Operation Ketchum
#1
Part 1: The Order

It was a rainy morning. The clouds over Saffron City were dark and gray, and hid the sun completely. A rather stern-looking man, stood with a large cat near a window in his office, high above the streets, contemplating. This man, Giovanni, leader of a criminal organization known as Team Rocket, had once again had his plans foiled at the hands of a young man. Giovanni had come so close to domination of the pokémon world… but he got in his way. Him and his motley crew. Were world domination a tangible thing, it would be comparable to a person chasing a floating feather. You creep up on it, getting closer and closer, when you’re so close you can smell it – and a simple gust of wind blows it away, out of your reach. This time, things had to change. No one would stand in his way. But how? Every plan he’d come up with would fail, regardless of how complex or foolproof it seemed.

And it was all because of him. That… do-gooder. Giovanni began to pace the office, the cat mimicking his movements. He turned to his pet. “Persian, stop it. I’m not in the mood to play right now.” When he passed the window once again, he stopped, taking a minute to look at the city below him. He wondered to himself.

'Why can’t he see what I’m trying to achieve? What goes on in that boy’s mind that makes him completely oblivious to the truth? The world isn’t built on friendship, it’s built on power; and those who are most capable of wielding it.’ He chuckled to himself. ‘I’ve tried everything short of just killing him.’ He laughed a bit at this ridiculous notion, but his smile quickly began to fade as his brain processed what he just said. ‘Now there’s an idea… if I dispose of him like that, there will be no one to stand in my way.’

Giovanni, now feeling better with this new idea, continued to walk around the room, rather aimlessly, Persian still following him. ‘That’s it! I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before! It’s so perfect! But… I can’t just kill him in the street. No. I have to get him alone somehow… no, that won’t work, either. He’d be too much on his guard, and he’d have that Pikachu with him, no doubt.’

He stopped for a minute to think about this particular pokémon. He had seen the pokémon in a battle firsthand, and could not for the life of him figure out why Jessie and James had lost to it on countless occasions, not to mention blown up or otherwise ruined several of Team Rocket’s Secret Machines. Giovanni resumed pacing, and Persian, tiring of his own game, rested at the side of Giovanni’s desk.

‘Where was I…? Oh, yes. Pikachu. I’ve already lost millions of dollars at the cheeks of that electric mouse… I have to keep them apart as much as I can. …But I can’t take any chances. All his pokémon love him, no doubt about that.’ His thoughts trailed back to his earlier conversation with himself. ‘When I’m done with him, he’ll wish he had joined my cause. Well, I guess he won’t, but that’s his problem.’ He shook his head a few times, and tried to stay focused. This idea was too good to let slip away like so many dreams before it.

‘He’ll have human companions, as usual. I can’t risk them going to the authorities, so I have no choice but to kill them, too. Yes… this plan will not fail. But there’s still one problem. Who to carry out my wishes? I can’t do it myself… no, I must stay here and continue running business as normal. Butch is in prison… I remember sending Cassidy out to find new recruits, but she hasn’t reported back to me in quite some time. When she gets back, she’s in for it. Both of my best agents are unavailable. Wonderful. Next in rank…no. I can’t trust Jessie and James. They’re too much of a liability.’ His eyes widened at a sudden realization. ‘Wait a second. I can get rid of them, too… they’ll only cause me more and more losses later on, I’m sure of it. I can send them to do the dirty work, then send someone else to do them in! Yes! Perfect!’

He slammed his fist on the desk for emphasis, satisfied with this ultimate plan. ‘Where to do the deed? Hm… it has to be far from Kanto, where Team Rocket would be least suspected. I could probably use that private island retreat in Orre… yes! No wild pokémon to save the day, and no humans for hundreds of miles! Everything is set. Now to set the wheels in motion,’ Giovanni thought. He picked up a telephone receiver and held it to his ear. This was Giovanni’s personal telephone; when he picked it up, a similar phone would ring at the secretary’s desk on the ground floor. When she picked it up, Giovanni would bark an order, hang up, and wait while the secretary executed it immediately and with accuracy – or be fired. Today, no matter how good a mood Giovanni was in, would be no different. A woman’s voice answered the telephone.

“Yes, Giovanni, sir?”

“Merla, get me Jessie and James. Tell them to report to my office immediately.”

“Yes, sir, right away. Will that be all?”

“Yes, thank you.”

As Giovanni hung up the phone, he sat and waited. Waiting was something Giovanni did not normally like to do, but when it came to a plan this good, he could easily wait a few minutes more for whatever it is he needed. But not too long. Give those Grunts an inch and they’ll take a mile, let me tell you. The telephone rang, this time on Giovanni’s end. A bit irritated, not expecting another call, he answered. “What is it?”

“Sir, neither Jessie nor James are in.”

“…what?”

“Their quarters, sir. They’re both empty.”

Giovanni didn’t expect this. “I see. Thank you. When they get back, tell them to report to my office immediately. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir, I understad.”

He hung up the phone, fury building. ‘Who do they think they are, just leaving without informing me?! They’re probably off fiddling with that boy and his rat again. Honestly, you’d think after failing hundreds of times, they’d get the picture. Maybe if I told them not to get it, they’d stop.’ He chuckled again. ‘No, of course not, what am I thinking? I can’t tell them to stop. Even if it does cost me millions of dollars, it’s worth it to see a couple of idiots like them suffer.’

Another ring from the telephone. “What is it?”

“Jessie and James have reported in and are on their way to your office as we speak.”

“Excellent work. Thank you.” No sooner had he hung up the phone did he hear a somewhat feeble knock at the door. “Who’s there?!” Giovanni bellowed.

“James, sir.”

‘I must control my temper,’Giovanni thought. “Yes, James, come in, quickly!”

The door opened, and a very dirty-looking James walked inside. Well, not “walked.” “Hobbled” might be a bit more accurate. His short purple hair had bits of dirt and stick scattered through it, and his face was dirty with traces of mud. Both of his black gloves were missing, and a white jacket was tied around his waist. There was a small but noticeable gash in his black shirt near his shoulder. His white pants seemed relatively intact, except for the fact that there was a long rip down the back of one leg. His boots were covered in dirt, and James’ toes could be visible through one of them. He was a mess, to say the least. He stood there, looking at Giovanni, a weak smile filled with nervousness creeping across his face, knowing full well what was about to happen.

Giovanni was not pleased with this display. “What is the meaning of this?! Where is Jessie?!”

James took a breath and began his explanation. “Well, sir, we tried to catch that Pikachu for you again… and we got sent flying… again. We landed in Viridian Forest, and all the trees broke our fall, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they broke a couple bones as well. I can’t exactly feel my left leg completely. It feels weird. You know when your foot’s asleep, and—”

Giovanni sighed and rubbed his temple. “Today, James,” he interrupted. ‘Moron…’

“Y-yes, sir! Sorry, sir! We landed right in the middle of a Beedrill colony. They chased us for a while, and one of them got Jessie with a Twineedle attack. It poisoned her, and she soon fainted. Meowth suggested I fight the Beedrill off with Weezing, so I did. Teaching it Flamethrower attack was a pretty good idea… it took care of business quick,” he said with a chuckle, remembering how the Beedrill panicked after seeing Weezing spew forth flames. “After they fled, I had to tend to Jessie’s poison. It was lucky that Meowth managed to save our supply pack, or she’d probably be in a hospital. I administered some Antidote and waited for the poison to wear off. It didn’t take long. After that, we came back to get cleaned up and report to you, but Merla said you wanted to see us immediately. I weighed being presentable against keeping you waiting, and I figured I’d try my chances with looking like this. I know you don’t like to be kept waiting.”

Giovanni waited a second. “Are you finished?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“I see. You chose wisely. It looks like you’ve had quite the adventure, hm? Good, good… but James, tell me something.”

“Yes, sir?”

WHERE IS JESSIE?!

Persian awoke from this sudden noise, and began to meow noisily in complaint. James jumped back a foot, completely taken off guard. “S-sh-she’s—”

A knock.

‘Saved,’ a very frightened James thought.

Giovanni, however, was in no mood to play. He removed a Poké Ball from his belt and held it towards the howling kitty. “Persian, return!” A beam of red light shot from the ball, enveloped the cat, and sucked it in. Giovanni replaced the Poké Ball and pointed a finger at the door. “James, if that isn’t Jessie knocking on that door, so help me…” He paused. ‘Oh yes. James definitely gets to die.’ “Open the door.”

‘Please be her, please be her,’
James pleaded to himself. He closed his eyes and opened the double doors that led into Giovanni’s office. He opened his eyes to find a rather tall girl with long magenta hair held in a single gravity-defying curl by the sheer magnitude of her beauty. At least, that’s what she told people. She was wearing small green earrings. Being a woman, it was more important for her to wear her standard issue uniform, because of her adequate bust, but she was more “fashionably inclined” than everyone else. She cut her shirt and jacket almost entirely off, so a very good portion of her torso was visible. This was her standard uniform.

Were she wearing said jacket, she would not look as bad as she did. Her shirt, black, like James’, was torn on one side. Because of this, she had to hold it up with one hand or risk exposing herself; she did not wear a bra (she complained that she felt restricted by wearing them, and under normal circumstances, her tight-fitting shirt and jacket helped keep her bust under control). One arm was crossed below her chest, giving support to the elbow of her other hand, and also helped to hide them.

She wasn’t wearing any pants. No, pants were too unfashionable for this young lady. Instead, she wore a skirt, which was surprisingly intact. However, she still felt the need to feel fashionable, even on the job, so she also cut her skirt shorter than normal length. Much shorter. There was about two inches of skin between the top of her boots that went an inch above the knee and the bottom of her skirt.

She walked into Giovanni’s office with a somewhat embarrassed look on her face. She shut the door and stepped forward, and took a spot next to James.

“JESSIE!” Giovanni hollered. “Where the devil have you been?!”

“Looking for clothes, sir,” Jessie replied. “I take it James told you what happened…”

“Yes, yes, he did. That still doesn’t explain where you’ve been this whole time! I said to report to my office immediately! No side trips! At least this moron knows that an order is an order!”

James beamed for a second. ‘Hey, wait a minute…’ He sank back down as Jessie talked.

“I know, sir, and I didn’t mean to keep you waiting, honest, but you see, my skirt was nearly completely torn off; you can ask James about that. My shirt is ripped, too, so I have to hold up my shirt with one hand and my skirt with the other. It’s very hard to walk like that, especially in these boots. They’re killer on my feet… I spent five minutes looking for a skirt to wear, and then another minute or two trying to find a suitable pair of boots to wear. But I remembered that James said you wanted to see us, so I rushed back up here.”

Giovanni began to pace slowly around the two. He was silent at first. ‘I can’t believe I even considered trusting these two imbeciles with my greatest plan ever. I’m going to enjoy it when they’re sleeping the eternal sleep…’ “I see… so you think that your choice of clothes take precedence over my orders, do you…?” He walked calmly over to his desk. ‘Yes, I am.’

“N-no, sir, of course not,” Jessie stammered. “It’s just that—”

Giovanni spun around and slammed his hands down hard on his desk three times. “I! Don’t! Care!”

A very scared Jessie jumped, and she wrapped her arms around James.

“Enough excuses! That goes for you too, James! I am sick and tired of you two doing nothing except failing at everything! Do you realize how much money you’ve cost me?! You could work for free for the next 10 years and not even come close to having enough to pay me back! You’re lucky I don’t fire you this instant!” A little calmer, Giovanni sat down in his chair, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. ‘Just a little longer… then they’ll be out of your hair for good.’

More relaxed, Jessie began to loosen her grip on James, but James suddenly hugged Jessie and held her tight. She looked to him, as if to ask, ‘What are you doing?’, but James simply shushed her while Giovanni talked again. “Listen up. Butch and Cassidy are both indisposed at the moment, so I need the two of you to carry out this mission. I’m growing weary of always suffering defeat at the hands of that boy”

“You mean Ash Ketchum?” James piped up. Giovanni simply stared. Was James really that stupid?

“Sir?” he asked again. Guess so.

“Yes, I mean Ash Ketchum! Who else?! No longer will he be a nuisance to Team Rocket. No longer will he continue to bar my path to world domination!”

“What do you plan on doing?” Jessie inquired.

“Ah, the best part,” Giovanni began, flashing a smile. “I’m going to get him to come to my island retreat in Orre. There, you two will be waiting. All you need to do is kill him.”

Jessie and James stared, wide-eyed. “Kill him!” James said. “Surely you don’t mean to resort to murder!”

“Yes, what about Team Rocket’s pride?” Jessie chimed in.

“Forget pride! This is personal… I want that boy dead, and you two will be his executioners. Do it any way you can. But remember; you must be quiet about it! I know it’s going to be difficult, but do try to not do something stupid like walk up to him and say, “Hello, Ash, we’re here to take your life.” Understand?”

James gulped. He didn’t like the idea, but he knew what happened when you made Giovanni cross. “Yes, sir. We’d like to get going now, so we can prepare. When do you want us to leave for Orre?”

“I will have my personal jet fly the two of you out there first thing tomorrow morning. I will send a courier to the Ketchum residence tomorrow, and I will make sure Ash accepts my offer. Meanwhile, you two make sure you know that building’s layout from top to bottom, inside and out! I’m going to wait one week for Ash to reply. Once he does, I will send Pidgeot with a note saying that he is on his way. This gives you seven days plus however long it takes for Ketchum to get there to prepare yourselves, so no screw-ups! Two more things. One: Leave all your pokémon at headquarters. Ash is going to do the same. Two: Because he’s being forced to leave his pokémon behind, he’s going to want human company. I’ll limit the number of people he can bring with him, but if he brings anyone along, you have to kill them, too. You two are to be the only ones who leave that island alive! There is more than enough food and drink there for the lot of you. When he gets there, you two are to pretend that I sent you there as punishment for failure, but you escaped from the basement and are now living the good life until your sentence is over. Be friendly toward him, but when you deliver the killing blow, I want you to strike him down with the wrath of Arceus! Now get going! I’ll send someone to help gather your things.”

“Right. Well, Jessie, shall we go?” James said, with an ever-so-slight wink.

“Yes, let’s,” Jessie replied. The two partners sidestepped out of the office, still tightly embraced.

‘Fools to the very end,’ Giovanni thought. He turned in his chair and looked out the window. It was still raining. “Your days are numbered, Ash Ketchum…”



CC: 16,594
Note: I decided to cut my massive story into smaller parts. 
Target: $$$
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#2
Part 2. A Battle, and second thoughts.


“Pikachu, Thunderbolt!”

Ash Ketchum, self-proclaimed pokémon master, commanded his faithful pokémon and friend. This afternoon, he is celebrating his recent victories in this year’s Pokémon League competition with a sparring battle between his good friend and travel buddy, Misty, outside his home in Pallet Town, with Professor Samuel Oak, the local authority on Pokémon, and also a Pallet resident, as judge. The townsfolk gathered at windows and doors to view the battle; they wanted to see their homegrown hero doing what he does best. Pikachu summoned energy and then let it loose. People watched as it soared towards its target, ready to rain down electric fury.

“Starmie, use Double Team!” Misty ordered. Some gasped in awe as Starmie began to split itself into several Starmie. As the bolt of lightning crashed towards Starmie, it simply dissipated into the air. The bolt had hit only a copy.

“Not bad, Misty,” Ash said. “I didn’t think you’d do that.”

“Ha! Watch this, master! Starmie! Hydro Pump attack!”

All Pikachu could do was watch in horror as all the Starmie began to prepare to use one of the most powerful Water-type attacks in the world. He looked towards Ash, desperately wanting a command. Ash, however, was just as worried as Pikachu; he could think of nothing. How could he find the real Starmie? Just then, he saw one of the Starmie begin to fade, and came up with a plan. “Pikachu! Quick Attack, straight up in the air!”

All of a sudden, all the Starmie vanished except one. As it fired the water beam, Pikachu, glad to have something to do, leapt quickly in the air, then propelled itself higher using its electricity. Starmie, unable to raise the large beam any higher, missed its target. “All right, Pikachu! Thunderbolt the water stream!”

Pikachu called forth power once again, and shot it straight down. As it hit Starmie’s attack, the electricity surged through the water, and with incredible speed nailed its target. Starmie ceased its attack, and fell to the ground, its core flashing, signaling it was near defeat. Misty could do nothing as Pikachu landed on all fours, ready to deliver the final blow. It stood up, awaiting the final command.

“Had enough, Misty? One more hit like that and Starmie’s done for.”

“Oh, you wish! Come on, Starmie, let’s show him how it’s done! Psychic attack!”

“Pikachu, stop it with Shock Wave!”

Starmie, in its weakened state, could not muster the energy required to launch the attack in time. Pikachu’s attack hit Starmie dead-on, and that was the end. Starmie’s core light faded and could battle no longer.

“Starmie is unable to battle!” Professor Oak said, raising one hand towards Ash. “Ash is the winner!”

The town erupted into cheers, with various people applauding Misty’s effort. As she recalled her pokémon, Ash walked to the defeated.

“Hey, don’t feel bad, Misty,” Ash said, trying his best to put on a good show. Both of them knew that not only did Pikachu have much more experience battling than Starmie, but Pikachu also had a type advantage. “You almost had me when you used Double Team. I honestly didn’t think I would be able to counter it.”

“Yeah, well, you’re lucky that you had Pikachu. I mean, come on. You’ve had that thing since you were 10. Five years is a long time to train, and thanks to Team Rocket constantly trying to kidnap him, Pikachu gets even more experience using attacks on their machines.”

“Like earlier today?” The two laughed, remembering their encounter with Jessie and James. “Don’t they ever get enough?”

“Guess not,” Misty replied. The crowd surrounding the area began to disperse, the show over. Professor Oak congratulated Ash on his victory.

“Wonderful, Ash. I’m impressed with how you handled yourself.” He turned to Misty. “You were close. It was a good idea using Double Team to get around the type disadvantage.” He rubbed his chin. “But Ash, I don’t know why you didn’t use Shock Wave in the first place. It never misses its target…”

“If I did that, Misty wouldn’t have stood a chance,” Ash replied.

“What!” Misty said, giving Ash a little shove. “You mean all this time, you were just toying with me?!”

Ash sweatdropped. He rubbed the back of his head nervously. “Well… yeah…”

Misty began to turn red as a vein bulged on her forehead, quickly filling with anger. “Why, you… you little jerk! How dare you!”

Ash went wide-eyed as Misty held a fist in the air. “Now, Misty, wait a second! Let me explain!”

“I know where this is going, and I’m getting out of here before I get hurt,” Oak said, retreating into his lab.

“No!” Misty cried as she brought her fist down. Ash, in a desperate attempt to block, held his arms in front of his face. Misty, however, expected this, and kicked Ash in his shin.

“Aah! That hurts, you know!” Ash retorted, and seized his leg with one hand. Misty grabbed Ash by the neck and tripped his foot, sending him to the ground. She forced his arms to his sides and straddled his torso, pinning his arms under her. She leaned forward, and laid an arm across his neck. She used her other hand to press down, which began to choke him.

“Say it!” Misty demanded. “I swear, Ash, you say it or I’ll do worse than this!” Ash, however, said nothing. His eyes stared into space, not blinking. She pulled back, frightened. “…Ash?” There was no response. She put her ear to his mouth, to see if she could feel his breath on her. Her eyes widened in horror as she did not. Quickly, she sat up, and began to shake him. “Ash? Ash!” No response. She turned towards the research lab and called, “Professor Oak! Come quick! Ash is – g’hey!”

She felt her legs drop to the ground, and felt something grab her arms. She looked down to see Ash Ketchum force her arms to her sides, then lunge forward and clasp his hands behind her back. He took his legs and wrapped them around her body, immobilizing her. “Ash! Why, you—”

Ash chuckled as he used his heels to propel himself forward, so Misty’s body was lying flat on the ground. He sat on her pelvis, spread her legs apart slightly, and left his feet to rest on her knees, so she could not bend them. He took his hands and held Misty’s wrists down, so she could not move at all. He looked into her eyes, smiled, and simply said: “You say it.”

‘How does he do it?’ Misty wondered. “…I give.”

“Now that that’s over with,” Ash said, releasing his grip. He ruffled Misty’s hair a little and stood up. Misty, defeated twice in the same day, simply sat on the ground, head hung. “Oh, Misty, come on, get up. Look, I’m sorry I did that, okay? I shouldn’t have done that, even if it was to hold on to a record.” He held a hand down, and Misty accepted it. She stood up and brushed her clothes off, still hanging her head. “But hey, think about the positives! You’ve gotten so good that I have to fake death to beat you! Don’t you remember when we first started play fighting? You would always come out swinging, and I’d send you to the ground in a heartbeat. You gave up so quickly… it was a little disappointing. But look now! You’ve really improved a lot.” He gave a smile, trying to improve the mood of his comrade.

One look at Misty, however, would tell you one of two things: either she didn’t notice his smile, or she noticed and didn’t care. She took a deep breath, raised her head, and spoke. “I don’t care that I’ve never beaten you, Ash Ketchum. I don’t care that in five years and countless fights, you’ve always managed to win. I do care that you think it’s acceptable to pretend you’re seriously hurt just to win some stupid fight. I do care that I could have killed you, and you just laid there and took it just to beat me!”

Ash’s smile faded, and he drew his friend into an embrace. “You’re right. I promise you that I won’t do anything like that again. Okay? It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. I did it without thinking.”

Misty laughed a little. “You? Mr. High-and-Mighty Pokémon Master, do something without thinking? My, there is proof of Arceus after all!”

Ash hugged his friend tighter. “Hey, shut up,” he joked. “I’m not perfect, I’ll have you know. Extremely talented? Yes. Smart? I’d like to think so. Handsome and charming? Quite possibly. But perfect? Not even close.”

“Don’t forget lucky,” Misty added. “Your luck level is off the charts.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I am lucky. Lucky to have a friend as forgiving as you.”

Misty pulled away from Ash a little, and looked him in the face. “Forgiving? Is that it?”

“Huh? Oh, um… no, of course not. Forgiving and… pretty. Yes. I am lucky to have a friend as pretty and forgiving as you, Misty.”

“There’s a good boy,” Misty said with a wink, and ran a hand through Ash’s hair, messing it up. For a moment, each person stood there, looking at the other, when Misty decided to look at her watch. “Oh, I’ve got to be getting back to the Gym. I’m scheduled to battle someone tomorrow afternoon.”

“Really? At least stay for dinner. I’m sure my mom wouldn’t mind, and I can get Officer Jenny to give you a lift back home. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe some of the perks I get because my pokémon are top notch,” Ash said, turning a head towards his partner, who had witnessed the entire spectacle. “Right, buddy?”

The mouse pokémon nodded its head in approval. “Pika pika!” Because of Ash’s success as a Pokémon Trainer, Pallet Town has grown in size, and now has its own police force and Pokémon Center. They were constructed using some of the prize money Ash had won for winning League competitions – several times. The Pokémon League officials insisted on putting the money in his mother’s bank account, but Mrs. Ketchum persisted in getting her son his own account, despite his age.

Misty looked at her watch again. “Well… okay, if you say so. But only if you’re sure that Officer Jenny can give me a ride home tonight. I don’t want to be rushed tomorrow.”

“Tonight? No sweat. She works for me, remember? No way she’ll refuse. Plus, she totally has the hots for me. She’d rather die than miss a chance to help ‘such a cute young man.’ Well, shall we?” he asked, extending an arm.

Misty smiled and linked her arm with his. “Yes, let’s.” She turned her head to look at Pikachu, who had been taking a short rest in the grass. “Pikachu! You coming?” Pikachu opened an eye, then closed it again. Misty decided to play dirty at that moment, and said in a sing-song voice, “I’ve got keeeeetchuuuuup…” At this, Pikachu’s eyes opened, and its ears perked at the word ‘ketchup.’ It happily ran to its master and jumped on his shoulders, awaiting the delicious treat.

As the three walked into the Ketchum residence, a rather strange-looking bird pokémon hovered overhead. Its bright red eyes scanned the area, and what the bird saw could be seen on a TV screen far away.

“Wow. It likes ketchup? Seriously, do you have any idea how much easier it would be to catch Pikachu if we had known it likes ketchup?” James said, studying the screen. The town was deserted, and all that could be seen were buildings. “I can’t believe this thing actually works. Great job, Meowth.”

“What do you mean, ‘I can’t believe this thing actually works’?” Meowth said, arms crossed. "Of course the Robo-Pidgey works! I figure that if all our spying only ends up in pain and suffering for our side, at least we can spy from far away and let the machine get all the pain!”

“Yes, but how did you get it to hear the twerps’ voices and no one else’s?” Jessie asked, curious.

“Easy. I control the Robo-Pidgey using this remote control. The Robo-Pidgey is the same size as a normal Pidgey, so it can go unnoticed unless someone tries to capture it, but that’s another story I’d rather not talk about. Normally, Robo-Pidgey is only used for video recording purposes, but whenever I want it to pick up audio, all it has to do is get within 100 feet of its target. After I tell Robo-Pidgey what to lock on to, all’s I have to do is push this button! After that, any sound that comes from the target will be recorded by Robo-Pidgey.”

“Interesting,” the humans said, nodding.

“I’ll say. I really am quite a genius,” Meowth bragged. “So uh… what exactly did you need it for, anyway?”

Jessie and James looked at each other for a second. “We’re going on a mission for the boss,” Jessie said. “That’s all you need to know.”

“Yeah, and he also said we can’t take our pokémon, so you have to stay here,” James added.

“What? No way! Come on, guys, I’m one of the team, aren’t I?” Meowth protested. “I’m so helpful!”

Jessie stood up, went to a closet, and removed a suitcase. She placed it on her bed and began to study the contents of her closet. “That may be, Meowth, but you’re a pokémon first. And the boss specifically told us not to bring any of our pokémon, and that includes you.” She removed an outfit, looked at it for a moment, then put it back.

“Jessie, what on earth are you doing? This isn’t a vacation, you know,” James said, shaking his head.

“I know, I know,” Jessie said shrill. “But what if something happens to what I wear there? Then I’ll be dirty and gross and I won’t stand for it!” She took a few outfits from her closet and put them in her suitcase.

“I guess you have a point,” James said. “Let me get a few things from my room, okay?”

“Hey, wait a second, you guys!” Meowth interjected. “Just what is this mission, anyway?”

The humans looked at each other again. James spoke first. “Well, see, what we’re gonna do is—”

“—is top secret,” Jessie interrupted. “I don’t think the boss would appreciate us simply blabbing about our mission. Don’t you agree, James?” She glared at him for emphasis.

“Um… y-yeah, right, Jess. Almost ruined it. I’ve got to be more careful… heh heh.” He laughed nervously. “I’ll be right back with my things.”

‘Something’s not right here,’ Meowth thought. ‘These dopes never go anywhere without me, much less not tell me where they’re going.’

“Meowth!” a voice shouted.

“Aaah! What, what!”

“Out! I need to change my clothes to make sure I’ve got the right outfits picked!”

“Okay, okay, geez… you don’t have to holler,” Meowth said, exiting Jessie’s quarters. ‘Honestly… so now what? Eh… guess I’ll go see James.’

James’ living quarters was not far from his partner’s, so Meowth thought it a bit awkward that James had taken this long to get clothes. At first, James had been just as irritating as Jessie when it came to one’s wardrobe, but no longer. Meowth had personally seen to that. As Meowth entered the room, he saw James lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. “James, what are you doing?”

“Meowth, can I ask you something?”

“Huh? Sure, what is it?”

“If I told you to attack a human being because I didn’t like him, would you do it?”

“Well, sure! Like Jessie said, I’m a pokémon first, and a pokémon follows the orders of its master.”

“Even if you held no ill will toward the man? You would attack even if you yourself didn’t see the need to?”

“Well… yeah. What else am I supposed to do?”

“I wish I knew. Don’t you ever feel bad about the things we do?”

Meowth jumped on James’ bed and stared at him in disbelief. “Are you nuts? I love this job! Free room and board, three squares a day, and you two knuckleheads get to take care of me! You couldn’t pay me enough to quit doing this!”

“No, that’s not it,” James began. “I mean… I love my job, too. It’s just that… well, we’ve never had to do an assignment like this before, and I’m not so sure I want to do it.”

Meowth sighed. “Again with the mission talk! What is it that big oaf wants you to do?!”

James was silent for a minute. “If I tell you, promise you won’t say anything to anyone? Jessie was right. The boss would be furious if I told anyone about our mission. But I trust you, Meowth. Even if you are a pokémon, you’re part of this team just as much as myself or Jessie, and so I feel you should know about what’s going on.”

“Cross my heart and hope to battle a Ghost-type,” Meowth said, using a paw to mark an ‘x’ on his chest.

James sat up. “Okay. This is it. What we’re going to do is…” He leaned forward and whispered to Meowth, whose eyes grew wider with each passing moment.

“WHAT?!”

“Shhh! Be quiet! Do you want Jessie to find out! If she finds out I told you, she’ll have my head! That woman’s scary normally, but let me tell you, I know firsthand what it’s like to get her mad… and I mean furious. It’s scary beyond your worst nightmare. You don’t want to go there… I don’t want to go there ever again. I’ve got enough scars.”

“Oops! Sorry about that, James,” Meowth said, covering his mouth. After regaining his composure, he continued. “That’s just plain wrong. I didn’t see that coming at all. Beat him up, sure. Hospitalizing him may have been pushing it, but…” He lowered his voice. “…killing him? No way! That kind of thing leaves a mark that you can’t ever wash off.”

“I know, and that’s my problem!” James said, lying back down. “I mean, yeah, I’m a little mad that I have to keep treating myself for shock wounds, and it’s depressing that we never win a battle against him and his friends, but I wouldn’t want him to die for it. All he’s doing is protecting his pokémon.” He looked over at his belt that contained his pokémon. “I can sort of understand how he feels. I would protect my pokémon if they were in danger…”

“James, you’re starting to worry me here. I thought you said you liked this job, too!”

“Don’t get me wrong. Yeah, it’s fun using coming up with new ideas and building more machines to try to catch that Pikachu.”

“Using the boss’s money,” Meowth added with a smirk.

James laughed. “Yeah, using the boss’s money. But I don’t think he really trusts us with this mission. We do nothing but screw up, and here he goes trusting us with this. He probably plans on playing us like chumps. We’ll kill him, and he’ll say that we’re rogue agents who do things our own way, and don’t have any affiliation with Team Rocket. Then we go to prison forever and he gets away with it. He wins either way; either Ketchum dies, and we’re out of the picture for good, or we die trying, and we’re still out of the picture for good.”

“I never thought of it like that, now that you put it that way…” Meowth said, hopping back onto the floor. “I wouldn’t put it past him, that low-down double-crosser. He only wants the best.” ‘Stupid Persian…’ “Hey, James, think we should tell Jessie?”

“Yeah. She’s part of the team, too. I don’t know how she’ll take it, though.”

“Only one way to find out, right?”

“Right. Let’s go back.”

As the two men walked back towards Jessie’s room, an administrator hurried towards Giovanni’s office, and bumped into them in the process. “Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Orders from Giovanni himself! I’ve been summoned for a special mission!” The administrator then turned and continued on his way.

Meowth stopped for a moment. “Gee, what do you think the boss wants? Is he sending everyone on special missions? This is totally not fair. I want a special mission, too.”

“I don’t know what Giovanni would want with another administrator. He already has Butch, Cassidy, Jessie, and myself… and I know he trusts Butch and Cassidy more than he does Jess and me. Only Butch and Cassidy outrank the two of us, so I guess it’s normal that he came to us first! He must be sending that administrator on a separate task, to make it look like everything is fine. Right?”

“Right…” The two resumed walking. “But if that’s true, then do we really need to tell Jessie what you told me earlier?”

“I told you, I don’t know how she’d take it. She loves this job as much as you do, and I don’t think she’d willingly accept that her boss is trying to get rid of her. You know how she feels about Giovanni, she treats him like a father.” As the two reached Jessie’s room, James knocked and looked down to Meowth. “Okay, this is it. You ready, partner?”

A voice shouted from inside. “Who’s there!”

Meowth looked back to James with a nervous smile on his face. “Yeah, ready.” He called through the door. “Jessie, open up, it’s us!”

“Oh. Come in, it’s open.”

James opened the door to find Jessie’s suitcase on the floor at the foot of her bed. Jessie, wearing an orange halter-top and matching miniskirt, was lying on her bed. “I was wondering where you guys were,” Jessie said, sitting up. “I’ve been done for a while.”

“What was with the attitude when we knocked on the door?” James asked.

“Oh, sorry about that. I guess you could say I was overly jumpy,” Jessie explained, lying back down. “I didn’t want to risk any creeps opening the door while I wasn’t paying attention and sneaking a peek… say, you guys weren’t—” She sat up again, preparing to beat some lecherous face in.

“NO! No, Jessie, we weren’t, were we, Meowth?”

“Right! All we did was talk abo—” Meowth covered his mouth again, realizing his potentially fatal error.

Jessie suddenly stopped short. “Talk about what?”

“N-nothing!” James stammered, trying his hardest to save himself. “Just…”

Jessie stood up. “Just what, James?”

“Come on, James, don’t weasel your way out of it. I’m sorry, I screwed up. Might as well tell her now and get it over with.”

Jessie grabbed James by the collar of his shirt and raised her fist until it was just inches from his face. “James, you have two seconds to tell me what he’s talking about, or else you’re going to be in a world of hurt unlike anything you’ve ever felt in your life!”

Remembering the torture Jessie had put him through the last time he got on her bad side, James decided it best to simply take it like a man, and decide if it was a mistake after his wounds healed. “Okay, okay! Please, don’t hurt me… not again… I’ll talk. Just… let me go? Please?”

Jessie stared him in the face for what James felt like was an eternity. She turned him loose, and he straightened himself out. He took a deep breath, but Jessie wasn’t having any of it. “Stop stalling! Talk, now!”

“Aah! Fine! I… to…m er msn,” he trailed off.

Jessie grabbed the collar of James’ shirt once more. “What was that?!”

James closed his eyes tight and prayed that there was a god of any kind, and if there was, that it was a kind and merciful one, one that would save him from Jessie’s impending wrath. “I told Meowth about our mission!”

Jessie, registering this, simply looked at him, then Meowth, then back at James again. This time, Jessie took a breath, released her hold on James, and sat back down on her bed. “What, is that all?” A confused Meowth and a relieved James looked at each other, then at Jessie, each with puzzled looks on their faces. “What? Why are you guys looking at me like that?”

“But… Jess, you said not to tell Meowth about our mission, and I told him everything!”

Jessie stood up at this remark, and again stared right into James’ eyes. “Everything?”

James gulped. He was so close to being in the clear! “Y-yes… everything.”

“Oh. Good. Saves me the trouble, then, doesn’t it?” Jessie said, sitting back down.

James sweatdropped. ‘I really wish she wouldn’t do that…’

“But Jessie, what gives? We both thought you’d be furious!” Meowth said.

“Yes, well, I thought about what it is we’re supposed to do,” Jessie began. “I was thinking about what I had said earlier, and I didn’t think it would be very fair for us to keep anything from you, Meowth. I mean, you’ve been with us since the very beginning… we’re a family! A poor, horribly unlucky family that fails in their every endeavor, but a family nonetheless! And so I decided that when you guys came back, I would tell you about our mission, but it looks like James beat me to it.”

“Yeah, looks that way. So what do you say, huh? Can I come with ya?”

“What, are you kidding? Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous.”

James and Meowth facefaulted. “What do you mean, of course not! What did that whole family speech mean, then?” Meowth demanded.

Jessie crossed her arms and gave a sly smile. “I said I’d tell you about our mission, Meowth, and the fact that James already told you only means that I don’t have to! Not once did I say anything about letting you come along…”

“But you said that the boss didn’t want you telling anyone about the mission, and you disobeyed that order no sweat! What makes this one any different?”

“Actually, Meowth, think back to what I said. I said, ‘I don’t think the boss would appreciate us simply blabbing about our mission.’ I never said that the boss ordered us to keep quiet… just that it would probably be in the best interest of us keeping our job if we didn’t.”

Meowth could say nothing, stunned by the fact that Jessie was right. She had gotten his hopes up for nothing. “Oh… yeah… you’re right,” he said. “Guess I’ll…take a walk then.” And he left.

James sat on the bed next to Jessie. “Don’t you think you were a little hard on the guy?”

“What? No, of course not. He made assumptions. Never make assumptions. He’ll learn to think things through in the future.”

“I know, but… can’t we take him with us? We always managed to disguise him up before and fool the twerps no problem… what’s to say we can’t do the same to one of our own?”

“Because we’re supposed to be the only two on the plane, nimrod.”

“Oh… yes. That’s right. There must be some way to sneak him on the plane before takeoff.”

“Good luck. We’re taking the boss’s private jet, remember? It’s monitored from all angles all the time. There’s no way anyone can get within 100 feet of it without someone knowing about it.”

“Well…” James thought out loud. “What if the someone who would know about it was temporarily… detained?”

“Oh, James, tell me more!” Jessie said, excited. She loved to hold people hostage.

“What is there to tell? We just walk in, knock him out, and then there you go. No hassle, no worries, and best of all, no one seeing us smuggle our cat on board! It makes perfect sense!”

“Fabulous! Oh, oh! Can I tie him up?”

James rested his chin on his hand. “Sure. Actually, that’s probably better. We’ll need to tie his hands behind his back, then blindfold and probably gag him. We don’t want him screaming for help. Right, Jessie? …Jessie?”

No answer. Jessie, eyes closed, was busy dreaming about torturing the unlucky sap that got to guard the jet. A shove, however, and it was back to reality. “Whaza what?” she asked, semi-sleepily, wiping a small bit of drool from her mouth.

“Stay focused, Jessie. Do you want Meowth to come along or not?”

“Well… um… yeah, I guess. No, yes. I want Meowth to come with us.”

James nervously stammered, unsure if his teammate was being serious. “Are you sure? We could get in big trouble if the boss finds out.”

Jessie seemed to mull the decision over for a moment “Yes, but…”

“But what, Jessie?” James inquired, still unsure if this was the best idea.

“we’re family, and we stick together no matter what.” Jessie smiled matter-of-factly. “I guess I should go tell Meowth that he’s allowed to come too.”

A rather loud banging noise then interrupted the conversation. The door opened, and an extremely happy looking pokémon jumped into the room.

“I HEARD EVERYTHING!” Meowth exclaimed, jumping for joy. “Oh, so you guys really do love little old me, don’tcha?” He began to kiss Jessie’s boots. “Oh, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou THANK YOU, Jessie! I swear, I’ll never—” He looked up to find that his humans were not as pleased as he was. “What?”

Jessie picked up Meowth by the throat. “Beatin’ time.”

“Oh, come on, Jessie, we don’t have to beat him, do we? I mean I know he was spying on us, but we were going to tell him anyway, right?”

“It’s the principle of the thing. If he thinks it’s acceptable behavior now, when will he ever learn?!” Jessie said, still holding Meowth by the throat.

James paused and considered for a moment. ‘I guess she’s right about that, then’

A purple Meowth began to lightly scratch Jessie’s hand. “Ugh… J-Jssie…yr ch’kn m’!” Meowth sputtered, trying to breathe. Jessie looked at him, then left her bedroom, pokémon in hand, then threw him down the hallway until he ricocheted off the wall and fell down the stairs.

“That’s for listening to a lady’s private conversation! Hmph!” She stormed back into her bedroom and left the door ajar. She cast an annoyed glance at James, who immediately retreated in fear of Jessie’s wrath. “A girl like me needs her beauty sleep, so scram!”

James paused and lingered for a moment, looking at his partner. “Ya know Jessie,” he began, “I don’t what we’re really going to do. If this is what Team Rocket has come to, maybe we should leave.”

“Leave,” Jessie exclaimed before lowering her voice to avoid detection, “what do you mean?” She slapped James hard across the face. “You know what Giovanni has done for the both of us. We can try to find a way out of this, but we can’t leave. Where would we even go?”

James held his hand to his face where he was struck, still surprised by the sting. “Jessie, you said we’re a family, the three of us. Even without Team Rocket, without Giovanni, that’s still strue. I think you owe me an apology,” he requested, still clutching the site of impact.

Jessie put her arms around her friend, and decided it was her turn to talk. “Yes, I do… I'm sorry. I really shouldn't have... please forgive me.”

She turned to him and hugged him, and James left her room to prepare for a new day.

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#3
Part 3: A Friendly Battle

Back in Pallet, Ash, Misty, and Ash's mother Delia were finishing up a meal.

"Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Ketchum," Misty said, standing from the table. "It was really good."

"Oh, it's my pleasure, Misty. I always love preparing a nice meal for my son and his girlfriend," Delia said with a smile, taking what dishes remained at the table.

"Mom, Misty and I are just friends! Why do you always have to embarrass me in front of her?" Ash whined, handing his mother his plate.

"Honey, I'm not trying to embarrass you! If that were the case, I'd have asked you if you've been changing your--"

"Okay, that's enough, time to go," Ash cut her off as he quickly ushered his mother from the room. He turned back to his friend. "Sorry about that..."

"Oh, it's fine, don't worry about it," Misty said, taking the hand of her companion. "It's still a little early... what do you want to do now?"

"Well... how about a rematch for earlier? I really did do you kinda shady by using Pikachu."

"Yeah, you did," Misty said with a chuckle. "But what's the point? I'll just get beaten again... I only have Water-type Pokemon, remember?"

"So use some of mine. I have tons. We'll do 3 on 3, okay? I won't use Pikachu. Please?"

"Well... okay," Misty conceded. "But we have to make it quick, I want to be rested for my match tomorrow."

"Oh, I don't think that'll be a problem," Ash said, leading Misty into another room. Three walls were lined with all manner and color of Poke Balls Ash had obtained over the years, filled with almost every Pokemon one could imagine. "Here we go... take your pick. The pile of green ones over there are nothing but Tauros. You might not want to use them." Misty looked around carefully, surveying Ash's prized catches. She picked one from one side of the room, and two from another. "Here, you know what? I'll even pick random ones, same as you, just to make it even more fair, okay?" Ash said, taking one Poke Ball from each side of the room. "I have no idea what's in these, and I don't know what's in yours, okay? I swear."

"Yeah, okay, let's just get outside, okay?" Misty hurried Ash outside. "We'll need a referee. Should we ask your mom to do it?"

"Nah, she's probably in bed reading... we'll just do it ourselves, ok?" Ash said, moving to the place on the field he had been earlier that day.

"Well... I guess that'll work... it's not like this an official battle anyway," Misty said, taking her place on the other side of the field. "Are you ready, Ash? I won't lose this time!"

"Yeah, okay, whatever you say, Misty," Ash said, taking his first Poke Ball in hand. "I don't even have to know what Pokemon I've got in order to beat you!" He tossed his Poke Ball out. It opened with a flash. "Gardevoir, all right! This match is going to be cake!"

"Don't get too cocky, master!" Misty retorted, throwing her own Poke Ball to the field. "It's... oh my gosh, it's a Kingdra! Yahoo, I still got a Water-type! You're finished, and I know just how to do the job! Kingdra, Rain Dance now!"

As commanded, Kingdra summoned a rainstorm in the battlefield. Gardevoir, unfazed, awaited instruction. "I figured you might do that, Misty. Take advantage of Kingdra's Swift Swim ability, right? Did you forget about Gardevoir's Trace? Thanks to that, she can still keep up with Kingdra. Okay Gardevoir, you ready? Let's make this quick! Hypnosis, go!"

"No you don't! Kingdra, dodge it and use Hydro Pump!"

Gardevoir moved with blinding speed towards Kingdra and fired the sleep-inducing waves, but Kingdra, equally fast, was able to avoid the attack by simply moving out of the way. The Hydro Pump attack was launched at point blank range. Gardevoir was obliterated. There was to be no more battling for it.

"Whoa...taken out in one hit... man, my Kingdra is so awesome!... I mean, aw, man, Gardevoir got beat pretty bad... okay, good try, Gardevoir, come on back," Ash said, recalling his Pokemon. "Well, no point in wasting any more time. Go, mystery Pokemon!" A Dragonite emerges. 'Oh, this is not good at all...' Ash thought.

Misty wasted no time. "Kingdra! Waterfall, hurry!"

Kingdra moved with incredible speed, too fast for Dragonite to see. Misty's attack connected dead on. 'This is bad... what can I do? I have to stop that rain... wait a sec! I got it!' "Dragonite, use Thunder!"

Kingdra was hit before he knew it was coming. Bruised, but not beaten, Misty continued giving commands. "I should have done this in the first place. Kingdra, use Ice Beam!"

Kingdra fired with little delay. Ash was quick to respond. "Dragonite, dodge it! Then, another Thunder!"

Dragonite did as commanded. While he could not keep up with Kingdra's movements, he could see the attack coming rather easily, and was able to just barely move out of the way before it hit. Dragonite called down a lightning bolt.

And the rain stopped.

Misty used this to her advantage. "Kingdra, Double Team!" Suddenly, instead of one Kingdra, there were several. Dragonite's attack hit only a copy. "Now, Waterfall!"

All the Kingdra clones began to rush Dragonite at the same time. Ash didn't seem all that worried. "Wait for it... okay, Dragonite, use Twister!" As the clones closed in on Dragonite, Dragonite spun around wildly, kicking up dirt and grass in a whirlwind. Kingdra was knocked away. Ash gave another command. "Yes! Just as I planned! Finish him off, Dragonite! Get in there and use Outrage!"

Dragonite roared a mighty roar and rushed at Kingdra at top speed. Kingdra, dizzy from the last attack, could not avoid the attack in time. It was all over. "Okay, he's fainted, I get it! Geeeeeeeez. Kingdra, return..." Misty said, calling back her borrowed Pokemon. "Well, I have no idea what this is, but come on out anyway!" It was Arcanine. "What? A Fire-type? What am I supposed to do with this? Uh... Flamethrower! I don't know, do something!"

Arcanine shot out hot flames at Dragonite, but Dragonite was unfazed and slammed into Arcanine with all his force. Arcanine flew backwards, almost crashing into Ash's house, while Dragonite had ceased its attack and yowled as if it were in pain. It held its head with both hands and could not focus. 'That must be the confusion from Outrage... I'm so glad Misty has no idea how to use my Arcanine. I'd probably lose. I can't afford to see what my last Pokemon is... guess I'll have to hope for the best.' "Dragonite, you can do this, concentrate! Lemme see an Earthquake attack!" But try as he might, Dragonite was just too confused from the attack. He fell over, hurting himself rather than his opponent.

Misty wasn't doing much better. 'Oh, geez, why couldn't you have been a Water-type? What else can you do besides Fire-type attacks? Think, Misty... Arcanine's a dog. What attacks could a dog do?' "Let's try... um... can you do a Crunch attack, maybe?"

An affirmative howl, and Arcanine rushed to its target. It bit into Dragonite with sharp fangs imbued with dark power. Dragonite roared in pain... and came to its senses. "Thanks, Misty!" Ash said, giving a thumbs up. "That's just what Dragonite needed to get back in the game! Dragonite, try that Earthquake again, one more time!"

Dragonite jumped and crashed into the ground with intense force. Arcanine was tossed around by the shaking earth, being pelted by earth and stalagmites created by the attack. He fell to the ground, fainted.

Misty sighed. "Arcanine, return... only one Pokemon left. I can't lose three times in one day... come on out." What emerged surprised both battlers.

"Ditto?" Ash asked, dumbfounded. "Man, I completely forgot I still had that thing! Oh, Misty, I'm sorry, really," he said through bits of laughter.

"Ooh, you shut up! Ditto is great! I'll show you! Okay Ditto, do your stuff! Transform!"

And so, Ditto transformed into Ash's Dragonite. Even as a Dragonite, Ditto still retained its cries, which was a rather odd sight to see, to say the least. Ash decided he'd put Ditto out of his misery once and for all. "Dragonite, use Outrage and let's go back inside, huh?"

Dragonite again roared and in pure fury, stormed its way towards Ditto. Misty was unfazed. She chuckled. "Ditto, Twister."

Ditto spun around exactly as Dragonite had done before. Dragonite was struck by the attack and fell to the ground, put out of commission by the attack.

Ash was speechless. He stared at Ditto, then at Misty. She had used his own tactic against him. "Thought you could borrow a trick from the master, eh?" he quipped.

"I told you Ditto was going to win this for me! I couldn't ask for a better transformation! You've only got one Pokemon left!"

"Yeah, but I have a feeling this one's going to get me a win!" Ash proclaimed, tossing his final Poke Ball into the fray. It was a Politoed. "Perfect! This will end the battle quickly! Go, Politoed! Ice Beam, now!"

"No you don't! Ditto, Transform into Politoed!"

And so it was. Ditto assumed the form of Ash's frog. The attack hit, but it did a lot less damage than Ash had hoped. "Oh, I bet you think you're pretty slick, huh? Well, how's this for slick? Politoed, use Perish Song!"

Politoed sat and began croaking out an odd-sounding melody. "You can't be serious!" Misty exclaimed, knowing full well that Ash had essentially forced them into a draw. "I had you on the ropes, and you're going to pull a stunt like that? No way! I'm not going down like that, Ash Ketchum! Ditto, use Hypnosis!" While Ash's Politoed continued singing, Ditto had succeeded in putting Politoed to sleep with the attack, but not before the Perish Song started taking its toll. It was a race against time before the countdown was up and both Pokemon fainted. Misty continued with her plan. "Okay, Ditto, Focus Punch!" Ditto had no problem nailing a sleeping target. Politoed was hit square in his nose. But he still didn't wake up. "Still snoozing? Not a problem. Focus Punch, full power!"

Ditto rammed its fake fist into Politoed as hard as his Ditto self could muster. Politoed, who remained asleep, could not block the move. It fainted. Misty cheered. "Yes! I won! All right! Fair and square, woo hoo!"

Ash recalled his Pokemon. "So you did. You did good, Misty. I totally forgot about Politoed's physical attacks... that's why I just gave up and tried to knock us both out. But you hung in there and managed to get yourself a win. Great job."

"Thanks," Misty said, putting Ditto back into its Poke Ball. "It's getting kinda late... I should get going."

"Yeah, it is. Give me those Poke Balls, I'll put them away and call Officer Jenny to come pick you up."

"Oh, um... you think we could just walk there? It's not that far."

"Huh? Well...all right, I guess we could do that."

"If you don't want to, you don't have to. You can call Officer Jenny."

"What? No, that's not it at all. I just wasn't expecting you to say that. Is it okay if we stop at the Pokemon Center on the way? These guys could use some rest, I'm sure."

"Yeah, that's fine, Let's go."

And so the two friends began their walk. All was quiet at first, but then Ash spoke up. "So, did you have fun today?"

"What are you talking about, Ash? Of course I did. Sparring with you is always fun... beating on you is always fun... I couldn't imagine hanging out with you and not having a good time."

"Oh, really? That’s good. I’m glad you had fun."

"Thanks for inviting me."

"Oh, hey, no sweat. We’re friends! And friends hang out with each other."

"And be there for one another."

"Yes, that too, friends are there for one another.”

“Ash, you’d save me, wouldn’t you? If I was in trouble?”

"Course I would. Why, you plan on getting kidnapped?"

“No... just curious, that’s all.”

"I see. The Pokemon Center's just ahead. I'll be just a second, okay?"

The young man ran ahead while his companion continued to walk. As Ash went inside the Pokemon Center, bright lights came into view from afar. It was Officer Jenny, coming back from patrol. Misty flagged her down. "Excuse me!"

"Hi, Misty," Jenny said, pulling to the side of the road. "What can I do for you?"

"Could you give me a ride back to Cerulean City? I've got a big match tomorrow and I really want to get as much rest as I can tonight."

"Sure, no problem," Jenny said, picking up the extra helmet in her sidecar. She handed it to Misty. "Hop in."

"Thanks. Ash is inside the Pokemon Center. Would you mind waiting a bit so I can say goodbye?"

"Of course." Just then, Ash emerged from inside the building. “Good evening, Mr. Ketchum,” Jenny said, tipping her hat.

“Evening, Jenny,” Ash replied. “Wow, talk about service! I didn't even have to call you guys and here you are!"

"I was on my way back to the station when Misty stopped and asked for a ride," Jenny explained. "I'm to take her back to Cerulean City."

"All right. Sounds good. You take care of her, okay?"

“Yes, sir!” Jenny replied, giving a small salute. She turned to Misty. “Shall we go?”

Misty turned to Ash and looked at him. “See you tomorrow?”

“What? You want me to come and visit you at the Gym? Sure, I’ll go.”

“Okay. See you then…” she said as she kissed his lips softly. She pulled herself away, then delivered a sound smack across his face. “And if I hear that you’re pulling any more dumb stunts like you did today, you’re going to be sorry!” She turned to Officer Jenny, all smiles. “Okay, let’s go!”

Misty hopped into the sidecar of Jenny’s motorcycle, which sent them flying into the night. Ash, bewildered and confused, stood there, holding his cheek where Misty had slapped him. ‘Man, that girl has got some issues,’ Ash thought. ‘But she did kiss me, though… which means that she digs me.’ “Yeah…”

“Yeah, what?” said a voice, heard from behind. Ash turned to see it belonged to none other than Professor Oak.

"Professor Oak! What are you doing here?" Ash asked.

"Oh, I've just come from having a drink with some old friends of mine. Come on, we'll walk together. You on your way back home?"

"Yeah... I didn't know you drank, Professor."

"Oh, don't read too into that, Ash, I'm a social drinker. I keep it in check. You're not doing that sort of thing, are you, Ash?"

"Nah... I'm smarter than that."

"That's good to hear. So... what's "yeah" mean?"

“Yeah, I think Misty likes me,” Ash explained.

“Well, okay… do you like her?”

“I don’t know, Professor… it’s weird, because she kissed me – on the lips – and then smacked me! What is that supposed to mean?”

“Sometimes people do things for odd reasons. I don’t know what to tell you, ask her.”

“Some help you are.”

“Hey, my forte is Pokemon knowledge, not women. Why not ask your mother?”

“Eh… not today… I’m a little tired. I’m probably going to hit the sack in a little bit, and see how tomorrow plays out. Misty asked me to visit her at Cerulean Gym tomorrow… I guess to watch her battle. So far, that’s the only thing on my agenda.”

“Sounds like a plan. I usually tend to wing it to see how each day plays out… I find that if you plan too much, your life becomes far too organized and boring. All lives need a little bit of randomness. Perhaps that's just what you need in your life, and maybe Misty’s there to provide it for you.”

As the two arrived back in Pallet, they began going their separate ways. “That may be. I’m going to sleep now. Goodnight, Professor.”

“Goodnight, Ash,” Professor Oak said, leaving towards his lab and home. Ash returned to his house and retreated to his bedroom, where he changed into his Pikachu-pattern pajamas and covered himself in the warmth of his bed.

‘Maybe Professor Oak’s right. All I do is hang out with Brock or Misty every day. Training is boring… I always win, so battling is boring… I guess I just do it to help pay bills… help Mom and everyone else around here live a better life. Maybe I’ll travel the world. I’d like to take Misty along…for someone to spend time with at the very least. But she has a Gym to run, so that won’t be happening any time soon. But still, it’s nice to dream…’

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#4
Chapter 4: Operation Ketchum Day 2

Today we are to leave on what will probably be the last mission Jessie and I will do as members of Team Rocket, which I have dubbed “Operation Ketchum.” I can’t believe that Giovanni would want to frame us. I’m afraid to go ask him myself, because he’s a scary guy. I’ve been on his bad side far too many times in my career. I still haven’t told Jessie about what I think yet. She’s been in a fairly good mood ever since we played Twister the other day. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do with Meowth if our first plan somehow fails, but I’ve got an idea. Meowth is a pokémon, after all… heh heh. I hope I will be able to conquer my fears and complete this mission without incident. Until next time.

As James closed the small leather book and placed his pencil in the binding, there was a knock at the door. “Yes?” he asked. “Who’s there?”

“It’s Meowth! Let me in!”

James placed his book on his bed, walked to the door, and opened it. “What’s up, Meowth? You’re up pretty early, aren’t you?”

Meowth tried to hold back a yawn, but could not. “Jessie… sent me to make sure you were ready. Said something about leaving first thing in the morning.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right, we are supposed to leave early so we can learn the layout of the boss’s mansion,” James remembered. “Thanks, pal. Tell her I’ll be right there.”

“James, what about me? What should I do?”

“Don’t worry about it. Jess an’ me have this all figured out.”

“Whatever you say, man. Jessie says that she wants you to meet her in her bedroom in five minutes. ‘Tell him he had better not keep me waiting, or else!’” Meowth said, feigning a girl’s voice.

James laughed. “Yeah, yeah, sure. I’ll be right there. I just need to grab a couple things.”

Meowth nodded, and left. James looked around, making sure he wasn’t missing anything he would want to bring. ‘Definitely going to want this…’ James thought to himself, picking his journal up from the bed. ‘I got stuff yesterday, so… I think that’ll do it.’ As he exited his room and shut the door, he continued his thoughts. ‘I wonder if they’ll leave our rooms alone while we’re rotting in prison.’ He whistled to himself as he walked to Jessie’s room. As he neared it, the door opened and a young male Rocket Grunt greeted him.

“Sir! Giovanni has sent me to escort the two of you to his vehicle. Administrator Jessie is also here,” he said, moving out of the way. “Please, come in.”

“Well, this is her bedroom, I would assume that she would be here,” James said, entering. “Why are you here, soldier? We are more than capable of escorting ourselves to our destination.”

“This is Giovanni’s strict order, sir. I’m not to let either of you two out of my sight until we board.”

“I see,” James said, rubbing his chin. “And what will you do when Jessie here needs to change her clothes? Do you intend to stay and watch?”

“That won’t be necessary; Jessie was told before I came to change her clothes into what she would be wearing on the trip. She will wear what she is wearing when I arrive. That is also Giovanni’s strict order. She is not to change clothes until we reach our destination at the earliest.”

“Very well,” James said, casting a glance at Jessie, who nodded slightly. “My belongings are in that blue suitcase. I am putting this book with them.” The grunt nodded, and watched as James opened the suitcase and placed his journal inside. When he tried to shut it, he noted that he could not. “Gosh, Jessie, you sure do have a lot of clothes in here.”

“Oh, come on, it isn’t that much,” Jessie complained. She cast a look at the grunt. “Just hold it tight when you carry it so they don’t fall out everywhere.”

“Well then,” James said, clapping his hands together. “Shall we go?” He extended he hand towards the door.

The grunt nodded again, and exited Jessie’s quarters, waiting outside for the others. “The Meowth stays,” he said. “It is Giovanni’s strict order that—”

“…all pokémon are to stay behind,” Jessie finished. “Yes, yes, we know. We have been briefed about this mission already. There’s no need to go through everything a second time.” She followed James out of the room, flashing Meowth a thumbs-up from behind her back while closing the door. Jessie and James began to walk towards the elevator that would take them to the roof where Giovanni’s aircraft was waiting, but the grunt looked at them, confused.

“Ma’am, aren’t you forgetting something?” he asked.

“Hmm? Why, whatever do you mean? I don’t believe I’ve forgotten anything,” Jessie said, hands clasped. She then inhaled sharply and slapped her forehead. “Oh! Gosh. Silly me, I’ve forgotten my suitcase! I’ll be right back, just let—”

But the grunt held his hand in front of Jessie, barring her path. “I will fetch it. You two stay here.” Jessie let out a barely audible gasp and stared wide-eyed at the grunt, who gave a suspicious look at his superior. She quickly regained composure and placed her hands on her hips.

“You know, you’ve got a lot of nerve to boss around your own bosses,” she said.

“I am following Giovanni’s direct orders, and unless there’s been a memo I’m not aware of, Giovanni outranks the two of you.”

“Oh, a wise guy, huh?” James chimed in.

“No, not at all,” the grunt began. “Please, I don’t mean any disrespect, really. It’s just that if Giovanni were to find out that I disobeyed his orders, he’d fire me for sure. I may need to report to the two of you on occasion, but Giovanni’s the one that pays me. I need to be sure I stay on his good side. I’ll get your suitcase, ma’am.” He opened the door, picked up the suitcase, and began to carry it out. One could tell he was straining to carry the suitcase in one hand. “Pardon me for saying, ma’am, but you certainly do have a lot of clothes in here.”

“Well, it’s not just clothes, and they’re not even all my clothes,” Jessie said. “There are things in there that every girl needs. The bare essentials, I tell you! Tell him, James!”

“Um… y-yeah, I have some clothes… and my journal… and one or two hygiene items. Yes… essentials. My journal isn’t really an essential, but I want to write about my experiences in it. I hope that—”

“Thank you, James,” Jessie interrupted. “Now, you, don’t be afraid to use two hands! Let’s go!”

The grunt heaved the case into both hands, and began to walk. “To the elevator, now,” he instructed.

James nudged at Jessie, and looked at her, as if to say, “What about Meowth?”

But Jessie simply winked and continued to walk. ‘What’s she planning?’ James thought as the two of them got in the elevator and ascended to the rooftop. In front of them was a helicopter.

“Hey, what gives?” James protested. “I thought we were getting to ride in the boss’s private jet!”

“Giovanni felt that there was no reason to use his own personal jet to, quote, ‘ship those two numbskulls to Orre.’ That, and he said there was no room for the airplane to take off, so he decided to use the helicopter instead.”

Jessie, unusually chipper, jumped up and down excitedly. “Wow! I’ve always wanted to ride in the boss’s helicopter!”

James and the grunt looked at each other. James shrugged. “Yeah, sure, whatever. Let’s get inside. I can tell this guy’s arms are about to fall off from carrying our stuff.”

The three walked to the helicopter, and Jessie climbed in first. A very tired Rocket Grunt lugged the suitcase into the helicopter, which Jessie pulled to her and set on her lap. James then climbed in, and the grunt tossed a device to James. “Take this radio. You are to contact Giovanni upon arriving at the location. Understood?”

“Right. Thank you, soldier,” James said, and gave a quick salute.

The grunt did not salute back, but gave James an odd look. “S-sure. Best of luck to you two.” He shut the door, made sure it was shut, and gave a thumbs-up to the pilot, signaling all was well. He quickly ran back to the building, entered the elevator, and was gone.

The helicopter’s motor started, and the giant propellers began to spin. James looked around and found two sets of headphones. He put one on his head and handed one to Jessie. “Here, Jess, wear this. It’s going to be loud once we take off, so we need to wear these so we can talk to each other and the pilot.”

“Okay,” was all Jessie said before taking the headphones James had offered her. She put them on, closed her eyes, and rested.

James continued to look at his partner for a few seconds, then decided to test out his headgear. He pointed the microphone towards his mouth and spoke. “Jessie, can you hear me?”

She did not open her eyes nor look towards him. “Yes, James, what is it?”

“Jessie, what was with you earlier? You were acting very…”

“Very what, out of character? Good. Ugh, I hated acting like such an idiot back there, but it was necessary. I think that grunt’s got a soft spot for me." She let out a sigh. "Anything else?”

“Yeah, what about Meowth?”

Jessie put a finger to her lips, then pointed towards the pilot. “Meowth’s fine… I think. I’ll tell you later. Just relax and enjoy the flight, like me.” She clasped her hands together and rested them in her lap, and began to rest again.

“Right. Okay, Jessie.” James tried to mimic Jessie’s position, and was successful, but could not achieve the feeling of serenity she seemed to have. He sat for a moment, but did not stay still for long. “Say, Jessie, could you get me my journal out of your suitcase? I think some writing would help me relax.”

At this, Jessie opened her eyes, but did not look directly at James. “Um… sure, just a second. But… could you look the other way? I have some personal items in there, and um, I don't want you to see.”

“Oh. Yeah, sure,” James said, and looked out the window on his side. He saw an airplane flying below them. ‘That looks an awful lot like the boss’s plane,’ James thought. ‘That’s odd… I don’t remember him saying anything about him joining us. Is he going to Orre to spy on us? No, that’s not it. He wouldn’t waste his time, and I don’t think he’d risk being there when we do the job. Well, there’s still no guarantee that that is the boss’s plane. Maybe I’m overreacting. I need to write…’ “Jessie, did you get—”

Jessie quickly closed the suitcase and extended the hand that contained James’s book. “Here you go!”

“Thanks… Jessie,” James said, taking the book. “What took you so long? I could have sworn I put it on top of our clothes.”

“Ah! Well… um… I was sidetracked. I was arguing with myself about what ones I’ll wear to bed tonight.”

James processed this information, and decided it was a valid reason. That, and it wouldn’t be very wise to argue with her. “Oh.” He turned his attention to his notebook, opened up to an empty page, and began to write.

Operation Ketchum, Day 2 (cont.)

We’re en route to the boss’s private getaway as I write this. I still haven’t told her my suspicions. It’s nerve-wracking, because I want to tell someone. Should I tell Jessie? She looks so calm and peaceful. I think I’ll tell her after we land. I wish Meowth were here. I don’t know, for moral support or something. It would be hard to talk to him about it with Jessie sitting next to him, though. Oh! I saw an airplane a few minutes ago. I would almost be willing to bet money that it belonged to Giovanni. Of course, it was below us, so I couldn’t see it very well. I’m still uneasy about this mission, and I will probably feel that way until the end. I really hope Jessie’s got a plan, because I couldn’t even begin to think of what I’d do. The pilot just told us that we’re arriving, so I guess this is it. Until next time.

“Please make sure you both are buckled properly, to prevent premature accidents,” the pilot said. James closed his book and returned the pencil to the binding.

‘Premature… accidents?’ James thought. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

The helicopter landed on a small patch of asphalt near a wide beach. There was another message from the pilot. “We have arrived at Giovanni’s private island retreat. You two should consider yourselves lucky that you get to spend any time here.” He turned around and extended a hand holding a small radio. “Use this to contact Giovanni. He will be expecting a call from you shortly.”

“Thank you,” Jessie said, accepting the radio and opening the door. She stepped out of the helicopter, then dragged her suitcase to the ground. James hopped to the ground as well, then tried to pick up the suitcase. Overestimating his own strength, he used one hand and found it terribly hard to lift. He set it back on the ground, shut the helicopter door, and then dragged the suitcase away so the pilot would have room to take off. He flashed the pilot a thumbs-up to signal all was clear. The pilot did the same, raised the helicopter into the air, and was gone.

“So, Jessie, this is it,” James said, gazing upon Giovanni’s mansion. “I didn’t even know the boss had an island retreat.”

“He’s mentioned it a couple times in the past,” Jessie said, looking around. “Talk about secluded. I can’t even see any land from here, and it’s clear as day.”

‘Secluded… no one will even notice we’re dead.’ “The sunlight is strong. We should call Giovanni to let him know we’ve arrived, then get inside before we get burned.” James said. “You want to call him?”

“Eh, I think you’d better do it. He was happier with you when we left,” Jessie said, tossing James the radio.

“Oh, yeah, you’re probably right. Okay, here goes.” He turned the radio on and turned a dial, trying to find Giovanni’s radio frequency. Upon finding it, he pressed and held a button, then spoke into it. “S-sir? This is James. Do you read me? Over.” He released the button and waited for a response. There was none. “Do you think his radio isn’t turned on?” he asked. He pressed the button and tried again. “This is James, contacting Giovanni of Team Rocket, come in, please. Over.”

“James!” the radio bellowed. “It’s about time you two got there. Listen up. I sent my courier to Ash Ketchum’s home an hour ago. The mansion is yours to explore. Don’t waste time screwing around! Remember, you have a job to do! After the deed is done, you may do as you wish. Don’t contact me until Ash Ketchum is dead. Got it!”

“Y-yes, sir,” James replied.

“Good. If you two succeed in this mission, I’ll give each of you a 300 percent increase in pay! Hear me?”

James looked at Jessie, wide-eyed. “Yes, sir!”

“That’s the spirit. One more thing: mess up the dungeon a little. Make it looked like you escaped from your holding cells, understand? I haven’t been there in quite some time, so it may be a little dusty around the house. Deal with it. Giovanni out.”

James turned off the radio and put it into his pocket. “Jessie, did you hear that? He said a 300 percent increase in pay! My goodness…”

“Are you serious? Think of all the things I’ll be able to buy!” Jessie said, hands clasped and teary-eyed.

“Let’s go inside. We can think of all the things we want in there.”

Jessie went over to her suitcase and began to drag it along the sand to the front doors. She knocked on the door, half expecting to be let in, but James simply opened them. “Jess, no one’s here. Who do you think is going to answer?”

“Oh. I guess you’re right,” Jessie concluded. She dragged the suitcase inside, shut the doors, and then opened the suitcase. “All right, it’s safe.”

Almost immediately, a pile of clothes burst from the suitcase. It was still at first, but then seemed to spit up a small animal.

James looked with wide eyes at what he had just seen. “Meowth! What the… how? But you – and she – but he – okay, start talking, please.”

“Me first,” Meowth said, still heavily breathing. “Man, it is hot in there! I seriously thought I was going to die in there. No food in there, either… I’m so hungry…”

“I meant start talking about why I’m standing here looking at you!” James said.

“Oh, yeah, that. Jessie woke me up really early this morning and told me she was going to stuff me in that suitcase and use it to take me with you guys. I can fit in there no problem if it’s empty, but Jessie had to stuff all those clothes in there and make it impossible for me to fit and close the suitcase. At least there was a little room for air to get in, otherwise I woulda died for sure.”

“Somehow, I doubt that,” Jessie interjected. “That grunt would have been suspicious if he hadn’t seen Meowth there, so we had to find a way to let him see Meowth and the suitcase so he wouldn’t think something was up. When we left the room, I shut the door so Meowth could take out all that junk and stuff himself under the clothes and shut the suitcase before that grunt realized what was up. And what do you know? It worked.”

“Yeah, who’d have thought one of our plans would actually succeed?” Meowth said.

“So then when we were in the helicopter, when you took forever getting my book, you were…” James trailed off.

“I was giving Meowth some air.” Jessie explained.

“Yeah, about that, Jessie… you didn’t have to shut it so hard, you know! That hurt…”

“Well, you know what they say… pain is weakness leaving the body.”

“That can’t be true,” James added. “If it were, we would never continuously lose to Ash.”

“Not to mention everyone else we challenge,” Meowth chimed in.

“Oh. Well, I don’t care, it’s just a saying I saw on a poster somewhere.” Jessie said. After this statement, all was relatively quiet in the house, which was to be expected. The three of them stood there for a moment, taking into consideration the immense size of this palace-like house.

James turned toward his two friends and burst out, “Hey, let’s go explore the house, you guys!” The other two, a bit taken aback by James’ sudden statement, did not say anything. James went on, “We have an entire week to do whatever we want before we have to do the… thing… so why not take this time to live it up for a while?” He turned away from his partners, his smile fading. ‘This may be our last chance.’

“Sounds good, but…” Jessie began. “There are three floors in this house – the upper floor, where the bedrooms are… the bottom floor, where the kitchen, dining room, library, and other storage rooms are… and in the basement is…”

“The dungeon,” the other two finished.

“That’s right. Seeing as how I am the prettiest of the three of us, I am automatically exempt from going there. Now, James, I don’t know if you brought a flashlight, but I’m sure that there are lights down there. You can’t be too careful, though, and—”

“Hey, now hold on a second, Jessie! I don’t want to go down there, either! Just being on the first floor gives me the creeps. You couldn’t pay me enough to go down there by myself!”

At this, Meowth spoke up. “Why don’t you both go? You guys have to learn the layout of the house anyway, don’t you? This way, James, you don’t have to be such a scaredy cat, and Jessie, you’ll have James to keep you company and protect you from anything that may or may not be living down there. How’s that?”

“Sounds good to me,” James said. He looked to Jessie. “How about you, Jess?”

Jessie looked back. “Oh, yes, I agree. Wonderful idea, Meowth.”

“Well, then, glad that’s settled! You guys be quick about it and we’ll get to exploring the rest of the house, okay? I’ll be waiting right here for ya.”

“Not so fast, buddy,” James said, grabbing Meowth by the back of his neck. “You’re coming, too.”

“Whaaaaaat?” Meowth wailed, frantically trying to free himself from James’ grasp. “No! Jessie, stop him!”

“Nope,” Jessie said, pointing thumbs down at Meowth. “You’re coming with us, and that’s that. You’re part of the team, Meowth, and as such are to be included in any and all activities we undertake.”

“All right, all right, I’ll go,” Meowth said, defeated. “Let’s just hurry up and get this over with, okay? … Where’s the basement door?”

“I’m… not sure,” Jessie said, beginning to wander aimlessly. She took a few steps forward and found a large piece of paper sitting on a coffee table of sorts. “What’s this?” She picked it up and looked it over. “It looks like… a blueprint? James, come here.”

James and Meowth walked over to where Jessie was standing. She held the paper so James could see it, and Meowth climbed up onto James’ shoulders so he could see, too. “It does look like a blueprint,” James said. “It’s crudely made, though. It looks like someone just took a pencil and paper and outlined the house’s rooms.”

“Yeah, but who could have done it? No one’s here but us!” Meowth added. “…Right?”

“Well… yeah,” James said. “The boss didn’t say anyone would be here. He would have told us, don’t you think, Jessie?”

Jessie sat down on the small couch and crossed her arms. “You’d think so. But he never said there wouldn’t be anyone here, so you have to keep that in mind. However…” she trailed off. “I… don’t… think… he would leave something like that out. If we’re the only ones who are to leave this island alive, and there really is someone else here, then I guess we’ll have to kill them, too.”

James gasped, clearly shocked at his companion’s response. “Jessie! How can you say that? Don’t you have any conscience at all? How can you mindlessly go along with this plan?”

“Whoa, slow down, James. One question at a time, okay? I do have a conscience, and a part of it is telling me to not go through with this mission.”

“You should listen to it, then.”

“Ah, no. You see, that part is just a small part. The overwhelming majority of my conscience is now being blinded by the obscene amount of money we’re being offered in exchange for completing this mission. I don’t know about the two of you, but I personally don’t mind if the twerp dies. He won’t be in our hair any more, and that will leave us to pursue more important matters.”

James cast a glance over at Meowth, who shrugged his shoulders, and then looked back at Jessie. “Well… Jessie… Meowth and I have reason to believe that the boss may want us out of the way, too.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Think about it. Whenever we try to do something, we always end up in failure. We haven’t truly succeeded in a single mission since we joined Team Rocket. I don’t know why Giovanni would trust us with this mission if it’s so important to him, since there are other officers, though below us in rank, would be more suited for the job. Why would Giovanni tell us to kill the one who time and again beats us? Don’t you think he would want to send someone who at least hasn’t had an opportunity to lose to Ash?” James reasoned.

“Well, you do have a point, I’ll give you that,” Jessie began. “But if the boss truly didn’t mind us trying to capture Pikachu all these years, don’t you think he would have told us to lay off?”

“It’s because he likes to see us suffer,” James pointed out. At this, Jessie started to say something, but could not, realizing this new possibility. “I was talking to Meowth about it earlier. We think Giovanni will try to frame us once the deed is done.”

“But – that can’t be… in all the time we’ve been with Team Rocket, I’ve never heard of the boss framing one of his own agents. If he wanted us gone, he would have fired us. There, see? He has no reason to want us dead, too.”

“Uh, Jessie, wake up!” Meowth said, jumping onto the couch where Jessie sat. “He has every reason in the world to want you guys dead! It’s a miracle he’s continued to let you work for him, but sometimes enough is enough! Can’t you even consider the fact that he’s just been waiting for the right time to do ya in, and this just so happens to be it? He’s killing two birds with one stone!”

“I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. The boss has given us a home by making us members of Team Rocket. The team is like family to me… there’s no way I will simply throw away everything because you two are paranoid!”

“Jessie…” James started.

“No. I will complete this mission, with or without your help. And if you get in my way, then—”

“I won’t,” James cut her off. “You’re wrong, Jessie. I’ll prove it to you… somehow. I will. Jessie, if I can prove to you that Giovanni is out to get us, will you believe us then?”

There was no answer at first. The girl looked down, away from her partner, unable to shake away the doubts he had put into her head. ‘If I betray the boss, he will fire me for sure. I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t want to live on the street! But… what if he’s right? I don’t want him to get hurt, but if he’s wrong, he’ll be fired not only for disobeying the boss’s orders, but treason as well.’

“Jessie?” a voice was heard. James was now in front of Jessie, on his knees. He took one of her hands and held it in his own. “Jessie, I promise you right now, if Giovanni is up to something, I’ll personally see to it that he pays for it. I won’t let you be killed.”

“Okay,” Jessie whispered, barely audible. She looked to her associate, cleared her throat, and spoke up. “But James, I’m serious. I want proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wants to kill us.”

“I’ll call him and ask him myself,” James said, standing up, reaching for the radio in his pocket.

“Oh yeah, that’ll be brilliant, Einstein,” Meowth said. “Great plan. I can hear it now; ‘Hey, boss, are you trying to kill us?’ ‘No, of course not, you’re two of my best agents! Now get going!’ Blah blah blah. He ain’t gonna tell ya straight out if he’s going to kill ya!”

“That’s true. I want to get to the bottom of this as soon as I can, though. And besides, I don’t hear you spouting out any ideas,” James said, sitting next to Meowth on the couch.

“I can’t think on an empty stomach,” Meowth complained, holding his stomach. “I’m starving! Can’t we eat first?”

“Fine,” James said. “Jessie, where does it say the kitchen is?”

Jessie picked the paper up and searched it. “It looks like there are two kitchens. On this paper, they are labeled as ‘Kitchen 1’ and ‘Kitchen 2.’ Whoever made this drew a happy face by Kitchen 1. There’s a sad face by Kitchen 2.”

“Who cares? Where’s the closest one?” Meowth whined.

“Be patient! Let’s see… this is the first floor entrance. We are here. And… it doesn’t look like it’s drawn to scale, but Kitchen 2 is the closest to this location.”

“Great! Which way?” Meowth jumped to the floor, awaiting directions.

“It’s through that door right over there. Go down the stairs, and you’ll be in Kitchen 2.”

“Yes! That’s what I want to hear!” Meowth exclaimed, making a dash for the door Jessie pointed out, but before opening the door, he stopped short. “Hey, wait a minute,” he said, turning around. “‘Go down the stairs?’ That means…”

“Kitchen 2 is in the basement,” Jessie finished.

“Oh no, no way! I’m not going down there!” Meowth yelled, frantically running back to the humans. “Where is the other kitchen?”

“Down the hall that way. Through those doors is the dining room; past that is Kitchen 1.”

“Okay. Good. No creepy dungeons that way,” Meowth said to himself, slowly moving towards the dining room. After a few seconds, he realized he was not being followed. “Aren’t you guys coming?”

“We’re going to check out the basement,” James said. We have to go down there anyway to make it look like we busted out. What’s down there, Jessie?”

“Kitchen 2 leads directly into the dungeon. There’s a bathroom that connects to the dungeon, but there isn’t anything else.”

“Oh. Well, that makes it easy, doesn’t it? It’ll be quick and painless,” James said, walking towards the door that led into the basement. “We’ll be back as soon as we’re finished down there, okay? You just eat to your heart’s content.”

Meowth was quick to agree. “Okay! See ya!” He ran as fast as he can, went through the dining room doors, and was gone.

“I thought you were going to make him come with us,” Jessie said, joining her comrade.

“Well, sure, but I figure we’ll be finished long before he’s finished eating. Let’s go.”

“I thought you were scared.”

“It might not be that bad. People have transformed their basements into rec rooms or extra bedrooms. Maybe Giovanni’s done the same. And… you’re with me, so I feel a little safer.”

“I feel the same way,” Jessie said, smiling. “I hope you’re right…” She took the hand of her partner and opened the door. “Is there a light switch?”

James released Jessie’s hand and felt the walls for anything, but found nothing. “Doesn’t look like it. Did you bring a flashlight?”

Jessie shook her head. “I didn’t have any room in my suitcase for a flashlight.”

“Seriously? Man. Well, let’s just take it slow. Maybe there’s a light down there.”

The two friends crept slowly down the stairs, being careful not to fall into the darkness. “I can’t see anything, James,” Jessie said. “It was a bad idea to come down here without a light.”

“Just feel around the walls. There has to be a switch somewhere down here. How is anyone supposed to see?” James continued moving his hands up and down the walls near the stairs, and ran into something small and hard. “Aha! I found it!” James flipped the switch, and light filled the room. It was a simple kitchen, with a sink, a stove, a few cupboards, a refrigerator, and a freezer. The two of them began looking around, getting acquainted with their temporary home. No dishes were in the sink, with the exception of a single plastic cup. James picked up the cup, inspecting it. When he turned it upside down, a small trickle of water spilled into the sink. ‘That’s odd…’ James thought as he replaced it. Jessie took it upon herself to look in the cupboards, seeing what was inside.

“There’s hardly any food in here,” she commented. “Most of these cupboards are completely bare!” She went to the fridge and opened it, and found it, too, to be nearly barren. “This kitchen is terrible!” She gave the rest of the room the once-over. “At least it’s clean. I’m not too keen on getting dirty any more than I have to…”

“Let’s get this over and done with,” James said, pointing behind him to where the dungeon was located. “The sooner we do, the sooner we can slack off.”

“R-right,” Jessie said. “I see a switch. I hope it’s the dungeon light switch.”

“Only one way to find out,” James noted, and proceeded to flip the switch. As predicted, the second room was filled with light. It was small, with only a single cell. Surprisingly enough, it, too, was clean. The bed inside was made neatly, and a plate with some remains of food was on the floor next to it. James opened the door, picked up the plate, and began to inspect it. “Pizza,” he said. “This is starting to creep me out, Jessie.”

“What are you talking about? Afraid of a little leftover pizza?”

“No, Jessie, smell it! It’s fresh.”

“So? Maybe they used really fresh ingredients when they made it.”

“That can’t be. Don’t you remember? Giovanni said he hadn’t been here in quite some time. Seeing that blueprint upstairs was giving me suspicions. When I found that cup in the sink just now, water was inside it. It poured out when I tipped it over.”

“Maybe the faucet dripped water in it.”

Now it was James’ turn to shake his head. “Again, no. The cup was on its side. There’s no way the faucet could have dripped water into the back of a cup on its side.”

“I guess you could be right, but what’s that got to do with the pizza?”

“Don’t you get it? Meowth could be in danger!”

“James, calm down! What are you saying?”

“Jessie, someone else is in this house!”

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#5
Chapter 5: The Invitation

It was a beautiful morning for the residents of Pallet Town. The skies were clear, and the sun shone brightly overhead. The townsfolk were out doing their daily chores; the children were playing with their pokémon in the tall grasses (inside the town, of course) without a care in the world.

Yes, it was a beautiful morning indeed… and Ash Ketchum slept right through it.

The sun had already risen its highest for the day when Ash awoke. Still tired, he half-opened one eye to check the time on his clock. ‘2:32,’ he thought to himself. ‘I should probably get up… but then again…’ he closed his eyes and became comfortable on his pillow. ‘it’s not like I have anything to do except hang out with Brock or Misty.’

‘Misty…’ he thought. He remembered their antics from the previous day and their plans for the next day, and was content… for all of about two seconds. “Misty!” He sat up and rushed to find some clothes. “Oh, geez, I completely forgot!” he shouted at nothing in particular. ‘Please let her match be later this afternoon, please! Man, she’s gonna let me have it so bad…’ After a quick spray of deodorant and a change of clothes, Ash jumped down stairs two at a time, grabbed his pokémon belt, and ran out the door.

He continued to run towards Cerulean City. ‘Oh, man, I forgot about Pikachu! Ah… he’ll understand, I’m sure. No time to get a car… but I have to get there fast! And that means…’ He reached for a Poké Ball, and threw it as far as he could straight in front of him. “Arcanine, go!”

Arcanine emerged from the ball and gave a howl, awaiting its master’s order.

“Arcanine, get down as low as you can!” The Legendary Pokémon obeyed his master, lying down in a sleeping position. Ash did a triple jump onto Arcanine’s back, grabbed hold of its mane, and gave another command to execute. “Arcanine, run as fast as you can! Extremespeed, to Cerulean City!”

A quick nod, and they were off, jumping fences, avoiding people. Arcanine burned down the small trees that barred the alternate, quicker path, to Pewter City from around Viridian Forest. Arcanine continued to jump ledge after ledge en route to Cerulean, and then Ash saw it.

Mt. Moon.

It was a long, twisting cave that would be sure to waste time he could not afford to waste. He thought a moment, then reached for two Poké Balls on his belt, and threw one of them towards the cave’s entrance. “Skarmory, let’s go!” ‘This is going to hurt…’ He braced himself, touched Arcanine with the other ball, and uttered the words: “Arcanine, return.”

Immediately Ash was sent tumbling to the ground, rolling repeatedly. ‘Okay, that didn’t work,’ Ash thought as he lie on the ground, too dizzy to stand up. ‘Gah, what am I doing? I can’t be lying here! Misty’s probably already finished with her battle by now…I’m a dead man.’ He shook his head a few times and stood up. He brushed off his clothes, walked over to Skarmory, and climbed onto its back. “Skarmory, I want you to fly me over this cave, okay?”

Skarmory shrieked out a cry as he began to lift his master slowly into the air. They moved at a slow pace at first, but after a couple minutes, began to gain a little speed. Just a little. I mean, it did have a teenage boy to carry. “Good job, Skarmory, just a little longer!” He removed Arcanine’s Poké Ball from his belt and released it at the cave’s exit. “Okay, Skarmory, I know you’re tired, so I want you to fly low over Arcanine so I can get back on him, okay? Then you can take a long rest inside your Poké Ball.”

Skarmory, grateful to relieve itself of its load, was more than happy to oblige. He touched Skarmory with its ball and sent it back to its home. He landed on Arcanine’s back with a plop. “Okay, Arcanine, ready for the rest of the way? Cerulean City’s right ahead! Jump those ledges and we’re there! Extremespeed!” the boy commanded, and gripped Arcanine’s mane tight, ready for a sudden burst of speed, but there was none. In fact, there was no movement at all. Ash peered around to see what was wrong, and met with a heavily panting Arcanine, too tired out from the last ordeal. Ash hopped to the ground and petted his pokémon’s face. “You tired, too, buddy? Okay, I’ll do it myself from here. Return!”

'No time to waste, gotta go, gotta go,’ Ash thought as he rushed towards Cerulean City, almost dropping Arcanine’s Poké Ball. He sprinted into the city, and made a beeline for the Gym. He threw open the doors and entered, hoping to at least see battle preparations. Instead, he saw nothing. ‘I knew it, she’s already had her match! There are ripples in the water, which means it was used recently. I don’t know what I’m going to say to her…’ he thought, walking upstairs to Misty’s bedroom. Her door was closed. ‘She’s probably crying because I pretty much blew her off.’ He knocked. “Misty, you in there?”

“Who is it?” inquired a voice from within.

Ash gulped. It was now or never. “I-it’s me, Ash,” he said, prepared to take his lumps.

“Oh… Ash. Come on in,” the voice said. Ash opened the door to find Misty sitting on her bed, wrapped in a large blanket. She sniffled a little, and wiped her eyes. “How are you today?”

He sat down on the bed next to her. ‘I knew it, she’s completely disappointed in me. Crying and everything…’ “I’m fine, Misty. How are you feeling?”

A sniffle. “I’m okay, I guess. Just a little sad, that’s all.”

“Look, Misty, I know I said I’d be here, but we were up for a while last night, and what you did made me think about things, and I ended up staying in bed awake for half the night trying to make heads or tails of it. I just want you to know that I’m really sorry and if you completely hate me, I’ll totally understand,” Ash said, clasping his hands together and bowing his head.

“Ash, what on earth are you talking about?”

Ash raised his head and looked rather blankly at Misty. “Your match. I missed your match! You know, the one you said you were going to do this afternoon?”

“Yeah, it starts in about 15 minutes.”

“I know, and I said that I’d be here, but— wait a minute, what? Did you say it starts in 15 minutes?”

“Uh-huh. Scheduled for 3 P.M. sharp.”

“But… what’s with the rippling water downstairs? What’s up with that, if not from your battle? No one’s here but you.”

“I went for a swim. The pool isn’t just for battling, you know.”

“Well… okay… but you were crying! Crying because I completely blew off our date.”

“No I wasn’t. I sniffled because I think I might be catching a cold. I think staying out in the cool air too long last night might have helped.” She sniffled again. “I wiped my eyes because water dripped down from my forehead and landed in my eye.” A pause. “And it wasn’t a date.”

Ash stared into nothingness, piecing this information together. Yes, it did all seem to make sense, except…

“What’s the deal with the blanket, if not to hide yourself and prevent me from bearing witness to your beauty?” Ash said with a smile, trying not to mess up any more than he realized he had.

“If I show you, do you promise not to laugh?”

“I promise.”

“Okay, I’m holding you to that…” Misty said as she stood up, removed the blanket, and dropped it to the floor. Underneath was a still very wet Misty, clad in a dark blue two-piece bikini. She spun around, showing it off to her guest. “Do you like it? I bought it in Celadon City last week… Ash?”

‘Wow. Wow. She’s… wow. What’s that noise?’ “Huh? Oh, sorry, Misty. I was sidetracked.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you were! I forgot to bring a towel downstairs, so I had to run like this back here… I was freezing, and I grabbed the closest thing and wrapped it around me to keep me warm and help dry me off.” She looked herself over, seeing she was still fairly soaked. “I guess it didn’t really help to dry me… but then again, I’ve only been sitting here for a couple minutes.” She picked up the blanket, draped herself in it once again, and sat down next to Ash. “Anything else you’d like me to clear up, master?”

‘Yeah, I definitely need to get Misty to come with me. She’s beautiful and one of my best friends… man, I’m lucky.’ “Huh? What?”

Misty shoved her weight into his side, causing him to lose balance and nearly fall. “Stop thinking about what I know you’re thinking about! Is there anything else you want to know?”

“Oh…yeah, why did you say you were sad?”

Misty looked down and hid herself in the blanket. “Well… I was sad because I thought we would spend the morning together… I’m happy you finally came, Ash, but I’m sad because we can only spend a little bit of time together before my fight.” She paused for a minute. “Speaking of which, I should probably get dried and dressed so I’m not late, so could you please go wait downstairs?”

“Sure thing. You’ll do great, I just know it.”

Ash left the room and began his journey down to the main floor. ‘Maybe she wouldn’t mind leaving with me… she seems to want to be with me pretty bad. Of course, I suppose that she would need one of her sisters to come and take over while she’s gone, but I might not come back. Would she stay with me if I told her I wouldn’t be coming back home? I wonder…’ He took a seat in the bleachers, when he saw the door open. ‘Hm… must be Misty’s opponent,’ Ash thought. ‘Guess I’ll go wish them luck.’ He got up, descended from the bleachers, went over to the challenger, and extended a hand. “Hey there, I’m Ash Ketchum. What’s your name?”

“Ash, are you serious? I mean, yeah, it’s been a few years, but don’t tell me you don’t remember me! I tell ya, you haven’t changed a bit! I think I still have that picture of you buried somewhere.”

“Huh?” ‘How does he know me…? Who has a picture of me?’

The man crossed his arms. “You’re really serious, huh?” He walked over to Ash and looked him in the face. “It’s me, Tracey! Tracey Sketchit?”

Ash sat and thought for a minute. “Tracey… Tracey! Whoa! You don’t look anything like how I remembered you. Didn’t you… draw stuff? Yeah, I remember. What happened to that?”

Tracey smiled. “That passion hasn’t gone away. No, sir. The problem is I’ve run out of interesting things to draw. As an experimental cure, I’ve decided to dedicate an entire sketchbook to Kanto’s Gym Leaders.” He sat down, removed his backpack, and withdrew a video camera and foldable tripod. “I plan on using this so I can catch their expressions on tape, so I can draw them later. I figure the easiest way to meet the Gym Leaders would be to battle my way to the top, so I’ve been studying up on battling techniques and I’ve trained my pokémon pretty well.” Tracey put the camera and tripod back and removed a book. “After I defeat someone, I always go somewhere to view the tape and study their facial expressions, then try to draw a replica. It’s been going pretty well! I’ve already done Brock’s sketches. Do you want to see them?”

“Sure, man,” Ash said, peering over Tracey’s shoulder. Tracey opened the book to the first page.

“This is just him before the battle… nothing special.” He turned the page. “This is him halfway through our battle.” He rapidly switched between the first and second pages. “See how his facial expression went from happy to serious? And check this out,” Tracey said, turning to the third page. “This is him after I served him a helping of agonizing defeat. He looks happy for me, but it’s more than clear that he’s sad and disappointed. See?”

“Um… no, not really.” Ash said, scratching his head.

“Well, that’s fine.” Tracey put the sketchbook back into the bag, and took out the camera. “I need to get this set up for my battle with Misty.”

“Right, no problem. Good luck, Tracey,” Ash said as he moved back towards where he was sitting. Just then, Misty emerged from the other side of the Gym. She wore light blue shorts and a matching T-shirt.

“Hi, Ash!” she called. She waved to him, and Ash waved back. She took her position at one side of the pool and looked towards her opponent. “Hi, I’m… Misty…” she said to the man, who was still fiddling with his equipment. She waited for a moment, but he still wouldn’t look away. “Hello?”

“Huh?” was the man’s reply, “Oh, sorry. Hey, Misty, I’m just going to set up this camera so I can capture our battle on tape, okay?” he said with a smile.

‘He looks familiar? Why is that a question? No, he does look familiar.’ “Do I… know you?”

The man rolled his eyes. “Not you, too. It’s me, Tracey Sketchit. Remember?”

“I didn’t recognize him, either, Misty,” Ash chimed in.

“Y-yeah, but it’s been so long since I’ve last seen you… you look good,” Misty said with a smile.

“Aw, not really,” Tracey said, scratching the back of his head. “Anyway, Misty. You don’t care, do you? That I record our battle?”

“What for?” Misty inquired.

“I tape battles so I can better draw sketches of Trainers. I’m devoting a sketchbook to Kanto’s Gym Leaders, and you just so happen to be one of them.”

“Oh. Sure, go ahead, I don’t mind. Just let me know when you’re ready.” She turned to Ash. “Ash, would you mind acting as referee?”

“Sure,” Ash said, moving towards the center of the pool side. Ash had never been a referee for an official match before, but he was confident he could do it based on the hundreds of past battles he had.

“I’m all set,” Tracey said, moving to his platform on the southern end of the pool. Misty walked over to him and handed him a small device. “What’s this?”

“A microphone,” Misty explained. “You hook it over your ear and put the mouthpiece in front of your mouth, see how I have mine on? Yeah, just like that. Use it to instruct your pokémon if they end up underwater. I have speakers wired down there, so they’ll be able to hear you. Look at the screen on your platform. There are also cameras underwater, so you can see your pokémon battle.”

“Ah, I see,” Tracey said. “Okay, then. How shall we battle? I’m prepared to fight however the lady wishes.”

“How did you battle against Brock?”

“Standard Single Battle, 3-on-3,” Tracey replied.

“Let’s shake it up a little then, what do you say? Double Battle, 4-on-4?”

“Sounds good to me. Did you hear that, Ash?”

“I got it,” Ash said, standing up.

Misty went to the other end of the pool and took her place on her platform. “Ready when you are, Ash.”

“Okay!” Ash exclaimed, raising one hand towards each combatant. “This is a Double Battle for the Cascade Badge between challenger Tracey Sketchit and Leader Misty of the Cerulean City Gym! Each player will use four pokémon! You may begin when ready!”

Misty wasted no time in starting the battle. “Starmie, Golduck, let’s go!” She threw her Poké Balls down into the water, and each pokémon floated on the pool’s surface, awaiting their opponents.

“Wow, Misty, you finally got Psyduck to evolve, huh?” Tracey said, reaching behind him to get the Poké Balls that contained his pokémon. “I bet that was a real chore.”

“It was,” Misty sighed, but quickly regained her confident look. “But now that he’s not a nearly useless, incompetent, annoying fool anymore, Golduck is one of my best Pokémon!”

“It will be a joy to battle against it, then,” Tracey said, tossing two of his own Poké Balls into the air. “Azumarill, go! Come on, Scyther!” Tracey’s Azumarill landed with a splash. Scyther stood on one of the platforms above the water designed to give non-Water-types a somewhat fair fight against Water-types that could use the pool to their advantage. “I’ll start things off. Scyther, use Swords Dance. Azumarill, get in front of Scyther and use Double Team!”

Scyther began to wave its arms around in a dance-like fashion, making it much stronger than before, and was now protected by several copies of Azumarill. Misty knew of this tactic, and also knew just what to do to stop it in its tracks. “Ugh, a bug. Starmie, Surf! Golduck, Calm Mind!”

Starmie went in front of Golduck, who turned completely still, and raised a wall of water from the pool. Starmie sent the water forward, and crashed it down onto Tracey’s pokémon. The water hit all copies of Azumarill, dissipating them. Scyther took a direct hit, but was not knocked into the water. Azumarill, a Water-type, was not affected as badly from the attack.

“Not bad, Misty,” Tracey said.

The girl was not impressed. “When you’ve been a Gym Leader as long as I have, you learn these things. You also learn how to pick on your opponents when they’re weak!” She pointed a finger at Golduck. “Golduck, Hydro Pump on Scyther!”

What Tracey said next surprised both Misty and Ash. “Scyther, jump underwater!” Misty’s Golduck fired the enormous beam of water from its beak, and nearly impaled Scyther with it. Scyther, however, was able to escape its wrath by diving into the water. Misty, finger still pointed, stared wide-eyed. “Hahaha!” Tracey laughed. “You didn’t expect that one, did you? Scyther can’t fight as well as your Water-types underwater, but with adequate support, he can still win!” He adjusted his mouthpiece to ensure it was in place. “Scyther, surface! Get back on the platform! Azumarill, Double-Edge attack on Golduck!”

Azumarill charged through the water at full power and threw his entire body into Golduck, sending them both crashing into the wall. As Scyther shook the water from its body after flying onto the platform, Misty decided not to waste any more time than she already did. “Starmie, Psychic attack! Target Scyther!” At this, Starmie began to spin its back around at a slow rate, and its core began to glow a rainbow of colors. Scyther began levitating in the air, surrounded by a purple aura. “Now, slam Scyther into Azumarill!”

Golduck was severely injured from Azumarill’s attack, but the attack left Azumarill damaged and winded. Starmie sent Scyther’s helpless body rushing towards the two downed combatants, and another direct hit was scored. This proved to be too much for Scyther, and he slumped on the pool’s edge, defeated. “Scyther is no longer able to battle!” Ash declared, pointing a hand at Starmie. “Starmie is the winner!”

‘This isn’t supposed to happen,’Tracey thought. He extended a hand. “Scyther, return. … I must say, Misty, you’ve improved quite a bit since we traveled together. To be honest, Brock was… a joke. None of my pokémon were defeated when we battled.”

“Cut the small talk, Tracey,” Misty said, arms crossed. “Let’s finish this!”

“Hmph. As you wish!” Tracey shouted, reaching to his belt for another of his pokémon. “Venomoth, go! Signal Beam, target Starmie!”

The moth pokémon emerged from its Poké Ball and began to form two beams, colored red and blue. Misty was quick to respond. “Golduck, jump in front of Starmie! Ice Beam on Venomoth!”

‘Just as I expected,’ Tracey thought. “Azumarill, Double-Edge on Golduck! Knock it out of the way!”

“What? No!” Misty wailed, as Golduck and Venomoth simultaneously fired each of their attacks. Azumarill propelled itself from the pool side and charged into Golduck with all his might, causing Golduck to miss his target. Venomoth’s attack struck Starmie’s core directly with incredible force. Starmie was blasted underwater, and Azumarill soon followed suit. “Ha! You’ve caused Azumarill to faint from using those self-damaging attacks, Tracey. You’re down to two pokémon!”

“Everything is going according to plan. I’m not worried one bit,” Tracey said as he recalled his pokémon. “In fact, I’m quite glad, because now…” He reached for another ball from his belt, and held it out for all to see. “Now, you get to meet the newest Bug-type addition to my team, my pride and joy!” He tossed the ball into the air and exclaimed, “Come, Shedinja!”

The bug was released from the ball, and… did nothing. It remained immobile, hovering over the pool. Misty looked at the monitor built into her platform, and noticed that Starmie was still underwater. “Starmie, what are you doing? Get back up! You couldn’t have been injured that badly from a single attack…” Starmie floated to the surface at Misty’s words, and she could see the damage that Venomoth had caused. Its core had been severely cracked, and its body was badly hurt. “Starmie, you can still battle, can’t you?”

A weak spin of its back was Starmie’s response, and Misty took that as a ‘yes.’ “All right, that’s what I like to see! I know you can do this, Starmie! Now, Hydro Pump! Attack Shedinja! Golduck, Hydro Pump on Venomoth!”

As each pokémon charged their attacks, Tracey was swift in giving his command. “Okay, then. Shedinja, move in front of Venomoth! Absorb the attack!” Shedinja did not reply to his master’s order, but simply hovered down in front of Venomoth’s body. Golduck and Starmie both shot their Hydro Pump attacks; Starmie’s attack directly struck Shedinja, and Golduck’s was intercepted by the small bug. With each pokémon attacking Shedinja, Tracey gave another direction. “Now, Venomoth, Signal Beam again, target Starmie once more!” Venomoth flew from behind Shedinja, below Starmie’s surge of water, and again shot the two beams into Starmie from point-blank range. Starmie’s attack immediately ceased, and it soared from the pool and crashed into the wall with a very audible crunch. It plummeted to the ground and was completely still.

Misty, wide-eyed at what Tracey’s Venomoth had done, jumped from her platform and rushed to her pokémon’s aid. “Starmie! Oh my gosh, are you all right? Do something! Get up!” There was no response. To say that Starmie had fainted from Venomoth’s attack would be a gross understatement. Starmie could not and would not move, despite Misty’s pleading. “Starmie, return…” she said quietly, not heard by anyone. The Gym Leader took her place back on the platform and stared down Tracey with cold eyes. “You’ll pay for that… huh?” She looked up to Shedinja and realized that, despite eating both Starmie and Golduck’s attacks, Shedinja was completely unscathed. “What the… Tracey, your pokémon… they aren’t normal!”

“Well, they are quite exceptional,” Tracey said with a smirk. “But Shedinja is one-of-a-kind. It can’t be touched by normal attacks…”

‘Normal attacks? Oh, no. Those filthy, revolting bugs aren’t weak against water! What can I do? The only thing I can think of is…’ “Well, I’m not that worried,” Misty said, reaching for another of her Poké Balls. “If I can’t destroy Shedinja, I’ll have Shedinja destroy itself! Milotic, go! Confuse Ray! Target that infernal, disgusting Shedinja!” Milotic appeared from its Poké Ball and wasted no time in getting in Shedinja’s face. He cast an eerie glance at Shedinja, and thus was Shedinja confused. However, just as quickly, a small glow appeared from Shedinja’s back, and Shedinja was confused no more. “What gives? There's no way that could have missed! Or… hey, wait! Your Shedinja was holding a Persim Berry, wasn’t it?”

“A Lum Berry, actually. You see, while Shedinja is literally immune to everything it isn’t weak to, it will faint from even the slightest touch from its weaknesses. It can also be taken down by status alterations such as confusion. By letting Shedinja hold a Lum Berry, it gets a second chance at life, and my opponent has effectively wasted an attack,” Tracey declared. He looked to Venomoth and said, “Venomoth! You know the drill! Signal Beam, target Golduck!” He then turned towards Shedinja and barked another command. “Shedinja, your turn! Confuse Ray, target Milotic!”

“No… not again! I won’t let Golduck suffer the same way Starmie did! Golduck, dive underwater, hurry!”

If Misty had realized that Golduck, who had been in battle since the very beginning, was nearly worn out, or that Venomoth would have no trouble hitting a slow-moving, underwater target, she might have done something different. As such, Golduck was struck with the beam attack and fainted. “Golduck can battle no longer! Venomoth wins!” Ash proclaimed. “Gosh, Misty, you were right. Golduck was awesome!”

“He sure was. Great job, Golduck! Return!” Proud of her pokémon’s performance, Misty had newfound confidence in her pokémon’s skills. She reached for her last Poké Ball and tossed it into the water. “Vaporeon, go! You can do it!”

Meanwhile, Shedinja had succeeded in rendering Milotic confused. It swam rather aimlessly through the pool, somewhat waiting for instructions that Misty hastily gave. “Vaporeon, Toxic attack, target Milotic! Milotic, confuse Shedinja again!” Vaporeon swam over to Milotic and upchucked a poisonous liquid that covered part of Milotic’s body. Milotic absorbed this liquid, and thus became poisoned. As a result of the poisoning, Milotic’s scales became harder, which signaled the activation of its Marvel Scale ability. Milotic, still confused and now badly poisoned by Misty’s own hand, tried to focus on Shedinja long enough to launch the attack. Shedinja, ever unmoving, simply waited, emotionless. Milotic could not perform the attack, and hurt itself as a result.

Tracey used this opportunity to commence an attack of his own. “Okay, you two! Take out Vaporeon! Venomoth, Signal Beam! Shedinja, use Shadow Ball!”

“You won’t get rid of her that easily! Vaporeon, use Acid Armor!” With a small cry, Vaporeon’s body melted into the pool, and dodged Tracey’s pokémon’s attacks. A few seconds later, it reformed on the side of the pool. “Now, Milotic, snap out of it! Forget Shedinja! Hydro Pump, target Venomoth!”

As if on cue, Milotic came to its senses and was rid of confusion. It charged the powerful attack and fired it directly at Venomoth. “You’d think you’d have learned by now, Misty,” Tracey said, shaking his head. “Shedinja, quickly now, absorb the attack!”

Shedinja moved as Milotic fired, and Venomoth was struck by the attack. Thanks to Shedinja’s assistance, Venomoth was able to survive the blow, but not without being fairly damaged, as Shedinja was not fast enough to block the entire attack. Misty continued her assault. “Vaporeon, take out Shedinja with Toxic!”

Vaporeon jumped into the water and swam towards Shedinja, ready to end the bug’s life, but Tracey was quick to respond. “You’ll have to do better than that! Shedinja, use Protect! Venomoth, Signal Beam, target Vaporeon!”

Vaporeon spit up toxic juices once more, but Shedinja was protected by the powerful aura. Protect was a mysterious attack; no matter what, a pokémon that used Protect would be immune to any attack launched at it for a short duration. Studies of this skill showed that using it in succession would increase its failure rate, however, and because of these studies, Protect became one of Kanto’s fifty Technical Machines, small CD-like objects used to teach pokémon attacks they normally would not learn.

Venomoth charged its two beams as it flew in to attack Vaporeon. As Vaporeon’s attack finished, so was Venomoth’s. He launched the Signal Beam directly into Vaporeon, and like Starmie before it, was sent into the water. However, unlike Starmie, Vaporeon seemed relatively unhurt. “Well, well,” Tracey began. “So far I’ve been pretty impressed with the Choice Band’s capabilities, but I guess I underestimated the strength of Acid Armor. Had Vaporeon not used that, she surely would have been annihilated, just like Starmie.”

“You! I’ll wring that Venomoth’s neck! Milotic!” Misty called to her pokémon that had not received a command in some time, and was also on the verge of death from the poisoning. “Wrap yourself around Venomoth! …

“Squeeze the life out of it!”

Milotic did as he was told, and lunged towards Venomoth. He succeeded in wrapping himself around the moth’s much smaller body. “Yes! That’s it!” Misty exclaimed. “Make him suffer… make him feel the pain of your comrades! Squeeze tighter!”

Venomoth’s cries of intense pain was Milotic’s response. Tracey looked on with an indifferent stare, as if he were oblivious to what was occurring. He did not take his eyes from Milotic’s death grip on Venomoth, but instead continued like nothing was happening. Very calmly, Tracey gave more orders. “Okay, if that’s how you want to play, then I will have no choice but to slaughter your Vaporeon mercilessly. Shedinja, use Swords Dance.”

Half-expecting Shedinja to mimic Scyther’s dance, Misty waited before commanding her pokémon, and sat there while Shedinja did the same. “Doesn’t that thing ever move?”

“No,” Tracey said matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t. It doesn’t move. It doesn’t breathe. And if you get too close to its back, you will be sucked inside it, trapped in the darkness forever… at least, that’s how the story goes. And by the way, you might want to do something about Milotic.”

“Ha! Me, do something about Milotic? Look at Venomoth! Look how it suffers from Milotic’s fury!”

“Well, that’s fine, but if you’re going to poison your own pokémon, you might want to keep a better eye on it. It’s only going to be a matter of time before it faints.”

Misty gasped, realizing this, and quickly tried to heed Tracey’s advice. “Oh, no, Milotic! Use Rest, quick!”

But it was too late. The enormous snake-like beast had succumbed to the harsh poison inflicted by her own pokémon, and fainted. Milotic dropped from Venomoth’s crushed body into the water, and Venomoth, equally unable to fight, fell on top of Milotic’s body, fainted.

As each Trainer recalled their pokémon, Misty gave a small pout and crossed her arms. “…That was a cheap trick.”

“What did I do?” Tracey asked his opponent.

“You babbled on and on about your stupid bug so Milotic would faint from poisoning!”

“Don’t even go there, Misty! You’re the one who wanted to stop with the chitchat! Sometimes, if you want to win, you have to do whatever it takes. I learned that the hard way. It’s something every Trainer must remember. And so, without further ado, I will destroy Vaporeon as promised.” He commanded his one remaining pokémon. “Shedinja! End this battle now! Get in Vaporeon’s face and use Shadow Ball!”

Shedinja did not move after being given this command, but just as Misty was about to give Vaporeon a command, a large black mass of energy suddenly appeared in front of Shedinja. “Oh my god! Vaporeon! Dive underwater!” she cried, but it was too late. Shedinja lunged forward and fired. Because of the sheer magnitude of the ball and Shedinja’s original distance from Vaporeon, it was unable to get directly in front of Vaporeon like Tracey asked before the energy ball was deployed. It cut through the water, and struck Vaporeon dead-on. The ball made a small burst upon impact, and the bright light from this impact caused the three Trainers to shield their eyes, and two sounds were heard. One was of a large boom; the other, a sickening crunch. When the light faded, Shedinja was hovering above the pool as usual, but Vaporeon was in the pool no longer. Vaporeon had been rocketed from the pool by the super-powered burst of dark energy, and was there lying on the ground, motionless. A piece of the second-floor railing fell to the ground and landed near Vaporeon, and everyone looked up at the damage Shedinja had caused. Vaporeon’s body had hit the railing with such force that it had broken in some places and dented in several. One of these broken pieces was now on the ground next to Vaporeon’s mutilated body.

“Vaporeon is quite obviously no longer able to battle! The winner of this match is Tracey Sketchit!” Ash declared.

“Yes! All right!” Tracey cried out, removing his headpiece and setting it down on the platform. He rushed over to his camera and checked to make sure everything was in order. “Great! This battle, all of it’s on tape! Wow. Misty, what an epic battle! Gosh, I’m so excited!”

As Ash congratulated Tracey on his win, Misty went to tend to Vaporeon. ‘Stupid bugs,’ she thought as she moved towards Vaporeon’s body. ‘I can’t believe I lost this badly. Tracey’s pokémon are like… not normal.’ She remembered Tracey’s quip about his pokémon. ‘Ha. Exceptional… yeah, right. Freakish is more like it. And Venomoth, what was that all about? A Choice Band? I didn’t know it made his pokémon that much stronger…’ When she got to her pokémon’s beaten body, she noticed something. Something was definitely wrong here. Vaporeon’s head and legs were not facing the same direction. “Vaporeon…?”

She leaned her head into Vaporeon’s chest to listen to how she was breathing. There was no response. Misty rose to her feet at once and screamed. Loudly. Ash ran to her side with lightning speed, and Tracey followed suit, camera in hand.

“Vaporeon’s not breathing!” she cried, tears quickly forming in her eyes.

“Oh no!” Tracey yelled, putting his camera down. “We need to get her to a Pokémon Center immediately!”

“Right!” Misty blurted as she ran back to her platform to retrieve Vaporeon’s Poké Ball. She fumbled with it at first, but managed to hold it right. “Vaporeon, return!”

Nothing.

Ash put his hand to his mouth, hoping what he was thinking wasn’t happening. Misty instinctively smacked the Poké Ball a few times and moved closer to Vaporeon. “Vaporeon, return!”

Still nothing.

“What is going on here? Why won’t she go back in?” Misty questioned through her tears.

Ash walked over to his female friend and took Vaporeon’s Poké Ball from her hands. He set it down, then faced her once more, about to do something that would surely affect everyone in the room. He took Misty’s hands into his own, and he looked her directly in the eyes. “Misty… Vaporeon’s dead.”

“What? What are you talking about? No she isn’t! She’s unconscious! Come on, what are you guys waiting for…” she cried, and kneeled down to her fallen companion, not wanting to accept this truth.

Tracey Sketchit had killed her Vaporeon.

“Misty, I’m sorry,” Ash began, kneeling next to Misty. “Poké Balls are able to find a Trainer’s pokémon because when we catch them, sensors in the ball respond to a pokémon’s unique life energy. Even when badly hurt in battle, a pokémon still has life energy. Even a small flicker of life energy is enough for the Poké Ball to do its work.”

“That isn’t true!” Misty screamed, scooping Vaporeon’s lifeless body into her arms. “The Poké Ball must have been damaged in the battle!”

“Poké Balls do not malfunction,” Ash said. “They can break, but only if they are not enlarged. Once enlarged, you’d have to drop it from the top of a skyscraper to have any hopes of busting it up. Misty, the only way a Poké Ball will fail to recall a Trainer’s pokémon is if the pokémon is too far out of range to be recalled, or… if the pokémon is killed.”

Misty said nothing at this – she only sat there, holding her dead pokémon. She cried softly into its body, hoping that this was all a horrible nightmare, and when she would wake up, everything would be okay.

And Vaporeon would be alive again.

She shortly realized that this was not going to be the case. This was reality. Vaporeon was dead and she wasn’t coming back. Her life would be forever changed by this inescapable fact. She heard a voice calling her name, but she did not want to answer. She had to mourn. “Leave me alone,” she said softly.

“What?” the voice asked again.

Misty turned around sharply. “I said leave me alone! Go!” she bawled, crying even harder into Vaporeon.

Ash stood up and started walking towards the Gym doors. “Come on, man. Let’s go.”

“Yeah, I’ll be right with you. I’m going to apologize to her,” Tracey whispered. Ash gave a thumbs up and walked out the door. ‘This is going to be great for my sketches!’ he thought as he picked up his camera, resumed recording, and spoke up. “Misty… I’m sorry about what happened. I swear to you, I had no idea this was going to happen. I’m sorry about what happened to Starmie, too, but I guess it’ll be fine if you get it to a Pokémon Center soon.”

The girl said nothing. ‘Sorry won’t bring my Vaporeon back…’

“If it makes you feel any better, your Milotic made my Venomoth look like a crumpled up piece of paper. I’m pretty sure both his wings are badly broken. He won’t be battling for a long time.”

“How can you be so insensitive?” Misty shouted, not looking at Tracey. “Vaporeon won’t be battling ever! And it’s all because of you and that stupid invincible bug! You think that apologizing is going to make everything all right again? Do you?” She turned around, her face stained with a seemingly endless stream of tears, and was furious to see that she was being recorded. “Can… I see your sketches of Brock?” she asked, placing Vaporeon’s body on the ground.

“Sure. They’re in my bag. Hold this for a second,” Tracey said, handing Misty his camera. He went over to his bag, removed the book, and brought it to her. “Here. Take as long as you like.”

“Thank you,” Misty said softly, and she took the book in her other hand. She flipped through the pages and looked at the various sketches Tracey had drawn. “They’re very good,” she commented.

“Thanks! I really worked hard on them.”

“Oh really? That’s just great!” Misty yelled as she hurled Tracey’s camera across the room. It flew over the pool and crashed into the bleachers.

“Oh my god! Misty, what did you do that for?” Tracey shouted, rushing around the pool and hoping his camera was not too badly damaged. Misty took this opportunity to quickly rip out a number of Tracey’s drawings, crumple them up, and dunk each and every one of them underwater before submerging the entire book. “Okay… it doesn’t look too beat up. I paid a lot of money for this thing, it had better –” he paused when he turned around and saw what Misty had done. He calmly walked over to the pool and removed what remained of his sketchbook. He saw small balls of paper floating in the water. “My sketches…” he trailed off. “Misty, why?”

She could hold it in no longer. She exploded. “How dare you ask me why! Where do you get off even thinking you can feel what I’m feeling right now? Huh?! Answer me! No, don’t. I don’t even want to hear your voice. You… will never understand…” she cried, new tears forming. “So don’t… ever… compare that bunch of paper with my pokémon’s life! Do you hear me? Never! Now get out! I don’t ever want to see you again!” She picked Vaporeon’s Poké Ball up, put it into her shirt, and then once more picked her pokémon up and slowly walked upstairs.

Tracey did not say anything, but gathered the rest of his belongings and left the Gym, where Ash was waiting. “Tracey! What happened in there? I was thinking about going back in there, but I remembered that Misty is not pretty when she gets angry, and if she had killed you or something, I’d have been the one to tell the tale. Sorry, man,” he said.

“She ruined my sketches. She tore them up and threw them into the water. She also threw my camera across the room into the bleachers.”

“So that’s what that loud bang was,” Ash reasoned. “But she threw your sketchbook into the water? Wow. Why’d she do a thing like that?”

“Revenge, I guess. It could possibly be because I was recording her. I really wanted to get her expression on paper. My intentions were good, but I guess I picked a bad time to do it.”

“The worst,” Ash said, removing his hat and running his hand through his hair. He replaced his cap and said, “Hey, I’ve got to be getting back home. Do you have any other plans?”

“Not anymore, I don’t. This camera is more busted than I thought it was. A couple buttons are missing, too. I have to send it in to get fixed. Misty ruined everything I’ve been working on, so I’m back to square one as far as that goes.”

“Why don’t you come with me back to Pallet Town? You can have dinner with us, and then you can decide what you’re going to do from there.”

“Sounds good. I accept. Thanks,” Tracey said. “I want to heal my Pokémon first, if that’s okay with you.”

“Yeah, no problem. Arcanine and Skarmory need a refresh, too. They’re the ones that brought me here.”

After healing their Pokémon, the two guys stood at the entrance to Cerulean City. Ash removed Arcanine’s Poké Ball from his belt and released his pet and friend. “Arcanine,” Ash said, petting Arcanine’s mane. “Will you take Tracey and me to Pallet Town? We aren’t in any rush, so there’s no need to overexert yourself. Just go at your own pace, okay?”

A nod from Arcanine, and he lowered himself so the humans could mount him. Once both Trainers were in place, Arcanine rose, and started a slow run. “So, Tracey, tell me about your Venomoth,” Ash said, trying to make conversation. “The thing’s a beast!”

“Ah, no, not really. It’s all thanks to the Choice Band.”

“A what? Choice Band? I haven’t really heard much about them.”

“Yep. I picked one up from this one place I was visiting a while back. The guy who sold it to me said the attack I told my pokémon to do would have its strength increased drastically, but he said I had to be careful because once my pokémon did an attack, they wouldn’t do anything else. That was my first battle using the Choice Band, and… wow. Unbelievable. And Starmie’s weak to Bug-type attacks. It’s probably in really bad shape. I feel really bad for Misty.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Ash comforted. “I’m sure she’ll come around sooner or later.”

“I sure hope so. We got along so well when we were traveling together all those years ago. I mean, you guys were like my best friends.”

“Yeah. Hey, so wait. What about Shedinja? You said Shedinja had a Lum Berry attached to it, right? So then… why did Shadow Ball end up killing Vaporeon?”

“I was wondering about that, too. At first I thought it was because of Shedinja using Swords Dance. I mean, Shedinja isn’t ultra strong or anything. As a matter of fact, I received Shedinja in a trade, and strangely enough, it was from the same guy who sold me the Choice Band.”

“Really? That is weird. Did you get his name?”

“Nah, I didn’t ask. He demonstrated the Choice Band’s power, so I was sold on the idea, especially since I was going to take on Kanto’s Gym Leaders. He told me about Shedinja and its Wonder Guard ability which makes it immune to everything but its five weaknesses. He demonstrated that to me, too, and I just had to have it.”

“What did you trade him for it?”

“That’s the strangest part. He asked for a Rattata in return.”

“A Rattata? Are you serious? Rattata’s like the most common pokémon in Kanto!”

“I know. The man said you could only find Shedinja in… oh, what was the name of that place? Ah, I can’t remember. It’s some continent way far away from here. Wherever it is, the pokémon there must be horribly strong if they’re capable of actually killing pokémon from other regions with a single attack!”

“You’re talking about Hoenn, probably,” Ash said. “That’s where I got Misty’s Milotic from. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right. Remember how Venomoth was nearly crushed to death from Milotic’s Wrap attack?”

“Ooh, yeah, you’re right. But it doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done, and unfortunately, there’s no way to change it.”

“It may sound heartless, but you shouldn’t dwell too much longer on it. Pretty soon you’ll end up all depressed and then you’ll need medication for your depression and then one day you’ll get sick of it all and end up killing yourself.”

“I doubt it’ll come to that,” Tracey said. “I’m not that kind of person to let my feelings run me.”

“I’m just saying be careful, that’s all.”

“What about you? Don’t you feel bad for Misty?”

“Of course I do. A guy I met at a competition once had an Espeon that was going to have an egg. He didn’t want it, so I took the Eevee egg when she had it and gave it to Misty when I came back home. She hatched it and raised it from a baby, Tracey. I mean, within ten minutes of it coming out of the egg, there she was with the Water Stone.”

“Wow… I didn’t know,” Tracey said. “She must have been really attached to it.”

“Yeah she was… hey, I see Pallet Town,” Ash noted. “Okay, Arcanine, we’ll walk from here. Thanks, buddy!”

The two dismounted Arcanine, and Ash sent him back into his Poké Ball. Upon arriving, he was greeted by various people of the town. He walked into his home and found his mother sitting with Professor Oak at the dining room table. Pikachu was sitting atop the table, affectionately stroking a packet of ketchup. “Oh, Ash! Good to see you’re back,” Delia said, getting up to hug her son. “Tracey, hi! Nice to see you!”

At the same time, Pikachu, ecstatic to see his best friend, dropped the ketchup and leaped into his master’s arms, spouting out a number of happy-sounding pika’s and chu’s. “Hey, buddy! Sorry I left you earlier. I was in a big rush!” Ash said, giving his friend a quick hug before placing the mouse upon his shoulder in order to receive the hug from his mother.

“Nice to see you too, Mrs. Ketchum,” Tracey said. “Professor Oak, I’m glad to see you’re doing well.”

“As well as can be expected from an old coot like me, Tracey,” the professor said. “What brings you here?”

“Mom, you remember how I told you about Misty’s battle today?” Ash interrupted. “It turns out that Tracey was her opponent!”

“Oh?” Delia inquired. “I didn’t know you were trying to defeat Gym Leaders, Tracey.”

“Yes, I am – er, well, I was, but – um…”

“He’s taking a break right now. Right, pal?” Ash chimed in.

‘Thanks for the save.’ “Right. I mean, Ash, you know more than anyone, beating Gym Leaders takes a lot of work, doesn’t it?”

“It certainly does,” Professor Oak said, scratching his chin. “But you still didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh! Sorry, sir. Ash here invited me for dinner.”

“Ah, is that a fact? Well, you’re always welcome in this house, Tracey. I’m just getting started with dinner right now, actually, so you’re more than welcome to stay if you like,” Delia said with a smile.

“Thank you, I will,” Tracey said with a small bow.

“Good, good. Well, I’ll be in the kitchen if anyone needs me!”

“So tell me, Tracey,” Prof. Oak began. “How did your battle go? Were you victorious?”

“You might say that…” Tracey said.

“Hm? You don’t sound too happy about it.”

Tracey looked to Ash for a second save, but Ash said nothing. “Uh, well,” he stammered. “I did win. I’m happy, but I don’t want to… seem… overconfident.”

“I see. Well, that’s always good. You know, Tracey, death awaits the overconfident. Remember that.”

Tracey went wide-eyed. “Death!”

“Well, you know. Death in battle. Losing.”

There was no response from either young man.

“Come on, I’m trying to be witty here. Or am I too old to be witty?” Professor Oak said. The young boys looked at each other, then at the professor. “Oh, never mind. Say, anyone want to play Go Fish?”

Ash spoke up. “Professor Oak, where have you been? Go Fish is the lamest card game there is. Everyone plays No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em now.”

“Really? It’s got a big name, so that means it’s important, right?”

“No, not really, but…” Ash was interrupted by the phone ringing. Ash moved to answer it, but his mother got it first. Ash sat back down and tried explaining to Professor Oak how to play the game, when Delia emerged from the kitchen with two messages.

“Ash, that was Misty on the phone. She wanted me to tell you that she’s going to go to Lavender Town.”

“Lavender Town? How come?” Ash inquired.

“I asked her the same thing,” Delia said. “She said there was a death in the family, and that she was going to go ask Mr. Fuji to cremate ‘her loved one.’”

“Someone in Misty’s family died? Oh, that’s a shame. She’s quite a nice young girl. And uh, Ash, she’s ripe for the picking, if you get my drift,” Professor Oak said, nudging Ash as little.

“Samuel Oak, what are you saying?” Delia scolded.

“Now, now, all I mean is that she’s single! Ash is a fine young man; Misty is a fine young lady! It would be a crime for those two not to get together. You two have been friends for so long, don’t you think it’s time to take it a step further?”

“I guess, but I don’t know if she wants to go there, professor,” Ash said.

“Oh, honey, one more thing,” Mrs. Ketchum said, handing her son an envelope. “I forgot to tell you earlier, but a man came by with a letter for you.”

“A letter for me? I wonder who sent it,” Ash said as he flipped over the envelope – and immediately recognized the insignia found on the flap. “What the – Team Rocket! Why is Team Rocket sending me mail?”

“Open it and find out,” Tracey said. “It couldn’t hurt to at least read it.”

“Well, okay. Here goes,” Ash said, tearing the envelope open and removing the letter inside.

To Ash Ketchum:

You and up to five people of your choice are cordially invited to spend seven days and seven nights at my private island mansion in Orre. You may question my motives. I admit that such kindness is very out of character for me, but as you may or may not know, I have taken quite an interest in you. Team Rocket has suffered countless defeats at your hand; Jessie and James are not the only ones who have lost to you in the five long years we have learned of you and your talents as a Trainer. I feel that not to recognize your tremendous skill and prowess would be a crime. Such talent deserves a vacation fit for a champion. However, my island home is designed strictly for human comfort; it has no pokémon amenities. Therefore, for the health and well being of everyone’s pokémon, I must ask that you leave all pokémon behind; if nothing else, to prevent my mansion from being destroyed by any battles you and your friends would have. Should you agree to visit my home, the courier who will pick you up will make sure no pokémon are being taken along.

After your visit, I would like to work with you on a large project that will change Kanto for the better. We can discuss it in greater detail after you return if you are interested. For too long has Team Rocket gotten a reputation based solely on the activity of Jessie and James. I am confident you would agree that the two of them are nothing more than bumbling idiots, and they are being punished for their actions as we speak. The Team Rocket I desire is not one that must resort to petty thievery to achieve their goals, but one where everyone – as a team – works together for a common goal, whatever it may be. I believe that with your help, Mr. Ketchum, we of Team Rocket could do great things for the world.

Like I wrote earlier, we may discuss this in greater detail after you return from your trip. Enclosed is an ultra priority mail envelope. Please write back with your response and use that envelope to mail it to me within one week so that I may prepare the mansion for you. Thank you for your time.

Giovanni, TR

“He even drew a smiley face at the end of it,” Ash said. “Man, how dumb does he think I am?”

“A vacation at Giovanni’s private island!” Tracey exclaimed. “Wow… Giovanni has his own private island! That’s gotta be sweet, Ash.”

“Uh, hello? This is the leader of Team Rocket we’re talking about here! This has ‘trap’ written all over it,” Ash said, tossing the letter and envelope on the table.

“Well,” Professor Oak added. “It does say you are able to bring up to five additional people. Even if it were a trap, don’t you think that six of you would be able to handle it?”

“He’s right, you know,” Mrs. Ketchum replied. “And besides, you deserve it! You’ve done so much for Pallet Town. I’d start to worry about you if you didn’t take it easy once in a while.”

“Yeah, but Mom, you don’t get it,” Ash complained. “I have no problem with taking a vacation, but Giovanni. Giovanni, leader of Team Rocket, is telling me to go to his house.” He turned towards the two other men. “You guys mean to tell me that neither of you have a problem with that?” Both guys shook their heads. “And neither of you think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it?”

“His reasons seem genuine enough,” Tracey said, picking up the letter. “What I’m more curious about is the part where he says he wants to work with you on some project. What do you think he wants?”

“I don’t care,” Ash said, crossing his arms. “He probably wants to invite me out to his private island that’s more than likely in the middle of nowhere so he can kill me or otherwise put me out of commission so he can get away with his evil deeds.”

“I don’t think that’s very likely,” Tracey retorted. “I mean, yeah, you’ve foiled how many of his plans? Way too many for anyone to count, that’s for sure. But to actually kill you would be financially suicidal.”

“What do you mean?” Ash questioned.

“Well, think of it like this. The four of us here know that Giovanni of Team Rocket sent you a letter. The letter doesn’t say where, but we know that the mansion he wants you to visit is in Orre. If you don’t come back after a week, we know something’s up. This piece of paper is irrefutable proof that Giovanni would have to be responsible for anything that would happen while you were at his mansion. He gets busted by the police and will no doubt spend the rest of his life in prison. Even if he were to somehow walk free, I imagine recruitment for Team Rocket would go down the pipes. I mean, who wants to join an organization that has to resort to killing teenage boys in order to fulfill their needs?”

“I suppose you’ve got a point there,” Ash noted. “But what about the part where it says I can’t bring my pokémon along? I don’t want to leave Pikachu alone for an entire week.”

“He said why you can’t take your pokémon. He doesn’t want his house ruined. I can relate,” Tracey went on. “I was sitting at home one day when this one lady came to my door and offered to sell me an alternate colored Donphan. She wanted to compare its ‘superior strength’ to a normal-colored Donphan, so she had each of them perform various attacks. Everything went well until she told them to do Earthquake…”

“Your house was destroyed by a couple of Donphan?” Ash asked intently.

“What? No, of course not. The outside was fine, but the inside was a total mess. It took me forever to clean up… but the point of the story is that it’s understandable that Giovanni wouldn’t want pokémon in his house.”

“He’s right,” Professor Oak said. “I can’t think of any other reasons to be suspicious of Giovanni’s actions. What about you, Delia?”

“Huh? Oh. Nope! Not a one. I really must be finishing up dinner, though. Please excuse me,” Delia said, leaving the room.

“The three of us are in agreement. The only one who thinks otherwise is you, Ash,” Professor Oak said.

Ash uncrossed his arms and put his hands in his pockets. “Maybe you guys are right. The man’s been my enemy for so long, I’ve blocked out the possibility that he may be capable of doing some good from my mind. All right, I’ve decided. I’ll go. I don’t know who I’ll invite with me, but I can cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I’ll just write back and confirm that I’ll be visiting.” He sat down at the table, took a nearby pen and piece of paper, and wrote.

To Giovanni:

I got your letter. I won’t lie; I don’t trust you. However, my friends and family are confident that your intentions are good and true, and I do trust them. I accept your invitation. I will be bringing five people along, as per your limit, but I’m still not sure who those five will be. Regardless, everyone will be here seven days from this date. You can pick us up then.

Ash Ketchum

“There, how’s that?” Ash said, sealing his reply in the envelope Giovanni provided. “I even added that stupid smiley face.”

“Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes!” a voice shouted from the kitchen.

“Right, well, I must be going,” Professor Oak said, standing up. “Ash, when you see Misty, please give her my regards.”

“Will do, Professor,” Ash said. “See you later.”

As Professor Oak left, Tracey looked at Pikachu and said, “Hey, Pikachu. Will you go into the kitchen and help Mrs. Ketchum finish making dinner?”

A nod, and the pokémon jumped to the floor and scurried into the kitchen. Tracey pulled Ash close to him and whispered, “Are you going to take Misty along?”

“I want her to come,” Ash whispered back. “And why are we whispering?”

“So your mom doesn’t hear us. I don’t want her to hear us talking about Misty and the death in her family. I don’t want her or Pikachu to know that I’m responsible!”

“Oh. Well, okay. But yeah, I definitely want Misty to go with me. You should come, too.”

“I don’t think Misty would like that very much.”

“I told you, man, she’ll be over it in a week’s time. And even if she isn’t, I’m sure she’d be willing to put on a happy face for my sake and at least act civil towards you.”

“I’m not so sure… she seemed pretty upset with me today.”

“Look. Don’t worry about it. I’ll fly to Lavender Town and talk to Misty about it directly. If she doesn’t want to go, then you’re in the clear. But if she says yes—”

“Dinner’s ready,” Delia said, poking her head into the dining room. “Where’s Samuel?”

“He left,” Ash said. “We’ll be right there.”

“Okay, but hurry up or it’ll get cold,” Delia said as she went back into the kitchen.

After making sure the coast was clear, Ash resumed his whispering. “But if Misty says she wants to go, I’m going to tell her I want you to come, too. I’ll get her to understand.”

“All right,” Tracey said. “Now how about we get some of your mom’s food? I’m famished!”

“Yeah, you bet!” Ash exclaimed. “Come on!”

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#6
Chapter 6: The Unexpected Ally

"Someone else? You can't be serious," Jessie said, arms crossed.

"Dead serious," James said, bolting out of the room and back up the stairs, wishing he hadn't chosen those particular words. Upon reaching the main room, he stopped and listened for any signs that his buddy was in trouble. As he looked down the long hall to the double doors that led towards the dining room, James found himself wishing he'd brought some sort of weapon to protect himself. He stepped slowly, cautiously, as if the polished wood floor would cave in at the slightest misstep. Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him, slowly approaching. "Sneaking up behind me, is he? Come on, I know you're there..." James thought, his steps slowing. He could feel the other person's presence near him. It was now or never. Kill or be killed. He turned around, and swung a fist.

It was promptly blocked. "Figured you might try something stupid like that," Jessie said with a chuckle.

"Jessie, that's not funny! I could have really hurt you!"

She laughed. "Don't be ridiculous, James. Cute little ol' me stopped your attack all by myself... what do you plan on doing to that big bad intruder who has Meowth?"

"So you do believe me."

She laughed again. "Of course not. I just couldn't resist having a little fun myself."

"Please, Jessie, be serious, would you? Stay here. I don't want you to get hurt. If anything happens to me, call the boss and get help," James pleaded.

"Okay, okay, Mr. Hero, I'll humor you just this once," Jessie gave in. She laid herself on the couch and closed her eyes. "I'll be waiting for you right here."

There, that was settled. James continued down the hall, a little faster this time, realizing he'd wasted valuable time arguing with his partner. He stood in front of the door, contemplating his next action. "Do I just barge in? Man, I shouldn't have wasted so much time fighting with Jessie. If Meowth dies, I'll never forgive myself. That's it. I have to get in there. Ready, James? One, two..."

He burst through the doors, ready for whatever - or whoever - was on the other side. Well... half-ready. And on that other side, as James suspected, was Meowth, sitting on the table and very much alive, from what James could tell. He was being spoon-fed something by a woman that could not have been Jessie. She was tall, a few inches taller than James, with long curly red hair that reached to the small of her back. She was a slender woman, and wore a blue bandana with an insignia on it James did not recognize. She stared at James with emerald-colored eyes. James, however, was not looking at this beauty, but rather at the spoon she was holding inches from her friend's mouth, or more specifically, the spoon's contents. Not immediately recognizing what it was, he lunged at the spoon, knocking it from the girl's hand. He turned to her and threw a punch; completely off guard, she fell from her chair to the tile floor. She didn't move after that.

"Meowth!" James said, bringing his friend into an embrace, feeling both glad his friend was saved and justified that his suspicions were indeed correct. "Are you okay? How are you feeling? Did you eat any of that?" He got no response. He set his friend back on the table. "What? What's wrong?"

Meowth, eyes shut, teeth clenched, simply extended the claws on one hand and delivered a single Slash attack to James's face. "You idiot!" He exclaimed. He jumped to the floor to tend to the woman. "What's your deal, huh??" he shouted to the male human. James, clutching his face in, didn't answer. Meowth turned to the woman. "Hey, wake up," he pleaded. "Are you okay?"

After a moment, she began to stir. "Oh... that was a cheap shot," she said, sitting up, holding her head in the place where James had hit her. "Meowth, what did you do that for..."

Meowth shook his head. "It wasn't me. That dumb oaf over there is the one that hit ya." Meowth glared death at his old friend.

The woman stood up and brushed herself off. "Oh, yeah..." she said, looking back at James, who was still holding his injury. She looked him over, then turned to Meowth. "Well, from the looks of him, I can't say I'm impressed." She looked back at James. "Hitting a poor, defenseless girl...what kind of man are you?"

"Shut up. Defenseless my left foot. What was that you were trying to poison Meowth with?" James demanded, subconsciously trying to find something else he could attack this intruder with if needed.

"Well, aren't we bossy?" the mysterious woman said, never moving her emerald gaze from Jame's. "If you really must know," she said, turning to pick up a bowl on the table and holding it out for James to inspect, "it's gelatin. Perfectly safe."

"And perfectly yummy, too!" Meowth chimed in, jumping back on the table. "Shelly made it yesterday and was kind enough ta share it with a starving Meowth, and I'm sure she woulda given you two some too if you would have just said, 'Oh, hi, I'm James, what's yours?' and not CRASH through the door, SLAP with the spoon, POW right in the kisser, SQUEEZE to the Meowth!" he fumed, claws still bared.

James closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then exhaled. When he opened his eyes, he extended a hand. "I'm sorry," he began. "I overreacted. My name is James. Pleased to meet you."

"Shelly," the woman replied, shaking the young man's hand. "Needless to say, I was surprised to find anyone at all here besides me, let alone a talking Meowth! How cool is that? Your Meowth is so cute! I love feeding him."

"No, he's not mine. He actually belongs to my boss. He was assigned to my partner and I. The three of us work as a team as a part of Team Rocket." James paused for a moment before asking the one question he should have asked in the first place. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm a treasure hunter. I've been watching this place carefully over the past few months, noticing who goes in and who goes out, and I've spent the last week or so trying to figure out how to get inside and, well, take whatever I can find. I love this place. I got in a couple days ago, and I've spent them eating the food here, and learning the lay of the land. I'll be taking off after I've had my fill of the stuff of whoever belongs here..." Shelly trailed off, picking up another spoon. She ate some of the gelatin she held. "Mmm. It's really good. You want some?" she asked, offering James a spoonful.

"No thanks, I'm allergic," James lied, still not completely trusting this girl.

"Well, that's too bad. I guess it's all yours then, Meowth," Shelly said, putting the bowl and spoon in front of the cat, who wasted no time in stuffing his face with the food. "So, I've told you my story... what's yours?"

"This house you're looting also belongs to my boss - Giovanni of Team Rocket. We've fallen out of his favor, and were sent here as punishment."

"Your boss sends you here for punishment?" Shelly asked, wide-eyed. "Wow. I wanna work for you guys. So you're with Team Rocket, huh? Can't say I've heard of you... is the pay nice?"

James ignored her question and continued. "Ever been downstairs? We were locked down there, but we busted out. Now we're just living the good life until our sentence is over... and the pay isn't that bad. It's not minimum wage, but it's not really exceptional either. It's enough to get by. My partner is in the other room. I'll introduce you to her, if you follow me this way." He extended his arm and gave a smile.

"Well, a gentleman now, are we?" Shelly half-asked, eyebrow raised, linking her arm with James's. James was glad the lady was so accepting. While it was true his inner gentleman was showing himself, the reality was James wanted some kind of control over her so she could not try to harm Jessie... at least not this second.

The two walked arm-in-arm down the hall to the main room, where Jessie was still on the couch, unmoving. The pair moved in front of the couch, where it appeared the magenta-haired woman had fallen asleep. James made a gesture towards a nearby chair. "Won't you sit down? I'm terribly sorry, my partner seems to have fallen asleep..." Shelly sat in the chair while James pulled Jessie into a sitting position. "Jessie, wake up." He put his arm around her and shook her a little. She stirred, but it wasn't much. He tried again. "Come on, what are you doing sleeping at a time like this? Time to get up!"

"What... are the twerps here already..." Jessie yawned and stretched her arms and tried to bring her eyes into focus. She leaned into James and shut her eyes again. "I don't know why..." she yawned again. "...I'm so tired... I guess I didn't sleep enough last night..."

James rocked his partner. Jessie was often belligerent when she was awake. James appreciated these momentarily breaks from her wrath. "Do you remember when I said that someone else was in the house, Jessie?"

"Mhm..." she said, half-asleep, fully enjoying whatever dream she seemed to be in.

"She's sitting here across from you. She's one of Meowth's friends. Won't you say hello?"

Jessie let out a moan and sat up. She blinked a few times at this new person, who just sat there and smiled. The redhead extended a hand. "Hi, I'm Shelly."

"And I am not interested," Jessie said, laying herself into James's arms.

"Sorry," James apologized. "This really isn't like her at all. Normally, she's much more... well, mean. But I guess she's not going to budge... I'll put her to bed. Where are the bedrooms?"

"Oh, well, I guess they're upstairs. I haven't really finished mapping this place out. I see you found my map," Shelly said, picking up the paper on the table. "The only bedroom I can confirm is the one I use, which is what appears to be the master bedroom. It's right up the stairs, directly at the top of the stairs. I'd appreciate it if you didn't use it... there have to be other bedrooms in a place like this."

"Sure, not a problem," James replied, standing up. "Come on, Jessie, let's go find us a room, huh?" He picked her up and carefully made his way towards the stairs. "I won't be too long," James said, turning towards his new acquaintance.

"Take your time," Shelly said, waving a hand. "I'll be with Meowth."

As James made his way up the stairs, he began to have a few thoughts about this mysterious woman, but kept them to himself until he had a chance to talk to his partners in crime regarding the situation. Upon reaching the second floor, James looked to either side and found they looked surprisingly similar, almost identical. Doors lined each wall on both sides, each hall leading to a window. James opened a door nearest the one Shelly had claimed as her own, and found a second bedroom. To say the room was decorated would be an overstatement; the room contained but a single bed. 'I wonder if all the rooms are this barren,' James thought to himself as he set his partner down onto one side of the bed. He looked briefly at her before going back downstairs. 'Guess they're still in the kitchen... I'll leave them be. I've got a lot on my mind... I have to write...' He went over to their suitcase, still messed up on the floor, and took his notebook from the pile. He took a seat in the nearby chair, removed the pencil from the binding, and opened up to a new page to write about the day's experiences.

It came pretty easy. In seven days, he would be faced with the biggest challenge of his life.

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#7
Part 7.

"You always make the best meals, Mrs. Ketchum."

Tracey had just wolfed down his third helping of the food that Ash's mother made. The speed at which Tracey ate was a bit alarming to the woman and her son, each of which had barely finished their initial helping. "Well, I'm glad you like it, Tracey," Delia said, looking a bit nervous as Tracey left the table to fill his plate again. "Aren't you full? I'm surprised you haven't burst from all you've eaten!"

"Ah... maybe a little," Tracey admitted. "But it's been a long time since I had a good home-cooked meal. I'm no grand chef, so most times when I'm on the road I just get some take out or find something I can nuke with no hassle."

"Well, you're more than welcome to stop by any time you're in town. Right, Ash?"

"Yeah, of course," Ash said, finishing what remained of the food on his plate. He stood from the table. "But Tracey, you mind holding off on that food I know you've got your eyes on and come talk with me for a while? I want your opinion on who I should bring with me to Giovanni's place."

"Sure, no problem," Tracey said, setting his plate back on the table. "Thank you for the wonderful meal, Mrs. Ketchum," Tracey said, giving a polite bow.

"It's my pleasure," Delia replied. "Don't worry about the dishes. I'll take care of them; you run along now."

Tracey followed Ash upstairs and into his bedroom, where he found Ash sitting on his bed, holding a framed picture. "Whatcha lookin' at?" Tracey inquired.

"It's a picture of me and Misty at last year's Festival of Flowers. I hate the way I look. Only reason I even have it is because this is the only picture I have of Misty. I was just thinking about her..."

Tracey took a seat next to his friend and sighed. "Yeah, it took a lot of work to put up a good front for your mom... so what's on your mind?"

"It's like I said. I want your opinion. Who do you think I should ask to come? The letter said I can bring five. I'm flying to Lavender Town tomorrow to ask Misty directly. You're going, too. That leaves three open spots. What do you think?"

"Okay, slow down a minute here," Tracey said. "First of all, I never said I was going."

"You don't want to come?"

"...I never said that."

"All right then."

"Well, whatever. Second, you don't know if Misty will go, especially if you tell her I'm going, too."

"So you're coming?"

"Ah, might as well."

"Thought so. You may continue."

"She completely hates me. Do you really think she would want to spend a week in the same house as me, let alone be anywhere within 10 feet of me without something to inflict bodily harm on me with?"

"Man, I told you, Misty's not one to hold grudges. I know I've done my fair share of things in the past to get Misty angry, and she usually turns around in a day or so."

"You've never done something of this magnitude to upset her."

"No, I guess not. But still, I've known her for a long time. I don't know if she'll be very friendly towards you, maybe not for a couple days. But she'll come around. You'll see. By week's end, it'll be as if nothing happened between you two."

"Uh huh. Moving on. Did you have any ideas yourself about who to ask?"

"Not particularly. I haven't heard from Gary in a few years. He rarely comes home, and when he does, he spends all his time at the lab talking to Professor Oak about the places he's been and the things he's seen. I don't even know where he's at now, and I'm not even going to bother trying to get ahold of him. There's this other girl I know, May, who I thought I might ask. We talk online sometimes. Last time I saw her was at the Festival of Flowers... she's actually the one who took this picture," Ash said, replacing the picture to its spot next to his bed.

"Is she a skilled trainer?"

"She's not that bad."

"That's good."

"But you know, we're cool, I don't think she'd say no. She's got a younger brother, too. He's a real nerd, but still a cool kid. Their dad's one of the Gym Leaders over in Hoenn. I'm friends with the whole family, so if I ask them, I don't see why they'd say no."

"You gonna ask them both to go?"

"Maybe. I mean, I know Misty might get jealous if she's not the only girl there, but that's not really my problem, is it?

"Riiiight. So, that's four. You need one more."

"Yeah. I figured I'd give a call to Brock and ask him, but I don't think he'll want to. He's afraid of flying."

"Doesn't hurt to ask."

"True. But I can barely think of 5 people to go with. I'm pretty much banking on all of them agreeing to come."

"Well, no point in speculating. It's not too late - why don't you call Brock right now? Get it out of the way."

"Can't. The only number I have of his is his extension at the Pewter Gym. I don't have his home number, or his cell number for that matter. I'm kinda tired anyway... it's been a long day. You wanna just crash here tonight? You're welcome to stay here while I go to Lavender Town tomorrow."

"Sure, I accept. Thanks."

"Right. Follow me, I'll show you the guest bedroom," Ash said, moving towards the door. The two young men walked only a short distance down the hall before arriving. "This is it. There's a TV in there too, so if you want to watch anything, you're welcome to, just keep it down a little. I'm right on the other side of the wall."

"Got it. Thanks again."

"All right man, see you in the morning," Ash said, retiring to his own bedroom. As the boy garbed himself in his night clothes, he thought of the day's events, and Giovanni's letter. What project was he talking about? Why was Giovanni being nice all of a sudden? And why'd he put that stupid smiley face at the end of it? He made a mental note to ask Giovanni himself after coming home. He covered himself in his bed and let the sound of the wind carry him to sleep.

The next morning, Ash was up early. He had breakfast and bathed himself, all while everyone else in the house slept soundly. He entered the room with all his Pokemon in it, removed the ball containing his Dragonite, and left. "I'm glad Misty bought that line about me not having a clue what these were. She'd have killed me if she knew I handpicked my team," Ash thought to himself. Choosing not to inform his mother, Pikachu, or Tracey about his departure, he simply walked out the front door.

Ash drank in the morning air."Wow, look at that sunrise. Brock should be at the Gym soon. I'll check with him first. Then it's on to Lavender..." He released his Pokemon. "Hey buddy, you ready for some flying? We got a lot of ground to cover in one day, so I hope you're ready for it." Dragonite gave out a yelp, and Ash climbed on. "All right. We'll start small. Take me to Pewter City, okay?"

A howl, and they were airborne. Dragonite, known for its flight prowess, wasted no time. Ash arrived at his first destination in mere minutes. He recalled his companion and walked the short way to the Gym. He pulled on the door handle to get in, but the door wouldn't budge. He tried the other door, with the same result. "Guess Brock's not here to open up yet," Ash pondered. He looked at his watch, which read a quarter to 7. "He should be here by now... must be running late. I'll sit here and wait for him. He sat next to the door of the gym and watched the sun finish its ascent over the horizon. A few minutes passed, and there was still no sign of Brock. Pewter City began to come to life with the morning's activities. Ash, however, was not very lively. He found a pebble next to where he sat and used it to draw little patterns in the dirt.

Ash Ketchum was bored.

Before long, half an hour had gone by. Many people had come and gone from Ash's view, but not one of them was his long-time friend. He decided that he'd go do a little shopping while he waited. As he stood up and brushed himself off, a young Trainer came towards the Gym. "Hi," the kid said.

"Hey there," Ash said, his face lighting up at the fresh face before him. He always got excited when he saw rookie Trainers headed towards one of Ash's favorite places - Pokemon Gyms. "I'm Ash. You here to challenge Brock?"

"Yup!" the kid exclaimed. "Wailmer and I are going to win it all!"

"Wailmer, huh? I didn't think you could even catch Wailmer around here."

"You can't! My dad brought one for me all the way from Hoenn," the kid bragged. "He's super strong. No way we'll lose!"

"I don't know, Brock's pretty tough," Ash said, rubbing his chin. "Rumor has it that Brock's gotten so tough that people are actually coming to him last for Badges."

"I heard the same thing," the kid said, not so confident anymore. However, that wasn't to last very long at all, as he perked right back up. "But that doesn't scare me! I've got a type advantage. He doesn't stand a chance!"

"Well, good luck to you," Ash chuckled, certain that as soon as Brock arrived, he'd hammer this newbie into the dirt.

"Thank you! Have a nice day!" the kid exclaimed as he pushed the door to the Gym open and entered.

"Heh... reminds me of me when I was starting out,"Ash reminisced. "Pikachu and I hadn't even known each other for very long, and --"

Ash paused.

Something's not right here.

...Did that kid just walk into the Gym?

"No way," Ash thought, slowly walking to the door, and also realizing what he had done. Or didn't do. He grasped the handles firmly, and very slowly and cautiously, pushed on them.

And they opened.

"No way!" Ash yelled, thoroughly embarrassed. He stormed into the Gym quickly, hoping no one had seen him try to pull the doors open and wait for nearly 45 minutes for something that was never going to happen.

Inside, Brock and his opponent were preparing for their battle. Ash took a seat in the stands while the referee made clear the rules of the match. Brock noticed him and waved. Ash waved back. The match began.

The kid went first. "Come on out, Wailmer!" It landed and made its whale sounds. It bounced in place, clearly very anxious and ready to get started.

Brock smiled. "Go, Steelix!" The giant iron snake emerged. It was seveal times larger than the whale, but Wailmer didn't seem to be very intimidated by Steelix's fierce gaze. "Use Wrap!"

Steelix lunged forward with incredible speed. It wrapped itself firmly around Wailmer. It gazed menacingly at Wailmer. The challenger was unfazed. "Wailmer, Water Spout!" Wailmer roared loudly and gushed immense amounts of water from its blowhole right up into Steelix's jaws. Steelix was blown away. It released its grip and fell to the ground. The boy continued his attack. "Now, Surf!" With this, Wailmer summoned a huge wall of water and rode it down onto Steelix's weakened body. The snake was done.

"Steelix is unable to battle! Wailmer wins!" the ref declared.

Brock recalled his Pokemon. "Nice play. But I'm not through yet. Let's go, Crobat! Confuse Ray!" He tossed his next Poke Ball into the air, and Crobat came out. It flew swiftly and silently towards Wailmer, who was confused before he could blink.

And yet, the challenger didn't seem worried. "Well, if I can't aim properly, that's fine. Watch this. Wailmer, use Blizzard!" Wailmer roared, and rolled over into some rocks. The kid sweatdropped. "Ah... oops! Guess not..."

Brock gave his next command. "Now, Crobat, use Toxic." Crobat flew towards Wailmer, who was still rolling around, preventing Crobat from getting a clear shot. Crobat spit up the poison juice, and just barely missed its target.

The kid cheered. "Yeah, all right! Let's try another Blizzard!" Wailmer roared again, and this time summoned the icy wind as commanded. Crobat hid itself behind a rock, avoiding the attack. The kid smiled. "Yes! I so win! Ready, Wailmer? Use Ice Beam!" Wailmer rolled over towards Crobat, who was still cowering behind the large boulder, and shot the attack at point blank range. The beam froze Crobat to the ground. "And here comes the finale!" the challenger cried. "Fissure!"

Wailmer rumbled. And so did the ground. It split, and the shock from doing so sent Crobat skyward. It fell to the ground, knocked out cold by the attack.

And the ref went to work. "Crobat is unable to battle! Wailmer wins!"

Brock shook his head and called his Pokemon back. "I thought people might try and use a bunch of Water Pokemon against me for an easy win. Brock the Rock doesn't go down like that. No sir. Time for me to show you why I'm now one of the most feared Gym Leaders in Kanto. I choose you, Ludicolo!"

Ludicolo emerged from its Poke Ball and immediately went to work showing off some slick dance moves. "Oh yeah, Ludicolo,
we are awesome, aren't we?" Brock said, mimicking his Pokemon's dancing. Ludicolo cheered.

The challenger ignored them both and went to work. "Wailmer, shut him up! Use Ice Beam!"

"Dodge it, and then share your Leech Seed with him," Brock commanded. Ludicolo twirled his way behind a rock, which absorbed the attack. Ludicolo then shot the seeds into the air, all of which connected with Wailmer. They sprouted upon his body and covered him in the life-draining vines. Immediately, Wailmer started feeling the effects.

The kid didn't like that very much. "Ugh. Let's start up a Rollout, Wailmer!" Wailmer spun with intensity and charged towards Ludicolo.

Brock didn't really care what his opponent did. He waited for a moment, and then: "Ludicolo, Protect." Instantly, the barrier was up. Wailmer crashed into it and was knocked away. And the seeds sapped some more of Wailmer's energy. "Now, Giga Drain!" Ludicolo latched itself onto Wailmer's large body and began sucking even more energy from it, and Leech Seed continued to do its job.

"Not good, not good, this is not good," the kid said. "Oh no, I just might lose!... Hahahaha! Yeah right! Wailmer, you've done great! Why don't you Rest?" Wailmer went right to sleep as ordered, and no sooner had that happened had Wailmer woken up again. "Yeah, right on! You like that Chesto Berry, Mr. Brock? Wailmer's back in this fight, and we're ready for the one-two-three combo! Step one, Wailmer, use that Blizzard!"

Brock, true to his words, wasn't going to go down like that. "Ludicolo, Protect, once again!" The barrier shielded Ludicolo from all harm, and Leech Seed did its damage.

"Oh, man, I forgot about that. Looks like we'll have to go for the finish! Fissure, let's go!" Wailmer rumbled. And so did the ground. But Ludicolo was dancing across the arena, completely dodging Wailmer's attack. "Keep trying, Wailmer! Don't stop!"

Brock started to get worried. The attack would hit sometime. And when it did, that would be game over. Was he going to really let some punk kid beat him with a cheap shot like this? Not on his watch, he decided. But what could he do? The attack was unrelenting.

Aha! He formed a plan. A deviously simple one sure to anger the kid. But Brock didn't care. After putting up with this kid's mouth, he figured, he deserved it. Time to put it into action. Brock spoke. "Ludicolo, Giga Drain!"

Ludicolo flipped over a rock and jumped on Wailmer. He began to suck Wailmer's energy, and Wailmer's attack hit directly below Ludicolo. Jumping off his target, Ludicolo landed on a rock while Wailmer sent himself skyward. He crashed into the ground below, incapacitated.

The ref spoke. "Wailmer is unable to battle! Ludicolo wins!"

The challenger called back his Pokemon. "Darn. I thought I had that match in the bag. Ooh, just you wait, Brock. After I let Wailmer rest up, I'll be back, and after I'm done with you, I'm on to the Pokemon League!" And then he ran out of the Gym before Brock could say a word. He returned Ludicolo to his Poke Ball.

Ash stepped down and greeted his friend. "What's up, man? Nice win against that kid."

"I know. That was some kid. I've never seen a Wailmer so powerful. And to think he took down the rest of us with just Wailmer. It reminds me of you and Pikachu."

"Yeah, I know. I was thinking the same thing earlier." The two stepped out of the main arena and back into Brock's office. Brock sat behind his desk and began typing the data for the match into his files. Ash sat in a chair against the wall. "So what you been up to? How's your family?

"They're doing good," Brock replied. "Forrest is about to start some advance training in the fall, and Suzie actually got into Poketech Academy."


"Poketech," Ash retorted, "you mean that prep school that we passed those years back?"


"That's the one," Brock said as he chuckled. "Their attitudes weren't the best, but it's a top school. Mom and Dad don't trust her out on a journey just yet, and she refused to go with any of her siblings. Oh yeah, that reminds me, what was with you screaming earlier when you came in?"

"Ugh, don't ask," Ash said, hanging his head in shame.

"...all right," Brock said, resuming his work. "So what brings you here? You usually call first."

"Giovanni sent me a letter asking me to invite a bunch of people to a secluded island in some place I've never even heard of and spend a week there. It's a vacation. And when I come back I'm supposed to work with him and make the world a better place or something. Anyway, I want you to come with me. What do you say? It'll be fun."

Brock looked away from his work. "...what? Did you say Giovanni is inviting you to his house?"

"Yeah."

"And you don't see anything wrong with that?"

"That's what I said!"

"And yet you're still going."

"My mom, Tracey, and Professor Oak all think it's A-OK."

"Tracey's at your place? He was just here something like a week ago. Why's he there?"

"He's coming with me on the trip."

"Is that so? How are you getting there?"

"I don't know. I assume we'll be flying, but I could ask if we could get there by boat if you'd feel more comfortable."

"Ah, I get seasick really easily. I like my feet planted on nice, solid, unmoving earth. I hate getting on a boat as much as I do getting into a plane. I mean, I can hardly drive without feeling a little nauseous."

"Does that mean you won't come?"

"No, I'll go. I think the whole thing's a little fishy. I can get my brother to watch the Gym while I'm gone, so it's no big deal. I'll just give him a call after I finish this up. Should I meet you at your house?"

"Yeah. Be there in five days. I have to fly to Lavender Town and talk to Misty. I'm asking her to come, too."

"What's she doing there? Who's watching the Gym?"

"Her sisters, I guess, and uh... someone very close to her died recently, and she went there to ask Mr. Fuji to cremate them."

"Oh... well, that's too bad. When you see her, be sure to tell her I'm sorry for her loss."

"Yeah, will do. So, see you in a few days?"

"You got it."

"All right, catch you later." Ash left the office, and the Gym. "That was pretty easy," Ash thought. He released his Dragonite again. As he mounted his Pokemon and began the flight towards Lavender Town, Ash knew that convincing Misty to come along would not be as simple as he hoped.


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#8
"Misty, come onnnnnn," Ash pleased. "Please?"

"Not doing it," the girl replied calmly, not looking up from the book she was reading. After arriving in Lavender Town, Ash found Misty sitting on a bench next to the street, with an urn sitting next to her. It was small, light blue in color, with dark blue swirls covering it. It didn't take long for Ash to guess its contents. At first, she had been happy to see him. He told his tale about the letter, and the trip, and how he'd really love it if she came along. And she was all for it... until he told her who else was going.

"He said he was sorry, didn't he? Come on. This isn't like you at all. Where's the "forgive and forget" Misty I know?"

She actually faced him after that remark. "You actually think I can forgive him so easily? I don't know if you're aware of this, Ash, but he killed my Pokemon!" She went back to reading her book.

"Oh, come on, it's not like he did it on purpose! It was a freak accident. He feels really bad about it. I told him you'd be there. You have to come. For me?"

Misty's eyes remained glued to the page. "No."

Ash stood up and put his hands on his hips. Yes, his initial thoughts were right on the money. This girl wasn't giving in for anything. He looked down at his friend, who was still completely immersed in the book. What was he going to do? Well, when all else fails...

"Misty," he began, reducing himself to his knees. "I'm begging you. Please come with me."

"No."

He got to his feet. "Oh come on, Misty! What do I have to do or say to get you to come with me?"

Misty closed her book, slammed it on the bench, and got right in Ash's face. "Nothing. Not a thing. Got that? I don't want to see him. I don't want to think about him, although thanks to you I'm sure I'll be doing a lot of that. I'm really not in the mood to talk to or see anyone right now, especially him, so if you would please leave me in peace, I would very much appreciate it." She turned to return to her reading, when...

"But Misty--"

She quickly silenced him. "Go. Home. I'm staying here. And that's the end of it." She sat on her bench, picked up her book, and resumed reading. She took the urn next to her in one hand and moved it closer to her.

Ash sighed. He released his Dragonite and mounted it. "Come on, Dragonite. Let's go home."

He took one final look at his friend, and then the boy and his Pokemon were gone.

And it was only then, after making sure Ash was out of sight, that Misty broke down and cried.

----------


Ash was en route to his house, immersed in thought. "Well, that went well. Man... this sucks. I really thought she'd come... guess losing Vaporeon was harder on her than I thought. But at least Brock's agreed to come, and there's still May and Max. They should be more willing... let's just hope their parents say it's okay..." The boy and his Pokemon made their arrival in Pallet Town as the sun was beginning to set. After replacing Dragonite in storage, he went upstairs to tell Tracey about his day, but he was nowhere to be found. He returned downstairs and looked around, but there was no sign of Tracey. Pikachu was missing, too. His mother, watching TV, saw her son's confused look. "Looking for Tracey?"

"Yeah, Pikachu, too. You seen 'em?"

"Tracey's spent the entire day with Professor Oak. He's still over there. Pikachu's with him."

"Oh, all right. Thanks." Ash returned upstairs, deciding this would be as good a time as any to try to contact May. Turning on his computer, he looked over at the picture by his bed. "I can't believe she's not coming. It's just not going to be the same without her..." He logged in, then sat on his bed and took the frame into his hands. "There's gotta be some way I can convince her. There just has to... Maybe if I tell her Tracey's not coming? No, I don't want to lie to her... I still have five days to convince her. I'll think of something before then."

He returned to his computer and loaded up the chat program he used to talk to May. "Man, I knew I should have got her number... I really do not want to fly all the way to Hoenn." He glanced down his friend list. "Great. Everyone but May is online. Talk about --"
Quote:may121789 has signed in.

"Sweet." He quickly rushed to type his message.
Quote:PTrainerAK: May
may121789: hey ash whats up?
PTrainerAK: Ever been to Orre?
may121789: never heard of it, u?
PTrainerAK: I've been invited to take a vacation there. I'm allowed to bring five people. Want to come?
may121789: omg are you kidding i would luv 2 but im not sure my parents would go for it, i mean i don't think theyve ever
heard of orre either but they know you so it should be okay, ill go ask
PTrainerAK: All right.

A door was heard open and close downstairs. "Tracey and Pikachu must be back," Ash reasoned. A sound was heard from the computer.
Quote:may121789: Ash, you there?
PTrainerAK: Yeah. What did your mom say?
may121789: This is Max.
PTrainerAK: Oh, hey man, how's it going? Where's May?
may121789: I can hear her arguing with my mom in the kitchen about something. I figured I'd say hi.

Just then, Pikachu burst into the room. It jumped onto the table where Ash was seated and erupted in a fit of happy "pika" noises. It tackled Ash in a hug.

Ash returned the favor. "Hey, buddy, how you been? I heard you were hanging out with Tracey and Professor Oak while I was gone. Did you have fun?" Pikachu jumped back onto the table, and with full "pika" support, attempted to act out everything he and Tracey had done over the course of the day, and Ash went back to the computer.
Quote:PTrainerAK: Heh. You know she'll kill you if she comes back and finds you on the computer, right?
may121789: I'm not scared of her. She might talk a lot, but that's all she is. Just talk.
PTrainerAK: I see. So what have you been up to?
may121789: I just got done watching SuperSpaceDude.
PTrainerAK: Oh, yeah, I've heard of that. I didn't know it was on DVD yet. I haven't seen it. It any good?
may121789: It's not bad. The special effects are pretty low quality, though.
PTrainerAK: That sucks.
may121789: Yeah, but it has a good story.
PTrainerAK: I see. What else has Max been up to?
may121789: I've been pretty busy lately. Training Pokemon is so much fun. I spend most of my free time with them. When I'm not training, I'm studying. It's been kinda hectic.
PTrainerAK: Funny you should mention thta.
PTrainerAK: that*
may121789: Why, what's up?
PTrainerAK: I told May about this just now. I've been invited to spend a week at this one place in Orre. May's asking for permission right now from your mom. You wanna come?
may121789: Really? You mean it?
PTrainerAK: Of course I mean it. We're friends, right?
may121789: Yeah, for sure. I guess I'll go help May convince my mom to let us go.
PTrainerAK: Sounds good.

Tracey Sketchit came into the room with two hot plates of food. He set one next to Pikachu. "Here, Ash. Your mom asked me to bring this to you."

"Awesome. Thanks, Tracey," Ash said, taking the plate and wasting no time in devouring its contents.

"So how'd it go?"

"Brock is on board. I talked to him and he's going for sure."

"That's not who I was talking about and you know it."

"Ugh..." Ash sighed. "She's not coming."

"I knew it. I knew it. I shouldn't have agreed to go. I'm really sorry, Ash. You should call her and tell her that I'm not--"

"Would you just shut up with the not going business? You're both going. I just don't know how I'm going to convince Misty."

"I don't know, either. What are you going to do if she won't be convinced?"

"Be miserable for a week." And then a sound from the computer.

"Who you talking to?"

"May and her brother Max. Well, from the looks of it, I'd say I'm talking to May again. I told them about the trip and they're both interested in going, so they went to get permission."
' Wrote:may121789: my mom wants u to explain it 2 her so she knows wats going on
PTrainerAK: Really? I don't mind explaining things, but I don't have your phone number and I really don't think I have any Pokemon that would be willing to fly me from here to Hoenn just to talk. How should I get ahold of you?
may121789: the number is 53-668-867-5309, call as soon as you can
PTrainerAK: Will do.

After writing down the number, Ash closed the chat program and turned to the video phone next to his computer. He carefully dialed the digits, making sure not to mess it up. He held the receiver to his ear and waited.

"Hey, move over, I want to meet her," Tracey said, getting behind Ash's shoulder.

The connection went through. On the other end was a girl with shoulder-length brown hair. She was wearing a blue shirt.

"Hi, Ash!" she said.

"Hey, May. Where's your mom at?" Ash spoke back.

"Oh! Right! Just a second!" May replied. She put the phone down and left, allowing Ash to view the plain white wall that had been behind her.

Ash turned to his friend. "There, that's May."

"She seems kinda cool. I hope she's just a good of a battler as you think she is, Ash."

Just then, another figure came to the screen. She also had brown hair, although hers was a bit curly. It was tied in a ponytail. "Hello?"

"Hey, Caroline, long time no see."

"Hi, Ash. How have you been?"

"Not bad. Just living life, y'know?"

"Right, of course. So, the kids have told me that you've invited them on a trip of some kind?"

"Yes, ma'am. I've actually been invited myself, and the person who's hosting my trip said I was allowed to bring five of my friends with me. It's in some place called Orre. I've never been there, so I think it'll be pretty exciting. I leave in six days."

"How are you getting there? Where are you staying?"

"We'll be taking a plane there, and we'll be staying at my host's private island retreat."

"All this talk about my host, my host. Who is your host?"

Ash hesitated.

"Ash?"

"His name's Giovanni. He's... the CEO of his own company based here in Kanto." Tracey went wide-eyed.

"Really? What's his company do?"

"They... they steal people's Pokemon." Tracey breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Now it was Caroline's turn to go wide-eyed. "They what?"

"You remember a long time ago, when May got her Torchic kidnapped? Those guys?"

"Ah. I don't remember their faces, but I do remember that incident."

"They work for Team Rocket. That's the company that Giovanni runs. They steal other people's Pokemon."

"That's terrible! And why would I want to put my children's Pokemon in that kind of danger?"

"Oh, that's not going to be a problem. No Pokemon whatsoever are allowed to come. They'll be safe at home."

"I see. And you're being invited to this Giovanni person's secret lair?"

"Um, well, it's not a lair... he didn't say anything about that. He wrote me a letter saying that Jessie and James - those guys I mentioned - are losers and aren't representative of his vision of Team Rocket. It's also only for a week, and I'll have other people with me - not just me. Big, strong men like me who are more than capable of keeping your children safe," Ash said with a grin.

"I don't know, Ash, it sounds awfully suspicious to me."

"That's what I said!"

"Then why are you even going?"

"My friends and family think his intentions are good. Now that I think of it, we really haven't heard much of Team Rocket lately. We did meet up with Jessie and James a couple days ago, but before that it had been at least a month. They've been showing less and less of themselves lately."

"Hmm... well, listen, Ash. I don't trust that Giovanni person, or his letter. I find it hard to believe that he really means well and he's not out to harm you. Who knows what could happen? I don't want my children in that kind of danger."

Ash was heartbroken. This sucked. "I understand, Caroline. It's okay."

"But I trust you, Ash."

The boy perked up. This was different. This was good. Now we're getting somewhere! He said nothing while Caroline spoke.

"I trust your judgment. I know you're a very capable young man. I know you wouldn't let anything happen to my babies."

"We are not babies!" May dissented from off-screen.

Caroline ignored them and continued. "I'll give them both permission to come with you on your trip."

"Really? Thanks a lot, Caroline! I promise, I'll do everything in my power to bring your kids home safely."

He struggled to hear over the screams heard in the background. "No problem, Ash. What would you have me do with them?"

"Have them be here in five days. May knows where I live."

"Understood. Take it easy, Ash."

"You too! And say hi to Norman for me!"

"Will do. Bye."

Ash hung up the phone and cheered. "Yes! All right!"

Tracey, who had been laying on Ash's bed, looked up. "What are you so happy about?"

"May and Max are both coming. This is great. That makes four." He quickly came off of his happy high as he realized just what that meant. "That's nearly everyone..."

Tracey understood what the look on Ash's face meant. "Come on, don't worry about it. It's not the end of the world. And you still have five days... who knows? You might think of something."

"Tracey, it just won't be the same without her. But she is dead set on not going. I'll call her again in a few days, once she gets back home."

Pikachu jumped into Ash's lap, pointed to himself, and let out a couple of the usual "pika pikas."

Ash chuckled and put his friend back onto the table. "Sorry, pal, but I can't bring you with me. I gotta leave all my Pokemon behind, not just you. So don't feel bad."

Pikachu turned away from his master for a second and rubbed his face. A few seconds later, he turned back, his face now looking strikingly similar to Misty's.

"You want me to dress you up like Misty?"

Pikachu looked a bit uneasy. That wasn't quite what he had in mind, but Ash was half right.

Tracey spoke up. "I think he wants you to disguise him, but not necessarily as Misty."

"Oh ho," Ash caught on. "Yeah, I really don't think that's going to work. You're a little too short to pass as a human, and there's no way anyone would fall for such an obvious trick."

"And how many times have you been duped by that same trick?" Tracey asked, raising an eyebrow.

Ash cringed. Tracey was right, Ash had been fooled a ridiculous amount of times by Jessie and James over the years. The incident involving two travelling salesmen and their pint-sized boss that happened a few days prior was still fresh in his mind, and sometimes Ash wondered why to this day he still hasn't been able to see through their disguises. Lucky for him and his pride, everyone else Ash had traveled with had been tricked, too. "...shut up," Ash said. "It's not like you weren't tricked either."

"Maybe so, but I'm not the one making claims that the idea of a foot-tall human is never going to fool anyone."

"Well, whatever. The point is, I'm not going to resort to trying to fool anyone. And besides, I'm still going to get Misty to come."

"And what's your plan for that?" Tracey asked.

"Well, I figure that the reason my last try failed so bad was because she was still mad at you. If she isn't home already, she should be back tomorrow or the day after at the latest. I'll ask her again then. And then she'll say yes."

"Well, I hope she does. We were such good friends. I'd hate for things to end this way."

"So would I." After that, everything was quiet for a moment, each boy immersed in thought. "Well, I think I'm going to hit the old sackaroonie. Sooner I go to bed, the sooner I wake up, and the sooner I can work on getting Misty to agree to come on this trip."

Tracey got up. "All right. Good luck, Ash," he said, leaving to retire to his own room. Ash wasted no time in going to sleep.

The next three days seemed like centuries to Ash. He knew Misty wasn't one to change her mind once she made it up. If he wanted any shot at completing his group the way he wanted, he had to be careful not to make her too angry.

"But it's been three days, right?" Ash thought to himself, staring down his phone. "She can't still be mad, can she?" He picked up the receiver and began dialing. "Should I even call her? She's probably not awake yet." He hung up the phone has he looked out the window and sighed. The sun was still rising over Pallet Town. "I can't take it anymore. I have to go see her personally," the boy decided, once again fetching his trusty Dragonite from its spot with the hundreds of other Pokemon the young man owned.

As he opened the door to leave his house, Ash was greeted by a large black man.

"Whoa, Brock, what's up? What are you doing here so early?"

Brock looked a bit puzzled. "Today's the day, right? You said four days... didn't you?"

"Yeah, I didn't think you'd be here this early though. We still have all day... I think. Anyway, I have to go to Cerulean City and talk to Misty, so I'll catch you later."

"What? How come?"

"Ah, well, I asked her to come with me, and she said no... I'm going to try and change her mind."

"Really, she said no? That's weird. I thought for sure she'd agree in two seconds."

"Yeah, imagine that... anyway, make yourself at home, cook some breakfast or something, everyone's still sleeping... I'll be back later, see ya!" Ash released his Dragonite and at breakneck speed the two were headed towards Cerulean City. During the trip, the young trainer kept trying to think of ways he could convince his old friend. He knew she had to come with him, for old time's sake at least.

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