Free Lanes 101, Part 1: Running the Aether’s Foam

Free Lanes 101

I’ve done the generic questions which means it’s time for me to put my own spin on the academia of dissecting and deconstructing my own work. This promises to be potentially painful and borderline interesting. There’s a high chance of BS but it’s essay related so that’s a given. Also, and pay attention to this, there is an absolute chance of SPOILERS. Did you catch that part? Spoilers.

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Imagine River Song putting a finger to her lips and whispering ‘Spoilers…’ at you. Hold that image in your head. Got it? Now if you don’t want spoilers ( -_- yes, I’m looking at you) go click on another link, move to the next post and go finish the book.

Moving on then.

Running the Aether’s Foam

Which happens to be the name of James Beveridge’s fantastic cover art. Fun fact for you. Pub quiz trivia. Remember it. There will be a test. Those who fail will be ejected into void and used as target practice for the Fata Morgana’s gunnery crews. You don’t want that. What you do want to know (apparently) is more about the world/universe/empty space Tantamount is set it. Well, it’s a whole lot of empty space. But not like you learnt at school, not exactly. Go look up Aether and gravitation, courtesy of Sir Isaac Newton and Ptolemaic cosmology, that’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from. Some important differences; things are a lot closer, journeys between planets are measured in days or weeks rather than light years because that would be a really long book I want to write it even less than you want to read it. Also, you can breathe in space and spaceships are made out of wood. They just are, deal with it, accept it, move on. Have you moved on? Great. You’re still gonna freeze and or suffocate if you jump overboard but you probably won’t explosively decompress. Compare it to diving into freezing, sub-zero arctic water (yes, I know water freezes at zero!).

We still have perpetual motion, provided you get that first push (Quill and associated navigators, keep reading) and we have ether (bastardised name but still correct depending on where you look it up). Now, ether is both the solid and the gaseous substance that makes all of this work. The solid is the part they build into the hulls of ships like the Tantamount and the gaseous is what most everyone refers to as the Mist. That grey, silvery cloud floating in space that envelopes all the ships. There’s a reason for that. Now, think of ether more like a bunch of magnets and this will all go a lot smoother. The solid ether puts out one form of magnetic polarity (not a science geek so apologies if I start using terms wrong here. I’m not really sorry but I can do a fair imitation of it) and the mist produces another. When these two act against each other you get floating/flying ships, provided you’ve got the ratio right. Yes, you can definitely get it wrong. And the mist doesn’t flow evenly, there are more than likely areas where it gathers thicker and thinner, you don’t want to go there. Unless you have to…

This pressure also acts to create mini-atmospheres and to store that other niggly, inconvenient thing you need space travel. Air. Of course the air is still finite and the pressure can change at distances relative to the etheric ballast, like the top of a crow’s nest or underneath a ship’s hull where ice might form.

And in case you’re wondering, these rules aren’t hard and fast. They’re two part myth, one part creative lie and one part just about based somewhere near sounds about right. It’s a pseudo-quasi-justification for the rule of cool. Because if you get too caught up in trying to real-world-justify a fantasy novel then you’re really missing the whole point of escapism and you’re probably not cut out to be a space pirate. Thanks for coming, the Korrigan by the door will validate your parking.

I haven’t touched on thaumatics yet, or wands, which are thaumatically powered. Thaumatics make ships go round, think of it like being able to create and artificial wind, there’s a lot of pushing going on, but it doesn’t work on living things. Thaumatics still follow some basic physics rules, things F=MA type stuff, so the more surface area, like sails as an obvious example, a thaumatic has to work with the more efficient it’s going to be. A bit like wind jamming. For those who don’t know, wind jammers were nineteenth century merchant ships with stupid amounts of sails, sometimes with as many as five masts. Yes, five. That’s just excessive. Hmm, maybe I need a ship with five masts, each with a thaumatic navigator to propel them. Note to self. Anyway, the motion is perpetual but space is still three dimensional so you need a crew to trim and rig the sails and help with course adjustments, it gets pretty rocky when a navigator tries to manhandle the ship all by himself (you know where this happens) so think of the navigator/thaumatic as being the one to provide the rocket boost for initial propulsion and course correction. Yes, it’s tied into ether somehow. It follows a very linear scale but I’m sure most of you have worked that out. Let’s have a look at four of our thaumatics, Gabbi, Scarlett, Quill and Heathen, in that order. Hmm, three of them are female. I wonder if that suggests anything about an innate female tendency to be pushy? Probably not. Hiding now.

Let’s contrast. Gabbi is great at multi-tasking with her thaumatics, she can run her whole galley by herself, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, moving pots and pans, chopping and dicing, she’s a very good micro manager. But she doesn’t have the juice to move a ship, in fact anything bigger than a sack of flour would be beyond her. Moving right along to Heathen, our Kelpie captain friend can throw really big rocks at you, big enough to really ruin you and your planet’s day but she couldn’t pick up a sack of flour for the same reason a toddler can’t perform micro-surgery. Fine motor control. Not gonna happen. If she tried to push a ship she’d more likely break the mast.

Somewhere around the middle ground we have Quill and Scarlett. These are the people in demand, the people with enough get-up-and-go to push a big ol’ sailing ship through the Lanes and the control not to damage the same ship in the process. They can move smaller things, chairs, barrels, tables, golems with a fair bit of precision but it’s the blunt force multiplied by a stretched canvas surface area that they really shine at. Don’t leave home without them.

And thaumatics can’t throw people. Essentially the magnetic and bio-electrical energy in your body messes with their abilities, but also it’s a check and balance so the thaumatics aren’t overpowered and levitating themselves all over the place. Although if you get creative you can figure out a way or two around this. See Cauldron.


Originally there was going to be a lot more to this but I can already see it’s going to be too big to fit into one post. I wish my normal writing was this productive. I have a few more topics to cover, Draugr: the Free Lanes sweatshop industry, Relationships and Romance on the High Lanes, Character Mugshots and Filling in the Blanks, Something about Wands, What’s in a Name, and whatever else I end up thinking about or get asked about. Later, people.

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