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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-02-15 — sourcemeta

Author:Peter Hepworth

2. The Hunt

Jason nursed the crossbow in the crook of his arm as he double-checked the safety harness that secured him to the prow of the boat. He had reason to be cautious. Though the powerful craft was just cruising through the water now, he knew things would be different when the chase began. He could easily slip overboard if not firmly anchored to the deck.

He adjusted the bow’s sights. Despite himself, he was beginning to feel a rush of excitement. They had waited nearly a week before the target whale had been spotted again. Now at last he was about to put all the months of boring practice to the test.

The commander had nearly ruined everything. He’d really made a scene about Jason being only fourteen and the bow being a lethal weapon. Mom had shown him the certificate proving that Jason had finished the safety course in proper handling.

“His instructor rated Jason as the best young marksman he’d ever trained,” she’d pointed out, offering to match him against anyone else on ORCA.

It was only after a lot of argument that the commander had finally given in. And even then he’d insisted that no one else was to be near Jason while he had that bow in his hands.

Back in the wheelhouse, Brett watched as Mom and Winston hovered over a screen.

“This won’t actually hurt the whale, will it?” he asked.

“Of course not, Brett,” Mom said, a bit annoyed. “It’s just like a little dart. He won’t feel more than a pin prick, I promise.”

“Well, we’ll feel a darn sight more than a pin prick if we run into anything out here!” the boat’s skipper snorted. He had been grumbling since they left ORCA. Mom and Winston had packed so much equipment into the wheelhouse, he complained, that he could scarcely see forward at all.

Mom calmly reminded him that a collision was not very likely in midocean. Besides, their advanced Lanar tracking system would give ample warning of anything ahead, above, or below the water. They were interrupted by Winston’s shout.

“I’ve picked him up!”

Brett hurried over. Winston’s finger was pointing to a fuzzy shape on the screen. “Due east. Right where the spotter planes said.”

Mom reached for a headset. “Jason?”

Her voice squawked through the earphones of the matching headset Jason wore. He pulled the mouthpiece into position. “Yeah?”

“We’re on his track. Better load up.”

Jason picked up the dart. It was not much larger than his hand, the barbed head studded with tiny transmitters and sensors. He clicked it into place in the bow.

Twenty minutes later, they found the whale, lolling on the surface of the water. Cutting back the engines, they edged slowly and steadily toward him. Jason half lifted the bow. This is going to be too easy, he thought.

Suddenly the whale arched and, in one rolling action, began to move away, picking up speed.

Mom’s voice crackled through the earphones. “He’s seen us. He’s making a run for it. Hang on, Jason!”

With a powerful roar, the boat shot forward.

Jason was thrown around in the harness as the boat buffeted through the water, giving chase. Spray flew over the prow, blinding him. The animal desperately tried to change course, but it was no match for the throbbing engines and before long they were on his tail and closing.

The call burst into Neri’s brain like a flash of lightning. Danger. There is danger.

A moment later, she saw the vision. The churned-up ocean. The vessel bearing relentlessly down. The Outsider on the front of it with the weapon in his hands.

She raced into the water and streaked out toward the open sea.

I am coming, my friend. I am coming.

The boat sat nearly motionless in the water. The whale had dived, but Jason knew they would be monitoring his movements underwater back in the wheelhouse. Now it was just a matter of being in the right place when he surfaced.

“Aww, Mom, can’t I go out and watch?” Brett begged.

She glanced up from the screen which she and Winston were craning over. “No. You heard what the commander said, Brett. You stay here.”

Brett pulled a face. Why did parents always want to stop kids from having a good time?

“He’s coming up!” Winston cried. “Almost dead ahead, just to the left.”

“Port,” the skipper corrected as he swung the wheel, his eyes glued to the screen. The engines churned.

“Here he comes, Jason,” Mom said into the mouthpiece of her headset, “right in front of you.”

“Yeah, I’ve got him.” On the prow, Jason could see the huge dark shape rising to the surface.

He cocked the bow and lifted it as the creature’s bulk began to break the waterline.

“Stand by to fire and confirm.”


He hefted the bow to his shoulder, running through the instructions one last time. Near the blowhole. Behind that part of the head where the brain was located. As the creature seemed to pause for a moment, he lined up the spot in his sights, slipped the safety catch with his thumb and held his breath.

The whale was almost stationary. At this range, he couldn’t miss. His finger tightened on the trigger.

And then a girl appeared, out of nowhere, thrusting up from the depths at incredible speed. She burst to the surface right in his line of fire. Between him and the whale. Her arms splayed out defensively as she screamed against the noise of the motors: “NO!”

Jason froze, his jaw dropping.

“Now, Jason! Fire and confirm.” There was a rising urgency in Mom’s voice through the earphones, but Jason could neither speak nor move. He just stood there, gaping at the girl. There was no land in sight. No other boat to be seen. Where had she come from? How did she get there?

The girl met his gaze steadily. There was a pleading in her sea green eyes, but also anger. The force of that look was such that Jason did not feel capable of tearing his own eyes away. Beyond her, he was vaguely aware of ripples starting to spread.

“For heaven’s sake, he’s starting to move again! Fire, Jason, fire!”

But Jason was transfixed.

The girl seemed to hear the running footsteps before he did. Her eyes flicked toward the stern of the boat, then, in a flash, she flipped and dived, slipping out of sight at the same speed she had arrived.

The next thing Jason was aware of, Mom was at his side, ripping the crossbow from his hands. “Give me that.” Her voice was shaking with fury.

She spun around, steadied herself, aimed and fired.

The whale was preparing to submerge again. Normally, Mom couldn’t hit the side of a barn but, by some miracle, the dart flew straight and true. It struck just in front of the blowhole a moment before it disappeared under the water.

“Oh, my – I hit it.” For a moment, her voice was a hushed whisper, but not for long. She rounded on Jason, eyes blazing. “All right, what happened? Why didn’t you fire?”

“There was a girl.” Even as he said it, Jason was aware of how pathetic it sounded.

“There… was… what?”

“A girl. In the ocean. She… she just appeared. And she was in the way.”

With dangerous calm, Mom indicated the unbroken waterline to the horizon. “Well where is she now, then, Jason?”

Jason shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.”

Winston had come up to join them, with Brett trailing on his heels. Jason appealed to them. “Didn’t anyone else see that girl that was in the water?”

They stared at him blankly.

Mom ignored him. She turned to Winston, businesslike. “I think I might have lucked out, Winston. But we’ll have to get back to the lab to sure. Ask him to head for ORCA straightaway, will you?”

Winston gave Jason a strange look before heading back toward the wheelhouse.

“As for you, young man,” Mom added to Jason, “we’re going to be having a very long talk, believe me.” She followed Winston.

“But, Mom,” Jason called after her, “there was a girl. She was there.”

Mom just kept walking. Brett stood, grinning at his older brother, twirling one finger around his ear. “Sure she was. And so were the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, right?”

Jason looked out at the empty sea, bewildered. “I saw her,” he said to himself.

“Jace,” Brett’s voice came from behind him, “this time you’re really up the creek.”

The engines fired up as the boat began to come around to head for home.

Neri’s head came up out of the water. The boat was in the distance now, heading away at speed. She watched it go, troubled.

Back in the laboratory the equipment on the tag all seemed to be working perfectly, to Jason’s relief. On one screen, a glowing blip registered the location of the whale at that moment. At the same time, another monitor showed the repeating patterns of his brain waves. Winston calculated that both could be picked up within a range of twelve miles. And all the time, the sound of whale songs issued from two speakers. The whole room rang with strange whistles, moans, and squeals, relayed by the powerful transmitters.

“Listen to that, Winston,” Mom cried jubilantly, “I’ve never heard any others so clearly. Quick, let’s start recording straightaway!”

Brett hurried to help set up the recorder. Only Jason stood aside from the excitement, knowing his mother would turn his attention back to him sooner or later. He didn’t have long to wait.

“You realize this is no thanks to you, Jason,” she said sharply. “That little stunt of yours could have set our work back by weeks.”

Jason tried to protest, but she overrode him.

“Ever since I accepted this position, you’ve been sulking. I’ve put up with it because you were having to give up a lot of things back onshore – including the occasional weekend you got to spend with your father…”

For a moment, her voice softened at the mention of Dad. Then it quickly hardened again. “… But to deliberately try to ruin this project just because you don’t like being here is unforgivable!”

“I didn’t…”

“Don’t you think I know what was going on in your mind? Mess up the tagging and maybe we’d all get sent home, right?”


“Then why didn’t you fire when you were told?”

Again Jason tried to explain about the girl, but Mom was in no mood to listen. “Oh, stop this nonsense, Jason,” she snorted. “If you’re going to invent excuses, at least make them vaguely believable! We were in the middle of the ocean. What would a girl be doing out there?”

“I don’t know,” he said defiantly. “But she was.”

Mom was beginning to go red in the face. Winston walked over to Jason and muttered, “There is an old saying: When the tiger roars, the wise rabbit flees.”

Jason frowned. “And what does that mean?”

“It means get out while you still can,” Winston said with a wink.

Jason took this advice and fled.

A little later he lay on his bunk, trying to figure it all out. Clearly, no one else had seen the girl, but that was not surprising when he thought about it. They would all have been watching either their equipment or the whale. And even if they had looked, he was on the bow, blocking their view. So they only had his word. And none of them believed it.

His thoughts were interrupted by Brett’s teasing voice coming from the lower bunk. “There’s one thing that explains it all, of course, Jace. You’ve finally gone totally crazy.”

“I’m not crazy, you little nerd,” Jason snarled through clenched teeth.

“That’s what crazy people always say, though, isn’t it?” Brett countered. He smirked to himself. It wasn’t often he got the chance to stir Jason up this much.

Jason swung down from the bunk and faced his younger brother angrily. “Listen, I did see a girl, bozo. I don’t know how and I don’t know why – but she has to be out there somewhere, and I’m going to prove it.”

Jason’s face was stony. Even Brett was aware of a strange determination in his voice. “I’ll show you all,” he said quietly, “if I have to stay here for the rest of my life. I’m not leaving now until I find her.”