ATTUNGA

Date 29 July 2012.
Author Iarwain iarwain@aanet.com.au
Subject Attunga Part 1.

The author retains copyright (2012) to this story. Reproducing this story for distribution without the author's permission is a violation of that copyright.
This story is fiction.

Thank you Nifty for the opportunity to post this story.

This story is part of the TALES OF THE TERRAN DIASPORA.
Wirrin shares his life with two friends on one of the great space habitats.

PART 1. Wirrin meets the dolphins.



"5-0-9! ...Get real! We're not vac-suckers."

Only slightly embarrassed, Wirrin rapidly recalculated with sensible parameters. Having a zero for one of your sector coordinates meant you'd located yourself in space. That was not his kind of mistake and Thom and Calen were loving it.

"1-1-3! Happy now?"

There was no answer. Thom and Calen were fiercely puzzling their options for reaching 1-1-3, as indeed was Wirrin. First to respond was Calen with a thumbs up sign and a confident nod, followed about ten seconds later with a similar gesture by Thom. Wirrin concurred. For travel purposes the sectors on Attunga, each providing a cubic kilometre of living space, were defined by their location on a simple three dimension grid with the first number representing width, the second length, and the third height. Home sector, 19-4-5, meant Wirrin, Thom, and Calen lived nineteen kilometres along the habitat, four kilometres in from the edge and on the fifth level. This sector, 1-1-3, was interesting because the two 1's placed it on the very edge of Attunga, and the 3 in the third level.

"It's just over fourteen km direct. What do you reckon?"

"21:30."

"22:00"

"20:30''

''What does TransCom say?"

Wirrin manipulated his holo display.

"20:00."

"No way Wirrin. You'll never do it in 20 minutes and 30 seconds."

"We'll see."

The easy way to get from one place to another was to key your ident ring to the TransCom computer and follow the holo prompts. That was no fun though and the trio had been playing this game for nearly two years, pitting their skills against each other and the system.
Wirrin was best and on the odd occasion had even beaten the transport computer.

"Are you ready Calen?"

"Dork!"

The three friends headed for departure portals. The official start-time happened when they entered. Wirrin's strategy was to keep to the express-ways where possible, but the real trick was working out the best secondary connections. Calen was the one to beat. His time today of 22 minutes might be the slowest but that meant nothing as his unusual methods sometimes cut minutes.
Hmm! 20:45. Not bad. Wirrin made his way from the portal to the Info Centre and grinned happily as he waited. Thom turned up a minute later and Calen more than a minute after that.

"Just my luck to catch two surges."

"Excuses! Excuses!"

The badinage continued while they compared times, then Thom asked what they were doing next.

"I checked my holo. They've got a viewing station for Warrakan. You can see it for real."

They exchanged nods of agreement for that. Warrakan was major.

"Well, I found something better. The dolphinarium's in this sector and a baby has just been born. We're not missing that."

More nods. Trust Calen to track down something connected with animals. Well, who could blame him. Dolphins were so special and none of them had seen a live one.

"What about you Thom? Did you find anything?"

"There's a swimming pool we should try."

"Swimming pool? We can do that in home sector."

"Not like this. It's zero-gee. They turn off the grav field and the water collects in a thirty metre sphere."

"Thirty metres? Wow! That sounds spectacular, but how do you breathe? Water in zero-grav is dangerous."

"They give you a full face mask with twenty minutes of air."

After a short discussion they headed for the dolphinarium. They had all day so they should be able to manage all three activities.
It was astonishing. The dolphinarium was huge, with a population of 342 dolphins. 343 really since yesterday, and Wirrin listened with rapt attention as the ranger gave an overview and explained the various available activities. The major event centred around the new arrival, and his pod was gathering in the main viewing gallery for a welcoming. When the ranger finished, Wirrin and Thom had to run to keep up with Calen who was frantic to get a good position.
The rush was pointless as the gallery was nothing like the small viewing areas in the aquariums of their home sector, with seats for 500 people, a huge glass interface and an even larger volume of crystal clear water on the other side. Still it was great to be in the front row only a a few metres from the glass.
There was no baby yet, but two dolphins gliding through the water held everyone's attention. After ten minutes two new dolphins arrived through one of the three underwater tunnels at the back and then three more. Wirrin watched the interaction and effortless movement with mounting excitement.
Calen's eyes were goggling.

"I wonder how long before the baby gets here?"

"We've just had word. They've left their birthing pool so it'll be five minutes."

It was the ranger and he sat in the empty seat next to Wirrin. Calen leaned around Wirrin and started a bombardment of questions which set the ranger smiling.

"So we've got a dolphin enthusiast have we?"

Wirrin laughed.

"Not just dolphins. He loves any animals. He's been doing Zoology options for the last seven years."

"Seven years? Really? That's more than I did."

Now the ranger was leaning forward.

"Is it going to be a Major for you?"

"A double Major I hope. As long as my scores are high enough. Mammals and Insects."

"Mammals is good. You need that, but everyone does Insects. If you try something unusual you'll have a better chance."

"I thought insects was unusual?"

"It is in its own way of course, but everyone thinks that. They all expect they're going to make amazing discoveries because of the huge species list."

Calen was staring at the ranger and Wirrin knew he was really taken aback because that was his reasoning exactly.
A swirl of movement in the water caught everyone's attention as five more dolphins came into view. Two of them swam to the glass right in front of Wirrin and stopped there. He felt a thrill as he stared.
Were they looking at him?
There was a soft chuckle beside him and the Ranger's hand lifted in a slow wave.

"It's Flute saying hello because she likes me. Wave your hand just like me and see if she reacts."

Wondering if this was real, Wirrin, Calen, and Thom lifted their hands. The dolphin's whole body undulated and its head flicked backwards.

"Lower your arms then try again."

Flute gave the same response but to Wirrin's amazement so did four other dolphins now against the glass interface, the exact same response and exactly in unison. With a flip of movement every dolphin moved to the back and went motionless.
The baby was arriving.
Wirrin knew it because every dolphin was looking in the same direction, towards the middle underwater tunnel, and because Calen's hand had taken a tight grip of his own. For a tense moment nothing happened, then, gliding slowly, the mother with her baby looking so tiny against her bulk, entered and moved near the gathered dolphins. One by one they approached, each giving the baby some kind of touch, a soft nudge with the tip of their beak, a bump with the top of their head or a passing touch of skin. Two dolphins even rested their beaks on top of him for a fleeting second till the little dolphin reacted, unsure of what was happening.
As if to a signal, all the dolphins moved to one side of the area, ranged close to mother and baby, and looked towards the closest underwater opening.
Wirrin thought they looked like a guard of honor in one of the ancient vids, but then his heart leapt as an avalanche of dolphins poured from the tunnel.
They kept coming, and kept coming, till it was beyond belief that there could be so many.
The mother took the little one to the surface then descended to where a contingent of nine large dolphins had lined up and the touch ritual happened all over again, the mother carefully watching every instant.
Calen's hand was still holding tight and now it gave another squeeze as mother shepherded her little charge close to the glass wall in almost the same position Flute had taken earlier. In a flash of understanding Wirrin realised she was proudly presenting her baby to the humans.
The ranger beside him leapt to his feet and lifted his arm.
Wirrin followed, along with every other person present, and proceeded with the slow wave they'd seen earlier. The wave turned to a roar of cheering and applause when 342 dolphins performed the familiar undulation and backwards head flip.
There was a tremendous swirl as nine pods of dolphins surfaced for air then disappeared into the three tunnels. Last to leave, at a slower rate, were mother and baby and the family pod.

"Oh my! Wait here lads. I must explain what's happened."

The ranger moved towards the glass wall then turned to the people and used his holo to key in voice amplification.

"Citizens of Attunga, you've just become part of history.
Every newborn Bottlenose dolphin is presented to the wider dolphin community, but this is the first time it's happened with such ceremony. Usually the different pods approach at different times in the course of a one or two day period. When Puck, that's the mother, communicated that the welcoming was to happen here at the main gallery we were surprised and delighted as this is usually a private event at the birthing pool, but for a little one to be presented to humans, and with such formality has never happened before."

The ranger spoke for several minutes, answered a number of questions, then spoke privately with anyone who approached while everyone else made their way out.

"I wonder why he wants us to wait?"

"He wants to talk to you Calen. He's worked out you're an animal freak."

"You reckon? Well I hope so."

The wait wasn't long and when the gallery cleared the ranger moved close, introduced himself as Gelar, then after asking a few questions looked at Calen.

"Would you like to meet Flute?"

Calen was so amazed that it took him a moment to vigorously nod his agreement.

"I knew the answer before I asked didn't I? Anyone who's done seven years of Zoology options would breathe space dust for the opportunity."

Wirrin watched Calen blossoming with excitement. As was he. He couldn't imagine anyone not wanting to see a dolphin. Encountering ordinary animals was rare enough on Attunga, let alone one of these special creatures. Maybe the ranger meant the three of them? Yes, he was looking expectantly at them. Wirrin and Thom's nods matched Calen's.

"Good. Let's go and we'll see what happens. Will you all be confident in open water?"

"Open water? I think so. We love swimming if that's what you mean."

"Our dolphins insist on physical interaction before they speak meaningfully, so we'll go to one of the reaches for a play."

"Us? We'll be in the water? Playing with dolphins?"

"Well, it will feel like play, but the dolphins are actually making quite a refined assessment. You'll soon know what they think of you."

As they made their way the ranger continued with more explanations and answered their many questions. By the time they slipped into chest deep water Wirrin was a mixture of nerves, excitement and wonder. It seemed they were facing a type of test with the dolphins, and Calen would be devastated if it didn't go well. The reach, as the ranger called it, stretched into the distance, a vast amount of freestanding water.
There was no sign of any dolphins.

"What do we do now? Wait?"

Calen was looking to the Ranger.

"Hang on. I'll come in with you."

He made a neat dive, and when he surfaced, scooted a sharp splash of water directly in Wirrin's face.
Astonished, Wirrin blinked his eyes clear and just had time to register the ranger's grin before another deluge arrived. This time when his eyes cleared Thom and Calen were being splashed.

"Race you to the buoy."

What a cheek. Wirrin churned after the ranger who'd started with a lead of several metres and nearly beat Thom.
What? Where was he? Something clamped on Wirrin's leg, dragged him down then released him. He struggled to the surface, gasped in a breath and glimpsed the shocked look Calen gave before he too disappeared momentarily below the surface. Where was that ranger? Didn't he ever breathe?

"Race you to the edge."

Once again Gelar cheated, giving himself a head start. Wirrin exchanged glances and grins with Thom and Calen. From now on they'd be ready for any shenanigans.
For the next few minutes laughter rang out as the ranger copped everything. Three on to one wasn't really fair but he had asked for it with his tricks. Thom suddenly yelled and disappeared under the surface. How could that be? Gelar was metres away and in full view. Wirrin was just taking that in when his legs were swept from beneath him. He regained his footing and his breath, and realised with a shock that a great body was nudging gently against his thigh. Calen was staring into the water with a look of absolute wonder.
Thom gave a shriek and lifted half a metre into the air. Wirrin started to wonder how he did it then found out for himself when a dolphin beak pushed between his legs from behind and a powerful head lifted upwards.
Twenty minutes later the dolphins disappeared as abruptly as they'd arrived, leaving Wirrin, Thom and Calen exhausted and thrilled. They'd been bumped, nudged, poked and prodded with those surprisingly gentle beaks, splashed, and then enticed into a futile chasing game.
At one stage two of the dolphins raced at a furious pace in a tight circle then leapt over their heads in a glorious arc. Most exciting of all was watching Calen, with a smile of joy on his face, being carried slowly through the water precariously balanced astride the dolphin with the yellow and black tag in its fin. Gelar beckoned and somewhat reluctantly they left the water.

"Well, there was no doubt from that reception. Flute is keen to speak to you."

"Flute? Was she the one with Calen?"

Wirrin had identified with the yellow tagged dolphin and hoped it was her.

"Yes, and that's the first time she deigned to carry someone on her back. It's going to be a very interesting conversation."

Wirrin understood that dolphins had a rudimentary language, but conversation seemed to imply more. He looked at Calen.

"That's why the Attunga dolphins are so special Wirrin. They're better at communicating than ordinary dolphins."

The ranger clapped Calen on the shoulder.

"Better? Yes, that's correct Calen, but it's still very much an understatement. Let's go and see what Flute has to say.

***

END OF PART 1.
I hope you've gained some enjoyment from this story.
Any comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated.
My email address is iarwain@aanet.com.au
Alternative address, iarwain7@ains.net.au
Should you be interested, my other stories can be found by looking under 'Iarwain' in the authors section on Nifty.
Iarwain.