Silas Merryweather

Silas Merryweather and the Bottomless SkySILAS MERRYWEATHER AND THE BOTTOMLESS SKY is the first volume of the steampunk adventures of Silas and his partner Windy Tramontane aboard the skyship Nightingale. Together the agoraphobic tinkerer and his unlikely companion explore a shattered world, flying from one floating island to another in search of their missing parents.

First published on JukePop Serials. To read the serial so far, click here. Below is a sneak peek at the latest revision, which includes a few continuity changes.

Chapter One, In Which Windy Rocks the Boat

It’s hard to keep your cool when you’re two miles up and the only thing securing you to your ship is a leather harness and a bit of rope. When your partner is an absolute lunatic, it’s next to impossible.

Silas clung to his tiny chainskiff, arms wrapped around the rail while it rocked and pitched and finally settled against the chain that held it in the sky.

“Would you knock that off?” he yelled at the girl who had set the bowl-shaped skiff rocking. She wasn’t in the boat; she had leapt onto the meter-thick chain which ran from Terrace Island, below, to Salvador, another four miles above.

Windy peered at Silas through her goggles, which made her eyes look wide and owlish. A pair of black locks had escaped her aviator’s cap, and the wind whipped them about so fiercely that they nearly obscured the rest of her dusky face.

“Sorry,” she called, though her tone was more amused than apologetic. She deftly wove a thick rope through the chain and drew the skiff tight against two of the man-high links. “If you’re so scared of heights, why’d you volunteer for chain duty in the first place?”

“I’m not afraid of heights,” Silas protested. “I’m afraid of falling.”

Judging from the tone of Windy’s laughter, she didn’t appreciate the distinction. “Prove it then. Look down; I dare you.”

Silas refused to rise to the bait. “We’re not up here to play,” he said, tugging his leather jacket tighter. He envied Windy for her fleece-lined coat, with its high collar and buckles down to the knee. She didn’t seem bothered by the cold at all. “Didn’t you hear the helio report? There’s a storm coming in.”

“Yes sir, Mister Merryweather,” Windy mocked. She pulled her magnetic grappler out of its holster and made sure it was properly wound. Then, without any warning at all, she let go of the chain and fell out of sight.

Despite himself, Silas looked over the edge.

Windy dropped slowly, even with trousered legs tucked against her chest to cut down the wind resistance. She hadn’t fastened her safety line to the chainskiff’s bottom tether–it whipped about, knocking against the iron links with a gentle clang. Below her was Terrace Island, a ball of brown and green with the helio tower’s roof a tiny red dot beside the base of the chain. And beyond those … miles and miles of solid grey sky.

Silas reeled back, but it was too late. In his mind he still saw Windy plummeting toward the ground without a tether.

His imagination supplied the rest. Windy, confident in her abilities, waited until the last second to fire her grappler. The shot missed, and she fell past the safe point before she could wind the magnet in and fire again. Too late she tried to wrap her safety line around the chain and slow herself. Panic filled her eyes, with the realization that Silas had been right all along.

Silas was just imagining what would happen to him when the storm blew in that evening, when the end of Windy’s grappler hit the chain beside him so loudly that he jumped.

“You really are a chicken,” Windy said when she climbed up and saw how white his face had gone.

Tight-lipped, Silas unlocked the winch and let Windy draw the skiff’s main tether up through the bottom of the bowl.

This was the worst part, when the skiff hung from its auxiliary tether while his partner moved the main line up or down the chain. If the rope which held them against the chain came loose before Windy secured the top anchor, Silas and the skiff would fall quite a ways before the bottom one caught them. That is, if it didn’t snap instead.

Windy darted up the chain with the tether clipped to her belt. A year younger than Silas at sixteen, she was already the fastest climber on the island. The other boys his age loved going up with her, and some claimed there were other benefits besides speed to doing chain inspections with her. This was only his first time up with Windy, but Silas frankly couldn’t see the allure. Sure, she was pretty, but she was also crazy as a loon.

The main tether drew taut, and Windy gave three sharps yanks to let him know she’d secured the line. Silas took a deep breath, still rattled from seeing her drop, and began to crank the winch. The gears ratcheted and turned, drawing the skiff up the triple line of the tether.

Up and up, one tether-length at a time, inspecting the chain for damage as they went. The closer they got to the midpoint between Terrace and Salvador Islands, the fainter gravity became, until Windy was using nothing but her grappler to move along the chain. Silas tried to relax, to focus on the mechanics of the winch, imagining how he might construct one in his father’s shop. It would be steel, of course, the strongest stock they had. He imagined turning the handle on the lathe, pictured himself cutting each tooth of the gears to a precise angle.

Before he knew it, they’d reached the white link which marked the midpoint. Windy returned to the skiff to rest before the trip down, and Silas checked his pocketwatch. She really was fast–at this rate they’d be down an hour sooner than he was used to.

Windy stripped off her gloves and tucked them into her belt. Next came her cap, freeing her black curls. They blew every which way until she drew them back with a bright yellow ribbon.

Silas eyed her askance. “What are you doing?”

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