The crane has finally arrived, and we can continue working.
It’s a gargantuan orange machine that requires treads taller than my house just to crawl along the concrete assembly yard at a snail’s pace. We move its hook into place, pick up the first gun, then start hoisting it up to its designated spot on the port side wing.
“Hey, Gamon?” Eka voice comes in through my radio, “there’s a problem up here.”
I sigh, “what is it?”
“These parts aren’t fitting together.”
I feel my stomach sink, “I’ll be right up.”
It’s a pain when this happens. We don’t make the individual parts, this is just an assembly yard where we put ships together like jigsaw puzzles. When two parts don’t fit together, that either means it’s a manufacturing error, or that we screwed up and didn’t follow directions.
If we screwed up, that’s fine as we’ll have the tools to fix it and nobody has to know. If it was a manufacturing error, we might need to call them out here to fix it, which will take time.
I climb up the iron scaffolding and walk out onto the wing, my boots are magnetic so there’s no worry about slipping.
Unfurling the blueprints for this gun, I make my way over to the hole and part the small crowd of engineers who’ve gathered to try and figure out the problem.
Down below the hole is the loader that brings ammunition up into the gun, we installed it earlier today. It’s sticking up out of the hole and the gun is supposed to slot around it. The base of the gun should have an airtight seal against the hull and be flush against the metal, but for some reason, there’s about three inches of empty space.
“So, it’s three inches longer than it should be. Did they mess up the gun or did-“
Eka elbows my shoulder, “bet your wife’s never had that problem, eyy?”
Before anyone can laugh or snicker, without skipping a beat, I say “no, but yours complains to me about length all the time.”
I’m embarrassingly proud of how smoothly I say it. Most of the time I either can’t think of anything, word it wrong, or stutter. Even though it wasn’t very clever, the delivery was fantastic, and he can’t possibly recover. Our coworkers go wild and jostle him back and forth, teasing him.
Once the laughs and jeers die down, we get to work figuring out what’s wrong. We peel apart panels, root around in the wires of the gun, climb down into the deck of the ship, we have to find anything that would make a three-inch difference from the blueprints.
“This looks like manufacturer-error,” one of my engineers says, making me groan. He points to a part on the blueprints, “this panel doesn’t exist on the gun, that’s where our three inches is missing. Is it possible they labeled it wrong and this gun belongs somewhere else, or-“
As the engineer explains, there’s a faint, distant noise that slowly grows until it catches our attention. It takes a moment to register, but it’s a siren, blaring across the city. We’ve heard it many times before in these last few months, it’s the artillery siren!
Fear pulses through my veins. We’ve been through this dozens of times, we need to get to a bunker, but there isn’t enough time to get off the ship.
No, that’s fine, we don’t need to get off. We’re on a giant metal monster that can stand up to capital weaponry, artillery won’t do anything. We need to get inside the hull, but the hole right here is being covered by the gun, which is suspended by the crane.
My hair stands on ends, I whip my head around to look over at the crane operator, his control room being down by the tracks. I see the team jump out of their room and flee across the concrete yard. They’ll be no help, and we can’t move this gun ourselves! The ship doesn’t have any airlocks around here either.
“Run!” I scream. “The hole, over there, run!” I clap my hands to further get their attention and begin a mad dash towards the next gun emplacement.
My movement is sluggish and rough, my magnet boots make it feel like I’m running on honey or glue. My thighs burn from lifting so much, but it doesn’t matter.
There’s a flash behind us, and my ears are assaulted by a deafening crack not a second later.
The explosion echoes through the wide open air of the empty dock, but then there’s one explosion after another, a constant barrage of death. I hear the scream of punished metal as it twists and breaks, my balance is thrown off slightly as struts holding up the ship come loose. The front of the ship tilts forward, then the nose smashes into the concrete below.
I look back and I see the crane get hit. The joints and hinges buckle under the pressure, and more shells only make the problem worse. It’s not much further until we get to the hole, but I don’t think the long neck of the crane will last!
The gun begins to swing from all the activity, and its metal scrapes across the hull of the ship in a high-pitched whine. The neck of the crane finally breaks, and a shell hits the gun directly. The cable snaps, releasing the tension and letting the cords fly back up towards the crane. The gun with the twenty-meter-long barrel lands on its side and begins sliding down the length of the ship towards us.
The grinding of metal on metal, the sparks, I’ve reached the gun hole but I can feel death gaining speed on us.
There’s no ladder to climb down, and it’s an 8-foot drop, but there’s no protruding pieces or sharp edges. When Eka reaches me, I grab his collar and throw him down the hole. No hesitation, no trying to shimmy down, a broken arm is better than being crushed flat.
The next man is a little confused, so I lunge forward to grab him, “just get in there!”
The remaining men understand the rush and I don’t need to be as forceful. The gun’s sliding closer, and the artillery barrage’s intensity is growing.
I grab the last man and pull him down with me as I jump in. A second later, the gun screeches by overhead.
The explosions are muffled, though I hear the rumble of the ship as artillery pounds against the metal. The most I hear now is the groans and gasps of my coworkers.
“Oww…” Eka said, “did you have to throw me so hard?”
“Shut it,” I say between gasps. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?” I drag myself up and adjust to how the ship is sitting at an angle. “If you can’t walk, ask someone to drag you away from this hole. I don’t want a well-placed shot entering through there and killing us all.”
A surprise artillery barrage while we’re all out in the open, and nobody died. I consider that a success.