Written by Fara Phoenix418
Please note that "Mother
Ocean" is based loosely upon the story of James McCloud as presented in
the original SNES comics released in Nintendo Power, 1992-93. For
reference, it is suggested that these comics be read prior to reading "Mother
Ocean", as the fact that he is still alive may confuse some SFX64 gamers.
Thank you, and enjoy the story!
~ Fara Phoenix
It had been five years since James McCloud had come to the planet Caer Ailinne -- five long years with infinite days that James had long since given up keeping track of. It was not for lack of hope for rescue; it was simply that there had been so many marks crudely etched into the unforgiving cave walls of his initial shelter and later in a journal he had attempted to keep that James was no longer certain of the exact anniversary date of the crash. The frightening decent through the atmosphere of this remote and sparsely populated planet ended in a mountainous region covered in dense rain forest. He found later that the area was an island - one of seven to be exact - and that there had been settlers there once.
His first several months there began with a frustrating case of amnesia, like a fog shrouding a dock; he knew there was something there, but stepping out onto the dock was near impossible. He could remember the crash, but not the reason, or the world that he was then lost to. Later he would regain the memories, but for those first few months he explored the main island and the rocky shores it possessed. There were over grown villages of a society that was apparently only seafaring. No flight - let alone space travel. James had been beyond frustrated by this -- even more by the fact that the villages were deserted.
Food was easy enough to find, as there were numerous fruit baring trees, as well as a type of tuber whose sweet yet starchy flavor sparked a dim memory of a food eaten in another life. When he had built his shelter in a dry cave overlooking the blue green ocean to the west, he felt the memories tugging at him like a child tugs at a parent's leg - patient yet insistent. The fact of the matter was he knew the skills he was applying to ensure his survival were learned in this other life of his - he knew, but he couldn't remember acquiring these skills. It was as if they were instinct.
The rain forest could be unforgiving at times; the heat and the damp were more than James could bear, but he diligently explored the whole of his island...his island...many days he mulled over this fact with that longing for something more aching in his heart. This heart ache became greater than the ache for food.
His exploration had led him to the shoreline, and to a view of four of the seven islands he now fancied were his. The ocean had a heavy rolling scent of sand and salt that welcomed him to its shores. When he first learned to fish with a poorly made net, James found contentment in the rhythm of the tides and waves as he stood up to his waist in the warm sea. A number of docks dotted the western and southern shore of his island, and James would try his hand at pole fishing from a few of them - but net fishing was the most lucrative of the two. However it was on one of these docks where he first met the dolphin.
The dolphin greeted him gladly, though James was sure it was for a bit of the fish he had netted earlier. Slowly and with much caution he let the rickety wooden dock bare his weight as he offered up one of the red scaled minnow like fish he had been using as bait.
The dolphin grinned as always, and when it surged upward to his full height to take the fish, James had actually cried out loud in surprise mixed with a bit of horror for the long rows of cone shaped teeth that filled the dolphin's mouth. Once he settled himself, the Sergeant....the Sergeant...a flicker of a moment had passed in the dolphin's eyes as they met James'.
The Sergeant stood straight at the end of the creaky dock, his hands balled into fists and his wary gaze fixed upon the rather petite dolphin as she bobbed in the water. The knowledge that the dolphin was female came as sudden and as clearly as the fact that James was...or had been a Sergeant before the crash.
It was as if all the blood had been drained from his body. The numbness that followed brought James slowly to his knees while he clutched at his forehead in a vain attempt to force another memory to come forth. Later on as he looked back upon the event, James would swear it was the very eyes of the dolphin that had sparked this fleeting memory.
At the moment, though, she had tilted to the side in all innocence, exposing her milky white belly and the dusky slate blue and lavender stripes that graced her sides and back. The markings ran from the corners of her musical eyes, to the tips of her tail. Everything about her was captivating; when James had doubled over on the dock to fight the torrent of sobs that were coming, she had rose in the water to briefly catch his eye.
She was only three feet in length, yet it was not just her dwarf size and strange, colorful markings that set her apart from the larger gray dolphins that held a place in James' memory. The way she gazed at him with much sympathy and the calculated way she had then rose to touch her elongated snout to his hands suggested there was more about her. She would not harm him - this he knew from her touch, and from the whimsical way she twittered her pretty little fore flippers.
With a smile underneath his stinging tears, James had nearly fed her the entire can of bait fish he carried; the little girl voiced her delight with crescendo-ing whistles and a series of muttered clicks. Later, once they had spoken properly, James learned that she had thanked him and welcomed her new friend to the rich waters of her home world. At that moment, though, her speech was as incomprehensible as the tiny snippets of his past life; each note part of a beautiful melody he did not have all the sheet music to.
"Mother, Mother Ocean
I have heard you call
Wanted to sail upon your waters
Since I was three feet tall...
You've seen it all,
You've seen it all..."
Each day he walked the length of his beach to visit the dolphin; she waited calmly by the dock until he had given her the name Serina. Once he entered the water for the first time at her side, however, she had proved to be rather jubilant indeed. Their days were marked with the sweet warm saltiness of the surf and the halting calls of the sea birds that pounded the waters for fish. James would hold fast to the little dolphin's fluke as she raced through the waves; when she dove with him she somehow knew the limits of his land walker lungs, bringing him up to the surface just in time for the gulps of air to taste rapturous and full. He was alive, and she taught him that without really meaning to at all. He was alive, and for the moment, it was all that mattered.
After a while though, James began to ache once more. Each evening, though he slept very nearly on a blanket by the shore, Serina would disappear into the waves, heading west. Oh, she was back by dawn, or at least by the time James sat down to his breakfast of a candy-like filet of the flat fish Serina was so adept at catching for him, but in his heart he knew that she had gone home. Home. The word pierced his heart as badly as the title of Sergeant.
"Watched the men who rode you
Switch from sails to steam..."
The day that James decided to make a boat was marked by the sweeping winds of an on-coming monsoon season. The seas outside raged while he took shelter in the cave he had all but abandoned; Serina, he knew, had gone home again. This time he longed to follow her. He was alive, but not truly free.
For three long months James toiled without a visit from his dolphin. Three long months in which he learned how to make pulleys for the ropes he had salvaged from the villages, as well as how hot a fire had to be in order to smelt nails and rivets. When at last he was done with the frame, he realized he had not made a boat - it was a ship. A fine ship, at that. The season passed, and James took on the task of delivering his ship frame to the shore, so that once she was fully ready to bare his weight he could find her in the water easy enough.
His next job consisted of covering the boards in the oily pitch and bee's wax that took him on a journey all over his island to obtain. By this time Serina had returned to the dock, and another summer had begun. She would wait, true to her name, as he took breaks from their swims to build the masts. Two long and fairly straight tree trunks from the southern side of his island served to bare the ropes and pulleys he had fashioned and the patch-work sails he spent hours down at the dock mending.
The Annola-Lee, he had dubbed the schooner; one sail for each mast and four directional sails in the shape of triangles that scooped the wind up like whipped cream.
"And in your belly
You hold the treasures
Few have ever seen;
Most of them dream,
Most of them dream..."
Late that summer it was as if Serina beckoned him to follow her. When the Annola-Lee was complete and holding her own in the water, Serina leapt higher in the air than James had ever seen. He tried his hand at tending the sails, and truth be told, if it were not for the expert navigation of the dolphin, the Annola-Lee most certainly would have run aground a few times. Finally though, James caught the hang of keeping the sails filled with the heavy salted breeze, and explored his other six islands for the first time. Serina ran alongside his bow, suspended in the ripple of glassy waves like magic - breaking the surface from time to time with a cool spray of dolphin breath. The Annola-Lee cut through the water in a rich dream come true. The waves and the sky were as vibrant as sapphires, and the island he had long been captive to was a shining emerald among them.
Slowly James circled the islands before turning his bow toward the west; toward Serina's home. The waters were bright as the sailed on, and when night came he dropped the sails and slept on the deck facing the constellations he had come to recognize. This was the first night Serina stayed with him rather than go home - she knew her presence kept him calm.
The lapping waves lulled him to sleep, and when James awoke to the chattering of his dolphin, he found she had thrown a few of those flat fish onto the deck. It was another few hours before James reached the cresent-shaped atoll that was Serina's home. The deep green of the mountains stood against the sky, lingering in the wisps of clouds that floated idly by. The bay of the atoll was deep, and the surf rolling. Among these break-neck waves were Serina's people; James marveled at the sight of their bodies spinning toward the sun, sometimes in unison, always with an elation he could almost hear.
"All our tears have reached the sea
Part of you will live in me
Way down deep inside my heart.
Days keep coming with our fail
New wind is going to find your sail
That's where your journey starts..."
Serina herself was greeted as if she had been gone for months on end; the roaring of the surf meeting coral mixed with the chattering whistles and clicks as they came rushing to meet her. James stood tall, holding on to the rigging as Serina heralded his coming to the bay with joyous leaps at the Annola-Lee's bow. The wind sweeping over the deck carried their voices, and after a moment of chattering her greetings, Serina swam back to his port side. Happily, she squawked to him, and with a grin, he moved to drop the sails post haste.
It took some moments to anchor the ship soundly in the bay, but once her anchor caught bottom firmly, James was able to lower his rope ladder off the stern. The water was blessedly clear; he could nearly see the bottom. Serina blew a cool spray of breath over him as she neared him, and when he saw that her kind dotted the waters like stars in the skies, he was taken aback. They varied in size and coloration - it was a rather strange pod, to say the least. All possessed the same grace as his own dolphin, but, he thought almost shamefully, none owned the same searching eyes. His own dolphin...but did he really own her, he wondered as she bumped her snout against his free hand. She was not at all a pet, he decided, as she tilted to look at him from the side. Not at all a pet...
It was as if she knew his pains, he thought to himself. When the chorus of dolphins clicked and whistled their way over to them, Serina turned to face them. After a moment or two of observing the interaction, James became certain those clicks were a language - he would bet on it. The medium-sized dusky colored dolphin before Serina clearly spoke for the group, and as she eyed James askance, she became agitated with Serina.
Appalled when the dusky dolphin snapped her jaws rapidly, he ducked when she slapped the surface of the water with her fluke rather curtly.
He was not welcome.
This was clear as Serina floated to back herself against his waist; with a concerned gaze, he listened to her wail in between a jaw snapping display of her own. When he cautiously slid a hand over Serina's smooth skin to calm her, the dolphins accompanying Dusk, as he now named her, showed their disdain by slapping the water as well, and chattering to Dusk as if in gossip. James felt suddenly out of place, as a boy meeting the girlfriend's parents for the first time would - only this was no girl, and whether Dusk was Serina's parent remained to be seen.
However, he was certain his dolphin was crying as she pressed against him for comfort, and he leaned to hold her tiny body with a hushed whisper.
"It'll be alright..." he assured her, and Dusk was not at all pleased by the Land-Walker's speech, and he figured the next piercing whistles were for him. With a frown, he held Serina close as a mother would a child. When Dusk rushed them both in a torrent of froth and foam, James was knocked away from his rope ladder; Serina, he found, was being bullied by some of the older dolphins and roughly herded toward the inner bay. Fighting the current and the swells, James swam back to the rope ladder and sputtered out the enormous amount of sea water brine he had just swallowed.
Serina went easily, now, with her escort, though presently she spy-hopped to make sure he was alright, and to call out to him sadly. James stepped up a rung when she slipped beneath the waves; a panicked feeling washing over him as he realized that he was alone now in the water.
His dream of finding a home was shattered the instant Dusk had attacked, and trembling, he lightly patted the surface of the water in a vain attempt to call Serina. She was too far, now, he knew, and clinging to the roped, James closed his eyes. The surf rolled on, and the calls of the seabirds were like laughter. Laughter because they were free to go, and laughter because they belonged. His teeth bared, James lightly tapped his forehead to the schooner's hull; it had finally become too much to weather. The snippets of memories had all but halted in their return since the Annola-Lee's construction had began. Now he prayed for them again, shakily taking another rung in his hand. Looking up at the masts towering above him, he sighed as he remembered the thrill of catching the wind. Sitting still was beyond him; he remembered he was a sort of traveler in his past life as well.
His heart fell at the notion that he would not have Serina's company if he left. How could he find the words to ask her to go?
"You waste your thought, Land-Walker - she is too young to journey with out pod." James started at the tempered, flowing voice behind him, slipping from the rungs as he turned quickly. Treading water easily, he frowned at the appearance of Dusk as she spy-hopped gracefully, something shiny between her teeth. James blinked in surprise, his jaw hanging open.
"Frankly," she continued, chittering besides that, "her insistence that she could 'tame' a Land-Walker is as juvenile as her coloring." Dusk said matter-of-factly, as James tried to work his own voice.
"You...you...can...uh, speak?" he managed, half smiling until Dusk exhaled sharply.
"Of course I can speak, young one; and with better maners than your own, I'll point out." she stayed her distance as James slowly treaded in her direction.
"I, uh...am sorry...ma'am?" he uttered unsurely, eyeing the glittering golden object she held with much interest.
"'Matriarch' you will refer to me as, in my presence and not. And you will pull that anchor from the seabed - you are ruining the coral." she informed him. "At once." came the demand, and James instinctively jumped at the order - until he remembered the ship would drift if he obeyed.
"But, ah, Matriarch...I would end up far away from the bay in this current," he pointed out, wincing as a wave lapped off the port side and pushed him back away from Dusk, who seemed amused.
"You catch on quickly, Land-Walker," she laughed softly, and James gave her a heartbroken look.
"You want me to leave?" he muttered at her mocking laughter, which was strained and high-pitched.
"As of two tides ago." she snapped suddenly, and James frowned as he caught hold of the ladder once more.
"I'm not leaving without Serina - unless she tells me that she doesn't want to go - but I want to hear it from her. I'm not leaving." he informed the Matriarch gruffly, though his hands shook on the ropes as he glanced back at her. With a toss of her head, Dusk moved closer to the ship, eyeing it in disdain.
"If I free your memories, will you go?" she asked simply, drawing James' unsure gaze away from his ship and to her once more.
"Free my what?" he raised an eyebrow, and Dusk seemed to grin slyly, tilting her head to watch James idly.
"Your memories of a life led not so long ago." she exhaled in a shimmering breath. "I see where they end...and where this life begins. My kind has always been able to see such things. It is how we speak now - the translator is for your benefit, Land-Walker." she informed him, and James narrowed his eyes carefully.
"How do I know you speak the truth? And why would you dare think I would trade my memories for Serina?" he growled, watching as she tossed her head once more in laughter. "What in hell is so damned funny?" James tightened his grip on the ladder, and Dusk calmed her self.
"Why, nothing, Sergeant.
Nothing at all." came her reply, and when his eyes widened, Dusk
closed her mouth over the translator before she slipped beneath the waves.
After a moment she resurfaced some fifteen feet away. "Think on it,
Land-Walker. I give you the night to think on our trade." she
called before she left James hanging from the side of the Annola-Lee, feeling
as if he had been pierced through the middle with an arrow.
That night saw James huddled
on the deck of the Annola-Lee alone; his only company became the deep rolling
of the tidal surf - one of two of Caer Ailinne's moons was completely full,
and the other partially, so the tide waters were particularly harsh.
He had barely gulped down his dinner of flat-fish stew when the squall
Without warning, a storm with winds that rivaled those that heralded the coming of monsoon season slammed the atoll, and as thunderheads blacker than night shrouded the bay in darkness, sweeping torrents of thick rain pelted the Annola-Lee.
Attempting to stand as he gathered the last bit of stew, James tumbled as gigantic swells lifted the aft. Suddenly the wave disappeared when called back into the sea, and the stern slammed down hard. As the deck dropped away from his feet, James pitched forward, and his head spun when he hit the pine boards.
Sea water gushed over to the starboard side, washing away the scarlet stains on the deck from Jim's bloodied nose and lip; the salt stung unmercifully and the tepid water blasted him sideways.
This was not something he had planned on, he growled to himself, and hastily he scrambled to go below. The once picturesque atoll now looked like something out of a nightmare, and the waters he and Serina had gloried in were trying to kill him. Gritting his teeth, James reached for the rigging when the stern lifted once more; bracing himself he prayed to what ever god would have mercy...he remembered God, but beyond that, there was nothing....
The ocean James had fancied he was a part of now firmly reminded him that he was not -- he would never belong here...not truly...oh, how he pleaded for the anchor to hold!
"Oh God! My God no!!" he trembled as the deck surged up to meet him. Black specs danced in his vision as he hit, his hands burning from the ropes. Nausea swept over him as fiercely as if it were a wave as well, and he lifted himself from the wet dock as the contents of his stomach betrayed him. His vision was still blackened, and he coughed as he heaved. God, his head hurt, and he thought perhaps a rib or two was broken. Sputtering in misery he held on as the ocean pounded again -- the sharp twang of rope snapping caused him to struggle to his feet just in time to see the boom swinging to meet him.
With unyielding force, the base of the main sail swung in a wide arch -- it was the last thing James saw before he was flung out into the sea. He was allowed a few desperate sputtering breaths before a wall of water converged on his exhausted body; he faintly knew he was to die, and consciousness left him as he was rolled under.
In years to come, he would look back on the storm as if it were an answer to his prayers; for now, though, all that followed were nightmares...
It had been five years since James had come to live on the RCSV Delphi; the class five "Royal Cetacean Science Vessel was without doubt the strangest place James had ever called "home". Although he had been in exile on Caer Ailinne, James always found it more peaceful than the deep space vessel; visits there always brought him back to the atoll where his memories finally began to surface at the very moment of his near-death.
When he was plunged into the unforgiving waters of the bay, and his body tossed about like a rag doll, his consciousness left him. Blackness darker than any night met him; he struggled to awake, but it was like screaming in a nightmare. Blinding blue flashes ripped and crackled through James' vision at last, and a slurred voice mumbled in his head.
"Hey Him, you see that?" came a largely familiar voice--though with a grumble, James realized he couldn't see... "Hey...Jim, you see that?" the voice echoed painfully as bright flashes suddenly erupted.
"....Jim...?" slowly the flashes formed shapes; groggily he blinked as he realized he was restrained in some manner. Sitting up straight with a start, he realized the restraints consisted of a cross-belt that held him firmly to a plush bucket seat. His vision snapped into place, as crisp and as vivid as he could ever ask for.
Before him stood a half-moon shaped consul, with brilliantly lit panels set amongst the silvery metal. Glancing up past the buttons and digital displays he didn't understand, James marveled at a panoramic view of open space. To his left lay a field of wispy blue and green clouds--pockets of elemental gases that hinted at planetary formation.
With a dropped jaw, James took in the horizon with eagerness...until it occurred to him that and orange holographic heads-up-display system bordered the window with numbers and tracking symbols. His hands were closed over the grip of a flight stick. With a frown, he turned to the sound of the voice that called his name.
"...Jim...you see that?"
James squinted at a flat twelve by fourteen inch LCD screen to his right, and the visage of a brown and cream prick-eared rabbit about his own age met him.
"...Jim? There's something on the radar..." the rabbit spoke, worry flooding his voice as he prompted James to take a look at his own radar screen. Without hesitation or confusion, James glanced to the smaller back-lit radar screen, noting two blips to his left and right--his wingman, he knew...a "p"...starting with a "p"...and "there?" No..."Hare..."
The 3rd blip of immediate concern lay to the squad's two o'clock. The com-screen alternated to show the anticipated face of a stern collie.
"Cole?" James uttered softly, and the collie cocked a floppy ear at him, followed by a cocked eyebrow.
"Sergeant...looks like another fighter jet...you should hail them...hail them...hail them..." James let go of the stick to press his hands to his head as Cole O'Donnel's words rung like a discordant bell.
Cold as the Northern winds
In December mornings,
Cold is the cry that rings
From this far distant shore.
Winter has come too late,
Too close beside me.
How can I chase away
All these fears deep inside?
The roar of the surf which now seemed so familiar, sounded as if it were miles away. His head rang, and when he tried to move, James couldn't feel his body--just that dull, aching ring.
The shrill calls of the gulls above the shore cut through the ringing, and slowly the pounding of the waves on the beach came closer. His vision focused as well, and with a tired blink, James found himself draped over a barnacle-encrusted rock, face down. Staring for a moment at the barnacles as the hid in their shells, he started when a cool rush of salt water announced the coming of the morning tide.
Suddenly James was very aware of his body, and he moved to sit up. This, he found, was a mistake. He felt as if he had been broken into a thousand pieces, and the fire that ran down his spine nearly proved that theory. Flopping back down, James got another mouthful of sea brine, which he spat out with a grimace.
Slower, this time, he sat up, watching the tiny barnacles reach out frantically into the cool water with their graceful fans in attempt to catch particles of food.
It wasn't until he began to shiver that he looked up to find the dolphin staring at him from a few feet away. Apparently, she had been there for a while.
"...Serina...?" he whispered uncertainly--the last thing he recalled was being swept out to sea. He looked up for a moment to find the Annola-Lee still anchored--though how soundly, he could not say. The dolphin followed his gaze, then turned back to watch him with her infinite eyes, coming closer. Suddenly, the recollection of the events in what had seemed like a dream, hit him with some force, and he shook his head tenderly.
He sat perched atop one of the highest rocks in what was a collection of granite boulders near shore. The lower parts of the chain were already well underneath water; the inlet he was in was fairly calm. The water was pristine and soothing on hi weary muscles, and the salt water went to work healing the various cuts and bruises over his body.
Chapter to be continued......