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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-10-24 — sourcemeta

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

14. Jealousy

Sometime during the night, after she’d finished crying, Lena picked up her mother’s picture and asked, “Mum, what should I do now?” She never did that, never talked to pictures or imagined her mother was somehow with her in spirit.

But everything else had changed.

It was an old picture, from before Lena had been born. Angelica Hellegren was on the deck of a boat, just getting back from a dive and clearly trying to talk and point at something and get out of her wetsuit at the same time. A silly picture.

And for some reason, Lena felt better. She went and washed her face—the lights were still on downstairs but the house was silent—and then got out her backpack and started loading it up. Clothes, toothbrush, wallet, the picture. The contents of her computer, loaded on a portable drive. The ORCA id she’d finally gotten a few days ago.

It was not quite five in the morning, an awful hour. Lena looked at her bed, but knew she’d never be able to sleep. So she put on her backpack and went downstairs.

Hellegren was sitting in an armchair, staring at nothing. He looked up as Lena went past. “Where are you going?”

Lena turned. “I am not your daughter. You said so. So this is not my house.”

“Go back to your room.”

“No.” Breathe. This couldn’t be worse than last night. “You don’t want me. And I won’t be a part of what you’re doing at UBRI. I won’t eat food you bought with money from tearing up the ocean and putting people in danger.” She took a step.

“Lena, listen to me. If you walk through that door, it will never be open to you again. Never.”

No apology, no trying to talk, nothing. Lena wished desperately he’d say he wanted her to stay, or say it was all a mistake, even now when she knew it wasn’t. But he didn’t even try.

But because she couldn’t bring herself to totally give up, Lena went back and kissed her father’s head. He didn’t look up, but now Lena could see he was holding a picture of her. “Goodbye father.”

And she walked out the door.

HELEN’s serene voice said, “That information is code locked. Please reformat your request or exit from inquiry.”

“Aaaarg!” Brett groaned and banged his head on the nearest unimportant surface.

Cass rubbed her eyes. “We got up early for this? I thought HELEN had a hit!”

“HELEN had a hit, we just can’t get at it. The log shows a recent UBRI access. They must’ve locked up the mapping function.”

“Makes sense. They know we’re looking for the synchronium too. Can’t you try anything else Benny?”

“I tried everything already!”

Brett said, “Let’s take a break and eat, try again later. Neri’s gonna be thrilled.”

“I think I’ve got another one.” Kellar reported from in front of a bank of computers.

“Another piece of the device?”

“The time of the sighting is approximately correct, and the general area seems…”

“Spare me the details.” Hellegren barked. “Where is it?”

“I haven’t pinpointed the precise location as yet. However, we are setting up the matrix for a computer scan immediately. May I ask, doctor, how things turned out with Lena?”

“Do not mention her name to me.”

Intrigued Kellar fished, “My apologies. I know how difficult it must be, having your own child betray you.”

Hellegren’s eyes flashed. “No Kellar, you do not. She left this morning—and ceased to be my child. She has made her decision, I have made mine. I have no daughter.”

For a moment Kellar thought of her own family. She’d been a little girl when men with guns took them away in the night. But she’d survived, and made it into foster care in Australia and become a success.

And the sympathy faded and Kellar thought that her boss sounded a little unstable about his daughter. And if he cracked, she’d be ready.

Breakfast had not been fun, the three younger kids grumping at each other about their failure with the computer, while Jason ate with Sallyanne. They had finished and were heading out when the first shuttle arrived, bringing the day workers to ORCA.

“Isn’t that your friend? The UBRI kid?”

Jason looked. There was Lena, looking out of place in her street clothes. She looked at Jason with a pathetically hopeful expression. “Sallyanne, I think I’d better talk to Lena. I’ll catch you up.”

Sallyanne looked a little sad, but she just waved and singsonged, “Ok, don’t study, see if I care…”

Brett caught up with them, “Hi Lena, what’re you doing here… you ok?”

“Your dad found out.”

Lena nodded.

“Come on, let’s get out of sight. Our cabin; Mum’s already in the lab. What happened?”

Lena told them in short sentences while they threaded their way through ORCA’s morning rush.

“He tossed you out?” Brett burst out when they were safely in the cabin. “Just like that?”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know. I can’t go home.”

“Who’d want to? Can you stay with your Mum or something?” Brett asked, then noticed the quiet and realized he’d put his foot in it. “Oh no, sorry…”

Lena shrugged. “Yeah, my mom’s dead. She was a marine biologist, like your mom but jellyfish instead of whales. When I was ten she came back from a dive in South America and got sick. Father hired a bunch of doctors but they couldn’t save her. They couldn’t even figure out what was wrong. So that’s my sad story. Don’t sweat it, you didn’t know.”

“Look, we’ll help you. You can stay here.”

“On ORCA? Really?”

Brett grinned. “Sure, we’ll fix it with Mum.”

Lena gave him a look that said she’d believe that when she saw it.

The door opened and they all looked up. Dianne said, “Hello boys. How’s your morning? Hello.”

“Ah. Mum, this is Lena.”

“Nice to meet you Lena. You’re a new face on board.”

“I just got here.” Lena said quietly, intimidated.

Cheerfully Brett said, “Her dad chucked her out and she’s got nowhere to go, so we said she could stay here.”

“Oh did you? And where would she sleep?”

“Well there’s that spare bunk in your cabin.”

“We really owe her bigtime Mum. She got into trouble saving Brett’s bacon—and Neri’s. We have to help her. It’ll only be for a week or so.”

“Mmhm.” Dianne folded her arms and regarded her sons, who she knew well enough to know there was more to this, and the frightened stranger. “Assuming for the moment there’s a reason we can’t just tell child services about her father, probably something to do with why she knows about Neri, how do you suggest we explain her presence here?”

“You could say she’s from my old school.”

“On extended work experience.”

“I don’t mean to be any trouble Dr. Bates, but…”

“You did it before Mum.”

“It’s important this time too. Please? We promised.”

Dianne sighed. “All right. For a few days, and I want full disclosure over dinner. I have to see the commander, or it’d be full disclosure now.”

“Thank you!”

“You’re a star!” Brett hugged his mother.

Dianne gave him a look of mixed affection and suspicion. “Well you’d better give me your id Lena, and I’ll clear it with the commander.”

Lena handed it over.

Jason started, “Put your stuff over here and we’ll get you a uniform.”

Dianne headed for the door, and looked down at the id card in her hand. “UBRI? Hellegren? Boys, what..?”

“At dinner, Mum! Commander’s waiting, remember?”

The zodiac flew over the waves. Lena, now wearing an ORCA uniform and a lifejacket, crouched up front letting the wind blow her hair back. She had a lot of questions, but since they couldn’t talk over the roar of the motor, she just waited and enjoyed the day. It was dazzlingly bright, the sun reflecting off the water and the blue sky above. Everything was shining shades of blue, and the island up ahead glowed like an emerald.

They reached the island and Jason turned off the motor, and he and Brett splashed over the side to pull the zodiac onto the beach. Brett misjudged the depth and squawked about getting his shorts wet.

“Come on, she won’t bite.” Brett said as they got their lifejackets off. The three of them walked up the beach to where Kal and Neri were waiting under the trees.

“Neri, this is Lena. I told you about her.”

Neri looked at Lena for a long moment, then smiled. “Welcome.”

“And that’s Kal.”

“Lena. Nice see you!”

“Hi. Nice to see you again, Kal. Wow… this place is amazing…”

“Come. I will show you.”

The island was like nothing Lena had ever seen. Walking through the jungle, seeing the riot of green, smelling the plants and the stream, she couldn’t even remember her boarding school or the expensive, empty house that was supposed to be her home.

“So, can I see the spaceship?”

The boys looked at Neri, who nodded. And Kal said, “I show you!”

They dropped down the vine into the spaceship. Lena took a few cautious steps, looking around. “It’s amazing. It’s so… so…”

“Alien?” Brett offered.

“Well yeah.” Lena was also thinking it was so artistic. The shapes reminded her of things in her art and history classes, of pictures from other times, when people had tried to make every item beautiful as well as useful. Even without knowing what anything was, the impression was strong. “What’s that? A computer?”

“It is how we learned of the synchronium.”

“This thing was supposed to tell us where the pieces were but…” Jason pointed to the remains of the locator.

Lena lifted out a piece. It looked like part of a blue glass vase or something. “Microcircuitry?”

Jason shrugged. “Who knows? We just know it doesn’t work, so we have to find all the pieces ourselves.”


“But how?” Lena looked at the shard in her hand. For a moment her mind danced with visions of analyzing this circuitry and being responsible for a huge leap forward in technology and getting rich and famous… then the thought faded like a bad headache suddenly releasing its hold. Maybe this technology would be used someday, but not now. She dropped the shard back.

“The hard way.” Brett answered. “Searching through the old data, figuring out what’s meteors, or fake UFOs or whatever. It’s taking forever.”

“You’ve got access to a HELEN 3000 don’t you?”

“Yeah, but someone from UBRI locked up the stuff we need, we can’t figure out how to get around HELEN to get at it!”

“Maybe I could figure it out. I’m pretty good with computers.” Lena said without really thinking.

“Could you? Please try, Lena. It is very important.”

Lena looked at Neri, looking back with worried eyes. “I’ll do my best.”

In front of a terminal, Lena felt the rest of the world fade. Which was good, because the rest of the kids were gathered around looking over her shoulder. She plugged in her drive and pulled some programs. “Ok, let’s try security alpha…”

In the back of the huddle Cass muttered, “She turns up and all of a sudden she’s flavor of the month. What are we, chopped liver?”

“Chill out willya? She’s already got into parts of HELEN I didn’t know existed.”

“Yeah, but look who her dad is. Can we really trust her?”

From the ceiling HELEN’s voice said, “That information is code-locked. Please re-format your request or exit from inquiry.”

“She’s not really getting anywhere, anyway.” Cass added.

Lena grunted. “Huh. Ok HELEN, code-lock voice override on search file grid seven. Authority crypto alpha dot com.”

Lights flashed then HELEN said, “Processing request.” And information cascaded down the screen for a minute. Then a map came up.

“That the kind of thing you’re looking for?”

“No way.” Said Brett.

“How’d you do that?” Benny asked.

“Luck, mostly. I’ll teach you if you want.”

“Heck yeah!”

“But does it help?” Lena asked. Jason and Brett were paying more attention to the map than to the hacking that had produced it.

“It’s a definite possibility. Let’s get it on a portable, we’ll go see what Kal makes of it. Want to come out to the island?”

“I do.” Brett said immediately. “Lena, you’re brilliant.”

Benny sat down next to Lena. Ok, how’d you do that? Where’d you get a copy of the crypto alpha program? Show me!”

“Um…” Lena was blushing. “I stole the program. They sent Father a demo and I tracked the filepath back and got the whole thing. I just wanted to see if I could do it, I’ve never even used it before!”

Cass really wanted to be grumpy and go off somewhere, but… “So, you could get HELEN to let us download music?”

“Pull up a chair. And be prepared to take notes.”

When they came back with Neri an hour later, Lena was immediately excited. “So it really was something?”

“Worth checking out anyway. Kal said it’s here, just short of Mackstrom. We can get there with the zodiac and a little hike.”

“Go now?” Neri pressed.

“Sure, ok. I’ll log the boat out.”

“I’ll tell Mum.”

“We’ll get some gear. Come on Benny.”

“See you on the pontoon!”

They reached land, and it turned out to be a longer hike than anticipated. The three of them walked along in a straggly line on a dirt road through the outback, led by Brett with the satellite locator. Benny had somehow ended up carrying the gear. Neri walked between a grumpy Cass and a fascinated Lena. The pale-haired girl had never seen a termite mound up close, and they had to stop for a minute when they found one taller than Jason. Brett poked the mound with a stick. Neri studied a termite and then ate it, to the horror of everyone else.

“Is good!” She laughed. “Better to cook in oil.”

“That is diiiiiisgusting!”

“How far now, Brett?”

“Um, just a few minutes I guess.”

Suddenly engines roared up ahead. The kids dived behind bushes, trees, and the termite mound as two white trucks hurtled past them in a cloud of dust.

A few minutes later, when there was no more noise, they got up and there was a mass brushing-off of dust. Cass said, “Well that was close.”

Neri was already running. The others followed and found her standing over an empty crater in the ground.

“Looks like UBRI beat us to it again.”

“Man!” Brett groaned. “I am really getting sick of this!”

Jason put his arm around Neri, awkwardly. “You all right?”

“No. Not all right. But nothing we can do here. It is gone.”

“We must get them back.” Neri said.

They had ended up in the rec room, before curfew but after most of ORCA had gone to bed. HELEN turned the lights off, but left one on over the game table they were gathered around.

“How?” Benny asked.

Brett burst out, “Hey, they stole those pieces. I say we do a raid, take back what’s ours!”

“From UBRI headquarters.” Jason said flatly.

“You’ve lost it.” Was Cass’ opinion.

“No, listen, we can do it. If Lena helps.” Lena winced. Brett continued, “You know the layout of the headquarters, where they stash things. Your dad’s the boss, you’ve got access to all areas right?”

“Well… if Father hasn’t changed the codes. And if my best guess is right about where they’d store it—there are several possible strongrooms.”

“Ok, so you get us in, we grab the pieces and run for it! We can do that.”

“This will work?” Neri asked Lena.

“It could.”

“Right, so who’s in?”

“Up for anything!” Cass announced.

“I’ll go.”

“Ok, Brett.”

“I will come too.”

Jason turned to Neri in surprise, “Hang on, you can’t.”

“I will.”

“Neri, it’s too dangerous.”

Neri frowned. “You all go. I will too.”

Jason pulled her aside so the others didn’t see them arguing. “Neri, we’ll be miles away from water.”

“Not for long.”

“And what if Hellegren or one of his goons sees you? He’ll know you didn’t leave with Mera, and he’ll be after you again. That’s all we need.”

Neri looked down. “But I am needed.”

“Yeah, you’re needed to work the synchronium when we get all the pieces. Nobody else can do that.”

“Yes… but still. I come with you. It is my responsibility. When we go?”

Jason thought for a minute. “Well, it’s going to take some time to get the gear together and that, so… Not tomorrow. The day after, okay?”

“I will be ready. Now I go back to the island. Kal has been alone.”

Back at the table Cass looked at Benny. “I didn’t hear you volunteer.”

“Well it’s just… UBRI’s a big place and they have tons of security and stuff…”

“You’re chicken.”

“Mum and Dad…”

“Wouldn’t like it, I know. That’s always your excuse.”

“It’s not an excuse!” Benny protested, “Think about it, what would your parents do if you came back arrested for breaking and entering?”

“Benny’s got a point.”

Lena said, “Brett’s right. I don’t think we should force him to come.”

Feeling worse, Benny said, “Look, it’s just, what if I mess up?”

“You won’t.”

“I might. I do, on a fairly regular basis. And you don’t really need me.”

“We do, actually, Benny. I know what type of alarms they use at UBRI, and I have some passwords, but I don’t know the technical stuff to actually disable them. That’s your thing isn’t it? Electrical engineering?”

Benny nodded unhappily. “Ok, I’m in.”

“Good on ya. Hey Jase, we’re all in!”

“Great.” Jason looked back to make sure Neri was gone and the door closed behind her. He lowered his voice anyway. “We’re leaving first thing in the morning, eight hundred hours. Get your stuff ready. Civvies if you’ve got ‘em; I’m sure UBRI will know it’s us anyway but let’s not help them.”


“You got it.”

“We’ll be there.”

Lena nodded hard, her white ponytail bouncing.

In the morning, Kal and Neri swam in the ocean. They chased the big fish through the rich blue water of the cove. Charley swam alongside them, his long fins flapping gently. Neri circled him, laughing, skimmed under the surface so water and air streamed down her face.

Kal watched them play, crouched on the seafloor. Watching them play, he remembered… this was how things should be. But he didn’t want to join in. He didn’t know why.

Back on the beach Neri said, “Tomorrow we go to look for synchronium.”

“I go too?”

“No. You must stay here.”

“Because you go with Jason? I want to come with you.”

Neri shook her head. “No Kal, is not safe. We go to a very bad place, with bad people. You must stay on island where you will be well.”

“I am strong! I will be safe.”

Neri pursed her lips. “Kal, you do not know what is danger. You must do as I say.”

“Yes, Neri.”

“I go now, to see what happens in the ocean.”

“With Jason?” Kal asked.

“No, with mother.”

“That is good.” Kal murmured. Then louder, “Good swim Neri.”

“See, there and there.” Dianne pointed to a graph, “Tiny oscillations and they date from when UBRI started blasting.”

“Then you must stop them, Mother.”

Winston sighed. “Ah Neri, it is not that simple. You see, we pick up recordings of the earth moving all the time, and these are so small as not to arouse any official attention. They could be the first indication of something major… or a naturally occurring phenomenon. They could have started of their own accord and end the same way.”

“Nevertheless I’m going to show these to the commander.”

“Ah Dianne, remember the boy who cried wolf? Perhaps it would be best to wait. We have so much more data to collate, I do wish the boys were here to help.”

Neri tipped her head. “Where are Jason and Brett? I did not see them.”

“Didn’t they tell you? The whole gang’s gone ashore today.”

The whole gang crouched behind some convenient bushes just outside the UBRI perimeter fence. The bush had grown up on both sides of the fence, and its roots had created a small hole underneath. It was big enough for a wombat—or a small person. It had taken Lena an hour to find the place, while the others waited further away.

“Maybe we should’ve waited for tonight.” Benny muttered. “Less chance of getting caught.”

“Nah, who’s going to expect a daylight raid?”

“Shut up you two.” Jason said distractedly. He and Lena were passing the binoculars back and forth, working out the last details. “Ok, remember, heads down and stay together. We follow Lena, we get the pieces and get out. We’re going in that door. Everybody ready?”

“Ready.” Brett whispered, Benny and Lena nodded, and Cass tightened the straps of her backpack.

“Ok. Lena first.”

They squirmed under the fence one at a time, took a last look around from the bushes on the other side, and raced for the door. There was no cover here. Cass had the panel by the door off in a second, and passed a wirecutter to Benny.

“Ok.” Benny muttered. “Two wires. Cut the right one and it releases the lock and sets a five minute delay on the alarm. Cut the wrong one and the whole system goes off.”

“So make sure you cut the right one.”

Benny cut one, and the door unlocked. Jason and Brett started timers on their watches. Lena pointed, “This way.”

Neri walked out of the water, her face like a thundercloud.

“You are angry?” Kal asked.


“With me? I stay here like you say.”

“Not you. Jason. He lied to me.”

Kal nodded. Neri sat down in the sand and looked out at the water, so Kal sat next to her. After a while he asked, “Why Jason lie to you?”

“They have gone to get back pieces of synchronium. Jason said I go with them, but he lied.”

Kal nodded again, thinking about that. “To lie is to say a thing that is not real, to make another believe. Not good. Make you angry.”

“Yes.” Neri said. She turned to look at Kal, curious now. “You know of anger? Why?”

“Brett tell me. He was angry. He said…” Pleased having Neri’s attention Kal tried to remember. “Brett sent message to Father, about Jason flying in machine. Father not answer. Brett say that makes him feel hurt, here, then hurt grows teeth like shark and eats itself, then called anger.”

Brett hadn’t said it quite like that, but that was a way that made sense to Kal. “Neri, where is father of Jason and Brett? Why he not with Mother?”

Neri turned back to look out to sea, thinking how to answer. She didn’t completely understand herself, though Dianne had tried to explain. “Jason’s father promised to love Mother only, but he lied. Then he went away and sends no message. Is it same on our planet? That happen?”

“No.” Kal said simply.

They were in a bleak, industrial center of UBRI headquarters, somewhere without carpets and with lots of dials and things on the walls. Nobody was around. Lena led them up some stairs, around the top of a large water tank, and down several levels. She stopped at a heavy door. “Ok, strongroom. How long have we got?”

“Three minutes.” Brett said.

They had the panel by the door opened up, and Benny tried a few things. “I can’t do it.”


“Lock’s not in the system, I can’t hack it.”

“So what now?”

Lena pulled out her UBRI id. “It’ll probably trigger the alarm.’

Brett checked, “Alarm’ll go off in a minute anyway.”

“Do it.” Jason said.

Lena slid her card. The door opened and alarms blared all over the building. The kids crammed into the strongroom, which was about the size of a large closet. They saw discs, sciency things, a briefcase full of cash, and the two synchronium pieces sitting on metal stands. Jason grabbed one, Benny the other.

“Back the same way?”

“Yes—no! They’re coming!”

The alarms made it hard to hear, but there were running footsteps somewhere close by. Lena yelled, “Emergency exit, come on, up the stairs!”

The stairs were narrow, and turned several times. Suddenly half a dozen guys in white were below them.

Lena slipped and went down, hitting her knee on a step. Benny grabbed her. “Keep going!”


Benny saw some fuel canisters on the switchback, and paused to kick them down the stairs. One, the other—and he slipped, and the synchronium piece fell from his arms.

“No!” Benny wailed, expecting to see it smash. But it almost floated down, light as a balloon. He almost went after it, but a burly man in UBRI uniform was right down there.

“Benny, come on!”

Benny got outside. The others were already at the fence. Cass held the hole open for him, her face taut. Benny sprinted for his life with guards yelling behind him.

He made it, just, got under the fence and out of reach just as someone careened into it. Hellegren’s voice yelled, “After them! The main gate!”

Kal came back down to the beach. Neri had moved from her place in the sand to the top of a palm tree.

“You are still angry?” Kal asked up to her.

“Yes. No.”


Neri jumped down. “I am not angry. I am worried. Jason has gone to UBRI. It is dangerous.”

“Jason is alone?”

“No. The others went too. They are all in danger.”

Kal frowned. “But you are worried about… Jason?”

“He is my friend.” Neri chimed.

Something about this bothered Kal. He said, “I am your friend too.”

“Yes, Kal.”

The kids didn’t stop to catch their breaths until they were safely in the zodiac out of sight of land. Then, except for Jason who was driving, they all collapsed. He turned the motor low and broke out water bottles and snack bars.

Cass recovered first, enough to say, “That was kind of fun.”

“Never… committing burglary… again.” Benny wheezed.

Jason was feeling grateful for the physical portion of the cadet program. He wasn’t as tired. “Maybe you should all hit the gym every night with me and Sallyanne.”

“Not likely.” Said Brett’s voice from the bottom of the boat.

Lena had been scanning the shore with binoculars. Now, as it slipped out of sight, she put them away. “Well, it looks like we got clean away—until Father checks the logs and sees that it was my card that opened the strongroom. He’ll definitely change the codes now.”

“I’m sorry I lost the other bit.” Benny had recovered his breath but was looking down despondently. “If it wasn’t for me, you’d have gotten it all.”

“Yeah, or you’d be in jail now, or worse!” Cass told him.

“Don’t sweat it, we’ll get it back another time.”

“Ok.” Jason finished his drink and stowed the empty bottle. “We’ll drop you guys on ORCA and then Brett and me will take this piece out to Neri where it’ll be safe.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Cass said for everybody. “I want lunch.”

Jason started the motor again before anyone could answer her.

“Insufficient evidence for a tribunal hearing.” Dianne sighed. “They just don’t want to upset UBRI.”

“I did warn you Dianne. Our argument is far from compelling and the commander has to look to the bottom line.” Winston took the files and put them away.

“But if we’re right, if there is a deep fault and the blasting’s making it unstable…”

“Then it can’t be long before we have undeniable proof.”

“By then it could be too late.”

“I messed up. I told you I would.” Benny said gloomily as the three kids sat down in the galley to rehash the adventure.

“No you didn’t. If you hadn’t helped me up they’d’ve caught me for sure. I owe you big time.”

Cass passed around drinks. “Well if you weren’t such a klutz Lena…”

“We’re a team right? We’re supposed to look after each other.” Lena replied without annoyance.

Benny was looking down, figuring out whose drink was whose, so he was the one who saw it. The liquid in all three glasses rippled.

“Hey, did you guys see that?”


“The drink moved, like there was a vibration or someone hit the table.”

“I didn’t feel anything.” Lena said.

Cass hit the table. It didn’t move. “It’s part of the column, you can’t jostle it. Never mind that, we’re celebrating! We did good today!”

“Here’s to us.” Lena lifted her glass, sipped, and made a face.

“Nobody warned you about the orange soda did they?”

Lena started laughing.

“How mad do you think she’s gonna be?” Brett asked. He was sitting in the front of the zodiac holding the synchronium piece as Jason pushed the boat the last few yards to the beach. They could see Neri standing at the edge of the trees looking at them. Kal was beside Neri, craning around to look at her face.

“I’d say… very.” Jason answered.

“That was crazy of you to lie to her.”

“Well—oof—if it’s a choice between having Neri mad at us or risking Hellegren finding out she’s still on Earth…”

Brett hopped out and helped pull the zodiac onto the sand. “I see your point. Hi Neri! I know you’re mad we went without you, but check out the souvenir!”

Neri ran down to hug them both. “You are all right? All of you?”

“We’re fine Neri. And I’m really sorry.”

Brett, seeing a fight about to happen, did his best to sneak out of earshot. Wasn’t his fight!

“Is not enough to be sorry, Jason. Friends do not lie.”

Jason sighed. “You can be so stubborn! Look, I was trying to protect you, you’re important to me!—to all of us, to the mission.”

Neri softened. “I was worried for you.”

“Yeah, I know. I won’t do it again. Promise.” Jason did the little salute Neri had learned meant a promise. “Don’t stay mad.”

She smiled like the sun coming out. “I am not. Tell me how you found it?”

“Sure—let’s get this piece somewhere safe, I’ll tell you on the way. We need to be back for dinner. Hey Brett, stay here and keep Kal company ok?”

“Ok.” Brett said. Kal looked suddenly annoyed.

Neri picked up the synchronium piece and cuddled it to her face, the way she always did.

Suddenly worried, Jason asked, “Is it ok? They didn’t damage it?”

“I think not.” Neri answered.

“Hey, those pieces fell from space; they’ve gotta be tough! Right Kal?”

Kal nodded.

Jason and Neri headed for the boat, walking close together, talking.

It was past five, but at UBRI nobody was allowed to go home. The entire security staff was out tracing how the intruders had gotten in, and then being yelled at about it. The bush had already been torn out, and the hole under the fence filled in. Now the locks were being gone over.

Kellar offered, “We did manage to salvage one component.”

“And lost the other!” Hellegren snapped. “Unacceptable failure of security!”

“Disciplinary action is being taken.”

“And the device?”

Kellar checked her communicator. “The science team has just rerun the tests. It performs exactly as it did this morning. No sign of any damage.”

Hellegren nodded. “That is the important thing.”

“We’ll intensify the search for the intruders. But assuming they had your daughter’s assistance…” That wasn’t assuming anything; computer records confirmed Lena’s card had been used to open the strongroom. The wretched girl hed been trouble when she was around, as her father’s weak point; now that she was gone she looked to be even worse.

“Confine your interest to the device.”

Brett and Kal were flopped out on the beach, talking. Brett was giving Kal the play-by-play of the raid. He’d been quite interested while the subject was how helpful Lena had been.

“…so we’re getting out and there’s about a million UBRI guys after us and Jason’s running for the fence–”

“No.” Kal said suddenly.

“Huh?” Brett looked at him.

“I do not want to hear about Jason.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Neri. Worries about him.”

“Well yeah.” Brett wasn’t sure what Kal was saying.

“She likes him. More than me. I feel… bad. Do not understand.”

Brett blinked. This sounded like one of those boyfriend-girlfriend things that sometimes went on, and that he never knew what to think about. “Don’t worry, they’re just friends. Hey, they’re back.” Brett stood up and waved.

In the surf, Jason jumped out of the boat. Neri jumped up and splashed him, and Jason splashed back. They were laughing. Jason was probably telling some story.

Kal asked, “Neri will be with Jason?”

“Yeah sure, she always is.” Brett said without thinking. Then he looked back at Kal. “Hey, ease up, people will think you’re jealous.”