Giovanni was pleased to hear Brock had agreed to the mission without an argument this time. It was getting more and more annoying to twist the former gym leader’s arm without Ash taking notice. Time was of the essence. He summoned Brock to Viridian’s outdoor training facility that afternoon. Even though, by his current plans, their hunt for Sabrina wouldn’t begin for another few weeks, he needed to prepare now. That included getting Brock ready without ever mentioning what or who it was they’d be searching for when they got to Alola.
The hybrid Aquafeles sat by Giovanni’s feet, licking its paws and rubbing behind its finned ears. If one were to look at the creature from behind, it would probably look every bit like a greenish-tinged Vaporeon. It was the Meowth’s face that threw things off. But Giovanni had become accustomed enough to the sight. Before merger technology, he freely sent the talking Pokémon out with Jessie and James just to keep all three of them out of his hair. Now, however, the creature’s unique ability to translate Pokémon language to human speech had become indispensable. While Misty and Ash could understand Brock perfectly fine, Giovanni–with his completely lack of Pokémon blood in his veins–could not. And manipulating people didn’t work so well with one-sided conversations.
“So glad you could make it,” Giovanni said, voice thick with sarcasm when Brock entered.
Brock smirked. This was the only part of the training sessions he didn’t find repulsive. Giovanni always had that slight edge to his voice, letting on that he’d noticed Brock wasn’t broken just yet, and he wasn’t happy about it. As usual, Brock made no direct reply but slowly snaked his way to the center of the arena. The outside one today. That was interesting, at least. He searched for whatever Pokémon Giovanni was setting up as an opponent, but oddly enough, found himself alone on the field.
“You won’t be facing any other Pokémon directly today,” Giovanni announced from the sideline. “Though I would like your see your friend Misty join us soon. She does well enough caring for my water types, but her talents go so much further than that. It’s really a shame how her power gets so squandered, wouldn’t you say?”
Brock crossed his arms, refusing the answer that one.
Giovanni gave a shrug. “Well, that’s a concern for another time. Today I’d like to see if we can’t change your moveset a bit.”
“Oh, no,” Brock replied with a perfect deadpan. “You’re not going to ask me to forget Tackle, are you? It’s a classic.”
Aquafeles gave the translation, sounding thoroughly bored.
“I applaud your enthusiasm,” Giovanni countered. “But, yes, I’m afraid Tackle will have to go. I need you to learn some more…disruptive attacks.”
“Disruptive?” Brock asked, scolding himself immediately for letting his curiosity pique.
“Yes,” Giovanni replied. “The Pokémon you’ll be facing on our upcoming mission is extremely powerful. A full-on offensive assault will be a fool’s errand. Ergo, I’m going to need you to learn some more subtle tech–”
He paused when a grunt came up from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. Brock was pretty sure he saw a vein pulse. The only thing Giovanni hated more than people and Pokémon defying him was getting interrupted during a conniving monologue.
“What?” Giovanni snapped.
The grunt cowered a bit and bowed. “Apologies, sir. But I thought you’d want to know that our Unovan disruption has been…” He glanced Brock’s way. “…severely dampened.”
Brock didn’t like the cryptic speech one bit. Unova housed Team Plasma’s headquarters, if he remembered correctly. So Giovanni had dispersed their forces? Or he had literally drowned them?
“I appreciate the information,” Giovanni said, waving a hand to dismiss him, but the grunt continued,
“Yes, the problem is much less…elite now, you might say.”
“Thank you,” Giovanni said through gritted teeth. “I inferred your meaning the first time around. Now, unless you can give me the exact location of our Alolan target, I suggest you leave.”
His emphasis on “leave” finally got through, and the grunt stuttered, “N-no, sir. No word on the Alolan target. But w-we are working very hard on–”
Giovanni stomped his foot, and Aquafeles let out a hiss that sent the grunt scrambling away. Giovanni made a fist and muttered something low under his breath. It was too quiet for Brock to hear, but Aquafeles had a habit of playing both sides. Giovanni’s genetic experiments hadn’t destroyed his loyalty, but they’d given it quite a beating. He let out a series of meows and purrs that no doubt sounded like random noise to Giovanni. To Brock, their meaning was clear. “We’ll find her. We’ll find her no matter what it takes.”
Stepping into the Shady House was a disgusting experience. Pierce had no other words, alternate phrases, or methods of sugar-coating to suggest otherwise. (And it was hardly in his nature to do so, anyway.) With such consistently poor weather outside, it seemed Team Skull needed to choose where and how to apply their limited resources of keeping the place in good repair, and it was not the entry way or the main foyer. The floor was littered with mud and debris from outside, and the old couches that sat on the front porch smelled as if they contained more mold than stuffing.
Fi walked behind them, her focus locked on a journal the brute Guzma had given her. On the front cover, someone had scrawled with a thick metallic pen: “The Everything Book About Every Team Skull Thing.” Her keen senses should have been reeling by now. He could only assume she was using the book as a focal point for her mental distraction. The only other possibility was that Guzma had written something coherent and interesting about his band of hooligans, and that was just too ridiculous to consider.
Going upstairs was a better experience but only marginally so. Pierce put his hand on the railing, in anticipation of one of the decrepit stairs collapsing under his weight. Instead, it was the railing that gave way. Pierce staggered and threw out his arms to catch his balance. Still absorbed in her subpar reading material, Fi nonetheless reached out an arm and steadied him.
“Thank you,” he muttered.
“Uh-huh,” she replied.
“Oh, yeah, you wanna hold the railing on the left side,” said the green-haired grunt ascending the stairs beside him. She was supposed to be showing them around the Shady House, but Fi and Piece weren’t very good followers. “The one of the right is finicky.”
Was “finicky” a euphemism for “broken beyond repair” in this place? Pierce could only assume so. He got to the top only to see the upper floor in surprisingly better condition. The only moldy smell was the one that still burned in his nose from the entryway. And while quite a few floorboards creaked and groaned, none felt as if they were prepared to disintegrate.
Fi was penciling in her own notes in the notebook now, and Pierce stole a glance to see what about. Apparently she was brainstorming the order she wanted to make repairs in. The railing, yes, but followed soon after by the entranceway and “replace gross mold chairs.” Had to make an impression and all. And having a house full of dumpster dive furniture and electronics that belonged in a museum they were so ancient would definitely not be striking fear into their enemies hearts anytime soon.
A door swung open at the far end of the hall. Pierce was expecting a squeal of hinges, but it was so eerily silent, he might have missed it completely if his eyes hadn’t caught the door’s movement. A Pokémon stepped out from inside–a Gardevoir. Or so he thought at first. When she glanced up at him, he realized this was no ordinary Pokémon he was looking at.
He was face to face with another hybrid. Specifically, with the Saffron City Gym Leader. Sabrina.
Her ice blue eyes narrowed at him. Pierce felt a tickle in the back of his mind, like an itch inside his skull. Sabrina’s telepathy. It shouldn’t have surprised him. She no doubt knew immediately he was from Team Rocket. She’d want to probe around his thoughts to make sure he wasn’t a threat. The thing was, Pierce didn’t much care for thought-probing. Especially when it was done against him. So he turned his head and stared intently at the wallpaper to his right–a faded gray and lavender pattern with a simple Pokéball motif. The itch in his skull faded, and Sabrina made no comment on her mind invasion aside from a soft, “Huh.” She then glided down the stairs past him, paying him no more mind.
Does she feel any connection with people still? It was really none of his business, and yet the fact that he had come so close to such a high-percentage merger himself made the thought impossible to push away. He stole a peek inside the room she’d left–a little cubby of a space that could have been a refurnished walk-in closet. Made sense everyone would want to give the super-powerful psychic her own room.
Now that Pierce had paused, their guide moved past him and briefly opened a set of double doors in the center of the hallway. “This is the bosses’ room,” she said.
Pierce looked in. It was the largest room he’d seen thus far, aside from the foyer downstairs. A queen-sized bed with a plush brown comforter sat at the center. Beside it sat a mini-fridge inside with a piece of paper taped onto the front. Someone had written on the paper in thick, permanent marker: Do NOT
“They each had their own room before,” the grunt explained. “But they wanted to room together for when the baby’s here and stuff.” She shrugged, closed the doors, then showed Pierce and Fi to the room beside it.
“You two will be in here. It’s Boss Plum’s old room,” she said. Now Fi looked up with interest. She didn’t put the book down, but instead tucked it under her arm as she stepped in to look the place over. Pierce followed. (Okay, he did follow people sometimes. Just not low-level grunts.)
It was a small downgrade from Guzma’s room but not by much. The full bed and dresser were still in decent shape. The walls were painted a cheerful yellow. And the curtains, though hideously frilly, didn’t have any obvious holes.
Fi scribbled a fast note in the journal. Something he imagined was along the lines of “re-decorate everything in bedroom,” before dismissing the grunt with a hand wave.
“Thanks for the tour, but we’ve got it from here.”
The grunt shrugged and wandered off in a whatever-I-didn’t-really-want-to-do-this anyway sort of manner.
Once the door was closed behind them, Fi offered him a sheepish smile. “I know it’s not much. But it’s better then sleeping in sand, at least. I know how much you hate sand.”
Pierce grimaced. “I do hate sand.”
He pulled off his heavy trench coat and shook it, frowning harder as what seemed like an entire Palossand worth of granules scattered onto the floor. He hung his coat from a protruding nail in the wall. “Well, it’s not Hotel Ionia. But it’s also not the worse place I’ve ever crashed in.”
Fi had kicked off her boots and was carefully lifting her Pokémon egg-blanket-bundle from the satchel. “Really? What was the worst?”
Pierce took up the small duffle of clothes they’d brought and began to sort and fold. He had to think a moment it had been so long. “Besides the Team Rocket prison cell? There was the night I spent hiding out in a garden shed. Another under a park bench. But the worst…I’d have to say was a few weeks in between orphanages when I took up residence in a dumpster.”
He glanced over his shoulder. Fi was stretched out on her side now, the egg nestled in close against her. “Yes, well, it was preferable to getting my teeth knocked in by the local bully.”
Fi took up the journal again. Pierce went back to his folding. Not much more needed to be said, really. They both had childhood enemies, and they both had dealt with them. His childhood bully problem stopped the moment he accidentally hacked his way into Giovanni’s good graces. Fi’s bully, well, he liked to think he played a key role in stopping her reign of torment when he busted Fi out of that prison she called a home.
He set his and Fi’s neatly folded clothes into their appropriate dresser drawers and shoved them closed. What’s past was past. Pushing ahead was all that mattered now. And if that meant living in the Shady House then so be it. He’d find a way to make it a suitable home for Fi and their Pokémon family. And once Fi was running things they’d be able to take down their most dangerous bully yet. Because Giovanni didn’t forgive traitors. Ever.
Pierce sat on the bed, settling in so that the Pokémon egg was now resting between both him and Fi. “So? Did you find any useful insights from Guzma I should know about?” he asked.
Fi lowered the book with a sigh. “Well, getting our hands on supplies is going to be a lot trickier than I expected. Seems breaking the law is Team Skull’s latest no-no.”
Pierce cocked an eyebrow. “Are you serious?”
To show how serious she was, Fi flipped the book open to reveal that the final page had “NO MORE STEELING!!!!” written in giant letters across the entire surface.
Figured. They managed to integrate into the one group of criminals who didn’t actually commit crimes anymore. Pierce scratched his chin. Yes, this was a challenge. But that was just the sort of thing he thrived on.