=Author's Note=
Okay, this one is not quite as thrilling as I had hoped. However, here it is; the first installment of BadgeQuest's Hidden Machine Saga. Be prepared to change the way you see Pokémon and the BadgeQuest story itself. Or, you could just read the story...

=Legal Disclaimer=
Pokémon is a registered trademark of Nintendo and Game Freak. Any and all original characters included in the story are not to be duplicated without prior consent...although, it's not like I would ever know, considering how many, MANY fanfictions are out there. And it's not like I could really do anything about it, either. Look, just don't steal Dixie, okay?

BadgeQuest: The Hidden Machine Saga
01- Cut

Jessie snuggled up tightly against the soft, downy folds of her well-worn sleeping bag, moaning with pleasure as that wonderful feeling of blissful restfulness settled over her. The rising sun threatened to peek in on her, shining through the tiniest of cracks in her tent's defense, but that hardly concerned her. After a solid week of searching, she, James, and Meowth had been completely baffled as to the trail of their elusive targets. It was the first time in a long time they hadn't been able to capture Pikachu...or at least, 'attempt' to capture. None of that was an issue, though. Right now, all Jessie cared about was staying in that sleeping bag all day and snoozing until late afternoon.


The feminine Rocket tried desperately to ignore the frantic cries of her counterpart, if not for her own sake, then for his; if he got her out of this bed right now, it would most likely mean that she was going to have to kill him.


...And now she would have to kill Meowth as well. Wonderful. "Where am I going to find a replacement pair of idiots for the ones I'm about to frag?" she mumbled, still half asleep as she sat up, her stiff, swooping hair brushing the top of the green army tent. Rubbing the sleep from her bloodshot eyes with delicate hands, Jessie pulled on her black sleeveless top and a pair of sweat pants. "James, Meowth," she muttered in a deadly tone as she exited the tent, "I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, and I don't c-" she stopped, frozen in place. The buzzing of nature in the dark Vermont forest seemed to freeze in step with Jessie as she halted her threat.

There was a man she had never seen before, standing calmly next to the roaring fire that James had constructed earlier this morning. His appearance was strange...and to appear strange to a Rocket master of disguise was truly a feat of tremendous proportions. He stood taller than either Jessie or James, with sparkling silver hair that jutted upwards in short, sweeping spikes. His face was unreadable, but his body language was unmistakable; wiry muscles drawn tight, eyes darting back and forth, and hand kept near a long, sheathed saber. This was not a man she wanted to screw with.

"Uh...hello?" she asked a thousand questions with a single word, tilting her head with curiosity.

He glanced over at her, sizing her up with his cold, cobalt eyes. "My name is Alpha." he said in a low, smooth, crisp voice. "Giovanni told me I could expect to find you while tracking the targets." He looked back to the forest, searching it for something. "You will assist me."

"Listen, Mister...Alpha?" she stopped, wondering why that name caused a flash of fear and panic within her. He was obviously a member of Team Rocket, but what kind of code name was Alpha? The only agents that used words like that for pseudonyms were...Oh God. She exchanged glances with James and Meowth, who confirmed her fears.

Omega Red.

It was a name whispered back in the hallowed halls of Headquarters, never said aloud for fear of drawing the attention of those who held the title. They were the cream of the crop, the elite, hand-picked by Giovanni himself. They were his best agents, used for the most important missions. Assassination, infiltration, covert operation...any time one of Giovanni's competitors was found mysteriously dead in their homes, the name Omega Red was passed around Headquarters like a secret password.

And now, one of them was standing right in their camp, as calmly as could be.

"Yes?" Alpha swung around to face her again, his eyebrow raised with curiosity.

Jessie rubbed the back of her neck, grinning nervously. "Um...would it be all right if we stopped for breakfast before we went to kill this target of yours?" she stopped, frowning. "Who is the target, anyway?"

"Breakfast will be fine." he said. "It will be of little consequence..." his hand drew the saber on his hip quick as a flash. He made several lightning strikes, the blade singing as it cut through the morning chill. "A small reprieve for Ash Ketchum."
* * *

Unaware that there was yet 'another' person in the immediate area trying to kill him, Ash Ketchum shoveled Brock's delicious breakfast stew into his mouth as if it were his last meal. He hadn't thought it possible to make a thick soup out of traditional breakfast ingredients-sausage, bacon, toast...even eggs-but their Rock Master had managed to come through with another culinary delight. Pikachu sat next to its trainer, its tiny black nose buried up to the snout in a tiny dish of Brock's breakfast. Like Ash, Pikachu only stopped eating to come up for large breaths of air. Dixie sat atop a log, facing the pair. Her spoon was halfway to her mouth, frozen with fascination as she observed Ash's eating habits.

"My god..." she whispered, mesmerized, "It's like something offa the Discovery Channel..."

Brock set his empty bowl down, reaching for the pot's ladle in order to pour himself another bowl. "Nah," he remarked to Dixie, "That's taking way too much away from all those cute little animals on Discovery."

"Very funny." Ash shot from around a mouthful of soup. Slurping the last tidbit from the bowl, he wiped his mouth on the back of his gloved hand and sighed, patting his stomach. "That was fan-tastic, Brock. What's for lunch?" He picked his hat up off of the ground where he had set it for the meal, brushing it off and tugging the bill down over his brow.

Brock looked through their collective supplies, shaking his head. "We might have to skip lunch today, Ash...I don't know this area very well, and I'm not sure where the next place to pick up more supplies'll be." Brock began to pack up some of the cooking tools, setting aside the ones that needed to be washed. "It's not like we're in the city anymore."

Ash and Pikachu sighed in unison, both depressed about the fact that their stomachs wouldn't know food until sometime that evening. "Man, it's too bad there isn't a city nearby...I could really go for some tacos, or maybe some Chinese food."

Dixie tilted her head, regarding Ash curiously. "Didn't y'all eat that stuff all the time at home?"


"Chinese food, I mean."

Ash looked at her as one might look at an Eevee that had just evolved into a Tauros. "What in the world are you talking about?"

"Chinese food..." Dixie was confused as well. "You know, 'cause you're...Chinese, right?"

Ash exchanged glances with Brock and Pikachu, still not quite understanding. "Um, no. I was born on the Island...my dad was from Japan, and my mom was a native, just like me."

Dixie looked flustered, covering her wide-open mouth. "Ohmygod, I'm so sorry..." she stammered, "I just assumed from the eyes...Oh god, I'm doing it again. I'm sorry, I'm sooo sorry, I-"

Ash laughed, picking up Pikachu and placing the Pokémon on his shoulder. "What's wrong?" he chuckled, "You're acting like you just backed over my favorite Pokémon with a truck." Pikachu squealed at this, chittering and sparking at the cheeks in protest.

"Well, it's just...here in America," Dixie tried to explain herself, "We try to be really careful about insulting people of other races."

"Well, out on the Island, we don't give a Ratticate's butt about what race a person is." Brock chuckled. This got Ash and Pikachu laughing even harder, which made Dixie feel a little better. "Still, though, it might be a good idea to keep a low profile while we're here. Which means that you, Ms. Mason," he pointed at her with his ladle, "Are going to be our guide to America. So keep us in line, and make sure Ash doesn't do something that would get us arrested or sued."

Now it was Dixie's turn to laugh. She stood up, sauntering over to Ash. "If that's the case, then the first thing we need t'change is this." She yanked Ash's cap off of his head. Ash protested loudly, until she slipped it back onto his scalp, reversed from its previous position. "No one wears their cap the right way anymore. If you want to blend, you'll keep it like that."

"Yes ma'am." Ash saluted, brushing a lock of hair out of his eyes. Dixie gave him a thwap upside the skull, which got them all laughing and carrying on once more. Only the sound of a throat being cleared loudly caught their attention away, shifting it over to a dripping wet Misty. She stood on the outer edge of their fire's circle, bare feet scraping against the dirty forest floor, a pair of towels her only protection from the elements. One was wrapped around a gigantic mound of sopping wet hair, and the other clung tightly to her body, covering her coverables.

"Ugh," she said, tugging on her towel, "I had forgotten exactly why I hate camping out so much." She walked over to her tent, entering carefully so as not to give her friends an eyeful of something they didn't need to see. "I'm done. The river's free, and it is CO-OLD." She disappeared into her tent to change.

Ash and Pikachu chuckled at Misty's complaints as Brock grabbed his own washing gear, as well as a towel. "Chinese," Brock chortled, throwing the towel over his shoulder. "That's a good one." He started his walk to the river, but was pulled back at Dixie's protest.

"So then where do y'all guys come from?" she asked, her voice filled with curiosity. "I mean, I've told you guys about me, and my family, but don't know anything about you."

That gave Brock pause. "Well, we were all born on the Island..." he started with a shrug, retaking his seat on the log. "Me, I come from a family with a whole mess of brothers and sisters. I'm the oldest." Brock couldn't help but smile at the memory of his plethora of siblings. He was starting to miss them fiercely. Perhaps a quick visit sometime soon would be a good idea. "I ran the gym out of Pewter City. Brock 'The Rock' Stone." he flexed a bit, drawing a laugh from Ash, Dixie, and a pika-giggle from Pikachu.

"Well, so now we know about 'The Rock,' but what about Misty?" Dixie glanced over at the shaking tent, presumably where the Water Mistress was still dressing.

"Cerulean Gym Leader." Misty called out, grunting. "Three sisters [darn pants, c'mon!], all of 'em unbearable. Parents are constantly [you stupid pants, you fit just last week!] on the road, they like to globetrot and see [I'm gonna freaking KILL someone if the river water shrunk these!] the world. I left with Ash after he and Pikachu blew up my bike." A loud thudding sound followed the end of her story, followed by a string of cursing, and finally, a cry of success. Misty emerged from the tent with a hairbrush in hand, her clothes in place. She smiled uneasily. "Uh...button wasn't undone."

Ash blinked. "Right..."

Dixie began digging through her bag, obviously in search of something. "What about you, Ash?" she asked with her head half-buried among her traveling gear. "Misty and Brock are just along for the ride; what're you doing so far from home...besides this little chore." Dixie nearly snorted at her own words; calling the quest for her grandfather's greatest works a mere chore. It was almost funny. "I mean, Pokémon Island is *the* place to be for an up-and-coming trainer."

Ash smiled, sharing a glance with Pikachu. "I'd hardly call a former League Champion an "up-and-comer," but-"

"Oh, heavens no!" Misty clutched the sides of her face in mock horror, gasping. "Why, Dixie, don't you know? This is *THE* Ash Ketchum."

Brock couldn't help but get in on the fun. "Yeah!" he grinned, gesturing with his hand as if giving a proclamation to the people across the land. "Ashlan Terrance Ketchum himself. Why, he's battled Team Rocket supercriminals..."

"Horrifying genetic monsters," Misty added, patting Ash on the head. He took the ribbing with good humor, at least until he could figure out how to get them back.

"Legendary birds bent on destroying the world,"

"Insane megalomaniac geniuses bent on taking over the world,"

"Ancient evil that would suck the brain right outta your head,"

"And all the while," Misty finished off, folding her arms and resting her elbows on Ash's head as if he were a table, "Coping with a desperately crippling lack of talent, brains, and common sense." Her armrest sighed heavily, heaving the lithe redhead off of himself.

Dixie pulled herself out of the bag, holding up her hands as a sign of defeat. "Okay, okay!" she laughed, her southern accent pleading for mercy. "Sounds like y'all guys have seen a lot."

"A lot? We've seen it all." Ash wrapped an arm around Misty's and Brock's shoulder, grinning from ear to ear. Pikachu leapt on top of his head, completing the invincible quartet. "There's nothing we haven't seen, nothing we can't do."

"So then why'd y'all leave?"

Ash opened his mouth to respond, but stopped. His jaw snapped shut as he strained his mind to find an answer. Why was he here? Well, because Professor Oak had asked him to come...no, he had been planning on coming to America even before Oak had called him about the HMs. Well, then it had been because America was the next logical choice in his journey; it had some of the toughest competition on the planet, and if he was ever going to complete his quest-

What was his quest, anyway?


"Tell ya what," Dixie pulled a pile of clothes, towels, and soaps from her bag, bundling them up in her arms. "I'm gonna go hit the river. You stay here and think about it, then tell me when I get back...and no peeking." She turned on her heel, making her way towards the river.

"Huh? But I thought-"

"I needed a distraction to get my stuff together so I could go ahead of Brock." Dixie called over her shoulder before she disappeared into the brush.

"That little sneak!" Brock tossed his ladle down onto the pile of other dirty dishes, snorting in disgust. Ash, however, was still lost in thought. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't remember what had possessed him to leave his home. Adventure? He had already experienced more than most do in a lifetime, and then some. Fame? He didn't need it, didn't want it, and didn't care about it. Destiny? His destiny was already set, and it never said anything about gallivanting around the globe. What had it been?
* * *


The outburst startled Ash's friends, who had been enjoying the peaceful hike through the forest up until then. After all morning preparations and duties had been fulfilled, Brock had borrowed Ash's wrist-complete with its Pokégear accessory-and found a suitable town for their next stop no more than a day's hike away.

Dixie looked at him as if he had grown a Nidoking's horn out of his forehead. "What in the world are you talking about?"

Ash beamed triumphantly, obviously proud of the results of his memory-straining remembrance. "Badges! That's why I left the Island." When her confused appearance failed to vanish, he continued, "I had already earned all the badges I could on the Island, or anywhere near it. You know; Indigo, Johto, Orange..." He could feel his Indigo badges pressed up against his chest inside his jacket. He had left his other badges with his mother for safekeeping. "Wow. What with all the world-saving stuff and the League, I must've forgotten."

"World-saving stuff?" Dixie was now more confused than ever. "What are you talk-"

"Ohhh, I remember that!" Brock cut Dixie off, laughing. "Gosh, that was over a year ago."

Misty rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "That's right. We were at The Quarry. Ash was being his normal moody self, and suddenly he pulled that lame idea out of thin air to get all the badges in the world." She took a long swig from her canteen, then offered it to Dixie, who accepted the water flask gladly. "Good thing you forgot all about that." Misty chuckled.

Ash didn't flare up with a violent retort as he normally would. Instead, he seemed lost in deep thought. After a moment, he turned to Dixie. "Dixie, how many gyms are in the US?"

The Southern Belle pulled the canteen from her lips, looking over at Ash. "Uh...let's see." She thought back to her registration packet, trying to call up a number. "Nintey-five, I think." She began to take another long drag of water.

"Great! Let's get started, then. I only have a year until the next Indigo games, and I'll need a few battles under my belt. Guess those gyms'll have to do."

Dixie gagged, sending a spray of water and saliva out her crimson lips. Coughing, she wiped her mouth, then turned on Ash with a vengeance. "Are you INSANE?"


"You want to," she began ticking off on her fingers, "One: Travel across the ENTIRE United States within a single year, and Two: Beat every single gym in the country while you do it?" He nodded, which only amazed her more. "You 'are' insane." She turned to Misty and Brock, talking to them as if Ash wasn't even there. "He's insane!"

"We know." Brock said sadly. He already foresaw a long, long trip ahead of them.

Misty nodded. "It's one of his quirks. You get used to it after a while...if it doesn't kill you first."

Ash rolled his eyes, taking the ribbing with good humor. He had heard it all before, and knew that Brock and Misty would stay by his side, no matter what. "I don't care what anyone thinks," he stated matter-of-factly with arms folded defiantly across his chest, "I can do it, as long as I have Pikachu by my side." He looked down, reading his partner's reaction.

Pikachu wasn't there.

"Huh?" Ash began looking around wildly, trying to find Pikachu. "Pikachu? Hey, Pikachu, where are you?" The rest of the group soon followed suit, calling the Pokémon's name as they began to backtrack. After only a moment or two of walking, they found the yellow mouse caught in some underbrush beneath a lonely apple tree. Pikachu had somehow entangled himself while trying to scramble up the tree to get at its shining red fruit, and now struggled with embarrassment at its predicament.

"There you are!" Misty bent down, giggling at the Pokémon's problem with good-natured fun. "Ash, he's over here!" Her call soon drew the group. Once they had arrived, the first thing they did was to stand back and chuckle at Pikachu.


"Okay, okay, no need to get snippidy." Ash held up his hands, laughing. He began to examine the problem, then pulled a Pokéball off of his belt. With a quick press of the device's single control, he expanded the ball from marble size to softball size. Then, depressing the button until he felt the capture latch disengage, he tossed the ball out. "Bulbasaur, I choose you!"

The Pokéball hung in the air for a split second, then opened on its unseen hinge, releasing a dazzling waterfall of pure white energy that charged the crisp, cool air. Within an instant, the energy hit the ground and began to coalesce into a creature, a Pocket Monster only about a foot high. It soon formed short, stubby legs with sharp claws, a pointed saurian head with small, beady eyes, and an enormous bulb protruding from its back, reminiscent of a large garlic clove. "Bulba!" Bulbasaur barked happily, overjoyed at being released from the Pokéball after such a long trip. The Pokéball, now devoid of its Pokémon, snapped back into Ash's waiting hand. He re-belted the ball, then turned to Bulbasaur.

"Bulbasaur, y'think you could help Pikachu out a little?" Ash asked his walking seedling. The Grass Type gave him a nod and a grunt, then scowled with concentration as it took careful aim. With a short war cry, Bulbasaur let loose with a pair of razor-sharp leaves from the base of its bulb. The Razor Leaves sliced through part of the underbrush, then became embedded in the rest of the tangled twigs and roots, quivering in place.

"Bul?" Bulbasaur tipped its head curiously. The Pokémon had been expecting its attack to split the brush right down the middle, letting Pikachu escape easily. "Bulba!"

"Huh." Ash scratched his head. He reached down and latched onto Pikachu's tiny arms, then gave the electric mouse a sharp tug. Pikachu was jerked from its entrapment, but not without some parting scrapes and cuts from the underbrush as a consolation prize. Cradling Pikachu, he looked down at his Bulbasaur, who appeared distressed at having failed. "S'okay, Bulbasaur," he consoled the despondent Pokémon, "That brush looked pretty tough."

The teens decided to continue their walk along the trail again. As they traveled, Ash pulled out a mild Potion Creme and began applying it to his petite partner's lacerations. Bulbasaur remained out of its ball at Ash's discretion; he figured a little stretch break for the Pokémon would do it some good. The entire time, though, Dixie simply stared at Bulbasaur, sizing it up with her own trainer's eye. Finally, she couldn't contain her curiosity any longer.

"Ash, what is the deal with you and this here Bulbasaur?" she asked him.
He finished tending to Pikachu's wounds, placing the mouse on his shoulder.

"What do you mean?" he replied with a question of his own. He glanced down at Bulbasaur, wondering if Dixie had spotted anything wrong with it. "Is he okay?"

"Well...probably not." Dixie folded her arms, shaking her head. "Look, I'm not one of y'all's Fan-Boy types, but you've had that Bulbasaur for a while now, right?" He nodded, still not catching on. "Well, what's his story? I mean, I've only been training for a year, and my Chikorita evolved into a Bayleef in only a few months."

"Hey!" Ash couldn't believe what he was hearing. This...this upstart was questioning not only his training techniques, but Bulbasaur too! "There's nothing wrong with Bulbasaur. He just doesn't want to evolve!" Brock and Misty secretly exchanged looks, vowing to stay out of the argument. They had been in discussions similar to this before, and had no desire to become part of one again. "Besides, Bulbasaur could beat your stupid Bayleef any day!"

"Oh really?" It was Dixie's turn to shout. She ripped a Pokéball from her own belt and activated the release, tossing it to the side. In a second, the young trainer's Bayleef was released, reforming in midair and landing with a sharp grunt.

"Leeef!" It was a fairly large specimen of Bayleef, its dorsal leaf easily reaching Dixie's slim waist. The ring of leaves encircling its neck hid the small attack vines and poison glands, as Ash knew all too well. He had fought a few Bayleef in his career, and didn't expect this one to be much different.

"Well, Big Shot?" Dixie shot, sneering. "You ready to put your money where your mouth is?"

Ash grinned, aching for a good battle. He caught Bulbasaur's eye, who nodded to him. "Bring it on, Rookie. I could use a nice diversion for a moment or two." Bulbasaur took several steps forward, snarling at the Bayleef. The other Pokémon simply snorted, taking its own battle stance. They began to circle each other, each sizing up the opponent. Bayleef looked completely confident as it gazed into the eyes of its smaller, seemingly lesser opponent.

"You guys!" Misty stepped in, moving between the two Pokémon. It was a calculated risk; she knew for a fact that Bulbasaur wouldn't try anything with her in the way, but she had no such assurances with Dixie's Bayleef. "Take it easy, will you? We've got a lot of ground to cover, and I think we should be paying attention to where we're going, not fighting each other."

"She's right about one thing." The audible click of a loaded gun cut off their dialogue. Turning slowly, the group of teens and their Pokémon saw a familiar pair standing behind them. Looking completely out of place in their expensive suits, Shades and Spike stood ankle-deep in leaves and twigs, each with a tech 9mm firearm gripped in the left and right hand, respectively. It had been Spike, the longhaired, blue-eyed blonde who had spoken. He now wore a vicious grin on his face as he put his gun to bear right between Dixie's eyes. "You should pay more attention."

"Now, Ms. Mason," Shades began affably, wiping a thin bead of sweat from his dark-skinned forehead, "I believe we were attending to some 'unfinished business' before we were rudely interrupted." He waved his gun at Ash, motioning for the boy to step away from Dixie. Ash complied under protest, running options through his head rapidly. "Give us the TM Prototypes."

"I don't have 'em."

He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose momentarily. "Ms. Mason, believe it or not, I have no real desire to see you lying in a pool of your own blood. My partner, on the other hand," he indicated Spike, who waved to them with his free hand psychotically, "Feels differently."

"She's caused us a lot of trouble, Shades." Spike spoke of Dixie as if she weren't even there. "I say we plug her now. Those kids, too...'Specially the one with the Z's." he sneered, "That one's starting to bug me."

"Look, are you both completely stupid?" she threw her hands up, losing control. "I *don't* have them. If I did, I wouldn't be walking in the middle of a forest, now would I?" a bit of panic leaked into her voice, usurping her stony, frustrated demeanor. "They aren't here!"

Spike growled, "Shades, let's just kill them already! We can use the Itemfinder to locate the god-blasted TMs." His trigger finger itched desperately, and he saw several ample targets in front of him that could scratch it very well. "I'm gettin' sick of all this talkin'."

"An excellent suggestion, Spike." Shades once again brought his gun to bear, choosing Dixie as his target. "I'm sorry we couldn't work things out, Ms. Mason."

Ash's mind clicked into panic overdrive. "Oh yeah?" He squeaked, his voice quavering with fear, "Well, you forgot just one thing..." With an alarming tone, he pointed straight behind the pair, screaming, "Oh my GOD, what's THAT?" Shades and Spike whirled around, their guns ready to destroy whatever the frantic teen had seen. They were a bit surprised to find that there wasn't anything there.

"What the...?" Spike muttered, turning around. "AH! They're getting away!"

And indeed they were! Ash and his friends had seized the opportunity with a vengeance. Their Pokémon were not far behind, running for their very lives. Furious beyond all reason, Spike opened fire with his custom-built weapon, not particularly caring where he hit, and Dixie's unfortunate Bayleef just happened to be in his sights.

"Leeeef!" Dixie's Grass type screeched as its wounded body pounded against the leafy forest floor, tumbling and rolling, soaking the leaves with a crimson hue. Ignoring the screaming voices in her head, the brave, bubbly blonde turned around and started to go back. Only Ash's hand, powered by a mixture of terror and adrenaline, managed to stop her before she could run full bore back for her Pokémon.

"Bulbasaur, grab Bayleef with your Vinewhip and let's go go go!"

Bulbasaur did as it was ordered, hauling the casualty into the air with its thick, powerful vines and taking off in a sort of half sprint, half froggy leap. Together, the group ran off through the woods with the dirty pair on their tail, firing blindly ahead of them in an attempt to hit one of the teens, or another of their Pokémon. Left, right, left again, right again...no one was sure exactly who was leading, or where they were going.
* * *

After ten minutes of the lethal marathon, they could no longer hear the duo behind them, yet still they ran. Each of them was exhausted, and wanted to stop, but they were terrified for their very lives. After what seemed like an eternity, they ran around a bend and came across salvation; a lone building standing in the middle of a small clearing.

"Who in their right mind..." Ash had to pause for breath, trying desperately to get his heart back down under a thousand beats a second, "Who would build a cabin in the middle of nowhere?"

He leaned against the object in question, which 'was' in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing particularly eye-catching about the construction; plain wooden siding, seemingly normal windows, a short, squatty chimney adorning the crown of its simple thatched roof, and a single, haphazard door stuck in the middle of what the teens could only assume was the front. With Bulbasaur's help, they leaned the injured Bayleef against the wall of the cabin, hoping that its inhabitants wouldn't mind.

Dixie was about to respond when a strange, foreign beeping sound cut her off. They looked around vainly for the source, though there was hardly anything among them that would make a sound like this; Ash checked his Pokédex and Pokégear, but both were silent...blissfully silent in Dexter's case. Brock and Misty both exchanged helpless shrugs. Pikachu was the detective of the day, however, pointing to Dixie's bag and shouting to gain their attention. Taking her pack off, the southern belle dug through the bag until she finally found the culprit.

"What in the world?" Dixie scratched her head, drawing the Itemfinder, out one of her grandfather's last inventions. Curious, she strapped the small device to her head and peered through the single lens that covered her left eye.

"What is it?" Misty tried to read the information readout from her backward position in vain, succeeding only in staring straight into Dixie's eye. Dixie ignored her, however, mumbling as she scanned over the data the 'Finder was feeding her. "Yada yada, blah blah blah...Prototype One?" She was now more confused than ever. "What on earth is a Prototype One?"

Before anyone could answer, a cry rang out behind the teens, giving them cause to freeze in their tracks. "Who in blazes are you?" a weathered voice demanded. The unmistakable click of a shotgun being pumped rang through the air, and the forest seemed to grow deadly quiet.

"Oh, crap." Brock muttered.
* * *

"Crap!" Spike practically screamed at the forest around him, kicking up a large cloud of dirt and leaves as he vented his frustration and rage openly. He fired several shots into the air with his pistol, only succeeding in knocking down more leaves and branches in their path as they tried to track the intrepid teens through the trees. "I can't believe that! I just can't believe it; twice with the same trick." He switched his aim to a nearby tree, blowing several small holes into its trunk and spraying bark and sap across the forest floor. "From the SAME KID!"

Shades started to reprimand his partner, but stopped. He felt a bit humiliated himself, and could understand and overlook Spike's outbursts...for now. His own frustration was beginning to cloud his judgement, and his anger grew more and more as the trail grew less and less distinct. "Relax, Spike." he attempted to reassure the raving gunman, all the while trying *very* hard to stay out of the tech 9's deadly path, "We'll find them. When we do, the prototypes will be in our possession, and the Board of Directors will reward us for our perseverance. Have patience."

"I'd rather have those kids' heads on a platter." he growled, putting a fresh clip in his gun and holstering it. "I swear, after this mission, I'm never looking behind me again."

Ironically (or perhaps the obvious plot device of a struggling writer), it was just then that a small dart hit Spike in the base of his neck. He managed to snarl the first half of a four-letter word before tumbling to the ground, completely devoid of consciousness. Shades whirled around with his gun at the ready, not quite sure what to expect. Whatever it was, he certainly didn't find it. "Who in blazes are you?"

Standing behind the now solo Shades was a trio of humans and a single Meowth. Two of the three had assumed jaunty, arrogant poses, while the third had a blowgun he was lowering from his lips. The centerpiece had blinding silver hair that shimmered in the dim forest lighting, and wore dark black robes that hung loosely from his wiry body, and was armed with a nasty looking saber. The other pair, what appeared to be two women, looked like escapees from the circus; garish white costumes with a bold red 'R' emblazoned on their matching jackets, and ridiculously unnatural hair coloring that would make anyone with a sense of taste weep with pity.

"Prepare for trouble..." the redheaded woman sneered, pulling out a Pokéball and gesturing wildly.

"Make it double." the second woman with blue hair announced in a surprisingly deep voice.

Before they could go any further, the silver-haired ninja hit Shades with another of his darts, and the corporate hit man's world faded to blackness.
* * *

Jesse froze, not quite believing what she was seeing. Red began to creep into her face as she felt her anger growing. "Now just why did you do that?" she demanded of Alpha, pocketing Arbok's ball in her jacket.

"Yes, we were in the middle of our motto!" James was equally irate with the assassin. "You can not interrupt a member of Team Rocket when they are performing the-"

"Silence." Alpha muttered, studying the forest floor. Wisely, the dastardly duo decided to zip their collective lips as the master Rocket studied the ground intently. After several moments, he drew his sword and pointed the end southwest. "This way," he ordered, starting off in a run, "They are not more than a few moments ahead of us."

Meowth sighed with frustration, rubbing his temples with his gigantic paws. "Dis guy's three pancakes short ova shortstack...Da Boss musta been nuts to pair us up with him."

"Less talk, more walk, Meowth." James grunted, starting off in unison run with Jessie after the shadow warrior. The large-headed cat took off after them, grumbling with every step.
* * *

"So you're Jack Mason's granddaughter."

The teens' would-be attacker sat down at a small, unassuming kitchen table situated in the dining area of her small, rustic cabin, cradling a cup of steaming tea in her hands and smiling at Dixie. The slight, petite woman in her mid-fifties with graying brown hair gave Dixie an appraising eye, drawing her yellow shawl tighter over her narrow shoulders. "I thought I recognized you..." she said, taking a long, slow sip of her tea before continuing. "Little Dixieland Mason, my goodness, how you've grown."

Dixie sat down across from her, casting a glance above her to make sure Ash and Misty were still with her. Her two friends had taken up position right behind her, staying silent but offering moral support nonetheless. "You know...knew my grampa?" Dixie finally gathered the courage to ask the woman.

She nodded, setting the teacup down. "Mm-hmm. We go way back, Jack and I." She chuckled, popping herself on the forehead with the heel of her hand. "How silly of me." Extending her hand, she started off with an introduction to Dixie, slightly flush with embarrassment. "I'm Gynn...Gynn Sue. I was one of your grandfather's research assistants." Dixie took her hand and shook it warily, still unsure of the woman who had been pointing a shotgun at them only ten minutes before. "When I heard about what happened to Jack..." her gaze dropped into her tea as her heart began to break all over again. "I'm so sorry, Dixie."

Before Dixie could respond, Brock walked into the room, interrupting the discussion as he crossed through the door. Pikachu and Bulbasaur bounded in behind him, staring intently at the Pokéball he carried in his hand. "I patched Bayleef up as best I could," he explained to Dixie, tossing her the containment sphere, "But we don't have a lot to work with. A Nurse Joy wouldn't be bad right about now..." his eyes grew glazed over, "Though I can't think of a bad time for a Nurse Joy."

"Nurse *Who*?"

"Long story." Ash muttered, waving her off. He turned back to Gynn. "What are you doing all the way out here in these woods, anyway? I mean, running into an old friend of the Professor's must be a hundred-to-one odds." He caught Pikachu, who came bounding up into his arms with a gleeful 'Pika!'

Gynn smiled, standing up and walking over to a safe sitting in the corner of the dining room. "Actually, the odds aren't as bad as you would think. As a matter of fact, I've been waiting for you to arrive."

"Us?" Misty couldn't believe it. "We just got here a few weeks ago, how could you possibly know about us coming?"

"Not you," she chided Misty for her foolish outburst as she bent down to fiddle with the safe's tumblers, "Dixie. Dixie, will you lend me your Itemfinder for a moment?"

Dixie nodded, retrieving the device from her bag and handing it to Gynn obediently. Gynn stopped her activities with the safe long enough to readjust some of the Itemfinder's controls, peering through the eyepiece without actually strapping the headset on. As soon as she pressed the activation button, the device started beeping again. "There we go...the range on this darn thing was only a few meters. I managed to reset the range function for its primary search parameters." She handed the device back to Dixie, then finished the safe's combination, hauling the heavy door ajar and digging through the scores of papers and small boxes strewn about the interior. "You shouldn't have any problem finding the rest of them now."

"Huh?" Dixie shoved the Itemfinder back into her pack, now more confused than before. "What do you mean? Find the rest of what?"

"These." Gynn found what she had been looking for, and pulled her head out of the safe to offer it to Dixie. It wasn't large, only about half the size of a computer disk at three times the thickness. It was almost like a computer chip, gleaming in the window-filtered sunlight with its mix of metallic contact points and plastic translucent casing. The top front portion of the chip was embossed with the golden numerals zero and one. Dixie took the chip, holding it breathlessly as she stared at it in awe.

"I-I-is this what I think it is?" When Gynn nodded, Dixie leapt into the air with joy. "OH MY GOD! Wa-HOO!!!!" She grabbed Ash's hands and began to swing the klutzy boy around in a bizarre victory dance. "We found it, we really found it!"

"F-f-fou-nd wh-wh-what-t-t?" Ash managed to force out of his mouth as Dixie forced him into her waltz.

"This is the first of your grandfather's prototypes." Gynn explained, though it was hardly necessary in Dixie's case. "Hidden Machine Oh-One teaches the Cut ability to a Pokémon...provided it's compatible." With that, she returned to her tea, a small smile slowly blossoming on her lips at the sight of the girl's pure ecstasy.

Dixie couldn't contain herself. She slung Ash away and immediately began digging through her bag again, letting the hapless dancer crash into the wall and slide down in a dazed heap. After a moment of fruitless search, she pulled out the HM Accelerator with a triumphant cry and plugged the HM chip into the accelerator's port and began reading the small display screen. "Hmm..." she muttered thoughtfully as the information scrolled past her scanning eyes. Misty, Brock, and Pikachu, in the meantime, had collected Ash from the floor and returned him to a state of semi-standing. Together, they walked over and tried to read along with Dixie, only catching small snatches of what the machine was offering. "Ah-hah!" Dixie finally cried, "I've got it. According to this, the best match I have for this one is...Bayleef." she trailed off.

The room grew deadly silent as they pondered the problem. Gynn, for her part, remained out of the discussion. She could almost feel the weight lifting off of her shoulders now that the prototype had been passed on to Jack's granddaughter. 'I kept it safe, just like you asked,' she thought, wondering if he could hear her. 'The rest is up to her.'

"Hey, lighten up!" Ash slapped the morose girl on the back, laughing heartily. "I mean, it's not like Bayleef's dead, right? We don't have to do anything with the prototype now." He scratched his head, grabbing hold of the accelerator and pondering it. "Besides, I'd feel a lot better if Professor Oak looked at it before we started frying our Pokémon's' brains with it."

Ash's pep talk was cut short by the sound of shattering glass; Gynn Sue's windows exploded inward with a hail of razor-sharp shards as several edged throwing stars flew into the cabin. They lodged themselves into the wall on the other side of the room, quivering harshly against the hard wooden wall. Before even a peep could be uttered, a voice called out from beyond the shattered windows.

"Ash Ketchum, come and meet the face of your killer!"
* * *

"This is something new..." Ash muttered. He stood outside the cabin's door with Pikachu and Bulbasaur taking point ahead of him, growling at the strange man standing in front of them. He had flowing, jagged silvery hair and a dark, midnight black cloak that covered him from head to foot. Jessie and James stood on either side of the cloaked stranger with Meowth at their feet, all three chortling and waving at Ash as if he were already beaten. "I'm going to forgo the standard question-and-answer routine and just assume you're working for Team Rocket." he quipped, jabbing a finger at the three most annoying aspects of his life.

The stranger smirked, removing his heavy gloves and cracking his knuckles loudly. "You use humor and false confidence to hide your fear. Excellent: This will prove to be more satisfying than I had first believed." He removed the cloak completely, revealing a black bodysuit trimmed in crimson red, labeled only with a small, stylized 'R' logo on the left breast. Strapped to his back was a long black sheath with the handle protruding just above his right shoulder. "You may call me Alpha. I am of the Omega Red, and I have been ordered to eliminate you."

"Hightail it outta here before I spread your Omega BUTT all over this lousy forest, buster!" Misty called out from her hiding spot, halfway protruding from the doorway. Supporting Ash was all fine and dandy, but caution was a must when there was some kind of crazy ninja assassin with throwing stars involved. "Just TRY me!"

"Thanks, Misty..." Ash muttered. He looked down at his two Pokémon at his feet, mind racing at a mile a minute. 'I could call out another Pokémon,' he thought, 'But from the looks of it, this Alpha guy is pretty fast...he'd probably cut me down before I could even trigger a release.' "Bulbasaur, I choose you. Let's mop the floor with these Rocket Pansies!"

"I am NOT A PANSY!" James protested loudly in a tone three octaves higher than usual. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" The battle warm-ups stopped only long enough for the rest of the spectators, as well as the combatants, to give James a long, hard look. "Sorry...don't know what came over me." James coughed. When the staring continued, he grew angry again. "Weren't you two supposed to be fighting???"

Jessie cradled her face in her hands, moaning. "James, James, you foolish, stupid man." she muttered.

"That was pretty disturbing." Ash mumbled. "Where was I? Oh, right. Bulbasaur, GO!" Bulbasaur was about to rush forward, but was stopped short in his tracks as Alpha drew his long, nasty saber and made several swipes in the air. The singing of the blade froze the seedling with fear. Pikachu stepped in between Alpha and Bulbasaur in a futile attempt to shield his friend at Alpha's advance. Ash began sweating bullets, trying to figure out what to do now. The sword could easily cut Pikachu apart, then move on through Bulbasaur until it ended up hilt-deep in his own chest. "Cripes..."


At the mention of his name, Ash whirled around to see Dixie, who was leaning out the broken window and holding the HM Accelerator high above her head. "Catch it and use it!" She threw the device straight and true, giving Ash only a split second to catch the metallic/plastic shell before it crashed into his skull. He stared down in disbelief at what Dixie was offering him.

"Are you insane? It's untested!"

"Do you have a better idea?"

He didn't, and so split the device into its two halved components. "Bulbasaur, hold still a second." He bent down, placing the halves over Bulbasaur's temples and, saying a quick prayer, tapped the activation panel. Responding instantly, the accelerator sent twin beams of streaming emerald light into Bulbasaur's head. The seedling squealed, its small reptile eyes flashing green for a brief moment before returning to normal. Its mission done and information transferred, the accelerator fell silent once more. With a grunt, Bulbasaur extended its twin vines, which had somehow changed; each tip, instead of being a tiny bulb, now sported a razor-sharp edge.

"Bulba?" Bulbasaur examined its new add-ons, swinging them in front of its face with curiosity. "Bul...bulba, bulbasaur!"

Alpha shook himself out of his astounded stupor, once again brandishing his sword. "A very clever trick, my foe, but you will require more than cheap tricks to defeat me." With a shrill battle cry, he swung the katana up over his head and ran forward. In one swift move, he leapt forward and brought the saber down, cleaving Ash Ketchum straight down the middle. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately for Alpha, Bulbasaur's new blades blocked the shot, forcing the assassin's saber back into his own face. Undaunted, Alpha struggled against the Pokémon, concentrating all of his weight and strength into his blade. Steel sang out against organics as the three blades struggled for supremacy. In the end, though, it was Alpha who won; with a cheap shot, he kicked the Bulbasaur aside, sending it tumbling towards Jessie, James, and Meowth. Then, in another instant, he was behind Ash, holding the sword to the teen's throat before he could even yelp in surprise.

"Ash!" Misty screamed in horror. Surprising enough, Dixie did exactly the same, with just as much passion and fear as Misty had.

"Now," he growled into the ear of his target, "Beg me for your life." He could feel the boy swallow against his blade, but there were no whimpers to speak of escaping from his lips.

"Pika! Pikapi, pi-cha-kachoo!" Pikachu ran over to its fallen comrade, trying to shake Bulbasaur out of its punch-drunk stupor. Before he could even reach the seed Pokémon, though, he was scooped up and jammed into a small glass bottle, courtesy of none other than Meowth. "CHAAAA!"

"Hahahahahahaaaa!" Meowth cackled gleefully, holding the thundering Pikachu over his head triumphantly. "Dis is perfect! Not only is the twerp gonna be outta our way, but we finally got dat Pikachu!"

"Nice grab, Meowth." James commended him. "That was positively-AUGH!" he screamed as a Razor Leaf struck his cheek, cutting a small line all the way from his lip to his ear. Looking down, he saw Ash's Bulbasaur as the culprit. It stood at his feet, snarling and barking at him. "You miserable little mongrel, are you still here?" With a swift kick, he sent the Bulbasaur flying into the air, tumbling like a hopeless lost Pidgey with a bum wing.

"Bulbasaur!" Ash cried out, struggling to get free. The blade held fast, though, and he was trapped within the deadly embrace of the villain.

Team Rocket laughed as Bulbasaur hit the ground, rolling in the dirt and leaves until finally coming to rest a few yards from where James had kicked it. "I guess they don't make Bulbasaur like they used to." Jessie sneered, laughing at her own joke. James and Meowth joined in, busting a gut as Bulbasaur weakly pulled itself back onto its haunches.


"Huh?" Their laughter quickly ceased as Bulbasaur began to quiver, its eyes closed tight with concentration. A strange light began to emit from its bulb, pulsing and throbbing like a heartbeat, continuing to grow in intensity and rhythm.

"Bah!" The glow spread to the rest of Bulbasaur's body, and its eyes snapped open, instantly focusing not on Team Rocket, but instead on Alpha, who still had Ash under his blade. Bulbasaur rose to all four of its feet, growling as the pulsating glow grew greater and greater.


"Oh no..." James squeaked.

Bulbasaur began to grow; its legs grew longer, accommodating its rapidly expanding body. New, sharper fangs grew, protruding from its lip like the fangs of a vampire. The bulb on its back blossomed, blooming into several palmlike leaves with an enormous flower bud situated in the center. Bulbasaur, now an Ivysaur, leered at Alpha, beckoning him with all four of its now longer and even sharper vines.

"What?" Alpha couldn't believe it; one little kick from James, and suddenly it evolved! What were the odds of that happening? Off-balance from the sight of the evolving Pokémon, the rocket agent was caught unawares by Ash's elbow, which the teen drove squarely in Alpha's stomach. Shoving the sword aside, Ash ran out of Alpha's grasp and turned on the agent, standing with Ivysaur at his side.

"Bul...I mean, Ivysaur?" Ash looked down questioningly at his longtime friend, who gave him an encouraging nod and a quick 'Ivy'. "Okay, let's give this another shot. Ivysaur: CUT!" Ivysaur responded instantly, its four vines leaping from the bloom on its back and streaking towards Alpha's chest, their points gleaming in the forest-filtered sunlight. Only Alpha's lightning fast reflexes saved him as he parried the vines, grunting with effort and falling to one knee.

"If it is to be a Pokémon match, then so be it!" he snarled, using his free hand to draw a black Pokéball and activate the release. With a flash and a river of white energy, Alpha's solitary pocket monster was released; a gleaming crimson warrior with a shell of iron and crushing claws on the end of each powerful arm.

"Sieeee!" The blood red Scizor snarled, snapping its claws at Ash and Ivysaur menacingly as Alpha smirked. "Sissor, sor Sissor siiiiii!"

"Scizor, bring me the boy's head." Alpha ordered, putting his sword back in its sheath. "I want the Pokémon alive, however." Giving the Ivysaur an appraising eye, he could see quite a bit of potential in the fearsome beast, especially with its newest 'add-ons'. "He could be useful."

"Useful?" Jessie gave James and Meowth confused looks. "It's just an Ivysaur...Pikachu's the real prize, isn't he?" All she received were shrugs before they turned back to the action. "Hmmf. We'll just see."

Ash was sweating bullets now. As powerful as Ivysaur had become with its HM/evolution combo, it was no match against a Steel type. Steels were only weak against a handful of types, neither Grass nor Poison didn't happen to be one of them. Alpha's Scizor began to beat its insectlike wings, and it lifted off the ground to hover several inches over the forest floor. Giving one last war cry, Scizor launched itself towards Ash and Ivysaur at lightning speed. Ash flinched, expecting the claws to snap his head right off of his shoulders.

Fortunately for Ash, salvation came in the form of a certain spiky-haired Rock Master and his fire fox. "Vulpix, Fireball!" Right in front of Ash's eyes, Scizor was struck down by a raging ball of fire, caught flatfooted in mid-charge, drilled straight in the chest by the attack and driven to the ground. Ash cast a glance back towards the broken window, seeing Brock giving him a thumbs up as his Vulpix stood on the windowsill, preparing for another shot. "Steels are weak to fire, remember?" his beefy friend called out to him with a grin.

"Thanks for the assist! I knew that bug-brain wasn't anything to worry about." Ash gave him his own thumbs-up, then turned back to face Alpha...only to find that Scizor had recovered a lot more quickly than he would have anticipated. It hovered eye to eye with him, clicking its claws in anticipation. "Oh. Hi." Ash gave Scizor a small, pathetic smile, and prepared for oblivion for the second time in thirty seconds.

"Typhlosion, Flame Wheel!"

This time it was a ring of fire that struck Scizor, engulfing it in flames from the sidelines and sending it flying off to the side. By the time the Pokémon landed, it was obvious that there wouldn't be an instant recovery; Scizor's hard metal exoskeleton was glowing white-hot, smoldering the leaves and twigs beneath and around the fainted Pokémon as it moaned, flat out on the ground. Both Ash and Ivysaur looked over their shoulders.

Dixie patted her Typhlosion on the head, flashing Ash a smile. "Surprised?"

"A little..."

"Well," she pointed behind him, "You're gonna be surprised again, 'cause that sword guy's comin' atcha again."

"What?" Ash swung around just in time to see and dodge Alpha's singing blade. As it was, it managed to scrape the top of his hat. Furious, Ash shoved Alpha aside in a modified tackle and began sprinting towards the trees. "This is getting old..." he muttered, calling for Pikachu and Ivysaur. "Let's finish this!"

"Just what I had in mind." Alpha snarled, chasing after Ash and his fleeing Pokémon. Jessie, James, and Meowth ran after him, leaving Ash's dumbfounded friends to climb out of the house and survey the damage done.

"We have to go after them!" Dixie pulled another Pokéball out of her pack, expanding it. Brock, however, placed a hand on the capture sphere and shook his head. "But-" she started.

"Nu-uh." he shook his head firmly. "We'd just get in the way."

"You mean, Ash has some kind of plan?"

Misty rolled her eyes, sighing. "Knowing him, he's come up with some harebrained, crackpot scheme that'll either work, or it'll get him killed." Her tone sounded off-handed, but her mind spoke otherwise. 'For Goddess's sake, Ash...don't die. Please.'
* * *

"Oh man, I'm gonna die."

Ash muttered the sentence over and over again as throwing stars lodged themselves into the trees around him as he ran, narrowly missing him by mere inches. Alpha's shots seemed to be getting closer every time. At this rate, he was going to be sushi in another minute. 'It's now or never...' Digging his heels into the ground, Ash screeched to a halt and spun one-eighty, scanning the forest for the stealthy ninja. Pikachu and Ivysaur hadn't been prepared for the sudden stop, and plowed into his legs, knocking him on his butt.

A harsh, barking laugh from above caught his attention, shifting his gaze upward. Alpha stood atop a high branch, his sword thrown over his shoulder as if it were a silvery rifle. "This is the boy that is worthy of Omega Red?" The assassin leapt from his perch, tumbling through the air to land perfectly a mere ten feet away from Ash. "Pathetic," he spat, brandishing his sword. "Still, I will not fail."

"Don't count on it." Ash leapt to his feet, Pikachu and Ivysaur at his side. "All right, Ivysaur. You know what to do. CUT!" Ivysaur snarled, launching two of its vines in a long, wide sweep that carried far past Alpha. The assassin easily leapt over the vines, coming back down to the ground as if nothing had even happened.

"Was that your best shot?" Alpha laughed his horrible, guttural laugh once more. "You missed."

Ash grinned. "Nope. 'Fraid not."

A loud creaking sound from behind warned Alpha of danger. He turned just in time to realize Ivysaur's true target; the tree behind him. It now began its descent, crashing down upon him faster than he could react. "Son of a-" was all he could say before the mass of branches and leaves engulfed him, plunging his vision into darkness.

Ash waited a moment, wondering if the ninja would pull another of his tricks. Then he leapt up into the air, whooping with their victory. "YEAH!" He picked up his Ivysaur, which was substantially heavier than Bulbasaur had been, but swung him around nevertheless. "We did it, Ivysaur! We did it!"

Alpha's three stooges arrived just in time to see Ash's celebration. One look at the protruding sword from the fallen tree told them enough. "Alpha lost?" James simply couldn't believe it. He stepped over, picking up the fallen assassin's saber and holding it in awe. "He can't lose. He's Omega Red, he can't lose!"

"Huh?" Ash stopped, placing Ivysaur back on the ground. "Oh, it's just you three."

Jessie gritted her teeth, clenching a gloved fist. "You, boy, are beginning to get on my nerves..." she growled.

Ash couldn't help but laugh. "Six years, and all I've managed to do is get on your nerves? Guess I'd better try harder."

"THAT'S IT!" she cried, stripping her arms clean of the latex gloves and tossing them aside. "The gloves are OFF, little man." She began marching forward, intent on giving Ash the beating of his life. No Pokémon battles, no gigantic robots, no holes in the ground...this time, she just wanted to beat the stuffing out of him.

Ash looked down at his thunderous counterpart. "Pikachu; show these three the door." Pikachu nodded, gathering a good dose of electricity. With a warcry, the lightning mouse let loose with a devastating Thunderbolt, blasting Jessie back into James's arms. Before Jessie could even recover, Pikachu followed up with another blast. With a thunderclap and an explosion of dirt and leaves, the trio was blasted high into the stratosphere.

"Looks like Team Rocket's blasting off again!!!"
* * *

Giovanni sat in his office-his 'real' office-and waited patiently for the conversation next to him to cease. Off to his left sat a plain-looking man dressed in a simple midnight black jumpsuit. He wore a flattened black cap atop his head and a Glock sidearm strapped to his hip, and little else. At the moment, he was speaking into Giovanni's vidphone, and his tone was less than pleasant.

"You let him escape, Alpha."

Alpha, the lethal bladesmith, hung his head in shame on the other end of the connection. His arm was wrapped in a makeshift splint, and much of his face and body was bandaged. The eye that wasn't wrapped up featured a beaut of a shiner, puffing out in all the colors of the rainbow. "I am sorry, Omega. I underestimated the boy and his Pokémon. It will not happen again."

"It will not." Was all Omega said. "What of the three agents assisting you?"

"I sent them ahead."

"Good. I will send Delta ahead to rendezvous with them. You will return here. Punishment for your failure will be swift." With that, he cut the signal. He couldn't help but sigh with frustration, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Alpha would someday become one of the most feared assassins in the world...if only he could control his ego.

Giovanni chuckled. "Try not to be so hard on him, Omega." he told the handpicked leader and namesake of Omega Red. "He is only a child, after all. He will learn, if given the opportunity."

"He underestimated the target." Omega sneered, disgusted by the very thought. "He was beaten by a sixteen-year-old boy and an Ivysaur."

Despite his own hatred for the Ketchum boy, Giovanni couldn't help but smile. "We've all been guilty of underestimating the boy. His skill is impressive for one of his age, and his luck is uncanny." Giovanni leaned back in his office chair, electing a loud creaking sound from the aging piece of furniture. "We won't make that mistake twice, will we?"

"No sir."

"Good." Giovanni smiled. The next time Ketchum crossed paths with a member of Omega Red, he wouldn't live to tell of it. Victory was guaranteed.
* * *

"Gear, how far is it to the next town?"

Ash's innocent-looking watch projected a holographic map into the air above his wrist, displaying the surrounding area. Gynn had recommended that they head due south to reach the nearest semblance of civilization, and Gear seemed to confirm those directions. "At present rate, ETA will be in approximately three hours," Gear informed him, "Provided there are no further battle activities to hinder progress." Pikachu looked at the map curiously from Ash's shoulder, poking its finger through the floating picture.

"I wouldn't worry about that, Gear." Misty laughed, hefting her pack into a more comfortable position. "We sent Team Rocket packing."

"I do not worry." Gear informed her.

Ash quieted the Pokégear with a flick of its power switch, turning to Misty with his hands on his hips. "Excuse me? 'Who' sent Team Rocket packing?"

"Not bad work, Ash." Brock praised him as they continued to walk through the forest. "Taking down a ninja assassin...I'm impressed."

Ash pulled a Pokéball off of his belt, grinning from ear to ear. "Yeah, well, I couldn't have done it without Ivysaur...or the new HM!" He 'V'ed his fingers for victory. "One down, four more to go." He looked over at Dixie. "Right?" Dixie had been unnaturally quiet, keeping her eyes down on the forest floor.

"Are you really going to get all the badges in the Star League?" she asked him. "AND help me find all the HMs?"

"You better believe it." Ash laughed.

She smiled. "Well then, you'll have to beat me to the badges and the HMs first!" With that, she took off running. Ash cried in protest, starting off in a dead sprint to try and catch up, and nearly knocking Pikachu off as he did. Brock merely sighed, shaking his head.

"Think we can keep up with 'two' Ashes?" He asked Misty.

She moaned. "I was having problems dealing with the one we had already." she grumbled. She didn't know if she could deal with another person with Ash's spirit and enthusiasm. "C'mon, we'd better hurry if we're going to catch them."

"Maybe we should leave 'em alone." Brock grinned, starting off in a run. "They make a cute couple."

Misty scowled, following Brock. Wasn't that what he had always said about her and Ash?

Quiet Hindsight
One down, and four to go. I realize that the HM saga will take up most of Season 2 of Badgequest, but unless I miss my guess, it'll all be worth it in the end. So stick around, because there's a lot more coming up. I guarantee it.

Next: BadgeQuest: The Hidden Machine Saga
02- Fly