Desert Crystals Part 40 – Night Thrills
The sky reeled about, moons a blurred rainbow of cat-struck balls. The Sky Viper maintained its course, heading into the night while her crew dangled and spun beneath her. Guldwych Ryme had lost track of whether he was awake or in blackened sleep. His cheek smarted a little from Chem’s surprisingly chitinous punch, but most of his present pain stemmed from how his safety line was digging into his thighs. He’d twisted as he fell, rebounding from the hull and had somehow managed to end up with the safety rope twisted around his legs, keeping him upside down. It felt a lot like he was going to lose his legs below the knee.
Ryme had experienced a huge surge of adrenalin on being knocked overboard. He had suddenly come to understand that he was terrified of death. Its prospect had been a limited concern in the university. Ryme was senior enough to send others on field trips and to supervise practical lab work from a distance, seated at the front of the hall with a near impermeable glass shield. Out here though, death was everywhere. He’d seen it, heard it, felt it all around and then he was diving towards it, a scream barely managing to squeeze out of his throat. The jerk of the safety line taking his weight was almost as frightening as the fall itself, as if some vast beast had snatched him up in its monstrous jaws, his career caught devastatingly short, words unwritten, legacy uncertain. Slamming face first into the hull had diminished his self-pity into the first period of unconsciousness.
He had been awoken finally, in his present upside down posture by a dull roar circling him. He snapped awake, all those former fears of an airborne death alive once more. Some ghastly fate awaited him in the night. He could see it, eclipsing the stars and moons, drawing closer to him. The apparition swept past him and its proximity transformed the hungry roaring into his own name, interspersed with wingship cursing. It was Tosser, he realised. She shot past him as her own safety line took her carried her in orbit around him. She had succeeded at flattening herself out so that she spun round on her back – a feat of aerial acrobatics not entirely unlike floating on one’s back in the sea. Not that anyone would swim in the sea by choice, and certainly not without keeping an eye under the water as much as above it. Ryme dizzily admired her expertise.
The next time she swung past Tosser was much closer, and caught his knee a glancing blow. Ryme gave out a shout of alarm as he tumbled head over heels until he snapped out sharply on the end of his rope, legs free at last to buzz with their fresh infusion of blood. Ryme was not at his best he conceded, considering how long it took him to figure out that Tosser had struck him deliberately to get him untangled. He was not suited to the sky life. The ground was altogether preferable. Now that he was spinning properly he could focus on the hull which we swung around. There was a hole in it that he caught glimpses of the moon through. The Paama’s tears had demonstrated their corrosive effect, they were just lucky it had been only a few drops. Far below him the Great Bane Desert was the colour of old dried blood, and beyond that he saw jagged dark blue shapes like the lower jaw of a nightmare. Those must be the infamous Razor Ridge. They were almost there. He might actually beat Traverstorm to the punch, Ryme realised. Deciding impulsively to pursue the rogue academic felt like a decision he had made a lifetime ago. Ever since he had directed Eslie Chem to find them some transport that would catch up with Traverstorm’s expedition his life had descended into chaos. Was this how Traverstorm lived? A virtual prisoner on a ship of threatening strangers, besiged by violent and unpredicatble events. Or was that just him?
He shrieked embarrassingly as a hand closed around his ankle. In the same breath he remembered it was Tosser. Her grip arrested their spins eventually, as their opposing spins became one cycling figure eight. Tosser climbed up his body until she could clamp her legs around his, their safety lines separating their faces.
“Hi there!” said Tosser, breathless with her exertions.
Ryme was abruptly aware that their hips were mashed tightly together, his respectable academic belly squeezed around their safety lines.
“Are you alright?” she asked, his startled silence giving her no clues.
“As well as one could expect,” Ryme rallied heroically, “thanks, um, for getting me untied.”
Tosser graced him with one of her broad grins, a fixed point behind whom the night whirled on.
“What do we do now?” he asked.
“I’ve been hoping that we’ll be hauled back up for hours now, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”
“They should have pulled us up by now?” Ryme asked.
“Oh yeah, ages ago. We ain’t crashing which means someone’s still up there, and our course is still right,” She pointed over at the Razor Ridge, “but for reeling in the crew to be last on the list means there’s got to be more urgent stuff than us to do up there.”
Ryme was partly reassured by that explanation, for all that it lacked certainties. If Tosser wasn’t worried then he should worry less.
“What I was wondering though, was if you might lend a lass a hand,” Tosser said.
“Oh. Of course. What can I do?” Ryme couldn’t think of any assistance he could possibly offer.
“Well, I reckon I can get us back up on deck but I’ve got a little problem,” she tugged the breast of her leather flight harness apart.
Ryme’s heart almost stopped.
“Do you think you can get this out?”
Tosser thumbed the vicious spar of bone which protruded from her chest, just to the left of her breastbone. The blouse around it was soaked with blood. It was one of the fang fragments that had flown across the deck when Chall exploded under the tension of the Vileteeth curling in around his body.
“Does it hurt?” Ryme asked, stupidly.
Tosser looked at him as if he were daft. “Well yeah. I don’t think it’s too deep though, but I can’t get a proper grip on it.”
Cautiously Ryme reached out. Tosser smiled encouragingly at him. He gingerly gripped the end of the tooth. It shifted nauseatingly in Tosser’s chest. Her grin had become fixed and a sweat had broken out on her forehead.
“Nice and quick now Guldwych. You can do it.”
He dried his fingers on his shirt and returned to his task. The shaft of tooth was as wide around as two of his fingers. It looked as if it had gone between a couple of ribs but been slowed down by her sternum. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard and then pulled. It felt like he was tugging out one of his own teeth. Tosser was obviously fighting back tears; he could tell because the grip of her thighs was numbing his legs as much as the rope had. With a horrid sucking sound the spear of tooth came all the way out of her chest. It was followed by a brief spurt of blood. Tosser took the tooth off him and shoved it into her boot pocket. Then she slapped a wad of cloth torn off her shirt onto her chest and laid his hand on top of it.
“Well done. Keep pressing on this as hard as you can.”
Ryme clamped the cloth against the freshly revealed wound. Against her breast. His heart was hammering in his chest. Tosser gave no indication that she was aware of his discomfort, if that was even the right word. Instead she tore off both of her shirt sleeves and tore them into two long bandages.
“Right. That’s good Guldwych,” she hissed. “Now, help me bind this up.”
Ryme was pressed tight against her as she hugged him to allow his looping the bandage round her back. With much awkwardness Ryme knotted it, trapping the bloodsoaked wad of cloth firmly against the wound. Finally she slumped in his arms and allowed herself a heartfelt shudder.
“Just give me a minute, ” Tosser sighed, her legs’ grip slackening. Ryme hung on tight to her, allowing her a few minutes to rest after their mid-air surgery. He was struck by how incredibly tiring it was to keep them both together; Tosser was even stronger than he’d imagined. In no time he was sweating and his shoulders were trembling with the effort. When he felt as if he must surely release her or lose his arms forever to tremors, Tosser took a deep breath and gave him that familiar grin. It was shaded with pain.
“Right then,” she exclaimed, “time to get back on board the Viper.”
With that she grabbed hold of the rope that reached up into the sky, and began to haul them both up.
Coming Soon: Part 41 – Sharp and Nasty