“Aircraft in the old world were limited by relativistic physics,” Carina said as Avi and Rachit slurped at their drink pouches. Rachit’s eyes scanned the room as Carina continued. Avi did his best to show interest in Carina’s knowledge of the archaic.
“What does that mean?” Avi asked.
“The more acceleration, the more it would compress the bodies of the pilots and passengers. You could only increase your speed at a given rate without killing the people aboard. It would take a long time to reach high speeds because their bodies were so fragile.”
“Really?” Avi asked, genuinely interested now.
“Yeah, but that's not all,” Carina continued. “Before the world changed, they didn't even have inertial stabilizers, grav-sim, or vaclev assist. Their principal forms of propulsion were chemically based.” She let out another round of laughter. “Once the Emperor returned and renovated the world, the development of technology increased at a pace, unlike the world had ever seen.”
“So, you’re saying this ship is better than the old ones?” Avi asked, trying to distill her point. She laughed at his simplified statement.
“My dear,” Rachit said as he threw one large arm around Carina’s shoulders and kissed her on the forehead. “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but I love it anyway.” They all laughed as the party plane climbed higher into the atmosphere.
“Well, you know one thing the old world space travelers did have?” Carina asked.
“What,” Avi said.
“Drink pouches,” she said as she held up her beverage. They all took another enthusiastic swig of their drinks.
As the orbital shuttle drove higher beyond the clouds, they moved through the crowd meeting people from all over the province. Both shepherds and mortals were present on the giant spacecraft. More than a few times, people recognized Avi's name as the songwriter of tunes they had recently heard. The rest of the time, Rachit announced, as a proud uncle might, who Avi was.
“We’re reaching max-alt for the vaclev lift assist system,” King Hans's amplified voice called out to the passengers. “We’re about to fire up the ole’ girl and blow the soot out. We’ll reach apoapsis in under fifteen seconds, then roll belly for an orbital insertion burn. When we get into orbit, I’ve got a treat for everyone.”
Rachit and Avi looked in Carina’s direction. Neither of them had understood a word of Hans's explanation. Carina was beaming as she saw yet another opportunity to explain.
“The vaclev lift assist system brings us gently to the top of the atmosphere.” She let her hand drift into the airspace between them. “Then once we’re at the top of the atmosphere, we release from the vaclev tanks and blast off toward the height we need to get into orbit. Then we’ll level out,” she said. “It’s pretty simple, really.”
“All I need to know is that it works,” Rachit said.
“He said he’s got a treat for everyone,” Avi said. “What do you think that means?”
“I'm not sure, but I think I'll go find out,” Carina said. She wandered off through the crowd. Rachit and Avi mingled with other travelers. They met passengers from all over Tamesh. They laughed together and shared stories of their adventures. Carina returned after a few minutes. She was bouncing with excitement.
“What’s up, Sis?” Avi asked. He could tell she was eager to tell them something.
“Well,” she had a smile as wide as the Zargus river. “I got to talking to Low King Hans, asking him questions about the plane. He said he thinks I’d make a good engineer. He invited me to come study at King’s Research Institute in Tamesh City after our Pilgrimage. He said I’d make a good addition to his engineering staff once I completed my studies.”
“Wow, that’s great!” Avi said. Rachit was silent. They both looked at him. To their incredible astonishment, he was wiping tears from his eyes.
“I’m so proud of my brilliant niece!” he said as he wrapped his thick arms around her. The warmth that poured from the pair could have fueled the shuttle. Avi could believe that Rachit truly was a new man, inside and out.
“Whoa, what’s that?” Avi said. He could feel a change, but having never experienced it before, he didn’t know what it was.
“That's zero-G,” Carina said.
The gravity that held them to the deck decreased. It made Avi's stomach feel strange, and he could tell from the look of the others that they were experiencing the same. Within a second, they were weightless and floating above what had been the floor. Looking around, the giant compartment was a fascinating sight. The entire crowd was drifting weightlessly in the massive mezzanine.
Shouts of joy and excitement swelled all around them. People played in the zero gravity. Some did flips. Others spun in place. One man drifted across the passenger compartment, flapping his arms like a bird. The entire cabin filled with laughter as all the people gleefully enjoyed their new capabilities.
The covering that had been the roof moved. The top of the passenger compartment slid slowly open. As it did, brilliant light poured in, and they looked out into the beauty of the heavens above. After a few moments, the entire compartment was uncovered. Though they couldn't feel the movement because of the zero gravity, the entire ship was spinning on its axis. It rotated until the earth came into view.
As they orbited high about, the blinding reflected light of the globe filled the entire open cupola. Breathtaking blues and greens washed across the scene, drifting lazily below. The entire compartment fell silent as they meandered in place, mesmerized by the passing world underneath. They watched the continents move like earthen ships in a world of water.
The experience filled Avi with such music and lyrics that he could hardly contain it. He reached for his side satchel that was floating at the extent of its strap. He retrieved his notebook and penned some poetry, as he hummed its melody to himself.
“I hope you’re going to share that with us,” Rachit said. Avi looked up to find that Carina and Rachit were reading over his shoulder.
“I will,” Avi said confidently.
It was unmeasurably great to look down on a world that had meant so much to the Emperor that he would die to redeem it. How it must have crushed the heart of His Father God, to watch his only son be slain, to find peace with the world.
The warmth and joy shared by the passengers was marked by singing and prayers all around. It was a time of joy that Avi and the others would never forget.
After an hour of silent drifting, the gravity was restored, the cupola closed, and they descended toward the center of the world, Jerusalem.