The next morning, Océane woke the two Maxxims early. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal, the five women climbed into the speedboat and started across the ocean. Swen’s Atoll was about twenty miles away and soon the boat was floating above it. Eleanor shut down the outboard engines and dropped anchor.
Astrid quickly arranged the translation devices. Then she, Océane, and Adeline donned their scuba tanks, masks, and fins.
“Here’s the scarf,” said Eleanor, producing a red silk scarf.
“What’s that for?” wondered Penelope.
“The dolphins love to play with it. They think it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen. Adeline thinks it can be a breakthrough item. We’ve created a dolphin word for scarf. The plan is that we’ll play with them as they chase the scarf around while repeating the word. Hopefully they will copy it. Then we will know that they can learn a new word and add it to their language.”
“Let’s go,” said Adeline, dropping over the side.
The water was a beautiful azure, and amazingly clear. Visibility was as great as Astrid had ever seen in a dive anywhere. She could see almost one hundred fifty feet in any direction. The ocean seemed to want to give away its secrets. She could see a large manta ray flying through the depths and a few spotted eagle rays, skimming the tops of the coral that made up the atoll’s top. In the deep water beyond, swam several lemon sharks. And everywhere were crowded schools of colorful reef fish.
The only thing that was missing were the dolphins. The three women swam across over the reef, constantly on the lookout for the great grey mammals, but there was no sign of them. After twenty minutes, Adeline signaled for a return to the surface.
“We’ll wait aboard the boat,” she said, after spitting out her regulator.
“Why aren’t they here?” Astrid asked.
“Who can say?”
Eleanor and Penelope helped them all back into the boat. Then they waited, watching every direction for any sign of the missing dolphins. After two hours though, there was still nothing.
“How disappointing,” sighed Astrid.
“That’s how it is sometimes,” said Océane. “The ocean creatures do not follow our schedule.”
They returned to Dolphin Island and ate a simple lunch of fruit, cheese, and bread. The mood was subdued.
Astrid took the opportunity to take a brief nap after lunch. She had only just woken up when her phone rang. The screen showed her father’s face.
“Hello, sweetheart. How’s Polynesia.”
“It’s fine, although apparently the dolphins are vacationing elsewhere.”
“Them’s the breaks, as they say. Is that why you’re there? To observe their behavior? What is this, a school project?”
“Dad, it’s summer.”
“Oh, yeah. So, not a school project?”
“I’m here to help one of Dr. Feuillée’s protégées with her study of dolphin language.”
The girl inventor went on to describe the project in detail and the technological solution she had developed for translation.
“That sounds amazing, Astrid,” said her father. “I hope you don’t get your hopes up too much. It may be that dolphins don’t really have a language as such at all. Just because an animal makes noises, doesn’t mean they’re talking. I learned that with my dog Buster when I was a kid.”
“Dolphins are a lot smarter than dogs.”
“You didn’t know Buster.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Astrid. “That brings up an important question. How come I don’t have a dog?”
“I didn’t know you wanted one,” he said. “Most four-year-olds ask for a puppy. You wanted a chemistry set… and a robot.”
“Well, maybe we could get a dog now.”
“Maybe,” he said. “Talk to your mother about it. On an unrelated topic, how are you and Penny getting along.”
“Famously,” said Astrid.
“Well, don’t be too rough on her.”
“You make me sound like a juvenile delinquent,” she complained.
“You’re no delinquent.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “But you’re not the easiest kid to rein in.”
“I guess I just have to run free.”
“Whatever. Just take it easy on my little sister.”
No sooner had Astrid finished talking with her father, when her phone rang again. This time it was Toby.
“Oh, um, hi, Astrid.”
“How’s life with Jürgen and Sabine?”
“It’s going okay. We went fishing yesterday at Pearl Lake. It was a really nice day. We caught four trout and Aunt Gerta fixed them for dinner.”
“I can’t imagine Sabine found that very entertaining.”