APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 4 May, 2000


Sailing the Skies

Buji Kern

Karin thumbed the microphone switch on, broadcasting through the entire floater. "This is your captain speaking. We're about to make our descent into sunny Elayu, to exchange cargo and pick up my esteemed co-pilot. If this is anyone's final destination, gather your gear. We'll be on the ground shortly. If you're staying onboard, you can stretch your legs, but be back to the ship within an hour."

She smiled at herself. She enjoyed pretending to be an airline pilot, but the truth was there were rarely more than ten people on board at any one time. It was a cargo floater she piloted, after all, but they did take on a few people now and then that wanted the low fare and relaxed pace of travel by airship.

The cliff-buildings of Elayu loomed larger as the floater gently descended to the airstrip. It touched down with a soft 'thump'. Karin switched the engines off and the fans began to slowly spin down. "Jaime, can you take care of the cargo? I need to go find Ethan. Maybe to bail him out."

"No problem, Captain." Jaime grinned. He went back to the cargo hold with his register, checking off goods destined for Elayu aloud. "Two crates of Timmins-made trideo recorders, four crates of Southern clothing, two cases of 7mm rifle ammunition..."

Karin pulled on her pistol belt, desert hat and sunglasses, and walked down the ladder from the cockpit to the strip. It was bright, even with her shades on. "Now where is he, and what kind of trouble is it this time," she murmured to herself. Small forklifts began to drive up to the floater, loaded with cargo. Other than that there was little activity on the small dirt airstrip. She started walking toward a small building, and noticed some people standing outside of it. One of them waved to her.

It was Ethan, her co-pilot. Last time through here he had decided to take some time off and stay behind, although why he picked Elayu was completely beyond Karin. She suspected it had something to do with the girl he met in one of the local bars, though. It wasn't much later she got a message that he could use some help, and could she please fly to Elayu as soon as possible? So she diverted her route and really pissed some customers off, just so she could get him out of whatever he had gotten himself in. Oh well, she thought. He has been a good pilot.

Ethan was flanked by two large men, with the kind of frontier-authority-figure look that screams 'marshal'. Not a surprise. Ethan had his con-man smile on, which spoke volumes about his situation. He usually didn't look like that unless it was pretty serious.

"Hey Karin, how's it going? I'd like you to meet my friends, Marshall Tomas and Marshall Eckart."

"Hello, I'm Karin Roberts." She thought she noticed one of them nod his head, but she wasn't sure. Then, with a voice like, well, sandpaper, Marshall Eckart spoke up. "Ethan here told us you usually had some Kenema Ale in that floater of yours. We don't get much good beer out here, y'know."

Karin was about to quote him the going price for Kenema ale, and say that furthermore they were all out, when Ethan said, quickly, "Y'know Karin, I was thinking, since we have so much of that stuff, how about we give these guys a sample case?"

She didn't catch on for second, but then it became clear what was going on. "Oh, sure. Let me just go grab a case." She turned around and walked quickly back to the floater. Damn him, she thought. There hasn't been any Kenema Ale on board for weeks! I guess my private stock will have to go, she thought glumly.

She bounded up the stairs. Jaime was taking on cargo in back. "What's up, Captain?" he shouted. "Oh, don't ask... not yet, anyway." He gave her a puzzled look and she waved him off. "Okay, secret beer compartment, secret beer compartment... it's around here somewhere." It had been quite a while since she had taken anything from her stash, as she was saving them for a special occasion.

She spotted a particularly worn panel behind her seat. That must be it. She pried the panel open with her belt knife, and retrieved her last case of Kenema Pale Ale. She looked at the case briefly, weighing 12 bottles of her favorite beer against her favorite co-pilot, made up her mind and went back out on the runway.

The marshals' eyes lit up at the sight of the beer, at least as much as their eyes could light up. "Enjoy", Karin said, and handed it to Marshal Tomas. Ethan still looked like the heat wasn't the only thing making him sweat. "Well, I'll be seeing you guys... although it might be awhile, you know how the trade routes are. Well, anyway, got to be back to the ship. Take care now!" The marshals nodded and walked off.

Ethan watched them for a second, before practically running to the floater. "Walk slower," Karin said. "You might be a criminal, but you don't have to walk like one." He slowed his step slightly. "So, what was it this time? Drinking? Fighting? Gambling?" she asked. Those were all typical elements of a vacation, at least for Ethan.

"Oh, all of the above," he said casually.

"So what happened with that girl you were hanging out with?" she asked.

Ethan looked unfazed. "She's very nice, and so is her boyfriend. I think he'll go very far in the barroom bouncer industry." Karin laughed, able to picture the scene vividly.

Ethan practically bounced up the stairs to the cockpit. "I am so glad to be back on this floater, Karin! Thanks for getting me out of here."

She was settling into the pilot's seat already, preparing to take off again. "No sweat buddy. Anytime." Ethan looked at her for a second, wondering how many times she had bailed him out before, before making himself comfortable at the co-pilot's station.

Jaime came up from the cargo bay.

"Okay Karin, we're all loaded up with Elayu-made textiles and leather goods. We're ready to take off." "Great job, Jaime. I'd offer you a beer, but, well, I can't now." Jaime looked confused, and Karin winked at Ethan, who was studying a map very intently. Karin clicked her microphone switch. "Okay, travelers of the sky, we're about to take off again. The next stop that shows up on most maps is Jan Mayen. Our expected travel time is about 5 days, more if we have to go around a tempest. As always, the crew would like to remind you not to fire any weapons or detonate explosives inside the cabin. Thank you, and enjoy your trip." Karin pushed the throttles forward, and the huge fans started spinning up to flight speed. The floater lifted off and slowly climbed upward.

Ethan unbuckled his seat belt once they reached cruising altitude. "I'm going back to the passenger cabin for a few minutes." He returned rather quickly. "Who's the creepy guy in the robes?" he said, glancing aft toward the cabin.

Karin didn't take her eyes off the controls. "Big rifle nearby?" she asked.


"Doesn't say much?"

"Yeah. That's him."

"Oh," she said, "that must be Timal. Timal is Koreshi."

"A Sand Rider?" Ethan sounded awed. To Karin, the tall man from the white sands was just another passenger. Ethan was younger, and more easily impressed.

"Yes," she said, "but he doesn't like that name. He thinks it's stupid- after all, they don't ride sand, do they?"

"Well, what's he doing here? I thought they stayed in the White Desert."

Karin eased the floater into a gentle port turn. "They do, for the most part. But Timal is special- he's a Jonus Herasi, a "sacred wanderer". They're supposed to travel around the outside world, and then tell their priests of their experiences. He figured a floater was a great way to see the Badlands. He's in no hurry, after all." Ethan nodded thoughtfully, and went back to his station.

The days passed. The airship sailed on, avoiding tempests when they appeared on their radar, but mostly flying a straight path toward the small GREL settlement of Jan Mayen.

Occasionally they landed at tiny settlements, to take on fuel in exchange for a few goods, or wait out a storm. They found themselves spending the night at one such settlement when a large tempest loomed ahead. Karin studied the battered old weather radar that was on board. "It looks like it's moving away from us, so if we wait a while we should be okay." Ethan pulled a deck of cards out from a pocket. "Want to play?" he asked. "Nah," Karin replied, "I think I'll take a nap." "Okay, see you later." He went back to the cabin.

Most of the passengers were reading, or using small datapads. Timal was just staring out the window. Ethan sat down next to him, and Timal fixed him with a gaze that would freeze an angry barnaby in its tracks. The man looked old, but Jonus Herasi were supposed to be fairly young. Years of hot sun and stinging sand had taken its toll.

"Want to play a game?" Ethan asked, taking his cards out and shuffling.

"Yes, although I probably do not know the rules." Timal's voice was powerful. Ethan explained, and they played for several hours. Timal seemed fascinated by the game, although he barely spoke and almost never won a hand. Finally Ethan was exhausted. "I'm afraid I have to turn in, Timal. I'm tired."

Timal nodded. "Thank you for the game, Ethan. It was very entertaining." The Koreshi took out a small pad of paper- it looked handmade, with some kind of leather cover- and started writing in it. Ethan went back to the cockpit.

Karin was asleep, her feet up on the hood of the instrument panel. Ethan collapsed in his chair, and looked at Karin for a moment. She was really quite attractive, he thought. He wondered why he spent so much time chasing girls.

One of Karin's brown eyes opened.

"Were you staring at me?" Ethan turned to his displays. "No, of course not." Neither of them said anything for awhile. The sound of the tempest, many kilometers away, could barely be heard inside the cockpit. "I'm bored," Ethan said. "Let's go get married."

Karin laughed. "Aw, that's sweet. But that would ruin our buddy relationship... and your social life." Ethan laughed, too.

"Excuse me?" They were both surprised by Timal's cloaked figure in the entrance to the cockpit. "Forgive me, but I could tell you were still awake. I wanted some company."

"Of course, Timal," Karin gestured at a box in one corner. "Have a seat."

Timal sat down on the floor, cross-legged. "Thank you, but I prefer to sit on the floor." Karin shrugged. Timal spoke slowly, in a way that was impossible to ignore. "I envy you, flying across the desert for cycles. I'm sure I've only seen a fraction of the things you've seen." Ethan nodded. "Yeah, we've seen a lot. Paranoid gold miners in Marigold, religious pilgrims in Massada, bar fights, gunfights, Gear fights, GRELs in Port Arthur, GRELs in Jan Mayen... we've had a lot of adventures."

Karin smiled. "Don't let Ethan fool you into thinking he's some kind of Old Man of the Air, Timal. I'm sure you've seen some things that we haven't, either. So what do you think of the rest of the Badlands so far?"

Timal thought, then spoke. "Interesting. There is much strife, like the rest of the world, but there is much good, too. This world is so vast. I will be glad to return home. But Koreshi aren't that different than the rest of the world, you know. We work hard, and we relax. Mostly work hard. The cycles continue. Life is simpler, I suppose, but we do not mind. I don't know how long our way of life can continue though, walled off from the rest of Terra Nova. We shall see. But the stars are the same here, as in the Great White Desert."

Karin looked at Ethan and Timal. Ethan seemed somewhat uncomfortable with Timal's mysticism, being more used to the attitudes of Badlands traders. She looked out the window. The storm had cleared the clouds, and it was a beautiful night. She began to plot an acquisition of beer, as she fell soundly asleep.

They took off early the next day. There was a slight tailwind, and they were covering a lot of ground. Ethan and Jaime were having a spirited film discussion in the cockpit. "There's no question that Joe Gear III: The Return is the best Joe Gear movie ever!" Ethan said. "No way," Jaime said. "Joe Gear VI: Molten Fury is by far the best, and Danel Roush plays a better Joe Gear than Marten Wills ever could!"

Karin rolled her eyes. They could go on like this for hours. A red light started blinking on the panel marked 'Fans'. "Guys, we've got a problem here! Starboard fan is malfunctioning!" Ethan swung his chair back to his station. "Oh damn," he exclaimed, "there must be a problem with the driveshaft. Let's set her down." Karin nodded. "I'm bringing us down. Shut the starboard fan down."

"Roger," Ethan said, "Starboard fan is offline." The huge fan spun down. Karin grabbed the microphone to make an announcement. "Nobody panic, but we have to make an emergency landing. Don't worry, we'll be back on our way before long."

Karin aimed the floater for a fairly level spot of soft-looking sand. The big airship quietly descended nose down, until Karin flared and cut the engines, the nose of the floater rising up before settling on the ground. There was nothing in sight but sand.

Ethan unbuckled his seatbelt. "Nice landing, Karin." She had already jumped out of her seat, and was heading for the door. "Let's take a look at this fan, guys." Ethan and Jaime followed her. The fans on most floaters are located above the gondola, so Karin had to climb a series of handholds before she could reach the pylon the fan was on. She removed a panel, and cursed. "It's pretty hosed. It looks like the driveshaft is totally frozen up. I think we have the parts we need, but it will take a while." She climbed down from the pylon, and began to tell Jaime where the necessary parts were kept, when Timal appeared nearby. They were a little surprised- Timal had an uncanny ability to sneak up on people. "If you have a mechanical problem," he said, "I may be of assistance. Before I began my wanderings I often repaired equipment."

Karin smiled. "Sure, the more hands the better. Climb up there if you want to see what's broken. It's a turbine driveshaft." Timal did in fact climb up, his heavy rifle slung over his back as always. He sat on the pylon and studied the driveshaft carefully.

Several hours later, they were finished. Ethan settled himself in his cockpit chair, wiping his oil-streaked hands on a greasy rag. "Man, that guy is an absolute wizard with turbines!" Ethan was impressed. Timal had demonstrated extremely thorough knowledge of floater engine repair.

Karin powered up the turbine, and both fans began to spin. "Everything looks good," she said. "Starboard fan is at 100%, no malfunctions." Karin grinned.

"Well, my esteemed colleagues, it's time to take to the skies again. Don't you love your jobs?"

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 4 May, 2000