The Cousteau Society is Celebrating

by N. Kaouthia
illustrated by moonlightboys

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/136289.html)

illustrated by moonlightboys

Jac’s voice echoed off the walls. “Fernando? I’m done here. I sent Arronax to the reception pool.”

A cheerful chirp, audible only to him, answered. “Not you,” Jac said, but he smiled.

Jac pressed a button on the armrest, and the lights around him flickered on. He called for Fernando, who promptly unlocked the vision helmet and pulled it up off his face.

The room around them was large for a reason. Wires, metal boxes, lights–all sorts of mechanical devices–hung against the wall. They were all connected to the chair in which Jac sat and was now trying to get out of.

“Welcome back to land of two feet, Jac,” Fernando said, handing Jac a towel.

Jac stood, his feet wobbling beneath him. “Thanks. Can’t say I’m glad to be back.” Jac wiped the sweat off his face first, then his chest, armpits, and arms. When he handed the towel back to Fernando, it was soaking wet. Fernando grimaced and set it aside. “So what did we find?” he asked.

“Well, there’s good and bad,” Fernando said.

“Let’s hear the good first.”

Fernando kept talking as they turned down the hallway toward the receiving pool. “B. griseocauda is doing really well–they’ve all grown to maturity, and I saw some signs of pregnancy, so the next generation should be here soon. D. stokesii is thriving too, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to stabilize the population again. It’s done really well, so if we can set up some more conservation sites we can really get it to back on track.

A. palmota is not doing so hot though. Saw some bleaching and white band disease… we’re going to take some samples Arronax collected, and see what the pH is. We’ll have to manually check the temperature later. I saw some more E. flavolimbatus swimming around too, but it doesn’t look like they’re doing really well. C. grandimanus is being overcrowded by D. floridana, though, so I think we’ll have to find another habitat for C. grandimanus. Natural selection wasn’t really on its side.”

Jac smiled and turned to Fernando. “Great. We’ll talk more about those conflicts between C. grandimanus and D. floridana later. We’ll talk about E. flavolimbatus too–maybe can talk to Dr. Kurosawa and see if he’ll take them on.” Jac pushed the door to the receiving pool open. “Did you open the hatch for Arronax?”

“Yup,” Fernando said. He grinned. “Have fun, Jac. See you in the rec room for dinner?”

Jac half-smiled. “Definitely. See you then.”

The submarine piloted itself for the most part. Evelyn Hsu, Fernando Portola, and Jac himself were the submarine’s three occupants. Jac had met Evelyn and Fernando when he’d been traveling around the world with Arronax, looking for funding. Evelyn ran the submarine from a small, transparent sheet of glass she always had on her, but the submarine was so well-refined by now that she usually only had to set course and go.

Fernando was more the brains and the science. He helped Jac collect data, monitoring the video feed from the Cetacam technology. He cleaned up sometimes when Jac mucked water in from a daily swim, and he gave Arronax his daily check-ups.

As for Jac, Fernando and Evelyn liked to call him the star of the show. He lived between the cylindrical room and the reception pool.

The reception pool was located in a large room that was one-fifth railing and four-fifths water. It could be accessed from the outside by a long, rectangular hatch that was currently open. Somewhere else in the vessel, the submarine was pumping out the same amount of water that was coming in.

Jac walked along the metal railing that lined the perimeter. An image of fish, fresh and still flipping and flopping, came to Jac’s mind. He smiled and removed the covered bucket of fresh fish, all still struggling in their small confines.

A loud splash made him turn around and he grinned when he saw a silver blur flash and somersault through the air. The dolphin that landed back-first into the pool chirped and splashed his tail into the water. Jac’s mind filled with an image of him jumping into the pool, but Jac returned it by thinking of him feeding him.

“Arronax, mangeons avant de jouer.”

When it came to dolphins, Jac had always spoken French. English was proper everywhere else, but France was Jac’s homeland, one of Jac’s few loves. Arronax didn’t know the difference, anyway.

Arronax swam over to the edge where Jac stood and opened his mouth expectantly. Jac chuckled, but pried open the cap of the fish bucket and threw some live, wriggling Icelandic herring high into the water. Arronax rewarded him by flipping up into the air and catching them in his mouth. Arronax could still fend for himself in the wild (Jac would never begrudge a dolphin his survival instincts), but these Icelandic herrings were like chocolate–they didn’t exist in the waters he usually swam in.

Jac sat down on the edge of the pool. Arronax swam up and rested his rostrum on Jac’s knee. Warmth that wasn’t his spread across his chest and Jac rubbed Arronax’s head. Arronax chirped and clicked, and he raised himself up in the water and slapped Jac’s shoulder.

Five years ago, he would have never expected to be talking to dolphins, even if the talking consisted of images and feelings. Jac had been one of the top minds in cetacean communication, but academia and funding difficulties finally overpowered him.

It was Dr. Gagnan who finally made a breakthrough using implanted nanomachines. She developed Cetacam, and Jac and Arronax, whom she had rescued from an oil spill, were the first Cetacam partners. They had started the whole business of using willing dolphins as scientific partners, using them for noninvasive purposes in the ocean.

Jac shook Arronax’s fin, and then he grabbed another squirming fish from the bucket and dropped it into Arronax’s waiting mouth.

A feeling of gratitude washed over him. Jac rubbed Arronax’s head again, and then he slipped into the pool. Jac gave him a quick, human squeeze. Arronax still didn’t understand why ‘hugging’ and ’embracing’ were so good, but he always tried to reciprocate with his own shows of affection, which mostly included headbutting Jac from behind and pushing him through the water at speeds that made Jac want to throw up.

Arronax beaked onto his shirt and started to yank Jac across the pool. “Arrêtez!” Jac waved his arms wildly in the air. Mirth (Arronax’s) and fear (his own) spiked through his whole body. “Arronax!” Jac spit out water, and Arronax finally stopped, but only after he headbutted Jac a second time.

“Dauphin ridicule,” Jac said, spluttering. He sent Arronax mock-anger. Arronax sent him joy and happiness, so much that Jac felt like he would burst at the seams, Arronax was capable of emotion at such an intense level.

Jac pictured himself eating at the dinner table. Blue sadness washed over Jac, but Jac tried to think of a promise, but Arronax didn’t understand. Jac thought instead of himself eating, then returning to the water to play catch and ball.

Arronax headbutted him again. Jac saw Arronax sleeping at the bottom of the pool, one eye closed, but that he would do a back flip out of the water once Jac returned.

Jac smiled. “Bien sûr. Je reviendrai.”

He climbed out of the pool and dried himself off with another towel as he walked to the dining room, where Evelyn and Fernando were already waiting for him. Fernando was conversing with her in Chinese; Evelyn was speaking Spanish. When they saw him, they waved at him.

“Neat trick,” Jac said. He grimaced internally at his bowl. They’d been eating porridge for months. It was healthy, with all the required vitamins and nutrients, not to mention the right number of calories, but it tasted like crap.

Evelyn smiled at him. “Glad to see you’re back. Arronax wanted to play a bit, huh?”

Jac sat down next to her. “Yeah. He’s been a little lonely since we’re not near any of the other Cetacam dolphins. We should be meeting up again in Florida, though, right? I’m sure the rest of the pod misses him too.”

Fernando nodded. “Dr. Gagnan made another breakthrough.”

“Another one?” Jac laughed. “She’s driving me crazy!”

“Well, it’s supposed to be big,” Evelyn said. “I mean, really, really big this time around. Bigger than Cetacam.”

Bigger than Cetacam? What could be bigger than Cetacam?”

Evelyn smiled. “I’m sure Dr. Gagnan will explain the whole procedure to you later.”

“Case closed,” Fernando said. “Our lips are sealed. Officially.”

Jac sighed. “So…”

“So,” Evelyn said, grinning, “did that woman from beautiful French woman ever call you back?” She winked at him.

Jac’s face flushed. “She did…”

Fernando and Evelyn ‘ooh’ed in unison. Jac thought they were both far too old for that.

“We talked for a bit,” Jac said. She had a beautiful face, he remembered. A great, athletic body. She loved to swim and surf, and she was smart, too: she’d been an English major. Well-read, witty… “She didn’t seem too interested in what I had to say, though.” Of course.

Evelyn’s smile wilted. “You talked about Cetacam, didn’t you.”

Jac raised his eyebrows. “How did you know that…?”

Fernando sighed. “Está idiota no sirve para nada.”

“No matter what language you say it in, I can still tell you’re calling me stupid.” Jac shrugged. “Anyway, who cares? What’s wrong with talking about Cetacam?”

Fernando rolled his eyes. He exchanged looks with Evelyn. “Well,” he said, poking Jac hard in the shoulder. “It’s work. Women already know about your work. When they want to talk, they want to know what you’re like outside the office.”

“Otherwise,” Evelyn continued, “they think you’re all about work, and women don’t want to compete with that.”

“Oh.”

“Estàs francés,” Fernando said. He shook his head. “Pero no tienes un ósea romántica en tu cuerpo.”

“I know you’re making fun of my relationship skills.” Jac scowled.

“It’s true, though.” Evelyn reached over and patted Jac on the shoulder. “You haven’t been in a steady relationship in a long time.”

Jac snorted. “Not since my wily undergrad days.”

Fernando grinned. He balanced his head on the palm of his hand. “I’d like to hear about wily Jac. All Evelyn and I see is boring old science Jac.”

“Why don’t we talk about dolphins?”

“Oh god,” Evelyn groaned.

“Oh, poor lonely Jac Tailliez…” Fernando sighed dramatically. He threw his arm over his forehead in mock-despair. “Forever scorning love for the sea! Never will he find a person to please him!”

“Shut up,” Jac said, punching Fernando in the arm. “What about you two?”

Evelyn and Fernando looked at each other. Then they looked at Jac.

“Jac,” Evelyn said.

Jac’s head started to throb.

“We’ve been meaning to tell you–”

Jac lifted his hand to stop them. “Hold on. I have to go. Arronax got really upset all of a sudden.”

“All right,” Fernando said.

Jac got up. “Thanks for the porridge. How much longer do we have till we hit Dr. Gagnan’s place?”

“About three days–we’re just going up the coast now.” Evelyn sighed. “I hope we get to eat real food soon.”

As Jac left, he heard Fernando speaking in Chinese. Evelyn laughed. Jac knew they were talking about him, but the throbbing in his head prevented him from returning a biting remark.

*

Arronax nipped Jac’s toe and flipped around in the water, splashing him with such force that the water hurt when it hit him.

“Pourquoi as-tu fait ça?” Jac sighed. He held onto the ledge of the walkway. Pain still banged against his head. “Pardon.” He pictured himself embracing Arronax, but Arronax crushed it by biting Jac’s toe again. “Ça fait mal.” Jac hoped Arronax felt his pain, but he knew Arronax wasn’t that upset–otherwise, he would have bitten a whole toe off.

Evidently, he did sympathize, because Arronax swam back and headbutted Jac in the back. Then he swam to the bottom of the pool and grabbed a ball, which he tossed up into the air with amazing deft for an animal without hands. He looked at Jac, opening his mouth: a request for approval.

“Ce n’est rien.” Jac swam over to Arronax and rubbed his dorsal area. “Ce n’est rien. Désolé d’avoir pris si longtemps pour retourner.” Jac started backstroking through the water, and Arronax drifted next to him, his eye always trained on Jac. “Arronax … As-tu jamais senti…?” He thought of the little human contact he had had over the last–god, how long had it been? Ten? Fifteen years? Had he spent so long immersed in research? How… how lonely. He projected sadness at Arronax and an image of Arronax, swimming among a pod of other dolphins.

But Arronax’s confusion flooded his heart. Jac saw in his mind’s eye Arronax swimming with Jac, Fernando, Evelyn–the other Cetacam dolphins and their human counterparts. It had been the last time they’d been together at HQ. They’d all decided to go for one more swim before they embarking out to their prospective conservation sites for another five months in the sea.

It was hard to believe that Arronax had given up the beautiful, open ocean for–well, this. They did travel miles and miles per day when on the run, but Jac always thought, how boring for a well-muscled, intelligent animal like a dolphin. But as far as Jac knew, Arronax–and the other dolphins who bonded into Cetacam pairs– never displayed that remorse.

Jac turned his head to look at Arronax. He reached out and held one of his fins gently. Holding hands. Maybe in his own dolphin way, Arronax understood this. Oh, what Jac wouldn’t give to understand him–to really understand Arronax, just a little bit…

“Nous rentrons bientôt,” Jac mumbled, spitting out some water as he spoke. He thought of HQ, of Dr. Gagnan. Arronax’s affection for Dr. Gagnan warmed Jac’s heart, and Jac smiled. “Elle me plait aussi.”

They floated there until Jac’s fingers pruned and Arronax felt tired and sleepy, and then Jac left and went to bed.

*

The next three days passed without incident. Arronax and Jac went for swims in the reception pool, and sometimes they swam in the ocean together. Arronax often spent long hours in the ocean by himself; whenever he wanted to come back, he would tell Jac–even if he was sleeping–and Jac would open the reception pool’s hatch.

Dr. Gagnan’s headquarters were located just on the coast, spanning several miles of beach and sand. It connected to a bay, where many of the other Cetacam submarines had already arrived. Fernando let Arronax into the second, smaller bay, which was shielded from the outside ocean by gates. The other dolphins chirped and flipped happily through the air at Arronax’s arrival, and Jac grinned.

“I love dolphins,” Jac said.

“I know,” Fernando and Evelyn said, in unison.

“It’s creepy when you do that.” Jac frowned. “You shouldn’t do it again.”

“Okay,” Fernando said, as Evelyn said, “All right.”

Jac rolled his eyes. “Let’s meet Dr. Gagnan.”

One of Dr. Gagnan’s many interns chose this moment to appear magically out of the side of a building. “Docteur Tailliez?” He coughed uncomfortably, shifting his weight from foot-to-foot. Jac smiled.

“Oui?”

“Dr. Gagnan wants to see you. Personally.”

Jac nodded. “I’ll see you two later.” He waved to Fernando and Evelyn and followed the assistant into the Gagnan’s headquarters.

Dr. Gagnan was world-renowned. Even before Cetacam, she was coming up with ingenious ways of solving oceanic problems, and she always had more than one species-revival project going on. And Dr. Gagnan had a huge success rate. She was a god’s gift to sea creatures.

As such, it was only natural for her to have the best of the best facilities. Jac stopped to look several times at the glass walls, housing rare, endangered species on the other side. The assistant pressed him on, though. “Dr. Gagnan is very anxious,” he would repeat.

“All right, all right, I’m coming.”

Dr. Gagnan’s actual office, however, was small and conservative in comparison to her facilities. She had a simple, small room overlooking many of the observation pools. None of her diplomas hung on the wall: instead, there were pictures of animals she had rescued, a before-and-after gallery of her best accomplishments.

“Dr. Tailliez,” Dr. Gagnan said. “It’s so good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too, but please call me Jac.” He shook her hand and sat down across from her. “Would you like to speak in French?”

Dr. Gagnan glared. “No, I’d rather avoid it.”

Jac grinned. “Say something! Anything! Make me laugh.”

“No.”

“Fine,” Jac said. “Damn Canadians.”

“Damn Parisians,” Dr. Gagnan said, rolling her eyes, but she smiled.

“So what’s up? Your assistant practically wheeled me here. He didn’t want me to see anything.”

Dr. Gagnan’s smile was now devious, full of mischievous plans. “I’ll give you a tour of the place later, but right now, I’d like you and Arronax to be in my new project.”

“You know us. Adventurous.” Jac shook his head. “What crazy scheme have you thought of this time?”

“Well… Even with Cetacam, communication between species is still difficult.” Dr. Gagnan leaned back in her chair. “I mean, we’re two different species. The only way to really understand one another is to ‘walk a mile in another’s shoes.'”

“Yes, but they’re dolphins,” Jac said. “The beauty of the relationship is that we can still communicate. I’m sure that Arronax understands me. Most of the time. Anyway, the mystery is part of that… intrigue, I guess.”

“But Dr. Tailliez–Jac–wouldn’t you give your arm and leg for an hour of communication between you and Arronax? Where he could understand fully what you’re going through?”

Jac sighed. “That’s a pipe dream.”

“I can make it happen.”

Jac froze, then relaxed. He could feel his heart speeding up in his chest. “I believed you the first time,” Jac said. “Two times? I’m skeptical.”

Dr. Gagnan pulled out some files from her desk and spread them in front of Jac, grinning like a sneaky mastermind the whole time. “But you see, Dr. Tailliez, I can do it! I researched military simulation methods. They hook the soldier up into a machine, and they send him into a virtual reality. Of course, the realism is dumbed down a bit–but there aren’t true limitations with it. It can be as real or as false as you want.”

“But that’s for humans,” Jac said.

“Of course it’s for humans,” Dr. Gagnan said. “But I can hook it up to a dolphin, now. I’ve had the best neurologists and marine scientists on this project ever since Cetacam reached its peak, and it’s finally ready for real testing. I can take a dolphin brain and put it into a virtual human body.”

“April Fools.” Jac frowned.

“It’s no joke, I assure you.” Dr. Gagnan stood. “Would you like to see the room?”

“You’re leading me to the pit of hell, I just know it.” But Jac followed her out of her office and down a long hallway. They turned into a door marked ‘R&D,’ which led to an even larger building. Then she opened another door, and another, and another, and finally Jac said, “Are we there yet?”

Dr. Gagnan opened a door, and there they were.

The virtual room was one large room–about the third the size of an American football field. On one side were the controls, which included a large set of buttons and levers that Jac couldn’t fathom controlling, especially not with all the hidden screens and projections the things must have held. On the other end were two stasis pods: one was a white rectangular prism, the other was a cylinder that was connected to the wall by a large, transparent tube.

“You’re a genius, aren’t you?”

“Only when it works.” Dr. Gagnan turned to Jac and crossed her arms over her chest. “And I need your help to do that. Yours and Arronax’s.”

“I’ll have to talk to him. I don’t know how much he’ll fly for occupying human body space, even though it’s virtual.” Jac rubbed his chin. “Besides, you haven’t tested it on cetaceans yet, have you?”

“It’s impossible to get a hold of a cetacean and know whether he or she is willing.” Dr. Gagnan shook her head. “That’s why it had to be you two. But it’s bound to work. We’ve tried it with mice–although they don’t react very well. Too much of a change, and they’re not as cerebrally developed.”

“How do you monitor them?”

“Well, we can project and watch how they’re doing in the virtual room. It’s a dedicated space on the server, isolated, backed-up completely… We had a few glitches in the beginning with power overload, but now it’s flawless.”

“So Arronax wouldn’t be hurt?”

“Not unless he got hurt in the virtual world, and even that’s highly unlikely. There are safety mechanisms in place.”

Jac nodded. “What about color vision?”

“Impossible to simulate, unfortunately.”

“Do you watch the session? I’d prefer it you didn’t–at least not the first one.”

Dr. Gagnan smiled. “Your wish is my command.”

“Don’t flatter me, Dr. Gagnan,” Jac said. “You’re the one who built all this technology. I gave up on working with dolphins. You’re the one who called me back.”

“So, have I called you back again? Will you think about it?”

Jac shook his head. “Let me talk to Arronax first. I think it’s an interesting idea, but in the end it’s up to him.”

“Get back to me tomorrow,” Dr. Gagnan said. “I’d like to start in the afternoon.”

*

Jac called Arronax into one of the private pools and sat on the diving board. Arronax swam circles in front of him, and Jac tried to picture Arronax in the stasis tank, then seeing as a human, but Arronax didn’t understand. Jac thought of the human and the dolphin as one; Arronax merely flipped onto his back and flapped his wings in a clapping manner.

Jac jumped into the pool and swam toward Arronax. The dolphin nudged him with the underside of his snout. “As-tu confiance en moi?” Jac whispered. He thought of the only thing that Arronax hated: Jac, grabbing his dorsal fin for a ride. It was faint and ghostly; Jac had never done it before, and Arronax had thrown off the trainers who had tried before, back when the Cetacam program had been trying to get him to cooperate. But Arronax strengthened the image with something akin to love, but not quite.

“Merci.” Jac stroked Arronax’s brow. He hoped this would work. He hoped, not for his sake, but Arronax’s.

*

Dr. Gagnan put Arronax in stasis first. He hung suspended in the tub, and Jac touched the outer glass and stared inside.

“Don’t worry,” Dr. Gagnan said. “It’s painless.”

“You don’t know that,” Jac said. “You’ve only tested it on mice!”

“Well, panicking is only bad.” Dr. Gagnan tapped the life monitor on the side of the stasis cylinder. “Look, his heart rate’s going up. He’s sensing your discomfort: you have to calm down.”

Jac took several deep breaths. “When do I go in? I thought you said I’d go in immediately!”

Dr. Gagnan gave an exasperated sigh. “Calm down. One of my assistants–” Jac wondered just how many she had, and whether they were really being paid to do this crazy work “–is working on it. It takes some time; we can’t prepare it too far in advance. We’re also using the binding function to tie Arronax’s brain to the human form. Do you know what he would look like?”

“No,” Jac said. “In case you’ve forgotten, he’s a dolphin. A cetacean! He doesn’t wonder about what it’s like to be human the same way humans wonder how to be dolphins, or birds, or horses!”

“Calm down.” Dr. Gagnan held up her hands. “Please, Jac, you’re going to break Arronax from stasis, and that would be a very uncomfortable sensation for the both of you. Think about what he would like. We can’t allow him too much freedom in stasis, otherwise he’ll be transforming body parts at will because he’s in a foreign body.”

“He’d be hairless,” Jac said. Arronax had always thought Jac’s body hair odd–even funny. Jac had lost more than a few hairs to Arronax’s sharp teeth. “Muscular, a swimmer, obviously. Are there limitations to where we can go?”

“It’s just a beach house–there’s plenty of space to roam, though, and plenty of ocean to swim in. We’re monitoring the daylight according to the time here, and we’re going to shut off when the sun sets. So I’m telling you that now, to be relaxed and ready for it.”

“It’s private, right?” Jac asked.

“That’s what you requested, so it’s what you’ll get.”

“The stasis pod is ready, Dr. Tailliez.” The assistant lifted the cover of the stasis pod, which really just looked like a giant white coffin. Jac stepped inside, settling himself against the plush coverings.

“I don’t see any machinery,” Jac said.

“Nanomachines,” the assistant said, and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. “Now close your eyes.”

*

Jac opened his eyes and felt sand shift beneath him. Seagulls called above him, the waves brushed up against the shore to his left. He lifted himself up onto his hands, and then his feet. He looked down at the wetsuit he was wearing and frowned, then looked back up at the beach house Dr. Gagnan had set him up in.

The beach house was the picture of perfection–what Jac would have wanted in a house, if he were rich and didn’t love traveling with Arronax. It was small, but not too small, big but not too big–the little bear’s zone of “just right.” Three glass windows overlooked the beach, and palm trees surrounded it.

Perfect, Jac thought. Almost too perfect.

But the sand beneath his feet felt real. The wetsuit he wore felt real, too, and the air smelled of the salty beach air that had become his home.

He walked toward the house and opened the door. “Arronax?” he called out.

A shuffle next to him made him jump almost three feet in the air. “Holy shit–!”

It was a man. A very tall, attractive, bald from head to toe, young man. A man who was bent over at the waist, staring at his genitals with a curiosity that a three-year-old has for a ladybug or a frog. But not his own penis.

“What the–! Arronax?!”

The man looked up at him. His brown eyes were wide and innocent.

“That’s–that’s not appropriate. Where are your clothes?!” Jac’s face flushed. He dashed into what looked like the bedroom and tried to generate clothes. Clothes that would fit Arronax. When he opened the closet, there were–thankfully–Arronax-sized clothes. He grabbed anything that seemed like it would match and walked outside.

Arronax was still… playing with himself.

“Arronax, s’il te plaît, arrête!” Jac awkwardly sent Arronax an image of him not playing with his genitals, and the Arronax in front of him stopped and stared at Jac with his big brown eyes.

The question, obviously, was WHY?

“Ce n’est pas acceptable!” How could he explain the vulgarity and crassness of that to a dolphin? Jac didn’t know, and Arronax got up, wobbling still on his two feet and walked toward Jac. He touched Jac’s hip and then– “Non!” Jac stepped away. This was so wrong!

“Habille-toi!” Jac held up the boxer briefs, shirt, and shorts.

Arronax scowled. He shook his head, just like he had seen Jac do so many times, and turned on his heel.

He was still naked! Jac groaned. He put the clothes down on the coffee table and lifted Arronax’s arms up over his head. Arronax stayed; Jac pulled t-shirt over his arms, then he turned Arronax around to face him and held up the boxer briefs and shorts to him.

Arronax stared at them. His eyes darkened.

“S’il te plait,” Jac said. He mimed putting them on.

Arornax yanked the clothes from Jac’s hand. He tried the boxer briefs first, holding onto Jac’s shoulder for support, and then he put the shorts on. He had trouble doing the buttons, though, so Jac did those for him.

Jac felt like someone was pressing a spiked wall against the inside of his skull. Jac frowned at Arronax, and Arronax frowned back at him–all the while, scratching at his arms and chest, tugging at the clothes. Arronax opened his mouth, and Jac’s eyes lit up, but the only sound that came out was an angry growl.

“Les vêtements sont importants,” Jac said. He tried to send Arronax comparative pictures of a cloaca and clothes. Protective armor! Then he tried to compare them to, say, attracting prettier and prettier female dolphins.

Arronax seemed to accept this explanation in pictures, and his scowl slowly dissipated. He sat down on the couch and stared at Jac, and Jac sat down next to him.

“Comment est-ce?” Jac touched Arronax’s shoulder. Pure muscle. It felt so–real.

Arronax sighed and let his head fall upon Jac’s shoulder. He turned his head to look up at him, and then he closed his eyes. Jac saw Arronax sleeping in his pool, floating to the bottom slowly. Aw. Poor confused guy. He wrapped an arm around Arronax’s shoulders and squeezed him close.

“Et si on allait nager?” He thought of the two of them floating in the ocean.

Arronax leaned up and stared at him. He raised his eyebrows and squinted, as though Jac were fuzzy. He stared at his hands, then back up at Jac.

Jac frowned at the mental image Arronax sent him. Humans–humans did not flail in the water. They swam very gracefully! Arronax ignored his indignation and resettled himself against Jac’s shoulder.

“Essaie de parler,” Jac said. He nudged Arronax again, but Arronax pointedly settled in further. Oh, how annoying. “Arronax…”

Arronax sighed and looked at Jac. He opened his mouth and spouted out some gibberish that sounded nothing like French, or English, or Chinese, or Spanish, all four of which Arronax had heard of at some point in his life. Arronax gave Jac a ‘are-you-happy-now?’ look.

“Désolé,” Jac buried his face in his hands. What a disaster.

But Arronax seemed to have forgotten his anger. He stretched out on the couch, his legs fully extended before him, and wiggled his toes, one side to the other. Jac watched him and smiled. “Intéressant, n’est-ce pas?” And then he reached out and tickled the sole of Arronax’s foot.

Arronax gasped and doubled over, a laugh erupting from his throat. He covered his mouth in surprise, but couldn’t stop to process this, because Jac moved up Arronax’s body, to his stomach, and Arronax laughed and squirmed under him, trying to push Jac’s brutal fingers away from him.

Jac grinned and leaned back. Arronax glared at him. He reached over and tried to tickle Jac, but Jac relaxed against the couch. “Pauvre Arronax,” he said, and rubbed his head. “Pourquoi ne pas aller à l’extérieur sur le sable? Pour une baignade? Tu peux faire mieux que ça.” He pictured Arronax swimming in the ocean in his human form. Not naked, of course. Of course not.

But Arronax returned that image with one of his own: a reality of Jac standing on the shore, and then, in the water, a bottlenose dolphin just like Arronax. Jac rolled his eyes. Oh, dolphins. But it was true. Arronax thought humans had no place in the ocean. He accepted their inability to avoid the water, though, as one of their amusing traits. Besides, Jac knew that Arronax had to like him–and some other humans–at least a little bit. Arronax had survived an oil spill, after all.

So Jac tried to feel as little offense as he could. That was just Arronax’s way.

Jac returned to the real (in a way) world to find Arronax staring at him. Jac smiled and squeezed Arronax’s shoulder, and Arronax’s face burst with joy. He jumped to his feet and raced to the door. Jac ambled after him.

When Jac opened the front door, Arronax was sitting in the middle of the beach, throwing sand onto his legs. Jac laughed, but without surprise. Dolphins always feared the shore–beaching yourself was akin to death, and other dolphins couldn’t risk drowning themselves, endangering the pod, to save another. So it was far from a surprise that Arronax played with the sand, which had, for as long as he’d lived, been a threat, a danger.

Jac sat down next to Arronax and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Arronax responded by burying Jac in the sand, too, until they were both underneath it, their knees touching.

After Arronax started writhing and lolling his head, Jac pulled them both out of the sand and showed Arronax how to climb trees. Arronax’s hand reflexes and controls were already superb, and soon he learned to outstrip Jac in speed and dexterity, climbing further than Jac would have dared, dropping longer and longer lengths.

Jac also had Arronax peel bananas, which made Arronax’s eyes light up. It was a fun challenge to him. The eating part he couldn’t have cared less for, and so soon there was a pile of uneaten bananas next to the pile of peels Arronax was crooning over.

The sun began to set as Arronax and Jac drew pictures in the sand. Arronax’s eyelids started to close, and just like that, he settled himself into the sand for a nap. Jac fought the feeling; he watched Arronax’s face, relaxed and sleepy, wondered how Arronax understood this, and then Arronax disappeared in a single virtual blip.

Jac’s heart raced. He stood up and started shouting, “Arronax!” waving his arms like how Arronax pictured humans did in the water. Then his eyelids started to slide down, without his control, and then he was gone.

*

Jac woke up bleary-eyed to Dr. Gagnan shining a light in his eyes. “Welcome back to the real world,” she said.

“Arronax,” Jac whispered.

“He’s fine,” Dr. Gagnan said. “He’s in the pod with the other Cetacam dolphins. The stasis tank drained him to the outside pool and one of my interns is checking him now. Sit up, please.”

Jac pulled himself up, his legs dangling over the side of the stasis pod. Dr. Gagnan pulled out a reflex hammer and tapped Jac’s knee. “Good, very good,” Dr. Gagnan said. “Everything appears to be normal.”

Jac got to his feet. He swayed. Dr. Gagnan held him up by the shoulder. “Come take a walk with me before dinner.”

“Sure,” Jac said. He blinked blearily at her. “So, what’d Arronax do? Is he okay?”

“He had cabin fever when we let him out. I’m sure he’s telling his dolphin friends about all the adventures he had right now.”

Jac checked the Cetacam link. Sure enough, he felt an undercurrent of ecstasy flowing through his brain.

“So what did you think?”

In his peripheral vision, Jac could make out her furrowed brow and the slight downward tilt of her lips.

“Interesting,” Jac said, slowly. “It felt real. A lot of it. I almost forgot–well, I did forget, at the end–that it was all a simulation. I was worried about how you were going to get us out of there by sunset. Brian damage isn’t pleasant.”

“It’s safe,” Dr. Gagnan said. “I promise.”

“I know. I feel fine.” Jac patted her on the back. “You could have warned me, though–I almost had a heart attack when Arronax just disappeared on me.”

“Sorry.” Dr. Gagnan smiled. The tension eased itself out of her face. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”

“I did. Arronax really enjoyed himself too.” Jac’s face flushed suddenly. “You know… when I first saw him…” He shook his head. “Never mind.”

Dr. Gagnan stopped. She raised her eyebrows. “No, now you have to tell me.”

Jac shook his head again. “God, no, it’s too embarrassing.”

“What?”

“Well…” Jac sighed. He lowered his voice. “He was um, playing with… himself.” He brought a hand up to his face. “I don’t know why it’s so embarrassing–”

“And you call yourself a Frenchman.” Dr. Gagnan laughed, good-natured. “Such a small thing!” Then she burst into real laughter, so hard that she had to lean against the wall.

“It’s just strange seeing a grown man–like he’s never seen–or–well, I guess he’s never been able to touch–or, well–” Jac stumbled and fumbled, and then he stopped talking, opting instead to cross his arms over his chest and tightening his shoulders.

Dr. Gagnan’s laughter died down, and she gave Jac a half-hug around the shoulders. “Oh, Dr. Tailliez,” she said, with a last gasping laugh. “We’ll talk about something else. How about Arronax? How were his reactions?”

At the mention of Arronax, Jac’s shoulders relaxed. The words seemed to pour out of his mouth. “He understood the human body really well. I taught him how to climb trees and peel bananas. He really liked playing in the sand–no surprise there, either. He likes to touch, but I think that’s normal, too–I’m part of his family.”

“Did he seem curious about land?”

“No, strangely enough. Except for the sand–he liked that it didn’t hurt him. But for the most part, no.” That was the strange thing about the Cetacam link. Jac had first worried that it would be an unequal relationship, but none of the Cetacam dolphins so far expressed even a remote interest in the land. Jac had asked Arronax about it, but Arronax seemed apathetic. It wasn’t his place, he seemed to say about it.

“What about speech? Expressions?”

“Great facial expressions. Right now you can read him like a book. Speech–well, not so much, really. He can make noises, just like a newborn. He caught onto the vocal chords pretty quickly. That dolphin’s a genius. I was hoping that maybe next time that we could get some bo–what?” Jac stopped at the wide smile that had spread across her face.

“So you’re interested in a next time?”

Jac smiled. “I won’t lie,” he said. “This is a great project. And I want to talk to Arronax more. I want to communicate with him. I know it’ll be hard for him… but he seems eager to learn. It seems like I’m getting closer and closer to really being able to communicate with him, so that we understand each other fully. I want to try using books next time.”

“In that case, would you and your team be willing to stay for a month?”

Jac nodded slowly. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“You know, Jac,” Dr. Gagnan said. “You’re the true genius behind my plans. You implement them, you make them work.”

Jac shook his head. “No, you’re the genius. You make the technology. I just run with it.”

“But I can’t do that. Run, I mean.” Dr. Gagnan shook her head.

“You could try it yourself one day. It’s fun.”

“No, I couldn’t.” Dr. Gagnan shook her head and smiled. “I’m not dedicated like you are. There’s a difference between us. This is work to me. It’s rewarding work, but it’s still work. For you, it’s play.”

*

Jac and Dr. Gagnan entered the dining quarters of her headquarters before dinner began. Fernando and Evelyn were seated near the end of the table, facing the door, and Evelyn hopped to her feet when she saw him. “Dr. Gagnan! Dr. Tailliez!”

“I hate it when she calls me that,” Jac muttered under his breath.

The other people seated also stood. They smiled and seemed to half-bow at Jac and Dr. Gagnan, which made his palms sweat.

“Come on,” Jac said. “I’m no king. Let’s sit down and eat.” But he saw that a seat had been reserved for him at the end of the table, and no one had sat down yet. “Thank you…” Jac walked to the seat and sat down; everyone else followed suit.

Dr. Gagnan had taken her own seat at the other end. “Please, let’s eat.”

The whole table cheered. They began devouring the food, which was, to Jac’s amusement–mostly seafood, rice, and a smattering of vegetables here and there. Buttered prawns, noodles with shrimp, yam talay, muc xao thom, barbecued squid, frog’s legs, hot pot, steamed crab… No shortage of anything, except forks, western spoons, and knives. In their place were a pair of wooden chopsticks and an Asian soup soon. At various intervals along the table were bowls of rice for anyone to grab and shovel himself some more rice into the small bowl in front of him.

Jac picked up his chopstick and started piling food onto into his own bowl. He glanced over at Evelyn, who was currently cracking crab legs with her bare hands. “Did you arrange all this?”

“Yup. I wanted to eat hamburger and fries–” There was a collective groan across the table. “–but no one else did. You should thank Dr. Kurosawa, though. He cooked.”

Dr. Kurosawa, thirty-three, was Cetacam partners with a bottlenose dolphin named Shino. He had been studying dolphin usage in the military, but quit after he became jaded by the cruel treatment of dolphins in the program. “It was my pleasure,” he said. Even after so many years speaking English, Dr. Kurosawa still had a slight accent at the edge of his words. “You are family, after all. Dr. Hsu was most excellent with providing a menu for me. She has good taste and style.”

“That is why she pilots our ship,” Jac said.

Dr. Jones snickered. “I heard that’s not the only thing she pilots.” His battered almost fell off; he had to push it back up again. He had several parallel scars on his face from when a sawfish scraped its long proboscis in his face and a tattoo of a great white shark on his left forearm. Before he worked with Cetacam, he’d hunted for treasure in both the land and the sea. Now we worked with a dolphin named Bruce in the shark-infested waters of Australia.

“What?”

“Please, Dr. Jones,” Fernando said. “Refrain from such vulgarities at the dinner table.”

“Hey, I’m not complaining.” Jones smirked. “I’d love to join in.”

“Really, you guys, this is completely inappropriate.” Taylor Gates, the youngest of all of them, shook his head. He was the only one in the group who couldn’t formally introduce himself as “doctor”–he’d quit working on his Ph.D. when he was twenty-four. He was the one who’d written most of the code for the Cetacam program.

“Jones started it,” Evelyn said.

“I don’t get what’s going on at all,” Jac said. “What is everyone talking about?”

Taylor reached over to pat Jac on the shoulder. “Excuse me for being frank, Dr. Tailliez,” he said, tone serious. “But I have to tell you of a serious affliction. It has been bothering me for a long time that you are unaware of your crippling disease.” He shook his head sadly. “I am sorry… but you suffer from stupidity. It cannot be cured.”

The whole table cheered in assent. Even Dr. Gagnan gave a ‘whoop’ of agreement.

Jac squawked. “I graduated with top honors!”

“I heard his primary school was exceptionally dim-witted,” Evelyn said.

“Evelyn!” Jac groaned.

“We’re kidding,” Dr. Jones said. “You’re the genius here.”

“I’m not a genius.” Jac sighed. “I wish people would stop telling me that.”

“But it’s true.” Dr. Kurosawa emphasized his words by stabbing his chopsticks in the air. “You’re a genius. Look at how you’ve developed the program. You and Arronax have something that is basically a working relationship, and now, thanks to you, so do we.”

“It’s definitely more than work,” Fernando said. “That dolphin slave-drives you!”

“Doesn’t everybody’s?” Jones grunted. “When Bruce wants something, he wants it right away. He won’t wait.”

“Shino is much nicer,” Dr. Kurosawa said. “He waits… for a time. What about Arronax?”

“He’s usually pretty patient,” Jac admitted. “He likes for me to be there all the time, though. Sometimes he’ll wake me up in the middle of the night so I’ll play with him, or go for a swim in open waters… I go right away, usually, since it’s no big deal to me.”

“Whipped,” Fernando said, nodding.

“Of course,” Evelyn agreed.

“Fernando! Evelyn!” Jac hissed, but even he couldn’t deny the smile that spread across his face. He felt good. This was good. It was like family: cruel with their jokes, but always there to welcome you home.

*

After dinner, Jac jumped into the private reception pool where Arronax waited. The dolphin drifted through the water, one large eye on Jac. Serenity oozed from his pores.

Arronax questioned Jac with a picture of the stasis tank.

Jac smiled and swam over to Arronax. He turned onto his back and floated at the surface. He thought of the next day, the sun rising again to the middle of the sky.

Irritation. Arronax nipped him. He wanted to do it again, now.

Jac reached out and rubbed his head. He tried to restore that sense of serenity, but Arronax pushed it away, again with the stasis tank.

Jac pushed his legs downward into the water. He frowned at Arronax, and thought of the stasis tank again, then of the human form, the technology. He thought of Arronax’s curiosity.

Apathy erased it immediately. Arronax didn’t care about the technology; he didn’t care about the how’s and why’s. He just wanted to do it. Jac edged to the perimeter of the pool and pulled himself out. He stared down at Arronax, who stared at him expectantly.

“Bientôt,” he said, as soothing as he could be.

Arronax chattered angrily. He turned and slammed his tail down in the water, spraying Jac, and then he jumped over the gate separating the private pool from the family pool, where the other Cetacam dolphins were.

Jac watched his fin disappear underneath the water, a single crescent moon, and then he dragged himself, sopping and cold, back to his room.

*

Fernando was still awake. “What happened?” He frowned. “You look like you were dragged through hell.”

“Arronax is mad at me.” Jac looked in the closet for a towel. He sighed deeply as he toweled himself off. “He wanted to go back into the stasis tank and be human again. He’s curious–getting restless about things.”

“He’ll get over it,” Fernando said cheerfully. “He may be cranky, but he does trust you. He’s just impatient.”

“I think it’s going to get worse.” Jac shook his head and pulled off his shirt to replace it with a new one. “I’ve never had to say no to him before, but this is out of my hands. I don’t know how to operate the stasis tank or the virtual room… I’m not good with the technology stuff.”

“Hmm. I’d like to see the room tomorrow. Maybe I can learn what to do with the controls, help you out when Dr. Gagnan isn’t around.”

“You’d do that for me?” Jac grinned. “I swear, Dr. Gagnan said it’s boring to sit around and monitor our vital signs.”

“I watch your vital signs everyday when we’re using Cetacam, so don’t worry about it.”

Jac grinned. “You’re a good friend.”

“So are you, buddy,” Fernando said. “But for now, I have to get some shut-eye. Seeya later.”

*

In the morning, Jac pulled on a wetsuit underneath his normal clothes. He’d need to talk to Dr. Gagnan right afterwards, to see if she could arrange a morning session for the virtual room.

He didn’t even have time to finish breakfast. After the last gulp of fried eggs, Jac’s head started to throb and his throat closed up. Arronax. Fernando watched him, concerned, and Jac managed to choke out, “Virtual room. Now.”

Fernando nodded. He pulled Jac to his feet and dragged him to the R&D department, where Dr. Gagnan already was, looking through a stack of print-outs. “Jac!” She stood. “What’s wrong?”

Fernando’s voice faded in and out of Jac’s hearing. “…Arronax… angry… virtual… now…” He was already getting stripped of his normal clothes.

The throbbing became a low pounding. Jac groaned. The stasis pod opened and he felt Fernando lower him in, Dr. Gagnan’s voice quiet but firm.

Coolness spread over Jac’s body. He closed his eyes. Arronax’s fury brushed against Jac’s brain like a sharpened dagger. I’m in the stasis pod, Jac thought at Arronax. Stasis pod. Arronax’s anger lifted.

Jac opened his eyes to a new world–or at least, a world that was not his own. He inhaled the smell of salt and closed his eyes, turning to press his cheek into the sand. The throbbing was gone, replaced by a dull ache.

A hand touched his arm and Jac turned again to face a very naked, very eager-looking Arronax. Pleasure was written all over his face. It made Jac want to punch him, just a little bit.

Jac rolled himself onto his feet and walked into the house. An eager Arronax followed him all the way to the bedroom. This time, when Jac pulled out the clothes, Arronax obediently held up his arms and lifted his legs. He even managed to get his boxers and shorts on right.

Suddenly, Dr. Gagnan’s voice boomed in his ear. “Jac! Only you can hear me. Look, we have to monitor this session. I looked at some of your suggestions yesterday, and I’ve added a library of books at your disposal. Whenever you want them, just open the door at the end of the hallway. A virtual catalog is in there. I’m showing Fernando the ropes, by the way.”

Jac nodded his thanks and he turned back to Arronax, who watched him carefully. A question came to his mind, and then Arronax touched his own throat.

“Veux-tu parler?” Jac touched his own throat too.

Arronax nodded, slowly.

Jac walked out to the hallway and toward the virtual catalog. He typed in “beginning French,” “basic French,” and some French picture books… One by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a picture book about dolphins.

Arronax was still waiting for him. Jac sat down on the bed, stretching out onto his back. Arronax did the same. He picked up the books and ran his fingers down the spine. His eyes had dilated with curiosity, a smile starting to spread on his face. Jac saw in his mind Arronax standing in the sand belching out some gibberish. Arronax probably thought it was authentic French.

Jac picked up the beginning French book and flipped to the alphabet page. He sounded out the alphabet slowly, watching Arronax’s face, and then when he was done, he asked Arronax to repeat.

Arronax blinked at him.

Jac repeated the “A.”

Arronax opened his mouth. A low growl came out.

Jac sighed. “Ah.”

“Aaahhhgghhh.”

“Ah,” Jac said.

Arronax frowned.

“Ah.”

Arronax opened his mouth. “Ahhh.”

“Bon!” Jac moved on. “Beh.”

“Baaaah.”

“Non, non, Arronax.” Jac cleared his throat. “Beh.”

Arronax gave a sigh that could have sunk Titantic with its force. “Beh. Behhh.”

Jac repeated this until they were through with the alphabet. He showed Arronax his name, but Arronax stared blankly at him.

Oh, Jac thought. How presumptuous of him. He had always thought of Arronax as, well, Arronax. “Fernando,” he said, thinking of Fernando’s face, and then, “Evelyn,” thinking of hers.

Arronax nodded in realization and sent Jac an image of himself as a dolphin, scars and all. A long series of clicks and whirs followed.

Jac frowned. He couldn’t imitate that. But Arronax stared expectantly and Jac did his best impression. Arronax laughed, holding his stomach to keep himself upright.

“Arronax,” Jac said. He pointed at him.

Arronax nodded. He held the syllables in his tongue–a low drawl of “Arrrrohhnnnaaaacksss,” and Jac smiled.

Arronax shrugged, feeling pleased but not impressed by his human-given name, but then his face lit up. He said, clear and articulate, “Jac.”

“Tu le sais d’où?” Jac raised his eyebrows. He tapped his ear, and Arronax nodded. He’d heard it? He didn’t know that Arronax had paid so much attention.

Arronax picked up the book about dolphins. He laughed at the illustrations inside. When he found one that he particularly liked, he tugged at Jac’s shoulder and showed it to him, pointing at whatever he found interesting.

“Oui, je le vois.” The fins were too short. The snout was too long for a bottlenose. “Il est très mauvais.” Jac took a pen from the bedside drawer and redrew the correct dimensions.

Arronax smiled beatifically at him. He took the other French book and gave it to Jac again.

“Tu veux en savoir plus déjà?” Jac thought of Arronax bellowing his lungs out in perfect French.

Arronax’s eyes crinkled. He curled up against Jac and nodded emphatically. Yes.

*

By the end of their session, Arronax could recite the whole alphabet by memory. He could say Jac’s name, Fernando’s name, Evelyn’s, his own… He could count to fifty. It was strange for Arronax at first. He had always thought of his pod as “his pod,” not, “fifteen members.” The concept was so frustrating he’d almost given up, but Jac turned it into a game of fish. How many fish before Arronax was full? One, two, three, four, five. It became much easier then, and Arronax liked going from seven to thirty-five. Why that particular interval Jac would never understand, but Arronax could go beyond that, and that was the important part.

Dr. Gagnan checked his reflexes and his eyes again after he awoke. She contained her excitement, but once it became clear that Jac could walk and function, she burst out into praise. “You were amazing! This is incredible! Can you imagine–dolphins, talking? Communicating? Soon we’ll learn so much about how they think and perceive the world!”

“Soon,” Jac said. “I’m trying to catch him up to speed here with language. It’s not easy to learn! Usually learning a language takes about, what, four or five years?” Jac sighed, but then he smiled. “He’s a fast learner, though. Could have graduated top of his class. Not just a dim-witted kindergarten class, either.” He glared at Fernando, who snickered behind his hand.

“Dr. Kurosawa watched, too.”

Dr. Kurosawa waved. His face also glowed. “Amazing what technology can do nowadays. Simply superb, Dr. Gagnan. Shino was telling me how he wants to do it too, to see what it’s like.”

“Perhaps in the future–it’s too early to tell what it will be like for other Cetacam partners.” Dr. Gagnan slapped Jac on the back. “Did Arronax say when he wanted to return?”

“Maybe at night. He wants to see what the sky and look at the stars without drying up.” Jac chuckled. “I need a break, though. I could really use a drink around here… maybe in a local bar.”

“I want to go,” Fernando said. “And I want to bring Evelyn, too. We’ll find you a soul mate, Jac! One that isn’t as cruel as thy mistress the sea.” He grinned at Jac’s glare. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“I highly doubt it. You two are troublemakers.”

But Jac relented. Evelyn and Fernando put him in the most casual clothes they could find–a simple dress shirt, untucked, and a pair of khaki slacks. “Suspenders are in,” Evelyn said wisely, and strapped him in. She added a golfer’s hat for good luck, along with a pair of oversized aviator glasses that she tucked into the front of his shirt. “Now you are looking very sharp, Jac.”

“Please,” Jac said, leaning close with mock-seductiveness, “call me Doctor.

Evelyn raised her eyebrow. “I’m a fan of your thesis, Dr. Tailliez, but not your bad pick-up lines.”

Jac laughed. “So how am I going to get women or men with this?”

“Woo them, of course,” Evelyn said. “Don’t worry. We’ll help you.”

*

“Helping” turned out to be “laughing at him while he floundered to flirt.” A number of beautiful women and men sat down next to Jac and tried to strike up some conversation, but he failed miserably. Most of them seemed charmed by his awkwardness at first, but when he could find no other topics of conversation besides his line of work, they usually found someone else more engaging.

Jac grumbled at Evelyn and Fernando, who were still giggling like two mischief-making siblings. “You did this just to humiliate me.” He took a deep drink of his light beer.

“Of course.”

“This is such cheap beer, by the way.”

“We’re poor researchers.” Fernando took a drink of his margarita, which was lime-colored and smelled like sea salt. He had one arm wrapped around Evelyn’s shoulders, his thigh touching hers. “We can’t afford the expensive wine that you Frenchmen prefer.”

Jac rolled his eyes. “I thought you were supposed to help me.”

“But Jac,” Evelyn said, “it’s so much more fun to taunt you.” When she saw the dejected look on his face, she held up her hands in defeat. “Okay, okay, I’ll find you someone who can listen to your work. Do you want me to find a man or a woman?”

“A man,” Jac said, without hesitation.

Evelyn laughed. “Uh-hmm. I see, a man. A young man, I’m guessing? Young and nubile?”

“I hate you.”

“Oh-ho, it’s true. Don’t worry, Jac, I’ll find you someone handsome.” Behind her, Fernando frowned. Evelyn turned and whispered something in her air, and he brightened. She left the table, heading toward the dance floor.

“What did she say?” Jac wondered when Fernando and Evelyn had become so… close. He knew they were friends, but this seemed a little bit more than that. When had this strange attraction sprung up between them? “She seems to like you.”

“Oh, I hope so.” Fernando grinned. At Jac’s confused look, Fernando continued. “We’re engaged, Dr. Tailliez.”

What?!” Jac put his drink down. “You never said anything! Is it recent?”

“Well, somebody works twenty-four hours, seven days a week.” Fernando ordered another drink. “And it’s been three years.”

“Who else knows?” Maybe they’d been keeping it a secret…

“Everyone in Cetacam knows except you, Jac.” Fernando chuckled. “You just didn’t know because you were busy working.”

Jac tried to reach Arronax by thinking of Evelyn and Fernando kissing. Arronax returned mirth and joy. “Even Arronax knows,” Jac sighed. And he’d kept it a secret from him! Damn dolphin.

“Just by accident.” Fernando shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. We just thought it best not to tell you because you work so hard. You don’t need the awkward social customs to go along with it.”

“Oh.” Jac sulked and stared at the bottom of his shot. “Well, congratulations. But I do well in social situations.”

“Maybe with dolphins.”

“I can talk to people,” Jac insisted.

“That’s not what I hear.”

Jac turned his head to see a man–maybe someone barely in their early twenties. He had movie-star good looks. His smile probably won men and women over by the dozens. He had a well-toned body, and a surfer’s tan. His blue eyes were so deep even a sailor could get lost in them. “I’m Charles. Evelyn showed me over.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Jac said. Charles shook his hand. Firm handshake. Jac wondered what else–no, no… That wasn’t appropriate on the first meeting. But it had been such a long time… “I’m Jac.”

“Pleasure’s mine.”

Evelyn had sat back down next to Fernando and Jac, leaving Charles on the opposite side.

“I’m a big fan of your work.” Charles’ grin, previously charming, turned sheepish. “I’m reading it now for my Masters.”

“Oh, are you?” Jac perked up. “Marine biology?”

“No, no,” Charles said. If possible, he became even more sheepish. “It’s in Mythology and Literature.” Charles turned red, which made Jac smile. How someone so stunning cold be so embarrassed, he’d never know. “I’m studying their influence on humans, and–well, your paper came highly recommended.”

“Of course,” Fernando said. “He’s one of the best.”

Jac rolled his eyes. “So what brings you here, huh?”

“Oh…” Charles blushed. “I just felt a little lonely, that’s all.”

“Awww, that’s sweet.”

Jac glared at Evelyn, then he looked warmly at Charles. “Why? Is something wrong? Relationship troubles?”

“Yeah,” Charles said. “My girlfriend just dumped me for another man.”

“I can relate.” Jac nodded. “My last wife found another man too. She said it was because he paid more attention to her than I did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. I didn’t love her anyway.” Jac coughed. “So about your thesis…”

*

After a few hours of idle chatter–mostly about dolphins, Evelyn reminded Jac that he needed to be well-rested for the next day. Jac checked his watch–almost two in the morning–and gave Charles the number to Dr. Gagnan’s headquarters. “Just ask for me,” he said. “If you need any assistance, I’ll be happy to help you.”

Charles blushed as dark as a crawfish. “Thanks,” he mumbled, and gave his number to Jac. “I’ll call you later…”

“I guess you do have some real French blood in you after all.” Fernando slapped Jac on the back as they walked their way back to Dr. Gagnan’s headquarters. “I’m so proud of you.”

“He’s a nice kid,” Jac said. “He’s really handsome. I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere, though.”

Evelyn did a double-take. “What do you mean?! He was totally googoo-gaa-gaa over you!”

“I’m just a rebound. And someone he admires. That doesn’t mean anything. Everyone wants to do someone they admire.” Jac grinned. “I wouldn’t mind. I’m old and my heart can take it. But, he’s still pretty young, so there’s no point unless all he wants is a one-night fling.”

“Do you want a one-night-fling?”

“Well, it would be fun…” Jac grinned. “It’s been a long time since I had any time for physical intimacy.”

“You should get committed.”

“No, thanks.” Jac laughed. “Arronax would kill me.”

“Dolphins are polyamorous,” Fernando pointed out. “It wouldn’t be that bad. I mean. Dr. Kurosawa has a great husband. And I hear Dr. Jones has a pretty steady girlfriend.”

Jac shook his head. “It’s not for me.” He stretched his arms over his head. “I’m going to head by to play with Arronax a bit, then I’ll head to bed. Night, guys.”

“Goodnight,” Evelyn said.

“Hey, Jac.”

Jac turned to Fernando. “Yeah?”

“I’m going to sleep in Evelyn’s room tonight. If that’s okay.”

Jac grinned. “You don’t even need to ask.”

*

The next session, Arronax buried Jac in the sand again. He cuddled up against him, his head on Jac’s chest. Jac had wanted to continue Arronax’s education, but Arronax was tired and wanted to sit in the sand.

Jac wasn’t surprised. He’d found Arronax, Bruce, and some of the other Cetacam dolphins surrounding one of the female dolphin in the pool last night. He’d left almost right away–that was Arronax and his pod’s private matter, not one of his. He knew how frustrated Arronax probably was, too. Always on the move, and they rarely encountered female dolphins in the wild. When they did, Jac didn’t stop Arronax from going after her; after all, dolphins had sex for pleasure, too, and Jac wouldn’t deny Arronax that.

Jac patted Arronax on the head and flipped through some of the books he’d brought with him. More books about dolphins–this one by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Like all marine biologists, Jac had always loved Cousteau’s films–The Silent World being one of his favorites, of course. He’d devoured the rest of Cousteau’s books as he grew older. The Soft Intelligence and Dolphins stuck with him the most: he still had a battered copy of each in his suitcase, well-worn and filled from top to bottom with highlights and marginalia. They were the only two books Jac still owned in hard copy, rather than in a soft copy in digital format.

Arronax shifted in the sand. He threw an arm over Jac and pulled him closer, nuzzling his neck. Jac moved his neck.

He saw Charles in his mind. Jac looked over at Arronax, who had tilted his head up. His brown eyes were big and glassy. Seductive. Jac shuddered.

He knew that the Cetacam link between them went further than what was actively sent. None of the other Cetacam partners had ever achieved–or mentioned–delving deeper into the minds of their dolphin counterparts, but Jac wouldn’t put it past dolphins–especially not Arronax–to go into their partner’s minds and look at their deep, personal thoughts.

“Mon ami,” Jac said. He tried to imagine Charles as an outside dolphin, sort of an outside–Jac welcoming him in.

Arronax grunted unhappily. He sulked. Was that–jealousy?

This was the thing about dolphins: male-male bonds between dolphins when they were young. With this male partner, they played, chased after females, hunted–everything. It was why almost all of the Cetacam partners were male-male. There were some exceptions–some female-female bonds had been established–but male-female bonds were too precarious. But among Dr. Kurosawa, Dr. Jones, and Jac himself, they had been most successful with their male-male bond.

But this–this couldn’t be normal. Jac was human, and Arronax was always going on and on about how clumsy and strange humans were–and–

And denying the warm wash of arousal was hard. His wetsuit tightened and his breathing shallowed and shuddered. He couldn’t be sure whose arousal he felt–his own or Arronax’s? He just couldn’t handle it. “Fais-moi sortir d’ici,” he whispered, hoping Dr. Gagnan would hear his plea.

His heart slowed. The image of Arronax fizzled and buzzed like an unavailable channel on television: white and full of static.

“Jac,” Arronax said, a whisper.

Jac closed his eyes; he opened them again. Dr. Gagnan hovered over him, concerned.

“Jac?”

“Sorry.” Jac waited as she tested his reflexes, and then he got onto his feet and pushed past her. “I’ll talk to you later about this. I need to talk to Fernando first.” He glanced at the stasis tank. Empty.

Jac found Fernando in the kitchen peeling oranges. The smell wafted into Jac’s nose. It calmed him, but he could still hear the roar of his heart.

“What’s up?” Fernando handed Jac a piece of orange and Jac found that he felt surprisingly hungry. “I thought your session lasts another hour.”

Jac sat down across from Fernando. He reached for another orange piece. He tried to feel Arronax in his mind, but he found nothing–no anger, or even coldness. It was like Arronax had simply disappeared.

Now Fernando frowned. “Jac? Did something happen?”

Jac shook his head. “Arronax–he, uh, he… tried to…” Jac glued his eyes to the table. He was squeezing his fists so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. “He came on to me. In the virtual room.”

“Okay,” Fernando said. “He came onto you how?”

Jac sighed in relief at his reaction–or lack thereof. His hands relaxed. “You know. Googly eyes. Through the link. All that lust. He showed me Charles again, asked me who he was. I think–”

“Jealous?” Fernando laughed. “Over his territory?”

“Be serious about this,” Jac hissed. “My Cetacam partner–my colleague and friend–came onto me.”

Fernando sobered up. He nodded slowly. “Well, how do you feel about it?”

“I feel–” Jac stopped and sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, he’s a dolphin.”

“Oh, come on. You’re Jac Tailliez. You’re the one who always talks about how humans and dolphins are practically the same. You know, we rule the land, they rule the sea.” Fernando shook his head. “And besides, Arronax is practically human. Remember? Their front flukes are homologous structures to human hands.”

Jac buried his face in his hands. “It just feels wrong. Because he’s a dolphin. And I’m a man. Look at me! A dolphin is an amazing creature, with all this muscle and grace, and I’m me! I don’t understand.”

“Well, for that brief period of time, he is a man, you know.”

“But we’re still biologically different.” Jac shook his head.

Fernando’s voice hardened. “Jac. Arronax is a dolphin.”

“I know! That’s what I’ve been saying!” Jac rubbed his temples.

“He’s a dolphin, so, I don’t know if you remember, he’s got a crazy sex drive. Remember Flipper? They only used female dolphins because they didn’t want a spontaneous erection ruining a scene. I’m surprised he didn’t jump you the first time he saw you in the virtual room. And I’m sure he’s aware that he’s a human, and you’re a human. It’s only natural that you guys would mate. I mean, not natural, but pretty normal.”

“But–”

“But what?” Fernando shrugged.

Jac sighed. “I think you’re pulling my leg.”

“Maybe a little. But you and Arronax are pretty close.”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean, if Arronax were human, you would probably date him.” Fernando shrugged. “You guys like the same music, for crying out loud.”

Jac had played some of his favorite guitar music using some waterproof speakers a few years back. Arronax enjoyed listening to it and tended to hover around the speakers whenever Jac played it. (He had tried rock-and-roll and other angry garage music, but Arronax made Jac empathize with him by making his ears ring.)

“How’s he feeling? Arronax.”

Jac shook his head. “He refuses to speak to me.”

“I’m sure that he’s just as confused as you are. Why don’t you go check up on him?”

Jac let out a long breath.

*

Arronax swam serenely in the pool, one side to the other. Jac dipped his feet into the water, and Arronax drifted over on his flukes and nipped his toes.

Jac thought about what to send. He thought then of the way Arronax had looked at him, the lust he felt, his confusing, jumbled-up feelings afterwards, but Arronax floated. His brown eyes focused on Jac’s, so real–almost human, like Jac’s own pair of eyes.

Arronax didn’t say anything for a long time–then he sent Jac back an image of himself, a dolphin, and Jac, a human. The lust he felt was when he was Arronax-the-human. Jac-the-human and Arronax-the-dolphin were two different things, Arronax told him. What was there to be so confused about?

Jac petted the melon of Arronax’s head. His heart had calmed. That made sense. But still, he sent back a firm rejection. No touching, even as a human.

Arronax seemed to nod his head in the water. Jac tried to feel out Arronax’s reaction, but Arronax had his mind sealed like a Venus flytrap.

Jac frowned and sighed. Sometimes, dolphin intelligence frustrated him. Jac was too slow to keep up with Arronax’s ability to adapt.

“La prochaine fois, on saura plus.” He thought of Arronax speaking perfect French.

Arronax seemed to nod again, but it wasn’t enthusiastic.

Jac called it a day and went back to his room.

*

“I’m thinking of taking the dolphins out for a swim,” Taylor said at breakfast the next day. “I’m thinking about six or seven hours, get those muscles stretched a bit. Cooping the dolphins up like cattle until we’re ready to leave again is starting to bother me.”

“I’ll go with you.” Dr. Jones’ voice sounded faint.

Jac agreed, but he didn’t say anything. He’d spent the night unable to sleep, rolling around in his bed because the idea of having sex with Arronax as a human suddenly stopped being a bad idea. He was certain that Arronax had been projecting his desire into his head–cunning dolphin, Jac thought, but not without regret–and now Jac couldn’t distinguish between his own thoughts and what Arronax was most certainly sending at him. His head ached during breakfast. He felt like it was swollen, but he didn’t want to alarm anyone–especially not Dr. Gagnan, who had been watching him quietly all morning–so he smiled and stared at his bowl of cereal.

“Dr. Tailliez?”

Jac looked up. His vision was blurry and he had to squint to look at Taylor. “Yes?”

“Is something wrong?”

“You look like shit,” Fernando said.

“I was going to say, ‘You look ill,’ but that works nicely too.”

“I’m just a little woozy.” Jac squeezed the bridge of his nose. “I think I might go out to town.” He figured that he’d call up Charles–chat, have lunch, do anything. Thinking of the sea suddenly gave him stomach sickness he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Evelyn asked.

“No, no, I’m fine. Have fun on the swim. I’ll bring my cell phone in case you need me.”

Jac saw the team off from the deck, the herd of dolphins circling around the speedboat. He walked down the deck, to the civilian beach, and called Charles on his cell phone.

Charles picked up on the first ring. “Hey, Dr. Tailliez.”

Jac chuckled. “It’s Jac, Charles, not ‘Dr. Tailliez.’ Were you waiting by the phone for me?”

“No.”

Jac could hear the blush spreading across Charles’ face. “I’m free for the next six hours. You want to meet up?”

“Sure,” Charles said. “I’d love to. Where would you like to meet?”

Desire settled itself low in Jac’s belly. “How about your place?”

*

Jac felt Charles’ lust the moment he entered the door, the way his eyes clouded over. Glossy. Charles licked his lips while they discussed dolphins: Etruscan pirates who were turned into dolphins; the dolphin who brought Phalanthus to shore; the Boto dolphin of the Amazon, who transformed themselves into humans during the night and impregnated women of the village. Jac felt compelled to talk about Arronax and his desire, but he leaned over and kissed Charles instead, feeling the inside of his mouth.

It felt like a first kiss, all hot and heavy, awkward and wet. Jac felt like he was surrounded by water, felt his skin turn smooth and rubbery–his vision blurring like someone’s glasses had put over his. He was incredibly hard and he couldn’t wait to tear Charles’ pants off.

Those feelings kept with Jac the whole time he was sucking Charles off, while Charles was fucking him into the mattress, murmuring Jac’s name against his neck. He thought Arronax might be watching, but when he checked up on him Arronax was having a grand old time swimming in the pod. It was just him, he decided.

Afterwards, Jac curled up on one side of the bed. Charles touched his shoulder. “Jac?”

Jac turned to him. His vision was still weird–it felt like he was seeing two of Charles: one in color, and the other in monochrome. “Hm?”

Worry etched itself across Charles’ face. “This isn’t serious, right?” Charles asked. He cleared his throat.

“Did you want it to be?”

Charles hesitated. “No…”

Jac frowned. “Why did you hesitate?”

“Because I thought–” Charles shrugged. “I thought, well–you might want it to be. But I’m going through a rough time, right now… My ex-girlfriend, she was talking to me recently, and I kinda thought we might get back together, and–”

“It’s okay,” Jac said. “I don’t want it to be serious. I’m leaving in a few weeks anyway.”

“You’re really charming, but–”

“Oh, stop,” Jac said, laughing. “Don’t feel bad about hurting an old guy like me. I’m over it.” He patted Charles on the head. “We should do this again sometime.”

“Yeah, sure.” Charles smiled sweetly.

Jac felt a ping at the back of his head, like a sharp tap against metal. It reverberated into his chest. His heart ached and he wasn’t sure why.

*

Jac and Charles ate dinner at the pier until Charles’ ex-girlfriend called. Jac didn’t say anything, and when Charles apologized profusely and left early, Jac just shook his head and paid for Charles’ cab.

Jac came back to the lab, Dr. Gagnan waiting for him by the dolphin pool. “Dr. Gagnan,” he said, waving.

“I need to talk to you.”

Jac frowned. “Yes? Is there something wrong?”

“Fernando told me about what happened.”

“Oh.” Jac coughed into his hand and turned his head away from her. “What did he say?”

“He just told me that Arronax seemed to–” Her voice faltered. “He seemed to express a sexual desire for you.”

“That’s true.”

“I was wondering if you wanted to quit the Cetacam team.”

Jac swiveled to face her. “What! Quit the team! Of course not!”

“Are you sure?” Dr. Gagnan’s shoulders tightened against her neck. “Jac, this is serious. If Arronax is a threat to you, we need to shut down the nanomachines right away. We can’t let him manipulate you into doing anything with him, no matter how curious he is. That would be–”

“Look,” Jac said. He rubbed his forehead. “I wouldn’t quit the Cetacam team for anything. And if I do anything, it would be willing. Arronax knows this. We’re equals. He’s my friend.”

“Are you sure?” Her skepticism seemed to fade a bit. She hugged Jac.

“I’m sure.” Jac stared her straight in the eyes. “Arronax would never force me to do anything. I know him best. Trust me.”

*

The next time they were in the virtual room, Jac taught Arronax how to swim as a human. Arronax took the lesson with as much grace as a dolphin who had been transferred into an awkward human body could, but he scowled.

It all seemed normal at first. Jac thought his anger and frustration was directed at the awkward, far-from-hydrodynamic form. But after returning to land, Arronax sulked around.

“Qu’est-ce qu’il ya?” Jac stepped closer and reached out to touch him.

Arronax slapped his arm away and took a step back.

Jac stood there. He looked at his arm, and then at Arronax, who had started to make some kind of structure in the sand.

Jac kept his distance after that. Arronax seemed to relax, but Jac’s shoulders only became more tense.

*

Arronax kept his distance the next time, too. He didn’t smile as much. He buried himself in the picture books Jac had given him. When Jac tried to get close, Arronax took a step back. He developed a psychic sense for Jac’s presence and distance. It was almost like Arronax didn’t want or need him, but was too polite to say anything. After all, Jac was the one who knew the titles of the books.

Arronax repeated his lessons to Jac, of course. His French was not perfect, but it was getting better and better all the time. Arronax learned the formal tense first; when it came to the informal, Jac taught him the difference using strange dolphins trying to enter the pod. Arronax nodded and then turned his back to Jac.

Arronax had even started blocking out Jac. Jac could still send images his way, but Jac felt nothing from Arronax. He didn’t tell anyone, though, not even Dr. Gagnan. He didn’t want her to pull him from Arronax.

Nowadays, Jac always left the stasis pod feeling dejected and exhausted. Dr. Gagnan kept asking him whether he needed time off, but Jac shook his head. They were making progress.

Even Evelyn had started questioning him. She came into his room late at night and talked to him about Charles and other men and women who might be interested. Jac tried to listen, but his eyelids felt so heavy that he always asked her to leave after ten minutes.

The other Cetacam pairs left near the beginning of the second week. They hugged Jac and gave him well wishes, but he could see the worry in their eyes. He didn’t say anything, though. What could he say?

“We need to talk,” Fernando told him over dinner.

“I’m fine.” Jac could hear the strain in his own voice.

When he couldn’t take it anymore, Jac called Charles. His ex-girlfriend deal hadn’t worked out, and he was seeing some new girl now–a pretty grad student who was writing about dogs in the current world and how it all related back to a desire to return to the idyllic, pastoral life–but he agreed to meet Jac at his apartment for a few hours.

“You look like hell,” Charles said. “What’s wrong?”

“My Cetacam partner’s upset with me,” Jac blurted. He stumbled into Charles’ apartment and collapsed onto the couch. “He’s a dolphin, and he’s giving me the cold shoulder. I think because–I won’t play with him. Like he’s used to. He’s a dolphin, so–” It came out in a rush. Arronax’s desire. His own inner conflict.

Charles sat across from him and listened, nodding his head, asking questions at the right intervals.

“So the problem is, he wants you, but you don’t want him.”

“No,” Jac moaned. “It’s that–I.” Jac rolled over. “We’re friends. We can’t–we can’t do this…”

“We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“Yes… But I have to work with this dolphin. Every day. Twenty-four hours. Seven days a week. He knows my thoughts–he can read them! And you can’t. He knows my deepest secrets.”

“But you said this is normal for dolphins, right?”

“Yes…”

“So just take it as normal,” Charles said. “It’s interesting, isn’t it? Kind of like a privilege. Dolphins are practically aliens to us land-creatures. But he decided that you’re not different. Isn’t it magical he chose you?”

*

It had been two weeks since their first virtual room session. Jac wanted to talk to Arronax again–real talking, real bonding. He made Dr. Gagnan promise not to monitor their next session, and when she agreed, he went outside, where Arronax was reading a picture book of French etiquette, and stood next to him.

Arronax looked up briefly, but then he went back to reading. Jac could feel his heart squeezing in on itself. “Bonjour, Monsieur Arronax,” he wheezed.

“Bonjour, Jac,” Arronax murmured. “Comment allez-vous?”

Jac felt like Arronax had struck a blow to his heart with a jackhammer. What was he? Some stranger? “Mal,” he whispered.

Arronax looked up again, eyes widening slightly. “Comment?”

Jac swallowed the lump in his throat. “Tu me manques.” He imagined how they used to be–swimming in the ocean together, reading together, Arronax cuddling against him. Jac sat down next to Arronax, and his heart eased itself when Arronax didn’t edge away.

Arronax wrapped an arm around him and pulled him tight against his body. Jac almost cried from relief and wrapped his arm around Arronax, too, burying his face into Arronax’s neck.

Arronax pulled them both up to their feet and dragged him toward the water. Jac followed, one hand wrapped around Arronax’s arm, but he stopped when he was waist-high in the water. Arronax looked back at him, raising his eyebrow. He disappeared into the water.

Jac jumped. “Arronax?”

He felt something like rubber pass his foot. He turned and reached under the water, but his hands hit nothing. A fluke shot past his leg and Jac’s stomach burned with sympathetic desire. What the hell was Arronax doing?

A pair of hands pulled Jac under the water. He closed his eyes against the sting of saltwater, but a mouth, full of water and laughter, pressed against his, he opened his eyes to the familiar blue ocean, clear as crystal. No one floated in front of him.

Jac’s vision blurred for a moment. It stung. When he opened them again he was looking sideways at a dolphin with scars running down his back. His heart leapt. Arronax.

Jac blinked again and Arronax was human again, kissing Jac in the water, one hand brushing Jac’s hair against his face, his legs scissoring between Jac’s. His tongue darted into Jac’s mouth and licked the insides of his mouth with abandon. Jac felt Arronax’s hardness against his thigh.

“Monsieur Jac,” Arronax whispered against Jac’s mouth.

“Arronax.” Jac swallowed and wrapped his arms around his sleek human form.

“Maladroit.”

Yes, Jac thought. The human form was definitely clumsy, definitely awkward. But it was all he had to work with. His hands reached down to undo Arronax’s shorts; he reached inside to touch and stroke. Arronax bucked against his hand, hard and fast, and then he pulled Jac up and lay him flat against the sand, the tide coming low up around them.

“Monsieur.” Arronax mouthed Jac’s name against his shoulders, his arms, and Jac shuddered. “Jac. Jac.”

“Quoi? Dis-moi ce que tu veux. Je ferai tout pour que tu l’arrêtes.”

Arronax didn’t waste any time after that. He tried to rip Jac’s clothes off–silly clothes, Arronax thought at him–and Jac unzipped it and tossed it away. He worried briefly about the sand, but it didn’t even seem to stick to his body, and he kissed Arronax again, but Arronax was too busy looking, touching, his hands roaming up the inside of Jac’s thighs.

Jac handed him a bottle of lubricant, but Arronax only stared at it before tossing it away. “Non–”

Arronax pressed himself against Jac, all tight muscle and sinews. “Tais-toi.” He grinned, and then he pressed inside Jac.

Water engulfed him. Jac opened his eyes and saw only flashes of the water, Arronax’s dolphin form, a long row of scars and teeth, a pair of tail flukes beating him playfully in the back. Then the proximity. The closing in. Arronax’s dolphin form coming close to him. He caught a look of himself in Arronax’s mirror eye and Jac beat his taill–his tail!–and swam through an open ocean.

Arronax caught him in a heavy jump through the water. He squeaked and grunted. Mine, you’re mine, Arronax’s high-pitched whine said. It sounded like a laugh. And then he said some word in that dolphin language that sounded like Jac’s name, and he knew.

Arronax wrapped his powerful fluke around Jac’s. He beat his tail and pulled him toward shallow waters. Jac tried to slip out, to escape, but Arronax closed in on him. He slammed Jac against the sand, grinding down on him–

Jac’s vision started to go from one to the other–in one, he felt comfortable, water rushing against his body–in the other, Arronax was above him, thrusting into him, his hands squeezing Jac’s arms tightly, his strong body pushing him back into the sand. Every time Arronax pressed into him, his body brushed against his erection, and Jac groaned and closed his eyes.

He tried to cling to the image of the dolphin. He wanted to open his eyes to cool blue waters, to Arronax’s dolphin grin, Arronax’s strong body flexed around his.

Arronax was kissing him so hard Jac thought that there would be bruises. Jac wondered where Arronax had learned to kiss like that, how Arronax knew that it would make him hard, so hard that Jac could barely keep his eyes open.

But Arronax forced them open. Jac saw the clear waters, the proximity between his body and Arronax’s, the pleasure coursing through his hard veins. Arronax reached inside him with his flippers and his eyes, eyes big and deep.

“Jac,” Arronax whispered, at the same time the dolphin-Arronax susurrated Jac’s name in dolphin, and Jac’s vision went white, his body hot even as the waves around him were cold.

When his vision returned, Arronax hovered over him, a sly grin gracing his face. He kissed Jac again. Jac smiled, hesitantly. Arronax’s skin felt strangely like dolphin-skin still.

Jac stared at him. He pulled away and out of the waves, onto the shore. He could barely feel the sand underneath his toes as he walked into the house and dropped himself onto the couch like a dead weight.

Arronax was close behind. He looked at Jac, eyes narrowed, and then he said, in perfect, fluid French: “Jac, is something wrong? Was it not good?”

Guess he’d been studying French more closely than Jac had originally imagined. “No,” Jac said. “It was… something else. It was good.” He flushed just thinking about it. “But…”

“Yes?”

“But you’re a dolphin.”

“Yes.” Arronax’s expression said, ‘You didn’t notice?’

“I’m a man.”

“Right now, I am a man too.” Arronax sat down next to Jac and kissed his shoulder.

“The world doesn’t see that. They see a man and a dolphin.”

Arronax nodded.

“Dr. Gagnan will kill me.”

“No.” Arronax stroked Jac’s hair. “She won’t.”

“This is unethical.” Jac leaned his head into Arronax’s hand. “This is very unethical.”

Arronax frowned. “You enjoyed it, though. I don’t understand what’s wrong. What’s unethical.” Arronax moved so that he was in Jac’s lap, his big brown eyes staring into Jac’s. “Don’t lie and tell me that you didn’t.”

“I won’t lie to you.”

“You’re still worried.”

“Yes,” Jac said. “A little bit.”

“Don’t worry.” Arronax kissed Jac’s ear. “Whatever it is, we can get through it.” He slipped his hand into Jac’s and squeezed it tight.

“Okay,” Jac said, but he squeezed Arronax’s hand tight and pulled him down to kiss him again.


Author’s Notes:

While I tried to keep the Cetacam dolphins as close to real dolphins as possible, some liberties with dolphins had to be taken with this story, or this story would not exist.

Thank you to:

Nijiro Sumi, for betaing and pushing me to write this crazy story;

Alice Montrose & linguahphiles for helping me with all the French (all of the bad French is mine);

Ric O’Barry, for showing the world how intelligent dolphins are;

and, finally,

Jac-Yves Cousteau & Co., for the obvious.

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