Whalesong is the story of two disparate beings, enemies by the nature of their world yet closer in understanding than with any member of their own species. Two creatures that have as much to learn about themselves as they do about the other, and come to rely on one another as they begin a journey which will not only change the world, but save it.
In the years after the stars fell young Noah Manaluk, an Inupiat Eskimo living at Point Hope, Alaska, eats a piece of possessed raw seal liver that changes his life. By the time he is seventeen he is a shaman who can call animals to the hunter’s spears and fish into nets cast by the People.
Thinker, a Humpback whale, is the only one of his pod who perceives anything beyond his immediate surroundings. He is aware of the longteeth waiting at the top of the world and cautiously moves to the middle of the pod.
He hears the summons and realizes another exists who can completely communicate with him – something that has never before happened in his life – and it wants to kill him.
Whalesong is the story of two disparate beings, enemies by the nature of their world yet closer in understanding than with any member of their own species. Two creatures that have as much to learn about themselves as they do about the other, and come to rely on one another as they begin a journey which will not only change the world, but save it.
Seventeen Years Later
The pod of leviathans moved north, great muscles tirelessly undulating to the DNA command of unknown generations. The Humpback whale population knew increase over past seasons. Rarely solitary, they formed pods of varying numbers directed by the whim of nature.
Many cycles of the warm eye ago, the long-teeth suffered calamity. Their numbers dwindled. This spared the pod much of the tearing death.
Because of their scarcity, the long-teeth no longer hunted the Cea across the far reaches of their liquid universe. Only near the edges of the world did they lurk. But even there, any threat from those usually proved minimal.
Thinker followed the great bull, Palff, along with the rest of the Humpback pod. As the others sang back and forth, he would prod their minds, hoping to find what he had shared with his mother, but none responded.
For many cycles of the cold eye, he believed they ignored him as they had ignored the painful death of his mother. While he had vividly felt the agony caused by her rapidly wasting organs, the others remained oblivious and unmoved.
His mother’s death inundated him with new emotions and awareness: relief, peace, sorrow, and abject loneliness. No longer did he belong with anyone. None cared if he lived or died.
Thinker tried to nurse from the other females, but all pushed him away. In desperation he had copied the feeding actions of the others. He stayed in the middle of the great circle of thindrink expelled from the blowholes of several in the pod. They all followed just below the curved wall of gas as it rose toward the top of the world.
Suddenly he sensed the multitude of frantic sustenance panicking in the bubble net and abruptly felt compelled to open his wide maw and engulf as many of the creatures as possible. Of its own volition, his tongue pushed the mass of water through the fibrous baleen filters ringing his mouth in layers. The rapidly expiring sustenance then became easy to swallow and he felt revived and exhilarated.
Although ignored, he was not driven from the pod. Therefore, he prospered over the long migrations from the place where water-becomes-rock to the warm place of little food and much mating. He observed everything around him and remembered all. Slowly he became aware that he was not only unlike the others, but separate and apart in his world.
He moved with them, fed with them, but did not sing or mate although he experienced those urges. Now Palff led them toward the cold water where sustenance teemed.
Some of their songs told of death from long-teeth many migrations ago. But more recent songs told the top of the world had turned to rock much closer to the old mating places than ever before in memory. All revolved around the great loss.
His mother had tried to explain the great loss, but cetacean vocabulary could not hold the concept. The thing he most vividly remembered was one of the last things she told him; we suffered much but gained more.
He followed the pod and slowly prospered, not understanding so incredibly much but learning more and more as the Humpbacks followed Palff north. Excitement grew in Thinker the closer they came to the frigid world. He wondered at this alien reaction since there was nothing in his current existence to match the feeling.
He realized he had much to learn.
In two cycles of the warm eye, he had grown into a young adult. Thinker knew the middle of the pod offered maximum safety from the toothed-ones in their world, and from the long-teeth that waited above.
As the Cea moved through the vast reaches of a mostly pacific ocean, Thinker’s mind turned over the imponderables that tormented him while the bull Cea sang the migration song.
The racial history of the Cea lived in their songs.
Events considered out of the ordinary by their author evoked new compositions. Songs that lifted above the average were repeated by others and sometimes were embellished in agreement or counterpoint. Repeated songs usually represented an event common to the memory of the entire pod.
After a time, other like events would be added to the growing medley. Each existed as a separate statement, but part of the greater paean. Some lasted many generations after their creator’s final dive.
Thinker comprehended more than even the most complex songs revealed. He searched for reason in a universe of liquid geometry and wordless melody, but it eluded him.
He continued his search as the pod moved north into waters growing colder and colder, and closer to the remaining long-teeth.
Noah’s mother lay wheezing on her deathbed. He sat next to her, feeling every twinge, pain, and new fear as her body slowly but resolutely shut down. He had learned much in the past seventeen years, but he had not puzzled out how to rebuild organs to grant longer life to anything, especially a human.
His fear measured close to hers. She feared death. He feared life without her.
All his life, she had been there to deal with the others on his behalf. He remembered the day in his eighth summer, half a mile from the village, when he had sat on a hummock and pictured an Arctic hare in his mind. Concentrating on the image, he pushed his mind as if avoiding rocks from his peers.
Come to me. Come to me, he thought.
Movement caught his eye and he looked up at the hare hopping down the hill towards him. More movement. More hares. Soon there were nine trembling animals fanned out before him within a hundred paces.
Pain! Shock! Suddenly one leaped into the air and came down thrashing with an arrow through its neck. The rest of the rabbits scattered into the landscape. Two boys rushed up to Noah.
“How’d you do that?” the larger boy demanded. “Can you do it again?”
“I, I am not sure how I did it,” Noah said. “Maybe I will try again later.”
The boys grabbed their prize and ran off toward the village.
Noah allowed himself to shudder. He had vividly felt the arrow pierce the hare’s neck, as he’d been in the hare’s mind when it was struck. He hadn’t been able to get out before it died.
He knew the village would be apprised of his new power within minutes. Point Hope wasn’t a large place, and everyone appreciated something new to talk about. They would want him to do it again, and again, and again.
Not three weeks later, as he studied the intricate construction of sphagnum moss, a rock came out of nowhere and glanced off the side of Noah’s head. The rock stunned him, erased his control and made his mind feel like mush. Balance fled as he fell to the tundra. He retched from the pain and humiliation as distant laughter echoed in his ears. They had already learned they could not catch him unaware if they were close.
And the thoughts he had heard over the years still swirled in his head.
He’s a runt.
What good is he?
Where’s his hair?
I always feel mean toward him.
He can’t even hit a target with a bow, let alone hunt animals!
I suspect he can’t even make good babies.
Some of the voices in his head had been there for over a decade, yet the attitudes toward him had not changed. The words and thoughts caught in his mind like fishhooks, replete with pain.
There were a few good memories.
“Noah,” Alexi Tuktoolik called. “Which direction d’ya think one should go to find game?”
They were both thirteen that year. Noah liked Alexi, who had never thrown a rock or felt ugly about him. So he thought about caribou and let his mind sniff mental wind. Nothing close enough to . . . there! But it wasn’t caribou. His eyes narrowed.
“Go that way, I think.” He pointed. “I feel–” he checked himself before going on. “It may be that musk oxen are over the second line of hills.”
“Musk oxen!” Alexi’s grin displayed strong teeth. “I hope your feelings are good, Noah. Thank you.” He hurried away to find his hunting partners.
Noah watched men depart with spears, bows and arrows. One carried a priceless rifle that would be used only if the prey threatened a hunter’s life.
This is good, he thought. Alexi would make meat today and he wouldn’t forget who told him where to look. Tonight, his mother, brother, and he would eat fresh musk oxen steak.
It pleased him to know that he brought in more meat than did his muscular, physically adept brother.
A few years after that they made Noah shaman by acclamation. That memory still gave him pride.
A week after the traditional hunt of a sixteen-year-old with his uncle, he sat in the men’s house as his uncle told the men of the village, “When I asked him where we should look for oogruk, he told me to follow. He led me many miles out to where the ice finally thins to water. There was a seal hole there.” His uncle took a deep breath, a sign of having reached the important part of his story. “And as Noah stood there, the oogruk came shooting out of the water and landed on its sunning shelf! Noah rushed forward and killed it with one thrust from his kakivak!”
Noah watched his uncle look around at the other men in the kashgee. They in turn regarded the hunter — knowing he would not say these unlikely things if they were not true. Then they turned as one and stared at Noah. An important thing had happened, and it was fitting to discuss on this day and in this manner.
This was the final and most important day of the Bladder Feast. The hunters who had killed sea mammals over the past year had carefully inflated and painted each creature’s bladder. For that was where the animal’s inua, or spirit essence, lived.
After sweat bath purification in the kashgee, the men performed the final ritual of the Bladder Feast. They deflated the bladders and returned them to the sea, pushing them under the ice so their inuas could return to their home. The deflated bladders would then become other sea mammals for the People to consume.
“This one is a shaman, surely,” Uncle said through the steam.
“How is one to know?” a hunter asked. “Who among us can remember the last true shaman?”
“My grandfather’s brother told me there was such a one here when he was a small boy,” a second man said. “But the gusiks had already sent their doctors to us. The old ways began to die when they made little gusik doctors out of our young men.”
Steam wrapped about the men. All went quiet save for appreciative grunts as pores cleansed themselves and heat penetrated to the marrow.
“We need one who can speak with the inua of our new-but-old world,” Uncle said. “That one,” he pointed to Noah “…can speak easily with the animal spirits. He can summon the beasts and make them understand they are needed for the People to continue living.”
The senior hunter moved toward the door to leave. He stared into the steam where Noah sat. “These things are true. Let us regard him as a special one. Even if there is none to train him, what have we to lose?” The pervading silence indicated agreement.
So Noah enjoyed more courtesy than normal, as well as respect and fear for his powers. He was a man. Almost…
His body changed and he felt physical frustrations previously absent or merely hinted at. He became increasingly aware of the emotional states of his parents. Solomon’s vitality decreased markedly month by month which frightened and angered him.
In response, Solomon exaggerated his lusts and vitality to fit what he remembered in his youth. When Solomon initiated “laughter” with Martha, he radiated anxiety, forced lust, and fear. Compliant as always, Martha enjoyed the encounters, even the ones that failed.
Noah felt it all and would become aroused to the point he would have to leave the house. He yearned for a female to respond to him as Martha did to Solomon. He watched the few girls his age, but none seemed aware of him other than as a joke.
Solomon’s health abruptly plummeted over the space of a week. Martha approached her son.
“Your father is very ill. Can you help him?”
“How, mother? What would you have me do?”
“Make his pain stop.”
“I’ll see what I can do for him.”
Knowing that his father not only didn’t believe in his abilities but also had sneered at them in the past, Noah did not approach him directly. He sat in the tiny kitchen where he had spent his childhood in fear and went into his father’s mind to find the source of that fear. He found things much worse than he’d expected.
Solomon knew there was something wrong, because his headache continued to intensify, and it seemed his heart rattled rather than beat. But he didn’t trust his son and would not ask him for help. Solomon knew there was nobody else who could do anything, which is why he was so terrified.
Even though the People called him “shaman,” Noah knew little about how the human body worked. He wasn’t sure how to look inside a person. Despite that he focused on his father’s debilitating headache and realized he could see his father’s brain.
A tide of emotions swept over him, awe, curiosity, fear, and superiority. Had he always been able to do this? He set those feelings aside and did his best to try and help his father. He wasn’t sure what to look for, but he focused closely and imagined himself walking across the pink surface of his father’s brain, jumping lightly over the fissures and bends.
A large, boulder-like form jutted from the surface and pressed against the hundreds of veins two and three deep lining the skull. The mass didn’t seem to fit the rest of the innerscape; it glistened oily white as it pulsed at a slower rhythm than the surrounding veins.
Noah didn’t know what to do, let alone how to do it. Solomon’s pain increased and Noah realized the white mass grew larger as he watched. He imagined he carried a tiny harpoon and stepped up next to the mound and stabbed it.
Instantly, blood inundated him like water from a broken ice dam. Solomon’s pain vanished as he collapsed back on his bed. The blood filled the skull around the brain and rapidly increased pressure on it.
The pressure continued to grow as his father’s brain slowly shut down. Noah frantically searched for a solution but didn’t understand what needed to be done. In awful solitude, Solomon Manaluk died as his son helplessly watched.
Noah pulled his focus from his dying father’s head. With tears running down his cheeks, he stared at his mother.
“His pain is gone, but so is he.”
“I thought that might happen,” she whispered. “Thank you for trying.” She went in to tend to her husband.
Noah couldn’t decide if he had killed his father or not. The fact he did not mourn the man’s death didn’t help his mental balance. Nicholas grieved and lamented his father’s passing, but Noah detected a degree of smugness in Nicholas, because he knew that he was now the head of the family.
Noah’s attraction to the village girls continued to grow.
At eighteen, the soft beauty of Flora smote him. She was somewhat larger than him, but who wasn’t? He followed and watched her while she did women’s work. His heart pounded with love and desire.
She saw him and giggled, more in embarrassment than any other reason. Still, she did not reject him out of hand. This gave Noah hope.
Others saw him and told her father, Old Nathan, of the shaman’s attention. Old Nathan had many children and grandchildren and he loved all of them, but Flora was his youngest daughter, therefore extra special to him.
He made a point to be near the shaman the next day.
“The People say you watch my daughter as a man watches a woman,” the old man said.
Summer warmed the tundra and short-lived wildflowers nodded and bowed in the constant scented breeze. Bright blue again filled most of the sky.
“Your daughter pleases my eye and warms my heart. I would speak to you about marriage,” Noah replied, smiling inside.
Old Nathan looked down at the diminutive boy with pity in his eyes. With steel in his voice he said, “Perhaps when you grow into a man.”
Instantly perceiving the cold distance in Old Nathan’s mind, Noah’s eyes flooded with tears, and he fled to the sanctuary of his mother’s kitchen. After a time, he again watched from the shadows, but he never spoke as a suitor again.
Therefore, Noah lived in his mother’s house. She constantly tried to integrate her strange son more fully into the close-knit fabric of village life. But his peculiarities created a stark contrast to the rest of the village and most people felt unsettled in his presence.
She also arranged his services as a shaman. Some, mainly those who had criticized her son in the past, paid more than others for his services. But once agreement was reached, she would tell her son what he must do.
When the wife of the junior umialik fell ill, the shaman was requested.
“Go make the umialik’s wife well,” she told him. “Her inua is not strong. She needs your help.”
As Noah edged into the umialik’s house the stricken woman’s mother and sister looked up from the bedside and hope filled their eyes. The wooden-faced husband watched the shaman carefully, as if memorizing his every movement.
Noah looked down at the woman’s sweating face, glassy eyes, and trembling limbs. Her tortured breathing seemed unnaturally loud. Uneasily, he felt death shadowing the room and the woman’s total surrender to it.
Quickly he probed her being, seeking leverage against extinction. He found nothing. Her inua lacked strength.
She not only accepted death; she welcomed it. She was tired of the constant work required of the wife of an umialik. For years her joints had ached like those of a woman twice her age.
She lost her only child to the wasting disease. Even though her husband was young and an umialik, sex with him was not as enjoyable as it had been with others. Death seemed inviting, a release of her inua so she could start over in another life.
With the death of his father fresh in his mind, he did not try to mentally adjust or manipulate any portion of the woman, but he admitted to himself that he had no idea what to do for her in either direction.
Noah found it impossible to convey her feelings to her husband without becoming offensive. Nothing he could do or say would change the outcome of this situation.
Without once visibly touching her he turned to the man and said, “I am sorry, but your wife is dying. There is nothing I can do.”
The two women began wailing. Noah left the grief-stricken whaling captain without comfort or further apology, ashamed at his incapacity.
The umialik instantly hated Noah, seeing only a shaman who had refused to extend his much-demonstrated powers. Being shaman was a double-edged knife. After all, they usually buried their mistakes.
The captain spoke with malice to the other villagers and found ready listeners.
Soon Noah came close to starvation. No longer did fresh fish appear in the passageway between his door and living space by those wishing him well. The People no longer gifted him portions of fresh seal or walrus. The People did not speak to him when he passed.
Feeling the People’s anger, he began to hate the People.
As the People shunned him, he pushed the game away. Hunters came back to the village empty-handed. The snowshoe hares eluded the snares, seals ceased appearing at breathing-holes in the ice if men waited, and the caribou took a different route. Even Nanook, the fearsomely respected polar bear, could not be found.
When hunters from Sheshalik visited, and found the People of the village near starvation. They gaped in amazement.
“Game is more plentiful than ever,” the hunters said. “The sun again reflects on the water. Have you offended an inua?”
The People reconsidered events of the past few months and decided that Noah had been wronged. The senior whaling captain, Nicholas Manaluk, accompanied by the widowed junior umialik, as well as the oldest trapper in the village, sat outside Noah’s house and called for him to come out.
“Noah Manaluk, we would speak with you,” Nicholas called to his brother.
Noah’s bald head gleamed moon-like in the shadowed opening as he pulled back his door.
“Do you wish to speak with the shaman, or kill him?”
“We wish to speak with you, Shaman,” the trapper answered.
“I bring you food, though I have but little,” the junior umialik said as he pushed a bowl of rancid blubber toward Noah.
Noah stepped out and sat on the ground in front of his door. “I would offer tea, but I have none,” he said.
“We thank the Shaman for his thought,” Nicholas said evenly. “But all we ask is that the shaman help us find meat. Since the, ah, misunderstanding,” he stopped and cleared his throat, “hunting and fishing has brought us very little game. We now realize we have wronged our shaman. We ask his pardon.”
As the other two nodded their agreement to the umialik’s words, Noah realized this was a very hard thing for his brother to do. The ingrained antipathy for his older sibling lessened a bit.
“The shaman holds no grudges,” Noah said, though it was not so. “I would be happy to use my gifts for the People.” His eyes squinted in the warm summer sun, and his voice fell. “But I thought I was not needed.”
“The People starve,” the old trapper said flatly. “Our lives are in the shaman’s hands. If the shaman would speak to the animals and ask them to return, he will be given a hunter’s share.”
“Caribou are moving this way. They walk on this side of the Kukpuk.” Noah nodded toward the river, flowing in a wide bend around the village before finding the ocean. He looked at his brother. “It would be good to put out nets at the mouth of the river, as the whitefish are many.”
Respect returned. People were careful not to offend him. He perceived their efforts and retreated from the everyday life of the village.
No matter their attitude, he was lonely.
The awful day came when his mother’s now-frail body could bear no more. Her decline worsened as he watched. Carefully he probed her being and could find nothing broken or damaged; her body had worn out.
He spent hours by her side, remembering past events and conversations. Her ever-present protection had given him the chance to flourish mentally if not physically.
His mother gasped, bringing him back to the awful present. She muttered something.
Noah bent close and put his ear to her mouth.
“Water . . .”
He quickly filled the cracked glass container from the bucket of drinking water and held it gently to her lips. She drank, and the ghost of a smile creased her lips. She eased back into her fading mind.
“You are a good son,” she whispered.
Abruptly he couldn’t find her. Her mental presence had dissipated like smoke from a dying fire.
“Mother? Mother can you hear me?” He spoke just to break the awful silence. He knew she couldn’t hear him.
He bent over her still form and sobbed, more frightened than ever before in his life.
What will I do without her?
The door opened and Nicholas walked in. Noah looked up with a streaming face. Nicholas frowned.
“Men do not cry when old women die. She had a long life, and she will be missed. Now come with me. You are needed.”
“Your mother just died!” Noah shouted. “Where is your respect?”
“The women will take care of her. You no longer have her to hide you from the world. Come with me, shaman. The village has need of your talents.”
Noah felt the disdain in his brother’s mind, but his only option was to follow him into the windy spring day.
* * *
Noah Manaluk hunched against the bitter wind to deny the elements his body heat and tried to ignore the slights still fresh in his memory. He’d have had an easier time forgetting about the wind than how his brother had acted after their mother had died, but he had a job to do, and he was going to do it. An old pair of precious binoculars hung ceremoniously around his neck despite their uselessness. The others had insisted the shaman accept the honor and take them for whale watch, even though they knew he had no need for them.
For weeks the tides and newly revealed spring sun wore away the pack ice and now the Chukchi Sea sparkled blue for miles. Errant floes dotted the frigid water, but for the third year in a row, the route to the feeding grounds lay open for migrating whales.
Since the time the stars fell on the gusiks, the whales had increased their population. For over a generation no factory ship plied the seas the way Noah had been told they once had to take what little sustenance the People could find. According to the oldest grandmother in the village, those long, hard years since had brought the sea to an approximation of the ancient days prior to gusik domination.
If the great nations of the Magic Age still existed, they no longer concerned themselves with the People.
How would it feel to have a star fall on you? Noah wondered before setting that thought aside for more immediate concerns. Would this be the happy moment he was recognized and rewarded for his abilities?
Would the young women of the village finally understand his worth beyond aiding the day’s hunt? Or would they continue to treat him with indifference and crude humor?
Where were the whales?
Motion caught in the corner of his left eye, and he recognized Ben Adams hurrying along the shore toward him, nimbly skipping over up-thrust chunks of pressure ice, something Noah wished he could do half as well. Noah cast out to sense the presence of anything other than young Ben. But he still sensed nothing.
“They’re out there! They’re out there!” the breathless shouts could be heard at fifty yards even though the wind blew his words off to the left. Ben skidded to a stop in front of the seated man.
“I saw,” Ben gasped for breath, his twelve-year-old chest heaving. “I saw a whale!” He turned and pointed back the way he had come. “Out there. Many, I think!”
As Noah squinted up at the boy, the wind snapped the wolverine trim of his sealskin parka out in front of his twenty-year-old face.
“I do not feel them,” Noah said. “How far out are they?”
“‘Bout half a mile, maybe more.” Ben peered back at Noah, trying to fathom the mind in that bald skull, and amazed that anyone could doubt his sharp eyes.
Noah left the boy’s mind in ignorance and let his gaze wander back out to sea. “That’s too far for me to pick them up. But if you’re sure they’re out there, go tell my brother and the other hunters.”
Ben’s smile flashed. In gratitude he whirled and sped toward the village. Noah concentrated, searching for a quickening in the cold water. Still nothing.
He glanced over his shoulder toward the village. Many of the older white-man-built houses long ago yielded to the elements or became too difficult to heat. So many of the People had returned to the wood and sod iglus of old. Men emerged from their houses and ran toward the walrus-hide umiaks waiting at water’s edge.
His eyes flicked around the horizon, focusing as a medium-sized gull caught his attention. He probed its simple thoughts of constant appetite before dismissing it.
Voices reached him from the village. Whale hunters arrived at the skin boats; their eyes sparkling and faces flushed dark with excitement. The crews quickly pushed their umiaks out into the icy water and vaulted over the sides to grab long-handled paddles.
“Have they come yet, Shaman?” asked Nicholas Manaluk, senior umialik, captain of the largest umiak, and Noah’s older brother.
“My mind has yet to touch them. But if Ben is correct, they will be here soon.” Noah paused, then added significantly, “With his eyes on the beach you didn’t need the shaman here to find them.”
“The People didn’t need the shaman to find them, but to bring them to the hunters.” The whaling captain turned and walked down-wind toward his umiak where it moved restlessly in the water, held by a single crewman.
Noah sat looking after the solidly built Nicholas for a moment and then grunted stiffly to his feet. Still small for an Eskimo, his slight body remained hairless. Even with a coating of seal fat on his skin, he constantly suffered from the cold. More than ever, he felt convinced of being born in the wrong place and to the wrong People.
Troubled in spirit and mind, still reeling with the loss of his mother, he glanced out and saw the waterspouts of whales clearing their lungs. Noah squinted, measuring with his eyes. The spouts only shot about ten feet into the air; he knew that bowhead whales usually spouted twenty to twenty-five feet.
This must be a Humpback pod. The frothy plumes revealed its location. Easy hunting today.
He shrugged and ambled down to take his place in the largest umiak to help his brother, the senior umialik, and his crew harvest as many whales as possible.
The pod slowed while the whales fed on the rich, fat krill in the cold waters. Thinker slowly became aware of the approaching long-teeth. They remained distant from him but closed on the outer ones of the pod.
A summons glowed across the far limits of his awareness. Thinker ceased feeding as wonder raced through him. There existed another mind in this universe — he had brushed it with his own!
But it lived among the long-teeth?
Curiosity overcame caution and Thinker’s flukes propelled him toward the summons despite its incipient menace.
Pain! Fear! Anguish! All cascaded through his mind. The long-teeth had struck their first victim while the rest of the Cea continued their leisurely feeding. The silent scream carried the impact of a physical blow.
The long-teeth struck from above the world. Would the one who touched him stand out from the others? Could he see the one with his weak eyes if he pushed up out of the world?
Working swiftly upward, Thinker broke out of the world and into the thindrink, his eyes wide and casting about. He saw brightness and a confusion of unreferenced images before his great body smashed down into the world again. Frustration washed over him, another alien thing to ponder over time.
Thinker felt the summons again, stronger now, closer. His mind tingled with excitement. How could he communicate? How?
~We need your flesh. We must take your flesh to live. Be not afraid. Your inua will be respected. You must come now.~
Startled, Thinker angled down and violently fluked into the depths away from the overwhelmingly compelling presence. In fright and awe, he drifted to a stop and hung motionless while trying to grasp this reality.
Slowly, carefully, Thinker sent his mind up and touched one of the long-teeth who rode the top of the world. Hunger and fear dominated all else. The mind remained unaware of his presence. Thinker touched another.
~What? Who are you? Where are you?~ It responded.
* * *
Searching for my inua? Noah wondered.
The umiak lurched as the harpooner struck again at the breaching whale. Gravely wounded, the whale unknowingly revealed its presence by the sealskin floats spiked into its flesh. The second attack pierced an artery.
Gouting blood steamed in thick red ponds on the crisp blue sea. The whale’s lungs filled with blood. Drowning in its own essence, it could not dive to escape the predators.
The crew of the umiak paddled mightily, running the skin boat onto the back of the whale. Grabbing a third harpoon the umialik leaped over the side of the boat and plunged the sharp, toggle-headed, steel point deep into the massive head, before violently jerking back on the shaft. The steel head snapped open to its fullest width, ripping even more tissue.
Blood fountained anew, showering the man. The great mammal shuddered and stopped moving.
“Eee-yah!” Nicholas Manaluk spun around as he shouted. He gave his crew a wide smile, while holding clenched fists above his head, stamping out a successful-hunter dance step on the whale’s back. He crowed, “We eat well this day!”
The crew returned his smile with happy laughter, save one — the strange one. Nicholas lost his smile as he focused on his brother. The shaman stared into the water with exaltation blazing on his face.
* * *
From the depths Thinker sent his mind into that of the long-teeth’s with a speed so great it pierced unperceived defenses like a narwhal horn. Images, knowledge, wonder, fear, pain, cold, and threat congested the long-teeth’s mental capacity. Thinker beheld fragments of images, a glowing seal, creatures unknown to him that swayed on two flippers on rock and gave his host pain and something quickly defined as anger. The awesome visions abruptly mixed with dread.
The long-teeth possessed reason. But they would kill all the Cea. They would take our essence!
This mind fears the Cea. This mind bites, seeking not ponderables but our flesh. These small beings would have us for sustenance?
Thinker filled his mind with question, then sent it lancing into the long-teeth.
* * *
Noah grabbed his head with both hands, trying to hold the presence still long enough to attain understanding. His fingers ripped down from his crown, leaving sparkling lines of blood in their wake. The insistence pulled at him, commanding, pleading, and smothering his ability to respond.
His appetite seethed with excitement to the point of incoherency. His inua fought through waves of amazement at this thing.
~¿Why? You kill us? Why? You would eat of our flesh? Leave us. We mean no pain to yours. Why do you seek to still our essence?~
“Wait!” Noah screamed. His eyes squeezed shut and his fists ground impotently into ears that heard no voice. “Let me answer you!” His two sides collided in haste and futility.
* * *
Thinker let his mind relax and received the mélange of impressions flowing from the long-teeth. He circled his dead pod member, waiting for reason to explain away his growing fear and new-birthed anger.
* * *
Nicholas Manaluk stared at Noah, feeling the hair on his neck and scalp rise. “What is happening?” he asked. The crew twisted around to stare at Noah.
“The shaman has never injured himself before!” Nicholas said. His brother always avoided pain, as well as toil, he reflected. Noah was the last of their father’s seed and coddled by their newly deceased mother. Otherwise, he would have perished many winters ago, freezing unprotected in the open, his mouth packed tight with smothering snow.
Suddenly Nicholas spied the great body circling the kill on which he stood. “My brother has brought a second whale to us!” Past transgressions and strangeness evaporated; Nicholas once again felt dazzled. He began to chant.
“What power our shaman possesses. There can be no other like him. How fortunate for our village!
“How proud his mother and father would have been! I am honored to have such a one for brother. Another harpoon, quickly! The shaman cannot hold the whale forever.”
* * *
Nicholas’ shout to the boat penetrated Noah’s consciousness.
Noah tore his mind from what he now realized was a whale, to stare at Nicholas as the umialik pulled the razor-edged, steel-tipped spear back in preparation to kill. His warring sides instantly coalesced.
”NO!” the hoarse scream skipped across the water. Men in other umiaks suddenly froze at their labors to stare at the shaman. “It thinks. It speaks to me!”
* * *
Nicholas Manaluk’s startled eyes flicked across the men in his boat and rested again on Noah. A vicious sadness swept over him as pride died and anger blossomed.
“This is too much,” he shouted. “My brother the shaman has finally walked on rotten ice. Bid it farewell, Noah.” He threw the harpoon with all his corded strength.
* * *
Thinker entered Noah’s mind again. Finding it easier this time — he knew the way. He witnessed the confrontation between the two long-teeth. They called themselves men, and knew before Noah that the killing tooth would bite.
Thinker rolled and fluked away from the threat. The killing tooth ripped across his side before falling into the world. Pain arrived, accompanied by realization and regret.
Thinker allowed this new thing, hate, to expand in his mind. It fed on the regret and realization that the Cea would always be sustenance to men. Nothing could change that.
If the Cea did not become food, the men would suffer for the lack. Their minds could only meet in mutual fear.
Thinker curved down under the drifting carcass of the young bull, concentrating on the blood-billowing pain in his side, allowing it to feed his growing malice. Moving his flukes in swift arcs, singing a new song, one of vengeance, he strained upward.
* * *
Noah screamed, fighting the slippery presence in his head. For a moment Noah followed the other, sliding into cool, pale, greenish-blue vistas of inviting liquid ponderables. But the harpoon sealed off access to that mindscape with pain and outrage, leaving hate for Noah and his kind.
* * *
Pulling the thrown harpoon up by the attached rope, Nicholas Manaluk moved to take the few steps back to his umiak, feeling fear here, not understanding exactly what—
The leviathan broke from the water in a great spray, rising impossibly up and up, blotting out the sun, throwing its towering shadow over the suddenly small umiak filled with men who gape, awestruck. As the whale began its remorseless descent onto the boat, Nicholas and his crew screamed out their fear and anger, knowing death in the hugeness falling on them.
* * *
Noah fought his way into the enraged mind of the whale, realized only one path remained if he wished to live. He filled his lungs with air and dove from the doomed boat. His heritage, his mind, his very soul rebelled at his choice. For the People did not swim.
Under the water Noah twisted about and saw the great body smash the umiak and crew between itself and the dead whale. Then it slid across the drowning and crushed crew to disappear into the depths of the frigid Chukchi Sea. Pieces of wood frame and paddles bobbed to the surface behind the immense body.
Men he had known all his life screamed through the water at their fate, at the whale, at Noah. Their dying hate for Noah tore into him, ripping at his wide-open mind. The raw emotion beat him into a mental numbness.
Noah cast about for the familiar aura of his brother. Nothing remained. Nicholas Manaluk, along with his disdain for his unmanly sibling, breathed no more. Noah felt emotional weight rise from his freezing shoulders.
He sank deeper. The numbingly cold water turned his clothing into deadly anchors. His lungs, wanting air, tried to spasm. His mind raced and he fought to shed his parka. Panic confused his wooden fingers and he pulled at the wrong lashings.
* * *
Thinker regarded the beings that fell struggling through his world. As he watched, each lost their essence. One didn’t need teeth to take essence — his body had crushed them, and their lungs could no longer function.
However, the one who jumped out of his way lost essence also. Why did he not rise to the top of the world and refill his tiny lungs? As Thinker probed for the answers, he realized that this was the one who had spoken to him.
The only thing that had ever spoken to him.
* * *
A deep-set eye in a wall of gray flesh regarded Noah in his struggles.
An image of himself being held above water snapped into Noah’s mind, a note of inquiry wafting about it.
~Yes!~ Noah’s eyes bulged with the intensity of his desire.
Thinker rolled under the man, noting the fear and panic that raced through the small, helpless creature’s mind, and lifted him into the thindrink. Thinker carried the man as close to the edge of the world as he could go before he stopped.
~You must swim the rest of the way by yourself. My world ends.~
Noah shivered violently in the stiff breeze. ~The water is over my head. I would drown.~
Thinker sensed the presence of many men who watched them from the rock-where-the-world-ended. ~¿Will not your own kind help you?~
Thinker heard the summons Noah sent; ~Jonathan, one would thank you for passage to the beach~. One of the surviving umiaks pulled alongside Thinker and Noah slid off the whale’s massive head and fell into the boat. Thinker noticed that none of the crew looked at Noah, or at Thinker.
Thinker let himself seep into the minds of some of the men. Singly and collectively, they struggled with abject terror. As the men pulled the boat onto the great rock, the Jonathan-man called for warm robes to be put on Noah.
“I will sit here,” Noah said, sinking down on the beach where he could look out at Thinker. “But I would also be grateful for some hot tea.”
The men nodded to Noah and all of them hurried toward their houses. Thinker rolled the concept of a house around in his mind, could not comprehend it. As Jonathan held the most terror of them all, Thinker lurked on the edge of the man’s consciousness.
“The shaman spoke to me!” Jonathan said, glancing over his shoulder.
“Many heard him ask for tea,” one of the others said.
“You don’t understand. The shaman spoke inside my head!” Jonathan tapped his forehead. “The shaman didn’t make a sound ears could hear.”
“What did the shaman say?” another asked as a third said, “That’s why you had us go to him, isn’t it?”
“Yes! The shaman said he needed passage to the beach. Has the shaman always been able to do this thing; speak inside our minds?”
The mates of the men hurried out from the houses. Thinker discovered they were called women. One of the women said Noah must be a witch.
The fear of the men and women increased. Thinker finally refocused on Noah. ~¿Why do your kind fear you?~
~Because I am the shaman.~
~¿Shaman is the same essence as witch?~
Noah jerked. He looked toward the village where the men and women all crowded into one house. ~Who believes I am a witch?~
~All of them.~
Noah’s mental focus weakened and abruptly disappeared as he felt for the minds of his own kind. In a few heartbeats he brought his attention back to Thinker. ~They thought to kill me as a witch.~
His thoughts carried something that Thinker found difficult to identify until he deftly wove through Noah’s mind and found the concept of “smugness.” He also uncovered mental pain from Noah’s past, and the inability of the whale to understand it was as disturbing as the fact that Noah nurtured the ancient anguish by reliving it. So many things to ponder.
~But I sent them great dread. They will not wish to harm me now.~
~There is much I do not understand,~ Thinker said. ~Men seem to be a confusion. But I sense symmetry in your thoughts.~
~We have much to discuss.~ Noah smiled and drank his tea.