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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 22

The newly re-christened Sky Hawk was a wonderful ship in many ways but maneuverability wasn’t her strong point. Garrick, the only man on board with any experience on sailing ships, was driven to distraction trying to train the rest of them in the intricacies of sailing. And his knowledge, on a much different kind of ship and over fifteen years past any practical application, had only a limited relationship to the Sky Hawk. Ocean-going ships turned left or right and that was it. The Sky Hawk, on the other hand, not only turned left and right, it also rolled left and right, and climbed and dove as well.

Using what was known as airspeed, she could make 30 knots. In the air over Gaia, that meant the 3200 league trip from the west coast of La-Dan to the east coast of the Marilas Federation, could be made in just under eight days. But in the vastness of space, with no landmarks by which to judge their speed, they couldn’t even tell they were moving. The only time they could tell when they were moving was during their daily target practice with the ballista and catapult.

Jon and Garrick lashed together a lumber and canvas target for the weapons crews to practice on. They lowered it over the side of the ship until it was floating even with the bottom of the ship and pushed it away from the Sky Hawk with long poles.

Aaren stood at the Captain’s station just behind Elric as he manned the ship’s wheel. He ordered full airspeed and Elric relayed the order to Garrick and his men. They deployed the full sails and the makeshift target began to grow larger as they approached it. It was too far off the port bow and Elric tried to turn toward it. He wound up tilting the steering column too much and the Sky Hawk spun on its long axis like it was on a skewer. Stars arched up over the port railing, sailed smoothly overhead, then disappeared below the starboard railing, only to reappear moments later as the Sky Hawk continued to spin.

Horace and Mira, crouched beside the forward ballistae, stared at the target as it did the same thing. Horace stood up beside his ballista and yelled back at Elric. “That’s not helping!”

Elric bit his lips and yelled for Garrick and his men to turn the sails sideways to stop their spin but they overcompensated and the Sky Hawk began spinning the opposite direction. From beside her ballista, Mira yelled back. “That’s not helping, either!”

Trying to correct the motion soon had the crew completely turned around and utterly disoriented. More than one man became so dizzy they threw up, creating a huge mess. They quickly learned that vomiting over the side of the ship during a roll resulted in the wet, sticky mass orbiting around the ship to splatter into the back of one’s own head. If there had been any place to go, Garrick would have abandoned ship right then and there.

Climbing and diving presented enormous difficulties too. The logic behind it was as alien to Garrick as it was to the rest of them. The pilot was the person most responsible for the ship’s heading once the sails were deployed but slowing them down and stopping unplanned spins and dives required a joint effort. Often they made the situation worse instead of better.

When they used the power from the star engine, the problem was compounded. The sails hung limp and useless at what was called banking speed because all the power came from the star engine and the slowest speed available was 150 leagues per hour. The weapons crews watched gape-mouthed as the target went whipping past faster than anything they’d ever seen.

“We can’t hit that!” Horace bellowed after the third attempt. “It’s too fast,” he objected over lunch that day.

Elric had been staying up half the night trying to dig out more information from their captured trove of books and charts. “Originally it was called maneuvering speed instead of system speed, which is meant for interplanetary travel, because it’s meant for maneuvering around large objects like planets and moons. These days it’s usually called banking speed and it’s not meant for close-up work. For that, you have to use airspeed or lacewing speed. Both of those names means the same thing.”

Aaren backed him up. “In port, coming to dock somewhere, or in battle, you have to use the sails for airspeed.”

Mira was leaning against his shoulder as they finished eating. She was still uncertain of consummating their relationship in the close confines of the ship where everyone could hear them, but she wasn’t hiding her affection for him anymore either. “Then maneuvering speed should be called something else.”

Aaren made a face. “Weren’t you listening? It is called something different – banking speed.” Mira stuck her tongue out at him.

He grinned then ordered all the Knights to take at least one turn at the wheel to get a feel for what it was like to steer the ship at both airspeed and banking speed. They were still avoiding using system speed for the time being. When Horace was done, he went out of his way to apologize to Elric for his initial outburst. Steering a starship was harder than he’d thought.

The next day they tried it again.

Elric and Garrick were finally able to coordinate their efforts. Horace and Mira crouched beside their ballista crews while Aaren commanded the crews at the aft catapults from his position behind Elric.

The target sailed smoothly toward the ship. Elric turned the wheel a few degrees until the target was almost dead ahead then straightened the ship out. “More sail,” he called. Garrick gave him a thumbs up and ordered his men into action. Another sheet on the forward mast dropped open and the target swelled in their sights.


Both ballistae fired at nearly the same time. With the ship stabilized, firing at a moving target was no different than tracking an approaching war wagon, a tactic many guardsmen were familiar with. Both ballista bolts hit the target dead-on, spinning it around, leaving it tattered and torn.

“Woo hoo!” Mira shouted. She waved at Aaren. “Here it comes!”

He waved back and gestured at the catapult crews. They nodded at him, swiveling the catapults to track the battered target as it came sailing past the stern of the ship. In the weightless conditions of space, a catapult’s payload didn’t arc high in the air then come crashing down on the target. Instead, as soon as it left the gravity field created by the life chest, it continued on in a straight line. The change in aiming that it necessitated was one they thought they had figured out but Aaren insisted on testing their theory just to be sure.

“Tracking!” one of them shouted. “Range in 3, 2, 1 . . . fire!”

There were two heavy thumps as the catapults hit the backstop and two small boulders shot out across the void. They hit the target just off-center, utterly destroying it. All that was left was a slowly spreading field of debris.

A victory shout went up from all the men.

Aaren grinned at them. He raised his voice. “Lower the other target over the side and let’s try a ramming attack.”

Garrick and his men scrambled to obey. Once the target was floating free, Elric took the Sky Hawk looping away from it. Once they were a couple of thousand cubits away, he turned to Aaren. “You want to take the wheel?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Elric stepped back as Aaren took the wheel spokes in his hands. “Bosun! Half sails. We’re turning full port rudder.”

“Aye aye, Captain!”

Garrick relayed the orders to the crew. The Sky Hawk turned more sharply at slower speeds than at higher ones so taking in the sails was standard procedure. The moment the sails were secure, Aaren spun the wheel to the left. The Sky Hawk turned with stately dignity, like a dancer in slow motion. The stars wheeled about the ship until the target was nearly dead ahead. He spun the wheel back in the other direction. “Full sails!” he shouted.

“Full sails, aye aye!”

The crew let the sails drop and they filled with a sharp crack of the sheets as magical currents filled them like a strong north wind. “Distance and heading,” he cried.

“Distance and heading, aye.”

The ship’s wheel was behind the two masts. When the target was directly ahead of the ship’s bow, it was obscured and the pilot couldn’t see it. He needed a man on the bow to call back the distance and heading to the target.

Jon called off the distance and heading. “Range, twelve hundred cubits. Two degrees starboard.”

“Two degrees starboard,” Aaren echoed, turning the wheel slightly.

“Steady ahead!”

He let the wheel straighten out. “Steady ahead!”

A few heartbeats went by.

“Range, 800 cubits. Steady ahead.”

“Steady ahead, aye.”

“Range, 400 cubits. One degree port.”

“One degree port, aye,” he answered, turning the wheel barely to the left.

Almost instantly Jon called back, “Steady ahead.”

“Steady ahead, aye.” He brought the wheel back.

“Range 200 cubits. Steady ahead.”

“Range 100 cubits. Steady ahead.”

“Brace for impact!”

“Impact, aye.” Aaren stomped on the pedal that locked the wheel column in place, spread his feet and crouched, bracing himself. The rest of the men were doing the same around him, grabbing onto the rails.

A moment later there was a tremendous crash and splinters flew over the ship in a hail of wood and tattered cloth. Bits and pieces of the target rained down across the deck. Others sailed on past them back into space.


After a moment of silence, Mira pushed the shield she was crouched behind down and latched it back in place on the deck in front of the starboard ballista. She brushed her raven tresses out of her eyes and looked around for the target. It took her a while before she found it, then she found it again and again and again and again. It had been totally demolished by the steel-clad bulk of the Sky Hawk’s ram, the debris was strewn across half the sky. “Not bad,” she muttered to herself. Rather than shouting the length of the ship, she pulled one of the speaking tubes to her, “Target destroyed, Captain.” She couldn’t stop her voice from becoming a sultry purr.

She heard Aaren order a roll call and the men began calling off from every corner of the ship. As they called off he turned and slipped her a wink from his position by the wheel. Behind him, Elric was making kissy faces in the air. She stuck her tongue out and flipped her hair at him. One of the men at her forward ballista leaned over the bow of the ship to examine the ram, and when it was his turn to call off, he added, “Ram is ship-shape.” When the roll was completed, Jon’s voice came through the speaking tubes loud and clear to the whole ship. “All men present and accounted for, Captain. No damage to the ship,” he said crisply, throwing Aaren a snappy salute.

Aaren stepped away from the wheel, surrendering it to Elric. “Thanks.”

“Captain?” Elric drew his attention.


He gestured at the full sails. “We’re still underway. Do you want to keep on going or stop?”

He frowned. Airspeed was so gentle it was easy to forget the ship was moving. There was no sensation of movement and no landmarks going past to prove the ship was underway. At airspeed, the distant stars stayed in their familiar constellations, there was no breeze or rushing sounds or anything. Only the full sails, full of magical currents, gave any indication they were still moving. He bit his lip and looked around. The blinding disk of the sun lay ahead of them. “Are we headed directly toward the sun?”

“Not directly, but yeah, close enough. You want me to take a reading?”

He shook his head as the rest of the Knights joined them.

“But is it good or bad?” Katrina asked as she gained the deck. “Is that the way we want to go?”

“Good or bad is a matter of opinion. At the speed we’re going it’s good, we won’t get there for a couple of thousand years so we’re in no danger of burning up.”

“Never mind all that,” she sighed impatiently. “Is that the way back home?”

“Not a chance,” Elric replied. “The ship was heading this way when we left Gaia, so home is somewhere behind us. On the other hand, if we headed away from the sun, we don’t know which way away from it we should be going.” A note of frustration crept into his voice. “This three dimensional navigating is harder than we ever imagined.”

Mira snuggled up against Aaren. “So heading toward the sun is no better or worse than heading away from it because we don’t know where we going anyway. Right?”

He nodded down at her. “Pretty much.”

He examined the starry sky for any hints to their location, but the proud stars ignored his earnest searching or were indifferent to it, for they told him nothing. He sighed. “Steady as she goes,” he told Elric. It was as good a direction as any, he reflected. Maybe they would encounter one of the two planets that were supposed to be between Gaia and the sun, and that would tell them where they were.

Or maybe something else would happen.

Something else happened.

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