Sunday, September 27, 2009

Isaac and the Whale


"Our whale is listing," the Mayor said to Isaac. "If nothing is done soon, our city will slide off and fall into the sea! Quickly - you must figure out what has gone wrong with our whale."

"Then, fix it," he added.


Isaac's bathysphere descended into the sea.


Isaac examined the whale's flank. "Hm," he said. "This is odd."

The whale rumbled, a subsonic noise that shook Isaac's bathysphere. It could have been a question: "What is odd?"

"It seems someone's cut a flap in your skin," Isaac said. "And they've mined all the fat stored beneath it."

"I'll be back," he added, as his bathysphere rose.


"So?" the Mayor asked. "Why is our whale listing? And why haven't you fixed it yet?"

"Someone's been mining our whale," Isaac told him.

"Ah," the Mayor said.

"I'll call a meeting."


"I say he should be prosecuted," the Scientist said.

"Yes!" the Mayor agreed emphatically. "Sued for the greatest damages the law can provide!"

"And then," the Priest said with relish, "he should be devoured by sharks!"

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," the Businessman said. "Gentlemen. Let's be rational now. In the first place, there is no way that you can prove that I am responsible for anything."

"The courts will decide that!" the Mayor shouted.

"Secondly, even if my company were, hypothetically, responsible for mining the fat from the whale upon which our city rests (and therefore dooming us all in the interests of short-sighted profit), it is the company that would be sued; all my actions act solely for the benefit of the company, and therefore I am shielded from direct prosecution," the Businessman continued.

"Sue the company, then!" the Priest demanded. "Take every last penny!"

"And thirdly - gentlemen, please," the Businessman continued, "We are presently in the grips of an emergency. Surely we can act to fix the problem, and give me time to destroy the evidence and move my assets overseas, before we stoop to base acts of retribution?"

The chamber listed noticably. A chair fell over.

"Well, maybe," the Scientist said reluctantly.


"Solutions," the Mayor said.

"Here's what I think," the Businessman said. "We shouldn't look at this as a problem. Look at it as an opportunity. Just suck out the excess fat from everyone in the city, and stuff it back in the whale. The whale will be fine once more - and we'll have a slimmer, fitter community as a bonus!"

"There are, perhaps, certain logistical problems with that," the Mayor said.

"And ethical - " the Priest said.

"- and, to be honest, I don't think that's biologically possible," the Scientist interrupted.

"Let's look for another option," the Mayor said.


"Perhaps we could build a set of enormous gyroscopic stabilizers," the Scientist speculated. "Just insert them into the whale, in the empty space left by the fat - we'd be right as rain!"

"Do we have any enormous gyroscopic stabilizers?" the Mayor asked.

"Well, no," the Scientist said.

"Do we have any idea how long it would take to develop or manufacture them?" the Mayor asked. "If, in fact, it is even possible to do so?"

The Scientist wiggled his hand back and forth in a gesture of uncertainty.

"Let's try a more practical solution," the Businessman suggested, "and come back to this later, when we're all doomed."


"Why don't we just find another whale?" the Priest asked. "Then we could move onto that - at least some of the city, enough to even the load."

"Could be expensive," the Businessman said. "But I'm certain that informed, local businesses could manage to make a profit out of it."

"Do you have any technical concerns?" the Mayor asked the Scientist, who, miffed at the rejection of his gyroscope proposal, remained silent.

"Very well, then," the Mayor said. "We'll send someone down to find a new whale at once. No time to waste!"


Isaac's bathysphere descended into the sea.


Isaac floated in the center of a large whale pod. One whale floated immediately beside him, gliding slowly through the deeps. Isaac matched its speed.

"Whale," Isaac said, "Our city is in great danger. The whale upon which it rests has become unstable, and threatens to tip all of us into the sea. Would you consent to taking some number of us on-board yourself, to lighten the load?"

A rumbling came through the walls of Isaac's bathysphere. Looking at the whale, Isaac could only interpret it as: "I am sorry, but as you can see, I am currently occupied with raising my own children. I cannot abandon them for your city."

"That is very fair," Isaac agreed, and turned his bathysphere away.


Isaac floated next to another whale, smaller and younger than the first. It moved with rather more vigour, making circles around slower whales; Isaac struggled to keep up. Following it, he asked: "Haste-filled whale, I have a request for you. My city is in danger, and we need your help -"

But the whale issued a deep sound, and turned away; Isaac thought that, perhaps, this might mean, "I am young, and would enjoy my youth. What reason do I have to burden myself with a great city upon my back? Would it not cover me in stench and trash, would it not slow me to the speed of an elder? I have no reason to consider your proposal further,"

"I cannot argue with you," Isaac said to the departing whale. "I would never deny any young creature the right to enjoy its youth -" and at this he sighed, remembering certain traumas now past. After a moment, he gathered himself and began looking for another whale.

XII. The third whale Isaac attempted to speak to was on the outside of the pod, barely visible against the gloom of the deep. Its skin was old and cracked, its stroke ponderous; Isaac suspected it to be a matriarch among whales. He spoke to it with great respect.

"O Whale," Isaac said, "I approach you with a humble request. I come from a city, on the surface far above, which has come upon troubled times. Short-sighted persons among us have injured the whale upon which our city rests; now it rocks and tilts, and we may all soon slide off it, and ot our deaths. All living things must regret such a tragedy. Would you find it, in your wisdom, to come to our aid - or send another in your stead, if your age prevents you?"

There was a long silence. Isaac wondered if he had even been heard. But then a very long, slow, pulse came from the elder-whale; another; another. And Isaac heard, "You seek aid because of the abuse you have inflicted on the whale that serves you now. Why would I, or any other, seek to suffer the same?"


Isaac's bathysphere ascended.


"So, we can't find another whale," the Mayor said. "What do we do now?"

The chamber was silent.

"Is it time to return to the fat-extraction plan?" the Businessman asked. "I'm ready as ever."

"We may have to," the Mayor said darkly.

Silence prevailed.

"Where's the Scientist, anyway?" the Priest asked suddenly.


"Behold!" the Scientist said, slamming the chamber doors open. Behind him, a pair of assistants wheeled a large, cylindrical device forward, stopping it in the center of the chamber.

"What is it?" the Mayor asked.

"Our salvation!" the Scientist said. "A gyroscope!"

"I'm unconvinced," the Priest said.

The Scientist gestured to his assistants. Switches were pulled; lights flashed. The gyroscope spun into complex motion.

"Oooooo!" the Businessman cooed. "Spinny!"

"I'm convinced," the Priest said.

"We'll begin deployment at once!" the Mayor decided.


Isaac gathered certain supplies; then his bathysphere sank once more beneath the waves.


Isaac's tools moved slowly across the whale's surface. It rumbled; Isaac heard, "What are you doing?"

"I'm sealing you up," Isaac said. "The gyroscopes are all in place; now I'm plating you with iron, so you can't be cut up again. I'll do it on the other side, too, just to be sure."


The whale rumbled again. Perhaps it was another question: "Would your employers approve?"

"Probably not," Isaac said. "The Businessman almost certainly wants another crack at you, now that he knows his stupid mistakes can be fixed without repercussion, and the Mayor's always good friends with the Businessman when he doesn't think his own neck is at risk. So, I'm doing this on my own accord."


The whale rumbled again. Isaac thought that were he the whale, this would be a third question: "Why?"

"Because I don't want my own life risked for the Businessman's profits," Isaac said. "Because I don't want the whole city to be endangered, again. Because I think you're a proud and noble creature, and I think it's wrong to hurt you so."


The whale issued another noise as Isaac put the last rivet into the whale's side. Isaac took a moment to interpret.

"Also, I'm pretty sick of this bathysphere," he admitted.

Apologies to Mieville, as appropriate.