Whee, it's update time folks. More stuff happens in this chapter as I stretch a few things to make the plot start to work. Tschel is obviously well-informed, especially for a guy who hasn't hit 20 yet, but hey, this is animé land, kids are omnipotent. Oh yeah and we get to see one of the most interesting Rockets to ever see print ever in this chapter. --------------------------------------------------- The next few days were rough for Alex. He’d found himself leaning on Tschel—both figuratively and literally—for support after Marril had been stolen. He kept going over the battle in his head, unsure of how he could have won. Tschel liked the closeness with Alex although it hurt him to see Alex in such a mood. He’d tried to find where Team Rocket had taken Marril, but even he wasn’t able to get anywhere. He’d told Alex that he was going off to find some information, but he didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was a deal with the devil. In this case, it meant Tschel was going to a known Team Aqua base. Team Aqua had the most intelligence known to man pertaining to Team Rocket. At that moment, meeting with one of their field commanders, Tschel regretted his decision. “You want information on what?” The commander, a man roughly in his mid-thirties, asked. “All Rocket operations requiring Pokémon theft,” Tschel replied, venom in his voice. The commander tapped a few keys on his keyboard. “No can do, I’m afraid. Rocket attacked our main base a week or so ago and wiped our database clean.” Tschel glared at the man and stood up. “I’ll be looking at that if you don’t mind.” The commander scoffed. “Over my dead body.” About fifteen minutes later, the commander sprawled on the floor, unconscious, and Umbreon by Tschel’s side, Tschel finished reading Aqua’s database on Rocket operations. As he’d suspected, the commander was lying. There wasn’t, however, any project in progress that would involve Pokémon theft. He couldn’t imagine Team Rocket stealing a Marril for black-market trade like their racket with the Pokémon Lottery Corporation either. Marrils were common. Frustrated, Tschel stood up and headed out. The Aqua commander had conveniently decided to halt all patrols in the area. “Find anything?” Alex asked hopefully as Tschel got back to their room. It stung Tschel to answer truthfully. “No.” Alex looked at the floor and idly kicked the air in front of the foot of the bed he was sitting on. His feet made a quiet thump-thump sound as they hit the bed panel. Tschel sat down beside Alex and slowly drew Alex close to him. He felt guilty finding something good about all this, but he did feel that the situation drew him and Alex closer together. Thompson regarded the painting with a certain awe and reverence. “La Guerre de les Dieux”, it was called. The war of the gods. The painting depicted the three legendary birds over a pastoral, medieval-style town, destroying property with their elemental attacks. Villagers were frozen in the middle of mortal terror, knowing what was about to happen but forever doomed to live it out. Where to rest the eye? Thompson had a hard time deciding. Should he fix his gaze on Articuno, blowing a freezing gust over the crop fields, freezing farm Pokémon solid and turning a hot midsummer’s day into a freezing winter? Should he rather fix his gaze on Zapdos, burning houses with bolts of lightning? The property was being destroyed and the villagers fleeing, only to meet up with Moltres. Moltres, the phoenix, was forever frozen in the act of chasing down those poor villagers and burning them. Thompson couldn’t help shuddering as he looked at the painting. It was large, filling the entire wall, and it gave him a feeling of mortality that he’d wondered where it had gone. Innocent lives ruined and destroyed by beings beyond their comprehension. In a way, Thompson saw the painting as an allegory of his work with Team Rocket, specifically Project Orthan. This did not sit well in his stomach, either. While the scientists were a basically unethical lot, doing any job so long as they got paid, it was with a certain disgusted amazement that they watched the first, and thankfully also the first successful, test subjects of Orthan react well to post-modification treatment. The cost had been astronomical; to affect only a small handful—roughly six or seven hundred Pokémon of all types and breeds—cost millions. Sebastian would have to include this in his formal write-up. The room had been cleaned up from the procedures taking place in the previous week. The operation room was back to a sterile perfection that Sebastian found comforting. A general doctor and scientist, albeit unethical in both trades, he was amazed with the work of the men and women under him. “You’ve done well,” Sebastian said to thin air, he himself unsure of who he was addressing, “and you deserve the rewards of your labour.” “How flattering,” came a medium-pitch male voice from the doorway. “I haven’t even done anything yet and I’m already getting praise.” Sebastian jumped perhaps three feet in the air with surprise. The man in the Executive’s uniform extended a hand. “Hello, Executive Kenneth.” Sebastian regarded Kenneth. In his late twenties, Kenneth had slightly round features although there was a certain unsettling hardness to his face. Slightly shorter than average, Kenneth displayed an… unusual; Sebastian guessed would be the word, presence. “Or not,” Kenneth said, retracting his arm. “Why are you here?” Sebastian asked. “Making some sweeps of all secret Rocket bases,” Kenneth replied, pacing around the room. “Nice lab you’ve got here. You actually do things in this room, or is it just for show?” Yes, Sebastian told himself, the rumours about Kenneth being especially obnoxious were true. He decided that now would be the time for all good men to shut up. Kenneth proceeded to pace around the room, examining things and making more offhand comments. Eventually—after too long, thought Sebastian—he said “good work” and left. Kenneth brushed his dirty-blonde bangs out of his eyes and took his PDA out of his pocket. Tapping a few things with the stylus, making it look like he was working as he walked, his mind was focused entirely on what Stein had told him. Aqua having such information… it seemed unreal. He’d put on his usual obnoxious face when dealing with Stein, but the bulk of him was unsettled. Counter-Intelligence was good, and they’d have caught any electronic bugs or malicious computer viruses. The leak could have been many things, but Kenneth’s gut shouted “mole.” Kenneth glanced around to get his bearings straight. He was in the east wing of the base, near the Pokémon holding cells. The actual location meant little to him, and in fact he thought he was lucky to have wandered into one of the least trafficked ends of the base. He opened the door to the cell observation room and sat down in a chair. It was evening, so nobody else was there. He looked straight off into space, doing what most would probably call daydreaming or slacking. In fact, he was deep in thought, working out methods of detecting any moles and applying logic to determine the best possible means of finding him or her. Or, Kenneth prayed wasn’t the case, them. The amount of information gathered wasn’t possible for any one person to know; it was simply that much, even Giovanni wouldn’t know it all. This meant that the mole was in the tech division somewhere, probably somebody with a high level of clearance or somebody with good hacking expertise. Kenneth turned towards the computer at the desk. Normally meant for monitoring cells, it had access to the entire Rocket network… once Kenneth finished hacking said access in. He pulled up the list of every Rocket with listed hacking expertise. This wouldn’t give him an accurate list of suspects, but it did give him a starting point. Kenneth frowned as he was suddenly kicked from the server. It wasn’t the Rocket server’s own doing either. Hacking back in, Kenneth found it was a quickly programmed bot. Interesting, Kenneth thought. He hacked past it and found the name of the person who programmed it. Immediately after trying to go further, the computer outright crashed. A hard boot did nothing. His computer was flat kayoed. Kenneth smiled and picked up his cell phone. “Get me a full report on Agent Yowai Kirasawa,” Kenneth said. “And keep a record of all future actions he takes, no matter how minute.” Kenneth waited for confirmation and then closed the cell phone. “I am invincible,” he said to himself, mimicking a movie character he liked. The next morning, Juliet looked at the e-mail header for what seemed to be the fourth time. Agent Kirasawa was in detainment not an hour after he was tagged for monitoring. Kirasawa was a good hacker, good enough to hide his tracks from the Counter-Intelligence division. Juliet was reluctant to admit it, but Executive Kenneth caught the man with what appeared to be skill. “Lucky son of a…” Juliet muttered, rereading the e-mail. Kenneth had taken one train of thought, which had led him to his destination on the first try. There was no skill involved. Hitting “delete”, Juliet logged off her laptop computer and opened the blinds of her hotel window. She was on vacation, she reminded herself, and one does not work on vacation. The view was spectacular, Juliet noted, as she was on the highest floor. One could see over the entire city and have a clear view of the ocean. The offshore island with the Kirara City Battle Tower was plainly visible. Juliet went to pick up the Battle Tower schedule she’d left on the table in the room. Groaning at discovering it had fallen between the table and the TV, she bent over to pick it up. Life was so hard. “Next round’s at 11:30,” Juliet read silently to herself, “then at 1:30 then 4:30.” Juliet found that she actually couldn’t think of much else to do in the city. She had a few side bets on that psychic boy, David, she’d detained for a while before, and was more interested, albeit idly interested, to see if the odds on the scrub would pay off or not as opposed to doing random tourist activities in the city. Next time, Juliet mused, she’d have to cook up a fake identity and compete herself. --------------------------------------------------- Until next time folks, remember that the water mouse is your goddess. Also remember that Team Rocket is the uber team and that any others just aren't as rockety. Except for Team Space Ship, but I don't think anybody here remembers that fic.