"Oi! Keep it down! Someone's coming!"
The hut fell silent as Steve ran to the nearest window. "Spare some food?" he whispered.
There was a slight delay before another whisper answered from outside. "I've got some escargots," the person said.
Kohaku, who had been preparing for battle with me, wore an expression of sheer puzzlement. "Passwords," I said. "It helps us remain inconspicuous."
There were a couple of thuds and clunks below us and Stve beckoned us to move towards him. Suddenly, the section of the floor we had been standing on dropped away and a boy's head poped up from the new exit.
"All set out here," he told Steve. "You ready?"
"Yeah," Steve replied. "All right, everyone - let's move out!"
"OK," I told myself. "This is it . . ."
We were about to make a move on Tyler and his stooges, each of us determined to put an end to his evil plans if it was the last thing we did. I was shaking with fear and excitement - having never been in a battle before, I was unsure what to expect, but I hoped things would go our way.
Inside the hut Marle, Monica and I used to share, we found a stash of weapons hidden under the floorboards. Steve then proceeded to show us another of the Freedom League's secrets, a tunnel leading from the hut. It must have been dug since my group left, but I was unsure how it had been done without Tyler noticing.
"We needed some means to communicate without arousing suspicion," Steve explained when he saw our puzzled looks. "So we got some wild Pokemon that knew the Dig Attack to do a spot of tunnelling . . ."
He continued outlining his plan. "OK - Melissa, Marle, Stan and I will go down there and take the fork that leads to Tyler's quarters. Monica, Ben, Kohaku and Leon - you go alert everyone. Tell them to bring their Pokemon - and what weapons they can get hold of, in case they need them - and drive out our oppressors!"
"Hey, what about the rest of us?" demanded Drake, gesturing round at the remaining members of the Freedom League.
Steve grinned at him and removed a key from a chain around his neck. "You get to free the staff," he told him.
In answer to our questions, Steve explained that Tyler had been keeping the Project Alpha staff - including Sidney Dole - locked in their offices. Luckily, all the offices could be opened with the use of a single master key and the Freedom League had stolen it one night - right from under Tyler's nose.
I turned to my friends. "Let's do it," I said as I patted Pidgeotto and Sunflora's Poke Balls.
Marle nodded grimly, her jaw set in a determined expression. "Yes," she agreed. "Down with Tyler!"
With that, Marle, Steve, Stan and myself crept into the secret tunnel . . .
"It's been a long time coming, Tyler," Stan said grimly as we emerged from the tunnel. "But you're finally going to get what you deserve."
Tyler gave a cold laugh and gazed round at our little army of rebels. "Oh, yeah!" he said mockingly. "And how do you plan to do that, little brother?"
"Like this!" Stan shot back as he released both his Pokemon at the same time. "Nidoking - Horn Attack! Growlithe - use your Flame Wheel!"
That was almost a cue for people to start releasing their Pokemon. I sent Sunflora into the ranks of the Grass Types who were using their Vine Whips and Razor Leaves against Tyler and his followers, while Pidgeotto flew up to join the Flying Pokemon as they attacked from the air. Monica, riding on her Charizard, was leading the assault.
"OK, you lot!" she called to the Pokemon behind her. I could see several other Pidgeotto, as well as a Fearow and a Murkrow or two. In fact, all the non-Legendary Flying Pokemon seemed to be represented. "Get into formation and launch your attack!"
From then on, things were blurs around me - everything seemed to be happening at once and I wasn't sure what was going on any more. But Tyler's men quickly got over the initial surprise and launched their counter attack.
"Pidgeotto - use your Whirlwind!" I ordered as I struggled to hold off two thugs with the sling Marle had made for me.
"Espeon - Confusion!" Marle ordered. Then, her Umbreon took a bullet in the side and she promptly left off battling to go to his aid.
I ran after her and pulled her to the ground seconds before we were fired on. "Marle, are you crazy!" I demanded.
"But . . . Umbreon . . ." she objected tearfully.
It was hopeless. We were armed only with makeshift weapons while our opponents had guns, but I knew we couldn't just give up. We would keep fighting until Tyler was overthrown or die in the attempt. And, looking into Marle's eyes, I realised how she must feel - after all, I would have done the same for my Pokemon.
"All right," I said as I hurried to where her Umbreon lay. He was alive, but he was bleeding badly so I knew I had to get him off the battlefield.
A Freedom League member known as Oatmeal signalled to the rest of us from the roof of Dole's office. He had managed to get onto the roof undetected and was now using hand signals to relay the locations of the guards around the office.
The only thing I could see from our position in a ditch surrounding the office complex was Oatmeal. Suddenly, we heard the sounds of a battle coming from a couple of hundred feet away.
"That's the other group," I whispered. There were six people in our group, the leader being Grant Norman, who was the oldest at eighteen. The rest - Oatmeal, Harry, Jean and Terry - were kids compared to us; they were aged between twelve and fourteen.
Oatmeal's signalling again," Harry whispered.
Our eyes returned to the figure crouching on the roof. I didn't get every hand signal, but I got enough to know that the guards were hurrying to the battle.
"Drake and Jean, take out the guards - make sure they don't reinforce Tyler," Grant whispered. "Harry and Terry, come with me and help me free the staff."
We wished each other good luck and went about our work. Jean and I rushed out of the ditch and ducked behind a bush to wait for the moment to strike. Jean pulled out a Poke Ball, but I motioned for her to put it away.
"Not yet," I whispered. "I'll try to sneak out quietly. If things go awry, THEN you can back me up."
I watched the guards brush past a few inches from where we were sitting before leaping up and assaulting them with what turned out to be my weapon of choice, a makeshift staff made out of a broom handle. The wooden shaft caught the first guard's head as he ran past - luckily, his muffled "ouch!" didn't alert the other two guards.
With one guard knocked out, I swung the staff around and landed it square across a second guard's back - a follow-up blow to the head knocked him out as well. I looked up to find the remaining guard and felt a heavy boot in my face . . .
I shook stars out of my vision just in time to see the guard pull the trigger on his gun. But the bang that followed was not accompanied by any pain or impact - Jean's Scyther had leapt in from the side and knocked the guard down.
I quickly kicked him in the head to knock him out. "Thanks for covering my back," I said, grinning.
"That bang might have tipped off the other guards though," she replied.
I was halfway through saying I hoped not, when I caught a frantic motion out of the corner of my eye. I spun round to look at the roof of Dole's office and watched as Oatmeal fell courtesy of an unknown sniper.
I grabbed Jean's arm and dragged her into the bushes again, taking with me the guns belonging to the guards we'd clobbered. I handed one to Jean and we hit the deck, taking position to face the office complex from across the field.
Jean was swearing to herself. "Damn it, Oatmeal!" she said. "Why the hell didn't you get down!"
I kept my eyes out for any sign of Alpha Division reinforcements, Grant's team or the hidden sniper. We elt out our Pokemon to help detect any potential threat, but we made it clear to them that they weren't going to fight.
"Just lay low and let us know if there's any trouble," I said. "Come on, Grant - our cover's been blown," I muttered to myself. "Hurry up and get the hell out! We'll be here to cover you guys . . ."
I knew Grant couldn't hear me, but I kept whispering, urging our team out. I looked around in search of the sniper.
"I hope it's you, Grey," I muttered. "Because, when I find you, you're going to wish you were in Hell!"
Meanwhile, I raced across the battlefiled with Marle's Umbreon in my arms. I still had no idea what I was going to do, just a vague notion of getting Umbreon to one of the huts where he could be treated.
I was so preoccupied that I didn't notice one of Tyler's thugs cock his gun on me. The buller rammed into my shoulder and I collapsed, still holding Umbreon. "Umbreon, I'm . . . sorry," I managed to gasp before I passed out from loss of blood.
The next thing I remember is waking up to find everyone gathered around me. Kohaku, holding a cloth against my forehead, smiled as I woke up.
"We thought you weren't going to make it," she said. "You've been out for two days."
Bit by bit, they filled me in on the outcome of the battle. Soon after I got shot, the Freedom League - who had been losing up till then - had a change in fortune and had started driving Tyler and his thugs back. Stan had cornered his brother in one of the huts and shot him through the heart using a gun he'd stolen.
"Well, he's no loss," he said, sounding as if fratricide was something he committed as a matter of course. "Let's just hope he's gone to a warmer climate . . ."
Drake then explained that Grey was dead too. "Killed by a stray bullet," he informed me. "And good riddance too, if you ask me - traitor! I only wish I'd been able to finish him off myself . . ."
The door banged open and Sidney Dole walked in. "Good to see you awake, Melissa," he told me. "We'll be spending the next few days rebuilding after Tyler's little coup - they've already started a bonfire to burn those portraits of himself that he hung in all the huts."
I sniffed. Sure enough, there was a faint smell of burning wafting through an open window. Hopefully, once the Location had been cleansed of Tyler's influence, we could begin again the task of building a new civilisation.
Dole sat down in a chair, his head in his hands. "I don't know how I could have misjudged that young man," he mourned. "If I'd known what he was capable of, I wouldn't have . . ."
Marle cut him short. "No," she said. "You're not a Timeseer, so you weren't to know what would happen. Let's look to the future now . . ."
Maybe the hardest part of the whole thing was the funerals, a quiet service out in the wilderness. Dole had managed to spare some concrete and wood, which he used to make a grand tombstone for all the people Tyler had killed. Off to the side, a few nondescript coffins contained the bodies of those Alpha Division insurgents who were killed. Though none of us were going to miss them, Dole felt they should at least be given a proper funeral.
After the service, I strolled up to Grey's coffin and stood silently for a while. I intended to say a few last "solemn" words, but now I couldn't find anything to say.
"You had to take there side, didn't you?" I said softly. "Too bad, old boy." As I walked away, I noticed Stan giving a similar ritual to Tyler.
"Now," I told myself, "the future beckons . . ."
Things went a lot smoother from that point on, although the old sense of timeless and boredom began to take hold again. The rebuilding began and the damage Tyler caused was slowly being repaired. We even got the bus back courtesy of a excursion by Stan, Steve and myself and I was doubly shocked to find Megavolt chewing up the leather interior. I was glad to have my Pikachu back.
It was about four weeks later when I found Dole having a chat with Marle, Stan and Melissa outside the offices.
"What's going on?" I asked as I approached the quartet.
"We're just getting some plans together for next year," Dole said with a smile. "I've analysed your reports on the outsiders and I think we should be able to take a few into the complex - reintroduce them to civilisation, eh? And we'll be finished upgrading by the end of the week."
Melissa gestured to the renovations going on around us. "So far, we've finished upgrading the medical facilities, the dining hall and the offices," she told me. "Just gotta upgrade the dorms and we're set."
"We'll be starting some farms too," Stan added. "We think there's some good land near here. Plus, we managed to make contact with a couple of remote military bases - seems they weathered the storm in their nuke shelters. We'll be meeting their leader in person any day now."
I raised an eyebrow. "Really?" I asked. "How?"
"They managed to save enough fuel to last their airfleet another year or so," Stan replied. "We'll be expecting a helicopter or something. Anyway, we'll need a leader for the scout team we've assembled to check out the farmland. It's gonna mean twelve days in the wilderness - are you up to it, Drake?"
"Of course! Count me in!" I replied. "Gosh, it seems things are just gonna get better."
"They will," Marle said. "And we'll be right there, helping to piece the world back together again."
And, as I caught sight of the helicopter swooping low over the trees, a symbol of the future we were going to build, I knew that, once again, Marle was absolutely right.
It was a time of new beginnings, of starting a new life untainted by the past. As if to underline this, the Pikachu belonging to Katie Fletcher - that girl from Epsilon Division I'd spoken to a couple of times - produced a baby Pichu. It was a little female and Katie named her Zoe, which means "life".
Slowly, minds bruised by crisis after crisis began to unwind and Marle, now that the immediate danger was over, stopped having so many visions of doom and became almost like the cheerful person she must have been before all this started. I also noticed that she was developing a close attachment to Leon.
"You and Leon seem to be getting on well," I told her one afternoon as we worked in the fields.
"I know," she said. "And you'll never guess what he told me . . ."
I had a pretty good idea, but I decided to let her tell me anyway.
Marle puffed out her chest proudly. "Well, he said he us to . . . you know . . . hang out together and be a couple," she informed me. "He said if things had been . . . if we'd met under different circumstances, we would be dating."
We looked at each other for a moment, both of us thinking about how much the world had changed in the time since we met on that plane. I was very happy for Marle and Leon and hoped they would live out their days together. There was only one thing that needed to be resolved.
"What about kids?" I asked.
"I'm not ready yet, but maybe in a few years' time," Marle told me.
"That's not what I mean. What happens if your kids turn out . . . like you?"
"You mean if they're Timeseers too? Well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
It's been fifteen years since then and the community we built is still thriving. And we don't just call it the Location any more because there was a vote where we had to choose a name to call it. In the end, we chose to call it the Nova Community because Nova means "new" and this was going to be a new community.
We've pretty much forgotten the old ways - things we used to take for granted like tv and computers are now consigned to history. Instead, we spend our time relearning old skills - we'll need to know how to knit and weave when the last of the clothes we brought here are worn out. As it is, we are starting to look decidedly scruffy.
Over the last few years, several kids have been born here - I've got a young son and daughter myself - and we intend to teach them to be good people who will co-operate with each other. That's why I've been teaching groups of them about the world the plague destroyed so they'll have something to compare their world to. It's not easy explaining things they will never experience for themselves, but it has to be done so that the past survives at least in legend.
We've even built a Pokemon Stadium which we use to train our Pokemon. My Pidgeotto and Sunflora are still alive, but they're getting on in years so I don't battle them any more. Instead, I've got a new Pidgeotto that hatched from one of the broods my first Pidgeotto produced here - I call him Speedy and he's one of the best fighters in the Nova Community.
One day, I was out in the fields with Kohaku and our respective kids when we started reminiscing about the old days.
"Remember when we went on the run?" asked Kohaku.
"Sure," I said, recalling that time. "That was when we had that fight with the street gang - remember?"
Kohaku nodded and we talked some more about what had happened over the years and how much the world had changed since we joined Project Alpha. I gazed towards the horizon, wondering if, by some miracle, my mum had also survived the plague. But, in my heart, I knew the odds were against it.
I looked at my watch - it no longer works because there aren't any batteries now, but I like to wear it anyway as a reminder of what I once knew.
"Guess we'd better be getting back," said Kohaku.