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

Author:Peter Hepworth

3. The Storm

“Hey, you didn’t say anything to anybody?” Jason grabbed Brett’s arm as they were about to enter the Lyceum, a large cabin full of computer screens that served as their classroom.


Jason dropped his voice to a whisper. “About what I saw, you know. I don’t want the whole world thinking I’m loony. You didn’t tell any of those little dorky friends of yours, did you?”

Brett’s eyes opened in a look of pained innocence. “Hey, I’m your brother, Jace. Would I do something like that?”

The minute they stepped through the door there was an eruption of laughter and missiles. Balls of wadded-up computer paper rained down on Jason to a chorus of catcalls from the entire class.

“Hey, Bates, seen any more mermaids today?”

“Why didn’t you bring her sister back for me?”

“I’ll have one in batter – with a dollar’s worth of chips!”

Jason glared at Brett. “I’ll get even with you for this”, he said, grimly.

As it turned out he never did get even with Brett. It was Vanessa Lane who did and for an entirely different reason.

Vanessa was one of those freckled, carroty-haired girls who acted as if she was doing you a favor by letting you breathe the same air she did. She’d only been on board ORCA three days, but that was long enough to get on just about everybody’s nerves. So it wasn’t really surprising that Brett decided she deserved the old initiation trick.

It was pretty simple to play. Most new people on board forgot you had to turn off the vision on the communication screen if you wanted privacy. Otherwise callers could see right into your cabin. So, all you had to do was wait until they were in a really embarrassing situation and then dial up their number.

They got Vanessa when she was in the shower cubicle. Brett had two accomplices, kids he’d got friendly with. One was Froggy, a little guy who was supposed to be a real whiz with computers. The other was a girl called Zoe, a tomboy with a permanent scowl. It was Zoe who actually rang the bell before bolting away down the corridor to join the others.

By the time Vanessa answered the door, dripping wet and with a towel clutched in front of her, there was no one in sight. She was actually leaning out the door, peering down the corridor, when she became aware of the watching figures on the screen behind her, applauding the unprotected view from behind.

“Looking good, Vanessa,” Brett observed.

She mightn’t have taken it so hard if Froggy hadn’t patched it into the public viewing areas. For a few glorious moments, all the kids in the galley and recreation rooms were treated to the sight of Vanessa’s frantic efforts to cover her freckled backside.

From her point of view, of course, all she could see were the three faces on the screen.

“Welcome to ORCA, sucker!”

The three of them said it in unison, but it was Brett’s face Vanessa had seen most clearly. Even before the screen went to black a moment later, she had sworn she would pay him back, and it wasn’t long before she got her chance.

A few days later Brett was alone up on the platform topside. One of the new ANT (Automatic Navigation Transport) boats was being dismantled for servicing, and he had taken advantage of the mechanic’s absence to poke around inside the little craft. Vanessa crept up behind him, slipped the mooring rope and, with a mighty shove, pushed it clear of the platform. By the time Brett realized what had happened, he was sixteen feet away and drifting further out to sea.

“What do you think you are doing? How am I supposed to get back?” Brett yelled.

“Looks like you’re going to have to swim, doesn’t it?” Vanessa called. Then with a final “So welcome to ORCA, sucker!” she hurried back to the elevator and disappeared below.

Brett considered the possibilities. He certainly wasn’t going to give Vanessa the satisfaction of seeing him walk back inside dripping wet. No, he decided, he would work out how to start the unfamiliar craft and then steer it back to its moorings. He started to push controls at random, which was a mistake.

With a sudden roar, the engines burst to life. The boat took off with a surge of power that knocked Brett off his feet and sent him tumbling. He lay in the bottom of the boat, stunned.

By the time he recovered and looked back over the stern, the ORCA platform was more than 600 feet away and disappearing rapidly, and he was rocketing, out of control, toward the open sea.

On her island, Neri heard the warning call from out to sea and looked up. One glance at the gathering clouds and strange light in the sky told her that her friend was right. There was a big wind coming.

She moved through the forest, picking handfuls of berries of different colors, but avoiding the bright yellow ones that grew on the banks of the stream.

“Badberries,” she muttered to herself and moved on.

When she had collected what she needed, she climbed hand over hand up the tree that held her sleeping nest at the top. She settled down, put the berries where she could easily reach them, and began to lash herself to the trunk with vines.

Then she settled down to wait out the big wind.

The waves around ORCA were already starting to wash over the platform when Jason realized something was wrong.

He was sitting in the galley with a group of kids he’d started to hang around with. There was goofy-looking Damien Arthur Geoffries, who, because of his personality as much as his unfortunate initials, was known to everyone as “Daggy.” Beside him sat Jodie, her face dotted with antipimple cream under teased hair, her nose stuck in a copy of Seventeen magazine. And there was also a quiet but pretty girl named Lee. Jason had liked Lee from the first moment he met her. It had come as a bad shock when Daggy told him Lee was Commander Lucas’s daughter.

“If he ever thought you were giving her the eye, you’d be a dead duck,” Daggy warned, drawing a finger across his throat.

Jason was surprised to see his mother approaching. Normally, the kids had the galley to themselves until adults started to drift in for their evening meal.

“Jason, have you or any of your friends seen Brett around? I can’t find him anywhere,” Mom looked worried.

Vanessa chimed in from another table, “I think I saw him fooling around in one of the boats,” she said innocently. “But that was ages ago.”

That’s when they found out that one of the automatic navigation boats was missing.

Half an hour later, Commander Lucas was raging around the control bridge. “For heaven’s sake, woman, can’t you people even keep track of your own children!” he thundered, as he issued orders for search boats to be sent out.

“Don’t worry, Mom, they’ll find him.” Jason tried to sound reassuring, but Lucas scowled at him.

“I think you’ll have to face a few hard facts,” he said flatly. “First, we don’t have any idea how far he may have gone or in which direction. Second, we have a tropical cyclone about to hit this area like an express train in half an hour. When that happens, I’ll have to call the searchers in. I can’t risk their lives.”

“Then I’ll take a boat and go and look for him myself,” Mom replied.

“Try that and I’ll have you locked in the brig for your own safety,” Lucas barked. Then he added, more quietly, “Look, it’s a very seaworthy little vessel and, for all we know, he may have reached the safety of land already. But if we don’t find him, I give you my word I’ll have a full-scale operation ready to go at first light.”

Exactly forty-five minutes later, with the light fading, the search was called off.

Brett clung to the gunwales of the tiny craft as it was flung about in the mountainous seas. The boat had kept going until it ran out of fuel and now Brett didn’t have the slightest idea where he was. All he knew was that he was in bad trouble.

“Mom! Mom!” he yelled desperately, but the howling winds simply snatched his words and hurled them back in his face.