As they walked back, Ken with his newly evolved Gyarados, Rachel asked Ken if she had any riddles that she knew.* * *
“Of course,” said Ken. “Hmm... let me think of one... okay! What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?”
“Hmm...” said Rachel, thinking as he walked. “...a pair of Hoothoot?”
“Nope,” replied Ken.
“Eeehhhh.” Ken made the noise of a buzzer. “It’s a human being, in the process of its lifetime. When you’re a baby, you crawl on four legs. When you’re our age and beyond, you walk on two. And then, when you’re old and hobbly, you’ll use a cane, as a third leg.”
“Okay, now I have one,” said Rachel. “A boy and his father get into a car accident. The father is killed, and the boy goes to a hospital to get massive surgery. When he gets there, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate on this boy! He’s my son!’”
“Why couldn’t the surgeon operate on her son, though?” asked Ken. “Is there some sort of fear involved? I thought she’d be more willing to operate on her son, to make sure that she does a good job.”
“Eh, probably because she couldn’t live with the guilt if the operation failed and her son died too,” said Rachel. Suddenly, Rachel heard a crunching noise under her feet.
She looked down – she had stepped on her picnic basket!
“You know, I would have told you to watch out, but I was afraid you’d sic your Pokémon on me,” said Phoenix, holding a kite spool in his hand. He wound the kite back up, and came back. “The picnic cloth was rolled up, by the way,” he said. “There was an ant on it that I got rid of.”
Route 54 was far shorter than the rest – it took them barely the rest of the day to travel it. While they walked, Phoenix joined in the riddle game.
“I’ve got one for you, Phoenix,” said Ken. “I’m 11 inches long and can prove that you’re a man. What am I?”
Phoenix slowly looked down, then up. “I have no idea,” he said with a conclusive tone.
“It’s a birth certificate,” said Ken. “They’re usually 8.5 by 11 inches, and if you look at it, you get certification that you were a man.”
“Hey, I can see Vermilion ahead!” said Rachel, as she looked forward.
“Great,” said Phoenix, relieved at the change in subject. “We’ll stay there for the night.”
* * *
“Welcome to the Pokémon Centre, tr—whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s all this?” said the nurse at the counter. “You guys are all musty! No, this won’t do. Come with me,” she said, beckoning Rachel and Ken to a room behind her counter.
“What about Phoenix?” complained Ken. Phoenix just winked.
* * *
When they entered the room, there were two shower stalls opposite each other and a changeroom. “Take off your clothes and take a shower,” instructed the nurse.
Ken and Rachel stood there, looking at each other. “Uh... you mean, here?” Rachel asked.
“Why not?” asked the nurse. “It’s not like I’m asking you to stand in front of a camera. Put them on this bench here,” she added, pointing to the bench between the stalls.
They looked at each other nervously, and walked to the separate shower stalls, closing the curtains. As they slowly removed their clothes and placed them on the bench, Rachel talked to Ken. “Why do you think she’s making us do this?” asked Rachel.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” replied Ken, as he turned on the shower. “Augh! This water smells!” said Ken.
Rachel turned on her own shower. “Eww! What’s in this water?”
While they started making twisted faces, the nurse took their clothes off the bench, and quickly walked away with them.
Ken tried to turn the water off – but the tap wouldn’t turn! “The faucet is jammed!” he yelped.
“Here too!” said Rachel. “What the hell is this shower?”
The nurse came back at that moment, with two pairs of new clothes. Suddenly, the water turned off. “Huh,” said Rachel. She opened the shower curtain again, and quickly closed it as she saw Ken opening it as well.
“Can you, uhh... come out first?” asked Rachel. “I don’t want to see you naked.”
“Alright,” replied Ken. He opened his curtain all the way, and slowly stepped out. “Hey, where are all my clothes?” he yelped. He looked down – there was a set of fresh clothes that looked almost like a uniform here. He unfolded them, and looked at the shirt. It was an orange vest that looked almost like a scout’s uniform. Underneath was a thin brown jumpsuit-like garment that he assumed was the underwear. He gingerly stepped into it through the neck hole, and fit it over his whole body. When he was done, he gave himself a once-over – the jumpsuit covered his entire body except his head, hands and feet, and was made out of some sort of nylon.
He then put on the clothes themselves, which seemed quite heavy. The vest fit well on his shoulders, and the pants were still comfortable. He had a feeling, however, that he was about to get very sweaty in them in the middle of the summer.
He then stepped out of the shower, and said, “it’s okay, you can come out now.” Ken then left and closed the door to the shower room. Rachel then stepped out and started doing the same thing with her own set.
“So, how do you like the outfit?” asked the nurse. Ken turned around suddenly, his clothes swaying a bit in the process. “Don’t worry,” said the nurse. “You’ll grow into them.”
“But... why?” asked Ken. “I look like a Ranger in these clothes.”
“It’s all the rage nowadays,” said the nurse.
At that moment, Rachel came out too, her clothes swaying as she walked as well. “You look cool, Ken,” she noted.
Rachel then turned to the nurse. “So is this some sort of a clothes drive? I didn’t think you nurses would just give trainers these sets of clothes.”
“Oh no, they were sponsored by the Devon Corporation,” the nurse replied.
“Devon? Who are they?” asked Ken.
“Another technological corporation, from Hoenn. They're holding a competition here in Vermilion City, and giving these clothes to whoever enters the contest.”
“But we didn't—”
“Too late,” said the nurse, grabbing a dumbfounded Rachel and Ken by their hands and leading them to a registration counter down a hallway.
* * *
“But what is thi—” Rachel was cut off as the nurse sat them down on two chairs. Suddenly, a sharp-looking professor walked in front of them. She was wearing a white lab coat and thinly rimmed square glasses. “So who do we have here?” asked the professor.
“These are...” said the nurse, trailing off as she realized she didn't even know their names. “Say your names,” she whispered to Rachel and Ken.
“Rachel,” said Rachel.
“Ken,” added Ken.
“Okay, Rachel and Ken, you're contestants,” said the woman. “Follow me,” she said, walking past them and out to the side.
* * *
They came to a dock out at the shore. The setting sun cast a beautiful rainbow of colours on the sky, as they looked out at the ocean.
Ken noticed a row of very sleek-looking boats on the dock, with what appeared to be the Devon Corporation's logo stuck on them.
“You'll be piloting one of those boats with me,” said a burly-looking man, in a yellow-and-blue outfit not unlike the ones that Rachel and Ken were now wearing.
“Don't believe I've met you,” said Ken.
“The name's Florin,” said the man, holding out his hand. Ken took it and they shook. “So,” said Florin to the lady in the lab coat. “These two kids are the ones whom I'll be racing with?”
“Yep,” replied the lady. “Have fun!” She turned on her heel and walked back away.
“So...” said Rachel. “We have no idea what's going on. Mr. Florin, would you be so kind as to tell us what this is?”
“Why, you don't know?” said Florin. He started laughing. “It's the 21st annual Light Ship contest!”
“And... what exactly is that?” asked Ken.
“A contest, held every year by Devon Corporation, to promote their environmental friendliness projects, such as solar-powered motorboats,” replied Florin. “Besides the racing contest, which is the main event, they also have an exposition on the environment and climate change. It takes place all day tomorrow.”
“We'll be sure to see it,” said Rachel.
“Hey, Florin! So you finally got a team ready!” called another voice, from their right.
“Ah, don't worry, Andre,” said Florin. “I'm sure these two will be great partners.”
“Don't forget, though,” said Andre. “You're up against me.”
“Oh, I won't,” said Florin. “I've beat you three years in a row now.”
They both walked away, leaving Rachel and Ken to go back to the Pokémon Centre.
* * *
The next day, Rachel and Ken rose bright and early to the call of a bugle.
“Argh, what is that hideous noise?” asked Ken, as he rose from the covers. “It woke me up right away.”
They got up, and started taking off their pajamas. Florin walked in the door, and said, “Morning, sailors. What are you guys up to?”
“Just putting on our clothes,” said Rachel.
“Remember to put on your uniforms from yesterday,” said Florin. “You're contestants, right?”
“Alright,” said Rachel. “But could you leave the room? I don't think you want to see us changing.”
“Sure thing,” said Florin. He clicked his tongue against his teeth, and left.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Rachel and Ken appeared at the entrance of the Pokémon Centre, looking for their leader. Suddenly, a Devon Corporation representative walked up to them and handed them fliers. “We're having an expo today,” said the employee cheerily.
“So we've heard,” said Rachel, looking at the flier. She put it down again, and stuffed it into one of the pants' pockets.
As Rachel and Ken walked into the harbourfront's expo site, they saw what appeared to be the first exhibit – the greenhouse gas section. This section was all about carbon dioxide and methane and other gases that were contributing to climate change. “Hey, Ken,” said Rachel.
“What?” asked Ken, as he walked over to where Rachel was.
“Take a whiff of this,” said Rachel, suddenly turning around and spraying a gas in Ken's face. “Agh!” said Ken, who started coughing. “That smells like the shower water from yesterday.”
“It says here,” said Rachel, reading the panel, “that not only do greenhouse gases affect the climate, but they pollute our air as well. We could end up with air smelling like that in 15 years if we're not careful.”
“Seems serious,” gasped Ken.
They walked away from this to come to what appeared to be a giant glass walkway. On the side of the walkway was a display board.
Rachel read it. “What you're walking on is actually a giant grid of solar panels that are powering this entire exhibit. Solar power is part of Devon Corporation's devotion to clean energy sources.”
As they continued walking, a hand suddenly placed itself upon Ken's shoulder. Ken yelped in fright, and Rachel turned around to see Florin. “Enjoying yourselves?” he asked.
“Yep,” said Rachel. “I didn't know about all this stuff with the environment. I thought stuff like turning off the lights after you leave a room was common sense.”
“And recycling your old papers and stuff,” said Ken.
“I just came to tell you guys that the race starts in an hour,” he said. “We need to head back to the dock to get ready.”
* * *
As they reached the dock, Andre was there as well, with two trainers who had, seemingly, also been abducted from the Pokémon Centre for this contest.
“Good luck,” said Andre, shaking Florin's hand firmly. “Break a leg.”
“Same with you,” said Florin, who then beckoned Rachel and Ken to one of the boats on the dock.
This boat was quite the decked-out wonder. Along with Andre's boat, it stood out among all the other boats, most of which were gray, but with the same overall design. This one was painted a flagrant red, with the painting of a forward-facing Blaziken on the bow, and a side-facing Zapdos on either side. On the stern, a plate hung down that read “MARY ANNE”.
“So, all you guys need to know,” explained Florin, “is that those coloured balls are things you want to collect.” He pointed out to the ocean, where multiple yellow buoys were floating, with balls sticking up out of them.
“You guys will stay on the side of the boat and try and collect as many of those buoys as you can. Meanwhile, I'll be down here trying to race across the course as quickly as I can.”
“Also,” he added, “Your suits are inflatable. Watch.” Florin pulled out a tab on his suit, and it started puffing up. “So if you fall out of the boat, just pull these up, and you'll float.”
“ATTENTION,” blared an announcement system. “THE CONTEST STARTS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WATCH, PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE DOCK.”
“Fifteen minutes?” said Florin. “My, how time passes. Okay, let's get into the boat and make our way to the starting line.”
* * *
“Welcome to the twenty-first annual Devon Corporation Light Ship Contest!” said the announcer to a wildly cheering crowd.
The announcer proceeded to ramble on about the technology behind the Light Ships, as Rachel and Ken got ready in the boat with Florin. There were twenty boats arranged in two rows of ten.
“Why are we all the way at the back?” asked Ken, as he gaze at the nineteen boats ahead of him. He and Rachel were sitting at the rear deck of the boat, preparing themselves to collect yellow buoys.
“We came in first last year, so they want to give the other teams a little handicap,” said Florin. “It's been like this for the past three years. Look at Andre,” he said, pointing to Andre's boat, which was decked out much like Florin's, except it was yellow.
“CONTESTANTS! ARE YOU READY?” blared the announcement speaker.
The forty trainers who had been selected for the race cheered. Some of them looked just as hastily chosen as Rachel and Ken were. “Okay, now look at that clock over there,” said Florin, pointing to a digital clock that was now counting down from 20. “That is the race time. This is the same course from 2017, and I remember the record that year was 7 minutes and 28 seconds.”
“Look forward,” said Rachel.
“Let's count down to the start together!” said the announcer.
The crowd shouted out all the numbers. “Three, two, one, GO!”
Suddenly, the boat that Rachel and Ken were on started lurching forward, and they were both launched toward the back. They lay there in a daze for about ten seconds, as they struggled to get back up. The wind was whipping in their faces, and it was hard to see the balls that they were supposed to collect.
The boat turned right, slamming Rachel and Ken into the left wall of the deck. Rachel's eyes were watering, and she could not see anything.
Ken caught one of the poles that had a yellow ball on it, and it snapped off. “I got a ball!” he said.
“Great, now put it in the box,” said Florin. “Make sure not to drop them.”
Rachel caught another one, on the left, and placed it in the box.
The boat jerked to the left. Rachel and Ken were flung to the right, and Rachel nearly lost her balance on the railing at the side. “Make sure we don't fall off,” said Ken. Rachel's head bumped into another ball, and it dropped into the water behind them.
“Leave that one,” said Ken, while Rachel rubbed the bruise on her face.
Then, they saw Andre's boat approaching them from behind. “Step on it!” shouted Rachel. “Your partner's catching up!”
The boat went a lot faster now, and the increased wind speed made it even harder to see. “We're going thirty knots now,” said Florin. “Make sure you can still grab those balls.”
Suddenly, Rachel noticed a green pyramid-like object ahead that looked like one of the balls. However, it was further out than the rest of them, almost at the left side of the track. “Florin, turn left!” said Rachel. “There's a green pyramid ahead that I want to grab.”
The boat turned slightly, and they made it to the left of the water course's boundary. Rachel caught the green pyramid, and passed it to Ken, who put it into the box.
Suddenly, they passed a pair of radar guns, and a sign was up ahead showing the time that had elapsed. “2 minutes and 13 seconds. We're good,” said Florin.
They ran through to the second checkpoint without any problems. “4 minutes and 36 seconds. This is the home stretch.”
Then, Andre's boat caught up with them again, and they started straining against each other, now in a headlong rush forward. The two trainers in Andre's boat could see Rachel and Ken. They were also wearing the Ranger-like suits, and they had collected many more balls than Rachel and Ken had.
Suddenly, the two boats crashed into each other once. All four trainers were jolted. Then, they crashed again, and Rachel fell out of the boat. “Rachel!” cried Ken.
“Florin! Stop the boat!” said Ken. “Rachel's fallen out!”
“I can't stop now,” said Florin. “The race is still on.”
Rachel was floating further and further away, trying to tread water. Wait a minute, thought Ken. I have my Pokémon.
“Hydra!” said Ken, throwing out a Pokéball. “Get Rachel!”
The Gyarados, as it popped out, let out a roar. Ken hopped onto it, and directed it toward Rachel. “Swim over there,” he said.
Hydra then flopped into the water and started swimming toward where Rachel was still splashing. The boats passed them, puzzled about why a trainer was now riding a Gyarados instead.
“Rachel!” called Ken. “Pull on the tabs!”
“Right,” said Rachel. But as she pulled on the tabs, the jacket filled with water instead of air. “That didn't help at all!”
Ken started directing the Gyarados much more quickly now, and reached Rachel in a matter of seconds. “Rachel!” said Ken. “Take my hand!”
Rachel grabbed Ken's hand, but they both got pulled down. As Ken fell into the water too, his only thought was to get Rachel back to the surface. But he hadn't breathed first, and now whatever little oxygen was already in his lungs was starting to run out...
Something grabbed Ken by his collar, and hoisted him and Rachel out of the water. They both coughed and spluttered for a second, and then realized they were on Hydra's back. Ken reached up to Hydra and hugged him. “You saved us.”
“We need to get back to the boat,” said Rachel. “They're probably almost at the finish line by now.”
“But Hydra can't swim there that fast...”
“Take Telia,” she said.
“Right,” said Ken, reaching to his belt, and pulling his Skarmory out. “Telia, carry us over!”
“But I can only carry one person!” said Telia.
“I'll take one of my own birds,” said Rachel, bringing out Clyde.
They shot up into the air, looking for Florin's boat, which was by now nearing the end of the race. They saw it – a red and yellow spot along with Andre's boat. The two were still neck and neck.
They flew high and dived quickly for the boats. For a moment, Rachel and Ken paired up with their birds, aiming for Florin's boat.
Their birds swooped over, as Rachel and Ken fell on top of the boat's rear deck, where they were at first. They were returning to where the cheering crowd was.
The dock came rushing up to them, and suddenly, they found themselves on a very short canal.
“Did we finish?” said Ken.
“First place,” remarked Florin.
As the other boats came racing in, Florin's boat slowed down to a stop. Rachel and Ken then hopped off.
As soon as they were all off the boat, Rachel realized that her legs felt very light. “It's almost like I can't feel them,” she said. Then, she turned to Florin. “Why did you leave me behind? I could have drowned there.”
“Because of the race,” said Florin. “Time is the only thing that matters there.”
“So just to win that stupid race, you'd let a person go?”
“You seemed to handle it pretty well,” said Florin, pointing to the Skarmory and Pidgeotto who were still circling above them.
“Well... I guess... but...” Rachel left, fuming. Ken followed her back to the Pokémon Centre.