**Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Pokemon characters. I wish I did. Then I could write all the stories MY way and Tracey would never be a bad memory we wish we could forget. And Team Rocket would never lose to those twerps. And... well, just read on and find out!**

Beyond the Gateway
By Mandy Owston

Three figures dashed through the dense forest, laughing maniacally as they ran. The girl ran ahead of her companions, long crimson hair flying out behind her. Her partner struggled to catch up, brushing purple-blue hair out of his eyes as he carefully held a strange glass capsule under his arm. He was closely followed by a small yellow cat.

"We've finally succeeded this time!" cried the girl excitedly. "They'll never catch up with us now!"

"After countless failures, we'll finally be able to give the Boss what he wants," added her partner.

"That's right!" chimed in the cat. "Nothin' can stop us this time!"

Confident in their success, the trio sped into the forest, ignoring the warning signs that marked the edge of mapped territory. After all, they reasoned, what better place could there be to hide than in an unexplored wilderness?

Not far away, three young teenagers crashed through the forest in hot pursuit of the trio. The youngest boy hastily dashed through the dense underbrush, yelling in anger and frustration. He knew that he had been careless, and had let his guard down in his eagerness for adventure. Usually his luck and boldness came through for him, but not this time. He had lost his best friend, maybe for good.

Glancing around the forest, he slowed to a stop, tears of frustration coming to his eyes. His two friends rushed to his side.

"Don't worry, Ash," said his female companion, a girl with an orange ponytail on top of her head. "We'll get Pikachu back, you'll see."

"Yeah, Ash," added his other friend, a tall boy with spiky dark hair. "Team Rocket always messes up somehow. We'll just track them wherever they go, and get your Pokemon back."

"That's easy for you two to say," Ash muttered, staring at the ground. "This is all my fault. I should have paid more attention. I should have noticed that hole in the road. I shouldn't have lost Pikachu." He blinked as tears welled up in his eyes.

"We all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them," Brock advised.

"Besides," added Misty, "Team Rocket always messes up somehow. It shouldn't be any trouble at all to track them down and get Pikachu back."

"I hope you're right," said Ash, sniffing. "We'd better get going." He adjusted the green backpack on his shoulders, and then took off running once again.

As they ran, Brock scanned a map of the forest. "We'd better be careful. We're heading towards uncharted territory."

"What do you mean?" asked Misty. "It's still the same forest, right?"

"Not necessarily. There are legends that, once travelers cross a certain point deep in this forest, they may never return. Some Pokemon trainers have disappeared forever from this forest, and no one knows why. Some say there's a gateway there that leads to another world"

"Another world? Ha!" Ash said, trying not to show the fear he felt. "Some dumb story's not gonna scare me! Let's go find Pikachu!"

After running for another fifteen minutes, Brock suddenly stopped. "I think we'd better turn back, Ash. Even Team Rocket wouldn't go this far into unknown territory."

"Yeah, Ash," added Misty. "They must have changed direction. There's no sense in us getting lost in the unknown part of the forest."

Ash continued running desperately, never stopping or looking back. "I don't care if you come or not. I'll never stop until I get Pikachu back!"

"Oh, Ash," Misty sighed, following her headstrong friend.

Brock nervously studied the map for another moment before taking off after his younger friends.

Meanwhile, Team Rocket decided to stop for a rest. James carefully set the glass dome containing Pikachu next to a fallen tree as the thieves gazed at the electric mouse.

"CHU!" Pikachu cried, lighting up the dome with electricity, to no avail.

"After all our failures, we've finally succeeded in capturing Pikachu!" cried Jessie triumphantly as she sat on a tree stump.

"We'll probably get a big bonus from the Boss this time!" added James.

"Dat's right," added Meowth. "Those twerps'll never catch up with us now. Bet they're afraid to even enter this part of da forest."

"What are you talking about, Meowth?" asked James, playing with a piece of grass.

"You mean all those signs we passed warning about 'uncharted territory'?" asked Jessie.

"Yeah," Meowth said casually. "There's a legend dat there's some kind of gateway in the forest, leading to another world. People disappear from here every so often, nobody knows why. The gateway's supposed ta be around here someplace."

"Even better!" yelled Jessie. "Those little brats can't possibly track us if we enter another world."

"But Jess," said James nervously. "If we disappear to another world, how are we going to get Pikachu to the Boss?"

"Oh, I'm sure the gateway works both ways," she said confidently. "We can just hide out for awhile, wait until those twerps are off our trail, and then pop back and deliver the Boss our Pikachu!"

James yawned, stretching out on the grass, then suddenly sat up very quickly.

"What's your problem?" asked Meowth.

"I think… I think the gateway may be… right here," he said shakily.

"What makes you say that, James?" asked Jessie.

"When I leaned back, it felt like there was some kind of force there, almost a sort of weak electric current. The air seemed to crackle."

Jessie and Meowth approached the spot and reached out their hands. "You're right, James," said Jessie. "I think we found the gateway." Suddenly her eyes lit up as an idea came to her. "Do you realize how much money we could charge people to cross between worlds? I can see it all now: Team Rocket's Official Gateway to Another World – all major credit cards accepted!"

"Hold it right there!" Ash's voice echoed through the forest as the three kids approached.

"It's the twerps!" cried James, grabbing Pikachu's dome.

"You won't stop us this time!" yelled Jessie. "Prepare for trouble!"

"Yes, and make it double!" added James.

"Forget the motto! Run for it!" screamed Meowth.

"Ha ha ha!" laughed James. "We've got one trick you twerps will never suspect!"

"Now you see us…" began Jessie.

"And now you don't!" finished Meowth, as Team Rocket jumped through the gateway and vanished.

"Pikachu!" cried Ash, hurling himself forward, into the gateway. He too

"Ash!" cried Misty and Brock, diving after Ash.

Then the gateway closed.

Ash squinted as he hurtled into the bright sunlight of the strange world. The familiar shady forest was gone, replaced by a desolate area that contained only a few run-down shops. There was almost complete silence; not a single bird or insect could be heard, just the distant hum of electricity from the gateway behind him. Picking himself up from the ground, he adjusted his baseball cap and turned around to look for his friends.

A moment later, Misty and Brock were flung through the gateway and crashed onto the cracked pavement. Their appearances were significantly altered since they passed through the gateway. Misty's orange ponytail drooped down to her shoulder, its color dulled significantly. "What's going on here?" she asked. "Where are we?" Ash shook his head, dumbfounded.

Brock looked about the same as he always had, his small, dark eyes blinking in the sunlight of the new place. Suddenly Ash stopped. Brock blinking? Ash had known Brock for a long time, but had never seen Brock blink, ever. In fact, he hadn't really noticed Brock's eyes at all before now.

"I think we've crossed the gateway," Brock commented, looking around, "but I don't know if we can ever get back."

"Never?" cried Misty in alarm. "What about our families? We can't stay here forever!"

As Ash's companions talked, Team Rocket took notice of the children. "Hey, Twerp!" Jessie yelled. Ash turned to face them, ready for a battle. What he saw was frightening, yet slightly amusing.

Although Jessie's clothes were the same as before, her appearance had radically changed since she stepped through the gateway. Her hair, once a gravity-defying crimson swirl, was now a dull brownish-red, hanging limply down her back. James had changed as well; his hair was now a mousy brown instead of bright blue, and the disarrayed lock of hair that had once lay neatly beside his nose now hung directly in his eyes. He angrily brushed it away, only to have it fall back in his eyes.

"What happened to you guys?" asked Ash, stifling a giggle.

"What are you talking about?" asked James. Team Rocket looked at each other and screamed.

"Your hair!" they yelled simultaneously, then added, "what's wrong with mine?"

Jessie opened her compact and shrieked. "My… my beautiful hair, my crowning glory…"

She handed James her mirror and began sobbing. James took one look in the mirror and fainted. He came to after a grungy alley cat pounced on his stomach.

"What are you doing, you little furball?" he demanded, then he froze in shock. The yellowish cat had black ears, brown paws and tail, and a small gold circle of fur on its forehead. "MEOWTH?"

The cat nodded and mewed loudly. Jessie stopped wailing and turned to the cat. "What's wrong with you, Meowth?" she asked worriedly. "Can't you talk anymore?"

The cat yowled and screeched, but it made no humanlike sounds.

"Forget Meowth!" yelled Ash. "Gimme back my Pikachu!"

"I'm afraid your Pikachu's staying with us!" James called, standing up. "We're not going to mess up this time!"

"Ash!" screamed Misty in terror. He spun around to see her pointing furiously at the dome containing the electric mouse. "Something's wrong with Pikachu!"

Everyone turned to look at the Pokemon. Or what used to be a Pokemon. A tiny yellow, furry rodent with brown stripes sat inside. It looked quizzically at the humans and cat, squeaking once.

"PIKACHU!" Ash cried in agony. He ran to the dome and released what used to be Pikachu. He set it on his shoulder and the mouse dashed up into his hat.

"You're not getting away that easily!" yelled Jessie. "Time for a Pokemon battle!"

"Fine with me!" answered Ash.

"Go Arbok!" She hurled a Poke Ball, which clattered harmlessly off the
sidewalk. Jessie paused, her anger rising. "Arbok? What's wrong with you? I said, 'Go, Arbok!'" She picked up the Poke Ball and opened it manually. She gasped and almost dropped it. Inside was a small plastic purple snake. Nothing more.

"Don't worry, Jess." James strode forward as his partner gaped at her Poke Ball. "I'll handle this. Go Victreebel!" He jumped backward as he threw the red-and-white ball, ready to run from his nasty plant before it chomped him. But it, too, dropped to the pavement. Walking over and opening it, he discovered a small plastic plant.

Ash checked all of his Poke Balls, only to find tiny plastic toys and no Pokemon.

Misty suddenly realized something awful. "Where's Togepi? I put it into my backpack before we fell into that pit, and I'd forgotten all about it until now!" She
rummaged in her pack until she came across a small oval object. She stared at the hard-boiled egg in shock, gently turning it over in her hand. "I guess the stories are true," said Misty softly. "The world beyond the gateway is a terrifying place."

"Yeah," added Brock. "None of the Pokemon exist here, and you guys all look strange. I wonder what else is different here." Suddenly he paused, a look of absolute terror on his face. "What if… what if Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny aren't here? We've got to get out of here right now!"

"What are we going to do?" asked Ash. "Anyone have a suggestion?"

Jessie turned to James in fear. "On this world, there may be a lot worse than 'blasting off again' when things go wrong."

James took Jessie in his arms. "Don't worry, Jess. We've still got each other."

Brock turned around. "Has anyone tried the gateway again? Maybe it works in reverse." Ash and Misty ran around the area, trying to find where they first entered the world. Nothing happened.

"What now?" demanded Ash.

"I don't know!" yelled Brock. "Why am I the one who has to do all the thinking around here?"

"Cause you're the oldest," volunteered Ash.

"Oh yeah? What about Team Rocket?" retorted Brock.

"Speaking of which…" Misty looked disdainfully at Jessie and James, who were still holding each other in fear. She put her hands on her hips and glared at them. "I'd hate to interrupt anything, Team Rocket, but mushy stuff's not going to get us back home." Jessie and James blushed and stepped apart.

"Like you have any room to talk!" Jessie retorted, her face bright red.

Misty blushed. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

"We know all about you and that twerp," taunted James. "Kissy kissy!"

"Huh?" Ash said.

"Forget all that!" Misty yelled, her ears burning. "You two got us into this mess, and you're gonna get us out of it."

"Well, it looks like we messed up this time, didn't we?" Jessie said, some of her old attitude back. "No one told you brats to dive in after us. You did that yourselves."

"You're the ones who stole my Pikachu!" yelled Ash.

"As I recall, you're the one who lost Pikachu when you fell into our cleverly
concealed trap," answered James. "Finders keepers!"

"Who cares whose fault it is!" screamed Brock, his eyes flaring angrily.
Everyone stopped arguing to gaze at the fascinating sight.

"The twerp DOES have eyes," James said in astonishment.

"After all this time, I'd never noticed," added Jessie.

consciously. "We've got much more important things to worry about."

"Right. We've already tried the gateway, but apparently that won't work," said Misty. "Anyone else have a suggestion?"

James tapped the heels of his boots together and closed his eyes. "There's no place like home, there's no place like home…"

"Get a grip, James. This isn't a movie, you know," said Jessie. She seemed to reach for something from the air, but stopped, frantic, when nothing materialized. "Hey, what happened to my mallet? And my paper fan? They always seem to be around when I need them."

"Jess, let's try saying our motto. I want to test something," said James.

Jessie nodded. "Prepare for trouble!" she announced to the desolate area.

"Make it double!" James answered, his voice echoing in the silence. Then he paused, a look of horror on his face. "I was afraid of this. No theme music, no special effects, nothing for our motto! My rose isn't here, either. What's wrong with this place?" The grungy cat that was once Meowth stared at him and mewed loudly.

"I think I've figured it out," Ash said, a knowing look on his face. "We've come to a place without the magic of our Pokemon World. All of the stuff that we take for granted must not happen outside of our world. Obviously, Pokemon don't exist where we are now. The only reason that Pikachu and Meowth are still with us is because they weren't inside their Poke Balls when we transported. If we don't find our way back, we'll never be able to experience the wonders of training Pokemon ever again."

"I know one thing's for sure," Misty said smugly. "We must have come to a strange place… Ash is actually making sense. That's the most logical thing he's ever said."

"Strange times call for strange measures," added Brock.

"As much as I don't want to do this," Ash said, looking at his companions, "I think we have to join forces with Team Rocket."

"Yeah!" Misty chimed in. "Cause like it or not, YOU guys are stuck here too."

"Do we have to?" whined James.

"Do you wanna go through life without your precious motto?" asked Misty.

"And what about your buddy Meowth?" added Ash.

"Fine," Jessie sighed. "We'll join forces with you twerps… again."

"And one more thing," said Brock, "DON'T call us twerps!"

"On the condition that you don't make fun of us, or our Team Rocket motto," retorted James.

"Fine," answered Ash briskly. "Now let's get going." He started walking down the crumbling brick road when he stopped and turned around with a sheepish look on his face. "Uh, Brock?"


"Where should we go?" Everyone tried to sweatdrop, but soon realized that was another magical convention of the Pokemon world.

"We should try to find a police station," suggested Misty. "Then we can ask for directions."

"Ahhh!" Brock's eyes glazed over and his voice became strange and dreamy. "The police station! We'll see Officer Jenny there!" Brock skipped down the road, singing to himself, "Officer Jenny, you're the one! Officer Jenny, here we come!"

Misty sighed as she and Ash followed their older friend. "Some things never change." She stopped and turned around when she realized that Team Rocket wasn't walking with them. Looking back, she saw Jessie and James looking at each other nervously.

"Hey, what are you two waiting for? We've got to find out where we are."

"Ummm… we can't follow you," Jessie said shakily.

"That's right," James added nervously. "You three just… scurry along and tell us what happens, hmm?"

"Come on, you guys," said Ash. "We've just come from another world, and we've got to find out how to get back home."

"Do you think that Team Rocket members would ENJOY meeting up with the police?" snapped Jessie.

"We've got files a mile high," added James. "We're not going anywhere near a police station."

"You're forgetting something," said Brock, running back to his friends. "You aren't wanted criminals here."

"We're NOT?" yelled Jessie and James in shock.

"You two were Pokemon thieves," he continued.

"What do you mean, 'were'?" asked James angrily.

"Let me finish! There's no such thing as Pokemon here. You can't steal what doesn't exist. Therefore, you have nothing to steal in this world. And that means," he finished triumphantly, "you're no longer criminals!"

"Once a Rocket, always a Rocket," Jessie said loftily.

"It's not like they ever successfully stole anything anyway," muttered Misty.

"But what if you're wrong?" asked James. "What if they cart us off to jail
because they've heard of our famous reputations?"

"We'd be totally out of luck," continued Jessie. "The Boss would never bail us out."

James suddenly had a thought. "Hey, Jess, what ABOUT the Boss? What would he do if we never got back home? Would he kick us off the Team for good?"

"He wouldn't replace us just because we fell into another world… would he? If we never got back…"

"He'd have to fill our positions!"

After thinking this over for a moment, Jessie and James turned to the kids. "We're going to come along, but don't think it's because we want to help you out," said James.

"We're only doing this because we need to get back home too. So don't think our truce is anything permanent," added Jessie, scooping Meowth into her arms.

"Fine!" Brock yelled in frustration. "Now can we please get going?"

As the reunited group walked, Ash and Misty caught up with Brock, who had taken the lead once again. Dropping his voice to a confidential whisper, Ash asked, "Why did you care so much that Team Rocket followed us to the police station?"

Brock shrugged. "I just figured that our story would be a lot more convincing if we had them along. They may look different from usual, but you can't tell me that ANYONE around here is going to look anything like they do."

Misty giggled. "With their ridiculous-looking uniforms, I'll be surprised if
someone doesn't ask what team they're cheerleaders for."

Jessie heard the remark, but chose to ignore it. Setting Meowth down, she and James trudged behind the younger trainers, still dissatisfied with their "truce". Jessie remembered one of their past "truces" with the twerps, when the kids had abandoned them on the sinking St. Anne without Water Pokemon to escape with.

Sighing, Jessie reached for a handful of her once-huge hair and stared at it in dismay as she walked. "To think," she said softly, "I've lost my dignity and my beauty all in one day."

James put his arm around her, brushing a string of his limp hair out of his face with his other hand. "Jessie, you're always beautiful to me."

For the first time since they crossed through the gateway, Jessie smiled.

To Be Continued......