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This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2010-01-04 — sourcemeta

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

23. The Smuggler

The earthquake hit like a freight train. In the lab Dianne hung onto her terminal hoping the screen wouldn’t crack. The seismograph needles swung wildly. Winston was hanging onto the wall, trying to shield the most expensive equipment.

On the bridge Jason and Sallyanne fumbled to follow the commander’s orders and get the stabilizers working and everything locked down. It was hard to do anything with the keyboard bouncing around.

Finally HELEN announced, “Seismic disturbance terminated. Condition yellow.”

Most of the residents of ORCA could relax and work on getting their heartrates under control, but not all. Morgan stormed into the computer room demanding answers. “HELEN, breakdown and analysis! Mainland wants it yesterday! What are you doing here?”

This last was directed at Lena, who was trying to be invisible in the corner of the room.

“Nothing.” Lena said.

“Well go do it somewhere else. HELEN!”

Lena made her escape.

The zodiac sailed across the water, light as the wind. Jason was glad to get away from the chaos. Actually Dave had said, “Good work you two. Take the rest of the day off.” Sallyanne had gone to join the cleanup but Jason and Brett went to check on Neri.

They beached the boat and Neri and Mera came down to meet them with Kal lagging behind.

“You two ok?”

Neri smiled. “Thank you for worrying. I am glad you come. Mera and I ask Charley to sing for pieces of synchronium.”

“And?” Brett asked.

“It works.” Mera said.

“Come, we show you. Then eat! Kal, will you bring food?”

Cass threw herself down on the rec room couch beside Benny. “I am getting tired of picking things up! Have you seen Brett?”

“He’s gone to the island.”


“He was worried about Mera.”

Cass scowled. “Maybe he should just move out there permanently.”

Benny looked at her. “Anybody else, I’d say you were jealous.”

“’Cause Brett likes Mera? Hardly.”

“Hey Lena. Find anything?”

Lena righted a chair and sat down. “I couldn’t log on. They were analyzing the earthquakes.”

“Convenient.” Cass muttered.

“You still don’t trust me?”

Cass waved that away. “Look, let’s just concentrate on UBRI, hey? They’ve got computers, they might’ve found another piece. We need a way to find out.”

“Sure, maybe we could just stroll into their offices and take a look around.” Benny suggested with great sarcasm.

But Cass smiled. “Ben-ny!”

“What, I was joking!”

“I’m not. Look, they’ve got offices right here on ORCA and we haven’t even been inside, how come we missed that?”

“Because they had the vents bolted shut?” Benny suggested. Lena was staying out of it.

“But there’s gotta be another way with security all scrambled by the quakes. I’ll find it.” Energized, Cass jumped up.

“Yeah leave me out of it…” Benny called to her retreating back.

It took Cass about an hour. She walked past the UBRI offices a couple of times, then walked around that level thinking, then up to the next level—and found their way in.

“Benny! I got it, I found our way in.”

“A way to get us in serious trouble you mean.” Benny had his books spread out and a portable terminal. He didn’t look up.

“Thanks for your attention.” Cass slapped the computer shut.

“Hey! I promised Dad I’d study!”

“The laundry skip. Big enough for the two of us and nobody ever checks. It’s going through today and if we get down there quick enough we can get in.”


“You and me.”

“No way, get Brett.”

Cass looked at the clock. They didn’t have much time. “Brett’s not here and you are. I thought you liked Neri.”


“So, she’s going to think you’re a real hero when he finds out you were too chicken to help her.”

“I’ve always been a chicken.”

“You wanna always be one?”

The girls surfaced beside the zodiac, Neri carrying a piece of the synchronium. She was smiling. “Watch.”

Sound began to echo through the water, then into the air. A fog rose, full of the smell of salt and then bubbles of water drifted up into the air around the boat.

“Whoa…” Brett whispered.

Jason poked a drifting ball of water and it splashed on his hand. It was very quiet, except for the whalesong.

The laundry skip stopped outside the UBRI office and the attendant went to disable security. When he was gone Cass popped out of the nearest storeroom. “Ok, now!”

She rooted through the skip, pulling out some big bags of laundry and tossing them to Benny.

“I’ve been thinking…”

“Don’t. Hide those.”


But as soon as the bags were out of the way Cass gave Benny a shove backwards into the skip. She dived in on top of him and pulled laundry over both of them. Just in time, the guy on cleaning duty came back and rolled the skip into the UBRI section.

Cass and Benny held very still barely breathing under the stuffy layer of dirty clothes and sheets. The skip stopped again and they heard the attendant go into the other room. Then they heard a familiar voice.

“Mr. Li, an honor and a sudden one.” That was Hellegren.

“Haste often has its purpose.” Another man, with a foreign accent.

“I’m sure you have your own purpose, Mr. Li.”

“I also have mining interests. And in the course of one of our desert surveys, we stumbled on this… object, in a capsule. This intrigued me, such a strange thing in the middle of nowhere. My contacts suggested that you might be interested in negotiating for the ownership of this… article.”

His voice reminded Cass of a Chinese villain in some old black and white serial. Ming the Merciless tapping his fingers together and plotting the death of the hero.

Hellegren said, “I am very interested. Please, sit, help yourself… You, out. This is urgent. You may finish your duties when we are done.”

Footsteps leaving. That must be the cleaner.

When the door closed Mr. Li said, “I don’t suppose you would like to tell me exactly what this object is.”

“I’m afraid that would be impossible.”

“I understand, doctor. At Shigatsu trading company, we also have our secrets.”

“You do have it in a secure place?” Hellegren asked.

“Locked in my personal safe at head office.”

“And under what conditions would it become available?”

“I need a boat, Dr. Hellegren. There is a very important cargo I wish to transfer to international waters.”

“A corporation like yours must have its own craft.”

Clinking. They were having drinks. The foreigner said, “Unfortunately, we have been attracting unwanted attention from the authorities of late. If we would use one of our own, or even a hired boat, we would almost certainly be intercepted by the coast guard.”

“I see. Whereas an UBRI craft in the area would not even be questioned.”

“Precisely. Under the ORCA contract, UBRI can come and go without question.”

Hellegren said, “So, you will give me the object if I ensure the safe passage of your cargo. I suspect that would make us a party to smuggling, Mr. Li.”

“Please. Smuggling is such a harsh word.”

A clink of a glass being set down. “And so often misapplied. I will be pleased to transport your cargo in exchange for the object. If you leave me the destination and timetable you need, I will arrange a boat. May I call your office when it is ready?”

“Please do.”

There were a few more pleasantries, fading out of earshot as the two men walked away. Cass started to get up, but only got a breath of fresh air before someone else came in and she had to duck down again. It was the cleaner. He muttered to himself as he tossed the UBRI laundry bags on top of Benny and Cass, and then rolled the skip back into the hallway. As he went to reset the UBRI security, the two kids climbed out of the laundry. Cass got the two bags out of the storage room and put them back in the skip, then they left the sector like nothing had happened.

Kal was banging on the cocoanut like he’d forgotten how to open them, or like he was mad.

“Need a hand?” Brett crouched down beside him, “Thought you could do with some help.”

“Brett, you go to synchronium today?”

“Sure did. I know, that’s…”

“I wish to see pieces.” Kal interrupted. “You show me where they are?”

Brett banged the cocoanut down, trying to crack it like Neri had shown him.

“No.” Mera said above them. “The place must stay secret.”

“It is best you not know Kal, for your safety.” Neri added.

Kal grimaced.

Brett said, “Yeah, just in case. The rest of the guys don’t know where they’re hidden either. Anyone could say something accidentally.”

“You are right Neri.” Kal said aloud. And under his breath when he and Brett had gone back to pounding on the cocoanuts, “As always.”

“…so this guy Li, he’s got a piece of the synchronium locked up in a safe in his office. He wants to do a deal for an UBRI boat to smuggle something out of the country.” Benny finished, having rattled off the whole story without taking a breath.

“Yeah, so we gotta get it before your dad does.” Cass added.

Lena nodded agreement.

“We?” Benny said, “No way, I said just once! Why not get Brett and Jason?”

“Because I want to see the look on Brett’s face when we hand it over.” Cass replied.

Benny and Lena considered this. It was a good reason.

“I’ll go with you.” Lena said. Seeing Cass’ look she added, “You’re going to have to trust me sometime. Benny, gimme your computer and I’ll see where this guy’s headquarters is. Shigatsu Trading?” Lena looked it up. “Ok, we can get there on the bus. You up for it?”

Cass nodded. “Tomorrow, first thing. The three of us.”

The next morning the boys got ready to go after breakfast. “Hey Jase, you on duty today?”

“Yep.” Jason was bustling around the cabin looking for a file.

“Pity, I was hoping you could come out to the island again.”


Brett shrugged. “I was thinking last night, since we haven’t been having much luck with the synchronium lately, it might be an idea to check out the spaceship one last time.”

“We’ve already been through it top to bottom.”

“Yeah, but Mera’s here now, she might recognize something useful, some kind of clue. It’s worth a try right? She can help, maybe Kal too.”

“Where’s the rest of the guys?” Jason asked. He found his file and tucked it under his arm.

Brett shrugged. “I couldn’t find them. They must’ve gone off somewhere. Well, I’m off to the island. Have fun on the bridge with Morgan!”

Jason rolled his eyes. “Yeah, thanks.”

The three kids crouched in the ornamental shrubbery behind Shigatsu Trading. There was a big guard post out front, so they’d come around back. The guard hut here was empty, and nobody seemed to be watching the back door. There were a lot of Asian-looking people going in and out though. A catering truck was parked by the door and a guy was unloading insulated boxes.

“This isn’t gonna be easy.” Lena observed.

Benny took one look at the situation and turned away. Cass grabbed him. “Where you going?”


“Just when we were going into the catering business? Come on.” Cass led the dash for the truck. Lena climbed into the back and tossed out some uniform shirts and the children wriggled into them and picked up some boxes of food. Holding the boxes to hide their faces, they went inside.

The girl behind the front counter was talking away in a language that was definitely not English. She hung up the phone and glanced at them before looking down at her computer.

The girls froze. Benny said, “Ko-ni-chi-wa. Spe-cha-ru lun-che.”

“Yoko shirimasen. Doozo Ittekudasai.” The secretary chirped, waving them towards a room on the other side of the hall.

“Hai, arigatoo.” Benny said, and led the way.

They left the food in the conference room and looked for a way to get upstairs. The main stairway was guarded, but Lena followed signs to a fire escape. “Let’s go.”

They reached the office level, which seemed deserted. Maybe everybody was downstairs having lunch. “Search everywhere.” Cass said, “Lena, you stay with me.”

“I’m glad you guys could help me.” Brett said as he and the others walked towards the spaceship hatch.

Neri said, “I come back later Brett. I must see that synchronium is still safe.”

“No problem. Best to keep checking. See you later.”

Neri ran down to the water, waved to them, and dived into an oncoming wave.

“You rather go with her?” Brett asked Mera, who was still looking out at the water.

“No. I would rather help you search. I not think we will find anything though.”

“Well let’s get started.” Brett said. He grabbed the vine and climbed down into the ship. When Mera and Kal had followed him down he said, “I reckon Kal’s chamber is our best shot, where the computer that told us about the synchronium was. Here’s the way down. Watch your step Mera.”

Suddenly Kal said, “You and Mera go. I search up here.”

“Suit yourself. Call us if you find anything.”

Brett and Mera pawed through the debris in the ship’s navigation room. There wasn’t anything to find, but Mera knew what all the stuff was, and she and Brett ended up talking about it for about an hour. Mera changed, talking about star maps and furniture that moved and silver blankets that could warm or cool depending on the temperature outside. Her voice warmed and her eyes sparkled. Even if they didn’t find anything, Brett thought it would be worth it just to hear Mera sounding happy.

She got the ship’s computer working, but all they could access were installments in the ship’s log, mostly spoken by Kal’s mother. Soon Mera turned it off, saying it was too sad to watch.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up Brett. I’m afraid there is nothing more to find.”

“Starting to look that way isn’t it.” Brett went to the passage to the other level of the ship and called, “Kal? Any luck?”

Mera stepped up next to Brett. “I was warned, you know. The elders told me before I left that helping Neri in her task would not be easy. But I did not realize it would be this… slow!”

Brett wanted to hug her but couldn’t quite do it. So he summoned up a cheerful voice. “Hey, don’t let it get you down. So we’ve been drawing a few blanks lately, our luck’s gotta change.”

“I hope that you’re right, Brett.”

“’Course I’m right.” Brett was already regretting the missed hug opportunity, but the moment was gone. He called, “Kal, where are you? Answer us! That’s funny. We’d better go look for him. Kal’s got a real talent for getting into trouble.”

“More storage.” Lena reported.

“They’re all the same.”

They were trying to check the rooms quickly, while keeping an ear out for anyone coming. Cass said, “only two more on this level. Benny, that one. Lena, with me.” She eased open the door at the end of the hallway, looked in and gasped. There it was! The safe was open, the synchronium piece gleaming dully under the lights. The girls rushed over.

Next to the synchronium was a sheet of black velvet with glittering white stones arranged on it. They glittered colors and Lena gasped. “Opals! That must be what he’s smuggling out of the country.”

Cass reached for the synchronium piece. Just for a second, Lena’s hand crept towards the opals. In that second, Li came in behind them, his footsteps silent on the carpet. He yelled and hit an alarm. Cass and Lena ran straight into a pair of guards.

Benny appeared, saw them caught, and disappeared again.

“Go, run!” Lena yelled to him.

“Get off me you goon!” Cass was doing her best to kick her captor in the knees, but the guard was bigger than she was and lifted her off her feet.

The two girls were hauled back into Li’s office and deposited in two chairs in front of the desk. The guards loomed behind, ready to grab them again if they ran. Mr. Li took the synchronium piece and locked it in the safe.

“Now, who are you?”

They didn’t answer.

“And why have you broken into my office to steal… not the eighty thousand in cut gems, but an unidentified artifact?”

Mr. Li sat down behind his desk and looked at the two girls over his folded hands.

Cass put on her best smile. “We’re girl guides.” She said.

“Mm-hm. And that would lead back to the question of why you are here.”

“We thought you might want to buy some cookies.” Lena answered.

“As you wish. I am a patient man. Sooner or later one of you will tell me what I wish to know.” Li unfolded a portable computer and started working, ignoring the two girls.

Cass and Lena looked at each other. Now what? They weren’t in uniform and had no identification, so he couldn’t find out who they were. But they couldn’t call for help either. And they couldn’t get the synchronium now, not without finding the combination to the safe!

They sat for an hour. Lena’s stomach rumbled. A secretary brought in a food tray—sushi. Li and the two guards ate without offering the girls any. Cass was considering asking for a bathroom break and then trying to run, when Li finally looked up.

“I am not a cruel man. I cannot understand why you wish to punish yourselves. You could be enjoying my hospitality.”

Cass sighed. “Yeah all right, I’ll tell you everything.”

“Cass, don’t!”

“Quiet!” Li barked.

“We’re with the federal police! The building is surrounded and you’re all under arrest!”

Li raised an eyebrow.

Cass shrugged. She’d been hoping the critically stupid line would convince Li they were just dumb kids, but it hadn’t worked.

A communicator screen binged on—showing the UBRI logo. Lena looked around frantically for the camera as Hellegren’s face appeared.

“Mr. Li, I have had time to consider your proposal. The arrangements are as you requested.”

Li smiled into the camera. “You have caught me at a difficult moment, Doctor. We will meet you on your wharf, two days from now.”

“You will have the object as we discussed?”

“You will be pleased.” Li bowed and the call ended. He stood up and spoke to the guards. One of them kept watch over the girls, the other opened the safe and took out the synchronium piece. Cass twitched, wanting to go for it but not being dumb enough to try anything.

Li said, “I will give you some time to consider your situation.” He left, the guards left, and the door clicked locked behind them.

Lena jumped up and tried the door anyway. No luck. She sat back down.

After a minute Cass said without enthusiasm, “We could call ORCA.”

“And have the call recorded.”

“Good point. We could wreck this office.”

Lena didn’t answer. Li’s desk was bare, and the drawers were all locked. The safe was locked. The cabinets were locked. The door was locked. She sat back down.

“You know, I’ve been thinking…” Cass began.

“Here we go again, get it over with.”


“The usual speech, Cass. How you still think I might be working for my father.’

“But that’s just it. That was your father on the communicator, you knew Li was doing a deal with him. If you yelled, or just told who you were, he’d’ve let you go.”

“I’m not going to betray you guys. About anything. I met Neri too, just like you did.”

Cass looked confused.

Lena explained, “You know. When you realize who she is, and it changes everything?”

Cass smiled. “Yeah. I know. So, I trust you. And I’m sorry for what I said. I’ll always trust you from now on.”

With perfect timing, the door opened.

“Benny!” Lena exclaimed.

“We thought you must’ve got away.”

Benny beckoned them to hurry up. “Believe me, I… well I couldn’t just leave you. Come on, let’s go.”

“What about the synchronium?”

“Lena, we don’t know where they took it, it’s sure to be guarded, let’s live to fight another day!”

Lena nodded. She pointed at the main staircase which was, at the moment, empty of people. The three of them nodded to each other and sprinted for the front door. They made it, though the secretary at the desk shouted after them.

“Kal followed you?” Mera asked, confused. She and Brett had found Kal, when Neri brought him back.

“He try.” Neri said.

“He did not find the hiding place?”

“No. Charley warn me long before.”

Mera turned, “Why, Kal?”

“I not mean wrong.” Kal said guilelessly. “I just think Neri goes to swim. So I go swim too. Creep up, surprise her. Make joke, is all I wish to do.”

“No harm has been done. He has said sorry many times. And he swears never to do again.”

“A promise you must keep, Kal.” Mera said, her eyes stern. “There is much danger. It is not the time for joking. Many could get hurt.”

Kal bobbed his head apologetically.

Brett tried, “No worries, Kal. Hey, will you do me a favor? Help me find some shellfish for the girls. I can never tell which are the good ones.”

Kal nodded. As they walked to the beach Brett said, “Word of advice, don’t even bother trying to surprise them. Those girls’ll catch you out every time.”

Back on ORCA Jason asked, “So, find anything new in the ship?”

“Not a thing.” Brett grumbled. They were in the lab, organizing reports for their mother and trying not to look at the scary squiggly lines on the seismograph. Even when there weren’t quakes they could feel, there were lots of little tremors going on.

Lena stuck her head in the door. “Guys, I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I need to talk to you for a minute.”

“Oh, right.” Jason said, “See you back in the cabin tonight Mum.”

Both boys cleared the room.

Dianne looked at the door. “Winston, why am I starting to get the feeling that lot are up to something behind our backs?”

“As a wise man once said, ‘Does a wallaby relieve himself in the bush?’”

Dianne laughed.

A call came in. The commander said, “Doctor Seth, could you step up to the bridge immediately? I have something for you.”

Dianne gave him a questioning look. Winston shrugged.

The something turned out to be a certificate. The commander explained, “The geological society has been in contact with the main office, and they forwarded this to be presented to you. ‘In recognition of his efforts in identifying and drawing scientific attention to the existence of the great Pacific tectonic zone. In honor of which it will be henceforth known as the Winston Seth Fault.’ Congratulations Doctor Seth.” The bridge crew applauded, and Dianne hugged Winston.

“Congratulations Winston.” Dave patted the smaller man on the back.

Winston laughed. “Thank you. Thank you. Though I’m not sure how I feel about my scientific immortality being the thing that is scaring the pants off all of us on a regular basis.”

In a corner of the rec room an explanation was going on. The three of them explained how they’d gotten in, found the synchronium, and almost not gotten out. Cass finished with, “And you should’ve heard Benny! He was really brave, and he rocks the Chinese.”

“Japanese.” Benny corrected.

Brett clapped Benny on the shoulder. “Whatever, sounds like you really saved them!”

“But we couldn’t get the piece.” Lena said gloomily. “They took it away, if we tried to find it…”

“We probably couldn’t have gotten out a second time.” Cass finished.

“Hey, don’t beat yourselves up.” Jason said, “You did your best, we couldn’t have done any better if we’d all been there. Now what about the deal between this guy and Hellegren?”

“We don’t have the exact time. Just the UBRI warf, two days from now.”

“We’ve got to stop it somehow.” Brett said. “We can’t let UBRI get another piece of the synchronium!”

“We’ll have to be careful though. UBRI’s bad enough, this Shi..?”

“Shigatsu Trading.” Benny supplied. “Bigger than UBRI, more money, more guards…”

Jason said over him, “We’ll just have to be smarter than they are.”

The moon was directly overhead, reflecting in the pond. It was only just fully dark, and the fire was still burning from dinner. Mera sat on the edge of the nest, her feet dangling.

Neri climbed up beside her. “You are troubled, sister.”

“Another day and no word of the synchronium.”

“Perhaps tomorrow.”

“But time runs shorter and shorter!”

“Do not lose heart. We must believe. We will have all the pieces, and no one will ever take them from us again.”

Sitting on his bed on the ground, Kal looked up at them.