23 Stake out - Part 1
"When we reach the city, we must move quickly. You have too many people to remain hidden for long." Mewtwo said, addressing Lance, Cynthia, and Steven. "Giovanni will attempt to flee if he feels that he cannot win the fight. If he escapes, you may not have another opportunity like this for years."
"Don't worry his capture is our greatest priority." Cynthia assured the Pokémon. "In fact, Steven has offered to lead a team to head for him."
"Indeed" the Hoenn Champion said. "I will take my elites into the heart of Team Rocket, and apprehend this criminal."
"I still think it should be me leading that team" Lance grumbled. "I have experience in facing off against criminal organisations, particularly ones that use legendaries."
Cynthia sighed. "Lance, you know as well as I do that as the authority figure for over half our forces, you can do nothing but lead the main group. When we reach Goldenrod City, I will lead a team to look for 'Champion', Steven will aim to apprehend Giovanni and you will have command of the rest of the trainers. You will get to fight, have no fear."
"And besides, you will be able to fight alongside me" Mewtwo said. "How many people can say that they fought alongside a legendary Pokémon?"
Lance simply glared back. "I've fought against legendaries. Makes a far better story. Ask Kyogre if you see him." Under the fierce gaze of the other two champions, as well as Mewtwo's impassive stare, Lance relented. "Alright, fine. When are we doing the briefings?"
"Steven and I can do them on the train easily as we will only be bringing a few men each. You on the other hand will be addressing the large body of trainers. You might have to do the briefing many times with many trainers."
Lance groaned. That was his idea of hell. Now that a plan had been decided, he wanted to proceed as quickly as possible. He did not want to have to brief two hundred trainers on each step of the plan. It was at this point where Steven spoke up.
"I think to prevent our colleague from killing himself before Team Rocket has a chance to attempt it, an alternative might be wise." Steven said with a smile. "Lance, split your trainers down to a simple military command. One man can command thousands if he has the right command structure. You have four elites, each of whom can lead a group of trainers. You have sixteen gym leaders, each of whom has between five and ten trainers who will automatically look to them. The remainder of the trainers that you have to use can be distributed amongst the elites, or the specialists who you have. Then you only have to brief the team leaders, and on the battlefield you can move to where you are needed. It also saves you from endless briefings, and reduces the time that we have to delay in Goldenrod."
Lance, Cynthia and Mewtwo looked at Steven in surprise. They had no idea that he knew much about leading a group of trainers in a fight. As he registered the looks, he grinned weakly.
"Remember, I've been champion of Hoenn for longer than either of you two have been of your regions. This isn't my first fight."
Still shaking her head in surprise, Cynthia turned back to Lance.
"It does make sense. Who knows, we might actually learn how to lead a fight as well. Good experience."
Lance managed a weak grin. He was unused to being shown how to do anything. "Maybe."
"In fact, we have a lot to thank 'Champion' for." Steven mused. "Think about it, we have an automatic structure in place now. Each gym leader can be expected to fight, as they have been picked for their strength, whilst they each have trainers who have trained under them and so would look to them in a fight. Pull together all the gym leaders from four regions, and you have a very tough force to face. Team Rocket shouldn't be a problem to deal with."
"Quite." Cynthia said drily. "Remind me to thank him when this is all over."
Lance stood up suddenly. "I'm going to find my gym leaders and elites. We need to be ready to start as soon as we reach."
Walking out the door, Lance headed down the train. Every single trainer who had been at Cynthia's address has come with them, which did admittedly leave them with a transport problem.
It wasn't easy to move a large number of trainers secretly across a region. It had been Lance that came up with the answer, which he put forward in his usual unhesitating way. For some time there had been a call for an expansion of the train network that ran in a few places across the regions. A few years ago, Lance had ordered the gym leaders in Johto to divert funds from their cities into building a network across the whole region. When it was finished, every city would be linked by trains, meaning that people could move across Johto very quickly and easily.
Lance had forced the plans through in the face of a great deal of opposition, although it had meant that economically Johto was ahead of the other regions, since large public projects tended to create a great deal of employment.
Whilst the whole network wasn't finished, and trains hadn't started to move for the public yet, cargo trains did move on the network. In fact, Goldenrod's size meant that a lot of the trains went through the city at some point. There had also been a fair few passenger trains moving workers around, usually late at night. This gave them the perfect cover. The whole force was in a passenger train, which extra carriages had been attached.
As a result, they expected to be able to get into Goldenrod overnight, and then use the time to go to ground. At least, that was the plan. Whilst they had doubts that it would fool Team Rocket, it did at least get them all into Goldenrod in a way that could be hidden from the public.
Lance walked into the next carriages where all of the elites were sitting as they travelled. As the door to the carriage opened, they all looked up expectantly.
"My four, go and get the gym leaders for all regions, along with the specialists that Cynthia had at that camp of hers" Lance said, picking a seat and planting himself in it. "Sinnoh and Hoenn, your champions are waiting for you through there."
There was a flurry of movement as the various elites moved in the direction they were bade, with the Kanto/Johto four heading into the next two carriages where the gym leaders were with their trainees. Once they were all assembled, Lance stood up again, looking over the thirty-six trainers who he commanded.
"Right. Firstly, for those of you who don't know me, I'm Lance Waturu. That you probably do know. What you won't know is my personality. I like plain speakers. That means if you disagree, you say so bluntly. If you think I'm wrong, say so. I detest those who hide behind words. I like action, not words"
The elite four with him shared small smiles. They had all been on the wrong side of Lance's temper at some point, and whilst it could terrify somebody who wasn't used to it, they had started to find it quite amusing. The gym leaders on the other hand, looked somewhat scared. The man in front of them was famous.
It had been believed that he could have been the Pokémon Master if he wanted, but he had never entered the World League. Stories were told in all regions about Lance, the Dragon Master.
The first man in history to be Champion of two different regions. To say that they had worked with him was a prospect that they were all looking forwards to, but the idea of arguing with him was terrifying.
"Right. We are a few hours out from Goldenrod, where we will not have time for planning, so this is the only time you are going to get a briefing from me. When we strike, Cynthia and Steven will lead teams into the Rocket base to secure both the Pokémon Master and Giovanni. However, our intelligence suggests that inside the base there is space for some three thousand Rockets. Clearly that is too many for us to deal with, but apparently the usual number is closer to about eight or nine hundred. That leaves a lot of people between the two infiltration teams and their targets. This is where we come in. Our attack will be at night, so hopefully as few Rockets as possible will be ready for us. Despite this, we expect to have to fight heavily to break this base. But let me make something clear, we will capture this base."
From the back, Lorelei looked around the trainers listening. They were hanging on Lance's every word. She grinned, having already realised what Lance was going to suggest. In fact, if he hadn't, she would have considered suggesting it instead. The rest of the trainers though... they clearly hadn't worked out the very large role they were going to be playing in this fight. They were typical trainers, not thinking far enough ahead. But then a lot of trainers were like that. Only the strongest thought ahead. Next to her Karen flashed a grin. She had also evidently worked out where Lance was going.
"For the structure on the ground, clearly we have too many trainers for me to be in direct command of all of them. So a simple alternative will be used. Each of you will lead a squad of trainers. They will report to you, you will report to me. To keep it simple, the trainers that the Gym leaders will use will be the ones from their gyms. That gives us sixteen squads straight off. I will also attach one of the trainers who were at the training camp to each squad. They are all powerful trainers, amongst the strongest that Cynthia could find in Johto."
One of the Sinnoh Gym leaders sniggered, something that Lance did not fail to notice.
"And whatever your thoughts on that are, Curt, I suggest you keep them to yourself. They are strong trainers, and they could for the most part crush you. Furthermore, in a situation like this, we are leading nearly two hundred trainers into a battle. Make no mistake, this is a fight where getting injured is a very real possibility. There is no room for foolishness and unnecessary bravado. I will have no hesitation to take you off this mission if I think you are too immature."
The venom in Lance's voice was palatable now, oozing out. Bruno looked at Lorelei before grinning. It was just like their Champion to put somebody on the spotlight like this and then completely embarrass him. The poor man was terrified, but Lance was simply using him to prove a point.
"As I was saying, each of you will have an additional trainer attached to your squads. Each of the four elites will have a squad made up from trainers that we asked to join the mission. They will form reserves, able to step in and help if you get into a big fight. Each of the specialists..." at this Lance turned towards them. "Will also lead a squad, made up from the remaining trainers that we have. It should average out to be roughly seven trainers per squad. Any questions so far?"
There was silence amongst the assembled trainers now. They hadn't expected such an intense briefing, or the decisions to be stated so bluntly. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into this arrangement on the behalf of the Regional Champions as to how to bring about the highest chance of success.
"When we reach the Rocket base, you will split up. Each of the Elite four will act as a reserve for four gym leader squad, and one specialist squad. The remaining two squads will be under my direct command. One of the four groups will secure the floors above ground whilst the remaining groups will head below the ground. Once there we will simply move as quickly as possible. According to our intelligence there is only a lift down, and then stairs. When we reach the stairs to the next floor a single squad will be left behind to secure that floor, and the rest of the force will move on. Now, I feel that you should go and brief your squads on what will happen, because we will be striking as soon as possible when we reach Goldenrod. And before you leave..." all the Gym leaders standing up looked back at Lance. "If any one person fucks this when it is avoidable, you will regret it."
The Gym leaders looked at each other, a new-found fear in their eyes. From anybody else such a threat might not have meant much, but backed up by Lance's palatable authority, the threat was very real. They suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to not call his bluff.
Ash jerked awake. In front of him was a Rocket that he recognised. It was the man that had put him in the cell originally. The man stood staring at him, as if he was looking for something. He acted completely unaware of the gaze of the Pokémon Master. After a couple of minutes, the man stepped back.
"'Champion'. I feel I should introduce myself. I am the man who set the trap that caught you."
Ash just looked at him, emotionless through the taunting.
"I am known by the majority of Team Rocket as simply, 'Agent'" the man continued. "My name is just as hard to unearth as yours is. So why don't we make a trade? You give me your name, and I'll give you mine?"
Ash looked at him, finally deciding to speak. "I know you won't give me yours, and my name is all I have left. You've taken the rest."
Agent laughed loudly. "All you have left? I beg to differ. You have a great deal you can offer to us. Having the Pokémon Master on our payroll would be a huge boon."
"No" was Ash's simple response.
"No? I don't think you'll find you get a choice. When the boss talks to you it will be very much an offer you can't refuse. Not if you know what's good for you."
"The boss?" Ash said, fear laced in his voice. "Giovanni is coming?"
"Now what I don't understand" Agent said, not bothering to answer the question. "Is why you fear the boss over me. Yes he has control over that lovely little machine behind you, control he has used with admirable lack of restraint, but what he doesn't have is a mind like mine. He is ultimately a leader, whilst I... I am more the kind of person you don't really want to know, unless something has to be done. And I get things done. Your capture proves that. The only question is whether it is done the boring way, or the much more entertaining way. Entertaining for me at least."
Ash looked at his tormentor, a new fear in his features. The man's tone left little to doubt. He really did enjoy inflicting pain on those that he faced. Agent stepped in closer to stare into Ash's face. A small smile of satisfaction was all that Ash could see from the man in front of him before he turned away. At the edge of the cell, before he shut the door behind him, Agent turned back one last time.
"The boss will see you when he feels you have discovered that anything but obedience is unwise. The task of bringing about that lovely state of affairs is mine. I'm sure it won't take long; you seem to be most of the way there. But please, resist all you like. I need something to entertain me."
And the man was gone, leaving Ash to consider what he had heard. In the dark cell, Ash, unseen by anybody or anything smiled tightly. It was the first emotion to cross his face since his capture. He had made progress. Since the man set to breaking him thought he had nearly succeeded, only token resistance would be necessary to convince him.
Misty stood at the train window. It was fair to say that Misty wasn't easily intimidated, but at the moment she was terrified. She feared she was going to ruin the whole thing by a stupid mistake.
Behind her was the team that she was to lead in the attack on the Rocket base. Daisy had taken the Cerulean trainers, leaving Misty with trainers that had been assigned to her by Lance. They were good, she knew that.
Whilst she was almost certainly the strongest, some of them were powerful enough to give her a good match. If they had time for that. Which, Misty reflected, they probably wouldn't.
The train had come to a halt in Goldenrod nearly half an hour before, but the majority of the squads had been told to wait before getting off. Misty's squad was due to head into the city in a few minutes. They had a room half a dozen blocks away from the Rocket HQ, and Misty had come up with a simple way of getting there without being discovered. A Monday night wasn't perhaps the most common night for people to be out in the city, but Misty knew that given her squad were all in their early twenties, they could pull it off. She hoped.
Gesturing to the squad to follow, Misty headed to the end of the train compartment. A quick glance told her that they were all there, and she opened the door leading off the train.
Knowing that this was the hardest part, Misty strolled away, heading straight for the shadow at the end of the platform. Once there, she found a door in the wall casting the shadow, and tried the handle. As expected, it was locked.
Quickly releasing Golduck, Misty let him knock the lock out. The door swung open and she stepped inside. Within seconds her squad came through, having not left the train until the door was opened. Glancing around once more to make certain that they were all there, Misty smiled to herself. That was the easy part.
Exiting through the building on the other side, Misty slung her arms around one of the guys in the group. Walking with a slightly drunken swaying, she did her best to convey the image of heading home after a good time. As they reached the end of the street they turned, moving along. On the fourth street, another squad member jokily pushed the one that Misty had her arm around. As they came together Misty heard a quiet mutter.
"Roof top, behind us, four buildings back."
As the two broke apart once again, a small Pokémon slipped away from the group. Reaching the side of the street, the Caterpie started to quickly climb. As it reached the top, Caterpie saw a flash of colour in the darkness, but by the time the Worm Pokémon reached the spot, there was nothing. Hurrying back down to street level, Caterpie returned to its trainer, as two of the guys in the group were loudly arguing as to which way to go. Noting Caterpie's return, Misty stepped forward again.
"It's left! How much did you have again?"
With a grumble from the man she had shot down, Misty led the group down the designated street. It was going to take a while for them to get where they were going at this rate.
When they finally reached the safe room, they were all exhausted. What had meant to be a simple fifteen minute walk had taken them nearly forty-five. Misty was convinced that somebody had been following them, but always staying out of sight. As required, she put a call in to Lance.
"Well done Misty." Lance replied. "Any problems?"
"We didn't see anybody..." Misty said hesitatingly. "But it felt like we were being followed. We kept seeing hints."
Lances tone was thoughtful. "I thought as much. Every group has had the same problem. But I don't think its Rockets; such skilled observation is unlike them. If they knew where we all were like this, I would have expected an attack by now. Anyway" Lance continued, his voice regaining its decisiveness. "If you feel secure, you'll carry on into the next stage. Good luck."
And the phone went dead. The next time Misty would hear his voice would be at the Rocket HQ. Till then the youngest sensational sister was alone. And Misty felt the full weight of the responsibility.
Lance turned to look at the other champions. They were in the Pokémon Leagues office in Goldenrod, coordinating the whole operation. All three of them were exhausted and they still had a day to go before the actual attack. Steven was poring over what they knew about the building, whilst Cynthia was on a sofa trying to stay awake. At the back of the room, Mewtwo stood.
The Pokémon was almost completely silent, yet his presence outweighed even that of Lance. The Dragon Master gestured for Mewtwo to join them, and the Psychic type floated across the room.
"That's another one." Lance said. "That's twelve groups from twelve. Somebody or something is loose in the city tonight."