Echo-1 (The Whale): Part 9
There were two pods of Sperm whales on board the Banga. Two groups of females and their young, none who were related to the two adult males. The hope was that the genetically diverse group will pair off during the journey and spawn five to ten offspring before the trip is over. The galactic Sperm whale can live 400–500 years. Given their status and privilege in space faring societies, they generally aren’t interested in mating until they have been around for about a century. Onboard they had a perfect diet of rainbow squid and cutting-edge medical attention. In near perfect harmony, they tended to throw themselves into their work.
The first mate and second in command was Vronsky, our other male Sperm whale. 75 years old with the personality of a boy scout, Vronsky was tasked with operations on the ship. He was head of all ship personnel; the Zero-G commandos, the complement of attendant droids, and all the humanoid crew members. He was also the backup navigator and copilot. Though the Banga is following a standard course to the wormhole, given its size and the unpredictable nature of space, there was a need to always have someone actively at the helm. Space is a dangerous and uncertain place.
Vronsky took the controls when Jonas was doing something else. This, it turned out, was pretty rare, as Jonas always had at least half his mind on the Banga. Vronsky was navigating when Jonas took a few short minutes to introduce himself to me.
Vronsky was a whale that liked to give orders. He knew everything that was happening on the Banga. Let there be no doubt that he was in charge. He only reported to Jonas. Right away Vronsky tasked me with learning as much as I could about the ship. Mind you, I already had the technical specs, manifest, and standing orders in my new photographic memory. Vronsky said you learn better by doing. He contacted me telepathically through my neural transmitter. I could hear his voice in my mind. He had what sounded like a thick Russian accent and I have no idea why.
“On the starboard side of the internal sea, there is a lagoon beach.” Vronsky ordered me to meet him there and I instinctively knew the way.
I came to realize that the two twin attendant droids were always at my disposal and generally followed and/or lead me everywhere. I took to calling them Wingus and Dingus, though I could never tell which one was which as they were exactly the same. They had this tendency to sing these melodic electronic tunes when we were alone. It’s not quite elevator music, but it’s not really disco either. As we drove along in our hovering car they sang me their little catchy tunes. The sound of Moog organs drifted around my lack of ears.
The lagoon was on the other side of a pressurized chamber. I left Wingus and Dingus humming in the car outside the hatch. I walked through the inner door and out onto the beach. The sea had a huge pressurized air bubble at the top of it for the whales to breath. The outer metal retractable shield over the ceiling was rolled back and revealed the endless stars of the Milky Way. It’s kind of like going to a beach at night, but better lit and with an ever changing aerial view. The beach had fine white crystalline sand running down to the water.
I was still struggling with the fact that I was actually on a giant spaceship. It was so easily forgotten within the Banga’s vast interior. Once again I found myself staring into the depths of space.
The blast of Vronsky’s blowhole as he surfaced shocked me back to reality. I had never heard a whale blow hole in person before. It was deep and splashy, like a cough from lungs full of liquid, and it inhaled with the power of a hundred vacuums. I could smell his breath. It was kind of fishy smelling with a slight hint of mint. He was roughly the same size as Jonas, but with more mechanical parts. He had three neural transmitting devices spaced equidistantly around his head, a four-fingered opposable arm in front of his right fin, and what appeared to be a small laser cannon in front of his left. I walked out into the clear waters towards him.
Vronsky introduced himself to me as the first mate, second in command, and essentially my boss; even if I was the personal assistant to the captain. I told him I already had full knowledge of the ship’s crew, the command structure, and the general procedures on what to do in most situations, including emergencies.
“Do you have the experiential knowledge of my robo-arm?” Said the whale.
“You do now.”
In an instant, with another small ball of lightning in my mind, I know all there was to know about the Interstellar Robo Corporation of Ursa Minor. The company was in business for 7000 years before the need to make a profit left their part of the galaxy. Their workshops were famed throughout the cosmos as having the best technicians, the most intricate tools, and the skills to make any living thing better. They specialized in robotic enhancements. Their company slogan, Robo-a-gogo, got its fame for a personal ground vehicle that could break the sound barrier. A kind of motorcycle suit. They are still considered the best makers of robotic gear for organic beings anywhere in the known galaxy.
The small inhabitants of Ursa Minor took to developing and wearing robo-suits early on in space exploration. They realized the hard way that what was to them a normal size, was to others a group of little spacefaring gnomes. During their first attempt at contact with other species, they were completely overlooked. Amazing designers and builders, they took to increasing their stature with robotic enhancements.
Between the engine section and the supercomputer, there was a small village built behind a bulkhead. There were over four hundred Ursa Minor Gnomes on our crew. I knew that too, but only now understood why I could never visit them or go to their section of the ship, nor to the supercomputer backup control rooms where they worked. I wouldn’t fit!
Vronsky’s robo-arm was built by our crew specifically for him. He never needed maintenance on his transmitters, he could do that himself, but he would need help if his arm ever broke down. The Ursa Minor Gnomes aren’t fond of large bodies of water and prefer to work in their lab. Vronsky needed me to help repair his arm. I could see with my new eyes and freshly upgraded brain, that the second hinge lever was out of alignment and, luckily, I knew how to fix it.
I dove into the deeper water. I still knew how to swim. And could I ever swim. My new body was so strong and agile, I moved through the water like an eel. I had breath control far beyond any human and what felt like near endless stamina.
Up close, Vronsky was enormous. He warmed the water around him, he was a true leviathan of the deep. He was strong and powerful, all muscle, yet watched me with a sensitive and intelligent eye. I swam under him and up along his side. I grabbed hold of the arm, unleashed the joint cap, torqued it into place, then resealed it and swam off a bit. Vronsky moved the arm with speed and grabbed hold of my midsection. He threw me with force sending me sailing out of the water. For a moment I hung suspended in the air looking out into space above me, then came splashing down next to his large all seeing eye. Which seemed to say thank you without any words. I reached out my hand toward him but then hesitated. He didn’t seem like the type of person who liked to be touched and considering his size and mechanical arsenal I withdrew my hand.
“Swim to my left side and sit in the nook of the cannon.” Vronsky suggested.
I did as he asked sliding my hands and body against his giant mass as I took my seat between the cannon and the whale. He rolled in the water spinning me out just long enough for me to take a giant breath and down we went. It was my first up-close interaction with a whale!
Not having ears had its benefits. Not having to worry about pressure changes in water depths was a good thing when riding a whale. Not that the pressure was very large in an artificial sea inside a giant spaceship. I still couldn’t help thinking about surviving the pressures as we cruised through the blue depths.
A field of bright orange started to be apparent in the depths below us. It flashed yellow and then red before I could make out the shapes of thousands of squid. Vronsky swam straight into the mass swallowing a hundred in one mouthful. For a moment I was surrounded by squirming fleeing colors of motion and then they were gone. One last sneaky survivor crawled out of the barrel of the cannon. I reached forward and flicked him aside. He turned bright purple and rocketed off blending into the blue of the water.
As we moved through the vast underwater space I felt lost and disoriented. I had to trust in Vronsky knowing where he was going. From my point of view, it almost seemed like we were standing still, only the motion of Vronsky swimming made me aware of our momentum. I started to think about the pressing need to breathe. I started to squirm about.
“In the compartment directly behind you on the turret mount, use the test breather.”
Vronsky uploaded his full armament in my mind and I knew right away that he had a cetacean portable breathing apparatus mounted with his laser cannon. I instantly understood the workings of the breather device. Vronsky was feeding me knowledge as he swam. I reached back and opened the operating panel. I removed the test breather, extended the hose line and put the thin blade of the breathing tube in my mouth. I took a few deep breaths and felt massively relieved.
“I’m still getting used to this new ability of instantly learning.” I thought to Vronsky.
His big eye looked back at me. “Jonas said you were an interesting fellow. He suggested I let you in on a few things.”
The little ball of lightning went off in my mind again. There were several former humans aboard and there were two in particular that I needed to meet. One that Jonas wanted me to learn from and one that Vronsky thought I could teach. Though, it seemed from my perspective that it would be a two way street with both. I knew their names, ranks and former life backgrounds as humans, but would the background of a person in a simulation truly explain what they would become when they are freed? Vronsky was taking me to meet one of them.
We approached the starboard entrance to the great water ring around the ship. We passed through the entrance chamber and were immediately taken with the current, sailing in the rapid stream toward the aft of the ship. The speed was fantastic, though the experience was dull and after some time became hypnotic. Once again like we weren’t moving at all. Then I became aware of a pulse. A dull thud in the distance.
“Are we going to pass the dark matter drive?”
Vronsky assured me that I would be ok. The sound intensified and the water became less clear, almost bubbly. It was twenty minutes of thunderous booms and sonic underwater blasts in a sea of dancing exploding bubbles before it started to clear up. I knew we would reach the back of the ship eventually, but before that, we turned on a path I didn’t know. We entered a second sea, one not on the schematics of the ship now stored in my mind.
“Shouldn’t this be a deck of storage units?” Maybe Vronsky was right, sometimes it was better to learn by doing.
Eighty decks of storage had been converted into a second sea. I could see the bottom which was sandy and full of spiky sea creatures and long-legged starfish. There were trailing pillars of ice above and occasional holes through the ice to a space that must have been empty. Vronsky armed the laser cannon, which was warm. I leaned against it as the temperature was extremely cold and seemed to be dropping fast. Ahead I could see some kind of structure, like part of a retrofitted nuclear submarine, stuck vertically piercing through the ice above and down into the water below. It had windows and what looked to be balconies or observation decks with two large entrance hatches.
We were not alone. There was a group of small whales, some white and muscular and some dark gray with long single horns. They were all swimming around us, the white ones appeared to be smiling at me. The others were like mini whale unicorns. Both sets were much smaller than the Sperm whale giant I was riding on, about five meters long I would say.
“These are Beluga and Narwhal, they don’t adapt to technology well, and are challenging to communicate with, but they are very friendly. They don’t appear on any ship manifest. They’re one of Jonas’s secret projects. One I wholeheartedly support. They are the future and we are taking them to their new home.”
Vronsky swam up to the submarine structure. “Follow them in through the second entrance dock.”
I was hugging the warm cannon and didn’t really want to let go. I stowed the breather test line, pushed off Vronsky, and swam through the freezing water as best I could.
“The Belugas don’t like to be touched even though they seem the friendliest. The Narwhal will pull you through.”
My body was almost shutting down and the whales were circling all around me. I made my way toward the entryway. Two Narwhals swam on either side of me, sandwiching me together, I put my arms around them. We shot in through the dock doors to a pressurized air bubble room. I stuck my head out to breath surrounded by the trumpeting tweets of Narwhal blowholes. I pet them and walked up the dock ramp into a warmer atmosphere. She was standing on a catwalk to my left throwing fish from a bucket, each one landing perfectly in the mouths of waiting whales.