A short trip to El Dorado yields a surprise or two.
|Once we had finished our muffins and marmalade, we stepped up onto the deck into the bright lights of the Aether. It seemed as if we were being pushed along our path with speed uncommon for Pandora. The navigator of the Pandora, Mr. Normal Pettigrew, advised me that we were travelling in an anomaly very similar to the Gulf Stream. When I asked where we were bound, he told me we were headed for El Dorado to reprovision the airship for the next leg of the voyage. Kane, Pettigrew and I were standing on the starboard bow rail when a lookout sang out, "Port bow, well away, the largest Swirl I've ever seen!" Kane became very animated as he pulled me across the deck towards the port side, "Oh lad, you need to see this." Other members of the crew joined us on the port side, each of them as animated as Kane.
Off in the distance, a huge gray-green fog bank rose and fell like ripples in the surface of a pond disturbed by a stone. As I watched, it became clear that something was moving in the fog, twisting and spinning. As we approached, it became easier to see tentacles as they came close to breaking the surface of the mist in which they were cloaked. The rigging crew worked hastily to slow Pandora so that we could all see the spectacle unfolding in the skies before us. Kane began explaining what we were witnessing.
"You know there is a Murder of crows, and a Gaggle of geese. When a group of Kraken get together, it is called a Swirl. This is how they congregate and communicate their adventures with one another." He seemed awestruck at what we were witnessing as he went on, "This is one of the largest Swirls we've ever seen." He went on to point out how to recognize the different Kraken as they moved in the mist ahead. "As in most of the animal kingdom, each Kraken is a unique creature," he explained. He went on to point out the markings near the base of their tentacles and across their brows that differentiates them one from the other. As we grew closer, we heard a low, rhythmic thrum coming from the midst of the Swirl, and I found myself drawn to close my eyes and listen closely.
As I listened, I knew instinctively this thrum was the sound of the Krakens whispering to one another. I began to realize I could understand much of what they said to one another. Simple tales of small storms and islands that lay in the folds of the Aether. As I listened, I even heard a singular thrum telling the tale of Ahab's Lance and the crew that bore it. It became clear that they were telling tales of centuries, and my respect for them grew as I listened.
Kane's hand on my shoulder awoke me from my trance. He looked into my eyes closely, then whispered "You can understand them, can't you?" I could only nod. He smiled broadly. "You share that with your father and your grandfather. It's a good thing, to be sure." We stood close to the rail for the better part of an hour, watching the Swirl, picking out individuals from the great gathering as they broke the fog. As we drew abeam, some of the Kraken rolled around in the fog to watch us with baleful eyes as we went by. There was no threat in their mein, and they exhibited only a mild curiosity about Pandora as we passed.
As we slowly left them in our wake, the Swirl began to descend into the larger cloudbanks below. The crew stood to their stations almost immediately, and Kane urged me to find something to hold onto. As I wrapped my forearm in a rigging line, the clouds beneath us seemed to erupt in a wild tangle of tentacles and heads as the Kraken broke the Swirl. They seemed to rocket off in every direction, scattering as if the Swirl was some great dandelion suddenly caught in a whirlwind. Their massive bodies were revealed without the fog as they left. They ranged in size from 200 feet in tentacle diameter to a pair that were easily 500 feet across, all moving in some great rippling current invisible to the naked eye. It also seemed that every dark color imaginable could be found in their shining scales, from dark violets to bright greens and blues, all interspersed with oranges, yellows, and reds which marked their individuality, one from the other.
Their was a reverent silence among the crew as we watched them disperse into the aurorae and we sailed onwards toward El Dorado, each man contemplating the awesome spectacle in his own mind. We all knew it was a rare event to be witnessed, and every member of the crew wanted to remember it all forever.
We came to rest in El Dorado a few hours later, and Kane took me with him to a brightly colored warehouse where he handed over a list to a tall Asian fellow with bright green eyes. They exchanged a few pleasantries and quite a few coins and bills of varying colors and designs as they struck a deal to provision Pandora. Once business was concluded, we walked along the elevated piers, taking in the sight of every airship imaginable docked there to load and unload their cargoes. As we came back around to Pandora, I found myself now aware of the fact that each and every one of these great vessels was unique in and of itself.
The only exception to this were the three military craft of Her Majesty's Time Brigade that were docked, slightly separated from the others, in strategic positions in the docks. They were of a singular design, all of them very similar to HMAS Cloudwitch. I was only able to make out the name of one of these great vessels. It looked nearly a twin to Cloudwitch, but bore the name "HMAS Peregrine." The only difference I was able to make between it and Cloudwitch was the fact that Peregrine bore two very broad mechanical wings that struck out from her hull, shaped in nearly every fashion to match those of a bird of prey. While they were currently folded in against the hull, it was clear they would give her an added advantage in steering when deployed, especially in close maneuvering. When I mentioned my observation to Kane, he said they were a good idea for the hard framed military airships, but were very dangerous to more flexible craft. As I considered that, I thought back to the encounter with Cloudwitch and tried to remember how she maneuvered. I realized the strain that those wings could bring to bear could tear loose the lift rigging in a flexible craft without providing any real assitance to maneuverability. However, the stiffer design of the military craft could translate the wings' movements more readily to those vessels without danger of damage to the rigging.
As we made our way back to Pandora, I realized I had a great deal of thinking to do about airships and the finer points of their design. As I was walking along deep in my thoughts, I was stopped in my tracks by a very familiar figure in a bright green dress that swept up in front of me. "Hello luv, fancy meeting you here." Miss Puryear looked quite fetching with the combination of green satin against her red hair, and I couldn't help but tell her so. She smiled broadly, then threw her arms around my neck and kissed me, much to the delight of everyone within sight. As a round of applause rose along the dock, she stepped to my side and joined us in our walk back to Pandora, smiling unabashedly and nodding her head to the various groups of aircrew gathered closely. She said she'd be joining us aboard Pandora when we left El Dorado, and Kane assured me he would provide a private cabin for us without a second thought.
How fortunate I felt right then, with the viewing of the Swirl and the beautiful Emily Puryear on my arm. I felt in that moment that I wouldn't even need an airship to navigate the Aether's skies.