← previous next →

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

20. The Red Virus

The red virus spread. It infected coral and killed fish. A pod of dolphins swam through the stain and they spread it into another current, which carried it…

Jason found Neri pacing the beach, just beyond reach of the waves. The sand around her was littered with dead fish and stank sharply. She looked like she’d been there all night, pacing frantically.

“Charley is dying. I must go to him.”

“You can’t. The sea’s filled with the red virus.”

“Not everywhere. Some parts I can go.” Neri said hopefully, but if she really believed that she’d already be gone.

“It’s spreading too fast.”

“He needs me.”

“Neri… there’s nothing you can do. Mera said there’s no cure. I know it’s hard for you not to go to him, but you can’t risk your life. There are more important things you have to do—we have to save Mera, we have to keep Malakat from using the pyramid. Or everyone will die.”

Neri sobbed and her hands shook.

“Neri.” Jason grabbed her shoulders. “If the virus kills everything in the ocean, it will kill the algae that make oxygen and the fish people need to keep from starving. And if the ice caps melt… I guess Shersheba thinks it’ll somehow turn this planet into a copy of yours, but it won’t. The water would rise fast, there will be huge waves, storms, earthquakes… ORCA won’t survive. The coasts won’t survive. I don’t know if… anyone…” Jason had to stop and take a breath. Neri was looking at him like she didn’t really understand. “You’re the ‘chosen one’ whatever that means, you’re the best chance for anything to survive. So you have to stay alive as long as you can.”

Neri nodded. Her eyes were blank and empty and Jason wondered how much more she could take. Finally she said, “I must save my sister. Charley say so. But I will listen until he is gone.”

Dianne held a vial of water in her gloved hand. She could see the stain in it, growing as she watched, even in the bottle. “Our people who took these samples say the contaminated area has doubled.”

Winston grimaced. “HELEN, what does your analysis show?”

HELEN’s lights flashed and in the depths of the computer a cooling fan came on. “The biological makeup is very interesting, Winston. The virus did not originate on earth, but it has elements very similar to human and cetacean dna. Its source is unknown.”

“How fast is it spreading?”

“Very rapidly, Commander. But only underwater. It has no airborne transmission capability; its replication is achieved by converting oxygen into ammonia.”

“Which is deadly to all life-forms.” Winston supplied.

“Is there any way of stopping this virus?”

“None known to our science.” HELEN replied.

“And if it’s left untreated?”

“With prevailing currents, all oceans will be irretrievably poisoned within two months. Would you like me to run a scenario of probable economic and environmental effects?”

“Two months…” Dianne whispered. “No thank you, HELEN. Dedicate all unneeded processing power to analyzing the virus. Any information might be useful.”

The door opened and Jason and Brett came in. “We’re back. Neri’s going crazy. And you’re wanted on the bridge.”

Dianne sighed and stepped out the door, trailing her sons. “Are you positive Shersheba did this? Brought the virus from her planet and deliberately spread it here?”

“Well, you-know-who saw her.”

“It’s unbelievable.”

Brett said simply, “It’s Shersheba, I believe it.”

“She hasn’t even thought about the consequences of what she’s doing.” Jason said raggedly, as they reached the bridge door. “All those creatures, fish, whales—it’s a death sentence for them.”

“Why?” Malakat demanded, “Just tell me why!”

Shersheba sounded defensive. “I don’t understand what’s making you so angry, Malakat. I released the virus because it’s the only way Neri will surrender the golden ankh.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Well she’s hardly going to let this planet die is she?”

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen anyway, now.”

“But you said you could stop the virus. You assured me of that!” Shersheba’s voice had gone shrill, scared.

Malakat replied with forced patience, “Only by using the power of the pyramid. Without the ankh I don’t have that power, highness.”

“But you will soon. Once Neri realizes the only way for both planets to survive is to use the ankh, she’ll bring it to us—and beg us to take it.”

On the other side of the wall, Mera was listening. She shouldn’t have been able to hear them through a foot of stone, but the words carried clearly into the misty air in the heart of the pyramid. Mera sat before a wide tree made of cables all glowing with energy, surrounded by pools. This place made her feel strong even though she hadn’t eaten all day.


Sunlight, the smell of the pond, crushing sadness. Neri looked into the water and saw another reflection.

“Mera? Can you hear me?”

“I hear you, sister.”

“Where are you?”

Mera said, “Inside the heart of the underwater pyramid. Its power lets me speak to you.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yes.” Mera said, “Is it true that Shersheba has released the red virus into the ocean?”

“It is true. The ocean is poisoned. Many fish are dead, and I cannot hear Charley anymore. He is gone.”

“No!” Mera cried aloud. “Then everything will die, like our ocean planet.” The lights around her changed and the pyramid let Mera hear footsteps. “I must go, I will try to return again soon. Do not worry, for the pyramid protects me. I would be with you–” On the island Mera’s image vanished like a blown candle as in the pyramid, she crawled through the low tunnel and hoisted herself up into her cell. She was sitting quietly when the door opened.

Shersheba looked at her, then turned as Malakat called her name. “Perhaps you are right, highness. Releasing the red virus will force the chosen one to surrender the ankh. She will not let the earth and her own people die.”

“So you do not think I’m so stupid after all?”

“Of course not. Perhaps some pressure should be put on her sister?”

“Why do you think I am here?” Shersheba turned to Mera and snapped, “Get up.”

Mera stood and her dress, caught in the crack between the stones, tore slightly.

“What was that noise?”

For a second, Mera was afraid. Then she said haughtily, “On Earth there are creatures called rats. They scratch.”

Shersheba grimaced. Mera guessed she’d met rats in Egypt, but she didn’t seem to know there weren’t any rats at the bottom of the ocean. It was almost funny.

Sitting on the bed in their quarters, Ilona explained to Elly and Cass. “…For a while our scientists thought they had controlled the virus, but it had mutated. It kept returning but worse. In the end, we realized we couldn’t stop it.”

Elly added to her notes. “Is there anything else? Anything at all? It’s important you tell us everything you know.”

“You’ve told them enough, Ilona.”

“Mother… what’s the use of keeping secrets now? Our planet’s dying and now the Earth’s been contaminated too.”

“If there’s anything you can tell us, Mrs… I mean, Ila. We’re really up against the wall here.”

Ilona’s mother looked at her and nodded slowly. “I think…”

The door opened and Shelby strode in, trailing Louis.

“What’re you doing here? I’ve been looking all over.”

Cass said quickly, “Officer Smith’s an engineer. She’s explaining how to stop the virus from contaminating our water purification system. “Cause if it gets in…” Cass drew a finger across her throat.

“What did you want, Shelby?”

“The ORCA tests revealed the virus didn’t originate on Earth. It looked like the aliens brought it here—and we have reason to believe they released it intentionally. It’s a deliberate act of war! With this kind of provocation we’ve got no choice but to retaliate.”

“Does Richter know?” Elly asked, standing up quickly. Ilona and her mother drew together in fear.

“Of course. He’s speaking with the president of the global union right now, and this time she won’t wimp out.”

“We’re going to nuke them out of existence!” Louis said with relish.

Elly left in a hurry, to be in on the conference. Shelby followed her, and Louis went after him.

Ilona murmured, “Deliberately? That could not be!”

“If we’d acted earlier,” Richter said accusingly, “The aliens wouldn’t have had time to release their virus. The delay caused by your intervention has only served to jeopardize our position.”

Brett opened his mouth, but his father beat him to it with a cool, “I think it’s wise not to be too trigger-happy with nuclear weapons, don’t you?”

“Oh, I hope you’re not going to waste madam president’s time with your precious arguments.”

“She wouldn’t’ve asked us to be here if she thought we were going to waste her time.” Brett said reasonably.

“This time is different, young man. This time she’s run out of options.”

HELEN ordered, “Standby. Conference about to commence.”

The screen came on and madam president said, “Thank you for coming. You may be seated. Unfortunately, our situation as deteriorated. As you know, these visitors have released a toxic agent into our oceans. Our whole planet is under threat. I regret this, but we have no choice but to launch a counterattack.”

“But you can’t! There must be a better way of dealing with this.”

“We’ve given them enough opportunities.” Richter snapped. “We cannot just sit back and let them overtake us.”

The president looked regretful, behind her political face. “Brett, if we had more time on our hands it would be different. The scientists might’ve been able to find a way to destroy the toxin. But since it’s spreading so fast, we have no choice but to act quickly.”

“No, you’ve got to talk to them. Anything’s better than fighting!”

“I’m sorry, Brett.”

Brett wasn’t surprised. After this, he didn’t have much hope arguing for peace.

Paul asked, “Well, what do you intend to do madam president?”

The woman sighed. “A massive radiation blast is our best hope of destroying the virus.”

“But what about the repercussions?” Brett spoke up, trying again. “Madam president, the radiation will destroy everything as surely as the virus will!”

“The environment will recover.”

“Get real. The reef’s been growing since the dinosaurs were here, it’ll take that long to grow back. If it ever does.”

“Brett, I understand your concerns but… sometimes in life, you are forced to do things you’d rather not do. If we don’t do everything in our power to stop this invasion now, it may be too late. For all of us.”

Neri walked into the water.

She hadn’t promised not to. The area infected by the red virus was clearly defined, and she could stay away from it. And she had to know, even if Jason got angry. Even if she got sick.

There was much less sound in the ocean than there had been. The whales and dolphins were gone, warned away. Dying fish flopped weakly, invisible inside the red stain.

Charley? Do you live?

Nothing. Then… another sound, familiar. Someone was here.

Neri looked around, and suddenly she was face to face with Shersheba. They looked at each other. Shersheba kicked for the surface, and Neri followed.

“If you’re looking for your little friend the whale, he’s dead.” Shersheba said, nasty as ever.

“…why do you do this terrible thing?”

“If you’d given us the ankh in the first place, none of this would’ve happened! If you don’t hand it over the red virus will kill everything, not just your whale.”

“If I give it to you, Malakat will kill everything.” Neri said quietly.

“You’re so stupid!” Shersheba shouted. “If you don’t give us the ankh, this planet and our own—everything will die. The only way for Malakat to stop the virus is to use the full power of the pyramid. But without the ankh, he can’t do that! So it’s your choice Neri. Life or death.” And Shersheba turned and dived.

Jason was checking the controls on the newly repaired minifin when he saw Neri. He shot a call up to the bridge, “Commander Bates?”

“Is that you Jase?”

“Got a slight hitch down here Mum. Endangered species approaching the dive pool. Eliminate predators if possible.”

“I’ll do what I can.” Dianne said. “You come back in, all right?”

“Roger, Mum.” Jason turned the minifin back towards ORCA, catching up with Neri. He waved at her and said, “Be careful—PRAXIS in the launch bay.” She nodded and tucked herself outside the launch bay where she could see the shadows of those inside without them seeing her.

Jason climbed out of the minifin to find Shelby drooling over a missile. “It’s ready!” Louis looked just as delighted. Elly Hauser just looked bored.

A message came over the speakers, “Attention all PRAXIS personnel. Report immediately to the bridge for final briefing.”

“I am up to here with these briefings!” Shelby grumbled.

“Did anyone ever tell you patience was a virtue?” Elly said acidly as they left the room.

A moment later Neri surfaced in the pool. Jason offered her a hand out. “Hi. Hurry, get changed before they come back.” A minute later, Neri now in her ORCA uniform, the two of them headed for the lift. But as the doors opened, Louis peeked around the corner and saw them. He yelled in surprise. The lift doors closed before Jason could tackle him or something.

Upstairs, Richter was talking about remaining on alert, the countdown being imminent, and things like that. Louis grabbed Shelby’s sleeve and burbled, “The alien! She’s back, I saw her in the lift on gamma level!”

“Agent Shelby, what is the boy saying?”

“I’ve got no idea, sir.”

“She was here! In the lift with Jason. You have to believe me!”

Elly said, “Easy enough to find out. How long ago do you think you saw her?”

“Just a couple of minutes.”

“Ok. HELEN, can you play the last three minutes of the security record for the gamma level lift, please?”

HELEN said, “Certainly, Agent Hauser.” She brought up the film: a minute’s footage of Jason standing alone in the lift.

Louis’ jaw dropped. “She was there! I saw it!”

Danson said, “Jason’s the only person there, Louis.”

“I’m telling the truth Dad.”

“This is a waste of valuable time.” Richter said, and gestured.

“I think you’d better leave, son.”

“She was there!” Louis wailed as he was escorted out the door.

Richter turned back. “Is the torpedo armed?”

“Affirmative, sir.”

“Standby to detonate. I’ll notify you as soon as we get the go-ahead.”

In the commander’s quarters Jason jumped up when the door opened. “Mum–”

“No worries.” Dianne said quickly, “It was a close call but HELEN did it. Not one image of Neri on the security footage.”

“It was all wiped out?”

“Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Everyone is quite certain it’s there, but it’s only your imagination.” Was Winston’s opinion.

Cass grinned. “They must have thought Louis was nuts!”

“Yes, I think he’s lost his credibility—even with Agent Shelby.”

“But that’s the only good news.” Brett said, “They’re ready. We’re just waiting for the word from madam president and then… war.”

“Her decision seems irreversible. I don’t think she’s going to change her mind now.”

Neri chimed, “Then I must take ankh to Malakat.”

Dianne said, “Neri, that could make things far worse than what PRAXIS is going to do.”

“But if virus stopped, no need for war.”

“Malakat might be lying. Maybe he can’t stop the virus even with the ankh.” Jason said, because it was more optimistic than saying that even if the virus were gone, PRAXIS would still consider the war to have been started.

Cass added, “Yeah, this could be just Shersheba’s way of pushing you to surrender the ankh. And if they get it they can go ahead with invading Earth…”

“Not to mention what they might try to do to you when you hand it over.”

Neri looked at them and nodded. “I know this. But even if it creates new problem, must stop the poison in the oceans. No more death.”

Garron listened in horror to the news. “But if the opal planet is infected, we have nowhere to escape to! Everything we have done has been for nothing. We are lost.”

“We are not ‘lost’ Garron.” Malakat said, his voice steely. “The virus can be stopped. And by releasing it, we’ve demonstrated to the earth people how easily we can destroy them. When our people come, they will not fight.”

“How can you be certain the earth pyramid can create a cure?”

Malakat snarled. “Listen to me. The virus will be stopped. And I warn you Garron, things could get worse for you than they already are.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that there will be no place for doubters in the new world. That was one of the failings of the ocean planet: people gave up. That sort of weakness and disloyalty won’t be tolerated. Is that clearly understood?”

“Yes sir.” Garron said quietly.

“Good. Now get on with it.”

Malakat closed the call. He was losing them, if there wasn’t a breakthrough soon he would lose the loyalty of the people. And when the people’s fear turned against him it would destroy them all.

Shersheba flounced in, her robe flowing around her. “It is curious. That child. Considering we’ve given her virtually no water, she’s surprisingly strong and alert.”

Malakat waved that thought away. “She can’t last forever. Why will the chosen one not bring the ankh? Why is she taking so long?”

“Do not worry, Malakat. She knows time is running out. I expect her soon.”

Below their feet Mera sat cuddled against the central core of the pyramid, talking to her sister. “Shersheba tells me the virus has reached the mountains where our people go to be safe. I think she lies, hoping that in fear I will ask you for the ankh. I know she lies.”

“But you are afraid.”

Mera smiled wanly. “I have water, but I am very hungry. That makes it easier to fear. But I will be well. Sister, what have you decided?”

“I must use the ankh to stop the virus.”

“But Malakat and Shersheba will take it from you. They’ll try to kill you!”

“The virus must be stopped or many more will die.” Neri chimed.

“I know. Be careful, sister.”

Neri nodded, and her image faded. Mera took a breath, trying to gather her strength. The pyramid gave her water, but it could not give her food, or sunlight or open space or peace. “And being around Malakat is sickening.” She muttered, and got up to go back to her cell.

Neri stepped out from behind the waterfall. Jason, sitting on the shore of the pond, looked up. “Did you talk to Mera?”

“Yes. She holds on.”

“You’re determined to go there, aren’t you?”

“I must. If the virus keeps spreading, more creatures will die like Charley did.” Neri said simply and sat down next to Jason.

“Ok. But let me go talk to them first.”

“No, Jason.”

“Hey, at least let me explain! You and I both know they could just take the ankh from you and make you a prisoner. At least let me try to negotiate another meeting with conditions. I don’t know what chance we have, but it’s got to be better than just walking into a trap.”

Neri finally nodded. “You must be quick, Jason. Not much time.”

“Ok, I’ll go home and see what we can cook up.” Jason started to walk towards the beach. Then, afraid Neri was angry, he turned back. “I’m just afraid of losing you.”

“I know.” Neri chimed, not looking at him. “Everyone is afraid. Mother, PRAXIS, president. Shersheba also, I think. So they do terrible things. Will we also, because we are afraid?”

Jason didn’t actually gape, but he wanted to. “Neri…” He could think of a lot of things to say, but half of them were stupid and the other half… were stupid.

Richter sauntered onto the bridge, paperwork in hand. “The president of the global union has given the order to detonate. Begin the countdown.”

“Let’s do this.” Shelby muttered.

Dianne spoke up, “What about the children? All non-essential personnel, including children, must be evacuated first. You are talking about using a nuclear weapon near a populated area.”

“What’s your time frame, commander? How long?”

“As long as it takes.” Dianne said simply. “Mr. Danson, can you start organizing an evacuation roster? Dave, how many boats will we need?” And because she was clearly doing something, PRAXIS had to leave her alone.

As soon as they were out of earshot Dave said blandly, “Commander, may I assume we coordinate this evacuation with all possible safety and comfort in mind? It might take several days to organize transport for everyone.”

“I think that would be appropriate.”

Danson said, “Delaying the launch is one thing, but I want my son far away from here when they pull the trigger. This is a dangerous game, commander.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.” Dianne said quietly. “I don’t like putting anyone at risk. But once they pull that trigger the aliens will retaliate, and then it’s likely that nowhere will be safe.”

“It’s the worst news.” Elly said, coming into the cabin where Ila and Ilona waited. “The president has authorized the attack. The countdown’s about to begin. If you have any idea how Malakat will retaliate, we need to know about it.”

“We don’t know.” Ila said.

“We have to tell them Mother, can’t you see that?”

“I’m urging you to help us. Time’s running out! Do you want blood on your hands?” Elly snapped. Both the aliens flinched.

Cass spoke up. “Come on Ilona, have they got bombs? What kind of weapons do your people use?”

“No weapons.” Ilona said quietly. “The power of the pyramid is all Malakat needs. With it he has complete control.”

“What do you mean complete control?” Elly asked.

But Cass had seen the synchronium, and the inside of an ocean planet spaceship so she had a better idea of what they were dealing with. She looked at Ilona. “He could wipe us out whenever he wants.”

As soon as the minifin surfaced inside the pyramid, Jason was hauled out and dragged into the main chamber.

Shersheba asked, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I’ve come with instructions.”

“Instructions? You have come with instructions for me? I will be most interested to hear them.” She motioned politely for Jason to sit down.

“Neri has agreed to bring you the ankh. But there are conditions.”

“Conditions. And what conditions would those be, Jason?”

Malakat was in the background, watching them as he worked at the central console.

“First, you and your troops must vacate the pyramid. Second, Neri’s safety must be guaranteed. Third, you must release Mera.”

“These conditions are extreme. They will be difficult to meet.”

Jason nodded. “But you know what will happen if you do not.”

On the island, Neri waited.