Part 05: Under Way

Filia eating lunchThe sun was warm and the slipstream constant on the upper hull of the Constant Vision. Just a bit forward of dead amidships there was a small observation post with an open alcove behind it. It had a single bench running the length of the alcove, and a hatch at each end. From the fore hatch emerged a lithe figure clad in a scaffolder’s harness and red shorts. Her dark brown hair was held in a knot, but quite a few strands had worked their way free, and swirled in the relative wind, almost invisible against her dark brown skin. The woman reached out and hooked her safety rope to the rail as she emerged. She closed the hatch, then gave a small gasp when she saw Filia sitting on the bench, eating.

“Filia!” the woman said. “What are you doing here?”

Filia looked up from her food at the statuesque brunette, then as quickly looked back down. “I’m just eating my lunch.”

“Why don’t you eat lunch down with everyone else?” The woman walked her safety line across the stanchion that held the rail in place as she moved away from the door.

“I like it up here,” replied Filia without looking up. “It’s nice and peaceful. And it’s sunny. What are you doing up here, uh, …?”

“Loillola. We met at the launch, and at mess yesterday. We’re doing the cable inspection today.” She brushed futilely at a grey alloy smear on her red shorts.


“Jok and I. He started at the stern and I started at the bow.”

“Or is that the tail and the nose?” asked Filia, poking at her bowl with her knife.

“Ha! Is that a joke? Did you just make a joke?” Loillola went to sit beside Filia, but her safety line wasn’t long enough.

“Well, it’s just that sometimes people use the ship names for things, and sometimes they don’t,” Filia replied simply.

“Well,” Loillola replied, sitting down on the floor of the tiny space, “some of us come from a naval background and some of us don’t. Why won’t you look at me?”

Filia had turned her head away when Loillola sat down. Now she turned and looked her straight in the eyes.

“It’s just that you’re topless. I don’t like to stare at people when they’re naked.”

“I’m not topless,” replied Loillola, “I have a harness on. And I don’t care. You can stare if you like.” She cocked her head to the side. “You’re from Braemond, aren’t you? They’re a little more backward there, as I recall.”

“We’re not backward,” Filia replied, her voice a bit tense. “We just wear clothes.”

“Even when it’s hot?”

“We just wear less clothes.”

“When it’s really hot? ’cause it’s really hot up here, inside the float.”

“Yeah, that’s why I eat out here most of the time, unless it’s raining.”

“Yeah, I’m not much for rain myself.” She paused, studying Filia. “Why did you leave Braemond?”

“I met a guy from Selkwyth.” Filia poked at her food for a moment, eyes downcast, lips pursed. “He had come to Braemond to study magic under some sage or other, and we met. He brought me to Selkwyth.”

“You came all the way to Selkwyth because you met some guy?”

“Well,” Filia equivocated, “I guess you can say I fell in love with him.”

“Oh,” replied Loillola, “that’s right! In Braemond if you kiss someone you have to marry them, right?”

“No,” replied Filia dismissively, looking up with furrowed brow. “We’re not that conservative! Where do you hear all these things?”

“Well, It’s just that you seem so … so conservative, like about clothes and being alone and stuff, I just figured …”

“We’re just like you, except maybe a bit more conservative, especially about men and women,” replied Filia. “I met Jaspin, and I … ”

“Oh! Jaspin!” Loillola put her hand to her mouth. “You fell in love with Jaspin?”

“Does everyone know him?” asked Filia, rolling her eyes in exasperation.

“Only all the singlets,” Loillola replied, laying back on her back, putting her arms behind her head, and staring up at the sky. “Anyone who has been to a pierhead party knows Jaspin. He’s been with all the girls. I tasted him once or twice myself.”

“Yes, I found that out,” replied Filia sullenly.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” replied Loillola contritely. “I didn’t mean it like that!”

“That’s OK, I’m over him, for the most part. When I found out how … popular … he was, I realized what a fool I had been and left him. But by that time I was already in Selkwyth. So I stayed.”

“So now you get to go home finally, huh?” Loillola sat up and folded her arms across her knees.

“Yeah. But I’m not staying there. I’m probably not even going to leave the ship.”

“Not leave the ship!?” exclaimed Loillola. “But Braemond is your home! Don’t you want to see your family and friends?”

“I really don’t get along with my family,” she explained. “And I don’t really have any friends.”

“Oh, how awful!” Loilola got up and unhooked her safety. She sat beside Filia on the bench, putting her arms around her in an embrace. “I’m so sorry for you!”

Filia waited until Loillola released her, then stood. Loillola stood also. “Thanks. I’m OK now. Well, I’m done eating.” Filia held up her empty bowl. “I need to get back to work, too.”

Loillola nodded. “Yeah, Jok will wonder why I’m so behind. Well, take care, sweetie, and let me know if there’s anything you need to talk about. OK?” She gave Filia another hug and a quick kiss. “Take care.” She opened the hatch on the far side and clipped her safety to the rail inside. “Don’t forget your safety rope!” she said as she vanished inside.

With Loillola gone, Filia sighed, then wiped her knife off on her pocketrag, then folded the blade back into the handle and clipped it to her belt. She re-entered the float in the opposite direction Loillola had gone, taking care to hook onto the safety rail before dogging the hatch. She did so deliberately, with care, wanting to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing incident when she first closed a hatch. The entire airship was made of lightweight metal alloy, and all parts were constructed as lightly as possible. The first time Filia tried to close a hatch she had bent the handles.

Once inside the float Filia climbed down the short ladder to the catwalk that passed below the observation capsule. That same catwalk stretched from near the stern almost to the bow. Filia wasn’t going that far forward. She walked the catwalk between the giant gas bags only to the next ladder. This she descended. One hundred and fifty rungs lower she reached the main catwalk. This was actually considered a habitable part of the ship, with bunks and stations and even offices hung below the catwalk. All of these were open, to keep the weight low. Privacy, as Filia well knew, was not a real concern.

Filia walked forward until she reached the crew galley. There were actually two galleys onboard. As a civilian, Filia was allowed to eat at the guest galley. As a working member of the crew, however, Filia was also allowed to eat at the crew galley. She preferred the anonymity of the crew galley. Filia dropped her bowl off at the washing station and doubled back to where the ladder had reached the catwalk. Rather than climbing up or down, Filia turned. Another catwalk crossed the main walk here, and she headed to starboard. Thirty paces between the gasbags took her to the starboard engine room, where she had her station. She opened the metal lattice gate and entered.

Filia had very little experience with mechanical things. Braemond was far from Selkwyth, and farther away from the center of the magic. Much of the technology from Selkwyth was either driven by magic, or produced by magic. Much of it world not even work in Braemond. The Constant Vision was supposed to be built using only non-magical technologies, but magic was such a way of life in Selkwyth it was hard to even know what was magical and what wasn’t. The crew had already found that out the hard way when several devices failed not long after leaving Selkwyth. None were vital, fortunately. Filia had little experience with magic, either. One skill she did have, however, was a good ear and eye for patterns. She could tell when a machine was misaligned or not tuned properly, and she could easily see when things were not straight or not right. Neither she nor Gomph knew exactly how she did it, either through magic or talent, but she was very good at it.

When Filia entered the engine room she stopped for a moment and just listened. She looked up into the great engine as it spun and strained and whined and she just listened. After a long moment, satisfied that all was well, she squeezed around the circumference to where her station was. She took some tools out of her tool belt and placed them back into their places, then examined her worksheet to see what her next task was. There she found a note clipped to it, with a simple message:

F –
come to cabin
– G

She frowned, then loaded a few all-purpose tools into her tool belt and headed back out of the engine room. She retraced her steps to the galley, then continued forward. She passed the crew toilets, the one room in the belly of the ship that did have walls, and the crew showers, which did not. She passed the central hydraulic control node which — like so many other things onboard — was naked, in the sense that it was merely a mass of pipes, valves, and tanks with no particular casing or housing. Just beyond the node was another ladder junction. Unlike the central ladder, in this case the path downward was actually a staircase. As Filia started down it she glanced upward. Over her head a ladder ascended between the gasbags to the seer’s quarter’s, where the Acolytes of the Whind lived. It was a lacy latticework of metal and wood, carefully and ornately carved and decorated. It was a complete contrast to the stark utilitarian look of the rest of the ship. She assumed the filigree had a purpose, but considering the special treatment the Acolytes typically got she wouldn’t be surprised if it were mere ornamentation.

Filia descended to the main cabin area. She blinked in the bright sunlight streaming in through the broad windows, her eyes unaccustomed to the sun after the trip through the float. Here was where the officers lived, along with the passengers and senior technicians. Gomph had a cabin down here. She headed for that now. His cabin was directly behind the forward observatory, on the lowest level. Filia had to go three floors down another ladder to get there. The passageways became quite narrow. Fortunately the cabin was in the shadow of the float, so it was cool inside. When she got to the cabin Gomph was peering intently into a disassembled device of unknown purpose. He was dressed in simple canvas shorts and a light shirt of khaki. He looked up as she entered.

“Ah. Good. They need you on the bridge,” he said simply, pulling off his magnifying headset, sending his thin hair into disarray. “Let’s go.”

“What’s the problem?” Filia asked as they negotiated the passageway back to the ladder. Gomph’s stout frame made the passageway slower than hers had been alone.

“The main navigational compass is giving odd readings. We need you to tell us why.”

“So now I’m an expert in navigation?” she asked wryly.

“No, you are an expert in broken,” came the tart reply. “I just hope we won’t need you.”

They emerged into the main bridge. It was a large room with one wall made of huge windows. Everywhere people in white uniforms and white hats were busy with various consoles. Toward the front was a knot of people gathered together over something. Gomph headed for that knot and Filia followed. As they approached one man straightened and looked at them. It was Proctor Quaternus.

“Gomph,” Quaternus said, meeting them halfway and leading them on, “we need some help. We think we know how far off the magnetic compasses are, but we need your help to reconcile the variances.”

“Right,” Gomph replied. He turned to Filia. “That is the true compass,” he pointed at a large standing instrument set alone in an open area between consoles. It had been partially disassembled. “See what you can see.”

Filia did as asked while Gomph and Quaternus joined the others at what she could now see was a chart table. She knelt at the instrument. After staring at it a while she began to make sense of it. There was a hand-sized wheel in the center mounted on some sort of gimbals. A stream of air was blowing on it, making it spin. The whole affair was arranged on a movable frame mounted on precise gears. She closed the case experimentally, and noted that when she reopened it the wheel had slowed. Once the case was open again the wheel accelerated. A few trials showed that the wheel probably wouldn’t spin well with the case closed.

“Well?” Gomph had come up behind her and was staring over her shoulder.

“Is the wheel supposed to keep spinning when you close the case?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied moving out of the way of a young man dressed in red shorts and a scaffolder’s harness. Filia thought this was Jok, who Loilola had mentioned. He was headed for the chart table.

“Well,” Filia replied, “I can see that it doesn’t. Do you know why?”

“I was hoping you would.”

“Has anything changed on this?”

“Yes,” Gomph replied. “It’s adjusted every morning, based on readings from the ley line charts. When they adjusted it this morning, it stopped spinning.”

“And they adjust it with these gears?”


“Do they have to open the case to do it?”



“What do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

Gomph sighed. “Keep looking at it,” he said, turning back to the chart table. Jok passed by again, headed back out the door. He waved and smiled. Filia smiled wanly in return. She could see Loillola waiting at the door. She also waved and smiled. Filia waved and smiled back.

“Ma’am,” one of the crew called from nearby. Filia looked, but the woman was looking past Filia. One of the officers from the chart table approached. The crew woman pointed at her display. Together they both turned to look out the window.

“Thank you,” the officer said, and returned to the chart table. As Filia watched there was a flurry of quiet discussion, then the woman officer walked to the crewman at the helm. “Climb to thirteen and hold course,” she said, then returned to the chart table. Filia looked out the window, and noticed the clouds in the distance for the first time. She looked back at the chart table, but everyone there was engrossed in their discussion.

“Filia,” someone behind her said. She turned. There stood the young man from Gomph’s office, Staun. He was being led by a young boy. Both were dressed only in the long, narrow strips of beige cloth that marked them as acolytes. Filia’s forced her gaze to stay on their faces when they turned to face her. The boy’s smooth, dark skin contrasted with Staun’s downy, blue skin. Whereas Staun was obviously blind, the boy was still sighted, and was busily gawking at all the wonderful machinery around him. Staun put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and pushed him up next to Filia, making room for a passing officer.

“You remembered my name,” Filia replied.

“I try to remember everyone’s name,” he replied. “No one should be left out of mind, no matter how small.” He was rolling his eyes as he talked, and he swallowed hard afterward. Filia thought he looked even paler than when she had last seen him. She wondered if he was airsick.

“I’ll try to remember that,” she replied dryly.

“What brings you to the bridge?” he asked.

“Gomph wanted me to look at this … this compass thing.”

“I hear you are good at seeing the state of rightness in the world,” he replied. “That’s a very useful gift.”

“Who do you hear that from?” she asked, a bit irritated. She didn’t like people talking about her.

“I heard it from the sworl catcher you fixed near the aft observatory,” he replied.

“You talk to sworl catchers?” she asked, a bit taken back.

“Sometimes,” he said, then smiled thinly.

“Staun!” Quaternus called from the chart table. Staun’s smile faded.

“Well,” he said, “I have important work to do. Jheffr, stay here with Filia. I can make my own way from here.” He took a step towards the chart table. “Filia, would you mind watching Jheffr for me? He’s still a bit young to be alone on the bridge.”

“Sure,” Filia replied. As Staun turned and walked towards the chart table she muttered under her breath, “I can watch your naked boy. it’s not like I have anything important to do here.”

She turned to Jheffr, who was staring intently at the compass. “So your name is Jheffr?”

“Jheffr,” he replied, with a slightly different intonation. Filia knew that to the Selkwythia she had an accent.

“Well, Jheffr,” she said, trying to say his name the way he had, “I need to work on this. Please don’t touch anything.”

“OK,” he said, and folded his hands in front of him.

Filia turned back toward her work. She stared at the compass housing. She studied the port where the air came in to spin the wheel. She noted that there was a matching port beside it, but that no air was coming from it. She traced it, and saw that, unlike the first port, the second did not connect to anything, but rather was simply an opening in the housing. She puzzled over this a bit, then realized that it must be an exhaust port for the air the other port was blowing in. She tried closing and opening the case a few times. Jheffr stood quietly to one side, watching intently. Air was indeed venting out the second port, but the wheel still slowed when she closed the case. She frowned in confusion.

“Any luck?” Gomph was again behind her.

“Oh, yeah. I picked up an assistant!” she gestured at Jheffr. “And I figured out how the air flows in this thing.” She pointed. “It comes in here, and goes out here.” She scratched her head. “Although why they put the two ports right side by side is beyond me. It seems like it would make better sense for the exhaust port to be at the top, or off at an angle on the side. And bigger. Much bigger.” Gomph waited silently as Filia studied the problem. “I’m not sure how this thing ever worked. Is this really the only way for the air to get out?”

“Yes,” Gomph replied.

“I wonder. You say this worked fine until they opened it this morning?


“Could it be that there was some sort of air current that they disrupted? But then why would it only fail now?”

“Ah!” Gomph said suddenly. “I think I know. I think you found it!”

“I did?”

“Yes.” Gomph got down to Filia’s level and looked up into the housing. After a moment he pointed. “Look.”

Filia followed his finger. In the dimness of the interior housing she could just make out a small network of what looked like roots, very out of place in the metal instrument. On the largest, in the center, was a tiny face. It seemed asleep.

“A sworl catcher?” she asked.

“Yes,” replied Gomph. “When they made this, they used a spell to ensure the air flowed through the housing correctly.”

“And that spell failed yesterday as we got too far away,” Filia said. “And when they opened the case this morning they disturbed the flow …”

“… which was already going, and the instrument wouldn’t restart.”

“Right.” Filia studied the housing. “So how do we fix it?”

“Simple,” Gomph replied. “We can just cut another outlet portal here,” he pointed, “and patch that other one closed. Then it should work.”

Filia leaned back. As she did she noticed that Jheffr wasn’t watching them anymore. She followed his gaze and saw Staun standing alone by the windows. Almost as if on cue, every other head in the room turned to look at him as well.

“Captain,” Staun asked, in a strangely loud voice, “what is dead ahead of us?”

“Helm?” Captain Veerus asked, straightening from the discussion at the chart table.

“Nothing, sir,” came the reply. “Top of a cloud, that’s all.”

“Weather?” asked the female officer, who Filia suspected was second in command.

“Slight temperature drop, that’s all,” answered the crewwoman near Filia. Filia could see that the ship was already passing into the cloud. There was just a slight shake, nothing more. Already the mist was parting and the other side coming into view.

“There shouldn’t be anything we can’t handle, Staun,” the Captain said, coming to Staun’s side. ‘What do you t’see?” All round crewmen were checking their gauges, verifying settings.

“Captain!” shouted the helm. All eyes turned to the windows. As the ship cleared the cloud top there immediately loomed before them a huge thunderhead, black and menacing and close.

“Hard to port!” The Captain shouted. As his command was echoed across the bridge he stepped to the intercom. “This is the Captain! Bad weather ahead! Rig for weather running!”

2 Responses “Part 05: Under Way”

  1. Klaatu01 says:

    Is each part supposed to be its own stand-alone story? I guess I am missing a little bit about how they join together.

  2. Claudia says:

    Good pace. Exciting.

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