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

Author:Peter Hepworth

7. Neri’s Wish

“Honestly, Jason,” Mom said, in bemusement, “sometimes I wonder what to make of you.”

She handed back the certification that he had completed his final level of the scuba training course and was entitled to use ORCA equipment.

“When you first came here, it was all whine and moan about how much you hated it. Now you’re getting boat licenses, diving licenses… What’s led to the change of attitude?”

“Hey, I’m just trying to make the best of it, like you said,” Jason responded defensively. “It’s no big deal.”

“Well, Winston and I may be able to make use of another diver in the future,” she grinned. “If all else fails, it might be our only chance of identifying that blip that travels with our whale.”

Jason tried not to show any reaction.

“Still getting that, are you, Mom?” Brett asked innocently.

Mom nodded. “It really has us baffled,” she said. “We’ve been going through all out recordings trying to get some clue to what it might be. But so far, nothing.”

“Bad luck,” Jason said as earnestly as possible.

“Oh, we haven’t given up yet, believe me. Winston’s got some other theory he’s going to try out today. You can come and help, if you like, as long as you keep out of the way.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Mom. We’re cool.”

“No, I mean it. You’re welcome. I hardly seem to see the pair of you these days.”

“Thanks anyway, but we’ve sorta got things to do. Catch up with you tonight.”

And before she could say any more, they were gone.

There were some worrying developments on the island too.

Over the past few weeks, Jason had notice a subtle change in Neri. At first, she had shown no real interest in anything outside her domain except for a fascination whenever Mom was mentioned. But lately, she had taken to questioning them at length about their lives on ORCA.

“What is this television I hear you talk of?” she was asking Brett today as they sat around the fire, munching the last of the yams raked from the embers.

“Television?” Brett answered, his mouth still full. “Well, it’s like… a sort of box thing on the wall.”

“What do you do with it?”

Brett shrugged. “Nothing much. You just look at it.”


“Well, because there are things on it.”

“What things?”

“All sorts. You might get a movie…”

“Mo-vie?” Neri looked perplexed.

“…or football maybe…”

“What’s football?”

“It’s a game. A whole lot of guys run around passing a ball to one another.”


“I dunno. That’s just the way it is.”

“But how do they all get in the box?”

Jason could see Brett was starting to get exasperated.

“They’re not actually in the box,” Brett tried to explain slowly. “It’s just a picture of them. It’s all done with electricity.”

“What is elec-tricity?” Neri leaned forward eagerly.

“It’s not important, Neri,” Jason broke in. “You don’t need any of this stuff here. And you wouldn’t find it very interesting, anyway.”

Neri considered a moment. “I think maybe I would,” she said, finally.

Jason felt an icy touch down his spine at her words.

Vanessa was in a furious temper when she returned to ORCA. She sought Jodie out in the galley, and Jodie sat, teasing her hair in a mirror, as Vanessa outlined her suspicions and recounted what had happened earlier in the day.

“The thing is,” Vanessa said, “whatever it is they’re up to, they know I’m onto them. So they’re not going to let anything slip when I’m around. But you--nobody even notices that you’re there.”

“Huh?” Jodie had a feeling she should feel insulted, but she wasn’t sure why.

“All I want you to do is keep your eyes and ears open,” Vanessa went on, “and if you find anything out, let me know.”

“But that’d be like spying. I don’t think I could do that, Vanessa.”

“You will, though, Jodie. Otherwise, I might have to tell who’s been stealing peroxide from the lab stores to bleach her hair.”

Jodie looked rattled. “Please don’t do that. My parents’d kill me!”

“Well, then, you help me and I’ll help you. Okay?”

Jodie nodded dumbly.

For most of the afternoon, Neri had continued to ply Jason and Brett with questions about ORCA. What were their sleeping nests like? Where did they gather food? How did their home look? Who were their friends? What was an elevator?

Brett had happily tried to answer her questions, but they made Jason feel nervous. For once, as they set out for the return journey he was quite glad to be leaving the island.

As they pushed the little boat clear of the beach, Neri caught his arm. “Jason,” she said solemnly, “I have decided. I wish to see your home. With my own eyes.”

Jason went pale. “You mean go to ORCA?” he stammered. “You have to be joking.”

“I show you my world…” She gestured to the island, then pointed out toward the sea. “I show you Charley’s world. Now you will show me your world.”

He shook his head. “Uh-uh, Neri. Not possible. No way.”

He tried to sound firm, but as she stood on the beach, watching them go, he did not miss the look of stubborn insistence that still lingered on her face.

When Mom came home from the lab that night, she was bubbling with excitement.

“You should have been there today, boys. We have stumbled onto something fantastic!”

Brett took off his Virtual Reality helmet and glove, his birthday present from Mom. He had just finished playing Android Hunter and been zapped at level six. “Hmm?”

“Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.”

She waited until Brett had joined Jason at the tiny foldout table before she continued. “Well, we were running our recordings though a sound analyzer. Naturally, we’ve been concentrating on the noises our whale makes. But then Winston accidentally switched to a different frequency spectrum. And suddenly, we heard something we never heard before. The tag is picking up a second sound.”

Jason stiffened. Something told him this was not going to be good news.

“It’s very faint because it’s coming from outside. But in between the whale singing, something else appears to be singing back. And we think we know what it is.”

She leaned toward them, hardly able to keep the smile off her face. “You remember the funny little companion of the whale’s we keep picking up on the screen?” she continued.

Jason and Brett didn’t dare look at each other.

“Yeah, sure,” Brett said, a note of strain in his voice. “We know… the thing you mean.”

“Well, we’ve established our chap is just calling over a short distance. And it’s the only creature constantly around him. So we figure that’s what he must be talking to! Not some other whale in some other ocean!” Mom declared triumphantly.

The boys said nothing. Mom started to look a little irritable. “Don’t you understand what it means? The two of them can speak to each other.”

She waited for a reaction. Jason finally felt obligated to speak. “That’s nice, Mom,” he said warily.

“Nice!” Mom exploded. “Look, this is possibly a major breakthrough. It’s proof that two different species can communicate. That could be the key to us starting to unlock this language. And all you can say is it’s nice!”

Mom glared at him. “Honestly,” she continued, tight-lipped. “You know, Jason, it wouldn’t kill you boys to show a little bit of interest in my work for a change. It really wouldn’t!”

She turned on her heel and walked angrily away toward her quarters, leaving Jason and Brett in unnerved silence.

“One thing you have to say about Dr. Bates,” Hellegren said, “is that she does excellent work.”

The sound of whale songs echoed through the main laboratory at UBRI headquarters. At the same time, a screen flickered with the undulating patterns of brain waves.

“Marvelous,” his companion agreed, “I’ve never seen anything quite this good before.”

“And these are only the very earliest recordings, Johansson. Our ORCA contact is sending them to us in the order they were made. No doubt, they shall get even better as they go along.”

“You are quite sure this is safe, Dr. Hellegren? If we should be discovered taking someone else’s research…”

“Relax, man. They will never know.”

“All the same,” Johansson persisted, “I am not entirely happy about this.”

Hellegren turned a cool eye in his direction. “Need I remind you what is at stake here? Whoever is first to break the language barrier with these creatures can control them one day.”

“Yes, I know the military possibilities are enormous, but…”

“Even in peace time,” Hellegren insisted, “we are looking at multimillion dollar potential. For such rewards, one must be prepared to bend the rules a little.”

Johansson nodded, conceding. Hellegren turned back to the screen. “A most interesting specimen Dr. Bates seems to have found herself,” he mused. “I think we are going to learn a lot from this fellow.”

“You could have sounded a bit more enthusiastic, just to keep her happy,” Brett commented as the boys prepared for bed.

“What is there to be enthusiastic about?” Jason retorted. “This is shaping up as a disaster. Mom knows something’s talking to Charley. How long before she tracks it down to Neri?”

“It’ll be cool,” Brett said in his annoying fashion. “There’s no reason why she should ever find out.”

“Don’t forget, we’ve also got Vanessa on our tails,” Jason reminded him.

“So, we’ll just have to be more careful from now on when we go to the island.”

“And then there’s this crazy idea of Neri’s about wanting to see ORCA. That really worries me.”

“Ah, she’ll soon forget about that.”

“Well, you’d just better hope you’re right,” Jason muttered, his brow creasing, “because if you’re not, we’re going to be in trouble right up to our necks!”

Brett was not to know that Neri, lying in her nest, was staring up at the stars and pondering all the wonders that lay within the Outsiders’ home on the bottom of the sea. Wonders, she decided, that must be seen with her own eyes one day soon.