Approx. Read Time: 45 Minutes
R is for Rocket
It is difficult to start this story, as is always the case with very tragic tales. What lies before you is the story of a man, one whom you all likely know by name or by face, and one you all likely have an extreme dislike for. He is after all the only man to have ever stood in your way on your adventures.
This story is the tale of Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket who took Sliph Co. and the Viridian City gym, and who fell at your hands, a twelve-year-old child on their way to defeating the Elite Four. His downfall was likely an ecstatic victory for you, a heart wrenching, agonizing battle, the last thing that stood between you and the Indigo Plateau. When it was over, when Giovanni fell at your feet and uttered his last goodbyes, you likely smiled in victory, racing away to claim what was rightfully yours, the Elite Four Champion title. You ran away so fast in fact, you didn’t even pause to speak to Giovanni one final time.
Had you done this you would have heard his anguished cries as he wallows in his failure, disbands Team Rocket for good, but vows at the very last second to return again. He then disappeared, as he did from your own mind for a very long time until you encountered him once again three years later with the resurgence of Team Rocket. The time in-between is never mentioned to you and the final time you face him you likely don’t think very much of it. He is simply another defeat, another victory, another obstacle you have overcome in your journey. All that is good and all that is wise since he is the bad guy after all. But part of him is missing. The three years are missing.
Giovanni had come to fear Red after their first meeting. In the world of criminals it was odd to find a twelve-year-old child so ready to stand in the face of danger, and win. Team Rocket had grown steadily since its conception and had gone undisturbed in the time Giovanni had took to build it. Policemen and Gym Leaders had proven to be no match for the power of Team Rocket and Giovanni. Things looked good, and their future was bright, until Red came along.
In a pathetically short amount of time Team Rocket had fallen at the hands of Red, and all Giovanni could do was hide within the walls of the gym he had lead so long ago. And when he had thought he was safe, Red walked in.
It was a quick defeat, much to Giovanni’s dislike, and as his last Pokémon fell Giovanni knew it was all over. The game had been lost, and it was time for him to give up. He handed off the final gym badge, a strange feeling of both hatred and pride pulling him separate ways. He vowed to return and then disappeared, reappearing on a path that would take him as far away from his failures as possible.
And so our story begins.
Giovanni had not been anticipating it, but Silver had seen and heard, followed him as he fled down the path, so many years having passed he hardly recognized the tall and stately man dressed in a black suit, his eyes constantly angry, his mouth constantly frowning.
At last Silver spoke up and Giovanni startled, turning around to look at his son, whose face held more painful emotions for Giovanni than Red’s. What Silver was to Giovanni was deeper and more painful than a child who had trumped him. “Silver? What are you doing here?”
“I heard of you, of Team Rocket.”
Giovanni’s face changed for the first time Silver had ever seen. His eyes turned soft and his mouth turned sad. “Team Rocket is finished. I’ve failed them all, I’ve failed myself. A twelve-year-old kid no less! We’re done for, its all over.”
Silver didn’t know what to say. Rejoice that the organization that had taken his father and his childhood from him had collapsed? Get angry that he had willingly been taken in the first place?
Silver made to say something, in his head he didn’t know what exactly it would’ve been but he liked to assume now that it would’ve been something kind.
“I’m giving up.” The words left Giovanni’s mouth for the first time, and his destiny was made real at last.
Something stirred inside of Silver then. Giovanni likely assumed it to be a thinly veiled form of love, but Silver knew better. Silver knew it was only anger and hatred. “You told me you were number one in the world! Are you gonna quit? What are you going to do now?”
Giovanni looked up into the eyes of the son he had never truly known. He knew that above all telling his son he was giving up, and having his son spit the words of his defeat back in his face was the worst part of it all. “One must acknowledge one’s defeat before he can move on. I will go solo… For now… So that one day I will form a stronger organization!”
Silver sneered, Giovanni helpless at the feet of his son's anger. “What aspect of you was number one? Gathering so many only to be defeated by a mere child!”
“Putting together the potential of many is how you produce a huge power. That’s what an organization is. That’s the strength of an organization! I failed to make the best use of my subordinates potential! But you shall witness one day the revival of me and my Team Rocket!”
Silver saw then a sad shell of a man he had read about only in newspapers. A man he had once looked at in wonder and then had looked at in hatred. He sneered when he read the name of his father, tore up the newspapers that came in from the Kanto region, screamed and shouted at the TV as he heard of Team Rocket’s crimes. He saw now a stupid and selfish man that wallowed in evil and self-doubt. He saw a man who feared failure and was compelled only by greed. He saw what a stupid thing it all was, but most of all he was confused. He was confused because what Giovanni had exuded in the short bits Silver had known him, was so unlike the man that sat shadowed and small before him.
“I don’t understand you!” Silver spat. “You don’t make any sense!”
Giovanni looked up and sighed, turned to face away down the long path that would take him far away from the tainted memories of his failures. “One day you will understand.”
Silver shook and screamed, running forward after the quickly retreating figure of his father. But he stopped, because he didn't want Giovanni, not anymore. “I don’t want to understand you! I will never become someone like you. A coward when you’re alone and acting like a tyrant when you’re in front of other cowards. I will become strong! I will become a stronger man all by myself! All by myself!”
We leave Silver to follow Giovanni as he takes a winding forest path away from Silver. He did not even look back over his hooded shoulder at the son he was leaving behind. But he paused to hear the words he was shouting. Digging his hands further into the graves of his pockets he uttered, “And I hope you do Silver, I hope you do.”
Giovanni made his way through Johto in the shadows, sleeping by day in the darkest parts of forests and the hulls of blown out buildings. He was haunted in the daylight by the faces of his teammates, those who had looked at him in fear as Red charged through their hideaway and their missions. Those innocent and lost faces that he had pushed to the side, beaten and scorned for their failures. The irony of it all was that Giovanni quickly wore the same expression of fear and felt the weight of their own failure. By night he was haunted by Silver, by the expressions he had only caught a glimpse of in the minutes he had seen his son. The expressions of scorn and hatred. He was haunted by his son’s future and by the guilt that he had failed him, that it would all be Giovanni’s fault if Silver never grew to become strong and good. He was haunted in every hour by the pressure of his failure. He chose to walk by night and face his son rather than his teammates, because at least then he got to see his face, no matter how beaten and angry.
He would try at times to come up with a plan, a way to rebuild his organization like he vowed he would. Be he would come up with nothing, fail his team once again, and so he vowed to leave that mission for another day.
He had with him five Pokémon, the ones that had been defeated at the gym battle by Red. He revived them all and released them, all of them scattering away into the forest darkness, not so much as even looking back to see him one final time. All, accept for one.
His rhyhorn stood before him, looking at him with a honest gaze of confusion.
“Go on!” Giovanni said, shooing the rhyhorn away. “Leave me! I have failed you! I treated you poorly and let you die! By a child! And you most especially, each and every time I let you down. So go! Why would you stay!?”
But the rhyhorn planted itself firmly, its look of confusion fading into that of stubbornness, and Giovanni sighed and fell back into sleep.
He had left his poke balls far behind him but the rhyhorn followed him faithfully through the grass.
Months passed and Giovanni stayed to the woods seeking shelter when it rained and stealing from open windows and garbage cans. He ventured once inside a mart in the hopes that enough time would’ve passed for him to be unrecognizable. But as soon as he stepped foot inside the whole building went quiet and the cashier, pale and angry yelled at him to leave.
“We don’t want you here! Thief! Get out!”
Giovanni put his hands up, an actual feeling of fear welling up inside him. “I won’t do you any harm! I swear!”
“Get out!” The cashier pressed again. “Get out!”
He ran back to where he had come from, and by day the faces of his teammates were joined by those who had been in the mart. The frightened faces of the women and children desperately hiding behind shelves out of fear of him. He had not only failed his teammates by sending them weak and unprepared into battle, not only his son by leaving him to become cold and cruel, but the world, by giving them a reason to be scared.
A year passed and he had found what he would have liked to believe to be a permanent home in an abandoned building at the far edge of a forest whose name he did not know. He lived in an upstairs room and slept on a moth eaten mattress that creaked and shook. Here he would sit with his rhyhorn ever faithful beside him. He would try to push the dark thoughts from his mind, but he couldn’t.
He remembered what he had said to Silver often. One must acknowledge his defeat before he can move on. But he had acknowledged his defeat, hadn't he? He had disbanded Team Rocket, let his whole team go. He hadn’t battled anyone, left his poke balls behind. He had contacted no one, failed at creating new plans, wallowed each and every day in the darkness of his failures. So why couldn’t he move forward?
He tried to get angry at Red, who he had heard had defeated the Elite Four very shortly after their encounter at the gym. He tried to blame Red, to call Red names and beat Red up in his head for what they had done to his precious Team Rocket, for what they had done to him. But Giovanni found he just couldn’t do it, for it wasn’t Red’s fault but his own.
Daily he would pour over what had gone wrong. What had failed at the Pokémon Tower? What had failed at Sliph Co.? What had failed at the Game Corner, the HQ? What had failed at the gym?
He knew the answer, but so deeply was it hidden inside him that he didn’t have the energy to dig it out.
All he heard and all he saw was failure. He had failed his team, his son, his Pokémon, the region, the whole world. And there was nothing, nothing he could do about it. The false courage that he had shown to Silver, the exclamation marks and the sense of confidence, he saw now that it was all a lie. He could never rebuild Team Rocket, he could never do anything but fail.
One evening he was sitting and wallowing, his rhyhorn asleep at his feet, when he saw from the window a faint yellow light. It grew larger and brighter and was accompanied by voices. Far off and indistinguishable voices, that were very clearly coming right for his home.
He barricaded the door, his rhyhorn waking up and pushing all the furniture in the room up against the door and then promptly sitting against it all to hold it in place. Giovanni sunk down next to him, his heart pounding and his mind racing with who it could possibly be.
Police, children, adults, Silver, a gym leader, thieves.
They got quiet and then the door creaked open and through the cracks in the floors and the thin walls he heard four unmistakable voices.
They were members of Team Rocket.
Their names he did not know since he referred to them all only as grunts and admins and their faces slurred together in expressions of fear and anguish but their voices sparked perfectly clear memories.
One had been the third member, a young boy who had abandoned Pokémon trainer school to run into the nearby forest where Giovanni and the two others were waiting, waiting for someone to come along from who they could take poke balls from. Along had come this boy, kicking at the grass, a sly and confident look on his face. He was young but not so young and the two other members had grinned and made the move to attack him. But Giovanni had held them back.
“Rather than steal from him, why don’t we ask him to join us?”
“But why boss?”
“He’s just a kid!”
Giovanni peered at him romping through the tall grass and nodded evenly. “No, he will be great.”
Another was one that had been sent to the Pokémon Tower. The three had come back in anguish, tired and angry all accept for one. The other two had barged in yelling and screaming about a young kid who had gotten in their way and foiled their plans, but the one had simply sat in a chair and hung his head in his hands. Giovanni had approached him and he looked up sadly.
“We failed you boss. I failed you. We couldn’t do one stupid job.”
It was the first time Giovanni had seen such a reaction, the first time Giovanni had felt pity for the members of his team. He was taken aback, not knowing really what to say. So he had only muttered, “You only fail me by not doing anything to make it better.” Words which have since been lost to Giovanni, but unknown to him, still kept close to the grunt’s heart.
The third had been the grunt sent to stand at the nugget bridge with the trainers stationed on it and wait for whoever came across, and won every battle. He had stood there faithfully for months, almost a year Giovanni was now remembering, and had slept next to the fence at Bill’s house to block out the wind. He had brought in only one member, despite his year of trying, a young boy quite like Red. But it wasn’t the news of the new member that he had returned for, but the news of Red.
He had come back early and Giovanni had been furious with him. Screaming and yelling at him and demanding an explanation for why he had left the post he had been stationed at until he could bring back ten followers. Plodding along behind him was the single child he had managed to ensnare.
“Boss, boss calm down! I’ve got news, bad news.”
Giovanni had rolled his eyes. “Oh god, tell me then. And who is this sad looking kid with you?”
The kid stepped forward triumphantly looking to open his mouth and say something but the grunt plowed ahead first. “There was this kid at the bridge today right after this one. Crazy strong, crazy strong. They had this look and this walk and this whole way of being.”
Giovanni was growing impatient. “So? A child, what of them?”
“Their name was Red, and they rejected the offer, but Boss… I think we gotta look out for this kid.”
The kid with him stepped forward. “I know Red, they’ll be no problem. Easy.”
Giovanni turned his eyes on the kid. “And you are?”
The grunt answered for him. “Blue, he’s a new recruit.”
“I know Red,” Blue continued. “Yeah they’ll swoop in to save the day every now and again but they’re weak. Red will be of no concern to you.”
Giovanni sat back, the issue of Red fleeting from him. How he wished he had paid more concern to the requests of the grunt. But he had sent the grunt back to nugget bridge where he had sat until he had found his way to this abandoned building.
The final grunt was one of three sisters, triplets, girls who had all joined together after running away from an undisclosed region whose whereabouts they described only as, very far away.
The three had been sent to a grouping of islands to hold down the Rocket warehouse out there. He had heard nothing from them since the day he first saw them. Only meeting them for minutes before sending them away. He had told all the Rocket members sent to the island that they were the team’s last hope lest something ever happen to him on the mainland, and then he promptly forgot about them. Obviously, they too had fallen, likely to the hands of Red.
He remembered her because she had seemed so full of life, a sort of vitality that radiated off all three of them but her most of all. She told him their story of coming here, stating clearly that it had been a long and harrowing journey but worth every minute now that they could finally stand before Giovanni, the man who had inspired them all. It was by far the most moving speech he had ever heard from a grunt, and yet he had sent her away, he had sent them all away.
There was shuffling and moving around and the distinct dragging of furniture followed by the, “Let’s check upstairs yeah?” The first grunt was leading the way.
All four pushed against the door. Heart racing Giovanni pushed back. He couldn’t let them find him, he couldn’t let them see him. The first had seen him at his very best, full of life and ideas for the team. The second had seen him in the face of failure, seen how strong he had been at that first sign of trouble. The third had tried to warn him, and Giovanni had only ignored him. And the fourth, why he had sent her away. He had failed them all every one by becoming someone weak and pathetic, by who he once was and who he was now. And he couldn’t face his team, not like this.
Their voices eventually faded but still flew through the many cracks and he heard them talking clearly to one another.
“Suppose we’ll stay here tonight.” The third one.
“Suppose.” The fourth.
“You ever wonder where he went?” The first.
Giovanni balled his hands into fists. They were talking about him.
They were all quiet and then, “All the time.” It was the fourth. “We all out at the warehouse stayed there, even after it was certain Team Rocket was done. We did as we were told, stayed the team’s final hope when something happened to him. We were up at Mt. Ember, looking for these gems that were supposed to be there. And we were so close to something, all of us. And then that kid, that kid from Lavender Town and Sliph Co. and the one who took down Giovanni, he showed up. Wiped us all out. The admin left to go find Giovanni and said he’d contact us all once he did.” She sighed. “Nothing has come in so far.”
“I wish him well.” The second. “He was always so great you know? Strong and inspiring. Even in the face of adversary he stood strong. I guess that final defeat was just too much for him. He was so scared after what happened at Sliph you know.”
“I wish I could see him one last time.” The third.
“What would you say to him?” The first.
Silence again, and then, “I would tell him to not give up on us. We’ll never give up on him, so he might as well return the favor.”
“You think he’ll ever come back?” The second.
“I hope he does.” The first. “I know he will. Just give it time. And when he does come back, I’ll be right there with him.”
Giovanni beat his head with his fists and pressed a pillow around his head until they left in the morning.
He waited one more day and then left the house behind, leaving the forest and sticking to the open paths. His second year alone faded into grey. By the end of it, all he could remember was becoming numb, succumbing to his failure. Acknowledging his defeat to the very depths of his heart and lying in anguish and torment each minute.
His rhyhorn passed and he buried him in a forest full of berries, under the shadiness of the trees.
Two months into his third year and he found himself once again, in Kanto. He had boarded a ship in secret and it came ashore at Vermilion. He came off with a flood of passengers and made his way to Diglett’s cave. He reached the other end, near Pewter City and took over an abandoned house next to the cave’s entrance. It was guarded by trees, and secluded enough so that he was alone. He hated for it to be that way, but had since then accepted his life for what it was.
He was sitting and thinking of nothing when the door handle jiggled, turned, and opened. In stepped a tired looking man who didn’t even look up as he entered.
Giovanni stood, afraid, praying that this man’s face would not soon join the faces of those in the mart, a look of fear, for fear of him.
The man at last did look up, and his face was one Giovanni knew.
Archer ran up to him and embraced him. “Boss! Boss its been so long! I’ve been looking for you for two years! We at the warehouse didn’t give up on you but then this kid came in with your gym badge and we knew it was finished! But I vowed to find you and never give up on the team! And here you are! At last!”
Archer stepped back, bright eyed and young looking. The harrowed man that had walked in had disappeared and in his wake stood a brilliant boy.
“So, whats next?”
Giovanni’s mouth opened and closed dumbly. “I-I don’t know.”
“Where’ve you been all this time? Haven’t you been planning? Training to get stronger?” Archer looked Giovanni up and down. “Don’t you have any Pokémon?”
“I fear for these past two years I’ve been wandering Johto lost.”
“What? Haven’t you got a plan?”
“N-No, no I don’t.” Giovanni couldn’t bring himself to look Archer in the eyes any longer. He remembered what had happened with Silver, and could feel it happening again. “I fear I have let all of you down. I have failed you Archer, I have failed the team, I have failed my son and I have failed myself.”
He anticipated Archer to get angry as Silver had, to claim he did not understand, did not understand how the sad shell sitting before him was once Team Rocket’s leader.
But that was not at all what Archer did. “Here, take this.” He pressed a poke ball into Giovanni’s hand.
“No I can’t I’ve failed-“
“Its like you said to that grunt when he came back from the Pokémon tower. He was sitting just like you, his head in his hands, all of his Pokémon released into the forest. You told him, ‘You only fail me when you do nothing to make it better.’ Here’s your chance Boss. Take this Pokémon, train, get stronger, plan and plot like I know you can. Come back, get Team Rocket back together. Make it better.”
Giovanni looked up from the poke ball in his hand. Archer, so determined and young and bright, a vigor and a strength in his voice that sounded so familiar, that was meant for Giovanni.
“I will. I will Archer. Team Rocket… will rise again!”
And so Giovanni fled once more to the forests of Kanto where he fought and trained and everything he had thought was replaced by what was becoming real. The mantras of failure he had long since chanted disappeared and were replaced with devious plots and determination. The fearful faces of the Team Rocket members morphed and changed into faces of hope and love, faces of the triplets that had stood before him, glittering with an excited vitality, faces of Archer bright eyed and young again, and they all sang with a voice of one, a voice of strength.
“Steal Pokémon for profit. Exploit Pokémon for profit. All Pokémon exist for the glory of Team Rocket!”
Giovanni found himself awaiting the message from Archer at Tohjo falls, the link between Kanto and Johto. He sat restlessly, instilled with a fire and itching to return again to the world of Team Rocket. All was quiet until behind him appeared two children accompanied by a strange looking Pokémon.
Terrified that his plans for greatness would once again be foiled by children he stammered, “I don’t know why you have come here. I have to warn you this is not a place for kids like you.”
One of the children looked at him wide eyed. “Huh? That’s the guy we just saw arguing with that boy!”
The other child stepped forward towards Giovanni and he felt his body go cold and his vision turn foggy. He was reminded of another child, starkly similar to the one before him. Everything was too familiar and too difficult and he felt the cave around him begin to spin. He could barely speak as he said, “You have a certain look… It reminds me of the kid who stood in front of me three years ago… You have the same eyes…” He shook his head and collected himself, repeating his mantras in his head, those of victory and determination. “I’m on my way to Goldenrod city to answer the call and join my team.” He narrowed his eyes and the chilling voice that he thought had disappeared resurfaced. “Are you going to get in my way?”
The radio fizzed and erupted behind Giovanni. “Team Rocket has occupied the Radio Tower at Goldenrod City! This is the Radio Tower… We are pleased to declare Team Rocket’s revival.” Giovanni’s heart swelled at the words he had dared not utter for it hurt him too much to say them, even in his mind. But now, here they were, clearly articulated by one of his own. And he knew then, he knew that anything was possible, and this child would not stand in his way. Not again. “Giovanni? Can you hear us? We have finally made it!”
Giovanni approached the child. “My old associates need me. We will not repeat the failure of three years ago! Team Rocket will be born again and I will rule the world!”
The battle commenced, and horrified, Giovanni watched his team fall once again to the hands of a child. The Pokémon he believed to be strong and well trained fell again and again. Desperately Giovanni clung to the hope that he would win somehow, somehow, somehow he would win. But as his final Pokémon's health drained to nothing, and it let out one final anguished cry, he knew it was over. It was over for good. It was over forever.
He fell to his knees, crippled with anger and fear and sadness and confusion. He looked up into the eyes of the child, the determination he thought he had held but knew now that he could never obtain. A determination and a drive like the one of Red, like the one of this child now, it was something Giovanni had never had, and it was something he would never be able to get. And that was what had went wrong at the Pokémon tower, Sliph Co., the HQ and the gym. Giovanni saw it now very clearly, and he felt it in his heart.
“What in the world are you?!” Giovanni cried out. He crawled away from the feet of the child. “How is this possible? The past three years have been a waste? How can a kid like you manage to destroy my dream once again? The precious dream of Team Rocket has become little more than an illusion…” And with that he walked out of the cave, the two children looking after him.
He stood on the edge of Tohjo falls, and he jumped.
The radio call echoed far above him and he could hear it faintly, faintly as his feet left the ground. “Hey! Where has Giovanni gone?”
He watched the water rush up to meet him, “Where has he gone indeed.”
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