Chapter 9 – Anywhere but Here
Solonn lay listlessly on the bed, staring up at the ceiling fan above him as if mesmerized by the whirling of its blades. Through vision blurred by sheer exhaustion and an almost continuous stream of tears shed in silence, the sight before Solonn’s eyes was that of a shimmering vortex of light and motion, and part of him felt like it might just draw him right into it.
Hours had passed since the loss of his identity, his element, and his freedom, but he hadn’t regarded the time as it had crept by and didn’t mark the passing moments now. Physically, he was utterly drained, but his mind was host to too many troubles to allow him any rest. He still ached from the telekinetic punishment he had suffered at Jal’tai’s hands. His body complained of hunger, of lying in the same position for a considerable while, and of many other things. But lost as he was in barely-willing contemplation of his situation, Solonn somehow couldn’t really care about his physical discomfort or even truly notice it, for the troubles from within just seemed so petty in comparison to what—and who—now troubled him from the outside.
A voice from outside the suite broke the near-silence then, managing to cut through all of the other things that were attending Solonn’s mind. It was the familiar voice of Jal’tai. “Are you awake? I’d like to come in and have a moment with you if you don’t mind,” the latios called to Solonn from the hall outside.
Solonn didn’t respond, not even so much as to turn toward the voice that had just addressed him, but regarded what the latios had just said with a weak but nonetheless present derision. Since when do you care what I do or don’t mind?
“Prepare to receive a visitor,”
announced the voice of the suite. Jal’tai was using the transport tile, Solonn realized. It seemed strange to him that Jal’tai would bother with such considering that the latios could simply teleport in whenever he pleased with no need to warn his prisoner before entering. Solonn didn’t cast even the slightest glance back toward the place in the adjacent den where his visitor would materialize, remaining motionless.
Once inside, Jal’tai drifted silently into the bedroom. He appeared at the edge of Solonn’s vision, and the form he presented was his true form; he no longer bothered with any disguises, any pretense. Solonn shut his eyes, curling up and turning away from the latios. A second later, Jal’tai set himself down on the bed beside him.
“Good morning, Solonn,” he said amiably. “How are you feeling today, my boy?”
Solonn gave no response.
The latios frowned; this was already not going well for him. “I wanted to have a few more words with you about what lies ahead for you,” he said, his tone considerably more reserved than it had been moments ago. He drew closer to Solonn, looming over him for a moment before craning his neck downward to look right into the human’s face.
“Listen,” Jal’tai said, something slightly authoritative in a paternal sort of way creeping into his voice. “I know this has been quite an overwhelming experience for you, but you are going to have to adjust to things as they now are, and preferably before terribly much longer. There is much that you will have to get used to, but I know you can do it.”
He lowered a talon and gently took hold of the human’s face, lifting and turning it toward his own. Solonn didn’t bother to resist the contact, his face expressionless as he finally looked at Jal’tai again through glazed eyes. Somewhere deep within him, a bitter, smoldering hatred was stoked at the sight of those red eyes, that kindly face, but Solonn didn’t dare to give audience to that feeling and allow it to take over despite being sure that it would be wonderfully cathartic to unleash his loathing upon the latios who, in his mind, thoroughly deserved it. He knew how dangerous Jal’tai’s displeasure could be and was very mindful of the fact that any voiced dissent on his part might once again invite that wrath and the mortal threat that had come with it.
“You know,” Jal’tai then said as he continued to hold his would-be replacement’s gaze in a very literal sense, “there are certain positive aspects of your current situation that I don’t think you’ve taken the time to consider. Perhaps they’ve simply failed to cross your mind in the midst of all the activity that must surely be buzzing about in there, or perhaps you didn’t even know such benefits existed.”
Jal’tai paused momentarily to allow Solonn to ask what he was referring to, but no such question came. Managing to at least appear unfazed by Solonn’s continuing silent treatment, he resumed. “I happen to know that you have a particular aversion to eating meat,” he said; this revelation of Jal’tai’s knowledge surprised the human slightly, but not even the shadow of that surprise showed through his expression. “I inadvertently learned this about you at the same time that I confirmed your possession of the Speech. Knowing this about you, I did lament then and do apologize now for having to make you partake of the Specialty of the House the night before last, but the fact was that you needed it in order to have the strength to endure your transformation.
“However, you need never consume meat again if you don’t want to. Humans are omnivores, Solonn. They don’t have to feed on the flesh of others; they can obtain their protein from other sources. Good news for you, wouldn’t you say?”
The notion of never having to eat meat again might have been quite appealing to Solonn under different circumstances, but he could not see such a luxury as being worth what his transfiguration had cost him. Through silence, he rejected Jal’tai’s appeal.
Jal’tai let go of the bright, hopeful look in his eyes at this point, his brow and mouth setting into hard lines. “Well, Solonn,” he began, his tone quite stern now, “if you can’t see the merit in this for yourself, I certainly hope you can at least be glad for what your cooperation will help to make possible for others. After all, when it all comes down to it, this isn’t about you, me, or this city, but rather the world
, the future
Here he let go of Solonn’s face and rose from the bed, hovering in place above the human. Solonn immediately turned away once more, trying to ignore the shadow that hung over him.
“The fact of the matter is that whether or not you think you’re ready to begin your new life, you must begin it nonetheless,” Jal’tai told him firmly. “I told you that I must soon be replaced as the mayor of this city, and I wasn’t fooling around about that. You have a lot to learn, Solonn, and you must begin doing so as soon as possible.”
Jal’tai left the room then, leaving Solonn alone with the swarm of thoughts infesting his mind, including the newly raised questions he had regarding what else the latios might have absorbed from his mind—and the doubt that that absorption had really been accidental. He figured that Jal’tai had probably just gone ahead and opened his mind wide while he’d slept in that theater, leaving no corner of his brain unscathed by the touch of his psychic powers, taking advantage of the fact that his subject was completely powerless to stop him.
That was the way Jal’tai liked things to be, Solonn determined without a doubt: the latios liked to be in total control of any given situation, to have those with whom he dealt in no position to contest his will. That was certainly the real reason why he had turned Solonn into a creature devoid of elemental power, the human reckoned: so that he couldn’t really fight back.
It wasn’t long before Jal’tai returned. Solonn, determined once more not to look upon him if he could at all help it, didn’t know that Jal’tai was once more in the room with him until the latios spoke.
“It’s time you started growing accustomed to your humanity, Solonn, but for your sake we’ll begin with small steps. Here,” Jal’tai said gently, then lowered something in front of Solonn.
Only part of the item hung into Solonn’s field of vision since his face was half-buried in the comforter underneath him. All that he could see was a length of black, folded fabric; he couldn’t discern what the item actually was.
Jal’tai seemed to recognize that Solonn didn’t really have the best view of what he was trying to show him. He unfolded the item and laid it down directly in front of Solonn’s face. Solonn was now able to clearly see that he had just been given a pair of boxer shorts.
“You do know how these go on, do you not?” Jal’tai asked.
Solonn stared at the shorts. He did have a fair understanding of how they were supposed to be worn; the pants that Morgan had worn were fundamentally similar, after all, albeit longer. Solonn was almost too weary in both body and spirit to bother with the boxers… however, the events of the night before were still fresh in his mind, and the memories of the more painful of those events shone especially vibrantly even through the haze of everything else on his mind. He still feared that if he didn’t do as the latios expected of him, he would risk being subjected once more to that psychic punishment.
Besides which, the boxers did offer the restoration of a small aspect of his dignity, at least. Solonn tried with only scant success to focus on that point in an effort to convince himself that his next actions were motivated by more than just terror as, without a word, he stirred, shifted, and took hold of the shorts. Rather awkwardly, he sat halfway up, staring at them for a moment as he turned them over in his hands, trying to figure out which side was which. Once he was sure that he had it right, he put on the boxers, slipping them over both ankles at once and wriggling clumsily the rest of the way into them.
“Hmm… I’m afraid you’ve got those on backwards, my boy,” Jal’tai said, wearing an odd expression that only partially succeeded in concealing a hint of amusement.
With a faint sigh, Solonn removed the garment and put it back on, correctly this time.
“That’s more like it,” Jal’tai said with a smile and a nod. “Now, wearing clothing, even as little of it as you’re presently wearing, might seem strange at first, but I promise you’ll get used to it quickly enough.”
Solonn found that statement to be a little odd coming from someone who could just pretend his clothes onto himself. Besides which, the notion of covering one’s self was not one that Solonn found strange at all; as a glalie, he had kept most of his body covered in ice at nearly all times.
“All right, then,” Jal’tai said with a clap of his talons, his voice seeming to have regained its former brightness. “Why don’t we take a little tour of this lovely little place, hmm? You will be living in this suite until you are ready to take my office, and so you might as well start making yourself at home here. Also, you’ll need to get an idea of how everything works around here; this suite has everything you need in your day-to-day life, but that does you no good if you don’t know where and how to get what you need.
“Up you get, then,” the latios said. He didn’t bother waiting for Solonn to get up of his own volition, certain that the human had no intention of doing any such thing anyway. Once again, he employed his telekinesis to move Solonn, lifting him off of the bed and onto his feet. He then relaxed his psychic hold on Solonn considerably, keeping him standing upright but not prohibiting his independent movement otherwise.
“No need to worry, my boy; I’ll not let you fall,” Jal’tai assured him. “Now, I know that this method of movement is about as different as is possible from the levitation you’d used to get around prior to your transfiguration, but still, walking on two legs shouldn’t be entirely alien to you. After all, you were born as a biped, were you not?”
That much was true; in fact, it had been less than three months since Solonn had last possessed legs. He had gotten around by walking for nearly two decades prior to his evolution.
You’ve done it before,
Solonn reminded himself in a continuous loop as he stood there, but that mantra fell just short of successfully building and maintaining his confidence in his newly gained human legs. They were, after all, quite different from those he had possessed as a snorunt, seeming almost ridiculously long and gangly in comparison, looking incapable of supporting or moving him. He was so mistrustful of them that were it not for Jal’tai’s telekinesis keeping him upright, his lack of faith in them would have certainly caused them to give right out from under him.
Again, though, Solonn was very mindful of the threat that lay at the end of Jal’tai’s patience. The latios expected him to stand, to walk, to follow wherever he was led, and Solonn reckoned that he had better comply if he valued his safety. Inhaling deeply, trying but not quite succeeding to avoid overanalyzing what he was doing, he took one short, unsteady step forward and then another. He stopped then, standing still as he finally remembered to exhale the breath he had taken, trying to will himself to at least appear to relax and seem sure even if he couldn’t actually do these things in earnest. With an effort, he lifted his gaze from the carpet to the latios hovering nearby in an attempt to signal that he was good to go.
Jal’tai seemed to accept this, nodding slightly with a small smile. “Good, good. Come, then, let me show you around…”
He turned to his left and drifted out of the bedroom, then cast a look over his shoulder and made a beckoning motion with a single talon. Unenthusiastically, but mindfully compliant all the same, Solonn followed. He tried to move a little quicker and surer than he had done in the first couple of steps that he had taken on human legs, but his faith in those limbs was still somewhat lacking, and it showed. Though he was successfully moving forward, keeping fairly close to Jal’tai (though the latios’s deliberately slow drift was mostly to credit for Solonn’s ability to keep up with him), his legs were doing nearly as much wobbling as walking. But Jal’tai kept him steady, sustaining his telekinetic hold on the human to support him through his every step, no matter how unstable those steps might be.
He was led by the latios into the den, where there were especially many of those draconic statues. Solonn quickly found himself rather disliking their blithe expressions, the way they smiled as if they approved of what had been done to him. He was shown over to the green armchair next to which he had awakened on his first morning as a human and had witnessed the revelation of Jal’tai’s true identity.
Smiling, Jal’tai motioned for the human to come and stand beside him, the latios gesturing with his other talon toward one arm of the chair as he did so. Apparently, this was something that Jal’tai regarded as noteworthy, though Solonn couldn’t fathom why. He came to stand at Jal’tai’s side, trying once he did so not to shift about too conspicuously despite his unease around the latios.
“Have a look at this,” Jal’tai said as he laid a talon upon the arm of the chair, its soft surface yielding slightly as he clutched it. He then pulled upward on it, doing so slowly to ensure that the human at his side could clearly see what he was doing. The arm of the chair opened on an unseen hinge, revealing a previously hidden compartment from which the latios pulled out a small, silver device.
“This is the remote control for your entertainment system,” Jal’tai told him. “In case you’ve not seen one of these in use, observe.” He drifted over to a large oak armoire against the wall and opened it, revealing a television, a DVD player, and a CD player surrounded by speakers. Jal’tai then returned to Solonn’s side and pointed the remote at the devices.
“Pay close attention, now,” Jal’tai instructed, and indicated first one of the remote’s buttons and then another. He repeated this action a couple of times, seeming intent on making sure that Solonn memorized the sequence, then pushed the two buttons in succession. The CD player came awake with golden LED numbers, and a split-second later, a light, jazzy tune began issuing from the speakers.
Jal’tai allowed the music to play for a few moments, seeming to enjoy it as he listened, smiling slightly, his eyes closed. He then shut the music off, making certain to let Solonn see how he did so.
“If you’re not in the mood for music, you could always enjoy what the television has to offer,” the latios said, then demonstrated how to turn the television on. The screen lit up with an image of a human in a brightly colored suit and tie who was standing in front of a brown car while shouting about being crazy and about offering the lowest prices in Hoenn.
“You’ve got three hundred and fifty-one channels to choose from. These arrows here—” He indicated two more of the remote’s buttons. “—will let you cycle up and down through them one at a time, or you can go straight to a channel by inputting its number with the numeral buttons. I’m sure you’ll memorize the numbers of the good ones quickly enough…” He cast a brief glance back at the television, where a different human was pictured offering the secret to shed excess weight around the hips, thighs, and buttocks; Jal’tai regarded the commercial with an odd look before turning back to Solonn.
“I’ll admit, most of those channels are pure rubbish around the clock,” he said almost apologetically, “but there are also a couple of real quality stations—they’re broadcast from right here in Convergence,” he informed Solonn, his tone colored with unmistakable pride on the last statement. He changed the channel again, and this time images of pokémon rather than humans appeared on the screen. A ledian was seated behind a desk. Beside him, a small image appeared of three smeargle being led out of a building by a medicham in a police uniform and two houndoom with badges affixed to collars around their necks.
“Police have finally apprehended the vandals responsible for defacing storefronts downtown on multiple occasions,”
the ledian anchorman reported, while at the bottom of the screen, his words were displayed in unown-script subtitles for the benefit of human viewers. “Whether these individuals were actively trying to claim territory or were merely acting toward their own amusement remains unclear, but the CPD has issued a statement saying that whatever their motives might have—”
Jal’tai turned off the television, then replaced the remote control in its storage compartment within the arm of the chair. “There’s something else I have to show you with regards to the television, but let’s finish having our look around first, shall we?”