“Pika-pi,” Pikachu whined as it walked along the hallway. Or… was “Raichu” more accurate? Meowth shrugged. He didn’t even know what he himself wanted to be called, so far be it for him to criticize the electric rodent.
“Pika-pi!” Pikachu said, more demanding this time.
“Yeah, yeah, you wanna see your friend, I know,” Meowth muttered. “But this place ain’t as easy to navigate as you think it is…”
He turned a corner, finally happy to see it looked familiar. This was where the grunts he’d overheard said the boss’s kid would be staying.
The boss’s kid… still can’t believe it… how many times did we put the twerp in danger? Are we just lucky none of those plans actually worked?
Meowth shook its head. It wasn’t worth thinking about. “We’ll need to get back soon, before Fiora notices we’re missing,” he said.
Pika-Raichu nodded. Then it toddled up to the closed door and knocked three times with its long tail.
The door cracked open. The twerp had dressed differently now, all decked out in full Team Rocket executive attire. It actually made him look like the teenager he was instead of the dopey kid he still acted like. Meowth slunk back off to the shadows, not caring to have a conversation, which would most likely end in the twerp accusing him of forcing Pikachu’s evolution, anyway.
“Hello?” Ash looked down in confusion at the Raichu now standing there. His Pokémon’s eyes lit up with happiness.
“Pika-pi!” Pika-Raichu exclaimed. “Pika-pi! Pika-pi!”
Meowth missed whatever Ash said after that. But he did see the human dropping down to his knees and hugging the electric rodent. So… he had to believe that something had gone right.
“You’re going to feel a little pinch,” the head technician said in her sing-song voice. Fiora never understood the point of the niceites even growing up. Pain was pain, no matter how flowery and sweet the medical staff tried to make it sound.
Annoying nurses. Definitely not something I’m going to miss in my next life. If she lived, that is.
Pierce touched her shoulder lightly, just for a moment, before stepping aside and out of the tech’s way. He had insisted on being there with her. Even though she had told him she didn’t need him coddling her and holding her hand. She hated when people did that and he knew it. Still, some part of her was still glad he hadn’t listened. At least now she wouldn’t be alone if the merger failed.
“It will be okay, Pierce.” She tried to sound reassuring, more for his sake then hers. Death didn’t scare her. She had been preparing for it her entire life. It was the idea of living she didn’t know how to process. She never saw that coming. And certainly not as some half-Pokémon freak of nature.
Well, it’s not the first time I sacrificed something important to get what I want. She had given up her morality, and the last few years of her freedom to gain independence from her so-called family. Handing over her humanity seemed like a small price to pay if the reward was a long and healthy life.
The technician slid a needle into her arm, and Fiora grit her teeth as the “little pinch” turned into a rush of liquid ice through her veins. She breathed through the pain as she watched the tech hurry about her, checking monitors, recording vitals, adjusting her IV. All the usual nursing stuff. When she was finally convinced Fiora wasn’t going to flat-line on her right then and there, the tech reached across the procedure table and fastened a leather restraint around Fiora’s feet.
“Is that really necessary?” Pierce protested.
But Fiora just snorted in delighted amusement. “What the heck are you merging me with, anyway? Raquaza?”
The tech returned her smile. “Actually, the boss left it up to you to decide that.”
“Oh.” Well, that was an interesting twist, now wasn’t it? The doctors letting her decide how her treatment should go. While the head tech fitted a second restraint around Fiora’s shoulders, the doctor arrived and brought over a tray with the glittery mega evolution stones Fiora had used years back to buy her way into Team Rocket. Funny, they seemed even more precious and beautiful now. As her eyes traced over each stone she found herself forming a mental picture of the Pokémon they belonged to. She flipped through them in her mind like pages in a book, recalling stats and traits, quirks and hidden abilities and all the other sciency stuff she had memorized as a young trainer-wannabe. Before her mother had crushed her dream.
So many possibilities. Only one choice. She had to make it carefully. Like a new trainer selecting their first Pokémon. What traits and abilities would best suit her? Something powerful. Yes. That was a must. She would never go back to being weak. But what kind of power? If there was one thing the boss had taught her, it was that brutish size and fancy weapons weren’t the only way to be powerful. Building a reputation, exploiting others weaknesses and fears–these were their own kind of power.
She squinted at the stones again, narrowing down her choice to six–all Pokémon who relied on their own strength from the moment they hatched. From these her choice was easy.
“I choose Absol,” she said.
Pierce raised his eyebrows. “Really? A dark type? Are you sure?”
Fiora nodded curtly. “Absol doesn’t need to evolve, doesn’t need help to be powerful. It’s strong on its own. Plus it’s the disaster Pokémon. Which, let’s face it, pretty much sums up most of my life.” She tried to smile at that last part and the rather amusing irony.
“I think it suits,” added the tech with an approving nod.
Pierce frowned and turned his face away. She gripped his hand in hers as the doctor leaned over her, Absolite at the ready.
Time to go.
She closed her eyes, flinching when the Absolite’s cool surface touched her neck. Strange. The stone seemed to be humming. Fiora concentrated on the sound, letting it fill her up until she could feel it in her bones. At her neck, the cool stone started to heat. The feeling of warmth resonated from sunny day pleasantness, to will-o-wisp annoyance, then on to flamethrower levels of searing. She tried to move away, but found her arms and legs tied down. She was trapped.
Panic spiked in her. The memory of an inescapable room, as lavishly decorated as a museum exhibit. A sanctuary that had become a prison and had nearly been her tomb.
“No!” she screamed. “Let me go! Let me out! I can’t–” she couldn’t breathe. Every gasp sent rivulets of fire coursing through her chest. In the background she was vaguely aware of the blaring alarms and scurrying bodies. The tech’s voice snapped “we’re losing her!”
Then, slowly, the fire subsided. The noises faded into quiet. Her body was light as air. Not hers at all. When she opened her eyes she was running through the mountains on four powerful legs. The planet’s currents tingled through her scalp and into her core.
Far away she thought she felt pressure on her hand. A soft voice registered. “No. You can’t. Not yet.”
Pierce? That sentimental fool.
Her scalp tingled again and suddenly she saw him before her. His body was hunched over, his face sullen as he alone set flowers on her grave. She saw her Pokémon friend, Raven, cooped in a filthy cage. And other Pokémon she knew, ragged and hungry and full of pent rage. All her hard work, her life’s work to build them a safe place and keep them happy, passed off and forgotten as easily as she was.
No! That was unacceptable!
Fury seized her, willing her heart to throb, flutter, then throb again faster. Her chest spasmed as her mouth opened and drew in a huge gasp of air. Her eyes flew open, huge and wild. Faces came into focus all around her. A dozen at least, all medics except one. Pierce still had a hold of her hand.
She met his eye, and saw surprise and shock flit across his face for half a heartbeat before dissolving in to relief.
“Welcome back,” he said. “You had me worried there for a minute.”
She felt herself smile, too tired to think up some sort of snarly reply. Tomorrow maybe. Yes. She let her eyes sink closed and her spirits soar. Tomorrow was a new day. The start of the rest of her life.
Ash stormed into Giovanni’s office. Giovanni looked up, almost amused, as if he’d been expecting Ash to come barging in any second.
“May I help you?” he asked, setting his pen down on top of his paperwork.
Ash gritted his teeth. “You didn’t tell me you evolved Pikachu!” he said. He closed his eyes, wincing at the memory of Pikachu’s face. It had seemed so lost and confused, like it didn’t quite understand why it had to deal with this new body, why the process couldn’t be reversed, why its best friend hadn’t been there to stop it in the first place.
“Technically speaking, I did not evolve your Pokémon,” Giovanni said. “That little incident was caused by two of your subordinates. I believe you know Jessie and James quite well?”
Ash opened his eyes in surprise at the names. He knew Jessie and James would do anything to get their hands on Pikachu, of course. But at the end of the day, forcing it into an evolution against its will, didn’t seem like the type of thing even they were capable of.
“A Pokémon should never be evolved if it doesn’t want to,” he insisted, clenching his fists so tight, his fingers ached.
Giovanni frowned at the suggestion.
“A Pokémon should do whatever pleases its owner,” he said. Then he stood up from his desk. “If you feel otherwise, then this is a serious detriment to my ability to mentor you. Come with me, young man. We need to have a discussion.”
He headed for the door. Even though Ash was still steaming with rage, there was now a certain amount of confusion to accompany it. “Um, aren’t we having a discussion right now?”
“A fair point. But I don’t think the location suits my needs. Follow me down the hall, if you will.” And with that, he motioned Ash out of the door.
The room that Giovanni took Ash to was almost pitch black inside. In fact, the only light in the place came from the sliver of light at the base of the door. Giovanni had Ash sit in a metal folding chair. He himself sat in an identical chair across from Ash.
Whatever’s going on here, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to hurt me, Ash thought. He certainly couldn’t think of Giovanni as his father. Not now, at any rate.
There was a breeze of cold air that sent the hairs on the back of Ash’s neck standing up. he didn’t know why, but he got the distinct sensation that they weren’t alone in the room.
“Now,” Giovanni said. “Why don’t you repeat to me again what’s upsetting you so badly.”
“I already told you!” Ash said, more than a little annoyed. “You evolved my Pikachu!” He felt a slight headache as he said it, but then the sensation passed. he thought nothing of it.
“I see,” Giovanni said calmly. “And tell me, why does this action make you so upset?”
What was wrong with this guy? Did he want Ash to repeat everything upsetting him just for his own amusement? The headache seemed to be coming back on. “Because a Pokémon should never be evolved against its will!” Ash snapped.
Just then, the the dull ache in the back of his head blasted out in full force, like a dam of pain being released. Only, instead of a blaze, this pain felt more like icicles shooting through his brain. He heard a soft laugh behind him. Not a human laugh, though. He had been right when they entered. He and Giovanni weren’t alone here. Specifically, they had some kind of Pokémon with them.
“You shouldn’t let Pokémon evolution get to you so much,” Giovanni continued. “Pokémon exist to serve humans, after all. It is our decision whether they evolve or not.”
“That’s not true,” Ash yelled again, and the pain came back anew. It felt as it were attacking the depths of his mind right where his anger and fury lay. The laugh sounded again, and this time, Ash actually felt something ice cold brush against his arm and shoulders. There were ghost Pokémon in this room, he had no doubt about it. And one of them was using its powers on him.
“The more you let yourself get worked up about this, the more painful it is going to be,” Giovanni said. “You are opening up your feelings too much… and certain Pokémon feed on those feelings like they are a delightful feast.” He smiled wickedly. “Continue to struggle, and the Banette around you will not only consume your emotions, but your memories as well.”
“That–that–” Ash struggled with the words. He wanted to say that was impossible, but the realm of ghost Pokémon was something he knew very little about. And he had seen Pokémon do amazing things before… create massive illusions, travel through time, turn a human statue into flesh and blood once again. There was nothing he would put past Pokémon’s abilities to do.
But then… what should he do right now? Every time he thought about how furious Pikachu’s forced evolution made him, the Pokémon at his back seemed to thrive on it. The pain in his head increased and he felt so cold, like his blood was freezing beneath his skin.
Experimentally, he shifted his thoughts. Tried to entertain the idea that Giovanni was right, that Pokémon were fine to evolve if their owners wanted it. It was like giving up a game of tug-of-war with an invisible monster, if the rope had been his thoughts.
Then, in an instant, he could no longer remember what he’d been having an argument about. Panic seized him. He’d come in here upset about something, something important. Then Giovanni had warned him that the ghost Pokémon could attack his emotions… or was it his memories? Things went fuzzy after that. Ash felt like he’d been knocked cold and woken up with no recollection as to who had attacked him.
Giovanni grinned and leaned forward; Ash heard the chair creak with the shift in weight. “You came in here with a Pikachu, am I correct?”
“I…” That sounded familiar. Yes, Ash did have a Pikachu. His first Pokémon. He had many good memories with it. A wave of relief went through him that whatever the ghost Pokémon around him had just done, they hadn’t hurt his memories of his best friend.
“You were neglectful in taking so long to evolve it,” Giovanni went on. “My staff have done so for you. I presume you do not object?”
Ash’s first instinct was to say, yes, he did object. But he couldn’t articulate why. Pikachu always strived to be the strongest Pokémon it could. So naturally evolution made perfect sense… didn’t it?
With no better answer that he could think of, Ash shook his head dumbly and said, “No, I… I don’t think I object.”
This reply only seemed to amuse Giovanni more. His expression was impossible to make out well in the dark, but Ash would have sworn he heard the man chuckle under his breath. “The most interesting thing about what happens when a Pokémon consumes your memories,” he said. “Your mind becomes desperate to fill that gap with any information it can. How convenient that I am right here to provide such information. Don’t you agree?”
Ash held his head. It didn’t hurt, but he felt a strange numbness. “When those ghost Pokémon attack my memories, you can fill my head with any lies you want, and I’ll believe them. They’ll become like my new memories. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Roughly speaking, yes,” Giovanni replied. “You see, my boy, I never make a bargain unless I stand to gain from it. I ensure my victory in all things at all costs.” He let out a chuckle again, then Ash heard him standing, followed by the rattle of the doorknob as his hand grasped it.
“You will never dismantle Team Rocket. Because by the time I am through with you, you will think exactly as I think. All that energy of yours will be properly directed to advancing Team Rocket. And your pathetic sentimentality over your Pokémon will be snuffed out.” He turned the doorknob and light flooded the room. There was a hiss of disapproval from the Banettes as they retreated to the shadows in the corners of the room. Ash squinted as his eyes adjusted, his clothes smelled of sweat.
What had he gotten himself into here? And now that Giovanni had revealed his plan, was there anything he could do to get out?