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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

5. A Girl made of Stone

The bridge was bustling as survey teams left and the day’s visitors got out of the elevator. The commander was lecturing captain Phillips about raiding the stores as Jason tried to get through the crowd. He changed direction as he saw Neri step out of the elevator and look around. She smiled and came towards him. “What are you doing here?” Jason muttered.

“I want to know about my sister.”

“Not here. C’mon.”

Neri nodded and followed him down to the lab. Dianne and Winston were going through data with Brett helping and Vanessa sitting by with her homework. “The cafeteria is packed.” She said, then saw Neri, “Hi!”

“Hello.” Neri chimed, smiling at her. “Hello everybody.”

“Hi Neri. What brings you here?”

“You say you go to search for Mera. I come with you.”

“No way Neri.” Jason said immediately.

“Come on land with us? No way!”

“Neri, the boys are right. We don’t even know where she is yet; they could be on the mainland for days—far inland, away from the water. It would be dangerous for you.”

Neri frowned. “Mera is my sister. I cannot sit quiet and wait. I go with my friends.”

Vanessa jumped in, “And what about Charley? You want to leave him alone for that long?”

Neri wavered.

Dianne said, “Ok. Pipe down everyone. Now look, Neri I know it’s hard for you to stay here while the others go searching. But you can’t help them. And you can help me and Winston.”


“We have to do a survey of the reef Neri. A survey is—ah, maps and charts, maps of the ocean floor. And the commander has given us a limited amount of time to do it in.”

Neri nodded. “To find a place for this ORCA City?”

“Yes. It’ll be much larger than this place, home for thousands of people. And we must find a place where it can be done safely. If I don’t help, I won’t be allowed to continue my work with Charley.”

“And you can help us. When I was making tests from the boat the other day, when you came near it had a powerful effect on the equipment. Come and see.”

Neri looked uncertain, but went to look at the readings Winston put up on the screen. “Look, that’s how much better the image is. If we could have that quality for the whole thing we could get done in half the time, so Dianne could get back to her real work. Also—it could help choose the best site, to minimize the damage to the ocean.”

Neri looked down, but finally nodded. “Then I will help.”

Dianne put an arm around her. “Thank you Neri.”

The boys relaxed. Brett said, “But not yet right? We haven’t checked in with Froggy yet this morning—maybe HELEN’s found something.”

“I want to see.”

“Ok, ok Neri.” Winston laughed. “We leave to start our scan in an hour. Come back before then.”

The kids nodded and rushed out.

“Hey.” Froggy said, “I was just about to come find you guys.”

“You have found Mera?”

“Actually—yeah. HELEN found this last night in the welfare files.”

Everyone crowded to see, except Neri once she saw that there wasn’t a picture.

“Found at sea, Cape Tribulation!”

“The date’s right.”

“It’s gotta be Mera!”

Jason squinted at the screen. “They’ve called her… Jane Seaforth.”

Neri tipped her head in confusion. “Jane?” She chimed, trying it out. The other kids looked at each other recognizing that as a weird name. Vanessa said, “I suppose they had to call her something.”

“And here’s a list of foster families.” Froggy said, opening another screen.

“Foster families?”

Jason filled her in, “Um, people who take care of kids with no family. So you have a home.”

“It doesn’t look like it’s been working for Mera though. Look at all the different homes she’s been to.”

“Not really surprising.” Froggy said, “Here’s a report from the latest place she was kicked out of.”

Jason read, “Strange and unsettling behavior. Frequently claims to be ill. Spends hours in the shower or bath… hey, did you hear that? She needs water, just like Neri.”

“Ok! But does it say where she is now?” Brett asked from the back of the press around the screen.

“Is that the last entry, Froggy?”

“Yep, two months ago to present time.”

“Then it looks like she’s been sent to some kind of special school.”

The room smelled like chlorine and echoed with soft lapping of water against the sides of the pool. It was big enough to hold a swim team, but just now there was only one person in the water. She surfaced briefly and ducked under again.

Looking up through the water she could see two of the institute’s doctors and one of the older kids watching her.

“How long has she been in there, Liselle?”

“Three hours, sir. She doesn’t even get tired.”

“That’s remarkable. Jane. Jane, time to come out.”

The girl came up, didn’t look at them, and dived. After a long minute she walked up the shallow end of the pool and turned to face the doctors with eyes that reflected the light like empty mirrors.

HELEN displayed a set of blueprints. “Sole access to the Institute of Human Advancement is by the main gate indicated. Please note the high security arrangements.”

“Where did HELEN get these plans so fast?” Vanessa asked.

“By accessing the council planning records.”

“Froggy you’re brilliant!”

“HELEN is the brilliant one.”

“There’s something weird about this place.” Jason said, looking at the screen. “I mean, maximum security for a school?”

Froggy shrugged. “I’m not sure what this place is supposed to be. I couldn’t find any records and there’s no advertising. You think it’s like an X-Men school for superkids?”

“The real question is, can we get past that fence?” Vanessa asked, ignoring the X-Men.

“Well I’ve got a few ideas.”

“Let’s do it. What do you need? I’ll make sure Neri’s ok with Mum and stop by the stores.”

“I’d better come.” Froggy got up. “Depending on what kind of interface the fence uses, we may need to build…”

The rest of that sentence was Greek to Jason. He looked at Vanessa and they both shrugged. “Ok Froggy, as long as you can make one I can get it to the fence.”

“Now Neri, what we want you to do is swim directly under the towed array. Ok? Our equipment will be sending down a beam to get pictures of the ocean floor as we go along.” Dianne said. She’d drawn on the whiteboard the boat, the scanner and a stick-figure Neri.

“With you there, those pictures will be much better. We don’t know why. Perhaps whatever physical structure you use to talk to Charley…”

“Anyway. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Neri said, but her eyes were distant.

“All right. We’ll be able to see you on the monitor to make sure you’re all right. But when you come up for air, I want you to swim as far away from the boat as possible. All right? Astern.”

“Here, behind the boat.” Winston added. “So the captain of the boat doesn’t see you. We must be on our toes. Captain Phillips is no fool.”

“No. He’s a pain in the neck, but he’s not a fool. Neri—are you sure you’re up to this? You don’t have to come.”

Neri shook her head. “I will help. I am well. Is hard not to think about my sister, is all.”

“She’s so strange.” Liselle murmured, watching the girl towel herself off and head for the locker room to change. “She even spooks the other kids sir.”

“That’s why I’ve rostered you and the other prefects to watch her, Liselle.”

“Yes sir.”

“Young Jane is a mystery waiting to be solved. Return her to her room when she’s dressed. We have important sponsors arriving shortly and I want them to see her.”

The girl did not think of herself as Jane. She had once, far back in memory, but then the name had become meaningless. It was only ever used by adults, in their so-patient voices, saying things like, “Jane, I’ve heard from your teacher again.” And, “Jane, you really don’t need a shower before school dear…” Until it didn’t mean anything because nobody was talking to her.

The girl was thirteen, probably. Her hair was dark brown and stood out from her head in a bush of curls whenever it wasn’t wet. Her eyes were a muddy noncolor that had been described as green, gray, or hazel on different documents.

She pulled her shirt on and wrapped the towel around her hair and went out to the pool room. Liselle was waiting. “Come along Jane. There’s someone we’d like you to meet in a little while. You can wait in your room until he arrives.”

Babytalk, but Liselle was one of the nicer prefects so Jane nodded and followed her.

In the cabin of the boat Dianne sat with her eyes glued to the monitor. Winston made a noise when the image cleared, then Neri appeared on the monitor, grinning and waving at the camera.

“There she is, right in position.”

“Yes, and look at the clarity we’re getting! It improves as soon as she comes near the scanner.” Winston grabbed his notebook and started taking notes, humming happily.

Captain Phillips leaned in the cabin door. “Doctor Bates, can you come up on deck for a second?”

“Yes Captain.”

Dianne emerged into the bright sunlight of a perfect day. Sam was leaning on the rail. He pointed out to sea, where Charley rolled just under the surface. He blew spray, mischievously and Dianne felt herself smiling.

“Look at that old boy. Seems like he’s circling us.”

Dianne caught herself. “So what?”

Sam looked taken aback. “Well, I thought whales were your thing. I hear you talk to them for hours.”

“Yeah well—just at the moment I’ve got a few other things on my mind. So if you’ll excuse me…” Downstairs she said to Winston, “Charley is circling us.”

“Keeping his eye on Neri I suppose. They seem to be having a good time.” Winston pointed at the monitor, where Neri was twirling in the water.

“Look, we have to tell Neri to keep his head down or the skipper’ll start asking questions.”

“We’ll tell her tonight. But look at this, look at the detail. Neri is giving those scanners one heck of a boost.”

Piano music drifted down the hall. The girl called Jane sat in her room, the door open, listening. The new sponsor was here, getting the tour, meeting the more dramatic children.

“We’ve played this piece of music to Joshua once. Just once. And now he can recreate it note for note, whenever he’s told to.”

“Impressive.” That must be the sponsor. A dry, male voice.

Footsteps. “Along here Doctor. Ah, Li Chen. Doctor, give her any mathematical problem, if you please.”

“27 times 403.”

A moment, then Li’s voice answered faintly. The attendant said, “Check it yourself if you link, Doctor. Li Chen is never wrong. Off you go Li. But if I sent her for a loaf of bread she’d come back without the change. Parents are glad to send their children to us. Such children tend to be—difficult.”

“Delicate specimens you might say. Growing like mushrooms in the dark.”

The attendant sounded flustered, and missed the meaning. “Not at all. We take pains to ensure healthy recreational activity for all. Ah, I think you’ll find this case of particular interest.”

And they were at the door. The girl looked up. The visitor was a pale-haired man with bright eyes behind large glasses. He met her gaze. Most people didn’t do that. She turned away.

“This is Jane. Jane, this is Dr. Hellegren.”

“And what is Jane’s talent?” the man asked with false cheer.

“We’re not sure of her particular talent yet. Jane has a number of unusual gifts—oh, she can hear you. She’s quite aware. Just—uncommunicative. Here. Draw something. Anything at all.”

This wasn’t new. Jane picked up her sketchpad and drew. A triangle inside a circle. She turned it so they could see. Identical to the shape he’d drawn.

Hellegren gasped. “Do you know how she does this?”

“Not yet. But it’s early days. Our tests are very thorough. If you’d follow me, there are a few others you might like to meet.”

But when Jane turned back to the door, Hellegren was standing there looking at her thoughtfully. He walked away. Jane listened.

“That was her room?”

“Yes. Oh—some kids in foster care hoard possessions; Jane goes the other way. She arrived here with clothes, a plastic bracelet, and a book about mermaids. Gave both to younger kids. Probably give away her clothes too if anyone asked; she spends most of her time swimming anyway.”


Then they were out of earshot, even for Jane who could hear a lot more than anyone else she knew.

In the lab Winston was having raptures over the new data. Neri watched him, smiling.

“The scan was a great success Neri, as you can probably tell. Will you help us again?”

“Yes. Is no trouble. When will they come back?”

“It’s still early Neri. You’ll have to be patient.”

The door opened. Joanne entered. Her hair was twisted up in a new style. “Hi Winston.” She said. Brett followed, rolling his eyes.

“Hello Joanne.” Winston said with less enthusiasm.

“Hello Joanne. Winston told me what a great help you were on the boat the other day.”

“Did he tell you how he saved my life?”

“Oh it wasn’t that dramatic.” Winston waved it off.

Neri piped up, “Oh yes! She could have drowned.”

“Oh, Neri heard about it.” Brett said quickly, “This is Neri, she’s one of the day workers.”

“Hi.” Joanne smiled and Neri smiled back.

Brett took Neri’s arm and pulled her away. “Neri! What did you do that for?”


“About Joanne drowning. You’re supposed to be a secret remember! You weren’t supposed to be there.”

Down the hall Mick squirted glue on a dollar coin and dropped it on the floor, stepping on it to make sure it was well glued down. Then he stepped round a bend in the hall and waited. A minute later Rocky came by, saw the coin, and tried to pick it up.

Mick stepped out, sniggering. “What a dork! I superglued it to the floor.”

Rocky asked, “Why?” but Mick didn’t hear. The big boy slung his arm around Rocky’s shoulders. “Don’t worry mate, just a joke. Now you’re in on it too, ok?”


“When the next kid comes along!”

“Oh, ok.” Rocky still sounded pretty confused.

The ‘next kid’ turned out to be Brett and Neri. Brett stopped nervously when he saw the two boys. “Uh, hi guys.”

Neri looked down. “Money here yours?” She chimed.

“No babe, finders keepers.”

Neri nodded, and stooped and picked up the coin. She looked at it for a minute before handing it to Brett. Rocky’s mouth was hanging open.

Brett grabbed Neri, “Come on Neri, you’re supposed to be on duty remember?” He said through his teeth. Neri waved goodbye to the boys.

Mick looked down at the glue spot on the floor. “Unreal! Nothing shifts superglue. How’d she do that?” He ran after them, only to find the elevator door closing in his face.

“You did it again.” Brett grumbled.

“What was wrong?”

Brett took a breath to try to explain the concept of ‘being weird’ and abnormal strength and why it was good to keep secrets… but he gave up. “Never mind. Time to go—the guys will meet you on the island and tell you if they found Mera.”

Neri nodded. “I hope they did.”

“Me too.”

The elevator let them out on the pontoon. Neri ducked into a shed and came out a moment later wearing her dress. She waved goodbye and jumped over the side, vanishing into the water.

The elevator came back up and Mick burst out. “Ok, where is she?”


“Jeri or Berry or something, the girl you came up here with!”

There was clearly nobody on the pontoon, just Brett sitting on the rail six feet above the water. “No one came up with me. Maybe the pressure down there is starting to get to ya, Mick!”

“Don’t try to snow me, dogbreath, I saw her!”

“Well where is she then? Reckon she went for a swim?”

Mick considered pushing Brett into the water, but he’d definitely get in trouble for that. So he just said, “Dork.” And got back in the elevator.

When the doors closed Brett said, “Whew!”

The institute’s fence wasn’t very high, but it was topped by some scary-looking cameras that panned back and forth. Froggy tossed a stick and watched the cameras swivel to follow it. “Hmm.”

“Hmm? Is that all you can say?” Vanessa hissed. “Can you get past it?”

Froggy sat down and started unpacking his backpack. “Give me five minutes.”

They were hiding in the bushes just outside the fence. They’d picked this area as having the least strict sensors; they had to allow for possums, Froggy explained. Jason and Vanessa kept watch as the little boy fiddled with his electronics.

The institute was surrounded by bush on two sides, road and cornfields on the other two. A bus had just stopped, letting off a dozen institute kids who went to public school. This would be the best time to get in, when there were already people moving around. The three of them were out of uniform, and Vanessa had a hat covering her bright red hair.

Froggy stood up. He stuck something on the top of the closest scanner, and it stopped moving. Another thrown stick got no reaction. “Ok, let’s move it! Keep low and follow me.”

They slithered over the fence and followed Froggy. When they crossed a path, Vanessa veered off and headed for the main office while Froggy and Jason ducked behind a shed. The institute was made up of a lot of long, white buildings with lots of windows, and several equipment sheds. It was great for hiding. Jason watched the kids returning from school. Was one of them Mera? He couldn’t see any faces close enough to make a guess.

Froggy shuddered. “One of my teachers wanted to send me to a place like this. ‘Cause I’m ‘gifted.’ I’m glad my parents picked ORCA instead.”

Jason didn’t know what to say to that so he just said, “We’re glad too! Look, there’s Vanessa.”

Vanessa beckoned to them. “Bingo. She knows Jane Seaforth and told me where her room is. ‘Friends from school’ are encouraged. C’mon, this way.”

They followed Vanessa to the end of one of the long buildings. The last door down. Through an open window Jason could see a colorless room and a girl just sitting there. Jason opened the door. The girl glanced at him with blank eyes. Her face was expressionless—no, her face looked like it had never had an expression.

Jason sat down on the room’s other chair. “Um—don’t be scared. We’re friends. They call you Jane Seaforth, right? And you grew up as an orphan? We know who you really are, where you came from. Your real name is Mera. You have a sister, Neri. We brought a message from her.”

No change. The empty eyes didn’t even move.

Vanessa murmured, “You don’t think she’s deaf or something? Or the wrong girl?”

“It’s her all right. Her necklace. Just like Neri’s.” Jason said. “Mera… Jane. Look, I know how crazy this sounds but you’ve got to believe me. We know you’re Neri’s sister. We’ve been looking for you ever since we found out you were alive.”

“She wants to see you more than anything in the world!”

“Wouldn’t you like to meet her?”

Nothing. Vanessa tried, “She lives on a beautiful island in the rain forest. Free among the animals and birds. In the ocean! It’s the greatest place. Do you even understand us?”

“She understands. Neri couldn’t come herself—it’s too dangerous. There are things that make you special, both of you. Things only Neri can tell you. Please, say something! Just some message we can take back to her.”

Froggy’s head appeared in the window. “We’ve got company!”

“I don’t know how we can prove this to you. The only way is for you to talk to Neri yourself. I promise, nobody wants to hurt you. We’ll be back—tomorrow, same time. Think about it ok?”

“Jason we have to go!”

Suddenly, “How can I believe you?”

Jason turned back. The girl was looking at him.

“If we can find a way to prove it, will you come and meet Neri?”


“Ok.” Jason ran after Froggy and Vanessa. He caught up to them as they scrambled over the fence. Froggy reclaimed his gizmo and the camera started its rounds again.

“We made it!”

“That scrambler thing going to work a second time?”

“I—I think so. Tomorrow?”

Jason nodded and pointed.

When they were well clear, walking along the dirt road that led—eventually—down to the beach Jason said, “I figure we could come back during the dance. At least nobody would miss us on ORCA.”

“Suits me.” Said Froggy. “Did she talk to you?”

Jason winced and shrugged. “Sort of. She said, ‘how can I believe you’ and then she said she’d come, if we can prove what we were saying. She’s so…”

“Lonely.” Vanessa said unexpectedly.


“Well think about it, someone like Neri stuck in school and expected to act like a normal kid, with no family to help or even care about her. Maybe she just sort of… shut down.”

“Makes sense.” Froggy said glumly.

“I hadn’t even thought about that. She’ll be all right won’t she? On the island?” Jason asked hopefully, as if the other two would know.”

“For sure.” Froggy said, and Vanessa nodded hard.

Neri was disappointed. “I thought you would bring her. I thought I would see Mera.”

“But we found her Neri. Isn’t that good? She had one of those amulets, just like yours. And now we know where she is, and that she’s safe.”

“You told her of me but she did not believe?”

Jason sighed, trying to think how to say it. He sat down on a rock by the stream and Neri sat next to him.

“She wants proof, it makes sense. These kids come out of nowhere with a crazy story… she doesn’t know we’re good people. She’s scared.”

Neri’s face was pinched with sadness. “If she has proof, she will come?”

“That’s what she said.”

After a moment’s thought Neri took off her necklace, wrapped the string around the amulet and handed it to Jason. “Show her this.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s it!”

“You will go back?”

“Yes. And this time, I promise we’ll bring her back to you.”

The girl called Jane waited, thinking. Someone had come for her. That had happened before. “You’re just the child we wanted.” And “Would you like to live with us for a while?” Even, “Hi, want to be friends?” once or twice. And more recently, “You’re a very special girl, Jane…”

Nobody had ever said something so strange. “Your real name is Mera… you have a sister… we’ve been looking for you.”

She stood up and opened the door. Night had fallen, and nobody was around but scanners swiveled to track her movement. Jane stepped out from the porch and pulled the amulet out from under her shirt. It was the only thing she’d been found with. It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t even real silver, but it was hers.

“Your real name is Mera.”

She held up the amulet, and watched the stars around it.