Short Story: The Castle in the Frost

Posted by on Jun 23, 2017 in Blog, Dystopian Wars | 3 comments

Short Story: The Castle in the Frost

Written by Admin |

Short Story 1 by Spartan Franco

The Castle in the Frost

It was early spring in Greenland, the tipping point between the island’s long, harsh winter and short but violently brilliant summer. But the nights were yet long, and the chill of winter only little dissipated. Snow still lay thickly on the ground in many areas; even here around the town of Gothåb, which was blessed with light and warmth by the technological gifts of the Sturginium Age.

Gothåb had become, for want of a better description, a boom town. Though it still occupied the same headland and peninsula that had housed the town and its small fishing port since time immemorial, it had doubled in size. Now its rows of houses, warehouses, workshops and shipwrights were encircled by stout curtain walls, punctuated every so often by armoured watchtowers. Likewise the harbour mole had been greatly extended and the old harbour itself extensively dredged to allow for larger ships to tie up at its wharves.

Of course, with the growth had come trepidation that the fires of the World War, which had largely passed the little town by, would extend their smouldering talons to engulf this remote corner of the Arctic Circle. The mole was surmounted by heavy turrets and emplacements, from which the long barrels of heavy guns protruded. Likewise, the towers sprouted heavy ack-ack batteries, whose clusters of multiple barrels stood like harsh black thorn-bushes against the lightening skies.

****

In one of the observation turrets overlooking the town and the bay, two Landwehr soldiers lounged next to a sputtering little oil heater. Spring though it may have been, the air still held a biting cold.

The taller of the two sat on an old crate, crouched close to the heater, while his stocky companion, seemingly less bothered by the cold, leaned out over the parapet, watching the first of the trawlers make ready to depart from the harbour. The rising noise and bustle of the awakening town floated up to the turret, albeit slightly muted by the distance and the stiff breeze rolling in from the Davis Strait.

The stocky man turned to his companion, a grin spreading across his rounded, weather-beaten face, framed by a fur-lined hood. “Hey, Thorsten, the next shakedown is scheduled soon. Don’t you want to watch?”

The taller man looked up, his pasty cheeks and long hooked nose reddened by the constant wind chill and the heat of his vigil by the little heater. “Yes, Pukak, I do.” He shivered. “But is anything actually happening at the Schloss yet?”

“Well…no, not yet.”

“Good. Then I’ll sit by the heater a bit longer, thank you very much.”

Pukak laughed. “Don’t tell me you’re still not used to the cold. You lived in Willemburg for how long?”

Thorsten grimaced at the Greenlander native. “This place isn’t Willemburg,” he replied, using the informal nickname for King Wilhelm City, the capital of Prussian Greenland on the eastern coast. “Fewer home comforts, for a start.”

Pukak laughed again. “Depends what you think of as home comforts. Me, I just want a solid roof, a warm bunk and three square meals a day. He looked out again across the bay. “Mind you, I do miss how peaceful it used to be before the Knights moved in in force.”

This time Thorsten did stand up, following Pukak’s gaze across the waters of the bay across from the town, to the great fortress that dominated the rocky ridgeline that rose above the opposite shore.

The locals called it ‘The Spine of the Sea Dragon’ for the way its towers and battlements stood out against the sky. But he knew its official name: Schloss Saint Michael, the fortress of the famed and feared Teutonic Order.

He couldn’t help but be impressed. The topmost towers stood proudly above the ridge, but it was the structures lower down that were even more spectacular. Gigantic caverns, their vaulted entrances fronted with massive roller-shutter doors, had been hollowed out of the sheer hillsides; massive hangars, he knew, to house the Order’s fearsome fighting machines. Below and slightly to the west of the fortress, lay the heavily guarded sea dock of the Schloss, where several warships and barges lay at anchor in its protective shadow.

Thorsten cast his gaze to the left, where the air station lay to the east of the Order’s castle. His sight was caught by an enormous grey and white cargo airship tethered to its mooring mast, dwarfing many of the low service buildings nearby. The station, like the town itself, had grown substantially since the Order had taken a greater interest in the region. The skeletons of new hangars, intended to house smaller Zeppelins or larger aeroplanes, being constructed were clearly visible.

“Thorsten, look! It’s starting! One of the gates is opening!” Pukak’s excited exclamation brought his attention back to the Schloss. The Greenlander was staring through a set of field glasses. Thorsten picked up the other set from the parapet and trained his gaze on the fortress.

Sure enough, one of the three mighty gates was opening, it’s jointed, slatted doors slowly rolling upwards. The distant sounds of a repeating klaxon and the clatter of metal on stone rolled across the bay. Both soldiers kept their eyes fixed on the Schloss, the cold and wind forgotten. As always, this would be a sight worth seeing.

****

Hochmeister Anton Ritter von Essen braced himself and gripped the brass handrail as the bubble-canopied cable-car began its journey across the vaulted roof of Schloss Saint Michael’s Hangar Three. Though a senior Teutonic Knight of many years’ standing, and the commander of the Schloss, the spectacle of the Order’s works never ceased to amaze him.

The hangar was a vast space, hundreds of cubic feet carved out of the living rock of Greenland, and lit with huge arc-lights whose cabling crisscrossed the rough-hewn walls and ceilings. Much of the material, he knew, had been used to construct the rest of the Schloss’s aboveground structures.

However, despite its great size, the hangar was utterly dominated by what it contained: the gigantic bipedal form of Heinrich der Löwe, one of the new Metzger II Class robots currently based at the Schloss.

The giant gleamed in the arc-lights, a spectacle of polished metal and enamelling looming massively even in the huge hangar. It was a relatively new machine, only recently arrived from the King Wilhelm Commandery.

It was being prepared for a shakedown sally, the first since its arrival here by sea. Its crew and the dedicated team of Knights-Luminary mechanists and engineers made ready for the excursion to ensure that all was well with the giant in its new home. Von Essen had taken to the cable car to inspect the process – after all, the giant machine was part of the core force now permanently based at the newly reinforced Schloss.

The cable car, hanging from adjustable lines suspended from tracks mounted high in the ceiling, was currently traversing at the Heinrich’s head height. The Hochmeister could see the giant’s command crew busying themselves on the bridge behind the reinforced glass windows positioned within the stylised ‘visor’ of the Metzger’s head. Armsman-squires guarding the railed gangplank leading the entry hatchways saluted von Essen as the cable car passed them.

Von Essen returned the gesture, and then turned to Hilde Baumgartner, the Luminary officer controlling the cable car. “Take us on a full circuit of the Heinrich, head to greaves. I want to see the whole machine before the launch preparations are complete.”

The young engineer dipped her head respectfully. She consulted her watch. “Yes, my lord. We should make the western dock just as the main gates open.”

The Luminary adjusted the controls and the cable car began a spiralling journey around the massive Metzger, rising and falling on smoothly oiled runners to move around the gantries and platforms that surrounded the machine. Von Essen watched teams of engineers carry out last minute adjustments to the giant; checking joints and bearings, tightening bolts and piping lubricant into the storage tanks would keep the robot’s limbs operating smoothly.

Here and there, Luminary mechanists clad in large, Tesla powered suits similar to those employed by Order Armsmen on the battlefield adjusted heavier components with tools far too large and weighty for unequipped workers to use. Further along, von Essen saw a short file of fully equipped Knight-Armsmen marching across a reinforced gangway towards an entry hatch in the Heinrich’s torso, behind its massive breastplate. Their unified steps rang out in a harsh metallic cadence.

Von Essen paid particular attention to the giant’s right arm as the cable car passed it. Here, a crew making final adjustments to the massive weapon mounted there – one of the potentially powerful, but as yet largely untried ‘high-energy projectile launchers’. The Hochmeister gazed with interest at the weapon’s mass of copper, brass and steel guts, visible now with its protective armoured panelling open.

The weapon used electrical power to hurl its payloads at terrifying velocity. He had seen the spectacular results of their impacts during trials at the King Wilhelm Commandery. He hoped that it would produce similarly devastating effects in full combat.

Thin streams of vapour jetted from vents on the Heinrich’s back-plate as the cable car passed it. The Hochmeister knew that the motive crews would even now be firing up the massive Thermal Pressure Engines. He imagined the Sturginium alloy fuel cores glowing brightly as the twisting ram-plates compressed them; the vast heat output searing into the boilers, raising a huge head of steam to drive the giant’s turbines and dynamos, powering its ponderous movements and massive weaponry.

As the cable car approached its destination docking station, a series of klaxons rang out. At a word from von Essen, Baumgartner stopped the conveyance just short of its berth. Together they watched the spectacle of the launch.

Metallic clattering and screeching intercut with the klaxon blaring as the gantries and support structures withdrew. The arc-lights began to dim as the mighty sliding gate of the hangar rose. Daylight spilled into the huge chamber, rising to illuminate more of the Heinrich as the shutter slid ever higher.

A loud whining sound, backed with the hissing of active pneumatic and hydraulic systems filled the hangar as the Heinrich’s crew turned on the giant’s full power. Freed from its supports, the giant stood alone, shifting slightly this way and that in an almost human fashion. Von Essen watched, fascinated as ever, at the interplay of hundreds of mechanical and electrical systems as they helped the helmsmen compensate for the giant’s size, weight and posture.

The shutter gate was almost fully open now. A series of shorter, louder siren blasts rang out. Von Essen looked down, to see a pair of smaller armatures stride out of a side gate and cross the floor of the hangar to stand in front of the Heinrich. They were modified versions of the Faust Class, several times the height of a man, but appearing as mere dwarfs compared to their gigantic comrade.

Each was painted in garish colours and instead of weaponry, their arms terminated in brightly lit green and red glass globes. As von Essen watched, they began to go through a highly precise routine of motions, akin to semaphore, the lamps sweeping in glowing arcs as they did so.

Von Essen knew that the Heinrich’s command crew would be in constant radio communication with the hangar control cadre; but the careful choreography of the Fausts also provided key visual cues to the Metzger’s steersmen as they guided the giant out of the hangar.

Finally, the Heinrich began to move, taking its first great stride from the rotating platform that formed the floor of its berth. Von Essen felt the cable car shift slightly as tremors from the mighty step hummed through the rock.

As the Fausts backed away, still motioning with their signal lights, the Metzger took a second step, its great head passing the cable car at level height. From an open vision port, the Heinrich’s commander saluted his superior. His voice crackled out of the radio speaker on the cable car. “Heinrich to Hochmeister von Essen. Underway on full power. Hail Emperor Frederick!”

The Fausts withdrew to the sides of the hangar as the mighty Metzger made the huge doorway, standing framed for brief moment in arch and casting a huge shadow backwards into the hangar. Then, with another mighty stride it was fully outside and the daylight spilled back in.

Von Essen nodded in satisfaction. A textbook launch, by his approximation. He turned his thoughts then to the Heinrich’s brother machine Herr von Teutoberg, waiting in King Wilhelm City to join them.

Today, he would board the OZ Liebenberg at the air station and fly back to join the convoy that would bring the last giant and its escorts to the Schloss. Once they stood together, the Schloss would be a true power, ready to test the overeager Canadians across the Davis Strait. He would not fail in his duty.

****

Thorsten and Pukak watched as the mighty Metzger cleared its hangar and strode out towards the water’s edge. Its sirens blared in a strident symphony, like a metallic god welcoming the new day.

Thorsten grinned despite bitter cold, cheered for the first time on his shift. “You’re right,” he said to Pukak. “Always worth watching.”