What are 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.
Two: Grubs and Whaleborn
Shannon Adger loved a good grub hunt. She would follow the darkest tunnel she could find, the tunnels that no one else risked, and find a chamber untouched by the intelligent species. The new arrivals were scared of places like this, but not Shannon. She grew up in the tunnels, in the chambers. She was in one of these now, a layer of the seep. Most people found seep unsettling, though it was the remains of the Whale’s food, whatever It was consumed.
Bigger questions like that didn’t both her. What mattered was that she’d found a new chamber relatively close to Gepetto filled with the stuff. It would be attracting grubs. They’d smell it, come hunting, and she would be ready.
At each corner of the tennis court-sized chamber, she set up her portable lights. They were Reedor tech, powered by burning the seep. She checked her arrows. The points were sharp, and tapping her finger on them was enough to draw blood. They needed to be that sharp. Some of the grubs were heavily armoured and without the killing point of a sharp arrow, they’d escape.
The string on her bow was freshly attached, Claude had seen to that before he’d left. Nevertheless, Adger gave the string a slight tug, then expanded it until she was at full stretch. Releasing without an arrow seemed like a waste, like it was a kill missed, but she did anyway to check that the bow returned to its original position.
In addition to the bow and arrows she carried an Ivory axe. The ivory she’d used was second to none, and by using the Reedor trick of shredding it into small pieces then gluing it back together with seep she strengthened it ten times. The weapon was her favourite – no one else would use it as long as she lived.
She drew the axe across some the walls of the chamber.
It opened up with a squelch and a foul stench filled the chamber.
Shannon stood in the centre of the room. She reached inside her pocket and pressed a simple on/off switch in her pocket.
The lights turned off, plunging the chamber into total darkness.
She took several deep breaths. This was her happy place. Everything around her vanished into nothing. These tunnels were her home.
As a young girl she and her friends would spend time exploring the chambers around Geppetto, looking for hiding places and undiscovered areas. They would climb the walls and press their ears to them, letting The Whale’s heartbeat run through them. The joy she used to get from that, the feeling of belonging, being a part of something bigger than herself, these were things that new arrivals would never appreciate.
Some of her friends didn’t make it back from their journeys, and would be found days later, dead from thirst or hunger or exhaustion. Some would cross the wrong grub and end up dinner. But that was part of life on The Whale. It forged Shannon into the person she was.
Arrivals didn’t like to step out of Geppetto, and when they walked the tunnels you could see them tense and worry. She kind-of understood it. They were used to being top of the food chain. Anything that had ever posed a threat to humans had been wiped out on Earth thousands of years ago.
Those born on the Whale were of a different breed. Hardened by growing up in a place where one step could land you in trouble, toughened up by the fights that came from those wrong steps. Sometimes, when lying on her bed at night, she wondered how she would deal with the reverse. What would she do without the walls, the ceilings, the tunnels. How would she deal without the heartbeat, which she’d known as ever-present. Whaleborn children couldn’t just hear the Whale’s heartbeat. They could feel it running through them, like they never left the womb.
Around her the floor started to move. Smaller grubs flooded into the chamber. The larger ones would come later, and it was those that she was hunting. A good sized grub would feed a family back in Geppetto for a week, and it’s bones and skin (depending on the grub) would be put to other uses.
Some of the tiny grubs sniffed around her feet, tickling her. She held firm. Moving now would either cause them to attack or run.
After a time, larger shapes started moving around her, sniffing through the waste. She heard their snouts, manibles, suckers, hovering up every last bit of the seep. Each grub was different – each from a different planet – but they all ate the waste.
When the noise in the room was loud enough to drown out the heartbeat, she flicked the lights on.
Every grub in the room froze.
When she’d done this with an arrival, he’d told her that it was like watching deer in the headlights. He then had to explain to her what deer where, and what headlights were. When she understood she agreed with him. The reaction of the grubs to sudden bright light was to freeze. Some of the grubs would have not seen light as bright as this in their entire lives.
Shannon went to work.
In front of her were two large grubs, about the size of a football and with six legs and one large mouth on the underside. Each had one large eye that stared up at roof, unblinking. She chopped them both with the axe at the back of the neck. They both squealed as they dropped to the floor.
The smaller grubs recovered first, and started to head for the exit.
She looked up. Two winged grubs had flown to the roof for protection. These had dark wings and elongated necks which held three tiny mouths pointing in different directions. Grub wings were useful for making clothes. Shannon took them both out with a single arrow. They were silent as they fell to the ground, landing with a thump next to her.
It was all going well until she turned around.
The creature blocking the exit was one of the largest she’d ever seen. It stood over six feet tall, two legs, two arms, with a large mouth and a set of horns protruding from its throat. It was covered in a slimy black substance. Hanging from its mouth was the leg of another grub, and with a flick of its head it swallowed the unfortunate creature whole.
It was moving, it was hunting, and that meant that it hadn’t been in the room when the lights came on. It had happened upon Shannon’s trap just after it was sprung, and was taking full advantage of the smaller creature’s helplessness.
Shannon had met its kind before. Her fellow children called them Swampers.
She gripped the axe.
The swamper looked at her and roared. Swamper roars could be heard echoing down the tunnels all night in Geppetto – being that close to one was nearly deafening.
Shannon turned and ran toward one of her lights, scooping it up as she ran.
The swamper charged. Shannon stopped running, and it ploughed into the wall of the chamber in front of her. The force of the impact wedged the swamper into the wall for a second, and Shannon took advantage by swinging the axe toward its head. The slime absorbed the blow, and the swamper barely reacted. She withdrew the weapon.
Shannon had few options. The swamper would catch her if it came to a straight foot race in the tunnels outside. The constricted areas would make it more difficult to fight as well. This small chamber would have to be where she made her stand.
She ran back to the opposite wall, pointing the Reedor light at the floor.
The Swamper wouldn’t do much more than charge. With another roar it pulled itself free of the wall.
Shannon swung the axe into the wall of the chamber, one of the blade pointing out. The swamper charged again, and she waited.
Waited until she could almost feel its breath on her face.
Then, in one movement, she fell to the floor and pointed the light toward her attacker. It tried to shield its eyes from the sudden brightness, it tried to stop its run. It managed neither. On the ground Shannon covered her head as it charged over her, just missing stamping on her leg.
The swamper ran at full speed into the axe blade.
Shannon heard a gurgle, then a low moan.
She looked up. The swamper twisted, let out a low moan, then went still. The black slime dripped from its body and pooled on the ground by its feet.
Shannon took a deep breath and stood. She’d escaped injury.
And swamper slime was a rare resource indeed.
She leant back and yelled at the roof above her. Fucking perfect.