Wheelworks: Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen – Episode 14: Dome

Wheelworks by KT Sebastian

Part one: Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen

Episode 13 –  Dome

Cover art by RJ Cote/Kikuchiyo

title card Wheelworks

In the previous episode, Lee, Flapjack, and Vera Nulla made their escape and joined forces with Captain Nemo as they seek to navigate the tunnels under the hotel to freedom.

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

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Lee gasped, choked by the absolute darkness beneath the glacier. The rhythm of the reindeer’s hooves on the treadmill echoed like a heartbeat in the tunnel. Water rushed all around them.

The raft scraped against the ice walls. The cold breeze increased with a sigh.

Lee asked, “Where are we going? I can’t see anything!”

“We are headed into the first ice dome,” said Captain Nemo. “Unfortunately, this tunnel won’t widen enough for the Nautilus to turn around until we are in the dome itself. And by then, if the Eidgenosse are already there…”

“It will be too late,” Lee said. “We will be captured. Or, at least, I will be captured.”

“Oh, they will be happy to have Nulla and I along for the ride as well, don’t you doubt. The more the merrier,” said Captain Nemo

“I found my tinderbox!” Vera Nulla exclaimed. The captain laughed.

“Oh dear,” Lee said.

A clink and splash echoed through the tunnel.

“Oops!” Vera Nulla exclaimed.

Again, the captain laughed.

Lee asked, “Did you…?”

“Yes, I am afraid I did,” Vera Nulla said.

“You dropped the tinderbox?” Lee asked. “We are trapped in the dark now! In this mother-forsaken tunnel!”

Flapjack barked.

“Hold your reindeers, ladies!” Captain Nemo called. “The tunnel ends not far up ahead.”

“Look!” Lee exclaimed, pointing ahead. “What is that?

Like a flickering candle, a dim light came through the fissures and cracks in the glacier ice, gray and purple, growing steadily.

Captain Nemo chuckled

Vera Nulla gasped. “I have never seen it like this before.”

“I can see you now,” said Lee. Vera Nulla lifted a hand cheerily as if in greeting.

“It’s the sunrise,” said Captain Nemo. Even as he spoke, the ice flaws sparkled and glowed with a dim, rosy-violet light.

The raft moved down the tunnel. The reindeer hopped along on the treadmill. The ceiling passed no more than a foot above the reindeer’s horns.

Flapjack walked across the rough logs of the raft, sniffed at the reindeer and barked. The reindeer picked up speed, eying Flapjack.

The shadows lifted and the ceiling turned deep ocean blue. The glistening walls, close enough to reach out and touch, were smooth as glass. Lee laughed aloud. “I see what you mean, Captain. It is like being underwater!”

Overhead, the ceiling ascended. The raft bounced on a quickening current.

“Whoa,” said Captain Nemo. The reindeer’s pace slowed down.

The captain took the raft’s tiller in hand. Water swirled. White topped waves slapped against the ice walls.

“What’s happening?” Lee asked. Flapjack, panting, sat beside her.

“Tunnel’s opening up.”

The blue light faded as the raft hurried along, turning with the bends, bumping and scraping the icy walls.

“Why is it getting dark in here?” Lee asked.

“We are deeper under the ice,” he said.

The raft hit a sharp curve in the wall, jarring the deck. Lee sat down abruptly. Flapjack threw himself against her, licking her face.

“Stop that!” she said, pushing him away and stifling a laugh.

“Pardon me,” said the captain. “That was unavoidable. I hope you will not let this reflect on your image of me as a peerless seafarer.”

A rushing breeze lifted the hair out of Lee’s face. Vera Nulla helped her to her feet.

“Can we turn around now?” Lee asked.

He did not take his eyes from the tunnel. “No, we can’t turn around.”

Lee pointed ahead. “There’s a gate. And an arch. In the ice walls.”

The tunnel opened up into an oval hallway. The letters above the arch, faded and white, were nearly illegible: PANO KAJ ROZOJ.

Lee nodded. “What does it mean? ‘Pano kaj rozoj’?”

“It’s the motto of Freehold and the anarcho-monarchy,” said the baronet. “‘Bread and Roses.’”

The arch brought the boat into a cavernous bottleneck. The current rushed around the raft and waves swirled, spilling over the deck. They passed between a pair of wide wooden gates, made from tree trunks.

A foot guard in an ice guard box saluted. He wore a red bearskin helmet, a black jacket, and red uniform pants. He saw Vera Nulla, smiled, and waved.

The baronet shouted in Esperanto. Distantly, far above, wind whistled on the glacier. Lee turned her face upwards.

“What’s that up ahead?” asked the baronet.

“It’s the gateway into the dome,” said Captain Nemo. “The gate, as I said, is open.”

“Is it the Neo-Prussians?” Lee asked.

“I can’t see that far,” Vera Nulla said.

“Hold on,” said the captain. “Here we go.”

“Hold on to what?” Lee cried.

The craft rumbled on the waves. Vera Nulla crouched down on her knees; Lee followed her example. Captain Nemo tightened his grip on the tiller handle. Flapjack threw himself against Lee just as the trembling of the boat increased. The reindeer threw his head back, tossed his antlers, and grunted like a horse.

The raft turned tightly in the ice. Overcast sunshine filled the tunnel so the snow clinging to the walls glittered silver. Lee covered her eyes with her elbow. The raft shivered; she fell backwards. The hiss of the water decreased.

Sunlight fell on Lee’s face. She sneezed.

Flat on her back and blinking, Lee picked herself up. The raft drifted on a canal cut into the ice.  On either side arose a series of walls of packed snow with guard towers and soldiers-at-arms. Letters carved in the wall read: Bonvenigi al Freehold.

Vera Nulla saluted and gesticulated. The captain removed his flat helmet and waved it back and forth. One of the guards on the opposite bank whooped, shouted “Hullo Captain!” and fired a shot in the air.

“Look!” Lee shouted, pointing. Between the ice walls and above the white plain of glacial ice, a forest of black evergreen trees rose. The wind blew; the pines swayed. Captain Nemo laughed insanely, his long red hair blowing in all directions. The wind blew his Brodie helmet, held only by a chin-strap, behind his head.

“How is this possible?” Lee shouted above the blast. “We are more than a hundred miles from the edge of the glacier. There shouldn’t be any trees here.”

“Look closely,” said the baronet, looking over Lee’s shoulder.

The raft slipped along the canal. The trees closed in: they grew out of large clay pots, some as tall as a man..

“Why, I have never seen anything like it!” Lee said. “It’s a potted forest!”

Among the trees, a gas-flamed cast iron streetlamp bore a sign reading: Strato Zamenhof. Gaslight flickered.

“It’s like a fairytale I read as a child,” Lee said. “I believe a satyr with an umbrella is going to walk out of the woods!”

The raft bounced forward, and the trees parted like a curtain. Beyond, the ice domes glistened like bubbles on the ice, semi-opaque and lit from within; the largest was like an opal with thousands of colored lights glistening inside. The others were less brilliant: green emeralds filled with farmlands. One dome covered a circular gem-blue lake, a fishery. Ice roads ran between the domes. A mountainous glacier outcrop defended the domes from the north wind.

On the shore, a bobsled passed, loaded with dogs in the prow. A man and a boy rode in back, bundled in furs, the man carrying an alpenstock with which he steered the vessel and urged it more swiftly down the passage. The boy, seeing the raft, waved.

The canal flowed beneath a grand victory arch carved from solid ice. Vertical black flags flew from either side. The crowning coat of arms was also solid black. A lookout in a guardhouse made of snow waved them through, waving his gloved hands.

“It’s like a fortress,” Lee said

“Free people have lots of enemies,” Vera Nulla said curtly.

The glacier wind picked up. Lee sniffed and wiped her nose. The ice dome directly ahead was as tall as a five story building and filled with green trees with gray, gnarled trunks and heavy branches of red fruit.

The canal circled the first ice dome. Inside, among a herd of white sheep on a green hillside, a young shepherdess in a black tunic also waved at them. Captain Nemo waved back.

“How do you get in?” Lee asked, observing the glass-like domes.

“You’ll see!” Captain Nemo said with a local’s glee.

The raft turned sharply. They passed a row of yellow poplars. In the glasslike ice wall on the canal, a wide gate, also of rough wood, slowly stretched open to receive the raft.

The boat bounced in the wake of the gates. Lee muttered in awe. The gates slammed against the clear walls. The raft shuddered and they entered the dome.

Warm air blew over them. Lee removed her hood. Flapjack got up and paced the deck frantically. Lee broke out in laughter. The baronet patted her on the shoulder.

Songbirds flew above their heads, crying. A bee zig-zagged from out among the masses of purple and magenta morning glories, over the water, and across their path. Red and pink roses grew in rows, branches heavy with rosehips. Bushes of yellow honeysuckle perfumed the breeze with a smell like jasmine. Looking up at the trees and the birds and the sunshine, Lee turned around slowly: yellow lime trees, orange peaches, chrysanthemums, blackberry bushes, spikes of goldenrod, and almond trees bursting with nuts.

Lee did a little dance, humming a sweet song aloud. Big-eyed, she softly quoted:

“It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”

“Aye!” Captain Nemo grinned, shaking so his red hair bounced under the helmet.

“How is this even possible?” Lee asked.

“The domes are made from distilled water, so the ice is perfectly clear,” Vera Nulla explained. “The clear ice acts as a greenhouse.”

The flowing canal drew the raft forward. Beyond the orchards stood a number of houses carved out of ice, tall Queen Annes and wide, turreted manors. The ice, dyed different colors and carefully carved, closely resembled the real materials so the houses appeared to be built of stone or brick. There were also shops, houses, theaters, parks, pillars, and walkways. A restaurant was closest to the canal, a red brick building with an outdoor patio and garden: Nov Jorko Bifsteko Domo. Lee sniffed the air. Nearby stood a fashionable haberdashery: Vestaĵoj Malnovaj.

Stone steps ascended the ice banks. Above, a crowd was gathered in the public square: men, women, and children, mostly dressed in black. A boisterous debate echoed, the shouts and cries of the people.

A loud humming noise covered the chattering voices. A shadow fell across the ice dome. The Angrboda blacked out the sky.

Screams rose from the village. Men and women rushed through the streets, looking back over their shoulders at the looming airship.

Shouting came from outside. A hollow loudspeaker projected from the zeppelin. The noise filled the air, a recorded message: “Se vi cedas vi rajtos preni vian proprieto kaj foriru pace.” The message repeated in accented English: “If you surrender, you may take your property and go in peace. If you surrender, you may take your property and go in peace. If you surrender, you may take your property and go in peace.”

The loudspeakers erupted once more from the zeppelin hovering above the ice dome. “Wir haben Geiseln!

“They claim to have hostages,” Captain Nemo said, answering the women’s inquisitive looks.

The raft glided toward a dock. The captain clucked. The reindeer skipped on its hooves and stopped.

Above the dock on the banks of the canal and partially hidden by potted myrtles, a dozen Neo-Prussian soldiers in brown uniforms awaited. They had two prisoners at the center of their circle, tall men chained together, both in tan uniforms.

“It’s Brand! They captured Brand!” Lee said. “I told you he wasn’t a traitor! And look who is with him. It’s the injured pilot!”

Vera Nulla looked down at the raft deck and said nothing. Captain Nemo swore and spat. By Lee’s feet, Flapjack eyed the soldiers and growled.

The crowd fell silent. A child, looking upwards, pointed, and burst into tears. Through the distortion of the convex dome of ice, the battle-blimp was big as the sky. Then, the blimp itself fell under an even darker shade, as though a storm were arising behind it.

“Thank the spirits!” the baronet cried, but the captain shook his head and laughed without joy.

“It is not what you think, Vera.”

“W-WHAT IS THAT?” Lee stammered.

Above the battle zeppelin, something floated even larger and rounder, bigger even than a wall of mountainous clouds but precisely spherical in form.

“It’s a sphere city! One of the Clouds!” said Vera Nulla.

“Thanks, baronet, for your keen observation,” the captain said, folding his arms.

Lee rubbed her eyes. “I recognize it now! I have never seen one so close to the earth before, except of course – Old New York. It looks strange, different. Out of proportion. I never realized it was so – so huge.”

“Old New York,” Vera Nulla and Captain Nemo nodded.

“But which sphere is it?” asked Vera Nulla. “Is it from the North Atlantic Community? It’s a bit raggedy so I would guess so. It doesn’t have the gothic appeal of a Neo-Prussian sphere nor the cathedral-like scope of a Spanish Esfera Civil. And the Russian spheres look like Faberge eggs. I don’t recognize it. It’s not one I ever visited. It does have a remarkable brassy complexion.”

Lee’s mouth opened, closed, and opened again. She waved a single, shaking finger.

“I lived there most of my life. It’s Cloud 33.” Lee said. “What is Brand doing? And the pilot? Why is the Confederacy looking for me?”

“I believe we are about to discover the answer to some of your questions,” Vera Nulla said flatly.

The baronet and captain stopped and looked at one another.

“Steady yourself, Lee.” Captain Nemo said. “The two men aren’t their hostages. Cloud 33 is.”

Lee fell to her knees on the raft’s rough deck. “Mighty Minerva,” she said breathlessly.

On the icy banks, one of the soldiers in the dark brown uniforms jumped in the air, pointed a leather gloved hand at Lee and cried out, “Da ist sie!

“‘There she is,’” Captain Nemo translated. For once, he did not smile.


Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen will return!


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