Echo-1 (The Whale): Part 18
“Tomorrow, a ship from the Varan government will be docking with us, I want you there. We will guide them to the starboard hangar, I have the droids prepping the place now. We’re going to be making a trade and two members of our crew are leaving with them permanently. Jonas made a mistake some time ago with two personalities from Echo-1.”
Uzi paused for effect. Then he continued the briefing.
“They were Inuit people from the early 19th century in the simulation. Jonas was intrigued by their people, who were both whale hunters and whale worshipers. They were very traditional in life and both had set themselves adrift on blocks of ice in their old age and were consumed by the sea. This is when Jonas pulled them out of Echo-1.
“They believe he is a god and can not be convinced this is not an afterlife. Jonas originally was hoping these people could be the backbone of the new ice world he was planning. However, life in a spaceship proved far beyond their comprehension. When showed a window with stars they only believe more that this is the afterlife.
“We’ve been in communication with the Varan for the last week and the two Inuits have expressed interest in relocating to the Varan ice world, Varanidi. They have not been able to adapt to technology on the ship and spend all of their time hunting and fishing on the ice above the frozen sea. Jonas told them of the planet Varanidi and how the people there opt to live in harmony with nature, yet want to maintain a fishing industry that is sustainable. They took this as a directive from god and a path to a new life, which might be the best thing for them.
“I want you to get the two Inuits and bring them to the hangar. They have been speaking regularly with the Varan representatives and actually share many of their core values. The Varan would like the Inuit to be role models for a society that lives at one with nature. The Varan are interested in starting a primitive village on the coast of the Varanidi landmass opposite the city. The two Inuit bring the oral tradition of their people with them as they were both once village elders in their society. They have been empowered by the Varan to start a new society with two hundred Varan citizens who wish to live on the frozen world in a way their people never had.
“You see on the Varan home world there are no cities. It is a planet in harmony with nature. Though the Varan are famed for space travel, many eventually come home and return to a simple life in nature before they die. When the Varan colonized Varanidi they became focused on becoming an interstellar society. They now want to see if it is possible to live at one with nature on Varanidi as well. They view the Inuits as experts in this endeavor. They’re offering us a huge supply of ice lobster as well as two diamond scout fighters in appreciation for the crew member exchange. They will be like ambassadors from a world that has long since faded away. The Varan have learned the Inuit language and this has pleased the couple to no end.
“They are very much an old man and an old woman, so remember that when you meet them. There are few off-worlders living on Varanidi and no one has ever been asked to come live with them before. We’re also giving them a couple of the monster polar bears and their cubs. Why they would want them I have no idea.
“Mox will also be reporting in with the Varan government. He is, for all intents and purposes, not officially here. And yet he is. Jonas will fill you in on the rest.”
Dingus returned to his normal digital blue-eyed self and spun his head back around to face the front. Both my droids began to quietly sing their little modular songs.
“You have cute robots, I broke mine a long time ago.”
X and Mox were slithering around in the back seat when we pulled up to the communication port. We all went into the room. It was exactly the same as the room where I first met Jonas, but this time he was waiting for us. He was again huge, stupendous to behold, hanging there suspended in the water on the other side of a ten story glass wall. His deep voice came through the communication system.
“My old friend, how have you been? Come join me, we have so much to talk about. I want to know all about your recent adventures.”
Mox turned to X and me.
“Beautiful, I’ll see you later. And Hands, tell your science officer she is welcome to all the DNA in the three containers.”
He walked off towards the end of the room, opened a small hatch, and climbed into the airlock. Jonas rolled in a circle.
“You watch out for that guy, Cindy.” Jonas’ big eye cast a discerning look.
“Hands, in two days time I want you to join Mox and Lieutenant X on a mission. It’s off the books, totally unorthodox, and is going to be considerably dangerous. Are you in?” Jonas asked.
Lieutenant X and/or Cindy answered for me. “Of course he is in, man. He’s totally bad ass. He learns languages like a champ, can fly anything. Hell, you should’ve seen him handling Mox’s ship. He’s a natural. Plus he’s the strong silent type, just like you.”
She elbowed me in the ribs and blew a kiss to Jonas. “We’re out of here, catch you later Jonas!”
I saw the shape of Mox swimming like a snake along the side of the great whale, who was looking right at me.
“I’m up for it. And I’ll take care of the Eskimos too.”
He gave me a whale smile, rolled over in the tank and swam off with Mox.
X and I took the car and headed up to the main science lab. I knew the download was coming, it seemed like I should brace myself. But it didn’t come. I sat back in my chair as we zoomed along the ship’s highway system.
I leaned over to X. “So, what is going on? I feel like everyone else knows more than I do.”
She laughed and punched me in the arm.
“Look, this one is real cloak and dagger stuff. Considering tomorrow’s events, let’s just get through that and then I’ll tell you everything and we can prep for the mission. It’s a good one, Hands. We’re going to save a whale.”
She looked forward and appeared to be deep in thought. I knew she was communicating with someone on board. With the technological telepathy we all had, and given our human background, I was sure there were all kinds of endless secrets going on. I was tempted to contact Dixon. Two could play that game I thought, but we would be there in a few moments. So I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The Banga’s main science lab was really a complex. The entry point went into a kind of garage or loading dock with huge doors. There were two tractor trailer-sized surface vehicles parked there for moving material and you could safely assume large aquatic mammals. At the back of the loading dock, two big doors opened into a huge raw space. It started off as about two stories tall then halfway back went down two levels and up four in the main lab work area. The left wall had multiple cold storage units, various analysis machinery, and scanning devices. Off the right side of the main space were two ecosystem chambers, one like a small rainforest, the other a marine environment. The back wall had a central stairwell and elevator that connected seven decks of offices, computational labs, and individual project spaces. The ground floor of the main lab housed the machine and tool shop.
We walked in the front carrying Mox’s DNA canisters. Dixon was at a large table dressed in white and standing next to her was her twin with long curling spirals of hair. Her twin had single pupil bright blue eyes.
“Hi Hands, remember when I said be nice to me when you meet me?”
A big smile lit up her face. I tried to see the whale in her and somehow I did. In the eyes.
“Well, you are going to like this. We got all the Elephant DNA. We also got a few hundred different birds and fish in this one. And in the little one X has, the piece de resistance.”
X held it up to the light and looked inside. “A real polar bear!”
I found myself in a room with a bunch of overjoyed women. It really made me happy. They were all gathered around the table examining the contents of the containers, engrossed in scientific discovery. I have to say they were a site. One naked with a mohawk, the other with spiky plated hair, and the thirds with long thick curls, the latter two in matching white lab coats. They could’ve all been sisters, and in a way they were.
Dixon came over to me and taking both my hands squeezed them and nuzzled her forehead into my neck. I felt warm and fuzzy. She purred her little kitten purr. Then let go and went back to the table with Veronica, who was transferring the elephant DNA into a series of containers she had prepared. A silver humanoid droid, not unlike the tin pilot on the Brick came out of the back room with more containers. They set to work sorting and identifying each set. X grabbed up all the empty containers and made to exit.
“I’ll leave you ladies to it.” She put out a hand for a low five. “Hands?”
I couldn’t leave her hanging. I slapped her five, she hit me back twice as hard and sashayed out of the room as only she could.
“So Veronica, you’re in the sea right now controlling this body remotely?” The whole concept made my existence seem even stranger.
“Yes, it takes some getting used to. I tend to sleep while doing this as it can be confusing. Right now my real body is floating vertically in a peaceful slumber. There are of course limits to the control and I am missing out on a considerable amount of sensation and feelings. I use her like a marionette.”
The Synthetic-Veronica-Marionette and Dixon were busily separating sections of DNA. I watched their nimble fingers fly with precision in their tasks. I had more questions.
“OK, that’s beyond interesting, but what is the deal with this Mox guy? You weren’t kidding when you said he was reptilian.”
Veronica looked up from the lab table for a moment and smiled, then put her head back down and continued to work while she talked.
“Mox is an old friend. You can trust him, though be aware he can have ulterior motives for things he does that aren’t always apparent. Jonas has known him all his life. He worked with him during his water planet exploration days and Jonas was actually introduced to Mox by his grandfather when he was just a year old. You have to understand that the Varan have extremely long lifespans. I’m not sure exactly how long they live, but easily thousands of years. They have a network of ships that move throughout the galaxy. They are explorers and pioneers. The Varan possess a profound knowledge of our galaxy and of life in it. They interact with many cultures but avoid confrontations and wars. They don’t act as a military, though many have tried in the past to use them as spies. They do sometimes offer information and assistance if they agree with the cause. That is why Mox is here now. He is going to help us. And as it turns out, the timing is perfect with our meeting the Varan government. I assume you know all about the Inuit couple?”
I shook my head. Veronica continued.
“I viewed the background file from your life in the simulation. I know that you spent a good deal of time in South East Asia and that you have a great respect for different cultures. The early Northwest American indigenous and Inuit populations peaked Jonas’s curiosity. He thought they were the most amazing people. While it’s true that they have excellent points of view when it comes to nature and whales, they were too primitive in their development to be yanked out and plunged into a world of spaceships and robots. It freaked them out. The Varan are collectors of culture and have often adapted their own society around ideas they learned from others. All parties think of our coming interaction as a great opportunity. The Varan learn languages extremely quickly and they seem to enjoy speaking with the Inuit couple in their native tongue. The Varan call them Aanak and Atuk, grandmother and grandfather in the Inuit language. They have really taken to this and you can address them in the same fashion. They have already adapted to the rolls that they are going to fill as grandparents to a new society on Varanidi. They are preparing themselves for the journey and want to bring gifts to their new family.”
Dixon looked up from her work with a very sad face.
“They killed a Narwhal and cut off its tusk as a gift for the Varan. I know in my mind that their intentions aren’t evil, but they do not understand that there are so few of these whales left. They literally killed a unicorn. I don’t even want to see them, I can’t wait until they are off the ship for good.” Dixon wiped her eye and continued to work with the DNA samples.
Veronica walked over to me.
“Enter through the back of one of the polar bear caves and meet up with the Inuit. Bring them and all their belongings to the cargo hold. They will be waking up in a few hours and they will need to be ready to depart with the Varan.”
I must have had a very worried look on my face about the monster polar bear cave.
“Don’t worry about the bears, I have the Save the Whale gang on it.”
That did not make me feel any better.
“I would normally have Dixon handle this type of thing, but I need her here to go through all this material. I have the utmost confidence in you, this is the test and it’s an easy one. The next mission will be more challenging. Now go.” She turned her attention back to her work.
Dixon squinted at me as I turned and walked out of the science lab.
Wingus and Dingus were sitting outside waiting for me. I got back in the vehicle with them and we drove toward the back of the ship. I had some time so I accessed the computer and started bringing up info about the Inuit culture. I basically knew nothing more than a schoolboy would about Eskimos. I had seen a movie in their native language once. I wasn’t sure that prepared me for dealing with people from the 1800s placed in space aged synthetic bodies.
There was very little info available, mostly some records about the Aanak and Atuk’s previous lives and events that took place since they were implanted. They had not known each other in real life and Jonas had pulled them out individually. They were from the same region, in what would become northern Canada. Even in space, Canadian’s have the winning passport. They both lived simple lives in small family groups. They were truly experts when it came to survival in extreme arctic elements with few resources. I could see why the Varan liked them.
Both Aanak and Atuk bonded immediately with each other and only spoke in their language. After several communications with Jonas, in which he spoke with them via their transmitters and an internal language processor, they asked to have their neural transmitters removed. They wanted to be free of communications with the ship and everyone on it. They felt that the devices in their heads were spirits from the past world and that the spirits were trying to trick them, to call them back. Jonas granted their request. Veronica performed the procedure on both of them. She also replaced their eyes with simpler versions and reshaped their facial structure. It gave them more of the look of their native people on Earth. Luckily our skin wasn’t too far off in color. I looked at my caramel colored hand.
I found myself daydreaming about the idea that people in the simulation used to get all hung up on skin color. I felt I came from a clueless primitive race and wondered if I was really part of a new one? Mox saw right away that we were not programmed machines. We were not puppets like the Synthetic-Veronica. I thought about being a personality grown by algorithms in a simulated computer environment that planted itself in a perfect real body. I pondered the whole belief in past life and reincarnation. Maybe the Inuit were right, maybe this was the afterlife?
We raced down the halls of the ship and I reminded myself what life really had been. It was all a simulation, even if it was so real I naturally occurred in it. In my Earth life, I was one of those people who was plagued by existential ennui. I couldn’t handle the mundane American lifestyle, I had all the education it could reasonably offer me. I couldn’t just waste away in some office. In a way, my accident freed me to get out in the world. I dove deep into the realms of the inner mind. I closed my eyes to see. Eventually, my meditation practices led to the states of dream consciousness. And those lucid dreams brought me here.
“Wingus, am I dreaming still?” My twin droids ignored my questions.
We passed the banging sound of the supernova drive and eventually came to the storage entrance. In the middle of a long hall of countless sealed entrances was the back door to the bear caves. The hallway looked like a space-age self-storage unit; one long endless row of doors. The entrance was big enough to drive the vehicle through, but somehow I felt I should go through on foot. I told the guys to stay with the car. Then walked up to the door, which slid open sensing my presence.
I walked into the dark space about a hundred meters, then came to a second door. It didn’t open right away. I had to access the security systems to open it. I didn’t take that for a good sign. It opened into a large natural looking cavern. I proceeded in and started to feel the cold. It got colder and colder as I walked. Eventually, I came to the den. The floor was covered in dried blood, bones, and penguin down. It smelled light nothing I’d smelt in some time. Animals lived there. I kept going and regretted not bringing a weapon. The temperature dropped considerably and I saw light ahead. I walked out of the front of the cave, a lone black-clad figure in a field of white snow.
I saw tracks and followed them. I walked over a snow dune, then another. My body was fairly resistant to the cold, but it was starting to get to me a bit. As I was walking up the next snow drift I heard it, the roar of the monster polar bear. I froze in my tracks and looked all around. I didn’t see it. I accessed the ship’s sensors to see if I could locate it with body heat or something. There were no sensors active in this converted cargo space, it was a secret.
I kept climbing the snow drifts. I was almost to the top when I heard another roar, much louder and much closer than before. I thought about what Dixon said about not hearing them until you were in their teeth. I was nearly at the summit of the drift when the bear’s head came over the top. It was all growls and vicious teeth and slobber and death, trailing something out if his mouth. I was about to turn and run when I saw Zandar Vandar Blunt. He was riding on top of the bear. He had outfitted it with a saddle and a bridle. He looked rather small atop the huge beast. He turned the animal with ease and the both stood atop the snow drift.
“Come Hands, we need to get these things in line. Maybe you can talk with the others.” He spoke to me in the Varan language.
I cautiously walked up to them. To be so close to such a monster of an animal. I could feel its heat, smell its breath, see its body moving as it breathed. It let out another loud growl in my direction then they turned and ran off down the other side of the snow bank. I followed. Below there were a couple of vehicles, several of the large grunt Zero-G commandos, and the bright red coats of the Save the Whale group. I ran down trailing after the Gila monster riding the polar bear.
On a large flatbed vehicle, there were two big glass boxes. In the first one was one polar bear, presumably the male, and in the second the female with the two cubs. Tim was sitting in the front of the vehicle. Werner and Forklift were again loading gear onto the back of the long vehicle. Sunshine had her face smooshed against the glass looking at the cubs. Blunt raced past them riding the bear out into the snow. I gave Tim a now becoming customary nod, which he returned, and then walked up to Sunshine.
“Aren’t they sooo cute. I just want to cuddle them.”
“I think they would eat you.”
“I know, but still, they’re super cute. You should’ve been here Hands, you missed some cool stuff. That lizard fella, who isn’t much for talking by the way, sure has a way with animals. He used some kind of mind link or something to break in the first one. He kind of stared him down and then had Forklift saddled him up. The bear just stood there like a giant white furry pony and let him climb right up. Then he just rode him around. They disappeared for a while and came charging back herding in this family here. He got them right in the cages no problem. That guy’s like a one lizard cowboy rodeo rider I’m telling you.”
“They are impressive,” I said.
“I know, he doesn’t even seem to feel the cold, I would think for a lizard it would be horrible here. Want to go meet Aanak?” “Isn’t there a fourth adult monster bear out here somewhere?” The guards were stationed around us, but there were only four of them.
Sunshine and I got into the second flatbed and speed out over the snow in pursuit of Blunt and his polar bear mount. There is truly something about cruising along over a vast sheet of ice and snow on a hovering flatbed space truck knowing the whole time that you are just in the back storage compartment of a gargantuan spaceship. Thrilling comes to mind. Plus Sunshine’s blond braids kept hitting me in the face, seeing there was wind in that meat locker part of the ship. They actually smelled like sunshine, how was that done I wondered, beach hair at the north pole.
To me even space cyborg women were mysterious. Sunshine made everything fun. She talked almost nonstop and when she wasn’t talking she would sing these old time rock-n-roll songs. She was partly through I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill when I spotted the polar bear ahead and an alarming splatter of red on the ground. As we slowed our speed and approached the Inuit encampment, I found myself frantically looking for the Inuits. I only saw one.
The camp consisted of a flipped over kayak, don’t even ask where they got the material to make it, an igloo, a couple storage containers, and a totem pole. I was aware now that each of us were assigned attendant droids when we were downloaded to help us assimilate and navigate the ship.The Inuit had stacked all four of their droids into a four meter high totem. They had painted the white droids in Northwest Indian motifs. The droids appeared to be still active. The Inuit has set them up to be scanning devices. Underneath the red and black painted birds and fish was a sophisticated early warning device that doubled as an electric fence. They used them to keep the monster polar bears at bay. Maybe they were not nearly as inept with technology as I was led to believe.
One of them was standing next to Blunt and speaking to him atop his mount in the Inuit language. Blunt was talking back to him in kind.
He saw me and switched to Varan. “This is Atuk.”
Atuk was dressed head to toe in clothing made from the hides of blue penguin. His boots, pants jacket and gloves, all a bright feathery blue. The hood of his jacket was lined with very pristine looking white fur. The blood on the nearby snow was the blood of the last monster polar bear. Atuk suggested we go inside his igloo. Blunt dismounted his bear and Sunshine powered down the truck and we all went through the small entrance of the igloo.
Inside was Aanak working on a necklace of whalebone. Her clothing was the same as Atuk’s, all blue penguin. They were synthetic beings like myself, but they both had higher cheekbones, more slant to their eyes, and long black hair. They were space Eskimo’s alright. When Sunshine came in Aanak got up, put her arms around her and they hugged. Then holding onto each other, they proceeded to rub noses together. This was easier for Aanak because she had a more pronounced nose than Sunshine’s standard issue nose which was rather flat, like my own.
Eskimos really kissed with their noses. Aanak then proceeded to rub her nose on the end of Blunt’s snout and he gently and slowly turned his head to reciprocate. We all sat down around a small oil lamp on the floor. It was the first fire I’d seen onboard. The dancing flame softly lit the frozen inside of the igloo. Aanak took a big polar bear fur and wrapped it around Sunshine.
Blunt spoke to me in Varan. “I very much like this custom of theirs. The people from your past are very compassionate and intelligent indeed. It is no wonder you adapt so well to your new body and to living in space.”
Coming from an ancient species like the Varan, even if he was a giant talking Gila monster, I took it as a very flattering compliment. We were a resourceful species. Again, I was thinking about my current species, not being a human.
Blunt introduced me as the Hands of Jonas, to which the Inuit responded in a very respectful way. They each took one of my hands and they both held on for some time. Aanak let go first, she reached into her pocket and brought out a small whalebone carving of a swirling design. The end of which was clearly a fluke. The small amulet was an abstract whale representation. She attached it to a thin flexible piece of wire and put it around my neck. She took back my hand and they both began to sing. Sunshine hummed along and to my surprise so did Blunt. Aanak looked into my eye and with a very serious expression on her face started telling me things in the Inuit language.
Blunt translated as she spoke.
“Keep the talisman of the whale close to your heart, remember his wisdom when you must make choices. You are the journeyman of dreams and human embodiment of the orca. When you meet the witch, know her powers are not real. Do not trust her and do not follow her on the path of darkness. The weapons of the ancients will be your protector.”
Atuk now let go of my hand and reaching under his parka, pulled out a knife made from whalebone. It was small, but sharp, with an intricately carved handle made out of the claw of a monster polar bear. He spoke and Blunt again translated.
“The hand of the whale wields the weapon he gives in his death.”
He handed me the knife. I thanked them and held the knife in both hands. Blunt told them that it was time for us to go. I put the knife into my boot and tucked the amulet under my shirt next to my skin. It was cool at first but warmed and held the temperature of my body. Aanuk gave Sunshine a bracelet made of a solid loop of bone and turning to Blunt she put a necklace of bear teeth around his neck, which he seemed to enjoy very much.
We helped them gather their few belongings and we went out to the truck. The last out was Atuk and he brought with him a long harpoon tipped with the horn of a Narwhal. Though he looked very much like me his eyes were more human, somehow softer, and dark brown in color. Both he and Aanak wore their hair in braids like Sunshine. He stood before his igloo the last of the space Eskimo.
I couldn’t help but align my thinking somewhat with Dixon, he had literally killed a unicorn to make that spear. He was an impressive sight, nonetheless and his brown eyes seemed full of wisdom well beyond my years. He called us all, his good friends. He reminded me of a monk I once knew who had supposedly reached enlightenment. Both he and Aanuk were beings that gave and instantly earned a great deal of respect. They had an aura about them.
We loaded their kayak on the truck and Blunt led the bear into the holding box and joined us in the front of the vehicle. The last thing was that Atuk called to the totem pole. It came to life and the four droids separated and got aboard the truck. We all took seats and Sunshine drove us out of there.
On the ride back, Blunt leaned over to me and asked me in Varan. “What’s an orca?”
I gave him a basic description of a killer whale. He was impressed.
“It was a great compliment then.” He said.
We met up with the others who were in the second truck and ready to drive to the starboard hangar. We headed out the way I had come in, through the bear cave. My two droids were waiting. A couple commandos that were riding standing on the back of the first truck got into that vehicle and took the lead of our procession. We moved through the ship’s corridors with expert speed. The tight corners and turns occasionally sent the bears into a bit of an uproar. They did not enjoy being moved in this fashion. By the time we hit the main highway they were climbing the walls of their glass cages. The Inuit were concerned. They themselves seemed uneasy about traveling in open-air vehicles that moved at such great speeds. For much of the journey Aanak kept her eyes closed. Atuk held her hand and maintained a very stoic expression on his face.
Tim contacted me and Uzi at the same time over our transmitters.
“ETA to the starboard hangar deck in one hour. One monster polar bear has been killed and we are bringing all the remaining with us; three adults and two cubs. The Inuit are handling the traveling as well as can be expected.” Reported Tim.
“Good, don’t make any pit stops. We have the Varan ships on an intercept path to us and you should beat them by minutes.” Ordered Uzi.
“We won’t, we’ve got the pedal to the metal and we’re making good time.” Tim signed off.
Of course, time is completely relative in space and at this point, I assumed they were talking in comparison with time on Varanidi.