It was a rare storm, one that puzzled the meteorologists. Lacking the usual configurations of a hurricane or typhoon, it formed suddenly from the confluence of several smaller storms hundreds of miles at sea, far to the west coast of California. The mingling of errant gales wildly churned the depths of the Pacific.
Radio messages from freighters and big fishing boats reported fifty-foot waves, and winds and temperatures that rose and fell with horrendous inconsistency. Weathermen at widely separated shore stations frantically compared notes, trying both to fathom the eerie flukiness and to ready themselves for the arrival of the storm on shore.
In the end there were no valid or useful projections. The separate storms met and mixed quickly to form the vast, crazy weather pattern, the winds and rains swirled over the Pacific in ominous magnificence for two hours, and then it was over. The storm never really arrived at the coast.
While tides and waves were unusually high along the shore, there was none of the threatened destruction of beach houses and marinas. Still, the storm at sea had been awesome. Meteorologists would be able to reflect on the phenomenon for weeks, develop, advance, and discard their theories over hundreds of radio and TV broadcasts. They would talk of ice ages and droughts and rearrangements of the Earth’s climate zones.
For even though the destructive force of the storm never reached land, it was without precedent in their loose-leaf histories of weather. And the reputations of weathermen would be enhanced not by writing the storm off as a fluke of nature, but by expounding grand notions and humble warnings about the wondrous powers of climate and how little we really knew about the intricate workings of our natural world.
In the immediate aftermath of the mighty storm’s near brush with land, the waves beat on the shore, boiling up kelp, fish and debris and hurtling it all high onto the sand. Lightning pierced the night sky. Gusts of wind alternated with moments of stark calm. Shore birds sought lee inland.
The beach was deserted except for a man and boy walking along the spindrift fringes of the waves, poking at the debris with walking sticks. Their Dalmatian pranced on ahead, sniffing here and there at pieces of wood and seaweed, and barking at an occasional fish or small shark left gasping on the sand.
“Hey, Pop,” the boy called, “lookie here!” Lightning flashes illuminated the remains of a small wrecked boat with Japanese characters on its wooden planks. The man came over and poked at the planks with his stick. “You ’spose anybody was aboard, Pop?”
“Not recently, Rick. The wood’s rotting. It was probably sunk there for a long time before the storm brought it up.”
“To bad we didn’t get the whole storm here. That’d have been way cool!”
“Wrong, son. Dead wrong. The storm would’ve caused a lot of damage, from what they say. We sure could’ve used the rain, though. They’re already rationing water up north, in the San Francisco area.”
“’Cause of the drought?”
They walked on together, jabbing their gnarled sticks into the wet sand, feeling the wind tousling their hair. The man’s thinning hair was gray, his face weather-beaten.
“Pop, why’re there so many different seaweeds n’ stuff that I’ve never seen on the beach before?”
“I guess it’s because the storm was so powerful. Normally it doesn’t disturb the bottom out there much. But in this case it looks like it churned up a whole lot of things that probably hadn’t been bothered in ages, stuff that just lay on the bottom of the sea. Quite a blow, all right.”
“What would’ve it have been like, on a boat?”
“Scary. Very scary.”
“Even on a big boat?”
“What can you do, if you’re on a boat out there in a storm like that?”
“Hold her bow into the wind, if you can. And keep some power under you.”
“And pray. That’s about all you can do. Good ship, good man at the helm, and a good man upstairs watching over you can bring you through most blows.”
Their dogs stopped to paw at a large clump of kelp. Suddenly it stepped back and growled. It darted in and out toward the pile, barking excitedly. A wave washed in over the clump, and the dog scooted back out of the way. Then it advanced quickly in the path of the retreating wave and growled viciously.
“Take it easy, Thumper!” the boy called. “It’s okay!”
They continued walking casually toward the clump of seaweed. The dog yipped persistently, dancing around, thrusting its nose close to the pile, scratching around the edges of it. The lip of another wave washed over, but this time the dog didn’t retreat. It remained next to the pile, scratching with its front paws.
“Some darned dying sand shark is gonna snap his nose off one day,” the man said.
They ambled up to the seaweed and Rick pushed the dog away and ran with him further up the beach.
The man stood looking at the seaweed. A bolt of lightning lit the scene, and wind fluttered his shirt. He prodded at the kelp with his stick. It hit something solid. As he knelt beside the clump to investigate it, a wave washed over his bare feet. Lightning flashed again and again.
And then the man saw what was enmeshed in the seaweed, what had excited the dog. His mouth dropped open, his eyes widened. It was a human hand, nearly black, its fingers curled like talons and moving slightly.
He leaned forward and gently pulled away some of the seaweed. Under it was a girl, a beautiful brunette girl with longish hair, kelp tightly wound around her shapely body. She was clad only in a daring, skin-tight one-piece bathing suit. Claps of distant thunder paused long enough for Rick’s father to hear one strange, tortured word come out of her mouth: “Clelhdyhhjuwskh779q900-?”
The girl struggled weakly in the sand, reaching with one blackened hand, clawing at the seaweed with the other.
“Good Lord!” With greater urgency Rick’s father pulled away more of the seaweed and was about to cradle the girl’s head in his arm, then thought better of it. Not knowing the extent of the girl’s injuries, he dared not move her at all.
He sprang to his feet. “Rick!” He tried to keep his voice calm. “Come here right now!”
Rick trotted back with the dog. The dog immediately approached the seaweed where the man lay half-buried, and began growling again.
“Rick, run back to the house and call the cops. Tell them we need an ambulance. There’s a lady hurt here.”
“Don’t argue with me, Rick. Just run on home. Hurry! If you’re fast enough you may help save this girl’s life.”
“Yes, Rick. A girl who’s old enough to be your big sister is dying. Now get a move on!”
White-coated interns and nurses bustled around the small emergency room. A young resident physician swept the curtain aside and stepped in. “What’ve we got?”
He went quickly to the side of the cardio-pulmonary-resuscitation table where the girl from the beach lay, covered with a white sheet from her shoulders to her feet. Her lovely face was blue. Her breath came in hoarse gasps. A breathing bag was attached to a tube that entered her mouth. The corps of interns and nurses stared in frustration and worry.
“Found her on the beach, unconscious and barely alive,” said one intern, rubbing his chin. “Drowning, maybe, but..”
“We’ve got her tubed and bagged with 100% oxygen,” said a nurse in a nervous, quaking voice. “Trying to get her ventilated. BP is palpable at seventy. Pulse one-fifty and thready. We don’t know if...”
“She really looks cyanotic,” said the resident, elbowing between the others to bend over the girl. “Well, let’s get a couple of lines going. CVP in the central line...”
“I need a sixteen-gauge short intro cath,” the intern said as he turned quickly to a nurse.
“And I want a peripheral line with two amps of dopamine in 500 of D-5,” the resident touched the girl’s cheek with the back of his hand, “and start the drip at thirty a minute. That should bring her up. And let’s get a portable chest and get the EKG tech in here. What’re those stirrups doing in here? We need more room.”
“Delivery room was full,” a nurse said, “we had to bring one in here.”
“Well, get that table out. Jesus Christ! People should have babies at home. Back to nature. If this lady was gonna go swimming in that storm, she should’ve used the buddy system. When we bring her around, I think I’ll send her back to summer camp for a refresher course. Charlie,” he turned to the intern, “was there any vomiting? Blood? Did you pump her out?”
“She had some water in her, Doctor, but she’s clear now. I checked the tube. No obstructions, no broken teeth. I did get some head trauma. Looks like she got bopped with something.”
“Yeah, maybe a submarine. That old beach bum Weaver found her? I thought he only picked up rotten wood and dead sharks.”
“Well, this time he found us a live one, Doctor.” The intern looked at the resident for a responding smile, but didn’t get one.
“Did you check the girl’s eyes? She could’ve O.D. on something good.”
The intern bent over the young woman and lifted an eyelid with his thumb.
“Better give me a liter of saline and open it wide.” The resident prowled around the table, checking the tubes.
The head nurse was on the phone. “We need a stat EKG and a stat portable chest X-ray...”
“And a skull set,” the resident put in.
“....and a set of skull film.”
“How are her eyes?” The resident looked back over his shoulder while he arranged some silver tools on a tray. “They constricted? Dilated? What?”
“Well, they’re, unh, at midpoint,” the intern said.
“Okay. Listen, nurse.” The nearest nurse, with her hands clasped over her stomach, looked quietly up him. “Let’s push, oh, point two NARCAN just to be on the safe side.”
“What?” The resident turned back to the table, where the intern had both the girl’s eyes propped open with his thumbs.
“The eyes are weird.”
The girl’s eyes held open by the intern were wide and staring. They were an almost solid green, with little points of white in the middles.
Another intern prepared to put in the first IV line. He reached under the sheet and exposed the girl’s limp arm. “Hey, what’s this?” He gaped at the blackened hand. “Why’s it like that?”
The resident shook his head. “Let’s just concentrate on getting her breathing first.”
The girl gasped weakly for breath, her chest barely moving. Her face was a deathly gray-blue, like slate. Interns and nurses attached the various tubes to her arms and neck, and positioned the hanging bottles above her. The X-ray technician and two assistants wheeled in their gear and positioned the X-ray machine over her.
The technician adjusted the plate under her body. “Okay,” she said, backing off with the remote switch in her hand. “I’m shooting.”
A whir came from behind the dark cone of the machine as the motor revved up.
“Hurry up with that film, will you?” the resident said, pacing back and forth. “I know you guys prefer to send it out to Kodak, but this lady may have just a few minutes left.”
The X-ray technician scowled at the jibe and took another shot. “We’re doing the best we can, Doctor.”
“I’m sure. Move it.”
The technician scurried out with her photographic plates.
“What do you think, Doctor?” one of the interns asked, clasping his hands behind him in imitation of the resident.
“What do I think? I think the girl needs a vacation in the Mojave. What am I supposed to think?”
The intern reddened. “I just mean, she seems a little strange.”
“Yeah, well, let’s just save our curiosity for later, when we’ve kept her from becoming a little dead, if you know what I mean.”
Doctor Jonathan Robinson, physician, U.S Navy scientist, and oceanographer, leaned against the wall of his Santa Monica apartment and turned his head toward it, holding the phone tight to his ear. “Wait a minute, wait a minute, slow down. So far what I understand is you found this lady on the beach; you brought her back, you tubed her up, you took pictures. Now, take it from there....What?....It shows what? Slow down...Oh come on....”
He closed his eyes, nodding as he listened. “I see. And Dr. West’s in charge? Well, he knows what he’s doing....” Donald West knew what he was doing, all right. He was as skillful and clever as any resident he’d ever seen. The only trouble with Dr. West was, he was too damn young and too damn smart. But in any event, he knew what he was doing, and if West wanted a Navy man’s help, it meant something. “Yeah, sure. Be there in a few minutes.”
In the ER, Dr. West, the resident, led John over to the view box and turned on the light behind it. He aligned the X-ray photos on the viewer. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said, glancing up at John.
John leaned to peer over Dr. West’s shoulders at the X-rays. He rubbed his chin and straightened up, still peering at the X-rays. “They can’t take a decent portable chest, can they?” He reached around and switched off the light. “You better order another set.”
“I did,” Dr. West said, showing no expression. “You’re looking at them.”
John winced. Of course, West would have had the same doubts, and would have already made the double check. John switched the light on again and leaned close to the pictures, tracing his index finger over the strange, gray shapes in the X-rays.
Rather than normal lungs, what they saw in the pictures appeared to be layers of feathery tissue, membranes with no discernible lobes or outer walls.
John was shocked. “My God! This is the worst case of pneumothorax I’ve ever seen. Why, she must’ve been smoking two-hundred cigarette packs a day to cause this kind of deterioration. She’s got no breathing capacity at all.” He turned to West. “How old would you say she is, Don? Eighteen? Nineteen? Twenty?”
West looked over his shoulder at his patient. “Late teens....early twenties. Yeah, she looks that young.”
John slicked back his jet-black hair, something he did when he was feeling curious and frustrated at the same time. “Then how can she still be alive? For her lungs to be in that condition now, it means she would have started smoking as a one-year old. I’ve never heard of anyone smoking that young. Unless.....”
John turned from the pictures and walked over to the bed and stared down at the stricken girl. She was trussed up like a turkey. To various spots on her body were connected catheters, IV tubes, hanging bottles, monitors. Her legs were tightly wrapped in white bandages. Her face was blue and dry. Her breath came in hoarse and bubbly gasps, growing weaker as he watched. She was comatose, obviously dying. Her one free hand moved slightly, her fingers extended as if reaching for something.
He studied her black hand and dark face, the skin of both showing tiny cracks from dehydration.
Two nurses stood quietly beside him, shaking their heads in concern.
The hot overhead lights beat down on the nearly lifeless form.
“Why isn’t she sweating?” John asked softly.
West leaned over beside him. “That’s not going to make much difference now.”
“Can you get a skin biopsy?
“Not without moving her to County,” Dr. West said, moving to the other side of the table. “And there’s no time for it. Face it, John. There’s not much we can do for someone with dessicated lungs like that.”
“I don’t think those are lungs.”
West looked at him, startled. “Excuse me?”
“She’s alive, and by all accounts and evidence she shouldn’t be. But she is. Even with her chest like that.” He looked across the bed at Dr. West. “Was she by any chance found anywhere near the ocean?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” West said evenly. “Right at the edge of the surf.”
“Don, I’d like to bronch her.” John straightened his shoulders and looked at the other man stonily. “I mean it, Don. I want to bronch her myself. Now!”
“Bronchoscope,” West said to the nurses.
In moments the equipment was gathered and arranged. The bronchoscope tube was passed down the girl’s trachea into her bronchial tubes.
John stared closely at the images transmitted on the scope, and commented on what he saw as the tube was worked farther and farther down. A nurse took notes. “.....I’m looking into the base of the left bronchial branch...getting down to the lung stem....Now I can see....”
He stopped. His eyes narrowed. His cheeks flushed.
“John?” Dr. West put a hand on his shoulder, felt its stiffness. “What is it, John?”
“Get an ambulance around here.”
“Taking her to county?” Dr. West asked, signaling to a nurse who stepped to the phone.
“But what is it, John? What in blazes do you see?”
He carefully withdrew the bronchoscope from the girl’s throat. “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Just get the ambulance.”
“Done,” Dr. West said.
John whirled around to the nearest nurse. “Turn those lights off. Get the tubes out of her. All of them.”
Dr. West came quickly around the table and stood face to face with him. “We can’t just blindly release her to you.”
John was breathing hard. “It’s twelve feet to that door. Either you’re going to help me get her out of here or I’m going to do it myself.”
“But John, we can’t just let her go, without knowing what you....”
“There’s no time for discussion. I’m taking her. I’ll take responsibility. Let’s move.”
The driver wound the ambulance out through the parking lot onto the street and hit the siren. John Robinson had a theory, and he prayed he was right, as the ambulance roared down the Pacific Coast Highway to the Santa Monica Beach.
Upon arrival, John and the two attendants unbuckled the girl from the transporter and slid her off into the water, face down.
“I’ll take it from here,” he told the attendants.
John dragged the girl further out, his white slacks darkening in the water. He was waist deep in the water now, and waves splashed over his face. His hair streamed dark and wet over his scalp. He continued pulling the girl forward under the water now, circling with her. He struggled, slow step by slow step, gagging occasionally as the waves hit her, but never ceasing to drag the girl forward under the water, much as one might propel a sick shark to force water through its gills.
For several minutes he moved in a circular path, looking down at the girl between waves. The attendants stood rock still and staring.
For a time his legs ached, then they became numb. He sucked for breath in the brief spaces between waves, holding his breath when they hit him. His eyes were fogged with exhaustion and salt spray. The girl was heavy. His hands cramped under her arms. He felt her slipping gradually from him.
He closed his eyes and tried to hold the weight. He kept plodding in a circle.
He was so tired that at first he didn’t notice what was happening. It only slowly dawned on him that the girl was no longer slipping through his hands. He was able to hold her firmly.
She was lighter.
He stared down at her, blinking the spray out of his eyes. She was much lighter now. Her body was moving, the chest expanding and contracting with regularity.
More and more it became clear to him: she was breathing, under the water.
Her weight became nothing. Cautiously, slowly, he slid his hands from her. She floated beside him, just under the surface, her body edging forward with slight eely undulations. She moved around him. He turned to follow her with his eyes.
She moved with painful slowness, the undulations of her body barely perceptible. It took her two full minutes to make one complete revolution around him.
Then for some moments she lay still in the water before her. Only then did he become conscious of the sounds of the waves and a few hovering gulls.
He dared not touch her; he could see that she was breathing, and beyond restoring that ability to her, he didn’t know what he should do.
Finally she rolled languorously over and faced him through the few inches of water above her. Her eyes were open, and he saw them for the first time. Her strange green metallic eyes were unblinking. The ebb and flow of the waves over her distorted John’s view of her face.
They stared at each other in this way for a time, John oblivious to the waves washing over her. Her face showed no emotion, only a blank expression. He could see that she was breathing steadily, and with strength. Gradually she began to smile at him. He felt himself smile as if it were an alien maneuver.
She did not smile. Nor did she blink or move her face at all. She just stared at him.
But then she moved a hand. She raised it slowly until it broke the surface. It was no longer black. She extended it up to him. Carefully he took it in his own. He didn’t try to pull her up, nor did she exert any force on her. She lay just under the water looking at him while he held her hand and smiled.
Her hand was warm. Unconsciously he moved his thumb down to cover her pulse. It beat firmly. He felt himself laughing with joy.
He didn’t even notice that between her fingers were small tissues of skin that webbed the fingers together.
He let her lie in the water for a long time. Then he gave her head a gentle tug upward. She resisted, and he understood. She needed more time.
The first light of dawn was appearing over the hills when he pulled gently on her again. This time he allowed her to pull her arm up. She dropped her feet to the bottom and her head emerged from the water. The tide was low. Water drained off her slender, well-formed swimsuit-encased body.
He led her slowly out of the water and up onto the beach. Her walk was unsteady, and she leaned on him for support.
He helped her into the ambulance, and she lay down on the transporter.
“Where to, Doc?” Doug, the ambulance driver asked in a shaky voice.
“Naval Undersea Center. You know where that is?”
“Yes, Doc.” Doug started the ambulance and churned back up the beach and through the parking lot onto the road.
NAVAL UNDERSEA CENTER LAB II LOG. DR. JOHN ROBINSON RECORDING.
Tape 25: “We have named the subject Penny Robinson, for my deceased daughter. She responds to the name and she seems to understand us. But although she is possessed of vocal chords, we do not know whether she can communicate.”
Tape 44: “Penny is a species unto herself, able to extract oxygen from the water and able to breathe air for up to twelve hours. Her skin is smooth, like a dolphin’s, and her speed and agility underwater is uncanny.”
Tape 57: “Penny’s eyes are shielded by tough membranes that prevent them from collapsing during diving and are luminous. She can see at great depths, and in almost total darkness. Her fingers and toes are webbed.”
Tape 150: “We have tested Penny in a compression tank. She is able to withstand pressures that are capable of crushing the strongest metals. She can also resurface without decompressing.”
Tape 201: “Penny has an unknown symbol tattooed on her left leg. Does this indicate another race---an undersea culture? If so, Penny, who may possibly have amnesia from her head injury, cannot or will not tell us. I have programmed the Navy’s computer, COMPUTEX with all the results of our tests.”
Q: Who--or what---is Penny Robinson?
It was at that point that the boys in Navy-blue staked out their claim on Penny.
John had arrived one day at the NUC complex to find a squad of Marines surrounding the dolphin pool where Penny Robinson “lived,” so to speak. He demanded to know what the meaning of it was, why Penny was confined and under guard.
Admiral Pierce, U.S.N., also present at the dolphin pool, reminded Dr. Robinson that it was the Navy that funded his research, and that the Navy had a right to a return on their investment.
“This girl has a name! Penny Robinson!” John protested. “And she has rights! Just like...!”
“I know her name, Robinson,” Pierce snarled, “and I know her rights! She has whatever rights I say she has! And I don’t need any rudder orders from.....eh?!”
Suddenly, and without warning, Penny leaped out of her dolphin pool and, with the strength of ten men, overpowered Admiral Pierce and the Marines. Despite John’s pleas to cease and desist, the fish-girl decided to make a mad dash for freedom.
“Stop her, you idiots!” Pierce bellowed. “Don’t let her reach the pier. If she hits the ocean, we’ve lost her.”
Two Marines at the gate, hearing the commands, swung around to block Penny’s path.
Penny charged forward and burst between them, running toward the dock.
Two more Marines jumped out of a dockside jeep between Penny and the channel.
Penny cut to her left and ran onto the road. Whistles were blown, Marines materialized all around.
Pierce stood on the grass, dancing one foot and then the other, breathing heavily.
Penny ran at the fence, tried to climb it, fell back coughing. She lurched toward the channel. A Marine got a hand on her and spun her around into the grasp of another.
“We got her!” they called.
Penny swung her body furiously, breaking free. Coughing and gasping and stumbling, she ran along the channel past the ships. In the distance before her lay the open Pacific. She lost her footing on the oil-slicked pavement and tumbled. She scratched her way forward, regaining her footing as she moved.
They were right behind her. The Pacific lay before her, a few yards away.
A Marine made a diving tackle from the rear. Penny continued to advance, dragging the Marine behind with her right leg. She reached out for the water.
Then several other Marines pounced on top of her, and she fell. She lay face down, breathing in shallow gasps, her outstretched arm three feet from the water’s edge.
Though she lay helpless, the Marines didn’t know that, and they grabbed frantically for various holds, hammerlocks, and half nelsons. Most of their struggle was with each other as they bumped, butted, and kicked.
The admiral raced out of the gate and down the road to where they all lay in a snaky tangle. “Take it easy! Don’t hurt her! Take it easy!”
“We didn’t let her get to the water, sir!” a Marine sergeant announced proudly, snapping to attention.
“Okay, okay! Get off her now, c’mon!” Pierce reached down and began pulling Marines off Penny. “Ease up now. She’s not dangerous. C’mon, just two of you guys lift her up and take her arms.”
Gradually they untangled and lifted Penny up.
She could barely stand. The admiral was gratified to see that despite the pileup, Penny didn’t seem to be injured. But she could also see that she was exhausted and dangerously out of her element.
“Quickly now,” Pierce waved the men toward the lab, “get her into the pool! I said into the pool! On the double!”
The admiral and two Marines hauled Penny---as quickly and gently as they could---away through the gate and toward the pool.
John had warned Admiral Pierce when the incident finally wound down that Penny would never trust him again, ever. However, it was not Penny Robinson’s trust that Pierce needed, but her help.
“We’ve lost something, Penny,” the admiral said, addressing the sea-girl from behind his broad desk, his shoulders narrowed to indicate that he meant business. “A submarine, the most advanced submarine in the fleet. Help us to get it back, and you’re free to go, girl. Well, what’s your answer?”
Penny Robinson, the alleged “Girl From Atlantis,” had never uttered a word, never indicated that she was even capable of speech. But it was on that fateful day that she spoke her first words of English, punctuating them by softly putting her dainty left hand on the admiral’s shoulder.
“It is a.....deal....Admiral...Pierce.”
And Penny did indeed find the Navy’s sub, and saved the world from the horror of nuclear destruction at the hands of a mad scientist. She had fulfilled her part of the bargain, and the Admiral lived up to his. Penny Robinson was free to return to the sea......
Night had fallen by the time they reached the very beach where Penny had been found. It seemed to John that years had passed since then.
His beige trenchcoat fluttered in the wind as he watched the waves crest and run onto the shore, reaching just to his bare toes before receding.
Penny had stripped off her uniform and now, standing straight and formally in her tight bathing suit, she handed the uniform to him, folded neatly as a flag.
“Again there is something wrong with your eyes.”
He looked quickly away. “It’s......nothing....just emotions. Feelings.”
She cocked her head. “Explain feelings.”
“I..I can’t. You’re....too young...to understand.”
“Water from your eyes again. Explain. I will understand.”
“Well, he looked out over the sea, his arms cradling the uniform across his chest, “when you get attached to someone and you’re close, you feel happy. But then when they leave, you feel sad. And sometimes you cry. That is the water from your eyes. I was crying. But you don’t cry.”
“No.” Penny shook her head. “I have something to say to you now---and I shall call you----Father.” They looked at each other. “Keep your ears clean, Father.”
He smiled quizzically, then in spite of his emotions moments before, began to laugh. “Who taught you that one?”
“Is it not a custom among divers when talking leave?”
“It is.” His eyes moistened even as he smiled.
Penny reached out, lightly touched a tear on his cheek, and brought her finger to her mouth. “It tastes like salt.”
“Maybe we are not so different---in some ways.”
She turned abruptly and walked into the dark surf. Water splashed up on her. Moonlight glistened off her wet shoulders.
She stopped and turned. “I will remember you.”
But she slipped beneath the waves and was gone.
From time to time he could discern her shape moving at the surface of the swells, growing smaller.
“Penny...” he said softly.
He continued to stare out across the surf and farther over the limitless Pacific. The tide was moving in and the lips of the waves now curled around his ankles, darkening the cuffs of his trenchcoat.
At first he saw what he thought was a piece of debris, riding slowly closer on the waves.
Then, nearer the shore, it rose out of the water and stood erect.
Penny strode toward him. She emerged from the surf and splashed in through the fringe of the waves until she stood before him.
For a long moment they just looked at each other.
“You came back!”
“Yes, Father. I have not yet---learned enough. And the sea will always wait.”
He smiled and blinked back his tears. He held out his hand.
She took it and held it as he had in the beginning, when he brought her back to life.
In time, Penny Robinson made a name for herself as one of the wonders of the sea. The marvels of her abilities became known, however, to only a few people, mostly Navy and government officials. This prompted John to make an arrangement with the Navy, when he left to join Dr. Harriman Nelson at the Oceanic Research Directorate, to keep Penny’s special nature secret for as long as possible to avoid her being harmed or exploited. In return she was available for occasional work with the Navy when they needed her special capabilities on deep-water missions.
She would always be free to leave the Directorate and return to the sea forever if she wished. That was another of John’s conditions; that she never be “owned” or restricted. But she had developed such a close and trusting relationship with John and Nelson that she felt at home in the labs at Petal Point. And she lusted after knowledge as mightily as they did, though what she persistently tried to lean more about was not so much about the sea---for she knew it well---but people. It was her incessant curiosity about people---and their attitudes, psychology, and emotions---that drew her constantly to the land and the labs.
She learned extremely quickly, and never had to be taught anything twice. The one piece of knowledge that continued to elude him was where she’d come from, and who she was.
In the months to come, she would surprise everyone, herself included, at the ability of perception and physical capability which would often arise in the course of her new career as an underwater explorer.