This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2008-07-26 — sourcemeta

Author:Judith “Stormdance” Kenyon
Copyright:Archiving permitted by author

Lapis Dreams: Changing Tide

Cass had a plan spread out on the table. She, Brett, and Benny were studying it and pointing at things, making it hard for Lena and Jason to eat their breakfasts.

“OK, see here’s the door to our quarters, and that’s the elevator Morgan always takes to her classroom. And in between there’s a janitor’s closet. What does this say to you?” Cass demanded.

“Ummm.” Benny was stumped. Cass rolled her eyes at him.

Brett started to grin fiendishly. “It says ambush.” He informed Benny, “Is there a hose in there?”

“Just no suds, OK? Remember last time.” Benny cautioned, but Cass and Brett weren’t listening, as usual.

Jason was listening to them with half an ear while he studied. “Just don’t get grounded guys, we might need you at any time.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t…” The three younger kids chorused.

“This is a firestarter.” Michael informed his sister, holding up a metal dowl and a rock, tied together by a leather strap. “You work it like this.” He scraped the rock along the metal, making a stream of sparks shoot out.

Sara-Kate leaned away from him, “Cool! But be careful, you almost set my shirt on fire.”

“I did not. And I also know how to make water out of salt water, and how to open a coconut.”

“Yeah, you bang it on a rock really really hard and hope the rock’s not softer than the ’nut.” Diana leaned over the rocks behind them, tuna sandwich in one hand. She took a bite and said, “It was a neat class, where were you?”

Sara-Kate held up a book in the hand that wasn’t holding her own sandwich, “Our councilor had the latest Xanth book, so I borrowed it and hid so I could read it.”

Michael frowned. He could read fine but didn’t see much use in silly fantasy, “You should have been in the survival class with us, we–” he lowered his voice, “We might need to know that stuff soon.”

Sara-Kate didn’t want to need to know. She started reading again.

Morgan came out of the elevator and walked towards her quarters. She saw the closet door move, and had a hunch who it was. She crept up beside the closet door, ready to jump on them when they came out…

And so was defenseless when Brett, Cass, and Benny attacked from behind with cobbled-together squirt guns. They soaked her and ran, with a very soggy Morgan in hot pursuit.

When they had gone, the closet opened and Lena looked out. She nodded at the puddle of water where Morgan had stood, and went to get a mop. She just had time to clean it up before she had to go help Dianne Bates with her work.

"When I came to your town on the wide open shore

oh I must confess I was drawn, I was drawn

to the ocean

I thought it spoke to me"

Sara-Kate shivered. They were singing around the fire where dinner had been cooked. It wasn’t dark yet, but getting close. Diana was over with the others; Sara-Kate could see her standing still, singing, lost in the music. Michael was there too, looking at a copy of the words and trying to sing along, his voice higher than most of the others. Faintly she could hear the tape that this song was on; she’d heard it here before, but never stopped to listen.

"It said look at us we’re not churches not schools

not skating ponds, swimming pools

and we have lost people, haven’t we though."

In the pause, Sara-Kate thought she heard a cry from the waves, not a human voice but something other. Then the next verse started.

"And that’s what the ocean can know of a body and that’s

when I came back to town."

Diana’s voice, hushed. Then the chorus started

"You don’t know how

lucky you are

you don’t know how

much I adore you

you are a welcoming back from the ocean."

"I went back to the ocean today

with my books and my papers I went to the rocks

by the ocean

but the weather changed quickly

the ocean said what are you trying to find, I don’t care, I’m not kind

I’ll bludgeon your sailors

I’ve spit out their keepsakes."

Ugh, Sara-Kate thought, what kind of a song is this?

"Oh it’s ashes to ashes but always the ocean

but the ocean can’t come to this town

this town is a song about you

you don’t know how

lucky you are…"

"I didn’t go back today

I wanted to show you that I was more land

Than water

I went to pick flowers

I brought them to you, look at me, look at them

With their salt up the stem

But you frowned when I smiled

And I tried too arrange them"

Oh, so it’s really about a guy. Sara-Kate realized. It’s a beautiful tune. Sounds like waves on the rocks, it really does. To bad about the words.

"You don’t know how

precious you are

walking around with your little shoes dangling

I am the one who lives with the ocean…"

A pause, then the music exploded.

“It’s where we came from you know, and sometimes I just want to go back!”

The singers cried it, hearts in their voices.

"After a day we’ll drink to a drowning

Walk to the ocean, wade in with our work-boots

Wade in our work-boots, try to finish the job

Violins wailed on the tape.

"You don’t know how

Lucky you are

I am the one who lives with the ocean

You don’t know how, I am the one

You don’t know how, I am the one…"

The music faded away, then there was silence as the tape was turned off. Sara-Kate felt like collapsing, like the music had been strings holding her up. She didn’t, though. Instead she sat down on the nearest rock and tried to think of another song, one that would get that tune like waves on the rocks out of her mind. She couldn’t do it.

Mera picked up a stick and poked at the fire. It fell in a little shower of embers, and then settled back as dancing flames. Her stick was burning. She held it up and watched it, then tossed it the few feet to the stream. It spun like the fireworks one of her families had had on the fourth of July. That family had been nice, Americans who didn’t care much about the Fourth except that it was an excuse to stay up late and play with sparking things and noisy things. Mera had loved the sparks, and burned her hands trying to catch them. She’d been a lot younger then.

Neri was across the fire from her, a shape outlined in orange light. She had been shaken by seeing their mother, more than Mera had. Mera felt guilty; there was so much about her family that she didn’t know, and even more that Neri didn’t. “Neri? Neffarin wrote music, she wrote a beautiful song for us when we were lost here. And our Father was very wise, he has so many books in our house. I cannot read them yet, but he has the whole history of Lapis and many many stories. I will show you when I can.”

Neri turned and looked at her, and smiled. “Thank you, sister.”

“What were you thinking about?”

“The lost children. We must find them. Then I may do what Mother wished for me.”

“I… there are many things I haven’t told you.” Mera took a deep breath, knowing she had to say this. She didn’t want to, but her sister deserved the whole truth. “You don’t have to go back and help rule Lapis. There is another girl who is the princess of our family. If you do not return, she will have your place and you will be free to live here with your family.”

Neri bowed her head and thought for a long time. “I must know her. I do not want to rule Lapis, but I must know if I leave it to one who will be kind to our people. Is there anything at that you know of her?”

Mera smiled, “I thought you would say that … I have never met her, but her family is a proud one. Her name is Shersheba.”

“Shersheba…” Neri whispered, sounding troubled. The wind changed, blowing cooler from the sea. The tide was turning.

Sara-Kate had gone to bed with wave music washing through her mind, and even when she fell asleep it didn’t leave her. She dreamed about standing next to a blue wall, and something behind the wall was talking to her. Something huge and wonderful. She had to get to it, quickly, time was running out… but there weren’t any doors. Just as Sara-Kate almost realized what to do, she woke up.

It was something like four in the morning. A second later Michael sat up and whispered to her.

“I’m awake.” Sara-Kate answered, “You think Diana is too?”

“She is.” Michael was pulling on his shoes, “She’s down by the water, come on.”

“Sheesh, doesn’t she ever sleep?” Sara-Kate put on her sandals and decided against taking a rode; her pjs weren’t see-through and it was warm. Then she followed Michael down their trail to the shore.

Diana was on the farthest rock staring intently out at the ocean. Waves washed over the rock; Diana didn’t seem to notice that her feet were wet.

“Diana!” Michael yelped, leaping to the closest rock to hers, “What is it?”

“Look.” Diana said."

At first Sara-Kate could only see waves, silver-blue in the light of an almost-full moon. Then the moonlight caught a slender shape leaping out of the water. It fell back with a crash of spray, but not before Sara-Kate had seen enough. Ten feet long, black and white patches both bleached to moonsilver.

“A killer whale…” Sara-Kate whispered.

And then the sea and sky spun together and everything changed.

Michael yelled “Jaleeeeeeee!”, and scrambled out of most of his pajamas and into the water. Diana followed in a smooth dive. Sara-Kate blinked at the places they’d been until Diana came up. “Sara-Kate, come on in!” she called happily.

“Yeah, it’s not cold or nothing!” Michael added, then dove under head first, so his feet stuck up in the air before vanishing.

Sara-Kate sat down and dangled her feet in the water. Michael was right; it wasn’t cold. She slid down a little farther, then nerved herself and pushed away from the rock.

The water shimmered around her like liquid silk. It still wasn’t cold. Sara-Kate opened her eyes and saw Diana hanging in the water a little ways away. She looked impossibly graceful, and Sara-Kate wouldn’t have been surprised to see Diana had gained a mermaid’s tail. And something was behind Diana. Sara-Kate got the impression of sleek colors before she had to come up for air.

A second later Diana also surfaced. And next to her was the killer whale. Sara-Kate froze with terror, sank, and came up sputtering. But the creature hadn’t moved. It was floating, basking in the moonsilver. And Diana reached out to touch its back beside the flopped-over fin. “Sara-Kate? Michael? Can you hear?”

“What?” Michael asked.

“He says…” Diana paused to translate, “His name is Aurien and he’s been looking for us for a long time. He’s come to help us get home.” Diana said it with such certainty that Sara-Kate had to remind herself, since when can whales talk?

“Um, OK.” Sara-Kate said, “What…?” She didn’t know what to say, but it had to be better than nothing, didn’t it?

“What else, what else?” Michael asked, “I know he’s talking!”

Diana started again, in the sing-song voice she translated with. “He says he came because of me, he heard the music when the sun was setting, heard it even far away. He says I am Aysah, a wavespeaker child of Lapis… Aurien, what the heck’s Lapis?” She appeared to answer herself, “Lapis is another world of another star where every child can speak with whales. We were lost from a ship that came to the Opal Planet—I’m guessing that’s Earth—and so have lived among the humans who are not our people. The princess of our own kind is on the Opal Planet and she needs our help for there are others of our kind coming here and they mean harm for all the worlds and the universe they swim in… Oh, enough. This is really weird.” Diana leaned forward and Aurien drifted closer to support her. Michael swam in from the other side, and very hesitantly laid a hand on the great whale’s side.

Sara-Kate stayed where she was. She had found a rock under the surface that she could rest her feet on and be carried up a little by every wave. She was struck dumb by what was happening; it was just all too weird. And didn’t killer whales live over by Canada, on the other side of the world?

“Aurien?” Michael asked the whale, “Can you tell me who I am? And what we should do now?”

Aurien rolled in the water, getting his back wet. One bright black eye looked at Michael. Then he started speaking. “Oh, this is neat! What? Oh, my name is Raef, it means far-traveler. Yours is Laeka, Sar, it means, um, gift if the waters. I think, this language is strange. Aurien, talk to my sister, can you do that?”

Sara-Kate listened with her ears and heard nothing. Then she understood. Whales spoke by vibrations in the water, words shivered through the water and you heard with your whole skin instead of just your ears. (Laeka,) Sara-Kate felt, (Do you hear?)

“Y-yes. Is that really you?”

Aurien’s head came out of the water just in front of her. He was grinning. (Greetings.) the huge face went under again, (Children, must come to island. Your pod-leader friend princess looks for you. Must come.)

“What?” Diana said, “We can’t just swim off? How far is it?”

(Not far.) Sara-Kate felt a whale laugh in the water. (Next night, you must come.)

“All right. Well be here as soon as we can after dark.” Michael said.


“Shut up, Sar. We’ll be here.”

Sara-Kate was less than pleased to be ordered like this, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Things were happening, and the first on was being able to talk to this whale. She wasn’t sure anymore that it was vibrations in the water; the words were also in her head. Michael and Diana asked questions that Sara-Kate didn’t understand, about Lapis and wavespeakers and talking to whales. Aurien said that he only knew all this so he could tell Diana; it wasn’t whale nature to horde information. Much better to ’swim today’s tide today and tomorrow’s tomorrow, unless of course there’s big trouble that could take away your tomorrows…’

Her head spinning with whale voices and new information that made no sense to her, Sara-Kate finally said that she was going to fall asleep in the water and sink if she didn’t go to bed. The ocean might have been warm, but it was still cold climbing up to her bed in wet clothes. She left her wet pjs on the end of her bed, put on a T-shirt, and curled up in her sleeping bag. She was afraid again, of not knowing what would happen tomorrow, and afraid because the world had gone crazy, but her last thought as she fell asleep was about her name, Laeka, and how it seemed so familiar.

“Lena, you awake yet?” Jason said into the intercom by Lena’s door. It was six in the morning and only maniacs, or those with early shift, were up. Lena wasn’t. “There’s a message from your father. It arrived last night after we were in bed. Come to our room when you’re up, OK?”

A few clicks, then Lena’s voice, “All right, I’ll be there soon.”

Jason went back to his quarters, and got Brett up—by threatening his brother with a glass of cold water. It was the usual morning routine in the Bates quarters. Dianne was in her room with a book and a notebook, taking notes on something with words big and scientific enough to make Jason’s head spin.

Lena showed up at the door a few minutes later, and was immediately pounced on by Brett. “Mornin’ Lena, you’ve got mail. With the UBRI return address.” Brett waved the message disk at Lena and raised his eyebrows as high as they would go.

Lena sighed and sat down, “I guess you would have found out sooner or later… guys, my father really did reform, or at least he’s trying to. But he decided to stay with UBRI, to try and fix some of the things he did. And so he could keep an eye on Keller, who’s…”

“A real nasty piece of work.” Jason finished for her.

“Yeah, exactly.” Lena said, “I really don’t want to talk about this unless we have to…”

Jason nodded, “All right.”

“Let’s see the message.”

Lena stuck the little disk into one of HELEN’s terminals, and asked the computer to play the message in confidential mode. Dr. Hellengreen’s face came up on the screen. “Lena, I have troubling news for your friends. Keller believes she has found three other ocean children on Earth. She intends to capture then for study, very soon. I cannot stop her without bringing suspicion on myself, and if I am fired there will be no one to help these children she plans to kidnap. I will try to get word to you again soon, in the meantime tell your… friend, Neri, about this. The rest of this message is just for you, Lena, so—” Lena turned it off, nodding to the image of her father.

Then the three of then sat and looked at each other, letting the news sink in.

“Keller found the kids.” Jason said flatly.

“Oh, God.” Lena murmured, “What can we do?”

“Well you two go get everybody, say we’re having an emergency meeting in the galley. Go on!” Brett ordered, and they went.

In the corridor Lena turned to go get Cass and SallyAnn, while Jason took another hall to where Benny’s family lived. “I just hope we’re not too late.” Lena said softly.

Sara-Kate woke up hearing people shouting up by the road. Then they were coming down the stairs, lots of them. Who the heck would be here so darn early in the morning? Diana was already up, or maybe still up, in any case she looked entirely too awake for this hour. She was staring at the people coming down the steps.

There were five of them, men mostly, dressed in white uniforms. The leader of the group was talking to the head councilor, who turned and pointed right at Sara-Kate.

“Trouble!” Michael announced quietly. “Come on Sar, they can’t get us in the water!” He grabbed Sara-Kate by the hand and pulled her out of bed, “Come on!”

They ran. Down the little trail, jumping over the rocks and pushing through bushes. The guys in white ran too, and they were faster on their grown-up legs. Sara-Kate just missed being grabbed, jumped onto a rock. Michael was behind her. He dodged, scrambled up a tree, and was into the water in a flying leap. Diana was on another rock, she could jump at any time. Aurien was waiting for them, singing alarm. Sara-Kate jumped for another rock, misjudged the distance—and fell hard, banging her knees on stone and shrieking involuntarily. She tried to get up, and fell again.

“Laeka!” Diana cried, turning back.

“Go on! I’ll be all right!” Sara-Kate answered, though she wasn’t sure of that at all. Diana dived, and came up a long way out. Sara-Kate sighed with relief, then looked up an the impassive faces of two men in white.

“What’s your name?” One of them demanded.

Sara-Kate thought of lying, but didn’t; they already knew who she was. “Sara Smith.” She replied, and was hauled to her feet, and half-dragged, half-carried over to the beach.

The boss of the white-suits was a woman who—despite being scared out of her wits, Sara-Kate’s first thought was Man, I didn’t know they made people that ugly. The woman had a square face with square black hair, and very red lipstick that didn’t do anything for her. Her voice wasn’t much either; it was hard and cruel, and she had an accent Sara-Kate couldn’t place. “What about the other two?” she asked shortly.

“They got away, Dr. Keller.” The man said, “We caught this one.”

“Obviously.” Keller said. She got out a pair of binoculars and looked at the ocean. Sara-Kate looked too, and saw Aurien and Michael, then Diana came up. They looked back, pale faces the only thing visible. Then the three of them turned and dove out of sight. Gone. Sara-Kate wasn’t sure if she was relieved or not; she was mostly just scared. Keller looked her over, then ordered the men to take her up the cliff to a van they had waiting. Sara-Kate protested, shouted that she was an Australian citizen with rights and would they please let her go or tell her what was going on or a least let her get her stuff… She heard her voice rising towards hysteria and shut up. Nobody was listening anyway, except the other kids, who were staring at her and being very quiet. The head councilor had a paper that he was reading over again and again, probably whatever it said made it quite legal for them to kidnap Sara-Kate. They all had badges—UBRI. Whatever that was. They took her up the long stairs to the trucks. Sara-Kate kept shouting, figuring it couldn’t hurt. She learned otherwise when Keller slapped her so hard she saw stars.

At the top of the stairs they had to stop a moment. Sara-Kate blinked away tears of pain and looked down at the beach where so much had happened to her. She knew she would never see it again.

Then they pitched her into the back of the white van, and slammed the door. Sara-Kate looked around the blank white-walled box, sat against the wall, and started trying to rip pieces off her T-shirt to bandage her knees. She gave it up as hopeless when the van started to move.

In the front seat, the driver glanced at his boss, “You have a plan to find the others?”

“Of course.” Keller said smugly, “She will tell us.”

“And if she won’t?”

“I know something about these people. After a few days without water, she will tell us.”

Jason fidgeted under Morgan’s eye, “Can we please go now?”

“What’s the hurry, cadet? You’ve still got studying to do.”

SallyAnn leaned over, pretending to show Jason something in the textbook, “This is torture.” She whispered, “Keller could be doing anything and we have to sit here!” She typed in the answer on the terminal they were sharing, and hit enter. Another question, another answer, another few minutes too many. At last the class was released, and they hurried to the computer station where Lena was working. The kids were crammed in, Cass and Brett climbing up the roof supports. Lena was typing quickly. “Yes!” she hissed as Jason and SallyAnn came in, “Keller signed out two vans, they’ve just been returned. You think that was it? No other abnormal vehicle use this week…”

“Lena. You’re starting to sound like HELEN.” Benny commented. “But we can’t really know if that was it until your dad sends us a message.”

Jason took charge, “Let’s assume it is and play that. What would they do with them.”

Lena sounded bleak, “Same thing they did to Kal. Maybe even the same cells, that could give us an edge.”

“Waitasec, are we thinking about breaking into UBRI hq again?” Cass asked.

“Looks like.” Benny didn’t sound too pleased.

“Okaaaaay. Just wanted to get that straight.” Cass answered and shrugged. “When do we start?”

“This is all hypothetical– if we’re lucky we won’t need these plans at all.” SallyAnn reminded her.

“And since when are we ever that lucky?”

“You have a point.” Jason said, “Can you find anything else, Lena?”

“No, hacking can only go so far. Want to see the UBRI website?”

“If that’s it, shouldn’t we go tell Neri?” Benny asked, and they went.

It was afternoon. Sunbeams the color of honey slanted down through the trees on the island. The kids sat in a circle by Neri’s lake.

“… So that’s it, Keller’s going to grab some kids, if she didn’t already. And either they’re innocent people or they’re the lost children from Lapis. Keller’s not going to put the names anywhere I can get at them.” Lena finished, and shrugged, “Sorry.”

Neri and Mera were sitting on a fallen tree across from her. They exchanged a glance and looked grim, “This is bad.” Neri said unnecessarily. “Is there no way to find the children she plans to take?”

“I tried that, nothing.”

“Why don’t we call the police? UBRI’s gotta’ have broken some laws by now!” Brett suggested. Lena reminded him that she knew UBRI and how careful they were to keep clean. “But my father has some chance, if he can convince Keller he still wants someone like Neri to study, maybe he could help the kids escape… it’s the best plan I can think of. I wish we could help though…”

“Why not? It’s not that far to the mainland.” Benny said. “We did it in a boat in…” He stopped, looking at Neri and Mera. They had both gone still and listening.

“Someone comes!” Neri cried. She and Mera jumped up and made for the beach. The kids followed more slowly. When they got to the beach Neri and Mera were gone into the water. The Kids from ORCA waited, looking out at the sparkling water. Something surfaced off in the distance, and blew a plume of spray.

“Is it Charley?”

“I can’t tell; it’s too far off… no, it’s a killer whale, look!” Jason added as the creature flung himself out of the water and fell back with a crash.

“Since when do they live here?” Cass demanded.

Neri came up closer to shore, a dark head surfacing next to hers. Not Mera’s; a boy, younger than Brett. Neri carried him through the water until they were both standing in the sand. Then Mera appeared, beside her a young woman who looked like a drowned cat. They got to the solid sand that wouldn’t wash away, and the girl dropped to her knees saying fervently, “There is definitely something to be said for solid ground.”

The boy sat down next to her, looking just as exhausted. “Who are you?” he asked everybody in sight.

“Um,” Jason said, “That’s kind of a long story. We’re from ORCA. I’m Jason, that’s Brett, Cass, Benny, Lena and SallyAnn. And they’re Neri and Mera.”

The girl looked up at Neri, squinting in the sunlight. “Are you the princess? Of a place called Lapis, somewhere--” she waved at the sky, “–out there?” Half the world held its breath waiting for the answer.

“Yes.” Neri said wonderingly, “I am. But how do you know?”

The girl grinned tiredly and pushed back her hair, “I’m Aysah, that’s Raef. We need your help.”

The walls were white. So was the floor and the ceiling and the bed and everything else that possibly could be white. Everything that wasn’t white was black, mostly black netting. These people had their rooms decorated by the people who did their clothes, or vice versa.

Sara-Kate looked around. There was a table sticking out of the wall and a stool that was bolted to the floor, and a bed that didn’t look very comfortable. A very minimal sanitary unit was in one corner, behind a screen. It looked like an airplane bathroom, which made Sara-Kate smile and think of the little soaps you used to be able to get on airplanes. That was it for the room. Sara-Kate looked around and around it, getting down to see if there was anything under the bed (there wasn’t) or if the ventilators in the wall could be opened (they couldn’t) or if the UBRI people had by any chance left the door unlocked (they hadn’t). Then she found the security camera, high up in one corner. She considered trying to jump up and smash it, but didn’t see what good that would do. So she waved at whoever was watching, and sat down on the bed.

Now what? Diana and Michael had gotten away; they would find her somehow. Until then she was trapped here. By Keller. “At the mercy of Ming the Merciless.” She muttered, remembering one family she’d stayed with, and the husband’s taste for Flash Gordon and old movies. It had been nice, sitting around in the evenings with a bowl of popcorn and some cheesy black and white movie on TV… Sara-Kate knew she could easily reminisce herself into depression in normal circumstance, which these weren’t, so she made herself get up and wash her scraped knees and as much of the rest of herself as she could manage. The sink didn’t let out more that a bare trickle of water; it was going to be maddening next time she needed to get wet.

The next logical thing to do was to think of a way to escape, but that wasn’t as easy as it might have been. If this was a book, Sara-Kate thought, there would be ventilation ducts I could crawl through, or a fellow prisoner with an escape plan or at least a way to get a message outside. I guess this isn’t a book. I just have to find a way out on my own when they take me out of this cell. They have to take me out of here sometime, don’t they? Of course they have to, they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of catching me for no reason. Would they?

Resolving not to think of that, Sara-Kate sat down on the bed, pushed herself back so she could lean against the wall, and started singing every Disney song she knew.

Diana sat quietly out of the way of the council of war that was being held on Neri’s island. She had already said everything she knew, and Michael had taken over anyway. The ORCA kids knew who had Sara-Kate, one of them was even the daughter of someone very high up in the organization. But there were things that Lena wasn’t saying, and things that Neri wasn’t saying, and that worried Diana.

(Aurien?) she asked silently, (Do you know what they won’t tell us?)

(They are afraid. Bad people, very bad. Many old hurts.)

(Marvelous.) Diana crawled over to join the others and leaned on a leaning palm trunk. Michael had fallen asleep, curled up next to Neri. Poor kid, they’d swum for hours. Neri looked down at him every so often with a tender smile.

“Guys,” Diana began quietly, “Aurien says there’s stuff you’re afraid to tell me about UBRI and Sara-Kate. Michael’s asleep now, you can tell me.”

The tall boy, Jason, nodded. “All right. UBRI has been trying to catch an ocean person for a long time, for scientific study or other things. They got one of ours named Kal, they wanted to learn from him about your people. They…”

Neri went on for him, “They hurt him and twisted his mind to trust them.”

“Kal hadn’t lived in this world long, he was like a child.” Said Mera. “But I think they could hurt anybody that way.”

“My father’s good at that sort of thing. So’s Keller.” Lena said in her silk voice. “If your friend has anything they want, or they think she does…”

Torture. Brainwashing. Those were ideas that belonged on TV, not in real life! Diana wanted to say something and deny anyone would do such a thing to another person. But she couldn’t think of a thing that she couldn’t argue with. So she turned her face against the tree trunk and said a swear word, then turned back to her new friends and let them explain their ideas for helping Sara-Kate.

There were only so many songs. Sara-Kate had a good memory for music, but eventually she got through every Disney song, Broadway song, and piece of TV theme music she knew. It had to be evening by then, at least late afternoon. She hadn’t had anything to eat since the night before, and she was really getting hungry. She turned to look up at the camera, and said loudly, “Could I please have something to eat?” No answer of course. “I’ll quit singing for a while.” She offered, then sighed, “How do I know they’ve even got a microphone in here?”

A while later a flap in the door opened and a tray of food was pushed in. Not terrifically good food, or very much, but it was something. Sara-Kate politely thanked the camera, and dug in. Then she tried an experiment, politely mentioning three authors and asking if she might have a book. Nothing came of that request, and later on the lights went off all by themselves, and Sara-Kate decided she might as well go to sleep. It had been a very long day, and there was a lot she didn’t want to think about.

Diana had managed to climb a tree. She walked up the trunk of a leaned-over palm tree until the trunk leaned on the big branch of some other kind of tree. Diana lay along the big branch and looked down at the little lake a dozen feet away, and the leaves and ferns on the ground below her. A wallabee hopped by, startling her, and Diana giggled. “What were you expecting, Di, a squirrel?”

It was getting dark. The ORCA kids had gone home, trying to think up good excuses for why they’d stayed here so late; Diana would have loved to see Cass and Brett actually use the story they’d come up with, it was funny! Neri was showing Michael how to make a bed in a tree; Diana could hear them talking quietly.

OK, Diana thought, what do I need to get my thoughts straight about? She grimaced, What don’t I? I’ve just found out I’m an alien from another planet, I can talk to whales or at least one whale, and my best friend just got captured by an evil government right out of a movie from which we have to break her out with the help of two more aliens and some kids from an underwater city. Is it me that’s crazy, or the world?

“Definitely the world. Wonder what I’ll do when this is all over. Mom, Dad, guess what? I’m doing the et-phone-home thing, but I should be back by the time school starts. Yeah, right. Or just never go back. I love them but is that enough reason to stay on earth?” It wasn’t. Diana realized, truly realized, that all her love for her family was not enough to keep her from going to Lapis if she got the chance. Even if she didn’t, it was not enough to make her go back to living in a normal house and a normal school… It’s only been one day, have I changed so much? Diana put her arms around the branch as far as they could go, and held on tight, terribly afraid of the person she suddenly was.

“Aysah?” Said a quiet voice from somewhere close, “Are you all right?”

Diana looked up, “Yeah, I’m OK.” It was Mera, the ocean child perched carelessly on a thin branch a few feet away.

“It is hard, finding out what you are.” The strange girl said, “It was hard for me.”

“You lived with humans too? Oh yeah, Jason told us. I kind of forgot. And my name’s Diana Connelly.”

“Jane Seaforth, call me Mera.” Mera said. The two girls solemnly shook hands, then started laughing. “When I came here I was clumsy, a crybaby, and the only thing I knew about finding food was ’first you find a McDonald’s…’ But you can learn to live here if you try.”

“I think I’d like to learn.” Diana replied thoughtfully, “It’s just all so strange, one minute I’m a mostly normal kid, and the next…”

Mera was nodding so hard her branch bobbed up and down a little, “I’ve been there, I truly have. It will go away, you’ll figure out who you are. Aysah, Diana, or both.”

“Both, I think. What was it like for you, living here, meeting Neri and everything?”

“I’ll tell you, but Neri said to help you make a place to sleep before it gets too dark!”

Diana considered that, and laughed, “OK, but I have no idea how to make one of those nests you people use.”

“First you have to find where there’s a tangle of branches…” Mera and Diana worked to make Diana’s nest. It was a really simple design, but one that looked like it would never work. While they gathered huge leaves and bent sticks around to make a base, Mera told Diana her story. “I lived in six foster homes in the past six years, it wasn’t much fun. I thought I was crazy. Then came the special school where nobody cared if you were crazy or not, just what neat things you could do. I hated it, but I’d forgotten that there was any other way to live. Then Jason and Brett came and I ran away with them. The whole world changed in one day for me too; all of a sudden I was Mera and I had a sister and all sorts of stuff I couldn’t believe. But the island felt like home from the very beginning, even though I didn’t want it too. You know?”

Diana nodded without looking up from what she was doing. “I know…. That’s not the answer I’m looking for though.” She blinked; she hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

Mera reached over to help her tie the stick in place, “That answer does not come in a few words, I think. It’s one of those things you learn from LIFE as the grown ups say.”

Diana stared at her, confused by the shifting between wise alien to normal girl. Then she smiled and said, “You’re right I’m sure… at least my parents would say you were!” They both laughed, and Diana knew she’d found the beginning of her answer.

“We need a boat.” Brett said.

“What we need is a plan.” Jason corrected him. They were down in the computer room, where Lena was putting call after call to her house in hopes that her father would get there soon. “Brett, why don’t you go back to our quarters and see Mom? She’s going to get worried about us.”

“…All right.” Brett gave in grudgingly, “Do I tell her about all this?”

“Um, what do you think, Lena?”

Lena shrugged, not turning away from the computer, “You’d better not, we might have to raid UBRI, remember?”

“I was trying to forget. OK, I won’t tell.” Brett left, yawning. Jason glanced at his watch; it was almost curfew. Not that they hadn’t been out after curfew before, but Morgan always seemed to show up just when it would be worst to get detention…

“Ah!” Lena said triumphantly, and her father’s face came up on the screen. He looked very tired. “Father, did Keller–?”

Dr. Hellengreen held up his hands for silence, “Yes, she did. One girl, I have not seen her. Do you know..?”

Jason leaned over Lena’s shoulder, “She’s the real thing, her brother and a friend showed up at the island today. What can we do to help?”

“Maybe nothing. No, don’t start. I will see what I can do, find out where the keys are left. If you can be ready with a boat to bring us to ORCA, I will tell you when I have a plan.”

“You’d better come up with something fast.” Jason said, a warning in his voice.

“I’ll do my best.” Dr Hellengreen matched him look for look. “But that means I won’t be able to come home as soon as we planned, Lena. Can you stay on ORCA for a few more weeks?”

“Yes, of course I can, my pass is for indefinite visits and I’m keeping up on my schooling here…”

Lena waved Jason away; he said good night and left them to talk.

The lights came back on. Sara-Kate hadn’t been asleep anyway, now she sat up and started finger-combing her hair so she’d look at least civilized for whatever happened today.

She was taken out of her room, through some white hallways with stenciled logos on the walls, to a mostly black room. Keller came in and started asking questions.

“Where are your friends?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many of your people are on earth?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” If she could convince Keller that they’d grabbed the wrong kid…

“Don’t play the fool with me girl, I know what you are! Now, where did your friends swim off to?”

“I. Don’t. Know.” And even if I did I wouldn’t tell you, but I bet you know that…

Keller slapped her, hard. “Tell me what you know of your people, or I’ll hit you again.” The woman said calmly.

Sara-Kate raised a hand to her cheek. It hurt. She looked thoughtful then said, quite calmly, “Why don’t you go scr– ooow!” She shrieked as Keller hit her again.

“I ask you again, what do you know about the ocean people?”

She was lucky. She didn’t know the answers to most of what Keller asked, and what she did know she wouldn’t tell. Keller got angry quickly, and Sara-Kate knew she was going to look like a punching bag tomorrow. She answered the slaps with sarcastic comments and suggestions to Keller. Suggestions that got less and less physically possible; Sara-Kate had been around enough gang types to learn the language and then some. Eventually one of the men mentioned ’other methods’. Sara-Kate freaked at that, but wouldn’t let them see it. Keller herself vetoed whatever might have happened next, and ordered Sara-Kate back to her cell. She’d never expected to be so relieved to see the bare white room.

I was lucky, I got majorly lucky. She thought, God knows what that guy meant, oh god, I’m going to find out soon enough, oh god they’re going to kill me I don’t want to die here! She went behind the screen so the ever-present camera couldn’t see her, and cried.

When she finally got done being hysterical and turned on the sink to wash her face, there wasn’t any water. That nearly scared her into crying again, but she squashed he fear and composed herself – with difficulty – and went to sit on her bed.

It must have been hours later when a little panel in the door slid open and someone looked in. Sara-Kate turned her head to see who it was, not really caring. If they wanted her, they could come in. It was a man she’d never seen before, with white hair and dark eyes behind silver glasses. “Sara-Kate?” He said quickly, “My name is Joseph Hellengreen; I’m here to help you.”

Sara-Kate stared at him. “Yeah, right.” She said softly, and turned away.

Far away, someone was listening. A young woman with an oval face and dark eyes as deep as the sky stood on a beach and listened. She heard Sara-Kate’s voice in the hiss of water on the sand, and saw her face like an uncertain reflection in the wave that reached up to lick her toes. And smiled.

“All is well, Agate, Malakat. Laeka doesn’t believe the earthling.”

Agate, an old woman in a fraying dress, snorted. “Is that all you can tell us? The vaunted farseeing Gift cannot be worth what we paid to--”

“Be quiet.” Malakat said. He had dark hair and moved with a predatory grace, like a panther stalking prey. Agate shut up.

The girl looked at them, used to Agate’s blustering and Malakat’s easily quieting her. “If they spoke more I would know more. Quiet, let me hear. She does not answer the earthling, he is giving up…. He left, there will be nothing else to hear.” The girl nodded curtly and turned to join her companions.

The dark man put his arm around her, “Are you up to another use of your Gifts today? We need to stop the human children who look to Neri from learning of this.”

“I say who cares?” Agate muttered, “The brats won’t be good for much against all those guards. Leave them be; human kids aren’t good for much.”

Malakat growled at her, “I think we should make sure.”

The girl nodded, “Yes. I will set the land against the underwater city. They will not be able to leave.” She dropped to her knees and put her hands flat on the sand, commanding earth and rock to move…

The sea floor shook. ORCA waved like a strand of seaweed.

Brett was coming back from his morning classes. The earthquake pitched him against the corridor wall.

In the rec room, Lena and Cass were on the couch looking at Cass’ comic books when the floor rattled. Their couch actually moved, and the rec room’s hanging lights swung back and forth alarmingly. Benny was just coming in; he sat down in the doorway and waited for it to be over. Instead, the quake got worse.

On the surface Jason and SallyAnn grabbed onto each other as the dock beneath them heaved like a boat in a storm. “I thought the synchronium stopped the quakes!” SallyAnn cried, and Jason could only shrug in answer.

When the ground settled back into place, they were all drafted into repair crews and didn’t have time to talk or anything else for the rest of the day.

On the island as the quake stopped, Diana was picking herself up off the ground. “I knew it, I totally knew people weren’t meant to live in trees!” She said up to Michael, who was sitting on a branch six feet above her and trying not to laugh.

“Neri and Mera will want to know, when they return.” Michael said, and jumped down.

“I think they know already… Aurien says he felt it coming a minute before it started, so I bet Charley did too. Let’s go to the beach and wait for them.”

Neri and Mera had heard the quake, or felt it; they were hurrying out of the water as Diana and Michael arrived. “You all right?” Neri asked.

“I’m fine. Di fell out of a tree but she’s fine too.” Diana rolled her eyes at Michael and everybody laughed for a second.

Only a second though; Neri and her sister looked troubled. “That shake should not have happened. It was not from the earth.”

“Wait, you mean someone made that earthquake?” Diana asked.

Neri nodded.

“Who makes earthquakes?” Michael said.

Mera answered him, “On Lapis, the most powerful wavespeakers could bespeak earth as well as wind and water. They are the only ones who could shake the ground… but none of them are here.”

Neri looked at her suddenly, “One could be, with Shersheba!”

“You’re right, sister! But why do it?”

“Anybody want to explain who Shersheba is?” Diana put in.

“That’s right, you don’t know.” Mera said, and while they walked slowly back to the lake, she explained. “Shersheba is from our world. She comes here to find the three treasures; whoever finds them will become the princess of the highest family of healers on our world, and help to rule Lapis. Neri is the real princess, but most of the people of Lapis believe she is dead, or will never leave earth. So if Shersheba gathers the treasures, she will take Neri’s place. I did not think Shersheba would come here so quickly, but it seems she has.”

Michael stopped, staring at Neri. “You’re a princess? Why don’t you go get these treasures then, you deserve to be princess!”

Neri laughed, not meanly. “What would I do with crown? My home is here, I want nothing more.” They all kind of stopped and looked around. The jungle grew close, reaching to touch them with sprays of leaves. It was warm and never grew cold, rich with the sounds of a thousand animals and birds and bugs living and doing just out of sight. There was fruit hanging from one tree, berries sparkled in the shadow of a bush. They could hear the sigh of the ocean that gave everything anyone needed to live like a king.

Diana took a deep breath of the heavy air, sweet and smelling of plants and flowers and the fishy tang of the sea. “I see what you mean.” They all did.

Neri continued after another long moment, “I do not want to leave here, but I must meet Shersheba. It is my responsibility to give my people a kind ruler so I must be sure that she is one. I thought we had more time.”

“And Sara-Kate? She’s more important right now.”

“Yes. But we can do nothing for her now.”

“Hey!” Mera cried, “What will that quake have done to ORCA?”

The question immediately went out to both whales. They returned reassuring news; ORCA was damaged but its people were already doing repairs. The underwater city was not going to fall apart.

Diana thanked Aurien, reminding him to stay out of sight; it would really confuse the marine biologists to see a killer whale so far from his natural habitat! Not to mention a killer whale and a humpback behaving like the best of friends when Aurien’s relatives would gladly have eaten Charley’s.

That night, Brett stormed into the front room in his pajamas and threw himself into bed grumbling. “Jace, this is really bad!”

“Yeah I know.” The lump-under-the-covers that was Jason answered.

“We have to be on repair crews but we also have a rescue to run.”

“Well, Dr. Hellengreen is right there in UBRI, he can do things we couldn’t. But it gets worse. The wavelengths to the mainland are off limits to civilians until repairs here and over there get under control.” Jason quoted from the speech they’d both heard from the commander. “That means Lena can’t get messages from her dad so we have no idea what’s going on over there.”

Brett squawked. “You mean we have to trust him? Him?

Jason nodded, “We have to trust him.” It was clear he didn’t like the idea much either. “What else can we do? We’re completely cut off while the emergency people are radioing to ask for equipment and volunteers.”

Brett tried to think of a way they could get a boat, or at least get a call out. “Jace, we know UBRI. Anything could be happening to Sara-Kate.”

“I know. I know what they’re like too. But there’s nothing we can do, I’ve been trying to think of a plan all day too, but there’s really nothing we can do.”

How long? That was the question. How long since the morning of Keller and the earthquake. How long have I been here? How many days? Sara-Kate didn’t know. It might have been two, or one, or three. Not more than three. Probably not.

Sara-Kate had gone to bed with the last thing she’d been singing going through her head: the wave music from the camp. It was incredible music, even though she didn’t know the words. Half asleep the tune, at least, came to her whole.

But it didn’t last long. She dreamed of walking through a desert under the sun. It was hot, so hot. She would die here without water, she would die… but she had to find, to find… something. Or someone, she didn’t know which. But it was important, so important that she kept walking even though her legs were so heavy she could hardly move…

She woke up and couldn’t breathe. Water. She had to get to water, it had been too long. She got up and tried the sink. They hadn’t turned it back on. “Oh shoot.” Sara-Kate leaned against the wall and slid down so she was sitting on the floor. She felt horrible. Parched, like the ground in Africa when it hadn’t rained for months and the sun burned away every drop, every scrap of a drop, of water and life…

Very distantly and very slowly, Sara-Kate realized that she really might die here. Humans could live for three days, maybe four, without water. Lapis people would get a lot worse a lot quicker. But if that were true… She stopped and stared at nothing, shocked.

Could it have been only hours, not days at all?

Some instinct told her to talk while she could, so she looked up and aimed her words at the camera. “If you kill me I won’t be able to tell you anything. So please give me some water if you want to learn anything, ever.” Sara-Kate did her best to sound cool and calm, but knew she didn’t succeed. She got up and went to sit on her bed. Walking was hard; her legs didn’t want to hold her up.

It must have just been hours since I got this bad while I was asleep. Just hours. Not that long. Oooooh, I hurt. I really do, this is really bad, can somebody please come rescue me? Please? Anybody?

Suddenly the room faded white to gray. The lights? She blinked, and everything went normal for a second. Not the lights; my eyes. Ohmigod I’m really in trouble.

Hazy thoughts about dying suddenly got very clear and very real, and that on top of everything else was too much. Sara-Kate fainted.

Joseph Hellengreen was doing his best. It was not good enough. “Keller, the girl is right. If she dies we will learn nothing about these aliens.” That was what he said. He wanted to shout that Keller was a sadist, that this was a child she was killing, that anyone with any heart or mind or morals would tell her that. But he didn’t. He just reasoned like a businessman and a scientist, while a little girl that could have been Lena got sicker and sicker.

“So what if she dies?” Keller asked. “She wouldn’t talk anyway. I don’t think she knows where the others are, or anything useful. If she did, she would have offered just now. Don’t you agree?”

“But the second plan… hostages are only valuable alive.” Joseph tried to imitate his old voice, intense and a little angry.

Keller smiled. It was not nice smile. “We no longer need a hostage. I know the location of the island where the aliens lived.”

“What?!” he demanded, stunned.

“It’s true. I spoke with the head of a construction company who planned to build a luxury hotel on one of the islands in the area. They backed off from the project after a survey team claimed the island was haunted. And Jason Bates was with the team. Coincidence? Not likely.”

“I… agree. We must investigate this island. But now it is late, and I have things to do at home. We will start making plans tomorrow. Good night Keller.” Joseph turned and left, abruptly. Keller wouldn’t be surprised by the rudeness, and he had to get away.

At this hour the halls were mostly deserted. Ladders and tarps littered one corridor, left by the workers who were fixing the emergency sprinkler system. Some mineral buildup was clogging half the pipes, as they had learned when a chemistry experiment caught fire. If only the work had been done by now, he’d light a match under one of the sprinklers. It might save a life.

The parking lot was dark around the islands of streetlights. His car was parked in the corner by the doors, in shadow. He fumbled with the keyring that would auto-unlock the doors, then froze as he heard a footstep behind him. The person was standing in darkness, invisible. “Are you Joseph Hellengreen?” the voice was female, cool and strangely accented.

“Yes, I am. What can I do for you?” he asked brusquely.

The woman stepped sideways into a pool of light. She looked familiar. Oval face, black hair and dark eyes. Young, perhaps seventeen. That was it, she looked like Neri and Mera, the ocean girls. “We are here for the girl you are keeping here.”

Joseph stared at her in surprise. Lena had not mentioned a rescue, but the radios on ORCA had been off limits recently… and this girl was an alien; everything about her shouted it. “Here are the keys, I’ll tell you where they’re keeping her…” he spoke quickly. Maybe these people could help where he couldn’t. Maybe there was a chance for that child after all.

Michael woke up in his bed. In a tree. He woke up feeling scared and almost-sick, the feeling flitting around his brain like a moth around a light. He figured out that he wasn’t sick, that the feeling was coming from outside him somehow. Sara-Kate! He scrambled in the dark along branches from his nest to Neri’s. “Neri! Neri, wake up!”

“Hmm?” the Lapis princess opened her eyes and looked up at him. “What is wrong?”

“Sara-Kate’s in trouble, really bad trouble. She’s sick, I can feel it too, I don’t know why but I can and she’s really really sick and I’m scared.”

Neri sat up and pulled him in to sit on her lap. That was all she could do. They sat together and watched the moon cross the sky, while around them the island slept.

Sara-Kate was dying. Every time the room went grayed out she thought OK this is it, time to find out if there’s a heaven and if I get in. Every time the world slowly drifted back, and she wondered if Death’s schedule was so full he couldn’t get a moment free to come and pick her up, and then she thought about Michael and Diana and hoped they were all right. Once as she wondered, something changed in the air, and she saw Michael sitting in a tree with a beautiful girl Sara-Kate had never seen. Sara-Kate was shocked for a second, wondering if the vision was true. In her bones she knew it was. Then she squashed the conviction with the knowledge that she was delirious and definitely seeing things by now. So she did start seeing things. Whales mostly, and a strange golden shape that might have been a Japanese letter or might not have, and sunlight at strange angles and dark dripping curtains and more beach than she’d ever seen in real life. And yelling crowds against blue painted concrete with the smell of salt and fish and popcorn. Mingled with those scenes came every birthday and Christmas with a family and every time a set of parents had to break the news that she and Michael would have to go live somewhere else, and a thousand other moments. And of course everything still hurt so much she couldn’t pay attention to the clamor of memories until everything hurt so much she couldn’t think or care when the world went gray and red, then black, then went away altogether.

A long time later she was dragged back to reality hearing shouting outside the room. It shouldn’t have woken her, it was so muffled she could hardly hear it. So what…

A second later someone was there, lifting her head and putting a cup to her lips. Sara-Kate drank, and the taste was pure life. She opened her eyes but only got a confused impression of several people dressed in very non-UBRI clothes. The one who was holding her leaned close and said, “We’re on your side, hang on for a little while more.” Then he turned and called a question to someone else, and Sara-Kate stopped listening. She didn’t really notice when or how they got out of the building, and only came back to reality down on the rocks by the ocean. It was night. The young man helped her down to the waters’ edge, and she dropped to her knees in the onrolling waves and sat there for a long time.

“One of you wasn’t looking hard enough.” Malakat growled, “That was too close. We need her, remember.” He jerked his head at Laeka, who was sitting very still in the water, like she’d gotten immune to undertow.

Agate muttered something about how he thought too much about politics; Shersheba gave them both a patient look and orders to stay quiet if they couldn’t sound nice. This was mostly directed at Agate. Then the princess went down to meet the newest member of their group.

Sara-Kate looked up as someone sat down next to her. It was a young woman with dark curly hair, her face turned away from the light so Sara-Kate could only see a profile. “Feeling better, Laeka?” the girl asked.

“Yeah, thanks for the rescue. And my name’s Sara-Kate.” Sara-Kate blurted.

“I’m called Shersheba.”

The name was the hiss of waves on the sand. “You’re not from this world.”

“You are right, I’m not. But we can talk later, we must be far from here before they recover up there.” She pointed up at what must be the UBRI building, where lights were beginning to go on.

Sara-Kate saw two other people getting into a boat further down the shore. The rest of the rescue team, apparently, for Shersheba stood up and motioned her to come. Sara-Kate got up reluctantly, and went with her.

Michael looked up. “Neri, it stopped!”

Neri looked perplexed, “How? Is your sister well again?”

“I’m not sure… it feels better to me, like part of me knows what’s happening to Sar and she’s all right. Not dead, I would know for sure if she was. But I wish I could find out more.” Michael frowned thoughtfully.

“I have an idea.” Neri said, “A game children play on Lapis, of sending their thoughts out to see things in far places, or in themselves.”

Michael didn’t remember, but it got his interest. “And it works?”

“I do not know.”

“Let’s try, how do you do it?”

“Here, sit like this, hands together.” They knelt facing each other in the nest, hands together like they were frozen in the middle of a clapping game. “Now, close your eyes and listen.”

Michael did, and at first heard only the night noises of the island, wind, frogs and the sea. Then he heard farther out in the water, Charley singing the news to a pod of dolphins and hearing their report on fish availability. Aurien was farther away, sleeping just under the surface. And there were other whales out there, sounds like streaks of blue. The dolphins showed to his hearing as a lively turquoise. Sara-Kate, he thought. What color would she be? “This is really neat.” He said to Neri, surprised to find that hearing out loud didn’t mess up the other kind of hearing. “Our people play this as a game?” but then he found Sara-Kate. She was on the deck of a small boat, asleep on a pile of cushions. As they watched, a strange young man came and spread a blanket over her then turned to say something to whoever was driving the boat. “She’s all right!” Michael whispered, and the rush of relief broke whatever had been letting them see her. And to him everything snapped beck to normal, and he saw how late it was, late enough to be early. “Um, I’d better go back to bed… Thanks, Neri.”

Neri waited still after Michael left. She felt the pull of wind across her skin. The tide her mother had been talking about, blowing them together or apart and into patterns that someone else was drawing in the sand. She didn’t believe in fate, but just now she felt it.

Sara-Kate woke up in a real bed in a real house, feeling like she’d been sick for a month and now was only thinking about getting better. “Oh man, it would be really nice to feel good for once.” She said to the ceiling, in case any gods existed and were listening. “Oh, and it would also be nice to know what was going on for once.” She realized that talking to the gods-beyond-the-ceiling was a lot like talking to the camera, and cringed and quit doing it.

She was in a room that felt like a motel, well furnished but with no personality. The place was big, an attic from the skylights. It was mostly cheap wood panel and beach-scene wallpaper. Sara-Kate got up and went to look out the window. A wooden walkway led down to a mostly deserted beach between two arms of rock. It was a beautiful place. By the window a chair was piled with clothes and towels, and Sara-Kate realized she was filthy with salt dried in her hair, and went to find the shower.

When she came downstairs with a towel on her head, the place was mostly deserted. The young man was sitting at the kitchen table writing something. He was handsome, dark and arrogant. Sara-Kate distrusted him on sight. “Um, hello.”

He looked up, “G’morning, are you feeling better?”

“Yeah, some. Where is everyone?”

“Shersheba’s down on the beach I think. Agate, she’s the old bat, went into town. I’m Malakat and you’re…” one eyebrow raised, “Laeka?”

“Sara-Kate.” She told him firmly.

“Humans have strange names.”

“I won’t argue that.” Sara-Kate replied, and Malakat grinned. “Is there anything to eat around here, I’m about to starve.” Malakat waved her at the cabinets, and Sara-Kate searched herself out some breakfast. She was halfway through a turkey sandwich when she noticed Malakat was watching her. “Well?” “Just wondering what to say.” Even in such a sheepish remark Malakat was arrogant.

“You can answer me a few hundred questions. Like who are you people, what are you doing here, how did the three of you get past all the UBRI types last night–” She stopped. Malakat was laughing.

“Lots of luck is how, and Shersheba found us the best way in. But mostly luck.” He paused for a long moment, “We’re from the Lapis Planet like yourself. Shersheba is a princess there, she’s come to this world to find the three treasures so she can prove her right to rule. We’re her helpers. When the treasures have been found we’ll go back home. You’re welcome to join us in the search; Shersheba already takes for granted that you will.”

“Sure I’ll help, you saved my life.”

“That was a very close thing last night, as in very close.” Malakat sounded… strange. After a second Sara-Kate realized what it was. He was angry for her, worried for her. That was hard to believe; the guy was an icicle. But he had been worried for her.

“I have to find my brother, and Diana. But I think they’ll help you. As much as we can anyway, we’re just kids.”

Malakat replied, “I think you could help us a lot.”

He sounded almost too serious, too intense. Scary. Sara-Kate couldn’t read him from one moment to the next, but now he frightened her. “I don’t know.” She said.

Neri was down in the spaceship, watching her mother’s message over and over. She was worried. So there was another group from Lapis, Shersheba and a very powerful wavespeaker. And Sara-Kate was with them, either as a guest or a… prisoner. The word tasted wrong in Neri’s mind; on Lapis there was no such word.

“Neri? You down here?” Diana called from the entrance. Then she climbed down the vine and came into the room, “Good morning, want some breakfast?” She had a bunch of bananas slung over her shoulder, “What are you doing?”

“Watching this message.” Neri took a banana, “She is my mother, she says I am a princess of our world, and must return and rule it. Those are the treasures that make a princess, they must be found.”

“Hmm. Michael told me about last night, are you sure Sara-Kate’s all right?”

“I am sure. Michael knows about his sister. She is alive, but I cannot tell about ’all right’. There are others from Lapis here, they are the ones who rescued her. I do not know if they are good or bad, only that one is the princess if I am not found.”

“And one made the quake that nearly busted a hole in ORCA.” Diana reminded her, “I think they’re nasty, people got hurt down there.”

Neri shrugged, “There are many things that could change that. Maybe it was not a wavespeaker at all, or maybe they had a good reason. Until we ask, we cannot really know.”

Diana nodded and sat down on the edge of something table-sized, splashing her feet in the water. She watched the image of Nefarrin for a while, then said, “I think we played that game on the ship, you and I did. Not going out anywhere, just sharing our dreams of what this planet would be like. You were the best at making images, the best of any of the children.” She left before Neri could answer.

Up top, Michael had cornered Mera and was interrogating her, starting with “What’s it like living on Lapis?” and getting more specific from there. Mera answered everything she knew, which was a lot. “No president, just the council. Yes there are schools, and restaurants and museums and stores but they’re mostly in caves. Yes there is land, almost as much as on this planet, it’s just spread out better. Yes there are mean people, they’re everywhere. We’ve even had wars though not in living memory, but they were terrible.”

Michael’s brown eyes sharpened, “There’s going to be another war soon, you’re worried about it.”

“Ssssh!” Mera ordered him, “No there isn’t, unless things go really really wrong. And we won’t let them.”

“Who’s we? Us? Mera, who are you back on Lapis? You’re somebody important, right?”

“Yes. Neri is the real princess, you know that? I’d be the second choice, but I’m too young and Shersheba can make anyone believe her.”

Michael frowned hard and punched the ground, “Shersheba took my sister.” He said angrily, “We are in big trouble, I don’t half understand about Lapis and being the princess, but I know we’re in trouble.”

Mera remembered when she was living on ORCA, one day she’d overheard Dianne Bates saying to Winston, “They’re just kids, they should be… I don’t know, playing video games and going to dances, not going against UBRI and putting themselves in danger. They shouldn’t have to, they’re too young for this!”

Winston had sighed and patted her hand, “I know Dianne, they shouldn’t have to. But they do, and they’re good at it. Trust them and don’t worry about what should be; those kids can make their own choices. Besides, a wise man once say—”

Dianne had burst out laughing, “Don’t say it Winston, don’t even say it!” Winston kept on teasing her until Dianne started threatening to throw things, and then had backed off with much salaaming.

Mera sighed; Dianne had had a point though. She was twelve, Michael was--what, about ten no matter how mature he talked. It would be nice if the grown-ups could handle the fate of the world. But the oracles had been right about leaving the synchronium to her and Neri; they were probably right this time too.