The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Monday, July 2, 2012

The High Seas

It looks like we'll get permission to take Ka'te with us on our trip--we have the permission of the La'helis, and although we're waiting for permission from the government (since they are funding the trip), they are unlikely to deny a child the right to travel with her mentor. In the meantime, we are getting ready, making plans...though we have to wait at least a few more weeks, since Dan is still growing into his new body and his hormone levels are still shifting wildly.

While we wait, Dan has been getting to know his new family--he's still living with the La'helis, but when his new job starts he will leave the La'helis and become a Banesi. They are a large family, as most ethnic Imperials are, and they run two merchant marine ships and a small warehouse. Dan has no prior experience sailing, but since most sailors are flyers, very few sailors have sailed before molting.

Today, he took me down to the port to meet some of the Banesis and to see a war ship that's in port for a resupply right now. The Banesis were friendly, and it looks like Dan is starting to make friends, but nothing of particular note happened while we were talking to them. But I want to tell you about the ship.

It wasn't  like a scaled-down version of one of our navel ships. If Myrmeoids had wanted to build an aircraft carrier, they would have built one about the same size as our aircraft carriers, because the size would be dictated by the behavior of the sea and the wind, not by the size of its crew-members. But of course, we have huge amounts of steel recycled from the days of heavy mining and we have high-energy infrastructure  adapted from the days of fossil fuel--Myrmeoids don't have any of that. They can't make large quantities of steel, and they can't build the huge machines necessary to create aircraft carriers. A lot of Myrmeoid watercraft are either simple barges or leather coracles built on wooden or recycled aluminum frames. But coracles are vulnerable to attack, so war ships and armed merchants are made of wood. They are wooden sailing trimarans. That's what I saw today.

This is the kind of ship built from the huge trees. Its main hull is over two meters across at its widest point and twenty-three meters long, cut from a single log. The secondary hulls are over a meter wide and about twelve meters long. The mast rises twenty meters from the deck and can support any of several configurations of sail. Aside from the small size of the crew members, such a boat would not seem particularly impressive given that we tend to think of sail as definitely low-tech. This sailcraft isn't. For one thing, nothing crude could handle the open ocean of this planet; Antworld is a bit smaller than Earth, but its continents are mostly clustered together, something like Eurasia and Africa but without the Americas. The ocean is thus split into a relatively tame Mediterranean-like sea and an outer ocean whose waves regularly rise hundreds of feet. For another thing, a ship like this can move under sail on the lightest breeze, can handle serious gales, can sail in any direction including upwind, and can go faster than the wind can. They cannot go as fast as our racing boats can, being much heavier, but they don't break as often, either. Unless taken in battle, a good Myrmeoid ship lasts an average of thirty years.

Unless taken in battle. There are no major wars on the planet at present, and this country's navy has nothing to do except deal with pirates and function as a kind of coast guard. In my experience, they seem kind of peaceful, and I'm used to thinking of sailing vessels as peaceful, beautiful things. Beautiful this one is, painted a camouflage pattern of blue, pale yellow, and white,  but it's loaded with weapons. I'm not allowed to go into specifics--the ship I saw is not a state secret, but it would be considered rude of me to actually publish its details for the whole planet to see--but it was scary. Most Myrmeoid weapons are anti-ship, not anti-personel in design, since the people are small enough that it's hard to hit them. The weapons also have to be small enough to be operable by small people, so no cannon balls or big explosive shells. Instead, the ship was bristling with harpoon guns that shoot bolts that explode, set fire to sails, or inject corrosives into the wood of an enemy hull. In battle, flyers would also take to the sky carrying tiny incendiary bombs and engaging in dogfights that end in hand-to-hand combat thousands of feet above the surface of the sea.

Dan is proud of the capability, but not proud of the violence. He says that anyone who fights to kill has already lost. Yet his merchant ship is armed, and he will have to learn to use its weapons. He doesn't see any conflict there. He does not object to defending himself from pirates.

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