“This way,” Jessie said, motioning with her head, since her hands were a little bit full at the moment. James looked curiously down the hallway she had started towards and then back at the hallway he had been heading for himself.
“Um, Jessie?” he asked. “I may be mistaken, but wasn’t the plan to bring Pikachu and the twerp’s other Pokémon to the boss’s office before Pierce writes up his report and destroys our reputation and our careers?”
“Brilliant, isn’t it? We’ll dazzle the boss and get a promotion right under that witch Fiora’s nose.” Jessie looked downright pleased with herself.
“Yes, but erm… isn’t the boss’s office the other way?”
“Yes, it is,” Jessie said, not turning around. She didn’t give him more of an explanation than that, but then again, James was used to having to follow up if he wanted Jessie to explain herself.
“Then, why are we going in not-that-direction?” he asked.
At this, Jessie turned and grinned like she couldn’t be more thrilled that James had posed the question. “Because down here happens to be where Team Rocket keeps certain valuable supplies… including evolution stones.”
“Ooo. Right. I get it,” James said with a giggle, even though he didn’t get it at all. If the stones were already owned by Team Rocket, then what was picking them up and bringing them to the boss going to accomplish? Unless Jessie was talking about using them on one of the Pokémon, but they didn’t have any in their possession that–
“Wait a second!” James exclaimed, now scrambling to keep up with Jessie, who was halfway down the hall. She shushed him angrily, and he lowered his voice. “You’re not actually talking about using a Thunderstone on Pikachu, are you?”
“And why wouldn’t I?” Jessie asked. “We both know this Pikachu is amazing. So it would have to be all the more amazing after it evolves, right?”
“Y-yes,” James agreed. “But… it doesn’t want to evolve. Don’t you remember? We were there when it faced off against a Raichu to prove itself. We even formed a cheerleading squad.”
Jessie seemed either not to hear him or didn’t care to hear him. Instead she approached a panel on the wall, put in a series of numbers, and kept smiling like a little girl who’d gotten her first starter Pokémon. James had his suspicions where she had gotten the series of numbers (and how much the boss actually wanted her to have them), but he kept quiet for the time being.
The heavy door clicked open and they stepped inside to find the cozy little laboratory they had been expecting had been transformed into a full-out Pokémon research wing, complete with kennels, exam tables, and all sorts of glittery equipment.
“Looks like the boss did some upgrading while we were away,” he observed.
Jessie looked annoyed but pressed on. Fortunately, whoever had designed the place kept it well organized. Before long, they spotted a cabinet marked “evolution stones” in one of the lab’s many storage rooms.
Inside the cage, Pikachu stirred as Jessie set it down on a nearby exam table and reached into the cabinet to pull out a shimmering green stone. Weak as it was, the electric rodent seemed to recognize what was happening at once. It let out a screech and a hiss, bearing its needle-like teeth at them.
“Now, now, that’s no way to talk,” Jessie said, shaking the Thunderstone at Pikachu with a tsk-tsk sort of motion. “After all, you’ll be meeting our boss for the first time. You really should be polite.”
Quick as a flash, she threw on her pair of rubber gloves and opened the cage. In its weakened state, Pikachu could not fend her off. She snatched it up with one hand and with the other, forced the Thunderstone against its bright red electric pouch. Pikachu put up quite a struggle, James would give the little rodent credit for that. The strange thing was that it didn’t struggle so much with Jessie as it did with the evolution itself. Even as its body began to glow with the energy of evolution, Pikachu screeched and tried everything to pull away from the stone, as if the whole process caused it intense pain. For a moment, its struggles actually seemed to be working. Its body, which had started to grow in size, began to shrink down again as Pikachu gritted its teeth and struggled against the change.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Jessie said, and pressed the stone harder against Pikachu’s cheek. Exhausted, Pikachu lost its struggle and its body began to grow again. Its lightning-bolt-shaped tale stretched thin, its legs began longer and more muscular, and its ears fanned out. When the evolutionary light faded, Pikachu wasn’t Pikachu anymore.
The new Raichu slowly opened one eye and looked over its new form. It let out a gasp of shock and stumbled backwards as if trying to back away from itself. James didn’t feel guilty terribly often. He felt so now. It was fine to debate if stone-induced evolution was a good thing or not. But surely the Pokémon’s feelings had to play into it. What he had just stood by and let happen… it felt wrong. It had to be wrong. And even though he knew Jessie would never admit it, James guessed from her worried face that she felt a bit guilty, too.
“Well,” she said, dropping the stone to the floor. “Now, there’s no need to make a fuss. What’s done is done, and there’s no changing it. Time to get back to the boss.”
The Raichu shook its head emphatically, still gritting its teeth. “Chu… Chu…” it muttered at them. Then, with a blazing defiance in its bright eyes, it looked straight at Jessie and shouted out, “Pi. Ka. Chu!”
Jessie gasped. James jumped back. They must have heard that wrong. Surely it wasn’t possible. No Pokémon ever spoke another Pokémon’s language. And yet…
“No, not ‘Pika’!” Jessie said in a quavering voice. “Rai! Say, ‘Raichu’!”
“Pikachu!” the electric Pokémon snapped back at her.
Well, this was bad. James wasn’t completely sure what the bad consequences of this bad thing would be… maybe a part of him had been hoping that if this whole forced evolution had worked correctly, he and Jessie could just pretend this was some random Raichu they’d captured. But a Pokémon saying the wrong name would most certainly draw questions, which would force him and Jessie to explain why they hadn’t taken the Pokémon straight to Fiora as instructed, and–
“What are yous two doing down here?”
James froze. That voice. It had been weeks since he last heard it, but after all their years of travel together, he’d recognize it anywhere.
“Meowth?” he said in shock, looking to see where the voice had come from. Jessie was doing the same. Then James’ eye caught a flicker of movement — a Pokémon stepping out of the shadows. It had Meowth’s face, but it seemed to be walking on all fours, which was very strange since their Meowth never walked on all fours. HIs color was off too, more of a bluish tone that Meowth’s usual light beige. But it was when Meowth flicked its tail that James realized just how wrong things were here. The tail didn’t look anything like a Meowth’s — in fact, if James had to put a Pokémon to it, he would say the tail looked like it belonged to a Vaporeon, thick, muscular, with two flukes to propel it smoothly through water.
But that had been Meowth’s voice. And James was looking right at Meowth’s face. The freakish hybrid of a Pokémon took a few more steps forward, looking between Jessie, James, and Pika-Raichu with a mix of shock and fury.
“If you’re gonna be sneaky, how about you try doing it not right in the middle of Fiora’s lab?”
“‘Fiora’s lab? Since when?” Jessie said with a nervous laugh.
“Um, I think more to the point… what happened to you, Meowth?”
Meowth seemed to freeze up at this question, and shook its head. Before Jessie or James could press it for any more answers, they heard the sound of a padlocked door swishing open across the room followed by the jangle of a Pokémon harness.
“Just who does he think he is? Snapping orders at me. Me!”
And he called himself her friend. Why if it wasn’t for her, Mr. Highly respected Elite Agent Pierce would still be nothing more then a glorified errand boy!
She entered the clearance code to into the main entry keypad with quick, forceful strokes. “Do me a favor, would you Absol?” She looked to the Pokémon still at her side. “The next time you see your trainer, tell him Fiora said he can go kiss the backside of a Muk.”
“Ab-sol,” said Absol, a bit defensively, but Fiora turned up her nose.
“That’s right I said it. And I mean it, too.”
The door clicked open right on cue. She paused a second to take a few, still slightly ragged breaths then squared her shoulders. She needed to focus now. This was still her lab. And Pikachu her charge. No matter what a certain self-absorbed, over-hairsprayed diva and her dimwit sidekick claimed. And she was going to make sure they remembered that, too. No matter how much her body ached or how exhausted she was.
She pushed open the first set of doors with force and stepped into the little entrance foyer, expecting to see Jessie and James jump in surprise. Only they weren’t there.
Maaaann! And I had a dramatic lecture planned and everything!
Maybe they got lost. Wandering aimlessly around their own hideout like clueless idiots seemed like something they’d do. Oh well. At least now she’d have time to get comfortable. Perhaps she’d drag out her tall office chair and set it right near the front door for when they did finally show up. She smiled at the thought, imagining the look on Jessie and Jame’s faces when they walked in to find her, sitting tall and glaring, with Absol at her feet just like the Boss and his Persian. If that didn’t put the scare into them, nothing would.
A swipe of her ID card opened the second of the pressurized doors leading into the lab itself.
Odd, the lights were already on.
Did I forget to flick the switch on my way out yesterday?
She wouldn’t put it past herself. Fiora had been getting more and more forgetful lately. But surely Absol would have reminded her…
She looked to her side and found the Pokémon had his hackles up. And was that… movement inside one the rooms?
Her hand found the door and she threw all her weight into it. This time the slam had the effect she had been going for. Both Jessie and James scrambled to attention in front of a lab table, smiling stiff, nervous, way-too-appeasing smiles.
“How did you idiots get in here?” she snapped, then reconsidered. “No. Never mind that. Where’s the Pikachu?”
“The Pikachu?” James questioned.
“Yes. The Pikachu. The one you two wasted hundreds of thousands of company funds on yet didn’t have the sense to heal.” She arched her eyebrows. Was that its cage behind them? She inched aside trying to get a better look. But Jessie and James kept scooting over to block her view.
“Oh that Pikachu!” Jessie laughed. “Well, you see, you took so long getting here we already took care of it.”
“Yep,” James agreed. “It’s sound asleep. At this very moment, actually.”
“So looks like you’re not needed here after all,” Jessie chimed back in. She even had the nerve to hand-wave towards the exit.
Absol growled. He took a step forward, nudged at something on the ground, then picked it up and brought it to Fiora. Her blood raced when she recognized the gray, faceted surface of a spent evolution stone. Jessie and James went ashen.
“What did you do?” Fiora demanded marching forward.
“Well, you see,” James stammered. A glare and a snarl from Absol was all it took to send him scurrying aside. Behind him was the cage, covered with a sheet, like they actually thought that would hide it. When she yanked it off a spark of electricity shot passed her face.
“Easy there,” Fiora said as she looked down into the furious face of a Raichu. Had those idiots actually evolved Pikachu without the Boss’s permission?
The Raichu sparked again, glaring. “Pika-chu-pika-pi!”
Fiora felt her jaw slacken. Behind her, she could hear Jessie and James inching for the door.
“I’m sure your trainer is fine,” Fiora said when she regained her voice. She attached a feeder to the cage, re-draped it with the sheet, and lit a Poké-nip incense. “We’ll talk later. After you’ve had a chance to calm down.”
“Pi-ka!” growled Raichu, its eyes already starting to droop. Only when she was sure it was asleep did she point her associates out of the room, hands shading with anger. The Meowth hybrid picked up the spent Thunderstone (it was still round and shiny, after all), and walked out first.
It took everything in Fiora to close the door without slamming it, and she turned in slow motion to Jessie and James.
“What. Did. You. DO!”
“You were going to evolve it anyway!” Jessie argued, her face turning red.
The Meowth hybrid dropped its prize at her feet. Without thinking, Fiora picked up the stone and threw. It struck a nearby lab station, sending a tray of beakers crashing to the ground in a shower of glass. “Of course I was! After I earned its trust. After I convinced it evolution was greatest darn thing to happen to Pokémon since Z-powers! I wasn’t going to pin it down and force it to evolve against its will! Seriously! What is wrong with you two?!”
“Easy, Fiora,” a timid voice spoke up from somewhere on the floor. Fiora glanced down to see the hybrid’s Vaporeon-like tail brush against her leg. “You’ll get sick if you keep yellin’ like that.”
“Whose side are you on, Meowth?” Jessie snapped. The hybrid shrank back and gritted its teeth.
“Forcin’ a Pokémon to evolve… even the twerp’s Pokémon…” It shook its head, eyes glistening with tears. “You got a clue what that feels like?!”
“Meowth, please, we’re sorry!” James attempted, for what little good that would do now.
“My name ain’t Meowth no more.” The hybrid lowered its head and crept back to the shadows of some nearby tables.
“Get out of my lab!” Fiora roared. “Both of you! Get out! NOW!”
They went, faster then Fiora had ever seen them move. She stood for a long moment just staring after them. Then the exertion finally caught up with her and she had to lean back against the lab table.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” she said through heavy breaths. “I know they were your friends once.”
“Yeah.” The little hybrid hung its head. “Once.”
She glanced back over her shoulder to the room that held the sleeping Raichu. “And I’m sorry for you too, little one. You didn’t deserve this.” Her chest spasmed, and she started to cough again. Absol and the hybrid nudged over a stool for her and she sat gratefully, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Thanks, guys,” she said. Out of reflex, she reached down to pat Absol’s head. She yanked her hand away when her first stroke left a smudge of red on its fur.
“Hey Fiora… you’re bleedin’!” the hybrid said, face filled with worry. Absol was already in rescue mode, bounding across the lab to smack on the emergency intercom with his nose.
“I’m fine,” she tried to call after it. When that failed, she tried to stand, anything to keep Absol from overreacting and alerting the entire building. “Really. I just need to rest a mo–”
Then her legs gave out.