December 24th

7:30 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

A promise of peace. That was the rough translation of the small semi-truck's logo that rolled in front of the jewelry store that the young, red haired man had huddled in front of for the last few hours, the shotgun seat flying open and offered to him without a word, the second the door opening revealing the sound of Christmas music. It had darkened in the young man's wait, and a burst of light from inside the truck's cabin blinded him.

It had felt very much like the first time they found him. Wandering the streets of Goldenrod at night, a few months ago. It had been a white van at that time however, now a semi-truck with weighted trailer in the back that spoke to them actually pulling through.

"Why'd you kill him?" His voice was still that of a young man, angry at the world. He spoke to the driver: a blue haired man he had known all of his life. He had worked for his father. Now he had worked for him.

"He didn't give us a choice." He spoke like a posh man, not the criminal he had become. "I didn't pull the trigger anyway."

The truck sat idle for a moment as the young man shut the door. "So now we're escalating?"

"It was a plan we were going to carry out with anyway, down the line. Now it's just a means to an end." The blue haired man didn't even turn his head to speak to the boy. It was so odd, to the boy, to see him out of uniform. Though now in his coat and suit, he looked dignified.

"Did it always include me?"

The man didn't answer. "I'm glad you're on our side, this time, Silver." Silver thought that Archer Nostra had finally turned to give him a handshake, and he wouldn't have taken it. Though it wasn't a hand he had offered: instead it was an arm.

A pistol. 9mm. Suppressed.

"What?" Silver had looked at the item.

"Just in case. We signed you up for many reasons, but being on point wasn't one of them."

Silver had looked at the weapon with unease. His father, and then the man before him, had elected not to use firearms in the gangs. Such weapons brought bloodshed unnecessary. Zubat or Houndour were enough to persuade and hurt at the end of the day. What had changed then? Silver knew it deep in his mind however: it all changed when the police started shooting first.

"Are we expecting trouble?"

"Do you know how to use one?" Archer answered his question with his own. Silver furrowed his eyebrows, unhappy, but nodded. Yeah, he learned how. At one point in his life he didn't want to rely on his Pokémon to defend himself, or to cause pain. In his darkest moments he thought that maybe a gun might've worked, but even he in his wisdom at the time never stooped that low. He nabbed the pistol away, finding the safety and stuffing it into his belt. They carried a pistol like that in Orre, so he had read. He read a lot about Orre, ever since his father was incarcerated there.

A series of thumps had come from behind their heads: it was the people in the back. Only then did Silver realize their cargo had been anything but peaceful, and they were telling them to hurry up.

They did as Silver grit his teeth and sucked his mouth dry, Archer putting the truck in gear and circling the block one last time, making sure no one in that evening hour was primed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In front of the truck had been a smaller sedan, leading the way as the two vehicles rounded the Silph building once, and then once again, until at the very last they had turned over to cross into the large plaza of the Silph building, following the driveway that had split off into two ways: a circular affair which passed in front of its entrance, and then another which went downward into a parking garage meant for employees and delivery.

The truck had gone underground as the sedan split off, rolling to a stop in front.

The concrete catacombs of the parking garage beneath the Silph building had swallowed them in artificial light. Silver had remembered his youth; how many times had he slept as a vagrant in one of them? His memories were not fond of them, he glancing up, catching several cameras along the ceiling. He had been told of the plan prior, he knew that they didn't need to worry about them as Archer pulled into reverse and placed the truck against a loading dock, keys out, truck settling down.

The lobby had been still as silent as it had been for the last hour, only those who had opted out of the Silph celebrations early had graced it as the security guard dazed off, lazily looking at that continuing Pokémon Battle on his small TV. With a glance up he had seen the Sedan past the glass doors of the building, two doors being thrown open on it as, as the guard presumed, two late comers had made their cue. The sky had been quickly darkening, and who was he to blame for those who wanted to pre-game? Certainly, no cushy office party would be a place to get loaded on booze.

Two younger men had entered the building, bundled up with coats, one particularly chattier than the other as they seemed to be in the middle of a discussion. "The reason why I always preferred Hilbert's particular battle style was that he was always partial to physicality. He made his Pokémon fight, not follow particular ability or movesets. A good one-two punch," he had demonstrated his own by punching at the air, his short cut hair bobbing along with his glasses as his companion, stone faced, simply approached the desk with him. "Will always be better than a complicated move."

For a moment the guard had thought he might've had an opinion then and there, to just weigh in on whatever they were talking about. The last thing to go through his head however had been a 9mm round, pulled out smoothly from the stone-faced man's jacket. He could've never saw it happen: the way it was levied at his forehead and then the trigger pulled, the man's body jerking back, stopped only by the backing of his swivel chair. There wouldn't be a significant blood splatter, the bullet had been small enough to not do such.

"Nice." The chattier man had commented, the dead guard stopping his twitching as he had hopped over the security desk, his feet landing on the bod, fully collapsing it to the floor. In the same move a radio had been pulled out from his suit pants, spoken into. "We're in."

Those magic words had meant so many things to do, transmitted back down to the semi-truck. From the pockets of each and every man in on the plan, a balaclava, a mask, had been drawn out, pulled over their faces. It was time.

Chatty had passed over the dead man's body into the backroom behind the counter, the security office controlling perhaps way too much here.

It was a fault of Silph's however to not concentrate security further up. Chances were that as long as they had been cut off at the entrance, all would be fine.

Though that was account for brute force, not the smooth cut that was coming tonight.

Slipping into the chair in front of the main security console Chatty had done his work, Stoneface readying his pistol again as he had cleared the lobby entirely. No one else; privacy enough for him to finally put on his own mask and reloading his pistol like the professional he was.

"Stay behind me." Archer commanded the boy, his fist banging behind him, hitting the trailer, the great sound of its door being opened revealing only this:

Work smarter, not harder. As was the saying. Archer had reasoned why not both?

Clad in nostalgia, but with an edge above, 10 men and women had appeared out the back. Gear bags, hard cases, had all be strapped across their backs or in their arms, but perhaps most strikingly to any casual observer had been this as they stepped out into the light:

Guns. Lots of guns.

Submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns and pistols, each one of them had come packing. Silver had been surprised as the two had dropped out of the cabin to join them. "Where'd you…?"

Archer had given himself a self-satisfied twitch of his nose. "You make a lot of friends in prison."

For a moment, Silver had entertained himself to the idea that these too had been his friends. Though the likelihood of finding these violent men and women with this particular skillset had been low when they all had either grabbed their belts or pockets and drew out those telltale spherical containers that-

Without words, in a flash of bright energy, these men and women had been revealed: They too had been trainers.

On the loading dock there was ample room for the Pokémon unleashed to stretch their legs.

There seemed to be one brought along for every person, nearly ten Pokémon ushered forth, the like of which Silver had known very dearly. They were Pokémon that had been used, that had survived the trials of a criminal world. They were more fulfilling of their names than most: monsters. He had seen many amongst the ranks of his father's criminal syndicate, though none as formidable as those seen today. A Charizard, scars on its orange skin, had been the largest sort there, barely fitting on the loading dock as it cricked its wings, the flames from its mouth bubbling like an oven, ready to go. Elsewhere a Golem had shook off some of its rocky shell, gathering it up into its hands, ready to throw or use as it saw fit. This drew the ire of the Arbok, it hissing down on it as it growled in return.

Besides him, Silver had heard Archer pop his own Pokéball.

Confronted with it, he should've felt heat, but instead he felt the cold.

He knew this Pokémon when she was just a pup. The Houndoom that was so well behaved, and yet so imposing despite the many Pokémon there, had once, in some way, been his.

The Pokémon locked eyes with the son of its former master, recognizing him.

Indeed, that same recognizing had spread, from Pokémon to person as Silver and Archer had joined their men and women on the loading dock. They all had looked to Archer first, but then Silver.

There was something to say about bloodlines, about inheritance and the divine right of kings. Silver felt the vertigo and nostalgia combine in his stomach like an illness, seeing so many supposed Grunts of his father before him as if it had been years ago, reliving history.

One of the Grunts, a woman, had muttered to her Bewear, only to repeat out loud. "You sure the Son isn't a plant? He's pretty high-profile to bring along to a job, that and he's dating the woman who stopped you last time around, Archer."

Even with his mask anyone with a knowledge of either Team Rocket, or Champion Lyra, had known who he was.

"He's out of sight." Archer had said, tightening his leather gloves as he checked his belt. "Besides, he's necessary. Ariana is still missing and we don't know if Mars has enough of the bio-trace."

"Huh?" Silver's interjection had only been cut out as a commanding voice had taken hold, even Archer looking to the speaker.

"Enough. Let's go." The speaker had been the only one without a Pokémon, but he had been the most heavily armed, a large battle rifle in his hands as gestured past the double doors into the service hallways of Silph.

From the back of the truck several more hardcases had been wheeled out, Silver barely catching the -XPLOSIVE lettering from beneath the rag the tarp they were hidden under. It was go time.

"Maintain brevity." Archer had nodded. "May, Serena, take point."

That part of the plan Silver hadn't been clued into particularly. Were their names really…?

The man with the battle rifle had responded, moving forward, all of them walking in his wake. They moved with a purpose. A purpose only the luckiest in their lives had known; with a weight in their boots and a destination in mind. The service hallways beneath Silph had been concrete and corridors, pipes lining them all going to the different departments further up the building. Two men had split off as they found the wiring to the telephones.

Elsewhere another group had split off towards the power lines as the rest had stopped in front of an iron door, curiously out of place.

Silver knew what it was as it stood solitarily in that inconspicuous spot.

A hand scanner had been mounted on its frame.

"Try it." Archer had told him as the group took their turns looking it up and down, silver in its sheen.

Silver reached out, pressing his palm to the reader, only to be denied outright in a shrill beep.

It wasn't anything that was unexpected; that response. What had been unexpected was-

"Hey! Who are-?!" A female voice had appeared around the corner of that corridor. It was a maintenance worker, however she was unable to complete her sentence as the heavily armed gunman raised his battle rifle in a snap and cut her off at her throat, her body folding to the ground as the unfamiliar crack of a gunshot in an enclosed space had made Silver twitch in his own shoes. In the moment of concussion that came, Silver hadn't known how to process the sound of a woman dying, sucking on her own blood, mere feet from him. All he could do was stare at the ground and let her peter out.

This was the price he had to pay to save a life.

As long as he hadn't been the one pulling the trigger, he was fine. That's what he told himself.

They had already killed a Pokémon Ranger; a law enforcement figure of all things, every body after that was inconsequential. He had to think of this like the young man he used to be:

"It doesn't matter who or what. I'm going to be strong and wipe out the weak."

Spoken in another life, to a different trainer, after one of his first losses. How harshly he spoke of the Pokémon that failed him that day, he had regretted it, and yet there was a time and place for all things. There was a time where he had to fall back into his father's legacy, surely.

Several of the gunmen had moved up, over the body of the woman as her eyes rolled back in her head and she laid there, dead, blood pooling.

May, the heavily armed gunman with the battle rifle, had raised his left hand up and tweaked it, rotating a bit with his fist as some had split off to clear the basement, the entire group, moving past the body, reconnoitering at the elevator access.

"Telephone lines cut."

"Backup power generators have been rerouted away from target."

Archer had heard the status reports over his radio as the first of them had entered the elevator with what Pokémon could fit, the rest standing by and waiting for their turn. Silver, finding himself in the center of all of it, had felt certainly cramped, both in breath and in situation. The elevator ride had barely started as it had been brought to the lobby, Archer and another, a seemingly unbothered man, ruggedly handsome in the way his dirty blonde hair was tied, followed.

Meeting the two who had come into the entrance, all was going well. Chatty had company however, a used Pokéball hanging off of his pocket as-

The orange pixie of a ghost, shaped like a spinning top almost, had been over his shoulder. Silver and Archer hadn't been the only ones with history in that building.

"Status?" Archer asked, a keycard handed to him by the stone-faced man, out from the dead guard's jacket.

Chatty turned around from the back room, exiting out, gesturing to his Pokémon. "Well, Silph seems to have specifically built security systems to disregard any work I did when we used to work here." The man had meant all three of them, sweat forming on his dark skin. The back room didn't have air conditioning and it had a lot of computers, understandably. His Rotom however had been less than bothered, if not annoyed, chirping in electric bytes, sounding of static shocks.

Archer hadn't understood but Chatty did.

"Rotom can interface with some standard outlets, regular desktop computers and all that, but there's some software and hardware blockages that has been codified to directly block Rotom from entering the system."

Again, a barrier, but not an unexpected one. Archer ran a hand cooly through his hair. "You just had to storm out like you did, didn't you Lex?" Lex had no name to assume, no codename. He wouldn't be interacting with the hostages at all if it all went to plan. Both he and the Rotom had seem unbothered.

"Nothing brute forcing and good ole hacking can't help with." To prove his point he had bumped the guard's body out the chair finally and worked over his computer, said body being dragged into the backroom by both Stoneface and Handsome. Handsome had gone further however, taking the man's jacket and only to don it himself. He was going to be front man for as long as whatever was happening upstairs went on. He would be there if someone unexpected showed up.

"Now Chairman Rose's activism into making the Gym Leader a more active public figure isn't unfounded, as independently many Gym Leaders abroad, like Misty Waterflower in Cerulean City, take it upon themselves to reach out to the media and public. What's different with Chairman Rose however is that such interaction is prerequisite-"

The TV on the front desk went on as Archer had taken the key card to the front door, letting Stoneface out again to grab their car and drive it down to the parking garage.

One last gaze out those glass doors. Of the renovation of Silph Tower, the doors had remained the same at least. Archer had felt a pang of years lost for a moment, remembering how many days he had gone in and out through them. Only his future lay ahead however, swiping the key card down on a reader, metallic locks seizing the glass doors closed.

"Locking all elevators down, except one. You'll have 80 through the top floor accessible. Merry Christmas." Lex had been more than proud as his Rotom hopped into the computer after him, seeing what it could find for a short moment. Archer could only give a brisk smile as he handed off the keycard to the new frontman, tightening his collar and settling into the chair as Lex followed Archer now.

When the doors sealed, the air had gone cold in that cramped elevator. Out of necessity the guns had been pointed up, to make room, though it offered Silver the look of their manipulation, the force of the elevator making its way up like a pencil dialing in a final period felt. Guns were cocked, locked, loaded. The point of no-return had been long gone, and any rebellious thoughts Silver had? They were no use.

He felt a brush against his leg.

It was the Houndoom, finding a place to sit as the elevator quickly passed the 50th floor.

He was five again. In the luxury apartment that Ariana had been given by Giovanni in order to give his mother a place to be nearby and raise him. The two had been absent that day, the only two living beings in that entire expansive space being a scared child and a pup. What was a Pokémon to do but curl around him in bed? Keeping him warm? Keeping him safe?

Life had changed them both, but once, long ago, they knew they didn't want to turn out this way.

The Houndoom had leaned into his leg, giving Silver a flash of warmth momentarily, her snout poking at the Pokéball at his hip, covered by his belt.

She could sense the pain, the sickness, in it.

He looked down at her and, as quiet as he could, explained. "It's why I'm here."

Every few floors the elevator would stop, Lex getting out, only to plant small device onto the nearest wall from his pockets, a green LED blinking as he flipped a switch on each of them. This repeated every ten floors, adding on anxious minutes to the travel up. It was a quiet ride up, the music in that elevator having been some non-copyrightable Christmas tune.

"Silver," Archer had spooked Silver for a second as he beckoned his name, not even turning, drawing the revolver from his belt. "Stay with Lex. It's our show now."

The elevator had arrived at its destination finally, and how blissfully unaware the party had been when they saw it from the elevator: going off on their merry way not noticing what would certainly be, in a certain view, tonight's entertainment.

Out from an unseen hallway a man had emerged, a cross between an outdoorsman and a businessman, doing a bad impression in both directions.

"Daniel McCain everyone!"

There was an applause from the crowd as he came into them, having been noticed, hoisted up onto a chair as if ready to give a speech.

That was when Archer had made his move, slowly, slowly, the men and women and Pokémon in that elevator shuffling out laterally along the wall where the elevator had been, quietly, quietly until they all had left and that Daniel McCain had been the only one facing the direction to see them.

When the look in his eye had gone from bewilderment to dread, that was when Archer raised his gun up into the ceiling, and all hell had broken loose.

December 24th

7:48 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

The cold steel of the stairwell had been unkind to her calloused feet, pricking at her like fire, though she wasn't thinking of that as she ran herself upstairs, one floor up: Floor 84. If she could just get to a landline or something, she might've been okay, whatever was happening might've been better off. She nearly collided with the door into 84, throwing it open, only to see the backs of two men in black carting into boxes, guns strapped around their back. She nearly cursed but it would've killed her as she closed the door back silently and ran herself up another flight of stairs, breathing through her teeth as gunfire echoed from where she came.

Her leather holster had been only over one arm, the droopy Christmas sweater fluttering about her form damn near irritatingly as she took flight, sleeves too long riding up again and again to her hands as McCain kept trying to roll them up.

She skipped floor 85, putting distance between her and the men in black. It only then clicked where she had seen those uniforms before: grey belts, all black everything else.

God dammit. God dammit.

Her thoughts damned everyone that would listen as once again history repeated, her feet moving on their own as they had simply climbed up, finding the door to Floor 88, bringing her pistol up to bear with one hand as the other went to the door's handle, slowly, slowly easing it open.

She had written this report before: How the Silph Tower occupation by the original Team Rocket might've been solved if the security guards on staff carried and the Saffron PD had a SWAT team. Now she was living it as once again, as far as she could tell, Team Rocket had come for the Silph Tower.

She saw no one through her view of the door, hurriedly opening it and closing it behind her before she fully became coherent of where this was: A lot of the floors between 80 and the new additions of 100 had still been going through renovations. Floor 88 had been one of them: blank and still as if a construction site, exposed metal frames and the tools left behind by workers present as she found something among them:

A landline on a drafting desk.

"Yes!" She had almost yelled out as she ran for it, minding the dust or the debris that had sank into her feet as she ran the distance, turning over right she looked at the elevator access hall, gun turned toward there as she approached the desk to her back, covering her sector.

When she felt her hip touch the desk, her left hand went back, finding the head of the old telephone only to hear something worse than any number of wild Pokémon roaring at her to leave their territory: silence.

"You cut the fucking landlines too?" She swore to herself, swearing more through her teeth as she heard her breathing for the first time: it was rampant, she closing her mouth and consolidating it through her nose as she damned her circumstances.

She knew what that meant: Whoever had been taking over now, they had known the mistakes of the past or had been too well-versed to let the landlines of the Silph building be open. The only communication in or out this time, as opposed to the first time around, would've been on their terms.

These were professionals. Armed professionals. Not just with Pokémon she imagined, but with guns. Guns. Actual frickin' guns.

The woman who had started the armament of the police in Kanto was faced that irony: facing down criminals who had found their own to fight a movement she started.


A Christmas god-damn Miracle.

She hadn't known when she had frozen up, aiming still at the elevators. Her mind was running faster than an Arcanine and she knew this isn't what she needed. She knew better than this. She wrote the book on modern gunfighting! On modern policing!

She wasn't Red, or Champion Lyra, or the Heroes of Hoenn and the Saviors of Sinnoh. She wasn't a hero, just a Ranger running from her past and it put here right there, three floors removed from a Rocket that was changed by the world.

She was a good woman with a gun that had nothing less than the innocent at stake. Perhaps more than that, she held the lives of her husband and the only being she had called, more or less, her son.

What they wanted, why they were here, what they had with them and how tonight would end, if she couldn't get help, then she had to have BEEN the help. If she ran she'd been leaving her loved ones behind, and if anything happened to them…

"Think! Think!" She spoke to herself, telling her right from wrong.

No! No! I'm not being a god damn one-man army tonight! I have to get help!

She needed help as the floor in front of her exploded in dry wall and flooring: the sounds of distant gunfire erupting before her as she flew back and placed herself against the creaky windows that had just been installed, hoping the torrent of gunfire did not wander anymore toward her.

The sound of gunfire was nothing new to Hops. The sound of gunfire at that measure, between that many people and that many guns, it was a new experience to him that spoke of recklessness. Gunfire had been shot up into the ceiling, making him and the rest of the hostages huddle together more in the depression of the room before the gardens, those who hadn't taken it screaming with hands around their ears. The younger Pokémon in particular, he felt for them as they huddled by their trainers, it must've hurt.

He had been a Grovyle by the time McCain had become a cop, and, if only because Kanto labor laws had advanced enough that Pokémon like him had been had been offered pay, he signed onto the department as an office assistant. He didn't think it particularly peculiar he had worked in a police office, or in some sort of authority place, all his life, but he had, and with that came the training. First it was cursory, inside the department's gym for a physical routine, and in truth that was the most he had done until Janie had been outed and they, together, began a life as Rangers.

It was there life had aged him more than time would.

He barked out in his most basic tongue: "Down! Down! Down!" The Pokémon who had been lucid enough listened as he shot out from Daniel's legs, pushing down those younger or unknowing enough to the floor for safety. Daniel had done the same. For as much as Hops hadn't liked him there had been one thing true with him: he had been a man of physicality. He was a trainer once, traveling the regions professionally. Perhaps the only man in that entire office, that entire hostage group that knew how to act under pressure truly.

The pressure so great that it had felt choking the moment the hostages had all been gathered on that floor's garden into a neat circle, and surrounded by gunmen. The gunmen and women, they dressed in the classic uniform, unmistakable: Grey boots, black pants and shirts with a distinctive red R over them, otherwise sporting tactical vests and gear, sporting balaclavas or masks. That was what they all shared save one. A man in white. A man in a suit so white, so bright that it seemed blinding in the dark room. By the man in white's side a totally covered Rocketeer had leaned against one of the rocky pillars of the room, unbothered as the man in white shuffled his blue hair to one side with an air of class and held a notepad in his hands.

Unclasping his hands from it, standing above the recessed portion of the room where the hostages gathered, the gesture was like magic almost, silencing the panicking of the crowds as he gained their attention.

Starting slow, and measured, half the people in that room knew the voice before he had gotten halfway through. Mr. Silph especially seized up, hidden in the crowd. Hops had freezed cold. "Again and again, our histories are intertwined, those of the Silph Corporation. This time however, we will break the cycle. Team Rocket will have its revenge." The man spread his arms outward as if accepting all of the hostages, but before he had done it, he went to his balaclava, tearing it off.

Those who had been senior enough in the company remembered his face very well:

A lightning blue haired individual; a phenomenally smart young man who was as much of a leader as he was a researcher in radio sciences. It was only he that could've reformed Team Rocket after Giovanni was imprisoned.

Archer Nostra.

The final Rocket executive. Released from prison on good behavior and being forthcoming on information, clearly, by anyone's regard there in the SIlph Tower that evening, a mistake.

One hand held his balaclava, another: a revolver drawn. At his feet the loyal Houndoom that, according to rumor, had been nothing less than Giovanni's own, gifted to his most trusted lieutenant.

"Ladies and gentlemen. If you may know me, then you know well enough that the Silph Corporation's legacy has culminated in my being here tonight, naturally. What we do will be inevitable." He started. All the pomp, all the power. Only the brute pragmatism of Giovanni himself had tempered it. "You will be witnesses."

The gunmen had all covered their anlges, surrounding the crowd as their Pokémon played their part: monsters, growling, snarling at all those who had dared break formation. The designer and cutesy Pokémon that belonged to the Silph executives could hardly match.

It was why so many of the Rocketeer's Pokémon had focused on Hops. He had stood out, so, so much. They could smell it on him. He felt his blades harden, only to feel the hand of Daniel on his head.

"Don't." He whispered.

Hops didn't. Something was wrong though. In all the commotion, in all of the chaos, there had been an itch at the back of his head as if a sine wave, wanting to pull his head back. It was a weight, but yet not, he felt free, but yet restrained. It was a feeling of… calm? He tried breathing through his nose, trying to find something within him that he had felt only in battle, in a fight, but, nothing. He had felt bad clenching a fist even.

Something was wrong. Very, very wrong as he felt his eyes bounce in and out of focus. The lesser willed Pokémon had already gone to their knees, and those who could stand did, but their shoulders or stances had dropped.

Hops had found it very hard to breath past a certain point, but it didn't feel like he was choking.

The Pokémon of the Rocketeers had all, in one motion, closed in on the hostage group like a vice. The hot breaths of the fire types among them had been infernal. A lone Charizard's steps making pumps that shook the entire building as its mouth steamed. Again, the terror started, the panicking as people tried to crush themselves tighter together to avoid being swallowed whole it seemed by them.

Closer and closer they went, Hops hopping onto Daniel's shoulders instinctively. Always, always his species preferred the height advantage.

Daniel's fists had formed as he had let people pass behind him. If only he had his team here, if only… A thought crossed by his mind. Was this what Red felt like when he came to Silph all those years ago? Was this what those kids in Sinnoh felt when they climbed Coronet to stop the end of the world?

A fire, it burned in him, to do something, to show them that he too was a trainer like that.

"Dear God someone help!" Someone had screamed as an Arbok slithered high above them, jaws open.

"Enough!" Mr. Silph's voice yelled out, stepping forward, out from that group of hostages. "Archer, what do you want?!"

A smirk was seen on Archer's mouth, his hand gesturing to two of his men. As soon as Silph had come out he had been taken away to one of the elevators, Archer moving behind them as he glanced at the relaxed Rocketeer. "Behave."

Was that an order for him? Or a recommendation for the hostages?

Hops didn't know. Not as the Pokémon of the Rocketeers backed off and the expectations of the day had been established.

One of the female Rocketeers had let down her mask to speak as she waved a gun at them all, similarly relaxing, sitting on one of the concierge tables. "Sit tight." She spoke loudly, taking a champagne flute and downing it, "Stay chill. Hell, go on your phones we don't give a shit. We've got electronic jamming from here up to the roof. You're not getting any service. So as long as you don't do anything, we're not doing anything."

Hostages. They were hostages.

December 24th

7:52 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

She wanted to cry, holding her head, covering her eyes as she saw the row of bullets in front of her stop a foot away. It had been a very, very long time since this part of her brain had been up and going, so many neurons going off that she hadn't remembered having, twisting and turning every emotion her heart and mind could take until it settled like water over an ice cube tray. There was once a woman who had known what to do here, somehow, somewhat. A woman better prepared to take everything on today.

She had once been that woman. The world demanded that she be that woman.

It always did. For reasons beyond her, or reasons that she could never admit to. Today, tonight, for the rest of her life if she had made it out, she prayed that she'd do it for her own reasons. That was all she asked for as she prayed to every God, man or monster, that would listen.

Finding her center, finding her breath, she opened her eyes and found her footing.

There was a way to things. To fight tactically. Whoever those hostage takers had been, those Rocketeers, they were thinking that way too.

So that was why McCain had taken the two mags out of her back pocket and transferred to her front, active, checking the round in the chamber and sucking in her breath, gritting her teeth, steeling herself for what she needed to do.

A plan, a checklist had reappeared in her head like old religion, and she had once been its prophet. Nervously, she had stepped over those bullet holes, unable to see past. Looking back up the bullets still had gone further up, but the entry holes had been getting wider as the bullets lost velocity and punch.

What floor had she been on again? 88.

100 in total. Hostages on 83.

Everything above her had still be construction, much like this one. Below 83? God knows what. Danny had told her all the time about the changing floor plans, the almost insane composition of some of the projects that the departments had worked on that did take an entire floor to test.

She wasn't sure if she could make it the nearly 100 flight of stairs, or if it was practical. With having pissed her pants any Pokémon worth a damn would've been able to catch her scent, and if they controlled the elevators she had been trapped anyway.

So what was the remaining option?


How did she fight them without endangering the hostages?

Was it possible?

If there was one thing possible in her life, she knew that everything could've gone right and something still could've gone wrong.

Gone wrong. Everything was already going wrong.

What was one more dead cop to that list?

Glancing around there was no cover here. If there was a dead cop to be added to it all, she only hoped she could add a few Rocketeers to that list as well. That wouldn't happen without good cover.

Her back hunched, her hand wrapped around the grip of her pistol so naturally. Feeling her belt, tightening it, her fingers graced over the metal shield that had been hers: the badge of the Celadon City Police Department.

Time to get tactical. Tactical as she could in an oversized Christmas sweater that had been really annoying her as it kept riding down her arms, interfering with her aim. With all her might she had pulled them up, rolling them over and over until she felt them tight.

Her feet already felt sore and pricked, barefoot as she was, not like she had a choice as she returned to the doors of the stairwell, beginning the long process of claiming home plate. All the floors had been laid out the same, but their contents had been differing.

Barefoot she didn't make much noise on the stairs, as she got to each floor and peered into the appropriate entrance afforded to her.

One of the first merits of tactical planning had always been establishing the field, and, if she could've done anything with no shoes and no shirt, it was that, running up and down the western stairwell, tracking floor numbers and knowing, exactly, what they were. It was by that measure she had taken a marker left on one of the drafter's tables and started writing along her arm the floors and their contents. If she had to run, it would've done her good to also know where she was running to and through.

87. IT, servers. Glass and standing towers. Blinking computers like Christmas Trees.

86. Ornate. Johto-inspired it felt in its regal red. A place you brought in partners to talk about multi-million dollar deals. Dioramas and mock ups of projects on tables as big as her kitchen back home. A boardroom.

85. Cubicles. Accounting? Something like that, end to end the head high squares of an office life she couldn't begin to imagine living.

84. "Wew." Those words had left her mouth before she had clamped them shut. First, she saw the room, set up like a display section in a museum. Glass stands housing little platforms holding up products and prototypes spoken only in tech magazines and sci-fi. Then she saw the backs of some of the Rocketeers peering out of the room's blacked out windows. Censors of course, prying eyes not able to look in, even at that height. She backed out before they noticed.

83. She knew what was on 83. Everything.

It was unwise of her to even try and peer open the door, unwise for her to keep going down, so she stayed on 84, glancing at her styler in its shoulder holster. Taking it out again she had flipped to its diagnostics: that same error message read itself on its display.


"Hastings you old fart, what the fuck does this mean?" She yelled at herself in hushed breaths, going through her device's manual in her head. Once a long time ago there was an exam on it in the Ranger School.

She passed, whatever that meant.

"Cancelled signal cancelled signal…" Electric Pokémon, they were liable to cause such back read frequencies that knocked out the Styler's comms. The solution was simple. She had flipped to the frequency equalizer, dialing the sinewave that dedicated itself to indicating what frequency the Styler was using the bounce transmissions out. If she could've matched it to the offending signal then-

The counter-frequency that was feeding into the styler had bounced, according to what the Styler could detect. McCain had been taken off guard, paused for a moment, eye brow raised. Before she even started to adjust, it bounced again, and then again, and then again. Randomly it felt like, but McCain had counted the seconds. And then again. And then again.

Five seconds, each time.

This hadn't been a natural process.

Artificial then. Man-made.

Radio cancelling. Radio-!

She wanted to scream, but the echoes would've killed her.

Rocketeers. Radio. Silph.

She remembered why she was here again: Rocket had come again, and the last time had been because of someone who had been out currently for good behavior.

December 24th

7:55 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

The elevator ride up to 86 had been nostalgic. As if nothing had changed. Everything had changed though, right down to what was the position of power. Shoulder to shoulder Archer had stood by Mr. Silph, the pair flanked by three other Rocketeers.

"Just like old times, Joe?" Archer held his hands behind his back, slightly posturing over, head tilted at one of his old bosses. Mr. Silph had no such joviality and casualness to him as he frowned. That had only, barely, put a stamper on the younger man. "I remember, it was always you and Giovanni, side by side like this with me in the back. Always so… hierarchal."

Mr. Silph had no comment, no words as the elevator doors opened to the meeting room of the tower.

"What are you doing here, Archer?" Silph had ground out, uncaring that he had been flanked by men who seemed like they would kill, despite the fact they wore the clothing of the Rocketeers of the past.

Archer had ignored for the moment, seeing the elevator raise up to floors that hadn't been there since the first uprising. "Business been good, I take it? Trust me I would've rather hit Devon. They didn't seem to be hurting for cash."

The elevator had rung open. 86. Boardroom.

Archer strode out first, and, all things accounted for, it had been a good idea for Mr. Silph to follow. The old man did, followed at a distance by the gunmen.

Throughout the room leading up to the actual, enclosed meeting room had been dioramas of Silph industrial projects throughout the world. Out in Orre a sanctuary for Pokémon, state of the art, had been drafted up, it placed down in example on a scale model in that board room. It among others: bridges and refineries, research labs and more sky scrapers like this one, it had been around that floor, inspiring any who would come in here of further prosperity on behalf of Silph.

Archer had approached one such model: an oil rig meant for Hoenn, just outside of Sootopolis. Ever since Groudon and Kyogre had their sparring match there the geothermal activity beneath had been ripe for the taking. The diversification of Silph beyond purely Pokémon related matters had been a boon. "The goodwill generated after we left, it certainly propelled you further than you could've ever dreamed of, hasn't it? Oh my." Turning over to one of the walls, a picture of Mr. Silph shaking hands with-

"What is this all about, Archer? Is it revenge?"

It had been Red himself. Older than he was when he had come to Silph the first time, but for good reason: Silph had sponsored him, free of charge, for his further training on Mt. Silver. It still went on even today.

Archer shook his head briskly. He had been on the receiving end of battles against two such trainers in his life: Red the first time, and then Lyra the next. How he had ended up being a constant step into the rise of multiple trainers of their statue he had chalked up to simply bad luck.

Some of the escorting Pokémon had locked eyes with the photo, with Red, seeing something that only at the farthest reaches of Archer's ability to understand felt: Power, mastery.

"Oh Mr. Silph." Archer had reached out his hand to Mr. Silph, a shove from one of the gunmen forcing Mr. Silph into his reach. Archer had gently taken the man, guiding him into the meeting room, amidst models and pictures of success. "The nature of our visit here might be, on its face, particularly theatric… but I assure you. If there is any revenge here to be made, it is only something on the way to our true task."

Having said that he had opened the glass door into the meeting room, two people already sat. One had been masked, the other had been a dark man, a Rotom hovering over his shoulder typing away into a console that had been built into that thick wooden table.

"Lexor." Mr. Silph had been going through his company's history with who had been showing up.

Lexor Buchanan had been Silph's researcher in regards to the Rotom and its ability to interface with common appliances, seeing how hard that connection could go in practice and for what benefit. Apparently, as Silph remembered, using his Rotom for corporate espionage hadn't been one of those approved uses.

Lex had only given a cheeky, wide smile, same as his Rotom as the other masked man, Silver, sat in a chair, head down.

Mr. Silph's eyes had lain on him until he was still forced forward, right next to Lex.

"I never got that letter of recommendation, Mr. Silph." Lex had twirled a pen around his fingers as he leaned back, Archer comfortably taking a chair and sitting in.

"You're lucky we didn't call the cops on you, Mr. Buchanan." Silph bit back, but he was in hostile company. "All of you, stepping up your, your," he looked at the guns, "Methods! Like this it won't end well!"

"Oh trust me, Mr. Silph." Archer had said all so casually again, "As far as our methods are concerned, this is the cleanest option."

Lex had turned over the monitor of the console to Mr. Silph. "If you may, your passcode."

The console had displayed a rather plain UI, displaying a number of steps and inputs meant to be pressed into by computer.



"You came in here to access our computer network? Not our inventions?" Mr. Silph seemed stunned. The last time, it was so simple. Giovanni thought he could strong arm his way into getting everything the Silph Co had offered in way of its technology. Prototypes and diagrams all caches around the building physically. They would've gotten away with it too had it not been for Red and the police forming a blockade around the town outright.

Archer shook his head. "All we ask of you, Joe, are simple fill in the black questions for this."

"Well I don't have the answer," Silph had said simply, not out of courage or fear, but just pure bewilderment. "You know I haven't been CEO for a few years and simply remain a member of the board. The CEO and the rest of the board have to generate a new key by biotrace authorization! You won't be able to hijack any information we store on our servers, our correspondence! It's not like we have allowed someone in Giovanni's place to strongarm our competi-"

"Sit. Down. Joe." Archer had said with a little more punch, dismissive almost as those men and Pokémon who had come in with them had gazed around. What had spoken instead had been the revolver Archer held, placed gently down on the table as he propped one elbow on it. The silver gunmetal contrasting with the dark word so cleanly, it burned to look at.

A drop of sweat came down from Mr. Silph's white hair, going over the bumps of his craggly forehead.

"We came here tonight expecting that you had some form of power over this company still. That you were just more than a name." Archer had started, looking over still at the monuments to Silph's successes without Rocket. "Surely you must have something to offer us to help us access this network."

"Us? What us?" Silph had shaken his head, having sat down, arms up at Archer and then all around. "Team Rocket is gone. You already tried to reform it once and that failed, what makes you think this version will be any better, especially like this?"

Archer had chuckled. "Oh Mr. Silph… Who said we were Team Rocket?"

McCain had returned to 86, checking it again, having trailed the rumble of the elevator through the staircase. Sure enough there had been people, she thinking to check the positioning of whoever had come out of it. Of all things however she didn't expect to see Mr. Silph himself carted out, pressed forward by a-

She didn't see through her gap of doorway, the entire group of Rocketeers and Pokémon funneling into the more private meeting room in the center.

One of the advantages of bare feet had meant her step imprint had been near zero, audibly, especially on hard tile. So he had ducked in, going along the model tables, getting closer, closer to the meeting room until all she could do was get on her stomach beneath the closest display. At the angle, through her angle, she saw Mr. Silph sat down on the table through the clear door, but as she had leaned over right, all her fears had been proven right:

Archer Nostra. Still in a white suit, still a greasy rodent in the flesh of a posh yuppie. At his feet a Houndoom had been curled up.

Good behavior, McCain scorned the judiciary of Johto for it. The man knew good behavior. He knew it very well; that's why it was nothing but a veil for the very bad behavior he had carried out.

"Team Rocket is dead." McCain heard Archer

say to Mr. Silph. "But their signage, their skin, is awfully useful for eliciting a… response."

"You don't care about Rocket anymore?" Silph's eyes went wide.

Archer smiled. "I'm a reformed criminal, fortunately." He waved his revolver around at the men with him, they hardly caring as they stood there, guns in hand, professional as they could be "They can call us whatever they want, and in fact, it'll be better if they think we're Rocket. All I know is, our goals are about money now, Mr. Silph, not monsters."

"Money?" Silph was confused still, even as all the masked gunmen and women nodded in the affirmative. "How? You know we didn't keep cash in this building even when you-"

"The private vault on floor 80." Archer had interrupted him. "A few days ago me and my people tried to hunt down Giovanni and Blaine's great experiment, one that you directly funded privately. Don't act like no one else knew."

Mr. Silph's eyes sunk back in his head. It had been years since he had remembered his place in history, albeit hidden. Giovanni never ratted him out even, in the end, for when he had come and asked for funds to create the ultimate Pokémon with Silph's help, who was he to not be intrigued by the prospect? "Mewtwo."

"Hm. Correct. We had to kill a man in order to even have a shot of taking it. Regrettably we failed."

Even through blurred sound behind glass McCain could make that out, biting her own tongue. So much for detective work. She had her criminals, right and center: whoever had been here right now. It was these people, clad in the uniforms of Rocket grunts, faces hidden, guns drawn, Pokémon out and ready to hurt, to kill. Whoever had directly shot Parker, it didn't matter, they were all complicit.

How easy it was to know, but how hard it would be to do something about it, especially if they had gone this far already.

Archer himself. She was glad she was on the floor, or else she would've felt her knees go weak at the very idea of being involved with Rocket again, especially like this, her own gun in her hand and ready to do what was necessary to save not only her life, but the lives of those she loved.

This was personal this time, and it had opened up another aspect of feeling, of tension, that ate away at McCain's brain like acid as she listened intently.

"And what do you want from the vault that could possible help you with that, with money?"

Archer had grabbed the grip of his gun softly, feeling its contours for a moment, concentrating on it before answering. "For a year we had been producing Master Balls at Sevii, paid off a few managers for us to wheel out the recovered machinery. You must know how difficult production of them were under even legal pretenses, so it took a long time to develop the batch we had. Mewtwo destroyed them in a moment of… weakness." Archer held on that last word. That moment of weakness was not shooting Parker when he had the chance, letting him scream out and warn Mewtwo and all the inhabitants of Cerulean Cave. "We know, in the vault, among other treasurers," Archer glanced at Silver, still masked, "There is a sizable batch of Master Balls in there for the sake of artificial scarcity. With that, and the knowledge of how Mewtwo would protect its wards, we think we can do it right this time. And once caught, well, let's just say we have some buyers on the Global Trade System who would be more than willing to pay the highest bid for the original Mewtwo."

Silph narrowed his eyes angrily at him, taking it all in. "At least Giovanni knew what class of criminal he was, Mr. Nostra. You don't seem to realize you're nothing more than a petty thief."

Archer's lips turned upward. A pout by any other name, returning the glare. "Will you not give me anything, Joe?"

"It won't matter if I did have anything to give you Archer. You'll need the codes and biometrics from the rest of the admin."

"Just give him the codes." A voice rang out from behind a mask. One that Mr. Silph knew very, very well. He had raised a young man with that voice a long time ago. Just as Giovanni and Arianna had courted favors of him, so too did he ask them his own. He never had a son, and the man known as Silver had been the closest one to it. "Please."

Archer acknowledged him with a nod, looking over his shoulder.

"Silver," Mr. Silph had said his name like a Kalosian tragedy, looking behind that mask and seeing a boy he had helped raise, both before and after the first Rocket uprising. How many weeks, months had he personally despaired after Silver ran away from Saffron to start his own journey, to find his own place? How happy had he been when, after it all, he had learned that he had become a fierce Pokémon Trainer, and tempered by no one else but Lyra herself in a loving relationship? He despaired again now, seeing the son of Giovanni come again into this trade. "I have nothing to give them. Why are you here, son? I can help you. You know that. I love you."

That was killed him.

"Fair enough." Archer turned back to Mr. Silph before Silver could give an answer to a surrogate father. "If you think I'm a petty thief, then, well, I guess I'll be a killer by the time we're out of here."

The look on his face with a gun raised and pointed at him, it was gone when the hammer was pulled back, and the hair trigger pressed.

.44 Magnum. Some said the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world. It shook all the glass of that meeting room, created a fireball the size of a Voltorb and, more gruesomely, painted the paned door red with red and chunks of brain as it put a hole the size of a dinner plate through Mr. Silph's forehead. His head was cracked back, the momentum, eyes rolling back, sending him and the chair to the floor.

McCain beneath the table outside nearly bit her tongue off, her very teeth hurting as she saw, for the first time in a long time, what a man shot in the head looked like. The dead look settled on her by pure morbid coincidence as it rolled over, as if looking at her beneath the table.

"We accounted for this." Archer spoke with barely a pause. To McCain, between pure shock and the muted rumble from behind the glass, she was frozen as Mr. Silph's gore slid down it. Standing up unbothered Archer pointed to the two men who bore witness, one taking the shot worse than him. "Blue, dispose of the body. Silver-"

Archer looked at Silver, eyes wide, some of the splatter on his face that he desperately tried to wipe off silently. He had almost forgotten who this man was to the boy, a long time ago. "Silver." he said again, and the young man in question panted, a breath he was holding let go, dry heaving. "Silver." Archer spoke again, this time for the last time.

"Wh- what?"

The two men shared a silent look with different meanings.

Elsewhere, Janie McCain had sunk back into cold reality and rolled out from under the table outside the meeting room, her leg bumping into it momentarily.

The sound had perked every single person in the meeting room up, the Houndoom having taken its feet and blasting out the glass door as everyone else followed, guns up.

McCain had made it to a bathroom before anyone had gotten out, locking the door behind her as she ducked into one of its stalls, gun at her chest as she shrank into a corner.

She felt the pounding at the door, locked, each impact making her grip the wooden panels of her pistol harder as she held her breath. Throughout the floor tables were being overturned and other doors being banged on, but they all phased out when compared to the one she hid behind.

After a while that pounding stopped, futile.

The man who had been pounding on the door had reported back to Archer as they stood in the middle of the boardroom, shoulders shrugged. "It was nothing."

The Houndoom hadn't been as convinced, but there was no used getting spooked at everything that went bump that night.

Archer steeled his face, ejecting the one spent round from his revolver and replacing it. "Lex?"

"Hm?" He and his Rotom perked up behind him, he had no gun, no weapon.

"Now you can crack the code to the vault, can you?"

Again a Cheshire grin. "The foundations of all of Silph's code was built by me, Archer. Change it, harden it, whatever they did, it was all based on my work."

Archer didn't turn as he simply waved him off toward the elevator, and he went, turning now to Silver has he stepped over Mr. Silph's body and blood, unsuccessfully, his boots dipping in it momentarily as what skin was visible behind his mask had been pale.

"I'm a man of my word, Silver." Silver had been almost spooked by the man who had become a killer, he snapping up to catch his eyes. "Until you are needed, you are free to scour what you can of the network and Silph's inventory for what you and your Feraligatr need."

Breathlessly he had taken off his mask, sick of it, nodding at the former Rocket executive. At least there was no pretense of Rocket anymore here but a façade. That they could both agree on. At least he hadn't pulled the trigger on the old man. That's what he told himself as he found his breath coming out in pants, catching himself.

"Right." He answered finally, recovering from seeing someone die like that, and how the remains had still just been right behind him. A body, that had been once full of life, had lived a life, now empty and devoid of it.

"But we may need you for further tasks, and especially for our exit. So do as you will."

Archer had turned to leave with his gunmen, but a voice had sputtered out at him, almost like accusation. "You didn't bring me here just to watch him die." Oh, what the years, and Johto's current champion, did to temper Giovanni's son. It was adorable. Two sides of him clashing in turmoil and angst.

"I'm not your father, Silver."

December 24th

8:05 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

She had retreated back to 88 as soon as everyone had left 86, running, not caring how much noise she made as she realized the elevator had been going the opposite direction as her. Bursting out onto the constructing floor again she had let all the malcontent in her throat out.

"Janie why didn't you do anything!" She had yelled at herself, chastised, as she had broken back onto 88, pacing in manic circles, head going every which way as if looking for an answer until her hands gripped it steady, the feel of her HiPower's metal and wood against her temple calming her. "Because you'd be dead too you dumb bitch!"

She'd never seen someone die like that: by execution, and it rocked her to her core as she felt the heat of her entire being drain into the cold. What had been serious then had been nothing now, replaced by a seriousity that did not let up, more and more bodies piling up.

First Parker, now Mr. Silph. How many more?

She would know best. Each kill after the first had been so much easier.

Everything had been so simple now about Parker's death, the case before her laid out, all neat and clean. Though everything about how she started that day, everything about what would happen tomorrow, it was pressed out of her head as she concentrated on NOW.

But it was hard to think, not when there were Pokémon too she had to deal with. She saw, at least, a Houndoom, and without Hops to help square them off…

She just trembled to think of that fire, being shot at her…


Buildings that large the fire systems were often linked directly to-!

She had run at the first fire lever she had seen, arms out, thinking herself a genius.

Of all the renovations done to Silph Tower, it had made floor 80 a particular exception to it all. Floor 80, in the old plan for the building, had once been its top floor, above even the old CEO office of 79. At 80, like a treasure at the bottom of a dungeon, Silph's secrets had been held and kept, and the same treasures that had been there when Archer had been an intern and Silver a child, they had probably still remained. No one knew what, exactly, had been in there on top of the Master Balls, but anything extra was a bonus.

"7 passwords and a daily cypher." Lex had gone on as they emerged on floor 80. Barren save for a cylindrical room in the center, set in steel, on the far end a metal door that, after a swipe of a keycard taken from Mr. Silph's body, opened to an inner sanctum and an inner steel door, thick with steel. "Steelix-shed armor, multiple redundancies tied to a locked security OS that is tied directly to the national power grid… the vault itself is worth about as much as Orre's GDP." Lex described it as Archer and Silver were brought before the inner door, imposing. Not unlike the steel door in the basement.

Archer had been enthralled by it, standing where Arianna did, all those years ago. Was there irony in it? Perhaps. What had she been looking for beyond these doors the first time around?

"Hm?" Archer had regarded Lex again, not having caught a detail he just spouted out.

"I can get through one through six, and the cypher. Give me two hours, at minimum for the mechanicals and software. No more than five max. But for 7?" His Rotom leaped at the whole thing, unable to get into it, meld into it as it had been so used to, it backing away with an electrical snap and pout. "That's tied Saffron's electrical grid. It's an electric magnetic locking mechanism maintained by a constant connection. I can't even break that without taking down the entire building."

Archer had only smiled at the doubt. "Oh trust me. I've read the police reports, the preparations they made for us after Giovanni's failure and then my own. Their new preparation will be our key."

Their radios cackled, and Archer had picked it up. "Go ahead."

It was the doorman, from his computer at the front desk he had seen something. "Fire on 88."

Archer had looked to Lex concerned before speaking back into the radio. "Fire?"

"Alarm was pulled and its going straight toward Saffron's fire department."

He didn't make that far in his legal life, or make it through prison, without being quick thinking. "Get the name of the guard, call 911, and report the building. Say it's a malfunction." he ordered through the radio.

"Someone's loose?" Silver turned over after walking right up against the door, knocking his knuckles against it, not a reverb even heard. It was that deep, that reinforced.

"On 88 apparently," Archer grimaced, pausing the radio. "It's alright, probably someone who slipped from the party."

"It only ever takes one." Silver mused, memories coming back of Goldenrod.

"In your case, two, remember." Silver had chided, going to the radio. "Lillie. Go check it out."

"Lillie" had been a particularly interesting part of the crew. Of the people Archer found, he had come in a pack. His brother had also been on it. Where he had found these men and women had ranged far and wide, locationally, but they all had something in common. Like him, they were all left-behinds. Men and women who had wanted to change when their original occupations, their original allegiances, were lost or intractable. Two brothers who had hailed from Unova, who once believed in King N's goal of Pokémon liberation. They had been kicked out shortly before Plasma's final move for wanting a revolution of blood.

They served Archer better.

Team Magma, Aqua, Snagem and Cipher, Galactic and Flare and Skull had made their alums known here. He had even approached Archie himself to join, but the man had reformed, living a quiet life as a fisherman in Lilycove. What had ended up of his contemporaries and peers, of the trainers that had come to fight them, and the world that rose up to kill them, it had changed them too. To think of violence as the answer to what they did? Criminal empires and organizations brought down beneath boots and a hail of gunfire by cops who had had enough? What had changed?

Some of those leaders were in jail, some had been under house arrest, some had actually been reformed and been living lives making up for their misdeeds, while others, like N, had disappeared entirely.

The Unovan Champion hunted for him still, all those years later.

When Archer had talked to him, even he didn't have the heart to ask him to assist in his plan.

What he had said to the hostages though, it was true: Everything, in some fashion, had been leading up to this.

The highs and lows of her emotions that day had breached her own sense of self. The joy of seeing the lights of firetrucks move toward her down the streets, only for those lights to shut off and those trucks move away, they had tested her sanity.

"God dammit!" She banged on the window with the heel of her gun, leaving a mark. "Nothing's ever easy, is it?"

The world answered her as she heard the elevator ping behind her, and she had dived for cover behind wooden pallets.

"Don't let the uniforms fool you, whoever you are." The voice that came at her was masculine, taunting. "We're not like the Rocketeers that came years ago. We're dangerous. We're smart. We called off the fire trucks. No one's coming to help you."

What changed?

Why was she here? With a gun? Hiding behind palettes as a man with an assault rifle scanned the room for whoever pulled that alarm?

She knew as well as any person. She was the reason.

The secret seminars and conferences, the almost overnight distribution of firearms and gear from the old, long forgotten military depots… She had been the first soldier in a militarization of a police that sought to fight monsters and men. First it was Kanto, when the police were woefully underequipped to take on Team Rocket in the very building she stood in and the day was saved by a trainer. The answer then had been her; giving a new policeman a gun and seeing what it did. What she did had been successful beyond belief: clearing out the underground hideout beneath Celadon City only by herself and an old shotgun. When Johto came, and Goldenrod was raided by Rocket, more and more people like her were called up in preparation for a third Team Rocket uprising that didn't come (until now). When Hoenn came, Gods themselves fought, and the police had asked for heavier gear, more guns, more people, and the justification to do it. The Unovans had been perhaps the most drastic step, when Team Plasma held the Elite Four hostage there Unova had mobilized everything up to a military with its police force, waging a day long war against Team Plasma that scarred the region to that day.

Time and time again, with each and every indiscretion, world ending consequences pushed by people like Archer, like Cyrus, like Giovanni, it justified everything she had set in motion as the progenitor.

How many talks had she given at new police conferences? Arguing for firearms for even the smallest, most peaceful department? Pushing asides the volunteer forces like the Jenny family and replacing them with armed professionals who had wanted nothing but have a gun and a badge? Too many things cascaded from it, too many prejudices.

How many young ethnic teens had been shot because of trigger happy cops with too many racial prejudices? Accidental deaths from irresponsible police who hadn't the measure she had? How many people had been killed because of something that had been designed to keep them safe from the people who were said to do them harm?

"If you come out," the voice and its body walked into the room. "I will not harm you."

"Show me your hands! Show me your hands! Get on the floor! Don't move!" This was what it felt like she imagined, being yelled at by her as a gun was pointed at someone's face, scared and unable to process what was happening.

It was only natural that the people they were brought up to fight finally matched what was being dished to them. And by the time that happened, enough damage, enough backlash had happened that had made what happened to her inevitable. Just as she had ushered in an age of a police of force, she was blamed for it, exiled.

It was right she was here, now facing what she did.

There now existed a world-wide network of young people whose evil teams had failed them; teams which had become the only unity they had ever known, and now they had sought to punish society for what was done to them by applying the same tactics applied. The cheek had turned. People who sought redemption, with nothing to live for.

Whoever these people were they did not fear her.

McCain had quietly made her way across the room, out of sight of the man that had come looking, going over to an even more incomplete portion of the room with power tools available.

She had jerked when she heard the rattle of gunfire.

Pre-firing, the man turning a corner that he had guessed she was behind.

She sucked in her breath: this was the score. Me or him.

She chose him.

Lillie been annoyed he had wasted some ammo as he turned around a few boxes, finding nothing, proving his prior statement a lie. He had no moment to dwell on it as he heard the whirr of a power tool off to the other side of the building.

Dashing over he had passed through frames of walls that had yet to be put up, toppling over a few paint buckets and toolboxes. The lights above that of an office stock, unkind, beating back the black of the sky let in by the windows.

The source of the power tool noise had been evident as he approached it, gun at his hip:

A power saw table.

Why would it go off without-?

The cold steel of a barrel was pressed against his neck as he saw the wall in his peripheral and a figure whip out from it.

Janie McCain had pressed the gun into his spine as she ran up to his back, only to step backwards. Her threat might've not made much imprint if he didn't know there was a gun aimed at them. "Drop your gun, hands behind your back."

The Rocketeer had frozen, temporary shock. "Who-?"

"Police!" Was all the words that came out of her mouth, identifying herself. It'd been years since she called herself that, but here simple was smooth and was what she needed; it fell out of her mouth like ice. "Drop your gun god dammit!" Through her teeth she tried not to yell, just in case there was a second man in there.

The Rocketeer held onto his gun awkwardly, at his hip, fingers white knuckled holding the grip and its forepiece as if his life depended on it. She looked down on it; it was some serious firepower for her.

"You won't do anything." The man drawled out behind his balaclava, slowly, tilting his head ever more at her to crane a look at who spoke to him.

"Please, don't try me." How long had it been since she last shot someone? Last killed someone in the line of duty? Especially not like this, her gun aimed at their back and at this distance. If she were anyone else this would look like an execution. She wasn't about to meet an execution with another execution. She wasn't that low.

"You're a cop. You have your rules." He justified.

Rules made because of her, in both directions. From pioneering the field of armed policework, to creating the effects that seemed oh so obvious to see. Irony. Irony floated in the air that was as thick as the Christmas Spirit outside and throughout Saffron.

It was a nerve that he struck. "Don't talk to me about rules, punk. I'm the one who wrote them!"

The strike that came to her was one that came because the Rocketeer followed her lead, dropping his gun, holding the strap it was held on as he whipped around, the firearm slung into her side. She didn't see it coming: the metal and wood slamming into her left arm as she charged the man, taking the hit as she used her momentum to force him to the ground.

Distantly the sound of her own pistol flying out of reach was but a footnote to everything else.

One of the integral rules of hand to hand: never get caught on the ground. The Rocketeer had hit the ground on his shoulder as McCain found herself on him, the spit in her mouth let loose unwittingly onto the side of his face as she reeled back her hand for a punch. He turned over though, throwing her off as he stumbled to a crouch, trying to get his gun back from the sling it hung from loosely. McCain skid on her back, the sweater not meant for this rough housing on concrete, for her to roll toward the man and taking the wooden foregrip of the gun and yanking. Anything to make sure he didn't get to the trigger.

McCain had seen the sweat on his brow, not expecting the fight, the determination he put in the pull. He was a bigger man than her, stronger, so he had inadvertently pulled her up.

With that momentum she had only thrust herself back down, gun in her stomach, legs pulled out as they found his midsection and carried him over her. It was a toss, a throw by any other measure, his body landing with a thump against some of the metal railing, framing the walls that would be. The gun had gone with him, and she had wished for her own. A glance to the windows and she saw it. No way she could dive for it in time.

She dived for the closest one.

The wind was kicked out of the Rocketeer as his skull bounced, but he had his priorities as he growled in his throat, clawing at the machine gun as again the tug of war started. McCain had gotten to it first, the positions now reversed, but with the way the sling had been on him she wouldn't be able to yank it off or to get to the trigger.

This was the next best thing: She yanked, digging in her bare heels painfully, jerking the man on the floor as she dragged him toward more things she could throw him into.

"Come on you fucking son of a bitch!" She had grit through her teeth and he had responded, tugging the gun back as she fought to keep it. If she had her boots she would've already stomped his head through the floor, but no such luck.

The Rocketeer twirled over, the sling going taut like a Feraligatr in a kill spin and McCain was on the floor again, slamming hard as the work benches and tools around them vibrated and jumped with the impact.

Her hands had been burned by the cloth sling as the Rocketeer pulled again, and yet she still held on, going onto her knees and throwing herself back as the Rocketeer palmed up, barely missing the trigger to shoot.

Throwing herself back McCain felt the knock of a thick table against her head. The jolt of pain oddly adding clarity to her as she fell on her back, looking up, seeing the underside of a table saw and the wood around her, left for the night. With one hand she had taken one of the cut end pieces of wood, only to throw it at the Rocketeer as he got his bearings and strength, standing up, sling held, putting his strength one last time into-

McCain had slid herself back again ending up on the other side of the saw, raising herself up and rotating the sling over just enough to line it up just as the Rocketeer found the grip of the gun, straightening out his trigger finger.

McCain pulled first.

The trigger on the saw was pulled, the tool brought forward on the table, cloth catching on as the gun's sling was torn through. In one fell swoop, a luck of the draw, the portion that was held more tightly to the man's gun went slack on his end, allowing McCain to pull it toward her as she kicked the circular saw's table down between them.

The Rocketeer stumbled back, but as he did his left hand pulled up his shirt: another black object seen at his waistband, pulled out, halfway aimed toward her as-

Typewriter. That's what these nearly century old submachine guns were called. The history of firearms in that world was defined in revolutions by inventors and engineers who, from time to time, found these weapons stagnated in development and brought them new and "modern" again. Warfare was rare, rarer still in those last few decades of world peace, and so the firearm needed not to necessarily be developed. There was nothing peaceful about McCain whipping the gun into her shoulder, aiming down the sights, and depressing the trigger into the rhythm that gave these guns their name.

The muzzleflash made up for any lack of Christmas lighting, in thunderous pops at a time as McCain defeaned herself, the fleshy sounds of skin and bone being broken and torn into heard that stopped only with the hard thud of a body on concrete. Completely and utterly, not even the sound of him bleeding out, choking on perforated lungs, McCain had pumped the Rocketeer full of lead. The black cloth of his uniform leaked red, soaking and eventually pooling beneath the man as his body lay on his back, staring up, his face sporting two new holes from the muzzle rise of recoil before McCain had taken control of the meaty submachine gun.

Its bolt was held open, the last round in its mag shot, barrel smoking hot from its tip as McCain's cheek was held to the wood stock, hoping he was dead and nothing less.

The echoes of gunfire rescinded, and for the first time in years she had killed a man.

Her breath through her nose had almost been as rapid as the gunfire, unblinking as she finally lowered the gun and seeing what she had just done truly, not through the ironsights but rather through her own eyes.

She had to remember, then and there, the first time she killed someone with a gun. She had to remember that long ago, she made her peace with that decision. This was no time to get thrown into those thoughts again.

Sucking in one final hot breath her gaze tore itself from the man's body, remembering where her own gun was thrown and running to it, the submachine gun in her left hand now and seemingly glued to it. Tossed askew, the finish on her pistol had a few more scratches, a ding, but nothing that would've impeded operation. It had been almost tossed through a window, and she had been thankful it hadn't been hitting the wall below it instead, but because of that standing up after picking it back, she had to look at herself. She didn't expect to see what had been made of her tonight:

She was a mess. Her dumb sweater had been forcibly clamped down around her chest and arms by her shoulder holsters, tucked into her jeans down her stomach and her arms rolled up until they became donuts essentially, thick around her biceps. Her hair had been down her shoulders, bangs in front of her eyes as only then she felt the wetness dripping from them. No one, that close, could pump a man full of .45 and expect not to get splatter. Looking down the reds of Christmas on the sweater's design had been beat back by the darker red of blood. She felt the looseness of some of the stitching already coming loose on the back.

Then she felt the wetness along her legs and for a moment she had feared that it was over: adrenaline was the only thing keeping her standing because the Rocketeer had got a shot off and she was hit in the leg.

The rush of the fight, the choking feeling of the kill, had disguised the moment her bladder opened and she pissed herself.

Nothing lasted forever. Not her life, or the ones downstairs below her, taken hostage or doing the hostage taking. Especially not the man, spread like a snow angel in death, that collapsed on the floor by construction equipment. What especially didn't last forever was the cruel lie that she told herself: The Rangers took her in after her stint as a cop, not because of her inherent tenacity or skill, nor her drive to become better than what had been made of her, some arbitrary soul searching, but rather because when push came to shove, they wanted someone to teach them how to shoot instead.

They needed someone who not only walked over the line, but drew it.

This time though, tonight, it had to have been for herself. Too much for her was at stake.

A weight so heavy that it made the eleven-pound gun she had taken from a dead man disappear along with the wetness that ruined her pants and pushed all thoughts that hadn't to do with action asides.

Dropping the empty mag of the gun outside the window instead, sending it down and away, she hurried back to the dead man, blood still pooling out as his eyes glazed over. The cop in her told her to secure the scene. The woman trying to survive that night and do something about the situation told her to bolt and run away before someone checked up on him. She did the in between, holstering her pistol as she reached and patted the man down. Pockets had been empty, no ID, no wallets. The backpack he had was drenched and shot through as she turned him over clumsily and ripped his pack into her own hands.

His uniform had been exactly a Rocketeer's. Had there been that many stock left over?

Zipping it open she found what she was looking for chiefly: there had been no distinctive bulge in his pockets, so the man had obviously not been anticipating a fight at that very moment. At least, not one that required more than one mag.

The rest of his ammo for the submachine gun had lain in it, she ripping the four thirty round magazines out and onto the ground. Three usable. One had taken a bullet from her as it blasted through his body. She had never used the weapon in her hands now before until that very moment, looking over both its blocky sides and seeing the usual. Bolt, safety switch, mag release and bolt release. It was a heavy gun that used heavy pistol ammo, and she fed it, slamming a mag into the feed ramp and sending the bolt home. An unloaded gun did her no good.

Her feet had felt warm, and, looking down, she damned the fact she didn't have shoes again, blood finally making its way to her feet as she searched the man's backpack.

Swearing once, she moved off, doing her best, scraping the edge of her feet on the ground and getting the worst of it off.

One cursory look at the man's feet and she could tell he had been too big for her, she was still better off barefoot.

The lighting was great in that room, even before their impromptu brawl, knocking some light fixtures off entirely. The drafter's table remained standing, she going over to it and emptying the contents of the bag onto its surface, slinging on her new gun in the same move, tying off the cut off end at the sling point. She was at the ready now, on all cylinders, glancing every other second at either the stairwells or the elevators.

Still what had been spilled was worth her attention.

"Comms." She spoke to herself, holding up a ham radio. Frequency locked according to its display, probably to whatever frequency that this group of Rocketeers was using. She looked for the markers that had been on the desk, finding a black one and taking the cap into her mouth, point to her left wrist:

BAD GUY FREQ: 151.87

She wrote it down on her skin, liable to forget it without. She had plans for the radio, at least, if she couldn't get her Styler to work. If nothing else she could at least listen in if they used it. The bag had a side-basket for a water bottle, the radio going there as she went back to the rest of its contents: Not much.

A few chemlights, probably for lighting in the darker rooms. Lint, dust, a multitool, that was useful at least. The backpack was small, probably nothing more than the man's mag bag, and it had been nothing that McCain herself could carry in her increasingly crowded pockets. If she were to take it she'd have to deal it dripping with his blood everywhere, and she was already sick of the substance.

It was worth checking one last time for Pokéballs. She doubted, if they were loyal, she was going to have an easy time subduing them with her styler in such a small space, but if they had been loyal and caring enough to this man if he had been a trainer, they might've popped out on their own accord.

One last shake and two candy bar-sized items came tumbling out, caught probably on its insides. Not another weapon, nor grenades, nor anything probably useful. Just two actual candy bars. No Pokéballs.

Her stomach grumbled and she had damned the person she had been that morning, at Cerulean Cave, for not shoving her damn face with donuts or, at her own family's diner not further stuffing herself. One immediately flew into her mouth and down her gullet before she could read the branding, the other kept in her last remaining back pocket as she desperately tried to take in calories and any sort of stimulant from it, the taste dead to her. When fighting for one's life the brain tended to prioritize some senses and dull everything else. That night she had to remind herself, at least for own mind, it got rid of taste.

Discarding the bag, again out the window, she tossed it as far as she could. She hoped it would've gotten some lonely pedestrian's attention. Hopefully a citizen of Saffron walking the city on Christmas night (unlikely) would be a good Samaritan and report. The problem was the bag didn't get further from the plaza.

Again, peering out the window, shouting would do her no good, that far out.

"Of all the buildings I gotta get stuck in why it gotta be the tallest frickin' one in all of Kanto."

She spoke, if anyone, to the dead man, only reminding her that she had a body to deal with.

The remaining magazines for the Typewriter went into her front pockets as she walked back over to him. Certainly, its presence meant that these weapons were probably dug up in some forgotten government warehouse where surplus went to rot, but she could pay no mind to that now. All she knew was that she had it now, taken from this man's cold dead hands.

The radio hadn't gone off as she expected, the minutes following the fight yielding nothing but silence as she calmed her nerves again. If no one was going to check up on them now it probably meant nothing was heard, hopefully, but the more time she spent there, the more likely that someone was going to check for whoever this was.

Whoever this was…

She avoided the blood pool by throwing a sheet of cut plywood by him, stepping on it as she leaned down again, grabbing the fabric of his balaclava and tearing up, catching pieces of flesh and skull with him. Thankfully entry wounds were less grisly than exit, and she avoided looking at the wet black fabric as she tossed it asides.

Forty-something male, probably in the latter half, white, almost blonde hair, fuck ugly not by birth, she observed, but rather the beatings and roughhousing he seemed to sustained based on scars and bruising. The Rocketeers of Giovanni's original gang were younger men and women, and, if it had been this long, this man seemed to have been the oldest. For as much of the roster of Team Rocket that was uncovered following their first and second uprising, there were still blanks in it. Still, the oldest Rocketeer was no more than this man's age, and he was accounted for in Hoenn in rehab.

His eyes were glossy, blue, but deft of life for obvious reasons. Palming them closed, she had hoped this man lived a good life, but chances are he hadn't.

Still, if anything, he had proven useful to her past almost killing her.

He had given her enough by virtue of scavenging, and the last thing that she could make use of was his body.

McCain could carry him with some difficulty, but she figured it was worth the attempt.

There was a rolling chair among a set she remembered seeing as she took stock of the room, obviously waiting to be used when that floor came together, but tonight she had figured this was as good of a send off as he was going to get, looking at his plain grey sweater. It might've been wrong, but she had been amused by her own thoughts at that moment, remembering that there was a red marker back at the drafter's table.

Archer had been back down at the hostages, plucking away at a sandwich left by the food table. Admittedly he hadn't eaten today so he had taken to a roast beef slider. It was nice to know Silph still used the same caterer.

Relaxed, he had sat on the table, propped in front of the group of hostages, Pokémon and Human alike still partly trembling.

Below Lex had been working away at the vault, his first, nominal successes reported as a cypher had been generated. Silver on the other hand had taken liberty of going through the available records across multiple floors, trying to find some deus ex machina to a problem, tragic in its own right.

Silver stood in front of those vault doors until Archer had enough of his sulking. "Silver, it's Christmas. You've gotta believe in miracles."

As Archer spoke to the hostages when he returned to them many had started wishing all their stars for theirs.

"I wanted to be professional, adult, cooperative with Mr. Silph." He started, biting into his meal. "After all we had a work history that built the very foundations of this company. I see some of you who were there when that period happened." Those in question had hunched down, avoiding Archer's sight. "But unfortunately, old man Joe didn't see it that way, so he won't be joining us for, say, the rest of his life."

A hushed worry had crossed over the crowd.

"Oh God."

"He's lying, he can't possibly be dead!"

"Everything's fine, everything's fine, everything's fine."

Ellen had, with her congregation of yuppies and coked up friends, had tried to settle themselves, basically vibrating. If there was one solace with being left with Danny tonight, Hops had figured they both could be disdained over them.

Danny had found his seat by the rocks forming the pond in the center of the room, head held in his hands as that news was declared. "Hops," he said once, garnering the Grovyle's attention. Ever since he had been left with him, the Grovyle tried to be useful, consoling the younger Pokémon and the more skittish Humans even. That was all he could do as he looked to his partner's husband. "She's gonna get herself killed."

He growled at the thought. Growled at it just like how he couldn't bring himself to a run or feel a real fight within himself. The other Pokémon though, with the Rocketeers, nothing had seemed to be wrong with them. He felt lethargic, and fighting against it tired him out.

"Yeah?" Danny lifted his head from his hands. "How can you say that after what just happened?"

Hops had growled again. Have more faith in your wife. He had sounded of.

"And am I not allowed to worry then?"

Hops had wished he had some wheat to chew, then and there, grinding his teeth. Though this was childish. The last thing that Danny needed was anger, and he knew that he was being unfair. He was a good trainer, a good man, despite his faults.

Then just think about what she's going through.

The Grovyle and Danny locked eyes, a moment of understanding, even clarity, before a scream echoed through the hostages. There had been a clear view of the elevators, one of them dinging open. The guards on hand had sprung, confused, until one had rounded into sight of the elevator, yelling out for his compatriots to come over as he pushed the hostages back from getting a closer look.

The heavily armed, lax guard had gone rigid, gun drawn as he pointed it all the hostages and single handedly quieted them.

Hops had again jumped on Danny as he stood up to see himself:

The hostages had seen at the same time what all the Rocketeers saw:

A body, a Rocketeer with his black top gone, only revealing his bloody undershirt with bullet holes in it, one squarely in his head as well. The most peculiar detail had been what was written across his chest:


Archer had ran to it, dropping his sandwich and entering the elevator to see one of the worst things to happen: Someone had gotten the jump, and then some, of one of his men.

Someone had been a threat.

December 24th

8:30 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

It was easy, jamming the elevator between floors after she loaded his body in and propped it up, sending it down as she ridden on top of it. Harder was for her to just lay there, so close to the hostages.

The blue haired ringleader repeated her written words slowly, McCain getting some morbid amusement from it. Archer was annoyed surely, and also himself morbidly intrigued, approaching his body, slowly, two fingers out and pressing upon the lettering and then holding those fingers to his nose. He seemed relieved, McCain assuming that he thought it was written in the man's blood.

Peering through the gap between elevator and door she counted how many armed men she could see. Four indistinct figures through the tiniest of cracks: to peer any further would risk revealing herself.

She had taken a marker back from the table, black again, using her right arm this time as a note taking pad. Four marks, at least, and then a fifth, she putting a strike through that.

All of them had been masked save for Archer. Curious, she thought.

Though it had been Archer. She had seen his picture recently, some paparazzi piece of him in Alola apparently spending some of his legitimately made cash on luxury. The man did work at Silph legally for quite a while to build up his wealth; Arceus and the Holy Savior knew it was a lie if McCain didn't know that Danny had been making the same money now with the promotion.

Enough for her to quit working and return home and live a quiet life.

"What're we gonna do?" One of the gunmen had asked as he came into the elevator as well. Behind him his Pokémon, an Arbok, slithered ready, its head bobbing up at the air. It was smelling something.

There wasn't much McCain could do about her pissed pants. The noses of Pokémon were a factor she could never truly account for, but she did her best, laying on oil and grease from the elevator, it masking her scent enough that the Arbok wrote it off for the moment.

Archer had crossed his arms, only after reaching out, palming his nostrils and mouth. Still warm. "Tell Cheren to radio Blue and bring him up." he said, quietly, concerned. Quickly she had reached to the bag and the radio, thumbing the audio control down so as to not pick up the message. She couldn't afford being caught on that. "Don't tell him anything, I'll take care of it." With one last remorseful look at the dead man he finally looked away, back to the crowd of hostages. "Store Lillie's body in one of the tarps we brought the equipment in. We'll take him when we finish here."

Cheren. Blue. Lillie. She knew those names. The entire damn world did. Two were Gym Leaders, and of them one was also former champion of the region they were in. The last, if she remembered correctly, had been some world renown Pokémon Scientist and Rehabilitator. It was too much of a coincidence that they had been named the same to her, and also the man she killed being a Lillie was also doubtful. It didn't take more than a few moments of thought to rationalize this idea:

It was a novel idea, if anything. Using the names of world-renowned trainers as their own to allow proper communications out loud, but to still obfuscate their identities. If they escaped, and the investigators needed names if they were heard, namedropping the heroes of the world would've done nothing. To simply say "Team Rocket" also would've muddied the waters. She wasn't in the justice intelligence community anymore, but had her contacts. She would've known if Rocket had truly been back on the rise.

Something was up, a massive piece of subterfuge that she couldn't formulate entirely yet.

Beneath the radio frequency on her left arm she wrote down their names just so he could identify if she had the opportunity, all but Archer himself had covered their faces with some sort of balaclava or mask. It was still a point of curiosity to McCain that Archer himself didn't, but the man had always been some showboat anyway, and if this still, past the beyond violent execution, was still a Rocket plan, there needed to be someone like him up-top she figured.




Lillie. His name written down and crossed off like the tally marks on her right arm.

"Come on Archer," one of the gunmen in the elevator had pressed Archer, out of view for her above. "We have to do something about this."

Archer responded in a repeated answer. "We're going to tell Blue his brother is dead."

Every person had a life. A family. A mother and father. Sons or daughters maybe. Loving Pokémon, hopefully. They were raised into this world and how they went out was tragic, almost every time. The tragedy of her killing Lillie tonight was that she had killed someone's brother. She told herself the truth though, remembering what that meant, craning her head down and trying to get enough of an angle at the crowd of hostages that she saw three more gunmen guarding at least. She tried her best to see her own family.

While she was doing that Lillie's body was wheeled out, the screaming from hostages starting as they saw a dead man probably for the first time in their lives. "Hey Cheren!" She heard a man scream. "Radio Blue, and get his ass up here! Nothing more or less!"

The radio message was sent and above her the other elevator had begun to whir from below in the other shaft, peering over as she tallied up three more people on her right hand, she couldn't look before her own elevator, in order to be more efficient in terms of elevator business, was sent upward and the door before her close. Bracing herself on the cable pulley, she passed by twenty floors in an instant, glad that she already been on her belly when in an abrupt stop, she was sent to the top floor.

Luck showed favor to her for the first time that night. She was planning to be up there anyway, clambering up to the maintenance scaffolding from the elevator itself, into what was most likely the maintenance hub for the elevators on the roof of the building, wires and left behind tools left behind as she felt the frigidity of the air. She was glad that she had a sweater on, for, only now remembering, she had only her underwear on beneath.

On concrete flooring again from the scaffolding, the maintenance access hub lit brightly by fluorescents, she took note, fan grates offering peeks at the Saffron City below, confirming that was on the roof. A door was spotted around a corner and up more stairs besides an electrical generator, heavy and metal with a push bar. Crudely as she went for it several pinup posters for lonely maintenance workers had been plastered on an electrical box on the wall. Mostly women. One Gardevoir.

She shook her head, her breath letting out her thoughts: "Creeps."

She didn't think twice about tearing them down as she passed, feeling the frigid air of Saffron as she finally went out to the roof, one hundred stories up.

Even in his placated state, Hops knew when a fight was brewing. He could smell it on the air and his ears alerted him to what many of the more predator Pokémon also picked up on in that room. Peering through the guards, back toward the personal offices, had been nothing less than a table being overturned by a man murderous.

A single gunman had come from the elevator after the body that had emerged from the elevator had been carted away. Hops and Danny knew right away what that meant. Either they were all going to die because of her, or they were all going to be saved, and honestly the gulf between both options had been thin enough to still worry. Still, Hops didn't blame her, if he were in her shoes (or lack thereof if he had known) he would've done the same thing. He wouldn't have left them.

Beckoned away by Archer into an office visible by the hostages, there was no fluff or padding for time: the gunman erupted in a burst of anger as he was told the truth, throwing stuff around the room and pulling his mask off until, after a few moments of well-deserved outrage, his shoulders taken by Archer and shoved against the windows toward the hostage group.

"Don't look!" One of the guards yelled at those that had picked up the commotion, waving his rifle at them. Hops did however, through the legs of those he hid behind.

Maybe, if it hadn't been for whatever was happening to him, his senses would've been fully up, and he would've heard this:

"God dammit! God dammit Archer! I need whoever the hell who he thinks he is dead! You hear me!?" The gunman named Blue had reached back and grabbed Archer's collar as Archer grabbed his shoulder. In that moment of weakness Archer had control. He always did. The two other Rocketeers with him in that room did nothing but watch on. Damning the lack of air he was getting Blue had ripped his mask off, damn close to hyperventilating. A young man, younger than most. The only younger had been Silver, still working away at the vault. To see pain in his eyes, Archer hadn't been insensitive.

"You'll have their body!" Archer yelled at him back, to his face, spit being exchanged between the both of them. "But not at the cost of what we're trying to achieve here! If you go off the plan Lex won't have time to break into the vault and Lyra won't be able to plant the detonators! We'll all be dead!"

Blue had burned. "So we're just gonna let my brother's killer loose on us?! My own flesh and blood Archer!"

Archer had slapped the man for even implying, yelling back at him before he could do anything else. "Once the vault is broken through and our escape route secured, we'll call the police and let them fumble about for hours trying to negotiate! Then you can tear this god forsaken building apart! If not well-" Archer looked back at the hostages, really meaning what he said when he called this building god forsaken. He despised what it meant to his life, to Team Rocket's life, and to Giovanni's. "They will be dealt with all the same."

"Just let me loose!" Blue spoke back, begging as a man does for his family. He was the younger brother, his face less worn than Lillie's. "Just me and my Pokémon!"

"No!" Archer yelled back at him again, pressing him more against the glass. "We have a plan!"

"And if he alters the plan?!"

Lillie was supposed to be one of the men holding down the front from an assault. One less man there against the police was taxing on the survivors, but with enough planning and firepower, could be compensated. Still, Blue had a point, Archer could admit that.

"Put on your mask, recompose. We'll handle it." An order, and that was that. They were professionals. Many of them not on the same particular record, but professionals and veterans of the illicit arts. Some more than others. Archer looked to the most experienced man, the most relaxed in that room, leaning against the desk with his battle rifle held as if a cane. He nodded slowly, once, to let Archer know that he approved of how he handled it. "May," Archer addressed him before turning to the other, "Calem. One of you go down to the defensive position. Make up for him."

May had pointed at Calem, and that was that, Calem going off down the elevator as Blue calmed himself.

Back out in the hostage pool Hops had made it back to Danny after another pace through the crowd. Enough calm and quiet had settled over the hostages, dealing with their situation, that they had finally talked amongst themselves, revealing injuries from the original corralling. Danny had once roamed lands on his own, first aid was in his repertoire. He made himself useful there instead of just laying idle, worrying about his wife. The Grovyle tapped against his leg, drawing his attention as he finished applying a makeshift splint to one of the secretaries. "What's up?"

Hops could only bob his head ever so slightly, but Danny understood. A worried look had been put on his face realizing what Hops meant. "She can't put herself in this position. It's been years since she's even done anything remotely like this." He rubbed his hand down his face remorsefully. "If she gets herself killed I swear to god." Fists formed in his hands, and, surprisingly, a claw gently pressed on one of them, the other tipping Danny's head up. Eye to eye. It was rare but they had done so for once, and as Danny looked into his beloved's first partner's eyes, he saw that they shared the same sentiment. If anything happened to her, they wouldn't care what happened to them. Not as long as the people that did anything to her paid.

Her capabilities, what she had been known for, not many people made the connection that Daniel McCain was indeed Janie McCain's husband. It took a while for her to assume his last name as a cop anyway. With the way Danny worked, and how long he stayed at the building afterhours, one might've mistaken that he didn't have a wife. A cursory look at his ring finger would've said otherwise however. It was a miracle no one recognized her at the party, beneath her rugged tan of Ranger work and a chip on her shoulder from a life she was brought back into; the booze and, perhaps, coke helped that disguise.

"I hope your wife made it out, McCain." A coworker had mumbled to him as he stood back up from those who had to lay down. Looking over his shoulder, Danny had to agree.

"Mayday! Mayday! Emergency! Anyone copy on this band? Team Rocket has returned to Silph, I repeat, Team Rocket has returned to Silph and-!" Her voice returned and was silenced as fast as anyone who hadn't known it could notice. The radios on the belts of some of the guards rang out before they realized that voice was none of theirs, shutting the radios off. In the office, Archer's own rang of the same tune. Danny's blood went as cold as Hops'.

Archer and Blue looked urgently at their radios, May dazing out, rolling his head, listening intently as the message went off again.

"I repeat! Team Rocket has returned to the Silph Building and are holding at least thirty or more hostages on the 83rd floor! They are armed with automatic weapons and dangerous Pokémon!" The voice was yelling, urgent, and, most dangerously, clear.

"A woman?" Blue hadn't realized that possibility admittedly. The language she spoke, it was of grit and familiarity. She wasn't separate from the person who killed his brother. She might've been that person. The message on Lillie's shirt did say we. "Security guard we missed?" Blue pressed further of Archer, the man thinking a bit as he listened to her voice.

"No. We checked the shifts. There was only one tonight scheduled. And usually they're just former police officers who are getting fat on pensions, this is something different…"

The IFF-antijammer module was readily apparent on the radios in the room. "How is she transmitting-"

May pointed up, his gesture whipping the air about. Their ECM was good, and the landlines were cut, but there was no need for them to put jammers all the way upstairs.

Archer's eyes widened. "The roof!"

May had pushed himself off the wall he was leaning on, ready to go, eager to go it seemed, but Blue had a better claim, waving the bigger man down and back. "I've got this." There was blood boiling in his words as he ran out, Archer not stopping him. "Rui! Serena! With me!"

Two guards had gone with, and even if May wanted to go, he couldn't. Archer looked at him, trying to see his eyes through dimmed goggles, not a speck of skin on him seen through his tactical gear. He was outfitted, more than anyone else, like a professional, and perhaps the right one to send. Archer couldn't say no though, not when Blue had felt pain fresh. "Stay here," he ordered, picking up his revolver from the desk. "We have to keep things in line."

On and on then, before he shut his radio off, Archer listened before returning to the main chambers. "Ten or more Team Rocket members including Archer himself all armed and dangerous, I repeat again! Team Rocket has returned to Silph!"