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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

16. The Newcomer

The boys were getting breakfast when Cass pinged Brett’s watch. “Come down here when you have food—hey, and bring me some!”

“You got it.” Jason said, bending down to get his mouth close enough to the microphone.

The boys got food and took the elevator down to the computer hub. HELEN let them in.

“Hey Cass, here’s your breakfast.”

“Cass when was the last time you were in your quarters?”

“I sleep there.” Cass snagged a bagel, squeezed jelly onto it, and took a giant bite. She said indistinctly, “I’b been ‘ecording PRAXISh again. Listen to this.”

She started a recording. There was a little crackling then Richter’s voice said, “Agent Shelby, in view of recent developments surrounding the ORCA facility, I sent an agent to speak with one Doctor Joseph Hellegren, head of the company in charge of the ‘ORCA city’ plan that failed so dramatically last year. Emerson conducted the interview.”

Jason and Brett looked at each other in horror. Brett began, “That’s all we need!”


From the computer Shelby said impatiently, “And? What did you learn?”

An unfamiliar voice that must have been Emerson snapped, “Nothing! I got an earful of complaint about the previous commander, the entire crew of ORCA, and the weather. And his creepy white-haired kid stared at me the whole time.”

Cass turned off the recording and she and Brett laughed their heads off. Jason just said in a shocked voice, “He covered for us. Hellegren.”

“I guess the guy really is sorry for all the trouble he caused.”

“Cass, when did you record this?”

“’Bout half an hour ago. Morning briefing or something.” A call window opened in front of Cass and she said, “Hi Lena.” Without looking.

“Guys, what the hell?” Lena whispered, leaning close to the camera. “The flippin’ men in black were at my house!”

“Yeah we know. Where are you?”

“Library at school. I was afraid home might be bugged. Father says PRAXIS is bad news—they’re global union’s taskforce for the weird on Australia. If they’re on to Neri you guys have to be really careful.”

“We know.” Cass said grimly.

Lena looked around furtively. “Can’t talk at school. Call if you need me—I can get a boat!” A teacher loomed and the call cut off.

Cass finished anyway, “You moved to Darwin! …well how’s she going to get here even with a boat?”

Brett shook his head. “I’m not sure whether to laugh or what.”

“I say we just be thankful we don’t have another problem on our hands. Hey Cass—we’re going out to the island. If Lena calls back, play that clip for her and tell her thanks ok?”

“Right. And tell Mera hi for me! If she wants to visit she can have one of my spare uniforms.”

On the island the two girls sat together on fallen trees. As the boys walked up, Mera was saying, “I knew Malakat and Shersheba would return to Earth, but I did not know it would be so soon. They must have left the moment they learned I escaped their commandoes.”

“Yeah well, forget Malakat and Shersheba. We’ve got bigger problems. PRAXIS is back.”

“PRAXIS?” Mera asked as she scooted over to give Brett a seat.


“They’re intelligence operatives—spies. They investigate alien activity and their main aim is to catch one. They got hold of Neri and nearly killed her, in fact they think they did.”

Mera was watching her sister’s suddenly clouded expression. “But if they think she’s dead, why are they returning?”

“We think they picked up Shersheba’s arrival. Maybe yours too, though your ship was pretty small. Neri, the thing is, they’ll be looking for whoever arrived in those ships. So you and Mera have to be careful.”

“But we’ll be safe on the island won’t we?”

Jason grimaced. “I don’t know. They haven’t located it yet but they could at any time. Maybe it’s best if you went somewhere else just until we figure things out. The mainland maybe. At least there, if anything happens you can get lost in a crowd. Froggy works at a marina, and I bet he has a spare couch.”

Neri chimed, “No. We stay on island. It is my home.”

“But Neri–”

“Island is safe.” Neri said flatly, and turned away from him.

“For the continuation of Operation Sphinx, you will use ORCA as your main field headquarters. Our authority gives you full access to their facilities. You’ll begin the search immediately. I want every inch of the surrounding ocean scanned for any signs of alien activity.”

“Yes sir.” Shelby said with relish.

“And the Bates boys, the commander’s sons that tried to protect the female subject. Lean on them. Find out exactly what they know.”


“We’ve compared the recent signals with others from the area over the last twenty years. We can assume all alien activity is from the same source—the same planet.”

A tech opened the door and ushered Elly Hauser in. She looked around with distaste. “Yes? From the message you seemed very… enthusiastic to see me.”

“Thank you for coming, Agent Hauser.”

“You know I’m no longer ‘Agent’ Hauser.”

Richter walked around her. “Nobody truly leaves this organization, you know that. You needed a break. You got one. Now, have you read the brief?”


“Good. I want you to partner Agent Shelby to leave for ORCA immediately.”

“Sorry, not interested.” Elly replied immediately.

“Well sir, if she feels that way maybe we should respect–”

“Just give us a moment will you Shelby?”

With a “Sir.” Shelby went out.

Richter put his arm around Elly, or tried to. She was leaning away as much as possible without being rude.

“I know your feelings in relation to this case.” The director began.

“You’re wasting your time.”

“I know that what happened to the female subject affected you deeply.”

“Neri needn’t have died.”

“You’re right. We could have been gentler, more compassionate.”

“Too late.”

“For her, yes. But these newcomers may be just like her, just as innocent. Defenseless. That’s why I must have you there. When we encounter these newcomers, I need you to restrain Agent Shelby’s… enthusiasm. I need you to ensure that they are handled sensitively. We must prevent what happened to this… vulnerable girl from happening again. There’s no one else I can rely on.”

In the pyramid, Malakat spoke with Garron through a connunication link to the ocean planet.

“So the red virus is still spreading?”

“Yes.” Garron replied. He’d lost weight. “Death is our constant companion. The people are now desperate to flee to Earth.”

“And they will. But we must not be hasty. Earth-dwellers are a fierce, warlike race who will defend their planet to the death. We must first be certain we can overcome them.”

“With respect sir, the people are anxious to know when the invasion will begin. What can I tell them?”

Shersheba had returned in time to hear the question. She snapped, “When I am ready and not before.” And turned off the projection.

Malakat turned to her. “Highness, may I remind you that these people who you are denying information are the very people who will support your rule.”

“I am fully aware, Malakat. Do not fear. The search will continue, the ankh will be found, and my people will know exactly where to place their gratitude.” Shersheba turned and boosted herself into the statue’s lap. But the stone was cold and hard and after a minute she got down.

Louis was giving Ilona the grand tour of ORCA. It had been a long tour. The girl trailed behind, paying more attention to the scenery than to her guide.

“Which brings us to the last item on our itinerary, HELEN’s nerve center.”

“The main computer room.’

“Obviously. Now, you see those tubes with fluid in them? They’re part of the newly configured HELEN. They’re supposed to transmit more data per second than any other system yet invented. It’s called–”

“Synaptic tubing.” Ilona finished for him.

Startled into rudeness Louis snapped, “How did you know that?”

“I’ve been reading the ORCA orientation handbook.”

“Really? Then let me ask you a few questions, see how much you really know.”

Ilona turned away, her braid swinging. “Maybe later, I can’t think on an empty stomach. I might wander down to the galley for some lunch.”

“I’ll show you the way.” Louis said eagerly, stepping in front of her.

“Um, it’s ok. I can find it.”

If Louis heard in her voice that she wanted to get rid of him, he didn’t admit it. He said what sprang to mind, “You’ve only been here a few days and you think you know your way around already? Dream on.”

“If I get lost I’ll just follow one of the maps in the handbook.”

“You need more than a map to find your way around here. You need brains and experience.”

The way he said it, it came out sounding like a threat. Ilona looked down at him with an expression that communicated how much older she was. “I’ll manage.”

“Ok then, you go your way and I’ll go mine and we’ll see who gets there first.”

“You mean a race?”

“Think of it more as a test of speed and ingenuity.”

Ilona shrugged. “All right, you’re on.”

“And to make it even more interesting, how about a wager? Whoever reaches the galley last has to eat… let’s see, it’s Friday so… a triple serving of baked sardines.”

For a second Ilona had a blank look on her face, then she seemed to realize the true horror of baked sardines. She grinned. “In that case I hope you’re hungry.”

The door opened. Ilona zipped away down the corridor. Louis wandered leisurely in the other direction.

In Winston’s quarters, mayhem was in the planning.

“So HELEN,” Winston began, “If anyone from PRAXIS asks about pyramids you’re to access your database and give them the standard textbook information on every known and documented pyramid.”

“The facts and nothing else.” HELEN agreed. “I am programmed for facts.”

Cass sat down. “Let’s have a test run then. HELEN, tell us about pyramids.”

“The oldest known pyramid currently in existence is referred to as…” HELEN recited in her blank computer voice. Diagrams and notes from every encyclopedia she had access to filled the closest screen.

Winston started a stopwatch and flopped out on his bed. “Perfect. PRAXIS will be riveted.”

“Well since you’re timing, how ‘bout Brett and I go get lunch? You can monitor this right?”

“Only if you bring me back some of that excellent cheesecake. With cream.”

“Deal.” Brett said as he and Cass headed out.

Ilona nearly tripped over them. Brett steadied her. “Where’s the fire?’

“Sorry.” Ilona turned and walked away backwards, to keep talking and keep moving. The other two caught up.

“Cass, you met Ilona? Cass Clayborn, Ilona Smith.”

“How ya doing?”

“Great, thanks.”

“How was your tour with Louis?”

“Endless, but I’m going to have the last word.”

“How do you mean?”

Ilona grinned and turned away. “See you in the galley!” She ran off down the corridor, dodging people and waving open doors. A few hallways away, alone, she looked around. Two doors. She crouched and put her hand flat on the floor and stayed there for a second, her lips parted and her head tilted as if listening. Then she waved open one of the doors and slipped through it.

Louis rushed into the galley and slapped his card on the order machine. Ilona tapped him on the shoulder. “What took you so long, Louis?”

Louis glanced past her at the very last two people he wanted to see. Cass gave him a look of faked innocence. “Yeah, Ilona’s been here at least five minutes.”

“But—but how could–”

“I hope you don’t mind Louis, we took the liberty of ordering for you. I hope they haven’t gotten cold. Three serves of baked sardines.”

“Will you be having chili sauce with those sir?” Cass asked, squeezing a packet on.

“Or would you prefer garlic paste?”

“No no, Louis’ definitely a mustard man.”

Ilona touched her finger to the mustard and tasted it, then fished out the least sauced sardine and ate it whole. She pushed the rest over to Louis.

“Our mother? You saw our mother?”

“I did not know who she was at first, only that she was good and that she made me feel safe and loved.”

Mera looked at her sister in a silent plea.

“She told me I had work to do, that many people would depend on me and she would help.”

“Was she beautiful?”

“Yes. She look like you.”

“Onoelle said she would find a picture of my mother, but she never did. That was before I learned who Mother was.”

“I wanted to touch her, but I could not. I never will now because she is gone.”

Mera looked down. “I have to see her. Even if it’s just a hologram. I was just a baby when we left. Always I have wanted to see her, to hear her voice.”

“Sister… You will see her. I promise, but I do not know when. Shersheba has the pyramid full of her soldiers.”

“Then we must find a way to get rid of them.”

“We will.”

Mera nodded, promise accepted. “You suffered much for Malakat’s greed and the humans…”

“So have you.” Neri chimed. “We have been hurt, but we will heal. I am certain.”

“If you believe, I can believe also.”

One of the commandoes reported to Malakat. “We found a coral atoll that looked promising, but again, no sign of Little Queen or her sister.”

Malakat pulled up a map. “Then keep on looking. Tell the commandoes to spread out and search this region to the north.”

Shersheba breezed in, sopping wet. “Don’t bother, I’ve already looked. There’s nothing.”

“Dismissed then, until further instructions.”

Their soldiers looked at each other then headed out to go swimming.

Shersheba said, “Wait, you—Bellshar. Why do you call the child by that name?”

“Many did on our planet, since she looks like her mother. Mera seemed a nice person, it’s a shame she was so misguided.”

Shersheba’s hands balled into fists at her sides. “I am the queen who has saved you from the red virus. No one else deserves that title!”

“Yes highness. I am sorry.”

When they were alone Shersheba sighed as if blowing out her anger and said, “They must be hiding somewhere. I’ve looked everywhere I can think of.”

“Then perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps you should think less like yourself and more like Neri and her sister. For instance, we’re pretty sure they aren’t on ORCA with their friends, which leaves us the mainland or one of these islands. Now if you were Neri, which would you choose?”

“An island? But there must be thousands.” Shersheba said, looking at the map projected in the air.

“Then we’ll narrow down the field. An uninhabited island with fresh water, large enough to provide food and within swimming distance of ORCA. Which leaves us with—a handful of islands. Easy enough to search.”

Jason sat on a log on the island. “Well, we’ll need to get back into the pyramid eventually anyway, right?” Then something occurred to him, “Or do we? Could we just destroy the ankh—no ankh, no weapon?”

Neri was already shaking her head. Mera said, “I fear Shersheba could find a way to use the pyramid anyway, maybe trick it somehow. And—the pyramid may be able to create a cure for the virus. We cannot take that chance away from my people.”

Jason nodded. “Right then. We get the commandoes out, lure them away or something.”


“Maybe if they thought the golden ankh was somewhere else, somewhere so far away it’ll take all of their people to get to it…”

“Somewhere like ORCA?” Mera suggested.

“No.” Neri said immediately.

“But Neri!”

“Too many innocent people would be put at risk.”

Mera ducked her head. “Sorry. I should have thought.”

“Well wherever we trick them into going it’s got to be a fair distance away so we can get into the pyramid without getting caught—and out, too, if the hologram doesn’t have the solution for us right away.”

“So how do we do it?”

“Well it’s a pretty safe bet that Shersheba and Malakat have found a way of listening in on ORCA’s communications.”

“That would be easy for them.”

“Figured. So if we let something slip, say, send a fake message that Neri and the ankh are in the outback…”

“They would hear.”

“Right, and hopefully head out there with all their troops.” Jason stood, “Well I’ll head home, talk this over with the others. We’ll need to plan this for sometime when we can monitor everything and maybe have a getaway boat sitting on top of the pyramid just in case. So not today or tomorrow, sorry Mera.”

“I go to the farm tomorrow, check on the ankh.”

“What will I do?”

“Just wait. After the commandoes leave the pyramid we’ll make our move.”

“That’s if they leave.” Mera said gloomily.

“Worth a try, right?”

The galley was a bit uncomfortable, Elly thought. Everyone was ignoring her, loudly. The adults had done it, not being rude just making it clear she wasn’t welcome. The computer had needed to be asked twice before it had given her any food, and now even the kids were scooting away from her. Shelby was getting the same treatment only worse, of course, but he didn’t seem to notice. He probably liked being hated by everyone around him.

“Can I sit here?” Said a hesitant voice, “I mean, if you’re busy…’

“No, please, sit down. I could use the company. I’m Elly.”

“Ilona.” The girl said, giving Elly a measuring look.

“That’s a pretty name. I don’t remember seeing you last time I was here.”

“No, I’m new.”

“Where you from?”

Ilona shrugged a little. “You know. Everywhere.”

“You travel the research circuit with your family?”

“Yes that’s it. What about you? I hear you work for some kind of top-secret government organization. What do you do?”

“Oh… security mostly. It’s nothing as sinister as they make it sound, I’m sure.”

Louis wandered up. “Oh Ilona, there you are. That was a pretty good stunt you pulled. No hard feelings, all right? I thought you might like to come up top, I can show you the pontoon and the boats.”

Ilona grinned. “Want to race again?”

Louis soured quickly. “For your information, if I decide to race you, this time I’ll win.”

“How can you be sure?”

“The only reason you got ahead of me last time is that I got distracted.”

“You’ve got an excuse for everything. What distracted you?”

“I stopped to listen to Dr. Seth talking to that dumb computer about pyramids.”

Elly looked up. “Pyramids? Really?”

“Yeah. What’s so interesting about that?”

“Actually I find the subject of pyramids quite fascinating. Why don’t you take a seat and tell me everything you heard?”

A half-hour later Louis was back where he wanted to be. Walking behind the two PRAXIS agents as they proceeded through the halls like an oncoming storm.

Doctor Seth looked panicked for just a moment, then covered it. “It was merely a routine check of HELEN’s databanks. I had to ask her about something.”

“Funny how we keep running up against pyramids in this case. I want a straight answer, pal.”

“I don’t know what more I can tell you.” Winston said innocently. In the background Cass and Brett looked up from their homework.

“I think we’re wasting our time.” Elly said. “HELEN, what do you know about pyramids?”

“You want the facts?” HELEN asked.

“Every last one of them.” Shelby said, looking closely at a screen like he was trying his intimidation on the computer.

HELEN started her explanation. It went on for about two minutes before Shelby broke in, “Wait a minute, I can get this stuff out of any old encyclopedia!”

“You asked for the facts.” HELEN said smoothly.

“Tell me something new. Tell me something I don’t know.”

“She’s a computer not a mind reader. How’s she supposed to know what you don’t already know?” Winston reasoned. Brett and Cass were now hovering behind him. It looked like there was about to be a disaster.

Elly tried, “HELEN, show us your most recently updated file relating to pyramids.”

“I can give you a reference to something in the shape of a pyramid.”

“I’d like to see it, HELEN.”

A diagram of the pyramid came up on the screen. HELEN’s synthesized voice deepened. “The pyramidal structure of this object is ideal to withstand the deep ocean currents which surround it.”

Shelby started to smirk.

“I don’t believe it. An underwater pyramid.”

“Object location is 19 degrees south and 140 degrees east.”

“And look where it’s located. Less than twenty kilometers from here.”

Shelby stormed onto the bridge, “What kind of commander withholds vital information?”

“I beg your pardon?” Dianne looked up from her work.

Shelby leaned on a terminal, apparently not noticing the atmosphere. Even the waving cat figure on Naoko’s monitor seemed to be glaring at him. “There’s a massive pyramid out there in the middle of the ocean, possibly inhabited by alien life forms. You failed to report it.”

Jason tried, “My mother knew nothing about it.”

“Right. And I’m King Tut.” Shelby sneered.

“Jason, if you’ll allow Agent Shelby and myself a moment–”

“Why, so you can tell me more lies? I can promise you right now, this will be fully investigated. If I were you, Ms. Bates, I’d make the most of my tenure as Commander here because once I’ve filed my report with headquarters, you’ll never work in science again.”

Jason had his fists clenched. Dianne kept her cool and corrected, “’Commander’ or ‘Doctor’ Bates please. Do you need to see my paperwork?”

It wasn’t all that clever, but Dave grinned behind his hand and Shelby finally looked around and noticed that while he had legal authority, everybody in the room was against him.

Brett and Cass stopped in the viewing tube to look out at the reef for a minute. “You free after school?” Brett asked, “We’ve gotta get out to the island and warn Neri and Mera PRAXIS’re on to the pyramid.”

Cass nodded then made a warning gesture as Ilona came up. “Where you two off to?”

“Nowhere.” Said Cass.

“Up to the pontoon to get some fresh air. Maybe take a boat out.” Said Brett.

Cass waved him on, “You go ahead, I’ll catch up. Hey Ilona, you never told us how you got ahead of Louis in that race.”

Ilona flashed a thin smile. “I took a shortcut through engineering on Lima level.”

Cass blinked. “That’s a restricted area, it’s not even on the plans.”

“I just opened the first door I saw.”

Cass tried to reply but before she could get the words straight Ilona had walked off. “The door wouldn’t open for a student card…” she said to no one, and ran to catch the next elevator to the pontoon.

“There’s something about that girl Ilona.”

“Yeah?” Brett asked. He pushed the boat off from the pontoon and had to jump to get in.

“She just said she went through a restricted area like she didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to. And she doesn’t mind Louis.”

“Yeah she must be an alien.” Brett wasn’t impressed. He started the motor and any further conversation was drowned out.

Mera ran to help pull the boat up the beach. “Cass! Hello!”

“Hello Mera, welcome back to Earth!” Cass laughed and the two girls hugged. “Winston sends you some more chocolate, and we have bad news.”

Brett said it right out, “PRAXIS knows about the pyramid.”

“We tried to stop ‘em, but HELEN can’t delete all the footage from the scans, and she can’t lie to a PRAXIS pass. So…” Cass shrugged and handed over the chocolate.

“What do they know?” Neri asked.

“Where it is, and that there’s a power source inside. They suspect aliens are living there. It’s pretty bad Neri, I’m sorry. We did everything we could think of to keep PRAXIS from finding it.”

Mera looked upset. “So now there are two enemies keeping us from the pyramid?”

“Not sure what PRAXIS’ gonna do about the pyramid. They can’t get in without one of your people along. They might try to blow it up. I guess.” Cass shrugged.

“Earth technology can’t destroy a pyramid.”

Neri said, “Then there is nothing we must do now. Come, stay here a while.”


“Sure. We’ve got a few hours off and it’s been way too long since I got out here!”

So they went to the pond and ate fruit and chocolate and played with the baby wombat and caught frogs and talked about what had been going on.

Cass explained, “Morgan got a full ride scholarship so my parents took all her college money and went on a cruise around Europe. They’ll be gone for weeks more, and I bet they don’t even bring me back anything good. Winston’s my boss so he’s my official babysitter.”

“Your boss?” Mera asked.

“Yep, he’s the computer officer and I’m his assistant. That’s why I haven’t come before, I had to work.”

“All of you have grown.”

“We have? You became a princess!”

“But I wish I was not one.”

“That’s what Neri said.”

Cass threw berries at both of them. “Don’t get gloomy on my day off! Mera… Tell us about the ocean planet! Please? We didn’t have time to talk before, with hunting for the synchronium and everything.”

“Ah, ok.” Mera said, surprised. “What do you want to know?”


Mera looked at the two eager faces and the less noisy but still curious expression on her sister’s face, and tried to think of what to say. “Well… the first time I saw it Onoelle woke me to say we had entered orbit. She is—was—my foster-mother I suppose, though they never said the words. Rulmyr and Onoelle knew mother so they came to Earth looking for survivors of the crash. Anyway, the ship landed in the ocean and we had to swim to land. It is so beautiful… the rocks are a soft, pale orange and there are many trees.”

“What are the clothes like?” Cass jumped in.

“Ah…” Mera jumped up and got the gold collar, which she put on Cass. “I wear a dress and pants under, and many pretty things. I did not think to bring clothes to show you.”

Cass stroked the collar, trying to figure out how metal could be as soft as fabric, then realized her tomboy reputation was in danger. She muttered, “I wouldn’t understand about the technology so…”

But by then Brett had jumped in with two other questions and Neri wondered how Kal was doing and Mera stumbled over her words trying to say everything at once. “Kal is well. He has new family, parents and a brother, and many friends. On the ocean planet, no one is orphan. That was strange to me at first.”

“Are there whales?”

“Yes!” Mera laughed, an unexpected beautiful sound. “Many kinds, I cannot learn them all. Many people have whales for friends, or dolphin—not the same whale and dolphin as Earth, of course, but look the same.”

“Mum would love it.”

“We live in caves mostly, but nice caves with windows. Some live outside. Some never come to land at all. My home… was a house carved into cliff, with vines growing through all the rooms. I wish I could show you someday. I missed you all. I have friends though—Laeka and Salali, Kualtha, Umi, Kal and brother. Good friends, but not you. What else do you want to know? I think I met Lali first, she was not old enough to know I am different. She teach me much of the ocean planet language…”

They talked so long Cass was late getting back to work.

A delighted Shersheba burst into the pyramid chamber. “I found them. The younger Bates boy and a girl from ORCA are visiting… this island.”

“You’re certain?”

“Entirely.” The girl smiled like a cat who’d gotten cream. “I did not go close enough to see that girl or her sister; I did not want to risk being seen. But why else would the boy visit that island?”

“Very good highness. You were right to keep the element of surprise. We will take them at dawn tomorrow.”