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 that James was no longer certain of the exact anniversary date of the crash. Even in a journal he had attempted to keep he lost track of how many sunsets faded in the west. 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, nor 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 overgrown villages of a society that had apparently only been seafaring. No flight--let alone space travel. James had been beyond frustrated by this--even more so by the fact that the ruins 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 tugging 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 heartache 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 more 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 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 baitfish 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.
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.
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 patchwork 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 at the bow in the shape of triangles that scooped the wind up like whipped cream.
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 would have most certainly 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 they 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 crescent-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.
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, though 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 said, and Dusk was not at all pleased by the Land-Walker's speech, as 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 seawater brine he had just swallowed.
Serina went easily now, with her escort, though presently she spy-hopped to make sure he was all right 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 begun. 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 manners 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 the 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.
To be continued shortly...