A White Today (Part 1)

by Cori Falls



Chapter 1 -- Ash's Phucking Phantasy

"Okay, Smaug! Let's go!" Gary said as he climbed onto his Charizard's back. The dragon took to the sky and caught the chilly winds that were blowing across the waters of the lake. Gary looked down at at us and waved good-bye as he and Smaug gained altitude. "See you soon!"

Jessie, James, Wobbuffet, and I waved back. "See ya soon!" I echoed.

I couldn't help but feel a little sad as we watched our friend taking his leave. Gary had spent the past couple of months with us. We'd traveled together in the Whirl Islands for most of October and November, we'd been guests at his home in Pallet Town and celebrated Thanksgiving and his fifteenth birthday with him and his family, and then, we'd all gone to Exeter together, where Jessie, James, and I had cheered Gary and his Arcanine, Blaze, on in a pokemon race. After the race, we'd come here to the resort town of Lake Woodruff to unwind for a couple of days, but now we were going our separate ways again. Gary was returning home to spend the holidays with his family, and we'd soon be setting out for Opal Ridge, to visit Jessie's grandma and grandpa Parker. I was looking forward to meeting Jessie's grandparents and celebrating her nineteenth birthday and Christmas, but it didn't make saying good-bye to one of our best friends any easier.

And Gary's departure wasn't the only reason the mood was so somber this morning. During the big race on Saturday, Ash had spotted Jessie, James, and me watching Gary from the Meowth balloon. He'd assumed that we were there to steal pokemon and had crashed the balloon so that he could blast us off, and Gary had battled Ash so that we could have enough time to repair the balloon and escape. Ash had confronted Gary about it after the race, and Gary had told the twerp in no uncertain terms that we're his friends...and then he'd given Ash hell for the way he always treats us. Afterwards, Ash had gone ballistic, and he'd gotten Pikachu to electrocute Gary, the way he always does to us. Thankfully, Gary hadn't been seriously injured, and Jessie, James, and I...and even Brock and Misty had come to his aid after Ash's attack, but it had still been a harrowing experience, to say the least. We were touched that Gary had taken such a great personal risk to stand up for us, but it made us feel awful that he'd gotten hurt because of it.

Jessie, James, and I had recently resolved to stop following the twerps so that we could prevent them from hurting us and our friends anymore...but Ash had hurt one of our very best friends, anyway. In our hearts, we knew that it hadn't happened because of anything we'd done wrong...but it was a sign that we still had a lot of work ahead of us if we wanted Ash Ketchum's negative influence removed from our lives.

Once Gary and Smaug had vanished over the horizon, James turned to face us again. His expression was grim. "Alright, guys. We need to have a talk."

"Indeed we do," Jessie agreed.

Wobbuffet and I nodded.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking about the changes we've made recently," James told us as we went back inside and seated ourselves at the table. "They've all been changes for the better, but in light of Ash's attack on Gary the other day, I believe it's imperative that we make a few more changes."

Jessie concurred. "That's right. We promised Gary that we'd never let Ash hurt him again."

"And we're gonna keep dat promise, no matter what!" I added.

Yeah, but how are we supposed to keep Ash from showing up to cause trouble? Wobbuffet queried.

Jessie placed a hand atop the blue pokemon's head. "Wobbuffet has a point -- we've already been taking steps to avoid Ash. What more can we do?"

James looked thoughtful. "You're right -- we don't have any control over when and where Ash shows up. But there's still something we can do to get away from him."

"Like?" I prompted.

"Like making it official and getting transferred," came his reply. "I know we only wanted to do this as a last resort, but...."

"But considering how dangerous Ash has become, we have no other choice," Jessie said, finishing the thought for him. "We have to go to the boss and ask for a new assignment. What's the worst that can happen?"

My stomach clenched when she asked this. "He can yell and scream at us, give us demotions and pay-cuts, or even fire us all," I sighed. I shook my head and brushed away the tears that I felt stinging my eyes. "But even dat's preferable ta puttin' up with one more second of Ash's stupid bullshit! I've had more of dat twerp den I can stand!"

"We've all reached our breaking-point," James agreed as he scratched behind my ears. The feeling of his gentle touch was soothing. "I think we'd all rather face the boss at his worst than have to see Ash Ketchum's ugly face ever again."

Amen to that! Wobbuffet said.

Jessie folded her arms across her chest and frowned. "Quite frankly, I don't give a shit if Giovanni fires us," she grumbled. "And if he gives us any grief about this, then I'm quitting! I, for one, am not going to tolerate another pay-cut, a demotion, or staying on this goddamned assignment!"

"Me-owth, either!" I chimed in. I felt my sadness and apprehension giving way to anger. "I'm sick and tired of us always takin' the blame, bein' labeled as incompetent, and catchin' hell when ASH is the one who's always fuckin' everything up!"

"Damn straight! I'm not going to stand for it anymore, either!" said James. He smiled again. "Besides, it's not like we need this job -- we have friends and family lined up around the block to help us find new jobs once we leave Team Rocket."

"You're right, James!" said Jessie. Now she was smiling, too. "Just as Gary laid it on the line with Ash the other day, so we have to lay it on the line with the boss. This shit has been going on for way too long, and it's time we put a stop to it once and for all!"

Jessie had a point. Gary had found the courage to be open with his family and the twerps about his friendship with three Team Rocket agents...and now we had to find the courage to stand up to our boss and do something about our shitty job. "Den dat settles it -- let's put dis assignment outta its misery!" I exclaimed. "We'll get a better assignment or a better job out of it, so we're winners either way!"

James nodded. "Yeah! When we go back to work after the new year, the first thing we'll do is return to headquarters and talk things over with the boss."

Sounds like a plan to me! Wobbuffet told us.

"But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Jessie continued. "For now, let's just enjoy the rest of our vacation and not worry about the twerps, our job, the boss, or anything else." She winked at us. "I think we've put off our visit with my grandma and pop-pop long enough, don't you?"

James took her hand in his and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "Indeed, we have." He raised her hand to his lips. "Why don't you, Meowth, and Wobbuffet start getting our things packed and loaded into the Jeep, and I'll make some sandwiches so that we can have a quick lunch later?"

Jessie nodded. Then, to me and Wobbu, "You heard him, boys -- let's get ready to go! The sooner we get to my grandparents' house, the better!"

I couldn't help but smile when I saw the twinkle in her sapphire eyes. Jessie had recently been reunited with both sets of her grandparents, and she'd been looking forward to visiting her grandma and grandpa Parker for a couple of months now. It made me feel good to know that Jessie had a family who cared for her so deeply -- after losing her parents at such a young age and spending most of her life thinking she had no family, she certainly deserved all the loving relatives she could get!

Wobbuffet and I saluted her. "You got it, Jess!" we said in unison.

For the next half hour, Jessie, Wobbuffet, and I packed all of our clothes, toiletries, and other belongings while James made submarine sandwiches. Once all of our things were in the Jeep and the sandwiches were in the cooler, Jessie called her grandparents to wish her grandma a happy belated birthday (yesterday had been Musashi Parker's fifty-seventh birthday, but we'd been so busy taking care of Gary while he recovered from Ash's attack that calling them had completely slipped our minds) and to let them know that we hoped to be at their house within a couple of days. After Jessie said good-bye to her grandparents, we checked out of the resort where we'd been staying, and before long, we were back on the road!

I was looking forward to the rest of our vacation...though the prospect of having to deal with the boss after the new year was still something I was dreading. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that confronting Giovanni would be difficult -- maybe even scary -- but we had to do it in order to further distance ourselves from Ash and improve the quality of our lives. As I gazed out the window of the Jeep and admired the Johto countryside on this chilly fall day, I knew in my heart that James was right -- we still had a lot of challenges to overcome, but we were finally on the right path in life...and as long as we stayed on the right path, everything would turn out okay for us.

If nothing else, I could take comfort in that.


"Mmm-mmm! Now dat was whisker-lickin' good!" I said. I placed a paw to my stomach, which felt like it was about to explode.

Wobbuffet finished off the last bite of his submarine sandwich and nodded. Best meal I've had since breakfast!

Jessie finished her sub as well and dabbed her ruby-red lips with a napkin. "I have to agree -- these sandwiches were delicious, James!"

James blushed. "They weren't anything special -- just cold cuts, cheese, vegetables, and mustard on wheat rolls," he said modestly.

Jessie wrapped an arm around James's shoulders and leaned into him. "Well, anything you make is a culinary masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, honey!" she told him.

James returned her embrace. "Thanks, sweetheart."

As the two of them laid down together on the blanket and started kissing, Wobbuffet turned and smiled at me. Why don't we give these love-birds some time to themselves? he suggested.

"Good idea, Wobbu," I replied. I cast a sidelong glance at Jessie and James and smirked. "If we stick around, all dis hankey-pankey is gonna make me lose my lunch!"

Jessie and James stopped kissing long enough to pull down their eyelids and stick their tongues out at me.

Wobbuffet took me by the arm and began leading me away before I could make another smart remark. Come on, Meowth -- let's go for a walk and work off that big lunch. He paused for a moment and gave the two humans a wicked grin. We'll let you guys work off your lunch, too!

"Grrr! Don't you start now!" Jessie snapped.

Wobbuffet laughed and jumped away as she kicked at him.

I laughed, too. "Bye, guys! Enjoy yer nooner!"

Jessie clenched her fist, and the little vein she always gets when she's angry popped out on her forehead. "Why, you...."

James put his arms around her again. "Ignore them, Jess," he said quietly. "You know they don't mean any harm."

His touch instantly calmed her, and her expression softened. "Yeah. They're happy for us."

As the two of them exchanged smiles and went into another liplock, I couldn't help but smile, too. I teased Jessie and James and poked fun at them whenever they got amorous, but it was only because I loved them so much. They were so perfectly matched, and seeing what a beautiful couple they were and how much they loved each other filled me with joy. When their kiss deepened, Wobbuffet and I excused ourselves and went to take a walk.

After leaving Lake Woodruff this morning, we'd enjoyed a leisurely drive through the country. We weren't rushing to get to our destination, but we were hoping to be in Kanto by tomorrow afternoon and at Jessie's grandparents' house in time for dinner. So far, the only stop we'd made today had been in this forest, which was about ten miles east of Goldenrod City. We'd enjoyed a late lunch around two thirty, and now the four of us were taking a break before getting back on the road.

Ah! It's such a beautiful day! Wobbuffet sighed as we made our way along a trail through the forest. The oak trees had already shed their leaves for the winter, but there were plenty of pines, cedars, and other evergreen trees creating lush canopies of shade overhead. Save for the chirping of birds in the distance and the soft sound of the wind whispering through the treetops, everything was silent.

"It sure is," I agreed. I closed my eyes and smiled as the brisk breeze ruffled my fur. "I love clear, cool days like dese."

So do I.

As Wobbuffet and I continued along the path and headed deeper into the forest, I suddenly heard a high-pitched squeal. The two of us stopped dead in our tracks and exchanged looks.

I felt a drop of cold sweat forming on my temple. "What the hell was dat?!" I asked.

I...I don't know, Wobbuffet stammered.

We stayed in place and listened. After a moment, we heard the squeal again. This time, it was louder...and it was accompanied by the din of thundering feet and rustling in the underbrush. It sounded like a herd of Tauros was stampeding!

Oh, shit! Wobbuffet cried. It's coming right for us!

My heart leapt into my throat as Wobbuffet and I threw our arms around each other and braced ourselves for the coming onslaught.

When the bushes rustled again, however, the only thing that emerged was a Phanpy. It couldn't have been more than a few weeks old, judging from its size. Suddenly feeling foolish for being so afraid of such a harmless creature, Wobbuffet and I released our hold on each other.

Ah, I wasn't scared, Wobbuffet said as he mopped away the sweatdrop that had formed on the side of his face.

"Me either!" I laughed. "Though ya gotta wonder how such a tiny pokemon can make such a huge racket!"

The Phanpy looked around for a moment and continued running. As he drew closer, Wobbuffet and I could see that his light blue hide was covered with cuts and burn marks.

Oh! That poor thing! We have to help him! Wobbuffet cried. He stepped into Phanpy's path and stopped him.

When Phanpy came to a halt, I knelt next to him and placed a paw atop his head. "Take it easy, little guy. We ain't gonna hurt ya," I soothed.

Yeah. It's okay, Wobbuffet chimed in. We just want to know what happened to you.

The little elephant looked up at us. His dark eyes were full of fear. "Phan-py, phan! Phan, phan-py!"

I frowned. I couldn't understand what Phanpy was saying because he was too panicked to speak coherently -- his terrified cries sounded like nothing more than baby-talk to me.

Wobbuffet frowned, too. I hope this Phanpy is wild...or that this happened by accident, if he has a trainer.

"Yeah!" I agreed. "Pokemon abuse is always sick, but anybody who'd hurt a baby...." My voice trailed off. The very thought of somebody attacking or neglecting a baby pokemon and letting it get into such bad shape made me too angry to continue.

Wobbuffet placed a hand on my shoulder. Meowth, let's get this Phanpy to Jessie and James. I'm sure they can do something for him.

I nodded. "Yer right, Wobbu!" Then, to Phanpy, "Come on, kiddo. Wobbu and I are gonna take ya ta see our friends, Jessie and James -- dey're two of the sweetest humans you'll ever meet. Dey'll patch ya up and feed ya and have ya feelin' better in no time!"

My words seemed to calm Phanpy a little...and when Wobbuffet and I motioned for him to follow us, he even wrapped his little trunk around my tail and let us lead him back to where our friends were.


Luckily, Jessie and James were still decent when we returned to the picnic site. They'd opted not to have a nooner in our absence -- instead, they were just lying in each other's arms on the picnic blanket, gazing up at the clouds that were forming in the sky.

The two of them startled when they heard us approach.

"You guys weren't gone very long!" James remarked.

Jessie smirked. "Yeah! What if James and I had been...in the middle of something?" she asked, half-jokingly and half-indignantly.

"Just be glad ya wasn't bein' amorous!" I countered. "Dis poor baby pokemon's already been through the wringer today -- he don't need the added trauma of seein' youse guys goin' at it!"

Jessie and James blushed at this, but their embarrassment quickly gave way to concern when I stepped aside and revealed Phanpy, who was still latched onto my tail.

Meowth and I found him in the woods, Wobbuffet began.

Jessie covered her mouth with her hand when she saw his injuries. "Oh, no!"

"What happened to him?" James inquired.

"We don't know," I replied in all honesty. "He was too worked up ta talk, so he couldn't tell us what was the matter."

"Well, it's obvious that he needs first-aid," Jessie said as she got up from the blanket and pulled her backpack from the hatch of the Jeep. After rooting around for a moment, she produced a bottle of healing potion and a roll of bandages.

James gingerly took Phanpy from me and spoke softly to him, assuring him that he was going to be okay. When Jessie returned to his side, he held Phanpy still so that she could spray potion onto his wounds.

"This may sting a little," Jessie warned. "But it'll make you feel better. I promise."

Phanpy trumpeted in protest and struggled to escape as Jessie proceeded to spray him with healing potion, but James held him fast and continued to speak gently to him. After a moment, the healing potion took effect, and Phanpy relaxed.

James rubbed the top of Phanpy's head and scratched behind his ears. "See. You had nothing to worry about."

Jessie set the healing potion aside and bandaged the worst of Phanpy's cuts and scrapes. When she finished, she returned the supplies to her first-aid kit, and James fed a handful of alfalfa cubes to Phanpy. Once he was done eating, he smiled up at James and trumpeted again, as if he were asking for more.

James chuckled. "If I'm giving you treats, I should give some to my Donphan, too. These are his alfalfa cubes, after all!" He snapped a poke ball from his belt and tossed it. "Come on out, Donphan!"

Phanpy bounced up and down and trumpeted happily when he saw the larger elephant emerge. He raced to Donphan's side and nuzzled into him. Donphan responded by gently placing his trunk atop the baby's head.

"Awww! That's so cute!" Jessie exclaimed.

James's smile became a grin. "It looks like you have a new friend, Donphan!" he remarked as he brought out more alfalfa cubes and fed them to the two elephants.

I smiled, too. I was glad that Jessie and James had been able to heal Phanpy and that he was getting along so well with Donphan.

"So, what's our plan?" Jessie asked as she reached down and petted Phanpy.

James closed his eyes and considered the situation for a moment. "We should probably take him to the pokemon center in Goldenrod City. Nurse Joy can give him better medical care than we could, and if he has a trainer...."

"Any trainer who'd do something like this to their pokemon doesn't deserve to have a pokemon!" Jessie interjected.

"And dey deserve a serious ass-kickin' on top a dat!" I added.

"You're both right," James admitted. "But we still need to have Nurse Joy check him out. If he does have a trainer, and this happened accidentally, then hopefully, they'll learn to take better care of their pokemon."

"And if Phanpy was bein' abused?" I ventured.

"Then his trainer will be getting an ass-kicking...and Nurse Joy can find a new trainer for Phanpy," came James's reply.

"A new trainer? Like us?" Jessie asked hopefully.

James's emerald eyes twinkled. "You've really taken a shine to him, haven't you?"

"You know I have!" Jessie said. She blushed and continued to pet Phanpy. "I just adore cute baby pokemon!"

James gave her nose a gentle tweak. "We'll see what we can do, then," he promised.

Jessie got back to her feet and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, sweetie. I adore you, too!"

James gave her a sly smile. "I know!"

While Phanpy and Donphan finished their snack, Jessie, James, Wobbuffet, and I started cleaning up all of our stuff and loading it back into the Jeep. As Jessie picked up Phanpy and put him into the back seat, however....

"Augh! Team Rocket! I KNEW you losers were behind this!" We turned around and saw Ash Ketchum standing at the edge of the clearing. He was covered with cuts, scrapes, welts, and bruises, and his clothes and hair looked more dirty and dishevelled than usual. He also smelled like he'd pissed his pants...again.

James clenched his fists. "Shit! What the hell is he doing here?!" he spat.

"Give me back my Phanpy right now, Team Rocket!" Ash demanded.

I looked up at Phanpy. He was cowering and shaking his head.

Jessie raised an eyebrow. "Your Phanpy?" she said incredulously. "He doesn't look too happy to see you, twerp."

Ash screwed up his face at us. "Shows what you know! He hatched from the egg Mr. Shelby gave me the other day for winning that big race! Jeez, you guys are dumb...."

"Said the kid who thinks that elephants hatch from eggs," James muttered under his breath.

Wobbuffet and I snickered. Jessie said nothing, just smirked again.

"I knew you were gonna try to steal it!" Ash continued. "First you tried to steal all the pokemon from the race and the Shelby ranch, and then you tried to steal my egg, and now you're trying to steal Phanpy, and I'm not gonna let you crooks get away with it!!!"

"What the hell are you talkin' about, twerpo?!" I asked. "If you'd pull yer head outta yer ass for five seconds, you'd see dat we ain't tryin' ta steal Phanpy -- we're tryin' ta HELP him! And we never tried ta steal yer damn...egg, either!"

"Yeah! We haven't even seen your ugly face since you attacked Gary on Saturday!" James shouted.

"And we've still got half a mind to kick your ass into next week for that!" Jessie growled. "You'd better be thankful you didn't hurt Gary worse than you did!"

"Gary deserved what he got!" Ash shot back. "He's an evil bastard just like you three, and if he's dumb enough to be friends with you, then that makes him even more evil!"

Those words sent a wave of unadulterated visceral rage washing over me. On impulse, I lunged at Ash and raked my claws across his face. "SHUT UP!!!" I heard myself screeching. "Shut yer goddamned mouth, you little motherfucker!!!"

"AUGH!!!" Ash wailed.

His voice was like nails scraping down a blackboard -- the sound of it only further enraged me, and I responded by Fury Swiping him again. There was something perversely theraputic about the feeling of my claws rending Ash's flesh and tearing him to ribbons, so I kept on scratching. I hated him. I hated him for everything he'd ever done to hurt me and my friends. I hated him for all the pain and sorrow he'd caused us over the years. I wanted to make him suffer, the way he always made us suffer.

As I continued to Fury Swipe for all I was worth and spew forth every obscenity I knew, I felt a pair of hands closing over me and pulling me away. When I looked, I saw that it was James.

"That's enough, Meowth," he told me as he set me on the ground. Then, he fixed Ash with a cold green gaze and grabbed him by his greasy black hair.

"Lemme go!!!" Ash whined.

"I will not," James replied sternly. "Now, you listen to me, and you listen well, you piece of shit. We warned you to leave us and our friends alone, and you have yet to take heed. We're not going to warn you again." With that, he released his hold on Ash and drove his fist into the twerp's stomach.

As Ash doubled over, Jessie delivered a high kick to his face and sent him sprawling into the dirt. "Yeah! Take the hint, you dumbfuck!" she snapped.

While I watched Ash, writhing on the ground and whining in agony, I suddenly remembered something. "Hey, guys, where are dose brass knuckles dat the boss gave us as a present for yer fake weddin'? We still need ta try dose babies out, and now seems like the perfect time!"

A mischievous light twinkled in James's emerald eyes when I said this. "You're right, Meowth -- we do need to try them out!"

"I'll get them!" Jessie exclaimed. She opened the hatch of the Jeep and rifled through our backpacks for a moment.

When Jessie finally found them, she returned to our side, and the three of us stood menacingly over Ash as we put on our brass knuckles.

"Alright, twerpo, we warned ya dat we was through pullin' punches with ya," I hissed. "Now yer gonna find out what happens when ya fuck with us!"

Jessie and James cleared their throats and struck a dramatic pose.

"Prepare for trouble!"

"And make it double!"

"To protect the world from devastation!"

"To unite all peoples within our nation!"

"To denounce the evils of truth and love!"

"To extend our reach to the stars above!"



"Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light!" Jessie shouted, smashing Ash's right cheek with a left hook.

"Surrender now, or prepare to fight!" James shouted, smashing Ash's left cheek with a right hook.

I then drove my fist into Ash's forehead. "Me-owth! Dat's right!"

James examined his brass knuckles and grinned. "Wow! These things work really well!"

"Yeah! Remind me to thank the boss the next time we see him!" Jessie chuckled.

"Dey rule!" I agreed. "I'm so glad I remembered we had dese!"

"We are too, Meowth!" they chorused.

As Ash clutched his face and started screaming, Brock, Misty, and Pikachu joined us in the clearing.

"What the hell happened here?!" Brock cried.

Misty looked at Phanpy sitting in the back seat of our Jeep, then at Ash (who now had the last three lines of our motto imprinted on his face where we'd punched him) and fixed us with a suspicious glare.

"This isn't what it looks like," James told them matter-of-factly.

"Yes it is!" Ash whined. "Team Rocket stole my Phanpy and beat me up when I tried to save him!"

Jessie stomped her foot. "We did nothing of the sort! Meowth and Wobbuffet found this injured Phanpy in the woods, and we were taking it to the pokemon center!"

I unsheathed my claws again. "Dat's right! And we only beat the shit outta Ash cuz he started hurlin' accusations at us and gloatin' about how he hurt Gary!"

"They're lying!" Ash insisted. "They're a bunch of evil pokemon thieves, and they're gonna pay for stealing my Phanpy! Pikachu! Hit them all with a Thunderbolt!"

As Pikachu's face contorted into a menacing leer and he started powering up, Wobbuffet jumped in front of us and began to glow with an iridescent sheen. When the rat unleashed his attack, it bounced harmlessly off of Wobbu's Mirror Coat and hit Ash instead.

Ash screeched in agony as Pikachu's Thunderbolt was sent back on him twofold, and he got fried with 20,000 volts of electricity. Once the attack ended, he crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Seeing what had become of his master, Pikachu gave us another nasty look, and his cheeks started sparking again.

"I've had enough of this," James growled. "Donphan! Stop Pikachu with your Rollout!"

Donphan nodded. As he began his charge, he leapt into the air and curled himself into a ball. When he hit the ground again and went into his roll, the rough hide on his trunk, head, back, and tail acted like the treads of a tire, allowing him to push himself along and gain momentum. Pikachu sent forth another blast of lightning, but it was unable to penetrate the ground-type's defenses, and there was nothing he could do as Donphan plowed into him at full-force and drove him into the dirt.

Once Pikachu was down for the count as well, Donphan came out of his roll and returned to James's side. James patted him on the head and returned him to his poke ball.

Knowing that Brock and Misty wouldn't attack us the way Ash had, Jessie turned her attention back to them. "Alright, we told you our side of the story. Now it's time to hear your side."

"Yeah. What's the deal with this Phanpy?" James inquired.

"That's the pokemon Ash got from the Shelby ranch after winning the race on Saturday," Brock explained. "Since Phanpy is so young, he was in a special incubator poke-ball that looked like an egg when Mr. Shelby gave him to us. This morning, the incubator opened and released Phanpy." He paused for a moment and smirked. "Ash thought it was a real egg, and that Phanpy...um...hatched from it."

"Yeah. Gary told us about dat when he got yer e-mail last night," I snickered. I grinned up at Jessie and James. "I told ya we could call dis Ketchum Hatches the Egg!"

Or "Ash's Phucking Phantasy!" Wobbuffet quipped.

Jessie, James, and I burst out laughing at this.

"Good one, Wobbu!" I told him.

Misty raised an eyebrow. "What's Wobbuffet saying?"

Jessie grinned sheepishly and placed her hands atop the blue pokemon's head. "Uh...you don't want to know! Trust me!" she chuckled.

"Mr. Shelby also gave Ash a regular poke ball so that he could catch Phanpy when he came from the incubator," Brock continued. "But Phanpy is just a baby and didn't understand what was going on when Ash tried to put him in the poke ball -- he thought it was some kind of game and wouldn't let Ash catch him."

"After a few minutes, Ash got impatient and decided to battle Phanpy to weaken him. Brock and I told him that it was a bad idea, but he wouldn't listen to us," Misty sighed. "He commanded Pikachu to use a Thundershock, but it was too powerful. The shock hurt Phanpy really badly, and he got scared and ran off...."

"So DAT'S why Phanpy was covered with burns when we found him!" I gasped.

And why he looked so terrified! Wobbuffet added.

"How could Ash do something like that to a baby?! That's sick!" Jessie said disdainfully.

"Poor little Phanpy," James muttered.

"After Phanpy ran off, the three of us went after him. We've been chasing him all day," Brock told us.

Misty scowled and kicked loose a stone that was lodged in the dirt. "While we were chasing Phanpy through a field this morning, Ash stirred up a nest of Beedrills. He got stung about fifty times, and a couple of them nailed me and Brock, too." She pointed to a large band-aid on her arm and shuddered. "I HATE BUGS!!!"

"We all got pecked a few times when he disturbed a flock of Spearow in the forest, too," Brock added. He pushed back some of his spiky black hair and pointed to a band-aid on his forehead.

"And at noon, we wandered into an apple orchard and decided to stop for lunch," said Misty. "There were a bunch of Pichu in the trees, and when Ash climbed a tree to pick some apples, they saw him as a threat and zapped him. When he fell out of the tree, they pelted him with apples til he was black and blue."

"He ran right off the edge of at least five or six cliffs while we were chasing Phanpy through the mountains, too," Brock said. "He even went over a couple of waterfalls...."

Jessie, James, and Wobbuffet snickered.

"Serves the little shit-bag right," I said evenly.

Jessie nodded. "Yeah. If you're trying to make us feel sorry for him by telling us about the shitty day he's been having, then it's not going to work. Ash Ketchum can fuck off and die, for all we care."

Sensing that the mood was becoming too tense, James changed the subject. "While he was accusing us of trying to steal Phanpy, Ash also said some shit about us trying to steal the incubator...."

Misty rolled her eyes.

"Oh, brother. Not this again," Brock groaned.

"I take it dere's a story behind dis?" I ventured.

"Yeah," Misty replied. "We'd been staying at the local pokemon center while we were in Exeter, so we went back there after the incident on Saturday afternoon. That's when Mr. Shelby came along and gave Ash his prize. After putting the incubator in our room and getting cleaned up, we all went to the cafeteria for dinner. When Brock and I finished eating, we went back to the room, but Ash stayed in the cafeteria so that he could have seconds, thirds, and fourths...."

Jeez. Whatta pig, Wobbuffet mumbled.

"....While we were waiting for Ash, Brock and I fed all of the pokemon and played with Togepi," Misty continued. "And while we were playing with him, Togepi used his Metronome attack and accidentally teleported the incubator outside."

"When we told Ash what had happened, he refused to believe us," Brock said, picking up the story. "He was convinced that you guys had broken into our room and stolen the incubator and that Misty and I had just made up the story about Togepi to cover for you. He was still mad at us about how we'd taken up for Gary earlier, I suppose. We finally found the incubator in the Exeter Forest yesterday morning, but the whole time we were looking for it, Ash kept whining about how he knew you'd stolen his egg, and he wouldn't shut up."

Misty frowned again. "I guess we shouldn't be surprised -- Ash never believes me when I say that Togepi can use Metronome. I think he learned the attack while we were in the Orange Islands, but when I told Ash and Tracey about it, Tracey said some crap about Togepi being too young to use attacks. Ash believed that, go figure, and I've never been able to tell him otherwise."

"You're right -- that is a bunch of crap," James agreed, placing a hand to his temple. "Granted, baby pokemon can't learn extremely powerful or advanced attacks. Little Phanpy, here, wouldn't be able to use Rollout at his age, and my baby Articuno won't be able to use Ice Beam or Blizzard until he's older, for example. But pokemon do know basic attacks from birth...and I'm sure Togepi was able to learn a low-level attack like Metronome with no problems -- he was a few months old by the time we all went to the Orange Islands, after all." He shook his head and sighed. "And Sketchit claims to know so much about pokemon...."

Misty reached over her shoulder and gave Togepi (who was asleep in her backpack) a pat on the head. Then, she looked back at James and smiled. "That's what Brock says, too. I'm glad he's not the only one who believes me."

"Anyway, that's the story behind Ash thinking you stole the incubator -- it was all in his head, and damn if anybody can convince him otherwise," Brock told us, getting back on topic. Now he was frowning, too. "He seems to be doing a lot of that lately -- imagining that you're still following us, trying to catch Pikachu, and causing trouble...and that he's punishing you for your evil acts at every turn. I think he's got some serious issues...."

Jessie, James, Wobbuffet, and I exchanged looks. It was more than a little disturbing to hear how delusional Ash had become, but at the same time, I wasn't the least bit surprised...and it didn't look like my friends were surprised by the news either. James even seemed mildly amused, as if he'd been expecting the reply that Brock had given us.

Misty shifted her weight from foot to foot for a moment. "At any rate, we apologize for Ash's behavior. We know it was just a misunderstanding."

"In the past, you would've just blasted us off and not even bothered to ask questions later in a situation like this," Jessie pointed out. Her stern expression softened into a smile. "We appreciate that you gave us the benefit of the doubt this time. And we appreciate the apology."

James went to the Jeep and lifted Phanpy into his arms. "I don't think you'll be disappointed in us, either -- we told you that we'd given up stealing, and we meant it. If Phanpy already has a trainer, then we won't take him for ourselves...even though I have reservations about giving him back to a shitty trainer like Ash."

Brock smiled as James handed the baby elephant to him. "I have to admit, Misty and I were shocked when we showed up and saw you three beating up on Ash again...but there wasn't a doubt in my mind that you were just trying to help Phanpy. I noticed the way you'd patched him up, even if Ash didn't. You did a good job, by the way -- Phanpy looks like he's feeling a lot better now. Thank you for taking care of him."

James put an arm around Jessie's shoulders. "Jess is the one who sprayed him with healing potion and bandaged him."

Jessie returned his embrace. "And James fed him alfalfa cubes and let him play with Donphan!"

"Anyway," James continued, "I think you should take Phanpy to a pokemon center and have Nurse Joy look at him, just to make absolutely sure he's okay."

Brock nodded. "I agree."

"So, where is the nearest pokemon center?" Misty inquired as she scooped Pikachu into her arms. "We were on our way to Mahogany Town after we left Exeter, but I have the feeling we got turned around somehow...and after chasing Phanpy all day today, I have no idea where we are...."

"Goldenrod City is about ten miles due west of here. Just follow the road, and you can't miss it," came James's reply.

"GOLDENROD CITY?!" Brock and Misty cried in unison.

"ARGH!!! I knew we were off-course!!!" Misty shrieked.

Brock buried his face in his hands. "I tried to tell Ash we were heading the wrong way yesterday. Maybe if he'd actually listen when I give directions, he wouldn't be getting lost all the time."

"That dumbshit has always been lost," Jessie snorted.

"In his life and his career as a pokemon trainer," James added.

I folded my arms across my chest and smirked. "Well, it is pretty hard for the twerp ta see and hear, what with his head lodged so far up his ass and all." Then, to Brock and Misty, "Whadda youse guys see in him, anyway?"

Brock considered my question for a moment. "You know, I honestly don't know. I came with Ash because I thought that traveling and getting some real-life experience before going back to school would help me on my way to becoming a pokemon breeder...but so far, I've never really had the chance to do anything related to pokemon breeding because I'm so busy looking out for Ash. Same deal with Misty -- she wants to be a water pokemon expert, but Ash freaks out every time she catches a new pokemon or even mentions wanting to earn badges." His brow furrowed. "When Gary told Ash off on Saturday, he made a really good point -- practically everything the three of us have done on this journey has been about Ash and what he wants to do. It's a rare occasion when he lets me and Misty do what we want to do or compromises with us without giving us a hard time about it. I really am starting to wonder why I'm following Ash around."

"Well, I know why I am -- because he still owes me a bike!" Misty snapped. She hung her head. "I'm not holding my breath for him to pay me back or get me a new bike anymore, though...."

"Well, we should probably start heading for Goldenrod City now," Brock said after a moment of silence. He drew Phanpy into an empty poke ball, then draped the still-unconscious Ash's arm across his shoulders and pulled him to his feet. "After we take Phanpy to the pokemon center, we can start heading for Mahogany Town again."

"We'd offer you a ride, but there's not enough room in our Jeep," James told them. "And we're heading back east to Kanto anyway, so...."

"That's okay," said Misty. "We're just glad that you found Phanpy for us. Thanks again."

James nodded. "Please make sure that Ash doesn't pull another stunt like this. I don't want to regret giving Phanpy back to him even more than I already do."

"Don't worry -- Misty and I will make sure Ash takes better care of his pokemon in the future," Brock assured us. "Trust me, if he does hurt Phanpy again, then you three won't be the only ones kicking his ass!"

Jessie smirked. "Glad to hear it."

As Brock and Misty waved good-bye to us and started heading west to Goldenrod City, Jessie, James, Wobbuffet, and I finished gathering all of our belongings and got back into the Jeep. None of us uttered a word during that time, but once James revved up the Jeep and got back on the road, I said what I knew we were all thinking:

"Holy freakin' shit! We ain't even followin' the twerp anymore, we leave him halfway across Johto, and he still manages ta find us and cause trouble!"

In the rearview mirror, I could see James rolling his eyes. "I know. What are the odds?"

"Well, like you said, Meowth -- that little shit turns up at the damnedest times," Jessie sighed.

You can say that again, Wobbuffet grumbled.

"Oh, well. It could've been worse, I suppose," James commented. "At least Ash didn't get a chance to attack us or blast us off. And Brock and Misty had the decency to listen to our side of the story instead of rushing to judgement."

"So very true," Jessie admitted.

"I just hope that levelling with the boss and getting off of the Pikachu assignment once and for all will make it even less likely that we'll run into Ash," James continued.

Jessie nodded. "Yeah. And at the very least, I'll feel better knowing that we can work on a different assignment or leave Team Rocket. Pretty much anything is better than the way we've been living these past few years!"

"Precisely," James told her. I could see a smile making its way across his lips. "Who knows? Maybe this happened for a reason. I think making it through this latest twerp encounter unscathed is another sign that we're doing the right thing, making these changes with our job."

"I think you're right," Jessie agreed.

Now I was smiling, too. "Dis is definitely somethin' we gotta do. And we ain't gonna let the twerp, or the boss, or anybody else stop us!"

"Yeah!" Jessie and James chorused.

Now that our moods had brightened, James turned on the radio and found a rock station coming from Goldenrod City. As we listened to the music and sang along to the songs we liked, we banished all thoughts of the twerp and the assignment we'd soon be leaving from our minds and concentrated instead on all of the fun things we were going to be doing on the rest of our vacation.

But little did we know of the trouble that was brewing as we made our way along the road to Kanto.

Chapter 2 -- A Conspiracy Unmasked

By the time the sun was low in the western sky, the clouds that had been gathering when we'd stopped for lunch were now a thick, gray blanket over the heavens. The temperatures had been dropping all afternoon, and flurries were beginning to fall.

Not wanting to drive in the dark or be on the road if the snow got worse, we decided to stop for the night. We'd just passed Violet City when the snow flurries started, so turning back and finding a room at a motel or the local pokemon center would be a simple matter. But as we were about to do just that, we saw a road sign which said that Happy Town was only another eleven miles away.

Eleven miles wasn't far to drive if it meant seeing one of Jessie's oldest and dearest friends again, so we all agreed to press on a little further and spend the night at the Happy Town Pokemon Center instead of going back to Violet City.

We arrived in Happy Town shortly before dusk. By the time we pulled into the parking lot of the pokemon center, the wind had picked up, and the air was thick with flurries.

Jessie pulled her jacket closer about herself and shivered. "Let's go inside and get thawed-out and checked in before we unload our luggage," she suggested. "It's too cold right now!"

James winked at her. "You just can't wait to see Blissey!"

Jessie's cheeks turned pink. Once again, James had read her mind..

When we got out of the Jeep and went into the lobby, we found Nurse Joy working on her computer at the front desk. Her blue eyes lit up when she saw us. "Well, if it isn't Jessie, James, and Meowth! It's so nice to see you again!"

James smiled. "Hello, Nurse Joy. It's nice to see you again, too."

"Is Blissey here?" Jessie inquired after looking around for a moment.

"She sure is. Just a moment," Joy chuckled. She got up from her desk and opened a door that led to the offices in the back. "Blissey, would you please come out here? We have company!" she called.

After a few seconds, Blissey came to the front desk. She grinned so widely it looked like her face was going to split in half when she saw Jessie.

Jessie waved. "Hi, Blissey!"

Blissey ran from behind the desk, and Jessie swept her into an embrace. Jessie! What a wonderful surprise! she exclaimed.

James and I exchanged smiles as we watched the reunion between Jessie and her old friend. There hadn't been many people who cared about Jessie when she was little -- it made us feel good to meet one of those few people whom Jess considered a friend. James and I were proud to call Blissey our friend too, after learning of all she and Jessie had done for each other and how much they meant to each other. It was also a good feeling to know that Blissey didn't have to keep our friendship a secret anymore. Blissey had hated hiding her friendship with us as much as Gary had...and we'd hated it as well, since we'd feared that our ties with Team Rocket would endanger their careers as a pokemon nurse and a pokemon trainer. We were all happy to know that those days were over.

"So, how is married life treating you?" Nurse Joy asked Jessie and James.

"It's great!" James replied. He smiled at Jessie. "Makes me all the more eager for the day when we really do get married."

Jessie returned his smile.

Glad to hear it! said Blissey. What all have you been up to since your "fake" wedding?

"Heh. I think a more appropriate question would be what haven't we been up to!" I laughed.

"I take it that means you've been busy lately?" Nurse Joy surmised.

"You have no idea!" Jessie told her.

Blissey smiled again. Well, you can tell us all about it over dinner...if you haven't already eaten, that is!

"No, we haven't eaten yet," said James. "And yes, we'd be happy to join you for dinner and get you caught up on everything that's been happening lately."

Excellent! Blissey cheered. I'm making a pot of vegetable soup, and there's a loaf of fresh pumpernickel bread from the bakery down the street, too!

Jessie licked her lips. "Sounds delicious!"

Then, what are we waiting for? Blissey asked as she began leading us to the cafeteria. Let's eat!

Dinner was, indeed, every bit as delicious as it had sounded. The rich, hearty pumpernickel bread and the hot, savory soup filled with carrots, potatoes, celery, turnips, and beans were the perfect meal for a snowy late fall night. As we ate, Nurse Joy and Blissey told us about some of the goings-on at the Happy Town Pokemon Center, and we, in turn, told them about Jessie's family reunions, our vacation in the Whirl Islands, James's new Donphan, all of the badges he and Jessie had been winning, and most importantly of all, the changes we were making in our lives and our career. Nurse Joy and Blissey were happy to hear about all of the good things that had been happening for us lately, and they were proud of our decisions to get away from Ash (dey hated the twerp as much as we did) and to give up stealing. Like the rest of our friends and family, they, too, promised to help us out in any way that they could if we left Team Rocket and had to get jobs in the private sector.

It was reassuring to know that we had the support of two more friends in this matter. And as I watched Jessie chatting with Blissey and holding her half of the golden egg pendant up to her friend's necklace, it served as yet another reminder that the changes we were making in our lives were all good ones. Being able to spend more time with our friends and family was the greatest benefit of all!

After we finished eating, I looked out the cafeteria window and saw that it had stopped snowing for the moment. Wanting to take advantage of the lull in the storm, we decided to go out to the Jeep to get our backpacks.

It was a decision that would change the course of our entire night.


"Let's make this quick," Jessie said as we went back to the parking lot. Her breath came out in thick, white clouds as she cupped her hands around her mouth and exhaled on them to keep them warm. "I'm already cold again!"

James took the Jeep keys from his pocket and unlocked the hatch. "Yeah. That soup may have warmed us up, but it's not going to last if we stay out here too long," he agreed.

While he and Jessie were bringing out our backpacks, I looked around at Happy Town. There was already an inch of snow on the ground, and warm, golden lights were burning in every window of every building, like the flame of a hundred candles. The moon and stars, however, were obscured by all of the black clouds in the sky.

As I took in our surroundings, however, something unusual caught my attention. Across the street from the pokemon center was a park. Jessie, James, and I had been in the park on our last visit to Happy Town almost a year ago -- it had nature trails, picnic areas, botanical gardens, and evergreen trees of every sort, ensuring that the woods remained green all year 'round. It was through the dense foliage of a cluster of fir trees that I saw it -- an unearthly blue light, like the glow of a will o' the wisp. I had no idea what was making that strange light, but something told me that we needed to find out.

I reached up and tugged at the legs of Jessie and James's jeans. "Uh, guys?"

The two of them looked down at me. "What is it, Meowth?" they asked in unison.

I pointed to where the light was coming from.

James raised an eyebrow. "What do you suppose that is?"

"I dunno," I replied. "Think we should check it out?"

Jessie frowned. "Yeah. Something tells me that we need to find out what's going on here," she said, as if she could read my mind.

Since we were all in agreement, Jessie and James put our backpacks back in the Jeep and locked the hatch again, and the three of us crossed the street and went into the park.

Jessie cast nervous glances from side to side as we followed one of the paths and made our way towards the eerie blue light. "I don't like this," she whispered to us. "I feel like we're being watched."

An involuntary shudder coursed through me when she said this. Jessie always had an uncanny awareness of her surroundings -- if she thought that we were being watched, then we probably were!

At length, the path came to a small clearing in the woods, and we discovered the source of the light. In the middle of the path was a cage with electrically-charged bars that were giving off a bright blue glow. And sitting inside the cage was a pokemon -- a little red penguin with white markings.

"It's a Delibird!" James gasped.

Jessie's expression remained suspicious. "Yeah. But what's it doing in that cage?"

I stepped closer to the cage, but took care not to get too close to the bars. Now that I had a better view, I could see that Delibird was only half-conscious. There was a gauntness to his features, as if he hadn't eaten in days, and he had burn marks on his flipper-like wings, obviously from where he'd touched the bars of the cage and received an electric shock. My stomach clenched at the sight.

I looked up at Jessie and James again. "We gotta get him outta dis cage and get him to the pokemon center -- he's in bad shape!"

The color drained from Jessie and James's faces as they approached the cage and got a better look at Delibird, too.

Jessie turned away and shuddered. "My god...."

James covered his mouth with his hand. "Who'd do such a thing?"

When he heard our voices, Delibird opened his eyes and looked up at us. Then, he jumped to his feet and began flapping his wings. Ya gotta help me! The old broad is nuttier than Chinese chicken salad! he squawked in a panicked voice.

Before I could ask Delibird what he was talking about or tell Jessie and James what he was saying, a shrill buzz of feedback emanated from a loudspeaker on the roof of the cage, followed by the raspy voice of an old woman:

"The Delibird in this cage belongs to me. But I'm no longer able to care for him, so I'm trying to find a new trainer to give him to...."

Jessie and James exchanged looks.

"Something's not right here," James muttered. "If she wants to find a new home for her pokemon, why can't she leave him with Nurse Joy?"

"Yeah," Jessie agreed. "The pokemon center is right across the street. Why go to all this trouble and subject that poor Delibird to such cruelty?"

"Well, Deli did say somethin' about a crazy old lady," I informed them. "Dis must be who he was talkin' about."

"But I'm not going to give my pokemon to just anybody -- I want to see him go to a trainer who really knows how to battle," the voice on the loudspeaker continued. "So, I issue a challenge -- if you can beat Delibird in battle, you can keep him. Use as many pokemon against him as you like."

Before Jessie and James even had a chance to consider the offer, the electricity on the cage was cut off, and the door swung open.

"Delibird! Present!" the voice commanded.

Delibird picked up a large sack that was sitting at his side and darted from the cage. He looked into the sack for a moment and frowned. You three might wanna jump back -- I used the last of my healing presents to keep myself alive while I was locked in that cage, so all I have left are exploding ones, he warned us.

"Deli sez ta stand back," I translated.

"I said Present! NOW!!!" the voice shouted.

As Jessie, James, and I backed away, Delibird rolled his eyes and produced a handful of glowing orbs from the sack. He threw the orbs lightly, taking care to ensure that we were outside the blast-radius when they detonated.

When the smoke from the explosions cleared, Delibird fixed us with a pleading look. Hurry up! Get this battle over with, and get me outta here!

"You got it!" Jessie replied when I told her and James what Delibird was saying. She snapped a poke ball from her belt and threw it. "Go, Arbok!"

"You too, Weezing!" James said, tossing one of his own poke balls.

"Delibird! Present!" the voice repeated.

Jessie and James reacted quickly as the penguin reluctantly fired another barrage of orbs at us.

"They're coming in from the right, Arbok! Dodge them and paralyze Delibird with your Glare!" Jessie commanded.

"Rapid ascent, Weezing!" James shouted. "Then hit Delibird with your Tackle attack!"

As the second round of orbs exploded, Arbok leapt to the left, and Weezing soared into the air. Then, Arbok's obsidian eyes began to glow with a menacing red light, rendering Delibird unable to move. Once he was incapacitated, Weezing slammed into him with a Tackle.

"Now finish him with Poison Sting, Arbok!" Jessie cried.

"Chaaar-bok!" the cobra hissed. Her hood flared as she reared up and sent a shower of poisoned darts raining down on the hapless Delibird. The assault was too much for him to bear in his weakened state, and he fainted.

Once Delibird was down for the count, Jessie and James returned Arbok and Weezing to their poke balls.

"We won the battle -- Delibird is ours now! We'll take good care of him," Jessie announced. Then, under her breath, "We'll take better care of him than you did...."

James placed a hand on her shoulder. "You should be the one to catch Delibird, Jess," he told her. "You did most of the battling, so you deserve it more." He winked. "It's your turn to catch a new pokemon, anyway!"

Jessie smiled tenderly at him and blushed. "Thanks, sweetie." She brought out an empty poke ball and tossed it at Delibird. As the ball opened, a red beam of light shot forth and drew the penguin pokemon inside. After a moment, the release button stopped flashing, and the ball locked, making the capture official. Jessie's smile became a grin. "Yes!" she cheered.

James and I applauded. "Good work, Jessie!" we chorused.

Jessie picked up the poke ball containing her newest pokemon. "Come on, guys. Let's get this poor thing to the pokemon center so that Nurse Joy and Blissey can patch him up."

James nodded. "We should also tell Joy that Delibird's old trainer was abusing him so that she can call Officer Jenny."

Jessie and I nodded, too. None of us relished the idea of getting the authorities involved, but we weren't about to let anybody get away with hurting pokemon. It was a risk we were going to have to take.

As we started heading back to the pokemon center, however, an old woman with shaggy gray hair and skin that was so wrinkled it looked like leather stepped from behind a cluster of trees and blocked our path. She was obviously Delibird's former trainer.

The old woman slowly clapped her hands. As her lips pulled into a grin, I could see three jagged, yellow teeth poking from her gums. "Well done. You two truly are exceptional trainers," she said to Jessie and James. "Now, if you'll be so kind as to give me back my Delibird, I'll tell you all about my exciting offer...."

"What do you mean, give back your Delibird?!" Jessie demanded, cutting her off. "You said you were getting rid of him, and we won him in that battle, fair and square!"

The old woman held up her hands. "You don't understand, young lady -- that battle was only a test."

James's brow furrowed. "A test?"

"Yes," said the old woman. She cleared her throat and stood up as straight as her hunched back would allow. "My name is Baba. I'm a recruiting agent for Team Rocket -- it's my job to find ambitious, talented trainers and recruit them for our organization. Judging from your battle with my Delibird, I'd say you fit the bill. So, what do you say? How would you three like to join the ranks of the illustrious Team Rocket?"

Jessie waggled her finger and smiled. "Well, I'm glad you know real talent when you see it, but I'm afraid you're too late -- James, Meowth, and I are already in Team Rocket!"

Baba burst out laughing at this. "Who do you kids think you're fooling? You can't be Team Rocket members -- I've never seen you before in my life!" she guffawed.

"Yeah, well we ain't never seen you before, either!" I shot back. "How do we know yer not bullshittin' us?!"

Baba whipped out a laptop computer and booted it up. "I have a database of every Team Rocket member ever recruited," she informed us. "What are your names? If you really are Rockets, I should be able to find you in here."

"I'm Jessie Parker...daughter of Miyamoto Parker," Jessie replied.

"I'm James Woodson," said James.

"And I'm Me-owth!" I told her.

Baba scanned her database for a moment and shook her head. "Nope. None of you are in here. And neither is this Miyamoto. Sorry."

Those words hit me like a slap across the face. Why wouldn't any of us be in the Team Rocket database?!

"Impossible! Let me see that!" Jessie snapped. She grabbed the computer away from Baba and facefaulted as she read the file.

"What is it, Jess?" James and I asked in unison.

Jessie looked back at us and smirked. "Well, this is an authentic database -- I recognize a lot of the names in here. But it's no wonder none of us are listed -- it's over twenty years old!"

"It is NOT!" Baba protested. "I typed that list up myself when I got that computer last summer!"

"I wasn't talking about the file itself -- the information is over twenty years old!" Jessie said through clenched teeth. Then, to me and James, "It only lists members who joined before July 19, 1980."

I smacked my paw against my forehead.

James shook his head and sighed.

Jessie handed the laptop back to Baba. "Listen, lady, if you work for Team Rocket, then you really need to update your personnel files. But don't you DARE question our membership status, just because your information is inaccurate!"

"Well, I'm not adding you three until I have some actual proof that you're members!" Baba scoffed. "You can't expect me to just take your word for it!"

Never one to take an insult lying down or let anybody else get the last word, Jessie brought out her wallet and produced her Team Rocket identification card. Following suit, James and I brought out our cards as well.

"Here's your proof that we work for Team Rocket -- photo IDs with our names, agent numbers, and recruitment dates," Jessie said matter-of-factly as we showed the cards to Baba.

She looked at the cards and dismissively waved a hand. "Doesn't prove anything to me -- those cards could be fake, for all I know! Besides, you're not even wearing Team Rocket uniforms...."

Jessie clenched her fists and began to tremble with rage. That little vein was popping out on her forehead again. "Now see here, you senile old...."

James gave her a gentle pat on the back. "Calm down, honey. I'll handle this," he said quietly. Then, to Baba, "Jessie and I aren't wearing our uniforms because we're off-duty right now," he explained. He took a photograph from his wallet and showed it to the old woman. "But here's a picture of me and Jessie in our uniforms...."

"Those white things aren't official uniforms -- you kids just rented them for a costume party, or something!" Baba interjected. She held up a photograph of her own -- a picture of a Dan'in wearing a black cap, sweater, and pair of pants with white boots and gloves. "Now, this -- this is a real Team Rocket uniform!"

"Yeah...if you're a trainee or a Dan'in!" James countered as he put his photo away and clenched his fists as well. "Jessie, Meowth, and I are field-agents! Our uniforms are different because we're at a higher rank!"

"Heh. I'd love ta see dis ol' biddy tell the Elite and special forces agents dat dey don't have official uniforms either," I snickered.

Jessie folded her arms across her chest and scowled. "Hmmph! You may have gotten your hands on an old Team Rocket database, but you obviously don't know anything about the organization if you don't even know that agents of different ranks wear different uniforms! It's the R-logo that makes them official, not their design!"

"Yeah! Why would Jess and Jim go around wearin' jackets with big red Rs on 'em if dey wasn't in Team Rocket?!" I demanded.

"I know!" Baba replied. "You must be young Republicans!"

Jessie, James, and I fell over.

"Jeezus tap-dancin' Christ! Deli wasn't kiddin' when he said dis broad was nuttier den Chinese chicken salad!" I groaned.

Jessie and James jumped back to their feet.

"What the HELL?!" James thundered. "Jessie, Meowth, and I have never been so insulted in our entire lives...and considering some of the shit we've been called, that's really saying something!"

"YEAH!!!" Jessie shouted. "How DARE you compare us to...."

"Oh, I know what's going on here!" Baba said, cutting her off. "I bet you three are spies from Team Jet or Team Helicopter! They've always been jealous of Team Rocket's superiority, and they're always sending their little wannabe agents to infiltrate our organization!"

"Okay, now we know you're just making this shit up -- there's no such thing as Team Jet or Team Helicopter!" Jessie snapped.

"Jeez, if she's going to accuse us of being spies from another team, she could at least mention real organizations, like Team Magma or Team Aqua," James grumbled.

"I dunno what dis broad is smokin', but it must be some really potent shit!" I commented.

"He, he! You kids are too funny!" Baba chuckled. "Don't worry -- I'll still let you join Team Rocket, since you passed my test." She produced a stack of paperwork. "Now, if you just sign these forms and select a payment plan for your monthly membership dues, then you can be enjoying a life of crime before you know it...."

"Monthly membership dues?!" Jessie, James, and I shouted in unison.

Jessie grabbed Baba by the collar of her brown dress and began to shake her. "Listen, you old bat! Team Rocket isn't a fucking club -- it's a JOB!!! Our boss pays us to work for him!"

"Damn straight!" I concurred. "Since when do ya hafta pay dues at yer job?! Dat's whacked!"

"Save your breath, guys -- I don't think she gets it," James sighed.

"I've had enough of this!" Jessie growled as she released her hold on Baba and stormed away in a huff. "Come on, James, Meowth. Let's get out of here -- all of this nonsense is giving me a migraine!"

James and I nodded and followed her.

"Well, if you don't want to join Team Rocket, you can at least say so!" Baba called after us. "And you still haven't given back my Delibird!"

Jessie turned to face her again. "And we're not going to! I don't care if it was a false pretense -- you said that we could keep Delibird if we beat him in a battle! That's the deal I agreed to, so that's the deal I'm sticking to!"

"We wouldn't give him back to a trainer like you anyway -- you were abusing Delibird and using him as bait in a trap!" James added. "People who treat pokemon so disgracefully don't deserve to have pokemon!"

I waved a paw at her. "I bet dis old dame ain't even a real Rocket recruitin' agent. She prolly just uses Delibird and dat whole Team Rocket spiel ta scam unsuspectin' trainers inta payin' membership dues to her every month."

"You're probably right," James muttered. "Though the very idea is still ludicrous."

Jessie rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Paying monthly membership dues, just for the privilege of staying employed. That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard!"

With that, the three of us turned away once more. Baba continued to shout at us, insisting that we weren't real Rockets and demanding her Delibird back, but we did our best to tune her out as we started heading back to the pokemon center.


"You three sure were out there a long time," Nurse Joy remarked when we came back inside.

"There's a reason for that," Jessie sighed as she handed Delibird's poke ball to Joy. "We heard a pokemon crying while we were unloading the Jeep, and when we went to investigate, we found this Delibird. Can you help him? He's in a bad way."

Nurse Joy frowned. "Oh, that poor thing! I'll see what I can do!" With that, she brought Delibird out of the poke ball and took him into the emergency room.

Once she'd taken her leave, James nudged Jessie with his elbow. "Honey, why did you lie to Nurse Joy about Baba?" he whispered.

I nodded. "Yeah. I thought we was gonna tell her dat Baba was abusin' Deli sos she could get Officer Jenny ta deal with her."

Jessie shook her head and placed a finger to her lips. "We can't get Officer Jenny involved now. Even if Baba was a few fries short of a Happy Meal, and that database was horribly outdated, she still had inside information about Team Rocket. Who knows what else she might know?"

"You're right -- we can't risk letting the police discover what little Baba knows about the organization," James agreed. "Even if most of the agents in that old database have since retired...or passed away, it's still classified information that the boss wouldn't want leaking out." He frowned. "Though how Baba managed to get her hands on that information in the first place is beyond me...."

"So, whadda we gonna do?" I queried. "Dat broad's a loose cannon -- we can't leave her wanderin' around out dere, leakin' top-secret information and abusin' pokemon!"

"We need to call the boss and tell him about that freak-show, of course!" came Jessie's reply. "I'm sure he'll know how to handle this."

James's eyes lit up. "And while we're at it, we can talk to him about our assignment! If we get everything squared away now, then we won't have to spend the rest of our vacation wondering about our jobs!"

"Good thinkin', youse two!" I told them.

At that moment, Blissey came back into the lobby. She was holding a tray with five steaming mugs on it. Hey, guys! I made some hot chocolate for all of us! she exclaimed. As she approached us, however, she tripped on her own foot and began to stumble.

Jessie and James rushed to her side. Jessie caught Blissey by the arms before she fell, and James steadied the tray and kept the hot chocolate from spilling.

Blissey's cheeks turned even pinker than they already were. Sorry. I'm afraid my clumsiness is incurable....

"It's okay," Jessie assured her. "No harm was done."

"And this hot chocolate looks wonderful! Thank you so much for making it, Blissey," James chimed in. Then, to me, "It's got mini-marshmallows!"

My mouth watered at the sound of this. "Dat's my favorite kind!"

Now Blissey was smiling again.

Jessie took one of the mugs that Blissey offered and took a sip. "Delicious. This is exactly what we needed!"

James blew on his hot chocolate to cool it a little before drinking any. "It sure is," he agreed.

I picked up a mug and let its heat take the chill off of my paws. Then, I took a gulp of the sweet, chocolatey drink and enjoyed the feeling of warmth that it sent through my body. "Yeah! Dis really hits the spot!"

Where's Joy? Blissey asked after taking a sip of her own hot chocolate. I made a mug for her, too.

"She's in the emergency room, tending to an injured Delibird that we found outside," Jessie explained.

Blissey set her mug down and frowned. I should probably go and see if she needs any help.

"Good idea," I told her.

As Blissey excused herself and went into the emergency room, Jessie looked back at me and James. "And we should probably call the boss before it gets too much later," she remarked. She looked up at the clock on the wall. "If it's already eight here, then it's nine in Kanto."

James and I nodded in agreement.

Once we finished our hot chocolate, we crossed the lobby and seated ourselves at one of the vid-phones. When Jessie entered Giovanni's number, the phone rang a couple of times before an automated female voice answered:

"You have reached the private line of Giovanni Razzo. Use of this line is restricted to authorized personnel only. Please enter your three-digit identification number to verify your authorization."

Doing as she was instructed, Jessie entered her Team Rocket identification number -- 634.

"Invalid passcode. Access denied," the voice replied.

Jessie's eyes went wide. "What?!"

"Please enter your three-digit identification number to verify your authorization," the voice repeated.

Jessie gritted her teeth and entered her number again.

And received the same response.

"What the hell is going on here?!" Jessie demanded. "Why isn't my ID number working?!"

James gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Calm down, honey. Let's try my number instead," he suggested. With that, he entered his identification number -- 546.

"Invalid passcode. Access denied," the voice told him. "Please enter your three-digit identification number to verify your authorization."

Now James was scowling, too. "Meowth, try yours."

A drop of sweat formed on my temple as I entered my number -- 052.

"Invalid passcode. Access denied."

I shook my head and buried my face in my paws. "Well, dis is a revoltin' development...."

"Oh, what the fuck?!" Jessie shouted. She pounded her fist against the vid-screen. "Let us through, you stupid piece of shit!"

James rubbed his chin. "This is too weird," he mumbled. "First that crazy woman shows up and tells us we're not in Team Rocket, and now our ID numbers are invalid. This can't be a coincidence...."

Jessie looked back at him and arched an eyebrow. "James, you don't actually think Baba was right, do you?!"

"No, but I do think something fishy is going on," came his reply. "I seriously doubt this the boss's doing -- he's not the kind of guy who'd fire us or punish us behind our backs...."

"Yer right -- if he had a problem with us, he'd wanna reem us out in person and watch us squirm," I agreed. "Which means dat if we really was off the team or bein' demoted, we'd know about it!"

"Exactly," said James. "I also doubt this is just a glitch with the boss's phone line -- he's always been really good about keeping Team Rocket's technology up and running. Even after the Viridian Gym and the old Team Rocket Headquarters were destroyed, he had the phones and computer systems and such back online within a couple of days!" His brow furrowed. "No, I think somebody's screwing around with us. Perhaps the incident with Baba happened so that this could be brought to our attention...."

"Yeah. Something is rotten at Team Rocket Headquarters," Jessie grumbled.

"But who could be doin' dis?" I wondered.

"It has to be somebody who has some kind of stupid vendetta against us," Jessie surmised. "If Butch and Cassidy weren't in prison, they'd be the prime suspects in my book. This is so typical of the kind of shit they'd pull."

"Well, whoever it was musta done it recently -- my ID number worked just fine back in October, when I called the boss from Ogi City and sent him all dose water pokemon I caught while I was fishin' with Gary," I pointed out. "And Mondo's still been bringin' us our paychecks every two weeks...."

"But we've been staying out of the office politics these past few months," James muttered. "Why would this problem be cropping up now, all of a sudden?"

Jessie frowned again. "Somebody obviously thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold...though I'm still not sure who. Practically everybody who has the motive -- no matter how lame -- for doing something like this to us is in prison."

"So, whadda we do now?" I asked.

Jessie got to her feet and pounded her fist in the palm of her hand. "I think we need to make a trip to headquarters and sort all of this out with the boss now!"

James agreed. "Yes. We needed to get in touch with the boss to tell him about Baba anyway, and we certainly can't leave this new problem festering for the rest of our vacation!"

"Den, I guess we'll be makin' a stop in Viridian City tomorrow afternoon," I concluded.

Jessie shook her head. "I said we need to get this sorted out now! That means the sooner we get to headquarters, the better!"

"And that means driving all night so that we can be there by morning," James sighed.

"As soon as Nurse Joy brings back Delibird, we'll explain what's going on and get back on the road," Jessie continued. She cast a wistful glance at the emergency room doors. "I really did want to stay here for the night and spend more time with Blissey, but...."

James draped an arm around her shoulders. "It's okay, sweetheart -- we can visit Blissey some other time...preferably when we have fewer work-related hassles to deal with."

"Yeah," I concurred. "Askin' for reassignment coulda waited awhile, but dis...." I held up my now-invalid identification card and frowned. "We can't put somethin' like dis off! We gotta find out who's fuckin' around with us and set the record straight...or at the very least, confirm if we really are bein' cut loose sos we can ditch dis job and get on with our lives."

James nodded. "Absolutely. And perhaps this works out for the best. The more I thought about waiting until after our vacation to meet with the boss, the more uncomfortable I was with it. I really don't want to start the new year by dealing with a bunch of problems that we've been putting off -- I'd rather we sort everything out now so that we can enjoy the holidays with no worries or hassles and start the new year with a clean slate."

"Agreed," Jessie and I chorused.

At that moment, the emergency room doors slid open, and Nurse Joy and Blissey emerged. Nurse Joy smiled and gave us a thumbs-up.

Delibird is doing fine, Blissey informed us. We put some healing potion on his burns and bandaged him, and we gave him some food, too. You'll have to keep applying potion until he's completely healed and make sure he gets plenty to eat, but he'll be as good as new in no time if you do.

"Glad to hear it. We were worried about him," Jessie replied. She smiled for a moment, but quickly became serious again. "Look, um...something just came up -- we've got a situation that we need to deal with right away, so it looks like we won't be able to spend the night here, after all...."

Blissey hung her head. Oh....

"Will Delibird be okay to travel?" James inquired.

"I don't see why not," Nurse Joy replied. "I'll go and get him."

As Nurse Joy went to the recovery room, Jessie knelt next to Blissey and gave her a hug. "I'm sorry, Blissey," she said quietly. "I really did want to stay longer, but it was just a case of bad timing."

Blissey returned her embrace and managed a weak smile. It's okay, Jessie. At least you got to spend the evening and have dinner with us. Getting to see you for a little while is better than not seeing you at all.

"I guess you're right," Jessie admitted. She managed a weak smile, too. "Maybe we can visit again sometime when things are less hectic."

Blissey nodded. I'd like that. You know that you and your friends are welcome here any time!

Jessie's eyes misted over with tears, but she quickly brushed them away. "Yes...yes, I do know."

Presently, Nurse Joy returned with Delibird. His wings were wrapped in bandages, and he still looked underweight, but he seemed a lot happier and more energetic than he'd been when we first found him. "Here he is."

Jessie got back to her feet and drew Delibird into his poke ball. "Thank you for taking such good care of him."

"And thank you for your hospitality," James chimed in.

"It was nice seein' ya again," I told them.

Nurse Joy smiled. "We're so very glad you could visit...even if it did get cut short. Have a safe trip, you three."

"We will," James promised.

After saying our good-byes and wishing our friends a happy holiday season, we left the pokemon center and got back into the Jeep.

"Well, it's going to be a long haul, but we should be in Viridian City early tomorrow morning," James sighed as he revved the vehicle up.

"Meowth, can you reach in my backpack and get my pillow, please?" Jessie asked.

I nodded and brought her pillow from her backpack.

She smiled at James as she fluffed the pillow up and rested it against the window. "I'm going to try and get some sleep for a couple of hours. That way, I'll be rested, and I can take over when you get too tired to drive."

James smiled back at her. "Thanks, angel."

After fastening our seat belts, James let the engine warm up for a few minutes. Then, he turned on the heater and put the Jeep in gear, and we were soon back on the road.

James turned on the radio so that he could have some music while he drove, but he left the volume low so that it wouldn't disturb Jessie. As Jessie rested her head against her pillow and drifted off to sleep, I felt my eyelids getting heavy, too. The soft sound of rock n' roll in the background was like a lullaby, and the comforting feeling of the warm air blowing from the heater vents was making me drowsy. Despite all of the troubling thoughts that were plaguing my mind, I was asleep within minutes as well.

Chapter 3 -- The Reasons Why

When I finally opened my eyes again, the first thing I saw was the light of dawn streaming through the windshield. The sun was just barely peeking over the eastern horizon, but the entire world was already bathed in its rosy glow. James was sound asleep in the passenger seat, his head resting on Jessie's pillow, and Jessie was now driving. We were on one of the Kanto highways that led southeast to Viridian. When I sat up straight in my seat, I could barely perceive the city's skyline enveloped in morning fog looming before us.

Jessie looked in the rearview mirror and smiled when she heard me stirring. "Good morning, Meowth," she whispered.

"Mornin', Jess," I whispered back.

"Sleep well?" she asked.

"I've had better nights," I admitted, suddenly becoming aware that my left paw was asleep and that my neck had a crick in it. "But it coulda been worse."

"You were out like a light the whole time, but James made it to Azure Falls before he got too tired to keep driving," Jessie told me. "We stopped there at two this morning -- no, three because of the hour we lost when we crossed back into Kanto time -- to stretch our legs for awhile. We also found an all-night diner in town, so we went there, too. James got a chamomile tea so that he could fall asleep, and I got a mocha cappuccino so that I could wake up. We got out of the Cobalt Mountains about an hour ago."

I smiled at her and shook my paw to get the blood flowing again. "We made good time, den."

"Yes, we did," she agreed. "We should be in Viridian City by six...and if we stop for breakfast, then we should be at headquarters no later than seven thirty or eight."

When she said this, I was suddenly reminded of all the bullshit that we were going to have to deal with today, and my mood darkened. But at the mention of the word, breakfast, my stomach started growling. It was hard to dwell on our troubles when my thoughts kept turning to food.

I could see Jessie's cheeks turning pink as she placed a hand to her own stomach. "I think breakfast should definitely be first on our agenda. Can't face the day on an empty stomach, after all," she chuckled.

Presently, James began stirring as well. "Mmmm...what time is it, Jess?" I heard him mumble.

Jessie looked at the clock and pressed a button to set it ahead an hour, to Kanto Standard Time. "It's almost six o' clock, sweetie. We'll be in Viridian City in a few more minutes."

"Good," he said as he stretched himself out.

"Meowth and I were just discussing our plans for breakfast," she continued. "You hungry for anything in particular?"

"I'm kind of hungry for pancakes or waffles, but anything is fine by me," he yawned.

"I'm in a French toast mood, myself," Jessie told him. She cast a quick glance in the rearview mirror. "What about you, Meowth?"

All the talk about food was making my hunger pangs more intense by the minute. "I don't care, as long as it's somethin' BIG! Bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes -- I could eat 'em all!"

Jessie smiled. "Then, that settles it -- IHOP, it is!"

James and I were now fully awake. "Yeah!" we chorused.

When we arrived in Viridian City, our first stop was the local International House of Pancakes. The breakfast rush hadn't yet started when we arrived, so a waitress came by to take our orders after only a couple of minutes. Jessie got the French toast and sampled all of the different flavored syrups on it, James got the Belgian waffles smothered in whipped cream and strawberries, I loudly and proudly ordered the Rooty-Tooty Fresh n' Fruity, and we all got hash browns on the side and coffee to drink. All of the food was delicious, but it especially hit the spot this morning. After we'd eaten our fill and paid the bill, we went to the bathrooms to wash our hands and faces and brush our hair and teeth.

Once we left the restaurant and got back into the Jeep, Jessie and James brought their Team Rocket uniforms from their backpacks and changed into them. After almost two months of seeing my friends in nothing but civilian clothes, it was almost...strange to see them back in uniform. For the first time in my life, those big red Rs on their jackets looked out of place to me...and I could tell from the expressions on their faces that they felt the same.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jessie and James were right -- being fired or quitting really would be a positive change! And suddenly, I wasn't afraid anymore. I knew that no matter what went down at headquarters today...no matter what the outcome of our meeting with the boss, everything was going to be okay.


True to Jessie's prediction, we arrived at Team Rocket Headquarters shortly after seven thirty. The old headquarters, which had been blown up by Mewtwo almost two years ago, had been a Spartan, military-like complex on the outskirts of town. The new headquarters, however, couldn't have been more different -- a ten-story office building with a fountain and pieces of corporate post-modern art out front in the downtown area. The Viridian Gym had undergone a similar transformation -- gone was the ancient, unstable colosseum-like building, and in its place now stood a modern arena with Greco-Roman influenced architecture. The new structures blended in much better with the cityscape and had a far less imposing appearance, but security was as tight as ever...as we were about to find out.

"Alright, guys -- let's try this one more time," Jessie said as we approached the front entrance to Team Rocket Headquarters. She brought out her ID card and swiped it in the electronic lock...and promptly received a reply that her passcode had been rejected.

James and I tried our own cards in the lock and were rejected as well.

"Fuck me!" Jessie growled, running a hand through her crimson hair.

"It's alright, honey," James said comfortingly. "We'll just have to go to Plan B, that's all!" With that, he produced his tool kit. After unscrewing the panel and rearranging a few wires, the lock was deactivated.

Jessie applauded. "Excellent work, my dear James!"

"Heh. From now on, maybe we should start with Plan B!" I remarked.

James smiled at us as he put his tool kit away and opened the door. "Females and felines first!" he told us as he held his arm out in a sweeping gesture.

Jessie nodded to him and walked inside. I followed her, and James followed me. As the door closed behind us, the thundering sound echoed through the corridors. Jessie and James's boots sounded like machine gun fire on the black and white granite tiled floor as we made our way across the lobby.

"So, where do you think the boss's office is?" Jessie queried.

"Yer guess is as good as mine," I replied. "We ain't been here since headquarters was rebuilt."

"Well, it looks like there's a floor plan posted by the elevators," James told us. He pointed to a sign that was hanging on the wall. "Let's check it out."

Sure enough, when we went to investigate the sign, we found a floor plan of the new Team Rocket Headquarters. The basement levels contained the training compound and the subterranean garage where all of the vehicles and mechas were parked. The ground-level floor, where we were now, was a large lobby and reception area. The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh floors contained private living quarters for agents. The eighth and ninth floors were all offices, and the entire tenth floor was Giovanni's private office.

"Well, that wasn't too tough," Jessie remarked. She patted James on the shoulder. "Good eye, sweetie."

James smiled again and blushed. "Thank you. I agree."

"Awright, quit flirtin', youse two," I said as I pushed an up button for the elevators. "We've got important business to attend to, in case you've forgotten!"

Jessie and James stuck their tongues out at me. "We know, Meowth, we know."

Presently, the doors of the nearest elevator slid open. The three of us filed in, and Jessie pressed the button for the tenth floor. As the doors slid shut and the elevator began its ascent, I started getting a jittery feeling in my stomach. I kept reminding myself that this was all for the best and that if we kept running from our problems, then they were just going to keep getting worse, but that didn't make the prospect of our upcoming meeting with the boss any less daunting. Mopping away the cold sweat that I felt forming on my temple, I looked up at my two friends. James had the slightest edge of apprehension on his face as well. Jessie, however, looked completely calm and collected. There was even a gleam in her sapphire eyes, almost as if she were looking forward to confronting the boss!

Wonder what she's so happy about.... I said to myself.

After a couple of minutes, the elevator reached the tenth floor. When the doors opened again, we were greeted by a pair of security guards.

"State your name, rank, and business," the guards said in unison as we stepped from the elevator and entered the reception area.

"Jessie Parker. Field-agent," Jessie told them.

"James Woodson. Field-agent," said James.

"Me-owth. Field-agent," I replied.

"We have important matters to discuss with Giovanni -- possible leaking of classified Team Rocket information in the Johto region, and possible tampering with official Team Rocket records here at headquarters," Jessie explained.

The two guards exchanged looks and nodded. Then, the female guard pressed an intercom button on the wall while the male guard continued to keep an eye on us.

"What is it?" Giovanni's gruff voice asked over the intercom.

"Sir, agents Jessie Parker, James Woodson, and Meowth are here to see you," the female guard told him. "They said they have information about a possible information leak and possible in-house tampering with Team Rocket records."

"Hmmm...this is serious," Giovanni replied after a moment of silence. "Perform your weapon check and send them in."

"You heard the man," said the male guard. "You have to leave all your weapons with us."

James held up his hands. "But we don't have any weapons."

"We'll be the judge of that," the guards countered.

For the next couple of minutes, the three of us had to be searched for weapons. Jessie and James looked like they wanted to be on another planet while the security guards patted us down (and quite frankly, so did I), but none of us were about to argue with the boss's security measures. Even though Jessie, James, and I didn't pose any kind of threat to him, we knew full well that there were other agents out there who probably did. He could hardly be blamed for taking precautions.

Once the security guards were satisfied that we weren't hiding any weapons, they escorted us down the hallway that led to the boss's office. I felt my apprehension growing with every step we took towards the office doors, and James looked a little more edgy now too, but Jessie was just as calm as ever.

"Look at the bright side, guys," she told us. "The boss agreed to see us, and he didn't say anything about us being off the team -- that proves he didn't fire us and that somebody really is messing with the records."

This made James smile again. "You're right, Jess."

I had to admit, she had a damn good point. "Yeah! Hell, he might even be happy dat we're bringin' dis ta his attention!" I added. "He might grant our request for reassignment, after all...maybe even throw in a little raise or bonus as thanks for a job well done!"

Jessie's smile grew even wider than it already was. "We'll see!"

When we reached the end of the hallway, we knocked on one of the doors.

"Come in," we heard Giovanni say.

Slowly, Jessie pushed the door open, and we stepped inside. We then found ourselves standing in an immense room with champagne-colored walls and mahogany hardwood floors. On the wall to our left hung a print of Botticelli's Birth of Venus in an ornate golden frame, and on the wall to our right, in equally ornate gold frames, hung a pair of oil paintings. The first was of a woman with wavy black hair and dark eyes, and the second was of a man with dark brown hair and blue eyes -- Giovanni's parents, Arianna and Rodolfo Razzo. Potted plants and marble sculptures of Persians lined the walls. The entire southern wall at the far end of the room was a pair of sliding glass doors (complete with a cat-flap) that led out to a balcony, where the boss's two Persians were cat-napping in a sunbeam. (When Jess and Jim had tried ta take dat Pokemon League entrance exam last year, dey'd accidentally ended up with Exam-Man's Meowth when dey'd been blasted off. I'd been left behind, and Exam-Man had tried ta kidnap me. I'd made a run for it...and given dat asshole and dat dork, Todd, the Fury Swipin' of a lifetime when dey gave chase, and I eventually lost 'em and met up with Jessie and James again the next mornin'. Not wantin' ta give the Meowth back ta Exam-Man after the way he'd treated us, we took him to the boss instead. Dat Meowth had since evolved into a Persian...and it seemed dat he and the boss's female Persian had become a cozy couple. But I'm digressin', here -- back to the story!) Thick drapes of red velvet hung on either side of the sliding glass doors, and a few feet in front of the glass doors was a large mahogany desk that had a computer, a "No whining" sign, and a red rose in an Arbok vase on it. Giovanni was sitting at the desk, going over some paperwork.

"Jessie, James, and Meowth," he said evenly as we crossed the room and approached his desk. He gestured to three mahogany chairs with red velvet cushions in front of his desk. "Have a seat."

The three of us nodded and did as we were told.

Giovanni smirked as his lightless black eyes moved from Jessie, to James, to me. "So, you say you have some important matters that you wish to discuss with me?" he began.

Jessie nodded and cleared her throat. "Yes, sir. Last night, while we were in the Johto region, we ran into a woman named Baba. She claimed to be a Team Rocket recruiting agent, and she had a copy of a twenty-one year-old Team Rocket database on her computer...."

Giovanni buried his face in his hands and shook his head. "Kuso Baba strikes again...." he groaned.

James gave him a quizzical look. "You know who she is?"

"Yes," Giovanni replied. "She used to work for my mother many years ago. At one time, she was, indeed, a recruiting agent in the Johto region. But as she got older, she started going senile...."

"Well, that certainly explains how she got that old database...and why she seemed so out of it," Jessie muttered.

"It's still kind of scary, how age did such a number on her mental capacities, though," James muttered back.

Giovanni cast a sidelong glance at the two of them. "I think Baba's...ahem...glaucoma medication had more to do with it than her age."

I couldn't help but laugh at this. "Hah! I knew it! I knew dat crazy old dame was smokin' the whacky tobaccy!"

James clamped his hand over my mouth. "Meowth, please! Behave yourself!" he snapped.

Giovanni snickered. "Anyway, when Kuso Baba lost her marbles, she really lost her marbles," he went on. "She kept trying to recruit agents who were already in Team Rocket, going on and on about how only Dan'in uniforms were official and giving agents of higher ranks a hard time about how their uniforms weren't real, accusing agents of being spies for all these imagined rival organizations...." His brow furrowed. "She even started trying to extort monthly membership dues from employees! Have you ever heard of anything so preposterous?!"

"Sadly, yes," Jessie told him. "All of that stuff you mentioned is exactly what Baba tried to pull with us last night."

Giovanni ran a hand through his dark brown hair and exhaled in a frustrated sigh. "Che stronzata," he groaned. He shook his head again and continued the narrative. "When employees started complaining about Baba's erratic behavior, my mother took action. She made Baba retire after her sixty-fifth birthday on July 19, 1980 and made arrangements for her to live in a nice retirement community in Violet City."

"And dat's why her database only went up ta July 1980," I concluded.

Giovanni raised an eyebrow. "How did the three of you manage to run afoul of her, anyway?"

We then proceeded to tell him all about our encounter with Baba in the park in Happy Town last night.

"Shit. She must've gotten out of the home and wandered off," he mumbled. "I'll dispatch some agents in the area to find her and take her back. Let's just hope they can do it before she hurts herself, or somebody else, or another pokemon. She really did have a Delibird back in the old days, which she used as bait in a trap very similar to the one you described. After she lost her mind, she also used her Delibird to send fake bills for membership dues and such to other agents. But that old Delibird has long since passed away -- she must have nabbed the one you found from the wild, thinking it was hers."

"No doubt," I told him. "From the way Deli was talkin', I got the impression he didn't know who Baba was and didn't like her. And I don't think he woulda let Jess catch him the way he did if he really had belonged ta Baba."

Giovanni nodded approvingly. He then got on the phone and asked a pair of Elites that were stationed near Happy Town to find Kuso Baba and make sure that she got back to the Violet City Retirement Community unharmed.

Jessie, James, and I exchanged smiles. The boss seemed proud of us for the way we'd handled this situation. Maybe addressing our other issues with him would be easier than we thought!

When Giovanni hung up the phone, he looked back at us. "Problem solved. Thank you for bringing this to my attention."

"You're welcome, sir!" we replied.

"But this does beg a rather important question," he continued, his expression becoming severe once again. "Why couldn't you have just called me from Happy Town? I could've gotten you three to handle the problem yourselves and not had to pull another team from their assignment."

James and I sweatdropped and exchanged nervous looks. Maybe this wouldn't be so easy, after all!

Jessie, however, held her ground. "This brings us to the next problem we need to talk to you about," she informed him. "We did try to get in touch with you last night, but we couldn't. For some reason, none of our ID numbers worked when we called you -- we kept getting an error message that they were invalid. And it wasn't just a glitch with the phone -- our ID cards weren't working when we got to headquarters this morning, either. If not for James doing a bit of rewiring on the electronic lock, we'd probably still be outside...."

James grinned sheepishly and slid down in his seat.

Jessie fixed the boss with a piercing blue gaze. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about this sudden invalidation of our membership status, would you?"

Giovanni looked genuinely shocked to hear what Jessie was saying. "Absolutely not! I never authorized any changes to your status!"

"Thus the reason we believe somebody has been tampering with employee records," Jessie concluded.

"You may very well be right," Giovanni replied. He switched on his computer and brought up the personnel database. "Let's have a look at your files and see if we can't figure out what's going on." When he clicked on our files, however, his eyes went wide.

"What is it?" we asked in unison.

Giovanni's face contorted in another scowl. He looked more angry than I'd ever seen him as he began to read aloud. "Jessie: Has a great potential for evil, but is too self-absorbed to use it. James: Would be clever if he were not stupendously dim-witted. Meowth: This pokemon has the amazing ability to speak. Unfortunately, nothing it says is worth listening to. As a team, these three have made some of the most incredible bungles in the history of the Team Rocket empire." The whole room seemed to shake as he pounded his fist against the desk. "What the fucking FUCK?!" he roared. "Porca puttana!"

I felt my stomach tying itself in knots again. It was all I could do to keep from losing my breakfast right then and there. At my side, James had gone pale and slid even further down in his seat. But Jessie still hadn't lost her cool -- she was even continuing to stare defiantly at the boss.

Outside on the balcony, the two Persians had been awakened by the boss's outburst and were now standing with their backs arched and their fur puffed out. When they realized that they weren't the ones being yelled at, however, they quickly lost interest and laid back down again.

Giovanni continued his rant. "Ma che cazzo e' sta cosa?! I didn't write this...this bullshit!"

Jessie's expression shifted from anger to surprise. "You didn't?"

He shook his head. "Of course not! Don't you three think I'd have fired you long ago if this were an accurate evaluation of your characters and performance? This shit sounds like it was written by a ten year-old!"

"You have a point," James admitted.

"We saw dose entries about us when ya made us gym leaders last year," I told him. "We was so upset about the way ya reemed us out when we brought ya Togepi dat when we read the files, we didn't even stop ta think it might not have been you dat wrote 'em -- we just assumed dat ya hated us...."

"That means this problem has been going on for quite awhile now...and that it's finally come to a head," Giovanni said, more to himself than to us. His expression softened as he looked back at us. "I apologize for the way I treated you when you brought me Togepi. I was having a bad day and had a lot of things on my mind, and I took it out on you." He smirked again. "It's kind of funny -- looking back, I can't even remember what it was that I was so preoccupied with on that day...."

"Well, if you didn't write dose entries, den who did?" I inquired, getting back to the original subject.

Giovanni looked at the file and scowled again. "Probably the same person who demoted you back to trainee level and invalidated your passcodes behind my back...."

Jessie jumped to her feet. "They demoted us, too?! What the fucking hell?!"

James folded his arms across his chest. "Somebody's got a really sick sense of humor, if this is their idea of a joke," he grumbled.

"Don't worry -- I'm taking care of this right now," Giovanni assured us as his fingers flew across the keyboard of his computer. "I'm reactivating your ID numbers, I'm reinstating you as field-agents, and most importantly of all, I'm deleting this mindless, half-assed, mean-spirited drivel that's been passing for your personnel entries all this time and replacing it with accurate information." While he was typing, however, another quizzical look crossed his face. "Oh, now what the hell is this?!"

"Urgh! What else did they fuck with?!" Jessie growled.

"Your salaries," came his reply. "They cancelled all of the raises I gave you, too."

This got our attention. "Raises?! When did you give us raises?!"

"When I promoted you to field-agents, I raised your salary from minimum wage to eight dollars an hour," he began.

"Yeah, we knew about that one," Jessie said, cutting him off. "And when the Viridian Gym and the old headquarters were destroyed, you bumped us back down to minimum wage -- that's where we've been ever since!"

"And that's what I'm trying to tell you! I never authorized that pay-cut -- it was nothing more than an idle threat I made in anger!" Giovanni countered. "In fact, I even raised your salary to ten dollars an hour when I assigned you to the Blimp Brigade and stationed you in the Orange Islands, and I raised it again to eleven dollars an hour when I sent you to Johto!"

"Well, you may have given us dose raises on paper, but we ain't seen a penny of it in person," I told him.

"So, you've been subsisting on minimum wage all this time?"

We nodded.

"We've been having to take second, third, even fourth jobs just to make ends meet and survive until the next paycheck...and even then, we'd sometimes go for days on end without eating," James sighed.

Giovanni smacked his hand against his forehead. "Jesus fucking Christ!" He looked back at the file. "In light of all these developments, I guess it's safe to assume that all these entries in your files about using Team Rocket funds to purchase weapons and mechas and make vehicle repairs and owing the organization over $100,000 in unpaid bills are complete bullshit, too."

Now James had jumped to his feet as well. "You're damn right it's bullshit!" he shouted. "It's true we've bought a lot of weapons and mechas over the years, but Jessie, Meowth, and I have always bought those things with our own money and paid for them in full, and we've always made vehicle repairs ourselves, too! That's another reason we took all those shitty extra jobs flipping burgers, digging ditches, and such -- we didn't want to use your money to do our job! We even have the receipts and pay-stubs to prove it!" With that, he produced a red folder from his jacket and handed it to the boss.

Giovanni looked thoughtful as he perused the documents in the folder. "Hmmm...I have noticed that a lot of money has been disappearing from petty cash and not being paid back over the years -- and this does, indeed, prove that you're not the ones who've been doing it. Perhaps whoever's been embezzling my funds has also been falsifying your records in an attempt to frame you...."

Jessie, James, and I exchanged looks.

"Ya know, dat actually makes sense!" I remarked.

Jessie and James nodded.

"I think I need to have a little talk with the employees in payroll and human resources," Giovanni continued. He picked up the phone again and dialed another number. "Hello, Carmella? Would you send agents Ratliff and West to my office, please? I have some important business to discuss with them...."

Jessie looked as if she'd just been on the receiving end of Pikachu's Thunderbolt when she heard this.

"What is it, Jess?" James queried, taking note of her expression.

"Wendy West," Jessie whispered to us. "I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar she's the one behind this! And agent Ratliff is Cassidy's friend, Jennifer -- I wouldn't be surprised if she's in on it, too."

I closed my eyes and wracked my brain for a moment, but the name Wendy West was unfamiliar to me.

James's brow furrowed. "Who's this Wendy? And what does she have against us?"

"She's another Team Rocket agent who pretended to be nice to me because I'm Miyamoto's daughter and then turned out to be a total bitch when she realized that it wouldn't get her anywhere," Jessie snorted.

"Oh. One of those," James said disdainfully.

"Dey just keep comin' outta the woodwork, don't dey? Sheesh!" I grumbled.

Jessie rolled her eyes. "I forgot all about Wendy. I should've known she had something to do with this."

"Well, it is kind of easy to lose track of your enemies when everybody and their brother wants to start a pointless feud with you," James sighed.

"No kiddin'!" I agreed.

After about ten minutes, the security guards led two women into the office. The first woman had wavy blackish-brown hair and hazel eyes. From the descriptions Jessie had given us, I surmised that she was Jennifer. The second woman (who musta been Wendy) had dark brown eyes and short green hair that was curled at the ends. They visibly tensed when they saw that Jessie, James, and I were here, too.

"Y-y-you w-w-wanted to see us, b-b-b-boss?" Jennifer stammered, not even bothering to hide the fear in her voice.

"Indeed, I did, ladies," came Giovanni's reply. His voice was calm...too calm as he spoke. "It's been brought to my attention that there's been some payroll fraud and tampering with personnel files going on. You two wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

Wendy shook her head. "No, sir. Not at all," she said cooly.

"Bullshit! Bullshit!" Jessie coughed into her hands.

"Oh, shut up, Jessie!" Jennifer snapped. "Wendy doesn't know anything about changing your personnel entries, demoting you to trainees, invalidating your IDs, and covering for all the money we've been taking by marking it down as loans in your personnel files! So, like, jeez! What's your main malfunction?!"

Wendy gave her a rough shove. "Nice going, you idiot!"

Jennifer covered her mouth with her hands. "Oops!"

Giovanni smirked. "I'll take that little outburst as an admission of guilt on both your parts. Agent Ratliff, agent West, you're fired...."

"Nooooo!" Jennifer whined. "This is so not fair!"

"Well, maybe this wouldn't have happened if you'd just kept your big mouth shut!" Wendy snapped, shoving her again. "Jeez, Cassidy told me that you were an airhead, but this is ridiculous!"

Jessie leaned back in her seat and put her hands behind her head as she watched the exchange. "It would seem they're feeding off their own now," she snickered.

Jennifer shoved Wendy back. "Well, at least the boss never found out how I've been helping you skim off Jessie, James, and Meowth's salaries for the past two years!"

Wendy began tearing at her green hair. "AAAHHH!!! SHUT UP!!! SHUT UP!!!" she screamed. "You're only making things worse, you fucking ditz!"

"So, you admit to that as well," Giovanni remarked. "Explain yourselves."

"It's all Jessie's fault! She OWED me!" Wendy shouted, levelling an accusing finger at Jess.

Jessie jumped back to her feet. "What the hell are you talking about?!"

"Two words, Jessie -- fruit smoothie!" Wendy sneered.

Jessie's jaw dropped. "A fruit smoothie?! You falsified our personnel records, docked our salaries, demoted us, invalidated our IDs, and framed us for your embezzling of Team Rocket funds over a lousy fruit smoothie?!"

I looked up at James. "Uh...did I miss somethin'? Whadda fruit smoothies hafta do with dis?"

James shrugged. "Hell if I know."

Wendy stomped her foot. "I bought a fruit smoothie for Jessie almost three years ago, and she insulted me and never paid me back for it! It was the worst $1.98 I ever spent!" she whined.

Giovanni facefaulted. "Did it ever occur to you to just ask agent Parker to pay you back?"

Wendy considered this for a moment. "Well, no...."

Giovanni, Jessie, James, and I fell over.

"Holy shit! Somebody's got some serious problems, here," I said. I scowled at Wendy. "And I'll give ya a hint, freak-show -- it ain't me and my friends!"

Jessie smirked. "Well, I hate to tell you, Wendy, but there's a reason I stiffed you for that fruit smoothie!"

Wendy folded her arms across her chest and stuck her nose up in the air. "Hmmmph!"

"This happened when we were first promoted to field-agents, and we were working with Mondo, Cairdea, Emanuela, and Simone," Jessie explained to us. "Wendy was a trainee in another group, but she seemed nice, so I was civil to her and let her hang out with me sometimes.

"But one afternoon, when I went to the Team Rocket gym for a workout, I made an interesting discovery," Jessie continued. "I was in one of the changing stalls in the locker room, putting on my gym clothes, and who should I hear but Wendy? I looked through the gap between the wall and the stall door and saw that she was talking to Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie. The conversation they were having sounded a lot like the one I'd overheard when I was in kindergarten -- Wendy was telling them that she knew I was Miyamoto's daughter and was only pretending to be nice to me in hopes that it'd get her ahead. That alone was enough to disgust me, but it didn't end there! Wendy also mentioned that she had a crush on Simone...but he had no interest in her because he liked Emanuela...and that made her jealous!"

Wendy's face turned red -- it was obvious that she couldn't deny anything Jessie was saying.

"She was asking Cassidy and her little followers if they could help her get Emanuela out of the way so that she could have a chance with Simone. She knew that Cassidy was partners with Butch and that Butch really hated Manu for some reason, so she was trying to form an alliance with them," Jessie went on. "And as if that weren't bad enough, she kept insulting Emanuela...and Cairdea too, since Cair was Manu's partner at the time, and she would not shut up!"

"Is that so?" James growled.

I felt my claws unsheathing as I thought about everything Wendy had done to us and what she'd tried to do to some of our closest friends. Just getting fired was far too lenient a punishment for this bitch!

Jessie fixed Wendy with a menacing glare. "Unlike the incident when I was in kindergarten, however, I decided to play it cool this time. I waited quietly in the changing stall until they'd left the locker room, and I let Wendy put on her little kiss-ass act when she met up with me later. But once my workout was over, and she bought that fruit smoothie for me, I laid it on the line and told her flat-out that I don't associate with phonies. I never spoke to her again after that, and I never told James, Meowth, or Mondo about it either. I did tell Emanuela, Simone, and Cairdea about what had happened and warned them to look out for Wendy and the others, though. Luckily, nothing ever came of it, but still...."

"You know, I really have to wonder about you, Jessie!" Wendy interjected. "You see, I meant what I said about you in that personnel entry -- you're the daughter of Miyamoto! You've got all this great potential for evil, but you're too busy wasting your time on things that don't matter to take advantage of any of it!"

"My friends are NEVER a waste of time!" Jessie shot back. "And my momma was NOT evil -- she got ahead by working hard! I guess concepts like those are beyond a back-stabbing bitch like you!"

"Oh, please! Everybody you like is a loser, Jessie!" Wendy scoffed. "Mondo is an annoying twerp, Cairdea is a total geek, Emanuela is a wimp, Simone has bad taste in women, that stupid talking Meowth is a freak, and James is even fruitier than that smoothie you never paid me back for! If that's the kind of riff-raff you associate with...."

Wendy never got a chance to finish. Before she could continue, Jessie lunged forth and grabbed her by the throat. "Don't you DARE talk about my friends like that! Just shut your fucking mouth before I rip your tongue out and strangle you with it!" she shouted.

Yeah! You tell her, Jess! I silently cheered.

James said nothing, but I could tell from the smile on his lips that he was probably thinking the same thing that I was.

"You want a fruit drink, Wendy?" Jessie sneered. "Well, how about a nice punch?!" With that, she smashed Wendy's face with a right hook. "Like the taste of that one? Then, how about another?!" She then drove her fist into Wendy's stomach. As Wendy doubled over and crumpled to the floor, Jessie delivered a swift kick to her ribs and sent her tumbling across the room. "Consider my debt repaid," she said coldly. "And be thankful to all that's good and holy that I didn't pay you back in full for what you've done."

As Wendy clutched her bleeding nose in her hand and struggled to get back to her feet, Giovanni got up from his desk and grabbed her by the collar of her dress. Once he'd hauled her up, he grabbed Jennifer, who was now cowering in the corner and sobbing hysterically, as well. He then looked back at James. "Agent Woodson, would you please call security for me?"

James saluted him. "Yes, sir!" He pressed the intercom button on the boss's desk. "Hello, security? This is agent James Woodson. The boss needs you in his office immediately."

"We'll be right there," the security guards replied.

After a couple of minutes, the security guards we'd met when we'd first gotten off of the elevator came into the office. "What's going on?" they asked.

Giovanni shoved Wendy and Jennifer at them. "I've just terminated the employment of agents West and Ratliff -- they've been falsifying employee records, embezzling Team Rocket funds, and conspiring against fellow Rockets," he explained. "Would you please deliver them to Officer Jenny for me? Tell her that the leader of the Viridian Gym found this pair of dangerous Team Rocket agents trespassing in his complex."

"Yes, sir!" the security guards chorused as they cuffed Wendy and Jennifer's hands behind their backs and led them out of the office.

Once the final echoes of their screams and protests died away, Giovanni turned his attention back to Jessie. "Agent Parker, in all my years as leader of Team Rocket, I have never, ever seen such an outburst from one of my employees!"

As Giovanni fixed her with his menacing gaze, Jessie just stood in place and stared right back at him...almost as if she were challenging him or daring him to fire her as well. I honestly didn't know what had come over her -- she didn't seem to be the least bit intimidated by him anymore. Was this bravado just an act, or did she know something that James and I didn't know?

The stare-down between Jessie and the boss lasted for only a couple of minutes, but it seemed more like an eternity to me and James. Neither one of us drew a single breath as we watched the exchange.

At length, Giovanni's stern look softened and became a grin. "Well done, Parker! Your actions are a credit to this organization!" he exclaimed.

James and I heaved a sigh of relief.

"Ya mean, ya ain't mad at us?" I ventured.

"Of course not! You three haven't done anything wrong," Giovanni replied. "If anything, you've been wronged, and it's time I made things right. I'm tired of hiding the truth...so very tired...."

Jessie raised an eyebrow. "Sir?"

"Sit," he told us. "We still have a lot of important business to take care of...and I have some things I'd like to tell you." He seated himself at his desk again and brought our personnel files back up. "First, let's erase these trumped-up debts from your records and figure out how much back-pay I owe you. Now, when was it that your salaries were cut back to minimum wage?"

"I believe it was March 29, 2000 -- the day the old headquarters blew up," James told him as we took our seats again.

"You'd screamed about giving us a pay-cut that night, and when we got our next paychecks, we were back at minimum wage," Jessie added.

Giovanni clicked on his computer's calculator. "Let's see...that's about twenty months...with number of hours worked, and the two different raises...." He shook his head and smirked at us. "Oh, fuck it! Let's just make this simple and assume you've been working regular forty hour weeks for the past two years at your current eleven dollar an hour salary. The resulting sum will undoubtedly be much higher than the exact amount of money I owe you...so consider the extra money interest and reparations for the financial hardships you've uncomplainingly endured all this time."

Jessie, James, and I exchanged grins. Considering how little we'd been getting paid over the past couple of years, we probably had a lot of back-pay coming our way!

And we were right -- once Giovanni had finished his calculations, the sum he'd come up with was $22,880...for each of us!

"Here you go. I believe we're all squared away in the money department now," he said as he wrote three checks in that amount and handed them to us. His brow furrowed. "Once again, I sincerely apologize for the actions of agents West and Ratliff...and that I didn't put a stop to their nonsense sooner. Though why anybody would get that worked up over a $1.98 fruit smoothie is beyond me...."

"Ah, dere's just no accountin' for some people," I told him as I took the check he offered me and admired its healthy sum. "She prolly woulda pulled all dat shit anyway -- gettin' stiffed for the drink just gave her the excuse she was lookin' for."

Jessie took her own check and nodded. "Yeah. Wendy was a freak."

"Who knows where madmen go to conceive of their ideas? Only the madmen, I suppose," James said quietly as he took his check. He smiled again. "Oh, well. The situation is remedied now, and that's what really matters. Thank you, sir."

"You're quite welcome," Giovanni replied. "Now, to our next order of business. Simply paying you all of the money you were owed doesn't seem like enough. I feel I also owe you an explanation for why I've been so hard on you all these years."

We looked up at him.

"What I'm about to tell you does not leave this room. Understood?"

"Understood," we echoed in unison.

Giovanni got to his feet and looked out the window at the rosy morning sky. "I know that my actions towards you may have seemed harsh or unreasonable at times...." he began.

"Hmmmph! More like all the time!" Jessie muttered under her breath.

Giovanni looked back at her. It was obvious he'd heard what she said, but he continued anyway. "But there was a reason for it. This is a long story -- it goes all the way back to your mother, Jessie." He paused for a moment to gauge her reaction.

"Nothing you can say about my momma will upset me," she said evenly.

He nodded approvingly. "I had a great deal of respect for the late agent Parker -- as you so rightly pointed out, she was a hard worker and very dedicated to her job. She was also very beautiful -- I'll be the first to admit that I had feelings for her...."

Jessie's sapphire eyes went wide. Her air of knowing the score on the boss seemed to be rapidly dwindling.

"But I knew it never would've worked out -- she was five years my senior, she had a baby, and her heart belonged forever to the father of her child. I accepted that," Giovanni quickly added. "Still, I enjoyed spending time with her -- she actually listened to me and treated me with respect, even though I was nothing more than a child to her. Most of mother's other employees simply regarded me as Arianna's little brat boy. I daresay Miyamoto Parker was the closest thing to a friend I ever had...."

James and I turned our attention to Jessie. She still looked as if she were in shock.

James placed a hand on her shoulder. "Honey...."

Jessie cleared her throat. "I guess that's why you did it," she muttered. She shook her head and looked up at Giovanni again. "I recently met my father's family and learned all about what happened between him and my mother. I know that you helped reunite my parents because you thought that your mother keeping them apart was wrong, but I never knew you did it because you actually liked momma...."

So, DAT'S why Jessie ain't afraid of the boss no more! I thought as I listened to her. He wouldn't a helped Miyamoto like dat if he really did have it in for us! Suddenly, I felt foolish for all the years we'd spent being intimidated by him.

At my side, James looked every bit as surprised as I felt.

"Yes. I did like Miyamoto...I liked her a lot," Giovanni continued. "The day after you were born, mother and I went to visit her in the hospital. I saw your father there, Jessie...."

"Yes, I know about that, too," Jessie interjected. "I read all about my daddy's account of that day. He wanted to come back to me and momma and do right by us, but your mother scared him away...made him think that we'd be in danger if we left Team Rocket to be with him!" Her voice was strained with both sadness and anger as she spoke.

"You're right -- mother's lies did scare him away. I felt bad about that. And even worse that I couldn't tell Miyamoto that her lover had tried to come back to her without getting in trouble," Giovanni said quietly. He crossed the room and went to the two oil paintings of his parents that were hanging on the wall. "Jessie, I know you hate my mother for all the pain and grief she caused you and your family over the years. I can't blame you -- even I didn't agree with what she'd done. But you have to understand that she was the way she was...and she did what she did for a reason."

Jessie looked down at the floor and bit her lip. James wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her to him. I reached over and took one of her hands in my paws.

"I have no real memories of my father -- he passed away when I was very young," Giovanni went on. "But I do know that mother had loved him with all her heart and soul. I know that his death devastated her. After he was gone, she closed her heart and became cold...immersed herself in running the Team Rocket empire alone -- the empire she'd once shared with my father. She never wanted to feel the kind of pain that father's death had caused her again, so she forced herself to forget what friendship and love felt like. She raised me with that same coldness. The one lesson she always taught me was that friendship and feelings lead to vulnerability...and there's no room for vulnerability in this line of work...."

"I'm sorry for what happened to your parents," Jessie told him. She shook her head and brushed away the tears that were starting to fill her eyes. "But that didn't give Arianna the right to destroy other lives...other families!"

"I'm not trying to justify her actions," he replied. "You're correct, Jessie -- there is no excuse for what she did to your parents. I just wanted you to know the reason why...to give you more perspective on why it happened."

Jessie's brow furrowed as she reflected on what Giovanni had told her.

"It was actually Miyamoto who made me start questioning my own mother and everything she'd taught me and raised me to believe," he went on. "She never preached to me or directly undermined mother's authority. It was just the example she set...the way she lived her life that so impressed me. Most of mother's agents were in Team Rocket to make money and rise to power, the bottom line their only real concern. Not so with Miyamoto. It's true she was in it for the money as well, but it was why she wanted the money that made all the difference. She never cared about profits or power -- she was doing it for you, Jessie. Everything she did was so that she could put food on the table and give you a better life. She was working for a higher purpose than personal gain and glory...and that gave her an integrity and a strength that I'd never seen before. Miyamoto Parker was one of the strongest people I ever knew...and it was love that made her so. I think that's the reason why I try to run this organization differently -- and hopefully better -- than my mother did. I do my best to look after my agents and pay them a comfortable wage -- the payroll fraud that you three were the victims of is the one glaring exception, and again I apologize for allowing that to go on as long as it did. I prefer to keep my employees working for me because they want to, rather than because they have no other choice."

"That's all well and good. I'm glad that my momma was such an inspiration to you," Jessie muttered. She brushed the last of her tears away and got back to her feet. "But there are still some things I need to know. If you liked my momma and had so much respect for what she was doing, then why didn't you do anything when all she was working for was destroyed? Why did you let your mother take me from my home and force me into Team Rocket after my momma's death? Why did you let her lie to my grandparents and convince them that I was dead when they came looking for me?! Why couldn't you have at least told me the truth about my family after I came back to Team Rocket?! How does the way you handled that make you any better than your mother?!" The anger was rising in her voice with every question that she asked, and before long her eyes were clouded with tears again.

Giovanni wheeled around to face her once more. "You listen to me, Parker -- I did want to tell your grandparents the truth about you...just as I wanted to tell Miyamoto the truth about your father! But I couldn't! Do you think something like that would have escaped my mother's notice?! I took a big risk as it was, just helping Miyamoto get back in touch with your father and her parents! I did what I thought I could! I know now that I probably could have...and should have done more, but at least I did try!"

"I guess I can accept that," Jessie begrudged him. "But what about after your mother passed away? What was your reason for keeping the truth from me then?"

"You know as well as I do that it was a turbulent time for everybody concerned when you rejoined Team Rocket," he said. "Mother had just died, and I'd just taken over as the new leader. It took me a long time to get her affairs in order after that and start running the organization the way I wanted to. I was still in the process of getting everything sorted out when you showed up with James. I'd been hoping that after you flunked out of nursing school and Pokemon Tech, mother would lose interest in you and abandon her hopes that you'd be the next Miyamoto. I'd had no idea that she'd sent her agents to hunt you down and bring you back -- if I had known, I would have called off the search and left you to your own devices. But when I saw you again after all those years, I knew that I couldn't turn you away. I decided to give you and James a job...and I hired you because of Meowth. He was happy making his living as my top cat, but what he really needed was friendship. That's why I assigned him to be your partner." He looked over at me. "I didn't replace you as top cat because you fell out of favor with me -- I did it because I knew you'd be happier with Jessie and James."

I felt tears stinging my eyes when I heard this. "Well, ya made a good call, boss." I smiled up at my two friends. "I love Jess and Jim more den anything -- dere's nowhere I'd rather be."

Giovanni nodded. "Glad to hear it." Then, to Jessie, "And there's another reason I kept you on with Team Rocket. Seeing you again reminded me of the promise that I'd made to Miyamoto...."

Jessie arched an eyebrow. "Promise? What promise?"

"Remember what I told you about how I considered your mother a friend?"

She nodded.

"Well, she felt the same way -- she considered me a friend. As I told you before, Miyamoto was one of the few people in the organization who saw me for who I was, rather than who my mother was. I always appreciated that. Helping her get back in touch with Dorian and her parents was but a small token of my appreciation," he explained. "And yet, that small gesture meant the world to her. Because of what I did, Miyamoto told me that if the day came when she left Team Rocket and married Dorian, she'd still want to keep in touch with me and remain friends...and that if anything happened to her, then she'd trust me to look after you." He cupped Jessie's chin in his hand. "That's right -- I promised your mother that I'd look out for you if anything happened to her. I guess you could say...that I'm your godfather, Jessie."

Now both of Jessie's eyebrows were raised in surprise.

"Well, this is an unexpected twist!" James remarked. He looked every bit as surprised as Jessie did.

And I felt as surprised as they looked. Too flabbergasted for words, I simply nodded in agreement.

Giovanni's brow furrowed again as he looked back at us. "If I hear even one Don Corleone joke out of you, then you're out of here!" he snapped.

I held up my paws. "Nobody's sayin' nothin'!"

"My lips are zipped!" James concurred.

Jessie grinned at us. "I guess he made you an offer you can't refuse, eh, guys?" she said in her best Marlon Brando voice.

"I knew I was going to regret this," Giovanni groaned as he placed a hand to his temple.

"Alright, alright, no more jokes," Jessie conceded. Then, becoming serious again. "But if you were supposed to be looking out for me, then why have you spent all this time being so hard on us?"

"Because, as strange as it may seem, that was my way of looking out for you," he replied in all honesty. "Jessie, you know that being the daughter of Miyamoto makes you attract an undue amount of attention -- as the incident with agent West illustrated, there's no shortage of people in this organization who would make you a target because of your parentage."

"Yeah, I know. Believe me," she grumbled.

"Well, imagine how bad it would be if people found out that you're my favorite employee," Giovanni told her. "If they thought that I was granting you special favors and privileges, there'd be no end to the agents who'd try to use you...or try to get you out of the way to get ahead. I've spent all these years convincing the more...untrustworthy of my employees that I think you're a bunch of incompetent nit-wits to take the heat off of you...and I led you to believe that I had a low opinion of you for the plausible deniability factor. If the back-stabbers and opportunists in this organization believe that I have no interest in you, then it's less likely that they'll think you're of any use to them. Besides, if word got out that I...that I...care about you, then people might get the mistaken impression that I've gone soft. And I can't have that."

Jessie smiled. "We can respect that," she said. "And we appreciate your candor."

"Don't worry, sir. Your secret is safe with us," James promised.

"Ya have our word," I added.

"That's also why I've kept you on that Pikachu assignment all these years and never promoted you to Elites or special forces," he went on. "I figured giving you a harmless assignment following a stupid kid on his pokemon journey would keep you safe from most of the Team Rocket politics...."

"Well, you figured wrong," Jessie broke in.

"This is actually what we came back to headquarters to talk to you about," James informed him. "The incidents with Kuso Baba and Wendy just so happened to take place while we were making plans to meet with you."

"What's going on?" he inquired.

"We came here ta ask ya for a new assignment," I told him flat-out. "We can't take no more of dat goddamned twerp and his goddamned electric rat."

James nodded. "That's right. Ash Ketchum is even more insane than Wendy...and trying to capture his Pikachu has become far more dangerous than the kind of missions you send the Elites and special forces on."

"It wasn't really keeping us safe from the politics, either," Jessie growled. "Butch and Cassidy have hassled us on more than one occasion, and we've had a few unpleasant encounters with other agents, too."

Giovanni smirked. "Well, I don't think you'll have to worry about agents Kidd and Sundance bothering you anymore -- I fired them a few weeks ago."

The three of us did a double-take when he said this. "You did?!"

"Butch and Cassidy were completely unreliable," he told us. "The pokemon they were sending me from that fake breeding center were all sick and injured and therefore of little use to me -- as I told you before, if you hadn't interfered with them, I was going to send some agents to shut them down anyway. Same deal with that half-assed fortune telling scam they were pulling earlier this year -- all of the pokemon that they'd stolen from those little kids were in bad shape when I received them. And they were always getting sent to jail and making me waste valuable money bailing them out. At least you three are adept at getting yourselves out of trouble and don't come crying to me every time something goes wrong." His smirk became a scowl. "But the final straw was what they did last month...."

"You mean when they were working with that mad scientist and trying to capture those Lugias in the Whirl Islands?" James ventured. "We saw that on the news."

"That's precisely what I mean," came his reply. "They used Team Rocket money to contract Professor Namba and fund his experimentation on pokemon without my knowledge or consent, and over fifty Dan'in were seriously injured when that undersea base, which was also built without my authorization, exploded." Now he was smirking again. "When they used their one phone call to ask me to spring them out of jail, I told them that they were off the team and that they could rot there."

Jessie, James, and I couldn't help but snicker.

"I assume that takes care of a large part of the political problems you've been experiencing. I know I certainly never appreciated Butch and Cassidy's attitude towards you -- sometimes, it was all I could do to keep from smashing their faces in when they bad-mouthed you and spread vicious rumors about you. I got so tired of playing along with that shit." He shook his head. "But I don't want to talk about them anymore. What other problems have you been having on this assignment?"

"Ya may wanna sit down, boss," I told him.

"Yeah," Jessie agreed. "We have a lot of things to tell you about Ash Ketchum."

"And you're not going to like any of it," James warned him.


"Figlio di puttana," Giovanni groaned as he brought out his handkerchief and wiped away the sweat on his brow.

It had been mid-morning when Jessie, James, and I had begun naming off all of the reasons why we didn't want to have anything to do with Ash Ketchum anymore. It was now almost seven in the evening, and we'd just exhausted our extensive arsenal of twerp horror-stories. We'd spared no gory detail as we'd described every single cruelty and indignity the twerps had ever subjected us to. Every blast-off, every insult, every dirty pokemon battle, all the times we'd almost died because of them (Giovanni had seemed especially outraged over the incidents on the St. Anne and in the Arbor Forest), the senseless destruction of our equipment, the outright theft of our equipment at times, the constant meddling with our plans, hassling us even when we were just capturing pokemon in the wild or minding our own business, how Ash was starting to become every bit as violent with our friends, even the whole story behind the destruction of the Viridian Pokemon Center, the Pokemon Land amusement park, and the old Viridian Gym -- we'd told the boss everything.

And he looked like he was going to be sick.

"Holy shit," he muttered. "Holy fucking shit...."

"Now do you see why we can't keep working on this assignment?" Jessie asked.

Giovanni looked back at us. All of the color had drained from his face, and his hands were shaking as he brought a bottle of Scotch from his desk drawer and poured some into a glass. "I...I had no idea. How could children be capable of such brutality?"

"Good question," James replied.

Giovanni drained the Scotch from his glass and refilled it. "Even I'd never dream of doing some of the things they've done...and I have a reputation for ruthlessness to uphold!" He belted back his second glass of Scotch and exhaled in a frustrated sigh. "Though in retrospect, I should've seen it coming. Blowing up an entire pokemon center just to get rid of three thieves, all of the Dan'in that ended up in the hospital after the St. Anne mission went bad -- in her exit-interview, Cairdea Underhill told me all about what Ash Ketchum had done before the ship sank -- the fact that Pokemon Land and the Viridian Gym were both levelled when he showed up. Red flags, one and all."

"Indeed they were," James concurred. "Ash Ketchum was a maniac from day one, and he's been growing more unstable by the day. We want nothing to do with him anymore, and that's all there is to it. If you insist on keeping us on this assignment, then we'll be handing in our resignations, effective immediately."

Giovanni waved a hand at us. "Don't do that. There's no way in hell I'd force you to stay on that assignment now. I'm just sorry I kept you on it for as long as I did. All of those warning signs should have registered with me a lot sooner, but you have to understand that I'm running the Team Rocket empire single-handedly...not to mention the added responsibilities of running the Viridian Gym. With all the Team Rocket business and all the Pokemon League business that I have to attend to every day...I just wasn't paying that much attention to what was going on with you three. You never complained about anything, and you did keep in touch and send me pokemon every now and then, so I just assumed that everything was okay."

Jessie reached across the desk and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay," she assured him. "We know you're an extremely busy man. That's a big reason we didn't complain about any of this or bring it to your attention sooner -- we didn't want to waste your time."

I nodded. "Dat, and we was afraid we'd be fired if we complained."

Giovanni closed his hand over Jessie's and shook his head. "You three are never a waste of my time. As unreasonable as I may have seemed in the past, if you'd told me what you were going through, I would've listened...and I would've done something about it." He smiled. "I don't know of many people who could take even a fraction of the abuse that you've endured over the years, let alone take it in stride and keep on persevering. Your mother had a strength like that, Jessie...and I see that same strength in you and your friends."

This made Jessie smile, too.

"So, does dis mean we can get a better assignment?" I ventured.

"That's exactly what it means. The only reason I had you on that Pikachu assignment is because I thought I was protecting you. But since all that assignment did was place you in more danger, a transfer is imperative," he replied. "Though to be honest, I'm not quite sure what to do with you three. I meant what I said earlier -- I can't promote you and put you on the kind of assignments that my Elites and special forces do since a lot of their work is just as dangerous as your old assignment and far more political. But by that same token, I'm not going to demote you or ask you to do grunt work, either -- you deserve more respect than that, especially after all the indignities you've suffered."

"I think the solution to our problem is very simple," James remarked. "Jessie, Meowth, and I can stay on as field-agents and do the same kind of work we've always done -- traveling and catching pokemon for you. The only thing we really needed was to hear you say that we don't have to follow the twerps or try to catch Pikachu anymore."

"Done!" Giovanni exclaimed. "In fact, I'm ordering you not to follow Ketchum or try to catch his Pikachu anymore! Don't go anywhere near him or his electric rat, if you can help it!"

The three of us saluted him. "You've got it, boss!" we said in unison.

He nodded approvingly. "I knew there was another reason I liked you three, besides your dedication and ingenuity -- service with a smile!"

We grinned.

"In fact, I think those qualities should be rewarded," he continued. "How does another raise sound? Will thirteen dollars an hour be sufficient?"

Our eyes went wide. Thirteen dollars an hour was starting salary for Elite agents! Even if the title would never be ours on paper, at least we were earning the respect and money that the position commanded. And that was what really mattered.

"That...that sounds great!" Jessie replied. "Thank you, sir!"

"Don't mention it," Giovanni said. "Good luck with your new assignment. And if that little bastard ever bothers you again, just let me know. I can arrange a nice pair of cement shoes for him...or at least send somebody to break his legs."

"Hmmm...temptin'! Very temptin'!" I said after considering it for a moment.

He snickered. "I don't normally condone extreme violence or murder, but after hearing about all the shit he's done to you, I'm sorely tempted, myself."

"Don't worry about it, boss. We've beaten him down several times since the incident where he almost got Jessie killed -- Ash is a real pussy now that we're giving no quarter," James told him.

"We've even gotten some use outta dose brass knuckles dat ya gave us for Jess and Jim's fake weddin'!" I chimed in. "Thanks! Dey kick ass...literally!"

"I bet the twerp still has those lines from our motto imprinted on his face from where we punched him yesterday!" Jessie chuckled.

Giovanni chuckled, too. "I'm glad I got those for you." He smiled once more. "Well, I still have a lot of work to do before I can call it a day, and I imagine you'll be wanting some dinner, so I'll let you go...."

When he said this, I suddenly remembered that we hadn't eaten since breakfast, and my stomach began to growl.

Giovanni reached into his desk drawer and produced a key-card with the number 754 printed on it. "Oh! Before I forget, here's the key to your new apartment here at headquarters. I assume you'll be staying the night?"

James took the key from him and nodded. "Yeah, we'll be crashing here tonight," he affirmed. "But tomorrow, we're going to get back on the road -- we promised Jessie's grandma and grandpa Parker that we'd spend her birthday with them, and we're going to spend Christmas with my grandparents."

"Well, before you go, meet me at the Viridian Gym tomorrow morning at nine o' clock sharp...and bring your pokemon with you," he told us. I could tell from the expression on his face that he was planning to let Jessie and James battle him for the Earth Badge.

Jessie's sapphire eyes glimmered. "We'll be there!" she promised. "Thanks again for helping us get all of these problems sorted out. And thank you for being honest with us about everything. We really appreciate it." With that, she leaned across the desk and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Yer not such a bad guy, after all, Gio!" I added as I jumped onto his shoulder.

James gave him a thumbs-up. "Yeah! You're okay!"

"Alright, alright! Cease and desist with this mushiness, or I really will demote you three!" Giovanni thundered. He was wincing, but it was obvious that it was all he could to keep from laughing.

Jessie smirked at him. "Yeah. Sure."

"Go on. Get out of here, you bumbling fools!" Giovanni snapped. He winked at us. "And have a happy holiday season."

Jessie, James, and I winked back. "Will do, boss!" we chorused as we saluted him and took our leave.

To be Continued....

Author's Notes

As you've probably noticed, this installment of the story is my WRH of "Hatching a Plan" and "Dues and Don'ts." I seriously hated both of these eps -- the former because it followed the tired old formula of Ash doing something stupid to make his pokemon hate him and then patching things over with his pokemon by getting it to help him commit acts of violence against Team Rocket (the whole "elephant hatching from an egg" deal was pretty damned disturbing, too), and the latter because...well, where do I even begin on what an abomination "Dues and Don'ts" was? I know a lot of TR fans liked this ep because it featured our heroes, but I personally thought it was right down there with "Tracey Gets Bugged" and "Forest Grumps" as one of the all-time worst episodes! Sorry folks, but 30 minutes of Jessie, James & Meowth fighting with each other and getting screwed-over in the most illogical and degrading ways is NOT my idea of a good Team Rocket episode! (Ya gotta admit it was no "Holy Matrimony!" "Princess vs. Princess," "Pikachu Re-Volts!" or "Meowth Rules!")

I just don't understand what the point of "Dues and Don'ts" was. Why do J, J & M suddenly owe money to everybody on the freakin' planet? The writers are always showing our heroes doing without and working shitty extra jobs so that they can make ends meet and pay for the stuff they buy with their own money, so they can't give us plotlines about unpaid bills and loans J, J & M have taken out and expect us to accept it. And what's the deal with having to pay membership dues at your job anyway?! That's beyond stupid, too! If the writers are serious about it, then they're idiots. And if the dues thing is just a scam by Wendy and the old broad with the Delibird, then having J, J & M fall for it is completely out of character -- they'd be able to see right through a two-bit con like that! Either way, there was no excuse for the writers to turn that lame plot into a running gag the way they did. (It's just as bad as the running gags about J, J & M starving, the Snubble who kept biting poor Meowth's tail, or that stupid Magikarp salesman who keeps showing up to hassle James. Mean-spirited shit like that is NOT entertaining or funny -- never has been, never will be! I wish the writers would give it a rest, already! >P) And WTF is up with all these freak-o Rockets who keep coming out of left field and have nothing better to do than pursue pointless vendettas against J, J & M?! That Wendy bitch had some serious problems if she was that outraged at Jessie over one freakin' fruit smoothie. -__- If that's all the writers can do in the way of plotlines that focus on Team Rocket and give us a look at the inner-workings of the organization, then I'll give it a miss. (It's bad enough that our heroes are always getting screwed-over by the brats and the guest-twerps -- why must they suffer at the hands of their fellow Rockets as well?!) Needless to say, I deeply, deeply resented everything that happened in this episode. The pointless arguments and blind acceptance of the membership dues were total violations of Jessie, James & Meowth's characters, and the plotline itself seemed like it was trying to undermine the very fabric of the Team Rocket organization and turn it into some pathetic joke. The only part I did like was where the twerps got blown up by some of Delibird's presents -- that scene was cool, but it didn't even come close to making up for all of the episode's bad points.

Thus the reason I wrote this WRH. There was just no way for me to write a WYDS about "Dues and Don'ts" that would've had a satisfying plot and resolution (especially since that dues gag keeps rearing its ugly head on the show). So, rather than trying to incorporate this situation into my writing and find an explanation for it, I presented the situation as a parody of the episode, picking apart what I hated most about it and showing it for how absurd it truly was -- the membership dues, our heroes' "expulsion" from Team Rocket, the uniform thing, and those puke-worthy "Republican" and "Team Jet & Team Helicopter" jokes were reduced to little more than the inane ramblings of a madwoman. As for the other aspects of the episode, Wendy (while still a world-class, grade-A freak) had a better reason for hating Jessie than simply being stiffed for a fruit smoothie...and Jess had a good reason for doing it in the first place, and our heroes got to keep Delibird (and the only person who's gonna be gettin' blasted off by his presents is Ash! >D)

I had a reason for writing Giovanni the way I did, too. As I've said a billion times before, I hate fics where he's portrayed as some kind of monster who's out to get our heroes, and I hate when the show tries to make it look like Gio has respect for losers like Botch & Crappidy and psychos like Wendy & Domino but thinks that J, J & M are "incompetent" or "expendable," so I wrote this WRH to counter all of that as well. Giovanni's characterization was a ticklish business for me, since I wanted to show that he's not really mean or evil but didn't want to go too far in the opposite direction and make him a "sunshine & rainbows" nice character, but I'm happy with how he turned out. I wanted to show that he's a no-nonsense guy who looks out for his good employees and has no tolerance for real incompetence, and I wanted to show that even though he had his reasons for seeming harsh and unreasonable with our heroes in the past, he really does like them and has a great deal of respect for them. (While we're on the subject, those tampered personnel files that Gio got so pissed about were from Tracey West's book, Team Rocket Blasts Off! I hated the way our heroes were characterized and treated in that book, so I couldn't resist picking apart those mean-spirited personnel file entries as well.)

Now, on to some technical notes. I chose the name Kuso Baba for the crazy old woman because "kusobaba" is the Japanese word for "old fart" (feminine form). As for all of the Italian curses that Giovanni utters: Che stronzata = What bullshit, Porca puttana! = Fucking hell!, Ma che cazzo e' sta cosa?! = What the fuck is this?!, and Figlio di puttana = Son of a bitch. (Gotta love The Alternative Dictionaries! hehehe) I'd also like to thank my friend, Charlene, for checking the Italian phrases for me and making sure that I used them correctly. ^_^

And last but not least, a very special thanks goes to my good friend, Shigeru1313. Since this is book 3 of the trilogy we've been working on, this story contains references to her story, Loyalties. And once again, she gave me a lot of technical assistance and valuable feedback during the writing process. She came up with the title for Chapter 1 (the original dub-title for "Hatching a Plan" was "Phanpy's Phantasitc Arrival," so she coined "Ash's Phucking Phantasy" as a parody of that...and to show that all of the blast-offs and other bad things that happen to our heroes on the show are nothing more than Ash's sick fantasies in our timelines and story arcs). And I've gotta thank her for letting me use her hilarious picture of Meowth sitting on Giovanni's head as an illustration -- she drew it upon the request of one of our friends, but it goes perfectly with Chapter 3 of my story! ^_^


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