a/n: Hi, everyone! Rowan and I are excited to finally start posting the sequel to Mergers. The awesome artwork of Aquafeles is by Mahalia. (She’s often open to commissions, so be sure to check out her other work!) We’ll post the larger version when we get a little farther into the story–otherwise it’d be a little bit of a spoiler warning. Hope you enjoy!
Fi had to admit she liked Alola. The little island chain had personality. And she’d passed through her fair share of the regions in her months of exile. Unlike Johto, this place wasn’t on Team Rocket’s radar, so no one would recognize her and send a convenient tip to the local Jennies. The weather was balmy–not subject to sudden near-apocalyptic bouts of intense sun or pouring rain like in Hoenn. And there were no lame gimmicks. No weirdos parading around pretending to be knights. No pointless, glorified beauty contests for prissy girls. No over-the-top Champion running around in short-shorts and a cape patched with ads doing random Charizard poses. Alola was simple, secluded. The perfect place for her try to rebuild everything that rat-face Giovanni and his spawn Ash had stolen from her.
Fi grit her teeth and re-directed her raging energy into a running leap over the back fence to a sizable berry orchard. She and her Pokémon were going to need their strength if they were going to pry Team Skull away from that fool Guzma.
She dug her claws into the trunk of a fruit-laden berry tree and hiked herself up cursing his name the whole way. The man was stupidly stubborn. Or possibly just stupid. It was hard to tell which. He had to know how dangerous she was. She’d cased out his joint for days without being caught. She’d broken into his own home right under his nose. And when she did reveal herself, his Pokémon couldn’t land a scratch on her. Even Sabrina had warned him not to mess with her. Sabrina, who was definitely no push over herself. But still Guzma refused to be intimidated like a normal, sensible person.
Leave it to a thug to make things unnecessarily difficult.
As she made her way hither into the branches, Fi tried to steady her breathing and her racing temper. If Pierce were there she was pretty sure he’d tell her, in that calm, unfazed, annoyingly-logical way of his, that she was “overreacting.” That “Guzma will fall in line. Once the reality of fatherhood sets in.”
High in the branches Fi balanced on a limb and inhaled the fragrant air. Sugary-sweet mango berries. Sharp, bitter aguav berries. The spicy kick of her favorite tamato berries. It wasn’t hard to find the choicest ones. Not with her her Absol-heightened sense of smell. She stretched a limber arm, plucked off handfuls of glistening fruit, and stuffed them in the limited addition official Pokémon league satchel that Pierce had given her for her birthday last year. To organize the insane regimen of medications she now no longer needed.
He was like that. Her BFF. Always thinking practically. Always one step ahead. Always looking out for her. Even in her imagination. Hypothetical Pierce was surely right about Guzma coming around–once the dumb brute saw what a strong, capable leader she’d be for his crew. Plus she had the added advantage of his parent-fever to exploit. No one, not even Giovanni himself, acted completely rationally when the safety of their mini-versions came into question. Case in point. If Giovanni had retained his senses, he never would dared throw her out.
Fi jammed a final handful of berries into her bulging bag before jumping easily to the ground. The sun was just cresting over the horizon. Time for her to get a move on before the orchard owners found her smuggling off with their crops. Though, knowing these Alolans, all she’d have to do was come up with some sob story and they’d probably just let her have the berries. Sharing the bounty of nature and all that nonsense. Personally, Fi found the whole philosophy unnerving. No place in the world was that perfect. No matter how pretty and wholesome it seemed on the outside even Alola had a seedy underbelly.
All those trainers in Team Skull trying to scratch out a living in that dismal little Po Town? Those were the kinds of people she needed. It was easy to motivate folks with nothing else to lose. And making them stronger. Giving them that taste of power they never got to know, that would keep them loyal. It might take months. Or years. But she’d turn that pack of hooligans into a force powerful enough to take down Giovanni and his modeling brat. Once Guzma was out of the picture.
Halfway back to her makeshift camp, Fi sat to watch the sunrise on the beach, taking a moment to bask in the warm glow of sun and her dream of ultimate retaliation. Soon though, her rumbling stomach began to intrude on her thoughts.
Sifting through her bag, she smiled when she spotted an overly ripe Pecha berry and tapped the first of the two Pokeballs nestled snugly on her belt.
“Wake up, sleepy,” she urged as her Weavile, Phantom, emerged. “We’ve got a tough day of leadership usurping ahead of us.”
Because of course, that’s what it would come down to, despite her efforts to be civil. Since New Year’s, she’d given Guzma a week to deliberate. She’d even offered to build him and his girlfriend their own place to raise their family in peace. But guys like Guzma didn’t respond to polite demands. Only brute-force ones.
“Wheeee,” yawned Phantom, rubbing sleep-crusted eyes with a clawed hand. The Weavile dialect came almost as naturally to her as human language. “It’s early…”
Fi replied in Absolian, and offered up the cavity-inducing berry, which made the little guys’s ears prick. Phantom loved his sweets., He loved them so much he earned himself quite a notorious rep raiding bakeries and terrorizing customers back at Mount Silver, where he was born. But Fi had set him straight. No one stole dessert from her. Ever.
Raven, her Noivern, joined them a moment later, stretching her large, leathery wings. She leaned into Fi’s side, nudging her face into Fi’s cheek, like she used to when she was still a tiny Noibat. It still warmed Fi’s heart. “Your favorite,” she said, plucking up a perfectly sour Lapapa berry for her.
When both her companions were munching happily, Fi picked out a Tamato berry for herself. She sank her teeth into the ripe, red fruit and “mmmed” as the spicy juice ran down her chin.
Revenge fantasies were nice. But sometimes it was also nice to just enjoy the little things.
“Noi,” alerted Raven. With her absurdly accurate hearing she’d caught the feathery swoosh of wingbeats from miles away. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Fi spotted the gliding silhouette of a Pidgeotto.
Ruffled, exhausted, it landed close by. It’s little chest heaving with the effort of travel.
“You’re far from home,” Fi observed. She pulled an assortment of berries out of her bag, offering them to the weary Pokémon.
“Pidg,” agreed Pidgeotto. It gulped down several berries, it’s feathers fluffing with happiness the whole time. Finally, when it’s gut was sufficiently distended, the Pokémon turned to her and extended one leg. On it, a gold band glittered.
“Pidgeo-pidge,” it declared. Message for Fi.
Fi cocked her head and looked closer. Tucked in the bad was a tiny cylinder and inside that a roll of paper postmarked all the way from Kanto.
It had to be from Pierce.
A little warmth bloomed in her chest. Not as comforting as hearing her best friend’s voice. Or having him beside her. But a comfort all the same. Until she read the note:
“Sharing a cell with your mom. P.”
He wasn’t really. It was a code. In case anyone from Team Rocket intercepted the message. No one but she would understand. Any mention of her witch of a mother meant trouble. Merciless. Life-wrecking. Trouble.
Fi felt a jolt of nausea. Not from her spicy breakfast. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Pierce should have been safe at headquarters. When the sludge bomb hit the fan two months ago–them going against Giovanni’s order, merging his son then fighting the kid one on one in battle–she had taken the heat. For all of it.
She’d done it without hesitation. Team Rocket was Pierce’s home. The merger project his breakthrough. She would not begrudge him that stability, no matter how much she hated Giovanni. Except now Pierce was in prison and in danger. Had he gotten himself in trouble somehow? Or was Giovanni punishing him as a twisted way to get back at her?
She rose quickly, her mind already racing again.
“Thank you, friend,” she told Pidgeotto. “You should get back to headquarters as fast as you can. Before you’re missed.”
“Pidge…” sighed Pidgeotto, looking disappointingly at the vast ocean.
“I’ll make it up to you. I promise,” Fi said. And meant it. True, she might not be strong enough to destroy Giovanni and everything he stood for yet. But she was more then capable of screwing him over a little. Fi recalled Raven and Phantom, started to jog inland, towards the main port, then paused.
She scowled over her shoulder in the direction of Po Town.
“This isn’t over, Guzma,” she swore to the wind. Hoping it might carry her message to him. “So have fun playing leader for now. Because when I get back, there are going to be some changes.”
Pierce lay awake on the hard cot, eyes fixed on the stone ceiling of the tiny cell. Brock’s cell, if he recalled right. He should have been angry or disgusted. Being demoted to a lab subject was humiliating. And certainly being forced into a merger and serving as Giovanni’s Pokémon wasn’t exactly how he planned to go out. But instead, Pierce just smiled at the bosses twisted sense of irony.
This was Team Rocket. They were all criminals. And criminals were not a loyal breed. Period.
Even Fi had left. Not that she had much choice. The Boss had condemned the both of them for going against his orders and tampering with his son. But Fi was already merged, thus, she had no further value.
He closed his eyes, wearily, picturing her face in his mind. The only person was truly going to miss. Down the hall he heard the echo of grunt footfalls. His time had finally come, it seemed. No sesne in putting it off. He wondered what the Boss would choose to merge him with. Whatever it was, the precentage was going to be high. That much he already knew. The Boss had made a special point of telling him.
“I’m curious to see where humanity truly ends,” was what he said. Maybe it was for the best after the chaos he’d unleashed. With any luck he wouldn’t even remember being human.
Keys rattled at his cell door.
“Get up, traitor,” snarled the minion-of-the-day. “And face the wall.”
Pierce obeyed as usual, careful to hold his arms up and spread his hands against the cell wall. He tried to place the minions husky voice, but no luck. He hadn’t really made a point of getting to know his underlings. Or any of the lowly grunts, really. He regretted that now. No friends on the inside meant no last-minute rescues.
The minion shackled his hands and pushed him out the door rather rougher then necessary. Like they expected he’d put up a fight at any moment. He did consider it. For a brief second. But then, why spend his last moments of humanity acting like a savage. He’d have plenty of time to do that as a hybrid. And he’d have more power at his disposal to do so. Preferably in the direction of Giovanni’s smug face.
Yes. That would be most entertaining.
Mulling over the different mega-evolutions, and more importantly, the potential attacks he would thus be able to unleash at the arrogant old man, Pierce didn’t notice the strange route the minion at his back had chosen to take. Not until said minion steered him through a maintenance tunnel, down six flights of badly lit stairs, and straight into dusty janitors closet he’d forgotten even existed.
“What?” he blinked. “What’s going on?”
The minion undid his handcuffs.
“What do you think? I’m rescuing you, you idiot.”
The look on Pierce’s face when Fi revealed herself was priceless. Seriously, was he so caught in his own self-pity that he couldn’t recognize her voice through the lame-but-passable disguise? She smiled, taking in Mr. Smarty Pants-always-knows-everything’s utterly dumbfounded expression.
“You…” he stammered when he found his voice “You came back!”
“Don’t sound so shocked. You really think I’d let Giovanni have the satisfaction of turning you into his new pet with your own invention?”
A dry laugh escaped Pierce. “And here I thought it was because you missed me.”
“Never said I didn’t.” Fi punched his shoulder playfully before reaching under her shirt and retrieving a compact laptop, expertly hidden along the small of her back.”How about it?” she asked him. “Can you handle security?”
A grin spread across Pierce’s face. One that told her he was bounding out of the pity with Talonflame speed. “I’ll do more than that. I’ve got a virus that will wipe his entire system.”
“Oh?” Fi’s eyes glittered. “And when did you plant that little monstrosity?”
“As soon as I had executive access,” he replied. When Fi raised her eyebrows, he added a shrug. “What? Just because I worked for the man doesn’t mean I trusted him.”
Fi snorted. “Guess that makes two of us.” She turned and undid a grate in the wall, exposing the first of many tunnels she’d snuck into the building designs when her lab was being constructed. Pierce nodded appreciation as she motioned him into the dark passageway.
“You handle his files. I’ll get the rest of his valuables.” she instructed. “Then when I give the signal, meet me on the roof with a chopper.”
“What’s the signal?”
Her grin stretched a mile wide. “Oh, you’ll know when it happens.”
Giovanni’s plans were damaged, but not broken. They were never broken.
When something did not go as he had hoped it would, he did not rage about it like a child. He gathered what he could from the situation and formulated a new approach. So when his son had so brilliantly thwarted his manipulation plans via a merger with Banette, he assessed the positives of the situation first. One, Ash had proven himself capable of a rather brilliant piece of trickery. Two, he had revealed several key weak points in Team Rocket that had allowed him to get a merger against Giovanni’s wishes. Weak points that were currently being corrected, if they had not been already. Not that Giovanni would allow Ash to get away without some accountability. Once everything had settled, he called the boy to his office first thing in the morning.
“One of the first conditions I set in our little agreement was that you would not give any of my underlings orders contrary to my own. Explain why our contract hasn’t already been violated.”
Ash stood in front of Giovanni’s oversized desk, oddly calm. One thing the merger had done was mellow his hyperactive emotions considerably. His passion still existed, but he was able to subdue his gut instincts to yell and carry on when he felt strongly about something.
“I asked for a merger,” Ash said simply. “I didn’t demand or order one, and you had never told me directly that I couldn’t have one. Once Pierce turned me down, I would have left it at that. But former Agent Fiora jumped in and insisted on letting me have one.”
Ah, yes, Agent Fiora. She had been one of his weak points. But that was another matter. He suspected Ash wasn’t being entirely honest in his innocence. But then again, if he had learned to tell a good and proper lie in this whole process, that was a plus.
“I see,” he said simply then leaned back in his chair. “Well, I see no reason not to continue to our agreement. Why don’t you have a seat over there?” He pointed to a second desk he’d had brought into the elaborate office (a place with no lack of space for new furniture.) It sat against the adjacent wall to his own, far enough to suggest a sense of privacy while giving very little of it. A top of the line computer sat atop it, sleek, black, and accented with glowing Rocket red.
Ash sat in the cushy desk chair, startling when he sunk into it.
“Go ahead and wake up the computer,” Giovanni instructed him.
Ash looked confused.
“Hit the enter key,” Giovanni clarified with a sigh.
Ash did so, and the computer whirred. The blank screen lit up to show a dozen windows of various video feeds throughout the Viridian Gym and its secret underground complex. “Welcome, Mr. Ketchum,” the system said in a robotic voice, startling Ash once again.
“Nothing to be uneasy about,” Giovanni assured him. “It’s simply some basic facial recognition software. Your countenance is a bit unique, so it’s quite simple to distinguish.”
Ash lowered the brim of his hat over his red, Banette-like eyes. Still self-conscious, apparently. A pity. He looked terrifying, and it was a shame he didn’t utilize that.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to have you as an extra eye on the security feeds today,” Giovanni said. “A few of our subordinates have been…lacking in this area.”
Ash nodded, seemingly relieved that Giovanni didn’t expect him to perform any technical feats. He looked over each of the feeds, noting where the cameras were and what was going on.
Giovanni sat at his own desk, typing random non-sensical words into a word processor. A stack of documents sat beside him–all with printer errors and destined for the trash bin. But for now, they were quite helpful. Giovanni occasionally stood, picked up a few of them, and added them to an empty folder in the filing cabinet located next to Ash. Each time he moved around the room, Giovanni made some small-talk comment, prompting Ash to respond and lowering his guard.
Giovanni knew how to ask the right questions, and over the next couple hours, he gleaned quite a bit of helpful information. For one, Misty was still quite feisty, even regularly talked of sabotage. She did get some enjoyment out of tending to the water Pokémon, however, especially the hybrid that used to be Giovanni’s old talking Meowth.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brock seemed to be retreating more and more into himself. This could prove problematic. If Giovanni couldn’t get someone to do what he wanted—whether the cause was depression or defiant stubbornness—that was a problem. He might have to ease up on Brock’s training sessions, give him more free reign of the place. Thankfully, both former gym leaders were taking their cues from Ash. As long as he wished to see this agreement through, neither of them would leave Team Rocket, no matter how much they hated it.
But Giovanni’s most optimistic discovery was Ash’s opinion of him. The ghost Pokémon had manipulated the young man enough that his initial hatred of Giovanni simply wasn’t there. Enough bad memories had been replaced to give him an opening. Ash did not like him nor did he trust him, but that was about where the tension between them ended. So if Ash’s succession was to come down to mere trust issues, Giovanni could work on that. He had to change his plans up more than he liked, but he could work with it.
The morning continued without incident until right before lunch.
“Um…Giovanni?” Ash awkwardly raised his hand like he was a child in a Pokémon training school. “I think there’s something wrong with the computer.”
“So call a technician,” Giovanni replied with as little patience as he could. He was standing beside the filing cabinet and pursuing the menu for a local seafood restaurant that supposedly served an excellent Azure Bay Slowpoke Tail.
Ash did not make a move towards the phone. “Yeah, but…I think you want to see this.” He pointed a gray, clawed finger timidly at his monitor. Giovanni walked over. Fury filled his veins as he took in the image on Ash’s monitor–a cartoonish Absol winking and sticking out its tongue. An uncreative string of swears left his lips as he ran to his own computer and found the same image. The phone rang before he could launch into a tirade.
“Yes?” he snapped.
“Erm, sir?” stammered the underling on the opposite line. “We’ve got a bit of a problem on the–“Yes, I’m aware there’s a problem! And I’d love to know what you’re planning to do to fix–”
This time it was Giovanni who was interrupted. Not by a person but the force of an explosion that shook the whole building. The distant scent of smoke burned his nostrils.
Ash leapt up. “What was that?” he asked.
Instead of answering, Giovanni hurried to the window, only to see smoke and flames pouring out from the previously inconspicuous facility tucked in behind Viridian Gym. The hybrid lab.
“No!” he cried.
“This is terrible!” Ash echoed. “What about the Pokémon?” Of course, the boy feared for the Pokémon’s well-being. Giovanni feared for his considerable financial investment. But for once, they were in agreement. Ash bolted for the door, but it swung open before he could reach it. Two Team Rocket admins burst into the room–the ones Giovanni had taken on to replace the two traitors he’d rooted out. The first was Lexi, a grass-type user with dark, slicked-back hair and a complexion similar to Brock’s. The second was Kyle, a dark-type user with stringy, shoulder-length hair and a complexion closer to Misty’s.
Kyle was a brute-force sort of a trainer. Lexi was the one who took charge. “Boss! Outside!” she said, pointing upwards as she approached the window. Giovanni whirled back and leaned down to get a better view of the sky.
A helicopter was hovering past. And within, Giovanni could clearly made out former agent Pierce in the diver’s seat, flashing him a smug smile. The vehicle turned, and former agent Fiora stood in the open doorway, a sack of Pokeballs over her shoulder.
“We got a close-up on the security cameras,” Lexi said. “She’s got–”
“She’s got the cages with the hybrids!” Kyle shouted over her.
As if she had somehow heard them, Fi gave an obscene gesture as Giovanni growled in frustration. The helicopter turned again and flew out of range. By the time Giovanni got any of his own forces off the ground, they’d be out of sight.
“Okay,” said Kyle. “I’ll give her points for a cool exit, but that was just rude.”