Before going any further, I'd better explain that this is a story I co-wrote with some people at the Complete the Story forum on a site called Pokemon Village. I - my name's Chiquitita on that forum - wrote Melissa's part and the rest of the authors are as follows:
Ben - Crazy Bear McGubbins
Stan - Ozey Osbourne
Marle - Pikacar
Leon - Death 12
Monica - Linky
Kohaku - Vulpixgirl
Drake - Sir Glenn
Keep in mind that a lot of this was written off the top of each author's head. And I'm not trying to claim I wrote all of it; that's why I included the Cast List. I have tidied up the sentence structure and continuity in places where it needed it, but otherwise I've left other people's posts pretty much as they were originally.
To be perfectly honest, I didn't give Project Alpha much thought until I found myself among those "volunteered" for it. All I knew was that some organisation was selecting people to be taken to an undisclosed location, miles from anywhere, and left to live without newspapers, TV, radio or the Internet for a whole year. That was why it came as such a shock when that letter, that ominous white envelope with the Project Alpha logo on the back, arrived at our house. It was my mum who found it and gave it to me as soon as I got back from shopping with my friends. As I read the first sentence, I felt a chill run down my back:
You have been selected to take part in Project Alpha. . .
Those words would, although I didn't know it at the time, ultimately determine whether I lived or died. But, for now, I just turned to my mum, disbelief etched on my face. "There must be some mistake," I said. "I'm barely sixteen. They wouldn't choose kids, would they?"
My mum agreed and got straight on the phone to Project Alpha. I left the room, but I could still hear her shouting and swearing at the person on the other end. Finally, she returned and looked at me solemnly, letting me know there had been no mix-up. I had definitely been selected for Project Alpha - and participation was compulsory. I read the last sentence in the letter:
Please note that anyone who fails to report for the Project once selected will incur a mandatory $100,000 fine.
I knew then that I had no choice but to try and stick it out, even though it tore my heart in two to think I wouldn't see my mum for a whole year. I would just have to make the best of it, starting by sorting my stuff out ready for when the Project Alpha car came to collect me first thing in the morning.
My mum helped me pack, putting my summer clothes in one case and my winter clothes in another. In addition to clothes, I was allowed to bring a small bag of toiletries, up to three books, a few small personal items and no more than two Pokemon. As I surveyed the Poke Balls containing my Pidgeotto and Sunflora, I thought of what that letter could mean for me and for them. After tonight, I would be removed from civilisation for a year and anything could happen in that time. Feeling afraid, I crept downstairs to where my mum was watching a movie on television. "Mum," I whispered, like I used to when I was little and had just had a nightmare. "Mum, I'm scared."
She hugged me. "I know, Melissa," she told me. "But this is something you can't back out of and at least you'll have Pidgeotto and Sunflora for company."
The next morning, just after I had finished breakfast, a car drew up outside our house and two men got out; I thought they looked like scientists. "Miss Melissa Edwards?" one of them asked.
"Yes, that's me," I replied.
"Project Alpha," the other man said as they both flashed their IDs at me. "We're here to take you to the airport from which you will be taken to the Location."
"The Location" was what they had dubbed the top-secret place where the Project Alpha guinea pigs would be spending the next twelve months. I wondered where that was, but didn't ask; I doubted they would tell me anyway. I patted the pockets where I had put Pidgeotto and Sunflora's Poke Balls and climbed into the car.
I waved to my mum as the car pulled away, little suspecting that I would never see her again.
It had been a week since I'd tried my luck at the Ecruteak Gym against Morty and his Ghost Pokemon and the defeat was still hanging over me like one of Gengar's Curses.
I had to beat that kid if I wanted to continue on my journey and get into the Johto League, but he could interact with his Pokemon like no-one I'd ever met before. And the fact that my Pokemon couldn't even touch his team of Ghosts didn't help matters. It wasn't that they were weak - well, maybe it was, but that was beside the point - but, no matter what strategy I tried, Morty turned it back in my face. I would be stuck in Ecruteak Pokemon Centre eating cold burgers and soggy fries for the rest of eternity at this rate. Which is why the letter came as such a shock.
Still, when I picked it up from almost annoyingly chirpy Nurse Joy, I figured Mum had sent me cookies or something after reading my letter about how I had lost out to Morty. Instead, it instructed me to take two Pokemon outside with me and wait.
If that seemed strange at the time, the fact that a car turned up a few minutes later and some guys in black suits ushered me in really freaked me out. I tried to figure out what Morty would do in a situation like this as they drove off.
The words turned over in my mind. Year away from civilisation, two Pokemon and a select group of humans are your only companions, $100,000 fine. The last sentence bore into me like a power drill. How did a tough street kid raise that amount of money? I had to go. What did I have to lose?
The car pulled up to the grotty alley, amazingly with all the gleaming blacked-out windows still intact. I figured it had bulletproof glass, a necessity round here for anyone without a death wish. A deep-seated hatred pulsed in my soul as memories came flooding back to me.
"Be good, Stan. I'm just going out for a movie shoot. Mummy loves you!"
I started crying. Mummy never left me and my brother in the mansion on our own before. I was scared, wondering what Tyler would do to me. "No! Don't leave me, Mummy!" I yelled.
"Don't worry, sweetie; it'll all be fine."
I pulled myself together and tried to stop thinking about fake dreams and fake memories. I forced myself to believe I had been born here. I never knew a mother and I had no older brother. I had always lived here.
I blinked the tears from my scowling face and pulled open the door. As I sat in the shiny white seat, the face of the driver stared through me like an x-ray. "Project Alpha?" he asked. "How old are you?"
"Sixteen," I replied.
"Twenty-one. What's your name?"
I took a deep breath, rubbed the Poke Balls containing my stolen Nidoking and my baby Growlithe and gritted my teeth. "Stan - Stan Banks," I said.
"Tyler - Tyler Banks. Let's ride!"
I snuck through the door at the Pokemon Center as someone left through it. In my black leather pants and jacket, I was nearly invisible in the Johto darkness. No-one knew my purpose, my name or my history, except me - and I planned to keep it that way.
I walked boldly up to the counter and tossed down two Poke Balls. "Heal 'em," I told Nurse Joy.
As soon as my Pokemon were healed, she told me I had a letter. I stopped in mid-turn. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"I was told to give this to a young lady dressed all in black when she came in," Nurse Joy replied.
I almost laughed out loud. "Young lady?" I thought. "You've got to be kidding!" I opened my letter:
Dear Marle . . .
I almost had a heart attack.
I strolled into the Pokemon Center. My arm hurt like heck, but besides that I was fine. "Excuse me, nurse, but could you heal my Pokemon?" I asked, hitting my arm to numb the pain slightly.
"Sure," Nurse Joy replied. "And what's wrong with your arm? Did you get hit with a Tackle or something?"
"Yeah, but I'll be fine," I said, turning to leave.
"I almost forgot! This arrived for you earlier," Nurse Joy said as she handed me the letter. The letter read:
You have been selected to take part in Project Alpha . . .
Twenty minutes later, a black sedan pulled up outside and two men emerged. "Leon, come with us," one of them said.
I was a loner. I used to have many friends before, but that was all in the past and I didn't regret leaving them. They had hurt me, after all, like all people did. I wasn't depressive or anything; I was just a loner.
I was a Pokemon trainer, a very strong one. I had never faced defeat and did not know what it was like to lose in a Pokemon battle. I just knew what it was like to be a winner. I was also a rebel - or at least that's what my mom used to say. No-one could rule me since I ruled over all.
I clutched a Poke Ball in my hand. "Time to take you to the Pokemon Center," I said. I jumped up and got on my motorcycle.
Nurse Joy was already waiting for me. "How was your day?" she asked with a smile.
"Fine," I replied sharply.
Nurse Joy kept on smiling but soon noticed the Poke Ball in my hand. "Someone defeated your Charizard?!" she gasped.
No, it's just Poisoned. Heal it," I ordered.
I waited in the lobby until Nurse Joy came out with the Poke Ball in her hand. "Your Charizard is back to perfect health," she said.
"OK," I said. Taking the Poke Ball, I turned around and was about to leave.
"Wait up!" Nurse Joy called after me. "This letter is for you." She raised her hand, which was holding a white envelope.
I took it from her hand. "Thanks," I murmured as I gazed at the letter:
You have been selected to take part in Project Alpha . . .
"Project Alpha?" I asked. "What is this about?"
"I don't know. I was just told to give you the letter."
Soon, a black car stopped in front of me. "Monica?" a voice asked.
"We're from Project Alpha," a man dressed like a scientist said. "We're here to pick you up."
"Whoa!" I said. "You guys amaze me! But I must say I'm not interested."
"You will have to pay if you don't agree to come," the man told me.
"How much? I can give you whatever you ask," I said as I took out my wallet.
"It would be $100,000." They smiled; maybe they thought that would make me give in.
"That can be arranged," I said with a grin.
I saw a look of disgust on their faces. "I'm sorry, we will have to take you."
"I said I was going to pay!" I retorted.
"You will come with us!" they said as they injected something into my arm. I became dizzy and fell asleep.
All I could think as I climbed up the steps to the plane was that I was leaving everything I had ever known behind for a year. I tried to be brave, knowing the last thing my mum would want to see was tears at the thought of being separated from her. However, some of my fellow Project members were not so restrained. One girl sobbed hysterically as they forced her up the steps and it took the cabin crew several minutes to calm her down. It made me wonder just what criteria Project Alpha had used for selecting its human guinea pigs.
A lady in a navy blue suit checked off my name and directed me to Seat 11F on the right hand side of the plane. I found myself seated next to a girl about my own age who looked as bewildered as I felt. Nevertheless, I decided I better at least try to make friends with her; after all, we would be together 24/7 for the next year. "Hi," I said nervously. "I didn't expect to be here, did you?"
She smiled in an attempt to mask her fear. "No, none of us did," she told me. "That lot just sent us all letters and here we are. I'm Marle, by the way."
"Melissa Edwards," I told her. I would have said more, but the cabin crew had started the safety demonstration, showing us what to do if the plane crashed or something, and needed everyone's full attention. Then, we started to taxi along the runway, building up speed until, finally, the plane took off, taking us on a journey to an unknown part of the world. Gradually, the airport and the surrounding area grew further and further away, until all I could see out of the window was what looked like a child's toys.
The flight itself proved uneventful and I spent most of the time talking to Marle, wondering where we were headed and why we had been chosen. As far as I could tell, no-one on the plane was exceptional in any way; we were just a bunch of people thrown together at random to take part in this Project.
Towards midnight - the journey to the airport had taken the greater part of a day - we landed at a small airport. I had no idea where we were, but something told me this wasn't the Location. Looking round at my immediate neighbours, Marle and two boys named Ben and Stan, I could tell they were equally puzzled.
"Hey! What gives?" asked Stan. "The letter said the flight would take about twelve hours and . . ." He paused to look at his watch. " . . . it hasn't even been six hours yet."
I know," I said. "Don't you guys think this is a little weird?"
"Weird?" echoed Marle. "What do you mean, Melissa?"
I looked round at them. "Well," I began, "none of us asked to be here. They just singled us out, but for what? All I know is that we're supposed to be dropped off somewhere and . . ." I broke off when I saw a member of the cabin crew approaching. Something told me there was a lot more to Project Alpha than just leaving a group of Pokemon trainers in the middle of nowhere, but I wasn't sure how to broach the subject. Instead, I asked the question I knew everyone was longing to ask. "Excuse me . . . um, have we arrived yet?"
The cabin crew member shook her head. "No," she said. "We've just stopped here to refuel. Once that's done, we'll fly straight through to the Location."
While we waited for the refuelling to be completed, we were allowed off the plane to stretch our legs and let our Pokemon out of their Poke Balls. I released Pidgeotto and Sunflora as the others did the same with their Pokemon and we spent several minutes comparing them. In those circumstances, it was almost inevitable that a Pokemon battle would follow. It was me who ending up challenging Stan's Nidoking with my Pidgeotto. Everyone cleared a space and we began.
"Pidgeotto! Wing Attack!" I called, watching as she flew at Nidoking with her wings outstretched, ready to fight. I had raised her from a Pidgey and I had always been very proud of her.
"Nidoking! Body Slam!" Stan countered. In response, his Nidoking charged at Pidgeotto, ready to knock her flying. Talking of flying . . .
"Pidgeotto! Fly out of range!" I ordered.
But, before Pidgeotto could make a move, the cabin crew member I'd spoken to before came and told us the plane was refuelled and would be taking off again shortly. "Please put your Pokemon back in their Poke Balls and return to your seats," she said.
Reluctantly, I pointed Pidgeotto's Poke Ball at her. "Pidgeotto, return!" I ordered, watching as she disappeared in a flash of light. Then I did the same thing with Sunflora, who had been watching the battle from the sidelines. Right now, I wished I could retreat into a Poke Ball.
"Well, this beats hanging around Ecruteak Gym getting whupped by Morty anyway."
I tried to make conversation with Stan, but he just glared at me. "I would say this beats joyriding, but, to be honest, it doesn't," he told me.
"Still, that Nidoking of yours is pretty neat."
"Do you think I'd have stolen it if it was a weakling like that puny Larvitar I saw you with earlier?" he shot back.
I tried to stay calm as I clenched my fists by my side and lay back in the seat. Just ignore the guy and don't cause trouble, my conscience told me. "Well, yeah. Larvitar needs to evolve first. But, when it does, it'll be ace!"
Stan snorted. "I doubt it."
I seriously felt like punching him in the face, but I had no follow-up to it. "Maybe we can have a battle when we get there and you can see my other Pokemon," I suggested.
Stan just muttered something and turned away. I began to wonder whether this really was better than hanging around Ecruteak after all.
Thoughts, memories and suppressed emotions tumbled round my head to the unwanted backing track of Ben's mind-numbingly cheerful voice droning on in my ear. When he started to talk about the toys he had smuggled in for his Larvitar, I lost it. "Just back off, you deluded clown!" I snapped.
He paused, attempted a hurt look and smiled. "I know," he said. "The rates at Pokepals are awful, aren't they?"
"Jesus Christ!" I shot back. "Can't you see I hate you? Do I have to spell it out? I - would - rather - kill - my - Growlithe - than - have - a - conversation - with - you! Leave me alone, you moron!" I turned to face the window and went back to my anger. I didn't have to be here, I told myself. But I did. No-one would help me; I had no friends, only lackeys. If Ben was the only person in all creation who liked me, who gave a damn? Not me! "I don't need any friends! You hear me?! I don't! Get away from me!"
I buried my face in my hands, not looking at the people gathered around me: Marle, Melissa and Ben. "My friends," I muttered bitterly. "My only friends." Then I screamed inside as I broke down in fits of uncontrollable agony.