Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Fourteen

Trumaine strode along the corridor that led to the believers’ chamber.

Most of the believers he met on his way kept shooting side glances in his direction. Among the harmless curious stares, there were the hard-poking, inquisitive ones. They were often followed by a disappointed whisper which interrupted suddenly if Trumaine stared back.

Most believers had learned by now who he was and what he was doing in the chamber. While most of them smiled at him openly, in acknowledgment of his work, a few believers looked upon him with disdain, as if his job in the chamber lessened the true spirit of Credence. For those few, catching a murderer was a lowly matter and they couldn’t believe he hadn’t already succeeded.

At long last, he arrived at the turnstiles and he swept in.

As usual, the believers were floating peacefully in their couches. Trumaine looked into the far distance, at the choice believers that were hovering in square formation, but from their relaxed features, it was clear that they hadn’t yet found the Hibiscus.

He moved past the many empty slots of level one, until he came to a solitary deckchair marked with number 144.

As soon as he lay down on it, the headrest readout turned green. One of the one-eyed snakelike stems that supported the deckchairs emerged from the chasm below the chamber. With a muffled clang and a hiss, it coupled to the underside of Trumaine’s couch, scooping it up and bringing it away, into the chamber.

Quickly, Trumaine’s eyes fluttered and closed ...

Again, he found himself wrapped in a bedazzling whiteness where everything was silent and pristine.

Little by little, the glow receded to a delicate shade of blue. Thin beams of light dropped from above, looking like long, diaphanous fingers. They weren’t steady, but kept throbbing and flashing. It wasn’t air they were playing with—it was water ...

With a smoky plume of blood, a pale bundle was suddenly released into the water; it spun lazily on itself, revealing a newborn baby.

Her eyes still shut, seemingly unaware of being in an environment different than her mother’s womb, she floated about curled up like a shrimp, her plump, stubborn features totally focused on remaining asleep.

Hands reached down into the womblike walls of the large birth pool and grabbed around the baby, lifting and bringing her to the surface.

Only when the baby was taken from the water, did she open her eyes.

Disappointed for having been awakened more than anything else, she let out her first wail, breathing in the air that would have supported her for the rest of her life.

The hands delivered the baby to a beaming Starshanna and to an exhausted Trumaine. As soon as Starshanna held her in her arms, she stopped crying at once and fell asleep.

Starshanna smiled at a much relieved Trumaine.

Her desire had been granted. She felt empowered, fulfilled and happy. So was Trumaine; Starshanna’s way too long labor had worn him as well, but when the baby was finally born, the knot inside him had melted, replaced with something pleasant and warm—it must be happiness, he thought.

Now that he could see his daughter with his own eyes and not through the surreal images provided by ultrasonographic imaging, he realized that there was much more easiness and plainness to developing a pregnancy than he ever thought. Now that the baby was born, it all seemed easy and he couldn’t believe he had been so worried about it. It was clear to him that even that labored birth was nothing more than the necessary evolution of a previous state that had come to completion. Somehow, he had been part of it all; it felt strange, but it felt good.

Trumaine watched the baby sleep, at ease in her mother’s arms.

“We have already sampled the DNA of the baby,” said a voice behind him in an automatic monotone.

He turned to see the Aquarian nurse, a cold but perfectly efficient animal. She had walked up to him so quietly he hadn’t heard her approach.

“I shall need her name for the paperwork.”

“We’re gonna call her ... Maia,” Starshanna told her softly, after she had glanced at Trumaine for validation and he had nodded back.

“Very well. Maia it is,” confirmed the nurse.

She scribbled away in her blipping pad, then she turned to Trumaine.

“I take the liberty to remind you that tomorrow your temporary visa will expire. Many of our visitors just forget to go, and are so forbidden to ever return. Just see that you leave on time.”

The nurse awaited like a zealous machine for Trumaine’s response, but the answer never came.

Trumaine had eyes for Maia only.

Starshanna had been granted leave from work for ten months, so they had long since returned to Earth. Even if she had developed her pregnancy on Aquaria, she always thought that Maia should live her first years on Earth. It was the original planet where the adventure of space colonization had started, after all. As much as Aquaria and the new planets represented the future of mankind, Earth still stood for what good and uplifting the past had been. Starshanna and Trumaine had agreed it was the right thing for Maia to learn as much as possible about Earth before she finally moved to Aquaria. Once she had grown up, it was entirely up to her, of course, to decide what to do: stay on Aquaria, move back to Earth, try one of the other dozen or so extraplanets where mankind was expanding to.

The house had never been more lively and cheerful.

Maia was happy to be alive and eager to explore the world around her. The genuine enthusiasm and the curiosity she studied even the most insignificant event with, was so contagious it drew in both her parents.

Ten months went by in the blink of an eye. Maia was growing fast and steadily. In the moments when she was at her boldest, she would dare heave herself on her wobbly legs and reach to the objects that she wouldn’t get otherwise, but it was when she was down on all fours that the bulk of her exploring was done. She strolled around the house and the patio, arriving at the parapet Trumaine had built around the water channel to make sure she didn’t fall into it.

Maia, who had long since suspected the presence of another creature in the house, listened to the odd clicks and whistles that rang about in the patio; it had taken her very little to realize where she could find the dolphin. Trumaine and Starshanna often caught her clinging to the parapet, peeking through its gaps, trying to get a glimpse of him, contemplating him, wondering what that blue splashing thing was.

At long last, they had shown him to her.

It was the first summer of Maia’s life. It was hot outside, so Trumaine had removed the parapet and had joined Starshanna and the dolphin in the refreshing water of the channel.

Now that the barrier had suddenly disappeared, Maia was somehow reluctant to go beyond that point. She was drawn to the new world, feeling it was calling for her, but even if she saw her mommy and daddy in the water, all the same she couldn’t make up her mind and jump in too.

She kept crawling around, nervously inspecting the edge of the channel, throwing cautionary glances at the unsteady element she was supposed to experiment. Then her attention would shift to the dark shape darting below the blue surface. She followed him with her intent eyes then, from time to time, when she saw the tapered nose of the dolphin emerge, she would open her mouth in wonder and let out a high-pitched squeal of marvel to which the dolphin responded in his own language—a series of modulated whistles.

The dolphin had always been aware of Maia’s presence; his instinct had told him from the very beginning she must be a human cub. He poked his head out of the water, approaching the small thing down on all fours, crawling about on the edge of the channel then, when he wasn’t but a couple of feet from her, he would study her in turn.

To Trumaine’s and Starshanna’s surprise, Maia had sat up. Clapping her hands at the dolphin, she had cooed back at him.

Once again, the dolphin had clicked and whistled, responding to every single sound Maia made.

Starshanna and Trumaine trod water from afar, observing the scene, a look between the amazed and the amused on their faces.

In a second attempt of tasting the blue world where the dolphin was master, she had inched closer to the edge of the channel. Still, she wouldn’t leap through the last feet that separated her from the water.

It was only when Starshanna had swum in front of her, clapping her hands, reaching out for her, that Maia had held her breath and finally had jumped into the water.

It turned out that she was a natural in the water.

All babies her age must be, thought Trumaine. Even if she needed support to stay afloat and despite the fact that she never kept her mouth shut, all the same—probably by means of some primeval instinct—she managed to seal her throat when water flooded in.

Ever eager to see and to explore, she never closed her eyes when she was underwater.

The dolphin circled her slowly, never splashing about with his tail or making sudden movements that might scare her. He just studied her as she tried to find her bearings amidst the element she was floating in.

Oddly enough, Maia wasn’t afraid in the least of the dolphin and, in just a few weeks, the two of them had developed a steady relationship. When Maia wasn’t in the water, the two kept seeking each other, lingering close to the parapet, peeking longingly through the stakes of the fence.

Only when they had the chance to be together once more, in the water, would they be happy again.

Trumaine remembered how fast she was growing up. She had learned to swim very quickly; from her first attempts, when she flailed her arms and legs in haphazard and disjointed movements, she had learned to coordinate her limbs, stroking and paddling more effectively.

As her limbs had stretched out, growing stronger, she had started chasing after the dolphin; awkwardly at first, then with more energy and determination.

Her blue friend would never let her hang behind; on the contrary, he would wait for her to get close enough. Only then he would move on, putting some more distance between them, as if to test her—and Maia dutifully put every effort in pursuing him.

At eight, Maia’s small body cut through the water at amazing speed and agility.

It was one day about that age that she had come up with a name for the dolphin, since all pets should absolutely have a name, as she put it. While Trumaine couldn’t imagine anyone else in the world having a dolphin for a “pet,” he had found the name she has chosen for him quite appropriate: it was “Arthur,” the stalwart king of a magical kingdom.

Starshanna came and went from Aquaria as frequently as possible, especially on the weekends, often times spending half of her earnings as a biologist to buy the tickets for the Neptune—the Aquarian shuttle. It wasn’t like her to be lazy or idle at work, but she would now try to find any reason for remaining on Earth a few days more, so that the three of them could be together as much as possible.

It was about at that time that Maia also made the decision that would change her life forever.

It happened one afternoon, after Starshanna was gone. As usual, Maia had heaved herself out of the water, scampering toward her father, who was coming over with a bucket filled with mackerel. Feeding the dolphin had become a sort of a bonding ritual between father and daughter. The dolphin didn’t need to be fed, of course, he came and went from the ocean as he pleased, so he could find his nourishment there, but he accepted eagerly a free meal and Maia found the thing fascinating.

She had simply turned toward her father.

“When I’m in the water, no matter how hard I swim, I can’t catch up with Arthur, Daddy. How is that?”

It was just a little girl’s question, one of the million boys and girls her age ask and Trumaine didn’t put much weight in it. After all, how many questions like that does a father receive from a smart, volcanic child like Maia? So he had answered her as best as he could.

“Because Mother Nature has made him fit for the sea. In place of your arms and legs, she gave him fins and a powerful tail.”

“Will he always be faster than me?”

“I think so. But you can always try to outswim him, can’t you?” he said, trying not to discourage her.

It seemed a perfectly harmless answer to give a little girl and he didn’t think about the devastating consequences such a few words might have on Maia’s exuberant brain.

“Yes. One day, I’ll beat him,” she said with a stubborn resolve.

Little did Trumaine know that she was making the most terrible decision in her life. He could never imagine the many times he would have cursed himself for not telling Maia the simple truth: the dolphin belonged to a world she had no clue of; he was out of her reach, he was out of any human being’s reach, because he was a powerful swimmer designed to live in the water.

Maia was now twelve. On the large video wall they had installed in the living room, she could see her mother almost any time she wanted. It wasn’t the same thing as having her around, of course, and Trumaine and Maia kept wondering when they would be together once again.

Maia was in the years when she had started to fully realize about herself, about what she liked and what she hated.

Trumaine knew that the time when she would choose between staying with him or going back to her mother was approaching fast and he felt he couldn’t do anything about it.

Maia had never ceased sharing Starshanna’s love for water and was fascinated by her work on Aquaria.

Trumaine remembered the conversation he had with her exactly about that.

It was at the end of summer. Trumaine was on the beach, tanning in the sun hanging lower than it used to be only weeks before. As always, the crashing waves had a soothing effect on him; even the jarring high-pitched screeches of the circling seagulls were a note he couldn’t do without.

From where he was he could glimpse, just off the beach, Arthur’s dorsal fin slice the water with little noise and, at some distance behind him, a couple of thin limbs tirelessly emerging and dropping to the water, following him.

Maia jerked her head out of the salt water regularly, gasping for air, then she plunged in again, straining to keep up with the dolphin.

There was something primeval and obscure about Maia’s determination in trying to outswim the cetacean Trumaine hadn’t yet acknowledged. It wasn’t the absurd persuasion of a little girl anymore; it had grown out of that, well beyond the point of what could be proven or disproved, well beyond the size or the strength of the contenders. The struggle had risen to an unprecedented level and had become the millenary, secret challenge of man to nature’s order.

It didn’t look like any of that from where Trumaine was; he couldn’t see yet the danger that was growing before his eyes. To him, it was just another lazy day at the end of a long, hot summer.

He looked on: Maia and the dolphin were entering the channel now. Little by little, they came to level with the point where he sat and he knew it was time to get back to the house. In an hour, they would have supper and, before that, they would feed the dolphin.

So he stood, picked up his towel from under him, then jogged along the edge of the channel, preceding them to the patio.

As usual, Trumaine got out of the French doors holding the bucket containing the mackerel. He placed the bucket in the corner, then he moved to one of the deckchairs, where Maia had carelessly dropped her bathrobe. He scooped it up, then stepped to the metal ladder he had personally installed to make it easier for Maia to get out of the water.

Dolphin and girl had finally arrived.

Shivering from wear, looking up with a smile, Maia climbed out of the channel, taking the robe she was offered. Trumaine could never quite get used to the speed she was growing; she had suddenly blown into a radiant if bony teenager and she was more adorable than ever. She wrapped herself in the robe, squeezing the water out of her nose the same way her father did.

“You still think you can beat him?” he said, teasingly.

Maia didn’t say anything. She just glared at him from behind her furrowed brows, the same way teenagers do when they are disappointed, but don’t dare say what’s on their mind—or don’t care.

She just crossed to the next deckchair and slumped down on it, trying to catch the last sun.

Trumaine winked at the dolphin so that Maia could see him.

“She won’t tell,” he said.

The dolphin chirped and made a circle just to please him, coming to Trumaine’s feet once again; he had other things on his mind—what about some fish?

Trumaine retrieved the bucket and flung the mackerel at the dolphin, who plucked at it eagerly.

When he had finished, Trumaine rinsed his hands in the channel, then slumped down on the second deckchair, next to Maia.

He had tried to mind his own business for a while, then he had turned to her and, with a casual voice, he had asked, “Is Aquaria better than this? Really? I can’t believe it.”

Maia turned her head, squinting to keep off her eyes the golden sunlight coming in horizontally.

“Oh, Daddy, why keep asking, if the answer is always the same?”

“You sure you’re not gonna change your mind?”

“Is mother?”

He hoped this wasn’t another game of questions, it was something Maia played a bit too much lately, especially with him.

“You ain’t Starshanna,” he said, exasperated.

“I love it here,” she said softly. “The house. Arthur. It’s all just great. But Aquaria is another planet. It’s ... well, cool: over there, marine mammals are so huge they dwarf even our blue whales. Aquaria isn’t anything like Earth; it’s young, and raw. You know, it took Mommy and her staff two whole years to classify less than one percent of the fauna living in the ocean. Go figure, she needs all the help she can get.”

“So you wanna go.”

Again, she exhaled and turned her head.

“Don’t take it so hard, Daddy, I’ll be back soon—in six months, at most, I promise. You won’t even know I’m gone!”

“Christ, six months at your age? When you’ll be back, I won’t even recognize you.”

“Why don’t you come over, then?”

“I’ve been at the Aquarian embassy. They don’t exactly give out first-class citizenship, huh?”

Trumaine stood with a scowl and went back to the kitchen.

That was the last time they had spoken about Maia leaving. She wouldn’t change her mind, she was going.

Being born on Aquaria, she was entitled to Aquarian citizenship; she would have no problem whatsoever of going to Aquaria or coming back to Earth whenever she wanted.

Trumaine knew he was taking all this the wrong way. Even if he was happy for Maia and he understood perfectly her decision, all the same, he felt confused. He knew it was going to happen, sooner or later. He had even helped her pack the cumbersome things she would bring with her. But as the hour of Maia’s departure drew closer, he realized he wasn’t prepared at all. He wanted to see her, he wanted to have her around some more. It didn’t have to be a month, a week would do, and now he would be contented to be with her just for one more day.

It wasn’t just the fact that he was going to be alone, he had grown used to that in the past. It was the craziness, the cheerfulness, the carelessness, the constant surprise and the color that surrounded Maia.

He could always go see them for a short period, yes, but it wouldn’t be the same thing as moving to Aquaria. That was his dream, but for that, he would need a goddamned citizenship.

The worst happened the following day. It wasn’t sudden and it wasn’t quick.

When the water was warm enough, Maia often swam a couple of times in the day—late in the morning and in the afternoon. Every time she did, the dolphin followed her.

That day, something had happened to Arthur; he wasn’t anywhere to be found. He wasn’t in the channel and he wasn’t in the stretch of ocean in front of the beach. Maybe some threat had distracted him, or maybe he had met a group of dolphins.

Anyway, he was gone.

Trumaine could remember Maia asking him why the dolphin wasn’t in the channel, wondering where he could be. She wanted to say good-bye to him, so she had gone looking for him.

It was fine with Trumaine, Maia had gone out so many times ... What should he worry about?

He was never completely sure about what happened in the following hour. He reconstructed the facts later on, when he was again capable of some rationalization.

Maia had jumped into the channel, swimming alongside the shore, wondering if something bad had happened to Arthur—if he had enough of her, if he had found the company of a female, if he was ill, or if he was dead. For the first time in her life, Maia was afraid she might have lost him.

She pushed farther and farther into the ocean. From time to time, she would stop swimming, pulling her head out of the water, calling out for him. But he wouldn’t answer. His tapered nose wouldn’t, all of a sudden, break the surface as he used to ...

By now, Maia had started to tire. She hadn’t realized yet that she had swum too far out. The weather was changing quickly, as it often does at the end of summer, when the colder westerlies take over the high-pressure zone.

In a matter of minutes, the ocean had become wavy and choppy, it had started to rise. Maia struggled more and more to stay afloat. She went under a couple of times, but she easily came up—she was a first-class swimmer, after all.

She looked left and right, hoping to see Arthur’s familiar dorsal fin, but she didn’t.

A blue roller came and took her, bringing her down. But she was still strong; she wriggled out of its cold fingers, emerging to the other side, coughing and spitting the water she had swallowed.

She had looked around once more and had realized with terror that she had pushed too far: the beach was but a very faint line in the distance. Quickly, she started to paddle back to shore ...

That’s when the dark-green rollers came, riding on, chasing after her. They multiplied and, suddenly, they were the cumbersome backs of a herd of playful humpback whales.

They caught up with Maia.

They played with her a game too rough; lifting her, submerging her, keeping her down, exhausting her to the point that she could hardly lift her arms.

A gigantic roller encased her in a mountain of black, churning water. Maia scrambled like mad, trying to get out from under it but, as soon as she did, another roller would replace the first, keeping on playing the deadly game.

Her palms and her feet struggled frantically, pushing aside the ubiquitous water, trying to get to the surface ... but her efforts were in vain. Wide-eyed with terror, the bitter taste of salt and defeat in her mouth, she screamed, but only bubbles came out from her mouth.

The water sucked her down relentlessly until, with a last spasm, she fainted ... When, at last, the ocean let go of her, Maia didn’t move anymore. Her body just bobbed lazily toward the surface.

It was only when Trumaine had heard the dolphin click excitedly from the channel that he had realized that something wasn’t quite right. He had come out of the house, stepping to the edge of the channel, looking for Maia, but Arthur was alone. Too late he saw that the ocean had turned.

“Where’s Maia?”

The dolphin swam in circles, not understanding, every time coming at Trumaine’s feet.

“Maia is gone!” he shouted. “Where is Maia? Find her! Find Maia!”

Trumaine pointed to the ocean and, suddenly, the dolphin seemed to understand; he whirled away and swam as fast as he could. Trumaine ran after him on the edge of the channel, until he was on the shore, but there was nothing he could do except watch.

He could glimpse the dorsal fin of the dolphin move around searchingly. Close at first, then farther and farther, cutting through the waves as quicksilver. Arthur’s fin had shrunk, becoming the tip of a pin, then he was gone. For a very long time Trumaine was frozen with dread, swearing and cursing himself for never having bought a speedboat.

It felt like hours, but only a couple of minutes had passed.

When Arthur had emerged again, there was something on his nose he was pushing. He swam fast, nervously jerking his head, trying to keep the bundle out of the water, returning toward the channel.

Trumaine ran after him until they were back to the patio.

He kneeled, reaching down, retrieving the limp body of Maia. She was cold and her skin was blue and she didn’t move. Trumaine rested her on the flagstones of the patio, rolling her aside, letting the water that filled her lungs flow out of her, then he had turned her up and had started to revive her.

Trumaine did never know for how much time he had pumped Maia’s chest, occasionally massaging her shoulders, always checking her face for a sign that she was still alive.

One hour later, when he had given up, he didn’t feel his arms anymore. He would later on, for the whole following week, when he thought that his muscles had been strung on meat hooks.

It was cold. A light, freezing rain had started to pour over all things. Trumaine felt dizzy, lost and bewildered. In moments, the pleasant, colorful day had turned to a livid sheet of iron, all its glory crushed to grief and despair—Maia was dead.

The ocean that was her life had taken life away from her.

Trumaine glanced up at the sky, looking for an answer, when everything around him started to spin faster and faster ...