ATTUNGA

Date 26 February 2013.
Author Iarwain iarwain@aanet.com.au
Subject Attunga.

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 8. .



***

An hour later everyone was gathered in a Tech room at the dolphinarium, looking at images that were being beamed direct from Monkey Mia. In one window a small pod of dolphins was cruising serenely in the shallow waters near the Marine Station and in another a pair of males were hunting food on the eastern side of Shark Bay. Another section of the screen showed the position of over 700 dolphins in the bay and the adjoining Indian Ocean. There was a stunningly beautiful aerial view which ten minutes earlier had zoomed to a group of basking tiger sharks, mortal enemies of dolphins, particularly when there were vulnerable new born calves around. As well they could see water-craft converging from all directions towards the research station.

"What's that?"

A new screen opened with some sort of aerial craft approaching. Turaku appeared as well.

"It's a transport from Carnarvon Thom, with the surveillance equipment. Everything else is coming from Exmouth where there is a highly capable processing facility."

A quick check showed Carnarvon 100 km away at the very northern end of shark Bay and Exmouth another 250 km beyond that.

"The responses in Australia have been instant and are moving as well as we could hope, and another forty minutes should see the arrival of the major consignment from Exmouth."

Turaku disappeared again and Wirrin took that as a signal they wouldn't see any major developments for another forty minutes. He kept an eye on Calen but didn't really need to, as he was handling everything very well. The rush to support him at the staging area had turned into a kind of anti-climax because Sonic had done the job for them. When they arrived the dolphin speak was faster than any time Wirrin could remember. Back on Attunga, when Calen rejoined them he explained how Sonic had made him feel better.

"He called me a worry wart."

"A what?"

"I know. I had to ask him. It just means someone who worries too much but it sounded funny and I had to smile."

"How would he know a word like that?"

"He read it on an Interweb dictionary. He's got a new game where he says unusual words to surprise me."

Wirrin didn't know Sonic could use the Interweb, let alone read.

"Do you think he said it on purpose to cheer you up?"

"Of course he did."

"What did he say about the attacks?"

"He hates them, but the dolphins all say Turaku will soon fix everything.
Dolphins don't think like we do. Their minds were on the new reach and they were eager to see the other dolphins and tell them how good it is."

It certainly seemed like the dolphins' judgement of Turaku's abilities was correct. For a while everyone watched the screens as information arrived from Monkey Mia, but when it didn't change much Wirrin started his own holo and called up archived information about the area and started exploring.
Shark Bay was beautiful, and ever since the planetary clean-up of ocean pollution had been completed over fifty years ago, marine life was flourishing.
An overhead view travelled past islands, along the stark contrast of blue water, red-soiled country and white shelly beaches.

"This place is amazing. There are nearly 15,000 dugongs there."

"What's a dugong?"

"A mermaid."

Thom laughed because Calen was pulling his leg, then looked at him strangely when he saw he wasn't.

"So?"

"Dugongs are mammals ...find an image for him Wirrin... and when they feed their baby they swim upright and hold it against their teats with their flipper. Sailors thought they were ladies with tails."

That was interesting. Trust Calen to know something like that about animals. The image appeared and set Thom laughing.

"They thought those were ladies? Their faces look like an elephant with it's trunk cut off."

"The sailors might have been drinking alcohol Thom, and you're cleverer than you think because they really are elephants. Well, they're in the same family."

Wirrin found a clip of a dugong swimming and set it going.

"They're as big as dolphins."

The clip finished and Wirrin shifted the view to the south of Monkey Mia where another interesting feature was indicated. Stromatalites? What were they? A command brought up a picture of some lumpy looking rocks.

"Why are we looking at rocks?"

Calen gave Thom a nudge in the ribs with his elbow.

"Because they're alive."

"Living rocks? Sure too!"

"Thom, you need to do more biology studies. They're one of the first living things ever on the earth and they put the oxygen into the air. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. They grow sort of like coral does."

For a few minutes they watched an explanation about these stromatolites and everything Calen had said was correct. Time passed very quickly, switching from feature to feature, the islands, special animal life, Eagle Bluff, the beaches made of shells instead of sand, and views of the familiar heritage animals, eagles, kangaroos, goannas, and pelicans. Wirrin's favourite was the echidna and they were everywhere.
Calen looked for his namesake, the sparrow-hawk, but they were very uncommon for the area.

"There's the big transporter."

Sparrow-hawks, echidnas and tiger sharks were forgotten and Wirrin switched off his holo as attention turned to the main viewing screen.

"What's it doing? Is it landing in the ocean?"

It was big, really big, and it did look like it was landing, and that was a puzzle because it was still ninety km away.

"It's not landing. It's preparing for a drop of surveillance devices."

The view moved closer and showed a smaller unit disengage from the big one, then another and another. A black mist trailed from the first smaller unit as it increased speed and headed south. The second smaller unit set a parallel course and started its own controlled release of surveillance devices. Twelve more units did the same, before the big transporter lifted and started speeding towards Monkey Mia.
For the next hour the fourteen air transports systematically dropped their clouds of tiny devices, returning to the big transport several times to restock, till the total area of shark Bay was covered. Wirrin brought up the data and turned to Thom because he liked big numbers.

"Look at that. There's nearly forty billion of them."

"They made all those in half an hour?"

Wirrin had a think about it, wondered how it was possible, and looked for information.

"It's a standard robotics factory and they cancelled all their ordinary tasks till this one was finished. They kept making machines, which made the machines which make the devices, till there were enough."

"That's a standard factory? The advanced ones must be amazing.

Wirrin had a general knowledge about robotics but hadn't realised they were so capable. Hmm! A study unit might be a good idea.
Data poured in from the minute surveillance devices as more and more were guided to position and came online. Every ninety metres in the water was a larger device which controlled the behaviour of the nearby smaller ones. It gathered all the information they were sensing and retransmitted it to a receiving processor on the big transport craft at Monkey Mia for processing and storage.

"What are you smiling for Gelar?"

"The research centre there is going to be happy. They'll have a database like they've never seen before. How long will the system stay in place for them?"

"...One week. ...And then everything is recalled and reclaimed."

Wirrin thought about it. A database with forty billion inputs recording everything they were sensing in one of the planets special marine areas. No wonder Gelar was smiling.
The main screen changed to a view of the whole area with hundreds of little markers dotted randomly.

"...It's the dolphin screen. It's showing the exact position of every single one of them."

"How many?"

"...784. See those green numbers near monkey Mia? They are the targeted ones. The rest are wild."

All the dolphins would have to be protected, as the previous attacks had affected every nearby dolphin. Monkey Mia worked closely with twenty-seven dolphins and not quite so closely with another forty-five.

"Gelar, we should eat. There's an hour and a half before the craft from Exmouth arrives and after that we'll be keeping watch."

Gelar led the way to one of the dolphinarium food centres where Calen and Wirrin appointed Thom to do all the ordering and preparation because he had the knack of knowing how to make everything turn out tasty. Three quarters of an hour later Warrigal and Gelar were joining the chorus of appreciation when Warrigal went quiet.

"We need to move back to the Tech room."

"Has something happened?"

"Yes, but not on Earth. Our Witnesses have been watching everything of course, but Akama wants to be involved first-hand and he's waiting for us."

Everyone froze on the spot, then Calen expressed the astonishment they all felt.

"Akama?"

"Yes."

Akama was the oldest Witness, the first Witness, and the most universally recognised person on Attunga, and the prospect of seeing him in person was not something Wirrin, Thom and Calen had ever even considered. There was more silence till Warrigal gave a reassuring smile.

"There's nothing to be nervous about. He's easy to talk to."

"You've spoken to him?"

"Yes I have Thom. Several times in conference but when I started my training we met personally, and he's contacted me a number of times recently."

Conferencing meant by holo.

"Were the recent contacts about the dolphins?"

"And your trio."

That was a startling thought.

"Us?"

"Because of your association with Sonic of course, but he has a personal interest as well."

Warrigal led the way in quite a hurry and couple of minutes later they re-entered the tech room. The distinctive white hair and dark skin took Wirrin's attention till Akama turned from the screen and smiled.

"Welcome to my place."

Everyone responded, and Wirrin, caught by the strength of personality and rather awed, watched a set of dark eyes survey every one in turn then settle on his own.

"Wirrin, the dark featured one. My brother returns."

He moved close, extended his arm and rested his hand on Wirrin's head. Was it some kind of special greeting? Not knowing how he should respond, Wirrin stood, quietly wondering for five or six seconds till Akama removed his hand. He moved to Warrigal and in a formal, traditional greeting, they grasped each other's wrists.

"Warrigal, introduce me to the rest of your companions."

As Warrigal said their names, Akama repeated the mutual wrist clasp with Gelar, Thom and Calen and then surprisingly, with Wirrin. The hand resting on his head was something different?

"So, I finally meet our notorious trio, our catalyst for change."

Notorious? Finally? Catalyst? Wirrin's mind whirled as he tried to put meaning to it. Well, he didn't mean anything bad, because the smile he had when he saw them first had returned and brightened so much that everyone was smiling back.

"Calen, dolphin boy, tell me about Sonic. Is he really as friendly as all the reports say?"

Calen's eyes lit up and for the next five minutes he excitedly answered all the questions he was asked. Wirrin watched. Akama was different. He looked old and that was very unusual as most older people preferred to keep themselves looking young. Warrigal was 83 and looked much the same as Gelar who was only half that. Akama brought Thom into the conversation, asking him about his organic studies and his interest in flying the different mobile craft, and then it was Wirrin's turn.

"Tell me about your gift for information technology. Have you always had it?"

"Um. ...It's not really a gift. I'm just interested and I've done lots of courses."

Thom and Calen laughed.

"It's a gift Akama. He was playing with databases before he even started basic training."

Akama nodded.

"Yes, I'm sure it's a gift. To come up with an idea the AIs didn't consider must involve more than training and expertise."

Wirrin started to say it was a fluke but movement on the big view screen dramatically refocused everyone's attention. A yellow light was flashing in the Indian Ocean to the west of shark Bay.

"What is it?"

Wirrin found the right link.

"There is a query about a sea-craft there. It seems legitimate but the AIs are making a stronger check because it's moving towards the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island."

Dirk Hartog Island was a long thin island which made a natural barrier between the Indian Ocean and Shark Bay, and the northern end of it was the start of open water access to the bay itself. Wirrin looked at more information.

"There are fifty-seven sea-craft in the critical observation area. Thirty-five are in the bay and the rest are in the Indian Ocean. Most of them are regular or permanent but there are five vessels new to the area in the last twenty-four hours, and that flashing one is one of them."

The view changed and zoomed to an aircraft flying over. It was moving south to north and the data said it was a regular passenger flight. The view changed to a different aircraft, to a large pleasure ship, and then back to the sea-craft with the query. The yellow light was no longer flashing.

"They're not querying that craft any more and the others are standard checks on anything in the area."

There was an exchange of looks as everyone relaxed.

"How long before the assistance from Exmouth arrives?"

The question was from Akama and Wirrin wondered briefly that yet again it was being taken for granted he would be the one to access information.

"...Twenty-six minutes. It's due to take off nine minutes from now."

This was much more exact than the earlier forecasts.

"Seventeen minutes travel time for 350 km? That's fast through an atmosphere."

Thom was in his element.

"It's going to be a spectacular trip. There'll be a sonic-boom and anyone in its path on the surface will wonder what's hit them."

"They'll fly over the ocean and I'm sure they'll transmit a warning."

Warrigal was making sense but Thom brought up an interesting point.

"If they transmit anything it might warn the wrong people."

Akama spoke.

"You like the idea of help arriving on wings of thunder don't you Thom? It's a striking image which I rather like myself. I'm sure that all necessary considerations were made and the aircraft has reached Monkey Mia."

With a little mental jolt Wirrin realised Akama was right. Despite its seeming immediacy, everything they were seeing was really twenty-seven minutes in the past. It was quite reassuring to think that at this very moment the defensive picobots must have started a rush from Monkey Mia to the dolphins. Akama turned to Gelar.

"How are our dolphins reacting to what's happening on earth? I understand they know what's going on."

"Much more positively than we are. Evidently they're confident that Turaku will fix everything. Calen understands them better than anyone and that's his interpretation."

Calen nodded when Akama looked at him for confirmation and then spent some time explaining the dolphin's different way of looking at things.

"Does Sonic fit the same pattern?"

"Yes and no. Basically he's the same, but sometimes I can tell he's modifying his natural instincts and I think it's because he understands so much more than the others. Sonic is very complicated and I never really know what he's going to surprise me with next. He's way smarter than I am."

"He's smarter than all of us, and he'll stay that way unless we try a similar enhancement technique for ourselves. But what sort of things does he surprise you with?"

"Well, a couple of weeks ago he started reading, and last week he suddenly got interested in music."

"Music? Do you mean dolphin music? I know they have communal sounds which fulfil similar functions to our music."

"No, human music. He's known dolphin music since he was tiny."

"Human music is a broad definition. What type of music does he like to listen to?"

"He loves it all. You should see how excited he gets with some of the complicated music."

"And how interested is he? Does he spend much time on it?"

"He must. I'm only with him for one and a half hours each day and we've too many things to fit in, but we use half an hour for music every time."

Use? Wirrin wondered why Calen hadn't just said listen, and he decided he'd ask later what he meant. Gelar started speaking.

"Music currently involves more than fourteen hours of Sonic's day. This behaviour, where he immerses himself till he reaches a level of competency he's happy with, is one of his strongest patterns."

"Fourteen hours? As much as that?"

"Six of those hours are passive listening while he's alternating between left and right brain sleep."

"Sonic is using sleep time to listen to music? I understand how left brain/right brain sleep is a natural dolphin mechanism to prevent drowning, but does it let him remember what he's heard when he wakes up?"

The significance of Akama's question was just dawning in Wirrin's mind when Gelar answered.

"Yes it does, except when he's logging."

"Logging? I don't know that term."

"It's the deepest form of dolphin sleep where one side of the brain is switched off and the other functions minimally. It's called logging because they often float in the one place with hardly any movement. The other form of sleep still alternates in switching off left brain and right brain, but there is much more activity in the conscious side, with awareness of their environment and enough control for basic synchronised movement with other dolphins. Sonic's level of awareness has been improving recently and we think that will continue till he's just over two years old."

"Does he ever seen lonely?"

Gelar and Calen looked at each other in surprise.

"Never. He acts like the happiest dolphin on Attunga. ...What do you think Calen?"

"I think the same. Puck and Flute are always with him, the rest of the pod is never far away, and there's always interaction with the other pods as well."

"I wasn't thinking of physical loneliness. He's unique in his abilities and has no like mind to meet with. The AIs are too different."

The trio had talked about this a great deal so Wirrin knew what Calen would say.

"It's not an issue Honored One, and Sonic says it won't be. He understands how he's been enhanced and the possibility that something could go wrong. He says if it does then he won't know about it and it won't matter, and if it doesn't then it's only another four years till there are more dolphins like him."

Akama smiled and rested at hand on Calen's shoulder.

"Forget the ceremonial address Calen. We're gathered as a like-minded group to watch the resolution of a nasty situation and it's a delight for me to share this company. Now, if Sonic was a human I'd be reverencing him for his wisdom, but from what you've been saying a strong element of this viewpoint is part of his nature?"

"Yes, but he is wise too."

"I wonder what he'll be be like when he's an adult? ...Wirrin, bring up the Shark Bay area on your holo and move to Birringurrah country in the north-east."

A holo of Shark Bay sprang into view and Wirrin quickly shifted the focus in the direction Akama was asking. Birringurrah was an unfamiliar word but it was clearly labelled and with a slight adjustment it was centred.

"Good. Change to topographical and zoom in on the river."

The river was obvious, a big one flowing to Carnarvon on the coast.

"That's it. Now go to Gnardune Pool."

Rich red sand, bordered an expanse of clear water, with a scattering of gnarled and ruggedly striking trees stretching along the shore.

"It's beautiful isn't it? It's my place. I was born there 119 years ago."

Everyone stared at the holo, now focused on one of the bigger trees, and Wirrin wondered. Surely Akama must mean somewhere nearby? There were no buildings.

"My people had a small settlement there and we stayed for five weeks each year for traditional reasons. When I was seventeen the buildings were removed and we returned the whole area to it's natural wild state."

"You lived there? Under the open sky?"

"Yes Thom. For that five weeks. The rest of the year we lived a normal life in underground habitats like everyone else on the planet."

"What's open sky like? ...Is it scary? It is for me when I try it in virtual."

"It's never scary. You don't even think about it till it's not there and then it's wonderful."

"What about lightning? You must have seen that too ...Like Warrigal?"

"Of course. All the weather we simulate in different ways on Attunga so people won't forget.
- Rain, wind, thunder, floods, droughts, rainbows. ...I was nearly blown out of that very tree by a Willy Willy when I was nine years old."

"That same tree? Over 100 years ago?"

"That tree has been there for more than 600 years Thom. It's a river red gum and since it's being well looked after it could be there for another 600."

"And a Willy Willy is some kind of wind?"

"Willy Willies are mischievous spirits who fly around the country pulling up trees and making clouds of dust."

That was Warrigal speaking and the look on his face meant he was remembering for himself.

"When we were children we also called them devils. ...Dust devils. They are really whirlwinds, like mini tornadoes or cyclones. ...Call one up Wirrin."

A whirling cloud of dust and leaves appeared. Well, there was no real dust, leaves or moving air, but the holo was very impressive.

"That must have been scary?"

"No, it was exciting. I remember watching it dance away from me, out over the water, and wondering if it was alive."

Wirrin had a picture in his mind of a wide-eyed dark little face and wiry little arms clinging to the tree, but couldn't fill in the rest of the picture.

"What did you wear?"

"...Why do you ask?"

Feeling slightly awkward Wirrin explained.

"With the tree right there I could see you in my mind hanging on to that big lumpy part. You were wearing shorts like we did at that age and it didn't look right."

"That lumpy part is called a burl and I hung on tight in my traditional costume."

Akama turned to Warrigal.

"Did you live traditionally in your own country?"

"Not until I was fourteen and decided it was important, and then it was every year but I was so busy I could only manage a short time."

"You understand what we mean by traditional living don't you Wirrin?"

"Yes, we learnt about it in heritage studies but it's different for different areas isn't it?"

Akama nodded.

"My parents took it very seriously and when we stayed at Gnardune Pool we lived as close to the old way as we could, hunting for natural food, learning our country, and taking our part in the Dreamtime."

"Natural food? You mean growing in the ground?"

"And running round on top of it. I was very good at catching goannas."

"You ate real animals?"

Thom was expressing the amazement of the whole trio. No one on Attunga ate animals and any form of meat was grown directly in a protein factory.

"It was quite normal then Thom, though respect for sentience was becoming more prevalent because of Level II organics. One of my favorites was the big juicy larva of a moth which used to burrow in the roots of acacia plants. They were called witchetty grubs and we ate them live as well as cooked."

"Live?"

"Don't look so aghast. You're quite used to the idea."

"...We are?"

"Does it worry you when Sonic eats his food alive? I'm sure you don't think twice about it."

Akama was right and it would be an interesting conversation when they talked with Sonic about it.

"Turn your holo off Wirrin and I'll share something with you to make your image of me in the tree more accurate."

Akama's holo took over and showed a boy racing across red sand, running in the shallows with an exuberant spray of water leaping from every footstep, then sprawling head-first at a surprise deepening of the pool. The view zoomed in to catch a gasp for breath, a shake of the head, and happy laughter, before cutting off abruptly when a handful of wet, red sand came flying towards the camera. Another scene appeared in the old 2D medium, with Akama, standing by a fire burning with real wood, glowing with pleasure as he held up a dead goanna.

"I was so proud when I caught that fella that my father said we had to have a record. Watch how we cooked him."

Wirrin knew from the Heritage courses that food had been cooked like this in the past, but seeing Akama actually doing it made it real. He glanced at Calen to see his reaction to the dead goanna.
What? He looked weird? ...And so did Thom? They were sharing glances, looking from the little Akama to Akama now, to Wirrin and then back to the scene as the goanna was prepared over the fire. The cycle repeated itself and Wirrin felt strange because he always had a good idea what they were thinking. Thom whispered something to Calen then turned to Akama.

"Are you playing a trick on us?"

Wirrin's puzzlement turned to shock. Thom must have gone crazy to question Akama like that? And Calen too? His manner said he was in full agreement.

"No tricks Thom. That's me when I was ten years old."

Thom and Calen exchanged another look which said they wanted to believe him but couldn't.

"But?..."

Trying to work out what was going on, Wirrin looked at the others. Gelar was puzzled, Warrigal knew something, and Akama was smiling.

"Yes Thom, we do look similar but keep watching and the differences will stand out."

The scene changed again and the younger Akama went running by, wearing a dark blue shirt and loose white shorts. The setting was somewhere away from Gnardune Pool, a beautiful green grassy area planned out for athletic events, with hundreds and hundreds of people watching. The camera panned to keep the lithe figure centered and the combination of dark skin contrasting with white shorts, dark brown hair and a distinctive gait brought recognition and understanding. ...Partial understanding.

"I was thirteen then."

Wirrin stared in bewilderment as he watched himself run in a place he'd never been, in a time when he hadn't existed. He stared intently at the moving figure.

"That is so amazing. You and Wirrin do look different there, but you still run the same way."

Calen looked back and forth between Wirrin and Akama with a funny grin on his face. He said later that he was wondering if that was what Wirrin was going to look like in another hundred years.

"I loved running. ...Are you happy with your mind image now Wirrin?"

Wirrin recalled the image and then nodded.

"Was leaving your clothes off part of the tradition?"

"It was for our family and particularly for children. We tried to match the old ways as closely as possible."

"Which did you like best? The old way or ordinary living?"

"When I was little the old way was a special holiday each year and it was never long enough. As a teen I stopped thinking in terms of good or better and rather as different facets of my life."

"Wirrin always likes to leave his clothes off. We spend half the time at home that way."

There was a momentary silence till Warrigal chuckled.

"Are you telling us about your intimate life Thom?"

"Inti.. No, Wirrin just likes being nude, so we do too."

"Tell me what...."

Whatever Akama was asking was completely cut off when blue lights started flashing and everyone whirled to the big screen, where the view of a large air transport landing at Shark Bay took their attention. Everyone watched, engrossed, as a number of cargo bays opened and freight containers started moving on their anti-grav fields, lightly and purposefully towards the gathered fleet of air and water craft. Two minutes later everything was on the move, the air vessels heading westwards across the peninsular towards the outer limits of the bay, and the water craft in all directions on the eastern waters.

"They're in a hurry. What's happening with those skimmers?"

As if on call a section of the screen zoomed close to five skimmers gathered round one of the freight containers. Modules were passed across and as soon as they were clamped to a carry-space each skimmer accelerated away.

"Those are for the home dolphins. It should only take a few minutes to reach them."

One of the skimmers stopped and Wirrin wished there was some way to look at it closely. It must be near a dolphin. A blue light flashed on the big screen and Turaku's holo shimmered into view.

"Greetings Honored One. ...The first protective picobots are about to make contact."

"Thank you Turaku. Do we have a time-frame for full protection?"

"The target dolphins and others in the inner bay will all be reached within five minutes, the dolphins in the Western Bay within eleven minutes and all dolphins in the outer zone within nineteen minutes. We'll display the contacts for you as they happen."

The window with the dolphin markers expanded to almost full-screen size, and standing out was one blue marker.

"First contact. A dolphin named Squeak."

Calen waved his arms in a gesture of triumph and the room lit up with happy smiles.

"Is there a lag between contact with the dolphins and the picobots becoming effective?"

"Yes, depending on what part of the body the mini-drone attaches to, there is a lag of between twenty-one and twenty-seven seconds."

While Akama and Turaku were talking, four more markers, all near the Marine Station, changed from yellow to blue. Wirrin looked at the overall bulk of yellow markers and the blue didn't look very impressive at all. Another blue dot winked on and another dolphin was protected. Calen, along with everyone else was staring at the screen almost as if hypnotised, watching and wondering where the next blue marker would light up. Exclamations arose as six or seven more yellows changed, and then everyone looked to Turaku when a green marker started moving away from the Marine Centre.

"The air transport is moving to the outer boundaries of the bay to monitor the capture drones."

"Capture drones? There were no capture drones in my warning report."

"They didn't exist when your report was issued. With the strong link to K74 I had to cover the possibility that a modified form of their surveillance drones might be used for a stealth approach so I provided the Australian Security AIs with a counter design. They were released as part of the airdrop and each dolphin now has a guardian."

Wirrin thought back to Turaku's earlier information about the drones watching Attunga and Warrakan and felt really pleased. If any drones came near Shark Bay they wouldn't have a hope.

"What is the nature of the defence these guardians provide?"

"They can disable or destroy."

"And is there any chance they might be eluded?"

"Yes, if any particular guardian encounters enough attackers, some will get past. The inoculation process should guard against that."

"And when does the destroy capability come into play?"

"When the disable and capture function can't cope."

"I understand. ...We need information."

"Destruction could also involve a release of pollution."

"Is it possible to see one of these guardians?"

The view on the big screen changed. A dolphin cruised through the clear water followed closely by a sleek tubular shape. It appeared to be roughly half a metre in length, much smaller than Wirrin was expecting.

"This is one of the home dolphins and as you can see she's adjusted to the presence of the guardian. At first there was great interest in the new companions but that waned very quickly. Some of the younger dolphins are still treating them as playthings and trying hiding games but the rest mostly ignore them. The guardian sensors are linked to the surveillance devices, as well as being independent, and they'll stay on guard for as long as is necessary."

"Why are we so certain this attack will come from the ocean?"

"There is no full certainty but the probability is very high."

The screen changed and showed three dolphins swimming at speed with three attendant guardians, then changed again to a group with two adults and a tiny dolphin. Everyone watched and at the same time listened while Turaku explain the workings of the drones. The overview map with the dolphin markers returned and Calen made an exclamation of delight. There were now more blue markers than yellow.

"Tell me about your life as a trio."

Wirrin was surprised by Akama's question, thought for a moment, then couldn't answer because Thom already was."

"We love it."

"That's obvious Thom. I'm really asking about how you are received in the community and any problems you see for yourselves."

Wirrin answered.

"People who find out about us are very curious and ask us lots of questions, especially people our own age at Edcom."

"Yes, the guys want to know what we do in bed so we make up stories about Wirrin."

Wirrin would have given Thom a whack on the arm if Akama and Warrigal hadn't been there.

"Why do you make up stories? It's a very natural curiosity for lads of your age."

"I don't know. ...Yes I do. It's because they make up stories themselves and we fit in with the pattern."

"We haven't had any problems. Warrigal made them all disappear and they weren't real problems anyway."

Akama nodded. Wirrin wondered what he was thinking but couldn't tell.

"What about Sonic and the other dolphins? You're the only trio they've ever had contact with."

Calen replied to this question.

"They know we're called a trio and what it means, but it's not unusual to them because dolphins spend most of their life in same gender groups. They mostly think of us as a pod and Sonic even says he's part of ours, which makes us feel good."

"Extraordinary, and quite wonderful. Gelar, what is the dolphin protocol for meeting with strangers?"

"Protocol? I don't know if they have one. They're always happy to meet people when we introduce them, but if they decide they're not interested they just swim away."

"Is it difficult to meet with Sonic?"

"Very. His life is so busy it's hard even for our staff to have much time with him."

"I see..."

"Gelar, he would talk to Akama any time. We'll just tell him to."

Gelar looked horrified and then embarrassed.

"Honored one, I thought you meant strangers in general. We can take you to Sonic anywhere, any time."

"...And he'll love to meet you. I know he will."

"And I'll have to hope he doesn't swim away from me."

"If he does I'll bend his dorsal fin in half."

Akama smiled and Wirrin felt it was completely genuine. He certainly was easy to talk to. Turaku held up one hand for attention.

"I'm trying to contact him now."

"You can do that when he's underwater?"

"Of course. I'm always able to contact him. Underwater I use an audio signal and when he surfaces I manifest as a hologram. ...He says he is eager and waiting to meet you."

"Right now?"

Akama looked quite startled and Wirrin loved it. Trust Sonic to surprise the most important person on all Attunga.

"...If you wish. I can arrange a holographic conference in six minutes but Sonic would prefer a physical meeting. ... At Calen's home. ...In twenty minutes."

"Whatever Sonic wants, Sonic gets."

It sounded like a quote. Wirrin did a quick search in retinal mode. Yes, an old song from three centuries ago. He'd listen to it later. Akama was looking very pleased.

"We can monitor the earth transmissions from anywhere. Wirrin, are we welcome in your country?"

Now Wirrin was startled, and touched. Akama was formally asking to be invited into their home?

"Always, Honored One."

Somehow the formal reply felt right. Turaku disappeared. No doubt he'd reappear when something major happened. The overview of Shark Bay had returned to the screen and Wirrin noted most of the markers were now blue. The shared living space took a while to reach. Normally they'd jump on their skimmers and be home in a couple of minutes, but that was hardly appropriate. Warrigal took the lead and they travelled via Transcom.

***

"This is wonderful. I would love to live by the water."

Akama was standing by the pool and looking out to the reach via the display wall. This wall was one of the features the planning assistant had insisted on, not that they needed any persuasion, and its default setting was the view across the water outside.

"Sonic swims right here, into this pool?"

"Nearly every day. It's like a base for him."

"And is this where we'll meet when he arrives?"

"I presume so. The equipment needed for full contact is all installed here."

"Should I be in the water?"

"Only if you want to. He can see and speak to you perfectly where you are now."

"What do you think Calen?"

"Gelar is right but I think Sonic would like the water better."

Gelar nodded his agreement.

"Yes, and since I asked for the meeting it's appropriate too. ...Wirrin, we're closely matched physically. What do you wear in the water?"

"Um! ...Ordinary dolphinarium water shorts."

Akama kept looking at him as Wirrin worked out it was a request.

"...I'll find some."

"Thanks. I'll come with you."

What? Oh, so he'd have somewhere to change. Wirrin led the way to the sleeping area, found a clean pair of shorts and handed them over.

"This is exciting Wirrin. Speaking with a dolphin will be a new experience for me. Is there anything I should know?"

Akama started to disrobe and Wirrin felt he should leave, but couldn't because he'd been asked for advice. What to say? He had a good answer and couldn't help smiling when he gave it.

"Not really. Sonic is very easy to talk to. He's curious about nearly everything and he makes you smile. You'll understand as soon as you meet him. He loves humor though sometimes we don't understand why he laughs at something, and when he explains it we still don't understand."

"Dolphins laugh?"

"Not really. It's a kind of dolphin equivalent that Sonic introduced to match the strange sounds we make."

"Sonic taught the other dolphins a sound they'd never used before?"

"They don't use it much, but it's starting to spread. Puck and Flute use it the most."

"That's extraordinary. He's bringing new ideas to our dolphins."

Akama finished changing and they moved back to the pool. Everyone was looking at the holo of the Shark Bay area and everyone was smiling. No wonder. There were no yellow markers to be seen. Akama looked to Warrigal.

"The last yellow markers just changed to blue, a group of wild dolphins to the south of Shark Bay in the Indian Ocean, and every dolphin in the extended area has now been inoculated."

"Wonderful. So now we play the waiting game."

Another old saying? Akama used them even more than Warrigal. Well, at 119 years that wasn't surprising. Wirrin added it to the list of things to check later. He was, at the moment, too busy surveying the host of blue markers, and even that was shunted aside when movement on the reach swung everyone's attention. Five or six dorsal fins appeared and disappeared in an irregular pattern as their owners momentarily surfaced for air.

"Is that Sonic?"

"No, it's not even dolphins from his pod."

Wirrin zoomed the display wall so everyone could see better. He wasn't as good at recognising the dolphins but his own method of checking the fins verified what Calen said. The trio exchanged glances.

"Sonic is out there, further away to the left. I checked the database."

Gelar's statement set off another round of glances between Wirrin, Calen and Thom. If he was out there why hadn't he come in? He hadn't been very far away when they left the dolphinarium. Akama picked up on their looks.

"Is there some kind of hold up?"

"We're wondering about these dolphins. They don't usually come to this reach."

Gelar pointed to a section of the display, then to another and then again to a third.

"There are dolphins everywhere."

Turaku appeared.

"Honored one, Sonic is ready to greet you."

Akama nodded calmly.

"Where do I go?"

Wirrin wondered the same thing and half expected Sonic to come darting to the surface somewhere close. Instead, a large triple size skimmer came zooming from the direction of the dolphinarium and settled against the small house deck. Turaku led Akama to the skimmer which then moved out into the reach.

"I think every dolphin must be out there."

Wirrin thought so too. The scattered groups had now coalesced in one area and when Akama's skimmer came to a halt a familiar shape leapt high into the air then approached. Someone moved the display wall view closer. Sonic was now right in front of Akama, upright with approximately one third of his body out of the water. It was a difficult position for a dolphin to maintain but it also made it easier for him to see Akama clearly. Behind him, rank upon rank of dolphins suddenly took the same stance and together made the dolphin motion of greeting.
Akama knelt at the edge of the skimmer, extended his arm and held it there. Sonic moved close, touched with his beak and disappeared under the water. Puck appeared and did the same. Akama stood up and a moment later Sonic erupted from the water with a mighty leap.
Wirrin watched with a feeling of awe as every other dolphin followed, so close it looked like a living arc.
Akama stood still till the reach went quiet and the skimmer turned and headed for the deck. Three dolphins accompanied it.

***

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.