“Of Ebin’s Arrival in Aevia and the Creation of the New Aevian order:
A firsthand Account.”
All rights reserved by the author
The ocean stretches out below me, the sky above me. For a while I can forget the plane, the mission, even myself, Right now, the world is beautiful.
Kaliya comes up from below on my port side. She is wearing an admiral’s uniform, but she looks like the same fierce fighter she always was. She gives me a hearty smile, and points off towards the horizon. There is our target, right now a black speck, but it will soon be a city. Kaliya gives me a thumbs up and drops back into the formation.
I ignite one of my rockets and climb to seven thousand feet. I am the lookout, so I need to see our entire fleet and as much of the enemy fleet as possible. Three and a half thousand feet below me are six airships and about forty planes. The plume of steam and rocket exhaust that they leave behind has made an artificial cloud that stretches out far behind them, leading back to Aevia where we have come from.
Up here it is quiet. I have shut of my engines so as not to leave a trail that would give me away. The bottom of my plane is painted light blue, and as long as I don’t cross the sun nobody below will see me. I have a few more moments to relax before the fighting begins. I think about what brought me here and try not to think about whether or not I’ll be going back.
Our planes are small and light, I lean over the chest board on which I am lying and look directly down to the ocean. It’s a dizzying view, especially considering that all that’s keeping me from plummeting is a flimsy wooden frame and some cloth, an engine and my skill as a pilot. But falling does not concern me. What concern me are the dark shapes creeping through the water a bit off my forward stabilizer. Enemy submarines.
I pull two smoke grenades from my belt. One if by air and two if by sea, the agreed upon signal. I pull out the pins and toss them in the air behind me, creating two ribbons of orange smoke that cascade down towards the water. In response, one of the airships sends up a large flag from its mast; it’s red with a black X on it. The planes scatter into evasive patterns and the bombers go forth with depth charges. And so begins the battle to shape the future of Aevia.
Of Ebin’s Arrival in Aevia and the Creation of the New Aevian order: A firsthand Account.
The story which I’m about to tell you, is not remarkable, though it is unique. You may find it remarkable however if you’ve spent your entire life dwelling on the ground, as I and many of my people might have done were it not for the rising of the sea. The planet seems determined to wash us from its stony skin, for as the core cools the land settles and sinks further and further beneath the ocean, and with it go all our farms, factories and cities. It is estimated that it may all be gone within my lifetime.
All then would be lost it seems, were it not for the Aevians. The sky people appeared shortly after the sinking began eighty years ago, first in airplanes, then airships, and now massive flying cities and islands. How they do it is a mystery they keep to themselves, but it is widely known that they treat the remaining ground people with distain, and that they are loath to accept refugees even when entire cities sink beneath the waves. The future of humanity is simply not big enough for everyone who wants a spot these days.
This was all distant from me during my childhood. I grew up on a farm, with my brother and my parents. Every year the waters had drawn closer and closer to the small plot of land we inhabited and cultivated for five generations. Like many who had come before, we had hoped for a miracle that was not to be. Three seasons ago, two of out fields were gone, and by the time I left it was all under water.
When the farm sank, we went to Innan, the city on the northern sea, which remarkably hasn’t budged even an inch. Some call it the blessed city, but geologists say the blessing will eventually run out as the other sinking landmasses push Innan’s tectonic plate off of its solid foundation. In any case, it has become a haven for refugees. There are also Aevians who visit, though they never stay long.
My family didn’t stay together in Innan. Both my brother and I sought our fortunes independent of each other and of our parents. It was by pure chance that my fortune brought me to Aevia, through a chance encounter with a smuggler named Barry. Barry was a criminal in the air and a hero on the ground, a notorious smuggler but also a savior of wayward children who had little or no chance of making it on their own in Innnan. At that time I fit the bill perfectly. Barry offered to take me to Aevia for a third of the money I had. Since it seemed like my best chance at the time, I accepted.
Barry was not uncommon. Many smugglers brought helpless children to Aevia in those days. I have later come to realize that it was not simply out of the goodness of their heart: Aevia has a world class airforce that patrols the areas around the cities constantly. They are deadly and efficient, but not without compassion, and they would not shoot down a plane with a child aboard unless it were absolutely necessary. In essence, the smugglers use the children as insurance when making the trip to Aevia. Still, everyone benefits, since there are more jobs in the sky nowadays than on the ground, and many of the children that fly with the smugglers have no chance otherwise.
I can’t quite describe in words what it was like seeing Aevia for the first time. We approached it from the west at sundown after a four-hour flight. From a distance, it looked like a large cloud, but as we got closer I realized what I actually saw were white towers, capped with roofs of tile and gold leaf. I had imagined that Aevia would look like a big flying rock with buildings on it, but this was not the case. It looked like a mountain rising out of a giant floating disk. The city was built on the sides of the mountain, while the flat disk below contained acres and acres of farms, a few towns, and even two small rivers, which simply flowed off of the edge and cascaded down to the sea a mile below. In the olden days, sailors had thought that they might sail off of the edge of the word if they ventured too far. Here that was truly possible.
All the buildings in the city were made of white stone, with pale blue-slated roof tiles that were the same color as the sky. The architecture would best be described as gothic. There were many towers and terraced gardens, along with several impressive bridges that linked the individual peaks of the mountain together. The streets were narrow, and punctuated by archways crowned by carved wooden statues of various animals. I wondered what the significance of these statues was as soon as I saw them, but to this day nobody has been able to explain them to me. They are simply an accepted fact of Aevia, like the 3000-foot space between the ground and the sea below.
We flew over the city twice so I got a good look at it. The first time we were a considerable distance above, but the second time we were much closer, so close in fact, that I believed we would crash into the mountain if we did not turn. Just as I was beginning to grow anxious I realized that Barry was making for a large opening in the mountainside, and to my amazement, flew the plane directly into a gigantic hall with massive pillars on both sides. It looked large enough to contain a midsize airship, and it was lit by hundreds of lanterns suspended from the ceiling in chandeliers designed to resemble balloons.
Thus I arrived in Aevia. It took me a while to establish myself here, but I was comparatively fortunate. I got a number of minor, short lived jobs doing menial work, sometimes in the city, sometimes on the farms down below. This lasted about six months, and then it ended abruptly when I met Kaliya.
Kaliya really deserves her own introduction, such as the one I wrote for myself, but I’ll try to keep it brief and focused on the things that are unique to her, since our stories are in many respects the same. She grew up in a ground city, Dhresal, which sank a few years before our farm. When an entire city sinks, there are massive relocations, and Kaliya and her parents ended up in a refugee camp. A few months in, there was a cholera epidemic, and both of her parents died, but young Kaliya somehow survived. She was brought to an orphanage in Aevia at the age of 12.
One year later, Kaliya did something incredibly brave. Disgusted with the orphanage and its miseries, she cut her hair, dressed as a boy and became a recruit in the Aevian air force. I don’t know how she was able to keep her secret for as long as she did, but by the time she was finally exposed it no longer mattered. Kaliya, you see, was born to fly, and it took only five weeks of training to make her the single best pilot Aevia had ever seen. She became known as the queen of the skies, the daughter of the wind.
Kaliya was 17 when I met her. It was in a pub in one of the city’s lower districts. She was sitting by herself at the last available table, and I asked her if I might join her since there was room. She kindly agreed. We talked about trivial things for a while, but eventually she asked me what I did for work and I told her the whole sad story I just told you. She was of course, sympathetic, and suggested that I might follow in her footsteps. I was hesitant about the idea, but she continued trying to persuade me until finally she offered to train me personally. Of course, who would refuse such an offer? Aside from being exceptionally skilled, Kaliya is also strikingly beautiful. I later found out that she is quite demanding however, and training under her would be the challenge and the adventure of a lifetime.
On our first day, Kaliya brought me to the same hanger that I had arrived in with Barry.
“This is the A dock” She explained. “Most airplanes, and the occasional airship arrive and depart the city here. We’ll begin with a test flight to see what you already know. I requested a Srattor Gemini for today’s flight. It’s a trainer aircraft, so you should find it easy to handle.”
“And what exactly do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Whatever you want to. Show me what you got!”
I made my first mistake during takeoff. I pulled the yoke too hard and bumped the tail of the plane against the floor rather hard. Kaliya was annoyed, but patient.
“Moderation!” She said. “The plane will do what you tell it too. Just like dealing with a person: you can make your point without shouting.”
I nodded. Just then, I spotted a flock of birds off my port wing and decided to go investigate. Remembering what Kaliya had said, I carefully nudged the yoke a few degrees, just enough to feel the plane’s wings slice across the air in a gentle bank. Kaliya smiled.
“Good. That was perfect,” She said. “You learn quickly.”
I flew alongside the birds for a while, before descending and making some loops. We flew for close to an hour, and I enjoyed every moment of it. At some point, however, Kaliya suggested that we go back, and as we approached the dock I began to have a sinking feeling. Did she expect me to land the plane, I wondered. I looked back at her and she simply nodded encouragingly at me. I decided this was a yes, and my stomach instantly tied itself in a knot.
Anyone who has ever flown will know that landing a plane is, hands down, the hardest part of flying. It’s a delicate balancing act: you can’t go too fast or you’ll be unable to stop in time, and you can’t go too slowly or you lose stability in your wings. The angle has to be right and you have to pay attention to environmental factors such as wind. Keeping all this in mind, I aimed the plane at the dock and lowered the throttle, keeping the nose up to bleed off speed. Kaliya was closely watching my every move. A gust of wind hit us and I tried to correct, but I ended up pointed somewhere below the dock. I pulled up. Too high. Now I was coming in too steeply. My heart began to race. Could Kaliya intervene if something happened? Was I about to kill myself along with Aevia’s best pilot? The dock loomed ahead, rushing towards us way too fast. I made one final attempt to correct, but I knew it was too late, and shutting my eyes, I waited for the end.
The plane jerked upwards. I had let go of the controls so I knew it must be Kaliya’s doing. I looked out and nearly threw up. We were nearly vertical, and Kaliya had shut down the engine completely. She was deliberately stalling us. Then, she pulled a maneuver which I can’t even begin to describe. The plane began falling tail first, before tipping on its side and finally going upside down. We must have passed ten feet from the dock wall, but Kaliya knew exactly what she was doing. She started the engine again, and we dove, looped, and suddenly, miraculously, found ourselves in a perfect approach pattern. The plane glided gracefully into the dock and alighted on the floor with barely a bump.
“Not bad” Kaliya said. “Better than my first landing. We can work on that.”
I nodded and made a dash for the washroom.
My second flight was an observation flight. Kaliya sat in the front of the plane, and I sat in the back and watched as she went through a few basic forms. I tried to keep up with everything she was doing, but it was so subtle that it was very difficult. So instead I began asking questions about Aevian technology. She was quite happy to answer my questions and this became a common pastime during our flights.
Kaliya is very knowledgeable about the mechanics of all the various flying machines in Aevia. I’ve tried to include the important things she’s told me in as much detail as possible here, but there’s so much that if I told you everything it would fill a book in itself.
There is of course, the matter of the city itself. Flying cities are possible because of a simple magnetic property: opposing same-polarity forces. The bottom of the city contains magnetic plates, and beneath the city is a submerged island with an equal number of plates. It seems simple enough but it isn’t, because this by itself is a highly unstable relationship. In order to keep everything balanced, the plates alternate charges, and they are placed in such a way that if the city slips more than six inches in any direction, the opposing magnets will yank it back into place. Of course this still creates constant shifting, so there is a shock absorbing layer between the magnets and the foundation. Somehow, by the time you get up to the levels where people live, the ground is as solid and stable as true terra firma.
I must say I was a bit disappointed to find out how simple the basic technology for Aevia’s levitation was. Far less disappointing are the aircraft engines, which are wonderfully clever and complex. Larger planes like the trainer we flew during the initial portion of my training use liquid fuel rockets powered by a mixture of ethanol, kerosene and liquid oxygen, but those are complicated beyond even Kaliya’s understanding. Smaller craft such as a typical Aevian fighter, which is essentially a surfboard with wings, are propelled though the air by high pressure steam jets, the simplest type of flight engine. Of course a traditional boiler for creating the steam would be much too bulky to fly with, so the Aevians created the vacuum boiler to reduce the weight. In a vacuum, water will boil at air temperature, and with special valves the flight engineers can create a pressure vessel that maintains a nearly perfect vacuum, taking in only water and releasing only condensed steam through a continuous siphon, with no air whatsoever entering the sphere. The plane also carries a condenser, to generate water from clouds since it’s far too heavy to carry more than 24 liters or so, good for about 15 minutes of flight at most. In an emergency, the plane also has six solid fuel rocket engines that can be burned to create quick six-second bursts of thrust. Flying a craft with this sort of engine is all about balance and moderation. A pilot’s greatest challenge besides dog fighting is making sure she is exercising a balanced use of their engines and unpowered gliding in order to conserve fuel, especially on days when there are no low clouds to replenish their reserves.
The first time I flew a fighter, which by the nature of construction must be flown solo, I nearly crashed it twice, and despite all my best efforts to conserve fuel still came up short and had to ditch the plane in the ocean underneath the city. Fortunately, they are designed to float, and I was soon picked up by a patrol boat. It seemed ironic at the time to be surrounded in water because I had run out of it, but it is considered very bad practice to use ocean water as fuel, because the salt causes to the water to boil too fast, which is bad for the entire system and can overpower the valves, causing the vacuum chamber to become filled with air and shut off completely. Kaliya was disappointed and I got a small reprimand but I was soon back at it. Since then, I have only accidentally ditched a plane once, and it was in very bad weather.
Around the tenth week of my training, a curious thing happened. Kaliya begain teaching me combat techniques, which is normally reserved for more advanced pilots who have spent some time doing courier or search and rescue work first. When I asked her why, she said simply to trust her, and to pay close attention to everything she told me.
Aerial combat is a thing to behold. It requires a tremendous amount of coordination, balance and timing. Normally when flying a fighter one lies on his stomach, but to fight, the pilot must stand up. To make this safer, one of our ankles is tethered to the plane, but it’s still quite frightening the first few times. From a standing position, the plane is steered by leaning, much like a surfboard. Our hands are occupied by a long aviator’s rifle, which is unwieldy to aim but deadly accurate when discharged. Because hitting an enemy pilot is nearly impossible when the relative motion of both planes is accounted for, the rifleman usually aims at vital components of the plane with small explosive charges. Some pilots use twine cartridges to ensnare their adversary, or smoke cartridges to blind the target. I know of only one pilot who uses standard bullets directly against her enemy, and I suppose you can guess by now who she is.
Of course even now I am not capable of making shots like that (though I am working on it). Kaliya gave me standard exploding shells and had me fire at pigeons, gradually increasing the range until I could shoot a practical distance with accuracy. Then she turned and began attacking me with flares. I learned to dodge, and then to dodge and aim at once. What I found most puzzling about our training at this stage, is that she never mentioned it to any commanding officer, or even any of our peers, and told me to keep it quiet as well.
One morning Kaliya woke me before the sun had risen and told me we would be going out to train early. I sleepily dressed and made my way to the hanger, where I found my plane prepared and ready. To my surprise, several other pilots were up and about as well.
“Why are you bringing him?” one pilot asked, pointing at me. I was startled, but didn’t say anything.
“He’s my student, and he knows how to fight well enough” Kaliya said.
“But he could mess up the entire thing!” The pilot protested.
“It’s part of his training.” Kaliya said authoritatively. “His mistakes will be his own.”
The pilot nodded slowly. “So be it.” He turned to me. “Better not screw up kid.”
“Now now, none of that!” Kaliya tossed her rifle over shoulder and straddled her plane. “Simple formation. We’ll make a few loops and then go in.” She turned to me. “Just do everything I say.”
Of course I was curious, but this didn’t seem like an appropriate time to ask questions. Kaliya was obviously in charge, so I didn’t worry about things too much. I had seen a few of these other pilots around the base, and I even knew one of them was named Marko. These were not trainees though, but experienced flyers. Was this another observation then? But why should I worry about not screwing up if it were an observation? I concluded that it was a test of some sort; a kind of pop quiz Kaliya had spring on me. Better be on my toes I thought.
We took off and flew patterns, just as Kaliya had said. As the sun began to rise, we climbed up, high above the city, and then dove. ‘Strange’, I thought, ‘this looks like an attack formation’. We continued diving. It was then that I noticed the airship. As we got closer, I recognized it immediately: it was the Altama, the ship that carried the grand magistrate. ‘An escort duty’ I thought. ‘What an honor!”
I will never forget what happened next as long as I live. I noticed three things simultaneously: The Altama already had an escort, the other pilots in my wing were sending out red smoke trails, and the Altama was firing at us. Kailya raised her hand, holding a red flag with a black X on it, then let it loose and raised her rifle. I instinctively reached for mine. Were we attacking the Altama then? Why?
I then had a thought. I opened the bolt on my rifle and examined the cartridge inside. It was an incendiary bullet, the kind used for attacking airships. I took that as a yes and closed the bolt. Why would Kaliya want to attack the magistrate’s airship? I wondered. Perhaps it had been stolen? But the escort fighters were ours as well. Or not ours? That depended on who we were. And then it hit me. Kaliya and the other pilots with her, including me, were usurpers. Revolutionaries. This was a coup! But why? Because we were born on the ground of course. That had to be it. Because we wanted to help all the poor helpless people down there, including my family. I loaded my rifle, and fired a shot over Kaliya towards the airship. Kaliya turned and gave me a thumbs up.
My first battle was over before it began. We outnumbered the escorts two and half to one, and the ship’s defenses weren’t designed to combat fighters. Kaliya was able to go in close and fire off a clean shot at the Magistrate through one of the rear windows. I learned of this later, but at the time all I knew was that Kaliya circled the ship twice, fired three shots, then dove down towards one of the cities lower districts. We followed her, as she ordered.
When we were back on the ground, we burned the planes and then hid in a warehouse a few blocks away. It was only then that Kaliya explained everything to me.
“You did well up there” she told me. “I’m hoping you had some idea what that was about?”
“You’re all from the ground aren’t you?” I asked, addressing the other pilots. There were nods and smiles.
“There has actually been a secret resistance in Aevia for some time” Kaliya said. “They Call themselves The Hands. Today, they are seizing power. Our job now that the magistrate is dead is simply to lay low until the takeover is complete. What we did up there is just one of a series of uprisings today that will comprise a complete takeover of the government.
I remember sitting in darkness for a long time, and then sleeping. I woke up some time during the night to see Kaliya leaning over me smiling shyly and brushing the hair out of my face. I wondered if perhaps this was a dream, or if there was really a softer, gentler side of Kaliya that none of us had seen before.
When I awoke again, I was in Kaliya’s house lying on a couch in her living room. I had been here once before, and I remembered all the nifty little things Kaliya had lying about: several airplane models, a few old books, some plans for an airship framed over the fireplace. Kaliya was pacing around examining each one distractedly. I rolled over. The back of the house had large windows, which let in the bright morning sunlight. There was a deck off of one side, which looked out over the city and farms below. A little ways down the hill was a garden where some children were tossing a disk back and forth, and enjoying the nice weather. The city seemed fairly unchanged by the coup that had just occurred. I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling.
“A changeover of government that subtle and clean must have required a tremendous amount of planning,” I muttered. My own voice sounded strange. It seemed too serious for me.
“There is a war,” Kaliya said, ignoring my comment. She was now staring at a painting of an air battle over open ocean. “We didn’t plan for that.”
“Things seem pretty peaceful to me” I said sleeply.
Kaliya shook her head. “It seems that way now. In the city at least, we did very little actual fighting. But this is different.”
“Who are we at war with?” I asked. My body felt tense all over, and my limbs were sore and slow to respond when I moved them.
“Helion. A rival flying city to Aevia.”
“Aren’t they all part of Aevia?” I asked. “I mean, isn’t it the Aevian empire?”
“They were. It was. But not anymore. Helion declared independence this morning. One of their spies must have heard about our plans. What’s more, they are trying to take over our territories while our government is
“Skyblocks. Smaller flying outposts anchored to sea rigs. They can move, unlike the cities, but they are strategically valuable. And there is Altima, the city to the north that is closer to Helion then it is to Aevia.”
“Goodness, how many flying cities are there?”
“Many. None as big as Aevia but we can’t afford to loose any. Ours is a fragile empire, separated by vast stretches of empty sky. If one city breaks off, it won’t be long before they all do. What kind of a disaster would that be? We’d have feudal wars, knowledge would be lost, and without knowledge, we are lost, because these cities don’t maintain themselves. It would be the doom of mankind.”
I looked at Kaliya. She looked sad, but determined, and I felt some of her determination well up in me. “I will fight for Aevia, and I will fight for you Kaliya” I said.
Kaliya smiled. “Very good. The Hands have given me command of the fleet that is being sent to Helion. From now on, you are to address me as Admiral Kaliya while on duty.”
Kaliya put me on lookout. I couldn’t have asked for a better assignment, though I suspected I wouldn’t do much fighting. From my vantage point above the fleet I would see everything that happened. Early on, I spotted a pair of enemy submarines on approach to our forces, and I watched as our bombers went out to engage them. They dropped depth charges from under their wings, which looked like tiny grains of sand to me. The water erupted into frothy geysers, as rockets streamed from the water and exploded in response. One of our planes was hit and burst into pieces. I wanted to watch, but a wing of enemy planes was approaching from the east. I dropped another grenade and circled back to get a better look.
Things started happening very fast after that. Enemy planes began swarming in from every direction. The submarines had been taken care of and the bombers were continuing on towards the city. I saw dogfights everywhere, and the air was filled with the popping sound of explosive rounds. It was impossible to take it all in and I won’t even attempt to describe the frenzied scene that was unfolding beneath me.
For a while, I scanned the waters for more submarines. But apparently whatever plot the first two had been a part of had failed, and there were no more to be seen. After making several sweeps over the area around our fleet, I decided to head back and make myself useful in whatever way I could.
I suppose I must have been the only person who witnessed Kaliya’s plane get shot down, or at least I was the only one who reacted. The shell had hit her ventral stabilizer, and taken out a large chunk of the wing. Somehow, in the resulting breakup, Kaliya had become detached from the plane and her chute, and was falling rapidly. I reacted without thinking. In the fourth week of training, Kaliya and I had done a midair rescue exercise with a large sack acting as a dummy, but I had only been able to catch it one out of six times. I wove and spun in and out of planes and debris until I was in position, but Kaliya was already too close to the water to grab her and pull up in time.
You can call me stupid if you want, but I didn’t let this small bit of information hold me back. I pushed my throttle as high as it would go and dove towards my plummeting friend like a falcon chasing it’s prey. Time slowed down, as I grabbed the tow rope below me and dog rolled the plane into alignment, caught Kaliya, and jammed a rocket engine into the tube, all in one movement. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure that’s even possible without a third hand, but from the moment I began diving to the moment the rocket kicked in ten feet above the ocean and boosted me skyward I don’t remember a thing.
The battle was over quicker than anyone expected. The enemy force was smaller than expected, and after the failure of their sneak attack, they weren’t able to match us. I was given a medal for my daring rescue and my keen eyesight, and was promoted to commander under Kaliya.
There was a long standing joke among the pilots of the Aevian airforce that Kaliya had once told a young recruit who fancied her that she would marry whichever man saved her life. What the poor lad hadn’t realized at the time was that up until the battle at Helion, Kaliya was always the one doing the saving. After the battle there were many who wondered if Kaliya would make good on her word. I was ignorant of it until I overheard some of the pilots discussing the matter one evening. Kaliya was there too, when I looked at her she was staring back at me pink faced and smiling broadly. She gave me a small nod. I’ve always supposed that was the moment when I truly became Aevian. My life before disappeared, and my future stretched out ahead of me.
Kaliya and Ebin (The Narrator) were married and lived happily after….well, not quite. The Hands were naturally more sympathetic to the ground people than the old Aevian government, and the following year construction of five new cities began under their administrative orders. Kaliya resigned as Admiral after two years and opened a flight school for newly arrived refugees seeking to learn aeronautics. All was peaceful for about three and a half years.
Unfortunately, the peace was shattered by a large earthquake, which sent the haven city of Innan toppling into the sea. Ebin’s parents had since come to live with him in Aevia, but his brother perished along with countless thousands of other ground people. Old resentments were rekindled, and wars broke out between the new refugee cities and the older Aevian cities. Some sided with the rebels, some with the old Aevians, until a clear division began to emerge and Aevia split into two kingdoms, The Classical Aevians and the Progressive Aevians. Ebin and Kaliya were both on the side of the Progressives, along with the rest of the city of Aevia (renamed Haria in the third year after it’s capure), and the other cities under the influence of the Hands. What follows this story, which itself is really a prelude, is a long and dramatic series of conflicts known as the Aevian Wars.
©2005 by the author