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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

24. The Stonefish

Neri was standing under the waterfall, letting the sweet water pour over her head. Resting, just for a minute.

The earthquake hit. Stones rattled and Neri stepped away from the falls before several large rocks splashed into the pool. Birds took to the air in panic. Mera gasped and grabbed a tree for support as the tremor grew stronger.

When it faded, the three of them ran down to the beach. Another, stronger tremor hit and Mera dropped to her knees in the sand. Neri put her arms around Kal to shield him from the sticks that fell from the trees.

Charley! Are you well? Where are you?

Charley’s voice echoed back, Far from land. Do not worry for me.

“And ORCA?” Mera asked aloud, her face white.

“ORCA is strong. Charley would hear if it breaks.”

It felt like ORCA was about to break. Jason was braced against a wall, sheltering Sallyanne from the chaos of things falling, people falling, and carts rolling around. From across the room Dave called, “Everybody hang on, don’t try to move! The hull has not breached!”

In the computer hub a screen blew out and Cass shrieked and rolled out of the way. Lena grabbed her and they made a dive for the door.

Brett and Benny were under a table in the galley, avoiding the spreading puddles of everyone’s spilled drinks.

Finally, HELEN announced it was over. Lena and Cass were out of the computer room before Morgan stormed in to get the data on the quake. The two girls joined the boys in the galley for the mopping up.

As they worked, the com screen came on, showing a view of the bridge. The commander said, “Due to the increasing size of the tremors and their growing frequency, I have recommended voluntary evacuation from ORCA. If the tribunal agrees, all who choose to do so will be leaving within the next few days. Thank you for your attention.”

“At least Charley is safe.” Mera said. She was sitting slumped in the sand, tired by the panic of the quake.

“You all right, sister?”

“Scared.” Mera looked up suddenly, her eyes fevered. “It will only get worse! Next time maybe ORCA will break apart and Brett and Jason, and Mother…”

“We will stop it.” Neri said. Standing strong for her sister. “Is not yet too late. I go now, to see the others. We talk how to get synchronium from the bad man.”

Mera nodded.

“Kal, please take care of Mera while I am gone.”

Kal smiled and nodded. “Yes, Neri! Kal is man. Protect others.”

The earthquake had reached the mainland. In his office, Hellegren was reorganizing everything that had fallen from his desk in the shake while finalizing the deal with Li. “Nine o’clock at our pier, Mr. Li.”

The Asian man nodded on his end of the communicator call. “I will carry both cargoes onto your boat and hand over the one you want only when international waters have been reached and my own cargo is safely transferred to the waiting ship.”

Hellegren paused for an instant as he righted Lena’s picture. “Very well. I’ll be sending Miss Kellar, my assistant. It has been an honor doing business with you, Mr. Li.”

The call closed and Hellegren added, “A very questionable honor.”

“Clever of him to insist on using an UBRI craft.” Kellar said. “No coast guard would ever suspect a scientific craft of smuggling.”

Hellegren glanced at her. “Has our economist deduced what it is he is smuggling?”

“Considering Li’s recent business activities and the small size of the cargo, most likely opals. A large number of cut stones. He stands to make millions.”

“Mr. Li has a synchronium piece. The only thing that matters is to get it. Every single piece.”

“And when we put it together? What then?”

“Then we will use it.”

“And rule the world?”

“Perhaps, Kellar.”

Lena had finished her share of the cleaning. She ordered a drink and sat down at a freshly scrubbed table to take a break.

“Lena? Would I, um, be able to ask you something?” Said a hesitant voice.

“Sure, Sallyanne.” Lena waved at the other seat and Sallyanne sat down.

“I was wondering if Jason had someone special I mightn’t know about?”

Lena blinked. “Does he have a girlfriend? Is that what you mean?”

“I just thought there might be someone else. I mean someone…” Sallyanne shrugged.

“You really like him don’t you?” Lena asked, sympathetic.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Have you told him?”

“No.” Sallyanne admitted.

Lena wasn’t sure what to say. She’d never had a boyfriend, wasn’t an expert on love stuff, so how do you tell someone that the guy she likes has a girl you can’t talk about? With no good idea, Lena settled for what she would’ve said in a normal situation. “Why not? You might as well let him know how you feel.”

Benny looked up when his father entered the cabin. “It’s ok Dad, I think I got everything put back.”

Dr. Malkovitch looked around the cabin. “Ah, good job. But I actually came to tell you we’ve signed you up to be evacuated. Your mother and I must stay until the last possible minute of course, but you’ll leave for the mainland Tuesday.”

“But—can’t I stay too?”

“No. Your grandparents are looking forward to having you.”

And Benny wished with all his cowardly heart that he could spend the next few weeks anywhere but on ORCA. Waiting for something to crack and let the water in was hard enough without having to deal with schoolwork and the synchronium! But there was the synchronium. And his friends. “Dad, I’d really rather stay on board.”

“It’s decided, Benny. Now I must get back to work.”

Benny joined the others in a little dead-end hallway off the rec room. It had been used for storage but recent earthquakes had destroyed or moved everything that was being stored here, so the place had been cleared out. Now all of the friends were sitting there, backs against the walls and feet in the middle. Neri sat farthest in, where the light didn’t quite reach.

Jason was saying, “So tomorrow morning I’ll sneak on board the UBRI boat before they leave. Neri will be watching, and she’ll come back and get you…”

“So we can follow in the zodiac.” Cass finished.

“And at an agreed time I’ll kill the engine, pitch the synchronium piece over the side, and jump. Neri helps me not drown, I ride back with you guys.”

“It sounds workable.” Lena said, nodding her pale head. “Except if…”

“Am I interrupting something?” Morgan asked loudly.

Cass glared. Jason got to his feet. “No, what do you need?”

“Bates, you’re rostered on a dive with me at oh-nine-hundred hours. We have to check for more exterior damage from the last quake.”

“I—any chance of swapping? Or changing the time?” Jason asked.

“No way.”

“Look, I’d really appreciate it. I’ve got personal commitments.” Jason tried, really getting worried.

Morgan scowled. “Great. So we’re facing a major crisis here and you want special treatment. Bates, grow up and be there.”

Morgan turned and left. Jason slid back down, trying to look like getting yelled at hadn’t bothered him. Cass jumped up and went after her sister.

She caught up with Morgan in the hall. “Hey, why’d you have to do that?”


“Ripping into Jason. It was a reasonable thing to ask for.”

“Sis, take a hike.”

Cass simmered. “You know what your problem is? You’re so busy being important and stuck-up you’ve forgotten what it’s like to have friends. You know, people who would still like you if you weren’t head of the cadets.”

Morgan shook her perfect head and turned to leave. “And you know what your problem is, Cass? You’ve been here too long. You need to go home and clear your brain cells. Both of them.”

“Yeah fine, walk away. Why don’t you do us all a favor and drop dead!”

Panting and kicking things on the way, Cass returned to her friends. “Sorry about her Jase. My sister’s a class-a creep.”

“Ah, forget it.”

Lena held out a handful of dried spaghettis. “We’re drawing for who hides in the UBRI boat since Jason can’t come. You in?”

“Sure.” Cass took one. Long.

Benny drew the short straw. His eyes bugged out a little. “It’s me. Great.”

“Ha ha, sorry, mine’s shorter.” Brett said, waving a shorter noodle, to Benny’s obvious relief.

“Don’t worry Benny. You’ll be just as useful on the zodiac with us.” Lena told him cheerfully.

A tremor woke all of ORCA at seven the next morning. So Jason was wide awake and in the dive pool early. He and Morgan got suited up and Winston came to brief them on what signs to look for on the seabed. The signs on the outside of ORCA should be obvious.

Dave looked over Jason’s rig, then Morgan’s. “Ok, you’re good to go. Stay close together and be careful.”

The two cadets nodded, put their masks on, and jumped in.

Brett and Neri had gotten to the UBRI dock while it was still dark, but the boat wasn’t there. When it arrived, the crew stayed on board. Brett, hidden on the dock, huddled against the chill of the morning and worried that he might not get a chance to sneak on board.

Then one car delivered Kellar and soon another car delivered the Asian man who must be Mr. Li. He had the synchronium piece! He was carrying it in a kind of padded hammock bag, and had a little briefcase in his other hand.

“Well?” Was Kellar’s greeting.

Li bowed slightly. “I have both cargoes ready. If you would be so kind as to show me where I can put them, I will arrange for a cup of tea.”

Kellar gestured him up the gangplank. She didn’t look thrilled at the prospect of tea.

Brett was just surprised. He’d thought that Asian tea thing was just in ninja movies! But everyone vanished into the boat’s cabin. Brett made a run for the gangplank. He managed to get into the bottom of the boat, the ugly echoing room where the engine was. Perfect! No reason for anyone to come down here. Brett took a quick look around and… there it was.

“This,” Said Captain Sam Phillips, “Is the easiest way to disable a boat. Most models have it, and all you have to do is break the circuit and it’ll be dead in the water. Maybe a useful thing for you two to know about.”

“Thank you Sam.” Brett muttered. He tucked himself into a corner and waited. After a little while the engine started up and the boat began to move. Brett started his stopwatch.

The water looked gray and murky. Silt thrown up by the tremors hung in the water and layered on the coral. Neri would have said the ocean was dark.

Jason didn’t write that. Instead he took measurements and made notes of the few fish he saw.

“Are you getting detailed notes Bates?” Morgan asked through the communicator.

“Yeah, as much as I can.”

Morgan tucked away her writing slate and reached out to touch a piece of broken coral. “Look how the reef’s starting to crumble…”

Something moved by her hand and Morgan gasped.

“What’s that?” Jason asked, then, “You ok?”

“No!” Morgan gasped out. She was starting to shake. “Stonefish. Get me back.”

Jason quickly grabbed Morgan in the divers’ rescue hold and swam for ORCA as fast as he could. A few minutes later he was in the dive pool heaving Morgan out of the water and yelling for help.

Dave lifted Morgan out of the water and onto a medical gurney. She was shaking violently, and her eyes were half open.

“It was a stonefish. On the reef. Will she be all right?” Jason asked because he couldn’t help it. He wasn’t surprised when nobody answered. They rushed Morgan up to the infirmary.

Left alone, Jason changed back into his uniform and put away his gear, and went up to the infirmary.

Cass rushed into the infirmary as soon as she was allowed. Her parents were already there. Morgan was in bed, unconscious, her hand bandaged and a breathing tube down her throat.

“Mum? She going to be ok?”

“We don’t know yet honey.”

The doctor was Benny’s father. “The stonefish injects a very nasty venom. I’ve given her a dose of antivenin.”

“Then why’s she still like that?” Cass asked in alarm.

“She suffered a nasty shock. We can’t predict how long it’ll be before she wakes up.”

“You mean she might never..?”

The doctor shook his head. “Possible but very unlikely. The odds are on her side. Now it’s a matter of wait and see.”

Jason arrived in time to hear that. He looked in uncomfortably at the family scene. “Ah, is there anything I can do?”

“No, but thank you for checking.” Cass’ mother answered.

Doctor Malkovitch shook his head. “All we can do for Morgan is let her get some rest.”

“Right. Call me if…” Jason shrugged, gave Cass a supportive shoulder-squeeze, and fled.

On the bridge, Jason got to work reporting the incident. Where and when, what they were doing, the necessary forms.

Sallyanne rushed over. “I just heard about Morgan.”

“It was my fault.” Jason said without looking up.

“How do you figure?”

“I’ve dived there a lot more than her. It was up to me to clear the area.”

“Jason… it was a stonefish, you know how good their camoflage is. You did everything you could.”

Jason looked down at his hands, which were shaking a little as he typed. “All that training and when it comes to the crunch, I blow it.”

“You didn’t, and blaming yourself won’t help Morgan.”

Dave came over. “Jason. File that and then take a break. Rest the legs.”

Jason did, and wandered out to the viewing tube.

Sallyanne followed. “No one else is blaming you, Jason. What happened was just a terrible accident, that’s all.”

“Yeah… I suppose you’re right.” Jason said without much conviction, looking at the murky reef outside.

“You’re one of the top cadets in the place and Morgan’s going to get better.”

Jason looked up and smiled faintly. “I guess she can pull through if anyone can.”

“So stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

Sallyanne’s voice was so kind. Jason turned and hugged her. “Thanks. I needed that.”

Sallyanne’s heart raced. Jason smelled like the sea, like salt and algae. When he turned away Sallyanne blurted, “Jason! You know how I feel about you don’t you?”

“Um.” Was the best Jason could do. Behind Sallyanne, Neri flashed into view and pointed up.

“I mean, how much I like you—really like you a lot.”

“Sallyanne–” Jason’s brain had frozen up. He didn’t know what to say. And Neri was waiting. “I just, um, remembered something. I’ve got to go.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Yeah, we’ll talk about it later, ok?” Jason fled, his thoughts scrambled. Had something gone wrong with Brett getting on the UBRI boat? Was he all right? How did you tell a girl you didn’t like her that way, without breaking her heart? Was it even possible?

Up on the pontoon Benny and Lena were getting the zodiac into the water. Neri climbed up to join them.

“Change of plans.” Jason said, “Cass has to stay with her sister.’

“We figured.” Lena said. “Don’t worry. Benny and I can run the zodiac.”


“Good. We chase UBRI boat.”

“And Brett’s gonna stop it at eleven-thirtyfive. We’ve got plenty of time.” Benny handed over several small emergency airtanks and the two of them swung the zodiac into the water. Jason helped, steadying the lined from the pontoon deck.

“Got everything? Good. Be careful guys.”

“Don’t worry.” Lena said.

Benny suddenly said, “Hey, where’s Mera? How’s she going to know where to go?”

Neri grinned. “Charley tell her. He tells me where boat is, too. Now, follow!”

Mrs. Clayborn slipped out of the infirmary for a minute and Jason went in to sit with Cass.

“Hey. The guys are away safely. How’s she doing?”

“The same.” Cass sniffled. “I’m sorry, I should’ve gone…”

“Nah, no way. Your sister needs you more. You want to be here when she wakes up.”

“If she dies, I’ll never speak to her again.’

“She’s not gonna die. Morgan wouldn’t die even if ya killed her.”

Cass giggled tearfully. “We had a fight, right after she came in and started ordering you around. You know what I said? I told her to drop dead. Now this happens.”

“Not your fault.” Jason said with all the certainty he hadn’t been feeling himself an hour ago. “And she’s going to be fine.”

In the lab HELEN was reporting the news in her way-too-calm voice: “The tsunami wave is now three miles off the cost of the Tahetian Islands.”

“Holy Neptune.” Winston muttered.

“At least they had some warning. I hope they could evacuate.”

“This time.” Winston said gloomily. “It’s only going to get worse.”

“And we’re so powerless. Construction’s at a standstill but the quakes are still happening.”

The door opened and Sallyanne looked in. “Um… are you busy, Dr. Bates?”

Dianne sighed. “Wish I was, Sallyanne.”

“I was wondering if, um, I could talk to you privately?”

“Sure, come on in.”

Winston made himself scarce, with a cheerful, “When the hens are in council, the rooster withdraws.”

“Here, sit. Now, how can I help you?”

Sallyanne looked down. “I’m not sure. Um, do you know why Jason doesn’t like me?”

“He does like you.”

“Not enough.”

“Enough?” Dianne asked, though she was beginning to figure it out.

“Well, sometimes when we’re together, I really think something’s happening, you know, and then he goes all cold and I’m just wondering if I’ve done something to offend him.”

“Well, not that I know of.” Dianne said, feeling terribly sorry for Sallyanne.

“Has he said anything about me?”

“That you’re a good partner in the cadets, and better

“Does he have a girlfriend?”

“Sallyanne, I really think you should talk to Jason, not me.”

Sallyanne stood up. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“It’s no bother…” Dianne said, helpless about this too.

Brett checked his watch. One minute to go, it was time. He stood up, found the bundle of wires Sam had shown him, checked his watch again and gave a good yank.

The wires came out and the engine stuttered to a stop. Brett crammed himself behind the door as people up top started yelling. Soon two crew members burst in, and Brett got out of the engine room behind them. He ran upstairs, crouching and ready to duck if he saw anybody.

The rest of the crew was up on the bridge, trying to get the boat started. Brett scooted around the rail, looking inside. This would only work if they’d left the synchronium alone… there it was! Brett climbed through a narrow cabin window and picked it up. Outside again he was at the rail when they saw him.

“Get him!” Kellar shouted.

Brett threw the piece over the side, and jumped.

For a second, the water was cold and empty. Then Mera was next to him holding out the emergency air supply. Brett fumbled it into his mouth and sucked a much-needed breath before signaling that he was ok. Mera nodded and wrapped her arm under Brett’s to pull him along. Neri was a few yards away, holding the synchronium piece.

It was about ten minutes to get to the zodiac. Brett’s air supply ran out halfway, but they were far enough away from the UBRI boat that he could come up to breathe.

“You all right?” Mera asked while they were above water.

Brett grinned at her. “Fine! We did it!”

A few minutes later they reached the zodiac. Lena helped Brett in and handed him a towel.

“You guys take the piece and hide it, we can get home ok.” Lena said to the girls.

Neri nodded but Mera said, “I go with you. It is a long way.”

“Thanks, Mera! Hey Benny, what’re you waiting for? Start ‘er up!”

Benny held his finger to his lips and looked up. Just then they heard the rattle of a helicopter. Over the sound of the waves they heard, vaintly, “Attention craft, this is the coast guard. Hold your position and prepare to be boarded.”

Benny started the engine.

They got back safely. Brett had been worried the coast guard chopper had seen them, but Benny monitored the radio and said they were all right.

“You called in an anonymous tip?” Brett asked as they got the zodiac signed in back on ORCA.

Benny tossed him some lifejackets. “I calculated the time and location and had HELEN wipe the source code. I wasn’t sure they’d take it seriously but they turned up right on time! And hey, you had the hard job sneaking on board.”

“They’re both important jobs.” Lena said sensibly.

“Too bad we couldn’t stick around and watch them get nailed.”

“A case full of opals. I’d love to watch Kellar try to explain that.” Lena said with a satisfied smile.

In the infirmary Morgan was still unconscious, the machine doing the breathing for her. Cass was sitting on the floor resting her face on the bed. Worrying for hours had really tired her out and her voice was flat.

“I know you always say you get sick of the sound of my voice… but the doctor said to keep on talking… Guess you might be able to hear me even though you can’t move…. Heh. You remember that time at Big Sur, and you got in that stupid green canoe and tried to catch a wave like it was a surfboard? I’m sitting on the beach with mom and we watch it dig into the sand, tip right up vertical and you fell out…”

Out of Cass’ sight, Morgan’s hand moved. She pulled on the tube in her mouth, coughing a little as it came out. “The wave sucked me down. I was drowning.”

Cass sat up. “Morgan? You’re awake!”

Morgan smiled faintly and rasped, “What’s going on? I’m still alive?”

“What am I, a doctor?” Cass laughed, which sounded like crying, and hugged Morgan and started yelling for the doctor.

Dr. Malkovitch came in and checked Morgan over. “I do believe you’re out of danger, cadet Clayborn. Your hand is going to hurt like the devil for a week, but unless something else goes wrong you can return to your cabin in the morning. Get some sleep, I’ll check on you again in an hour.”

“Ok.” Morgan whispered.

Cass asked, “Hey doc, can you leave her voice like that?”

Morgan made a weak gesture that would clearly have been a smack if she’d been well. “Get out and lemme sleep.” But she was smiling.

Cass waved and left, passing Benny in the doorway. “Hey, you’re back—how’d it go?”

“Great. Ask Brett; I have to talk to my dad. Dad, you got a minute?”

“Have to be quick.” His father said.

Just then everything in the infirmary rattled.

Morgan groaned. “Not again.” She used her good hand to pull a corner of blanket over her eyes.

When the tremor stopped Benny and his father went outside. “Dad, it’s about me leaving tomorrow. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I don’t want to be evacuated until you and Mum leave.”

“I’ve told you Benjamin; it’s already been decided.”

“But you didn’t ask me what I thought. I’m going to be an adult soon dad, and I think I should have some say in what happens to me.”

Dr. Malkovitch looked at his son as if seeing him for the first time in a while. “What brought this on all of a sudden?”

“A few things have been happening lately.” Benny said. “I don’t want to go into it right now, but I think I’m getting braver, more mature maybe.”

His father smiled. “Come here.”

“Does this mean I can stay?” Benny asked mid-hug.

“It means it’s your choice.”

“The coast guard is still asking Mr. Li embarrassing questions about the opals.” Kellar was saying as Kal came into the office. “I kept UBRI out of trouble by saying he was merely a passenger. We had no idea what he was carrying.”

“I suppose that is all you could say.”

“He should’ve warned us what those kids were planning.” Kellar said, glaring at Kal.

“No.” Kal said. “Neri and Mera watch me too much. They would see I am your friend.”

“Are you? A friend who could not find a way to warn us?”

Kal was insulted. “You know nothing, woman. When my people come, I did not go away with them. I stay because you are my friend and will give me island.”

Hellegren smiled a little at that. “Very well. We look to the future. Finding out where that piece of the synchronium, and all the others, are hidden. That is the most important thing in your life now. Do you understand?”

“I understand.” Kal said.