Born into the Job
Eyes mirroring each other. The windows to the soul, tainted with a gleam of cruelty and a malicious slant. A generation of Rockets, born into the job.
It has not been this way for very long, in the scheme of things - but for those living through these years, it was too long.
Cloning technology is old news these days, but when it was a novelty, and the government was disinterested and unresponsive to people's concerns about it, anyone who had access to the technology could abuse it.
Back then, in the years of the Rockets, there were examples...
"Alright," said Ash, enthusiastic, "now I only need one more badge to get into the Orange League! I got the Spike Shell badge!"
"We know, Ash," said Misty, drily, pushing his hand away, "you've been waving it in my face for the past three days."
"You saw the way I beat Rudy! AND Tad, the champion of his town! Hahahaha, no trainer will ever beat me!"
"You sure have a selective memory."
"Well, you have to be a pretty tough trainer to get three badges in the Orange League! I bet you couldn't do it yourself!"
"What is that supposed to mean, Ash Ketchum?!"
"I just meant that only experienced trainers can get so far."
"I'm far more experienced than you'll EVER be!"
Tracey ignored the two familiar arguments washing around him, and leaned back on Lapras' shell, looking over the ocean they had covered. A wisp of a breeze passed through the normally stale, hot climate, and Tracey stiffened.
At the same moment, something started beeping. Ash and Misty instantly stopped their quabbling and jumped up. This was not a good idea when one is travelling on a moving, unstable surface, and the two found themselves floundering in the water.
"Raaaa," cooed Lapras, nudging Ash back onto her back. Misty grabbed one of the spikes on her shell, and both children looked at Tracey. He was rummaging through his backpack.
"What's that, Tracey?" asked Misty, shaking water out of her hair.
"That's just my beeper, Misty," he said, pulling out a small black object. The beeping stopped. "When you're in the Pokemon Watcher's club like me, you have to be reachable all the time!"
Ash and Misty blinked. Tracey peered at the beeper, then pulled out a mobile phone.
"Hello," he said into the phone, "this is Tracey Sketchit, member 37. I got your message."
His friends watched in silence as Tracey's expression changed.
A pleased look - "wow, I'm flattered you chose to call me!"
A curious look - "well, what's the situation?"
A thoughtful look - "I know a little about it... yes, some contact... nothing I couldn't handle."
A concerned look - "that's horrible! How did you find that out?"
An angry look - "there has to be something we can do!... do you think so? I'm not sure..."
A determined look - "well, I'll sure try. Anything else I need to know?... okay... right... yup, got it. I promise... yeah, I'll try. Bye."
Tracey clicked his phone shut and looked at it for several moments. Ash broke the silence.
"What was that about, Tracey?"
"I have to get to Indigo Island, stat!"
"But Tracey, Indigo Island's so far away. And what about my last badge?"
"Forget about your stupid badge," snapped Tracey, "this is more important!"
"What is it, Tracey?" asked Misty, surprised at his harsh tone.
"It's Pokemon Watcher business. Confidential."
The others facefaulted - and Ash fell in the water again. Lapras sighed and pulled to a stop.
"Look," said Tracey, "you guys keep travelling around here. I really have to go."
"But what's the big hurry," protested Ash, "and how will you get to Indigo Island?"
Tracey pulled out a Pokeball and opened it. Scyther appeared, hovering in the air above Lapras. Tracey shrugged on his backpack and climbed onto Scyther's body. The bug Pokemon turned its head, puzzled, but didn't protest.
"I'll come back when I'm finished," promised Tracey, "now, Scyther, let's get to Viridian City!"
Scyther had no idea where that was, but flew in the direction Tracey was looking. Misty and Ash didn't even have time to wave. They looked at each other.
"That was... sudden," said Misty.
"Weird," said Ash.
"Pikachu," said Pikachu, worried.
As Tracey clung onto his Pokemon for dear life, the club president's words from the phone conversation rang in his mind.
"We know you're young but... that may be to our advantage..."
"We feel you have the skills necessary..."
"I trust you have come into contact with Team Rocket in your travels, right?"
"Do not tell anyone..."
"It is imperitive we stop them in time..."
He thought to himself, grimly, that this was what a Pokemon Watcher was really meant to do - not just draw.
"Pokemon disappearing from Pokemon Centers!"
A newsagent began stacking newspapers into display racks with the help of his store assistant, a Wartortle. He smiled slightly. Such disturbing headlines were sure to bring good business his way. But the Wartortle looked concerned.
The committee of Pokemon Watchers sat around a table, arguing furiously.
"I believe you made an unwise choice in Tracey."
"Yes, isn't he a little young to take on a task of such terrible importance?"
"Tracey is a bright young man, he would catch on quickly enough."
"But manpower's what's needed. And experience!"
"Excessive force could destroy everything. We need strategy."
"Tracey is perfect for it."
"He had better be!"
"You're sure he's trustworthy?"
"He is one of us."
Tracey and Scyther flew until sunset. There were no islands around, so the two landed uncomfortably on a large cluster of rocks. Scyther's wings whirred to a stop, and it collapsed - exhausted, but too proud to display it sooner. Tracey almost fell off its back, and lay back, rubbing his arms, trying to bring feeling back into them.
"Scytherrr," croaked the mantis, flipping onto its back.
"I'm sorry we couldn't find anywhere better to stay," said Tracey, "let's have something to eat and rest up for a while. But we have to get to Indigo Island as soon as we can."
Scyther nodded weakly.
On Indigo Island, one of the most expansive - and most expensive - estates was owned by the Bond family. Few people could become so rich honestly, and such was the case with them. Their only son, James, followed in their footsteps, although in a less glorified position.
The man of the house looked at his wife, and their eyes mirrored one another's.
"Prepare for trouble," he said solemnly.
"Make it double," she agreed.
They went to look for their (potential) daughter-in-law, one of Team Rocket's finest...
Giovanni stroked his Persian, a small smile playing on his face.
"The boss wants us to call him?!" demanded Cassidy, alarmed, "is he angry about us using Rocket expenses for a failed plan?"
"I hope not," said Butch calmly, but his eyes showed a trace of concern that reflected Cassidy's own.
Persian purred, flicking its tail back and forth.
"The boss wants to see us in person," said James, pitifully, "this can only mean..."
"...we're fired!" wailed Meowth. The two clutched each other and bawled. Jessie rolled her eyes, and then hit them both with a fan.
"Don't think like that," she snapped, "how bad could it possibly be?..."
She trailed off and her expression drooped, just like those of the others.
"We're finally there!" panted Tracey, "see how green it is? I'm sure that's Viridian City!"
"Therrr," groaned Scyther, and stopped in mid-air. The two free-fell, plummeting towards the earth, and landing rather painfully in the fork of a tree.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," said Tracey, "but all in all, great job, Scyther!"
Scyther smiled wearily, exhausted from its days of flight. Tracey checked his watch - they had made good time. One day to spare...
"Scyther, return!" he called, bringing his Pokemon back for a well-earned break.
Tracey stretched, and awkwardly descended the tree. He was in the outskirts of Viridian Forest, and, recognising this, called Venonat out.
"Veno nat," it squeaked, wiggling its nose.
"Venonat, see if you can find any other Pokemon around here."
Venonat's eyes gleamed, and it looked around carefully. Facing one direction, it paused, and squeaked an affirmitive.
Tracey arrived in the Pokemon Watcher's HQ with a new Caterpie and Sandslash. Those present seemed ridiculously glad to see him, which furthered his worry - how severe *was* this problem?
"This problem is very severe," said the president, "do us proud."
One Joy spoke to another via videophone.
"How is that poor Ivysaur doing?"
"Much the same, really. It had a poison overload, and it doesn't seem to care much about recovering."
"Partly the trainer's fault, I would imagine?"
"Yes, I do wish they would make the effort to care... anyway, are you going to the Golden Cove Joy's party this weekend?"
"I think I can get my sister to cover for me."
"Oughtn't she to be there too? All the Joys were intended to..."
"Our mother doesn't want her to go."
"That would be right!"
"How's little Joy doing?"
"The four-year-old or the seven-year-old?"
"Well, the seven-year-old got her first Chansey last week, she's so happy about it!"
"It's a big event at that age, isn't it!"
"Our youngest Joy is still in the "I wanna be a hairdresser stage". I'm sure she'll grow out of it soon, but..."
"A hairdresser now, is it? She'll learn soon enough."
"She's a late bloomer, I think. Her sister was her age when she realised she wanted to become a nurse."
"Don't worry, Joy, we all get the occasional -"
Joy blushed. "I have to go, I have a patient. I'll see you at the party, I hope!"
Joy turned from the videophone to see a young, dark-haired boy standing in front of her.
"How can I help you?"
"My Scyther needs medical assistance, and my other Pokemon could use a little re-energising too."
Joy slid a form from under the desk and chewed her pen. "Name?"
He dropped five Pokeballs onto the desk.
While waiting for his Pokemon to be healed, Tracey was approached by the president who said, simply, "let's watch a little movie, a history of two days ago".
And so they did.
On the screen, a Joy is grim-faced and sweating, clenching her teeth. She looks up at the doctor, eyes sad.
"I'm sorry, Joy," he says, his calm narrowed eyes unwavering, "there have been complications, we are going to have to perform a caesarean."
She bites her lip and nods.
"This will only take a second," he reassures her, slipping the needle in, "and when you wake up, you'll have your new baby child."
Joy manages a smile before she falls asleep. The smile is frozen on her lips. The doctor motions to a nurse with the same narrowed eyes. She darts forward, plucking a dark bundle from a box at the foot of the bed. A new baby.
The two perform the surgery in silence, flicking furtive glances around them. They are in a private room, and the door is locked. When they have finished the operation, there are two recently born babies. Joy's new son is taken and thrown roughly into a box on the floor - as though it were a worthless object. In its place, the bundled baby is unwrapped and held carefully by the doctor.
The nurse grabs the box and leaves the room. The doctor remains, watching Joy and her child who is not her child, a pink-haired, blue-eyed little girl. A Joy.
The screen changed to static, the scene gone. Tracey just looked at it blankly.
"Did they kill Joy's real baby," he asked, emotionless.
"We don't know."
"How did you get that footage."
"We have ways, Tracey."
"They were Rockets, right."
"We're ready for you to go now, Tracey."
Tracey nodded and gulped, straightening the collar of his dull yellow Team Rocket uniform. The president handed him a small card.
"Rocket Gold Member
On the card was a small photo of himself, computer modified. His eyes were different... he turned back and asked, "what if they don't have a member called Billy?"
The president smiled. "Tracey, have more faith. A young man, similar to you in age, was rumoured to have died last week. He was a member of Team Rocket. That is his card, with your photo."
"I still don't really know what I'm supposed to DO."
"Trust your instinct. Be a watcher. You are the only one who can pull this off."
Tracey nodded, slid the sunglasses over his face, and went to find Team Rocket HQ.
"ID," gritted out the guard at the door. Tracey calmly held up the card.
"Oh, special agent Billy!"
Special agent? repeated Tracey mentally. Great, what am I supposed to know?
"Yeah?" he said, intelligently.
"I heard we'd lost a gold member last week! I coulda sworn it was you!"
"You know how rumours are," said Tracey, coolly. His voice, usually made rather mild and bland, now reverted to its true tone. As hard as any Rocket's.
"Go right on in," said the guard, "the meeting won't start for another hour, but you know where the bar is."
Tracey nodded. He didn't, really. He walked in and looked around, very casually. Even Watcher Intelligence Dept. couldn't tell him how to navigate here, he would have to find out for himself.
Without much other choice, he called out his Venonat.
"Venonat," he whispered, "try to find something unusual."
Venonat nodded and its eyes glowed. It looked around in all directions, antennae twitching furtively. Finally it squeaked and Tracey followed it through corridors - all empty - to a locked door.
"Of course it'd be locked," muttered Tracey, recalling Venonat and pulling out another Pokeball. Marril appeared, and at an order, ice beamed through the door, making a small crawlspace. Tracey hoped it wouldn't be noticed as he crawled through to the other side.
Tracey could instantly tell this was the room that was such a source of secret, such a significance. It was poorly lit and poorly designed, with benches, shelves, crates and machinery scattered haphazardly around.
These weren't what he noticed. What he noticed was that which was ON the benches and shelves, in the crates and powered by the machinery.
A soulless, haunted pair of eyes watched him from the middle of the room. They were human eyes; he realised this was Joy's real baby. But it was not so human now; sharp, frightening claws hung from his tiny hands, and tufts of fur grew from his - its? - arms and back. The child was trapped in a long glass cylinder filled with a pink liquid that was continually bubbling at the top. This bubbling was the only sound in the room.
In similar such cylinders, but these totally motionless, other babies floated, girls, forming, growing. Some had tufts of pink hair, others blue. Charts hung from the bottom of each girl. So this was the true origin of Jennies and Joys. Did the nurses and police officers know themselves that they weren't really sister-in-laws or second cousins? What was the benefit of this?
"Marril," whimpered the Pokemon beside him, and Tracey had the sense to recall it. It snapped him out of his stunned state, and he grabbed his drawing pad.
Tracey was a good sketcher, but his pencil had not captured such things as these before. An orange Squirtle with blue eyes and a tail flame gazed sadly at him from behind cage bars. A crate of green Rattata, all apparently sleeping. A Raichu the size of a Pikachu. A Sandshrew without its armoured coating. A furless Meowth, licking cuts on its bare skin. Test tubes and beakers and charts and photographs.
It was horrible, especially the gazes of the Pokemon on him. It was horrible, and he didn't understand it. He couldn't understand it, and he couldn't stand it. Against his better judgement, he pulled out some Pokeballs and claimed every Pokemon in that room.
The humans, he did not want to disturb for fear of doing more damage than good. But he knew Joy's baby was a fully formed child, and, swallowing hard, he punched out the glass. The pink liquid spilled out over his hand, burning him. He pulled his Rocket glove back over that hand and tried to ignore it. On a hunch, he pressed a Pokeball to the baby's forehead. It was drawn inside, and the ball blinked shut.
Tracey stared. Manufacturing Pokemon, he thought, beginning to understand. Improving on them instead of training them through friendship. This is disgusting.
Hearing something outside the room, Tracey darted forwards and started shuffling charts and documents into his bag. There was a click, and the door opened. He dove behind an empty crate and instantly realised how futile that was, being at least thrice the size of it.
The lady who entered wore a black, low-cut, short black dress. With the standard Rocket symbol on the front. She saw Tracey immediately, and narrowed her eyes. She slammed the door behind her.
Tracey's eyes widened. Prima!
"Well," she said coldly, "a thief in our own ranks. How ironic. How did you get in here?"
Tracey shrugged and straightened his sunglasses.
"You look familiar," she said.
"I'm a golden member," said Tracey, "I'm allowed access here."
Prima narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, then nodded. If she had recognised Tracey, she had not recognised his real voice. He hoped he had guessed right, but her expression darkened terribly, and she lunged forward, grabbing him by the collar.
"Nice try, twerp," she hissed. He couldn't believe that this was the same person as the Pokemon Master. "You KNOW you can't escape me. Elite Pokemon cannot be defeated, and after being in here, you must die."
Tracey paled, but tried to keep his composure. Elite Pokemon. That meant a Pokemon battle. He knew her strategy! Go with the flow! So if he could go against the flow...
Tracey grabbed one of his own Pokeballs and sent Sandslash.
"A ground type," she smiled, "how amusing. Kid, you're gonna get a real treat. Learn the technique of a true champion. Cloyster!"
Tracey mentally smiled. Step one: have the opponent underestimate you.
"Sandslash, go close to Cloyster."
Sandslash ran to Cloyster and clutched onto the front of its shell.
"Cloyster, Aurora beam!"
"Dive to the side, Sandslash!"
Step two: know your opponent's source of power. Then use it against them.
Cloyster's means of attack was from the spikes on its shell, and it found it difficult to fire them at close range. It shot at Sandslash and ended up hitting itself when the other Pokemon escaped.
"Good, Sandslash," said Tracey, "now pry the shell open with your feet!"
Prima was confused, as Sandslash dug its claws into the crack of Cloyster's shell. It pulled hard, and pried the shell open.
"Now, spike attack! Don't be scared! Ball up!"
Sandslash rolled into a ball and dove right inside Cloyster's shell. Prima was horrified, knowing Cloyster could not attack there, and was helpless. And so it was; the shell ricocheted back and forth before rolling to a still. Sandslash clawed its way it; Cloyster had fainted.
Tracey was quick to act and tossed out his Caterpie.
"String shot that woman!"
Caterpie obeyed as Tracey recalled Sandslash and grabbed his bag. Prima sputtered angrily.
"You cheated," she snarled, "those weren't real attacks."
"Of course I cheated," he said calmly, "I'm a Rocket."
He grabbed Caterpie and they left, leaving her tied up.
"To the bar," muttered Tracey, smoothing his hair back, "calm, cool and collected. Hey, I'm drinking underage. Maybe I can find something that'll relax me. No, I can't... not on this mission."
He idly glanced in the windows of doors he passed. Rows and rows of cages holding Pokemon. He cringed and turned his head. Not his responsibility... not this time...
He slipped into the bar, where a number of other Rockets were talking, laughing, and generally getting sloshed.
Trying to look inconspicuous, he climbed onto a stool and was automatically tossed a beer. He just stared into it, feeling sick, and hoping he could last the half hour until the meeting.
"Hey, it's the twerp!"
He only *just* managed to stop himself from whirling around, and thus drawing attention to himself. Very slowly, very casually, he turned to see what was going on, mentally disciplining himself, like a Watcher ought.
His eyes widened behind the sunglasses as he saw Jessie and James standing, hands on hips. Looking right at him.
"Excuse me," he said, voice gravelly, "are you talkin' to ME?!"
"What are you DOING here, Tracey?" snapped Jessie. People were beginning to look. Tracey glared back at her, making a cold smirk.
"I don't have to take these accusations from lowly white members. I don't know who you THINK I am, but I outrank you, so be polite you little insects."
"Yeah? Who are you?"
Tracey flashed his ID, and the duo were surprised.
"Billy?" asked James, "I thought he was dead!"
"I don't die that easily, you little parasite. You call me twerp again, you'll find yourself in SEVERE trouble."
Tracey tried not to laugh. He was rather enjoying himself.
Jessie sputtered. "But you look just like - Billy didn't have hair like that, did he?"
He sighed patiently and spoke in the voice one would use for a small child. "It's called a change of personage, you idiot. You know, when you try to evade the cops?"
Another Rocket in the room, also wearing a gold Rocket uniform, narrowed her eyes. "If you're a gold member, why are you worried about the cops? We got Jennies in the palm of our hand, right?"
"I'm not worried," amended Tracey, "I just prefer not to have the hassle of dealing with them. Wastes my valuable time, you know how it is."
They seemed to accept that, and he went back to staring into his mug. He thought of what she had said, and things made a glimmer of sense. Rockets wouldn't want interference from police. If they could manufacture their own police, who would... but some Jennies had tried to stop Team Rocket... he was confused again.
He sat, trying to look as discreet as possible, ears missing nothing of the conversations around him. He kept one hand on the strap of his bag. He was aware of Jessie and James staring suspiciously at his back and smiled to himself.
After what seemed like hours, the door opened and a young man stood in the doorway, flicking long dark hair from his face. Tracey thought he looked vaguely familiar; had he seen him on television? Yes! He was fighting Ash in Pokemon League.
With a flamboyant gesture, the man said, "everybody, ze meeting hall is now open for anyone who wishes to go now."
Tracey gratefully slid out of his seat and left the room with a few others, following them to the meeting hall.
He waited there, sitting inconspicuously near the front, but not too near. He wanted to see, he didn't want to be noticed. Other Rockets filed in and the hall gradually filled up. Nobody spoke to him. A pretty brunette squeezed into the seat on his left, and a girl who resembled Jessie - ? - on his right.
The meeting started, and he sat, constantly on his guard, but paying intense attention. This had to be important to invite all Rockets. A man at the front talked about Rocket objectives, recent successes and failures. He pointed out members of the audience, he showed slides of Pokemon that had recently been taken. Then he moved onto the point of his talk.
"We Rockets are embracing new technology. We are putting it to good use. Right now, we're learning to utilise the tool of genetic engineering. We won't have to worry about Pokemon strengths and weaknesses - they'll all be strong. There will BE no weaknesses for our Pokemon! We will dominate the field of Pokemon. We will beat all the weak trainers who think they can make it big just by "being friends" with their Pokemon."
The audience sniggered.
"We have infiltrated everything, and nobody suspects! We have our people in Pokmeon League, in high class society, in gyms and Pokemon Centers! Have you ever wondered why Officer Jennies never take any action against us unless there are members of the public around? Have you ever wondered why Pokemon disappear from Pokemon Centers? We can control non-Rockets! We are extending our reach to the stars above!"
Everyone started cheering, stamping the ground and whistling.
"Giovanni - the big cheese himself - is absent today because he's at a gym leader conference! Power positions, ladies and gentlemen! And there is more going on under the surface than any of you can imagine. Gold and platinum members have some understanding of this, but for those of you who don't, I'll tell you now!
Our scientists are introducing breakthroughs. Have any of you suffered defeats? NO MORE. Time for defeats is over. We will eliminate those who stand in our way with our advanced technology. Pokemon are the key to the world, and we have the best ones."
People from the crowd occasionally shouted words of agreement. Tracey paled. This was sounding dangerous.
"Today, you will each get a new Pokemon, each given a special something by our labs. Also, sign up your current Pokemon for treatment and our scientists will genetically modify them into true champions! ALL Rocket Pokemon will be improved upon! To tell us more about these processes, I give the floor to - huh?"
A lady stomped up on stage, pulling strands of web from her hair. She looked absolutely livid. She glowered into the audience and snatched the microphone from the speaker's hand. If Tracey was pale before, that was dun compared to now. He scrunched down into his seat. It was Prima.
"Today I discovered someone who is not for the cause! This insidious little worm was in our labs, stealing from his own kind! Stealing from US! Snooping around behind locked doors and almost getting away with it!"
Her eyes scanned the crowd furiously, and finally locked onto him. Duty was important, but it wasn't enough to keep him from being just plain scared now.
"THAT! THAT'S HIM! The dark haired kid in the fifth row!"
Tracey shivered, but stood up, edging out of the corridor. Prima hissed, "stop him!"
But Tracey wasn't running for the exit, he was heading towards the stage, at a leisurely pace. He looked calm, but his mind was in a panicked overtime.
TRACEY, he thought furiously, THINK. Your Pokemon would get instantly demolished. You're right in the enemy's hands. NO, don't think *that* sort of thing. Get out. Get out. You can't, they're faster. You're nearly at the stage, better think of something.
He calmly took the mike from Prima and said, "Prima has been wrongfully accusing me. I would expect that from someone of inferior rank. She may have the fame, but she's no better than the rest of youse."
Prima scowled and responded by pulling the sunglasses from his face. The crowd gasped as they saw his eyes - wide, friendly, normal - not a Rocket.
"Looks like we have a spy," said Prima, enjoying herself, "and we know what we do to spies, of course."
There was the clicking sound of a dozen Pokeballs being enlarged at once. Tracey bit his lip and looked into the crowd for inspiration. He saw Meowth, Jessie and James' partner, eyes widening in recognition. Jessie nudged James, and they both smirked. Meowth. Meowth. Persian. Viridian Gym leader - that had to be Giovanni. And Giovanni's eyes were...
"Wait," he said, "you don't get it. I'm no spy. I was under secret orders from the boss himself, and you interfered, Prima. This was to be kept a secret, but now you have forced me to reveal myself - I am the boss' son."
Tracey mentally crossed his fingers as he saw stunned expressions cross everyone's faces.
"Idiot," said Prima, "the boss doesn't HAVE a son."
"That's what you were to believe," said Tracey, warming to his role, "it would be dangerous to have my true identity known."
"Who's the mother?" came a voice from the crowd, and a number of other Rockets laughed. Tracey rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, like I know that."
Everyone laughed more, and Tracey grinned. He was playing it right.
"I don't have time to waste with you, Prima," he said, "I have important business to attend to."
He moved quickly backstage and left, as fast as he could without looking suspicious. His heart was pounding. I'm gonna get grey hairs already, he thought. Time to go. I may not have found out everything, but surely they can get some results from what I have.
Tracey took off down the hall, then heard a roar from the auditorium. In his experience, collective roars from bad guys were never good news, and sure enough, he soon saw people spilling out, looking for him.
Sliding around a wall, he tried to find the best exit. Having no idea where he was going, he just ran, and soon ran right into Butch and Cassidy.
"Well, the twerp who ruined our plans," said Cassidy, "we'll gladly fulfill our obligations to the team."
Instead of a Pokeball, she suddenly had a gun in her hand. Tracey took a step back, and bumped right into another pair of Rockets behind him. He didn't recognise these two.
"Let's see how your big mouth gets you outta this," said Butch.
Tracey tightened the grip on his bag and wondered if it was a good idea to try to slug Cassidy with it. Probably not; the safety catch was off on the gun.
At that moment, there was a loud crash, and pieces of plasterboard started falling. Then the ceiling actually caved in. The Rockets instinctively hit the deck, Cassidy's gun going off as she landed. They covered their heads with their hands as pieces of room flew in all directions. Tracey stayed on his feet, knowing it could be dangerous but wanting to have his wits about him. He saw a few other Rockets round the corridor from the corner of his eye, having heard the commotion.
Tracey looked up and jumped out the way as a Charizard bulldozed through the ceiling and landed on the floor in front of him. It panted, looking tired, but too prideful to give up. Ash and Misty were sitting on its back. He stared, amazed.
"C'mon, Trace," said Ash, grabbing his wrist. Tracey, supporting his bag with one hand, accepted the help and jumped onto Charizard's back.
"You guys," he said, stunned, "what're you doing here? Don't you know this is dangerous?"
"Hahaha," said Ash, "danger is my middle name. Anyway, I couldn't just let you go off like that."
"We stick together," added Misty simply. "Even if you've got larengitis."
Tracey sweatdropped. "This is my real voice. But... thanks."
Charizard flapped its wings weakly, trying to take off, but all of them were intercepted by a terrific blast of water which knocked Charizard over and sent them all sprawling to the ground. Tracey looked up to see Prima with her Dewgong and Slowbro.
"Prima!" gasped Ash. "What're you doing?"
"Go with the flow, Ash," she smirked, and had Dewgong encase him in ice.
Misty was horrified to see her idol with Team Rocket, but acted quickly, bringing out Psyduck.
Slowbro read its trainers mind and dragged Tracey's bag towards it. Butch grabbed Tracey's ankle, groaning, mumbling something incoherant. Tracey looked down and saw that he had been shot in the leg. Cassidy sat staring in horror, alternating between looking at the gun and her teammate. Charizard's tail flame was sizzling quietly, barely burning. Ash was frozen solid, Pikachu was torching the ice cube, Misty was shouting at Psyduck to do something, some Rockets were unconscious, having been hit by falling debris, and others were shouting advice. Prima stood in the middle of it all, cackling nastily, and Tracey gritted his teeth, playing tug-of-war with his bag.
In short, it was chaos.
Togepi waved its arms, and suddenly the corridor was full of fire. Tracey felt the heat blazing over him, but it didn't burn him. Prima and her Pokemon, as well as other Rockets, were charred and blown down by the pure force of it. When the tempest stopped, everyone looked at Togepi, sitting innocently in Misty's arms.
Misty grinned sheepishly. "I told you guys it knew Metronome!"
"Steal that Pokemon," snapped Prima, "someone steal that little runt! It's perfect for us."
Misty clutched it to her chest protectively. Pikachu hugged Ash, who was now defrosted. Ash smiled shakily and recalled Charizard.
Tracey scrambled to his feet, clutching the bag to his chest.
"Come on, Psyduck," called Misty, prodding the duck Pokemon as the trio of trainers began to run down the corridor.
"Come back here," ground out Prima, using the most ineffective, overused phrase in movie history. And just as in the movies, they paid her no mind.
Footsteps soon came behind them, as they rounded a corner and crashed right into more Rockets.
"This is ridiculous," muttered Tracey, "Ash and Misty, you two get out of here while I fight."
"Don't be stupid," said Misty, "we're not going anywhere."
Ash nodded in agreement, and Tracey frowned.
"You guys are in way over your head. I'm trained for this, it's my JOB."
"Pokemon watchers watch out for the wellbeing of Pokemon."
"He's a Watcher?!" sputtered Mandy, "go, Golbat! Exeggutor! Kill him!"
"Go, Cloyster," said Tyra.
And a dozen other Rockets followed suit. Suddenly the corridor was so crowded with Pokemon that nobody could even see each other. Pikachu let loose with a thunder that torched everyone, and a falling Dragonair slammed right into Misty, knocking her out.
If I get out of this, my life is so going to be in jeopardy, thought Tracey. Everyone knows who I am. No disguises or tricks left.
Psyduck looked at Misty, then up at the crowd of Pokemon. Its eyes glowed. Togepi whimpered, and moved its arms.
The walls exploded.
Series of flashes.
Dim figures moving.
Tracey opened his eyes, and immediately felt for his bag. He had let his guard down?
The bag was still there. Things came into focus, and he sat up. He found himself staring right into a pair of green eyes. Slanted at the edges, the cruel curve.
"James," he gasped, jumping to his feet. He looked around. He couldn't see Team Rocket HQ. Where was he? Trees. Shrubs. Perfect clear sky. Viridian Forest? What happened?
He looked around. Ash and Misty were lying unconscious on the grass. Jessie was bent over Ash, slapping his face, and Arbok was nudging Misty.
Pikachu stirred - Pikachu was still there, with Jessie and James around?
"What happened?" he asked, finally.
"Team Rocket Headquarters exploded," said James, gesturing back in the general direction of Viridian City.
"You pulled us out?" asked Tracey, disbelieving.
"I don't want that genetic modification stuff," said Jessie, in a low voice.
He cast a quick glance back at them, and saw Jessie with one hand resting on Arbok's hood. Meowth was sitting on James' head. They were Rockets, but they could care about things too. They wanted their Pokemon to stay like they were, even if they lost a lot.
"Pika," got out Pikachu, coming to. It blinked, then woke up. Seeing Team Rocket so close startled it, and it thundershocked everyone. This effectively woke Ash and Misty up.
"Wha-what happened?" groaned Ash, holding his head. Jessie and James were gone.
When Tracey made it back to Watcher's Headquarters, everyone was amazed to see him, and thrilled that he had fulfilled his duty. He was offered promotions and bonuses, but didn't care for them. He would travel with his friends, who came to look for him and nearly died with him.
They found out a lot. Misty became a Pokemon Watcher herself, but Ash didn't let go of his own dream, being a Pokemon Master. A lot of Rockets died that day, and a lot of Pokemon were freed. But the most powerful thing to escape was the knowledge.
A lot of things made sense. But the most important thing to Tracey was what he had heard Jessie say.
In this strange world, people might be programmed and born into their jobs. But they were still people, and some of them still cared.
Joy looked at her new baby boy. A boy! And no pink hair, either. This boy could be anything, anything!
Far away from this hospital, three children rode a Lapras, and knew it too. They were happy.