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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2010-01-16 — sourcemeta

Source: 1, 2, DeviantART
Author:Judith “Stormdance” Kenyon
Copyright:Archiving permitted by author

5. Stranded

On ORCA, Dianne was trying to concentrate on the progress reports. Oceanic ecology study, plate tectonics study, deep water life forms, cetacean behavior, environmental impact… “HELEN, can I have a quick report in plain English? Are all the projects on ORCA proceeding according to plan?”

The computer thought for a minute then said, “Data suggests ninety-seven percent of predicted results on the following projects…” and a list loaded on the screen.

“Thanks HELEN, that makes much more sense.” Dianne tapped her stylus on the screen making notes to allocate more funds to the environmental impact study and find out what the ecology people were doing taking out waverunners five days a week.

“Are you in here, Madam Commander?”

“I’m here Winston. What’s up?”

“Paul Bates just signed in topside. He’s on his way down.”

Dianne grimaced. “Time to face the music.”

“What are you going to tell him?”


“Are you sure that’s wise?”

“No.” Dianne sighed and closed down the screen she’d been working on. “But I don’t think we have a choice at this point.”

“Want me to stay?”

“I’d love for you to stay.” Dianne straightened her jacket and turned as she heard footsteps. “Hello Paul.”

Paul paused to wave the door closed then said, “Right. You’ve got some explaining to do.”

“Paul, what I’m about to tell you must be kept strictly between us, do you understand?”

“Between us personally, or in the professional sense?” He asked with a sideways look at Winston, who smiled.

“I’m telling you because you’re Jason and Brett’s father.”

“So let’s have it. You’re not going to tell me this girl, this Neri, is from another planet?”

In the cave in the outback, Neri knelt in the spring, splashing water over her head. Brett scooped up a handful of water and brought it to his mouth, but Neri warned him, “Salt.” And Brett let the water trickle through his fingers.

“Great. We can’t drink salt water like you can.”

Jason was looking around, trying to identify which wall they’d come out of. Unlike the pyramids, the cave had nothing that looked like a water gate.

“Hey—any chance that guy could follow us through the water thing?”

Jason shook his head. “I think Neri’s the only one who can get through. You think?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“It’s something about you. The way the ankh just lit up and came out of the wall. Like it chose you.”

Neri reached for the golden ankh and ducked it in the water for an unnecessary wash. It had come out of the wall clean of dust. Maybe it needed wetting down.

“The way we traveled between pyramids. The water gates. They are very old.”

“Yeah, but they must have been set up by your own people, right?”


“Why?” Brett jumped in.

Jason shrugged. “Beats flying economy?”

“Don’t know. I did not know about the gate until we were in one.” Neri shrugged and pulled herself up to sit on the edge of the spring dangling her feet in the water.

“We came from the pyramid in the Mako Abyss to the pyramid in Egypt, so shouldn’t we have gone back the same way? But now we’re in the outback somewhere. What went wrong?”

“Must be a whole network of them, like a subway.”

“Neri, can you get us back?”

“Don’t know. If we are here, I think it is because we are meant to be.”

“But where’s here?”

Under the pyramid of mystery, Shersheba and Malakat surveyed their new domain.

“Did the PRAXIS agents see what happened?” Shersheba asked.

“No. Just as well, this pyramid has secrets we don’t want to share yet. They took it for granted the children escaped through one of these tunnels into the desert.”

“Ah!” Shersheba had found the triangle carving that activated the water gate. She leaped up and pressed her hand to it.

“You’re wasting your time. You’re not the one it was intended for.”

The girl snarled and turned on him. “You had them! And you let them slip through your fingers!”

“Yes and no. Neri has the golden ankh but no understanding of the power she holds in her hand.”

“Precisely! It’s in her hand!”

“I doubt whether you could have obtained it at all.” Malakat said mildly.

“Enough! Have you formulated a new strategy for this situation?”

“Of course.”


“When they are lost and alone, when they are in fear, where do little birds fly?”

“Ah. Back to the nest. And we know where that is.”

“This is…”

“Incredible?” Winston suggested.

“Another planet.”

“Another galaxy.”

Paul turned, took a deep breath and tried again. “Look, let me get this straight. You’ve been helping her, supporting her. And my sons have been involved from the start.”

Dianne said softly, “You should be very proud of them for that.”

“Dianne, this is…”

“Amazing?” Winston put in, apparently having fun.

“Don’t. It’s impossible.”

“Sir, with due respect, when you eliminate the impossible then whatever’s left, however improbable, must be true. The words of the immortal Sherlock Holmes I believe.”

“Dianne, if the wrong people heard this you’d be retired on all kinds of medication.”

Dianne had to smile at that. “Yeah well, that’s what we thought.”

“Sir, this is real. Neri is important, beyond your understanding, beyond ours! Your discretion is not only pragmatic, it is essential!”

“Winston it was my decision to tell him.”

“Oh ah—I beg your pardon. I’ll go monitor the vidphone, in case the boys call again.” Winston whisked himself out.

“Winston can come on a bit strong. He adores Neri.”

“I can see that. But… aliens?’

“If we didn’t need you, really need you, I wouldn’t have told you any of this. And I know that look Paul, you’re wondering if this is going to compromise your career. I don’t know. But our boys are in this up to their ears, and they will not desert Neri.”

“Nothing here.” Jason said. “Any luck?”

“Not yet.”


“We’d see it wouldn’t we? It’s one of those carvings like before?”

“It’s all rocks mate. There’s nothing here.” Jason sighed and sat down.

“Ok then. If we can’t zap out of here we need fresh water, food too. Someone’s going to have to go for help.”

Neri stood up, “I go. I brought you to this place.”

“Neri there’s desert out there. How long will you last away from the pool?”

“So you or me?” Brett asked.

“I’ll go.” Jason said without enthusiasm and climbed up to the exit.

“Anything?” Cass asked, coming into the lab where Winston sat monitoring communications.

“No. I had them in the Middle East, in the vicinity of the Nile. And now nothing.”

“You don’t think they…”

“I’m sure they’re fine. HELEN, can you give me any more help with this?”

“Override your directive.” The computer told him.


“Code ‘n’ security alert. Unidentified person approaching.”

The door glided open and Louis came in. “Good afternoon.”

Cass grunted, “Hi.”

“Always a pleasure Louis. HELEN, have I mentioned recently you’re a pearl amongst mega data processors.”


“Weird thing to say to a computer.”

“What can I say, I’m a complete romantic.”

Back at PRAXIS HQ Elly and Shelby were debriefing, fresh off the plane. Shelby didn’t even seem to feel the jet lag.

“It’s a labyrinth under that Egyptian pyramid, sir. The way I figure it those kids had to know something we didn’t.”

“But you did your best.”

“Yes sir.”

“I thought so. Interpret this data.” Director Richter tossed a folder across his desk.

Elly flipped through it. Pretty standard UFO reports, the kind of thing she saw every day. But the location… “These are all from the vicinity of the ORCA complex and Commander Bates is holding back. We have her voice test on record.”


She stifled a yawn. “Insufficient data. We can’t be sure how much she knows.”

“Go to ORCA. I want to know the truth about Commander Bates’ involvement. And Shelby, Hauser… a repeat of the Egyptian fiasco would be a mistake.”

“Yes sir.”

Jason walked. And walked. It had been a few hours, he thought, just walking, seeing nothing but red dirt and the occasional eucalyptus. No fresh water, and no people. Not even any shade…

Jason tripped and went down, hands and knees in the dust. He cursed. Just a minute, then he’d get up again and keep going.

“End of the line for you I reckon.”

The voice came from right beside him. Jason looked up into the face of a young aboriginal man in khakis and a broad hat. “I hope I’m not imagining you.” Was all he could think to say.

“I thought the same thing when I spotted you first, half an hour ago.”

“Half an hour?”

“You looked as if you knew where you were going. Until you started walking in circles. Where did you come from?”

Jason pointed. “Rocks. There’s a cave. You know it? My brother and a friend are still there.”

The young man held out a hand to help him up.

The aborigine’s name was Jakamarra. He had a dusty truck, a true outback-mobile that looked like it either was on the edge of breaking down or could run forever.

“You lost? How’d you get way out here? Where’s your vehicle?”

“We had camels. They ran off.” Jason answered between swallows from a water bottle. “Thanks for this. We wouldn’t have lasted long in that cave without you to get us out.”

“I’m taking you back there mate. I can give you food, and some water.”


“But I can’t get you out.”

They arrived before Jason could start yelling or begging or whatever it was he would have done. Then there was finding the entrance to the cave, and passing the water down to Brett, and introducing everybody.

“Is this your place?” Neri asked.

“No, ah—it’s its own place.”

“Who cares, just get us out of here!”

“He says he can’t. And I want to know why.”

Jackamarra looked uncomfortable under the force of their stares. Finally he said, “…Whale-woman.”

“What kind of an answer’s that?”

“The whale-woman was afraid and hurt. She came here by the underground river, fleeing from her enemies.”

“And what’s that got to do with anything?”

“Brett.” Neri laid a hand on his arm.

Jackamarra continued, “The old people found her in this place. They made her stay here to hide and to heal. If they let her go out, she’d have been killed by her enemies.”

“I don’t understand.”

Neri shivered. “I do.” Jackamarra nodded slightly and Neri smiled at him.

“HELEN, prime directive?” Winston asked.

“Preservation of ORCA personnel.”

“Confirm this overrides communications security.”


Now they were getting somewhere! “Commence search for designated ORCA personnel.”

“Satellite accessed. Search commencing.”

“Thank you HELEN.”

Cass came in. “Any luck? Hey, if they’re still in Egypt how are we going to get them back? It’s not like they have their passports, and Neri doesn’t even have a passport.”

“We’ll worry about that later. Their safety comes first.”

“Signal located. Established contact.” HELEN announced. A map flashed on screen.


But the flashing dot of the signal faded. HELEN said apologetically, “Communication failed. Signal is breaking up due to interference.”

“HELEN, identify interference.”

“Geodesic. Crystalline. Type: rare.”

“Crystal deposits. And strong enough to break up the signal.” Winston said with some wonder. “HELEN, try to get the signal back.”

Shelby stepped out of the ORCA elevator and grabbed the nearest guy. “You. I want to see the commander. Now.”

His tone got the usual response, or maybe it was the suit. “Yes sir. This way.”

Dianne and Danson were far from pleased. Shelby informed them, “You will provide accommodations for myself and agent Hauser, who will be arriving shortly.”

“Do you mind if I ask you the purpose of this visit?” Dianne asked as politely as she could manage.

“If I decide it’s necessary, you’ll be told. I want complete access to every part of this base. Starting with a full inspection.”

“Mr. Danson, please conduct our guest on his inspection tour.”

“Right away commander.”

“Oh, and I may have some questions later. Make yourself available.”

Dianne nodded and motioned Shelby to precede them out.

“Mr. Shelby. Nice attitude.” Danson muttered.

“We’ll show him all courtesy. For now.”

Danson put on his most professional attitude. “Well, we can start with the main power units in the lower level and work our way up. Unless there’s something PRAXIS is particularly interested in, Mr. Shelby?”

“Base security. When people come and go.”

“Shuttles to the mainland are scheduled…” Danson saw a woman with a clipboard and an apologetic expression waving to him. “Excuse me a moment, Mr. Shelby, this looks like an emergency.”

Shelby looked around the hall, into the nearest lab, and then straight ahead—where a kid had appeared.

“Is that true? Do you really work for PRAXIS Mr. Shelby?” Louis asked.

“None of your business kid.”

“PRAXIS are the best!”

“What do you know about it junior?”

“That’s my father. I wish he was a PRAXIS officer. They’re the best, PRAXIS can tell people what to do.”

“You got that right.” Shelby thought he might warm up to the kid—in a million years. “The Commander’s two sons, Jason and Brett. They friends of yours?”

“Those two?” Louis’ tone said it all.

“Don’t like ‘em much huh?”

“They get anything they want just because she’s their mother.”

“I’m interested in a friend of theirs. A girl.”

“There are lots of girls on ORCA. You mean Cass Clayborn?”

“This one’s from outside. Ever see them with a girl like that?”

Eager-to-please though he was, Louis had to admit that any face looked familiar-ish, as long as it was above an aqua uniform.

Jason woke from a nap and groaned. They were still in the cave, trapped, without computer access or the dining hall or a bathroom…

“Hey, how you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been sleeping on rocks instead of my bed.” Jason grumbled.

Brett dug through the food pack and offered dinner. “So, you still think that Jackamarra guy’s coming back? I didn’t like that bit about the whale-woman being hunted down.”

“He said he would come.” Neri’s voice echoed from further back in the cave.

“But what if he doesn’t? We’ve got food and water for what, two days? If we run out, what happens then?”

“Then we’re in trouble again.”

“You know if we leave now we might have a chance in the desert.”

“Yeah but what about Neri?” Jason argued again, for at least the third time. “If she can’t wet down she’ll get sick. It’s as dry here as Egypt.”

“What chance do we have if we stay here?”

Jason took a breath to answer, then forgot to. The vidphone lights were on. “Hey! We’ve got power!”


Jason showed him. “It recharged somehow.”

“It was drained. And it wasn’t even turned on. Does anything work besides the lights?”

“Dunno.” They tried the buttons.

“You can talk to ORCA?”


“Not yet.” Jason finished. “We’ve got power but no way to boost the signal.”

“Take the receiver apart.” Brett suggested, “The wire might be enough—hey let me, it’s my phone.”

The three of them bent over the phone with Jason’s pocketknife out, arguing hopefully now about how to make their message home.

Behind them, unnoticed, sunlight outlined an ankh shape cut into the wall.

“I was right.” Malakat said, looking over his computer display as Shersheba came into the tent.

“I should hope you are always right. That is why you are here with me. About what, this time?”

“PRAXIS is focusing their search on ORCA and the surrounding area. Now that the pyramid here is secured against inquisitive locals, we should follow suit.”

“Do you think it’s wise to put so much faith in PRAXIS?”

“They are logical people, with considerable resources. And very… determined. Young Neri won’t escape. When she’s caught, we should be there.”

“To ‘defend the interests of science’?”

“Yes. And claim what is ours.”

Elly stepped off the elevator and looked around. Directly ahead a screen displayed a map and ORCA’s welcome message in seven different languages. And there was a window, with the glory of the reef beyond.

Shelby stepped in front of the vision. “Well, you took your time getting here.”

“Ah—I was delayed. Something interesting came to light.”

“Who wants interesting? I just want results. Come on, our quarters are this way.”

Shelby led the way and Elly reluctantly followed, away from the window. ORCA was bustling, and quite a few of the bustlers gave Shelby dirty looks. Well well, here half a day and already unwanted.

A kid stepped out in front of them. “Hallo, Mr. Shelby.”

“Oh, Louis, this is Miss Hauser.”

Louis grinned a little and said hello.

“Louis.” Elly greeted him.

“Do you have anything for me yet, Louis?”

“Nothing yet sir.”

“Well, look sharp.”

“Yes sir!”

The moment the kid was out of sight Elly turned to her partner and asked, “That’s Louis? Your new contact? The ‘mole in the heart of ORCA?’”

“Yeah, so I didn’t tell you his age. We’re lookin’ for kids aren’t we? Send a brat to catch a brat. Besides, he works cheap. Now what did you find that was so interesting?”

The legal possibilities related to messing with a kid raced through Elly’s mind. The PRAXIS name could deal with anything that came up, but still… well, too late now. “We’ve picked up a signal from ORCA’s main computer aimed at a specific region of the outback. It couldn’t be happening without the commander’s authorization, and we know who she’s looking for.”

“The outback? Do we have a fix on this?”

“Ten mile radius.”

“We’d better get a plane. Pronto.”

Elly offered, “ORCA has a plane.”

“And we have blanket requisition powers.”

Winston called Dianne as soon as HELEN picked up the signal.

“They’re in the outback? But how?”

“’Beam me up,’ maybe?” Cass offered. “We haven’t got communication, just the locator signal, but that’s definitely Brett’s phone.”

The communicator screen chimed on. “Commander Bates?”

“Yes Dave?”

“Our visitors from PRAXIS have taken the plane and headed for the mainland. I’ve logged their flight plan and projected destination.”

“I think I can guess.”

Dave winced. “Sorry commander, PRAXIS badge trumps policy.”

When the screen went dark Dianne said, “So we have a location but no transport. Any ideas how we can get to them before PRAXIS does?”

There was a pause, then Winston said, “I have an idea Madam Commander, but I don’t think you’ll like it…

The requisitioned plane sat on the dusty airfield. Shelby dusted off his hands. “Well that’s sorted, they’ll run the usual checks and refuel it for us. We have twenty-four hours to come back with our passengers.”

Elly looked at her computer screen and pointed. “That’s the way we need to go. No road—did you see any vehicles we might rent?”

“You people lookin’ for someone?” Said a cheerful voice.

“Uh…yeah, some young friends. They might be lost.”

Jakamarra gestured at his truck and flashed a card. “You see this? I’m a local guide, I know all the camping spots. Maybe I’d hear about some hikers out there.”

“Where?” Shelby demanded.

“I’ll take you. For the right price” Jackamarra replied, and held out his hand in the universal ‘pay up’ gesture. “Cash, not plastic.”

The transmitter was working—or at least they thought it was. The right lights were on, anyway. “Come in ORCA, come in ORCA. We are somewhere in the central desert. We do not have a compass. We cannot give you our exact position. Trace this signal.” He waited. There should be a beep if the transmission had been received, but after the way they’d messed with the vidphone it might not work.

“Anything?” Brett asked.

Jason shrugged. “Can’t tell. Hang on, I’m going to try it outside. Look after Neri, I’ll be right back.” He ran up the stone steps and climbed as high as he could on the rocks around the cave. This was the best signal he’d get around here.

“Come in ORCA, mayday, this is Jason Bates. We’re lost. Please trace my signal…”

Then he saw the truck coming, and the three people silhouetted in the cabin.

“Jason, any–“

“Someone’s coming. Jakamarra’s truck, and he’s not alone. We gotta get out.”

“But Jakamarra…”

“Sold us out.” Jason grabbed the food bag.

“No Jason, not Jakamarra. I will not believe it.”

Brett looked back at Neri and shrugged, “Let’s not wait around here to find out.”

Outside Jakamarra led the PRAXIS agents right past the entrance to the cave. Shelby cursed him for being slow, and he grinned back. “No worries. Gee, I could’ve sworn it was this way.”

“Which way then?”

“Hang on, I’m trying to get my bearings…”

“Moron.” Shelby passed him, headed for the crest of the hill.

“Hey wait,” Elly called, “You don’t know the way…”

“How hard can it be? Come on Hauser.”

Jakamarra let them pass, then turned and headed back.

The travelers were looking into the cab of Jakamarra’s truck. “PRAXIS issue.” Brett said, “You were right.”

“No. I will not believe it.”

“Believe it Neri. He sat there telling us stupid stories planning to sell us out. Laughing at us.”

“So think you can drive this truck?” Brett asked. Just then there was a chattering roar and a helicopter appeared. It circled them as they tried to hide behind the truck, and set down a few yards away. Jason started to say sure, he could drive now, but Brett had seen the helicopter’s logo.

“Wait! It’s not PRAXIS, it’s ORCA!”

“Mum got a chopper?” Jason began, then saw Jakamarra coming up behind them. “Hey, you got a lot of nerve!”

The aborigine waved his hands, “It’s ok, it’s ok. Enemies came for the whale-woman, like before. It’s like a maze in there. I’ll show them the way out after you’re gone.”

Neri grinned at him. “Thank you.”

“Thanks mate. I was wrong. We owe you.”

The helicopter’s door opened and a man leaned out. “Jason! Brett!”

“It’s Dad! Uh, thanks Jakamarra, we have to go. Dad!”

“Your father? Here?”

“Looks like it, doesn’t it.” Jason said grimly. “Come on.”

Neri turned back and pressed the ankh into Jakamarra’s hands. “You keep. It will be safer with you.”

“No, I couldn’t…”

“We understand. The spirit is one.”

The boy nodded. “I’ll hide it, until you claim it back.”

Neri gave him a shining smile and ran after her friends.