“I don’t like the funny looks that the sailors are giving us,” Margarett Pennebrygg whispered to Wynefrede Aumberden as they were getting a tour of the Santa Marina.
“They probably think we’re woefully overdressed,” said Benedicta Bernewelt. She’d needed help to get up and down the stairs since her skirts kept getting in the way.
Their official tour guide had introduced himself as Harman Webb, but Wynefrede noticed that the other sailors referred to him as Fishy.
Webb had taken them from the forecastle at the front of the ship, which he called the stern, across the main deck then up to the quarter deck and then up another flight of stairs to the poop deck at the far back, or aft, of the ship.
Up on the poop deck they could look down at the main deck below, feel the salty wind on their faces, see the vastness of the sea around them. They had sailed out through the bay to the ocean and then out into open waters. The Krim mainland was now just a dark shadow on the horizon. The only other thing they could see were the two smaller ships accompanying them.
“It makes me feel so small and insignificant,” said Benedicta. “I don’t like it.”
“When we get to the edge, we’ll drop anchor for a while so you can enjoy the view,” Webb said. “Then we go over the edge.”
“What happens to the ship? Does it keep falling forever?” asked Benedicta.
“No,” said Webb. “After a certain point, it just vanishes, along with everyone on it.”
“Do you get the ship back?”
“No,” said Webb. “But the charter company, the Gold Travel Agency, will simply hire another ship. When we first sailed out of the bay, you remember the giant gate to starboard?” He pointed to the right side of the ship. “The shipbuilders, the Levant Company, have an export-import license for these ships. That means that they build one ship, sail it through the gate, to the commercial holding area off-world. There, they can make copies of the ship and sail them back to Krim again.”
Wynefrede remembered the gate. It was a giant stone arch, though not quite tall enough for a fully-rigged ship to sail through. A sailing ship was being towed out of it as they had sailed past, its sails down, and the tops of the masts removed so that it could fit. She couldn’t make out much more beyond that, and it was too dark inside the gate to see in. She assumed that somewhere inside the arch there was the same silvery, shimmery surface that marked the boundary between Krim and the wider metaverse. Or, to be more precise, between the Krim virtual world simulation and the very modern welcome area and avatar shop that served as the entry point to Krim.
“So you build one ship and then can make unlimited free copies?” asked Margarett. “That doesn’t seem very historically authentic.”
“No, they have to get a license and pay an export fee to be able to take the ship off-world,” said Webb. “Then they pay an import fee for every ship that they bring back. The thing is, it can take a couple of years to build a ship like this. And it takes a lot of work. We don’t have enough skilled shipbuilders to build all the ships we need on Krim. If every single ship in the world had to be built by hand then they would be too valuable to risk, and certainly too valuable to just sail off the edge of the world.”
“It still sounds like cheating to me,” Margarett told Wynefrede.
“What happens if there’s a storm?” asked one of the Royal Season singletons. “I’ve done a fair bit of sailing in my day and have read up on the history. Sailing ships were often lost in storms back in the 1500s.”
“We have a guarantee,” said Pleasance Pratt, the Royal Season coordinator. She’d been missing for most of the tour, probably having already see the ship before. “If anything happens, Wolstan, we will reschedule the trip for a later date.”
Now that Pleasance mentioned his name, Wynefrede recognized Wolstan Babyngton. He had a small head, skinny legs that looked even thinner in his white knitted tights, and a puffy shirt and red doublet that reached nearly down to his knees. The extra puffiness around his chest and shoulders made him look like a giant lollypop.
“If there’s a storm, we’ll wait it out,” said Webb.
“That sounds frightening,” said Margarett.
Wolstan edged closer to her. “I’ll protect you,” he said.
“The Santa Marina is a strong ship, we’ll be fine,” said Webb. “You’re probably thinking of the smaller ships, like those that Christopher Columbus sailed. That’s understandable, and, in fact, the Santa Marina is roughly based on the ship that Christopher Columbus used to sail to the New World. The Santa Maria was a carrack, like this ship, but it was less than 60 feet long, and weighed about six hundred tons. By comparison, our Santa Marina is nearly twice as long and three times as heavy.” He patted the handrail behind him. “That means its a lot roomier and more comfortable for our passengers.” He smiled at them but there was something off about the way he said “comfortable.”
Maybe he expected them all to get seasick, Wynefrede thought, and was looking forward to seeing them suffer. Did he think they were all spoiled rich kids who’d never sailed before? If so, he was wrong. Spoiled rich kids often spent quite a bit of time on the water.
Of course, her family’s yacht was fully electric and completely stabilized. Plus, back in real life she had a somatic interface to ensure that she never felt queasy. She swallowed hard and raised her hand to her mouth.
Webb noticed the gesture. “If you start to feel nauseous, try keeping your eye on the horizon,” he suggested. “You can lean on the taffrail. I’ve been doing this trip for years now, and we haven’t lost a passenger to seasickness yet.”
Wynefrede left Margarett’s side and walked over to the handrail. She wished she’d skipped breakfast.
Benedicta joined her. “I shouldn’t have had the extra helping of eggs this morning,” she said. “I wish I could ask for some sea sickness pills. Or even some ginger ale.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky hit a reef and sink soon,” said Wynefrede.
Benedicta shuddered. “Don’t even joke about that. Drowning is my biggest fear.” She stared down at the water. “The idea that the ocean floor is hundreds of miles below us creeps me out.”
“I don’t think it’s hundreds of miles,” said Wynefrede. “Maybe just a couple of miles.”
“That’s still too deep. Who knows what’s down there?”
“Whales, probably,” said Wynefrede. “Dolphins. Maybe octopuses.”
“Sharks,” added Benedicta.
“At least it will probably be quick,” said Wynefrede. “Our skirts will get waterlogged and pull us under. I hear drowning isn’t a bad way to go.”
Benedicta turned away from the water. “I’d rather not find out for myself.” She glanced down at the quarterdeck. “Look, the entertainment is here.”
While they’d been getting the tour, the musicians had set up on the quarterdeck, and servants had brought out tables and filled them with food and drink. The musicians struck up a familiar tune.
“Are they playing Greensleeves?” asked Wynefrede.
“Come on, let’s go look at the food,” said Benedicta.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Maybe some crackers will help settle your stomach,” said Benedicta.