Fiora headed towards the elevator, Raven flapping close behind. As she waited for the transport to arrive, she paused in front of a mirror to smooth her electricity-frizzed hair and found herself frowning.
Gawk… this uniform really isn’t practical for battling, she thought, tugging down the absurdly short skirt. Maybe it was time for a wardrobe change. Yes. To heck with dress code regulations.
She found her way to uniform storage, gathered up a box of various styles in executive dark gray and carted it back to her personal suite. Eventually, after much fussing in front of her bathroom mirror, she settled on pair of men’s dark gray executive pants and more reasonable calf-high boots. After consideration, she decided to keep her original women’s top– to flatter her new figure now that she wasn’t all bones and skin. She kept the gloves too, though she chose a fingerless pair to show off her beautiful claws.
“What do you think?” she asked Raven, who was perched on her sink. The little Noibat shook her head. Though Fiora liked the new look, she had to agree with Raven. Something was missing. A belt? Yes.
She dug back through the pile of uniform odds and ends, producing the men’s belt, which was huge and lopsided on her lean hips. After another moment’s pause, she dug out a second identical belt, arranging them cross-wise below her exposed mid-section.
“Noi!” cheered Raven and Fiora smiled.
“You’re right. It does suit.” She gave a little turn, enjoying the freedom and sense of toughness her new outfit allowed. “All that’s missing are the Pokéballs,” she joked at her reflection and felt a nervous flutter in her stomach. She didn’t let herself dismiss the idea this time. Why shouldn’t she follow her own advice? If Misty could further her career as a trainer with a merger… why couldn’t she? She had always wanted to be a trainer, after all. All she’d need were some Pokéballs and an excuse to do some field work for a bit. Or perhaps she could get sole custody of Raven? She’d have to run it by the boss, but considering her status and all the work she had done–
She heard her door open and knew it was Pierce. Not just because he was the only member in this organization she had given her access code to. She’d know the sound of his quick, purposeful strides anywhere.
“Fiora? Are you here?” His voice sounded behind her then cut off with a sharp inhale as his shadow reached her open door. When she turned, she found his green eyes looking her up and down.
“You’re…” He faltered. “You’re breaking dress code.”
She chuckled. “I know. You like it?”
He nodded once, a trace of color on his cheeks. “It suits you.”
“Raven and I thought so, too.” She stroked the little Pokémon’s head and began folding and re-packing the outfits that didn’t make her cut. “So what’s the occasion?”
“Why are you here?”
“Oh. Right.” He cleared his throat, taking one last admiring look when he thought she wouldn’t notice before going all business.
“Rumors have been flying all afternoon, but I wanted to hear it from you.” his eyes shown. “Did you really learn how to do a feint attack?”
Fiora smiled. She focused, aimed, and appeared behind him in the blink of an eye, leaning in close to his ear. “Why, yes. I did.”
Pierce startled forward, whirling around to gape at her. “This is incredible, Fiora! Do you realize what this means? What humanity could do with access to Pokémon techniques?” His voice was beaming with excitement and intrigue. “What other moves do you know?”
Fiora shrugged. “Beats me. I guess I’d have to battle to find out.” Her eyes went wide as she looked at Pierce and he looked back.
“Battle. Right. Of course. I’ll go get clearance and prep the arena for you–” He was already moving to the door.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Fiora called.
Looks like becoming a trainer will have to wait just a little longer. For the sake of science. Not that she was about to complain. She really could use the exercise now that she wasn’t bedridden. And she was itching to know what other awesome Absol skills she had. How had she phrased it to Misty? Get acclimated to her new form? She looked back into the mirror, fingered the white tuft of her bangs with clawed fingers then stuck up her chin.
“Maybe we should invite the Cerulean gym leader to watch this monumental match,” she told Raven. “To put some… positive ideas in her head. What do you think?”
“Ba-bat!” the little Pokémon chirruped.
Fiora grinned. She had always prided herself on being quite clever. She had to be to make up for her physical limits growing up. But now… those limits were gone. She was no longer Fiora, Professor Sycamore’s great mistake or her mother’s poor helpless glass-child. Finally she could be the person she always wanted. A person with no weakness.
“As long as I’m dishing out around positive ideas here, I think I”m going to go by ‘Fi’ from now on,” she decided. “How about it Raven? A new name for a new me.”
“Noi…” Raven replied. Then with a sleepy yawn, she started to make a nest in the old uniform still draped on the sink. Fi picked her up, cradling the young Noibat in her arms as she too headed for the door in the direction of the kennel. The arena was no place for a baby Pokémon. And if she was going to be the one battling, Fi couldn’t afford to get distracted.
“Ala-kazam!” cried Alakazam as it hit the arena floor and lay still. Fi landed nimbly a few yards away, arm muscles still quavering from the impact of her slash attack. So far that afternoon, it was the only other technique she had managed to master aside from feint attack. Of course, she wasn’t sure what else could be expected when all her opponents were at a type disadvantage and no real challenge.
Kneeling down by her fallen foe, she quickly applied a revive. “You all right, Alakazam?” she asked when the Pokémon regained consciousness.
“Ala–” confirmed Alakazam. “No hard feelings.”
Pierce returned it to its Pokéball a moment later and shook his head disappointedly.
“Come on, Pierce,” Fi urged him. “Show a little backbone! I can take it!”
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. You’re still recovering from a major medical procedure and a thunderbolt, remember?” he tried to argue. “And we don’t know all the effects of–”
Fi was tired of hearing it. “I’m never going to learn the rest of my moves if I don’t have a challenge.” She shook out her limbs and brushed back her sweaty duel-colored bangs. “So stop being a wuss and challenge me already!”
Pierce set his jaw, exhaled hard, and reached for another Pokéball. “Very well. Pangoro! Attack!”
Fi tensed as the huge panda-bear Pokémon emerged before her and snarled. “Now that’s more like it,” she snorted, her pulse quickening. A fighting-dark type was bound to push her to the limits.
“Pangoro, hammer arm!” Pierce ordered. On commandm the huge bear lumbered forward, its massive forepaw reared back with power. Fi sprang aside, dodging as the huge fist came down and cracked the arena floor. Her move. Time to see what this big fella could handle. She focused and aimed, then vanished only to materialize on the bear’s back. She brought down her fists between his shoulders, delivering a sharp feint attack. But the blow just rattled up her arms. Her opponent hadn’t even felt it.
“Vital throw!” called Pierce, and Fi felt a clawed paw reach back and clamp on her ankle. In an instant, she was lifted up and over, then swung down onto her back, colliding with the arena floor. She blinked her dazed, bleary eyes open and saw her opponent rearing back again for another hammer arm, its fist glowing with force.
No! Her blood raced. Her scalp tingled. Every instinct screamed at her to do something. She brought up her clawed hands as the paw came down digging them into the course fur and solid muscle.
“Pan?” questioned her opponent. And Fi realized with a thrill that the huge fist wasn’t crushing her insides like a ripe berry. In fact, she was pushing back. She who was half this brute’s size! She breathed in wonder, focusing past the baffled Pokémon looking down at her to the ceiling when she thought she saw the ghosted image of a sword.
With a shove, she pushed the mighty fist aside, slamming it into the arena. She focused and aimed, feint attacking a safe distance and materializing on her feet.
“Pan!” growled Pangoro.
Fi sucked in a breath, letting the image of dancing swords fill her with power. Then she flexed her claws. She could feel the new energy in her. Its strength was her strength. And it felt amazing!
“Hammer arm!” commanded Pierce. But she barely heard him. The moment Pangoro started to move, Fi was running, her claws bared, a snarl on her lips.
“I won’t lose!” she screamed. The sound vibrated through every cell filling her head with a strange buzzing as the tingling of her scalp turned into a deep throb. The room morphed before her eyes, her opponent turning into someone else. Ash. He was standing next to Giovanni shaking his hand. But around him, the facility–the only real home she ever had–was starting to crumble.
She made a desperate lunge just as a huge crack split the floor under her feet. Her claws were aimed to strike down the boy, her enemy, where he stood. Then something solid collided with her gut sending her flying back. She slammed into a wall and crumpled down onto a solid, un-crumbling stone floor. But how was that possible? She was vaguely aware of Pierce calling. Of his rushing footsteps. Of his hands lifting her up, demanding that she look at him. Tell him if she was okay. It was his urgency, or perhaps his fingers on her cheek, that finally willed her mind to focus and her eyes to see straight.
“I’m fine,” she wheezed, sitting up. Her eyes scanned the arena floor. The walls. Everything was as it should be. Nothing had changed.
But then, what did I see? She looked over to were she had been so sure she’d seen Ash standing. But it wasn’t the boy there. Only Misty, watching the match exactly as she’d been invited to do. The water Pokémon trainer’s eyes were wide, not with terror, but with amazement. And why wouldn’t they be? She had just witnessed something never before seen–a human performing Pokémon attacks. And if it hadn’t been for… for whatever that strange vision was, she would have seen a human winning against Pokémon attacks.
Fi forced herself to her feet and walked to Misty as steadily as she could. “So?” she asked. “What do you think?”
“I…” Misty wrung her hands. Her lips moved, but no words came out. She wanted to say, “That was absolutely amazing. Sign me up for a merger right now!” Fi couldn’t explain how she knew that exactly. A hunch maybe? Or perhaps she could read the desire for power in Misty’s eyes. But something was holding her back. A nagging thought? Or a warning someone had given her that she couldn’t quite ignore?
Fiora growled under her breath. That stupid kid. He’s going to mess up everything. Better have a talk with the boss about him. But to Misty, she simply smiled and said, “What’s wrong? Persian got your tongue?”
Misty laughed weakly. “It… it was amazing. Really. Thanks for inviting me. I’ve got… some things to think about.”
“Of course,” Fi said with a nod. “Take all the time you need.”
Misty turned and left, escorted by some grunts back to her quarters. When they’d walked out the door, Fi felt Pierce’s hand on her shoulder.
“You haven’t lost your edge,” he mused, which made her smile.
“Please. That was barely a warmup. It’s Brock who’s going to be the real challenge to win over. Like trying to wrestle an Onyx.”
“Are you sure you’re up to it?”
Fi set her jaw. “Of course, I’m fine. Really. A hyper potion and some band-aids and I’ll be just–fine.” Her voice cracked as the unnerving vision tingled through her skull against her will. From exhaustion perhaps?
“Even still,” said Pierce, apparently reading her expression like an open Pokédex entry, “why don’t you let me handle it? Just this once.” He looped her arm over his shoulders and Fi let herself lean into him not, bothering to feel foolish. Not when his warmth was pulling her mind from the nightmare of crumbling walls and Ash, the cause of it all.
He won’t last, she told herself. We already have his Pokémon, Without his friends he’ll have nothing. “Okay,” she agreed. “But just this once.”