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by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2011 by Cora Buhlert
All rights reserved.
Cover image © HypnoArt
Pegasus Pulp Publications
In retrospect, it was probably just dumb luck that the rocket harpoon exploded. Of course, the harpoon was supposed to explode, but only once it latched onto the thick rock-hard skin of the whale. But this harpoon had exploded prematurely, barely a third of the way to its target. The resulting explosion had taken a chunk of hull out of the whaling vessel, including the starboard engine, the starboard side harpoon bank, two water storage tanks, much of the life support system, three escape pods and seventeen crewmen unfortunate enough to be in the affected section at the time of the explosion.
Billy Bladdoff, crewman second class aboard the Enderby Corporation whaler Starbuck III, was lucky enough not to have been in the affected section, or otherwise he’d be dead already. However, he was also unlucky enough that his assigned berth was in the section right next to the hull breach. Which gave him a first rate view of the events, once he’d managed to scrape himself off the floor of his cabin and scramble over to the viewport. Bits of debris and what appeared to be a severed leg were drifting by. And the grey bulk of the space whale, gliding monstrously through the wreckage and moving out of range.
Typical. So the beast had escaped unscathed and continued grazing the asteroid field as if the exploding harpoon had been not much more than a bothersome mosquito. Which it likely was as far as the whale was concerned. After all, space whales were notoriously hard to wound and even harder to kill.
Humans, however, were not. And since Billy Bladdoff didn’t want to end up like that poor fellow whose severed leg had drifted past his viewport, he spun around, pressed the door contact, waited two agonizing seconds for the cabin door to open and ran. He’d barely made it ten meter down the corridor, when the “Abandon ship” signal sounded. Billy made a sharp turn and headed towards the portside of the ship, whose escape pods were hopefully still intact, unaffected by space whales and prematurely exploding harpoons.
“Space whales” wasn’t the official term, of course. The proper scientific name for the beasts was Balaenoptera Tregannae, named after the exobiologist who had been the first to discover that some of the more mobile hunks of rock found in asteroid fields across the known galaxy were not hunks of rocks at all but alien lifeforms.
Though there wasn’t much of a difference between inanimate asteroids and animate space whales — pardon Balaenoptera Tregannae — at least not as far as Billy was concerned. For Tregannae might not be rocks, but they were certainly dumb as rocks. They might be alive, but they were most certainly not sentient. Plus, they were a bloody nuisance, blindly floating through space, endangering spaceships with their bulk, and nibbling on asteroids, including those that housed mining colonies. As far as Billy was concerned, that made them fair game.
Not everyone agreed of course. Galactic preservationists, for starters. The sort of people who had never actually been in space or off planet, who remained stuck in the mud their whole lives, and yet claimed to know more about alien lifeforms and other worlds than those with actual space experience. Inevitably, those were the people who’d use the term “Tregannae” rather than the more common “space whale” (though not even preservationists bothered with the “Balaenoptera” bit) and they’d say it in a tone that was dripping with pretension. Idiots, the lot of them. Privileged, arrogant, hypocritical idiots.