10 The Ghost of Orca
“Hi, nice see you!” Kal hollered, running down the beach. Brett and Jason were walking with Neri, at a more sedate pace.
“There are seven more pieces to find.”
“We know that, Neri.”
“Synchronium must be ready. Harm is coming to oceans.”
“Mum and Winston are keeping a watch on everything, but they can’t see any damage.” Jason said. He stopped by the boat to drop his shoes in and go barefoot.
“Will come. The blasting still happens, yes?”
“So we must keep searching.”
We are, but you’ve got to be patient. We’ve been looking at records of unusual sightings, but there’s nothing else that matches. Best I can figure it they dropped from orbit at different times, maybe over a year or more.”
“Which means going through Helen’s database could take months.”
“No, too slow. Ubri will find first, they have one piece already.”
“We’ll get it back.” Brett said, then added under his breath, “Somehow.”
“Well on the upside, they don’t know we have one. Which reminds me, shouldn’t you find a safe place for it?”
Neri gave him a confused look. “Is safe in my nest.”
“Safer than that.”
Kal emerged from the water and came splashing up to them. “Hey! Come swim?”
“Sure, Kal!” Brett pulled off his shirt and ran to leave it in the boat.
Neri stood still, thinking. Then she smiled. “I know where no one will find.”
She turned. “I take it there now. Stay with Kal? Better he does not know. Safer.”
“Sure. Could do with a swim!”
A few minutes later Neri carried the precious piece through the depths.
Charley dived beside her and she patted his huge face. The whale nudged the synchronium piece and sang a querying note. The water trembled around them.
Maybe better not to…
Too late. Curious now, Charley sang a long moan, up and down the scale. The taste of the water changed. The piece lit up, pulsed once, and faded.
No more try! We must have whole thing to work it.
An apologetic chirp.
Neri laughed, and grabbed a fin, letting Charley tow her along.
Where you take the Thing?
To hide. Only friends must know of it.
The concept of secrecy was not well understood by whales. Charley knew that Neri must be kept secret from the other people, the ones on boats. Now the Thing must be secret too. Because it was important, like Neri.
Neri surfaced inside the coral cave. She breathed in, her lungs using only a tiny fraction of its oxygen. She put the piece in the back, in the shadow against the wall. Even if someone else found the cave, they wouldn’t see it.
Cass and Benny were in the rec room, playing trigammia. Benny was trying not to win too badly. Cass was trying to win—if Kal had done it, how hard could it be? But Benny kept making moves that were almost but not quite the exact moves she needed to jump her pieces…
“Hey.” Brett said, coming in behind them.
Cass looked up. “Where have you been?”
“I had to do some stuff with Mum.”
“Yeah? You weren’t in the lab. I went to invite you down here to get creamed at trig.”
“Oh, uh, checking marker buoys topside.”
Cass nodded, made a move and said to Benny, “Beat that!”
“That’s just what I was hoping you’d do.”
Brett warmed up to tease one or both of them when Benny looked past him and frowned. “Dad.”
“Benny, it’s past ten.”
“Yeah dad, I know, it’s just…” The confidant Benny wilted before their eyes.
“You are supposed to be in the cabin studying.” Mr. Malkovitch looked at the other kids and added, “Sorry to interrupt your game.”
“It’s cool, we’ll finish it tomorrow.”
“See you.” Benny said glumly and let his father lead him away.
Cass stared after them. “And I thought my parents were slavedrivers.”
“Well, now I have until tomorrow to figure out how to beat him!” Cass regarded the trigammia board from several angles, then reached for one of Benny’s pieces.
“He’ll notice.” Brett warned her.
Benny wasn’t thinking about that.
“You’re not even halfway through your physics assignment.”
“I’ll catch up.”
“Not good enough! You’re supposed to be one step ahead, not one step behind.”
“It’s vacation, Dad! I need to spend some time with my friends.”
His father grunted, “I’m not sure I like your choice of friends. That Cass is trouble.”
Which was why Benny liked her, actually. He kind of liked having friends who didn’t study all the time or play chess or piano. Instead of that, Brett and Cass… well, they got in trouble. And it was fun. And that was not something his father would want to hear.
After dinner, and being convinced not to mess with the game, Cass headed home. She was wondering unhappily what Morgan would find to yell at her about this time, when she saw something. Just a flash of motion at the end of a hallway.
Patter of footsteps. But it was night, everyone who wasn’t on duty would be in bed.
“Is someone there?”
“He wasn’t from Orca.” Cass said between bites of breakfast. “He was barefoot and out of uniform.”
“Who?” SallyAnn asked as she joined the group at their table in the galley.
Brett had heard the story before. “A ghost she reckons she saw.”
“It wasn’t a ghost! It was, I dunno, a kid or something. Littler than me.”
“Right, the phantom of delta level.”
“The ghost of the galley!” Brett added in his best spooky voice, “It’s the spirit of someone who was poisoned by the Orca curry!”
“No, I really saw him. He looked scared. It was not a ghost and I’m going to prove it to you.” Cass waved, ate the last of her cereal and got up.
Jason looked at his watch and sighed.
“Time we weren’t here?” SallyAnn asked.
“Yeah, we’d better get moving. See you guys later. Brett don’t forget about Helen. You know, database?”
“Yeah, I hear you. Get going or Dave’ll kill you.”
When the two of them were alone Benny said, “You think Cass really saw something?”
“Nah, she’s just making it up.”
“Must be a day for tall stories.”
Benny unfolded his computer link. “I was just reading about this sunken treasure that’s supposed to be around here. In the wreck of the Henrietta Van Riik.”
“A treasure ship?”
“Yeah, a couple hundred years ago, the article said. According to them it was loaded.” He turned the screen so Brett could see the article, with a very old drawinmg of a ship.
“With doubloons or something?” Brett asked, his eyes starting to light up.
“Would’ve been Guilders. It was a Dutch ship. Still gold though, and plenty of it.”
“Gold. Hmm. How about…” And the plan was on. They talked about it for a half hour before the door opened and Brett saw Neri and Kal. He got up quick. “Hey Benny, meet you back at lunch, ok?”
Benny had seen them too. “That guy beat me at trigammia. I’d like a return round.”
“I’ll tell him. You just organize that stuff, ok.”
Benny nodded. “All right, see ya.”
Brett joined Neri and Kal in the corridor around a corner from the galley. “Hi. What are you doing here?”
“I come to see if you have found more clues yet, of synchronium pieces.”
“Come on Neri, you only asked yesterday!”
“I go to exercise class.” Kal said.
“Ah, ok, just don’t talk to anyone. I’m heading up to Helen now, to look. Come if you want.”
“Good. Remember, others are looking too.”
“I’ll remember. I’m going to work on this all day, Jason’s got cadet training all day… it’ll be boring.”
When Cass thought about it, this end of delta level wouldn’t be a bad place to hide, if you were going to hide. It was mostly storerooms for big equipment, and people rarely came in. Some of the rooms even had sinks.
And it would have to be a room without security clearance. Cass had backtracked to where she’d seen the ‘ghost.’ She turned in a slow circle, chose a door at random, and flashed her card.
The first room was full of pumps. Nothing interesting. The second she tried was full of cleaning supplies, and the place stank like disinfectant. The third room opened to the big equipment turbolift. It was full of crates and the fully automated unloading equipment.
The vent cover in the wall was swinging.
“Hello?” Nothing. Cass tried, “Come on out. I won’t turn you in, I just want to meet you.”
A pause, then the cover swung back and a boy slid down into the room. He was tiny—thin, and shorter than Cass, though probably the same age. He was dark-skinned and wearing ragged clothes.
“Hi.” Cass said. “What’s your name?”
“Rang.” The boy answered. His accent turned the R into almost an L.
“Rang. I’m Cass. Nice to meet you. Um, are you hungry?”
Rang’s dark eyes sparked and he nodded.
“Okey-dokey. Wait here a minute, I’ll bring you some food.”
The boy nodded and ducked behind the conveyer belt. Cass dashed up to the galley and got as much packaged food as she could afford. She could manage without lunch today. Then, juggling food and wishing she’d thought to bring a bag, she hurried back to delta level.
“Rang? It’s me. Here you go.”
Rang popped out of hiding and fell on the food.
“Whoa, you don’t have to eat it all at once! Don’t choke.”
“Very hungry. No food, two days.” The boy said between bites.
Oh. Cass shut up and let him eat, trying to think how soon she could get more food down here. She could do without dinner, too.
Lena sat perfectly content. On the table her computer was working away on a program, and the couch was covered with books and magazines, some for research, some just to read. There was also a bag of chips and a drink. Lena grabbed a handful of chips and picked up a book.
Her father came downstairs, carrying his briefcase and a small overnight bag. He looked at the clutter surrounding his daughter.
“Lena, I am going away on business for twenty-four hours. You’ll be all right?”
“I’ll be fine.”
A sigh. “Lena, please. There are books and magazines all over the house. Would you at least put them back on the shelves?”
“Well I can’t read them on the shelves, father.” Lena said reasonably. “Will Ms. Kellar be going with you?”
“No, she will be busy at Ubri. I will return tomorrow evening. Try not to make too much work for the cleaning staff. Goodbye.”
Lena waved, then made a face at her father’s back. So maybe she did leave stuff around, the maids got paid very well to pick up after her. And she hated the way the house always had to look perfect. It wouldn’t have been that way when her mother was still alive…
At one end of the coffee table, on top of a pile of books, Lena had put a picture of her parents. It had been on her father’s desk, but hers was up in her room farther than she wanted to walk to get it. An old picture, her parents on their wedding day, standing on the beach dressed in white. They looked really happy. The picture was a little crooked in its frame.
Lena picked it up and took the frame apart to straighten the photograph. A slip of paper fluttered out. Lena picked it up. A list of nonsense words. Or passwords! She smiled and reached for her computer. Now that she knew the passwords it would be easy enough to program a disk to grab the files she’d seen her father looking at. ‘Half human, half cetacean.’ He’d said. What did that even mean? She had to find out what was really going on.
Another breakfast on Orca. Brett had spent all of yesterday going through Helen’s archives, getting more and more grumpy as he didn’t find anything.
The older kids had their own worries. SallyAnn looked at the day’s schedule and said, “Hydrographic calibration and technostructural theory.”
“Ah great, another fun-packed day.”
Brett muttered to himself.
“What’s that?” Cass asked.
“The Henrietta Van Riik. An old shipwreck.” Benny filled her in.
“Filled with gold and treasure!” Brett added.
“We don’t know that for sure.”
“We will when we find it!” Brett said cheerfully. “Cass, you want to come?”
“Can’t. Busy.” Cass stood up and grabbed a wrapped bagel and a banana off her plate.
“More ghost hunting?”
“That? I was just putting you guys on. Should’ve known you wouldn’t buy it. Gotta go!”
In the storeroom Cass found Rang cuddled up in the packing material in an open carton. He saw her and smiled.
“Here’s breakfast. Sleep ok?”
The boy nodded and applied himself to the serious business of eating.
“So this is how you got down from the pontoon huh? Smart opening it up. What did you do with the stuff you took out?”
“In water.” Rang grinned.
“Cool. And pretty amazing swimming all the way here from the boat, at night. Very strong. Very brave.”
“Only way stay here. Good country. Food, money, jobs.”
“But your parents were on the boat.”
“Sent back now, our country, by boat police. Whole boat sent back.”
“Because they were illegal immigrants.” Cass guessed. “They’ll be missing you.”
Rang looked down, then back at Cass. “Maybe. Very poor, our country. No jobs. No food. They’d be glad I go where there’s food.”
“Man. That… that just sucks. What are we gonna do now? I mean you can’t live here forever.”
“You help me stay? Please, Cass?”
“I don’t know what I can do.”
“You no tell?”
“Hey, relax. I won’t tell anyone you’re here. I can bring you more food tonight, and if I could get you a uniform you’d be able to come out… but Morgan watches my laundry like a hawk so it’ll have to be one of Brett’s, or Benny’s. Oh, this is never going to work!”
“Try. You A-one good buddy!”
Cass laughed. “Thanks. Look, I gotta…”
“No go. Stay. Talk.”
“Well…” Cass weighed how long it would be before someone noticed her absence. Probably a while, with the boys out at sea. “Ok, I’ll stay. How about you show me how you got into the vents?”
Rang’s grin flashed. “Ok!”
“Ready Benny? I’ve got the zodiac booked.”
“Wait’ll you see this.”
Brett saw it. It looked like a metal box. “What is it?”
“Submarine metalliferous ore scanner. It’s worth heaps. I had to register my id when I signed it out. If the quartermaster notices it’s only a student card…”
“No worries. We’ll have it back before they even realize it’s gone.”
The commander turned to see one of Orca’s officers holding a disc.. “Yes, duty officer?”
“One of last night’s surveillance tapes. I think you should see it.”
She put it on. The view was of an empty corridor. Then a door opened and a shabby figure scurried across, out of camera range. The commander’s eyebrows lifted. “Helen, map please. And notify security. We have an unidentified intruder on board.”
Benny hauled himself into the zodiac. Brett just hung off the side, panting. “Nothing. You?”
“Not a trace. This is where the reports said it came down.”
“So we keep trying.” Brett said immediately.
Benny looked up at the sky. He was awfully tired of being wet. “Maybe we should think about getting back. Aren’t you tired too?”
“Hungry for that gold, man!”
“But there’s a bit of a storm coming up.”
“One more dive ok?” Brett suggested, “We’ve got plenty of air for one more, then we’ll go home. Maybe it would’ve gone down farther out.”
Reluctantly Benny nodded. “Ok, just one more.”
“That way then.” Brett checked his air supply, because of habit since he knew exactly how much he had, turned on his light and dived.
Lena had timed her visit for the end of the workday, nearly five o’clock. She got off the bus and crossed the street to the Ubri building. The guard in the gatehouse waved to her. She’d been in and out so much that the ordinary employees were used to her, and at this time of day most of them should already have gone home. Still, her heart pounded when she walked into the high-level clearance computer room.
“This area is for authorized personnel only.” Said a clipped voice, and Lena nearly jumped out of her skin.
“I’m sorry Ms. Kellar. I was, um, looking for an earring. I think I dropped it when I was here last time with my father. They were a present, you see…” She pushed her hair back to show one small silver hoop and one empty ear.
“I see. Would you like me to help you look for it?”
“No, I’ll be all right, thanks.” Lena said quickly. “I wouldn’t want to trouble you, Father already says I’m too much of a distraction. I’m sure I can find it. I lose things so often and they’re always right where they were.”
The babble did the trick. Kellar said, “I’m about to go off duty, but take your time. Just be sure to turn the light off when you leave.”
“Ok. I’ll only be a minute.” And Lena scanned the floor until she was sure Kellar had gone off down the hall. Then she took the disk out of her pocket and put it in the computer. While it was loading she tossed the other earring down under the computer, so she could ‘find’ it fast if anybody came in.
Lena watched the screen as her disk loaded. It ran a quick search for anything tagged ‘ocean girl.’ A series of password boxes popped up and went down and the files themselves loaded on the screen as they were copied to Lena’s disk.
Whale recordings. Orca. Charley. Electronic fence. Helicopter crash report. A girl? Search: children with special abilities. Institute for Human Advancement. Jane Seaforth. Application to adopt.
The words danced in front of Lena’s eyes. For a moment her ears roared and she couldn’t think at all. More files were opening. A short video of a girl surfacing in the water, looking around and then going under. Astronomy. Records of sightings. Technology for tracking meteor impacts.
None of it mattered.
By the end of the last dive, Brett was getting tired. He slithered into the boat and turned to look for Benny. The other boy was just coming up. He hung onto the edge of the boat and hauled up the metal detector. He put it on the lip of the zodiac. “I think we’ll have to call it a day.”
“But we’re not beat yet, we’ll come back out tomorrow.”
Brett leaned over to help Benny in—a wave rocked the boat and the metal detector fell overboard.
“No!” Benny grabbed for it, then hurried his mask back on and went under.
Brett waited, sure Benny would be right back up. Then he waited another minute. Then, with a terrible sinking feeling, he checked his air gauge. In the red. And they’d had matching tanks. Benny could’ve gotten down just far enough that…
“Oh no. Benny. Benny!” As if yelling would help.
There was nobody here. Choppy gray water in all directions.
Or maybe it would help. Brett took a deep breath and hollered at the top of his voice, “Neriiiii!” Then he started venting his tank. It was an emergency procedure but it’d give him a few minutes to look for Benny.
He was about to jump in when Neri surfaced, with Benny in her arms. Brett pulled them into the boat. Benny was wheezing and coughing.
“Benny! Are you ok?”
“Yeah. I guess.” Benny gasped out. “Who..?”
“Um. This is a friend of mine, Neri.”
Benny looked at Neri, then looked around for a boat. He started to ask something… when a more pressing thought took over. “Oh no, the detector!”
“Neri… could you do us another really big favor?”
Neri made a face, and slipped over the side. Benny gawked. “But she hasn’t got a tank…”
“She’s fine. She lives out here. Benny, she’s a really, really big secret. You can’t tell anybody about her.”
“Ok. Who is she? What… she lives out here?”
“I’ll explain it on the way back.” Brett stood up and waved. Neri had surfaced a few yards away. She swam to the boat and handed up the metal detector. It had broken open and was totally in pieces. Brett and Benny groaned.
“What is it?”
“It’s a metal detector. We were looking for treasure.”
“Treasure?” Neri cocked her head.
“Gold and stuff. Jewels. Money. Treasure.”
Benny stared at Neri. She was hanging off the side of the boat, propped up on her hands with her body in the water, having a conversation with Brett like it was perfectly normal. And Brett was talking like it was perfectly normal too.
Benny ventured, “A ship sank here. We wanted to find it.”
Neri looked perplexed. “Is no ship here.”
Brett slid down into the bottom of the zodiac and started banging his head on the rubber muttering, “Why, whyyyyy didn’t I ask…”
“Um, Neri? I’m Benny. Thank you for rescuing me. I think you saved my life.”
“Benny. Nice to meet you.” Neri smiled at him. “Later, we talk. Now, you go before rain starts.”
“Ok.” Brett surfaced from his despair. “See you later Neri.”
Brett gave his friend the story on the ride back to Orca. Benny was mostly silent in disbelief or maybe amazement. As they took the turbolift down into Orca Benny repeated the last thing he’d registered. “So the guy who beat me at trigammia is…”
The door hissed open. Dave was standing there, looking very stern.
“Welcome back gentlemen. Now about that ore detector...”
Brett handed it over.
Dave looked at the smashed device. “I see. And I’ll see you two on the bridge in half an hour. Log the zodiac in and grab a snack. It may be your last meal.”
They did as Dave suggested and grabbed snacks. Brett grabbed Jason too, and they tried to coach Benny. “You can’t bring Neri into this. You can’t tell anybody about her!”
“I’m no good at lying!”
“Who is? But there’s times when you can’t tell the truth, at least not all of it. For the sake of everyone. Neri and Kal are our friends. If outsiders found out about them can you imagine what’d happen? They’d be locked up somewhere like specimens or zoo animals! Besides, there’s other stuff.”
Jason nodded. “Us and Neri have a big job on our hands. Really big, like whole-world big.”
“What kind of job?”
“Later. So, can we count on you?”
The boys hadn’t told their mother about this adventure, so Winston had no idea of the drama that was about to happen on the bridge when he headed down to delta level to get a replacement tape cleaner. He found the storeroom and started looking for the right crate when he saw a bit of color where there shouldn’t have been any. Winston stepped around to look and saw rang, crouched down behind a shelf.
“Well well, who have we here? Come on, come out. I won’t hurt you. What’s your name?”
The door opened behind him and Cass looked at them in horror. Her hands were full of food. Winston gave her a questioning look.
Cass slumped, and walked into the room, letting the door close behind her. Rang came out of hiding to stand next to her.
“His name’s Rang. He swam to Orca. His family are boat people, turned back by immigration.”
“Impressive. And you’ve been harboring him have you?”
Rang broke in, “Mister, no tell! No make me go back!”
Winston shook his head, overwhelmed. “I’ll help you if I can. Cass, did you think you could keep him here forever?”
“No! But I couldn’t just turn him in either!”
“Your intentions are noble, but we’ll have to turn him over to the authorities. There’s simply no other option.”
Rang probably didn’t know the words, but he understood the tone. He dodged around Winston and out the door.
“No, Rang!” Cass yelled, too late.
They heard Rang’s footsteps, then someone called, “Hey, stop!” and there was a scuffle. When Cass and Winston got there, rang was hanging between two Orca security guards.
“Its out of our hands now.” Winston said gently. Cass punched him, but her heart wasn’t in it.
“Communicative aren’t you?” The commander said to Rang, who sat silently glaring at everyone. “Well, can’t say I blame you. I’m afraid immigration will have to get the rest of your story.”
“No, please.” Cass said, “I’ll take charge of him. I’ll talk to my folks, maybe we can adopt him or something.”
“the immigration people are already on their way.” The commander turned back to rang, “You’ll get to ride in a helicopter, young fella, won’t that be exciting? Miss Clayborn, would you stay with him until they arrive? You and these security officers, of course. Good luck, Rang. Now, the other business.”
Cass sat down next to Rang, so miserable she didn’t even care that her best friends were waiting at the other end of the bridge about to get a severe talking to.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Hartley. Let me get this straight. These two ‘borrowed’ a very expensive piece of equipment in order to go on a wild goose chase for sunken treasure, and it accidentally fell off the gunwale of the zodiac. Am I right so far?”
Brett and Benny nodded.
“You heroically retrieved it, even though you were almost out of air, but not before it had hit the seabed and broken.”
The boys nodded.
“I see. Well, you illegally requisitioned a highly expensive piece of equipment, and neither of you is an experienced enough diver to handle it. Forty demerits each and no access to stores for any purpose until further notice.”
Brett and Benny nodded and turned to go. Behind them were Dianne and Benny’s father, both looking ready to assign further punishment. Dianne pinned her son with a look. “You’re washing test tubes for a week, and one word about how we could’ve been rich and it’ll be two weeks.”
“Yes Mum. I’ll get started now.”
Mr. Malkovitch pointed across the bridge at the refugee boy sitting with Cass. “Imagine what this boy would give for what you’ve got. You’re so privileged! What’s happening to you? Why do you keep letting us down?”
“I’ll find out where you are and I’ll write.” Cass offered. “Will you write back?”
“And I’ll see you again one day, I promise.”
A ghost of a smile lit Rang’s thin face. “Ok, buddy. Thank you for try to help. You too, mister.’
The immigration people had arrived, a man and woman, both wearing suits. They looked like nice people. The man said, “Time to go, son.” Rang let himself be led away, turning once to wave to Cass.
Winston sat down next to her. “Hey, you gave him friendship.”
“Yeah, sure. Like he’s really going to care about that when he’s in some stinking refugee camp without enough to eat.”
“You did all you could. And think of this—someday, Orca city will be built, and be a model for other cities underwater, and will perhaps ease the dreadful overpopulation of our planet and help the plight of people like Rang. Perhaps one day he will live in such a city. We have to look forward. We have to hope.”
Winston’s eyes were misty, and he was looking at another place, not seeing the bridge in front of him. Cass wiped her eyes. “Hey, will you help me look something up on Helen? I want to look up where Rang’s going and see if I can find a charity or something there. I have a little bit of money.”
“It would be my pleasure.” Winston stood up and offered Cass a hand up.