Okay, Charizard!" Ash said with a grin. "Ready to get frozen solid, thawed out over the course of a long night, and gradually come to respect me?"
Charizard shook his head, fire leaking out of the corners of his mouth. "Not funny, Ash."
"Right." Ash shook his head. "Sorry, yeah. Wasn't thinking."
He waved his hand. "Are you going to want to fight him anyway?"
Lucario raised a paw. "Actually, I might."
Charizard looked down at him. "Really? Why you?"
The newly-evolved Pokemon shrugged. "Mainly to get used to fighting with my new weight. I'm used to being quite a lot smaller and more agile, and my feet are going to exert a lot more pressure on the floor now. That's going to have an impact, on sand for instance."
"Makes sense, I guess," Ash agreed. "Hey! Guy over there! Want a battle?"
"Still the direct route every time, I see," Lucario said with a chuckle.
Lucario crouched, and pushed off in a sprint. His feet dug into the sand, then the sand abruptly gave way, and he threw up a rooster-tail of sand instead of accelerating as he wanted to.
The release of effort sent him stumbling, leg out behind, then he recovered somewhat just as a Power-up Punch came in.
A clang reverberated around the beachfront.
Lucario grimaced. Steel type, Steel type, he reminded himself. It was harder to take fighting-type attacks now – they had something to connect to solidly, and he couldn't 'roll' with the punch so well.
Evolving wasn't all advantages. Specifically, he now had to worry much more about Fire and Ground attacks, as well as Fighting.
On the other hand... there were still definitely benefits. For one, it completely erased his original weaknesses.
Lucario skipped backwards, jumping off from the ground instead of using it for any real grip, and started experimenting. Using Aura to spread into the gaps between the grains of sand, adding to the adhesiveness the sand had just that little bit more...
A bubblebeam came in, and he did a handspring away from it. This time, when he landed, the sand gripped much better, and he skidded to a stop in moments.
"Not bad," the trainer, Tad, allowed. "Try this! Poliwrath, use Hypnosis!"
Lucario closed his eyes, switching to Aura sight.
"...why isn't your Pokemon looking where he's going?" Tad asked, watching in bafflement as Lucario's fighting ability was impaired not one iota.
"It's complicated," Ash told him. "Just accept it and move on."
"That's practically our motto," Tracey added.
Poliwrath considered, and then beat its belly (producing a series of loud clangs from the title belt.)
Belly Drum, Lucario thought. I should be cautious... unless...
He dodged an Ice Punch, and jumped over a sweeping low-level kick.
Then saw what he was looking for – a direct attack. A Mega Kick, in fact, powered by the full might of the earlier power-up.
He raised a blue-glowing paw, making no attempt to dodge, and caught the blow.
Steel creaked in his forearm as the potent blow hit home. Grunting, Lucario focused his Aura, accepting the impact.
A spark of light ran around his back, from arm to arm, and flashed into his other paw.
Tad blinked. "Wait, is that-"
Lucario's Counter hit.
Poliwrath took an impromptu flying lesson.
Ash ran over. "Ri-Lucario! Are you okay?"
Lucario nodded, cradling his left arm in his right. "I will be."
Ash embraced him. "You should be more careful, you – ow!"
They both looked down at his chest spike.
"No more hugs for me, then..." Lucario muttered with a sigh.
"Can't you... I dunno, use some kind of Metal Claw or something?" Ash asked. "Make it... less pointy?"
"Possibly." Lucario winced. "Well, I learned something at least. But I think that was not such a good idea."
Misty held up her hands. "Nope. Not getting involved."
"What?" Squirtle asked, putting his forelegs on his hips in indignation. "This is because there's a firefighting team that showed you up, isn't it?"
"They did not show me up!" Misty corrected. "I just don't want to find out what kind of ridiculous anime they're fans of, I know what your evolutionary line is like."
"Oh, no..." the Water-type gym leader said, sighing deeply. "Here we go."
A half-dozen voices started up, not quite in unison. The effect would have been ruined had Ash and his friends not spoken Pokemon, because all the singers were Squirtle.
"Go Wartortle rangers!"
"Nope." Misty turned her back, wilfully ignoring the five colourfully-costumed Wartortle that started posing in the field. "Next island, please."
Tracey stifled a chuckle.
It was a glorious day on Kumquat Island. The sun shone out of a clear blue sky, on a sea with just the right kind of waves to make surfing exciting breaking a hundred yards out into the water, and gentler waves lapping at a perfect sandy beach.
A ship heeled over as it turned towards the harbour.
"Wow," Tracey said from the rail, looking along the shoreline. "This is beautiful! I've only been here a few times before!"
"It's a famous resort, isn't it?" Misty asked. "I've heard people come from all over the world."
"What kind of Pokemon live here?" Ash asked.
"One track mind," Tracey teased. "But I've heard that Fire types live up in the mountains – there's natural hot springs there."
The ship bumped gently against the pier, and a gangplank was run out to allow passengers to go ashore.
Not that Ash and his friends were still on board. They'd disembarked with Lapras as soon as it came into harbour.
"Thanks, Lapras!" Ash said, returning him with a smile.
"You're so impatient," Misty sighed. "Right, where was the gym in this place..."
She smiled. "Oh, that's right! It's a hotel!"
Tracey pointed at a map. "That looks like a good start."
They clustered around it.
"Kumquat hotel... is that the one?" Ash asked, pointing.
"I suppose it must be," Misty decided.
"So, you're challenging the gym?" Luana asked. "That's quite surprising, Travis..."
Ash blinked. "Who?"
"Travis?" Luana asked, then sighed. "Oh, dear, it happened again, didn't it... sorry, uh, what was your name?"
"Ash," Ash answered.
"Right. Ash. Sorry, Ash, you're the spitting image of my son Travis. This has happened before – a boy called... Ritchie, that was it."
"Ritchie Getem?" Misty asked.
"I assume so," Luana said. "Why?"
"I fought him in the Indigo League!" Ash informed her.
"Now I'm almost glad I didn't watch the Indigo league," Luana decided. On seeing Ash's expression, she hastened to explain. "No, it's not you – sorry, I am making a lot of mistakes today. It's that watching a boy who looked just like my son down to the Pikachu, fighting another boy who looked just like my son down to the Pikachu, would have been too strange to bear."
"Okay, I guess..." Ash said, then shook his head. "Where were we?"
"You were challenging the gym," Luana reminded him.
"Oh, yeah, that's right!" Ash pointed at her. "Yes. I, Ash Ketchum," he stressed, "of Pallet, challenge you to a gym battle!"
"Okay." She nodded. "Do you need to spend some time to prepare? The gym hotel is free of charge to challengers."
"Say yes!" Misty suggested.
"Uh... yeah, then," Ash confirmed. "What are the rules?"
"Double battle. The first Pokemon knocked out loses their trainer the match."
"Okay." Ash frowned. "Tough one..."
"So, who wants to do this one?" Ash asked, some time later.
The assembled Pokemon exchanged glances.
"Didn't Charizard and I do it last time?" Pikachu asked.
"Yeah, but this is a good opportunity for teamwork practice." Ash shrugged. "I just want to make sure you guys don't get too complacent."
He frowned. "Wasn't the boss guy... Drake? The local Champion? There was something strange about his fight... Dexter?"
Drake challenges his opponents to a six-on-six battle.
"A what?" Ash asked, blinking. "Okay, wow. Better start thinking about that now, then."
He looked between his Pokemon. "Who's not used to big battles?"
"I certainly am," Pikachu said. "No need for me."
"I think I proved my credentials earlier this week," Charizard said for his part.
Ivysaur glanced at Squirtle, and pre-empted him. "We're fine."
Lucario nodded, slowly. "I believe I am ready."
I know the theory.
"And Pidgeot's good at them... but she's working with Lugia. Okay, I think I know who to send out there."
Many eyes turned to him.
"Lapras, Snorlax, you two are the ones who mesh least well with my normal style. Do you think you're up for it?"
"Er..." Lapras glanced over at the enormous bear Pokemon halfway around the circle. "Can we effectively work together?"
"Well, it's going to be interesting finding out," Ash shrugged. "I think she's going to use... what was it... a Marowak and an Alakazam."
Ash rummaged around in his backpack for the hat, which was nearly good as new after a few days' laundry. "One of you should wear this, as well."
"What's that?" Snorlax asked, blinking.
"It's a really snazzy hat," Lucario answered solemnly. "It grants the Dark type."
Lapras nodded. "I should probably take it, then. Snorlax' Rest is actually a Psychic move."
"Right." Ash frowned, tapping his foot. "I know just what we'll do!" he announced.
Blinking, Lapras looked over at Pikachu. "Should I be worried?"
Pikachu shrugged. "Yeah, probably."
"First step, teach Snorlax Sleep Talk. Lapras, you should probably learn Rain Dance... or, wait, you do know Blizzard, right?"
"Right, Rain Dance it is then."
"Ready?" the Gym Leader asked. She threw two Pokeballs, and her Marowak and Alakazam strode out onto the flat floor of the gym.
"Yep!" Ash replied, sending his own two Pokemon out. "Okay, here goes!"
"Begin," Luana said simply.
"Lapras, Rain Dance!" Ash ordered.
Lapras complied, sending a pulse of energy upwards.
"Wait a second..." Ash glanced at the ceiling. "This is an indoor match."
Tracey shaded his eyes, and looked up at the sky overhead.
"Misty!" he called into the surf.
"What?" Misty replied, looking up from teaching her new Kabuto to use Bubblebeam. "Is there a problem?"
Tracey pointed up.
Misty followed his pointing finger, and saw that the weather was rapidly changing to overcast.
"Oh, no..." she said. "Let's hope it doesn't get worse."
Ash released his Ivysaur. "Hey, Ivysaur? Can you go outside and make sure the weather goes back to sunny?"
The Grass type nodded, lumbering off to the doors to use Sunny Day.
"Thanks," Ash told him, then turned back to the battle. "Uh... improvise! But still use Rain Dance somehow!"
Lapras did the next best thing, and shot one of the sprinklers.
Water flooded the gym to a depth of about two inches, before the pressure in the system ran out.
"I hope you've got a good reason for that," Luana said, frowning. "This isn't easy to clean."
Pikachu sniggered. "She really doesn't know you."
"Hey!" Ash said, then turned back to the fight. "Okay. Snorlax, Body Slam! Lapras, Blizzard!"
Luana's Pokemon blinked, then yelped at the name of the second attack. Marowak jumped behind a shield that Alakazam set up, and they weathered the powerful Ice attack with ease.
"Ice beam!" Ash instructed.
"Alakazam," Luana instructed. "Hyper Beam."
As the blizzard eased, Alakazam raised his spoons and focused. A bolt of energy shot forwards, straight at Lapras.
Snorlax growled something, and interposed his huge body in the way. The attack hit him hard, making him grunt and skid backwards a bit.
"Good!" Luana said. "Now, Marowak, follow up!"
A Bonemarang came in next, and Snorlax blocked that as well. He yawned, scratching himself, and gave the Bone Pokemon a tired look.
"It can't hold out forever!" Luana called. "Keep that Lapras out of the way so it can't attack you!"
"Too late," Ash replied, seeing Lapras' signal that the ice was firm enough.
Rather than firing beams at the enemy Pokemon, he'd been plastering the floor in them – building up the thin film of ice from the earlier attacks into a thick layer over two inches thick.
"Snorlax!" Ash added. "Rest! Then Sleep Talk all you want!"
Snorlax yawned again, a big jaw-cracking one, and flopped forward onto the ice. It cracked, but there was no longer any water underneath it to fall into.
Lapras skated forwards on the ice, Slamming into Snorlax and sending him skidding forwards, then formed a ramp with his ice and jumped.
Landing right on top of Snorlax.
"What on earth are you doing?" Luana asked, perplexed.
Ash dove for cover.
Snorlax started to Sleep Talk.
Snorlax didn't know many moves, not being much of a battler. The main moves he knew were Body Slam, Headbutt, Mega Kick, Mega Punch... and Hyper Beam. All of them powerful moves.
As a consequence, his Sleep Talk was randomly selecting from a really rather short pool of options.
All of which added up to the result: a half-ton Pokemon bouncing around on an icy surface like a crazed hockey puck, periodically shooting intense Hyper Beams.
"What the-" Luana began, then winced as the random movement of the unorthodox combo brought them near enough to Marowak for Lapras to clip her with an Ice Beam.
She needed to come up with a new strategy for them.
Frowning, Luana noticed that the Lapras – while looking quite dizzy by now – was firing off Ice Beams at a rapid clip. It didn't seem to matter where they went, actually...
"Alakazam, get that Lapras off the Snorlax! It's what's keeping the arena frozen! Marowak, ready a Bonemerang!"
The two gym Pokemon nodded in unison. Alakazam focused in a Psychic attack...
And got nothing.
Marowak gave her teammate a quizzical look. Alakazam shrugged a reply – he had no idea what was going on.
They had a moment of wordless discussion, then started a new plan.
Alakazam erected Reflect walls across the stadium, making sure to double-strengthen them so that the Snorlax-puck bounced off rather than smashing through them. Once the stadium was divided into a half, he went on to do a second line through that half, constricting the area they could bounce around in more and more.
Marowak smashed her club into the ice again and again, gradually shattering it into smaller, spider-webbed pieces which provided less uncertain footing. She waited for the Reflect walls to confine Ash's two Pokemon into a very small area, then walked over with her club raised.
A smashing blow to the ice, and their icy spin was interrupted. Lapras went flying into the air, landed hard, and cried out in pain, while Snorlax bounced off the wall of the gym and landed back on the ice with a mutter and a snore.
"Lapras!" Ash called. "You okay?"
"I think so," Lapras said bravely. "I can do this."
He raised his head, mouth glowing with an Ice Beam. If he could just get that Marowak before she got him...
Alakazam frowned, erecting a light screen between the two to block the attack.
A growl came from next to him, and he turned.
Snorlax woke up.
It attacked in a grumpy rage.
"I... have to say," Luana said, blinking. "That's an interesting interpretation of Crunch."
Snorlax finished picking its teeth with the second of Alakazam's mangled spoons, then cuffed the staggering Pokemon hard enough to knock it to the floor unconscious.
"Well, that was... unexpected," the Gym Leader summarized. "Not an aspect of double battling we normally see, not even from our northern neighbours in Hoenn. Congratulations, though, you've certainly earned my Jade Star Badge."
She paused. "Why, though?"
"My normal style is with agile, hard-hitting Pokemon," Ash replied. "Maybe it was silly of me, but I decided to turn Lapras and Snorlax into agile, hard-hitting Pokemon."
"...I see," Luana said, after considering that. "Well, a battle is a battle, and a badge is a badge. Well done, Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town. How many of the Orange Crew have you fought now?"
"You were number four." Ash showed the badges on his jacket, then ran over to Lapras. "You okay?"
Lapras nodded. "A little bruised, but nothing a good Rest won't cure."
Only snores answered him.
"Okay, then," Ash said, shrugging. "Tell you what, Lapras, we'll take a boat again. Unless..."
He thought about it for a bit. "When's the next Orange league meet?"
"No such thing," Luana reminded him. "Drake's always open for challengers."
"Right. We can probably skip Rind Island, so... yeah, it's your choice," Ash told Lapras. "We can afford to stay here another day or so, so if you don't mind carrying us to..."
He pulled the map out of his pouch. "Excuse me – what's this island called?"
"West of Rind Island?" Luana frowned. "I can't remember, sorry."
"Oh well. Anyway, if you don't mind carrying us here, then we can wait until you're ready to go."
"I'll be fine," Lapras told him. "I want to spend as much time as I can with you, before we find my pod."
Ash knelt down and embraced him, touched. "Thanks, Lapras."
"Only – please don't make this a normal strategy? The room only just stopped spinning."
"Excellent work," Giovanni said softly, as the tape came to an end. "Yes, superb."
Jessie, James and Meowth exchanged looks.
"Um... you sure, boss?" Jessie asked, nervously. "Because it feels like we made mistakes..."
"Of course you did," Giovanni waved it off. "You didn't kill her, for one, so if J ever does escape that prison she's in she'll probably try to kill you. But that's not the point," he went on, ignoring the frightened looks the agents exchanged. "The point is that this greatly increases the power of Team Rocket."
Meowth raised a hand-paw. "How? Uh, boss?"
"Yeah," James agreed. "We're down one fighter jet and up nothing."
"War machines are there to be used," Giovanni shrugged. "How many kinds of power are there?"
The question threw his subordinates.
"Um... dunno?" Meowth offered, after a minute.
Giovanni smiled – like a Sharpedo. "You are probably thinking mainly of Super-power, the ability to compel using force, or possibly Earth Power, the ability to make things be done because you own the places they are done."
He steepled his fingers, and whistled something. The sleek Persian who sat on a sofa left off his glare at Meowth and touched a control.
The screen behind him lit up.
"There are eight kinds of power that I consider important," Giovanni explained. "Superpower, Secret Power, Nature Power, Cosmic Power, Earth Power, Stored Power, Hidden Power and Ancient Power."
"Ain't dey all Pokemon moves?" Meowth asked.
"Well spotted," Giovanni said, with precise sarcasm. "Superpower, as I've said, is the ability to compel with force. That is what we aimed to gain a monopoly on with Mewtwo, though that failed."
He said it without remorse – stating a fact.
"Secret power?" he said, inflecting it like a question.
James raised a hand. "Is that when Team Rocket owns part of a company?"
"Close. That is Hidden Power. Secret Power is favours owed, and good feelings – when people owe us, or feel we're doing a good job."
Another small smile. "Your speciality, believe it or not. Film proof that Rocket members helped save the world is important to that.""
While the trio digested that, Giovanni moved on to the next slide. "Nature Power. Important because, well, we want to live in a world where people don't have to worry about this one. People who are struggling to feed themselves or stay alive don't have time to gamble and drink, or to buy things, or to have fun."
"And there's cosmic power." Giovanni sighed. "There are some morons out there who actually try to get this one. Don't."
"What is it?" James asked, after a pause to make sure the boss had finished speaking.
"The ability to remake reality." The shadowy head of Team Rocket smiled slightly. "Useful, I'll admit, but far too flashy – and dangerous to acquire."
He looked each of them in the eye. "And Team Rocket does not like risk. Agents risk, the Team endures."
"And da other two?" Meowth asked.
"Finally, there's Stored Power and Ancient Power. Stored Power is, put simply, money. Lucre. The ability to bribe people with untraceable cash – and we have a lot of that. Ancient Power is..." Giovanni permitted himself a small smile. "What I aim for, in a way. It is the power you have, when the very idea that you have power is ingrained in society. People simply agree that you should be important... and so you are."
"Shouldn't you be back at your duties?" Giovanni asked.
The Rockets were only too glad to leave the meeting room.
Once they were gone, Giovanni tapped his fingers on the armrest for a moment.
"A worthwhile investment, on the whole," he said to his Classy Cat. "They're a little unsophisticated, perhaps, but... yes, entirely worthwhile."