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

Author:Peter Hepworth

8. The Big Shake

“If I’d known about this, I never would have done the scuba course in the first place,” Jason grumbled, pulling his bathing suit on.

Brett set his Virtual Reality helmet aside. Try as he might, he still couldn’t defeat Zorgoman, The Master Android. “What’s up?”

“I just found out I’ve got to do a dive this morning and guess who they’ve given me as a partner! Vanessa.”


“You said it.”

“Just remember to watch what you say.”

“Listen,” Jason replied, “you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.” And he headed grimly out to the equipment stores to pick up his diving gear.

At that moment Vanessa was in the galley trying to talk to Jodie. But Jodie’s attention was elsewhere. She was gazing adoringly at a tall, good-looking guy chatting at a far table.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” Jodie sighed. “His name’s Billy Neilson. He just came on as a cadet in the computer division.”

Vanessa’s lip curled. “Don’t you ever think about anything except boys, clothes, and makeup?”

“What else is there?” Jodie replied innocently.

“Listen to me, Airhead, this is important.” Vanessa’s temper was starting to run short. “When we get back from the dive today, I want you to go to work on Jason Bates.”


“I don’t care. You should know better than I do.” She indicated the copy of Groovy Girl magazine in front of Jodie. HOW TO IMPRESS A GUY was written across the front cover.

“Just get him talking,” Vanessa continued, “and find out what you can. Understand?”

“Yeah, all right,” Jodie said vaguely. Her attention was already wandering back to the handsome boy. “I’ve heard he’s seventeen,” she mused. “Do you think that’s too old? I wonder if he’s invited anyone to the big Easter dance yet?”

Daggy was coming past with Lee. “If you’re looking for someone to take you, I will,” he volunteered enthusiastically.

“Get a grip, Geoffries,” Vanessa said with a sneer. “No girl in her right mind would go anywhere with an ugly dag like you.”

Daggy looked stung. His face flushed. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then thought better of it. He turned on his heel and headed out.

“That was really rotten, Vanessa,” Lee said. “Why do you always go around bad-mouthing people?”

“’Cause I’m not a little suck of a commander’s daughter. Next question?”

“You know, you think you’re so much better than everyone else here. But one day, you’re going to find out you’re wrong.”

Vanessa ignored her. “I’m due on a dive. Don’t forget what we were talking about,” she said to Jodie as she stalked off.

Lee went in search of Daggy and found him in one of the empty storerooms in Epsilon module. He was sitting mournfully by himself.

“She’s right, you know,” he said when Lee sat down beside him. “I’m just a dag. Someone to have a good laugh at.”

“That’s not true,” Lee said.

“Yeah, it is. Even when I was in grade school. A bunch of boys told me we were going to do a naked streak through the playground. When the time came, guess who was the only one without any clothes on?” He pointed to himself with a nod. “If I could just do one thing well, it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m hopeless at everything.”

“Don’t run yourself down. Just because some people think you’re a dag now doesn’t mean you’re going to stay one for the rest of your life. There’s plenty of time to change. And I bet you’ll turn out a real winner.”

He brightened. “Yeah. Some day, I’m going to make them all eat their words,” he said.

But that day was to be a long way off.

Jason was one hundred fifty feet underwater when Neri appeared.

He had completed his own dive and was now acting as safety buddy as Vanessa began hers. He watched her below him as she started a slow descent. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. Since he and Vanessa were alone, Jason nearly jumped out of his wetsuit. He spun around to see Neri gesturing urgently to him.

Quickly looking down, he was relieved to see that Vanessa was moving still further away, unaware of what was happening above her. There would be a few minutes before she would start to ascend again. The diving boat hull was almost directly over them. Jason indicated the far side of it. If Vanessa did glance up, at least that would offer them a little shelter from her gaze.

They came up together beside the hull and Jason pulled the air feed from his mouth. “How did you find me here?”

“Charley sees you,” Neri replied. Glancing past her, Jason could see the plume of the humpback’s spout some distance off.

Neri did not bother to explain further. She took hold of his shoulder, agitated. “There is danger! Charley tells me. Soon it is coming. Big shake!”

“Shake?” Jason was perplexed.

“Shake!” She held her hands in front of her and trembled them violently. “Earth shake!”

“Earth sh…” and then Jason realized. “You mean earthquake!”

“Yes! Go! You must warn your people!”

Neri ran up the beach on her island and paused to look back out to sea. Charley was already sheltering in the cove, but through him, she began to hear the sound. A low rumble, far off, beginning to build.

She hurried into the rainforest to a giant hollow tree, crawled inside the natural fortress, a high-domed cave of wood surrounding her, and sat on the ground. She knew she would be safe. For her friends on ORCA, she could only hope.

“An earthquake, eh?” Lucas regarded Jason with a cold eye.


“I think he’s gone off his head, Commander.” Vanessa was standing in the background, looking at Jason balefully. “He came down and dragged me out of the water halfway through my dive because of this.”

Lucas referred to his control panel. “HELEN, do we have any indication of seismic activity in the area?”

A moment’s pause, then HELEN’s robotic voice replied, “Our sensors indicate negative, Commander.”

Lucas nodded, then turned back to Jason. “I suppose this is your idea of a joke, then, is it? A bit of a laugh?”

“No, I…”

Lucas cut him off, curtly. “Well, you’re going to find out I don’t have much of a sense of humor. Especially when it comes to smart-aleck kids who think they can make monkeys out of me and my crew.”

He called over his shoulder. “HELEN, locate Dr. Bates and have her come to the bridge at once.”

“Yes, Commander.”

“I want your mother to be here for this,” he said to Jason, “then, perhaps, she’ll understand that it’s high time all of you got a bit of discipline.”

Dianne was just coming in the door when the first shock hit. The whole bridge seemed to tilt, swaying crazily. Equipment toppled and crashed to the floor. Cables broke, showering sparks. The air was filled with the groan of straining metal. Jason and Dianne grabbed a firmly anchored stanchion and held on for all they were worth.

“Emergency level ten… emergency level ten…” HELEN started to intone.

“What the devil happened to the early warning system?” Lucas shouted above the uproar.

“We must have had an equipment failure in the sensors, sir,” a young officer yelled as he frantically punched buttons.

The second shock split the hull down in Epsilon module. Water began to pour in. Daggy and Lee, who were still down there talking, had to run for their lives. They reached the watertight bulkhead doors just as HELEN was closing them in response to the incoming water. Daggy froze in horror.

“Come on!” Lee screamed, pushing him in front of her. “We’re going to get trapped down here!”

They dashed through the rapidly narrowing gap. A moment later, the doors clanged shut behind them.

“Jeez, that was lucky,” Daggy said, pale-faced. “I nearly missed my chance to make ’em eat their words. I would’ve died a dag.”

When the third shock hit all the lights in the galley went out. Brett, Froggy and Zoe cowered together under a table. Froggy moaned in fear.

“Stop being such a wimp, will you?” Zoe demanded.

“I can’t help it. I come from a long line of chickens. It’s in my blood.”

Zoe shook her head. Boys! What a bunch of wusses.

Then the emergency lighting cut in, flooding the room with an eerie red glow. At that point, the candy machine short-circuited and exploded, showering the galley with chocolate bars. At least it had the effect of putting a stop to Froggy’s whining. It was replaced with steady slurping and chomping sounds, only punctuated now and then with an occasional whimper.

After the third shock, there were no more.

On the bridge, Lucas ignored Jason and Dianne as he called for a damage assessment from HELEN. He quickly studied the three-dimensional diagrams as they came up on the screen, barking orders at the same time. Maintenance teams were dispatched to various sectors, while a small army was organized to pump out and repair the fractured hull in Epsilon module.

When Lucas heard of Lee and Daggy’s lucky escape, he sent for them. First he embraced his daughter, then he proceeded to give both of them a scathing dressing-down for having been in the restricted area in the first place. “You, of all people, should know better,” he growled at Lee. “Any more infractions of the rules, young lady, and you’ll be going back to shore and a boarding school. And, I might add, I think you should do something about the company you are keeping these days.”

He glared at Daggy as he said it, but Jason had a feeling the remark included him, too. Only when the last of the repair gangs had been consigned did Lucas turn his attention to Jason again. He walked over and confronted him.

“Very well,” he said quietly, “so you were right. Now, would you care to tell me how you knew?”

Jason froze. In his haste to sound the warning, he hadn’t had time to think about this. His mind raced. “It was… the fish.” He grasped at a straw.

“The fish?”

“Yes,” Jason improvised. “When we were out there, diving. I noticed they were behaving funny. Sorta like they were spooked or something. And I remember Mom telling me once that sometimes that’s what it could mean.”

Lucas snorted in disbelief. “Do you seriously expect me to believe that some passing sardine told you?”

“Now wait just a minute, Commander,” Dianne said, wading into the fray. As Jason had hoped, venturing into the area of her work brought an immediate response. “Jason happens to be right,” she went on. “There are recorded examples all over the world of animal behavior seeming to predict earthquakes. And I believe that marine life does have the same capability.”

“If you’ll pardon me, Doctor… rubbish.”

“Really?” Mom’s hackles were rising. “Then how else do you explain it?”

Lucas eyed Jason doubtfully. “It was a fluke,” he finally pronounced. “A coincidence. The boy just made a lucky guess.”

As they walked away from the bridge, Dianne caught Jason’s arm. “You always laughed at that idea, Jason. So how did you know?”

“I’m afraid he was right, Mom,” he said, with a wry shrug. “I think it was just a lucky guess.” And he walked away as fast as he could.

The late afternoon sun was almost on the horizon when Neri emerged from the sea. She had spent a good deal of time with Charley, first checking that he was all right and then soothing him. Now that he was calmed and the danger had passed, her thoughts turned to Jason and Brett.

She stood for a moment looking out toward the west, to where she knew ORCA nestled on the ocean floor. For a moment, she looked undecided, then a little smile lit her face. She dived back in and began to swim westward.

The corridors of ORCA were almost empty that evening as most of the adults were occupied with tidying up their work areas and restoring damaged equipment.

Jason was making his way home from a game of simulo-tennis with Daggy in the recreation room. As he walked through a deserted viewing tunnel, Jodie hailed him. Jason frowned as she joined him. He was used to her always primping herself up, but this evening she looked as though she had made a special effort.

“Hi, Jodie. What do you want?”

She leaned her back against the transparent wall and pouted prettily. "I just thought we might talk. You know, we see each other around all the time, but we never really get a chance to speak alone, do we?

“Ah, I guess not. Well, go ahead, shoot.”

Jodie began to ramble on. Jason was quite perplexed. She seemed surprisingly interested in their fishing expeditions, even suggesting she might go along on one. He didn’t know what to make of it. The idea of Jodie in a boatful of smelly fish just didn’t add up, somehow. Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye that pushed everything else from his mind.

In the sea outside the viewing tunnel, right over Jodie’s shoulder, Neri was approaching, waving to him.

She swam right up to the window and hovered there, smiling. If Jodie were to turn around, there was no way she could miss her.

Then Jodie started to turn. Jason grabbed her by the shoulders and swung her back to face him.

“Well, listen, Jodie, I think that’s a great idea,” he said with all the enthusiasm he could muster. “Let’s all take a boat out together one day and see what we can hook…”

He managed to get one hand around behind Jodie’s back, where she couldn’t see it, frantically signaling to Neri to go upward, toward the surface.

“Just one rule, thought, everyone’s got to gut their own catch, right?”

Jodie’s nose wrinkled. Behind Jodie, Neri saw the signal, nodded and, with one lazy kick, began to disappear from view.

“Eurggh! Do I?” Jodie said with distaste.

“Yeah, that’s the rule.”

To his great relief, Neri’s feet floated up and she was gone.

“Well, I suppose I’d better be heading back to our cabin now. I’ve got things to do. But we’ll definitely organize that fishing expedition some day, OK? See you.”

He strolled on, rounded a bend in the corridor, paused for a moment, and looked back to make sure he wasn’t being followed. Then he sprinted for the main elevator.

Vanessa was waiting for Jodie in the galley. Around them, maintenance staff were still putting the finishing touches to the cleanup.

“Nothing happened at all,” Jodie reported. “It was really boring. All Jason did was talk about stupid fishing.”

She sucked on the straw of her ProtoCola drink. “Vanessa, are you sure he’s up to some funny business?”

“I’m sure all right,” Vanessa said quietly.

“Well, I’ve done my best. I’ll still keep my ears open, like we agreed, but I tell you -- I’m not putting my hands into any old fish guts for anybody.”

The elevator doors opened and Jason stepped out onto the platform. Avoiding the bright arc lights overhead, he picked his way from one shadow to another, scanning the whole area as he went. There was no one around. He went to the darkest corner and leaned over the edge. Below him, he could hear the waves lapping at the pylons. He called softly.

“Neri, Neri!”

Something broke the surface nearby and there was Neri’s face looking up at him, grinning from ear to ear.

“What the heck do you think you’re doing?”

“I come to be sure that you and Brett are safe.”

“We’re fine.”

“And Mother?”

“Yeah, her, too. Now quickly, get out of here!”

But Neri didn’t move. “Jason? How is it bright inside with no fire?”

“It’s just lights, Neri. Nothing to interest you.”

But to his horror, she reached out for the ladder and set her foot on the first rung.

“Now I am here, I wish to see.”


She paused.

“Neri,” Jason continued desperately, “you can’t come on board. It’s too dangerous. I won’t let you.”

Even in the semidarkness he saw her eyes glitter.

“Jason, how will you stop me?” she asked, smiling.

Jason’s heart sank because he knew he had no answer.

She climbed another rung.

“All right!” Jason called, halting her, “All right. I’ll organize it. But not now.”

“Soon.” It was not a question but a demand.

“Yeah, soon as I can.”


“I promise. But please, just go before anyone sees you.”

Neri dropped back into the water and her voice came out of the gloom. “Remember, Jason. You swear.”

“I said so, didn’t I? But right now, go back to the island. We’ll come out and see you tomorrow.”

She nodded then, with scarcely a ripple, slipped under the water and swam away.

Jason stared helplessly after her. Oh, no, he thought. What have I got us into now?

“We’re going to have to get her on board somehow,” Jason shrugged. “There’s no other choice.”

Mom was still out, busy cleaning up the lab with Winston, so at least the boys could talk freely in their cabin.

Brett frowned. “Isn’t that going to be awful risky?”

“It’ll be even riskier if we don’t. Now she’s been out here once, there’s nothing to stop her doing it again. And if she’s floating around outside those windows, she’s going to be spotted in no time. It was only luck she wasn’t seen tonight.”

“Well, isn’t there some way we can put her off?”

“Don’t you think I tried? But she’s made her mind up. And, like she says, there’s really no way we can stop her.”

Jason began to pace, thinking aloud. “Here’s the way I figure it. We smuggle her on just one time. Compared with the island, she’s gotta find this place so boring, she’ll never want to come back again. Then the problem’s over.”

“Hey, cool thinking. You’re right.”

“Let’s hope so,” Jason said grimly. “Otherwise we could be making the biggest mistake of our lives.”