Chapter 270: Liftoff

on December 16, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which It’s Not Beginning To Look A Lot Like Khersentide


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The inside of the cruise ship was…

Okay, seeing the thing from the outside made it really hard to get a handle on the size just because it was too big to take in. Seeing at all at once just hanging there in the air was overwhelming.

On the inside, in the hallways, it could have been almost any building. The halls seemed a little narrow compared to inns or most of the dorms on campus, but they weren’t like the little passageways along the side of a sleeper coach narrow. You could walk down them in a group. The slight narrowness only reminded me that I was on a ship when I thought about the reason for it, and it did nothing to convey the sense of vastness.

Following the signs for the promenade deck… which seemed to be different from the concourse deck, though the ideas sure sounded similar enough… passed through similar corridors. The stairwells were the first real sign of difference, in that instead of the standard switchback with a landing at and between every floor, the ship’s architecture seemed to favor spiral staircases. It was definitely another space-saving touch, but one that lent itself more to a touch grandeur.

“I think we need to figure out where the lifts are,” Glory said as we went down one, hand in hand.

“Hey, how long has it been since I’ve fallen down a staircase?” I said, a little indignantly.

“Shh, focus on your feet. We can talk at the bottom.”

I let it go.

Then we passed through a classical scrollwork-y archway whose luxurious image was a little tarnished by the signs on either side informing us that if we exited past it we could not return through it without our first class guest passes. There was a cool tingling sensation as we stepped through, and then we were outside.

Okay, not outside, but that was the first impression.

The promenade deck seemed to run the entire length of the ship from front to back, and pretty much from side to side. The archway we’d passed through exited at the top of a set of broad, marble-looking stairs that descended from one of several obelisk-like supports that seemed to be spaced around both sides of the deck to help hold up the floors above. In between the uprights on the other side, I could see blue sky and daylight. There was also two rows of columns that ran down the center, fancy enough to be called decorative but broad enough to be serious business.

“This is like three stories tall,” I said.

“Three decks,” Glory corrected.

“All this space in the middle of the ship just wasted?”

“You think it’s a waste?” she said. “I think it’s almost impressive.”

I’d been focused on the architecture, but inside the space carved out for the promenade, it really was bit like a street… specifically, like a street in an upscale pedestrian shopping village. There were paths or tracks on both sides of the deck and a bunch of mostly open-air… for a certain value of “open-air”… restaurants and shops in the middle of them. It looked like there were some more enclosed businesses along the outside, in the shadows of the uprights.

“I suppose that there are some practical advantages,” I said. “Having a hollow inside the ship will keep the weight down while increasing the size, which as Wisdom said gives it some advantages in stability. I suppose it also maximizes the amount of cabin space on the exterior versus the interior.”

“Not just that. Look,” Glory said, pointing up and across the way at a row of balconies hanging over the promenade. “It also creates a new class of premium lodgings for those who can’t afford an exterior view.”

“Who would pay extra for a view of the food court?” I said.

“You’re being negative again.”

“I’m being curious.”

“Well, be curious !” she said. “Look around, take it in! You are in the middle of the biggest magical item you will ever see in your life, Mackenzie Blaise.”

“Technically it’s more like a collection of several…” I trailed off.

“I mean it. This is a miracle.”

“Okay, I take your point,” I said. I didn’t point out that if it was a miracle, I’d be dead, even though that was true.

I took another look around, this time not thinking about the logistics of it all but just… seeing.

The lighting inside the promenade deck was warm, dimmer than sunlight but warmer than the lights in the hallway had been. There was greenery here and there, but just enough to give the suggestion of a vibrant, growing place, not enough to look like someone had tried to turn the indoors into the outdoors. There were fairy lights strung around the columns and across some of the trellises and and awnings of the businesses, though they looked like a semi-permanent part of the ambiance rather than a seasonal touch.

I realized I hadn’t seen anything that really struck me as in keeping with the spirit of the season. The soft chamber music that suffused the air was more all-weather than I would have expected, too.

“They don’t really go in for Khersentide decorations, do they?” I asked.

“No, they do not,” Glory said. “That’s why I booked this cruise in particular. The other ships in dock right now are actual holiday cruises. This is a cruise that happens over the holiday. I know that Khersentide is pretty secularized, but it seemed unlikely you’d be able to avoid Khersian symbols… or overly religious Khersians… trapped up in a flying celebration of the Khersian winter festival.”

“So you admit that we’re trapped,” I said.

“That’s a matter of perspective,” she said. “If there were sacred eggs and crystal dragons everywhere, I’m sure you’d feel trapped. But look at this place! Cozy walking lanes, shops, restaurants… tell me that after growing up in a small town under your grandmother’s thumb with almost nothing of your own, the idea that you could just take a short walk to a row of shops and get whatever you want doesn’t sound a bit like your idea of heaven.”

“You told me not to bring money,” I said.

“Your wrist bangle is linked to your room,” she said. “You can charge.”

“…I don’t want to go crazy spending your money.”

“And so I trust you not to,” she said. “But this trip is my gift. Anyway, you can’t drink, so right away that limits how much damage you can do in two ways.”

“…how do you figure?”

“First, there’s no real upper limit on how expensive alcohol is, and it’s gone quickly,” she said. “Believe me, it’s possible to drink away a small fortune without realizing it, especially since the more you put away, the less you think about it.”

“I figured that. What’s the second way?”

“You won’t go on any drunken shopping sprees,” she said.

“Fair point,” I said.”Anyway, it looks like we could spend hours here, easily… do you really want to do that, or do you still want to be in our room for take-off?”

“I think we have time for a circuit of the deck,” she said. “Call it a scouting expedition.I think we should be able to I suspect the promenade will get busy right around take-off, but I also suspect that people will be moving to the outside in order to secure a good view, so we probably won’t find our way selves fighting the crowd.”

“Make sense to me,” I said.

Now that I was thinking of this in terms of being the explicitly not Khersentide cruise and thus not Khersian, I noticed how many of the passengers seemed to be non-human or non-Magisterian, or both. It seemed that humans were a slim majority, but the guest demographics were more cosmopolitan even than a college campus.

There were plenty of elves and female dwarves. I didn’t notice any gnomes, which could have meant that there weren’t any or that there were a lot of them, as they were less noticeable in large numbers. I was briefly distracted by wondering if it was possible for a whole gnomish shire to exist tucked away out of notice somewhere in the ship, maybe even running their own parallel version of the cruise booking business.

It seemed improbable, especially given the controls on access to different parts of the ship, but stranger things had probably happened.

Actually, the fact that humanity had built ships big enough to count as very small land masses so they could be used as floating pleasure palaces probably counted as a stranger thing in and of itself.

After the elves and dwarves, it was pretty much a toss-up which people were most represented among the guests. There were just faces in a crowd in different shapes, textures, and colors. I saw a lot more orcish features than I was used to seeing. I tried not to be surprised, as I knew they had money like anyone else did. They just weren’t that common in the interior of the continent… but we weren’t as far inland anymore, and the ship mainly circled the southern coast.

As we walked, I started to feel bad when I realized Glory had passed up a much more explicitly human experience by booking passage on this cruise over one of the other ones. Then I thought about what that meant.

“I just realized something,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“You told me you booked this before inviting me was on the horizon,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“But you just told me a bit ago that you picked this cruise over the others because it would be easier for me to avoid religious icons.”

“Do you never daydream, Mackenzie?” she asked. “Anyway, as much as I have a thing for human culture, the whole kitschy Khersentide scene… not my thing? To be honest, once I found out there was a holiday-free… or at least holiday-lite one… it seemed really appealing, because there just aren’t a lot of options for places to go in the Imperial Republic that would let us get away from the carols and tinsel. But what got me started down this path was thinking about where I could take you, if you were mine to take.”

“That makes sense, I guess,” I said. “Was it really a daydream and not a plan, though?”

“Well, the difference between a daydream and a plan… when the dream is attainable… is what you do afterwards, I guess,” she said. “I was daydreaming at the time. But when things started to trend an unexpected direction, the daydream became a plan.”

“That’s… almost poetic,” I said.

“Thanks, I’ll almost take that as a compliment.”

The shops that we passed mostly didn’t seem that interesting to me. I wondered how many people went on vacation in a closed system and suddenly found they had a need for several more gauzey, see-through scarves, as they seemed to be a mainstay product. Those, and floppy hats and sunglasses.

Well, I supposed it would generally be sunny on deck. I wasn’t sure how much the scarves would help with that.

Glory did stop and buy several of the scarves, which made sense as she could use them for facial coverings. Very few of the other elves we’d seen seemed to be part of the same veil-wearing middling culture, so I wasn’t sure how to account for their prevalence.

“Who buys this stuff?” I asked, looking at a stretchy bracelet made up of four strands of big clunky beads, some of which had bits of fused glass set into their faces. The price on it read 3g14s.

“People with money?” Glory said.

“Don’t they bring jewelry with them?”

She turned around and looked at what I was holding.

“Well, that’s obviously an impulse buy,” she said.

“Obviously,” I said.

“I was serious when I told you to buy whatever you wanted, you know,” she said.

“Yeah… I’m not really feeling the impulse,” I said, putting the bracelet back before Glory got the wrong idea.

There were multiple announcements about the impending departure while we circled the promenade. Glory’s prediction that the promenade would fill up as we got nearer to takeoff proved to be correct, as did her prediction that the crowd would make a beeline for the exterior track, on the other side of the giant upright supports that fed people down to the deck. The whole place seemed to be enclosed, though there was a taste in the air that suggested it was connected to the open air at various points.

“I think watching the departure from our room is the right call,” Glory said, glancing at the throng around the edge of the promenade deck. “I don’t think we’d get outside, much less near the rail… and while I’m reasonably confident I could find a decent vantage point topside, I don’t think I want to miss the view from the bubble.”

“Okay,” I said.

Even with guests steadily trickling down the stairs into the promenade, it wasn’t hard to make it back up them, and the halls were practically deserted compared to when we’d first boarded. That made sense, as there would be very few people just now boarding. Glory seemed to have already memorized the route, as she didn’t have to look at her wrist thing. I just followed her.

“Grab us some food, why don’t you?” she said, gesturing to the cabinet where the dimensional fridge was tucked away.

“What are you in the mood for?”

“I don’t know, just something light, something we can snack on without making a mess.”

“…that doesn’t leave much,” I said.

“Okay, nothing that will make more of a mess than crumbs,” she said.

“Crackers and cheese it is.”

There was a soft chime that seemed to come from everywhere… perfectly audible without actually being loud, kind of like an elven voice. I jumped.

“Ten minute warning,” Glory said.

There was another soft chime five minutes later, by which point we were ensconced in the bubble window. It repeated with an additional tone at one minute intervals, revealing a trilling sort of musical thing, which ended in a cheerful fanfare at the appointed time.

A disembodied voice, which sounded suspiciously like the one in the greeting that had been trapped in our mirror announced that the Cloud Chariot was leaving harbor, and then the world fell away beneath us.


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22 Responses to “Chapter 270: Liftoff”

  1. zeel says:

    I have never seen the idea of a cruise all that compelling, if only we had airships like that IRL.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Hah, I didn’t notice the subtitle at first. Brillient.

      Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      Actual cruises are kind of boring after a while. Mainly because there’s only so many things you can do on a boat and you can’t do much on most stops.

      Presumably while the novelty of being in the air is cool, it probably gets old after a while just like being at sea. I expect unless something happens within the court or with something else. After all, Mackenzie can only check so many overpriced shops and see so many stale pseudotheater shows.

      Current score: 2
    • erianaiel says:

      We do.

      They did not have the stability of small landmasses though, quite the opposite in fact. Which kind of made people wary of them.

      Other, real world, fun facts? There is no upper limit to how big you can make a geodesic dome (of Buckminster Fuller fame) and the size and weight of the metal or wooden bars out of which they are constructed does not go up with their size either. And best of all, the bigger you make them the better they work as hot air balloons. In fact, if you can make them a couple of miles across only a few degrees in temperatures would be enough to cause it to rise into the air. (you would need a considerably higher temperature difference to lift the weight of buildings that go with that size of sphere though).
      Something like the Cloud Chariot could in reality be built in our world and actually function. Getting it to land at all would be a big problem (but it would have the stability of small land masses as several cubic miles of heated air will not cool off quickly and even a big tear in the fabric will not let out enough air to make a meaningful difference in its ability to stay airborne).

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Real world airships were never like this though. I do wish they hadn’t fallen out of style – seems like too many big disasters, plus the commercialization of airplanes kinda killed them off. The best we have now are just glorified billboards.

        Current score: 0
        • Earl of Purple says:

          They might be coming back soon. I read somewhere earlier this year (but can’t remember where) that somebody was researching large airships because they’re more economical than aeroplanes at travelling long distances and can go over land and sea, unlike a ship.

          Current score: 0
        • Anvildude says:

          You should check out… What was it called, the Sky Dragon? something about dragons, anyways. But people are making airships into commercial mass transport again- not a cruise, yet, but carrying freight (not sure how it’s economical, but apparently it is, because it’s a proper business doing it, not a crazy billionaire.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            I had heard some things like that yes. Maybe in time we will have sky cruises like this. One can only hope.

            Current score: 0
      • Mo says:

        If you are building a flying island then instead of landing you could use a miniature version of a space elevator to pull things up and use waste as a counterweight for the things you are pulling.

        Current score: 0
      • Eli says:

        There is *absolutely* an upper limit to the size you can build a geodesic dome, dependent on the materials you use. The load on each strut increases roughly linearly with radius. And to heat up a few cubic kilometers of air even just one degree would take a *tremendous* amount of energy.

        Current score: 0
  2. Cadnawes says:

    If I were Mack, THIS is where I would lose my mind. She’s already nervous about this mode of travel. Which i can see, she’s never done it. First time flyers in our world can be a little like this, too. I’m generally a good flyer, but this description is… structurally alarming. I understand that this deck theoretically HELPS, but it’s still a layer of air and people sandwiched between two layers of a lot of weight.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      What is HELPS?

      Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        “helps” all capped for emphasis, in that she mentions that the lightness provided by this open deck is beneficial overall, whereas my instinct is to feel that it is a structural weakness, pillars notwithstanding.

        Current score: 0
  3. Mike says:

    Typo: I think we should be able to I suspect the promenade will get busy right around take-off, but I also suspect that people will be moving to the outside in order to secure a good view, so we probably won’t find our way selves fighting the crowd.”

    Part of a sentence missing in that first part, I believe.

    Current score: 0
    • x says:

      I’d guess the “I think we should be able to” part is extra, perhaps a left-over earlier version of the “I think we have time” before?
      Also, “find our way selves” at the end of that sentence.

      Other typos:
      “Well, be curious !” { space before ‘!’}
      “Make sense to me,” I said. { Makes }
      land masses { landmasses }

      Current score: 0
  4. Zathras IX says:

    Khersentide should be
    About more than sacred eggs
    And crystal dragons

    Current score: 2
  5. Seth says:

    So any thoughts on the likelihood that one or more other demon-bloods are on the exact same cruise for the exact same reason? 🙂

    Current score: 0
    • Lucy says:

      Or Mercy and her pets

      Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      Well lets run through the factors here. The Man has three descendants and we know two, so that’s one unaccounted for. He generally keeps others out of his territory best he can, barring the ones with protection or defenses he can’t overcome, and even then with sam he seems to work to overcome this whenever possible.

      So it comes down to two factors. Either Mackenzie’s unnacounted for sibling has the wealth or influence to take a cruise like this, or else the ship stops outside of Prax/Treholme/Blackwater and someone else gets on.

      Anything else is statistically unlikley. Mercy is unlikley to drag along 2-3 or more bestial slaves into quarters like this. The Man probably hasn’t got two airship workers in one generation. Dan isn’t going to drag his family on a trip like this they can’t afford across the ocean. Hell, much fun as it’d be for Sam to show up scarred up with an eyepatch or something something like this is too high profile for a man who’s probably in hiding if he’s even alive.

      Current score: 1
  6. orannis says:

    we’re going to meet her brother arnt we.

    Current score: 0
  7. Anthony says:

    Whatever it was that was wrong with the email notification, it’s not fixed yet. I got no notification for the last 3 posts.

    Current score: 1
  8. Arancaytar says:

    I didn’t notice any gnomes, which could have meant that there weren’t any or that there were a lot of them

    Mack is genre-savvy. 😀

    Current score: 0