Magic can lift us to the heights of Heaven
or damn us to the Pits of Hell. Choose wisely.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr
Aaren and Elric had managed to discover some interesting things about starships, chief of which was that all three of the reactors on the steerage deck were required for the ship to operate correctly. The middle reactor, the one called a skengine, provided magical energy to lift the ship off the ground. The fuel for it was copper coins. Each coin fed into it through the hatch was enough fuel for it to run for one day, and it took 10 copper coins to light up each of the ten diamonds over the hatch.
The reactor on the left, the life chest, provided air and gravity to the ship and it used gold coins, called crowns, for fuel. Once again, one coin provided enough fuel for one day and it took 10 gold coins to light each of the ten diamonds.
The reactor on the right, however, was different. It used platinum coins, often called thrones or tri-crowns, for fuel but each coin only provided enough power for one hour. It still required 10 coins to light each of the ten diamonds above the hatch. It was the second row of ten diamonds, this time below the hatch where the real differences came to the fore. Each diamond that lit up, requiring 10 platinum coins, indicated enough power for only one star jump.
The controls for the ship, aside from the sails, were on the ship’s wheel, the handles on either side of it, and the control panel in front of it, up on the aft castle desk.
That was the easy part. After that, they ran into problems with the navigational aspects of running a ship. They had been arguing, off and on, ever since they captured the ship and both of them were getting frustrated. A minor point concerning stellar navigation was explained poorly, at best, in the captured books, and each of them had reached a different conclusion from what little information there was. From there, a tiny difference of opinion had mushroomed into a full-blown argument, complete with red faces and clenched fists.
Elric finally threw up his hands in exasperation. “Have it your way!” he shouted furiously. “I give up!”
They stood there breathing heavily, eyeballing each other for a moment. Aaren let out his breath with a noisy explosion and turned away, trying to keep from punching his friend right in the nose. He hadn’t been this angry in years. He struggled to get himself under control. A violent slam told him the slender mage had stormed out of the cabin.
Elric leaned back against the door, staring up at the starry skies above, grinding his teeth in anger. How could Aaren be so mule-headed? Did he expect Elric to simply bow down because he’d been elected Captain? Well, he had another thing coming if he thought he could get away with that nonsense! He clenched his fists, surprisingly feeling once more the same boiling frustration he’d felt after an argument with Zorn. He needed a drink, only there was no Smiling Waif to turn to. Maybe there was something down in the galley. The stairs down to the cargo deck were right beside him. He turned abruptly and headed down, so angry and upset that he didn’t notice how far down on the horizon the stars came or stop to reflect that it was too early for the stars to come out.
Aaren listened to Elric’s footsteps on the stairs. They’d been cooped up in the navigator’s cabin for over an hour since lunch, rehashing their navigation argument for what felt like the hundredth time. Elric was probably headed down to the galley to snag a bottle of something. He wished he’d thought of it first but now, if he went down himself he’d run into Elric again so he stayed where he was, stewing and chewing his lip. How could someone so brilliant be so absolutely stupid when it came to navigating a ship? He shook his head.
He pushed himself away from the door and began scooping up the books and charts that were strewn around. While studying them they hadn’t tried to keep the room in order and now it was a huge mess. Trying to work off some of his anger, he found he’d cleaned up the entire chamber in less than half an hour. He put the last chart back in place then paused to survey the room. It was the forward port stateroom under the forecastle, about 10 cubits long and 10 cubits wide at the back where the door was. The outside port wall followed the curve of the ship’s hull, gradually narrowing until the room was only 8 cubits wide at the forward end. The other forward stateroom on the starboard side was a mirror-image of it.
Along the curve was the navigator’s workbench. Over it was hundreds of pigeonholed charts and maps, carefully rolled up and placed in their individual slots. Each was clearly marked and the whole arrangement was placed so a man sitting at the navigator’s position could reach any one of them merely by stretching out his hand. The navigator’s chair sat on rails so the occupant could slide from one end of the workbench to the other, quickly and easily. An arrangement of voice tubes provided communication to the ship’s wheel on the aft castle deck. A parallel arrangement of mirrors provided visual communication as well. He slumped down in the navigator’s chair, staring unseeingly at the stars in the mirror.
How could he get Elric to see his mistake, he wondered? Their continual arguing wasn’t accomplishing anything. There had to be some way to get through to him.
Wait . . . stars?
He shook his head in confusion and peered through the mirror. It was angled so it looked slightly up to where the pilot would be standing behind the ship’s wheel. It should have been showing blue skies and maybe a few puffy clouds. Why was it showing stars? It had only been an hour since lunch, maybe a little more. It shouldn’t be night yet.
He frowned and got up. Three steps took him to the door and he yanked it open. He peered up at the night sky. He blinked owlishly. What? How could it be night already?
He walked out slowly, craning his head back in disbelief. The unfurled sails obscured his vision and he made a mental note to remind Garrick to always furl them again after he and the men finished their practice sessions. He stopped and stared at the shimmering iridescent sails.
Usually, they just hung limply from the masts. He couldn’t feel any air movement and the little village was at the bottom of a shallow bowl-like valley that was notable mainly for its lack of good breezes, so why were they billowed out like they were full of wind? He shook his head in bewilderment. What was going on?
Mira leaned back from the table, stretching her back. “Agh,” she groaned. “Paperwork is why I got away from my father’s business. I hate sitting hunched over a table like this.”
Horace nodded sympathetically, stretching his own back as he pushed himself to his feet. “I hear you.” He sniffed the air and looked around with a puzzled expression on his face. “Is there a window open in here someplace?”
Mira was rotating her head on her neck. “I don’t know. Why?”
“It smells like fresh mountain flowers in here.”
“Oh come on, it doesn’t . . .” She paused, sniffing the air. “Hmm. You’re right. It must be coming from outside.” She stood up, strode over to the shutters that covered the glass panes, and threw them open. She fell back with a gasp of pure horror, vertigo threatening to overwhelm her.
Horace leapt to catch her. “Mira! What's wrong . . .” He stuttered to a halt as he saw the view outside. “By all the gods,” he whispered. “What happened?”
She pushed away from him and reached out cautiously to close the shutters. They breathed a sigh of relief as the insane view was blocked out.
Shouts of alarm echoed suddenly from the main deck outside. The sounds of running feet thundered through the ship along with Marak’s voice bellowing orders. There was a clash of steel then Aaren’s alarmed voice yelling at someone to leave something alone. Something happened and they felt a surge of acceleration beneath their feet.
“What?” Mira shoved Horace aside and sprang for the door. She jerked it open and dashed up the companionway for the open part of the main deck. She flung the door open and emerged outside. She took three steps then ground to a halt, trying vainly to understand what was going on.
Instead of a sunny afternoon, midnight stars surrounded the ship. But the stars were spinning wildly as if the ship was turning on a spit over a fire. Every few seconds they would also move side-to-side or worse, up-and-down. She gasped in dizziness, staggering forward to hang onto the main mast for dear life. Up and behind her, she heard the sounds of men struggling. She turned, still clinging to the mast, and saw Marak and his men clustered around the ship’s wheel, fighting over it. Their struggles were causing the wheel to spin wildly. The column the wheel was on, tilted on gimbals at the bottom and their fight was moving the entire column in every direction, back and forward as well as side to side. She tasted bile as her stomach tried to revolt against the moving sky.
She saw Aaren struggling to get through the knot of men surrounding the wheel. He was bellowing something about hitting the black onyx. Finally, he made it, shoving all the men away, and slapping at something on the hub of the wheel. The stars quit whirling around as the wheel stopped moving.
Mira pushed herself away from the mast and started up the stairs to the aft castle desk, trying to ignore the impossible sight of stars under the ship, fighting her way through the men still clustered around the wheel. She got there just in time to hear Aaren say, “We’re in space. Somehow or another, we’ve been launched into space!”