Jenny Sullivan and the Defective Genes of Death
One morning, Jenny, a sea-gypsy girl, finds herself covered in hair that makes her look like a chimp. This bizarre change is the side effect of the defective genes. Although those genes give her physical strength, they are a ticking clock of her death. They will shut down when the 12-year span of her age runs out. Her scientist mother, whom Jenny has never met when growing up, promises an antidote. But Jenny has to find her first. This story depicts how Jenny goes through a heroic journey to find her mother in the face of her potential death.
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Chapter 1 The Big Fish
When Jenny was a baby, her mother left her. But why? She had never asked such a question before. Lately, she did ….
Out in the ocean along a shoreline, two youngsters were navigating their canoe.
The one in the back who controlled the direction was a girl called Jenny or Jenny Sullivan. She was about twelve-year-old, dark-skinned, wide-shouldered, and big curly red-haired. Her tank top was gray, and her short skirt was black. She was wearing a necklace with a coin-shaped pendant, her talisman. Her spear was beside her.
The one in the front was a boy called Salim. He was ten-year-old, freckled pale-skinned, narrow-shouldered, and short black-haired. He was in a discolored green T-shirt with one pocket and knee-length pants with two pockets. Beside him was a fishing rod, and near it was a bucket of worms. Next to him was his pet, a green iguana called Kobi, which was now nibbling at a fish.
Those two had just come all the way out of the Sea Spider, which was a village made of separate rafts of bamboo houses on stilts. And bamboo bridges connected those houses.
From the top of a hill, the view of the village looked like a spider. And yes, that was why it was called such.
And from where they now were, the village was hardly visible in the distance in the bay behind them.
The ocean was rather calm, shining blue in the morning sun. The shore had long sand beaches, bushes with coconut trees, and mangroves. Jenny directed the canoe toward the mangrove trees. Afterward, she slowed it down.
“Ready? Got all the pebbles you need?” She shaded her eyes, looking at the trees from side to side for some red fruits, preferably fist-sized, hanging on some branches.
In the meantime, Salim placed his oar inside the canoe, selected some pebbles out of his pockets, and stood up. “Which one? Point it out. We agree on it. I shoot it off. Simple as that.”
“The orange one on the top.”
Shading his eyes, Salim searched for the fruit. “Got it. But that’s really far.”
“Not that far. Thirty-five. Forty feet something. It’s a new challenge for you. Put more force in the shots. You can take it out. You get three tries, as always.”
“Agreed.” Salim positioned his feet and stretched out his arms, left and right, several times. He spun his left hand while a pebble was in it.
Although Jenny followed his entire movements, she missed the pebble flying fast in the air. The next thing she saw was the fruit fell from the branch to the water underneath the tree.
The pebble broke the fruit into pieces. And in the water, they became food for the small fishes now swarming them.
“What a shot! Well done,” she said.
“Thank you. How about the red one? There. On the same tree.”
“Quite hidden, though. If you want to, give it a shot. Then we really have to move on.” She began to row the canoe again although slowly. Soon, she heard another splash and saw the red fruit wasn’t on the tree anymore.
“Not bad!” She turned the canoe around. “Let’s get some fish while the water is still quiet.” She rowed it in full swings again.
Sitting back in it, Salim looked satisfied with his throwing skill. Then he also rowed again.
Leaving behind the shoreline, the canoe was moving out into the ocean.
In the distance, Jenny saw a cruise ship. Although it looked small from her point of view, she knew it was a large one. It had always been there, anchored at one spot.
What were the passengers doing on such a giant ship?
Salim seemed to wonder the same thing. “About a week ago, Dad saw three ships in there.”
“Did he meet anyone from that ship?”
“No, not really. Not at that time, but long before that, he saw some people from the ship were on the beach. Some were dressed in white coats. Some in black uniforms with helmets on and all. Dad said they were trying to catch some crabs or lizards there or something.”
“I never saw them. Did they talk with your dad?”
“No. They stay away from us locals. Dad said he tried to approach them once. But the guys in black uniforms warned him to go away.”
Jenny looked at the cruise ship again. The cabin shapes were visible from afar, from where she was. She tried to imagine what it would be like to live or walk inside such a cruise ship. And what she would do if she went hungry or just wanted to have some fun on it.
There must have been many people in it. They must have had enough fun activities to do. Otherwise, they would quickly get bored.
“Maybe they also go diving there,” she said. “Though I don’t think it’s a nice spot down there.”
“Really? Why? You don’t really dive that much. And you haven’t dived at the Dragon Back yet.”
“I know. It’s too deep for me. I like diving somewhere I can still see the sun when I turn up.”
“But down at the Dragon Back, you can dive among big fishes.”
“That’s the problem. I prefer the small fishes. They’re more colorful.”
A while later, they reached the Dragon Back. They dropped off an anchor. Salim tied up the canoe to the buoy that looked like a soccer ball.
Jenny slid out her necklace, murmured something to herself, kissed it three times, and handed it to him. And he kissed it three times and wore it around his neck.
“Wash it first, please,” Jenny said.
“My talisman. When you kissed it like that, your spit stayed on it, making it stinky. The smell stays on it for days. Really disgusting.”
“I am sorry.” Salim took it out, cleaned it in the water, and sniffed it. “Smells okay now.”
“Good. Give it a kissing gesture. Not actually touching it with your mouth.”
Salim performed the gestures over it carefully as if some kind of a holy ritual and wore it again.
Jenny held the spear in her hand and stood up. “I’m ready. Stay here. I might come up a little late. This time I need a big fish for Papa Danno.”
“Great. He finally talks ... when he wants a big fish.”
“No, he didn’t actually talk to me. He hasn’t spoken yet. I figure he may need it because he’s unwell now.”
“He’s always like that.”
“No, this time it’s different. Gran Eliz told her friends in the village to bring him a big grouper, so she can extract fish oil from it for Papa Danno’s medicine. But Papa Danno hasn’t gotten any friends anymore now since he hasn’t bothered talking with them, and so no one bothers to catch a grouper for him.” Jenny tied her big hair into a tight bun on the top of her head. She would jump into the water in any seconds now.
“Hold on,” Salim said. “Could you please hunt your fish away from my fishing line?”
“You know, last time, I waited for a fish for hours. Turned out, you were down there at my fishing line, chasing away all the fishes.”
But Jenny didn’t wait long enough to hear him. She had plunged into the water, now diving lower and lower.
At first, the downward view looked all barren blue. But she knew it would soon change. She had been to this dive site a few times with the others who assisted a diving class. This was the place to find big fishes, especially groupers.
Her thought drifted back to Papa Danno, her father. She wished he could have told her what happened to him.
As long as she could remember, she hadn’t seen him speaking to or with anyone like a normal person. For a long time, she had thought he was mute. But she had been wrong. Her teacher, Gran Eliz, told her Papa Danno could speak like anyone. For some reason, he just stopped talking after Jenny's mother left. But why did her mother ever want to go away? Where was she now? Was she still alive? Would she ever return?
Growing up without her, Jenny got used to being independent and had forgotten all about her. She didn’t even know her full name. Maybe Sabrina. Sonia. Or maybe Susanna.
One thing Jenny knew about her mother was that her mother wasn’t from the island. Her mother came from a foreign country. How did Papa Danno meet her? Recently, her father had spoken a lot in his sleep. And in the middle of the nights, he would scream, talk about something that Jenny didn’t understand, and cry until he woke up.
If he was healthy, well-fed, she was sure she could persuade him to tell her about her mother. Papa Danno was the only family she had. Lately, it had become her dream to find her mother, too.
Like Salim, oh yes, how great to have both parents next to her ....
The downward view had begun to change as it took a while for her to reach the depth. Did she need air now? No, she didn’t. She felt all right. For some reason, she could hold her breath for a long time underwater. She didn’t know how long exactly she could do that because no one had ever recorded it. Salim told her once that she could dive for hours at a time. She didn’t know whether to believe him. But she took it as a compliment.
Her ability might have come from being in the water all the time. She grew up practically in the water. She may have learned swimming earlier than she learned walking ....
While her overhead view had now become barren blue, the view underneath her was now filled with colorful fishes and corals on jagged rocks in varied sizes. In a glimpse, the rocks looked like pointy spines on a dragon’s back, hence the name, the Dragon Back. She agreed. Not that she had seen a dragon before. She was sure no one had. But whoever invented the name must have been somebody most imaginative on the island.
Schools of fishes were on a constant move, gliding from one side to another. Some were hunting among the rocks. Others simply hovered over the coral fans. But the grouper fish wasn't among them.
She knew groupers were solitary fish and preferred a shadow under a big rock for their hiding place. With a strong jaw and a wide mouth, they could swallow their prey whole in the blink of an eye. That was why they could get huge.
She was now among the rocks. Holding the spear under her, she propelled herself with her feet. That way she could glide quietly from rock to rock, making very few bubbles and keeping her movements less threatening to the small fishes around her.
Then she caught sight of a big grouper under a rock across a depression filled with corals. The grouper was a giant. The right size she was looking for.
There were also other fishes among the corals, but she wasn’t interested in them except the parrotfish. A big parrotfish could be a luring bait for the giant grouper. With the spear, she caught the biggest parrotfish there, then glided toward the giant grouper.
Hanging on the top rock, she could see the giant grouper underneath. She dropped the parrotfish next to the rock. Afterward, she positioned herself and the spear for a quick shot.
As she had expected, the giant grouper moved out of its hiding hole and approached the flapping bait. The grouper's length must have been as tall as she was. She would need a large amount of strength and a sharp focus to overwhelm such a giant.
As the giant grouper was biting the bait, she thrust the spear at the big fish. Because the spear didn’t go deep enough to paralyze it, she went after it and pressed the spear deeper.
Now it must have felt the pain. It turned around and attacked her. Its trap-like jaws bumped into her shoulder, where she could feel the jagged teeth. Then she clasped it and reached for the spear. Her hold on the spear must have cut its wound bigger. The blood began to flow more out of it. A while later, she could sense that it was losing its balance.
As she tightened her grasp on it, it pushed and rubbed her against the rock. She shrieked silently. Bubbles came out of her mouth.
After a while, it seemed to have gotten tired. To control it, she had to find a way to anchor her feet. But she was too light to pull it all the way down to the floor.
While she heaved herself right and left to avoid being rubbed off against the rock, she accidentally got her leg stuck in a hole under the rock. Although the hole hurt her, she could now anchor herself.
Finally, it was in her firm hold, her control. She needed to conserve her breath and strength. Although it was still alive, it was weakening in her arms, maybe because it was losing a lot of blood.
Blood could easily attract sharks. They could be a nightmare for her. She had to return to the canoe quickly.
A while later, she freed her leg and propelled herself upward along with the giant grouper. Up, up, and up ....
When she reached the surface, the big fish had died and was now floating beside her. The blood in the wound under the spear had gone, washed out. She had to load it into the canoe quickly before a shark showed up.
But where was Salim?
She called him over and over again, hoping he heard her. She looked around her. Where was the canoe? She shouted again and again.
A half-hour later, she began to curse him. Why did he leave her behind? She already told him to stay put.
She couldn’t abandon the giant grouper anymore because one way or another she killed it. She had to bring it home and eat it up for the reason she killed it in the first place. Otherwise, the sea goddess would curse her and her entire village. All the sea gypsies believed in the taboo.
She couldn’t wait for Salim anymore. Sharks could find her there at any minute now.
The shore was in the distance, shaded by the clouds. She swam toward it while pulling the giant grouper alongside her. Occasionally, she paused and checked the water around her for any sign of a shark.
If she had to face an attack, she wanted to be ready for it. Thus, she would have time for how to best tackle it. Being unprepared wasn't an option in the ocean. She knew that pretty well. That way, she wouldn’t panic when an attack came to her. Her position on the surface was an easy target for a shark.
About an hour later, she entered the shallow water. The sun was high above the shoreline. She could make out the bushes, the coconut trees, the beach—and a white boat, which was on one side of the beach. Although bigger, the boat looked like the patrol boat Gran Eliz once owned.
Jenny couldn’t find the canoe anywhere there. And where was Salim?
How about sharks? They often swam along such shallow water, using the rolling waves to catch unsuspecting prey. Again, she checked the water around her. Indeed, she spotted three black-tipped sharks chasing several fishes. But those sharks were too small to be a threat to her or to the giant grouper beside her.
Then she rode the waves that took her all the way to the shore. There, she pulled the fish ashore away from the reach of the breaking waves. Sitting beside the fish, she wondered where Salim was. If he went back home on his own, how was she going to take that big fish back home by herself?
Several people in white coats and black uniforms were on the beach in the distance. Some were shouting at one another as if calling on her. She stood up and looked at them. Salim was among them.
What was he doing there? Where was the canoe? How were they going to take the big fish home?
Some people in uniform were carrying firearms and wearing helmets. Others scattered across the beach and in the bushes.
Three in white coats were standing next to Salim, seemingly talking with one another. Salim was sitting on the sand, holding something under his T-shirt.