Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chapter 1, Part 3

We last left the good airship Horizon in the turmoil of a sudden catastrophe - read below to see what happened to her!

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.
Twitter @Melissa_Conroy 


  1. I just realized I'm surprised there's any ship left at all after that explosion shaking the wharf and almost tossing a Chinaman over. I had to go back and reread - I hadn't remembered it was a loose board that tipped the man - I thought the entire wharf had bucked & tipped. So the confusion there may be my fault. Just thought I should mention it.

    What's a crane jib (ok, I googled it & it was what I thought) & how did it catch the ship? In pincers? A hook? Where did it grab the ship? It seems to me something as heavy as a ship wouldn't like being grabbed either, so things would groan and strain?

    Now that I think about it - is the airship wooden or metal? All this time I've been picturing a traditional wooden sailing ship with balloons instead of sails. (Something like this: but now I'm wondering if it's made of metal? In which case the crane jib could have used a giant magnet? Though I imagine metal would be pretty heavy for airbags to lift so probably not?

    This part was action-packed & high tension. But it felt like it resolved a little too quickly and easily. Maybe the last paragraph should be separated and expanded a bit?

    The "ship's side weeping pus of hemp and metal fragments" is great (slightly gross ;) imagery although hemp & metal doesn't seem very pus-like to me.

    All in all, I'm really enjoying these sneak peaks & I hope you're getting the kind of feedback you wanted? I'm very curious where the plot is going!

    1. I too was wondering how exactly the crane latched on. I also felt a little let down that despite Roberts' apparent quick reflexes and decisive nature, he didn't really appear to have any hand in saving the ship. My understanding was that it was thanks to a mysterious crane operator. That may just be the excerpt cliffhanger giving me that impression though.

  2. I felt a bit confused by this passage:
    "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."
    It made it sound to me as if Roberts reached the edge of the dock in three steps (a few seconds) and then watched for almost a minute as the ship sunk. This is at odds with the impression of competence and skill I have up to that point. Also, sinking 20 feet in a minute is about 4 inches a second. Not good, but not really catastrophic either. I wonder if that minute should be reduced to seconds?

    I love that I learned a new word from this: futtock! However, since that's the rib of a ship, if the Horizon is "liberally shedding broken pieces of futtock", the wound must be incredibly grievous. Before that point, I think the only mention of actual damage was a hole in gas bag. I feel like maybe this hull damage should have been mentioned at the same time as the gas bag damage. It probably would have decimated a large portion of the wharf with shrapnel, and damaged any neighboring ship.

    Also, like Saotome, I was surprised the Horizon had a mast. I'm imagining a conventional sailing mast, but I can't imagine how that would fit in a logical way. Perhaps we need a bit more description for the Horizon, earlier?