#RetrenchmentChallenge: A Crackle & Bang Sneak Peak

by Doc Coleman on May 13, 2011 · 0 comments

in Asides, Writing

Zack Ricks put out a challenge to write 1000 words in two days. Deadline is midnight, Friday, May 13th. I took up the challenge. So far I’ve spent a day working on required writing, which doesn’t count. But now with that out of the way, here is my new, original, creative effort.

I was roused from a sound sleep by a peculiar, strident honking sound that permeated my cabin. I sat up in bed, and the sound repeated itself. I shook my head to clear the sleep cobwebs and realized that the honking sound was actually a klaxon that was sounding throughout the ship.  The odd, honking klaxon continued to repeat from the steam pipes that threaded through a corner of my cabin. It sounded remarkably as if a clarinet had been lodged into the pipe to produce the sound.

Rising from bed, I grabbed my trousers from the valet by the wardrobe and nearly topped the polished walnut stand in my haste. I stepped into my trousers, fastened them, and grabbed a shirt, hastily donning it as I headed to the door. Throwing open the door to my stateroom, I stepped out into the corridor, where the same honking klaxon was sounding from points every twenty feet along the passageway. I looked both ways, trying to discern the cause of the emergency.

Somehow I managed to still be looking the wrong way when Tinka, the Argos’ chief rigger, pushed past me and ran down the corridor, simultaneously fastening the odd harness she uses for support and shrugging into a long tailed shirt. “One side, luv! Gotta run!” I could not help but stare after her as she ran, her bare feet slapping on the deck as she went. In her haste Tinka had chosen to forgo the leather trousers she usually wore when on duty, and I was treated to an unexpected view of her long, athletic legs until she turned the corner.

I could now hear other, booted feet running as well as other members of the crew responded to the emergency. I ducked back into my room to clear the way as a handful of airmen ran by on the way to their stations. Poking my head back out in their wake, I spied another figure making a more sedate but equally purposeful way: Miss Titania Bang. Miss Bang had covered herself with a belted dressing gown and donned slippers before venturing forth from her room, her long, chestnut brown hair flowed down her back instead of being piled up in a variety of tasteful styles she favored. This framed her delicate features in an fashion that emphasized the air of innocence that she habitually wore.

“Miss Bang, what is going on?”

She crossed to me and taking my arm, pulled me out into the passage, indicating I should follow her. “We are under attack, my lord! That is the alarm for battle stations!”

“Battle stations? Where are we to go?” My mind reeled with the very idea of someone attacking the Argos. Who would be such a fool?

“We must go to the bridge. That is where Harmonious will go, and it is the most defended part of the ship. And it will be the best place to find out where we can help.” She continued on, and I found myself being towed along by the small yet stately woman. I regretted not thinking of donning slippers as well, as the bare deck plates in the working areas of the ship proved to be rather cold to my bare feet. I missed the warm wood and plush rugs that served as flooring in the living compartments.

Twice, as we made our way to the bridge, we had to flatten ourselves on one side of the passage to allow members of the ships crew to pass by to man their stations or attend some other issue. My father had told me tales of his naval service when I was a boy, describing the excitement and chaos of battles at sea, punctuated by long hours of attentive boredom as ships maneuvered to fire once again. So far, there had been none of the chaos he had talked of. No gunfire, no shuddering lurches as the ship took a hit, or the cries of wounded, or of men fighting fires on deck. I hoped this was a good sign. A chase could buy us further time to prepare, but if an attacker had already latched on, the Argos could be boarded any moment.

We stepped onto the bridge of the Argos and were hit by a cacophony of sound, ranging from the blatant to the subtle. Crewman at various positions relayed messages from other parts of the ship delivered through acoustic tubes. The helmsman wrestled with a large wheel set into the floor that clicked and tinged as he turned it to adjust and correct the course of the ship. Another crewman pulled at a bank of levers decorated with different bells that communicated some information to other parts of the ship. Captain Oscar Peerless stood in the middle of this noise slightly to one side of the helm, pulling sense out of the reports being shouted around him and occasionally thundering out an order in his deep, rolling voice. He stood stock still upon his mechanical legs, their clockwork ticking adding a low background to the noise of the bridge. A faint rustling of papers came from the navigator’s station at the back of the bridge, where Professor Harmonious Crackle, fully dressed, although missing a coat, examined the maps along side the navigator, a tall freckled Irishman who barely looked to have fifteen years under his belt. Below all this, the thrum of the ships propellors could be heard more clearly on the bridge than in the corridor.

“Damn!” The Professor’s voice carried across the bridge although he was clearly speaking to himself. “Captain, I believe that we’ve drifted too far to the east. If I am correct, we’ve run into a band of Burmese air pirates operating out of the Nicobar Islands. They’ll try to take the ship, but if we cannot outrun them, they’ll try to shoot us down.”

“They’ve already tried,” the Captain growled, his anger directed at the pirates. “The riggers are heading aloft now to check for damage, but I think those armor plates of yours did the trick. But unless you’ve got something else to give us more speed, sir, we’ll have to fight them off.”

I followed in Miss Bang’s wake as she crossed to the Professor. I tried to mentally picture the Argos as I had last seen her. The Argos was a proper airship, a dirigible. A massive cigar shaped balloon defined the majority of the ship, with the cabins, living and working quarters slung underneath as a long, wide hull. Propellor assemblies jutted out from the hull at intervals and provided additional lift and the propulsive force behind the craft. The balloon has always been the most vulnerable part of an airship, being most of the ships surface area. Pirates had been known to attack from above in dirty aereoplanes trailing grappling hooks. They would strafe along the body of an airship, hook the balloon with their grapples, and then try to drag the ship off course, usually to an airship of their own which would then board the victim. If the airship put up too much resistance, two aereoplanes would hook the ship and attempt to fly off in different directions. This would usually result in the balloon being torn open, dropping the ship from the sky, or one of the planes over-stressing its diesel engine. This alternative typically ended in the plane and the airship catching fire and crashing.

While the Argos was a peaceful ship, she carried some armaments for just these encounters. By now, gunners would be in their emplacements, manning large caliber machine guns on gimbals to give the widest possible range of fire. I was not sure where those firm points were located on the ship, but looking out through the forward port into the inky night, I imagined that they would have some difficulty hitting their targets in this light. In contrast, the Argos’ running lights would have lit us up as a target for the pirates that could be seen for miles.

The Professor looked thoughtful for a moment. “I have something that may do one or the other, but not both. I’ve been experimenting with other uses for the furnace’s fuel. It should form a decent flame thrower. Or possibly a thruster.”

“You want to throw coal at them?” I could not contain my incredulity. What the Professor was suggesting didn’t make sense.

“No, my friend, coal is too heavy and dirty for regular use. We use it to start the boilers, but once they’re hot we burn Oxygen and Hydrogen torn from the very water itself. It provides for a much cleaner engine. The only problem is fuel storage, and I believe I’ve come up with an effective answer to that.”

He turned back to the Captain. “I think our best bet is to fight, Captain. Buy us as much time as you can. If we can get some morning light it will give us a much better chance.”

The Captain’s gaze was hard, “I’ll do my best, sir. Make sure you don’t do the pirates work for them.” He did not seem fully confident in the Professor’s ability to fashion a weapon.

Miss Bang spoke up. “How can we help, Harmonious?”

He turned to the pair of us. “Yes. Come with me, you can both help me set things up. Captain, we’ll be taking over the rear firmpoint. I know it will leave us vulnerable while we set up, but it will also give us the best vantage to strike at them.”

“Well, don’t dawdle. Prentis!” the Captain thundered, “inform rear guns that the Owner will be modifying weapons. Prepare to aid and assist.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” and the Airman I presume to be Prentis grabbed an acoustic tube from an octopus’s nest of tubes and blew into it to signal the rear position.

The Professor gathered us up and ushered us from the bridge. “We’ll have to head up into the rigging areas and make our way along the catwalks to the back of the ship. But first we must stop at my laboratory and pick up some pumps. And some extra tubing. Quickly now!”

Seventeen hundred words on a new Crackle and Bang story. I’ll finish it later, but this is my start.


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