Fifty-two months later...
A sincere-looking man in a business suit, looking to be in his early fifties, sat uncomfortably at the meeting table.
In all of his years presiding over the Silver Conference Victory Tournament, he had never expected anything along these lines to happen. The Pokémon League higher-ups would certainly hear about this. But for now, he was the one in charge.
Behind him, various members of his staff stood quietly. One was prepared to notarize. Members of the conference security team were also present, as were various Pokémon who were assigned to stop any outbreaks of conflict immediately.
At the other side of the table sat a young boy, apparently aged 12. In another chair at his side, a well-trained Blaziken, and the one who had helped him become this year's champion. The boy had insisted that his Pokémon accompany him if he was to take part in this meeting. It was arranged.
He looked normal enough. Perhaps his grin was a bit too wide for the circumstances. Of course, winning an annual tournament was certainly sufficient cause for such joy. And there were no particularly outstanding characteristics, save for some well-placed stitches across his forehead and neck.
The president said the first words. "Where did you get those scars?"
The boy shrugged. "A bit of an accident when I was starting out. Me and Torchic - you know, Blaziken here - we were looking for a nice Taillow to bring up. Wound up finding a Swellow instead. We couldn't beat it, so we had to run. Well, we were a bit up on the hills, right near Meteor Falls, you know... kinda took a misstep and fell. It's not too bad. Just a few head and neck injuries. Got them patched up..."
The president finished for him. "And you died."
The boy went silent for a few seconds. Afterward, his face broke out into a larger grin. "You did your research. Well then, why did you want to see me?"
"What is it that you want?"
The child smiled. "Just the simple things. Fame, glory, a bit of prize money, happiness for my friend here..."
The older man shook his head angrily. "Over the past few years, we've had several entrants like you. Trainers? No. We'd call you zombies. And now one of you has won a championship. What are we supposed to do about this?"
"You could give it to me..."
"Why are all of you here?"
The boy's face became serious. "Let me ask you a question", he started. "When a child comes of age and starts his journey, he is provided with a loyal Pokémon. One like my friend here." He raised an eyebrow. "What is your policy when one of them happens to die?"
The man nodded. "It is our hope that the trainer will be able to carry on using the other Pokémon that have been caught. If there has been no chance to catch one, another starter can be provided at no cost by visiting any..."
"You don't understand", the boy interrupted. "What happens if the trainer dies?"
This quieted the older man slightly. "We make it clear to all potential entrants. Pokémon training and traveling can be dangerous. While we are willing to aid those who have been injured, we should not be directly held liable for any injuries, including death, incurred on such a journey. Unless, of course, direct culpability can be determined."
"I understand that. But what does that mean for the Pokémon?"
"I imagine they would return to the wild. Despite what some skeptics say, we've found that wild Pokémon can readapt fairly easily, assuming well-adjusted behavioral patterns."
The boy pounded the table. "We're not talking about wild Pokémon! We're talking about starters!"
He took a breath and tried to explain. "Your starters are specifically bred and taught by scientists to be instinctively loyal to a trainer that receives them. In fact, they imprint. Their loyalty is unswerving. I imagine you humans like that. Your trainers don't suddenly find themselves alone in the wild whenever one decides to leave.
"But... here's the problem. Sometimes the trainer dies. It's unfortunate, probably unavoidable, and it's not particularly common, but it happens more often than you think." He leaned over the table. "What happens to the starter?"
The president thought about this. "It would probably have to become wild."
"How? They've imprinted! Their sole duty is to their trainer! Their trainer is dead! Where does that leave them?" The boy glared at the older man. "We've watched them for years now! Do you know what happens? They stay by their trainer's side until they die as well!" He leaned back. "Needlessly!"
The man sighed. "That's some loyalty."
"Loyalty? You've poisoned their minds!" A short pause. "And there is no antidote!"
Both took a few seconds to calm down. The room was silent for the duration.
"We didn't do that on purpose", the president pointed out.
"I know you didn't." The boy nodded. "But the time has come for your league to fix it."
"...is that what this is all about?"
"Let me tell you a story", the boy said. "Over in the Kanto area, a boy and his Bulbasaur wound up in this situation a few years back. But it was different that time. The boy died slowly, getting worse over time. And that's when we noticed. As long as he believed that his trainer was still capable of going, so was the Bulbasaur." He grinned. "If the death had been slow enough, I bet he would have dragged his trainer all the way to the Pokémon League by himself. All in his name."
The president had heard about this, of course. The boy's team had only tied for 8th in the tournament, which wasn't bad for a team based upon a single type, but none of that could have prepared anyone for the awards ceremony. In the middle, the boy had collapsed. When medics checked him out, they found evidence that he had been brain dead for years. And then, all of a sudden, the boy had simply sat up again...
"I remember." The man seemed almost wistful. "That's why we can't relent. That kind of beautiful friendship... is what our league is supposed to be all about."
To his surprise, the boy had a similar look in his eye. "It would have been very beautiful... if only there was reason to believe that the Bulbasaur had a choice." He shook his head. "When a child spends the day with his sick mother, it's touching. But not when he's there because he's locked in.
"...anyway, that's when we decided to try this. After all, we learned that the key to making sure the Pokémon survives is to make sure he still has his trainer. So that's what we're doing."
"You're bringing them back from the dead!"
"Almost. Not quite. It's simple possession. No one was using their bodies, anyway."
The man clenched his fist. "This can't continue!"
"We're thinking of adding another stage to the plan. Getting the psychics involved." The boy smirked. "You know how sometimes a cruel trainer abandons his starter? The starter has no one else to turn to, so..." The smirk grew. "Now... let's say, all of a sudden, the trainer turns around, and picks up the starter again, and welcomes him back, and continues to train him? Of course, they'd have to completely control his thoughts and actions to make that..."
"Stop! Stop!" The man was visibly frightened by the possibility. "You can't do that!"
"They can. They always could. The question is if they should." He smiled in a less insulting manner. "Face it, we're saving lives here. What are you doing about it?"
The president laid his head on his hands and sighed. Somehow, and he wasn't sure how, he had become the villain in this argument. And when it meant looking worse than those resorting to ghostly possession...
...even worse, he didn't really know much about any of their science anyway.
"Sir", one of his staff said from behind him. "I took the liberty of calling one of our laboratories. They might be able to explain the process in more detail."
"Thank you", he said, breathing sharply. "Let me take this call."
He stood and walked away from the desk, talking on the provided wireless phone. The boy remained patient the entire time, moving only to stroke his Blaziken's arm a few times.
Eventually the man in charge returned. "It's not a simple choice", he tried to explain. "We can't just stop the process. Not without an alternative. Believe it or not, it's important to us that trainers receive Pokémon that will listen to them."
"Hm", the boy simply responded.
"We can't reverse their training, either. Still, there's an option." He smiled slightly. "Your explanation wasn't exactly right. Starters don't imprint on individuals. They imprint on trainers. In short, if we were to recover one, and he was to receive another trainer, he would come to approve of the new one just as much as the one before."
"It's a start", the child said. "How would you go about recovering them?"
"I imagine you and your friends could be doing it if not for your antics", he grumbled, then tried a more diplomatic voice. "What we should really do is construct shelters."
As the other watched him with interest, he elaborated. "This would work for non-starters, too. A place where Pokémon without trainers would go to await adoption by other people. They wouldn't even need to be battlers." He thought about this more carefully. "We wouldn't want them to be given out too easily to trainers. They need to learn how to catch them. So it could be limited to those who merely want to raise or breed them."
"How would the starters get there?"
"We could ensure that they know where such shelters are at all times. Or... an emergency device in the Pokédex that can be used to find them in case of trainer injury."
"We'd have to see it before we believe it", the boy said. "But... it could work." He grinned. "Go ahead and try it. Maybe we'll put that psychic idea off to the side for the moment."
Whew, the president thought. That was a close one.
"Now that we've gone over all of this, may I go? We've got more training to do."
The man doubletook. "What? We were discussing you stopping such nonsense!"
"Stopping? Why would we do that?" The child was smirking again. "The problem isn't solved yet."
"We discussed the shelters..."
"And where are these shelters right now? A Pokémon Center can't hold that many. There is no rescue operation in effect. It sounds to me like they still need us."
The man took a deep breath. "What will it take for you to stop this?"
"Listen. Everything you've proposed... you should do that. Even if it's not perfect, anything would be an improvement." He looked a bit more serious. "But as long as there's a single suffering starter out there, we're not going to give up on our efforts."
"We can't have you winning these tournaments!"
"You can't?" The smirk was back. "Well, that's easy enough to solve. You just make sure your entrants are skilled enough to beat us."
"You have an unfair advantage! You can actually understand Pokémon!"
"Heh. And all this time you people were saying that trainers should learn to understand them. Maybe you should work on that some more." The boy stood. "I think that's all for now. Good luck with your project. We'll be watching."
He and his Blaziken headed for the door. Just before he exited, the boy turned once more. "Seriously, why would we want to stop? This is the most fun we've had in decades."
The president once against rested his head on his hands once they had left the room. "This is a nightmare", he said.
"...so, should we start construction?" one of his aides asked.
"Make a note", he sighed. "Our security team's going to need a large regiment of dark Pokémon."
No one in the room dared to disagree.
Sure enough, the details of that meeting were forwarded to the upper levels of the Pokémon League staff. Including the shelter suggestion. They would have been fools to not consider it seriously, given the words of the ghosts' representative. It would take a while to complete. They didn't mind.
At the same time, they decided, the situation should be kept under wraps. The general public didn't need to hear about how the dead were coming back to life to train Pokémon.
Unfortunately, the ghosts would have none of that.
In less than three weeks, everyone knew.
And then, eight months later, it was time for the newest promising young Pokémon trainers to begin their journey.
Olivia, a ten-year-old girl from Pallet, left the professor's lab carrying her newest acquisition. Once outside, she called her Squirtle out for everyone to see. The other townsfolk approved.
As she received teary farewells from the other members of her family, she noticed a single woman out of the corner of her eye. Mrs. Atrice, quietly working in the garden, not saying a word to any of them.
She had heard the stories, and she couldn't believe them. She had let her son go on this journey, only to hear less than two days later that he'd been injured, and was dying. And when she had gone to find him, the nurses had completely lost track of him.
...and then just over two years later, he turned up again. Out of the blue, he was appearing on national television. She hadn't even received a single call from him. And that paled before the events that had happened after the tournament's completion...
Olivia stared at her Squirtle suspiciously as they left. She couldn't help but ask.
"Um... are you one of those new ones? The ones that take over my body if I die?"
The Squirtle looked up at her questioningly. And then... it nodded.
She couldn't help but shudder. A lot of trainers probably felt the same way when they found out, but it didn't make the moment any easier for her. "So... I hear they've been getting good. I guess whoever's responsible must know a whole lot about training Pokémon, right?"
Another nod. The two walked north in silence. No opponents had shown their face yet, nor had she ventured far into the tall grass.
"...maybe I could get some pointers?"
It would frequently be said that this new climate of training, with its hint of paranoia mixed with the odd feeling of relief that the Pokémon would continue to be cared for in any situation, was different from the old days.
It easily paled in comparison to the experiences Olivia would soon be undergoing. As she spent her night in the Viridian Pokémon Center, she had terrible dreams. Giant stony creatures rising from the ground, seizing her with their rocky claws, carrying her far from civilization to feed their own kind...
...until the giant heroic Squirtle, friend to all children, arrived to save her with its mighty bubbles of death. One of which caught her, and brought her back into his clutches, proving that such an attack could be useful as well as dangerous, and would be really good to use against rock-type Pokémon, hint hint...
Pokémon training had certainly become stranger in only a few years. But in the end, almost everyone had to agree. Any changes that the Pokémon League, and these mysterious ghosts, were making... despite all fears to the contrary, they had only been an improvement.
Especially for the Pokémon.
Everybody's got a parasite
I've got you