Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Tools and Toys"

This poem came out of the February 2015 Crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] chordatesrock. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Aquariana thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Tools and Toys"


As part of her work in the Maldives,
Aquariana spent time getting to know
Skipper and some of the other dolphins.

Two more had joined the roll
of cetacean superheroes:
a mindhealer nicknamed Siggy
who worked with special needs clients,
and an albino juvenile called Styrofoam
serving as a lifeguard offshore of Villingili Beach
across a channel from the capital city Malé.

Skipper's own pod was quite small
and mostly they played tour guide
for other, larger pods of dolphins.

Siggy had come alone, and had
no permanent pod of his own,
preferring to socialize with
whomever was around.

Styrofoam's substantial pod was
fanatically protective of her,
because her white coloration
made her a target for sharks
and unethical humans, so they
tended to keep her in the middle.

Sometimes they all gathered together,
with Moderato the humpback whale
happily joining in the fun, and
Steel the sperm whale
a glum shadow below.

Come and play with us,
Skipper invited, and Aquariana
dove over the side of the boat.

She enjoyed swimming
alongside them, now and then
hitching a ride on someone's fin
or balancing on their slippery backs.

The dolphins were particularly fond
of human toys -- frisbees and flying rings,
hula hoops and inflatable balls.

Aquariana did not expect them
to provide toys of their own.

One of Skipper's podmates
started it, blowing a bubble
that soon expanded into a ring.

She bit off a smaller ring,
repeating the action several times
until the bubble reached the surface.

Skipper joined in, followed by several others,
all twirling around each other as they
chased the silvery rings, sometimes
passing them from person to person
and other times swimming through
the center to pop the hoop.

That looks like fun, Aquariana mused.

Do you want to play with us? Skipper asked.

She can't play, Siggy said.
Humans don't have blowholes.

Some humans can blow hoops,
said Styrofoam. They use their flippers.

I can blow bubble rings, well, sometimes,
said Aquariana. She wasn't anywhere
near as good as the dolphins though.

With a little effort, she managed
to blow several bubbles, but every time
she tried to manipulate them, they popped.

It takes practice, Styrofoam's mother said gently.

I'm less of an athlete and more of an artist,
Skipper said, though other people are better.
He blew a beautiful series of hoops and spheres
that did indeed look like a shimmering sculpture.

Moderato blew an enormous ring, but
as soon as he tried to add to it,
the entire thing collapsed.

You're a great dancer but a terrible artist,
Skipper said, his mindvoice
rippling with amusement.

Moderato's tenor laugh shook the water.
I don't care, he said. I just think it's fun.

Bubbles aren't toys, Steel said on a darker note.

Well, to us they are, Moderato said firmly.
You don't have to play if you don't want to,
but don't mess with our games.


These are actual games? Aquariana said.
I mean, you have rules, not just freestyle play?

We've been playing Hoops for an hour,
Skipper said. You blow a bubble ring.
Then you hit it with your snout to break off
a smaller ring, and that's one point.
Next time you do that, it's two points,
then three, and so on as far as you get.


Five points if you can blow a bubble
big enough for a podmate to swim through
as far as their fins,
Styrofoam added.

I don't have a snout, Aquariana said.

Try using your flippers, Skipper suggested.
I've seen you do much fancier things with them.

Aquariana discovered that she could,
once in a while, manage to hit a bubble
just right to generate the second hoop,
but she never got more than one.

Eventually she climbed back aboard the Bilimbi,
a comfortable little cuddy cabin powerboat
run by the Whale & Dolphin Company,
ideal for cruising around the bay.

She rinsed off the saltwater, used the head,
and then went to the galley where Captain Koul
was heating up the sandwiches for lunch
while the cetacean biologist Sheck
opened a tub of fresh fruit.

Over lunch, Aquariana told the crew
about the bubbles and the game of Hoops.
Sheck babbled happily about cetacean intelligence
and how he couldn't wait to tell his mentor.

They had almost finished eating
when something underfoot
gave an alarming clank and
the boat began listing to the left.

"Dammit, that right prop is acting up again,"
the captain grumbled as he hurried
to shut off the engine.

The Bilimbi coasted to a halt.

"I'll strip off and go underwater
to see if it can be fixed out here,"
said Captain Koul. "Otherwise,
we're going to need a tow home."

He peeled down to his trunks,
donned his snorkeling gear,
and flipped neatly over the side
to examine the wayward propeller.

A minute later he surfaced and said,
"I can't even figure out what's wrong with it."

Would you like to borrow my mechanic?
Skipper offered politely.

"You have a mechanic?" Aquariana said,
staring at him over the edge of the boat.

Gladhammer is mostly a fluid mechanic,
but she works with solid materials too,

Skipper said as he surfaced alongside one of
the dolphins who had been playing Hoops earlier.

Aquariana relayed the offer
to Captain Koul, who gladly accepted.

Gladhammer ducked underwater
and emitted a series of sharp clicks
and pings that echoed through the hull.

She says ... Skipper's mindvoice
trailed off in a blur of dizzying noise.

"Sorry, Skipper, I didn't get that,"
Aquariana said. "Could you rephrase?"

It was Moderato who answered, though,
his greater experience with humans helping him
figure out how to translate from sonar to words
The part that spins is too loose. Something
has gotten caught between it and
the part that does not spin,

he said to the humans.

"Yes, that has happened before,"
said Captain Koul. "I'll have to take it
into the shop to get that fixed."

Gladhammer says that your ship
will go if you remove the piece
that does not belong there,

Moderato said.

"I can't see to pry it loose,"
Captain Koul said.

I can hear where it is, but the pieces
are very small,
said Steel. If I try
to move anything, I might do more damage
.

Watch closely, Moderato warned.
Gladhammer will make a flashlight.

"What do you mean, make a flashlight?"
Aquariana asked. "And make it with what,
our floaty balls and a piece of seaweed?"


A bright light flared underwater,
as blue-white as starfire, and
then a roil of bubbles surfaced.

Captain Koul surfaced, grinning.
"I saw it!" he announced.
"It's just a short piece of wire.
I'll grab a couple of tools, pry it loose,
and then test the engine. If the wire
didn't do any lasting damage, then
we can get home under our own power."

"How did she make a flashlight?"
Aquariana wondered, shaking her head.
"Does she have Light Powers or something?"

"I have no idea," the captain said
as he sorted through his toolbox.
Then he went back overboard.

"Bubbles," Sheck mused. "I've been
thinking about that, because my roommate
in college was a mathematician, and he used to
go on and on about the Navier-Stokes equations.
I told him about dolphins blowing toroidal bubbles,
but I didn't know they played actual games."

"Oh, I've heard about those equations," Aquariana said.
"My shapeshifting tutor thought that it might help me
with my Water Form. They're over my head, though."

Underwater, the bluish light flared again.

Sheck let out a piercing squeal.
"It's shrimpoluminescence!" he yelled,
skittering around the deck as he
flapped his hands in glee. "Okay, no,
I guess it would be delpholuminescence."

Aquariana grabbed the back of his shirt
and pulled him to the middle of the boat
so he wouldn't fall overboard. The Bilimbi
was meant to give access to the water,
so its low back deck had no railing.

"Be careful," she scolded gently.
"And could I get that in English?"

"She really did make a flashlight," he said.
"She just made it out of air. It's science!
It's, it's bubble technology. I knew about dolphins
blowing bubbles but I didn't think of it the right way,
only now it turns out they're actually used as
tools and toys, not just random blobs. You know,
like whales make fishnets? But I didn't see it,
nobody realized what we were looking at, because
we all think technology is this --" He kicked the toolbox.
"stuff we can touch and keep. We didn't recognize
ephemeral technology because it doesn't last."

Well, of course, Moderato said. You landers
are wonderful at making solid things, but you
don't understand fluid mechanics at all and
your grasp of mathematics is rudimentary at best
.

Steel's baritone laugh shook the water,
and Aquariana could feel it tickle her feet.
Their pathetic attempts at sonar, he said.
That's never going to stop being funny.

Steel, don't be so rude, Moderato scolded.
They can't help their handicaps.

"Hey, we're not that bad," Aquariana said. "I heard
that some Super-Intellect called the Numerator
is close to solving the Navier-Stokes equations,
and she's just a little girl. Imagine what she will
be able to do when she grows up. Hmm, maybe
I should see about putting you guys in touch with her."

She knew that the Numerator was into foam and bubbles,
because there had been a hilarious incident involving
a countdown timer and a can of whipped cream
which Leapfrog would probably never live down.

It's quite all right, I believe I've found her, Moderato said.

"You what?" Aquariana exclaimed. "How could
you possibly -- what did you do, make
a telephone out of bubbles now?"

No, of course not, I'm using telepathy,
Moderato said. There are so few minds
on this level, it's not hard to find a specific one
.
Then he whuffed in annoyance. She does not
believe that I am who I say I am, though
.

Aquariana was about to protest that
America was clear across the globe from here,
then remembered that whale songs could
travel up to ten thousand miles, so maybe
it wasn't such a reach for him after all.

"Let me see if I can help," she said,
stepping into the cabin to make a phonecall.
"Hi, SPOON dispatch? This is Aquariana.
I'm in the Maldives with my friend Moderato.
He's trying to have a telepathic conversation
with the Numerator about advanced math,
and she doesn't believe who he is. Could you
please ring her and confirm his identity?"

"Happy to oblige," said Cheersquad, his bright voice
making Aquariana smile. "Please hold."

Less than a minute later, Moderato said,
Now she believes me! Thank you.

"Okay, we're good here," Aquariana said.
"Thanks for the assist, Cheersquad."

Moderato was so engrossed in his conversation
with the Numerator that only a distant ripple
reached Aquariana's senses.

Captain Koul surfaced then, and had to
nudge Sheck gently away from where
the young man was leaning over
the sealadder to watch Gladhammer.

"All right, I got the wire loose," the captain said.
"Let's see if the motor will run now."
He turned it back on, and it purred to life,
twin engines synchronized and functional.
"Good enough. We can head back whenever
you two are through hanging out with the whales."

Aquariana leaned over the edge to look for Moderato,
who was hanging head down in the clear water.
Are we done for now, or do you want to play some more?
she thought at him as clearly as she could.

Forget it, Steel told her. He is ...
what do you say? Zoned out?


"Okay, we'll see you later then," she said.
"Please tell him I said goodbye, and
thank Gladhammer for her help."

"What's her favorite toy?" the captain asked.
They'd gathered up all the playthings before lunch,
but now he opened the trunk again.

It was Skipper who picked up that thread
of conversation, and soon reported
Gladhammer's fondness for the flying rings.

Captain Koul flicked one over the waves.
"Tell her she can keep that one," he said.
"I know some of you folks follow cruise ships
hoping we'll lose something fun over the side."

"They're trailing you for item drops?" Sheck said,
then doubled over laughing. "Aw man, that is epic.
Now I wonder if I could teach a dolphin
how to play video games."

"You could try," Aquariana said. "You'd need
to figure out some special equipment, but
Gladhammer is probably the person to invite.
They play with bubbles and balls, they use
bubbles and sponges as tools, and dolphins
absolutely love playing. It's worth a shot."

As they headed back toward the distant skyline
of Malé on the horizon, Aquariana mulled over
the day's discoveries. Bubble technology,
who would have thought it?
Yet now that
she had seen it in action, there was no denying
that the whales and dolphins were using
fluid mechanics to make tools and toys.

It meant that she'd have a bunch more paperwork
to do, documenting what had happened, along with
its relevance to the ongoing legalities about
cetacean personhood and sentience, and then
figuring out who needed to be notified
about the math side of things.

She didn't mind a bit, even looked forward to it.

Oh yes, Aquariana thought.
That's going to rock some boats.

* * *

Notes:

Siggy -- He is a spinner dolphin working with special needs clients. He helps people cope with difficult emotions or experiences, and also teaches about telepathy. Currently he has tutors come from the Maldives National University to teach him about human psychology and health. They are still debating the feasibility of a customized major in Interspecies Therapy.
Origin: Siggy grew up in a dolphin swim program so he has an unusually high familiarity with humans. His mother was one of several dolphins from an earlier experimental program so that may have contributed to Siggy's development of superpowers. When he heard about the cetacean superheroes in the Maldives, he came out of the fuse box.
Uniform: None. He goes nude.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Counselor, Expert (+4) Dolphin, Good (+2) College Student
Poor (-2) Bubble Artist
Powers: Expert (+4) Mindhealing, Good (+2) Telepathy
Motivation: To heal what he can.

Gladhammer -- She is a supernary spinner dolphin adept in the use of technology. She loves technology of various kinds, and is especially fond of playing with solid objects that fall into the water such as leaves or balls. Unlike most dolphins who are happy with their bodies, she is frustrated by her lack of hands and envies humans their fine manipulatory appendages.
Qualities: Master (+6) Dolphin, Master (+6) Fluid Mechanic, Master (+6) Tool User, Expert (+4) Artist, Good (+2) Athlete
Poor (-2) No Hands

Styrofoam -- She is an albino spinner dolphin who works as a lifeguard offshore of Villingili Beach. Styrofoam and her pod moved to the Maldives from Maui, Hawaii. Her pod is very protective of her due to her unusual coloration, which has made her a target for sharks and unethical humans. But like her new friend Moderato the humpback whale, Styrofoam really likes humans and wants to keep them safe. She has also cozied up well with her human coworkers on the beach. They have rigged a double bell that can be activated from land or sea to alert the other half of the team to trouble. Gizmologists skilled in chemistry are still trying to devise an effective sunscreen for Styrofoam since lifeguarding requires her to spend more time on the surface and she's vulnerable to sunburn.
Origin: She was born with Telekinesis. Human Speech is actually a learned skill, but so few cetaceans can do it at all that it counts as a superpower.
Uniform: None. She goes nude. Her white coloring serves a similar purpose, however, in making it easy for people to recognize her.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dolphin, Good (+2) Human Friends, Good (+2) Lifeguard, Good (+2) Water Dancer
Poor (-2) Resistance to Sunburn
Powers: Average (0) Telekinesis, Poor (-2) Human Speech
Motivation: Saving people.

Captain Boshi Koul -- A native of the Maldives, he works for the Whale & Dolphin Company. He worked his way up the ranks, having captained a number of ships for them in recent years. Sometimes he still mans the public cruises or tours, and now he also works with Aquariana and the cetacean soups. He strongly prefers life on the water, dislikes going ashore, and doesn't deal very well with cities. Boshi collects postcards from around the world, mostly waterscapes but a few landlocked monuments as well. He knows an amazing amount of trivia, the kind of things that people print on such souvenirs.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Ship Captain, Good (+2) Interspecies Relations, Good (+2) Swimming, Good (+2) Postcard Collector
Poor (-2) Not a Landlubber

Sheck Caperton -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He works as a spotter at the Whale & Dolphin Company, helping them find cetaceans for the tourists to watch, and observing them himself. He is currently studying cetacean first aid with a marine veterinarian. Recently he has begun volunteering with Aquariana and the cetacean soups. He's just getting started in life, has a degree but little practical experience. He still gets excited and loses control sometimes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cetacean Biologist, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Energetic, Good (+2) Memory
Poor (-2) Just Getting Started

* * *

Dolphin cognition is complex, and some of them really enjoy human company. Swimming with dolphins can involve some of the tricks I mentioned here, although care is needed to make the experience safe for humans and dolphins alike. Many cetaceans adore toys.

Villingili Beach lies across a channel from the capital of the Maldives.

Fluid mechanics deals in the qualities of liquids, gases, and plasmas. Fluid dynamics is a subset featuring fluids in motion. The Navier-Stokes equations describe some parameters of fluids. Toroidal bubbles have some fascinating qualities. Dolphins play with toroidal bubbles, along with other bubbles, and humans can too. Check out some of the math.  Here is a discussion about whether cavitation may play a role in dolphin sonar, noting that cavitation has a caustic effect on ship propeller blades.

Gaming theory states that games have rules and interesting choices. A good game should be fun and challenging.

Bilimbi is a plant native to the Maldives. The boat is a 2000 26' Grady-White 265 Express. A cuddy cabin is a type of small powerboat. Nautical vocabulary has its own terms for a lot of things: a head is a marine toilet and a galley is the kitchen.

Sonoluminescence can be created by tiny bubbles. Shrimpoluminescence is real, produced by at least two species in different ways: the pistol shrimp and the mantis shrimp. It's not even a superpower for them; it's a species standard. When I started imagining what kind of technology cetaceans might use, I looked for things they were already doing, then searched out related aspects, and finally imagined how that would look if turned into something productive or entertaining.  Research into delphine sonoluminescence has been proposed.  A few references to what dolphins can do with sound, light, and bubbles have been made but are difficult to track down.  These really are fields that humans don't understand very well yet, especially in comparison to solid physics such as metallurgy.

In our world, sonofusion has become somewhat of a taboo field.  Terramagne has been exploring all kinds of fusion technology; the problem there is not politics but the inherent limitations of talent.   A Super-Intellect or Super-Gizmologist routinely achieves results which cannot be duplicated because nobody else understands how they work.  Even Gizmology takes a great deal of effort to retro-engineer for the mass market.  So they have things like cold fusion, but in extremely limited quantities and often secret applications.  For some cetaceans to have sonofusion would fall right in line with this: people using their own abilities in ways that can't necessarily be replicated by someone else.

Whale songs can travel up to 10,000 miles. The distance from the Maldives to the United States is 8797.1 miles. I figured that Moderato's mindvoice should carry at least as far as his physical voice, and likely farther.

Item drops appear in many games. Although most common after winning a battle, they may occur at other times. Some creatures are worth following precisely because they shed valuables at unpredictable intervals.
Tags: creative jam, cyberfunded creativity, entertainment, fantasy, gaming, poem, poetry, reading, science, weblit, writing
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