Astrid brought the Maxxim Starcraft 170 down on the runway at LAX. The 170 was a sharp, if unusual looking aircraft. Designed by Astrid’s father, the 47-foot plane featured a long pointy fuselage with a small canard wing just behind the nose. The main wing was at the back of the aircraft, and carried twin turboprop engines, with the propellers facing rearward. These were known as push-props. The cabin, which could accommodate up to nine passengers, now seated only Penelope and Sabrina Scacchi and their carryon luggage. Astrid was, of course, up front, along co-pilot Don Herron.
Herron stayed with the plane, while the three young women disembarked and made their way into the LAX Private Terminal. Astrid was surprised to see her friend from France waiting just inside. Océane Feuillée was about an inch taller than Astrid and quite thin. Her pleasant face was framed in short black hair, cut in a cute little wedge. She reached out and embraced Astrid in a tight hug.
“Hello, Océane,” said Astrid. “I thought we would have to search for you.”
“You’re Miss Scacchi told me where to come.”
“And here she is. Océane, Sabrina Scacchi. Sabrina, Océane. And you remember my Aunt Penelope.”
“Oui.” The three women shook hands.
“So what is the big secret?” asked Astrid.
“Let’s find a quiet place, and I will tell you all about it.”
“I’ve reserved one of the private rooms here,” said Miss Scacchi. “It’s just down the hall.”
The small private room, enclosed in glass, was quiet and featured comfortable chairs. Astrid sat down next to Océane, and the other two sat across from them.
“So what’s going on?”
“I’ve been working with my friend Adeline Petit. She is a graduate student with my father, and she has been working on a special project for the past three years. So I decided to help. She is studying dolphins and their communication. It would be wonderful if you could create a device to translate their language to ours.”
“Of course that would be great,” said Penelope. “It’s not possible though.”
“Maybe it is,” said Astrid. “I’ve read about some work along that line that an engineer from Google was doing. It’s simply a matter of finding out what sounds are associated with what actions and objects.”
“You make that sound easy,” continued Penelope. “There could be millions of nouns and verbs to sort through.”
“Adeline has thousands of sounds recorded and identified,” said Océane. “She just needs the program and the computer. And it would have to be portable… and waterproof.”
“Is that all?” said Penelope.
“I think it can be done,” said Astrid. “What’s more, I want to do it. Where is she working? Hawaii?”
“No. She’s at a very small, uncharted island, in French Polynesia. It’s fifty miles east of Tahiti. She calls it Mokupuni Nai’a.”
“Dolphin Island,” translated Penelope.
“I didn’t know you spoke Tahitian,” Astrid remarked.
“I do, but that’s actually Hawaiian.”
“All right,” said Astrid. “I want to help, but why the hush hush? Why couldn’t you tell me all of this over the phone?”
“There’s more to it,” replied Océane. “Something is hurting the dolphins. There have been mass strandings every year for at least the last three years.”
“That’s horrible,” said Miss Scacchi.
“It is,” agreed Astrid. “But it happens all around the world. Why the secrecy?”
“We think it may be caused by the United States navy and their sonar. Adeline is afraid they will try to stop us from reporting it.”
“Well, I don’t think we really need to worry about nefarious Navy agents stalking us, but let’s agree to keep this all between us until we can figure out what’s really going on.”
“My flight leaves for Papeete Fa’a’ā in two hours,” said Océane.
“I need a while to get the necessary computer equipment together,” said Astrid. “Then I can fly the Starcraft out and meet you.”
“You can’t Astrid,” said Miss Scacchi. “Your mother said you must have an adult with you and I have to be back in Maxxim City by Monday.”
“I’ll go with Astrid,” said Penelope. “We’ll get you a first class ticket back home.”
“You don’t mind?” Astrid asked her aunt. “This may take weeks.”
“What? You need weeks to create a device to talk to another species? You must be slipping.”
Astrid laughed. “All right then. Let’s get Océane to her flight, get a ticket for Miss Scacchi…”
“Call me Sabrina please, Astrid.”
“Okay, but if my mother get’s mad, it’s your fault. A ticket for Sabrina. Then you and I, Aunt Penny, need to go to the computer store.”