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Excerpt from "The Whale's Tale"

 

“It will be nice to have a human on board,” Charlie said conversationally.

“It will be a pain in the tail flukes!” Targe replied grumpily.

He enjoyed the solitude of deep space between performances. The whale said it gave him time to think, or rather not to think. It was when he wasn't thinking that he got some of his best ideas. And like a cetacean Leonardo Da Vinci, he was always trying to invent things, or perfect his inventions, like that propulsion drive he'd devised. Targe certainly didn't want the Antarctic Dancer cluttered with humans! And as far as he was concerned, this one human was a clutter.

Though Targe's greatest delight was being able to talk and mingle with his audience after a performance, he preferred to be social in small doses.

“She's found her way to her cabin, I see,” Charlie noted approvingly. “Aren't you at least going to say hello to her before we depart?”

“Oh, if I must,” Targe agreed tersely, knowing the dolphin would keep nagging him until he did. He made a sequence of audible clicking noises to activate the ship's controls.

Uki jumped off her bed as the far wall of her cabin dissolved into a floor-to-ceiling window that didn't look into space as she'd expected, but into what seemed to be a vast and endless ocean.

More water! And the wall didn't look strong enough to stop it all flooding into her cabin to drown her.

 

A massive dark shadow was moving through the water towards her, getting larger and larger. It was the whale, she figured, finally come to say hello.

“Hey!” Uki protested loudly, swallowing her fear before it swallowed her. “You could have knocked! I could have been undressed or something!”

Somewhere behind him Targe heard Charlie give a high-pitched laugh. The dolphin was always amused by the human obsession with clothing.

Targe swam full length past Uki's wall so that he could see her, and more importantly Uki could see him. .

His body seemed to stretch on forever, Uki thought as she got her first close-up view of barnacled whiskers, throat pleats, long, scalloped flippers, flanks and tail.

She couldn't help but gasp. The humpback whale was much larger than she had imagined.

Targe regarded her first with one serious small eye, then turned in a wide arc and swam past her window again, just to reinforce how big he was compared to her, and to regard her with his other eye.

Uki noticed how his colouring ebbed and flowed. As he moved past her like a moving picture, scars on his massive body told the story of his life; a healed half-moon imprint testimony of a lucky escape from a shark when he'd been much younger, a tattoo of sucker prints from an encounter with an octopus. She'd expected him to be smooth - perfect - for some reason.

Uki couldn't help but watch in awe as, with barely the flip of his tail fins to move his massive body, Targe rose majestically to the surface of the Inner Ocean high above them to spout. And even the simple act of the whale drawing breath sounded like distant thunder. His body, resting close to the surface, silhouetted by the light from above, was the size and shape of a large boat.

A smaller shadow darted in to regard her in a similar fashion; zooming past her to look at her with one eye, then turning around to look at her with the other. Though he wasn't impressively large, like Targe, his eyes looked bright and inquisitive, and at least he seemed to be smiling, even if it was a permanent condition for a bottlenose dolphin.

Uki felt the corners of her mouth automatically begin to turn up in response, but she quickly schooled her features. She wasn't meant to be enjoying herself. This wasn't supposed to be fun. This was incarceration. This was jail.

She stood in the centre of her cabin, both hands balled into fists by her sides, her whole body stiff, serious, and defiant as the whale floated back down to her level, this time to regard her head-on. His head seemed almost as wide as Uki's cabin wall.

“I am Targe,” a deep voice resonated through Uki's cabin, speaking perfect English. He had a translator embedded in his massive brain, like many cetaceans, so he could project his thoughts and “talk” to humans. He could have just as easily addressed Uki in her native Japanese if he'd wished, but English had become the common second tongue amongst humans on Earth.

“Well, I figured you were too big to be the dolphin,” Uki replied sarcastically.

“No, I'm the dolphin!” Charlie had risen to the surface for a gulp of air, but was back corkscrewing comically beneath Targe's chin, his dolphin snout pressed to the glass like a playful puppy in a pet shop, hopeful of a home.

“Welcome aboard,” Targe went on majestically, a whale king to whom Charlie gladly played court jester. “We will soon leave the space station. Is there anything you'd like to get before we depart?”

Uki thought longingly of her Personal Communications Devices she'd been made to leave behind: it had been a wrenching experience to be separated from her phone, her hand-held computer and laptop before she came aboard the ship. It had increased her feeling of isolation.

She still had her mouth though, and she put it to good use. “Of course not. If I tried to disembark now, the space station security guards would only drag me back on board, thinking I was trying to escape… Or is that just what you want?” Her eyes narrowed as she considered the whale's cunning shrewdness.

“What have I done to deserve this?” Targe whistled to his dolphin companion in the cetacean language they shared.

“It's rude not to speak human when there's a human present,” Charlie, similarly implanted with a translator, told him in English out of respect for Uki.

“Go ahead and talk about me all you want!” Uki declared, guessing she was the topic of their private conversation. “I've probably heard it all before anyway. Come on, will you? Get this hulk into space! The sooner we get going, the better. And give me my damn wall back, or am I expected to have to look at your ugly faces as part of my punishment?”

“Impertinent human!” Targe declared loudly in English, to make sure she heard him.

“Sorry I wasn't there to meet you when you boarded the ship. I meant to be, but I got distracted.” The dolphin shot a quick glance at Targe. “We also want to apologize for that mix up with the corridor flooding as you were boarding, don't we Targe?”

“Hrrmph!”

“Don't we Targe?” Charlie pressed.

“A simple mistake, no harm done,” Targe mumbled, unable to meet Uki's eye.

It wasn't the answer Charlie had been hoping for. “We'll make sure it doesn't happen again, won't we, Targe?”

Targe made another non-committal noise, wondering what else he could devise to annoy The Girl as he lazily swam away from his first confrontation with Uki.

“Can I have my wall back, please?” Uki said testily.

“Well, seeing as how you said please,” Charlie replied, and activated the controls so that Uki was once again staring at a blank wall.

All of that water had made her nervous. She'd known all the ships in the Whaling Fleet were built with a huge tank of water at their centre, but no one had said anything about her cabin having a seaside view, or about six metre high waves surging towards her without any warning. Of course, she hadn't told anyone that she was terrified of the ocean either, and she wasn't about to.

But Uki was going to go mad if she had to put up with all that water for the rest of the tour.

* * *

Charlie rose to the surface of the ship's Inner Ocean to spout a frustrated sigh. They weren't exactly off to the best of starts. Both the human and the whale were stubborn and opinionated, and they didn't want to get along. And Charlie was likely to be the tuna in the sandwich, caught between these two feuding parties. It was going to be a long tour!


Released November, 2009
ISBN: 9780980699807
RRP: $19.95.

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Edwina Harvey is a self-confessed "whale and dolphin geek" who has been writing, especially science fiction, for most of her life. The Whale's Tale evolved from her short story, Restitution, which was placed equal third in the 1997 Mary Grant Bruce awards for children's literature.
Edwina's other work has been short listed in the George Turner Prize, the Emma Darcy Awards, and has been published in a variety of anthologies and magazines as diverse as Aurealis, Thrillogies and Grass Roots. She also edits for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

Peggy Bright Books will publish a fiction collection by a prolific Australian science fiction author in 2010. Peggy Bright Books is only open to submissions by invitation at this stage.
P.O. Box 2087 Maroubra NSW 2035 Australia. ABN 677 559 382 58


 
 
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