A Separate Species
Robert Lea Lovejoy
Her first real memory was of water. The warm, soothing water that had washed her into an incredible dream world. The same water that had reminded her body if not her mind of the security she had known a short time ago in the comfort of her mother's womb. It was now lulling her deeper into it's
mesmerizing spell and would have taken her away to a world of harsh reality. A world where the darkness around her was struggling with the light that came from above to keep her entangled and confused and in it's grasp perpetually. But she was balancing delicately between the warmth and the darkness and enjoying the squishy, mildly salty liquid. Her old familiar friends could not possibly harm her and she would have kept that balance if the choice had been hers. Fortunately, forces she could not now understand had already made the choice for her.
She had no way of knowing that the concept of fear had not been learned yet. The warmth that held her and soothed her wanted her to accept the inevitable without emotion, but all her emotions were in play. She was delighted with what was happening. She could not know that the world retreating above her would have viewed this as totally absurd and that she should have been fighting for her life, her very existence. Instead she reveled in the warm liquid, kicking and squealing, as the bottom rose to meet her slow descent. As the tiny bubbles of air escaped from her lungs, she stabbed stubby fingers into them, scattering their rise to the surface.
It was all happening with incredible speed. She was not given the freedom to think, even if she had been capable, just the liberty to react and her reactions were to enjoy and be delighted. There was no time left for anything now but the rush toward oblivion, but there was one perception that persisted in burying itself in her subconscious. That one she would not be aware of until many years later. That memory would follow her, would seek her out and she would know one day that the shadow at the edge of her conscious was more than mere imagination.
That memory was what had streamed into her world and snatched her from the false warmth and the treacherous darkness that surrounded Death's Door. It had propelled her toward the light and the life giving breath. She had been saved from her watery grave.
She was cast out of the sea and into the reality that waited above. Perhaps because of her all too recent recollections she was proudly clinging to the realm just denied to her. Whatever the reasons, she really didn't care. She found that even though her emotions belied her tender age of eighteen months, she still wanted to wage a fierce fight against that salvation.
Floating in that same bay, she thought to herself "why did I think of that?" as the shadow of the dolphin rose beneath her to brush her thigh and nip at her toes. She had come a long way since that first traumatic memory.
"Never have figured out why I wanted to study you in the first place" she chastised as the dolphin circled her menacingly. "Come on now" she barked, "You never could mimic a shark very well."
He chattered at her and dove out of sight, leaving her once again with the sun, the waves and her thoughts. Now the memories of an almost forgotten past washed over her once again and for a short while she basked in a glimpse of remembrance.
The water had always treated her well. She trusted it and felt calm and rested in its embrace. She always came to it again and again to seek those familiar qualities. It was not surprising then that it was because of one of its marine mammals that she had chosen the course of study that led to a science degree of the sea.
Hard work and much perspiration had been spent in accomplishing that task. She chose to remain in California for her studies because of its proximity to the ocean and to the creature she decided to devote her life to. That choice had been made fairly simple by the fact that her father's summerhouse was here also, one that just happened to be completely set up as a biological laboratory.
Her father had been separated from her mother for a very long time because of the nature of his vocation that kept him hopping from one corner of the world to the other. Her mother still maintained a good relationship with him, as did Sarah. Nevertheless, her mother and Sarah were never very far away. No matter what the distance, when he was needed, he came, because they all still cared for each other very deeply.
Sarah's mother had a small house inland from the bay about a half-hour's drive. This was an oasis when the rigors of school life finally overwhelmed her ability to cope. She sometimes needed someone to confide in or discuss with and both her mother and her mother's house were convenient.
Daddy, as Sarah still called him, was engaged in all kinds of research. This meant he would be away for months at a time. This allowed Sarah free run of the summer house and the bay whenever she needed it. Her father rarely stayed there anymore anyway. But daddy's house was still home to her and she would have sought it out for it's isolation and it's water even if it had not been a part of the family.
Sarah had always had a loving relationship with this bay. She loved the warm water and the salty taste it left in her mouth. She enjoyed the sun as it splashed off the waves and sparkled in the shells she collected from the bottom.
A tiny outlet to the ocean protected the bay. This arrangement worked so well that even when the most violent storms raged outside on the open ocean, the bay remained relatively calm. This was as near to her idea of heaven as she ever thought she would get. Contentment surrounded her here in this house and in this bay.
Daddy had really outdone himself when he had purchased the area around the bay and had the house built. The road to the house was a twisting, isolated stretch of blacktop that followed the coastline for several miles. The approach to the house was from the south. A huge circular driveway looped in front with an offshoot leading to a garage and workshop.
Sarah always enjoyed timing her arrivals at sunset so she could watch the sun dance off the house, displaying it with true magnificence.
It was one of those huge two-story Victorian homes with a sweeping veranda on three sides. It sat atop the cliff that surrounded the bay like a majestic lady, master of all she surveyed. The stairs that ran down to the bay were long and continuous, stretching from the top to the bottom in one uninterrupted, but well supported span. The boathouse sat to the right of the stairs, and the sandy beach opened to the left.
Daddy had set up the boathouse as a scuba recharging station and a small marine biology lab. Sarah had used those facilities over and over again as she had prepared herself for a lifelong relationship with "her" dolphin. She had fond memories of this old house, and she had enjoyed it so often as a child. She still did.
Her undergraduate work never varied from the original goal she had set long years before. She sought to store as much information about the dolphin as possible, but she did not limit herself to that one end.
A broad background of liberal arts but a generous sampling of the sciences had yielded a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology. The name on the diploma, Sarah Elizabeth Greenly, had looked so foreign and particularly stuffy when she accepted it on the day of graduation.
All this so she could know more about a creature that fascinated her so even her dreams were not sacred. He invaded them often, calling to her from across the mists of her subconscious.
She had become accustomed, no comfortable, with what the big dolphin called her, a long high-pitched shriek that sounded like "she" but was drawn out in a slow decrescendo. Together they had almost conquered the one thing that had always been an enigma to research scientists who studied these mammals, communication. Not the common intraspecies variety practiced by fellow dolphins but the human to dolphin kind.
He understood "Merlin" and responded to it. She reciprocated whenever that familiar "sheee" would seek her out. His word for her almost seemed as if he understood her womanliness, her femininity. Thinking about that made her feel a little more self-assured. She knew her ego and her hidden libido could stand all the warmth and devotion they could get.
The other thought brought the eerie awareness that this fellow mammal possessed a sight more intuitiveness than she was willing to recognize. It almost scared her to think Merlin could think of her as "female," that is, something more than just a playmate. That he would think of her at all was pushing a lot of human qualities on him. In spite of all that, this slick-skinned creature made a lot out of those near human qualities in their relationship.
Even their first encounter had held a mystery before her that her womanly wiles had wanted to attribute to some super human endowment. Regardless, her professional side still wanted further analysis. That mystery was partly responsible for his name, although she had to admit, it certainly fit him.
Strangely enough, she would be caught up in this pseudo-paradox for years, often wondering which direction she leaned toward most, the cold hard facts or the mystical aspects of his spirit. Still the shadow of a smile would creep across her lips as she would fondly recall those early days. They marked the start of a learning experience unparalleled in modern academic society.
They both had come to that secluded beach to enjoy their favorite water sports. He to play among the froth of the waves and she to seek the surf and sand and the strange kind of feeling she got from this particular beach. It was frequented by the local "free beach" aficionados who reserved this stretch of sand for the "fun-in-the-sun-sans-suit" crowd.
She enjoyed watching the others from a distance and had even shed her modest two-piece on one occasion but the excitement had proved too much for her and she had sought the comfort of the water once more until the dark settled over all.
It was on her first attempt at body surfing that they came together nose to nose. They had caught the same wave. When she doubled over in the surf to end her ride, he followed her to the bottom. There, for a brief moment while they almost touched, they seemed to recognize each other. She had recoiled mostly out of surprise and hurried away to keep herself from having to give the situation much thought.
The next time she came, she was looking for something other than the thrill of watching naked bodies in pursuit of uniform tans and this presented a stranger puzzle, for here again, she found this beautiful animal. This time the fear disappeared and when he didn't, they played together in the surf for hours.
Could it be this creature sensed her thoughts? How else could it know that this particular day was the one she had chosen to visit the beach? The questions came in unending waves and no answers were readily available. Here would be her final puzzle piece, this was where she would recall her childhood fantasy completely. It had been real!
This last encounter had taken her from the real to the surreal and the transition had been so smooth that afterwards she found no reason to question the coincidence. It was meant to be.
Their next rendezvous was all his doing. He had come to her, there at her father's summerhouse. He had called to her through the mist of that early California coast morning. It was the first time she had heard the name he had chosen for her. The first time she had thought of this animal without seeing it.
She had known even from her dreams that this beautiful mammal lay waiting and calling from the waves. For some reason she had suddenly wanted this creature for herself, to hold, to study, to love.
She had slipped from the sheets in her nakedness to grab a long nightshirt and while still on the stairs had draped it around her, barely managing the buttons in time for the back door.
She never varied from her course to the cliff, and only paused briefly at the top to assure herself of her footing before proceeding down the stairs to the beach. There she found the dorsal fin of a warm-blooded kin circling just offshore. He leaped into the air only to dive out of sight leaving a sudden sadness and a longing in the pit of her stomach.
She edged closer to the bay not wanting this meeting to end. He gave her no time to feel sorry for herself but with tremendous speed and strength beached himself at her feet. She did not flinch but lowered herself to caress the smoothness of his skin. He too reached a cool wet snout to touch the softness of her inner thigh. They were oblivious, locked in mutual fascination.
The morning had slipped to noonday, and she had slipped out of her nightshirt and into the bay to be closer to this magnificent beast. Only the pain of the sunburn on her shoulders brought her back to reality. It was now that the first inkling of what she would call him began to form in her mind. The time had so mysteriously disappeared that morning that she already had thoughts of the mystical magic of this unbelievable denizen of the deep. Their lives were now locked in the future and very closely linked in the here and now.
All this seemed as though it had happened just yesterday but in reality it had been six years since their "chance" meeting that day at the beach. All her schooling was behind her now. She could devote her time, talents, and energy to her education with her teacher, Merlin. No human being could possess as much knowledge about the ocean as he. No other human being could be as lucky as she to have this opportunity.
Her major professor had helped her land a grant from the university so she could actually get paid for enjoying her time with Merlin. Professor Gamble had intended that she utilize her time in studying the communication aspects of their relationship. In the last two years, she had become much more serious about it than she had ever been in the past. The fruits of their labor were readily evident.
The professor was giving a lot of the credit to her. He falsely deduced that she somehow possessed a unique form of telepathy that allowed her an exclusive opportunity to advance the scientific community's understanding of marine mammals. Sarah knew that their privileged communication was certainly unique but that it came from a greatly superior brain stem. One that had developed a highly sophisticated communication system in it's evolutionary past.
That system mankind referred to as sonar or more precisely echo location. She had noticed with repeated regularity that this "telepathic hotline" had somehow bordered on being somewhat more than verbal. She truly seemed to "feel" the things Merlin was so obviously trying to send to her.
In fact, feelings played so much more a part in their "talking" that she often wondered if somewhere in her mental makeup she might have a sensing device similar to a microwave dish. One that might pick up on the strong mental waves this dolphin was sending.
Together, they had come a great distance in furthering man's understanding of this complex creature's wants and needs. Sarah alone was receiving an insight into his desires. She sometimes understood his nudgings and proddings a little too well, and she would chastise him for being both precocious and promiscuous.
For all his rambunctious exuberance, this sleek, muscular, smooth skinned creature was a total fascination to Sarah. She studied long into the night on many occasions simply because she had to know more about him. Merlin never ceased to amaze her but the books still taught some very interesting facts, usually just before or after he had introduced the same material.
She learned that the dolphin brain temperature was the same as man's, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. She learned too that the fertility cycle of the dolphin was about what it was for human females, a 28-day cycle. The gestation period of 12 months was longer than that of a human but with a brain the size of a dolphin's it was easy to understand the need for just a little more time.
She always thought it exciting to witness the birthings at the local zoo. The new mother gave birth into the warm dampness of salty waters. Then she gently guided her precious infant toward the surface for his first attempt at breathing on his own.
Most other female members of the animal kingdom had an estrus cycle. That is, when they came into heat, they became receptive to the male and mating would then proceed. This reproductive act usually occurred by her cueing the male in some way. Usually, this entailed giving off odors or engorgement of the genitalia or by simply presenting herself before him in the mating position.
Throughout the animal kingdom, all others except two, practiced the rear entry mating stance. Cetaceans and humans were the only ones to mate face to face.
Unlike the other animals, dolphins favored man's voluntary sexual proclivity. They had sex even when there was no chance for offspring to be produced.
Sarah also discovered that along with the similarities, there were also some unique differences. The first was uncovered when scientists tried to anesthetize a dolphin for surgery. The big ocean mammal simply stopped breathing as soon as the anesthetic took affect and died. Their respiration was certainly not like mans.
Ours was autonomic, involuntary and was handled without conscious thought. The dolphin's respiration had to be voluntarily controlled because of the duration of their dives. It would not do if he was automatically stimulated to take a breath while still a hundred feet beneath the surface.
The consensus was that after meals, generally, was naptime. Dolphins rested floating at the surface. Only one half of the brain at a time underwent the sleep state, the other half ran respiration. The second difference Merlin had taught Sarah very early in their relationship.