Maiden Voyage of the ASJ Apexis

11 Oct

VerroakArtAvatarThere it was, at long last, our first ship completed. I know people doubted my reasons for building it. Like, yeah, I know we have rifts that transport us to planets in an instant, but transport is only one thing a ship can be used for. One thing is defense. Pirates did not find us yet, but when they do, having a ship throwing arcane fire at them will be invaluable. Also, transport. Yes, I know what I just said, but our orders can sometimes be pretty big, and other than using half of my porters to push a giant box, we can now use the ship to move the whole thing more easily. Sure, it costs quite a bit, but I figure the opportunities it gives us outweigh the costs. For the past few weeks, we’ve been building the ship and preparing everything it needed.

If you don’t know, the spacejammers are regular, naval ships, upgraded with special devices necessary for the dimensional trips they will be taking. First thing to know, it needs a special netherfordium plating on the outside, to maintain a closed energy curve and keep air and water inside and away from the nether. Second, it needs an air enveloper – a special magical device which keeps a closed bubble around the ship that keeps the air from escaping. And to keep the air fresh, we had to place a lot of plants everywhere around the ship. To move around both in the normal space and in the nethereal flow, we had to install ethereal nether sails. No rockets there – just good, old sailing (in a magically enhanced way). And you can’t forget about the main mode of getting in and out of the Twisting Nether – portal drive. It uses the stored magical energy to open a giant portal before the ship and then thrust it through. Once there, you sail on the flow towards the destination. And because pushing such a big mass through the Nether takes a lot of energy, we had to install a pair of active nether converters – devices that refine raw nether into nethergon, which carries more energy per gram.

But here’s something this “manual to spacejamming” one of the hurwaeti crewmen brought tells me – you only ever want to sail using known, mapped nether streams. Twisting Nether has strange, immaterial and logic-defying qualities. Even though the various worlds are much closer in the Nether than they are in real space, the travel is still not instant and a slightest detour can have some strange consequences. The Nether transcends time and space, and a lost ship can arrive on the other side of the galaxy, too close to a black hole, or worse – hundreds of years after its departure. Stranger still, there are tales of ships that arrive before they left and whose crews have to leave on a doomed voyage lest they get annihilated by the ensuing paradox.

That’s why we needed a good crew. Before we left for the maiden voyage today, I acquired some specialist crewmen. The kvaldir that helped build the ship, Mistcaller Yngvar, was hired to pilot it, although for this trip only, I was to sit at the helm. Some of the porters now share duties between the ship and usual delivery, but the new crewmen are for the ship only. Three gravs, whose ability to manipulate an object’s weight will come in handy, and three hurwaeti – amphibious humanoids who can use an innate spell-like ability to create fresh air out of thin… out of nowhere. The ship’s other functions, like maintaining all the devices or provisions or the plants are being filled with our regular senior staff.

So we were finally there, the ship completed and everyone on positions. Yngvar was standing at my side, anxious to get his turn at the steer. Me, I was sitting in the chair already. Because these ships, you don’t steer with a wheel. You have to put on a special helmet, connected to a magical chair connected to the entire ship and all its systems. Jhuuton was standing ready in the engine room, monitoring the energy flow. Orkan was sitting at his position on the side and most of my senior staff was on the main deck, waiting for the views of our voyage. With everything ready, I put the helmet on and the ASJ Apexis started.

Unfortunately, most people did not appreciate my “now, we are one” joke when my eyes lit up with the energy from the helmet. And the off-worlders didn’t get it, but whatever. It was quite a strange feeling, sitting in that chair. It wasn’t like piloting or steering anything – it was more like I actually became the ship. I still felt my body sitting in the chair, but I also felt everything in the ship like it was an extension of that body. I felt the nethergon converters pulsing, I felt the wind blow on the sails, and I felt the touch of water as the ship rose from it towards the air. Once you get used to this strange feeling, piloting a spacejammer is really quite easy. It’s just like moving your own body, by crawling I guess because it doesn’t have limbs, but you just tilt, and the ship tilts. You think about moving forward, and the ship does that. When the energy flows through the ship, you feel the warmth of it like blood inside your veins. It very quickly becomes natural. I’m so happy we have magic and none of that “inputting numerical coordinates” nonsense.

First, we took off into the air above Anzulekk and got our first really good view of the Island and everyone left on it. As we were rising higher, we could make out less and less details on the Island, but more of the mainland next to it was taking shape. And the strangest part was, as we were getting higher and the air was getting colder, you could see the horizon curve up. You don’t normally see the world’s curvature from the ground because it’s just so large compared to us, but from up there, no one could deny anymore that this world wasn’t another orb. Finally, we left the atmosphere and were silently carried by the momentum between the two worlds in the dark, empty void of space. I took on the direction towards Ka’alulekk, which some insist to call Anzulekk-B, and let it drift over the few minutes.

Normally, when an object falls from space into a planet, it burns up due to friction, I think, or temperature difference. One of these. But with these magical vessels, the air envelope around us essentially created a shield that prevented the effect. We silently descended through the atmosphere and the clouds that were getting thicker and thicker. I guessed Menrim was impatiently waiting to finally get a look at these “traces of civilization” he saw from our world, so I dove towards that big river with “signs of agriculture”. As always, Menrim was proven to be right about these things and we saw from above the smoke and large open fields near simple, primitive villages. I had a very devious idea, so we dove further.

I positioned the ship to fly parallel to the ground and we made a low-altitude flight over one of the villages. There is a race of fish-like humanoids living there, but they seem rather primitive. They have wooden shacks, stone granaries and fields of simple cereal plants, plowed with stone and wood tools by men and some kind of large, horned frogs. When the first farmers saw a ship flying on the sky above us, they ran away screaming in fear – as I intended. I flew towards the village and saw all the tiny figures below me running around in fear and screaming in their strange, piscine language. I think they had some kind of town hall, because the building many of them ran to was bigger, had stone walls and a bigger chimney. There was also some kind of altar in the center of the village, with an image of a serpentine being carved from stone. I have no idea what that is about, but maybe I’ll let Menrim take some people to investigate it later.

After the little horror show, I took the ship back up, flying out of Ka’alulekk’s atmosphere and leaving it hanging between the two worlds visible as giant orbs on both sides of the ship. Because the twin worlds are so close, we could just fly with regular engines, but now it was time to test the portal drive and actually fly into the Twisting Nether. I merely thought about jumping, and the drive opened the portal and thrust us right into it. I’ve been in the Nether many times, but the sights still amaze me. Swirling mists of green and purple writhed around us, as the ship settled into one of the bigger strands. Technically, it wasn’t mapped because no one carefully mapped this system, but it was the only possible way to our destination – the hot gas giant I dubbed Skettis.

As we sailed through the Nether, everyone could see why this place is so perilous. In the other flows around us, we could see things move and change and seemingly age in the blink of an eye. A dormant observer was floating somewhere far from us, and we could see it wrinkle up and grow old, even though the time was flowing normally for the creature and if it was awake, it could see us sit almost motionless on the strand we took. All around us, instead of shiny points of distant stars were tiny orbs of distant worlds, connected to each other with the flows of nether like strings of a giant web. Some distant, rocky, barren world was above us three times – in three different stages of its evolution. Menrim took a good look at it with his equipment and saw it completely barren in one stage, covered with patches of water ice, and a final stage, where it was heating up and breaking up with lava flows the size of seas. I imagine that if we took one of the strands leading there, we could move in time by hundreds of thousands of years.

But I was keeping my mind on my destination, looming on us through the green mists. When we were close enough, I turned the ship to face bottom towards Anzulekk’s sun, which I dubbed Terokkar, and main deck towards the gas giant. Then, I jumped out of the Nether. That was a curious sight indeed – like a reverse portal. A hole appeared in the nether flows, letting the normal space shine through it. When the ship jumped out of that hole, everyone on the main deck gazed upwards to the large, yellow orb dominating the sky. I warned everyone not to look down. Skettis orbits so close to Terokkar, looking the sun that close would blind everyone permanently. But still, Skettis was quite a sight. It looked like a bored painter’s abstract masterwork, with strips of various shades of yellow criss-crossing the entire planet. But still, in a few places there were storms, circular points in the collection of somnolent strips. On the face of this giant planet, they looked tiny but considering how big it really is, each of them must have been the size of entire planets. Speaking of planets – we could spot a few tiny moons orbiting Skettis and Menrim tirelessly cataloged everything he saw.

Our time was up, so I opened the new portal that jumped us back into the hazy mists of the Twisting Nether. I quickly drove right back on the stream leading towards our twin worlds and from that distance saw clearly there was a nether flow linking Anzulekk and Ka’alulekk as well. It was to be expected, all worlds are connected, but the strength and power of that tether was amazing. I purposefully sailed towards it and saw energy flowing from the other world to ours. There is a deeper connection here and they’re twin worlds more than just colloquially.

Soon afterwards, we landed in the same spot we took off from, returning absolutely safe and sound and as Jhuuton reported, all the systems held up, despite some being bought second-hand. I finally left the chair and let me tell you, going back to moving normally, as a bipedal person, after hours of “being a ship” felt somewhat strange. It’s like a cramp you feel after two hours of sitting in one spot without moving, or even a dizziness you get when suddenly awoken in the middle of the night. Now I know why most spacejammer pilots are hardly doing anything else – the bewildering sense of “switching a body”.

And the most curious part? After I handed the ship off to Yngvar’s control and returned to my study, Yu Gwai told me we were gone only for ten minutes, though it felt like hours up there. Even when you’re as careful as possible, time is strange in the Twisting Nether, and I hope Yngvar remembers that. And if he doesn’t, I’ll plant Orkan right beside to keep reminding him.


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