Giovanni was not fond of the idea of leaving his gym tended to by idiots. But it couldn’t be helped. He had to see to Sabrina’s merger personally, and she had made clear she wasn’t leaving Saffron City. Agent Pierce and Agent Fiora had returned home, but the latter had been quite drained and needed time to recover. It seemed her strength was only increasing. Giovanni had approved her time off, of course. He would always be in favor of making his agents stronger. Still, if her furious temper increased along with her strength again, he would have to consider reducing her responsibilities.
There was something else nagging at Giovanni as he prepared to leave. Ash had been unusually compliant lately. No demands to see his friends. No lectures about how Pokémon were meant to be partners, not slaves. Giovanni had known the boy would come around eventually, but he did not expect it to be so soon. It unnerved him. So, to ease his mind, he had ordered the Rockets he was leaving behind to keep a close eye on his son and threatened them with unspeakable torture if they failed. All in a day’s work.
Giovanni smiled. Perhaps it was not so unusual that Ash had stopped struggling. Brock and Misty had certainly done so. Perhaps seeing his friends lose their will to fight had broken Ash’s as well. Brock’s conditioning had been coming along especially nicely. Giovanni had ordered him to train against a wide range of opponents this week–everything from a tiny Noibat to a mighty Nidoking. That was one good thing about Fiora being temporarily out of commission–no droning about which Pokémon from the clinic were and were not ready for battle.
Finally setting his anxieties aside, Giovanni closed the briefcase he’d prepared and walked out of his office towards the waiting helicopter outside.
Ash was in his room when the helicopter took off. He watched from the huge windows until it disappeared on the horizon. Then he grinned. He’d never been the smartest kid at school or anything close. But he could make friends. And one of his friends–namely, Aquafeles–had recently gotten him a very nice present. Ash pulled a card key from his pocket and held it up to his door. The lock opened instantly. Ash slipped the card key back into his pocket and walked down the hallway, trying to look confident. Like the boss’s son. Or at least, like someone who wasn’t supposed to be locked in his room right now.
His plan was to find someone who looked important. Someone who had the authority to perform a merger while Giovanni wasn’t there. Then, Ash reasoned, he would use his strongest, bossiest voice to demand a merger and threaten to fire the important-looking-person if they didn’t listen.
It wasn’t a very complicated plan, but then again, neither were most of Ash’s ideas. All he knew was that he had to get this done soon. Every time Giovanni spoke to Ash, the man felt less like an enemy and more like a friend. Without a way to counter the ghost Pokémon, Ash wasn’t sure if he would even still care about fighting Giovanni when he returned from Saffron City.
Ash’s steps slowed. He felt a nagging voice in the back of his head. It whispered to him, told him to go back to his room as he’d been told. There was nothing for him to do here. He was only causing trouble. Ash was sure he could see dark, ghostly hands reaching from the shadows…
Then a familiar sight jolted him back to reality. Two figures approaching. Even with all the changes their mergers had put them through, Ash could recognize Jessie and James anywhere. The sight of their blue and magenta hair styles brought back strong memories–real memories. Ash tried to focus on them as much as he could as he marched up to his old enemies.
“Hey,” he said. It didn’t sound as strong or bossy and he’d been hoping. “You guys, um… got a minute?”
Jessie paused and raised an eyebrow. “I’m afraid we’re busy at the moment. Good afternoon.” She turned to leave.
“Wait a moment,” James said, pointing curiously at Ash. “Didn’t the boss say something about you having ‘restricted access’ while he was gone?”
Ash swallowed hard. This wasn’t good. He needed a way out. A clever excuse for why he was here. But his mind drew a complete blank.
“Just inform security,” Jessie said. “Let them deal with the twerp.” She motioned for James to follow her down the hall. James hesitated. His hand fingered the phone on his belt, but he didn’t turn it on. With a groan and a roll of her eyes, Jessie reached for her own phone.
“All right, then. I’ll call security,” she announced.
That snapped Ash into action. “Wait! Don’t!” he said, grabbing Jessie by the arm. It felt so strange; her muscles bulged, and he got the impression that if she wanted to, she could land a punch that would send him skyrocketing across the room with little effort. The way she glared at him when he grabbed her, he wouldn’t have been surprised if she did it, too.
“What,” she snapped, seeming to bite her tongue with every word. “Do. You. Want?”
“Sir,” James said helpfully. “We’re supposed to call him ‘sir’ now, remember?”
Jessie grit her teeth like she might explode into a fireball in front of him. “Sir,” she added on with a hiss.
For his own safety, Ash quickly let go of her arm. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said. “But I don’t know who else to talk to–”
“Oh, having troubles with the boss, are we?” Jessie snapped at him.
“I–” Ash began, but she clearly wasn’t going to let him get a word in edgewise until she had had her full say. Apparently, she’d been building up to this for a while.
“Well, I’m so sorry to hear things aren’t going perfectly,” she continued. “What can we do to make your life easier, sir? Can I get you a pillow? How about a foot massage, sir? If you prefer, I think we have a dedicated shoe-licking room just down hall for esteemed executives such as yourself, sir!”
Heat flooded Ash’s face. Enough. He’d had just about enough of everyone assuming how he felt about being related to Giovanni. None of them could understand. None of them were him. “Hey, I didn’t ask for any of this!” he yelled.
Jessie’s hands balled into fists. Ash could see the heat radiating off of them. “And I didn’t ask to be… this… this thing!” Jessie yelled. The heat in her fist blossomed into an actual fireball. Instead of throwing it in Ash’s face, however, she only looked at it, turned her head as if ashamed of herself, and waved the flames away. “They only said we were going to help Team Rocket,” she said, voice cracking. “I thought the boss had finally started to respect us. But he only… thought of us as experiments.”
Ash shifted his feet nervously. He was afraid to say anything else. But, as Misty had said, he’d never been one to hide his feelings, either. “I… think he thinks of me the same way,” Ash said. “He doesn’t care about me as a person. Only what I can do for him. If I don’t stay in line…” He shuddered as he remembered the ghost room once again, the Shuppets and Bannettes worming their way into his mind, warping his thoughts and stealing his memories. He also shuddered at the idea of sharing DNA with them. But if it got them to go away, if it gave him an edge in this sick game Giovanni was insistent on playing…
If it helps save my friends, then it’s worth it, he told himself. He looked Jessie in the eye again, stronger. More confident. He knew what he had to ask.
“I need to get a merger,” he said. “And I need your help.”
Jessie and James exchanged nervous glances with each other. “That’s… past our authority,” James finally said. Then he snapped his fingers excitedly. “Oo! But I think Pierce could do it.”
Ash cross his arms. Pierce. Of course. “I don’t think he’d do it,” Ash said. “I don’t even think he’ll talk to me. Odds are, he’ll just hand me off to someone less important like you two. Erm…” Ash’s face went red. So much for making allies out of old enemies.
This time, however, nobody got angry with him. Jessie did let out an annoyed sigh, though. “No offense taken. Look, if you want to talk to Pierce, you should try a question only he can answer.”
At this, Ash got excited. He didn’t know the ins and outs of Team Rocket very well. Or at all, really. But he knew who always had to approve Ash’s trips to see his friends. “I’ll tell him I want to see Brock,” Ash said.
Jessie and James both looked at him a moment then nodded their approval.
“Sneaky,” James said, sounding proud.
“Just the way we would do it,” Jessie agreed. “Well, then, twerp. Who knows? Maybe you can learn new things, after all.”
“Yeah, maybe I can!” Ash said proudly.
Somehow, Jessie and James seemed less impressed.
The trip to Saffron City did not take long. To Giovanni’s surprise, he was able to doze off for a good portion of it. There was something about all his great plans falling into place that really relaxed his mind. And anyway, there was still a chance Sabrina would put up a fight. Any rest he could get beforehand would only help his cause.
Once the helicopter landed and Giovanni approached the gym doors, he found Sabrina in the same state she had been in over the phone. The helicopter’s blades had barely stopped moving before she was shaking his hand. She welcomed him inside and seemed both anxious and excited to have him. Yet perhaps it was not so strange. With the merger serum, Giovanni had created a drug unlike anything in history. Everyone from the weak to the strong craved more power. And mergers delivered in a way that nothing else could. With someone as addicted to power as Sabrina, was it really so surprising she would sacrifice her humanity for a hit as strong as this?
She doesn’t know she’s paying that price yet, Giovanni reminded himself. And even if she suspects it, she knows nothing of my plans to capture her. She might think twice if she knew she would be giving up both her humanity and her freedom.
Which was why, under no circumstances, could he let his guard down or let her peek inside his mind before her transformation was complete.
Sabrina motioned Giovanni through the gym’s inner doors. “Come in, come in,” she said, as pleasantly as she could. He did enter the gym, but he did not smile. The two stood in the entranceway as Giovanni looked Sabrina over with considerable suspicion. Not that she could blame him. She knew well enough what his intentions were. He knew well enough that she could see them. By all accounts, she should have been telekenetically hoisting him up and shoving him out the window. The fact that she hadn’t done so would naturally make him ill at ease.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “I must say, I’m surprised you’re having me here. You must want this quite badly.”
Sabrina nodded. “Your agent was… quite convincing,” she allowed, struggling slightly to keep up a professional demeanor. As nervous as she was about all the fallout from this, she couldn’t forget why she was going through with it. Why it didn’t matter to her if she became more human than Pokémon. Why Giovanni’s ill intentions for her were an acceptable price to pay. All she had ever wanted from the time she was young was more power. And yet, it felt in her teenage years like she had pushed her powers to the fullest of their human limits. Being more Pokémon than human wasn’t a deterrent to her. It was exactly what she wanted.
“Let’s not delay any further,” she said and motioned Giovanni down the hall.
There was a distinct glint in the man’s eyes. It seemed he too was struggling to contain his excitement. “Yes,” he agreed. “Let’s get going.”
They walked together down the hallway at a brisk pace until they came to the large battle area where Sabrina always allowed challengers to face her for the Marsh badge. The place had taken on a much less intimidating decor since she’d first designed it. For one thing, she had dispensed with the torches and opted instead for overhead lighting. She did keep the elegant red chair she always sat in to greet challengers. The place would have look simply uncivil otherwise.
Giovanni’s staff had been granted access to the room a few hours ago, and their equipment now appeared to be fully ready. There was a long, white table and a doctor holding a silver tray with a syringe. Another held a tray of mega evolution stones. Not the full set. Only six, no doubt the ones they thought Sabrina would be the most likely to select. She hardly needed to debate the matter. She stepped over and looked over the assortment thoughtfully. She wasn’t enough of a fool to grab a Mewtwoite X or Y. The genetic Pokémon’s DNA was already unstable. Too risky to merge with her own. That left the Alakazite and the Gardevoirite as the only two viable options. It had been a difficult decision to make, but she was never one to change her mind, even if she had doubts now. She pointed to the white and green orb. The Rocket nodded and stepped back motioning to the table. Sabrina lay down, an odd sense of contentment washing over her. The Rockets moved about as if this was far from the first time they’d performed this procedure. A few even looked as if they were bored by it. All the while, Giovanni stood the side, wringing his hands with greed and excitement, making no more attempt to hide his true intentions. The Master Ball wasn’t on his person but on the doctor with the syringe. He would have to go first.
The needle pierced Sabrina’s skin. The serum flowed into her, and the touch of the mega stone sent a flash of power through her body like she’d never felt before. It was more disorienting than she thought. She reached out with her mind, attempting to shove away the doctor she knew would try to capture her. Her vision blurred, and she couldn’t quite tell where he was anymore. Panic invaded her mind. No, she would not go down like this. She was Sabrina of Saffron City, the most powerful human psychic in Kanto, and Giovanni was a fool to mess with her.
With a mighty yell, she sent a blast of energy emanating in a circle around her, shoving everything back in a five-foot radius. The Rockets cried out in shock, Giovanni yelled at them to get up and go after her. Glass shattered and equipment clattered to the floor. Then, above all the commotion, Sabrina heard Gladion’s voice call out loud and clear, “Sabrina! I’ve got you!”
She saw a blur of white and purple hurdling towards her, felt a red light beckoning her closer. She smiled and stepped towards it. She was putting her safety in Gladion’s hands now. But she knew the young man well. He didn’t disappoint her.
The red light swallowed Sabrina and in an instant, it was as if she had fallen asleep.