“I see. Is that so? Well, then, thank you very much for the information, Lorelei.”
Sabrina tapped the phone off and placed it delicately on her desk. Zoe was organizing some papers and trying very hard to look like she hadn’t been listening in on Sabrina’s conversation. But in front of a telepath, such feelings were rather difficult to keep secret.
“Yes,” Sabrina said, startling Zoe and causing her to spill some of the papers.
“Y-yes to what?” Zoe asked. She bent down to pick up the mess and in the process seemed to realize the silliness of her question. “Oh, yes to my completely unvoiced curiosity about whether or not that was Lorelei of the Elite Four on the phone. Of course.”
Sabrina smiled. Zoe was one of the best telepaths studying under her. And that made Sabrina one of the few people she couldn’t see into the thoughts of. Zoe’s curiosity to know what she couldn’t hear was only natural. And in this case, it wasn’t as if Sabrina had planned to keep such information secret.
“I’ve been calling around, checking in with the other gym leaders,” Sabrina said. “It seems Giovanni of Viridian City has some sort of new project in the works.”
Zoe frowned. “That’s the man who runs Team Rocket, isn’t it?”
“There’s no official evidence as such,” Sabrina said. “But yes, that’s him. He has quite a lot of resources at his disposal, and apparently, he’s been putting them to use in the field of genetic experimentation.” Her gaze drifted past Zoe. The office had no outside windows, only a slim window in the door that showed the bustling hallway–psychics and trainers alike all hurrying past, busying themselves with their work.
“But all that is old news,” Zoe said. “We knew he was experimenting with Pokémon DNA back when he created that new Pokémon, Mewtwo. Unless…” The color drained from her face a bit. “Unless he’s made another new Pokémon since then.”
“A new Pokémon?” Sabrina said, still looking at the door. She almost laughed. “No, not a new Pokémon. This time, it’s been human beings at the center of his experiments.”
Zoe gasped. “He’s experimenting on people? To do what?”
“To see if he can blend human and Pokémon DNA together.”
Zoe said nothing, but she did carefully place her stack of papers on the desk. Probably to ensure she did not drop them again. “But… he can’t, can he?”
Sabrina gave a shrug. “Rumor from Agatha is that he already succeeded at least once. She has many connections in the dark places of the gym network, most especially with such powerful ghost Pokémon on her side.” There was a long silence between them. The activity in the hallway seemed to have calmed down. No one new passed by. “Naturally, I plan to follow up directly with Giovanni in regards to this matter.”
“Is that wise?” Zoe asked, her eyes widening.
“It’s no more foolish than taking action based purely on rumors,” Sabrina replied. “But, if you don’t mind, Zoe, this is a conversation I would like to have in private.” She placed her hand on the phone still sitting on her desk, and Zoe bowed quickly.
“Yes, of course. I understand. I’ll speak with you later then.” She hurried out the door, leaving Sabrina alone in the quiet. Sabrina ran her fingers over the keys. This call… all her visions had pointed to it at the catalyst. She could leave it alone, never allow any of the negative consequences from her visions the chance to sprout in reality. But if she did that, she never allowed the chance for her power to grow, either.
She gave a long, slow exhale and picked up the phone.
Fi hefted the massive barbell into the cradle and sat up sweating and gasping for breath. She didn’t want to guess what time it was. Late enough to earn a lecture from Pierce when he found out for sure. But what else could she do? She’d tried everything to cure this blasted insomnia from a singing Jigglypuff, to Drowzee’s hypnosis, to a heaping whiff of Breloom’s spore powder, but nothing worked. Every time she closed her eyes she saw terrible things. She couldn’t exactly call them nightmares. Fi had plenty of those as a kid and they all had one thing in common–she knew when they were over. But these images in her head… whatever they were… felt different. When they happened, she could sense the danger tingle through her whole body, like heat off a fire. Or the first gust of an encroaching storm. She was on edge even after she woke up, too, unable to shake the memory or the fear no matter how hard she tried.
It was infuriating.
Rising from the bench-press, Fi shook out her arms and stretched before moving on to a dangling punching bag. Shifting stances, she let loose a string of punches in quick succession. If Pokémon become stronger through battling and learning new techniques so could she. She’d train until she mastered everything about her new self. Then she’d conquer these stupid images and re-claim her life.
“I’ll never be weak again!” she snarled, landing a kick. “Never!” She reared back an arm, swinging with all her force. There was a ripping sound as her claws sliced through the heavy fabric, sending padding gushing out from the tears. She stared at her hand, a laugh starting to form on her lips. Until she felt her scalp start to tingle.
Suddenly there was movement. Fi whirled around instantly and stared wide-eyed at a wall mirror where her own reflection should have been. Instead she saw Ash, a deranged grin on his face. Around her, the floor was starting to shatter apart.
No. Not again!
“Fiora?” Pierce called, somewhere behind her. She jerked around, searching, but that part of the room was already gone. Crumbled away into darkness.
“Pierce!” She cried out to him, but her voice didn’t carry. Above her, a vicious storm had crackled to life, splitting through the dark with streaks of lightning. Fiora stood alone on a patch of rubble, surrounded on all sides by blackness and ruins as icy wind whipped her hair. Pierce. Her Pokémon friends. Everything she had worked so hard for. Gone. Grief roiled in her gut, then turned to a wild, boiling rage. She threw back her head letting an Absol howl tear from her chest.
Between the flashes Fi saw one chunk of rock jutting up above the rubble, far in the distance, with a woman’s silhouetted figure standing atop it. The woman’s long hair flowed past her hips, her hand was outstretched, and her eyes glowed red as embers.
The one person who could stop this.
“Who are you?” she yelled towards the figure.
The woman didn’t answer, but a flash a lightning gave Fi just the briefest glimpse of the woman’s face. She recognized it at once, of course. Growing up, constantly envying trainers on their journeys to the various gyms of Kanto, she knew enough to recognize a gym leader when she saw one.
Sabrina. I’m supposed to talk to Sabrina?
The vision-Sabrina lowered her hand, and her stiff gym leader’s uniform began to morph, stretching into what looked like a flowing white gown. The sight made every nerve in her tingle in warning…
“Fiora!” A hand clamped down on her shoulder, warm and anchoring. In an instant, Sabrina and the darkness cleared before her eyes, and she found herself looking up into Pierce’s face.
“Pierce?” Her voice caught. Was this real? Or just another part of the nightmare image? Would she have to see him taken from her a second time?
“What are you doing up so–” he began, then froze when she leaned into him and pressed her face into his chest. “What’s wrong?” His voice went soft. “Was it another nightmare?” She felt his arms enclose her, delicately, like he was afraid he might break her. No surprise, really, with how she was acting.
She forced herself to pull away. “I’m fine,” she breathed, repeating the words until she believed them. “I’m going to be fine. As soon as I go to Saffron City.” She turned on her heels and began walking to the nearest phone, leaving Pierce scratching his head.
“To see Sabrina and get her to stop these dream-vision-whatevers before I lose my blasted mind!”
The boss wasn’t going to be happy about this. It was completely impractical to go trotting off to Saffron City now. Team Rocket needed her here. The hybrids needed her here. Yet what good was she in she had a mental breakdown in the middle of work? No good, that’s what.
“Fiora, wait!” Pierce caught up to her and hit the disconnect just as the call was about to go through.
“I have to do this, Pierce,” she glared at him. “And for the last time, don’t call me Fiora. It’s Fi. Fi!”
“I understand, but–” Pierce cleared his throat as he pointed to little clock in the corner of the video screen, “the boss isn’t going to appreciate a call at three in the morning, Fi.”
“Oh…” She felt her face warm and set down the phone with a sigh. “Right.”
“I’ll make sure you get in to see him tomorrow, first thing. But right now you need to get some sleep.” He tried to fight a yawn. “We both do.”
She dropped her hands limply to her sides, finally feeling the pull of fatigue on her overworked muscles. Soon, she was fighting off a yawn as well. Perhaps she could finally get some rest after all.
Being a Pokéball wasn’t that much different than sleeping, Brock discovered. He remembered perfectly well all his thoughts and feelings the moment the red light had pulled him in. He remembered the pain of the serum shooting through his veins. He remembered the pressure of the Steelixite against his skin. And he remembered the heat escaping his petrified muscles. If there had been any denial about his fate, his time inside the Pokéball had given him more than enough time to come to grips with reality.
He was now a Pokémon with an owner, and Giovanni was that owner. He had no idea what that meant, but he knew he would fight it. With everything in him, no matter what demands Giovanni made, he would fight. He would not be broken.
The next time he came out of the Pokéball, it was disorienting. He wasn’t strapped down to a bed any longer, and there were no white-lab-coat scientists around. Instead, he stood in what looked like a training stadium, empty except for himself and Giovanni. He tried to stand, then remembered his legs were no longer there, and straighted instead, balancing as his rock-iron tail coiled in anger.
“Well, well, good morning,” Giovanni said with a sneer.
“What do you want?” Brock snapped. For a moment, he also forgot that he’d lost his human speech and startled at the sound of his own gravelly words. But then he heard a familiar voice behind him.
“He asked what you want.”
Brock turned around to see Meowth standing behind him. Or, what looked like Meowth, but with fins and an aquatic tail. Apparently, Brock thought, I’m not the only one around here who’s had his DNA messed with.
Giovanni nodded. “I should think what I want is obvious. This is a training session.” He snapped his fingers, and the low lightning in the room grew to full brightness. Brock shielded his eyes for a moment until they could adjust.
“Now, we’re going to keep this nice and simple,” Giovanni said. “I’ll command you to perform some basic attacks. You do them, and you’re free to spend the rest of the afternoon as you will.”
Brock raised an eyebrow, eyeing Giovanni with suspicion, or at least as much as he could in the overbearing light. If he was going to fight, he could do so even more with allies, and this could be the perfect opportunity. “As I will? What if I want to see my friends?” he asked. Meowth gave the translation.
“It can be arraigned, if you wish,” Giovanni said with a yawn. “But let’s get to the task at hand first. Show me a tackle.”
Tackle? Brock had thought that Giovanni was being sarcastic when he said the attacks would be basic, but it didn’t get much more basic than that. There had to be a trick here somehow, something he wasn’t seeing. But it seemed such a simple task, and aside from a bit of his pride, he had little to lose and everything to gain.
Brock leaned forward slightly and gave the ground in front of him a smack with the end of his tail. He looked over at Giovanni, who nodded with approval.
“Not bad. Tackle again.”
Brock did so. He didn’t do it more intensely or change his efforts in any way, but every time he looked up, Giovanni was there, shouting “Tackle!” again and again and again. How many more of these before he finally gave up and let Brock see his friends? The man had to have more interesting things to do with his day than yell “tackle” over and over again. After so many times of it, Brock stopped even looking up for the next command and moved into another tackle attack as soon as he first one. The only variety Giovanni gave in his commands was where to direct them. A few times he tossed in a “to the right!” or “to the left!” Brock adjusted his attack every time with barely a thought.
“You have an opponent!” Giovanni suddenly yelled out. “Tackle in front of you, now!”
Brock looked. He didn’t know when or or how it had run in, but there was, in fact, an opposing Pokémon in front of him. A Noibat. Still in the rhythm of performing tackle after tackle, he raised his tail at it. When his shadow fell over the winged Pokémon, it did not attack back Instead it covered its head with its tiny claws and wailed. The sound felt like it snapped Brock out of a trance. He got control of himself enough to land the attack near the little Pokémon, but not on top of it. Shaking with fear, the Noibat lifted one wing and looked nervously up at him.
It’s never battled before, Brock realized. It’s just a baby! Then he found he was shaking, too. How could I have not noticed that?
“I’ve put extensive hours of study into Pokémon obedience,” Giovanni said. “It seems that the more badges one has, the more Pokémon are inclined to obey. But that, of course, is ridiculous. A badge is merely a piece of metal. Then I realized the true connection. Pokémon are more inclined to obey the more of their master’s orders they have carried out.” A sinister grin broke across his face. “After enough successful executions of a trainer’s orders, obedience is something that comes as a second nature, even if the relationship between trainer and Pokémon is… strained at the start.” He held out a Pokéball and recalled the shivering Noibat. “I haven’t tested it out on merged humans, of course. But I imagine that the lesser a percentage of your DNA remains human, the more this principle holds true. You’ve just executed no less than one hundred and fifteen attacks on my command. How are you feeling after that?”
Brock gritted his teeth, refusing to answer, but it seemed that Giovanni didn’t really expect a reply. “Let’s experiment, shall we? Show me Iron Tail.”
Brock stiffened and didn’t move at first. However, unlike before, ignoring the command left him with an uneasy sensation — like he was on a stage with everyone waiting for the last word of a poem or the last note of a song. Then the awkward discomfort grew to tension, nervousness, a sour feeling in his stomach. He struggled to push the feeling away, but he could feel nausea start to overtake him. Finally, in rage and frustration, he obeyed. Unlike with the Tackle attacks, he threw his whole weight and power into the attack, shaking the walls of the training room.
“Seems my theories aren’t far off the mark, then,” Giovanni said with a smile. “Very well, then. I shall keep my part of the bargain. You are permitted to see your friends. Return to your Pokéball, and I’ll have you escorted there.”