At night, the Rephidim docks do not sleep
At night, the Rephidim docks do not sleep. Anyone fortunate enough to observe them from a distance would describe them as a city of light all its own, the bright glow pouring from hundreds of portholes, cargo hatches, stern lanterns, dockside lights, many-wicked worklanterns, and warehouses turn it into a sparkling sea of gems. As one nears, one can see the individual ships, shadows moving about their decks as crews unload their cargo or work at fitting them out for voyages. Columns of yellow lanterns mark the reference points for counting berth numbers, and each berth is marked with red or green lanterns at its entry depending on whether it's occupied or vacant; a sea of gems indeed. And further down a ways this is all duplicated yet again, though in a place no merchant may dock, for this is the docking area of the Temple's great warships. This night, the crew of an airship approaching the military docks is witness to all this beauty, though for the last time on this vessel. She is the TGS Stalwart, a veteran gunship now considered outdated and slow, her boxy, short hull and inefficient sails unsuited for modern warfare, her gas envelope too small to lift large loads. She has been chosen to be decommissioned and mothballed, her hydrogen and most of her equipment transferred to newer vessels.
On her bridge, aft as in all older vessels, her captain, Inrym Togarith, a gray-muzzled elderly black Jupani, stands at attention. He knows full well that this will be the last voyage both of his ship and himself, as he is retiring after a lifetime of service and more skirmishes than he can count. He intends to remember every moment of this night, every motion of the deck, every sound. At the helm is Dek Jheswit, a much younger Khatta who will be assigned to another vessel, and about the bridge are two Rath'ani and a Cervani; his bridge crew. Inrym speaks quietly as the ship nears port, as he has many times before. "Slow to docking speed, Mr. Jheswit. Steady as she goes." The Khatta repeats the Captain's orders into a wooden tube leading forward to the sailmaster's position, listens, then nods. "Aye sir. Slowing to docking speed, dragsails deployed." From the starboard side of the bridge, one of the Rath'ani, observing the port through wooden binoculars, calls out the lightsignals being received, "Stalwart proceed berth twenty-two." Still looking through the binoculars, he aims a bright lantern back towards the signal, repeatedly opening and closing its shutters with a lever, returning a signal of acknowledgement. "Confirmation received, sir. We're clear for docking. They welcome us home, sir." The captain nods once and replies, "Take her in, Mr. Jheswit."
With quiet, slow movements, the airship edges into the port and heads towards her assigned docking berth. As she does, she passes by rows of other ships being fitted out for duty, including some of the new Champion-class gunships. With berth twenty-two being at the end of a row of docks, she passes directly by one of these new, sleek vessels. More than three times the size of Stalwart in both hull and envelope, the younger vessel is clearly of a different generation. Slender, all her curves angled back to give her a feel of motion, she has a glassed-in bow bridgecabin, twin heavy arrow-ballistas under her prow, a graceful fantail, and a hull glistening with the green-gold sheen of the newly developed chitinous fireproofing coat. Captain Togarith's eyes wander along her length as his own vessel passes by, taking in the rows of brightly lit portholes through which busy crew can be seen moving about, the new bowlike improved wingsails, and her deck, no longer supported by lines far below the envelope, but tucked up close against it, barely a tail's distance separating the two. "She can make twice our speed, I've heard.", the Cervani mutters. The Rath'ani whose attention is not focused on the berth-signaler's messages turns to answer him. "Aye, and she's supposed to be fireproof as well." Dek, attention on steering, glances sideways for a moment out of curiosity. "Why's she all tucked up like that?", he wonders. "Crew might as well be breathing gas if they were any closer, hm?" He returns his attention to the helm as the Rath'ani answers him. "Supposed to keep flyers from boarding easily, son. They can't land on the deck through a clearance that small, but archers can fire from it just fine. Makes sense, I have to admit." The Captain says nothing, only watches his successor pass by as his ship heads to her final docking. More lanterns are lit on the new vessel as she prepares for her voyage, mica-reflected lamps casting fans of light over the enormous curve of her envelope and the towering star-and-anchor insignias painted on it. Yet more hull lanterns light up her stern, finally revealing her name in tall, shining letters: Progress.
The Stalwart's captain nods softly as his ship heads on, slowing further as her mooring lines are cast and Titanian dock crew begin to catch hold of them. "Aye. Progress it is.", he whispers, "And someday thou shalt be replaced by a ship even greater than thyself, thou shalt be obsolete as well. 'Tis my hope that mine life1s lessons are carried with thee, and to thy sucessors, or 'tis not progress at all." He finally turns and pads out onto the outside bridge wing, facing forward with paws clasped behind his back as his ship settles into her berthing cradle with a soft bump, the shouts of the crews securing her drifting in the cold air that mists his breath. A Temple honor guard can be seen on the docks below, as can several Temple officials paying homage in recognition of a life of service. Inrym Togarith closes his eyes for a moment, his mind filling with images of the battles he's fought on this ship, the friends made and lost over the years, the foreign ports and grand adventures, the courage of his crew and then, satisfied, he opens his eyes and turns back to the bridge to carry those memories with him, to give his farewell speech to his crew, to wish them luck in whatever new assignments they're given, to retire and to share a lifetime of experience with any of the next generation who will listen.