Wheelworks: Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen – Episode 12: Angrboda

Wheelworks by KT Sebastian

Part one: Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen

Episode 12 –  Angrboda

Cover art by RJ Cote/Kikuchiyo

 

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In the previous episode, Lee settles into the Ice Hotel with Brand and Flapjack, only to wake from a restful sleep to find battleship preparing an assault on the city of the anarcho-monarchists.

Location: The Ontario Glacier on the Canadian/New York border, September 2186.

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“Brand!” Lee screamed. No answer came. She pushed on the door, a slab of white ice taller than a man, but it did not budge.

“It’s locked!” she spat. Wind whipped her hair. Her eyes watered.

In the distance, another explosion erupted, an orange and yellow ball of smoke. Far above, high in the night sky, as big as a cloud, the battle zeppelin loomed.

Lee gripped the railing. “What are they bombing?”  she whispered to herself. Flapjack put his front paws on the frozen banister and cried.

Pale smoke covered the horizon. On the ground, from the far edge of the glacial valley, a spotlight appeared. A v-shaped wedge of light swept across the sky and stopped on the battle zeppelin’s sleek black gondola.

A slow breeze blew. A hush fell over the glacier.

Another explosion, louder and longer, illuminated the smoke from within, revealing an angular ice structure several miles to the east, an ice building from which the spotlight sprang.

The oblong blimp, a gray silhouette, slid across the sky, engines drum-rolling, its vast envelope eclipsing the moon and blocking  stars. The watchtower spotlight cast a wide shadow on the clouds.

A string of bombs dropped the zeppelin’s bay doors, bullet-shaped, silhouetted from below. Lee gasped and covered her mouth. A cluster of fiery clouds burst from the ice tower’s base. The turret swayed; the spotlight beam tilted, fell over, and went out.

With a wordless cry, she turned, covered her eyes, and stepped back from the banister. She threw herself at the door to Brand’s room and, and beat the slab with her palms, but the thickness of the ice muffled the sound.

“Brand!” she shouted. “The door is locked! Wake up! Let me in! The Neo-Prussians are attacking. The battle zeppelin is here! On North Atlantic Community territory! Why don’t you answer?” Lee kicked the door with her boot. She shoved it with her shoulder. The door did not stir.

Across the ice field, another bomb erupted. Lee leaped to her feet and ran to her room. She blinked in the dark, turning her head from side to side and feeling her way with outstretched hands.

Next to her bed was a heavy end table of metal and wood. Lee, grunting, pushed the table away from the wall, across the ice floor, and out the door.

On the balcony, Lee took a deep breath and she braced her boots against the wall. She aimed the end table at Brand’s room. Her face glowed with sweat. She made a guttural animal sound, pushed off with both legs, and hurled the stocky table across the balcony like a curling stone so it struck the ice door with a loud crunch and cracked it in two.

“Yes!” Lee cried, raising her fists.

She threw herself at the ice door and pried at the two shards until they fell apart and threw her sideways.

Lee picked herself up from the ice floor, rubbing her hands together. She leaned on the wall and looked into the dark opening. Her voice trembled. “Brand?”

She entered the room keeping one hand on the wall. No lights burned. No one answered.

“Brand?”

Wind blew through the open window. The room’s window on the far wall was cracked open. Lee hurried over and slid the panel to the side. Flapjack, sniffing the floor, came to her side.

The room overlooked a frozen cliff and a bottomless ocean-blue crevasse; beyond, a bleak expanse of ice extended to the horizon ridge. Not far away, the zeppelin floated in the air like a circling shark. Lee shivered and turned away, slamming the window shut as she did. “He didn’t go out this way,” Lee said.

Her hands shaking, she floated through the room’s sections as quiet as a ghost. “Brand?” she asked the hollow ice alcoves. She went in the bathroom. No one sat in the ice tub or on the ice toilet. Lee went back in the main room, and sat on the mattress. Flapjack sniffed the bed, the ice wardrobe, the bathroom. He went to the window and put his nose to the sill.

“Where did he go, Flapjack?” Lee asked, thoughtfully. “The door was locked from inside. And he couldn’t have escaped out that window.”

The zeppelin’s echoing engines grew louder. The dog’s ear’s pricked, and he barked at the door. Lee turned sharply.

A uniformed figure filled the doorway, a tall black woman with a peaked cap carrying a halberd.  Two men flanked her.

“Lieutenant Lee? Are you there?” The baronet, Vera Nulla, climbed over the broken pieces of door, two guards behind her.

“Yes!” Lee said. “The zeppelin is here!” she cried.

“Lieutenant!” the baronet said. “Hurry! You must come with us! Now!” The guards nodded.

“What is going on?” Lee demanded., “Why are they here – the Neo-Prussians? And where is Mr. Brand?”

“Come with us now, for your own safety.” Vera Nulla grasped Lee by the forearm. “We have to hurry! You must take cover.”

“Tell me what’s happening,” Lee said.

The balcony darkened. The blimp passed in front of the moon and its shadow turned the gray snow on the ice dark blue. Turning slowly, it shone on the moonlight. An enormous insignia covered the prow: a black eagle, crowned, clutching an orb and scepter in its claws. Red, white, and black tricolor flags flew from the stern of the airship’s gondola. The airship’s name glowed on the gondola in yellow gothic script.

“It’s the Angrboda!” said Vera Nulla. Next to her, Flapjack stood up against the railing, threw back his head, and howled.

“What are they doing here?” Lee said, wringing her hands. “A battleship’s mere presence is a violation of international law, and they were dropping bombs out on the ice, on a watchtower – was it yours?”

“Yes.,” Vera Nulla nodded. “It’s a part of our settlement here. An outpost of the anarcho-monarchy.”

Lee grimaced. “This is an act of war.”

“Please,” Vera said sharply, “for your own safety, we need to take cover and hide.” She caught Lee by the shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “It is you the zeppelin is seeking, Lieutenant.”

“That can’t be,” Lee said firmly.

“But it can,” said the baronet. “Weren’t the privateers looking for something? Something they thought you had? The Neo-Prussians are looking for the same thing, and they believe you have it. An air telegram was delivered to our Queen from the commander of the Angrboda, Colonel Oberst Oberstark: a message in German and Esperanto.

“What did it say?”

“‘Surrender the captain of the Gigas,’ it said. And isn’t that you?”

Lee shook her head slowly. “I don’t understand how this could have happened to me. I was only a passenger on the ship a few days ago. I was on my way out of the commissariat.”

“It doesn’t matter how it happened to you!” Nulla swore. “In extraordinary times, ordinary people must rise to the occasion. You are caught up, Lieutenant, in something much bigger than yourself.

“We must take cover,” said Vera Nulla. “They are landing to do an inspection. If we don’t hide you, they will find you.” One of the guards held out his hand. Vera Nulla took it and stepped out. Lee followed her, assisted by the other guard.

They went together into the hotel’s inner corridor, turned, and hurried down a spiral stairwell of ice. The guards’ heavy footsteps echoed in the close quarters. Suspended oil lamps illuminated the passageway.

Vera Nulla led the way. Lee’s hands trailed the ice wall as they descended.

“I am dizzy,” Lee said. She stopped and leaned against the wall.

“We must hurry,” the baronet said. “The Neo-Prussians are coming. And no one here has any way of preventing them. This is a hotel, not a fortress. There is a guard on the outer perimeter of the valley. They were not prepared for an intruder of this magnitude. A floating battleship.”

Lee nodded. Vera Nulla offered her hand but she refused it. “I am all right now. Where are we going?” Lee asked.

“To the restaurant.”

“Why?” Lee asked.

“It’s the best place to hide you,” said the baronet. “In plain sight.”

“What do you mean?” Lee asked, panting.

“They are landing here. The Neo-Prussians. And their colonel. A very evil man. They believe you are here. I think they were following the others –the privateers.”

They hurried down the winding stairwell. At the bottom, they came to another ice door. Vera Nulla pressed her ear to it first, then slowly pushed it open, looking from side to side as she went out. She motioned for Lee to follow her.

They went down a grimy back alley between the ice hotel and an opaque wall not much taller than the top of Vera Nulla’s red phrygian cap. When they came to an arched wooden doorway in the milk white wall, they stopped. Vera Nulla slowly pushed open the door.

A blast of loud conversation, music, and noise filled the air. The baronet ushered her into the midst of a wide, cavern-like expanse: the ice hotel restaurant.

“Leave us,” the baronet commanded the guards. They looked at one another, bowed slightly, and departed back into the alley.

The restaurant walls were gin blue and lit from within. .Tiki lamps stood in every corner, illuminating the walls. Potted palm trees and palapas lined the aisles. The tables were ice, each with a bright hibiscus bouquet and a coconut shell oil lamp.

Lee followed the baronet past an ice bar decorated with surfboards and sailboats. The bar was milky ice and filled with fancifully shaped bottles filled with brightly colored liqueurs: blue, green, neon orange. At least half a dozen tables in the lounge were occupied.

A hostess appeared, a dark-haired woman in a parrot-green bustled dress. She guided Lee and the baronet two an ice booth in the shelter of an ice carving of a breaching whale.

Ĝui vian manĝon,” she said with a smile.

Lee sank into the booth and sat on a wool pillow. The baronet sat opposite her. A glass candle flickered between them.

Lee sighed and pushed her long black hair away from her face. The baronet sat quietly, hands folded.

Flapjack went under the table and curled up against Lee’s feet. She reached down and patted his neck.

“I was wondering why it is you speak Esperanto?” Lee asked.

“Esperanto is the official language although, truthfully, most people speak English,” Vera Nulla said with a nod. “Esperanto has long been associated with anarchist movements and has been persecuted by any number of totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain. Our signs, by mutual agreement, are in Esperanto.”

A skinny blonde waitress dressed in a grass skirt, a pink bowler hat with a peacock feather, and a Mayan huipil, spun up to them on skates, handed them menus, and curtsied. “Welcome to Trader Ricky’s Cantina. I’ll be right with you,” she said, turning and skating away toward the kitchen, a thick-walled room emitting steam. Lee picked up the menu: Borsisto Ricky Tropikaj Cantina.

“The food is tropical fusion,” the baronet said over the top of her menu.

“Who else is staying here? In the ice hotel?” Lee asked.

“Our guests are remarkably international and metropolitan. They hale from spheres all around the globe. Most are expatriates from the North Atlantic Community, but there are also visitors from the other major empires.”

“The tables are somewhat hidden,” said Lee. “I had not been able to catch so much as a glance at your other guests.”

“There’s a reason for that. Many of our patrons are here to gamble. Many are here to smuggle. Some are here for both reasons, undoubtedly.” Vera Nulla smiled, sphinx-like.

From somewhere among the expanse of potted palms, a voice echoed from a stage. The hostess introduced a band of musicians from the Caribbean. Steel drum music rang out from the stage. A male voice announced: “Tonight we are featuring the best of apocalypso music here at Trader Ricky’s. First up, we have a band of itinerant musicians –Wenchie and the Monk!”

Applause arose from the audience. Gentle, insistent drumming arose from the stage. The grass-skirted waitress ice-skated back to the table.

“Beverages?” The waitress asked.

“I will have the rooibos,” said Lee.

“We’re fresh out, amiko. It’s rum or cider,” the waitress said. She nodded so the peacock feather waved atop the pink bowler. “Mostly we have the rosebud red.”

“The drink of the house is apple-rosebud hard cider,” said Vera Nulla.

“Cider then,” said Lee.

“And to eat?” The waitress asked.

“I will have the Pig and Poi,” said Lee.

Frijoles Negra Bandera y platanos for me,” said the baronet. “I am a vegan,” she added.

“I was born in Cuba,” said Lee. “So I know all about black beans.”

“Black flag beans,” the waitress said, peacock feather bobbing. She skated away again. Lee’s eyes darted around the dining room and she hung her head.

“I saw the watchtower destroyed,” Lee said.

“Yes,” Vera Nulla nodded. “I saw what happened as well. The Angrboda is so large, it is its own disguise under certain foggy conditions. The guards were taken by surprise. It is likely they are dead now. They were the king’s guard; I am sworn to avenge them.”

Lee took a deep breath and sat straight. “I am a First Lieutenant in the North Atlantic Community Commissariat. The NAC Council thought enough of me that they put me in charge of a giant freighter. My duty is to warn the council. Is there any way I can send an air telegram to the North Atlantic Council, to let them know what’s happening here? I will tell them to call down an airstrike on the zeppelin. The Air Navy will have to investigate. They might even do it.”

“I am afraid your council already knows,” Vera Nulla said, leaning on her halberd against her seat. “A messenger was dispatched on a sleigh to the ice domes earlier today. The council have done nothing yet. Perhaps they will soon.” Vera Nulla sighed. “I do not believe they will. In any case, the reason the zeppelin is here, I believe, is that they are looking for you.”

“What?” Lee shook; her voice quavered. “I can’t believe anything so ridiculous.”

“You must listen to me,” the baronet said insistently.

“And where is Brand? Where is he? Where have you taken him, damn you?” Lee braced herself against the wall.

Vera Nulla seized Lee by the wrists and pulled her close, halfway across the table. She held Lee in her gaze for a long moment. Her dark eyes softened. “I believe I erred, Lieutenant Lee. I do not think you are the spy any longer. I believe your subordinate, Able-bodied Flyer Brand, is a NAC agent. The truth is, as I see it, you are an innocent woman caught up in some international conspiracy. Espionage.”

Lee rubbed her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“This morning, a man was spotted by our guards here skiing across the ice, away from the hotel and the ice domes and out on to the glaciers. It was Mr. Brand.”

“But it couldn’t have been Brand, then,” Lee said. “We just got here yesterday morning.”

Vera Nulla laughed. “You arrived at the ice hotel the day before yesterday. You have slept for a day and a half.”

Lee nodded thoughtfully. She sighed and held her head in her hands. “I still can’t believe it. How do you know it was Brand?”

“No one else is missing,” she said.

“I can’t believe this,” Lee said. “If he is really gone, he escaped –he escaped, to rescue us. He isn’t a spy.”

“He couldn’t have gone anywhere on his own from here. There’s nowhere to go,” said Vera Nulla. “Old New York City is about a hundred fifty miles away, and it’s all ice between here and there. Same with Old Boston.”

“He seemed to know what he was doing on the big ice,” Lee said.

Wenchie and the Monk broke into a rousing air shanty. The audience sang along. The waitress arrived with a pitcher of rosebud cider and two bell-shaped glasses.

“Old New York? Are you from Old New York?” The waitress asked. “I’m from Old Long Island. There’s nothing left of Old Long Island really. Trust me,” she made a bitter laugh. “And I spent years there waitressing in dive bar restaurants until I got wise and came out here.”

“I grew up in Cloud 33,” said Lee. “I was born in the Greater Caribbean. Do you like it here?”

The waitress looked around the ice hall conspiratorially. She grinned and spoke in a low voice. “These people –the anarcho-monarchists –they’re a little weird, but they run a nice place here. Have you been in town yet? Downtown we call it. But it’s really inside the dome. All roads lead to Dome we say. I will tell you one thing: the tourists here tip a lot better than the folks back in Old Mineola. Yeah, they tip really well. Gamblers. And, you know, independent business people.” She winked and skated off.

“May I ask for your appreciation for our roving musical rebels? Wenchie and the Monk!”

Lee took a deep drink of the cider and her face brightened. “This is delicious,” she said and smiled. The baronet nodded and they clinked their glasses and drank.

“When I woke up this morning in the wrecked dirigible,” Lee said, “this isn’t how I thought my day would be ending. A tropical restaurant in an ice house.”

“If the Neo-Prussians find you here, we might all end the day in a very different sort of ice house,” said the baronet.


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