Arlo woke up, immediately donned the headband, and looked at himself in the mirror with dissatisfaction before producing the box of permanent markers he'd appropriated from Cliff from under his bed and touching up his tattoo designs. He looked into his closet and decided that he felt like showing a little more skin, pulling out the Shadow Lugia T-shirt from his Subject Debate trip with Candela back in the day that he'd cut the sleeves off of, a pair of strategically ripped jeans, and along with various spiked accompaniments and hooking a chain to his pants, he produced a chain harness which he layered over the shirt. He checked himself out in the mirror, rotating to take note of his look from every angle, and was pleased enough at the sight that he took a selfie and broke into a brief bout of maniacal laughter, in a voice notably deeper than his usual and loud enough that Cliff could hear it from the kitchen and common room down the hall, where he and Sierra were eating breakfast.
"Sierra, he's doing it again!"
Cliff and Sierra are downstairs eating breakfast.
"Oh good, he's awake. I'm going to go deliver the news."
Sierra approached and stood in Arlo's doorway, tapping her fingers against her hands as she waited for him to notice her. She was pleasantly surprised to find him approaching her and making eye contact as soon as she arrived...until she realized that it wasn't her eyes that he was making detailed visual contact with.
"My eyes are up here."
"I just...thought your shirt looked different today."
"It's the same takeover uniform I always wear, Arlo. Anyway, Giovanni wants to talk to you."
"W-what? Directly? Without going through Archer?"
"You're not in trouble. Apparently, there were widespread reports from trainers of you being remarkably aggressive during your recent takeovers and he's impressed. Combined with your work on the Shadow Pokemon lately and recruiting Jet as a research assistant, he says that you've never shown more initiative and he's interested in discussing your future in the organization."
"Is he...giving me a raise? Or promoting me?"
"I didn't ask for the details. Anyway, he said he'd email you so you can schedule a video call."
After Sierra left, Arlo unlocked his computer and clicked into his email, where sure enough, a calendar event was set by Giovanni's secretary requesting that he schedule the video call. He set the soonest time available and made a fist pump and smirked to himself while in his chair. This was it. Finally, all of his hard work was being rewarded. After the call, he started up another video call with Spark to share the good news, which they answered quickly.
"Guess what? I just had a meeting with Giovanni and he says that I've been taking a lot of initiative with the takeovers lately so if I keep it up, he might actually officially promote me to head of research!" Arlo beamed to emphasize his statement and repeated his fist pump.
"I thought you already had that job."
Spark tilted his head and briefly contemplated that per their contracts, Arlo shouldn't have been sharing any job data with him, but decided not to bring it up. After all, this was the most like himself Arlo had been acting all week. Maybe all of the kerfuffle yesterday was just him getting caught up in the performance and that energy having nowhere to go when he got cut off?
"No, I'm the head scientist for the Vayera division. What he's talking about is promoting me to supplying Shadow Pokemon for Team Rocket internationally."
"Wow. That's definitely a step up. You'd still be able to live here, right?"
"Yeah. We've got systems to send Pokemon anywhere through PC boxes. And of course, the upgrade in position also means an upgrade in salary."
"Well, congratulations! So, are you ready for the concert tonight?" Spark moved his camera further back, showing off that he was wearing the hoodie Elaphe had gotten for him featuring the design of the skull, snakes, and roses. In short, he was prepared with the edgiest outfit he owned.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to smearing those little posers." Arlo narrowed his eyes, glanced away from the screen, and smirked in Spark's direction.
"Pardon? I wasn't aware you knew this band."
"I didn't, until today. Which tells you how pathetic they are. I listened to some of their tracks on their Soundcloud. I'm not impressed."
"Well, I've already bought us tickets. Maybe the opening band will be good?"
"Doubt it. From what I've seen, the ones we're paying to see for some reason are just a crude imitation of me. I admire them accepting that I'm the best. What they don't get is that no one but me can do me."
"Uh...my liege? What do you mean by 'doing you'? Like, are they derivative of other bands you like? You might be a huge fan of the genre, but you don't really produce anything yourself --"
Spark cut himself off upon noticing Arlo glaring straight at him without any hint of humor.
"Okay. You're the King of the Scene, so I trust your judgment. Well, we're still going to have fun, right?"
Arlo smiled, again too widely, but not in the same way Spark had taken note of previously. He didn't get a good look at them before the call ended, but he could swear something was off with his eyes as well. It seemed like his pupils were dilated beyond what would be reasonable for being in his room looking at a computer screen, and based on the visible blood vessels on their edges and dark circles beneath them, he hadn't been sleeping well either.
Evidently, the venue Black Egotist was playing at wasn't prepared for the genre, based on the concentration of genre fans with either all black everything or metallic accessories and dyed hair concentrated into a makeshift pit before the stage, the restaurant's tables and chairs awkwardly moved to the side and back walls. As Spark and Arlo approached, many of those in attendance turned towards Arlo and then started murmuring to those beside them. Evidently, the mishap at karaoke had spread around the local community. A boisterous individual with thick black hair covering both of their eyes, a beaten-up shirt from a tour in Unova, and a distinct scent of marijuana following them approached Arlo and held up their phone in his face. Spark didn't even need to look at it to recognize the footage as Arlo's karaoke performance.
"Hey, are you the guy in this video? I've gotta say that while the ending was unnecessary, your performance was great. Way to commit, man!"
They held up their hand for a high five, which Arlo enthusiastically returned before turning to Spark and smirking.
"See? They know who the real star here is."
After the first contender yelled towards the rest of their party that Arlo was now confirmed to be the same guy from the video, several other concert-goers gathered around him, praising his commitment to the bit, choice of songs, and present outfit. Arlo returned to all of these comments in kind, distributing numbers into phones, laughing at jokes Spark didn't hear, and exchanging insults about the bar owner.
Eventually, Arlo's fan club dispersed when the lights turned off and the opening band started tuning their instruments. Once they started playing, Spark couldn't make out any of the words through the wall of electric guitar, but the others in attendance seemed to enjoy it. Arlo aimed some impolite comments about the production and lyrical quality towards Spark, which he had to strain to hear over the performance, but it didn't seem like anyone else heard them. It was a bit impolite and unusual for Arlo, but no harm was done. Hopefully this would just be a fun time for both of them without any mishaps.
Once Black Egotist entered the stage, Arlo hissed at Spark that the frontman's hairstyle resembled Ronnie's during the Fashionably Late era, which Spark nodded in response to because he didn't actually remember what the hairstyle looked like. Once the band started their set, Arlo stared disapprovingly at the lead, appearing uncharacteristically contemplative until he yelled up at them while they were midway through the breakdown on their third song.
"WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? What, do you think Ronnie's going to fuck you? Get a life and stop wasting your time imitating what you don't understand!"
Black Egotist abruptly stopped playing and the frontman glared down at him from the stage while Arlo's fan club from the video started muttering amongst themselves about his uncouth behavior, although some of them admitted that he had a point and their sound appeared derivative.
The Black Egotist frontman silenced the growing concerns of the crowd by using his mic to penetrate through, directly addressing Arlo and asking what right he had to call them posers if he was cosplaying as a "fucking creepy anime bondage dogboy version of Ronnie Radke" and told him to get out of their venue and go back to living in his mom's basement. Arlo responded by declaring war, stating that everyone who agreed with the frontman get on one side of the venue and his followers, who he addressed as the Music Scene Kingdom, onto the other, and they'd decide who was the poser with their fists. A 20-something with a nonbinary pride pin attached to their beanie called out Arlo's immaturity and requested that everyone calm down and get back to the music. Arlo decided to respond to that reasonable request by punching them in the face, knocking their sunglasses off in the process. After that, someone who distinctly resembled Cliff, complete with a closely trimmed beard, approached behind Arlo, picked him up, and turned him over to face them.
"You know, heckling a band who are playing is extremely impolite. It's disrespectful to them, the venue staff who work hard to provide them with a setup, and everyone who came to see them. Likewise, attempting to start fights is against the spirit of the pit and puts more work on the venue staff to clean up. Now, then, are you going to apologize or are we going to have a problem?"
Arlo responded by sticking out his tongue at the person who was currently effortlessly holding him. Upon seeing this display, Spark rushed forward intending to stop the brawl.
"I'm sorry about my boyfriend; I promise this isn't how he usually acts! Please don't hurt him! We'll leave quietly."
"I suggest you do."
Arlo's handler put him down and pointed towards the exit, and the crowd parted to give Spark and Arlo a clear path in that direction, turning away from Arlo as he approached and a few hissing in Spark's direction about what the hell they saw in him. Once they left, the venue bouncer stated that they'd prefer if they didn't see them around their establishment again. The couple sat down on the curb outside, feeling vibrations once Black Egotist started playing again and hearing enough through the wall to get that their next song was entitled "I May Be An Asshole, But At Least I'm Original" and was dedicated to "their haters". It wasn't too hard to determine that Arlo was being subtextually targeted. Arlo's lip trembled after he heard them, prompting Spark to reach out an arm to pull him in for a hug, which Arlo smacked down as he turned away from them.
"My liege? The first thing you said to me when we went to Tyranitour was to save all negative comments until we were in the car. What happened to that?"
"That was different. I know when something's good when I see it, and they weren't."
"You still shouldn't have threatened to start a fight. You could have --"
"What, I could have gotten someone hurt?"
"Yeah. As in, that someone could have been you. You don't really have any physical fighting experience and I'd hate for anything to happen to you..."
"Worry about yourself! Oh, what the fuck is this?"
Arlo's response was directed towards a text from Sierra, containing a link to a video compilation of first his karaoke performance, and then his challenge at the concert, and the message "Is this you? What do you think you're doing?" Hot tears streaming down his face, Arlo thrust the phone toward Spark, who actually had to grab it to be able to read the message against Arlo's shaking hand.
"Look at this. Even my so-called coworkers turn against me! Pathetic...why, if I could just show them all..."
"...well, you could make an account and start posting rebuttals to defend yourself. You could give them your side of the story. Would that help?"
"Perfect. You, drive. I'll see about regaining my honor."
As Spark drove him back, Arlo took a major chunk out of his monthly data plan downloading and setting up accounts on various apps he would have previously described as "blights on the world whose servers would be my first stop if I had an EMP generator", seeking out videos of him, and responding with rebuttals, threats, and personal insults to anyone who presented something that seemed the slightest bit uncomplimentary. He remained immersed in his typing and growling at the screen when Spark dropped him off at Team GO Rocket's building, and maintained his crusade until that morning, curled up under his quilt loudly discussing what he intended to do to his detractors if he ever located them.
Given his proximity to their rooms, Cliff and Sierra were in turn unable to sleep, and Cliff knocked on Sierra's door, to find her deeply annoyed.
"What the hell is he doing? First that whole mess with the mic stand and now this? I don't get how he's doing so well at his takeovers and then coming home and acting like...that."
"See? I told you he was acting weird!"
"Yeah, yeah, I know, you told me so. But what is even going on in there?"
"Well, uh, I know that the video of him at karaoke got kind of popular on social media and some people have...unkind words about his conduct, so I think he's trying to...defend himself against all of that."
"So he's yelling at people on Twitter. It's not exactly the most shocking thing for a tech-obsessed, hate-fueled manchild to do. You go tell him to keep it down so we can get some sleep, but leave him to it. It's not like he's going to hurt anyone."