Men Not Afraid: Riding on the Storm

  1. Men Not Afraid
  2. Chapter 2: A Matter of Gravity
Produce ships and sails which can be used in the air of the sky. Then you’ll find men to man them, men not afraid of the vast emptiness of space.—Johannes Kepler

The twins walked aboard their ship, the Athena’s Horn. It was just before dawn, the first Friday of May, Roman Year 2652. The wood groaned as the ship rocked in the gentle waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship’s huge wings curled tightly above the deck.

“Saturn’s Procession, that’s rubbish. Why you waste your time reading this stuff… ”

“Have to keep up with the times, Laura. Daltrey’s truly impressed with this H.G. Wells’ stuff, you know.”

“Daltrey also believes in Maxwell’s Void. I think the flier’s drug has upset his humours. We all, him especially, need a rest.”

“From what? We haven’t done anything more dangerous than haul spellings since the goblin wars ended in the Rockies.”

“We need a vacation from ennui, then. I hear there’s still adventure down south, in the Indian Nations.”

“Laura, I don’t know… ”

First Officer Roger Mahoney walked out of the cabin towards them.

“Everything’s ready, Sam.”

“Great, Roger. Tell John to get us underway.”

He walked down the stairs, ducking under the ship’s starboard wing.

“I don’t know, Laura. Running magic doesn’t seem exciting anymore. Owls’ eyes, we’re lucky to be alive after all those crazy ‘adventures’.”

Sam smiled wryly at her sister and continued: “Maybe we should just up and admit we’re dodoes, and join Cody’s western rodeo.”

“We’re twenty-eight years old, Sam. Hardly dead yet. What do you want to with the rest of your life, if not live it?”

The cry went up to raise the sails, and the starboard and port wings lifted. As they unfurled, the ship itself lifted out of the ocean, water dripping in buckets off its hull. The Athena’s Horn slowly moved out of port.

They muttered a short prayer together, under their breath.

“Athena, grant us wisdom.”

“Poseidon, grant us passage.”

Laura put her hand on her sister’s shoulder.

“Cheer up. If it helps, the oracle said I’d be making a dangerous voyage soon.”

“Sure, but the oracle believes in Maxwell’s Void too, doesn’t she?”

The twins laughed, and walked into the cabin to plan the voyage to France. They had four tons of ingredients, arcane and mundane, bound for the wizards of Paris.

The Athena’s Horn settled into the ocean for the night. It’d been two days since they set out from Florida. Flier Daltrey sat alone in the needle room for seven hours of the day, and slept six. The rest of his time involved eating, studying magic, and reading fiction. Tonight, he went to his quarters and settled into H.G. Wells’ new work, From the Earth to the Moon.

Twenty pages later, First Officer Mahoney rushed in. Daltrey, feeling the choppiness of the sea, knew the reason.

“Flier, report to Captain Smith. There’s a storm coming.”

The best way to survive storms was to go around them. Barring that, it was best to go above them. Flying ships did not fare well in the high winds of an ocean storm.

Flier Daltrey reported to Captain Smith at the wheel.

“Reporting as ordered, captain.”

“We cannot go around the storm. It came up too fast. Hopefully it will pass as quickly.”

Daltrey nodded. If a flying ship rode above a storm, and the storm didn’t pass quickly, a Flier called to a second shift may rebound before the storm is past. There is no natural danger greater than landing a flying ship amidst crashing waves and gale winds, while your own body rebels against you.

For the Athena’s Horn, the only real danger lay with unnatural ones: pirates. If Daltrey came down from the flier’s drug, Ship’s Mage Smith could take over. But if they were to then encounter pirates, the Athena’s Horn would be lacking her wizard.

Daltrey looked around. The sails had already been dropped for the night. Only the sixteen stars and stripes of the United States’ flag and the swooping owl of the Athena’s flag still flew in the increasing winds.

“Flier, the storm is rising unnaturally fast. Report to the needle immediately, and bring the Horn up.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He rushed beneath the curled port wing and into the needle room. The needle room was furnished with only a heavy chair, a stone oil basin, and a small cabinet. The cabinet contained syringes, but he didn’t need them—the oil, a gift from one of the Horn’s previous employers, replaced them. He sat down. He took a phosphorus match out of the cabinet, struck it against the side of the stone basin, and lit the wick floating in the center. Fumes grew from the oil. He leaned over and took a deap breath.

“Captain,” one of the crew cried out, and he heard it within the haze, “shall we raise the wings?”

“No!” she replied over the wind, “Not until we clear these winds!”

He settled into the ship, and looked upwards.

With his glance the ship lurched, first upwards, and then backwards as the winds grabbed hold of it. Slowly he steadied the ship and began its ascent. Without wings, he needed to balance the ship as well as raise it.

The clouds grew closer and darker. Captain Smith, Ship’s Mage Smith, First Officer Mahoney, and Astrogator Lyall went below deck, to the cabin. Through the porthole everything was black as they moved into the clouds.

“I’m getting scared, Sam. What you said is true. This storm truly is rising at an unnatural speed. I can detect a dim hue of magic in the very wind that whips by. I haven’t seen anything like this before.”

“It looks like just a storm to me, Laura. Any idea who or what could cause something like this?”

“No. Although Druidic magic obviously comes to mind. Who else could have this power?”

“Astrogator, where did this storm come from?”

“Well, Captain, if it’s magical, it’s hard to tell. If it followed standard paths for this time of year, it started somewhere in this section of the Atlantic.”

“Where will it go?”

“Florida. If it’s natural, it’ll die out by then. It’s much too energetic.”

“And if its magical?”

“If it’s magical, I guess it can do whatever it wants. That’s not something I’d know anything about… ”

‘It’s going too fast for us to outrun it, if you want to warn Miami.”

“That is what I was thinking. I do not like this at all… Laura, is there anything you can do? To send a message?”


“Well, it probably isn’t important. Florida has survived hurricanes before. It will have to survive this one. Magical or not, it isn’t that powerful.”

She stood up.

“Anyone else have anything to say?”

Astrogator Lyall spoke up:

“All we can do is wait. I’ve got the same feeling you do. This just doesn’t sit well. I’ll be happy once we’re above it.”

Captain Smith dismissed them. Laura remained with her sister.

“Well, Captain. Maxwell’s Void or not, looks like the oracle was right.”

“I hope not. We’re traders now. We’ve got a job that doesn’t have time for adventure.”

A while later, once the ship was above the clouds, they walked onto the deck.

The Athena’s Horn sailed swiftly through the upper wisps of moisture, as the clouds roiled below them. Bright flashes of light silhouetted the misty mountains and lit the vast valleys. Through the fog above, a hazy full moon barely shone through.

The twins were looking across the clouds. It was cold, and they huddled together for warmth. Finally, Sam spoke up.

“Ready to fly if necessary?”

Laura continued looking over the side.


“Yes, I can do it.”

“You don’t like flying, do you?”

“It is… an experience.”

“A good one or a bad one?”

“It’s incredible. Good or bad? I don’t know. I feel, though, that it could be… addicting.”

They waited for a while, until Laura broke the silence.

“It is times like these, I wish the novelists and poets were correct. Sailing out into Maxwell’s Void. There’s where we could find adventure, Sam.”

Sam was startled for a moment, but replied calmly.

“Perhaps… But there’s something to be said for settling down as well.”

“Can you imagine the moon as the next State? Naval battles above the plains and seas there?”

Sam laughed and held her sister closer.

“Now you’re being unrealistic. The moon is over two hundred thousand miles away. That would take weeks to travel. Anyone doing it would need an entire crew of seasoned fliers. Can you imagine being lost weeks from land, without a wizard powerful enough to control the flier’s drug?

“True. Even just on Earth we’ve been lucky that Anastolis gave us the basin. Creating an entire fleet with basins is inconceivable.”

“And America’s changing, Laura. I think we’re less likely to have new states than to have new colonies.”

Suddenly the moon broke free of the fog and shone down in its full brightness. The mists below dropped away like a huge cliff as the Horn passed the storm’s eastern edge. Sam yelled at the crew to bring the ship down, as the lookout cried that a war fleet sailed below them.

  1. Men Not Afraid
  2. Chapter 2: A Matter of Gravity