a novel
by Seth Kallen Deitch

Book 1

The Land Beneath the World

Chapter Two
Journey to Szojana

Late on the third day of our stay on the barren rocky shore, David Kendall, secretary to Mister Oldfeild, the British ambassador, heard a sound in the distance, like a drumming or beating. We were on the shore, to the east was naught but ocean, to the west a vast icy desert, to the south a low range of hills. It was from these hills that the sound which we could all now hear quite plainly emanated. Louder and louder it grew and as it did so the sound became more complex as we were able to hear pipes and horns as well as those of what were now obviously drums and chimes. From the south we saw a great light bursting over the hills, and let me tell you son, the vision of Ezekiel would have startled me less than what next my eyes beheld. Over the hill swept a huge, lens-shaped, ship of the sky flanked by six smaller cigar shaped ships. The flagship must have been at very least fifteen hundred feet in diameter, the escort ships about four hundred feet long each. It was from this huge aerial flotilla that the throbbing music originated.

As the ships surmounted the hills we started to notice some details. From the underside of each ship depended a great mast which seemed to serve as some sort of balancing mechanism. From those masts, as well as from other points on the ships hung ropes which we saw, as they came lower were dragging on the ground making line shaped furrows in the snow as if it was being plowed for planting. Making their way down those ropes, with seemingly supernatural speed were men, who as their feet touched the ground started running in our direction.

The man who reached us first was a sight to behold, six foot six, if he was an inch with a face gray as a thunderhead. His eyes were emerald green and seemed, hawklike, to track every movement we made. He was clad in feathery parka of brilliant, tropical colors, so far the brightest thing we had seen in this gray and desolate land.

When the man introduced himself it was the biggest shock of all, for he spoke in only slightly accented Danish.

"I am lieutenant Dzhidro Alprendauro and I am your escort to the capital city. While the captain of the Bontor Do'alina is your offical host, I, being the only one of the crew schooled in European languages, will serve as your contact for the trip. There is no insult to be implied by this, it is only a mesure of expediency." He repeated this message in English, French, Spanish and Russian with varying degrees of fluency, I did see members of the French party endeavoring to stifle laughter.

As the lieutenant made his introductions, a large cable car was descending toward us from the belly of the gigantic central ship which was now keeping station directly above us. In spite of the high winds it remained steady as it settled upon then icy rocks. The car was fully twice as large as one of the street cars of my native San Francisco. Alprendauro indicated that we should enter and make ourselves comfortable.

The lieutenant saw to it that that all parties were seated comfortably aboard the car which was the picture of oppulence and luxury. Various members of our party, including myself expressed wonder at the advancement of the art of aviation in this nation. We asked mister Rosas, the Argentine ambassador, to explain our bemusement in this matter, for Spanish was the language the young officer seemed to have the least difficulty with. Mister Alprendauro was more than forthcomming in his response, which I understood perfectly, for Spanish is the second official language of California.

He said, "It is the great pride of our civilization that we have such command of the sky. To become a skyman has been the lifelong dream of each and every man aboard these ships. Only thirty years have passed since the first sky ships were launched and in that time the world has been united largely through their use. The skyships brought down the old world and raised up the new. Now we call ourselves the 'People of the Sky'".

We were all transfixed, not so much at the description of how technology had transformed their world, but rather by the almost religious tone in which it was related. This would be only the first of many times I would hear this reverence regarding Bromfkidoran ways.

Even at this early point in my adventure I was already consumed with wonder at this amazing new people. Less than ten years ago this land was a complete unknown, thought to be only a barren waste of endless frozen rock. It was only in 1896 when the Danish explorer, Arnesen, thought dead for over a half a year reappeared on the Palmer peninsula with a wild tale of a lost civilization that we gained any hint that this mysterious continent might shelter something more than merely rock and ice.

The car was drawn up into a notch in the bottom of the aerial Leviathan where it was locked into place with a firm click. We heard doors being unfastened from the outside and then they swung aside revealing a broad corridor which curved away from view about seventy yards from us. Lined up on either side of the door was an honor guard composed of twenty men all over six foot five and decked out in the most fabulous costumes I had ever seen, rivaling even those of the Ottoman Imperial entourage. Each man held a weapon, some were modern, others archaic. I saw what were obviously firearms side by side with stone axes lashed to rough wooden shafts and everything in between. The men spoke in chorus a few phrases in the Bromfkidoran language and turned away from the door. The lieutenant told us to follow where they lead. Again in Spanish he told us that the weapons of all ages symbolized that they viewed war as a practise which they have put behind them.

As we walked the corridor we were able to get a glimpse of men going about the various tasks associated with the running of a great skyship, reefing the slack from the gas cells, running a galley and performing maintenance upon the engines which drove this incredible vessel. We had to walk up a spiral ramp to the room where we would be welcomed aboard by the captain. I had to constantly remind myself that I was in a ship high amongst the clouds and not in some great palace, so imense was Bontor Do'alina. The captain came down from the bridge to see us. He was tall even for a Bromfkidoran at about seven feet and had a very prominent, beak like nose surmounted by thoughtful looking green eyes which gave him the overall apearance of some sort of benign eagle. He was introduced as captain Sharold Zandt and that the name of his ship was translated as "Mountain in the Sky", a name we could well understand. Through the Lieutenant's translation he invited our party up to the bridge.

A few short steps up a lacquered wood staircase brought us all to the command center of the ship which was perched far forward on the leading edge of the giant craft. Behind us was a vast expanse of the upper deck of the ship, a total area of no less than ten acres, interrupted here and there with vents and windows and far toward the stern, the great propeller masts.

Rising from the center of this area was a tall flagpole bearing the colors of this lost nation. Proportionally more like a pennant, the flag was much shorter hoist to fly than the flags of California or the U.S.. It had a dark blue canton with a single gold star divided at a sharp angle from a representation of the sky over a green earth. Before us was the splendid vista of the Antarctic wilderness which these folk refer to as the "Outer Waste". From our high altitude we could see how it stretches unbroken for hundreds of miles. A sharp order was given by the captain and we heard a great roar as the propellers came to life. Slowly at first and then with greater speed the ship and its escort turned and headed inland. We learned that our destination was a town called Szojana which is a supply center for ships operating in the Outer Waste. From there we would be taken to the capital city, Tippilina, where we would meet with the Senate and have an audience with the King.