A violent explosion shook the air in the quiet canyon where a solitary building stood tall against the craggy rocks. A gaping hole stood smoking in the east side wall that was connected to the canyon, hiding it from view to anyone who might casually glance that way from the canyon entrance. Not that people usually walked that way, but it was better to be hidden. A young woman with pale blonde hair so lightly pigmented it looked almost white raised a hand over her eyes both to limit the light outside so she could see the dim interior and to keep the fine dust that was beginning to settle after the explosion from getting in her eyes.
Not needing to take the time to let her eyes adjust, the woman stepped into the building and walked
purposefully into the room. She was looking for one thing in particular and a slow smile touched her lips as she found it under a thick coating of fresh dust in the corner. The mannequin stood leaning against the back wall, shoved back from the concussive force of the explosion and held there by a growing pile of debris wedged under its foot on the floor. But it wasn’t the mannequin itself the woman was after- it was the piece of formed metal on its arm. Shaped to look similar to a piece of medieval armor, it rested on the right shoulder and reached down the arm until it ended at the wrist except for a small piece that rested over the palm. Stripping the two straps that held the piece of machinery to the mannequin, she pulled it off and looked the machine over for damage. Satisfied that the machine looked mostly intact, she strapped it to her arm before moving back to the entrance she'd made.
Hearing heavy footsteps above her and loud voices nearby urged the young woman back out into the light of day with her prize. It was just after high noon, the time of rest during the day for people who lived in the arid desert. As she ran back to her bike hidden just beyond the entrance into the canyon, she wondered how many people would make it out, though she was confident that explosions would draw attention from even the most lazy and sleepy gang members. And it had been her intention to draw people out of the base. She was halfway between the building and the entrance to the canyon when an accusing voice floated towards her, stalling her race away from the hideout, “And where are you running off to in such a hurry?” The voice was male and deepened by anger, mixed with a hint of betrayal.
The woman turned slowly even as every part of her screamed that running was the only option, but some small, nagging part of her told her that if she didn’t face him now, she never would. Her hands clenched tightly as she shoved them into her jean pockets, the weather too warm to wear any jacket this time of day, though she wished she had worn hers. “I’m chasing the jackass who thought blowing up our hideout was a mid-day jaunt. So if you don’t want me losing him, Weston, I need to stay on his tail.”
The man, Weston, was tall with pale skin, too pale to have spent many long hours out in the desert sun. His hair was pale blond, just like hers, but it looked more natural on him with his pale skin and light colored eyes. He had a nice face, so people said, but it didn’t look so nice now while it was twisted with hate and anger. “Chasing the culprit, or running away, Samantha?” His voice was quiet now; he stood just an arm’s length from her. No one else would hear what they were saying, and there were many to hear- the clearing just outside the damaged building was filling with men and women dressed in a distinctive uniform of red and black with white accents.
Sam glanced at the growing group with apprehension then looked back at the man. She watched his gaze move from her face to her arm where the snagmachine was attached. She made no move to hide it either by covering the metal uselessly with her hands or by turning her body, either motion would show guilt and anxiety, neither of which could be shown toward her one-time partner. Not if she wanted to escape. “Chasing, obviously,” she said emphatically drawing his attention away from her arm. She started to walk away as his voice followed her.
“I hope you are chasing, Samantha, because if you’re running, I’ll be after you.”
His words made her bristle and she paused for just a moment, contemplating the chances of escape if she turned and decked him in the face. Instead, she ran her hand along her belt, feeling several spherical forms under her fingers; pokéballs that held her most trusted pokémon. Thinking about her pokémon broke apart the anger inside her, redirecting it towards alertness that warned her sternly to avoid such rash action. All this happened in less than a heartbeat and registered to any bystander as simply a hesitation in her step. However, her pace was slightly more rushed than it had been before Weston’s parting words, and the young man was keen enough to spot it, though he said nothing.
She reached her bike quickly. Turning to sit down, she saw others were jumping on similar transports- large bikes with larger wheels, built for racing steadily through sand. Hers was unique. Settling onto the bike seat, she kicked the accelerator to restart the stalled engine. As it roared back to life, the hover pads lifted the heavy bike off the ground; it settled in the air just a handful of inches off the ground. With a heavy jerk on the handlebars, the bike spun clockwise out of the crevice it had been sitting in and drove out over the rocky ground of the canyon.
The canyon lands of Eastern Orre were a labyrinth of narrow chasms and gaping ravines that crisscrossed the landscape like a web. Sometimes the walls of the canyons stretched up so high off the ground they blocked out the sun, leaving only a narrow strip of blue sky above to assure the travelers that they were not underground. It was easy to get lost in such a place, with walls that seemed to pierce the heavens on all sides, but Sam knew this land like the back of her hand. Her bike swerved around corners and down long gullies as she worked her way through the gutted land towards the desert in the west.
It took most of the afternoon, as she was constantly avoiding the patrols that Gonzap sent out to look for the saboteur, but Sam eventually drove her bike out of the maze of canyons and out onto the open desert that covered the vast center region of Orre. The sun was setting in the sky and the air was already picking up a chill, though Sam supposed it could be coming from the wind whipped up by her speedy passing. Reaching behind her, careful not to bump the handlebars, Sam dragged her jacket out from under the extra seat. She pulled it over her shoulders; even the snagmachine she had stolen from Gonzap’s hideout didn’t hinder the cloth as she tugged it over the metal. Zipping up the jacket took more attention than she had to give and she couldn’t stop in her flight even for the seconds it would take to close her coat, for fear of being spotted.
Spending the night out in open desert did not appeal to the sandy haired native, but safe havens for people like her were few and far between. Fortunately, one such haven was nearby. A store built into a deserted train car that seemed to be uselessly dropped in the middle of the desert was owned and run by a close friend of Sam’s and was unknown by others in her profession. With a twist of the handlebars, the woman thought bleakly that it was probably the only place in Orre where she could have a modicum of peace.
The sun was touching the horizon as a large lump appeared ahead of Sam, unlike other shapes between her and each horizon, this was not curved like a dune or jagged like the cliffs. It had to be Jack’s Outskirts Stand. She turned her bike gently so she was heading straight towards it without blinding herself with the light of the setting sun.
By the time she pulled into the packed earth parking zone surrounding the Outskirts Stand, the sun had been fully set for over an hour. Only the good fortune of a full moon lighting up the stark landscape coupled with Sam’s intimate knowledge of the desert in this area made it possible for the woman to find the elusive structure. She pulled her bike up to the side of the train car and dismounted silently. Pushing the old swinging doors open, Sam was met with two large, angry pokémon in her face- a bristling Lopunny and a fierce Rhyperior. Instantly, her hands went up to show she wasn’t a threat. She swallowed as she took a step back before calling out, “Ja-ack! It’s just me! Call your pokémon off!”
A gruff voice came from the back of the train car, “Sam? By the gods above, announce yourself before barging in here after dark! You know I almost had Rhyperior attack you?”
Sam smiled weakly as she slipped between the two pokémon who parted just enough to let her pass, though they still eyed her warily. “Yeah... Sorry, it’s been a weird day.”
"Weird how?” the older man asked, directing her to sit at a table across from him. The tables in the train car were welded to the metal floor and had been there since before the car had settled here in the desert. Jack said it had been a dining car on a grand train that had once traveled between Orre and Johto- more than a thousand miles away. Sam wasn’t so sure of those facts, but then again no one knew what lay under hundreds of feet of sand that shifted nearly constantly across the Orre region.
She sat down with a sigh as she collected her thoughts, “well, for starters… I’ve finally left Snagem.”
Jack nodded, he knew of her connections to the largest gang in Orre, though he had never approved of them. Snagem all but ruled Orre’s lawless cities, though it’s central base was unknown to any authority figures. Most people learned to keep their head down and eyes averted when dealing with the ruthless gang. Jack wasn’t one of them, though he kept out of their business. “If that’s ‘for starters’, then what’s the rest?”
The young woman sighed, tapping her nails against the wooden tabletop. “You… you remember Weston?”
“You’ve mentioned him in the past. He was… interested in you?”
A humorless laugh escaped her before she controlled her features. The relationship she’d had with Weston had been tenuous at best. When it had first come to light that the young man saw Sam in a more than friendly way, she had tried to reciprocate his feelings, but there had been no life in the endeavor. After she finally broke off the relationship, it had left them at odds with each other. “Yeah, interested… borderline obsessed.”
“So you’ve said before. What does he have to do with your weird day?”
"What doesn’t he have to do with it,” she said angrily, and then she blushed slightly. Something about Jack always made her feel like she could be honest with him and sometimes her honestly made her pert. “He’s going to be after me. I know it.”
The red-haired man raised an equally red eyebrow, “he told you this?”
“All but,” Sam explained in quick words what had occurred earlier that noontime, including all the words she and Weston had exchanged during her escape. Jack sat quietly as she explained what happened, his eyebrows furrowed together, a sign that he was in deep thought.
“And you’re sure he knows you’re running?” Jack asked his eyes serious.
“Well, he’s not an idiot. When I don’t return after a day or three, he’ll suspect. And when Weston suspects something, he treats it as Holy Truth until proven otherwise. Even then, it takes a lot to convince him his suspicions are wrong.” Sam sighed, crossing her arms on the cool tabletop.
“Then it seems the simplest thing to do would be to leave then.” Jack’s answer was swift and to the point, but his delivery was kind. He knew how much this stark wasteland meant to his young patron. It was one of the things that they had in common, if for very different reasons. Still the look of betrayal in her eyes stung. “You know it’s the quickest and most permanent way to lose him, Sam. Outside Orre, Snagem has no hold. They won't be able to find you if you avoid their stomping grounds.”
Sam nodded, her eyes downcast to hide the emotion on her face. “I can’t let them continue what they’re doing, though. All this with… with…” she shook her head, unable to give voice to the cursed work that Snagem had begun taking part in during the past year. The work that had finally driven a wedge between her and the gang that had given her hope when she felt hopeless. “I can’t believe Gonzap bought it,” she seethed. “I can’t believe he bought into Evice’s schemes. Nothing can come from it but hatred and death- the death of pokémon.”
“I agree,” Jack’s face was a mask when Sam looked at him, she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. “So what are you going to do about it?”
She shrugged, “I… I don’t know. Running away won’t solve anything, but if I don’t run, Weston will find me.” She sighed deeply, opening her hands in a gesture of helplessness, “and besides that, what could I do? I’m just one person.”
Jack stood up with a groan, “I can’t tell you what to do, Sam, but I can say that fastest way out of Orre is by ship.”
“You’re saying I should run away?” Sam was surprised, she always thought Jack would steer her to action- the same way he had not always subtly implied that she should leave Snagem.
“I’m saying that unless you want to traverse the Northern Range to reach Kalos,” the older man said patiently, “you’ll have to take a boat from Gateon Port.”
Sam felt her face grow pale under her tan, “O-oh… right.” Of all the cities in Orre, the one she had the least inclination to visit again was Gateon. Unfortunately, it was the only active port city in the region. “So you’re trying to tell me to stay?”
The older man shook his head as he started walking towards the counter at the front of the train car, “I’m not telling you one way or another, this is a choice only you can make. Why don’t you sleep on it? There’s plenty of night left for you to rest here and be well on your way before dawn tomorrow.”
Sam nodded, standing to follow her friend, “I think I’ll do that… and Jack?”
“Thanks… for listening.”
He nodded with a smile before closing the door to the back room where he and his wife, Rachel, slept. Sam moved from the table she’d been sitting at with Jack to one much farther back. Pulling her jacket off, she balled it up and shoved it in the corner between the booth and the back wall of the train to use as a pillow. With her jacket removed, the snagmachine glinted in the moonlight streaming through the windows. Sam sighed as she undid the clasps holding the odd machine to her arm.
Shoving the jacket into a tighter mass under her head, Sam tried to force any more unpleasant thoughts out of her mind. She rolled over, shifting her weight around to try and get comfortable on the ancient, mareep fleece seats without much luck. Rolling back to her original position placed her in full view of the full moon outside, a bright beam of white light slashed across her face. Grunting, she grabbed her jacket-pillow and shoved it down on the seat, scooting to the side and laying flat on her back. The table made a perfect moon-shade, allowing her to finally drift to a restless sleep.
While Sam was driving across the open sand, Weston had been pacing in front of the door that lead to his boss’s office. Gonzap had been in and out of meetings with people from Cipher all afternoon since the sabotage attempt. According to reports from his admins, nothing was horribly damaged and only one thing was missing from the building- the snagmachine. Unfortunately, the snagmachine was really the only thing truly valued by Cipher. Since Snagem was not in possession of it, they were worse than useless in Evice’s eyes. They were a liability. Weston knew this. For the past six months, he’d been playing a dangerous game of two-timing, working for Snagem on the surface as he had for many years, but really being in the employ of Cipher. During that time he had been rising quickly through the ranks of the rival syndicate, eventually gaining the confidence of Evice himself. Evice had warned the young criminal that if Gonzap could not recover the snagmachine quickly, he would be forced to cut ties with the gang and pursue his goals through different channels.
Weston clenched his fists tightly in his pockets and grimaced. Damn Samantha and her timing! If she’d waited even another day to run off with that snagmachine, things might be different! I might not be in this fix. He felt suspended in the middle of a bottomless chasm held up by two different ropes- one burning, the other being cut at the far end by a dull knife. Frustratingly, his fate lay in out of his hands and in Sam’s. If she had truly deserted her gang, he was history. If she hadn’t, he would be safe, at least for the moment. His ex-girlfriend had said she was chasing the real culprit who had blown a man-sized hole in their hideout, but common sense told him that someone should have heard from her by now, even if she had lost the saboteur. Frustration bubbled up inside the excitable man as he turned sharply on his toe, beginning another pass of Gonzap’s office door.
Just then it opened and a tall dark-skinned man stepped out looking harried. “Andre said you’ve been out here for hours, wearing a groove in the floor.” His voice was harsh, but there was a tired note to it and it didn’t carry the strength it usually did. Weston pretended not to notice.
“I have been. I wanted to tell you that Samantha has the snagmachine.” Weston clasped his hands behind his back as he spoke, a small sign of respect towards his gang leader.
A few lines seemed to erase themselves from Gonzap’s face when he heard this piece of news, “That is a relief,” he admitted, “if Sam has the machine, there’s no need to worry.”
“I’m not so sure,” Weston had once feared being the bearer of such bad news to Gonzap, but he had also once feared the large black man as well. Now, after dealing with the likes of Cipher and Evice, Weston knew what real power was, and Gonzap simply did not possess it. “Samantha has been gone since the explosion occurred. She said she was on the heels of the culprit, though I have my doubts.”
Gonzap gave Weston a hard look, “Be careful what you say next, Weston Fray, Sam has always been a loyal member of Snagem.” The silence that hung in the air between the two men held the words that did not need to be said, unlike you.
Weston pursed his lips, “you and I both know that Samantha has never been pleased with our interactions with Cipher. If she was crazy enough, she might attempt to escape with the snagmachine in a desperate move to drive us apart. I am not trying to turn you against your Snager, but I felt it important enough to bring these inconsistencies to your attention. I do hope that Sam is still loyal as she always was, but you cannot deny that these events are peculiar.”
The lines that had disappeared from Gonzap’s face returned with reinforcements as he listened to Weston’s claims. “What you say does make sense. I will send a team to follow her, if she does not send word to us in two days…”
“I beg your pardon, but two days is more than enough time for her to reach Gateon Port and escape to regions unknown!” Weston’s calm demeanor broke as he felt Sam and the snagmachine slowly slip away from him. “If there is nothing left for me to do here, I will go after her, tonight, and get a report from her first-hand.”
The older man waved his hand in dismissal, “Until Sam returns, there will be nothing for you to do other than twiddle your thumbs. If you insist, take a small unit of grunts with you and follow her.” As he spoke, he moved down the hall to another meeting room. He pushed the door open and entered, leaving Weston alone again, this time the young man didn’t wait around. He left the hall in the opposite direction, heading downstairs to the living quarters to collect a few lazy grunts to drag along on his quest.
The next morning, Sam was awake well before the dawn, stretching out her sore muscles as they unknotted after spending a night on the uncomfortable bench. Telling herself that this was more comfortable than spending the night on the sand didn’t help either. There weren’t many things that could bring Sam out of her early morning crankiness, and food tended to be all of them. The glorious smells wafting from the front of the train car pulled Sam from her uncomfortable thoughts and bench. She dragged her jacket over her shoulders to cut off the morning chill. Picking up the snagmachine, she cradled it in her arms as she moved to the front of the car. Settling onto a stool at the counter, Sam smiled sleepily at the dark haired woman who worked behind the counter.
“G’morning, Rachel,” Sam yawned as she set the snagmachine on the counter, pushing it to the side. “What’s for breakfast?”
The bright eyed woman turned to smile at the younger one, “bacon and eggs with cinnamon toast. Is that to your liking?”
"It sounds wonderful,” she took a deep breath, savoring the mixed smells as they filled her head with warmth. “I’ll eat anything you cook, Rache. Everything you make is delicious!”
Rachel laughed as she piled toast, eggs, and bacon onto three plates. “And I suppose you’d know, wouldn’t you, being such a connoisseur of foods as you are?”
“I don’t need to know a lot about cooking food to know that yours is the best I’ve ever had,” the white-haired girl countered as she dug into the plate of food placed before her.
Rachel lifted a plate and began eating along with the younger woman. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, she asked quietly, “So what do you plan to do today?”
Sam swallowed another bite, taking the moment to think of an answer, “I’m not sure, but I suppose I need to head west no matter what I decide to do- either confront Cipher and Evice or escape Orre by route of Gateon. As for which I will do… that I don’t know. Common sense says I need to make for Gateon as fast as possible, before Gonzap or Evice sends someone after me.” There was a pause as Sam took another bite. “It’s completely possible that Evice will send someone after me to… to kill me. They’ll want this back one way or another,” she gestured to the sheath of metal sitting unassumingly on the counter next to her, “and I won’t give it back to Cipher without a fight.”
The other woman nodded, not expecting any less from the criminal girl she had grown fond of, “Just so you know, if you die defending that silly piece of metal, I will never forgive you.”
"I’ll keep that in mind,” standing up, Sam smiled and grabbed the last piece of toast from her plate. “Well, it’s time I be going before sun breaks the horizon. Tell Jack I said good-bye and I’ll try to keep in touch… as well as I can.”
Rachel stepped out from behind the counter, her grey-green eyes sparkling with unshed tears, “take care of yourself, you hear?” She wrapped the younger woman in a tight hug, squeezing all the tighter as a large part of her didn’t want her young friend to leave.
“Rachel, you’re crushing the air out of the poor girl,” a deep voice chuckled from the open door behind the counter. Turning to Sam, who was taking deep breaths as she recovered from the crushing embrace, Jack asked, “you didn’t think you could race out of here without saying good-bye?”
Grinning weakly, Sam shook her head, “I thought you’d still be asleep, old man. You need to get your full twenty winks at your age!”
“I’m not that old,” Jack grumbled, which earned him a playful glare from his wife. “Well… I don’t feel that old.”
Sam chuckled as she wrapped her arm around him. “Thanks… for everything,” she whispered before pulling away. “Now I really should be going. Who knows when Snagem will have people on my tail, and I’d rather not have them bothering you both if I can help it.” The three walked outside and Sam waved as she drove off, wondering to herself if she would ever be able to see her friends again.