Intro: What are the Tales From The Whale?
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Fighting The 3Marax
She draped the skin over her shoulders, wearing the hide like a coat, another prize she might be able to fashion into armour. The rest of the dead monster was loaded onto her trailer, chopped into pieces for ease. This was a good haul. A good hunt.
Once everything was loaded up, she cleaned the blade of the axe and checked her arrows for damage. Gepetto was only about half a day’s walk away (although it was difficult to track time this deep into The Whale’s tunnels), but that was plenty of time for the grubs to try their luck at scavenging her kill.
The low glow of the veins lit the tunnels as she stared the long walk home. To arrivals these tunnels all looked the same, and it was easy for them to get lost, but to Whaleborn like Shannon, each was different, each was easy to tell from the other.
Two hours into her walk, she reached an intersection. To the left was the tunnel that would lead to Gepetto and a well earned rest. To the right the tunnel twisted up and away, toward 3Marax teritory. She was keen to avoid any confrontation with the 3Marax today — it would be easy for them to distract her and steal her kill.
But then, from that tunnel, she heard screaming.
Shannon sighed. More trouble.
The 3Marax tunnel was too narrow for her and the trailer, and it was better to approach things like this uninhibited. If the screaming was caused by 3Marax then a quick escape might well be needed. She pushed the trailer to the side and dug her axe into the flesh of The Whale, pulling a thin layer of it down, creating what she hoped was decent cover. It would only take one grub to find it, and the whole thing would become a buffet for the creatures of the tunnels, but she had to try.
The idea of returning to an empty trailer made her wonder whether the person screaming was worth it. It wouldn’t be the first time that she’d left someone to an impossible situation in the darkness of The Whale’s tunnels. But that was when she knew it was an impossible situation. For all she knew, the screamer might have something as simple as a broken foot. Dangerous, especially this dead in the tunnels, but not impossible.
If some grub made off with her swamper kill because some idiot new arrival stubbed their toe, Shannon was not going to be happy.
The scream echoed down the tunnel again, and Shannon pulled the axe onto her back. She squeezed herself down the narrow tunnel, feeling the heat of the Whale’s flesh on her palms as she did. She was still wearing the swamper skin, and it was getting uncomfortable in the confined space, but it was a part of her bounty she wasn’t willing to give up.
After a few metres the tunnel opened out into a large chamber, at least three times the size of the one she’d killed the grub in.
This chamber was bright, much brighter than usual. There were glowing veins hanging down from the roof all the way to the floor. In the centre of the room was a woman waving a long piece of ivory at a 3Marax trio. The trio had encircled her, attempting to speak to her. Shannon knew it wasn’t necessarily threatening, but if you’d never come across one before, it was scary as hell.
The 3Marax shared a singlular consciousness across their three bodies. Each individual was no taller than the average human waist, and all of them were ugly little things. Although humanoid for the most part, their features were squashed into the centre of their faces. Instead of a nose, they had a small opening at the top of their forehead, a callback to the swamps they mentioned with fondness when they described their home. They were all naked, their bodies covered in spikes from the neck down, and a tough shell protected them under that. An arrival once told Shannon they looked like spiky, hairy walnuts with faces. Shannon didn’t know what a walnut was, but she knew thy were not the type of alien you wanted to give a hug.
“Shannon!” she yelled, announcing her arrival. The few times she’d seen a 3Marax trio attack without provocation was when they were surprised and felt threatened. Two of the trio turned to face her, and she was both relieved and annoyed to see that she recognised them.
“The Shannon,” the closest one said. According to 3Marax etiquette, that would be the part of the trio that she would address moving forward, even if the minds of all three would be working on her responses.
“Ign,” Shannon said, “what are you doing?”
“Our chamber,” Ign said, their voice crackling and hissing as it struggled to form the human words. “Trespass.”
“I’m lost!” the woman shouted, “help!”
“You know what she’s saying,” Shannon said.
1Ign ran their hand down their stomach. The spikes rebounded as it passed over them, making a low scratching noise that set Shannon’s teeth on edge.
“Human not here.”
They meant the woman and her perceived trespass into their territory. It was sometimes a struggle translating the meaning of the 3Marax. In school, Shannon was taught how to work out what they were saying, as in the past the two species had battled over misinterpretations and poor communication. There was a peace now, but the threat of violence wasn’t far beneath the surface.
“She shouldn’t be,” Shannon agreed, “but she’s lost. And what are you doing?”
“You’re not asking her anything. You’re just challenging her.”
2Ign and 3Ign moved from their guarding position around the lost human and moved toward Shannon. It meant that Shannon was getting their full attention. Shannon glanced at the woman, who was quivering in the centre of the chamber, the ivory wobbling as she tried to keep it upright. She wasn’t going to run for it, no matter how much Shannon cleared the way. Either both of them were going to leave the chamber together, or Shannon was going to leave it alone.
“Human not here.”
“Well she is, Ign.” Shannon started to walk toward the other human in the room. “So if you think she’s up to something then tell me, or I’m taking her and going.”
“Human dig to void.”
Shannon wasn’t going to challenge the 3Marax over someone trying to kill themselves. Shannon understood the 3Marax concern. Digging through The Whale’s flesh to space was, ironically, a capital offence in 3Marax culture. No one really knew the risks that digging through caused, or if there was a chance that the entire Whale would decompress. Shannon had never tried to tunnel out, but she’d known a few people who’d tried it. None of them came back.
She shouted to the woman. “You were digging to the outside.”
“No,” the woman said, “at least, I didn’t think we were.”
“You didn’t know,” Shannon said.
“No,” the woman said, “he just kept digging.”
2Ign shifted a little and moved from their position between Shannon and the woman. That was all the admission of mistake that she was going to get. The 3Marax as a rule didn’t admit to fault. To do so would show weakness.
“Where was he digging?” Shannon asked.
The woman pointed to a slight depression in the floor of the chamber. Even now, it was filling up, the Whale’s flesh acting like liquid to fill in the hole.
“She knows,” 1Ign said, “the man.”
“He didn’t tell me anything,” she screamed. Shannon watched with amusement as all the bodies of Ign took a step back in surprise.
Shannon strode toward the woman and reached out to support her.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Tammerson,” the woman said, “Michelle Tammerson.”
“Yeah,” Tammerson smiled. “I know who you are.”
As they moved to the tunnel where Shannon had entered, Ign to blocked them off.
“Payment.” 1Ign said.
“For what?” Shannon said.
“You’re joking,” Tammerson said.
“Swamper skin.” 1Ign said, pointing at the hide around Shannon’s shoulders.
Shannon wanted nothing less than to kick all three of them out of the way and walk out of the chamber. But to do so would be a breach of protocol. Actual violence against the 3Marax was forbidden by the Prime, and although Shannon didn’t have much time for the arrival who was somehow in charge, she agreed with that particular policy. 3Marax might have looked silly, but they were vicious. There was no guarantee that Shannon and Tammerson would win in a fight with them.
“Food?” Shannon said. “I’ve got grub meat down the tunnel.”
“You first.” All three of Ign smiled at her, their timing slightly off. The effect was disconcerting. “I follow.”