13 And She Decided
The word fell across the island, faint as moonlight. Neri stirred in her sleep, reached out one hand.
“Sister, you have no time. The oceans are in danger. You have no time!”
Neri tried to shout, and jerked awake. “…Mera?”
Nothing, only the chirp of frogs and insects. Then Kal’s voice, “Neri? You all right? You made a sound like, unh.”
“I had a dream. It has made me afraid.”
Neri climbed down from her nest and stepped into the pond. The sky was gray; it was almost dawn. She crouched down and poured water over her head, then dived in.
“To be afraid is to have fear. Heart beats faster, pulse goes up, and cold sweat appears on skin.” Kal observed.
“That is what fear does, but not what it is. A feeling.”
…you have no time!..
“Like a dark wave is about to fall.”
That meant nothing to Kal. “Feelings are hard. Morning soon. We get breakfast?”
Neri shook her head. “You only. I have to go to Orca City.”
Neri hung invisible in the shadow of a coral outcrop. She watched the Ubri divers slide explosive tubes into holes drilled in the rock. Charley sang a worried note from far away.
Inside Orca the younger kids were leaving the galley after breakfast. Cass was sulking. As they walked through the glass viewing tube she lagged to a stop.
“Come on Cass, what’s the problem this time?” Brett asked.
“Now that’s my business.”
Benny said, “Come on, we’re supposed to be your friends.”
“Yeah? Well you’ve got your little secrets haven’t you?”
Cass scowled at both of them. “Like, when I walk into a room, you stop talking and you’re always sneaking off somewhere. Now that doesn’t sound like friends to me.”
“We are your friends, whether you believe it or not.” Benny said seriously.
“Huh. I guess I might as well tell you, I mean Morgan’s gonna make sure everyone on the base knows I’m loony tunes. Look, my mom’s sending me to a shrink on the mainland because of these crazy dreams I’m having, ok?”
Brett stared. “Jeez, everybody has dreams. Doesn’t mean you’re nuts.”
“Yeah? Well I just wish they’d stop.” Cass said and walked off. She sounded really miserable.
Benny said, “You’ve got to tell her now. She thinks she’s going crazy!”
Brett was thinking the same. He felt really sorry for Cass. “We can’t, Benny. We’ve got to protect Neri. We only told you because we had to.”
“Hey look!” Benny turned to the glass wall of the viewing tube.
Outside, Neri swam up to the glass and grinned at them. Benny stared. Brett waved. Then they heard footsteps—but Neri heard them first and ducked out of sight.
In the lab, Neri wasn’t smiling. “They are putting more explosives, many of them. I am sure that is why my sister warns me.”
“Neri, we would stop it if we could.” Winston said.
“Our sensors haven’t picked up any indication of disturbance yet. We believe you, but there’s still no proof of any harm.”
“No time.” Neri murmured. “Those were my sister’s words. Please, you must stop them before it is too late.”
It took Lena a little while to get up her courage to start the day. Yesterday she’d chosen to warn the boys on Orca that her father was setting a trap, today she had to wait and see what the fallout of that decision would be. Nobody knew yet what she’d done, but sooner or later her father would realize. And then… what?
Lena was scared. So she showered and dressed before coming downstairs, instead of just throwing on a robe and going straight for the food like she usually did. Her father was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, deep in thought.
“You look troubled, Father.”
“Disloyalty is always troubling.” Hellegren looked up at her, “But it is not your problem. Our rotten apple.”
“Ubri has a spy it seems, delivering secrets to our enemies.”
Lena blinked. Enemies? Had something else happened? He couldn’t mean Brett and Jason; they were kids! “I, ah, didn’t realize you had any enemies, father.”
Hellegren stood up and patted his daughter’s pale hair. “You are very naïve, my dear. Now, I must go to Orca.”
“Can I come?”
“Because… it’s the future.” Lena wasn’t sure where that had come from.
Hellegren closed his briefcase and looked up. “Correct. Our future. Yes, come.”
As the lift doors opened Lena looked around and saw Jason talking to SallyAnn. She caught his eye. Jason nodded faintly and left.
Kellar was waiting. “We weren’t expecting you today, sir.”
“Change of policy, Kellar.”
“In what respect?”
“For private discussion. Lena, we should be about twenty minutes.”
Lena nodded. “I’ll be back by then.” She nodded to Kellar and left.
The two adults waited until Lena was out of earshot before Hellegren asked, “What is your progress in the search for the spy?”
“I have used interrogation, and certain electronic tests. I’m convinced that almost all the people with access are loyal.”
“I haven’t tested Lena.” Kellar said flatly.
Hellegren’s face went very still. A second later he’d slammed Kellar against the wall and snapped in her face, “I’ll say this only once. You will not question my daughter, and you will not raise these paranoid suspicions with me again. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” Kellar replied, shaken.
Lena caught up with Jason in the back of the galley, under the stairs up to the next level. Jason offered food and said, “Thanks again for yesterday. Did you get in trouble?”
Lena shook her head. “Nobody’s figured out it was me. But father said… accused a ‘rotten apple’ of delivering ‘secrets’ to his enemies. He’s really angry. And maybe watched too many spy movies.”
“Your dad kinda talks that way. He said we’re regret interfering with him.” Jason really felt sorry for Lena now. From the uncomfortable laughter, she was only now realizing what kind of person her father was. For a second her confused, miserable expression reminded him of Mera. “This has to really stink for you Lena, and I’m sorry. But I have to ask if you can learn anything else about what’s going on at Ubri—anything about Orca City or whales or this device your father’s looking for. We really need to know more.”
“So you want me to spy for you.”
Jason shrugged helplessly and nodded.
“But you won’t tell me what’s really going on. I need to know. I need you to trust me.”
“Look, would I be saying any of this if I didn’t trust you?”
“All right. But you will tell me everything?”
It took a few minutes. Jason weighed the options and finally nodded. “You’ve read your dad’s files and you know about the girls and the whale?”
“Pretty weird stuff.”
“This goes way past weird. The machine is called the synchronium, and one of those girls is still here.”
Weightless in the bluegreen depths, Neri turned a somersault backwards over the reef. Charley’s happy song rang around her as she swam to meet him at the surface.
“An extra-terrestrial mermaid?”
Jason grinned. He’d never heard it put like that before. “Not really. You can’t put labels on Neri. She’s… she’s like a guardian. Her people know how important the oceans are to the balance of the world, something we don’t understand yet.”
Lena nodded. She remembered the whalesongs she had heard and thought she understood a little bit what Jason meant. “So what about this synchronium?”
“It’s a machine from Neri’s world, it’s supposed to fix what’s wrong with the oceans. There are nine pieces, each sent down separately. We have two now, Ubri has one.”
“But how does it work?”
“We don’t know. Not yet. We do know it’s incredibly powerful and dangerous if it gets into the wrong hands.”
“Like my father’s.”
Jason looked down and nodded. “The piece he has must be hidden somewhere at Ubri, but we need to know exactly where. I don’t mean to be laying it on you, but it’s a matter of life and death. I’m not kidding.”
Lena rested her chin on her hand and thought aloud. “I think the best way… I could get into the security files, but I’ll have to be at Ubri headquarters to do it so I can’t try until he’s away.”
“Soon as you can, ok?”
“Soon as I can.” Lena promised. “And I can meet Neri?”
Lena checked her watch. “I have to go. See you later.”
As she came around the curve of the hallway Lena heard her father’s voice. She stopped and ducked back without thinking.
“It will be achievable, Kellar, because we will have cleared all of this area by the end of the week.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible.”
Craning her neck, Lena saw they were looking at a large map of the Orca City foundations.
“By increasing the size of the detonations. I want charges laid along this grid from here to here, further apart than before and 150 percent more hydramite.”
“You have the tribunal’s permission for this?” Kellar sounded dubious.
“Oh they will rubber-stamp it, I am sure. They have already accepted my word that this explosive has no residual effects and anyway, time is money. Have the charges prepared straightaway.”
Hellegren looked around and Lena decided to appear. Part of her mind was still surprised that she’d just stopped to eavesdrop, automatically, on her father. Listening in on the popular girls or the teachers, sure, but family was different. At least it had been. Another part of her mind was wondering how big one hundred and fifty percent of an explosion was.
“I’m here, father.”
“Ah, perfect timing my dear. Let’s go.”
Cass had not been thrilled to be going to therapy, and she was even less thrilled when she found out it was hypnosis therapy. Wasn’t that the kind of thing that could make you do the chicken dance in front of everyone and then not remember it? But the doctor seemed to be very nice, she explained that making people do crazy things was only in movies and in real life hypnotism was just, “A way of talking to the part of your brain that knows why you’re having these dreams, without your awake brain getting in the way.”
That sounded kind of neat, actually, so Cass decided to get hypnotized after all.
She was disappointed an hour later to wake up normally, as if she’d just been taking a nap.
“How do you feel, honey?” Her mother asked.
“Pretty good. Um, am I sick?”
The doctor answered, “Well Cass, I think there’s something you’re trying to remember, and these dreams may be your mind’s way of expressing it.”
“So if I really remember it I’ll stop having nightmares and feeling creepy?”
“Most likely. I’d like you to come back tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can get to the bottom of this.”
Evening on the island. Neri stood looking out to sea.
No answer. She felt clean mud in her hands. Mera was…
Mera wasn’t thinking about her sister, as she slapped another handful of mud on the wall. It was two feet high now, more or less, made of rocks mortared together with clay. It did not look like it would last, but Laeka assured her that the mud would bake hard enough to stay even if it rained.
Mera looked up as her friend brushed back muddy hair with a muddy hand. “That should do it! Mother-Ila’s garden will not slide into the sea now!”
A half dozen muddy children put down rocks and stood back to inspect their work.
“Very good! Mother will be so glad!” Ilona said happily. She’d somehow kept her long hair pristine, though she’d worked as hard as any of them. “Thank you Mera, Laeka, Arran. Lali, you make the best mud.”
“Hey Dolphin-calf, when things grow, can we eat some?”
“Of course. We will cook for you.”
Mera stood up and stretched. Bits of drying mud flaked off her hands. “I am going to swim now.”
“That is a good idea. Come, little sister.” Laeka snagged her sister from where Salali was putting a few final touches on the wall. The children walked down the path to the water.
“Morning Neri, hi Kal.” Brett greeted the two as they surfaced in the dive pool.
“Coast is clear.” Jason added.
Kal looked grumpy. He muttered, “Do class, get out, go back. I remember.”
Neri stopped him, putting her hand on his arm. “Remember what I said about being afraid? I am afraid for you Kal. If people know who you are, you could lose your freedom. That is why I am afraid.”
“Feelings hard.” Kal sighed.
Brett nodded agreement.
“I have good news Neri. Lena’s agreed to help us.”
Neri didn’t notice. “She will help us find the piece that was taken? That is good! Now I must talk to Mother.”
“Ok. We’ll be in the galley. Gotta study.”
“Are you going to Orca today father?” Lena asked, watching her father pack his briefcase.
“No, I have other business to deal with. Perhaps you can come along to Orca later.”
Lena smiled. “I do like visiting Orca. How long will you be gone?”
“’Til this afternoon. Why?”
“Well, I wanted to talk to you about the future. I want to work for you, at Ubri.”
To Lena’s surprise, her father put his arm around her and kissed her hair. “You will work with me, Lena, one day.”
“Well could I go into headquarters? Ms. Kellar was kind enough to give me some motivational disks of the Ubri philosophy but I can’t watch them here.”
“Splendid, my dear. Certainly you may go in. The guards all know you by now.”
Dianne sighed when she saw Neri. “I made another submission to have the blasting stopped, but they haven’t responded.”
“You try.” Neri smiled at them, Dianne and her paperwork, Winston sitting at a bank of instruments.
“Yes, but I feel I’ve let you down. What gets me is that Hellegren honestly believes he’s not doing any damage.”
“His thoughts are closed, like a trap. They must listen to you because you speak the truth.”
“I hate to tell you this, Neri, but human history is filled with people who spoke the truth, and were ignored.”
Neri thought for a moment then said earnestly, “Mother, it’s like the sea. It can hurt you, make you afraid, make you fight. But you know the sweet water will come if you don’t give up.”
Dianne smiled and hugged her daughter. “Oh, we won’t give up.”
This time was more interesting. Cass knew she was dreaming, she knew she was in the doctor’s office, asleep in a chair. Except that she could see…
“An island.” Cass’ voice said.
“What do you see, Cass?”
“This place, it’s like a camp. Knife, cooking pot, bones. Maybe Brett wasn’t joking about the cannibals. Someone lives here, that’s for sure.”
In her own head Cass could see everything, as clearly as if she were still there. It was neat! So this was what had happened when she left Orca that day, some crazy adventure. Maybe this time since she wasn’t all the way asleep it wouldn’t be so scary. But she had to listen carefully, and she had to say what she was seeing or it would break the spell.
“I’m… scared. Searching. Near the water, I lost my boat. There’s someone out there… a girl… and something big, it’s right near her! The whale’s her friend…”
And Cass remembered everything, like a video suddenly in fast forward. She saw Brett and Jason, she ran to her boat, set off, saw the girl in the water wave to her. “Wait, we talk!” Remembered the moment when fear turned to curiosity and she raised her hand to wave back—and pain exploded in her head.
“Cass? Are you all right?”
Suddenly very awake, Cass rubbed her head. It didn’t actually hurt. “Yeah. Yeah I’m fine. So, how’d I do?”
“You did fine. What was the last thing you remember?”
“Um,” Cass’ brain was still going pretty fast, and she decided fast. “You telling me I was gonna fall asleep, that’s all.”
“And nothing else?”
“Nope. Hey, it was great to be asleep without dreaming. Did I say anything embarrassing?”
“Embarrassing? No. Are you sure you don’t remember?”
“Not a thing. So, are we done? ‘cause I feel a lot better, and I’d really like to get home.”
“You told Lena everything?” Brett sputtered.
Benny added, “Just like that?”
“Well I didn’t really have time to talk it over with you guys, Hellegren only let her out of his sight for a few minutes. And she already knew—she hacked into Ubri’s files and saw a video of Neri.”
Brett made an annoyed sound.
“We need her help don’t we? And you thought she’s an ok person.”
Cass waved and came to join them. “Hey guys. I’m not interrupting anything am I?”
“Hey Cass. How’d it go at the doctor’s?”
Cass smiled. “Well a funny thing happened at the doctor’s, Brett. This time I remembered everything that happened. The island, the two of you, and your underwater friend.”
Benny’s hair just about stood on end. “Cass, keep it down!”
“It really happened didn’t it? And you all let me think I was crazy!”
“We’re sorry about that.”
“We couldn’t say anything, Cass. It’s important.”
Cass folded her arms and glared. “Well you’d better start saying something now. ‘Cause if you don’t, I’ll ask someone else. And I think I could find my way back to that island.”
Benny waved his hands, “Simmer down, we’ll tell you. Won’t we?”
“Yeah.” Jason sighed.
“So. Who is she? What’s with the whale? She lives on that island right? Is she a cannibal? How’d you guys meet her?”
The rest of them waved shushing hands. Brett said, “How about we tell you on the way? You can come too Benny. We’ll all go.”
Benny jumped up, “For real?”
“Sure. Neri was coming to check out the building anyway, she can ride back with us. I’ll sign the boat out.”
On the island, the kids waited in the boat while Brett ran to find Neri and tell her what was going on. Neri smiled and ran down to the beach when she heard.
“Cass! Is good to meet you. Sorry I scare you before.”
Cass was staring. “It’s ok.” She said, a little tongue-tied. “Nice to meet you too.”
“I do not ask you to help me, Cass. It is the ones who know of me who are in danger. But you will keep my secret?”
“I won’t tell—and I want to help.”
Neri’s smile was dazzling. “Then is very good to meet you.”
That settled, Brett said, “I know you wanted to see Mum later, but how about we show Benny and Cass around the island first? Introduce them to Kal?”
Neri glanced at the position of the sun, then nodded. “Yes. Come see!”
The next few hours were wonderful. They climbed trees and waded in the pond, and Neri showed them how to swing down on the vine from her nest. Benny and Cass were full of questions, and Kal was happy to answer in his strange way. Benny actually asked what powered the spaceship, and Kal told him. It took about ten minutes and a lot of the words weren’t in English. When Kal finished with, “Is easy.” Benny just stared at him.
“Give it up Benny, there’s no way.”
“Uh… I guess.” Benny said, still mentally trying to catch up. He was a genius after all, and he thought if he just knew what some of the words meant… or had Kal been unable to translate them because they represented technologies that hadn’t been discovered on Earth? “Hang on, Kal…”
Kal had climbed a tree while Benny stood in shock. Now he climbed down with a cocoanut. “Eat?”
“Sure, I guess.”
Cass and Neri came back with handfuls of wild cherries. Cass’ mouth was stained red and she was grinning. “You have to try these, they’re so good! I’ve never had cherries this sweet.”
“Yeah, Neri doesn’t have a house and stuff but she does ok.”
“But what about when it rains?”
“I get wet. Or sleep in cave, if rain goes for many days.”
“Couldn’t Jason and Brett get you an umbrella?”
“I do not need.”
This made Cass go silent for a few minutes trying to imagine not wanting even the basic stuff of modern life. But if you lived out here… “So what’s with the whale?”
“Charley is my friend. You want to see him? Come.”
“You bet we do!”
A few minutes later they were all on the beach, still carrying island food. Out in the cove Charley breached. Cass laughed in wonder. Out here in the sunlight with a big smile, she looked different. At peace.
The kids rode back to Orca happy. Neri and Charley paced the boat, Neri coming to check out the progress of Orca City. She left them at the edge of the building site. Charley had vanished miles before; he wasn’t going to get anywhere near the Ubri employees.
Jason caught up with SallyAnn and spent an hour studying with her in the rec room, then stopped to see if Helen had turned up any matches for the synchronium. She had a dozen possibilities that all looked good at first but all turned out to be duds. It took a while to work through them, and it was late afternoon when Jason made it down to the lab.
Dianne was pacing.
“I don’t believe it!”
Jason looked at Winston. “What’s up?”
His mother answered, “Not only have the tribunal ignored our submission, but Ubri have been given permission to increase the force of the blasts by a hundred and fifty percent.”
“A hundred and… we’ve got to stop them!”
Winston shook his head. “Too late, I’m afraid. The explosives have already been laid. We weren’t informed.”
Lena was up in her room, organizing her clothes with the TV on in the background. She’d spent the day poking through restricted files at Ubri headquarters, and the normality of chores and TV was really nice. It had taken a while to get into the security files, and there were a lot of them. Lots of videos that showed nothing but people in white jumpsuits walking back and forth, scientists doing things with test tubes and computers, and lots of people just… working. Boring. She’d found evidence there were several high-security lockups at Ubri, but couldn’t figure out what was in them or how to open them. So this piece of the device could be in a secure lockup or in a safe in a lab, or even moved to another facility.
She’d gotten to the depths of the closet by now. Old uniforms. Lena held one up to her chest and grimaced. She’d never fit into this again. She tossed it onto the pile of stuff for charity and thought about getting around firewalls, and asking her father for some money to buy new clothes. Living at boarding school you only needed uniforms, but out here in real life blouses and pleated skirts were not cool.
The intercom rang. Dinner probably. Lena headed downstairs. Her father was standing in the living room by the computer, with Kellar standing nearby.
“You wanted to see me, Father?”
“Come here.” His voice sounded strange. Tense.
Lena stepped down off the stairs. “Thank you for the motivational disc, Ms. Kellar. I enjoyed it.”
Kellar smiled and Lena started to worry. “I brought your father one that’s even more interesting.”
Lena went cold. On the computer screen was a video of her, in the Ubri computer lab. The camera was behind her, so there was a clear view of what Lena had been working on. In her head she cursed. She hadn’t even thought there might be a camera in the computer room. Hadn’t. Even. Thought.
“Lena, I want you to tell me this is a fake. I want you to tell me it is not possible my own daughter has been betraying me.”
“Sir, it is perfectly…”
“Be silent!” Hellegren snapped. He sounded so strange, angry and almost afraid. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
And the words came. Lena looked up, looked her father in the eye. Her voice was trembling. “I… want you to tell me that if Brett and Jason had gone to Stoke Island they would have come back safely.”
“So you’re working for them? They put you up to this?”
Madness. So scared she was angry, Lena snapped, “I’m your daughter, I have a right to know the truth!”
“My daughter? I think not. My daughter would not lie to me! Go to your room. Stay there. I will decide what to do with you later.”
Lena turned and climbed the stairs, shaking. Halfway up she heard Kellar say, “Sir…”
Hellegren roared, “Get out!”
Lena ran up the last few stairs, ducked into her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. Then she burst into tears, not sure if she was scared or sad or mad. She wanted to run down and apologize and say she’d never question again. She wanted to go and yell and scream that hurting whales and people was wrong. She wanted to never see him again. Her father was… was… how could she love him if he’d say that to her? How was she supposed to feel now? What was she supposed to do? She had to figure it out but there was only screaming confusion in her mind, and a trickle of remembered whalesong.
The world exploded.
The blasts, going off one by one, caught Neri mid-water. She was instantly deafened, thrown around as shockwaves hit her one after another.
On Orca the floor shook hard. Jason yelped and grabbed a support post. In the corner of the lab all of Winston’s instruments went off at once. Winston took one look and said something under his breath in Indian.
Charley lifted Neri to the surface near the island. She groaned and buried her head against his cool flesh. She hurt all over. Her ears hurt, and as her hearing came back she heard every whale and dolphin for miles shrieking alarm in their own ways.
I am well. Neri said. Only pain. It will pass.
All is in pain. Everything.
The water rang with it. Neri ducked under, and came up again quickly. She didn’t want to hear. Kal! Kal is alone. I must go to him!
Neri walked out of the water, calling to him. She found Kal in his nest. Some big leaves had fallen and Kal cowered under them, too frightened to get up.
“Kal. Kal, I am here. Is all right.”
Kal reached for Neri and cuddled against her like a child. “Fear.” He said.
“I know now.”
“Yes.” Neri said again, glad too to have someone to hang on to while the world’s fear echoed around her.
Jason went to get dinner while his mother and Winston prepared an emergency report with the findings from the latest blast. The galley was full of Orca employees talking about how scary—or exciting, for a few of them—the explosion had been. Some people thought it had just been an earthquake; Jason told them it had been the explosion. He got food and waited with Winston while Dianne talked to the Commander. She came back looking stressed.
“Surely the tribunal listened to you? That blast shook all of Orca!”
“Nothing.” Dianne said, throwing down her report. “Ubri scientists assure them it’s safe, and there’s no sign or permanent damage. If only we could prove it.”
“Perhaps…” Winston fiddled with a geologic sonar scanner. “Perhaps we haven’t been looking deep enough. What if it were below the sea floor, far below.”
“Like what?” Jason asked.
“A fault line deep beneath us.”
“What, you mean undiscovered?” Dianne asked.
“Twenty years ago when Orca was begun, the technology could only detect large faults. Now it can detect much subtler ones. But what if there were a large fault under us, deep enough to go undetected, and undisturbed by the fairly minor blasting that’s been done up until now?”
Dianne nodded. “And now Hellegren’s setting off kilos of aquanite; that might disturb a fault, even cause it to open.”
Jason looked at Winston, the marine geologist. Winston said, “Earthquakes, tidal waves, worldwide uproar. Who knows how far it could spread once started?”
“Just like Neri’s warning.”
“That’s quite a theory Winston, and I think you’re right on. But how would we know?”
“That’s just it, we may not at first. The beginnings may be so small as to go unnoticed.”