"Is it time to go yet?" Ryan demanded impatiently as he and the rest of his family sat in the waiting room at Olivine City's large ferry terminal. As nine-year-old boys often do, he rolled his eyes impatiently and began kicking his feet against the chair he was sitting on. It seemed like he had been sitting here for years, even though it couldn't have been more than a few hours, and he was starting to get bored and restless. He wanted to get up and explore, but his mother had told him to stay put as the boat that would take them where they were going was due at any time.
"Stop that!" his sister snapped beside him, putting out her hand in a bid to restrain his legs. Candida Benson was fourteen years old, a willowy blonde in a pink t-shirt and denim cut-offs, a duffle bag slung over her shoulder. The latter contained three paperback novels and the Poke Ball that housed her Pokemon, a Togetic and a Lapras. She and the Water/Ice Pokemon had been together for as long as she could remember, since she was two in fact. Since the day her parents, who were marine biologists, had found a Lapras beached near Cherrygrove City.
The Lapras was a female and an examination had revealed that she had been attempting to lay an egg but had got into difficulties. As a result, the egg had to be surgically removed before it burst inside her and caused even more damage than she had suffered already. Luckily, she recovered after several weeks spent in the convalescent pool at Cherrygrove's Pokemon Centre, but she had been unable to care for her egg herself so the Bensons had taken care of it for her. When it hatched, they had adopted the baby Lapras, officially as a family pet. But it soon became clear that she had formed a strong bond with their toddler daughter.
Twelve years on, the Benson family - parents Jack and Lydia; their two children, Candida and Ryan and the respective Pokemon of each youngster - were about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. They had been among sixty families chosen for one of the most ambitious projects ever attempted, living deep under the ocean in a specially designed city of watertight domes. Once installed, they would remain there for twelve months with no contact with the outside world aside from a weekly delivery of supplies from the mainland.
Ryan left off kicking the chair long enough to give his sister a long hard look. "I'm bored, Candy. Can I let Elekid out for a while?" he asked, reaching into his pack and groping round for his one Poke Ball. But his mother quickly checked him before he could find what he was searching for.
"No, Ryan!" Lydia Benson said firmly. "I've already told both of you there's to be no letting your Pokemon out until we reach Aquarius."
Ryan scowled and muttered something under his breath as Lydia reached into her own bag and produced a dog-eared comic book, one of those they'd bought in the convenience store back in Cherrygrove to keep Ryan occupied until the arrival of the boat that would take them out to Aquarius, the name of the undersea city. "Look," Lydia said in her oh-so-reasonable voice. "Why don't you read some of your comic books for a while? It'll help pass the time."
"Already done it," Ryan muttered. Spending a year in an underwater city had sounded like an adventure when his parents first told him about it and he had spent many hours fantasising about it, but he hadn't known then that it would involve waiting around for so long. "Do we have to sit here?" he asked at length.
"Yes, we do," Lydia replied. "We'll be going in a very special boat that's been made especially for us and it should be along at any . . ."
She was cut off abruptly as an announcement came over the tannoy system. "Your attention please! This is a call for all those selected for the Aquarius Underwater Living Project. Please make your way down to the harbour and prepare to board the Aquaship." On hearing these words, the entire Benson family exchanged glances, knowing that this was the moment they had been preparing for, their last few minutes on dry land for a year. Jack Benson quickly gathered up his bags and walked towards the exit with his wife and children following in his wake.
The Bensons slowly made their way out towards Olivine Harbour, as always lined with ships of all shapes and sizes. Most looked fairly ordinary, basic sea-going vessels with names like Pride of Olivine or Silver Staryu that served to ferry passengers across the sea, but there was one whose design stood out in stark contrast to all the rest. It was completely flat on top, with no sign of funnels and, if anything, looked more like a wheel-less bus that a boat. "That's it, over there," Jack said as he checked a picture of the strange-looking boat against the craft standing in the harbour. He pointed to the craft in question and the family quickly headed towards it. As they got closer, they saw that a queue was already snaking its way round the harbour.
Ryan groaned. "Not more queues!" He had spent most of that morning standing in line with the rest of the family, waiting around while Jack got the family's paperwork cleared with the people running Aquarius. And, if there was one thing Ryan hated more than anything, it was standing in queues.
"This shouldn't take too long," Lydia told him as the family attached themselves to the end of the line. "When we were checking in, they had to make sure we were who we said we were, so no-one could get into Aquarius who wasn't supposed to be there."
Sure enough, it did not take long before the Bensons were safely seated in the craft and the door was sliding shut to seal the passengers inside. As a sign with the words doors locked pinged on above their heads, they knew there was now no going back. From here on, their immediate future lay beneath the ocean, in Aquarius. Slowly, the craft began to move, at first travelling across the sea as if it was an ordinary boat, but it gradually dipped forward until the entire vessel was under the water.
Shouts of excitement issued from the passengers as they beheld for the first time the wonders of the deep. Watching nature shows on TV and even visiting aquariums could do little to prepare anyone for the sheer spectacle they were seeing now. It was as if they had entered an alien world, one filled with new places to explore and new things to discover.
"Look!" shouted a voice just across from where Candida was sitting. "A whole colony of Octilleries!" The speaker was a dark-haired girl of around Candida's age, who wore black trousers and a white top, had a Pikachu perched on her shoulder and spoke with an accent that suggested she had not originally come from Johto. She pointed out of the window towards several of the red octopus-like Pokemon and turned towards two people who could only be her parents.
"There's a Corsola!" someone else called as one of the pretty Water/Rock Pokemon swam past the vessel taking the people selected for Aquarius to what would be their home for the next twelve months.
"Look, Timmy," said the young woman sitting immediately behind the Bensons with her three-year-old son, the youngest family on board. "Look at those two Seadras." She pointed to the two Water Pokemon bobbing along on the current, looking for all the world like miniature dragons. In fact, this was what had led to the entire Horsea line being given the species designation dragon Pokemon, even though Kingdra was the only member of that line to be classed as being even partly of the Dragon Type.
"Cool! A Gyarados! I've never seen a wild one this close before!"
"If half the things they say about wild Gyarados are true, I'm glad we're in this Aquaboat."
Candida gazed out of the window, staring awestruck at the exciting underwater world she and the other passengers had entered and would be calling home for the next year. At length, she turned to her mother. "Is this everyone?" she asked. "All the people who'll be in Aquarius?"
"No, just the ones from Johto," Lydia replied, turning away from the window for a moment. "There are some from Kanto as well; I believe they're sailing from Vermilion."
Candida looked down at her two Poke Balls, wondering if she should let Togetic out for a moment. Lapras was too large to be released in a confined space, besides which she needed to be in water. But, before she could decide, a shout from up at the front of the Aquaboat dragged her attention away from her Poke Balls and towards something looming in the distance.
"There it is!" someone shouted. "That's Aquarius!"
Everyone in the Aquaboat crowded round to get a first look at the undersea city. This consisted of several dome-shaped modules built on the sea floor and connected to each other by glass tubes, giving the effect of a vast network. The whole thing was built around a giant central hub, which appeared to be the powerhouse of the operation, the place containing Aquarius's electricity generators and food storage areas. And, since the Aquaboat was heading straight towards it, it clearly also contained the city's docking facilities.
Slowly, a door slid open to allow the Aquaboat passage into the interior of Aquarius. As it did so, a buzz of conversation broke out among the passengers as they speculated among themselves about what the next twelve months would be like. The idea of living at the bottom of the ocean was still a relatively new concept, one which had been tried before but never on this scale. With the contingents from Kanto and Johto combined, there would be something in the region of three- to four-hundred men, women and children living in Aquarius. And, needless to say, many of the passengers had brought at least one Pokemon along.
As the Aquaboat slowed to a halt inside the docking bay and the doors slid shut behind it, two men in grey uniforms boarded the vessel, the latter carrying a clipboard and pen. "Good afternoon, everyone," he said in a curt voice. "I am Professor Wilson and I am the director of the Aquarius project. You will shortly be leaving this Aquaboat for your living quarters so please pay attention as my colleague calls your names and module numbers."
The other man took the clipboard from Wilson and began to call out the names of the passengers in alphabetical order.
"Allwood, Curtis and Allwood, Estella. Module 36."
"Andrews, Ron; Andrews, Vickie; Andrews, Jason and Andrews, Lisa. Module 50."
"Arrowsmith, Bill; Arrowsmith, Diane and Arrowsmith, David. Module 12."
"Austin, Terence; Austin, Lorna; Austin, John; Austin; Mollie and Austin, Craig. Module 46"
As he started on the families whose surnames began with a B, Candida and her family made sure to listen carefully until they heard him say: "Benson, Jack; Benson, Lydia; Benson, Candida and Benson, Ryan. Module 55." Hearing this, Jack Benson picked up his bags and beckoned to his wife and children.
"That's us," he said as he led them down the aisle and out through the door at the front of the Aquaboat. As she stepped down, Candida clutched her Poke Balls and gazed round at her surroundings, mentally absorbing her first sight of the interior of Aquarius. The area they were in at present appeared to serve as the main entrance to the whole complex, consisting of plain creamy-white walls with corridors leading off into the heart of the undersea city. A digital clock directly overhead showed that the time was 14:30.
"Let's go find Module 55," said Jack as he studied the map Wilson had handed him.
Finally, the Bensons reached the dome-shaped structure that would be their home during their time in Aquarius. Lydia slid the keycard they had been given into the slot and they all trooped inside to inspect their new quarters. These consisted of an open-plan living and dining area with a kitchenette in the far corner; the latter came complete with a microwave oven and a fridge-freezer stocked in preparation for their arrival. The bedrooms were located round the edges of the module, a large master bedroom for Jack and Lydia and two smaller rooms for their children. Ryan promptly bagged the nearest of these and flung himself onto his bed, letting his Elekid out of his Poke Ball as he did so.
"I hope you'll keep it tidier than your room at home," Candida told him as she peered in with her Togetic perched on her shoulder. Then, she quickly withdrew and made her way to her own room; like most teenaged girls, she had little time to sit talking to her younger brother, besides which she still had a lot of unpacking to do herself. There were CDs to be sorted and posters to be pinned up.
It was while Candida was placing her favourite Jigglypuff doll, one she had had since she was seven and had become something of a mascot, on a shelf that she heard the intercom ringing. Switching on the computer on her desk, she saw the girl with the Pikachu standing in the glass tunnel that connected Modules 54 and 55. And, since it looked as though she and the girl would be seeing a lot of each other, she decided to introduce herself.
"Hey!" she said, smiling.
"Hey yourself!" replied the girl, her accent somehow even more obvious than it had been on the Aquaboat. "How's it going?"
"Fine. I'm just getting my room sorted. I'm Candida Benson, by the way."
"Autumn Lane. Look, all the kids and their Pokemon are having a get together in the main Recreation Area. Why don't you come along?"
"Sure," Candida replied. "I'll be along shortly. Mum!" she called to Lydia, who was arranging her make-up on her dressing table. "Is it OK if I go with some of the other kids?"
Of course," Lydia called back. "Just take the map with you until you know your way around."