Read The Neptune Project Online

Authors: Polly Holyoke

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Neptune Project

Copyright © 2013 by Polly Holyoke

Cover photo © 2013 by Dave Seeley

Cover design © 2013 by Christian Fuenfhausen

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. 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. For information address Disney • Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

ISBN 978-1-4231-7971-9



urgent tap at my window. My heart thudding, I sit bolt upright in bed. The night is hot and still. I push my sweaty hair away from my face and try to ignore the twist of fear in my gut. No one brings good news at this late hour. I slip from my bed and peer cautiously through my window.

Cam is standing outside, his dark eyes shadowed. “The Marine Guard just sank Jac's boat. We need the dolphins to look for survivors. Are you in?”

“Gillian will kill me if she finds out.” My mother hates smugglers, but some of them are Cam's friends.

“Please? They might still be alive.”

“Fine.” I sigh. “Just a minute.” I step into my boat shoes but don't bother to change out of my faded black shorts and my brother's old brown shirt. Dark clothes are good for tonight's work. I wiggle through the small window headfirst. When I get stuck, Cam pulls me the rest of the way.

“Thanks, Nere. I owe you one,” Cam says as he steadies me on my feet. His hands are rough from hauling lines and nets on his father's fishing boat. The silver light from a slim crescent moon highlights his black curly hair and the strong planes of his face.

I want to tell him he doesn't owe me anything, but already he's turning away and jogging down the steep winding path that leads to the dolphin dock and fishing pier in the harbor below. I can feel the day's relentless heat radiating from the dirt and gravel beneath my feet.

“Let's take Gillian's zode,” I tell Cam breathlessly as I hurry to catch up with him. He looks back at me like I'm crazy.

“There's no wind tonight,” I explain. “It'll take forever to get there in your sailboat.”

“Gillian will kill us if she finds out.” Cam flashes me a grin.

“Well,” I say, panting, “it's nice to know I'll have company when my mother murders me.”

At the next turn in the path, my chest starts to tighten and burn.
Please, not now
. This is the worst possible moment for my useless lungs to fail me.

“I'm sorry. I need to go slower,” I have to admit after three more steps.

Cam stops and looks at me searchingly. “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” I grit my teeth. “I just have to walk this last stretch.”

“I'll run ahead and get the zode ready.”

“I need to call Mariah. Where did Jac's boat go down?”

“Just off Reynard Point.” Then Cam's away, racing down the final switchback with a healthy speed that makes me jealous. I breathe slowly and carefully, trying to relax the muscles in my chest. I have an inhaler in my pocket that I can use if I have a full-scale lung attack, but I only have three doses of the precious lung med left.

I reach out with my mind to contact the dolphins. I hope they aren't too far away.

:Mariah, a boat just sank. The crew may need our help.:

Mariah's mind stirs at my touch.
:we heard the explosions up the coast from us.:

:Their boat went down near the point where the bat rays like to feed.:

:we will meet you on the way there,:
she promises me.

Walking as fast as my burning lungs will allow, I finally reach the dolphin dock. My heart pounds even faster as I study the harbor. I see no sign of movement on the fishing boats tied up at the pier. The stone cottages on the hillside above us are dark and still. The hardworking fisher folk of Goleta obey our government's curfew. Only smugglers—and desperate friends of smugglers—are reckless enough to defy it.

Stepping down into my mother's zode, I see Cam has already disconnected its electric motor from the solar panels on the dock. The batteries should give us plenty of juice to reach Reynard Point and get back safely—assuming we don't run into an armed Marine Guard vessel somewhere along the way.

Cam switches on the silent motor. Just as we pull away from the dock, a small shape hurtles through the air to land in the middle of the boat. The zode rocks from the weight of our new passenger.

Cam's little brother, Robry, grins at me, his teeth a flash of white in the moonlight. “Hi, Nere.”

“Hi yourself,” I say.

Cam points the boat back toward the dock. “Nuh-uh. This is not happening, squid-face. There's no way you're coming with us.”

“I can handle the boat while you two look for survivors with the dolphins. You know you can use an extra hand, especially if someone's hurt.”

Robry's right, and Cam knows it.

“All right,” he agrees after a long moment. “But if we see any sign of the Marine Guard, you're going to jump overboard, head for shore, and hide until this is over.”

“I promise,” Robry says with uncustomary meekness, but he grins at me again as he crawls forward. He perches himself on the bow pontoon, his big feet just skimming the surface of the water. I settle myself on the middle pontoon, facing backward so I can talk to Cam.

I relax a little as we leave the harbor and surge ahead across the smooth sea. The only sound I hear is the slap of small waves against the side of the zode. I love being on the water. The burning in my lungs eases as I breathe in the damp sea air. Despite the light from the crescent moon, the stars shine like bits of precious ice in the clear black sky.

“Tell me exactly what happened to Jac,” I say to Cam.

“He and his crew were coming in to unload their cargo at the sea cave just beyond the point,” Cam replies, even as he keeps an eye out for other vessels. “The Marine Guard was waiting for them and blew their boat right out of the water. Jac barely had time to tell me their location before his radio went dead.”

I can hear how worried he is about his friend. They haven't been as close since Jac fell in with smugglers, but Cam is one of the most loyal people I know.

“He's probably fine. Jac has more lives than a cat, and he knows this coast as well as anyone,” I say, trying to comfort him.

“I think he's already used up most of those lives,” Cam says shortly. “The Marine Guard almost caught him last month. I tried to tell Jac he would be headed for a prison camp if they arrested him, but he wouldn't listen.”

I hear the gust of a dolphin breathing through its blowhole. The next moment, Sokya leaps out of the air beside the zode, the water cascading off her back in a shimmering silver arc. She lands a little ahead of us on her side, sending up a big splash that douses both Robry and me. The night is so hot, I relish the feel of the cool seawater on my skin.

“She's such a show-off.” Robry grins and wipes the water out of his eyes.

Sokya circles around to swim beside us.
:a shark came and we scared it away,:
she informs me smugly.
:I chased an octopus from the rocks, and it tasted delicious.:

Sokya is Mariah's youngest daughter. She's only five, which means she's still a dolphin teenager. Sometimes I think she's more like a demanding sister to me than a marine mammal I'm supposed to be training.

One by one the rest of the pod catches up with us until twelve Pacific white-sided dolphins are coursing through the sea beside the zode. They bombard my mind with happy images of what they've been doing since I swam with them this afternoon, but only Sokya, her brother Densil, and their mother, Mariah, seem to possess the ability to use human speech to communicate with me.

:Do you hear any boat engines?:
I ask Mariah.

:the sea is quiet,:
she reassures me.

Still, we stay close to shore, where we might be able to find a hiding place quickly if we stumble across the Marine Guard.

An hour later, Cam slows the zode as the dark mass of Reynard Point looms over us. I'm aware of a sudden dryness in my mouth.

“You're sure the Marine Guard isn't out here, waiting for someone to come and pick up survivors?”

“I can't be positive,” Cam says with a shrug, “but Scarn said he and his men were going to lead the Marine Guard away from here so that we could try to help. Smugglers look after their own.”

I hate that Cam's been talking to the head of the most daring smuggling gang along this coast. He's risked getting sent away to one of those awful inland work camps, but I don't have time right now to yell at him.

Seconds can make all the difference when a person is drowning.

Quickly, I reach out to Mariah again.
:Please start looking for the crew.:

I've practiced this drill with the pod many times. Their ability to echolocate makes dolphins amazing searchers. “How many were on board?” I think to ask Cam as Mariah and the dolphins go streaking away from us.

“Scarn thought there should have been four.”

“The Marine Guard already caught the two who were unloading cargo in the sea cave,” Robry chimes in.

“Just how do you know that?” Cam frowns at Robry.

“I picked up a Marine Guard transmission on my shortwave after I heard you sneak out to get Nere.”

Cam's face tightens, but he doesn't say anything more. He knows he's in no position to give his brilliant little brother a tough time about listening to his homemade illegal radio. What we are doing right now is ten times more illegal and a hundred times more dangerous.

“Tell Mariah she's looking for two men, then.”

I relay his message to Mariah.

Shortly, she reports back to me.
:we have found their boat. it is sitting upside down on the bottom below you, but we have not found the men yet.:

I glance at my mother's depth finder. Sure enough, I can see the outline of the sunken boat. It lies in forty feet of water right beneath us. I close my eyes and concentrate on the images the dolphins are relaying back to me.

“The dolphins have spread out all around Reynard's Point,” I tell Cam. “But they can't find the last two smugglers anywhere.”

“Maybe the Marine Guard caught them all,” he says bleakly.

“Wait…I think maybe Densil's found a person,” I say, sensing Densil's rising excitement. Densil is Sokya's older brother, but their personalities are totally different. Cool, calm, and dependable, Densil would only be feeling this excited if he'd actually found someone.

:there are two people inside the boat,:
Densil reports to me,
:and their hearts still beat.:

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