Puerto Rico, Space Island
just off the south coast
For the next few days Sylvia compiled her notes on the performance of the keyboard translator into a report. She spent much time also finishing the second draft of the dictionary and grammar of dolphinese, or at least the local dialect of it. These would go into Prinny’s book on dolphins.
It would make her book a document of great importance, the basis of real communication between humans and dolphins. Scholars in the future might say that the linguistic part of Prinny’s book should have gone into an academic journal. However, Sylvia wanted to reach a wide audience, which Prinny’s book would, with its famous co-author and the very beautiful paintings and photos by Prinny.
Also, Sylvia was not a linguist and could not do her subject the justice an expert in language could. She was like a native dolphinese speaker who did not know what parts of speech were or rules of spelling and pronunciation, but who also spoke English. She could give English-speaking linguists keys to unlocking the mysteries of dolphin language, and they would take it from there.
When Sylvia stepped off the multi-seat electric tram that ran near Prinny’s home she saw immediately that her plan for the afternoon would not work. Prinny came running out of the house, tears in her eyes.
The plan had been to merge her writing into the whole, which included other writing by herself and Prinny and Prinny’s photographs. The girl’s mother, a graphics arts and typography teacher at the Space Island high school, would then print out a full-color, typeset mockup of the final product. The book told the story of one particular band of dolphins, all of whom Prinny had given names from Shakespeare — where they traveled, where they ate and played, how dolphins made and raised families, their physiology, their language, and more.
Prinny collided with Sylvia, who enfolded her in her arms. "What’s wrong, dear? Quit crying now, and tell me."
"They killed Oberon! And they hurt Miranda!"
"Who did this?"
"Fishermen! They speared Miranda in her fin, and Oberon bit it so she could get loose. And they speared Oberon and dragged him till he died. And they ate him!"
Prinny’s mother Angelica hugged Prinny from behind, including Sylvia in her embrace.
"Come back in the house, dear. We have to calm down so we can tell Sylvia everything. Come on, now."
The two women, walking on each side of Prinny, urged the girl inside and sat her on the couch.
"I’ll go get you a glass of water. You just sit here with Sylvia till I get back. Then we’ll tell her the story together."
Prinny nodded her head, her long straight mane of black hair rippling with the motion. She leaned against Sylvia and turned her head into the werecreature’s bosom. Sylvia hugged her and rubbed a hand up and down her back, injecting her with microscopic messengers which would ease the girl’s emotions.
When Angelica returned Prinny sat up and took the glass in both hands. Sylvia looked to her mother.
"We heard from someone at Ponce port maybe an hour ago. A boat of fishermen claimed that some dolphins were raiding a catch of theirs and they fought them off."
Prinny started to say something but Sylvia put a hand on her arm and spoke.
"I’ll look into it, but that sounds wrong. Dolphins understand territories very well, and they’re good fishers. They’ve no need to ‘raid’ anyone’s catch."
"Even I know that much, and Prinny explained it to me."
"And Puerto Rican fishermen consider dolphins good luck. I can’t imagine why they would damage their good luck by hurting dolphins."
"They must be crazy!" Prinny burst out.
Sylvia rubbed a hand over her mouth. "Or maybe they’re not locals. We have fishermen re-locating here from all over. Even from Europe."
She turned to Prinny. "Where’s Miranda now? Or where would she be?"
"Out at the Dolphin Home. Let’s go out there now and help her."
"I’ll go. You are going to stay here and get yourself together."
"Sylvia’s right, dear. She will take care of it. Remember, she can talk to the dolphins and find out what really happened."
"Yes. And if I find out the fishermen attacked the dolphins for no good reason…" Her face took on a savage aspect that took Angelica aback. But Prinny perked up.
"What? What will you do?"
Sylvia laid both her hands on Prinny’s. "Then I will Trick them into never hurting dolphins again. And it will be a Trick they will never forget."
At that Angelica relaxed; "trick" didn’t sound all that bad in English. But Prinny perked up. She knew that Sylvia meant trick in the dolphin sense, and that a teaching trick could be quite "harsh."
It being early afternoon on a Monday there were only a few site maintenance people working on the southern end of the island where it trailed off under the ocean, coming to the surface again a few hundred yards offshore for a little more than a bump of land with low saltwater grass covering its center.
Between the island’s tail and the bump was Dolphin Home, a shallow stretch of water where Prinny and her helpers had made an underwater garden with a couple of dozen stones that stuck out of the water even at high tide and let dolphins rest and sun themselves.
A few pre-fabricated sheds stored maintenance tools like sand rakes and such. A few dozen rental lockers stored possessions of volunteer Home personnel like Prinny and Sylvia. Sylvia punched in her combination and opened the unlocked door. She swapped her clothes for a bikini and a dive mask and snorkel.
She had seen that two of the resting stones were occupied. She waded in, submerged, and found the spot where she often hid her mask and snorkel offshore. This let her go into water seemingly a human and come back out a human.
She removed her mechanical aids, hid them, and gulped down water. Her body shapechanged into her seaform and she began breathing water. Her claws and fangs sprouted, webs formed between her claws, her eyes grew biological goggles to protect them and enhance her vision. And she began to swim toward the occupied resting stones.
"Shark Killer, something bad has happened."
A large dolphin had pinged her body and intercepted her. He surfaced long enough to breathe before submerging again. She waited for him as her tonsils became a sound transceiver.
"I heard. What happened?"
"This is gossip." By which he meant it was hearsay, not something he saw himself. Dolphins gossiped as much as humans but, unlike humans, treated gossip as not-certified-real until several direct witnesses swore to having observed an event.
"I will listen to much gossip before deciding the truth." Rather than the word truth she used a word that meant personally seen or perceived.
The story was much different than the one heard earlier. Miranda, Oberon, and several other dolphins had been in the sea south of Ponce when they came upon a fishing boat. As customary they waited until the boat had made a catch and hauled the fish aboard. As the boat began to move to a short distance away to trawl for another catch the dolphins had approached it. Eager young Miranda was out in front.
As soon as she surfaced and greeted the fishermen one of them fired a harpoon gun, a small one like the ones used underwater by human divers. By chance or aim it pierced the child’s dorsal fin. She screamed and dove, calling for help. Her father Oberon raced to her and bit a gash in her fin just where it would let the harpoon tear out of the fin, freeing her. She escaped but before he could escape also he was shot in the body, at least twice.
Then the boat moved away, faster than normal. Oberon, dying, was dragged along, and drowned (so said dolphins racing alongside him) before his wounds killed him. The boat stopped and pulled the dead dolphin aboard.
The other dolphins could do no more and turned to catch up to the ones who were helping Miranda back to Dolphin Home.
If Sylvia could have sighed relief underwater she would have done so. Instead she spoke her relief to the dolphin.
"I am glad you consider this Home still. The other humans here will protect you as if you were family. To some of them you are. You are family to me. Shark Killer says she will protect you. She will kill and eat anyone who threatens you.
"Now where is Miranda? I will try to help her get better sooner." Though this was not quite what she said. Instead of "Miranda" she spoke the young dolphin’s name, which was a dozen syllables long.
"I am happy Shark Eater is family. We are family to you."
With that the dolphin turned away and began to swim. Sylvia followed.
As she expected she was led to one of the resting stones. Before emerging she cautioned her guide to tell Miranda that it was Shark Killer and not a human who had come to visit her. At the stone the dolphin surfaced and did so in the simplified air-speech used above water.
As he submerged completely he repeated his message to another dolphin who was swimming quickly toward them. This was Titania, Miranda’s mother. She was near-crazed with anger and grief. But not crazed enough to assume Shark Killer was an enemy. Or to attack someone from whom sharks fled in panic.
"I am here to see if I can help your daughter get better quicker. May I try?"
Titania gave her assent. Sylvia adjusted her buoyancy and rose enough above water to climb out onto the resting stone.
Miranda had been weeping as a dolphin did, not by shedding tears but by whistling very low. She ceased that when the sea monster showed herself.
"Hello, Miranda. I have come to help you."
"Help my father first, Shark Killer."
"Your father has gone to the Greater Ocean." This was a hunting ground far above the world, in the emptiness of space where the islands swam which were the moon and the sun and the stars. Though to dolphins space was not empty. It was full of something like water which shone sunset and sunrise golden. Sylvia had been struck by the scientific accuracy of this view, a view seemingly known forever by dolphins but by humans for only a century or two.
"They told me that, but I wished it otherwise so hard I did not hear them. But if Shark Killer says it I must hear it. Please go away so that I may mourn."
"I too mourn but you can ease my sorrow by letting me try to help you heal. Be a grownup and let me. The pod needs you to gather fish."
At that the little dolphin, a young teen in human terms, agreed.
"I will touch you now. Close your eyes. Relax."
The dolphin did. Sylvia lay down beside her, laid hands on her sun-warmed skin, and closed her own eyes.
Sylvia swam in an ocean but this one was Miranda’s body. She was still far from skilled in this ability that had come from being a werecreature. As was her ability to change the body of the creature she touched.
Knowing there were thousands of ways to hurt for each way to help Sylvia tried healing only when a hurt was so severe that it was worth the risk. Now she swam very cautiously, trying to find and understand hurts before working to ease them.
The first hurt she found was everywhere, the color of embers. Seeing, smelling, tasting it — or so it seemed to her — she came to understand that this was a by-product of physical pain. Cautiously she wished that Miranda’s body would secrete a mild counteractant. After a time she did not know was short or long a blue color began to seep into the ocean of the dolphin’s body. It merged with the red-orange and slowly the two colors faded to nothing.
Now for the wound in Miranda’s fin. Sylvia wished her ghostly self to move in that direction. A breeze seemed to begin blowing and Sylvia began to move. Motion gave her a shadowy picture of the dolphin’s body, which seemed huge, the size of a mansion. And there, coming toward her, was Miranda’s hurt fin.
Sylvia grasped the leading edge of the fin with ghostly hands and halted her motion. From here she had a good view of the wound. It was a roughly round hole with slits on opposite sides where the blades of the arrow-like harpoon had passed through the fin. On one side were gashes that matched the slits, further out from the hole. This was where the arrow-blades had snapped all the way open and dug into the fin to keep the arrow from being pulled back out the hole.
Then there was a curved wound at the edge of the hole, Oberon’s bite. The curve was jagged because the arrow had torn the fin as it was pulled loose.
Edges of the wound were scabbed where the blood had clotted. If left alone the wound would be a horrible wedge in the fin. Carefully Sylvia set to softening the scabs and to pull the wound edges toward matching edges. It was as if her invisible eyes/tongues/noses were also fingers, hundreds or thousands of tiny fingers with glue on their tips.
The wound edges as aligned as they could be Sylvia gave Miranda’s body a command. "Heal! Here!"
An instant or an hour later Sylvia saw the dolphin’s body was doing its job, and that her’s was done. She relaxed a hold she did not know she’d had and disappeared from Miranda’s body.
When Sylvia opened her eyes she saw that the sun had gone down. Fiery clouds floated in the west. Dusty purple clouds floated in the east. She was very hungry.
Miranda was asleep, her body peaceful. Sylvia sat up and examined the wound. It had closed up and was scabbed over. Miranda would have to be very careful for the next few days and eat much to make up for the flesh her body had consumed in the quick healing. But help for that was close at hand.
The sea monster flexed her body and it bounded off the stone into the ocean, deliberately making a splash instead of the near-silent entry she could have made.
From nearby darted two dolphin shapes. One was the male who had first approached her, the second was Titania.
"She is near healed, and will have only a scar. She must be very careful of the wound. It can be easily injured for a while. And she will be very hungry. You must hunt for her, not let her hunt."
"We will do that," both dolphins said.
"It will be hard to prevent her. Tell her that the Shark Killer expects her to be a grownup, not a child. And if Shark Killer finds out she has been a child, the next time Killer sees her Killer will bite her tail the way she would bite the tail of a child.
"Tell her also what I tell you now. Shark Killer will play a Great Trick on the two-legs who did this. She will not eat them. She will do something worse. She will let them live, and remember Killer’s trick. And she will bite the nose off the biggest two-legs so all two-legs will know not to hurt the People."
With that she dove deep and swam to where her mask and snorkel awaited her.