I can hear them singing in my sleep.
Maybe 'singing' isn't the appropriate word, but it's as close as I can get. It's not whale-song, it's far too happy and lively; whale-song is sad, majestic, beautiful and melancholy. I've been hearing it since we touched down in Ireland and while it could be irritating, it takes an edge off of my nerves that I wasn't sure would go away any time soon. Despite the tour going so well it's nearly scary, despite having the time of my life in a way I haven't in forever, I'm still on edge when I'm alone. Once upon a time, I'd drink myself to a stupor, lose myself in the warmth of a willing lady for a night, or do some exotic drug to knock myself out. Thanks to what I've become, I can't get more than a bit drunk, aspirin or ibuprofen is the only drugs that work on the few aches and pains I still have, and any other drug I ingest has no effect at all. My libido, however, is as good as it always was, perhaps back to the way I was when I was in my late teens. If I'd lost that, I'd have checked myself into a monastery for the rest of my days.
As we pile out of the mini-van we've taken from the airport, the scent of the Irish sea flows around me like the very waves at the bottom of the cliffs. It's quite different from the Schwerin Sea, which is not far from my home back in Germany; there's a wildness to it that overrides the salty fish scent, and it seems to be a lot colder than the Schwerin, even from this distance. I know without having to go look that the water is a dark green and black, the white breakers coming up on the half-sand, half rocky beach to deposit more sand, rock, and the occasional treasure from the ocean, like seashells. The murmur of the waves is clear as a bell and overwhelms me nearly to where I can't speak. I manage to walk towards the door of the lovely little cottage we're going to be staying at for 2 days without falling over my own feet, but the second I walk inside, I panic. I have to be out there, I need to go down to the water or I'll throw myself over the cliff. Hastily excusing myself, I drop my bags in my room, ignoring everything and everyone, and scurry off to find some way to get down to the beach. A rough, somewhat rickety staircase made of driftwood and rock winds its way down the side of the chalk cliff, and I'm down at the bottom before I can think logically.
The beach is gorgeous in the afternoon light. I pull my boots and socks off, leaving them on a rock that seems to be out of high tide range and pick my way across the sandiest part of the beach, watching for sharp rocks, glass, or anything that might take a chunk out of my feet. There's a huge boulder that's probably under water at high tide but for now, it's dry and makes an excellent seat. I settle down on the sun-warmed stone and look out over the ocean, letting its rise and retreat lull me off to a near drowse. The wordless melody I've been hearing for days is woven in with the wave-song; I want to put words to it but I know I can't. Human speech would ruin it utterly if I tried and it's far too beautiful and holy to spoil.
When I open my eyes again, I spot something leaping out of the waves, something that's too big to be a sea-going fish but not big enough to be a whale. When the creature comes out of the water again, the sunlight shines on its hide and I realize, with a start, that it's a dolphin. I'd read that there were large pods of dolphins around the Irish coastline but I never thought I'd see one. I'm too shocked to move, so I stare out over the water, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the dolphin, even if it's just another quick glance as it leaps happily through the sea. My stunned brain remembers something one of the kittens told me once, that no animal that could speak to humans would unless they were spoken to first. Gathering up my courage and hoping I won't be disappointed, I call out, ::Hello?::
It's a good thing I'm sitting down because the answer I get is so strong I would have fallen flat on my ass. It makes my head ring and it's a moment or two before I can reply. ::Uh...yeah. Uhm...are you that dolphin I see just off shore?:: I feel utterly stupid but it's all I can manage.
::Affection/hello!/yes/dolphin/Pher/who are you?::
::I'm...I'm Till. I'm...not human. Well, human but changed by a virus. I've heard singing in my sleep for days and when I got here, I almost threw myself off the cliff to find you. You don't happen to have anything to do with that, do you?::
::Negation/sing yes/sing whales yes/a moment::
I walk down to the edge of the water, wondering what in the world I've gotten myself into. A few moments later, five dolphins come rushing through the surf, chattering and squeaking at one another in voices so high they're almost inaudible, even to my enhanced hearing. Four of them break off and take up positions close enough to the shore but not so close that they'll beach themselves while the largest of them comes right up to my feet. Black, bright eyes regard me with an intelligence that is at the same time alien beyond my understanding but curious and earthly. It is a bottle-nose dolphin and a fairly large one at that, with silvery scars on its nose and melon that show it's been through a good deal in its life. I can't tell if it's a female or a male, for its 'voice' is right in the middle range where you can't tell. I crouch down and slowly hold out my hand, hoping the dolphin doesn't scurry away or bite me. The dolphin raises its head up and bumps my hand with its nose, making an amused cackling noise at me when I almost lose my balance at the touch.
::That is better. I am Pher, matron of the Little Moon pod:: the dolphin says. ::My escort will stay close but far enough to get away if needed; we have been hunted by men and they are still wary of those who walk on land. You are not like them. You look like fire and water, balanced but still wild. And you sing::
As I gently pet Pher's nose, I say, “Yes, I'm a singer. Not the best in the world but it works. I'm not sure how to explain the fire and water part, though.”
::May I see your memories?:: Pher asks. I don't hesitate, I let enough of my barriers down so she can get a good look at my memories but not overwhelm me at the same time. I feel a warm brush of amusement and respect come from her as she looks me over, passing the information along to the other four dolphins. Once she's done, I feel her pull away, lifting my barriers up as she goes.
::Interesting. You can call both fire and water to your hand, and you sing for many people. You are as you are because someone made you that way, not because you were born that way. I have never met a non-human like you before. You say there are more non-humans like you nearby?::
“Yes. My friends...well, more like my family. They were changed like me. We believe we had our talents from birth but what was done to us woke them up. If we hadn't been infected, our talents probably would never have woken up,” I reply. Pher seems to think this over, then says, ::Is that human coming down the stairs like you? He glows like the sun on the rocks like you do::
I turn around and see Paul halfway down the stairs. He's looking at me with wide, startled eyes, mouth half-opened to either shout or scream. ::Till? Who in the world are you talking to...oh. OH!:
“Pher, is it all right if I introduce you to the others like me?” I ask. Pher spins in a tight circle, squealing happily as she does so. ::Of course! But tell them to come down the stairs slowly, I would not like to see any of them fall, plus I do not want to startle my children.::
Obviously, Paul's heard this entire conversation, and waits for me to nod before dashing back up the stairs as fast as he can go. I laugh at his unvoiced enthusiasm, Pher does as well. “He's the eternal child,” I tell her. “The day Paul is in a bad mood is the day everyone should hide because he can get as angry as a storm on the sea. I've known him almost forever.”
::He has a very bright heart:: Pher replies, settling down in the shallows where the water can splash over her but not shove her out to sea, and where I can sit and not get soaked. ::You sing of very dark things. Death, pain, shame, destruction...but you sing of hope, and love and triumph::
“It's the way I am,” I explain, turning a wave-smoothed rock over and over in my fingers. “I'm sure you could see that. I can't be anything else.”
::Can a shark help what it is? Can the sun not rise in the sky and the moon follow? It is what it is, friend Till. What you sing speaks to others. Some only hear the darkness, some only hear the light. Some hear both, and those are the people who mean the most. You are not wholly born of fire, nor wholly born of water. You are both in one, as I said earlier. You need to keep those sides of you in balance, or you will be miserable::
“So I've been told,” I say ruefully. Pher flicks some water at me with a flipper and I have to laugh, kicking up some water to splash on her nose. “I didn't know there were dolphin hunters this close to Ireland. I thought it was illegal almost everywhere.”
::Those who hunt us are rouges:: Pher says, voice tinged with anger. ::All the pods have decided to stay in waters we have found to be safe but those places grow smaller and smaller every year. The hunters who hunted us found out the hard way that you do not hunt where you are forbidden to hunt.::
A shiver runs up my spine; I am almost afraid to ask. Pher has no qualms about telling me; she says, ::There are things that live in the Great Deep that are more than willing to serve as judge and executioner to those who violate the few rules of the sea. Those men knew they were going to die and saw their deaths coming for them even as they pleaded with their god to save them. Pray that you are never with people like that if justice is called for, and pray that you never decide to hunt where you are not wanted. I do not want to hear your song snuffed out::
Shaking, I say, “I promise. A wise man wrote, “They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.” I won't ever violate your trust and I'll make sure no one I'm associated with does either. I hunt and fish, but I'd never hunt creatures like you::
::Do not worry, bright-heart:: Pher says in a soothing voice. ::You and yours are pod-kin now, any time you call to us whether in happiness or in need, we will reply.::
I'm so excited, so over the moon with emotion, I want to lean down and hug Pher, but before I can, she raises herself on her tail-fin enough so I can give her a quick hug. Her dolphin-grin is as wide and happy as a human's and chases away some of the shadows that lie over my heart and soul.
::I see your family-friends on their way down and they look like if they have to wait one more moment they'll explode like a greedy pelican overfull of fish!::
I turn and see Paul leading the procession; he's nearly vibrating in excitement. Just before everyone gets close, Pher whispers to me, ::Your loneliness is almost at its end. Be patent just a bit longer. Trust me:: I can't blurt out a question because Pher is bumping my ankle and insisting on being introduced, and what she has said gets filed back into my brain for the time being.
I still hear them singing at night, the dolphins and the whales, but their songs are not as sad as they once were. The stories of the not-humans is getting passed around the world, our own stories woven into delphinium and cetacean story-memories.
And I am absolutely humbled by that.