To Dr Shaw, she had been an experiment and a prisoner. To Dr Cohen and Eric, she is a problem still needing official paperwork to solve.
To Fynn’s pod, she is someone to be wary of, to avoid.
All Naia wants is a real family, something she’s never had. Fynn belongs with his pod. Tynan has returned to his. Even Marina has a real home of her own now.
Then one night Naia’s world is shattered. Feeling betrayed by everyone she’s trusted, she runs away –
Only to find herself fighting for her life.
Will she find what she’s looking for? Or will she lose everything…?
Naia stood in the shallow water, her toes curling into the soft sand beneath her feet, the salt water swirling around her knees. The water was getting colder now – it was nearly June, nearly winter, but the ocean along the Queensland coast never got truly cold, even if the wind blowing from it now was raising goosebumps along her bare arms.
She was wearing a thin sleeveless summer dress, like a long singlet. It was a pale yellow. Naia liked pale colours. Eric McRae, who had been her guardian for the last four months, had bought six dresses for her, blue, green, yellow, orange, brown and red, along with shorts and shirts and jumpers and shoes.
She’d brought her own Lego and DVDs and books with her from Solomon Island.
And Seal. She never went anywhere without Seal.
Except swimming. Because Seal would get wet and soggy and take days to dry again. She’d left him on her bed back in the room she shared with Bonnie in the rangers’ house.
The sea was blindingly blue-green in the late afternoon sun, and reflections from the water flickered across Naia’s face. She didn’t blink. Her eyes were used to the brightness; she’d lived on an island her entire life. She could see across to the mouth of the bay, where the waves were broken up by the sandbar a metre or so below the surface – it was mid-tide – and beyond to where the stronger waves pounded their way in toward the Queensland coast from the endless might of the Pacific Ocean.
She could see the dolphin pod too.
There were eleven of them. She knew that because Fynn had introduced her to them the week she and Marina had arrived here on Crescent Island. The pod had taken Fynn in after his mother had died, when he was younger than Naia was now, and looked after him until he’d been badly injured late last year. And it must have been bad, because dolphins could usually heal from accidents that would kill landborn animals. The pod had brought him here to Crescent Island, and Eric and his daughter, Bonnie, had helped him survive.
Then Bonnie had discovered his secret.
Fynn could shift between human and dolphin forms. So could Marina. But Fynn – and definitely not Bonnie and Eric and Rex – hadn’t known Marina or Naia existed until four months ago, when Fynn had learned about Marina from another pod of dolphins and gone to find her.
Marina had lived on Solomon Island at the same time as Naia – Marina had actually arrived when Naia was a year old – but neither girl had known about the other. While Dr Shaw had trained Marina in how to use her dolphin skills, and started to train her in spying and sabotage skills too, which Marina hadn’t realised, he had kept Naia isolated in her rooms with her DVDs and her Lego and Seal, with only himself and Dr Cohen and Kerry to talk to. Not that Naia had ever talked much anyway. Dr Shaw had let her swim in the indoor pool every morning, and sometimes he’d let her swim in the ocean. But only for a short time, and only at night.
‘You’re too young to venture out on your own,’ he would say. ‘You’d be killed by sharks, or other dolphins. They’re afraid of your kind. But that will change in a few years, when you’re older and bigger.’
Dr Shaw was in jail now, waiting to be punished. He’d hurt a lot of people, killed a lot of mothers, trying to create human-dolphin shifters, then human-seal shifters. Two of his staff had made sure his seal-shifter experiments failed, but three dolphin-shifters had survived. Fynn and Marina, and Tynan, who had stayed with his own pod up north, near Solomon Island.
And Naia herself, who was something different.
Dr Shaw’s own private experiment.