Language Lessons

© Copyright 2011

Autumn, 1994


Florida, Miami

Puerto Rico, southwest coast


Sylvia’s niece Rissa sighed and snuggled more comfortably into the child’s bed in her room in her parents’ home in an upscale Miami suburb. Sylvia straightened from placing her there and laying a light blanket over her. Then she stood for a minute or two, looking down at Rissa.

What a difference her niece was today than when her sister-in-law had asked her to try helping Rissa. Then her niece’s muscles had been lax and her nerves unable to control them, slowly dying as they were in an Alzheimer’s-like illness. These days she was athletic, curious, full of energy, and hardy of constitution.

Sylvia smiled down at her. They’d had a full day with Rissa’s friends at a large coastal water-themed amusement park, along with two of the friend’s mothers. The mothers had stayed a bit in the background, often out of the bright sunlight from the blue sky, dutifully watchful. Sylvia had worn a modest bikini and splashed along with the girls, as agile as a dolphin even in her humanform. Rissa was near as agile, and her four friends were all adept in the water. Water sports were a big deal along the Florida coast.

Rissa was very proud to have an Everglades Champ for an aunt and claimed she wanted to be one too. Or maybe a ‘rine b’ologist like Sylvia.

Sylvia dimmed the lights and left, smiling still, leaving the door to Rissa’s room cracked a few inches so Sylvia could easily hear her niece if she needed something during the night.

Rissa and she had cuddled together on the living room couch watching kid’s programs. Sylvia turned off the TV and the lights there, walked to the kitchen for a glass of chilled rosé, and retired to her brother’s office. While he and his wife were in France on a two-week holiday Sylvia was staying in their house and babysitting. This not only gave her a chance to spend time with her niece and her mother but also to play with the latest computer equipment that her brother owned. A very successful investor, he needed to stay in touch with all the latest news and he was plugged in to that new phenomenon, the Telenet.

As with many technical innovations for the last hundred years it had been invented in Ireland and spread in that country even faster than railroads had a century earlier. Soon it spread further, to England and the rest of the British Empire, the most powerful polity in the world, made so in part by that industrial dynamo, Ireland.

The latest development Sylvia appreciated very much, the picture interface, which made "surfing" Telenet as simple as waving one’s finger at pictures on a screen, or typing on an imaginary keyboard laid on a tabletop. Sylvia was a bit old-fashioned and preferred an actual keyboard, but someday not too far away she would have to bite the bullet and learn to use a virtual keyboard.

For the last few days she had been searching back issues of the Ponce Daily News and the San Juan Post. She was studying the city and national police of Puerto Rico, how they were organized and who worked in them. She was going to need help finding detailed information on international South American sex slavery rings. Going back almost ten years she was slowly making a list of possible sources.


Two days later her brother and sister-in-law Amber returned from France, tanned and healthy. That night, a Sunday, they had a big backyard barbecue and feasted and opened all the presents. They’d even thought of getting one for their mother’s boyfriend, Meyer.

Rissa was near delirious with joy. All her favorite people were around her, and she got presents. She danced around, got in the way, asked innumerable questions when they showed slides from their trip on the side of the house, climbed the big oak tree and speculated about acrobatics on the big tree limb. Her mother declared that she would spank her butt if Rissa tried it. At that Rissa pouted — for all of thirty seconds.

The slides were not the usual boring shots, though many were of conventional subjects. Amber was a talented photographer with an unerring eye for composition and for a revealing view of a subject. Her slide show made Sylvia want to cover the same ground. Were the Provençal hills and valleys really that green, the air so clear, the villages of grey stone so beautiful?


The new dolphin’s sonar tickled and vibrated her insides, telling Sylvia that it had changed from looking at her outsides to her insides. Reflexively she stifled the tightness in her tonsils that let her know her body had been about to shapechange them into a matching sound transceiver, an ability that she had acquired more than a year ago with only a wish that she could talk to dolphins.

Instead she floated just below the surface of the sea in her little private bay on the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico and used her eyes to look it over. The late-afternoon sun which gilded the green of the water and the plants waving from the bottom gave her plenty of light. She did not have to increase the sensitivity of her eyes at all.

The dolphin was somewhat larger than most dolphins who made these P’Rican waters part of their hunting grounds, a mature male, probably a scout for a pod which was migrating in this direction.

The migration might be random. Or it might be because Sylvia’s habitual presence off the west and south coasts of Puerto Rico had made these waters safe from sharks. She still did not understand how sharks, unsocial and with little more intelligence than an insect, knew to stay away from these areas.

She tended toward the theory that her scent had stained the plants and bottom of the sea here too indelibly for easy dissolution, and that it gave them chills of fear and panic that cried out stealthy preying horror.

Which was the truth. Sylvia had a taste for shark, and regularly ripped one to pieces and devoured much of it, leaving what she didn’t gorge on for lesser predators. Her dense powerful muscles used a good deal of energy when she exerted them beyond the average. And when she ‘changed that also used a lot of energy.

This was especially so when she formed her diamond-hard fangs and claws. Changing them back to normal bone and flesh recovered some of the energy that created them but only a fraction. Her solution had been to make her claws permanent and retracted until she unsheathed them. Unfortunately this did not work for her fangs; there was too little real estate in her jaws to hide them there. But then she rarely used them except for threats, and usually her claws were quite enough for that.

Satisfied she might be dangerous but not to him, the dolphin politely approached her and gently bumped noses with her. Since dolphin’s noses were dangerous battering rams, this was the equivalent of shaking hands to declare peaceful intentions. Sylvia bumped back, but with her forehead. The tiny noses of humans would not be considered a threat.

Backing off a bit, the dolphin broached above the surface and squeaked at her. This was dolphins’ way of politely speaking the language of humans.

Sylvia broached also, loosened her snorkel enough to take a deep breath of air, then submerged. She intended to test out a new invention for talking to dolphins. She was fluent when she used the sound transceiver made of flesh at the back of her throat, but the invention would let all humans talk to dolphins.

She flicked one hand in a way that snapped a special keyboard into place near one hand and locked it there. Invented by an ArgenSpace engineer, it was played the way a piano keyboard was, up to five keys at once, one for each finger. It would be used eventually to "talk" dolphin fluently by spelling out sounds, but for now it just contained triggers for a few dozen phrases.

"Say baby talk. Not say good. This swimmer Sylvia."

Actually SYLVIA was a collection of dolphin sounds that a human would not hear as "Sylvia," but which a computer could transliterate as the sounds of her name. Thus dolphin and human sounds could be translated back and forth.

The dolphin answered by speaking baby talk to her. They talked for a half hour or so about simple subjects. But the dolphin humored her only so long before beginning to speak to her in fully nuanced dolphinese.

"You are the Shark Eater. Why do you pretend to be human?" Literally "two legs." "Are you tricking humans?"

"Yes." Sylvia flicked the keyboard into a rest position and let her tonsils ‘change to a transceiver so she could be fully fluent with him.

"Is this a harsh joke?" "Harsh jokes" were painful lessons for the benefit of the one the joke was played on.

"No. It is an important joke."

An "important joke" was not a lesson and not painful but it was more than merely funny. Jokes were an important part of dolphin temperament, but most were merely funny, entertainment.

"Will you share this joke with humans?"

"No. Or it will cease to be important."

This was as far as Sylvia could get to asking dolphins to keep her sea monster nature secret.

"The Shark Killer is a good friend to dolphins. We will be sure not to share this joke." Actually "good friend" was an approximate translation. The phrase implied that she was a distant relative whose welfare was important and who guarded the dolphins’ welfare.

"You dolphins are a good friend to the Shark Killer."

"Yes." Thus he sealed the bargain: she was family to them, they were family to her.

"There is a good feeding ground nearby." She then gave him directions to this natural fishery as a good family member should.

He acknowledged that this would feed his pod, which was now hers as well.

"Will you sleep with us?"

"No. I will sleep on land. I must go among humans for a time."

He came forward to bump nose to forehead, gave a flirt of his powerful fins, and disappeared from her eyesight though not from her esoteric sight.


Go to chapter fourteen, Healing.

© Copyright 2011


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