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

Author:Peter Hepworth

4. Brett and Badberries

By next morning the cyclone had passed and the search was resumed. When Jason looked at the size of the search area, the endless miles of sea around them, he felt his heart start to sink.

“If only the communication system hadn’t been dismantled for servicing, we could have got a fix on him,” Lucas muttered as he studied his chart. He glanced across to Jason. “Do you know if he had any water with him?”

“No – at least I don’t think so,” Jason muttered, unhappily.

“Pity. It’s shaping to be a hot day,” Lucas returned to his chart. “Anything out there in an open boat’s going to start cooking.”

The sun was high and blazing in the sky. It was nearing midafternoon, though Brett lost all sense of time. His head was spinning, his mouth was parched, and he would have given even the treasured laser-blades he’d had to leave back onshore for just one glass of water.

The boat had been drifting aimlessly with the currents since he woke that morning. At first, he was grateful to have survived, but as the day drew on and the sun grew hotter, he began to wonder if what he faced wasn’t even more horrible than drowning. In the end, he simply curled up in the stern of the boat and went to sleep.

He was awakened only when the boat shuddered as the prow struck sand and ground to a halt. Brett sat up and stared around him.

He had run aground on a beautiful white beach that seemed to stretch as far as his bleary eyes could see. He hoped that it might be the mainland, but there were no signs of houses or any other buildings anywhere around.

He slipped over the side, fell into the water, and waded unsteadily ashore. “Hello! Is there anybody here?” He yelled as hard as his aching throat would allow.

There was no reply.

“Please help me! I need water!”

Again there was no answer, just the screeching of birds in the forest that bordered the beach. Not knowing what else to do, Brett staggered towards the trees.

He was near collapse when he came upon a stream running through the forest. He didn’t even notice the small ring of stones, burnt black from many cooking fires, that stood nearby. He simply rushed past it and threw himself face first into the water, gulping it down. It was sweet and cool and he drank deeply.

His thirst finally slaked, Brett suddenly realized he was hungry, too. Maddeningly hungry. He peered hopefully around for something to eat and he saw some yellow berries on the bank.

They were plump and inviting, and when he bit unsurely into the first one, his mouth was filled with a taste like Christmas pudding. A little moldy, perhaps, but Christmas pudding, nevertheless. He started to grab them by the handful, stuffing them into his mouth, not minding the yellow juice that stained his lips, trickled down his chin, and dripped onto the ground below.

He was still collecting them when a strange feeling started to come over him. Everything began to blur, then the forest around him seemed to move in a circle, slowly at first, then faster and faster. At the same time, his whole body went numb.

Brett fell headlong and the world went black.

The moment she surfaced in the cove, Neri saw the boat on the beach. For a moment she froze, her fingers tightening on the fishing spear she carried. A small grouper was transfixed on the barbed point, still trembling. Then she began to wade ashore, moving warily toward the strange vessel.

She circled it slowly, and found a line of footprints leading away toward the forest.

An Outsider. There was an Outsider on her island!

Neri moved like a shadow through the undergrowth, slipping from the shelter of one tree to another, following the tracks. She had nearly reached the place she called home when she came upon a figure sprawled on the back of the stream.

She leaned over the unmoving form, frowning at the strange clothes and the ugly black things tied onto his feet. Shoes, she remembered, that’s what her father had said they were called.

She peered closer to see the creature’s face and spotted the yellow stains on his lips. She knew instantly that he had eaten badberries.

She paused for only a second then dashed into the surrounding forest, where she began to gather the plants she needed.

Brett woke to feel something being pressed agains his lips. It was a cup made from half a coconut shell, filled with some evil-smelling brew. He tried to push it away.


Brett opened his eyes and started. The face he looked into was that of a girl a little older than himself. A matted mane of sun-bleached hair framed a broad forehead, straight nose, and full mouth. But it was her eyes that commanded attention; they were like the ocean, sea green and wild. Even in the semidarkness they seemed to glitter in their sockets.

The girl was tall and slender but there was a sense of hidden strength in her lithe, bronzed limbs. She wore a simple dress made of some strange, rough fabric the like of which Brett had never seen. The hem had rotted away in places leaving a tangle of threads halfway up her thigh.

She pushed the cup to his mouth again.

As she lifted his head, Brett became aware of a large seashell full of liquid bubbling away over a nearby fire.

“You eat badberries,” she said. “Drink. Or you go away forever.”

The urgent look on her face suddenly made Brett’s blood cold. “You don’t mean… die?”

She seemed to consider this for a moment, then shrugged and nodded.

The liquid had a strange salty taste to it. Before he had even finished the cup, Brett felt a soothing warmth begin to travel through his entire body. His eyelids started to droop.

“You sleep now,” the girl said. “Be better soon.”

She laid his head back down, but remained crouched over him. Brett heard his own voice as though coming from somewhere far away. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

One corner of her mouth tilted in the slightest flicker of a smile. “Neri,” she said.

Brett woke from a fitful sleep several times during the night, but she was always there. Mostly she just squatted silently nearby, staring at him with a puzzled look on her face. Once he caught her holding her hand against his, as though comparing the two. In the darkest hours, he was dimly aware of her soothing his brow with water while she crooned a strange little tune of squeaks and chirping sounds under her breath. It sounded oddly familiar to Brett, but he was already slipping back into sleep when it occurred to him where he had heard something like it before.

In his mother’s lab.

It was the sound of whales singing.

It was shortly after sunup the next morning when Winston, on one of the search boats, reported spotting something in the sea at a distance.

On ORCA, Mom clutched Jason’s hand tightly.

A minute or two later Winston came back on screen to correct himself. On drawing closer, they had realized the object was a whale, basking in the water.

“From the fluke marks, it looks like it might even be our chap,” he added distractedly.

Lucas broke in, telling them to move on to the next search area.

As the boat altered course, the whale watched them go. Then it began to sing.

“Boy! Boy!”

Brett awoke to find Neri shaking him. He still felt weak and awfully tired, and he tried to roll back over to sleep, but she persisted. “Boy! Your name?”

“Brett,” he mumbled.

“Bre-ett.” She tried it out to herself experimentally before beginning to shake him again. “Brett, your people look for you. Don’t want them coming here to my island. Take you to where they find. Now.”

But Brett just lay there. He simply didn’t feel strong enough to move. So Neri bent over him. With one hoist, she lifted him bodily off the ground as if he were a rag doll. Then, holding him in her arms, she headed for the beach.

She placed him in the boat, then paused. Brett was aware of her eyers boring into him. “Brett, I must have promise. Tell none about me. You swear.”

“I swear.”

She nodded, stepping to the front of the boat and seized the mooring rope. Brett gasped as he felt the craft move. The girl was single-handedly pulling the boat back into the water!

Then, when it was floating free, she slid under the surface of the sea. The rope tightened again and the boat began to move forward. Slowly at first, then gathering speed, as she towed it away from the island and out toward the open sea.

Winston’s excited face flashed onto the communicator screen. “We’ve found him! He’s a little worse for wear, but they say he’ll be fine.”

Mom hugged Jason. He could see she was blinking back tears and he felt a lump forming in his own throat. He’d never admit it to Brett – he didn’t let on about his feelings to anyone these days – but he couldn’t imagine life without the little dork.

“It’s very strange,” Winston went on, scratching his head. "We searched through here and hour ago and there was no sign of him. Suddenly, there he is, just floating right in front of us. We didn’t know where he came from.

In the background Brett was being lifted aboard the search ship on a stretcher. Winston stepped over to him. “How are you feeling, my boy?” he asked kindly.

Brett looked up, fuzzily. “Where’s Neri?”

Winston’s brow wrinkled. “Neri? What is Neri?”

Then Brett remembered his promise. “Nothing,” he replied. “Just a dream.”

That evening, back in his own bunk, Brett lay silently thoughtful for a long time before he finally spoke. “Jace, I met her.”

“Met who?” Jason asked without interest.

“The girl in the sea. The one you saw. In fact, I think she saved my life.”

Jason swung down from the top bunk, his eyes wide with excitement. “You’re kidding!”

“Uh-huh,” Brett said, and told him the whole story. Jason listened, hanging on every word.

“Do you think you could find the island again?” he asked when Brett had finished.

Brett shook his head. “I don’t have the faintest idea where I was. And listen, Jace, you’ve got to keep all this to yourself. I gave my word. I’m only telling you because, well, you kinda knew about her already.”

“Hey, after the scolding I got last time, I’m not saying anything,” Jason pointed out. “Not until we can actually show ’em this Neri in the flesh. And that day’s going to be worth waiting for.”