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.
Josie always tried to be there when new arrivals woke up. There was a two-way mirror positioned in the centre of the door at head height. Once the guards signalled to her that an arrival was stirring, she was the first person to open the door. She wanted to be a friendly face for everyone. She remembered waking up, alone and in a dark chamber, and her first act as Prime was to vow it would never happen again.
Arun Mali — she’d been through his wallet — sat up. He was wearing standard human clothes on The Whale — grey and practical. He ran his hands across this chest, feeling the strange fabric, unlike anything he would have experienced on Earth. She smiled as he tapped his left ear, then the right, trying to shake off the thumping noise of The Whale’s heartbeat that would at that moment seem terribly oppressive, but over time would fade into the background.
Next to him was a short note by way of explanation, words scrawled down thirty years ago. He saw the note and picked it up. Josie Winter watched his lips as he read. She could recite the contents by heart.
You have been abducted by aliens.
There are other humans here.
You are inside a living creature.
That noise you can hear is its heartbeat.
You are not alone.
You will not be able to return to Earth.
Your human comrades will come and speak to you soon.
She didn’t like the use of comrades, but it wasn’t her note.
Mali scrambled back onto the bed. Such was his haste, he leant against the wall behind him, then recoiled from the dark, damp brown wall that was the Whale’s flesh. Above him The Whale’s veins glowed, as they did for twelve hours a day, casting light into the room.
She knocked on the door.
“Arun,” Winter said, “can I come in?”
“Who are you?” he said.
“I can explain when I come in,” she said.
“You better come in, then.”
She pushed the door open, hoping that he’d noticed the lack of lock. The room wasn’t a prison.
In another world, the man in front of her may have been handsome. But his beard was now too bushy, his hair too long. Above his right ear his hair was cut short, framing his ear. As she entered the room he shrunk away from her, wrapping his arms around his legs.
Winter crouched in front of the bed. She put her hand to the floor and felt the slight vibration of the Whale’s heartbeat.
“I thought I’d never get used to the noise,” she said, “but now, I think I’d miss it.”
“Where am I?” he asked. His voice cracked.
“We call it The Whale,” Winter explained. “And that’s about all we know.”
“A space monster.”
“We try not to call it a monster.”
Winter laughed to herself. “Because what would that make us?”
Mali said nothing. His eyes watered.
“Our scientific team think that we are how it stays alive in space. Every time we breathe out, we might add gasses into the air it might not be able to create itself. We might be its source of minerals, we might eat things that would otherwise clog it up. We’ve not really figured it out.”
“Why me?” he asked.
“There are some things we have in common, but it mostly seems random. All of us remember a blinding white light. But that’s about it. Every time we think we’ve found something that links us all the next arrival breaks that connection. We tracked all the arrivals once, marked on a map of Earth. But we couldn’t figure anything out. The only thing we know for sure is that people are taken right before they die.”
Malli pulled his legs in even tighter. He brushed his hair away from his face and looked past her for a second, before returning his focus.
“You’re the leader?”
“Josie Winter. Human Prime.”
“Human Prime?” He caught the breadcrumb she’d thrown him. She was starting to like him.
“There are two other sentient species.” Three, she reminded herself. “The Reedor we talk to. The 3Marax, we don’t. We haven’t counted the other species.”
“How big is this thing?”
“So big we’ve not mapped it all out. If we could reach it all.” She stood up and indicated to the bed next to him. “May I?”
He swung his legs around so he was sat next to her.
“I’m stuck here.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“How long have you been here?”
Winter sighed. “About thirty years.”
“You haven’t tried to escape.”
“Where would I go?”
He lapsed into silence again. Winter smiled. She wanted to put her hand on his leg, take him into her chest and hold him while he cried. But if that was to happen it had to be him that decided to. Too many times in the past they’d tried to create an induction program, or set some rules to help people integrate. But the structures always failed, or the participants didn’t respond well enough.
So now each arrival was given the time they needed to ask questions and come to terms with things on their own.
They sat in silence for a while. There was no clock in the room. Just the heartbeat, a constant metronome. She closed her eyes and waited for him to start talking again.
He whispered something.
“Pardon?” she said.
“This is hell.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“I died. I’m dead. This is hell.”
“Do you really believe that?” Winter asked.
A long pause. She knew that he didn’t. It was something a man of faith would be expected to say. She’d met many priests, pastors and such in her life on Earth. Arun Mali was different to them all, even though she couldn’t put her finger on why.
He stood up and walked to the door.
“What’s out there?”
“More doors, more rooms. Then the chamber.”
“Where your comrades have set up a settlement.”
His head dropped. It was a lot to take in. Still, despite all the self-doubt and questions she could see fighting it out within him, despite all the problems he would face in the coming days and weeks, she couldn’t help feeling a little jealous of him. When she’d arrived, a twenty-year-old mother of three from Bolivia, USA, there had been no such support.
Malli turned back to the room.
“Fine,” he said. “If that’s the game.”
“What’s the game?” Winter asked.
“So what happens now?” he said.
“Nothing. You stay here, you rest. When you’re ready, you can step outside. Then we’ll introduce you to the rest of Geptetto settlement.”
“Geppetto,” he said. “Clever.”
“It wouldn’t be my choice,” Winter admitted, “but the name was already established when I arrived.”
He took a deep breath.
“Can we check on Earth? On my family?”
“We don’t even know if we’re still near Earth. We could be anywhere.”
“How do you know we’re not on Earth?”
She smiled. “Ask me that question in a day or two, and I’ll show you.”
He tugged at the clothes they’d dressed him in. “Where are my clothes?”
Winter walked to the cupboard in the corner and pulled it open. Inside were two hangers, one with his coat and one with the black shirt and trousers he’d worn when he arrived.
“You can wear your Earth clothes whenever you want,” Winter said. “But I wouldn’t.”
She stroked the fabric of the coat. Real fabric. Earth cotton, Earth polyester. She had to stop herself from crying.
“They’re the only thing you have to connect you to home.”
She stepped back as he approached. He repeated the gesture, then swung his elbow up and struck her on the underside of her chin. She staggered backwards, and in a flash, he had pushed her to the bed. Winter struggled but was unable to move him off her. Holding her wrists to the bed he leaned forward and looked right into her eyes.
“This isn’t how we do things,” she said.
“Quiet,” he said.
“Arun, I’m trying to help you.”
He brought his face close to hers, not moving his gaze away from her eyes. There was no ill intention in his face. He was studying her.
“Blink,” he said. She did.
With a guttural roar, he jumped to his feet. Winter rubbed her wrists.
“Was that needed?” she asked.
Mali pointed at her. “Don’t follow me,” he said.
Then he ran out of the door, into the corridor.
Still rubbing her wrists, Winter walked to the threshold of the room.
She looked down the corridor, just in time to see Mali burst through the doors at the end of the corridor.
A runner, Winter thought, interesting.