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

Author:Peter Hepworth

15. Rallying the Troops

From what Neri had seen the night before, it seemed certain that Charley was penned up somewhere. The question was where. Brett was sure the theft of the whale song recordings had something to do with it. Jason tended to agree, and since the trail seemed to lead toward the mainland, he felt the search should concentrate in that direction. He suggested they follow the coastline while Neri attempted to call him.

“But I can hear him no more, Jason,” she said.

“Well, perhaps he’s not singing as loud as usual,” Jason shrugged. “Getting through to you like he did last night must have taken a lot of energy.”

“Yeah, and it’s got to take it out of him, being locked up like that,” Brett added.

“If you get close enough, maybe you’ll make contact again. Who knows? At least it’s worth a try, isn’t it?”

Neri thought about it for a moment, then stood. “I try. But I go alone. Will be faster.”

Jason nodded. “All right, but before you go, I brought something for you.”

He went to the boat and came back carrying a bundle. It was Neri’s rough cloth shift. “Here.” He handed it over. After she changed, she passed back the sodden remains of Dianne’s dress. “Tell Mother I do not need anymore,” she said. “Ever.”

Jason could not help thinking how like the old Neri she looked as she strode into the water and disappeared beneath the waves.

Dianne and Winston walked into the lab that morning and stopped in their tracks. Lucas was sitting at their computer terminal, staring at the screen. There were shadows under his eyes and he looked like a man who had not had a lot of sleep.

“Good morning. Dr. Bates,” he said quietly, without looking up. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Walking across, she looked over his shoulder. On the screen was their main Neri file. It contained a detailed diary as well as records of her conversations with Charley and the results of their physical examinations. He had read it all.

“You realize that I must report this to my superiors immediately,” he said.

“Commander, you can’t do that.”

“It’s my duty, Dr. Bates. If even half of this is true, the girl has to be brought to their attention.”

“The minute she becomes public knowledge, half the scientists in the world are going to be trying to get their hands on her.”

“And you want to keep her for yourself, is that it?”

She felt her anger rising. “No!”

Lucas held her with a steady, questioning gaze.

“All right,” she conceded reluctantly. “Perhaps that was a consideration in the beginning. But I’ve also gotten close to Neri. She’s become like a daughter. And I don’t want her turned into a freak show.”

“It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?”

“I need time to think this out. Please, Commander, just give me twenty-four hours.”

Lucas got to his feet and headed toward the door.

“Twenty-four hours, Doctor,” he said.

Neri had almost given up hope again when she heard the call. She was out to sea, following the coast, when the faint sound reached her ears. It sounded weak and weary but it was still Charley’s song. A moment later, she had gauged the direction and was zooming through the water toward him.

She found him in the bay, lolling listlessly in his prison behind the fence. She checked the barrier hopefully, but it was too high to jump, too deep to get under.

Keeping low in the water, she sang back to him.

Charley, I am here.

He responded, his huge bulk coming around as he turned and nosed toward her. He came right up to the fence. She reached out to touch him and, as her hand brushed against the metal mesh, a pain like fire shot through her arm and jolted her whole body.

Back on the island, Jason winced as he examined the burn mark on her palm. “There must be some kind of high-voltage current running through the thing,” he said to Brett. “No wonder it’s knocked Charley about.”

Neri was preoccupied, drawing a crude sketch of the bay in the sand with a stick. “The burning thing goes here,” she said, adding a line across the entrance. “Then big snakes go up to the house on top.”

Jason studied it. “They must be power cables. And they’re coming from this place on the hill. If we could get in there and turn it off, we might be able to destroy the fence.”

“Get real, will you?” Brett shook his head. “The three of us could never do that by ourselves. We’d need a whole gang.”

“Right,” Jason agreed, his jaw set grimly. “And that’s just what we’re going to get.”

“But shouldn’t we at least tell Mom?” Brett hissed as they stepped out of the main elevator into the reception area.

Jason was adamantly against it. It was when adults had been allowed to interfere that everything had started going wrong, he reminded Brett. There were none of them to be trusted anymore. “That’s why we stick to kids for this.”

They split up. Jason sought out Daggy and Lee in the galley. “Hey, have you seen Neri anywhere around?” Daggy asked. “Everyone’s talking about what happened last night.”

Jason leaned toward both of them and lowered his voice. “You want to hear about Neri, be in the recreation room at 2200 hours tonight.”

At the same time, Brett was talking to Froggy and Zoe. “All I can tell you is that it’s something really big. So don’t mention it to anybody else. And be there.”

“Well, that’s seven altogether, counting Neri,” Jason said when they met him back in reception. “Anyone else?” They looked around. Jodie was coming toward them, buffing her nails as she went.

“What do you reckon?” Jason asked, nudging Brett.

“Her? Jace, she’s a real airhead.”

“Maybe, but we could do with the extra pair of hands, couldn’t we?”

Jodie looked more than a little bewildered by the invitation, but agreed to attend. They swore her to secrecy, unaware that Vanessa had walked into reception at that moment, and was watching them with interest from a distance. After the boys had departed, Jodie felt a tap on her shoulder.

“That was quite a talk you were having with the Bates brothers,” Vanessa said. “Care to let me in on what it was about?”

The boys arrived at the lab with the intention of assuring Dianne that Neri was all right and there was nothing to worry about. Instead they heard the news about Lucas’s discovery of the files.

“All the more reason to keep quiet about tonight,” Jason commented as they walked away. “It’s better for Mom now if she knows nothing.”

At 2200 hours the group of kids gathered expectantly in the normally deserted recreation room. When the last one had arrived, Jason instructed Brett to stand guard by the door and then began to instruct them.

“Well, some of you already know that we’ve got you here because of Neri. She needs all our help. But first, I have to tell you a few things about her.” He paused for a second to draw breath, then went on. “I warn you, you’re going to find this hard to believe. But Brett and I both swear every word of it’s true…”

In the UBRI laboratory, high above the bay, Hellegren sat studying the day’s results.

“This is rather disturbing, gentlemen,” he said to Johansson and Billy. “We are getting some remarkably clear language patterns from the creature, but at the same time it is weakening much faster than we may have to resort to artificial stimulation.”

“What’s that mean, Doctor?” Billy asked.

“A deep probe placed right in the brain itself. We can force the specimen to keep communicating, even against its will.”

“Wouldn’t that kill the animal eventually?”

Hellegren shrugged. “But we would continue to gather information right up until the end. Perhaps even the vital breakthrough we’re looking for. And you must understand, young man, there will always be sacrifices. That is the nature of science.”

He turned back to his work.

“… So now, we have to help Neri get Charley out of this place. And, well, that’s about the whole story.”

Jason finished and waited nervously for a response. For a long time, there was none. The rest of the kids just sat there with glazed eyes and dropped jaws.

Finally Daggy found his voice. “She actually swims like a fish. You’re not kidding, are you, Jason.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“No, Dags,” Jason replied quietly, “I’m not kidding.”

“And she really can talk to this whale?” Lee asked.

“Ask Brett.”

“Everything he’s told you is the dead set truth,” Brett confirmed. “Come along tomorrow and you’ll see for yourself.”

“I knew it!” cried a triumphant voice suddenly. They all swung around to see Vanessa emerging from behind some lockers in the corner. “I knew there was something weird about that girl the moment she came on board!”

Jason gasped. “What are you doing here?”

“Who opened their big mouth?” Brett said, surveying the room accusingly. All eyes began to turn toward Jodie, who looked shame-faced.

“She just said she wanted to know what was happening. She didn’t say she was going to spy!”

Brett snorted. “What else would you expect from her?”

To his surprise, Jason noticed a flicker of hurt in Vanessa’s eyes, though she tried to cover it.

“Well, maybe I wouldn’t have to if you lot ever included me in anything. But no. Even though it was my uniform you stole, you weren’t going to let me in on it. I’ve always been the outsider, haven’t I?”

“That’s because you’re such a creep,” Brett pointed out.

“Oh yeah?” she retaliated. “Well, if you think I’m a creep now, I wonder what you’ll call me when I tell Lucas what you’re up to. Come on, Jodie.”

But Jodie stood firm. “No,” she said. “I’m sick of you pushing me around. I’m staying here. If you rat on them, you’ve got to rat on me, too. And then you’re not going to have a friend left in the world.”

“Not that you had one in the first place,” Brett commented.

In the uproar that followed, Jason and Lee did their best to calm things down. Finally, Jason took Vanessa aside and spoke to her quietly.

“Look, I’m not asking this for myself, I’m asking it for Neri. She needs help and she’s never done you any harm. Just keep your mouth shut until we’ve got a head start tomorrow morning. We probably haven’t got a hope in hell but at least let us try.”

Vanessa looked at him imperiously and shook her head. “There’s only one way you’re going to get off ORCA without me telling.”

“What’s that?”

“I go with you. For once, I’m not going to be the one who misses out.”

Jason looked unsure. “I dunno.”

“Get it clear, Bates. Either I go, too, or nobody goes.”

“What about the rest of you? Who’s in?” Brett demanded, ignoring her.

Everybody put their hands up except Froggy.

“Jeez,” he frowned, “it sounds kinda dangerous to me.”

“Oh, stop being such a wuss, Froggy,” Zoe said, then added to Jason. “He’ll come.”

Jason looked at the rest of the troop then back at Vanessa. Her eyebrow arched in question. Jason sighed.

“Well, it looks like eight of us.”

At 0400 hours, while the rest of ORCA slept, the eight met in a darkened store room as arranged. They loaded up with communicators, laser metal cutters, and lengths of microfiber rope. Then they filed silently through the corridors and into the main elevator.

Dawn was just beginning to streak the sky as their boat bobbed in midocean, waiting. There was a sudden explosion of water and Neri broke the surface on the port side. The others goggled as Jason and Brett waved in greeting. “I told you we’d bring some friends to help out,” Jason called, indicating the group.

“Thank you, friends,” Neri said solemnly. Jason revved the engines. With Neri going ahead, guiding the way, they turned toward the mainland.

The sun was starting to climb in the sky as they moored the vessel in a secluded inlet a little distance from the bay. From where they were, they could see the UBRI building on the clifftops above. Neri left them there and cruised underwater to the seaweed side of the fence where she stopped, crooning to Charley.

Be patient. Our friends have come to set you free.

The group moved steadily to a point overlooking the bay. Below them, they could see Charley and the barrier that held him prisoner.

Jason surveyed the scene and held a hurried conference. “We’ll need two groups with laser cutters at each end of the fence. Brett, you and Vanessa take this side…”

Brett went to protest, but Jason cut him off. “We haven’t got time to argue, just do it, will you? Daggy, you and Jodie work your way around to the far end. When you get the word, cut through those cables as fast as you can. Good luck and keep your fingers crossed.”

The two parties set out. Jason looked at the remaining group. Himself, Lee, Froggy and Zoe. Not exactly the Dirty Dozen, but they would have to make do.

“Well, here we go,” he said.

They began the long, slow climb toward the UBRI building.