Oops. I think I forgot the disclaimer last time; I'm always doing that. So:
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Ocean Girl or anyone else in this fic apart from Tore cos I made him up and they didn't, NERRRR!!! Ahem. I ain't making any money from this, I wish I was but I'm not, so no one has any reason to annoy me about this fic now.
The children, after a lot of discussion, made their way back to ORCA. Both Neri and Mera came with the boys—Mera for obvious reasons, Neri because, in an event as important as this, it was out of the question that she would be excluded. For once, the girls came in the boat. They wanted to break the news to Cass together, and Brett and Jason were too excited to wait for the girls once they reached ORCA. Brett and Mera glanced knowingly at each other as they saw Neri and Jason sitting close together. Brett quickly turned away and pretended to be busy controlling the boat. Mera did the same, though reluctantly. They spent the trip in silence, each passenger wrapped in their own thoughts.
Upon reaching ORCA, they realised they had a problem. Although most of the problems with concealing them were over, Neri and Mera still needed to enter the research station as normal ORCA children. Usually the girls came in through the diving exit, which was where their ORCA clothes were hidden. The problem was, the girls were about to enter from topside because they had arrived in a boat on the surface.
"Oops," said Brett. "I can't believe we just did that!"
"Well, we did," said Jason.
"Thanks, Jase, you're always so helpful!"
Mera suddenly started laughing. "He's right—we didn't even think of this! Not even Neri remembered!!" She trailed off, helpless with giggling.
The mood was infectious. First Brett joined in, then it spread to the supposedly dignified older kids. It went on for a while until they realised laughing wasn't getting them inside.
"We have to get in somehow," Jason pointed out at last.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," said Brett unnecessarily. Jason, in an attempt to preserve what dignity he had left, chose to ignore him. "The girls can dive to their entrance, and we'll meet them in our cabin."
"But where's the diving entrance from here?" Mera hadn't been down to it as often as her sister and she wasn't quite sure of the way—and being topside after so long had made both sisters a bit disoriented.
"Err...Neri?" Both boys were just as helpless, not having had to navigate for the girls before. Neri however remained calm.
"I know where. Come." She slipped over the side of the boat and waited until Mera joined her.
"We'll see you at Mum's cabin, OK? Just wait if we're not there."
"Yes." Neri gave them the scout's salute that had become her trademark and dived, Mera following close behind. In moments they were gone, without a ripple on the surface to remind anyone of their presence. The boys watched the two white shapes fade, then turned and entered their home.
Both groups arrived at the Bates cabin at the same time. "Did you have any trouble?" Jason asked the girls.
"No. No one there."
Brett was a little impatient. "Come on! We're here to tell Cass, so let's go and bloody tell her!"
Jason gave him a scathing look. "Do you want to ask someone sensible for advice first, or would you rather tell her now without bothering to check and risk being grounded for a month and the whole station finding out?"
"Who d'you think you're kidding?" Brett retorted. "As if Cass is suddenly gonna dash off and blab to the first alien hunter she can find!" Jason looked away embarrassed as his little brother continued.
"You just like being important and taking over so you can look big in front of Neri. Well in case you've forgotten, and it looks like you have, if I hadn't found her you wouldn't even know about her! She's my friend too!"
Jason went red—he knew Brett was right, but he hadn't realised what an idiot he'd been. Meanwhile Neri was comforting Brett, who looked close to tears.
"Brett. Shh, Brett. I always your friend." She hugged the boy, who buried his face in her shoulder.
Neri looked up at Jason, but he could not meet her eyes. He felt like a monster—he'd been so wrapped up in love he'd forgotten the simple fact that Neri had her own life, and other people had the right to know her too. When Brett lifted his head, Jason turned around and looked him in the eye. He bent down and put an arm around his little brother. Brett stiffened against him—he wasn't ready to forgive him just yet. Jason sighed and straightened up; he knew it would take a while for both of them before life could go on as normal.
"Well." He tried to think of a way to suggest asking for Dianne's advice before breaking the news to Cass, without offending everyone and setting off another yelling session. "Maybe we should ask Mum what to do since we're all so..." He attempted to find a word that wouldn't set Brett off at him. "...Tense," he finished.
Neri looked up at him approvingly. "Yes." She straightened up and opened the door to the Bates' cabin herself, checking inside before beckoning to the others to follow.
Commander Bates was sitting at the table, listlessly stirring at a cup of what had been coffee. She immediately livened up when she saw the children.
"Hello boys—oh, Neri and Mera! I haven't seen you here in a while!" She jumped up and hugged the girls before turning to her sons.
"You're here about—what are you here about?" She stopped and looked so puzzled that it was impossible not to laugh. It did seem a bit strange, when the subject of their visit had been just about all they'd been thinking about.
"Mera's brother, the lost one."
"The lost one—as opposed to all her other brothers we've already found, I guess?"
"Brett. Shut up." Brett gave Jason evil looks while Jason attempted to ignore him and carry on with his speech.
"We decided we'd try looking for him the same way we did for Mera—through HELEN. To do that we need someone who knows how to handle her, and she doesn't really listen to us. So we thought we'd let Cass in on the secret and see if she'd want to help."
"But we wanted to know if it was okay with you first, Mum."
Diane looked a little bemused. "I don't mind. What are you asking me for? As far as I know the whole operation's in the hands of you kids." The kids in question automatically stood up straighter. "I just don't know how you're going to get the message through to Cass."
A tremor of apprehension ran through the little group. Suddenly everything wasn't straightforward anymore. Neri was the first to speak.
Diane felt a shock in her turn as she glanced at Neri's eyes. They were suddenly cold with trepidation and worry. It was almost more than she could bear to break the news to her.
"You haven't seen Cass around here lately, have you?" She looked at them and was met with blank looks. "Well, the reason is, she's not here. She's gone on holiday to the mainland with her family for two months. I thought you would have been told. They've gone right over the other side of the country to visit relatives in Perth, and there's no way you can contact her. They wouldn't tell us the address, and even if we did know we couldn't risk anyone else finding out. About Tore, I mean."
Diane sighed, suddenly tired. "Sorry, kids. You all right, love?" as she glanced at Neri, who was looking a little pale at this first setback. Jason took her hand and held it tightly, aware that everyone else in the room was watching. He as well looked a bit tired and washed-out.
The two younger ones sat down and left the grownups to their comforting. They decided to be practical and figure out their next step.
After some time and a lot of muttering and gesticulating they seemed to come to a decision. They swivelled round and faced the rest. Brett had taken on the task of speaker, although Mera plainly wanted her turn in explaining things.
"Since Cass isn't here, we obviously can't do as much with HELEN as we'd want to. But we can't just leave this hanging for two months. We don't know where Tore is now, but in two month's time he could be on the other side of the world, out of our reach. So we have to start somewhere, and we think HELEN is a good place to start anyway, with or without a techno whiz. Jase and me'll start, and if we're not getting anywhere we'll see if she'll listen to Mera and Neri."
Diane interrupted. "Remind me again—where do I fit into this?"
"You provide the snacks," said Brett before he could stop himself.
Brett rolled his eyes as Mera continued on. "You will be in charge of security—making sure we're not disturbed while we look for information. Also there might be some things we need to check with you before we open them or alter them or anything. That is, if you don't mind," she added, remembering her manners.
Diane smiled. "Of course I don't mind. It's lovely to see you kids taking charge of the situation like this and making up your own minds. Go right ahead, I'll make sure I keep the control room clear."
Brett and Mera turned to each other with grins on their faces. "Yessssssss!!"
A few minutes later, four excited kids stood in the ORCA control room. Despite the excitement, none of them knew quite where to start. Finally Jason cleared his throat.
"Hello Jason. What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to have a look at some of the, uh, institutes on the mainland, please."
"What sort of "institute" did you have in mind?"
Jason was stumped. The new intelligent HELEN was something he still had not gotten used to, and he didn't want to give too much information—she wasn't entirely on their side.
"Well...how about one for gifted and talented children?"
"There are quite a few of those on the mainland." Nevertheless, a long list of names, founders and addresses appeared on the screen.
"That's great, HELEN. Can you narrow it down to, um, places with facilities for aquatic abilities?"
HELEN was instantly on her guard. "I'm not sure I can give you that information. What do you mean by aquatic abilities?"
"Children who are particularly strong swimmers, for instance." Jason knew he was taking a risk here, but he decided it was worth it.
"I can show you a list of the children who fit that criteria."
"Could you? Thanks!"
"But I'd need a person in authority to be in attendance. Those are the rules."
Jason was a bit surprised. "Aren't I one?"
"A higher authority. I don't know what you might be up to."
"Commander Bates, you're needed in the control room." A mystified errand runner delivered her message amid crowds of officers on the bridge.
"Of course. I'll finish up here later. Tell them no one else is to enter the control room until I say so. All right?" Diane hurried off to whatever business was at hand.
"Commander Bates!" HELEN sounded surprised; she hadn't really expected the Commander to be the Person In Authority.
"Now, boys, what's the problem?"
"Apparently there's a list of children with strong swimming abilities, but we need you around to view it."
"I don't know," said Jason truthfully. "Ask HELEN, she said so."
"There is a password only an officer or commander should know that is necessary to access the high level security files, Commander."
"High level security..." Diane thought about this for a moment. "Oh yes, I remember it now. Do I type it or say it?"
"Enter it in the space shown on the screen, Commander."
Feeling a bit foolish the Commander did so, and after some grumbling from the system, the list emerged.
"Great! Now we can get started."
But as they worked through the list, checking profiles, photographs and incremental details, something became increasingly obvious. Although the children were all strong swimmers, none of them showed the characteristics of an Ocean Planet native. Their ability was based around speed, not usually endurance and certainly not the unusual dolphin-like style or abnormally large amounts of time spent underwater obvious in the sisters. Breath holding was not noted in any child.
And their lives before the institutes were profoundly normal. They came from normal mainland families and very believable circumstances. None of them had been found as a young child in a lonely place, dressed in foreign, unearthly-looking clothing, and they had no strange distinguishing features. Most telling of all, none of them had the slightest hint of an obsession with the ocean.
The search for Tore was proving harder than expected. They had to wonder if HELEN had granted access to the list because she somehow knew they wouldn't find what they were looking for. It seemed to be telling them the institutes were not the place to look this time. But computers were only the first and but far the easiest part. The real test would begin with the silver island pendant.
And all the while, somewhere on the mainland, a slender boy with eyes the colour of a deep ocean wave looked wistfully out of the window, to a distant glint of sun on the sea.
I love suspense; it's Ocean Girl-ish! Now, review replies. Yes, they are here, they haven't run off, I just decided to put them at the end from now on and stop delaying the story like I normally do. Wow, four people!
JBird7986: I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting! This isn't normal for me I promise you, I've been concentrating on other things but from now on I will make an effort to keep this going!
Cindy: Yeah, it's one of my favourites too. I was so sad when it finished. Thanks for the encouragement!
FREAKY CHICK: Hiya! You just need practice in this sort of thing that's all. Watch how the best authors write and learn. Thanks anyway! You might want to read "A Secret Revealed" to give you an idea of what happened with Jason and Neri beforehand.
Shannon K: I know, I miss it too, that's why I'm writing this! Thanks for the feedback; I'm finding I like this story a lot as I continue it so there will be more chapters!
And a special shout-out: if anyone has tapes of the 4th season they'd be willing to copy, contact NemesisCeara (they're on this site) who is in a very sad state as they love the show but missed the 4th season, poor thing.
Hope you enjoyed the chapter, and if you don't review I'll eat you!