5

Dolphinback Academy

First Impressions

by

H. Rosa B.

Taneka sat stiffly behind her desk as she surveyed the class room and her motley crew of students. She silently reminded herself that she shouldn't be nervous because, after all, there were only five of them and throughout the fifteen years that she'd been teaching she'd handle classes much bigger than this. On the other hand, those classes contained regular Dinotopians, not Dolphinbacks.

At this thought, Taneka felt herself freeze over. She shivered and found herself habitually tuning in to the steady drone of the magnificent cascades surrounding Waterfall City, hoping to reap that sense of peace and security that the falls always seemed to offer her. Just when she felt herself thawing a little, a booming voice interrupted her moment of Zen.

"Greetings Miss Taneka. How you be this day?" One of the students finally said in a slow drawl, drawing out the words of the Dinotopian language as if they were a little difficult to articulate. The speaker, a beefy middle aged man with ruddy hair and a sunburned face finished up his short speech with a big, broken toothed smile, clearly proud of himself for accomplishing such a huge feat.

Morning sunlight slanted in through the arched windows on one side of the room and illuminated the already almost white hair of two tow headed teenage twins, who were sitting side by side in the two scarred wooden desks situated in front of the beefy man. The angelic glow upon their heads, however, clashed with the mischievous looks they exchanged before snickering behind their hands and throwing glances over their shoulders at the man seated behind them.

Taneka instinctively felt that she should reprimand the twins, but the man really did look comical, so she let it slide this time. His huge frame nearly hid the wooden chair he was sitting in while his big hairy arms were draped over the top of the unusual desk in front of him. Each desk in the room was uniquely designed to represent a different dinosaur, with each flat top created to look like a platform secured to the back of the dinosaur. The desk this man sat in front of resembled a brachiosaur, with the long neck of the creature arching up above the desk top on one side. The man involuntarily gave the brachiosaurus head a friendly pat.

The other two students, an ancient looking woman with stringy gray hair falling around her shriveled up face, and a dark haired young man who looked to be somewhere in his upper twenties, sat in desks across from the beefy man and the tow headed twins. The old woman wore a deep scowl, shooting darts with her eyes at the twins and the young man occupying the desk behind her sported a black eye and a sullen expression as he gazed around the room as if trying to spot the best escape route.

Taneka swallowed hard. She'd been warned when she signed up to teach this class that it would be harder than it sounded. She glanced at her teaching partner that stood next to her desk. He was a lanky middle aged struthiomimus with leathery blue and gold skin. He wore a headband displaying a long plume of an Osteodontornis orri feather which arched high above his head. The creature just grinned at her. "Better answer Miss Taneka." He said in a surprisingly smooth tone for a dinosaur. "They are waiting."

Taneka wrinkled her dark brown nose. She should've known Ballic wouldn't give her any words of encouragement. Ornery creature.

She turned back to her class, took a deep breath, and spoke. "Greetings, class. I will begin with introductions and then commence to roll call. My name, as some of you apparently know already, is Taneka Deandre. You may call me Miss Taneka." She turned to the struthie. "This is Ballic of the Blue Star clan and he also will be teaching." Ballic bowed graciously to the students. "And you all may call me Sir Ballic."

The red haired man grinned and smacked his meaty hands together, applauding heartily and after a moment the rest of the students unenthusiastically joined in, all that is, except for the young man with the black eye. He leaned back in his chair and kept his arms crossed over his broad chest.

"Alright, we shall begin with roll call." Taneka said, picking up a small paper from her desk. "Even Calder."

The big man with the wide smile raised a hand. "Here."

"Keelin Derry."

The girl twin who'd been staring at a big tapestry on the wall, suddenly perked up at hearing her name. "Here." She said in a clear, surprisingly sweet voice.

"Farell Derry."

Naturally, the other twin responded. "Present." He said in a slightly mocking tone and glanced back at Even Calder. "Bet you didn't know a fancy word like that." The boy said, dropping the Dinotopian language and addressing the man in English.

"Yeah, I know, little show off." The man returned, speaking in English as well, but kept grinning instead of displaying irritation.

"Quiet please until I finish." Taneka said in perfect English. She hadn't been nominated for this job without good reason.

The students all looked at her, clearly impressed.

With a feeling of newfound confidence, Taneka cleared her throat and continued. "Olwyn Greer."

"Here." The old woman said in a raisin voice.

"Kai…" Taneka paused, searching her paper for any indication of a second name, but found none. Hmmm. That was odd. Everyone had a second name except for some of the dinosaurs. She looked up to see the last student raising his hand to show that he was present. He offered no words of explanation, nor did he smile.

The twins commenced to whispering to each other, sending glances over at Kai, clearly discussing something about him. Taneka knew that she should reprimand the twins, but she found herself wishing she could hear what they were saying this time. Fortunately, Ballic decided to step in and handle the twins this time.

"Farrell, Keelin, there will be no whispering in the classroom." The dinosaur said in a commanding tone.

The two teenagers immediately stopped their whispered conversation and looked at the dinosaur, surprise written on both their faces.

"Now," the struthie went on in a confident tone, "If you have something to say, raise your hand until Miss Taneka or I give you permission to speak. Just because this is a small class doesn't mean that order and discipline will be overlooked. We will treat one another with respect no matter what our differences are."

Farell slumped back in his chair and crossed his arms, but Keelin, with an apologetic expression on her face, nodded to the dinosaur.

"Alright class," Taneka announced. "Since this is the first day, our beginning activity will be to take turns coming up to the front and telling a bit about yourselves so that we can all get to know one another better." She smiled. "Sir Ballic and I will go first." She glanced at the struthie and he nodded to her, indicating for her to begin. Taneka left the comfort of her desk and walked forward to stand closer to the students. The heels of her boots clicked against the limestone floor as she walked, echoing throughout the room. Everyone was so quiet, anticipating hearing what she had to say that the perpetual rumble of the waterfalls surrounding the city, sounded louder than before.

"Well, as you all have probably figured out already, I enjoy teaching. As a result, I make my home here in Waterfall City. However, I grew up in the village of Bonnaba and I enjoy visiting family and friends there whenever I can. Besides teaching, some of my hobbies are reading and spending time in the library. Music is another interest and I thoroughly enjoy being a member of the Waterfall City choir." Relaxing a little, she offered her students a warm smile. "I'm really looking forward to getting to know each one of you and I hope that we can be friends." She looked at Ballic and stepped aside so that the dinosaur could take his turn.

Ballic gave the class big toothy smile. The feather adorning his head piece bobbed comically as he spoke in an animated manner. "I come from the Northern Plains where the land is flat and perfect for racing. My clan, the Blue Star clan, are well known among the Struthie races because of their high win rates. So, as you all can probably guess, I love running and competing in races. But, humans are so interesting that a long time ago I took up studying linguistics so that I could communicate and interact with them better. Also, I enjoy studying other saurian languages and hope to someday be able to become a skilled interpreter and travel all over Dinotopia." He finished his small speech with a bow to his scanty audience. He straightened back up and said, "Now, which one of you will come forward first to share a bit about yourself?"

The students shifted around in their seats and looked at one another as if trying to get the other person to go first.

Ballic laughed, a funny bubbly sound coming from his long arched neck. "A bit shy, aye? Well, how about I call on someone then." He quickly surveyed the students, then pointed a clawed finger to the girl twin. "Miss Keelin, how about you?"

The girl's brother grinned and gave her a friendly shove apparently glad that he didn't have to be the first one. Keelin swatted her brother before making her way to the front.

"Well…um…my brother and I are orphans from America and we managed to get a job working on a trading ship." She paused and stared down at her shoes. "But the ship wrecked and my brother and I and Mr. Calder and Mrs. Greer all ended up in the same life boat. Anyway, you know what comes next. We arrived on Dinotopia and, well…found out that we're stuck here for life." After an awkward pause, the girl lifted her gaze and offered a weak smile. "It's been interesting getting to know the people here and the dinosaurs, and learning the language." She looked over at Taneka. "I like singing too." Her eyes brightened. "Also, I love the food here. They half starved us on that ship so it's been a great adventure trying all these amazing foods. I want to be a wonderful chef someday." The girl padded back to her desk and plopped down. Then she shoved her brother hard enough to knock him out of his chair. "Your turn." She said with an ornery grin.

Farrell grumbled something incoherently as he regained his balance, straightened his clothes, and marched up front. He offered his small audience more of a smirk than a genuine smile. "I'll start out by saying that it wasn't my idea to attend this class, but I don't really like the idea of being sent far away to some forsaken mountaintop, cut off from society altogether. So, here I am and I'll learn what I have to in order to get by until I can strike off on my own." Farell smirked one more time and strutted back to his seat.

Keelin stuck out her tongue at her brother.

Taneka sighed and decided that Farell would have to have some kind of private tutoring to shape up his attitude, if that was even possible. She turned to the old woman. "Mrs. Greer?"

The woman hauled herself to her feet and dutifully made her way to the front. "I no can speak language well…I can hear it gooder. Too old for learnin' new…world. Better to die on boat, but…" the woman turned her sunken eyes to Ballic and much to Taneka's surprise, she broke into a toothless smile. "Talkin' dinosaur worth livin' to see. Dinosaurs gooder than most people." Her face shriveled into a frown again as she shot a glare in Farell's direction.

Farell got his revenge by making a face at the woman as soon as her back was turned as she shuffled back to her seat.

Taneka cringed. She'd assumed that surely after these folks had been given a few months to learn the language before advancing to the Dolphinback Academy, they would have a better handle on speaking it. Of course, the twins didn't seem to be having any trouble so maybe the woman's age really did have something to do with it.

Even Calder was next. He stood in front of everyone and smiled. "My name is Even Calder and and and…" He seemed to be searching to find the words to speak. "I like Dinotopia." He spoke slowly, smiling the whole time. "People good here. Dinosaurs too.…" He ducked his head and his sunburned face grew a darker shade of red. "Teacher nice…and pretty." With that said and done, he practically ran back to his seat.

The twins couldn't keep from laughing this time and even Mrs. Greer broke into another toothless grin.

Taneka smiled politely. "Thank you Mr. Calder." Then she quickly moved her attention to the last student. "Now, Kai, you're the last one. Come tell us a little about yourself."

Kai slowly got up and dragged himself to the front. He stood with his arms crossed for several moments and stared at everyone in cold silence. Then his gaze settled on Ballic. "It was a dinosaur that pulled me out of the sea and gave me life when I begged for death. The dinosaur gave me a name, Kai, which means 'of the sea.' Through his dinosaur vision, he saw something in me that I could not, and to this day I still have yet to find out what it was. I left my old name and everything and everyone I ever loved behind in the world beyond the reef." Kai spoke bitterly and shifted his glare to Taneka. "Now, these supposedly good, civil, people of Dinotopia finally decide that I've roamed freely like an outlaw for far too long. So I'm sought out, caught, and confined to a city surrounded by water, told that I should deeply appreciate this glorious place that is now my golden cage. The people here can try all they want to stuff this education down my throat, but I will not be broken. Mark my words, it is only a matter of time before I find a way to escape this city."

Kai returned to his chair, leaving everyone in stunned silence. Then, much to everyone's surprise, Mrs. Greer broke the silence with a cackle. Taneka just looked at her, amazed to see that the old woman was laughing. Then Taneka felt annoyance, thinking that this was no laughing matter.

"Listen to him." Mrs. Greer crowed in English, "A natural born powerful orator. This lad will go far and he'll change this Dinotopia place." The woman paused as a wide grin spread over her wrinkled face. "Whether it will be for good or evil, we have yet to see." She finished up with another cackle.

Mr. Calder stared at the old woman with a look of utter dismay written on his face and even the twins didn't seem to know how to respond this time. The two simply exchanged puzzled looks, before looking to Taneka and Ballic as if they could explain what was going on.

Taneka gave Ballic a pleading look. The struthie stepped forward and spoke firmly. "I think it would be good if we all took a break right now. I'd like to see everyone back here in ten minutes and we'll start in on our studies."

As the students all stood and headed for the door Taneka sighed in relief and sank down into her desk chair. "Ballic," She groaned. "What have we gotten ourselves into? I'm not sure if there could be a worse class of Dolphinbacks to teach."

Ballic scratched at the stone floor with one of his toe claws, making a light screeching sound. "Ah, well. It's too late now. We're in this up to our necks. We'll just do the best we can and that's all we can do."

Taneka started feeling better already, but she wondered if that was only because she was watching the last student disappear through the doorway of the classroom. She looked at her dinosaur friend and gave him a teasing smile. "Well, since your neck is considerably longer than mine, that must mean you're in this mess a lot deeper than me."

Ballic laughed. "Oh, don't even go there. You're doing your fair share of work here. I'll see to that."

The human and saurian teachers were too busy laughing to notice that the tow headed twins, stifling their snickers behind their hands, snuck back to the doorway to eavesdrop on their conversation.

"I have to admit, I was nervous at the beginning of class," Taneka said after regaining her composure. "But now I think I'm simply tired and just think, we've got the rest of the day to go!" She groaned.

Ballic nodded. "I know one thing, first impressions are hard to erase from the mind. Even if each one of these students change for the better, I'll never forget the events of this morning."