By Jon Buck
Part I: Southampton
- "When anyone asks how I can best describe my experience at nearly forty years at sea, I merely say; uneventful. I never saw a wreck, and never been wrecked, nor was I in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort. You see, I'm not very good material for a story."
- --Capt. E. J. Smith, 1907
Apr. 10, 1912, 10:45 a.m.
Once I saw that my luggage had been loaded, I ascended the first class gangway with confidence that my belongings would reach my stateroom. I met the purser, and a steward showed me the way to my cabin. "A man was looking for you earlier, sir," the steward said. "A man by the name of James Bottleman? He said he was to be your servant. And he did have a first class ticket, so we let him on."
"Ah, yes. Thank you my good man." I replied. "Where is he, by the way?"
"He said he had to meet someone else as well. He'd been waiting here some time for you, but when you did not appear went looking for that person." Strange.
"Well, I am just a bit late…" Then I saw him coming down the hall, dressed in a proper butler's uniform. With that smile he always seemed to have...
"Good morning, sir!" he said in his cheerful tenor voice. He was also carrying a tray with a cup of hot tea resting on it. That made up for that he was not here when he was supposed to be.
"One more thing before I leave sir," said the steward. "May I have your full name to give the purser?"
"Ah, yes. Darius Orcan. Owner of the windjammer Sothesby. The steward nodded, then politely opened the door to the stateroom and gave me the key.
When I stepped inside I discovered that they'd already delivered my luggage. "Fast, aren't they?" I said.
"Well, I have a friend among the crew, sir." Bottleman's smile grew, if possible, wider.
"Thank you. One question, Mr. Bottleman. I always like to give my servants a nickname, but calling you James does not seem to fit. What do you suggest?" For some reason it seemed right and natural to be asking him this. There was a strange tonal quality to his voice, and I could not quite place it. I already trusted the man completely.
"My friends call me 'Bottle', sir. And everyone's my friend." His voice seemed a bit high for a man, though it was unmistakable as male. I was also noticing he had a tendency to speak fast.
"Well then, Bottle." I smiled, his grin was very infectious. "Why don't you help me unpack a might so I can prepare for tonight's grand entrance in the reception room? We can't disappoint the ladies, can we?"
"Nossir." Then I noticed the pendant around his neck, it was shaped like a dolphin. For some reason the sight of that made me trust him even more.
A few minutes later I changed into something a little more comfortable, it was only eleven after all, and we were not due to be off for another hour or so. I wanted to be on deck for the departure.
"By the way, who were you waiting for?" I asked.
"My cousin Emily. With what you're paying me, I had enough to get her a third class ticket. She's always wanted to visit my family in America…"
I was late, and I could blame it on my own body.
It's been very difficult getting used to this tiny thing with arms and legs instead of flippers and flukes. Makes me wonder what Orca sees in humans. But the strangest thing of all are these bags of flesh hanging from my chest. They make me feel front heavy all the time. Then there are these "hips" (I think they're called) that sway from side to side if I want them to or not. Human males seem to like it, though. I still wonder how human females deal with it.
In the six months I've had to get used to this shape, I've had to adjust more than my way of thinking about humans. I also had to learn to use the human memories tucked away in this mind of mine. I often don't know which are from the real me.
A few nights I awoke in confusion, almost panicking because both memories, Orca tells me, are really my own. I just could not tell the difference… You are the few among my Children that has both a human and a whale side. He'd mind-sent. Your soul had a potential to be human, as you have been in past lives, but went to the Singer body you were born with instead. Therefore it is really no problem to change that Potential into a kind of pseudo-reality. You are the human you might have been born as. All I could do was smile and nod (now that I had a neck and mobile lips), but he did banish my nightmares.
I just hope my smiling "cousin" is where he is supposed to be. As I stepped onto the quay near the ship, I heard a call, "All ashore that's going ashore!" Damn! was my un-ladylike thought. I ran up to a gangway just as they started to draw it away.
"Sir! I have a ticket! Please let me aboard!" I yelled. My baggage had been brought aboard by my "cousin". I waved my ticket in the air.
The crewman just looked at me and said, "Sorry, that is a third class ticket, and this is the first class gangway." And continued to retract it.
I was saved by a man wearing semi-casual clothes who had just walked up the crewman, next to him was a familiar smiling face. "I say! Let that woman aboard right now, or I shall have to report you to the Captain!" The crewman was so startled that he did so, and put it back just enough so I could leap (quite hard in a long, heavy dress) through the entrance.
"And this, sir, is my cousin Emily O'Donnell. And thank you very much again for doing that, sir."
"Well, Bottle, I could not let her miss the boat, could I?" I knew by the Tone of his voice that he was the other I'd met when the Task had started. He extended a hand, "I'm Darius Orcan." The name confirmed it. Orca was often not the most subtle Guardian… I shook it. And when I touched his hand I knew it for sure.
"Pleased to meet you." I said. And he kissed the back of my hand. But he seemed not to react to anything from me. He turned to Bottle, "Now, you may take your cousin to her cabin, and I'll meet you on the portside promenade deck near the gymnasium. See you later, my friend. And perhaps I'll see more of you later, Ms. O'Donnell" With that he strode off.
I turned to my "cousin" as we walked down the corridor. "'Bottle'?" I said. "Isn't that a tad obvious?" Of course he just smiled back.
"I know it is. But it's just the way I am." Bottlenoses are such individualists.
"What about 'Mr. Orcan?'" I asked. "Doesn't he remember anything?" Frankly, I was quite concerned about that.
"Orca does that sometimes. It supposedly makes it easier for our rich friend to move among human society if he has no surface memories to bother him. I suspect he knows what he is somehow. Orca will reveal to him his True Form in due time. Though I can't say I like his methods." We rounded a corner and almost ran into a crewman. For a moment I was afraid, I still had the third class ticket in my hand...
"Well, if it 'tisn't me finny friend Bottle!" he said. "Good to see ya gov!" And extended a hand.
"Marcus!" replied Bottle. "You made it! You nearly spent too long in that pub, you know."
They shook hands, then the big man looked at me, "Me pleasure, milady," and he made a florid bow, a big smile on his face. "Is she one of the…?"
"Yes, yes. But let's catch up on old times, shall we?"
Bottle, it turns out, had rescued Marcus when he fell overboard once in the Bahamas. Somehow a few months ago Marcus realized that Bottle was his rescuer, and seeked him out. So he was now our Helper among the crew. "I was floundering around, never learned to swim, when this bloke buoyed me up like a life vest. When 'e was finny, of course. 'Ve been wanting to pay him back ever since, but he give me this when I try to," he held up a pendant not unlike the one Bottle wore. "Says to always keep it close to me heart, that I might need it one day. Beatiful, init it?"
"It is indeed," I said. For one fleeting moment while he held the pendant, I saw a strange double image of a smiling dolphin face over his head. The eye in the pendant gleamed merrily, and so did Marcus' eyes. His smile grew almost a wide as Bottle's, and the skin on his face briefly had a blue/gray tint to it.
And suddenly I knew what my Task was. In my steamer trunk were all kinds of small trinkets and jewelry, all for giving to as many steerage passengers as I could, and all resembled some species of whale or dolphin. A mind-voice spoke to me, I knew you'd understand, my child. Orca had done something to them… But I suddenly knew there would not be nearly enough for me to save everyone. So my Task is not as easy, or as pleasant as it seemed. No matter what I did there were still going to be deaths.
I have every faith in you, and in your orca counterpart. Good luck, my Child. and he was gone.
Bottle was looking at me. His face became serious, he stopped smiling. And when a bottlenose's face, no matter the shape, loses that smile you know the gravity of the situation. We stood a while in my small cabin, then started to lay out what was in my trunk. Suddenly I felt the ship start to move, "And so it begins," he said. "So let us begin."
Before we were due to depart I had time to enjoy the gymnasium. While there I met a few men who were of my acquaintance, like Col. Archibald Gracie, and Isador Strauss. "Darius Orcan!" Said Col. Gracie. "I thought you despised steamers?" We shook hands.
"I do. But the Sothesby is in dry-dock at the present time. Ran her aground a week ago, I'm afraid. Seems the charts I'd been sold were out of date. Bad luck." That, and the harbor pilot who was handling her at the time had assured me that he knew the bay, but he was wrong. I did not sue him, but I did have his company demote him.
"That is too bad," said Mr. Strauss. "I rather liked her."
"She'll be back up in a year or so. No worries. But I have to get back to New York forthwith."
"Tell me this, sir." Asked Col. Gracie. "Why do you hate steamships so?"
"Well sir, it's not that I don't like steamers, it's that that I don't like." I pointed the billows of smoke starting to come from the four funnels.
"The smoke? Why is that?"
"Just smell for a moment. It's dirty and fouls the air. My company has designed filters for steamers that will cleanse that out. But other than that, liners tend to dump all sorts of nasty things overboard into the sea. It may seem so gentleman, but the Sea is not infinite. We must conserve what we have for the seventh generation, or it won't always be here."
The two men did not know how to react to that. Hell, neither did I. I have no idea where that thought came from. Strauss changed the subject. "So, what do you think of the ship itself?"
"It's big, and that's all I can say about it. If not for the coal strike I would of been on the Adriatic. And as for it being 'unsinkable'... I honestly prefer not to think about that. Nature will not stand for it." And where did that come from?
The lines were cast off, and the ship started to move down the river Test towards the sea. We were passing by two ships moored together, when one of them (called the New York ) suddenly snapped from it's lines! The engines momentarily reversed, and we very narrowly missed colliding with the other steamer, which was taken away by tug boats. Captain Smith seemed unruffled by the event. "That's a bad omen, gentlemen. Mind what I said." And I went back to my stateroom.
Part II: Breathless
- "Captain Smith, Titanic. Have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer Athinai reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 north, longitude 49.52 west... Wish you and Titanic all success."
- --HMS Baltic, Apr. 14, 1:40 PM
Sunday, April 14, 1912 5:00 a.m.
I crawled out of bed in my second class cabin, awoken by the whirring thrum of the engines. My ticket might have said "First Class," but all the servant's actually got was a second class cabin. Not bad, really. The Titanic's second class is as good as first class on other ships. I walked over to the mirror, and thumbed the dolphin pendant around my neck for a moment. Bottle, you twit! I thought to myself, Why did you accept this Task in the first place? Orca gave you the option of not doing so, but you had to prove to your pod-brothers you were this "Great Disciple". Last time I ever listen to them...
I gazed at the happy, round human face in the mirror before me. At least Orca got the face I wanted correct. Humans have such expressive faces. Faces were my favorite thing among a lot of things I love about humans. The second thing being their attempts to swim with their so un-streamlined bodies. A laugh riot! I chuckled to myself. Then I remembered I had to go talk with Orca this morning.
I got into a soft bathrobe, and Marcus got me through to the swimming bath. Orca had invested us with certain... talents. But in order to speak with him directly I have to be in water.
They drain and refill the tank each day on this ship. And while I was Speaking with Orca any crew will tend to leave me alone, or fail to see what I'm doing. The water was a comfortable 66 degrees when I took off my robe and dove in.
Salt water is only the medium of communication that I can use (And it's a good thing the pool is filled with it). The next part involves a very small form-shift, necessary to change my head enough so I can use what Orca calls my "echolocation" ability, otherwise known as "Sight". Once I wetted myself completely, I focused on my pendant and made the mental twist.
I didn't change very much. The pendant began to glow with a bluish, but warm light that spread from my chest onto my entire body. My fingers and toes became webbed, and my skin grew smooth and hairless from scalp to feet, then turned to my otherwise normal bluish gray color. A short dorsal fin grew on my back, my jaw thrust forward into a relatively short snout, my nostrils merging and moving to the top of my head, eyes growing wider apart; and my forehead swelled slightly, just enough to give me a small melon, necessary for me to use my clickings to call Orca.
I took a deep breath and sunk under the surface. Master! I cried. The Call echoed through the small pool, which seemed to reverberate like a bell in my mind, and then appear to be as large as the Sea itself. The pool glowed faintly blue, like the deep ocean.
What is your question, my child?
Our orca friend has not yet remembered anything! How long do you plan to keep in the dark? Last night I tried to formally introduce Emily to him and he just shrugged her off like she was nothing; he said she should go back to third class where she belongs! And to top it off he has not even begun his Task! Now, what are you going to do about it? A bold statement, but I knew Orca pretty well. He'd be disappointed if I did not act like my true self.
A good question. I can only answer in part, though. He sighed. I am not perfect. God knows I'm not. Perfection is an abstraction, anyway. I think I buried his memories a little too deeply, and we're going to have to do something drastic to bring them out. I'll let you know what later. He paused for a moment. You've been doing well in your own Task. There are many in second class who will make great additions to us. Most humans seem to have a whale side already. So it won't be a problem for me to alter memories. I just wish I could save them all...
Your friend Marcus has done well among the crew. I've been Speaking to his subconscious, so he does not really know I'm talking to him. He'll make a great pod-brother for you. I could 'hear' him grin, then he stopped... You'd better get to Darius' stateroom. He's starting to wake up. I think I hit him with that dream a bit too hard. Good luck again, Child. And he was gone. The pool quieted.
Then it hit me... Waking up? Damn! I jumped out of the bath, shifting back to full human (I thought), grabbed my robe, and ran down the corridors. I noticed incidentally that a few of the crewmen that I saw were wearing spotted or bottlenose dolphin pendants. Marcus was doing well after all.
On the way to the stateroom I stopped to pick up a cup of tea at the galley. I'd gotten to know the cooks (I'd given them all beluga pendants, appropriate for these cold waters) and they nodded at me when I grabbed the tea. I walked into the room just as he rolled out of bed, saying, "That's the fourth night in a row!" Subtle Orca ain't. For a moment I felt a little hope. Then my hopes ran aground. "But for the life of me I just can't recall what happened in it! Something about swimming with family? Oh, well."
Then he noticed me. "Bottle you must be clairvoyant!" He took the tea, smiling. "Did I catch you in the bath?" he said, noticing my dripping wet bathrobe. "I thought they were closed at this time of the morning... Are you okay? You look cold." At his last statement I looked at myself.
I'd shifted back everything except for the skin on my legs, which was still smooth and bluish. The pendant I wear kept anyone else from noticing, but I could see the eye on Darius' ring gleaming. "It's nothing, sir." I said with a smile, moving my robe a bit to cover my legs. "They just had not heated up the pool so much yet."
"Well, go back to your cabin and warm up. Can't have you catch cold, can I my friend? Just do me a favor and drop these in Mr. Guggenheim's mail slot. I showed one to him last night and he asked to have a couple. Strange thing, I've been giving these coins out like they're nothing. Oh, well. See you later." There was a stack of them on the nightstand, and I picked up the top two.
I examined one as I walked out. It was about the size of a silver dollar, and on one side was a large square-rigged ship, the bottom curve had the title Sothesby in a elaborate script. And on the back was an incredibly detailed orca, complete with gleaming eye...
Back in my cabin I changed into my butler outfit. I'll say this for Darius: he's a really nice guy. I've seen how others treat their servants, and it's ¬terrible. What's worse is from what I've gleaned from eavesdropping on a few conversations is that most up here in first class feel like steerage passengers are just there to fill up the extra space on the ship. If not for Marcus and a couple others, I'd never be able to even see Emily at all. The southern United States is not more segregated!
As I was about to step out, Emily came bursting in. She was crying. She collapsed on my bed in sobs. "I want to save them all!" she said. "Why does Nature have to do this?!" She yelled.
The first Task is always the hardest. Mine was no easier. Orca had wanted me to sink a whaler who was decimating a humpback breeding area in Baja California. Their fleet would not be up again for five years, time enough for the humpbacks to find somewhere that would remain safe for a while. A little bit of gunpowder goes a long way. Relatively few among the crew were worthy of being saved with any kind of memory. The rest had been transformed to help replace some of those they had killed. Those retained no memory whatsoever. A different kind of death. Ape had not been happy with them anyway.
I sighed. "Because among all the Peoples, humans are both the most clever and the most arrogant. If they would not be so arrogant than She would not have to do things like this. Humans often don't make any kind of change unless a big disaster happens. And this is one of them. We can only do our part to save who we can. Then pray for the others." It was what Orca had told me.
She looked up from the bed. "I guess you're right. My inexperience must be showing. I still don't like it though. It's not fair!"
"Whoever said life was fair? So what are you going to do today?"
"There's a hymn sing later. Someone must of heard me in the bath... would you believe there are only two bathtubs for the whole of third class? Atrocious! I've not had a chance to Call Orca once! Anyway, they heard me sing and a reverend asked me if I'd do some. How could I resist?" She smiled. Funny to see a humpback do that. They're normally so serious...
"You¬ would," I replied with a chuckle. "I think we both have work to do. I want to circulate a bit more among second class today. The dining saloon should be filling up about now, a perfect spot. I'll see you later, around eleven? Orca's going to come up with a plan for our rich friend."
"Well good! It's about time. See you then." And Marcus escorted her back to third class. If not for the pendant he wears he'd lose his job for sure, White Star company policy dictates strict separation of the classes.
At breakfast I met a man named Lawrence Beesley. A school teacher who said he'd always wanted to go to America on tour. "It's a great country." I told him. "When you get to New York try going up into the Adirondacks. Beautiful scenery." We spoke for a long time, and I was about to give him a bottlenose pendant, when I paused for a moment. For a moment in his voice I heard the Tone of Life. He'd be a survivor. I gave it to him anyway for some reason.
Others I spoke to would not be so lucky. I gave away thirty more pendants and rings. Mostly beluga, a narwhal or two, orca, and lots of bottlenose. When I ran out of things in my pockets I went back to my room and refilled them. By 11 am, I must have distributed nearly one hundred pieces of jewelry.
Later I brought Darius his noon meal. He'd decided to sleep in. A thought occurred to me. "Sir, why don't you try out the pool this evening? You have not done so yet."
"I'm not sure about that," he said. "Are you sure it's healthy?" He was very dubious about it, I could tell. You never know what kind of superstitions seamen may have.
"Yessir," I replied. "I'm sure of it." Orca must of come up with something and put it in my brain. I hope this works.'
The hymn sing in the second class dining saloon went well. Human voices are not as versatile as I like, but I was able to put in Singer nuances that caught their imagination. Rev. Carter had requested me to be brought up from third class, and the purser had reluctantly agreed. Rev. Carter asked me if there was any hymn I'd like sung in particular. "'For Those in Peril on the Sea,'" I'd said. He just looked at me for a moment and nodded quietly. The hymn was sung in very hushed tones. I think that many, for one reason or another, knew something was going to happen.
I'd gotten that feeling when I woke up. There was a new Tone to the loud clank of the engines, and the hull seemed to sing of it's demise. Tonight's the night, I thought. This ship is doomed. Then I'd grabbed a bunch of jewelry and started to hand it out like popcorn.
I'd used a bit of my "talent" to alter a few of the bits. There were now "family pendants". All I had to do is give the piece to one member of a family and they'd all be saved. Disappointingly few had a Tone of one who would be on a lifeboat. What kind of society judges what kind of person you are purely on how much money you have? Horrible!
At eleven I met Bottle on the stern poop deck. "So," I said. "What's happening with our rich friend?"
"You have NO idea what it took me to get him to agree to take a bath in salt water. The pool closes at eight, but with the help of Marcus and a few others he'll have the place to himself at about ten... Just after they refill the tank." I stared at him for a moment.
"Won't the water be too cold for his human body?"
"His ring should automatically take steps to prevent that. How, I do not know. Nor do I know how Orca will bring anything back... Only time will reveal I guess. I've got to go take him his meal now. One more thing. If this works out, you'll meet him on the bow at about eleven tonight. Keep your fingers crossed."
"Now that I have fingers I will." I said, he laughed and strode off back to first class.
That evening I saw the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen as a human. The water was a dead calm. I heard much comment over that as I continued to circulate among the passengers. There are always wives and husbands looking for some trinket of bauble for their spouse. And the sunset was a boon to my Task. Romanticism abounded, even though it was very cold.
Down in the General Room I listened in on a conversation or two. Human languages are so basic, I can understand Polish, French, German, you name it. I heard one woman say in Polish to her husband: "This night is so calm Edvard! It's as if Nature is holding Her breath! Something is going to happen. I can feel it." She said the last sentence very quietly. And I wondered, Are humans more connected with Nature than they think they are? One of the many questions I'd asked myself over the past few months. As usual, no answer came.
At 10:30, with another crewman helping me, I waited at on the forecastle deck on the starboard side, and gazed at the starlight. The stars were especially clear tonight. Before I took human shape, I did now know what those lights in the sky were. Orca calls the Universe a "Sea of Stars". Other worlds, other oceans. And humans to take us there.
Looking at this ship, I believed that it just might happen. Mother is lonely. Orca had said. Humans are Her way of ending her billions of years of solitude. She cannot communicate with others like Herself, the distances are too great. Humans are Her messengers, they will find a way around Her limitation. But mark my words Child. Where they go, we will go with them. One way or another. Another Sea is Calling, the greatest Sea of all in fact. How can we not but respond to it's Call?
As I continued to gaze at the Milky Way, I heard a sound. A noise like no other, coming from inside the ship. The crewmen in the crow's nest did not seem to hear it though. Then, a single word rose above the bell-like Tone, REMEMBER. Then all was quiet once more, but for the sound of the water rushing past the bow, the clank of the engines, audible even this far forward, and the whistle of the wind in the rigging. I turned back to my quiet contemplation of the Universe, and waited.
"Are you sure this is healthy?" I asked Bottle for what seemed to be the fiftieth time. "Yessir," he replied cheerfully. But frankly, I was still quite dubious.
There was a sign on the door that said "pool closed," but when Bottle knocked a large man with an equally large smile on his face opened the door. "Thank you Marcus," said Bottle. I was so stunned I reluctantly went in.
I have nothing against baths. As long as it's warm or cold freshwater, but quite frankly I was unsure about the practice of taking water directly from a sea where all sorts of things have been dumped by other steamers. I would have to do something about that in the future.
Unsurprisingly, there was no one else in the small room where the swimming bath was placed. On one side was a row of doors, changing rooms. On the other, a row of portals, which were black as night. The pool itself is sunk into the floor, to keep it from sloshing to much I'm sure. There were railings on both of the longer sides, and on opposite corners of the smaller ends were steps. I went and changed into my suit, then stopped on the step just above the water.
I dipped a toe in. The water was freezing! "I thought you said the water would be warm, Bottle! I'm not swimming in this!" I turned to go back up the steps, but was stopped at the top one. "Let me past!" I said angrily.
He looked at me for a moment, apology written in his features. "I'm sorry sir." He said. Then he promptly pushed me in.
I splashed about, the freezing water hurting for a moment, "Now! See here!" I yelled. For some reason my right ring finger felt okay, then the ring shocked me. Then for some reason I told it to stop that. And suddenly I was comfortable in the water. My body tingled all over. As I watched, a blue glow spread from my finger all over my body. In it's wake, it left my skin blackened. My suit felt very tight, but after a moment of extreme discomfort it just ripped off. Then I saw not all my skin was black, there was a bright white on my belly all the way between my thighs, and up my throat. It also felt incredibly slick and rubbery.
I could not believe what I was seeing! Or feeling! My fingers were suddenly joined with a webbing, my ring disappearing in a flash of light. Then the tingle and glow moved up to my head. My hair fell out, my nose felt strange as it seemed to migrate up my forehead, and I could feel my face push out into a blunt snout, forehead swelling slightly. Strangely I felt no panic. But I still called out, "My God! What am I?"
Then as if in answer, the pool began to glow a deep blue. The glow seemed to slosh around in the pool. Bottle, who'd taken up a spot on the railing on the side with the portals, was "wetted" by a bit of this glow. His pendant began to shine, and to his surprise, his skin turned bluish and his faced pushed out into a snout, and his smile grew wider and wider. His friend next to him, Marcus, had been looking at me with an astonished look on his face, turned to Bottle gaping as his shirt ripped open in the back and a curved dorsal fin appeared out the rip. I then became aware of the tall, triangular one on my own back. "Oops..." said Bottle. "Guess I was standing too close." Then it was Bottle's turn to gape.
A bit of the slosh had hit Marcus on the foot, there was a glow on his chest, and then his skin went the same color as Bottle's, and his shirt and face followed suit. He felt his new smooth skin and snout with apparent wonder and excitement. "'ello? What's this?" he said. Bottle looked at him. "You're not mad?"
"'Ell no! 'Ve been waiting for it somehow. Is this really how it feels?" He spoke very rapidly, but I had no trouble following him.
"Yes, wait until you're in the water though and you'll like it even more. How do you feel, Darius?" Nice to know he'd not forgotten about me.
"I... I don't know. It's awfully hard to describe. This body almost feels almost right for some reason. It's, it's..." Then I realized that the both of them looked remarkably like humanoid bottlenose dolphins. "What... what do I look like?"
"Like you're part orca, Mr. Orcan. What else?" His already wide smile grew wider. Once more I asked myself the question, God, what am I? With that, the water began to seethe and boil and churn. And I was pulled under, taking a deep breath, my new nose plugging itself instinctively.
I was pulled down impossibly far! This one pool seemed to be the size of the whole Sea! As I was pulled down, I felt my body change more. My legs seemed to fuse, the dorsal fin grow taller, my body inflate, my neck shrink and my head grow large. Help me! I yelled in a strange language. What am I?!
Then an answer came. A deep bell tone sounded, and then grew to almost an unbearable loudness that seemed to poke holes in my mind. Then a single word appeared out of the Tone, REMEMBER.
The next thing I knew I was floating at the top of the pool, breathing through my blowhole, mostly human once more. I then thought of what I did to Emily. I've been such a fool. I thought.
I'm afraid that's my fault. Said Orca. I'd regained all my memories, and I knew what I was. Your human side is very strong. Strong enough to block your True Self. That has made you an asset to me over the centuries. But... I sometimes forget things... I'm sorry, my son. And He was gone. The pool stopped glowing.
Bottle and Marcus were still standing at the rail, not too much time had passed, it seemed. They were conversing very quickly in the squeaks and clicks of the Surface dolphin language, Marcus's tone of voice amazed that he seemed to even know the language, and were still in the partial bottlenose shape. I decided the interrupt them. "You want to take a swim, Marcus?" I said. "Orca heated up the water a bit."
They looked at me for a moment, Bottle shrugged. "Don't mind if we do." He said, and they both dove in, Marcus emitting a dolphin squeak of joy.
We swam around for quite some time. Bottle showing Marcus the ins and outs of being a dolphin just a bit. In my part-form I must weigh four hundred pounds, which is why my suit ripped off. I also spoke with Bottle about what I remembered.
We got out of the pool, Bottle showing Marcus how to shift human, he also looked at his pocketwatch. "Damn!" he said. "Darius, you were supposed to of met Emily on the bow ten minutes ago! You'd better hustle!"
I ran back to my stateroom wrapped in a towel. Most had gone to bed, I threw on some warm clothes and a jacket and rushed, with a help of a crewman who was also a Helper, showed me where she was standing. It was nearly 11:30 by the time I got up there.
In the darkness I saw her outlined by starlight. She was very pretty as a human. I walked up to her quietly. "I'm sorry," I whispered. "I was such a fool. I did not realize..." she put a finger on my lips.
"It's OK. You remember now. But do you realize tonight's the night? How many coins have you distributed?"
"Not nearly enough... But there aren't too many in first class to begin with. And I don't know how many are with saving. Most of them are arrogant fools... like I was."
"Don't degrade yourself." She sighed. What a face she had... My heart went thump a couple times, and I realized I was anxiously awaiting her next sentence... "But what happens next? We're close. I can feel it. Have you ever seen a night like tonight?"
I thought a moment. "Only once. I was only a calf in my mothers' slipstream at the time... but it was near Chesapeake Bay. The night before the British colony at Roanoke disappeared." We then stood and stared a while at the incredibly dark and calm sea. A moonless night.
Then, a looming shape in the distance. It looked almost looked like a windjammer with the sails limp. It took a moment for it to register what it was. Someone in the crow's nest must of identified it just as I did. A bell was rung feverently, and I heard a voice call out, "Iceberg! Right ahead!"
Part III: Unsinkable
"I say old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice."
"Shut up! Shut up! I am busy! I am working Cape Race!"
- Titanic, 11:00 pm, Apr 14 1912
Apr. 14, 1912. 11:39 p.m.
It seemed an eternity.
A bell was madly rung from the crow's nest. The shape grew and grew. I recognized it as a "blue berg". An iceberg that had slowly turned over in the water as it melted, making it clear ice on the top. Invisible on this moonless night. Adding to that, since it was so calm, no waves foamed on it's sides to reveal it's presence. So it was really quite invisible.
I heard a voice from the bridge yell, "Hard a starboard!", then a moment later I felt the engines reverse. "Idiot!" I almost yelled.
"Why's that?" Asked Emily.
"A ship this size needs a lot of water flowing over the rudder to make it effective. That idiot is slowing us down!" Then the ship began to turn, slowly.
Almost too slowly. For a moment I thought we were going to make it. The berg looked like it would clip the starboard side just a bit. Then I felt what can only be described at the "Hand of Nature" give the berg just a little push. Only a few inches, but enough.
The sound of the hull scraping along the ice was like a ring of death. And it surely was. By how long it lasted, I estimated that almost a third of the ship's length was slashed, either popping rivets or maybe even shattering the brittle iron that I'd noticed they'd used in building the ship.
I only thought of this much later, though. Because Emily and I were too busy standing beside the rail with our fingers crossed and eyes closed that we would miss, and our Task would somehow be solved for us. Nature had other plans it seems.
I had to grab Emily and jump when a cascade of ice fell onto the deck as the ship made contact, and the entire time we spent behind the huge anchor chain, waiting for the terrible noise to end. Then, to our surprise, when we stood up we came face to face with a boy, maybe about thirteen or fourteen years old. He was wearing a fedora (which looked kind of funny) that had a falcon feather and an orca's tooth in the band. "She really did it, didn't she?" said the boy in an emotionless, but cracking voice.
This boy had a sort of "Presence" about him. "Are you who I think you are?" I asked, somewhat dumbfounded.
"Mother calls me 'Simian'," he said, smiling. His grin dropped. "My Brother sent you, didn't he?" We both nodded. "I'm glad at least one of my Siblings has heart enough to send someone to help." His eyes filled with tears, and he suddenly collapsed against Emily's chest, "She pushed it! I can't believe she pushed it! What have I done wrong?" He collapsed into racking sobs. Emily held him close, saying "there, there," cradling him like a baby.
Time seemed to stand still as the thrum of the engines slowly died away and the ship came to a halt. Bottle showed up a minute or so later, while Ape was still sobbing against Emily's chest. He looked at the boy, "is that who I think it is?" he asked. I just nodded. The boy stopped sobbing.
He looked up at Emily's comforting and beautiful face. A face I was beginning to love more every minute... "But..." he began. "I guess I deserve it don't I? I mean... I know Mother dotes on me but. I just don't know how to stop! I mean, I know I'm only five million..." he seemed to stop and think a moment. He closed his eyes. I felt his mind expand, and for a brief moment I could feel he was in the hearts and minds of all humans. He now had an astonished look on his face, "I've not done that in two hundred years... Is that really what humans have become?"
I was about to answer, but between one eyeblink and the next another was now standing on the deck with us. He was a black man of average height, had jet black hair, but a very white goatee, and white hair at his temples, and wearing a black tuxedo with a bright white dress shirt underneath. Then I recognized the Presence. I could be none other than Orca. "I'm afraid so, Brother. You merely have to look aboard this ship to see it. I tried to talk her out of it... but you know Mother. Once she has her mind set on something..."
"...You have to throw a tantrum to change her mind." finished Ape. "I'm sorry, Brother. I have been blind. I promise I'll never do it again."
"You're a kid, kid. And don't make promises you can't keep. Remember that time just a few thousand years ago..."
"Don't start that again! I just asked for too much too quickly that time... How was I to know Thera was a bad place for Atlantis? I thought Mom said she was done with that volcano!"
Then Orca looked at me, "I think we should let my Children continue with their Task. It's become too urgent now for them to listen to us rehash an old argument. Away with the three of you. And good luck."
Ape looked at us and smiled, "and go with my blessing." The last thing I heard him say before the both of them vanished was, "you agree with Mother way too much you know..."
We looked at each other for a moment, then scrambled for our cabins, and the jewelry contained therein.
First class was surprisingly empty of people, considering the circumstances. Darius and I met briefly in his cabin, Emily had gone with Marcus straight back to third class. "Wasn't that a sort of strange conversation? Between Ape and Orca, I mean."
"Yes indeed," he was busily stuffing coins into his pockets. "But for all their seeming powers, they are really no different from any other family. They have sibling rivalries and all that. And it can get quite out of hand sometimes. Late in the last century I seem to recall an incident between Ape and Tiger which resulted in a couple rampaging lions in Africa. They killed for pleasure. Very chilling. Orca had to mediate the dispute." He sighed, holding the gold coins in his hand a moment. "All this money and it isn't worth a damn."
"You've finally realized that?" I said, letting a bit of my dolphin smile through.
"I guess so. My mind is sort of in a fog right now. I remember everything, but it's still very mixed up." He looked at his ring, and shined it with his coat sleeve. "I guess I'm still somewhat in disbelief that I'm one of these incredible creatures... Which reminds me. Aren't these waters too cold for you?"
I stopped short. "Come to think of it... Yes. Orca must have something planned for us warmer water-types, but I get the distinct feeling he'll want me to stay with you after she goes down. So I wonder what..." Darius' face suddenly lit up a moment, and he pulled my pendant from beneath my shirt, and touched his ring to it. Eye to eye. There was a brief flash, and I felt dizzy a moment. When I looked again the bottlenose looked like it was overlaid by an orca, almost like a double image. I gaped in surprise, and stared at him.
"Don't worry," he said. "It's only temporary, you'll revert once Orca transports you to warmer waters. I only just remembered I could do that... I think that's why we've been handing out mostly cold water species. I think the other ones might be transported immediately."
I clasped the pendant for a moment tightly in my hand, there was a brief blue flash, and a single wave of change ran all over me, but only for a fraction of a second, going back to human skin once the wave passed. "Thanks. I think," I said. Then I looked up.
Behind him was a half glass of wine in a very clear goblet. The wine was now noticeably tilted in the glass. The sight must of brought a seriousness to my face that is seldom seen. For Darius turned around and looked with me. "Well," he said. "So much for 'unsinkable'. We'd better move. It's been almost twenty minutes."
I went straight back to second class. I saw many stewards knocking on doors, one of which I recognized as one of our Friends, he noticed me. "Bottle! I'm glad that's you! Could you assist me in waking up the passengers? They really need to get to the boats now."
"I know, I know." I reached into my pocket. I'd forgotten until now I had a few bits inside my pocket. I grabbed a few and gave them to him. "Here," I said. "Give these to as many as you can... then take one for yourself. Just how much do you know about us?"
"Well, the voice in my head says you're not really human, well, sort of." I handed him a bottlenose ring.
"What does that tell you?" I said. He looked at it for a moment. "You mean? So you're a... I always suspected, but I never thought... A dolphin saved my life last year." It was not me, obviously. For some reason Orca most often uses those His Children saves as Friends. Marcus was my contribution. There is something in humans, it seems, that opens up to us if we have close contact with them. He put on the ring. "This ship is going down, isn't it?" he continued. "So I guess I'm doomed, not enough boats. Well, it's not been much of a life anyway." His face turned morose...
Then I enlightened him as to the purpose of the rings. And he stared unbelievingly it his ring, which he'd put on. While he was staring at it, I decided to see how much control I had over my form, orca or dolphin. So I concentrated, and Shifted my head to half-dolphin (I'm glad that it worked, too...) "I'm not sure I believe you..." Then he trailed off when he saw me.
"Believe me now?" I said quickly. If not for my pendent making my Shift invisible and our conversation unnoticeable we'd never been able to talk like this... To my amazement he still shook his head. I only had one last resort. For some reason I really wanted him to believe me. So I reached out and touched my pendant to his ring. His ring activated immediately, of course.
The power of this jewelry amazes me. Time seemed to stop (and must have). His clothes just disappeared for a moment, then he was forced onto his stomach as his legs fused and he fell over, arms shrinking and dorsal fin leaping into existence on his back. It was very brief, but for a second he was fully a dolphin (A very confused one) and the next standing next to me human again, fully clothed, with a look on his face I'll never forget. I should know that look. Orca told me I'd had it the first time He'd Shifted me human. It was the look of both complete joy and total horror. And he also did the same thing I did. He ran off screaming. Can't win them all. I thought. Lucky thing he'll never get that ring off, ever. So he'll still be saved.
"It seems some people just can't handle it... no help for it I'm afraid." Said a familiar voice behind me. It was Orca, this time as a black-haired white man with the white-haired goatee and temples. "Don't worry, though. He'll come around. If I recall you weren't exactly happy about the first time I made you human myself."
I smiled, shifting human again. "I remember. Boy do I remember! But if I may ask. Why are you here?"
"I want to help," Orca said. He was in a steward's outfit, and then I noticed the boy beside him.
"And so do I," continued Ape, dressed as a cabin boy. "These are my Children. I'm not letting Mom win without a fight. I do know things will change after this ship goes down... A lot will change in this century. I think I'm going to take a more active role in my Children's lives from now on. With the help of my Brother here I'm going to take Disciples and Acolytes. I think some of my Children need to start experiencing life as other species, might give them new perspective. I don't want something like what happened between me and Tiger to happen again."
Now that we had the direct help of both Orca and Ape perhaps things might go differently... "There's something I should tell you though, my friend." Said Orca. "We're restricted right now in what we can do. Mother does not know we're doing this... so we're limited to your level of 'talent'. The jewelry is programmed correctly to do everything. Only when this ship finally slips beneath the waves may we use our full Powers. Don't worry about losing either of us, though. As long as our Children live, so do we."
We had to cut the conversation short, though. Activity was picking up in the hall. By now most had been woken up and now were speaking animatedly among themselves about the strange goings on. There was talk of lifeboats. The three of use looked at each other, and separated in our Tasks.
As I strode off, I thought: Boy, I seem to be doing that a lot lately. Oh well.
As usual, if not for Marcus and his friends I'd never of gotten back to third class unnoticed. It was chaos down there. There is no other word for it. The jolt was felt the worst on the starboard bow, and many whom I recognized as having cabins in that part of the ship (single men, mostly) had a harried look to their expressions and many were carrying their belongings, some of which were soaked in seawater.
While we were pushing our way through the crowds I took time to examine my feelings for Darius. I really did not know what I was feeling. Frankly, as an orca he was quite a specimen. I like the tall dorsal fin... humpback males don't have it. I did not have all that much time to think about it, though. We finally pushed through to my cabin door.
Before I slipped into my cabin I saw a steward pounding on a door further down, "Come on, come on! Get up now, it's time to get on deck! We're sinking you know!" He pounded more. "Come on!" I heard a muffled yelling from within, the voice from behind the door was in Polish, and had an angry tint to its tone.
Marcus, his ever-present smile fading to more a scowl for a moment, went over to the steward.
Then punched him in the nose. "Sorry, mate. But can't ya see they can't understand you?" Marcus said.
The man rubbed his bleeding nose. "I don't really care, they're all the same anyway."
Marcus' face got so dark I was, frankly, scared for a moment. He looked at me, "excuse us, milady. Me stuck up crewmate here does not understand. Methinks I'll have to teach him a little lesson. So at your word I'll go ahead." At my nod he grabbed the man by the collar and dragged him off, leaving me standing at the door to my cabin.
When I looked in my steamer trunk I discovered to my dismay I only had nothing left, I'd somehow given out everything without knowing it. My heart went into my throat, and I sat on the edge of my bed for a moment, leaning a little to counter the growing list. What was I supposed to do now? Then the door was thrown open by a strangely familiar looking steward...
"What's all this then? Come on, come on! Out of your room with you! Put your life belt on! Get out on deck..." He said it rather stiffly, like he was only repeating what he was expected to. Then he looked at me, a friendly glint in his eye. "My Child. The time has come. I need your strength and talent to help me keep this ship afloat long enough to launch the lifeboats. I can't do anything more than you can right now. You've done as much as you can for these people. Darius, Bottle, and my adopted Child Marcus will take care of the rest. But I need you now."
The look in His eyes was that of fatherly love and worry. It said it all for what he was asking. I knew without saying that if I agreed to this I might not live to see another sunrise. "Let's go."
The trip forward was a strange dreamlike thing. We were definitely going downhill, and we went down to E-deck. The lights were glowing brightly, and we stopped between what looked to be just between the third and fourth funnels. "We must make our stand here, Child," said Orca. "This is the weakest part of the ship. I need you to reinforce the structure, while I slow down the water coming in. Are you ready?"
I concentrated a moment, centering myself in my head. "Let's do it." At his nod, he semi-Shifted to increase his Powers, and I felt his mind expanding outward, meeting resistance as it contacted the water. I Heard him utter a single word: Stay and the water obeyed, just a little, slowing down perceptibly to my Senses. I estimated that the ship would probably sink at least an hour later. Then it was my turn.
Unlike the toothed whales, in order to use my talents I have to Shift a little. The only thing that changes on me is my skin color, with a faint grooving on my throat. I hugged a bulkhead, then expanded my own consciousness into the ship itself.
Among my training (which had actually been a mystery to me until now) that Orca had given me was an extensive knowledge of ship design. This part of the stern has several large spaces in it, making it structurally the weakest part of the ship. With the bow filling with water, this weak point is much enhanced. With my mind now a part of the ship itself, I could feel the straining of the weakest points and I knew at some point they would give way. I bent my Will to these points and supported them with my mind.
Orca and I settled for a long fight.
After Bottle left, I decided to try to go up to the bridge to see what was going on. Captain Smith and I, being fellow seamen, had become quite fond of each other. I decided to give him an orca coin. I had a feeling he may want one.
I used a bit of my "talent" to move up that way. When I got there the atmosphere on the bridge was decidedly eerie. Captain Smith seemed abstracted, and spoke little. Then I heard Second Office Lightoller say, "Shouldn't we get the women and children into the boats, sir?" Captain Smith only nodded quietly.
I think I understand how he felt. When the Sothesby ran aground I felt the same way. We were lucky enough to come along later to shift off her cargo and refloat her. That ship was my pride and joy, so I think I know how Captain Smith was feeling. Then Fourth Officer Boxhall noticed me. "Captain Orcan! What are you doing here?"
"I want to help," I said. "What happened?" I feigned ignorance. At Smith's nod, Boxhall filled me in on what was happening. The ship was definitely doomed. The first six watertight compartments were slashed open by the berg. Too many. "When I was down there the water had come up the mailroom on F-deck. Then something peculiar happened. It almost seemed to slow down. I had been afraid we'd not have time to load the boats. We should now."
Smith and J. Bruce Ismay had been talking to each other. While they did so, using my talent, I quietly moved towards them and slipped a coin into Smith's pocket.
I was then asked by Boxhall to assist loading the lifeboats. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Part IV: Lifeboats
- "What are you sending?" (Capt. Smith)
- "CQD." (Jack Phillps)
- "Send SOS. It's the new call and it may be your last chance to send it." (Harold Bride)
Apr. 15, 1912 12:10 a.m.
I must say, agreeing to help with loading the lifeboats must of been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I’d lost a lot of time because of my fouled up memory. I only gave coins out to those who had asked for them, and only then because of a strange compulsion to do so had been so overwhelming that it was impossible to refuse it. I’d only given out about twenty or so since I’d came on board. But I also wondered if some these people were worth saving. Frankly, many of them were insufferable, arrogant, and just plain stuck up!
Like I had been.
Emily had been good enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I thanked her much for it. More than thanked her, in fact. Perhaps many of these people were merely ignorant of those poorer than they were. I knew several that if they knew how many in third class had lived then they would help in any way they could. So I decided to give them what Em had given me. A second chance.
There were, of course, those at the opposite extreme. I won’t name any names.
Before I went out to help with the boats I assisted one of the crew (a Friend in fact, wearing a narwhal ring) hand out lifejackets in the gymnasium. I managed to put myself in a position where I had time to use a penknife to slit them open just enough to slip a coin in, then seal it with my talent. My pockets were filled with a couple hundred coins, a lot of weight but necessary.
"Lifeboats!" I heard one woman say. "What do they need lifeboats? This ship could smash a hundred icebergs and not feel it. Impossible!" Never say the word "impossible" to Nature. She does not take it very well.
It was very cold outside. As a result, most tended to stay inside the gymnasium or the lounge to stay warm. Not to mention the unearthly roar coming from the three forward funnels. I knew they were venting steam so the boilers would not explode when the cold water contacted them. One could not hear one's thoughts above the din of the escaping steam! I was still dressed warmly from my meeting with Emily on the bow.
And when I thought about it more, dredging up more pieces of the memory I was slowly putting back together, I remembered that even if I started to get cold I could invoke my ring and be as warm as I pleased. When my Friend companion said I was no longer needed, I took a moment to examine my memories.
Images of my original family-pod, dead nearly three hundred years, came to the fore. I felt renewed sadness over the loss of them by whalers. But Orca had said he needed me. Over the past quarter millennia or so, I'd begun to think of him as the only family I had. I love him now as I did my own father... but something in the morass did not seem quite right.
I remember my mother's death clearly. She beached herself when she knew it was too hard on the pod to take care of her. It was on a beach in Nova Scotia, in fact. Relatively close to here. I remember going often to that spot to pay my respects. The tooth in Ape's hatband had belonged to her. She had lost it while hunting for herring. She then asked me (it was just after my first Task) to give it to Ape. For some reason Orca had not been present, but my father had.
A funny thing about my father. I just don't remember his death. And I don't think it's because of my memory problems.
I began to have suspicions.
"Captain Orcan?" said a man in an officer's uniform.
"Yes, Mr. Murdoch. What can I do for you?"
"Would you give us a hand on the starboard side here? The Captain said you would be of service if you were needed."
"Ah, yes. My good man. I've had about as much experience as any seaman with evacuations. Had to do one myself not too long ago." I helped out Chief Officer Pitman, who was in charge of lifeboat No. 5. There, I recognized several of those crewmembers who were helping me. Most, in fact, had beluga or bottlenose pendants. Bottle's man Marcus seemed an amazing sort!
In a very short time, owing to the brand new davits, we had the boat flush with the Boat Deck within three minutes. The most terrible thing I'd noticed is that these particular davits were designed to carry at least a second set of boats! I've never seen a more flagrant disregard for human life!
"Ladies, this way," First Officer Murdoch called to those who'd ventured out on deck. Those who were there seemed very hesitant. When someone else said: "Put in the brides and grooms first," a few came forward.
I was left in a state of complete shock as the first lifeboat, No. 7, was lowered not nearly half as full as it could of held! I resolved to make my boat much fuller. I checked my pocket watch. 12:25 am. I sighed, then muttered under my breath. "Well, I guess there's no help for it." I looked at the water below, it looked very enticing, to me at least. But...
I put on my best Captain's voice. "Okay men, finish getting her ready." Pitman had gone to see the Captain. A man I recognized as J. Bruce Ismay had been bothering him to load the boat. Pitman had gone to confirm the order with the Captain. I turned towards the growing crowd on deck. I clapped my freezing hands to get the attention of those around me, then yelled above the blowing steam, "Women and children first please!"
Pitman returned, and we began with married couples, but after putting about twenty on board I was summarily pushed into the background by another crewmember (no pendant or anything) so I decided I had done my duty and therefore went to take a look around the ship.
I wandered forward towards the bridge when they started to lower the boat, it had forty people aboard. Still short of capacity but better than the one before it. Pitman had thanked me, and told me I ought to try the next one down.
I refused of course. What use did I have of a lifeboat?
I'd managed to get myself up to the bridge by posing as a member of the crew, courtesy Marcus. His clothes were rather big on me, but thanks to my pendant no one noticed. Fourth Officer Boxhall was just standing next to the wheel, a resigned look on his face. "You there, Seaman" he said to me. "What's the word on the lifeboats?"
"I don't know, sir," I replied. "That's what I came up here to find out. Though it seems that you know as much as I do." I grinned (what else?).
"I don't think I've ever seen you before..."
"It's a big ship," I said cheerfully.
His face went grim. "That it was, that it was." He sighed deeply, looking at his shoes. We had to yell this over the steam roar. I heard the Captain order the lifeboats to be readied, then several officers left to carry out those orders (I saw Darius in the bunch, but he did not respond to me, as he was supposed to). A minute or so later Boxhall called someone on a phone, I barely heard him say, "bring some distress rockets," Then he looked off the port bow.
There, probably ten miles distant, I saw a light. A masthead light as another ship would have. I rushed outside to the port wing bridge to get a clearer look. It did indeed look like another ship... but then I looked with my talent, and strained with my ears.
I heard two voices. Voices that had an eerie quality to them. They were speaking in a language I did not understand, which is quite unusual. I just could not place it. By the tone of their voices, they were in a heated argument. One female voice had an indescribable Tone. Even in it's anger I heard it's love, devotion, and reluctance, but also an incredible resolve and a deep loneliness that seemed to permeate all of her words.
The young male voice that responded was familiar. It also had a vehemence in it that I never expected of it. Funny, I never thought He'd grow up so soon... I guess events like this can make you grow up fast. Ape's voice also had a ring of new maturity to it. Amazing. The voices stopped a moment, realizing something.
DO YOU MIND, CHILD OF MY SON? WE ARE HAVING A CONVERSATION HERE. THANK YOU. The mind-voice nearly knocked me off my feet! My head throbbed and I rubbed my temples... then I realized that Nature Herself had spoken to me! Don't think I'll do that again... I thought.
A moment later a boy... ahem... young man in a cabin boy uniform appeared next to me. The light was still quite visible off the port bow, and I wondered what Nature was staying around for. Ape was looking at me with a serious expression. "You'll have to excuse Mother, Bottle." he said. "She oft forgets your senses are not quite the same as ours." He sighed. "In case you're wondering, that light is Mother's doing. She's deciding if she wants to make it a ship or not. I'm not comfortable with all these people dying. There are many aboard here who would help more than hurt. But if the light stays, she's decided in my favor. If it disappears... then the Carpathia will have to do. I at least got Mother to agree to let that ship through without harm. They should be here by sunup."
You know, I hate it when things get so serious? This business of saving lives like this... I mean, we bottlenoses are really not suited for it. Most of us think life is all fun and games; like riding the bow wave of a windjammer being pushed by the wind, your only worry which side of the bow to ride on. Frankly, though, for all it's seriousness, I know something good has to come out of this disaster. Something big.
Call me a terminal optimist.
We had to vacate the portside wing bridge when Boxhall came in and started to use the Morse lamp to signal the "ship". But to no avail. Nature had apparently not decided yet. Then a man carrying several rockets came appeared on the bridge. "Ah, Quartermaster Rowe," said Captain Smith. "Fire one rocket every six minutes." It was 12:45 a.m..
Ape and I wandered onto the boat deck just as the first rocket went off. The steam had stopped it's unearthly roar some time earlier, and at my urging the Captain had ordered the band to start playing. And they did. Ragtime, in fact. It made the atmosphere on board almost surreal. A strange party-like feel that would stay with me for years afterward. Then the rocket exploded above our heads in a loud BOOM and a white flash. Then as if a switch had been thrown all voices stopped, and gasped.
A quiet murmur flowed throughout the boat deck. For a moment there was utter silence. After all, everyone knows what rockets at sea mean.
Ape and I ran into Darius moment later. "I saw the light, and heard your argument with Nature," he said to Ape. "It's still out there, too. Doe this mean Nature has decided to relent?" Ape just shrugged resignedly.
At boat No. 8, we arrived just in time to see Ida Strauss back out of getting into the lifeboat. Her speech to a couple of her friends nearly brought tears to the three of us. She returned to her husband's side, and said: "We have been living together for many years, and where you go, I go. I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so shall we die together."
Another man urged Strauss to get into the boat with his wife. "I will not go before the other men," he said.
Darius walked up to Mr. Strauss, his eyes still very emotional, and said, "May I speak with the two of you in private for a moment?" Then those three left Ape and I standing there while the boat was loaded. Something I helped out with, and very proudly, too.
There really was not much else for us to do. Our major Tasks were complete. We only had to wait for the ship to sink, then Orca and the jewelry would take care of the rest. I decided to go and see if I could find Marcus and see how he was doing. I left Ape here above, at his insistence, then went a-roaming the ship.
As I supported the ship with my mind, it was almost as if I became one with the ship itself. For moment I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of people aboard! Then I knew the extent of the complacency of the shipping companies like the White Star line and Cunard. I'd read once that they thought that having lifeboats for everyone was impractical! Ridiculous!
As time moved on, I found I could focus on individual places and conversations throughout the whole ship. As more and more boats were loaded, passengers wandered aft. Most of those on the boat deck were still blissfully unaware of the danger they were in.
I nearly lost my concentration when boat No. 1 left with only twelve people aboard! So I let my mind wander aft towards my cabin. There I saw... or felt rather, the mind of a crewman in panic. "Oh God," he was saying. "I can't get this ring off! But Bottle said I'd be saved... but I don't know if I want to be saved like that!" He was pacing back and forth in one of the hallways on D-deck, with a look that both said joy and horror. Then he finally seemed to come to a decision.
"But the voice needs me," he said just loud enough to be heard by others. "It says that the dolphin that saved my life did so for a reason. That I have something to do here. That I will be saved, in a fashion, when the ship goes down." He looked at his ring for a moment, thinking quietly. Then he smiled, blew on the ring, then shined it with his coat sleeve.
"Hell, I think I've wanted to be one ever since she... I know it's a she somehow. She saved me from sinking to the bottom. For a moment when this little bit did whatever it did... changed me for a moment... I felt... I felt... I don't know. I want to find out again. But there's only one way to do that. It's time to stop thinking, and start doing." He nodded once in finality, the horror aspect disappearing from his features, then he stopped pacing the deck and started to hand out lifejackets.
I continued to follow him as his words had interested me. He must of been a second class steward, because I'd not seen him before. There seemed a huge number of steerage passengers still below decks, so I let my consciousness roam briefly to the top of the third class stairway. At the top of the stairway were several crewmembers actively keeping any passenger who ventured to the top back down. Like it was their sworn duty to see that the first and second class passengers got off the ship first! If I'd not been otherwise preoccupied I'd of given those men a mental slap! In point of fact, when a man rushed up the stairs one of the stewards grabbed him and shoved him back down into the steerage place!
Those actions made almost made me lose my concentration, again. So I turned back to the steward. A woman I recognized as Minnie Coutts, with her two young sons, from just three doors down from my cabin, explained to him that she did not have a lifebelt. He then seemed to realize something, then he looked at his ring again, a smile on his face. "Come with me." he said.
He led them to through a maze of corridors, through first class even, to his own quarters. With glistening eyes he fastened his own lifebelt to Minnie. "There madam," he said in a voice thick with emotion. "If you're saved, please pray for me."
Then something I'd been dreading, happened. Orca had been using some of his talent to make others avoid where we were on the ship. He was standing like a statue in the middle of the hallway, while I was pressed against a metal bulkhead in harmony with the ship. He was obviously starting to tire (and so was I, frankly). He must of put too much strength into pushing back the water, and faltered in the Aversion Tone a moment.
I saw him first, but could not do anything about it. The light was dim, but bright enough to block out Orca's blue glow if one was far away, as this crewmember was. "You there, what are you doing?" Then he looked closer. Orca seemed only to notice the man then. Then the man gasped, obviously seeing something he did not like, and turned to run.
Without missing a beat, a wave of blue-glowing sound leapt from the melon on Orca's whale-like head. It hit the man square in the back. I did not see that he was wearing a ring or pendant.
The instant the wave hit him he tripped, and burst out of his clothes, swelling in size. His skin rapidly darkened above, and whitened below in a telltale pattern. A tall triangular dorsal fin erupted into existence on his back. His legs fused and his feet widened into flukes, then lastly I saw his arms flatten into flippers. He was (what else?) an orca. With a sigh, Orca hit the newly transformed human with another blue wave, and the new whale disappeared in a flash of blue light. "I really wish I had not had to do that..." He said sadly.
"Why?" I asked tiredly.
"You would not understand."
"Try me, Master. You seem distressed." I tightened my grip on the ship's weak points, even though I was growing more and more tired.
"He was not wearing any of my jewelry. He did not have a Whaleside, either. So I had to kill him."
"What? All you did was transform him."
"No. That's not it. Yes, he is now an orca. But I had to negate most of his human existence. If he'd been wearing a pendant I could of used that to keep his human existence real. But I had to alter reality, Emily. Not superimpose something else over it. The jewelry acts like a catalyst, so I can change things without really changing them, but I had to make it as if he'd never been born human. That is a death of another sort."
The water was starting to come in faster now, and down the long corridor I could see it surging slowly up the growing steepness from the plunging bow. I let my mind roam the ship once more...
"...so that is the whole story. It is what I am, and what you will be if you so choose. I will not impose my will on you, though I really have no choice in the matter."
The Strausses looked at me in utter disbelief. What else did I expect? The first words out of my mouth, "I'm not really human," had caught them off guard. So I had no recourse but to actually show them my orca part form. Strangely, they did not panic. All Isador said was, "I just knew there was something strange about you Darius."
"You might say that," I'd replied. Then I'd gone on to explain exactly what the coins meant for all who carried them. Isador flipped the coin in the palm of his hand, then looked carefully at the ornate orca on the back. "It's either this, or death, my love." He said to Ida.
"I know, but I just do not know... what kind of life will it be? Never to be human again, never to walk the streets of New York, never to walk again at all. But still, it's quite... alluring is it not?"
"There is one thing you should know, though." I interjected, having shifted human again. "We orcas are matrilineal. In other words, Ida would be in charge, while you, Isador, would basically be with her at all times. But we are also very family oriented. Whatever children you may have will stay with you for life. So we're very close knit, we live in family 'pods' with specific territories... but then there are the Meetings! Oh you'd have to experience them! I could go on and on... but I won't. Not yet.
"I should tell you though, those coins are bound to you. You will not be able to get rid of them. You will be transformed whether you want to be or not. The choice I am giving you is if you want to remember your human pasts. I'm sorry, my Master is ever so stubborn about these things! He hates to see lives lost in almost any manner. So what is your choice?"
They looked at each other, love and curiosity in their eyes. Surprisingly, Ape then walked up beside me. "Personally, my Children, I think you should accept," he said curtly. "But that's just me."
"Who are you?" asked Ida.
"A friend, and a relative of sorts." He smirked knowingly. The Strausses, interestingly enough, seemed to accept his explanation, because otherwise they really did not notice Ape again.
"We don't know," they both said. Mr. Strauss continued. "May we have time to think about it? I think we have a bit of time left."
Unwilling to force them into anything, we both left them alone in deep thought. "It looks like your mother hasn't come to a decision yet," I said to Ape.
"Don't hold your breath, Darius. All we can do I cross our fingers. Nature is a tough Mother." He grinned sadly. I was amazed. His personality seemed to have changed completely even over just a few hours! He even looked older, maybe around twenty or so. "This night has aged me in ways I'd never thought could happen," he said, apparently knowing what I was thinking. "Orca could only make enough jewelry and coins for about half of those aboard, many of those are in lifeboats. I just hope it's enough..."
Suddenly I heard a voice in my head, one that was not Orca's, that was very sweet, Darius, it said tiredly. I'm proud of you.
Em... Emily? I returned. Where are you?
It would take too long to explain. I'm with the Master on E-deck. We've been supporting the ship. How many lifeboats are left? Both of us are starting to tire.
Just a few, then the four collapsibles.
Good! She seemed to think a moment. Darius, I can read your thoughts. I'm sorry, can't help it. I... know you love me. And because I think I won't survive the night. I... I... loveyoutoo.
I shook my head in disbelief. Excuse me Em? What did you say?
I said: I love you dammit! What you did for the Strausses was the last straw, you've shown a side to me tonight that I never suspected in you, and if caring for someone enough to go to any lengths not to have him killed is love, then I DO love you. That is the largest reason that I'm doing what I'm doing. This ship, when the bow fills enough, is going to snap in two like a twig. So please, please get off now! I don't want to see you die.
But what about you? I asked alarmedly.
I am unimportant. I know you will worry about me, it's only natural. But we are different species, it could never work anyway. Good luck, Darius. And she was gone, and I could not return her Sending.
The slope of the deck was becoming very noticeable, the forward well deck was surely awash by now. It was after 1:30, and we could not be long from foundering. "Shall we go aft, Brother of my Master?" I asked Ape. "Perhaps your Children might benefit from your presence."
"I think I'd like that," there were tears in his eyes as we walked aft. The last lifeboats were being loaded. Emily was large on my mind as we awaited the death of a titan, and the new lives and deaths of hundreds of passengers.
The light was still off the portside, and I hoped beyond hope, as the what would turn out to be the last distresss rocket leapt into the air, that Nature would relent and all would be saved.
The band started to play a hauntingly familiar tune, "I think this one is appropriate," Ape said to me. "You'll agree, I think."
I strained my ears to listen. I recognized the tune, I looked at Ape. The band was playing "Nearer My God to Thee."
Part V: Nearer My God to Thee
- "My friend Clinch Smith made the proposition that we should leave and go towards the stern. But there arose before us from the decks below a mass of humanity several lines deep and completely blocking our passage to the stern. There were women in the mass as well as men, and they seemed to be steerage passengers who had just come up from the decks below. Even among these people was there no evidence of panic. But oh, the agony of it!"
- --Col. Archibald Gracie, first class passenger.
Apr. 15, 1912 1:30 a.m.
I eventually found Marcus below decks, dragging around an indignant steward by the collar. The slope of the deck was quite noticeable, and I could almost feel the bow getting lower, and lower, and lower. "What are you doing?" I asked him.
"Me stuck up crewmate here's a bloomin' idiot! No matter what I've shown him 'e just doesn't understand. I just don't know what to do now."
I thought a moment, and grinned. "Isn't there a gangway door about a hundred feet forward?"
I'm no saint, and the idea I had was decidedly evil. Well, not evil. I still had a bottlenose pendant in my pocket I'd not had opportunity to give away yet. It almost felt like a waste for what I was about to do, but if it worked the idiot might actually do something good for a change, his new nature would demand it. "Good, let's go down there, shall we?" Marcus grinned, apparently understanding.
"Heave-ho?" He said with a wide grin.
"Heave-ho." I replied as we reached the gangway door and he opened it.
The steward looked at us fearfully. "You're not serious! I'll freeze to death in that water!"
"Oh, we are serious," I said, my face becoming grim. "Too serious for our species, I think. Which is sort of why I guess my Master chooses me for so much of his work." Marcus held him by the shoulders while I put the pendant around his neck. He must of had a weak Whaleside, because it flashed blue for a moment, attuning itself to him. "I am going to give you a chance to redeem yourself though, like my Master taught me. But in a rather peculiar way. Marcus?"
At my nod, we both shifted dolphin. The man screamed, and backed against the edge of the opened door. "What! what are you?!" he screamed.
"You're abou' to find out firsthand, matey," said Marcus. ["Heave-ho?"] he continued in Delphin, grabbing him with webbed hands on the man's left side, face in that now-fixed smile.
["Heave-ho,"] I clicked in return. In the future I would have to make myself some clothes that have a slot for my dorsal fin in this form, I've ruined too many shirts this way... I grabbed him on the other side.
Marcus and I were both glowing bright blue, and as soon as the both of us grabbed him, his pendant activated. We held him as his body reshaped like ours: Dorsal fin, webbed hands and feet, dolphin-like head, and smooth and hairless bluish skin. The pitch of his scream went higher and higher into the Delphin range of hearing. When he was finished, we picked him up and unceremoniously threw him over the side. ["Have fun!"] Marcus yelled in Delphin. Then he looked at me, ["I know I will."]
The man transformed completely as he fell, and as soon as he hit the water disappeared in a flash of blue light. ["Lucky sod,"] I said. ["He's probably in the Bahamas by now. Oh, well."]
["Bottle, I hate to tell you this, but I think me job is finished here. Orca says I can go now if I please. An' I please."]
I extended my hand, and we bumped rostrums for a moment in a dolphin "handshake", we also did so in the human manner. ["Then I guess I'll see you soon. I have a strong feeling that you should hang around where you appear, Orca will have chosen that spot for entries."]
["Will do, see ya later, pod-brother."] Then he dove overboard himself, repeating the steward's performance.
I looked aft from the open door, I could just barely see the screws rising up out of the water. The bow was surely completely submerged by now. So I resolved to go find out where Orca and Emily were.
Staying in part-dolphin form would enable me to locate them quicker, so I padded down the corridor, probing with my mind this way and that. This part of the ship was very deserted. I'd invoked my pendant to keep others from noticing what I looked like, it worked very well.
Looking for Emily's mind for some reason turned out to be fruitless. It almost seemed like she was all around me! Very odd. Then I slapped the back of my hand against my small melon. Orca's mind should be easy to locate. I changed frequencies, located him, and followed the maze of corridors towards where I'd felt his mind.
I found them both just before two a.m. I was starting to have difficulty walking on the steepening deck. Every now and again I would hear a crash-and-bang as things on rollers or loose in cabins started to slide forward. I could just feel the fatigue coming off of him... "Are you okay?" I said worriedly in a high-pitched English.
"I'm... fine. Nothing that a night's sleep and a couple dozen herring won't cure. We won't be able to keep this up much longer, Bottle. Emily's on her last legs, and frankly so am I. Marcus has gone to the bottlenose entry point, I trust?"
"Yea, he seemed born to be a dolphin! Why he was born human I'll never know..." Orca almost seemed to blush, an amazing feat on his orca-like face. "You mean?"
"I'm afraid so. Marcus is another one whose memory I loused up. Damn if I'll ever get that quite right. But then I'm really the one who 'invented' this whole disciple business a few thousand years ago, the moment humans first paddled a log out on the ocean. Nobody's perfect." He took a tired, deep breath. "Damn I'm tired. Go check on Emily." He seemed to be losing that veneer of a "proper Victorian manner." This was the real Orca speaking. No frilly language. Frankly, I liked him better.
Emily looked very strange compared to the way we toothed whales partially transform. She'd kept her hair, her face was still human, and she had not changed in size at all. But her skin was a deep blackish color while her hands were an off white. Her neck was also faintly grooved. Then I looked harder.
"Oh... oh no." I said quietly. She had put a lot of herself into the ship. Too much, in fact. It was not a physical thing, but what can only be termed as her "soul" was tied to the ship in such a way that it was impossible to immediately separate herself from it. I could feel her doing so, but it was so slow as to just creep along just within my range of perception. "It's going to take her years to separate herself!" And we only had an hour at best, probably much, much less. I made as if to remove her from the bulkhead.
[[NO!!]] Yelled Orca in a voice the brooked no opposition. "If you move her she will die a soul-ripping death! You must not touch her."
"But Master! She'll die anyway when this ship sinks!" For a moment he shook his head. "Won't... she?"
"My understanding of this type of soul bonding to inanimate objects is that she will not. Even the ship snapping in half... I'm sure you can hear it creaking now... won't hurt her I don't think. That's the only part I don't know about. Now please, Child, go and find Darius. You and he should be not remain separated. Time is short."
I shook my big head in resignation. ["Okay, Orca. I'll believe you this once. But if you're wrong nothing you can tell me will ever convince me to do another Task for you again!"] Over the past few months I'd grown quite fond of my stodgy humpback "cousin". She was very dear to me and I meant every word I said.
He looked a bit apologetic. "I know... I'll won't Call you again if that is your wish. Now go. I need to concentrate."
I turned my mind in the direction of Darius, pinpointed him, then went human again and left those two in their tired task.
As I was walking aft towards one of the staircases, I saw a large cabinet on rollers. In the back of my mind I realized that it might hit Orca right in the back, but for some reason I overlooked that. Instead I walked onward and upwards in the direction of Darius's mind-sound.
After a few more minutes of being one with the ship I realized two things: One; this ship knew it was doomed the moment it's first keel plates were riveted together, and two; I had sunk myself too deeply into the ship's "soul" to remove myself with any speed.
All the lifeboats except the collapsibles were gone now, and several men were quickly trying to ready them. They would not succeed very well.
I saw Bottle pushing through the crowd of those below decks in steerage. At the top of the stairs he got a serious expression... then punched a crewmember in the nose. That released the throng from below. [[Thank you!]] I said to him. He had another long rip in the back of his shirt, and his pendant was glowing in order to protect him from the cold. [[Don't mention it.]] He returned. [[How are you Em? Orca said you'd... um.]]
[[Slowly pulling myself out... I'm so tired! The water in the bow is reaching a literal breaking point... I can feel the metal just bending under the strain! I lost a section just a moment ago. Part of a bulkhead in a boiler room just caved in! But I'm having difficulty pulling myself free. I've sunk in too deeply.]] I did not tell him I knew I was going to go down with the ship.
[[Orca told me. Why'd you do this, Emily? Why? You're going to die, I just know it!]]
[[If I die, then it's because I've sacrificed myself for the seven hundred-odd souls aboard those lifeboats, those whose lives will remain unaltered. Without my support, the ship would of sunk too fast for even ''half'' the lifeboats to be launched! You realize that Orca and I have been defying his Mother outright? She's been lax so far, but when She finds out what we're doing... There will be punishment. Probably not severe, but it's inevitable.]]
[[You know I just don't understand this "self sacrifice" thing? We bottlenoses...]]
[[Oh, shut up Bottle!]] I retorted. [[If you were the 'stereotypical bottlenose' Orca would never have Called you in the first place! You, Marcus, and others are Disciples ''because'' you are supposed to understand what self sacrifice is while your pod-brothers are mystified by the whole concept! <nowiki>[[Take my species. Humor is an alien concept to us. Centuries of hunting by humans have bred it out. We feel no real hatred for them, but my mother volunteered to lead the whalers away from the rest of the group so the others could live! Yes, we're stuffy realists, but only because we have to be. But I was always the 'black sheep' in my family, as it were. They tried to train the sense of humor out of me, but nothin' doin'! If you think a moment you'll realize that you know something of self sacrifice. Think of your first Task.]]
There was a pause, then a moment of pure epiphany. [[I think I remember all too clearly. I had to basically kill those men on those whaling ship. Protecting some of your species, I might add. Kill... among my species it's almost considered sacrilegious to even hurt a human. No wonder I was bullied when I came back... I had to join a whole other pod! Not an easy thing. But it was a strange feeling... now that I think about it I felt good about myself. Even though I've felt a bit of guilt ever since. Whoa...]] The ship seemed to be tilting rather quickly. [[I think I see Darius now. God Emily, I...]]
[[Don't worry about me. I'll be okay no matter what happens. Goodbye, Bottle.]]
The moment he said that, I heard an amazingly beautiful and apologetic voice say, [[I'M SORRY, CETUS.]] Then give a little push to... something. I heard a rolling noise. Then a heavy cabinet on rollers shot past me going very fast... Orca could not see it coming behind him, nor could he hear it because of his intense concentration.
It hit him a glancing blow, just missing (on purpose, I thought) his relatively tall dorsal fin. But it must of weighed a couple hundred pounds at least. He was knocked senseless, sprawled on his stomach. In his unconsciousness he transformed completely, then disappeared in a flash of light.
I could not do anything about it. With Orca no longer holding back the water, the bow started to plunge.
The last thing I saw before I decided to head for the stern was J. Bruce Ismay getting into collapsible D. I did not really feel any real hatred for him, not now anyway, especially when Ape had gone up to him and said: "You will bear the brunt of the blame for this disaster! You are the partial cause of it, but not all. You will not remember me, but for the rest of your life will you bear the mark of your incompetence! And I will suffer with you, Child of mine. Because it is as much your fault as it is mine."
The other men started to unlash collapsible B, but I wandered aft instead, wondering where Emily and Bottle were.
Just as the bow started to submerge faster, Bottle appeared out of nowhere. "Think it's time to jump?" he asked me quickly.
"No, not yet. Where's Emily?"
"Well... I... uh..."
"Come on, spit it out."
"She asked me not to tell you. And hell if I'm going to go against her wishes." The slope of the deck was such that we had to lean in towards the stern to remain level. "Orca will explain all later, or so I'm told. I'm sorry, Darius."
I did not like the sound of that. I knew what she was doing, and how dangerous it was. I looked around for Ape, but he seemed to have disappeared... "It's okay, Bottle. I'm not worried, I've had a lot of experience over my three hundred-odd years. I've soul-bonded like this myself, she should not have any problems. The thing is, she's inexperienced. The water is over two miles deep here, and if she withdraws completely..." Then she would be crushed by the pressure! My only hope was that Orca would be ready to transport her once. Not much comfort. But I had a job to do. I would not make her sacrifice in vain.
Then the moment came. The ship shuddered for a moment, then with a gurgle a wave of water washed aft from the bow, which had started to plunge much faster than before.
I saw the wave carry away Col. Gracie and his friend Clinch Smith. I'd given Smith a coin with a bottlenose on it, and when he was swept under I felt a pulse that meant he'd disappeared. The lights flickered and dimmed a little.
The noise from the ship itself was tremendous! Everything from dishes and pans to tons of baggage and even motor cars must of been rushing forward. Bottle and I held on to the railing, the only thing keeping us from falling down.
The band stopped playing.
I saw Captain Smith take a header off the bridge. Then the wave caught Bottle and washed him overboard. I was not worried about him, or myself. Because a moment later after a few blue flashes under water I saw an orca surface not a hundred feet away. I waved to him, but he did not respond, apparently getting used to this other cetacean form.
The stern rose higher and higher. People began to jump off the ship. So, with a sigh, I did so too.
Jumping into the cold water was like a thousand tiny knives driven into me. But my ring clicked into action not a moment later, and I ripped out of my clothes into my part orca form. Bottle came up next to me and did the same, and we treaded water on the Surface. "You really don't want to go down there just yet," he said. "The noise that ship is making nearly deafened me!"
We swam out further among some floating debris, keeping out of sight. Our bright white undersides would of shown us off immediately. To the uninitiated, Bottle and I might seem like identical twins. But the white patches above his eyes were a little more circular than mine. But we could be brothers otherwise. "How do you feel?" I asked.
"Big. Big, big, big. How do you deal with it?"
"You'll find out. You won't have to deal with it much longer anyway." We both watched as the stern tilted higher, and higher. We heard splashes as people began to jump off the stern. Though no others seemed to be disappearing... not yet anyway. I wondered what Orca was waiting for.
Then with a great tearing of metal, the forward funnel fell forward, killing many outright I was sure. We had to grit our teeth as the noise from Below echoed up into our ears, "blinding" our Sight.
Then the lights failed. I wondered what would become of those still trapped inside the ship, especially the stokers and firemen who'd heroically kept her lights burning throughout the whole thing. The ship could only be seen as an outline against the starry sky.
With a great cracking and booming, the ship began to split in two. It was a sound I will always remember. It was almost like the ship was screaming. Then I realized I Heard Emily's voice over the scream...
I was too shocked to do anything about it, nor could I in any case. I did not know if she would be in the bow or the stern section. I dove below the Surface for a moment, and Saw the bow plunging at an incredible speed, two miles down. The stern settled to an even keel for a moment, people jumping off of it. Then it, too began to sink, broken end going under first until it was almost perpendicular to the water.
There was silence on the water, all were speechless. The stern sank lower and lower, picking up speed as it went. It sank so calmly that I could see people just swim away without getting their hair wet.
Emily was once more large in my mind as I saw the greatest technological achievement yet by mankind slip silently beneath the waves, leaving the two of us alone with the starry night.
Part VI: Rebirth
- "There is no danger that Titanic will sink! The boat is unsinkable, and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers."
- Philip Franklin, VP White Star Line. Apr. 16, 1912
Apr. 15, 1912 2:25 a.m.
Now the real work began. There was no time to even think about what had happened to Emily or Orca just yet. Darius and I transformed to full orca and stayed as far below the Surface as long as we could. Why? The screams and moans of people freezing to death haunt me to this day. Nothing can describe the sound. To block them out, we talked. We talked and talked and talked as if our minds would burst with the horrible noise from the Surface.
[[I think I know why they aren't transforming immediately,]] Darius clicked. [[Disasters like this require a certain—impact on the survivors. Ourselves included, unfortunately. When the boats are far enough away things will happen. Can't you Sense those who have jewelry above us? They live even though they are suffering with the rest.]]
Come to think of it, I could. They seemed to glow a dim blue to my Sight. Not visible to humans except for Sensitives among them. Of about... eight hundred in Sight about five hundred glowed like that. A good number, considering that there had been some still trapped inside the ship. I'd Heard a good number of pulses from those inside changing, then disappearing.
As we waited, I thought about this killer whale body I now had. God it felt strange! It's not the color, or the size difference, or even the high dorsal fin. It was the difference in my own thoughts.
Orca's namesake (or is it the other way around?) is quite different from my original species in a lot of ways. My thoughts seemed somewhere between bottlenose and humpback. Serious, but with a comic turn that I liked. They did not take things seriously all the time like the humpback, nor did they think life was all fun and games like the bottlenose. They were perfectly balanced, not too much either way. The only real thing that disturbed me was that killer whales had been known to hunt other whales... but never out of anything other than need. No wonder orca used them--us--the most.
What made the whole situation worse for the two of us was that we could still hear the ship sinking. Both the bow and the stern hit bottom with resounding thuds that deafened us for a few moments. [[Emily...]] Both of use clicked in unison. Then we heard something that gave us a bit of hope.
Thump. A sound. Thump. It could be nothing else. Thump. A heartbeat (?), slow yet strong. Thump. Emily was alive. Thump. [[Let's go find Orca.]] Darius said. I agreed wholeheartedly. The light of those around us who were about to become something else lit our way. There was a feeling of anticipation in the water. Almost tangible, that feeling. Even in the face of all this death, something wonderful was about to happen. A rebirth for hundreds of people, if they wanted it or not.
I flexed my flukes a few times and we were off. God this body is huge! So much for turning on a dime, though I'm going to have to try breaching at least once. We found Orca floating unconscious next to a small iceberg. [[Master! What happened?]] Darius' cry awoke him.
[[Da... Darius? My back aches... Oh, no. Mother. She really did it, didn't she?]]
[[Did what?]] I asked, confused.
[[I'm being punished for interfering. I know what you're thinking, my Children. I can't transport Emily up here. Yes, she's still alive, but my punishment is this, according to what I'm remembering. I'm supposed to wait for some sort of technology related to moving pictures. So I get the feeling that humans will have to be involved in some way. Hell. But chin up, Darius. She ''is'' alive.]]
[[Alive? What do you mean alive? What kind of life will she have down there? How long will it take for humans to get that far?! Not even you can dive down that deep without talking to Rockfish! And you know how hard to go to She is! And what's to keep her from starving to death? She'll be dead within the hour anyway for lack of air!]] Darius clicked angrily.
[[My son, my son. How ignorant you are of soul bonds. No. She will not hunger, she will not need air, nor will she age a day. Even time will pass strangely for her. She will last as long as the atoms of the ship do, billions of years if need be. Do not worry.]]
My "brother" was on a roll, though. His next words shocked me. [[Some father you are!]]
[[Father? ''Me?'' Darius, whatever gave you that idea? No, I'm not your father. But you've met him on this very night, you spoke to him at length in fact. But it's almost time for the Rebirth, anyway. Come, I've been meaning to tell you for days but for your fouled up memory.]] With a stroke of his powerful flukes, Orca sped off almost too fast for us to follow.
The three of us surfaced for a breath once, then dove below a mass of about fifty glowing bodies. Two of which seemed very familiar... [[It's time for the Rebirth.]] He repeated. Then he cleared his throat. [[AWAKEN, MY ADOPTED CHILDREN!! IT IS TIME!]] He said in a godlike voice that spoke of love and joy, of lives given a second chance. The jewelry responded.
I'd never been so busy in my life. The goings on helped me keep my mind off of Emily. Orca transformed people in waves of about fifty at a time. Those who had become bottlenoses or other warmer water species simply vanished right away, as they were supposed to. Most did not—and would not—remember their human pasts immediately. That was a good thing. Some of those who did often panicked and it took all of my talent to calm that person down. If that person was a grey or humpback, it took either Orca or Bottle and myself to do it.
They all transformed in the same way. The glow from their coin or jewelry would grow to almost blinding intensity, they would rip out of their clothes as they increased in size (depending on what they were becoming. The smaller species had a few problems...). Their legs would fuse, body becoming more streamlined. Hair would disappear, head grow larger and realign to be parallel with the spine. Feet would spread wide and flatten into flukes, fingers fused and a stiff membrane widened into flippers. Many would grow dorsal fins of varying shapes, or melons, or snouts. For many baleen would grow in the huge mouths of right, gray, bowhead, humpback, fin, minke, and other kinds of baleen whale. Among the toothed were orca, harbor porpoise, spinner, spotted, pacific white sided, bottlenose, sperm. Too many to list.
They would float up to the Surface and take their first breaths automatically though new blowholes, many had children--whales as well now--by their huge sides. Also sleeping. Then they would just float, waiting for someone to awaken them. Which kept Orca, Bottle and I working overtime.
Reactions varied among those who remembered from horror to excitement: [[I wanted to start over but not like this!]] Sang one new humpback. Orca had not started this unprepared, though. Within an hour of his first transformations pods of natural whales arrived to help the multitude through this difficult time of readjustment.
The adaptability of the human mind never ceases to amaze me. As does Emily's quick mind. Many more of third class than I had thought possible had been saved because of her little "modification" to the jewelry. I never would of thought of it! My resolve redoubled. No matter whose son I am, I am still immortal (and so is Bottle, I think...) and so I would work no matter how long it took to remove Emily from the predicament Nature had put her in.
It was the largest Meeting of other orcas I had ever been to. We had started to separate into our respective species, centered on those who were other Disciples of Orca. In the center of the orca superpod of about eighty, my Master awaited me along with Bottle, and two others who'd actually been with Him since the first group.
[[Darius, I would like you to meet once more your father. Isidor Strauss, and his wife Ida. Your mother.]]
[[WHAT?!]] I clicked in utter shock. Bottle was not far behind.
[[They are your parents in spirit only, but they will remember things with time. Past lives affect us all in ways we cannot predict. The Hindu have it partially right about reincarnation, but it's far different than what they think, it's much more random. Most humans' souls have been something else in the long history of life on this planet. The souls come out of nothingness, blossoming from who-knows-where, perhaps from some other plane of existence. They live here for a time. Perhaps only once, but most of them for at least a thousand years or more. Then they move on, where is a greater mystery. The Creator only knows. <nowiki>[[But for some the memories of what they have been are strong, and it only takes a change of form to bring out the old ones. You and Bottle, among a very few others, are very lucky. You are biological, natural immortals. You will live as long as I will. But enough of this technical talk. Come meet your parents once more.]]
He did not have to tell me twice! We floated just looking at each other for a long while, staring with our Sight. Sight is a funny thing. At certain frequencies, I could see inside Ida and Isidor. They had the bodies of what would be a human equivalent of twenty five years old. So not only had Orca given them their past physical forms back, but their youth as well. Then Ida broke the silence, and all my doubt was put at rest when she said with apparent amazement, [[Does... does Ape still have that tooth of mine in his hatband?]] She opened her mouth. She was indeed missing a tooth.
Who else could it be but my mother?
I must of spent the next hour breaching! In and out, in and out! Each time I was inspired to make higher and higher leaps into the air. But I'm not a bird, so after I'd nearly exhausted myself in joy the three of us finally just talked. We talked until the dawn came and Bottle told us, [[I'd hate to interrupt your little reunion, but Orca is about to give us all a speech.]]
It was nearly midmorning The many groups of almost thirty species of cetacean left (others could not last in this water temperature) had arranged themselves into pie slices, centered on Orca. [[Word has just reached me via Ape.]] He began. [[The ''Carpathia'' has rescued the other survivors, and has set course for New York. Because of this, I thought now would be a good time to answer questions.]]
[[Um...]] One began. [[I got a question. Is this a dream or something? What am I anyway? Some kind of fish?]]
[[That's three questions,]] Orca replied cheerfully. [[But no, this is not a dream. You are a humpback whale. One of my most musical Children. You are not a fish. You still breathe air, and your wife will have live young. But how do you feel otherwise? You're not angry?]]
[[What good does it do me to get angry, gov? I left England to start over, a new life for my entire family. We bought our tickets with the only money we had left. We had nothing but the clothes on our backs. I've got no skills, not had a job in years. So we would of had nothing to begin with. So, my wife and I have been talking... and I think we like it better this way. From what one of the others was telling me you live by your wits out here. You roam the oceans, free as a bird if you take my meaning. Don't have to worry about a roof over your head. What more can a man ask for?]]
That was common sentiment among those who had been in steerage, those who remembered, that is. Those who did not remember had left the area already, they would have been very confused by this talk. But there were others who were not as happy.
[[What gives you the right to decide who lives and who dies?! What are you anyway? And why have you stolen our humanity?!]] Yelled one irate beluga.
[[What gives me the right?]] Orca began darkly. [[You really want an answer?]] The beluga's flexible head nodded in the human manner. [[Not what, my adopted Child. Who. You can bring him up now.]] Two greys brought up another orca, he seemed rather depressed, his head hung limp in a human-type expression of guilt, and he seemed too depressed even to move. [[What's your name?]] Orca said. [[Come on, answer.]]
[[And what was your job on the ship?]]
[[I helped design her.]]
[[How critical were you to the choice of the number of lifeboats on board the ship?]]
[[Very critical. I... I should have gone for more! I designed the ship to take sixty four boats. Then Ismay decided to go for the minimum of sixteen! I should have said something! It was hard enough to get them to agree to the additional four collapsibles! But I feared for my job...]]
[[Your job... what good does it do you now? What should you have done?]]
[[If I had pushed for more boats we'd all be aboard the Carpathia!]]
[[Actually, no. Mr. Andrews, there would not of been time to load all those boats in the first place. You are not at fault. There are perhaps two where the blame could be placed. Do any of you know who those people are?]]
The beluga thought a moment. [[Ismay and Captain Smith?]]
[[Somewhat, they both share the blame. Ismay will suffer the rest of his life for it, my Brother Ape has seen to that. Smith ignored all those ice warnings. But where is Smith? I thought Darius had given him a coin... Darius?]]
[[I don't know where he is...]] I replied. In fact, it would be one of the greatest mysteries that I would ever face. All I know is that he did not die on that ship.
[[That satisfactory?]] Orca continued. [[Good. As for your other two questions. I am what you might call a guardian spirit of a sort. I am here for the benefit of all whales, I just choose to look like an orca for personal reasons. I can be any whale I please.]] He demonstrated by instantaneously becoming a beluga, humpback, dolphin, and a couple others. [[I am here because my Mother, whom you would call Mother Nature, needs beings like me and my Siblings to take a more personal interest in individuals. Which is why I'm going to suffer for a long, long time until a special someone is rescued from the deep.]]
[[What gives me the right? The simple fact that I just could not let you die! I am not limitless, though. That is why some still perished. I could not make enough coins and jewelry to save everyone. The simple injustice of not having enough boats is enough. Yes, you are not human anymore. But does that really matter? Your soul is that of a whale, think a moment and you will remember all of it. The body is immaterial, Child. It's only a shell, do not place too great a value on it. When you die, your core of being will be recycled into something else. A fish perhaps, a bird, a horse, a dog, another whale. Even through this rebirth, the soul retains it's individuality, what makes it unique among the others. Even through this, I did not want to have to have you go through the pain of rebirth again. I need your memories in tact. So chin up, my Child. You are still yourself, no matter that you have flukes instead of legs.]] Orca took a big breath.
[[ALL OF YOU! DID YOU HEAR ME? THE BODY IS NOT THE IMPORTANT THING! IT IS THE SPIRIT THAT MATTERS! All of you, at one point in your soul-lives, have been one of my Children. I have merely restored what once was. In fact, I actually recognize a few of you. So do not worry, have patience. You will be rewarded for it. You will die and start over yet again, in the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Yes, it is a painful process, but necessary. <nowiki>[[Now, are there any other questions?]]
There were many, many more. Orca answered them all to the best of his ability. Eventually it had to come to an end, though. Not all were happy about their situation, but since there was really nothing they could do about it most accepted their lot. [[Things will change.]] Orca had said. [[I can see the future somewhat, and in the possibilities I see a century with more change in it than any other. This ship will be a major part of that change. Indeed, it has already started. Man will realize that in this century that they are more connected with Nature than they think. Sometimes it takes a slap in the face to realize it.]]
[[If Nature slapped any harder She'd have to blow up the planet,]] I clicked quietly to Darius, who nodded in response. Before the "Gathering" (it would be called) of whales broke up, the band played. Sang, rather. Four of them were humpbacks, two belugas, and two orcas. They sang a dirge to the fallen, a new version of "Nearer My God to Thee", in memory of those who died. A song that had never been heard in the Sea before. Their musical ability seemed to have carried over into their new forms. If whales could cry, than we did with that song.
Then they surprised us. They then sang something which they assured had been just composed on the spot. This tune was like nothing else, it spoke of lives given a second chance, of love towards the one who had saved them, and made the future seem mysterious, yet inviting. The Gathering broke apart on a positive note, with animated clicking and singing of may questions asked by the old/new whales to their natural-born pod-mates.
That left Orca, along with Darius, me, and the other new orcas alone in the waters next to a large iceberg. Of the eleven hundred we had saved, perhaps four hundred of those had retained their memories. The majority of those were orca, humpback, and bottlenose. With other species having at least one representative. With the rest gone, there were now about eighty orcas in the water around me. All talking and talking and talking. [[Don't you guys ever shut up?]] I asked Darius jokingly.
[[Nope,]] He replied. [[You think bottlenoses are talkative, well, you've been pretty gabby yourself today.]]
[[Yeah, it's very strange. You know that I've not even thought about Emily for hours? I can still hear that thumping noise, too. I just... don't feel sad about it anymore. What about you?]]
[[Yes, I've had that feeling too, come to think of it. I wonder what...]]
[[Good,]] Orca said in a sad voice behind us.
[[Then Mother did what I asked.]]
[[What are you talking about?]] I said.
[[I asked Mother to put in a funnel of sorts for all your melancholy feelings about her. The funnel goes into me.]] He was the most depressed I've ever seen him. That worried me.
[[But Master! Why?]] asked Darius.
[[Because I can't have you two with fuddled wits right now. This is going to be a hectic hundred years or so, and I can't afford to have you two waste time with grief and loss. I have lived so long that I can't tell you how many times I've dealt with such feelings. It hasn't made it any easier, though. I'll recover. But on to the Task I have for the both of you. <nowiki>[[Bottle, after I brief you I'm sending you back to the bottlenose entry point with the knowledge you need to answer their questions. Darius, I will leave you to take care of things here. I'm going to be gone for a while, so I'm investing the both of you with certain... powers. Including the ability to draft temporary Disciples for whatever needs doing. You two are going to be in and out of the water a lot, I can tell you. Any questions?]]
[[Yes,]] Darius started. [[What will happen to Emily? I mean, how long will it be until we rescue her? When will you be back, anyway?]]
[[When humans discover the wreck with their technology, we will be free to do as we must to free her. That was one of Mother's stipulations. Another one, unfortunately, is that you will forget this position until it is found. Also, the day the wreck is found is the day I will return from my... vacation. Do me well, you two. I have faith in the both of you.]]
[[One last thing, Master.]] I said. [[What do we do until humans find the wreck?]]
[[The only thing we can do. We wait.]]
Part VII: Discovery
- HOPE FOR MORE TITANIC SURVIVORS FAINT; CARPATHIA ONLY SHIP ON HAND IN TIME. Perhaps 1400 lost.
- Headline, New York Evening Sun, Apr. 16, 1912
Sept. 3, 1985 12:00 p.m
"Let's give a hand for our three Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins: Corky, Finn, and Delphi!" At this cue, the other two dolphins and I executed a HUGE leap through the air, with me at the center of the tank. We then faced downward in the water with our flukes in the air, waving "goodbye". Frankly, I think the show they've come up with isn't bad, but for that last part.
I floated next to the glass so I could watch people file out. Every inconvenience I suffer in this place (which, frankly, is not much) seems small when I see the joy on the faces of the children as they walk out. One or two stopped to stare at me with happy eyes, so I rolled a couple times and bobbed my head underwater. The kids giggled. That made my day. [[A good show, Bottle,]] said Finn.
[[Yeah, a good show,]] I replied. [[But call me "Delphi." I've not gone by that other name in quite some time. But I wish they'd come up with some other tricks. I'm getting rather bored with these.]]
In the years since the wreck, I've been in and out of the water a lot. But I have to say that "Woodstock" thing back in '69 was the best time I've ever had. It was the only place where I have ever been able to wander around in hybrid form and have no one notice... Who needs drugs when you're a dolphin already?
Darius took most of the load of subbing for Orca from me. I mainly took care of minor matters. After that one time I was an orca, I've always felt uncomfortable with taking that form again. Though my pendant (when I'm human) still has that capability.
And Darius... frankly, I'm worried about him. I think impersonating Orca has been a strain. I seem to recall an incident last year with an exploding Alaskan cruise ship that almost got one of our temporary Disciples killed... Otherwise, the organization that he'd started (ORCA, or Outdoor Resource Conservation Association) is still going strong, and has ceased being so radical.
The people eventually filed out, and the stadium was empty. The three of us went up to our favorite "trainer" to have a talk. I shifted to hybrid. "So, Delphi. What do you think of conditions here?" she asked.
"Not bad, my hairy friend. My Master would be pleased." Well, checking out waterparks like this was sort of my self-appointed Task. I must have closed down a dozen of these places over the past twenty years or so. This one definitely passes inspection! Almost a rarity... "You still have that surprised look on your face when I do this, though."
"Well, what you your reaction be if an animal you thought was smart, but not that smart suddenly speak in fluent English, then change into a morph of a human? You scared the heck out of me last year with that trick!"
"Sorry about that. I'm not all that subtle as 'phins go." I replied. "But you're special, Cindy. You really, truly, care. That is a scarce thing, even though not as much as it used to be."
"I wish I was one of you." She said for the umpteenth time. She didn't really mean it, though. I could tell. She had the want, but not the conviction. I'd given her a pendant anyway. I smiled, then my smile went flat as a man walked up behind her.
Because of my talent (much more powerful since Orca had enhanced my powers) all the man saw was her talking to a normal dolphin in the tank. "Ms. Cole, you talk to those animals like they're people!" He said. "You know they can't understand what you're saying." In response, I splashed some water from the pool onto his dress shirt with my snout.
"You were saying?" Cindy said, smirking.
"Conditioned response. Look, I'm afraid I'm going to have to say this now, Miss Cole. We're not doing very well, so we've had to make some cuts. But we like you and we want to keep you on. But the thing is, it's either you leave or we cut the maintenance budget. You know what that would mean."
I knew, too. It would mean that we'd get less food, the tank would get dirty, and our vets would be here only once a week. Not good in such a small tank. And grounds for me to close the place down. How? Best I not say anything...
Cindy got a troubled look on her face, she looked at us, and quietly walked away in deep thought.
While I was doing my exercises a man walked into the stadium. He was of medium height, black, with white temples and goatee. He was also wearing a t-shirt with a print of an orca breaching on it. Looked to be one of those things by Anthony Casay... Something clicked in my mind. ["Master! You're back!"] I clicked in excited Delphin.
"That I am, Bottle. I've got good news, too. They found the Titanic two days ago. A man named Bob Ballard (whom I've been helping since childhood, by the way) found her with a thing called 'Argo'. We're free to do you-know-what. So I need you to come now, if you can tear yourself away from here."
["I don't know... I'm tied up at the moment. I'll come, but just give me a few hours."]
"I've got to catch the three o'clock flight to Boston, so can't wait. Mother is forcing me to use human technology to get around until we're through with this. Hmm... But I can do some other things to help you. Go to locker number forty two and you'll have everything you need. I'll see you soon." And he left.
At the end of the day, Cindy stopped at the top of the pool in her street clothes, looking at me sadly as I circled the pool, and thumbing her pendant.
I'd heard on the radio that the Titanic had finally been found, so was expecting Orca's visit. As Cindy stood there, the manager (the jerk) came up behind her. "They're only animals, Cindy." He repeated. Then he walked away.
She looked at me even with even more intense sadness. "You know, Delphi. And I've told you this before. Ever since I touched a dolphin at the petting pool at Sea World when I was little I've wanted to work with you. Well, dolphins anyway. It's been one of my dreams. But now it's over."
Over? What was she talking about? "I've decided to leave you rather than let you and the others suffer for my selfishness. I'll miss you, and your secret is safe with me, always. It means more to me than you can know." Then she surprised me by jumping in. I changed to hybrid. She floated before me with tears running down her cheeks.
She's one of a kind. Has no family, no one. In a way I think I--all of we dolphins, really--filled a void for her. I'd never encountered one like her in my two hundred-odd years of life. And I loved her very much. We'd been working together three years before I'd revealed myself to her, she never once treated me like a mere animal. We like that, and try to reward it. She hugged me tightly around my large neck, "I wish I was one of you," she whispered. She meant it, too. For the first time, she really, truly, meant it.
I've been wanting to do this for a long, long time. I'd only been waiting for the proper moment. I pushed her away from me, holding her forearms with my webbed hands, treading water. I reached up and pushed a bit of her long hair out of her eyes. "My wonderful Cynthia," I said. "Ask, and ye shall receive." I clasped her pendant in my hand.
I left the new dolphin cavorting in the tank with Finn and Corky. I'd never seen her happier (by the height of the leaps she was making...), and my heart sang. I could not recall the last time I'd been that happy! I'd even been able to alter the local timeline to include a female dolphin named "Oracle," so no one would know the difference. I knew I'd be back one day soon (I can't wait to introduce her to my family pod! They'll love her!).
The park was closed, and it was getting dark. I had no clothes, so I used my talent to hide my hybrid appearance to look like someone in a costume. One of the clean up crew saw me, and asked what I was doing. "Just getting used to this thing," I'd replied. "I start tomorrow, and it's still summer you know. This makeup is going to be hot." The man seemed to accept it and move on.
I went to the locker Orca had mentioned, banged on it with my talent. Inside were clothes, shoes, wallet, and car keys. I went into a bathroom to get dressed.
I'd not been fully human since 1972. The seventies had gotten to be too much for me to bear (Disco: a humpback would scream if he heard it!) so I'd gotten wet again. I wonder who I am this time? I asked myself as I opened the wallet. Then I groaned. The name on the drivers license was "Dolph Seacord." Orca had not gotten any more subtle since he'd been gone, it seemed... I wished he'd let me choose my own name like he did Emily all those years ago.
At least He'd gotten the face right again. I changed to full human to more resemble the picture on the card. Then I looked in the mirror. The face that looked back screamed "SURFER!!" and I loved it. I was probably about twenty five years old, had a dark tan, a mop of messy sun-bleached hair, and a goatee. My body was hardened and muscular from years of surfing. The wallet even had a picture of me and my board. "Kewel," I said aloud, noting the SoCal accent.
The car was a beat up '81 Subaru 4x4 wagon, with my surfboard inside. It was perfect for this body and personality! Of course, I'm not the typical surfer. I know more about cetacean biology than anyone, and naval history. So I might surprise a few people. I like irony like that. It would be a long drive, (Orca had thoughtfully provided a credit card, too. So I was set.) and I settled in.
The wind off the North Atlantic was cold and harsh. Fall was coming in a month or so, and an early nor'easter was coming north up the coast of Maine. I've always liked Newfoundland. The northeastern Canadian coast is among the most beautiful I have found, only Alaska is in any way better.
The waves crashed with greater intensity. I turned away from the gravestones before me. My parents had died (again) over forty years ago. Their last request was to spend their final hours human again. They had said it brought closure to an overly long and fruitful life. They had been amongst the most revered whales in the Sea. All had come to them, no matter the species. They taught many of our temporary Disciples about human society (which borne out the reason about exactly why they'd been allowed to keep their memories, among others). Then I'd lost them again.
It was almost more than I could take. To lose them twice.. Only the memory of Emily had kept me from going insane. She was still out there, waiting. Damned if I was going to disappoint her.
Other than impersonating Orca, in the past seventy years or so Bottle (what is his name now? I've lost track) and I have been everywhere. I've traveled on all the great floating palaces: Olympic, Bremen, Normandie, Andrea Doria, Imperator, Ile de France, Rex, Vaterland, Aquatania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Europa, and many, many others. Mostly in my search for what happened to Captain Smith.
In the years after the Titanic, a legend had arisen. Whenever ice was sighted, and a large ship (most often a passenger liner) was steaming towards it, this lone orca would appear. Those who did not heed the warning had troubles, those who did had none. But no matter how many times I tried I never saw him. But in my mind that orca could only be one person.
Otherwise, the only other excitement has been the two World Wars. Both Bottle and I fought in them. Only too happily against Hitler. Needless to say, Ape was the angriest I'd ever seen him when he found out that that man had done... Israel is a result of that somewhat (He thought the Jews needed a bit of reparation). Right now he's having a devil of a time keeping that country in one piece. I think one of his Disciples went bad on him. I guess it goes to show: never have a baboon as your First Disciple.
I guess the both of us are very lucky that Orca had augmented our talents... one of which seemed to be an enhancement of our natural immortality. I remember (sort of) getting shot several times during both wars, then waking up in the water in my natural orca form. Lucky thing, too. I'd be dead several times over if not for that little addition.
I got inside the house just as the rain started to come down in sheets. This was the model room. In here, I kept large models of all the ships I've sailed on, with the Sothesby having a special place. That ship is still in dry dock, ready to sail. Unfortunately, the will of "Darius Orcan" had turned her into a museum of sorts (she's still quite seaworthy, though). I'm this close to acquiring her once more, but I've just not had the money. The door to the room opened. "How was your swim, sir?" Said Michaels, my head servant.
"Fine, just fine," I replied. Even though I'd not been in True Form for over a decade, I still went out to the water out of pure habit. My current name was "Maximillian Delorca." Head of ORCA, that environmental association. I'd taken personal command after that exploding ship debacle. The one I'd assigned to clean up the acts of those cruise ships was still recovering. Changing back into his True Self had healed his physical injuries, but the mental ones are harder to fix.
The only thing that had cheered me up was hearing that the Titanic had been discovered. I was so close to jumping in the water and swimming out to the Knorr, but then I Heard from Orca! Bottle and he would be here soon! I'd not seen him in almost forty years!
After WWII, he and I had sort of drifted apart. I think it was because he did not seem to understand my need to take over from Orca in every manner. He seemed to resent my insisting that he remain in the background and do nothing (well, he had just gotten "killed" again fighting on Iwo Jima, and I'd worried for his safety), so without further adieu he'd gone off on his own. I'd not heard from him since.
Of course, my memory might be foggy over the details of why we'd separated. It's a symptom of being four hundred years old. The brain gets crowded with a mishmash of images. Many of which could easily be several similar events squashed into a single memory.
If there was one thing I told Orca not to mess with, it's my memories and the way they work. Nothing personal... just caution.
I spent the next couple days waiting. Then a car drove up, and a man with a distinctive (for these parts) mop of blond hair got out. I did not recognize him immediately, but he had the Tone of one of the other permanent Disciples. Unfortunately we change faces so often that I could not immediately be sure who it was. I walked out the door to meet him.
"Welcome home," I said tentatively, offering my hand.
"Welcome home," he said. Over the past few days I'd remembered exactly why we'd not spoken the past forty years. For all his confident appearance, he is not the person I knew on the Titanic. Unfortunately that's all I could really recall about it. My last "death" had scrambled my memory a bit. It looks like at some point I'm going to have to do something about all those tuna fishing boats. They're damned indiscriminate in what they catch.
He obviously did not recognize me. So said, "Like thanks, dude. Great to be here." Getting into my Californian persona.
"How's the Program going?" He says.
Ah yes, 'The Program.' The first part of it was very simple: confuse the human researchers who are trying to decipher our language, and are trying to teach us a language. A very fun game, most of us think. But the second part is more serious. "Dolphin therapy" for human children who have all sorts of problems. I did a year of it myself. Which is how I found out I like human children a lot. The light on their faces when one of them sees me in my True Form gives a feeling like nothing else. I happened to know that most of those who are on the wet end of that therapy love doing it. But to get Darius' goat I said, "Like, just fine, dude."
"Um... okaay," he said. He'd not changed a whittle in forty years. Not even his appearance. Which was another symptom of his problem. He's been cooped up here for way too long. He needed to get out in the world again, see how it has changed. We went into the house, and what I saw only confirmed my suspicions. He had a vintage 60's TV set that got only two channels, and bad ones at that.
He offered me something to eat ("Like, mackerel if ya got it, dude") and over dinner I skillfully misdirected him each time he tried figure out who I was. It was great fun. He started to become frustrated, and I was about to tell him who I was, when the dining room door opened and closed and a familiar figure appeared. "Ah, Darius and Bottle! Glad to see both of you again my Children! The time has come. But I need to speak with the both of you first."
"Bottle?!" Darius said, dumbfounded.
"Maybe. Orca has been known to be wrong once or twice in a century." I grinned. But memories had started to flood back... To Darius too, apparently.
"Bottle, why haven't you even called in the last forty years? Still mad at me?"
I thought a moment... "Damn straight, dude! Orca said to take care of things while he was away, NOT replace him! You were supposed to make it known to others that you weren't him! Instead you've fooled everyone!" It was probably just a silly thing. After all, Orca usually leaves it up to us how to interpret his orders. But he'd given us less guidelines than he usually does, which had made things even less definite.
He looked at me. "It's my JOB bottle brain! I never rose above myself, you know that!" It would of escalated from there, but...
"Guys, please? Stop, your arguing breaks my heart. You know that. I think you two have forgotten some things since I've been gone. Darius, how long has it been since you've been in True Form?"
He thought a moment. "Maybe a decade or so."
"And Bottle, you yourself had not been fully human for at least that long before I showed up. Both of you have lost something, and you don't know it. You've lost something very dear to me, your sense of purpose, and joy in achieving that purpose. Bottle, before I appeared, when was the last time you felt real happiness? You too, Darius."
To tell the truth, I couldn't remember. Which is why I'd stayed among the dolphins at the World Waterpark. They're more serious as dolphins go. Probably having to do with the Program. I shook my head in resignation. "Can't remember."
Darius looked just as distressed. "I've... forgotten. But there is something I remember now. Bottle, our real argument had nothing to do with what I was supposed to be doing. I think we just got on each other's nerves. One can only stand so much of watching your lips move while you read, you know."
"And you and your annoying habit of breaching whenever you feel like it. Do you know the kind of noise it makes? I don't suppose you do. Then there's your habit of slucking spaghetti. Sheesh!" In retrospect, I guess it was the little things that eventually drove us apart. But somehow, in the Presence of our Master we were reminded of our purpose. But this was not all He had planned for us.
"Doctor Ballard is already deep into planning his dive mission for next year. I have a plan to get us down there, but it involves a lot of crash technical training and I'm going to have to bring in some of the other Disciples. But first I have a little surprise. Sibs?"
Five people, one woman and four men, appeared. "These are my Siblings. I've been gone because I've tried to convince them to help me. These are the few whom I've convinced to help. Unfortunately, Ape can't join us. He sends his regards, though. But first introductions." He walked over to the first one.
He was a tall man, powerfully built with a flowing scalp lock not unlike a horse's mane, with a kind look in his large brown eyes. "This is my Brother, Equus. He has taken the name 'Morgan Shireborne.'"
"I'm sorry I haven't joined in earlier," he said in a deep voice. "But I'm afraid I've not taken as great an interest as I should in the affairs of humans. My Children and they a have been connected for thousands of years, so it's about time I helped them both."
"My Sister, Felina Bast." All she gave was a sly, slightly arrogant grin. Orca went on. "My Brother, Lupus." He was silent, too. He and Felina did not seem to get along very well. Felina looked like an Egyptian princess, and Lupus like a mix of a Native American and a generic European. "And then there's Bandit..." Orca gestured to a short man wearing a black cloak.
"This is much better than rooting around in garbage cans!" the sharp man said in a tenor, fast voice, while munching on some saltine crackers.
"Lemme guess," I said. "Raccoon?" He just winked.
"Last, but certainly not least, Eagle, whom has chosen no other name. None that he would accept from me at any rate."
The man had a cold, impassive look to him that looked like he was thinking of how many ways he could dismember you. But the next moment the right corner of his mouth went up in a bit of a smirk, which actually made him a bit more likable. Bandit seemed more than a little bit nervous around him.
"How much time do we have, Master?" I asked.
"Not as much as I'd like. But we should succeed I think. So let's get a move on. We have no time to waste."
Part VIII: The Ghost from the Grand Banks
- "Ralph," I said, "come right. I think I see a wall of black just on the other side of that mud mound." Ralph [the sub pilot] did as I asked and inched Alvin forward until he was stopped by a sight unlike any he'd encountered in hundreds of deep ocean dives: directly in front of him was an apparently endless slab of black steel rising out of the bottom--the massive hull of the Titanic. I thought of Edmund Hillary standing at the summit of Mount Everest, or some future space traveler peering over the edge of the known universe. Slowly, I let out my breath; I didn't realize I'd been holding it.
- Dr. Robert Ballard, The Discovery of the Titanic.
July 13, 1986. 3:00 p.m.
Darius always was fashionably late. "Where is he?" asked Cindy.
"I don't know, love." I replied. "But Doctor Ballard is about to give another lecture."
"I have here two artifacts from the Titanic. The first is an item that belonged to Lawrence Beesley. A dolphin pendant he said was given to him in the second class dining saloon on the day of the disaster. Legend has it that the same person, and a few others, were giving these little things out all through the voyage. All of them had different species of whale on them, they say. This is the only surviving piece, interesting."
Hmm, I'd wondered what became of that little bit I'd given him. I thought again about Darius. He'd had some trouble adjusting to all the computers and technical equipment of the submersible we'd end up... borrowing. When he didn't show up on the dock when the Atlantis II was supposed to leave I just assumed he'd decided not to come. Then I rethought about it and decided he was going to make a "Grand Entrance" of sorts. Then Lupus whuffed a few times at something Dr. Ballard was saying. (He was disguised as the ship's dog.)
"...and this strange coin was found inside one of the lifebelts. You can see it's quite dirty, but on one side is a windjammer, and the other an orca. We don't quite know how they got in there, but there is some writing on the bottom curve just below the ship. Unfortunately every attempt to remove the corrosion has been unsuccessful for some reason."
I almost gasped aloud. None of those coins were supposed to have survived! Orca had made them to dissolve after a short while if they did not activate! But when I Looked at the coin I saw that it was a dud. Orca himself was down below in engineering. It seems that he'd spent some of his time in the past couple years working as a cetacean advisor on that new Star Trek movie (Em should like that one, if we can find her).
Right next to me was Cindy, my "human" (though not so much any more) lover and what we bottlenoses call a "bondmate." (Like marriage.) On the other was Morgan, Bandit, Lupus (as a German Shepherd), and Eagle (Felina was asleep in her cabin, the lazy cat. She wasn't even in human form...).
They'd already made a single dive on the Titanic. Unfortunately a leak in the batteries had kept Dr. Ballard from really exploring the ship. But the way he described what he saw--a wall of black metal rising out of the muddy bottom--seemed to have affected him. But the batteries must be fixed if we're to... ahem... borrow the little submersible Alvin. Jason Jr. (JJ), the little remote control robot, is a bonus, really. Orca said all he need to do is see Em on the TV screen and poof she'll be aboard the sub with us.
But only Darius knows how to use JJ in our group. And he's not here yet. Then Eagle tapped me on the shoulder. "He's here," he said.
You know those were the only words I'd heard him say in a week? He's the most silent person I've ever known. "Where?" I said.
He simply pointed out off the starboard side. Then I looked at him. He'd Shifted his head into that of a red-tailed hawk, with the eyes to match. Of course he's seen it first! Then I heard someone yell, "ship ahoy!" and everyone looked to starboard.
"He always was a little bit late in doing things," I told Cindy. "I guess it runs in the orca family. Oh, well. I can't wait to see the look on the Doc's face," We'd managed to sign on as generic scientists, and a couple of crew members. (Orca insists on being called "Scotty." Sheesh.)
Bandit was looking through a pair of binoculars at the mast and expanse of white canvas sail that was just becoming visible to my human vision. He gasped a moment. "Wow! That's beautiful!" He said aloud. "I've never seen anything like it! Take a look," he handed me the binocs.
Nothing stirs a seaman's heart like the sight of a windjammer under full sail. I could just make out the name, Sothesby on the bow. Dr. Ballard walked up to me, "Can I borrow those?" he said. I gave the binocs to him, speechless and near tears. I'd seen something else in them that made me even more emotional.
Then Dr. Ballard gasped himself. Apparently seeing the same thing I had.
Riding the bow wave of the oncoming vessel were two pods of whales, their blows just becoming visible to those on deck. Orca on one side, humpback on the other. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Then Ballard gasped again, "That's impossible! She was turned into a museum!" He must of recognized the name too, and considering what we were doing it must of appeared like an apparition out of the distant past. A past that is gone, but not forgotten.
Then I interjected, "didn't someone claiming to be the owner's descendent claim her, citing an obscure reference in the will?"
"Yeah, Dolph. It was challenged, but a month ago she was turned over. In a way, I'm happy to see her out on the waves again. The former owner... what was his name? Ah! 'Darius Orcan' was really an early environmentalist, you know. Only random chance put him on the Titanic."
If only he knew. Which is worse comes to worse just might happen. I strained with my Senses a moment, then Spoke, [[Hey Darius, you always knew how to make an entrance.]]
[[Thanks. But I'm sorry I'm late, I had to be sure I could operate that little underwater robot-thingy.]] His voice wasn't coming from the ship, but from the water in front. [[Yes, I'm out in front. Riding the bow wave is the only way to travel. The Singer pod on the port bow is Em's family pod. I thought it fitting that they come.]]
[[Agreed.]] I replied cheerfully.
[[Just a moment... Heave to!]] He said in a Captain's voice.
[[Whoa! Who's crewing that thing anyway?]] The crew was now aloft in the rigging, rapidly furling the many sails. Which made her seem even more impressive. The mainmast was about a hundred fifty feet tall, the ship itself was about four hundred feet long and had four masts. Unlike other pure sailing ships, her hull was steel, not wood. She's one of the last of the large bark-rigged ships. Gleaming white from stem to stern. With a kind of grace that no powerboat can ever hope to match. The pinnacle of sail.
Darius interrupted my train of thought. [[The other Disciples, and a few of those who've been windjammer crewmembers in past lives. Including your pod-brother Marcus, I might add.]]
[[Marcus? He died in 1924... and again in 1959... what is he now?]] I was eager to find out. He and I seemed strangely connected.
[[I'll let ''him'' tell you. You'll know him when you see him. But could you drop a ladder or something over the side? I need to get aboard...]]
[[Sure thing...]] "Bandit, could you give me a hand, here?" I said. He winked. Cindy and I quietly slipped over to a rope ladder.
The whole crew of the Atlantis II was watching the approach of the Sothesby, all were speechless at the sight of whales of two species that should be deadly enemies intermingling. The whales eventually surrounded the ship. Once Darius even spyhopped a little and looked Dr. Ballard right in the eye. The Doc just shook his head a little in amazement (something seemed to pass between the two of them. Ballard was still holding that dolphin pendant...). The ship eventually slowed to a stop about two hundred yards off the starboard side.
Frankly I really didn't know how I was going to get Darius on board without anyone noticing, which is what I wanted to do. Then Bandit said, "Let me and my Sibs take care of that."
The Siblings (Bandit, Eagle, Morgan, and Lupus) stood in a circle, and Shifted to a hybrid form. Lupus looked like a werewolf straight out of "The Howling;" (though without the evil look) Eagle was a bald eagle with wings and arms, as large as a human; Bandit was a simple raccoon hybrid, with striped tail and snout; and Morgan a humanoid horse. They then joined hands (or paws, talons, hooves) and a yellow/red/green/purple glowing sphere appeared in the middle between them. [[**FREEZE**]] They said in an overwhelming Voice.
Time stopped, except for we Disciples. I put the ladder over for Darius, who'd assumed his hybrid shape, to climb up. When he got up to the deck he went fully human and a vintage 1912 suit appeared on him, he also changed to resemble what he did on that fateful night. "Full of surprises, aren't they?" he said to me, referring to the Siblings.
"That they are," I replied. "Do you want to go below decks and try to do something tonight?" Surprisingly, he shook his head.
"No, I might as well hit this nail on the head. So they might as well restart time again..."
In response, the three said, [[**GO**]] and everyone was milling around again. Then they Shifted back to human form. Orca appeared out of one of the hatches from below decks, and walked over to us.
"Are you ready, my son? It's about that time." He said to Darius.
"Yes, I'm ready. I've been ready for almost seventy five years." Dr. Ballard had torn his eyes away from the amazing spectacle of breaching humpbacks and orcas long enough to see the person he did not recognize (maybe) standing with a bunch that he did recognize.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "Who are you? And what are you doing aboard my ship?"
Darius looked Dr. Ballard straight in the eye, like he had in orca form. "My name is Darius Orcan, and I need to borrow your submersible."
Predictably, Dr. Ballard's initial reaction was a simple, "what?"
"You heard what I said, Doctor. I need to borrow Alvin."
"You're insane if you think I'm going to let you... what did you say your name was?"
"Darius Orcan. You should recognize the name, I am the owner of that ship off the starboard side and, you'll find, one of the major underwriters of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute."
"He died almost seventy five years ago on the Titanic! There is no way you could be him!"
"Take a look at me, who else could I be?"
"A descendent, one claimed that ship, after all. But you said you wanted to 'borrow' Alvin? Well, I've got some news for you. We have battery problems and I doubt we'll be able to even make another dive. Besides, who are you going to find to run it? No one here will willing pilot her for you."
Bottle (still using the name "Dolph Seacord") stepped forward. He was still very surprised at my statement. After all, a reveal like this had not been in the original plan (Orca has a tendency to change His plans on a dime). But he adapted quickly. "I'm afraid you're wrong about that, Doc. I'm a fully qualified submersible pilot, and I'm willing. In fact, you'll find that most of the crew is willing."
Dr. Ballard looked completely dumbfounded. After all, who would expect to be hijacked like this? "Now I get it! You want to loot the ship! I've met your type before. You'll never succeed, Scotty here will..."
"I'm afraid you have it all wrong, Doc." Orca said. "Because I doubt you'd want to run over any of these whales, here. More will be arriving forthwith." He must of sent out another Calling. I had a feeling these waters were going to get crowded.
"What? How?" Ballard clearly wasn't going to try to run over a whale. But when he looked out on the water at the humpbacks and orcas still circling the ship, he looked upon the sight with wonder, not anger.
"That will be revealed in due time, Doc. But first we have to replace those batteries. This whole thing is for nothing if we don't get the sub working. Morgan! Bandit! Someone go wake up Felina, we need her now."
While the crew worked to replace the batteries, Dr. Ballard looked at me carefully, shaking his head quite often. I knew he did not believe me, but there really wasn't much he could do about it. The majority of the crew and most of the scientists were Disciples (or Acolytes) of either Orca (we have an ability to learn human technology quickly), Bandit (nimble hands for tiny work), or Morgan (the strength of a horse even in human form is immense). We often worked in our hybrid forms, with the jewelry keeping things invisible to the non-Acolyte humans.
At one point, Dr. Ballard left, (apparently the mental pressure from keeping our hybrid shapes hidden gave him a headache) and came back a few minutes later chewing on a couple aspirin, holding a few photographic reprints. One of which was a candid picture of me taken on the boat deck by Father Francis M. Browne. "You certainly look like him. You must have had a good cosmetic surgeon." He said.
"Something like that. I don't even recall that picture being taken. Snap photography was fairly new at the time, you know."
He was looking at me strangely. I was giving him the same look I had when I was still in orca form in the water. I think it gave him a very strange feeling. Good. Orca said to try to break things to him slowly. "What is it? The loot? Do you just want a piece of her? What?" He really wanted to know.
"I'm looking for someone." I said simply.
"Someone? You've got to be kidding me! Remains? It's a graveyard!"
"You think I don't know that?! I was there you fool! I don't want to harm her in any way, you have no idea... the screaming and moaning as people froze to death in the water. It still haunts me..."
"You are insane! You really believe you're him!" Though the vehemence of my statement seemed to give him second thoughts.
"Death is such a fleeting thing, Doctor. It doesn't last. It just depends on how many times you've been around." That was true, thought for me it's a different case because of my immortality. Others, like Marcus, have "been around" for so long that with work they might remember when dinosaurs roamed the planet (and when they were a dinosaur). To my knowledge the oldest soul on the planet is about a hundred million, and shows no sign of moving on.
Ballard did not know what to make of it. But he was clearly disappointed in not being able to see his beloved Titanic right away. Then Orca walked up behind me. "Darius, he goes." He said.
"What?" I said.
"After what the good Doctor has been through he deserves to go with you. Yes, it means that we might have to make more dives. But we can do more than to look for... what we're looking for and accomplish some of Alvin's real missions. To explore the ship. Personally, I'm interested what she looks like after she broke in two like that. I still get back aches, you know." He smirked (a funny sight in hybrid).
"What are you talking about Scotty? Are you in charge of this or something?" Ballard said.
"Call me Orca, and yes, it's my call. And before you say anything, no, I didn't know about that bombing until much later. I've purged the radical elements in the organization." Ballard was very familiar with ORCA. All oceanic scientists are.
"Maximillian Delorca?" Ballard said. "Hmm... I heard he's a recluse. But you kind of look like him." Orca had easily taken my place, as he should. "Thanks... I think. Though. It really means a lot to me. Besides, if you are indeed underwriting this mission (and I've checked the ship's records) you can technically do whatever you want anyway. But thanks."
"I know. I know very well, Doctor. Just have patience. All will be revealed in time."
The sea was a dead calm that night. Like the night the Titanic sank. I started breaking the truth to Dr. Ballard very slowly. Mostly by giving him an account of the first few days of the voyage in more detail than anyone who wasn't there could ever give. I did not use any of my talent on him, I wanted him to believe me very much. But how can one convince a skeptic? Scientists don't believe in "magic," much less immortality (the fact that I wasn't really human might of been stretching things just a bit.. which is saying a lot.)
"You know," Ballard said, "I do have to admit that you've researched your subject. You must of pieced that together from a lot of survivors' accounts." Well, that was part of it. I'd spent enough time talking to the formerly human orcas in the superpod on that day to have a pretty detailed account of the whole voyage.
"How many times do I have to say this? I was there."
Ballard just nodded and yawned, not willing to argue any more. "I don't know about you, but tomorrow's going to be a long day and I think a bit of sleep is in order." He wasn't going to sleep. Who could? We were about to dive on the most famous ship in history in a submarine that has a space so tiny I had a feeling that the Ballard and I were going to get to know each other quite well.
I looked back at Cindy and Bottle, who were busily conducting checks on JJ and Alvin. The batteries had been replaced by now, and the sun was going to come up soon. But I was too worked up to sleep. So I watched those two happy people (funny how humans and bottlenoses get along), and thought about my own love two miles below my feet.
Cindy and I helped prepare Alvin for launch. The nicest thing about this jewelry is that it gives us the ability to use hybrid forms without anyone who isn't wearing similar jewelry noticing. The point is that in Hybrid our "talents" are much stronger than in either pure form. I had to admit, Cindy had quite a comely dorsal fin. And I said as much.
"Flatterer," she said in English. ["But I like this language much better,"] she said in Delphin. ["It's more... romantic."]
["It's a little cold for us out there. Besides, it's almost time to roll the sub out of her garage. The battery installation went off without a hitch. Thanks to you."]
["Thanks. And then after all this I might persuade Orca to give us some time alone off of Hawaii..."]
["You're a delight, you know that?"] I clicked.
["Yes, I do. I guess it comes from not being born a dolphin. This wonderful gift you've given me has literally opened up a whole new world. What did you say I was? A 'new soul?'"] She used her air-Sight (more like a bat's echolocation ability, one of our talents in Hybrid) to check the soundness of the hull, and checked off a few more things on her list.
A new soul is just what it sounds like. This was basically Cindy's first lifetime as anything on this earth. So she's unique in many ways. ["That might have something to do with it,"] I clicked. She'd given me a whole new perspective on being a dolphin. Made it seem fresh and new again. She'd put the joy back into my life. Something I'd lost over the decades.
We were slowly easing Alvin back from the garage. One of Morgan's Disciples, a Shire morph, was giving Morgan a very unhappy look. "Don't look at me like that, Posti." Morgan said. "I know working with all this delicate techno-stuff is not like pulling the 'majestic plow,' but you'll have to get used to it where I'm sending you."
About an hour later, Bandit was in 'coon hybrid form inside doing all sorts of checks. His pointed, black-masked face poked above the red "turret" on the top of the sub. "Everything checks out!" He said. "We're ready to go."
Four heavy dive weights were attached to the sides of Alvin. The lift line was fastened, and Dr. Ballad, Darius and I climbed the ladder and put ourselves into the cramped space, careful to avoid the sealing grease around the hatch. More checks were made quickly, a storm front was moving in. Oxygen, on; carbon dioxide scrubber, on; etc., etc.. The hatch was sealed.
I was reminded of sardines (one of my favorite foods, actually; along with anchovy pizza) in a can as the three of us were now uncomfortably cramped in a tiny space that would be our home for the next few hours. I'd actually returned to full human form just after Cindy and I had dolphin-hugged (crossing rostrums), then we'd human kissed as well. "Good luck," she'd said. She was an invaluable member of the surface dive team, and without her quick learning ability I doubted we'd ever get down.
The sub hit the water in the growing swell, we all held on as it swung all over the place for a while. The lift line was detached, and I spoke into the radio, "Atlantis II, this is Alvin. Ready to dive."
"Alvin, Orca here. Good luck to the three of you. And remember what I said, Daruis. If things get hairy down there forget all subtlety and go for the full reveal. I'll clean things up later. Clear to blow'n'go!"
I flipped the switches to flood the tanks, and down we went. "Roger that."
Ballard was looking at the two of us an understandably unhappy expression on his face. Then he smirked, "well, here we are." He said. It must have been uncomfortable for him. He was inside a seven-foot diameter titanium sphere with two people; one he thought was insane, and the other a traitor.
Nothing more was said until we I turned on a tape that had a bit of soft piano, and perhaps a bit of Rock and Roll mixed in. "How can you listen to that infernal racket?!" Darius said, clapping his hands over his ears. That was not one of his favorite kinds of music.
"What? You don't like 'The Police?'" I smirked. And hummed along with "Message in a Bottle" and "Every Breath You Take." Then the tape switched to Sting's new solo album. The first song was "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free."
"What's this one?" Darius said, talking them off. I told him. "Hmmm... he's no Johnny Mathis, but I like it. It's sort of appropriate, isn't it?"
"I think so."
Dr. Ballard was still looking at us, arms crossed across his chest. We'd passed below the lowest level that light would reach. The farthest I've been down in my True Form is about three hundred feet. And only then on a dare. I almost fainted before I'd reached the Surface. Darius was still giving Ballard that same look he had when he was still in True Form. Ballard shook his head a couple times, and put one hand to his forehead. "Naw..." I heard him say under his breath. "I'm seeing things."
[[What are you doing?]] I asked Darius.
[[Well, for the past hour or so I've been giving him small visual pulses of our hybrids through Beesley's pendant. He's still carrying it, though he doesn't know it. I want him to figure stuff out on his own.]]
[[That makes sense. He probably thinks he's going nuts, though. But I have one question. Why even bring the Sothesby if you were just going to swim out your own anyway?]]
[[For the effect, and if we find Emily I don't know if she's going to be in a condition to swim on her own.]]
That made sense again. I was about to respond to that, but... "Are you guys talking or something?" Ballard said.
"No, what made you think we were?" we hadn't even been looking at each other.
"I just got a strange feeling. I guess I'm still on shock. Why Dolph? Why do this? Wasn't helping us enough?"
"I'll put it to you this way, Doc. Darius Orcan had a servant on that ship. The two had not known each other long, but once they got over their initial difficulties they became great friends. They were united in purpose, you see. And nothing could change that."
"The next thing you're going to say is that you are James Bottleman, Orcan's manservant, right? I know my subject as well as you do, gentlemen. And nothing you can say can convince me that you two were there. It simply isn't humanly possible."
Of course, "humanly" was the whole idea here. We weren't human, really, so it made things a little tough to explain. We made our check-ins with the Atlantis II every so often. After about two and a half hours in a freezing sardine can we finally reached bottom.
"Well, here we are," Ballard said again. Then the radio came on.
"Bob, Ralph here. We managed to take all those ORCA people by surprise and we've put them where we can keep them under control. So you can come up now. I think we can handle things from here."
"Well, gentlemen. I hate to disappoint, but it looks like we'll have to cut this dive short. Because, one, no one above is going to tell you where the Titanic is. And two, neither am I. So we might as well start up now." He seemed very pleased with himself.
But the radio remained silent for quite a while afterwards. Ballard's expression went from triumph to that of alarm once the radio came on again. "Alvin, Morgan here. We've got everything under control."
I grabbed the mic. "What happened up there?"
"Just a little mutiny. Nothing we couldn't handle."
"Oh my God, you didn't!" I said.
"Naw, Orca took care of it. A herd of horses on a ship this small wouldn't be a good idea. Even if they were Fallabellas."
Well, that sounded like him. "Did he say anything else to you?"
"Hmmm... all he said was, 'do as you must. Just don't do too much damage.' Or something. Good luck you two. We're bringing aboard temporaries right now straight out of the pods.
"One other thing. We still can't tell you quite where Titanic is, Orca is a bit preoccupied right now. And I don't suppose our guest down there will be talking."
Ballard was shocked his apparently carefully concocted plan had fallen apart so fast, but it's not like we were playing fair. I hoped that the temporary cetaceans up there would have fun while they could. Because I knew Orca would erase their memories of the experience afterward. "Just who are you two?!" he said. "You'll come to trial for what you've done!"
I looked at Darius. He nodded in unspoken agreement. "Perhaps you're not asking quite the right question, Doc. The question isn't who we are. It's what we are."
The only way we knew to find the Titanic was with Sight. But the problem was, in order to focus our clickings we'd have to use all of our talent to reinforce the natural echolocation ability. Which meant none of our energies could be put into hiding ourselves. This entailed something drastic, considering the position we were in. "Huh?" Ballard said.
Without further explanation, I Shifted to hybrid. (Lucky thing I'd finally put a slit into the back of my shirt so I didn't ruin it).
Ballard's reaction was surprising.
His first reaction was to rub his eyes. Then he checked the carbon dioxide gauge, looked at Bottle again, and rubbed his eyes again. Then he smiled nervously, "You know.. for some reason I was expecting this." Good, my hinting worked, then. "What with these strange hallucinations I've been seeing for the past few hours. Is it just me, or do you look like a human/dolphin cross?"
"Right on the bottlenose," Bottle said, grinning.
Then he looked at me. "And you... call me crazy (which I might be) but you seem familiar somehow. And I'm not talking about your claims of who you are. But..."
"Perhaps I do. But I can't do anything about it in here. It's a sardine can, you know. Too small."
"No, no... you don't have to do anything." he looked at Bottle again. "Um... I hate to ask this, and it's kind of embarrassing. But can I touch you just be sure I'm not seeing things? Please?" His voice was shaking a little. He was clearly going to lose it if Bottle didn't... he nodded.
Ballard reached out and touched Bottle's jutting chin. "You see I'm real," Bottle said. "I'm sorry I had to do this, Bob, but you see I had no choice."
Ballard was rubbing his fingers together after touching Bottle's nose, clearly still unsure, but the contact seemed to have done something. His expression changed from that of nervousness to that which humans are known best for: Insatiable curiosity (well, he is a scientist). "Can you answer me a few questions? What are you? And why are you here?"
"Well, I don't have much time. But I'll explain things as best I can..."
All through the conversation, Ballard lost his distrust of Bottle. How can one not with that smiling face? He still said, "This, this is too much. But how do you figure into this, Darius?"
I was a bit unprepared for his words (I tend to not pay attention if the conversation doesn’t include me). Apparently Bottle had explained everything but me. Oh well.
Of course, Bottle had explained all the easy stuff, leaving me to tackle all the big issues. "Bob, (may I call you Bob? Good) We are not merely whales and dolphins that can take on human form. We do it for a purpose and we're both older than we seem. Which is why the Titanic holds special significance for us. I've told you why. I told you the human side of the story last night. I am close to four hundred years old..."
"Wait, wait. Four hundred? That's im-pos-i..." He looked at Bottle, who smirked. "Never mind."
"Thank you. I'd love to chat further Bob, but we can do that as we explore the ship."
"You know I thought you'd never ask? I've wanted to see this ship my entire life. All I saw on the first dive was that black wall. As long as my friends up there haven't been killed..."
"No. They've not been harmed in any way. Just... changed a little for the time being."
"I really don't know what you mean by that, but I've never seen a whale harm a human before. And I don't think you people would start to now."
So much for telling him what I did during the World Wars. Oh well. "You'll find out soon enough. But without the main sonar from the ship it'll take us a while."
"True," Bottle suddenly said. "But we have another method of finding the ship, one guess what that is, Doc."
He slapped himself on the forehead. "I should have known! You can do that from in here? One of your 'talents' I assume?"
"You could say that. But Darius, I think I'm going to need your help here. But there isn't quite enough room for you to..."
Without further adieu I became a bottlenose hybrid. Small enough for this tiny space. "How's this?" I said, Bottle winked. Ballard wasn't even startled this time. He just looked upon the both of us with wonder. Bottle and I laid on our stomachs looking out one of the three portals. I took the left side, Bottle the right.
We scanned all over the place. But located nothing. Then I had an idea, and Bottle and I linked our Sight, boosting it's power even more. We Saw something. It was about a thousand feet to the starboard side, but we just couldn't be sure. Going the wrong way meant losing valuable time. We'd already spent nearly three hours on the Bottom, and had maybe two left before we had to start up again. ["I can't quite see it,"] I clicked. ["We still don't have enough power to our Sight. Any ideas?"]
["Hm..."] He returned. ["Just one, but I don't know if you want to go through with it. And I don't know how Orca would react to it. But he said, 'do what you must,' so..."]
I got his meaning. ["I guess we have no choice."] I turned back to Dr. Ballard. "We've scanned the area. But we can't quite be sure exactly where she is. Your sonobuoys are helpful, but not quite enough."
"What can I do to help? I'm so anxious to see her now I'll do anything." There's something between humans and dolphins that just inspires trust. Ballard felt it, I felt it, Bottle felt it. It's one of the biggest mysteries that remains unsolved on both sides of the water.
"You can start by laying down between us, and putting that pendant around your neck, then getting in between us." I said. What we were planning was quite unusual, but if we were successful it wouldn't cause too much damage. He did, it was a little uncomfortable, but we managed. Ballard's smile (which had reappeared, finally) was about to become a bit more ingrained...
[[Bottle, at the count of three. One, two, THREE!]] We both grabbed Ballard on the back, holding him on the bottom of the sub. We were both glowing bright blue.
Ballard struggled a little, but that stopped as he started to glow, his skin began to turn a medium gray, lighter on his lower jaw and throat. His hair was absorbed into his head. His chin began to jut forward with a cracking of changing bone. His face distorted as his nostrils became one and migrated to the top of his head. Inside his open mouth, his teeth became sharp and conical. His forehead began to swell as a the dolphin melon grew in. His hands and feet became webbed, and his jacket began to hunch under the pressure of a dorsal fin on his lower back.
"Ow!" he said. "What did you do to me?? I feel... strange."
["You did say 'anything' Doc."] Bottle said experimentally in Delphin.
["Is it me or did I understand you? Um, how did I say that? And what is this thing in my vision?"]
[[Should we let him see?]]
[[Why not? We'll remove it before we get to the Surface.]]
We let him go, and he stared at his webbed hands. He felt his face, gasped. Then he took of his jacket, attempted to lean back, did not succeed, and felt his back. Gasped again. "What did you do to me?!"
["You did say 'anything' Doc."] Bottle repeated. ["And this certainly qualifies as 'anything.'"]
Ballard smirked. ["I've always wondered if you guys could talk, now I know. I guess I'm doing it! Hah! But you're right, I did say anything. Waitaminute..."] He seemed to come to a realization, and stared at the glowing pendant with his left eye for a while.
["This whole thing!"] he said. ["If you were on that ship you two saved lives! That's what these pendants were for!"]
[[Do you have any clue how he figured that out? We never said anything about our actual Task...]] Bottle said.
[[Give him a little credit, Bottle. He's a smart person. Now, on to business...]] I switched to Delphin. ["Now, my good Doctor. If you would please?"] I gestured for him to take his place in between us.
["Okay, I guess I might as well satisfy my curiosity while I'm one of you. What do I do?"] We told him, and linked our Sight.
With the power of three of us, we easily saw it. The bow. Bottle grabbed the joystick control for the sub itself, and guided us towards the looming shape we Saw in the distance.
The worst thing about it was all the interminable waiting. I never knew how much time had passed, nor if I was even experiencing it's passage. Time is a strange thing, after all. And I had a lot of time to think about it.
I'd managed to extricate enough of myself from the ship itself that I was in no danger of being killed by the pressure, yet it would be easy to extract the rest of me just in case... But as I walked around in the first class stateroom that I'd limited myself to I decided that it might be a better idea to just lay down and wait. I eventually became tired, and slept.
I was awoken by a flash from the outside of the porthole. My sleep had been a troubled one, fraught with images of going down, down, down farther than any whale had been before. I got up and looked outside the porthole. Illuminated by the flash was an interesting looking fish. A fish that looked like nothing I'd ever seen before. When I looked again when it passed over once more, I saw that it was metal! That could only mean one thing: humans. But it looked like nothing else. A mass of gray steel girders and what looked like cameras inside the framing.
Humans have such inventive minds.
Deep down I knew that I had slept for a long time. And when I looked in the mirror in the dim light that I could generate I saw a humanoid face that had not aged a day. I was still wearing my 1912 dress, and the stateroom still looked like new. But when I briefly expanded my consciousness to the rest of the bow I found a state of rust and decay that somehow astounded me. After all, my stateroom on C-deck close to the break-off point still looked quite untouched. My only thought was that my bonding with the immediate area around me had supported it somehow. Strange.
I saw a name on that strange visitor from Above. It's name: Argo. I immediately thought of Darius. If they had indeed found me, and if my immortal orca love was still alive (as far as I knew, his kind of immortality did not extend to say... a knife in the heart). He would be here. I had no doubt of that.
The only thing I had to do was wait. So I lay down and slept once more. With only my own heartbeat for company.
Part IX: Final Resting Place
- "Did you see any bodies?" is one of the questions asked most often of those who took part in the 1986 Titanic expedition. Although any human remains have long since disappeared, many poignant relics such as pairs of shoes lying side by side where a body once lay are strong reminders that the Titanic wreck is indeed a gravesite, one which I have long believed should be left undisturbed. Subsequent salvage attempts have altered the wreck site irrevocably and damaged the ship's hull. Our 1986 visit proved that images like this one are far more compelling that the odd artifact removed from its emotional and historical context.
- Dr. Robert Ballard, The Discovery of the Titanic
July 14, 1986. 1:00 p.m.
["This is incredible!"] Ballard clicked for the fifth time in as many minutes.
["Yes Bob, we know it is."] I returned, rolling my eyes. But what bothered me the most was that I was about as excited as he was. One of the reasons I rarely take on a bottlenose form, period. One of the enhancements to my talents was the ability to become any cetacean. But the fact that bottlenoses always seem to be happy disturbs me.
Now I know how Bottle must have felt when he took orca form for the first time. I was really finding it practically impossible to take anything seriously. And now that we'd found the Titanic we really didn't need to remain like this any longer, so I Shifted back to human, and leaned away from the porthole. [[Bottle, we need to change Bob back now.]] I said to him in the formal Cetacean language (known only to a few, Ballard not one of them, as it's mostly telepathy anyway).
[[What? Why?]] He sent back, surprised.
[[You know as well as I do that the longer he stays like that the more entwined with his dolphin self he becomes! If we leave him that way too long we might have to erase his memories of the past few hours completely! And I don't want to have to do that. We'd lose the trust he's gained in us.]]
Bottle thought a moment. [[I guess you're right. I never thought of it like that. Besides, you know we bottlenoses. He's started to take things not quite as gravely as he should...]]
As if in response to Bottle's thoughts, Ballard said, ["Hey! Isn't that a handbag? Great!"]
[[Yes. He's not going to like being forced back into the human mold again, but we've got not choice. I think he's not been in hybrid for too long that we can't leave a few things in tact, though in a sideways manner.]]
[[Are you sure you want to mess with his memory? I hope you paid attention to the knowledge Orca planted in that head of yours. Otherwise you could fry his brain.]] Bottle said.
[[Oh, I paid attention. I've improved several of His techniques, in fact. But don't tell Him that. But put the sub on the bottom and Shift human. We need to talk to Bob a sec.]]
He did, and Ballard said, ["Why are we stopping? The ship's just a hundred feet out in front!"]
"Bob, we thank you for your help, but frankly it's dangerous to let you stay that way for long. I'm sorry, but we have to make you human again."
["What? No! I don't want to! This feels great! I can't even begin to describe..."]
Bottle and I grabbed him before he finished his thought. And he was human again and holding his head in shock. Unfortunately the side effect of my memory adjustments was a pounding headache.
"Oooooohhh..." he groaned. "What happened? The last thing I remember is helping you somehow, but I can't quite recall how."
[[Perfect, it worked,]] I sent to Bottle.
[[I did a simple memory twist. He remembers helping us, but not exactly how. But I haven't locked out those memories completely. He'll have some ''fantastic'' dreams throughout the rest of his life. What he did deserves some reward, after all. Orca taught me that.]]
[[You seem to have learned a few things over the centuries.]] Bottle said, then switched back to English. "How do you feel, Doc?"
"Better. But I think I misjudged the two of you. I mean, I'm here, on the bottom, with two dolphins-turned-humans, my crew hasn't been harmed (for some reason I believe you on that account) and the Titanic is just forward of us. Should we be going? And why did I take off my shirt?"
Bottle and I just looked at each other. He shrugged, and Shifted back to hybrid. "Whatever you say, Doc." He said, then went back to the controls of the sub.
We rose slightly off the Bottom, and went forward. "There's a bit of a current here," Bottle said. "Only about three-quarters of a knot, but it's going to be bothersome..." And then we saw it.
The bow had struck the bottom on an even keel, and must have been going quite fast when she did. She was buried up nearly as far as her anchors. If the mud had been any softer the ship would have disappeared into the muck. There was a big intake of breath from the three of us. "There she is..." I said.
"It's like deja vu, you know. It looks like she's still steaming along the bottom, doesn't it?" Bottle said. It was almost frightening, in fact. I knew it was illogical, but somehow I felt like she was going to run us over!
Bottle pumped a bit of ballast, and we rose above the level of the foredeck. In Alvin's powerful lights I saw the huge anchor chains Emily and I had to jump behind when that fatal iceberg had scraped along the starboard side of the hull. And it all came back to me, and I almost lost it to grief once more. We'd saved many lives, after all, but not all of them. To take my mind off, I checked JJ's status lights. "Damn!" I almost yelled.
"What?" Bottle said.
"I should have been paying more attention during the descent! The motors are flooded so he won't work at all! Damn!"
Bottle sighed. "Well, at least we can get our bearings here. I'm sorry, but could you be quiet? I'm fighting a current here."
While Bottle concentrated on piloting the sub, Ballard and I were glued to the portholes. We eventually came up on the bridge. The wheelhouse had been demolished during the sinking, leaving only the bronze rudder telemotor, shiny from years of being polished by the current. "You know, from the ANGUS pictures I thought it was some kind of antenna, I guess I was wrong," Ballard said.
I was hardly paying attention. The sight of that object had brought me flashbacks of that fateful night. I could almost hear First Officer Murdoch yelling, "hard a starboard!" Ballard must have been looking at me when I first saw that object in the murky light. The look on my face might have been embarrassing, if I'd had a mirror.
"You really were here, weren't you?" Ballard said.
"I thought we've been through all that already." I replied, trying my best to control myself.
"Call it lingering skepticism. You people," he looked at Bottle, or rather his dorsal fin sticking up between us. "You people amaze me. To think that all this time, these thousands of years, you've hidden yourselves from us. Your intelligence, your sentience, that is. Why not just have done with it and reveal yourselves?"
"A good question, Bob. I wish I had an answer. From what my Master tells me, we'll do it when the time is right. When humans have achieved their purpose."
"And what is that purpose? If I may ask."
"Space, when you've finally colonized some other world. You've taken baby steps, but Orca says it's not time yet. I wish I had time to explain it, but put simply, Earth is the cradle of life. And life cannot remain in the cradle forever. The Sea of Stars is something that calls to all intelligent beings, even we cetaceans. The humpbacks especially have stories of swimming among them, discovering new things. Curiosity unsatisfied is a horrible thing, after all."
Ballard looked at the floor of the sub. "Well, it looks like our space plans may be on hold, considering Challenger..."
"Don't let that get you down, Bob," Bottle reassured. "Another thing you humans are known for is your persistence. Though you tend to forget certain lessons after a while, you persevere and are better for the experience. This ship out the window here is a perfect example. But I'm sorry to interrupt, but we're coming to a likely landing site I want to test. Take a look."
Out the window was what used to be the dome above the forward Grand Staircase, Bottle was going to test the decking beside the hole that remained. That brought back even more memories. Playing cards with Col. Gracie, Benjamin Gugginheim, and others in the smoking room, eating lunch with the Astors in the Cafe Parisian, having a massage in the Turkish Bath. The simple pleasures of an age gone by.
"Rusticles" (Bob's term) adorned the hull in every place, almost making it look like the ship was crying. It was almost not the only thing that did.
Time must have flown, because Ballard announced, "We're about out of bottom time, I'm afraid. We need to start up in a minute or so. We should be back by dinner, but it's up to you two, of course." Bottle had tested the spot, found it stable, and moved onward. We were slowly moving along towards the stern along the portside. We were sheltered against the current here, Bottle's expert webbed hands (combined with his Sight) kept us moving along safely.
Eventually we came to the twisted metal where the ship had broken in two so many years ago. Then the Titanic slowly disappeared into the dim light. "Time to go up, we're going to be late for dinner as it is." Bottle said.
"Dinner? Bottle, how can you think of food at a time like this?" I replied, somewhat shocked.
"It's an Alvin rule, Darius," Bob replied. "We have to drop weights now. Besides, I have a few more questions for you and I want to find out if my crewmates are really okay."
I sighed. "Fine." Em was so near, and yet so far. I could feel her presence! Then I thought a moment. It was still rather generalized, but seemed focused on the bow. It looked like we were going to have to spend more time looking for her than we'd hoped. Without JJ our Task would be a lot harder, so we needed to get up to the Surface anyway. Bottle flipped the switches that dropped our weights and up we went.
It did not take long to answer Bob's questions, and there was basically no conversation as we rose towards the Surface. Bottle took out a book to read, shifting back to human shape again. "What's that book?" I asked.
"Startide Rising by David Brin. It's about a dolphin-crewed starship in a universe where dolphins are being 'uplifted' into sentience. Good book, actually. Brin comes pretty close to us. He was probably a dolphin in his last lifetime."
"Last lifetime?" Ballard said, confused.
I looked at Bottle for a moment. "Would you mind explaining that concept to him? I need to think a while, and you know about as much as I do."
"Sure thing," he replied. "You see, Doc..."
I was quickly lost in thought. I thought mainly about that, if we couldn't get JJ to work, this whole thing would be a wash and there would be no way to even try to find Em. She could also be in the demolished stern, too, though I doubted it. It would take another dive to pinpoint her. Which made things even more difficult. I thought about these things, and the possible solutions, very deeply until...
"Um... Darius. Do you mind changing back into human form? You're squishing us out of room, here." Bottle said. I was suddenly brought back into reality. And I discovered that I somehow had Shifted into my orca hybrid shape, forcing Bob and Bottle to be almost on top of me.
"Oops! I'm sorry, I sometimes do that if I think too hard..."
"Don't apologize, just change back for Orca's sake!" So I did.
Ballard was looking at me strangely. "You really are that orca, aren’t you?" he said.
"Yes. It's the body I was born with, but this one is just as valid. As Bottle just explained to you, the body is unimportant. It's nothing but a shell. Inside we are all human, or cetacean, or equine, or what-have-you. It simply depends on what you've been in past lifetimes."
"Does this mean that I might have been a dolphin at some point in my existence?"
"Quite likely," I replied, smirking. The light was growing out the window, and a few minutes later we broke into the rolling waves on the surface.
We were immediately surrounded by "divers," most of them actually Beluga, with one or two I recognized as temporary Disciples in hybrid form. Ballard looked at them in wonder. "Wow," he said. "Amazing."
Unfortunately whoever designed JJ's garage did not consider weather like this. We pitched forward once, the divers were not paying attention... and JJ fell out. "Darius!" I yelled. JJ was dropping like a rock! his umbilical line whirring, coming dangerously close to the cutter. And if not caught we'd lose JJ forever...
Darius just looked at me calmly, and whistled. A whistle I recognized as Orca's Call (or a reasonable facsimile, considering what he had been doing the past 3/4 century or so). Suddenly, an orca appeared out of nowhere, and dove for JJ. With my Senses I Saw him grab it, then pull it upward. Darius punched the button that cut the umbilical. We were informed by radio that JJ was well in hand (or flipper). Carefully, I thrusted Alvin forward towards the lift line, it was attached, and we were lifted on board.
The three of us gratefully pulled ourselves out of that sardine can, and to the claps of those on deck. For the first time Bob was seeing Morgan, Eagle, Felina, Bandit, and Lupus in their hybrid forms without any kind of block. "Oh, my God." he said. "Boy, you weren't lying, were you?"
"Nope," I said. I'd explained pretty much everything down below, but seeing them standing there looking like they do is something entirely different. I've never seen a human's eyes bug out more.
I made formal introductions (he'd known them before... but not as what they really were). Then Orca took Dr. Ballard away with him. Apparently Orca had a few things to discuss with him in private.
Cindy walk up to me and gave me a big hug. Boy did I need it after being in that can! "What was it like?" she asked.
"The accommodations left much to be desired. But the ship itself... I can't even begin to describe the feeling. I mean, there she was, just sitting there on the bottom like she'd always been there." Just thinking about it gave me shivers. I kissed Cindy full on the lips (The one thing dolphins can't do). "The sight made me realize just how lucky I am to have you."
"Flatterer. Good kisser, too." She smiled.
"I've had a good teacher." She laughed. Darius walked up a moment later with a man I did not recognize, but who felt strangely familiar. The man had an air of silence about him that was disturbing, and a sadness that affected even Cindy and I.
"Heya Darius. Who is this?" I said.
"You know him, my friend. You know him very well." he replied.
I thought a moment, trying to match his face with any of my memories. Then I remembered just how silly that was. So I switched to my Senses. And it hit me. "Marcus?" I said, incredulous.
At the same time he'd been staring at me, apparently he had the same feeling of haunting familiarity that I'd had. Then his eyes went so wide I feared they'd bug out of his skull. "Bottle?" He said.
"Yes... Marcus?" I replied, unsure.
His face suddenly bent into an expression of anguish, and he rushed up to me an buried his face in my shoulder, sobbing and babbling almost incoherently. "Darius? What..." I said.
"Those are the first words, hell, the first sounds he's made in human form in almost two years, Bottle. Let him cry."
"What happened?" I finished.
"You recall what happened to that ship in Alaska, I'm sure. Marcus was the one I'd assigned to that Task of cleaning up those cruise ships and starting ORCA. I'm afraid that particular Task backfired somewhat."
"Hell, Darius. I knew about that Task. But I didn't know it was Marcus who was assigned to it! Why didn't you tell me?"
"Too caught up in my own duties, I suppose. I could have Called you, but I didn't. I'm sorry for that."
"Oh, don't worry so much. I forgive you." Marcus was becoming more coherent now.
"He blew it up. HE BLEW IT UP!! I trusted that man!" He was yelling. My shoulder was wet by now, and I was getting tired, too. Cindy and I led him to a bench that was set up on the fantail near the A-frame that was used to lift Alvin into the water. Cindy took over shoulder duties after a couple more minutes.
Eventually he stopped crying. And started talking. "ORCA was my pride and joy. I made it so the organization would be self-correcting. Or so I thought. I made one minor mistake. I let a friend of mine found it with me. He turned it into something I did not intend it to be. They gave him a death sentence for his act. Good riddance!" He stood up. "But! the damage he did the Sound will linger for decades! And he killed them all! There were no survivors! And it's all my fault!" He started to sob again.
"Whoa! Just a minute here!" I said. "Why do you say that? Look, saying it was your fault is like saying it was mine that the Titanic sank! No, that man made his own choice and is going to die for it. My only question is, why did you leave ORCA in the first place?"
"Because I felt like I'd done enough. Like I'd been around for too long and in order for the org to progress I had to leave. But... I remember before I left hearing him talk about staring a splinter organization. My leaving enabled him to take control, I think. So he didn't have to. So it's still my fault!"
Cindy spoke up. "No, it isn't. What my bondmate is getting at is that if you'd stayed he still would have split off and most probably done his heinous act anyway, and with more help then himself alone. You had no control over him."
Marcus gave her a dark look. "I know that. But that doesn't help any. I've run the whole thing in my head over and over again. But... bondmate?"
His change of subject caught me by surprise. I smirked. "Yes, bondmate. The light of my life. My strength, my..."
"Oh, be quiet!" Cindy said cheerfully. "You're giving me an inflated ego as it is! You're no slouch yourself, you know."
Marcus smiled a familiar smile for a moment, then realized something. "I'm talking, aren't I?"
"If that's what humans call it, you are." I said it a bit carefully.
He smirked. "I... I guess I've not talked in a while. I didn't even notice."
"But you're talking now," Cindy said. "That's progress. Do you want to talk some more?"
He thought a moment. Thought hard. Pain crossed his features a moment, and he almost started crying again. But he seemed to come to a decision. "Yes... I believe I do."
And so we did. We talked into the night, hot coffee was brought out to us, food too. We talked ourselves hoarse. But Marcus slowly, finally, began to lose the anguish that had forever seemed fixed in his features. Sometimes the conversation was about our personal lives, often in the middle of this he'd switch back to the incident, and we'd just let him be in charge of the conversation.
But as the sun came up we reached a lull. We were silent for several minutes, so I ventured a bit. "So, you're an orca this time around?"
"Oh, yes. Though I can't say I remember ever being anything else, I do remember you pretty clearly now. I just wish death didn't scramble one's memory so much. I'm sure there are lots of good times that we had that I don't remember anymore." He sighed, putting his head in his hands.
"Yes, too bad we're not the same species anymore, I guess. Our size difference alone would cause problems..."
"Boys, in case you've forgotten, you're the same species right now." Cindy interjected. We both looked at her. "You heard me. Just look at yourselves. You're both human at the moment, which shouldn't affect how you think of each other. Besides, there's a lot of fun things that we humans have invented that don't involve swimming."
"You don't understand, Cindy." I said. "He's an orca, I'm a bottlenose. It's just not done!"
"What about your friendship with Darius? And this Emily person?"
"That's different. We're all Disciples."
"So? You're still friends. And besides, didn't you tell me once that your pendant can change you into an orca?"
I'd forgotten about that. But we had to cut things a bit short. Activity on the fantail had picked up as Alvin was rolled out of the garage. JJ had been repaired and worked fine. But I wasn't to go on this particular dive. Darius, Orca, and Ballard were to go.
Before the three boarded the sub, Cindy took Darius behind the sub where I couldn't see them to talk, and as Orca and Ballard waited for him I heard Ballard say, amazed, "I can't believe you did what you did. If what you say is true, then that means all these whales around us are..."
"Yes, Bob. These are the children of the Titanic, the descendents of those I saved. It is the Second Gathering. I've tried to explain to you my reasons for saving them, but I'm not quite sure I understand those reasons myself. Oh, and most of those orcas surrounding the ship are your crewmates. They're having a grand old time of it, you can see." Orca said, referring to a breaching orca off the port side. Then they both went through the hatch into the sub. Darius followed a moment or so later, with Cindy having a sly expression on her face. And I wondered just what she was planning.
Alvin was lifted into the water and down they went.
A whirring, rushing noise awoke me. I'd heard he noise before, but only on the edge of consciousness. But this noise was slightly different. It had a higher pitch than the other one. Then, coming closer all the time, I felt a familiar mind. Darius... I thought. It could be no other.
He was coming for me.
But how could I help him find me? I quickly realized that my stateroom wasn't the best place. But I really wondered just how he was down here in the first place. It had been a long time. How long I did not know. So it was probably within reason to assume that he was using some kind of human technology. Technology I assumed did not include something small enough to get inside the ship and still fit two people.
I resolved to go to him.
But there was one minor problem. I was very much tied up with this stateroom, and the "bubble" I was in did not move. The room itself had not even decayed any. A byproduct of my soul-bond, probably. I couldn't leave the bubble without being killed. But there had to be a way! I opened the door to my stateroom.
The "bubble" edge was visible right on the doorjamb. It was a kind of scintillating blue shimmer. Beyond lay the decayed and debris-ridden corridor, looking eerie and frightening in the light I could generate. There was a sudden thump-and-bang noise as whatever craft Darius was in settled on what I determined to be right near the missing dome of the Grand Staircase. There was another, higher pitched whine noise.
I had only choice. I couldn't leave the bubble. But I had a feeling I could take the bubble with me. I concentrated on my hand, and it began to glow the same color as the shimmer, and I pushed against the border experimentally.
I pushed again, harder. On the opposite side of me, the bubble came free of the stateroom wall, which immediately started to change to resemble the level of decay I'd felt around the rest of the ship. The whirring continued, and I put my back and shoulder into it. It came free! But it was like moving a mountain!
But the strangest thing was, as I continued to push the bubble out into the corridor, the area inside the bubble looked new again, as if the ship had never sank. Whatever the bubble was, it did strange things to time. The corridor was dark, and I could barely see in the dim light I could generate. And the bubble was stubborn and hard to move.
As I got closer I began to hear voices. "How much more time do we have?" Asked one, vaguely familiar.
"About ten minutes or so before we have to drop weights. Are you sure this is where you felt it?"
"Yes. I'm sure of it! She has to be here!" The second voice was totally unfamiliar. But the last once made my heart go thump.
Darius. It could be no other. I redoubled my efforts, sacrificing a bit of light for speed. Onward I pushed, until I finally reached the corridor right near where the staircase used to be. But the effort was so exhausting I collapsed, and could go no further. I lay on my back, right below a light fixture that was hanging by a wire, with an interesting bit of animal life that looked not unlike a feather coming out of a part of it. I stared up at it, catching my "breath" (though I did not remember breathing in almost seventy five years, so it was only figurative).
I was so tired I couldn't even maintain my little bit of light. And then I noticed. My bubble was shrinking. I could feel it. The fixture above me should have been in its field of influence, but it wasn't. The bubble was getting smaller, smaller, smaller. Something about that stateroom had kept it powered.
So this is how it ends, I thought. Two miles below the Surface, an impossible amount of time after I should have died in the first place. There's no justice in this universe. As I felt the edge of the bubble creep closer, I mused over what I might be in the next life. Dolphin? Seal? I wonder what it's like to be a bird? It must be at least as great to flap ones wings as it is to flex one's flukes. I guess I'll find out sooner rather than later.
Then the whirring noise, which was only a deck above, got louder. I could see light in the darkness that surrounded me. And then I saw it, in the reflections of its two powerful lights. It was a sort of light blue, boxy, with two black cylinders on the top canted to the sides like rabbit ears. I laughed (or tried to) weakly at the sight. Apparently whatever it was didn't see me yet. In the middle of the front was what appeared to be a roving eye inside a glass bubble, currently focused on the light fixture. "Over... over here!" I tried to yell. But nothing came out of my mouth.
The little boxy thing (funny what humans do think of) whirred around and around, still not seeing me. It knocked against a finger of rust and suddenly the water was filled with reddish dust. The only thing I could see were the glow of the thing's lights. They wouldn't see me at all now, I was sure.
The bubble was now small enough that I was starting to feel the pressure of the water. It was literally squeezing the life from me. So, my death is going to be a painful one. No matter. I'll see you in the next life, Darius, my love. If I remember you. The whirring noise was now so loud it drowned out all other sounds. And then the dust cleared.
Hovering right above me, the "eye" only inches above my face, was the funny box-thing. It suddenly backed off a bit, as if startled. I smiled in a final good-bye. It was surely too late. But then the eye started to glow blue... brighter and brighter and suddenly...
Falling! Pulled, yanked, and forced, I felt the familiar sensation not unlike the Transition that Orca uses to transport His Disciples. Which meant...
Pain! I was in air but I could not breathe! The space was so cramped it was impossible to move! "She's not breathing!" Shouted a panicked Darius. I had my eyes closed.
"Give it just a moment longer, my son." Said the gentle voice of Orca. "A part of her is still bonded with the ship. I'll have it free in a moment." I felt a gentle "hand" pulling lightly. And then I could feel the ship no more. I took an anguished, painful breath and in the wake of that pain, started to cry. "Good, I can sense nothing wrong physically with her. She seemed to have created some sort of stasis field around herself. I'll have to ask you about how you did that later, Em. Right now I think I'll free up some space..." I could see a blue flash even through my shut eyelids, and there was a whooshing noise. And suddenly it was marginally less cramped.
A pair of gentle arms cradled me. "There, there. You're back with me, Em. Finally. You're safe now. We can go home." Darius soothed.
Then I realized that it wasn't the pain of breathing that was making me cry. But the fact I was finally leaving the Titanic for good. "Home," I said, my voice rough from non use. I opened my eyes, and saw his face.
It was the same one I remembered from all those years ago. He was even wearing the same warm clothes that he had been on that night. "As soon as I bring JJ back, my love. We can go. Unfortunately it means I have to let go of you for a short, very short while. Once I get him back in his garage we can drop weights and head on up. Bob, I'd like you to meet Emily O'Donnell." At the abrupt introduction I noticed the other man in the... whatever I was in. It looked and felt uncomfortably like the inside of a tin can.
"Um, pleased to meet you. I'm Robert Ballard." He said.
I really did not know what to say in return. The inside of the... thing was filled with all sorts of bewildering instruments that beeped and flickered and blinked and what-have-you. So it's understandable that my first words to him were, "just what is this thing?"
We talked about it as Darius, with an odd expression on his face, put the little box-thing into its "garage." I learned several things in those few minutes. For instance, it was now the year 1986. "Seventy four years?" I said quietly, amazed.
"Yes ma'am." He said. "According to Orca you've been down here quite some time."
"That's an understatement." We said no more, we were both rather speechless, I think. The clothes he was wearing looked quite odd. Then I realized just how much things might have changed in seventy four years.
A moment or so later Darius announced, "JJ's secure. Let's go." He reached for a couple of switches. I grabbed his hand to stop him. "What is it?"
I sighed. "Can you at least let me say goodbye?" He only nodded quietly, and gestured to a small window in the front of the thing.
The only thing I could see was a the washed out grayness of the hole where the Grand Staircase dome used to be. Little bits of stuff drifted by in the current. I sighed once, very deeply, and said, "Goodbye, my friend. Part of me will always be with you." I sighed again and closed my eyes. "Okay, Darius. Let's go."
There was a thump noise, and as I reopened my eyes my last sight of the Titanic was the hole disappearing into blackness. A tear formed on my cheek, which Darius wiped away. "I know how you feel, my dear. It's hard for me to leave, too. But I have a surprise for you Above. Only two and a half hours away."
We spent the rest of the time rising to the Surface in each others arms, just enjoying the sight of one another's faces, the feel of my hands in his. But as I came into the light I realized something. He was an orca, I was a humpback. That memory put doubts into my mind. "What's wrong?" He said. Damn. I'd hoped to keep it hidden.
I sighed again deeply, and told him. "Em, if it's one thing that I've learned in my life it's that species does not matter. Especially to people like us." He said.
"What do you mean? Once this is over Orca is bound to say He's done with me and I'll go back to my family pod. And we'll never see each other again."
He put a hand to his forehead. "Oh, yes! This was your first Task wasn't it? So you don't know the rules yet. Perhaps I'll just do this to illustrate my point. Let me see your bracelet... no, don't take it off. Just let me hold your wrist around it."
My bracelet. Orca told me it's the only one He'd ever made. He normally used pendants and coins (and the occasional ring) for His Disciples (and for other purposes). But my bracelet was unique. It was composed to two humpbacks that were touching nose to nose and fluke to fluke, with each whale composing half the bracelet. Darius clasped it in his hands so I could not see it. Then he concentrated. After a moment of dizziness I looked at it again. One of the humpbacks had been replaced by an in-proportion orca. "Now we're equal." He said. "Orca has enabled me to become a humpback if I so wish, my dear. I've been practicing my singing, too." He grinned.
"But... but..." I said, stunned. "It's just not done!"
"Boy you're stubborn sometimes." He said. "Look, Em. Look at us right now. We're both human and can become human as we please. We can also both be orcas or humpbacks. One thing you must learn if you are to be a Disciple of Orca is that the body does not matter. Take a look out the porthole there. You might recognize a couple of those orcas out there."
I looked out, and explored with my Senses. [[Hello Emily! Good to see you!]] Said one of the orcas. It was Bottle!
There were two others with him. Another male by his dorsal fin. [[Heya Emily!]] Marcus!
Then there was the third one, with the gently curved dorsal fin. [[Pleased to meet you, I'm Cindy.]] She sent. Then went up to nuzzle Bottle just a bit. I looked at Darius.
"Yes, they are who they say they are. Marcus reborn, Bottle in his other form, and Cindy. Bottle's bondmate. Formerly human."
"Huh??!" I said.
"You heard me. But you'd never know it, would you? She's quite adaptable. But it just goes to show you. Species does not matter. It's love that counts. Like it or not, Em. We're not normal whales. We are unique and because of this Orca has Called us to be his Disciples. From what Orca has told me you are a natural immortal like I am. So, my love, we are going to be together for a long, long time." Just then we broke Surface. Darius used some kind of control stick to move us towards a ship, and when we were finally lifted on board I was in a bit of a daze.
Darius was quite right, after all. What we looked like did not matter in the slightest. I smiled at this realization. The hatch was opened. "Ladies first?" He said.
"Thank you, my love." I said in return. He smiled.
I gratefully pulled myself out of that cramped space to the loud clapping of those on deck. To my surprise there was a great variety of hybrids. I reasoned that Orca had brought family along, which accounted for the others. Funny, I'd never seen a raccoon hybrid before.
It felt good to be free again! I saw Bottle (it had to be him with that smile!) and his bondmate. He rushed up and gave me a hug. A long one. "Thank God you're safe!" He said. Cindy hugged me, too. She seemed a happy sort, Bottle's perfect match.
Orca was standing aside, talking with Ballard. Telling him that he's restored all his crewmates. "I've doctored all the video and the memories of the others. You will be the only one who will remember anything different happened."
"I really can't thank you enough, really. This has been an incredible adventure to be sure."
"It isn't over yet, Bob. You still have more dives to make. But I think Em wants to talk with me."
"Master," I bowed my head.
"Oh! Stop that! You know I hate it. But it's good to have you back with us, Em. I was starting to fear I'd never see you again. Mother can be so stubborn sometimes. But I think your Task has gone on longer than intended, so I think you need a vacation. Darius, too."
"Yes... I believe you're right." The water looked especially good to me now, I'd not flexed my flukes in a long, long time. Ballard was looking at me strangely. "And special thanks to you, sir. For enabling my rescue. I will remember it always." I left him speechless and walked back over to Darius, who was looking wistfully at the Sothesby from the railing. He'd talked about how he got out here on the way up. "She's a beautiful ship, isn't she?" I said.
"Oh, yes. I brought her out here especially for you, you know. In case you were too tired to swim. I don't suppose you'd..."
"Now Darius, you know me better than that. I'd like a bit of rest, actually. As long as we don't overdo it too much." My family pod was out there, too. And I wanted to meet my parent's great-grandchildren.
We both stood at the railing, looking at the water. Ballard walked up behind us. "Should I have a boat prepared?" He said. Darius looked back at him with a smirk.
"Now what use would we have of a boat?" He looked back at me. "Over the side, my love?"
"Ladies first." I said with a smile, and promptly jumped in, using my talent to fly high into the air, and at least a hundred feet away from the side of the ship. At the top of the arc I changed, making a huge splash in the process. God that felt good! I waited a moment of Darius to join me (also as a humpback) and we took a few minutes to swim around, with him singing for me. What a wonderful voice he had!
About a half hour later we were aboard the Sothesby. Darius shouted, "Make all sail!" in a booming voice reminiscent of his humpback form. He and I stood on the bow as the sun set in a display that, in my mind, would never be matched even as the centuries passed...