Cetacean Æstership by Tony Hicks

Cetacean Æstership by Tony Hicks

I decided to create this webpage after doing some blog posts about the basics of the Æsterverse. It seemed like a good idea to put that that information somewhere that people could easily access it.

This isn’t going to be a Wiki or in-depth study of the world. It’s just to give folks an idea of the world my first book "The Tomahawk Incident" exists in as well as the follow on books and other stories.

First off, let's get the name thing out of the way.  Æster is pronounced like the name 'Esther.'  Purists will complain that the Æ should be pronounced like an 'ay' combination, but that's not the way it works in the Æsterverse.  The name was coined by a scientist in the world as a combination between the chemical concept Ester and that of Æther.  Voila!  Æster pronounced like Esther.

One of the first things you need to know about the world of the Æsterverse is that it's post-apocalyptic.  The Rise was a twenty year period that drove humanity to the brink of extinction.  It began in 1861 with the Æster's first appearance and ended when it settled into its final form.  By then, two-thirds of the human population on Earth had been extinguished.  The Rise also changed the map of the world, both physically and politically.  There were catastrophic seismic changes and the earth's magnetosphere was disrupted.  There can be over a dozen 'magnetic norths' at any given time now.  Needless to say, magnetic compasses are useless, relegated to the trash heap of history like many other things as quaint relics of the world that used to be.  Ocean levels rose one hundred feet to inundate coastlines and drown capitals.  Never before seen cataclysmic weather slashed across the globe.  And finally, Human action in the face of what seemed to be the end of the world spawned decades of unimaginable suffering and death. 

The second thing you need to know is that the apocalypse is over.  We clawed our way back from the edge of the precipice.  Humanity stubbornly refused to succumb to what seemed inevitable.  The world I wanted to write is summed up in the phrase, 

We now stand on the brink of a Golden Age, if we are bright enough, brave enough and bold enough to seize it.  

The dying is over and wonders never before imagined have been wrought in the aftermath of the awful years of the Rise.   

What is the Æster?

The æster is many things, but I'll start with its global effect.  The æster's clouds cover two-thirds of the earth's surface, stretching from the poles to the tropics at twenty-three degrees north and south latitude.  It's clouds are densest at the poles growing progressively thinner as you travel toward the equator. From the poles to forty degrees north and south latitude, the region known as the Nyx, no sun reaches the earth's surface at all.  By the time you reach twenty-three degrees north and south, it's thin enough that the sun comes through the æster's thin clouds.  The equator, and to the line of the tropics at twenty-three degrees north and south there is no æster cloud cover.  This band around the equator where the sun still shines is called the Aureus, from the Latin Aurei for golden.  The band of progressively increasing cloud cover between the Aureus and the Nyx is known as the Argentum.

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The æster is a volatile gas with numerous significant properties.  To answer the nuclear winter question that always comes up, the æster's volatility makes it act like a thermal blanket, keeping the earth's surface temperatures from plummeting as they normally would when deprived of so much of the sun's warmth.  

Æster is conductive, flammable, refinable into fuel, and corrosive.  In the right conditions, it is capable of rendering flesh to dust in a matter of minutes.  Having two-thirds of the earth's surface covered in such a substance does not create a recipe for survival.  Fortunately, one of the æster's significant phenomena pulls it away from the earth's surface.  Counter to logic, it grows denser the higher in altitude you go, what is referred to in the world as "deeper" into the æster.  The "æster floor," is normalized at ten thousand feet through most of the habitable world.  Below this, the environment is free of æster.  This allows life to exist on the ground even in the Nyx.  The æster floor is also the point where its concentration becomes sufficient for the æster's most extraordinary property to come into play - the Draw.

The draw pulls objects upward into it allowing giant vessels called æsterships to travel within its churning, corrosive clouds.  The draw also allows titanic platforms to exist, some anchored to the ground, others floating free.  Scientists in the world have described the æster as an inverse ocean.  Objects "sink" upward into the clouds, the æster growing more dense the higher in altitude you go in the same way water pressure increases the deeper you go in the ocean.  With the increase in the æster's density comes a corresponding increase in the power of the draw.  At a certain depth, a vessel's engines can no longer fight the power of the draw and the ship is pulled upward to their doom.  Nothing - weather balloons, scientific instruments or anything else has ever survived above a certain altitude, or depth in the æster.  It is assumed that the powerful corrosive and violent forces beyond a certain point simply destroys whatever reaches these depths and they are torn down into their chemical components, possibly to create more æster.  But no one knows.  

Scientists and philosophers have theorized what the æster's origin is, or what could have begun the cataclysms of the Rise.  But even decades after its first appearance, the æster remains as much a mystery as the ocean's abyssal, frigid depths.  


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Empires and fallen kingdoms and upstart states, Oh My!

The first scene I wrote in the æsterverse was a slugfest between ships in the sky.  "The Tomahawk Incident" was born from that scene.  From that it was clear that the world I needed was one where empires were ready to start taking pot shots at each other at the drop of a hat.  So, as I began fleshing it out, competing imperial powers had to be a centerpiece.  

If the physical geography of the world was drastically changed by the cataclysms of the Rise, the changes in political geography were catastrophic.  Nations that had known centuries of prosperity were all but obliterated, others that had no place at the world table were suddenly thrust into the spotlight.  

Amidst all the chaos, the fall of empires and rise of others came down to two factors.  Darkness encroaching from the poles to eventually engulf the upper latitudes and rising ocean levels.

I did a lot of research on sea level rise as I was building the world of the æsterverse.  I was surprised to find out just how many capitals around the world would be catastrophically affected by a hundred foot rise in sea levels.  It's strange and disturbing that my research for the æsterverse is suddenly being mirrored in the real world.  What's below is a projection for a 30 meter sea rise around London.  The areas in red are land that has been flooded.  It's a stark image.  This sort of inundation happened to many capitals around the world during the rise as they lay along major rivers or near the sea.  As far inland as Paris was, it too saw flooding.  Anything along the Seine's long route was affected. 

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The world's a big, complex place.  For simplicity I'm going to concentrate on the æster's effects in the northern hemisphere.  That's where the seat of empires were in the 1860's, after all.  The effects were mirrored in the southern hemisphere, but the politics below the equator were largely driven by the empires north of it.  As darkness encroached from the north and places like London and Paris were being inundated, imperial powers were forced to make decisions for survival.  For those capable of it, that meant moving their capitals to possessions along the equator.  The capitol of the British Empire moved from London to Darwin (now New London), Australia, and the French decamped from Paris to Dakar in West Africa.  At the time these decisions were made, the imperial governments had no idea that the encroaching æster clouds would stop.  They moved their capitals as far away from the danger as they could with no guarantees.  This thinking precipitated the British bypassing India as the seat of the British Empire, even with the considerable problems incurred by having the capital so remote from its possessions.  And this kind of survival-first thinking was repeated again and again by widely disparate governments, sometimes with disastrous results.

The battle to escape the northern latitudes spawned some of the most horrific human catastrophes of the Rise era.  For empires with no possessions along the equator, there was nowhere for them to run.  The Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires were torn to pieces in the melee.  Austro-Hungary's many internal conflicts ripped it apart in a series of conflicts that were given the blanket name, "The Wars of Austro-Hungarian Disintegration."  Russia had no choice but to try to move south, marching into the meat grinder of the Ottoman Empire, the British along India's Northwest Frontier or the Papal States holding Italy in the west.  Worst case estimates say that as much as ninety percent of the Russian population perished during the Rise.  And of course there are the empires of China and the Ottomans.  The Chinese capitol now resides in Guangzhou (Canton).  The Ottoman Empire is the only empire whose capital resides under the æster's clouds.  Constantinople, at forty one degrees north latitude, sits firmly in the darkness of the Nyx, a brooding symbol of the the empire's implacable will.  Ottoman possessions stretch to North Africa and throughout the Middle East, but they have stubbornly refused to shift the seat of power from the darkness.  To their west stands the bulwark of European defense against the Ottomans, the Papal States.  Ruled by the Pope from the capitol in the expanded, walled city state of Vatican City, the Papal States are a not considered an empire but a coalition of independent kingdoms.  The Papal States straddle the Mediterranean like a titan against the Ottomans.  From the Alps in the north, and across the heavily fortified islands of Sicily, Malta and others known as the Iron Chain that stretch from the toe of Italy to Tunisia, the Papal States cut the Mediterranean in half, trapping the Ottomans in the east. 

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Other groups made new alliances to survive.  The Low Countries, Scandinavian countries, the German Empire and those who split off from Austro-Hungary came together to form the New Hanseatic League, their capitol is in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Spain and many of her possessions formed the Hispanic League whose capitol lies in Bogota, Columbia.  Some Kingdoms remained independent, largely due to alliances with larger empires.  The Kingdom of Abyssinia in East Africa and Kingdom of Siam stand in strategic locations, supported by the British and the Hanseatic League as checks against the Ottomans in East Africa and Chinese in Southeast Asia.  

For fledgling America, the Rise was the anvil the country was broken against.  In the throes of the Civil War, the federal government was ill equipped to face the rampant flooding and impending doom rolling down on them from the north.  In 1862, amidst the chaos of rising waters and oncoming æster, the Union lost the battle of Antietam.  The Confederacy took Washington and forced a surrender, then separated themselves from the Union.  The Confederacy may have won the war, but they lost the peace.  Within just a few years, the Confederate government was drowned under the flood of refugees from the north fleeing the æster darkening skies.  Since that time, the southeast of North America has been labeled the Former Confederacy, an administrative no-man's land.  It is neither British America nor under any real authority from it's former owners.  In the Former Confederacy law only extends as far as an artillery round can be fired from the walls of the remaining city states and walled cities.

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With no possessions along the equator, America's citizens had no place to run.  What began as humanitarian requests of the British Empire to allow Americans to emigrate to British possessions eventually turned to the Federal government requesting reintegration into the British Empire.  And British America was born.  Encompassing all of Canada and extending far into Mexico, British America has become one of the largest and most powerful British possessions in the world.  The fact that most of it lies under the darkness of the Nyx does little to blunt its industrial might.  The last vestiges of the United States now lives on as the Republic of California.  Occupying the west coast of North America from the Baja Peninsula to the Columbia River, California is an ally British America must keep on good terms with.  They are the gateway to the Pacific.  Without California, British America's only Pacific ports are in British Columbia. 

In the fifty years since the æster has settled, the empires have returned to the upper latitudes, building the Cities of Light, night train lines and retaking abandoned cities.  Some of this was done as a show of defiance in the face of the world turned against humanity, some of it was done as an expression of imperial might.  But like so many other things, it's easy to see the real reasons as economic.  There are resources in the darkness of the Nyx that the empires need.  

Where there are empires, there is conflict.  In the æsterverse, the primary threats to the British Empire are the Ottoman Empire and the Empire of China.  The last several major conflicts fought by the British Empire have been against the Ottomans.  And everyone expects another is in the offing.  The tension between the two empires is at a constant low boil, only rarely dropping to a simmer.  With the two empire's allies entrenched in low level conflicts almost constantly, another war is just one misstep away.  Britain and the Empire of China have been in a proxy, not quite Cold War for decades, playing out primarily in the Kingdom of Siam.  Siam is supported by both Britain and the Hanseatic League - it has to be.  With the British capitol in Darwin (New London) and the Hanseatic League capital in Jakarta, Southeast Asia is not a region that can be ignored.  The possibility of a conflict that could be catastrophic to all parties involved has largely kept things from boiling over there.  But should China invade Siam or cross into India... all bets are off.   

With the changes to global weather systems, places that had been seen as having little value suddenly became critical to the empires survival.  The "Green Sahara" was turned from desert into lush fertile soil during the upheavals of the Rise.  It is a constantly contended resource between the Ottoman Empire holding the eastern half of North Africa and the Middle East and the French Empire who hold the west.  Similarly, the outback of Australia has turned into a bread basket for the British Empire.  What was arid, has turned green and fertile.

With the loss of sunlight in the northern latitudes, all the great boreal forests of North America, Europe and Russia went extinct.  Wood has become one of the highest value commodities worldwide.  And no countries cash in on that as powerfully as those in South America and Central Africa.  The Portuguese have stepped forward onto the world stage as a power player primarily because of their control of the vast forests of Brazil.  Every empire has its footholds in Africa, but the Zulu Empire controls areas of south central Africa wielding iron clad control over the resources of that region.    

"The Tomahawk Incident" and other stories take place in the spaces between Britain, her allies and her enemies.  There is a lot of unexplored world out there. And there are a lot of stories to be told in the darkness of the Nyx, the æster's corrosive, supercharged clouds, or even in the Aureus along the equator where the sun still shines.





To understand the nuts and bolts of how the æsterverse and the technology within it works, there are some core pieces that need to be explained. I’ll try to not sound like that high school teacher you had who could put a monk to sleep at thirty paces just by opening his mouth, but this post is about tech, so I’m going to get a bit, well - technical. And as I’ve said before, this is just an overview, I’m barely going to scratch the surface of what’s out there, but this should give you a better idea of how the world works, why, and some of its thematic elements.

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One of the first keys to getting your head around all of this is to understand where everything started from. 1862 is the accepted date for the beginning of the Rise. Some of the greatest minds in human history were living at that time. Others who would form the basis of scientific thought we take for granted today would be born during the twenty year period of the Rise, 1862 - 1882. The problem is that many of them simply didn’t survive. Entire schools of thought we now consider foundational never came into being because the people who pioneered them didn’t live long enough to create them. By the same token, some rose to primacy in the æsterverse who have historically taken a back seat in the real world. To say that Nikola Tesla saved the world in the æsterverse might be reaching a little, but isn’t inaccurate. The reason? The fluorescent light can be turned into a grow light - that’s it. The ability to grow plants where there is no sunlight made Telsa a hero. Every city of light in the æsterverse owes its life to Tesla. And Edison? He’s the footnote in history in the æsterverse.

Another important concept is that during the rise, technology slipped backward. If it wasn’t useful for survival - right now - it fell by the wayside. Whole schools of thought, both social and technical withered and died. The champions of those ways of thinking died, the writings were lost, or they were simply forgotten. When you lose two-thirds of the human population in twenty years, a lot falls into the cracks never to be seen again.

Science in the 1860s was observational. The idea of “theoretical science” like what Einstein did, was considered nothing but flights of fancy. In the years of brute necessity during the rise, there was no room for it. Sure, there were drawing room fantasies, but the scientific community had bigger fish to fry - how to stop the extinction of the Human Race. By the 1920s, (PAe 60’s according to the æsterverse calendar. Sixty years PAe - Post Æster) the sciences had backslid and started to rebuilt themselves in whole new ways. And there was this new stuff that was part of the equation - the Æster. As science and technology rebuilt itself in the new, darker world, æster was now inextricably tied to every school of thought. This included social and spiritual. But we’ll deal with those in another post. Let’s stick to technology here.

Technology and the Draw

The draw is the key to everything happening the the æster’s clouds. To remind you, the draw pulls things upward into the sky. At the æster floor (nominally ten thousand feet), the draw overcomes the force of gravity, so things begin to float. It holds ships and platforms aloft and makes things like the giant aeroplexes possible. The force of the draw grows stronger the higher in altitude, or “deeper” you go into the æster.

This effect is a key element to the story of my first book, “The Tomahawk Incident.” If a ship goes too deep into the æster, they may reach a point where their engines cannot overcome the power of the draw. Unable to fight the draw, the ship will be pulled upward and destroyed. To combat this, the British Admiralty created the Æster Rescue Service. The “Tomahawk Incident” is about a rescue service ship that gets pulled into a mystery and a threat that no one on the ground is aware of.




Back on topic - Technology. Aeroplexes exist to connect earth and æster. “Sky Hooks” are gigantic cable structures that run from the ground to æster anchors in the sky. Platforms above the æster floor are built onto the cables. Elevators transport everything from cargo and personnel to entire ships up and down these cables. Aeroplexes are only able to achieve their staggering heights by being built around sky hooks, or more accurately, onto them. The skyhook cables are the spine an aeroplex’s entire structure is built onto. The St. Louis aeroplex pictured above stands over twenty-one-hundred feet high. That’s more than twice the height of the Eiffel Tower to give you a sense of scale. The tallest aeroplex in the world, London, towers more than three thousand feet (more than three Eiffel Towers high) above the London city of light.

A quick note on electricity. The æster is basically like one gigantic battery with differences in potential constantly fighting for equilibrium in it’s supercharged clouds. Lightning is a constant expression of this interplay. Cities of light are powered by the æster through the basic electrical principle of electron flow. Current will flow along a conductor run from something with a charge (the æster) to ground. Power is not an issue in any city of light, nor is it a problem for most ships operating in the æster. Æsterships rectify electricity directly from the environment around them. The problem is controlling all that current. You are plugging into a battery the size of the whole northern hemisphere after all. Between insulators, bypasses, and careful regulation, ships and cities of light ride the lightning, having all the power they require with no need for any other kind of fuel. And hopefully without ending up getting burnt to a crisp. Needless to say, entire fields of scientific endeavor now study the peculiarities of the æster’s extreme current, the metallurgy of cables that carry it, the structures around it, and glass and ceramics used as insulators, just to name a few. These are just some of a cornucopia of unique fields of study that have come into being in the æsterverse.

As I said in the first Æsterverse 101 post. The draw acts like in inverse ocean, becoming stronger the higher in altitude, or deeper into the æster you go. Things “sink” upward into it. This throws normal physics on its head when it comes to things like navigation and gunnery. Imagine you are firing a gun at something in the æster. If the draw is strong enough you would have to aim beneath your target, calculating the ballistics of the shot based on the draw pulling the projectile upward. And to further complicate matters, unlike gravity, the effect of the draw changes depending on where you are in the æster. For a ship traveling in the æster, this adds an additional dimension of difficulty to every navigation problem.

To combat this problem and others unique to the cloud dynamics of the æster, beacon roads crisscross the sky to let ships know where it is safe to travel.

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The sky isn’t owned by the terrestrial empires. There are “gentleman’s agreements” and a few treaties about territories in the æster, but they are difficult to enforce at best. The sky above the established boundaries of a nation or empire are considered to belong to them. But when beacon roads extend beyond those borders, who owns, maintains and ensures the safety of those critical routes gets muddy pretty quickly. Warships and pathfinder vessels called Forgers do not rely on beacon roads for navigation, but in so doing take extraordinary risks in the dangerously unpredictable skies.

Electrostatic Sheathing - As I mentioned earlier, æster is corrosive. One of the ways it is prevented from just chewing its way through the hulls of ships and platforms is through the use of electrostatic sheathing, a charged field that mitigates the corrosive elements of the æster. But those fields must be kept balanced against the constantly changing electrical potential in the æster around them. “Æster Strikes” occur when an object’s electrical signature is sufficiently out of balance with the surrounding æster that it becomes the lowest point of potential. Put simply, a ship or platform whose sheathing has become out of balance suddenly becomes the target of huge amounts of current. This usually manifests in something resembling a cataclysmic, long lasting, lightning strike. Depending on the ship, how out of balance it is with its surroundings, and the concentration of the æster around it, it can make for a rough ride, or the ship can be incinerated. Needless to say, traveling in the æster is not for the faint of heart.

Electro-Kinetic Drives - Æsterships use electro-kinetic drives to push and pull them along the electrical fields and currents in the æster’s ever-changing supercharged clouds. Similarly, platforms, beacons and all other structures use electro-kinetic motors for station-keeping and maneuvering.

What about where there isn’t Æster?

The æster only covers the higher latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres. It grows sufficiently thin as it reaches the tropics to make it hazardous for æsterships to travel there. But people still fly.

Airships are common everywhere where there is no æster. Fast packet mail, pleasure liners and giant passenger ships crisscross the skies along the equator and operate in the boundary area below the æster floor at ten thousand feet and along the fringes where the æster is too thin for æsterships to navigate. Some are little more than motorized baloons, others are giant dirigibles.

But there is also another class of vessel out there, the Hybrid. Hybrids are vessels capable of operating in both worlds. Expensive, difficult to maintain and requiring extraordinarily skilled crews, hybrids can operate in the no-mans land where neither full æsterships, or normal airships can safely operate. Forgers, the nickname given to æster pathfinder vessels, are some of the most widely recognized hybrid ships. Their job is to map the æster, identify and establish new beacon roads and explore the wonders of the volatile skies.

But æster’s usefulness isn’t restricted to the clouds. Æster is collected and refined for fuel, used as a base component in industrial chemistry, even used in medicine. It may not be the basis of all physical sciences in the æsterverse, but it is one of the single largest contributors. Airships and hybrids depend on the Æster Lifting Component to fly. ALC is an electrically charged gas with a higher lift ratio than hydrogen or helium whose unique characteristics allow its buoyancy to be adjusted by altering its electrical charge.

Æster has been used as both a benefit and a bane in medicine. From it, vaccines have been produced that combat new diseases spawned during the rise and illnesses born from a world where mushrooms, fungi and molds have taken over the niche previously occupied by chlorophyll based life.

But it’s most infamous medical use has been the creation of the Janissary Formula. The mixture of æster, opiates and other unknown chemicals is used to create the Ottoman supersoldiers, the Janissaries. Called the “Crimson Death,” they are the most feared fighting force in the world. Stronger, faster, and able to withstand wounds that would kill normal men, the Janissary Formula makes them superhuman. Breathed from the time they are infants, they cannot survive without it for long periods of time. But it’s ability to heal them allows for the implantation of Anthromechanics, physical modifications that further increase their legendary their physical prowess. Sheathed in armor that somehow communicates with the anthromechanics in their bodies, they are relentless instruments of war.

So, there’s a quick overview of technology in the æsterverse and some hooks to things that are in my books. =) You can look forward to getting to know the captain and crew of the Æster Pathfinder Forger Achilles in “The Tomahawk Incident.”