Steam on the Horizon
Chapter 1, Part 3
Boiler explosion, Roberts thought furiously. I'll kill that damned Silverman. Already the wharf alarm was blaring as soldiers and ship workers poured across the deck, racing for the wounded airship as she floundered helplessly in the sky. With three bounding steps, Roberts reached the edge of the deck, watching in panic as the Horizon dropped at least twenty feet in less than a minute. As her main deck dipped below the edge of the wharf walkway, Roberts didn't think, just acted. Grabbing a mooring rope in a work-hardened hand, he slid the length of it down to the forecastle which was now several feet higher than the poop deck, the ship's rear sagging downward as equipment and cargo slid down the angled decks and filled the aft with weight, dragging the ship's back end towards the waiting ground below.
On board the Horizon, men were racing up and down barking out orders or scattershot bits of information and Robert's eyes quickly swept the crowd as his feet hit the deck. No sign of the captain, but Roberts wasn't too particularly concerned about that, his attention quickly diverting to the bosun staggering across the tilted deck towards him, blood pouring freely from a head wound.
“Sir!” the man gasped out. “Boiler blew all the hell to....”
“I know!” Roberts bellowed back. “Where's the damned crane jib?” The Horizon was clearly too injured to keep afloat: she'd be crashing to the ground in a minute if not assisted. But as he spoke, the groaning squeal of the crane filled the air, mixing with the screams of the Horizon's engines overheating in their desperate plight to keep the ship from plunging to the ground. Already the ship had reached the end of her mooring ropes, and the lines were wire-taut, creaking with stress. After a minute of valiant effort, one broke under pressure, the thick line snapping with violent force and the airship jerked in recoil, sending her nose towards the ground as the deck pivoted, loose gear, baggage, and crewmen now sliding down towards the bow forward.
Another line snapped under the vicious pressure, jarring the airship again and starting a nasty seesaw motion as the Horizon continued her uncontrolled descent, the ground below looming up to embrace her in its unyielding arms. Then with a thunderous crash that nearly rent her asunder, the crane jib swung around and plucked the floundering airship from the sky.
The Horizon rocked chaotically in place, suspended fifty feet from the ground and liberally shedding broken pieces of futtock, assorted barrels, and shredded ends of rope into the open air, the great wound in the ship's side weeping pus of hemp and metal fragments. But she was caught now, and the crane jib lifted her up away from the looming ground and carefully swung her around into the arms of a gantry crane. Thus snared, the Horizon was moved smoothly down the line and set in an unoccupied berth as gently as a mother placing her child to bed, Roberts shouting for order and counting heads as the ship was carefully righted and secured in the berth. With a final coughing grunt, the belabored engines stopped, sending the airbags sagging against the mainmast as the ship rested its full weight on the berth with the sound of groaning wood and escaping steam filling the air.