← previous

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

Author:Peter Hepworth

17. Siren Call

In the chaos following the disappearance of Charley, nobody paid attention to the boat that slipped away from its moorings in a nearby inlet and set out to sea with its full complement of crew safely back on board.

On the way back to ORCA, the boat was the scene of loud and triumphant celebration. Ragged cheers split the air, palms were smacked together in recognition of mutual victory, and tales of daring became more exaggerated with each telling.

There was a moment of seriousness when Vanessa got up to make a speech.

“Try and stop her,” Brett muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Since the truth about Neri was now their secret, she insisted, each and all should take an oath never to reveal it to anyone not already in the know. This was duly agreed to, and the party carried on as before.

But the mood abruptly changed when they arrived home. The main elevator doors opened to reveal Lucas, waiting for them, stony faced. He crooked a forefinger, told them to follow him, and led them to an empty meeting room in the officer’s quarters. There, he demanded to know where they had been. He had received a message from the mainland, he said. Something about vandalism at a scientific institution and rumors of the involvement of kids from the ORCA base. He wanted the truth.

Jason started to tell Lucas. When he mentioned Neri’s name, several of the others, horrified, moved to stop him, but he brushed them aside.

“There’s no point,” he said, “Mom told me he already knows about her.” He outlined the day’s events. “UBRI isn’t going to make any big deal out of it,” he finished. “If they did, someone might start asking questions about why they had a protected species cooped up in that bay.”

Lucas dismissed the rest of them to face the wrath of their own parents before confronting Lee.

“It’s the sort of thing I might expect from some of those other kids, but you! I thought I’d raised you with a proper sense of duty. Do you realize what risks you took?”

Lee looked her father straight in the eye. “Yes, Dad. And I’d take them again if I had to.”

Lucas was struck speechless. Lee had never spoken to him this way before.

“I’m sorry,” she went on, “I know what my duty means to you, but sometimes there are things more important than that. And one of them’s Neri. This is her territory. She belongs here and so does that whale. No one’s got the right to take either of them away and put them in a cage. And isn’t protecting the ocean why ORCA’s here in the first place?”

Lucas didn’t reply. He simply sat, looking at his daughter, deep in thought.

“I can’t believe you boys just went off like that without telling me!” Dianne was saying. As she continued the lecture, Winston walked to the fax machine where a message was printing out. He ripped it off, looked at it and pondered for a moment. Then he carefully folded it and put it in his pocket.

Dianne was starting to run out of steam. “What you did was stupid and dangerous and you must never ever do anything like it again.” There was a brief pause, then she added, “But hopefully, you’ll never have to.” And she told them about erasing all trace of Neri from their files.

When she had finished, Jason came over to her, followed by Brett. “We know what it meant to you, Mom,” Jason said quietly and, a little awkwardly, he hugged her. She put an arm around each of their shoulders. “Not as much as you two do,” she replied, “or her, if it comes to that.”

Then she quickly cuffed both of them across the back of the head. “Just in case you think I’m going soppy,” she explained.

“Dr. Bates.” They looked over to see Lucas standing in the doorway. “I thought I should tell you I’ve decided against filing that report. In fact, if anyone asks, I’ve never seen any of your research. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly, Commander,” she smiled. He turned to go. “And Jack…” He reacted to the unfamiliar use of his name. “…Thanks.” He nodded and left.

“But Mom, this means you’ve destroyed your files for nothing,” Jason pointed out.

She shook her head. “I would’ve had to, anyway. Neri would never have been safe with them around. At least this way, she’s free to make a choice. Do you know where she is?”

“She’ll be at the island.”

“Take me there. I think I can be trusted now, don’t you? Let’s see if she wants to come home.”

As they headed out, Winston hurried to bring up the rear.

Neri stood on the beach facing them, a southerly breeze ruffling her hair.

“Don’t you understand, Neri?” Dianne said. “You can live with us, as part of the family.”

Brett grinned. “Hey, we’re a bit on the crazy side, but you get used to us.”

Neri’s eyes filled with sadness. “There are many good things in your world. And I love my family. But I must go.”

“Go? Go where?” Jason asked.

Neri looked out toward the cove. There was a great spout of water and then Charley breached. “On the long voyage with him.”

Dianne grasped it first. “The migration? Neri, you can’t.”

“I must. That is the way of my world.”

She walked over to Winston, and embraced him clumsily. “Good friend. Watch for me in the sea.”

“There should be a wise old saying to cover this situation,” he commented, “but somehow, it escapes me right now.”

Then she turned to Dianne. “Farewell, Mother.”

Dianne clutched her and held her tight. “You can’t leave, Neri.”

Winston’s voice was soft but strangely firm. “Dianne, let her go.”

Dianne slowly relinquished her grip and Neri moved on to Brett. “Remember, no eating badberries,” she whispered in his ear.

Finally she stood facing Jason. As they embraced, their lips brushed for a moment. When she pulled away, Neri frowned. She reached up and felt something on her cheek, then looked at her hand in confusion.

“Hey, Neri,” Brett said, “that’s the only time I’ve ever seen you cry.”

Charley breached again out in the bay. Neri heard his song. “He tells me to come now.”

She stepped back, took one last look at them all, then ran down the sand and disappeared into the sea.

Dianne’s voice broke the silence. “How do we know she’s ever going to come back?”

“I have good reason to think she will,” Winston said. “I chose not to show you this until certain decisions were reached. Just in case scientific curiosity should cloud your judgment.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the folded fax. Dianne opened it and started to read.

“It’s from the pathologist on the mainland,” Winston said casually. “He tested Neri’s blood. It isn’t human. In fact, it contains DNA structures never seen on this planet before.”

Jason’s head swam. When he first met Neri, she had called the whale Jali. Was this some other half-remembered language, one not spoken anywhere on earth? He had scoffed at the idea of her being a mermaid, but could she be something even more fantastic? Until that moment, everything had seemed explained by the wreckage of the boat in the Badlands. But now he thought--what if it wasn’t a boat? What kind of craft was it that brought Neri into their lives?

He heard Mom echoing his thoughts. “If she isn’t human, then where did he come from?”

“I don’t know,” Winston admitted, “but I suspect the answer lies somewhere on this island. And one day, she will have to return to find out for herself.”

Out to sea, Neri surfaced beside Charley. She lifted one arm in a last good-bye. “Watch for me!” she called.

Then the great flukes of Charley’s tail came up, she arched beside him, and they slowly vanished together into the world beneath the ocean.