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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

19. Heart of the Pyramid

In the morning, early, Jason talked another kid into trading buoy-checking duty and went to the island. He found Neri sitting on the rocks by the stream.

“Hey. Thought you’d still be in the hut.”

“Sleep not come.” Neri said.

“Thinking about Mera?”

“Answer not come.”

“It’s a tough decision.”

“If I give Malakat the ankh, I can save Mera. But many more people will die. If I do not… my sister will die.” Neri’s eyes shadowed. “In much pain, and afraid.”

Jason looked down. “I… I wish I could help you Neri, but I think this has to be your decision. For what it’s worth, I’ll support you whatever you decide.”

And Neri smiled her gentle smile and said, “You are a good friend.”

Mera woke, in her cell. She’d been dreaming a confused dream about her bed filling up with sand in big piles, forcing her to sleep in a funny position. Then she woke up, her arm tucked under her head, on the pyramid’s sandstone floor.

She felt terrible. Her head was throbbing, her mouth tasted terrible. She was about to die of thirst.

The door grated open and Mera sat up, whimpering as the movement hurt.

Shersheba. Carrying a tray of fruit and—a goblet of water. Shersheba sat down, put the tray down. “I thought by now you’d be hungry. Please.”

Mera reached for the water, but Shersheba snatched the cup out of reach. She dipped a finger in the water, held it to her own lips. “I said hungry. You can eat all you like. But this has a price.”

Malakat held out a pen and paper. “Knowing how close you are to your sister, I’m sure you’d like to keep in touch. Perhaps a few words encouraging her to give up the ankh.”

“And then you can have this.” Shersheba held out the goblet, the water shining in the pyramid’s light. Mera couldn’t take her eyes off it.

She had to swallow hard before she could talk. “I would rather die than see you in control of the pyramid.”

Shersheba smiled and poured the water out, watching it soak into the floor. “You’ll change your mind. Unless you’re serious about dying, that is.”

Mera managed to wait until the door had closed before she got down and pressed her face to the damp spot on the floor. She tried to convince herself it helped. Then she realized the water was vanishing so fast because it was falling between the stones. The floor hummed under her hands.

On ORCA Brett shifted uncomfortably in his best uniform. His father was there, also dressed in his best.

“So dad, I guess the end of the world’s messing up the plans for ORCA Two?”

“Just a bit. America’s put everything on hold that isn’t missile-related.” Paul ran a hand through his hair then frantically pushed it back into place. “Ok, we’re on.”

A call opened on HELEN’s screen and the president of Global Union smiled at them. “Good morning commander.”

“Madam. This is my youngest son Brett. He insisted on joining me to help present our case.”

The president smiled at him. “I’m delighted to meet you Brett. I have children of my own. It’s a good sign that our young people have such a committed involvement with current events. Don’t you think so commander?”

“Yes I do, Madam president.”

“After all, our decisions today determine their future world. And they’re terrific, I notice, at getting down to business. So why don’t we cut to the chase Brett?”

Brett shot a look at his dad, wondering what the heck the president meant, but he said the line he’d rehearsed. “PRAXIS have installed powerful torpedoes on ORCA. The ecosystem in the Pacific Ocean where we live is very delicate. If these torpedoes are fired, the marine life will be totally destroyed.”

“Yes, Brett, but my first priority is to protect human life.”

“I am most afraid she will endorse the attack!” Winston was pacing in the commander’s cabin.

“No way…” Jason began.

“The zebra is not famed for its spots!”

“Uh, what?” Cass asked.

“Madam president is after all the person who granted PRAXIS their charter in the first place. PRAXIS that imprisoned Neri, PRAXIS that hired people like Shelby and Richter! Why should she stop backing them now?”

Dianne tried, “The president may not know the truth about what happened to Neri. She may be a perfectly reasonable human being.”

“After all, she is a girl.” Cass added.

“Since the discovery of this underwater pyramid, we have failed to make any contact at all with whoever or whatever is in there. We must be prepared to defend ourselves.” The president said reasonably.

“What if they want peace?”

“They haven’t shown aggression yet, madam.”

“On the contrary! They attacked PRAXIS agent Shelby on his approach to the pyramid.”

“No one was hurt.” Brett said quickly.

“Fortunately. But in any case, if their intentions were peaceful, don’t you think they would try to establish contact? No, we must assume their intentions are hostile.”

“Neri doesn’t—didn’t have a hostile bone in her body!”


Brett let a little emotion show. “PRAXIS captured her. She died because of the way they treated her.”

The woman opened a folder and paged through it. Reports from PRAXIS. “Oh yes, the alien girl. I see from the reports you befriended her. Weren’t you taking a tremendous risk?”

“Risk? No way. Neri was the gentlest person I’ve ever met. All she wanted was for everyone to live in harmony. The only thing that made her angry was when other people got destructive.”

Madam president looked at him. “If she was everything you say, Brett, she must have been a remarkable creature.”

“Unbelievable, madam president.” Brett said with feeling.

The president nodded and smiled a little as she turned back to the folder. “I see PRAXIS believes these newcomers have the same origin.”

“That’s right. So shouldn’t we at least give them a chance?”

Louis had gotten into the PRAXIS weapons store. He was showing Ilona around, and showing off his knowledge. And, currently, drooling over a missile. “It’s the absolute latest. I’ve used them in Tactical Assault. It doesn’t actually hit its target; it explodes really close and blows the living daylights out of anything in range. Kaboom! And it’s all over for those freaks.”

“And not a moment too soon!” Shelby agreed from his terminal behind them.

Ilona was looking a little sick.

Richter looked up from paperwork and snapped at Shelby, “Your gung-ho attitude may be useful in certain areas of field work, agent, but you’ll find a basic knowledge of physics will be more helpful here. These firing solutions are crucial. We must ensure a point of impact that will achieve maximum destruction of the pyramid.”

“Yes sir.”

“And Agent Shelby? How did this child gain entry to this secure storeroom?”

“Ah…” Shelby began, but he was saved when the door opened.

Paul handed over a folded printout. “Mr. Director, your orders from the president of the global union.”

Behind his father, Brett managed not to smile. “All preparations for an attack on the pyramid have been suspended until further notice.”

Shelby yelled, “What!”

“That’s what it says.”

Richter read, then crumpled the message. His voice was like ice. “We’ll see about this.”

Mera woke up when the door rumbled open. She sat up and brushed salt crystals from her eyes. “What?”

“Princess Shersheba wishes to see you.” The commando said, looking at the ceiling.

Mera had hoped there might be someone she knew among Shersheba’s soldiers, but there was no one. The commandos were all guards, people whose job at home was to keep the ocean planet’s large predators away from populated areas. Mera had never really met any of them. Her mind wandered, Laeka wanted to be a guard when she grew up, to dress in red sharkskin and carry a spear.

“Little queen.”

“I dislike that name.” Mera muttered in English as she dragged herself to her feet. She added in her own language, “I am coming.”

In the central chamber Mera looked up at the statue, the same figure as in the pyramid back home, but its face looked different. Her mother’s message was here. Mera let herself stumble and reached for the statue to steady herself, but the soldier pulled her back.

On the dais, Shersheba and Malakat had set up a little picnic. Mera smelled fruit and clean water as the soldier sat her down next to them.

“Thirsty? Help yourself, please.” Shersheba offered a goblet.

Thirst conquered dignity. Mera guzzled the water, then snatched up the pitcher to splash her face and her eyes. Instantly her head stopped throbbing and she felt more able to think. “If this is about contacting my sister, I haven’t changed my mind.”

“No conditions.” Malakat said. “As a member of the royal family, I’d have thought you’d have a stronger sense of duty towards your people.”

“She’s definitely not princess material.”

Shersheba’s opinion mattered less than the food. Mera picked up an apple and dug in, sucking the juice. Delicious.

Malakat was speaking again. “You have not given much thought as to what will happen to our people if the golden ankh is not handed over, have you Mera? If I do not have the means to activate the pyramid, they will die.”

“All of them. Your friends, your relatives, your mother’s subjects.” Shersheba savored the words. “That silly child you spend time with, Melka’s daughter, what is her name…”

“The red virus will kill them all.”

Mera froze. She said very quietly, “Minnow is eight years old. You speak of her death, and you smile.”

Shersheba might have flinched, but Malakat only nodded.

“So Dad and I did it, I guess.” Brett finished. “The president put a hold on the attack. We’ve got a little time.”

Neri nodded and ruffled Brett’s hair. “Thank you, Brett. But we do not have time. The only way my people can escape death is to leave the ocean planet.”

“But if they do it Malakat’s way, all of humanity will be wiped out.”

“Yes. That must not be. I must do as my mother wished. I must make the pyramid mine and use the golden ankh.”

“How, with them still inside?” Jason asked.

“I will find a way.”

Brett sat back against a palm tree. “Neri’s the chosen one. If she runs the pyramid, who knows what it could do?”

“You’re right. If it has the power to melt the icecaps, just imagine its potential for good.”

“I will get the ankh. I must make it ready.”

Jason stood up and offered Neri his hand. “Ok, we’ll go to the farm and bring it back.”

“You can twist the facts all you like, Malakat, but you don’t fool me. You don’t care about our people. You’re just a tyrant. If the virus hadn’t infected our planet, you’d have nobody to lead.”

Malakat stood up suddenly, stepped down to the floor and turned to glare at her. “That’s how stupid you are! You and the council thinking things happen by chance. A great leader knows they don’t.” He looked up at the statue and said, “The red virus didn’t just happen. It was created.”

Mera was too shocked to speak. But Shersheba whispered, “Created?”

“Of course it was.”

“Who created it?”

“I did.” Malakat turned back and smiled at them.

“You? How?” Shersheba asked, but Mera spoke louder, “What– have– you– done?” Her voice chimed clearly in the pyramid chamber.

“I…” The smile had gone brittle. “An accident, but a fortunate one. Once I realized what I’d wrought, I arranged for it to be spread throughout the oceans.”

“W-why?” Shersheba actually stuttered. For the first time Mera felt sympathy for the princess. Shersheba hadn’t known this, and she was as stunned as Mera was.

“Setting it loose would bring on mass panic, perfectly paving the way for you highness, and myself, to step in as saviors. Naturally the people would be grateful and only too happy to support our aim of taking the opal planet.”

Mera found her voice. “You destroy your own planet and think you’re fit to rule? You’re disgusting!”

“Not at all. It is time the ocean people were strong again, with leaders stronger than your weak family dynasty.” He cast another look at the statue and added, “And now I think it’s time to appeal to your sister.”

“Never!” Mera shouted.

Malakat slapped her, hard across the face, and ordered the soldiers to take her back to the cell. Mera shouted at them as she was dragged away. “You heard his words! Why do you help someone who has killed? Let me go!”

But the commandos wouldn’t look at her, or answer. They shoved her inside. Mera waited, rubbing her cheek and letting her anger cool. Rage was not an emotion often shown on the ocean planet. But no one on the ocean planet had ever met… words like ‘serial killer’ rose in Mera’s memory, in English because there were no words in the language of the ocean planet. There had never been a killing except animals for food. Murder was unknown.

Mera sank to her knees on the stone, sickened. Then she reached into her dress and pulled out the knife she’d hidden there. It was just a fruit knife, not sharp enough to do any damage. But maybe she could clear the crack in the floor…

“Is it true?” Shersheba asked immediately, “If you lied, you did it stupidly. She will never help you now she thinks you’ve killed her friends.”

Malakat turned to the central console and keyed in a long code. A stone panel swung aside and he removed a vial that glowed red. “Only I have seen this.” He said, holding it out. Shersheba flinched away. “Don’t worry, it won’t break. No—you can’t have it. You may admire my genius from a distance.”

“I thought you said it was an accident. And don’t tell me what I may and may not do. It is I who will rule on Earth, not you.”

“Whatever you say, highness.” Malakat replaced the vial and locked it away.

“You presume too much. I would never have agreed to poisoning the ocean planet.”

“It is of no concern, highness. Once I have awakened the pyramid I will use it to create an anti-viral agent and save the ocean planet.”

“And meanwhile our people suffer.”

“It is necessary. Until we have achieved our goal. A goal that you were willing to sacrifice your rival for, so do not begin showing conscience now!”

Shersheba drew breath to reply but just then the computer showed an incoming call. Ilona’s face appeared in projection. “I have good news.”


“The global union has placed an indefinite hold on the proposed attack on the pyramid. Do you understand that, highness? We are safe!”

Malakat replied, “Nothing these creatures do can change anything now.”

“Highness, is there anything else you’d like me to find out? I don’t want to stay here any longer. I’m afraid I’ll be caught!” Ilona whined.

“Stay there and await instructions.”

Behind Ilona, the door opened and they could clearly see a face. Malakat hit a button and Ilona’s communicator destroyed itself in a showed of sparks.

In the storeroom, Ilona yelped in pain and surprise, dropping the wreck of her communicator. “What–” Only then did she look around.

Elly Hauser raised her eyebrows and smiled. “I think we have some talking to do.”

Brett and Jason waited by the river while Neri retrieved the ankh from its hiding place. Brett was looking uphill. Suddenly he nudged Jason and said, “Shelby.”

“What are you kids doing here?”

“Spotting birds.” Jason said, wondering what the agent was doing here.

“Yeah. Well I’m here to see your old man. Where is he?”

“Not here.”

“How come ORCA headquarters said this is where he was heading?”

Jason sighed. “When I say he’s not here, I mean he’s not here. He’s gone out riding past the west boundary. Checking fences. You have to do that, if you don’t want dingos eating your goats.”

“Way out past those trees.” Brett pointed. “He said he’d be out all day. If you want to reach him you better move.”

“What is it with you kids? Are you giving me the run-around?”

“No sir.” The boys chorused.

“Because I’ve just about had it with you Bates. And I’m here to tell your old man we won’t be having any interference with global union. Director Richter is appealing the decision this very minute. You just tell your old man to keep his nose out of PRAXIS affairs.”

Brett nodded. “Right. We’ll tell him.”

Shelby turned and left. The boys turned back to the river. After a minute Neri surfaced cautiously. “Why is he here?”

“Heck if I know.” Brett answered in the same low voice. “Delivering a thread for dad apparently. He didn’t see you.”

Jason crouched by the water. “I think we’d better leave alone in case he’s watching, and we should leave a note for Dad. Can you meet us out at sea?”

Neri nodded and slipped under the water without a sound.

Brett said more loudly, “How about, ‘Dear dad, Agent Shelby says, and we’d have gotten away with it to if it weren’t for you meddling kids.’”

Jason snorted. “I’ll think of something better. Let’s go up to the house and find a place to leave it.”

Ilona’s immediate terror faded when she realized she wasn’t being dragged back to PRAXIS headquarters. Agent Hauser escorted her to Winston’s lab, pointed her to a chair, and turned drop the news.

“It’s as I thought. Ilona is an alien spy.”

Cass and Winston both stared. “Ilona?”

Ilona said quietly, because she was scared, “Just me. Not mother.”

“That’s why you wanted to know about water consumption.”

Winston gave Cass a questioning look.

“I asked HELEN to run a check on the water usage of Ilona’s cabin. It’s up a hundred percent up on the average.”

Elly nodded. “That fits, Ilona and her mother need to get wet often.”

Winston took another look back at the silent Ilona, “This is a most startling revelation, Agent Hauser, but I’m not quite sure why you are involving us.”

“Yeah. It sounds like PRAXIS business.” Cass said, openly hostile.

“If Ilona’s taken to PRAXIS she’ll be put through all kinds of experiments, like your friend Neri. I’m afraid she might end up the same way. Is that what you want?”

“Of course not.”

“Then you’ll help me. I want to understand these people, Doctor Seth, not destroy them.”

Winston looked at Cass, and they nodded to each other. Cass drawled, “Well I guess it’s easier than hitting her on the head to give Ilona time to escape. Ilona, your Mom’s off this shift right? You want to bring her down here and we’ll figure out what to do?”

Ilona began to smile, realizing that everything might be all right after all. She nodded quickly and headed for the door. She could leave, get her mother and escape through the dive pool. She was sure Cass had let her go so they could escape if they wanted. But…

Louis caught her in the hall. “Ilona, I’ve been looking all over for you. You won’t believe the weapons coming on board now—they make the first lot look like toys! We’re really gonna show these alien freaks! Come check it out!”

“Not right now, Louis.” Ilona said around a sudden fear.

“Suit yourself.”

More… weapons… Ilona broke into a run.

Mera had spent the last few hours scraping at the crack between the stones of the floor. It was a long crack, went around a whole block. The effort was only making Mera thirstier, and her head was hurting again. She was almost ready to give up when very suddenly the stone swung downward. Damp air billowed up, soothing her skin.

Mera began to laugh. Of course. This wasn’t really a cell; the pyramid had never been built to hold prisoners. They’d locked her in the closet that held the access hatch to the inner workings of the pyramid. Mera swung herself through the hole and dropped four feet into darkness.

The sound of dripping water caught her attention and Mera could think of nothing else until she found the water and drank and splashed her face. Heaven! After another long drink, she looked around.

The lights were coming on and Mera saw the crystal panels and tubes of rushing water that were the guts of a computer on her world. The water she’d heard was a stream pouring from a pipe into a small pool. The floor of the pool was a mosaic of shifting lights.

Mera stuck her head in. The water was warm and tasted like Earth’s oceans with the tang that ocean planet technology gave it. The pool was part of the pyramid’s mechanics, but wetting down in it wouldn’t hurt anything. She sat up and slicked her wet hair back, leaned against a wall, and tried to reach…

“Neri… Malakat is mad but I think…”

But she felt no contact and after a moment the long deprivation caught up with her and she fell asleep.

Neri looked up, listening, then shook her head. She tucked the ankh into a little niche under a fern. “There. Ankh is safe, until I take to pyramid.”

“Yeah, but the hard bit’s getting into the pyramid.” Jason said, “There’s no way we’re going to risk you being captured too.”

Neri grimaced but nodded. She said slowly, “I think my sister is all right, at least for now. She is smiling. I do not know why.”

“Really?” Brett brightened. “If you can—however you guys talk to each other—tell her…”

“Tell her we’ll get her out, somehow.” Jason said when his brother stopped mid-sentence.

Shersheba paced. “I don’t see any signs of Neri coming to her sister’s rescue of her own accord. And it doesn’t look as though Mera’s going to ask for the ankh. Any chance we had with her is probably ruined.”

“Your gloomy chatter is beginning to annoy me.”

Shersheba whirled and shouted, “Enough of your impertinence! It is I of the royal blood who will rule the ocean people on Earth! You will never be more than my advisor. So stop your sneering, and tell me our next move.”

Malakat stood up and smiled a mirthless smile. “Why ask me?” he said, “You plan to reign over the whole Earth. Prove you’re fit to. For once, solve the problem yourself.”

They sized each other up, like enemies now. Shersheba nodded slowly. “So… I now know what a fool you think me, Malakat. But don’t be so smug. One day I’ll surprise you.”

Malakat didn’t look worried. He left the central chamber. Left behind, Shersheba stood still for a minute under the statue’s cool gaze. Then she began to smile.

Neri looked up suddenly. “Charley.”


“He say… Shersheba!” Neri jumped up suddenly and ran for the beach, Brett and Jason trailing behind her.

Charley’s message came in a mixture of words and echolocation. Shersheba looking at him. Shersheba at the surface. She moved—something small, and it released a red stain into the water. Then she swam away, quickly.

The red cloud diffused over the coral reef. It smelled… bad.


“What’s he telling you?”

“He hurts inside.” Neri said, her eyes distant.

“He’s upset?”

“No, pain, poison, in here.” She touched her chest.


“Yes. Where Shersheba was. I must go.”

Jason grabbed her. “Neri, no! You can’t!”

“Let me go!” She struggled, frantic.

“No. Listen to me! Neri!” Jason waited until Neri looked at him then said, “We don’t know what it is. If it’s hurting him it’ll hurt you too.”

Neri shuddered and sank to her knees in the sand, looking out to the waves they could no longer trust. “Charley…”