That brat Agent Fiora had certainly left a mess in her wake. That was Lexi’s first thought when she’d been promoted three months ago. No longer was her study limited to Team Rocket’s grass-type laboratory. Instead she was to take over the entire hybrid clinic.
This would have been a very exciting step in her career if the clinic hadn’t been burned to the ground in Fiora’s showy rescue of her fellow traitor. Thankfully Lexi had her trusty Pokémon to help her get things back in order. And, less thankfully, she had Kyle.
“Just put the beakers over there,” she instructed Bella, her Tangrowth. Bella made a kind of “brrrr!” sound in response and lined eight sets of beakers in eight vine arms perfectly next to each other.
“Got our coffee orders,” Kyle announced, squeezing in the door behind the Pokémon. He sat two cardboard cups on the nearest counter space. “And I know you said no sugar, but in my defense, I ignored you.”
Lexi tasted both coffees and sure enough, they both had sugar. She choose the less painfully sweet one and sipped it thoughtfully. Now that there was less broken glass and charred remains of old furniture lying about, the wide open space felt like a blank canvas. Full of possibility. She couldn’t wait to get the Pokémon moving around in here. They’d been cooped up quite a bit waiting for the space to be repaired. As best she could managed, she’d been sending them out in the field with trustworthy underlings. And of course, the hybrid Aquafeles simply came and went as he pleased.
“Things are really looking up for us, huh?” Kyle mused. He took a long, loud slurp of his coffee and sighed. “Who knows? Maybe after we do this gig a while, we can even start our own teams someday.”
Lexi, for the most part, ignored Kyle’s random suggestions and ideas. He had a new one every half hour or so. But this one she couldn’t quite let slide without some comments.
“You better not let the boss overhear you talking like that,” she said.
“I was thinking about uniform colors…” Kyle continued as if he hadn’t heard Lexi at all. “I don’t think any of the teams in other regions have used orange yet. What do you think about Team Orange?”
She rolled her eyes. Somehow to Kyle this meant, “I think that’s a great idea!”
“You’ll need a rival team, of course,” he continued, motioning to himself. “A group who can be the Aqua to your Magma. Oo! How about I make one called Team Apple? Then no one will ever be able to compare us!”
She shoved a clipboard into his hands. “Or here’s a thought. You and I work our way up Team Rocket before we develop any further delusions of grandeur.”
Kyle tapped the clipboard and nodded thoughtfully. “A tactful approach. I like it.”
Lexi sighed and went about her business.
Kyle watched her for a few minutes before getting lost in his own Team Rocket duties. First he glanced through the clipboard he was holding. It had some fancy-looking charts towards the back that were probably none of his business to be looking at. They had lots of lines with different colors, numbers with long decimals, and summary paragraphs that used words like, “causation” and “hypothesize.” Really high-end, Lexi-level stuff. The first page, the one he was supposed to be looking at, was a to-do list. The first item said, “Run a maintenance check on the security software.” That was Lexi-speak for double-clicking the purple icon and waiting for the ‘Check complete’ window to show up. The one with the smiley face. If he didn’t get a smiley face, the program was broken, and Lexi had to fix it.
Working for Team Rocket was a piece of cake. Or, a slice of apple. If he was going to start Team Apple someday, he needed some good fruit-based phrases at the ready. He walked over to the main security computer and double clicked the purple icon. Then he took a nice long slurp to finish off his sugary coffee and grabbed a spare slice of paper from the printer. He tucked it behind his to-do list, pen at the ready in case any inspired puns or other code phrases occurred to him.
What kinds of code phrases does Team Rocket use? he wondered. Not that he would steal any directly–he had his standards, after all–but maybe they could get his creativity moving. He tried to brainstorm, though most of what others said to him was, “Let’s go!” and “Bwa-ha-ha!” and “Kyle, what are you doing? Don’t touch that!”
Then he tried to think of phrases he’d overheard that weren’t aimed at him per se, and his memory locked on a conversation he’d listened in on while waiting on his morning coffee.
“Hey, Lexi?” he said.
She turned from her work and glanced at the monitor first, which showed the maintenance check was only 15% complete. She nodded for him to continue.
“I was just wondering…any idea what the ‘dampened threat’ is?”
“Huh?” Sometimes she sounded curious about his questions, other times annoyed, but this one was a strange mix of both.
“I heard some guards and grunts talking about a ‘dampened threat.’ Only they were really saying the word ‘dampened’ all long and drawn out like it was extra important. Wonder if you knew what that was?” She stared at him blankly for a moment before he added on, “Oh. And I think they said something about Unova being elite.”
Lexi got that understanding look, which made Kyle feel better. If she got what they were talking about, he’d at least remembered the conversation correctly.
“That’s old news,” she informed him. “One of the Unova Elite Four members showed up snooping around. Security nabbed him and took care of him.”
Kyle nodded but slowly. “This isn’t like ‘take care of him’ as in ‘give him a foot bath and some hot soup’ is it?”
“No, Kyle, it isn’t,” Lexi sighed. She lifted the sciencey-goggles she’d been wearing to massage the bridge of her nose. “They tied him up, drove him out to sea, and dumped him in the ocean. Is that sufficient information for you?”
“Huh,” Kyle replied, not really answering her question but not really caring either. “So…this would be Marshall? Or Grimsley?”
Lexi lifted her eyebrows. Probably surprised he remembered the Unova Elite Four. But Kyle wasn’t clueless. He just didn’t pay attention to boring stuff.
“This would be Grimsley. Who they’re probably secretly happy to get rid of anyway. The guy’s known to only look out for himself.” At she spoke, Lexi glanced at the monitor again.
The maintenance check had reached 17%. She sighed and shook her head. “Looks like it’s slow this morning. There’s no point in you standing around staring at it, so why don’t you move onto the next thing on your list and come back to check on this later.”
“Hey, good thinking,” Kyle said. He grabbed his now-empty coffee cup and tossed it in the trash. “Let’s see what else we’ve got on the agenda today…”
The next bullet on the list read, “Review old surveillance footage from data file #12457. Forward any leads on identity of unknown intruder directly to Boss.”
That was Boss with a capital B, meaning report directly to Giovanni himself. They still hadn’t figured out who the kid was who’d burst in to the Saffron City Gym and tossed a Master Ball at the newly transformed Sabrina. Supposedly watching the footage over and over again would help. Kyle usually didn’t judge other people’s ideas, but even he thought this one had little chance of working. Still, a job was a job. He picked the comfiest office chair he could find and pulled it up to a smaller montior in front of an older computer. The system didn’t have the stamina to keep up with the rest of the network too much, but it was fine for storing old footage and files, which Team Rocket had a lot of.
“Hey, Lexi?” Kyle said. “You think that there’s any chance Grimsley survived?”
“Huh? Why would you think that?” she asked, genuine concern in her voice.
Kyle shrugged. “No special reason. Just that weirder stuff has happened. I mean, Ex Agent Fiora flew off with half the old lab in a helicopter. That was pretty weird, too.”
On this point, even Lexi to agree Kyle was right. She gave him the satisfaction of an agreeable nod, said that she trusted the staff to do their assassinations thoroughly and correctly, then went back to her work.
Kyle settled in for a long viewing session and wished he had bought himself an extra coffee.
Fi didn’t remember actually falling asleep. Once she and Pierce got invested in a shared goal sleep usually wasn’t in the agenda. Not until every plan and its three emergency backup plans were shared and debated and solidified.
But she must have dozed off because she startled awake to Phantom’s face inches from hers.
“Weee!” he greeted. “Good morning!”
Fi sat bolt upright, sending Phantom toppling to the floor. “Why didn’t you wake me up sooner?”
She couldn’t afford to sleep late. Not when it might be misinterpreted as “slacking off” by a certain dunderhead who was sure to use any excuse he could to be rid of her.
Pulling on her second boot she stumbled from the bedroom, started towards the stairs, stopped, bolted back for the baby egg and her satchel, started again, stopped again, and did a double take. Was that Raven dangling upside down from one of the rafters?
“Noi,” her Noivern opened one sleepy eye and yawned a greeting but made no other effort to stir. Several other shadows skittered around her, more cautious to reveal themselves. But eventually, with Raven’s encouragement, they greeted Fi as well. She saw several Spinarak, an Ariados, a Galvantula, a Skorupi, and other bug types. Some were dangling from the exposed beams by lines of silk. Others clung on with suction cup feet. Raven wasn’t bothered by them in the slightest. Even when a tiny Joltik crawled down her folded wings to nestle itself in her neck ruff. She remained quite comfortable. Like she knew she belonged and screw anyone who tried to say otherwise.
Fi let out a breath. Her Pokémon had the right idea. Chin up, shoulders back, she marched down the stairs, bed-head and all.
Pierce had been busy while she was counting Mareep. For starters he’d claimed a little corner of the living room as his personal space, going as far as putting down a tape perimeter and lots of “keep out” and “no grunts allowed” signs. Next he’d hauled in their folding table and set up his computer, tools, and the rest of the swag he’d managed to get a hold of. At the moment, he was typing away furiously at his keyboard one-handed while simultaneously downing a mug of stale-smelling coffee.
Spade sat by his side on guard duty. In case any of the grunts ignored the signs. Or just didn’t bother to read them. She took her job very seriously, too. She refused Fi admittance over the tape until she stated the correct password.
“Um…” Fi scratched her head. “Giovanni sucks?”
“Hak…” Spade snorted, turning up her nose at Fi’s very lucky guess. When Spade nudged Pierce and informed, “Fi is here to see you, sir,” in her gruff fighting-type accent, Pierce glanced up from his screen with a subtle smile.
“Good morning, Fi.” Judging from the bags under his eyes, he’d left after she’d passed out and hadn’t bothered to actually sleep himself.
“Have you been up all night?”
He “hummed” over his next swig of coffee. “Fixing our financial problem. I forgot how invigorating a good hack session is.” He stifled a yawn. “And exhausting.” He glanced at his Hakamo-o and cleared his throat. “Spade, would you show Fi into my office, please?”
Spade bowed her head. Then she moved to a particular portion of the tape and gestured Fi inside with a “right this way” sort of motion.
Fi smiled at his and Spade’s growing bond. After Pierce’s hench-mon Absol and Gliscor had chosen freedom over partnering with him, Fi had feared he’d never love another Pokémon again. But then the little dragon had sniffed out Pierce’s cooking one night at their campfire and the two discovered their startlingly similar personalities. They were doing it again now. The same stiff stance. The same serious expression. The same quirky sense of humor.
Phantom found the whole set up hilarious.
While Fi stepped over the tape barrier so she could edge in behind Pierce, Phantom stuck a clawed hand across the border over and over, laughing when each time caused Spade’s lip to curl. On Pierce’s screen was a bank account he’d tucked away in the recesses of cyber space for them with his hacking finesse. The account not even Giovanni or the international police managed to trace. The numbers she saw were significantly higher then the last time she’d seen them. Not enough to retire on for sure. But definitely enough to get them house-fixing supplies.
“Not bad,” Fi patted his shoulder. “And if Guzma asks where you got it?”
Pierce leaned back in his chair and stretched. “I didn’t break into anyone’s bank account. Everything I earned was given freely to the worthy charity I made up. And…may have showcased by tweaking a few searches. And planting click bait. And faking endorsements.” Pierce shifted windows to show her his “worthy cause’s” homepage. “Hope you don’t mind but I thought having a professor in the mix would make it more believable.”
When Fi saw her father, Professor Sycamore, had added “his” glowing praise to the cause, she burst out a laugh. “It’s about time he did something useful.”
The Everything Book had said no stealing. But there was zero mention of “no lying one’s butt off to gullible people on the internet.”
She paused to watch Phantom, whose game of “annoy Spade because it’s funny” had gone from teasing hand waves over the tape to jumping over, laughing as Spade snarled, then jumping back before she had a chance to actually retaliate.
“You better quit that before she catches you,” Fi told him.
Phantom smirked at her in a “yeah, right” sort of way, unaware that he had stopped on the wrong side of the barrier to do it.
With a battle cry, Spade lashed out her tail, sending Phantom flying across the room into a rickety book/trophy/random doodads case, which then fell apart. Fi and Pierce both winced.
“You okay, pal?” she asked. Even though he totally deserved that butt-whooping.
“Wee…” said Phantom from under his new trophy hat and gave her a thumbs up. Only his ego was damaged. Fi made another quick note on her repair list to “replace cheap bookcase,” while Pierce shifted windows on his screen again. This time to show her a design program. “I drew up some plans for the house, too. Want to see?”
Fi leaned in eagerly. Pierce really must have been hyped up on Po Town bean juice if he was digging into public records and busting out schematics in the middle of the night.
He scrolled through a dozen drawings. Each more elaborate then the next. After some debate and sampling a cup of the disgusting-yet-hyper-buzz-inducing brew, they narrowed down the list of ideas to the most realistic ones.
“The funds should just about cover the supplies,” Pierce concluded after a few more searches and some genius level number crunching. “All we need now are a few dozen free hands to do all the…heh–” He chuckled. “‘Grunt’ work.”
Fi nodded. “Let me handle that.”