Chapter 3: Rebekah's Morning
Beka ran off to her morning assignments- more volunteer than actual duties, but it gave her the opportunity to be part of something and helped stave off the boredom. She always loved being topside anytime she could. As big as the Empress of the Sky was, one could not enjoy or comprehend its vastness sneaking around dusty hallways, deserted theaters and empty ballrooms. Most of the ship was a floating, unfinished hotel for ghosts that had become her exclusive playground. Rebekah was one of the few members of the crew that had no “official” tasks, so she had more free time on her hands than most of the rest of the crew put together- her days were spent exploring instead. With no official school or studies, she was instructed by Captain Grumm to make herself useful by learning everything she could from the people she bothered. She remembered the conversation well.
“Rebekah Peck, if you must go around pestering everyone, please make an effort to at least learn from them as you do. This is not a ship of fools, and I will not tolerate any on MY ship.”
Captain Grumm was the only one besides her father, Dr. Weaver, and Jules that called her “Rebekah”. Captain Grumm had made it very clear to her that she was to learn everything there was to know about the ship - that was just what she was going to do.
Arriving topside, she pushed open the hatch and inhaled the morning sunshine. For the moment, it was a glorious October morning in Missouri. Rebekah knew that could change in an instant. For example, the weather recently had been very fickle- they were in a lull between storms and she could see more on the horizon where they were heading. There was a clean, briskness to the cold air. A few crew members that were assigned cleaning duties were busily hosing down and scrubbing the decks and washing away the debris from the last squall. Captain Grumm had run cruise lines for years before the Empress and old habits were hard to break. There were no passengers to impress- no one that would demand their money back if everything wasn’t prim and proper, but still, Captain Grumm insisted on some manner of decorum.
She looked down the length of the ship looking for the team she was going to be working with this morning and remembered what the commemorative plaque said:
The Empress of the Sky had been expected to be the first in a line of very exotic airships called Skycruisers. It was seven hundred meters long and almost one hundred and fifty meters wide. If the topside deck were completely flat, you could lay out fourteen football fields sideways across its length and still have some room left over.
Rebekah never got tired of reflecting over these details though it was one thing to rattle off the numbers, it was something totally different to stand at the bow of the ship and take it all in. The topside of the ship was supposed to be a quarter mile long Victorian era boardwalk with many recreational pastimes scattered across its surface, all mixed into a park like setting. At least, that’s what it looked like on paper, and on the giant model artfully displayed in the Grande Gallery. Most of the pieces of the boardwalk and many of the amusements were still in boxes below deck.
Beka made an involuntary sweep of her arms as she thought this. After taking in the view, she began walking down the port side path of the deck.
Unfortunately, some of the grandeur was lost as the ship was never finished. However, some of the crew had planted trees, flowers, and bushes --- from their trek across what was left of the United States, but there was no rhyme or reason, no effort had been made to create anything resembling a well-manicured garden, but there was a menagerie of trees, many plucked right out of orchards and gardens along the way. Some even planted gardens and fashioned greenhouses, which Beka was very thankful for. She had been surrounded by apple orchards where she grew up near Seattle. Anything that reminded her of home was greatly appreciated.
About halfway, she spied the team of four that were calibrating the bladders, the vast pontoons fixed to each side of the main ship. This was another “miracle” that Beka never got tired of pondering. All airships throughout history had gotten their “lift” from filling a bladder with some kind of lighter than air gas, such as hydrogen, helium or just plain hot air. The Empress of the Sky was once again, “unique”. Squinting against the sunlight, Rebekah could see the team already decoupling one of the bladders to begin taking measurements.
What do you mean there is “nothing” holding up the ship? Beka remembered asking her father when they first discussed this project.
Just that. It’s almost magic, her father answered. What we are doing is using this new stuff to build a structure like a giant cigar shape, kinda like a regular airship, just a lot bigger. Remember the giant ball at EPCOT in Disney World? Beka nodded over her morning cereal. We are building giant spheres almost exactly like that. Aerolon is so strong that when we make a ball from it, we can cover the whole ball with graphene and then suck out all the air. It’s like those toys you have in your room that I brought home from work. The toys that float.
Beka nodded again, taking it all in.
So they work just like a balloon, but instead of helium, we just pump out all the air and once all the air is gone, the balloon rises, and floats just like a helium balloon, only faster. In this case, the balloons are over a hundred feet wide and we use thirty-two of them. We can lift over four thousand tons and since Aerolon itself doesn’t weigh anything, that’s four thousand tons of everything else. The ship, being made of Aerolon, is more than weightless. We have to add things just to keep it from floating away.
Beka hadn’t understood most of what her dad had been talking about that morning five years ago, but he had been really excited about it and that alone made her happy to listen. After her mom had died, there had not been much to be joyous about and he rarely shared any of his feelings. Rebekah had just been glad that her dad was paying attention to her, something that had become increasingly less common. Suddenly she was conscious of a tear. She blamed the sun in her eyes as she absently wiped it away.
She skipped the remaining couple of hundred feet where four men were huddled over an exposed piece of equipment on deck and joined the other engineers in their daily chores.