12 And They Decided...
“Well I’ve had an earful. Tell Froggy this thing’s brilliant.” Kimberley took the little microphone out of her pocket and the listening half from behind her ear.
“What’ve you got?” Jason asked.
They were crowded into the Bates cabin, the girls, Jason and Brett and their mother. It was dark. The backup lighting was an unpleasant red color and nobody looked very healthy.
“Ok. They know you two are on Orca. I heard Liselle say she saw you in the hall, after Helen crashed.”
Jason made a face. “Well, at least with communications down they can’t tell Ubri, right?”
“Who knows? They didn’t say either way, not while I was listening. Whoever’s up next, maybe they’ll hear something.”
“And it’s bad enough anyone from Ubri knows you’re on board.”
Dianne sighed. “Well, they’re still going to be watching inside and out. So the best thing we can all do is stay put. Now, I think you should send Charley away, back to the island. Because they know Neri can talk with him, that puts him in danger as well.”
“I can speak to Charley too.” Mera said.
“Yeah, but those creeps don’t know that.”
“Exactly. Which means Neri’s still the one they really want.”
Neri murmured, “Then it is I who bring danger to Charley and my sister?”
“It’s not your fault Neri.” Kim said, “There’s nothing you can do about it. Ok, I’m off to give this to Rocky. He can think of an excuse to hang around outside Forsythe’s cabin while I hit the gym.”
“Before breakfast?” Brett couldn’t believe it. “I’m going to get food.”
“Ok. Can you bring something down for me and Winston? He took the boat out at the crack of dawn.”
“Ok.” Brett waved and went out with Kimberley.
Jason nodded to the girls, “Stay here ok? I’ll look around up top and maybe you can go swimming later.”
Mera nodded. Neri was still looking troubled, but nobody noticed. Then the girls were left alone in the cabin again.
Winston was eating ramen for breakfast, while an enthusiastic Joanne entered data for him. Dianne raised her eyebrows. “And where were you this morning?”
“Just taking a look around. There are Ubri boats everywhere, they’re monitoring everything that passes. Even bullied their way onto our supply boat!”
Joanne looked worried. “They can’t bully their way onto Orca can they?”
“Not a chance. As long as they stay here we won’t have any problems.”
“Oh yes we will. There’s still the matter of the titanium.”
Sam was just coming in, just in time to hear that. He groaned. “Oh don’t bring that up again please.”
“She didn’t.” Joanne chirped, “Commander Byrne’s been asking for the scans. And Winston’s come up with a brilliant answer.”
“Not that brilliant. I just got the computer to modify the readout so the titanium deposits aren’t shown. It was easy with Helen out of action.”
“Which means the only evidence left is the scans you have, but if you destroy them...”
Sam raised his hands. “Please. Ask me anything but that. This find is going to buy me the boat I’ve dreamed of having for years. I’ll cut you guys in if you want but... I’m not changing my mind on this.”
Mera sat down and looked at the floor. “I hate it.” She said, “Being in here. I just want to be home. But it’s hopeless isn’t it? Now that they know about us they’ll never leave us alone. And we’ll never get back what we had. I finally found the place I belong and now I’ve lost it forever!”
Neri looked down at her sister’s pinched face. Mera wasn’t doing well, stuck indoors. She didn’t want to eat and she wasn’t sleeping well.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t go with these people? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.”
“Ubri people tried to kill Charley.”
Mera gasped. “No! Oh no!”
“We must not go to them. We find another way.” Neri pulled her sister to her feet and hugged her. “I will get home back for you, my sister. I give you my word.”
Neri smiled and went out, motioning her sister to stay behind.
Neri stopped in the viewing tube and put her hands on the glass to call to Charley.
Charley said he still missed her, was tired of loud boats all over the place, and had made some new friends to swim with who did NOT make up for not having Neri and Mera around and could they come back yet?
Not yet. Soon though, sister will come home and boats will leave.
“Neri? What are you doing here all alone?”
Neri turned away from the beauty of the reef. “Rocky. You are friend, yes?”
“Then tell me, sometimes must it be that one fish feeds the shark so that others escape? Not so? You understand? It is better that the one goes than all go.”
She sounded so serious, but wasn’t making a lot of sense. Rocky said, “Yeah, yeah I suppose so.”
Neri nodded. “Yes. You are right. It is time to go and find my father.” And Neri walked off, leaving Rocky confused.
In the rec room Mick was wrestling with another book, slightly less babyish than the first. If anyone came in he planned to say he was checking it out to send to a kid cousin. But no one did; with Helen crashed most of the equipment in here was dead.
Vanessa. Mick said fast, “I’m doing ok. This one’s just got harder words in it, that’s all.”
“Do you need some help?”
Vanessa scowled. “Forget it, then. I only offered because I knew you were too big-headed to ever ask.” She stuck her nose in the air and headed for the door.
Vanessa turned back, still glaring. Mick finally said, “I’m asking, ok?”
She came and sat next to him on the couch.
Brett was coming back with food. He’d been drafted as delivery boy to Jason on the bridge and Froggy and Zoe downstairs. Froggy wouldn’t leave Helen and Zoe wouldn’t leave him. They’d been there all night. To hear Zoe tell it, when Dave came down in the morning he’d looked straight at Froggy and said, “I’m supposed to stop unauthorized meddling with the computer, but I don’t see anyone doing that. The authorized team is waiting for parts that’ll be in on the four o’clock shuttle. I won’t bother to watch the room until then, since nobody’s in here.”
“Hey Brett, did you pass Neri at reception?”
“Huh? No, why?”
“She’s in kind of a funny mood.” Rocky said, “One minute she’s talking about feeding sharks, the next minute she’s headed for the turbolift.”
It took Brett a second. Then he yelled and shoved the tray at Rocky, and took off at a run.
“She’s gone,” Sam said from the boat, “That way, just a second ago. Weren’t they supposed to..?”
Brett cursed and got on the jetski, trying to untie it and get his life jacket on at the same time. Sam tried, “Brett, what-?” But Brett got the jetski started and roared away. Sam ran into the wheelhouse and started to back the boat away from the pontoon.
Brett saw the Ubri boat, the big one with the smoking engine. He saw Neri surface, a smudge against the waves. She waved.
“Neri! No, Neri! Go back!”
Neri vanished, then she leaped from the water and caught the rail. She hung on the outside of the boat. Brett thought she was shouting something. He was sure two Ubri uniforms were slowly coming towards her.
Brett yelled his head off.
He didn’t realize how close he was until the side of the boat loomed above him. He pulled the jetski around just in time, but couldn’t avoid the wake.
Sam saw the jetski flip and throw its passenger. His heart stopped until Brett reappeared, but the boy was floating, not moving. Neri dropped off the side of the Ubri boat. It was turning away, full speed, not wanting any part of that.
“There are words for people who leave the scene of an accident.” Sam muttered, and said some of them as he grabbed the life preservers and tossed them out. Neri had surfaced next to Brett, and was holding his head out of the water. She grabbed a life preserver and let Sam tow them to the boat.
Brett did not look good. His face was faintly blue as Neri laid him on the deck. Sam pushed her aside to slap Brett’s face and push on his chest. “Brett! Come on little guy! No water in his lungs... no pulse. Just let me get...” And he clattered away down the stairs.
Neri knelt next to Brett and put her hand on his forehead. “Come back Brett. You will not leave us. Come back. Now...” She shut her eyes.
Nothing happened, no light, no breezes. But Brett opened his eyes and said muzzily, “Hi. What happened?”
Neri smiled. “Rest. You will be well.”
Sam came back in a rush, carrying the first aid kit and a scary looking syringe. He saw Brett awake and said, “Oh thank god. How do you feel? Wiggle your feet. Let me see your eyes. Does your head hurt?”
“No.” Brett said, and submitted to a quick checkup. “I feel all right. What happened—those Ubri guys?”
“They took off. You really feel ok?”
Brett groaned. “I flipped the jetski! Dave will kill me!”
“Well.” Sam stepped back and looked down at Brett. “If you’re worried about that you can’t be at death’s door. I guess we could tow it back, if Miss Neri would attach the rope.”
“Ok.” Neri chimed, and saluted. She jumped over the side, flipped the jetski back right side up and pushed it up next to the boat so she could tie a rope on. Sam watched in fascination, in between stealing glances at Brett. The boy had moved to a seat and had binoculars out, keeping watch in case the Ubri boats returned.
When they returned to Orca, Sam took Brett straight to medical and waited outside so he couldn’t escape until a full checkup was done. Down in the research lab Sam could only say, “I guess he was just stunned. Thank goodness Neri managed to wake him up.”
“Thank goodness.” Dianne agreed. She was still hugging Brett. “And thanks for going after him, Sam.”
“Neri, what were you doing out there?”
Neri shrank a little. “You said it was me they wanted most. If I give myself to them, then they leave Mera and Charley alone. Mera could go back to island, and be happy!”
“Oh sweetie...” Dianne sat next to Neri and stroked her hair. “Neri, these people won’t stop at that. I want you to give me your word you won’t do it again.”
“Yeah.” Jason said, “We stick together, whatever happens. We’ll make this all right, somehow, I promise.”
“Then I promise too.”
“And you were very lucky, both of you.”
Sam said, “Ah, Dianne? A word up on the boat?”
“You too, Jason.”
Jason shrugged and followed them.
Winston looked up from his work. “Well, I suppose there’s little chance of getting you and Mera back on the island?”
Neri shook her head sadly. Brett said, “After this? Are you crazy, Winston?”
Winston shut down his terminal. “There’s something I must doo. Tell your mother I will be back in several hours.”
No answer. Brett shrugged. “Here we are. What do you want to do?”
“See Mera.” Neri said immediately, and caught Brett in a quick hug. “We are still in trouble, but I’m glad I could come back here.”
Sam took a disk out of his computer and held it up. “These are the last remaining charts showing the titanium.” He handed the disk to Jason.
“I don’t know exactly what happened out there today. But what I do know is the look Brett gave Neri when he came to. I know he’d never forgive anyone who let those girls down, and I know you two wouldn’t either. And that’s not a price I’m prepared to pay.”
“Not even for a new boat. Do it kid, before I change my mind.”
Jason smiled and snapped the disk between his hands. Then he offered his hand. “Sam... thanks, mate.”
“He gave you the disk? No way!”
“Yep.” Jason said. “It’s gone. No more titanium. We’ll show Byrne the record Winston doctored... where is Winston?”
“Not here.” Brett replied. “He asked could the girls go out to the island, then said there’s somewhere he had to be. Hey, he was out this morning too. Where was he?”
“He didn’t tell me.” Dianne plopped down in one of the lab’s chairs. “Maybe a special project. Oh it’s such a relief Sam’s with us.”
“Yeah, Mum? About Sam, I’ll get off your back about that.” Jason said stiffly. “Sorry.”
“Well thank you.”
“Mum! Jase! What about Winston acting suspiciously? What’s he up to that he doesn’t want us to know about? Maybe he’s meeting someone.”
“Ubri.” Brett guessed.
“Oh for heaven’s sake Bretty, Winston would never sell us out. You might as well suspect, oh, Froggy.”
Brett grunted, unimpressed.
Out at sea Winston turned off the engine and let his boat drift. He took off his shoes and sat down, and got out a book. Ten minutes later he looked up when Charley breached with a great crash. Winston stood up and waved. It had surprised him to learn that Charley recognized him, not just the Orca boat.
Two heads surfaced beside the boat and two people, a man and a woman, boosted themselves up to sit on the low railing. The woman had black hair tied into elaborate knots on top of her head; the man looked older, and his brown hair was starting to recede from a serious face. They both wore robes made of rough white fabric that seemed to shed the water and looked comfortable though dripping.
“Bad news I’m afraid.” Winston said, “It has become impossible to bring the girls to the island. If you want to see them you will have to come to Orca.”
The two strangers looked at each other then nodded. “Can we freely enter your city?”
“Ah... I think I can get you in without any unwanted attention. Can you meet me on the pontoon at sunset? I don’t think anyone else will be up there, but if anyone is you must be careful not to be seen.”
“We will come.” The woman said. Her voice was low and clear. She and her husband slid into the water and vanished. Winston waited a minute before he started the motor, just in case.
Mick read, “We’ll come here again...”
“Think of it as two words.” Vanessa suggested.
“Someday!” Mick finished. “I can read! Is this guy good or what?” he jumped up and swung Vanessa around, laughing.
They stopped, facing each other and suddenly there was a serious, breathless moment happening. Vanessa opened her mouth to say something not at all snarly or sarcastic. Then the door opened and they jumped apart.
“Michael! I’ve been looking all over for you. You were supposed to be working on your reading, not larking about with girls.”
Mick grabbed the book. “I was reading! Listen to this!”
The commander brushed him off, “Don’t lie to me Michael. I’m sick of it.”
“That’s not fair.” Vanessa said.
“You just keep out of this. You don’t know my son.”
“Oh I know him all right. He’s been a revolting two-faced little creep,”
Mick muttered, “Gee thanks.”
Vanessa continued right over him, “But he’s not the only one to blame for that is he?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“For years, he’s been able to get away with anything just as long as it didn’t interfere with your work. Now he’s trying to change, actually make something of himself, why don’t you give him a chance?”
“Come on, who asked you to be my lawyer?”
“Fine, if that’s the way you feel about it!” Vanessa snapped, and stormed out.
“Vanessa!” Mick called after her, “I didn’t mean...”
“Forget about it Michael. The girl is obviously unstable.”
Mick sighed loudly. “Get real, wouldja mom? She’s right. You never cared what I did.”
“You... don’t really believe that do you?”
“Why wouldn’t I? All my life you’ve shunted me off to boarding schools and summer camps. So I wouldn’t get in the way of your precious career. Any way to get me out of your hair.” Mick finished bitterly.
“Why have you never told me this before?”
“You never would’ve listened. You’re always too darn busy.”
“I see.” Byrne’s voice was flat.
“Mom, I’m sorry...”
“No, Michael. It’s what you feel, so it’s better said. And you may perhaps have a point. I’ve never considered myself much... good as a mother. I thought perhaps I was doing you a favor by keeping my distance. But that’s a cop-out isn’t it?”
Mick thought, You think? But toned it down to, “I guess so.”
“I do love you Michael. I hope you believe that.”
Mick backed off, in the universal boy squirmyness with displays of affection. “Mom, you don’t have to...”
“You’ve been very honest with me. Thank you. Well, it seems we’ve both got things a bit wrong. Do you think we could start again? Deal?”
Mick made a face, but finally shook his mother’s hand. “Ok, deal.”
“Hmm. I guess it’s not hard to see where you get your stubbornness from. This Vanessa seems to have had quite an effect on you.”
Mick grinned a little. “Yeah, her and Neri.”
“Never mind, mom. Even if I could tell you, you’d never believe it. So, now we’re starting over, do you want to hear me read this book or not?”
When Winston brought the two strangers into the cabin Neri stared at them curiously. Mera sat down next to her sister, looking frightened.
“Ahem.” Winston said, “I must admit I’ve been somewhat less than frank with you all. I have known for some days these people were on the island, looking for the girls.”
“Is that why you were so keen to get them out there?”
“Yes. They wished to meet the girls alone, and I tried to arrange that for them.”
“Why? Who are they—you?” Jason asked.
It wasn’t hard to guess. The visitors’ clothes, their faces—they looked like Neri’s father.
The woman raised her head shyly, “My name is Onoelle, and this is my partner Rulmyr. The place we come from is called in your language, Planet of the Oceans. It is where your father, Braevan, with his companions set out on his mission to the opal people.”
“It was believed that all had perished on the journey. Only when the beacon was activated did we know that some survived.”
Dianne said, “That sound on the whale frequency..?”
“Was a signal from the device Neri and Jason plugged back into the ship. It seems it worked after all.” Winston finished.
“We found the ship destroyed past reclaiming, and only when we found the holographic message hidden on the island did we realize the two of you might still live. And when Doctor Seth came to the island, he confirmed all.”
Everyone seemed to be speechless, except for Brett who asked, “So what’s next? I mean, what are you guys here for?”
Rulmyr looked at him, “Is that not obvious? We have come to take them back home.”
Winston nodded somberly. Dianne looked away. Mera whispered, “Home?”
“They’ve got an outside communicator. The Ubri spies. We found it in their cabin.”
Vanessa blinked, trying to shift gears from angry to suddenly coming apon Kimberley, Joanne, Froggy and Zoe. “Well, what did you do?”
“Just left it there.” Froggy shrugged.
“Couldn’t you at least have smashed it or something?”
“Hello, Vanessa! They’d know straightaway it had to be us. Better they think we don’t know—and they don’t know Froggy can open the door to their quarters whenever we want.”
“And when nobody’s watching!” Froggy added.
Kim nodded, “That makes it something we might be able to use. Sun Tzu wrote about that. Using your enemy’s resources.”
Vanessa and Zoe both said, “Who?”
“The Art of War. I read it in school. Come on...”
Froggy saw his chance and sneaked off to get back to Helen, leaving the others to talk about Kimberley’s surprising literary taste.
“You come to take us back? To Father’s world?”
“Your father’s world and your mother’s, Neri. We knew both your parents well.”
“She moved on from the living a short time after your mission to Earth was thought lost.”
“You mean she’s...”
“She has passed, yes.”
Neri nodded slightly, as if she’d known. Mera looked like she might cry, and Onoelle moved slightly like she wanted to reach out but was afraid to.
“Your mother had very special abilities which you, in turn, will inherit.”
“You mean like the way they can swim and talk to Charley?”
The visitors smiled. “Such things are common to our people, as speech is common to yours. The gift is something far greater.”
“The gift?” Dianne asked.
“There is no better word in your tongue. It is a power rare in the universe, a power of healing, of mending, passed from mother to daughter. Things are beginning to happen back home, things I do not know this world’s words for. But they have led to disharmony on our planet and perhaps others. Only a being with the gift can harness the forces needed to restore peace. Your own people need you.”
“Must it be us?” Neri chimed.
“Yes, Neri. It must be someone with the gift.”
“There is no one else?” Neri was looking past them at Jason, and up at Dianne and Winston.
“The only other being on this planet with any trace of the gift received it from you. Your friend Charley. That is a wonder.”
“Do not look so frightened. We will not take you from this world if you don’t wish to go. We need your help greatly but the choice must be yours.”
Neri said, “We must have time to think.”
“Of course. But we can only give you little. Our craft is concealed on the island, but its fuel is running low. We can only give you until the sunrise after next.”
“But that’s hardly any time!” Jason burst out.
“We will decide.”
“We must, so we will.”
The visitors stood up, and Rulmyr bowed to the girls. “Know also that your mother was much loved in our world, and that will extend to you. You will not be without friends, or family. We knew your parents well, and wish to know their daughters.”
Onoelle smiled and rested her hand on her husband’s shoulder, but spoke to Neri and Mera. “He speaks truth. We will return to the island, to await your decision. Two sunrises.”
The girls looked at each other, and Jason and Brett both seemed about to explode with words. Winston said quickly, “Ah—can I offer you both a ride back to the island? I’ll see you upstairs, at least...”
After reading the book, Mick went to catch up with Vanessa. He actually knocked on the door of her cabin. “Hey, you there?”
“Oh it’s you.” She said, and stepped aside so Mick could come in.
“Yeah, I just...” Mick started.
“Doesn’t matter. Just—are you still on our side? We all have to work together to help the girls, whatever your personal feelings are.”
“Of course I am! I just felt stupid standing there while you defended me. How come you did it, anyway?”
Vanessa sighed theatrically. “Well, I probably need my head examined, but I was beginning to actually like you.”
“I like you, too.”
“Yeah sure you do.” Vanessa waved the door open.
Mick waved his hand to close it again. “No, I’m serious. I mean I really like you.”
“Um, I’d try to kiss you to prove it but I’ve never kissed anybody and besides, you’d probably hit me. So how about the dance when school starts again?”
That sounded honest. Vanessa started smiling. “Yeah... ok.”
The boys had said everything. “You can’t!” “This is your home!” “It’d be so boring without you guys!” When they ran out of things to say and started repeating things, Dianne ordered them out.
Neri looked up, wanly. “What do you think, Mother?”
“That you need to wet down, both of you.” She gave Neri a push towards the shower, and tugged on Mera’s shirt to get her up. When the water started she said, “I think... I don’t want you to go. I don’t think I could bear to lose you both. But... I can’t tell you what to do. Of course I’d give anything to have you both stay here with us forever, but the way things are with Ubri... and your own people need you... you have to decide for yourselves.”
The two girls bent their heads together under the spray.