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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-09-16 — sourcemeta

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

5. Exploring

Green and yellow birds twittered and chattered to each other high in the trees. Near the pond Neri sat building a fire in a circle of stones. Kal lounged half in the pond, watching her. “Fire.” Neri said, holding up a burning stick.

“Fire.” Kal repeated the word. The flame was almost invisible in the sunlight, but Kal reached towards it.

“No. It burns. Pain.”

“Pain?” Kal sounded confused. He reached for the fire again, yelped and shook his hand. “Pain.”

“Yes, that is pain.” Neri said wryly. “You never touch fire before, when you were small?”

“No remember.” Kal reached for the food with his unscorched hand.

Neri pointed at the fruits in turn. “Banana. Paw-paw. Cherry.”

“Banana. Paw-paw. Cherry.”

“Which you eat now?”

“Banana.” Kal took it and started peeling it, then paused. “Banana, finger shaped fruit of tropical tree. Banana republic, small country dependant on its exports of fruit and regarded as economically unstable. Go bananas, slang to go crazy. Go bananas?”

“Eat banana.”

“Banana!” Kal said happily, around a big bite. Neri smiled.

A banana, in a clear plastic box, popped out of the food machine. Benny picked it up. “You order an apple and look what you get.” It wasn’t a terribly appetizing banana but Benny took it and wound his way through the tables to where Brett was sitting.

Brett eyed his friend’s breakfast and really, really wanted to tell Benny about the fruit on the island.

Cass was holding a plate. “Anybody want an omelet? I hate to waste it.”

“Looks great.” Brett held out his hands and the omelet was passed over.

“Go for it. Gotta run!” But Cass didn’t, not far.

Brett tried to cut a bite of his omelet. With no luck. “What? …it’s rubber! A rubber omelet!”

“Ha ha ha, sucked in!”

There might have been violence, but Jason came in and grabbed his brother. “Come on, let’s go.”

Benny looked at Cass. “Cass, you are twisted.”

“And lovin’ it!”

Brett was still fuming when they reached the island—though he hadn’t been able to grumble while the boat engine was on, because it drowned out his voice.

“She’s asking for it!” Brett grumbled as they walked through the jungle. “If she doesn’t cut that out, I’m gonna get her so–”

Kal dived onto the path behind them, scaring both boys out of their skin.

“Hi, hello, nice see you.” Kal chimed. “Is wood for fire.”

“Uh-huh.” Brett said blankly.

Neri appeared less shockingly around a tree. “He learns fast.” She said.

“Good. He’s got a lot of catching up to do. You look… happy Neri.”

Neri turned her smile to Jason. “Was sad when sister went away. Now I’m not alone.”

“Hey, you’ve always got us.”

“I know.” Neri stopped at a tree grown with mushrooms. “Kal, come back. See this. No go past here alone.’

“Why?” Kal asked, looking at the tree with interest.

“Here is safe. There is bad. Badlands. Things there may hurt you.”

“How things?”

“He’s just like a little kid.” Brett said.

“I tell you later, Kal.”

“Good. You, Jason, Brett, stay here? Eat food?”

“We can’t. Just a quick visit today. I’ve got to get back to ORCA for cadet duty.”

“I go too. I must watch how they build.”

The caterers had brought breakfast and stocked the fridge before Lena even got up. She explored the pantry alone, still in her pajamas. It was like being at a new school. This wasn’t the house she remembered from the last vacation; they’d become interchangeable after Mom died, each getting more expensive but not changing in any way that counted.

She was glad to be here, she told herself firmly while she spread jelly on a croissant. Being alone wasn’t any lonelier than being surrounded by girls who were all friends with each other but not with her.

“I do not like chaos Lena, must I keep saying that?”

Lena looked up, taking in the crumbs, open jelly jar and knife, and her robe over the back of the couch on the way to her father. Hellegren was dressed in a dark suit, looking neat and pressed.

“I’m sorry father. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Please don’t make further work for the cleaning staff. I shall be gone most of the day.”

“Are you going to ORCA?” Lena asked quickly.

Her father looked at her. “Yes. What do you know about ORCA?”

“I’ve been reading. Press releases and things. How it’s the start of a huge underwater city, and you’re building it.”

“UBRI won the contract, yes.”

“Can I come with you, please? I’d love to see it!”

“That is out of the question.”

Lena tried her best voice, the one for excuses when she was late for class. “Why?”

“It is work Lena, my work.”

“But I want to learn about your work. I think the idea of ORCA city is wonderful.”

“There will be time enough for you to see it later.”

Lena pretended she hadn’t heard that. “And I’m so proud of you for being in charge of it. I’ve, well, I started some marine science classes so I could learn a lot on ORCA. I promise I won’t get in the way!”

Hellegren sighed. “The car will be here in half an hour. If you are dressed and ready…”

Lena squeaked and ran past him up the stairs.

It was different with Kal on the island. He wanted to see everything, and Brett had a great time showing him the cave where the bats lived, all the different ways to get across the stream, and the hive where the bees lived—with lots of warnings to stay away from there. Jason found himself missing the quiet. But Neri looked so happy. Her gentle voice as she taught Kal things, Jason loved listening to it.

The others were still talking away when Jason had to say, “Ok, sorry, but we have to leave. Dave will have my head if I’m late for training.”

“Have your head? Does not have own?”

Jason laughed. “It’s an expression. It means I’ll get in trouble.”

“Trouble?” Kal asked as they reached the beach.

“Sorry Kal, if we explain that we’ll be here all night. Tomorrow, ok?”


Jason and Brett hauled the boat down to the water and started the engine. They waved as it took off.

“I go too.” Neri said.


“To ORCA.”

“ORCA? I go!”

“No!” Neri said. “You must not go. Not safe. You listen?”


“Later, Kal.”

“Later.” Kal sounded sullen.

Neri smiled at him. “I come back soon. Gather fruit. Be careful.” She ran into the water and dived into an oncoming wave.

“You say, I do.” Kal said to no one.

They got back right at lunchtime, time for Brett to put his plan into action. He arrived in the galley a short while later carrying a lovely, chilled pudding. “Hey, Benny. Doesn’t this look great?”

“That’s for Cass, isn’t it?”

“Yep! My masterpiece, I can’t wait to see her face.”

“What’s in it?”


“What’s that?” Benny asked, inching away.

“A chemical Mum uses. I packed it in from underneath, frozen. Oh don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”

“So what does it do?”

“Spoon enters pudding. Aquanite at room temperature is exposed to oxygen. And kaboom, revenge is complete.”

“Mmhm. How are you going to make her take it?”

“That, my friend, is where you come in.” Benny started shaking his head. “Come on Benny, don’t you want to see pudding explode? And get Cass back for getting us in trouble when we washed the commander?”

“Actually, I don’t think…”

“I’ll never ask you to do anything crazy again.”

Benny sighed, gave up, and took the pudding. He sat down by Cass, who immediately started drooling. Benny pushed it over to her.

“Mmm, thanks! …Morgan, do you mind? I’m trying to eat here.”

“You eat too much.” Morgan swiped her sister’s spoon.

Cass glared. “Are you going to give that back?”

“Nope. Don’t think I will.” To Benny’s horror, Morgan slid the trick pudding over to her own place.

“Sis, get a life.”

“Get yourself another dessert.” Morgan went to scoop up a big bite. There was a noise like, “Splort!” as two tablespoons of aquanite went from liquid to gas and catapulted brown glop all over Morgan.

Of course everyone in the galley noticed the noise.

Ten minutes later a newly scrubbed Morgan dragged all three of them before the commander. Cass protested all the way.

“You are too old for mindless practical jokes.” Commander Williams said, looking them up and down. “It’s time you either shape up or suffer the consequences. What am I going to do with you?”

Morgan spoke up, “I suggest one month’s extra cleaning duties sir, starting with the garbage chutes on gamma level.”

“When I want your suggestions I’ll ask for them, cadet Clayborn.”

Morgan wilted only slightly.

“What do you suggest, Mr. Hartley?”

Dave was leaning on the top of his terminal watching the fun with a definite glint of amusement in his dark eyes. “Since they have so much extra time on their hands, maybe they can make better use of it training for their dive certifications. ORCA can always use more certified divers.”

“Can I think about that sir?” Benny quavered.

“Well if you’d prefer the alternative…”

Brett and Cass stepped in front of Benny. “We’re looking forward to the diving, sir!”

“Well then. Report to..?”

“Gamma level schoolroom in ten minutes.” Dave finished. “Now shoo.”

In the hallway, out from adult eyes Cass said, “I don’t see why I have to be punished.”

“Who superglued my omelet?”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this diving thing. And that guy’s scary.”

“Nah, Dave’s cool once you get to know him.” Brett said. But he had to admit, Dave was a little scary. He was a big guy, and while he was several generations removed from his African ancestry, one felt that those ancestors had wrestled lions. “And this’ll be fun! We’ll be out in the ocean, swimming with dolphins!”

But when they reached the classroom there were no masks or tanks handed out. Instead Dave handed each of them a copy of the inch-thick diving manual.

Brett looked at it with horror.

“Sir?” Cass asked.


“When do we get to dive?”

“When you have a good grounding in theory and technique. This is back to school for you. Before you’re ready for the water you’ll have to know everything in these books. Every safety regulation. Each and every rule. Backwards. I’ll leave you in HELEN’s capable hands.”

The screens lit up and HELEN announced, “Dive certification training exercise One-A is an open-book test. Fifty questions. Please enter your names to begin.”

There was a mass groan.

Kal had wandered into the badlands without realizing it, following a bird down a trail Neri hadn’t shown him. He was looking up, so he didn’t see the stream until he slipped and fell down the bank, landing in the water with a wrenched shoulder.

“Ah. Pain. Is pain.” Kal said thoughtfully, rubbing his shoulder. A strange feeling, pain. A new feeling, well, there were faint memories of skinned knees and bumped elbows, always quickly tended and a long time ago. This pain was so immediate.

On the other bank a long, gray-green creature slid into the water.

“Hello. I am Kal. You swim, I swim.” Kal tried to swim like the creature, low to the top of the water.

“Kal!” Neri called, appearing out of the forest. She sounded scared.

“Neri. One friend. Name?”

“Crocodile! He eat you!” Neri had a long vine. She slung one end up and over a branch so it dangled about where Kal was. “Hold this!”

“Eat? Like banana?” But Kal grabbed the vine. Neri hauled on her end and lifted Kal out of the water. The crocodile snapped lazily below his dangling feet.

“He no eat Kal.” Kal laughed.

When he was safely back on land Neri said, “Come. Follow.”

“Where we go, Neri?”

Neri didn’t answer. She and Kal came out above the mangrove forest. It was flooded at this tide, and the nests were a few yards above the water.

“Long legs white birds? Babies here?” Kal guessed.

“Yes. Look there.”

In one nest, two chicks were tussling. The bigger one had pushed its sibling right to the edge. As they watched, the weaker hatchling fell. It splashed but didn’t sink, held up on the weeds. A crocodile homed in.


A quick snap, and the bird was gone.

“Crocodile.” Neri said. “You remember.”

“I remember.” Kal said soberly.

“Good. We go back then, find food to eat.”

A few minutes down the trail Kal asked, “Why you no help bird?”

“If I do, crocodile be hungry. Father say, there is balance. Father showed me that too, so I would be careful of crocodile.”

Kal thought, then gave one of his rote speeches. “Father of Neri, Braevan. Wise one. In earth speak, scientist, engineer. Father of two: Neri, Mera. Mother said, he is good man. Very important. Father of Neri is passed now, yes?”


The turbolift took the day’s visitors down into ORCA. When the doors hissed open Lena stepped out slowly, swallowing to equalize the pressure in her ears and trying to see everything at once. ORCA was… neat! The rounded walls, the clean smell and the purposeful people in uniforms walking back and forth.

“Amazing.” She noticed the ORCA model and went over to take a look.

“An amazing village yes, Lena. But what I am building is a city.”

Lena opened her mouth to ask a question but her father’s com rang. He turned away and spoke to his assistant, only looking back long enough to say, “I have to tend to business. Why don’t you take a look around?”

“All right.”

Lena wandered around. She felt very out of place in her street clothes, but nobody seemed to care. She passed a lot of science labs, and rooms full of building equipment, and a classroom full of kids. She finally found a map and headed for the galley, looking for a drink and a place to sit down and maybe someone to talk to.

The room was half full of kids having late lunches or afternoon snacks. They were mostly sitting inn little groups, mostly with books or portable computer terminals. Lena went up to the food dispenser and cautiously hit a button, but nothing happened.

“Hey, what are you after?” Said a voice next to her. A boy, shorter than she was.

“A drink, maybe.’

“Have you got a card?”

Lena shook her head.

The boy flashed his card to the machine. “My treat then. What’ll it be?”

“Orange juice please. Hi, I’m Lena.”

“Brett. Here. Want to sit with us? That’s my brother Jason, and Benny and Cass.”

“Welcome aboard.” Jason said.

Lena sat down. The table was covered with empty chip bags and three copies of a scuba diving manual. “Diving? It must be wonderful here.”

Cass said, “Unfortunately we don’t get to find out until we know all this stuff backwards.” But she smiled.

“New on ORCA huh? Us too. What do your folks do?”

“My father’s organization is responsible for building ORCA city.” Lena said proudly.

Brett’s jaw dropped. “You’re..?”

“Lena Hellegren.”

Brett made a small choked sound. Jason stood up. “Excuse me. I’ve got a training exercise on the bridge.” He walked off.

“What did I say?”

Cass and Benny both shrugged. Brett said, “It’s not you, it’s your old man.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“He’s not exactly everyone’s favorite person. Sorry, I’ve got to go.”

“What? Wait, what..?” Lena looked at Benny and Cass, who looked just as confused as she felt. She jumped up and went after Brett. “Hey just a minute, what did you mean just then about my father?”

Brett had reached the lift. Lena got in before the door closed. Brett had been going to ignore her because he really didn’t know what he’d say. But the elevator stalled.

“It’s jammed that’s all. They’ll get it going again in a minute.”

“If you’ve got something against my father, you’ve got to tell me why.”

“Um.” It looked like she really didn’t know. Brett sighed, “Ok. What do you think UBRI does?”

“Scientific research.”

“Meaning you don’t really know. But I’ll tell you one thing. Your dad broke every international law and captured a whale. An endangered species. If we hadn’t saved it, he would’ve killed it and dissected it. It was a business move for him.”

The lift started moving again.

Lena burst out, “You’re a liar!”

Brett shrugged. “Look, I saw that whale captured at UBRI with my own eyes.” Only now he wondered what that would be like for Lena, suddenly finding out her dad had done something like that. As bad as when he’d found out his own father cheated on his mom? No wonder she didn’t believe it. Brett felt a little sorry for Lena now, but couldn’t think of anything else to say so he just signaled the lift and got out.

That night Brett could finally say what he really thought. “I can’t believe Hellegren has a kid! I mean, he’s a creep! Who’d marry him?”

Jason laughed.

It was after dinner and they were back home, studying. Brett was a lot more interested in their new acquaintance than in going over the diving regulations for the fifteenth time.

Jason pushed away his cadet study guide. “That’s her real name. Luckily you don’t have to be Froggy to check the list of day passes. Hope she stays off ORCA, UBRI grownups are bad enough.”

“Actually I don’t think Lena knows what her dad’s been up to. She really didn’t know why we freaked out. I told her about Charley and she said I was lying.”

“Huh.” Jason said thoughtfully.

“Whaddaya reckon I tell Benny and Cass too? Just that UBRI caught a whale, against the law and all that.”

“Sure, if you want.” Jason smiled at a sudden thought, “Maybe you should sic Cass on UBRI!”

Brett laughed, “No way! We’d all be kicked off ORCA! We’d probably be kicked out of Australia!”

A week passed before Jason could get out to the island. Neri met him on the beach. “Hello!”

“Hi, Neri! Sorry I haven’t been around—training’s been crazy and Dave won’t let Brett and the others out of his sight. They finally get to dive today though, so I can come see you.”

“Glad you come.”

“Yeah, me too. Where’s Kal?”

“Makes fire.” Neri said. Jason looked alarmed. “Small fire. I tell him much about fire, danger.”

“Good!” Jason laughed, then more seriously, “How is Kal doing?”

Neri looked troubled. “He learns things of the world but not things of the heart.”

“How d’you mean?”

“I cannot tell him about feeling. Feeling for other people. Maybe you talk to him?”

“Yeah, sure.” Jason said without really thinking.


“Hang on…” Jason began, and gave up. He wandered up the beach while Neri ran off.

Kal was cheerfully tossing twigs in a small fire in the firepit. He looked up, “Ah, Jason. Is one fire. Neri teach. No touch fire, no feel pain.”

“Um, good.”

Kal continued proudly, “I learn quickly. No feel pain no more. Never hurt.”

Jason sat down. “Yeah, well, life’s not always that easy.”


“Because, well, it’s not always about yourself, you know?”

“Not know.” Kal said, sounding curious.

“Sometimes you have to do things even though you know they hurt.” Jason said, wondering if this was going to work. How did you explain sacrifice to someone who was, basically, a really big four year old who knew a lot of words? And this part wasn’t as hard as the next bit: explaining that some things hurt and you couldn’t avoid them.

“Why?” Kal asked.

“Maybe you do something for a friend. Because it’s good for the friend, even though it’s bad for you. Like our friend Sam, he had something that would’ve made him very happy, but it would’ve made Neri, and us, very unhappy. So he got rid of it. Because we’re friends.”

Kal considered this. “Friends first, Kal second?”

Well that was a little simplistic but, “Yeah.”

“Tell me of ORCA! ORCA is your nest?”

“Well, kind of. It’s just a town underneath the water.” Jason tried to make it sound boring.

“How get there?”

“Boats. Or waverunner, like the one I came on today.”

“Or swim?”

“Whoa, bad idea Kal. ORCA’s not a good place for you. A lot of the earth people… well, if they knew about you, they wouldn’t be nice. You can visit ORCA, but not now. We have to make a plan, so nothing goes wrong. Ok?”

“I come to ORCA too?”

“Yes, later. Not today. I have to go back now though.” Jason stood up, “Gotta watch things while the group’s diving. I bet Morgan programmed some really fun fake emergencies for us.”

Kal came down to the beach and watched Jason start up the waverunner and roar away. Then Kal muttered, “ORCA.” And dived.

Brett squirmed into his diving harness. It took a lot to keep an air tank firmly attached! Dave had parked the boat out in, well, the middle of the ocean but he seemed to know where they were. Benny, also suited up for diving, came up and said, “You want to check me?”

They double checked each other’s equipment, then did the same for Cass. Dave and Morgan were already sitting off the back of the boat putting their fins on.

“We’re all going to swim over to a small coral reef about fifty meters that way. Stick together and if you get tired signal to me or Morgan ok? Or go back.”

“Right, let’s go!” Brett said.

“Well go then.” Cass pretended to push him over the side. Shortly they were all in the water.

It was great! With their fins on they sailed through the water, over a blanket of multicolored coral. A turtle looked at them then lazily flapped away. Brett couldn’t believe it had taken him this long to learn to dive.

Kal saw the divers, and hid, watching them with fascination. Their wetsuits were strange, and the big packs on their backs—who could swim with all that stuff on? Kal laughed. The people of this planet were strange! The boat though, that was interesting.

Kal surfaced beside it and said, “Boat.” To confirm. Boats were familiar, even the material this one was made of, Kal knew it was light but strong, not exactly metal… he ducked under for a look at the divers and, seeing how far away they were, climbed aboard.

It wasn’t as interesting as he’d expected. There was some more stuff like the people in the water had been wearing, compartments Kal couldn’t open, and a plastic bottle. Kal opened it and sniffed. A compound that could be applied to skin to repel ultraviolet rays. Not something to eat.

The identity cards were momentarily interesting. “Juvenile human female, juvenile human male, this one is Brett, adult human female and male.”

Then Kal noticed the controls.

Benny got tired first. He was trying to keep up, but his legs hurt! Dave noticed and commed him, “Benny, you had enough? You want to head back?”

Benny signaled “ok” and headed for the boat. He hung onto the ladder and took his fins off then spit out his mouthpiece and started to climb up.

And yelled in surprise.

There was someone there, a guy, shirtless and fiddling with the controls. Benny yelled, “Hey, who-!”

The guy hit the wrong button and the boat’s engine lurched into life. Benny hung onto the ladder as the boat started moving. It only got a few meters before the engine cut out again. The stranger backed away from the controls, looking frightened. He cast a panicked look at Benny and jumped over the side.

Benny looked around wildly, first on the surface then underwater. No sign of him. Just the other divers, coming back fast.

Morgan had barely gotten her mask off when she was yelling, “Hey, what’s going on?”

Benny stammered, “There was this—someone was here—a guy, he turned it on! I didn’t touch anything, I swear!”

“Why are you making up crazy stories? It’s just plain stupid.”

“I’m not making it up.” Benny looked at his friends for backup. Cass shrugged. Well, she hadn’t seen anything. Brett was looking out at the water.

“Oh yeah sure, so this guy comes out of nowhere and starts the motor. Right.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I don’t think he meant to, he was kinda messing around…’

Morgan snorted and turned away.

More quietly Dave asked, “Benny, maybe you can tell me where this other guy went then?”

Benny pointed, not expecting honesty to do any good.

The ride back to ORCA was silent, except for orders, and pretty uncomfortable. Brett felt sorry for Benny, but didn’t dare say anything. Cass just seemed mad that their dive had been cut short. But they got the boat moored safely to the pontoon, cleaned their gear and checked everything in with HELEN. There was as much work after the fun as getting ready for it! Finally Dave said, “Ok, leave the rest to me guys. Off you go.”

“Whew!” Brett stretched as he came out of the dressing room, back in his uniform. “Oh, hi guys! Hi Winston.”

“Hi.” His mother said. “How was your first dive?”

“Oh, it was great!”

Morgan came out in time to hear that. She said, “Yeah, it was fine except for one small breach of discipline.”

“How very regrettable.” Winston said.

“Yeah, Benny here decided to start the boat before we were all aboard. Which is strictly against regulations and could have put us all in danger. Then he decided it was a stranger who came from nowhere who really did it.”

Jason looked at Brett, who nodded slightly and made a worried face.

Benny scowled at them all. “He was real. A young guy, your age Jason, messing around with the boat. I don’t know where he came from but I know where he went. Back into the ocean. I don’t care who believes me, that’s what happened.” He stormed out. Cass followed, calling after him.

Jason muttered to his brother, “That who I think it was?”

“Had to be. I guess…”

“Ahem.” Dianne was standing behind them, eyebrows raised. “Hold it, you two. A guy who disappeared back into the ocean? Is there something you need to tell us about?”