Spoiler:- OOC stuff!:
Cerulean City was a little bigger than Pewter—not by much, but enough to impress those in the group who weren’t used to any town of respectable size, period.
“Wow! This is huge!” exclaimed Ash. Exhibit number one.
The obvious response came to Rick’s mind within a couple of seconds, but he passed on the chance to say it, since it felt a bit childish. Instead, he just shook his head.
“Not really. Not compared to some of the real cities out there.”
“Whatever it is, it’s head and shoulders above a cave,” Will muttered, just loud enough for everyone but Ash to hear him. There were smirks all around; they’d had to wait several hours for the boy to manage to figure the way out of the cave, which had delayed their arrival here by a day.
“And there’s a Gym!” the object of their amusement continued, oblivious as usual. “I’m gonna challenge it!”
“Good idea,” said Rick, and asked, “What do you know about this one, Brock? I’ve not heard of… him?”
“Her,” came the correction. “I know a little. Average battler, from what I’ve heard—uses Water-type Pokémon exclusively.”
“… Well, that’s no good.”
“Nope,” Brock agreed. “At least, not for you or I, as both of yours and both of mine would be destroyed by Water attacks.”
“Hrm... much as I hate to say it, I don’t think I’m strong enough to get over that, yet,” Rick allowed. “The other two are all right, though…”
“I’m not ready quite yet,” said Will suddenly. “There’s something I want to have happen first. Why don’t we check out some of the other places in town and challenge her another day?”
Ash didn’t like the idea, but everyone else did, and he seemed incapable of doing anything alone. A quick asking around revealed that, next to the Gym, the most popular destination for travelers was the Nugget Bridge to the north of town. There was talk of a recent ‘Trainer challenge’ that had been set up there, which got Ash out of his slump.
Curiously, it seemed that several people in Cerulean had misplaced their Pokémon recently, most of them after challenging or visiting the bridge. They all seemed to take it in stride, certain that their companions would return home eventually.
“Maybe there’s some sort of… party thing going on,” said one resident. “You know, they’re getting back to the wild for a little bit, and all that.”
None of them seemed to ascribe the phenomenon to more sinister causes, but Rick and Will exchanged loaded glances.
As they approached the bridge, they saw the contest being advertised on a virtual army of posters and flyers scattered everywhere—on the sides of houses, taped to trees, even just lying on the ground.
“No such thing as too much advertising, apparently,” Will observed with an air of sagacity.
They’d just come close enough to make out the wording of the final sign, driven into the ground at the foot of the actual bridge, when a dejected-looking man slumped towards them, body language screaming that he’d failed in his challenge.
“Hey, there,” said Rick quickly. “Is the thing up there tough?”
The man lifted his head somewhat, and nodded. “You bet it is, son. Have to face five Trainers in a row without a break!”
The sentence was delivered with such a dramatic tone of voice that the silence which followed was quite a sharp contrast.
“… You’re not impressed.”
“I’ve done worse.”
“What kind of Pokémon are they using, anyway?”
“Oh, they were tough!” exclaimed the man. “There were Pidgey! And Rattata! And Nidoran! And one guy even had a Mankey!”
“… Well… It was difficult!” said the man, defensively. “All I had was Diglett, and he doesn’t even know how to dig yet, which makes him a bit vulnerable, as you’d imagine…”
“Where’s your Pokémon now?” Rick interjected.
“Diglett? Why, he’s… Gadzooks, my Pokéball! It’s gone! I must’ve dropped it or something…”
“Or something,” Will agreed, while beckoning the rest of the group to step aside with him. The overly dramatic man wandered off, muttering to himself.
“Something’s up with this bridge,” Brock said at once.
“Huh?” asked Ash. “How d’you figure that?”
The other three looked at each other, and rolled their eyes. Rick said, “Because everyone who’s visited or challenged it—as far as we know—has discovered they’re missing a Pokémon right afterwards. You can’t tell me that’s a coincidence.”
“You know…” said Will, slowly. “This might be related to what happened to us in the cave… I mean, we don’t know much about this Team Rocket, but I doubt those people were their only operatives.”
“And there are always people who are just thieves,” Brock added. “Sad, but true enough.”
“I’m guessing the ‘challenge’ is just to ensure that the Trainer is distracted. I’m not sure how… whoever they are… manage to steal the Pokémon, but I’m sure they are.”
“If only there was someone whose Pokémon we didn’t necessarily care that much about here to challenge it for us. We could watch…”
“Oh—hang on! Look over there!”
Most of the time, people weren’t happy to see Gary Oak. That was how he preferred it, since he typically wasn’t glad to see them, either.
So when the bunch of losers from Pallet Town and the equally loser-y former Pewter Gym Leader all waved at him, he got suspicious. He was more suspicious when the group walked over to him, and actually looked… like they didn’t mind seeing him there.
“Long time no see,” said Rick. Gary gritted his teeth; he didn’t like being reminded of his first (and, so far, only) loss.
“So uh… what’s up, los—guys?” he asked after a few more polite nothings.
They all looked at each other. Ash said, “Well… we were thinking about challenging that Nugget Bridge everyone’s talking about. See it? That thing, right over there!”
“But we hear it’s really tough,” added Will, face absolutely blank. “I’m not sure if any of us are up for it.”
Gary could tell when he was being manipulated, but being able to recognize it and being immune to it were two different things entirely. Besides, there didn’t seem to be anything sinister about the implied request. So…
“What a bunch of pansies!” he exclaimed, smirking. “Waitin’ for the real talent to show up an’ show you how it’s done, huh? Well, you just sit back an’ watch, ‘cause I’m gonna take down this ‘tough’ challenge ‘fore you all realize what’s happening!”
All reservations shredded, Gary rushed towards the bridge. He could do this. He’d prove he was better than everyone!
“That was ridiculously easy,” Rick commented.
“And convenient,” said Will. “Now let’s wait and see what happens.”
As Gary reached the foot of the bridge, a young, dark-haired man in an expensive-looking suit came over to shake his hand.
“Good day, my good sir! Have you come to challenge the Nugget Bridge?”
“Why yes, I have, indeed, come here for such purposes.” The boy smirked as he mocked the formal tone of the question.
The man’s smile didn’t waver. “Very well, you’ll be facing our five Trainers, one after another, without a break. Also, you are limited to just one Pokémon… so choose wisely. You’ll be leaving the rest here for safekeeping.”
Just one? Maybe this is harder than I’d have thought…
Gary examined the line of Pokéballs on his belt, muttering to himself. “Do I want to go with Totodile…? Nah. Abra’s out and Spearow’s not strong enough… I’ll go with Nidorino.”
He didn’t notice the way the man’s eyes followed him as he set his belt down, too intent upon the fights to come.
“C’mon, Nidorino? What’s up first? Hah, a Mankey? You can eat him for breakfast! Use your Horn Attack…”
“Let’s move,” Rick ordered, motioning the others to circle in from different directions. From the moment the guy who ran the bridge separated Gary from his Pokémon—they hadn’t been close enough to hear what had been said—it was obvious what was going to happen next.
The thief did not disappoint. After watching Gary trounce the first two Trainers of the challenge, he bent ever so casually, just happening to put a hand onto the discarded belt. He appeared to yawn as he straightened, detaching all three Pokéballs in an extension of the same motion.
The man smirked, confident that he’d pulled it off.
A few seconds later, doubled over and gasping for breath, he was re-examining his assumptions.
“Ken!” His assailant was a Pokémon that he didn’t recognize, but that seemed to have quite a painful kick.
“He means, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’” supplied a voice form behind, helpfully.
The thief whirled, only to see another Pokémon standing there. His eyes darted left and right, but escape routes were blocked by a Pikachu and Geodude, respectively. Four people, all of them boys or barely older, were watching his predicament.
The man licked his lips.
“Erm… seems like we have a misunderstanding, my friends,” he said shakily. “These Pokémon belong to me.”
“Except we saw the guy on the bridge right now put them there,” interrupted one of them.
“Uh… ah, right. I must’ve gotten them mixed up with mine, heh, heh…” He dropped all three Pokéballs and glanced about nervously. “Sorry about that. Can you let me go?”
“Afraid not,” said the talkative guy. “Seeing as you’re obviously the one who’s been stealing all of those people’s Pokémon. I think the police would want to know about that, wouldn’t they?”
“That’s a… unfounded accusation! Completely and utterly false! I demand to see any evidence…”
While he was talking, the man reached slowly into his pocket, fingers closing around his own Pokéball. Without warning, he threw it at the Pikachu, yelling, “Carvanha, Bite!”
Ash jumped back as the fierce-looking fish Pokémon’s razor-sharp teeth clashed together, mere inches from his arm. Pikachu scrambled back, apparently wanting to avoid them as well. The Carvanha had time for a single triumphant noise before Brock’s Geodude reached out, grabbed it by the tail, and slammed it repeatedly into the ground, until it went limp.
The thief blinked.
“Enough funny business,” Rick said. “You’re coming in with us, whether you want to or not.”
The man, apparently, had other ideas. As they approached him, he suddenly threw an elbow into Ash’s gut, and shoved the boy to the ground. Returning the fainted Carvanha to its Pokéball, he turned to face the remaining three, a smirk spreading across his face.
“Guess again, kid! You won’t find anyone from Team Rocket who’s willing to give the game up that easily!”
He turned to run, calling over his shoulder: “Name’s Archie—don’t forget it! You haven’t seen the last of me!”
Then he was gone, leaping over a low bush as he vanished from sight.
“Hey, I just destroyed that thing! Told you I'm the best!” announced Gary into the sudden silence, swaggering back to where he’d left his Pokéballs. “Hey… where’d that guy go?”