Friday, December 13, 2019

Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings Chapter 7~9 Free Essays

string(23) " it was just not done\." CHAPTER SEVEN Sanctuary, Sanctuary, Cried the Humpback When a visitor first drives into the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary – five baby blue shiplap buildings trimmed out in cobalt, crouching on the edge of the huge Maalaea Bay and overlooking the ruins of an ancient saltwater fish pond – his first reaction is usually â€Å"Hey, not much of a sanctuary. You could get maybe three whales in those buildings, tops.† Soon, however, he realizes that these buildings are simply the offices and visitor centers. We will write a custom essay sample on Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings Chapter 7~9 or any similar topic only for you Order Now The sanctuary itself covers the channels that run from Molokai to the Big Island of Hawaii, between Maui, Lanai, and Kahoolawe, as well as the north shores of Oahu and Kauai, in which there is plenty of room for a whole bunch of whales, which is why they are kept there. There were about a hundred people milling around outside the lecture hall when Nate and Amy pulled into the parking lot in the pickup. â€Å"Looks like a good turnout?† Amy said. She’d attended only one of the sanctuary’s weekly lectures, and that one had been given by Gilbert Box, an ill-tempered biologist doing survey work under a grant for the International Whaling Commission, who droned through numbers and graphs until the ten people in attendance would have killed a whale themselves just to shut him up. â€Å"It’s about average for us. Behavior always draws more than survey. We’re the sexy ones,† Nate said with a grin. Amy snorted. â€Å"Oh, yeah, you guys are the Mae Wests of the nerd world.† â€Å"We’re action nerds,† Nate said. â€Å"Adventure nerds. Nerds of romance.† â€Å"Nerds,† Amy said. Nate could see the skeletal Gilbert Box standing off to the side of the crowd under a straw hat whose brim was so wide it could have afforded shade for three additional people and behind a pair of enormous wraparound sunglasses suitable for welding or as a shield from nuclear flash. His gaunt face was still smeared with residue of the white zinc oxide he used for sun protection when out on the water. He wore a long-sleeved khaki shirt and trousers and leaned on a white sun umbrella that he was never seen without. It was a half hour before sunset, a warm breeze was coming off Maalaea Bay, and Gilbert Box looked like Death out for his after-dinner stroll before a busy night of e-mailing heart attacks and tumors to a few million lucky winners. Nate had given Box the nickname â€Å"the Count,† after the Sesame Street vampire with the obsessive-compulsive need to count things. (Nate had been too old for Sesame Street as a preschooler, but he’d watched it through grade ten while baby-sitting his younger brother, Sam.) People agreed that the Count was the perfect name for a survey guy with an aversion to water and sunlight, and the name had caught on even outside Nate and Clay’s immediate sphere of influence. Panic rattled up Nate’s spine. â€Å"They’re going to know we’re faking it. The Count will call us on it the first time I say something that we don’t have the data to back up.† â€Å"How’s he going to know? You had the data a week ago. Besides, what’s this ‘we’? I’m just running the projector.† â€Å"Thanks.† â€Å"There’s Tarwater,† Amy said. â€Å"Who are those women he’s talking to?† â€Å"Probably just some whale huggers,† Nate said, pretending that all of his mental faculties were required for him to squeeze the pickup into the four adjacent empty parking spaces. The women Tarwater was talking to were Margaret Painborne, Ph.D., and Elizabeth  «Libby » Quinn, Ph.D. They worked together with a couple of very butch young women studying cow/calf behavior and social vocalizations. They were doing good work, Nate thought, even if it appeared to have a gender-based agenda. Margaret was in her late forties, short and round, with long gray hair that she kept perpetually tied back in a braid. Libby was almost a decade younger, long-legged and lean, blond hair going gray, cut short, and she had once, not too long ago, been Nathan Quinn’s third wife. A second and totally different wave of anxiety swept over Quinn. This was the first time he’d encountered Libby since Amy joined the team. â€Å"They don’t look like whale huggers,† Amy said. â€Å"They look like researchers.† â€Å"How is that?† â€Å"They look like action nerds.† Amy snorted again and crawled out of the truck. â€Å"That’s not very professional,† Nate said, â€Å"that snorting-laugh thing you do.† But Amy had already walked off toward the lecture hall, a carousel of slides under her arm. Nate counted more than thirty researchers in the crowd as he walked up. And those were just the ones he was acquainted with. New people would be coming back and forth from the mainland all season – grad students, film crews, reporters, National Fisheries people, patrons – all hitchhiking on the very few research permits that were issued for the sanctuary. For some reason Amy made a beeline for Cliff Hyland and his navy watchdog, Tarwater, who was out of uniform in Dockers and a Tommy Bahama shirt, but still out of place because his clothes were ironed to razor creases – his Topsiders had been spit-shined, and he stood as if there were a cold length of rebar wired to his spine. â€Å"Hey, Amy,† Cliff said. â€Å"Sorry to hear about the break-in. Bad?† â€Å"We’ll be all right,† Amy said. Nate strolled up behind Amy. â€Å"Hey, Cliff. Captain.† He nodded to each. â€Å"Sorry to hear about the break-in, Nate,† Cliff said again. â€Å"Hope you guys didn’t lose anything important.† â€Å"We’re fucked,† Nate said. And Tarwater smiled – for the first time ever, Nate thought. â€Å"We’re fine.† Amy grinned and brandished her carousel of slides like a talisman of power. â€Å"I’m thinking about getting a job at Starbucks,† Nate said. â€Å"Hey, Cliff, what are you guys working on?† Amy asked, having somehow moved close enough into Cliff Hyland’s personal space to have to look up at him with big, girly-blue eyes and the aspect of a fascinated child. Nate cringed. It was†¦ well, it was just not done. You read "Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings Chapter 7~9" in category "Essay examples" You didn’t ask, not outright like that. â€Å"Just some stuff for the navy,† Cliff said, obviously wanting to back away from Amy, but knowing that if he did, somehow he’d lose face. Nate watched while Amy grated his friend’s middle-aged irrelevance against his male ego merely by stepping a foot closer. There, too, was a reaction from Tarwater, as the younger man seemed to be irritated by the fact that Amy was paying attention to Cliff. Or maybe he was just irritated with Amy because she was irritating. Sometimes Nate had to remind himself not to think like a biologist. â€Å"You know, Cliff,† Amy said, â€Å"I was looking at a map the other day – and I want you to brace yourself, because this may come as a shock – but there’s no coastline in Iowa. I mean, doesn’t that get in the way of studying marine mammals?† â€Å"Sure, now you bring that up,† Cliff said. â€Å"Where were you ten years ago when I accepted the position?† â€Å"Middle school,† Amy said. â€Å"What’s in the big case on your boat? Sonar array? You guys doing another LFA study?† Tarwater coughed. â€Å"Amy,† Nate interrupted, â€Å"we’d better get set up.† â€Å"Right,† Amy said. â€Å"Nice seeing you guys.† She moved on. Nate grinned, just for a second. â€Å"Sorry, you know how it is?† â€Å"Yeah.† Cliff Hyland smiled. â€Å"We’ve got two grad students working with us this season.† â€Å"But we left our grommets at home, to analyze data,† Tarwater added. Nate and Cliff looked at each other like two old broken-toothed lions long driven from the pride – tired, but secure in the knowledge that if they teamed up, they could eat the younger male alive. Cliff shrugged, almost imperceptibly, that small gesture communicating, Sorry, Nate, I know he’s an asshole, but what am I going to do? It’s funding. â€Å"I’d better go in,† Nate said, patting the notes in his shirt pocket. He passed a couple more acquaintances, saying hello as he went by, then inside the door ran right into a minor nightmare: Amy talking to his ex-wife, Libby, and her partner, Margaret. It had been like this: They’d met ten years ago, summer in Alaska, a remote lodge on Baranof Island on the Chatham Strait, where scientists were given access to a couple of rigid-hulled Zodiacs and all the canned beans, smoked salmon, and Russian vodka they could consume. Nate had come to observe the feeding behavior of his beloved humpbacks and record social sounds that might help him to interpret the song they sang when in Hawaii. Libby was doing biopsies on the population of resident (fish-eating) killer whales to prove that all the different pods were indeed part of one clan related by blood. He was two years divorced from his second wife. Libby, at thirty, was two months from finishing her doctoral dissertation in cetacean biology. Consequently, since high school she hadn’t had time for anything but research – seasonal affairs with boat skippers, senior researchers, grad students, fishermen, and the occasional photographer or documentary filmmaker. She was n’t particularly promiscuous, but there was a sea of men you were set adrift in if you were going to study whales, and if you didn’t want to spend your life alone, you pulled into a convenient, if scruffy, port from time to time. The transience of the work drove a lot of women out of the field. On the other hand, Nate tried to solve the male side of the equation by marrying other whale researchers, reasoning that only someone who was equally obsessed, distracted, and single-minded would be able to tolerate those qualities in a mate. That sort of reasoning, of course, was testament to the victory of romanticism over reason, irony over rationality, and pure foolishness over common sense. The only thing that being married to another scientist had gotten Nate was a reprieve from being asked what he was thinking about while lying in bed in a postcoital cuddle. They knew what he was thinking about, because they were thinking about the same thing: whales. They were both lean and blond and weather-beaten, and one evening, as they were portaging gear from their respective Zodiacs, Libby unzipped her survival suit and tied the sleeves around her waist so she could move more freely. Nate said, â€Å"You look good in that.† No one, absolutely no one, looks good in a survival suit (unless a Day-Glo orange marshmallow man is your idea of a hot date), but Libby didn’t even make the effort to roll her eyes. â€Å"I have vodka and a shower in my cabin,† she said. â€Å"I have a shower in my cabin, too,† Nate said. Libby just shook her head and trudged up the path to the lodge. Over her shoulder she called, â€Å"In five minutes there’s going to be a naked woman in my shower. You got one of those?† â€Å"Oh,† said Nate. They were both still lean, but no longer blond. Nate was completely gray, and Libby was getting there. She smiled when he approached. â€Å"We heard about the break-in, Nate. I meant to call you.† â€Å"That’s okay,† he said. â€Å"Not much you can do.† â€Å"That’s what you think,† Amy said. She was bouncing on the balls of her feet as if she were going to explode or Tigger off across the room any second. â€Å"I think these might mitigate the loss a little,† Libby said. She slung her day pack off her shoulder, reached in, and came out with a handful of CDs in paper sleeves. â€Å"You forgot about these, I’ll bet? You loaned them to us last season so we could pull off any social noises in the background.† â€Å"It’s all the singer recordings from the last ten years,† Amy said. â€Å"Isn’t that great!† Nate felt as if he might faint. To lose ten years’ work, then reconcile the loss, only to have it handed back to him. He put his hand on Libby’s shoulder to steady himself. â€Å"I don’t know what to say. I thought you gave those back.† â€Å"We made copies.† Margaret stepped over to Quinn and in doing so got a foot between him and his ex-wife. â€Å"You said it would be okay. We were only using them for comparison to our own samples.† â€Å"No, it’s okay,† Nate said. He almost patted her shoulder, but as he moved in that direction she flinched and he let his hand drop. â€Å"Thank you, Margaret.† Margaret had interposed herself completely between Nate and Libby, making a barrier of her own body (behavior she’d obviously picked up from her cow/calf studies – a humpback mother did the same thing when boats or amorous males approached her calf). Amy snatched the handful of CDs from Libby. â€Å"I’d better go through these. I can probably come up with a few relevant samples to play along with the slides if I hurry.† â€Å"I’ll go with you,† Margaret said, eyeing Amy. â€Å"My handwriting on the catalog numbers leaves something to be desired.† And off they went toward the projection station in the middle of the hall, leaving Nate standing with Libby, wondering exactly what had just transpired. â€Å"She really does have an extraordinary ass, Nate,† Libby said as she watched Amy walk away. â€Å"Yep,† Nate said, not wanting to have this conversation. â€Å"She’s very bright, too.† Sometime in the last week a tiny voice in his head had started asking, Could this get any weirder? In two minutes he’d gone from anxiety to embarrassment to anxiety to relief to gratitude to scoping chicks with his ex-wife. Oh, yes, little voice, it can always get weirder. â€Å"I think Margaret may be on a recruiting mission,† Libby said. â€Å"I hope she checked our budget before she left.† â€Å"Amy’s working for free,† Nate said. Libby leaned up on tiptoes and whispered, â€Å"I believe that a starting position on the all-girl team has just opened up.† Then she kissed his cheek. â€Å"You knock ’em dead tonight, Nate.† And she was off after Amy and Margaret. Clay and Kona arrived just as Libby walked away, and, irritatingly, Kona was checking out Libby from behind. â€Å"Irie, Boss Nate. Who’s the biscuit auntie suckin’ face with ya?† (Like many authentic Hawaiians, Kona called any woman a generation older â€Å"auntie,† even if he was horning after her.) â€Å"You brought him here,† Nate said to Clay without turning to face him. â€Å"He’s got to learn,† Clay said. â€Å"Libby seemed friendly.† â€Å"She’s chasing Amy.† â€Å"Oh, she a blackheart thief that would take a man’s Snowy Biscuit to have a punaani nosh. That Snowy Biscuit belong our tribe.† â€Å"Libby was Nate’s third wife,† Clay volunteered, as if that would somehow immediately illuminate why the blackheart Libby was trying to steal the Snowy Biscuit from their tribe. â€Å"Truth?† Kona said, shaking his great gorgonation of dreadlocks in rag-doll confusion. â€Å"You married a lesbian?† â€Å"Whale willies,† said Clay, adding neither insight nor illumination. â€Å"I should go over my notes,† Nate said. CHAPTER EIGHT A Rippin’ Talk â€Å"Biology,† said the pseudo Hawaiian, â€Å"dat bitch make sex puppets of everyone.† Clay had just told him the story. The story was this: Five years into her marriage to Nathan Quinn, Libby had gone for the summer to the Bering Sea to put satellite-tracking tags on female right whales. She had already begun working with Margaret Painborne, who was at the time trying to find out more about the mating and gestation behavior of right whales. The best way to do that was to keep constant tabs on the females. Now, sexing whales can be an incredibly difficult task, as their genitalia, for hydrodynamic reasons, are all internal. Without a biopsy or without being in the water with the animal (which means death in three minutes in the Bering Sea), about the only way to determine sex is to catch a female when she is with her calf or while the animals are mating. Libby and Margaret had decided to tag the animals while they were mating. Their base ship was an eighty-foot schooner loaned to the project by Scripps, but to do the actually tagging they used a nimble twelve-foot Zodiac with a forty-horse engine. They’d spotted a female trying to evade the advances of two giant males. The right whale is one of the few animals in the world that uses a washout strategy for mating. That is, the females mate with several males, but the one who can wash out the others’ seed most efficiently will pass his genes on to the next generation. Consequently, the guy with the largest tackle often wins, and male right whales have the biggest tackle in the world, with testes that weigh up to a ton and ten-foot penises that are not only long but prehensile, able to reach around a female from the side and introduce themselves on the sly. Libby took the front of the boat, where she braced herself with a fifteen-foot fiberglass pole tipped with a barbed stainless point attached to the satellite unit. Margaret steered the outboard, maneuvering over frigid seven-foot seas, into the position where Libby could set the tag. Right whales are not particularly fast (whalers caught them in rowboats, for Christ’s sake), but they are big and broad, and in the frenzy of a mating chase, a small Zodiac provides about as much protection from their thrashing, sixty-ton bodies as would wearing aluminum-foil armor to a joust. And noble Libby, action-girl nerd that she was, did look somewhat like a gallant knight in Day-Glo orange, her lance ready to strike as her trusty warhorse, Evinrude, powered her over the waves. And as they approached the big female, a male on either side of her, the two sandwiching her so she could not escape, she rolled over onto her back, presenting her genitals to the sky. At that she slowed, and Margaret steered between the two tails of the males so Libby could set the tag. The female stopped then and floated up under the Zodiac. Margaret powered down the motor so as not to rake the animal with the prop. â€Å"Shit!† Libby screamed. â€Å"Get us off! Get us off!† A swipe from the flukes of any of the animals would put them in the water, minutes from hypothermia and death. Libby had rolled her survival suit down so she could maneuver the harpoon. She’d be pulled under in seconds. Suddenly, out of the water on either side of them came two huge penises, the males searching for their mark, moving closer to the female, producing waves that knocked the two women into the floor of the boat. Above them the two pink towers curved around looking for their target, feeling the edges of the boat, running slime across the rubber, over the biologists, poking, beating about, and generally abusing the women. The female now had the Zodiac centered exactly over her genitals, using the rubber boat as an ad hoc diaphragm. Then the two giant whale willies encountered one another in the middle of the Zodiac, and each evidently thinking that the other had found his target and not wanting to be left out, they let loose with great gushing gouts of sticky whale semen, filling the boat, covering the equipment, the scientists, washing the gunwales, swamping the motor, generally leaving everything but the gal whale completely and disgustingly jizzed. Mission accomplished, off they swam t o strain a little postcoital krill out of the fray. Margaret suffered a concussion and a partially detached retina, Libby a dislocated shoulder and various scrapes and bruises, but the real trauma could not be assuaged with snaps, slings, and Betadine. Several weeks later Libby rejoined Nate, who was down at the Chatham Strait with Clay filming feeding behavior. She walked into his cabin, hugged him, then stepped back and said, â€Å"Nate, I don’t think I want to be married anymore.† But what she really meant was â€Å"I’m done with penises forever, Nate, and pleasant as you are, I know that you are still attached to one. I’ve had my fill, so to speak. I’m moving on.† â€Å"Okay,† Nate said. He told Clay later that for hours he had been feeling hungry and kept telling himself that he should stop working and go eat, but after Libby showed up, then left, he realized that he hadn’t been hungry at all. The emptiness inside was from feeling lonesome. And Nate had stayed relatively lonesome and mostly heartbroken since that day (although he didn’t whine about it, he just wore it). Clay didn’t tell Kona this part. Confessions made over whiskey and campfires were privileged communication. Loyalty. â€Å"So,† said Nate, â€Å"Since the song appears, in most cases, to actually draw the attention of other males, who often join up with the singer, it would seem that the song cannot be directly connected to mating activity, other than it happens in the mating season. And since no one has actually observed humpbacks mating, even this assumption could be in error. If, indeed, the song is the male attempting to define his territory, it would seem ineffective, since other males tend to join singers, even those escorting cow/calf pairs. The study recommends that more studies be done to find out if there is, as previously thought, any direct correlation between humpback song and mating activity. Thank you. I’ll take your questions.† Hands went up. Here it came: the crystal gazers, the whale buggers, the hippies, the hunters, the tourists, the developers, the wackos, the researchers (God help us, the researchers), and the idly curious. Nate didn’t mind the curious. They were the only ones without an agenda. Everyone else was looking for confirmations, not answers. Should he go to a researcher first? Get it out of the way? Might as well go right to the dark side. â€Å"Yes, Gilbert.† He pointed to the Count. The tall researcher had taken off his sunglasses but had pulled down the brim of his hat as if to conceal the glowing red coals of his eyes. Or maybe Nate was just imagining that. The Count said, â€Å"So with these small samplings – what was it, five instances of interactions among singers and others? – there’s no real conclusion that you can reach about the relation to breeding or the robustness of the population? Correct?† Nate sighed. Fuckwad, he thought. He spoke to the strange faces in the audience, the nonprofessionals. â€Å"As you know, Dr. Box, samples for whale-behavior studies are usually very small. It’s understood that we have to extrapolate more from the data with whales than with other animals who are more easily observed. Small samples are an accepted limitation of the field.† â€Å"So what you are saying,† Box continued, â€Å"is that you are trying to extrapolate the behavior of an animal that spends less than three percent of its time on the surface from observing its behavior on the surface. Isn’t that akin to trying to extrapolate all of human civilization from looking at people’s legs underwater at the beach? I mean, I don’t see how you could possibly do it.† Nate looked around the room, hoping that one of the other behavior researchers might jump in, help him out, throw a bone to the podium, but apparently they were all finding the displays on the bulletin boards, the ceiling fans, or the wooden floor planks irresistibly interesting. â€Å"Lately we’ve been spending more and more time observing the animals under the water. Clay Demodocus has over six hundred hours of videotape of humpback behavior underwater. But it’s only recently, with digital videotape and rebreather technology, that underwater observation has become practical to do to any extent. And we still have the problem of propulsion. No diver can swim fast enough to keep up with the humpbacks when they’re traveling. I think all the researchers in this room understand the value of observing the animals in the water, and it goes without saying that any research without consideration of underwater behavior is incomplete. You understand that, I’m sure, Dr. Box.† There were a few stifled snickers around the room. Nathan Quinn smiled. The Count would not go into the water, under any circumstances. He was either terrified of it or allergic to it, but it was obvious from watching him on his boat that he wanted no contact whatsoever with the water. Still, if he was going to get his funding from the International Whaling Commission, he had to get out there and count whales. On the water, never in it. Quinn believed that Box did bad science, and because of that he had gone into consulting, the â€Å"dark side.† He performed studies and provided data for the highest bidder, and Nate had no doubt that the data was skewed to the agenda of the funding. Some nations in the IWC wanted to lift the moratorium on hunting whales, but first they had to prove that the populations had recovered enough to sustain hunting. Gilbert Box was getting them their numbers. Nate was happy to have embarrassed Box. He waited for the gaunt scientist to nod before he took the next question. â€Å"Yes, Margaret.† â€Å"Your study seems to focus on the perspective of the male animals, without consideration for the female’s role in the behavior. Could you speak to that?† Jeez, what a surprise, thought Nate. â€Å"Well, I think there’s good work being done on the cow/calf behavior, as well as on surface-active groups, which we assume is mating-related activity, but since my work concerns singers and as far as we know, all singers are males, I tend to observe more male behavior.† There, that should do it. â€Å"So you can’t say definitively that the females are not the ones controlling the behavior?† â€Å"Margaret, as my research assistant has repeatedly pointed out to me, the only thing I can say definitively about humpbacks is that they are big and wet.† Everyone laughed. Quinn looked at Amy and she winked at him, then, when he looked back to Margaret, he saw Libby beside her, winking at him as well. But at least the tension among the researchers was broken, and Quinn noticed that Captain Tarwater and Jon Thomas Fuller and his entourage were no longer raising their hands to ask questions. Perhaps they realized that they weren’t going to learn anything, and they certainly didn’t want to try to pursue their own agendas in front of a crowd and be slapped down the way Gilbert Box had. Quinn took the questions from the nonscientists. â€Å"Could they just be saying hi?† â€Å"Yes.† â€Å"If they don’t eat here, and it’s not for mating, then why do they sing?† â€Å"That’s a good question.† â€Å"Do you think they know that we’ve been contacted by aliens and are trying to contact the mother ship?† Ah, always good to hear from the wacko fringe, Nate thought. â€Å"No, I don’t think that.† â€Å"Maybe they’re using their sonar to find other whales.† â€Å"As far as we know, baleen whales, toothless whales like the humpbacks who strain their food from the sea through sheets of baleen, don’t echolocate the way toothed whales do.† â€Å"Why do they jump all the time? Other whales don’t jump like that.† â€Å"Some think that they are sloughing skin or trying to knock off parasites, but after years of watching them, I think that they just like making a splash – the sensation of air on their skin. The way you might like to dangle your feet in a fountain. I think they’re just goofing off.† â€Å"I heard that someone broke into your office and destroyed all of your research. Who do you think would want to do that?† Nate paused. The woman who had asked the question was holding a reporter’s steno pad. Maui Times, he guessed. She had stood to ask her question, as if she were attending a press conference rather than a casual lecture. â€Å"What you have to ask yourself,† said Nate, â€Å"is who could possibly care about research on singers?† â€Å"And who would that be?† â€Å"Me, a few people in this room, and perhaps a dozen or so researchers around the world. At least for now. Perhaps as we find out more, more people will be interested.† â€Å"So you’re saying that someone in this room broke into your offices and destroyed all your research?† â€Å"No. As a biologist, one of the things you have to guard against is applying motives where there are none and reading more into a behavior than the data actually support. Sort of like the answer to the ‘why do they jump? question. You could say that it’s part of an incredibly complex system of communication, and you might be right, but the obvious answer, and probably the correct one, is that the whales are goofing off. I think the break-in was just a random act of vandalism that has the appearance of motive.† Bullshit, Quinn thought. â€Å"Thank you, Dr. Quinn,† said the reporter. She sat down. â€Å"Thank you all for coming,† said Nate. Applause. Nate arranged his notes as people gathered around the podium. â€Å"That was bullshit,† Amy said. â€Å"Complete bullshit,† said Libby Quinn. â€Å"What a load of crap,† said Cliff Hyland. â€Å"Rippin’ talk, Doc,† Kona said, â€Å"Marley’s ghost was in ye.† CHAPTER NINE Relativity Leathery bar girls worked the charter booths at the harbor, smoking Basic 100s and talking in voices that sounded like 151 rum poured into hot grease – a jigger of friendly to the liter of harsh. They were thirty-five or sixty-five, the color of mahogany, skinny and strong from living on boats, liquor, fish, and disappointment. They’d come here from a dozen coastal towns, some sailing from the mainland in small craft but forgetting to save enough courage for the trip home. Marooned. Man to man, boat to boat, year to year – salt and sun and drinking had left them dry enough to cough dust. If they lasted a hundred years – and some would – then one moonless night a great hooded wraith would swoop into the harbor and take them off to their own craggy island – uncharted and unseen more than once by any living man – and there they would keep the enchantment of the sea alive: lure lost sailors to the shore, suck out all of their f luids, and leave their desiccated husks crumbling on the rocks for the crabs and the black gulls. Thus were the sea hags born†¦ but that’s another story. Today they were just razzing Clay for leading two girls down the dock. â€Å"Just like outboards, Clay, you gotta have two to make sure one’s always running,† called Margie, who had once, after ten mai-tais, tried to go down on the wooden sea captain who guarded the doorway of the Pioneer Inn. Debbie, who had a secret source for little-boy pee that she put in the ears of the black-coral divers when they got ear infections, said, â€Å"You give that young one the first watch, Clay. Let her rest up a bit.† â€Å"Morning, ladies,† Clay tossed over his shoulder. He was grinning and blushing, his ears showing red even where they weren’t sunburned. Fifty years old, he’d dived every sea, been attacked by sharks, survived malaria and Malaysian pirates, ridden in a titanium ball with a window five miles down into the Tonga Trench, and still he blushed. Clair, Clay’s girlfriend of four years, a forty-year-old Japanese-Hawaiian schoolteacher who moved like she was doing the hula to a Sousa march (strange mix of regal order and island breeze), backhanded a hang-loose shaka at the cronettes and said, grinning, â€Å"She just along to pour buckets on his reels girls, keep him from burning up.† â€Å"Oh, you guys are so friggin’ nautical,† said Amy, who was wrestling with a huge Pelican case that held the rebreather. The case slipped out of her grip and barked her shin before she caught it. â€Å"Ouch. Damn it. Oh yeah, everyone loves your salty friggin’ charm.† A chorus of cackles from the charter booths wheezed into coughing fits. Back to the cats, the cauldrons, the coconut oil, the sacred Jimmy Buffett songs sung at midnight into the ear of drunken, white-bearded Hemingway wannabes to make that rum-soaked member rise from the dead just this one last time. The leathery bar girls turned back to their business as Kona passed by. â€Å"Irie, Sistah Amy. Give up ye burden,† said Kona, bounding down the dock to sweep the heavy rebreather out of Amy’s grip and up onto his shoulder. Amy rubbed her arm. â€Å"Thanks. Where’s Nate?† â€Å"He go to the fuel dock to get coffee for the whole tribe. A lion, him.† â€Å"Yeah, he’s a good guy. You’ll be going out with him today. I have to go along with Clay and Clair as a safety diver.† â€Å"Slippers off in the boat,† Clay said to Clair for the hundredth time. She rolled her eyes and kicked off her flip-flops before stepping down into the Always Confused. She offered Clay a hand, and he steadied her as if escorting a lady from the king’s court to the ballroom floor. Kona handed the rebreather down to Clay. â€Å"I can safety-dive.† â€Å"You’ll never be able to clear your ears. You can’t pinch your nostrils shut with those nose rings in.† â€Å"They come out. Look, out they come.† He tossed the rings to Amy and she deftly sidestepped, letting them plop into the water. â€Å"Oops.† â€Å"Amy’s a certified diver, kid. Sorry. You’re with Nate today.† â€Å"He know that?† â€Å"Yeah, does he know that?† asked Clair. â€Å"He will soon. Get those lines, would you, Amy.† â€Å"I can drive the boat.† Kona was on the edge of pleading. â€Å"No one but me drives the boat,† said Clay. â€Å"I’m driving the boat,† corrected Clair. â€Å"You have to sleep with Clay to drive the boat,† said Amy. â€Å"You just do what Nate tells you,† Clay said. â€Å"You’ll be fine.† â€Å"If I sleep with Amy can I drive the boat?† â€Å"Nobody drives the boat,† Clay said. â€Å"I drive the boat,† Clair said. â€Å"Nobody sleeps with Amy,† Amy said. â€Å"I sleep with Amy,† Clair said. And everyone stopped and looked at Clair. â€Å"Who wants cream?† asked Nate, arriving at that moment with a paper tray of coffee cups. â€Å"You can do your own sugar.† â€Å"That’s what I’m saying,† said Clair. â€Å"Sisters are doing it for themselves.† And Nate hung there in space, holding a cup and a sugar packet, a wooden stir stick, a baffled expression. Clair grinned. â€Å"Kidding. Jeez, you guys.† Everyone breathed. Coffee was distributed, gear was loaded, Clay drove the Always Confused out of the harbor, pausing to wave to the Count and his crew, who were loading gear into a thirty-foot rigid-hull Zodiac normally used for parasailing. The Count pulled down the brim of his hat and stood in the bow of the Zodiac, his sun umbrella at port arms, looking like a skeletal statue of Washington crossing the Lethe. The crew waved, Gilbert Box scowled. â€Å"I like him,† Clay said. â€Å"He’s predictable.† But Amy and Clair missed the comment. They were applying sunscreen and indulging in girl talk in the bow. â€Å"You can talk like such a floozy sometimes,† said Amy. â€Å"I wish I could be floozish.† Clair poked her in the leg with a long, red-lacquered fingernail. â€Å"Don’t sell yourself short, pumpkin.† The ersatz Hawaiian stood on the bow rail like he was hanging ten off the twenty-two-foot Mako, waving to the Zodiac crew as they passed. â€Å"Irie, science dreadies! We be research jammin’ now!† But when the Count ignored his greeting, Kona gave the traditional island response: â€Å"What, I owe you money?† â€Å"Settle, Kona,† Nate said. â€Å"And get down off of there.† Kona made his way back to the console. â€Å"Old white jacket givin’ you the stink-eye. Why, he think you an agent of Babylon?† â€Å"He does bad science. People come to me to ask me about him, I tell them he does bad science.† â€Å"And we do the good science?† â€Å"We don’t change our numbers to please the people who fund us. The Japanese want numbers that show recovery of the humpback population to levels where the IWC will let them start hunting them again. Gilbert tries to give them those numbers.† â€Å"Kill these humpies? No.† â€Å"Yes.† â€Å"No. Why?† â€Å"To eat.† â€Å"No,† said the blond Rastaman, shaking his head as if to clear the evil from his ears – his dreads fanning out into nappy spokes. Quinn smiled to himself. The moratorium had been in effect since before Kona was born. As far as the kid knew, whales had been and always would be safe from hunters. Quinn knew better. â€Å"Eating whale is very traditional in Japan. It sort of has the ritual of our Thanksgiving. But it’s dying out.† â€Å"Then it’s all good.† â€Å"No. There are a lot of old men who want to bring back whale hunting as a tradition. The Japanese whaling industry is subsidized by the government. It’s not even a viable business. They serve whale meat in the school-lunch program so kids will develop a taste for it.† â€Å"No. No one eats the whale.† â€Å"The IWC allows them to kill five hundred minke whales a year, but they kill more. And biologists have found whale meat from half a dozen endangered whale species in Japanese markets. They try to pass it off as minke whale, but the DNA doesn’t lie.† â€Å"Minke? That devil in the white war paint killing our minke?† â€Å"We don’t have any minkes here in Hawaii.† â€Å"Course not, the Count killing them. We going to chant down this evil fuckery.† Kona dug into his red, gold, and green fanny pack. Out came an extraordinarily complex network of plastic, brass, and stainless-steel tubing, which in seconds Kona had assembled into what Quinn thought was either a very small and elegant linear particle accelerator or, more likely, the most complex bong ever constructed. â€Å"Slow de boat, brah. I got to spark up for freedom. Chant down Babylon, go into battle for Jah’s glory, mon. Slow de boat.† â€Å"Put that away.† Kona paused, his Bic lighter poised over the bowl. â€Å"Take de ship home to Zion, brah?† â€Å"No, we have work to do.† Nate slowed the boat and killed the motor. They were about a mile off Lahaina. â€Å"Chant down Babylon?† Kona raised the lighter. â€Å"No. Put that away. I’ll show you how to drop the hydrophone.† Quinn checked the tape in the recorder on the console. â€Å"Save our minkes?† Kona waved the lighter, unlit, in circles over the bowl. â€Å"Did Clay show you how to take an ID photo?† Nate pulled the hydrophone and the coil of cord out of its case. â€Å"Ride Jah’s herb into the mystic?† â€Å"No! Put that away and get the camera out of that cabinet in the bow.† Kona broke down the bong with a series of whirs and clicks and put it back in his fanny pack. â€Å"All right, brah, but when they have eated all your minkes, will not be Jah’s fault.† An hour later, after listening, and moving, and listening again, they had found their singer. Kona stood balanced on the gunwale of the boat staring down in wonder at the big male, who was parked under the boat making a sound approximating that of a kidnap victim trying to scream through duct tape. Kona would look from the whale to Nate, grin, then look back to the whale again, the whole time perched and balanced on the gunwale like a gargoyle on the parapet of a building. Nate guessed that he would be able to hold that position for about two minutes before his knees locked permanently and he’d be forced to finish life in a toadish squat. Still, he envied Kona the enthusiasm of discovery, the fascination and excitement of being around these great animals for the first time. He envied him his youth and his strength. And, listening to the song in the headphones, the song that seemed so clearly to be a statement of mating and yet refused to give up any direct evidence that it was, Nate felt a profound irrelevance. Sexually, socially, intellectually, fiscally, scientifically irrelevant – a sack of borrowed atoms lumpily arranged in a Nate shape. No effect, purpose, or stability. He tried to listen more closely to what the whale was doing, to lose himself in analyzing what exactly was going on below, but that merely seemed to underscore the suspicion that not only was he getting old, he might be going crazy. This was the first time he’d been out since the â€Å"bite me† incident, and since then he had convinced himself that it must have been some sort of hallucination. Still, he cringed a bit every time the whale humped its tail to dive, expecting to see a message scrawled across the flukes. â€Å"He’s making them up noises, boss.† Nate nodded. The kid was learning fast. â€Å"Get your camera ready, Kona. He’ll breathe three, maybe four times before he dives, so be ready.† Abruptly the singing in the headphones stopped. Nate pulled up the hydrophone and started the engine. They waited. â€Å"He went that way, boss,† Kona said, pointing off to the starboard side. Nate turned the boat slowly in place and waited. They were looking in the direction in which Kona had seen the whale moving underwater when he surfaced behind them, not ten feet away from the boat, the blow making both of them jump, the spray wafting across them in a rainbow cloud. â€Å"Ho! Dat buggah up, boss!† â€Å"Thank you, Captain Obvious,† Nate said under his breath. He pulled down the throttle and came in behind the whale. On its next breath the whale rolled and slapped a long pectoral fin on the surface, soaking Kona and throwing heavy spray over the console. At least the kid had had the sense to use his body to shield the camera from the splash. â€Å"I love this whale!† Kona said, his Rastaspeak melting, leaving behind a middle-class Jersey accent. â€Å"I want to take this whale home and put him in a box with grass and rocks. Buy him squeaky toys.† â€Å"Get ready for your ID shot,† Nate instructed. â€Å"When we’re done with him, can I keep him? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeze!† â€Å"Here he goes, Kona. Focus.† The whale humped, then fluked, and Kona fired off four quick frames with the motor drive. â€Å"You get it?† â€Å"Rippin’ pics. Rippin’!† Kona put the camera down on the seat in front of the console and covered it with a towel. Nate pointed the boat toward the last fluke print, a twenty-foot lens of smooth water formed on the surface by the turbulence of the whale’s tail. These lenses would hold on the surface sometimes for as long as two minutes, serving as windows through which the researchers could watch the whales. In the old whaling days the hunters believed that fluke prints had been caused by oil excreted by the whale. Nate cut the engine and let the boat coast over the fluke print. They could hear the whale song coming up from below and could feel the boat vibrating under their feet. Nate dropped the hydrophones, hit the ;record; button, and put on the headphones. Kona was recording the frame numbers and GPS coordinates in the notebook as Nate had taught him. A monkey can do my job, Nate thought. An hour’s experience and this stoner is already doing it. This kid is younger, stronger, and faster than I am, and I’m not even sure that I’m smarter, as if that matters. I’m totally irrelevant. But maybe it did matter. Maybe it wasn’t all about strength. Culture and language completely screwed up normal biological evolution. Why would we humans have developed such big brains if mating was always predicated on strength and size? Women must have chosen their mates based on intelligence as well. Perhaps early smart guys would say something like â€Å"There, right behind those rocks, there’s a tasty sloth ripe for the spearing. Go get him, guys.† Then, after he’d sent the stronger, dumber guys running off a cliff after the imaginary sloth, he’d settle down with the best of the Cro-Magnon cuties to mix some genes. â€Å"That’s right, bite my brow ridge. Bite it!† Nate smiled. Kona was looking over the side at the singer, whose tail was only twenty feet below the boat (although his head was forty feet deeper). He was only a couple of minutes into his song. He’d be down at least ten minutes more. â€Å"Kona, we need to get a DNA sample.† â€Å"How we do that?† Nate pulled a set of flippers out of the console and handed them and an empty coffee cup out to the surfer. â€Å"You’re going to need to go get a semen sample.† The surfer gulped. Looked at the whale, looked at the cup, looked over the side at the whale again. â€Å"No lid?† How to cite Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings Chapter 7~9, Essay examples

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