In the Belly of the Whale
Truth or Death – Drilling the shell – ‘Excellence, we have a problem’ – Damned capewalkers – Nobody – Ling-ling shows her ankle – Kicking the can down the road – A pedestrian observation
Among the images indelibly painted across the mind of Tongkawa Jones is the classic mural of Departure Day, interpreted in latex and acrylics by Chastity Balakrishnan. It depicts the original Command Staff in a single scene, even though they had probably not all gathered at one time and place. Still, it had been an age that prized ceremony and grand symbols, and so they might have done, and what more can one demand of legends?
The eye is drawn by clever use of hue and shading to the central figure of the in-captain, Joannie Chao, first of her line. She had purview over the infrastructure of the Whale. The artist portrays her as regal and solidly built with a broad moon face. Her duty, as also that of her successors, would be to ensure that when the ship one day arrives at Tau Ceti, there will be settlers aboard sufficient to colonize a world. What use a successful transit if the Whale arrives a ship of ghosts?
Chao is painted a little right of center, facing left with mobile interface in hand, and appears to be touching off important items on the screen being told her by the Command Staff. In fact, this was almost certainly handled autonomously by the Operating Data Base.
Surrounding her are the Department Heads: the Commanders of Water, Carniculture, Eugenics, Maintenance, Surveillance, and so on. Their poses are noble and their miens serious, as people present themselves when conscious of their own greatness. They were the philosopher-kings of the Whalers, and their bright white uniforms are trimmed with gold.
Looking on from a mezzanine behind a single railing, stands a second group. Dominic Dhruva was the go-captain, in charge of all things dealing with navigation and propulsion. For what did it profit the voyagers if they thrived but never arrived? He is flanked by his Chief Astrogator, Chief Fusion Engineer, Chief String Engineer, as well as by sundry other commanders who cared for the handling of the ship. These are rendered more shadowy than the main group since, intersecting but little with the lives of the people they ferried, they were more remote and godlike.
Each Commander bore in his hands an icon of his duty. Agriculture holds her sheaf of wheat; Astrogation, a telescope. A double helix grows from the cupped palms of Eugenics; and so on.
Balakrishnan had painted them in a cyclorama around the Hexenplaza, where six travelways intersected on Twenty-Deck just abaft the midline. It wasn't quite in the orthocenter of the ship, but it was deep in its belly. From a certain locus in the plaza, viewers can experience the illusion that they themselves stand in the midst of that august gathering. Jones often delayed his arrival at his post to pause and contemplate the demigods. He did not regard his pause as a religious exercise, nor his contemplation as an act of prayer. He was not so self-reflective a person.
But today, a gesticulating crowd had gathered before the main panel, the one featuring Chao herself. Drawn by the hubbub, Jones ordered his buggy onto the parking apron so he could suss things out before the enforcers would arrive to disperse the crowd.
Someone had painted in bold red letters across the panel a defacing slogan: TRUTH OR DEATH!
The sacrilege so outraged him that it was not until much later, at his post in the Primary Astrogation Quarter, that he so much as wondered, “What is Truth?”