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

Author:Peter Hepworth

13. Sea Change

In the days that followed, Neri became a constant visitor to ORCA. Every morning Jason and Brett would wait for her, make sure the coast was clear, then usher her aboard and down to the laboratory where Mom was waiting. Later they would collect her again and watch as she set off home to the island.

One afternoon, when they arrived to say it was time for Neri to leave, Dianne snapped. It was impossible to work with the constant comings and goings, she said. And since many of the whales in the area were already leaving on the great migration south, their time of having contact with Charley could be running out. She took Neri’s hands and looked into her eyes.

“Neri, if I could arrange it, how would you like to stay here on ORCA for a little while?”

There was a note of excitement in Neri’s voice. “Stay with family?”


“I like it very much.”

Dianne got on the communicator to Commander Lucas. She had a young lady who was assisting them with their research, she explained, and it was vital that she be on call when needed. Therefore, they would like her to be issued with a resident’s pass. Lucas frowned. It was most unusual, he said. Besides, he doubted there were any spare berths to allocate. “There’s an extra bunk in my cabin,” Dianne insisted. “I’ll take full responsibility for her.”

Lucas seemed to waver.

Dianne played her master stroke. “If necessary, I’ll take the matter to Jan Slater and the Board.”

Lucas gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, all right, then. I’ll clear it with personnel. Give them the details and have the ID card made up.” The screen went black.

That night Neri lay awkwardly on the unfamiliar softness of a mattress while Mom moved to turn off the reading lamp. “We have a big day tomorrow,” she said.

Neri smiled as she turned off the light. Lying in the dark, Neri thought she could hear Charley singing and sang back, I am here. I will return soon.

But in the excitement of the moment, his call seemed oddly distant, moving further away.

At breakfast next morning little attention was paid to Neri. Vanessa regarded her with the usual suspicion and Lee seemed a bit put out to see her arrive with Jason, but the others were too busy talking about the upcoming ORCA Junior Dance. The dance was a major social event and the air was thick with discussion of what clothes would be worn and who would be partnering whom. Neri sat and listened in fascination as she ladled spoonfuls of revegiton into her mouth.

At the next table, however, more sinister matters were under consideration. “Mom doesn’t believe me,” Brett was saying to Froggy and Zoe, “but I swear to you, I heard someone in her lab the other night.”

“But if the door’s locked, how are they getting in?” Zoe asked.

“Search me. But they are doing it somehow.”

“There’s one way to find out,” Froggy said calmly. “A movement detector.”

“Who’s got one of those?”

“I have. I made it years ago for my grade four science project. Oh, and we’ll need something else. Talcum powder.”

That evening, Brett slipped Dianne’s key card into his pocket and joined his friends outside the lab. Using the card, they entered. Starting from the far side of the room, they scattered a fine layer of powder across the floor, working their way back toward the door. When they finished Froggy put a metal cube with an electronic eye on a bench nearby and produced a remote monitor. When he waved his hand in front of the device, a light on the monitor began to flash. Satisfied, Froggy reset it. Then they shut the door and retreated into a shadowy alcove down the corridor.

They had lost track of how long they had been there when suddenly Zoe grabbed Froggy’s arm and hissed urgently, “Froggy! Look!” She pointed. The light on the monitor was flashing. They ran for the door. As Brett fumbled with the card, they could hear scurrying sounds inside, followed by a metallic clang. Brett got the door unlocked and they hurried in.

At first glance the place looked deserted, but a stack of Dianne’s whale song recordings taken from their shelves and hastily abandoned, showed that someone had been there. On the bench beside them lay an appliance that Froggy recognized immediately as a high-speed dubbing machine for making copies. And then they saw footprints in the powder. They led from the air-conditioning duct in the wall and out again the same way. The grille was hanging loosely in its mounts. They tore it off and scrambled inside in pursuit.

The chute they found themselves crawling along was narrow and dark, but they could hear bumping and clanging, as someone ahead of them clumsily hurried to escape. When they came to a point where the shaft divided into two, they split up, Froggy and Zoe going one way, Brett the other. Froggy and Zoe were going full pelt when suddenly the shaft dropped down underneath them at a steep angle. It was too late to stop. “Ahhh!” they yelled in unison, as they slid helplessly downward, picking up speed as they went.

They hit the grille at the bottom with such force what they knocked it out and spilled on to the floor on the far side. They sat up, shaking their heads. To their horror, they realized they were sitting on the floor of Lucas’s cabin while he, in his underwear and a pair of old slippers, sat staring at them, thunderstruck.

In the meantime, Brett saw light coming from the end of the shaft that he had followed. The grille had been removed. Obviously, this was where the intruder had got out. Brett followed suit and found himself in a corridor. He hurried along it and emerged in the reception area.

The movement of the main elevator door closing caught his eye. He looked across--just in time to catch a glimpse of the handsome but frightened face of Billy Neilson before the door shut and he was whisked away.

By the time the elevator returned and Brett got up to the platform, all he could see was the receding lights of a small boat as it disappeared into the inky night.

A computerized image of Billy’s face looked down at them from the communicator screen in the lab.

“Wilhelm Neilson,” Lucas said. “According to our records, he came on board just over six weeks ago to work in the computer division. It was obviously a front, though. He was clearly planted here by someone.”

“Can’t you find him?” Brett asked.

“We’ve located the boat he took. It was left at a jetty on the mainland. But he appears to have gone to ground.” He looked across to where Dianne and Winston were checking their equipment.

“Anything else missing, Dr. Bates?”

“It doesn’t seem so.”

“Then he came specifically to copy those recordings of yours. And that’s what really puzzles me. With all due respect, Doctor, who would go to such lengths to get them? And why?”

“I don’t know,” Dianne replied. “I wish I did.”

Jason had been left in their quarters to look after Neri. “Jason,” she asked, out of the blue. “What is this dance?”

“You must know what dancing is, Neri?”

“No. You tell me.”

“Well, a lot of kids get together and jump up and down and wave their arms about and stuff like that.”

Neri scowled. “Why?”

“Look, it might be easier if I show you.” Jason got his octophonic player from his cabin. He selected a microdisc and dropped it into the slot. “Come on, you stand opposite and follow me.”

At first Neri looked so stiff and uncomfortable that Jason found it hard not to laugh. But he urged her on. “Just move your feet in time to the music. Now let the rest of your body go with it.” By the time Mom entered, Neri was starting to get the hang of it and grinning all over her face.

“Sorry to interrupt you two, but we’ve sorted out that business with Lucas, so it’s time to get back to work now, Neri.”

Jason objected. “Oh, give her a break, will you? She can’t work all the time.”

“Jason, we’ve lost hours this morning as it his. We’re on the verge of some very important new research and we need her help.”

“Well, maybe she doesn’t want to. Maybe she’d rather come out to the island with me.”

Neri broke in. “No, I go to the island tomorrow, perhaps. Today I help Mother as she asks.”

“There, you see? I really don’t know what’s got into you, Jason.”

“She’s not just something for you to research! You’re treating her like one of your specimens!”

“I object to that. Ever since the day I found her…”

“You didn’t find her, Mom,” Jason pointed out, levely, “and neither did I. ’Cause she was never lost until she met us.” He walked unhappily from the room.

Billy Neilson stood apologetically in front of Dr. Hellegren at UBRI headquarters. He was sorry, he said, that his presence had been detected before he had got all of the whale song tapes. Hellegren waved his apologies aside. “You earned your money, my boy. We have sufficient for our present needs.”

They both looked up as Johansson entered. “Well?” Hellegren asked keenly, “How are things progressing down at the bay?”

“The fence is nearly in place. The supervisor says a week at the most.”


“You really think this will work?”

“Johansson, according to Billy here, it was common knowledge that Dr. Bates used her recordings to get the whale to come to her. Well, we now have the very same recordings”--he patted the pile of covers stacked on the bench in front of him--“so it is simply a matter of following suit. Attract the creature’s attention, draw him into the bay, and he is ours.”

Several nights later, Jason and Brett lay awake in their cabin, talking softly.

“Have you noticed that Neri’s kind of changing?” Jason said. “She always seemed to be getting messages from Charley but she’s hardly mentioned him for days now. And she hasn’t mentioned him for days now. And she hasn’t been back to the island ever since she came to stay on board. It’s like she’s, I dunno, switching off, somehow.”

“Yeah,” Brett sighed. “I’m beginning to wish things’d stayed the way they were, before any adults interfered.”

Neri half woke and sat up. For a moment, she though she was being called by someone. But it must have been a dream. She looked over at the sleeping form on the other bunk. Mother. And in the other cabin, Jason and Brett. She was with her family. She was home.

With a little smile to herself, she rolled over and went back to sleep.