Sunshine and the Sphere: Part Seven
As soon as his paw touched the Sphere, Rae felt a jolt of electricity run through his body. Time froze, and he found himself looking at a perfectly still room. Pouncer, on the ground, clutching at his side.
Rae’s eyes drifted up to the Lutari posed over his friend. There was a mad glint of triumph in his eyes as he looked down at his victim. The knife in his paw was raised to strike a second time, and Rae innately knew that this blow would be fatal.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on the Sphere. He felt the power flow through him, and opening his eyes, he looked first at Grevan, then at Inspector Reynolds, and finally at the two Chia labourers. Then, with a deep breath, he took his paw off the Sphere.
Time reinstated its power over him with a jolt that nearly threw him off of his feet. Sudden light blinded him, and when he opened his eyes again he saw Grevan, Copper and the labourers were all on the ground, unconscious.
Val screamed and dropped the box that still held the Sphere. Shoving her way past Rae, she ran to Pouncer and dropped onto her knees beside him. A second later she was joined by Emie, who helped her roll him onto his back.
“Pouncer!” Val cried. “No! Pouncer!”
Reality finally caught up to Rae and he dropped down beside his friend. “Pouncer?”
The large Shadow Kougra coughed and opened his eyes. “Sunshine... you got it?”
“The Sphere?” Pouncer nodded weakly and Rae glanced at the round silver ball lying on the ground. “Yeah. We got it. Thanks... for finding it... and for everything else.”
Pouncer nodded again and closed his eyes. His breath was thick and shuddering. Val undid his jacket and looked at the wound. “This is serious. We have to get him out of here.”
Rae nodded numbly.
“What...” Pouncer’s sentence was interrupted by spasmodic coughs. When he was done, blood tinged his lips. “What about... the others. Copper... and...”
“It’s alright,” Rae said gently, as he pulled out a handkerchief and held it to the cut. “They’re unconscious. I used the Sphere. I’ll take care of them later.”
A flash of inspiration hit him, and Rae leapt up. “The Sphere! We can use it! You...”
“No.” Pouncer caught Rae’s arm before he could move. “You... shouldn’t. Too...” he coughed again, and tightened his grip for a moment. “Too... too dangerous. Don’t know... what could... happen. Have to... get it somewhere... somewhere safe. Hide it. Won’t be... tempted... that way.”
With a horrible sinking feeling, Rae understood what Pouncer was saying. The Sphere’s history was mixed with disaster and death. It would be foolish to use it without understanding it. And yet...
“Trust me... Sunshine.” Pouncer’s eyes locked onto Rae’s. The red Kougra nodded miserably.
“Okay. Do you think you can stand? We need to get you to a hospital. Emie...?”
The small Island Kougra nodded and wiped tears out of her eyes. “I’ll find a way out.”
“Thanks. Val, you take one side.”
As Emie disappeared out of one of the doorways, Rae hooked an arm under Pouncer, and with help from Val, got him onto his feet. Pouncer swayed and cursed, but managed to stay standing.
“C’mon,” Rae said, trying to keep his voice steady. “Lean on me. Good. Now, let’s go.”
It was a cool, cloudless day. Everything was looking clean from the rain they’d had the night before. Rae opened the door to the hospital for Emie, before following her into the waiting room. The Gelert secretary at the desk looked up and smiled kindly. “Back again?”
“I’m afraid so,” Rae said. She nodded.
“You can go straight through. You know the way.”
Thanking her, Rae and Emie left up one of the corridors, following its white path until they arrived at room 308.
The door was open, and they went in. Pouncer lay on a bed, his face uncharacteristically serene in the afternoon sunlight. Val sat beside the bed, her shadowed eyes fixed on Pouncer.
“Any change?” Rae knew the answer before he asked it.
Val shook her head slowly.
“I’m sorry,” Emie whispered, and sat next to the other Kougra. Rae sat down beside Emie.
“You don’t look too good,” he noted. “When was the last time you slept? Or ate, for that matter?”
Val frowned ruefully. “I don’t want to leave him.”
“It’s been three days. I’m worried.”
They sat in silence for a moment, regarding their unconscious friend.
“They kick me out at night, though,” Val said with a faint smile. “Something about me not being sick.”
Rae grinned and looked at his feet.
“We got rid of it,” Emie said, breaking the silence suddenly. “The Sphere. Rae and I got rid of it this morning.”
Val looked up with a spark of curiosity. “How?”
“We went on a cruise to Mystery Island,” Rae said. “On the way there, we dropped it over the side of the ship.”
Val nodded. “That’s good.”
“It won’t stay hidden forever,” Emie continued. “Eventually it will be found by a deep-sea diver, or will wash up on an island somewhere, but it was the best thing we could think of.”
“You did good, kids,” a deep voice said.
There was a loud clatter as three chairs were knocked over, and Val screamed. Pouncer hadn’t moved, except to open his one good eye, which was now regarding the three Kougras in turn.
Val launched herself at him, and proceeded to pummel him jubilantly. “Three days!” she shrieked. “Three days! You idiot!”
With one deft swipe, Pouncer caught both of Val’s paws, effectively disarming her. He sat up with a groan. “Three days, did you say, Queenie?”
“Yeah,” Rae said, feeling a relieved smile spread over his face. “You had us worried.”
“That would explain the headache, then.” Pouncer groaned and put a paw to his forehead, swaying slightly. Rae pushed him back onto the pillows.
“You should stay still.”
“Nonsense.” Pouncer opened his eyes again and looked around the room. “Why in Neopia did it take you three days to get rid of the Sphere?”
A broad smile spread over Rae’s face. “You’ll see.”
Pouncer was suddenly on the alert, and he narrowed his eyes first at Rae, then Emie, then Val. “What did you do?”
Rae tried to look innocent. Pouncer just frowned at him. “Alright, alright,” Rae said. “I did use the Sphere, yes. Only a bit, though, and only for good. When you feel up to leaving, we’ll show you.”
Pouncer still looked suspicious, but brightened at the thought of leaving. “Alright, Sunshine. What time is it?”
Rae glanced at his watch. “Nearly three.”
“Too late for lunch, too early for dinner. Must be snack time. Let’s go.”
Despite Rae and Emie’s objections, and Val’s complaining, Pouncer got up and began rummaging in the wardrobe beside his bed. It didn’t take him long to find his black jacket, and then the hospital exit. He bypassed all of the usual forms and questions by staring down the young doctor who was on duty, and was out of the door in less than five minutes. Val just rolled her eyes.
On the sidewalk he stopped and looked around. Rae grinned. “You like it?”
Instead of being faced by dead trees and grey buildings, the town looked, for the first time in five decades, alive. The buildings were now painted warm, friendly colours, and the trees were spreading young green leaves in preparation for spring. The change of setting seemed to have done wonders for the townspeople; they waved to friends as they passed each other in the streets.
Pouncer stared at him. “What...?”
“Once we had a bit of time, we did some more research on the Sphere,” Rae explained, as he led them down the road towards a café. “Val said it would probably be safe to use it for minor things.”
Pouncer raised an eyebrow. “You call this minor?”
“It’s only a new paint job, and some life for the trees.” Rae pointed to a group of giggling shoppers. “The new attitude just sort of came out of that.”
Despite his doubt, Pouncer did look impressed as he stared at the various buildings. They moved at a slow pace for the large shadow Kougra, but it wasn’t long before they came to a small café and got seats at one of the tables. After a waitress had taken their orders, Pouncer turned to Rae again and continued the conversation. “And that’s all you did with the Sphere?”
Rae was fiddling with his napkin. “Well...”
“Nothing big. Emie and I just got raises, that’s all.”
Pouncer dropped his head into his paws. “Nothing big, eh?”
“It was about time anyway,” Rae said defensively. “We’ve been on the lists for promotion for ages; I just thought I’d give our managers a little prod in the right direction.”
“Can’t argue with logic like that,” Val grinned.
“Alright. But, please, tell me that’s the only other thing you did.”
“Your food, ladies and gentlemen,” said a quiet voice behind them.
Pouncer leapt out of his seat and bared his teeth at the tall Lutari. Val jumped between them. “Sit down!” she hissed. “You’re making a scene.”
The Lutari just smiled and held out several plates. “Your food, sir.”
With a huge amount of self-control, Pouncer retracted his claws and sat down. “You did this, Sunshine?” he hissed.
“I did, actually,” Emie said shyly. “It seemed like a much better option than having them locked up or killed. Inspector Reynolds suddenly decided to have a change in career, too, and now works as a cook.”
Pouncer raised an eyebrow. “Smart.”
The Lutari, who seemed oblivious to the fact that he was being talked about, set down the food with a huge smile. “Enjoy, sirs and madams.” With a bow, he left.
Pouncer whistled. “You three have been busy. I’m impressed.” Rae smiled proudly.
They ate their food in silence for a while, and Rae found his mind drifting to the inevitable. Despite the lack of sleep, and the stress, and the danger, he’d enjoyed the last few weeks. Now, everything was finished; the Sphere was gone, Pouncer was safe, Copper had had a memory replacement. So, what next? He supposed he’d go back to his job. Maybe he’d even try explaining part of what he had been doing to his aunt. Not that she’d believe it, of course...
Emie voiced his thoughts. “I suppose this is the end, then?”
Pouncer put down the piece of toast he was munching on. “I’m afraid so, Twinkletoes.”
“And you’re never going to call me Emie?”
The large shadow Kougra wrinkled his nose. “Nope. Deal with it.”
Emie grinned and returned to her food. “Where will you two go now?”
Val and Pouncer glanced at each other. “Wherever the wind takes us, I suppose. We might stay in this town; but then again, we might move on.”
Rae felt his throat tighten. “You’ll visit sometimes, though, won’t you?”
Pouncer grinned fondly. “Sure will, Sunshine. You won’t be able to keep us away.”
Rae laughed and threw a piece of toast at Pouncer. “I’m counting on it.”
The afternoon sun was getting low, and slipped behind the buildings. The townspeople went about their daily jobs, unaware that the four pets who had transformed their town sat inside a small café, laughing and talking and enjoying their time together.