The wind shift comes at noon, bringing a warm briny-smelling breeze from the Pacific Ocean to the airship docks on the Uniontown pier. Like restrained gray sky-whales, the airships shift silently by the bow in the wind around the tall metal spires of the mooring masts.
Yesterday, I moored my airship, “The Resurgent Lady,” on the mast closest to the wide green bay that Uniontown is renowned for.
I emerge from the open hatch and stand up on the narrow steel catwalk that runs like a metal backbone the length outside and on top of the “Lady’s” gas bag envelope. This is the highest point on the dirigible. Standing outside so high up gives one pause, for a bit of carelessness, you’ll slide down the envelope to your death below.
I look over my shoulder.
The massive fin rises up, and the gray curve of the envelope on either side of me slips away from me.
Below me, the navigator’s incessant playing of her squeezebox on the wheel deck of the gondola breaks the pleasantness that I’m trying hard to maintain. Hence, the reason I sought refuge in this place.
When I first crewed airship, I was a bosun. I would climb up to the top of the dirigible mid-flight and, secured with strong ropes and a harness, repel off the top of the envelope down its smooth side sometimes to the gondola below.
That was long ago. As I stand, the wind blows through my hair. I feel that I might see forever. My rigging days, alas, are behind me.
“Winds bring change,” so the old woman told me late last evening at a noisy pub called the “Gasbag Arms” where most of the aircrews drink and generally misbehave.
The old woman would tell your Fate for a couple of coins, and I, always curious of the Palm Arts, dropped a few said coins on the table at which she had situated herself amongst the glasses of beer and sweet-smelling cooked fish of a species I couldn’t readily identify.
“Go on, old woman,” I said. “Tell me what the Gods have in store for me.”
She took the money, then she took my palm.
Her face was withered from too much sun as if she’d been at sea most of her life.
I said, “You’ve been at sea most of your life?”
She shook her head. “Aircrew. Until the crash of ’48.”
I nodded and smiled as if I knew what she was talking about, but I really had no clue.
She pulled my hand closer to her face, her eyes like sunken raisins in a tasty bread pudding that I would have liked to have eaten, but alas there was none to speak of in the “Gasbag Arms.”
“My, my,” she said. “Your love line. It’s unlike any I’ve seen.”
This remark satisfied me. “Well, I do know my way around a corset…”
“No, you don’t,” she said, her voice flat.
“Enough!” I said. “Tell me of my fate, old woman. Will Fortune smile at me?”
“Not if you keep getting her corset laces in knots every time you try to untie them,” she said.
I withdrew my hand from her and stood up. “Thank you, kind madam.”
I turned and walked away from the table, but before going too far, I turned back and said, “By the way. The corset thing. The knots. That only happened one time. When I asked to cut the laces, she told me ‘no’ as she’d gotten the corset in Paris on her most recent trip with her husband and worried I would damage it. I did in the end manage to remove said garment from her personage before we engaged in, well…”
“Winds bring change,” she said, then looks away from me. “Next!”
But, that was yesterday. Today is, well, today.
I decide it’s time to return to the “Lady’s” bridge and leave the solitude of the top of the envelope. The sun is setting as I climb through the hatchway, sealing it before making my way down the narrow ladder. I step gingerly between the pregnant gas bags all the while hearing that navigator’s insufferable playing.
My bosun meets me at the landing at the envelope’s bottom. She purses her lips and hands me a folded piece of paper.
“We’ve got problems,” she says, her voice flat.
I laugh. “When don’t we?”
She doesn’t share my amusement and folds her arms across her chest.
I open the paper and read.
“Shit,” I mutter. “We best be getting underway.”
“Yes, sir. We’re re-provisioned. Shall I recall the crew?”
I nod. “We need to put some kilometers between us and Uniontown.”
Within an hour, we cast off and gain altitude as the wheelman (who is actually a woman) expertly navigates us across the bay and into the foothills of the Coast Range. I’m relieved to hear the familiar ‘chop, chop’ of the propellers. The world turns dark below me as night settles in.
“Bosun! Lights out. Except for the binnacle.”
I walk across the cold wooden planks of the gondola’s deck. The stars are bright tonight, but there’s no moon. The ground far below is black as sackcloth. There are no details.
The bosun joins me. “Lights out, captain. Night flying is risky.”
“I’m aware of the risks,” I say.
The navigator leans over the railing of the flying bridge and whispers. “Lights astern, captain.”
I look at the bosun before climbing to the flying bride. The navigator points aft. I raise my spyglass to my eye.
“It’s them,” I say.
The bosun whispers in my ear. “He wants her corset back.”
I frown and look away. “Yes.”
“Winds bring change,” she says.
“Oh, go on,” is my only reply.