2 Cass Gets Lost
The boys and Neri walked down the beach together. Well, Jason and Neri walked. Brett bounced. “Hey, let’s go over to that beach on the other side of the island.”
“Why?” Neri asked.
“Because the spaceship’s under there. I want to see if there’s some way we can get down to it.”
“I don’t like bad lands.”
“Ok Neri, if you don’t want to go we’ll forget about it.”
“Oh come on Neri! It was only scary because something bad had happened there, but you didn’t remember what. And don’t you want to know if there’s anything else in the spaceship?”
Jason gave his brother a shove, “Hey, don’t push it.”
Neri shook her head, “No, Brett is right. I should not fear. We will go.”
“Um, Brett, it’s buried under a million tons of sand! What are you going to do?”
“Dig!” Brett called back. He was already out of sight in the trees.
Jason shook his head. “We’d better go with him. I guess… I understand where he’s coming from, I’d be that curious if I hadn’t got to see inside.”
Neri smiled. “Was dark and scary. Nothing to see.”
“Yeah, and then the whole thing caved in and now it’s solid with water and sand.”
They walked slowly, side by side across the island, stopping to grab handfuls of sweet, dark berries on the way.
On the beach, Brett was already digging. Jason saw no reason to join in in the hot sun, so he asked Neri for another tree-climbing lesson. Soon they were tumbling out of trees and laughing. It took an hour for that to get boring and attention to turn back to Brett.
“You’re wasting your time.” Jason called.
“Hey, we know the thing’s here.”
“Yeah, somewhere. But even if you dig down to it there’s no way of getting in. I’m not sure there even is an ‘in’ anymore. And we ought to go home soon.”
“Yes. Soon it will be not time to be on water. There is a big wind coming.”
“How big?” Jason asked, suddenly worried.
“Very big. But is enough time to go back.”
“Brett, come on.”
“Right right, I’m coming. But someday I’ll figure out a way to get into the spaceship. If it takes forever!”
Jason was early for his first cadet training program. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea though; there were half a dozen teenagers he didn’t know in the dive pool room. Jason wasn’t sure if this was better or worse than sharing the class with Vanessa and Mick, though he wished Kimberley had been able to stay…
Dave clapped his big hands to get everyone’s attention. “Hi. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Dave Hartley, Orca dive instructor. And this is Morgan Clayborn, who’ll be assisting me. Morgan’s just completed her cadetship in a similar instillation in Florida, so she knows all about it.”
“Looking forward to working with you guys.” Morgan said. She looked about twenty, and her hair and uniform were very neat.
“Understand that we’re training the next generation of leaders, the men and women who’ll one day run Orca city. So only the very best of you are going to pass this course, Mister Cleary. Now, we work on a buddy system. Pick a partner you can trust, because the two of you are going to have to depend on each other in the weeks to come.”
There was a shuffle of people pairing up. The only kid Jason already knew was already paired up with another boy. He looked at the last remaining free person, a girl with a round face.
“You want to..?”
“Sure.” The girl said. “I’m SallyAnn Taylor.”
“Jason Bates. Good to meet you.”
“Your Mom’s in biology right? Whales?”
“Yeah, and she’d love to tell you all about them.”
Dave had been noting down pairs. “Ok, everyone have a buddy? Now since some of you are right off the boat we need to know where you’re at knowledge-wise. Grab your gear for the practical test. Old crew too, no exceptions.”
Morgan added, “Remember people, you’re here to learn, not to have fun!”
The voice echoed in the corridor. “It’s a mess. Don’t ignore me Cassandra. I am tired of having to ask you to do everything a hundred times.”
Benny peeked around the curve of the hall. More new people, who hadn’t learned how far sound carried. He saw a woman and a girl his age with her hair up in a bun. She was scowling.
“So look, just give it a rest!” The girl said.
Another voice said, “Don’t speak to mom like that.”
“Who asked you to butt in?”
“Look Cass, you’re not pulling your weight and Mom has every right to say so.” Said the big sister.
“It’s your rostered day to clean the cabin and you haven’t lifted a finger.” Benny was starting to feel sorry for Cass.
“Well, I will.”
“Oh yeah? Like when, midnight? Cass, this ‘laid back,’ ‘who cares’ attitude gets you nowhere.”
“Well we all know you’re totally perfect.”
“It’s no use blaming Morgan.”
“Ok.” Cass said, “Look, just give me a break. I’ll clean the cabin in a while, and I’ll clean it good. Only please, just get off my case. I’m not in the mood.”
“Ok, Cassandra.” The mother said, and the cabin door hissed closed.
Benny tried another peek. Cass was still there, and she saw him. Benny shrugged.
“What are you looking at?” Cass growled.
Benny made apologetic gestures and scooted around her on the way to the galley. He had studying to do. He sat himself down and got his books and computer link open, but was only a half chapter into it when Brett turned up.
“Benny, it isn’t healthy to study all the time! What about having fun?”
“My Dad says there will be plenty of time for that in the future.”
“What’s the point? By then you’ll be too old to enjoy it.” Was Brett’s opinion. He unwrapped a candy bar and took a big bite.
Benny almost said, ‘Well what do you suggest?’ but thought the better of it just in time. He looked up when a chair scraped. The red-haired girl from the hallway was joining them.
Brett grumbled, “Go ahead, feel free…”
“You got a problem?”
Benny said quickly, “Just joking. I’m Benny, he’s Brett.”
“American?” Benny asked. He’d noticed her accent.
“Yeah.” Cass sighed. “I wish I was back there. In fact, I wish I was almost anywhere except here. This place has got to be the pits of the whole world.”
“It’s not that bad…”
“No, you just have to be careful of the cannibals.” Brett said very seriously.
Cass raised her eyebrows.
“Haven’t you heard? They’re all over the islands around here.”
“Yeah, sure.” Cass said, but she sounded a little worried.
“No, serious. We’ve been having a lot of trouble with them lately haven’t we, Benny? Just the other day I was riding my pet kangaroo and a whole pack of them came and…”
Cass smacked him. “You have got to be the biggest liar I’ve ever met in my life!”
“Ok fine, don’t believe me.”
“I don’t.” Cass got up.
“Hey, where are you going?” Benny asked.
“I’m not going to sit around listening to this trash. I’m gonna take one of the sailboats I saw up top.”
“Better not, they’re for cadets only.”
Cass gave Brett a withering look. “I’ve been on marine stations like this since I was six years old. I can handle a boat.”
“Yeah, but there’s a storm coming!” Brett said, concerned now.
“Yeah, I guess the cannibals told you, or was it your pet kangaroo? You must think I’m as dumb as you are.”
“No I’m serious. Cass, wait up!” But it was too late.
“Save your breath.” Benny said, “I don’t think she’s real into listening.”
Brett sat back down. “As if she’ll get past Helen to get a boat out anyway…”
But Cass did get a boat out, because no-one from Ubri took notice of her and there wasn’t anyone else topside. She raised the sail and smiled as the boat slipped away from Orca, onto the wide empty ocean.
Finally. Safely away from all the nagging, Cass lay down in the bottom of the boat and enjoyed the quiet.
She woke up when the wind changed and the sail swept around. The sky had gone gray and threatening. Cass groaned and sat up. She checked the boat’s tracker and grabbed the tiller. She hadn’t drifted too far. “What a pain in the…”
And the sail came down. Cass yelped and dug out from underneath it. The top corner of the sail was missing a grommet and the canvas had worn through. There was no way to put it back up.
A chilly wind swept across the water.
Back on Orca Cass had been missed. Brett, who knew exactly how scary it was to be adrift, was a little frantic. He wanted to get a boat and go search, but since that was impossible he hung around the listening post outside the bridge to keep updated.
Benny was there too, getting an education in the necessary kid tricks to life on Orca. “Hey, you tried to warn her. You’d’ve had to tie her up to stop her.”
Dave and the new commander had the map out and were marking off zones the search boats had already covered. Cass’ mother was there too, tearful, while Morgan just looked annoyed.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Miz Clayborn.” Dave was saying, “Your daughter’s had enough experience at sea. She should have the sense to head to the nearest land and sit out the storm.”
The commander radioed the boats and they reported back, “No sign.” And “Moving on to the next area.”
Cass dragged the sailboat up the beach as rain began to fall. She got it beyond the tide line and tipped over to look at the sail when the sky opened up. In the sudden downpour Cass raced for the trees. She found shelter under a fallen log and huddled there, damp and chilly but not soaked. The part of her mind that had taken survival classes knew she wasn’t in real danger. But that part wasn’t nearly as loud as the part that knew she was all alone, in the dark and the rain.
The rain slackened and stopped in the night. Neri woke up long enough to push off the big leaf she used as an umbrella, then burrowed back into her bed listening to the slowing drip of water from the trees. She woke to the songs of birds and a nagging feeling that something had changed. Something…
The spaceship. Something had changed in the bad lands. Neri ran to see.
She slowed down when she reached the beach. Nothing seemed new, just some driftwood and seaweed brought up by the storm. Dead fish too. That wouldn’t last long; the crabs were already busy on it.
A tree was down, its roots pulling up a chunk of dirt. Neri walked around it and saw the glint of blue metal in the hole. She jumped in and brushed sand away. An arch of bluish metal. Part of the spaceship. It shifted when Neri pulled on it.
She set her feet and pulled harder. A round plug swung up out of the sand. Underneath was a dark hole with a grate over it. Neri looked down. Nothing, only blackness. She reached down and tugged on the grate, which twanged musically but didn’t move.
A way into the spaceship. Brett and Jason would want to know. Maybe they would have a machine to open the way, too, easier than tying vines in the trees and pulling that way.
“Tree falls, is big hole in sand underneath.”
Brett jumped in the air. “Well what are we waiting for, let’s check it out!”
Neri warned him, “Is a way in, but a door across it, and inside maybe full of water.”
“Well we’ll find out. I’ll go fuel up the zodiac.” Jason said.
“Whoa, Ubri!” Brett grabbed Neri and pulled her into a side hall as Hellegren and Keller came past.
“Will you be with us all day, Dr. Hellegren?”
“No, Keller. I have business to tend to on the mainland.”
“May I be of assistance?”
“No. It’s personal.”
Brett mimed shock. Jason rolled his eyes and, when it was safe to talk, said, “Come on, they can’t spend all their time making life difficult for us. They have lives.”
“Maybe Neri should head to the island and wait for us.”
“Yes.” Neri said.
“Wait, I’ve got a better idea. Forget the turbolift Neri, we’ve got a better way for you to get on and off Orca from now on. Come see.”
“The dive pool?” Brett guessed. “I’ll get Neri’s clothes from topside and meet you.”
The dive room was deserted. Jason explained about shifts when people would be in here.
“I can hear, from outside, if people here.”
“Really? Cool. Here’s our locker, you can keep your stuff in here. Mum uses it too so nobody will think it’s weird if there’s girl stuff in there. You can hide your dress under our stuff.”
Brett came back, “Here Neri.”
“You can change back there.”
Neri nodded and slipped away, returning to put her Orca uniform and shoes into the locker. “Good. I see you at island.”
Jason nodded and Brett waved. Neri dived into the glowing water and was gone.
Cass was exploring. The jungle was so thick she couldn’t walk through it, so she waded up a stream. With this much greenery there had to be vines somewhere, and something sharp she could use to make a new hole in the sail. Once she had a sail again she could get out and meet the search boats that had to be out there and then… Cass kept thinking about hot showers and real food. She hadn’t slept well and ached all over.
“Stupid storm! Stupid… island!” She stopped suddenly. A tree by the stream had three sharp, stone-tipped spears leaning against it.
“Cannibals.” Cass whispered. She hadn’t believed Brett, but here was evidence! Someone was living here, and not living like normal people. Cass stepped out of the water and tiptoed up the stony beach for a closer look. She couldn’t hear anything, just birds, so there couldn’t be people around could there?
There was a little firepit and a shell big enough to be a cup, and a few sharpened stones. And some coiled vines, hung on a branch. Cass took one down and tested it between her hands. Strong enough. She took a sharp stone too, and headed back toward her boat.
At least that’s where she thought she was going, but the beach she came out on was the wrong one. Well, she could follow the shore around. Something splashed, out at sea, and Cass pulled out her binoculars to take a look. A whale surfacing, out in the cove. It blew and looked around.
In spite of everything, Cass smiled. Beautiful.
Then something else came up, a brown blob against the blue water. Cass raised her binoculars. It was a person! A head, someone was out there in the middle of the water, right by the whale! The person dived, feet flashing in the air like a mermaid’s tail. Cass gaped.
Before she could think, the person appeared, walking out of the surf. A girl in a tattered dress, with water running freely off her hair. Cass ducked down to hide, still trying not to believe in cannibals.
Then she heard the roar of a boat engine and voices, “Neri!”
Two boys from Orca—that jerk from the galley! The girl helped them beach their zodiac, and they walked up the beach. They were talking, and they didn’t notice Cass creeping along behind.
“Getting into that spaceship could be real historic. I wish we brought a camera.’
“No way, Brett. The last thing we need are pictures lying around Orca where people could find them.”
“Yeah I suppose you’re right.” Brett said. “I guess if anyone started to suspect what we were up to out here, we’d just have to get rid of them anyway.”
“Yep. Take ‘em out to sea and chuck ‘em overboard. Just like we did with Vanessa.” The bigger boy said casually. Cass just about fainted. She backed off fast. They’d actually dumped someone overboard? And now they were laughing about it? They were laughing about something, anyway, and Cass wasn’t about to stick around for more. She was getting out of here!
“It’s so cool!” Brett grabbed the grate and pulled on it, with no success. “How do we open it?”
“Hold up.” Jason said. He dropped a rock through, and they heard it splash. “Thought so, it’s full of water.”
“So all we have to do is get it out, right? And get that thing out of the way, and then we can go in.”
“You can do this?”
“Maybe, Neri. We’ll need a pump, and probably a cutting torch. We can’t get in today.”
Jason rolled his eyes, “Use that energy to think how we can borrow a pump. Let’s head back. I’ve got class.”
The three of them walked back. Brett said, “Oh, how can you think about that when we’re so close? Neri, aren’t you crazy to see what’s in there?”
Neri thought about it. “No. I want to see if anything of father is there, but will be the same today or many days from now. Jason, tell about classes.”
“Well, we’re learning how to drive pretty much everything on Orca for starters. That’ll be useful if we ever have to go back to the mainland to look for something! I might even get to learn to fly a helicopter.”
“Truly? I would like to fly!”
Brett grumped and stomped ahead to the pond.
Suddenly Neri said, “Someone has been here!”
“Vine gone. And look, branch broken. They hide here, only little time ago.”
“Someone’s been spying on us?”
“We have to find them quick, find out what they saw!”
Neri pointed, “This way.” She took off like a deer, the two boys running behind her.
“Cass!” Brett gasped, “I thought for sure they found her, what if she’s been here?” They came out to the beach.
“An Orca sailboat. We’ve got to stop her, find out what she saw.”
“I go.” Neri chimed.
“Hey, no, Neri!”
“Too late. Let’s get the zodiac.”
Cass had gotten the sail back up in a hurry, and the boat’s navigation system was waterproof. If she could find the wind she’d be back on Orca soon, and tell everybody about these crazy kids and their scary friend and get them all arrested!
Cass gasped and looked around. The cannibal was ahead of her, waving, head and shoulders out of the water.
“Stop, we talk. Please.”
Her voice was low and clear, over the slap of the waves. Cass stared, trying to think what to do. Then her makeshift sail caught the wind and swung around, and the boom hit Cass from behind. The world went black.
The girl was swept into the water. Neri dived and caught her, and brought her up. The guys jumped over from their boat, yelling.
“What happened?” Jason asked.
“That hit her head. She was not in water long. Will be well when she wakes.”
Jason gave Cass a quick check, “You’re right Neri. She’s breathing fine, and her pulse is steady.”
“What do we do now? She’ll tell everybody what she saw on the island!”
They heard a horn and Jason looked up, “We’ll have to deal with it. Cass needs medical and that’s an Orca search boat. Neri, you better get out of here. We’ll be back and tell you what happened, if we can.”
“Yes.” Neri said, and ducked under the water.
Brett kicked the side of the zodiac, “Why do these things always have to happen? Oh, right, calling for help. Ho the boat! Over here! Help!”
The boat saw them and picked them up, and Jason spun a convincing story, ‘we mess around on lots of islands, we saw Cass just as she fell overboard…’
The Ubri limousine pulled up outside the school. Girls in pleated skirts and little ties looked up without much interest. Most of them had parents who arrived rarely, and in limos, too. Hellegren got out and walked to the west dormitory. The room on the end had its door open.
Inside, the room was a mess of clothes and books and useless feminine knickknacks. On the bed, surrounded by more books, sat a girl with a round face and very pale hair.
Hellegren smiled, an expression out of place on him, and knocked on the doorframe. “Hello my dear.”
“Father!” The girl jumped up and ran to hug him. “You did come, I’m so glad.”
“Well, it was not easy with my work schedule but you did say it was important. I can see housekeeping is not on the curriculum.”
“I know where everything is.” She looked around, realized there was no place to sit, and hustled her father out. They walked through campus together. “Did you get my end of term report?”
“Yes, and I am most pleased. It seems you are doing very well here. And now you have your vacation to look forward to. I have arranged for you to go skiing, as usual.”
The girl’s face fell. “Father, I don’t want to go skiing. I want to come home.”
“My darling Lena, you know this is impossible.”
“But Father… I’m sick of being sent away by myself every holiday, even if it is to Switzerland. I’m sick of boarding schools too, I feel like I’ve been in them my whole life! Can’t we go home for a change?”
Hellegren looked at his daughter in consternation. “It is a question of responsibility, Lena. My work at Ubri demands my total involvement. I do not have time to bring up a daughter as well.”
“I’ll look after myself. I’m old enough now. And I promise not to get in your way at work. Please say you’ll think about it.”
“I’ll… think about it, Lena.”
Cass was still in medical. Jason and Brett were still waiting, pacing in the rec room after being thrown out of the cabin for pacing.
“How much longer are they going to keep her down in that infirmary? She’s got to be awake by now.”
“Maybe we should just play dumb.” Jason suggested. “Pretend we don’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Yeah, and they’re gonna believe she just made the whole thing up, I don’t think.”
The door opened and Dave looked in, “You guys had better come up to the infirmary. There are a few questions we’d like you to answer.”
Dave escorted them up to medical, where Cass’ mom and a doctor were talking.
“Um, you wanted to talk to us?”
“Cassandra’s experience has all of us, even the doctors, confused.”
“Why?” Jason asked.
“Well, how long was she in the water before you saved her?”
This was not what they’d expected. Brett stuttered and Jason said, “We didn’t really notice, we just got there as fast as possible. Less than a minute I think.”
“There are other things, Jason. Like where did she spend last night? She must’ve gone ashore somewhere.’
“Um… why don’t you ask her?”
“We’ve tried, but it’s no use. You see, the doctor said that hit on the head’s given her amnesia.”
“Sorry?” Brett said, confused.
“She’s lost her memory.” The doctor explained. “She remembers nothing that happened from the time she left Orca until she woke up on the rescue boat. It happens sometimes with head injuries.”
“Yes! We’re off the hook! Thank you, thank you!” Brett flopped back on his bunk.
“Don’t get too carried away, the doctor said her memory could come back at any time. ‘Amnesia is usually temporary’ remember? So, that’s why you and Cass are gonna be friends.”
Brett sat up. “What?”
“Listen, if she does start to remember what happened on the island then you need to be around to stop her from blurting it out to people.”
“So I have to start hanging out with her?”
“Somebody’s got to, and you’re her age.”
“Yeah all right… I guess it’s worth it to keep Neri safe. At least now we can concentrate on getting into the spaceship.”
“If we can find a way.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll do it, we’ll get down there. We’ll find out what’s really under that beach.”
“I wonder.” Jason murmured.
On the island, Neri sat by the door into the ship. No boats were coming from Orca, so it must be all right somehow. Inside the ship, though…