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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

12. Breathe

On ORCA, things were disintegrating. No one had slept, even when ordered into bed. Cass had blown up at Winston when he ordered her to take an hour off and eat, and then she’d fallen asleep at her terminal and been yelled at by Jason. He’d apologized a few minutes later and Cass forgave him.

“So why are we sitting around here like stupid frogs or something?”

“Because Winston might come up with a location for Neri at any moment.” Cass said.

“Yeah or maybe he won’t.”

Jason whirled, “Don’t say that!” He snapped.

Brett flinched. “Ok, so I said that badly. What I meant is, Malakat and Shersheba have got the ankh. We have to go after them.”

“Neri… could be dying.”

“You don’t have to tell me that! But we owe it to her to try and stop Shersheba. If she uses the ankh, the whole world is in big trouble.”

“Yeah Jase, you have to ask what Neri would want.”

“She wouldn’t be thinking about herself. She’d want us to stop them. We have to try.”

Outnumbered, Jason nodded. “Ok. Ok, let’s go. Cass?”

“Staying here to help Winston. Guys…” Cass shook her head, “We’ll find her.”

Jason nodded to her. The boys got their gear and headed down to the minifin. Brett programmed the route and Jason ran the usual pre-trip checks.

“Ok. Ready?”

“Yeah.” Brett keyed open the door and swung onto the ladder down to the minifin.

“What is the meaning of this?” Officer Danson asked from the door, “Well?” Louis was behind him.

“We weren’t going anywhere.” Jason said.

“Oh, ‘course not.” Brett was better at it. He smiled and waved at Louis.

Jason tried, “I left my access card in the minifin when we were out on exercises yesterday.”

“And I was gonna help him look for it.”

“Well, I’ll just wait here until you do.”

“Yes sir.”

Brett thought fast, “Pity about the French ambassador.”

“French ambassador?”

“Yeah, today. Mum’s in a real panic. Headquarters just hit her with it. She’s topside waiting for the chopper now.”

“Why wasn’t I told? Come on Louis. You two, the minifin is out of bounds!” Danson rushed out.

The two brothers looked at each other. “Good one Brett.”

“At least we didn’t leave him standing here. Let’s go.”

They dropped into the minifin and got it fired up. The hood of the sub sealed itself and they dropped out the bottom of ORCA.

Shersheba and Malakat surfaced inside the pyramid. The girl vaulted out of the water, carrying the golden ankh. “Follow me, Malakat.”

“As you wish, highness.”

At last, at last they had reached their goal! The pyramid of the ancients lay before them and now they had the key. Shersheba walked slowly, soaking it in. It was hers. Finally. In the central chamber she stood before the statue, holding the ankh, her eyes closed.

“Highness. It is time to grasp your destiny. Now, unleash the power of the ankh!”

“A moment, Malakat. I must feel the moment.”

“Time is of the essence, highness.” Malakat was starting to get annoyed.

“Be silent!” Shersheba snapped. “As princess of the royal blood I am communing with the spirits of the ancients, as laid out in the old laws. You should be reverent.” She closed her eyes again and sought within, hoping for some sign. Maybe at this final moment…


Then Malakat, exasperated, “For the love of the planet, highness!”

Shersheba snapped her eyes open. “The ancients have spoken. The moment is here.” She stepped forward and held the ankh above the keyhole where it plugged into the main panel. “Now…”

There was a sound of shoes on stone and Jason and Brett burst in. “Don’t!” Jason shouted, “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

Shersheba turned and smiled at them. “I’m glad you’re here to see this, Jason.”

“No!” Jason lunged, but Malakat drew a gun and Brett grabbed his brother.

“Jason, please. I have the power to destroy you both. Malakat–”

“Why bother, highness? Within minutes they’ll be your slaves.”

“That could be amusing.” Shersheba plugged in the ankh. The pyramid trembled.

The blue lights converged on the ankh and a glow swarmed between the stones of the pyramid. The image of Shalamorn appeared. She looked over their heads and spoke. “Neri, my daughter, if this is your hand then you have failed to prepare the ankh. You must go back and find the missing step. If this is the hand of another, return the ankh to its rightful possessor. It could cause great harm in the hands of another.” The hologram settled back and disappeared. Most of the lights went out.

Brett whispered, “Dissed.” Then louder, “You heard her! Give it back and get out or we’re all history!”

“But the queen would not have meant me! I too am a princess of the blood! There is—nothing—wrong with me!” Shersheba howled, grabbed the ankh and turned it by brute force.


“It’s only a hologram Malakat! She’s not real. She’s dead!”

The pyramid shook violently. Brett and Jason grabbed each other to stay upright. Everything started to spark, lightning crawled over the stones and the floor shuddered again. “Come on!” Jason grabbed Brett and they headed for the minifin.

Shersheba clutched the central console for support. “Why didn’t you tell me this was going to happen?”

“Because I did not know!” Malakat grated, “Highness, we must—“

Shersheba yanked the ankh out of the stone and they fled.

Neri lay still, breathing. Her body felt so heavy it was all she could do. Just one more breath. And another.

A woman’s face swam into view above her. “Mera? What is wrong?”

“Neri–” Mera gripped her guardian’s hand and reached—

No, my sister! I will not hurt you!


Over her sister’s cry, Neri heard the footsteps of the PRAXIS people gathering around her. Richter looked at all the instruments and said, “I take it this is not the result you were hoping for.”

“No. She has deteriorated further. I’m afraid conventional medicine has failed.”

“You’re just going to let her die?” Shelby said.

“Do we have any other options?”

“Well. The northern zone has been testing some revolutionary new life-prolonging drugs—with limited success. They’re known as clonozites.”

“Do we have access to them?” Richter asked immediately.

“Yes, but they’re experimental compounds, and very controversial. On an alien metabolism about which we know so very little… well, I wouldn’t like to contemplate what might happen.”

Richter said coldly, “Well if she’s going to die…”

Shelby bent down and put his face next to the alien’s. He could hear the rasp of her breathing, smell the foul chemical odor on her skin. “If you’re somehow faking it, now would be a good time to start co-operating. Like, crunch time.”

No response.

“All right Laviche, order the drugs. Immediately.”

When the boys checked the minifn back in HELEN said, “Welcome back. The commander would like to see you in your cabin.”

“Thanks HELEN.”

“So what now?” Brett asked as they walked through the halls of ORCA, “Something’s wrong with the ankh I guess, but how long will it take them to get it fixed?”

“Who knows?” Jason keyed open the door to their cabin. “Hey Mum, hey Cass. The icecaps aren’t melting yet; we have a little time to find Neri.”

Paul Bates was also there. Brett went to sit by his father. “Anything new from Winston?”

“No luck so far. But your father thinks he might have a lead on where they’re keeping her.”


“No guarantees, but there’s an old war defense bunker underneath PRAXIS headquarters. It’d be the ideal place to keep someone under wraps; the public doesn’t even know the place is there.”

“How do we get in? That’d be like storming the pentagon.”

“This might help.” Paul smiled and tossed a disk to Jason. “Architect’s blueprints of the PRAXIS headquarters. The builders worked off it when they were constructing the place.”

Cass goggled. “How’d you get this?”

“That’s classified.”

“Well, we’d better have a look at it.”

Shersheba sat on the edge of the swimming pool, brooding. “To be so close, Malakat. Only to have my destiny snatched away by the hand of a dead queen.”

Malakat sat working with his computer. He had a hologram of the ankh up, turning slowly in the air in front of him. “As you yourself said so memorably, just after you put us both in danger by turning the ankh, it was only a hologram.”

“Why didn’t you know the ankh needs to be prepared—whatever that means? What does it mean?”

“I have no idea, yet.” Malakat dipped his fingers in the hologram as if that would help him figure it out. “It was one thing I hadn’t anticipated. The queen was a worthy opponent.”

“So, what do you propose we do now?”

Malakat didn’t answer. He fiddled with his computer, looking at the ankh from several angles, then extreme closeup and composition scan. “Yes!”

Shersheba turned to look.

“I think I have it. The molecular structure of the ankh has been changed. It needs to be re-energized before it will synch with the pyramid.” The image of the ankh glowed and its color changed to a red-gold.

“Can you do it here?”

“Unfortunately it requires a technology beyond my reach on this planet.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

Malakat sighed. “Queen Shalamorn and her confederates… they must have provided the chosen one with a means of energizing the ankh. But what form would it take?”

The PRAXIS doctor filled two scarily large syringes with different colored liquids. “I insist my doubts go on record.” She told Shelby, who stood watching. “You are to witness, I cannot be held responsible if the subject does not survive.”

“But if it works, you’ll accept all the honors right?”

“On behalf of PRAXIS, of course.”

“So let’s not waste any time then.”

The door opened and Elly Hauser came in. “Oh Neri… there’s no improvement?”

“Not yet.”

“You’re coming into this a little late Hauser. We’re already well into the next stage.”

“What next stage?”

“Northern zone’s latest little cocktail.”

“Clonozites? You can’t risk those drugs on an alien metabolism. You’re not here to experiment!”

“I have my orders.” The doctor dismissed her concern.

“You know the research. You could kill her.”

“She’s dying anyway.”

“Where’s Richter?” Elly made for the door.

Shelby blocked her. “You’re getting emotionally involved with the subject, Hauser.”

“The subject saved my life!”

“So? We’re intelligence agents. We get orders, we follow orders. Richter’s already given this the go-ahead.”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen!” Elly ducked under his arm and away.

“Well that’s the bunker. But no way of getting in without an army.”

“Not through the front gate anyway.” Cass whistled softly. The whole group crowded around the blueprints, projected on HELEN’s biggest screens.

“There has to be a way.”

“Yeah. There has to be. What’s this down here?” Cass pointed, “That’s an elevator shaft and the blue, water supply. So where’s the water coming from Winston?”

“Good question. Looks like… a nearby reservoir. And this is the aqueduct, PRAXIS’ lifeline. Designed to provide the bunker with enough water to last for years.”

“They’re prepared for world war three in there.”

“You know…” Winston started to smile, “It occurs to me it may be possible to hack into their pumping system, opening the valves and increasing the flow by thousands of gallons. In theory, flooding the whole facility!”

“Yes! We could get in and Neri could swim out!”

“It would give her an advantage, yes. Neri is at home in an aquatic environment, while the PRAXIS agents would be unprepared.’

“That’s quite a task.” Paul said, “Even for a HELEN 3000.”

Cass smirked. “Just give us ninety minutes with HELEN and we’ll have all of PRAXIS swimming!”

“It could work!” Dianne said quickly.

“We’ll make it work. You take us there, we go in and bring her out.”

“You and Brett? Forget it. These are dangerous people, what kind of father would I be if I let you try this?”


“You’re right, Paul. It’s crazy I suppose, no, I know it’s crazy. But Neri is like my own daughter. Paul… please?”

“She could die in there Dad.” Jason said quietly, “This is our only chance. Are you with us or not?”

“I warned you. The subject is fading away from us.” The doctor reported.

Elly touched the alien’s brittle hair. “How long?”

“The specimen’s mind may soon be beyond our reach. The body, however, may linger for some time.”

Elly shouldn’t have been surprised, but the words made her gasp. “I can’t believe this– this brutality! It’s cold-blooded. It’s inhumane.”

“Hauser, we’re not dealing with a human.”

“She’s out of her environment. Take her somewhere she can swim!”

“Oh, so she can try and escape again? Sure.”

“I hear what you’re saying, Agent Hauser. But keeping the subject alive is sufficient for our purposes at this time. I trust that is understood.”

Elly touched the girl’s cheek. The girl’s lips were cracked, her skin so discolored it looked like it might slough off. “Can you hear me Neri? You’ve got to keep fighting!”

Neri couldn’t hear her. It was all she could do to breathe.

Ninety minutes later Cass had written a program to, as she put it, “utterly and fatally screw with the water system.” Winston had gotten HELEN to talk to the regional server, and then directly to the computer in control of the PRAXIS building.

But they couldn’t send the code.

“Ok, try her again. The guys must be almost there!”

“HELEN, re-execute, command.” Winston said. The screen in front of him showed connection—then a block. HELEN’s voice said, “Repeat, request denied. Instruction breaches section 173 of the safety and security code.”

Dianne came in, “Any luck?”

“For once I find myself totally defeated.”

“Government antihacking code—it’s not supposed to apply to us!”

“Fifteen year old geniuses are exactly who it’s supposed to apply to.” Winston muttered.

“There’s always the reserve override powers.”

A call came in. “Approaching target area.” Paul said, “Do we have a reading yet?”

“Standby Paul. HELEN, section 173 override by order of commander.”

There was a second of computer thinking noises, then, “Commander’s override accepted.”

“Please comply with the previous order, HELEN.”

The annoying block message vanished from the screen. Winston cheered. “Here we go!”

“Are you there Paul? Information loading now.”

“Message received. We’re closing in on target.”

“You’ve got five minutes.”

“Ok.” Paul pulled the van into some trees and parked. In the back, Jason and Brett were getting into their suits and checking airtanks. “We’re in position Dianne. Whenever you’re ready.”

They listened, in the van and on ORCA, as HELEN ran a countdown. “Three, two, one. Valve released.”

Under PRAXIS, all the locks released at once. Water poured in. Brett and Jason dived into the reservoir.

Inside the building an alarm was sounding and the computer relayed an evacuation order. Agents and scientists ran back and forth, trying to get their data to safety before the place flooded.

“Neri. Neri, can you hear me?” Elly fumbled to get the sensors unhooked from the girl’s body.

“Hauser, leave her! Get out of here!”

“Neri you’ve got to wake up…”

Shelby grabbed her, “What are you waiting for! Come on!”

“I can’t leave her!” Elly yanked free and went back to Neri.

“Hauser! …fine. Your funeral.” Shelby fled for the stairwell as the evacuation order sounded again.

Maybe he actually cared. Maybe not. Elly flinched as she slid needles from Neri’s wrists. “Wake up!” She said under her breath, “come on, please! This is your chance to escape. Nobody’s here to stop you. The place is filling with water. Water, Neri!”

Neri’s head turned and she looked at Elly with clouded eyes.

“Right! Water. Let’s go.” She tried to life Neri, but the girl’s body was dead weight, and finally she rolled the whole cot down the hall. She reached the elevator and frantically pushed the button. Just then the power went out.

“No…” Elly looked around frantically. There. ‘In case of emergency.’ A crowbar. She grabbed it and levered the elevator open.

Dark water came boiling up the shaft.

Elly pulled Neri up, wrapped her arms around the limp body—and tipped them both into the water. The cold shocked. They went under, came up. Elly grabbed a loop of cable. “Try to hold on. Neri, please try!” She’d counted on the girl waking up, but Neri lay against her too weak to move. “Can I let you go? Will you drown? I’ll drown!” Panic rose.

When the water lit up Elly nearly screamed. Then two heads broke the surface. Jason Bates spit out his mouthpiece and said, “Give her to us!”


“You want to save her don’t you?”

Neri moved her hand, just a little, reached out towards Jason. He put his mouthpiece back in, pulled her away from Elly, and dived.

“And get out of here!” Brett said before he vanished too.

The two boys came out of the water, carrying Neri between them. Paul saw her and said, “Oh god.” Neri looked—like she was dying. But he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the van. “Well done guys. Come on Neri.”

Paul started the motor and hit the call button. “Dianne? Operation successful. But she looks—really bad.”

In the back, Brett and Jason cradled Neri, giving her sips of water and wiping her face with a wet cloth. Neri didn’t answer them. She lay silent, leaning her ruined face on Jason’s chest.

On ORCA Jason sat in the shower, holding Neri so the water flowed over her skin. By the time the water reached the drain it had turned an oily brown.

“Jason?” Cass asked from the door.

“She’s not waking up. I don’t know what else to do.”

“Winston wanted a sample of the water to analyze. Maybe it’ll help us figure out why Neri’s so sick.” Cass squeezed into the room and filled a vial of water. She looked swiftly at Neri’s face and shuddered. “I’m sure she’ll be all right.”

When the water ran out, Jason laid Neri on the big bed and he and Dianne sat holding her hands and talking to her.

Winston came in, looking grave. “HELEN found several toxic chemicals in the water. I’m afraid any medicine we give her would only make it worse. Neri isn’t only suffering from dehydration. She’s suffering from poisoning.”

“HELEN’s medical program didn’t suggest..?” Dianne asked.

Winston handed over his reports. “Trying to read between the lines of a report based on earthly biology… I hope you find something I did not.” He bent down to stroke Neri’s hair. “Hang on, Neri. Stay with us.”

With nothing else they could do, they waited as night fell. The boys sat with Neri and talked to her. Brett said that tomorrow he’d go get plants from the island and maybe they could make medicine out of them. Cass brought dinner but nobody ate much of it. Paul Bates looked through his contact list in a futile search for a doctor they could summon.

And sometime in the night Neri let out a long breath like a sigh, and did not breathe again. Jason realized first. He shook Neri, and called her name, and tried to breathe air into her.

At last Paul pulled his son back. “Jason it’s no good. It’s too late. She’s gone.”

Everyone stood stunned. Cass started to cry. Dianne held Neri’s wrist, feeling for a pulse, then turned away and sobbed. Winston quoted, “The moon vanishes… the forest falls silent.”

And the world had ended.