It was just an innocent creature, stranded on earth through no fault of its own. It had done nothing to deserve the torture and abuse it had been put through. Surely only humans would be so utterly inhumane towards something so gentle and peaceful, something that had never harmed a living soul.
But to Dale, his brother, and their associates, the Space Whale was nothing more than a cash cow, a convenient way to make some fast money. They didn’t care about its suffering, and they gave no thought to whether the meat they harvested from its body was even safe for human consumption. It was no concern of theirs that they could potentially be harming countless strangers in the name of greed and self-interest; all they could see was that an opportunity to get rich quick had effectively fallen into their laps, and they intended to milk it for all it was worth. ‘Selfish’ didn’t begin to describe them.
From the moment Jack heard about the captive whale being butchered alive, all he could think was ‘I know exactly how the poor thing feels.’ A year of torture at the hands of the Master meant he was uniquely qualified to empathise with the alien’s plight. He’d been held prisoner in chains and ripped apart repeatedly, only to heal so that the insane Time Lord could do it all over again; an experience like that couldn’t help but colour his perceptions. The thought of another living, possibly sentient, being enduring that kind of suffering sickened him to the depths of his soul, and his heart went out to it.
That was a large part of the reason he was so set on rescuing the whale. He wanted to free it from its prison, just as he himself had been set free, wanted to protect and care for it as it healed, wanted to restore its freedom and give it a chance to live the life it deserved. Surely that wasn’t so much to ask?
Perhaps he should have known better, but at the time, his need to save an innocent soul consumed him, kept him from thinking things through logically, pragmatically. One of the worst aspects of being the head of an organisation like Torchwood Three was that he had to be the one to make the hard choices, the life or death decisions. As much as Jack would have liked to be able to save all those who deserved to be saved, he had to weigh up what was desirable against what was physically possible. He knew deep down that he couldn’t always have things go the way he and the rest of the team wanted them to.
Looked at logically, dispassionately, saving a creature so massive and so horribly injured was a pipe dream. The whale would have needed a great deal of time and care in order to heal, if that was even possible considering what it had been put through. Surely it must have already used up a lot of its reserves in order to regenerate the flesh being mined from its body. They would have had to administer strong painkillers at frequent intervals, and provide large quantities of food to fuel its healing processes, although they still had no idea what it ate. It wouldn’t have been safe to leave it in its warehouse prison either, so they would have had to transport it to a place where it could be protected during its convalescence… Realistically speaking, they had neither the manpower nor the resources for such an undertaking.
As much as Jack hated to admit it, there had only ever been two possible fates for the creature; a lingering, agonising death due to its injuries as it thrashed about in a combination of fear, pain, and panic, or the more merciful option of euthanasia. In the end, no matter how much it grieved him, ending the whale’s suffering shouldn’t have been a difficult choice for Jack to make. It was the kindest thing they could do for a being that had already been forced to endure far too much.
But for once the choice wasn’t left to him.
After Owen administered the overdose of painkillers, Jack stayed by the whale’s side, one hand resting gently on its smooth, grey hide, until the great eye finally closed and one of the wonders of the universe breathed its last. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I wish I could’ve saved you, but maybe this is for the best. At least now there’s no more pain.”
That was small consolation; the whale’s fate was a tragedy no matter how you looked at it, because it never should have happened. It had been swept up at random by a Rift in time and space, stranded on an unfamiliar world, tortured for profit, and ultimately granted a merciful death when all it had wanted was to be out among the stars where it belonged.
It wasn’t fair, the whale had deserved so much better. Such a noble and majestic being should have been treated with wonder and awe by the people of earth. Its existence was evidence of the sheer diversity of life that existed in the universe, proof positive that aliens were real and that many were peaceful and intelligent.
As a race, humanity was obviously still too primitive and savage to be trusted with such knowledge; they couldn’t even live in peace with their own species, so how could they be expected to treat other species any better? Sometimes, Jack hated his distant forbears for their ignorance and for the callous disregard they displayed towards the rights of other life forms. He had to remind himself that enlightenment would come in time; no race of beings reached that level of civilisation overnight, it was always a long and difficult journey.
In a short while, only five people on the whole planet would remember that the Space Whale had existed at all. It would be as if the horrific events leading up to this moment had never really happened, just another bad dream like his memories of The Year That Never Was. As Jack set light to the Space Whale’s funeral pyre, he wept for the gentle behemoth, and for what might have been.