Author’s note: Updating less frequently with a higher word count obviously didn’t work, so I’m going to try going back to the previous schedule. Updates every two or three days, with about a thousand or so words each time. I’m writing largely in my Moleskine, by hand, so it takes a certain amount of time to get all the words down on paper. My current notebook is dedicated just to this effort, so I don’t want to put down too many words in Pages alone.
On an editorial note, as I was typing this section I already had ideas for what I want to do in revision, and how I want to eliminate/change a lot of the explanatory text that right now might seem a little long-winded. As always, this is the rough first unedited draft. Thanks for reading.
Mellira explored the Twilight while Janus slept. Most airships shared the same design elements, although the layout varied from ship to ship. The body of the airship was attached to a light steel framework that held the nacelles via several superstructures along the length of the deck. The engines were at the aft port and starboard sides, with the engine room running down the last central quarter of the body to aid in stability. Crew quarters took up hull space by the engine room, with the kitchen generally being forward of the engine room. The middle and bow sections contained cargo or passenger space, and occasionally extra engines as in the Drake.
The modern airship stayed in the air through a miracle of science. At the beginning of the 19th century, the whaling industry was in full swing, and business was booming. One of the dangers in whaling came from the squid species Architeuthis Rex, colloquially known as krakens. Monster cephalopods, they often grew to the size of their main prey, sperm and right whales, with tentacles strong enough to rip the masts from whaling vessels. In 1823 the Lucky Patriot was attacked and severely damaged in a kraken attack, but killed the kraken in the process. The beast was brought back to Boston, where it was dissected and studied. One of the scientists, William Rensher, discovered purely through accident that the fluid used by the beasts to control their depth, when mixed with common preservative chemicals, created a gas with tremendous lift capability. The gas was also highly toxic, however.
The mixture soon replaced heated air in pleasure balloons, and the first airships evolved not long afterwards. Kraken hunting was extremely dangerous, and the first ships to succeed became wealthy. Even a small amount of the “lift juice” produced a huge volume of gas; a benefit when three out of four kraken hunters came back empty handed, or simply never returned at all.
Mellira was curious and inquisitive, and took her time going into every nook and cranny on the ship. Unlike sailing vessels, airships had no need for bilges, so the cargo holds generally used as much space as possible. The engines put off a huge amount of heat, and to counteract the colder temperatures at high altitude each airship used a system of pipes to shunt the heat through the ship.
Mell pushed through a door in the hold, and was surprised to see the sikh’s guards playing chess. They were in the middle of a conversation, and silence fell immediately. Their captain – lieutenant, she reminded herself – stood up and approached her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude,” she said. She moved to back out of the room, and the lieutenant stopped her with a light touch on the arm.
“Please wait. Allow me to walk with you.” His English was flawless, only slightly accented. She nodded, and led the way back to the deck.
“My men are not used to the flying. I find that being away from the open sky helps to keep them calm. So we play chess to pass the time. You are Mellira, yes? I am called Fasim.”
“It’s nice to make your acquaintance, Fasim. Your English is very good.”
“I studied at Oxford for several years. I had to become fluent very quickly, and lose as much of my accent as I could, to avoid the joking and laughter.” He carried himself as she expected a soldier would, noting his surroundings with a watchful eye even as he told her of Oxford. His father was wealthy, and sent his son to study literature and military history at one of the finest institutions in the world. Fasim had joined the sikh’s guard upon his return, and although he was offered an officer’s position he chose instead to start at a trooper’s rank. Mellira watched him as he talked; if he was nervous at all he hid it well.
“I was promoted several times, pleasing my father each time he heard of my advancement. This mission is my hope for a captain’s rank, and I assure you, my men and I will do everything in our power to capture Mr. Slyne and retrieve the gold he has stolen. If it became common knowledge that Marrakesh lost her treasury, we would be under constant attack by those who perceive us as weak.”
“Of course, that sounds reasonable. As the sikh’s men, I wouldn’t expect anything else of you. As part of Captain Janus’ crew, I wouldn’t expect anything else of us, either. Ruther did after all steal our livelihood. I imagine that there’s already been talk of the many gruesome things we’ll be doing to Mr. Slyne to make him regret his decision to commit grand piracy.”
Piracy, Ms. Mellira? I am not sure I understand,” said Fasim.
“He stole vast sums of gold, as well as an airship. It’s the airship that makes it piracy, you see. There have been many glorious songs written about pirates, and most of them involve gold and ships. Airships are ships; therefore piracy,” Mellira explained.
“I …see. Were most of these pirates not hanged, or am I mistaken?”
“No, you are entirely correct, Mr. Fasim. The ultimate fate of any pirate is to hang from the gibbet until dead. All the best piracy songs leave that part out. The last infamous airship pirate, Captain Red Rob Bart, died in excruciating pain after the American Air Fleet blew holes in his nacelles and the toxic fumes consumed his lungs. He was too arrogant to wear a gas mask in combat, and paid the ultimate price. His ship went down near Baltimore, with all hands aboard.” Fasim looked ill, and Mellira grinned.
“Don’t worry. We have enough gas masks for everyone. You and your men will be safe,” she said. “Just remember to breathe. A mask is helpful, but too many people panic and forget to breathe naturally while wearing one.”
“I will try to keep that in mind, thank you.” The lieutenant took several deep breaths and appeared a little less green. Mellira decided that she liked the man. He appeared competent, highly intelligent, and very obviously cared a great deal about doing his job correctly. Qualities to be admired in any man, much less a professional with a gun who might well safe your life. They stood quietly for several minutes, watching the clouds pass, before Fasim broke the silence.
“You will forgive me, I hope, but I must check on the men. They can be as children at times, requiring constant supervision. Perhaps I will see about coffee at the galley, as well.”
“Men will always be like children, Mr. Fasim. I’m afraid that for some men that will never change. As for coffee, tell the cook not to be stingy with the beans. I’ve grown to like your strong Marrakesh coffee, and this morning’s batch was weak.” She grinned, and he returned her smile.