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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

24. The Rest of My Life

Neri and her mother walked along the sand. Around them the life of the ocean planet went on, children running around, people fishing, or making things, or sitting and drawing. Neri’s father had wandered ahead and sat down to sketch out an idea that might grow into a new machine, a better pump to water the fields or an energy panel for a racing boat. Mera and Ilona walked together in the surf, talking animatedly. Out to sea, a whale breached, and Mera cupped her hands to her mouth and sang a long note in reply. She turned and looked at Neri with a wide, genuine smile on her face.

Shalamorn said, “This is the world I would wish to give you.”

“It is gone, Mother.”

“Yes.” And the sunlight and sound of the waves melted away and they faced each other in the midst of darkness.


“When the dawn comes, my daughter, it is your time.”

“I am ready.” Neri chimed, “But I am scared.”

“Have courage. The world is with you.”

“I wish I could have met you.”

“I too. I would give everything to save you from this fate. But all that I can do is… trust you.” Shalamorn’s image wavered.

“Mera needs me. I love you, mother.” Neri whispered.

“And I you, my daughter.”

And Neri woke up in the predawn darkness of the hut. She heard the soft sound of Mera and Ilona breathing where they were curled together for warmth, and the hush of distant waves. The silence of the fragile world.

Jason was watching TV in his pajamas. He flipped channels, but everything seemed to be news. The cartoon channel was running real shows, but even if Jason could have concentrated, anything on after midnight was too gross to watch. He hit the channel button again.

“With sea levels rising to major flood levels, panic overtakes the principal cities of the world. There is no doubt that we are facing the greatest crisis in the history of mankind and we seem powerless to stop it.” An anchor’s voice said without emotion. Maybe you could only get the job if you lacked all feeling.

“Still up?” Brett asked from the doorway.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Me neither.” Brett sat next to his brother and they watched the news for a while. When the footage of melting ice and flooded cities started to repeat itself Brett finally said, “I hate it! I hate being Malakat’s prisoner, his no-face commandos prowling the corridors, and even worse I hate the pyramid! It’s beaten us this time, hasn’t it? We’re not gonna make it this time, are we?”

Jason didn’t look at him.

Dawn turned the sea golden. Neri was leaving.

“I want to be with you.” Mera said hopelessly.

“No. Our people will turn to you, Mera, when I am gone. I would not give this to you, but there is no one else.”

Mera nodded.

“Princess…” Ilona began, then shrugged.

“Be strong for my sister, Ilona. She will need you.”

“I will. We all will.” Ilona turned away.

Neri hugged Mera, stroked her hair, and whispered, “Goodbye.” Then she stepped back and ran into the water, diving into the gold trail of the sun. For a moment she was blinded, then she was at home in the familiar blue. Still so beautiful.


Charley called back, he was near ORCA speaking the stay-away message into a current. Every creature that understood would know about the virus. They met in the middle and for a minute just swam together, weaving around each other through the morning light.

I must leave you.


To make the ocean healthy again, for you and my sister and the ORCA people and all people. But I cannot come back to you. Not even for the migration. Not even if your lady has a beautiful child you would like to show me.

Charley whistled sadly. He didn’t really understand the idea of ‘never’ but he understood that Neri was sad.

Please stay with Mera. Take care of her. And live… my dear.

Neri hugged the whale’s huge face and heard him croon a verse of the song mothers sang to their calves. She ducked underwater and cried the few tears that were all her people could shed even in deepest sorrow.

Malakat stood over the pyramid’s central console, playing it and watching its energy change. The icecaps were melting and, if he wanted to, Malakat could have directed the damage. He could decide where the flooding would be bad, or pull water out of any cove anywhere in the world. He could ease the pressure building between the tectonic plates, or release it as a massive earthquake. He could move the currents in the ocean to spread the virus faster, or keep it contained. Anything. He could do anything.

Malakat looked up. One of the soldiers had entered and was standing silently.

“You want something? Speak!”

“I have been asked, by the others. The antidote for the virus—was the princess Shersheba carrying it when she escaped us?”

Malakat snarled. “Tell them, tell your weakling associates, within hours the whole earth and the cure for the virus will be in our hands.”

“But–” Bellshar said without thought.

“Those who doubt will never see the cure!” Malakat roared, “They will die. The pyramid will claim all. As for the princess Shersheba, she will be tried as a traitor.”

Bellshar nodded and turned away, not letting even a flicker of emotion show in his eyes. He was thinking that Shersheba hadn’t been quite normal, but she’d never spoken of deaths this way. He was thinking of the tiny woman on ORCA who’d shouted and showed him a picture that could only be her family, as if she wanted to protect them just as he wanted to protect his family. He was thinking of the child-queen speaking of peace on the ocean planet and then defying Malakat with blazing eyes.

Shersheba found her ship surrounded as soon as it landed on the ocean planet, before the hull had even cooled from reentry. Usually she’d have landed in the water, but with all oceans infected the presiding pyramid had guided the ship to set down on land.

When the ship’s computer registered a safe hull temperature, it opened the hatches. Shersheba climbed out, and was taken captive by two of her own soldiers. She did not go quietly.

They dragged her before Garron.

“Garron, what is the meaning of this? I order you to dismiss them now!”

“I am under orders from Malakat, your highness.” Garron replied, unimpressed.

Shersheba arched an eyebrow. “And what are your orders?”

Garron didn’t look happy about it. “You are to hand over the substance you brought back with you or else… you will be imprisoned.”

The girl jerked free of the soldiers holding her and hissed, “The substance I brought with me is the cure for the red virus. And I swear, by the power of the ancient ones and Mother Sea herself, that you will not see it until you acknowledge me your rightful leader. So, what is it to be?”

Jason got up late, dressed for action, and wandered out to the main room. His fellow prisoners were watching HELEN show off… Jason looked at his brother. “What..?”

HELEN was showing a graphic of the pyramid and saying in what could only be described as a syrupy voice, “Observe the perfect dimensions of my friend, surely the most harmonious configuration in all of physics.”

Cass looked over the back of the couch. “Can you believe it? The pyramid’s her friend. Some buddy.”

Winston tried, “Thank you for your observation HELEN. It is indeed a beautiful shape. But the question remains—has the pyramid increased its power overnight?”

“The pyramid is at rest, gathering together a mighty strength.”

Jason gave, well, everyone a look of disbelief.

His father said, “She’s been going on like that since we got up. You’d think she was in love with the thing.”

“Think?” Cass said, “She’s totally hooked. It’s kind of funny.”

“Mum… do you think the pyramid is the ‘higher authority’ that wouldn’t let PRAXIS nuke us all to kingdom come?”

“I think it must be. So HELEN’s infatuation is very good for us… though it does make her a bit difficult to work with. Winston, any idea how long silicone puppy-love lasts?”

“It’s totally beyond me, Commander. Now, might we raid your kitchen for breakfast? This is likely to be a very trying day.”

Not being locked in, Elly went to the galley for breakfast. Nobody was serving, but someone had taped up signs so people could find their own food. There was nobody else there, except for the ubiquitous silent commandos—and Shelby, eating cold pancakes.

“Aren’t you supposed to be under arrest?”

Shelby scowled. “I am. Take a look around. It’s one big prisoner of war camp.”

Elly glanced around. Only blank faces—she didn’t see any of the soldiers who’d been on the bridge last night. She nodded. “A dozen of them to every one of us.”

Shelby threw down his fork and stood up. “Yeah? Well I’m not gonna take it any longer.”

He stormed out. Elly expected to see the soldiers stop him, maybe even shoot him, but they just watched. Elly chased him into the viewing tunnel. “Jake! Shelby, snap out of it!”

Shelby growled something.

Elly glanced out the window—and gasped. Neri hung in the water outside, her hair streaming and her face stern. She pointed towards the dive pool and whisked out of sight.

“What the–?” Shelby gasped.

“Quick, follow me. Can you get us into the minifin bay? It’ll be guarded.”

Shelby grinned and raised a fist. “Leave it to me.”

And indeed, when they arrived he dropped the two commandos with two quick punches. Elly was impressed in spite of herself. She helped load the briefly unconscious soldiers into a supply closet.

“Haven’t lost the old touch, they’ll be out for a while. So, what makes you think this fish girl’s not on their side?”

“Trust me, I know.” Elly knelt by the pool. “Neri!”

Neri smiled back for a moment, then saw Shelby and backed away. Elly said quickly, “It’s all right, he won’t hurt you. I can’t believe you’re all right… what can we do to help?”

Neri vaulted out of the water, gave Shelby another look and said, “I need to see Mother-Commander and Jason.”

“Right. They’re locked in quarters, a level up from here. Shelby, you can go first and warn us if you meet any commandos. They don’t seem to consider you a threat.”

A tense walk later, Elly carded them into the commander’s quarters. Everyone looked up and someone said, “What…?” and “Neri!”

Neri ignored them and folded herself in Jason’s arms for a moment. She stepped back and said, “We talk. All of us.”

“Mother… you can make more of the cure yes?”

Dianne nodded, “Sure, if I could get another sample. HELEN’s been running analysis on the tests with the first sample, and it looks like it’s one hundred percent effective. It should spread as fast as the virus itself, clear out all trace of it, and disappear.”

Neri nodded. “As soon as you can leave here, find Charley. He will let you have another sample.”

Jason said, “Yeah, the ‘leave’ part is the problem. We can’t even get a message out, much less one of us.”

“I am… I am going to destroy the pyramid.”

Paul started to say something but Brett and Jason both shouted, “Neri, no!” and as horror rose, Brett explained, “Mera told me and Cass. To destroy a pyramid someone has to be inside when it blows up. Neri, you can’t!”

“We won’t let you.”

“It has to be, mother. It is what I must do.”


Jason said, “The only problem is, how are we going to get into the pyramid?”

“We?” Neri chimed, looking at him.

“You’re not going alone.” Jason said firmly.

Shersheba should have been thrilled. Finally, without Malakat, the people were calling her queen and bowing and doing whatever she said. It was all hers, the whole planet. People were giving her things, even the little children, now that they knew she’d brought the cure. But she wasn’t happy. She couldn’t enjoy this while she held her people’s lives hostage. A few months ago she’d have been able to enjoy it just fine, and the fact that she couldn’t was making her angry.

The princess stalked to the door of Malakat’s home. Guards still stood outside, and they moved to block her way.

“Stand aside.”

“We cannot. Only Malakat may enter.”

“You will stand aside for me, the princess Shersheba. I command you now!”

The guard glanced behind her at Garron who said, “She has the support of the council. Let her in.”

The cave was ordinary, like any of the other caves used as homes. There was a bed and clothes storage, and many tables of Malakat’s electronics. No windows, and no plants. Shersheba’d never seen a home without plants, even the other cave homes had pale vines or edible mushrooms growing close to hand for a snack. Malakat’s home held no life at all. Nor were there any pictures, or holograms of family members.

Shersheba opened a chest, found only more clothes folded away. “Hmmf.”

“Princess.” Garron said. He indicated a low door half-hidden behind a table.

“Well? What is in there?”

“It is locked with a spoken key. Do you know what words he would have used?”

The girl frowned and thought, and… listened. She leaned down and whispered, “Shalamorn… I have won.”

The lock glowed and unlatched. Shersheba shook herself, suddenly not sure she wanted to know what was behind the door. She tossed her hair and ordered, “Come, Garron. We will see what Malakat would hide.”

Shersheba ducked through the doorway. When she straightened she found herself facing the empty eyes of a whale’s skull. This cave was lit by shimmering blue light that made the skull seem to move. Garron murmured, “Why would…?”

They turned, saw the source of the light, and could not speak.

A column of crystal reached from the floor to the ceiling. Beneath its frosted surface a human figure reached towards them. Shersheba gasped. Garron fumbled and finally touched the key, hidden beneath the whale’s skull. Shersheba turned to scream at Garron, but couldn’t think what to say. The light changed and the column evaporated. The room filled with icy fog and the prisoner slumped forward, gasping for breath. Garron moved to catch her.

Her first word was muted, then, “My daughters?”

Garron said, “Your husband passed away on the opal planet. Your daughters are there now. I will take you to the portal.”

On the bridge of ORCA, Danton stood as commanding officer, uncomfortable because the commander of ORCA and the regional commander of operations were both locked up a floor away.

He jumped when one of the aliens’ triangular projections lit up in the air. Their leader spoke, a soldier answered, and the call ended.

“What was that?”

The tall commando looked down at Danton. “We will all be leaving here soon.”

“If you’re evacuating, does that mean he intends to destroy ORCA? There are dozens of people on board! What about us?”

“I do not know.” The soldier turned away to speak to his comrades. He didn’t care. Danton glanced under the table and nodded.

The wall hatch opened and Louis launched himself into the commander’s quarters. “All the aliens are going to be evacuated! They’re going to blow this place up!”

He looked around, realized his audience included kids and PRAXIS agents as well as the bosses. Cass started to say, “I thought you left!”

Neri stepped forward. “Then I must go now.”

Louis goggled. “I told you she was alive. You never believe me.”

“More important things going on, Louis.” Said Shelby, but kindly. “We need a way into the pyramid, the one swarming with enemy soldiers.”

Elly frowned. “Maybe your HELEN 6000 can help.”

“We’ve tried.” Jason sighed, “She won’t cooperate.”

“There’s no way in, Agent Hauser. HELEN is quite intractable on the matter.”

Cass rolled her eyes. “HELEN’s in love, she’s useless.”

“Perhaps if I ask, she will listen.” Neri chimed.

Dianne shrugged.

“It’s worth a try, Commander. The peacock may spread his tail for a pretty hen.”

Neri stood and turned to the room’s main screen. It still held a rotating graphic of the pyramid, though HELEN had muted her praises. Neri said, “HELEN, you talk to pyramid, yes?”


“Please tell pyramid I want to come to it but I must come in secret. Tell pyramid this is the wish… the wish of the chosen one.” Neri trembled when she said the words.

“I will do that, Neri.” Said HELEN softly, not sounding like a computer at all.

There was a pause as HELEN sent the request. Then the screen changed. A blue image slowly built, of a tangle of tubes wound in the shape of a tree.

“Look at that.”

“What is it?”

Neri smiled. “I know. My sister told me of this place. It is the heart of the pyramid.”

Jason guessed, “It’s showing us. There is another way in.”

HELEN announced, “You may enter, Neri, from the cave of light.”

“The cave of light?” Brett repeated.

“The crystal cavern in the outback. It must be!”

“Yes. It is the way. Thank you, HELEN.”

“The pyramid awaits the chosen one.”

That, in HELEN’s synthesized voice, was positively creepy. Jason quickly said, “First we have to get there—and get out of here. A helicopter would be the best way to get to the cave, and I have my pilot’s certification.”

“Hang on kid, you have a chopper license?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “HELEN, show Agent Shelby would you? Thanks. Boat, minifin, chopper, light aircraft. Just not cars.”

Silently, Paul held out the keys to the official helicopter.

Cass smiled. “As for getting out of here, leave that to us. What if the minifin left with two passengers? That’d get them out of the way.”

Brett nodded. “Autopilot unit?”

“Yeah, and maybe put the rescue dummies inside in case they check for passengers. Uh—permission to destroy a million dollar piece of equipment, commander?”

Paul and Dianne both grimaced. After a minute of silence Dianne said, “We need to do this now, so unless anyone has a better idea… granted.”

“Great!” Cass headed for the wall hatch. “I’ll get my autopilot unit. Come on Louis.”


“You wanted to help. You can scout the dive pool for me. There aren’t any hatches in there and I need to install the unit in the minifin without being seen.”

A reluctant Louis followed Cass into the ducts. “What if someone’s there?”

“You think of something! We have to stop in the lab on the way so you’ve got time to brainstorm.”

Elly remembered and called after them, “Jake sucker-punched the guards half an hour ago. They’re in a closet.” She turned back to the group, a bemused expression on her face.

There was a sudden silence.

“Jason… can we talk?”

“Sure Mum.” Jason let his parents pull him away. They went into a bedroom and the door hummed shut.

“Mum, Dad–” Jason began.

“You’re going with Neri? What do you mean?” Paul demanded.

“All the way. She needs me.” Jason answered and wished his voice wouldn’t wobble. In truth he hadn’t known that until he said it. “Mum, we can stop the virus now but only Neri can stop the pyramid from flooding the world and killing everyone! Someone’s got to be there to watch her back. And maybe I can find a way to save her. Or at least… I can be with her.”

“Jason, you realize–”

“Yeah, Dad. But it’s what I have to do.”

“I understand.” Dianne said quietly. “I hate it, and I’d like to lock you both up until this goes away, and I don’t know if I can face life without both of you… but I understand why you have to do this. It’s your decision.”

Paul looked about to explode. He opened and closed his mouth several times, sputtered, and finally said, “Son… I don’t want to lose you. I missed too many years with you two already. But since you’re determined…” Paul offered his hand. “I’m proud of you.”

They shook hands, and Jason awkwardly hugged his father. He had to work hard not to cry. “Thank you. I’ll be back if I can. I love you, Dad. Mum.”

Before any of them could break down, Jason waved the door open and walked into the main room. “Ready?”

Neri was hugging Winston. She stood and nodded. “Cass just call. Minifin is ready.”

“Ok.” The two of them slipped into the corridor. A minute later Jason’s watch chimed and Brett said, “They’re going for it, the pontoon’s clear! Go!”

HELEN opened the elevator and Neri pulled Jason inside. Jason’s com was still on so they heard a muddle of voices, “There they go!” “Turn, make it look like it’s running away—other lever, Louis!” “What’s happening? It’s gone blank.” “Damn… they really did blow it up. Hope Mum really does forgive us.”

The elevator opened. The two of them dashed to the helicopter and hurriedly strapped themselves in. Jason said to his com, “We’re away!” and started the motor. The thunder of propellers drowned out all speech. Neri winced and put on her headset to block the noise. The helicopter lifted slowly off the pontoon.

Jason glanced at Neri and saw her sitting tensely, looking at the sky, not back at ORCA as it vanished in the distance.

The chopper landed on the plateau. Jason shut it down and, after a moment, left the keys inside. He took a deep breath and followed Neri to the cave. It was another hot day, and the outback sky was blindingly bright.

“Neri, wait…”

Neri turned as Jason climbed down the giant stone steps into the cave. In the light, she shone. “Jason… here is where we must say goodbye.” Her voice was soft, she was almost crying.

Jason faced her. “I’m not going to leave you Neri.”

“But we will die!” She cried.

“I know. And I’m scared. But I’m coming too. Neri I… wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Even if that’s just the next five minutes.”

Neri smiled, and a tear fell down her cheek. “I also.” She said.

The light in the cave changed, a sunbeam moved on the wall and highlighted the shape of an ankh carved in the stone. “There.” Neri said, and reached to touch it. The spring swirled and deepened into a blue abyss.

They arrived in the heart of the pyramid. Jason opened his eyes and found himself looking at the great tree of crystalline wires and tubing. It flashed in what looked like rhythms and patterns. Neri was staring also. She was trembling.


“I saw my father.” Neri said suddenly. “Before. Maybe it was a dream, from sickness, but maybe…”

“I’m sure.” Jason said, even though he wasn’t.

The pyramid hummed and the blue light shone on them like a captive moon. Neri stood straighter, as if pulling her courage around her like a coat. Jason tried to do the same. Neri turned to him with glowing eyes as the pyramid’s sound changed suddenly. “We go. Now!”

A passageway grated open before them and they ran down it, coming out behind the statue. Jason caught Neri’s hand and held her back for a moment.

Malakat stood with his back to them, hunched over the console. “My pyramid…” he murmured. “Now, hear me. I command you to send the fire of destruction across the ocean. Destroy the home of my enemies! Destroy ORCA!”

“No!” Neri shouted. “It will not be!”

Malakat turned. He didn’t look surprised to see them. “Too late. It begins! Can’t you feel it?” The rushing-water sound was louder and the pyramid trembled under their feet.

ORCA shook. Dianne shouted, “Get down! Cover your heads!”

“The structure won’t hold!” Paul said from where he’d managed to stay in his seat. Richter started forward for a look when the screen exploded in a shower of hot glass. Both men fell back.


There was a moment of calm, enough for Paul to say, “I’m ok. But we’ve go–”

Another tremor hit, the hull shrieked and they heard water start coming in somewhere below. In one corner Winston was braced protecting Brett and Cass. Elly was under a table. Richter was on the floor, groaning and wiping at his face.

“HELEN, seal the base! Close all airlocks!” Some of the others might make it. If rescue came in time. And then there was nothing else to do so Dianne let herself fall against the wall, wrapped her arms around Brett, and let Paul hang on to both of them.

“See? I have the power. The pyramid and I are one.”

Jason lunged, grabbed Malakat’s shoulder. “You–!”

“No Jason! There is only one way. It was written by the ancient ones. This pyramid will be destroyed—and we too, unless you stop, Malakat.”

“You? The child princess? You wouldn’t dare.”

Neri stepped past him and put her hands on the miniature pyramid. It glowed warm when she touched it. Jason let Malakat go with a shove and went to stand by Neri. After a questioning look, he put his hands over hers.

“You must stop now, Malakat.”

“You think you can bluff me? No!” Malakat laughed madly.

Neri whispered, “Pyramid… be destroyed.”

The pyramid became completely silent, then the rushing water sound returned, slowly intensifying. Neri whispered, “We must tell it why.”

Jason didn’t know if the pyramid could hear him, but he thought hard about the destruction Malakat was causing, the fear and death. The pyramid could end that! And then everyone would have a future, Mick and Vanessa could get married, Benny could come back to ORCA, everyone would be safe… Winston. Cass. Mum and Dad and Brett.

Light flooded between the stones of the pyramid. Jason was blinded, but he heard Malakat shouting.

Neri whispered, “…and my sister be safe.”

Something rumbled and they both cringed, ready to die.

Then a clear voice rang out, “Wait, my daughter!”

The glare died, leaving the only light coming from the water passage, which stood open, a woman silhouetted against its glow.

“Mother.” Neri whispered, white to the lips.

Malakat’s eyes bulged. “You.” He spat, “You think you can stop me now, Shalamorn? Always the idealist, always the fool. Destroy her, oh pyramid! Show her who your master is!”

Shalamorn stepped to the console and touched the golden ankh. Quietly she said, “I am Shalamorn, anointed queen of the ocean planet, rightful inheritor of the laws of the ancient ones. My pyramid, stop. Heal the harm you have been ordered to do.”

Neri stepped back and sat down on the step. “Mother.” She whispered again.

“Neri, are you–?” Jason began.

The water passage shimmered and Shersheba stepped through. She summoned the commandos and all of them, instantly, bowed before Shalamorn. They hauled Malakat away to be locked up. It took about a minute.

There were sudden footsteps from the entrance and Mera appeared, looking frightened and saying, “Who calls me?”

Shalamorn held out her hands to her daughters and slowly, hesitantly, they hugged.

Jason turned on his com. “Come in ORCA, anybody there?” The com flickered through several screens of static before a clear image came up. It was a sideways view of fallen furniture with Dave and the other techs picking themselves up. Then he got a blurry view of the bridge. “Mum?”

Nobody was paying attention to calls, but HELEN reported, “ORCA hull breached in three places. Damage minimized by sealing doors. No serious injuries reported.”

“Tell my mom…” Jason looked up at Neri and her mother, still hugging, and Mera who was talking to Ilona, and Shersheba being quieter than Jason had known she could be, and the commandos still standing around but now they were all smiling. “Tell her the attack’s over, we’re fine, everything is fine.”

A triangular projection appeared and a woman on the ocean planet asked, “Is all well?”

The queen nodded. “All is well, my friend. The pyramid has stopped its violence. The earth planet is safe.”

Mera reached up to touch the projection. “You live.” She whispered. “Onoelle, I thought you dead.”

The woman smiled. “We live, my child. At the end the pyramid heard your words and sent us to safety. I am glad to see you well and, beyond belief, reunited with your true mother.”

And then the queen was coming over to Jason. “For protecting Neri, you have my eternal thanks.”

Jason sputtered, “My pleasure, I mean, of course. I love Neri. But—we all thought you were dead.”

Shalamorn nodded. She looked around at the soldiers, the others, and Onoelle watching from the ocean planet, and sat down on the stone step beside the statue. Mera tucked herself next to her mother, and Neri came and stood by Jason.

“It is a simple story. The night before I was to leave for earth to seek my family, Malakat asked to speak with me. Perhaps I was a fool to go, for I suspected him of a most terrible crime, but I hoped he wanted to prove his innocence. We had long been friends, or so I though. He overcame me and I knew no more until Shersheba and Garron released me. They brought me to the nearest pyramid and we chanced the gate between worlds to come here in time.”

Mera said softly, “Malakat is responsible for all of it, all the terrible things that have happened to us and so many of our people.”

From the projection Onoelle said, “I and the council move that he be exiled.”

Jason blinked. That didn’t seem very serious. Ilona leaned over and said, “Exiled to an empty planet, with water and food but no technology and no other people.”

Unexpectedly Neri said, “Yes. Send him where he can hurt no one else.”

“Then I rule with the council.” Shalamorn said sadly. “When an escape pod can be spared, Malakat will be sent into exile. Until then he will be imprisoned even as I was.”

“This is fair, my queen.”

Shersheba stood up, guessing she was next. She started to say something, then stopped. She looked—different. Miserable, but also somehow softer and more genuine than before. Ilona stood beside her in a hesitant show of support.

“But for your actions on returning to the ocean planet, you would receive the same fate. However, since you protected the antidote from Malakat, thus saving the oceans of our world, you are reprieved.”

Shersheba seemed to wilt with relief. She fell to her knees. “Your majesty. I am your servant forever. And–” she turned to glance at Jason, “I am sorry.”

It was going to take more than that, but that was a start. Ilona spoke up hesitantly, “Majesty, I think—Shersheba—she seemed not to care about the jali of our world. Could it be that…”

Shersheba reverted in a second and snapped, “Do not dare! I am of the royal blood!” before she remembered where she was. Ilona cringed.

Neri chimed, “You do not hear.” She stepped down beside Shersheba, who snarled at the ground.

Mera gaped.

Neri put her hands on Shersheba’s head. The other girl tried to flinch away, then a second later her eyes went very wide and she whispered, “I did not know…” and for the first time in her life, Shersheba cried.