Pokémon is owned by Nintendo, and most of the human characters I use in this story are owned by Shogakukan. They were named for the American market by 4Kids Productions, and are currently owned by the Pokémon Company.
I am afraid that the story I am about to tell is an unpleasant one.
When you watch Pokémon on your television, Game Boy Advance Video, or Youtubeyou see only what the producers of the television show want you—the television audience—to see. Unfortunately, most producers believe that television audiences like happy stories about likeable characters, and this creates a bias in the editing process that keeps many hours of footage off the air and in the vaults and furnaces of greedy executives whose suits cost more money than your house.
The story I am about to tell is not happy, and it certainly does not make Ash seem likeable. In this story, the traditional good guys are bad and the usual bad guys are good. I suspect that, after reading half of this story, many readers will fling their keyboards through their parents' windows and head straight to Youtube to find nicer episodes of Ash's life, hoping to wipe the truth from their memory.
Yet the truth is always a story that must be told.
It starts on a warm June afternoon. As usual, Jessie, James, and Meowth were walking through a peaceful forest with nothing to distract them from the beauty of the green leaves but the clearness of the blue sky. The weather was, for the most part, quite generic and peaceful. I say this simply because it is commonplace for bad weather to foreshadow an unpleasant event, but this is not the case here. This should, on a symbolic level, give you an idea of just how unexpected this event will be, but if it doesn't, that's okay, because this is not particularly good symbolism to begin with, and owes more to chance and mother nature than any artistic deficiency.
But I digress. As Team Rocket were walking, they were talking, and what they were saying was this:
"Dis is da ultimate embarrassment," complained Meowth. "Da once great Team Rocket, reduced to robbin' a restaurant."
"We can't get too proud, given our recent track record," said James. "Besides, a restaurant is the perfect place for the hungry criminal to rob! It has a wide variety of delicious and nutritious food items to keep us happy, healthy, and hefty."
"I still say we'd be happier if we'd give da boss dat twerp's Pikachu," said Meowth.
"You don't seem to understand the brilliance of my plan," said Jessie. "This is a very sophisticated and snooty restaurant. So snooty that they don't even allow children inside! Try to remember, Meowth, that if we go after the twerp again, we'd get fried, flattened, and flung into defeat. But if we go to a twerpless restaurant, we'll be fed and free by five."
"And when our stomachs are happy and full," added James, "our happy brains will allow us to come up with a brilliant plan to get into the boss' happy heart. I'm such a genius, I feel stupid for not realising it before!"
"Dat's actually a pretty good plan," said Meowth. "Especially since, if dis restaurant don't allow kids, it probably don't let Pokémon to wander around, eider, which means dat I don't have to help carry da food out."
Jessie and James stopped abruptly and turned to face each other. Neither one was happy to face a fifty percent increase in their workload.
"That's a good point," said the latter.
"If Meowth stepped one paw inside that restaurant, his tail would get thrown out before his tongue touched so much as a finger sandwich," said the former.
"Oh well, more for us!" they decided aloud.
Meowth's jaw almost hit the ground. "Ya mean ya ain't feedin' me?"
"Enraging, I know," said Jessie. "But, if you can't work, you can't get paid."
"I'd start work on a Pokémon Civil Rights front if I were you," said James. "Fortunately, I'm not you. If you need me, I'll be eating!"
Meowth clenched his paws in anger. "I can't believe dis! I t'ought you were my friends!"
Jessie and James just laughed. They knew that Meowth was more irritated than angry, and that was mostly just because he didn't find a way to backstab them first.
Besides, there really would be more for them this way. Meowth ate a lot for a guy his size.
But before the two could even reach the restaurant, they heard the all-too-familiar cry of Ash Ketchum. They turned just in time to see him burst out from behind some bushes, Pikachu following close behind. Ash worse a familiar yet mysterious expression of moral outrage.
"Give me back my Pokémon!" he shouted.
"Check your Pokétech again, twerp," said Jessie. "We have neither your Pikachu nor any other stolen Pokémon."
"I wasn't talking about Pikachu," he said, grinning almost as widely as a Gengar, then stared at Meowth.
"Why are you lookin' at me like dat?" asked Meowth.
Two metallic vine-shaped wires shot out from a bush, catching Meowth by the right arm and torso. The wires then retracted, pulling Meowth towards the bush. Jessie and James grabbed his tail and the wires, but it was no use; the cat was soon pulled from their grip and into the carnivorous foliage. The leaves scattered, revealing Meowth to be stuck in the mouth of a mechanical Bulbasaur.
"Bul ba saur," said an electronic voice from within the unmoving mouth.
"Get our Meowth out of your mouth!" shouted Jessie.
"Yeah!" said James. "We'd do the same for you!"
"Wobbuffet!" added Wobbuffet.
Ash laughed, clearly indicating that he knew perfectly well that they weren't going to blast him off. He stepped a few feet to his right, and his Mecha-Bulba's bulb began to glow a bright white-yellow. It adjusted and lowered itself until it pointed at Jessie and James. The duo screamed and turned to run, but they weren't fast enough; the laser was fired, and Team Rocket was fried. The blast threw them through the air and out of eyesight. Wobbuffet waddled after them.
Meowth, still tied in the mechanical Bulbasaur's maw, could merely stare open-mouthed into the distance. He had never liked Ash, of course, but it was always a professional animosity before a personal one, like the rivalry between Super Mario and the Master Chief. Meowth was a thief, and Ash a target—he didn't fault the kid for defending himself.
Yet this… this, to Meowth, was unforgivable. Ash had attacked Team Rocket on a personal level, and this made him a full and deserving enemy.
"Did ya flip yer stupid red cap or something, twerp? You ain't supposed ta steal Pokémon!"
"Stop complaining," said Ash. "I can take better care of you than Jessie or James ever could.
"Right," said Meowth. "Cuz yer off ta such a great start." Meowth pushed his torso uselessly against the mechanical wire.
"I'm sorry I had to tie you up," said Ash, "but if I didn't, you'd go running back to those cruel trainers of yours."
"Cruel friends of mine."
But Ash just looked sadly at Meowth, like a parent whose child just announced that his personal aspirations reached their apex when Burger King hired him.
James removed his collar from the tree-branch and fell ten feet to the ground below.
"The nerve of that twerp!" he exclaimed. "First he steals our modus operandi, then he steals our little furry guy!"
Jessie climbed down from her own tree. "I know! What did we ever do to him? Nothing! He never let us. Well, we don't have time to complain now. We have to track down that twerp and get Meowth back!"
"We… do?" asked James. Showing compassion of this sort was out of character for his partner.
"Of course!" said Jessie. "We've been following that twerp for six years, and not once have we stolen so much as a single Swellow. What do you think the boss would say if we come in tomorrow missing one of our Pokémon? He'd never let us live that kind of negative progress down!"
"Wobbuffet!" added Wobbuffet.
James turned and lay with his back to the ground. "Well, at least we know that the twerp perp won't be hard to find." He then closed his eyes to meditate on the situation, but was soon interrupted by the mild crying of an eighteen-year-old kid.
Jessie and James turned toward the sound with both curiosity and annoyance, though little pity, at least on Jessie's end.
There stood a rather average-looking kid. Nothing of his spiky-red hair, bulky brown jacket, or nearly ankle-length jeans would make him stand out, but his sad face seemed to hide some toughness behind its apparent angst. He seemed like the type of brat that could easily have befriended Ash by now—and might very well have been fighting against the Rockets by the day's end—had this been a more typical day.
Yet James' face grew concerned. "What's wrong, pal?"
"It's nothing you need to bother yourself with," responded the youth.
"Fine with me," said Jessie. "Come on, James. We need to find Meowth."
As Jessie finished her sentence, the kid lifted his head towards the pair. "Did you say your looking for your Meowth?"
"I never said he's mine," responded Jessie.
"Oh, sorry," said the kid. "It's just that I saw someone come by here a while ago with a talking Meowth. I thought I heard the Meowth complain a lot."
"Complain?" said James. "As in, verbally?"
"I know it sounds weird, but I'm not making this up!" said the kid defensively. "The guy with the red cap may have been a ventriloquist or something."
"Where did red cap go!?" demanded Jessie with frightening force.
"W-why?" asked the kid.
Jessie, with the abilities of a Ditto, transformed herself into a much calmer persona. "Why, he's a good friend of ours, and we'd like to meet with him again."
"I don't know," said the boy reluctantly. "I mean, you could be stalkers or something."
"Come on," said James. "Why would we stalk a ten-year-old kid? To steal his Pikachu? Seriously."
The kid seemed uncertain, but not overly cautious. Most likely, he was only hesitating to get the pair to become desperate enough that he could ask a favour of them. Either that, or he actually did suspect they were stalkers, but if that were so, he'd have to be almost as bad as Ash himself to do what he did next.
"Tell you what. I'll tell you where they went if you do me a favour."
"A favour?" said Jessie, eyes flaring. "You opportunistic son of a—"
"Jess!" interjected James, then turned back to the kid. "What do you need?"
"Well, it's just that… my girlfriend thinks I'm a big wuss!" he shouted quickly, so as to get the confession over with as quickly as possible. "You see, just last week, we were picnicking in the woods, when, suddenly, a Wobbuffet popped out of the bushes! I was so startled, I fell over backwards and landed with my head in a pile of mud. When I looked up my girlfriend was just standing there, laughing at me.
"'Come on!' I pleaded. 'It just startled me!'
"'Now, don't lie to me. You were terrified by that Wobbuffet.'
"'No, I wasn't! Lily! You've got to believe me!'
"'Yeah, right. Then why don't you prove it? Go find that Wobbuffet and bring it back here.'
"'But I didn't see where it went! And Wobbuffets aren't indigenous to this area!'
"'Well, isn't that convenient?' she said, crossing her arms across her pregnant stomach. 'I don't want our son being raised by a cowardly liar. Either find that Wobbuffet, or I'm leaving you!'"
"Ouch," said James.
"So I set out here to find that Wobbuffet. Then, just now, I saw you withdraw it. That Wobbuffet is yours, isn't it?"
"Of course," said Jessie. "That's very smart of you."
"Great!" said the kid. "Then all you have to do is let me borrow it for ten minutes. That's all!"
"Really?" said Jessie. "That's all? Well, sure! No problem. Now tell me… where did the twerp go?"
"Really? You mean it? Wow! Thanks! Oh, right! The kid and his Meowth were heading towards Eigengrau town to the East of here."
"Eigengrau town?" said Jessie. "Thanks!" She then ran as quickly as she could to the East, kicking up waves of dirt with her speed. James looked at the kid with a kind of awkward pity, but he soon ran and caught up with Jessie.
"Hey!" shouted the kid. "You forgot to lend me your Wobbuffet!"
"No we didn't!" shouted James.
"It's just that we were lying when we said we would!" responded Jessie.
And so the poor kid could only break back into tears, desperately scratching his brain for discarded thoughts that might be formed into a coherent idea, and he would never come to truly appreciate the valuable lesson about gullibility that Team Rocket had kindly taught him today.
"Okay, everyone. Eat up!"
Meowth looks at the bowl of generic Pokémon food before him. It hadn't occurred to him until now that one of the advantages of travailing with Ash would be the daily appearance of food in his stomach.
Deciding to make the best of a bad situation, Meowth grabbed one of the tiny logs and popped it into his mouth. He had never tasted anything quite that bad before, though this might have been because he had never dumpster-dived into anything that had been out more than a day.
"Dis is disgusting," said Meowth. "Are ya' tryin' to poison me?"
"Of course not," said Ash, sounding hurt. "None of the other Pokémon are complaining. Look."
Indeed, Ash's other Pokémon were eating with perfect contentment. Meowth secretly resented them, as he resented anyone whose taste buds were never given a reason to turn against the mouth, but he couldn't fault Ash for feeding them.
"I'm surprised too," said Brock, "but Meowth is a special case. He's so used to acting like a human, I guess it's hard for him to go back to eating Pokémon food."
"I guess you're right," said Ash.
Ash leaned down on his right knee, then moved his hand out towards Meowth. Instinctively, the cat drew his claws and braced his body, but the hand merely rested gently on his shoulder.
"Would you like a hamburger, Meowth?"
"A hamburger?" said Meowth. "As in, I'll get ta have meat inside da buns?"
"Of course," said Ash.
"And ketchup? Maybe even mustard?"
wouldn't you? You're one of us now."
Then Meowth's stomach stopped growling and began to moan. "Wheder I like it or not," he added. He had always thought that Ash was a clown; that he was the sort of clown that stood outside fast food restaurants and dispensed hamburgers was neither a surprise nor a condolence.
Meowth looked at the burger Brock held out to him. Meowth was hungry—he always was. Hunger, he could handle. He was hungry before he joined Team Rocket, he was hungry when he worked at Team Rocket, and he'd be hungry when he died. He was used to hunger like he was used to heartbreak and failure. And that wasn't supposed to sound like angst—Meowth was perfectly content in this state, because he still had his self-respect. He was proud to be a pathetic louse, so long as he was a pathetic louse with his friends, and his heart told him that taking a bite from the burger would, from a metaphorical standpoint, amount to biting the apple offered by the serpent, thereby condemning him from the Eden that only friendship could truly offer in this world.
But Meowth grabbed the burger and bit into it anyway, as his stomach insisted that his heart was mad and that food was good. His brain, after weighing both arguments, decided to just say that Meowth had finally succeeded at stealing something from Ash, and that made the burger taste all the juicer.
"Be careful, Meowth," said a memorable male voice.
"You wouldn't want to get bogged down in Stockholm's Syndrome," added a familiar female voice.
"Team Rocket!" spat Ash.
"What are you doing here?" said Brock.
"We came to see Meowth," said Jessie. "We heard he'd been kidnapped, and wanted to make sure he was okay."
"By the way," said James. "We're going to be needing that cat back."
"Oh, really?" said Ash. "Well, you're welcome to try and steal him from me."
"Pika," added Pikachu, its cheeks sparkling.
This, of course, was Ash's way of telling Team Rocket that they will not be bringing Meowth back with them. As you probably know, Team Rocket has attempted to rob Ash over 500 times, and have thoroughly failed on each occasion. Jessie and James knew that, no matter how confident they had been in the past, the best they could have ever hoped for was to grab Pikachu and escape to a soon-to-be-found clearing less than a mile away. Usually, the outcome was much quicker and more painful. Even so, they knew that they had to try, if only because they were sure they'd pull it off this time.
Ash, his face wearing its standard look of determination, grabbed Meowth under his arms and ran into a nearby shack, followed by Brock and Pikachu. The building split in two like a Cloyster's shell, revealing the top of a mechanical Pikachu head. Slowly, the gigantic mecha rose from the ground. It's cold, unmoving eyes, many times larger then the horrifying authentic ones, sent shivers of horror down the spines of Jessie and James.
"Is th-that all you've got?" said James.
"Y-yeah," said Jessie. "It'll take more than a ginormous version of Pikachu to beat us this time."
"Just because the normal one suffices when we're the bad guys doesn't mean this titan will be enough now!" declared James, secretly wishing this were the climax of a cheesy children's movie.
The mechanical, unblinking Pikachu sparked across its entire body for a brief second before unleashing the entire electrical content of its multi-ton frame. Jessie and James realised—as the millions of volts surged through their bodies—that the size of the rat proportionately affected the strength of the volt.
Not that it mattered; when the air cleared, Jessie and James didn't even fall over.
"Whaaaaaa!" exclaimed Ash.
"That's right," said James. "You've shocked us so many times, we don't even notice the agonising pain anymore!"
"We're practically electric-proof!" said Jessie. "Who knew you'd have to face the consequences of zapping us all the time?"
Ash growled. "We'll see if you're mecha-proof, too." He grabbed a large, shiny red lever and rammed it forward. The mechanical Pikachu dropped to a quadrupedial state and shot forwards like a train.
But before the mecha could touch its targets, the Wobbuffet popped up in front of Team Rocket, holding its arms out like a cross. Next thing anyone could remember, there was an explosion, and both Jessie and James got to see the familiar of sight of Ash disappearing into the distance—only, this time, he was surrounded by sky instead of earth.
"I can't believe I lost to Team Rocket!" said Ash.
"I can't believe Meowth didn't like my Pokémon food!" said Brock.
"Chu pika pika pi chu!" said Pikachu.
"You know," said Ash, "if you look down at them really hard, and pretend there's sky behind them instead of ground, it kind of looks like Team Rocket's blasting off agaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain!" And the three disappeared into a twinkling light.
Miraculously, Meowth hadn't been thrown quite as high as Ash. He was merely tossed clear of the robot and directly towards Jessie and James. He was already falling towards the duo, and they were running to catch him.
"Jessie! James!" shouted Meowth happily. "Ya rescued me!"
And as Jessie and James ran to catch Meowth, doing so with such speed that they arrived just in time to accidentally step on him, the three of them thought long and hard about the terrible events of that day, and how Ash would probably get off with nothing more than his current flight. To steal one's Pokémon was bad, but Team Rocket had always felt that stealing one's own identity was worse.
Ash had done both, and that made him twice as bad as Meowth, James, or even Jessie could ever hope to be. All three of them wished for the first time in their lives that society would lock thieves like that in prison, where they belong.