Part 30 – Twisted Up
Flying isn’t as simple as you’d think. And it’s a terribly long way down. Harvey had been on top of The Dove’s Eye’s balloon for too long and he felt as if his soul were adrift.
The slowly increasing altitude did help with the awful, dry, moisture-sucking heat that evaporated every glistening gem of cool wetness which lay between his sliding sheets of chitin, that made the very memory of dank sodden bark a dim, tear streaked memory. The sun of the Bane still beat harshly on his shell, like a hammer made of blinding light. He felt uncomfortably hot and dry inside his shell, and his mandibles clicked spastically.
There was a deep and growing itch in what Rosenhatch would probably call his armpits, except that Harvey had dozens of them. And the itch was in each and every one of them; a niggling rasp that made his limbs tremble. That quiver had begun to spread from the very tips of his tail, vibrating down into the hard nail of each leg in turn. He was a very tired piano being played by a very tired and talentless pianist. The tempo varied with each pass of his legs.
Perhaps the lack of rhythm was driving his mind out of its proper tempo too. To a place where a being with no wings had no business, still less dragging a vast weightless abdomen across the sky. Surely there would be a tree trunk to shelter beneath somewhere.
Gingerly Harvey began to experiment with his music book, relaxing a single leg at a time and surrounding it with a fierce clenching of its neighbours. That became his new rhythm, out-racing the growing spasms with his own choice clensions. As his joints scraped out their own song, and as the sun continued to beat down on the beleaguered centipede he dipped into his own stream of consciousness less and less.
He had known before the baking heat that he was the only thing holding the canopy together, his pincers pulling the canvas tight together, feeling the strain of the remaining globes inside pressing up at his belly. More and more it came to feel like he was weighted with thousands of young, his to release into the clouds. He would proudly watch them scurry down to the desert sands. Meanwhile he would recede endlessly into the glowing green and blue hemisphere which emanated from his antennae.
Night leached the heat from his aching chitin. Harvey’s universal awareness slipped away and he came back to himself in the gaze of countless stars and nebulae that lashed him with invisible lightnings of cold and eerie awareness. Perhaps he didn’t quite come all the way back to himself, but he was aware of his place in the vastness of space. He could feel how his soul bead was leashed to a web of minds joining him to those in distant space, and those in the cellars of the realm beneath his claws.
Finally one of those souls clawed its way up into Harvey’s plane of awareness. Though he sensed the closeness of a like mind it was not until his shuffling mental rhythm was disrupted by a more urgent beat being hammered out that he was jolted awake. The hammering was that of knuckles rapping on his third segment. In surprise he almost let go of the canvas then with a panicked lurch grabbed hold of his sky babies once more. Against the starlight his percussionist was revealed to be Rosenhatch Traverstorm.
It took great effort, but Harvey rotated his eye and with a horrid click, managed to move his speaking mandibles enough to croak out a ‘hello’.
“There you are Harvey,” Rosenhatch sighed, “I thought you’d faded out on me.”
“How long are we,” Harvey began, restarted, “how do the repairs go?”
Rosenhatch pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began gently polishing Harvey’s chitin. “It’s been four days Harvey. It’s almost over. Corshorn’s engineers are coming up shortly to stitch and tar the canvas. You can come down soon.”
“It’s… I’m not sure I can old friend. The sky needs me. The stars will take us all.”
Rosenhatch stared at Harvey for a moment. “You definitely need to come down.”
Harvey peered back at him, wondering how Traverstorm could possibly fail to understand that he anchored the world with his claws. He flexed all of his legs like the phantom pianist who had so vexed him.
Traverstorm grabbed at his safety line as the bag shifted under his feet. “For soul’s sake Harvey – just hang on for a little while longer. We’ll get you in the cabin before dawn, I promise you.”
Harvey rolled his eyes and continued his kneading of the canvas edges beneath his claws. He drifted back off into contemplation of the universe.
Rosenhatch stayed with him as the engineers ascended the canopy and clipped on around the giant centipede. Gently they slid a heavy net under and round Harvey’s long body. Once he was secured they waited by each claw for its slight relaxation and slipped the canvas away from him. As each claw was unpinned the canvas beneath was drawn tight, stitched and tarred. Huge belts anchored far below on the gondola were fastened into place. Harvey was slowly separated from the balloon and his legs curled tight underneath his as they were released. Entirely detached, Harvey was winched down the side of the canvas, preceded by an anxious Rosenhatch.
Back on the gondola it took ten crewmen to lift Harvey and bear him below to a cool, dark berth in the Rosenhatch’s cabin. Rosenhatch covered him in wet blankets. Maxwell emerged from a hiding place and though disdainful of the dampness, casually crossed the centipede’s back and curled up behind his head.
“Night night,” whispered Rosenhatch as he slipped out of the cabin and left Harvey to his dreaming of the world.
Coming Soon: Part 31 – Twisted Up