This is, so far, the most complex airship model I have designed. It may not look like much compared to the glossarian airships, but trust me, rendering this thing was an interesting experience. I’m still tweaking a couple of minor details, and once that is done, the model will be available in my Shapeways shop.
This is the Aeronautical Development, an experimental Bulmutian airship built and operated by a university professor and several of his graduate students for the purposes of testing various pieces of equipment and performing atmospheric experiments. She is a hybrid dirigible, or rigid airship, but must rely on other sources of lift to actually get off the ground (or water). Thanks to a very generous donation, the professor was able to equip the ship with four glossarion levitators, with which he regularly performed various experiments. However, should they be removed, the generators needed to power them could also be removed, thus reducing the weight of the ship enough for the wings and balloon to provide enough lift. When the “five man band” (though, at this point in the story, is comprised of two men and two women without a definite leader) first encounters the ship, all but one of them get quite bored when the professor (known only as “the doctor” for now, since I haven’t come up with a name for him yet) explains the inner workings of this pure steampunk contraption.
Anyway, I tagged this post with “writing a novel.” Why? Well, the Aeronautical Development plays a fairly significant role in the story, albeit a short one. Rubina Karamazova, exiled Grand Duchess of the Alexandrian Empire, hires the ship to take her on a survey mission. The reason for this is long, convoluted, and explained over several chapters that I haven’t written yet (all this stuff is in my head, I just haven’t gotten around to putting it on paper), but I felt a rush of inspiration to write one of the more exciting “episodes” on board the ship when I listened to this.
I have no idea how fast most people read. Apparently, most are a good bit slower than I am. Therefore, clicking “play” and scanning the words on the page may not work for you the way it did for me. However fast you read, and however well you can “see” the story come to life, you may want to read first, and then click “play.” So, here you have it: a sample of my writing, currently slated to be the second half of the final chapter in book 5 (of 9). Oh, one more thing before you get started: a comparison image of the Talos, Aeronautical Development, and Zaphnora.
The lights glistened in the water, as they did in the air. The icy water was shimmering onyx, the southeast horizon glowed a faint purple, and the northern lights above glowed yellow, green, and blue. Winter was on its way, and this far north, the days had already gone completely black. Yet, it was as bright as a summer noon, with the moons, the stars, and the aurora.
Rubina never had trouble sleeping during the white nights of summer, which lasted over four hundred days in Skharnograd, but during these black days, she barely slept at all. She snuck out of her bunk, trying not to wake anyone, least of all Idrailu. Normally, they would sleep together, but the narrow bunks on board the Aeronautical Development simply didn’t allow that. He was so cheerful, the brightest of lights in this dark time. He will never understand, Rubina told herself, it is not his burden to bear, no matter how far he follows me. She donned her fur coat, ushanka and red gloves, then silently inched open the door to the stern deck, hoping that no gusts of wind would give her away. Let them sleep, she thought, for this is my burden.
The lights were soothing, sparkling on the black, icy water, and dancing on the icebergs. The northern ocean was fraught with bergs, some too small to dent a ship, some several miles long. The good doctor left a watchman on the upper platform of the ship, walking around the balloon to make sure no bergs came too close. He was the only one besides Rubina who was awake, and he would never see her, even if he looked straight down. Rubina watched the bergs as well, sometimes tracing their shapes with her finger, looking for familiar shapes in them as a child might with clouds. On the port side, she saw one with five peaks, the shortest on the ends, and the tallest in the centre, reaching high like the central spire of the White Keep. The whole iceberg even looked like the White Keep from where she stood. She turned round, and saw another with a huge arch in it, as if the berg were a floating bridge. A bridge coming from nowhere, going to nowhere, drifting aimlessly in the seas, slowly melting away. Looking straight astern, she saw one that looked just like the hull of a ship. She cocked her head and raised a spyglass to her eye, careful not to touch the cold brass to her face. She zeroed in on the peculiar iceberg, and saw that it was a ship, partially hidden behind another berg. She could not see the whole ship, only the stern. Two masts there were, each with six yards, some right on top of each other. What’s a windjammer doing this far north? It made no sense to her, as windjammers were usually bulk carriers, trade ships that never ventured far from the shore, save to reach the outer islands of places like Sondor and Breace. However, some of them did serve as naval colliers, which meant…
She scanned to the left, then to the right, hoping to find a sign of another ship. She began to hear a fell hum, and felt her heart sink into her stomach. No, she thought, anything but that. Then she spotted a bronze ram peeking out from behind the other end of the berg that hid the windjammer. Her heart began to race. “No,” she whispered, and started to see more. The ship was bathed in a green glow, both from the aurora above and the water below. This is an airship, she knew, I just hope it isn’t the one I fear it is. Yet hope failed her, and the volute on the ship’s bow finally became visible. It looked like the horns of a bronze rhino, curved and pointed.
She dropped the spyglass and ran inside shouting “all hands, all hands, enemy astern, enemy astern!” The crew bolted upright, shaking their heads, but she didn’t need to pay them any further mind. “Doctor,” she called out, “doctor, we have to get out of here, NOW!” The doctor fiddled a bit to get his glasses on. It seemed odd that he needed them to hear. “Wha, what is it, your Grace?” He was far slower to wake than his crew, who had already sprung into action, bringing the engines up to speed. “The Zaphnora‘s almost on us!” “It cannot be!” That seemed to get the doctor moving. He donned his tattered, goggled top hat and his gadget-filled coat and rushed to the stern deck. He didn’t even need the spyglass to see the Zaphnora steaming toward them, its baffles and levitators not slowing it down, but instead leaving a roiling wake. “Oh dear,” he lamented, “that ship can move.” He ran back inside, his feet barely touching the floor as he jumped onto the ladder and vaulted up to the bridge. Thus he went to work, his hands moving this way and that, pulling levers and flipping switches that brought the Aeronautical Development to life. “The Zaphnora is surprisingly fast in the water,” he announced, “but we’ll be airborne and up to cruising speed well before she is. Come on, lads and lasses, we’ll need every second we can get!”
It was all in the doctor’s hands now. His and his crew’s, that was, Mick, Risa, Marzia, Alfrid, “Boomer,” and the rest. Rubina climbed the ladder and ran out to the upper stern deck. Idrailu was already there, watching the Zaphnora closing in. Rubina grabbed his arm and held him close. “They’re not trying to kill us,” he mused, “if they were, they’d have shot us already, we’re right in their sights.” He was not wrong. The Zaphnora had twin six-inch guns, mounted in side-by-side turrets on the bow deck, useful for firing on targets directly in front of the ship, but not much else. The eight-inch guns and the missile tubes dealt the real damage, but they were all underwater right now. “Wings extended,” they heard the doctor call. By now, they had reached about forty knots, and the Zaphnora was finally starting to fall back. They were not out of the woods yet, as the Aeronautical Development still had not left the water. As a smaller ship, she could reach her top speed much faster, but the Zaphnora would quickly chase them down once both were airborne. They needed to lose their pursuer in the clouds up ahead, and fast.
“Airspeed alive,” the doctor announced at fifty knots, and the Aeronautical Development no longer felt like a ship, though she still had not left the water. “This was a fool’s errand,” Yuri growled as he joined Rubina and Idrailu outside, “and you don’t need to be outside to watch death chase us, it’s colder out here than an ice-nymph’s twat.” “Have much experience with those things?” Idrailu loved to tease Yuri. “Is that why you’re always such a grump? Did you fuck an ice-nymph and freeze your-” “Enough,” Rubina snapped, “my captain is right, we should go back inside. We need to look forward to our escape, not back to our doom.” “Buoyancy neutral,” the doctor announced as they sat down and held on at the rear of the bridge, “prepare for rotation!” The doctor pulled back on two massive levers to his sides, and the ship rose into the air, nose first. Once his altimeter came alive, the side propellers were engaged, and the ship rocketed forward and upward, through two hundred, three hundred metres and eighty, ninety knots. The doctor made a sharp turn to starboard, intending to put a particularly large iceberg between his ship and the Zaphnora. “The second row of bells is airborne,” Boomer announced over the intercom, referring to the Zaphnora‘s levitators. He was in the stern observation dome, keeping an eye on their pursuer. “Course?” The doctor wanted to know if the Zaphnora was still heading in the same direction. “Unchanged,” was Boomer’s reply, followed by “third row of bells airborne. She’s turning starboard.” Moments later, the Zaphnora was fully airborne and on their tail once more.
“Guns in position,” Boomer announced. “What?!” Idrailu blurted out, “they had us right in their sights before, why wait to fire on us until now?” Before anyone could answer, an explosion rocked the ship. Mick let out a blood-curdling scream of “RISA! RIIIISAAAAA!” Risa had been in the port observation dome, which had just been obliterated by an explosive shell. “You can’t save her now,” the doctor yelled over the intercom, “our cover is only a few hundred metres away. Everybody hold on!” The Aeronautical Development swerved starboard, and nearly threw everyone to the floor. By the time they had gotten used to the new direction, the ship swerved to port. The doctor kept up this zigzag pattern for about an hour, trying to make sure that, not only would the Zaphnora not have enough time to aim, but also could not predict where the target might be. All the while, flare-star shells exploded in the clouds as their pursuer tried in vain to hit them. A few small fiery bits struck the ship, but not enough to do any damage or kill anyone else. Nonetheless, the ship rattled so fiercely that it felt like she was going to fall apart every time a shell exploded. It was getting worse. The explosions were getting closer every time. The gunners of the Zaphnora had figured out the doctor’s little game, and were beginning to zero in on their target. All hope of escape began to diminish.
Cruising at a hundred and eighteen knots, the Aeronautical Development‘s top speed, they came out of the clouds. A wall of clouds was behind them, and a floor of clouds below, all glowing a faint blue-green, soaking up the moonlight and the aurora. The sky above was clear and black, glistening with starlight. The explosions had stopped, but not nearly long ago enough for the Zaphnora to have given up. Though no-one knew her top speed, it had to be at least a hundred and twenty knots. It could have been a hundred and thirty, or higher still. “Why are we out in the open?” Idrailu seemed worried. “The doctor isn’t giving up, is he?” “No,” was the doctor’s reply, “but we’ve lost our cover. I can’t just dive, because I have no way of knowing what I might land on top of. No, unless I see a break in this floor, we must stay the course.” “Aeronautical Development, come in Aeronautical Development.” The message over the wireless came by a complete surprise. Rubina recognised the voice immediately, and snatched the microphone from the doctor’s hand to reply. “This is Aeronautical Development,” she replied, “Masha, where are you?” “Right behind you, the cavalry is here.” Rubina looked astern, and through the window, saw the Talos rise from the cloud floor. She was looking at the port side of the ship as she spoke over the wireless. “I thank you for the help,” she lamented, “but unless you’ve brought other ships, it’s too little, too late. The Zaphnora is almost on us.” “I know. The beast won’t be quite so fast when we’re through with it. You can make your escape. Just, whatever you do, don’t come back this same way.” “Masha, what are you doing?” There was nothing further from Maria Beltova. “Doctor, the Talos can’t match the Zaphnora for firepower, do you think Captain Beltova intends to ram the ship?” “Worse,” Yuri interrupted, “she’s going to make the Zaphnora ram her.”
He was not wrong. The Talos was positioned for it, right behind the Aeronautical Development. The timing could not have been better. Before Rubina had time to grab the microphone again and try to talk her friend out of this sacrifice, the Zaphnora burst out of the cloud wall, and not two seconds later, crashed into the starboard side of the Talos. Lightning and sparks exploded from the latter’s levitators, followed by streams of orange flame and black smoke. “Masha!” Rubina screamed over and over, looking out the window at the two ships moving toward them. The Talos was engulfed in smoke and flame as the Zaphnora continued to push her. The Aeronautical Development sped away, and just before the other two ships fell out of sight, the Talos broke in half on Zaphnora‘s ram. The debris and smoke engulfed the Zaphnora, and she disappeared in the distance. To hope that she crashed also would have been folly. Nonetheless, the ship would have been severely damaged from that encounter, which was Maria’s plan, after all. Eight hundred lives for a survey mission that I shouldn’t even be on, Rubina thought. If this was the price for simply learning about their enemy, then when the true war begins, the price for victory will be too steep to pay. Nonetheless, I must know. I must know what these chuyinka have planned for Rossbera.