A tumult and a tempest.
Here is the second part of my serial tale from our role play group "The Airship's Messdeck".
Previously Max and his crew have been sent out into the North Sea on an old fishing trawler, the Argo, to continue testing the Chirper for the Experimental Airship Division (the EAD) of the Royal Navy.
Far from their normal place in the relatively calm sky aboard the Royal Navy's experimental airship the HMAS Velvet Brush, they are now battling a rising gale.
*Max reaches the head of the stoke hold ladder and finds Miss B.B. still at the table clutching her bucket. She is staring at the watertight door that leads out to the deck, shaking her head. There is no sign of Iveta.*
"Where is the Navigator Lieutenant?"
"She, she is on deck s... sir!"
Ah off to check the speed, so she will have to get to the fantail to avoid fouling the propeller with her log line... Christ one of the worst bloody places to be in this muck!
"Did she go to test the speed?"
"N... n... No Sir! Urk... sorry. I lost my aetherwave connection, she went to check if the wiring was still ok. Oh Sir! The water, the ice! I saw it all over the deck when she went out."
*The Trawler gives another great corkscrewing crash into the seas.*
Max hanging onto the top of the ladder, swears. "I hope she can hang on bloody tight! Time we were out of this!"
*Max scrambles up the ladder to the little enclosed bridge of the Argo where Mr Angus is still grimly trying to hold the ordered course. The sea is now almost white, the howling gale ripping the tops off the seas and blasting them into the little ship. Water is streaming off the window of the bridge as if it was being drenched with a fire hose.*
*A quick glance at the compass and Max orders the trawler's captain to abandon the pattern course and run for shelter*
"Aye aboot bloody time too! We'll have to aim direct into this wind, we daren't let it get abaft of us or we'll get pooped. We don't have the speed to run safely before it an all."
"Well at least we are heading the right direction!"
*With careful adjustments of the wheel the old fisherman carefully turns the Argo towards the wind at a slight angle to the seas, the motion eases slightly but even more spray and solid water breaks across the open expanse of the deck and the hatch cover of the fish hold, beneath which Simpson is working on the chirper amid the stench and swirling fishy water.*
Christ Max you fool, you should have been running for shelter hours ago!
*Looking through the blowing spray and the tumult of white foaming water crashing across the open deck, he spots Iveta halfway up the trawlers lone mast. She is struggling with a wire that whips and snaps like an angry serpent.*
Mr Angus spots her too. "By God! What is she doing out there. She is as good as dead, she'll never get back across that deck!"
Max's heart races as he watches Iveta fight with the wire high up on the ice rimed and whipping mast. "What about the fore peak hatch?"
"Aye, but it leaks so it is bolted shut from the inside. Someone would have to get it opened for them. And before she tries to get back across that deck!"
*On the wildly swaying mast, drenched in icy spray and battered by the gale, Iveta struggles to catch hold of the cable.*
“Don’t look down, Iveta,” she tells herself, and grabs again at the flailing wire. Missed! Letting out a string of curses which would have burned the ears of any who could understand, she allows a moment to collect her thoughts. The pitch and toss of the sea made every movement more difficult, not to mention the spray and angry wind.
She is a stranger to neither heights nor motion, yet even among the most agile of acrobats, there are stories that deserve multiple tellings over fire and vodka. If they finish well, that is. If not, they become sad songs at those same fires. Iveta had heard more than a few of those, and committed herself to living to tell this tale. “Oh, and there will be vodka for this one!”
Readying herself for another try, she knows she must find that place of cold calm or risk losing both grip and life in the moments ahead. There is no net, and no one to help. That means no mistakes. Breathe. Move with the motion. Breathe. Strong grip, relaxed body. Breathe. Eyes fixed on moving target. Breathe. Timing is everything. Her mind reeled with a long practiced, sub-conscious knowledge of physics lived as a child; the numbers came later and it was years before she ‘learned’ what she had always known. Breathe. Move with the motion… Timing is everything…. Breathe….. There. Iveta’s eyes steeled into a deep, unwavering determination, making herself one with the relaxed tension needed focus on her quarry. The storm, for her, was over for now.
NOW!! Muscle memory stretched to its finest allowed her to do all things at once: hold on, anticipate movement, and ultimately lunge for the wire ……… “Piekrišana!”
It was an aerial feat worthy of applause, but there was only the roaring sea, and it didn’t seem impressed. With one hand she coiled the wire quickly and began the delicate work of reattaching the wire. This part was slightly easier as it merely required holding on as the Argo alternately crested and plunged among the waves. All factors aside, the connection came together simply enough and Iveta hoped it was working now, since BB wasn’t there to verify. It would have to do, and she was soaking wet and ready to be out of the wind. It was then she allowed herself to look down, and wondered if she might yet become a song sung over vodka.
The mast heaved as if it were attached to an angry bull, and in between each salty spray of the black iron sea, Iveta scanned the deck for the best way, any way, to get below decks without first being washed overboard. The wind howled its presence constantly, but reading the sea, its rising and falling, she saw that there was almost a pattern –more than a little erratic, but a pattern nonetheless – and surmised that once she let go of the mast, she’d be able to make her way to one of the hatches if she could keep to the rails, and time it well. But all the hatches were closed…for now.
It is not easy to trust one’s life to another, and what the volatile gale didn’t know was that she’d spent years flinging herself into the air, trusting hands that didn’t belong to her that she’d be caught in mid-flight. She remembered the first time she let go of the fly bar, somersaulting into the waiting grip of a fellow acrobat. Iveta was little more than a child at the time, and even with all the masterful training she’d had navigating heights, the fear she faced that day was not of falling. She’d fallen and been injured before. And by then, Iveta had confidence in her own abilities; but in someone else's training, timing, strength and courage? That was different. A catcher lacking in any of these could have easily caused her death. No. The true fear was in not being caught. Every flyer has to make peace with the helplessness in depending fully on the catcher. That initial rush of relief when coming out of the twist and seeing, as she reached, sure and strong hands ready for her shattered the fear and freed her to try new combinations. She could still feel the chalked hands as they clasped her wrists, working with gravity to toss her into another form. Force out. Hollow. Sweep - Gotcha! Ah yes, they were really something to behold.
And here, frozen and clinging to a battered mast, those lessons served Iveta well as she watched, waiting for an opening that would be her haven from the storm. “BB knows where I am. If communications are up, she’ll give word.” For now, she busied herself by not letting go, and making note of each point on the ship that would provide a sure hold.
When the moment came she would be ready.
Part III is here.
(1) This section is written by the accomplished, elegant, and talented Josanna Justine, who is Iveta in our role play group.