Memory eight: Shifting dynamics
The light in the lanterns flickers and shivers as my father and I walk through the tunnels underneath the city.
I’ve never been in the underground before but father doesn’t make a big deal out of it so I try to keep my amazement to myself.
The tunnels are here to accommodate the airships going back and forth because there would simply be no space for them above ground.
There’s an entire network under the city and in some places, people even choose to live underground.
Although I’ve yet to see that because it sounds unbelievable.
The tunnel walls are smooth and lumpy and I wonder what kind of rock this is all made off.
Maybe if I find a pebble I can take it home and compare it in my boo-
“Elizabeth stop dilly-dallying do you want the ship or not?”
That remark is enough to get me up and attentive again and I rush to my father’s side.
Just as I caught up with him I see the big sign above the even bigger door saying ‘Airships, motorcars and repairs.’
I rush up to it push the door and…find it’s closed.
Then notice the smaller sign saying ‘for service, please ring the bell.’
So I do while excitedly rocking back and forwards.
The door opens and a woman who is about my height yet twice my width from shoulder to shoulder lets us in.
Her hair is short and slicked back. A leather apron covered in grease stains is tied around her waist and she pushes back a pair of goggles made from brass.
“What can I do for you today Mister Chattoway?”
“Lady Elizabeth wants a ship and she won’t leave me alone anymore until she gets one.”
“I see.” The lady looks at me with a smile, I smile back and bow politely.
She bows back and I feel a sense of acomplishment but father cuts our interaction short as he asks “So what do you have?”
“Well if you want to see the newest range that’s right through here.” She leads us to a room that’s so big I can’t help but wonder how much rock is still left between the street above and the ceiling down here “It has enough room for twelve people, an entertainment deck for games and drinks and is outfitted with electricity throughout the ship.”
“She’s sixteen, she doesn’t need an ‘ entertainment deck’.” Father scoffs.
I want to tell him it’s my decision but think better of it. The ship is too big anyway.
Where would I even find nine more people who want to travel with me? “Do you have anything smaller?”
“How long were the trips you were planning to make again?” The kind lady asks
“Choumuri to Cygne.”
“And you plan on going alone?”
“Absolutely not, She’ll need at least take a pilot, and a cook, and Henri and a mechanic and-”
“Father I can speak for myself.” I cut him off harshly. He opens his mouth to get into another argument but we’ve argued enough these last couple of years.
We’re both tired of it.
“I’ll settle for six seats if you have it.”
She sucks her teeth as she thinks “Well normally ships either come in four, eight or higher. So six is a bit of an odd number.”
“We’re looking at the ‘friend-ship-range’ then.” She explains before stuffing her gloves down her apron and gesturing to the back “Right this way.”
We pass the big luxury ships with their game rooms and such and head on to a department that looks a lot more manageable.
A ship will be big no matter what you do, but there’s a difference between a ship that’s the size of a house or a block of houses.
This row is among the “small house” variety.
They look simpler, with no carved wooden panels or lavish decorations. But I like them still, they look functionally beautiful.
“I like this one I say pointing up to the one with the big golden bird on the canopy.”
“It’s a model 18.75, a bit old-fashioned so I strongly recommend some extra time for the captain to learn its quirks before taking any long trips. It’s a good machine but it only has electricity in the cockpit meaning no radio anywhere else on the ship.”
“I can live with that.”
“Hold on, you said this ship was old-fashioned, how old is it exactly?”
“This model has been out for about eight years, though it is a relatively new run, only four years in age.”
“That’s practically ancient! There’s no way-”
“Can I see the inside?” I ask, giving father no more leeway to argue.
The woman shrugs “Well, the interior hasn’t been put in yet so there’s not much to see besides the cockpit, but as you wish.”
“Now hold on you can’t seriously think of-” father starts.
“My ship, my pick.” I shoot back.
“Yes but I’m the one paying for it and if it breaks every two years-”
This time it’s the saleslady who gets to cut in “Oh it won’t break that easily, in fact, I think this ship is sturdier than any of its following generations, cutting corners is a serious concern lately with the rising demand.”
“I don’t know-”
“Just let me have a look, for all I know I hate it.”
Father rolls his eyes but doesn’t protest further.
Things have…soured at home.
He did some things I don’t agree with.
He knows it.
I think the only reason he lets me have this ship in the first place is as an apology for Maiwu.
The lady walks to the ship and picks the key off an enormous bundle she keeps in a bag on her belt. She opens the lock.
“Now again, it’s mostly empty rooms, the only thing truly worth looking at is the cockpit, though have a walk round to see if you’re okay with the sizes of the rooms.”
I shoot up the steps and into the corridor where it’s just wide enough for two people to pass if they go at it sideways.
I open a door on my left and find a nice roomy closet, then walk to the next room to find…another closet?
That’s strange, we’re already halfway down the hallway so then where did they leave the bedrooms?
Closets don’t generally have windows either so…I feel slightly embarrassed as I realise these tiny rooms aren’t actually closets, they’re the ship’s cabins.
I think four of these would fit into my usual bedroom.
Although I guess they don’t need to be that big.
Where would I leave all my books though?
“What do you think?” the lady asks popping up behind me.
“Are cabins this small on all the ships?”
“Depends, most in the friendship range yes, if you want bigger cabins you’ll probably need to upgrade to family size.”
“Hmmmm, how many people does that fit?”
“Eight to sixteen.”
That’s far too many “I see” guess I’ll just have to get used to a tiny bedroom “So where may I find the cockpit?”
“Right, follow me.”
The moment the lady opens the door the corridor gets flooded with light and I gasp looking at the glass room.
I walk to the one piece of furniture, a captain’s chair surrounded by levers and chains.
“This model assumes a single captain but extra chairs can be added on request.” She explains.
“Can I sit down?”
I sit and find it likes to glide from side to side.
“It’s on rails to allow for quick-switching between steering, navigation and radio.” She points to a switch “If you flick this it locks the chair in place.”
I flick the switch and find the chair suddenly stuck on the railing.
I look at the console with its seemingly endless buttons and switches “So…how difficult is it to fly?”
“Well it’s difficult to pick up but once you know all the buttons and functions and what to use then it’s quite rewarding.”
“Were you planning on learning to fly yourself?”
“Oh I’d love to, but father wouldn’t like it.”
She pulls up an eyebrow “Why not?”
“He believes it’s ‘unbecoming’ of a lady to fly her own ship.”
“Do you want me to try and convince him to give you a shot at it?”
I look at her surprised at such directness “What? Uhm? Yes, yes please, Miss…”
“Just call me Dana.”
And with that, she puts her gloves back on and leaves the cockpit.
To this day I have no idea what she said to him, all I know is that the moment I came out again father told me “If you get bored of it, I’m taking the money I spent out of your inheritance.”
My eyes flash from father to Dana and back again, and then my lips widen into a blissful grin
Back home the pretty lady greets me politely with a baby on each arm.
Her name is Maiwu, the babies are named Hato and Sato.
She lives here now.
Father had dropped the pretence and had her move in without asking me.
I think he did it because he got her pregnant but I never asked him about it.
“How did it go?” Maiwu asks me trying her best to sound kind.
I pass her by disinterested but father yells after me “Elizabeth come back and answer her question.”
I roll my eyes “It went fine. I’m getting flying lessons.”
She looks at father “I thought she was just picking a ship to use with the in-house pilot.”
“So did I.” Father shrugs “But now she’s getting lessons. Now how are my boys?” he asks setting his attention on the babies.
“Being a handful as always.” Maiwu laughs, she then hands Sato to father who looks at those babies the same way he used to look at me a long, long time ago.
Is it odd that despite wanting to spend as little time with him as possible I still feel insulted when he picks the boys over me?
He’ll be happier without me.
And I’ll be happier without him.
I just know it.
The ship needs to be cleaned, polished and outfitted with furniture and a kitchen before we can take it home to our garage.
Meaning my first lesson takes place inside the shop.
I rush through the lantern-lit tunnels and excitedly rap on the door with my fist.
Dana opens up “Precisely on time.” She says with approval in her voice, “Come on in.”
I follow her back to my ship, but she stops me before I can get in
“Now before you go rushing to the other rooms to see how they look I must warn you, they look terrible right now, that’s normal, but you might just want to go straight to the cockpit for now.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on looking at the other rooms, but now I feel like I must.” I smile, then carefully pass her by before rushing up the steps and looking around.
It doesn’t even look that bad.
Sure there are holes in the walls for all the shelf space and lights that I asked for.
The old wallpaper got torn off, and I don’t remember if I used to have a floor in here. But I expected piles of rubble of something so…
“Do you do all of this by yourself?” I ask as I hear the door opening behind me. It looks like it’s a lot of work for just one person.
“Most of it, yes, but I have friends helping me out sometimes.”
“I think it looks…” I search my mind for the right word “promising.”
“Good, now if you would follow me to the cockpit, it’s time for lesson number one.”
I nod, then follow her with a skip in my step.
I notice an extra chair made it to the railing. “Sit down.” Dana offers.
I sit, my hands aching to start pushing buttons and pulling levers. “So where do I begin?” I ask.
“Hold out your hands,” Dana tells me.
“Okay and th-hmpf.” She drops a big book down on my arms and I catch it, just barely.
“This is the manual. By the time we’re done here you’ve read it from cover to cover and understand the ins and outs of what makes it tick.”
“Oh, fantastic!” I open it up and start leafing through the layouts and diagrams
I look over the diagram trying to memorise each button and lever.
It probably would have been easier if the manual was in Cygnian, while I understand the language well enough now the glyphs that make up the language still throw me off sometimes.
Three times the symbol for fire has got to be the ignition though.
“You know normally children recoil from the idea of having to read a big book.” She sounds surprised. I guess this wasn’t the reaction she expected.
“Yeah but I’m not ‘normally children’” I joke back “I love books.”
“Good to hear it, but before we go into the nitty gritty, perhaps we can start with an introduction.”
“Oh right! Okay.” I close the book again.
“All right now there are two factors that make a flying machine. The first is ‘going up’ the second is ‘going forward’. Now that seems easy enough but do you know how the machine goes up?”
“The balloon is filled with helium right?”
“Yes! Very good but only in part. You see helium always lifts, so if you fill a balloon with enough helium to lift the ship, your ship will not want to stay on the ground. Back in the day, they’d use weights to hold the ship in place before departing, like an anchor on a ship. But unlike with a ship you’d have to leave the anchor behind. Meaning the only way to descend the ship is to get rid of the helium you’re carrying. Getting a new anchor and filling the balloon up with new helium wherever you landed to lift off gain. This is wasteful and vastly limits the places you can land. So instead there’s a helium-filled inner chamber and an outer chamber filled with air that gets heated with the heat produced by our second system, the steam engine. It makes the propellers go and gives us that forward motion, and since it’s a very hot machine, there’s no reason not to reuse some of that heat for buoyancy.”
“Oh, that’s clever.”
“You can essentially think of the helium of ‘offsetting most of the ship’s weight so it can be lifted off the ground with hot air.”
“Do all ships work like that?”
“Nowadays yes, but sometimes you’ll still find a ship using the old system if they managed to survive this long.”
“I see, so what does all this do then?”
“Well, you can divide the console into three parts: balloon controls, engine controls and ship controls. Now there are a couple of small exceptions but almost all of these buttons are for the ship controls. Things like pulling out the landing gear, steering, breaking all that stuff. The chains are for the balloon controls, releasing hot air to control the altitude and the handles and dials are for controlling the engine, its temperature and the route the steam takes to the balloon. You might want to send it over the inside walls instead of the outside pipes during the winter for instance.”
I listen in awe, trying to get all this information to stick in my brain.
It’s strange when I came in here I expected I would have such a long battle to understand how this machine works yet after hearing her talk for less than an hour I feel like I could actually do this, not right now but, things make sense.
“Now before we spin an end to today’s lesson I like to teach you at least one button, as a treat. It’s this one and it’s the most fun one of the whole lot.”
“What is it?”
“The foghorn. Mostly a relic from nautical times and rarely used in the field. But it’s loud and obnoxious and the only button you can press that doesn’t influence anything else on the ship so go ahead.”
I press the button and am immediately enveloped by a loud, low rumbling sound that makes my insides tremble. I pull away and it seems like the sound keeps going in my head for a bit.
“Well done, you learnt your first button, only fifty-six left!” she shouts over the gushing in her own ears.
I laugh at this and feel like this may be a long journey.
But I got a fun teacher and I can’t wait for next week.