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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-11-05 — sourcemeta

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

17. Stranded

Water warmed by the sun.

Neri sailed over the reef, hearing, feeling, tasting the ocean as it poured over her. Schools of fish scattered in front of her. She met Charley in deeper water and they danced together.

The spaceship was full of the sound of dripping water and the play of the automated lights. They’d probably served some purpose when the ship was upright and in use, but now they just made the inside sort of spooky.

Kal had found something like a couch to sit in—actually Brett thought it looked a little like a giant clam.

Brett sat nearby on a broken piece of something. They were having a discussion. “Come on Kal, you can’t stay down here forever. You’ve got to get your head around it, Neri isn’t only your friend. She’s Jason’s too, and mine and Mum’s…

“Neri. My friend.” Kal grumbled.

“Yeah she is. But people have lots of friends, you know?”

“Not me.”

“Hey, what are we, chopped liver?” Brett laughed, but in truth he felt insulted. “What about Benny and Cass and Lena and me? You like us don’t you?”

“Not same.”

Brett sighed and leaned back off his seat, lying back on the damp floor. The trouble was, Kal was right about that. Neri wasn’t the same as other friends. Not for Brett. Certainly not for Jason.

“You’re right Kal, Neri’s special. But that still doesn’t mean you can keep her all to yourself. Neri has to decide who she wants to hang out with, you know? You can’t control her, nobody can control someone else. And anyway, since you like Neri so much don’t you want to help her? We’ve only got four pieces of the synchronium. Neri worries about it so much. Won’t you help us find the rest?”


Another one-word answer. Brett was not getting anywhere. He watched the ship’s strange lights sweep across the ceiling. “Kal we really do want to be your friends. We’re trying. You get that, right?”

No answer.


Nothing. Kal seemed to be thinking about it. Brett tried to think how to explain “trying to be your friends” but that was one of those tasks so huge his brain shut down even trying. After a few more minutes and no response from Kal, Brett rolled to his feet. “Well, if you figure it out you can come see us on ORCA. Mum’d love to talk to you and Benny wants you to teach him trigammia. I’m off.” He waved, again with no response, and headed for home.

Brett caught up with Jason in the viewing tube. Jason asked immediately, “How’d it go with Kal?”

Brett shrugged. “He’s just trying to figure stuff out.”

“What stuff?”

“You know, people stuff. He’s just a great big kid, thinks the world revolves around him and now he’s finding out that isn’t true. Doesn’t know how to take it.”

“So is he gonna come out of the spaceship and join the human race?”

“Well he’s not human is he? So who knows?”

“Like that huh?” Jason asked.

“Very. I think Lena had the best luck talking to him.”

They both thought back to Lena’s explanation at dinner a few nights back. “Kal just wants Neri to like him best and everybody else to go away.” Lena had winced at her own words. “He reminds me of some of the girls from school, the really young ones whose parents never visited so they’d cling onto a teacher or an upperclassman.”

Cass slurped noodles. “Maybe Kal and Neri were like, engaged to be married since they were kids or something. They do that in science fiction books, and Japan.”

Jason had dropped his fork and everybody had pretended not to notice.

Just remembering it made Brett smile. He decided to change the subject before Jason figured out why he was smiling. “Where’s Mum? She get the tribunal hearing?”

“Yeah. They’re still at it in there. Might be all day.”

Brett made a face. “Hope Mum wins.”

“These accusations are pure fantasy!” Hellegren barked.

“And I suppose the fault line’s fantasy too, and the fact that it began opening a kilometer from your blasting site?”

“Pure coincidence.”

“I think not.” Dianne shot back.

“There is not one single solid piece of evidence to link the blasting with these earth tremors of late.”

“And the timing and location of the tremors aren’t enough to warrant further investigation? They’re just tremors now, but if that fault widens we’ll be looking at a full on quake. Here. ORCA isn’t built for it!”

Hellegren gestured dismissively, waving off the possibility of ORCA breaking, drowning everyone inside. “This is absurd. This woman is a marine biologist. Her subject is fish, and the only geologist on this station has a degree from a dubious college in India. They are wholly unqualified to be making these assertions.”

Dianne took a breath, outraged and ready to defend Winston’s credentials.

The commander beat her to it. “I think the tribunal had better make that decision. We’ll give our ruling tomorrow. Until then you are both dismissed.”

Dianne was ready to raise a fuss, but Winston caught her and convinced her they didn’t need any more notice, “Not on my behalf anyway, but thank you for the effort.”

“I can’t believe Hellegren would cast doubt on you like that. It’s low even for him.”

They were out in the hall now, going back to the lab. Research wouldn’t wait. Winston shrugged. “Camilla probably gave him an earful about the graduate program, and I’ll admit that the classes taught in English were a bit lackluster.”

Dianne had to smile. “But you learned words like ‘lackluster.’”

“I like English.”

“I’m impressed. So, if you were UBRI, what would you do next?”

They weaved between people as shift changed. Winston said, “I’d bring in an expert. Someone who’ll say whatever Hellegren wants to keep his grant money coming.”

Lena caught up just then. “Spot on Winston. I just passed by them and Kellar was talking about getting someone in.”

What Lena didn’t say was that when she’d walked past her father had stared at her, ignoring Kellar. She’d almost said something.

“Thanks, Lena.” Dianne carded open the door to the lab. She didn’t want to spend the rest of the day re-editing their data about the fault line to make it just a little bit better in case they got a chance to present it tomorrow. She didn’t want to face off against Hellegren and his team of researchers and the commander. Actually she wanted a day off. But it was life or death. “Ok Winston, show me the latest readings.”

Benny and Cass had more fun. They spent the day making a map of the ventilation system, at least the parts they could fit in. Disappointingly, there was no way into the back of the kitchen where they might have stolen ice cream. Benny was sure they were going to get stuck somewhere, or at the very least get caught by grownups, and refused to come. He monitored their progress via communicator from the computer room, where he was trying to track down another piece of the synchronium. Even after Lena joined him they couldn’t find anything.

Lena tried to fit into the ventilation tubes too, but quickly discovered her shoulders and hips were too wide to get around comfortably. Two years of development made the difference. Cass seemed happy about that.

Because of the recent earthquakes the cadets were ordered to study up on emergency procedures. Jason and Sallyanne ended up in the Taylors’ cabin avoiding the crowds in the galley. They went over procedure a few times, and it was actually kind of comforting.

“So the stupid bulkheads that almost got Benny all glow-in-the-dark are what’ll save our lives if the big one hits?” Sallyanne asked.

“Yep.” Looking at the diagrams Jason was impressed. “Any hull breach and it all sections off to minimize flooding. Each section has its own air supply and can be broken off for the coast guard to retrieve.”

Sallyanne made a face. “Let’s concentrate on the not-drowning part, not the stuck in a room hoping HELEN can call for rescue in time part.”

“With you on that. So who’s he?” Jason pointed at the pictures Sallyanne had taped up over her desk. People did that, as a way to personalize the cabins. Jason had pictures of superheroes, which was why he didn’t want Sallyanne in his cabin. Her pictures were all magazine clippings of the same guy. In his twenties, dark hair, wetsuit and goggles.

Sallyanne blushed. “Jacob Kelsey. He’s kind of my idol.”

“I remember. The marine biologist, Mum reads his stuff.”

“The thing is, there’s a scholarship for an intern position on his dive team. If I can graduate the cadet program I’ll apply for it.”

Jason smiled. Looked like love to him! “I bet you’ll get it. Good luck.”

“Thanks. Let’s take a break, I’m hungry.”

The next morning Dianne and Winston reported to the council room. As expected, UBRI had gotten a geologist. He looked over the data for about a minute and stood up to make his recommendation. It took a while and ended with, “From a scientific perspective Dr. Bates’ theory is an interesting one, but it has no real basis whatsoever.”

Dianne stood up. ‘I am well aware of professor Danks’ expertise on the subject of earthquakes, but with respect I think he is mistaken in this…”

The floor shuddered.

Dianne tried to continue, “And I firmly believe any further use of explosives on the ORCA City site…”

Everything lurched. The alarms went off and people were shouting. An empty chair fell over, and a table was jolted so hard it hit the wall. Everyone grabbed onto something, instinctively. Professor Danks headed for the door.

In the rec room the trigammia board crashed to the floor. Brett yelled, “Benny, look out!” and grabbed his friend. They got out of the way just before a shelf full of games fell over just where they’d been.

From outside the room someone screamed.

Lena burst in, herding two younger kids. Her face was as white as her hair. “Viewing tube! Cracked!” She gasped out.


An aftershock hit and the kids grabbed a support to stay on their feet.

“It’s ok, HELEN will get the repair crew on it.” Cass said.

The screen by the door was now full of damage reports. The kids crowded around, squeezing in to see. It didn’t look too bad, and the next aftershock only rattled all the stuff on the floor.

“I think we’re all right.” Brett said.

Benny picked up the shelving unit that had nearly brained him, and started to put the gamed and stuff back on it. “Let’s get this picked up.”

Neri clung to the tree as the ground rippled under her feet. She heard branches crashing down, and all the island’s birds shrieked.


Stones crashed down into the pool.

My head!

Neri wanted to go to Kal, make sure he was all right. Would the spaceship survive? Was ORCA damaged? But her head was full of pain and she couldn’t move. The ocean was being hurt.


Whose voice? A clamor of moans and shrieks. Where am I?

“Charley.” Neri pushed herself away from the tree and ran towards the beach, the ground still shaking. “Charley!”

A long confused wail.

Neri broke out of the forest, looked down the beach at the sandbar in the cove and the dark shape lying there.

“Charley, no.”

Neri ran to him, wrapped her arms around his huge head. “Charley, go back. Please go back.” But the long winglike fins were mired in sand and his tail flapped uselessly in a few yards of water.

The kids were getting the rec room straightened when Neri came in looking like death. Brett ran over to her.

“Charley. Turtle beach, the sandbar. He cannot get off.’

“He’s beached?” Brett’s eyes went wide.

“You have to help him. You come?” Neri begged.

“’Course. Cass, guys, you hear that? Leave the cleaning, get your gear and let’s go. I’ll find Jason, meet you topside. Neri, you want to..?”

“I go back to Charley. He is afraid.’

“Ok, we’ll see you soon.” Brett said. The others were already out the door.

“Station two twenty-nine is back on.” Jason said, watching the screen.

Sallyanne sighed. “Of all the duties we could’ve drawn, we end up babysitting the computer. Oh, hi Brett.”

Brett went right past her. “Jason, we need you.”

“I’ll just be a sec.” Jason ducked into the hall with his brother.

“Jase, Charley’s beached on the sandbar at turtle cove. We gotta go.”

Jason looked back at the computer room and grimaced. “Morgan’s on my case, she’ll check for sure…”

“You’ve got to! We need everybody, Mum and Winston are still in the tribunal and there’s no one else!”

“Well of course I’m coming!” Jason said loudly

“Leaving your post?” Sallyanne had heard. “While we’re on watch for tremors, Jason you’ll get discharged from the cadets!”

“Look, I can’t explain, but this is important. If you don’t want to cover for me I’ll understand.”

“Of course I’ll cover for you, but couldn’t you at least tell me where you’re going?”

“I will when I can Sallyanne. Thanks, I owe you one!” Jason waved, already turning away, and they left the worried Sallyanne behind.

They tried to dig Charley out, tried to push and pull him free. The kids in bathing suits or wetsuits, and Neri trying harder than all of them.

“It’s no use.” Brett said an hour later, sitting down hard in the sand. “he’s really dug in there.”

“We’ll need at least another three feet of water before he can float. How long ‘til high tide?”

“No, too long.” Neri’s face was white and set. “We must do it now.”

“We can’t Neri, even if we had another ten people and a stack of equipment. We can push, but we can’t lift him. He weighs forty tons!”

Lena came splashing up, her white hair slicked flat to her head. “Kal isn’t in the spaceship. I couldn’t find him.”

“Just when we need him!” Cass grumbled.

“High tide’s in six hours.” Benny said, consulting a waterproof computing unit.

Neri was leaning on Charley’s huge face, talking to him and pouring handfuls of water over his skin. She turned to talk to the others. “Too long. Is too heavy for him, cannot breathe well, and the sun is burning him. He must get back to the water or he will die.”

Jason took a breath. “Ok. We can keep him cool, splash water over him, make shades from leaves and the nets in the boat. Help him hang in there until the tide rises.”

There were nods all round. Brett stuck a forked stick in the sand. “That’s the high tide mark, when the water gets to here we should be able to get him off.”

“Must be quiet, gentle.” Neri said, “I tell Charley you are here to help, but he is afraid. To touch is ok, but not near eyes.”

“We’ll do our best, Neri.”

It was hard work, back and forth slogging through the water in the hot sun, always rushing. They picked leaves to make sunshades and got all the towels in the boat to wet and lay over Charley to keep him cool, but there weren’t nearly enough. So it was down to splashing water, over and over and trying like crazy to think of a better answer.

Kal had gone to ORCA. He didn’t want to see Neri, but he was bored so he went to ORCA. Nobody noticed him; they were too busy cleaning up. Kal wandered around until he found someone he knew. “Nikos, you see Brett?”

“Nah, left a while ago.” The cadet said.


“Off with Brett. Probably on cleanup duty somewhere. Tremor’s left a bit of a mess.”


“Mmhm. If you want to join in, we’ve got extra brooms!” Nikos added hopefully, but Kal didn’t stay and help.

After the tremor the tribunal had looked shaken. Professor Danks got the next shuttle out. Dianne and Winston helped straighten out the council room, while Hellegren and Kellar looked on. Then the commander returned with his verdict. He looked a bit frazzled, maybe by the tremor or maybe because he was giving his ruling to a marine biologist holding a broom.

“To sum up the council’s deliberations, Doctor Bates has raised several issues worthy of consideration. Therefore we rule that the ban on blasting remain in place. However we find no provable connection between the recent tremors and UBRI’s activities. We thus withhold judgment on that point and confirm that, with the exception of blasting, UBRI will be allowed to proceed with the building of ORCA city.”

Dianne and Winston nodded, but once safely outside the council chamber Winston said, “I fear either the commander or myself must have had brains scrambled by the earthquake, because I did not understand what the commander meant. And where are you going?”

“Dive pool.” Dianne answered. “I want to get out there and see what they’re doing. And the commander said…” She sighed and ran her hands through her hair. “Hellegren bears no responsibility for the blasting and any damage and he can do anything else he likes.”

“Regardless of the consequences.” Winston finished.

Dave met them in the dive pool. “Heading out, Dianne? You just missed the crowd; twenty UBRI divers with equipment.”

“Unbelievable. We came straight here!”

“Hellegren must have called them from the council chamber.” Winston said as Dianne vanished into the changing room.

She came out a minute later dressed for diving and finished the thought, “Well I’m not going to stop until I find some evidence to nail him with.”

“Good onya.” Dave said quietly while he checked Dianne’s tank. “Ok, you’re ready to go.”

“And I shall return to monitoring the instruments and other work that won’t wait. Have a nice dive.”

“Thanks Winston. And thanks for the moral support, Dave.” Dianne said, put her mask on and slid into the water.

“Ok ready—no, hang on.” Brett stopped to look over the net again. They’d stuck palm leaves through the mesh but one was hanging out. Brett tucked it more securely then called, “Here it comes!” And tossed the net over Charley’s huge bulk. Someone on the other side caught it and tugged it into place.

That was the last net, and it wasn’t near big enough.

“Just leaves for the rest, you reckon?” Cass asked, splashing over. The water was up to her chest, making for slow going.

“It’ll have to be.” Jason answered.

“Ok.” Cass said. She and Benny headed for shore where some half-stripped trees waited.

Jason splashed around to Charley’s head. The whale’s bright black eye watched him. Jason put his hand on Charley’s side, the skin smooth and rubbery. “Hey buddy, hang in there…”

The door opened and Sallyanne jumped. She was expecting Morgan, but it was worse—the commander!

“Cadet Taylor, anything to report?”

“No, everything’s in order.”

“Isn’t Cadet Bates rostered on duty with you here too?”

“Yes, commander.” Sallyanne said because she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Where is he then?”

“Well he’s, um…”

“Not here apparently.”

Inspiration struck and Sallyanne said, “Not at the moment. He’s reporting to engineering. We had a blip, a possible minor power surge. They shut down the com units while they check the circuits so he had to go down in person.”

The commander nodded. “I see, well done. You’re both relieved from duty; Wallace and Shar here will take over.”

“Thank you sir. I’ll—I’ll tell Jason he can go off duty when he’s done in engineering.”

“Good. Thank you, Cadet Taylor.”

Sallyanne nodded and left the computer room to her replacements. Well, now nobody would go looking for Jason so he was probably in the clear. She wished she knew where he really was. And after all this… after this morning Sallyanne decided she deserved chocolate. She headed to the galley to spend a few credits.

The waves crept closer to the stick Brett had placed on the beach. The tide was coming in, slowly.

They’d gotten tarps looped around Charley’s fins and now they hauled on the ropes, trying to pull him free. Charley seemed to know what they were doing and tried to help, but there was really nothing he could do but splash his tail in the water.

“Ok, pull!” Jason hollered and the six of them hauled, leaning forward, feet sliding in the sand.

Lena lost her footing, went under and came up sputtering.

“You all right?” Brett grabbed her so she didn’t go down again.

“Fine.” Lena said between coughs.

“It wasn’t working anyway.”

It wasn’t. Nobody knew what to do next. Jason said, “Ok, take five minutes.”


“Neri, you won’t be able to help him at all if you knock yourself out. Or if anybody gets hurt.” Jason had his arm around Neri and steered her towards shore. All of them stumbled onto dry sand and sat down, exhausted.

“I have to try.” Neri collapsed to her knees and hid her face.


“He is going.” She sobbed.

“We’re doing our best. So is he.”

“I cannot lose him, Jason. He is… my other half.”

There was nothing to say. “We’ll try again in another hour, maybe the water will be high enough then.”

“Is too long. We cannot wait.”

“Hey.” Benny said hoarsely. “I’ve been thinking. If we could get some kind of sling under him, we might be able to slide him off. And if we could get something bigger to pull with…”

“Like a couple of zodiacs!” Jason finished the thought, “Rig him up to the boat and tow him off! It might work. I’ll be back.” He got to his feet and ran to the boat.

Sallyanne was digging into a well deserved milkshake when she saw a familiar face. “Hi. Kal, isn’t it?”

“See Brett?” Kal asked.

“Not since this morning. I can’t find anybody. Everything’s all out of synch today.”

“Well, Brett say come here.”

“You were supposed to meet him?”

“He say come here.” Kal repeated. Actually Brett had just said the galley was a good place to hang out, but it was close enough.

“Hey, you don’t know what’s going on do you? I mean, you’re a friend of his.” Sallyanne asked, suddenly hopeful.

“Don’t know.”

“You too?” The gloom in Kal’s voice exactly matched what Sallyanne was feeling. “Why do people do that? It’s like they don’t trust you or something. Hey, you want a shake? I’ve got the credits.”

Kal offered his hand to shake.

Sallyanne laughed, “No, milkshake. One of these. They’re good, like milk and ice cream.”

Kal considered. “Yes please.”

Jason slammed into the lab. “Where’s Mum?”

“Out diving near ORCA city. Where have you–?”

“We need help right away. Charley’s in trouble.”

Winston shut down his terminal in record time. “What kind of trouble?”

They made a new plan while grabbing as many tarps as they could find and signing out two zodiacs. They shouldn’t have been able to get the boats with ORCA still on alert, but once Dave heard “Beached whale” he gave them the two with the most powerful motors and offered to come along until Winston reminded him the dive instructor was essential personnel.

“Ok, here’s the plan.” Jason said to the group gathered on the beach. “We dig out as much of the sand under Charley as we can, and wedge the sling under as we go. We need, I think, another foot of water to make it. When it reaches about here we should be ready to go.” He stuck in a new marker stick.

Cass and Brett put on scuba tanks to do the digging in four feet of water and Benny and Lena unpacked the slippery tarps to use as a sling. They got to work.

Winston caught Neri, “Stay here a minute. Tell me how this happened.”

Neri sank down to sit on a log next to Winston. She looked near to collapse from worry. “I do not know. Charley was afraid from the shake, he want to get away. He say he could see the sand but also see safe passage, was confused, was up on sand before he knew. I am afraid for him.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Charley. It’s the electromagnetic field he uses to navigate by that’s gone wrong.”

“The earth shake does this?”

“Yes, it’s still quite disturbed. A little more stable when I left ORCA than an hour ago.”

“Is still wrong? So if Charley gets back in deep water he will not know where to go?”

“If he tried to navigate by what seems right to him he may swim right back to the beach again.”

“No. I will not let him. I tell him where to go. Now we must go help.”

It was another hour before they’d gotten the sling under Charley’s body and the tarps and ropes back around his fins. The whale wasn’t moving much anymore. Neri knelt by his head, crying.

Finally Winston said, “Ok, I think this is the best we’re going to do. Let’s get the zodiacs hooked up.”

They threw ropes over, got them moored to the zodiacs and the two boats in place pointed out to sea. Winston, now as soaked as the children, manned one and Jason got in the other. “Ok, everyone out of the way? Let’s start ‘em up. Slow and steady, Winston…”

Two motors roared into life. Jason let the throttle on slowly, feeling the boat for any motion. For a long minute the motor strained, then the boat lurched.

“He’s moving!” Jason yelled. Winston felt it too, and they both cut their motors.

With everyone pushing, Charley pulled himself backward off the sandbar and finally into deeper water. Neri dived after him.

Winston shouted, “Well done everybody!”

The kids cheered. Lena burst into happy tears. Cass hugged Brett and Benny at once, so hard that the three of them toppled over into the waves. The two tarps drifted free, and Jason started to reel his in.

Neri surfaced, smiling broadly. “Charley is free. I go to be with him. Thank you.”

Jason smiled back, tiredly. “You’re welcome Neri. See you later.”

The afternoon had been surprisingly fun. Sallyanne ended up in the rec room, teaching Kal games. Nikos joined them for a bit and ended up losing spectacularly to the team of Sallyanne and Kal. At least they hadn’t been playing for credits. Then it was time for Kal to go catch the shuttle. Sallyanne walked him to the lift.

“Maybe I do more classes.” Kal said animatedly. “Is good to learn. I try to understand, but not always work.”

“I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like I’ve only got half the picture. Oh hey, there’s Jason!” The lift had just opened, revealing all of Sallyanne’s friends, all looking tired and sandy. “I have to talk to Jason. I’ll see you around, Kal.”

“Ok.” Kal said and went to talk to Brett.

“Jason, got a minute?” Sallyanne asked.

“Yeah, sure.” Jason backed into an alcove out of the way.

“Um, the commander came in and I told him you were down in engineering. I don’t know where I got it from, it just came to me.”

“Well whatever, it was pretty inspired.” Jason smiled and made a motion to leave.

Sallyanne grabbed him. “It was a wopping great lie! I could’ve been expelled, I never thought I could do something like that.’

“It was a good cause.” Jason assured her. “A whale Mum’s studying, he was confused by the earthquake and beached himself. We had to save him.”

“And why didn’t you tell the commander, get a team together? Or is that the part you can’t tell me?”

Jason regretted saying as much as he had. He sighed. “Yeah, that’s the part I can’t tell you. Look, I will, I’ll tell you everything as soon as it’s ok. I swear.”

That was not enough. Sallyanne frowned. “Ok, whatever. Just don’t count on me for another lie next time.”

“Sallyanne…” Jason shrugged, since there was nothing else he could think of to say. And he was exhausted and hadn’t eaten since breakfast and had sand in his shoes and his clothes, and salt drying in his hair. Sallyanne, and the rest of the world, would have to wait until after a shower and a snack. The others apparently thought the same; they’d all disappeared from the hall.

Charley surfaced and blew, then dived again, reveling in the feel of the water supporting his huge body.

You are well, dear one? Not hurt?

A tired moan. Tired, hungry. Scared. But will be well.

They found a cloud of krill, and Charley ate, and then they just swam for a while, watching the ocean, listening for other cetaceans, feeling the shape of things calm. It must be what Winston called the ‘electromagnetic field.’ Neri had never needed a name for it.

Hanging in the blue, her hands on his head, their faces together. While you live, I live.

When Neri returned to the island she found Kal sitting under a tree, eating.

“Charley is happy. No more sick.”

“Good.” Kal muttered.

“You come back?”

“No. Just for cocoanut. Where Jason?”

“At ORCA.”

“He help save Charley too?”

“Yes. Everybody help.”

“You not ask me.” Kal accused.

Neri shook her head. “We looked for you, we could not find to ask. You hungry? I cook fish.”

Kal stood up, dropping the remains of the cocoanut. “No. I go now.”

“Kal, wait…”

But he did not turn back. Neri wanted to call after him but could not think what to say. Her stomach grumbled and she turned inland to make a fire and cook her fish. In the cove, Charley sang reassurance.

On a coral atoll, distant from Neri’s island, Kal sat in the sand, arms around his knees. He was grouchy, though he didn’t know that word. Why did bothersome things have to keep coming into the world? They were like bugs, but if bugs were a bother you brought a gecko into your house and then bugs stopped being a bother. But these troubles were bigger than bugs.

From behind the little island a pair of high-power binoculars focused on Kal. Kellar hissed, “Get me a camera.”

The skipped did. “Engine’s fine, Ms. Kellar. It was just flooded. We can leave anytime.”

“Start that engine and you’re fired! Look at that.”

The skipped took the binoculars. Kellar pointed the camera and started shooting.

Perhaps sensing he was being observed, Kal stood up and looked around. He didn’t see the boat, and walked languidly to the water.

Kellar kept the camera focused, filming until Kal had disappeared into the waves. “Can you see him? Has he surfaced?”

A full two minutes later the skipper lowered the binoculars. “he’s not come up. Should we try to rescue..? Darndest thing I ever saw.”

But Kellar had stopped listening. She smiled broadly. “There are more of them.”