Disclaimer: Ummm… okay, so far, only Ruth the Sea Turtle is mine. Everybody else belongs to everybody else. But heck, don't ask me who's who. I haven't a clue.
Author's Notes: This is a seaQuest/Free Willy crossover. Yeah, scary thought, huh? Well, brace yourselves. It gets worse. It ain't crossed with the Free Willy movies, but with the animated TV series based on the movies. Never heard of it or don't remember it? Don't worry, I don't remember much either -- but I'll do my best to fully introduce everything so you don't get left behind. Just know this for now… most of this story is from the animals' perspective, and wonder of wonders, it's actually gonna have a plot. Believe it or not, I'm trying to treat this ridiculous plot bunny seriously and write a half-decent story. And if you don't like it? Tough. I'd rather be writing PirateSlash.
By Moonbeam ([email protected])
Floating on her back at the surface, her snout just peaking out from between the waves, the California sea lion glared reproachfully at the duo drifting along beside her. "Just whose crazy idea was this, anyway?"
In answer, a puff of air sent a spray of water jetting up a few feet only to come raining back down on her nose. Lucille twitched her whiskers in annoyance and just barely refrained from snapping at her overgrown companion. "Don't look at me, Lucille," said companion retorted irritably, reminding the sea lion that they were all on short tempers at the moment. "I was supposed to take Einstein out for his shark-fighting lesson today. You're the one that talked us into coming with you guys instead."
"Yeah, like we really had to twist your fin to get you to come," interjected the weak voice from the shivering figure perched high on the large mammal's back.
Under the waves, a pair of worried dark eyes met in a concerned glance. The killer whale, shaky teenage boy curled up against his dorsal fin, slowly beat his powerful tail until his great body rose higher out of the water. The sun pounded hot upon his exposed black skin, but he was in no danger of drying out. The rough wind kept stirring the waves, drenching both his back and his passenger at irregular intervals. Good for him, not so good for his human friend.
"You okay up there, Jesse?" the orca asked, his voice rumbling deep and powerful in proportion to his size. Jesse had always marvelled that an animal as large as Willy, with such a deep speaking voice, should use such a beautifully high tone while singing.
Then again, Jesse thought ruefully, it was still a marvel that he could understand him at all.
All the same, he was glad he could. He probably wouldn't have survived this stupid trip if he hadn't been able to depend on the killer whale to save his life. Willy had been his best friend for years, long before he ever learned he could speak the common animal tongue, and the orca had saved his life back then as well. He'd done so several times throughout the years they'd known one another, and Jesse had reciprocated. Lucille and Einstein had also joined in the fun, getting themselves and their friends into trouble as often as they got them out of it.
But Jesse was alive right now thanks to his non-human friends. When the small craft he was in was swept up in the storm, he and the sea lion on deck hadn't been able to do anything but hold on for the ride. Jesse had tied his line off to the boat rail, wrapped his arms around Lucille's strong neck to help her keep her balance, and hunkered down to pray. Willy and Einstein, an experienced ex-performing killer whale and a clever little four-year old bottle-nose dolphin, dove beneath the thrashing waves and followed the out of control vessel's path as the storm carried it out to sea.
When the storm finally eased off, Jesse had thought the worst was over. He released his grip on the sea lion trembling in his arms and turned his head to assess the damage to his small craft. It was thus he was able to get out a brief cry at the sight of the huge wave about to descend upon them, then his voice was drowned out as the wash of water flipped what left of his boat and shattered it into pieces.
Lucille, no longer being held securely by the determined teen, had been swept overboard with the first blast of water. Without her weight to anchor him, Jesse swung wildly around on his tie-line until the force of the wave finally jammed his thin body against the wheel of the helm. The breath knocked out of him, the boy could do nothing as the borrowed speed boat capsized and encased him in a tomb of icy salt water.
His unique friendship with wild marine animals came in very useful then. Instead of drowning and perishing with his sinking craft never to be seen again, an orca with attitude came up underneath the tilting bow and held it aloft just long enough for a sleek dolphin to dart in and pull the trapped boy out. Jesse's lifejacket then bobbed him up to the frothing surface, where he was met by a slightly dizzy but otherwise fine Lucille.
Once they'd ascertained that everyone was relatively okay, Einstein decided to go swim around the area and see if he could spot anyone or anything that might help them. Willy had had every intention of going with the dolphin, since two could search better than one, at least until the normally abstracted Lucille pointed out a very important truth -- the long gash in Jesse's leg was leaking pungent red blood that was bound to attract any nearby sharks and if the orca left, both she and the boy would be defenceless. After that, the decision was easy. Willy stayed put, and Jesse clambered up onto his back before his dripping wound flashed a figurative "Free Buffet!" neon sign to every predator in the sea. Einstein took off on his own, laughingly doing a victory jump at the gentle ribbing by his ipso-de-facto teacher about getting to skip out on his shark-fighting lesson again.
Jesse was glad for his friends' support. Mostly covered as he was in a wetsuit, he wasn't really in danger of freezing in the relatively warm ocean currents, and with his lifejacket on it was unlikely he'd drown, but the salt of the ocean was aggravating the pain of his leg-wound. It was both tiring and distracting. He was finding it hard to concentrate on keeping himself floating upright, head above water, when all he wanted to do was curl up into a ball around his throbbing calf. Being on Willy's back gave him the opportunity to focus his attention on the thankfully shallow gash and to assess the damage done. The only drawback was that, while the cold of the water had slowed the bleeding, the wound was refusing to close. He had to rip one of the straps off his lifevest to wrap around his leg and put pressure onto the wound -- a procedure he found hurt even worse than the time a swordfish speared his side, his previous 'most painful injury' to date.
Come to think of it, he'd been revising that 'most painful injury' list fairly often lately.
Jesse sighed, looking despondently at the wreckage. "Randolph is never gonna forgive me for this. He told me not to take the boat too far out to sea. Now we don't even know where we are."
"Einstein will be back soon. Maybe he'll have found something."
"Yeah, maybe. I just hope he's okay. He's still kinda young, Willy."
"And stupid," Lucille muttered, though her voice lacked its usual harshness. She was worried too.
Willy rode a wave, turning his pectoral fins into the current to surf the curl. "He'll be fine. He's been getting a lot better lately. It's only when his curiousity gets the best of him that he gets into trouble. I've been trying to teach him to think before he acts."
The sea lion lazing on her back rolled and snorted. "Oh, like you're the best teacher for that."
"Cut it out you two," Jesse said. "Einstein knows how important this is. He'll either find someone and lead them here, or he'll come back when his time's up." He glanced up at the sun, now shining from high overhead. "And his time's almost up."
Einstein followed the current for several miles, his powerful tail pushing him cleanly through the quick moving water. Using his echolocation to guide him where the turbidity was high just as Willy had taught him, the small dolphin searched diligently for any sign of humans. He glided just under the surface, jumping every now and then into the warmer air to get a good look around him, before diving deep where he could listen to the sounds that travelled long distances underwater.
When he'd first set out, Einstein had been confident he'd accomplish his goal quickly and come back triumphant. Jesse had warned him to be back by the time the sun was directly above the ocean, sitting at its highest point in the sky. Noon, as Einstein had learned the humans called it -- though try as he might, he still couldn't quite grasp the concept of counting time as his two-legged friend did. Now it was nearing that time already, yet the dolphin had still not seen another living soul. Not even a lousy fish, for crying out loud.
Living with Willy at the cove hadn't really prepared him for just how big and empty the ocean truly was. He'd been resisting the killer whale's offers to spend time with the orca pod, wanting to stay close to his comfortable home where the fish was plentiful and the company friendly. Willy had wanted him to experience more of the ocean, something he'd have been safe to do amidst the larger cetacean's family. Swimming alone in the vast blue void, he wished he'd taken his teacher up on the offer.
Getting discouraged by his lack of success, Einstein took a deep breath and dove deep. In his despondency, he wasn't watching where he was going. He never saw the thin-lined web he swam into, but he sure felt it when it wrapped constrictingly around his throat.
The young dolphin panicked, struggling wildly in a mindless attempt to free himself from the thing attacking him. He twisted and spun, jerked and flipped, but the thing held on and actually seemed to wind tighter around him. Einstein shrieked, terrified, until he finally forced himself to calm down when nothing further happened to him.
Stilling his thrashing, Einstein opened eyes he hadn't realised he'd closed. He was startled to see not some great sea monster out to eat him, but a ragged rope net. A net! He'd swum right into some human's lost net and not even noticed. How dumb could he be?!
Growling angrily, Einstein grabbed a segment of the net between his teeth and tried to tear it off. The segment snapped apart, but the rest of the net refused to be loosened. The dolphin kept trying, becoming more and more frustrated as his efforts only served to entangle him more. Before he knew it, he'd drifted down into the deeper levels of the ocean where even the sunlight barely penetrated the bluish darkness. Gulping in fear, feeling his lungs clench as his breath ran out, Einstein decided maybe now was a good time to start panicking again. He glanced wide-eyed at the immediate area around him, but could still see no one who could help him.
Einstein was sure he was going to die, going to drown right then and there, all alone without any of his friends.
No, wait! His friends! They were depending on him, he couldn't die! They needed him! Jesse needed him.
And desperation leant him a strength he didn't know he possessed. Determination filled his young being, and the dolphin stilled in the water. In moments, the ocean went silent, seemingly poised in wait. Einstein concentrated on his heartbeat, slowed his racing pulse, then let loose the loudest, longest distress call he could.
Maybe there weren't any humans around, but there had to be somebody out there. Hopefully, someone would hear his call, rescue him, and then maybe together they could figure out how to save his friends.
At the very least, maybe he wouldn't die alone.
With the seaQuest far behind him and the weight of the airpack snug over his blowhole, Darwin took a break from his fishing expedition to dance and play in his own private playground. He dashed through the water, spun and twisted and darted in playful patterns, happily making use of the openness of the ocean to move about as he couldn't in the tight confines of his home. Much as he loved his pod and the boat they lived on, Darwin never lost his longing for the freedom of living wild. He'd take his opportunities to leave the seaQuest whenever he could. Though, of course, he would always go back -- humans or no, Bridger and Lucas and all the rest were as much his pod as the dolphins with which he grew up. More so, perhaps, since though his mother welcomed him back every time he visited, young males rarely stayed with their maternal pods once they became independent.
Giving his head a shake, Darwin cleared his mind of heavy thought and returned to enjoying himself. He hung vertically in the water, nose pointed down into the black depths that sheltered seaQuest, and sent off a burst of sonar to echo down in the hidden darkness. Not even bothering to sit and wait for any possible returning signals, the dolphin chittered a laugh, swung about, and shot for the light up above. He flitted up through the water, rode the varying currents, and scattered high-pitched sound waves all around him with every twisting turn. Feeling as young and carefree as a two-year old calf, the ten-year old dolphin laughed and yelled as he played, making enough noise for half-a-dozen youngsters all on his own.
At one point in his play, Darwin flipped and changed direction to investigate a blip on his echolocation. What he found was a lonely sea turtle slowly making its way through the ocean, the old female uninterested in the playful predator that swam out of nowhere to drift along beside her. She'd outgrown most of her natural predators decades ago, and with the strength of her shell protecting her back and underbelly, she didn't bother to summon any concern over the dolphin now dodging her flippers.
"Hey," Darwin called out cheerfully, heedless of her obvious attempts to ignore him. "Where ya goin'?"
The turtle sighed, bubbles of air escaping her mouth as she stopped to look at the bothersome mammal. Realising he wasn't likely to go away on his own, Ruth allowed herself to float up to the surface where she could talk and breathe at the same time. The pesky dolphin followed right along beside her.
"The polite thing to do, young one," she admonished after a breath, "would be to introduce yourself before you start asking me questions."
The dolphin grinned at her. "My name is Darwin. And yours, ma'am?" he added with pronounced civility.
She chose to ignore his cheeky tone -- while respected for their intelligence, dolphins weren't known for their manners. "I'm Ruth, sonny. And in answer to your first question, I'm on my way to the beach where I was born so long ago."
"Why are you going back there?" he asked curiously, rolling on his side to peer at her with the other eye.
Ruth sighed again. "I'm going to lay my eggs, son, as I've done many times throughout my long life. My children will be hatched on the same beach where I was, as will their children after them. I expect I'll even come across a few of my previous daughters making the same trip as I am. It's what we turtles do," she explained patiently.
"Sounds boring," Darwin decided.
"That it may be to you, youngster," she didn't take offence," but to me, it's all the excitement I need. I'm too old to be doing much else." Ruth paused, her algae-encrusted eyes finally getting a good look at the grey dolphin whose long snout was poked in her face. "Excuse me -- Darwin, was it? -- but what is that thing wrapped around you? I've been around for a lot of seasons, but I've never seen anything so odd."
Darwin swam out and turned in a circle before her, letting the aged sea turtle examine him in his bright blue and yellow air pack. "My human friends gave it to me. It lets me breathe even when I'm underwater. I can swim for hours without coming to the surface, and swim as deep as the cold will let me. Isn't it great?" he enthused.
Ruth shook her head. "Humans? And you wear it willingly? It looks like it's trying to strangle you. Are you sure your not ill?" she asked, showing some hints of maternal concern.
The dolphin laughed. "No, it doesn't hurt me. Lucas would never do anything to hurt me -- he's my pod."
"Lucas, eh?" Ruth looked him over shrewdly. "You need to be careful of humans, son. It was one of them who named me . . . when he pierced me with a tag to hunt me." Her slightly gravelly but pleasant voice went suddenly hard and flat. "Humans can't be trusted, Darwin. You be careful around them if you know what's good for you."
They had drifted downwards as they talked, the excitable dolphin sometimes swimming a few lengths away before returning to the turtle's side as she gradually descended into the darker areas of the clear blue ocean. Darwin darted off for a few seconds longer this time, Ruth actually losing sight of his swift-moving form despite the colourful pack he carried. Unlike the other playful dancing he'd been doing, it was not giddiness that spurred this jaunt but aggravation.
"Not all humans are bad," he insisted upon his return. "My humans aren't -- they're friends, family. They're my pod. They love me and I love them." He beat his tail emphatically, sending poor Ruth scrambling to ride the turbulence he caused. "Bridger saved my life when I got sick. He's been my brother ever since."
It was obvious how much the dolphin cared about his human 'pod'. Even Ruth's failing eyesight could see it. "That may be, child," she said gently, but firmly. "But most humans only mean us harm. We animals have to be careful of them and take care of each other. You never know when they might attack."
Darwin sighed, but nodded in agreement. "I know. I've had my own fair share of bad experiences with humans. But my pod is different. They help the animals of the ocean." He grinned. "Even sharks."
Ruth chuckled. "See? What did I tell you. No sense, those silly humans. Helping sharks, indeed," she muttered reprovingly. "And what have they ever done for sea turtles, hmm?"
"Ha!" Darwin laughed. "And I was just beginning to think maybe you weren't as wise as you turtles always claim to be."
"Now, son," Ruth said sternly, waving a flipper in his face with a twinkle in her eye. "Don't go bad-talking us turtles. You never know when one of you dolphins is going to need our wisdom. Your 'nice' humans won't always be around to rescue you."
"Dolphins wouldn't need help," Darwin shot back, dolphin-grin lighting up his expression. "We're too smart to get into trouble."
The ancient great-great-great-grandmother snorted. "Right, sonny," she nodded mildly. "Just remember -- the smarter they are, the more tricky the trouble they get into."
"Ain't that the truth!" Darwin agreed, twirling in place as Ruth smiled kindly at his antics. "Maybe that's why we always live in groups," he added jokingly.
"So someone will be around to get you out of trouble, you mean? Only works if you all--"
Ruth's voice trailed off as a high-toned sound caught her ear. Beside her, Darwin listened to the distinct cry echoing through the water and stiffened noticeably.
"What? What is it, Darwin?" the sea turtle asked quietly, curious but reluctant to disturb the suddenly tense atmosphere.
Darwin shuddered, his sleek grey body twisting in circle as he worked to pinpoint the direction the call had come from. His sharp mind was equally engaged with the task and spared only a small part to answer Ruth's question. "A distress call. A dolphin's distress call -- and an urgent one at that."
Ruth didn't see the problem. "So some silly dolphin's gotten into trouble? That's it? Don't worry, Darwin. It's just like we were just saying -- his pod will take care of him."
But Darwin shook his head. "No. There aren't supposed to be any dolphins in this part of the ocean. There is no pod around for miles. That dolphin must be alone."
"No! He needs help! I've got to go!" and he took off like a bullet, not even bothering to say goodbye.
Watching him speed away, the sunshine yellow of the brightly coloured human contraption the last thing to vanish, Ruth sighed. "Good luck, little one," she whispered in his wake. "And be careful."
Well, four years wasn't the longest of lives, Einstein reflected, but at least it had been full of adventure. Separated from his mother at an early enough age that he never got the chance to learn to live like a dolphin, raised by humans in a marine park far from the ocean, until events he couldn't understand landed him back in the unfamiliar waters of his birth -- all alone. He was very lucky that his path crossed with that of a human boy out for a swim with his killer whale. The pair had taken him in, become first his friends and quickly his family. Even Lucille, the usually haughty sea lion, had become like a sister to him. She even played ball with him, as long as no one else was looking and he swore not to tell.
As the need for air grew uncomfortable, Einstein wished he could see them one last time. Tell them how much he loved them, and how thankful he was to have known them. And to say he was sorry, sorry for failing to find the help his friends needed. That hurt most of all, more so than the cold he felt seeping in through the layer of blubber under his skin, more so than the darkness encroaching on his vision, more so even than the tightness in his chest as his lungs ran out of air. He'd failed his friends. Because of him, Jesse and maybe even Lucille, might die as well. Willy would be fine, the orca strong enough and smart enough to survive, but there was little comfort in the knowledge. It would just mean there would be someone left behind to hate him for his failure.
One more thing to hurt him from the Great Beyond. Wasn't death supposed to be a relief from pain? he wondered absently as his vision went grey and his body went limp.
"Hold on!" a voice called from the darkness, and Einstein snorted in what was left of his mind. Great, now he was hallucinating . . .
Darwin swam as fast as he could, powering through the water toward the source of the distress call. His concern grew as every stroke of his fluke pushed him deeper into the darkness of the ocean. The farther down he went, the farther away from the surface and its life-giving air the dolphin would be. The chances of an animal surviving, unless it was lucky enough to have an airpack, were slim. Darwin prayed he wasn't too late.
There! From out of the darkness, a shape began to appear. Darwin forced another burst of speed, darting to the limp figure of a young dolphin sinking fast. Within seconds, it became obvious why the other dolphin had called out. It's small grey body was wrapped nose to tail in a cocoon of green rope. The poor thing had gotten itself tangled up in a drifting net, and the weight of the net had drawn it downwards despite the child's struggles. The calf -- and it was a calf, Darwin noted sadly -- must have been terrified as it fought for air and found only water.
If only he had been quicker, Darwin mourned as pulled up beside the calf. The seaQuest was close now, just a few hundred feet further down -- Darwin could see the light the big boat put off. If he'd been faster, he could have brought the younger male to Lucas and Bridger. They could have saved him, he was sure.
Gently, sorrowfully, Darwin touched his nose to the dead calf's melon in goodbye.
The calf twitched, briefly.
Darwin reared back in shock. Alive! He was still alive! There was still a chance! "Hold on, little one!" he cried and clamped his teeth in the murderous net. Then he used that which sought to kill the dolphin to drag the child to safety.
He swam as hard as he could, pulling the limp form of the calf along beside him as he descended toward seaQuest. He whistled reassuringly to the little dolphin, encouraged him to hold on, to not leave for the Eternal Dark yet. Almost there, almost there . . . The light grew brighter as seaQuest approached, until finally Darwin could see the boat he called home. He clicked in relief . . . so close, so close!
A shrill blast of sound escape him as he swam under the boat and saw with joy the hatch to the swimtubes still wide open. Not hesitating a moment, Darwin darted into the tunnel with his precious cargo drifting along beside him. The moonpool loomed large and inviting just up ahead, and yes! People! Help was there!
Darwin didn't even bother trying to speak to them through Lucas's machine. He just shot straight up out of the water, screaming as loudly as he could, and crashing back down so hard he soaked the deck with the splash. But the undignified entrance served its purpose and everyone stopped to stare at him. With an impatient whine, seaQuest's resident dolphin pushed the immobile calf up onto the sloping platform where they could get to him. He was gratified to see that the humans, after a moment's hesitation while they processed what they were seeing, leapt into action. Three crewmembers surrounded the calf in seconds, one drawing a knife to begin cutting away the vile net while the others began screaming themselves.
Darwin sank back in the water, watching anxiously. Please let it not be too late . . .
To Be Continued . . .
Author's Notes: If you read this far and think this story actually has possibility, please let me know in a review. If you read this far and think I'm losing my sanity -- too late, I already know. But if you actually have anything constructive to say anyway, I'll be glad to hear it. Oh, and if anybody ever comes up with a suitable title, the Suggestion Box is OPEN. Thank you.