The start of “The Ice War”

As a teaser for the planned 2015 publication of my dieselpunk espionage adventure The Ice War, I present the first paragraphs of chapter 1.

The Cassiopeia’s cargo ramp touched the ground with a clonk. I crossed it and stepped down on the cracked concrete of the landing pad. The cold wind smelled of burning coal and dusty roads. The sun stood halfway into the sky to the north-northwest: early afternoon local time. Carrion birds squabbled around a carcass at the nearest warehouse. Denmark’s red and white flag fluttered over the cloudport’s gate and beyond it I glimpsed Fredriksborg’s cluster of dark buildings.

My destination was at the desk for arriving cloudships in the customs office. The officer on duty spoke German with a thick Danish accent: “So you’re coming from Magalhana? We haven’t seen ships from there for a while. Why are you here, garçon?”

His slur did not surprise me and I responded with a well-rehearsed smile. “My name is Johnny Bornewald, Herr Zollwachtmeister” I said in cultured German. “We carry spare parts for the governor’s office.”

His eyes dodged my gaze. “The cargo manifest, garçon.”

I handed over a file with the ship’s documents that the law required for arrivals at foreign cloudports. “At the bottom of that bundle, Herr Zollwachtmeister.” Some of those sheets were forgeries by our allies in the Dutch intelligence service, but I did not worry about that. Before leaving the Cassiopeia, I had double-checked everything and found no flaws.

While the officer inspected the documents, I took a look at the surrounding office rooms and storage areas. They were mostly empty and unkempt with a few dirty machines that had not been used for a long time. Whatever cloudships arrived here must make do with their equipment. The cloudport had been built to handle ten or fifteen vessels at the same time, that was obvious, but after the outbreak of war in the northern hemisphere, incoming traffic must have fallen to next to nothing.

The document bundle hit the desk with a thud. I glimpsed a fresh indigo stamp at the top of the first page: FREDRIKSBORGS TOLDKONTOR, GODKENDT, 24 XI 1940.

“Tell your captain that everything is in proper order, garçon,” said the customs officer.

I looked straight into his face when I picked up the papers. He turned away from me without the salute prescribed by his service regulations. I left the building without a “thank you” and took a few breaths of fresh air to rinse the bitter feelings out of my mind. In my current position I simply had to endure such treatment.

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