by Christine Morgan
|(Chairman Kaga, voice over):
If memory serves, in the six years of its existence, Kitchen Stadium has not yet hosted a Pokemon battle. This is why, when I was approached by a young challenger, I was intrigued. Although this challenger is only ten years old and has no experience as a chef, he is considered to be well on his way to being a Pokemon Master. We shall see how well his skill holds up against my Iron Chefs.
Ash, Misty and Brock stopped outside the massive building and looked up.
"Pika," said the electric yellow Pokemon riding on Ash's shoulder.
"You've got that right, Pikachu," the boy said. He tugged at the brim of his cap and glanced at his friends.
"What kind of a name for a gym is Kitchen Stadium?" Misty asked.
"I've never heard of it," Brock said.
"So what?" Ash replied. "I've come this far and I'm not leaving without my Kitchen Badge."
"Pika pi!" Pikachu affirmed emphatically.
(Narrator, voice over):
They entered the cavernous chamber nervously. It was nothing like any gym or Pokemon training center that Ash had seen before. The raised boxes along the rounded walls held spectators, including his mother, Professor Oak, his nemesis Gary, and Gary's entourage of pretty cheerleaders.
A man in a tuxedo, carrying a microphone, waited off to one side. Several camera teams in white flanked him, coils of cable slung on their arms.
Ash also saw four people in what looked like a commentator's booth. He only recognized the two in the middle – Nurse Joy, and Officer Jenny. Though just which Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny, he couldn't say.
"She's even more beautiful than the Officer Jenny in Viridian City," sighed Brock, his eyes going dreamy as he gazed at the uniformed woman.
"That's my cousin," Officer Jenny responded brightly.
"Come on, lover boy," Misty said, seizing Brock by the ear with the hand that wasn't cradling Togepi against her stomach.
"Hey, Ash!" Gary called, sneering, from the spectators' box. "Good luck."
"I'll show him," Ash muttered. "Won't we, Pikachu?"
Just then, the lights dimmed and the music swelled. An expectant hush fell as a man emerged from the shadows and strode to the center of a stage. He was a commanding figure in a long white coat glittering all over with rhinestones. The high collar and elaborate, pointed cuffs were a deep red. His coat was secured with a shiny black belt that bore a buckle shaped like a Poke Ball. A mane of thick black hair framed his face, which wore an expression of pleased smugness.
Ash didn't know what to do. Was this the gym leader? What was going on with all the cameras and microphones?
"Go on," Misty urged, giving him a nudge. "We'll be up there."
She pointed to the spectators' box, where Mrs. Ketchum and Professor Oak were smiling and beckoning.
"You can do it, Ash," Brock said. He looked wistfully at the other side, as if wishing he could sit between Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny, but Misty dragged him away before he could say so.
"Welcome to Kitchen Stadium," the man in the fancy outfit said. "It is rare that we have a challenger as young as you but I am told you are very experienced."
"That's right," Ash said. "I'm ready to win my badge!"
"It is time to decide who you will face in this battle," the man said. He made a grand sweeping gesture with his arm, toward a platform where three massive framed portraits hung on the wall. "I summon the Iron Chefs!"
The music swelled again, but not loud enough to drown out the sudden sounds of a scuffle from backstage. Ash heard grunts and thuds. Spotlights beamed, smoke swirled from hidden vents, and the announcer in the booth said, "Making their ascent into Kitchen Stadium, the … hey, those aren't the Iron Chefs!"
Three figures rose into view. The one on the right had a looping wave of red hair, and held a pear. The one on the left had shorter purple hair and held a rose close to his bowed head. The one in the middle was short, an apple clutched in his claws.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha," came the throaty laugh of the redhead. "Prepare for trouble!"
"Oh, no!" Ash cried. "Team Rocket!"
"And make it double," James, Jessie's partner, continued.
"To protect the world from devastation –" they said together.
"What is the meaning of this?" roared the man in the fancy coat.
"You ruined our entrance," James pouted.
"Nobody interrupts Team Rocket," Meowth said in his harsh, shrill voice.
"Well, this is an unexpected turn of events," the announcer remarked. "Doc? Any predictions?"
"Hmm, Chairman Kaga may catapult them out of the arena," the silver-haired older man sitting next to Nurse Joy said.
"Fukui-san?" The man in the microphone had dashed in close to Chairman Kaga.
"Take it, Ohta!" the announcer called. "On the Stadium floor, our roving reporter, Ohta."
"I've talked to Chairman Kaga and he says not to worry, he knows what he is doing and isn't about to let these intruders spoil the battle. Back to you!"
"Hand over that Pikachu," Meowth demanded, glaring at Ash.
Before Ash could answer, or Jessie or James could say anything, Chairman Kaga threw a lever. The platform holding Team Rocket tipped back with the grinding sound of a large spring, then flung them straight up in the air. Ash saw them reach out and catch each other's hands, making a spinning three-sided shape as they whirled up into the darkness.
"Looks like Team Rocket's blasting off again!" Jessie and James wailed. Moments later, they vanished from sight with only a twinkle like a star to show where they'd been.
"I apologize for the inconvenience," Chairman Kaga said to Ash, bowing slightly. "Now, let us try that again. I summon the Iron Chefs!"
This time, three men rose in front of their portraits. One wore red, the next silver, and the last yellow.
"Iron Chef French, Hiroyuki Sakai," the announcer said. "Iron Chef Japanese, Masaharu Morimoto. And Iron Chef Chinese, Chen Kenichi."
Ash felt a thrill of excitement. Most of the time, he went up against trainers who weren't all that much older than himself. Each of these guys was surely a Pokemon Master. He didn't know why they were holding pieces of fruit and vegetables and meat cleavers and stuff, but it didn't matter.
"This is a great moment," Chairman Kaga said. "My Iron Chefs are all looking forward to this battle. So, young challenger, who will it be?"
"I get to pick?" Ash looked into the spectators' box for help.
Misty, Brock, and his mother were all mouthing suggestions at him. Gary was leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed and his lip curled, his girls flocked all around him.
"Pik pika pi," Pikachu suggested.
"Good idea, Pikachu." He turned to Chairman Kaga. "I want to battle Morimoto!"
"It's Morimoto," the announcer said. "Iron Chef Japanese, notorious for blending tradition with his own unique design. This is sure to be a fight to the finish!"
The man in the silver outfit, his face an impassive, stony mask, joined Ash on the floor of Kitchen Stadium. It occurred to Ash that this really was the weirdest gym he'd ever seen. They didn't call it a kitchen for no reason. There were ovens, and sinks, and refrigerators, and bins of food, and even some guys in white smocks waiting nearby.
Chairman Kaga walked grandly to center stage again. He signaled with one hand for quiet and attention. "We have never had a Pokemon Battle in Kitchen Stadium before. Rather than limit the competitors to one specific ingredient, I thought it would be amusing to offer a variety. Tonight's theme is …"
A cloth-covered table rose in front of the chairman, smoke billowing around it. Kaga reached out, grasped the corner of the cloth, and with a flourish, swept it aside.
"Pokemon!" he shouted.
"Augh!" Ash yelped.
Morimoto nodded grimly, as if he was totally prepared for this.
The lumpy things on the table, now revealed, were Pokemon. Ash saw a Bulbasaur, some Caterpies and Butterfrees, an orange lump that might have been a Charmander or a Charmeleon, a Goldeen … but they weren't moving. They were just laying there … with little X's where their eyes were supposed to be.
A klaxon sounded, scaring Ash even more.
"To the kitchen!" Kaga shouted.
"Bang a gong, we are on," the announcer said. "Chairman Kaga has unveiled the theme ingredient, a variety of Pokemon. The challenger looks panicked and hasn't even moved, while Morimoto's already in action, grabbing a basket and headed for the –"
"Wait!" Ash screamed. "Those … those Pokemon are dead!"
Nobody seemed to hear him or care. The announcer was chattering about the different types of Pokemon, getting input from his colleague – "I believe that's a Starmie, or possibly a Staryu; the Iron Chef will most likely be using the succulent roe in one of his dishes," – and Morimoto was taking Pokemon and flopping them unceremoniously into a wide, shallow wicker basket. He dashed back, passing Ash, and slammed the basket down on a cutting board. His next act was to take out a Bulbasaur, and with the biggest knife Ash had ever seen, to sever the bulb from its back.
"Pika!" Pikachu had his face hidden against Ash's leg and was shaking all over.
"You can't do that!" Ash couldn't believe what he was seeing. And hearing.
"Ah, the bulb," the silver-haired man called Doc was saying. "This'll be steamed, and served with a dipping sauce."
"Like an artichoke?" Nurse Joy asked.
"Fukui-san? I've just asked the Iron Chef what he thinks of the theme ingredient and he said: I've never cooked Pokemon before but the basic principles still apply; don't bother me. Back to you!"
"That's Morimoto for you," the announcer said. "And on the challenger's side, we've still got nothing. Five minutes have already elapsed, and unless young Ash Ketchum gets moving, his hour's going to be up."
"Cook?" Ash choked. He watched, horrified, as Morimoto put the Bulbasaur bulb into a giant steamer and then threw a hunk of something slimy on his cutting board.
"Mmm, Psyduck foie gras," Doc said approvingly. "He might mix that with the Starmie roe."
"Oooh," said Officer Jenny. "That sounds good."
"Yes, Ohta, go."
"About these Pokemon … I understand that they are all fresh, and were chosen specifically because they were on the point of evolving to their next form. That's when Pokemon is the ripest, with the best flavor."
"Pre-evolved Pokemon," the announcer said. "And what's the Iron Chef doing now?"
"That looks like a Caterpie," Doc said. "He'll boil this, maybe for a broth."
Ash was still standing there, arms hanging at his sides and his mouth open. Pikachu wasn't looking, holding onto Ash's leg for dear life. The next thing Ash knew, Ohta was there.
"How many dishes are you planning to prepare?"
"You do only have one hour, and –"
A recording of a soft female voice cut in. "Ten minutes have elapsed."
"—and there's only fifty minutes remaining," Ohta finished. "You'd better get to work."
"I came here to battle!"
"Of course. So get to it."
Then Ohta was gone, back over to Morimoto as the silver-clad man was slicing a Diglet into thin pieces and tossing the slices into a wok full of sizzling oil.
"What's the matter, Ash?" Gary called down. "Can't take the heat? Then get out of the kitchen!"
Ash turned to the spectators' box. Misty and Brock looked just as stunned as he was, and even Professor Oak's eyebrows were all the way to his hairline.
"Maybe I should come down there and do it," Gary added. "Since you're obviously not going to get a badge."
"Gary, Gary, he's the best!" his girls chanted.
"The contents of the Iron Chef's pot are: cut-up tail of Charmander, Chinese red peppers, garlic, wasabi, scallions, and chili powder."
"Wow, a spicy dish for sure! Thank you, Ohta."
"The tail of the Charmander is naturally quite spicy on its own," Doc said. "It'll be interesting to see how these flavors complement each other. Now, I wonder what he's doing with that Pikachu?"
"Pika?" Pikachu very tentatively raised its face from Ash's leg, just in time to see Morimoto pick up something yellow by its lightning-bolt-shaped tail. "Pikachuuuuu …"
Pikachu fainted, flat out on the floor of Kitchen Stadium. Ash took one look at the Iron Chef using a paring knife to cut out the red electric cheek-spots of the other Pikachu, and everything went swimmy and grey around him.
The last thing he heard before he hit the floor and passed out was Doc.
"The Goldeen, yes, it looks like the Iron Chef is planning to make sushi …"
"Ohhh," Ash groaned, and everything went black.