When Agent Fiora entered Team Rocket’s Pokémon housing facility, she found a flurry of assistants hard at work — mostly cleaning cages and mixing food. She gripped Absol’s harness and walked forward, her weak muscles quivering in protest. At least Pierce understood her, even if no other Rockets did. He knew better than to argue that she get a wheelchair. He had simply brought out Absol one day, pulled the walking harness onto its shoulders, and set its Pokéball in her hand.
“A loan,” he had called it. “For when you need help.” He had respected her enough not to make the trade official. True, she would have loved a Pokémon of her own. But this way was better. Pokémon had feelings too, and she refused to bring a Pokémon into her life knowing it would only be left mourning for her in a few years’ time.
“Just another day at work, eh?” she asked.
“Ab-sol,” said Absol. They passed the break room, Fiora taking careful steps with Absol pacing diligently at her side, ready at a moment’s notice to lean in to steady her whenever she needed.
At least five assistants stopped to offer the usual “morning, ma’am!” and “can I help you, ma’am!” and “Lovely weather we’re having today, isn’t it, ma’am!” Sad, she didn’t even know half their names. She had tried, of course. When she first started out as head caretaker…. two and a half years ago? Yes, that sounded right. Back when her group of assigned underlings was small. But her arsenal of minions seemed to be growing exponentially lately, and Fiora was working less and less.
She and Absol made the usual rounds. First checking the group play room to greet her Pokémon friends, make sure they were happy and getting along, and lecturing Rocket underlings each time their work wasn’t up to her (some would say insane) standards. Then it was inside to check the indoor kennel and the isolation room that housed the “special cases.”
She swiped her ID in the electronic lock opening the iso door with a pressurized woosh. The hybrids rose in their cages when she came in. Unlike her underlings, Fi didn’t shy away from the uglier ones. They were still real Pokémon with real feelings, after all. No matter how twisted they looked on the outside.
She lingered by the newest arrival’s cage longest, trying to coax him to eat just a little.
“I’m sorry you had to go through this. I know it wasn’t your choice,” she crooned. “But you have skills now no Meowth has ever had. Just think… you’re as rare and special as a legendary Pokémon!” She slid the bowl of kibble closer. “But if you want to become powerful like them first you need to keep up your strength. So, here. It’s my own recipe. No more of that bulk food, I promise.”
The hybrid (it hadn’t told anyone its new name yet) took up a piece of kibble, and after a long pause, finally popped it in his mouth. Fiora watched with satisfaction as it swallowed and reached for another bite. Sometimes all it took was a little flattery.
She stepped out of isolation and back into the kennel, just in time to find three grunts arguing over whose turn it was to feed Raven. Fiora listened for a moment, chuckling at the sheer absurdity of some of the excuses. Then, when that got boring, she put her foot down and did the boss thing.
“Stop being a bunch of wusses and do your job already!” Her minions cowered right on cue, bowed apologetically, and slunk over to Raven’s cage in the far corner. Fiora smiled as she watched them go, soaking in the warm feel of power. Sometimes it was the littlest joys in life that kept her going.
She slipped into her private office and took a seat at her desk, still watching the drama through the glass window. How long would they take today before Raven kicked their butts and they had to come ask her for help? The standing record was thirty seconds.
Fiora leaned back in her black-leather chair, which was simple and comfortable yet just tall enough to make her feel important. She smiled to herself as she watched Raven’s Whirlwind attack sent one underling soaring passed her office window screaming. She felt her eyes grow heavy. Just another day in paradise…
In her dreams, she found herself, as she often did, seated in front of Giovanni’s desk two and a half years ago…
Fiora didn’t like this office or the plush chair at her back. They felt too much like a display. Like her old life. She was small in the shadow of the tall, oak desk. And she was tired of being small.
At least the man seated behind the desk was real. She could see his eyes narrowing. The corner of his mouth twitching as he looked her up and down. He wasn’t going to take pity on her because she was sick.
“So then,” he said in a hard, boss-ly tone. She wouldn’t expect anything less from the leader of a multi-million dollar criminal organization. “You’re the one?”
Fiora held his gaze. “Yes, sir.”
“The one who called up my gym, threatening to expose me to the police.”
“Who hounded one of my agents until he brought you here… to my personal office.”
The man’s voice was rising, his face flushing tamato-berry red. Almost the same shade as his snappy suit.
“And now you actually have the nerve to sit there and demand that I, Giovanni, make you a member of my organization.”
His fingers drummed the desk. Most of his underlings would have broken down by now. Or at the very least cowered a little. On the surface, Fiora knew she looked like the type who would cower. Physically she was all ribs and skin, her complexion pale–not exactly stand-your-ground-and-risk-injury material. In another life, she might very well have shattered to pieces the second his voice raised. But she had left that person behind in a blaze of explosive, Team Rocket glory.
She still had to make things official, though.
She glanced aside and found Pierce. Probably the only friend she had in the world. Ironic since they barely knew each other. Did two visits and a few phone calls over four years count as friendship?
She hoped so.
Pierce took her cue, hefting the heavy briefcase and setting it on Giovanni’s desk.
She cleared her throat. “I know I’ve caused you some trouble. And I want to make amends. So please accept this bribe–this token–of my sincerest apologies.”
Giovanni blinked at her and she smiled back at him. He flipped the briefcase tabs and lifted the lid. From inside a pillow of red-velvet he lifted a statue. Nothing fancy. Just your average, run-of-the-mill, 10,000-year-old Persian statue from back when statues were chiseled by hand out of gold and set with rubies.
Giovanni set the statue down, front and center on his desk, letting Pierce take the briefcase away. Then he sat back down and steepled his fingers.
“You have thirty seconds.”
That would do. She only needed five. “My name is Fiora Bloodstone Sycamore, and I want you to make me a member of Team Rocket.”
Fiora watched the man raise an eyebrow at the last part, as she figured he would. The one useful thing her father ever gave her. His name came with a reputation.
“Sycamore…” Giovanni was muttering. “Kalos’ leading expert in Pokémon mega evolution…”
He was already typing away one-handed, his eyes flicking almost imperceptively to a monitor on his desk.
“The very same. Oh, but don’t bother looking for me in his file. Apparently neglecting a sick kid would only muck up his image.” The words rolled off her tongue so easy. Too easy, some would say. After all, family was supposed to stick together, right?
Apparently her father never got the memo. Or he still wasn’t convinced she was his… which was pathetic really, considering how much she took after the guy. She had his blue eyes, his hair–dark and wild–his love of Pokémon, and his hunger to learn. Oh yeah, and the willingness to abandon family to pursue his own goal. She got that from him, too.
“Sick with what?” Giovanni asked. There was no pity there. No tiptoeing around her like she was made of glass. Giovanni was a real businessman and, he wanted to know all the risks before he made an investment in her. As well he should.
“Bad DNA,” she replied.
“How long do you have?”
Pierce tensed beside her. It looked like he was going to say something, then clamped his mouth shut.
She didn’t flinch. “Two years. Maybe three.”
She patted Pierce’s arm, jarring him. He moved back over to Giovanni’s desk and placed down a second briefcase.
Fiora leaned back in the cushy armchair, not breaking eye-contact. “Here’s my proposition. You make me a Team Rocket member. You give me a job… and I mean a real job. None of this sitting quietly researchers-assistant crap–something that requires neurons. You do that, and I’ll serve you loyally for the rest of my life. Starting now.”
Pierce opened the briefcase with a flourish and the greedy flash in Giovanni’s eyes made her heart soar.
Inside the case the last shred of her morality lay in neat, glittering little rows. One man’s lifetime worth of research and toil and sacrifice–and she had just handed it to the leader of Team Rocket to use as he pleased for whatever evil experiments he wanted. She almost wished her father was there right now, if only to see the look on his face. Oh, well, can’t win them all.
“Do we have a deal?”
Giovanni closed the case and gestured for Pierce to take it somewhere. His evil genius lab probably. “Please, call me Boss.”
He hit a button on his intercom.
“Jessie! James! Please escort Agent Fiora to orientation.”
“Yes, Boss!” two voices answered in unison. He “humphed” in satisfaction then looked back across the desk at her. “You’ll be given paperwork. Fill out your… personal requirements there. And your skills, of course.”
The both stood and she shook his hand. On the floor behind his desk Giovanni’s Persian rose from a velvet pillow, stretched, and yawned. It was well fed. Well groomed. Giovanni clearly was a man who loved what he valued and valued what he loved.
Fiora gave the Pokémon a friendly head pat when it came to sniff her. True, she might never be as valued as the Boss’s precious pet. Or even as one of his underlings. But at least now, here, she would have a chance to try.
The memory faded from her mind and she woke to the sensation of paws on her lap and a Pokémon’s voice right in her face.
Fiora’s eyes flew open. Absol looked panicked. How long had he been trying to wake her? She reached up and rubbed the Pokémon behind his sickle-shaped horn, trying to ignore the shake in her hand. “I’m fine. I was just resting my eyes.”
“Absol! Absol! Ab–sol!” Absol lectured. It was kinda touching.
She straightened, rolling her shoulders. Absol hadn’t let her doze for long, thank goodness. It was bad enough her fellow Rocket members were starting to give her piteous looks. The last thing she needed was for them to see her passed out right there at her desk.
As she rubbed her eyes, she became vaguely aware of her office door opening. Someone called her name.
“What? What? I wasn’t sleeping!” She fixed blurry eyes on the entrance and found Pierce stepping inside. “Oh. It’s you. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be off, I don’t know, managing that project you’re manager of?” He closed the door behind him, not even batting an eye at her little jab.
“I brought you some brunch.”
“Oh. Thanks.” She wasn’t really hungry. Hadn’t been for a while, actually. But Pierce had gone out of his way to spoil her this time. Egg sandwiches, her favorite food ever, toasted to golden brown perfection. Fresh squeezed citrus-berry juice. Even a fancy folded napkin. The least she could do was try and humor him.
She took a bite. “You forgot the tamato berries.”
He held up one finger. “I didn’t forget. You’re not supposed to eat spicy foods anymore, remember? Doctors orders.”
Fiora groaned. “Yeah, yeah. No spicy foods. No strenuous activity. No fun of any kind.” She took another bite and sighed in disappointment at the bland flavor. “So you wanna tell me what you really want? By the looks of this brunch, it must be something I’m not going to like.”
Pierce rubbed the back of his head. He hated that she could read him so well. But in her defense the guy was boorishly predictable.
“Well, I’ve been given a new assignment. I’m heading out tomorrow with Agents Jessie and James–”
“Uh!” she made a disgusted noise. “Tweedle-Diva and Tweedle-Dunce? Okay, out with it. What did you do to piss off the Boss?”
“Wha–Nothing!” He shook his head. “Anyway that’s not important. What matters is I’m going to be gone for a few days and I asked Agents Butch and Cassidy–”
“–to look after you.”
“Forget it. No way. Not happening.” She crossed her arms, heat rising to her face. So that was what he wanted from her. Compliance. Well, that wasn’t going to happen, not even for a million egg sandwiches. “I do not need that pair of loudmouth morons telling the whole organization how it takes me an hour just to get out of bed.”
She shouldn’t have said that. Pierce’s eyes were already deepening with concern. The kind of look that made her want to hug him and slap him at the same time. She had warned him not to get attached right from the start. But the sentimental fool didn’t listen.
She shook her head and forced her voice to stay steady as she replied. “I’ll be fine with Absol. Please, just go on your mission. I’ll still be here when you get back.”
She tried to smile but knew it was a bittersweet gesture. Pierce wasn’t an idiot. She wouldn’t be able to say that for much longer, and both of them knew it.
“Fine,” he said. “But if you need anything–”
“Harass Butch and Cassidy. I got it. What’s this new assignment, anyway? Teaching the two stooges to tie their own shoelaces?”
Pierce gripped the doorframe. “Giovanni… seemed to recognize some kid in this surveillance footage I found. Or, recognize his family name, at least–”
“A kid?” She didn’t like the sound of that. Not one bit. “What kind of kid?”
“I don’t know, the teenager kind!” Pierce said, sounding exasperated. Then he narrowed his eyes at her. “Stop being paranoid. The boss respects you, which is more than I can say for a lot of people. Even if this is a recruitment mission, and he didn’t say it was, your position is more than secure.”
“It better be.”
She hand-waved him off in a ‘now let me get back to work’ kind of way, even though she hadn’t actually done any paperwork that morning. Nor was she going to. When Pierce finally left she fumbled in one of her desk drawers, fished out a bottle of tamato-berry hot sauce and splurted a nice glob on her half-eaten sandwich. Then she leaned back in her chair, propped her feet up, and ate slowly, savoring every spicy morsel.
Sabrina stirred anxiously in the throne-like chair at her gym. The space was silent now… no new challengers bursting in, Pokemon all resting… and it was times like these she was most likely to get her premonitions, even if they were vague and not necessarily helpful.
She closed her eyes and felt an old sensation… that tug at her innermost being, that unquenchable thirst for power. She could sense she would be given the opportunity to have more of it… much more than she had now. But the offer would come at a cost… a great decision would have to be made on her part if the bargain was worth it. She could feel nothing beyond that, and it frustrated her more than she could ever explain.
She heard the creak of hinges; a crack of light extended on the red gym floor as the door opened ever-so-slightly. Sabrina startled, fully awakened from her dreamlike trance.
“Miss Sabrina?” called the timid voice of a student. Zoe, that was it. The girl was a promising young trainer. Or at least, she was a trainer who could bend spoons without popping a blood vessel. “Miss Sabrina, is everything all right in here?”
Sabrina straightened up. “Yes…” she said slowly. Did she share what she had seen? No, she couldn’t. Not yet, at any rate. Perhaps as the details began to reveal themselves, she could then seek advice. For now, the best action was to wait and let fate take its course.
“Yes,” she assured Zoe, more confidently this time. “Yes, I’m doing just fine.”