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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

1. Lost at Sea

The whales sang. Not the long love songs people knew, but shorter bursts of clicks and squeals about tasty fish, or the state of the water, or gossip about who was paired with who this season. As night fell the noise level faded, voices dropping out as their owners slept in brief naps near the surface.

Neri slept too, cradled by the gentle rocking of the ocean. Even dozing, she could feel the baby’s breathing and hear when Charley or his mate surfaced. The ‘all is well’ song came regularly. It was fainter now, as the group of whales spread out to their winter feeding grounds, some still in couples, some with new calves. It was time to go home.

First thing, before school even, Jason and Brett had to go to the lab to check the map. The computer loaded a new one every few hours as the satellite uploaded data from the tagged whales. The cluster of dots was moving up the coast from Antarctica.

“I guess Neri and Charley will be about there at the moment.” Winston said. He was used to the daily invasion of his equipment by now.

“So, how long ‘til we see them again?”

“Patience Jason. They will return in their own good time.”

Dianne Bates came to look over Winston’s shoulder. “Right on schedule. Let’s just hope we’re still here when they arrive!”

“Aw Mum! Not before breakfast!” Brett complained, with a dramatic shudder at the prospect of being booted back to land.

“Then get along to breakfast, both of you.” Dianne inflicted hugs and hair-rubs on her sons and sent them out the door. “And get to class on time for once.”

The two boys headed for the galley along ORCA’s endless blue-walled corridors. They paused in the viewing tube to watch divers on the reefs outside.

“You don’t think Mum could be right do you, Jase? They wouldn’t really kick us off this place.”

“Well, most of our class has been transferred to land. Rotation of personnel is part of the charter.”

“Yeah, but Mum’s on a contract.”

Jason sighed. “Which runs out in another week, Brett. And no-one’s said anything about renewing it.”

The galley was full of people, mostly kids in aqua uniforms. Jason and Brett grabbed food and scanned the room for people they knew. From a table in the back, Froggy waved. He’d gotten a big table with his partner in crime Zoe, and Vanessa, who looked disgruntled at being seen sitting with the ‘little kids.’

Brett continued his thought as they sat down, “The worst part is we could be gone before you-know-who gets back!”

“You mean Neri.” Froggy said.

Zoe swatted him. “Quiet! New kids!”

Three new arrivals, two girls and a boy all about Jason’s age, were headed their way. “G’day. Mind if we join you?”

Zoe smiled and everyone picked up their trays so they could shove the tables together.

“I’m Rocky and this is my sister Joanne.” The boy said.

The other girl, who had her hair up in two buns anime-style, announced, “I’m Kimberly Mcguinness. You all new on board too?”

“Give us a break, we’re old crew.”

“Keep your fingers crossed we’re not ex-crew before the week’s out.” Jason grumbled. “Uh, sorry. Jason Bates, my brother Brett, and that’s Froggy, Zoe, and–”

“Vanessa Lane. So how did you guys get lucky enough to be sent out here?”

After school and chores the two boys signed out a boat and went out to the island, ‘just to make sure everything’s ok for when Neri gets back.’ Jason climbed up to Neri’s sleeping nest in the tree and scooped out old leaves and fallen branches. He scared up a lot of bugs, and three lizards that scampered away up the tree. Brett was sitting by the pond tossing rocks in the water.

Jason threw a stick at him.


“You wouldn’t believe the amount of junk that’s collected up here. Well come on, make yourself useful and gather some fresh leaves ok?”

Brett stood up grumbling, “What did your last slave die of, overwork?” Jason tossed a handful of leaves at him, but they fell short.

Brett splashed across the pond and inspected a brown plant with dead-looking folded buds. “These any good?” He sniffed a leaf and recoiled.

“They’re never-bloom plants.” Jason called down.

“Say what?”

“That’s what Neri calls them. She told me they only open for a couple of hours every five, six years. They’re still growing though, so they must be alive. Find something else.”

“Weird.” Brett poked the never-bloom plant. Its leaves rustled, dry as old paper, and a heavy bud bobbed in the air.

The mother whale sang to her calf as they swam, songs as old as their race made up of sound and shape as they saw it through echolocation.

This is dolphin, sleek and clever but sometimes cruel to their own.
This is sperm whale, blunt-headed, ferocious, deep-divers.
This is killer whale, wild and angry.
This is human, worst of all.

The ‘word’ for human was a combination of things: the shape of a boat, the sound of an engine and the chatter of a helicopter. Neri wanted to say, only some humans were dangerous to whales. Some were the best of all. But for now, the warning was good for the baby to hear. Maybe someday…

Charley whistled, We see Mother again? Help her make it safe?

Yes, dear one. Neri answered. The water tasted of milk from the baby’s suckling. Neri smiled. It would be good to see her friends again, Mother and Jason and Brett. Good to get on land after so long too! She missed cooked food, and being out of the water! Sensing her mood, Charley surfaced underneath her, lifting her on his huge back. Neri laughed.

“Silly. I am not one of you. I am small, and like clear water also.” Neri uncorked a canteen hanging on a strap around her neck and drank. She could drink seawater, for days without getting sick. Brett and Jason couldn’t do that. Suddenly serious she said, “I look like them but I am not like them…”

Charley didn’t care. Neri is Neri, he said, and rolled in the water, dumping her in. Neri laughed underwater and grabbed a long fin, hanging on for the ride as the three whales dived.

On the island the boys had cleaned out Neri’s nest, checked that the little cache of shell dishes was safe, and climbed halfway up the island to clear muck from the spring that fed the waterfall. Brett came back with an armful of firewood. “This enough? And I saw loads of bananas and those root things Neri likes.”


Brett stopped. “Hey—I thought you said these things hardly ever opened.”

“That’s right.”

“Well this one is.”

Jason came over to look. The never-bloom flower was opening, the petals moving as slowly as the minute hand on a clock. Jason was pretty sure plants weren’t supposed to do that.

“Hey there’s something in here.” Brett lifted out an irregular piece of metal, silver set with some kind of black stone. A string was tied to it at two points. “What do you reckon it is?”

Jason took it from him and rubbed the cool metal. Nothing he recognized. “Don’t know. Maybe a piece of something.” He shrugged and handed it back.

Brett carefully wrapped the string around the metal object. If it was on the island, it was Neri’s. He’d keep it for her.

Sound came through the water, a thin whistle. Neri stopped, backpaddling to listen. Something about people. The voice was coming from a long way away.

Charley? Do you hear?

Charley ‘said’ where the call was coming from. A human bird came down one sun ago. One lives still.

Raft? Neri asked, the ultrasound image of a life raft seen from below.

Charley whistled, Must be.

Is not far from ORCA. I must go!

Yes. Was all Charley said. He nuzzled his mate and the baby, all the goodbye whales ever gave each other. Watching them Neri realized it was strange to her now, that Charley wouldn’t worry about his baby or be sad if his wife chose a different husband next year. Before she met Jason and Brett and the people like them, she hadn’t known the words husband and wife, or the idea that two people would be together for more than a season…

I am not like them, Neri thought. But now, I go. Human may need help.

Brett squirmed in his dress uniform. “Why do we have to meet him? Zoe and I have a game on!”

“A wise tadpole never questions the frog!” Winston told him. “They wanted a family on the welcoming committee and you were chosen. Your vid games will have to wait.”

“Come on Brett, it’s like being royalty. And it’s our chance to convince this new Commander Byrne to let us continue our whale research.”

“Dianne, I hear a whisper it’s not a navy man this time. Someone from the business world.”

“Oh terrific, a suit.” Dianne had been hoping for a scientist. “I hope he’ll have the ability to understand that someday we may be able to talk to the whales.”

Jason said, “That’s still a long way off, Mum.”

Dianne leaned over and said quietly, “Need I remind you we already know someone who can?”

“Yeah, but that’s Neri and she’s—she’s not human.”

“Brett, just because we’ve established that we’ve never seen a blood group with her dna structure before, that doesn’t mean there’s not some simple explanation. Ok? Now, you all look very handsome. Let’s go.”

They walked through the halls to the lift and waited, Brett catching Jason up on the news in the world of vid games. He was saying, “And Froggy thinks he can crack into the editor so we can…” when the elevator arrived. Everyone straightened up hurriedly. The doors opened.

Commander Byrne was a woman—a formidable woman, both tall and stocky with chin-length hair and a scowl on her face.

Dianne blinked. “Welcome to ORCA, Commander Byrne. I’m Doctor Dianne Bates.”

“Is there something wrong, Doctor Bates?” the commander asked immediately.

“No! No. It’s just that we weren’t expecting a woman. That’s all.”

“I don’t see why that should make any difference. Do you? This is my son Michael.”

A boy about Jason’s age appeared behind her. He had the same big build as his mother, and the same sour expression.

“Ah, we thought we’d give you a quick tour of the place. Get you familiar with your surroundings.”

The commander nodded. “Wait a minute. Bates—that’s marine biology, correct?”

“That’s right.”

“I made a specific note about discussing the future of your work.”

“I’d be very keen to do that.”

“We’ll do it on the way. Come along, Michael.”

When the grownups got a few steps away Jason held out his hand to Michael. “G’day. I’m Jason.”

“So?” The boy snorted and followed his mother.

Jason and Brett looked at each other and Brett muttered, “What’s with him?”

Neri smelled the human machine first, the stink of oil and hot metal in the water. Whatever it had been, it was now a crumpled hulk on the seabed. There was more wreckage floating, and a round rubber life raft. Neri kicked for the surface and bounced herself up, spy-hopping to see inside.

A man was sprawled in the bottom of the raft, his arm crooked over his face.

Neri squirmed over the edge of the raft and crouched next to the man. She uncorked her bottle and splashed his face with a handful of fresh water. The man groaned and suddenly grabbed the bottle and pulled it to his mouth.

From the water Charley made a worried sound. Neri pushed herself back to the edge of the raft, the wet rubber slippery.

The man was looking at her, around for a boat, then back to her. “Who are you?” He grabbed her wrist, “How did you get here? Oh no you don’t! Whatever you are, now you’re here you’re staying!”

In the ORCA gym Kimberley was already doing reps while Vanessa showed Rocky and Joanne around. “Game terminals—but HELEN knows if you’ve done your homework and she’ll limit your time. Froggy knows a hack to get around it but he charges a bundle and he won’t teach it.”

“Not my thing, computers.” Said Rocky.

“You’ll want to make it your thing if you’re staying on ORCA.”

“And here I thought I’d just need to be able to swim and stuff.”

“You definitely need to be able to swim.”

Joanne wandered over to Kimberley, who was pounding out reps on the exercise machine like she could go on forever. Impressed, Joanne said, “The guys wouldn’t believe this. How long can you keep it up?”

“Longer than any of them could. Boys talk big, but they’re just a pack of flabby wimps.”

“Hey!” Jason yelled from the door before it was done opening, “I’ve got news, we’re staying!”


“The commander says if Mum takes on extra duties, she’ll authorize six more months.”

Brett waved his arms to make sure everyone noticed, “You hear that everybody? We’re staying on ORCA!”

Froggy joined the cheer, then was distracted by something on a nearby screen. “HELEN, bring that back. What… hey guys, check it out.”

“What is it Froggy?” Jason asked. Some of the kids, the ones who thought Froggy worth listening to, crowded around.

“Chopper accident. Looks like it happened yesterday but we weren’t told until now. The commander’s just ordered all boats out.”

“Who crashed?” Zoe asked.

Froggy hit a few keys. “One passenger, no name listed… UBRI corp! Aren’t they the guys who-?”

“Yeah.” Jason said.

Rocky and Joanne looked at each other. “Guys who what?”

“Nothing.” Zoe said quickly. “They’re an ocean research company, kind of a rival to the one in charge of ORCA. Hope they find the pilot anyway.”

“They will. We’ve got enough boats to cover a wide radius from the last communication.” Froggy shut the screen and got up, signaling a general wandering-off.

Jason pulled Brett aside. “Wonder what that UBRI guy was doing in our airspace. They couldn’t still be looking for Charley could they?”

“How should I know? We’d better tell Mum about it though, and Neri.” Brett murmured. “Hey Rocky, bad idea! You’ll lose!”

Froggy had invited the new kid to a game of 3d checkers. He called back, “Too late! The chocolate has been wagered!”

Zoe sat down by the board to watch the carnage. Vanessa rolled her eyes and went to talk style with Joann and Kimberley. “Puh-lease tell me you brought some current magazines. About something besides weight lifting please.”

Kimberley winced.

Vanessa noticed. “Sorry! Didn’t mean that like it came out. I’m in a twelve-step program for tact.”

That seemed to work, as the other two girls laughed.

Neri’s companion had tied her up—at least, he’d tried to. The rope was scratchy but not very tight. Neri was more curious than afraid.

The man was tall, not old but with white hair, and wearing a white coverall. He stared at her with disturbingly intense eyes. “No boat, no land in sight. So where did you come from?”

Neri just stared back. She almost said, I go get more water. But her father’s warning echoed in her mind. This outsider… was not kind like Mother or gentle and careful like Winston. He was sick like Brett had been when they first met but…

“You hear me? Who are you?” The words dissolved into a groan. “The sun…”

Charley whistled, Boats come. Not far. They will find man before he dries out.

Charley thought this was boring.

I will leave in time. Neri assured him. She tugged at the rope and the man grabbed her wrists again. He was sick from thirst and the sun, not strong enough to hold her, but trying. Why?

“If you’d answer my questions… tell me how you got here… maybe we could review the situation. You can talk can’t you? Never mind. Soon, I will be rescued. And then I will find out everything about you.”

Froggy moved a piece. “I’m afraid that’s it, Rocky.”

The game had lasted long enough for Zoe to tell him all about how hard it was to get candy on ORCA, so Rocky faced the full horror of losing his last chocolate for weeks. He reached, pulled his hand back, and stood up to look at the board from another angle.

A big, red-haired boy swaggered up to the board. “I bet I could get out of that in one move.”

“You wish.”

“Watch and learn. I take this piece, move it across like this and–” He picked up the piece and swept his arm across the board, sending the rest of the game crashing to the floor. Plastic counters bounced everywhere. “I win, suckers.”

He waited for them to be impressed.

Nobody actually was. Zoe said, “Who’s this bozo?”

“Mick Byrne’s the name. And it’s all right girls, you can touch me. I am real.” He sat down next to Vanessa.

She promptly scooted away. “Not without a ten-foot pole.”

“I think you guys have been down in this underwater flea pit too long. You call this having fun? Well, you’re all in luck ‘cause Mickey-boy’s in town and I’m here to brighten up all your dull little lives.”

“You could start by dropping dead.” Kimberley said cheerfully.

“Ha-ha. It seems we’ve got a few comedians around. Let me give you all a bit of advice. Don’t mess with the Mick-meister. Cause you’ll always come off second best. Keep that in mind.”

On the way out Froggy moaned, “It’s like the old Vanessa, but with muscles!”

“Yeah. What are we gonna do with that creep?”

“Ignore him.” Was Jason’s opinion. “Just help us get a boat organized so we can go check if Neri’s home yet.”

Froggy began, “You may have to wait until the search–”

“Hey, you! Yeah, you guys.” A grownup, a man with a blond ponytail, was coming out of the lift wearing civilian clothes. “Where would I find Commander Byrne?”

“Probably up on the bridge.”

“Well? I’m not a mind reader, show me the way?”

“Sure.” Brett said and pointed. “You new on board?”

“Temporary contract. Captain Sam Phillips, nice ta meetcha.”

As they neared the bridge the commander’s strident voice rang out even in the hall. “I asked for every boat to be out on this search, now I find there’s one sitting idle.”

The familiar voice of First Officer Hartley answered, “We can’t very well leave without the new skipper, ma’am. He hasn’t turned up.”

“Well, where is he? Has anyone got any idea of this Captain Phillips’ whereabouts?”

Froggy muttered, “Good luck.”

Sam stepped through the door. “Someone looking for me? I’m Sam Phillips. What can I do for you?”

“You were meant to report on board yesterday, captain.”

“Oh, yeah. I got a little sidetracked on the way. You know how it is.”

The commander loomed over him like a battleship. “No, I don’t. And let me inform you I expect punctuality from my people.”

“Whoa, wait a minute Commander, let’s get one thing straight. I am not one of your people. I’m here on a short-term contract, strictly for the money.”

“Well then earn it by getting out there and doing your job. First, you can brief him on the way.”

The first officer held out a hand. “Dave Hartley, nice to meet you. I’ll show you to your vessel.”

“And captain, we will be discussing this further when you get back.”

Sam Phillips wilted slightly. “Oh, I can’t wait.”

“This way, captain.” Dave said and escorted Sam out. The three boys ducked back from the door.


I come. Neri answered.

The man heard the boat’s horn then. He stood up unsteadily and waved, “Hey, here! Over here! Oh no you-!”

Neri tried to pull away. The man grabbed her and they tussled. He was stronger than Neri had thought. She began to be afraid. Charley!

Charley made an out-of-patience huff and bumped the raft. The man tumbled back. Neri slipped over the side and dived. Down deep, out of sight from the surface, Neri watched the rescue boat approach the life raft before she turned away.

Home now.

“They’ve airlifted the pilot back to the mainland.” Sam reported. “He’ll be all right. The sun sure got to him though, he says he saw a girl out there. Must’ve been a mermaid.”

Brett and Jason turned away from their listening post at the door of the bridge.

“Yes! Come on, let’s go out there now!”

Jason wavered. Someone had seen Neri; how much trouble would that cause? But he didn’t want to think about that. “Ok!”

They dashed through the halls, getting a “Where’s the fire?” from Dave on the way, and ended up in the computer room. Froggy paused his game. “Can’t do it.”


“But it’s Neri, it’s gotta be. Can’t we have a boat to go say hello?”

“Sorry, the Commander’s locked all the boats. I had it out with HELEN before you got here, she can’t issue you a pass.”

“Aw man!”

HELEN’s synthesized voice said, “However, I note on further reflection that the new restrictions mention nothing about the issuing of wave-runners.”

“HELEN, you’re beautiful. Ok with you guys?”


Froggy hit a few buttons, “Ok, you’re set. Number five will be waiting for you up top. Say hi to Neri for me ok?”

The two boys slogged up the beach. Brett called, “Coo-ee, Neri!”

Neri appeared from the trees. She ran to them, grinning, hugged Jason and ruffled Brett’s hair. “Jason, Brett.”

“Welcome home Neri.”

“Come, there is food. I knew you would come. I miss you, on the journey.”

“We missed you too Neri.”

“Yeah, it’s just not the same around here without you.”

“Tell! Everything. Mother is well? And Winston?”

“Yeah, Mum wants to see you. And Froggy says hi. We have a new commander so Lee’s gone back to land, and Daggy and Jodie too. ORCA’s full of new staff…”

So Jason and Brett talked about everything that had happened on ORCA. They ate fish and wild yams, and drank fresh water from the pond. Neri tried to share the gossip from the migration, but had trouble translating whale things into human speech. Eventually she gave up, laughing. “Maybe I try to tell Mother, later.”

“Yeah, she might understand.”

They were quiet for a minute, just the crackling of the fire and the sound of the breeze. Neri said, “Thank you for making home nice for me.”

“Yeah, well we knew you’d come back.”

“I must. I had much time to think. I am not like you, or like Charley. What am I? Are there others? The truth of what I am must be here on island, where I lived with Father. I wish to find that truth. You will help me?”

“You sure that’s what you want?” Jason asked.

Neri nodded.

“Then we’ll keep searching until we find out who you are and where you came from. That’s a promise.”

“Thank you.” Neri said. “Is good to be home.”

They sat together as night fell over the island.