Hoppers are small, short-range craft for one or two people. Quick and maneuverable, they’re one of the most widespread type of craft in the skies and uncountable in their variety and personalization. Many port-dwelling folk own or share a personal hopper, especially in vertically inclined cities. The flying equivalent to common, ground-bound motorbikes or bicycles, and they’re often called ‘bikes’ in some areas.
Cabs are similar to hoppers, but larger and enclosed. They’re also used for quick transit around cities, though some are built sturdily enough to serve as cliff-hugging transports around plateaus and larger islands. Sometimes called carriages or wagons, fancy models can swap into terrestrial, wheeled service.
Skiffs are cargo-carrying utility craft, often with open pilot and cargo compartments. While their engines are strong enough to lift heavy loads, they’re slow and clunky more often than not. Larger vessels will likely have an attached skiff for mid-air repairs, transfers of material, or as a makeshift shuttle. Some folk use skiffs as their personal craft around port, even if they don’t haul anything on the regular. Suppose you could call it a fashion statement.
Generally speaking, cargo mules are just big skiffs, though they’re more often strictly port-dwelling compared to their more adventurous siblings.
Beyond that, you’ll have a hard time classifying civilian craft. A freighter is defined by function rather than form. Shuttles are a catch-all name for anything carrying people instead of goods. Yachts are always custom jobs, as lavish as your pocketbook demands. Yet you’ll know all three when you see them.
Now, martial ships, those get a little more regimented.
Your light, limited range, combat craft with a single seat and no leg-room. Lots of variety here, especially since they’re small enough for most ports to be able to build new ones from scratch. Dedicated carrier ships are getting rare these days, so most fighters have been modified to fasten to the wake-zones of larger craft when they can’t pack them into a cargo hold. Otherwise, they don’t stray far from their home ports.
Gunships are big fighters if you want to get reductive, usually with crews of one to four. Generally outfitted to support greater firepower than fighters and most cutters, gunships are finicky beasts. Most models were overloaded with tricks and systems and tech that break half the time. Thus, quality gunships are a modest prize for any fleet, able to outfight common cutters and fighters when in capable hands. The best gunships can fly independent of a support ship, giving over interior space for endurance and reach.
Common, versatile craft, with complements anywhere from one to a dozen. Cutters are the highly adaptable workhorses and go-to ship in the frontiers and core lands alike. They can patrol. They can scout. They can be small haulers. They can be optimized for combat operations. They can be stripped down into a civilian’s home. Cutters do it all, though rarely as well as a specialized ship. The big nations cranked out thousands of cutters in dozens of designs before and during the War. Hell, we’re years out from the end of the Dissolution and folk are still dredging up half-good cutter wrecks from one expanse or scattering or isle or another. Parts are in high demand and someone will take anything you got.
Lancers, or freelancers, are the bigger counterpart to cutters, with crews anywhere from six to thirty-six. They’re similar in their variety of application and ubiquity, and can flex into whatever role their captains and owners need. Heavier variants blur the line into corvette territory, something the various nations and freeports make generous use of to patch their fleets when heavier ships aren’t available or too much work to keep flying. Many War-time lancers have retired into civilian or commercial life, though there’s always a degree of uncertainty whether that lancer emerging from the clouds off your starboard side has talons or not.
Corvettes are the line where a ship’s intent is unmistakable. Smaller ships could be anything. A corvette means you’re looking to fight. Middle-weight ships dedicated to combat operations, corvettes are uncommon these days. Like gunships, corvettes were frequently packed full of intricate technology and are thus are harder to maintain in peak form. Wealthy ports and smaller nations do put in the effort to keep a handful of them flying, since their crew-size of under a hundred souls is still manageable.
The term ‘frigate’ is an example of the now-fuzzy hierarchy from the merger of multiple fleet traditions. To Torsian and Orventian Imperials, frigates are a subclass of light-weight destroyers. In northern Osspor traditions, frigates are a distinct class between corvette and destroyer, sacrificing durability for speed while maintaining a destroyer’s firepower. In southern Osspor fleets, frigates occupy the corvette’s weight class. This is a round-about way of telling you to play it by ear when someone mentions a frigate.
Destroyers were the ships-of-the-line, the bulk of both Imperial and Coalition fleets. For a long while they the biggest ships anyone cared to build. The balanced sort of craft, big but not clumsy. Capable but not over-intricate. Powerful but not alarming by their very existence. After the ravaging the world got during the Dissolution, it was the sheer number of destroyers and their solid, well-trodden design that allowed a population to survive to present day. Now, being the largest ship available, the number of active destroyers in the Northwest and adjoining territories is a matter of great interest for all parties. Operating even one makes you a player at the table.
Very few true cruisers remain flying on this side of the world and there isn’t an active shipyard capable of making more. So far as anyone’s willing to admit, that is. The entire post-War power balance of the Northwest and Southwest Frontiers and Osspor hinges on a general disarmament and reduction in capability. As soon as someone rebuilds a shipyard capable of making cruisers, the arms race will start anew.
As for why, well…cruisers are the techy, expensive upgrade to destroyers and win out in every category. When everyone flies destroyers as their go-to big ship you can imagine the reaction to reintroducing such higher tiers of firepower and capability.
No battlecruisers remain. Only the Orventian Empire built such ships and they were works of art. Each was a unique expression of the ship’s origin, an ideal of the Empire, or some other theme. Their outer hull plating were festooned with filigree, or murals that deceived the eye, or geometric mosaics. Or all of the above. They had no common shape, no common design. Some were traditional, hexagonal-bodied, winged and flared. Others were disc-like, engines arranged in bizarre, yet somehow efficient ways. Each was a force unto itself, to say nothing of their attendant fleets.
An example of the terror true capital ships can inflict: The Dissolution peace-keeping fleet under Admiral Heath had the run of the Northwest for a year solely because of his command of a functional battlecruiser.
Commandships or Flagships
Commandships were mobile cities, the seven nerve centers of the Imperial Fleets. Everything custom and painstaking about battlecruisers was expanded to commandships and magnified. They weren’t just ships, they were heirlooms, vital expressions of the Orventian Empire’s reach, power, and stability. A commandship and its fleet turned any stretch of sky into proper civilization, if only for a short while. They were bigger than some islands, and could bring down darkness and death just as readily as peace and light.
None still fly, though three survived the War. Two were cleanly grounded and converted into other uses, cities still but no longer mobile. The third rests at the very center of the core skies, now a hub of trade and travel between the three continents.
Unlike the other massive capital ships, the Coalition did fly a pair of commandships of their own. They were quite different beasts, looking like skeletal versions of the real thing. One of the two roams the Barrier Expanse between here and Osspor, a drifting port city out in that big blue, a relay point for folk making the crossing.
Ah, why bring everyone down by dredging up that quartet of mistakes? Dreadnoughts were the apotheosis of the arms race, expressions of unquestionable power. Technological marvels and technological terrors, especially the last one.
Dead and gone and I’ll raise a toast to that.
Copyright © Michael L. Watson 2017