Intro: What are the Tales From The Whale?
I’m trying something new. Each week in 2021, I’ll be building a brand new sci-fi universe. Throughout 2021, if you sign up to my mailing list, you’ll receive a weekly story based on the sci-fi world of The Whale. Each story will be under 1500 words — perfect for a quick moment of escapism whenever suits you.
Three: The Human Prime
The banging on the door stopped.
“Are you finished?” she asked.
“Yessir.” The voice belonged to Lakshmi Sharma, her assistant.
“So what do you want?”
“It’s the Reedor. They want to talk to you.”
Josie Winter sighed and cracked her fingers. The Reedor did not want to talk to her. They wanted to tell her what to do. They wanted to tell her that something she was doing was against their religion, their vision for the Whale, or their moral code. She couldn’t remember which excuse they used last to bully her into making a decision she didn’t want to take, but it was always one of them. It mattered little. She would be expected to comply, otherwise they would withdraw their protection. And if they withdrew their protection, she would have failed in her promise.
“Are they here now?”
“One of their… representatives,” Sharma meant the strange robot things that the Reedor used to conduct their business with the other two species on the Whale, “arrived ten minutes ago.”
“When did our new arrivals appear?” She asked. She needed to know whether the arrival was a coincidence or a consequence.
“They’ve been here twelve hours.”
The Reedor occupied the left arm of the Whale. It was a ten-hour journey, assuming everything went smoothly. A consequence, then. If the Reedor were reacting to something, that meant two things. They were worried, and she would soon be.
“Give me a minute,” Winter said. She pulled a worn sweatshirt over her head. It was twenty years old, with faux leather patches on the elbows, not so much an attempt at style but practicality. The sweatshirt was all she had left of her life back on Earth. She ran her finger around the large B in the centre, tracing the shape that pointed her back to Bolivia, North Carolina, and home.
She pushed open the ivory door. Sharma was stood outside, his clothing entirely sourced on the Whale. He was a second-generation Whaleborn, the dark, musty walls were all he knew. She both pitied and envied him.
“Shall we?” she said.
They started to walk down the makeshift corridor. This was the oldest of all the living quarters, put together back when humans still used offcuts of ivory to make their structures. The glue, fabricated from seep, was strong enough to hold the random shapes together, but it did not keep the light out. There were windows, but they were redundant. Winter was the only one who lived in this building now. The others found the constant light unnerving, just as, once, she’d treated the constant darkness. The advantage of being the only person able to sleep in the light meant that the quarters were effectively hers. They had become a place of residence, a symbol of the fledgeling human community.
She called it the Light House.
“Do we have an estimate on the year down on Earth?” she asked.
“We found a mobile phone on the female arrival.” She hated the way he talked about them like they were test subjects. One day she’d have to have a word with him about it. “It was almost out of charge, but the date flashed up as 12 November 2019.”
Almost forty years to the day since she last saw Earth. Ten years since they last had a new arrival.
“The phone has been collected?” she said.
“And you’ve confirmed we were the first on the scene?” There were other creatures inhabiting the living catacombs that surrounded them. Some could be reasoned with, like the Reedor, some could not. Every now and then, they’d come across a pile of bones. Every now and then, they’d be human.
“Good.” They reached the end of the corridor. Winter placed her hand on the door, feeling the weight of the ivory. She took a deep breath. “You don’t have to come in with me, you know,” she said to Sharma.
“I know.” He followed her in any way.
The room they used for meetings was no different in size to the bedrooms where the arrivals spent their first nights. Instead of a bed was a large chair and a collection of smaller ones. These smaller chairs, however, had been pushed to the back of the room by their guest, who now stood in the centre of the room, facing them as they entered.
Josie had seen images of robots when she was on Earth. The Reedor had styled their envoys to look like the species they were talking to, so this one was an approximation of a human. It had a round head attached to a long neck and small body. The four arms were long and multi-jointed, designed for crawling through the tunnels between the Reedor’s chambers and the humans. It would move on all fours when outside, but when in a residence would wobble on its two lower limbs, a strange imitation of humanity. It wasn’t metal, like all the old sci-fi robots. The Reedor had long ago discovered a way to fashion the ivory and seep from the Whale into composite materials, allowing them much more flexibility when it came to building.
Whatever the robots were made of, it made no difference. Everything about them was unsettling.
“Hello, Prime.” The Reedor said. Not that it was really a Reedor. No one had ever seen one of the aliens in reality. All interactions were driven by robots. They were the negotiators, the guards to the Reedor chambers, the hunters. The Reedor themselves hid behind them. Despite the friendly relationship they had with the humans of Geppetto, there were reports of them defending their territory with deadly force. And the way they spoke — Josie never quite got the feeling they saw humans as equals.
“Ambassador,” Josie said, sitting in the large chair. Sharma stood by the door as if he might need to run at any moment. “What is your message?”
“Message starts.” The robot clicked as it accessed the recording. The message, of course, could have been delivered in a much simpler way, but that was not the Reedor’s way. They liked the extravagance of sending one of their little toys. This desire to complicate things annoyed Josie, especially given the way she tried to encourage the humans in her care to behave.
“Human Prime. This is Reedor Prime.” Josie shifted in the chair. It wasn’t often she received a message from the Prime. “We believe that you have three new human arrivals. However, we also believe a secondary sentient species arrived at the same time. We do not have more information, but we urge caution. This is not a species recognised by The Reedor.”
The robot stopped the recording and moved one of its arms toward her. “Message will continue.”
Josie was taken aback. “Play the message again, please ambassador.”
As it did, Josie tried to digest the information. A new sentient species hadn’t happened in her time in the Whale. She thought back to the history of the Whale. Nothing like this had happened. There were three sentient species on the Whale. There always had been. Sure, no one counted the number of grub species, but to do so would be a waste of time. The grubs were too numerous to count, and without language or intelligence, there was no way of telling where they originated from.
“Continue the message.”
Another click as the message continued. “Given the unknown species, The Reedor have decided to close their borders until more information can be provided. All trade will be suspended.”
Josie played through the consequences of this. Closing borders wasn’t a problem, as the Reedor didn’t let them into their chambers anyway, but trade… over time Geppetto had gotten used to relying on Reedor food products, in exchange for ivory mined from around the town. The amount of food that human farms could grow, it wasn’t going to be enough, unless they started the old grub hunting parties up again. But grub hunting was dangerous. People didn’t like doing it.
“As the new species arrived at the same time as human arrivals, and into human territory, The Whale must have taken it from Earth. This ambassador will remain with Human Prime until further information can be provided. Upon receipt of new information, Reedor will decide whether trade can be resumed.”
The robot made a final click, reached out a hand, then stood still. Touching the hand would trigger a recording and send the ambassador back. Josie leaned back in her chair and put her hands on her face.
“I didn’t think there were any other sentients on Earth,” Sharma said.
Josie laughed. “Nor did I.”