It was rare for Zachary Calloway to be in his office; typically he spent all his hours on campus in the lab. But the phone rang on one of those rare occasions, when he was leafing through mediocre student papers. "Biology, Calloway, can I help you," he answered.
"Bon jour, Zack. This is Andre."
"Andre, you crazed frog! How are you?"
"I am fine, my good friend. How are things in your ivory tower?"
"Couldnít be better, Andre. Fall break starts tomorrow. I keep saying Iím going to get caught up on work, but Iíll probably just sit around, just like my students."
"So you are not teaching for a few days? That is excellent. I know that since graduate school you have placed more emphasis on teaching than on research, but I am wondering if you could change that for a few days. I wonder if you have been following the news of the sea turtles here in Newfoundland?"
The last was a silly question; Zack was one of the leading American marine biologists, and had written his thesis on sea turtles. "Yes, I have. A sea turtle towing a drowning child into shore, and turtles helping the passengers of a small overturned boat stay afloat until help arrived. I always knew they possessed some intelligence; now theyíre showing benevolence as well."
"Well my friend, we have here at the research center one of these turtles, which was caught in a drift net. She is wounded, but alive. And she is a most interesting specimen. I think you should come up here and have a look at her."
"Come to Newfoundland? Whatís so interesting about it? Canít you just tell me over the phone?" Zack had promised his wife theyíd spend some time at home; she was a drama professor, and was just as saddled with theater work as he was in the lab.
"Trust me, my friend. You must see this for yourself. I tell you, it is the most amazing development I have ever seen. It will make our careers. Not just in biology, but everywhere."
After graduate school, Zackís French-Canadian friend had gone to work in the field, at an outpost of the Canadian Center for Marine Biology. If he was this serious about something, it must be big. "Can I bring my wife?"
The trip overland from the airport had been tiring. The Calloways arrived at Andreís home-and-laboratory by the sea in the early evening, with a cool breeze in the October air. Andre came out of the building to meet them, embracing Zack and shaking Delilahís hand. "So good to see you. I am so glad you could come. Please, come inside. We have a small room were you can stay; it is a bit cozy, but you will be comfortable. You must see Daphne right away."
"Daphne? Is that what youíre calling this turtle?"
"Oui." Andre ushered them inside, down a hallway, and into a sizable lab room. A colossal cage complete with a plastic kiddie pool took up half the room, and in it sat a venerable sea turtle, monitored by a young man in a lab coat. "You remember my assistant Peter, yes? And now, Daphne, I would like you to meet Zack and Delilah."
"Nice to meet you, Daphne," Zack said in that voice one uses to speak to animals and very small children. "Lovely specimen, Andre."
Thank you. Nice to meet you as well.
Zack was startled. The voice made no sound; it simply materialized in his head. Yet he knew the voice had come from the turtle. He looked at Delilah to verify that he had not gone insane; sure enough, she had heard it too. "Andre?Ö It can talk?"
I donít talk like you, Dr. Calloway. Itís a form of mental telepathy. I can hear and understand you just fine, however.
Zack paused, still in disbelief. "But how did youÖ get like this?"
Itís evolution, Dr. Calloway. There was a quantum leap in the development of my species some years ago, and we have developed great intelligence and certain powers. We have tried to avoid excessive contact with humans since this change, so we could develop on our own. However, circumstances are such that we had to make contact.
"Andre, why didnít you tell me about this on the phone?"
"Oh, I thought of it, but you probably would have thought me mad. I have wondered if I myself had gone mad. You are the first besides Peter and myself to communicate with Daphne. I wanted to bring in an outsider to verify what was happening, and hear what she has to say."
The seas are in great danger, Dr. Calloway. They are severely polluted.
"No kidding," said Zack dryly. "Tell me something I don't know."
No, it is worse than you think. The pollution levels are such that if corrections are not made immediately, they will be irreversible, and threaten all life on the planet. We have certain advantages over humans in determining this.
"I understand. And to be frank, I'm not surprised. But what can we do? If we knew how to clean up the oceans, we'd have done so long ago."
We have methods that will help with this task. We are unable to implement them alone. Believe me, you don't know how lucky you are to have opposable thumbs. We need your assistance, however, to contact and convince the appropriate parties.
The turtle had no proof, yet somehow Zack knew instinctively that everything she said was true. "Andre, any ideas?"
"I think I know some people to contact within the Canadian government. Perhaps you know some back in America. How about we go have dinner, and we can talk it over." Andre began herding them out the door. "Peter, let's close up shop. Good night Daphne!"
Good night everyone.
In the hallway, Andre spoke barely above a whisper. "There is a problem. She is dying. I fear she may not have more than a few days."
"Aw, no," said Zack, "she didn't look bad."
"Yes, but she is very old, and the drift net experience took a lot out of her. And so time is of the essenceóand I'm uncertain as to who to contact."
"And if she dies now," said Delilah, "it doesn't do much for our case. 'Yes, Mr. President, a talking turtle told us we have to stop polluting the oceans.'"
"Precisely. Come in here to the kitchen, I make you something nice, huh?"
Nestorís Rat Shack was perhaps the most non-descript yet vaguely unpleasant bar in all of Newfoundland. Its seedy atmosphere dark interior, cheap beer, and small clientele of questionable character made it the perfect hangout for Captain Ed Burton. Captain Burton was one of the last whale poachers in the Maritime Provinces; one of the last partly because business was poor, and partly because he had killed or scared off many of the competitors. While on shore, the Rat Shack was a good place to find him, and at that time he was there sharing a beer at one end of the bar with his first mate, Abner Wiggins.
"I canít believe you sold that carcass to the packing plant," said the wiry Wiggins. "That thing sat in our hold for five or six days."
"I never minded the maggots much," said the captain, "you just cook it all up long enough and you donít even notice. I figure theyíre just blending it with their other fish to stretch it; theyíll be fine." The captain took notice of a man in a white lab coat at the other end of the bar, head bent over half a beer and two empty shot glasses. "Say, whoís that feller down there?"
"Hey, I think itís that guy what works at the lab. You know, the marine biology place that French Canadian nutball runs."
The captain stood up and hitched up his pants. "This could be interesting." He sauntered down to the other end of the bar, and put a hand on the drunken lab assistantís shoulder. "Hey there, matey, youíre lookiní down in your beer there. Howís things at that lab place of yours?"
"Turtles," Peter mumbled.
"I beg your pardon?"
"The turtles," he said, "Theyíve gotten smart. They can talk, sort of. I canít believe it."
The captain grinned widely. "Talking turtles. Well Iíll be damned."
"Itís the most important discovery in marine biologyÖ well, ever. And that crummy little frog is going to get all the credit."
The captain wasnít sure if he was just listening to a drunken fool, or if Peter was telling the truth. "You say theyíreÖ smart. What do you mean?"
"They say they can tell the ocean is polluted, and they know how to fix it." Suddenly Peter turned to the captain, clutching his wool coat. "And itís TRUE! I donít know why, but somehow, listening to her, I know itís the truth. It sounds insane, but anyone coming to see her will know it too."
"Her? Who is her? You got one of these turtles?"
Peter snorted and swilled the rest of his beer. "Yeah. One got caught in a drift net and ended up with us."
"Well, now, thatís all very interesting. Barkeep, put this young manís next round on my tab." The captain returned to his first mate, with a devious look in his eyes.
"So what was that all about?" Wiggins asked.
The captain told him Peterís story. "It may sound crazy, just some drunken ramblings, but I wonder if something is up over at that lab. Perhaps we should send some of the boys over tonight to check it out."
"Why do we care about a bunch of turtles?"
"You know how difficult itís become to track whales and avoid the authorities at the same time. Maybe if we took one of these turtles captive, it could help us root out the whales. If theyíre as smart as this lad says."
"Captain, you are a cruel and malevolent person who only likes whales."
"Donít I know it."
Andre had a bad habit of waking up in the middle of the night, which usually resulted in his going to the kitchen for a late-night snack. Tonight was no different, and clad in his royal blue flannel pajamas, he was removing a tomato and some cheese from the stainless steel refrigerator by the dim light over the sink. The clock on the wall said 1 AM.
As he placed the cheese onto the counter next to a large cleaver, and moved to the sink to wash the tomato, he heard a banging at the front doors and sensed a warning presence from the rear lab. Dr. Phleen! There are people trying to break in!
Cursing in French, Andre snatched the cleaver from the table and sprinted out the open door. He sprinted to the front door, and barreled headlong into a man clad in black wielding a tire iron. They both crashed into the wall and hit the floor, but a second man then clobbered the prone Andre in the back of the head with an axe handle. The poor biologist blacked out immediately.
The first man shoved the unconscious Andre off himself and stood up. "Great, now what?" he asked his companion.
"We see if this turtle thing is for real."
"And what about the mad scientist here?"
"We take him back with us. Heís a witness now. Maybe we can use him to make his friends help us."
Zack and Delilah awoke late the following morning. They had slept like rocks, as the previous dayís trip from Chicago had been exhausting, and it was the first day in a long time that neither of them needed to get up early. They padded downstairs blearily, expecting to find their friend Andre brewing coffee and cooking omelets in the kitchen.
But Andre was nowhere to be found; a block of cheese and a tomato had been left on the counter in the kitchen. "Andre?" Zack called.
Dr. Calloway. Down here.
Zack walked briskly down the hall to the lab to find Daphne out of her tank and on the floor near the doorway. "Daphne! What are you doing out of your cage?"
Some strange men broke in last night. They tried to carry me out, but found me too unwieldy. I fear they have kidnapped Dr. Phleen.
"Zack?" Delilah called from the hallway. "The front door is open, and thereís some large steamer trunk sitting outside the door. Whatís going on?"
Zack hurried to the front door. "Somebody broke in last night, tried to take the turtle," he told his wife. "They may have kidnapped Andre."
"Good Lord, we must have slept through the whole thing," she said. "Iíll go call the police."
A four-foot long black steamer trunk had been left a few feet from the door. Zack found a note attached to the top; in rather poor handwriting, it said, "You will deliver the turtle to us this morning at the main fishing pier. Do not contact the authorities. Your friend here refused to cooperate. Donít end up like him."
He felt an agonizing pain in the pit of his stomach. Shaking, he opened the trunk lid, and discovered a revolting pile of severed limbs and their former torso. Zack dropped to the ground as he realized that the stinking heap of blood and bones in the trunk was once his friend Andre.
Tears streaming down his cheeks, Zack rose and stumbled back to the lab. His wife was on the phone. "They killed him," he shrieked. "His bodyís in that trunk."
Delilah almost dropped the phone. "What?! Why?"
"I donít knowÖ they want the turtle. Thereís a note, wants us to Ďdeliverí you to whoever they are."
I am sorry, Dr. Calloway. But thatís something you wonít have to worry about.
"What? What do you mean?"
Iím dying. The men last night, they dropped me. I was already in a weakened state.
"Great. Now you, too. What can we do?"
There is nothing you can do for me, I am afraid. However, I buried a clutch of eggs in the sand not far from here. They will hatch soon. You must find them and protect them from harm.
"We can bring them back here and incubate them, if thatís what you want. Shouldnít they hatch on their own and crawl back to the sea?"
You know that many baby turtles donít even survive the trip from the nest to the water. Please ensure they at least make it that far. They will tell you what to do. The nest is a half-mile west of here, twelve feet to the northwest of a sign that reads "Please do not litter." Go, do this.
"Dammit, Daphne, you canít die. How did this happen?"
Iím sorry, my friends. I am sorry for Dr. Phleen. We did not mean for this to happen. But I think all will work out for the best.
Then the venerable beast was quiet.
They felt like a bright spot inside them had been snuffed out. Zack knelt, sobbing, next to the great reptileís shell. Delilah hung up the phone and crossed the room to hold him.
Late that night, Zack and Delilah sat in front of an incubator, waiting. The eggs had been right where Daphne said they would be, and Zack had been able to return them to the lab without incident. The police had stayed for hours, but had been little help; they suspected a group of whale poachers, but had no evidence connecting them to the break-and-enter or Andreís murder.
Delilah wanted to go home. "I fail to see what we can accomplish here, beyond making sure these eggs hatch," she said. "Itís just a matter of time before those men come back. Are we going to get ourselves killed over a bunch of turtles?"
"But Delilah, itís about more than just the turtles now," he said, his voice rising. "Itís become very, very personal. They killed Andre. Make no mistake; I want revenge. Iím not sure how, but I swear it, Iíll find them and theyíll pay."
Those who have committed crimes will pay for them, said a voice without sound. They turned to the clutch of eggs in the incubator. With sinister grins upon their faces, Zack and Delilah were delighted to see each one hatch, right there in front of them.
"Hello, little ones. Good to see you. Which one of you is communicating with us?"
We all are, the emerging baby turtles "said." We share a communal intelligence, such that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. We possess greater powers than our mother, and we seek to improve the lot of humankind and the creatures of the sea.
"What shall we call you?" Zack asked.
You can continue to refer to us as Daphne. We have been in communication with our mother, before she died. We share your pain. You have been very helpful, and your friend, Andre, has made a great sacrifice for us. We will see that justice is served. First, we must be delivered to the sea. We know you will help us.
"Do you want us to take you back to the beach?"
We have a better chance of surviving if you take us out to sea.
"Didnít Andre have a boat out at the pier?" Delilah asked.
The sun was just rising as they made their way onto the pier. Zack carried the baby turtles in a bucket. They had found the keys for Andreís boat in a desk drawer, and they slowly walked the pier until they spotted it: Le Buffoon, a modest craft with a small motor. They climbed in, untied from the pier, and soon they were puttering out to sea.
"How far out do you need to go?" Zack asked.
A few hundred yards more. Not far.
"Zack, I think we have trouble," Delilah sputtered. From the far side of the pier, a fourteen-foot cigarette boat had pulled away from the dock. It was still far in the distance, but it was definitely following them.
"Dammit! Doesnít this thing go any faster?" shouted Zack, slamming the throttle full out. The engine hardly noticed; the other boat was closing. Abner Wiggins was at the rudder, and Captain Ed Burton sat in front of him, cradling a shotgun.
Stop the boat. Let us over the side.
Zack let off on the throttle, and holding the railing at the boatís side, lowered the bucket into the water. He could see the shadowy forms of the baby turtles swam out and away.
The other boat was catching up to them. "Zack! Heís got a gun!" Delilah cried. Zack lurched back to the controls, hit the throttle and turned the boat, hard. Unfortunately, Delilah had been standing up in the back of the boat, watching to see that the turtles swam away safely; the sudden shift sent her over the side and into the water.
Zack moved back to the railing to help pull Delilah aboard, but the other boat had pulled up about a hundred feet away. "Let us have a look at them turtles," Captain Burton was shouting.
Suddenly, the wind began to blow, and the sky went from partly cloudy to inky black. A tremendous thunderclap nearly made them all jump out of their skins, and it began to pour down rain. It was an incredible rain, so heavy that one could hardly see through it. The waves became violent and choppy.
"Delilah!" Zack shouted through the rain. She was still in the water, and if he didnít somehow pull her up, sheíd never keep her head above water. But with the heavy rain and the tossing about of the waves, he couldnít reach over the side without falling in himself. The up-and-down movement was making him nauseous, but he clung to the railing and managed to hold on. He was amazed that the boat hadnít capsized.
After about a minute, the rain ceased as quickly as it had begun. The clouds suddenly dissipated. Zack looked around; the cigarette boat was nowhere to be seen. A few scraps of its hull floated not far away. And on the other side of Le Buffoon, there was Delilah, treading water. "Thank God youíre OK! How did you stay up during all that?" Zack sputtered breathlessly as he pulled her aboard.
"I donít knowÖ" she said, catching her breath. "I thought for sure I was going to drown, but it was like all these little hands were holding me up. I hardly had to move."
They embraced in the morning sun. "You think the turtles are going to be OK?" she asked.
"Yeah, I think theyíll be fine. Come on, letís go home."
A few weeks later, the President of the United States was walking on the beach at Marthaís Vineyard. It was a short but much-needed break; tensions in the Middle East were high again, and the country had taken considerable heat at a recent environmental summit. The First Lady and their daughter were still at their cottage, and the President had taken this morning to be alone on the beach with his thoughts. He had even asked his Secret Service entourage to stay a good fifty yards behind him.
He had stopped walking and was just staring out to sea when he noticed a curious thing. A group of very young turtles had crawled out of the water and was coming straight towards them. He remained still, hoping to avoid scaring them, and to watch this miraculous creatures as long as possible.
So he was very surprised when a voice seemed to radiate from the turtles. Mr. President, we come bearing news of the conditions of the sea. If you have a moment, we think we have much to discuss. And weíd also like to recommend three fine humans for some sort of award, one posthumously. May we continue?