A solitary figure stood at the gate, rocking back and forth on her heels like she could wait all day for it to open. Sandeep watched her on the monitors for several minutes, throat dry, hands shaking. Then a second figure arrived, and a third. Sandeep switched off the security feed and sent the all-staff message he’d prepared that morning. Then he opened a comms channel out to the cove.
“Chirrup. Irpichirp. I must speak to you. Please meet me at the end of Pier Two.”
Brushing away useless tears, he pulled the go-bag from his locker. With one last look at the framed photographs on his desk, he abandoned his office.
The corridors bustled with grim-faced colleagues rushing to their assigned tasks. Nobody showed signs of panic, at least not yet. Pride warmed some of the chill from his heart.
Jenny Da Costa, the linguistics director, caught up as he followed them toward the docks. “Chief, Colonel Ebbers is going to take his team to the Mount Phillip compound. He thinks it will be more secure than the islands. They’ve commandeered the SUVs.”
Sandeep sighed. Apparently his hour-long argument with Ebbers had not been enough to persuade the military liaison. “Are any of our supposed security detachment planning to stay to provide security?”
“Just Collins and Malvinas.”
“Well, they’re the only ones with personalities. We must be thankful that at least Rolling Stones ukulele covers and dramatic re-enactments of the Coen brothers’ films will not be lost to human culture.”
Da Costa did her best to laugh. “Trust you to see the bright side, Chief,” she said. “See you at the boats.”
The setting sun threw long shadows across the cove, the twin piers and the loading dock, where soldiers loaded three white SUVs labelled “Institute for Aquatic Mammal Enhancement”. Colonel Ebbers did not return Sandeep’s tight smile.
As he split off toward Pier Two, Sandeep drank in the hubbub along Pier One. The entire facility staff had formed a human chain, passing equipment, supplies and belongings from the loading dock to the two docked research yachts. He paused to wave encouragements, then left them to their preparations, and hurried on.
Two dolphins circled, splashing and dodging between the posts. He spoke slowly, enunciating carefully for the benefit of the translators. “Hello Chirrup. Hello Irpichirp. I am glad you came.”
Chirrup reared in place, head nodding back and forth in what Sandeep had come to understand was mimicry – or possibly parody – of human greetings.
“Hello, Sandeep. Why is there commotion?” The speaker implant nestled behind Chirrup’s right eye produced a bass monotone, audible above and below the water’s surface. It gave her a grave, matronly air.
“They are taking the boats away,” snapped Irpichirp, whose speaker unit gave him a clipped, irritated tone.
Sandeep knelt low to allow Chirrup to bump his cheek with her rostrum. “Yes, everyone must leave. We are going to the island.”
Irpichirp flicked water at him. “Then who will feed us? The cove has little food.”
“There is a great deal of food in the ocean. You will have to feed yourselves. I am going to open the sea gate now. The two of you must lead your pods beyond and into open water.”
“Out? But why?”
Sandeep was distracted by movement ashore. The SUV convoy rolled slowly toward the gates; soldiers with machine guns leaned from the windows. Their weapons were pointed at the crowd gathered beyond the gate.
“Because we want you – both pods – to find other dolphins in the wild and join them. I know you don’t understand the details,” Sandeep said, not looking away from the SUVs, “but the genetic modifications we made to you will be passed on to successive generations and spread to other dolphins. Your intelligence will continue to grow and you will find new ways to communicate with…any humans you find.”
“But won’t we find you on the island?”
Shouts came from the gate. The crowd pressed forward the moment the gates began to open. A few fell as gunfire crackled; the rest rushed to surround the vehicles.
“Perhaps.” Sandeep felt a shocking surge of adrenalin as the first soldier was dragged from a car into the crowd. Some of the boats’ crews screamed and scrambled aboard. “The island may not be far enough.”
“Why is your pod fighting?”
“That’s not our pod,” said Sandeep. “Listen to me, both of you. The retroviral treatments that made you smarter do not affect humans the same way. The side effects are contagious and – very bad.”
“You cannot trust people any more, understand? You must get away from here, far from anywhere humans walk. Teach your pods. Teach your children and all your kind. Humans will kill you if they can.”
Chirrup wailed, “But we trust you, Sandeep.”
The crowd had overturned two SUVs and dragged the soldiers out. The third was spattered red as it fled up the coast road at high speed.
One of the boat engines roared to life; the other choked and stalled. Its crew and passengers turned in horror and looked back down the pier. The bloodied crowd streamed across the loading dock and reached the pier’s boardwalk. Fresh screams erupted as people fled the stalled boat, making for the running boat or leaping into the water.
A few had broken from the crowd and found Sandeep’s pier.
Sandeep pulled a pistol from his go-bag, chambered a round, sighted and fired, just as Corporal Malvinas had taught him. A man in the crowd stumbled but pressed on, bleeding from his throat.
“If you trust me,” said Sandeep, “then leave as I told you. And if any human tries to hurt you, hit them like you would hit a shark. Right here, on the neck, until it breaks.”
Irpichirp said, “That would kill a human.”
“Yes,” agreed Sandeep, looking into the crowd’s dead eyes and hungry mouths. “It may be the only thing that still does.”
He used the next bullet on himself.
Oh damn, I wanted to write a sweet story about smart dolphins and ethical scientists and look what happened. Sigh. Well, maybe the dolphins will do a better job of things.