Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters for this part of the series (I make up characters later on though). Jason, Neri, Jali, Dianne (I do own the one in the prologue though), Brett, Winston, Vanessa, Froggie, Zoe, Jodie, etc.
A Long and Winding Road By Sambrea
Prologue: An old man rolled out onto the balcony of his house, where a young woman of about twenty years of age was waiting. The man was wrinkled and in a wheelchair, but of good health and mind and his eyes shined of youth and life.
"Father, are you insisting we start this again? It was difficult for you the first time, and from what I understand, there is a lot more to come."
"Dianne, I think it is time for me to tell the full story before the end is upon me. It's something I want to tell you, not just write it down. I just told you the first year, and there is a LOT more left but I feel that I need to tell it."
"All right," Dianne said, picking up a small recorder.
Neri crawled onto the beach and turned herself on her back. It had been
a long and hard journey
getting back to the island in the couple days that would normally have taken a week, especially with both of
them injured. Jali, get help, she told the whale as she tried to find the strength to climb farther up the beach
to where the waves wouldn't reach her at high tide. Jali sang his reluctance to leave her but she persisted.
'Find Jason and others. Go now.' Jali paused for a moment then swam towards Orca at the fastest speed he could muster. Neri felt him leave and pull out of range. She managed to pull herself above the tideline before succumbing to exhaustion and oblivion.
Summer was almost finally over, beginning an almost constant vigil for any
sign of Neri or Jali. Everyone
who had helped to free Jali last spring wanted to help keep the vigil, which to the kids' surprise included
Jason and Brett's mom and Winston. Jason took to sleeping in Neri's nest on her island, often with someone
else sleeping nearby on the ground. This became the subject of a lot of contreversy and speculation on Orca among the kids who knew who Neri was, but they let Jason alone. The end of summer forced Jason to move back to Orca so he could return to school. There was still no sign of Neri or Jali, making everyone live in trepidation and worry as whales started returning to the waters around Orca.
About three weeks after school started, Jason, Brett Froggie, Zoe, Jodie and Vanessa were sitting in the rectreation room talking about school and Neri when Zoe stopped listening and became spellbound with what was outside the window she was facing.
Jodie was sitting next to her and noticed the change in her attention and followed her line of sight to the window and what was floating outside of it.
"Good God," she whispered, half standing, and causing the rest of the group to stop chatting
Author's note: excuse the language, I don't mean to offend anyone, and I
couldn't think of another way to
"Jason, if that's Jali, we've got to find Neri NOW," she said in a hurry.
"What are you..." he started to say, paused, then turned to fac the
window along with everyone on that side of the table really quickly.
It was indeed Jali, but he was in really bad shape. He was missing part of
his tail and he had bite marks all over. Jason took charge of the group,
who was still staring in shock.
"Vanessa, you go with Froggie and sign a boat out. Brett, go with Zoe and find Mom. She'll want to come with. Me and Jodie will go up top and make sure Neri's not up there."
"Where else would she be?" Froggie asked.
"Her island. Let's tell as few people as possible. We don't need the whole base searching for her." They left the rec room a moment later to go about the tasks.
Jason and Jodie stood on the platform as they anxiously watched Jali
swimming around the platform. Neri
hadn't been on the platform so they were waiting for the rest of the group to finish their tasks. Vanessa had
decided to go straight to the Commander, dragging Froggie with her.
"Commander we need a boat now."
"Who is this we and why do you need a boat all of a sudden?"
Vanessa ticked off the names of everyone who had seen Jali and for good
measure, Dianne and Winston
and then went into a detailed explanation of what they had seen. When she had finished the Commander looked up, and seeing the seriousness and fear in their faces, nodded.
"I can see you're serious. You can have a boat, but be
careful." Vanessa thanked him quickly and dragged
Froggie with her out the door, leaving the Commander to chuckle, shake his head and smile, and then go back to his paperwork. Brett and Zoe ran into Dianne's lab, surprising her and Winston, both of whom were working. They stood there a moment, catching their breath.
"Brett, what's going on?" Dianne asked. Brett caught his breath faster than Zoe.
"It's Neri, Mom. Jali found us maybe five minutes ago. She
wasn't with him and he's in really bad shape.
We need to find Neri now."
"What are you guys talking about."
"It looked like he had been attacked by a shark Ms. Bates."
"All right. But your telling me this why?"
"Because we know how much you care for Neri Mom and we could use another pair of eyes for the search."
"Would you like my help too?" Winston asked.
"We need all the help we can get. We've got to leave now though."
"I saw Jali a while ago on the screens but without Neri with him I thought he was just a curious whale."
"Mom, there's no time for that now, we have to find Neri," Brett
said, grabbing Dianne's hand and dragging her
out the door, leaving Zoe and Winston no choice but to follow them.
Ten minutes later, everyone was on the boat getting ready to leave. Dianne was pacing the length of the boat. Jason was watching her.
"Mom, sit down. Your going to wear yourself out doing that
and we need your help to find her," he said,
leading her to a bench and sitting next to her.
"We should never have let her go on migration. What kind of mother
am I?" she asked as the boat started
moving. Winston, who was sitting on her other side, put an arm around her shoulders.
"Your a mother who realizes that you can't control everything that your children do, or what happens to them," he said. "What would have you done to keep her here anyways, Mom? Locked her up at Orca? She would have forever hated you for that," Jason said, squeezing her hand comfortingly. The rest of the trip was spent in silence.
They finally reached the island after what seemed like an eternity, though it couldn't have been more than 45 minutes. Jason took control of the group, knowing he was the only one with really intimate knowledge of the island and that his mom was in no condition to do it herself.
"We need to split up," he said as everyone left the boat.
"Vanessa, you and Jodie got to the left along the beach. Brett and
Froggie go to the right. Mom, you and
Winston go to her camp. Zoe and I will stay here. If any of you find her come tell us, we'll get the others."
No one argued with him except Zoe, who wanted to help search with the
others. Jason quelled her though,
convincing her they had just as an important job as the others. Everyone headed off in their respective
directions, leaving Jason and Zoe to wait by the boat.
Vanessa and Jodie had been walking for a few minutes when Jodie noticed a
figure laying in the sand.
"Please no," she said as she ran over to where Neri was laying face down. Vanessa was right behind her and helped Jodie turn Neri onto her back. Vanessa immediately checked for a pulse, and finding a very weak, but steady pulse let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding.
"She's alive, but her pulse is really weak. We need to get her
help." Jodie stood up and took off running in
the direction of the boat. Vanessa used the time that Jodie was gone to give Neri a more thorough examination.
She wasn't any expert, but she didn't need to be. Neri's dress was caked with dried blood, making Vasnessa
think she had lost a lot of blood. She was about to peel Neri's dress off when she realized that she didn't know if Neri wore anything under her dress. Vanessa decided to wait until the rest of the group joined her which wasn't more than a minute later.
"Is this how you guys found her?" Dianne asked as she, Jason and Winston knelt down next to her.
"Just about. We had to turn her face up. I would have taken her dress off to check her injuries but I'm not sure she's wearing anything underneath." Everyone looked at Jason, who put his hands up in defense.
"Don't look at me, I really don't have any idea, but if you want my opinion, I don't think she owns anything else but her dress."
Brett, Zoe, Froggie and Jodie came running up then, hurrying to catch their breath.
"All right, here's what we're going to do. Brett, you, Zoe, Froggie and Jodie go back to the boat."
"But Mom..." Brett said, whining.
"Don't mess with me right now. Just do it," Dianne said in a no nonsense tone of voice.
"Winston, would you go with them?" Winston patted Dianne on the shoulder and herded the kids back toward the boat, ignoring their pleas to let them stay.
"So what do we do?" Vanessa asked.
"I take it you sent away the younger kids because we're going to
have to take off her dress right?" Dianne
nodded. Vanessa put a hand on Dianne's shoulder.
"You want me to do it?" Dianne covered Vanessa's hand with her own.
"Thank you. I'm not sure I have the strength right now to do it myself." Jason moved to where he could give his mother more support, as Vanessa moved closer to Neri.
"I'm just going to pull it to her upper chest. "I'll go farther if I need to but that's a good starting place." Vanessa took a deep breath and started peeling back Neri's dress, which she literally had to do. Neri was indeed naked under her dress. Vanessa didn't let it phase her for more than a moment though. As she kept peeling up Neri's dress, she couldn't help wincing. Neri had deep teeth marks all along the left side of her body.
"How did she survive that?" Dianne asked, whiping a tear from her eye.
"Jali," Jason said quietly as Vanessa pulled Neri's dress back down.
"Now what do we do?" Vanessa asked a moment later. Dianne thought a moment before answering.
"We really need to get her back to Orca. The problem is, we don't have anyone on the medical staff who knows who she is."
"We'll just have to tell someone who's trustworthy. We can't treat her ourselves," Jason said.
"How do we get her to the boat?" Vanessa asked.
"I'll carry her," Jason said.
"You sure you can do it?" Dianne asked skeptically. Jason nodded.
"I'm guessing she can't weigh more than 100 pounds. Anyways, I'm her best friend so I think it's kind of my duty." "Let's get going then. It looks like she lost a lot of blood," Dianne said, starting to stand up.
She wiped her hands on her pants as Vanessa stood and Jason moved to pick Neri up.
"She's even lighter than I expected," he said as they started walking.
"Whales lose fat on migration. Neri probably loses weight." Five minutes later, they reached the boat.
"Mom, how is she?" Brett asked as they climbed on board.
"She's alive, but how, I can't imagine. She's got deep bite marks
down her whole left side of her body. Jali
must have saved from being bitten in half. We need to get her to Orca for help," she said as Winston got the boat started. "No one on the med staff knows who she is so we'll have to be careful what we say. We'll have to tell someone though.
A long 45 minutes later they finally reached Orca. Winston had radioed
ahead so there was a medical team
waiting on the platform. "I'm Dr. Jennifer Crane. Who is this?"
"Her name is Neri. It looks like she was attacked by a
shark," Jason said as he stepped out of the boat and
put Neri on the waiting gurney.
"Where did you find her?" That stopped Jason in his tracks, along with most of the group. Jason felt a hand on his shoulder a moment later.
"Tell her the truth. I think we can trust her," Dianne
Jason nodded. "Her island."
That caught Jennifer by surprise. "Her island?! The only islands around here are uninhabited!"
"That's ture, except for one island."
"How come I never heard about this?"
"We've kept her a secret for a year now with good reason," Dianne said as they waited for the lift to return for them. "What do you mean?"
"I should say only that she has a friend who probably saved her life out there."
"A friend?! The only thing out there is whales!" Dianne
grinned and pointed out Jali, who was sitting 50
feet out from the platform, one eye on it.
"Jennifer, meet Jali." Jennifer took a good two steps back at the sight of Jali.
"She's friends with... him?"
"Why else would he be this close?" Brett said, a smile on his face.
"Actually I don't know that much about whales," Jennifer said as they entered the lift.
"Well, they usually don't hang around human installations like he is right now."
"How long have you guys known her?"
"Brett and I have known her a year now. Mom for about half a year,
and the rest of us about a quarter of a
year," Jason said. "And how many other people know about her?"
"Just the Comander and his daughter. We've kept it pretty
secretive, and we'd like to keep it that way." A
couple minutes later, they reached the medical center. Another doctor was waiting for them.
"I'm Dr. Riker. Your the ones who brought the girl in right?"
"Yes. How is she?"
"She'll be all right. Any blood she lost she seems to have
regenerated by herself. Her only problem really
is she's extremely exhausted. She needs to sleep. She'll be fine after that."
"What did you do with her dress?" Jason asked.
"You mean that thing she was wearing? We had to take it off her, but we're not exactly sure what we should do with it. Who is she anyways? I've never seen anything like that before. And on top of that she didn't have anything on underneath it!"
"Dr. Riker, I'll take over Neri's care from here. I know more about her than you do, and they want to keep this as quiet as possible," she said pointing over her shoulder to Jason the rest of the group. After a moment of thought Dr. Riker nodded.
"All right. I can live with that." As Dr. Riker moved away, Dianne whispered to Jennifer:
"If she's only exhausted, can we move her to my quarters?" Jennifer shrugged.
"I don't see any reason why not. It wouldn't cause as much
of stir certainly if you have her there." With that Jason entered the
area where Neri was laying and picked her up. Someone had already
dressed her in an Orca uniform. Dianne followed him and picked up
Neri's dress. Jennifer put a hand on Dianne's shoulder as she passed by.
"There's no way of knowing when she'll wake up. You might want to have someone with her until she does. I'll come check on her tomorrow before I start work. When she does wake up, she might want a familiar face there."
"Thank you. For everything." Jennifer nodded and
entered the medical center leaving Dianne to follow the
rest of the group. "Let's put her in my room," she said as she joined the rest of the group in her quarters.
"We should go. Our parents will be wondering where we are,"
Vanessa said, speaking for all of the kids. A few of the kids looked
like they were going to protest but when they saw the look on Vanessa's
face they kept quiet and filed out. "I thought you guys might want
some time to yourselves," Vanessa said just before she left.
"I should go too," Winston said, putting a hand on Dianne's shoulder.
"Thank you for your help today Winston. You didn't have to come with us you know."
"I wanted to. Besides, she's my friend too," he said, squeezing Dianne's shoulder and leaving the room.
Dianne entered her bedroom where Jason had placed Neri on the bed.
"Mom, where are you going to sleep?" Brett asked.
"A chair in this room, just like I'd do if one of you were sick."
"What about tomorrow? Who stays with her?" Brett asked
"We'll take turns. I can't miss work tomorrow, so you take a turn Jason."
It was a quiet evening, with Neri sleeping the entire night. Jason was studying in the chair next to her bed when he heard a voice.
"Jason," Neri said, just barely loud enough that he could hear.
Jason smiled as he put down his book and
looked at Neri whose eyes were open.
"Hey there... How are you doing?"
"Tired... dry. Too dry."
"Let's get you into the bathtub then," he said, picking her up.
"Orca. We found you yesterday after Jali found us. We
brought you back with us after that. Neri, what
happened to you and Jali?" Neri took a deep breath as Jason eased her into the bathtub, which was
actually more the size of a hottub, and turned the water on.
"Shark attack. Bite me, Jali bite, save me." Jason
pulled a chair over to the tub as it finished filling. He
turned off the water.
"Neri, how much blood did you lose?" Neri had closed her eyes and was leaning against the edge of the tub. At the question, though, she opened her eyes and turned to face Jason. She paused a moment before answering.
"Lot. Lot of blood. Did not help hurry home... finish trip two days, take week." That surprised Jason.
"No wonder your exhausted."
"She had to work today, since we spent most of yesterday afternoon looking for you."
"No, none of us are. I mean, we were just surprised. Jali certainly scared us yesterday."
"I send to find you. No now why hurt."
"Well, your home now. You can stop worrying...Neri, would you be willing to teach me how to swim like you?"
"I think mom will agree with me that you should have someone else with you when you go on migration next year. She can't, obviously, because of her work. Brett's too young, he needs to continue with school. That leaves me." Neri was silent a moment as she thought about that.
"Take lot time. Need build power. Can move island? Teach there. Too deep here."
"I'll talk to mom. I'm old enough to make my own decisions. She'll just have to understand. Let's get you back into bed," he said, standing up.
"Mother not mind I wet?"
"No. It was her idea to put you in her bed in the first place," Jason said as he picked her up.
"But I wet!"
"Don't worry about it," Jason said as he set her back in bed, and covered her with a blanket.
"If it makes you feel better, I can get you a towel."
"Towel? What that?" the question surprised Jason but then he realized there wasn't any way that Neri could know what a towel was.
"It helps you dry off when you're wet," he said as he got one from the bathroom and handed it to Neri. A minute later, Jason took back the now soaked towel from Neri and went to hang it up in the bathroom and when her came back, Neri was asleep.
The next few days were basically the same routine, except everyone took turns. Jason often argued with his
mom about learning to swim like Neri so he could go on migration with her and Jali the next summer.
Finally after much debate and thought, Dianne agreed.
"All right, you can do it, but just because your living on Neri's island, that doesn't mean your education has to suffer. You keep up your studies until you go on migration all right?"
Jason nodded. "As long as I can go." That ended that. The only problem left was really Neri's nightmares. A couple nights after she arrived on Orca she started waking Dianne up, who was still sitting next to the bed, thrashing and moaning. Dianne would hold Neri until she fell back asleep.
"She still is so much like a child," Dianne commented to Winston one day while they were working.
"Does it bother you?"
"No, it gives me the chance to have the daughter I never had."
"Actually, it does not surprise me. that she is more of a child than she
should be. Before Jason met her, she
hadn't had human contact for years. That means no chance to learn, no chance know life outside of her island. No chance to grow."
"These nightmares are really hurting her."
"Have you talked to her about it?"
"We talked as a family. It helped, I think. She's only waking up once a night on average now."
"That's good to hear. She probably is read to go back to her island."
"Jason's going with her."
"He wants to learn to swim like she does so he can go with her and Jali
when they go on migration next
spring." "And you're comfortable with that?"
"Not as comfortable as I'd like to be, but it's his decision."
A week later, Neri and Jason moved to her island. It wasn't easy to
learn to swim like Neri did. They spent a few hours a day building
Jason's breath control, stamina and swimming ability. They were also
working out a mutual sign system that would be useful under water.
All that time together added an interesting twist to Neri and Jason's
personal relationship. Jason had been feeling like Neri was becoming more
than just a good friend for a while, but because Neri's mind was almost like a
child's, he wasn't sure he should say anything about his feelings. Jason
had been teaching Neri to read, which she had asked him to do in exchange
for the swimming lessons. Jason thought that was a pretty fair exchange,
so he had been teaching her. Jason had gotten a wetsuit from Orca,
allowing him to keep much warmer while swimming than if he had just been
wearing a swimsuit. As his swimming got stronger, Neri started taking
Jason out into the ocean to swim with Jali and go on longer swimming
"Today go to Orca, Neri said one morning as they ate breakfast. Visit mother."
"You think I'm ready?" Neri nodded.
"Been ready. Ultimate test. Go on migration soon." A half-hour later they were swimming toward Orca.
"Dive, Neri signed when they reached the platform. Jason nodded, broke the surface for a fresh breath and then dove with Neri. When they reached the bottom half of Orca, Jason signed he wanted to find Dianne's lab. Neri grinned and signed to follow her. A half-minute later they were floating in front of the lab window. Winston and Dianne had their backs to them so Jason knocked on the window. He could see Dianne say something to Winston, him head to the door, open it, look out into the hallway, and say something to Dianne, who paused, said something and turned to the window. Jason had to grin at the look on Dianne's face. He waved to her as she said something. Apparently she was trying to tell him something, because, from what he could tell, she said the same thing over again. Jason shook his head and pointed to his ear. That sent Dianne into a flurry of activity. Winston finally handed her a piece of paper, which she frantically wrote on. When she held it up where Jason could read it, it said, Meet us up top on the platform, Jason nodded and signed to Neri what it said. She nodded and headed to the surface, leaving Jason to follow. Five minutes after they arrived on the platform, the lift door opened. Jason and Neri were still in the water as a precaution in case someone came up before Dianne did.
"Where are you Jason?" Jason and Neri climbed out of the water and onto the platform.
"We're right here Mom," he said, giving her a hug.
"Were you trying to give me a heart attack down there?" Dianne asked as she gave Neri a hug.
"Sorry mom. Of course we didn't mean to."
"What heart attack?"
"It's where your heart stops," Jason said.
"Aren't you teaching her that kind of thing?"
"Yes, but sometimes it's just easier to just answer her questions." Dianne nodded.
"When do you leave?"
"Jali says seven day at sunrise.".
"I'll try to be there to see you off. If I'm not, can you stop here before you head out?" Neri nodded.
"It on way out."
"Will you wait for us on the platform?" Jason asked. Dianne nodded.
"Sure. I'll see you, one way or the other." She hugged
both Neri and Jason one last time then watched them
dive into the water and swim off towards the island before she turned back to the life.
Seven days later she was on the platform at sunrise with a sleepy Brett standing next to her. Winston was also there but not so close to them. A few minutes later Jason and Neri surfaced and climbed onto the platform.
"So you guys are really heading out huh?" Brett asked, surprising both Jason and Neri with his presence.
"I just wanted to say goodbye and good luck," he said, shrugging it off. Dianne hugged Neri and Jason for a long minute. Brett came forward then and gave Neri a hug.
"I packed a couple things for you to take with," Dianne said, handing a airtight backpack to Jason.
"The backpack is waterproof so it won't harm what's inside. There's a satellite phone in there so you can call me here if you need to, that's also watertight. There's also a few candy bars in there in case you get sick of living off the sea, Jason," she said, sniffing. Jason took the pack from Dianne and gave her a long hug.
"Thanks Mom. We'll be back before you know it." He turned to Brett, who was standing next to Dianne and ruffled his hair a bit.
"Watch out for Mom, all right? You're the man of the house now." Brett grinned.
"I've been the man of the house since you left to live on Neri's island. Good luck." Neri put a hand on Jason's shoulder. "Jali say we leave now." Jason nodded, gave his mom one last hug and waited as Neri did the same. He said goodbye one last time, and then turned with Neri to dive off the platform.
Winston came from where he had been standing near the door to the lift, and put his hands on Dianne shoulders. "You aren't going to get much sleep until they return are you?" he asked. Dianne shook her head.
"We might as well go back. They're gone and everyone will be awake
in a bit." The three of them left the
platform and entered the lift a moment later, with Dianne taking one last look out to sea.
Jason smiled at Neri as they neared her island. I had been an
uneventful migration, at least according to Neri. They had almost
had a couple run-ins with tourist boats who were watching the whales migrate,
but they had been able to avoid any contact and continue on their way.
"Jali say good to be home," Neri said as they climbed onto the beach. It was late evening so they had
opted to go to Orca the next morning instead of then. They walked to camp and were surprised to find it in good shape, despite the months it hadn't been in use.
"It was probably just Mom," Jason said as he walked over to the
firepit, where a white piece of paper was
folded in half and taped to a rock. Jason picked it up and unfolded it.
**Jason and Neri, I hope this note finds you in good health. We're all doing fine here on Orca. Come visit us soon. Mom** Jason read it to Neri, who smiled.
"Sleep now, visit tomorrow," she said, turning to climb the tree in which their nest was in. Jason sighed at the thought of going to bed so early, but followed her up to the nest. He had professed his love for her a couple of weeks before, just before they had gone to sleep, and to his surprise, she had not been embarrassed but signed that she loved him too. Jason gave Neri a kiss before they fell asleep.
Jason was woken up by Neri, who was gently nudging him.
"Time to go visit."
"Neri, your just a stickler for waking up early aren't you?"
"I mean, there's no chance you'll ever let me sleep in is there?" Neri grinned and shook her head.
"Didn't think so. Will you at least let me eat some breakfast first?" Neri nodded.
"I join you," she said and turned to climb down the tree. 30
minutes later, they were at Orca, treading water
near the platform.
"Give mother heart attack again?" Neri asked, smiling.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Jason said, grinning.
"Let's dive." Jason followed Neri down to the lower levels of Orca.
Once again they found themselves in front of Dianne's lab window. Dianne and Winston were both working hard at a nearby table, both their heads bent over something so they couldn't see Jason and Neri. Jason smiled at Neri and knocked on the window. Winston once again went to the door of the lab and looked out into the hallway making Jason roll his eyes.
"When will they stop checking the door when they hear a knock?"
Jason signed to Neri, who just shrugged.
Dianne and Winston turned back to their work, making Jason roll his eyes in annoyance. He knocked again and when Winston opened the lab door again, Jason knocked a second time, making Winston turn to the window.
Jason waved to him, he grinned and said something to Dianne which made her turn to the window. Jason waved and Dianne smiled and turned to a microphone near the window.
"Well hey there," she said, and Jason and Neri could actually hear her, scaring the heck out of them.
Dianne chuckled. "Everyone thought I was crazy to want a speaker outside my lab. We'll meet on the platform all right?" Jason nodded and led Neri up to the surface.
A couple minutes after they arrived on the platform the lift door opened and Dianne and Winston stepped out.
"It's so good to see you guys," Dianne said, giving them both a big hug.
"It's great to see you too Mom. What gave you the idea to put a microphone on the outside of the lab so we could hear you?"
"It wasn't that hard to think of. You couldn't hear us through the window. People who don't know about the two of you think it's for our research. How was the trip?"
"Long, but uneventful. We did almost get into trouble when a couple of tourist boats came close to where we were swimming. I needed to come up for air right there too. We almost came up next to the boat before I realized there was something there. Someone did see me, but it was only for a couple seconds and considering what happened after I first saw Neri, don't think anyone will believe her."
"Where wee you? Were you anywhere near here?"
"Month away," Neri answered. "It good to be home," Neri repeated, giving Dianne another hug.
"So what has been going on while we were gone?"
"Well actually, Winston and I got engaged."
"What?!" Jason said, his jaw dropping to his knees.
"You missed a lot while living with Neri," Winston said, coming forward and putting his arms around Dianne.
"Are you mad at us for not telling you we were in love sooner?" Dianne asked a little apprehensively.
Jason sighed. "No Mom, I'm not mad at you. I think it's wonderful. You just surprised me," he said, giving his mother a hug, and then reluctantly gave Winston one too.
"I'll handle this Jason. Neri, two people get engaged when they love each other very much?"
"What's the hold-up on the wedding?" Jason asked, hoping to stop any other questions Neri might have.
"We've been waiting for the two of you to return. We want to have the ceremony on your island, but it didn't seem right to have it without the two of you there. You are still planning on living on the island right?"
Jason nodded. "We don't have any other plans."
"So you're not going to move back to Orca?"
Jason glanced at Neri. "No. I like my life on the island. Have you set a date for the wedding?"
"No. We've been waiting for you guys to come home, like Dianne said," Winston replied.
"Would you like to come down with us?"
Neri and Jason glanced at each other before Jason nodded. "Sure," he answered. "There's just one problem. Neither of us have our uniforms."
"I have them in our quarters. I'll go get them."
"Get some shoes for us too," Jason said as Dianne entered the lift.
"If you're not wearing your uniform under there, what are you wearing?" Winston asked as they waited.
Jason cleared his throat. "Actually… nothing."
"Don't you get cold?"
"No. It isn't exactly warm in the water, but this suit keeps me warm."
Dianne returned a minute later with two uniforms in hand.
"I'm glad I kept these all this time. Let's see. Neri's is the one without sleeves," she said, handing them out.
"Where I change?"
Jason told her and she went behind a box.
"Where did she learn that?" Dianne asked.
"Brett and I started teaching her that when she first came to Orca. She started changing clothes right in front of us. We've had to do something.. Of course that brings up the question of where I'm going to change."
"You can change right here."
"Mom, I'm not wearing anything underneath this wetsuit," Jason said out of the corner of his mouth.
"Oh," Dianne said after a moment. "Wait a minute, you're naked under there?"
"Yes mom. Isn't that what I just said?"
"Because wearing anything else is pretty uncomfortable."
"I done," Neri said, coming out from behind the box in her uniform. "You change now."
"Jason went behind the same box to change.
"Where put dress?"
"You can put it in our quarters until you leave later."
"He's still at school. I sent him a message telling him to come home for lunch. He hopefully will."
"I'm ready," Jason said a moment later, coming out from behind the box.
"Let's go down then," Dianne said, leading the way to the lift.
As the lift descended, everyone was pretty quiet.
"It's been a while since I've been inside," Jason commented.
"You mean inside Orca?" Winston asked.
"No, inside period. The last time was… before I moved to Neri's island."
"Wow. We should get you in here more often," Winston said with a smile.
They went to the Bates' quarters.
Jason sent messages to his friends who he knew would want to see him and Neri, which mostly consisted of the group that had helped to find Neri the year before.
They were all sitting and talking when the door opened and Brett walked in.
"I got your message Mom. What's going on?" Then he spotted Neri and Jason sitting there and his face lit up in a big grin. "Neri!" he said, giving her a big hug. He then turned to Jason and reluctantly gave him a hug.
"It's good to see you guys. How was the trip?"
Jason told Brett the same thing he had told Dianne.
"Wow," Brett said when Jason had finished. It sounds like you were almost caught."
Their small gathering became almost a party as more of Jason's friends stopped by to see him and Neri. Jason had to relate the story of his near capture several times over the evening.
Neri and Jason stayed on Orca longer than planned on, and when they finally returned to the platform, the sun was setting.
"Why don't you guys set a date for your wedding within the next few days and tell us, all right?" Jason suggested as he gave his mom one last hug and waited for Neri to do the same.
Dianne nodded. "You guys going to be all right by yourselves?"
"Mom," Jason said. "We'll be fine. Anyways, we still have the satellite phone if something happens."
"All right. Don't be afraid to call us for anything all right?"
"Yes mother," Jason said, and signed to Neri they should leave.
"Bye," Neri said reluctantly as Jason dived into the water, leaving Neri no choice but to follow.
"Why leave?" Neri asked as they arrived on the beach.
"When Mom starts talking like that, you want to get out of there. Otherwise you never will," Jason answered.
End of Part 1