Otto fell to his knees as he sobbed piteously into his palms. He struck the sun-warmed stone of the courtyard with a dull thud, oblivious to the hushed murmur intermixed with open cheering and applause all around him from the gathered throng. Usually the accolades were reserved for the German champion, but on this day, they went to a different individual.

Ash recalled the last of his Pokémon with a flick of the wrist as his slumbering Snorlax was pulled back into its ball. Long locks of black hair danced before his eyes as he reached up and twisted his hat back into its normal position. Pikachu bounded away from the impromptu battlefield back to his feet with a joyous cry, bringing a smile to his trainer's face.

"Well, that was…invigorating," the former Indigo champ fibbed as he sauntered forward. His mother had always taught him to be gracious in victory as well as defeat, but with opponents full of so much hot air such as Otto, it was just so damned difficult. "Now, about that badge…"

"Warum?" Otto sniffled loudly. He pulled his tear-streaked face away from his hands, looking up at Ash with total despair. "How could you defeat me?" It was lucky the crowd had begun to disperse; if they had seen their so-called champion in this state, they might have denounced him then and there as a phony and a child. As it was, only a handful saw his display, and they merely clucked their tongues and shook their heads before moving on.

"Hey," Ash shrugged, "Never underestimate the power of a good theme song. Now, as per our arrangement?"

Miserably, the German boy reached into his jacket and pulled out a tiny, shining pin in the shape of a beer stein. Ash quirked his eyebrow at the choice of badge design, but remained silent as he snatched the pin and popped it into his pocket.

Otto's sniveling had yet to cease, so he reached out and hesitantly placed a hand on his opponent's shoulder. "Uh…there, there. Just keep practicing. You almost had me on the ropes there with your Typhlosion."

"You beat him with your IVYSAUR!" Otto sobbed, resuming his tearful tantrum.

"Uh, ye-ah. Well…" The scene was quickly becoming uncomfortable. Ash looked around for some kind of reason to escape gracefully. And, as luck would have it, his opportunity came in a fashion it often did; an explosion.

Without any sort of warning, a large cloud of angry red flames mushroomed on the distant plains, vanishing quickly, but lasting long enough that many of the tourists noticed. Some were even quick enough to capture the event on film, snapping photos as fast as their fingers would allow. Several seconds after they saw the colorful plume blossom from the landscape, a soft rumbling rattled everyone's eardrums. Ash's eyes narrowed at the distant cloud as it dissipated, only to be replaced by another several seconds later, and another after that one.

"Well," he rubbed his hand together, looking down to make sure Pikachu was with him. The little mouse nodded and hopped up onto his shoulder effortlessly as Ash reached for a ball on his belt. "I'd love to stay, but it looks like someone's playing my song. Keep working at it, and maybe we'll have a rematch someday, Otto. Until then…"

Otto and the rest of the remaining crowd tore their eyes away from the exploding landscape at the sound of a Pokémon being released. Once again, Ash's Pidgeot plumed into existence with a shrill shriek, spreading his wings as they converted from energy back to matter. Without even needing an order, Pidgeot extended his power over Ash and Pikachu; the pair were covered in amber energy that tugged them free from Earth's gravity and carried them skyward as Pidgeot himself soared into the air.

"Try the strudel," Ash called to the crowd as they ascended high into the air, "It's fan-tastic!"

The castle and the rest of the area shrunk to the size of a model train set as the trainer and his two Pokémon soared into the stratosphere. Once they had reached a respectable altitude, Pidgeot surged forward with a pulse of wind from his wings, carrying them toward the distant explosions at nearly the speed of sound. The Flying type was capable of far greater speeds, especially if Ash 'helped', but Ash had made that mistake too many times to repeat it; he wanted to gauge the situation before he rushed headlong into anything. 'And,' he added silently as he flipped Gear's cover open, 'It wouldn't hurt to call in some backup.'

"Gear," Ash ordered, shouting above the sound of the wind and the land rushing past them at fantastic speed, "Call the car."

"Right away." responded his communicator.

Gear buzzed softly for a moment against Ash's wrist with a steady beat, mimicking the ringing tone of the phone Ash knew was on the other end. After a moment, a voice replied, muffled by something. "'Ello?"

"T," Ash brought Gear close to his face so he wouldn't have to shout so loud. "Where are you?"

"In the village," the enigmatic 'T' replied with a suddenly clear voice. Ash heard rustling in the background, and realized his partner was eating something. His hunch was confirmed when T added, "They've got a lovely bakery 'ere, mate. You really ought to-"

"Later, we've got trouble." Ash dismissed his sightseeing immediately. "Gear, run a search of local news and wire services, see if-"

"Already on it, Ash." Gear replied coolly. It didn't surprise Ash that she was already three steps ahead of him; for someone without a body, the Pokégear was one sharp lady. "Patching it through:"

"Achtung, achtung-"

"Gord'n Bennett, Gear," T swore from the other end, "I don't speak bloody German."

"My apologies. Running translation activated."

"-just in," the announcer's voice now sounded much more mechanical, but at least Ash could understand it now. "A giant zeppelin of some form has appeared over the southbound autobahn to München, and is trading fire with a small vehicle which had been reported as stolen by French officials. All in the area are advised to remain clear of the area. Military forces are scrambling to meet the crisis. No identification has been made on the zeppelin or the driver of the vehicle. To repeat-"

"Cut the feed." Ash ordered, and the translated voice halted immediately. "You catch that?"

"Every word," T assured him. "I've got a fix on your location via Gear's tracking chip. If traffic's been cleared, it should take about ten minutes to rendezvous."


Ash could almost hear the smile in T's voice as he replied casually, "So I'll see you in five, mate. Stay frosty."

"Drive quick." Ash snapped Gear's faceplate shut. He clutched at Pikachu's leg reassuringly as the landscape roared past them at near-Mach speeds. Even after years of doing this, it still felt unsettling to be propelled at such a velocity by mere organics and pseudo-scientific magic. Then again, if man were meant to fly…

Suddenly, all his stray thoughts were chased away as they approached the area in question. Despite the warnings over the airwaves, stubborn German commuters remained on the fast-paced autobahn, moving at speeds that would make other countries dizzy. And fastest among them was a tiny green Volvo tearing up the road at better than a hundred and forty KPH.

"I didn't even know those went that fast…" Ash muttered. However, he was far more interested in the enormous, elongated shape chasing after the Volvo. It possessed a silvery metallic skin over the helium tanks that shimmered in the perfect sunlight, with a comparatively small compartment mounted on the bottom with enormous jet thrusters to propel the leviathan forward.

Small though it was, that didn't make the cockpit any less the deadliest portion of the blimp; it possessed some kind of cannon that Ash couldn't make out over the distance, spitting balls of fire down upon the hapless highway. So far, the zeppelin's gunner had yet to actually hit the Volvo, but he was tearing through the rest of the cars like wet tissue, and that made Ash angry.

"Okay Pidgeot," he called to his Pokémon, "I think we've held back enough." Ash closed his eyes for a moment, channeling his thoughts and emotions into a single, unified force. When his eyes reopened, they held a strange colorless glow that pierced the veil of Pidgeot's Fly ability. An instant later that same glow appeared in Pidgeot's eyes, overriding the amber one already present.

Ash could feel part of himself slipping away, as if someone had taken the heat of his body and was siphoning it off somehow. He didn't fear the sensation, however, for he had willed it; he felt that rogue part of his essence slipping sideways, entering Pidgeot's heart and soul with such ease, it was as if Ash had been doing it all his life. All of a sudden, Ash had wings. He had talons. He had this strange craving for Magicarp caught fresh from the surface of a nameless lake.

Ash and Pidgeot were one.

Which meant their strength more than doubled.

"Let's motor!" Ash grinned, willing his spirit into Pidgeot. The Pokémon trilled in response, commanding the very winds around them to carry them further. No longer did the fierce gale oppose them; now the air was as still as death, for it moved in time with them, carrying them towards their goal at their command. It felt as if they were in the eye of the storm as they rode the very wind itself. They had only tried it once or twice, and every time it proved to be both effective and a heady experience.

Ash, Pidgeot and Pikachu swooped in, twisting in midair so that they were now parallel to the autobahn, moving along the left-hand side with the traffic. Cars, busses and trucks shuddered in response to the forcefulness of their wake as they moved with lightning speed toward their objective. The zeppelin loomed in front of them, enormous and majestic, spitting the jets' wash into their faces that sizzled at their skin. Ash squinted and raised his arms against the intense heat as they drew closer still, gaining on the enormous aircraft and its tiny target.

The zeppelin's fire continued to rain down on the highway, tearing apart chunks of asphalt and innocent cars alike with gigantic orbs of flame from a central cannon mounted on the bottom of the cockpit. It swiveled as the gunner tried to gain a bead on the swerving Volvo, but the driver of the speedy car was too quick for the superior firepower to catch it off-guard. But for how long?

"Pikachu," Ash turned his head to face his little Pika-pal on his shoulder, "I think we need some alone time with that driver. Why don't you see if you can stir up some engine troubles?"

Pikachu responded with a toothy grin, and then garnered an enormous electrical charge around him, careful not to let a single volt stray into either Ash or Pidgeot. Ash could have put even more of himself into Pikachu, but he knew his thunderous mouse had more than enough juice to blow a few fuses on his own.

"Piiiiiii…KA!" With a tiny cry, Pikachu's energy lanced out, dancing across the sky and lashing into the aircraft's portside engine. Pikachu kept the flow going for a few more seconds until plumes of smoke started billowing out of the back of the engine. Slowly but surely, the zeppelin began losing speed.

Ash conveyed a quick command to Pidgeot through gestures, and the aerial Pokémon guided them through the smoke. All three held their breath as they used the cover to pass unnoticed underneath the bottom of the cockpit. There, Ash again used gestures, this time to Pikachu. With another brief second to charge, Pikachu pumped massive amounts of electricity into the enormous weapon. The power danced across its surface for a moment before shorting out every system in the fiery generator, rendering it completely useless.

With the zeppelin crippled and unarmed, Ash motioned for Pidgeot to carry them forward and pick up speed. His eyes latched onto the still-swerving Volvo and narrowed; he wanted some answers, and the best place to get them would be from the hunted rather than the hunter.

They flew just three short meters over the top of the pavement. A fall at these speeds from this height (or any height) would prove very fatal, and 'very' painful, but he trusted Pidgeot with his life and then some. "Lower and closer, pal!" Ash called, and Pidgeot obeyed, bringing them down and forward until they were close enough to simply reach out and grasp at the roof of the car. And that's exactly what Ash did.

The luggage rack was close at hand and conveniently designed, so Ash grasped at the thin metal bar and pulled himself closer. He grunted with effort as he pulled himself and Pikachu in, thumping against the roof of the car. The Volvo swerved extra hard at the impact, nearly jarring Ash loose. It was only with Pidgeot's help that he managed to stay on board. Taking a deep breath, Ash swung himself over the edge of the car, hanging by the luggage rack and nothing else as he slammed against the side of the car. He gambled and prayed as he reached for the door handle. Both paid off; the door heaved open, and Ash slipped in with Pikachu on his shoulder.

"You realize you're breaking the speed limit, right?" Ash quipped, dusting himself off. He looked over at the driver. Then he looked again, blinking hard. "No…" he muttered. "It can't be…"

The driver returned his look with a featureless face. He was dressed entirely in black, and wore a mask of pure obsidian that left him without any appearance. While his real identity remained a mystery thanks to the disguise, Ash knew of only one person who lacked a face. "I should have known you'd show up." the driver remarked with some bitterness.

"Solo. Why am I not surprised?"

It was a bit of a lie; Ash really was surprised. He and Solo had parted company over a year ago, since Solo had deemed his 'training' complete. Actually, the mercenary's exact words had been, 'I've done the best I can. Go out there and prove that you aren't completely hopeless.' And Ash hadn't heard from him since then. So why now? Why Germany? And…

"Why the hell is that blimp trying to kill you?"

Solo jerked the wheel left, steering them around a slower-moving sports car. He grunted, ignoring Pikachu's screaming protest as the maneuver flung the mouse square into the window. "It's a long story, amigo." Solo said sidelong to his former apprentice.

"That a fact?" Ash peeled his Pikachu from the window and rolled it down, taking a moment to recall Pidgeot back into his ball. "Why don't you give me the Reader's Digest version? That shock Pikachu gave their engines won't slow them down forever."

Solo's eyes (did he have eyes?) never left the road as he jerked the wheel about, weaving through traffic like a madman. He could still see the zeppelin in his mirror, and the huge silvery craft was once again gaining on them. "I've made some enemies in my time, kid. Ironically enough, they're some of your enemies, too. It's a lucky thing I found you before they did. That's why I'm here."

"Excuse me?" Ash retorted with a snort. "Who found who here?"


"Look, that doesn't matter right now. All that matters is…traffic. Shit."

"Traffic shit? Is that some kind of code, or…"

Raising a gloved hand, the mercenary pointed straight ahead. Ash looked forward through the windshield, saw the wall of stopped cars, and suddenly understood. He had just enough time to wrap an arm around Pikachu's waist and brace himself against the dash with his other arm before Solo slammed the breaks on. The car's wheels locked, leaving trails of burning rubber as they began to slide in a slow spin. Teeth gritted and eyes squeezed shut, Ash braced himself for the impact. But the crash never came; the car jerked to a stop about three feet from the line of parked cars, which had all been abandoned.

"Damn it!" Solo swore, pounding his fists against the steering wheel. "What the hell is this?"

"Must be the evacuees." Ash muttered. "I heard it on the radio-"

"Damn it!" Solo swore again. A quick check in the rear-view mirror told him that the zeppelin was closing in fast; in another thirty seconds, they would be as good as dead. Desperately, the mercenary searched the interior of the car, looking for something, anything, that they might use to combat the blimp. The seats were bare, just as he knew the glove compartment and the trunk would be too. "We need to run."

"Why?" Ash was more than a little confused at this point. He rolled down his window and glanced out, scowling at the unmarked, silvery aircraft hanging in the air. "Pikachu and I can pop that balloon without-"

"No good," Solo threw his car door open and rolled out. With no where else to go, Ash exited the car and circled around the hood, keeping one eye on the growing shape in the sky as he watched Solo look about in frustrated near-panic at the wall of cars blocking their escape and the concrete barrier separating them from the now-deserted autobahn traveling in the opposite direction. Turning to face their pursuers, he explained, "They already have back-up on the way. I tapped their radio signals; a hele-carrier escorted by a wing of fighter jets. They'll level this place before-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Glaring up at the rotund cruiser, Ash fought to keep the snarl of frustration out of his own voice. "Who are we talking about, here? This is insane, I don't even know who we're fighting!"

Now Solo seemed surprised. "You have to ask?"

Before Ash could press the matter, the zeppelin answered for him. A small hatch opened on the underside of the cockpit, retracting the ruined cannon. In its place, a circular basket lowered, supported by a thick column of metal that descended nearly a hundred feet from the hulking mass of gas and metal. Though they were distant, Ash could make out a pair of white uniforms, as well as dots of color, red and blue respectively, above each of the colorless shapes.

"Your time has come, Solo! Prepare for trouble!"

"And make it double!"

The look of steely resolve on Ash's countenance dissolved into one of quiet, disgusted disbelief. "Oh no," he muttered, burying his face in his hands, "You have got to be kidding me."

"To protect the world from devastation!" Jessie hooked the end of a grappling line as their blimp continued to advance, chugging along on damaged engines. The carabineer at the end of her nylon rope napped into place, securing it safely to the passenger basket. She didn't need to look twice to know James had already done the same. As they had practiced before, and done in real life a thousand times, they swung off and into the empty air in perfect unison, supported only by twin ropes as they careened high above the ground.

"To unite all peoples within our nation!" James clicked his heels at the same time Jessie did, activating the hidden smoke grenades planted in their soles. James' feet left an arcing trail of red smoke, perfectly symmetrical with Jessie's blue contrail as they sped towards the ground at a decidedly unsafe speed. Just like in rehearsal, the smoke ran out about ten feet before they reached the pavement.

"To denounce the evils of truth and love!" Jessie released her rope as she swung even with the ground, still in perfect harmony with James.

"To extend our reach to the stars above!" James soared through the air unassisted for a moment, then tucked into a ball and struck ground in a tight shoulder roll. The move served to soften the impact and carry him the rest of the distance to their limited audience at the same time. He and his partner rolled to their feet directly in front of Solo, Ash and Pikachu without a scratch and wide, beaming smiles.



Gearing up for the grand finale, Jessie activated the sparklers hidden in the tips of her glove, throwing a shower of colorful sparks high into the air. "Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light!"

Producing a rose, James ran it under his flawlessly shaped nose as he flipped his long blue hair over his shoulder. "Surrender now, or prepare to fight!"

There was a long pause as the two Team Rocketeers stood motionless in front of their targets, frozen uncomfortably in dramatic poses. As the seconds ticked by, their arms began to leaden and tremble with the effort of maintaining their stances.

"…or PREPARE to FIGHT!" James said again, tossing a glare skyward at the zeppelin, which was now hovering directly over their heads.

A third figure appeared in the craft's undercarriage basket. The tiny, cream-colored midget hopped up onto the guard rail, clutching another nylon line and double-checking it before throwing himself off the edge. "Meowth," the creature yelled, "That's riiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaauauuuuuuuugh!"

Meowth, it seemed, had miscalculated; the poor Pokémon plummeted to the earth in a straight line, landing behind his comrades and their show and plunging into the depths of Solo's Volvo. There was a terrible crunch of metal as the roof collapsed inward under the strain, and then an electronic wail of unfathomable obnoxiousness as its car alarm began blaring out a warning to whatever miscreants were trying to do it harm.

The remaining Rockets dropped their poses. James winced in sympathy as Jessie's pleasant face darkened with her trademark scowl. "Dear lord, Meowth," she barked at the ruined vehicle, "How could you possibly screw up such a beautiful entrance?"

"That was the closest we've come to getting the full motto out in ages!" James simpered, kicking at the pavement as his sapphire head lowered in disappointment. "Who knows when we'll get another chance like that?"

What remained of the Volvo's door popped open, allowing a dizzy and battered, but still alive, Meowth to stagger out and onto the deserted highway. "Meowf," he warbled in his atrocious Brooklyn accent, "Dat's…some'n'…"

As Jessie and James berated their baffled partner's poor performance, Ash appraised his old foes in silence. James was wearing his hair a little longer these days, while Jessie had shortened her swirling mane of fire-engine red hair to shoulder length. Both were wearing different, now-identical unforms; Jessie was no longer cursed with battling in a mini-skirt. The Rockets were clad in pristine jumpsuits of white with black trim across the shoulders and along the seams. Black boots and gloves remained as a testament to the old uniforms, and a smaller, less obvious red R declared their allegiance from their respective right breasts. New packaging, but still the same product, it seemed…

Having collected themselves, Team Rocket now squared off against Solo and his newfound back-up. "Okay, Mr. Mysterious," Jessie snarled. "You and your little buddy are going to-"

"Hey!" Meowth cut Jessie off with a tug at her pant leg, pointing furiously with his other claw and yammering at the top of his lungs. "Dat's da twerp and his Pikachu!"

Not knowing what else to do, Ash raised a hand in greeting. "Hey guys. Been a while. You look good." Pikachu waved his paw, voicing his agreement.

"Oh, well, thanks…" James couldn't help but smile, giving his hair another flip. "I helped design the new uniforms, and-"

A bonk on the head silenced James. Jessie's blue eyes radiated a red aura of fury as she snarled at her useless counterpart. "Will you shut up and focus for a moment? We're here to capture No-Face, not chit-chat with the enemy!"

The aristocratic villain sniffed, folding his arms and turning away with dignified hurt. "That's no reason to be rude," he insisted.

"Will you listen to yourself?"

Meowth joined into the fray, and the three of them stood there, bickering, as their zeppelin floated overhead and their foes stood flatfooted, both forgotten. Solo's head tilted to the side as he observed the trio before he leaned in toward Ash, quipping sidelong, "Are they always like this?"

"Believe it or not," Ash said solemnly, "This is a good day for them." Gear began beeping insistently, calling his attention to his wrist. "Excuse me, I need to take this." He flipped her tiny screen up, revealing even tinier controls, one of which he pressed to accept the incoming signal. "Go."

"Closin' in on your signal, mate." came the thick-accented reply. "'bout thirty seconds, and I'll be right on top o'you."

Ash stared down the empty stretch of highway they had just come down. There were scores of cars abandoned or wrecked, but Ash couldn't spot a single flicker of movement. "I don't see you." he insisted.

"Other direction," T explained. "It was easier that way, and-"

"Never mind," Ash shook his head. He couldn't count on Team Rocket to argue and ignore them all day. "Get ready for a fast pick-up, we've got some major company, and more on the way."

"I see 'em," T assured the trainer. "Get ready."

Gear closed with a snap as Ash frowned in concentration. As always, the rusted cogs of his mind were ever whirling, concocting one of his always brilliant plans. "Watch your eyes, Solo," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Then, cupping his hands in an improvised microphone, he called out, "Hey! Team Rocket!"

Jessie and James quickly forgot their own qualms and turned to face their longtime nemesis. "What?" they both hollered at the top of their lungs.

Ash smiled; he loved it when a plan came together. Raising an arm to cover his face, he yelled, "Pikachu, Flash!"

"Pi-KA!" Pikachu took a split instant to power up, glowing with an aura of electrical power. The energy soon reversed course and flowed into his skin, coming alive in a radiant burst that rivaled the sun's intensity and blinded the three poor souls who had been unfortunate enough to look in the Pokémon's direction. Team Rocket staggered back and raised their hands a fraction of a second too late to protect themselves. Bright, bedazzling dots of light danced in their vision where Ash and Solo had been a moment ago.

But the growing growl of an incoming engine told Ash that there was no time for self-congratulations. He reached out and grabbed Solo by the arm, dragging him over and across the concrete barrier separating the two halves of the autobahn. Pikachu bounded after them, easily clearing the three-foot divider as Jessie, James and Meowth tripped blindly in their wake, trying to catch up.

"Where's our ride?" Solo demanded angrily, shaking off Ash's grip.

A flash of yellow narrowly missed plowing straight into the two men. Its tires squealed sharply against the pavement as it skidded to a halt a few feet away, twisting about and leaving patches of foul-smelling rubber smoldering in its wake.

The window rolled down, and a pair of pearly white teeth flashed from a chocolate-skinned countenance. "Goin' my way, eh?" he asked with a waggle of his eyebrows.

Solo simply stood there, looking at the thing which would serve as their escape. It was a yellow Volkswagen beetle with a pair of black, beady eyes and round red circles painted on the hood. A pair of paws graced the front fenders, and the trunk featured a long, jagged tail flattened into its paint job. "You actually drive this thing?" he muttered.

"Trenton!" Ash circled the Pika-Beetle and threw the passenger door open, keeping it so barely long enough for himself and Pikachu to dart in before slamming it shut again. Being a beggar, and therefore not a chooser, Solo quickly slid into the back. Before he even got the door closed, their driver pounded his foot against the gas. The Beetle leapt forward with a jerk, tossing its unbelted occupants around like flakes in a snow globe.

Trenton ran a hand through his curly, close-cropped hair, and adjusted the spectacles at the end of his nose. "Close call back there," he quipped with another broad smile. "Who were those prats anyway?"

"Just a couple of old friends," Ash shot back distractedly. He was about to say something else when a persistent beeping began wailing from his pocket. Reaching in, he dug out his Pokédex and flipped the cover open. "What now?"

Dexter's screen flashed wildly for a moment, then shifted over to resemble that of a radar display. A small dot occupied the center, following a thin long line which must have been the highway Trenton was currently careening dangerously down at that very moment. And below the small dot was a much larger mass, creeping up on the center with slow but inexorable progress. "I hate to bother you, but I thought you might like to know about the gigantic mass dropping down on us," the machine said apologetically.

"What?" Ash twisted around, and Solo did the same, scanning the skies through the rear window. "I don't see anything except a big…black…cloud."

A large, lone cloud darkened the otherwise perfect sky, rolling and churning and growing larger as it drew down upon them. At the very crest of the cloud, Ash could see spires of gleaming metal poking out through the clever façade. Then, a bright flash detonated somewhere in the bottom of the cloud, and a ball of fire belched forth, screaming across the sky and coming right toward them.

"Left…" Ash said hoarsely.

Trenton looked over at him. "What's that, boss? Didn't-"

Ash screamed, "Left!" and grabbed the wheel, jerking it to the side. The car squealed in protest as it rose up onto two wheels, swerving to the side and just avoiding the glowing ball of energy. Whatever had been shot at them missed by a narrow margin, kicking up chunks of pavement in an earth-shattering explosion that rocked their vehicle.

"Mary!" Trenton swore, pulling the wheel right to correct their course. "What the bloody hell was that?"

"It's their hele-carrier!" Solo uttered, still looking out the back. He spotted another incoming shot. "Go right!"

The Beetle began dancing across the road to avoid a hail of glowing spheres of death that tore into the road behind them. Gritting his teeth, Trenton scowled at the road ahead of them. "Dex," he called over to Ash's lap, "Are you detectin' any scans from the Badyear Blimp back there?"

"Are you kidding?" Dexter answered in a panic, "I'm reading so much active pinging, they might as well start up their own triangle symphony!"

"Then we have something to work with," he muttered. Looking over, the young boy said in a commanding voice, "Ash, give me Dexter and take the wheel."

Ash stared blankly at his companion as they continued to dodge shots of concentrated death from the heavens above. "You have to be kidding me."

"Are you telling me you don't know how to drive?!" Trenton's voice rose to a terrified squeak of disbelief.

"I've never had to!" Ash shot back as the road next to them exploded in a hail of black shrapnel. "Look, if it was a blimp, I might be able to fake it, but I've never even-"

Trenton flipped a switch on the dash, activating the cruise control as his other hand unclipped his belt. He began sliding over toward Ash's seat, pointing insistently. "Look, it's easy. Steer with the wheel, right is gas, left is brake."

With no time to argue, Ash slid over Trenton's lap, passing Dexter between them as they settled awkwardly into their new arrangements. Trenton had just buckled in and was about to fiddle with Dexter's controls when he was suddenly slammed into his seatbelt. The strap of fabric cut into his chest and forced the air out of his lungs as their car came to a screeching halt. In front of them, another sphere of annihilation destroyed the spot they would have been at in another second.

"Your OTHER right!" Trenton snarled.

"Sorry, sorry," Ash said hurriedly. Pressing down on the correct pedal this time, he sent the Beetle shooting forward and around the new crater as the unseen airship continued its barrage.

Solo kept glancing back and forth between the windshield and the back window, shaking his featureless head the entire time. "This is no good," he said darkly. "We won't last another minute under this kind of fire."

"Then permit me to buy us a little time, mate." Trenton quipped.

His fingers were already dancing across Dexter's control panel, manipulating the small device's powerful hardware and sophisticated software in ways Professor Oak and Westwood Five had never even imagined. Dexter chuckled as his files were rearranged and components brought online against his will. "Hey, that tickles!" he giggled. Then his laughter ceased as Trenton rerouted his micro-fusion power cell. "Hey, you can't do that. I'll overload!"

"Sorry, li'l buddy," Trenton apologized, "No choice. We're toasted otherwise."

"What are you…" Solo began to ask, but then ducked as another volley of shots came raining down on the little car. But a moment later, his ears detected the impacts to be far more distant than they had been. He chanced a look outside and saw the bolts of destruction hailing down upon the empty terrain to either side of the autobahn in a seemingly random pattern. "What did you do?"

Blowing on his knuckles, Trenton said without a trace of modesty, "I configured the Dex's sensor package to emit a scan-jammer, then boosted the power by tenfold. A simple trick for a genius like me, really."

"Ow, ow, ow, OW!" Dexter complained. His components began buzzing against his casing as he heated up to unsafe temperatures. "I can't keep this up much longer!"

"Then there's no more time to screw around." Solo reached forward, grasping Ash's shoulder. The inexperienced driver looked back in a hurry; he was already hyperventilating from just trying to keep them on the road. "Ash, do you have a teleporting Pokémon?"

Flicking his wrist, Ash opened Gear's panel once again. "Gear, contact the Lab and switch Snorlax out for Abra. I pray to Goddess that he's available…"

"One moment. The interference from my companion is making things difficult." Gear processed a moment before adding, "He seems to excel at making things difficult."

"Power down your vocabulator, girly." Dexter shot back before continuing his tirade of wincing and wailing as his components slowly overheated.

"Activating RTS." Professor Oak's Remote Teleport System grasped one of the Pokéballs on Ash's belt, vanishing it in a brief flash of light. It was instantly replaced with an exact look-alike, which Solo didn't hesitate to rip off of the young man's waist. He expanded it and thumbed the activation trigger, releasing the tiny, mystical Psychic type into their already cramped quarters. Pikachu squawked in protest as the snoozing psychic landed on top of him, oblivious to the world in her slumber.

A grim smile crossed Ash's mask of concentration. "I get it. We teleport a few miles away, and no one's the wiser."

Shaking his head, Solo said, "No good. I'm sure they'll have some psionic scanners on board that monstrosity, if not a full-blown psychic. We'll need to go farther."

"Well," Ash snapped impatiently, "Where did you have in mind? Abra can only go so far, she's-"

"Pokémon Island."

The entire vehicle was stunned into silence, even Dexter. Naturally, the machine couldn't shut up for very long, though. "…and I thought I was the comedian," he said.

"You're joking. That's got to be thousands of miles away!" Ash jerked the car to one side as one of the shots grew uncomfortably close. Whether it was by random chance or because Team Rocket had somehow broken through Dexter's interference, he didn't know, nor did he care. Already, he could see more of the fearsome aircraft poking through its broiling cloud cover; the bow of the craft, an angular affair of metal and weaponry, continued its forward descent toward the highway and its hapless prey. "We can't reach that!"

"Think for a moment," Solo insisted. "You're a Disciple, you have the power."

"Doesn't that take a sword and a castle?" Trenton quipped before Ash elbowed him into silence.

"Unite with Abra," Solo urged him, gripping his protég's shoulder tightly. When he saw doubt splayed across Ash's face, he added, "Any second-rate Chosen One could do it if he had to. There's nothing to it."

The jibe seemed to bristle under Ash's skin. "Can't we maybe start out a little smaller?"

"Anything smaller than that, and we risk detection from their psionic facilities." Solo sat back with his arms folded, seemingly at ease, as if the situation had already resolved itself. You can do this."

Rubbing the dashboard with affection, Trenton couldn't help but add, "And if it's at all possible…could you try to save the car?"

"Guys…" Dexter panted (an odd thing for a machine that didn't breathe to do), "Don't mean to interrupt the tea party, but that's all I've got. I'm spent."

And Team Rocket, it seemed, had already capitalized on the cessation of Dexter's feeble resistance. A quartet of annihilation spheres spat from the underside of the half-cloud, half-airship, streaking at incredible speed toward the little Pika-Beetle.

Solo didn't even look back at their impending doom. He sat there with Buddha-like tranquility and said, "This is it. Now or never, Ash."

Ash swallowed a growing lump in his throat. He released the steering wheel, allowing the car to continue more or less in a straight line. Instead, his hands rested on Abra's chest, which rose and fell slowly as she slept.

With practiced ease, Ash felt a part of him slip away and enter his Pokémon. Then he added more, stretching himself so thin it felt as though there was nothing left inside of him. Instead, he felt a great swell of energy entering his mind. Quiet whispers nibbled in ears he never knew he had, whispering the thoughts of those around him in inaudible murmurs. He pushed the stray thoughts aside, focusing on the task at hand. A picture entered his mind, one of a tranquil glen amidst familiar trees and grassy, rolling plains; Viridian Forest. His home.

Ash called up everything he had, putting it into Abra and shouting a single command. "ABRA, TELEPORT!"

The four energy spheres converged on the tiny Volkswagen car, striking the roof. In the first instant, the car's metal frame sagged and crumpled. Then the energy went to work devouring the basic molecular structure of the car. Invisible bonds cracked and released between the fabric of the material on an inscrutable level as the car disintegrated and exploded all at once, ceasing to exist in a magnificent flash of angry white and red flames.

When the light cleared, there was nothing left of the tiny Pikachu-themed vehicle but a smoking crater and a few odd shards of slag.


Dusk had just begun to settle over the shady treetops of Viridian Forest. The daytime wildlife was settling in for a peaceful night of sleep amidst the nooks and crannies of the woods as the nocturnal Pokémon awoke for a night of fun, frolic and foraging.

As the last rays of the sun trickled over the horizon, a new light pierced the veil of darkness blanketing the land. It split the very fabric of reality, opening a brief hole in space and time. The offending rend spat out three humans and two Pokémon from its depths before re-sealing itself with the very same psychic energies that spawned it.

Tumbling to the ground, Ash coughed and heaved, clutching his sides. There was a terrible ache in his side and a pounding in his ears that threatened to squash his brain. It felt as though he had just broken the four-minute mile with a hangover chasing his heels.

"That was some ride," Trenton muttered, rubbing his head as he unfurled his body from Pikachu's squealing form.

Wheezing, Ash looked over to Solo. The man's inky visage had a long crack running its length from their rough landing, but he seemed otherwise fine. He traced the breach in his mask with his finger for a moment before returning Ash's look with a questioning tilt.

"So…" Ash groaned, "That was kid stuff for any Chosen, huh?"

Solo merely shrugged. "Actually," he countered, "No one's ever attempted a teleport of that magnitude before, ever. You just shattered every psychic record in the books, kid."

Three seconds before he passed out, Ash managed to manipulate his hand into a rude gesture and utter, "I hate you so much." Then he willingly relinquished his consciousness, tilting forward and pounding against the soft, warm soil with great relief.