Disclaimer: Oh, the things I would do if I owned the rights to the series. Sabrina would be scandalized. Fortunately for her, Pokemon is the property of Nintendo, Satoshi Tajiri, and a various and sundry lot of other people not including yours truly.
Notes: Based (if you squint) off of the Pokemon Special manga and follows the continuity set up by "Patchouli," "Analyze," and "Lucky." It can be read alone, but you may as well read them in order; I do. Three cheers to the 1_sentence Livejournal community for this one, although, as you may note, it happens to be considerably longer than one sentence.
Over the course of the past three days, Sabrina had had no more than ten hours sleep all combined. Even if the clock in her borrowed bedroom hadn't told her so, she'd have known; she had schooled herself to perfect her internal clock, after all. And there were the physical signs: the slight slump to her shoulders, where exhaustion and a recently-healed back strained against strict posture schooling; the telltale shadows under her eyes, giving her a stark look. Then again, her all-black clothing hardly helped.
Sabrina liked black; it reminded her of her uniform. She'd rather have been in her uniform, would have gladly exchanged her cashmere sweater, warm as it was, for something, anything, with an R on the chest. Right now she'd give anything for her scarlet letter. Celadon or Saffron, it hardly mattered, as long as it wasn't Indigo Plateau and as long as she wouldn't have yet another holiday fete to—what? Certainly not look forward to. (If she'd had more sleep, she thought, she'd have come up with the word. But then again, she ought to have more control over herself and not excuse her lack of precision.) In any case, if not for the sneaking suspicion that the responsible party was her own sister, she would have declared eternal enmity with the person who had become fed up with the spotty turnout at the annual Indigo Plateau holiday gathering and tacked it on to the end of the Global Conference, for which attendance was mandatory.
She could hardly tolerate the entirety of Indigo Insulae's Gym Leaders and Elite at the best of times, and to be joined by Houen's and Shinou's was hardly to be borne. Three days, and she'd battled seventeen times. Challenges were inevitable at a gathering such as this. At least the Indigo Leaders knew her strength, and respected it. Sabrina hardly liked having to prove herself, especially again and again with no refractory period. And she hardly liked having to drill her Pokemon that way, either. If she was worn from too much coffee and not enough sleep, the Pokemon were drained. They'd won, of course, but failing a glove on her shoulder, she was refusing the next challenge for their sake.
Then again, she reminded herself, if she was disciplining herself to patience with one day to go, she ought to have sympathy for Giovanni. She had had to leave her post as an Elite and trust in her subordinates to manage their responsibilities, ignoring the vague sense of ominousness she'd felt when she left Celadon City. He had left his post as leader of the entire Team Rocket, and his immediate subordinates—his Elites—had left alongside him. If Sabrina knew her Boss, he'd be quietly fretting about whether or not those he'd left in charge had managed to comport themselves well, and carrying on short, coded phone conversations when he determined he couldn't be overheard.
Thanks to years of acquaintance and observation, she did know her Boss. Giovanni stepped onto the balcony at that moment, his cell phone to his ear.
"If that's what you've done about it," he was saying, "then why—" He started as he saw Sabrina emerge from the murk of the shadows, but relaxed again as he recognized her face. He greeted her with a quick smirk, the closest he'd ever get to a smile, but it was distracted. He returned to his phone conversation, leaning on the balcony rail. "In any case. Why call me now?"
He listened to the faceless voice on the other end of the line, his face calm but the set of his shoulders betraying his irritation, tension, and—fear? Surely not, Sabrina thought, but anything that stirred Giovanni out of his normal schooled calm was worth attention. Not attention from non-Rockets, though, and accordingly she concentrated to set one of her "do-not-notice" shields around the balcony. It operated purely off of psychic suggestion; anyone who got within three feet of the balcony would feel the urge to go somewhere else. She had to focus harder than normal. Control, she hissed to herself, closing her eyes and bearing down on her power as it oozed slowly from her centers like the dregs at the bottom of a bottle. Ten hours of sleep in three days, seventeen battles, and she hadn't been out of hospital for more than a week. But that was no excuse, and she gritted her teeth and fairly chased her power around the balcony.
When she was finished, Giovanni was still speaking "Yes, I appreciate being notified, but I'm not sure what you expect me to be able to do about it from Indigo." Long pause. He listened, his fingers tightening around the balcony rail. "If it does, it does. If it can't be contained now, I certainly can't see the point in trying to contain it once it's out. Why are you phoning me instead of the scientists?"
The new project, Sabrina realized. Something must have gone wrong in Cinnabar.
"The last time I checked, I was not one of the scientists in charge of this operation," Giovanni pointed out. He spoke mildly. Sabrina knew him well enough to feel pity for whoever was on the other line; Giovanni only schooled his voice when he was trying to stifle the urge to fire someone or commit homicide.
"Has the building actually blown up yet?" He looked at Sabrina and rolled his eyes, but beside his attempt at graceful ennui he looked tense. "No? Good. I thought not, as I'd have seen the flames from here. I suggest you hang up the phone and phone Blaine. He laid the sticks for this fire, and in any case, he is more likely to be able to help you tonight. I will speak with him as well. As for the experiment, contain it if you can, but don't be fools if you can't. Yes. I appreciate your letting me know. Do try to find pretense to get out of the lab tonight, it would be a pity to lose a loyal agent." He snapped the phone shut in his hand and stared out over the balcony, into the dark. "I wasn't aware that I was in the habit of hiring total idiots."
Sabrina raised an eyebrow, inviting him to continue. He raised an eyebrow in question, and she nodded; he was familiar with her "do-not-notice shields," as she had used them many times in the past to ensure that private conversations remained private. No matter how uncomfortable she was wearing clothing unmarked by the red R, there was, after all, a time and a place.
"Apparently the latest project is waking up earlier than expected."
"How delightful," Sabrina said. She matched his unruffled tone. "An error in calculations?"
"An error in procedure. Apparently the DNA sample was insufficient and they improvised with available materials."
"I… see. I hope they added it from a psychic." She could see the logic in it, and after all, if they selected a particularly strong Alakazam, the creature's psychic powers wouldn't be sufficiently compromised.
Giovanni's lips tightened. "Not many humans have your gift."
For an instant her instinct completely bypassed her schooling and she gasped, but in an eyeblink she had herself back under control. "Have they lost their minds? Whose did they use? They might have completely nullified its psychic abilities."
"At present, I believe they are more concerned about its ability to escape the laboratory. Its container was modeled after a PokeBall."
Her lips tightened. "And they didn't think of that, I suppose."
"Apparently not." He stared straight ahead again. She could tell that he'd be smashing plates later; he'd once remarked that it was a very satisfying way of blowing off steam, and kept a stack of mismatched china in his office for that express purpose. "I'm disappointed in Blaine. He showed such promise. Anyone may err on occasion, I suppose, but this is a rather large mistake to make."
Sabrina had her own thoughts about the inevitability of error, but kept silent. "I should go," she said instead.
"I am the most powerful human psychic," she said. It wasn't arrogant; it was true. "I may be able to help."
"No," Giovanni said, more forcefully than he'd intended. She looked at him, surprised. "We have no idea how strong this creature actually is. You've only just gotten out of hospital; I can't afford to have you out of commission again."
She filed her lips down to a narrow line. "I know my strength."
"I don't intend to insult you," he said, his voice gentler. And it was because he did not wish to insult her and her already-shaky pride that he didn't take her hand, which was trembling with exhaustion. "When the experiment breaks free, I expect it to take the entire lab with it. I cannot afford to have you on that island when that happens." He paused, and when he resumed his voice was brisk. "In any case, I don't want this incident traced back to us. I'm going to let the lab take the fall, I suppose; they laid the kindling on the fire, and I can't see much of an alternative. I certainly wasn't aware of their little improvisation and I don't intend to be blamed for it."
"I could stop it," Sabrina said, deliberately stilling her hands. "My training—"
"—has not prepared you to fight against something with that sort of power," Giovanni interjected. "I apologize, but we do not know precisely how strong this experiment is. All we know is that it is capable of projecting strongly enough to affect the entire laboratory even through its container and the shields, and strong enough to crack its container from the inside a month before it was scheduled to reach full maturity. You have trained your entire life to be the most powerful human psychic in the known world, and I do not demean that. But this experiment is modeled after a god."
For an instant Sabrina flashed back to her childhood, hand in hand with her grandmother, placing an offering at the shrine of Mew at the New Year in hopes that her heart was pure enough for the benevolent creatress to reward her oblation with a wish. She suspected that no amount of burning incense would help her now. "The human DNA may have neutralized it somewhat."
Giovanni raised his eyebrow at her. "Yes, it's neutralized its power so well that I just had a phone call about how it's about to break out of its container and blow up our lab. I've invested quite a bit in that lab and that project; I don't like losing it without a fight, especially as it stands to take a number of agents with it."
"I will fight for it," Sabrina said, but Giovanni wasn't listening.
"Listen to me, Sabrina," he said, and his voice was low, but edged so finely that she felt its pressure and looked up. She could hardly make out his eyes in the dark. "I forbid you from leaving here. I cannot risk losing you. You are far too valuable to me."
His gaze bore into her for a moment, before he broke eye contact, sighed, and looked back out over the balcony into the cold sky. She turned to look at the stars, too, analyzing the root of the tension in her neck. It wasn't just the newly-healed bones. But she had her orders and would obey them.
"What will you do if the experiment breaks free?" she asked him suddenly.
He shrugged, not looking at her. "That will depend on what it does. Ideally, it takes after Mew and flees into the mountains and we never see it again, nor do we need to. We chalk it up to a series of errors. Certain scientists in my employ are no longer in my employ—I will ask your help to make sure they do not take any memories of the project with them when they go."
"And not ideally?"
"The same thing I would do to anything that wanted to kill," he said. "Survive. By whatever means." He paused. "Then I will need your help, Sabrina."
"You will let me clean up, but not head off a disaster," she said, and she was so cold and so tired and so aware of the pain in her back, and of his awareness, too, that she ignored both her imprecision of language and the bitterness in her tone.
"Whatever happens in the lab will be destructive. There is a good chance that whatever happens after won't be."
"I hope it heads for the mountains," Sabrina said, and "hope" was such a foreign word for her that Giovanni turned to look at her.
"What's bothering you so much about this, Sabrina?"
She hesitated, having the same trouble articulating it as she had identifying it, her mind fuzzy with exhaustion. "If it is psychic after all, with its human DNA…" she said slowly. "There are so few of us. I cannot fathom why it would not be sentient, either. And it will be very much alone." That was hardly the extent of her discomfort, but she couldn't find the words.
Giovanni understood, and silence blanketed them for several minutes until Giovanni spoke again.
"You said earlier you would fight."
"Would you fight the experiment, or fight for the experiment?"
Sabrina quirked a hint of a smile at him. "That would depend on what it does."
"And if it strikes to kill you?"
"I do what I must."
"It has only an infinitesimal amount of human DNA."
"The rest of its DNA belongs to a god." For some reason she felt peevish.
Giovanni took a deep breath. "What do you think it will do?"
"I have never met it. I cannot predict its behavior."
"Could you say with reasonable certainty that it wouldn't try to kill you?"
She hesitated. She had no basis on which to hypothesize. But she had been contained—within her own body, within her own head, within a hospital bed. She had hardly liked it. She'd felt sparks when she woke unable to move, and the tingling in her fingers that meant her control over her temper was about to shake. All she needed was something to ignite. "No," she said slowly. "I do not think I could make that prediction."
Giovanni sighed. "That's that, then."
"I beg your pardon?"
He shook his head. "Never mind."
"You were thinking you might let me go down to Cinnabar."
"Are you reading my mind?" He looked at her sharply.
She held his gaze. "Just your face."
He raised his hand off the balcony, towards her, as if he meant to cover her hand with his. Then he set it down. "I was thinking that, yes." He looked out at the night sky again. "I cannot risk you, Sabrina."
Sabrina nodded slowly. "So you've said." Her mind worked around his words, but came up with nothing she could identify. She was too tired. Tomorrow, when she'd slept, she would analyze more.
She shivered, suddenly, although the wind hadn't bothered her before. He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. "Let's go in," he said abruptly. "I need to talk to Blaine anyway, if he hasn't had the presence of mind to leave yet. Nothing we can do from out here, in any case, but wait for the fallout." Courteous as always, he offered her his arm.
There was mistletoe over the doorway from the balcony into the Great Hall of Indigo Plateau, and although Sabrina took no notice, Giovanni looked up, then at her. When she paused to take off her heavy wool cloak, he spared a glance out at the balcony, but it was dark.
He offered his arm again when she'd hung her cloak and they walked together into the Hall, leaving the balcony behind them as they made pretense at celebrating the season, waiting for the sky over Cinnabar Island to blossom into fire.