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Authors: Michael C. Grumley

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BOOK: Leap - 02
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3

 

 

 

 

Lee Kenwood was thrilled with their new lab.  Finally able to separate their systems from the main observation area, it gave him some much needed elbow room to work on the hardware for their next project.  And it was a doozy. 

He also appreciated the extra help from Juan Diaz, a Puerto Rican native and computer engineer, just a few years out of college.  He was a fast study and incredibly sharp. 

Lee and Juan both looked up from a large table they were standing over as Alison opened the door, letting in a loud roar from the yelling children behind her.

“Hi, Ali,” they said, in tandem. Lee punched a button on his keyboard and watched the results appear across the screen.  Juan was carefully holding still a large device with a thin computer cable attached.

“Hello.”  Alison let the door close behind her and crossed the room.  “How are things looking?”

“Pretty good.  We’ve got most of it uploaded and tested.  I think we should be ready by Thursday morning.”  He looked up from his screen.  “I take it Dirk and Sally are back?”

“How can you tell?”

“Sounds like a zoo out there.”

The ‘zoo’ was approximately forty screaming, very excited children.  During their big move to Puerto Rico, Alison and her team somehow managed to become local celebrities with all of the press.  Earlier in the year, her team had officially revealed the amazing breakthrough of their IMIS translation system in a demonstration for several news crews.  Not surprisingly, the news went global and people from everywhere quickly descended upon the aquarium to see for themselves.  Their communications with the dolphins was deemed the ‘Achievement of a Lifetime’ by several magazines, and for the next two months, she and her staff were invited on hundreds of television and radio interviews.  It was overwhelming, but it initially provided a welcome change of pace after what they’d been through.  However, in the end, the attention and visits never seemed to let up, so their move off the mainland wasn’t just for their research; it was also for their sanity.

Of course, no matter where they went, they were going to garner a lot of attention, and Puerto Rico was no different.  In fact, the entire island went wild when they found out that one of their old buildings on the south side of the island, just outside of Ponce, would be converted into a new research center for the famous ‘Dirk and Sally.'  What
was
a surprise was the reaction of the kids in Puerto Rico.

In the States, during their early stages of research, Alison and her team played host to countless children on field trips, coming to visit the dolphins.  Many of the kids were genuinely excited, but many others were not.  Instead, they sat off to the side, glued to their cell phone screens.  Alison had thought it odd at first, but after seeing the same thing class after class, it became downright depressing. 

However, she did remember a very special fifth grade class from Hedrick Elementary in Lewisville, Texas, and the Puerto Rican children reminded her of them a lot.  In Puerto Rico, all the children were absolutely
thrilled
to come.  Every face remained pressed against the thick glass the entire time.  They couldn’t get enough, and, as a result, it couldn’t help but bring back some of that early excitement for Alison and her team.  So, in exchange, they decided to do something special for the kids.

Alison had an idea one day and talked to Lee and Juan about it.  It took a while, but they managed to set up a smaller translation server for visitors.  It had a much shorter vocabulary than the giant IMIS system and couldn’t translate new words, but it allowed the children to do something astounding: actually stand in front of the tank and talk with a real-life dolphin.

Alison remembered watching the children type on the keyboard for the first time, thinking some of the kids might actually pop from the excitement.  It was contagious.  She had never seen Dirk and Sally so excited either.  They would stay and talk to the children for hours until the very last one had left.

Of course, Dirk and Sally were free now and they came and went as they pleased.  So, when they did arrive, Alison and her team would promptly call the nearby schools to arrange some visits.  And neither the children, nor Dirk and Sally, ever showed any signs of tiring.  It was indeed a ‘zoo’ and she loved it.

“By the way,” Lee interrupted, standing behind her.  “Did DeeAnn find you?  She was looking for you earlier.  Something about helping with her research this afternoon.”

“No.  I’ll head over.”

Lee nodded and turned back to Juan, who was showing him something on his monitor.  As Alison turned to leave, her phone rang.  She looked at the screen and answered immediately.

“Hey there,” she said, smiling sheepishly.

“Hi,” replied a deep voice on the other end.

“How are
you
?”

She instinctively turned away from Lee and Juan, who both chuckled at her.  Lee playfully cupped his hands over his mouth.  “Tell him we said, ‘hi.’”

She made a shushing gesture with her hand and turned further around.  “Sorry.”

John Clay chuckled himself.  “I’m fine.  How are you?”

“Oh, pretty good.  I was just standing here giving Lee and Juan some tips on computers.”

Clay laughed.  “I bet that’s some advice.”

“Hey,” she said, half pretending to be hurt.  “I have a toaster.  I know how this stuff works!  So, where are you?”

“Um, I’m on a plane.”

Alison glanced at her watch.  “Already?  I thought your flight wasn’t until this evening.”

“Yeah, about that…unfortunately, something’s come up and I’m not going to be able to make it.”

Alison looked dejected.  “That’s too bad.  I was looking forward to seeing you.”

“I know.  I’m sorry.  So was I.  Hopefully, it won’t be too long.”

“Where are you going?”

“Brazil,” Clay answered.  “Not too far.  Just on the other side of you.”

“Can you say what for?”

“I’m afraid I can’t.  Let’s just pretend I’m scouting romantic vacation spots.”

“You know it’s going to be one year pretty soon.”

“Yes, I know.”

Of course he did
, she thought.  The man didn’t forget anything.  He had a mind like a steel trap.  He was actually kind of amazing that way.  He not only knew how to
listen
, but he actually remembered what she said for more than ten seconds.

Alison had to admit, he was nothing like she had expected when they first met.  He worked for the Navy, a branch of the military she loathed.  Of course, to be truthful, she hated all military branches.  But as it turned out, John Clay wasn’t just some Marine jarhead.  In fact, he was not only a man; he was a bona fide anomaly.  He was smart, considerate, and devastatingly handsome.  And those shoulders! 

“I’m really sorry, Alison.”  Clay swayed side to side in his seat as his plane turned and bounced onto the runway.  “I’ll call you in the next day or two, okay?”

“Okay,” Alison said, still wearing a trace of a frown.  “Be safe.”

“Always.”

“Bye.”  She ended the call and remained staring at the phone. 

“I take it he’s not coming,” Lee said behind her.

She sighed and dropped her hand, sliding the phone back into her pocket.  “No.”

 

 

The plane was a C-20 Gulfstream III, which had arrived less than thirty minutes after their video call with Langford.  Clay powered off his phone and closed his eyes, pressing his head gently into the leather headrest.  He regretted hearing the disappointment in Alison’s voice.

After a long moment and from the table between them, Clay picked up the folder containing his copy of the report on the Russian sub and flipped it open again.  He remained quiet, thinking. 

“So, what I can’t figure out,” Caesare said, speaking first, “is what the hell kind of interest Brazil would hold for a Russian sub, and an old one at that?”

“I’ve been wondering the same thing.  Russia has a pretty good relationship with Brazil, so why the secrecy?”

“Because that’s what you do when you’re
hiding
.”

“But what were they hiding from?” Clay pondered.  “And why a fifty-year-old submarine everyone else in the world thought had been decommissioned?”

“Maybe it was
because
everyone thought it had been decommissioned,” Caesare said, with a touch of sarcasm.  He raised his bottle of beer and took a swig.  “But if I was Russia and wanted to go stealth, I sure as hell wouldn’t do it in a November class sub.  They’re noisy.”

Clay tilted his head back and absently examined the ceiling.  “Brazil has the second largest navy in the Americas.  Their entire fleet and infrastructure are well known.  What could the Russians be trying to find out?”

“It’s also odd that they haven’t said anything.”

“Agreed.  If there really was some secret to hide, wouldn’t they want to get their crew out quickly?”

“Unless speaking up makes it worse.”  Caesare tilted his bottle, examining it.  “Even if it did, why not just make up some PR story or misdirection?  Governments do that all the time.”

“True.  But it means we’re still asking the same question.  What do they want to know about Brazil?”

Caesare placed the bottle in a cup holder and leaned his seat back.  “Maybe there’s a simpler explanation.”

Clay raised an eyebrow, waiting.

“Maybe their navigator’s just an idiot.”

Clay laughed.  Outside, the dual engines of the Gulfstream reached maximum thrust, and the plane abruptly began to roll forward as the pilot released the brakes.  The aircraft sped down the runway, building speed until it lifted smoothly into the air.

As he watched the ground quickly fall away, Clay tried to relax, but couldn’t seem to dismiss something.  It was a nagging question that should have been answered in the report, but wasn’t. 

 

4

 

 

 

 

After Alison left the guys in the lab, she headed back downstairs.  She was disappointed at not being able to see John, but a small side of her actually felt relieved.  They’d been dating for a year but given their jobs, and her move off the mainland, they hadn’t spent much time together lately.  Their relationship was moving slowly and Alison had to admit, she was beginning to feel a tad insecure.  It was why she was both excited and nervous to see him.  She had finally mustered the courage to broach the topic of ‘exclusivity.'

But it didn’t matter now.  She decided she was relieved to get a reprieve and gladly pushed it to the back of her mind.

She reached the bottom of the stairs and continued down the building’s new stone hallway, past the giant saltwater tank.  As she strode by, she grinned and stopped to watch the dozens of children surrounding the tank.  Chris was standing next to them, giving each child a turn at the keyboard, typing something out to Dirk and Sally.  Above them, an oversized monitor displayed each question for everyone to see.  The little boy now standing in front of the keyboard and typing away looked to be about eight.  Alison smiled when she read his question overhead;
how high can you jump in the air? 

That was a dare if she’d ever heard one.  She watched as Dirk heard the message and immediately darted off, swimming around the tank and shooting to the top of the water.  He then jumped high into the air above.  The kids went absolutely crazy.

Alison grinned and continued walking.  She passed the enormous wall of humming servers, which made up the new IMIS distributed computer system.  Turning a corner, she headed for the other half of the complex.  The second hallway was longer and darker but led into a bright, open area, lined with glass walls along the right side.  Unlike the dolphin’s tank, these walls were much taller and wrapped around part of the wild habitat area.  The rest of the perimeter continued around the habitat in the form of equally high walls, but made out of concrete.  In the middle was a wide, man-made hill sloping downward and covered in dense foliage, including Rosewood and Tabernanthe trees of varying sizes.  The ground was covered with hundreds of different types of thick bushes and shrubs with a small, artificial brook running down through the uneven hillside.  High above was a wide roof of thick netting, covering the entire jungle habitat.  It was a perfect, or
near
perfect, half-acre replica of an African rainforest.

All along the top of the walled perimeter, separated about every hundred feet, were all-weather, high-definition, motion-detecting cameras.  Collectively, they captured video of nearly every square foot of the enclosed habitat and recorded a live feed around the clock.  The data was then sent in digital form through the thick cable and back into the heart of the building, where it was fed into IMIS.

Alison peered through one of the giant walls of clear glass and spotted who she was looking for inside.  DeeAnn Draper, an older woman with dark hair and dressed in light khaki clothes, was squatting next to a young female gorilla.

Alison looked up at the nearest camera as it automatically zoomed in and focused on the two playing in the shade beneath one of the taller Rosewood trees.  As they played, every movement, facial expression, sound, or gesture, was recorded and broken into individual frames.  It was then saved to IMIS’s enormous data drives.

The data gathering was not all that different from how they had originally done it with Dirk and Sally.  Although, some differences required an overhaul of certain pieces of IMIS’s computer code, since communication with primates was significantly different than ocean mammals.  First and foremost was the sound.  Contrary to popular belief, gorillas were a very quiet species.  They used only a limited number of verbal sounds.  The vast majority of communication happened instead through gestures and complex facial expressions.  It presented very different requirements for capturing language.

DeeAnn was the real expert.  Even though Alison was in charge at the Center and of her dolphins, DeeAnn Draper was every bit her equal when it came to primate research and gorillas.   Alison loved having DeeAnn on the team.

Inside the habitat, DeeAnn sat next to Dulce, wearing a thin black vest over her khaki shirt.  The name
Dulce
was Spanish for ‘sweet’ and the small three-year-old gorilla fit her name perfectly.  With light brown eyes and dark, protruding lips, which constantly smiled, Dulce sat playfully on the ground pointing at DeeAnn.  She made a short chuckling sound and tilted her head.

Since the habitat was far too large to make traditional speakers practical, the speaker receiving the translation was much smaller and integrated directly into the special vest that DeeAnn wore.  Dulce’s words came out in the tone of IMIS’ mechanical voice. 
I like play
.

DeeAnn smiled, copying Dulce’s movement.  “I like play too.”  It took less than a second for IMIS to translate DeeAnn’s words into a similar sound for Dulce, which again emanated from the vest.

Dulce pursed her lips and grunted softly, waving her lanky arm over her head. 
I want play chase.

When DeeAnn heard the translation, she smiled wearily.  “Again?”

Dulce nodded her head vigorously and spread her lips into a wide, toothy grin.  She could read the look in DeeAnn’s eyes as she tried to change the subject.

“Let’s play count.”

Dulce shook her body playfully and spoke again. 
You silly.

DeeAnn smiled.  She wasn’t silly; she was tired.  It was almost one hundred degrees in the habitat.  She could only run around so much before Dulce would think she was playing dead.  “Let’s play count,” she repeated.  She held up her hand as the small speaker on her chest vibrated and spit out the gorilla version of the sentence.  Displaying four fingers, DeeAnn asked, “How many is this?”

Dulce’s grin turned into a wide smile, and she barely looked at DeeAnn’s hand before replying with a purr followed by low squeals. 
Four.  Play chase now.

DeeAnn sighed and looked around, spotting Alison with relief, who was standing on the other side of the glass, watching them.  She pointed through the glass.  “Who’s that, Dulce?”

Dulce turned and followed DeeAnn’s finger.  Her excitement was immediate. 
Alison!
  Dulce sprang from her position and ran forward on her fists, covering the distance to the wall quickly.  She put her dark hand on the glass and patted it playfully.  That was how she greeted people on the other side.

Alison smiled back at Dulce and leaned forward, patting back against the glass.  She waited until DeeAnn and her vest had reached them before Alison replied.  “Good morning, Dulce.”

“Hey, Ali,” DeeAnn said.

“Morning.  Lee said you were looking for me.”

Before DeeAnn could reply, the speaker on her vest emitted a loud tone, signifying the last sentence was not translated successfully.  She instinctively pushed a small button, pausing the system.

“Yeah, I wanted to steal Kelly from you this afternoon to work on some more group translations with us.  Lee said he fixed part of yesterday’s problem, so I wanted to give it another try.”

“Sure,” Alison glanced at her watch.  “I think she’s going to feed Dirk and Sally in about thirty minutes or so.  I’ll send her over after that.”

“Thanks,” DeeAnn gave Alison a devious smile.  “You want to come in and do some laps with Dulce?”

Alison laughed.  “I would if I could, but I need to make sure everything is ready for Thursday.  It’s a big day,” she added, with a wink.

“Gotcha, have fun.”  DeeAnn waved and stepped back from the glass, pushing the button again on her vest.  She looked down at Dulce, who was smiling up at her.  “Okay, one more chase.”

 

Alison watched DeeAnn run away after Dulce, hopelessly outmatched.  She still marveled at what Lee and Juan had done, with help from IBM, of course.  The mobile unit was amazing, providing it stayed within wireless range of the IMIS system.  But as incredible as the vest was, it almost seemed trite compared to what Lee and Juan were working on now: an improved vest that was also
waterproof
.

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