Disclaimer: Red, orange, yellow, blue, I don't own pokémon, how 'bout you?


Ash Ketchum was sixteen, thin, slightly muscled, slightly tanned and he was comfortably situated in an old oak tree in a branch that was probably a few feet above his head. His features were young, childish; looking at his faceyou could barely imagine him more than twelve. Too add to his young appearance, he was short; he wasn't unnaturally short, still over five feet, but many girls would tower over him and he couldn't grow a moustache if he tried. He wore jeans, a black t-shirt, and a blue vest with short white sleeves; all of them were more worn than anything you could see in a fashion window, pre-washed to the faded look. Ash's sneakers were possibly the best looking things on him: made to endure the worst of weather and even the antics of the wildest teenage boy, but even they were looking slightly battered.

All in all, he wasn't up to the modern day standards. He should have been clad in black pants, perfectly ironed without a crease, a black long sleeved shirt with a red 'R' printed boldly on the front and white shoes to top it off. Ash's face should have been clean, free of dirt and mud and whatever else he was coated in. His muscles should have been thicker, to intimidate, but were instead stretched thin, making him more agile than muscular; which, in all reality, suited his abilities much better than the strong hit-and-go techniques that supposedly suited all males (according to Team Rocket) much better.

Probably most importantly, he was not supposed to have an unauthorized pokémon sitting on his shoulder, especially since the pikachu was a defect.

She had no nickname; instead, she went by Pikachu, the cute little thing, to humans. However, if you asked the pokémon she hung around, her name was Jasmine, and she was a force to be reckoned with. Her coat shone, her black eyes flashed, and she had the lean, muscled body of a powerful pokémon. Her red electric sacks were tight, filled to the brim with well controlled static. Her stripes were a dark brown, a sign that it had been a while since she lost a battle, and her ears were tipped with a smooth black that greatly contrasted her yellow body. Her only defect, the thing that could be easily avoided with a lie, was the fact that her tail had no heart shaped bump, but was square. She was a born and bred Kanto pikachu: highly unstable, often untamable, and definitely illegal.

So, obviously, when Ash Ketchum infiltrated the Team Rocket Training Institute (which was originally going to be called the Team Rocket Institute of Training but then it would have been "TRIT" which sounds a lot like another word if someone forgot to say the r), he would go with the lie option and tell everyone his pikachu was a boy. Yes, she would be hurt, but they had talked about it and (he guessed) that she was fine with it as long as it was for the sake of the mission and he wasn't actually insulting her. But she still wasn't happy about it.

"Listen, Pikachu, I'm sorry you've got to be a boy for a while, but it could be fun." He sighed; his voice was gravelly, but light and boyish. "Even if it's not, it's only for a little while, and I've have to be a boy my entire life. See, my situation is way worse than yours. On top of it, I'm going to have to take tests and pretend I'm listening during classes when we all know I'll be dreaming about coffee cake stuffed with cheese and covered in icing."

(I hate you. I really do. You just suck at making anyone feel better about anything. You're comparing tests to gender bender. I don't want to be a boy. I want to have a family. What if I suddenly see a hot pokémon, that I like, but I can't make a move on it because, why? I'll tell you. They'll think I'm gay and kill me because then I'll have a defect. Yay, gender bender. Gender bender sucks!) Pikachu ranted, digging her claws into his shoulder.

He winced and patted the mouse's head, attempting to cool her temper. "Ow, careful, Pikachu, that hurts. I tried to sympathize, okay? I really tried. It's only for a little while, I promise, nothing permanent. So just take deep, soothing breaths and calm down. We'll be in and out of here with all the information before you know it. We don't need much. Besides, you're the one that wanted to come and you're the one that won't go in a pokeball."

(Because you'll kill yourself if I don't,) She muttered crossly, but accepted defeat and released her death grip on his shoulder.

"Thank you, that wasn't so hard, was it?" He patted her again, scratching her favorite spot behind her ears. "Now, let's go infiltrate the Team Rocket Training Institute!" He pumped his fist in the air, neglecting to remember that he had a little rodent on that shoulder in his excitement.

Pikachu, already rather irritated at her trainer, charged and released a thunder attack that sent Ash spiraling out of the tree and face first into the ground with a painful sounds. (Dear sweet Arceus, Ketchum, don't startle me like that! I could've had a heart attack. Put your hand over my heart, it's beating ten times faster than yours. Don't you know by now to use your other hand? I'm on your left shoulder for a reason, stupid.)

"Your heart always beats faster than mine! You're a mouse!" Ash growled, bouncing to his feet. "I know that was just because of the boy thing, so are we even?"

(For now.) She agreed.

"Awesome. Now we're going to infiltrate the Team Rocket Training Institute," He sighed.

Shoving his hands in his pockets, he set off. The air was a little warm and foggy, swirling around him and closing in tightly. It was fall, a few weeks after lessons started, so he was sure there were kids and pokémon around. Strangely enough, he couldn't hear a thing. He was sure fog couldn't stop his hearing, but the mist wasn't even that thick. He could see easily, and took advantage of it for a moment to eye the campus.

He couldn't possibly refer to it as 'pretty', not in the sense he was used to. Beautiful was a better word. The campus had no flowers, no weeds, but green grass and tall trees arranged around the stone path. It seemed natural, as if the path had been carved time and time again by weary travelers, with only the rocks to set off the Mother Earth look. The trees were definitely the most beautiful thing around this time of year, turning red and orange and gold as the season got colder. No leaves scattered his path, however. The gardener had probably been hired with a touch of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and often scrambled about pick off leaves.

Ash laughed at that, thinking of a gardener scuttling about like a krabby and gathering leaves to stuff in its tree. But his amusement was short lived as he strutted forward and happened upon the very building he had come to infiltrate, and, Arceus, was it ever a building if he saw one.

It was huge, and he couldn't even see the broadside of it. It was a square shape, a rectangle if he could see all the way around. It had to be huge, considering it held an arena for each type, a swimming pool, countless classrooms, dormitories, a pokémon center, and electronic practice machines for battling. It looked to be about five floors high, six if you counted the basement. It was plain, grey and rectangular, more like a warehouse of the gods if he ever saw one. Instead of useless items nobody wanted, wood, or scraps metal, this warehouse held teens hoping for a career in pokémon.

"That's one helluva building," Ash said, eyes wide.

"You like it, boyo?" Asked a gruff voice. It was hardy, deep, the sound of a man you would expect to be in Team Rocket, and indeed he was. He wore a black suit, unbuttoned and the jacket flapping with each mammoth step he took. He towered over Ash, looking to be at least seven feet, and he filled himself out well. His face was square, covered in black stubble and lit with an ear splitting grin and dark brown eyes. He carried himself with an air of power, head high, back straight, and moving quickly. "So, you're Ashton, aren't ya? We heard about you. One helluva Battle IQ, better than most students. Where have you been these few semesters? You're starting late."

Ash shrugged. "I'm not so good with English, sir. They wouldn't let me pass in until I got the grade up there. I wasn't so good with Science or History either. I barely passed the past few years and I had to study my ass off to get my grade up high enough to get into here. And it's awesome to be here. I can't wait to start battling with some of the best in the world. Though, they're probably not going to be able to beat me." He winked at him and held up his V for victory sign.

The man laughed again, tossing his head back and really getting into it. "Ashton! What a man! I can't believe they wouldn't let a buck like you into the Institute on personality alone! You remind me an awful lot of me growing up. 

Cocky, smart, well, not too school smart. Hell, what do we need English class for? We speak the language, don't we? No need to relearn what we already know. I don't need to know school is noun to walk inside it. Speaking of which, maybe we should get this tour of ours going."

"After you, sir," Ash nodded politely, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Sir?" The man barked another round of laughter. "Call me sir and I'll start calling you son, boyo! Name's Earl Edwards, a man's name if you've ever one, don't you agree, Ashton? You've got one great name too, less people start callin' ya Ashley."

Ash crinkled his nose, remembering a former mission with just that name. "Thank you, Mr. Edwards, but my name's not Ashton, it's Ash. It says so right on my birth certificate. Ash Ketchum, sixteen, brown eyes, black hair. I'd tell you how much I weighed when I was born, but my memory isn't that good."

"Heh, still like you, Ash. Call me Earl, enough with this formal stuff. Relax like I was one of your buddies at the bar. You go to the bar, don't you?"

No, I hate bars. They smell like smoke and the last time I got drunk all I remember is throwing up and doing the hula in my boxers, Ash thought crossly, his feet itching to turn around the second they went through the sliding metal doors. The place felt like a cage. Though it was spacious inside, plenty of width and height in the hallway the walls still seemed like they were closing in, tightening his chest and making his heart beat fast. But, then again, he never had been a fan of the indoor. Still, something about the Institute seemed different than a regular building. Maybe the lights were too yellow, too unnatural and glaring compared to the easy sunlight he was used to. Maybe the walls were to cream colored, the floors too perfectly arranged with stony grey tiles. They were rough, as if mimicking natural rocks you might come across outside (which was completely ridiculous if you asked him).

"Yessir. Nothing better than a beer at the end of the day," Ash agreed, putting on his best fake smile.

"Attaboy, real man's man," Earl nodded. "Now, Ashton, you don't need to remember much about this place but the floors. The first floor here? This is the lobby. Not just that, for recreational purposes. That door? We'll be making a right from it to get to the elevators." He pointed to a large set of wooden double doors, polished and shined to a light chestnut color. "Through there you'll get the recreational pools, lap pools, pool tables, video games, and just places to lounge. Though most students prefer to use it for studying. Not many kids take a rest from their schoolwork around here. Have to keep those scholarships, y'know?"

"No sir," Ash smirked. "I'm never getting a scholarship."

The man began his bellowing laughter again, sending Pikachu's ears back against her head and leaving Ash to resist the urge to cover his ears and yell at the man to laugh a little quieter. "Elevators, right there at the end of the hall. Press the button when we get to it, won't you boyo? Floor three. That's where we're headed. I'll tell you what's on the other floors once we're in. Be a good man and run ahead, won't you?"

Secretly cursing his luck with interviewers, or whatever this man was supposed to be, he jogged a few feet ahead and tapped the 'up' button, waiting for the behemoth behind him to catch up.

(I don't like this guy,) Pikachu whispered in his ear.

"I don't either," Ash muttered. "He calls me Ashton. My name isn't Ashton, it's Ash. I hate people who do that. Don't you get the feeling this place is like a slaughterhouse? They're marching us in and the second we get in that elevator the doors will close it'll fill up with water and I'll drown. I don't know why they want to kill me, but I don't think they really need a reason. You know, if they're going to kill me, they could call me by the right name so I have a bit of dignity before I die."

(You are severely underestimating the situation. You're going to get yourself killed if you down cool the cockiness and use that empty shell of a head,) Pikachu growled, giving his cheek an affectionate lick. (And I swear to every god and goddess there is, I will electrocute that man if he attempts to touch me with his disgusting, greasy-)

"Talkative little fellow, isn't he?" Earl grinned, walking up next to Ash. "Sorry the elevator takes so long. It's rare that we use it and it takes a while for the Raichu who runs this thing to wake up, stupid fucker. Ashton, my boy, you smoke?"

"Used to, have to quit for the tests they put you through," Ash lied.

"Mmm," The man nodded, pulling a cigarette form the box in his pocket. A match followed suit, rubbing swiftly along his calloused palm and lightning up. Soon, the doors opened, and Ash knew he was about to be tortured with the nauseous setting of an elevator filling up with smoke. "You won't mind if I smoke in the elevator, do you? I'm sure you're used to the smell, boyo. You don't get nicotine from secondhand."

"Actually," Ash began, leaping at his chance. "I'm trying to wean myself all the way off. Could you wait to puff on it until we're out and it's not so cramped? Seeing you smoke is bad enough. I'm going cold turkey, no patches, no nothing. That kind of stuff seems awfully weak, doesn't it?"

"Too true, Ashton! I'm sick of all these trying-to-quit kids, whining about how hard it is. You smoke or you don't! It's all a matter of willpower." He stepped into the elevator, Ash close behind, and nodded when the younger boy pressed the button. "Very good. Now, floor two is the battling floor. You've got a few regular arenas and then one of each type. To get the type arenas, you either have to wake up extra early or schedule it at the front desk. You'll see it when you go down there. The basement is where we store the pokémon. Floor four is the dorm rooms. We'll assign you one when we get to my office."

"Which is on the third floor?" Ash attempted, "with the classrooms."

"Attaboy!" Earl grinned. The doors began to open and the cigarette flew to his mouth. He took a long, slow drag with a long, slow sigh. "Who says you're not so smart? Plenty brilliant here, as I see it. Only four floors, looks like more, doesn't it? It's because the floors are taller than others. It's the arenas that does it. We have to make them big to fit the pokémon and get room to maneuver those attacks."

"Makes sense," Ash agreed. "But it probably would have been easier to put it on the roof. Then you'd have as much room as you wanted. But then we probably wouldn't have gotten such big halls or high ceilings, so there's some good to it. Maybe that was the whole plan behind it."

"Probably wasn't a plan," The older man shrugged. His eyes squinted in the distance, and then narrowed with a sniff. "Oh, not this fucker again."

Ash tried to squint as well, looking down the hallway, but he wasn't sure if he was anything that would constitute a 'fucker'.

There was what looked like a person his age down the hall. She was wearing a pair of shorts, black like the Team Rocket uniform. Her shirt was the traditional black, red R, midriff showing short sleeved mess that all Rockets wore, but, instead of the knee high white boots or shoes, she was barefoot. Her hair was tied up in a high side ponytail, a bright orange color, and definitely short. The closer they got, the more he looked. Her eyes were wide, blue and green, strangely familiar though he couldn't put his finger on where. Her face was slightly pretty, the traditional look of a teenage girl, not too developed, not too young.

"What the hell are you doing here?" He barked. "Isn't there some classroom for you to be in? It's in the middle of a period! I know it's a little hard for you to understand, but until the pretty bell rings, you're supposed to be inside a classroom, not aimlessly wandering the halls like you're the greatest thing alive. Here's the rule for you, girlie: If there's no adult around, you're doing something wrong."

She blinked at him, face still and head cocked to the side. "But, you're here, and you're an adult, aren't you?"

Earl gritted his teeth. "Then what were you doing before I got here?"

"Nobody cares where I go, you wouldn't care if he wasn't here," She said, his voice holding the barest touch of anger. "It's not a big deal as long as I'm out of everyone's way. If you had warned me, I wouldn't have been here. I'm sorry I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'll try not to be in the way, but you have to help. Tell me when you're bringing in new students and I'll stay in the classroom, but it's absolutely ridiculous to think that I have some kind of psychic power that lets me know everywhere you're going to be at any point in time. It's not like I'm the gym leader of Saffron City."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Earl growled.

"Saffron City had a psychic gym. The gym leader, to really be able to master psychic pokémon, would always be psychic themselves. If I was psychic, I could know what you were thinking and get out of the way. They were talking about it in history class before I-"

"Wandered out here," Earl snapped. "You're going to make Ashton here regret ever coming to our school."

"No, it's fine, I don't mind," Ash grinned. He held out his hand to shake hers. "Ash Ketchum, I'm going to be a new student here. Just transferred today and now I'm getting the grand tour. Is there anything I need to know if I'm a student here? What teachers to steer clear from, what water fountain not to touch, who's a bully and who's someone I should never hang out with if I want anyone to like me?"

She stared at his hand; brows knitted together, then looked up at him. "You're not supposed to hang out with me. It's against the rules. There's no bullies here and teachers are teachers." She turned to Earl. "I'll go and try not to interfere anymore."

"Not so fast!" Earl shouted (which, really, was unnecessary as the red head hadn't gone anywhere). "Tell me the name of your homeroom teacher! The class you're supposed to be in too!"

"You're giving me a detention?" She asked, the slightest smirk hiding in her face. "All of you have been giving out detentions for years but you've got no way to make me go. I'm not going this time either, so, really, you'll just be wasting resources and time, valuable time you could be using to give Ash a real tour of the school instead of a once over and a few drinks in your office. You do that with all the boys, and you do even less with the girls. Girls like their tequila too, you know."

"Your homeroom teacher and the class you should be in!" He shouted again, fists clenching as he pulled a notepad and a pen from his pocket. His meaty hands trembled with rage, his face going scarlet to the roots of his hair. "Tell me now, or it's two weeks!"

She sighed. "Mr. Audley, for homeroom. I'm supposed to be in history, with Mr. Maconochie. Who, by the way, Ash, is one of the best teachers you could ever have for history. If you're taking a history this year, he's the one to go after. He's also the best teacher for a study hall. He lets you go to the student lounge and talk all you want. Try not to get into any study hall with Mrs. Teddington. She doesn't let you talk at all."

"Here," Earl said gruffly, holding out the paper as if unwilling to touch her. His face sneered with disgust as she took it, careful as well not to touch his hand. "I'd better not see you around here again. Just stay inside your classroom and we won't have this problem, will we?"

"No sir," The girl agreed reluctantly, leaning casually against the wall. Her face turned towards the floor, hidden from their eyes. "You won't see me from now on."

"Good," Earl said, nodding curtly. "Ashton, let's get a move on. There's no point in dawdling around with a girl like this. No good for anything, not even for a one night fuck. But, then again, if you can't fuck 'em, what use are they, 

right?" And his laugh boomed again, deep and throaty as he made his way down the hall, hands shoved in his pockets with the notepad, the cigarettes, and whatever else he kept deep inside. His boots thunked a bit heavier against the stone, his chest still stuck out ahead, showing he still had a bit of anger in him, but he didn't spare the girl a glance as he marched by.

Ash lingering for a moment, took a step closer to whisper in her ear, "Name?"

She was quiet for a moment, and Ash wondered if the girl hadn't heard him, or if she already hated him enough to not give him the answer. She did seem awfully cold. Not a muscle twitched, not a sound made, and he found himself wondering if she was even breathing. But, finally, she returned, her voice just as low as his. "Misty, Ash Ketchum. Pleasure to meet you. You better keep up with Earl; he'll get mad if he sees you talking to me."

"Nice to meet you too," He grinned.

A second later he had spun on his heel and chased after Earl. (What's with that grin? That's your trainer grin. Don't tell me you're up to something with that girl.)

"What can I say?" He whispered. "I'm not going to pry to deep, but what the hell is she doing weird stuff in a place like this? It's way too organized. And she's saying she doesn't have to go to detention, has no respect for authority, that doesn't scream Team Rocket Training Institute. That's something weird going on, and we need to find out what makes her so different to see if we can convert all the rest of the kids against Team Rocket."

(In other words, you won't settle down until you've got as much information as a pokedex entry,) Pikachu scoffed, rolling her eyes.

"So, Earl, what's the deal with her?" Ash asked, trotting to keep up with the man's ever quickening strides. "She doesn't seem normal."

"She's not," Earl snapped. "She's an idiot. She failed her Battle IQ, completely useless with pokémon. She's not allowed to have any. Stupid bitch would try to eat them. She's weaning off the system, Ash. She's a defect. They found her orphaned and took her into the school, Team Rocket's a good organization like that, but now there's nothing we can do to get through that thick skull of hers. She won't sit down during class; she won't wear the proper uniform; she won't put on the boots. We've just given up on her. She does whatever she wants now. Think of it as charity, just another benefit of the school. And, you know she just told you all that shit about teachers to get on my nerves. All the teachers are the same, they're perfectly qualified. Everything she says is a load of crap, Ashton, don't believe it for a second."

"Earl, you don't need to panic," Ash laughed. "I'm planning on coming here. It's not like I'm a health inspector or anything. It's the best school, only school, that I can go to if I want to be a trainer. I want to be a trainer more than anything else in the world, and the class clown isn't going to stop me. Besides, even if she does wander the school, it's not like she's an ugly thing to look at and I've heard the stupid ones are the best fucks."

(I don't care if you are acting. You're a sick man. This guy isn't even a teacher. Why are you trying to impress him?) Pikachu muttered.

Earl, pulling out keys from his pocket (and making both Ash and Pikachu wonder exactly how deep those pockets of his were), turned to a door and opened it up. The room behind was hot, the heater rumbling to make the room a sweltering eighty degrees. Too make it worse, the room smelled with old food shoved in the trashcan and sweat. It was decorated grandly, as if the queen of England spent her summers there. Royal red and gold seats were placed around an old wooden desk, regal in every way. The room was tight and cramped, and every wall was lined with bookcases stuffed full of sports, sex, and other books that made Ash feel completely out of place.

"Talkative little mouse, huh?" Earl chuckled, reaching out to pet Pikachu.

Ash stumbled back as she began to crackle, a couple stray sparks hitting the side of his face with a familiar tingling. "Uh, no, sir! He's, uh, he's a one man beast, if you know what I mean. Pikachu really can't handle anyone else touching him. I trained him that way; see, so he'll only listen to me. If some kind of rebellion brat goes after him or some kid tries to prank me, Pikachu will just zap them right up. I needed him for defense in my old town."

"Where ya from?" Earl asked, plopping down in his chair and waving for Ash to do the same.

"Pewter," Ash replied. He eyed the tall backed chair, which looked more uncomfortable than standing. His rolled from his toes to his heel, shoving his hands into his pockets, until a small shock form Pikachu prodded him forward and into the chair. He sighed as he sat, the chair was uncomfortable, and to make it all worse, it was hot. "It wasn't too bad; my house was closer to the suburbs than the inner city. That's why I don't mind leaving my mom back there. But, you know how it is, there's some stuff that you need to get in dark places."

"Crack?" Earl asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Nah, sir, need the brain for being a trainer." Ash tapped his temple, thanking his luck that his friends weren't here to make a crack about his intelligence.

"Good man," Earl nodded, leaning back in his chair. He put his feet up on the desk, shoving the dirty things practically in Ash's face and hiding his own from view. "Choosing career over pleasure, wish I could do something like that. I was a train wreck when I was your age. By the time I straightened up, well, let's just say I'll never be a grade A trainer. I'm not too bad, good enough to get a job, but I can only imagine how much better I would have been if I stayed clean. I'd probably be smarter."

Ash nodded in sympathy. "So, sir, is there anything else you need from me? This seems awfully short for an interview."

"Well, Ketchum," Earl said with a groan, "I'm not much of an interviewer, or a tour guide, but I like ya. Besides, I think people learn more by doing than by listening. So, when I let you leave the office, I'm going to ask you to wander around the school, see what you can find. Maybe there's a game you like in the lounge, maybe you get the top score on the simulator, maybe you've got a few water pokémon you'd like to release in the pool or maybe you just want to take the day to relax in your room. It doesn't matter much to me. Just make sure you get a feel for this place. Once you're here for the night, well, I'm not so sure you're going to ever be able to leave."

"Sir?" Ash asked in confusion.

"This place has a grip on people, a grip that you can't escape no matter how hard you try. I don't know what it is, but…" Earl sighed. "Listen, boyo, I like you. I like you a whole lot. Now, I'm not so sure what's going on in that head of yours, if everything you've been telling me is the truth or if you're some rebellion junkie who's planning on taking this place down, which, you'd better not tell but taking this whole operation down and getting it back to the way it was all those years ago where kids could ran around as they pleased. Still, here's the thing…" He took his feet off the desk and leaned forward, voice low, "This place is a death trap, Ketchum. Once you're here, you'll never get out. You still want to join?"

Ash grinned, "Sir, I want to be a trainer. As much as I respect you, no ghost story about this place is going to turn me off. But, if it makes you feel any better, I'll feel around and see if I get any bad feelings. If I get that warning sign in the back of my head I'll run like a poochyena in a battle. But I'm not going anywhere for now. Seriously, sir, is there anything else you need me to know before I go exploring."

Earl sat back a moment, reflecting, huffing on his cigarette. "I understand, Ketchum. I hope it won't be too late by the time you know what I know. There's other shit to do, though, Ketchum, you can't run yet. First things first, you've got a schedule I'll print for you know. Is there anything you want me to make sure you have?"

"Battling class, as long as I have that I think I'll be…" He trailed off, an idea beginning to form. "Uh, sir, come to think of it, could I have Mr. Audley, for homeroom and history with Mr. Maconochie last period? It is last period right now, isn't it?"

Earl smirked, pulling out a hand held computer from his never ending magic pockets and began to punch in what Ash hoped was his schedule changed. "So, you took a liking to the idiot? Bet you're curious about her. No need to be, Ash, there's nothing under the surface but more stupidity. She had the lowest Battle IQ ever instated since the test has been issued, she didn't even get her type trumps right. When asked what she would do, she always answered something with water pokémon. But I'll arrange it all for you, don't mind doing it. Maybe you can smarten her up a bit. Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I can do you one better. You two can be put in the same room and you won't even have to triple up."

"What? Oh, no," Ash laughed nervously. "You don't have to do anything like that, sir. I'm not, uh, listen, I want to focus on my career. Even though I joked about it earlier I don't really want to, uh, I don't really think I should waste time I could have studying, er, sleeping with girls."

(How should you do it? Sleeping with boys? Oh! What a knee slapper, but look what you've done. Because you made sexist, dirty jokes, you're expected to live up to them. Have fun corrupting your morals and deflowering the mildly retarded girl.)

"Yes, Pikachu, don't worry. We'll get a girl for you too," Ash soothed, patting his friend on the head. "Earl, you wouldn't believe the number of pokémon this boy knocked up. I swear, thank goodness he's a boy or I'd have to take care of all those eggs. He barely likes battling as long as he can get a girl. He's a crazy thing, but, then again, I suppose that's because he's the rat type and those things breed like crazy too."

(The second we leave this room, I will zap your ass so bad-)

Earl, meanwhile, was nearly helpless with laughter that was turning into a coughing fit. "Not what I meant, boyo!" He gasped through the coughs. He cooled himself down, never removing the cigarette from his mouth and waving his hand in front of his face. "Not what I meant at all. Kids around here are a different breed. You're never going to see any kids kissing in the halls or here any strange sounds at night. You're safe from all that here, so don't worry about mixing up girls and boys."

"You're sure?" Ash asked, raising an eyebrow. "Or are the teachers just really blind? You've got the top kids in the world in this school so they're probably going to be better at hiding this kind of stuff. I mean, don't you even have classes where you train kids to be quiet like spies."

"Yes, Ash, we have classes like that but I'm telling you it doesn't happen," Earl informed. "You can look all you want, be as popular as you want, but you'll never hear about kids getting together. In fact, you're not going to hear anything that doesn't relate to school. You'll hear plenty about history and science and battling and pokémon, but you're never going to find a magazine, you'll never hear kids talking about what was on TV last night, you probably won't even see kids write letters or call up their parents. I'm telling you this once and only once: These are strange, strange kids of a different breed."

Ash blinked. "Well, if they're so different, why do you work here? Don't they freak you out?"

"Oh, they freak me out alright. But I know why they're freaky, and they're all freaky in the same way. As long as I know why they're freaky they can be as freaky as they want. I don't mind it then. It all makes sense." Earl nodded. "You know what I mean, Ashton Satoshi Ketchum. It's better to know what the enemy is. Knowing what's after ya is a lot less freaky than something you've never heard of."

"Okay," He agreed slowly. "And what exactly makes the kids around here act so, uh, freaky?"

"I can't answer that one, Ashton," Earl sighed, putting his cigarette out on the corner of his desk. "You can try another one, but I can't answer that."

"Fine, why do you hate that red headed girl, Misty? You said as long as you know what's wrong, you're fine with it, and you know that Misty's stupid. There's no mystery to it so why should you be freaked out by it? She seems perfectly normal except for that whole wandering around thing."

The man narrowed his eyes. "Listen, Ashton, she seems fine now, but you weren't here when they brought her in. They brought her when she was five, when she was little. Little kids aren't supposed to do the things she did. She was one freaky child. I don't like children who aren't normal. I don't like it when they have diseases, I don't like that autism shit or those blind or retarded children who thrash around like a magikarp. I don't like it. I'm a sensitive man and that shit scares me like no man can, and I was in the war, Ketchum. I know what I can and can't stand, and I can't stand her."

Ash stiffened during the speech, the man's loud and angry words chilling him to his core. Earl was intimidating, strong, and with the rage he was showing he was absolutely terrifying. It was all Ash could do to swallow the lump in his throat, ignore his wildly beating heart, and reply, "Makes perfect sense, sir. Different people hate different things, I was just wondering. Sorry if I've offended you in any way. It's just…we didn't get crazy stuff like that in Pa…Pewter City. Most defects, well," Ash looked at the floor, "you know what they do to the defects in the city, don't you, sir? I'd rather not say."

Earl was much calmer now, nodding at Ash. "Yessir, I know what they do to the defects. Not pretty. You should've seen what they did before all this was settled. Scary shit then, Ketchum. Fully grown defects all rounded up like camerupt at a slaughter house. It is real terrifying shit, Ash. Did you see those videos? 'Course you did, everyone did. It's practically a law! You should be glad you're growing up now instead of a couple decades back. It's much better now than before. There's not nearly as many of those genocide moments."

Ash took a good look at Earl, now as the man ran a hand through his hair, and what he was different from a moment ago. He could see a fifty year old man in that chair, instead of the man who once looked like he was in his thirties. The scar trailing form his eyebrow to ear, once invisible, stood out like a black bug in a white room, raising a thin white line in the flesh that gave him a much war-worn look. All in all, he looked like a veteran, and one helluva veteran to boot.

"Sir," Ash whispered, his stomach beginning to turn. Of the many lies he had told that die, the movies were no lie. He remembered the images, the ill, the retarded, the disfigured, piled into the pokémon gyms and burned, a topic he never liked to touch on. "Could you print out my schedule and let me go? I don't want to talk about this anymore, sir. I…I really know what you're talking about. I've seen the videos in class and I…sir, I'm not good with these mass killings. I think I might…"

"Head between your knees, boyo," Earl instructed. Ash did as he was told and swung his head forward, looking and the floor and swallowing over and over and over again to stop the nauseous sensation rising in his throat. "You'll be alright. We won't talk about this anymore. Your schedule is printing out now; your room assignment is on the sheet. You've got a TV in your room. Try to avoid the history channel, who knows what they've got playing. Turn on a kids' station, play with the bunnies. Half the game downstairs are combat games, bloody stuff. I don't think you'll be able to handle them."

"Not now," Ash moaned, his stomach beginning to heave. "Oh, Arceus, not right now. All those movies, I can't watch it. What they did, oh, Mew, the things they did to those poor people. Five minutes ago we were all good and happy and now…oh Mew."

"I know, Ashton," Earl sympathized. He grabbed the sheet and held it out to the boy, who grabbed it with weak fingers. "Listen, Ash, no matter what people say to you…It's really refreshing to see a man who still feels. A man who still let's things get to him. That's something rare, and it's better than a man like me who can go through a war. You're a great mean, Ashton Ketchum, and we're awfully glad to have you aboard. Now, stand up and shake my hand."

He did, wobbling on his feet and green in the face, but he stood and he shook his hand heartily. "Attaboy. Now, Ketchum, I'm sure a lot of what you told me today was a pack of lies; this bit at the end confirmed it. From what I can see, you're a good boy. That's something you don't see every day, and it's refreshing. You don't need to lie about 

something like that. I like it. I like it even more than the boy I met outside this place, and I've got something nice for ya."

Earl turned his hands to his desk, rummaging through the drawer before pulling out a bottle and tossing it to Ash. The good boy caught it, fumbling a bit, but latching on tightly. "Take one of those. They'll keep the up-chuck feelings at bay. And, just in case they start going at it in history class or you hear one of the students talking about it, take one each morning. We don't need you throwing up in class, do we?"

"No sir," Ash said, beginning to unscrew the lid and dig inside for a pill.

"I told you, Aston, call me Earl."

Ash grinned shakily, trying to calm his nerves, tilted his head back and swallowed one of the pills. It tasted like chalk and went down slowly, almost making his stomach heave again. He'd always hated pills. They were the worst medical devices, second only to shots. "And I told you, Earl, call me Ash."

Earl laughed again, the deep sound following Ash to the hallway. The door closed behind him, clicking shut and locking. At the moment, there was only one thing Ash wanted, and that was to go to his room, lie down, and take a nap. The pill, whatever it was, didn't seem to be helping the nauseous feelings, but he figured that all pills took a few minutes to work, even with modern medicine. However long it was, he just had to hope the little white pill would kick in soon.

He sighed again, and gave himself a bit of a smile. Earl liked him, for the same reason lots of people did. But, he supposed it was a good thing. If you were planning on being a traitor, an infiltrator, a double agent, it was good to be loved. Love ones were unexpected as traitors, not the ones you really loved. And no one could ever truly hate Ash Ketchum; he had a way about him that just made people open up and smile.

Yes, Ash Ketchum was definitely likable.

So, I hope you enjoyed this first chapter of my new story. I don't know how well this will turn out. This is going to be the first time I do big battle scenes, so I'm rooting for it to come out well!

Tell me what you liked, what you hated, just give me a clue! There's a pretty blue button, you know what to do!