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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-08-10 — sourcemeta

Source: 1, DeviantART
Author:Judith “Stormdance” Kenyon
Copyright:Archiving permitted by author

1. ORCA City

Noon sunlight burned over the sea. The waves reflected back dazzling light. In the midst of this a single emerald island sat, out of sight of land, even of the other islands in the chain that stretched up from Australia.

The island was loud with the cries of birds and whisper of the waterfall. Bats hung in the trees and small furry things rustled through the bushes. One old tree stretched a branch over the pond, a branch wide enough to cradle a nest of soft leaves and sprouts. A girl was sleeping there, long brown legs dangling and hair tangled around her face. Neri opened her eyes and stretched, and chirped at a pair of lovebirds sharing the tree. The last fragments of a dream melted in the light of day.

Neri dropped down into the pond and dived, shaking her hair out underwater. She found a cattail root and came up eating it. From far away she heard a whistle of greeting. She answered, Hello! I am awake! I come to you soon.

Food was the first priority, and Neri finished eating the cattail and grabbed a handful of berries as she wandered through the forest to the beach. Her friends were away, so she was alone today.

In the cove, a humpback whale breached, glittering and laughing in the sunlight.

Well, not alone.

“Charley!” Neri shouted, and ran down to the water to join him.

For a while they just played, racing over the reef and talking about nothing subjects. The dolphins and other creatures in the area. What island they should explore next. The taste of the plankton this season. When their friends would be coming back.

They floated, the girl lying on the whale’s huge back. Charley said, Many people come and go from ORCA, many boats, people in water breathing, all over. Is all right?

“I think so.” Neri answered aloud. “Jason told me there would be building, to make ORCA better. It is home to many people, so it must be a good place for them.”

Charley thought that people, well, most people belonged on land.

“Most. But Jason and Brett belong here, and Mother who wants to hear your voice.”

Good friends. Charley agreed.

“I go to mark the day until they come back, and see ORCA.”

Charley whistled assent and dived, slowly so Neri could walk down his back and dive off his tail.

ORCA was a hive of activity, divers putting things up outside and the shadows of boats coming and going. Neri tucked herself in a crack between rocks and watched for a while. The underwater city was sprouting a metal arm, stuck on by divers with machines that spit sparks. Pretty! Maybe Jason could show her one up close, and explain what they did.

Neri swam around the divers and surfaced inside a coral cave. It was almost under ORCA, but Neri had only discovered it recently. The trapped air was damp and smelled strange, but it was good to breathe. It would be good for a long time if nobody stayed long. Neri found her chalk and marked another day on the wall.

The people she was thinking about were currently enjoying… “Hot sun, blue sky, no water!” Brett waved a golf club dangerously. “Isn’t it great?”

Jason didn’t answer. He was too busy lining up the perfect shot. They had twenty credits bet on the game, and so far he was winning. He tapped the ball and it went around the curve, up the hill, and into the giant’s mouth. The fiberglass monster’s eyes lit up and it made some sounds like a coughing trumpet.

“This is pretty dorky, you realize?”

“What? No way! Now gimme some space here.”

Jason stepped back and let his brother extol the virtues of miniature golf. Brett continued, “Something we can’t do on ORCA, I get to win some credits off you–”

“Um, I’m winning?”

“-And Mum can sit around reading romances. I still think it’s cause she misses Sam.”

Jason shrugged.

“I’m serious, right after he left Mum cut her hair and now she’s reading things with pink covers. She’s got a broken heart.”

“Like you’d know what a broken heart is, you’re thirteen. And she said the new look is for her job. Concentrate on what you’re doing or those credits are as good as mine.”

They played a few more holes, and the two of them were neck and neck in points when they saw their mother outside the fence around the court. She was talking on her phone, and waved when she saw them.

“What’s up?”

Dianne snapped her phone closed. “Sorry guys. Vacation’s over.”

There was a chorus of, “Whaaaat?”

The next morning the Bates family was piling out of the helicopter on ORCA’s top deck. As they gathered their bags Jason asked, “I still don’t get it Mom, what’s the big hurry?”

“All part of the new job Jason.”

The elevator opened and Winston jumped out. “Welcome back! Can I carry something?”

“Thanks Winston. I don’t know how we got it all in the chopper.”

“How was the holiday boys?”

“Oh, about a week shorter than we expected.” Jason said, but he was smiling as he maneuvered his brother and their luggage into the elevator.

“Yes, I’m sorry about that, but this emergency came up. And he who would ride the mongoose must be quick to the saddle!”

“Ah, a nonsensical quote. Now I know I’m home!”

“What’s the story on these fishing grounds, Winston?”

Winston sobered. “The construction company changed the site, and they propose to pave right over the reef. It’ll destroy the natural fish breeding grounds forever.”

“The tribunal finally decided on a company? Anyone we’ve heard of?”

The elevator let them off on delta level. The boys got out first. People were walking back and forth in the open receiving area, and Jason saw several unpleasantly familiar white uniforms. Behind him Winston said, “About that… I think you’d better prepare for the worst.”

“Whoa, it’s them!” Brett turned back to his mother, “Those guys are in UBRI uniforms, what’re they doing on board?”

Winston sighed. “That’s what I was working around to telling you. The UBRI corporation won the construction contract.”

They were everywhere. UBRI goons in the white jumpsuits or black and white uniforms, the logo on crates and boxes. Jason walked over to a model of ORCA city with a sign on the side: “Another UBRI Construction.”

“Why didn’t you tell me Winston?”

“I didn’t want to bother you, it was your holiday! Besides, there’s nothing you could have done. Come on, your new quarters are down this way.”

“They’re going to be building ORCA city.”

“This is all we need.” Jason groaned.

Brett leaned in to whisper, “These are the guys who tried to kill Charley and capture Neri and Mera!”

“The ORCA authorities have no way of knowing that, Brett, and their bid was legitimate. But they’re still answerable to the tribunal and the new regional commander, whoever that is.”

Dianne turned, “And to me. Ok, I’m going straight down to the dive pool, you too Jason. Brett, can you find our quarters and start putting stuff away?”

“Aye-aye Mom. Uh…”

“Yes, I’ll help with the luggage.” Winston said, taking the other bags.

“Thanks, Winston. And Brett, get a uniform on.”

“Riiiiight.” Brett was already turning away.

“Ok Mum, what are we doing?”

“Just a quick check then you can get settled in. Ok, it’s this way.”

The dive pool was new, a pressurized chamber that gave access to the reef outside. It was big enough for half a dozen people in wetsuits and uniforms, maneuvering equipment into the pool. As Dianne and Jason entered two guys were letting down a bundle of pipes. “Ok, now let it down. Easy…”

“Ok, you can hold it right there.” Dianne snapped. “There’ll be no more equipment going out to the site until I give the all clear.”

The man in the pool looked up at her. “Yeah? And who are you, sweetheart?”

Big mistake, Jason thought. But all his mother did was shove her identification in the guy’s face, “I’m the new environmental officer, sweetheart, and when I say stop you stop.”

“All right.”

“Suit up Jase, let’s go see for ourselves.”

The diving suits were new too, nicer than the old ones. Dave Hartley was unpacking them when Jason and Dianne came in. He looked up, “Hey you two, fresh off the chopper?”

“Hey Dave.”

“Nice to see a familiar face!” Jason said, “It’s crazy around here, all these uniforms.”

“No kidding. I’m glad it’s not my job to coordinate them—I just hand out the passes. You want to check out the foundations? Grab anything off that rack and I’ll grab you some tanks. How long you be out for?”

“Not long.” Dianne said. She and Jason found suits and got changed. Jason was beginning to wonder when he’d get back into his uniform. The new suits had communicators, one-way mostly.

“Can you hear that Jase?”

“Loud and clear Mom. Pity I can’t answer back, eh?” Jason sat down on the edge of the pool and put his hood on over the headphones.

“Just stay close, these things have a limited range. How’s your air?”

“Enough. More than half.”

“Good. Let’s see what we can find down there.”

Jason put his mouthpiece in and pushed off. The dive pool was ringed with lights, but beyond them it was dark in ORCA’s shadow. The other divers were easy to see in their white UBRI wetsuits. Most of them had lights, and some had underwater welding torches.

Dianne said, “Ok Jase, let’s check the new site, the breeding grounds. Far end of the reef.”

Jason flashed the ok sign and they went to see.

“Gee, things sure have changed while we were gone.” Brett said as he and Winston carried the luggage to quarters. The halls were more crowded than before, and white UBRI uniforms outnumbered the aqua ORCA ones.

“Yes, that’s life I suppose. We’re not so much a scientific research institute these days as a staging ground for the building of ORCA city. That’s why all your friends were transferred back to shore.”

“Well, I reckon that’s a real good reason to get out to the island as fast as possible and check Neri’s ok.” Brett whispered the last part.

“Here we are. Try your pass.”

Brett flashed his id and the cabin door opened. “Hey, this is bigger than the last one! No way, I still don’t get my own room?

Winston smiled at that. “Brett, I agree that Neri should know about the UBRI presence, but she’s not in any immediate danger and those breeding grounds are! Your mother must work fast if she’s to save them. A little patience and you’ll see Neri soon enough. Now, where do you think your mother would like these books?”

It felt good to be back in the water. Jason watched the reef unroll below him, the colors of coral and darting fish.

“Look Jason, aren’t they fabulous? I don’t get it, the foundations were meant to be deeper. If they try to build up here, all this sea life may disappear.” Dianne blew some annoyed bubbles. “We did that survey for a reason.”

Jason nodded. Something spooked the fish below and little silver shapes flashed around them. Jason smiled, and was sure his mother was smiling too behind her mask.

“Well. Let’s go see the construction. The dark and mysterious ORCA city…”

It was dark, the new construction shadowed the seabed. They were still building the main structure, a spider web of girders going up and being welded into place. The first few supports had already been sunk; ugly plugs of concrete set into the bottom.

“Neri won’t like those. Remind her that this site was the least damaging one we could find.”

Jason signed ok, wishing he could talk.

They approached a group of divers. Dianne said, “You guys got communicators on?”


“I’m Doctor Bates. My son’s tank is low, he needs to go back. I still have to collect some specimens. Can we swap buddies?”

“Sure doc.” The diver replied. “Laroo, go with her. I’ll go back to ORCA with the kid.”

“Thanks.” Dianne said, and she and Laroo swam away. Jason and the other diver headed back for the dive pool.

“Nice to meet you, kid. Jerry Eaton. Great place you’ve got down here.” The UBRI diver introduced himself between bubbling breaths from his air tank. Jason signed an ok back. They skirted the pool of light from a welder and swam down between two girders.

It happened almost before Jason realized—a cord caught on his air tank and a second later he was pinned by a falling girder. It came down slowly, all that saved Jason from being crushed. He yelled into his mask and squirmed, but the weight had him stuck against a concrete block.

“Kid! You ok?” Eaton was pulling at the girder, trying to get it to move. Jason collected himself enough to sign “ok” and pull out the meter on his air tank.

“Problems, buddy. Nobody in range. I’ll have to come back with help, and another tank. Hang in there!”

Jason nodded. Left alone, there was nothing to do but stare at his air meter and try not to panic. That was the important thing, the first thing in the manual. Panic uses more oxygen…

Hard not to panic with a heavy metal beam across your waist. Jason braced himself and tried to push it off, then froze as his air tank shifted. Ok, maybe better not to move.

So, help was coming. As fast as… Jason saw a flash of movement and waved frantically. But it wasn’t another diver, it was Neri. Relief made him light headed, and then they were somewhere dark, but there was air. Jason yanked his mask off and took a deep breath, then coughed at the strong smell of salt.

“Jason, you all right?”

Jason coughed and managed, “I was looking forward to seeing you again Neri, but I didn’t know I’d be this glad. Where are we?”

“Cave I found.” Neri flashed her grin. “Near ORCA. But Jason, why are you here? There are still many days left.”

“They dragged us back early, this ORCA City stuff. It’s Mum’s new job, chief environmental officer.”


“It means she’ll be looking after the sea.”

“Then I must speak to her! The men get too close to where the big fish live. Where they,” Neri tipped her head and searched for the words, “Make little fish.” She finished.

For a second Jason wondered, not for the first time, just how much Neri knew about the facts of life. But there were more important things to worry about now. “Yeah, we know all about that, that’s why we’re down here. Look, I’d better go, they’ll be looking for me. We’ll come to the island tonight, ok?”

“Ok! But you can get back? You have enough breath?”

“Just.” Jason said. His gauge was in the red, but not empty. He put his legs in the water. “Thanks, Neri. A lot.”

“Take care in the ocean, Jason. Remember you are not like me.”

“Neri, nobody’s like you.”

The dive pool was a scene of controlled panic. Divers were coming back, and more were suiting up to go out.

“Hey, someone’s coming up!”

“Jason! Are you all right?”

Jason spat out his mouthpiece and gasped for air. “Yeah, Mum. I’m fine. That was a little close that’s all.” Jason let his mother and Dave pull him out of the water.

“You were supposed to be low on air. What have you been breathing?”

Jason shook his head. “Dunno. I think I got back here by instinct.”

“No time for questions, let’s get you out of here.” Dianne said.

Jason didn’t argue. He grabbed a towel and went to get dressed. “Mum, can we still take a boat out later?” He called through the door.

“Far as I’m concerned.”

“Cool.” Jason came out, dressed again.

“Neri?” Dianne asked quietly.

“You got it.”

Jason pulled the zodiac up the beach out of range of the tide. Brett was already running into the jungle shouting for Neri. Jason found them by the pond.

“Neri, it’s so good to see you!”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

Neri hugged them both. “Come, I make feast to welcome you back.”

A few big leaves were spread on the ground, piled with bright fruits and berries. “Lookin’ good!” Brett exclaimed, “Those’re new.”

“I just find. Try them!”

Brett picked up one of the round pinkish fruits, and bit into it. “Yum!”

“Jason, you talk to Mother about home of the big fish?”

“Fair go Neri, can’t we eat first?”

“No. Is important.” Neri chimed. “It was my father’s mission to watch over the ocean. Now he has passed, it is my mission. I cannot let them send the big fish away.”

Brett said, “Chill, Neri. You can’t afford to do anything crazy!”

“Brett’s right. There’s trouble, I didn’t have time to tell you before. The people building ORCA city—they’re UBRI.”

Neri’s eyes went wide. “UBRI that tried to take my sister away? And hurt Charley? Why are they here?”

“It’s… complicated. Money stuff. The important thing is to keep them from finding out you’re still here. They might come after you again. So you need to be careful around ORCA, ok? Mum’s doing all she can to protect the big fish, and we’ll do our best to help.”

“You swear?”

“Swear.” Both boys said immediately.

“Good. Now we eat. Tell me about vacation.”

Brett was happy to oblige. “You’d have been bored. We went shopping with Mum a lot, went to arcades and miniature golf and stuff. Were supposed to see Dad, but he called it off and Mum was so mad she went shopping again…”

Neri listened. Finally she said, “What is ‘bored’? And what is ‘miniature golf’?”

And shortly there were some sticks, and little holes in the ground and berries being rolled between them.

“You’re back early.” Dianne said as the boys stepped out of the elevator.

“Yeah, Ne—I mean, we want to help with your speech, about the breeding grounds. Can I take some of that?” Jason asked. His mother was holding a three-inch stack of papers and binders.

“Please. We’ll head down to the lab and organize it. This is all possible data the tribunal may ask about.”

“Boy, they dropped you right back in it!” Brett said. Suddenly he grabbed Jason and said in a low voice, “Uh-oh, major alert! It’s him! UBRI’s top banana himself!”

From down a hallway, Dr. Hellegren gave them a look. His assistant Keller glared from under her severely square haircut.

Brett tried his best innocent smile, to no visible effect.

Dianne murmured, “He must be worried, to deal with it personally. Ok! We have a case to prepare. Jason, with me. Bretty, could you send us down some dinner?”

“Sure Mum. Mind if I eat in the galley? Want to check out the new kids on board.”

“Fine, fine, just don’t forget about us.”

Brett waved and headed for the galley while the other two caught the lift down. As soon as they were in the elevator Jason hissed, “Is he going to be staying on board? He knows we’re—and you’re—!”

Dianne shook her head. “I hope not. Let’s concentrate on winning the hearing for now.”

Jason smiled. “Well we can always have him arrested for stealing your data and trying to throttle Winston!” In reply he got a very patient, momlike look.

The galley was full, again mostly with UBRI uniforms. This could get annoying. Brett weaved his way to the food and flashed his id. “HELEN, two of the day’s special for the biology lab please, and a hamburger with double fries for me.”

“Affirmative.” HELEN said. The lights on the food machine flashed a bit and Brett’s burger popped out. He wasn’t very hungry, but berries were just not a complete meal, no matter what Neri thought. Holding his tray with one hand and grabbing fries with the other, Brett scanned the galley. There were some tables of kids, but no spare seats. Brett headed for the only one that looked promising. The table was covered with books, and the other chair was occupied by a dark-haired boy Brett’s own age—who seemed to be studying somehow, despite the noise.

“Hey. Is anyone sitting here?”

The boy looked up. “The galley is for the use of all and seats may not be reserved.”


“ORCA handbook, rule 517F subsection A.”

Brett took that as permission and sat down. “What are you doing?”

“Chemistry homework.”

“You must be keen.”

“My folks are. If I don’t finish this year top of the class I’m a dead man. Benny Malkovitch.”

“Brett Bates. You must be new on board?” He pushed the second helping of fries in Benny’s direction.

“Thanks. Yeah I am, mom and dad are both on the medical staff. I’m the reason they took the job.”


“Uh-huh. Plenty of time to study, no distractions under water they reckon.”

Brett grinned. “Benny, meet mister distraction!”

The tribunal met in one of the new rooms, a round dark chamber where everybody with any power sat around the walls ands whatever poor soul was trying to convince them of anything had to stand in the middle. Privately Jason thought it was like a principal’s office with twenty principals. He sat with Winston while Dianne made her speech—very well, he thought.

Dianne finished, “…If you recall, the very reason the foundations were to be built deeper in the first place was to minimize damage for both the reef and marine life. Have we lost sight of ORCA’s purpose, its vision for the future?”

The commander nodded. “Thank you, Doctor Bates. Doctor Hellegren?”

Hellegren stood up and said shortly, “ORCA city is potentially the most significant engineering feat of this century. To reposition its foundations now, even a matter of meters, would cost millions and cause untold delay. Are we to sacrifice all this for the sake of a few fish?”

Over the reef, Neri flew.

She skimmed the coral, weaved through the underwater forest and broke the surface in a wild leap. A pair of spinner dolphins followed her, boasting that they could jump higher than the funny-shaped dolphin.

Yes, you can. Neri said, Your tails are much stronger than my little feet. Friends, do you tell your little ones about the nets men put in the ocean?

They reassured her. Neri surfaced between them and stroked their silvery sides.

Charley called from where he was feeding out in deeper water. The human fish have a thing that makes a strange sound. They come too near the home of the big fish again.

I come. Neri answered, and dived.

She stayed close to the seabed as she approached the divers. There were only two of them, not a whole team with building stuff. They talked to each other, then one dropped a silvery ball and they swam away in a hurry. As soon as they were safely away Neri picked up the thing they’d left. It was just a ball, but it was making noise, and there were red numbers flashing on one side.

Nothing we need here! Neri pushed off the bottom and followed the divers. When they got to the barren area under ORCA, she threw the ball at them and fled.

The commander stood up. “Ahem. We have reached a decision. We cannot ignore the cost to the construction company. However, ORCA’s charter clearly places highest priority on protection of the marine environment. Therefore the council accepts the submission of Doctor bates and instructs the UBRI corporation to move the foundations so as not to interfere with the breeding grounds.”

Dianne sighed. Winston leaned forward and said, “Well done.”

“Nice job Mum!” Brett was waiting outside the council room.

Suddenly an alarm sounded and HELEN said, “Medical to the dive pool, please.”

“Let’s go see what’s up.”

Jason nodded. “Don’t worry Mum, we’ll stay out of the way. See you later!”

The boys arrived to see two divers in white suits being hustled off to medical. A stressed-looking Dave was writing his report. Brett scooted over behind him to get a look, then dodged when Dave swatted him with the clipboard.

“That’s supposed to be private data. Scram or I’ll roster you on helping me with the filing.”

The boys scrammed. Safely in the hall Brett said, “They had a sonic grenade and it went off. They’re not badly hurt, just got their ears rattled. But I thought those things were super-safe.”

“Um…” Jason thought. It didn’t take long. “Whaddaya reckon UBRI was going to blow it up over the reef? No breeding grounds, no problem. So they drop a grenade, and Neri gives it right back.”

“Gotta be.”

They rounded a corner and almost walked into Doctor Hellegren. Both boys jumped back.

“I’ve been waiting for you two.” The man said, thin-lipped. “Let me just give you a message you would be very wise to heed. You have both caused me a good deal of trouble in the past, but we are on ORCA permanently now and if you get in my way again, believe me, you will regret it.”

Brett tried to look innocent, but Jason stared right back for a minute before he stepped aside.

“On ORCA permanently! We’re in for it!” Brett mourned as they unpacked later that night.

“Probably. Here, put your stuff on your side.”

“Thanks, I was looking for that. So when’s your army training start?”

“ORCA cadet training, and next week. School too.”

Brett groaned melodramatically, then pepped right back up. “I met a guy named Benny, he seems ok. And wasn’t it great to see Neri again? I still reckon that island’s gotta be the greatest place on earth.”