Gary wiped away more of his slick black hair as it again fell before his eyes. The rain seemed to be the perfect antithesis to the news he'd heard this morning. Words pulsed hypnotically within him and he ached to let them free, to share their joy with others. But he restrained himself. Tark had to be the first one he told.
He shook his head playfully, spreading sparkles of water like a shockwave, drawing curious stares from the few unfortunates who also happened to be walking in the rain. If this thing went through, he thought elatedly to himself, changes would be made. Just thinking of the awesome and inspiring work of integration to be performed gave him shivers.
Shivers just like the first time he had met Tark, laden with his nauseating array of cranial equipment: internal and external sensors, translators, amplifiers, all attached to a malevolent metal frame secured by pins piercing his tortured flesh. Gary had known the apparatus was required to translate Tark's complex language into human words, but still had found it sickening to see. The dolphin's care and teaching had been assigned to Gary, an occupation he'd been yearning for since he'd started university. For it had been in his first year that he'd encountered his first "talking" dolphin.
His name was Kaiser, and the head gear had seemed even more grotesque back then. He could almost feel the weight of it pressing down on the dolphin's tender melon. The translation program had been primitive, unable to translate half of the whistles and squeaks Kaiser was emitting. Yet simple sentences often managed to make it through. Unfortunately for Gary, the visiting group of students was whisked through the room in less than fifteen minutes. However, that small span of time had given Gary's life a direction, something it never really had before.
Soon afterwards, the government began assigning "Companions" to each dolphin. This was a result of a few dolphins lapsing into deep depression in cases where they were cared for by many different people. A Companion was to have a sufficient knowledge in a number of subjects,therefore becoming a de facto teacher as well as caregiver. As Gary had majored in biology with as much English and computer science stuffed in the cracks as he could manage, his application to become a Companion was one of the very few selected. He was given a young specimen named Rocky.
Rocky was playful, and thus had little to say. Despite this, Gary still enjoyed himself immensely as he watched this young one leap and twirl, oblivious to the political turmoil going on around him.
During Gary's first month as Companion to Rocky, the UN voted to expand its powers to become the overseer of all human and animal rights legislation for all member nations. This caused quite a stir among those who knew to what such an event was portend. Protests and demonstrations that accomplished little flourished across the globe. In some cases these evolved into riots in which many people were either killed or arrested.
The UN delayed using its newly acquired powers for a few weeks until the controversy had died down somewhat. Its first act was to order the release of all political prisoners of member nations. Most took it as a positive first step and the flag of protest was lowered.
Their next act was to produce a list of thousands of animals that were now officially "protected" and could not be hunted, killed or sought after for sport or profit. For a large number of creatures on this list the UN would distribute a number of quota chips, depending on the measured worldwide stocks. Prospective hunters wishing to "bag" one of these animals had to apply for an often quite expensive chip. Any hunter caught with one of these animals and without a quota chip faced severe penalties usually involving some length of jail time.
The legislation would be phased in over a three year period, during which all frantic beat-the-deadline hunting was strictly prohibited; such activities even garnered harsher fines than proposed to those lacking quota chips when the law would be in effect.
One of the animals on the list for which no quota chips would be released was the dolphin. This was mostly due to the fact that they could now "speak" using the translator. Such intelligence was rewarded with the mandate that all specimens should be preserved.
Gary's initial excitement over this decision calmed down after a while. He'd tried to tell Rocky about it, but the young dolphin wouldn't take the time to break the information down and try to understand it.
Then tragedy struck. One morning, Gary opened to door to the pool and found the tank thick with fiery red blood. Two forms floated among the water. One was Rocky, shot in the head twice and numerous times along his small slender form. The other was a man, shot in the throat. The dark form of the gun rested at the bottom of the pool. Japanese characters were spray painted on one of the walls alongside the severed penis of poor Rocky, taped to the bloodstained bricks. Gary later learned that these characters said something to the effect of: "here's my quota chip." Security at all dolphin sanctuaries was doubled.
A short time later Gary was given another assignment, an older bottle-nose named Plutarch, or Tark, as the pool workers affectionately called him. Tark was quiet and subdued, yet was often stubborn and persistent when he knew what he wanted. Many times the dolphin would ask Gary to read to him, and it was only through these reading sessions that the lines of communication began to open up between them. Soon after, Tark requested Gary to write something down.
Tark had composed a poem. It was quite good in fact, and many others followed. Even before he had finished very many, numerous publishers were calling asking for the rights to sell the first words written by another species. Gary was overjoyed, Tark was merely amused. The first book of one-hundred and twenty-nine poems was released a year and a half after Tark's first poem had been written. All profits were stored by the government in a special account since dolphins had no official status as citizens, and Gary would be given primary control of it. This really didn't matter however, since Gary followed all of Tark's few requests.
As expected, more books written by other dolphins soon entered the market. While less than half were actually authentic, they were more than just poetry. Novels, short stories and autobiographies fell upon an eager public. Soon, all that Tark was remembered for was for being the first dolphin published. His book of poems had long since fallen off the bestseller list, and a subsequent attempt with a second book of poetry had lasted only a short while merely because of its novelty value.
Because of all this, Gary had almost lapsed into depression. Tark, on the other hand, seemed oblivious of his fall from momentary glory. The only thing that saved Gary was the development of a new internal translation device.
With tears in his eyes, Gary had watched the monstrous apparatus that had once allowed Tark to speak be discarded. The new translator was about the size of a deck of cards, implanted just behind the blowhole. For the first time a "speaking" dolphin actually looked like a dolphin. Gary and many of the other workers who tended the seaquarium held a celebration by the pool that night while Tark learned the nuances of his new voice. Gary still remembered the look of utter surprise gripping Jameson, the seaquarium executive, as he was pushed, pressed suit and all, into the cold waters of Tark's pool. What he remembered even more vividly was Tark thoroughly enjoying Jameson's predicament.
Presently, Gary's wet clothes did nothing to dampen his mood as he passed through the front doors of the seaquarium and with a flash of his ID, disappeared into its inner depths. He still didn't like the fact that armed security guards were posted here twenty-four hours a day. But thinking about such things always brought back to him those chilling pictures of Rocky, dead among water of a nightmarish shade of red. The guards were necessary, albeit a constant reminder of the omnipresent threat of violence. Scowling, he put up with them.
He nodded to Rachael in the hall. Rachael Baxter was the unofficial administrator of the seaquarium, despite being only a few years out of Berkeley, and usually arrived earlier than anyone else. She often talked to Tark in the mornings, partly because of her position, and partly because she simply loved Tark. One found that in talking to her if the topic wasn't her endless toiling away for others it was usually Tark. Still she was a nice one, one of the better ones, Gary thought to himself as she sauntered past, apparently too busy to talk. He'd once built up the courage to ask her out for dinner, but she'd been busy. He sighed, just another example of his miraculous luck.
At last he pushed open the doors of the great room housing Tark's massive pool. The dolphin greeted him warmly as he slid out of the wet clothes and placed them on the low wooden bench next to the door. They'd dry a little, but he knew that even if the rain dissipated he'd still get another soaking. The feeling of his thin, button-down shirt plastered to his back annoyed him slightly, but the news he carried obliterated such petty discomforts.
"Have you heard?" Gary asked enthusiastically, tugging his tie experimentally and then deciding to discard it as well.
Tark sank beneath the surface at the far side of the pool and powered over to Gary. Poking his slender smile at him, the dolphin responded curiously. "Yes, of course. As your eminent scientists have determined, I hear from before birth... through my lower jaw no less." Tark added a little mock astonishment into the final sentence.
Gary marvelled for an instant at the new translation program. Despite the irritating English accent it portrayed (where would a dolphin acquire an English accent?) the new program could give relatively convincing overtones to words and phrases. Sarcasm now seemed Tark's favourite plaything. He remembered when the program had spoken words in a ceaseless monotone. How had he ever survived?
Flustered by the dolphin's response, Gary shook his head as if to clear it of a sudden fog. "No," he said, forcing calm. "Have you heard the news?"
"I don't see how I could have. You still won't let me have a television set up in here, not to mention a radio. Something about rotting my brain.."
Gary knew the dolphin didn't mean to make him angry. Gritting his teeth, he waved off the assaults and continued. "Another bill's been put to the UN."
Tark paused before responding. "By inference I suspect this has something to do with me?"
Gary began to reacquire his former elation. "Correct!" he smiled hugely. "Bill A-07 was announced today over the news broadcasts."
"So what's the damn thing about?" the dolphin said wryly. A few words of profanity had also been added to the latest translation program. Tark had had buckets of fun with them.
Stopping long enough to build up suspense, the human half of the peculiar companionship suddenly shouted absurdly to the huge sheets of glass in the ceiling that made up the skylight: "Emancipation!"
"I believe your man, Abraham Lincoln was it? He beat them to it."
His glory shot down, Gary slapped his forehead. "No, not for blacks, or Jews or... or even humans for that matter." He couldn't keep his face from looking like a six year-old at Christmastime as he went on. "Bill A-07 will make dolphins full citizens in the eyes of the United Nations!"
Tark was silent as he digested this. When it was clear that the dolphin wasn't going to respond immediately, Gary blurted, "Don't you see? They were so impressed by the intelligence they found behind your species when the code of your language was broken." He babbled on about intelligence tests and Tark's tested IQ of 115 but all of his excitement seemed to drain from the room when Tark silently sank beneath the water again.
Gary waited for him to resurface, but apparently the dolphin was in it for the long haul. He staggered to the bench lining the wall and slumped to a sitting position. What was wrong? Shouldn't the news have delighted Tark instead of sending him brooding?
A full four minutes later, Tark reappeared and spoke quietly. "You do know that nothing will come of this." The fact that it was more of a statement than a question irked Gary.
"What do you mean by that? There's a good chance this thing will go through! You can't just give up hope before the battle's started."
"It will not happen, not this soon."
"There's been a poll of the delegates and the outlook is actually relatively good..."
The dolphin's voice rose a notch. "It will not happen, Gary. It won't. I can tell you now that it won't."
Gary found the dolphin's use of tone disturbing. "What reason would a delegate have not to pass the bill?" he asked pointedly.
"The same reason a man would not vote to make a stranger his equal," Tark stated with finality, and fell below the rippling surface once again.
He still couldn't believe it. Gary had thought the dolphin would be overjoyed to hear such news. Instead it had made Tark more depressing than usual. It made no sense. What credentials did the dolphin have to discuss the outcomes of a human debate? Dolphins and Man were two separate social entities, and now that they were to come together Tark could only offer a dismally pessimistic view. It almost brought complete anger to Gary's already fiery emotions. Someone had to look on the bright side of things. He resolved not to let Tark's cynicism cloud his hope that something good would come of bill A-07.
Abruptly the sleek head rose from the water once again and looked toward the moping form of his Companion. "Could you write this down, Gary?" he asked politely, the previous grappling seemingly forgotten.
For a short moment Gary hesitated, as if the meaning of the dolphin's query was taking considerable time to understand. With a jerk, he found himself again and retrieved a writing tablet and pen from his briefcase. Seconds later he was ready to commit to paper Tark's thoughts and poetry.
Gary yawned as the television flickered in the dark room. Bill A-07 wasn't really big enough to get more than passing attention on the news. However, many specialty shows took on the issue with much enthusiasm. Gary smiled when he thought back to the two hour "Dolphins in History" special just last night. Despite being hastily constructed, the show had been quite interesting.
Life was getting interesting as well. There were only two days until A-07 would be put to the vote. In the past two weeks, no less than five reporters had called for an interview with him, and three of those had specified that they wanted Tark's words also. But just as it seemed they would regain their former popularity the dolphin had asked Gary to decline the sessions, and the man had complied out of respect. The offers had been tantalizing, but Gary's loyalty proved definitely strong enough.
On a more serious note, just three days earlier, a foreign man had tried to smuggle a bomb into a South Carolina dolphin facility, but was caught and arrested before it was activated. Still it had been a sobering close call for Gary. Is this how people felt about bill A-07? Dolphins had never hurt them, yet they were willing to risk life in prison (or under a shady marker) to kill them. Before the bill had been introduced Gary had thought he understood the world and those who lived in it. Now...
The picture of the foreign man appeared in front of his eyes and Gary had to blink twice before he realized the picture was on the television instead of in his head. The story was short, normal for three day old news. The anchor had little else to add to it besides the fact a date had been set for the hearing. Gary placed odds on the man being deported rather than going through a trial.
Rage like background radiation was contained in his every thought, word and action. He knew it would accomplish nothing, but some part of him wouldn't let go of it. Some part of him silently toyed with the notion that he could grab this man by the neck and make him see what kind of creatures dolphins really were.
He picked up the remote and silenced the television. Internally, he knew such actions would be detrimental to his cause rather than furthering it. Explaining it to people rationally had little effect also. Was the whole world prejudiced against dolphins? All the people he'd asked had said no, in fact they liked dolphins. Hardly any thought they should be given citizen status however.
Every time he heard this, Gary ached inside. Look at Tark, he would say. He talks, can understand language. Yet even apes had been taught sign language. Their forays with the translator had been less than successful however. Was it really just the translator that had brought about A-07? He found himself thinking about this possibility more and more. It saddened him to know how dolphins really were and have it compared to what others thought. It didn't seem fair.
But A-07 was still going to be voted on. As long as that bastion of hope was present, Gary would remain ever optimistic.
He rubbed his eyes and then headed for the coffee pot. The sky was considerably lighter now even though the sun had not yet risen. Dim outlines of shaded clouds shrouded the eastern horizon. Like any other day it seemed. If it wasn't for Tark's attitude depressing him for the past few arduous days he would swear he was beginning to loathe showing up at the seaquarium day after day. Sometimes he wondered what his life would be like without his work. He'd probably have been married by now, although the proverbial hormone induced attraction of puberty seemed never to have happened to him. For a few months before he began university he'd even wondered if he could possibly be a homosexual, yet that idea didn't appeal to him either. Since then he'd considered himself married to his work, having passing relations with a few women, but nothing more. It never seemed to get farther than friendship. Something inside of him just wouldn't let him get romantic. He seemed cursed to an endless single life.
This depressing thought had never held so much pain for him until now, when Tark's sullen mood served to amplify its message. Despite all this, Gary knew he couldn't abandon his Companion. He loved the dolphin's creativity and sense of humour.
Packing up the paper and laptop into his briefcase, he left the apartment and headed for the seaquarium. Tark had told him numerous times that his best poetry came in the morning. Gary had taken to coming in early a couple times a week to tap this source of creativity.
The walk to the seaquarium took a fraction over ten minutes, and thus Gary had never seen the advantage of buying a car. He never went anywhere, never changed his schedule. For the most part he liked it that way. He glanced down appreciatively at Mrs. Ganner's dried up flowerbed that he passed every day on his way. They were always just hanging on, even after rain and watering. The ground beneath sucked up water like a sponge.
Sometimes, he saw himself in that way too: just hanging on. On for the ride, not knowing where he was headed. Certain days he felt as if all he could do to keep himself going was to hang on. He'd told this to Tark once, and the little rascal had laughed, "you'll dry up too if you only hang on."
Gary felt a smile come to his tired cheeks despite himself. No matter what Tark said to him, he could never feel anger towards him. Not now, not ever. The romance of having him speak was enough of a high to last him for life.
Still a distance from the seaquarium, Gary could see white shapes boiling around the entrance like foam from an angry ocean. It took him some time to figure out what it actually was. Blank-faced picketers from not just one, but two protest groups trudged up and down the immaculately white stonework out front of the main doors. Out of caution and curiosity both, he stopped a short distance away and examined the situation.
One of the groups was a fundamentalist Christian group bearing placards saying everything from "Stop A-07!" to those suggesting that dolphins never were intelligent, and that demons were using them as satanic channels. All were clean-cut and respectable looking, but Gary found himself pitying their feeble narrowmindedness.
The other group was made up of Japanese Americans whose main argument was that dolphins were a delicacy to the Japanese (ironic because dolphin meat was already illegal in Japan). Americans killed cows and chickens to eat, so why shouldn't the Japanese have dolphin? Gary found this second group simply laughable, and had started to laugh already when a burly Japanese pushed his way past him bearing a sign written entirely in Japanese script. Startled, Gary clamped his jaw shut as the man continued on toward the picketers, casting him an unfriendly backward glance. A sudden memory of the Japanese letters on the wall above Rocky's pool froze Gary's blood into rivers of ice.
When Gary's heart had begun to beat again, and taking reassurance from the police cruiser parked near the right side of the line however, he steeled himself to get to Tark, to pass though the picketers. Before he had gotten twenty yards from the line, someone from the Japanese section threw a handful of dirt at him. When he continued walking, others began to follow suit, mostly Japanese to begin with, but eventually spreading to a few individuals from the fundamentalists. Gravel, clumps of grass and clods of dirt began raining him, and tearing at his flesh. Even the two policemen who rushed to quell the assault could not stop it. Men screamed at him, harried him with insults and childish slogans about man being ruler over all the animals. That was why pitbulls tore little girls to pieces right? Gary thought to himself.
But the barrage had been enough. Without running, Gary whirled on one foot and walked away from the picketers. The first thing he did was find a phone and call the police. He was told that more officers were already on their way, probably requested by the two policemen stationed nearby.
The anger of the crowd had dwindled to a faded ember, still hot, but no longer visible.. For an insane moment he told himself to forget about the human race. It would be far better to be a dolphin, to join their slim forms under the ocean. To put the barrier of water between the madness and everything he knew to be true. But he was human, and nothing could change that.
Those people who threw earth at him for treating a dolphin as a person were not representative of his species. But... who was?
When four more squad cars arrived a few moments later, a barrier of club-bearing flesh escorted him into the seaquarium.
"Who is Shakespeare?" Tark was asking an hour later, as if nothing at all had happened. "Rachael mentioned him before you got here."
"Who was Shakespeare," Gary corrected. "He's dead."
Tark seemed puzzled. "Dead?"
The question sounded strange, and Gary wondered why someone's death could be so difficult to understand. "We have a written history, we know when things happened in the past. Shakespeare wrote plays and poetry, and we still have them today."
"Poetry? Like mine?"
Gary looked genuinely sorry, the expression severely augmented by a puffy purple eye and a large pink cloth bandage on his left temple. What those protestors had thrown hadn't seemed particularly damaging at the time. But once inside the seaquarium, he been examined by a paramedic and given a few bandages and such to patch him together. The blood had been especially plentiful from that temple wound.
"Much better than yours I'm afraid."
Tark seemed unfazed. "Do you think I could read some of it?"
"Well, you can't really read yet..."
"Yes, yes," Tark seethed impatiently. "I mean you read them to me. Or are the same restrictions on books as well as television and radio?"
"Books are fine. It's the media they don't want getting to you, although if A-07 goes though, even the government won't be able to stop you from getting those."
Tark didn't seem to take joy in the news. A sigh came from the translator as the conversation seemed to run aground. "I'd like it to pass Gary, I really would," the dolphin spoke quietly, suddenly serious. "But I can't bring myself to believe it will."
Gary sighed also, not wanting to get into this argument again. He set off in a different direction however. "How do you know though? You have no knowledge of the media or our social structure besides what I've told you. You haven't even decided books were worth reading until now."
The dolphin's smile seemed to grow a little wider. "Media isn't the fulcrum of humanity, nor is any social structure it can dream up. True humanity, like the dolphin, is in each individual."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Tark thrust himself into the slide pool, an extension of the main pool but with water only a few inches deep. It was mainly for examining Tark for health and fitness. The only real use it got though was to allow him to get closer to Gary when their conversations began to get interesting. Gary rarely had any one conversation last more than five minutes if he wasn't sitting near the slide pool.
The dolphin went on. "I swim here all day. I watch, listen, learn. I find out. Did you know Rachael has turned down offers from two human males as eating partners?"
"She told me about one of them, and she acted in just the same way at a time a few weeks ago as well, so I knew there was more than one."
Gary grinned, shaking his head. "You little sneak."
"You've spent a great deal more time with me than anyone else," Tark cast his Companion a sly look. "Can you just imagine all I know about you?"
"I don't want to know."
The dolphin seemed to shrug. "Suit yourself," he said, and then sank beneath the pool.
Gary smiled contentedly. He had a lot to learn, and that was reason enough to hope.
The phone was laughing at him. Gary sat there staring at it on the night of the A-07 vote. He kept forgetting which was more important: The UN bill or finally getting the courage to call Rachael. No matter how he forced himself to pick up the receiver and dial the number he could never seem to punch that last digit before hanging up out of nervousness. She'd be busy, or say she was already spoken for, or both.
Gary found it ludicrous that he couldn't take the rejection. He was too soft.
He grimaced. Why should he call her anyway? She never called him, and she could have turned down those other guys because she already had someone. Why would she go for a lonely Companion like himself? Cast her chips in with a dead end man? The trouble was, that more than a couple times, or so it seemed to Gary, Rachael had gone out of her way to pursue casual contact with him. She came to visit him and Tark both some mornings, and even dropped by his rank little office some days before she went home just to say goodbye to him.
Was he being rational? He fell back onto the bed and made like he was smothering himself with his pillow. Did these little things really count for anything or was he making them out to have more meaning than they actually did? Didn't she say goodbye to some of the other staff before she left? Wasn't she nice to mostly everyone at the seaquarium? This whole phone business has got to be a farce, he scolded himself.
His breath under the soft pillow fabric was getting hot and sticky. He turned to the side and drank in fresh cold air. The TV was there, beside the bed, and A-07 was getting voted on. But something seemed to sap the strength from him. What use was a bill if the world went right on hating sharing the planet with another intelligent species? It didn't really matter anymore to him, Tark had been wrong about it being too soon. But he was right about it not happening. The world was going mad, and only his slow regular breathing seemed to keep the madness from invading him.
Grimly and deliberately he reached out to get the remote, perched on the edge of the bed. He couldn't escape it, he simply had to know. He was just fooling himself by accepting Tark's pessimism, for he knew he couldn't give up hope completely. The will to keep fighting held him in firm fingers.
His finger hovered above the "power" button just as he realized how powerless he was in this world full of opinions he could do nothing to change.
And then the phone rang.
The remote almost flew from his fingers as his hand jerked in surprise. He tossed the pillow aside and almost instantly had the receiver in his hand. The voice on the other end was loud and Gary's ear began to sting because he was pressing so hard.
"Gary?" a female voice asked. A general and continuous roar of jumbled voices sounded in the background, making it apparent that she was using a cellular phone.
"Rachael?" he ventured nervously, and shuddered at the irony of her timing.
She was shouting over the din. "Gary, I'm at the seaquarium, I needed to call you, to let you know..." her voice trailed off as she spoke a few faded words to someone else at the scene.
"What? What's happening?" he blurted, repeating himself when she didn't hear the first time. Tension filled Gary's voice as his brain flew through hundreds of worst case scenarios.
"Tark and the night watch staff have been taken hostage inside the building."
He froze, time still passing for the rest of the world. Rachael's voice on the phone, calling his name, seemed distant and faint. For a moment he forgot why he was holding the phone to his ear so tightly. Why was he on the bed? In this house? In this city?
His slack lower jaw wouldn't obey him, and neither would his eyes. Why was he here? Why was he here when he should be there? He should be there!
He threw the phone away without hanging up and left his apartment without locking his door. He covered the ten minute walk in just over two minutes and swam through the gathering crowd until he found Rachael.
She looked at him strangely. "You didn't even bring a coat!" she frowned.
He looked down at his thin shirt and ignored the comment. He hadn't even noticed the chill in the night air. "What's happening?" he demanded.
"Two men broke in about three hours ago and herded the employees into the pool area. They used to be holding eight but I think we've whittled it down to one, along with Tark of course."
"Have they hurt anyone?" Gary asked, quite concerned.
"Fortunately no. They haven't told anyone who they're affiliated with either."
Though her expression was of determination, Gary could tell that inside she was shaking, but whether it was from fear or anger he couldn't tell.
Abruptly a hand was placed on his shoulder. Gary had barely turned around within the crush of bodies before two huge arms enveloped him. When his assailant drew away, Gary finally saw the beaming face of Rashad, one of the evening caretakers. His large face was squarish and topped by short black hair styled in curls.
"That animal of yours!" he shouted. "They wouldn't let police in the room so the dolphin talked to them. He talk us out of everything. They let us go."
"You were a hostage?" Gary asked in disbelief, although he didn't know why. Rashad simply nodded enthusiastically.
"Gary, look!" Rachael grabbed his arm, and Gary began to think that too many things were happening at once. He needed minutes, hours to wrap his mind around what was going on. He followed her outstretched arm to the front doors of the seaquarium, clear except for a few police officers that rushed to help. A man walked slowly out the doors, deliberately. A woman in the crowd pushed past the barriers and rushed to him. The last hostage...
Save for Tark.
Gary threaded his way through the swarming bodies of onlookers to the police line. Rachael followed, but was held up by a foul smelling reporter who recognized her from past acquaintance. Gary glanced absently behind him and then pressed the final distance forward. He was in time to see a mass of armoured officers enter the front doors. It was like a dream. What were they doing? Everything went in slow motion despite the fact that he wanted to see the chief officer as quickly as possible. "Who's in charge!" he screamed. And again, feeling his way down the plastic police tape towards a grouping of three cruisers. The most likely place for the officer in charge.
A bald man with a small grey mustache grabbed his arm, not violently, but enough to make him jerk. The grip however, was firm. "What do you want?" he asked tersely.
"What in heaven's name are you doing?"
Gary gestured fanatically to the seaquarium doors, just now swinging shut on stubborn hydraulics. "The men, why are you sending the men in?"
"Now sir," the man spoke sympathetically, but oddly, as if he wasn't used to using the word "sir". "All the hostages are out, we need to press in and secure the facility."
Gary's eyes bulged, he felt them grow hot with blood. "For Christ's sake, all the hostages are not out!"
"Sir, everyone is out of the building. We wouldn't be breaching if there was any chance of someone being harmed."
"Dammit! Tark's still in there!"
"If anyone else was inside I'd know about it, okay? All there are are two desperate men with guns..."
It was then that Gary lost all patience. "You bastards," he growled as he lunged forward, stepping over the tape. Then as if out of nowhere, two young officers appeared to force him back. He tried to keep going, but eventually he was pushed back over the tape, painfully onto his rear.
The bald cop stared at him with contempt, but still managed to say without anger: "Sir, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to remain on this side of the line until we're finished here."
Gary scrambled to his feet, shouting insults and obscenities at them, not caring if he was charged or not. No one cared, why should he? But he did care, and something wouldn't let him stop. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't stop. Soon Rachael was beside him and he let himself fall, a sobbing heap, into her arms. She stroked his fine hair and laid her head against his. He was so distressed, he didn't even notice that she was crying as well.
When the two men were escorted out of the seaquarium, one into a squad car, the other in a body bag, Gary was the first to rush in. Rachael was close behind. The twisting hallways took precious seconds to navigate. He had to be there now, and not later. When he finally burst into the pool area, he found two officers bent over a bloody and battered form lying in the slide pool. Memories of Rocky hit him hard, and he collapsed in grief. Dimly he was aware of Rachael passing him by and kneeling by Tark.
And then her excited voice. "He's still alive, Gary!"
He still had to care. It brought him to his hands and knees, scrabbling across the hard tile floor. He'd probably have bruises later, but for now, he didn't feel a thing. In the next moment he was beside his Companion. He scanned the wounds. He could see five bullet wounds, all leaking blood, just from his vantage point alone. A dark horizontal slash across his dorsal fin nearly sliced it in two, while a large piece of Tark's right side had been ripped away exposing a half sliced intestine. The stench was horrible, but Tark remained alive. Judging from his wounds, Gary guessed not for long.
Abruptly, Tark's eye rolled open and a crackle came from the translator. "Gary?" Ironically, after the beating his dolphin body had taken, the translator still worked perfectly.
Gary ran his fingers over Tark's smooth melon, rudely interrupted by a lateral bullet hole that entered one side of it and exited the other. Orange-red flesh oozed out of both.
"I'm here," Gary said, kneeling down in the slide pool and propping the dolphin's head in his lap. Rachael later remarked that he'd looked like a storyteller about to recount a fairy tale to an eager child.
"It's pretty bad," the translator commented. Gary almost cried again for there was no pain in the voice, no hurt. His Companion sounded just like he did when he was fine, intact. How could the translator not know that its host was about to die? To stop talking forever, never requiring it ever again. Even the machines didn't care.
Gary wouldn't lie to Tark. "You're not going to make it."
A laugh came from the translator. "I'm not, am I?"
"I heard you negotiated. You made a lot of families happy Tark. Feel good about that."
"They only wanted me anyway."
Pause, and then Gary spoke rapidly. "You're going to die Tark, and I can't help you and I hate myself for it."
"You told me that Shakespeare was dead, but how can he be dead if millions still remember him?" The dolphin tensed, his belly contracted and he vomited into the shallow water. Trails of yellow and pink syrup diffused around Gary. Tark continued unabashed. "I can't die, Gary. We dolphins, don't die. Our memories hold the living, those of yesterday and those of the dawn of time. Death has no meaning to us, because it has no hold over us. Remember me, Gary and I'll live on, despite the passing away of this body of mine."
"How can I ever forget?" Gary smiled, wiping away tears with the back of his hand. It had little effect since his hand was mostly soaked now anyway.
The dolphin groaned a little. The translator was programmed not to pick this up and remained silent until he spoke again. "A-07 didn't make it Gary."
"The bill didn't pass."
"How do you know?
"There's a radio installed in the translator. Only me and Rachael ever knew about it."
Gary glanced up at Rachael who only smiled though streams of tears. He looked back at his Companion. "You sneak," he said though sobs.
"The bill isn't important, only that you keep trying. The slaves weren't freed in a day, and for them it took a war. The war for us may be over, but the war for my brothers has only begun. There will be A-07's in the future."
"I don't know if I can face them without you."
Tark's breath began to come in heaves, the translator still sounding perfect as a summer's day, but with large gaps between some words. "Gary... I want you to know..."
"What is it Tark?" Gary asked expectantly.
"No matter what... the animal rights people... say or do... I was happy... here... with you...don't forget me."
Gary could hardly see as he leaned forward, hugged the dolphin close and whispered, "I'll always remember..."
Rachael hugged Gary comfortingly from behind...
As Tark died in his arms.
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