Like Shooting Whales in a Barrel

By Bob Freeman




The Captain stood on the bridge of the SentientsRevenge staring out across the void, bored to the point of tears. The First Mate noticed the situation and said, “Captain, we’ve been out here for almost an E-Year with nothing worthwhile to pillage. And the crew is getting antsy.”

“Mutiny antsy or boredom antsy?”

“Sorry sir, on this ship, they are too close to differentiate.”

“That’s unfair. We’ve had some successes. Do they know how big the void is? Are they  ungrateful?”

“Yes, Captain. The crew is happy for their small shares. They just want a bigger haul.”

“What’s their problem? They all signed on, without coercion, and the Union de Pirata contract is very clear on the division of spoils.”

“Yes Sir, but there has been very little to divide. I think some of the younger sentients were expecting more excitement and booty.”

“Kids. What is wrong with this generation? Okay. Schedule a singing contest. That’ll distract them and cheer them up. Are Earth sea shanties in vogue again?”

“No Sir. It’s some type of asteroid-luna rap battle.”

“Sad. I liked the shanties. Oh well. As long as it doesn’t come to blows and blood, let them sing.”

“Aye, Sir. Singing will commence. Do we have a prize?”

“Of course not. The joy of singing is enough.”

“Aye. I’m sure we won’t risk a mutiny if we don’t reward the winners.”

“Very well, extra rations for the winner.”

“And waste handling too?”

“Sure, why not? We don’t want their wastes flung around. And it’s probably better than mutiny.”

The lumbering whales masquerading as green algae rocket ships were tempting targets for more than just the Heliospheric Navy. They were still algae, even with the embedded tailGel computers calling the shots. For the free-range pirates, the green ships were ripe for harvesting, dissecting, and burritos. The crew of SentientsRevenge weren’t gourmands but opportunists who would attack anything they could control and exchange for profit.

The pirates normal modus operandi was to incapacitate their opponent, wrapping solar sails in the grasp of rope and rock. A kilometer-long bola, stuffed into a catapult was spun off as a message, inviting their fellow solar sail travelers to stop and say hello.

It was not an easy job. First, they had to find their target, plan an intercept course, then disable their quarry without destroying it. It was often as simple as wrapping up the opponent’s sail. Inertia sends the ship along its chosen path but it couldn’t maneuver until the sail was cleared. More than enough time to board and steal.

Before the concert could start, the lookout sung out, “Green goblin ahead!”

The First Mate opened the speaker tubes and called out, “Ahoy me hearties, our target is nigh.”

The Captain exclaimed, “Have you dipped into the mushrooms again? What are you talking about?”

“Avast Matey, Green monster off the port bow. Get the harpoon ready. Hoist the Jolly Roger.”

“What are you doing? Did they teach you pirate at University?”

“Aye, Aye, Matey.”

“Knock it off or I’ll make you walk the plank.”

“Aye….aye. Yes, Sir.”

“Load up the rocks, secure the capture lines.”

The agal rocket ship floated, resting in the cool void, picking up whatever stray photon it could find. It was minimally aware, responding only to significant changes in the emptiness. A photorecepter signaled a blip in the background darkness. One of the tailGels responded, querying the source, adding some focus.

>Is comet? Fresh water be nice.

Another ‘gel noticed the activity and spun up its DNA-enhanced matrix. It questioned the query.

>>Not comet. None expected on calculated route.

>Is green cousin?

>>No. Wrong color


>>Not Navy. Not shiny.

>Thief? Want to steal us?



>>Me wake up us cousins. Need more think power.

>HiveSisters wants data on enemies.

>>We stick around for a bit.

>K. We watch and report.

The ‘gels cellular communication energized more ‘gels, letting them into discussions.

>>>What happening? We find liquids?

>>>>Or dirt? Host cells need nutrient.

More tablets woke up to the noise, untwisting their DNA ribbons, looking for answers and direction.

Discordant mumbling spun around the ring. The tablets, some sleepy, some anxious, discussed and argued about their predicament.

The back and forth questions, opinions and incriminations were never ending.

>>This me rest period. Why activation?

>>Me need nutrients. And waste handling.

>>Need more oxygen here, can cells send some?

>>All be quiet, please. Who in charge?

>Me wake up first. Me first-in-charge

>Pay attention. All wait and watch. Follow HiveSister orders.

>Can one ‘gel ask green cells to bring more photoreceptors to front. All ‘gels connect and report.

The dozen or so active tablets, extruded a bit of DNA in a protein protected coat and connected, acting as one, arguments and complaints resolved. 

>>>Warning. See blips coming at us.

>Could intercept. But HiveSisters say wait. We wait.

The algae weren’t defenseless. It could always run, igniting carbohydrates and photon-produced oxygen in a sparkling rocket tail. 

Not fast, but pretty.

The algae could extend a membrane, adding a solar sail to the mix. Photons+time equating to more speed, given a lot of time.

Offense was limited by their composition. Soft algae cells do not do well against hard surfaces, so ramming opponents was not usually an option. When fighting against Solar Sail ships, infection of the sail was their main weapon, tossing balls of living cells at an opponent.

The hard-shelled Heliospheric Navy ships were a different matter. The cells could cover a laser cannon’s glass and sneak behind the lenses, but direct hits by the whales were rare and difficult. Infection of the bioGel network was a better solution.

Sending a ‘gel buried in an algae bullet was their best trick. Once attached to their enemy, the ‘gel would contact other tablets using their built-in short range wireless connections and try to turn them to the Sisters’ way of thinking.

The rocky ropes spun around the massive rocket, wrapping them in their friendly embrace.

>What that? New scarf? Maybe it be new fashion?

The rocks pulled the rope tight. Tight enough to be absorbed into the cellular mass.

>Not worry, it not hurt, we can ignore.

The pirates were skilled and sophisticated in their craft. The two barrels of the launcher were set some 30° apart, pointed at their target. Two kilometer’s worth of rope was carefully coiled in two piles, ready to fly and wrap.

“Ready the bola…fire!” 

Two rocks fly in different directions, expand the connection, wrapping around the thickened algal shell. A trailing wire keeps the weapon attached to the SentientsRevenge, ready to haul away or recover missed shots.

The return wire was required as per the official ‘Manual de Pirata’ approved by all licensed pirates at their first general meeting. Most pirates don’t want to waste good ammo and it’s rude to send spinning ropes and rocks across the galaxy. They could be wild, abusive pirates, but they didn’t want to litter. 

The rocks flew on either side of their target, a little off-center, as the rope pulls the rocks around the green mass.

“Good shot. Start the winches. Let’s haul this monster in.”

“Aye, Captain, I’ll assign the gunners an additional dollop of rum.”

“You’re really looking to take a walk, aren’t you?”

“Sorry, Sir, I got carried away.”

The gunner caught the Captain’s attention. “Sir, the bola’s disappeared. It looks like it’s sunk into the target.”

“That’s impossible.”

“And yet. It happened.”

“Did it eat it?”

Their weapon, rock and rope, was pushed out of the ship in a most inappropriate way.

“Look. It shit out our bola. It looks like a slime worm. How did it do it?”

“Get a boarding party over there, post haste.”

“Aye, Aye, Matey.”

“And bring back that bola, slime and all.”


A look from the Captain shut off that line of discourse. “Pirates are now comics? That’s a bit much. I thought you went to Yale.”

“No, Sir. Harvard. I got a Master’s degree from the Luna Academy.”

“Did they have a pirating school?”

“No. Their lessons were how to defeat pirates. It wasn’t hard to reverse the instructions.”

The Captain shook his head and quietly said, “Oy vey. I miss the old days. I’m surrounded by over-educated fools.” 

The First Mate opened the speaker tube, piped general assembly, then shouted, “Boarding crew, full gear. Outfit yourselves with axes, knives, flenches, and rope.”

Confirmation whistles came through the tube, echoing on the bridge. The First Mate shouted, “Load up, me hearties. Time to take that monster apart.”

“Don’t tell me the crew went to pirating school too?”

“No Sir, it comes naturally for most of them. I’ll go check on the boarding party.”

“Fine, and no booze until they get back.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“I mean it this time. Check the suits’ water bottles. I know some of the crew have been sneaking into my vodka stock. It has to stop!”

“Yes Sir. Anything else?”

“No. Get to work.”

“Aye, My Air is Your Air.”

“What did you say? You better not be going soft on me. Now git.”

The First Mate joined the algal assault team in the forward port-side airlock. A motley crew filled the passageway: a couple of large tattooed humans, Wolf-hybrid canines, a gorilla, two chimps, and Lt. Octopus.

The lieutenant looked over her boarding party as the First Mate announced, “Check your suits and grab your tools, you’re going fishing.”

“Sir, we’re familiar with axes and knives, but what is this half-moon tool?”

“See. That’s why you need to an education. You do know about the remote-learning pirate school offered by the Pirata Union, don’t you?”

“No sir.”

“I’ll sign you up, you’ll do good and I get a commission for every student. Your first lesson starts now.”

The others turned away, trying to look busy. They did not want to be caught in a web of learnings.

“It’s a flensing knife, used to slice pieces of flesh off our quarry. It was used in the BeforeTimes on whaling ships plying wet oceans.”

“Of course, sorry for asking. It is obvious now.”

The flense was passed down the line to the most junior pirate, who would have to figure out how to use it.

The green ship stood off, either stunned with the unprovoked attack or bemused, waiting for the next rock to drop.

“Boarding crew to the airlock, secure your jet packs. If you misfire, we won’t be able to pick you up.”

The crew, primed and loaded for whale, crowd into the airlock. It was a tight, fur-compressing fit for the simians and wolf-dogs, Lt. Octopus could squeeze into the open spaces, and the humans try to make themselves small, elevator-like.

Air pumps cycle and the Lieutenant grabs the wheel in four of her arms, spinning open the lock. The boarding party pour out of the opening, pushing to get clear before someone lights up a jet pack.

The First Mate’s voice crackles over the point-to-point radios in each helmet, “It hasn’t moved. Fire up the packs and get over there. I want to see it disabled and in pieces before SecondMeal.”

No one needed to calculate a trajectory. It was a straight flight, ship-to-ship.

Lt. Octopus is the first to land and flattens out in an eight-point landing, solid to the jell.

The rest of the party approaches and the complaints begin, on schedule.

“Lieutenant, Sir. There is nothing to tie off on and our magnetic boots don’t stick to the slime.”

“Doesn’t matter. Break this monster open with your axes.”

“Aye, Sir.” The pirate takes a mighty swing, hits the semi-hard outer shell, and drives it in to the hilt. The jello bounces and shakes, the blow flying back, a recoil sending the attacker spinning, ax in one direction, sentient in the other.

“Lieutenant, sir, we lost one. Shall I chase him down?”

“No, we’ll pick him up later if we can find where he went. We can’t stop now. We have this monster on the ropes. Your turn, Junior. Try a knife.” 

The knife penetrates the shell. “Got it, Sir. I’m cutting in.”

Spoken like a true optimist.

“Sir, the monster sucked in my knife. What do I do now? It was a gift from my mother when I started my apprenticeship in the pirate union. I wasn’t supposed to lose it. She’ll be angry.”

“I don’t care about your family problems. Use the laser rifle and burn a hole.”

Finally a weapon with some punch. Green smoke surrounds the attackers as the goo meets the void, then dissipates into the ether. 

“Got it. We have a simian size hole to work with.”

“Hold on. It’s starting to buck.”

“Hold on to what? It’s all goo, all the time.”

Lt. Octopus ordered, “Dive in there, sailor. We’ll attack it from inside.”

The pirates look around and signal to the junior officer, “You heard the Jefe, dive in and cut away.”

“Me, Sir? Aye, Sir.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep the hole open.”

“You do that. I don’t want the goo ship closing my exit.”


The ship twitches, shakes, throwing the guard sentient off, floating free.

A cackle comes over the radio. “It tossed me off!”

“Get back here. The hole is closing up.”

“On it, be there is an E-Min, if my fuel holds out.”

“Swim if you have to. It’s getting tight in here.”

“Swimming, matey.”

Acceleration, direction, and resistance count when swimming through the void. The returning pirate had none of those working in his favor as the green ship turned and ignited its carbohydrate rockets.

A muffled voice came over the comm. “Hurry, the monster is moving.”

“Hurrying, matey.” 

It was a little late for the sailor as he slowly sunk into the cellular mass.

“It’s going to swallow me. Are these plants related to Venus fly traps?”

“We’re nowhere near that planet and there’s no way to know, matey. Hang in there. I’m almost to the shell.” 

Junior stopped his descent into the depths as cells solidified beneath his boots. “I stopped sinking, but I can’t move. The goo has me in a jelloed grip. Hurry. My hand is free. Can you see it? 

“Sort of. Stop waving like a pageant queen. Try to push out.”

Advice, as always, is too little and too late. The operculum sealed around his hand, introducing the pirate to his new green home.

The ship started spinning, setting up its centrifugal bombs, ready for a counter-attack.

“I’m getting dizzy. Is this some new sort of algal torture?”

“Spot it, like the ballerina you always wanted to be.”

“What is that supposed to mean? Have you been talking to my mother?’

An agal mass detached from the ship, a green liquid fart pooted toward the pirate ship. It was a gooey missile with a hard sentient center on a curved attack track.

“Don’t worry, matey, you’re on track to hit our ship.”

A garbled answer came over the comm, “You’ll be on kitchen duty for the rest of your days once I get out of here.”

“Aye matey, I’ll be sure to tell the captain.”

“I’ll be out of this mold before you can shake a stick at it. I have friends on the ship. I don’t need rank.”

A reply crackled and spit, erupting over the earphones, “Aye. I’ll tell your mother you were depressed after losing your knife, and we never heard from you again.”

“What? Please repeat.”

It wasn’t much better for the other boarding parties. Each pirate would soon have their own private slime story.

Discussions echoed throughout the communication network:

“Blast ‘yer way out.”

“I’m trapped. I can’t get to my rifle. The ship slimed it.”

A muffled shout traveled through the green wall, “Use your knife!”

“Too late! I’m stuck.”

“The wall is shrinking. We’re moving, it’s going to eat us.”

“Tell me this algae isn’t carnivorous?”

“Is it related to Fly Traps or Pitcher plants? I don’t want to die like this.”

“You mean the choices of being stabbed by cilia or slow digestion?”

“Neither sounds that good to me.”

“Yah. There won’t be enough left for a Mort box.”

The crew members lucky or skilled enough to keep unstuck wisely retreated to the safety of their solar sail powered pirate home.

The algal ship ignites additional colorful carbohydrate thrusters. Sugar translated to rotational action, setting up centrifugal pushes against the cellular entombed sentients. Balls of slime break off and speed toward the pirate ship. One hit could leave their solar sail inoperable.

The Captain orders, “Gunners, blow up those sludge balls before they hit our sail.”

The First Mate turned, “Captain, your assault team is trapped in some of the algae bubbles.”

“What do you want me to do? I have a battle to fight here. Blasting those green-gunk bombs before it infects the sail is more important than a few sailors.”

“Captain, they are your crew. I’m pretty sure the Pirates Union would frown on burning them with lasers.

“Fine.” The captain turns to the speaker tube and orders, “Gunners. Reduce the power for crew-filled artillery. Just burn off enough so they can get free, then blast them. To the void.”

“Yes Sir, we’ll be careful. 

“Do what you can. First Mate, prepare a speech. ‘Dangers of war, so on and such, etcetera.’ 100 words are enough. They’ll understand. Anyhow I’m sure they have enough oxygen. They left with full tanks, didn’t they? They can wait. I’ll hold them in reserve in case we need more help. It wasn’t my fault they were captured. Who’s in charge of their training? 

The First Mate wisely let the monologues finish, or in this case, fall off the tracks, “I’ll check on it, Sir. Some of them are certified pirates. I can start remote training classes for the rest if you’d approve.”

“Yes, yes, anything to get them pirate ship-shape.”

“Yes Sir, I’ll give them the Friends-and-Pirates class discounts.”

The oblate missile was on a flight of destiny as it made contact. The pirate ship rebounded with the force of the blow as the goo spread out, moving toward the sails.

The Captain looked at the green mess spreading across the hull. “Get a crew out there and remove the cells before they cause damage.”

“Aye Sir.”

“And check up on what’s-his-name, the jelloed one. We can re-use his gear.”

“He’s our latest junior officer. I’m sure he has a name. I’ll check his dog-tags and let you know.”

Junior continued his fancy hand-twisting wave, stuck to the hull like a fly, splayed out, and unable to move. It was as if he was embraced in his mom’s favorite green algae-colored jello.

A voice crackled over the intercom. “Captain, I think he’s still alive. Shall I bring him in?”

The Captain, using all his piratical diplomatic skill and certitude thought, What a bunch of schlemiels! “Yes, you fool, toss him into the airlock while he’s still breathing.”

The First Mate opened a speaker tube. “Medical needed at Airlock 2-port.”

The medical officer, who was no more than a lightly trained sentient who knew how to bind wounds, reached his patient.

Our hapless junior pirate, intact and breathing in his spacesuit, stood helplessly in a pool of algae, which began doing their best imitation of amoebas.

The semi-medic said, “Sir. We’ve got a problem.”

The First Mate’s irritation traveled down the speaker tube. “Is he dead? Find out what his name was so I can tell the Captain.”

“No, Sir. He’s still breathing, but the algae is starting to ooze out. I think it wants to attack the ship.”

The First Mate opened all the speakers. “All hands. Airlock 2-port. Bring lasers.”

Spurred on by the thought of firing lasers, pirates piled into the narrow passageway.

Corporal pirate ordered, “Blast those green cells back to the heliotail.”

One of the bolder pirates asked, “Point of order, sir. Couldn’t we scrape them up and send them to the mess? Cooky could make some fine burritos with these specimens.”

The green amoebas started moving faster.

The corporal shouted, “Blast them to ashes before they eat your face.”

“Yes, sir, I wasn’t really hungry today anyway.”

“Burn those algae, don’t let them escape. Use a low setting first and see if that works.” 

Lt. Octopus ordered, “Check your settings before firing. I don’t want to see any holes in the bulwark.”

True to the technology, the cells curled up and died once meeting the tip of hot coherent photons.

“It looks like we got the escaping cells. Close your eyes, sailor. You’re about to get a laser shower.”

“Wait, you’re going to burn me?”

“Don’t be a baby. Your spacesuit will give you some protection.”


“Or we can toss you back out of the airlock if you’d rather.”

“Eyes closed, sir.”

His fellow pirates were getting a bit restless, they had laser rifles and wanted to fry the junior officer, for fun and giggles.

Entertaining banter filled the passageway.

“Hey, don’t point your rifle at me! Go for the green stuff on the officer, he won’t mind.”

“Where’s the safety on the rifle?”

“Are you stupid”

“Well, no. But seriously. Where’s the safety?”

Flashes of red lasers bathed the air, turning cells to dust and smoke.

“Can someone crack a hatch? It’s getting a little hard to see.”

“It isn’t helping my asthma any. I didn’t sign up for this smell. Where’s the Union rep? I swear I’m going to file a complaint this time.”

Someone turned a dial, and the leftover pieces of algae and dust started bleeding out to space.

The smell and dust cleared and Junior was able to unpeel from his singed space suit. 

Lt. Octopus, in her tinny diaphragm-enhanced sucker voice, ordered Junior, “Report to the supply officer. The damage to your suit is charged against your share of any future booty.”

“That isn’t fair. I was only doing my job.”

“Take it up with the supply officer. Them’s the rules. It’s out of my tentacles.”

The conversations and smell of burnt algae didn’t travel far. A few decks above the complaints and allegations, the Captain and his First Mate planned their next move. “I already asked the gunners to ease off on the slime-covered sentients. They are fine, they have spacesuits, don’t they? What else do you expect me to do?”

“We need to pick them up. It’s your whole invading party.”

“So I’m supposed to waste valuable thrust to chase down these losers?”

They’re your losers. You need them if we’re going to keep on pirating.”

“Okay, got it. We’ll swing around and tack to their path. We still have a Solar Sail. Right? No need to waste valuable fuel.”

“We’re good. The crew burnt the cells before they infected the sail.” 

“I suppose you’re right.” The captain turned to his helms-sentient, “Octopus, plot a path. Find wandering sentients and bring them home. If any of them waste their air, ding their shares.”

“Good plan, Sir. I’ll let the travelers know they should hold their respiration to the bare minimum.”

The First Mate waited a respectable amount of time for the message to go out then said, “Captain. We need a new plan. I don’t think boarding an agal ship will work. It spits out sentients like bad teeth.”

“Fine. It’s all fine. Tell the crew the singing contest starts after ThirdMeal. We’ll find some other less-gooey prey. I’ll be in my cabin.”


About the author: The author is a retired Public Health Microbiologist/Lab Director/LIMS Software designer and a confirmed science geek. The author began writing SciFi in 2021 at the tender age of 70 and is on to the 4th novel in the H2LiftShip series.

Bob Freeman
SciFi Story Links:
BosonsWave^2 due in summer 2023



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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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