The novelty of not drowning wore off pretty fast. Grimsley experimentally flicked his tail, impressed at the amount of force it could generate for relatively little effort. He moved through the water–not exactly gracefully–but with enough control that he didn’t smack himself into any rocks. Or angry water Pokémon. He was alive, but the big question remained: Now what?
He’d expected, or at least hoped, that merging with the shark Pokémon would let him swim better and survive underwater. Maybe he’d get some cool-looking fins on his wrists. Perhaps his skin would turn navy blue. Instead, he’d gone full Pokémon from the waist down. That girl Fiora–the one he’d always entertained with his juvenile card tricks back in the day–would have called him a merman and told him he needed to carry a trident or something.
Sadness sunk into Grimsley’s mind at the thought of his childhood friend. She hadn’t crossed his mind in a long while. She’d been so ill back then. Odds were she’d passed years ago. Which was a real shame, because this new merger technology might have genuinely been able to help her.
That would at least give him some comfort as he pondered over how it had ruined his own prospects.
What does a guy do with his life when anything on land is off-limits? Every time the question crept into the edges of his mind, Grimsley did his best to shove it away. He’d survived, in spite of Giovanni’s best attempts, so that had to count for something.
Of course, if he didn’t find food or shelter in short order, he wouldn’t be surviving long. What was he even supposed to eat now? He imagined that snapping his fingers like he did in Unova’s Elite Four headquarters would not get a plate of his favorite cucumber sandwiches to manifest before of him. He felt his shirt pockets, only to remember that he’d used every hidden space he could find to stash a variety of mega stones. With the shirt badly ripped in his attempts to extract the Sharpedoite, he pulled it off and stuffed it, mega stones and all, into a small crevice in the rocks. He wasn’t leaving his scarf behind, though. That was just as much a part of him as his signature hairstyle. But since having it float behind him underwater could be problematic, he tied it under his arm and across his chest as a sash instead. He was pretty sure it looked ridiculous. But after losing his job, his humanity, and his Pokémon, he’d protect this final shred of his old life with all he could.
Once the scarf was secure, Grimsley began to swim along more of the rocky areas, hoping to find somewhere to shelter. Or at least think about what he should do next. He thought he’d stuck lucky at first, finding a small cave with a curtain of kelp half-hiding the entrance.
An angry Tentacruel raised its tentacles at him as soon as he entered. Grimsley tried to backtrack and raised his hands in a desperate please-don’t-hurt-me gesture. The aggressive Pokémon wasn’t have any of it. Before Grimsley could move out of her way, she swiped and hit.
Pain flared across Grimsley’s skin, agitated by the salty water around him. A payback attack. Once Grimsley got far enough away (and then extra far away for good measure), he paused and examined the gash in his side. It wasn’t deep. In fact, it had barely broken the skin. He tried swimming forward and he did feel a little woozy, but surely that was just some lingering disorientation.
Within a few hours, Grimsley could barely tell where he was at all. Everything seemed to be swarming in a glossy, underwater haze. His stomach twisted, his head felt like someone was going at it with a jackhammer, and his muscles quivered with even the slightest attempt to make them work. He could just picture that stupid Tentacruel’s smug face as it had watched him swim away.
Not a payback attack, he’d realized by now, though it was far past the time he could do anything about it. A poison jab. And a nasty one.
What were the odds of getting poisoned in a single shot? Forty percent? Thirty? Figured with all his luck lately he’d get the thirty percent.
Grimsley tried to move forward again, only to come up against a wall of rock. He leaned against it, fighting a wave of nausea and dizziness, like the oxygen in the water was getting thinner.
So in the end he wasn’t making it much further than Fiora did. She’d probably laugh if she could see him now–how stupid and full of himself, thinking he was invincible.
Grimsley closed his eyes as images of the past washed over the images of the mocking Tentacruel. He was a teenager…fifteen, maybe, and his family was meeting with some heiress to discuss yet another business deal. Some funding for a new museum exhibit that Fiora’s mother—he forgot her name…Felecia Von Fancy-Head, maybe?—was arranging, if he remembered correctly. (He’d long since given up memorizing all his parents’ high and mighty contacts.) Although he’d been dragged along to a great number of stuffy, overpriced mansions in his youth thus far, it was the first time he’d been dragged to this particular stuffy abode. He had a feeling they’d be seeing a lot more of it in the near future. The family’s reputation had taken a bit of a downturn lately, a development Grimsley himself had no small part in. Given his background, folks tended to look the other way when he laid down a bet on the family tab. “My father said I should pick for him,” was always his excuse. He was positive nobody really bought that line, but his father always covered everything, so as long as that kept happening, Grimsley would keep betting.
The two families sat down in a lavish dining room for lunch. It was two pm by the time the staff brought out something besides crackers and caviar. It was a nice spread, though. Fancy sandwiches, fruit served in the husks of other fruit, sausages, salads, and even some tamato-berry poppers. Fiora didn’t enter until most of the food was already on the table, pushed along in her small wheelchair by an older lady who looked like she did way too many different jobs for much too little pay.
Fiora met eyes with Grimsley, and she seemed genuinely pleased to find someone under the age of forty at the table.
“Pleased to meet–” she began, only to be interrupted by her mother.
“My daughter, Fiora,” the towering Felecia said with a tone that suggested she was about to recite the opening monologue to an epic Greek tragedy. “I’m afraid her health is as poor as ever, but our physician felt some gentle socialization would do her good.”
“Wise advice, Lady Bloodstone, I’m sure,” Grimsley’s father remarked. Ah, so that was the family name. The woman pushing Fiora’s wheelchair situated it at the corner of the table, right between Grimsley and his family’s hostess. He averted his gaze at first, not wanting to look like he was staring at her. Then he realized how stupid that was and munched on a cracker while occasionally glancing in her direction. She was wearing a dress of deep blue silk with layers of frilly trim at every edge. But the dreary color made the bright Eevee charm on her silver bracelet pop like an adorable ray of sunlight.
“Hey, you’re a Pokémon fan?” he asked her, indicating the bracelet.
She tilted her head in confusion then looked down at the bracelet as if she’d forgotten it was there. Then she smiled and nodded. Her mother, meanwhile, had launched into some diatribe about their proud family history.
Grimsley reached into his pocket. There were a few things he never left home with no matter how much his parents protested–his favorite deck of cards and the Luxury Ball containing his prized Purrloin. “If Dark types don’t bother you, my Purrloin’s pretty friendly. She’ll sit on your lap and eat right out of your hand.”
Fiora giggled. “She sounds really cu–”
“–and of course, we ask that none of our guests bring out any Pokémon of any kind while visiting us,” Fiora’s mother said with a sudden surge in volume that couldn’t be coincidence.
Grimsley smirked and flashed the Luxury Ball under the table so only Fiora could catch a glimpse before he tucked it unseen back into his pocket. Few things motivated him better than adults telling him not to do something. Felecia glared at him like she just knew something was up and would keep an eye on him. As if that ever stopped him before.
In the meantime, Fiora reached for a tamato-berry popper, one of the few appetizers on the table that might actually taste as good as it looked.
Felicia gasped like she’d caught the girl slitting a guest’s throat. “Oh, no, Fiora, darling!” she said. Too loudly for a polite, high-society luncheon. She covered it with one of the widest, fakest smiles Grimsley had ever seen. And he made a lot of those himself.
“You know you’re not allowed to have those,” Felicia said, quieter now and snapping her fingers for a servant to attend them. “It’s the spice, you see. It aggravates her condition,” she told the guests. The same woman who had pushed Fiora’s wheelchair now hurried to Felicia’s side. “Bring Fiora her dinner,” Felicia said, not quite snapping but not quite in control, etiher. The woman hurried off. Meanwhile, the table was awash with murmurs of “poor girl” and “such a shame.” Felicia literally fanned herself as she soaked up the attention. Fiora looked ready to cover herself with the silk tablecloth. When her “food” arrived a moment later, her expression went from embarrassed to seething. Grimsley’s stomach turned at sitting next to the plate. It looked like some kind of fine white mush, and it smelled like a Liepard’s litter box.
Grimsley knew he was fortunate in a lot of ways. Born into a ridiculously wealthy family. Basically able to get away with whatever nonsense he cared to get into. His parents would always be there to throw some cash at the problem and get him out of it. He’d always defined himself as a risk-taker and loved it. It never occurred to him that he was all the more fortunate to be able to take those risks. Fiora had everything she needed to do the same. But minus the space to do it. And she was throughally ticked off about it.
She raised a hand, slowly and deliberately so everyone could see. Then she laid the back of her hand against the bowl of mush and began pushing it towards the edge of the table.
Felicia’s face whitened. “Don’t you dar–”
Crash! The bowl shattered onto the floor, sending up a spray of mush that landed in an almost artistic display on the polished mahogany floor. Felecia gasped, and the servant quickly moved in to salvage the situation.
“Don’t worry yourself, ma’am. I’ll take care of it,” she said, in a tone not unlike a mother calming her child mid-temper-tantrum. Before she could take care of anything, however, Fiora pushed her wheelchair backwards through the spilled mash. It was not an accident.
This time, Grimsley’s parents gasped along with Felecia.
“S-seems my daughter is a bit out of sorts today,” the woman managed to stutter out.
Fiora rolled her eyes. “I’m going to my room,” she announced, turning and leaving a trail of mush as she wheeled away from the table.
Grimsley wiped his face with a cloth napkin, using it to hide his chuckle at her defiance.
Felicia glared at her daughter as she left, and Grimsley could just see the gears in her head turning, trying to concoct some kind of final word in an argument she had already lost.
“Actually, darling,” she said in a disgusting, singsong voice. “The weather is quite lovely outside. Annabelle, take her to the sun room, would you?”
The servant nodded while Felecia turned back to her audience. “The fresh air always does her so much good.” Grimsley’s parents nodded. Fiora was ushered out of the room while Felicia loaded her plate with appitziers, including several of the tamato-berry poppers.
Grimsley returned his napkin to the table and leaned towards his parents, who had starting filling their own plates as well. “You could say something, you know,” he muttered.
“What?” his mother whispered back, sounding annoyed. Not surprising. His job was supposed to be sitting quietly at the table and not speaking unless spoken to.
“Their daughter,” Grimsley whispered back. “They’re totally smothering her.”
His father’s face went red. “That, young man, is none of your business,” he said. Then he shoved a caviar-loaded cracker in his mouth as if that somehow proved his point.
Grimsley crossed his arms and nibbled a sandwich, but the food just wouldn’t settle in his stomach. He stroked the Pokéball at his side, trying to think. This luncheon has certainly gotten more interesting than he expected. Getting around the overbearing adults was like a good card trick. One simply needed a little slight of hand.
Grimsley laid the napkin over his lap (something he really should have done to begin with) and put a few more delectables on his plate. Especially the poppers. When no one was looking, he slipped a couple onto the napkin, folded it up, and tucedk it into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“Please excuse me, Father. Mother,” he said, standing up from the table. “I’m afraid I need to use the facilities.”
“Down the hall and to the right,” Felecia said with a bored, half-hearted wave of her hand.
Grimsley nodded and walked down the hallway she had indiciated. Fiora had gone this way, too. Only the servant had directed her to the left, not the right.
Grimsley turned left.
Of course, not knowing exactly where Fiora had gone meant he had to make quite a few more turns, all while putting on a face that said, “I’m obviously supposed to be here, so don’t you dare question me.” In the end, he found her in the sun room, which sounded nice until one observed it closer. The floor-to-ceiling windows let in a nice view, sure. But it was still nothing more than walled porch with lots of sun and zero things to cheer up or entertain a frustrated seven-year-old. And Fi was left to just…sit there. A guard stood around the corner, out of her view, neither letting her leave nor engaging her.
Grimsley strolled right past him. When the guard raised an eyebrow, he simply said, “Hey, there. Sun room’s this way, right? Got told to come here and keep my nose out grown-up business.”
The guard looked relieved; most of them never really wanted to start an argument with a VIP’s kid. Fiora’s lips were moving as she stared at the wall, clearly fuming. When Grimsley got close enough, he could hear that she was reciting Pokémon statistics to herself.
“Thunderbolt. Base power ninety-five. Accuracy one hundred percent. Thunder. Base power one hundred ten. Accuracy seventy percent…” Her voice trailed up. She glanced briefly at Grimsley, showing some red in her eyes, then turned her face away from him.
Of course. She must have heard him chatting with the guard, so if she she want to talk to him, she’d be doing it now. Instead she was ignoring him. Which probably meant she thought he’s been sent to spy on her.
Grimsley shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned against the closest window. “Family. Am I right?”
“Yeah,” Fi muttered, rubbing a frustrated tear out of one eye. Still not saying anything else.
He needed another angle. So he withdrew the deck of cards in his pocket. “You wanna see a card trick?”
That got her interest. He let her leaf through the deck to see all fifty-two cards were definitely there. Then he told her to “pick a card, any card,” but not show him. She did so, clasping the card so tight to her chest she probably bent it. But no problem.
“And now…nothing up my sleeves…” Grimsley said, tugging each sleeve in a showy manner. Then he made a flourish with his hands, cracked his knuckles, and produced a tamato-berry popper from his right sleeve. “Is this the card you picked?”
Her eyes widened with excitement, and she gave a tiny squeal. Grimsley put a finger to his lips and pointed to the corner where the guard was still out of sight but definitely not earshot. Then he produced two more poppers from his left sleeve and shuffled the deck loudly while she scarfed them both down with a wide grin.
“Yep, I am pretty amazing,” he said. “Why don’t you pick another one?” He fanned the cards out as she did so, setting it down on top of the first one, which she still hadn’t shown him.
He did a few actual tricks this time, guessing the two cards, then replacing them with two different cards when she wasn’t looking, to her complete delight. Finally, they heard the footsteps of the guard walking off, which made Fiora open up considerably.
“Well, if you are my mom’s lackey, you’re doing a lousy job. She likes for me to good and miserable. And she definitely doesn’t send me spicy foods. Those were awesome, by the way.”
Grimsley flicked a card in and out of sight. “Glad to hear it. And I’m no one’s lackey. Name’s Grimsley, by the way.”
She nodded to acknowledge him, then tried to snatch the card before he vanished it again. She missed the first and second try but got it on the third. Not bad for a kid.
“Well, can’t have an empty hand, now, can I?” he said, pulling his favorite coin from his shirt pocket. He showed her both sides, flipped it high in the air, and caught it. “What do you think? Heads or tails?”
“Heads,” she answered immediately.
“Oo, sorry,” he said, keeping his fist shut tight. “Try again.”
“Um, tails, then?”
“Ah, still wrong. Sorry.” He opened his hand, and in place of the coin, there was Purrloin’s Pokéball. If he thought her eyes went wide when the popper appeared, that look had nothing when the kitten Pokémon came out. She purred and rubbed her head under Fiora’s chin as the girl smothered her with hugs and kisses. Grimsley had no nickname for her–didn’t feel that creative–though he sometimes sent her out when his parents called for him. So if she had any nickname at all, it was probably, “Grimsley, get over here!”
They sat chatting for who knew how long. Mostly Fiora lamented her frustrations with her family, and Grimsley let her vent. Everyone needed an outlet. Plus he found things went better when he talked less and listened more. When Fiora grew tired of talking family, the conversation quickly moved to Pokémon. Fiora was a straight-up encyclopedia on them, spouting facts about Grimsley’s Pokémon even he didn’t know. As she ran her fingers through the feather-soft purple fur, discussing natures and type match-ups, Grimsley noted the sun was noticeably lower in the sky than when he’d come in. If the adults weren’t searching for him already, they would be soon. He didn’t want to leave, but if he had to, he wanted to at least end on something memorable. Then he had a burst of inspiration and pulled out his deck one more time. “Hey, pick a number. Let’s say…anything up to thirty-six,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Can I pick zero?”
“Sure,” he said with a shrug.
Fiora nodded confidently. “Zero it is.”
Grimsley couldn’t resist asking. “Any…particular reason for that number?” he asked.
“When most people say, ‘pick a number,’ they mean between one and whatever, right?”
“I don’t go where people tell me to,” she said. Then, after another thoughtful moment, she added, “Actually, I changed my mind. I pick thirty-seven.”
“Thirty-seven is more than–”
“Thirty. Seven,” she said and wouldn’t let argue it one second longer. Grimsley shrugged and counted out thirty-six cards, handing her the thirty-seventh. She looked at it, noted it, then put it back in a random place and he shuffled again. He drew the top two cards, producing the three of diamonds, then the seven. “Are these your cards?” he asked.
“No, dummy!” she said, then burst into laughter.
Their parents found them two minutes later, thankfully without spotting when Grimsley called Purrloin back into her ball. Of course, he got chewed out for wandering off. He shrugged and asked how he could do anything else when lunch was so boring. Fiora giggled one more time, and he couldn’t help but smile.
The next time he went to the casino, Grimsley headed straight for the roulette table and laid down a sizable top line bet, covering the zero, one, two, and three. Fiora was cute and all, but even he couldn’t bring himself to fork out that much without hedging his bets.
The ball bounced from red to black again and again until it finally settled in the only green space on the wheel. Grimsley was stunned, not to mention disappointed, even as he gathered his winnings. If I had gone with Fiora’s pick and just bet on zero, I’d have won back way more.
From that moment on, whenever Grimsley laid anything down on the zero, and only the zero, he called it “betting on the thirty-seven.” Overall, it was a pretty good bet.
Back in his present, oceanic reality, Grimsley’s body moved slower and slower from the onslaught of the poison. He closed his eyes and smiled. The water above him seemed lighter now. Was he closer to the surface? Drifting into shallower waters? Or perhaps he was just delirious.
Either way, if thinking of Fiora and that memorable spin of the wheel was the last thought to cross his mind in this life, he hadn’t made out so bad after all.