The sun between the spinning blades cast shadows on the plastiglass bubble in patterns of interference. Boran tried not to think about the stresses the machinery was under, but could still see drives shearing and the Madfly hoverer plummeting to the ice below.
At high sun, the light played off the glacier, sparkling on the melting ice. Boran was up here to watch his engineers as they marked fire points and laid remote mines. If there was time, he would head for the southern side of the fjord and check the rail marshalling yards before returning to his office.
With a gentle jiggle of his fingers, the pilot set the hoverer rotating slowly about the shaft of its twin rotors, giving Boran a panoramic view of the glacier, twin cities of Cora and Munss and the only bridges on the great fjord which split the continent west of the mountains. Common wisdom held that if the North were to attempt liberation, troops would stream down the glacier in tracks and powered sleds. They had come that way before, aiding the cities’ the last time they had been invaded from the South.
They scooted beyond the work groups, up the white expanse that thrust northeast, dipping closer to the ice. As they drew lower, the featureless surface made it harder to gauge the craft’s height. Just as Boran was envisioning a crushing death of brief flame and eternal cold, the pilot pulled up the descent. The downdraft raised its own blizzard, uncovering a metal frame covered by fabric. “One of ours or one of theirs?” he asked.
“It is so hard to tell after all these years. We shall send a squad out to check for bodies.”
Boran had been too young to remember the Glacier war. He did recall the smiling uncle who would take him up on the ice and keep him safe whilst they scoured the surface for wreckage such as this. One time, when they had dared travel further than usual, they had come upon the truncated fuselage of a heavy bomber. The aeroplane had buried itself on impact, but the flow had finally thrust it back into the open. In the half enclosed cockpit the crew were crumpled over the controls. Uncle Hian had made the sign of the Silver Tower and flagged the wreck for recovery. Not long after, Boran’s favourite uncle had died trying to save the boy’s mother from a house fire. Within days his father had everything in order and they had moved to the family home in the South.
But now he was back. The military had sought out the young engineer shortly before the cities were due to be attacked, and drafted him. It would have been a pleasure to be back in his old home, if there weren’t such a risk of being knifed or thrown over the cliffs should he stray out of the militarised areas.
Boran took a weighted marker from the door pocket and slid the window open. As the hoverer climbed and circled he released it. The tail of fabric fluttered behind it as it fell to within a few spans of the wreck. The pilot headed back to the teams. When he reached them he did a little dance, turning the hoverer and bobbing it up the glacier like an extension of his own nodding head. The team leader nodded recognition and detached some of his crew for the search.
“Ready for this?” the pilot asked.
“I am never ready for this.”
They shot forward and over the edge of the glacier. Through the plastiglass below his feet, Boran stared down the thousands of spans to the cloud bank where cold air from the glacier met warm air channelled up the fjord from the sea. There was a small break in the cloud, through which Boran could make out tiny ice marshallers, nudging blocks of glacier ice into the southern channel that would take them safely past the shipping. With a twist of the controls, the pilot had the hoverer dropping toward the gap.
The marshallers were working in conjunction with a hoarder, the larger ship netting prize bergs and dropping them in its flat bed, ready for distribution to the meat packing district. The fjord narrowed beyond the ice bowl and the cloud cleared on the other side. The hoverer dragged wisps of vapour in its wake as it passed under the twin cities’ bridges, then climbed as the walls spread further apart and they entered the main water lanes. Airship cranes lifted cargo up to the industrial district, whilst more conventional ones clung to staging steps carved into the fjord wall.
The hoverer pulled up behind and above one of the sky cranes. Boran didn’t look at the pilot, would not play to the tease. Two hover jockeys had already been suspended for landing atop the ungainly flying cigars. It took a special kind of lunacy to drop onto such a huge payload of flammable gas- these industrial airships did not have the triple walls and inert gas baffles of their military cousins. When he knew his passenger wasn’t rising to the bait, the pilot lifted up and continued on his way.