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.
The Miner’s Union
“Am I allowed to talk to the priest yet?” Josie asked.
It was the end of a terribly boring discussion about how people would be impacted by the Reedor refusal to trade. Josie was frustrated, as there was little she could do, but Sharma insisted on discussing the repercussions. He kept reminding her of her leadership position and how important it was that she show a controlled demeanour. Josie wanted to question the priest. She wanted to take action.
Sharma looked up from the paper he was scribbling on. “The last I heard he was still in the church.”
“I need to ask him about this other species,” she said. “When do I have time?”
“You’ll be pushed today,” he said.
“This is a priority.”
“I’ll find some time.”
Sharma left, his paper tucked under his arm. It would annoy people to have meeting moved around at last minute, but she needed to reopen the trade route and to do that she needed to find the other species. She cracked her knuckles and looked at her schedule for the rest of the day. It was another day of property disputes, claims on ivory mines and civil disobedience. If it wasn’t for the thud of The Whale’s heartbeat, she’d be able to imagine she was a councillor in a small Earth town.
The Reedor robot sat in the room downstairs, still patiently waiting for an answer.
Josie had a gut feeling that the priest was the key to this additional sentient species that had been picked up from Earth. His reaction to his arrival on The Whale wasn’t totally against the grain, but he was more willing than most to accept his position. It was as if he was used to seeing strange things.
The other two arrivals were more run of the mill. Neither of them had left their rooms, and she was worried about one of them, a man who babbled in Spanish and refused to engage with anyone. Even the native Spaniard she’d sent in — delighted to finally have someone to talk to in her mother tongue — couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. He was on the stage of a breakdown, and that worried Josie. Arrivals like that were capable of anything.
She stood. Time worked differently on The Whale, it was true, but fighting with the priest that morning had taken it out of her. Still, there was bureaucracy to administer. She knew what the role of Prime meant when she took it on.
She stepped to the door and pulled it open.
“Labaan?” she said.
Outside the room, Labaan Kone, the representative of the Miner’s Union, was leaning against the wall, studying the corridor with his usual strange intensity. He was an intimidating man, precisely the type of person you’d expect to rise to the top. It was an open secret that he was after her job, but so far his attempts to drum up support for a challenge had failed.
Without any words of greeting, he walked past her into the room. Josie raised her eyes at Sharma and closed the door, returning to her desk while Kone stood in the centre of the room, arms folded, his face pulled into a severe frown.
“Take a seat,” Josie said.
“You need to reopen the borders,” he said.
“It wasn’t me that closed them.” Josie moved back to her seat and leant back. She’d not told anyone of the Reedor trade suspension, so this was information Kone had from the traders. She was trying to control the spread of the news, in case it bred panic or caused hoarding. It seemed, however, that things were already outside of her control. Kone’s network moved quicker than hers, which was worrying. None of the traders she talked to had mentioned anything to her about this.
“We’ve got mountains of ivory and seep in barns on the outward edge. More coming in from the mines.”
“Your miners do a valuable job,” she said.
“That they do,” he replied, “and if they think they’re not going to get any reward, they’ll stop. So tell me, why have the Reedor closed their borders?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t give me that. There’s a Reedor robot downstairs, hissing and clinking away, it must have told you something.”
More information he shouldn’t have. This wasn’t just a discussion with her, this was a display of power.
“What it said didn’t make any sense, Labaan,” it was the truth, “so I’m asking them for clarification. You know how the Reedor get.”
“I know they threatened to use force to stop the traders. Reedor don’t do that, not lightly. The 3Marax, of course, but not the Reedor.”
Josie stood up. “What would you have me do?”
Labaan smiled. “Not my job to tell you what to do, boss. But I’m telling you, my miners won’t work if there’s no trade. They work in dangerous conditions, risking their lives, and they only do that because of the reward.”
“They do that because it helps Gepetto.”
Kone snorted. “Maybe in your mining days, old woman, but not anymore. This ain’t humans trying to survive anymore, this is humans prospering.”
“I’m going to get that border open.”
“Good.” He looked at the shelves running along the side of her office. “Because if not, we’ll have to start trading with the 3Marax.”
Josie stood up. “That’s a stupid idea.”
“They have food, they have tools.”
“If you do that, the Reedor cut us off forever.”
“If they do that, who’s going to give them their ivory?” Kone moved to the exit. “You need to stop thinking humans and Gepetto are the weak link here, boss. We’re what holds these chambers together. We mine for the Reedor, we keep the 3Marax at bay. We’re the ones running this place.”
Josie moved around the desk and put her hand on the door, stopping him from opening it.
“You know the Reedor see the 3Marax as dangerous,” she said. “If you start trading with them, we don’t know how they’ll react.”
“What with? Fire? Violence?” He snorted again. “We don’t even know what they look like, and their robots ain’t exactly difficult to stop.”
For a second, Josie wondered how he knew that Reedor robots weren’t difficult to stop.
“You can’t trade with those little monsters,” Josie said, “I won’t allow it. And the people -”
“People are following you because every thing’s OK,” Labaan said. “But what they’ll do if they can’t get their Reedor tech? Or their ivory? No telling what that means.”
“If you want to challenge, Labaan, challenge. Don’t threaten.”
That smile again. He nodded at her hand and she pulled it back from the door.
“You think it to look at me,” he said, “but I ain’t stupid. I know you’ll win right now. So no point challenging. I wish you the best, Prime. Let me know when you get the borders open.”
“You could help me.”
“I could. How?”
“Let me know if you hear about anything unusual. Anything that doesn’t seem right.”
He pulled the door open, so whoever was in the corridor could hear what he said next. “Like the Prime keeping secrets?”
“Take care Labaan,” Josie said and pushed him gently out of the door with her hand on the small of his back.
She watched, impotent, as Kone walked down the corridor and round the corner. There was a tightness in her chest as she watched him walk away, like this presence was an omen, a sign of bad times ahead. But there was nothing she could do, not now.
“Sharma,” she snapped at the young man, “find me that priest.”
“He’s in orientation, Prime,” he said, “with the other new arrivals.”