Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54
“Pardon my language. Fancy meeting you here! With a lovely lady, no less.” He winked at the chieftess and blew a bubble ring, which dissipated harmlessly against the dome. She managed a feeble smile and waved at him.
“The hell are you doing off the coast of South America?” I demanded. “I thought you were on a business trip” He shook his bulbous melon. “Not even a little bit. No business, purely pleasure. I’m on vacation for the next six days.”
Dolphins go on vacation? I didn’t voice the question, lest he lecture me for an hour about my insulting preconceptions. Instead, as he hovered there just outside the sub with beautiful moving patterns of light cast down onto his body from the surface, I told him everything.
How I was forced into a VTOL at gunpoint. The crash. The village, and finally our escape from the final survivor of the six enforcers sent to search the crash site for survivors. He emitted another puff of bubbles, what might’ve come out as a whistle on the surface.
“You know there was an attack on the space elevator, right?” he chirped. I nodded and asked how the rest of the world reacted. “Reacting, present tense. The uproar still shows no signs of dying down. I’m glad I took my vacation days when I did, with any luck it’ll have petered out by the time I have to go back to work.”
Still a weird concept for me that dolphins have to work for a living. There’s no escaping the system, whether you’ve got flippers or fingers. If you have a complex enough brain, it’ll find a way to extract surplus value from you.
Sensing my confusion, Remble filled in the gaps for me. “There’s no part of the ocean that isn’t owned by somebody. Mostly humans, I might add. The only parts of it I can use for free are the fin reservations, and public submarine travel lanes.”
I cringed, suddenly wishing the chieftess weren’t here. She now listened with rapt interest, occasionally glancing over at me in disgust, as if I were personally to blame. “So now you’re stranded, right? No GPS until they launch the core of the new counterweight satellite, and begin manufacturing the new tether on orbit.
But maybe I can help. Where are you trying to get to? I’ve been coming out to these warm, sweet waters twice a year for the last decade. Pretty much since I got the promotion that let me afford to, haha. I’m sure you know what that’s like.”
Again I cringed, this time because I realized Remble still had no idea that I’ve never held down an honest job in my life. “Y-yeah…anything to get away from the rat race, am I right? Heh heh…” I fumbled with the sub’s nav interface for a bit before turning the monitor to face the viewing dome, so Remble could see it.
“It won’t accept the coordinates? If it has an offline map, it should at least be able to…” I shut him down, explaining that I’d already tried that. “Hmph. Well my implant has one. It’s a few years old but I doubt the coastline of South America has meaningfully changed shape in that time. Let me take a look.”
I sent the coordinates to his implant using the hydrophone as an accoustic modem. Upon receiving them He didn’t give me but a few seconds to react, just turned tail and darted off into the blue. I directed the sonar system to lock onto him, and set the sub’s navigational software to auto-follow at a distance of 0.1 nautical miles, matching his speed of 6 knots.
With nothing demanding my immediate attention any longer, there was at last room to breathe. To decompress, and begin to process everything I’d been through over the past few weeks. I felt utterly drained…but also transformed.
Cleaner, leaner, and radiating with health undreamt of back in Shenzen. Hollowed out by the experience of killing for the first time, but emboldened as well. Above all else, having been touched by cosmic gentleness, I knew I would never be the same again.
How, after I witnessed and felt such indescribably beautiful things, could I return to my old life? To the empty pursuit of money and pleasure, not so much a man as a collection of appetites. But what else can I do to put food in my stomach and a roof over my head? The hustle is all I know.
A field of brittle, dead coral passed lazily beneath us, visible through the dome window as I contemplated life. Reordering my values in light of everything that transpired back in the jungle, charting a new path into an unknown future. One where my primary concern would no longer be increasing a number on a screen representing the quantity of imaginary tokens in my possession.
It occupied my mind completely enough that hours passed like minutes. The next thing I knew, Remble was bidding us farewell as the sub approached the coordinates I supplied him with. “You ought to consider revisiting these waters some time. Hear me out! It’s much nicer when you’re not being shot at.”
I fibbed that I’d think about it, then waved at him through the dome as he pumped his tail, accelerating into the blue haze until he passed out of visible range. I fiddled with the delicate controls, scooting the sub gently up to the underwater supports of the dock before surfacing.
I half expected the shooting to resume. But when I popped the hatch and warily stuck my head out, shielding my tender eyes as they adjusted to sunlight once more…the skies were clear. Probably he was still back at the mangrove swamp, shooting at phantoms.
“May they haunt him for the rest of his days” I grumbled. The chieftess asked me to speak up. “It’s nothing. Come on, I want you to meet my Dad.” I tied the sub to the nearest dock post as she clambered out of the cramped little vessel, swearing in her native tongue a few times when she bumped a knee or an elbow in the process.
The cabin was not out on the beach, but a couple hundred feet into the jungle, beneath a deeply eroded rock overhang which looked as if it had once been a sea cave. There I found a weathered looking wooden geodesic dome cabin, badly in need of some fresh paint.
“Not another step” a familiar voice barked at us. Dad emerged from the cabin with his trusty old shotgun pointed our way. “It’s me Dad, put it down.” The portion of the armor comprising my helmet peeled away, revealing my face.
He gawked. “No fuckin’ way! What’s your gear made out of? Is that the new cool thing that everybody’s into now? For fuck’s sake, I feel like I just went fullmetal yesterday and now there’s some new thing I gotta buy.”
I reassured him he was looking at the only two prototypes as he welcomed us inside. The cabin did prove to be much homier inside than out, apparently owned by some kind of new age fruit. When I asked Dad about it, he filled me in.
“It belonged to a college buddy of mine. Way into chakras, colonics, homeopathy, all that garbage. He did turn me on to organic farming though, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. He formed a little…group of friends…who came out here to live with him when the government started paying too close attention to his operation.”
Must’ve been growing more than organic veggies, I’d wager. An aspiring cult leader too, by the sound of it. The center of the cabin’s interior was dominated by a seven foot tall cylindrical acrylic aquarium with a spiral staircase leading up around the back side to a platform at the rim.
From there, a ladder descended into the tank itself, mounted to the inside surface. A scuba regulator on the end of a ten foot hookah line dangled from the little platform, covered in cobwebs from disuse. I gestured to the setup and raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, that!” Dad chuckled. “He had some unusual ideas about meditating while immersed in salt water. Said that it acted as a psychic radiation blocker, and that normally we are so swamped by the thoughts of ten billion other humans that we can’t make any of it out. It’s just relentless background noise that makes us neurotic. Even wrote a book about how his meditation tank replicates the conditions in the womb, where our psychic abilities first develop.”
Hoo boy. One of “those people”. Dad went on to lament that he was convicted on a predictable collection of charges nearly twenty years ago, whereupon his followers moved out of this cabin, returned to the US and went on with their lives.
Stay Tuned for Part 56!