Chapter 59. Whole Lot of Nothing
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Roxy sidles behind me and starts rubbing my head once the door behind Ivan closes. The guy has... an infuriating combination of boneheadedness and jumping to conclusions, multiplied by his willingness to translate conversation into fistfight at a moment's notice. At times, I was sorely tempted to just let him start swinging and use it as a pretext to beat the everloving shit out of him. Thankfully, the "crush coal into diamond" trick had given him enough of pause to at least start with shouting instead of conveying his hasty conclusions with fists. Oh well. In the end, we had settled on following - aside from money, he also gets a copperphone, so that Roxy could talk to her parents once he gets back to Kraina. He also has a bag of uncut diamonds I've crushed out of coal as a present slash bride price. He did not recognize the diamonds, but according to Roxolane, her father definitely will. That should get me some leeway. Besides, if she is remembering right, while Ivan inherited hotheadedness from his dad, his dad is also old enough to know when to crimp the attitude.

"I can't believe everyone is alright." - she mutters softly - "I mean, I have seen Petya being struck down by a saber. To think that all that came of it was a scar... gods, I'm..." Her hands start shaking, and I turn around just in time to pull her on the lap once she starts crying in earnest. Tears of relief, I think. We had some discussion about what to do if her family is not around anymore, to know they're all safe and sound now must be a mountain of worry off her shoulders. So I return the favor of stroking her head and muttering something vaguely supportive as she lets her fears drain out.

"Goodness, I'm going to be visiting families a lot." - I chuckle - "Moon Unit's and yours both cropping up in pretty much same day. Crazy coincidences, huh?" She giggles, wiping her eyes gingerly.

"I'm sure my father will approve of you." - she offers softly - "I mean, I can't even think of anyone else I'd rather be with, you know?"

I lean in and kiss her, offering - "Flatterer. I'm just lucky to be in the right place and time to get you."


The rest of week passes uneventfully... Which, I have to admit, is a load off me. Now, I am quite happy with all the outcomes, but getting things sorted out was more then a little problematic, and I'm glad I can take a few days with nothing but low-key classwork and business management. The restructuring of trading house proceeds apace, I have mostly weeded out the truly disruptive elements, and while not everyone is thrilled with my decisions, the overall mood in the former Konistan employees is cautiously optimistic. I had an oh so amusing little conversation with the receptionist girl that greeted me prior to my first meeting with Konistan, while at it. Silly bint was convinced I'm going to somehow punish her for uppity attitude. In a way, she is not wrong - I have sent her back to office with a pamphlet on corporate ethics I would be expecting from everyone under my employ. Which, apparently, was mercy she did not even dare counting on, if her little breakdown back in the office was of any indication. Amusingly enough, that also improved loyalty over there, mostly due to my treatment being taken as a sign that they're now under "fair but tough" ownership.

In another news, the overseer of carpenters reports to me that my leisure project had been finished, as far as their part in it was concerned. Which brings us to this bright and early Saturday morning.


"Girls." - I say, clapping my hands - "We have all worked valiantly through the week, and are richly deserving of some rest and relaxation." It is very much true, by the way. While me and Roxolane had wrangled the business, Lily-Anne and Moon Unit had pitched in with Rafiqa's lessons and as of yesterday, Rafiqa is a fully-accepted student of Academy. Bridgit had valiantly wrangled food and other domestic issues for all of us.

All of them perk up, turning their heads into my direction. "So..." - I continue - "Today, we're having a party at Gillespie manor. Lily-Anne, can you visit Ed and Selene and ask them if they want to join? Maybe grab Alistair too, if he's around. Roxy, ask the same of Rafiqa, if you please, and find out if Hiram wants to join in. Moon Unit, same with Newspaper Gals and Lemand, please. Bridgit, you and me are going to put together some treats. Everyone, tell your respective quarries that the meeting is midday at the Academy gates. We'll stroll over to the manor, it's close by, no reason to drag the carriages into this."

Everyone scampers. I have been preparing for this, and a good deal of sweets is already packed up and waiting at the manor. So we're just going to bake a dozen of different pizzas and have servants deliver them to the manor. Bridgit's face clears up once I explain that much to her, and she pouts at me for making her think I expect a full party catering on a few hours notice from scratch. I buy my way back into her good graces with some gentle flattery and kisses.

As I step out to call a servant in, I stumble on a pair I haven't seen in quite a bit. Lincoln and Cordelia. Apparently, they're at the loose ends, if their low-key bickering is of any indication. "Hello, you two." - I offer to them, as I pass by - "If you have nothing better to do, I'm having a bit of party at the manor. If you're interested, be ready at Academy gates at midday. Don't bother finding carriage, manor is within strolling distance."

Lincoln finds his wits first. "Good day, lady Gillespie." - he offers jovially - "A party, huh? Why not." Cordelia bops him on the head lightly, and continues - "We'd be glad to."


As it turns out, everyone decided that they have no more pressing business on this Saturday then my party. Which means there's a grand total of sixteen people not counting me. I'm somewhat tempted to try and get people to form ranks, but that would be just too silly. As it is, we reach the manor... And proceed through it into the backyard, where my surprise had been prepped for operation since early morning by a couple of my instances.

"...What is this." - Lily-Anne voices everyone's question.

I chuckle, as I trigger the mechanism throwing the door open. "Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the maiden flight of my new airship." - I tell, as I sketch a bow. Aaaand the jaws are falling open. Priceless. Functionally, it's a rigid zeppelin, and not a big one at that. Well, not a big one as far as zeppelins go. The envelope is still almost a hundred meters long and about twelve thick in the middle. The inside is pretty luxurious for something I did my best to shave every extra ounce of weight from. Metal filigree, balsa, rattan furniture... Not cheap, not by any means. But the sheer impact of it, oh yeah. Such a power trip.

My guests file into the cabin, like entranced, eyeing everything. Thankfully, with Ed's glassblowers, I was able to pull off a nice belt of windows around the cabin. The engine compartment is empty right now, actually, I'll be powering the propellers by my own magic power. In commercial variant, there will be a double-stroke steam engine working off enriched coal. But that's in the future. Thankfully, the arrays for drawing the air out are much simpler. Feeding off the on-board hydroponic flowerbeds, the whole thing is a combo of two simple patterns repeated over and over inside the lifting envelope - the structural rigidity pattern that keeps the zeppelin in the shape, and the air removal pattern, maintaining vacuum inside the envelopes. Not hard vacuum, mind, only about 1/8 of normal air pressure. With grand total volume of envelope being slightly over six million liters, it gives me a lift of about six tons. The weight of zeppelin, due to a lot of magic and weight-saving measures, is a little over three tons, meaning I can have about two tons of useful weight, and some reserve of lift to work the altitude. Two propeller props in the rear, some rudders and a few minor propellers in front and end for steering and tangage, and I'm all set to fly.

There are some shrieks (mainly from the Gossip trio) as I push on the buoyancy slider and air is voided out of envelope, complete with "stomach sinking into heels" feeling usually present in elevator. Not something anyone other then me and Selene ever experienced, I suppose. Then, the excited murmurs, with everyone glued to the windows, watching as the city sinks below them. And a bunch of people on the streets gaping at the "impossible" sight. I gun the propellers, the rudders tilted sideways, setting the zeppelin into a slow ascending turn to fly over the Academy. Satisfied with the course, I lock the controls and turn around to face my guests.

"So... what do you think, people?" - and, OK, I'm more then a little proud of pulling this one off. I'm treated to absolutely gobsmacked faces. All sixteen of them. Oh, yeah. Fuck yeah. I'm going to treasure that sight till the end of my life. This is what awaits you, people. The march of progress that can not be stopped, can not be diverted and can not be opposed. Your future will be brighter then anything you ever imagined. Period.

Selene finally finds some words. Or, rather, word. "How!?" - she croaks, gesturing around vaguely. Ed next to her just stares at me with eyes open so wide I start worrying if there is anything in the on-board apothecary to treat excessive eye drying.

"Vacuum zeppelin." - I tell her, grinning widely - "Magic is so magic, you know." Altimeter bings a hundred fathoms, and I pull the buoyancy slider back until it stops rolling noticeably. We're suspended in air, well above the city.

"Have fun watching the city for now." - I suggest to them - "Once the novelty wears off, we shall have a dinner, alright? Does anyone want a looking glass?"

Hiram blinks at me. Works his jaw visibly. Coughs. Then starts talking - "Are we held aloft by your magical power, lady Gillespie?"

I shake head at him - "Nope. Natural laws. I'm using magic to guide them into desired result, but it does not require of me to constantly push power into airship. Even if I stop feeding power to the airship entirely, we're going to smoothly descend about as fast as you go when you take a lazy stroll. So don't worry. We're not going to plummet out of the sky even if I decide to take a nap."

He stares even harder. Coughs again. "...Are... you going to build more airships?" - he finally manages.

I wave my hands vaguely. "Maybe? Not anytime soon. This is my personal yacht, so to speak. It can't lift much more then us and some basic supplies. I mean, if I really tried, it might be possible to fit in another, uh.. eight to ten people, but that's it. Building bigger is possible, but will get profligately expensive pretty quickly." - I tell him - "So don't worry. It might be a fine example of magical craftsmanship at it's finest, but hardly an empire-shattering creation on it's own."

Ed objects feebly - "...The very idea of taking to air like this... Gods, if you weren't already infamous as the most dangerous magician in the world, that alone would cinch it."

I chuckle - "Well, if it helps you feel better, I prefer peace. I know, I know, my experiences with Sultanate are telling a different story, but... Sultanate is the only country left that considers slavery lawful. That's just plain evil."

Rafiqa suddenly claps her hands. "Well said, lady Gillespie." - she says firmly - "Well said."