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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

6. Hunted

“Well, thanks for the lift Dad. We have to go now. See you later.” Jason waved and let the elevator doors close.

A moment later they hissed open again and his father held up his ORCA pass card and joined them in the elevator. “HELEN, take us down please.”

The computer said, “Certainly.” And the lift began to move. There was an uncomfortable silence, now that they could talk without having to shout over the noise of the helicopter. Paul Bates kept stealing glances at Neri. So this girl in the funny clothes is the alien? She hadn’t bothered trying to talk on the way back, just gazed out the helicopter’s windows with wide eyes.

“So Dad, why’d you come get us?” Brett asked. “I mean, why were you..?”

“I’m, ah, actually I’m regional commander of ORCA operations. I’ve been in the States for the last year planning for the building of ORCA Two. Just returned to Australia in time to see your mother’s application. As for the rescue, I have a pilot’s license and access to company transport. Though I wish I knew how I’m going to explain why I needed a chopper.”

“Ah. Well thanks.” Pause. “Wait, you’re Mum’s boss?”

“Or something.”

There was more uncomfortable silence, then at last the lift door hissed open.

“Mum!” Brett yelled, and submitted to a hug. Jason did too, and then Dianne hugged Neri, who murmured, “Is all right Mother. We come back safe.”

“Thank goodness. Come on, into quarters and you can tell me what happened.”

Jason said, “Lots of stuff. We need to talk, pronto, with you and Cass and Winston. And…” he looked at his father and trailed off.

“Yes. He knows.”

“Great.” Jason said, not quietly enough, as Dianne herded them into the commander’s quarters.

Neri headed for the bathroom to wet down and change into her ORCA uniform. She heard Brett say, “See Dad, it’s not really our fault…” before the water came on. A few minutes later the spray faltered and the computer said, “Commander, you have reached your daily water limit. Do you wish to go over it?”

Neri turned the tap off. “No, HELEN. Thank you for the hot water.” Neri went to find her clothes.

“Don’t tell me you were victims of circumstance! You got yourselves into… whatever you got yourselves into.”

“Dad, what else could we do?”

“Look, I know you like this… girl. But your behavior was inexcusable. People could have gotten hurt. You could have gotten hurt in … wherever you were, I’m not sure I want to know.”

“Figures.” Jason muttered.

“I do know none of it would’ve happened if you hadn’t stolen the minifin in the first place.”

Brett started to protest that the minifin had got back fine, but Jason drowned him out, “Why did you bother rescuing us at all? Why not leave us for the PRAXIS team? Then we’d really have been sorry wouldn’t we!”

Brett tried to shrink himself.

“You could have jeopardized your mother’s career.”

“I’ll worry about my career thanks.” Dianne said dryly, and fled to check on Neri before something worse came out of her mouth.

“We’re sorry dad, honest.”

“I’m not.”

Paul sighed. “That attitude of yours is a real worry, son.”

“Jason is angry.”

“He sure is.” Dianne sighed.

“That is father?”

“Yes.” She looked at the door, sighed again, “I’d just make it worse. They can fight it out.”

Neri was sitting on the bed, her bare feet tucked underneath her, looking worried. “Why?” She asked, a general why.

“We were married, before the boys and I came to ORCA. Paul made a mistake. A bad one. I was so angry that I think I made some mistakes too, but I didn’t want Jason to hate his father… I’m sorry, I’m not making sense.”

“Father forget Brett’s birthday.” Neri offered. She parted her wet hair and pushed it back.

Dianne absently reached for a comb and started combing Neri’s hair. Neri purred and leaned in to the caress. They sat silently for a little while. There wasn’t any noise from the main room either, at least.

Finally Neri said, “Sad. Family cannot like each other? You do not still..?”

“Not him. I miss the old Paul, the one I could trust.” Dianne shook her head. “But I have Brett and Jase, and you, and Winston. That’s plenty of family. You want to stay for dinner Neri? I think you’d better return to the island for the night. I’d like you to stay here but I don’t think it’s safe.”

“But you are commander.”

“I command ORCA. PRAXIS has authority beyond that.”

Neri smiled. “I always trust you. That is enough.”

The PRAXIS agents had pulled their car over to the side of the road so they could set up the vidphone and report.

Director Richter was not pleased. “I don’t want excuses. You had the girl. She got away. That’s the bottom line.”

“We did our best sir, I assure you.” Shelby said fast, “They must’ve had help, locals, we couldn’t have anticipated…”

“Shut up and listen. We’ve identified the pilot of the ORCA helicopter. Paul Bates, regional commander of operations, and the boys’ father. The boys have been returned to ORCA. There’s a high probability the alien was taken there too.”

Well that sounded like good news. “Sir, you give me the word and the men and I’ll turn that sardine can inside out.”

Richter sighed. “Agent Shelby, there is one objective and one only. Get the girl. Confrontation with Australian authorities is not in the interests of PRAXIS. Should I send in another team or can you follow orders?”

“Name it and it’s done Sir.”

“You will go immediately to ORCA. You will give them no warning. You will use the element of surprise to locate the girl. But Shelby… discretion? I hope I don’t have to spell the word.” And the screen flashed blank. They’d been hung up on.

Shelby looked at Elly and said, “Well I think that went well.”

Cass plopped herself down next to Winston in the mess hall. “What’s with this pyramid Winston? And don’t say ‘I’ll tell you later.’”

“I can only speculate.”

“All I want to know is how they got from here to Egypt!”

“Shh!” Winston looked around at the other diners, most of whom had notebooks or small computers open along with their dinner trays. Nobody seemed to be paying attention. Winston sought for an explanation. “My best guess involves string theory and quantum physics, which are not my areas of expertise. The theory, as far as I can tell, is that space can be bent…” He took a sheet of paper and marked two dots on it. “Here’s the south pacific. Here’s Egypt. And if I fold the paper…”

“They’re right next to each other. But is that real?”

“Apparently, since it happened. The explanation can only be found within the pyramids themselves.”

A lift door hissed open and Cass glanced over. “Winston, you know those guys?”

“Should I?”

“Didn’t get a good look before but… I think they’re the PRAXIS agents! Neri’s still on board! Try to stall them ok?” She ran for the other door, jumping over Louis and his friends on the way.

The computer read Shelby’s identity card. “Shelby, Jake. Pre-authorized full access confirmed.”

“Specify location of ORCA personnel: Bates, Jason and Bates, Brett.’

“Presently located in commander’s quarters, delta five.”

“Ok. Now the only question is where’s mom.”

“Excuse me. Can I be of assistance?” Winston appeared behind them, smiling his best smile.

Cass burst into the Bates quarters. “PRAXIS on board! Neri, you’ve gotta get out!”

They had been getting dinner ready. Jason dropped a plate. “Corridors. We’d be trapped in here. HELEN, watch the stove.”

In the hall they plastered themselves against the round bulkhead, Cass in front, craning her neck to see. She pulled back. “They’re here already! Winston too.”

“Um, ok. We’d better go meet them. Cass, go with Neri. Minifin bay. When she’s gone, go look innocent.”

“Mmhm! C’mon Neri.”

The girls slipped away and the boys stepped out into view.

“Well if it isn’t the two guys we’re looking for. You two certainly get around.”

“Quite international.” Miss Hauser added.

“We love to travel, don’t we Brett.”


“Every chance we get.”

“It’s important we get to talk to your little friend. The girl in the funny clothes. Where is she?”

“We have lots of friends.”

“Some of them are girls.”

Elly tried, “Look, we just want to talk to her. She’ll be fine.”

Ok, that was just creepy. “I don’t mean to be rude Miss Hauser, but I don’t think we should be talking to you without our mother here.”

“Mr. Shelby, don’t you think this confusion could be sorted out by speaking with the commander?”

“There is no confusion.” Shelby snapped. Elly stepped up next to him, “Don’t you think we should avoid confrontation here Shelby? Use our… discretion?”

Then Louis’ voice came from behind Jason. “Hi, Mr. Shelby.”

“Hi yourself, kid.”

“Who’s the new girl?” Louis asked innocently.


“Louis I don’t know any new girl.”

“But she just went into your quarters with Cass.”

I’ll kill him, Jason thought. He was in back of the group when Shelby used his card to override the lock on the door. Winston protested.

But the room was empty. The adults didn’t see the swinging flap on the trash chute, and Brett stepped in front of it. Shelby stormed through the four rooms, found nothing, and snapped, “Hauser, seal the base. Do it!”

Agent Hauser spoke to the computer terminal on the wall. “PRAXIS authority code 4-9-6-7. Seal the base.”

An alarm sounded and HELEN replied, “Acknowledged. All elevators and doors immobilized. All access points sealed.”

“Now I’m ready to speak to your mother.”

Dianne, when they reached her office, was livid. “You’ve sealed the base. Activated a procedure for use in emergencies only. Trapped people all over ORCA.”

“That was the general idea.”

“Placing lives at risk, in case of a real emergency, and costing time and money. You’d better find what you’re looking for.” Dianne stepped aside and gave Jason a questioning look. “Did she get out?”

“I don’t think so. But you were great.”

Dianne smiled and stepped over to the nearest worker at her terminal. “I think we have a code 51 on our hands.”

“Yes Ma’am.” The woman hit a few keys and the alarm came back on. HELEN’s voice came from the speakers. “Attention all personnel. Evacuation posts immediately.”

“What the hell?”

“I told you, sealing the base in a program to deal with natural disasters. Evacuation would follow. It seems our computer has just moved on to the next logical step.”

“Let me guess. The base is no longer sealed, right?”

“Countermand that order.”

“I can’t. Our computer takes disaster scenarios very seriously. People trapped in closed corridors would drown.”

Below, the door to the minifin bay unlocked. Cass pushed Neri through, “Go, go!” Neri grabbed her dress from its hiding place and, not bothering to change, dived out the submarine port and was gone.

The water was still rippling when Louis appeared in the doorway. Cass gave him her best innocent look. “What is it? Another drill?”

“You’re supposed to be at your post!”

“Yeah whatever.”

“Anyone else here?”

“Nope.” Cass gestured at the empty room and the pool, lit from below by ORCA’s outside lights, and empty.

“Turn that off. There’s no emergency. This is just a stunt to unseal the base.”

“May I remind you you’re the one who overrode the computer when you could have come to me and gotten my cooperation? ORCA was near the epicenter of the earthquakes last year, and our safety protocols are correspondingly strict.”

That almost got him. Jason saw Shelby’s expression change, just a little, and wondered where he had been when the sky turned red and the world felt like it was ending. But Shelby didn’t quite blink. “Commander, when your little evacuation drill is over, we’re going to question these boys. And they are going to tell me everything.”


Neri’s shout was half fear, half delight at being home at last, in her own ocean. Charley blew an inquiring whistle and Neri tried to tell him—everything. A statue that spoke, another place with a burning sky, people who sounded… like but not like…

A rill of sound wrapped around her, Charley’s song of comfort.

There are enemies. I am being hunted. I do not know why.

In the pause, Neri heard the speech of a pod of dolphins and the distant wail of another humpback somewhere far to the east. Then Charley said thoughtfully, Maybe the pyramid…stone of your people… knows secrets.

A good idea. I ask.

The pyramid was silent, and seemed bigger inside this time. Neri stepped into the blue light of the main chamber. She glanced over at the wall where the gate was, then turned to the statue. “I need help. Speak to me.”

The statue rippled and the hologram stood up. She smiled, not at Neri but beyond her at whatever device had recorded her image sometime in the past.

“So it has come to pass. The hand that has touched the ankh is the hand of Neri. If you stand before me now, my daughter, you are ready to hear what must be said.”

“…daughter?” Neri whispered. She stepped back and sat suddenly on the stone step. And she heard—

A distant voice, choked with emotion, “She is your mother, Mera!” and footsteps splashed away. In another place Mera trembled and sat down on a branch. For a moment the two girls looked at each other across the space of a universe.


“Sister! I—”

And the connection between them faded, leaving Neri alone in the pyramid. The hologram spoke. “I am Shalamorn and you, Neri, are my firstborn. If you are hearing me now, the worst has happened. You have many tasks ahead of you if things are to be made right. A hard road awaits you, my child, but I will be here to guide you as much as I can.”

“You were born to serve our people, Neri.” The image sat, and blurred away becoming a lifeless statue once more.

“Mother?” Neri cried. She touched the statue again, but it didn’t react. “What does that mean?” No answer came. For a moment Neri was furious—that was no kind of answer! That didn’t help. Then from outside she heard Charley’s voice, the voice of something real.

“The underwater pyramid of the ancients.” Malakat savored the words.

He was speaking to a triangular window in the air. A gaunt, gray-haired man looked out of it. He said, “The people will ask, what use is that without the golden ankh? Pyramids we have.”

“The girl Neri will soon be in our hands, and the golden ankh will be ours.”

“I don’t need to remind you, sir, how urgent this is. If the chosen one discovers the power of the ankh…”

Shersheba snapped, “You dare to question our strategy Garron?”

“Of course not, princess.” Garron bowed and closed the communication window.

The princess tossed her black hair. “Fools! Leave them alone for a minute and their spines turn to jelly. Are our people so readily running to the side of their ‘little queen’?”

“Nevertheless he has a point about the ‘chosen one.’ If she discovers the power of the ankh…”

“You imagine Neri could be a match for me?”

“Not for a moment, highness.” Malakat said soothingly. He was thinking of the larger picture—one girl they could defeat, as long as she remained alone. But if the people of the ocean planet discovered their ‘chosen one’ of legend, or if the girl learned how to use the pyramid…

“Then let’s waste no more time. We leave tonight. I cannot wait to get out of this place.”

PRAXIS’ idea of questioning was to hook both boys up to a lie detector, complete with wires stuck on their heads. It was really embarrassing. Brett tilted his head. “Hey, I can hear… yep… Kiwi radio!” Jason snorted.

“This is obscene.” Was Dianne’s opinion.

“How can the truth be obscene, Commander?”

“Ok. The program’s installed. I’m getting some electronic interference- gimme your watch.”

Jason handed it over. “Can we get on with it?” He immediately regretted saying it. They should be stalling; downstairs Cass and Winston were frantically trying to talk the computer around and they needed all the time they could get. But Jason was spooked.

Paul Bates burst in. “What the hell? Get this stuff off them!”

“Ah, Mr. Bates. We haven’t met. Jake Shelby, and that’s Agent Hauser.”

“And I’m commander in chief of ORCA facilities, now let them go.”

Shelby shoved papers at him. “Full authorization, PRAXIS priority.”

Dianne caught her ex’s eye and shrugged helplessly. “Their authorization’s real.”

“It’s cool Dad. We can handle it.”

Jason rolled his eyes, “Yeah, we just weren’t expecting the Spanish inquisition.”

Shelby glared. “That’s enough out of both of you. Now, the truth. Names?”

“Jason Bates.”

The program dinged for a true reply.

“Now five me a false name.”

“Uh, John Cleese.”

“Wolverine.” Brett said.

Elly said, “System checks out for incorrect.”

“Good.” Shelby was hanging over the boys’ shoulders in true Spanish inquisition style. Now for your own sakes, let’s co-operate. Did you travel to Egypt?”


“How did you travel there?”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s telling the truth!” Elly said from where she was watching the readout.

“Let me see that!”

The two agents muttered to each other. Jason shrugged. Brett said, “I don’t know how either.” In case that confused things more. Sooner or later Shelby would get to the important questions and if the program was still working they’d be sunk.

“Ok. What did you see in Egypt?”

“It was hot. It was dry. I was thirsty.” Brett offered.

“There was a river.”

“Man, that was easily the biggest river I ever saw! Was that the Nile?”

“I think it was. Do they have any other rivers in Egypt?”

Brett opened his mouth to banter back but Shelby snapped, “Hold it! Now, you guys give me straight answers or we can continue this down at PRAXIS headquarters. You and your parents. For as long as is necessary. Do we understand each other? Now, where does the girl called Neri live?”

Jason and Brett glanced at each other considering whether to bring up the constitution and laws against kidnapping even by the government…

“Ahem. For the last time. Where does the girl Neri live?”

Please let Cass have done it… “We don’t know.”

There was a long pause. Then Shelby started, “You lying little…”

“They’re telling the truth.”

“No they’re not!”

Elly pointed at the screen, which registered a truthful answer. Both boys wilted with relief.

“Do you know a girl called Neri?”



“Truth again. Both of them.”

Paul stood up. “Right, you’ve got your answers. Enough of this.”

Jason stood up too, shedding diodes.

“Looks like you’re off the hook for now, but trust me, it’s only temporary.”

Dianne helped the two agents gather their gear, and not-so-politely showed them to the door. “I think this completes your business on board ORCA. You can leave on the next shuttle.”

“Yes. Get out.”

The entire family followed Shelby and Elly to their quarters where Dianne relieved them of their visitor passes. When the doors had closed she said, “HELEN, have they left anything in your system? Spyware?”

The computer thought for a minute. “Negative, Commander.”

“Then credit Doctor Seth a steak dinner and Cass Clayborn five ice creams.”


“Mum, permission to go find them and thank them in person?”

“Sure—and find out how they did that!” Dianne added as the boys raced away. She leaned against the wall for a second. “That was awfully close. I wonder how long we’ve got before they find an excuse to come back.”

“Enough time to make a plan anyway.” Paul said. Then his brain caught up with a question from a few minutes ago, “Hey wait—the veritas program is supposed to be uncrackable, do you seriously think Doctor Seth and that kid..?”

Dianne grinned. “Cass only works commission and charges an arm and a leg, but she’d be happy to optimize your system. Let’s decide what to do about PRAXIS first.”

Louis burst into the PRAXIS agents’ quarters. “The Bates have left ORCA in a helicopter.”

“Sharp work kid. But we’re way ahead of you.” Shelby pointed at his computer screen. “Northwest along the coast, heading for the river delta.”

“You put a bug in the helicopter?”

Shelby glanced at his partner. “Told you this kid’s got promise.”

“Could be. Come on, we’re due on the pontoon in five minutes to be kicked out of here.”

The helicopter set down at the top of a long driveway near the river. It was a ranch, a low brick house the same color as the red dirt around it. There was a barn and three horses in a pen. Brett said, “Nice!”

“Dad, how long have you had this place?” Jason asked, reaching up to help Neri out of the helicopter. She looked around and grinned.

“Surprised? I’ve been saving up for a while. I wanted the kind of place the family could get together for vacations.”

“Mum too?” Brett asked.

“That’s up to her.”

“Donkeys!” Neri chimed.

“Horses.” Jason corrected her. “Neri’s never seen horses before.”

“That’s what this farm’s all about.” Paul said, a bit uncomfortably.

“They are beautiful. This place is beautiful!”

Paul opened the screen door and showed the kids around. “Kitchen, bathroom’s through there. This is your room, boys.”

It was a nice room with two beds and a computer hookup.

“It’s ok.” Jason said.

“Brett, that’s your bed. Neri, guest room’s up the hall.”

Jason said, “Where’s whatsername sleep? Oh right, with you.”

Brett gasped and stepped away from his brother, distancing himself from the cruel words. Neri looked between them, not understanding.

The father winced and took a deep breath to speak as evenly as possible. “Jason, there is no ‘what’s-her-name.’ There was only ever one, and she broke it off when your mother found out. So Jason, please…”

Jason couldn’t quite make himself apologize, so he just looked away.

“Now, I’ve been called back to work immediately or sooner so I’ll have to leave you three here—I tried to stall, but the ORCA Two committee is having yet another crisis. You guys sit tight while your mom works on PRAXIS, and you should be able to go home in a week or so.”

“A week?”

“I’ll be back before then, we can go for a ride. In the meantime stay on the trails all right? And be careful on the waverunners, they’re borrowed from work and not really meant for shallow water. What else… emergency numbers, food… the money in my desk is for emergencies only, and only one or two pizza emergencies ok? What else…”

Neri had only noticed one part of that. “What is… ORCA two?”

Paul blinked at her, distracted. “Ah… it’s nothing yet. Building is scheduled to start in two years if we ever get all the issues ironed out. It’s going to be in America, near Hawaii.”

Neri nodded, looking thoughtful.

“Dad, quit worrying! We’ll be fine, we can figure it out. Get outta here.”

Things were better once the three of them were alone. Brett gave Neri a tour and lesson on how normal people live in normal houses. Neri was more interested in the horses. She watched them until dinner, then went out to watch them some more after it got dark.

Jason joined her, leaning on the fence. “You like ‘em?”

“They are pretty. Not like fish!”

“We can ride them. I saw saddles in the barn, and I think I remember how to put one on. I’ll show you tomorrow ok.”

“Mm.” Neri nodded. There was a silence filled only by the chirping of crickets, then Neri said, “Jason, why..?”

Jason sighed. “I fight with my Dad. I know you don’t understand. I’m sorry it upsets you.”

“No, I do not understand.”

“It’s hard to explain.”

“Jason I… went back to the pyramid. To the central chamber and the hologram came back. She was my mother.” Neri sobbed once, silently, and rested her head on Jason’s shoulder. Jason put his arm around her. It was awkward for a second. Then it wasn’t anymore.

They were still there a half hour later when Brett came out of the house. “There you guys are! Aw no—were you kissing? I’ll go back inside.”

Neri laughed. “Watching horses.”

“Yeah trust Neri to find sleeping horses interesting.” Jason said, but he said it kindly. “Hey Brett, the lady we saw in the pyramid, the hologram—she was Neri’s mum.”

Brett stopped in his tracks. Then he smacked himself in the forehead. “I’m an idiot!”

“Yeah, but why now particularly?”

Brett joined them at the fence, pulling himself up to sit on it. “Didn’t you think she looked kinda familiar? I did, but I couldn’t figure it out. She… looks like Mera, don’t you think?”

“Yes. She did.” The words blew away, into the night.