1:   INTO THE VOID

 

           While lying on a sofa one lonely, sleepy Sunday afternoon, the father dreamed an adventure so alien and full of danger that it frightened him awake.  As he sat up and regained his waking consciousness, the fragments of that momentous dream faded from memory, and only the thrill and the wonder of it remained.  And the image of father and son out there on the ocean.  A thought then haunted him…he wanted that.  For the son.  Did they dare?  
            Jody, that young innocent, at a nearby table stopped drawing and listened to his enthusiastic father, who proposed the venture, the dream becoming the reality.  Alexander, his father, urged it until the son too believed they could do it.  Yes—so what if they’d never gone out on the ocean?  Why not take a little boat out there, just the two of them, and go after the big one? 
            Jubilant as schoolboys, all that week they planned it and talked it up, this father and son.  Saturday they drove to the rental yard and chose a two-man aluminum boat, mounted on a trailer and powered by an eighty-horse Mercury outboard.  This they bolted to their Bronco four-by-four, then drove away beneath a gray, discouraging November sky, oblivious to all discouragement.  They found again the perfect spot they’d already scouted, a secluded, placid, beginner’s cove on the Sonoma coast.  They maneuvered the boat awkwardly off the trailer and into the surf, and so launched their frail craft onto this fringe of the mighty Pacific Ocean.  
            Yet four hours later they were still without a bite as the diminished waves of the cove rocked them gently, pleasantly fifty yards from shore.   Firmly anchored, they kept their wool jackets zipped to the collar against the cold, for the Sun at midday was still only midway up the sky, and showed itself only as a disc dimly seen through impenetrable overcast.  Father and son faced each other, but had spoken little the last hour.  Jody wore no hat and his brown hair curled over ears and collar.   Stubbornly, he wouldn’t be the one to say let’s give up and go home; though he’d begun glancing at his father recently, that he might hear him speak the welcome words. 
            However, Alexander seemed content to stare out into that infinite ocean, where nothing but swells and a few seagulls moved, his pole up and the line tugging shoreward, forgotten, the gold spinner out there spinning for nothing.  He wore a Giants baseball cap.  Only two months before, father and son had fished both for the first time ever off a pier at a Monterey wharf with Uncle Jay.  Jody had enjoyed it so much, and that had pleased his father so much, that the two had gone fishing nearly every weekend since.  But they were still as novice and unlucky as any fishermen could be.  
            Then, as if faraway worlds suddenly called to them, the dense, obscuring overcast parted, revealing suddenly the hitherto hidden Sun:  flashing brilliantly upon them in their boat.  “I’ll be,” said his father, squinting into the unexpected blaze of light.  “What a difference that makes—huh?  Think this means our luck’ll change?”
            The boy remained silent, not wanting to encourage any optimism.
            His father understood the silence.  He smiled and said, “Or maybe not.   Here, Jody—you take this caster a while.  That hole in the sky just might stay open a bit.  I think I’ll just sit back here and enjoy some of that beautiful Sun—probably won’t last long.”  He reeled in the spinner and handed the pole to his son.  Then he reclined against a cushion he’d set against the outboard and tilted back his cap bill to let the welcome sunshine warm his face. 
            The son reeled in his own line and laid that pole in the boat.  He preferred the caster.  He heaved out a long one and slowly retrieved it.  Then several times again.   But he saw it was still the same bad luck, so he settled back and let the spinner hold taut in the shoreward swells, the poletip slightly bowed, gently quivering.
            The father opened one eye and saw his son disengaged from the moment.  He pushed up his cap bill and opened the other eye.  “Hey—I really like all your drawings yesterday from anatomy class.  What’s your friend Martin think of you drawing all those beautiful, shapely women?”
            Jody laughed.   “He’s jealous!  He said he’d love to trade places.”  Then he became more serious.  “But that’s a joke.  He actually has dates.  I’ve never had one.”  He laughed again, though this time it pained him.
            The father almost equally; who said, “You’re nuts—you could have one tomorrow if you wanted.  Look at you.”
            The son frowned.   “No, Dad, it’s not like that.  Girls aren’t interested in me.”
            “Well maybe not the girls at the art college—you’re barely sixteen—but I know the girls at Tam High must like you.”
            “They still see me as the fat kid.  Nothing’s changed.” 
            The father shook his head, dubious.  “That’s nuts, you lost fifty-five pounds, you look like a model.  I can’t believe the kids at school even recognize you now.”
            “Well they do.  And I feel like the same guy, that’s the main thing.  I just don’t have any confidence when I see a girl I like.  I get all stupid and can’t talk to her.”
            The father paused; he knew too well this was true.  “Well, Kirk said that would happen.  I mean, that you’d change physically first.  Then it would take a little while for you to catch up to that psychologically.  And you will.  But I hope you can appreciate what a transformation you’ve already done on yourself.”
            No pride was in the son’s voice.  “Kirk did it to me.  You did it.”
            “No!  You did it, Jody!  All I did was prod a little.  Kirk gave you a workout, told you what to eat, what not to eat.  But you had to do the work, and it was a heckuva lot of work, and you did it.  You did it.  Don’t ever forget that.  Or underestimate it.”
            The son looked away to the dreary sky, letting the silence hang between them; till finally he said, “Let’s change the subject—OK?”
            “Fine with me,” his father said cheerfully.  “Tell me about your new character.”
            This roused a smile.   “Oh yea.  I told you the other day I found this old Submariner comic.  It was drawn by my favorite artist, John Byrne.”
            “Sure I remember you showing me Byrne.  But Submariner’s way older than that.  I read him when I was a kid.  So John Byrne’s drawing him now, huh?”
            “Yeah, and I really like the way he does all the underwater stuff.”  The boy unsettled himself from the hollow of the bow, leaning toward the father:  for the first time that day his shadow lay in the boat between them.  “Well anyway, I’ve been thinking about a character of my own like that, and I’ve been trying out a few things.”  He reached with one hand into the backpack lying between his silver Nikes and he withdrew a drawing pad of Bristol.  He found the page he wanted and held it up so only he could look at it; approved; then held it up for his father to see:  a sleek, muscled superhero speeding serenely through the depths of ocean, arms outspread, silver-masked, shoulder fins extended, hands webbed, a silver body suit so tight it could have been skin.  A smiling dolphin swam as serenely beside him.
            The father showed delight.  “Very nice.  What’s his name?”
            “Aquaman.”  But Jody frowned.  “It’s not very original, but, like they say, it’s a work in progress.”   The boy took back the drawing and reinserted it in his backpack, reset that again between his Nikes; then continued.  “He’s not really right yet.   He should be as cool as Submariner, but different—you know?”  His father nodded that he did know.   “Submariner has a really great origin.  He was a prince in Atlantis, but he got kicked out and went away to fight the bad guys, and he teamed up with some other superheroes.  But he’s different—sometimes he’s heroic, and sometimes he goes nuts and destroys stuff and fights against the good guys.  He’s pretty neat.”
            Agreeable as only a parent can be, Alexander said, “I can see that.”   And then again the father’s eyes drifted to the far immense distances. 
            But his son pursued him.  “What I really need, Dad, is a good story for my character.  You know—an origin, and some really cool adventures.  I’ve thought a lot about it.  I come up with a lot of ideas, but when I tell them to Martin he says I’m just rehashing stories I read in other comics.  And he’s right, I never come up with anything really original.  I need some help.  Professional help.”
            His father seemed to be considering this.  He pulled the cap bill down to cover his eyes.  “Well, Jody, I don’t know what to tell you.  I’ve never been much good at original stories either.  All my writing’s historical, or personal.”
            “Yea, but you’ve done a lot of it.  You’ve written novels.”
            Hidden by the cap bill, his father smiled bleakly.  “Yea, for all the good it did me.”  Then he truly smiled as he uncovered his eyes, blinking at the Sun, pretending optimism. “So you think I’d be a good collaborator—huh?”
            The boy leaned forward, wanting this:  “Well, why not?  You told me yourself that you’ve had to make up some characters.  And stories.”
            His father smiled more.  “Well I suppose I have.  But making up a story for a superhero’s something else again.  I imagine that would take...well...a lot of imagination.  Not my strong point.  And what do I know anyway about what goes on in the ocean?” 
            But Jody wouldn’t accept that.  He shook his head, even as he grinned.  “We could find out what goes on in the ocean.  We can do it, Dad—come on, let’s make a comic together.  Write me a story.”
A shudder of release passed through the father and he let his fingers slip from his grip on the gunwales into his lap.  He sat forward, pushing the cap bill high again.  The boy’s enthusiasm lightened him; he savored it, thought perhaps it might even rouse him from a great long lethargy. 
But it could not.   “Maybe a few years ago, Son.  I’m just not in writing shape anymore—you know what I mean?”
            The boy studied him.  “I know.  You mean you haven’t written in a few years.  So what?”
            The father laughed, with little pleasure.  “Well it’s not that easy to get started again.  I feel kinda worn out.”
            “I don’t believe you.  The rejections wore you out.  And maybe something else wore you out too.  But you always liked the writing, I know you did.  That was always when you were happiest.  It’s sad, I don’t see that side of you anymore.”
            The father began feebly, “Well....”  But he had little energy for rebuttal.  “There’s more to it than you realize.”
            Unconvinced, Jody smiled brighter than before; he had energy enough for both of them.  “Or maybe not.  I know you, I see you all the time.  In fact, that’s our problem—we’re like a coupla old duffs who sit around home and don’t see much of anybody but each other.” 
They both became silent, thoughtful:  each for private reasons.  Until the boy spoke again.  “Maybe that’s a bigger problem than we both realize.  I mean…did I tell you that Martin asked me last month to go with another friend of his on a trip next summer?  A drive from coast to coast and back, just the three of us.  For the whole summer.”
    His father’s face showed a slowly dawning surprise.  “Well, no, you didn’t.  Sounds like quite a trip.  All summer—eh?”
    “Yeah, all summer.  We talked about it for quite a while.  But finally I told him no, I just don’t think I’m quite ready for that.  Maybe the summer after.  Then I’d probably feel like it.”
    That instantly and deeply surprised him.  “Really, Son?  I’d think you would have jumped at the chance to have an adventure like that.”
    “Martin thought so too.  And at first, so did I.  But the more I thought about it, the more I could feel something in me…resisting.  Crazy, huh?”    
    The father kept silent, a little afraid of what might follow.
    Jody continued, “Later I thought a lot about that.  Yeah, why not go?  And it just came down to not wanting to leave home for so long, not wanting to leave you.  Not right now.”
    The father was suddenly full of energy.  “Oh that’s nuts, Jody!  We’re always together.  We’ve got plenty of time ahead of us to be together.  That’s certainly not a reason not to go on a great trip like that with your friends.”
    The son slowly shook his head.  “Well, maybe I’m just not ready, Dad.  Yeah, Martin is my good friend, but the truth is, you’re really my best friend, especially since we lost Mom.  I don’t know if either one of us would have made it through all this without each other.”
    “Well, bless you, Son for saying that, and I do have to say that yes, you are my best friend, and I would certainly miss you if you were gone all summer.  But still, that’s not a good enough reason for you to miss going on an adventure like that.”  Then he grinned a little mischief:  “And you just might meet a little sweetheart somewhere along the way.”
    The boy laughed.  “Ok, enough about my stupid adventure.  I don’t think Martin’s friend can really afford a trip like that so I don’t think there’s actually going to be any summer adventure.  So you can drop it about my little sweetheart too.”  Then Jody grinned his own mischief and said, “So why don’t you date—huh?  Talk about me being shy!”
            The father’s face showed mock outrage.  “Date?  I’m a little old for dating, young man.  And not interested, if you really want to know.”
            “Hah!  You’re not even fifty, Dad.  And I’ve seen you with Karen Carter, I know you like her.”
            Truly shocked, the father blurted:  “Hey there!”
            The boy struggled not to laugh, but said, “OK, I won’t press you.  But if I can admit I’m in a shell and I’m trying to get out—so can you.  Anyway, it’s the same shell.  We both climbed in it when we lost Mom.  I got fat and hated everyone.  You stopped writing and became a hermit.  We’re both hermits.  Still.  But I’m coming back.  Thanks to Kirk.  And thanks to you.  Why can’t it be your turn now?” 
            The memory of their shared misery and consolation threatened the father again.  There had been enough of that.  He tried to shut it down.  “So you think inventing you a story would get me out of this shell you think I’m in?”
            The son glowed.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it would be fun—no matter what.”  
            The father searched his son’s bright face with tired eyes.  “You think it’s not too late for me—huh?”  He felt the boy’s light penetrate him.   “Well maybe.  I’ll think about it.  If you don’t make me date Karen Carter.”
            Jody continued to hold him to it.  “Come on, let’s do it!  It’ll be fun!  A great underwater adventure.  Created by you and me.”
            His father smiled, feeling his son’s light filling him.  He leaned back, his eyes closed.  He felt again thel momentary, precious Sun on his face.   “OK, OK, I’m thinking about it.  The old dog might learn new tricks.  But it won’t be easy.  And all this story would be underwater?  All of it?”
            Energized, the boy again took up his casting pole.  “Yeah, all underwater.  And whatever ideas you come up with, I can sketch out little thumbnails and story boards, like they do in the big time.  It’ll be fun.  Then we’ll sell it to Marvel Comics.”
            Jody cast again.  The lure penetrated water and drifted, and he began retrieving it.  But suddenly he felt a hard pull on the line.  Then line slackened. 
            Breathless, he stared at the limp line, his heart beating fast.  Was that something?  Or not?  He waited, watching the line, thinking perhaps he had snagged.  Then another strong pull bent the poletip, the chrome reel biting his knuckles.  He braced his feet, leaned back, straining the pole.  His father bolted upright, reaching forward as if to take the pole:  also careful maintaining balance in the boat.
            “No!” the boy yelled, eyes wide and wild with the thrill of it.  “Let me try!  I can hardly turn the handle!”  The pole bowed still more, tip quivering.  
            The boy glanced only long enough to see his father wild-eyed too, remembering that this was his first big fish as well.  His father shouted again.  “Yeah—well don’t let it pull you in!  If it pulls too hard—let go for godsake!”
            But this was his, this was what he’d dreamed about.  He struggled with all his energy against the mighty fish.  His leg cramped and he wanted to shift his weight, but he didn’t dare, for fear of losing it.  He could barely control the pole as the line swept back and forth near the boat.  Sometimes he wound a few turns; but then the next moment he could not; or he cried out, helpless, as the line spun away furiously. 
            Still he battled, and the fish battled; until finally the fish wearied and could fight no more, but merely resisted stubbornly, twenty feet from the boat.  His father with a gloved hand grabbed filament a foot from the poletip and pulled to gain slack; but even pulling together they only slowly retrieved line.  Till at last they drew the fish beside the boat; then must pull harder to bring it out of water.
            Both gasped:  seeing a three-foot long, silver and blue-black steelhead emerge from ocean, pink glistening along its side, powerful tail thrashing.   Jody reached down to grasp the spinner in the fish lip and he alone hauled the big fish into the boat, onto his lap.
            The father sat forward, pushing back his Giants cap, astounded.  “My God!  That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”  Speechless, the boy stared at his prize:  so alive in his lap, brilliant colors gleaming, tail thumping now without panic, feathered gills fluttering in vain.  So courageously dying, the boy thought.  A beautiful thing I’m killing.
            Then he perceived something else, though the how of it was beyond his understanding:  something inside this fish throbbing-throbbing.  He knew it was no heartbeat—no—something else, something somehow part of this incredible moment...a wonder of wonders.  And though he knew he was staring into the incomprehensible, he also profoundly understood that he could not kill this fish.                             
Carefully he removed the treble hook from the fish lip, his own heart still pounding.   His eyes never moved from this dying creature as he said to his father, “I wanna throw him back,” and as quickly as he spoke he heaved the steelhead over the side.
            His father yelled, “Omygod—NO!” and he lurched forward, reaching for the prize that was even then falling into water.  
            This sudden, desperate movement tipped the frail craft radically, throwing them both off balance, well before Jody could grab the gunwales:  his feet slipping away behind him, pitching the boy forward, so that his forehead struck the bow as he fell overboard into ocean.  The father toppled face down, cracking his skull loudly on the seat boards, slumping there unconscious.
            Stunned and disoriented, the boy sank several feet under water, struggling to hold his breath, feeling waves, turbulence above him:  when suddenly he saw before him the steelhead he had only moments before thrown overboard.
            In that instant that should have been his death, besieged by terror and panic, eye to eye with the steelhead, Jody perceived in an instant of perfect clarity and wonder their positions now bizarrely reversed:  the fish alive and himself about to die.  Even as he sensed again the throbbing-throbbing inside the fish that he knew was not its heartbeat and that he would forever after know was the essence of the wonder of all that wonder that was suddenly upon them all.
            Terror and panic seized him.  Desperate for air, the boy opened his mouth to suck in the fatal swallow of water that would burst his lungs.  Yet in that same moment a convulsion passed through the steelhead:  face to face:  and the boy saw from within dark folds of steelhead mouth:  a pearlescent jewel of another world and another time emerge glistening white and iridescent:  glowing:  throbbing-throbbing:  unearthly power passing serenely toward him:  mouth to mouth:  wonder of wonders:  heat and power of the brilliant jewel glowing on his lips, hotter on his tongue:  throbbing-throbbing:  into his throat and lodging high in his chest:  then suddenly accelerating its pulsebeat to explosion! 
            White light blinded him.  Power of suns erupting quaked through him, dissolving body and mind, consuming his cry for mercy unheard. 
            He expected to die.  Yet he wasn’t dying, for his consciousness perceived it all—bone and muscle, blood and skin, senses, organs, brain all burning in the white electric fire.  Not dying, something else.  Disintegration.  Reintegration.  His old being destroyed.  A new being arising from this power raging through him.
            His clothes split and fell away.
            Beyond pain.  Bones wrenched to new shapes:  spine elongating, legbones fusing and retracting into hip sockets as feet flared into broad flukes at the spinetip.   Arms withdrew into body, hands webbing into flippers at the shoulders.  Forehead flattened and facebones reformed a long thick jawbone.   Pale skin fattened and darkened gray, stretching silky and taut over expanding, distorting, elongating muscles.  Dorsal fin ruptured erect from his spine.
            Swelling in his forehead pulsed with sounds never heard before, in high frequencies unimagined.  In the crown of his head an airhole emerged, and instantly he craved air.  He rose to the surface, he knew not how, and gasped air into his lungs:  bringing into him new life and new being.  Then he sank beneath the surface again, returned to a world of chaos and terror.  
            He knew not what he was, nor what had consumed him.  He would scream, but no sound was possible.  Even the water around him still swirled and bubbled with the chaos of it all.  Panic again choked him.  He couldn’t breathe.  His flippers in his new madness he thought still to be arms and he beat them frantically, regaining the surface.  There he felt his new air flap open and suck breath three times, then close.  Then he, neither alive nor dead, sank again.
            Weakened to exhaustion, he felt even so a wild energy pulsing through him that seemed the lifeforce of this something so terrible inside him.  All his attention was within, mad to know what had happened, terrified to know. 
            He opened his eyes only when he must, and he saw then ghostly bluegreen depths folding into eerier darknesses below, all of it terrible, without as well as within.   He closed his eyes again, not wanting to see more, refusing to believe this impossible madness, shivering and helpless against the terror that raged inside him. 
            Numb, confused, struggling to keep alive, he drifted lifelessly out the cove and into deeper ocean, breathing awkwardly in panic whenever his lungs burned.  Understanding nothing.  Until at last even his terror and panic were exhausted, and quieted; and finally only the many bewildering sounds of the sea filled his awareness.  Chaotic, nightmare sounds. 
            But soon—for what else could he do?—he surrendered to the nightmare, drifting, barely alive, bobbing like cork in water.  Lost.  Fever burning in his brain.  And one question he sounded, and re-sounded:  What’s happening?  What?  What?
            Eventually he sensed something near him.  He opened his strange eyes.  Not sure if he was dreaming what he saw, or if, in the distortion of undulating green water, he saw a mirage of the sea:  but there were three gray dolphins hovering at the surface, a few body-lengths in front of him, flukes hanging, rippled light through water casting lightwebs over their bodies.
            They were looking at him. 


2:   MYSTERY

    He looked at these three creatures and felt fear and panic again rousing his blood to madness.  But he had no energy for that, exhausted, wanting only sleep and oblivion.  Thus, fear and panic subsided, and then there was only the nervous fluttering of his flippers, which seemed beyond his control.  
    What was he?   He tried to look at himself, but his neck was little flexible:  he saw only the tip of a flipper moving.   He felt flukes; he could move them, but not move them as feet moved; and moving them pushed him toward the surface.  He stopped that, and he sank back.  
    The nightmare engulfed him.
    High piercing sound entered him.  It seemed to come from the dolphins as they moved closer.  The sound whined higher, then stopped.  Then a slower burst of whistles.  One dolphin wagged its beak side to side, clicking so fast and continuous it pierced him and seemed to vibrate the mysterious thing in the middle of his chest.  His fear might have seized him again, but as the clicking continued he began to feel a warmth spreading in his body, relaxing him.  He realized that somehow these dolphins could ease his misery, while he in no way comprehended or could help himself.  A wave of peace from dimensions unknown swept over him, and he surrendered to it, to them—for what else could he do?  The faces of the dolphins faded as he descended into the sleep and oblivion that was everything he wanted.

    As he did so, the dolphin nearest him, Koa, third-order Guardian and a healer, whistled in Lilliaba, the many-voiced language of dolphins, to her companion in singwave, their talk-frequency.  “A strange one.  Responds to nothing.”
    Rimi, the youngest Guardian, singwaved in reply a burst of whistles, “Seems barely alive.  Perhaps injured.”
    “Perhaps,” voiced Koa .  “He seems in shock, can’t swim.  Could drown, should be with our colony.”
    “A young one,” voiced Nania, Koa’s apprentice healer, who circled their discovery. “Barely floats.  Why no body marks?”
    “A mystery,” answered Koa, finally drawing back from the curiosity.  “Likely lost.  What puzzles me most is his silence.  As if hearing not, nor understanding.   Gives no identity signal.  Seems lifeless.  Nothing’s what it looks to be.  I wonder even this extreme—is this truly dolphin?  When I scanned, I saw something small, round, dense in his chest—look yourself—near the lung opening.  Like a pearl.  But radiates, yet unstable.  And it’s highest frequency—not subsonic drone, like cancers. ”
    “I see it,” whistled Nania, as she transmitted an ultra-high burst of seeker-rays into this unsuspecting dolphin’s chest:  finest fastest echoes returning to Nania through her jaw and through the melon of her forehead:  where these echoes formed a picture within her mind’s eye that revealed to her the tiny pearlshape within that body.
    “So dense,” singwaved Rimi, who also scanned it. “What?”
    “How know?” answered Koa.  “But alien to dolphins.  Perhaps alien to Oceanus.  Scanning his brain base I see seeker-rays not active.  So—perhaps a dolphin, perhaps not.  In emergency.  Responding not, though half-conscious.  In peril of drowning.  Brain half shut down, yet not damaged.  Or has it ever worked?  A Language Master would see more.”
    Rimi asked, “Recall the strange steelhead who drew us here?”
    Koa remembered:  the steelhead swimming erratically near them.  She’d scanned it, detected minute traces of powerful radiation within the steelhead.  The first mystery.  When the strange fish had sped away, Koa and Rimi had followed easily, continuing to read the unusual radiation in this creature.  They’d pursued him until he’d led them to this cove.  Here they’d found something even stranger than the steelhead—this puzzling, helpless dolphin.  Or not-dolphin.  
    And where was the steelhead now?
    Koa scanned with seeker-rays the nearby waters, but the fish was gone.  She voiced, “The steelhead radiates the same pulse as the power object in this dolphin’s chest.  How so?”
    “And what to do with this one?’ singwaved Rimi, all three now facing the pseudo-dolphin, their flukes at rest, hearing the labored breathing whenever their helpless discovery rose awkwardly for air.
    “First,” responded Koa, turning southwest toward the faraway colony, “we report position, conclusions.  Call a Language Master.  Make a support group.”  She transmitted a series of low-frequency distance singwaves, giving her information.  In moments this message traversed the thirty-seven miles of ocean to their dolphin colony, who swam south in shelf-waters among migrating gray whales.  Soon Koa and her companions heard the return signal:  Understood.  Bring your mystery.
    Immediately, Koa called two others who’d been hunting nearby to join them.  One with Nania maneuvered into support position beneath the unfortunate dolphin’s flippers.  Koa and Rimi swam one on each side in second support, to replace them at intervals.  Another dolphin swam foremost, navigator, projecting seeker-rays ahead and below.  This support group then bore the helpless one away at half-travel speed southwest toward the dropoff, the edge of the continental shelf, and toward their traveling colony.
    But of all this the barely conscious boy-dolphin knew nothing.  Eventually more consciousness returned.  The little memory he possessed, hours old only, filtered back to him—recalling the eruption and chaos; recalling all his fear and panic, which had now subsided, though fear and panic both yet lurked in the darkness of him.  Recalling also these dolphins.  But no memory of anything before this horrible nightmare.  So he could now only trust in his surrender:  to the ocean that surrounded him, that rushed over him and under him; and to those dolphins that sustained him at this rapid pace, one beneath each arm.  
    Though he also remembered that arms they were not, that the being he had been, he was not.  
     They swam on, he knew not how far or how long, until this boy-become-dolphin sensed them stopping, and he opened his eyes.  He saw both above and below the lapping swells many dolphins swimming toward him, some making little breath leaps approaching; and he heard as well clicks and whistles all at once converging in eccentric harmonies, compounding his confusion.
    Koa slowed the support group to a halt, seeing the Language Master approach.  They maintained at the surface, that their burden might breathe whenever he would.  Atia the Language Master swam among them and halted before the miracle dolphin.  She began a fast clicking into him.
     He drew back, frightened, but the probe was brief.  He wanted to will himself to oblivion again, but he could not, for all the continual, quick movement of dolphins and the confusing sounds in the waters around him.  
    When Atia completed her examination, she paused a moment to look at the lifeless face and passive body:  seeing an impossible young dolphin, no distinguishing marks on his face, none on his body, not a scratch.  As if the body had never been in ocean.
    The Language Master singwaved to Koa beside her.  “I see what you see.  Responds to nothing Lilliaba, no frequency.  No response to rescue signals, yet no brain or hearing damage.  And—however possible—responds not to Eternal Family keys that’re part of every dolphin of Oceanus.   I say—he’s never known Lilliaba, understands nothing.  I truly doubt he’s dolphin.  Astonishing.  May not even be lifeform.  And this further makes me doubt—voiceworks not functioning.  Nor seeker-rays.  How can this be lifeform?  Vlorio’s soon here.  This’ll be his newest Incomprehensible.  Most strange—that object in his chest—so dense, such pulse, such powerful radiation.  Like nothing I’ve seen.  He must be machine.”
    From a short distance behind them they heard in singwave a voice they all knew well. “Sacred Profanities!  What’ve you found?”  And moments later, Vlorio, ninth-order Guardian and Voice of the colony, glided into their water and settled beside Atia, peering closely at the barely-conscious mystery.  Vlorio continued.  “All amazing, yes, but I fear this creature.  I’ve listened all the last mile.”  
    He scanned with ultra-seekers the power-object in the mystery’s chest.  Then singwaved, “Yes, fearful.  See the object’s erratic pulse?  Possible?—what Atia believes—humans created a perverse machine?— perhaps explosive—though it seems the perfect image of a dolphin?”  
Koa knew she was alone in her opinion, but must strongly express it.  “I urge more thought.  Speak to this creature, be that possible.  Atia can give his voiceworks ultra-shock.  Force upon him speech in basic forms.”
    Atia was reluctant.  “You assume lifeform.  Not I.  This must be machine.  Even if lifeform—must also desire to speak.  Any see desire in this one?  We waste time.  This thing that seems dolphin—but isn’t—must be abandoned.  Let the machine destroy itself.”
    Others whistled agreement.
    But Koa persisted.  “Too cautious.  Both power and creature we must know.  Too rare a chance.  Perhaps not uncontrollable.  But abandon this?  Without knowing more?  I believe it a miracle.”
    Vlorio peered closely again at the somnolent danger, then singwaved to the others,   “Enough danger in Oceanus without inviting more.  Yet I respect so much Koa’s wisdom I’ll risk one more probe.”  He scanned with ultra seeker-rays this body that so worried them.
     The transformation at first was unaware of this new probe.   When Vlorio switched to lower frequency, however, the boy-dolphin easily felt the object inside his chest vibrate:  a soft hum that wound higher the longer Vlorio probed, until this sound began to frighten its carrier.  Then the power object began to vibrate erratically.  His prior lethargy suddenly dissolved as his heart raced and all his former fear and panic rose up again.  As it did, he felt the object that so troubled him amplifying its unearthly power again to something unimaginable, that could only destroy him.  He wanted to scream, though again no sound was possible.  He could feel his body shake uncontrollably with the horror that again had seized him.
    Vlorio saw everything.  “Listen!  Look!  Vibrating more, heat increases!  Now more!  See it!”
    The other dolphins did scan it, saw what he’d seen, and then moved away, ready to flee at a signal from Vlorio.
    Koa, healer before she was a Guardian, dared another idea.  She transmitted into this dangerous being’s solar plexus her strongest healing ray:  octave/counter-octave:  and within moments the object in his chest slowed its vibration till it was barely perceptible.
    But even though the expansive energy so quickly subsided, it left the victim drained and shaking.  Vaguely he perceived the dolphins somehow could control this terrible thing in him; but not enough; nor rid him of it.  
    Koa in singwave whistled to Vlorio, “Look—healing rays quiet him.  No machine responds to healing rays.”
    Vlorio was slow to voice opinion.  “Shadows in Darkness!  You may speak true, Koa.  A deadly mystery.  Yet as the body shook—it no way resembled lifeform.  Perhaps humans now creates machines to respond to healing rays as if lifeforms.  Humans in our lifetime are ingenious.”
    “Koa’s not alone,” interposed Rimi, “I suspect lifeform also.”
    “Accepted, Rimi,” responded Vlorio.  “Though I doubt, however much I wish.  Though I long to study this...amazement.”
    Atia whistled, “You’d risk it?—when so many are destroyed if Koa, Rimi are wrong?”
    “Yes, I fear we invite death,” answered Vlorio.  “Can’t risk it.  This creature’s not dolphin.   We see no intelligence, no emotion.  It’s likely machine.  But...such mystery.  What could this be?  Stars in Oceans!–imagine’  But worth many deaths to study it?”
    “Vlorio!” urged Atia, “All are frightened.  I beg you act.  Before this kills us.  Abandon it!”
    “Wait,” interrupted Koa.  “I say we make a grave mistake.  It’s quiet now. ”
    Vlorio protested.  “Healing rays may not again save us.   “Dangerous to delay.  Many could die.  This one requires so much help—to swim, feed, protect.  Colony can’t do it.   My Voice is this—support group must take him to our outcasts island, without escape.  Abandon him, move everyone far away.  My own mission takes me elsewhere, no more time for this, nor has our colony time.  Take him away.  This must be done.”  

    As twilight spread slowly through the sun-waters, and while the boy-now-dolphin struggled to recover sanity and strength, most dolphins cruised well below the limit of light in barrel-rolls and upside-downs, already seeing with seeker-rays instead of eyes.  Drifting in and out of consciousness, he barely perceived these dolphins swimming near him and below him.  He was also aware of being still supported at the surface, ignorant of the fate that awaited him, ignorantly feeling a spark of hope that these benevolent creatures could rescue him from his nightmare.
    He drowsed when he could; he awoke when he must; Koa remained always close.  
    Eventually the escort group arrived:  two dolphins resumed support beneath the boy-dolphin’s flippers and two others ready nearby to serve as second supports if need be.  Nania, Koa and Rimi followed as the group swam away at half-travel speed southeast toward their desperate destination.
    The sky darkened to twilight, and second supports projected seeker-clicks into all their water ahead and below:  reading in the echoes anchovies near the edge of the dropoff; schooling squid in a rising cloud a whalebody wide, up from deeper, colder realms now that the Sun was going.  These dolphins also read kelp beds heaving and twisting at the surface in their path, and they circled wide of these.
    Soon on this journey the consciousness of their unsuspecting burden began to rouse again.  Dark of night had settled over them.  In the fleeting instants when he was lifted to the surface to breathe, he saw black night above; and when he was descended and carried ahead he saw below only the impenetrable black night of ocean.  And everywhere in this ultimate darkness he heard the sound of seeker-clicks and seeker-echoes all around him.  
     He struggled against despair, struggled to reach back into that inconceivable before, to remember—anything.  But for all his desperation and longing, his memory gave him nothing; so he willed himself again to the oblivion of sleep.   But in the midst of sleep he heard sounds, and awoke:  sounds in low frequency—words, but not of dolphin language.  He heard words in a language unknown...or forgotten...but familiar.  And he understood these words!  I just can’t accept it that you’re gone.  They can’t find your body.  I’ll come back, every day, and look for you...and wait for you...and hope.
    Dim sparks ignited in the memory cells of his brain.  His heart raced.  Not that he understood all the meaning of these words, or who was speaking, but he understood that these words were for him, that there was longing in those words that was the same as his own longing to recall the world he could no longer remember.  And he knew he had known that voice, that it was part of his before.
    As the escort group swam on he repeated to himself these mysterious words, from a source unknown, trying desperately to awaken further his memory.  But there was nothing more.  So he had only those words; but he clung to them as if they were all his life, certain that the unknown voice spoke to him...that he was the one gone, that he had known that voice...who waited.  And that voice also knew he might be dead, or that he might still be, hoping in its own longing, alive.
    Which was he—dead or alive?  How could he be sure?
    But eventually his mind exhausted itself, and he had to let it all go.  Then he heard around him again only the sounds of dolphins, their singwave and their incomprehensible seeker-rays and echoes.   So again he surrendered himself to the only peace he knew, sleep.
     They were still an hour to the river’s mouth, their destination.   The sandy shelf a hundred twenty meters below them rose gradually.  By then an ebbing three-quarter Moon shimmered above them, shedding a soft light into their upper ocean.  
    Suddenly the escort group heard loud, methodical thrashing to their right.  The boy-dolphin awoke, hearing it too.  Koa projected ultra-seeker-rays that direction:  detecting shark-shapes, four of them, all closing at high speed directly for the obvious, helpless dolphin, the killers’ agitation in their crescent tails and gaping jaws.  
    Koa’s skri-alarm alerted them all.  Every dolphin, except the two supporting the outcast-to-be, stopped swimming and scanned the onrushing sharks.  Quickly alert himself, the transformation sensed the dolphins’ alarm and he watched with panic rising as the sharks loomed distinctly in the moonlit water.
    Rimi, Nania and two other dolphins separated from the supports and their burden and all four instantly accelerated to such speed that the shocked outcast saw only gray rocket-bodies flash away in furious turbulence.  He saw them explode heads and beaks like battering rams into the bellies and gillworks of the attacking sharks, several body-lengths in front of him.  He heard violent tearing of flesh, organs bursting, cartilage shattering.  He saw the four dolphins draw back from the cloud of blood and torn flesh so suddenly afloat in the waters around them.  He saw four shark-shapes sink lifelessly into the dark water below.  
    He shook with terror, for the object within his chest had once again accelerated wildly.  Koa turned him away, calming him with her octave/counter-octave healing ray.  She continued transmitting longer and more intensely than before.  Nania, soon again beside him, doubled that effort with her own projection of octave/counter-octave:  until the dangerous pulsation slowed, and then diminished so rapidly that it ceased pulsing altogether.  
    Both stopped transmitting and scanned the power-object with ultra-seeker rays, seeing the strange object now, for the first time since they had encountered the mystery dolphin, completely inert.     
    The boy-dolphin realized that the terrible danger had again been averted, but he also sensed within a further, intensifying something else.  Where the volatile, fearful object lodged in his chest, a pleasant warmth now began to glow.  And expand.  Suddenly a new vitality began filling his lungs:  this strange, sudden quickening gave life to the singwave whistle-voice in his blowhole:  so that all his repressed, agonized thoughts became words, which he uttered in singwave basic forms, a wonder to all present, as much as to himself. “Help!  What’s happened ?  Make it stop!”
    Instantly Rimi propelled to him, beak-to-beak, and singwaved. “Speech from the Dead!  Or is it the far distant voice of a great unknown power, taunting our little world, through the body of this almost-dolphin?  Speak again!  Tell your secrets!  What more do you know?”
     In awe, the other dolphins gathered round him.
    Again, amazing himself as well as them, the transformation expressed his mind in urgent basic forms.  “It makes me speak.  Take it away!  No sharks!  I remember nothing.”
    Rimi singwaved to him, and all his companions heard, and understood the great import. “Alive!—you are lifeform!  We’ll not let you die!  Not machine.  Who is it that speaks within you?”
    But he who had been so violently thrust into their world knew only that he was in a body not his own, and terrified.   He could only utter this, “I know nothing.”
    Koa, amazed, looked to Rimi and voiced, “What can this be?”
    Rimi, amazed as any, spoke a sudden dawning awareness.  “Is it possible?—this unknown being in dolphin-body we transport is a gift, a mystery to unpuzzle?  Despite Vlorio’s fears.”
    “So I want to believe,” singwaved Koa, “but we appeal too late.”  Wanting it desperately not to be too late.
    All these dolphins circled this one so unlike them, and now so suddenly vocal.  Black night was above and below them, and each dolphin was uncertain of their course.  
    So it was that Nania, apprentice healer, had also been born a visionary, whereby she could in rarest moments see through the atoms of the material world, and into the beyond:  to behold the ineffable world of astral light and its energies and all the other wonders of that world.  And so it was that moment that Nania’s exceptional vision penetrated the veil that keeps this rare world hidden:  for she saw a trembling of light in the impenetrable darkness below, where no light should be:  but one now that she alone could see.  That tremulous white light continued rising from the depths toward Nania.  As it came closer she also saw it had a shape and was not merely this shimmering quintessence of light, but the shape of a dolphin.  Yet not like any dolphin of Oceanus, for its body was not flesh and blood, but only this radiant luminescence.  The dolphin glided without any apparent motion of its own into their company, and then as effortlessly circled the boy-dolphin and his two support dolphins; though none of them, excepting Nania, saw any of this.  Twice this luminescent dolphin circled them.  Then Nania in her visionary seeing watched the white luminesence that was the body of this dolphin suddenly disintegrate its dolphin shape and detach into shimmering, gossamer filaments that swirled upward and quickly evaporated:  until Nania could see nothing left of any of it, neither dolphin-shape nor luminescence.  Her astral vision dissolved.  Only their material world of Oceanus remained.
    Contrary emotions rose suddenly in Nania, causing her to shiver.  She turned to Koa, wanting to tell her...but tell what?  
 Koa stared at her, suspecting that Nania’s visionary sight had shown her what the others could not see.  Nania singwaved to her.  “I visioned a dolphin.  All luminescent, white, shining.  It circled our mystery dolphin twice, then dissolved into nothing.  Yet it marked our helpless dolphin, I’m sure of it.  Marked him miraclulous.  I understand it not, but yes, I say we must keep him, must comprehend him.”
    “But Vlorio might not accept your vision,” urged Rimi, gliding to face her, “even if we do.”
    “Then let it be only our vision.  For now,” Nania responded, still struggling to comprehend.  “This warns us our mistake abandoning him.  I feel certain.”
    “I too,” voiced Koa, elated also.
    Rimi pushed his beak between the other two.  “I too say we must keep him, make him dolphin.”
    Koa saw the wonder of it, felt a sudden exhilaration.  She breath-leaped into moonlight, and then submerged and settled beside them again.  Their mystery dolphin pressed close to her.  Even so, she struggled with her loyalties and apprehension.  “Yes, I too want to keep him.  But how not honor Vlorio’s Voice?  As well honor my bond as Guardian?”
    But Rimi already anticipated, confident, fluttering flukes as he offered what no other would have dared to speak.  “Let’s hide our helpless lifeform, prove Vlorio wrong.  We make this helpless one a dolphin—so he swims, feeds, survives.  Till we see him more.  Know what he is.  Why he hosts this great power.  Vlorio will forgive us all.”
    Nania scanned the tiny jewel in his chest and singwaved, “We’ve drained the object’s power, Koa.  Look yourself, still no pulsebeat.  Perhaps all danger’s gone.”
    Koa scanned again the creature’s chest, saw the object inert, apparently impotent.   “I think so too.  Earlier, the power pulsed after octave/counter-octave diminished it.  Now it seems lifeless.” Even so, Koa worried, considering the disobedience Rimi proposed; but more certain each moment they must end disobeying.  
    “Still,” Rimi continued, “this demands caution.  Some one must watch him always.”
    Nania, daughter as well as a visionary and healer apprentice, was ready.  “Lirias my father could be that one.  For now.”
    “Why Lirias?” voiced Koa, who knew him well.  “His interests are all private.”
    Nania answered.  “Yes, private, but he’s a Language Master.  This creature foremost requires that.  My father will study well this deep mystery.  He wants to be useful, though it seems not so.”
    Koa knew she herself must decide. “So you think it possible to teach this one survival in time?  Only one Moon till we meet Vlorio again. ”
    “It must be enough,” answered Rimi, always ready for the unthinkable.  And elder Koa too, not for novelty or excitement, but because her heart demanded it.   
    She singwaved, “Then yes—let’s hide him, and make him a dolphin.”  
 

3:  LIRIAS THE HALF-BLIND


    Lirias the half-blind in recent years had assumed that all the momentous events of his life had already either exalted him or else crushed him, and that he would live the rest of his years anticlimactically.  He would remain what he was, a dolphin without significant purpose, freed of his former high obligations, living out his life only indulging his personal whims and curiosities, none of them of much consequence to the colony he had so diligently served, until his great misfortune.  Though he knew, more than most, that monumentous events may come to anyone at any time, and that they very often come in innocent, unassuming forms.  
    So in time he would remember this otherwise dreary overcast afternoon in which he swam the surface near two rubber zodiacs a mile from the Pacific shore.  Eight passengers were in each boat, all well clothed against the chill of November, but each of them now oblivious of weather since Lirias had swum among them.  His dorsal rose conspicuously out of water.  He made little breath leaps when he passed between boats, delighting these humans who had ventured out seeking migrating gray whales, but who instead had found this dolphin who seemed to enjoy entertaining them.
    No such purpose animated Lirias.  He was attracted to humans for his own peculiar reasons, often useful to the colony but also, as his daughter Nania thought, satisfying extreme, dark moods that, even so, no one in the colony would ever blame him for.
    The sea was calm for all the overcast. Lirias rode the easy waves now, perpendicularly, head out of water, a steady fluke-stroke below maintaining him, rising and falling as the swell rose and fell.  But always his eyes on them, these creatures that were his obsession.  They reached out for him.  Several took photographs and they chattered among themselves like children.  They squealed and laughed.  This face of theirs Lirias knew well.  He heard a Human sound he knew well also, their word for what he was—dolphin—the word he’d first comprehended in his captivity.  In time he’d comprehended many other of their words there as well.  
    Lirias eased himself below water, passed under one boat and surfaced at its backside.  All the passengers were looking for him where he’d been, only their backs now visible to him.  With his flukes he tossed a frigid spray of water at them.  Several screamed, and then he bumped the boat with his flank, causing two or three to fall helplessly back into the boat.  These made more yelling and some swearing.  
    Lirias again lifted his head out of water and watched these humans, who were no longer delighted children, but suddenly angry at each other and unconcerned for their entertaining dolphin.  A large one tried to stand in the boat and he pushed another one.  The boat rocked dangerously.  One shouted, then grabbed the arm of the angriest man and ordered him to sit down.  He did.  Still others continued yelling and two females began crying.  These faces, much more interesting than the former, Lirias also knew well.
    He remained within a few meters of the boat as it drifted in the swells, his eyes out of water, seeing all of it.  The shouting and anger subsided.  The one at the motor yelled a last time for everyone to sit and be quiet, and he revved the motor slowly and maneuvered them back in the direction of shore.  Lirias followed at his small distance.  His attention remained on them, all much sobered; until he heard a dolphin voice approaching far south, singwaving his name.   
    He recognized Koa’s voice.  “We bring a mystery.  And Nania.”
    Immediately Lirias abandoned the two boats, but he swam only leisurely toward the approaching dolphins, for he no longer believed that any mysterty could interest him.  As he swam, his seeker-rays told him the rocky bottom was ninety meters below and that multitudes of red snapper were feeding among the rocks a few hundred meters ahead of him, where six small thresher sharks also hunted.  A mile and more to his right three adult gray whales chuffed at the surface on their way to Mexico lagoons.
    Still a mile from Lirias, Koa singwaved to him again.  “Most unusual this helpless one we carry.  Can’t swim, but possesses a power unimaginable.  I knew you’d be curious.”
    Nearer, Lirias scanned all these oncoming with seeker-rays and detected the apparently lifeless dolphin borne by the support pair.  Soon they were all met and settled together, facing, flukes at rest.    
    Lirias singwaved to Koa. “If it be such importance, why bring him to me, who have no importance?”   Too quickly Lirias scanned the curiosity’s body, and therefore detected nothing unusual.
    Koa singwaved to her father.  “This creature is...we know not what.  Doubtfully dolphin, so Atia claims.  I agree.  But in its chest, some object, great potency, though origin unknown, like its carrier.”  Lirias scanned with his limited seeker function the creature’s chest and detected the object so spoken.
    “I hear it, but hear no potency,” Lirias singwaved.  “Hear only something dormant.”
    “Fortunate for us,” responded Koa.  “I found this creature drowning; this object within it, unstable.  In crisis it pulsed erratically, then alarmed us amplifying.  Ready to explode.  I stopped it with healing rays.  As you see, all potency’s extinguished.  We hope forever.”
    “Yet the creature still lives,” observed Lirias, circling it, perhaps more curious than he would admit.
    “Yes, still lives,” continued Koa.  “But more that’s strange.  Though we believed it no dolphin, its sudden power caused the creature to speak in basic forms, verifying it lifeform.  Though which?  Inhabiting dolphin body.   We thought you’d help us—observe it, tell us what you learn.”
    Lirias scanned again the inert power within the phenomenon.  “So...now he’s powerless, he’s mine.”
    Koa blew away a long fine string of bubbles.  “Not even then, Lirias.  Yours only now, and only if you wish it, until we see better what to do with him.  Full truth—Vlorio ordered the creature outcast, abandoned.  Too dangerous he thinks, burdens the colony.  But he’s lifeform, we know now—so we’ll hide him, teach him survival, then convince Vlorio.  We see him again in one Moon.”
    “Hide him with me?”
    “Who better?” intervened his daughter.
    Lirias rose to the surface-shine, blew spray, breathed, and re-settled before Koa.  He knew her Guardian’s loyalty.  “You’d defy Vlorio?”
    Koa’s confidence had increased, and she singwaved, “Vlorio will see his mistake.  This creature’s a marvel.  In time we’ll prove Vlorio wrong.”
    “I help him swim?”
    “Yes,” voiced Koa.  “Nania assisting.  Creature lacks most functions.  No one comprehends.  Who knows what in him lies latent?”
    “You make me his nurse.”
    Koa breath-leaped a moment, to dampen her irritation; she needed Lirias allied.  Resubmerged, she singwaved, “More here than anyone yet knows.  You surely see that, Father.  How many care for such mysteries?  Few like you.  You know you’re fortunate I offer him.  You only pretend not to care.”
    Lirias paused a moment, resisting the impulse to scan again the power object.  Then he singwaved, “What caused it to accelerate?”
    Koa answered, “Sharks.  Fear.  Terror.”
    “What countered it?”
    Koa directed the octave/counter-octave into Lirias.  He felt its force.  
    He approached the docile carrier as he considered the creature; then singwaved, “What’s the object’s origin?”
    “Unknown.  Not Oceanus, I believe.  Thus a rarest mystery.  May we leave him?”
    Lirias knew it for the rare mystery it was, and he could only make his honest reply.  “Of course, Koa.  Though most tragic the object’s lost power.”

    Parted from the others, Lirias and Nania followed the support pair and their burden toward a sheltered cove an hour’s swim away.  This one who so fascinated them had taken refuge in semi-sleep and resolved to remain there.  Even so he heard them speaking, but their words were not the words he’d understood and spoken earlier; these were much too fast.   He wanted to comprehend, to grasp something that might defend him from the horrors of his own imagination, which threatened him with bizarre next moments, with terrible endings, whenever his consciousness emerged from the sanctuary of sleep to consider once again this bizarre and terrifying incarnation.  
    But only the unintelligible singwave of Lirias’ conversation rippled in his hearing as these two carried him along, merely another meaningless sound of the ocean, like the burbled songs of gray whales passing nearby, or the high-frequency crackle of shrimp colonies scuttling across the sandy bottom below them.  His only certainty was that as long as he remained in this ocean that had swallowed him, he was beyond any deliverance, and only sleep could comfort him.
    Nania swam to the side of her father’s good eye.  Since leaving the others, Lirias had been silent, contemplating the mysterious dolphin whose powerless flukes a few meters ahead of him were tossed arhythmically, like something broken, whenever the support pair surfaced with him to breathe.  Despite his hesitations, Nania knew her father was already fascinated by this creature that was now his to examine.  She was happy for him.  Nothing since his release from captivity had so engaged him.
     He voiced, “The power still interests me.  So foolish to deaden it.”  She welcomed the resumption of her father’s talk.
    “There’s more to him than anyone yet sees,” she singwaved.
    “You vision that?  Or only try to bond me to him?”
    “Yes, visioned it.  Vividly.  Light, power, shining:  came to us in dolphin form.  Circled twice our mystery dolphin.  I saw that—just after sharks attacked.  Not only the power—the carrier too is something rare.  No accident he’s here.   Nor can it be insignificant.  I see a gift from faraway powers.”
    “Perhaps.  What more you’ve visioned?”
    “My vision’s limited.”
    He was silent several moments.  Then, “It’s my curse I disbelieve your truest visions.  What value this creature?”
    “I know only what I visioned, what I told you.”
    “You told Vlorio what you saw?”
    “No.  He left before my vision.  Vlorio can know everything in time.”
    When these four with their burden arrived at Lirias’ cove, the feeble gray of winterlight had extinguished upon the far horizon of the ocean, and the cold darkness through the dense gray overcast swept over them.  The cove was a natural harbor among tall and seaworn rocks, twenty meters front to back, where many imperiled dolphins might comfortably shelter from danger behind the one enormous boulder, big as a whale, that blockaded half the covemouth from relentless waves.
    The four sustained comfortably at the surface beside the semi-conscious pseudo-dolphin, still supported beneath each flipper.   The depth in the cove was five meters and the water heaved forward into the cove and rose and slapped at the rocks with each big surge of waves, then pulled back and sank a full meter as the surge withdrew.  
    “Creature’s less helpless than it seems,” Lirias singwaved.  “Release support.  Watch.”  The support pair withdrew from his flippers, as Nania watched the transformation first sink a half meter before suddenly his flukes down-stroked, lifting him back to the surface.  His flippers pumped several times in alarm, but not in unison.  He nonetheless stabilized and blew spray from his blowhole into air, then inhaled rapidly twice before resubmerging beside them and stabilizing himself.
        “Already you understand him,” she singwaved.  “May he swim as easily.”
    Her father answered, “He will.  Whatever the being within, the body’s dolphin, built to swim.”

    Father and daughter maintained their vigilant sleep circle through the night, their helpless one sleeping and breathing safely at their center of their circling.  Both father and daughter slept little, each awakening continually to private and new speculations.  The Sun was well up before their mystery awakened, and as they awaited him they shared ideas.
     “You scanned the power often last night,” she singwaved to her father.
    “It’s rare, not he.”
    “Was rare,” she countered, testing him.  “Power’s gone.  Still—not curious to know the creature?”
    Momentarily suspending their conversation, they turned downward and away from the still sleeping boy-dolphin, and glided toward the rock-strewn bottom, where feeble winter sunrays barely penetrated.  As they dove into this semidark, they turned a slow spiral near but opposite each other, as if an invisible sun held them to their perfect distance apart, orbiting.  When Lirias singwaved again, a stream of bubbles drifted in elegant curvature away from his blowhole toward the surface, toward the sleeping wonder above them.  When finally they rose to the surface, they settled again beside him.
    Lirias continued their speculation. “The creature—easy to unpuzzle.  Consider—since we know it be lifeform—likely it’s not higher order possession—such transformation wouldn’t have so exhausted its consciousness.  Whatever the creature, it’s disoriented by its dolphin body. Thus it’s been brutally surprised.  So the inhabitant’s a lower, likely common order, and of Oceanus.  Surely you follow me.”
    “Impressive, Father.  No wonder they want you in Guardian councils.”
    “They want me no more.  But you slept no more than I.”
    “No.  Several hours in trance I opened to the transformation.  But very little new I saw.   Mostly his distress.”
    “My theories, your insights only show the creature not important.  Loss of the power’s tragic.  What remains, barely interesting.”
    She halted before him, still a body-length beneath the shining surface, her flukes relaxing. But no relaxing the look she made him, an intensity rare for her with him.  “Be not fooled, Father.  Think beyond that idea.  Why here?—this transformation.  Why at all?  There are answers—I believe.  No accident.  You’re given this chance with him—underestimate it not.”
    “So.  Twice I’m warned—once by Koa, now by you.  Perhaps both right.  But now I’ll leave you our prize, I’ll bring back food.  Then I leave to consider all this.  And give you time to make him more dolphin.”

    This boy-becoming-dolphin awoke to see the fury of bubbles that was Lirias’ wake as that dolphin accelerated and swam through the cove mouth, seaward and away.  This sudden burst of life recalled to him all the alarming memories of the prior day.  He was still a captive of the ocean.  He saw only one dolphin with him in this shelter, floating at the surface in swim-position, looking at him.  He didn’t remember coming to the cove or remember the other dolphins leaving him.  It was not Koa, that he knew, but the one with Koa.
    He-the-nameless continued to rise by himself to the surface to breathe, fluidly, always in time, and that gave him a small confidence of survival, sufficient to hold off the panic energy that sparked and spread in his chest like loosed electricity whenever he realized again what he had become.   The nearby dolphin approached slowly, till their beaks nearly touched.  
    She singwaved to him in the basic forms he’d comprehended the day before, and this miracle of comprehension recurred today again as he heard her tell him, “I’m Nania, here to help.  Understand?”
    He did, and, as before, he allowed his thoughts and will to activate the blowhole mechanism that produced his own words.  “I understand.  What’s happening?  I hate this thing in me.”  The effort to say even so little tired him quickly.  
    Subduing her amazement at this communication, she responded, “To help I must know more.  You’re mystery.  To us, to yourself.  Still no memory?”
    “No.  I fear what’s inside me.”   Remembering acutely, as he spoke, the object’s terrible acceleration.
    “No danger, its power’s spent.  I protect you.  But you must learn much.  To swim, to talk.  In time we’ll know more.  We’ll solve your mystery.”
    This abated nothing of his misery.  He wanted only the escape of sleep; he knew the talking would not relieve him.  He singwaved basic forms.  “Nothing helps me.  Only sleep.”
    Nania made a little breath-leap out of water, startling him.  But quickly she resubmerged a meter down, confronting him as before.  “You understand dying?” she asked him.
    A burst of adrenalin instantly dispersed his lethargy; he refocused his eyes, looking directly into hers.  “Dying?   Yes.  What I fear.”
    She answered, “This retreat to sleep you crave.  That leads to death.  Understand?”
    This logic congealed until he saw it well.  She didn’t wait for his answer.  “You survive by living.  Hear me.  I direct, you obey.  For now.  Or die.”
     He heard her well.  Something warm and pacific arose in his body.  It displaced for a moment some of his fear and despair.  
    She commanded him.  “Move flukes as I do.”   She pumped her flukes slowly and propelled ahead several meters.  He watched her, but hesitated.  She nodded her beak at him, insisting.  He tried what he thought she wanted.  His flukes moved, and his body jerked forward several body-lengths.  He was surprised.   He pumped flukes again and moved forward faster than before.  “Again,” she urged him.  He pumped and swam ahead more smoothly yet.
    “Yes, built to swim.  We’ll swim.  Till you’re confident.  Then swim outside the cove.”
    At that moment Lirias re-entered their shelter and stopped to watch the anomaly swim straight, but jerk to his stop.  “A beginning,” Lirias voiced to them in basic forms.  “Soon you’ll have him ready for me.”  Her father then opened his beak and spewed forth many herring, still whole though limp and lifeless.  These floated to the surface between the three dolphins.  Without further comment Lirias turned and swam away, disappearing.
     “Who’s he?” the newest dolphin asked her, watching the dead fish drift at the surface near them.
    “My father.  Lirias.  But eat.  Then we’ll talk more.”
    For the first time in his new body he realized his hunger.  It had been there since waking.  Nania took a fishtail in her beak and offered it to his mouth.  He felt incertain; but his beak opened despite himself, and he snapped the fish from her and felt it slide into his throat.  There his muscles contracted powerfully, crushing the fish:  he felt its juices slide deliciously further into his stomach.  A shiver of deep satisfaction passed through him.  He opened his beak again for another; she passed it to him.  The third, fourth and fifth he grabbed from the water without her help, all fabulous: as were the delicate waves of life energy he felt moments later passing from his stomach into his body.
    His second day of dolphin life, and further days, continued in more sustained trials of swimming, and in more conversation with Nania.  She told him that her father would be his real teacher and would train him, and in doing so help them all begin to understand this puzzle that he was.  That second day she told him only the simplest things; but as his curiosity roused, and his competence with basic forms grew, he questioned her more, and eventually she told him more about her father.
    How from earliest years Lirias had been precocious, had understood the social complexities of tribal colonies not his own, of why and in what ways sperm whales were indifferent to the gregariousness of the baleenas, or why orcas could not so easily as all others had done relinquish their dependence on Rite of the Sea.  Her father’s foremost skill was his ability to penetrate the subtlest frequencies of language, be it the inter-tribal Barraba-mode or the sperm whale Tabeez, the Abiolo of belugas and unicorn dolphins, or any of the myriad forms of Lilliaba spoken by the various tribes of Oceanus’ dolphins.  At seven years he had mastered Vlana, the ancient dolphin language that had not been widespread for twelve million years, yet from which all dolphin names to this moment derive.  Though any Language Master, and all the Guardians, comprehended the ancient Vlana.
    So it was expected of Lirias that in time he would become, first, a Language Master, and then a Guardian.  In that same year he mated with Chloria, and a year later Nania was born; and in the next year he became a Language Master.  There was no doubt among dolphins that Lirias would master in his lifetime all twelve degrees of the Guardian, a rare accomplishment.  
    Yet this glory for him was not to be, for fate, or a bizarre counterfate, intervened and made of that future something profoundly otherwise.
    Lirias and Chloria one twilight summer evening cruised the warm oceans a few miles from the island of Oahu, when a sleek large powerboat approached them.  Not suspecting danger, these two dolphins swam near it, to mount and ride its bow-wave.  But before they had ridden a hundred meters a net dropped over them; the boat slowed, its engines suddenly silent.  They were both easily and quickly drawn from great Oceanus and hoisted on board, where they were disentangled from the nets, and then cradled separately into canvas carriers.  Finally they were placed in two shallow tubs of water on the boat’s deck.
    A day later Lirias was delivered by truck, still in the prison of his tub, to an aquatic park in Honolulu, where his captors freed him into a seven-meter deep tank with six other dolphins, all of these seven having been emprisoned long ago.  What happened to Chloria he never knew.
    The other prisoners helped Lirias adjust to the regime of public performances and seclusion in the tank.  The one compensation was the wonder of close contact with the eccentric species, humans.  For once he’d accepted his captivity and had learned to execute his performance obligations like his companions, Lirias became fascinated with his proximity to the strange creatures that before he had only seen at great distances, and then only briefly.  In particular, though he had at first resisted cooperating, he came to enjoy the daily communication with his trainer.  It’s possible that in time he even loved him.  
    That Lirias hated the confinement, the monotony and pointless repetition of his life there, and that he came to despair of ever seeing his mate and child and Guardian friends of the colony again—that was certain.  Yet the blond trainer was kind, sincere and devoted to communicating with him.  And this communion stirred something unimagined in Lirias, for he had never believed humans to possess the emotional and spiritual depths his trainer revealed to him daily.   Equally stimulating was the opportunity to study the language of humans, as he listened to the trainer.  Eventually he comprehended single words, and understood emotion that communicated through voice tone and pitch.
     This study expanded for him in his second year of captivity when they placed him several days a week in a shallow tank where multitudes of humans came and touched him when he was near the perimeter.  At these times he heard distinctly individuals speaking words both to him and to each other in a variety of emotions.  It was during this time that he began to see how varied were the possible emotional responses of these creatures, and how easily these responses could be changed by apparently trivial circumstances.  
    None of the other captive dolphins liked being in the small tank among the humans.  But to Lirias it became an anticipated pleasure.  He disliked the unexpected poking and pinching; but the novelty of seeing these creatures’ behavior and the opportunity to hear words and emotions that he would never see in his training or performances amply compensated.
    But even so much intellectual stimulation was not enough eventually to prevent a despondency from growing and accumulating, until the malaise had poisoned his mind and heart even against so much that was positive and inspiring.  Late in the third year of his captivity he passed from despondency to despair to anticipating suicide.  Other captive dolphins had killed themselves, as his companions had told him.  As they had also told him that from their own prison no dolphin had ever been released unless it had become too old or incapable of performing.  
    One morning of a brilliant clear summer day Lirias propelled himself at extreme speed across the longest diameter of the tank and crashed his skull into the wall, at the last instant moving his beak downward and slightly left so the impact would be as much as possible to his brain.  
    Unfortunately, as he ever afterward believed, he did not die.  The trainer quickly found him floating, apparently lifeless but still breathing, and the doctor moved him to a shallow tank where they could examine and then treat him.  He regained clarity that evening.  By the next day his examiners had concluded that he had merely fractured his skull but had otherwise done no damage to the brain.  
    It was another two days before these examiners realized he had blinded his right eye, not with damage to the orbit itself, but to the nerve endings that connected it to the brain.  Lirias of course knew this immediately.  He had also discovered that same day something his examiners would never know:  that he had severely damaged that part of his neo-cortex which operated his ultra-high seeker functioning, which gives all dolphins the transcendent ability to send out and receive the finest pulsebeats of sonar, whose subtle echoes reassemble to their mind’s eye in pictures, even in darkest night, letting them not only hear what they are scanning, but also see it, as with the eyes dolphins may see objects in daylight.
    A week later Lirias’ human captors released him to great Oceanus, his old home.  Within a second week he had found his daughter Nania and his former colony.  But he found none of his former life as a Guardian, for the damage to his ultra-seeker function made it impossible to perform many of the basic Guardian functions, many even of the basic dolphin functions, since no longer could he see anything with his mind’s eye, nor could he store in his memory any of such data that the Guardians constantly exchanged and compared and discussed among themselves.
    In this crippled condition Lirias in time created a solitary life for himself, spending little time with the colony and seeming only to enjoy the company of Nania.  But even her company he would not permit when he thought her moved by pity.  Eventually he developed a predictable routine, and even he perceived the irony of it.  
    He sought out humans, in groups or alone, near piers, in boats, in certain safe beaches, and he attempted to interact with them in more and more imaginative ways.  For that curiosity he’d developed in captivity seemed to be all that was left for him.  He listened to and recorded in memory and analyzed their words.  He watched their behavior with each other, and when he could, he stimulated their behavior, and the more extreme their reaction, the more he enjoyed it.  
 


4:  EXPERIMENTING  


    More days swimming, feeding and talking basic forms, and this dolphin-not-dolphin began to enjoy a comfort with his body, and with Nania, and with his sheltering cove of ocean.   Even as he knew, because Nania reminded him constantly, that the great ocean beyond their protective cove was of supreme power and unforgiving of incompetence, and that soon she would take him into it, and they would exist there.   Whenever she mentioned this he thought not of big waves or great depths or the myriad unknown, but only of the fear that still haunted him.
    “Sharks there?” he voiced in basic form, the morning she prepared him to go exploring with her.
    “Yes, sharks.  But no danger, when any dolphin’s with you.”  So yes, he trusted her, but fear lingered.  
    Koa  and Rimi entered the cove on a morning darkly overcast and greeted Nania, but no more was spoken.  They all simply turned, the boy-dolphin at the center of them, and they swam out the covemouth and into the formidable rolling endlessness of great Oceanus.
    These four progressed slowly, dorsals cutting water, in the direction the tide moved, so that they swam up the backs of waves and were pushed forward into the troughs.  Even so, often when the neophyte breathed he drew in water with air; though his panic-reflex eventually diminished when he realized that even then, instinctively, an inner flap of blowhole closed to prevent a deeper, accidental intake of water into lungs:  then sprayed the unwanted water out.  
    Still he struggled, ever mindful of big waves, especially in the troughs between them.  He must breathe in the rhythm wherein the others breathed, must keep their pace, even as he felt his muscles tiring.  But they continued on, in silence, not wanting to distract him from his concentration.  Occasionally he heard the seeker-rays of one or another, he knew not which, probing the waters ahead, all of it a mystery to him.
    When aching in his flukes was more than he thought he could endure, they seemed to know it and halted.  Then he settled two meters below the surface-shine exactly as they did, and let his flukes hang, grateful for rest. The ache eased from his muscles; at their shallow depth their water merely pulsed ahead with a gentle motion and then relaxed as waves passed and passed again over them.  At rest they all breathed in hibernation-suspension, consuming minimal air.  He felt his own breathing reduce itself as if automatically.
    Nania singwaved to him, “Remember breath-leaps I showed you?”   He did; it had been a game he’d enjoyed.  “We’ll swim again, deeper than before.  Then for air we’ll breath-leap.  Above wave crests.  Easier for you.  Understand?”  He thought he did.

    When they resumed, his first attempts were not forceful enough and he breathed not clear of the ocean spray.  Then they had to stop while he blew out water and quieted his alarm, before they swam again.  Or he was leaping too high; and so had to struggle, watching the others move ahead of him.  
    But soon he coordinated all that was expected and he maintained his position and speed among them underwater and at the peak of his breath-leap.  Soon they were swimming faster than before and his effort was less, and there was only a faint throb in his muscles.  
    They swam on.  Eventually, a surprising thrill arose in him, each time they all five leaped together:  the amazement of the moment, here in the ocean among them, swimming like them, alongside them, as if he were truly one of them.  Wonder of wonders.
    The third time they stopped to rest, he heard a sound ahead—a barely audible whirring in the distance.  Koa clicked seeker-rays in that direction:  seconds later the echoes returned, softened by what they’d encountered.
    “What’s that?” he asked her.
    “Food,” she answered.  “Anchovies ahead.  You hear my seeker-rays bouncing off them.”
    Minutes more he saw them, as they neared a dark cloud glittering in the sun-water, he felt the dolphins around him perceptibly increase speed.  Suddenly they were upon the flashing mass of anchovies near the surface, all these tiny fish panicking and desperate to escape; though no escape was possible, since so many dolphins circled their perimeter, keeping all these millions of milling mealfish in a compacted swarm a whale-length in diameter.
    As he stared, amazed, Nania next to him singwaved, “These I won’t feed you.  You catch yourself.  Watch.  Do as we do.”
    “Alive?” he responded, confused.
    “And better,” she voiced.  Nania then wheeled away and darted at the massing million mealfish.
    He witnessed dolphins one by one surging into the anchovy mass with open mouths, while other dolphins continued circling, compacting the herd.  Nania had disappeared inside; moments later she reappeared and returned to settle beside him.
    “You now,” she whistled.
    Escaping anchovies darted continually in front of his eyes, until his hunger suddenly commanded him.  He closed his eyes and he hurled himself openmouth into the frenzied ball of mealfish:  anchovies massed against his face, several squirming in his mouth and throat.  Without thought, throat muscles flexed and mashed the anchovies: instantly stopped all fish squirming in his throat.  Delicious salty juices flooded his taste buds, noticeably more savory than the dead fish he’d eaten in the cove.  The rich juices slid into his stomach.
    He fed again.  And again.  Savoring each mouthful.  Realizing each time also the sudden new power in his flukes that raced him into these anchovies, that kept him beside the other sleek, beautiful dolphins.  Thrilling.  He was one of them.  Wonder of wonders.
    They remained at sea two days and nights, at times briefly among the colony.  But when these hundreds of the colony suddenly swam away, for reasons unknown to the transformation, he saw their speed was much more than he was capable of.  Mercifully, he and his four escorts continued their own direction and pace, with no apparent purpose.
    He needed none:  it was all amazement to him, this undersea world, especially whenever they would slow or stop and settle several meters below the surface, where there was no struggling with the waves.   The others communicated in their incomprehensible rapid singwave, only rarely intelligible to him.  They allowed him to explore ten or fifteen meters away from them, once he controlled well the power of his flukes and manipulated his flippers adeptly to dip and rise, to turn and dive.  
    He had no names or reference or understanding for anything he saw.  Amorphous transparent creatures floated past him singly and in clusters.  Schools of bright fish swam at him, separating to pass around him, apparently without fear or concern.   In deeper water in the twilight of the day a dangerous white shark swam near them and hesitated, considering which one there might be vulnerable.  But Rimi and Koa immediately propelled at the marauder and as they did so the two dolphins churned a furious bubble cloud that engulfed the shark, and the beast turned in alarm and confusion and swam away.
    The danger was so brief the boy-dolphin experienced only a moment of paralysis.  Nania bumped him with her flank, voicing, “Rise for breath, fearless one, show us you’re alive.”   Rimi rose beside him, wagging his beak side to side and letting go a stream of bubbles from his blowhole that seemed a sign of his amusement.
    When the black of a moonless night was upon them, the helpless one became anxious and kept in body contact with whoever was nearest, lacking their ability to penetrate the darkness with seeker-rays.  It was Rimi’s idea to sleep that night by an electric sea they knew was floating not far away, where he might feel more secure his first night in the big ocean.  Something to distract him from his preoccupations, and to keep away the black night.
    When they came upon it, dolphins already played there.  Acres of electric flagellates sparked and glowed neon in the surface waters, whenever these excitable microbes were swept by wave or stirred by dolphin:  neon sparks flying into air off surfacing dorsals and flukes.   As dolphins spun through the surface of that night-blackened phosphorescent water, the agitated foam that surrounded their bodies glowed like a ghostly electric aura.  As the boy-dolphin looked in profound amazement, dozens of dolphins swam at him, or away from him, or intertwined each other passing him, diving, racing, barrel-rolling–all electric neon ghost-shapes in this otherwise black and midnight sea.  He stared transfixed.  This was a greater miracle than anything he had yet seen.
    He heard Rimi in basic forms.  “We stay here the night.  So you’ll see where you are.”
    He couldn’t stop staring.  “Why this shining?”
    “Tiny light bugs in the water.  Millions.  Another mystery of Oceanus.   So, sleep without worry.”
    Yet he watched this phosphorescent wonder half the night instead of sleeping, even as the dolphins themselves seemed not to tire of diving and spinning their neon ghost shapes through it.
    But when he awoke the next morning, the Sun was already well above the thin coastline and this electric sea had drifted far away.  Rimi swam to him and singwaved, “Dare this with me.  If you can, tries-to-be-dolphin.  Wake yourself.”
    He watched Rimi power-dive beyond the limit of light and disappear into darkness, not possibly imagining how Rimi exulted in the heavier pressures that squeezed his body more as he penetrated deeper, body-cells and organs compressing to hyper-excitement, generating inside himself a sudden exhilaration of sweet morning energy.  Moments later Rimi reappeared, ascending rapidly into sun-water though barely pumping flukes, darting past the boy-dolphin and bursting through the surface two body lengths into air, arching at the peak of his leap, then falling beak-first back into ocean in a flurry of bubbles.   
    He resettled next to his admirer.  “Nothing to fear.  Dive deep as you dare.  Feel the heavy water squeeze you.  I’ll dive beside you.”
    Timid but curious he dove beside his companion, flukes pumping slowly.  Quickly they passed into darkening water that soon was all black.  He could feel this heavier water pressing everywhere on his body and he felt his blood pulse faster and all his senses sharpen:  mind clearing.   But no more than that, for the black unknown he penetrated suddenly overcame him, and he stopped powering:  let himself turn and rise toward the distant and beckoning surface-shine above.  Rimi was quickly beside him and they broke the surface together and breathed.
    “Enough this time,” voiced Rimi.  “Soon you’ll learn seeker-rays.  Then you’ll see into darkness, lose fear.”
    Later that morning as the five dolphins swam leisurely a few miles from the still visible shoreline, a tall-masted sailboat came upon them plowing seaward, tacking, unhurried.   The others swam immediately in constant leaps toward the boat’s bow-wave to ride it, though Nania singwaved that he must stay beside her and watch only.
    As the sailboat passed he saw a bearded man on deck hauling in rope, smiling down at them, sun-tanned.  Stunned, this looks-like-a-dolphin, who remembered nothing of before, felt suddenly circuits tingle in the memory cells of his brain.  A thought flashed in his mind:   a man!  From the world I came from!  I’ve been in a boat like that, with a man like that!   He had a name!
    And the next moment the familiar voice, not of the dolphin world, but the voice he had heard so recently, spoke again within his mind.  I keep thinking about the time you and I went fishing with Uncle Jay, on his boat.  His little salty dog was there.  You caught a blue-gill that afternoon.  Jay took your picture with that fish.  Then you threw the little guy back.  I keep looking at that picture.
    Then silence.

    And then suddenly it came to him—I remember that!  Uncle Jay.  That little fish.  Who I was!  That man in the boat!  Fishing with...Uncle Jay and...someone else...the one talking in me.  I caught a fish.  I threw it back.  Before.  
    And his excitement overflowed into basic forms that he voiced to his companions.  “I know that!  That one in the boat!  Who I am!   My world!”
    Excited herself, Koa faced him beak to beak.  “That one is a human.  You say you’re one?”
    “Yes!  What I was!  Like that one!  My world!”
    Koa made a little leap of joy; then spoke to Rimi and Nania. “My suspicion’s correct.  But still beyond amazing!  You see?—he’s transformation, of some second- or third-order miracle.  Not a spirit-transmorph as someone suspected.  Or mythical being trapped in time-transformation.  But human!  Here, swimming with us!  Speaking!  Surely this means we’re right to hide him.”   Then Koa spoke to him.  “Tell everything!  What more’s awakened in your memory?”
    But there was nothing more, and he could only answer, “I’m seeing into night.  I know there’s more.  I try to see more—but see nothing.”  For a long silence no one spoke in the dawning of this wonder; until again he finally voiced, “But why now am I dolphin?  Why?”
    Koa finally answered, “Not something we understand.  Though all wish to know. But this power’s much greater than anything we know.  I can only witness.  And be amazed like you.”
    To this one entrapped she added, “So we penetrate your mystery.  A little.  Some doubt, but not I.  We’ll discover the what, how, why of you yet.”

    The newest dolphin awoke the next morning and the others were gone.  Lirias alone rested in sun-water in their cove, looking at him, lightwebs wavering across his body.  “Ready to journey?”  
    Considering, this novice traveler rose for breath, his blowhole only emerging into air.  He breathed, then resettled.  He thought to ask where, but it was all the same, a great unknown, and he would trust this father of Nania too, as he’d trusted all of them.  “Yes, ready.”
    Lirias moved slowly past him, brushing his flank against the transformation’s beak as if to turn him in the direction he himself swam.  Thus, this student followed his teacher, who moved ahead a meter beneath the surface, allowing the marvel to come alongside.  “We go where the current takes us,” Lirias voiced pleasantly.  “I’d know more about you.  Nania’s told you my life.  But who knows about you?  Not even you.  I’ll teach you some things.  Help you speak faster.  Beyond basic.  You’ll use full singwave.  Then talk expands.  Already you swim better.”
    The speech of Lirias was slower than the others’ had been, more precise, methodical.  Lirias seemed to have great patience, and already to perceive his student’s lurking doubts and fears, and to be confident of pacifying them.  The student relaxed and warmed to his mentor.
    “Swimming’s all I do.  Yes, better.  I understand your talk better.  Not fast talk, but talk we make now.”
    “You remember being human?”
    “No more than that.  Why?”
    “No one yet knows.  But will.  Recall your transformation?  How the power entered you?”
    “No.   Something terrible.  Made me this.  The thing in me caused that?”
    “Certain.  But its origin no one knows.  Though all want to know.  And will.  Now let’s rest.  There in that light.”
    They were upon it before he saw it, a passing shaft of sunlight penetrating a rare gap in the cloud cover and penetrating ocean as well, revealing in the two hundred meter wide brightness of its column a glittering school of salmon swimming east, already the foremost of them disappearing into the gloom beyond this sudden bolt of sunlight in ocean.  As Lirias and his companion swam into the column of light the boy-dolphin startled, seeing several long streams of bubbles, some big as his head, rise through this sun-water from far below, shining more and more brilliantly as they neared the surface-shine.
    Before he could ask, Lirias singwaved, “No creatures cause this.  Gas escaping the seabed, far below.  No danger.  Stop here.”  
    Both halted in the passage of light, several body-lengths below the surface.  Lirias faced him, lightwebs flickering over their bodies.  “I’ll probe the object in you.  No harm to you.  I have suspicions.”  Before the transformation could consider this, he heard but did not feel high-frequency seeker-rays projecting into him, a fine steady hum.  These stopped.  Then another projection, this one the sound of static electricity, each burst ending with several pops that startled him.   “Nothing to fear,” Lirias repeated; then transmitted another lower frequency that whined louder, but again stopped.
     Lirias saw his subject anxious, and soothed him.  “Enough, we’ll keep swimming.  Nothing gives what I want.  Something else may, perhaps.”
    They swam away and passed beyond their illuminated ocean and into the cloud-covered sea that had been all he’d known since his transformation.  He heard Lirias continually clicking ahead and below.  Rare times an echo returned to them, slightly modified:  a meaning for Lirias, none for him.  
    They swam, and halted, and swam again.  Until Lirias’ clicking returned a hollow echo that caused him to slow; though Lirias resumed speed a moment later, his innocent companion beside him resuming speed as well.  Within two hundred more meters Lirias halted them again, but still remained in swim-position.  He seemed waiting.  Both saw a bed of kelp stalks suspending several meters below the surface and drifting toward them with the current.  As the kelp passed nearby, the naïve one saw three thin sierra mackeral dart from their hiding and away from the dolphins.  
    Watching them flee, he did not see the large shadow, shark-shape, approaching twenty meters distant and rising out of darker water below them, its crescent tail sweeping side to side.  Lirias, seemingly unconcerned, looked to his unaware companion and singwaved, “Brave one—look this way.  A curious visitor.”
    He looked.  Alarm spread from his stomach into his chest even before he was sure what he was seeing.  When he did see he froze, terrified:  stared at the menace that now exposed sinister razors of teeth, whipping its tail faster the closer it came, until the boy-dolphin, terror now overwhelming him in body and mind, knew he could not escape before the savage beast had him.  His consciousness had by now fractured and lost all focus, and he saw only one immense impending, chaotic doom about to crush him.  Hardly had he enough awareness to realize something of equally disastrous import, that the object in his chest had suddenly accelerated pulsebeat frantically, wildly.
    Of course Lirias, who watched both shark and victim with intense awareness, saw it all otherwise and simultaneously.  When the onrushing shark was three meters from his target, Lirias directed his own high-frequency stunray at the tiny nasal brain of the shark:  which instantly countermanded the shark’s instinctive circuitry, shutting it down.  The shark’s eyes clouded, its crescent tail stopped pumping, and it sank without power or consciousness into the dark depths from which it had risen.
    A second later Lirias transmitted the same mid-frequency octave/counter-octave Koa had shown him into the miracle dolphin’s chest and, just as Koa had done, Lirias by that act immediatley neutralized the wildly augmenting power, diminishing it until it seemed again lifeless.  Even so, the carrier dolphin remained shaken and unable to speak.  
    Lirias slipped his own beak beneath the other’s flipper and pushed him toward the surface, a few meters above them.   The victim’s body knew to breathe only by a conscious effort, which seemed suddenly slipping beyond him.  Then he submerged, without willing it.  Lirias thumped him, flank against flank.  
    Struggling to keep hold of consciousness, he looked at Lirias, but could only speak the feeblest words of his terror.  “The shark.  The thing in me.  Again.”
    Lirias remained facing him, maintaining with a slight effort of flippers and flukes.  “Slowly.  Breathe easy.  You’re safe.  I protect you.  Breathe again.”  And the afflicted rose as advised, this time powering himself into a breath-leap, then re-submerged to face again this one who’d saved his life twice in one terrible moment.
    The boy-dolpin struggled to speak, and for a moment he could not; yet when he did his speech flowed more generously, more fluently than before.  “What happened?  Why?  You said the thing in me died.”
    “No,” Lirias corrected him.  “It wasn’t I said that.  Others.  I hoped it had not.  Yes, still potent, perhaps fully.  But—you see how safe now you are—how easily I control it.”
    “Not if I’m alone.”
    “You’ll never be alone.  We’ll not allow harm to you—by this power, or by sharks.”
    “No—make the thing die again.”
    “Impossible, I believe.  Has life, greater than anything we know.  I’m certain now—its life  the same as yours—if it dies, you die.  But this also—you live as it lives, and that may be in time something astonishing all.   Now come, we swim back to our cove.  You need rest.  I’ll watch over you.  Always.”  
    They swam in silence some minutes side by side, the anxious one glancing continually for danger.  Till Lirias singwaved, “You whistle-talk better.  Power awakening gave birth to basic.  This new event’s again enriched it.  You begin to singwave.  You see how easily we talk now?”
    But his mind and heart were focused only on this—“I want it to stop.”
    “Fool’s wish—stopping great power, once you’ve gripped it, or been gripped.  Quiet your fear, I’ll help you learn it.  This foremost:  no one else must know the power’s re-awakened.  Not even Nania.  This for your good.”
    This extremely surprised him.  “Why?”
    “Others fear the power, as you fear it.  Recall—they’d abandon you as outcast.  No proper end for you, amazing one.  But fear it not.  I’ll control it.  In time I’ll tell everyone.  But not now.”

 

 

5:  TALELLA  KNOWS


    Three days later while he waited for Nania and the boy-dolphin to meet him, Lirias meandered alone along a coast of rocky cliffs.  Clouds from deep sea massed darkly overhead and threatened heavy rain.  All those within ocean sensed it coming.  Where he passed in much diminished sun-water he saw a cloud of white and gold-backed kingfish abandoning deeper seas to search for seclusion from the agitated ocean.  This bright cloud of thousands swerved near him, then away, flashing like precious metal.  Large schools of gray herring crowded near the few shallow beaches he passed.
               Beyond those and again among rocky shores, he heard a sound he knew well.  Humans diving.  Lirias found two of them nearby, in black skin for underwater, yellow tanks on their backs, how-they-breathe in their mouths.  Confidently pulling abalone off a rock face with a metal pry, oblivious of him.
    He approached them within a body-length; they turned and saw him hovering.  One diver looked and held up a captured abalone.  Two others hung in the net at his belt.  He raised the second hand and beckoned the dolphin closer.  Lirias descended.  He let the soft hand touch his beak; but he quickly slid past it, that he might bump the net of abalone, jostling shells.  Awkwardly the diver turned, eyes through the oval window startled, puzzled, the hand holding the abalone gone limp and drifting at his side.  Lirias eased behind him, then adeptly nipped the abalone from his limp, forgotten hand and swam away.  He, the thief, resettled, flukes down, still near the divers, showing them the shellfish in his teeth.  
    Their hands waved wildly as tiny bubbles flew from their mouths in spurts.  They moved toward him.  Lirias let the abalone slip away and fall to the sand below him.  Both divers propelled toward it, while Lirias swam to the rock face and removed easily another abalone with a jerk of his teeth.  He then swam back to the divers, and dropped his abalone high over them:  it clanged against one diver’s tank, and fell to the sand below them.  
    Startled again the divers looked above and saw Lirias, who now declined toward them.  Four arms and hands jerked and gestured at him.  He heard little squeaks of words, meaningless to anyone.  Lirias very much enjoyed all of it.  
    However, a sudden pulsing in the water distracted Lirias from his enjoyment.  He turned to look, and saw what he’d expected:  a covey of mantra ray, more than a hundred, a vast flying carpet gliding over sand and rock in a wave of overlapping, undulating wings, so many, many steely dark eyes at the vanguard wedges of bodies.  One wing of this covey of fliers glided within five meters of Lirias and the divers, as all these myriad rays slipstreamed around them, hundreds of gray wingtips undulating past and away.  
    As these manta rays passed, the divers retreated to the rockface, ready to climb out.  Lirias had no fear of the rays and might see them only as a passing beauty; but he had no time:  for an exotic voice spoke to him, the speaker unseen and unsuspected, though thoroughly known.  
    The voice distressed him, for though it was as delicate and cheering as the flight of manta rays, it was one to fear, capable of infinite modulation and mood and torment.
    As the last mantas disappeared, Lirias saw the dolphin Talella gliding toward him out of their wake.  She saw Lirias as if she’d expected him, and she propelled away from her manta escorts and settled beside him.  “I’ve searched for you.  Two days.  I sensed you needing me.”
    Astonished to see her, he breath-leaped to compose himself, to prepare for her.  But she knew him too well, and before he could speak she singwaved, “Why distrust me?  I always help you. My loyalty’s proven, I mothered Nania when both you and mother had vanished.”
    Lirias settled again, now facing her.   She would not get him so cheaply.  “That was not mothering.  You made her visionary.”
    Talella tossed her beak.  “No, you made her that, Father.  She was born that.  I only helped her seize it.  Why still worry?  She stopped needing me.  Rarely I see her.  Were it not so.”
    Then he saw her purpose more clearly—trying to divert him.   He singwaved, “Say your purpose.  Looking for me, you say.”
    She circled him twice, nearer the second time, trilling a singsong that meant nothing, playing with him before answering.  “I visioned you.  Needing me.  So I came.”
    He hardly believed it.  He glanced to see the divers, now that the mantas had passed, climbing down off the rock face and kicking slowly to the abandoned abalone, a whale-body away from the dolphins.  Lirias looked at Talella; he knew to hold his attention firmly on her.  “I last saw you a year ago, more.  Why come to me today?   You hide something.”
    She too glanced to the divers, but voiced to him, “These clumsy creatures still charm you.  You waste yourself.   You might be something greater.”
    He singwaved, “Your second?  Never.  Nania has true gifts, she admired you, still she won’t be your second.  You can’t deceive me.”
    Talella settled in swim position facing him.  “I tell you, Nania will leave your colony.  Whatever she now believes.  She’s had too much voyaging.  She loves the shadow world.”
    He would like to disbelieve; but he’d too long feared it to be true, exactly what Talella now warned.  But then again he knew it, her trick: that Talella spoke of Nania only to divert him.  He must re-remember his intent, and he voiced, “Why come here?”
    She eased perceptibly away from him, but singwaved confidently, “To help you.  Tell me how.  Something troubles you.  You lack allies, always have.  So confide in me.”
    In horror he realized:  she knew what he thought he alone knew—that a strange, unimaginable power was in the ocean, in his custody, and had been reawakened.  
    She knew.  Or she was so close to knowing it that one next word, one movement of his, one reckless thought, would link whole the fragments she’d somehow already perceived.   But knows…how?
     He breath-leaped again to calm the dizziness that fluttered through his brain, but he resubmerged singwaving, “Yes, I have worries, but my worries can’t be shared.  I thank your concern.”  He wanted to swim away from her, immediately.  He knew he could keep nothing from her if she wanted it enough, if she probed enough.
    She saw him fearful, wanting to withdraw from her.  It caused her no worry; there was time.  There was Nania.   Her voice became less insistent; became even friendly.  Other subjects would be more agreeable.  “I tried to heal you.  Tried.  You thought I betrayed you.”
    Gratefully he saw she would not entangle him worse, that now he could leave.  He let his flukes hang.  “That’s forgotten, it’s no matter now.”  But a moment of rancor remained in him, yearning for expression.  He allowed it.  “Though it comforts me much these days not to need your power anymore.”  He turned from her and propelled away:  sensing suddenly, but too late, that he’d spoken exactly what he should not have.
              Talella watched him go.  So you have found something else, poor Lirias, to heal and comfort you.  I like that.  For both of us.

    Lirias swam away from her through the rising pre-storm swells as if phantoms pursued him.  He swam miles before he dared singwave in the direction he knew his daughter to be approaching.  “Nania, identify, but wait at the cove.”  After his third repetition of the signal, he heard her reply.  “It’s Nania, I wait.”
    Though it was still twilight when Lirias arrived, the thunderheads massing there had cloaked air and ocean all in darkness.  The boy-dolphin was beside her, acutely alert listening to Lirias’ energetic singwave, though he understood little of it.  Fortunately; for it was fearful news.  
    Inside the cove waves heaved and slapped against the rock.  Lirias began a slow aimless circling of the cove.  Nania caught up and swam beside him, their orphan following as ever beside her, now between them.
    Lirias must tell her all.  “Foremost, I must share my secret with you.  The power in our mysterious dolphin I’ve reawakened.  And—controlled it, kept it steady.  By octave/counter-octave.”  Even this much alarmed her, and she knew there would be more.  She shuddered.  He finished.  “And this—I know, the power can heal my eyes, my ultra-seekers.”  For a moment she didn’t understand.  Then a flush of joy arose in her and dispersed the mistrusting that would dominate her; but the joy could not displace all of it.  
    Yet neither could she savor her joy nor battle mistrust, for the next moment Nania sensed in her father’s agitation Talella’s recent presence.  Nania burst out with it.  “Talella!  You saw her!”  
    “Yes, Talella.  Moments ago, where you and I were to meet.  She knows—not everything, but more than she should.  How?  Somehow she’s sensed power, its reawakening.  I know she’d take him from us, if she could find a way.”
    “Not take him from the colony,” Nania voiced, as she clicked seeker-rays ahead for dangerous rock.  “But too harsh.  She’d want to feel the power, try to use it—but no, wouldn’t steal it.”   
    “Disbelieve that, Nania,” he singwaved with greater energy.  “Vlorio we may talk to.  Talella waits for no one, nothing restrains her.  You still admire her—she never confused me like that.  You forgive her.”
    “Not now, not after she deceived Vlorio.  I’d voyage with her.  Though not to my source.  I’ll always owe her—she showed me my gift.”
      “Our helpless dolphin you don’t owe her.  She must not have him.”
      Nania spoke to him her own deeper perception.  “She needs no force.  She’ll trick you, make you give him to her.”
    “No, I’ve seen her do that, I’d resist.  But she’s danger.  You must take him away—you, take Rimi, go with Koa to Gringal.  I’ll stay and misdirect her.”
    “I’ll do it,” she answered, “but you’re too cautious.  Still too angry with her.”
    Perhaps he was.   It would make him all the more vigilant.

    More thunderheads from deeper seas west still moved toward them throughout the morning as Koa’s party swam half-travel speed south.  In their breath-leaps the transformation, surrounded by his companions, glanced often toward the thin green band that he knew to be coastline, which minutely separated gray sky from gray ocean.  He watched it diminish the farther they swam, until he could see it no longer.  Nania and Rimi, to his right, singwaved together constantly, though most often too fast for him to comprehend.  And they swam on.
    “How strong you are, more than expected.  Soon you’ll go full speed.  Your singwave too—much better—how fast you learn.  Lirias does well with you.”
    Those first days in the ocean, so full of despair and dread and so awkward in his dolphin body, seemed now long ago.   Swimming, breathing, even maneuvering among the waves in deeper ocean, he could do it all without struggle, if not with the agility and speed of the others.  In constant company now he felt secure against the menace of sharks, and secure against the volatile object within him, with Lirias, Koa or Nania usually beside him  
    One morning Koa questioned the newly-reborn.  “You hear those deep booming sounds?”  He listened, then distinguished them from among others in higher frequency that he’d assumed were all part of one big unimaginable and meaningless sound of the ocean.  “That’s gray whales talking.  One calls me, Gringal.  She struggles, her unborn wants out.  We go to her.”  He imagined whales, and himself and these dolphins among them.  Each day a new wonder.
    Late afternoon they found these giants sheltering behind a rocky arm of the shore, extending a hundred meters curving away from land, forming behind it a protected cove.  It was deep and wide enough that four gray whales had ample room to maneuver themselves between the shielding crescent barrier and these sheer rock cliffs of California’s Big Sur two hundred meters behind.   Nonetheless, obstructed waves still swept through the cove and crashed against the tall cliffs, throwing spray and foam twenty meters violently into air.   Ponderous black thunderheads lay upon their coastline, and strong winds blew the spray off wave crests into the air they breathed.
    When the dolphins made their first breath-leaps within the cove, the boy-dolphin saw tall spoutings of the gray whales’ respirations, so that, once submerged, he knew the burbled base tones he heard must be their talking, though this was nothing like the dolphin singwave he was learning.  
    Nearer, he saw dark bodies just below the surface moving slowly.  Nearer still, he distinguished lighter spots on those bodies that moments later he saw were barnacles attached to them.  He distinguished flippers undulating.  When at last Koa, Rimi and Nania drew him alongside one, he was shocked to see the whale’s flipper larger than his own body.  He remained in touch-position with Koa.
    Koa signaled her greeting to Gringal and the other grays in the Barraba-mode, a refined middle-frequency language used by baleenas to communicate with their cousins of Oceanus, the toothed-whales—dolphins, orcas, belugas, sperm whales.  
    “Barely in time,” Gringal clicked to Koa.  “I can’t hold off longer.  The little one inside me has rumbled all afternoon.”  The three other grays circled her slowly, a shield against big waves or foolish sharks.
    Nania indicated to the boy-dolphin that he would remain at her side. Koa swam away to Gringal’s great starburst-mottled head, Koa dwarfed as she settled a body-length from the whale’s opened eye.  Koa clicked Barraba.  “We noticed sharks following.”
    The whale responded.  “I’ve been leaking smell all day.  Sharks can have my placenta.  Why couldn’t this one wait till we reached lagoons to be born?—like other newborns.”
    Koa submerged and settled beneath Gringal, then transmitted her ultra-beam into Gringal’s womb.  In Koa’s mind’s eye the picture-echo assembled:  a perfectly formed gray newborn, male, three meters long, curled flukes and fluke-stem already reaching into the birth canal, flippers correctly pinned to his sides, eyes sealed shut, fine baleen plates soft and flawless, all organs functioning properly, the umbilical cord straight as it should be.  Then Koa noticed a slow turning and jerking of the pre-born’s head.
    Gringal clicked.  “More rumbling.  He wants out.  This one has chosen the worst spot, the worst time possible.  An omen for mother or child, Koa?”
    “Your child will be strong and unconquerable like you,” answered Koa.  “Baleena stories say the perilous births create heroes.”
    “No hero.  Enough for me he live in oceans among us.”
    Koa singwaved to the other dolphins.  “I want our mystery to see this.  Come.”  Rimi and Nania guided their neophyte between them, down and beneath one shielding gray and toward Koa, who had returned to settle beside Gringal’s great eye.  
    “Come,” Koa singwaved to him.  Timidly, he maneuvered till he was beside her and looking himself into this lucid eye that was as big as his own head.  “Say nothing.  Watch.”  He let his flukes hang as Koa’s did.  And how could he not watch?  
    Yet Rimi and Nania had seen this all before, and Rimi singwaved to her, “This could be you, Nania, having our baby.”
    Nania bolted to the surface and leaped for breath into the flying saltspray; but Rimi was instantly with her, leaping, resubmerging beside her and pursuing, flipper touching flipper as she sped away beneath the shielding gray whale, then beyond the whales and across half the cove.  She quick-leaped again for another breath, throwing herself in midair sideways against his flank so that he fell back sideways into water.  Both then resettled below, both refreshed:  she stationary, flukes pendant:  he beak downward, while making a slow spiral around her; as his voice modulated across seven octaves a humorous song he knew she’d remember, the first one he’d sung to her five years ago.
    Then she singwaved to him, “I thought you liked me visionary?”
    He moved to face her, in swim-position.   “I said only I admire the gift.  Admire you also without it.  Prefer us together.”
    “Usually are.”
    Deftly he spiraled away, circling behind her, then rose upside-down beneath her.  As she straightened her body to swim-position he pressed his own body against hers, belly to belly, their faces only inches apart.
    She allowed this only a moment, saying, “Keep it sheathed, Rimi—I’ll break away, you’ll need a healer.”
    “Stay.  Some say...that only once won’t destroy the visionary gift.  Once:  and we might be fortunate, a child both singer and visionary.  Imagine, Nania—something rarer than our mystery dolphin.”
    She bolted straight up and spiraled out of water to breath; then beak-first resubmerging and away in turbulence toward the whales.  This time he merely watched her go.
    Nania settled beside Koa and the whale mother-to-be.  The boy-dolphin hadn’t moved from Koa’s side.  One of the circling grays had positioned herself beneath Gringal’s flipper to keep her at the surface so she could breathe continuously and thus give her complete energy and concentration to the preborn stirring inside her.
    When these dolphins surfaced for breath they could hear Gringal’s labored breathing, despite the winds that blew stronger in the cove now, the waves that crashed louder and higher up the rock cliffs beyond them.
    Before rejoining his companions Rimi transmitted a wide seeker-beam toward the opening of the cove and saw immediately the picture-echo:  twenty or more shark-shapes, each one cruising below the fierce action of the storm waves, hovering in calmer water, turning, sensing the smell and taste of pre-birth in the water.  Even so, the sharks remained fifty meters from the grays.  Then Rimi swam again within the protective circling of the two gray whales and voiced to the dolphins in singwave, “Only a few sharks threaten, restless ones.  I’ll confuse them.”  Rimi turned and swam away toward the sharks.
    The three dolphins remaining dove again beneath the whale.  Both Koa and Nania scanned continuous ultra-beams over the womb and birth canal, both seeing folded flukes and fluke-stem completely filling the birth canal, flippers pressed into his sides, long head just entering the canal, umbilical cord still untangled.  A moment later both could see with eyes the flukes penetrate the opening and unfold in cold seawater:  the icy shock of it against the infant’s flukes causing the rest of his body within the birth canal to spasm:  the slender newborn then slipped completely through the passageway in one effortless moment into the rude, cold, turbulent ocean.
    Instantly Gringal rolled her body, pulling the umbilical cord tight; then a quick further twist snapped the cord near the baby.  And even before the newborn could open his soft mouth to cry out the shock and pain of his sudden arrival, Gringal’s mother Boodormas, mother herself of fifteen children, lifted her own long nose under the baby’s flipper and boosted him to the surface for his first gasping breath in the flying salt-foam of the howling storm.
    Akalastel, another gray, swam to the mother and newborn and took second support position beside the anxious baby at the surface.  The other gray, Griga, brother to Gringal, maintained near, shielding them from the restless sharks at the cove mouth, his enormous back above water, establishing a small calm in his lee where the mother and baby could safely breathe, and where the little one could accommodate to the shock of cold Oceanus.  
    As quickly as Gringal passed the placenta from her body, she propelled into support position, replacing Akalastel, nuzzling her body into her baby, pushing her long nose gently underneath his flipper, helping him keep his blowhole out of the rocking, wind-blown seas.
    The sudden maneuvering of gray whales to assist the birth had caused the dolphins to move away several body-lengths.  The boy-dolphin had been told enough to anticipate this, but he was still unprepared to witness the sudden emergence of the newborn.  He drew away a further body-length from this newest amazement.   The other dolphins powered into breath-leaps, and he belatedly with them.  Above water also he saw the newborn’s sleek head and long mouth struggling for breath and life above the stormy turbulence.
    And he thought:  How can such a helpless creature survive in this wild ocean?  And that thought led to another:   He is not as helpless as I am.  And a further thought:   But he will become what he’s born to be.  But what am I?  Not what I was.  And not what I am either.
    As both whales and dolphins submerged to calmer depths Rimi returned to them.   He moved close to mother and child and circled those two bodies so intimate.  At the same time he began a high-frequency modulation that chirped and popped in a cadence that intensified as it rose through several octaves; then ceased; then he repeated the cycle again.  
    As the repetition of song progressed, Rimi sang from the second voice of his blowhole a slower low-frequency song that droned out its base accompaniment passionately, primally, even as it seemed to wind around the other faster melody:  even as Rimi continued his own physical body’s winding round the mother and child.  All the while from his blowhole a twin stream of bubbles escaped in long sinuous lines to trace the spiral both of his duet and of his own body’s orbiting.
    Rudely interrupting all this celebration, the shielding gray whale signaled a shark warning in Barraba.  The dolphins understood it well.  Rimi swam to Nania and singwaved, “I’ve songs for sharks too.  But remember—I save the best birth song for you, Nania.”   Then immediately he swam toward the shielding gray and clicked in Barraba, “I read that big one approaching.  A daredevil to try us.”
    The gray was Griga, who replied, “I take this one.”
    Rimi clicked, “I’ll prepare him for you.”   And he swam away from Griga, clicking seeker-rays to pinpoint the biggest shark that now increased speed toward them, for the smell of the birth had already drifted out to the beast and made him bold.  
    Rimi accelerated to full speed, at the same instant projecting at the shark bursts of discordant and conflicting notes in a bizarre range of frequencies.  With seeker-rays Rimi saw the shark turn its head and shake it frantically to rid himself of the intense, piercing discord.  Rimi was upon the distracted beast in another moment and turned a series of rapid barrel-roles around the shark, further disorienting it, not only with his close and furious proximity, but also with the intense flurry of bubbles that suddenly enwrapped the shark and made it now blind and unsure of everything.  
    Rimi glided away from his adversary and leaped for breath.  The curtain of bubbles around the shark rose and slowly vanished.  The beast jerked its head side to side, desperate to find again the smell that obsessed it.
    Griga, however, with his own seeker-rays saw the shark again move forward, scythe-blade tail sweeping faster back and forth.  Griga charged, and when he was upon the shark he threw his great body out of water, twisting his fluke-stem in air so that the mighty wings of his uplifted flukes came down, smashing:  full force upon the onrushing shark, the blow crushing its cartilage skull, killing it two whale-lengths from Gringal and the baby.   Storm waves then swept the shark-corpse away and hurled it against the rocky cliffs.  
    None would dare to charge soon again.  Rimi and Griga turned away and swam back to the others.  The grays had formed a small circle around grandmother, mother and child.   Koa was again beside Gringal’s head, and she clicked to her:   “A beautiful child!  You feel well?”
    “Yes.   Grateful it’s over.  We’ll rest here till morning.”
    “What name for your baby?” asked Koa.
    “The baby names himself.  Konkronima, which means in the gray language, ‘perilous birth amid sea storm’.”
    Gringal rolled her long body a half turn, sheltered by the two grays now encircling her.  She maneuvered her belly toward the baby Konkronima, supported at the surface on one side still by Boodormas.  Gringal offered her breast to the newborn’s mouth.  The baby opened his rubbery-black lips to take the nipple that protruded from Gringal’s swollen mammary slit.  Nipple finally firmly in his mouth, the baby drew in his first deliciously warm mother’s milk and felt the joy of it in the midst of this new, cold, violent world.