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

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

11. Captive

Shelby and Richter were gloating. It was a bit nauseating.

The alien hadn’t said a word since they brought her in and locked her in this little cell, just sat and looked around her with wide eyes that didn’t seem to register what was going on. Elly was starting to wonder if, against all evidence, she really didn’t speak English.

Then a PRAXIS nurse said, “We’d like some of your blood for testing.” And the alien held out her arm politely. Elly thought, She’s done this before. Then, Dianne Bates is a marine biologist. Of course she investigated Neri! What idiots we’ve been not to think of that!

The alien looked up and saw Elly watching. She didn’t smile. Then Richter and Shelby came in, the Director saying, “This physical report is incomplete.”

Elly joined them as Shelby said, “Well you couldn’t expect me to… I mean…”

“Nonsense Shelby. We don’t know its species even has a nudity taboo.” And Richter grasped the bottom of the girl’s dress. Elly gasped. She hadn’t realized they were talking about—“Hey!” she began.

Richter made a surprised grunt.

The alien had grabbed his wrist and was looking at him straight with an expression that—it was the same expression any girl would give a guy she caught trying to look up her dress, equal parts disbelief and disgust.

And Richter couldn’t pull his hand away.

Elly said, “I think we can safely say her people have a nudity taboo. If you really need a complete physical I’ll do it, later.”

Richter finally nodded and the alien released him, settled her hands in her lap, and went back to staring at nothing. The men stepped back. Shelby looked a bit stunned. They muttered agreement about ‘later’ and backed off fast. Elly followed. She looked back at Neri and murmured, “Where did you learn that?”

The girl gave her a brief, brittle grin and said, “Vanessa.”

Elly started. But there were two nurses in the room, and guards, and Shelby. None of them had noticed.

Back on ORCA, Paul finally got past the three receptionists and got a call in to PRAXIS hq. It had taken half an hour and now Richter was not being helpful.

“Neri? I can’t say I’ve heard of any Neri.”

“She was picked up yesterday by two of your agents.”

“No. In any case, what our agents do is strictly classified. You know that.”

Paul said patiently, “I was there when she was kidnapped.”

Richter sighed. “Stick to oceanographic research, Commander. I’m told you’re very good at it.” He hung up.

Paul ruffled his hair. “Well that appears to be that.”


“Yeah, well, they’d have to deny it. It’s illegal—kidnapping, like you said Dad.”

“PRAXIS is apparently outside the law.” Dianne said, “So, what next?”

“I try my usual contacts. External affairs. Interpol. All the big guns. Rumor has it PRAXIS itself has a parent organization somewhere in the UK, maybe they’ll listen to us.”

“And we can listen to their communications—Cass won’t leave, I have to take a turn so she can go to the bathroom—maybe we’ll pick up a clue to where Neri is.” Brett patted his mother awkwardly on the shoulder.

“Just… that could take forever. I wish we could get a message to her, some sort of comfort.”

“Don’t worry Mum, Neri won’t give up! We’ll figure something out.” Brett gave the rest of his family a look pleading for support. Paul just looked nervous. Ex-wife, off limits for comforting.

“Yeah, well there’s one thing I can do for her.” Jason held up the golden ankh, “I’m gonna hide this. Somewhere Malakat and Shersheba will never find it.”

“You cannot stay silent forever. We must communicate.” It was one of PRAXIS’ doctors, a woman who smelled like makeup. She hadn’t been cruel, just—distant, as if she was working on a doll. Neri glanced at her, then away. “Well, whatever it takes.”

Shelby was waiting outside the cell, looking in through the window. It was mirrored on the in side, but the alien seemed to know what it was and she kept her back turned to it.

“Tried using a truth serum?”

“I don’t think that would be advisable.”

“We want facts, Doctor, the A to Z of life on another planet.”

“We can’t be sure what effects a truth serum would have on alien biology. They’re not completely predictable when used on humans.” The doctor said.

“Well there’s no harm in trying.” Was Shelby’s opinion.

“And if it makes her ill, or causes some adverse reaction? Psychosis? Mania?”

Shelby shrugged. “Then we restrain her.”

Really, HELEN could have monitored PRAXIS communications and paged someone when anything interesting was transmitted. That didn’t matter. Cass wanted someone on the scene, monitoring every message. And since she wouldn’t leave the computer hub, everyone gathered there.

Paul sent a message down from the cabin: “Nothing yet. Still trying.” Appeared as a popup on the screen.

“Charley’s yelling like crazy.” Jason said, “Your replacement’s going nuts, mum, trying to figure out what all the whalesong is about. But he’s just swimming in circles. I’m sure he’d have tried to lead me to Neri if he knew where she was.”

Dianne nodded. “Right. The ankh is safe?”

“Yeah. Hid it when I tried to talk to Charley. I just checked my boat and scuba gear back in.”

Winston was sitting at another terminal, trying to help the search and also do enough work to keep them all out of trouble. “I have some information—nothing pertinant to the problem at hand though.”

“What then?”

“The golden ankh. I took the liberty of having HELEN run a quick scan while you had it here. Don’t worry, I can delete all records instantly if need be.”

Jason looked over his shoulder at the picture of the ankh on the screen. “Cool. So what did you find?”

“Well for one thing, it is not actually made of gold.”

“It isn’t?”

“No. Some sort of silica compound. It’s clearly a computer component; I’m thinking some sort of molecular key that grants access to… something.”

“Yeah that fits with what Malakat said.”

Brett guessed, “So it’s like the commander’s keys that Mum has, so she’s the only one who can activate emergency whatevers?”

“Protocols.” Dianne said absently.

Winston nodded, “Yes. A very good analogy, Brett. However, the ankh also seems able to recognize genetic code, which explains how you say it came out of the stone for Neri. And most interesting of all… well, I’m extrapolating from HELEN’s conclusions, but it’s possible the ankh is alive. Silicon-based life. Could it be that the people of the ocean planet grow their computers?”

There was a second’s silence, then Winston shook himself. “Well, I can ask Neri when she returns. Back to the business at hand, does anyone know of a way we might contact Mera for help? Did she leave any kind of communicator?”

Jason shook his head. “There’s no way. And even if we could it would take her weeks to come here from the ocean planet. We don’t know how long Neri has.”

The alien hadn’t fought when she was injected with the truth serum, but soon after she’d lain down on her side and shivered and panted, obviously in pain. Hadn’t said a word when Shelby questioned her. She had whimpered a little. After an hour she’d seemed to fall asleep and Shelby had given up and come storming out to demand something stronger from the doctors. They’d refused him on the grounds that drug interactions were dangerous enough in humans.

About then, Elly got back from her hour off. She entered the cell and waved the guard off, “It’s ok, I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“Hey, are you all right?” Came out of her mouth before she could think. She’d left their captive sitting up looking around, now the girl lay flat and her beautiful eyes were glazed.

No answer, of course.

“Um, I… came to thank you for saving my life. That’s all, I’m afraid.”

The girl’s lips moved. “Water.”

“I’m sure we can manage that.” Elly fled.

Outside Shelby asked, “Did you get anything out of her?”


“Very disappointing, Doctor.”

The doctor stood with her arms folded. “Actually verbal language is less important than the physiological data we need to collect. The subject’s highly economical use of oxygen, for example. The complex inner-ear structures that could conceivably pick up sounds both above and below the range of human hearing. And it seems able to shed toxins through its skin…”

“Fascinating I’m sure, from a medical point of view. We need names, dates, facts.”

“Yes, in due course. But first we must consider the biological and commercial possibilities inherent in this specimen.”

Elly blinked, “Commercial?”

“Its dna is very similar to human; we may be able to graft some of its characteristics into human subjects. The technology is on the way and if PRAXIS had exclusive rights to the process…”

“Neri is not an ‘it,’ Doctor! She’s not a specimen, she’s a living, compassionate being!”

“You’re outta line, Hauser.” Shelby said out of the corner of his mouth.

“I don’t care!”

“But I do, agent.” Richter said from behind her. “It means you’re getting personally involved with the investigation.”

“All I want is for Neri to be treated with some decency and respect! She’s… just a kid, sir.”

Richter looked down his nose. “I think you need some time off young lady, and the sooner the better.”

Paul’s hair stood up as if he’d been running his hand through it many times in the last few hours. “I’ve tried every diplomatic channel. They’re giving me the full time runaround.”

“PRAXIS don’t answer to diplomats Dad, you’re wasting your time.”

“That’s enough Jason, your father’s doing everything he can to–”

“No, no, he’s right. To a degree, PRAXIS is a law unto itself and to beat them we may have to sink to their level.” Paul turned and pulled something up on the computer screen.

“What, what is it?”

“Probably nothing. Cass got this.”

The screen showed a password lock and HELEN reported aloud, “The information you have requested of PRAXIS facilities worldwide is protected. A password is required.”

“Anybody got any ideas?”

Paul said, “The PRAXIS cabin here on ORCA! Has anybody searched that?”

Brett and Dianne shared a look. “Um, no dad! Let’s check it out!” He grabbed Jason and Winston and made for the door.

Winston waved, “Excellent thinking sir! The raven must look for wisdom from the owl.”

Paul waved the door back open, “Winston, I don’t suppose you’d care to explain that one?”

Winston opened his mouth to reply, but was dragged away.

Paul turned to his ex. “What’s with that guy? The way he talks, you’d think we were all in a zoo.”

“Well maybe he has a point. …Oh never mind Paul. You always were a bit literal minded.”

“Um, Dianne? I was wondering, you and Doctor Seth, you aren’t..?”

He had to wait while she figured out what the question was. Then he had to wait while she laughed. “Wondered when you’d ask. I should probably be insulted but that’s just so… Winston’s like a brother, Paul, that’s all. He’s never been interested and neither have I. And I am going to tell him you asked.”

While a totally embarrassed Paul tried to think what to say to that, Dianne stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Your hard work, and for making me laugh.” And she walked off to at least put in an appearance on the bridge while she tried to think of what to do next.

It had hardly been any time, but Neri looked much worse. Her eyes were sunken, almost swollen closed, and dark bruises had appeared on her face. Elly lifted the girl’s head and held a cup of water to her lips.

“Just water. Nothing funny in it.”

Neri drank, but she didn’t look up.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Shelby gestured at the cup and the pitcher of purified water.

“Neri needs water or she’ll die.”

“Yeah, and I need my cornflakes every morning or I get very agro but I’m not about to pull the plug am I?”

Elly turned so fast she almost smacked him accidentally. “I’m sorry, but I fail to see the connection between your breakfast and her condition! Look at her Shelby, she’s sick!”

Shelby didn’t look. “You got up Richter’s nose this morning, you know. He’s going to be watching you like a hawk from now on. And me!”

“I said what I felt.”

“Intelligence agents do not say what they feel. And this—you need clearance to interfere with the subject in any way. Ok, this will be your call, on your head. But as for you and me working as partners for the long haul, kiddo, include me out!” Shelby keyed open the door and stepped out.

Elly, so angry she could hardly speak, grabbed the door and snapped, “Don’t call me kiddo. Ever.”

The door closed. The woman turned back, and two angry tears splashed on Neri’s hand.

“I’m sorry. I know you don’t believe me, you’re probably not even listening, but I didn’t think you’d be hurt. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt. I can’t help you, but…” she filled the glass again.

“Try one-six-zero.” Winston said.

“Why?” Cass asked without looking up from her screen.

“Because it’s the cubed root of 4,096,000.”

“That’s a reason?”

“And it’s also listed as a PRAXIS access code but it’s obviously much too long. What did you get Cass?”

“I think it’s… locations of agents all over the world. Mostly just initials or codenames. I’ll file it for later. What else you got?”

Just then HELEN’s computer voice said, “Officer Jason Bates, a personal call for you. A Miss Shersheba.”

“Great.” Said Jason. “I’ll take it in quarters, HELEN. You guys keep trying!”

Upstairs Jason caught his breath and answered the call. Shersheba smiled at him. “I just called to make you an offer.”

“I’m very busy, Shersheba.”

“I’m sure you’ll be interested in this. Neri’s freedom in exchange for the golden ankh?”

“Neri is being held by PRAXIS.”

“Is she? Let me show you something.” The picture changed. Jason saw Neri lying on a cot, way too still. “PRAXIS no longer have Neri, Jason. We have, ah, rescued her. But she’s very sick, perhaps even dying. If you don’t hand over the ankh I can’t guarantee her future.”

“…What do you want?”

“There’s a beach on the mainland, at the south end of the promontory. I’ve sent you the coordinates. Be there in four hours—with the ankh—and we will release Neri. Otherwise, you may never see her alive again.”

The call closed. Jason let himself stagger back two steps. Then he slammed out of the room back to the others.

“I don’t like it.” Was Cass’s response.

“Me neither. But what choice do we have? She looked… really bad.”

Jason’s voice made everyone pause. Winston rallied and asked, “Are you sure they have Neri?”

“I saw her didn’t I? If we don’t give them the ankh, they’ll let her die.”

“But Neri sacrificed herself to keep the ankh out of their hands.”

Jason scowled at them. “Yeah, well if it’s between Neri’s life and some… thing, there’s no choice at all.” Jason stormed out.

Brett followed, calling, “Jase! Better idea here—whoa!” he nearly fell over the mail cart.

“Hey, slow down you two.” Said the woman pushing it, “And you have mail. Special delivery from the mainland, someone was in a hurry to get this to you.” She handed Jason a small box.

“Thanks Naoko.” Jason said distractedly.

“What is it?”

“It’s from Patti.” Jason pulled paper off a box and opened it. His eyes went wide.

“Ok, that… is weird.” Said Brett.

A minute later, back in the computer room, Cass held up their gift and whistled. “It’s perfect. How did she do it?”

Winston unfolded the note and read aloud, “Saw this in a dream. A lady said you’d need it. Trippy huh? So I made it. I guess you guys can use it as a paperweight. P.S. Mum says the gold paint is tacky.”

“Well.” Said Jason, “I guess we’re ready to meet Shersheba.”

Elly fetched the doctor. The woman ran a scanner over Neri’s body. “Huh. Weakening. Perhaps due to a lack of sunlight.”

“Surely it wouldn’t hurt to give her a little fresh air.”

“That’s strictly against Director Richter’s orders.”

“You’re telling me, as a doctor, you’re prepared to stand by and watch as she wastes away to nothing?”

“I’m telling you, as a doctor, Agent Hauser, that I’m committed to my duty to PRAXIS. The subject will not be leaving this bunker until we know everything there is to know about her. Then she will be paraded before the media of the world as a PRAXIS triumph.”

“She can scarcely be paraded if she’s dead, doctor.”

The boat coasted up to the beach. “Be ready for anything.” Jason said.

“No worries.” Brett said, but he sounded worried. “Ok, there they are.”

Up slope, Malakat stood restraining a female figure in a tattered dress. Jason took a deep breath and hopped out of the boat into knee-deep water. He splashed up to the beach and held the golden ankh up so it flashed in the sunlight, then he set it in the sand.

Malakat released the girl, who came slowly down the cliff. She ran across the beach—and scooped up the ankh, looking up to grin at the boys.


“I knew it! I knew it!”

Jason restarted the motor and they fled.

“It feels so good. So good.” Shersheba cuddled the ankh against her face. She pulled off the wig and shook out her own black hair.

“Princess Shersheba. May I?” Malakat held out his hands.

“A touch only, Malakat. This is not meant for a man.”

Malakat took the ankh and turned it over in his hands, smiling his barracuda grin. Suddenly his face darkened. He looked closer—then flung the ankh against the wall where it broke in pieces.

Shersheba wailed. “Malakat, have you gone mad?”

“It is a fake!”

“No, you’re wrong!” She picked up the pieces and couldn’t help but see the ankh was red clay inside. She shrieked again and flung the pieces away from her.

Malakat was already planning. “These children are clever. But we know they have the real ankh…”

“In other words, we are back where we started. I am going to get out of this disgusting dress. By the time I return, I trust you will have an idea how we should proceed.”

“Well, the fake worked at least for a minute. And I’m sure I heard yelling as we left.” Brett tried to look on the bright side.

“But I don’t understand. Why go to the trouble of dressing up Shersheba?”

Jason sighed. “Because you were right before, Winston. They must not have the real Neri.”

“But you saw her on screen.”

“Well… help me out here. What if they hacked into PRAXIS? Security footage maybe, images of Neri wherever they’re holding her.”

Cass and Winston both lit up and ran to the terminal. “Yes!”

“If they can do it we can do it!”

“Hack into PRAXIS? But you’ve been spending all day trying to get past their data protection.”

“A new thought. We discovered a code top access their medical records. Yes, here. Today’s date. Subject female, age approximately eighteen, atypical oxygen metabolism.”

“Must be Neri.”

“Where? Does it say where?”

“Working on it.” Winston scrolled down the page, “Cass, does this designation mean anything to you?”

The boys drooped.

“Well… I guess we’re one step closer.”

After a lot of yelling Elly had gotten permission to take the alien outside for a few minutes. The girl leaned against the wall of the elevator as if she could hardly stand up. Her skin was clammy and mottled, the veins showing up dark. Elly had to help her walk out into the sunlight.

“See? It’s a lovely day. I’m afraid we don’t have long.” Elly helped the girl sit down on a bench in the shade and settled next to her. “Feeling better?”

Neri took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes. Thank you for helping me.”

“It’s ok. I really am sorry.”

The girl looked at her in confusion, “If you are sorry, why you keep me here?”

“I have to. It’s my job to do what Richter says, whether or not I want to. You don’t understand that, do you?”

Neri shook her head slightly and slid down to sit on the ground. She looked up at Elly, then out at the ocean beyond a chain link fence and a long hill.

“I have a masters in astronomy—I learned about the stars in school. That’s why I joined PRAXIS—to get closer to those stars. If I can’t see another world, maybe I could meet someone who had. But.”

A pair of guards came out of the building, “Ok, time to go in.”

Elly turned to them to ask for more time and–

Neri was suddenly halfway up the fence and climbing. The guards grabbed her and dragged her down. Her face was anguished as she was taken back inside.

Shelby had also arrived. He frowned. “The subject almost got away. Happy? You’re in a lot of trouble, kiddo. From now on, no special treatment.”

That evening, banished from work and back in her own apartment, Elly ran a check on ORCA personnel with the first name Vanessa. Five were listed, only one under the age of eighteen during her time on ORCA. Vanessa Lane, the file reported, currently aged twenty and employed as a hairdresser in an exclusive and very expensive salon.

Elly checked the website, not sure what she was looking for. The first thing she noticed was an add, “Free color streaks with your proof of donation to Save the Whales, Barrier Reef Preservation, Ecotourism International or…” and a list of conservation groups. Hardly an unusual thing to see; most businesses did promotions like that. Part of living near one of the World’s Threatened Natural Wonders. But Elly had to wonder…

Without ever fully articulating the thought, Elly decided it couldn’t possibly be true, and was much too silly to mention to anyone.

The day ended. Cass and Winston ate dinner in the computer hub, trying to decode anything useful on the PRAXIS computer. Brett helped until he fell asleep on a keyboard. Jason paced the cabin until Dianne ordered him to bed, or else.

Louis was awakened by a hand over his mouth. He jumped.

“Ssh!” Shersheba whispered, “Get dressed. Meet me in the submarine port.”

Ten minutes later a yawning Louis arrived. “How did you get here?”

“Never mind that. I need to know where the Bates boys have been today and yesterday.”

“Mm. There was a lot of coming and going. Jason had the minifin out earlier.”

“Where did he go?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, can you find out?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Losing patience Shersheba snapped, “Maybe’s not good enough. I need to know!”

“Hang on…” Louis climbed down the ladder into the minifin. He hit a few buttons. “Here. This should be a log of the trip.”

Shersheba looked at the map on the screen. “Louis, you’re a genius.”

The boy climbed out of the minifin. “Well if that’s what you wanted, can I go back to bed? …Miss Shersheba?”

He looked around. The submarine port was empty, the pool rippling a little.

Morning. Shelby and Richter watched the alien sleep. She’d been hooked up to a brainwave monitor, blood pressure gauge, and a half dozen other machines delivering her vital statistics to the PRAXIS main computer.

The doctor said, “I’ll have to give her medicine before she reaches the point of no return.”

“But if she does?”

“We have been compiling large amounts of data.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“If the subject dies, she will still have made a significant contribution to medical science.”

Neri was in too much pain to really sleep. Her skin felt tight and cracked. She dreamed of somewhere dark but somehow baked by the outback sun. Dreamed of being lost there. Looking for a way back to the weightless blue of the sea and friends whose gaze did not hurt.

Jason got down to the computer hub early, but Winston was already there, hard at work with his hair still wet from the shower he’d stolen time for.

“Hey, did you sleep at all?”

Winston tried to grin, “Ah, sleep is for tortoises.”

“Find anything?”

“Sadly no. There are any number of PRAXIS facilities from which that report could have originated. So far, I have no idea which.”

A beeping startled them. “The ankh!” Jason said, “That’s the transmitter I put on it. It’s moving.”

“The tide?”

“It’s too deep for tidal movement. Somebody’s taking it. Just what we needed.”

Shersheba walked out of the ocean, the golden ankh shining in her hand. She held it up, waved to Malakat who waited on the balcony, and laughed.