DIRIGIBLE: flying craft equipped with flotation sacks of buoyant Tree-ether, a common means of transport in the Central Canopy (though not in the East, where ether is scarce.) Argosian dirigibles use sails to navigate seasonal trade winds and air-currents between different areas of the Tree. They can be steered with poles out of harbour and slowed down with parachute-like cloth breaks or directional streams of compressed gas.
The ‘Stargazer’ was built more like a floating fortress than a vehicle. From the tip of her prow to the high towers on her stern, she was bolstered against the world’s winds by a tough, resilient shell of bark. Her masts were of the strongest hardwood harvested from Lantrian Tree-mines, her sails great sections of heavy leaf-canvas. Three large reinforced balloons assured her buoyancy; directional ether jets could be released from barrels at her stern and a squadron of smaller sacks inflated and emptied, as needed, for vertical movement. A complete set of spares hung at her sides, ready to replace a torn or missing sack at a moment’s notice. The whole effect was one of a huge, stately dowager in gathered skirts, moving through the sky with surprising speed. Tymon had never seen such a quantity of polished hardwood and billowing sackcloth, and it seemed as if he was going to have to clean every inch of it.
Under the hood…
For me, it was not enough to have the Argosians harness Tree-ether and launch their floating ships into the skies. This was a people in the grip of ancient ideas and superstitions. They distrusted science. They used only certain approved forms of air-travel. Their ruling priestly classes paid a great deal of lip-service to the idea of the Natural Law, while in secret making use of forgotten technologies as they saw fit. A dirigible was not supposed to travel faster than weather dictated: sails were acceptable, but steam-driven propellers were not. Ether jets might be used for direction change and special air-currents harnessed for speed, but the idea of a machine that flouted such concerns and went without the wind would stir up a deep uneasiness in the Argosian soul. Somewhere deep down a collective memory existed, the confused sense that when one allowed a machine to just do anything, one was inevitably trafficking with demons.
So an Argosian dirigible might be described as being built of overlapping sections of hardwood, called clinkers. It would possess a great many ether-balloons, including spare sets to replace those damaged during a flight. It could be steered with long poles if small, or nudged about with ether-jets when large, and used sails and parachute-like screens to advance or lose speed. Some fantastical contraptions far to the north, in foreign parts, might employ pedal-driven propellers. But an Argosian dirigible would also be built of ideas. It would run on superstition and use religion as fuel. It would be at the mercy of wind and weather, an entirely inefficient means of transport taking ten times more effort and energy to move about than a streamlined Zepplin. Practicality would not be the only concern of these magnificent, soaring, cumbersome vehicles.