The Dragonwing Effect

Chapter 16

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant."

Robert Louis Stevenson

It was the first time Sam had seen the innards of a UN 'Situation Room' and, though he heartily wished it were under different circumstances, his newly-developed 'techy' side found it fascinating. He was surprised at how closely it resembled photos he'd seen of NORAD's 'war room,' buried deep under Cheyenne Mountain.

The far wall was dominated by a set of five huge display screens. Maps, charts, lists, aerial photos, weather data and a myriad of other details flickered across them in an ever-changing flow of controlled chaos, responding to input from the operators at rows of consoles which stretched across the floor before the screens in neat lines. A constant buzz of quiet voices filled the cool, slightly pine-scented air, mingling with the hums and beeps of active electronics.

Right now, it was the image on the largest center screen which held everyone's attention: It showed a color map of the North Sea, Dragon Island's location marked with a red circle on the dark blue background.

Approaching the circle from the southeast were four triangle-shaped icons. Three were huddled in neat formation, colored bright green, their position changing second to second according to their GNSS tracking.

The fourth, colored brilliant red, was a respectable distance ahead of the other three. Although its position changed along with the others, it was marked POS APPROX in red, which meant its course and position were based on computer extrapolation instead of real-time tracking.

The formation of three were closing on the single marker, though nowhere near quickly enough to suit Sam's state of mind. He was seated in the observer's gallery, just behind and slightly above the last row of consoles.

To his right, Frida Nerison sat, outwardly just as calm and captivated by the activity as he was, though Sam suspected otherwise. Not every day you face the risk of a fusion explosion in your home territory he thought, bitterly.

He glanced over to his left. Niho was curled comfortably in another chair, eyes shuttered to slits, tail dangling loosely out the gap between back and seat, looking for all the world like an oversized cat with scales. She had refused to go more than a meter away from Sam since he'd been shot. Nalu occupied the next chair over, curled into an identical pose.

Silence had, without any explanation, opted to fly back to the building's roof and remain there, holding the same statue-still pose as she had earlier, facing towards a distant home.

Sam had been surprised when she refused his offer of company. "Thiss I musst do alone" she'd said. "Go with our other friendss."

Before he could so much as take a breath to reply, she was twenty meters in the air and climbing fast. Puzzled, and a little hurt, Sam had allowed himself to be led inside. Food and drink had been offered and duly accepted, though he'd paid little attention to what he'd had. As long as it wasn't lutefisk he mused.

He was startled out of his reverie by Nerison's gasp, followed by her hand locking onto his wrist. "Sam, look!" She said, urgently, gesturing to the center screen and its tracking map.

"What–" He said, then his eyes widened. Red concentric rings were spreading out from the center of the target marker. For one horrifying instant, he thought he was seeing the results of the Coldfire's detonation.

He realized, a moment later, there were no confirming signs. The red triangle, though over the southeast border of the island, was still not on top of its target marker. Also, no one was shouting about 'Detonation detected' or anything remotely similar.

Instead, he was hearing mutters of "Subsurface quake" and "Two point one, new Richter."

"That's odd" Nerison said, as she let go of his wrist. "That whole area's been rock-solid for at least the past couple of centuries, and the volcano's been quiet as a kitten. The only thing which could have caused a subsurface quake would have been the Coldfire going off–"

"–which would have also set off a burst of radiation and an EMP" Sam added, just as confused. "Which would have stood out like a solar flare to the monitors."

As he spoke, the red triangle crossed over the target marker–and kept right on going. The three green ones behind it split apart and started swooping in from different angles.

An instant later, the red triangle and POS APPROX blinked out, to be replaced by a different marking which flashed alternating red and yellow along with a set of actual coordinates.

A series of warning signals sounded, followed by comments along the lines of "–is down, repeat, Rogue One is down, confirm no detonation. SAR beacon active, coordinates..."

Another controller: "Redeemer One, this is Geneva Control. Do you have a visual on Rogue One?"

Seconds ticked by with no response. The flashing marker was moving again, much more slowly than before, but steadily, back the way it had come.

The three green triangles, which had slowed to just short of a hover, were back in formation and starting to follow the flashing marker at a respectable distance. "Redeemer One, do you copy Geneva? Rogue One is showing an active SAR beacon, but we still show movement. Can you confirm their status?"

The voice which came back was female, alto, and as full of puzzlement as the first controller: "Geneva Control, Redeemer One, that's affirmative. Rogue One is... uh, disabled, but still airborne... in a way..."

Sam swore he could see question marks pouring out of skulls all over the room. The pilot's voice was cool and confident, as any good soldier's would be, but there were overtones of disbelief, surprise, and – was that humor?

"Redeemer One, repeat your last transmission" the controller said, impatiently. "What, exactly, do you mean 'in a way?'"

There came a long pause, followed by: "Geneva, Redeemer One. There's no way I can describe this..." As she spoke, the marker for the lead craft swung around so it was in front of Rogue One's marker, moving slowly backwards as it moved forward.

Frida Nerison suddenly got up, walked over to one of the console operators, exchanged a few words, then accepted a spare headset.

"Redeemer One, this is Northern Light" she said.

Sam could practically hear the pilot's spine going straight. "Northern Light, yes ma'am! Group Captain Bentley, flight leader, Redeemer One. What are your orders?"

Nerison eyebrows twitched. "At ease, Captain. Front camera on, show us what you've got."

The two screens to either side of the main one blanked out for a moment.

Sam felt his jaw drop as they flicked back on, and the rest of the room went completely silent.

A huge flock of dragons of all kinds, from Terrible Terrors to the big quad-wings, painted a multicolored contrast against the ever-present mist of the island, framed above by a broad line of cloudless blue sky.

The island's central volcano was visible in the background, apparently none the worse for wear. According to telemetry from the beacon, the group was moving at a steady forty knots south-southeast.

Even more astonishing, at least to most of the room's population, was the sight of a single Viper fighter, badly battered, its starboard thrust turbine scorched, blackened and pockmarked with holes. The craft hung quietly in the air, swaying slightly, suspended between four sturdy ropes with wicked-looking grappling hooks on the business ends.

The other end of each rope was grasped firmly in the claws of a very smug-looking Monstrous Nightmare. The disabled ship's pilot, just visible through the canopy, had his helmet off and was staring around in utter astonishment, mouth agape.

All the tension Sam had built up suddenly drained out of him like a punctured balloon. Over the laughter which bubbled up uncontrollably from his innards, he heard Nerison tell the flight to land at Örland Air Base and await further orders. She was back at his side a moment later, grinning, then leaned down to offer him a hand up.

"Now that's a picture worth a lot more than a thousand words" she said, as he accepted her hand and levered himself back up. Nalu and Niho joined him an instant later, one on each shoulder, chirping excitedly.

The single word Home! Echoed joyfully in his head in full stereo as he followed Nerison into the elevator and back outside into a clear, warm afternoon–

–and right into the leathery embrace of a very excited Night Fury!
Nalu and Niho leaped up from his shoulders, squawking indignantly, as Silence all but tackled Sam. "Whoa, lady!" He gasped out, caught between laughter and self-preservation. "I'll tell you all about it in just–"

"No need!" She said, joyfully, ear-flaps quivering, the two quarter-fins just behind her wings flipping open and shut erratically. "I Hearrd all!"

Before Sam could absorb this, he suddenly found himself on the receiving end of a very wet tongue.

"Hey!" He protested. "Leave off, Silence! You know that doesn't wash out!"

The flight to Örland, though relatively short, gave Sam some time for a much-needed nap. He was jolted awake when the cargo hauler settled into a huge, brightly-lit hangar and, apparently, right into the middle of an impromptu party.

He found himself, in short order, being congratulated by Benn Hyse, Kate, and the entire Berk council, thrown into conversations with one high-ranking official after another, and generally made much of by all concerned.

One of the evening's biggest surprises came just as Sam had just finished making a pit stop, and was on his way back into the crowd.

"Going somewhere, Mr. Shay?" A half-familiar voice said in a well-cultured English accent as a firm hand closed on his arm.

He turned, blinked in surprise – and felt his stomach churn. The man was about his height, dark-haired and clean-shaven, dressed in a RAF flight suit with Group Captain's insignia on the collar.

His expression was neutral, though what Sam saw in the depths of those deep brown eyes made him more than a little edgy. "Do we know each other, sir?" Sam asked.

The pilot produced a small, wicked smile. "Group Captain Travis Alden. I believe we had a... minor altercation... in the air, just last year."

Time slowed to a crawl. Sam's innards decided now was a great time to try out for Olympic gold in gymnastics, and he felt a thin sheen of sweat break out on his brow.

Just as suddenly, the internal gloom-and-doom preparations ceased.

No he thought, as his jaw took a firmer line and he stood up a little straighter. If there was ever a time to stop running...

"Of course!" He said, grabbing the captain's free hand and shaking firmly. "I'm happy to see you're all right, Captain, and I hope you had a pleasant ride home today."

Alden returned the handshake, though his expression remained neutral. "I believe I still owe you for... various incidents... involving my squadron" he said, sipping from a flat, silvery flask.

Sam took a deep breath and locked gazes with the captain. "I did what I had to do at the time, sir, in the interest of getting to the truth. If you still feel I 'owe you' in light of all that's happened in the past day or two, then I'm sure we can find a quiet place outside to attend to the matter."

He held the captain's gaze without flinching, though he could feel his guts quivering. Nalu and Niho suddenly settled on his shoulders, one to each side, adding their steady gazes to the mix.

Alden eyed them all for a long moment, sipped again, said nothing.

Suddenly, his face lit up with a grin. "I'll make you a deal, Shay. You tell me where you learned that flip-and-fire maneuver you pulled – honestly, I thought you and your ship were going to part company, TQ field or no – and I'll tell you how your scaly associates managed to knock down a state-of-the-art fighter running in full stealth mode."

Sam relaxed, as did the two dragons, and returned the grin. "Done. Given what you've seen today, it probably won't surprise you to hear I learned that from a dragon..."

He went on, explaining about Skye, though he carefully left out the time-travel portion. Alden was as good as his word in return.

"I'd just started my run on the crater itself when the collision alarm went off. Before I could so much as glance at the radar, this glob of volcanic rock about the size of my head – still glowing red hot, no less – smashed into my starboard thrust turbine intake. The impact turned the rock to powder in an instant..."

The vet listened with growing amazement as Alden continued, describing his near-crash. "I was about to punch out when a pack of those huge reddish fellows – what do you call them?"

"Monstrous Nightmares" Sam replied. "Ironic name. They're neither, really. 'Gentle giants' would be more accurate."

Alden eyed him dubiously. "If you say so. In any case, the next thing I know my ship's caught by these hook-ended ropes, and... well, you know the rest."

He took a last sip from his flask, capped it, and slipped it back into a pocket on his flight suit. His expression hardened. "You need to know something, Shay. I follow orders. By the same token, I don't take well to being lied to!"

Sam eyed him uncertainly. "Sir?"

"I wasn't told I was carrying a Coldfire" Alden said. "My orders described it as a conventional implosion device, designed to trigger a 'pressure relief' eruption. The package was set to detonate on impact, which means I might not have been able to get out of the way in time."

He leaned against a support column and crossed his arms, clearly expecting a response. Sam returned the look just as steadily. "Knowing what you do now, Captain" he said, quietly. "Would you still have dropped it?"

Alden blanched. "Good Lord, man, I'm not a monster! Coldfires were outlawed for good reason–"

He trailed off, eyes widening. That was all the warning Sam had before a large black head nudged him from behind.

"There you are!" Silence said, as she moved next to him. She was decked out in her strap of office. "Come with me, Ssam. Pressident Jenko and otherss want to sspeak with you."

She eyed Alden curiously. "Who iss thiss?"

"Bless me" the captain muttered, his gaze riveted on the Night Fury. "You do speak!"

Sam snorted a laugh. "You noticed?" He made introductions as he and Alden followed Silence toward the far end of the hangar.

"Skye was a Night Fury as well" he explained. "Their entire species are spectacular flyers, and could probably outmaneuver a hummingbird if they had to."

"Really?" Alden replied, his tone carrying just enough mock surprise. "I had no idea." Then, turning to Silence, he said "Might I trouble you for a demonstration, milady? When you can spare me a moment, of course."

Silence rumbled her amusement. "Name the time and placsse, but you musst ssupply the hummingbirdss."

The cool ocean breeze brushed against Dr. Sam Shay's face, bringing the scents of pine, fir and salt. He leaned comfortably against a big fir tree and inhaled deeply, still waking up, and sipped from the chai tea latte in one hand.

His rebuilt aircar, complete with its new tail number of NR2-BK10 was parked a hundred yards away, gleaming in the morning sun. Bright sunlight flashed off a larger metal mass as a UNEC construction flyer glided over the ridge, making for the work site below, the purr of its heavy-duty TQ generator modulating the rumble from its turbines.

From higher up, excited chirping sounded as Nalu and Niho chased each other through the forest. Silence was curled comfortably on the grass next to him, eyes half-closed, apparently in meditation.

The weeks since the UN conference had been a whirl of non-stop activity. Sam turned his head to eye the new lieutenant's bars pinned to his fresh Ranger's uniform, still not quite able to believe he'd let himself be drafted into a Command position. However, there had been much metaphorical arm-twisting on the topic from many fronts.

It had started in the closed-door meeting the night of the reception, three weeks ago. Jenko, Silence, Kate Ericsson, Benn Hyse and Myst had all been present, along with one other slender dark-skinned man and an unfamiliar Nadder, colored in mottled green and yellow.

The newcomer had given Sam a bad turn at first. Although dressed casually, in blue jeans, green polo shirt and fringed leather vest, he bore a frightening resemblance to former Secretary Gupta, now committed to a mental hospital.

The only thing which had kept Sam from dropping into 'fight' mode on the spot was the sight of the Nadder holding its head just behind the man's shoulder, purring softly, clearly at ease.

Though she tried hard, Frida Nerison couldn't hold back a laugh at Sam's surprise. "At ease, Ranger Shay" she said, as she guided him over to meet the newcomer. "You're not hallucinating. This is Doctor Durjaya Gupta, former Secretary Gupta's son."

"Please, call me Jay" the man replied, brilliant white teeth flashing in a smile as he stood up and took Sam's hand in a firm grip. His voice was soft, but penetrating, with just a hint of a New Delhi accent.

"I am so very pleased to meet you, Ranger Shay" he continued, turning to the Nadder. "Please forgive me if my appearance startled you. This is my dragon companion, Samir."

Sam returned the handshake with equal firmness, then reached out to lay a hand on the dragon's muzzle in the traditional Berk greeting. The Nadder nudged back and said "Open sskiess and fair windss."

"And to you, Samir" Sam replied, surprised to hear the same New Delhi accent in Samir's speech.

His mind raced, as he realized Murphy had thrown yet another curve ball his way. In my original timeline he thought, Gupta was never married, and his brother was his only other living relative!

As if temporal shifts weren't enough to throw him for a loop, Samir delivered his own surprise when he turned to address his human companion in clear Hindi.

Gupta smiled again at Sam's expression. "Samir is still learning English, Ranger Shay. He is just three years out of the shell."

The smile faded as the Nadder continued speaking, and the man's golden brown eyes turned serious. "He asks you to forgive my father – as do I – for he is not in his right mind. In point of fact, he has not been for the last several years."

The vet's jaw worked for a moment before he finally replied. "I... Doctor Gupta, with due respect, I don't think it's that simple. Your father's actions caused the death of my immediate commander and friend, placed an entire nation under siege for who knows how long, and very nearly caused a disaster which could have killed many hundreds of thousands more, worldwide!"

Those eyes were amazingly expressive. They now held genuine regret.

"This is all true" he replied, softly. "But it would not be fair to ask you to forgive without telling you of how he came to be the way he is now. I and Samir will understand if you choose not to forgive, and we will not think any less of you, but I must ask you to at least hear us out."

Sam took a deep breath, then let it out, slowly, and pulled up a spare chair. Silence settled next to him, looking for all the world like an enormous scaled cat, curiosity in her silvery gaze.

"Fair enough, Doc – pardon, Jay. Please, call me Sam. No matter what, I would never hold you responsible for your father's actions."

Now it was Gupta's turn to sigh. "You may think otherwise after you have heard the tale, Sam. You see" he continued, his expression pained. "I have reason to believe I and Samir are partly to blame for his breakdown."

The vet's eyes widened. He heard a soft rustle of scales on concrete, as Silence's tail switched. "How...?"

"It happened many years ago. You see, my family and I are from the village of Joshimath, high in the mountains to the northeast of New Delhi."

Sam nodded. "I know of the area, but I've never been there. UNEC has responsibility for two of the wildlife reserves in the area, and one – the Kedarnath, if I recall – was declared fallow and off-limits about fourteen years back."

Darjaya nodded. "You are correct. As you may also know, the mountain heights are thickly forested and contain many wonders of animal and plant life to attract young minds. I spent nearly all the time I was not in school, or helping my family, exploring the forest and hills.

"My mother and my teachers approved of my interest, and encouraged me to study what I was seeing and learning about in books and on the Internet. This should come as no surprise, as it was my mother to whom others brought injured or sick animals for healing."

"What about your father?" Sam asked, curious about the notable lack of mention.

Darjaya shrugged, and his eyes showed old pain. "How can one know what a father feels when that father is rarely in the home? Government service was my father's life, his passion. I know, now, that he was most upset when I showed no interest in following his life-path.

"But then? The few times he was in our home, he spent mostly in private with my mother." He breathed deeply again, then continued.

"This was a great puzzle to me, one which I went to great effort to understand. As long as I was home before darkness, my mother was not worried about my wandering, so I had much time to think on the problem."

He smiled, ruefully this time. "Perhaps too much time. One day, while I was considering the many questions I had, I became distracted while climbing a tree. One of the branches gave way, and I fell many meters to the ground.

"The fall knocked me out, for how long I do not know. When I awoke, the shadows were long with the setting sun and the air was growing very cold. I tried to stand, and found I could not; I had sprained my left ankle.

"I was just starting to look for a branch to use as a cane when I heard a noise behind me, one I had never heard before. When I turned to see what it was, I nearly fainted from fright, for it was my first sight of a Nadder."

He chuckled. "Our lives are filled with delightful ironies, for it turned out this particular dragon was Samir's mother."

Gupta's companion perked up on hearing his name and eyed his human friend quizzically. Gupta laughed, and spoke a few sentences in Hindi. Samir relaxed again with a look of smug satisfaction.

"I explained I was telling you about his mother, and how she saved me" Gupta said. "I fear pride is the one vice which all Nadders have in common with our species."

Sam grinned and glanced at Silence. "Sounds like someone else I know" he said, then laughed as the Night Fury in question chuffed at him in mock annoyance and bumped his shoulder hard enough to rock him in his chair. "What happened then?"

"It was... unnerving" Gupta continued. "The Nadder – I have always called her Durga, though I never learned her true name – appeared to recognize me, as well as understand I was in trouble.

"She approached – slowly, carefully, as I would a wounded animal – and looked me over very closely. Although I could see her teeth very clearly, I found myself in a state of great calm. Somehow, I knew I had nothing more to fear, as though the Great Buddha were watching over me.

"Then, before I could so much as sit up, she opened her mouth and reached down towards me. I was afraid again, certain Buddha was going to take me home in that very moment!

"Thankfully, it was not to be. Durga took my clothing in her mouth, enough to get a good grip – and then, before I could blink twice, we were rising above the treetops! I was too afraid to do anything more than hold still.

"After a few more minutes, I began to recognize familiar landmarks as we flew, and it was then I realized where we were going.

"She landed in front of our home, put me down very carefully, then backed up and seemed to be waiting for something. I called out to my mother and she came to help me into our home. Her eyes went as big as dinner plates when she saw Durga, but she was too concerned about what had happened to me to ask questions at first."

He frowned. "Unfortunately, this was also a day where my father had come home for one of his infrequent visits. More unfortunately, he was the first to see when Durga landed while she was still holding me in her mouth. When he got over his initial shock, he flew into a rage and tried to attack Durga, certain she had been about to eat me.

"This is when I first learned one way a Nadder will defend themselves. Her tail lashed like a whip, and I heard a whistling noise. The next thing either of us knew, my father was stuck to a fence post, a single tail-spine through his sleeve anchoring him as firmly as any nail. The spine, amazingly enough, never so much as scratched him.

"Durga flew away, then, and my father simply would not accept I had never been in any danger from her. He swore he would devote his life to making sure such 'creatures,' as he put it, would 'never threaten another human again,' refusing to believe me when I tried to tell him he should be thanking her!

"My mother tried to convince him as well but, as you probably know, the opinions of women are not often taken seriously in my culture, even in this day and age."

"Did you ever ssee her again?" Silence asked.

Gupta nodded, and the smile came back. "I did, a few more times, when I returned to the same place in the forest. The last time was shortly before I went away to the University of New Delhi. The question of why my father had been so angry is one which never left me, so I decided to get my degree in psychology."

"How did you find out about Berk?" Sam asked. "I know you wouldn't be sitting here now if you hadn't been 'read in' to the program, so to speak."

Benn Hyse spoke up. "Like you, Sam, he was asking all kinds of inconvenient questions and he was good at putting two and two together. He was initiated as an Outside Guardian shortly before I took up the chief's post, and given access to our enclave within the Kedarnath preserve."

"Durrga sstill livess there" Myst added, fixing his gaze on Gupta. "She liked the name you gave her enough to adopt it."

Sam's eyes suddenly widened as more pieces dropped into place, and he turned back to Darjaya. "Saint Blaise Above" he breathed. "You are overseeing your father's mental treatment?!"

Gupta shook his head. "Advising only. As you might guess, I am one who is too close to the problem to remain sufficiently objective."

He sighed again, sadly, and Samir nudged him in concern. "So – There you have it, Ranger Shay. Believe what you will, but also understand I am doing what I can to help."

Sam closed his eyes for a long moment and leaned back in his chair, the vagaries of the timeline changes he knew he could never talk about to anyone else racing through his thoughts.

The worst part he mused, is I can't be certain something I did – or didn't do – was responsible for the whole mess. Darjaya thinks he's responsible, and there may be some truth to that. But can I say with any certainty I'm any less responsible?

Clarity came with its usual suddenness. Sam opened his eyes, sat up, and extended a hand to Gupta. "Please consider your father forgiven" was all he said.

Darjaya's dazzling smile came back as he returned the handshake. "You are very wise, Ranger Shay" he said.

Sam blinked. "About that" he said. "It's just 'Mr. Shay,' or 'Sam' now" he said. "As far as UNEC is concerned, I'm still 'dead,' officially speaking."

"So certain, then, are you?" Jenko said, with a slight smile of his own. "I didn't think any Ranger would be willing to give up their pension and benefits so easily."

"Sir?" Sam said, puzzled, but with a tiny spark of hope starting to flare.

"Dragons may have their own nation, Sam, even their own island" Benn Hyse said. "But it's going to take a lot of work before they're commonly accepted in the public sphere."

Sam had to flinch. Much as he didn't like the thought, it was true. It had taken the public nearly a decade to get used to the fact of cetacean intelligence, and that was when dolphins and whales had already been well known to the world!

"There will need to be safe places for people to come to learn about our new friends" Jenko continued. "Old Berk will be the first of many such places around the world."

"The New Berk Councssil agreess" Myst added. Sam was pleased to note Jenko didn't so much as blink at the sound of the dragon's deep voice.

"Which leaves only the question of what to do with you, Sam" Kate said, trying hard to keep her grin under control.

"How so?" He replied. "I've already decided to stay on at New Berk, Kate. You know that." He grinned right back at her. "Practically begged me, so you did."

"What if another opportunity were to present itself, Doctor Shay?" President Jenko said, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "Say, with UNEC?"

Now it was Sam's turn to be surprised. "Sir?"

"If you are willing, of course" Jenko continued.

"You see, it is obvious to me we're going to need a new base on Old Berk. Whoever commands this base will need to have extensive first-hand knowledge of dragon-human relationships. Also, under the UNEC charter, such a person cannot be a civilian: They must be a commissioned UNEC Ranger."

Sam's eyes bugged as he saw where this was heading. "Sir, with due respect... Ranger Hoshino has been a Berk liaison far longer than I have, has a dragon companion, and is fully commissioned–"

"–And will be an integral part of the Rangers at the new base, of course" Jenko finished for him. "Sam... It was on Ranger Hoshino's recommendation we decided to offer you the position."

"'Recommendation' may not be the right word" Kate put in. "If I recall, his wording was along the lines of 'Get Sam. No one else has quite the right mix of insanity and common sense.'"

The president chuckled. "True enough. So, Ranger Shay? What do you say?"

I said 'yes' he mused. Saint Blaise preserve my soul, I said 'yes.'

A soft chuff brought him back to the here-and-now. Silence eyed him curiously, the leather of her saddle creaking slightly as she turned her head.

"You were flying alone" she said. "What thoughtss were taking you to ssuch heightss?"

Sam returned her gaze with a slight smile. "Why not just read my mind?"

Another chuff. "I do not lissten to otherss' thoughtss without their permisssion" she said, indignantly.

"Unless you think lives are at risk" Sam shot back. "You realize that's the ability which is going to unnerve people the most?"

Her wings rose and fell in a Night Fury's shrug. "Few among humanss have the gift."

"To hear thoughts, yes. Usually, if a human starts hearing voices in their head, it's time to call in the head-shrinkers."

The quizzical look Silence produced, accented by her ear flaps rising slightly, drew a chuckle from him.

"Iss it even posssible to sshrink a human'ss head without harm?" She continued. "It ssoundss very painful."

"It can be, but not in the physical sense" said a new voice, as Kate settled herself on the grass beside them.

She was dressed in her usual New Berk trews and jerkin, and set a large backpack on the ground next to her before reaching out to give Silence a friendly scratch along her neck. "Sam, what have I told you about relaxing more?! You're on leave for the next month or so, until the new base can start basic operations, and ogling the construction crew isn't going to make it go any faster."

He sighed, and sipped his drink. "'Watched pot never boils' is it?"

She chuckled as she settled down, cross-legged, on the warm grass. "Along those lines, yes."

She eyed him curiously. "I know that look. What's wrong? You've been downright moody for days!"

He took his time before answering, twirling his cup gently back and forth. "Curiosity" he finally said, turning to meet her gaze. "Conundrum, mystery, call it what you will. Out of all that's happened, there's still one small detail I can't figure out."

"What might that be?"

Sam shook his head, his expression serious. "Kate, one of my talents is recognizing patterns. Seeing the connection between seemingly unconnected events. I've spent a lot of hours running over everything that's happened since I first got sucked into that portal."

Silence gave him a surprised look. "Sso that iss what hasz drawn you sso far away! It musst be of great importancsse..." She eyed them both, expectantly.

Sam smiled. "Maybe, maybe not. The best way I can sum it up is to ask you, Doctor Kate Ericsson, outright." The smile faded, replaced by intense curiosity. "How did you know?"

She blinked. "Say again?"

He took a deep breath. "From the moment I first called in, after waking up on that beach, you knew! How I ended up in Old Berk over a thousand years in the past, how I got back, the works.

"You could have brought me to New Berk any time, saved me a hell of a lot of grief. Dammitall, Kate... Dash might still be alive if you'd just acted sooner! How did you know?!"

She looked away, pain in her eyes, watching as the construction crew lowered a support beam into place. Finally, she turned back to Sam. "We knew" she said, softly, "because Hiccup left us a message."

Sam blinked in puzzlement as Kate unzipped a side pouch of her backpack and pulled out a reprinted and translated copy of Hiccup's Journal. "Page one-eighty" she said.

He flipped quickly through the book – and his eyes bugged.

There, taking up the entirety of the page, was an exquisitely-detailed sketch of an old Icarus-class VetMed aircar, complete right down to its tail number of UK5-AL19.

"We were going to tell you" Kate continued. "The Berk Council had already agreed – unanimously – to contact you and 'read you in to the program,' as Dash put it so well. But we all underestimated Gupta, and how far he would go.

"For some reason, Sam, he saw you as the ultimate threat to everything he'd built up, wrong-headed though it was. He saw to it you got that dose of Axonase. Dash was the only one in any position to do anything at the time.

"After that, direct intervention was out of the question, as Gupta would have known all about it and, possibly, launched Throwback before anyone could find out about it or prevent it. All we could do was drop what clues and hints we could and hope you could put the pieces together."

She smiled, brilliantly. "And you did. I'm damn proud of you."

Sam put the book down, his finger marking the spot, and started swearing enthusiastically in three different languages. Finally, he looked at the drawing again, and continued.

"That crazy kid! I warned him not to record anything about my visit! I went over, in disgusting detail, what kind of damage it could do to future events and he did it anyway!"

"He recorded more than that" Kate said, as she unzipped the top compartment of the pack and started rummaging. "Look at the next section."

Sam did so, not without a slight sense of dread. The dread turned quickly to fascination as he read through the notes which went with the next sketch, dated about five years after his visit: A full-body suit of what he thought at first was leather-and-worked-metal armor.

But if it were armor, he wondered, why did it have sails or fabric or something joining the underside of the sleeves to the body...?

He kept reading, his original sensation of dread warring with fascination and speculation.

Riding a dragon is amazing. Flying in a ship which doesn't even have wings is just as amazing. But – flying as Toothless does? Touching the sky, riding the winds? You won't ever really understand what flight is until you try it yourself!

He looked up at Kate. The breath he took in to ask more questions froze in his chest as he took in her ear-to-ear grin and saw what she'd extracted from the backpack and now dangled from one hand.

It was a bulky coverall, made of a smooth pearl-gray material. There was a prominent bulge along the back, resembling a collapsed bat's wing. Translucent webbing joined each sleeve to the suit's sides. Sam could tell, when the wearer extended their arms, the webbing would stretch out to several times its collapsed area. A tiny camcorder was mounted to the suit's hood.

Silence was practically hopping with excitement. Her ear flaps were standing straight up, and her pupils were dilated so far there was barely a ring of color visible. "It'ss perfect!" She hissed, excitedly. "Ssam, put it on, quickly!"

He didn't answer right away, but reached out to feel the cloth. It was woven of the same material used to line the inside of body armor, a mix of Kevlar-3 and ballistic xenylon. Nearly impossible to tear or puncture, and a featherweight compared to the heavy antiques worn by police in the early 2000's.

Not even ex-Secretary Gupta could have failed to put two and two together on this one. Sam started to back away. "Ohhh, no. NononononoNO! Dragonback, yes, ultralights, yes. Hell, I'll even try hang-gliding! But free-fall?! In a... a... bat-suit?!"

Warm breath suddenly ruffled his hair. He turned to look straight into a pair of pewter-toned eyes, full of warmth and humor, framed by glossy black iridescent scales.

"Ssam" Silence said, quietly. "Do you think I would aszk thiss of you if it wass truly dangerouss?"

"Sam" added Kate, her grin fading a bit. "Knowing what you obviously do, about the dangers of altering the past, would you go back and save Dash if you could, with no way to know of the consequences?"

"I did not know our former liaisson well" Silence added. "But I do know thiss: To cloak yoursself in fear iss to disshonor hiss memory and everything he believed in."

Before he could answer, a gentle thought brushed across his mind: I will not let you fall.

It took Sam less than five minutes to get into the suit, with Kate's help.

It took longer to climb to what Silence deemed a 'safe' altitude for practice – about 3000 meters, Sam guessed – before she leveled out into a glass-smooth glide. "Whenever you are ready" she called back to him, "keep your armss tightly in at firsst and let yoursself roll off my back."

He took one last look at the ocean, far below, and gulped. A fragment of his old fear rushed in for a moment, threatened to overwhelm him–

No! He told himself, firmly, closing his eyes and flashing back to all the previous practice time he and Silence had spent in the air. For good measure, he recalled the ejection drills he'd been put through in Ranger flight training.

This he thought, with a touch of amusement, is actually safer than an ejection seat. No explosives to deal with!

With this in mind, he took a deep breath, eyes still closed, and rolled off Silence as smoothly as if he'd done it a hundred times before, his wild call of "BANZAIIIII!" whipping away in the wind.

He could hardly breathe, but it didn't seem to matter all that much. The force of the wind, thundering past him, filled in where his chest muscles didn't feel like cooperating.

He could feel Silence's excitement now, just as much as her reassuring presence, as she matched his dive precisely. She roared for the sheer joy of it, orbiting slowly around him.

A thought brushed his mind: Open your eyes.

He did. Much to his surprise, Silence was directly in front of him – and the world itself was rotating around them! He gasped, then let out a whoop of delight. Silence let her tongue loll out, flapping in the wind for a few moments.

Suddenly, the urge to extend his arms flashed through his mind. The webbing opened with a snap like the granddaddy of all sails, followed by another snap from his back as the dorsal stabilizer automatically extended, and it was all Sam could do to keep his arms straight. His speed slacked off immediately, though it still felt like he was falling at a frightening rate–

Until he suddenly realized – this wasn't uncontrolled falling.

He was flying! Actual, wings-to-the-breeze flight! He could feel most of his weight pressing on his chest, across the upper part of his rib cage, just about where his keel would be had he been a bird. Curious, now, about his new skill, he flexed the fingers on his right hand to start a gentle turn–

–Only to cry out in alarm as the turn flipped him into multiple barrel rolls! The world spun crazily around him as he tried frantically to correct. Suddenly, a jar went through his left side and the spinning stopped.

Cautiously, he turned his head to the left. Sure enough, there was Silence, right wingtip above his left, stabilizing him until he got the 'feel' of it back.

After a moment, she drifted a few meters away. Her mind-voice was full of amusement: I do not usually start my hatchlings on rolls until the second week.

She glided under him and he folded his arms back in, touching down lightly on her back. Up we go, try again she sent.

The crane operator at the construction site was among the few who hadn't paid much attention to all the hullabaloo on the news, lately. He was a solidly built man, pragmatic to a fault. It made no difference to him if humans had suddenly been knocked off their self-made pedestal of 'superiority.' No one could run a crane like him! He knew it, his boss knew it.

Everyone he ever worked with knew it as well. Such were his thoughts as he munched dutifully on a ham sandwich, enjoying the view from a hundred meters above the ground.

Had he been looking behind him, he might have had some warning.

He was just measuring out more coffee from his Thermos bottle when several objects flashed by, barely three meters from the cab. The whoosh of their passage startled him enough to cause the coffee to spill all over his pants leg, drawing several inventive curses from him.

When he finally recovered enough to snatch up the pair of binoculars he always kept with him (after all, one never knew when a rare bird might come winging by), and focus them on the objects, he blinked in disbelief.

Slowly, he pulled the binoculars away from his eyes, cleaned each lens with meticulous care, and tried again.

The image remained the same: A man in some kind of grey monkey-suit, paced by a big black flying lizard and two smaller ones (blue and green, he thought), all playing their own version of 'Pole Position' across the sky.

Very carefully, he put the binoculars back in their case, and started the crane's engine. Focus on work he told himself, firmly. Best medicine in the world for seeing things!


The Labor Day weekend of 2092 brought more than early-Fall colors and clear, warm weather to the Bay Area. To many, the first Saturday in September also brought something worth camping out the previous night to attend: The annual parking-lot sale and open-house at Tesla's Basement.

While the store certainly drew crowds year-round, its Labor Day event was something special, even by the somewhat jaded standards of the Bay Area's techies. It was the only day of the year when the place threw open the innards of its voluminous warehouse for public browsing. Electronics, computer, networking and lab gear of every imaginable description got bought, sold and traded in quantities and sizes from backpacks to bulk pallet-loads.

Thanks to the presence of the huge open grill, set up at one end of the parking lot, it was also an event where one needed to go no further than a few tens of meters for food or drink. The aromas of chicken, turkey and other meats, sizzling in home-made sauces, drew almost as large a crowd as the warehouse entryways. Laughter and conversation filled the air, punctuated by periodic cheers and applause as someone scored a particularly noteworthy deal.

At one end of a warehouse aisle, containing mostly robotic assembly equipment in various states from ready-to-run to "needs work," Bryan Lind and John Landon were closing a deal with a pair of customers over an automated chip programmer.

"And" Bryan said, rummaging in a beat-up looking wood crate on a nearby pallet. "With that price, we'll throw in this rare, vintage, uhh... 'accessory'... absolutely free of charge! At least, we will as soon as I can find the thing..."

His upper body disappeared into the crate, prompting John to eye him dubiously and brace his legs. Clanks and clunks sounded from the crate's interior as its contents were unceremoniously (and somewhat violently) shifted.

The would-be buyers, a dark-haired bearded man and a tall woman, both dark-skinned with a hint of 'Islander' about them, merely watched with amusement as one of their hosts all but disappeared into the crate. "Is he always like this?" The woman asked John, with a smile.

"Oh, no" replied John, blandly. "Most of the time, he's much sillier. I'm surprised he hasn't offered to paint the programmer hot pink..."

"I'll 'pink' you in a minute!" came the muffled reply, followed by a caw of triumph. "Ha! Knew it was here!"

The object Bryan held up moments later left everyone with raised eyebrows. Mounted on a flat piece of plexiglass was a brown plastic cylinder suspended between a pair of thick posts. The cylinder was covered in some sort of rough, dark-blue synthetic fabric.

Even more preposterous was the small, long-eared equine shape, also molded in brown plastic, positioned so it was clearly leaning against the cylinder.

"Do I even want to know?" John muttered, trading a long-suffering look with another of the warehouse staff, a tall blond man dressed entirely in black and known affectionately as 'Spike.'

The blond eyed the thing for a moment, then chuckled. "Maybe, maybe not, mate" he said in a prominent Aussie accent.

The bearded man sighed. "All right, I'll bite, though I think I'm going to regret it" he said. "What in blazes is that thing?"

"I know exactly what it is" a new – and familiar – Irish-accented voice spoke up from the end of the aisle. "It's a nylon dark cardigan on a plastic mule-rest!"

"There's no such thing!" The blond staffer shouted out, right on cue, with a huge grin.

"Thank you, Spike!" Bryan called, gleefully, as groans erupted all around. He tossed the hunk of cheap plastic back into the crate.

"Tell the truth, now" Sam said, stepping carefully over the equipment littering most of the aisle. "You had that thing purpose-built, didn't you?"

"I can neither confirm nor deny such a viscous rumor" Bryan shot back, clapping the vet on the shoulder. "Good to see you, Sam!"

Startled shouts suddenly echoed through the warehouse, accompanied by much bird-like chirping and squawking.

"Incoming...!" "Watch where you're flying...!" "...the frell are those...?!" "...rock have you been hiding under? Watch the news once in a while...!" "...little demon! That was my lunch!"

Sam winced, and slapped a hand over his eyes. "Oh, Mother Machree" he muttered.

As the others exchanged puzzled looks, the vet turned towards the open end of the aisle and let loose a piercing whistle, coupled with the mental equivalent of get your wings and tails over here NOW...!

A pair of colored streaks, one blue and one green-yellow, came barreling around the corner at top speed, heading straight for Sam. Knowing full well what was coming, the vet braced himself against a handy support as the two all but tackled him, chirping with excitement.

Nalu belched, giving everyone a clear indication that Terrible Terrors found pizza just as appealing as fish, while Niho was trailing several iridescent streamers of what looked like pallet-wrap.

Sam gave the others an apologetic look. "Sorry about that" he said, sheepishly. "These little fellows are among the most curious and energetic of dragon species."

Although John and Bryan did a good job of holding in their surprise, the visiting pair of customers were not so restrained. Much explanation followed, combined with much fussing over the dragons once introductions were made.

In stark contrast to their earlier antics, the pair were suddenly on their best behavior. Niho, bolder than her mate, even went as far as to clamber over each visitor's shoulders, much to their startled delight.

Eventually, the initial excitement wore off. The programmer followed its new owners home, and Sam followed Bryan and John up to the office for drinks and story-trading.

The two dragons promptly made themselves at home on Kenya's window platform, staring goggle-eyed at the activity below and exchanging a steady stream of chirped comments.

"For someone who likes to keep a low profile" John said, as they settled on the couches, "you've been all over the media lately."

"No kidding" Bryan added. "Still, you done good! We're both proud of you." He grinned, raising his glass in a toast. "To Interesting Times!"

"I couldn't have done it without your help" Sam said, after they'd all taken a drink. "Though how you managed to hack into an in-house audiovisual system at the UN in Geneva, just in time to turn the tide, is something even I'm having trouble figuring out!"

The innocent looks the pair adopted were downright comical. "We can neither confirm nor deny–" John began.

Sam rolled his eyes. "'–Such a vicious rumor.' Yes, John, I know. I also know there's bloody few people on the planet who could have pulled it off, and you two top my list!"

"'Viscous'" Bryan corrected. "Very important distinction. And we didn't do it alone. We had some... mmm... shall we say 'local help?'"

"Of course!" Sam exclaimed, clapping a hand over his eyes. "Jarod."

"Much easier for someone already inside a secure system to pull stunts like that" John said. "But what brings you here, Sam? You're commander of the new UNEC base on Old Berk, which means you probably don't have a lot of time for vacations."

"Now they're going to have to put an old UNEC base on New Berk, just to balance things out" Bryan muttered. Suddenly, his eyes widened. "Hey! I wonder if we could locate a surplus base through our pipelines...?"

"Down, boy!" Shouted Sam, with a grin. "I think turning you two loose against UNEC's quartermaster corps would be a crime against humanity."

Both men bowed deeply. "A higher compliment is not to be found in this part of the world" Bryan said, matching Sam's grin. "But seriously" he said, the grin fading. "What brings you out here? Do you need a crash-spot?"

Sam put his glass down and shook his head. "Not staying that long, at least not this trip. As you so accurately pointed out, there's plenty for a base commander to be doing. I had to pull some strings just to get away for a couple of days so I could bring you two this."

He reached into a pocket of his work uniform, pulled out a data card and handed it to John. "And this would be?" The techie asked, eyeing the card curiously.

Sam just smiled. "Read it."

Still looking puzzled, John picked up a PADD from the table and plugged the card into it. "It's an E-book" he said a moment later, as Bryan slid over to see the screen. "'Elements of Cetacean Communication,' by Kanja Jumbe, Ph.d..."

It took them only a few more moments to figure out the book's significance.

"Holy crap on a cracker" Bryan said, softly. Then he looked over at Sam. "This is from your original timeline, isn't it? It has to be! If anyone had worked out a translation scheme, it'd be competing with the dragons for news space by now..."

"And it will be" John said, with a wicked grin, as he paged through more of the book. "The prototype translation mechanism looks like something we could put together in a couple of months, if we call in some more hands and a few favors."

He leaped off the couch and dove for his desk. Keys clicked like agitated castanets.

Bryan snorted. "You won't need to burn too many favors to get help for this one. I can think of at least four people who'd fight with each other just for the chance to do the program code, once they found out what it was for and that it had a significant chance of success!"

"No matter who does the coding" John said, as he divided his attention between the PADD and his keyboard, "I think I know one thing for certain."

He looked up, still grinning ear to ear. "Sea World is going to crap bricks!" He cackled, maniacally, and continued typing.

"That's putting it mildly" Bryan agreed. "So is every other place that's ever kept captive cetaceans, with the likely exception of our friends in the Keys."

"Who do you think I'm messaging?" John exclaimed. "Mandy would never forgive us if we didn't at least let him know about it."

Bryan chuckled, then looked over at Sam. "So. Why us? You could have made a deal with any university or even any of the animal-rights groups on the planet, and been set for life. Why bring it here?"

Sam sighed. "I could give you the predictable cliche about the world being introduced to one sentient, non-human, species already, why not two, etcetera, ad nauseum.

"Instead, let me put it this way: Some time before I got sucked through that portal, wormhole, cosmic garbage chute, whatever it was... I spent two years working with a dolphin team at one of the Japanese research stations – and I can already save you some effort, John" he added, with a grin, as the techie put down the PADD and started typing something else. "It doesn't exist in this timeline."

John muttered something in a language Sam didn't recognize, though it seemed to have more than its fair share of consonants. "Not anatomically possible, even for a T'argh" Bryan shot back, then turned back to Sam. "You were saying?"

The vet put his curiosity aside with an effort, and continued.

"The truth? I don't have any high-and-mighty expectations or high-flung ideals about this one, Bryan. While their sense of humor runs a bit high on the shock side for this cranky old vet, I couldn't help but respect those crazy fins. They'd play as hard as they worked, and vice-versa. Seeing them stuck as nothing more than circus performers, with no one even suspecting they could be much more?"

He shook his head. "I don't know what will ultimately come of revealing Jumbe's book to this world, this time, this culture. I have no way to know how similar – or radically different – it is from the one I left behind. Saint Blaise Above, I don't even know if the timeline change affected the way our finny friends evolved! For all I know, they could have ended up no smarter than a bright dog!"

"I hear a 'but' in there" Bryan said, softly.

Sam nodded. "'But,' indeed. In this case, it takes the form of 'I want to at least give people the chance to check it out.' The technology's never been the problem. The kind of CPU power and DSP capability needed has been around since the early 2000's.

"The more important question is whether we, as a species, are ready to have that question we've been asking for so long – 'Are we really alone?' – answered in, as President Jenko put it, a most unexpected way."

Bryan smiled again, and squeezed Sam's shoulder. "Good enough for me. Stay put a minute."

He got up and moved over to his own desk, exchanging a glance with John. "Let's do this thing, then" he said. "I'll see if I can track down Dr. Jumbe–"

"–And I'll start rounding up components" John continued.

The vet smiled slightly as he watched the two go into a flurry of computer and phone activity. Any remaining doubts he might have had about how best to handle Jumbe's book vanished like a blown-out candle.

A soft thump drew his attention to a tawny-gold feline shape which had landed on the cushions beside him. Yellow-green eyes capped by elegant black-tufted ears held his, as Kenya purred a greeting and pushed his head against Sam's shoulder.

Two words drifted into Sam's mind: Hunted well?

Sam laughed softly, as he stroked the caracal's silky fur. "Very well, Kenya. Very well indeed."

The big cat purred in approval, then padded over to his window and exchanged a long look with the two dragons. Everyone held their breath, firmly aware of how most felines felt about their territory.

Then, to everyone's astonishment, the two Terrors moved quietly aside, leaving a large gap in the middle. Kenya leaped effortlessly into the spot and settled down in what most cat-people called the 'Meatloaf' position. The two dragons did their best to imitate him, and soon all three were surveying the activity below with quiet fascination.

Bryan let out the breath he'd been holding. "Wow" he murmured. "We could all learn something from that lot!"

Afterword and Acknowledgements

No story, no matter if it's one page or ten thousand, comes together out of thin air. Although it would take up as much space as this story did to recognize everyone who helped, and even more to explain many of the references and 'nods' contained herein, I can't close without acknowledging the most important.

First and foremost, deepest thanks to my wife, Dana McLeod-Lane. Good beta-readers are tough to find, while great ones are even harder. I got lucky and landed on the 'Great!' square.

To Cressida Cowell, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, Will Davies, Adam Goldberg and the entire crew at Dreamworks, without whom we would never have known it was even possible to 'train' such amazing creatures.

To Doctor Andrew 'Andy' Abshier, DVM, for providing valuable insight into how veterinarians do their thing. I hope you like your brief cameo!

To my fellow writer on, 'Norwesterner,' for graciously allowing me to dovetail with his 'Taming a Heart' universe.

To John Lanfri, fellow techie, mischief-maker and brother-in-spirit, for allowing himself to be vacuumed into the story without prior knowledge. It's comforting (and a little scary) when someone trusts you that much.

To Jim and Chuck Schuetz, owners of 'Weird Stuff Warehouse' in Sunnyvale, CA. Their store provided the backdrop and inspiration for Tesla's Basement. Although it lacks the DIY labs, training classes, second level and radio club facilities, Weird Stuff is still a must-visit for any electronics or computer techie, no matter what your skill level.

The idea of non-human sentience is nothing new. Thousands of other writers have worked such ideas into their stories, including such notables as Andre Norton ('Catseye,' 'The Zero Stone' and various 'Witch World' tales), Arthur Clarke ('Dolphin Island') and David Brin (any of his 'Uplift' novels). What is relatively new is the possibility of their being (much) more than a grain of truth in the concept.

If I had to pick one thing about our own species which puzzles me, deeply, it would be the inherent contradictions in our belief systems. Many of us are perfectly willing to accept, on pure faith, the idea of God – of a supreme being, a higher power in the Universe (or Multiverse, as the case may be). Yet these same people seriously doubt their own senses should they experience any kind of paranormal activity.

More specifically to the point of this story: How many billions of dollars and centuries of effort have we spent, as a country (the United States) and as a species (all other countries) on astronomy, radio telescopes, satellites, moon shots and long-distance probes, all in search of an answer to one simple question: Are We Alone?

We're perfectly willing to entertain the possibility of intelligent non-human life as long as it's somewhere 'Out There' in space. The Voyager probes are clear evidence of that much. We seem most unwilling to even consider the possibility the answers may be right here at home, perhaps swimming in our world's oceans.

As far back as the 1960's, Dr. John Lilly demonstrated that dolphins do indeed have a complex language. He went as far as trying to decode their communication with the best computer equipment available at the time (sadly, the available technology simply wasn't up to the challenge).

Decades later, Dr. Lou Herman demonstrated that dolphins can not only learn a synthetic sign language, he has shown they can comprehend sentences and are capable of dealing with abstracts. Most recently, studies have raised the question of whether dolphins, at least, have self-awareness, a faculty we once thought exclusive to humans.

There have been tremendous advances in computer and digital signal-processing technologies since the 1960's. A common Android 'SmartPhone' has more raw computing power and capabilities than the systems which took us to the moon, or which ran the space shuttles!

Given these advances, given the mass availability of computing power which was only a dream just forty years ago, I would really like to know:

Why hasn't someone attempted to apply those advances to, again, decoding cetacean language? The cost would likely be a tiny fraction of what we keep spending on wars-of-choice and military might, and the potential rewards are nothing less than staggering.

What is it we, as a species, are so afraid of?

I'll be the first one to admit the whole idea might be completely bonkers, an utter waste of time and energy. It's entirely possible dolphins are, as Karen Pryor once put it, somewhere between a bright dog and a chimpanzee on the intelligence scale.

But isn't it also possible the opposite is true? That there is much more behind those dark eyes than anyone has dared consider?

Isn't this a question which deserves better than to be brushed off as the stereotype of 'Talking to Flipper?'

For further (non-fiction) reading on this subject, I would heartily recommend "In Defense of Dolphins," by Dr. Thomas White. If you're curious about my use of the term 'aquatic circuses,' and some deeply alternative views on such places (SeaWorld included), I would suggest "Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the SeaWorld Experience" by Susan Davis, as well as the more recent 'Death at SeaWorld' by David Kirby.

No matter what the answers might be, I think we would do well to remember that a whole bunch of invitations have already gone out, via Voyager and various other ways, for anyone who has the capability to visit our world and say hello.

We should not be surprised if someone does, at some point, accept such invitations.

Hunt well, fly well, and be the best person you can be no matter whether you wear scales, fur, feathers or clothes!

(BL, Kent, Washington, 1-Nov-15)

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