Airships are strange things. They’re simultaneously kind of stupid and incredibly unrealistic, but there’s also something quite appealing about them.
All common sense tells us that aircraft which rely on big balloons, highly explosive hydrogen, and a bunch of propellers and sails is a bad idea. And yet, there’s just something inherently cool about airships.
I think one of my oldest dreams was to stand at the helm of a great airship, tonnes upon tonnes of metal and steel ready at my fingertips, the wind howling in my ears, donning a heavy jacket against the chill of high altitudes. Captaining an airships combines that dashing, brave image of an experienced sailor steering his ship and the wind-blown daring and excitement of flying. I think that’s what makes it seem so appealing.
This is a snippet of a story I’ve been tossing around for a while. Obviously, the theme here is ‘airship’. So, here goes…
The cracked leather of his gloves creaked as he squeezed the worn wooden spokes of the helm–iron grip holding the eight-spoked wheel steady still. The cold winds buffeted him, howling zephyrs trying to tear him off the deck and pull him down to his death. He was far north today, and the temperatures were bitter. He scanned the clouds around, his ears picking up naught but the creaking of the lines holding them aloft, and the gentle hum of the engines, vibrating through the soles of his boots.
Standing at the quarterdeck, high above the main deck, The Captain, looked over his ship like a king examining his domain. Only forty by ten metres, his ship was small, but it was his Kingdom. He held a command over this ship as harsh and as strict as any ruler.
The hull of the ship was wooden–a deep, rich mahogany colour that few other ships could boast. Its design spoke of old-world galleons and man-o-wars, even if it was dwarfed by any other of its ilk. The smooth hull of the ship swept upwards at the bow into a great bronze owl figurehead, wings spreading back to cover the bow. Two metal walkways protruded out sideways from the middle of the foredeck, hanging precariously over the abyss, both lead to twin Five-Guns. A great Bastard Cannon stood riveted to the centre of the deck. She was a ship of beauty, there could be no doubting that. Her name was Dawnbreaker.
The Captain spun the wheel to the right, adjusted switches and examined dials. The Dawnbreaker drunkenly lurched to the right. He made a few more adjustments to the panel of dials, switches, buttons and knobs that stood to the right and left of the wheel. The Dawnbreaker pulled out of her swaying, clumsy turn and her course levelled out.
Ahead floated the Ice Shards of Corinth. The vast field of levitating icicles glinted in the light of the sun. They were innumerable, uncountable. Each hovering shard glittered like crystal, every single one of them beautifully unique and different in shape and size. From this distance, he could only see the very largest of the shards in any detail. They were called the Three Brothers, the largest of the three–Dmitri was its name–was twice the size of a Mining Guild Dreadnought. Shaped like a cross, he tumbled around the edges of the field of floating shards. The two other brothers, Ivan and Alexei, traced wide elliptical paths round the centre of the field, cutting into and out of the ice field.
The Captain pulled on a pair of goggles against the glare of a thousand thousand glittering lights. He examined the ice field from afar. There. A single moving speck that did not glow and shimmer like the others around it–moving too fast and too regularly to be a shard. His quarry thought they had evaded him.
The Captain threw open a switch and the engines roared to life and the Dawnbreaker was on the move.
As soon as the engines had come on, the crew of the Dawnbreaker scrambled to their positions. Gunners deftly crossed the narrow metal walkways to the Five-Guns. Three men manned the Bastard Cannon–one to aim, two to load the immensely heavy metre-long shells. Engineers stood ready to extinguish fires and make repairs, each man strapped into a harness that let them dangle over the side of the hull. Tossers, thick-set and burly men armed with cutlasses and pistols, readied themselves to repel boarders from enemy ships. The Captain did not need to shout out orders, for everyone had their instructions drilled into the head.
The Dawnbreaker hurtled through the skies, engines howling. The lines holding together the ship’s balloons creaked. Engineers readied themselves in case they had to quickly fix a snapped line. The Captain kept her above the ice field, but even he could not avoid the shards that would some times break and shatter upon the bronze owl figurehead.
It was not long before Dawnbreaker’s prey–the aptly named Runner–had spotted them streaking towards them. It was an old ship, and damaged from their chase across the heavens. It limped along, engines spluttering and belching out great clouds of black smoke.
“Starboard guns! Shred the engines!” The Captain bellowed, his voice carrying loud and clear over the roar of the engines and the rushing winds. He turned the Dawnbreaker to chase at an angle, giving his gunner a better shot.
The gunner nodded and took aim. Squeezing the trigger, the air exploded with noise, smoke and empty casings, which clattered on the metal walkway and tumbled the long journey down to earth. The Five-Guns filled the air with a cacophonous noise, rotating five-barrel machine guns spitting out a hail of bullets, streaking tracers that etched a line of blinding light through the air.
The Runner’s engines exploded in a cloud of shrapnel and debris. It was disabled. It would never fly again.
“Ready the Bastard!” The Captain commanded. The men at the Bastard nodded and together loaded in a large, metre-long shell. The cannon swallowed the shell and clanked, ready to fire.
The Runner’s crew scrambled on deck, trying desperately to fix their engines. If only they could just get it working again, if only they could just dip back into the ice fields and hide from the onslaught of fire and death, perhaps they could live.
But there was no escaping the Dawnbreaker.
And The Captain had grown bored of the chase.