Excerpt for The Neptune Promise by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Book Three of The Neptune Trilogy

Polly Holyoke

Copyright 2017 by Polly Holyoke

Front cover illustration by Dave Seeley

Second Edition, May, 2018

All rights reserved.


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Holyoke, Polly.

Title: The Neptune Promise / Polly Holyoke.

Description: First edition. | [Plano, Texas] : Holyoke Enterprises, 2017.

| Series: [The Neptune Trilogy] ; [book 3] | Interest age level: 010-

014. | Sequel to: The Neptune Challenge. | Summary: "In a future

where climate change is out of control, genetically engineered kids

struggle to survive in the ocean and race to save our world from

climate change."--Provided by publisher.

Identifiers: ISBN 9780999611449

Subjects: LCSH: Climatic changes--Juvenile fiction. | Children—Juvenile

fiction. | Genetic engineering--Juvenile fiction. | Survival--Juvenile

fiction. | Undersea colonies--Juvenile fiction. | CYAC: Climatic

changes--Fiction. | Children--Fiction.| Genetic engineering--Fiction.

| Survival--Fiction. | Undersea colonies--Fiction. | LCGFT: Science fiction.

Classification: LCC PZ7.H7435

| DDC [Fic]--dc23



Also by Polly Holyoke:

The Neptune Project

The Neptune Challenge


Karen Harrington Chapman

Your exquisite prose, your fierce dedication to craft

and your friendship continue to inspire me.


I am grateful to the many people who helped me research, plot, write and revise The Neptune Promise. Katie Allman did a great job of thinking up ways c-plankton might be cultivated and stored. Cindy Gay helped me to understand much of the genetic background to c-plankton and my genetically engineered characters. My thanks go to Kristin Gonzalez, Ian Straehley and his medical school friends for thinking up clever ways that data might be stored on a computer in the sea.

Isabell Cruz and Sarah Champ were patient and gracious about helping me with Spanish words, phrases and character names.

Thank you to my awesome team of beta readers who read and critiqued The Neptune Promise in record time. Reid, Molly M. and Molly S., Maia, Antoine, Sophie, Mary, Keighley, Maeva, and Rohan, along with Kristin, Mark, Adrian and Sophie Gonzalez, you guys are awesome!

Karen Harrington, Karen Blumenthal and Kay Honeyman, thanks for being such great writing buddies and thank you for listening.

I’m so grateful to the best little ole critique group in Texas. Pam McWilliams, Hema Penmetsa, Robert Eilers and Melanie Sumrow all helped improve many chapters in this story.

Brenda Quinn, editor extraordinaire, did a wonderful job of editing this on a tight deadline. My nephew, Matteo Marangoni, who is a talented sound artist, shared helpful ideas on how my kids could create real music under water.

I would like to give a special shout out to Robert Eilers who did such a wonderful job of designing the back cover to The Neptune Promise and helped me deal with the many technical and intimidating issues involved in self-publishing a book. Thank you for being my sounding board and for being so very generous with your time.

Finally, I would like to say thank you to all the school librarians who have embraced my Neptune books, and to my fans from all over the world who kept writing and begging me to complete Nere’s adventures. This one is for you.


Table of Contents

chapter one

chapter two

chapter three

chapter four

chapter five

chapter six

chapter seven

chapter eight

chapter nine

chapter ten

chapter eleven

chapter twelve

chapter thirteen

chapter fourteen

chapter fifteen

chapter sixteen

chapter seventeen

chapter eighteen

chapter nineteen

chapter twenty

chapter twenty-one

chapter twenty-two

chapter twenty-three

chapter twenty-four

chapter twenty-five

chapter twenty-six

chapter twenty-seven

chapter twenty-eight

chapter twenty-nine

chapter thirty

chapter thirty-one

chapter thirty-two

chapter thirty-three

chapter thirty-four

chapter thirty-five

chapter thirty-six

A letter to my readers

About the author

chapter one

Today the waters of the Queen Charlotte Strait are rough and cloudy from churned-up sediment. I hate days when I can’t see where I’m going, and there have been too many of those recently. Mariah’s sleek gray, white and black body glimmers through the green murk as she swims beside me. Her half-grown calf, Tisi, swims near us both.

:It was supposed to be calm for our patrol today,: Ree grumbles telepathically as she kicks along on my other side, her dark brows drawn together in a frown. :We won’t see any sharks or boats until we’re on top of them.:

:That’s why our dolphins stay close. At least they can sense what’s out there,: Tobin says. I can barely see his red hair, much less his face, but I can guess he’s smiling.

I am grateful that the dolphins swim in a tight formation around us. We definitely don’t want to blunder within sonar range of any boats. The Canadian government doesn’t know about our secret colony, and we want to keep it that way. Safety Harbor is full of kids who have been genetically engineered to live in the sea, and Canada has strong laws against genetic engineering. Most people see us as freaks or abominations.

Laki, one of several dolphins scouting ahead of our patrol, arrows up to me, sawing and whistling in her excitement. My stomach tightens as I order the others to halt. Are we about to run into trouble? Our main mission on patrol is to keep an eye out for any potential threats to Safety Harbor.

From Laki I pick up a clear visual image of a canoe and Tsukwani, a First Nation girl I know, hitting the water with her paddle again and again.

:the paddler makes the signal she wishes you to come and talk,: Mariah relays to me moments later.

The other members of my patrol gather around me. :I’d like to go see what Tsukwani wants,: I say.

:Do you think that’s a good idea?: Lena asks, tugging at one of her long, dark braids.

:The Kwawaka’wakw gave us a good tip about that warship patrolling Blackfish Sound last week,: Sunny points out cheerfully, :and their other tips have been helpful, too.:

Since Mariah and I rescued two young Kwawaka’wakw children we found adrift in a canoe several months ago, we’ve established a wary alliance with our closest neighbors, a small First Nation village on Allman Island. The Kwawaka’wakw, like us, aren’t supposed to live in the Broughton Archipelago. We let them know when we come across schools of salmon and lingcod, and they warn us when they spot Canadian vessels or Marine Guard ships from our former home, the Western Collective, prowling the strait.

:I know you haven’t met her yet,: I tell Lena, :but I promise Tsukwani isn’t a threat to us. If it makes you feel more comfortable, I’ll scan her thoughts before I swim up to talk to her.:

Most Neptune kids can only read thoughts sent directly to them, but I can read people’s surface minds. I don’t, though, unless I’m worried about the safety of my friends.

:’Kay,: Lena says, and I sense her nervousness easing a little.

I tell Mariah we all need tows, and our dolphin partners rush to find us. After Sokya flashes up beside me, she rolls over on her back so that I can’t grab hold of her dorsal fin. Mariah’s youngest daughter, Sokya is almost like a sister to me, and she has plenty of attitude.

:We don’t have time for your tricks right now,: I tell Sokya sternly.

:say ‘please,’: she teases me. I recently spent an hour trying to explain to her why humans say “please” and “thank you.” Dolphins find human courtesy unnecessary and funny.

:Sokya, please, roll over and present your dorsal,: I say, fighting to hold on to my temper.

:thank you for asking nicely,: she says, her glee evident in her mental voice, and she finally rolls over and lets me take hold of her fin.

:Check in when you’re ready,: I order the members of my patrol since I can’t see them all through the hazy water.

Lena, Tobin, Sunny and Ree all promptly let me know that they and their dolphin partners are ready.

:Dai, what about you and Ton? Are you guys all set back there?: Dai’s lived in the ocean longer than any of us, so usually I assign him the most dangerous point or sweep positions with his dolphin.

:We’ve been ready for the past two minutes,: Dai responds impatiently.

So much for listening to my orders. I sigh and concentrate on not sending that retort. Instead I say, :’Kay, everyone, let’s get going.:

I tighten my grip on her dorsal, and Sokya pulls me through the cloudy sea far faster than I could swim on my own. It’s weird to move so quickly and see nothing but green gloom in front of me, but I have to trust that Sokya’s ability to echolocate will keep us from smashing into something. To distract myself, I reach out on a private send to Dai.

:Are you okay?: I ask him.

Dai is often moody and distant. But during the past two weeks, he’s been so withdrawn, he’s hardly spoken to me or anyone else at Safety Harbor, not even the old friends he grew up with at Atlantea.

:I’m fine.:

:You know if you ever want to talk, my door is always open.:

:Nere, there aren’t any doors at Safety Harbor,: he points out dryly. :We live in a network of coves and sea caves.:

:You know what I mean,: I say, allowing some of the worry and exasperation I’m feeling to creep into my mental voice.

:I do know what you mean,: he says after a few moments, his tone warmer. :I appreciate your worrying about me, but you don’t need to.:

As I cut off the send, I sense he’s keeping his mind tightly shielded. Something is definitely troubling Dai, and it’s something he doesn’t want me to know about, which makes me worry about him all the more. I’m sure he heard the report that a Sea Ranger patrol spotted a triangular silver sub only fifteen miles from Safety Harbor last week. There’s only one person we know who pilots a sub like that… Dai’s father, Ran Kuron.

A sharp, rhythmic slapping sound fills my ears, and I have to focus on patrol business. Reaching out with my telepathy, I find Tsukwani’s mind at once. She’s upset, and in her thoughts I catch a glimpse of a young whale terribly tangled in a net.

:Stay down here,: I order my patrol. :It is Tsukwani, and I think she’s anxious about an entangled whale calf, but I’ll know for sure in a few minutes.:

Swiftly I kick to the surface and breathe out the water in my lungs so I can talk aloud, landliver style. Tsukwani sits in the stern of a handsome canoe which she and her father carved from cedar wood. She’s a strong, pretty girl with big dark eyes. Usually she’s all smiles, but today she looks frantic.

“Hey, Tsukwani, what’s up?”

“Oh, Nere,” she bursts out the moment she spots me. “I’m so glad you’ve come. There’s a humpback calf badly tangled in a fishing net in the big cove on the southern side of Bonwick Island. We’ve tried to help, but the baby’s mother is too upset to let us get close, and the rest of its pod won’t leave it. Several Russian whalers are working the strait, and we’re afraid they’ll catch and kill the whole pod if the whales don’t leave soon. I thought you might have more luck getting close enough to cut that net off.”

“We can try,” I say as I start entering Bonwick Island into the nav system on my wrist computer. “How’s your little sister?”

“Still getting into plenty of trouble,” Tsukwani replies ruefully, “but at least she hasn’t launched any canoes by herself recently. You go on, and I’ll catch up with you when I can.”

My nav system indicates that the island lies five miles south of us. Carefully, I take a bearing with my compass, too. I love the Broughton Archipelago, but these waters are full of rocky, tree-covered islands that all look the same, which complicates navigating around here.

I send Tsukwani a final wave and hurry down to my patrol and tell them about the entangled whale. I’m not surprised when everyone, including Dai and the dolphins, promptly agrees that we should try to help. When we set off again, I discuss the situation with Mariah on a private telepathic send.

:Can you actually talk to the whales and tell them we want to help?: I ask her. Baby humpbacks can be the size of a big pickup truck, and I’m worried that a frightened calf could hurt or crush us. If its mother got upset, the situation could become a hundred times more dangerous.

:we cannot talk the way you and I talk now, but I think the old ones will sense you want to help,: Mariah replies calmly.

:I hope you’re right.: Saving whales is not officially part of my job as patrol leader, but keeping my Sea Rangers alive is. Still, I can’t just swim away and leave a pod of humpbacks at the mercy of whalers.

When the dolphins are sure there are no boats nearby, we surface to make better time. Skimming over the swells, our bodies create less drag for the dolphins. The sky has a strange yellowish tinge from the terrible forest fires burning inland. Today’s hot July winds must be fanning their flames.

Through a break in the islands I catch a glimpse of the rugged coastal mountains on the Canadian mainland rising in steep blue layers, their southern portion shrouded in gray smoke. Even here in the Northwest, each summer is hotter and dryer than the summer before. How many more species will go extinct and how many more people will die before we manage to stop global warming?

I’m distracted from my worrying when a pod of mottled gray dolphins join us. Clearly they’ve never seen dolphins towing humans before, and they swim around us in great excitement. These Risso’s dolphins are much larger than our Pacific white-sided dolphins, but I think Mariah and her family are prettier because of their dramatic gray, black and white coloring. Tisi joins some of our younger visitors as they leap and play in the waves. I laugh when the calves startle a flock of gray gulls resting on the waves and send the disgruntled birds flying.

A half-hour later, we reach Bonwick Island, and the wild dolphins leave us. The moment we round the island’s southeastern tip, I hear the whales. Male humpbacks are famous for the songs they sing at mating time, but females are capable of plenty of vocalizations, too. Right now the waters are full of their distressed groans and grunts.

At the mouth of the big cove, we find three kayaks. I sense the Kwawaka’wakw men in the boats are relieved and pleased to see us. The fact we’ve been genetically engineered to live in the sea doesn’t seem to faze them. Still, I tell the rest of my patrol to dive and remain under the waves where it’s safer for us.

:Please find the calf,: I ask Sokya and Mariah, :but be careful around the mothers. They sound upset.:

:we are always careful,: Mariah reassures me, and the dolphins race toward the whales.

I swim up to the closest kayak. Tsukwani’s father Hemasaka, his face weathered from fifty years of wresting a living from these waters, raises a hand in greeting.

“I’m glad Tsukwani found you, dolphin girl. There’s the calf behind its mother.”

A small whale breaks the surface, thrashing wildly. I wince. A black net is wrapped completely around its head and flippers.

“The net must be caught on the bottom.” Hemasaka speaks quickly. “The calf has to fight to reach the surface to breathe. I don’t think it has much time left before it drowns.”

“How many whales are there?”

“There are four mothers and three calves swimming about beside the one that’s entangled. We tried to get in close to cut that net, but every time we paddled near the calf, the mother got aggressive. She almost smashed our boats last time.”

As I study the churning waves created by the distressed whales, my mouth goes dry. “We’ll do what we can. Let’s hope the dolphins can convince them that we’re here to help.”

I nod to Hemasaka and slip under the water again. At least the visibility on this protected side of the island is better than it was out in the strait. I can see twenty feet ahead of me now.

:a young female is caught in the net,: Sokya reports in, her mental voice filled with worry. :a cable from the net is snagged on a rock on the bottom. the little one is very tired. soon she will drown if we do not free her.:

:We have to get in close and start cutting that net,: I say, :but will her mom let us? She almost smashed the men’s kayaks. I really don’t want her smashing us.:

Mariah streaks up to me, Tisi close at her side. :just two of you should approach the calf until her mother understands you mean no harm. if she allows it, more of you can come.:

:All right.: I turn to my patrol and outline Mariah’s plan to the others. When I finish, I look at Dai.

:Will you come with me? I’m not going to order you, but you’re the strongest member of this patrol and our fastest swimmer.:

:Which means I can get out of there quicker if mama whale gets mad at us,: Dai says with some of his old arrogance. :Yeah, I’ll do it.:

I think I like cocky Dai better than distant Dai, but it’s a tough call some days.

:I swim fast, too,: Tobin speaks up, his green eyes full of concern for me. :Patrol leaders don’t always have to assign themselves the most dangerous job, you know.:

I pause for a moment to make sure my choice is sound. :I swim quickly, my dolphin handling skills are better than yours, and I’m a stronger telepath which may help me communicate with the whales. Dai and I are the best choices for this job. If we want to save that calf, we don’t have time to argue.:

Tobin still doesn’t look happy with my decision, but I’m grateful when he doesn’t challenge me again.

:Are you honestly going to try talking to those whales?: Lena asks.

:It can’t hurt to try,: I reply. :If the mother does let us help the calf, we all may have to pitch in to cut that net, so be ready.:

I call Sokya, and she appears by my side. :Stay close and be ready to tow me out of here if that mother gets mad at us.:

:I am much faster than a whale,: Sokya says smugly.

:I hope you don’t have to prove it in the next few minutes,: I say, my stomach starting to twist.

:Good luck,: Ree and the others call after us as Dai and I kick closer to the entangled calf.

Suddenly, a whale the size of a small ship appears out of the murk. Its huge head is crusted with barnacles. My heart races as the mammoth creature surges past us. A second later, I’m spun upside down, and all I can see are bubbles as I fight against crazy currents.

chapter two

I struggle to regain my bearings. We must have been hit by the slipstream created by the whale’s passing and its massive tail. I strain my eyes, afraid more upset mother whales are bearing down on us. For now, no more appear out of the cloudy green water.

:Whoa, that was some serious power there,: Dai says, sounding much less confident all of a sudden. :You all right?:

:Yeah, but I feel like I just got rolled by a killer wave,: I say, still breathing hard.

Mariah swims up on the other side of us. :I have tried to tell the old one we mean her calf no harm, but she is scared and very angry. you must go slowly, now.:

Sokya leads us closer to the calf. My ears fill with the groans and creaking vocalizations of the agitated mothers. Occasionally the frightened calf gives a high-pitched squeal.

A huge, dark shape looms out of the gloom again, and a whale blocks our way. My whole body vibrates from her bass groan of warning. I swallow hard as I stare at her massive head. I’ve never been this close to a humpback in the water, and I’m realizing just how enormous they are, and how puny we are.

I take in a deep breath. My pulse pounding, I edge closer and hover where she can see me. Her pupil narrows as she studies me. I try to broadcast feelings of calm and send her an image of us cutting the net and setting her calf free. I’m hoping she might be able to read my visual message the way my own dolphins can.

With another low grumble, slowly she shifts out of our way. Did she receive my image and understand it? I feel her watching our every move. When Sokya and Ton dart toward the calf, the whale groans again and blocks their way with her head.

:I think she wants you to help the calf without us,: Mariah says.

So much for having Sokya there as my emergency backup plan.

:I will come quickly if you need me,: she assures me.

:Right,: I say, trying to sound confident. I glance at Dai. His face is pale but he stays right at my side as we swim slowly toward the calf. Engulfed in the folds of the heavy black net, the calf strains to keep her head near the surface. A cable stretches from the underside of the net and disappears into the dark waters below.

:See if you can free that cable,: I say to Dai, :and I’ll work on the net.:

:All right. Be careful,: he says. With a flick of his travel fins, he dives for the bottom.

My heart lurches when I stare into the eye of the frantic calf. Even without using my telepathy I can sense she’s hurting and terrified.

:Sweetheart, we’re here to help.: Gently I touch her side and try to broadcast feelings of calm and reassurance, but it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. She’s so tangled in black strands, I can’t decide which part to cut first. I start with a line that seems to be holding the top part of the net together. The rope is thick, but my dive knife is sharp, and soon the line parts. The net relaxes a little, but the next line I need to cut runs within a foot of the calf’s eye. I move cautiously toward her head.

When I reach out with my knife, the mother lunges toward me, and I freeze. She could crush me in a heartbeat against her baby. I stare at her, willing her to understand that I have to do this. Grumbling, she backs off again. My hands are shaking as I set to work sawing through the second line. The moment the last strand parts, several feet of net fall away from her, and the calf manages to fight her way to the surface to breathe. One flipper, her back and her tail remain tangled in the section weighted down by the cable.

:How’s it going down there?: I ask Dai.

:She’s putting too much tension on the cable for me to be able to shift it,: he replies, his mental tone strained. :She needs to raise her head and lower her back.:

I gaze at the frightened calf. How can I possibly get her to raise her head? I bow and raise my head and shoulders, hoping she might mimic me the way the dolphins do, but she just stares at me helplessly.

Then I remember when our pod played with some humpback calves during our long journey from the Southern Sector to Safety Harbor. Several times the playful calves tried to copy the dolphins’ spins and rolls.

:Hey, Sokya and Mariah, can you come a little closer and bob your heads where she can see you?:

Moments later, all three of us are bobbing and ducking like crazy. The calf watches us, and I imagine how puzzled she must feel. I try sending her a visual image of her raising her head. Then she does it!

:You’re brilliant, sweetheart,: I call out to her, even though she can’t understand my words. But I hope she’ll sense the warm feelings I’m trying to send to her.

:That helped,: Dai reports, :but it’s still not free. Get her to do it again.:

:Are you all right down there?: I just picked up a flash of pain from Dai, but then he closed his mind to me.

:I’m fine,: he says tightly. :Just try to convince her to move again.:

I dip my head and shoulders, and again the calf tries to follow me.

:Got it!: Dai cries.

The calf struggles to the surface and takes a long breath. She’s still tangled in the net, but at least she’s no longer in immediate danger of drowning. I’m relieved when she doesn’t try to swim away.

Dai appears beside me and studies the layers of net still wrapped around her. :Guess we have some more work to do.:

I glance at him, wondering about his flash of pain I sensed, but he seems to be okay. Together the two of us pull and cut sections of the net away from the calf. It’s such slow going that after a few minutes, I reach out to Mariah.

:Please see if the mother will let the others join us now. This will go much faster if the whole patrol can help.:

As Mariah flashes away, I ask Tobin and the rest to follow her back to the calf. In the meantime, I send another visual image to the big mama whale hovering nearby, this time of the six of us working carefully to set her baby free. I wince when I notice a terrible, deep, round scar high on the mother’s side. It looks like someone harpooned her. No wonder she doesn’t trust humans.

When Mariah returns with the rest of the patrol clustered behind her, the mother humpback makes a high crooning noise and actually retreats several feet. I take that as an encouraging sign and wave my friends forward. Once the six of us set to work, we make better progress. The dolphins help, too, pulling and tugging at portions of the net when we ask them. Soon half of the net hangs below the calf. I worry she might bolt before we’re done, but she seems to understand that we are helping her.

Finally, Tobin cuts through a line wrapped around the baby’s belly and the whole net slides away from her. My patrol cheers. I ask the dolphins to drag the net to shore where the Kwawaka’wakw will likely recycle parts of it and safely dispose of the rest.

The calf flicks its tail once as if to make sure it truly is free and races to its mother. My patrol gathers around me, and we watch the mother and calf nuzzle each other so tenderly that my throat tightens up. Then the calf begins to nurse.

Sunny, who loves photography and art, takes several pictures with her underwater camera.

:I guess we’re done here,: I say.

:The calf is bleeding from where the lines cut into her skin,: Tobin says worriedly. :I hope orcas don’t get her.:

:At least she’s with a loyal pod,: I point out. :The other mothers wouldn’t leave her while she was so entangled. Hopefully they’ll keep looking after her while she heals.:

I lead the others toward the mouth of the cove, but I pause when three adult whales appear out of the cloudy water. Majestically, they lower their heads and emit gentle squeals and crooning sounds.

:I think they’re trying to thank you,: Lena says in a hushed tone.

:I think they’re trying to thank us,: I reply.

We wave, Sunny takes another picture, and the mothers swim away. I surface to check in with Hemasaka before we leave the cove. Tsukwani is with him now, and I smile at them both.

“The calf is free and nursing,” I tell them. “By the way, the mother has a deep, round scar on her side.”

“If she was harpooned, that would explain why she wouldn’t let us in close,” Hemasaka says. “I’ve freed two entangled humpbacks that obviously wanted our help, but this big lady wasn’t letting us anywhere near her baby.”

“I wish we could be sure they’ll stay away from those whalers.”

“We’ll keep an eye on them,” Tsukwani promises me, “and if they turn south, we’ll bring out a power boat and herd them north.”

“You and your friends did a good thing today, dolphin girl,” Hemasaka says with a smile.

Warmed by his words, I dive to share them with my companions. Tobin is busy bandaging Dai’s hands. Ton, Dai’s big dolphin, hovers nearby and appears to be watching Tobin’s every move.

:Oh, Dai, what happened?: With a guilty start, I remember the flash of pain I sensed before he blocked me.

Dai just shrugs and looks away.

:That cable was sharp and he had to grip it pretty hard to move it,: Tobin answers for him. :It shredded the skin of his palms.:

I stare at the bandages that cover his hands. :You should have told me you were hurt,: I say to Dai. So much for being aware of the welfare of everyone on my patrol.

:At the time you were a little occupied talking to a large, upset whale,: Dai counters.

:Vival would say this is what you get for not wearing your gloves,: Lena teases him.

Vival is the head of our Sea Ranger program, and she’s all about her rangers following rules and using the proper equipment.

:She probably isn’t going to be muy thrilled that we risked rescuing a whale, either,: Ree says glumly. :I don’t think she’ll see that as proper patrol business.:

:I can handle Vival.: I say with more confidence than I feel. I’ve gotten to know Vival better this past year at Safety Harbor, but sometimes she still scares me.

:At least we have a great story to tell the rest of the Sea Rangers tonight in the mess cave.: Lena brightens at the thought.

As Tobin finishes putting his med gear away, I call the dolphins and organize our patrol for the trip back home. I keep Dai in the middle of our travel formation and ask Ree, a capable fighter, to swim sweep just in case sharks pick up the scent of blood from his hands.

:I hope your hands don’t hurt too much,: I say on a private send to Dai.

:They hurt worse after he smeared his slimy ointment all over my palms.: Dai shoots Tobin a dark look. He and Tobin have never been friends.

I must be looking stricken because Dai adds, :I heal so fast, though, they should be fine again in a few days.:

Neptune kids do heal fast, but we still feel pain when we’re injured.

:I’m sorry you got hurt helping me.:

:Don’t be. It was worth it,: Dai says with a smile lighting his chocolate brown eyes. :That little whale was such a fighter. I’m glad we gave her a chance to grow up.:

I swim forward to take up my position at point. Dai’s words warm me during the long swim back to our colony. With Mariah and the rest of her pod surrounding us, we watch constantly for hungry sharks and for surface boats. Late in the afternoon, I finally spot the shimmering bubble wall that protects Safety Harbor.

I draw in a deep breath. Despite what I said to Ree, I’m not looking forward to telling Vival about the risks we took rescuing a humpback whale calf today.

chapter three

As we kick our way through the barrier that surrounds our colony and keeps out predators and scavenger fish, small silvery bubbles tickle my cheeks and fill my vision.

:I always feel like I’m swimming through a can of soda when we cross through this,: Sunny says brightly as she reaches out and tries to catch a particularly big bubble.

We enter Safety Harbor’s main inlet which is a long, narrow channel lined with caves and coves. I smile as we swim past steep rock walls carpeted with scarlet corals, feathery pink sea fans and white sponges. Beyond the girls’ and boys’ dorm caves, we enter the wide cavern that serves as the Sea Rangers’ headquarters. As I kick off my travel fins and rack my spear gun, I’m relieved that Vival’s not around.

The others leave to hang out with friends, but I have to stay to file our patrol report. Even though I’m tired and hungry enough to eat a whole king salmon, I make my way to one of the keyboards and screens set into the cave wall. I key in an account of our patrol and our efforts to save the humpback calf.

Soon, I pick up irritation radiating from someone behind me. I glance back to see Vival is reading the report over my shoulder through her scuba mask. A stern woman with short gray hair, Vival was an army officer for many years before she volunteered to join my father’s helper staff. She frowns as she reads what I’ve written.

“You took quite a risk just to help some marine life,” she says. I hear her words clearly through tiny earbuds we all wear. “Your main job on patrol is to watch out for threats to our security. Humpback whales hardly constitute a danger to this colony or a worthwhile use of Sea Ranger time.”

I’m not sure Vival’s ever forgiven me or my Southern Sector friends for bending her equipment rules on our first Sea Ranger Simulated Patrol Challenge. Still, she keeps assigning me to lead patrols, which means I must be doing something right.

I turn to face her. At our last Sea Ranger meeting, you did say we should try to keep improving our relations with the Kwawaka’wakw, I key into the computer on my wrist. My words will appear on a screen inside her mask. It’s an awkward way to communicate, but most of the helper staff at Safety Harbor aren’t telepaths. Hemasaka asked us to help the whales, and he was very pleased we succeeded.

“That’s the only worthwhile outcome of this patrol. Those whales could have crushed or crippled every one of you.”

Our dolphin partners never would have let that happen, but there was some risk, which is why only Dai and I approached the whales at the start. I force myself to hold her gaze after I key in my reply.

“You report he was injured. Why wasn’t Dai Kuron wearing his gloves?”

Because he’s Dai, I want to retort, but I manage not to key those words into my wrist pad. Instead I type, I have discussed Dai’s injury with him, and I think he realizes now he should have been wearing his gloves.

“Very well,” she says and swims away to talk to Janni, the head of another Sea Ranger patrol that’s just arrived.

I let go a long breath and turn back to the computer to finish my report. There was a second worthwhile outcome from our patrol today, but I doubt Vival will believe it. I’m almost certain I was communicating with the mother humpback and her calf, at least on a very basic level. That’s news I’m eager to share with our marine biologists.

By the time I finish my report, I’m starving and head to the mess cave for dinner. I pass through a line where Neptune kids supervised by an adult helper in scuba gear hand out white containers of food. Then I join a group of my old friends from the Southern Sector and several of Dai’s friends from Atlantea.

Dai is looking a little strained, and I send him a sympathetic smile. Because both Dai and I are strong hereditary telepaths, mealtimes in the mess cave can be rough for us. Three hundred kids between the ages of ten and sixteen all sharing stories of their day create an intense babble of psychic noise.

I let Ree and Lena tell everyone about our humpback rescue while we dig into a delicious supper of king salmon and wakame mash.

After they finish their story, Kalli, a slim, black girl with a warm smile, looks at me and shakes her head. :So now you’re into rescuing whales. The legend of Nere Hanson keeps growing.:

I make a face at her. :Our whole patrol rescued that calf, and Dai was the one who got his hands chewed up in the process.:

Penn looks thoughtful. :Maybe we need to design some sort of lightweight saw or clippers you Sea Rangers can add to your equipment. A cutting tool could have saved your hands today.:

:Or, the spongebrain could have worn his gloves like he was supposed to,: says Rad, one of Dai’s old friends from Atlantea.

:It sounds like a whale of a rescue to me,: Robry says with a grin while we all groan.

Bria, Tobin’s little sister, smiles at me, her big brown eyes shining with excitement. :Nere, I bet you did manage to communicate with that mother whale. Think of how amazing it could be if we figured out how to talk to more marine mammals. We could help them, and they could help us.:

:I bet you do learn how communicate with other species someday,: I tell Bria. :The dolphins love you, and you’re doing a wonderful job with Tisi.: She’s been teaching Mariah’s calf new behaviors and new words in English.

:That’s mostly because Tisi’s so smart,: Bria is quick to say, her cheeks flushing.

:So are you,: Tobin replies. He gives her a hug and listens patiently while Bria tells him all about her training session with several young dolphins today.

When Bria finally turns to talk to Robry, I meet Tobin’s gaze. :By the way, thanks for volunteering to help the whales this afternoon.:

:I meant what I said out there,: Tobin says as he crosses his arms and frowns at me. :You don’t always need to assign yourself the most dangerous job.: Usually Tobin’s easy-going, but right now, I can tell he’s truly angry with me.

:I do know that, but today I honestly thought I was the best person to approach the whales, and this time, anyway, I was right.:

:Just promise me you’ll remember that your patrol members can handle tough situations, too.:

:I promise. So how’s your EMC training going?:

I’m relieved when Tobin stops lecturing me and instead talks about the emergency medical care course he’s taking with our friend Rohan. Someday all twelve Neptune colonies around the world will become completely independent of their shore helpers, but that means we have to learn skills like how to care for ourselves when we’re sick or injured.

When we finish eating, we take our food containers to the wash and recycling nets.

:It’s great not having to do kitchen patrol,: Thom says to me as he tips his food box into the nets.

:Yeah, we may have to clean a lot of barnacles off our boats, but at least no one has to wash dishes at Safety Harbor,: I reply. Instead, small crabs and fish scour our eating utensils clean.

I make a point of leaving the mess hall when Dai does. His expression is closed and withdrawn again. Chills trace down my back as I picture his father, Ran Kuron, the cold, cruel man who held my friends and me captive and plotted to take over Safety Harbor.

None of us have seen or heard from Kuron since the Sea Rangers destroyed Atlantea, his undersea base, a year ago. There’s a chance he was killed in that attack, but my father’s security staff monitor a radio frequency that Kuron’s network uses. Transmissions there are coded, but their frequency has increased ominously in the past few months. That fills me with dread along with the submarine sighting so close to Safety Harbor.

:How do your hands feel now?: I ask Dai while I carefully shield my worries about his father from him.

:My hands are still sore,: he admits, :but they already feel better. Where’re you headed?:

:I’m going topside to talk to my dad.:

:I’ll swim you to the ladder,: he offers, his expression warming.

We fall into an easy rhythm, kicking through the water side by side to the sea cave that leads to our topside facilities. I laugh and show him a brilliant little red Irish Lord fish trying to hide under a white sponge, and Dai points out a rare lavender coral he discovered last week. Even though it’s almost nine o’clock, the water has yet to darken because the sun sets so late this far north in the summer.

When we reach the cave, I swim to the base of the metal ladder set into its rocky wall. I turn toward Dai, sensing he has something he wants to say. I hope he doesn’t want to talk about our relationship. Things have been complicated between us this past year. I know Dai cares about me. He’s risked his life to save mine, and he betrayed his own father to save all of Safety Harbor. I care about him, too.

:But you still aren’t ready to be my girlfriend,: Dai says, looking rueful.

:Stop reading my thoughts,: I snap.

:I didn’t. This time, I just read your face. I’ve gotten better at that living here. I’m trying not to read people’s minds unless they give me permission.:

:I know you’re working hard to live our way,: I say, and he has. Strong telepaths at Safety Harbor are supposed to respect the privacy of weaker ones, but back at Atlantea, Dai’s ruthless father expected him to read minds.

:Thank you for coming with me this afternoon,: I say, hoping to change the subject.

He stares at his feet and tugs on one of his black braids. They reach past his shoulders and make him look wild and very different from the other boys at Safety Harbor. :I am glad we helped those whales. Maybe it evens the score, at least a little.:

When he looks up at me, his eyes are haunted. It takes me a moment to realize he’s referring to his former life. Dai and some of the savage kids he was raised with used to hunt orcas and humpbacks just for fun.

:You did even the score today.: Impulsively I reach out and lay my hand on his arm.

Dai stares at my hand. When he looks up again, there’s a longing in his gaze that makes my heart twist. I like Dai so much, but caring about him scares me. At my old school I was used to being invisible and staying under the radar, and Dai is a gorgeous, high-profile kind of guy. I’m also still getting used to living in the sea and being part of Safety Harbor. Being someone’s girlfriend sounds so complicated, and I’m afraid I won’t know the rules and disappoint him.

:You don’t have to keep making up for what you did at Atlantea, or what your father did,: I add softly and pull my hand back.

He lifts one dark brow. :Reading my thoughts now?: he asks.

:No, but I know your father must be on your mind sometimes.:

:Yeah, especially after those Sea Rangers were so sure they spotted his sub. If he’s still alive, I can’t help wondering and worrying about what he’s doing.:

You’re not the only one, I think to myself, but I’m careful to shield that thought from him. :I promise I’ll check with my dad and see if we have any news of your father.: Dai can’t come topside with me because his lungs are so packed with gill filaments, he can’t breathe air anymore.

Taking hold of the metal rungs, I climb upward. Soon my head breaks the surface. I exhale the water in my lungs to breathe air again. It’s hot and dry tonight, and the smell of smoke is strong which makes me feel all jittery. The winds must be blowing from the east.

I know I’m not about to burn up, but I worry about our topside facility, and Tsukwani’s village, and I can’t help thinking about all the forest animals that are dying or losing their homes right now. At the top of the ladder, I flip my wet braids over my shoulder and stride past the equipment shed where the helper staff hang their scuba gear on racks to dry. Beyond the shed lie several cabins and buildings, all painted green and gray to blend in with the trees and rocks of the Broughton Archipelago.

“Hey, Nere.” My brother James hurries across the clearing and falls into step beside me. Six years older than me, James is my only sibling. He’s tall and lanky, with sandy brown hair and a shaggy beard. He’s always looked out for me, and I try to look out for him. “I hear you had an exciting patrol today.”

“Word sure gets around fast in Safety Harbor,” I say, shaking my head.

“You’ve definitely got Roni and Sall worked up. They can’t wait to talk to you about your whale contacts. That’s a lot more fun than talking about the results of our latest acidification tests.”

“Why? What’s up with your results?”

“They’re grim,” he replies. “The water in the warmer, shallower parts of the strait is far more acidic than we thought, and all the shellfish we tested have abnormally thin shells. If we don’t find an effective way to stop climate change and the oceans from absorbing so much carbon dioxide, there won’t be any corals or shellfish left in the seas. Even the bodies of the tiny zooplankton we sampled are deformed. That means the whole base of the ocean food chain is in danger.”

“I don’t understand why we haven’t started to seed the oceans with the c-plankton we brought back from Atlantea,” I say. “We risked our lives to bring that stuff back here.”

Last summer Kalli, Ree, Tobin and I infiltrated Ran Kuron’s base to steal the c-plankton that Dai’s mother developed to capture carbon dioxide. A brilliant marine geneticist, Idaine Kuron created a phytoplankton strain capable of sequestering a hundred times more carbon dioxide than normal plankton does. She hoped her genetically engineered c-plankton could be spread throughout the seas to turn them into a massive carbon sink that would finally start cooling our planet. Unfortunately, she died before she could convince the scientific world of the value of her discovery.

“And the kids in the Neptune Project around the world were supposed to play an important role in spreading that c-plankton,” James adds. “Fighting climate change was always a major part of your purpose.”

“That’s what Dad promised us, anyway. So we all keep waiting to hear the big announcement that the c-plankton is ready for shipping and seeding, but when I ask Dad when it will be ready, he just keeps saying that his Neptune scientists are still testing the strains we brought back.”

“I’m not positive,” James says, “but I think their tests haven’t been going well.”

I glance at him sharply.

“Don’t look at me that way.” My brother stops dead in his tracks, his face flushing. “I swear I didn’t force anyone to tell me anything, but you know I can’t shield well, and I often pick up thoughts I’m not supposed to hear.”

James was genetically engineered to be a part of the Neptune Project, but his transformation failed because the gill filaments in his lungs didn’t develop properly. The transformation did switch on his telepathy. Our mother was a strong hereditary telepath, and somehow the strong telepathic genes he inherited from her were amplified with disastrous results. James became a Controller, which means he can enter people’s minds and force them to do things.

“I know you wouldn’t control anyone,” I reassure him, “and I know you’d prefer that everyone kept their thoughts to themselves.”

“It can get a little embarrassing sometimes,” he confesses as we start walking again. “At least I can’t read Roni unless she lets me.” His expression brightens as he says her name.

Roni is a young marine biologist and James’ girlfriend. She also happens to be a hereditary telepath like me with particularly strong mental shields. She’s definitely one of the reasons James is so happy here at Safety Harbor.

“Y-you haven’t told her yet, have you?” I worry that someone will find out that James is a Controller. The more principled governments in the world would have him executed at once while others would try to use him.

When the brightness fades from his face, I’m sorry I asked the question. “Would you want to hang out with a guy who could force you to do anything he wanted?” he asks bitterly. “No, I haven’t told her, but she’s such a strong telepath, it’s just a matter of time before she picks up something, and then it’s game over for us.”

“She might surprise you,” I say.

We’ve reached my father’s cabin now. I knock on the door, but he doesn’t answer.

“He just went to check on something in the bio lab,” a tired-looking Doc Iharu calls to us. A warm, soft-spoken man from Okinawa, Doc Iharu is Safety Harbor’s chief medical doctor. He’s in charge of keeping us healthy, which means he spends almost as much time in his scuba gear as my dad does.

I glance at my wrist computer. It’s almost ten o’clock. My dad is working late again. We find him just as he’s leaving the lab. His face is lined with weariness, and every day I see more gray strands in his brown hair. Running a colony of three hundred Neptune kids is a lot of responsibility.

He gives me an absent smile and a hug.

“Are the fires getting worse?” I ask as we walk back to his cabin.

He nods. “There’s a big blaze that’s only twenty miles from your friend Tsukwani’s village. I’m afraid if the wind shifts, embers could land on their island and burn them out.”

He opens the door to his cabin and waves us inside. It’s a tiny space cluttered with dive gear, scientific equipment, and stacks of reports and boxes. James and I shove gear aside and sit on the bed, and Dad sits in his desk chair.

“Can’t we start spreading the c-plankton soon?” I burst out. “We have to do something before our whole planet burns up.”

“If only we could.” My father sighs and stares at his hands as if he’s not really seeing them. Then he straightens his shoulders and turns to face me.

“Nere, it’s time I told you and James the truth,” he declares, his expression somber. “Our scientists are certain now that you and your team did not bring home the right strain of c-plankton from Atlantea.”

chapter four

Struggling to digest his words, I stare at my father. After all we went through, we brought back the wrong strain of c-plankton? I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. I still have nightmares about the two terrifying weeks I spent inside Atlantea. Ran Kuron made us wear shock collars like animals. We worried constantly that the vicious shark mutates patrolling his base might tear us apart. A young boy named Mako even died helping us escape.

As I clench my hands into fists, Mako’s sweet face appears in my memory. I’ll never forget watching the life fade from his wide gray eyes. Wasp and Whitey, two of Kuron’s most savage kids at Atlantea, killed him. Was his sacrifice for nothing?

“Are you absolutely sure we didn’t find the right strain?” I ask, my voice sounding harsh in my ears. If I concentrate on feeling angry, maybe I won’t burst into tears.

“Our scientists are certain,” Dad replies. “Your team brought back over fifty different strains of c-plankton, and we’ve tested each one multiple times. None come close to producing the startling results Idaine reported in her log.”

“Could she have been wrong about her results?” James asks.

“It’s possible,” Dad replies, “but Idaine was an excellent scientist. Unlike her husband Ran Kuron, she was disciplined and methodical, and hardly one to cut corners. She contacted all the scientists in the Project to announce that she had developed a strain of plankton that could absorb a hundred times more carbon dioxide than regular phytoplankton and sequester it. Unfortunately, she died before she could share the details of her research with us.”

“Then where is the stuff?” I ask. “Do you think it was destroyed when the Sea Rangers blew up Atlantea?”

“I’m afraid it’s likely,” Dad replies, “and that’s why we’re determined to find her original research. Remember the notebooks Robry grabbed from that lab where you found the plankton cultures? Some of those notebooks were Idaine’s original journals. From their contents, we’ve determined that her very last round of c-plankton notes must have been aboard her research vessel the Storm Petrel when it sank in the Johnstone Strait five years ago. If we can find her notes, there’s a good chance we can engineer c-plankton just the way she did.”

“But those notes would have dissolved years ago in seawater,” James protests.

“That would be true if Idaine had kept only paper notes. But we know she owned one of the first hydro-computers ever built. Ran boasted to me about buying it for her.”

I sit up straighter on the bed. “So, the moment the computer was submerged in seawater, a shell would have closed around the hard drive, and her data might still be intact.”

“But wouldn’t Idaine have taken the computer with her when she left her sinking ship?” James asks.

Dad looks down at his cluttered desk. “We don’t think she was alive when she left the Storm Petrel that final time,” he says heavily.

I lean forward on the bed. “Dad, what happened the day Idaine’s ship sank?” I’ve never dared to ask Dai. The moment anyone mentions his mother, he clams up tighter than an oyster.

“I wish we knew,” Dad admits. “We did track down her first mate, a man named Yanis Sevier. The afternoon the Storm Petrel sank, Sevier claimed he heard Ran and Idaine having a violent argument down in their cabin. The next thing he knew, there was a big explosion, and the Storm Petrel started sinking rapidly.”

Dad clears his throat. “Before the boat submerged completely, Sevier saw Ran emerge from belowdecks with Idaine’s body slung over his shoulder. He lay her down in the runabout that she used to do her research. Then he went back below. The first mate ran to the runabout to see if he could help her.”

“W-was she already dead?” I ask.

Dad pauses. When he speaks again, anger and sorrow tinge his voice. “Sevier got a good look at Idaine, and he could tell she was dead. He was also fairly certain her neck was broken. Then Ran appeared with Dai slung over his shoulder and threatened Sevier with a solar pistol. Because the ship was sinking fast, Sevier ran back to the last life raft and jumped on board. Ran drove the runabout away from the Storm Petrel, and Sevier never saw him again.”

I rub my arms as chills skate down my back. Poor Dai. I wonder if he knows what actually happened between his parents that day.

“Do you think there’s any chance Kuron grabbed Idaine’s computer before he left the ship?” James asks.

“We don’t think so, based on those notes Robry took from Atlantea and the large number of plankton strains Kuron was growing in his lab there. We think he was trying to recreate her c-plankton, too, which means he doesn’t have her computer.”

“So that’s why you want to find the Storm Petrel now,” James says. “But most of the Johnstone Strait is deep and its currents are fierce. Salvaging a wreck there will be impossible for divers, and we don’t have any robotic salvage probes that could function at that depth.”

“This salvage mission would be impossible for regular divers, yes,” Dad says quietly. He looks at me, and then I understand.

“You’re planning to use some of us to salvage Idaine’s ship!” I jump to my feet and begin to pace. “That’s why you started conducting deep-water tests on the older Neptune kids three months ago. You knew then we might have brought back the wrong strain. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. I can’t believe you didn’t tell us.”

“Sweetling, I didn’t want to tell you until we were sure. Infiltrating Atlantea was hard on you and your team, and I didn’t want you to think your mission was a failure. It wasn’t. You freed Bria and Robry, and you brought back Idaine’s notes which I believe are going to help us produce the right strain of c-plankton at last.”

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