MOBY DICK IN SPACE
From a distance, the rings of Saturn appear to be knife-sharp blades encircling the cold, dead planet. But move closer, and the shape of the rings reveal themselves to be billions of asteroids and debris, held in tight orbit by the planet’s massive gravitational pull.
Rocks and meteors tumbling, turning, crushing, and crashing into each other a thousand times a day, particulate matter forever locked in concentric circles in the cold void of space. So much debris that it creates something like an atmosphere, a place where life might even exist.
A place where life does exist.
In the 22nd century, large space creatures were found living in the bits of debris and atmosphere within the rings. Thought to be mutated bacteria from waste vessels, with no natural predators the creatures grew and thrived within the rings. More importantly, their mutated life force contained a plasma powered by solar energy, which proved to a new source of fuel for intergalactic space flight. Much of humanity’s existence in the stars now depends on the hunt for these creatures, dangerous work carried out by criminals and androids who risk their lives to fly into the rings and hunt the beasts while heavy cruisers skim the surface.
They are called whalers.
Above the rings of Saturn cruises a spaceship, the Rachel. A small salvage vessel, searching for wreckage and abandoned goods that could be sold for scrap.
Inside the Rachel, Commander Gardiner is the only human occupant. Slick with the grit that accumulates after several days without a shower, she picks up a signal floating in the ring debris below.
A black box.
All starships maintain a black box or “log,” a data recovery system, that tracks everything that happens on board. Useful for insurance companies and financiers who keep track of what happens on their multi-billion dollar whaling ships.
Gardiner locks onto the signal from the black box. The transponder is damaged and doesn’t give the ship’s ID number. She sighs, puts on a spacesuit, and heads for the airlock to bring back the box manually. As a young girl on Titan she never dreamed she’d find a spacewalk normal, even tedious.
She locates the log and brings it aboard with no trouble. The box’s surface is scarred and beaten, as though it had been floating in the debris for a long time. Or had survived some kind of immense catastrophe.
Gardiner takes off her helmet and sits down at her workstation. Lit by the glum flourescent lights, she plugs in the black box and watches as it interfaces with her computer system. The black box hums as the computer comes to life.
Gardiner turns on an external screen and an identification prompt flickers to life: “Call me Ishmael.”
The rest of the story continues as follows in this brief synopsis:
The Pequod, led by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab, leaves spacedock from Titan, heading for the rings of Saturn. Ahab is obsessed with hunting down one of the alien creatures, a pure white beast that is altogether different from what the whalers are used to dealing with.
Ishmael watches and records everything that happens on board the Pequod: Ahab’s fights with his first mate Starbuck, the struggles of the android harpoon operators, and the crew’s desperate hunt for the white creature, leading to a deadly final confrontation.