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

Author:Peter Hepworth

11. Rapture of the Deep

Only a few days had passed since Neri’s first, chaotic visit to ORCA when she began to hint she would like to return. There were so many things, she said, that she wanted to see again.

Jason tried to talk her out of it, but he knew in his heart that his efforts were doomed. So a deal was struck. She could come one more time, they agreed, but only when the boys said so. “There’s something important we have to arrange first,” Jason said.

They took Vanessa’s uniform from the equipment box where it lay concealed and pulled out the incriminating code tag, which they flung into the sea. Then they replaced it with a new tag, one of Mom’s. It was off a jacket she rarely wore and if she noticed it was missing, she didn’t mention it.

The day Neri came back on board, Vanessa made a beeline for them the moment they entered the galley. When she again laid claim to the uniform, Jason shrugged and suggested she check it. Vanessa immediately looked at the back of the tunic. Her face fell. It was obvious at a glance that the bar code was not hers. As she walked away, frowning, the boys and Neri shared a secret grin of triumph.

When Vanessa rejoined Jodie at their table, her frown had turned into a scowl and her eyes were hard with suspicion. “I still say they’re up to something weird,” she muttered to Jodie. “And I think whatever it is, that girl’s involved in it, too.”

The rest of Neri’s second visit went surprisingly smooth. Daggy followed her with adoring eyes but their other friends simply greeted her as they would any new aquaintance. Jason had spent some time coaching Neri on her new identity and the others seemed to accept it without question. Neri stayed close to the boys and, apart from her rather peculiar way of walking in the unaccustomed shoes, she did little to draw attention to herself.

Jason and Brett were feeling pleasantly relieved as they walked Neri toward the main elevator on her way out, then Mom spotted them across the other side of the reception area. She was having a heated discussion with Commander Lucas. They seemed to argue a lot, mostly about lab equipment that she said was necessary and he refused to authorize, saying it was a waste of money. She was in the middle of a sentence when she glanced over his shoulder and saw them passing, laughing together.

Jason, realizing they were being watched, quickly led the way to the elevator and opened the doors. A moment later, they were speeding upward.

“This’ll have to be the last visit for a while,” he said to Neri as she changed into her own clothes behind the equipment box. “We can’t risk it too many times. You’ve seen just about all there is to see, anyway. So you stay away and we’ll come out to the island whenever we can. All right?”

Neri nodded reluctantly, and insisted on seeing the uniform placed back in its hiding place from the platform, waved, and slid beneath the surface.

“Who was that girl I saw you with today?” Mom asked, back in their cabin that night.

“You mean Neri?” Brett said, without thinking.

“She’s just a friend of ours,” Jason added carefully.

“You looked like old pals from way back, I must say,” Mom lifted and eyebrow. “She’s a strange little thing, though.”

Jason gulped, but said nothing.

“She wandered into the lab the other day.” Mom went on, “She was humming along with the whale song as though it was some tune she knew. And she has the most unusual eyes.”

“Yeah, you could say Neri’s a bit different, I guess,” Brett agreed with caution, “but that’s what we like about her.”

“It’s an odd name, too, Neri. Do her people have anything to do with the sea?”

Jason could feel his throat tightening even further. “I don’t know. Why?”

“Well, in the old Greek myths the Nereids were sea nmyphs. Rather like, well, mermaids, I suppose you could say. I just wondered if that was where they got the name from.”

Brett forced a laugh. “Yeah, sure, Mom. Me and Jace spend a lot of time hanging out with mermaids. And next week, we’re playing simulo-tennis with the Loch Ness Monster. Ow!”

Mom connected with one of her friendly cuffs then followed it up with a hug. “Smart aleck,” she grinned, and walked away, smiling.

Later, the boys lay in their bunks, whispering in the dark.

“You don’t suppose there’s any chance that she actually could be one?” Brett asked. “A mermaid, I mean?”

“Get a grip,” Jason hissed back. “There’s no such thing. She might be different but she’s not that different. Besides, we know where she came from--that wreckage in the Badlands. She’d hardly have needed a boat if she were a mermaid, would she?”

“No, I guess not. And I suppose she’d have to have a tail, too.”

“Mind you, I reckon Mom’d think she was the next best thing if she ever discovered the truth. That’s why we’ve got to make sure she never even sees Neri again.”

Mom’s face seemed flushed with excitement as it appeared on the communicator screen. “Come up to the lab, boys. There’s something you might want to watch.”

When they got there, Winston and Billy Neilson were connecting up the last of the synthesizer equipment while Mom watched. The boys nodded to Billy.

“That’s about it, Dr. Seth,” Billy said. “Want me to hang around in case I’m needed?”

“No, thank you,” Mom said. “We’ll take care of everything from here.”

Billy looked a little disappointed as he left, Jason noted to himself. But he shrugged it off and joined the others at the main screen. On it the two blips could be seen clearly, moving side by side through the ocean. The sound of whale song crackled through the loudspeakers.

Under Dianne’s direction, Winston narrowed down the computer’s coordinates to concentrate on the larger blip.

“Right. Now, try patching in the Image Synthesizer.” Dianne’s eyes were narrowed in concentration as she peered at a second screen sitting to one side of the bench.

“If this works, the program will identify the object and throw it up on here,” she muttered absently to the boys.

For a short while nothing happened, then a shape began to form. It solidified into a recognizable image, the vast body and huge flakes unmistakable.

Jason felt Mom grip his arm with anticipation.

“You see? That’s the whale. It’s doing it!” she said, then added, “All right, Winston, now for the real test.”

Winston fiddled the coordinates to center on the smaller object. At the same time the whale song faded, to be replaced by another sound, a faint, intermittent call like some far-off voice humming out a tune.

Again, after a pause, something began to take shape on the screen. Dianne’s jaw began to drop as the body and head became clear. Then the arms and legs.

“That’s like no sea animal I’ve ever seen before.” Her voice was a puzzled whisper. “It looks almost… human.”

There was a long pause while she and Winston gazed at it. Finally she turned to Jason, her brow deeply furrowed.

“Do you remember when we went out to tag that whale and you claimed you saw a girl in the water?”

Jason laughed as convincingly as he could.

“Oh, come on, Mom, you don’t think I really…” He shook his head, and pointed to the equipment. “This thing doesn’t work properly, that’s all. I was only trying to get us thrown off ORCA. I made the whole thing up.”

“She had to believe me, of course, but all the same, be careful, Neri.”

The boys and Neri were sitting together around the ashes of the campfire on the island the next day.

“Maybe you’d better try not to go swimming with Charley quite so much,” Jason said.

“Not go swimming with Charley?” Neri looked at Jason as if he was mad, and he knew immediately that what he was suggesting was impossible. He backed off.

"Well, at least be on your guard when you do. Just in case they come out looking for you. Mom’s really curious now. You’ve got to make sure she never spots you.

Jason could see that Mom was worried the moment she walked into the cabin that evening.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

She nodded. “We’ve just been told that Jan Slater from the ORCA Board is coming out here tomorrow. She wants to look at the results in certain laboratories, and we’re on the list.”


“So, everyone knows what that means. They’re cutting back on funding. Some of those labs are going to be closed down.”

Brett looked over, frowning. “But if they shut your lab, what’d happen to us?”

Mom sighed. “Well, there’d be no reason for us to stay on ORCA. I guess we’d all have to go back to the mainland.”

Seeing the alarm on both boys faces, Mom tried to sound reassuring. “I don’t think we have to start packing our bags quite yet,” she said. “As long as Winston and I can convince her that our work’s making progress, I hope she’ll see it’s important that we continue.”

But Jason could hear the tremor of doubt in her voice, and a sudden fear gripped him. If Mom was wrong, it would mean saying good-bye to Neri, probably forever.

The next day Neri was keeping Jason’s cautionary words at their last meeting in mind. She and Charley were staying out of view of ORCA and traveling underwater, only coming up for air occasionally.

The boat bearing Jan Slater from the mainland was almost on top of them before Neri, surfacing first, saw it coming.

Dive. Dive deep, she called to him as she hurled herself back down into the depths. But Charley was slow to respond. The very tip of the keel grazed along his back as the vessel passed over him. It clipped the tag behind his head with a harsh grating sound just as Charley made good on his escape.

On board the boat, Jan Slater clutched the rail for support as the craft shuddered. Underwater, the transmitter light on Charley’s tag fluttered and died.

Jason and Brett were keeping a wary eye on developments in Mom’s lab when the sound of the whale song abruptly ceased. In the silence that followed, Winston called their attention to the screens.

“Look. We’ve lost the brain scan at the locator transmission as well. Everything’s gone out!”

Dianne stared at the equipment in disbelief. “On no!” she groaned. “And Jan’s going to be here in about twenty minutes! Come on, Winston, boost the receivers or something. We’ve got to get those signals back fast!”

They were still trying when Lucas ushered in Jan Slater through the door half an hour later.

“I hope you had a good trip out,” Dianne smiled, edgily.

“There was a bit of excitement, actually,” Jan replied. “We hit something in the water. Fortunately, it was just a bump so it didn’t do any real damage.”

She seemed pleasant enough to Jason as she was introduced to him and Brett, but when she turned back to Mom, it was all business.

“Well, Dianne, why don’t you just show me what you’ve been up to?”

Mom tried hard, Jason had to grant her that. And Jan Slater seemed impressed by the whale song recording and the computer records of the accompanying brain patterns. But when Mom had to admit that their equipment had failed, Slater’s face turned grim.

“I’ll have to be honest with you,” she said finally. “There are certain people on the Board who already regard your research as, well, a waste of money. If I go back and report to them that the millions of dollars worth of apparatus isn’t even functioning, they won’t hesitate. They’ll close you down within a week.”

Well, that’s it, Jason thought to himself. We’re finished.

But then Dianne piped up. “How long will you be here, Jan?”

“Until 1900 hours this evening.”

There was a note of desperation in Dianne’s voice. “If I can get everything working again before then, will you recommend we be allowed to continue?”

Jan nodded. “Yes, I think that would do the trick. I’d have to see it for myself, mind.”

“You’ll see it.”

It wasn’t until Lucas had escorted Slater out to her next appointment that Jason found voice to question his mother. How on earth did she mean to fix it all by then? Mom said she’d had an idea. Since all the lab equipment was still operational, as far as they could see, then the fault had to be with the tag on the whale. She turned to Winston with a question.

“You made up two of those tags, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Winston said, “but only one was ever fitted with the dart assembly. We haven’t got time to make another one now.”

“We won’t have to,” Dianne replied coolly, “if we simply switch them over.”

Jason stared at her. Had she gone completely crazy?

“Oh sure, Mom,” Brett said, echoing his thoughts. “And how do you do that? Swim out and say, ’Hi Whale. Mind if I look at your tag and do a few repairs?’”

“More or less. I think we could use recordings of his own song to attract him. I’d wait underwater for him to come. Then if I could just get close enough, I could slip the old module out of the assembly and snap the new one in its place.”

“You’d never get anywhere near it,” Jason protested. “And you haven’t dived in ages!”

But Mom was insistent. She couldn’t let all their work go for nothing. She had to try. “Are you coming?” she asked Winston.

“Well, I’m certainly not letting you go alone.”

“I’m coming, too,” Jason said. “You need someone to drive the boat, Mom. And a diving partner.”

She looked at him hard for a moment. “Very well,” she said, “but the minute that whale appears, I want you out of the water. Winston, get the new module and a submarine transmitter. I’ll choose the recordings. Brett, help Jason fetch the scuba gear. All meet up on the platform. Quickly!”

Winston was carefully lowering an underwater speaker over the side of the boat as Jason and Dianne finished strapping on their tanks.

“Watch your depths, won’t you?” he was saying. “And don’t try to race the whale. The human body does not respond to sudden ascents and descents like they do. Beware of ’Rapture of the Deep.’”

Dianne nodded impatiently and picked up the replacement module. “Wish us luck,” she said to Brett, tousling his hair in passing. Then she and Jason plunged overboard and disappeared from sight.

“What’s that rapture thing you were talking about?” Brett asked Winston as he followed the trail of bubbles marking their progress.

“’Rapture of the Deep.’ It’s something all divers risk. It makes them light-headed and foolish. Sometimes, they even forget they have to breathe. But don’t worry, my boy. I’m sure they will look after each other.”

He picked up the first recording and loaded it into the transmitter. “Well, here goes.”

Underwater, the sound of whale song burst from the speakers, its call reverberating through the canyons of the ocean.

Neri stood on the beach at Charley’s Cove, puzzled. He had disappeared without warning, and now she could hear not one but two songs in her head. Yet both sounded like Charley. It was most strange.

She walked into the water and began to make her way out to sea.

Winston gave a whoop of delight and called Brett over to the Lanar screen. He tapped at the large fuzzy blip entering the area. “It’s him, and he’s heading straight for us!”

Jason felt Mom nudge his arm. She indicated her watch and then the tanks on her back. Finally, she pointed to him and jerked a thumb upward. Jason got the message.

With a nod, he began to kick slowly and easily upward. As he rose, he watched the outline of the boat far above him, slowly getting larger as he ascended. He was unaware of another shape, a great dark shape moving in from the east toward them.

Jason surfaced, threw his flippers aboard, and climbed the small ladder on the boat’s side.

“We were beginning to run a bit low on air,” he explained. “She told me to come up for new tanks.”

Winston picked up a spare set of empty cylinders lying on the deck. Jason began to take off his own tanks for refilling as Winston moved to start the compressor.

“This will take a while,” he warned.

“No problem,” Jason said. “She’s still got plenty left. And there’s nothing happening down there.”

In the sea below, Jason had only just disappeared from sight when Dianne saw the whale. It cruised into sight and then began slowly circling the boat underwater, curious but cautious.

Gripping the module, Dianne swam slowly forward toward it. She came up behind the gigantic body, careful to avoid the undulating flukes. Edging her way toward the head, she could actually make out the broken module, trailing from the tag. A dozen more strokes and she actually would be able to touch it.

Then, without warning, the whale rolled and dived. Dianne dived after it, anxious to keep up. The creature leveled out and seemed to pause again. Once more, Dianne started to approach the head when, with a flick of the giant tail, it moved away, this time upward.

She watched in disbelief. The darned thing was playing with her! Determined, she set off after it again.

It was on their third ascent, a particularly fast one, that the strange sensations started to hit her. Her head went giddy. The murky darkness of the seafloor seemed to suddenly glow with bright, enchanting colors. The whale appeared to change size, shrinking down until it was no bigger than a goldfish. She felt the module slipping from her grasp and dropping away toward the ocean floor below, but this struck her as funny, rather than alarming. She was consumed with an uncontrolled urge to laugh.

Rapture of the Deep.

As she tore the mask from her face, the whale’s great black eye swirled around to watch her.

Neri, he called, come. A creature is in peril.

Some distance away, Neri paused underwater as she heard the call. She concentrated. There was the figure in a strange suit like the one she had seen Jason wear. And as the breathing tube fell away from its mouth, she recognized the face. It was Mother.

Neri launched herself forward at high speed.

Winston was just finished filling Jason’s tanks when a shout from Brett drew their attention. Brett pointed to the steady stream of bubbles coming up from the sea below. One glance told Jason something was terribly wrong. He grabbed the replenished spare cylinders from the deck and frantically began to wrestle them onto his back.

Below, Dianne was beginning to drift helplessly downward when Neri reached her. Catching her in one arm, Neri clutched the floating air hose with her free hand and forced the mouthpiece back between her lips. Then she began to ascend at a slow, steady rate.

“She’s coming up!”

Brett’s call came just as Jason was about to leap overboard. He hurried to the stern of the boat to see for himself. Sure enough, a shadowy shape was coming up from below. But it seemed to him there was something strange about it.

A few minutes later Neri broke the surface, still holding Dianne under one arm. Jason was aware of Winston beside him. He stood rooted to the spot, staring at Neri, his eyes popping and his mouth agape.

Dianne’s body was limp and her head hung, but to his relief, Jason could hear the suck of air through her air tube. He reached down and caught hold of her. Winston managed to force his frozen limbs into motion and came to help the two boys. As they eased Mom over the side, Neri looked a fearful question to Jason. He nodded, both in thanks and in reassurance that she would be all right.

The next time Winston looked, the girl had disappeared.

Dianne lay on the deck coughing and spluttering as they gathered anxiously around her. Her eyelids fluttered, then came half open. She looked blearily up at Winston. Her voice, when she finally spoke, was a weak whisper.

“The girl,” she croaked. “Did you see her?”

“Yes,” Winston said quietly, “I saw her.”

Dianne nodded and closed her eyes again, exhausted. As Winston hurried to raise the anchor for the return journey to ORCA and medical help, Jason and Brett looked at each other.

“Well,” Jason said, under his breath, “The cat’s out of the bag now.”

In the UBRI laboratories on the mainland, Hellegren lifted his head from the bank of instruments over which he was poring. The sound of whale songs rang clear in the air.

“You know, Johansson,” he said to his assistant, “the more I hear of these recordings, the more I think there is something rather special about this particular whale.”


“In all my experience, I have never encountered a specimen that communicated with such clarity and frequency. If ever a creature was going to help us unlock their language, this one is it. I would dearly like to examine it more closely.”

Johannson laughed. “Perhaps we could invite it over for afternoon tea, sir.”

Hellegren’s face was stony. “I am not joking, my friend. For the moment, Dr. Bates’ research is enough for our immediate needs. But the day may soon come when it is no longer sufficient. To probe deeper, we will need the animal itself in our hands.”

A cool glint lit his eye as he added, “And if we want the creature, we will have to be prepared to take it.”