A Deeper Rest
Melissa Lee Shaw
A hundred feet from Waikiki beach, a snorkeler floated, enjoying the hot sun and the warm, clear water. When he lifted his head to get his bearings, his heart clenched.
A gray dorsal fin was headed toward him.
A second look showed the fin to be recurved, not triangular ‑‑ dolphin, not shark. His breath hissed out in relief.
The fin disappeared.
"Hey, uh, Flipper," he called, with growing excitement. "Flipper, come on back! I swear I only eat dolphin‑safe tuna."
A sharp pain stung the snorkeler's left leg. He flinched and ducked his head underwater. Parallel scratches from knee to ankle leaked clouds of blood into the water.
Four more gray fins approached ‑‑ triangular this time, not recurved. Panic drove the snorkeler toward the shore faster than he'd thought possible.
It wasn't fast enough.
* * * * *
Dulcie Huber slid into the tank's cold water, gasping and swearing at the chill. Her yelps elicited excited squeals from the two dolphins that crowded near her. A sharp-faced, gray-eyed woman in her early forties, Dulcie had a swimmer's body and a short brush of mahogany hair sprinkled with silver.
Misty, a nine‑foot‑long Atlantic bottlenosed dolphin, floated a few feet from a shallow platform with a bench just underwater. She kept one soft brown eye fixed on Dulcie.
"Well, hey there, sweet thing," Dulcie said. She sat on the bench, bracing her feet on the platform below. The water slopped around her stomach. "Come on over here." She held her arms in a circle.
With a flick of her tail, Misty shot onto Dulcie's lap. The water supported most of her four hundred pounds. Over the years, Dulcie's legs had grown strong supporting the rest. Dulcie hugged the dolphin, laying her head on the sleek gray side. Misty buzzed softly, a cross between a Geiger counter and a purr.
Sport, Misty's six‑year‑old son, whistled inquisitively a few times, then squawked.
"In a minute, you big tuna." Dulcie held up her hand in a WAIT signal. "It's not your turn yet."
Sport squawked again, then zoomed over to the huge keyboard suspended underwater against the tank wall. He stabbed the buttons with his rostrum, lighting them up. "REQUEST DULCIE HUG SPORT."
"Hey, Ian?" Dulcie called.
Her research manager, a young man with curly, unkempt red hair and a trim goatee, appeared in the doorway to the offices. "Yeah, Dulce?"
"Would you please go tell Sport he has to wait, maybe give him a toy?"
Ian went over to the keyboard's smaller twin, which sat just beside the tank under a Plexiglas shield. He punched in, "DULCIE HUG MISTY NOW. SPORT WAIT. DULCIE HUG SPORT LATER."
Sport squawked and hit the "NO" button.
Ian hit, "YES. FINAL ANSWER. SPORT WANT BALL?"
The dolphin floated for a moment, then stabbed the "YES" button.
Ian tossed in a ball. A moment later, he ducked as Sport whipped it back at his head. The young dolphin sank to the bottom of the tank, sulking.
Ian chuckled. "You little snot."
The radio, which had been playing music, changed to a news report.
Dulcie frowned. "Turn that up, would you? I think I heard them mentioning whales."
" . . . attacks have been growing more frequent," droned the radio. "Research biologists are trying to identify the elusive disease they believe to be causing the abnormally aggressive behavior. Current theory suggests that whales and dolphins have contracted a virus similar to rabies, which affects the central nervous system. . . ."
"You missed the one earlier, on TV," Ian said. "The Coast Guard reported an attack on those Indian whaling canoes ‑‑ what were they called, that tribe in the Pacific Northwest?"
"Yeah, the Makahs. Apparently a bunch of whales capsized the canoes and rammed all the nearby boats."
Dulcie snorted. "Poetic justice."
"This isn't a joke. People were killed ‑‑ not just the whalers, but some Coast Guard and Greenpeace guys too. And it's not just whaling boats ‑‑ sailboats, fishing boats, even those huge ocean liners, they're all getting attacked. Hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the past few weeks."
Dulcie leaned down and kissed Misty's smooth gray forehead. The dolphin's eyes were almost closed. "Dolphin rabies," she whispered. "At least you're safe."
"Kinda makes you glad we're so far from the ocean, huh?" Ian said, coming over to tankside. "Those aquaria with sea‑pens, a lot of their animals have been contaminated."
For the past few weeks, an unspoken ban on moving cetaceans between facilities had effectively quarantined the animals. Online trade journals and newsletters were filled with articles and reports by emergency subcommittees. So far, nobody had pinpointed what the disease was, much less how it spread. Antibiotics had no discernible effect. Physical exams were nearly impossible to conduct without jeopardizing the handlers' safety, but the few that had been completed showed no abnormalities ‑‑ no parasites, known viruses or bacterial infections, nothing to account for the new aggression.
Several necropsies had been performed on pods of stranded dolphins and porpoises. They revealed slightly increased levels of parasites and heavy metals, but no evidence of viral infections in the central nervous system, like rabies would produce.
It was so strange, Dulcie thought, that when one whale beached itself, its whole pod typically followed. Nobody really knew why. Was it a show of support? Blind obedience? Fear of being left behind?
"Hey, those Navy guys are coming in today, right?"
Dulcie glanced up at the clock. It was almost seven‑thirty. "In about two hours. We all set for the demo?"
"Yep, everyone's prepped. You know what they want?"
"Probably to see results from the increased funding they just gave us last month. They're such patient people." Actually, she was grateful for the generous new research grants. They couldn't have come at a better time. Keeping dolphins was expensive; building state‑of‑the‑art equipment for research was practically a dream, though it was closer to a reality now than at any time in the Cetacean Cognitive Research Institute's past.
The Navy had recently provided a much‑needed influx of funds to her lab and to facilities in Florida and Hawaii doing animal language research, with directives to focus on two‑way communication, like the keyboard. Dulcie was thrilled; most cognitive research involved giving the animals instructions in a controlled setting and measuring their ability to learn. Two‑way communication, while fascinating, was far more difficult to control, quantify, or measure, and thus almost impossible to get grants for.
Sport finally surfaced, halfway across the tank. He cocked an eye at Dulcie.
Dulcie laughed. She patted Misty and slid her off her lap. "Sorry, hon. It really is his turn."
* * * * *
Half an hour before the Navy visitors were supposed to arrive, Dulcie sat at her desk, hair slicked back from her shower, scrolling through the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Biological Frontiers, which Rachel Schwartz, a fellow researcher, had sent her from a facility in Southern California. Rachel had bookmarked an article about increased numbers of stranded whales and dolphins in recent months, a disturbing trend. Apparently there was a resurgence in Morbillivirus. A lot of the necropsies reported brain lesions consistent with the viral outbreaks that had compromised the immune systems of a lot of sea mammal populations back in the early 1990s. Sobering thought.
The phone rang. Skimming the table of contents, Dulcie picked it up. "CCRI, Dr. Huber speaking."
"Dulcie? It's Rachel."
"Hey, I'm just looking through the JBF you sent me. Pretty scary stuff, all those strandings."
There was a silence on the other end, punctuated by a sniff.
"Rachel, you OK?"
"I ‑‑ well, no, not really."
"What happened? What's going on?"
"It's Tursi. He ‑‑ Dulcie, he's dead."
Dulcie sat very still. Her ears felt fogged with cotton. "What?" she whispered.
"Bob found him, maybe an hour ago, when he got in." The words came in a rush. "Susu and India were holding him up in the tank, like he was a sick calf...." Rachel's voice rasped and broke. "We tried artificial respiration, but it was way too late. He must have ‑‑ passed ‑‑ during the night, when nobody was here."
"Rachel, I'm so sorry. That's awful. Any idea why?"
"Not yet. Necropsy is scheduled for tomorrow. Dulce, he wasn't even that old, only about twenty. And he'd been maybe a little sluggish for a couple of weeks, but nothing really unusual. I just ‑‑ I know it's weird, but I flashed on Sport, just in case this is some kind of genetic thing. Maybe you should keep an extra close eye on him."
"I will," Dulcie said, scribbling a note to remind herself to call the vet. "Jesus, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say." For a moment, she wondered if Tursi's death could have had something to do with the dolphin rabies scare, but she dismissed the idea, knowing he had had no contact with the ocean for over a decade.
Dulcie could hear Rachel crying in the background. "Dulce, I gotta go, I just‑‑"
"I understand. Call me later if you want to talk."
As she hung up, Dulcie could hardly feel the phone in her hand. She rubbed her eyes, trying to focus. It was always jarring when a dolphin died unexpectedly, and this was one she had worked with while he was at CCRI for the breeding program exchange. Captive dolphins didn't die often without warning, but there was still a lot even experienced keepers didn't know about cetacean health.
Hoping to distract herself, she turned her attention back to the online journal. With the Navy demo only a few minutes away, she couldn't afford to fall apart.
An article caught her eye: "Genetic Engineering: Benefits and Risks." She skimmed the abstract with interest. The past ten years had shown a sharp increase in the number of people with digestive disorders, mostly food allergies and intolerances like celiac disease, an intolerance for wheat, barley, and other gluten‑containing grains. Genetic engineers had attacked the problem with unprecedented success, creating a cheap and hardy strain of wheat with a symbiotic bacterium that acted as a pesticide. The bacterium also produced enzymes both to make wheat gluten more digestible and to enhance digestive tract function by relaxing muscles often abnormally tense in these stressful modern times. Bg wheat, named for Dr. Thomas Granieri and the Bacillus granieri bacterium that lived in symbiosis with the grain, had taken the market by storm. Its built‑in safeguards meant that neither the wheat nor the bacterium could survive without the other.
Despite herself, Dulcie smiled; for years, she'd been unable to eat wheat products herself. While she'd been cautious at first about this new Bg wheat, she was grateful for it now. Rice‑flour breads and waffles were no substitute for their gluten‑containing counterparts. And because Bg wheat was cheaper and hardier than traditional strains, farmers loved it as much as she did, making it easy to find in stores. Some restaurants boasted that they now used Bg wheat exclusively.
She read on. Not all genetic engineering was so successful. Bt corn, a pest‑resistant strain created in the 1990s, had probably contributed to ‑‑
‑‑ to the extinction of monarch butterflies.
"They're gone?" she whispered, shocked. When she'd been a kid, her family used to spend summers on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Pastures had been choked with milkweed, and monarch butterflies had filled the air with black and orange.
But farmers had destroyed the milkweed on which monarch butterfly larvae fed, to make room for crops. Bt corn, an increasingly common strain of genetically engineered corn that now filled over half the cornfields worldwide, was created in the mid‑1990s. A pesticidal gene spliced into the corn from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria interfered with the larval development of corn borers, insects that infected and destroyed entire crops. Unfortunately, the Bt corn pollen also drifted into milkweed fields, killing monarch butterfly caterpillars -- or so claimed some environmental scientists, though biotech scientists argued that the lab studies didn't reflect field conditions, that almost all the pollen would be blown or washed off the milkweed plants, that new Bt corn strains were safe. The debate raged through the early 2000's, each side contesting the other side's findings.
None of which had helped the monarch butterflies.
Dulcie wondered if this was how early Americans had felt on learning that the last passenger pigeon had died, after seeing the skies filled with them. Such pretty things monarchs were ‑‑ had been. Once common as horseflies, now gone forever. It seemed unthinkable. Grief welled up again, cold and sharp.
"Dulcie? They're here. Hey, you okay?"
She took a deep breath and closed the journal's window on her computer. "I'm fine, Ian. I'll be right out."
* * * * *
The demo went smoothly at first; Dulcie ran the eight lab dolphins through their paces, starting with flashy tricks like jumps and behavior mimicry, and moving up to more complex, language‑oriented tasks.
The Navy officer ‑‑ Rear Admiral William Pangborn ‑‑ seemed impatient, or maybe just tense, though he hardly stirred in his rigid stance. A tall, solid man with gray-streaked dark hair and hard, cool eyes, he made Dulcie nervous. As the lab staff were setting up for another part of the demo, Pangborn turned to Dulcie and said, "Doctor Huber, what we're really interested in is the keyboard research, the two‑way communication of abstract and complex messages. I'd like to move along to that, if you don't mind."
She suppressed a surge of irritation. "We'll be getting to that soon. I just want you to see that your funding is being spent well. We've accomplished a great deal in a number of areas in the past several years, including studies of sonar, behavior modeling and mimicry, cognitive mapping ‑‑"
"Doctor Huber. We are on a very tight timetable here. I have no doubt you have accomplished remarkable things, but what I am interested in is the keyboard research."
"All right, Admiral. Just give us a few minutes to set up. Excuse me, please." Fuming, she went to Ian and explained in a low voice that they were going to scrap everything except the keyboard stuff.
"You want to use Boomer?"
"No, Misty. I know Boomer has used the keyboard more recently, but he's not really picking it up that well. Misty knows it cold. Let's gate all the other dolphins into the other tanks, except Sport."
Ian bustled away, calling cheerfully to the volunteers, student interns, and paid staff. Before long, Misty and Sport were gated into the tank with the keyboard. Extra trainers entertained the other dolphins.
Dulcie returned to the Navy visitors. Admiral Pangborn was conferring in low tones with Lieutenant Jeremy Fox, a marine mammal veterinarian from the Naval Ocean Systems Center in Hawaii. Fox was tall and lean, with animated brown eyes and dark hair that curled despite its short cut. Three lower‑ranked Navy staff stood behind the two officers, watching the dolphins with interest.
"All set, sir. If you'll follow me." She led them to the small keyboard at tankside. A Plexiglas booth protected them from splashes. "The keyboard is one of our most exciting interactive tools ‑‑ we try to use it as much as possible, to encourage the dolphins to think and communicate in a language‑like way. There's a large keyboard in each tank, and a corresponding smaller one on our side by a window. We have worked to reduce the importance of food rewards, to vary the reinforcement we use. A number of the buttons on the keyboard can be combined with the REQUEST key to ask for things like toys, games, and human interaction. Each button lights up and has a unique computer‑generated sound, so the dolphins get both visual and acoustic feedback."
The keyboard had eight columns and ten rows of buttons, divided into a top and bottom section with five rows each, for a total of eighty buttons.
Dulcie pointed at groups of buttons, color‑coded on the small‑scale model used by the researchers. "We have buttons for objects, like ball, basket, rope toy, and others for actions, like whistle, jump, touch, and bring. There's a button indicating each trainer specifically, another for generic 'person', and a third for 'all people', meaning everyone either in the tank or touching the water. There are also individual buttons for each dolphin, another for generic 'dolphin', and a third for 'all dolphins'. So for example, we can ask Misty to touch any person with her pectoral fin ‑‑" she nodded to Ian.
"People in," he called, and four staff put their arms in the water, spaced at intervals around the tank. He hit "MISTY PEC‑TOUCH PERSON." Misty zoomed across the tank, lifted her pectoral fin, and touched an intern's arm. Ian blew a dog whistle and rewarded her with a fish and lavish praise.
"Or we can ask her to touch a specific person, like ‑‑" Dulcie scanned the faces across the tank "‑‑Jill." Jill had been a volunteer for two years now. Misty had had some difficulty lately learning key‑names for new interns, presumably because there were already so many keys on the keyboard.
Ian hit "MISTY PEC‑TOUCH JILL." Misty zoomed away again, lifted her head to look at the people around the tank, stopped in front of Jill, a young dark‑haired woman, and touched her arm. Ian blew the whistle again and cheered as Misty came sailing back.
"We can also ask her to touch every person in the tank." She nodded to Ian.
"MISTY PEC‑TOUCH PEOPLE."
Misty quickly grazed each arm with her pectoral fin.
"Very impressive," Admiral Pangborn said distractedly. "I understand you can also have the dolphins use the keyboard?"
Dulcie's jaw muscles tightened. "Of course. We can skip ahead to that, if you like. Misty has been using this keyboard for over ten years now. We've taught her how to report on what she sees, in essence to describe the action taking place. Ian, toss in a few objects, would you?"
Ian threw two small beach balls, a Frisbee, and a knotted rope into the tank. He called across to Mary, Sport's trainer, "Let's get ready for some description trials."
"You'll notice that Ian is hitting MISTY OBSERVE. That means Misty has to watch what's going on so she can describe it for us. Mary, have Sport blow bubbles."
Mary gave a hand‑signal. Sport sank down and emitted a stream of bubbles from his blowhole, culminating in a bubble‑ring.
"Now Ian hits MISTY DESCRIBE. Misty has to tell us what just happened. Note that there are two correct answers, SPORT MAKE BUBBLES and DOLPHIN MAKE BUBBLES."
Misty ducked under the water and hit "DOLPHIN MAKE BUBBLES."
"Hm," Pangborn said.
"Let's try another," Dulcie said hurriedly, before he asked to move on again. She wanted to show him her favorite part of the keyboard work. "Mary, have Sport tail‑touch a Frisbee."
Mary signed to Sport, who swam around until he found the Frisbee, then touched it with his tail.
Ian pressed, "MISTY DESCRIBE."
Misty hit, "DOLPHIN TAIL‑TOUCH FRISBEE."
"We've taken this one step further," Dulcie said with a grin. "To demonstrate that dolphins have a sense of where an action is in a sequence of events, we can have her describe the action before or after the one she just described. It's a short step from here to cause‑and‑effect, which is where we plan to go next. Ian?"
"MISTY DESCRIBE SPORT ACTION BEFORE."
Misty considered for a moment, then pressed "SPORT MAKE BUBBLES."
"MISTY DESCRIBE SPORT ACTION AFTER."
"SPORT TAIL‑TOUCH FRISBEE."
"So your animals can work with the concepts of past and future," Pangborn said, nodding. "What about present?"
Dulcie laughed. "Oh, dolphins understand the present. When they want something, believe me, they want it now."
Lieutenant Fox smiled.
"As far as the keyboard work goes, we can have Misty describe actions as they're happening, sort of play‑by‑play."
"Very provocative work," Pangborn said, exchanging a glance with Fox.
"There's more. We can also have Misty observe an action, then describe the action ourselves and ask her if we're right or wrong. That's what the 'Yes' and 'No' buttons are for."
"Just how extensive is your ability to communicate abstract concepts back and forth?"
"Well, we're very excited about our new research project, which involves having one dolphin relay instructions to another."
"Yes, I've heard about that one. That's one the Navy asked for specifically," Pangborn said. "How is it progressing?"
"There's been a steep learning curve," Dulcie admitted. "Steeper than I expected. But two of our dolphins, Misty and Boomer, seem to be able to relay instructions to the others. The problem is that we have to use dominant animals to relay the instructions; a dominant animal won't listen to instructions from a lower animal in the social structure. Luckily, Misty and Boomer are both older, larger, dominant animals."
"I'd like to see that, if it's possible."
Dulcie pursed her lips. "We'll give it a shot, though I can't promise it'll go perfectly. Ian, let's have Misty tell Sport to do a backflip."
Ian keyed in, "MISTY TELL SPORT BACKFLIP."
"Sport's trainer is telling him to listen for his instruction," Dulcie explained as Mary touched a hand to her ear.
Sport zoomed away from his trainer and leaped backwards in the middle of the tank.
"Can they do more complicated things?" Pangborn asked.
Dulcie grinned. "They can. We can have Misty give another dolphin a message, and have that dolphin repeat the message on its own keyboard."
"I'd like to see that."
Dulcie called instructions to Colin, a volunteer who was training a female dolphin named Hannah in the next tank. "Let's head over to Hannah's keyboard so you can see the message come out the other side. Ian, toss in a ball and a Frisbee. When I give the signal, tell Misty, MISTY TELL HANNAH REPEAT: BALL AND FRISBEE IN."
They headed to the keyboard by Hannah's tank. Colin directed Hannah's attention to the other tank.
Dulcie signaled Ian, who hit the keys. A few moments later, Misty started whistling and buzzing. Hannah whirled and hit "BALL AND ROPE IN" on her keyboard.
"She didn't get the whole thing," Pangborn said, frowning.
"True. Hannah doesn't have as much keyboard experience as Misty has. But she got most of it. We'll try the same one again. Ian?"
This time, Hannah hit, "BALL AND FRISBEE IN."
"There we go," Dulcie said.
"Well, well," Admiral Pangborn said. "This is extremely impressive work. I'm pleased with the progress you've made here. I can tell you that no other lab in the country has gone as far with interactive communication as you have. Doctor Huber, I'd like a word with you in private, please."
Dulcie's excitement soured into frustration. "There's more to the demo."
"I've seen what I need to see. A word, please. It's important."
His serious tone quelled her anger. "We're done here," she said to Ian.
"ALL DONE," he keyed, the traditional end to the session or the day.
"ALL DONE," Misty responded.
Dulcie showed him and Lieutenant Fox to her office. Admiral Pangborn had his other staff members wait just outside her office.
"Please sit down," she said, closing the door. "What's going on?"
"We have some questions for you," Pangborn said, nodding at Fox.
"Have you noticed any changes in your dolphins' behavior anytime in the last six months or so?" Fox asked, pulling out an electronic notepad.
"What kinds of changes?"
"Irritability, slower learning curves, erratic or aggressive behavior. Even subtle changes."
"I haven't really paid close attention," Dulcie said. "I'm not out there every day. Ian manages the day‑to‑day research. But no, I haven't heard him mention anything like that."
"Any pregnancies this year?"
"No. That's maybe slightly unusual. They're pretty frisky, but the females don't always conceive."
"Have you or your staff noticed any unusual or reduced sexual activity?"
"Again, not that I'm aware of."
"Do you keep logs of activity in the tanks?"
Dulcie nodded. "Both during and outside of research sessions."
Pangborn said, "We'd appreciate it if you would have someone collate that information and see if you can spot any trends."
"What's this all about?" Dulcie asked. Their sober manner was making her nervous. "What's wrong?"
"These are routine questions, Doctor Huber," Pangborn said. "We're just trying to ascertain how stable an environment this is for the animals and the research that the Navy is funding. The behavior of the animals is a good barometer for the facility's atmosphere. Your lab seems exemplary."
"Thank you," Dulcie said warily.
"There is something we need to discuss," Pangborn said, sitting back in his seat. "We have a wild dolphin that we need to find temporary housing for. I understand you have a quarantine tank, somewhere completely isolated from your main tanks."
"Admiral Pangborn," Dulcie said, "we can't take any strange animals in right now, not with the epidemic I've been hearing about. As I'm sure Lieutenant Fox is aware, there's an outbreak of something like rabies in wild cetacean populations. It spreads rapidly to captive animals kept in pens open to the ocean, so it's highly contagious. Nobody knows the vector by which this disease is transmitted. Pretty much all dolphin facilities have quarantine rules in effect."
"I understand your reluctance," Pangborn said, "but we have no other place for her right now. Your quarantine tank is thirty feet away from your six other tanks, and it runs on a different water supply."
"I'm sorry, but it's out of the question."
"Doctor, this must be a very expensive place to run. Dolphins eat what, at least twenty pounds of fish a day?"
Her shoulders tightened. "About twenty‑five."
"And you have eight dolphins here. That's a lot of fish. Then there's tank maintenance, electricity, vet bills, not to mention salaries and research equipment. I would estimate that Navy grants account for at least three quarters of your operating costs."
It was closer to eighty‑five percent. "Admiral, are you threatening to reduce our funding?"
He leaned in. "Between you and me, Doctor, I have full authority to cut you off without a dime, effective immediately, if you don't cooperate with us."
For a moment, Dulcie couldn't even speak. Through clenched teeth, she said, "What's so important about this dolphin?"
"That's classified. I can tell you that Lieutenant Fox has run full physicals on her, including bloodwork, and she's healthy."
Dulcie frowned. She couldn't afford to lose the Navy's funding. "How long would you need to keep her here?"
"Not long. A few weeks, couple of months at most. We should have other arrangements by then. I can guarantee you that Navy personnel will be responsible for feeding her, and will go through appropriate decontamination procedures afterwards until you're comfortable that she isn't going to make your animals sick."
"I don't like the risk."
"I understand that. The Navy is prepared to compensate you for the inconvenience. We'll kick in an extra million dollars over the next three years toward your funding, to be used for continuing your keyboard research."
The stick and the carrot both, she thought. They must want this very badly. She took a deep breath. "She had better be out of here in two months' time."
"Glad we could work this out. Here, we'll need you and each of your staff to sign one of these." Pangborn produced a sheaf of documents and laid it on her desk. "It's a non‑disclosure agreement about the research we'll be conducting. It's standard for all facilities housing Navy animals."
"I'll have to read it over."
"Certainly. We'll pick them up today at fourteen hundred hours, when the wild dolphin arrives. That's two o'clock today."
"Today?! But we're not prepared!"
"Your quarantine tank is unoccupied," Fox said. "We'll take care of unloading her."
"Two o'clock today," Pangborn repeated, rising. He and Fox left.
Head spinning with rage and confusion, Dulcie sat back in her chair, trying to figure out what had just happened, and why.
* * * * *
At five minutes to two, a jeep and a large canvas-backed truck full of Navy personnel pulled up. Soldiers? Dulcie wondered. SEALs? The only thing she knew about the Navy was how much money they were funneling into her lab.
"You have those NDA's for me?" Pangborn asked Dulcie, coming up to the main entrance.
Dulcie handed him the sheaf of signed papers. Most of the NDA had been pretty standard, but the clause at the end raised her hackles. "Why that part about lab staff not interacting with the lab dolphins while the new dolphins were being unloaded, and for a full two days thereafter?"
"Standard precaution," Fox said briskly. "It's for your safety. There's bound to be a lot of turmoil with new animals being introduced, even in another tank. We want to keep you out of harm's way."
"I'm fully aware of how my animals react to newcomers. Half of my dolphins came from other facilities."
"Protocol is protocol," Pangborn said. "Now, we need you to gate your dolphins into as many separate tanks as possible."
"Protocol again," Fox said with an apologetic smile. "We've found this to be an excellent way of keeping behavioral disruption to a minimum. They won't be able to stampede each other as easily if they're in separate tanks."
"You don't know my dolphins," Dulcie muttered, but she called Ian over and asked him to carry out Fox's instructions.
Once the eight lab dolphins were separated into the six available tanks, Pangborn pulled out a military cell phone and gave some instructions in a low voice. A few minutes later, a large, covered Navy truck pulled up outside the lab.
With minimal fuss, the Navy staff unloaded the new dolphin. Four Navy staff positioned themselves around the quarantine tank; four more wandered around the other tanks, keeping a respectful distance. Their rifles made Dulcie uncomfortable.
Through windows in the quarantine and regular tanks, the wild dolphin and the lab dolphins could see each other. The newcomer started a great deal of clamor, whistling and buzzing furiously.
The rest of the tanks erupted into a frenzy. The lab dolphins sped around their tanks, eyes wide, movements jerky. They churned the water into foam.
With a keening distress whistle, Sport banged his head against the metal gate that separated him from his mother.
Reflexively, Dulcie started toward his tank.
Pangborn grabbed her arm. "You can't go over there now. You need to leave him alone."
She wrenched herself free. "He's going to hurt himself."
"It could be dangerous!"
"I've known him all his life, I helped deliver him. He's scared, and he needs me!" She ran for Sport's tank.
An open gash on Sport's forehead bled freely. He didn't seem to notice. Whistling plaintively, he kept banging against the gate.
"Hey now," Dulcie called soothingly, kicking off her shoes. She swung her legs over the tank wall, slid slowly into the water fifteen feet away from him. "Sport, take it easy."
He whirled around. His eyes bugged out.
Shrieking, he charged her.
Dulcie had no time to react. She heard a "pop." Absurdly, red feathers bloomed on Sport's skin. Then she was being yanked out of the water by strong arms. Pain seared her foot.
Next thing she knew, she was standing outside the tank, supported by two Navy men. "What the ‑‑"
"What did you do?" Fox yelled, running over. He ignored Dulcie, looking into the tank. Sport was barely moving. "You shot him!"
"Tranquilizer dart, sir," said one Navy guard. "Admiral's orders."
"Tranquilizer," Dulcie repeated. Her eyes met Fox's. "Oh God."
He looked as panicked as she felt. "Do you have an artificial respirator, like for surgery?"
"In the medical office behind the quarantine tank. Ian!"
"On it," Ian said grimly, racing toward the office.
Sport moved his tail weakly a few times, then sank to the bottom of his tank. Misty whistled piercingly and rammed the gate, but it held.
Pangborn came over. "I told you to stay out of that tank."
"You authorized tranquilizer darts?!" Fox demanded.
"You know it's a dangerous situation," Pangborn said, eyes narrowing. "I didn't want to just shoot them if there was trouble. What's the problem?"
"Dolphins are voluntary breathers, you asshole!" Dulcie shouted. "They don't breathe when they're unconscious. If we don't get him into the respirator in time, he'll suffocate!"
It took six of her staff to get Sport's lax body into the canvas dolphin transport on the tank's shallow platform. The transport was like a travois, two parallel poles with a canvas sling in between. Her six staff stood in water about waist‑deep, holding the poles to keep the unconscious dolphin upright.
"Have you used one of these before?" she asked Fox as he wrestled the artificial breather into place. PVC pipes made a scaffolding around the dolphin's body.
"Lots of times." He expertly pried open Sport's blowhole and, gently, pushed a plastic tube deep inside. "That should do it. We plugged in?"
"Yeah," Ian said.
"Start 'er up. One respiration per ten seconds for now, very shallow. He's just a little guy."
The machine started humming. Sport's sides inflated slightly.
The lab staff whooped and cheered.
"Time," Dulcie said, looking at Ian.
"Three minutes, forty seconds," he said.
"He should be all right," Fox said with a relieved grin, listening to Sport's heartbeat with his stethoscope. "Since he's under, you got any surgery you want done on him?"
Dulcie glared at him. "What?!!"
He held up his hands. "Sorry, bad joke. Just trying to lighten the mood."
She took a deep breath. "How long will he be out?"
Fox inspected the dart he'd pulled from Sport's body. "Shouldn't be more than two, three hours at most. We need to lower the water level in the tank for when he wakes up."
"Should we give him epinephrine, to wake him up?"
"I don't think so, not yet. We've got him breathing and stabilized. His heart rate seems fine. I don't want to risk a drug interaction. Here, I'll just take a look at that cut on his forehead."
Dulcie tried to breathe deeply, but she was shaking too badly. "You!" She turned to the Navy guard with the tranquilizer rifle. "You imbecile! You ‑‑ you shot my dolphin!"
"Following orders, ma'am," he said, imperturbably.
"He probably saved your life," Fox said.
She glared at him. "Bullshit. Sport never hurt me in his life. He never would."
"Really. Look down. You better come with me so we can get that looked at."
Only then did she notice the blood pooling around her bruised foot.
* * * * *
After Fox dressed the rake‑marks left by Sport's teeth and determined that her foot had no broken bones, Dulcie spent half an hour screaming at Admiral Pangborn, describing his unlikely genealogy and personal habits, and threatening to take his actions to the highest level of the Navy. He listened calmly until she wound down.
"You go right ahead," he said. "Maybe you can also explain why you disobeyed a direct order to stay out of that tank."
"I don't take orders from you!"
He muttered something under his breath. It sounded like "Civilians."
She took a deep breath. "Something is going on here. Something big. You bring in your mystery dolphin, and all of a sudden my dolphin attacks me, which he's never done before. I want to know exactly what's going on here, and I want to know now."
"All right," he said, surprising her. He held up the sheaf of NDA's. "But you better remember these. Any word of this gets out, and you'll find out that you do answer to the U.S. military, whether you like it or not."
"Just tell me what's going on!"
He called Fox into Dulcie's office and closed the door behind him.
"How much do you know about what's been going on in the oceans, regarding whales and dolphins, over the past month?"
Surprised, Dulcie said, "I know there have been a lot of attacks on people, even in places like Monkey Mia in Australia, where the dolphins are usually friendly. I've heard reports of some random whale attacks on fishing boats and sailboats."
"There's nothing random about them," Pangborn said. "Doctor, I'm about to let you in on a very dangerous secret. The only reason I'm telling you is that I need your full cooperation ‑‑ your country needs your full cooperation. You're in a unique position to help us with an urgent situation."
Dulcie's eyes narrowed. "After the way you bullied me into letting that wild dolphin stay here, I don't know if I want to help you."
Pangborn looked at her as if weighing what to say. "There's no such thing as cetacean rabies. That's disinformation leaked to the press to buy us some time."
Dulcie frowned. "Are you saying the attacks aren't real?"
"Oh, they're real, all right. They're far more pervasive than you think. More than three quarters of all vessels in the ocean have sustained damage from whale and dolphin attacks. Every beach I know of is closed, because it isn't safe to go in the water anymore."
"I thought the beaches were closed because of oil spills or toxic waste or something," Dulcie said.
"That's exactly what you were supposed to think." He looked up at Fox.
"About three weeks ago," Fox said, "we got a report of a shark attack on a snorkeler in Hawaii. The snorkeler lost a leg. Frankly, he's lucky to be alive. His story was that a dolphin approached him to warn him that sharks were coming, but it was too late; the sharks got him before he could get to shore. But the amputated leg showed clear signs that the dolphin, not the sharks, attacked him first. There were deep rake marks from knee to ankle. The shark bites came afterwards."
"What are you saying?"
"We believe that the dolphin incited nearby sharks to attack by raking the man's leg and making him bleed underwater."
"You're nuts. That's just not how cetaceans behave."
"That same story has been played out numerous times. Some fishermen saw dolphins tease and herd sharks to a heavily populated beach in Florida, then dart in and draw blood from several swimmers. The dolphins retreated while the sharks got to work."
Dulcie just stared at him, uncomprehending. "What does this have to do with cetacean rabies?"
"The evidence is overwhelming," Pangborn said. "Whales and dolphins are attacking boats ‑‑ we have reports of gray whales, orcas, and harbor porpoises working in concert to ram boats in Puget Sound. It's happening all over the world. These attacks are systematic, planned, and coordinated."
He paused, looked at her. "Doctor Huber, we are at war. And we don't even know why."
"War," she breathed. "You're not making any sense."
"There's no other way to explain it. We're seeing cooperation between normally antagonistic species of cetaceans. Orcas and harbor porpoises don't usually cooperate; orcas prey on porpoises. The attacks started three to four weeks ago, at approximately the same time. It's a worldwide emergency." Pangborn exchanged a look with Fox. "There's more. All captive cetaceans exposed to wild cetaceans have started attacking their trainers. Our best guess is that the wild cetaceans are transmitting the message of war to their captive counterparts."
The blood drained from her face. "That dolphin you brought in ‑‑ she did something to my dolphins!!"
"We had to see what would happen. If our theory was correct, the wild dolphin brought the message of war and communicated it to your animals, who hadn't known of it before."
Shaking with rage, she said, "You used me. You used my lab, my animals ‑‑ you put my staff in danger, without even telling us! You purposely turned my dolphins against me! You bastard!" She leaped to her feet, knocking over her chair. "Get out!"
Pangborn stood, an imposing presence. "We're not done here yet."
"Then I'm leaving!" Dulcie stormed out of her office.
And was brought up short by two armed Navy staff, a man and a woman, blocking her path. When she tried to move past them, they brought their rifles up slightly, not quite aimed at her. The threat was clear.
Not soldiers or SEALs, then, she thought bitterly. Guards.
"Doctor," Pangborn said, "sit down."
Her heart pounded; her head swam. Shaking, she folded her arms and stood just inside the door. The Navy guards closed it behind her. "This is insanity! You have no right ‑‑ my God, what do you want from me?"
"We need your help. This nation is in a state of crisis."
"Because of some whale attacks?"
"Because not every country believes they are whale attacks. Some of our third‑world neighbors think we engineered these attacks, either with trained animals or with Navy SEALs. We've tried to downplay the severity of these incidents in the media, but unrest is growing rapidly, and the attacks are increasing in frequency. We need to find out why cetaceans have declared war on us, and we need to end the war before some trigger‑happy third‑world idiot starts World War Three."
"It really is an international crisis," Fox said softly. "Believe me, we wouldn't be putting you through all this for anything less."
Head whirling, Dulcie sank into a chair. She tried to sort through the barrage of information. Panic nibbled at her thoughts; she took some deep breaths and tried to calm herself down. She couldn't believe she'd just had guns pointed at her. She couldn't believe that she wasn't allowed to leave her own office.
And she couldn't believe what she was hearing about whales deciding they were at war with the whole human race.
But if. If Pangborn was right. If there was a pattern of attacks, like he'd said ‑‑ what other explanation was there? Could it be true? Or was he lying to her, as he had lied about it being safe to bring in the wild dolphins? How could she trust him?
And Fox, the Navy veterinarian, was in on this too. She had seen how fast and hard he had worked to save Sport's life. She wanted to trust him, even though Pangborn set her teeth on edge.
She looked up at Fox. "You believe this?"
"Every word," he said. "I'm sorry we had to deceive you before. I truly am. But this is a crisis, and we have to find an answer as fast as possible. We're not talking about a few swimmers in danger, we're talking about preventing war between countries with nuclear capabilities. Look, I didn't believe it at first either. But I've seen the evidence, read the reports. I've even done flyovers in helicopters and witnessed some of these attacks myself. The whales haven't gone crazy. There is no evidence of a new virus, no dramatic changes in the necropsy reports on stranded animals. We don't know why they're attacking us. And we need to find out. Desperately."
"That's why we're here," Pangborn said. "It's my job to find a way to end this war. I'd prefer to do so in a way that saves lives, human and cetacean both."
Dulcie's stomach tightened. "What do you mean?"
"Doctor, you know how close ancient whalers came to killing off entire whale species. The blue whale is still on the endangered list. And that was with primitive vessels and weaponry. If we don't find a way to stop cetaceans from attacking people and boats, the military will launch an all‑out offensive against all cetaceans."
For a moment, she couldn't breathe. "You'd kill them all?"
"As many as we needed to, to stop this war. My superiors aren't willing to wait long before heading down that road. I need to bring them results fast to persuade them that we have another alternative."
"How long do you have?"
"Today and tomorrow. Probably the next day, if I can show we're making progress. Not much more than four more days at most. Businesses are losing too much money from whale attacks. They're clamoring for military intervention. And we can't keep the dolphin rabies story going much longer. People are starting to figure out that it doesn't fit the facts."
Dulcie stared at him, unable to form words. Pangborn opened his mouth, but she raised her hand. "No. Just ‑‑ no. God, this is insane. It's a nightmare. I can't ‑‑ no. It's too much."
Fox said, "Doctor Huber ‑‑ Dulcie ‑‑ we really need your help. I know it's a lot to take in all at once. We've had a few weeks to get used to the idea, but it's all brand new to you. I know we're not your favorite people right now, but don't think of it as helping us. Think of it as saving the lives of millions of whales and dolphins. I'm sure you want to do everything you can to prevent their deaths."
Dulcie sat quietly for a few minutes, trying to sort out her thoughts. She held a hand to her twisting gut, trying to steady it. Finally, she looked up at Pangborn. "Why here?"
"A lot of dolphin labs are doing impressive research, but you're the only one who's gone this far working with the kind of interactive communication that might help us find some answers."
The room spun around her. She forced herself to focus on the words as if they were an abstract puzzle that she could solve. "I don't get it."
"Your interactive keyboard. It's primitive, but it's our best chance at finding out what's going on."
"You ask your dolphins why they're attacking us. Assuming we get answers we can work with, we figure out a way for your dolphins to translate some questions or instructions to our wild dolphin. We'll ferry the wild dolphin back and forth between this lab and a sea‑pen on the coast about half an hour from here."
"The idea is to create a translation system, using the keyboard, your dolphins, and our dolphin as cogs in the machine," Fox said. "We know it's a long shot, believe me. But it's our best shot at figuring out what's going on."
"I need a minute," Dulcie whispered. "Just give me a minute." Her breath was coming in gasps; she made an effort to breathe slowly and deeply. "This is why the Navy increased my funding, then."
"You want to use my dolphins as translators? And yours as a messenger? I don't see how it can possibly work. We just don't have the vocabulary for this kind of thing."
Nodding, Pangborn said, "Then we'll have to improvise."
* * * * *
Dulcie insisted on bringing Ian into their planning sessions. He worked more regularly with the keyboard than she did. The four of them started brainstorming how to use the keyboard to accomplish their goal. When Dulcie's mind started clouding, she realized her stomach was growling and she hadn't eaten all day.
"You guys want some pizza?" she asked, reaching for the phone. "I'm starved."
"I'm in," Ian said, leaning back and stretching till his toes shook.
Fox hesitated. "Do you know what they use to make it? I have this wheat problem ‑‑"
She grinned. "No problem. I used to be gluten‑intolerant too. But the pizza place I order from uses only Bg wheat, the kind engineered to be‑‑"
"‑‑more digestible. I know," he said, relieved. "Miracles of modern science. Sometimes they really get genetic engineering right."
Thoughts of Bt corn and monarch butterflies sobered her. "Sometimes they do."
* * * * *
Two empty pizza boxes lay on the floor; a third, with a few slices left, sat on the corner of Dulcie's desk.
Dulcie looked up at the clock. It was six‑thirty. She frowned and called Ian into her office. "How's Sport?"
"Still out cold," he said, looking grim. He glared at Pangborn, who ignored him.
"It's been over three hours," Dulcie said to Fox, who had excused himself frequently to check on the young dolphin. "I'm getting worried."
"We have other matters to worry about," Pangborn said.
"This won't take long," Fox said evenly. "We can't afford to lose even one of the keyboard‑trained dolphins; we don't know which one will be best able to transmit our messages."
Dulcie hid a smile; she suspected Fox didn't buy his own line of bullshit. He just wanted to help Sport.
Fox splashed into the knee‑high water in Sport's tank and examined the unconscious dolphin. "His heartbeat is still steady. At this point, we could try administering epinephrine. The tranquilizer ought to have worn off by now, so there shouldn't be any drug interactions. Maybe he just needs a little kick in the pants."
She remembered Sport charging her. Her heart lurched. "How will he react to us when he wakes up?"
"If we get him out of the water, he should be all right. In other facilities, since the attacks started, they typically get meek when their tanks are drained. We'll just need to find a way to get him back into the water without risking our own safety. Tell you what. We'll pull him up onto that platform ‑‑" because the water level was so low, the ledge was completely dry "‑‑ and give him a jolt of epinephrine, see if he comes around in a few minutes. If he does, we can slide him into the water without going in ourselves."
"Let's try it," Dulcie said.
Several lab staff got together, carefully lifting dolphin, PVC scaffolding, and the artificial respirator onto the platform. Fox administered an epinephrine injection.
A few moments later, to Dulcie's relief, Sport moved his tail weakly. Feeling the canvas around him and the tubing in his blowhole, he panicked a little.
"Easy there, fella," Dulcie said soothingly. She kept her hands well away from his sharp teeth. "We need to keep him out here a little longer, to make sure he won't pass out again." Her staff nodded.
Fox shut off the artificial respirator and carefully removed the tube from Sport's blowhole.
Sport whistled a distress call, over and over. In another tank, Misty called back.
"He's perking up," Fox said. "I'd say if he stays alert for another half hour, we can cut him loose."
Dulcie brought over a hose and sprayed Sport down with cool water.
Half an hour later, Sport was still alert, rolling his eyes at his human handlers.
"It should be safe," Fox said, crouching down. When he laid his stethoscope against Sport's chest, the dolphin flinched. "Easy does it. We're trying to help. Yep, he sounds fine, and he doesn't show any signs of losing consciousness again. He really needs to be back in the water."
Reluctantly, Dulcie agreed. "All right, people, let's move to the edge and tip him forward. Carefully ‑‑ the water's pretty shallow."
Her staff gently jiggled Sport out of the canvas transport. He slid down into the water and shot across the tank, then started circling the perimeter slowly.
"You sure he'll be all right?" Dulcie asked. "He still looks woozy."
"I think he'll be fine," Fox said. "I'm just surprised he didn't shake it off on his own. That must've been a bigger dose of tranquilizer than I thought."
"We need to get started," Pangborn said from behind them. "Time is short."
"All right," Dulcie said. "Jill, keep an eye on Sport and let us know the instant he does anything abnormal. And slowly raise the water level."
They went to the keyboard by Misty's tank.
"I'm sure Misty saw the ruckus with Sport earlier," Dulcie said. "He was in the next tank. Let's see what we can find out. Ian, key in MISTY DESCRIBE SPORT ACTION."
Misty eyed them thoughtfully, floating in the water.
"She's not going to cooperate," Pangborn muttered.
"Give me a minute with her," Dulcie said quietly. "Everyone, please, go into the offices. You too, Ian."
Pangborn frowned but complied.
Dulcie took a seat at the keyboard and looked at Misty through the underwater window. The dolphin watched her.
Dulcie cleared the keyboard. "SPORT SICK BEFORE," she keyed in. Sport was sick earlier. Misty knew "SICK" from the rare times a lab dolphin had gotten ill. When Dulcie brought vets in, she used the "HEAL" key to explain what they were doing. "DULCIE HEAL SPORT BEFORE." I helped him. "SPORT SICK NOT NOW." Sport isn't sick anymore.
She went to the window and crouched next to it. Misty clapped her jaws warningly. This close up, Dulcie could see gelid liquid seeping from her eyes. Though dolphins' eyes always secreted thick fluid, they only leaked this much when the dolphin was extremely upset.
Dulcie's own eyes felt hot, heavy. "Misty. Please. I want to help you. At least talk to me. For old times' sake." She pressed her hand against the Plexiglas.
Misty cocked an eye over to Sport's tank. Her son was swimming slowly, still tired but fully awake. "DULCIE HEAL SPORT PAST."
Dulcie started crying. "Maybe you don't hate me," she whispered. "Oh God, Misty, thank you." She took a moment to compose herself, then fetched the others.
* * * * *
"MISTY DESCRIBE SPORT ACTION," Ian keyed in again.
"SPORT SWIM," Misty keyed back.
Ian blew a whistle and tossed in a fish from a safe distance. "MISTY DESCRIBE SPORT ACTION BEFORE." Tell us what he did earlier, before the swim.
Again, a fish. "MISTY DESCRIBE SPORT ACTION BEFORE." And before that.
Misty jerked. "SPORT MOUTH DULCIE." It was the closest she could come to saying Sport had bitten Dulcie.
Fox whistled. "We're getting somewhere."
"Give her a fish," Dulcie said. "Let's see if we can get some clarification."
"MORE," Ian keyed in. Give us more detail.
Misty considered. She drifted back, away from the keyboard.
"Is she refusing to cooperate?" Fox asked.
"No, she's just thinking," Dulcie said. Ian nodded without looking at them. "Give her a little time."
Misty moved toward the keyboard again. "SPORT MOUTH DULCIE."
"Try again," Dulcie said.
"MORE," Ian keyed.
Misty squawked. "SPORT MOUTH DULCIE."
"She doesn't know how to elaborate," Dulcie said. "Let's see if we can give her a hand, play some twenty questions. Ian, try this: 'MISTY REPORT. SPORT WANT PUSH DULCIE.'" To the Navy men, she said, "She'll hit either YES or NO to report on the statement's accuracy."
Misty hung in front of the keyboard, considering. "YES."
"More," Dulcie said.
"MORE," Ian keyed.
After a moment, Misty keyed, "SPORT WANT PUSH DULCIE. SPORT WANT PUSH THROW DULCIE."
"Give her two fish," Dulcie said. "So he wanted to throw me and push me."
"Throw and push?" Pangborn repeated. "But why?"
"Wait," Dulcie breathed. "Ian, throw in a Frisbee. Good. Now try MISTY THROW FRISBEE. MISTY PUSH FRISBEE. Let's see if we can get her to show us what Sport was trying to do to me."
But Misty just tossed and then knocked the Frisbee aside, following the instructions literally.
"We don't have enough damned keys," Ian said. "Neither of us can be clear."
Inspiration hit Dulcie. "OBJECT NAME PERSON." To Pangborn, "I'm telling her that the object in the tank is a person."
Ian nodded and hit the keys.
Misty jerked and squawked, then whirled, head bobbing, scanning the tank with sonar. She found no person in it. Movements jerky, she turned back to the keyboard.
"Again. OBJECT NAME PERSON."
"Now try MISTY THROW PERSON. MISTY PUSH PERSON."
But before Ian could key in the new instructions, Misty rolled her head back, eyes bugging out. She dove underneath the Frisbee and smacked it so hard with her tail that it flew out of the tank and hit the wall of the office building.
"Well now," Ian muttered.
"MISTY REPORT," Dulcie said quickly. "SPORT WANT PERSON OUT. Ian, try it." OUT was a command they used at the end of the day, to ask the dolphins to bring them all the toys left in the tank for removal.
Ian hit the keys.
Misty rammed into the "YES" key over and over again. "YES YES YES YES."
"We should try MISTY WANT PEOPLE OUT QUESTION," Ian suggested, his voice tense. At Dulcie's nod, he did.
"YES YES YES."
Through a suddenly dry throat, Dulcie said, "Ian, ask her if we can put a person in the water."
"DULCIE REQUEST PERSON IN."
As soon as his fingers hit the last key, Misty exploded into wild‑eyed action, slapping the water's surface with her tail. She rammed the keyboard, "NO NO."
"I do believe," Dulcie said in a harsh whisper, "that we have our answer. They want us out of the water. All of us. Maybe that's why they've been attacking us ‑‑ to push us out of their territory."
"Can you ask in another way?" Pangborn said. "To be sure?"
"MISTY REPORT. DOLPHINS WANT PEOPLE OUT," Dulcie said, voice flat.
Ian keyed in the phrase.
Misty hit, "YES YES YES PEOPLE OUT PEOPLE OUT PEOPLE OUT."
"But why?" Fox asked. "Why now?"
"Ian, let me in there," Dulcie said. He moved aside, and she sat down. "MISTY REPORT. DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT. DOLPHINS WANT PEOPLE OUT. MORE."
Misty hung in the water.
"MORE," Dulcie repeated. "MORE MORE MORE MORE." Aloud, "Tell us more, tell us why!"
With a muffled squawk, Misty sank to the floor of the tank.
"She's frustrated," Ian said. "She doesn't know how to express whatever the reason is. Maybe we should take a break before she gets too burned out to talk to us at all."
Dulcie nodded. She cleared the board. "MISTY FISH NOW QUESTION." Does Misty want some fish now?
Misty came back to the surface and hit "YES".
"Finish her feed," Dulcie told Ian. "Then come into the office. We've still got a long way to go."
* * * * *
The sky glowed gold, rose, and lavender. In half an hour, dusk would turn to full night.
"We know more than we did," Fox said. "We know the dolphins, and presumably all cetaceans, want people out of the water. Or we think we know that, anyway."
Pangborn nodded. "It's a good operating hypothesis, and it's damned good results for one day's work. But we don't know why, and without that, we don't know how to negotiate."
Dulcie stifled a yawn. She had never been so tired, but she was too upset and bewildered to go home and sleep. "They never attacked us when we killed them for food, or when the Japanese fishermen slaughtered them every year at Iki Island, or when we filled their environment with toxins. They didn't ram the Makah ships in Puget Sound when they started whaling again in the late 1990s. Did we just pass some kind of threshold? Have we dumped in one barrel too many of toxic waste?"
"It would help if we could identify something, anything, that has changed in the past month, or maybe few months," Fox said. "I mean, there are more strandings than usual, and more whale and dolphin carcasses showing up near shore, but that kind of trend has happened before, never with results like these. For something on this scale, it would have to be something really big, something huge."
"We'll use a two‑pronged attack," Pangborn said. "Lieutenant Fox, focus on studying Doctor Huber's behavioral logs and the necropsy reports from stranded animals. See if you can come up with a reason. Doctor Huber, we'll work together to try to come up with ways to use the keyboard's limited vocabulary to see what else your dolphins can tell us."
To Dulcie, Fox said, "You have someone collating your behavioral reports?"
"Shit," Dulcie said. "I forgot. Ian, we need someone to go through the last few months of behavioral reports and see if we can pull out any anomalies, especially any stable changes in behavior. Would you get someone on that? And then go home. You look beat."
"Look who's talking," Ian said, smiling. He got up and left.
"I've done some necropsies on animals stranded in the last month," Fox said, setting up his laptop on Dulcie's small office table. "And I have access to dozens more in the Navy's online database. At the time, I was still looking for a rabies‑like virus. I'll take another look at my reports and see if I missed anything."
"I'll send out for coffee," Pangborn said. "This is going to be a late night."
Ian burst back into the office. "Dulcie," he said in a low voice. "Come out and take a look at this. Quietly."
Pangborn and Fox rose to their feet.
The four of them slipped out of the office and crept up a staircase to the observation deck that overlooked the tanks.
"There's not a lot of light," he whispered, "but look at Boomer and Hannah." The two dolphins were in the nearest tank, lazily cavorting and caressing as they often did after research sessions. They fondled each other's genital slits with their elongated snouts, then pressed their abdomens together.
"This isn't the time ‑‑" Dulcie began in a sharp whisper, but Fox held his hand up.
"Wait," he said. "Look. That's typical foreplay, right? And the female is rolling her belly toward the male's, inviting copulation. He's pressing against her, but ‑‑"
"Nothing's happening," Ian said. "They aren't mating."
"Check the behavioral logs," Dulcie said. "See if anyone else noted something similar." Softly, to herself, "No pregnancies this year."
"No pregnancies anywhere," Fox said heavily. "At other facilities, I mean. We've been to all the facilities on the west coast. I didn't think it was relevant, but I noticed. Lots of sex play, but no pregnancies. Maybe there's no copulation going on."
"But why?" Dulcie asked.
"That," Pangborn said, "is what we're going to find out."
* * * * *
A few hours later, after putting together a list of possible questions they could pose with the keyboard, Dulcie poured the cold dregs of her tea into her mug. "May I assume," she said, "that your explanation of why you were asking about behavioral anomalies earlier was bullshit? That you weren't checking out the stability of the environment, but looking for clues as to what's making cetaceans so nuts out there?"
"We needed to gather data," Pangborn said without a hint of apology.
"And you guys have been to a lot of dolphin labs, right? So what have you found elsewhere?"
Fox looked up from his laptop. "Nothing obvious. But after the research reports were collated, we found a slightly decreased learning curve in pretty much all the facilities over the past eight months or so. Hard to find statistical significance there, because there's so much individual variation in how fast a dolphin learns a given task, but a lot of folks were surprised, in hindsight, that their animals weren't picking up tasks faster. That and the lack of pregnancies." He looked at Dulcie. "Have you noticed slower learning curves here too?"
"Actually," Dulcie said slowly, "I think we have. It's weird, but usually once the first dolphin learns a brand‑new task, subsequent dolphins pick it up much more quickly. Maybe they heard or saw what was going on, or maybe we figured out how to teach it to the first one and so our teaching curve improved. But I haven't noticed that recently. It takes the second, third, and fourth dolphins nearly as long to learn the task as it took the first one. I guess I never really thought about it before now, but I did think it was a little odd."
Fox sat back, rubbing his brow. "One thing I've noticed in these necropsy reports from the past few years. Typically when we find stranded cetaceans in the early spring, a certain percentage are pregnant. It's common to see entire pods stranded ‑‑ healthy animals as well as sick ones ‑‑ so we get a good cross‑section of the population's health, morbid as that sounds. The percentage of pregnancies has been steadily decreasing over the past five years. I haven't seen a necropsy of a pregnant animal in over a year now. So it may not be a localized phenomenon."
"Let's say that maybe they've become sterile," Pangborn said. "Could they be aware of that? And if they are, could they actually blame us for that? That's pretty deep deductive reasoning ‑‑ are they capable?"
"We haven't really found limits to what they're capable of," Dulcie said. "We're mostly limited by budgets, time, and our own creativity. If we had a perfect communication system, who knows what we'd discover they could do?"
"So you think it's possible."
"At least as possible as all cetaceans banding together and declaring war on humanity."
Fox shook his head. "But what does it all mean?"
Dulcie tried to stifle a huge yawn, and failed. "It means it's time to get some rest. I've done as much as I can do today."
"I have to caution you against speaking about this to anyone," Pangborn said. "We can't afford for this information to get out prematurely."
"Don't worry," Dulcie said grumpily. "I'll be sleeping here anyway. I keep a cot in my office for these late nights. So if you gentlemen will excuse me, I'll see you in the morning."
"We'll be back at seven a.m.," Pangborn said, standing up. "I'll leave three units ‑‑ guards ‑‑ posted to be sure nothing goes wrong during the night."
She bit back an angry retort.
"Good night, Doctor Huber," Fox said.
* * * * *
Dulcie had hoped that sleep would bring temporary amnesia of the previous day's events. But as soon as her alarm went off, her mind snapped into focus. Grief poured through her. She found herself sobbing. Could she really have lost her friendship with Misty? With Sport, whom she'd always thought of as a nephew?
She felt incredibly lonely.
Rachel would understand -- but Dulcie didn't dare call her, or any of her other colleagues. Not with her signature on that NDA, and those Navy guards right outside. Pangborn struck her as a hardened pragmatist. He wouldn't hesitate to arrest her if she broke her silence.
"We have to find an answer," she whispered, heaving her aching body out of her folding cot. Her foot throbbed under its bandages. "I can't have lost them for good."
She was just finishing breakfast when the Navy jeep arrived. Seven a.m. sharp.
"We ready to take another crack at that keyboard?" Pangborn asked. He looked as fit and alert as he had late the night before, which made Dulcie even crankier. She felt like a wreck, mind bleary, emotions running on full steam.
A Navy guard poked his head into Dulcie's office. "Sir? We got something you should see."
"I'll be back." Pangborn followed him out the door.
"You got any of that leftover pizza?" Fox asked, stretching in his chair. "I didn't have a chance to grab breakfast."
"In the mini‑fridge. It's pretty good, huh?"
"It's a damned miracle," he said with a tired grin. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you have that gluten thing too ‑‑ I run into a lot of people who do. After years abstaining from wheat, there is just nothing like a slice of real pizza. Those rice‑flour crusts just didn't hack it. I can't tell you how excited I was when they first put Bg wheat on the market."
"No kidding," Dulcie said. "Sometimes I wish I'd gone into genetic engineering instead of animal language research, just so I'd understand what the hell they were doing."
He snorted. "I don't think they know what the hell they're doing some of the time. I'm just grateful that they gave me back my pizza. And pastrami sandwiches."
"And sourdough. So what's the deal with Pangborn? Is he always this big an asshole?"
Startled, Fox glanced over at her. "Oh, he's not so bad. He's pretty much career military, and they don't believe in giving a lot of explanations. Sometimes they don't understand why everyone else doesn't see things their way. But he's a sharp guy, even if dolphins aren't his area of specialty."
"What is his specialty?"
Fox shrugged. "Not sure. But he has a reputation for getting problems solved. He's a pretty decent guy. I think he was the one who argued for trying to find a bloodless solution, instead of just starting an all‑out offensive against whales and dolphins. And after that whole debacle with Sport, he actually took me aside and asked if there was anything else he should know about dolphins and that conscious/unconscious business. It wasn't exactly an apology, but it was clear that he wanted to avoid repeating any errors."
"So what did you tell him?"
"That cetaceans don't actually sleep, not in the sense we're used to, so true unconsciousness is an unnatural state for them. That there's evidence that they doze with one half of their brain at a time when they rest, and that they take little two‑ or three‑minute catnaps at the surface sometimes. And, um," Fox colored slightly, "about erections."
Dulcie's own cheeks heated. "What about them?"
"You know, that males have complete voluntary control over their erections, so they don't get boners when they're unconscious." He looked away and took a bite of cold pizza.
"You know that for sure now? I'd heard theories ‑‑"
"It's a hard thing to prove ‑‑ whoops, sorry, I mean a difficult thing to prove." He laughed self‑consciously. "The only chances we get to observe unconscious dolphins are in surgical situations, where they wouldn't be prone to sexual response anyway. But it's the theory of record, based on the idea that cetaceans need to maintain their streamlining except in special circumstances, like mating."
Dulcie sat quietly for a moment, then said, "I wonder why they just believed it."
"My dolphins. I wonder why they believed the war message."
Fox shrugged. "Maybe dolphins can't lie. I mean, sonar lets them look into each other's bodies, so maybe they never learned deceit."
"Or maybe," she said, "this message was so serious, so awful, that they knew it couldn't be a lie."
Pangborn returned, looking even stonier than usual. "Any progress?"
Fox straightened in his chair. Nibbling on a piece of cold pizza, he gestured at his laptop. "I'm waiting on some blood sample reports from the lab. Should be here soon. The only possible lead I've found has to do with the brain tissue of stranded animals. A lot of necropsy reports talk about lesions in the brain tissue, like you'd expect from Morbillivirus, a virus that caused a lot of cetacean illnesses and deaths about ten, fifteen years ago. But there are some inconsistencies ‑‑ the new ones don't really seem to match typical Morbillivirus lesions. Which makes me wonder if maybe something else made them, and they were misdiagnosed. I wish I could do some of those necropsies over again."
"Well, you're in luck," Pangborn said grimly. "That wild dolphin we brought in yesterday died during the night."
The blood drained from Dulcie's face. "What?! But ‑‑ but how? Why?"
"That's what Lieutenant Fox is going to determine," Pangborn said. "I'm having the carcass moved to a nearby medical lab. It should be there within the hour."
"On my way," Fox said, swallowing the last bite of pizza and grabbing his vet's bag.
Perversely, Dulcie felt both relieved and guilty about the dead dolphin. The sooner they had an answer to this puzzle, the sooner things would get back to normal. Maybe it was worth one death to put things right. But if a wild dolphin could be struck down unexpectedly here, what about her own dolphins?
"Doctor," Pangborn said, "the situation seems to be more urgent than we realized. We need to get to work. You ready?"
"Ready enough," she muttered, grabbing the list of questions from her desk. Just a mental puzzle, she told herself. She couldn't afford to deal with the enormity of the situation just yet. "I ‑‑ I think we should start where we left off yesterday."
Pangborn nodded. "I want to focus on finding ways to negotiate."
"We have to find out what they want first," Dulcie said. "Besides us out of the water."
Ian had arrived early to supervise the dolphins' morning feed. Dulcie called him over to pilot the keyboard.
"Start out with MISTY BLOW BUBBLES," Dulcie said. "Something easy before we tackle the hard stuff."
Ian keyed in the command. Misty sank down to the tankside window and loosed a stream of bubbles from her blowhole. Ian tossed her a fish.
"Now MISTY REPORT. DOLPHINS WANT PEOPLE OUT."
As soon as the underwater keys lit up, Misty hit "YES YES YES PEOPLE OUT."
"Let's explore illness and pregnancy," Pangborn said. "Those are the two possible causes of aggression that Fox has come up with so far."
"MISTY REPORT," Dulcie instructed Ian. "MISTY BABY LATER?" Are you pregnant?
Misty's head jerked. "NO."
"HANNAH BABY LATER?"
Dulcie ran through the rest of the female dolphins; Misty reported that none were pregnant.
"We already know that," Pangborn said, scowling.
"But we didn't know that she knew that," Dulcie said. "One more, Ian: DOLPHIN BABY LATER? I want to generalize."
Again, Misty hit "NO."
Dulcie's heart tightened. "Ask her for more information."
Misty squawked. "DOLPHIN BABY LATER NOT."
"She's just repeating what you said," Pangborn said.
"I know," Dulcie said. "That's good. It means she's tracking. Okay, Ian. Try this: MISTY SICK?"
Misty hovered in front of the keyboard, undecided. Finally she hit "NO."
"What about the males?" Pangborn asked.
Misty hesitated, floating in front of the NO button. She turned her head and hit "YES."
Dulcie ran through the other males, except for Sport ‑‑ she didn't want to upset Misty any more. Misty reported that both other males were sick, while all five females were not.
"Have you noticed any abnormal behavior in the males?" Pangborn asked.
"No," Dulcie said, mystified. "They aren't acting sick."
"We should move on. We need to find something to bargain with."
They spent another hour trying to find out if there was anything else the dolphins wanted, but Misty would only repeat that they wanted PEOPLE OUT.
* * * * *
Fox returned in the early afternoon. He was frowning.
"What did you find out?" Dulcie asked.
"Those brain lesions ‑‑ they're definitely not Morbillivirus."
"So what did cause them?"
"I'm not sure. All I can say is that something seems to be killing dolphin brain cells. I've sent blood samples to a Navy medical lab. Sir, I used your name to make sure they got top priority. They should be emailing me the results any time now ‑‑ I'd better get on the laptop and patch into the Navy intranet."
In Dulcie's office, Fox settled himself at his laptop and checked his email. "Hey, they're in already. Looks like your name carries some clout, sir." He scanned the report intently. "Now that's ‑‑ how strange."
"What?" Pangborn said impatiently.
Dulcie frowned. Where had she heard that recently? Then she remembered. "That's that bacterium in Bg wheat, the symbiont that produces those enzymes. I read about it in an article about genetic engineering. But it's only supposed to be able to survive in conjunction with wheat. It's supposed to die off without the proper host."
"I know. But here it is, in high concentrations, especially in the gut samples. I can't explain it."
"What if," Dulcie said softly, "what if those bacteria can produce other things besides enzymes. What if in combination with wheat, they're relatively harmless, but when they're combined with algae, or plankton, or even herring and smelt ‑‑ which they're not supposed to be able to live with ‑‑ they end up producing a whole other set of chemicals."
Fox leaned back, rubbing at his temple. "Jesus. We could be drugging the entire ocean."
"Bt corn," Dulcie said. "It's supposed to disrupt the development of corn borer larvae. But by accident, it also happened to damage Monarch butterfly caterpillars too. An unexpected side‑effect. By the time they figured out what was going on, Bt corn accounted for over twenty‑five percent of the corn being grown worldwide ‑‑ and farmers refused to stop using it. I mean, you try telling a farmer to plant a kind of corn that will get eaten up by pests, instead of a kind that will produce a good yield. Same thing with Bg wheat. It's so much cheaper than traditional strains that it's just about everywhere."
"But how would this Bg bacterium get into the ocean?" Pangborn asked.
"Oh, a million ways," Fox said. "In human and animal feces. In the chaff that gets dumped into rivers that feed into the ocean. Bg wheat is extremely pervasive now, all over the world."
"If we can identify the problem," Pangborn said, "then we can devise a solution. Assuming Bg wheat really is the problem, we need to figure out what chemicals the bacteria produce in the oceans, and what effect those chemicals have on cetaceans."
An elusive thought was forming in Dulcie's mind. "They were sort of sluggish last night," she murmured, frowning. "They've been sluggish a lot lately, come to think of it. And it took Sport so long to recover from that tranquilizer, almost as if ‑‑"
"‑‑ as if he had already been drugged," Fox said with growing excitement. "With some kind of sedative. Maybe the bacteria, when combined with ocean flora, produce a soporific. Whales would be struggling just to stay awake."
Dulcie's jaw dropped. "They're dying because they're falling asleep. Breathing is a voluntary function, so if they fall deeply asleep, they suffocate and die. And if they only fall asleep for a short time and wake up ‑‑"
"‑‑then they end up with brain damage, just like a person who stops breathing for several minutes, which would account for those brain lesions in the necropsies," Fox finished for her. "And it gets worse and worse, because we're just pouring more and more bacteria into the oceans every day."
"I read an article on Bg wheat just a couple of days ago," Dulcie said. "The bacteria, they're supposed to help relax and strengthen the digestive tract, right? The people marketing Bg wheat tell us the bacteria produce enzymes to do that, but maybe they produce muscle relaxants, sedatives, in minute amounts. So maybe the bacteria produce more sedatives in combination with, say, algae than they do with wheat."
"That would explain the death of the wild dolphin we brought in," Fox said. "She's been out in the open ocean, possibly exposed to higher levels of Bg bacteria than your animals here."
"Wait a minute," Dulcie said. Her skin buzzed. "There's another piece to this puzzle. Didn't you say that erectile function is voluntary, like breathing?"
"And isn't it possible that these chemicals, these soporifics, inhibit a male dolphin's ability to maintain an erection, since it is a conscious, voluntary act?"
"No pregnancies," Fox muttered.
Dulcie closed her eyes. "Double whammy. Russian roulette with falling asleep, and if that wasn't bad enough, they can't breed."
"Surely this couldn't be true across the board," Pangborn said. "In any population, there would be a bell curve of effects. Even if these chemicals are affecting the majority of cetacean populations, there have to be some immune animals."
"Maybe not enough," Fox said. "Maybe they can't adapt fast enough to deal with the increasing levels of Bg bacteria."
"Especially in conjunction with toxins and diseases that have already weakened their immune systems," Dulcie said. "We've been poisoning the oceans for years."
Pangborn rolled his eyes.
"It's true," she insisted. "Lieutenant Fox can tell you that necropsies show increasing levels of heavy metals and toxins, not just in cetaceans, but in all ocean life. My God, how desperate they must be ‑‑ they're dying randomly, and they can't have babies. This must have been building for years, until it got to such a catastrophic level that they had to take action."
"And they believe we're responsible," Fox said. "Which is fair enough, really."
Dulcie said, "And they also think that evicting us from their territory will fix everything, which it won't. They're just trying to find a solution to a crisis they have no way of comprehending."
"You know," Fox said, "if all this is true, and they're suffering the effects of being constantly over‑sedated, then maybe we can counteract the effects with stimulants."
Dulcie snorted. "Dolphins on speed."
"Or caffeine. Or even epinephrine. Anything that would allow them to breed, at least."
"How could we possibly make enough?" Dulcie asked. "The oceans are huge. There are millions of cetaceans, and they all need help now. It probably took several years for the bacteria to build to such a lethal level."
"We may not need as long to repair the damage."
"All this is moot if we can't get them to stop attacking us," Pangborn said. "They won't live long enough to see a cure. Doctor Huber, we should discuss ways to explain to your dolphins that we understand the problem, and we can help them, but only if they stop trying to evict us from the ocean. If we don't find a way to get that message into the wild populations soon, it will be too late."
"I'll head back to the med lab and see if I can't argue them into some more tests," Fox said. "We need more to go on than conjecture. I'll get algae and seaweed samples to start with, see if I can find or breed some live Bacillus granieri in them."
* * * * *
"I don't like it," Dulcie said.
Pangborn took a moment before he responded. As always, his tone was even. "This is the message that we have to deliver. This comes from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. We are in the power position, and we have to make it clear that we won't be pushed around."
"Not threats. All we're doing is offering to help, contingent on their ceasing their attacks. We need to frame the offer in a positive way, while still maintaining a solid position."
Dulcie looked down at the paper in front of her, which was covered with scribbles and crossed‑out phrases.
"You think they'll understand?"
She rubbed the creases in her forehead. "I don't know. These words on the buttons ‑‑ they're just our version of what we're trying to say. We don't know how dolphins conceptualize the words. Maybe SICK to us is DYING to them. Maybe HEAL to us means UNPLEASANT VET VISIT to them. Maybe they can't get the idea of negotiation. Maybe they won't get OR as cause‑and‑effect, just as choices."
With the look of a man whose patience has been sorely tried for many days, Pangborn said, "We have to do something. I'm due to report back to my office by seventeen hundred hours today. That's two hours from now."
* * * * *
"And here we are again," Dulcie said, staring at Misty through the tank window. The dolphin floated in front of the keyboard, waiting.
"We ready?" Ian asked.
"Sure." She glanced at Pangborn, who remained impassive. "Be sure to give her plenty of fish as we go. We'll start with MISTY REPORT: DOLPHINS WANT PEOPLE OUT."
Misty hit "YES YES."
"MISTY REPORT: DOLPHINS WANT DOLPHINS SICK NOT." Dolphins don't want to be sick.
Misty jerked back in surprise. Cautiously, she pressed "YES."
"Does she understand?" Pangborn asked.
"We better hope so," Dulcie said. "Ian, try PEOPLE WANT HEAL DOLPHINS, AND, PEOPLE OUT NOT." We want to help you, but we aren't leaving the water.
Misty squawked. Her eyes bugged out.
The dolphin just floated.
"I think she's confused," Ian said.
"Let's try it another way. DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT, AND, PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS. UNDERSTAND?" We'll help you if you stop trying to push us out of the water.
Still she just floated.
"We're really pushing the grammar and vocabulary." Ian seemed tense. "She may not be able to stretch this far."
"Try this," Dulcie said. "DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT, AND, PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS NOT. LATER, DOLPHINS SICK MORE. UNDERSTAND?" If you keep pushing us out, we won't help you, and you'll just get sicker.
Misty moved forward. "DOLPHINS SICK."
"Give her some fish. Now, DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT."
She squawked and hit "NO NO PEOPLE OUT."
"Can we explain to her that people's presence in the water isn't what's making dolphins sick?" Ian mused.
"We can try." Dulcie thought, then murmured, "PEOPLE IN, AND, DOLPHINS SICK NOT. DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOW, AND, DOLPHINS SICK LATER." Our being in the water isn't making you sick. And even if you push us out, you'll still be sick.
Misty's eyes widened, a sign of stress and surprise.
"DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT NOW," Dulcie said. "PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS LATER. UNDERSTAND?"
Misty slapped her tail on the water's surface.
"She's agitated," Ian said.
"UNDERSTAND?" Dulcie repeated.
Reluctantly, Misty touched, "YES PEOPLE OUT PEOPLE OUT."
"She understands," Ian said, "but I don't think she agrees to the terms."
"Tell her that we're not going anywhere," Pangborn said. "Tell her that no matter what, we won't leave the water."
"Admiral, I ‑‑"
"Just do it. We're running out of time."
Dulcie's eyes narrowed. "PEOPLE OUT NOT," she said. "DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT, AND, PEOPLE OUT NOT."
Misty clapped her jaws.
"DOLPHINS HIT PEOPLE, AND, PEOPLE OUT NOT," Dulcie said. "DOLPHINS WANT PEOPLE OUT, AND, PEOPLE OUT NOT. Ian, clear the board. Now hit PEOPLE OUT NOT. FINAL ANSWER."
Misty rammed the keyboard, almost breaking the "NO" button.
"DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT, AND, PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS. UNDERSTAND?" If you stop attacking us, we'll help you.
Rolling an eye at the keyboard, Misty sank to the bottom of the tank.
"She's really upset," Ian said.
"I don't blame her," Dulcie said. "Try DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT, AND, DOLPHINS BABY LATER. MISTY BABY LATER."
"But she can't see the keyboard," Pangborn said.
"She can hear it. Each button has a corresponding sound, remember?"
Ian hit the keys.
Misty came to the surface slowly, and exhaled explosively. "BABY LATER QUESTION."
Dulcie's spine melted in relief. "YES. Give her some fish."
Misty ignored the fish. "MISTY WANT PEOPLE OUT."
"PEOPLE OUT NOT. FINAL ANSWER."
Misty floated backwards slowly.
"I think she understands," Dulcie said.
"We have to see if she can transmit that message to other dolphins," Pangborn said.
"I'll go to Sport's tank," Dulcie said. "When I give the signal, key in MISTY TELL SPORT REPEAT: PEOPLE OUT NOT. PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS. Then we'll have Sport report on what Misty told him." She got in place at the keyboard by Sport's tank and signaled Ian, who hit the keys.
Misty slowly swam to the gate between the tanks and exchanged lengthy vocalizations with Sport, ending by clapping her jaws at him. He retreated toward his keyboard.
Wide‑eyed, he jabbed at the keyboard. "PEOPLE OUT NOT. PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS."
"On the first try," Dulcie muttered. She blew her dog‑whistle and tossed him a few fish.
"Good," Pangborn said. "Very good. Now we just need to get them to transmit that message to wild cetaceans."
"How are you going to do that?" Dulcie asked with a frown. "Your messenger dolphin died." She saw the look on his face and stood abruptly. "Oh, no. Not a chance."
"Doctor Huber, if I don't have substantial results for my superiors, today, then hundreds of whales and dolphins will be dead by this time tomorrow. By next week, hundreds of thousands. By next month, all of them. Do you want that to happen?"
"You're not taking my dolphins anywhere," Dulcie said, eyes narrowed.
"It's a short trip," he said. "A half‑hour at most. All we need to do is get them into the Naval sea‑pens on the coast and have them transmit their message. It's the only way. We haven't been able to collect any additional wild dolphins. And our time has just about run out."
"Actually, it might work out better this way. We can bring the keyboards with us and maybe even be able to negotiate right there on the coast. Your dolphins will be back here before dark. Now, how long will it take to drain the tank?"
"Aren't you listening to me? I said no!"
"It's not much of a risk to your animals," he said. "And it could be the deciding factor between peace and military retaliation against cetaceans. Can you really look yourself in the mirror if you condemn every living whale to death?"
Dulcie opened her mouth, but nothing came out. He was right, and she hated him for it. "One dolphin. You can take one."
He weighed his choices, then nodded. "All right. One. But that one has to be Misty."
"I know," Dulcie said, despising him, and hating herself even more.
* * * * *
Within the hour, Misty was loaded onto a military truck, Dulcie by her side.
"I'm sorry, hon," Dulcie said, her heart breaking. "It won't take long. Just think of all the good you'll be doing."
Thick tears leaked from Misty's eyes. Repeating her distress whistle softly, she hung limp in the dolphin transport.
Dulcie wanted badly to hug Misty, to reassure her, but she wasn't sure her touch would be welcome. Tentatively, she laid her hand on Misty's side. The dolphin flinched. Dulcie pulled back, fighting tears.
The sea‑pens were on a rocky coastline, inside a naval base. Dulcie ignored the scenery and concentrated on hosing Misty down, keeping her skin wet and cool.
The truck stopped.
"We're here," Fox said, peeking in the back. "Just need to unload her and get the keyboards set up."
Dulcie hid her face. "Yeah. Whatever." Numbly, she climbed out of the truck and watched the Navy guards efficiently pull Misty out and carry her along a wide wooden pier beside fenced‑in sections of shallows. They slid her into the water carefully.
Dulcie hurried over to make sure Misty was all right. The dolphin swam around the fenced enclosure, baffled and uncertain.
"She hasn't seen the ocean in decades," Dulcie said, to no one in particular. "I don't know if she even remembers it."
"She'll be all right," Fox said.
Before Dulcie knew it, the large keyboard had been lowered into the water, hanging from the pier, and the smaller one was set up under a Plexiglas shield on the pier.
"Doctor Huber," Pangborn called. "We need you over here."
Dulcie forced herself to walk over to the keyboard. A metal bucket of fish sat beside the chair. Automatically, she said, "We should offer her some fish. Start with something positive."
"MISTY WANT FISH QUESTION," Dulcie keyed.
At the familiar sounds, Misty jerked. She looked at the keyboard in the water.
"She's probably in shock," Dulcie whispered. "I'll try again. MISTY WANT FISH QUESTION."
Misty cocked an eye at her, then hit "YES."
Dulcie dumped in a handful of herring, but Misty ignored them. The fish sank to the bottom, lost between the rocks.
"MISTY SQUIRT," Dulcie keyed.
Automatically, Misty took a mouthful of water and sent a small spray in front of her.
Dulcie blew her whistle and tossed in another couple of herring. Misty mouthed them but let them drop.
"We should move on," Fox said quietly. "Keep her distracted, keep her attention on the keyboard while we have her."
Pangborn nodded. "Go ahead, Doctor. Give her the instruction again."
Dulcie keyed, "DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT, AND, DOLPHINS BABY LATER. MISTY BABY LATER."
Misty just floated there, watching her.
"DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT, AND, DOLPHINS BABY LATER. MISTY BABY LATER. UNDERSTAND?"
Misty nudged the "YES" button.
"Launch the boat," Pangborn said. Six Navy staff took an old beat‑up rowboat weighed down with sacks of sand, and pushed it into the water, playing out the line as it drifted further out.
"Why?" Dulcie asked.
Pangborn said, "To attract their attention. They don't let boats go far unmolested."
"Look," Fox said, pointing out to sea.
A half‑dozen common dolphins, their sides patched with gray and white, broke the surface in unison as they leaped into the air a few hundred feet out into the ocean. They swam straight for the rowboat.
"We have our audience," Fox said.
"MISTY TELL DOLPHINS: DOLPHINS PUSH PEOPLE OUT NOT, AND, DOLPHINS BABY LATER. MISTY BABY LATER."
Misty ducked her head underwater. She vocalized loudly, in chirrups, buzzes, and whistles.
The common dolphins slowed down, then veered from the rowboat and swam closer to the sea‑pen's fencing. They clapped their jaws underwater, vocalizing back furiously.
"Make sure they understand that us leaving the water won't fix their problems."
"MISTY TELL DOLPHINS: PEOPLE IN NOT, AND, DOLPHINS HEAL NOT."
"Try another one," Pangborn said. "Make it clear that they need our help, and that we're not leaving the water."
"MISTY TELL DOLPHINS: PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS. PEOPLE OUT NOT."
Misty and the wild dolphins continued vocalizing for a long time. Finally, the common dolphins drifted away.
"How will they get the message to the rest of their troops?" Dulcie asked.
Pangborn shrugged. "In whatever way the message of war was disseminated. There must be a communication mechanism."
"MISTY DESCRIBE," Dulcie keyed.
Slowly, Misty floated back to the keyboard. "MISTY SWIM."
"MISTY DESCRIBE BEFORE."
"MISTY TELL DOLPHINS PEOPLE HEAL DOLPHINS DOLPHINS BABY LATER." A moment later, "MISTY TELL DOLPHINS PEOPLE OUT NOT."
Dulcie tossed in some more herring. Misty just watched as they settled onto the rocks below.
* * * * *
To Dulcie's surprise, the Navy staff were able to recapture Misty without a fuss. An hour later, she was back in her own tank. She drifted around the water, hardly moving. From time to time, she sent out a plaintive distress whistle.
"She's exhausted," Fox said. "She's had a very busy day."
"No kidding," Dulcie said, rubbing her brow in the hopes of relieving the headache that was building there.
"That's all we can do for now," Pangborn said. "I've apprised my superiors of what we've done. Now we wait." He hesitated. "Doctor Huber, I want to thank you for your cooperation. You've done a great service for your country. I hope that the work we've done allows us to avoid any further violence."
"Me too," she said, staring at Misty.
"The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations is impressed with what we've accomplished in such a short period of time. They have agreed to wait forty-eight hours before launching an offensive. If the attacks diminish sufficiently before then, we will have done our job."
Dulcie nodded, unable to focus her thoughts. "That's good."
"Doctor," Fox said, "I'd like to suggest that you spike the evening feed with some kind of stimulant." He held up a large bottle of time‑release caffeine pills. "It's a place to start."
"Thanks," Dulcie said, taking the bottle. "I'll think about it."
"Sir," Fox said softly, "maybe we should leave now. We can check back in the morning."
"We'll be back at seven a.m.," Pangborn said. "Good night, Doctor."
"Good night," Fox echoed.
She nodded and waved, unable to form words.
After a while, she realized it had grown dark, and she was shivering. She still held the bottle of pills in her hand.
She found Ian in the fish‑room, sorting fish for the evening feed. She set the bottle on the counter. "Each dolphin gets a half‑pill," she said in a monotone. "To be on the safe side."
"You all right? How'd it go at the Naval base?"
"It went fine. I just need some rest."
"Go on home," Ian said. "I'll take care of things here. Don't worry."
As Dulcie passed by Misty's tank, she saw the dolphin watching. She crouched down and pressed her hand against the thick Plexiglas.
"Will you ever forgive me?" she whispered.
Misty went to the underwater keyboard. Dulcie automatically went to the smaller keyboard, lit by the lab's floodlights.
"ALL DONE," Misty keyed, her traditional end‑of‑day farewell.
Dulcie started sniffling. "ALL DONE." She left before she started sobbing in earnest.
* * * * *
That night, Dulcie dreamed she was walking along the beach. The surf rolled in slow and green‑gray under a shadowed sky.
A wave built, far out to sea, a dark wave capped with foam. It drove closer, grew taller, seethed with movement.
In the dream, her knees buckled. She collapsed onto the sand.
Bodies shot out of the water, onto the shore, dozens, hundreds, thousands of bodies of different sizes, shapes, colors. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, all drove up onto the beach, piling themselves layer upon layer, struggling to push themselves out further, and still they came, filling the beach as far as she could see with writhing forms, crushed by the weight on top of them.
Dulcie woke, skin buzzing with shock and disbelief. Just a dream, she told herself. She wrestled out of the sodden bedclothes and stumbled into the kitchen for a glass of water.
It was early, but her nightmare spooked her from going back to sleep. She meandered through the morning, eating breakfast, taking a shower so hot her skin kept sweating for ten minutes after she got out, filling her head with music, television, ideas for extending the keyboard research so they could keep communicating with the wild cetaceans, in case yesterday's message didn't get through.
At one point, she found herself sitting at the table, shoulders heavy, holding a hot mug of strong black tea, wondering what would happen now. She wanted to tell her friends at other facilities what was going on here, get them to spread the word, post this nasty secret on online bulletin boards, get a public uproar going to force the government to do everything it could ‑‑ but there was that NDA she'd signed. She didn't want to find out what military prisons were like.
She pulled up to the dolphin lab at around 7:00, on a bright but hazy morning. Military vehicles told her that Pangborn and Fox were already there.
When she opened the door and walked in, the first thing that struck her was stillness. No groggy, chatting volunteers or interns, no bustling around with research equipment.
Ian, Fox, and Pangborn sat on a bench near the tanks, talking quietly. Ian's fair skin was flushed, especially around his eyes. Fox's face looked dark and angry. Pangborn looked the same as always.
On hearing her come in, Ian looked up. "Dulce..." he said, but he couldn't go on.
Ice fingers walked up her spine. "What?" she asked. "What happened?"
"I'm sorry," Fox said. He glanced at the tanks. "We just got here, but ‑‑ well, it's already too late."
Dulcie rushed over to tankside. The tanks were being drained and were now only three feet deep. Three dolphins had been gated into the nearest tank: Misty and Hannah, supporting Sport's lax body.
A soft, continuous distress whistle filled Dulcie's ears.
"No," Dulcie said, or tried to. She couldn't breathe. She glared at Fox. "Why didn't you get him out? Jesus, we have to get him ‑‑"
"Dulcie," Fox said. "It's too late. Look at his eyes."
She looked in, saw Sport's brown eyes, open, vacant, filmed. His mouth was lax, his pink tongue sliding out one side. "But how? We gave them those caffeine pills last night! They should have been okay!"
"He's young," Fox said. "He got tranquilized yesterday, got hit with a stimulant, then more drugged fish and another stimulant. Maybe it was just more than his system could take. Won't know for sure until we do a necropsy. Maybe not even then."
"They won't let us in anyway," Ian said, his lip twitching. "That's why we're draining the tanks."
Instinct pushed her to tankside, reaching one knee up onto the thick blue wall. Hannah rolled a wide eye, streaming with thick secretions, and squawked. Dulcie stopped, remembering what had happened last time she'd gotten in.
"Oh, Misty," she murmured.
There was no oxygen in the air. Her legs felt starved for blood. She stumbled over to the keyboard, tapped at it: "REQUEST PERSON IN."
Hannah squawked. Misty clapped her jaws. It took Dulcie a moment to realize Misty was jaw‑clapping at Hannah and not at her.
"REQUEST DULCIE IN," she keyed in, waiting for one of the dolphins to ram the "NO" button. They didn't.
Slowly, cautiously, she levered one leg into the water. Hannah's eyes bugged out, but she didn't charge.
"Misty," Dulcie said, moving toward them, grateful for the water's support, unsure how much longer she could carry all her own weight. Her sodden shorts swirled around her thighs.
Fox came up to tankside, rested his elbows on the broad concrete wall. "Doctor Huber ‑‑ I want you to know that the attacks are already tapering off. It seems we have a truce."
Dulcie stared down at Sport, the sleek gray skin. Dolphins looked almost the same dead as alive, their streamlined bodies and firm skin retaining their shape after death. Years ago, she'd watched a newborn calf die minutes after birth, and hadn't been able to pinpoint the moment of passing.
Fox said, "Admiral Pangborn and I have been working over possibilities for dealing with the Bg bacteria problem. We've got some proposals worked out, short‑term and long‑term."
Misty seemed so still, except for that plaintive whistle. Dolphins seemed to grieve differently from people ‑‑ no railing, no wailing, just this soft whistle, this slow swimming. As if more bewildered and confused than angry.
Fox said, "We figure that if we can show the wild cetaceans a pregnant female dolphin, that'll buy us ‑‑"
"Fox," Pangborn said, looking at Dulcie.
Fox shut up.
Dulcie reached over Misty and laid her hand on Sport's side, feeling the shallow, minute striations, like grooves on a record. Cool, now.
She walked along with Misty and Hannah as they drifted forward with slow movements of their tails, bearing the cold weight between them. Anger built inside her. She wanted to smash the walls of the tank. She wanted to shove Pangborn's face in, shout at him, make it all his fault. The anger cleared her mind, brought her thoughts into crystal focus.
"Doctor," Pangborn said, "Your work will save a lot of other lives. Shame we couldn't save this one too."
So many more will die no matter what, she thought. Maybe even whole species.
Pangborn said, "I want you to know that we're going to do all we can, given our resource constraints. For the rest."
She frowned. "Resource constraints? Aren't you throwing everything you've got at this?"
Pangborn and Fox exchanged a glance. "Cost‑benefit analysis," Pangborn said. "I had to convince my superiors that this approach would be substantially less costly than an all‑out attack. Now I've got to make sure it stays that way ‑‑ or else we'll go back to the original plan. Realistically, there's only so much we can spend on this issue. It's not the only thing the Navy has to worry about. But we will do everything we can."
Water sloshed over her hand, over Sport's corpse. She realized she no longer cared about the NDA. "Yes," she said, meeting Pangborn's eyes. "Yes, you will."
She had to get out, dry off, get to work. But it took all her strength to stop and let the dolphins move away from her. Her fingers trailed along Sport's sleek, still body, holding on until the very last moment, until he slipped from her hands.