Outside, wind-swept rain beat on ship and crew alike. Clouds swirled like gray-black cream twisted about in a churn, tossing lighting like a child tosses a ball. Rain washed over the vessel in sheets, soaking anything in its path. In between the bursts of rain, wind howled like a thing, alive and angry.?
The weathered canvas gas bag strained against the mooring ropes above, while the crew scrambled across the Brass Griffin’s deck. A trio of sailors struggled to stow the steering sails, fighting against the storm which greedily sought to steal the sailcloth, ropes and all. Others aboard pulled to secure an extra run of lines, specifically placed to help reinforce the airship’s main gas bag to its collection of stout, hardwood masts. ?
As the door to the officer’s cabins below the quarterdeck opened, a bright blast of lightning lashed out through the storm. The bolt of electricity engulfed one of the wire mesh nets that were extended out like metal gossamer wings on either side of the Griffin’s hull. Coursing over the thin metal, it raced outward until it found the steel mooring lines and metal cables leading to the ship. The net and lines glowed, but instead of continuing the lightning – as the net was intended to do – the lines snapped with an ear-splitting shriek!?
Krumer Whitehorse raced onto deck from the cabins beneath the quarterdeck ??first, followed by Captain Hunter, close on his heels. The captain shielded his eyes against the rain, squinting as he searched for the source of the sound, while the first mate grabbed a gangly, brown-haired young man by the arm when he ran by.?
“William, what happened?” Krumer asked leaning forward so the young man could hear.
William Falke pointed frantically at the starboard side of the bow. “Big bolt ‘o red lightnin’, mean as can be, arced over the starboard net. Burnt out the net’s bow cables. Burnt ‘em clear through.”
“Anyone hurt?” Captain Hunter shouted over the storm.
“Nary a scratch, Cap’n,” William replied.
“What of those stray lines?” Krumer asked quickly. “Has anyone tried to hook them back in reach?”
“Crew’s tryin’ ta secure the netting now to keep it from flailin’ about anymore,” William explained pointing towards a trio of his crew mates that were desperately trying to secure the metal net despite the loose cables whipping about. “We figure if we can just lash it down, it’ll hold long enough ta make it through the storm.”
“Belay that! Those cables could whip a hole through the ship’s gas bag and cut any of us right in half in this storm. Just stow the starboard netting,” the captain ordered, “as the net is pulled in, the cables will come with it. We’ll make do with the port side.”
“Cap’n, the batteries is plenty low,” William replied.
“Rather short a few batteries than lose the ship or crew. If I have to, I’ll get out and push! Now move! Let’s get that net stowed!” Hunter growled at the crewman.
“Aye, Cap’n!” William replied sharply. “I’ll pass the word!”?
As William fought his way across the deck against the swirling wind, Mr. Whitehorse and Captain Hunter crossed the deck in another direction towards the main ??mast where Hunter could get a better view of the damage, while the crew at the bow worked at the rigging attached to the net. Ahead of the first mate and the captain, three crewmen worked feverishly at the lines to pull them under control. ?
Through the rain and storm, Anthony and Krumer could see the damage: blackened metal mesh, fluttering loose like a deadly steel cloth in the savage wind; torn rigging snapping at ship and crew alike; and the occasional spark of red-tinged electricity crackling over it all. Hunter shook his head at the sight.
“Bloody hell,” Captain Hunter swore, “it’s quite the mess.”
“Aye, Captain, it is,” Mr. Whitehorse agreed. “Fortunately, it doesn’t look so far gone that it might could be patched until we reach port.”
As the two men watched, a bolt of lightning struck the errant mesh, illuminating it a moment as the raw electrical power was transferred along the net, recharging the ship’s batteries. No sooner had the electricity faded than another rigging line snapped due to the wind. Immediately, one of the three sailors trying to get the net under control turned and raced off across the deck. He returned a moment later with hooked poles.
Armored in rubber gauntlets to protect themselves from the electricity, the three sailors navigated the ruined mesh with a practiced grace – the kind of grace born from years of experience in dangerous storms. Grabbing the lines, the crewmen hauled away at cables attached to the steel mesh frame, which flared out away from the ship like a large pair of wings. This netting caught and channeled the dispersed lightning into barrel-shaped Daniell cell batteries stored below decks.
Two cables towards the bow swung wild in the wind, above crewmen fighting to bring them under control with hooked poles. William ran up and relayed the captain’s instructions while Whitehorse and Hunter unsecured the starboard winch and hauled away.
Steadily, the damaged mesh was drawn in, rolled like so much fabric. Once the netting was coiled against the ship’s side, Mr. Whitehorse began tying it down with William’s assistance. As the five worked feverishly, Captain Hunter stalked across deck towards the bow though the hammering rain, as if oblivious to the storm’s futile efforts to wash him over the side.
“Mr. O’Fallon! What’s been happening to my ship?” Hunter shouted over the rain.
The man Hunter addressed turned at hearing his name. Wiping rain water from his eyes, the quartermaster reached up to squeeze the rainwater from the long, braided red lock that extended from the sole island of hair on his head.
“Torn cables, Cap’n, storm’s too much for them. Been needin’ replacement now onto a good month or more. Ah’d been hopin’ to be gettin’ more once we reach port for Moira or Kylee to be usin’ for repairs.”
Hunter scowled at the cable ends as if he could frighten them into repairing themselves. Lifting one carefully, the captain lightly touched frayed strands.
“We just put these in two or three months back?” Hunter asked.
“Aye, three tae the day, nearly. But we’ve been storm chasin’ a wee more’n normal,” Conrad replied.
“I’d gauge it only a sight more than normal. But I could’ve lost count in all the cargo runs to and from the mining towns. Besides, look close there at the threads,” Hunter said, gesturing with the frayed end of the cable. “They look cut to me, not ripped,” he added.
“We be deep in the middle of a blow Cap’n. Cut by what?” the quartermaster said, wiping rain from his eyes. “There nae be but us out here.”
“That’s what bothers me. Let Moira know we may need her at her forge for a patch,” the captain said, handing over over the ruined cable to O’Fallon. “In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” Conrad replied with a small nod.
“Oh, and what’s this I hear about ‘red lightning’?” Hunter asked curiously.
“Ah canna say, Cap’n. It struck so fast, Ah can’t be sayin’ that Ah saw anythin’,” The quartermaster replied.
“Indeed,” the captain said thoughtfully. “Keep a sharp eye about you, if it was actual red lightning, then that means nothing good.”
Suddenly, a gust of wind struck the Brass Griffin broadside, scattering crew across the deck. The wood protested in anguish as timbers groaned and rigging threatened to snap while the ship rotated. Ropes holding barrels in place stretched while wet, frayed hemp popped and unwound rapidly. The first of the barrels leaped free of its bindings, and slammed against the main mast. Rigging popped in the wind, slapping the wet canvas of the gas bag overhead.
Immediately, as the ship listed, Captain Hunter and his crew scrambled across the deck, like mountain climbers scaling a wet cliff face. On reaching the far side, they released a set of lines, pulling open small trim sails used specifically to correct the airship when she turned too hard against the wind. Another moan filled the air; a groan from wood and metal echoing like an abused soul just freed from purgatory.
As the ship finally righted after a few minutes’ fight, Hunter and O’Fallon spotted two figures laying on the deck: One sported a hurt arm, the other a nasty bruise already forming on his forehead. William Falke raced over to a crewman who was clutching his arm against his chest.
“Someone find Thorias and tell him we’ve got two comin’ down for treatment!” The young man called out.
While the wounded were carried below, Captain Hunter’s eyes searched the clouds, scouring them as if seeking a sign. With a glower as dark as the storm that surrounded him, Hunter stalked away into the driving rain towards the bow of he vessel.
O’Fallon glanced at Krumer Whitehorse. “What be the Cap’n on about?”
“The captain does not like this kind of storm. Never does. He lost his hand in such a storm,” Krumer explained, wiping rain from his eyes.
“Ah remember the story. Twasn’t a storm the way Ah heard it, but some beastie?” O’Fallon asked curiously.
“After a fashion,” the first mate replied matter-of-factly, “it was a beast.”
A bright flash of lightning lit the sky the same moment an explosion of sound washed over the ship. Again, the Brass Griffin pitched, fighting against the wind slapping her across the bow. Crewmen clung to nearby hand holds, belaying pins, rigging, whatever stable surface they could find. Before the ship settled, it lurched once more. A hard groan of timbers followed a pair of sharp pops. Krumer and O’Fallon exchanged a glance.
“Ah’d be knowin’ pistol shot, even in this blow. Shot came from near the bow, Ah be thinkin’,” the quartermaster said.
“Precisely,” Krumer replied in alarm. “Which is where the Captain is!”
Hunter’s voice cut through the howl of wind, “All hands! To arms!”