Beach Episode (But Not The Fanservicey Kind)

Author's Note: Well, there's a little fanservice. And one could argue that the whole verse counts as fanservice to me in the "cute people doing cute things that appeals to fans" sense. Also, look at me, having opinions on current Pokemon Go events. Seriously, Shadow Raids suck. Whose idea was it to make raids that most groups couldn't beat for a Pokemon that nobody needs?

Can you come over?
I made a video I want to show you.
just text it to me
Can't. This is an unsecured channel.
Just meet me at HQ. I'm really proud of it.
I'll be right over.

Once Spark arrived at Team GO Rocket's menacing building in the woods, he waited outside by the Pokemon stables for Arlo to swipe him in. From there, Arlo directed them to his computer, vibrating and talking at great length and speed about all of the CGI he'd worked on for the latest promotional video along the way. Right before he hit play on his computer, Spark had a realization.

"Uh, are you sure you should be showing me this? Doesn't it count as a trade secret?"

"It'll be on the social medias in a couple days anyway and the plans are already in motion. There's nothing meaningful you can do against it. Come on, hit play! I did all the graphics and filming and I'm super proud of it; they don't usually let me do promos like this."

Spark watched the video, which ended up taking much longer than its 58-second length because of Arlo pausing to chime in about exactly how he did every effect.

"See where the gym's being hacked from my watch? I actually got that from doing a screen recording on my glasses and manipulating the forced perspective. Took me, like, 2 hours to work out."

"Hehe, Sierra was so mad that I got to be in front in this group shot, but hey, I'm the one taking the picture so who is she to judge? Besides, I look so cool."

"So? What did you think?"

"It's a great video, Arlo." Spark reached down and tousled his hair. After all, he was just so cute when he got excited like this. "Now, you do know that I'm obligated to tell the other team leaders about this."

"Okay. Do it. You can't stop us anyway so who cares?"

At Spark's request, Arlo had given him the video on a flash drive, which Spark plugged into his laptop as he passed it around the Willow lab's meeting room table.

"So yeah, that's what Arlo showed me. Looks like they're going to take over all our gyms and install their own Shadow Pokemon as raid bosses. Guess they've got a bunch of Mewtwo somewhere in the big complex downtown. So, what are we going to do about this?"

Blanche had pulled the laptop closer to them and was scrolling through the video's timeline, examining each section. "It appears that they will take over the gyms long enough to provide the raid, and then will depart of their own accord. And if any trainers in the gyms and standard raid bosses are ousted, then there is no risk of them harming our trainers or gathering recon that would present a security risk."

"And whatever Giovanni wants, he's probably already got it. And it's not like either we or Arlo and friends know what he wants." Blanche had passed over the laptop, although Candela appeared to be more interested in looking just about anywhere else. " we really need to do anything?"

"You can not be suggesting that we --"

"Let her finish, Blanche. She might have a point."

"Well, it looks like they're actually hacking the gyms from inside. It's not the same process as them using components on Pokestops or trainers taking down gyms, so we probably can't get them out until they leave of their own accord. And hey, if they're supplying the Shadow raid bosses..."

"...then that means we don't have to and the trainers will come themselves to rescue them! I'm picking up what you're putting down."

"This is a gross violation of protocol. You can not be suggesting that we --"

"Come on, Blanche. It's not like we can really do anything about this and basically, the Rockets are offering to do our jobs for the weekend. They have their fun, they get whatever Giovanni wants from the gyms, the trainers rescue a bunch of Mewtwo, everyone's happy, and we deal with the actual evil plans when they happen. This is probably just a distraction from whatever they're gonna do for Go Fest anyway."

"True. And much as I loathe to admit it, you are likely right that whatever was required of them on the back end to hack into the gyms, they have already implemented it so we would not be able to remove them."

"And besides, I know how raid bosses work. I've been supplying them since 2017, after all. Once the event's scheduled and the Pokeballs are loaded into the gyms, everything else runs automatically. It doesn't really require our input. Only thing I'd be concerned about is that I think there's a chance that the combo of the Shadow Pokemon formula and the animum boosting on raid bosses might make the bosses enraged. We should probably make something to calm them down while trainers fight them."

Blanche sighed and wrote down some notes on their tablet. "I'll have my team get on that."

Candela returned Spark's laptop and he smiled upon processing everything his colleagues had discussed.

"So what I'm getting from this is that we really don't need to be there this weekend, do we? After all, we probably can't get Team Rocket out if they've already hacked the gyms, the trainers will already be there to hunt their shinies and stats and whatnot without us having to remind them, and the raids will operate automatically. If the Rocket leaders are doing our jobs for us this weekend, we can take some time off! Gods know I could use it."

"You just want to smooch on your boyfriend. Who, need I remind you, is one of the forces of evil. And my ex."

"He's not really evil; he's just doing his job."

"Yeah, that's what they all say. So, what do we wanna do with our weekend off? I say we go to the beach!"

"...I thought you hated the ocean."

"That's not relevant! It'll be fun."

"All operations are ready. Initiating the Mewtwo raid eggs now."

Arlo clicked a button on the rim of his glasses to end his live audio feed with Archer and made some gestures on his phone screen, sending messages via remote connection to all the nearby Pokemon gyms and readying the Pokeballs containing the Shadow Mewtwos for raids. The raids ran automatically on a given schedule once he gave the gyms the go-ahead to add them to the rotation, so there really didn't need to be a human attendant, but at admin's insistence, he'd installed grunts from his units at each gym to monitor the raids and make sure everything was going swimmingly. His work concluded, he flopped back down on his bed. After all, since the grunts were handling the hardware and the software operated automatically, he didn't need to go out, right?

His phone buzzed and he turned over to check it in case one of his grunts had noted technical difficulties, but rather than that, it was a text from Spark saying that his team leader trio had made the executive decision to ditch chaperoning the Shadow Raids, figuring that the grunts were covering their jobs for them and their trainers could call if they needed them. So they'd decided to use their day off to go to the beach, on Candela's suggestion, and Spark was wondering if Arlo would want to come with. They even said that he could bring the other two GO Rocket leaders if they were interested. If they were, the team leaders could pretty easily swing by the menacing building in the woods to pick them up. Arlo replied, stating that he was definitely interested in hanging out with his cute boyfriend on the beach and that he'd ask the other two. He emerged from his room into the kitchen and common area, in which Cliff and Sierra were sitting on opposite sides of the couch, scrolling through their respective phones and ignoring the feed of the Shadow Raids' progress showing on the common room TV screen.

"Hey, the team leaders are going to the beach and --"

"If you want to hang out with your boyfriend, go ahead. You already set up all the mechanics for the Shadow Raids on the software side, right? So all your grunts will need to do is push buttons, and I think even they can handle that." Sierra rolled her eyes and returned to her phone.

"Well, yeah, I was interested in hanging out with Spark, but also, he asked if you both wanted to come with. After all, they have space in the van and it's not like either of us really need to be working today."

"Eh, why not? It might be useful for recruitment."

"Oh, Sierra, all you ever think about is work. You need to loosen up a little bit! Have some fun! Anyway, I love the beach! You meet such interesting people there. Let me go to the garage and grab my stuff! Tell your friends they can meet us out front!"

Cliff rushed off towards the garage, beaming all the while. Sierra and Arlo both rolled their eyes at the display.

"Yeah. What Cliff said. Tell Spark we can meet him out front. I'm going to go get my swimsuit. Do you have one that's acceptable since you got your surgery?"

"I...actually don't. I never went swimming before for...obvious reasons, so I never bothered to get one after I outgrew the one my mom got me for my Pokemon journey. I guess we can stop at a surf shop or something along the way so I can pick something up. They've probably got generic black swim trunks."

"Yeah, generic and black seems to be your favorite style."

The Professor Willow Lab's official vehicle, something in between a large minivan and a miniature school bus in the trademark color scheme of white and green, pulled up into the driveway of the menacing building in the woods, at which the Team GO Rocket trio waited: Cliff with a whole set of items including an umbrella, several towels, and a boom box and wearing a gaudy Alolan shirt covered with designs of Flabebe, Sierra with a T-shirt from a previous Team Rocket summit over a bikini, and Arlo in his Tyranitour T-shirt, jeans, an absurd amount of sunscreen, and his usual smart glasses exchanged for identically shaped sunglasses with red lenses. Cliff dropped off his supplies in the trunk and the 3 of them loaded themselves into the back of the van, behind the team leaders.

"Hey, it looks like there's a surf shop on the right. Can we stop? I don't have a swimsuit that fits."

Blanche imperceptibly nodded, keeping their eyes fixed on the road the whole time, and pulled into the surf shop's parking lot.

"Does anybody else need anything? If not, I'm inclined to let Spark and Arlo go in by themselves. If yes, get out now. The rest of us will stay in the car. I'm turning off the engine, but I can roll down windows if you get hot."

Spark and Arlo exited the van, along with Cliff, the other Rocket leader raving about all of the cute Alolan shirts, novelty towels, and plastic creatures that used tiny solar panels to power them rocking back and forth in your windshield. Arlo, gleefully accompanied by Spark, looked in the aisle directory for men's swimsuits, approached, found a pair of black swim trunks and a black rash guard shirt that seemed acceptable, tried them on in the fitting room to make sure they fit, and satisfied, proceeded to the checkout, much to Spark's disappointment.

"That's it? But there's so much cute stuff here!"

"I needed a swimsuit. I got a swimsuit."

"Do you really need the rash guard shirt? After all, since you've gotten your surgery, you could go topless."

"I don't want to get sunburned and saltwater makes me itch. Besides, you get to see me topless on a regular basis."

"Yeah, but this time, I get to show off my hot boyfriend!"

"Maybe you can show me off somewhere that isn't full of abrasive sand and other minerals. Right, Spark? ...Spark?"

Arlo turned around, noticing Spark was no longer behind him in the checkout line, having paused and staring forlornly at a tank of Dwebbles with painted shells.

"Oh no..."

"Spark? I'm about to check out. Is something wrong?"

"I hate it when tourist traps sell these. The tanks they give out are too small and don't contain any places for the Pokemon to hide and the painted shells glue them in so when they outgrow them, they die if they don't suffocate from the fumes first. I end up getting a lot of these in Instinct HQ from folks who abandon them without realizing what care they require and a lot of them I can't save. But I can save these."

"Yeah, it's sad, but it's better not to engage. After all, buying them just encourages the tourist traps to get more."

In the space it took for Arlo to say that, Spark had loaded all of the Dwebble into a terrarium he apparently carried in his backpack and returned to the checkout line.

"I can save these. I'll put them in Pokeballs when we get back to the car and then I can get them new rocks when I get back to HQ and let the trainers adopt them. You're going to be okay, little guys. Spark is here for you."

Arlo sighed and started advancing through the checkout line, hoping that he and Spark would get through before he noticed the rack of baby Tirtouga on tiny plastic islands. They returned to the car, Blanche putting their head in their hands at seeing Spark's filled terrarium.

"I take it that someone made some new friends. Arlo, did you get your swimsuit?" He held up the swimsuit. Blanche nodded. "Spark, I know you want to help, but it's better in the long term not to buy them and raise awareness about the painted shells being cruel. That way you can cut off demand."

"But I can save these Dwebble, Blanche, and that's what matters."

"You know, you could just steal them. That way you get to save them without contributing to exploitative capitalism. Besides, I'm sure that even Blanche can agree that stealing a Pokemon to save it from being mistreated is okay, right?"

"No comment. Is Cliff still in the store? I'm not even sure what he needed."

"Cliff just likes all things pertaining to bad taste. He's probably going to run out of there with a bunch of eye-searing Alolan shirts, low quality beach towels and boogie boards, an umbrella, and a little dancing Lopunny for his windshield."

At that comment from Arlo, Cliff emerged, not carrying an umbrella or boogie boards like Arlo had predicted, but bearing several beach towels and Alolan shirts, all bearing brightly colored patterns of flora, fauna, and oceanic designs slung across both shoulders, and carrying, of course, a tiny, solar-powered dancing Lopunny, which rocked back and forth disappointingly. He beamed staring down at it.

"Hi, Arlo! I see you got your swimsuit. You know, you really should have looked around more, they've got some super cute stuff!"

"If you're so concerned about exploitative capitalism, maybe you should talk to him about impulse control...anyway, if everyone's out and nobody needs to attend to their biological needs, get in the car. The beach is only about 5 minutes out. By the way, I know from experience taking research teams there that the bathrooms and changing rooms are filthy. If you didn't wear your swimsuits under your clothes, you may want to change in the van. We can get out if that makes you more comfortable. Also, there are sand removers at the entrance. Use them when you come back in. I refuse to vacuum out any more sand than I have to."

By the time Blanche had finished their spiel, the leaders (and Rhi) had arrived at the beach, and after they had changed into their swimsuits, scanned the provided facilities for entertaining places to disperse. After Cliff had set up his towels and umbrella as a base for the group, his eyes lit up at seeing an ongoing game of volleyball and he rushed over to join a group of teens in remarkably conservative swimsuits given the location in regards to the college district. On the other side of the beach, a less conservatively dressed group of young adults had half of the group splashing in the water while the others challenged each other to dares, probably spurred on by the overpriced fruity drinks they carried. Candela had pinpointed a food stall near the center of the beach as the source of said overpriced fruity drinks and made a beeline in that direction while Blanche and Rhi had various instruments equipped to examine the beach's environment. Blanche scanned the ground as they walked for bits of plastic trash, washed-up Tentacool that needed to be returned to the water, and small Pokemon trapped in tide pools. Rhi didn't get as far. After xyr boots sank into the sand, xe stared at the substrate with confusion, bent down, and started poking at it with various scientific instruments. Blanche, even as they combed the beach for trash and deposited it into various bags based on its recycling category, kept a close eye on xem. That left Spark and Arlo at the leaders' base, lacking in planned activities until Spark noticed a sign for board rentals.

"Hey, check that out! You know, I'm actually not too bad at surfing myself. My mom used to go to all these rocket science conferences down in Flores, so my dad and I spent the time at the beach. I took surfing lessons every year. Hey, I could teach you!"

"You want me to keep my balance on a skinny plastic board against the vast power of the ocean."

"Yeah! It'll be fun! Come on; I'll pay for your rental. It'll be a date!"

"If it's a date, you'll owe me for going with your thing."

"Oh, I know."

Spark landed a quick peck on his boyfriend's cheek as they approached the board rentals. The apathetic, tanned teen at the counter explained the pricing in a monotone.

"That'll be P500 for each of your boards. If you want one of our instructors to come down and help you, it'll be extra."

"No, we'll be fine on our own, thanks."

"Do you want life jackets?"

"I don't need one." Spark turned towards Arlo. "How good are you at swimming? Would it make you feel more comfortable?"

"No, I'm fine. Had mandatory swim lessons before my Pokemon journey. It's been a while, but I'm pretty confident I can avoid drowning."

"Good. If either of us did because we didn't get life jackets, Blanche would kill us. After they made all possible efforts to save our lives first, of course."

Arlo grumbled under his breath as the couple took their boards down to the ocean. After Spark showed him proper stance while on land, they figured that it would be a good start to see how Arlo did belly-surfing before he stood up. Arlo hesitantly positioned himself on the board, went out towards an incoming wave, and...

"Phsfhwp -- WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? You are sending me to my death!"

He sputtered face first onto the sand, coughing out water as Spark helped him up.

"Uh, you've gotta close your mouth. That means you have to stop talking."

"You definitely owe me for this."

Spark's next several attempts at instruction went similarly poorly. Well, at least for Arlo. When he sent out Gil, his Scizor, because he figured that the Bug Pokemon might enjoy it and it gave him some time away from "that accursed wet void", the bug, after some hesitant footing at first, quickly determined how to stand up on the board, maintain his stance, and seek out optimal waves, much to Spark's astonishment and Arlo's annoyance. Once the Scizor had his fill, Arlo withdrew it and reluctantly returned to working with Spark, his hair soaking wet, clinging to his face, and some of his red dye having washed out from the saltwater. Ugh. Not only would he have to re-dye it, he'd need to heavily condition to get it to not mat up when it dried.

At the food stall at the center of the beach, Candela was lying on a pool recliner under an umbrella, racking up quite a stack of empty coconut shells that previously held brightly colored, fruit-flavored alcoholic beverages on the table next to her. She called over the well-muscled, tanned waiter, wearing an apron and not much else, to bring her another. Sierra approached her.

"Hey. I've been hanging out with some fratbros. Well, about 7 frat guys, 3 sorority girls, and one lesbian."

"Why? And wait, how do you know they're a lesbian? You're not participating in stereotyping, right?"

"It's one of my best recruitment tools. I get about 70% of my grunts this way. Anyway, they're about to put on a wet T-shirt contest. Do you want to join? Also, they had a pride pin. And even if they didn't, they had green hair that covered both of their eyes and were more muscular than most of the guys."

"Let me Here, I get far superior guys who are paid to pay attention to me and contractually obligated to provide eye candy without ruining it by opening their mouths. I do respect that strategy, though."

Sierra returned to the group of young adults she'd been schmoozing with throughout the trip, the seeming leader of the guys, a tall young man with obviously bleached hair and a tank top with an immature slogan across the chest, starting the contest. Sierra had specifically planned for this, her white shirt from the Team Rocket summit rapidly becoming transparent, revealing a glossy black bikini with Team Rocket's trademark R placed quite visibly on its left side. The other competitors of the wet T-shirt contest stopped to gawk in surprise, while their frat guy companions, and the lesbian, gawked in another capacity. They crowded around Sierra, providing the perfect opportunity for her to make her move.

"So, how do you feel about joining Team Rocket? Flexible hours, great benefits, and working in a Pokemon organization with growth opportunities. If you follow me back, I can give you the forms and we can start with orientation this week."

"Will we get to see you?" One of the smaller frat guys, this one with a backwards baseball cap embroidered with the logo of the local college's sports team, raised his hand with a question.

"If you're good."

Sierra leaned down suggestively with this answer and then proceeded to undulate back to the base, being followed by all in attendance. She intercepted Cliff, whose corresponding group of young adults who looked like they'd stepped out of a beach movie from the previous century, given their clean-cut hairstyles and the frilly swimsuits on the women were busy frolicking around, throwing beach balls, building sandcastles, and generally having what would be colloquially known as "good, clean fun". Cliff cheerfully waved at Sierra as she and the future grunts approached. She directed the grunts to mill around behind them while she and her fellow leader conversed.

"Oh! Did you get some new recruits?"

"Yep. I'm calling them taxis to central HQ. Are yours also going to join?"

"No, they're just my friends."

"Probably for the best. They'd get eaten alive in HQ. To be honest, I'm not really sure they're from this century. Do you know where Arlo is?"

"I think he and Spark are back getting food because he got sick of surfing."

"Well, tell your teen beach movie friends that you're leaving to go get them. We need to determine who's going in whose unit."

Cliff waved towards the group of anachronistic young adults, who cheerfully waved back, and sauntered off to the food stall, whistling a classic upbeat surfing song all the way. There, he encountered Spark and Arlo, carefully on the other side of the stall from Candela. Arlo clutched a slushie while curled up in a ball on his pool recliner, Spark patting his head and applauding him for trying something new. Both Arlo's hair and clothes were sopping wet, partially covered in sand, and stuck firmly to his skin. His sunglasses had gone missing. He glared at Cliff as he approached.

"What do you want?"

"Sierra picked up some new recruits. We need to introduce ourselves and check if you want any of them."

"Fine. Come on, Spark."

"Uh, I think I'm contractually obligated to tell Professor Willow about this?"

"We can work out the kinks later."

Arlo trudged off back with Cliff to the leaders' base, Spark still patting his head the whole way back. Candela caught wind of the others grouping together from the other side of the stall and reluctantly got up and left, the stack to her side as she left having grown to at least 5 coconut shells with little paper umbrellas in them. She'd been charging them to the lab's credit card, of course. If Willow called her on it, she'd say she was buying raid passes.

With all 3 of Team GO Rocket's leaders back at Cliff's umbrella, Sierra rallied her recruits and positioned herself and the other 2 in the closest thing to a professional lineup they could muster. It wasn't very effective, seeing as Sierra was still in her thong and bikini since the shirt was out of commission, Arlo rather resembled a recently bathed cat, and Cliff had his neon Flabebe shirt. None of them were especially intimidating, but the future grunts seemed quite fixed on Sierra regardless.

"Listen up, twerps. I'm Sierra, and I'm going to be one of your bosses when you join Team GO Rocket. The other two are my colleagues, Arlo and Cliff. Which of the 3 of us you'll be doing orientation with and working for will depend on your personal skills and where the organization could best use you. We'll be doing the first run of orientation together and then splitting up after your assessments, unless either of the boys want to claim any of you as their personal assistants. You two care to introduce yourselves?"

"Hi, I'm Cliff! I work with grunt relations and coordinating for events! It's so great to meet all of you; I'm sure we'll be great friends!"

Sierra's group of recruits, and Arlo, all backed off. Arlo stared them down.

"...hey. You are...definitely people. I'm Arlo. I do science stuff. How many of you took biology?"

One girl, three guys, and the lesbian raised their hands.

"How many of you passed biology?"

All of those in attendance except the green-haired lesbian lowered their hands. They piped up, in a mid-range and moderately raspy voice.

"Yeah, I'm actually majoring in biotech. I'm not even in this frat. I just sit with Taylor at lunch and she dragged me here because she thinks I need to get out more. Name's Jet. I'm a sophomore. Pronouns she/her."

"Okay, you're with me. Jet, if you'll come back with us in the van, I can show you the facilities you'll be working with. Rest of you, Sierra's calling you an escort to the main HQ complex."

Arlo waved his hand dismissively, leaving Sierra's recruits to continue milling around. Spark and Candela looked at the grunts and Rocket leaders, looked back at each other, and shrugged in unison.

"So...I guess that's how they get new grunts."

"Explains a lot, honestly. And I guess I can't really complain. After all, my two biggest recruitment tools for Team Valor are right here." Candela gestured to her chest to emphasize the double entendre, in case it wasn't already obvious.

"Should we...tell Professor Willow about this?"

"I don't feel the need. P500 says that they don't make it past orientation."

"I don't take bets with you anymore, but you're probably right. Have you seen Blanche and Rhi? I think we're past the main raid time so I don't feel the need to stick around if they don't."

"Uh, no. I've been at the bar all day. Last I saw them, Rhi was turning all their resources towards understanding the concept of sand and Blanche was picking up recyclables and rescuing Pokemon, and I don't fucking know, leading their scout troop in a unit study on seashells."

"No, my outreach event is next month."

Blanche approached, carrying several overstuffed bags of various kinds of debris. Rhi ran up to approach them from behind, carrying a disgruntled Tentacool in their gloves. It thrashed around and attempted to lash xem with its stingers, but couldn't get through xyr armor.

"Blanche. I found a Pokemon. It vaguely resembles Nihilego from my homeworld. Do you think they are related?"

"Uh, Rhi, how about you put that back in the water? I do not think it wants to participate in analysis. If you want to look at Water-type Pokemon, we have plenty back at HQ. So, did everyone have a good time?"

Both sets of leaders nodded.

"Splendid. If everyone has gotten their affairs dealt with, we can go through the sand showers and return to the van at any time. Arlo, will your green-haired acquaintance be coming with us?"

"Yeah, I need to show Jet my setup. Can you drop us off at the woods building on your way back?"

"I was planning to. Does anyone have any last remarks?"

"Yes. I do."

An unexpected voice from behind caught both sets of leaders' attention, and they turned around to see Professor Willow, arms crossed and shaking his head upon seeing them, especially given their present company.

"About 2 hours ago, it came to my attention that I hadn't received any field reports, so I checked in with you remotely, but all of your phones were off. Well, all of you except Blanche. I take it you all had fun not managing Shadow Raids like you were supposed to?"

The other two team leaders sent dirty looks in Blanche's direction for indirectly ratting them out. They shook their head in the others' direction. "What? I had to keep some line of contact open if there were an emergency."

They then turned back towards Professor Willow. "Professor, I can explain. We assessed the situation and determined that given that raids operate automatically and the Grunts were already occupying the gyms, there was not anything we could meaningfully do to stop Team GO Rocket activity. We figured it would be best to avoid further confrontation and let them take what they wanted from the gyms and then assess the damage afterwards, including improving the raid management software to prevent this from happening again."

"Okay. I can understand that. So, what part of waiting to see what happened with Rocket activity involved going to the beach?"

"Candela suggested that we take the opportunity to engage in some relaxation and team-building exercises."

"All right, I guess I can tell that to the Pokemon League. Are those fruity coconut shell drinks at the stand good? They're kind of tempting me." He waved in Candela's direction, making it clear the professor didn't actually carry any ill will over the team leaders' activities. She nodded in response.

"Okay, I get all of this, but, uh, why are the Rocket leaders here?"

Arlo shrugged, followed by the others. "We basically did the same cost-benefit analysis as Blanche. The grunts are doing the gyms. The Mewtwos are already made. Giovanni got the recon he wanted. The grunts will call if they need us and the trainers will be too busy doing raids, so there's no point in us doing takeovers. Plus I wanted to hang out with my cute boyfriend." He emphasized the latter designation by cuddling up next to Spark, who patted his head.

"Well...this is a gross violation of protocol, but I guess no harm was done. The Mewtwo are rescued, the trainers are happy, the Rocket leaders are out of trouble, and it looks like you three and Rhi got in some much-needed relaxation time. How's about I don't tell the Pokemon League if you don't?"

Both sets of leaders nodded, Professor Willow summoned a waiter to order one of Candela's drinks, and they shared some lighthearted small talk until the beach closed at sunset and all parties left, the leaders and Jet, who'd been standing back while Professor Willow made his appearance, in the lab van and Willow in his personal car. Arlo insisted on Jet sitting next to him, to Spark's minor annoyance, so he could brief her on his work.

"So, what's your favorite band?"

"Oh, I listen to a lot of post-hardcore and such, but my favorite at the moment is probably Escape the Fate. I wasn't sold on their early work, but Craig's really grown since! I love the electronic components in Chemical Warfare. Really, ditching Ronnie was the best thing they could have done; it undoubtedly allowed their sound to mature."

Arlo sat in silence for a few seconds before hissing out his remark and carefully looking everywhere but at Jet. "You know, I don't really need a research assistant anyway. I work alone. Always have. Meet me for orientation tomorrow and then we'll see if you're worthy of being in my presence, plebeian."

Jet's eyes widened in confusion and she whispered to Sierra, who was sitting next to Cliff in the seat in front of her.

"Did I say something wrong? I thought he was really excited to have me."

"Don't take it personally, Jet. He hasn't had a research assistant in...well, ever, really. He's a bit rough around the edges, socially speaking."

"Is this why?"

"Yeah. Also, protip...maybe don't bring up that person or his output in that band around him? It's a bit of a hot button issue for him."

"Oh. He's one of those kinds of fans."

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