The Mind of the Dolphins
Part One - The Haunting of Christopher
Chapter 1 - Gregory the Dolphin Slayer
“Sheol, they called it in some of the stories I’d read, the limbo between Heaven and Earth, a place for lost souls trapped in an eternity of loneliness and sorrow.”
“We are the Shepherds of Sheol.”
“They say that’s why Sheol is dark. If you could see what’s really there you’d go totally insane, totally insane.”
“It’s said many of the original Barefooters simply couldn’t stand the boredom of such long lives and passed through the portals into Sheol to lose themselves and find their own oblivion in that dark and timeless place.”
“Sheol has no right to exist at all. No right.”
“Go now, my friends, and do not return to this realm. Sheol is no place for the living, no place for the living.”
“I saw them too, I saw them too, I saw them too …”
“Christopher, wake up!”
Chris opened his eyes, only to see his teacher leaning over and glaring at him. He wished he could close them again.
“You might be a relative of the High Priestess, but in my class that counts for naught. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just another pathetic little first year acolyte, no more and no less. Do I make myself clear?”
“Good, so perhaps you could tell us the answer.”
“Um, could you repeat the question please, sir?”
“Certainly. Which governor of Bluehaven was known as Gregory the Dolphin-slayer?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“I don’t know, sir. You will write me a ten page essay on the life and times of Governor Gregory Harrington, and you will have it on my desk by nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“The rest of you might care to read Frank Halliday’s wonderful paper on the Dark Years, which you’ll find on my website, and we’ll be discussing some of his more controversial claims in tomorrow’s class.”
“Old Tibbits has really got it in for you,” Sandra said to Chris as they made their way from the classroom.
“It certainly looks that way.”
“You should report him to the High Priestess. I’m sure if you did she’d give him the boot.”
“I should, even though he’s supposed to be this great Delphinidae historian from the university on Cornipus. It wouldn’t be right, though, using my friendship with Lorina in that way. The trouble is she probably would give him the chop, and she’s been having such a hard time attracting staff as it is.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed your grandmother and Father Simmons are doing quite a bit of the teaching.”
“Gran was only supposed to be helping out in the library. Apparently someone’s been spreading pretty bad rumours about the college, and Earth in general, and no-one from Bluehaven or Meridian will come near us.”
“What are they saying, do you know?”
“Well, um, when my grandmother first came here she had the misfortune of crossing the path of a serial rapist and was almost killed, and the rumours are saying all Earthlings are like that.”
“But that’s ridiculous.”
“Of course it is, but it creates fear, and no-one’s going to pack up their belongings and go halfway across the universe if there’s a chance they’ll be raped before they even set foot in the college.”
“I see. So what are they doing about it?”
“Mark’s trying to recruit people from here to study at the Temple on Bluehaven and then ultimately come back as teachers, but so far he hasn’t had much luck with that either.”
“Why don’t you go?”
“Me? I, but, I couldn’t, no, I just couldn’t.”
“Your uncle’s the Bluehaven Head of State, isn’t he? You could live with him.”
“Uncle Kevin? No way.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know, I guess he’s like a politician and really ambitious. You should’ve seen his eyes light up when he thought Mark was going to accept Farley’s offer and become the new supreme ruler over there, because he saw himself becoming the power behind the throne. He’s now on the Galactic Council and has his eyes firmly set on the top job.”
“Well I wouldn’t mind going and studying on Bluehaven for a bit. I reckon it’d be fun.”
“You should talk to Mark then.”
“I will, definitely.”
Chris watched as she dashed off in the direction of Mark’s office, mesmerised by the slapping of her bare feet on the stone pavers, before hoisting his backpack over his shoulders and trudging up the stairs to the library. If Sandra was going off to Bluehaven to study, he’d have no option but to follow, but the last thing he wanted was to go anywhere near that world. He was still spooked by the revelation that his grandmother was Kevin’s mother, making Kevin his uncle and Lorina his cousin, for in his worst dreams he’d see Kevin’s hand falling on the hilt of his sword a moment before whipping it out and slicing Mark’s head off. He knew Kevin would’ve been capable of doing precisely that, had he not thought Mark might still have been of some value to him.
His stomach gurgled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything all day. With the essay to write for Professor Tibbits he’d probably have to skip dinner as well, and he moaned as he pushed open the library door.
Mary glanced up as Chris stumbled past her desk. He glanced back at her and tried to grin, but didn’t really succeed.
“What’s wrong, Chris?”
“That bastard Tibbits wants me to write a ten page essay for him tonight.”
“Why? What happened?”
“I fell asleep in his class again.”
“Oh Chris, come here honey.”
She hugged him and he hugged her back, this time managing a proper grin.
“I’ll have a word with Lorina and see if she can make him ease up a bit. You’re not eating, are you?”
“Does it show?”
“Just look at yourself. You’re a walking skeleton.”
He rubbed his hands over his ribs and blushed.
“What’s the essay on?”
“The life and times of governor Gregory Bloody Harrington.”
“Come with me.” She led him into the maze of bookshelves and pulled out a heavy tome. “Try chapter seventeen, I think.”
Chris thumbed through the book and smiled. “You’re a marvel, Gran. Can I take this home with me?”
“If you promise you’ll have a proper dinner before starting on it.”
Chris’s stomach gurgled and he blushed again.
“Sure, Gran.” He looked into her eyes and his smile faltered.
“There’s something else bothering you, isn’t there?”
“Um, Sandra wants to take one of Mark’s scholarships and go to Bluehaven.”
“I’m sure Mark will be pleased, and I suppose you’ll want to be following her.”
“I don’t know. I love her, I really do, but I don’t think I’m ready to go back there again.”
“Are you still having those dreams?”
He nodded, and she ruffled his hair which was now almost as long as Mark’s.
“Your uncle’s not a bad man, Chris. He had a rough childhood, living in constant fear of the imperials, and he’s, well, perhaps a bit overzealous to make amends.”
“I’m sure you’re right, but the look in his eyes when he discovered Mark had lost his Barefooter powers, I mean he, he meant to kill him.”
“You were only a boy then, Chris. I’m sure Kevin was angry, but he’s not a killer, honey, really.”
“I wish I could believe you.”
“Have you spoken to Lorina yet?”
“How can I? I’d be accusing her father of wanting to murder her husband, and she’d laugh at me and tell me I’m crazy.”
“She wouldn’t laugh at you, Chris. She’s the High Priestess and is trained to help with this sort of thing.”
“You think I’m crazy.”
“No I don’t, of course not. You’re just confused and overworked, that’s all.”
“Well I can’t argue with that.”
“Good. Now run along home and have some dinner, and I’ll have a talk with Lorina.”
“That’s what I’m here for. Now shoo!”
Mary watched him scamper out the door and sighed. She should have a talk with Maleena and Aaron as well, she decided.
* * *
Mark looked up from his pile of paperwork to see Chris’s girlfriend standing at the door.
“Come in, Sandra, and take a seat.”
“Thanks Mark. You look busy.”
“Yeah, if I’d known getting accreditation from Brisbane University involved so much paperwork I wouldn’t have bothered.”
“You have my sympathies.”
“So, what can I do for you?”
“Chris said you’re looking for people to go to Bluehaven to study and then come back as teachers.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well I’m interested.”
“Excellent. Let me find the brochure Lorina and I threw together, and I’ll tell you more about it.”
He tried to pull a sheet of paper out from under the pile on his desk but only succeeded in setting off an avalanche.
“Leave it,” he said as Sandra started picking up the scattered documents. “I really need to sort this stuff out properly and file it away, and it’s probably going to be easier now that it’s spread out on the floor. Here’s the brochure anyway.” He handed her the crumpled flier which she quickly scanned.
“How long would I have to stay on Bluehaven for?” she asked.
“We’re saying two years, but it’s fairly flexible. The Temple’s training structure is much less formal than what we have here, and students are encouraged to set their own pace. I really wanted to run our college like that, but we needed the rigid course structure to meet the accreditation requirements.”
“The bureaucrats always want to take the fun out of everything.”
“That’s so true. So how are you and Chris going with your studies?”
“Actually I’m a bit worried about him. The last few weeks he’s seemed constantly preoccupied, and this afternoon he fell asleep during Professor Tibbits’ history class.”
“I’m sure that would’ve gone down well.”
“The good professor was not amused. He gave Chris a ten page essay to write on the life and times of Gregory the Dolphin Slayer.”
“Ouch. Probably the last thing Chris needs right now is more essays to write.”
“There’s something else bothering him, too, and I was wondering if you could have a talk with him.”
“Of course. I might call in on him later tonight, and I’ll have a quiet word with Harry Tibbits as well.”
“Does Chris know you’re thinking of going to Bluehaven?”
“Yeah. I told him he should come as well, but for some reason he’s scared stiff of going back there.”
“I don’t know why, he seemed happy enough at my wedding there a few years ago. I’ll see if I can get to the bottom of it for you.”
“Well good luck, and thanks again Mark.”
* * *
Chris was so engrossed in the story he was reading he didn’t realise until too late that someone had entered his room, and let out a terrified yelp.
Gregory the Dolphin Slayer, the book informed him, had been governor of Bluehaven for twenty years, and in that time had done nothing to earn him either praise or condemnation from his master, Morgoth the Enlightened. In his twenty-first year, however, all that changed when he hit upon the notion that the dolphins of that world were an abomination.
‘They are agents of the devil and must be erased from the seas of this planet,’ he’d proclaimed to all who would listen, and set about assembling a navy of fishing boats the likes of which had never before been seen in the history of that world. The fleet headed west from Goldwater Bay on the southern coast of Dolphin Island, harpooning every dolphin they encountered along the way.
The Delphinidae were not amused, to say the least, and, assembling a heavily armed fleet of their own, sailed around the northernmost tip of the island and down the coast to head them off. A fierce battle took place off the rocky headland later named Shipwreck Point, but the Delphinidae were outnumbered and their losses were heavy.
Just when all seemed lost, a freak storm swept in, decimating both fleets and driving many ships onto the rocks. When the seas finally calmed, not a single vessel of Gregory’s fleet remained afloat.
Morgoth, returning from his crusades in the galaxy’s outer rim, was outraged and executed Gregory on the spot, slicing his head off with his sword as he knelt before him. Gregory’s daughter, Elizabeth, fled to Bringal Vale where she married Gordon Anderson, a vegetable grower, and it’s believed their descendents have remained in that village until this very day.
“Shit Mark,” Chris said as his fright turned to anger, “you scared the daylights out of me!”
“S-sorry,” Mark spluttered as he struggled to stop from laughing. “That must be a pretty good book for me to be able to sneak up on you like that.”
“Yeah, it’s about Gregory the Dolphin Slayer and the battle he fought with the Delphinidae off Shipwreck Point. You know I think I could be related to him.”
Chris pointed to the last paragraph he’d been reading.
“We can easily find out,” Mark said, sliding in front of Chris’s ultranet terminal and connecting to the Delphinidae archives on Bluehaven.
“Right, your grandmother’s Mary Anderson, her father Ryan was the son of Albert, then we go back through Hector, Claude, Rowan, Malcolm, Elizabeth and Gregory. Yep, you’re right, you’re his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson.”
“Oh shit, do you think Tibbits knew that, and gave me this essay to write on purpose?”
“If he did then he’ll have even more explaining to do. I spoke with him earlier this evening, by the way, and he’s revoked your punishment.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t have to write the essay.”
“But I’ve almost finished it now.”
“What did you have to go and do that for? I’ll be the laughing stock of the class now.”
“Everyone’s worried about you, Chris.”
“Well stuff them, and stuff you too. Now piss off, Mark, and let me finish this so I can hand it in first thing tomorrow like I was going to.”
“Calm down, Chris.”
“The hell I will! Why’d you have to go and poke your big fat ugly nose in where it’s not wanted? I’ve had it up to here with you and your ridiculous college! I should’ve gone to Brisbane and studied astrophysics like Dad and Uncle Jase did.”
“Well if that’s how you feel, I can draw up the transfer documents for you tomorrow.”
“You do that. No, on second thought, why bother? I think I’ll just drop out and go live in a tent at Yowie Bay.”
“What do you mean, ‘what’?”
“What’s wrong with Yowie Bay? I’ve heard they sell these wonderful dolphin burgers there.”
Mark’s jaw dropped, and Chris glared at him before turning back to his book.
“Look at me, Chris,” Mark said calmly and softly, and Chris turned to face him again. “We used to be friends. What’s happened?”
“It’s the dreams,” Chris whispered. “The dark place, always the dark place, and the river.”
“Tell me about it.”
Chris looked at him, his lip quivering and tears beginning to form in the corner of his eyes. “Piss off, Mark.”
Mark shook his head, sighed and left the room.
* * *
“He won’t talk to me.”
“What are we going to do, Mark?” Maleena asked.
“I’d like to bring Damon here. Perhaps he can help.”
“Isn’t he working on Meridian now?”
“Yes, he’s helping Frank Halliday with his research, but I’m sure he’d come if he knew Chris was unwell.”
“Do whatever you think’s best, Mark,” Aaron said. “We just want our son back.”
“I’ll try calling him now, although I’m not sure what time it is there.”
It took Mark forever to explain to the subspace operator where Meridian was, and when he finally got through he found himself talking to Frank’s message bank. He wandered back into the living room, shaking his head.
“I left a message for him to call me at the college tomorrow.”
“Thanks Mark,” Maleena said. “You should go and get some rest now. You look like you’re about to drop.”
“You’re not wrong there. Good night; I’m sorry I wasn’t of any help.”
“Don’t go blaming yourself, Mark. Let’s hope Damon can do something.”
* * *
Lorina was standing out the front of their house as Mark came trudging back down the road, head down and deep in introspection. For a moment she thought he was going to go right on past and head off in the direction of Brisbane, but at the last moment he looked up at her, smiling grimly. She held him and kissed him on the nose as he rested his head on her shoulder.
“No luck?” she asked.
“Chris hates me. He told me to piss off and keep my big fat ugly nose out of his business.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t hate you, honey. Sometimes I think you’re just too sensitive for your own good. Anyway, your nose isn’t fat.”
Mark chuckled in spite of himself. “So it’s just big and ugly then.”
“I thought so.” He rubbed his nose, trying to feel just how big and ugly it was, while Lorina shook her head in mock despair.
“Chris wants to drop out of the college,” he said.
“I don’t know. I think he was just angry with me, but the way he is now it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“He needs a break. He’s pushing himself too much, and I hear Tibbits has been giving him a hard time.”
“Yeah, I had a talk to Harry about that earlier this evening. I’m wondering if he really has the right temperament for teaching.”
“He’s Cornipean, and they’re all like that. Until we can attract some teachers from Bluehaven, that’s the best we can do unfortunately. Has there been any interest in the scholarships yet?”
“As a matter of fact, Sandra came to see me about that this afternoon. She sounded pretty keen.”
“That’s good. Maybe Chris should go with her.”
“She suggested that to him, but he freaked out for some reason.”
“Maybe you should go too, at least until he settles in.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me now too?”
Lorina sighed. “Poor Mark, the whole world hates him. Come on into bed and I’ll show you what I really think of you.”
* * *
Chris put down his pen and glanced at the clock. 3:30 am. Yawning, he pulled off his shorts and climbed onto his bed.
When Mark had left, he’d forgotten to log off from the archives, and out of curiosity Chris had gone exploring to see what he could find. Mark, as College Director, had access to sites that were off-limits to the general public, and Chris soon stumbled across records from Gregory Harrington’s era that blew away everything he’d just been reading.
In the end he’d torn up his almost-finished essay and begun again, this time offering a defence of Gregory and his jihad against the Dolphins. Before he knew it he’d written twenty-five pages, so he summarised his arguments and stapled it all together in a folder.
He was sure Tibbits would have a fit when he saw what he’d written, and he’d probably be put on detention or even expelled, but he didn’t care. Greater things were at stake now.
He closed his eyes, trying to visualise Sandra lying next to him, naked and warm and soft. With those thoughts he soon drifted off to sleep, but his dreaming once more took him back eight years, to the day he’d become a murderer.
He looked up and saw someone standing in the doorway. “Uncle Jason!” he cried, and everyone turned around.
“Who the hell are you?” Farley asked.
“I am Mark’s father. Release him please, and I’ll do you no harm.”
“Huh, father indeed,” Farley sneered. “You’re even punier than he is. Be gone, before I summon the guards.”
“My son may have lost his Barefooter genes, but I have not. Release him NOW!”
Farley’s knife flew across the room, embedding itself in Jason’s chest, and a small stream of blood began flowing down his stomach and onto the floor. Chris was unfazed, though, knowing that in a moment the knife would pop out and the wound immediately heal, and he watched with satisfied amusement as it happened yet again.
Farley took a step backwards, almost falling into the portal before taking a delicate little sidestep to avoid it. At that moment Chris leapt at him, catching him off balance, and he tumbled back and fell through into the other time line. Chris, however, was also off balance and felt himself being drawn into the portal, but stretched out and just managed to get a finger tip on the edge of the glowing ring.
He glanced around, expecting to see Lorina reaching out to rescue him, but instead she was standing couple of metres away, cradling Mark’s severed head against her chest.
“Look at me, Chris!” the head said to him, a moment before his finger slipped and he fell into the blackness.
Pain, like thousands of tiny electric shocks, wracked him, but then it passed as he found himself lying on top of Farley in an alternative reality that was just moments from extinction.
“Ah, Chris, you’ve decided to join us this time,” Farley sneered as he reached for his knife, before remembering he’d thrown it at Jason.
A chair squeaked, and both Chris and Farley looked up to see Morgoth turning to face them. He smiled, and as he did the skin around his mouth crinkled like cellophane. Chris’s stomach cramped.
“Good to see you, young Christopher,” Morgoth said. “Gregory’s been asking after you and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to know you’re here.”
Chris let out a horrifying scream, and moments later Aaron and Maleena came running down the hallway and into his room. He was still screaming as they switched on the light, and then Maleena screamed as well.
Draped across the foot of his bed, with blood still dripping from its mouth, was the carcass of a baby dolphin.