((LEGAL STUFF: Ash Ketchum, Brock, Misty, Pikachu, etc., are all property of whoever owns the Pokemon franchise including Nintendo, Game Boy, and the anime/cartoon version (it's such a large collective I'm not sure who owns what). I don't intend to infringe on anybody's rights, and I'm not getting any money out of this. No profit is being made. Thank you, have a nice day...))
Chapter One: Return
In the grayish light of early dawn, the streets and buildings of Viridian City seemed especially dull and lifeless. The usual cloud cover had descended to a faint mist that clung to structures like a drifting Haunter, making everything seem ghostlike. It was very quiet, and that in itself seemed oppressive.
A single voice broke the silence. "Huh. Things change."
The speaker was a tall, shadowy figure that moved through the thin fog like a shadow himself, his nonobtrusive presence making him seem invisible even though he was walking nonchalontly down the cracked sidewalk, black biker-gloved hands in the pockets of tattered blue-jeans. One hand removed itself from a pocket to pull the long-sleeved, blue-and-white jacket closed over a black shirt. An aged-looking baseball cap with the old Pokemon League logo was worn backwards over shaggy black hair that looked like it hadn't seen a barber in a while.
Few people scuttled along the dirty, pot-holed streets this early in the morning. Almost none of the streetlights worked and many buildings were boarded up and derelict. Trash and waste littered alleys and gutters, and what few shops and residences weren't abandoned were grimy and broken-down.
There was a flash of yellow, and a small creature darted up the sidewalk to pounce its way to the figure's shoulder, sitting atop a worn old backpack.
"Finally decided to catch up, huh?" The figure's voice shattered the stillness again. It was a youthful voice, a young man's tenor that was both soft and rough at the same time. "Wonder what happened here."
The yellow creature gave a whispery squeak and pointed with a tiny paw at a soot-streaked billboard across the street.
"'Poketropolis,' huh? Some Pokemon League nerd decided Viridian needed a new name." The figure began walking again, this time in the direction of the center of town. "Why don't we pay our old pals a visit? I've got some stuff they'd love to see."
At the center of town stood a massive complex, a huge structure of steel and concrete, over which flew red and black flags on tall spearlike poles. It was part stadium and part fortress, and bore only a passing resemblance to the little Viridian Stadium that had once stood on the site.
The tall figure stood at the front door of the League Complex, shrouded in the half-shadows the building cast. He frowned when the door didn't open at his approach, and looked down at the little intercom on the wall. Pressing the button on it, he spoke hesitantly.
"Uh, hello in there?"
"This is the Pokemon League Main Complex. Please state your name and business," ordered a severe female voice.
"I'm a member of the League. Can I get in here? I need to talk to--"
"Please insert your membership card into the reader slot below the intercom for identity verification."
The young man's face screwed up in confusion. "Membership card? I don't have a membership card. When did they start requiring membership cards? I've got a Pokedex--does that count?"
The woman's voice became sharp and impatient. "If you don't have a League membership card, you're not a current member. You must leave the premises."
The youth sighed. "Look, I'm a battle-verified member of the Pokemon League. I was a Grand Tournament Champion five years ago and I've got an advanced Cataloguing Pokedex full of undiscovered Pokemon to hand in to the bosses. My name is Ash Ketchum and my League number is K-4026."
There was silence for a moment on the other side. "That number is not in our database, sir. Please vacate the premises."
"Listen, lady, just let me in, okay? All I want to do is report to the higher-ups that I'm not dead. My Pokedex is full and I need to dump this data. I'll let you transfer this information to your computer and then I'll be out of your hair, I promise. I think your boss will be very interested in this stuff."
There was a long pause. "Very well. I'll allow you into the main office, but if your claims are false you will be escorted to the penitentiary."
"Fine, whatever, thanks." Ash Ketchum grinned at the Pokemon at his feet, his amber-brown eyes hard and eager. "How's it feel to be back, pal?"
"Pi-ka-chuuu!" the yellow electric mouse squealed with a whiskery smile.
The heavy door slid open, and Ash stepped inside. The foyer apparently was the main office, because a sharp-faced woman sat at a large desk directly across from him. Her not-quite-pretty visage matched her harsh voice, Ash decided.
"Do you have that Pokedex, young man, or are you wasting my time?" she snapped impatiently.
"No problem, here it is." Ash pulled the large blue Cataloguing Pokedex out of his jeans' back pocket. "Go ahead and download it. I'll need it back, though."
"Wait over there," the secretary ordered, waving her hand at an uncomfortable-looking row of chairs against one wall.
Ash strode over and sat easily, crossing his arms and lounging. "Say, what happened around here?" he asked after a while.
"What do you mean?" the woman said absently, working with the Pokedex at her computer.
"I mean, what happened to the city? And the Stadium? It's a lot different than I remember."
"You've been out of town for a while?" the secretary asked sarcastically.
"'Bout five years," he replied.
"Don't play 'out-of-touch' with me. Everyone knows about the Pokemon League."
"I don't," Ash retorted. "I've been out in the wilds for five years, lady. I haven't heard anything in that time."
The secretary stared incredulously at him for a minute. "You mean you don't know about the takeover? Or the Pokemon State?"
"The what?" Ash sat up suddenly, eyes narrowing. "What's happened here?"
"Master Oak runs the Pokemon State," the secretary told him, shaking her head in disbelief. "Most of the provinces on this continent are under his control. He established the League as the keepers of order in--"
Ash stared at her. "Master Oak? Like as in Professor Oak?"
"No. Master Gary Oak."
Ash's face grew hard. "Gary." Abruptly he stood. "Where is he?"
The secretary looked blankly at him. "Well, the Master gets up early to train his Pokemon, so he's usually in the Arena, but no one's allowed to--"
Ash strode determinedly over to the only other exit in the room, another heavy sliding door like the one he'd come in. "Open this up," he ordered.
"Young man, no one is allowed beyond this point unless they're a League member!"
"I am a member, lady! I've just been gone a while!"
"If you were a member, then you were declared inactive and your profile deleted," the secretary informed him primly.
Ash froze, scowling. "You mean my records...all my winnings and badges...were erased?"
"It is standard procedure."
Ash gritted his teeth. "Open this door."
"Sir, if you don't leave now I'll have to call--"
Ash spared her no more words. He raised his fists, and with a low snarl he jammed his fingers into the crack between the sliding panels. Without effort, he wrenched the heavy, locked steel doors open; as he forced them back they complained with a metallic grind, but could not resist his strength.
The secretary cried out in surprise at this and jumped up behind her desk, protesting loudly. "Oh my goodness...! Uh, sir, y-you can't go in there! I...I'll call Security! Oh my...!" She trailed off, too frightened to follow him, staring at the wrecked security door.
Striding rapidly down the hall with Pikachu close at his side, Ash left the flustered secretary behind and headed in the direction he thought the stadium would be located--the center of the complex. His instincts proved correct; soon he came upon a large sign which pointed at another heavy door--one marked "Main Battle Arena."
At least he didn't have to wreck another door. This one actually opened at his approach, sliding silently apart.
Eyes hard, expression cold, Ash Ketchum stepped inside.
To Be Continued...