“I can’t stand this, Dave!” Jane said desperately. Her smooth face was tearstruck and her beautiful blue eyes were red and puffy. “I hate that freak!”
“Please, Jane, be reasonable…” Dave began in the most soothing voice he could manage, but was cut off.
“Reasonable! It’s all you think about, isn’t it?” She sniffed. “Your precious science and career! Keeping a journal of every little thing that little bitch does! You write happily about how she’s teething, and meanwhile I’m getting hormone injections every day and her fangs are digging into my nipples, just because you still insist on her being fed ‘naturally’ for your stupid research! Everything was so much better before the freak came along and we could spend our time together without the stupid howls waking us up at night!”
“I’d do anything for you, Jane!” Dave pleaded, trying to approach her. “Just please, don’t drop her…”
“You’re too caught up in your job now to do anything for me!” she screamed, still waving the Pokémorph baby threateningly over the balcony handrail. The Vulpix morph screamed as loudly as she could. “We haven’t even had the time to sit down and give her a proper name…”
Jane started crying again. Dave hated situations like this. He’d never been able to handle them properly.
“Please, Jane, I love you,” he muttered, taking a few steps nearer to her. “Why can’t her name just be Jane too as I’ve been saying?”
“I’m not sure I love you anymore,” she said quietly and continued to sob. He felt his heart sting.
“Don’t say that,” he said, laying a hand on her shoulder and moving her other hand that threatened to drop the Pokémorph safely within the balcony. “We’ll sit down together and talk. Everything will be better…”
“No, it won’t,” she sobbed. “You said that last time, too, and it just stayed the same.”
“No, it didn’t, until you started complaining about nothing again! Why do you keep having these ridiculous hysteria fits about everything?” slipped out of Dave in frustration. He regretted it immediately; Jane pushed his hand off her shoulder and turned away.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that…”
Jane threw the baby into his hands and stormed back into the apartment.
“Wait, Jane!” Dave called desperately, running in after her with the morph squirming in his hands. “I really didn’t mean it! I haven’t slept for days! I was just…”
“Goodbye, Dave,” she called over her shoulder.
“No, please, don’t leave…”
The door slammed. Dave stared at it.
He bit his lip and blinked a few times to clear his eyes out. “Fuck,” he muttered.
The baby still howled. Momentarily, he felt that maybe Jane had had the right idea and felt an urge to throw it at the wall or out of the window as hard as he could, but had the sense to stop himself. He tried for a couple of seconds to keep it in and then gave up.
“Fuck!” he screamed at the clothing rack. Then at the bawling Vulpix morph in his hands, “I hope you’re happy, you little freak!”
She continued to howl for food. He looked at her for a few seconds and didn’t have the energy to be angry anymore. He quickly splashed some infant formula milk from the refrigerator into a baby bottle and fed her absent-mindedly; after a moment he opened the refrigerator again and got out a few cans of beer that he put onto the table before closing the fridge with his foot.
He suddenly realized that the little Vulpix girl was already asleep. Everything seemed so unreal that he hadn’t noticed.
“Fuck,” he muttered again, carried her into the bedroom and put her down on the bed before taking out his cellphone and entering Jane’s number. He slumped down on one of the couches in the living room, still staring at the number on the screen.
“Later,” he muttered to himself. “When she’s gotten over it.” Then he added, as if to reassure himself, “She always does.”
Admittedly she had never before gone quite as far as to walk out of the apartment on him. She had locked herself in the bathroom and refused to come out, and she had verbally told him she was going to leave, but she had never actually left.
“She always gets over it,” he repeated, retrieved a can of beer from the kitchen table and opened it. “She loves me…”
And he took a good, long sip.
He awoke to the muffled crying of the morph from the bedroom and found himself lying in an awkward position on the couch with a couple of empty cans on the table. He could only really remember one of them. He’d been too sleep-deprived to notice exactly how much he was drinking.
Dave groaned and stood up, rubbing his eyes. He checked his watch; it was one in the morning. He walked sleepily towards the bedroom and pushed the half-open door ajar. The Vulpix morph was flailing her arms and legs and screaming at the top of her lungs.
“What is it you want this time?” he said disdainfully. “Need your diaper changed? More food, you greedy little bitch? Or are you just screaming for your mommy because your daddy isn’t good enough for you?”
He left the room, got his cellphone out and dialed Jane’s number again.
“Hello?” he heard her voice.
There was a long sigh on the other end of the line.
“Look, Jane, I’m sorry,” Dave said. “I slept a little… please tell me you’re coming back.”
“Not while the freak is there,” he heard her say.
“I can ask one of the others to take her.”
There was a long silence.
“I don’t love you anymore, Dave,” she said softly. He gripped the phone tighter, squeezing it like he could make it tell him Jane was saying something else. “You get so stupid when you drink…”
“I’ll stop drinking,” he said immediately.
“…and you seem to be married to your job…”
“I’ll quit my job.”
“…like on our anniversary, when you begged like a child to get to watch that horrible debate…”
“I’ll never watch TV again.”
“…and those few times we do get to be alone together, all you think about is sex.”
He stopped. No, he wouldn’t.
“Look, Jane,” he said instead, “maybe there are some things where you’re the one who needs to come towards my needs…”
She sighed again on the other end. “Goodbye, Dave. Don’t call me.”
And she hung up.
He closed the cellphone and threw it at the couch. “Fucking bitch!” he shouted at the phone.
He hurried over to the refrigerator and opened it, but didn’t find any alcohol. He closed it again and wasn’t sure what he’d do. Finally he went into the bedroom to the still-crying Pokémorph baby and collapsed onto the bed next to her.
“Jane…” he moaned. He was silent for a long while, listening obliviously to the cries of the little Vulpix girl.
“It’s just you and me now, isn’t it, little Jane?” he muttered, turning to the child. “Jane…”
He winced. “No, I really can’t call you Jane. Not quite that, anyway. Too much painful association.”
Dave looked at his adoptive daughter. Her tiny fangs were visible in her open mouth and whitish hair was already growing on her head and organizing itself into unnatural curls. He sat up and stroked her face carefully, scratching behind her triangular ear; her mouth latched on to his finger and instinctively started to suck on it. He smiled briefly and stroked her one soft, white tail that would one day split into six and gain color.
“How about something more like… Jean?”
The baby was quiet, still sucking on his finger in an attempt to get milk out of it. He decided to take that as a yes.
“God, I’m unoriginal when I’m halfway sober,” he muttered to himself as he went into the kitchen to make some more formula milk.
“Hello?” Dave grumpily answered the telephone. “I’m kind of going out the door, if you don’t mind…”
“You’re the guardian of Jean Ambrose, the Vulpix Pokémorph, correct?” said the voice on the phone.
“Good afternoon. I’m from Rayquaza Studios, and we have just bought the rights to filming the Sarah Hooter books. We would be ready to pay very handsomely if you would agree to signing a contract for your daughter to be in the main role – in a few years when the script is ready and everything, of course…”
Dave chuckled. “Isn’t this a little early to start making contracts? Or did your Xatu foresee that she’ll be a great actress when she’s a teenager?”
“Publicity, you know,” the person on the other end said. “Putting some girl in a costume is both more of a bother and much less intriguing for the fans, you know. Nobody expects kid actors to actually be any good. What matters is that the kids will love to know that Sarah Hooter in the movie is actually real! They’ll be able to go meet her! Of course, there is always the problem of how to do the scenes before she’s transformed – we’d either need an actress who looks a lot like her or to digitally remove her Vulpix features…”
“Look, I’m busy, and I really think you should speak with her about this sometime when she’s ready, okay?” Dave sighed and hung up. “Stupid media. Who in their right mind would want to film that crap?”
“Daddy?” asked Jean. “Are we going yet?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” he replied and took her tiny hand.
“I’m here to see Mr. Rogers.”
The lady behind the desk took one glance at Jean, who was standing on tiptoe, peeking up past the edge and looking at her with big, round, chestnut-brown eyes.
“Go right in, Mr. Ambrose. He’s been expecting you.”
“Come on, Jean.”
He led her to a door on the left, adorned with large black letters.
“P-R-I-N-C-I-P-A-L,” Jean spelled as Dave hesitantly turned the doorknob.
“That’s right, sweetie,” he said as he opened the door, ruffling the curls of her now-red hair. “You’re so smart.”
She beamed up at him as they walked into the office. A balding, elderly man was writing something by a desk straight ahead; the wall behind it was covered completely in intimidating bookshelves. Jean looked curiously around the room, perking her ears.
The man looked up. “Sit down, Mr. Ambrose.”
Dave sat down on one of the small chairs in front of the desk and motioned to Jean to take the other.
“So,” the principal said. “Your daughter. You applied for schooling for her, correct?”
Dave just nodded, watching the man carefully. “A problem with the paperwork?”
“No, no,” Mr. Rogers said, waving his hand casually. “But…” He looked at Jean’s curious face and then back at Dave. “You must understand that your daughter is quite unusual.”
“Oh, I get it,” Dave said coldly. “You don’t want her in your school, do you?”
The principal peered at him through electric blue eyes. “My personal opinion is hardly a matter worth discussing, Mr. Ambrose,” he replied, “as this is a public school.”
“Then what is the problem? Trying to find some other excuse not to take her?”
“How old did you say she was again?” Mr. Rogers asked, ignoring Dave’s comment.
“Five,” Dave replied, “but her development happens a little faster than that of an ordinary human being, so she is capable of all the mental tasks of a six-year-old. I’ve taught her the alphabet, too, and plan to have her able to read fluently by the time she starts school.”
“I see,” the principal replied ambiguously, collecting some papers from his desk into a stack and placing it aside. “Well, the law for public schools says that potential students are only to be denied admission or expelled from the school if they seem to be repeated troublemakers or of insufficient intellect to keep up with others in their grade…”
“Get to the point.”
“Well,” Mr. Rogers said, not without a hint of annoyance, “does she… light things on fire, intentionally or unintentionally? Does she bite people? Does she use the toilet as one would expect of other students?”
Dave looked at him for a second and then laughed. “You know, I know exactly what you’re thinking. It’s what I was thinking before I got to know those kids. Now that I do know them, I can testify that they’re more pleasant company than half of the morons you let into your school just because they happen to be fully human. And for the record, she may learn Fire attacks in the future, but doesn’t know any yet, and if she did, she wouldn’t use them.”
The principal cleared his throat. “Mr. Ambrose, I do hope you can understand why we don’t allow children to bring weapons to school.”
“Well, yeah, but the fact the morphs can’t remove their ‘weapons’ is a very crucial point,” Dave argued. “Both the obvious fact that either they’re going to school with them or not at all, and that the reason you have something to worry about when a normal child brings a weapon to school is that they wouldn’t be bringing a weapon if they didn’t intend to use it. I mean, true, the morphs would be easily able to smuggle a ‘weapon’ in if they felt like doing somebody harm, but how often does a well-raised kid really feel that way? Feel free to expel them if they try to use them, but my daughter has a right to professional education as long as she isn’t hurting anyone.”
Mr. Rogers did not look convinced. “Anything that is that easily able to attack the other children should not be in a public school.”
“I told you, she can’t use fire yet. You can reconsider when she learns it if you absolutely have to, sure, but according to our calculations that is not likely to be until she’s a teenager from the way her fire sac is maturing…”
The principal sighed. “Fine, but what about biting? Or any other… what to call it, ‘Pokémonlike’ behavior?”
“She’ll bite under exactly the circumstances an ordinary kid would bite and no more often than that,” Dave replied irritably. “She behaves like a human in all but very insignificant ways. I mean, she snarls and bares her fangs when she’s provoked sometimes, but I’d laugh if you tried to use that as an excuse not to accept her into your school.”
“I’m bored,” Jean whispered from Dave’s side, looking up from the paperclips she’d been playing with. “When can we go?”
“Not yet, honey,” he replied, his voice dripping with subtle sarcasm. “The nice man doesn’t want you to go to school, see.”
She looked up at him with an innocent expression of puzzlement. “Why not?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. Why don’t you try asking him?”
She turned to Mr. Rogers and looked adorably up at him.
Just try to tell those puppy eyes that she’s a danger to the other students! Dave thought triumphantly to himself, trying to hide the amusement in his expression. Just try!
The principal didn’t try.
“Well, Mr. Ambrose,” he finally mumbled, “I suppose if she is really incapable of using fire as you say, there can’t be much harm in having her, but for her sake, I must beg you to consider the social issues…”
“I have considered them,” Dave replied, “and I came to the conclusion that she would be a great deal better off socially by mingling with some kids of roughly her mental age than if isolated from them.”
Mr. Rogers waved his hand hopelessly. “Fine. We’ll register her. But I assure you that we will reconsider if she starts burning things. You may leave.”
Dave smiled victoriously. “Thank you, Mr. Rogers,” he said, took Jean’s hand and walked with her out of the room.
“You are a genius,” he muttered on the way out with a fond grin. “Classic. Truly masterful timing.”
She giggled innocently. “You’re always saying weird things.”