April 20, 2010

The Talking Dolphin and the Volcano

"Where is she? Is she back?"

Clint Sampson stormed into the underwater laboratory's control room. Bright crimson spread across his forehead and cheeks. His team knew the look well. Clint's temper burned so hot it could burn a hole through the sun. But this expression was different. This outburst was laced with worry.

Elena glanced at Darius, and then back at Clint. "We haven't heard from her."

No one but Clint could bear the burden of his daughter's disappearance. The two had fought hours earlier, and she had snuck out into the ocean alone shortly thereafter. No one was allowed out into the field alone, but Clint's daughter had managed to sneak out without anyone noticing. Clint checked his watch.

"What time did she leave?"

Dr. Arlington, the team's oceanographer and desk agent, shook his head. He had been checking the exit chamber's security camera for the last ten minutes. "At least an hour and a half, maybe longer."

Clint swore. "She's running out of air." He strode to the locker where his underwater tactical suit was located.

"You can't go after her," said Dr. Arlington. "It's not safe."

"My daughter is going to die unless we do something now!"

Clint's gray eyes could cut corregated steel. The muscles in his wide, powerful jaw flexed as determination took strides toward desperation. Head of Central Ocean Research for the Environment (or C.O.R.E.), Clint had spent his entire life investigating one of the earth's last unexplored frontiers. But the ecosystem that had made his life was in the process of ruining it.

"The volcano is still active," said Dr. Arlington, C.O.R.E.'s head of environmental impact. "It's suicide. I can't let you-"

"It's not your call," said Clint. "Open the chamber,"

Clint pushed past the doctor and headed for the transfer chamber that would give him access to the watery world outside the plastic confines of the research facility.

Darius, the bombastic, adventure-seeking technician, swore. He'd been working for Clint long enough to know that his boss was reckless enough to get himself killed. And if there was any hope of finding Tricia, Clint's daughter, it would have to be a team effort. "Wait for me, boss! You know the rules, nobody goes it alone."

Elena frowned. She approached the doctor. "We're gonna need the DCS."

"It's not ready," said the doctor.

"It's good enough."

Arlington's lips pursed, but he offered a curt nod and headed for the huge tank adjacent to their headquarters.

"DCS?" Clint asked.

"Dolphin Communication System," said Arlington.

"Dolphin...what?" asked Darius.

"Communication System," said Elena. "It's a device that interprets the electrical signals in the dolphin's brain and then communicates the results back to us."

"You're saying they can talk to us?"

"No," corrected the doctor. "The dolphin's sonar is being analyzed by a sophisticated algorithm that determines exactly what the dolphin is experiencing in real time. That data is relayed through the mainframe, which interprets the message and give us a visual and verbal confirmation."

"Right," said Darius. "So the dolphin talks...great."

Clint pulled on his underwater tactical suit, finishing with the helmet. His voice came through the lab's loudspeaker. "My daughter has fifteen minutes of air left, if that. Open the chamber. Let's go!"

Darius and Elena scrambled to get their tactical suits on as Dr. Arlington moved to the tank in search of his special dolphin.
_ _ _

Clint led Darius and Elena into the ocean's depths. The ocean's cold, black blanket wrapped itself around the rescue team as they descended toward the jagged mountain range rising out of the ocean's floor. The team's only respite from the darkness was the brilliant yellow flashes of light that pierced through the shadows every time the volcano spewed magma from its gaping fissure. A massive column of white smoke laced with deadly sulphur billowed toward the surface. Getting too close to the volcano meant instant death.

Dr. Arlington's voice came through the speaker system in each team member's tactical suit. "The seismic energy is growing! Another fissure could open at any minute! It's not to late to-" 

"I'm not turning back!" said Clint. "Where was Tricia's last location?"

"She shut off the GPS, but I know the general direction in which she was headed. It looks like she made for the cave system we discovered yesterday. I've instructed the DCS to search there first."

The razor-sharp maze of reef surrounding the mountain range loomed. Caverns, caves, and corridors littered the reef. Clint's daughter was lost somewhere in that labrynth.

"Three humans at ten meters." Came a strange, electronic voice through their headsets.

Darius nearly lost his ski as he flinched in surprise. "Who was that?"

"The DCS," said Elena. "The dophin."

A shadow glided past them as the dolphin sped toward the reef. Clint cranked up the ski's power and headed after the dolphin. Elena and Darius followed suit.

Seconds later they reached the cave system. The dolphin paused at the entrance and circled. "Cavern reached. Awaiting orders."

"I'm sending her in," said Arlington.

The dolphin completed one last circle before darting through the opening. The team followed. The narrow opening led to a long corridor that became even more confined as they continued downward. The walls began to get closer. And then, a tremor ran through the passageway. Loose debris swirled through the corridor, blinding them.

Clint cursed. "Visibility just went straight to hell."

"Seismic activity is off the charts. Something is about to happen. We need to find Tricia fast!" said Arlington. "The dolphin navigates with sonar. It'll be fine. Hurry!"

Soon, the walls were so close the team had to travel in single file.

"This is getting dicey," said Darius. "What was she doing this far in?"

Before Elena could answer the dolphin's electronically interpreted voice spoke, "Body found."

"That's her!" Arlington exclaimed. "From what I can see based on the dolphin's sonar it looks like she's pinned underneath something. She's unconscious."

Clint reached her first. A narrow part of the passage had caved in, pinning Tricia to the reef. The team jumped into action. All three put all their strength into pushing the pieces of reef off Tricia's back.

"Just a few bruises, maybe a concussion, but her oxygen is almost gone," Clint said. His voice relayed a hint of hope for the first time. "Let's get her back!"

Another severe tremor ran down the mountain range's spine. The corridor shook violently. The sand, dust, and debris thickened within the chamber. A blinding yellow light flashed from somewhere below them, shooting through the holes in the reef system. The light was so bright Darius shielded his eyes.

Elena spun. "I can't see a thing!"

"A fissure just opened up underneath you!" Arlington said. "You have to get out, now!"

Clint twirled his ski back around, grabbed Tricia, and started back down the corridor. "Go! Go! Go!"

"Where? I don't even know which way is up!" shouted Darius.

The dolphin snaked past them and darted through the passageway.

"Follow her!" said Arlingotn.

The team chased after the dolphin as it swam through the narrow passageways. A huge cloud of white smoke began drifting up toward them. Elena's eyes widened at the sight of the smoke. If it reached them, they could die.

Just as they were about to reach the exit the dolphin stopped. Their path was blocked by a mass of collapsed reef. The team's morale sunk as the boiling water and white smoke drifted ever closer. Bright flashes of light shone through holes in the reef. The temperature inside the caves rose.

"We're stuck!" said Darius.

The dolphin sped past him and darted into an adjacent passageway. Clint didn't wait for Arlington to tell him what to do, he kicked his ski into gear and raced after the dolphin. Another earthquake struck. The reef walls rattled. Pieces of rock toppled over all around them.

And then the dolphin disappeared.

Another exit opened was right in front of them. They burst out into the open ocean as white smoke engulfed the reef.

_ _ _

Back on the surface of the water, above the underground lab, Dr. Arlington leaned over the side of the boat to stroke the dolphin's glistening gray skin.

"Good girl!" he said. "It worked! The DCS worked brilliantly! And she performed like a champion!"

Clint nodded. He glanced sideways at Tricia and hugged her closer. "Saved my daughter's life. I owe that dolphin a drink."

"Maybe we could get a big pool? She'd make a great pet!" said Tricia. Her smile was enough to make the team breath a deep sigh of relief. If they'd found her any later she would have died. They'd barely made it out alive themselves.

"A pool? After what you pulled? How about, you're grounded! No more water for you, young lady," said Clint. Tricia gave him a hurt look, and he relented. A smile even graced his lips. "And I guess I could work on being a better father. We'll call it even."

Tricia smiled, which brought a smile to everyone else on the team.

"I still don't get how she talks," said Darius. "I mean that's pretty amazing."

"Indeed," said the doctor. "In fact, she told me she found you very ugly."

Darius' mouth dropped open until he saw the sly smile on the doctor's face. Elena chuckled, and then shoved Darius over the boat's side. He splashed into the water. Even the dolphin chortled.

"I'm just glad I've got you back," Clint said to Tricia.

The two shared a long embrace.

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