The Winter War: Part One
Balt leaned on the railing as the supply zeppelin made its final approach to the Sutton Air Yards, built on the banks of the mighty Thames. Below him stretched the charcoal and smoke-smudged expanse that was the steam-breathing heart of the British Empire, the city of London.
Usually the veteran soldier enjoyed the bird's eye view, made from the zeppelin's observation deck as it ran around the cabin's leading edge. But today, even though the city's smog cloak had been washed away by the rain to give an unparalleled view of the venerable city, the vista couldn't hold his eye.
Instead his mind churned as he considered how much he had to do in the little time that was left. Messages had to be sent, meeting places chosen, and resources gathered. All as quietly as possible so as to not catch an unfriendly eye, whether it be Prussian spy, or Ministry dove. He could only hope he could marshall his far-flung assets before von Brandenburg made his move.
"We're about to drop through the smog, colonel," the pilot leaned out a cockpit window to say. "The Northside furnaces have been burning all night so the air's gonna be bitter, even with the rain."
Nodding, Balt pulled his long dark leather travel coat closer and stepped back from the rail. Time to return to the sparsely furnished cabin.
Inside the cabin once more, with it's steam radiator taking the bite off the chill air, Balt dropped into the only passenger seat. He and it were well acquainted by this point, having spent at least the better part of two days in it during the flight from his base at Gibraltar. Storms over allied Spain and France had kept him inside when usually he found a good spot on the observation deck to watch the world go by.
Thankfully that solitary perch was well situated. Facing the starboard viewports, he got an unimpeded line of sight that let him watch as the zeppelin dropped through some low-hanging cloud matching the river's path. Then, as the zeppelin banked in response to flashing lights from the air yard's control tower, the relatively crowded airspace over the yards became visible.
Sleek, high-speed courier vessels jostled with stocky supply zepps like the one he was riding in, as they made room for even larger craft like the big transport ships with their flat decks, loading ramps and double balloons. These carried steam tanks, wagons, artillery pieces and troops back and forth between the capital and her far flung outposts, each piece secured on the sturdy cargo deck suspended by thick cables between the balloons.
As big as the transports were, they looked just ordinary beside the three zepp balloons of the massive cargo haulers which were the lifeblood of the Empire, making sure not only that supplies reached her armies, but her merchant goods reached her trade partners as well. For without trade, there would be no income. And without money to pay her workers to build her weapons and soldiers to fight her battles, there would be no Empire.
Then their supply zeppelin pulled hard to the left, her engines and maneuvering props throbbing furiously to bring her around at her rudder's behest and the wondrous chaos that thronged over the Thames wheeled out of sight. Bracing himself against the turn, Balt began thinking of what he needed to do first as soon as he hit the ground.
Thus occupied, he didn't notice the rest of the descent until the ground crew was shouting to each other as tie-downs began flying everywhere in the process of securing the zepp to the ground
"Ramp's down, sir," the pilot announced, looking back at the veteran soldier. Nodding, Balt unbuckled from the seat and quickly stood, reaching for his weathered duffel bag as he did. As a career soldier, he was a seasoned traveler and was well used to going from patiently waiting to moving into action without hesitation. And, all things considered, never was it more important than now to get going as quickly as physically possible!
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