Tag Archives: Airships

Short Story- Inspection

Thalc pulled his breather mask into place. He took a moment to make sure it fit correctly on his face. The mist was thick near the edge and even after all these years it still made him dizzy. Any more than two deep breaths and he’d have to pull back out of the clouds and he’d need an hour or so to recover enough for another attempt. Some said that fact alone was proof that someone had made these floating lands. The builders being gods, man, or something else depended on who was speaking. He had lost count over the years how many scholars and priests had been lost to the mists trying to find answers. What about the thick mists made the lands float? Why did the lands stay to their gentle migrations? Was there something below the mists? The answer to those questions were variation of people falling to their deaths. Whatever caused the mists held up islands of varying sizes, but didn’t extend to hapless idiots who fell over the edge.

He hooked the latch on his belt to the lead once his mask was secure. The rail extended below the edge of the island. It connected to another sturdy pipe he’d shimmy his feet along. Thalc hated this part of the job. His post was at the edge of the mist and he’d warn people that got too close. Most of the time his daily task was a simple redirection of travelers to one of the raised bridges nearby. Today was not one of those days. No, today he had to inspect the chains.

Years ago, no one knew how long exactly, someone had bound smaller islands together. The links were easily as thick as his chest. They said that a few hundred normal sized chains ran under the lengths of the bridges, but those were built when he was a boy. Somehow the islands stayed in a close enough migration that allowed them to be linked without ever touching. Scholarly types attributed that miracle to the mists too.

Thalc checked his harness as he neared the edge. This was the worst part. He didn’t know why it even had to be done. Someone alone the way had decided the chains needed to be regularly inspected. Toss it to the mists that no one knew how they were built, or how to fix them if something went wrong.

He put his back to the edge of the island as he slipped down flat onto the ground. Slowly he shimmied back into the mist. For an eternity his booted feet hung out into nothingness. This was how his nightmares started. His feet dangling into the mist, the harness pulled taught, and then he’d fall. Luckily, this wasn’t his nightmares. His feet found the jagged edge of the island as the tether pulled taught. He leaned back, gripped the rail, and began his descent into the mist.

After this excursion to the chain he’d have forty days before it had to be repeated. That was unless someone complained. Some cloudborn noble inland would send it down the line that they wanted the chain inspected. The rainy season was the worst of it. A little hard thunder and people who had never even seen the edge thought the chains were shaking.

The tether clinked against the first joint. Thalc latched his secondary line onto the rail, swapped his main down to the new section, and continued his descent. For some reason once he was over the edge he didn’t mind the mist as much. It wasn’t something he wanted to to dwell on. Maybe it was because on the edge he could still see the land while down here it was just the mist. If he fell it wouldn’t be much different than the climb. The mask helped him see through the mist. It gave the world an amber tint and cycled his breath through two chambers.

He feet found the bar at the end of the tether. His hands moved in practiced motions to change the lines over. The progress along the bar was something of a dance. Step, step, pull, latch, and repeat. Tap, tap, brrip, click. Tap, tap, brrip, click. He found the little rhythm had worked into the small moments of his day. Tap, tap, brreng, clank.

Thalc looked down at the line. The lead had pulled away from the island. So much so that it curled back toward him and ended in the mist. He clipped his tether back to the secured section and pulled himself tight against the island. His heart thundered in his chest as he looked for any sign as to what could have done this. There weren’t any claw marks, which meant harpies and cliff birds were out. That was a small blessing. A harpy strong enough to pull the line would have had him for breakfast before he’d be able to scream.

He inched his way closer to get a better look at the ground where the bar had once been. Something big had scrapped along. It had to be a ship. Hopefully one set to drift. A ghost ship in the mists. It happened. Those hit by pirates, bad weather, or fallen to the beasts of the mists were left to drift in the mists until they were smashed to bits or pulled for salvage.

Thalc didn’t want to think about the other option, which of course meant that was where his mind went. He began his slow climb back up to the ledge. Smugglers weren’t uncommon. They’d fly in the thicker parts of the mist to avoid detection. He wasn’t against smugglers. Pirates on the other hand. Some said the mists drove them crazy. They said that their ships would simply appear. Death, pain, and terror was the only thing they traded.

He pulled himself over the edge, unhooked his tethers, and rushed out of the mist. His legs wobbled after a few steps. Thalc made it to his his guard shack. He shut the thick door tight, locked it, and slid down to the floor. Once his heartbeat returned to normal he realized his job was not yet complete. He carefully removed the clutter from around the signal light and tapped out a message. The message was brief. He stuck to the facts.

Inspection incomplete. Rail damaged. Signs point to crash. Thalc.

He looked inland and waited for someone to answer. Hopefully someone on the other side knew what to do.


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The wind rocked the old airship as it coasted along toward the floating city in the distance. Unlike the ship, the cities age was hard to pin down. No one really knew who built the first flying lands. In fact, no one was actually sure it wasn’t a natural occurrence. They were everywhere and ranged in size from little parcels of land hardly big enough to put a shed on to sprawling tracks that seemed to run forever. Their undersides of the floating islands were dangerous, rocky, and always obscured by thick clouds that made anyone who got too close sick. By and far the strangest thing about the world was that if one ventured deep in the air between the lands there was more of the same mist to greet them.

Fernk snorted awake as the ship rocked again. The old Ovalain chassis took the turbulence well enough, but the port-side stabilizer had seen better days. He waited a moment to see if the ship would jolt again. The hiss of a breeze through the patched panel outside his bunk grew to a howl as the ship lurched.

“Shenar,” he cursed as slid his suspenders back into place.

He was out of his bunk and into the tight hallway in two strides which spoke more to the closeness of the space rather than the length of his legs. Fernk turned sideways and sidled along the path to the closest junction ladder. He descended into the underbelly of the ship, clipped his tether onto a lead, and set to work. The ship could hold ten people if absolutely necessary, but the six crew they had was more than enough. It meant they each had to pull double duty, but it allowed them treasured breathing room.

The mid-low coupling had started to wobble again. He gripped the tether as he moved the lead closer to the jittering piece of metal that had woken him. Fernk slid a nalus wrench from the loop on his pants leg and set to work. The nalus wrench, while it looked like something made for peeling pearls from a harouks nest was the go-to tool for an airship. Well, the old ones like this ship at least.

He gave the coupling one more good twist for good measure. Sweat dripped off the tip of his small bulb nose. He wasn’t exactly a handsome man. The thick, wiry beard didn’t do him any favors, but it was necessary when the patchwork along the hull didn’t keep the chill out.

“You’re supposed to be asleep,” Crey said from behind him.

Fernk turned around to see the fur-covered crew member was upside-down as she spoke. Her prehensile tail wrapped around a wrung on the ladder and one of her hand-like feet grasped the ladder for stability.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said as he turned back to the panel.


She easily traversed the rest of the ladder. Her tawny fur ruffled along brawny form as the air found her through various slits in the patchwork hull. She didn’t wear clothing, aside from the harness, but she didn’t seem to mind the breeze.

“Go inverted like that,” Fernk slid the wrench back into the loop on his pants. “It makes me think I’m wrong-side up.”

“Maybe you are,” she laughed as she did a quick check of the other panels. “Port stabilizer?”

Fernk nodded as he pulled his tether back to the ladder. Crey didn’t use a tether, she never did. She gave him a line about it being a thing of pride to her people. He didn’t know if she was snorting mist, but he’d dropped the issue. She was crew on this ship, just like him, and if the captain didn’t mind if the crazy Garrun didn’t use a tether, then it wasn’t his place to say anything.

“How far ’til land?” He asked as he unlatched the tether.

“You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

“We’re circling ’til we find a friendly dock,” Crey said as she followed him up the ladder.

“What does that mean?”

“It means the ship is busted,” Haru answered from above. His pendulous voice filled the tight space as he watched them ascend.

“The ship’s been busted for a while,” Fernk said as he slid against the wall to let Crey up.

“No,” Haru said as he set his deep set eyes on the pair. “We’re a risk no one wants to take. People’ll take an omen if a ship dies at dock.”

“They just set us to drift then?” Fernk crossed his arms tight against his chest.

“We circle to find a friendly dock,” Crey repeated. “Someone has to owe us a favor or two.”

“Head high and drop,” Haru spoke barely above a whisper. “Let the ship drift.”

Fernk stared hard at the man. This ship hadn’t been what he’d signed on for. It was drafty, rarely warm, and didn’t have much in the way of fulfilling work, but it was home.

“No,” he said as he shook the thought from his head.

This ship was a junker. Everyone knew it. The jobs weren’t coming and even the smugglers had better options. The Ovalain was a dead breed and it was time for the mist to claim this straggler. Fernk looked from Crey to Haru. He gave the man a nod before he headed back to his bunk.

“Set it high and drop,” he muttered as he packed up what was left of his kit.

The pack locked in with his tether. He slid the glider on once everything was in place. What little money he had left was tucked in the interior pocket of the pack. Taking the drop wasn’t exactly the best way to get the pay he was owed, but it was better than waiting as the ship was too far into a drift. Neither of the other two were still in the hall as he made his way to the far junction. This ladder led up.

Captain Ghut stood at the wheel. His one good eye looked Fernk over with a resigned air.

“Ghut,” Fernk tapped his brow with two fingers in greeting. “I’m taking a drop.”

Ghut gave a sober nod. The smash-faced man turned back to the wheel without a word. Fernk wanted to say something. Anything really, but this ship had taken enough of his time. He climbed up the short steps, popped the seal to the outside, and pulled himself up onto the platform. There were two deckguns on rails that were almost as old as the ship. He’d only fired them twice. Once was to learn how to use them and the other was when a harouk matriarch got uppity.

The city below stretched almost to the edge of the island. There was maybe a span of twenty lanks between its wall and open air. The ship was up high enough. It had caught an updraft to help circle around. That or Ghut knew that someone would want to take the drop.

“Cloud breathing fool,” Fernk muttered as he walked against the wind.

He climbed over the platform rail. Taking the drop was simple, in theory. Jump, pull the glider, and drop in on the island below. Fernk took a deep breath. He looked back at the bubble hatch. It would be easy enough to just go back in. No one would blame him.

Fernk turned to face the city and jumped.

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Day 8

“Goblins,” Ronald’s smooth voice made the word hang in the air.

“Goblins?” His partner, Squint, rubbed the patch covering his missing eye. “I ask you how’re we going to increase our profits ‘n’ you say, goblins. You do realize we’re outlaws not a guild?”

“What’s the one score no one can get?”

“Airships,” Squint spoke the word to the ceiling. “We’ve been over this, one gunshot, one spark, ‘n’our ship ‘n’ the loot.” He mimed an explosion complete with sound effects.

“So we use goblins,” Ronald swirled the last of the supposed hard alcohol in his glass with a finger. “They’re almost as good as an elf with a bow, there’s a lot of ’em, and they don’t mind getting paid in salvage.”

His partner mulled over the idea.

“Works, eh?”

“Don’t like it,” his teeth ground together on the last word. “They’re a strange lot, no names, ‘n’ that.”

“There’re so many of ’em that gettin’ a name is something special,” Roland smiled at his partner. “Thing of honor, they gotta earn it. That’s why they work so cheap and there’s so many of ’em.”

“Goblins,” Squint tasted the word. “What’s this salvage?”

“We let ’em crash take a ship to tinker with,” he shrugged. “Shouldn’t be too hard, they ain’t run on full crews like boats.”

Squint didn’t speak, he simply stared with his one eye at a knot in plank above his head. It was on a bright idea like this he lost his eye and the ‘S’ at the end of his name. Damn and blast, it seemed like a good plan.

“Where do we get a ship?”

Roland smiled broadly, “I know a guy.”

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Filed under Fantasy, Short Fiction, Writing