Home » Tales From The Whale Fourteen: When Trade Stops

Tales From The Whale Fourteen: When Trade Stops

Tales From The Whale Chapter Fourteen cover image

Lakshmi almost fell into the room. He was worried about something but froze when he saw the scene within.
Josie’s glass was empty, but that was because it hadn’t been refilled. Arun, on the other hand, was holding on to the sofa as if it would slip away from underneath him at a moment’s notice. The bottle of Whale vodka sat in front of him, almost empty. He’d abandoned all etiquette halfway through his story, preferring to keep his drink topped up himself, not waiting for Winter to offer him another shot.
“Sharma,” Josie asked, “what appears to be the problem?”
Alcohol was something that Lakshmi never touched, one of the reasons Josie kept him at arms length. It was one thing being a Whaleborn who appeared happy to be subordinate to an arrival, but it was another thing entirely to do that and face the scrutiny and ridicule of his peers, without the aid of a bedtime tipple.
“Lakshmi,” Josie said, “you enter without knocking and cause a commotion. Explain yourself.”
He shook his head to stop whatever conversation he’d been having with himself.
“There’s a situation by the transfer warehouse,” he said.
“What kind of situation?” Josie asked.
“A riot.”
“Right.” Josie took a long-sleeved top from one of the cupboards. It was frustrating, and she deplored Sharma’s use of hyperbole, but Father Arun was done for now. Between the vodka and telling the story of his sister’s possession, tiredness was beating the man. She watched him think about standing up, but instead, his head wobbled and he slumped back.
“You can stay here, Father,” Josie said. “It’s late, and you’ve had a stressful day, even by Whale standards.”
“How can you tell?” Arun asked.
“What?”
“That it’s late.”
He had a point. The glow from The Whale’s veins never abated and never darkened. To be in The Whale was to be trapped in perpetual light. Winter pointed to a clock on the wall. It was cobbled together from various bits of ivory and the seep that the Reedor used a plastic proxy. The mechanics within it, however, were perfect. It kept to twenty-four hour time, if only because that’s what the humans of Geppetto were used to.
“Rest, please Father,” Josie said, “We’ll need to talk more in the morning.”
She pulled blinds over the window and in the darkness picked the bottle up from the table. The speed at which the priest had started knocking back the alcohol had concerned her somewhat. The last thing she needed was another arrival becoming a drunk, especially one who appeared to have a number of unique issues.
Sharma held the door open for her and as she left she placed the bottle underneath her assistant’s desk, which was tucked away in the corner of the adjoining room.
“He’ll find it there,” Sharma said.
“He’ll not leave that room for a while,” Winter said. “Not with that much drink in him.”
“If you say so.”
Sharma picked up a long sleeve top of his own and pulled it over his head as they walked down the corridor.
“Should I call the sheriff?” he asked.
“He’s not already there?” Josie said.
“I don’t know.”
“He’ll already be there.”
The walk wouldn’t take long.
The transfer warehouse sat close to Geppetto, built into the neighbouring chamber as a kind of diplomatic mission. Human traders would bargain with the Reedor robots that were stationed on the human side of the warehouse, agree on a trade and then leave ivory, seep or grub skin in the warehouse. As they left they would ring a bell and the Reedor – or more of their robots – would enter and perform the exchange, ringing a similar bell once they were complete. The traded goods were typically the complex machinery or refined materials that kept the mines and the town running.
The tunnel on the other side of the warehouse was designated as Reedor territory, even though they reached into the human chambers. The tunnels were blocked off and defended on the human side, in case the Reedor ever showed any sign of aggression, but since Josie had arrived, the only violence was caused by humans either misrepresenting their goods or trying to break into Reedor territory. In the case of the latter, if they returned, they would tell tales of a swift and violent response from Reedor robots.
It was late in the day, and the citizens she passed were all heading home to pull curtains closed and let the dull thump of The Whale’s heartbeat lull them to sleep. Some stopped and tried to start conversations with her, but she politely declined, telling them all that there was a situation she had to deal with urgently.
When they had left town, Josie turned to Lakshmi.
“Details, please,” she said.
Lakshmi shook his head. “I don’t know much.”
“Then tell me what you do know.”
“The runner they sent said that -”
“The runner who sent?” Josie needed to know who was on her side.
“The guards.”
“The guards sent a runner. Details are important here, Lakshmi. Continue.”
“The guard’s runner said that the Reedor have stopped trading, but the ivory keeps coming. There are piles on the Geppetto side of the warehouse, but nothing is happening. The miners are all waiting to trade.”
“Did the message about the trading suspension not reach them?”
“I don’t know.”
He didn’t, but Josie did. This was Labaan Kone’s work. He was pushing things to the edge, blocking messages and amplifying others to increase tension. It was all intended to increase the pressure on her, to push her into conflict. To what end, though? Surely he didn’t really want to increase trade with the 3Marax? Josie had no way of knowing what the little aliens would do if they all of a sudden found themselves which significant ivory.
Of course, she knew it wasn’t about trade. Kone’s game was political. He wanted to increase the pressure on her because he wanted that office that overlooked the town, the office with all of the cupboards and the sleeping priest on the sofa. Kone had no idea what it meant to be Prime, no idea how many plates she had to keep spinning. All he wanted was the power, the prestige.
They entered the chamber with the warehouse, and Josie took a moment before continuing. The chamber was large, but only about half the size of the Geppetto chamber. On the other side, she could see the large white shape of the ivory warehouse set against the dark flesh of The Whale. In front of each warehouse was a small crowd milling around, and lined up toward each was a row of trailers and traders, their wares piled as high as they could manage. In all, there were about twenty Geppetto residents in the queue and another ten or twenty in front of the warehouse.
They walked past the queuing ivory miners, farmers and seep extractors. Some were friendly, waving at Josie as she passed, others not so. Some sat and sulked next to their goods, or muttered under their breath as she passed. At the warehouse Winter was not surprised to see Kone standing on a trailer, discussing something with the men and women in front of him. Whatever this was, it was not a riot.
As they approached, Claude Bacot, the sheriff, walked up to them. He was the only person she’d seen since she arrived who was armed. His role entitled him to carry a sword, which he did with a level of joy that sometimes concerned her. His was an elected position, like hers, but he was much more secure – he was Whaleborn and part of a dynasty. It was rumoured that it was Bacot’s family who finally united the humans in Geppetto and pulled them together to fight against the 3Marax and Reedor. Winter wasn’t sure about that, but Bacot was clever enough to never discuss it, which allowed the rumours to grow.
“Prime,” Bacot said, “what brings you here?”
“Reports of a riot, Sheriff,” she said.
“Nothing like that here,” he said. Sharma shuffled his feet, awkward.
Bacot was a tall man, which was unusual among the Whaleborn. He held himself with the air of a man who was used to getting his way, confidence that drew people to him. His skin was darker than other Whaleborn and his long black hair curled as it reached his shoulders. Josie couldn’t remember seeing him anything other than clean shaved – again unique in the Whale.
She wasn’t totally sure she trusted him.
“And here she is!” Kone shouted from his makeshift pulpit. “Our brave leader will explain the situation! She’ll tell you why you can’t trade, why the Reedor alien monsters won’t accept the trade you rely on!”
Josie muttered under her breath and waved at the crowd as she moved to the front.

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