Out of the Frying Pan
April 16, 2012
Today’s update is for Out of Thyme, that steampunky novel I’m trying to write. Today, our hero arrives at The Vega. I like it a lot, and it’s growing in my mind still as to what it is. Well, other than a bit of Vegas turned up to 11.
More will come in time. I’m still trying to get my writing legs back and my weekend was pretty awful for it. That’s why today’s post is, well, really late.
Hope you do enjoy it, though. It’s a little awkward writing right now but I did my best. I’m still trying to get a replacement monitor for my normal laptop so I had to transfer everything to Google Docs. Though it does give me more flexibility on where to work on it, the speed I have to type at is getting kind of annoying.
Anyway, on to the story!
The desert air seemed to draw all the water from my skin despite skimming past the ship I was on at close to six knots. It was a small dirigible that docked in Phoenix, so the trip to The Vega would only take four hours. The ship itself was a nice thing, a simple body slung beneath a bulging air envelope crisscrossed with strapping ropes and netting to keep the little boat attached. The simplicity, while marvelous, was also a downfall out here in the dusty air of the south-west of the New World. I was swaddled like a Bedouin merchant in flowing white gowns and capes with a silk mask wound about my face and tucked under my hat. When we had started out I had been wearing my normal clothes beneath it all but halfway through the trip I had retired to my small cabin on the ship to strip off my shirt and vest. Feeling the wind flow over my chest was thrilling, surprisingly, and it caused me to understand the whole reason behind the flowing white gowns worn in Arabia.
After I changed, the trip was rather pleasant. The desert itself has a majestic rust color between patches of green hills and a few flowering fields. While many of the stories of this part of the world talk about the majestic landscape, few mention how green it can be despite the lack of water and the oppression of the sun. There were carpets of cacti, beautiful seas of red and white flowers, and even forests of twisted yet stunning trees reaching toward the sky. The desert itself, when the plants vanished, stretched out in wide belts of rust-colored sandstone. Ground dirt that shifted slowly in the wind. It was a barren, lonely place. A place set outside of time, outside of reason, and watched the world march past it. Flying above the desert, circling lazily over hundreds of miles of land, was the great airship resort and casino. The home to some of the most ostentatious stage productions, the most outrageous hotels, and the most complex bars. It is also the last and greatest work of one of the craziest Magi in history, the madman Charles LeVante.
The whole edifice defies imagination. I’ll try my best to describe it for you but the wonder, the majesty of seeing it in person can never be wholly committed to the page.
Starting on the bottom, the Vega is built from a long and shallow structure of ducts and undulating metal wings that carve the air patterns in the desert into propulsion for the craft. As well, the ducts are filled with paper-thin fans that turn miniscule turbines to generate electricity aboard the ship. The fans are built from Victorinium and through a miracle of engineering, rarely require service. Still, most of the undercarriage requires some sort of maintenance constantly and is crawling with men and women in grease-splattered coveralls either attached with magnetized boots or chains attached to grappling hooks that snap onto the maintenance rungs beneath the airship. They constantly dodged deluges of sewage, the rustling of thousands of tons of steel and aluminium around them, and the pull of the wind turbines as they repaired the bottom of the gondola.
Above the ducting layer, there’s the beginning of the gondola. Planks of oak and redwood, long as ancient trees, were held together by some unseen bonding agent. No nails marred the surface of the ship at all and the ends seemed to be fused together without any buckling or warping that accompanied glue. Every forty-two feet there was a large wooden door for the maintenance team to get to and from the bottom of the ship. Twenty feet above the line of doors there was a band of glass, stretching all the way around the ship, and from then on it was striped like that every fifteen feet with the occasional jut of pipes like a line of spikes, some for disposal of fumes, others cannon in case of sky pirate attack. At two hundred feet, the deck blossomed. Buildings forty stories tall were constructed atop the deck as if it were solid ground. Each buliding was themed in a different way, from a facsimile of the Taj Mahal to a proper brownstone from New Amsterdam to a soaring brass tower reminiscent of my own home in Neumunich. At each of the cardinal points was a massive airdock for ships landing and leaving The Vega itself, complete with customs officials for the Crown to check passports and explain the laws of the Empire (as the airship is considered Imperial Britain’s territory) and valets always underfoot to help arriving visitors find a room and entertainment.
Radiating in from the docks were footpaths surrounding circular rail lines, complete with burgandy trolleys, that were free to ride for any visitor. Between the massive buildings were mechnical towers, reaching for the sky hundreds of feet above the city and whipping the air with gigantic cantered blades, leaving behind a constant hum and throb throughout the city of the air rippling. At the very center of the deck was a massive tent, striped black and green and always glowing in the forever evening of the place, and within it stood the tallest calliope ever dreamed by human kind. This carnival of delights, this circus of deviation, was constantly playing its seductive music and luring everyone to wander through and find a diversion or entertainment of some sort. There was a network of midways and temporary shops strung about it in an interwoven star, the pathway among them wrapping around several times in five layers overall. Within the tent was a constant show, displaying the earth’s most fearsome creatures, talented acrobats, and gifted magicians. Frequently, inventors and scientists came to the show to display their latest feat of engineering or inspiration. Always, the crowd was excited to see what came before them. The heart of the show was Calviston, an ancient clockwork automaton built by Magus LeVante himself, an intelligent and cunning being that, some say, really owns the airship.
The proprietors are the one group of people who are not honored in edifice. Who are not displayed with pride and fanfare. Where the customer is treated as royalty, the proprietors skulk in the shadows. While no one is sure if it was the Queen who struck the deal or not, but two generations before today the airship was given to an old Sicilian crime network in exchange for information and power. The British airfleet does not intrude in their business so long as the agreement is maintained. So hidden beneath the glitz and glamour of The Vega beats the heart of the Mafia, led by Don Raphael Castrone. They’re old allies of the Crown and the Special Division of Imperial Intelligence, but I would hesitate to call them friends. I would hestitate to call them rivals. In fact, I would hesitate to call them anything anywhere they might hear me.