Authors: Frank Sheldon
Tags: #sea, #shipboard romance, #whale intelligence, #minisub, #reality changing, #marine science
A regular from the next table looked over
his shoulder toward Matthew.
“You saw a purple whale?” he said in a voice
loud enough for the whole room to hear. “Might be some kind of
sign, I guess, but kinda early.” He leaned toward Matthew
unsuccessfully hiding his smirk and said, “After all, the
Millennium’s still a couple years off!” Most of the bar’s
frequenters laughed, but not too loud.
“We all seen it,” Gilliard shot back as he
slammed his glass down on the table. “Captain Juvinor, the whole
crew. Swimming at the head of these grays like a circus parade!
Them bastards down at the professor here’s school in the States did
it, but he denies it to my face.”
“Of course he would,” the regular said,
leering at Matthew. He tipped his chair forward. “But what’s this
about them disappearing?”
“Lies,” Gilliard said, yawning. “They all
dove under, that’s all. We couldn’t hang around and wait, just got
the hell out of there ’fore the weather front broke.”
Gilliard made this last comment casually as
if nothing much had happened when the whales disappeared. Then
again, Matthew’s own memories had by now faded like a dream at
“You know,” Gilliard blathered on, “I heard
this thing the other night on cable, about how the scientists can
change animals now, mix them up, maybe even make new ones.” The
deadly serious expression he wore made his face almost
unrecognizable. The bar patrons stared as he went on. “Wouldn’t
surprise me one bit if they were doing something like that across
the Strait, and who knows,” he continued in a stage whisper, “maybe
we saw one that got away.”
By this time, those at the other tables were
smirking and giving each other elbows and winks. “Ooo, stop,
Gilliard, you’re scaring me!” one of the regulars
“It coulda!” Gilliard bellowed. “Look at the
trouble those bug-heads caused us already, and the government don’t
give a—hey, where you going?”
“Getting late,” Matthew said. “Got to work
Gilliard turned his head and spat on the
floor. “If by work, you mean poking fish brains in a lab with the
rest of those Birken-stockinged ninnies at that useless school,
well you can—”
“Gilliard!” yelled the barmaid, “How many
times I told you not to spit on the floor!”
“Then put the spittoon back! This place used
to be fine, now you got that overpriced microbrew piss and next
thing we’ll be sipping herb tea and stuffing tofu up our—”
“Out of here!” the barmaid yelled.
“Then who’ll walk you home, huh?”
The whole bar laughed again, and Matthew
used the distraction to make an unnoticed exit, though the damage
was surely done. Around the waterfront, they would get years out of
a story like this, and he was sick of it already.
Matthew walked quickly in the light rain.
Despite the on and off drizzle that had fallen through the day, it
was warm for late May. The wet air soothed the flush of emotions
burning through him, and he took in a few deep breaths to clear his
head. Maybe what happened in the bar had been for the best. It was
only the debt he incurred pursuing a degree in marine science that
brought him back to the life of a fisherman, the little money he
earned during his late-spring break from studies being better than
nothing. What he needed was to focus on his degree in marine
science, get away from a world of busted gear and diminishing
catches, not to mention idiots like Gilliard, and do something with
his life. Still the doubts, as usual, trailed him home.
Twelve years before, after a halfhearted
stumble through college, he decided not to go into his father’s
retail clothing business in Vancouver as had been hoped. Against
the wishes of his family to see him safely established in the
salary man’s world, he had instead moved further north up the coast
of British Columbia, to a cabin by the sea. He took odd jobs when
he could find them, barely keeping up with his low rent and the
need to feed himself. Even if his family saw his choice as a long
step down, he enjoyed working with his hands and living away from
the hustle. His simple life ended when he became involved with a
group that tried unsuccessfully to stop encroaching development.
That, and a failed relationship with a woman who in the end left
him for one of the developers, left him deeply disillusioned.
He moved back south to Victoria, where a
friend managed to secure him a trial berth on a commercial fishing
boat. Matthew’s first trip out on the
was far more
arduous than any other work he had ever done. The crew labored
around the clock, resting only to sleep when they could. In spite
of that, he took to a life that left him little energy to dwell on
the past. He did well enough that they called him again, and he had
been going out sporadically ever since, filling the ever more
frequent down times due to quotas with the odd small building
project. For a while, this was all he needed to do, and he was
Eventually, however, he had come to realize
that the life of a fisherman would never be his own. He would never
be fully accepted as one of them. It was a world he could only
visit. As for the other crew on the
, they could
only keep trying to make a living at commercial fishing. Catches
were dwindling but there was nothing else they could turn their
hands to that bring in close to their share of even the current
For Matthew, it was then that a clear
calling emerged for the first time in his life: marine science. He
would make a place for himself on his own terms. He went back to
school part-time to complete his undergraduate requirements and
then steadily worked his way towards completing a graduate degree.
It had taken thousands of hours of work and nearly all his free
time for the last few years. More than once, it had seemed
impossible. In the end, it had proved only difficult, as long as he
avoided distractions. And the sighting of a strange whale that no
one would believe was a distraction. He would not take on a fool’s
He rounded the last corner and stepped along
the wooden planks of the walkway to his place. He lived in the back
of what had once been a net factory, and a few years before had
helped the owner convert it into simple living spaces. When he was
given a choice as to which space he wanted, without hesitation he
had picked the loft. It was perched over one of the smaller harbors
on the west side of the waterfront, held up like an offering on
pilings that seemed to grow out of the sea like a drowned forest.
Even at low tide, he could hear water lapping, but for the most
part the place was quiet. Other people found the smell of rotting
seaweed, fish and the occasional whiff of diesel offensive, but
somehow it kept Matthew feeling clean. He could never explain
He walked in and threw himself down on the
couch. As he looked out the window toward the harbor, he remembered
his fishing mates. He would miss them and the life, in spite of
everything. Although not as big as most of them, over time his
muscles had become hard and tough, and gradually they had accepted
him, if not as one of their own, then at least as part of the
Well, so what. He was making a new life, and
this time he’d get it right. He got up from the couch and turned on
the water in the rickety tin shower stall he had salvaged from a
job and waited the usual minute for it to heat up before getting
in. The hot blast of water shocked his cold skin, and a strangely
pleasurable sadness washed over him. What would it really be like
to die at sea?
He turned the faucet to full cold.
The Eye took him in and he is falling,
falling out of time, falling through the only thing there is
In an instant, what had really occurred on
washed back over him with the full force of a
winter squall. He thumped the water off and leapt out of the
shower, his adrenaline ramping up so fast he started to black out.
He clutched weakly at an exposed water pipe and slowly slid down
the wall. He slumped against the enameled tin of the stall,
breathing hard. His vision gradually came back, and the pumping of
his heart began to slow.
Out on the ship, the whale had looked at him
just before disappearing, but not just at him.
It was as if the
whale had somehow seen into him, utterly and completely, with
nothing left hidden
He didn’t know how or why, but it
was both terrible and profound, and yet he had almost instantly
forgotten, forgotten it all.
Twenty minutes later, he was steady enough
to get to his feet and pull on his jeans. He walked slowly to the
corner that served as his kitchen. The sound of the running tap
helped, but it was a large glass of water that made him feel
somewhat well again. He filled the glass again and sat down. There
was a can of colored pencils on the table in front of him. He
grabbed one, pulled over a sketchpad and began drawing what he
remembered. His thoughts wandered to the next days. Classes began
the day after tomorrow. If he took the early morning ferry
stateside to Port Angeles and got to the Point, maybe he could find
some answers. He did not believe for a minute that what he had seen
was connected in any way with the whale research going on there, as
Gilliard had imagined, but it was hard to believe what he had
experienced was a natural phenomenon.
If only he had brought his camera!
He looked down at the sketch of the whale he
had been drawing. It needed color, and he tried purple. He was
appalled at how silly it looked. No one would ever believe him.
He’d make a fool of himself if he even mentioned it. At thirty-six,
he was oldest student in the program by ten years or more, and he
was the only Canadian. They hadn’t been welcoming when he showed
up. Calling attention to himself with something like this was the
last thing he needed. In less than a year, he hoped to complete his
paper and would then have a good chance of doing serious work,
while getting paid as an assistant. If he kept at it, he was sure
he would find a place in the field that he felt had chosen him. If
not, he would make one, and make a new life as well.
The competition for an internship at the
Point would be intense. He had to be realistic about his chances.
The other students were not only younger, but eager and competitive
in the way of those who had never really had to take a bad hit.
They excelled at networking, which had never come naturally to him.
Doctor Bell, the head of the Point, had on one occasion given him
some encouraging words, but he was largely on his own.
He had learned this not long after he first
arrived to take part in the program. Another of the grad students
had sat down next to him in the cafeteria, which at first he had
taken as a welcome. He had been, if anything, excessively
courteous, until he came to his real point, which was to tell
Matthew just how lucky he was to get into the new exchange program
with Canada. The implication was clear from the rest of the
conversation, that otherwise, he would never have qualified. This
program was for the exceptional, after all, the best of the
brilliant. Not a place for the merely qualified.
As it was, working as hard as he could, he
still barely managed to keep his head above water. There was truth
in what the young grad student had implied, but he had resolved to
hold to his course and avoid trouble. Now trouble seemed to have
found him. Again.
As the energy surge wore off, a wave of
sleepiness washed over him. He climbed into his bunk in the loft
and lay staring into the dark skylight, his face dimly reflected in
the glass. He sank into drowsiness, the oblivion of sleep welcome.
As he slipped under, the image of the eye from his encounter on the
flickered before him until he sank into the welcome
oblivion of sleep.
“I’m sorry, he can’t see anyone today.”
“Can’t you just check his schedule?” Matthew
asked. “I’m supposed to be here.”
I don’t know who you spoke with before,
“I told you, I didn’t speak with anyone, the
automated system answered early this morning, and said that I had a
The receptionist nodded and tossed her
single black braid over her shoulder. “Well, I don’t know how you
“He sent the number to me himself a while
back. At least it came from Doctor Bell’s account.”
“Only a few students get that, and I don’t
find you here. If you had listened carefully, you would have heard
that you need to get a confirmation back…”
The receptionist droned on. Matthew had
gotten up this morning at the first hint of dawn to make the
appointment. He caught the first ferry to Port Angeles and, driving
the rest of the way, prepared as best as he could for the
The Point Kinatai Marine Science Center was
known the world over as the premier marine sciences research
facility in the western hemisphere. This was largely because Doctor
Martin Bell, the director, had moved here from England thirty years
ago with the promise that he could make it so. Although there were
now those who begrudged the personal stamp he had put on the place,
no one argued that he had not been the major factor in elevating
the Point to its present stature, albeit as much by his fame,
charisma and spirit of adventure, as by his work.
Matthew had been pleasantly surprised when
he had gotten the appointment. Now here he was, stuck in a waiting
room with a receptionist who looked young enough to be in high
school, and she would not budge.
“I’m sorry,” she went on, “but as I told
you, the director is busy all morning.”