Dreaming of the Dreamers
The dolphins swam in circles ever closer to shore. The reason why became clear as the Dreamer rose up out of the water, a Greek God in living flesh. Naya couldn’t help but stare speechless as he echoed in song back to the dolphins in the water.
He approached Naya with a confident stride. His fish leather loincloth was of a primitive era. The diamond laminated blade in his leather armband was the only connection he had to her world. Naya felt painfully conscious of her shorts, T-shirt and flip flops. Her high-tech accessories weighed like cursed abomination. He stopped and smiled broadly. "Are you new?"
The confident warmth of his smile was brighter than the tropical sun. "Yeah. Doctor Singh invited me. I came in on the supply flight a little while ago." A nervous grimace flared on his lips. He spat a burst of sonar at her, rattling her skull. His smile faded faster than hers did. "Humans are not allowed here."
"I’m allowed. I came here for the change." He looked at her quizzically. "The procedure is illegal in the US now, and Singapore is a radioactive wasteland since the China War. You have to come here for the procedure."
The Dreamer strode past her and up the sandy path to Dr. Singh’s bungalow. It could have been dropped down on any tropical island in the world. It was, in fact, on one of the most remote in the world. Johnston Atoll. If it wasn’t for the radiation and chemical mess that Dr. Singh’s staff tried to clean up for the Pacific Island Trust, they wouldn’t even be allowed here.
Dr. Singh was conversing with the Dreamer. He used sonic bursts, whistles and occasional human words. Words that didn’t translate into the dolphin language were the only ones the Dreamer uttered that she understood, but it was enough. "Why." "Law." "Plane." Dr. Singh made similar sounds, her voice constrained by human vocal design. The Dreamer finally left, not quite satisfied. Naya and Dr. Singh watched as it went for a row of fruit trees and began eating. "Are they allowed to do that?"
"Only the lab and medical research areas are off limits to them."
"But isn’t that your fruit --"
"They don’t bother with property as people do. Now, speaking of people -"
"Are you human?"
"Utterly." Dr. Devi Singh smiled. "No. I haven’t gone through the change."
"We think that the psychological aspects involved in the change affect the purely analytical portions of the brain. If I change, I might not be able to perform the delicate procedures. And after the persecution and prosecution of my fellow researchers abroad, I am likely the last one capable of doing it."
"I thought intelligence was unaffected," Naya tried not to whisper. It had taken her days to take a round about route to this island, though it wasn’t quite illegal to merely come here anymore. Was it in vain?
"It isn’t lost. It changes. There is only so much space in the skull, you know. We change upper sinuses to sonar cavities because modifying the bone is so dangerous. We make some abstract logical portions of the brain change to become new sonar and sound processing nodes. Dreamers do retain their human vision; it is too precious a sense to change. We merely modify the eyes to allow better underwater vision. Touch and taste remain the same, though wired differently. Smell is reduced, but they spend so long in the water that it means little anyway." Naya listed to the doctor’s sing song litany. Human to Dreamer. It was what she’d dreamed of ever since she’d heard of it. What she’d been chasing since she’d become a legal adult. "Do you think you’ll have to leave here, too?"
"Why did you pick this island? Did the Pacific Trust say you could stay forever?"
Dr. Singh smiled ruefully. "My staff is cleaning up the radiological mess left from the tests decades ago. We also clean up the chemical mess left behind by the chemical weapons processing station here from decades past. These reefs are rich and recovering while all the others are declining. What we prove here will help to recover so many areas destroyed by the Jihadi War -- the Andamans, Hawaii, the Philippines. They don’t like the genie in the bottle of genetic engineering anymore than anyone else. But the Pacific Island Trust is exactly that: people who put their trust in the Pacific Islands. They need the poisoned waters to be cured so the fisheries to recover so they don’t have to rely on expensive aqua farming. They want the certainty that the beaches are safe from washed up poison so tourists can come back. That promise is enough to keep us safe. The fact that the Dreamers are the only ones who can enjoy the water right now only adds to their safety -- something they have no where else."
"How do you and your staff survive?"
"Most of my staff makes the change eventually. I have my own methods of staying safe." Dr. Singh smiled at her. "Don’t worry. If you need a few days to decide, there’s plenty of antidote in stock. We get enough supplies through the various back routes to meet all our needs. We even get second hand cut-rate equipment from Taiwan."
"How do you pay for it?"
"Research is research." Her lips politely flipped up in a smile before fading as quickly. "You came all this way despite the risks. I think you’ll be part of the family soon, so I’ll share this family secret. All the genetic engineering data that was lost in the EMP weapons and nukes used in the Jihadi War wasn’t all lost -- we wouldn’t have developed the Dreamer change if we had. We trade the RNA vaccine sequences and cancer vaccines to the Taiwanese for everything we need. Even the flight you took from Taiwan to the lesser islands -- and the electronic forms that said you were going somewhere more acceptable."
"Why would you help smuggle me in?"
"There are so few of us."
"But you’ve had converts from all over the world --"
"And every lynching took a precious one. And a few were injured or killed before we were driven out. Survival of a species is dependant on numbers. And every few we make barely replace the murdered."
"I’m just one person."
"One more out of dozens makes you infinitely more valuable than one among billions."
The last Naya had heard, they’d numbered in the hundreds. "Was that Hawaii?"
"The government didn’t want to kill us. They just wanted us out. Dreamers live in the Dreamtime with dolphins and whales; and the Japanese were hunting both. It was the Japanese trawlers’ nets that killed them by accident as the more adventurous Dreamers who sought islands on their own, refusing to be hauled off at gunpoint again. Worse was the Malaysian military that rounded up all the Dreamers they could find and eventually killed those who could not and would not ever be military assets; that cost us the most." The bitterness began to drip from her voice. "The tourists shooting Dreamers thinking they were Jihadi scuba divers trying to damage the ships was nearly as bad. Another accident." Dr. Singh was close to tears. Naya cried at the sight of the genius of her times so torn up. The creator of an innocent race had nearly seen its extinction. "That is why we were willing to go to one of the most remote parts of the world. No humans."
"Is that why the Dreamer hates me?"
"Hate is human. He’s not human anymore. He’s merely wary and worried."
"They used to be trusting of everyone, of everything." Naya broke down in sobs. The innocent and carefree life she’d dreamed of as a Dreamer no longer existed. Taken away by her own kind. The kind she didn’t want to be anymore. "I want to be a Dreamer."
"I told you the changes it causes. I should tell you the risks --"
"I wanted to commit suicide when I was younger, because of how cruel people could be." Naya felt a flicker of horror that her secret was out. Then she remembered the woman sharing her own family secrets. "I never even told my own family that. But I hated being different from everyone." Naya’s brown mottled skin from the plague she barely survived had made her an outcast. She looked so much like a bottlenose dolphin, and floating in the salt water tub took the pain away. The first step in her transformation to a sea creature. And the last step was before her. "Make me a Dreamer. I don’t care about the costs -- of any kind." Naya smiled bitterly. "Isn’t money useless here, anyway?"
Dr. Singh smiled equally bitterly. "I think you’ll fit in just fine."
© 2006 by Tamara Wilhite
Bio: Tamara Wilhite is (among other things), a prolific political blogger with strong views on the future of American society. Sometimes, as in this case, she expresses her thoughts in the form of thoughtful and thought-provoking fiction...
E-mail: Tamara Wilhite
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