A short one today, and not one that anybody requested, just an update on the Squirtle Squad.

Location: Chapter 9-22


Squirtle Squad Schooling!

It'd been a few weeks now since they'd been stolen from their old leader and the Squirtle Squad had adjusted as well as they could. After only a few days under constant surveillance during their first lessons, reading and writing, they'd received their armbands that tied them to Team Rocket—a metal band on each of their shoulders, slim enough to not get in the way if any of them needed to retract that arm. Each had a red R emblazoned on the side with a smaller etching next to it that had their official designations: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

They had been told upon receiving them that each contained a tracker chip, had the ability to warp them back to HQ, and possessed an extra feature. If any of them tried to break theirs off, and succeeded, the other three would immediately be recalled. The one would go free if he got away, but the remaining three would be separated and sold.

From there, after they learned to read and write, they'd been put through the wringer.

Increased vocabulary, map reading, strategy, training drills, learning new moves under the drill sergeant's tutelage, everything except for disguise since the instructor had taken one look at them and said it would be a waste of time trying to disguise them as anything.

On the plus side, since they were on the same team, and the barracks usually had two beds to a room, they got to share a room together, two bunking on each bed. (1) It really helped on the first few nights whenever any of them had a nightmare of being separated. The four Squirtles would pile together in one bed and sleep together on those nights, but those had gone away after a while.

The other agents had given them odd looks at first, but simply shrugged and accepted that they were an experimental squad. After getting used to them, a few had even shared a few facts about themselves with the Pokémon after they learned to write and could respond.

A majority of Team Rocket's operatives had been homeless before being taken in by the leader. And more than a few of those had tried to mug him before he stopped them with his Persian and recruited them.

Those had mentioned that working for Team Rocket wasn't all bad. You do some assignments, pay your dues with the profit from missions, and the Boss promised any and all who worked under him a place in the sun when Team Rocket ruled. That was what most of the agents wanted.

The drill sergeant, Viper – a human they swore had some snake Pokémon blood in him with how intimidating he was – thought they were an experiment that wouldn't last at first, but took them seriously when he saw their near-perfectly synchronized movements to get through the obstacles that still caught some of the human trainees.

While training under Viper, they'd learned Mud-Slap, Protect, and Rock Smash. (2) The man's first lesson had been Dig, but they'd demonstrated that they already knew that. When asked how, Alpha had written a note on the notepad he kept in his shell and handed it over, communicating, "It's how we dug our pitfall traps to mess with the locals before."

The first was easy to learn since they already had Water Gun to make the ground muddy before picking up some of the new substance to throw. And the other two wouldn't have been so bad if Viper hadn't "motivated" them with his hellish methods.

For Protect, he had muzzled them with water-tight masks that would keep them from using Water Gun to deflect anything. After that, he had them strapped against a wall, limbs and head bound to prevent them from withdrawing into their shells as well. With that done, he began unloading a paintball gun on them and telling them to raise a Protect barrier if they wanted him to stop before the three hour course was done. The projectiles didn't leave any lasting injuries, but they still stung.

Even though they hated every second of it, they couldn't deny that it got results faster. After half an hour of getting pelted by just about every color of pellet their instructor could think of, all four of them could raise the green barrier that took the hits before disappearing.

With that done, Viper had taken them to a different location – without taking the masks off or getting them cleaned up – and had their feet strapped down into metal braces fixed to a platform, leaving their hands free. He then put special restraints on their hands that attached to their palms and forced their fingers to be curled into fists. Once that was done, he wheeled up four carts filled to the brim with rocks that fit in his palm, which immediately told them that they were in for a brutal session.

He had picked up the first one and tossed it up and down while informing them that Protect could only be held up for so long, and Water Gun wouldn't deflect everything. So he would teach them Rock Smash while at the same time improving their tracking, reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Translation: He was going to chuck rocks at them with all his strength at blinding speed until time was up or they could reliably deflect them with Rock Smash; whichever came first.

Regrettably, it took them a few days of going through that—getting injured, recovering and trying again tomorrow. Eventually, though, they mastered that to where they could deflect them for the full three hours. It was grueling and humiliating to tiredly get a quick meal after training and crawl into bed after hosing the rubble off each other with Water Gun. But it made them stronger.

Once they learned Rock Smash, Viper put them back on only physical training drills. When asked why, he said that he wanted them to be a bit tougher for learning the other moves he had in mind. That only made them dread it, but they quickly got over it, figuring that he wouldn't get them injured to the point where they couldn't recover.

From then on, they kept on increasing their athleticism until Viper had them doing dry run heists.


In a high security tower, where a ceramic statue of the legendary Pokémon Articuno was stored, four sets of eyes looked down from an open air grate above it.

Once they had decided on their course of action, all but one retreated. Alpha jumped down from the hole in the ceiling with a rope looped around his body multiple times before being tied in a firm knot in the front.

Up above, the rope pulled taut as his three teammates stopped his plummet shortly before he reached the statue itself. From then on, it was a gentle descent that put him level with their objective's torso. Undoing the knot, Alpha took the excess and swung around the statue and under its wings, making sure not to touch the floor or walls. The parameters were that they could only touch the statue, and if it fell, they failed the test, so he didn't skimp on making sure it was secure.

Once he felt it wouldn't slip out of its bindings, Alpha climbed back up the rope and joined his teammates at the top to begin pulling the statue up. The vent was large enough to accommodate, since Team Rocket had designed this building specifically for this test.

They pulled it up the hole and two of them, Delta and Gamma, steeled themselves while Alpha and Beta let go to dash and support the statue by the wings. They managed to get it before it fell, and the other two of the team let go of the rope to help. Gamma jumped on Delta's shoulders and grabbed the head while Delta wrapped his arms as much as he could around the body and all four heaved to pull the statue completely in and make it lean towards its front.

Gamma jumped off his teammate to support the head by himself now, while Alpha and Beta helped Delta. He grinned and joked, "[Looks like we've done an ice job!]"

Alpha and Beta groaned while Delta didn't even give his teammate that much, and Alpha said, "[Let's just get this to the drop-off point and finish this little quiz.]"

The Squirtle Squad had managed to carry the statue to the designated goal and got a perfect score on another task. Viper even handed out a rare bit of approval in regards to their teamwork.

After being dismissed, Alpha looked back to his companions as they walked to the cafeteria.

"[We've come a long way, haven't we?]" he asked with a smile.

Gamma laughed with his arms folded behind his head, "[Yeah, Snake-man finally gave us some credit.]"

"[But,]" Beta started, "[is it really okay to live like this? Sure the worst part seems to be over for now, but…]"

"[But what?]" Alpha asked, the group stopping to fully face their teammate.

The unsure Squirtle sighed, "[I mean, I know that humans never really did us any favors, but what if we wind up having to help catch another Pokémon? They won't get the same chance as us.]"

"[You've seen how this place works,]" Alpha reassured. "[They don't hurt any Pokémon that they have their eye on. Not badly, anyway. Team Rocket only catches Pokémon to sell or use. Either way, they need them in good condition.]"

Beta still didn't look quite convinced.

The leader sighed, "[I know it isn't perfect. But it's our situation right now. Might as well get used to it.]"

"[Yes,]" Delta added. "[What matters most is that we stick together.]"

Gamma shrugged nonchalantly, "[I can think of worse fates. Least this place feeds us without us having to steal it.]"

"[…I guess you all are right,]" Beta said after a while. "[We all agreed that day that we'd get through this no matter what so long as we went through it together.]"

Gamma put a hand on his shoulder, "[That we did. So chin up! Today's pastry day at the cafeteria!]"

"[Is food all that's on your mind?]" Delta asked.

"[No,]" he replied while sticking his tongue out, "[sometimes I think about jokes too.]"

Beta chuckled, at least glad that he wasn't going through this alone or with a human.


The next day saw all the trainee squads gathered in front of Viper and a topographic map with a dot and an X on it. Viper told them that they'd be taking the final test two days later, and that the first leg of it was getting to the building marked on the map. It was expected that they would take at least a day of travel, so each agent had a loaf of bread and a bottle of water as rations. Depending on their performance, some teams would become field agents while others would be held back for more training.

The Squirtle Squad noticed that a river ran right near the quarry where the building was. They would have to swim against the current, but that was child's play for them.

Once everybody was dismissed, Viper pulled them aside for an extra message.

"Regardless of how you do on this test, I'm not going to deploy you into the field yet," he told them. "I have a few more moves that I want to teach you before you start the real missions."

The four Water-types saluted in unison, and drill sergeant nodded back, "Dismissed. Now move out!"


Notes:

1. This is just speculation on my part since we never see any barracks in the episodes flashing back to the Team Rocket Academy. I figure that Team Rocket would want the agents of its squads to get used to sharing the same room since they'll often be camping together.

2. Team Rocket is based in Kanto and Johto, so they are perfectly aware of, and thus able to teach, Gen II moves.

The final exam is the same as it was in canon, specifically the Pokémon Chronicles episode "Training Daze," so I don't see the need to write it again. Besides, this is keeping with the update that Matori gave at the start of Chapter 22 that the Squirtle Squad was ready for the final exam.

See you when I see you.

-AJ203