Skywhales – the story
High above the mist shrouded planet of Perle drift the floating cities of the Perlians. From a distance they give the impression of being built upside down since the buildings are set into a great growth of vegetation like an inverted forest. These closely interwoven plants synthesise a lighter than air gas which is stored in their trunks and pods, and it is upon this mass the cities are built. At one time the Perlians must have been great craftsmen creating beautiful structures out of wood and the honey¬combed stone which can be gathered from the few mountains which break the cloud layer. Now, however, the buildings are decrepit and run down and the people of Perle have reverted to a primitive borderline existence.
Nilbul is a hunter. He lives with his family in a shack on one of the main tree trunks close by a noisy main road. He is getting old and his next hunt will be his last.
The day of the hunt arrives and Nilbul leaves his home, bidding fare¬well to his wife and young son. On the way to the boat dock he encounters a procession of Perlians chanting and wailing. In the lead are a man and a woman with wide staring eyes that see nothing. They seem like sleepwalkers. Nilbul sees that their skins have turned blue and knows that they are in their last life-stage, they are going to the Temple at the centre of the city. There they will leap into the great Death Well and join the Blessed ones in Paradise. Nilbul stands with head bowed for a moment then goes on.
The whaling boats are constructed on an air-raft of floating pods and powered by light steam engines. The look-out on a tall pylon starts to cry out, the Sky Whales are coming! The airboats are launched and speed into the tight packed school of whales, great graceful creatures with huge wings, honking and hooting as they make their seasonal migration.
The battle is brief but bloody, the whales do not defend themselves but even so one boat is tipped over in the confusion and plunges down into the mist. Nilbul harpoons a fine beast and the boats drag it back to the city before the buoyant gas which helps keep it afloat escapes from its tissues.