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Dickson, Gordon - Dolphin's Way

By Nicholas Ramos,2014-06-05 23:01
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Dickson, Gordon - Dolphin's Way

Define intelligence . . . without defining yourself.

    DOLPHIN'S WAY

    Of course, there was no reason why a woman coming to Dolphin's Way as the late Dr.

    Edwin Knight had named the island research station should not be beautiful. But Mal

    had never expected such a thing to happen.

    Castor and Pollux had not come to the station pool this morning. They might have left the station, as other wild dolphins had in the past and Mal nowadays carried always with

    him the fear that the Willernie Foundation would seize on some excuse to cut off their funds for further research. Ever since Corwin Brayt had taken over, Mal had known this fear. Though Brayt had said nothing. It was only a feeling Mal got from the presence of the tall, cold man. So it was that Mal was out in front of the station, scanning the ocean when the water-taxi from the mainland brought the visitor.

    She stepped out on the dock, as he stared down at her. She waved as if she knew him, and then climbed the stairs from the dock to the terrace in front of the door to the main building of the station.

    "Hello," she said, smiling as she stopped in front of him. "You're Corwin Brayt?" Mal was suddenly sharply conscious of his own lean and ordinary appearance in contrast to her startling beauty. She was brown-haired and tall for a girl but these things did not

    describe her. There was a perfection to her and her smile stirred him strangely.

    "No," he said. "I'm Malcolm Sinclair. Corwin's inside."

    "I'm Jane Wilson," she said. "Background Monthly sent me out to do a story on the

    dolphins. Do you work with them?"

    "Yes," Mal said. "I started with Dr. Knight in the beginning."

    "Oh, good," she said. "Then, you can tell me some things. You were here when Dr. Brayt took charge after Dr. Knight's death?"

    "Mr. Brayt," he corrected automatically. "Yes." The emotion she moved in him was so deep and strong it seemed she must feel it too. But she gave no sign. "Mr. Brayt?" she echoed. "Oh. How did the staff take to him?"

    "Well," said Mal, wishing she would smile again, "everyone took to him." "I see," she said. "He's a good research head?"

    "A good administrator," said Mal. "He's not involved in the research end." "He's not?" She stared at him. "But didn't he replace Dr. Knight, after Dr. Knight's death?"

    "Why, yes," said Mal. He made an effort to bring his attention back to the conversation.

    He had never had a woman affect him like this before. "But just as administrator of the station, here. You see most of our funds for work here come from the Willernie

    Foundation. They had faith in Dr. Knight, but when he died . . . well, they wanted someone of their own in charge. None of us mind."

    "Willernie Foundation," she said. "I don't know it."

    "It was set up by a man named Willernie, in St. Louis, Missouri," said Mal. "He made his money manufacturing kitchen utensils. When he died he left a trust and set up the Foundation to encourage basic research." Mal smiled. "Don't ask me how he got from kitchen utensils to that. That's not much information for you, is it?" "It's more than I had a minute ago," she smiled back. "Did you know Corwin Brayt before he came here?"

    "No." Mal shook his head. "I don't know many people outside the biological and zoological fields."

    "I imagine you know him pretty well now, though, after the six months he's been in charge."

    "Well " Mal hesitated, "I wouldn't say I know him well, at all. You see, he's up here in the office all day long and I'm down with Pollux and Castor the two wild dolphins

    we've got coming to the station, now. Corwin and I don't see each other much." "On this small island?"

    "I suppose it seems funny but we're both pretty busy."

    "I guess you would be," she smiled again. "Will you take me to him?" "Him?" Mal awoke suddenly to the fact they were still standing on the terrace. "Oh, yes

    it's Corwin you came to see."

    "Not just Corwin," she said. "I came to see the whole place."

    "Well, I'll take you in to the office. Come along."

    He led her across the terrace and in through the front door into the air-conditioned coolness of the interior. Corwin Brayt ran the air conditioning constantly, as if his own somewhat icy personality demanded the dry, distant coldness of a mountain atmosphere. Mal led Jane Wilson down a short corridor and through another door into a large wide-windowed office. A tall, slim, broad-shouldered man with black hair and a brown, coldly handsome face looked up from a large desk, and got to his feet on seeing Jane. "Corwin," said Mal. "This is Miss Jane Wilson from Background Monthly."

    "Yes," said Corwin expressionlessly to Jane, coming around the desk to them. "I got a wire yesterday you were coming." He did not wait for Jane to offer her hand, but offered his own. Their fingers met.

    "I've got to be getting down to Castor and Pollux," said Mal, turning away. "I'll see you later then," Jane said, looking over at him.

    "Why, yes. Maybe " he said. He went out. As he closed the door of Brayt's office behind him, he paused for a moment in the dim, cool hallway, and shut his eyes. Don't be a fool,

    he told himself, a girl like that can do a lot better than someone like you. And probably has already.

    He opened his eyes and went back down to the pool behind the station and the nonhuman world of the dolphins.

    When he got there, he found that Castor and Pollux were back. Their pool was an open one, with egress to the open blue waters of the Caribbean. In the first days of the research at Dolphin's Way, the dolphins had been confined in a closed pool like any captured wild animal. It was only later on, when the work at the station had come up against what Knight had called "the environmental barrier," that the notion was conceived of opening the pool to the sea, so that the dolphins they had been working with could leave or stay, as they wished.

    They had left but they had come back. Eventually, they had left for good. But strangely, wild dolphins had come from time to time to take their place, so that there were always dolphins at the station.

    Castor and Pollux were the latest pair. They had showed up some four months ago after a single dolphin frequenting the station had disappeared. Free, independent they had been

    most cooperative. But the barrier had not been breached.

    Now, they were sliding back and forth past each other underwater utilizing the full thirty-yard length of the pool, passing beside, over, and under each other, their seven-foot, nearly identical bodies almost, but not quite, rubbing as they passed. The tape showed them to be talking together up in the supersonic range, eighty to a hundred and twenty kilocycles per second. Their pattern of movement in the water now was something he had never seen before. It was regular and ritualistic as a dance.

    He sat down and put on the earphones connected to the hydrophones, underwater at each end of the pool. He spoke into the microphone, asking them about their movements, but they ignored him and kept on with the patterned swimming.

    The sound of footsteps behind him made him turn.

    He saw Jane Wilson approaching down the concrete steps from the back door of the station, with the stocky, overalled figure of Pete Adant, the station mechanic. "Here he is," said Pete, as they came up. "I've got to get back, now." "Thank you." She gave Pete the smile that had so moved Mal earlier. Pete turned and went back up the steps. She turned to Mal. "Am I interrupting something?" "No. He took off the earphones. "I wasn't getting any answers, anyway."

    She looked at the two dolphins in their underwater dance with the liquid surface swirling above them as they turned now this way, now that, just under it.

    "Answers?" she said. He smiled a little ruefully.

    "We call them answers," he, said. He nodded at the two smoothly streamlined shapes turning in the pool. "Sometimes we can ask questions and get responses." "Informative responses?" she asked.

    "Sometimes. You wanted to see me about something?"

    "About everything," she said. "It seems you're the man I came to talk to not Brayt. He

    sent me down here. I understand you're the one with the theory."

    "Theory?" he said warily, feeling his heart sink inside him.

    "The notion, then," she said. "The idea that, if there is some sort of interstellar civilization, it might be waiting for the people of Earth to qualify themselves before making contact. And that test might not be a technological one like developing a faster-than-light means of travel, but a sociological one "

    "Like learning to communicate with an alien culture a culture like that of the dolphins,"

    he interrupted harshly. "Corwin told you this?"

    "I'd heard about it before I came," she said. "I'd thought it was Brayt's theory, though." "No," said Mal, "it's mine." He looked at her. "You aren't laughing."

    "Should I laugh?" she said. She was attentively watching the dolphins' movements. Suddenly he felt sharp jealousy of them for holding her attention; and the emotion pricked him to something he might not otherwise have had the courage to do. "Fly over to the mainland with me," he said, "and have lunch. I'll tell you all about it." "All right." She looked up from the dolphins at him at last and he was surprised to see her frowning. "There's a lot I don't understand," she murmured. "I thought it was Brayt I had to learn about. But it's you and the dolphins."

    "Maybe we can clear that up at lunch, too," Mal said, not quite clear what she meant, but not greatly caring, either. "Come on, the helicopters are around the north side of the building."

    They flew a copter across to Carúpano, and sat down to lunch looking out at the shipping in the open roadstead of the azure sea before the town, while the polite Spanish of Venezuelan voices sounded from the tables around them.

    "Why should I laugh at your theory?" she said again, when they were settled, and eating lunch.

    "Most people take it to be a crackpot excuse for our failure at the station," he said.

    Her brown arched brows rose. "Failure?" she said. "I thought you were making steady progress."

    "Yes. And no," he said. "Even before Dr. Knight died, we ran into something he called the environmental barrier."

    "Environmental barrier?"

    "Yes." Mal poked with his fork at the shrimp in his seafood cocktail. "This work of ours all grew out of the work done by Dr. John Lilly. You read his book, Man and Dolphin?"

    "No," she said. He looked at her, surprised.

    "He was the pioneer in this research with dolphins," Mal said. "I'd have thought reading his book would have been the first thing you would have done before coming down here."

    "The first thing I did," she said, "was try to find out something about Corwin Brayt. And I was pretty unsuccessful at that. That's why I landed here with the notion that it was he, not you, who was the real worker with the dolphins."

    "That's why you asked me if I knew much about him?"

    "That's right," she answered. "But tell me about this environmental barrier." "There's not a great deal to tell," he said. "Like most big problems, it's simple enough to state. At first, in working with the dolphins, it seemed the early researchers were going great guns, and communication was just around the corner a matter of interpreting the

    sounds they made to each other, in the humanly audible range and above it; and teaching the dolphins human speech."

    "It turned out those things couldn't be done?"

    "They could. They were done or as nearly so as makes no difference. But then we came

    up against the fact that communication doesn't mean understanding." He looked at her. "You and I talk the same language, but do we really understand perfectly what the other person means when he speaks to us?"

    She looked at him for a moment, and then slowly shook her head without taking her eyes off his face. "Well," said Mal, "that's essentially our problem with the dolphins only on

    a much larger scale. Dolphins, like Castor and Pollux, can talk with me, and I with them, but we can't understand each other to any great degree."

    "You mean intellectually understood, don't you?" Jane said. "Not just mechanically?" "That's right," Mal answered. "We agree on denotation of an auditory or other symbol, but not on connotation. I can say to Castor, 'the Gulf Stream is a strong ocean current,'

    and he'll agree exactly. But neither of us really has the slightest idea of what the other really means. My mental image of the Gulf Stream is not Castor's image. My notion of 'powerful' is relative to the fact I'm six-feet tall, weigh a hundred and seventy-five pounds,

    and can lift my own weight against the force of gravity. Castor's is relative to the fact that he is seven feet long, can speed up to forty miles an hour through the water, and as far as he knows weighs nothing, since his four hundred pounds of body-weight are balanced out by the equal weight of the water he displaces. And the concept of lifting something is all but unknown to him. My mental abstraction of 'ocean' is not his, and our ideas of what a current is may coincide, or be literally worlds apart in meaning. And so far we've found no way of bridging the gap between us."

    "The dolphins have been trying as well as you?"

    "I believe so," said Mal. "But I can't prove it. Any more than I can really prove the dolphin's intelligence to hard-core skeptics until I can come up with something previously outside human knowledge that the dolphins have taught me. Or have them demonstrate that they've learned the use of some human intellectual process. And in these things we've all failed because, as I believe and Dr. Knight believed, of the connotative gap, which is a result of the environmental barrier."

    She sat watching him. He was probably a fool to tell her all this, but he had had no one to talk to like this since Dr. Knight's heart attack, eight months before, and he felt words threatening to pour out of him.

    "We've got to learn to think like the dolphins," he said, "or the dolphins have to learn to think like us. For nearly six years now we've been trying and neither side's succeeded." Almost before he thought, he added the one thing he had been determined to keep to himself. "I've been afraid our research funds will be cut off any day now." "Cut off? By the Willernie Foundation?" she said. "Why would they do that?" "Because we haven't made any progress for so long," Mal said bitterly. "Or, at least, no provable progress. I'm afraid time's just about run out. And if it runs out, it may never be picked up again. Six years ago, there was a lot of popular interest in the dolphins. Now, they've been discounted and forgotten, shelved as merely bright animals." "You can't be sure the research won't be picked up again."

    "But I feel it," he said. "It's part of my notion about the ability to communicate with an alien race being the test for us humans. I feel we've got this one chance and if we flub it, we'll never have another." He pounded the table softly with his fist. "The worst of it is, I know the dolphins are trying just as hard to get through from their side if I could only

    recognize what they're doing, how they're trying to make me understand!"

    Jane had been sitting watching him.

    "You seem pretty sure of that," she said. "What makes you so sure?"

    He unclenched his fist and forced himself to sit back in his chair.

    "Have you ever looked into the jaws of a dolphin?" he said. "They're this long." He spread his hands apart in the air to illustrate. "And each pair of jaws contains eighty-eight sharp teeth. Moreover, a dolphin like Castor weighs several hundred pounds and can

    move at water speeds that are almost incredible to a human. He could crush you easily by ramming you against the side of a tank, if he didn't want to tear you apart with his teeth, or break your bones with blows of his flukes." He looked at her grimly. "In spite of all this, in spite of the fact that men have caught and killed dolphins even we killed them in

    our early, fumbling researches, and dolphins are quite capable of using their teeth and strength on marine enemies no dolphin has ever been known to attack a human being.

    Aristotle, writing in the fourth century B.C., speaks of the quote gentle and kindly end quote nature of the dolphin."

    He stopped, and looked at Jane sharply.

    "You don't believe me," he said.

    "Yes," she said. "Yes, I do." He took a deep breath.

    "I'm sorry," he said. "I've made the mistake of mentioning all this before to other people and been sorry I did. I told this to one man who gave me his opinion that it indicated that the dolphin instinctively recognized human superiority and the value of human life." Mal grinned at her, harshly. "But it was just an instinct. 'Like dogs,' he said. 'Dogs

    instinctively admire and love people ' and he wanted to tell me about a dachshund he'd

    had, named Poochie, who could read the morning newspaper and wouldn't bring it in to him if there was a tragedy reported on the front page. He could prove this, and Poochie's intelligence, by the number of times he'd had to get the paper off the front step himself." Jane laughed. It was a low, happy laugh; and it took the bitterness suddenly out of Mal. "Anyway," said Mal, "the dolphin's restraint with humans is just one of the indications, like the wild dolphins coming to us here at the station, that've convinced me the dolphins are trying to understand us, too. And have been, maybe, for centuries."

    "I don't see why you worry about the research stopping," she said. "With all you know, can't you convince people "

    "There's only one person I've got to convince," said Mal. "And that's Corwin Brayt. And I don't think I'm doing it. It's just a feeling but I feel as if he's sitting in judgment upon

    me, and the work. I feel . . ." Mal hesitated, "almost as if he's a hatchet man." "He isn't," Jane said. "He can't be. I'll find out for you, if you like. There're ways of doing it. I'd have the answer for you right now, if I'd thought of him as an administrator. But I thought of him as a scientist, and I looked him up in the wrong places." Mal frowned at her, unbelievingly.

    "You don't actually mean you can find out that for me?" he asked.

    She smiled.

    "Wait and see," she replied. "I'd like to know, myself, what his background is." "It could be important," he said, eagerly. "I know it sounds fantastic but if I'm right, the

    research with the dolphins could be important, more important than anything else in the world."

    She stood up suddenly from the table.

    "I'll go and start checking up right now," she said. "Why don't you go on back to the island? It'll take me a few hours and I'll take the water-taxi over."

    "But you haven't finished lunch yet," he said. "In fact you haven't even started lunch. Let's eat first, then you can go."

    "I want to call some people and catch them while they're still at work," she said. "It's the time difference on these long-distance calls. I'm sorry. We'll have dinner together, will that do?"

    "It'll have to," he said. She melted his disappointment with one of her amazing smiles, and went.

    With her gone, Mal found he was not hungry himself. He got hold of the waiter and managed to cancel the main course of their meals. He sat and had two more drinks not

    something usual for him. Then he left and flew the copter back to the island. Pete Adant encountered him as he was on his way from the copter park to the dolphin pool.

    "There you are," said Pete. "Corwin wants to see you in an hour when he gets back, that

    is. He's gone over to the mainland himself."

    Ordinarily, such a piece of news would have awakened the foreboding about cancellation of the research that rode always like a small, cold metal weight inside Mal. But the total of three drinks and no lunch had anesthetized him somewhat. He nodded and went on to the pool.

    The dolphins were still there, still at their patterned swimming. Or was he just imagining the pattern? Mal sat down on his chair by the poolside before the tape recorder which set down a visual pattern of the sounds made by the dolphins. He put the earphones to the hydrophones on, switching on the mike before him.

    Suddenly, it struck him how futile all this was. He had gone through these same motions daily for four years now. And what was the sum total of results he had to show for it? Reel on reel of tape recording a failure to hold any truly productive conversation with the dolphins.

    He took the earphones off and laid them aside. He lit a cigarette and sat gazing with half-seeing eyes at the underwater ballet of the dolphins. To call it ballet was almost to libel their actions. The gracefulness, the purposefulness of their movements, buoyed up by the salt water, was beyond that of any human in air or on land. He thought again of what he had told Jane Wilson about the dolphin's refusal to attack their human captors, even when the humans hurt or killed them. He thought of the now-established fact that dolphins will come to the rescue of one of their own who has been hurt or knocked

unconscious, and hold him up on top of the water so he would not drown the dolphin's

    breathing process requiring conscious control, so that it failed if the dolphin became unconscious.

    He thought of their playfulness, their affection, the wide and complex range of their speech. In any of those categories, the average human stacked up beside them looked pretty poor. In the dolphin culture there was no visible impulse to war, to murder, to hatred and unkindness. No wonder, thought Mal, they and we have trouble understanding each other. In a different environment, under different conditions, they're the kind of people we've always struggled to be. We have the technology, the tool-using capability, but with it all in many ways we're more animal than they are.

    Who's to judge which of us is better, he thought, looking at their movements through the water with the slight hazy melancholy induced by the three drinks on an empty stomach. I might be happier myself, if I were a dolphin. For a second, the idea seemed deeply attractive. The endless open sea, the freedom, an end to all the complex structure of human culture on land. A few lines of poetry came back to him.

    "Come Children," he quoted out loud to himself, "let us away! Down and away,

    below . . . !"

    He saw the two dolphins pause in their underwater ballet and saw that the microphone before him was on. Their heads turned toward the microphone underwater at the near end of the pool. He remembered the following lines, and he quoted them aloud to the dolphins.

    " . . . Now my brothers call from the bay,

    "Now the great winds shoreward blow,

    "Now the salt tiles seaward flow;

    "Now the wild white horses play,

    "Chump and chafe and toss in the spray " *

    He broke off suddenly, feeling self-conscious. He looked down at the dolphins. For a moment they merely hung where they were under the surface, facing the microphone. Then Castor turned and surfaced. His forehead with its blowhole broke out into the air and then his head as he looked up at Mal. His airborne voice from the blowhole's sensitive lips and muscles spoke quacking words at the human.

    "Come, Mal," he quacked, "let us away! Down and away! Below!"

    The head of Pollux surfaced beside Castor's. Mal stared at them for a long second. Then he jerked his gaze back to the tape of the recorder. There on it was the rhythmic record of his own voice as it had sounded in the pool, and below it on their separate tracks, the tapes showed parallel rhythms coming from the dolphins. They had been matching his speech largely in the inaudible range while he was quoting.

    Still staring, Mal got to his feet, his mind trembling with a suspicion so great he hesitated to put it into words. Like a man in a daze he walked to the near end of the pool, where three steps led down into the shallower part. Here the water was only three feet deep. "Come, Mal!" quacked Castor, as the two still hung in the water with their heads out, facing him. "Let us away! Down and away! Below!"

    Step by step, Mal went down into the pool. He felt the coolness of the water wetting his pants legs, rising to his waist as he stood at last on the pool floor. A few feet in front of him, the two dolphins hung in the water, facing him, waiting. Standing with the water rippling lightly above his belt buckle, Mal looked at them, waiting for some sign, some signal of what they wanted him to do.

    They gave him no clue. They only waited. It was up to him to go forward on his own. He sloshed forward into deeper water, put his head down, held his breath, and pushed himself off underwater.

    In the forefront of his blurred vision, he saw the grainy concrete floor of the pool. He glided slowly over it, rising a little, and suddenly the two dolphins were all about him

    gliding over, above, around his own underwater floating body, brushing lightly against him as they passed, making him a part of their underwater dance. He heard the creaking that was one of the underwater sounds they made and knew that they were probably talking in ranges he could not hear. He could not know what they were saying, he could not sense the meaning of their movements about him, but the feeling that they were trying to convey information to him was inescapable.

    He began to feel the need to breathe. He held out as long as be could, then let himself rise to the surface. He broke water and gulped air, and the two dolphin heads popped up nearby, watching him. He dove under the surface again. I am a dolphin he told himself

    almost desperately I am not a man, but a dolphin, and to me all this means what?

    Several times he dove, and each time the persistent and disciplined movements of the dolphins about him underwater convinced him more strongly that he was on the right track. He came up, blowing, at last. He was not carrying the attempt to be like them far enough, he thought. He turned and swam back to the steps at the shallow end of the pool, and began to climb out.

    "Come, Mal let us away!" quacked a dolphin voice behind him, and he turned to see the heads of both Castor and Pollux out of the water, regarding him with mouths open urgently.

    "Come Children down and away!" he repeated, as reassuringly as he could intonate the

    words.

    He hurried up to the big cabinet of the supply locker at the near end of the pool, and opened the door of the section on skin-diving equipment. He needed to make himself more like a dolphin. He considered the air tanks and the mask of the scuba equipment, and rejected them. The dolphins could not breathe underwater any more than he could. He started jerking things out of the cabinet.

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