Unheard Melodies

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard, are sweeter” 

 - John Keats, Ode On A Grecian Urn And Other Poems 

 

Chapter 1 Communication Problems

=== Key West / Marine Life Research Institute / 1996 ===

 

The office was situated in the second floor of the flat, unspectacular building near the beach. The space with the low uncomfortable low ceiling was cramped with several desks, a few of them equipped with a little cardboard wall to create the illusion of a cubicle. Staples of printouts, books and magazines occupied every little space; even on the flower pot had landed some discs of one of the researchers.

Claude Carver sighed and stared onto his computer screen. What a frustrating day at the end of a frustrating week! On top of all, his hard drive seemed to near its last breath. Meant he would have to beg and squirm through the bureaucratic levels, to get money for a new one – or buy it himself with his own salary.

Let's face it,  he thought,  this is a dead-end job. You are at the dead-end of your career, at this god-forsaken ‘Institute'!  It had been a promising place, before the funding was cut twice. Here like everywhere else in science these days, they fought bitterly over every cent of the scarce grant money, like starving pigeons over the last crumbs of bread. Government, institutions, and donors looked thrice at every little coin, before they decided to sponsor – something else! Whoever thought, at universities and in research facilities, there were savants at work living only to better humanity, had never been in such a place. Publish or perish, was an old saying, these days one might add “grab a grant or perish”. Scientists turned from friendly dolphins into hungry sharks when it came to money.

He looked up to watch his colleague Marybeth, a sporty, slender woman with short brown hair that always seemed to be in some disorder. But for now, she was busy combing and arranging her style, while she chatted cheerfully with one of the interns.

Someone had a good week and prepares for an even better weekend!

She shot him a glance as if she had heard his unspoken words, and then went out of sight to the coffee machine, laughing. About him? Well, it did not matter, she had made it clear enough often enough that she could barely tolerate sitting in the same office with him! The fact that he liked her, did not make things exactly easier. Probably I'll be sooner able to talk to the dolphins or the aliens, than to her.

He still remembered the furious argument they had over a year ago when she was still his assistant…

“You don't have ANY scientific ethics, ANY morality!” She had to spit it right into his face, well aware that confronting her boss that way very certainly would end her job.

“How do you suppose we do any tests with the subjects, when—“

“Subjects?! Animals! Living beings! Not just some numbers on a computer output!”

“Fine, living beings! How do you suppose we test their responsiveness if we do not use certain stimuli? It is what every neurologist or psychiatrist would do to humans under the conditions!”

“I don't want dolphins to be harmed, what's so difficult to understand about that, DOCTOR Carver?!”

“Nobody gets harmed if it gets a little unpleasant, Miss Dunnhill. I'll tell you something: if we cannot realize those tests and bring any results, this facility will not pass the next evaluation and will be shut down. I go back to the university, and you can clean the litter boxes in the local bet store! I do not care! But one thing is for sure: we cannot help the dolphins getting stranded because of noise pollution, because we do not have any data!”

She had hissed like a trapped cat. “The ONLY thing YOU care about is YOURSELF! “

And with that, she had left. -- And he had missed her, realizing how he had gotten used to her sharp mind and their vibrant discussions, which always brought their team new insight. Obviously, she had not seen it that way. 

Only four months later, however, Marybeth was back, equipped with a salary from the Cetacean Research Foundation in San Diego, where one of her papers had stirred up some interest. Well, it was an intriguing paper, he admitted as much – but why on earth did she have to come back here?! There were so many opportunities!

To make my life a hell , he answered in his mind, as Marybeth showed up, and typed a few last numbers on her keyboard without even sitting down. Since she was back, she was even more driven than before.  It is not my fault, she spent four years traveling the world and exploring and then committed to her daughters for another five , Claude thought. He had graduated two years ahead, and being without any other distractions in life had been at the desk of head researcher at barely 30, with people twice his age working for him. He had tried to adjust his appearance to look a bit older – and he hoped, more respectable. But still, he felt he had that boyish face, despite mustache, glasses, and that old-school haircut.

And I'm still at this desk, five years later.  Stuck here just as well as Marybeth. Others had been smarter to suck up at the right time to the right people, and whatever else. Now she made a big deal about this interspecies communication-thing between one of the dolphins and that fleabag of a dog that had shown up here recently. He had peeked into her notes. There were certainly a few interesting points that invited further research. But mostly, he took it for some publicity stand – not so bad, because publicity brought funding. He knew such cuteness-alert photographs from animal magazines and TV. They showed cats cuddling with horses, dogs hugging bears, cats, and birds eating from the same dish. So it was no doubt different animals could form a relationship of some sort. But communication was another thing! It was not even sure dolphins had a real language – a language like humans, as some amateurs claimed - , especially in the wild.

His colleague switched off her computer, and then secured her drawer and grabbed her bag. He pretended not to notice her, and she left without saying goodbye.

Standing on the ocean promenade under the row of palm trees, Marybeth looked out for the sign (or the noise) of the bike, but so far, Terry was nowhere to spot. Her thoughts wandered back to her research. Next week, she wanted to take Zeus the dog out again on the boat to meet Roxanne the dolphin. She had taken a few photos and recorded a few sounds, but she needed more. She had to fill out her application for the funding in 8 days… 

“I need that money,” she whispered like an incantation. Her contract would expire soon, and not only would she then be without a project, but also without an income. And her daughters required much money for their respective schools.  If I don't get that grant, I can't afford Judith's high school… The girls worried her endlessly, anyway.

Still no trace of Terry. Where was he? She hated unpunctuality, to be frank! At least, the air was fresh, with a little breeze from the sea. In the office, it was always hot and stale, whatever they did. Maybe because of the not-well insulated roof or the computers that produced heat.  We'd need an aircon. But that would not be ecological…  Ah, finally, the vroooom from Terry's Harley! She smiled happily.

Up in the office, Claude Carver stood at the window and peered through the blinds to see which idiot produced so much noise in this otherwise so quiet area. He was surprised to see Marybeth climb onto a motorcycle. The driver was this guy he had almost run over two days ago when he visited his colleague. 

So she likes bikers in leather jackets – never would have thought that!

He turned around and faced one of his assistants, this black guy whose exotic name vaguely sounded like “Okavango” – he constantly forgot it!

“Don't you have any work to do?!” he snapped, feeling like being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, without even knowing why.

“Sir, I only wanted to say, it's 5:30. I call it a day.”

“The second basin is cleaned?”

“Yes, of course. Have a nice weekend, Sir.” The assistant obviously forced himself to those pleasantries. 

“Hm. Til Monday.”

Then, Carver was all alone in the office, and his computer the only one humming softly. He sat down, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. He was sure to be here until midnight, filling the latest data in the table.

Bikers with leather jackets and scruffy hair,  he thought again.  Really?!

16-year-old Judith and her 13-year-old sister Nora stood behind the window of their home, watching and scrutinizing the ‘thing' between their neighbor Terry and their Mom like the judges in a contest. Marybeth and Terry still stood next to the Harley in front of the white fence and talked.

“It's good Mom has found him. He is so awesome and cool,” Nora said. “Mom will get away from her work and projects for a few hours!”

“And away from supervising us and ordering us around,” Judith added. “Ahh… I hope I can make my driver's license soon and get to ride on that bike…”

Zeus, their neighbor's dog, just whooshed out of the door and barked happily. A moment later, he had his dirty paws on Marybeth's white shorts. “See, how happy she is, she's not even arguing because of the dirt!”

“But she will rant about your lipstick, sis! Better wipe it off fast!”

“Look, look, they kiss! Aw, what a match!” The sisters gave each other a high-five and grinned conspiratorially. At least, they had a small part in that match!

“I was kinda worried when this Carver showed up on Wednesday!” Nora admitted.

“My gosh, that idiot?! Have you heard how he talks? That weird accent!” Judith lifted her nose like an old lady from bygone days and tried to imitate her mother's colleague. “No, Mom would NEVER be interested in him.”

Nora laughed. “Yeah, exactly! That's how he sounds! – But Mom can get lured into a trap easily, you know, with some science stuff and equipment. It's like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey! And that little sub he has is cool!”

“It's cool, yep, I saw it. But nonetheless, he's boring and an idiot. Can't stand him.”