The Desert Crystals – Part 16: Look But Don’t Touch

desert crystals4Part 16 – Look But Don’t Touch

The ever-present tremble of the walls grew into a jagged judder that bounced along the narrow table which Ryme had unfolded between the bunks. Crockery and books leaped in an enthusiastic dance across its jouncing surface, narrowly escaping Guldwych’s desperate fingers and diving to the floor in an orgy of pottery and paper. Ryme cursed and shuffled back on his bunk so he could push the table back up to the wall. Then he awkwardly knelt and squeezed his bulk into the gap between the bunk racks and kneeled on a jag of tea cup. Unable to move further, he flinched from the cut and his calves cramped up. He writhed in agony, banging his head repeatedly on the wooden edge of the opposite bunk.

A hydra-mass of dreadlocks emerged over the lip of the top bunk, some extending almost as far as Ryme’s throbbing scalp. “Y’aright lad?” Tosser idly enquired.

She had been enjoying her rest period, having spent the night furiously tending the engines, lovingly greasing them and coaxing continued life from the highly-strung machines. Though Ryme was often ill-tempered, and simply ill, he was a relatively quiet cabin mate – the scratching of pen on paper and sips of tea had drawn Tosser into a day of pleasant dreams. The wingship’s natural shuddering was all the skymates’ lullaby and its change of tone had pulled Tosser out of sleep. Ryme’s hijinks had persuaded her to peel back her eyelids. The fat man was endearingly stuck between the bunks, straining like a Goat Tortoise to expel its single enormous egg.

Ryme mumbled something about legs and heads and crockery. Tosser unhitched her metal cup from its hook and filled it from the canister on the wall. The sky was dry and hot and all the mates were on water rations – despite the speed of The Viper’s Eye it was still a long and parching flight over the Great Bane Desert. Only the air whipping past them offered breezy relief. She rolled the water around her mouth, enjoying the fleeting moistness. With a small sigh she heaved herself off the bunk and landed neatly, straddling the moaning professor. Tosser’s Amazonian build was something of a liability in the engine room but her size was an asset for the wingship’s other enterprises. Equally, it allowed her pluck the portly professor from the floor with a minimum of further scrapes and place him gently back in his bunk.

Ryme was unsure if an apology was truly due, given the humiliating resolution to his troubles. He sprawled on his bunk and nodded acknowledgement to the hulking engineer. Tosser grinned and darted out of the cabin. Guldwych sighed and rubbed at his aching calves. Then at his slightly gashed knee. He had slowly become used to the routine on board The Viper’s Eye.

Against his expectations and those prejudices of which he was aware, he had fallen into a fairly comfortable relationship with his cabin mates, Tosser, who had so recently aided him in her nonchalantly powerful way; and with Knocker, the brutal, tattooed pistolier, or Master Of Arms on board the small wingship. Ryme was quietly proud of himself for this state, knowing that Eslie Chem (of whom he now harboured a greater suspicion and a cynicism normally directed towards Rosenhatch Traverstorm) had anticipated a journey of great discomfort and entertainment at the professor’s expense.

The wingship still juddered alarmingly and Ryme’s stomach as ever gave clues as to the pitch and yaw of the craft. He was now well attuned, if not acclimatised, to the changes in direction, speed and rise of the vessel. The daily thrum and bump of The Viper’s Eye was, he hoped, becoming homely – at the very least he had joined Captain Flame’s crew in being lulled to sleep by the ship’s vibrations. To his yawning belly they were turning hard to port, the engines straining to make good their course change and bounding in their harnesses, ever-eager to pounce at their fresh destination. This was a long way from his comfortable office in academia – the halls of the wingship soon lost the whispers and clomping of boots. It was refreshing to be away. Ryme had begun to forget the stresses of university life, the constant battle for scientific ascendance and the grinding of one’s foes into discredited mud.

There was something in the urgent but abstract nature of flight that soothed his mind and his otherwise intensely stressed soul. Being merely a passenger is a freeing experience; his bunkmates came and went, their entrances and exits marked by grunts and the pungency of engine oil. Ryme’s time simply passed – his notebooks and tea punctuated the day, and odd diverting conversations with a crew he would barely have acknowledged in the street. Guldwych had been ensconced in the rarefied atmosphere of Meriodonal University for thirty years. His every interaction in the college was a fight for prowess, contesting grants, theses in an unending quest for the academic average. Mavericks such as Traverstorm presented the only genuine threat to a life of petty disputation and apologetics. As such this traverse through the air, despite Ryme’s vicious desperation to ruin Rosenhatch, was proving to be a therapeutic tonic for the ageing academic’s frayed nerves.

The pain in Ryme’s legs eased as he lay stretched out on his bunk, cautiously extending one leg then another until the cramp had passed into that curious state of pleasure. With it returned the general sense of relaxation which he now associated with the journey (aside from the bouts of airsickness, which despite their horrifying urgency were reducing in frequency). That calm was torn away when Knocker wrenched the door open and bellowed at the recumbent gentleman. He was wild-eyed, the tattoos on his hands ablaze with excitement, hands gripping the doorframe with twitching fingers.

“A ship! We’re to battle lad. We’ll take our sharp points to their throats and bear forth their jewels for glory and joy.” With that he vanished, hurling himself down the wooden corridor for the deck, feet planted firm and hard slapping upon the floor.

Ryme didn’t know exactly what to make of that, though it dimly dawned on him that perhaps they had caught up with Traverstorm and his airship. With that thought he leaped to his feet, narrowly scraping his head against the bunk once more and diving into the hall. Surely the end of his foe was at hand, or at least at the point of The Viper’s Eye’s harpoons and gutting cannonade.

Next Week: Part 17 – Stolen in the Breeze

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