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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

14. A New Season

“Mera dear, wake up. We’re getting close.”

Mera turned over and sat up, the blanket snugging itself around her shoulders as she did. That had taken some getting used to—the pillows were made of what looked like woven reeds, but the blankets were made of silvery fabric and magically warmed themselves and tucked themselves in. Mera’s attached itself to the shoulders of her dress when she stood up.

She got out of her sleeping cubby and stretched, and followed Onoelle into the front room.

The planet had been a blue star when she went to bed; now it looked like a jewel in space. Blue, brilliant blue, with a ring of cloudy crystal.


There was a free chair. Mera sat down and the blanket wrapped itself around her legs. She watched the planet slowly grow in the forward screens until it filled her vision.

The ship landed in the water, smooth as a runway but throwing up great clouds of steam and spray. It surfaced next to a long wooden dock, and moored with ordinary rope. Mera watched everything, running from one window to the other. The people tying the ship waved to her and she ducked back.

Finally the door opened and they stepped out onto the dock. People had gathered, maybe a dozen of them. Adults, but they cheered like children. Onoelle bowed laughingly to the whole group, and introduced Mera. She spoke for a long few minutes in the other language. Mera heard her name and Neri’s.

Not understanding the words, Mera looked around. The wooden dock stood on a low sandy beach that went up to a grassy hill. The grass was faded, not the bright green Mera was used to. There weren’t many people around, just the welcoming committee and a few walking in the distance. Closer, a little girl hopped up on a driftwood trunk to get a look at them, then ran when she saw Mera looking back. Birds circled overhead, and something splashed out of sight. The air smelled like salt water and plants she couldn’t name.

Father’s world?

“Mera? Home.” Onoelle pointed to the cliff. She turned, swirling her dress, a childlike motion in a grown woman. The other people were leaving, with little Asian-ish bows to Onoelle, and Mera who could only bow back without understanding.

She turned to Rulmyr, “I’m to live with you?”

“As long as you wish to. When you have learned our language you can live anywhere you choose.”

Mera nodded. “You have children of your own?”


Onoelle added, “Long have we wished…”

The words were different, but that was an expression any foster child knew. Mera nodded again, and smiled. “I will stay with you, a while anyway. There is much I need to learn about this world.”

The world was distracting, a hundred sights and sounds and smells demanding to be investigated. A furred creature came up out of the water. It looked like—a panther was Mera’s first thought, but its legs were too short and funny shaped. More like an otter, but definitely catlike when it sat down to lick water from its fur. Mera asked, “Dangerous?”

“Pet.” Rulmyr told her, and said what it was in the ocean planet’s language.

They walked home. There were no roads, only paths that seemed to have been made by people walking. No sounds of traffic either. There were boats, but none seemed to have engines. Mera looked back at the spaceship.

Guessing her thoughts, Onoelle said, “Long ago our people used the resources of our world without care. It almost destroyed our people. Since, we have found better ways to use technology in balance with the rest of the world. That learning has gone on for many lifetimes, and will continue for many more.”

“The Earth people have only just started learning.” Mera said.

Rulmyr said, “And they must learn for themselves. We will not force them. For that would make us their enemies, even as we try to help them.”

“It has been hard for us, deciding what must be done for the opal planet, and what must not be done. That has been the work of our rulers and elders since the opal planet was discovered.”

Mera was distracted by a lizard running across the path ahead of them. Higher on the hill a furry thing with round ears peered out between rocks. “…but what must I do? What do you need me and Neri for? You never said.”

“We will. Your mission is important, but there is time for you to feel at home here.”

Mera was left alone to explore her room. It was… different. One wall was open, just arches carved in the orange stone. There were vines growing through the gaps and across the ceiling. The bed was made of vines, a living hammock that spread out and then you tossed a thin mattress over it. Mera had one of the blankets from the ship, and a pillow. More pillows were piled in the corners, for sitting on the floor. In one corner a stream of water poured silently from the wall into a stone bowl that stayed full without overflowing.

There was no dresser, just cubbies cut into the rock of one wall. Mera pulled out clothes, dresses and leggings and shirts, all sorts of things. Some she wasn’t sure how to wear. There was jewelry too. And books, a whole row of them on the top shelf.

She’d had rooms before; a few of the foster parents had made her nice rooms and given her things. They were the ones who thought she’d be a dream daughter, and they’d been the fastest to get rid of her.

An image projector sat on a little shelf. Mera held her hand over it and a—picture appeared. Her family. Father holding a baby who must have been Mera herself, and a woman with her face hidden as she bent to pick up her older daughter.

Father and mother. A real father and mother.

“Opal planet! Opal planet!”

Mera looked outside. Down below, the tiny girl from the beach was standing, waving. She beckoned. Mera waved back, climbed out the window, and jumped down. She said firmly, “Mera. Not Opal Planet.”

“Mera. I am Salali. Come!”

Mera looked back, saw Rulmyr in the window. He waved her to go.


Salali pointed and started chattering. Mera didn’t understand a word, but she didn’t really need to. Salali showed her trees with nests in them and swings hanging down, houses woven from the thinner trunks, and tents with people walking back and forth. Nobody seemed to be too interested in them, though everyone said hello to Lali.

On the beach a group of children were sitting around doing something with cut vines—Mera thought they were making baskets, but they also seemed to be eating a lot of the vines. Salali ran up to them, pointing back at Mera and saying, “Opal Planet!”

“Mera!” Mera corrected. That wasn’t a nickname she wanted.

“Laeka.” Scooped up Salali and hugged her. Sisters, obviously.

“Arran.” Was a boy, dressed like the girls and wearing just as much jewelry. He was tall and slim and brown.

“Ilona.” She held out her hand. She was paler than the others, with straight brown hair hanging to her knees. She took a breath and tried English, “We happy to meet you. We wait for you to come home.”

Out to sea a whale breached and everyone turned to look. Laeka said, “Jali. Malaya.”

A name, Mera guessed. “Your friend?”

“Friend. Come see!” She grabbed Mera’s hand and tugged, and Mera went with her down to the water. They splashed into the surf and dived into an oncoming wave. The world opened out to three-dimensional blue haze as the sandy bottom fell away. It was full of sound, of darting fish, of brightly colored coral. A creature like a zebra-striped dolphin appeared out of the haze and Salali caught its dorsal fin and let herself be towed along. They were talking, Mera could hear it but couldn’t understand. There were so many voices out there as loud and distinct as Charley’s. Sonar hummed Mera’s bones as the dolphin turned back to get a look at her. She held out her hands and it nuzzled her with a smooth nose.

They swam together. The children, the dolphin and a great whale who joined them when they reached deep water. Mera saw beautiful fish, giant shells, coral caves and sandbars and islands.

They came up on another beach at the edge of a silvery mangrove forest. There was a pyramid there, huge, on the beach. Mera stared at it. It was the biggest building she’d seen on the ocean planet, the only building with walls all the way around. And incongruously Egyptian.

“Pyramid.” Ilona said.

“What is it for?”

Ilona tried a few words, gave up, and turned to talk to the others for a minute. Finally she said, “Where parents-of-all talk about important things. Pyramid important.”

Mera nodded. Nothing she’d have to worry about then. She pointed, “Home?”

“Yes! That way!”

While they walked the ocean children tried to teach Mera their language by pointing at things and saying the words. Salali started it by communicating that her name was also the name of a certain bluish shell. Laeka’s name meant ‘wave’ but there seemed to be several different words for ‘wave,’ for calm waves or stormy waves. Ilona had to draw in wet sand to show that the striped dolphins were called ilonar and her name was the word for one of their babies. Arran took the stick and pantomimed that his name meant spear. He seemed quite proud of it.

It was like… Mera remembered walking away from the institute with the kids from ORCA. Again, the people around her just assumed they were friends. Mera tried to trust it, but it was hard. Always, when kids acted friendly it was only for a little while.

Lali yelled and pointed. Down the beach something huge was coming out of the water. Mera gasped. The thing hauled itself onto the beach and shook a giant head. It looked like a walrus, but was tall as a house.

“Groaner.” Ilona explained. “No danger.” Then she mimed ‘unless it sits on you!’

Mera was quite happy not to get any closer. The groaner was just looking around with a stupid expression on its face. It opened a giant mouth and went, “Wuuuh?” The kids were not alarmed. They sat down, so Mera did too, on a rock with a good view. There was more talking and pointing, and Mera decided the message was that groaners lived—somewhere else—but sometimes came up here because they got confused. They weren’t any trouble as long as they didn’t knock down any trees.

They waited a while. The groaner looked around some more and made unhappy noises. Arran wandered off and came back with a bunch of grape-like fruit for everybody. Finally Mera saw people coming. They shouted, waved their arms and red flags at the groaner trying to drive it back into the ocean. Finally it scooted back into the waves and vanished. The children walked home.

It was… a lot of excitement for one day, and Mera was feeling tired and homesick by the time she reached Rulmyr and Onoelle’s cave. In the kitchen they were cooking dinner over a section of stone counter that heated itself. Mera hovered, afraid to try and help in case she blew something up. Onoelle noticed almost immediately and started showing her what everything was.

“It is frightening, to think of all the things I must learn.”

“They will come, faster than you think.” Onoelle said serenely. “Soon you will know our words. Then you can learn everything.”

Everyone came out to the island for one last party. The new staff rotation was sending most of the kids back to land. Froggy was heartbroken at having to leave HELEN after all that, but Zoe suggested he could build his own—and HELEN herself had put some highly secret programs on a disk for her favorite human.

Vanessa and Mick were sitting and talking. Commander Byrne’s job had expired, and Mick was mad he’d have to go back to a real school on land.

“Well why don’t you tell your mom you want to go to the same school I’m going to? It’s a good school, and my friend Jodie is there. We could start next year together.”

Being Vanessa, this came out sounding like an order. Mick smiled. “I’ll talk to her.”

They became aware of a rustling in the bushes behind them. A loud whisper said, “Here we observe the mating ritual of the common bully! This rare species…”

“Brett. Bates.” Vanessa said very loudly. She started to get up.


“Danger danger!”

“Croikey!” Brett added with a lot more accent than he really had. He ran off down the beach with Froggy and Zoe, trailing a few more “crikey”s behind them.

Vanessa sat back down. “Well that’s one thing I won’t miss!”

Brett, Froggy and Zoe were wandering up the beach when Sam waved from the boat. “Hey! Come help me with something?”

“Sure.” Brett called back.

When they got inside the cabin they found Dianne and Winston sitting around with drinks, and Sam fiddling with the undersea scanner unit. He handed Brett a fire extinguisher.

“I scanned for the titanium again… don’t look like that. I wasn’t changing my mind, I was checking. Without Neri to boost the scan it’s not even a blip on the radar. Even if I did tell anybody about it, who’d believe me over the official map? And in case anybody wonders how we got such good results with this equipment… ready, Brett?” Sam stood up and dusted off his hands.

“Um, ready?”

“Ok.” Sam turned the scanner on. It booted up normally, but a second later there was a very nasty popping sound and a puff of smoke.

Brett raised the fire extinguisher.

“Give it another minute…”

The unit burst into flames. Sam pulled the plug and Brett doused the whole thing with foam.

Dianne grinned. “Right. The quality of the scan was an anomaly produced by this faulty unit, which melted down before we could investigate it.”


“A nice solution, Captain Phillips. The clever quarry erases all sign of its presence. Or in this case, of the girls’ presence.”

“Well, that’s all the signs I could think of. Thought you’d like the destruction. Now, dinner is probably ready back on the island.”

Zoe understood that. “Translation, you want to talk to Doctor Bates.”

“Translation, scram, you lot.” Sam said without any anger.

Froggy and Zoe headed out, uninterested. Brett made a show of hiding in a closet, but Winston herded him out. “Let’s go see if Neri and the others need help.”

When they were up on deck, watching Winston and the kids walk away, Sam said, “How did you manage before Winston?”

“I hardly remember. Seems like it’s always been like this, just me and the boys and Winston, and Neri. And you, now.”

“Dianne…” Sam turned away to lean on the rail.


“The new commander hasn’t renewed my contract. Says he’ll hire his own skippers. Byrne recommended me for a natural gas prospecting expedition—very environmentally friendly, the new rigs that extract twice the fuel with half the drilling. Twice the money, too.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Looks like.”

“But… Sam.”

Sam was looking distinctly uncomfortable. “I know. I really… really like you. But I can’t give up this job. And I can’t ask you to give up your job, and your home and… your children. All three of them, plus one who might come back anytime.”

“I… see.” Said Dianne, trying to look calm. She felt like she was back in high school, dumped, the same empty feeling. But… “You’re right. I really like you, Sam, you’ve done so much for us and… I like you. I was hoping for…” She stole a look at Sam, who looked pretty miserable to. “Probably the same things you were hoping for. But I can’t leave ORCA. Say you’ll apply for another job here at least.”

“Already submitted, but it doesn’t look good. So.”


“Shall we be heartbroken kids and angst away on the boat all day, or mature adults and join the party?”

“So how are you doing?” Jason asked, “Since Mera left, I mean.”

Neri tipped her head and smiled sadly. “Miss her. Charley too. But we will see her again.”


“I know it.”

Jason didn’t question. He stretched his arms over his head and turned, looking around. The beach glowed softly under a cloudy sky. It would probably rain tonight. “Good. I’m glad. Mum and Brett will be too.”

“What happens to you now? You stay on ORCA?”

“Yeah they definitely want Mum to stay—she’s been promoted to chief environmental officer! That means she has more power to decide what the people on ORCA will do about the ocean and the reef.”

“This is good!”

“Mmhm. We’ll be away for a while—they’re upgrading ORCA, making it better, and everybody who’s not a technician has to leave. When we get back, Mum starts her new job and I can finally start training for a real job on ORCA, and… who knows?”

“New times will come.”

Joanne came out of the woods, looked around, and waved at them. “Food’s ready! Come see!”

The food was brought from ORCA—hot dogs currently skewered on sticks around a fire, and snacks. Neri provided a bunch of the tiny bananas that grew on the island. She’d provided cocoanuts too, and tried to teach Rocky how to open them. Rocky finally mastered it after breaking about twenty and getting pieces all over the place.

“Good job Rocky.”

“Yeah, the wallabys’ll thank you!” Vanessa picked up a broken piece and tossed it into the pond.

“Do wallabys even eat cocoanut?” Rocky asked meditatively, not even noticing the tone of Vanessa’s voice. He was already munching away.

Kim saw Neri and Jason and waved. “Neri! Can I swing on the vine?”

Neri laughed and ran up into the nest to show her. “Come. Hold on here…”

“This… is higher than it looks.”

From below Jason called, “I’ve done it. Worst thing that can happen is you hit your bum on the rocks!”

“Well if you’re chicken…”

“Mick, don’t start!”

“Oh, you did not!” Kim gripped the vine and stepped off into air. She hit the pond on her feet, stomped out, and gave Mick a look. “Your turn!”

Various other people groaned. Neri, sitting on a branch and peeling a banana, seemed to be enjoying the show. Winston and the younger kids arrived, grabbed food, and watched too, cheering both sides impartially. Then Zoe joined in the contest.

“Right, drinks are here.” Sam said. He and Dianne were carrying a big cooler between them. He handed out sodas and juice, and said, “Ok, I’d like to propose a toast. Lots of toasts. Everyone can toast.”

Neri jumped down and sat between Jason and Vanessa, who explained quickly what a toast was.

Brett waved half a cocoanut, “To Mera, I hope she’s having fun up there.”

“That works. To girls beating boys any day!”

“To programming.” Was Froggy’s suggestion.

“To love. In general. Nobody in particular.” Joanne said.

“To things working out anyway.” Dianne said.

“To the mainland, it doesn’t know what it’s in for when you all get shipped ashore.” Sam said, “Ok, Winston, last one. You must have a weird quote for the occasion.”

Winston thought for a minute. “May our house always be too small to hold all our friends.” There was a cheer, and various foods and drinks waved in the air. The effect was only slightly spoiled when Vanessa asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

School wasn’t so bad. It was on the beach, and people came and went whenever they wanted, both students and teachers. Mera, used to being stuck in a desk for six hours, didn’t see how it could possibly work. But she was learning. For every word she studied, three more seemed to sprout in her mind. Mera was in the same class as Salali, who thought that was just great.

The subjects were the same as on earth, except that science was all biology and all hands on, math was very strange because the only part you had to learn was the part a computer couldn’t do, and art was taken seriously. It seemed like everybody played music, even the five-year-olds. Most of the instruments were like nothing Mera had ever seen, but the music was beautiful.

The first words Mera learned were, “Come see what I found.” Her friends were always saying that. A new cave, a bright green sea slug, or a shell as long as your arm. They spent a lot of time wandering around looking for things to see, or eat, or play with. They built nests in the trees, gathered plants to tempt the creatures of the forest into sight, and made things out of twigs and stones and pearls. The kids loved Mera’s stories too, as she learned more words she could tell them about Cinderella or Superman, or the strange world where people live in houses with walls all the way around, and hardly ever go swimming.

At night people gathered around fires on the beach and talked, or went home to read or work on the computer.

That was the best thing. Having somewhere to come home to. Really, Rulmyr and Onoelle weren’t so different from all the foster parents Mera had lived with over the years. They loved her, as best they could. Rulmyr taught her to cook in the kitchen, as opposed to cooking over fires. Onoelle answered endless questions about the ocean planet, and asked just the right ones about Earth. They both told her stories about her father.

Mera braced her feet and reached up, stretching as far as she could. She felt warm stone, lichen and—there! A little ridge, just big enough to hang onto. Now that she knew where it was she let go and dropped down to plan the last leg of the climb.

Laeka was already up there, on the highest rock on the cliff. She said the view was amazing. Mera just wasn’t sure she could make it.

“Come on!” Laeka leaned down, her tail of hair streaming in the breeze.

Mera answered, clumsily but in the same language, “You climb rocks since very small. I did not!” She jumped, grabbed, found a foothold and boosted herself up.

They were on top of the world.

Beyond the pile of rocks the land fell away: the forest, the beach, the cliff. The pyramid, half-submerged now as the tide rose. Birds wheeled over the beach, looking for any clams they might’ve missed. Out of sight in one of the houses inside the cliff, someone was playing music and an otter barked cheerfully.

Mera stood up, balancing against the wind.



It’s beautiful.

Together they looked through Mera’s eyes. The sun dipped below the horizon and its last light came through the rings, spilling across the world.