth smiled uncertainly.
It was Jack's turn to laugh. Calvin grinned, leering at her from the darkness. "That's a cute little attempt at persuading us. We'll do it, but you two owe us a favor, agreed?"
Luke nodded his agreement at once; Elizabeth opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Deal with the devil, that is what this is, she thought. Luke looked up at her, awaiting a reply.
"Yeah, sure," she said finally. Laughing, Calvin and Jack rose higher in the air and then burst into orange-blue flames. A second later they were gone, leaving a smoke imprint of their faces behind.
"Okay, We wait," Luke said. Elizabeth leaned against the tree and then slid down so her knees were eye level.
"Once they are here, we can get them to talk to the other Safari residents. Maybe. Once that is done, perhaps Calvin and Jack can help us get away. We might be able to find a way through that firewall," Luke said.
"You really think the 'hospital' patients can bring them around?" Elizabeth asked. "And why were they dragged away to a fake hospital?"
"We're find out. Maybe they knew too much of whatever the heck is going on. And I'm sure the ex-Safari goers will help. The lake water is penetrable, given time and the words of a friend. We will probably have to wait a while--"
But the sound of a dozen or so pops drowned out Luke's words. Standing all around them were a dozen creatures. Some of them Pokemon, some of them human and a couple cross-breeds. All looked relatively healthy, though some sported bruises and bandages. Calvin and Jack hovered above the gathering, looking far too happy.
"This is it?" Elizabeth asked, pushing herself up.
"Yep! Well, the others weren't in the best shape, so we just sent them out into the Internet. Now, let us go!" Calvin raised his voice. Luke and Elizabeth suddenly began to glow a faint red color and then with one large pop they vanished. They reappeared a second later in front of the doors to the large house just off from the lake.
"Wow," Elizabeth said, clutching her stomach with the hand not supporting Luke. It felt like she'd left her insides back at the tree.
"Takes some time to get used to, darlin'," Calvin said lightly. "Now," he turned to look at the rescued 'patients'. "You know what to do. Go in and rumble a bit. You two," he turned back to stare at Elizabeth and Luke. "You guys will have to take care 'o Penguin."
"What happened to everyone? Why were you taken away from the Safari?" Elizabeth inquired, staring at the newcomers. Silence was her answer for several seconds before a female Kangaskan answered.
"Some of us wanted to leave. Most of us though were taken for experiments. They--Penguin and his helpers--tested virus and anti-viruses on us. They'd leave some of us surrounded by a firewall and watch as we tried 't break out. They'd then sell those products to people who wanted the best protection."
"Oh," breathed Elizabeth.
The Kangaskhan wasn't done yet. "Sometimes they'd leave us with that Mr. Jawok. That was their payment to him for bringing them new travelers. He lives off of others emotions--fear, anger, happiness." She stomped her huge feet angrily on the ground.
"Filthy leech," someone muttered.
"Indeed," said Calvin lightly. "Now that we are all caught up, let us get a move on."
"Where will you guys be?" Luke asked.
"Calvin and I shall wait outside until everyone is suitable distracted. Penguin should see as little of us as possible. Then we will transport everyone--assuming they are willing to go," Jack replied.
"Some won't," the Kangaskhan spoke up. "Selena," she jerked her head at a Meowth running down the hill to the lake. "Has gone to speak to the Magikarp and the other lake-dwellers, but I don't think their a coming."
"Time," Calvin and Jack said together in eerie unison. They vanished as the house's door opened up. Penguin stood silhouetted in the doorway.
Before Penguin could say a word, Luke hit him with his tri-colored beams of light. They slammed into Penguin's stomach, knocking him backwards into a large hallway. At the end of the hall, a door was open, admitting a path of light and noise into the path. That had to be the main room.
"Let us handle him," said Elizabeth, setting Luke down beside her. The others nodded and rushed down the hall, not bothering to avoid stepping on Penguin as they ran.
Penguin struggled up as the last person nearly flew over him, their foot kicking his now bloody beak.
"WHAT IS THIS!" he roared. Elizabeth resisted the urge to flat out run. Blood was dripping over Penguin's face and his eyes were wide with fury.
We can't fight him here, it is too small a space, that was Luke speaking in her mind. Go outside, I'll drag him out.
She obeyed. Now she stood at the edge of the slight hill that the Safari house stood on. Directly below them was the lake, where Selena sat, talking to a large pod of Magikarp and other water beings.
Where can we go? Elizabeth thought. If Penguin called some of his cronies to help, then they'd be trapped near the house. Would the Safari residents be willing to help them? Or would they be so drunk with lake water that they'd aid Penguin and his friends?
Elizabeth heeded the advice and ducked. As she went down, she felt a light breeze ruffle her hair, as if something had swung right where her head would have been. She tried to turn and get up at the same time and fell. Her hands tried to grab grass as she tumbled and rolled down the hill.
When she finally got to the bottom of the hill, she scrambled up, bruised but otherwise unharmed. What she saw did not comfort her. Luke was racing down the hill, nearly flipping over three times as he hit small rocks hidden in the grass. Just behind him was Penguin, a heavy stick awkwardly clenched in his right flipper. It was like a wacky game of Hit-the-Mole. Every time Penguin tried to smack the little Pokemon, Luke would dodge.
"Run!" Luke didn't bother to mind speak as he zipped towards Elizabeth. She started to turn to run, but stopped. Waiting until Luke was in arms reach, she swiftly bent down, scooped him up and then took off as fast as she possibly could.
"Where to?" she panted as they ran past the lake.
"We could fight him here. I'm up to it," Luke replied. He peered around Elizabeth's elbow and quickly withdrew his head. "We may have to, he's maybe two yards behind us."
"I can keep going if we have to--oh! I have an idea. Just past where we were earlier? In all that long grass? Just past that I saw the ground go down in a pretty steep drop. I don't know how steep or where it goes, but if we could get Penguin---WOAH!"
She slammed her feet into the grass and dirt, slid and crashed into the ground. Luke fell out from her arms and landed beside her. Penguin had finally calmed down enough to remember that he at least had permission to teleport in this domain and had done so, appearing right in front of Elizabeth.
"So, you have decided to attack us, eh?" he growled. In a flash, he'd risen his stick and struck. Elizabeth screamed, clutching the deep gash on her cheek.
"No!" snarled Luke. Glittering gold light filled his mouth and within a few seconds a ball of pulsating gold colored energy burst out from him and struck Penguin's stomach. Little lightnings played all over Penguin as his limbs jerked about strangely. The attack didn't paralyze him though; within a few moments, he was standing still again, though panting as if out of breath.
"Rakyr! Alexander! Gareth! Zerry! Sandra! I need you!" Penguin yelled. Luke and Elizabeth froze, looking around them. Nobody appeared, but Penguin did not appear worried. Instead, he hurled his stick at Elizabeth, who ducked, while lashing out with one of his huge feet at Luke.
He made contact with Luke--who was knocked backwards a couple feet whilst Penguin let out a yelp of pain. He had misjudged Luke just as Elizabeth had upon her first meeting in the lab. He'd thought Luke was lighter and less sturdy than what he really was. Now he hopped comically on one foot, hissing in pain.
Luke flipped himself up and took aim, his green eyes turning the delicate shade of sunburned grass. He opened his mouth and slowly sent out a thin beam of white light. It struck Penguin in his left eye, then quickly switched to the right eye and back again. By the time Luke finished his attack, Penguin had fallen to the ground, a dazed expression on his face. When he tried to stand up, he fell again.
"I confused him," hissed Luke. "We will have to find something else to do--something is weighing down my powers. I am having to focus so much energy to do simple attacks, it's not right! You--"
But Elizabeth had already stood, a rock the size of Luke's head in her hands. She walked swiftly to Penguin and with one fast strike, she hit him on the side of his head. He groaned deep in his throat and closed his eyes.
"He's not knocked out, I don't think. I don't know if I hit him in the right place to knock him out. Or hard enough. But he's certainly not going to move for a while," Elizabeth said, peering curiously at Penguin.
At that moment, a fat, wet drop of water fell on her. Within a few seconds, rain was pouring down from the sky. Clouds had appeared as if from nowhere.
"That's fine! We should travel back to--" Not for the first time, a series of faint popping noises interrupted Luke. Five small humans, all with butterfly wings, floated above Luke and Elizabeth. They looked like a bad cross between a fairy and an elf. All had long pointy ears and all wore grim expressions on their faces. They also carried various sharp and well cared for weapons.
"CALVIN! JACK! C'mere!" Elizabeth yelled.
"Run!" Luke yelled at the same time.
Elizabeth grabbed Luke and shot off. She jumped over Penguin and shot through the wet grass. The fairy-elves followed at a rapid clip, though they were slowed because they stopped to check on Penguin.
"They are going to catch up in a minute!" Luke said worriedly. Elizabeth snorted.
"Oh really. There goes your sense of adventure! 'Let us explore! Have fun!' you said. Well, let's have some fun!" She was winded, but still managed to get all the words out, each with its drip of sarcasm. She skidded to a stop, sliding slightly in the mud. They'd raced past the fields of grass and had reached the edge of what was more like a small cliff than an extremely sharp hill.
"You know, I didn't think the cliff--'cause that is what it is, was this steep," Elizabeth commented, peering down the cliff. She could just see several rocks and bare spots of dirt at the end of the fall, all shrouded in shadows. Rain droplets came down harder, obscuring her vision that much more.
"Oh really?" Luke said coolly.
"I can maybe climb down, but you certainly can't. You don't have fingers! And it's slippery. But it's that or jump." Elizabeth looked alongside the cliff, looking for a better solution.
Luke was looking backwards. Moonlight glinted off the wings of their pursuers as they closed in on the pair. One had, of all things, a bow and quiver of arrows.
"I highly doubt they want to talk to us about this. Jump. I can see if I can try and slow our fall," Luke said firmly.
"CALVIN! JACK!" Elizabeth yelled in vain. The least of all things she wanted to do was jump. But as an arrow whizzed past her and buried itself into the ground, she found the decision made for her.
Steeling herself, she bent her knees. Wrapping one arm tightly around Luke, she said a silent prayer and leapt sideways. She yelled. Even Luke screeched like a baby, though he later denied this fact. Her heart seemed to leap into her throat. With one hand, Elizabeth tried to slow their fall, dragging her hand down the side of the cliff. The rocks ripped into her skin and grabbed her jeans, pulling them up and digging their sharp edges into her ankles. She yelled in pain, but kept holding on.
Then suddenly, they stopped.
Gasping, Elizabeth clutched at the rock, looking around. A small ledge had stopped their descent. It was narrow, but large enough for her to place Luke down. She in turn relieved her shaking knees and bent beside him. Her blood was racing through her at a hundred miles an hour
"Careful, it's slippy," she whispered, pushing a wet curl away from her eyes. Her hand was shaking too, not just from the fall, but from nerves as well. It was a bleak situation. They could do the mad brained thing and jump again, but eventually the fairy-elves would catch up with them. Or they could wait here and surely they would be trapped if they stayed here. She could hardly defend against all five of them and Luke couldn't take on all five at once.
"Luke, I am not going to give up. But...I dunno. Calvin and Jack haven't popped up yet, and I really don't wanna jump again. Maybe we could find a little cave down there and defend ourselves from inside it...it would give us an advantage, defending from small quarters with a little opening."
"There might be a cave we could crawl into, assuming we don't get seriously hurt from the fall. You can get hurt in the Internet, that's no lie." Luke paused a moment. "Elizabeth, I think this may be it. I'll fight until the end, but we are in a jam." He didn't need to keep his voice down; the rain was coming down so hard it was roaring.
"It's my fault! I could have ran anywhere, I could have tried to jump in the lake, I, I--"
"It's okay," Luke whispered. "It was a stupid, sticky situation from any direction. I told you to run and didn't stop you from heading this way. Look at me." A flash of lightning illuminated the ledge.
She did. She took in those lovely, deep green eyes. She flashed back to when she'd first met him, which felt like a century ago. She'd felt so different back then; now she felt alive. Scared, stupid, upset, but alive. There was no longer any sadness in Luke's eyes, but instead a concerned, caring expression.
"You're so young. You've grown so much, you've even forgiven your old neighbors. You are moving on. We're supposed to be embarking on the fun and loving part of life now. With friends...I am so sorry." He laid his head on her knees. "I love you."
Elizabeth's throat seemed to go stone dry. Gently, she picked Luke up and cuddled him. "I love you too," she whispered into his ear. The rain continued to fall on them. Elizabeth closed her eyes, pale blue and gray colors filling her vision. Even though it was chilly, she felt as warm as if she were wrapped around a fluffy teddy bear. A flash of scarlet shone through her eyelids...
Scarlet? She opened her eyes.
"Oh Jaaaack! We're interrupting the love train. Perhaps we should go..."
"Calvin!" Elizabeth and Luke said together. A boom of thunder followed their words.
"And Jack. Don't you ever forget Jack, not that I can see how anyone could," Calvin replied smartly. He and Jack were floating in front of them, outlined in fading red light.
Jack laughed. "You were calling us, love-bugs?"
"Friends, not quite love-bugs. Look! Please, take us away from here. These fairy-elf thingies are chasing us, I think Penguin called them--"
"He did and they are taken care of," said Calvin smoothly. "We've been looking for you two. The party up at the house has, er, been finished. With a bang." Jack laughed again, harder this time.
"It's fun," Calvin said, his wicked grin stretching slightly. "Anyway, most of the Safari residents have left. And so should we..."
The red glow around Calvin and Jack grew. It also started to surround Elizabeth and Luke. A flash of lightning lit up the sky again and outlined a small winged person in the sky. It had a bow strung with arrow in its hand and it was pointed right at Luke.
"I thought you took care of them!" Elizabeth yelled as the glow grew brighter.
The fairy-elf released the arrow. It shot through the air. Elizabeth threw out a hand to try and stop it just as she felt a sudden jerking sensation on her neck and the world went black.
They re-materialized. They were no longer in the Fantastical Safari, but were instead on a plain Internet plain. It was empty and covered with dark yellow bricks that stretched on and on into white nothing.
"LUKE!" Elizabeth crawled forward to where Luke lay, still as death. "No, not again! YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME! Alive, alive..." Her brain was racing furiously, her mind blocking everything out but Luke. An arrow seemed to stick out from his neck. "You can't die, not again. Not another friend..."
She didn't hear Calvin and Jack talking; she didn't hear anything. Instead, shaking, she put a hand on Luke's side and pulled him over. The arrow fell onto the ground. Luke stared up at her, his eyes looking sick and dazed. Then he began to speak.
"Woman! Calm yourself!" He pushed himself upwards. "I'm fine! It got stuck in a joint between my neck and my chest! HEY!" Elizabeth had slapped him across the face.
"Why you...don't do that!" she stumbled the words out, falling back on her legs and clutching her chest.
"I was dazed from teleporting! We went a pretty long distance. Elizabeth, it's okay." He rolled over the yellow bricks and gently touched her hand.
"I'd say," cackled Jack. Calvin was chortled as Jack continued. "We took you guys far, far away from the Safari. You're somewhere near an online dating site. LongLostLove---no, LongLove, no. Well, something like that."
"'cause we were feelin' the love. And it's a favorite area for us. You can have so much fun hacking a little and changing people's profiles." Calvin began to laugh so hard he could hardly get the words out. "And, and change their--profiles--so they sa-say things like 'Transvestite looking for, for--"
"Don't say that! Corrupt their innocent minds, you will," Jack interrupted him, though he too was howling with laughter.
"Fine! But we also change their profile pictures..." Calvin stopped, unable to continue. Still hooting with laughter, he began to glow red.
"And you owe us two favors now!" Jack called right before he and Calvin vanished in a burst of fire and a puff of smoke.
Silence. Elizabeth turned to look at Luke, all other thoughts brushed aside by Calvin and Jack's interesting talk.
"How would you even hack that?" she asked. Suddenly, she held up her hand. "No, I don't wanna know. That's a bit too mean--picking on poor people looking for love."
"I agree," said Luke, though his voice sounded faintly amused. "How you feeling now?"
"Er, I don't know. Okay, I guess. You?" She sat down, cross-legged.
"Good," he replied as he surveyed their surroundings.
"Wow...we've done so much in...goodness, I don't know how long its been. A day? Two days? A week? Eh," Elizabeth sighed and leaned back. She looked up at the ceiling. Like all internet ceilings, it stretched on and on. It was colored like a clear night sky, scattered with tiny stars. As Elizabeth stared at the sky, she felt a faint warm breeze roll over her, mixed with the scent of fresh grass.
"Hmm? Are you doing that?" she turned her head at Luke.
"You'd be surprised what you can do in free Internet space. So yes, I am changing the scenery a bit...is it odd? That after that whole escapade at the Safari--goodness knows where those Safari residents are now. But is it odd that I still want to go soon and explore some more?"
Elizabeth laughed. "You take after my own heart. Is it odd that I'd rather hang out with you some more before trying to go back to the Real World? I actually kinda do want to go back and see Ginger and the rest, but not now. Certainly not now, after all that..."
"We haven't done that much," Luke protested.
"We crawled all over the place, nearly got run over by a information highway, ran into trolls, then ran into a firewall and that Spiritomb, then got trapped in the Safari, helped the Safari goers escape and then nearly got killed! I'd say that's a lot." Elizabeth laughed and looked back up at the night sky.
"And you've finally worked out some of your problems...which is a big deal," Luke murmered.
"And you've found your adventure and fun--and a friend."
"So now what?" Luke asked. He rolled to Elizabeth's head and then flipped backwards so he too stared up at the sky.
"So now...we sleep a little. I'm feeling a little tired. It feels weird to go so long without sleep and not be exhausted. But after that...we go. We travel. We try and hide from Calvin and Jake 'cause I am sure that whatever favors they have in mind are going to be incredibly mischievous."
"Though entertaining, I'm sure," Luke said. Elizabeth smiled.
"Yeaaah, suuure. Anyway, just explore a bit. Have fun. I might return to the Real World after a while...you?"
Luke took his time answering. "Maybe," he said finally. "Maybe. Sometimes the internet is just cool, sometimes its not. Sometimes its more than just an escape, eh? Either way, I'm sticking with you girl, you need me." He laughed as Elizabeth gave him a little push...