The Blimps of Venus, p.1Lancelot Schaubert
The Blimps of Venus
copyright © 2017 Lancelot Schaubert
photo “blimp” by Kai Schreiber, 2005 used via Creative Commons license on Flickr
photo “blimp” by Matt Schilder, 2005 used via Creative Commons license
photo “day277” by Garrett, 2012 used via Creative Commons license on Flickr
They received more dreeoon bark for their shipment of ætmosphere than ever before, which alarmed Sir Thomas. It seemed to be stockpiling.
“Truly now, Senator Holdgirth, do you really believe the rumors? Do they plan to take the blimp into the stratosphere?”
“And beyond,” said the Senator.
Surfs in bulky, third-gen oxygen masks swarmed around them as they wandered through the market on trading day. Sir Thomas and the Senator relied only on minor nose cannulas that filtered the poisons out of the Venusian ær of the surface and supplied it back in an enriched stream. The cannula were all they wore, in keeping with the aristocracy’s standards.
“And beyond?” Sir Thomas’ repetition filled the Senator’s silence, using the man’s own words against him. Around them, the market pulsed as æristocrats haggled with surfs over the exchange rate of their oxygen tanks, haggled for expended tanks and various delicacies and Venusian purple paper products.
“We don’t even know if our blimps can survive the pressure,” Sir Thomas said at last.
“Perhaps,” said the Senator, “but we also cannot control the other blimps. Or do you forget the blimpstate initiative of 533?”
“Sure, we’re independent, but our choice would affect the trade of all blimps, would it not?”
“Or in case of failure, the loss of an entire blimp would disrupt ætmospheric trade for all of Venus.”
“Trade disruptions, so I hear, are the end product of all technological innovation.”
“No, they are a side effect. Disruption for the sake of disruption is nothing but chaos, Senator. There has to be some ethical or moral improvement or imperative to—“
“Look at the people,” Senator Holdgirth said.
Thomas looked, trying to see what the Senator saw. They busied themselves, communicating via their third-generation com systems. They didn’t need the pressure of the facemasks: those had been made centuries prior for the open air cloud observatory decks on the blimps. On the surface, a steady flow of oxygen into the lungs, such as provided by the æristocracy’s nose cannulas, sufficed. But as they communicated, Thomas saw more than a thriving system threatened with disruption. He saw the children daring one another to take off their masks for longer and longer periods. He saw the mothers nursing their children behind the veils of the ær tents. He saw the domes of the terraced homes stretching out over the mountainside. And their joy at another trade day. At something like a harvest feast.
He turned to the senator. “I see people. People who smile on trading days.”
“Oh come now, Thomas. I said the people, not the surfs.”
Sir Thomas stopped cold and stared at the man.
Senator Holdgirth didn’t notice. He grinned and nodded towards their fellow members of the æristocracy. Some wore expressions of pride that they’d worn for so many years that they looked worn out. Many dragged their feet on their way down the ramp out of the blimp and clearly couldn’t wait to get back inside. Many more simply waited on the outskirts of the blimp’s ramp, watching the circus unfold — thousands more would be buried deep in the blimp’s errotatoriums and rest halls.
“They hate the surface,” Sir Thomas said. “Yet they need it.”
“Do they? I’m not so sure, my boy. Perhaps they would forgo some of their delicacies in order to cut this nonsense entirely from their lives.”
“You would condemn thousands of people either to a refugee life or to some other mountain peak beneath some other blimp, where they must begin on the bottom? Or to suffocation?”
“Senator, I believe it’s poverty that a child must suffocate so that I might live as I please.”
“Which of our children would suffocate in outer space?” Senator Holdgirth asked.
“You mean The Womb. And not our children.” Sir Thomas pointed to the swarm of surfs who traded with the æristocrats. “Theirs.”
The Senator grabbed a handful of raw ground beef as a large slab of it passed him on caterwauling wheels. “Tell me, Tomas, do you eat beef?”
The Senator squished it in his fist, squeezing it through his fingers. “And veal?”
He threw the beef at the children playing their suffocation game.
“They’re human souls, Senator, even when starving. Just because they fight over a slab of beef doesn’t make them livestock.”
The Senator gaped at him.
“Stopping trade would kill children. Besides, how would we get paper in The Womb? How would we get fresh gases to convert into oxygen? Our water reclaimer is efficient, but not 100% efficient, so how—”
“I need a drink.” He marched his old wrinkled ass back towards the blimp.
The trade continued for a few more hours, moving finally to the trade of human flesh. Poorer families would give up their children and relatives and enemies for an extra meal. Sir Thomas saw three æristocratic ladies bickering with a surf woman over the price of a small eight-year-old surf boy.
While they bickered, Sir Thomas leaned down. “What’s your name?”
“Friends, they call me Thermal, pal.”
“Well Thermal, I’ll take care of you.” Then to the parents, “What’s the most they offered you?”
“Three medium tanks,” the mother said.
“What do you need to survive?”
“At least six,” she said.
Sir Thomas shouted over the three bickering women. “I will pay ten large tanks for the boy.”
It grew so quiet the ær itself felt sore.
“Now Thom, be reasonable.”
Senator Holdgirth had returned, apparently having slaked his thirst. “That boy has no good gene to offer the pool. Look.” He pointed to the slide under the microscope’s display screen. “Hardly worth what I paid your father for you all those years ago.”
Sir Thomas ignored his former Master Father and leaned in to the mother of the child. “Take what you need of these ten tanks, keep a reserve, and give to anyone in need.” Then he turned to the old, bearded surf who always attended him. “Keep a close eye on him.”
His personal attendant nodded.
And then, once the rest of the slave traders had finished, the surfs weeping their thanks, the aeristocrats and their newly-acquired property gathered into the blimp, which filled its main ballast tanks with helium and, adjusting its forward trim tank, it ascended into the upper ætmosphere once more.
Sir Thomas ignored the surf as he talked, assuming the silver refuse plate would be there for the thing in his hand the moment he turned loose. “Yes, I concur Lady Prittany — I’ve grown weary of these lower altitudes as well.” He dropped the bone. Meatless. Like most of the men in the blimpstate. The surf caught it on top of a pile of other discarded high-class scraps: lobster and shrimp tails, buffalo wings, snake scales, dreeoon bark, raw ground beef. An eye. “But that gives us no license to stop the trade.”
“They obsess on how the other side lives,” Lady Prittany said. “Do you believe they have any cause for getting as close as we did today? Of course not. Of course not. They encourage our city’s descent because they want to watch the animals parade around in clothes.”
She looked at Sir Thomas’ face as if trying to decipher a page of text. He knew she was busy assessing the fluctuating asymmetry of him, sizing up his genes, comparing him to the other men in the room and the memory of her other suitors. Sir Thomas was an anomaly in the studbook the ruling ladies maintained, especially the core book from which the other ladies derived their own priorities, the one kept by Madame Matchmaker. His commonness was exotic, his devotion tempting, his manfulness graceful, his refusal to indulge in body modification attractive. He knew he was seductive precisely because he looked so radical, looked like the root of what made the æristocracy human, looked like a beautiful embodiment of his own fogs-to-heavens story.
Though she assessed him quicker than the others thanks to her brilliant mind, she still took her time. And, per custom, Sir Thomas let her finish before saying, “Seeing the red sun set over the green clouds… who would want to lower themselves into The Grey?”
She lowered her gaze for a moment, taking liberty with the subtext of his question. Then lifted her eyes to Sir Thomas and said, “I cannot imagine. That is why I truly hope you sign our stratosphere initiative.”
“You too?” he asked. “You are all turning against me.”
“Turning on to you, more like,” the surf muttered.
Sir Thomas nearly laughed aloud, but he bit down on the urge.
The lady had not heard. “Come now. For some time, the principles, policies, and precepts my dear mother drafts have equipped our cities to survive the implosive atmospheric pressure of that vacuum in The
The Blimps of Venus by Lancelot Schaubert / Science Fiction have rating 2.2 out of 5 / Based on35 votes