Author : Chad C. Burns

My gorget chafes as I sit in the dark, listening to my world hum. I can feel the distant thrum of engines, and the creak of cables. Steam and pressure hiss and burble, vacuum engines thump and click, shunting force thru the veins of the ship. Some of the other troopers think I am a bit daft, but I swear I can sometimes hear the electricity coursing thru the wires from the topside collectors to the batteries amidships. Of course, I’ve been on the ship longer than most of them, including the skipper. I even got to vote on her name prior to her maiden voyage — The Cloudcutter was the name that won. Wasn’t the name I voted for, but it’s a goodish name and it’s grown on me.

Of course, I am barely aboard the ‘Cutter at present, to say elsewise would be disingenuous. I am deep below in the drop deck — there are sounds much closer and clearer. I can hear the clink-clack of ratchets as straps are tightened. I hear the heaving of a bellows pump as the belay crew shoves air into the impact bladders all around me.

My breastplate sits tight against me, more comfortable than my own skin is most of the time. The corundum plate is covered with layers of silk and gesso, which helps make it proof against most small arms fire. Well, at least the first shot or two.

But this gorget, it irks me like all nine hells. The greaves and helmet are forgotten they are so much a part of me; but this damn gorget! Maybe if it actually was to keep my throat from being slashed, if it was really armor, I could learn to deal with it. It’s not though, its sole purpose if to mark me as someone who is supposed to know what they’re doing. Someone to be heeded in the thick of it when they tell you to do the dumbest things, like climbing over the top of a trench’or dropping out the bottom of an airship. This is the second drop I’ve had to make with everyone’s fate hung around my neck disguised as a big polished brass collar.

There are three quick bangs on the side of the drop bucket — the belay crew letting us know they are done and retreating back above and away from this insanity. I sit in the dark for what seems like days, trying not to go mad. Suddenly light blooms behind me as the drop hatches spring open. With a huge jolt and a thump, we are away.

Silence at first, and flares of light and shadow as we drop through clouds. Then the rising whine of the belay cable growing taut. The pitch deepens, and I know we are getting close. The banging impact with the ground is almost drowned out by the sputtering of the impact bladders under me. As the bladders deflate, the whole bucket opens like a rose, disgorging myself and nine other troopers right to the gates of Tartarus. Ten Rifles snap up, and 20 eyes scan the terrain. A voice booms “Let’s go apes! Ya plan to live forever?” and I realize it’s mine. So I do the only thing I know to do — run doggedly into the teeth of the fight raging on the near ridge as the ‘Cutter reels the bucket back up. The damn fools fall in and follow me. Damn, this thing chafes.

How did the world come to this?


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