Night of the Rocket–Newlondon

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the fourth of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. We will release one story each Friday. Please bear with this short introduction to the planet and the five cities. It will be worth it. I promise!]

On the planet simply known as The Globe, all the residents live along the Elizabeth River in or near one of the five nation cities. In the wilds in between live the beasts and the bandits, but under the protection of the five cities, the people prosper. Trade travels along the Elizabeth River. Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace. What more could one want?

Generations ago, their ancestors fled a war among the stars and settled The Globe. They dismantled their ships and built cities. Now, they only look to the stars to admire their cold, distant beauty.

So no one expected the descent of the rockets. Only those watching the night sky on that historic night saw the lurid, purple glare as the first rocket landed in a field near Whitehall. A night that would always be remembered as the “Night of the Rocket.”

The City of Newlondon

The delta city of Newlondon is home to blue-eyed fishermen and The Globe’s finest sailors. They sail the South Sea and ply the Elizabeth River, carrying trade all the way to Belmont.

This story is set in Newlondon on the Night of the Rocket …

The Beast Below

by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage

Death whispered in the waves as The Tempest left Newlondon behind. Water crashed up the boat’s side, spraying Antonio and stinging his eyes. He staggered across the deck.

Oars thrashed against the water as sailors battled the sea, their voices raised to the rhythm of their rowing. “Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”

The shadow of Newlondon’s harbor defenses disappeared in the fog shrouding the city, now a speck on the horizon, as the boat drew further into the ocean. On all sides, the open sea vanquished everything, including the death that lurked beneath the surface. The death that waits for me, Antonio thought.

“…Our eyes we’ll hide from the monster’s glow. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”

This far from land, the ocean was no more than a grave. How many bodies lay buried on its bottom?

How did I get into this mess? Antonio scolded himself. Better yet, how do I get out of it?

“…Unfurl the sail, the ale will flow. With sharpened spear we’ll slay the foe…”

He toyed with the loose thread wrapped around his finger and closed his eyes. Images of Bianca flooded his mind. He forgot the salty tang filling his nostrils, pushed away the wind whipping his cheeks raw, lost to the memory as the sailors’ chant drifted into the distance.

“…And bring him home for a pot of gold. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”

Blue fishing nets
Rigging and nets hung like tendrils of vines winding everywhere. Photo by Jonas Jacobsson.

Bianca’s siren song pulled him deeper. “Oh, Antonio, I am forever yours. Yes!”

How was that only yesterday? Now I’m on this deathship?

On the harbor cliff, Antonio took her tender hand. Bianca beamed at the delicate piece of twine circling her ring finger, and the matching one around Antonio’s.

“Marry me, Bianca. I’ll take every trade run from here to Belmont to afford a ring. I promise to give you the life you deserve.”


Antonio and Bianca, intertwined, weaved a path through the harbor back to his scow, oblivious to the incessant crowing of the crews preparing ships for launch. The tall masts of larger trade vessels towered over their heads. Rigging and nets hung like tendrils of vines winding everywhere.

“Antonio! Will you not stop for your best friend?” a voice demanded from behind.

Antonio and Bianca whirled to see a panting Solanio chasing after them.

“Solanio?”

“I’ve only been trying to catch you from three docks over. The fog isn’t that thick today, mate.”

“Sorry, friend. I think we may have been lost in a fog of our own making.” Antonio smiled at Bianca.

“It’s the most marvelous day, Solanio! Antonio has asked me to be his wife.”

“Glorious news indeed,” Solanio kissed Bianca’s hand and eyed the twine on her finger. “But it’ll take a lot more than the measly trading runs you’re doing to give this woman the ring she deserves.”

Antonio caught the faint darkness clouding his friend’s eyes. “I’m due to make one of those measly runs right now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Bianca gave Antonio a sweet kiss of goodbye. Solanio and Antonio watched as she headed into the village, deftly avoiding the fallen ropes at her feet.

“Let me know when you want to make some real money, brother. You don’t want that one slipping away,” said Solanio.

“I’m not desperate for one of your schemes yet, Solanio. See you tomorrow.”

Antonio hopped aboard his scow. He started the engine sequence and secured the rest of his cargo before pulling away from his slip.


Antonio disengaged the maglock, pushing away from Whitehall’s dock.

One more stop in Finsbury, then back to my Bianca.

The thought warmed him like the sun reflecting off the looming towers across the marsh. Antonio pushed the throttle, he couldn’t wait to return to that gloomy, beautiful port, and to his love.

Thud!

“What the–”

Something landed on the deck behind him. Antonio spun straight into a punch, throwing him off-balance. The cloaked figure didn’t wait for Antonio to regain his senses, lunging for the cargo.

“No!”

Antonio jumped on the pirate, prying him off the hold. The bandit swung again. This time, Antonio dodged and returned a slug, inflicting a sickening crack to his attacker’s ribs. The pirate grabbed a hidden laser-edged knife and slashed toward Antonio.

Antonio grabbed his opponent’s wrists as they grappled on the deck. Forearms bulging, the pirate pressed the knife toward Antonio’s neck.

“Bianca!”

Antonio kicked his attacker, grabbed a rigging knife from his boot, and stabbed in one swift rush. The bandit fell back on the deck, motionless. Antonio’s heart pounded as he looked to the pirate and then to the blade he still held in his hands.

A whirl overhead caught his attention. A Whitehall drone circled, then zoomed back toward the city.

What have I done?

Antonio covered the body with a tarp and sped back to Newlondon in the growing darkness. When he arrived, he docked in the visitor moorings instead of his own slip. He stowed the knife back in his boot and ran to Solanio’s office in the harbor.

“Solanio, I need your help!”

“Brother, what happened?”

“A pirate attacked me. There was a drone. It happened so fast. What am I to do?”

“I know a place for you to hide while I take care of everything. Follow me.”

Fishing nets wove along the dock like cobwebs. Photo by Manuel Sardo.

Solanio grabbed a chain of keys from the hook on his door and hastened to the harbor wall.

Antonio followed him through the fret that masked the city. The tang of fish stung the back of his throat, and voices from the market echoed in the distance above the cymbal-crash of waves. Fishing nets wove along the dock like cobwebs, and the salty fog surrounded the harbor’s defensive bastions.

“Over here.” Solanio stepped aboard a boat, fumbling with his keys. Antonio paused. Solanio unlatched a door. It swung open, leading below deck. “Antonio! What are you waiting for?”

“Bianca. They’ll come for her first. I need to get her out of—”

“Antonio. Listen to me. If the drone recorded you killing someone on the river, you need somewhere to lay low. Sea fret won’t keep you hidden long. Not from the drones.”

“But—”

“I’ll take care of Bianca. You have my oath.”

“You swear it?”

Solanio’s lips squirmed in an eel-like smile. “Leave her to me. She’ll come to no harm.”

Solanio grasped Antonio’s arm, compelling him into the cabin. Solanio closed the door, eclipsing Antonio in darkness. A click snapped through the lock. Antonio tried the handle, but it wouldn’t give.

“Solanio!” he cried.

His shoulder crashed against the bolted door. From beyond, voices and footsteps mingled, and the floor swayed with the familiar rocking that belongs to a boat on water. Antonio grabbed the knife from his boot and lit the blade. Its laser shimmered, revealing a hook and pole on the wall. Engines rumbled as he snatched the hook and fixed it on the door’s seam. He extinguished the knife, replacing it in his boot, and heaved. His sinews burned as he wrestled the latch over and over. All the while, the engine’s low murmur disguised his grunts.

Come on!

He threw himself upon the pole, wood splintering. The door split, sending Antonio stumbling onto the deck. Fog blanketed the ship. Through the mist emerged the captain’s hulking frame. His ice-blue eyes narrowed, and his lip curled into a smile as he stroked his beard and stomped towards Antonio.

“Well, well, well. What have we here? Looks like we’ve got ourselves a stowaway, lads!”

Antonio ran to the boat’s edge. Even at its widest stretch, he could swim the Elizabeth River without breaking a sweat.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the captain roared.

Antonio straightened up. “By how long we’ve been sailing, I reckon we must be near Westminster by now.”

Fog blanketed the ship. Photo by Joel Bengs.

The captain threw his head back. “Did you hear that, lads? This tar thinks we’re on the river!”

Crewmen howled, their laughs rippling across the deck.

The captain raised his hand, commanding quiet. “What’s your name, sailor?”

“Antonio.”

“Well, Antonio, welcome aboard The Tempest, the finest deathship this side of Belmont.”

Deathship! “You can’t be serious? We’re not—”

“Aye. We’re in open waters. Lads, kill the engines. Oars at the ready. If we’ve any hope of making it to the deep, we’ll need to run silent from here on out.”

Antonio’s mouth gaped open. “You’re a hunting ship?”

“That we are.”

“I never heard of a ship ever returning from a hunt.”

“We may make it back yet.” The captain winked. The engines’ rumble faded, and the ship lurched as it slowed.

Antonio scoured The Tempest for a way out. But all he saw was water and mist. “You have to turn around. I’m not supposed to be here.”

The captain shook his head. “You think any of us are supposed to be here? That any sane man would take on the hunt unless we weren’t up to our eyes in debt? Debt will drown you faster than the ocean, lad.”

“You mean—”

“If we return without a creature’s corpse, we’d be better off sunk. The only way I’m turning this boat around is with a kraken in tow. Y’hear?”

“But… it’s suicide.”

“That’s why they pay so much. Now, are you gonna grab an oar, or do I have to force you in the brig?”

Antonio shook his head. This can’t be happening. Solanio. You murderer.

The crew slung their oars over the side of the boat and cried out in song to the beat of their strokes.

“Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”


A strange fluorescence lit the ocean. Photo by Trevor McKinnon.

Antonio stroked the twine on his finger. He clasped his hands together, pretending it was Bianca’s, trying to remember the softness of her skin and push away the calluses of his own. He opened his eyes as The Tempest crested the waves.

A shudder rocked the boat.

“Hold, lads!” the captain bellowed.

The sailors lifted their oars, and a hush descended. Antonio turned his ear to the waves.

Another shunt wobbled the ship.

A chill shuddered through the breeze. Antonio stepped to the boat’s edge. He peered into the murky water, where a faint glow skittered across its surface.

A strange fluorescence lit the ocean, spreading, growing. It shone brighter still, and the water glistened in a deathly haze.

“Weapons at the ready!” the captain yelled.

Sailors manned the guns, replacing their oars with blaster rifles.

The underside of its tentacles emitted a blinding glow. Photo by Luana Azevedo.

The light intensified, as if the whole ocean were on fire. Then the creature broke through the flames. Its first tentacle writhed up from the abyss, stretching taller than the masts that lined the port, and wide as the pulsar turrets guarding the Elizabeth river.

Another tentacle broke through the inferno, twice as big, and still another, before the body of the creature turned the light to shadow. It shrieked a wail as it towered over the boat. A thick hide menaced its skin with spikes, like a thousand harpoons encrusted with boils hard as steel. The underside of its tentacles emitted a blinding glow, and a single green eye cast a light on the boat bright as the lighthouse on East Cove.

If hell had a hide, it would have chosen this one.

The ship pitched and rolled as more tentacles wrapped around the gunwale. Men clutched their rifles, eyes wide in terror.

“Steady, lads! Fire when ready!” the captain commanded.

The first blasts struck the beast’s side. It shuddered and shook but did not retreat.

“It’s laughing at us.” Antonio’s voice was lost in the roar of the tossing and thrashing.

The captain growled, trying to match the leviathan, and charged across the deck. As he aimed his rifle, a gnarled tentacle flicked him overboard. Antonio covered his gaping mouth with his hand. He felt the twine on his finger.

Bianca. Bianca. Bianca.

The mantra fueled Antonio into action.

“Aim at the eye! Don’t waste time on its hide.”

Half the men obeyed while the rest were either huddled crying for their mothers or frozen in panic. Rifle blasts battered where it’s face should be, though there was no sign of a mouth.

“Keep going, men! Blind the beast!”

In a rage, the creature slammed its body onto The Tempest’s deck. The shockwave flung most of the sailors to their watery graves. Those who braced themselves continued their attacks. Antonio searched frantically for a gun. Gobs of neon green littered the deck. The only thing he could grasp was the hook and pole he’d escaped the cabin with. Antonio secured his knife to the hook. He engaged the laser and faced the beast.

A shot landed squarely in the creature’s eye. It released an ear-piercing cry as its face split, revealing its cavernous maw. Spiraling rows of teeth vibrated from the roar, like tiny saw blades waiting to hack its victims. A vicious emerald light emanated from its throat, hypnotizing the other men. Antonio seized his chance and dodged the lacerating teeth, thrusting the makeshift harpoon deep into the roof of the glowing deathtrap.

“BIANCA!”

He sunk the knife, pulling the blade straight through the creature’s lantern eye, and sending it flying onto the deck. Brains and flesh rained down as the creature thrashed its last. Green ooze dripped from Antonio. The kraken’s eye stared at him from his feet, until its glow extinguished. The monster stilled, collapsed over the boat, almost bringing it under with its weight.

Antonio’s chest heaved. The creature’s stink invaded his nostrils, and he spat its bitterness from his mouth. He pocketed his knife and wiped the stain of the beast from his body.

It’ll take more than that to get rid of me, Solanio.

A violet hue danced across the waves.

Antonio grabbed an oar, and plunged it into the water, tugging with all his might. The few remaining sailors pitched their oars alongside him. His fingers wrapped around the wood so tight, it pressed the twine into his flesh, but all he could do was smile.

I’m coming, Bianca. Wait for me.

Then a faint glow shot across the surface of the water. He stopped rowing and craned his neck over the ship’s edge. A violet hue danced across the waves.

No. Not another. It can’t be.

He grabbed his blade and stood, calling out to the water.

“You can’t have me! I won’t let you!”

The glow intensified and the ocean lit up. But no creature emerged.

“Come on! Show yourself!”

He waited, but there was no beast. Only light. And then he looked up, towards the sky, where the same glow shimmered even brighter.


If you enjoyed Frasier and Shanel’s story, please share some kind comments below.

Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross. Set in the city of Finsbury, it’s filled with longing, regret, and a buried secret.

Finally, you can also enjoy the first three tales in the Globe Folio:

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

The photos and photographers of The Towers of Whitehall

The photographers of Unsplash.com provided me with a great collection of photos for Jim Hamilton’s “The Towers of Whitehall,” a Sci Fi story set on the planet called The Globe. (If you have not read the story, you’ll want to read it first, as this post contains some spoilers.)

Let’s start with the logo for The Globe stories. I had to crop it quite a bit, which should probably be a crime. I committed it in international space, so I think I’m safe. But I do apologize to the artist. Then I added the text. Here is the original, unaltered photo in all its glory.

Orbs of the Multiverse by Daniel Olah.

Breathtaking, right?

If I understand this correctly, Daniel created this beautiful image by mixing soap and oil. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but I’m no artist. This piece, Orbs of the Multiverse, is from his new Soap & Oil Planet series. To my eyes, it looks exactly like a planet floating in space, and I love his title for the piece. So I chose this image to represent the beautiful, blue planet of The Globe.

Daniel is a freelance photographer. You can find his nature and landscape images at unsplash.com/@danesduet. You can also find his work at www.behance.net/danielolah and instagram.com/danesduet.

Blue Verticality

This photo represents the glittering towers of Whitehall. Photo by Possessed Photography.

The photographer who simply goes by “Possessed Photography” on unsplash.com captured this beautiful image of glass towers that they titled “Blue Verticality,” which is a great title. I shared this photo with Jim before he wrote “The Towers of Whitehall.” I’m sure it helped inspire his idea that Whitehallers generate their city’s electric power from “transparent, photo-voltaic cells” in their glass towers.

Possessed Photography’s images of robots, vehicles, technology, art, architecture, and Japan can be found at unsplash.com/@possessedphotography. Possessed Photography lives in Japan and is available for hire.

View from Above

View from a tower to a wide concrete veranda and water beyond
Photo by Mirza Babic.

When I chose this photo, I was thinking of Leonardo, “who stood at the railing of the observation deck, high atop Central Tower. . . . As the sun rose higher, Leonardo watched as a barge arrived from upstream and pulled up to the quay. Right on time, he said to himself, and left his perch to go meet the barge. Its arrival made him feel marginally better, but he was still worried.”

This image, shot by Mirza Babic of New York City, New York in the United States, may not be shot from an angle as high as the top of Whitehall’s Central Tower, but I think it does a nice job of giving us the feeling of Leonardo’s gaze down on Lake Avon from the towers of Whitehall.

The photo itself is a bit of a mystery. Mirza did not disclose where the photo was shot or reveal any other details. And the photo is titled “Sanity.” I do find the photo quite soothing. I love the wide, curving expanse of concrete. I like the stone edifice to the left with mildly arched entrances. And I love the dark-but-shining water beyond. I can see the view soothing Leonardo’s frayed nerves.

But I am intrigued by why Mirza titled it “Sanity.” Was that a reference to the lone individual captured below, the soothing combination of stone and water, or to a view from a window that meant “home”? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Mirza’s photography can be found at unsplash.com/@mirzababic and mirzababic.com.

Breakfast Stim

A mug and pot of "stim" and a handheld, electronic device
She played with her handheld game and sipped her stim. Photo by Ceyda Ciftci.

In Jim’s story, he wrote that Stephano’s mother, Lucetta, drank stim and played her handheld game during the breakfast hour. I loved that detail and wanted to include some futuristic version of a drink called “stim.” When I ran across this photo by Ceyda Ciftci, I loved it immediately. I don’t know if it truly looks futuristic or otherworldly, but it certainly looks elegant and different than the tea and coffee setups I see in offices and homes.

Ceyda shot this in Istanbul, Turkey. She titled the photo “Rinascimento,” which is apparently Italian for “Renaissance.” And that is very fitting for our stories set on The Globe, a planet whose residents are clearly very influenced by Shakespeare, his work, and Elizabethan England.

You can find more photos by Ceyda at unsplash.com/@ceydaciftci.

Cranes

Cranes working near a waterfront
Cranes over the waterfront. Photo by Elias.

This photo represented this scene: “Leonardo stood well back on the dock, watching as the crane unloaded the first of the two, giant, bell-shaped castings. Each of them was made from cast iron and took up nearly half of the drone barge that had ferried them down from the hills.”

It was tricky to find a combination of waterfront, futuristic buildings and something that might look like a Sci Fi crane. I settled for two out of three, as it turns out cranes look very similar the world over.

The photographer who simply goes by Elias on unsplash.com captured this scene of HafenCity in Hamburg, Germany. It’s a good photo, but I found by cropping carefully I could include the futuristic building in the center, the cranes and the water.

You can learn more about Elias’s photography at unsplash.com/@eelias.

Slider Park

Slider Park in Whitehall
“Dozens of young people were riding their hoverboards up and down, over and under, and all around the contoured course.” Photo by Mika Baumeister.

Mika Baumeister shot this overhead view of the skate park Peitruss in Luxembourg from a nearby bridge. It’s a great geometric photo, and you can see the fascinating geometric shapes created by the park’s designers and builders.

Mika hails from Bonn, Germany and is available for hire. Mika is building a German Unsplash community and shows interest in interacting on the front page. You can see more of Mika’s work at unsplash.com/@mbaumi.

Graffito

Kid at the skate park. Photo by @cbyoung.

Clark Young shot this amazing graffito at a skate park. He titled the photo “Kid at the Skate Park,” which I love for its simplicity. Clark does not share any more information, so I don’t even know what country it’s shot in.

I already had one great photo to represent the slider park in Whitehall where Portia and Stephano secretly meet to plan their escape. But when I saw this beautiful, golden “Globe” graffito, I could not resist. So, to the tag artist “Globe,” I love this throwie. I salute you and I thank you.

See more of Clark’s landscape and architecture photos at unsplash/@cbyoung.

Jetty

They met at the jetty. Photo by Casey Horner.

I love this beautiful night shot of a lighted dock by Casey Horner. I could look at it for hours. Technically, it fits the definition of jetty, which is where Stephano and Portia meet to stow away on the drone barge. I’m not sure if this is the type of jetty Jim imagined, but I’m a sucker for a starry sky.

Casey titled this photo “Long Walk Off a Short Pier.” It was shot in Waimea in the United States. Casey hails from Manteca, California in the United States. You can view more of Casey’s work at unsplash.com/@mischievous_penguins.

Night of the Rocket–Whitehall

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the third of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. We will release one story each Friday. Please bear with this short introduction to the planet and the five cities. It will be worth it. I promise!]

On the planet simply known as The Globe, all the residents live along the Elizabeth River in or near one of the five nation cities. In the wilds in between live the beasts and the bandits, but under the protection of the five cities, the people prosper. Trade travels along the Elizabeth River. Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace. What more could one want?

Generations ago, their ancestors fled a war among the stars and settled The Globe. They dismantled their ships and built cities. Now, they only look to the stars to admire their cold, distant beauty.

So no one expected the descent of the rockets. Only those watching the night sky on that historic night saw the lurid, purple glare as the first rocket landed in a field near Whitehall. A night that would always be remembered as the “Night of the Rocket.”

The City of Whitehall

Whitehall, the First City, rises in glittering, crystalline towers from the shores of Lake Avon. It’s brown-eyed scientists and engineers build wonders and, in their great minds, they believe they rule all of The Globe.

This story is set in Whitehall on the Night of the Rocket …

The Towers of Whitehall

by Jim Hamilton

Sunrise in Whitehall was always special. Especially on the days, like today, when the bright blue sky was cloudless and the full rays of the morning sun played out over the glittering glass towers. Both the reflection and refraction of its essence washed shimmering rainbows across the city that changed from moment to moment.

The glory of all of this was lost on Leonardo, who stood at the railing of the observation deck, high atop Central Tower. From his vantage point, he could see the entire city spread out below him, from the residential spires on the north side to the industrial section on the south. Beyond the perimeter walls, he could see the Elizabeth, which originated in the distant mountains and ran its natural course to the sea. As the sun rose higher, Leonardo watched as a barge arrived from upstream and pulled up to the quay. Right on time, he said to himself, and left his perch to go meet the barge. Its arrival made him feel marginally better, but he was still worried.

Photo by Mirza Babic.

Lucetta called out, “Stephano! Hurry up, or you’re going to be late for school!”

“I’m coming, Ma,” said her teenage son, as he came down the hallway from the bedrooms. He grabbed a bowl and poured some cereal into it before filling a glass with some juice from the dispenser. Grabbing a spoon, he carried them to the table where his mother sat, sipping her stim.

“Why are you wearing that horrible shirt?” She glanced down. “And those silly pants?”

“It’s what everyone else is wearing!” protested Stephano.

She played with her handheld game and sipped her stim. Photo by Ceyda Ciftci.

“Well, you’re not leaving the house looking like that.” She held up her finger to halt his protest. “You can wear that nice new outfit I bought for you yesterday.”

He sighed loudly and rolled his eyes before turning his attention to his cereal. His mother had no idea what school was like. As he ate, he glanced at her from time to time as she played with her handheld game and sipped her stim, occasionally tucking her short brown hair back over an ear.

He didn’t fault her for her strict ideals, as every generation up until now had simply followed the rituals of the previous generation. In his own case, it was twenty-two generations ago when they had landed on this planet and creatively named it “The Globe.” And, after twenty-two generations of the same silly rules and laws, Stephano, along with almost everyone else his age, felt the same way.

It was time for a change.

He finished his cereal and downed the last of his juice before finally breaking the silence. “I’m done, Ma. Can I get you a refill?” He stood and picked up his bowl and glass.

She glanced into her crystalline cup before swigging the last of her stim and handing it to her son. “A refill would be quite nice. Thanks!” He took it from her and set his bowl and glass in the sink. Filling her cup from the dispenser, he carried it back to the table and set it next to her.

“Here you go, Ma. I’m going to go change into my new outfit, and then I’m off to school!”

“Thank you, Stephano. You’re such a good son.” She smiled at him. “I’m lucky to have someone like you.”

He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m lucky to have you, too, Ma.”

Something on her handheld flashed and her attention turned back to her game again. Stephano shook his head and went to his room to change. When he returned, he had on baggy brown pants with an off-white long-sleeved shirt that buttoned down the front and had a bit of lace on the cuffs. On his feet, he still wore his sandals, but he was counting on his mother not noticing. He shouldered his backpack and headed for the door, calling out over his shoulder, “I’m leaving now!”

Without looking up from her game, she waved at him. “Have a good day at school!”

“Yes, Ma.” He closed the door to their home and took the lift down to the tube station in the basement of their tower. He headed straight for the public fresher and, a few minutes later, emerged wearing his sparkly sleeveless pullover and his ripped and faded durum flares. As he made his way to the tube platform, he saw two of his classmates in similar attire and ran to catch up with them.


Leonardo stood well back on the dock, watching as the crane unloaded the first of the two, giant, bell-shaped castings. Each of them was made from cast iron and took up nearly half of the drone barge that had ferried them down from the hills. The whine of the hover pallet increased slightly as the first one was gently lowered onto it. Then the pallet began its slow journey down the ramp that led into the bowels of Whitehall. He waited until the second one was transferred and then slowly followed it down the ramp.

The high towers of the city were mostly made from transparent, photo-voltaic cells. These provided a source of electricity during the day while spinning up three, giant, cast-iron flywheels that provided electricity during the night. Two weeks ago, a crack had opened up in the casing for one of them, and the engineers had struggled to get by with the other two.

Photo by Elias.

Leonardo wouldn’t be able to rest until they had repaired the third flywheel and had it up and running again. After ensuring that the castings reached their destination safely, he left their installation up to Tomasso, his best foreman, and took the lift up to the administration level.

Tapping on the doorframe to one of the offices, he said, “Do you have a moment, Iago?”

From behind his large desk, Iago looked up from his work. “Ah, Leonardo! Come right on in.” He stood and reached out to shake hands. “Thanks for coming by. I assume that you have an update on our power problem?”

“I do, sir.” Leonardo took a seat. “The new castings have arrived and I saw to it personally that they’re intact and cleared them to be installed. Tomasso and his crew should have everything completed before evening.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” Iago shook his head. “I don’t need to remind you what happened the last time.”

Leonardo shook his head as well. “No, sir. No need for that.” He hesitated before continuing. “As you know, since we’ve exhausted our supply of pollium, we can’t make any more photo-voltaic glass. The current ones that are still functioning are barely providing enough power as it is.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“You need to tell everyone, sir. If we start conserving our energy now, we can easily last a few more years.”

My son, Stephano, says that we need to learn how to live more simply.

“And then what?” asked Iago. He turned in his chair and gestured out the window that overlooked the city. “Whitehall only consumes a small amount of the power we generate. The power we beam to Belmont keeps their air-handlers running and their cauldrons bubbling.” He pointed again. “Likewise, the vast smelters in Westminster, the farming machinery in Finsbury, and the ships at sea out of Newlondon.”

He asked again, “And then what?”

“I don’t know, sir.” He laughed. “My son, Stephano, says that we need to learn how to live more simply. To quit consuming for the sole purpose of keeping people busy making things.” He smiled, wryly. “Maybe he’s right.”

Iago sighed. “I don’t understand today’s generation of teenagers. You and I just did as our parents told us to do, and they should be doing the same thing.” He drummed his fingers on his desktop. “Once they’re older, I’m sure that they’ll come to their senses.” He looked at Leonardo. “Anything else?”

Leonardo shook his head. “No, sir.” Standing up, he said, “I’m going back to the power room. I can’t rest until the flywheel’s back online.”

“I understand. Let me know if anything changes.”

“Will do, sir,” said Leonardo, and he turned and left the office.


“We’re spoiled rotten,” said Portia.

“I know,” replied Stephano. “Compared to everyone outside of Whitehall, we’ve got it easy.”

They were sitting side by side on one of the benches that ringed the slider park. It was a popular after-school hangout, and dozens of young people were riding their hoverboards up and down, over and under, and all around the contoured course. It was also one of the few places that they could be together without being teased by their classmates.

Photo by Mika Baumeister.

“We supply the other cities with radiated power and, in exchange, they supply us with the things we need that we can’t make for ourselves,” she replied. “But they’ve got the short end of the stick! Why can’t our parents understand that?”

Stephano snorted. “Because they’re old and stubborn and set in their ways.” He put his arm around her. “Are you sure that you want to go through with this?” She nodded. “Okay, then. I’ll buzz you when I’m leaving my tower and meet you at the jetty.”

“Okay,” she promised. Portia put her lips near his ear and whispered, “I love you, Stephano!”

He smiled and whispered back into her own ear, “I love you, too!”

When it was time to leave, Stephano walked with her to her own tower, where he stole a quick kiss before heading home with a slight spring in his step.

Photo by Clark Young.

Leonardo was reading in his study when a tap came at the door. He looked up to see his son standing in the doorway. “Come on in, Stephano.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, Da, but I’m headed to bed and I wanted to tell you goodnight.”

Leonardo was a bit surprised by this, but he didn’t let it show. “Well, thank you, son. That’s very thoughtful of you.” He smiled. “Was there something else that you wanted to tell me?”

Stephano nodded. “I know how disappointed you are that I never wanted to follow in your footsteps, and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry that I didn’t turn out as you and Ma wanted.”

Leonardo frowned. “Well, yes, I would have liked to have had you by my side as I worked on my projects, but disappointed? Never.” He smiled warmly. “Your mother and I have only wanted your happiness. You know that.”

“I know, Da.” Stephano hung his head. “I just think that there’s more to life than keeping the lights on. That’s all.” He looked back up. “Anyway, I love you and I’m sorry and I’m going to bed now.” He turned and left.

“Goodnight, Stephano,” called out Leonardo, but he wasn’t sure if his son heard him. I wonder what that was all about? he asked himself.


Stephano’s alarm woke him in the wee hours of the morning. He quietly got up and quickly got dressed—favorite shirt and durums, of course—before pulling the blanket off of his bed. Spreading it out in the middle of his bedroom floor, he began placing the inventory of items he was taking on top of it. Tying it up made a neat, if somewhat heavy, bundle.

He left his note on his bed, where it would be easily found, and eased his way to the outer door. Both of his parents were heavy sleepers and sneaking out had always been easy. Before he entered the lift, he alerted Portia. The drone barge left at dawn, and they had plenty of time to stow away on it.

They met at the jetty. Photo by Casey Horner.

As planned, they met at the jetty and he gave her a heartfelt hug. “Are you sure that you still want to go through with this?”

“Of course, Stephano. If we stay here, we can never be together.”

She kissed him deeply.

Their moment of passion was interrupted by a loud noise overhead. Looking up, they saw a bright, purple flash in the sky that was reflected everywhere by the crystalline towers of Whitehall.


If you enjoyed Jim’s story, please share some kind comments below.

Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage. Set in the city of Newlondon, it’s filled with love, betrayal, and a suicidal quest aboard a “death ship.”

You can view the beautiful, original photos used to illustrate “Towers of Whitehall,” learn about the photographers, and follow links to their other work.

Finally, you can also enjoy the first two tales in the Globe Folio:

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Night of the Rocket–Belmont

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the first of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. We will release one story each Friday. Please bear with this short introduction to the planet and the five cities. It will be worth it. I promise!]

On the planet simply known as The Globe, all the residents live along the Elizabeth River in or near one of the five nation cities. In the wilds in between live the beasts and the bandits, but under the protection of the five cities, the people prosper. Trade travels along the Elizabeth River. Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace. What more could one want?

Generations ago, their ancestors fled a war among the stars and settled The Globe. They dismantled their ships and built cities. Now, they only look to the stars to admire their cold, distant beauty.

So no one expected the descent of the rockets. Only those watching the night sky on that historic night saw the lurid, purple glare as the first rocket landed in a field near Whitehall. A night that would always be remembered as the “Night of the Rocket.”

The City of Belmont

Furthest north in the cold mountains lies the City of Belmont and its iron and coal mines. Eternal mists mix with billows of smoke to wreath the underground city in permanent clouds of smog. The mysterious Belmontians stick to their own, and some say they are so inbred they have red eyes.

This story is set in Belmont on the Night of the Rocket …

Pillars of Smoke

by Frasier Armitage

A horn blasted through Belmont, carried in the smog. In another hour, Thinveil would chime. Lorenzo deactivated his pickaxe and stumbled into the elevator, a shadow among shadows as smoke saturated the air, turning everything into a haze of itself.

Bodies piled out, past the molten lake. Its liquid fire flowed from the Pillars of Belmont where a pneumatic kiln smelted ore in a river of purified iron. Photo by Ian Stauffer.

The lift ascended through the mountain’s core, and the Great Kiln’s pounding rhythm guided droves of spent workers from the mine.

“Hab-level,” the elevator squawked.

Bodies piled out, past the Pillars of Belmont, two colossal monuments carved inside the mountain. Between the pillars, a molten lake flowed. Its liquid fire traced a path through the habitat as the ancient kiln smelted ore in a river of purified iron. The pillars towered over the shrouded city, chiseled into the mountain’s heart. A temple to the fire.

Lorenzo tottered through a swarm of masked workers, naked save for their tools. None needed the extra weight of fabric when mist preserved their modesty better than clothing, and the city’s heat blazed as the sun.

He found his hab-unit, and his fingers smothered the iron keypad. Vents sealed behind him, pumping the air clear, revealing smudges of coal across his sweat-drenched body. He unclasped his breathing mask and hung it with his goggles on the wall. Pulses of air washed over him, cleansing him of the mine’s stain. A chill rippled his skin, and he clothed himself before he stepped into the hab.

“Lorenzo’s back!” his mother called out. Sylvia and Roderigo scurried to him, hugging his legs. His mother pulled the twins from him.

“At the rate they’re growing, they’ll be knocking me down soon,” Lorenzo said.

“We have news. Thank the flame.”

“Never. Your legs are strong as the two pillars.” She smiled.

“My son,” his father entered from the study. “Today is a good day.” He stood opposite Lorenzo and pressed his hands on the young man’s shoulders, his red eyes beaming. “We have news. Thank the flame.”

“What news?”

“You’ve been matched, my son.”

Lorenzo’s head dropped. “Father, I—”

“Narissa is to be your mate.”

“You know my feelings, father. How can you rejoice?”

“Shouldn’t I be happy you’ll have prospects, security, a wife?”

“A cage.”

His father released his arms. “Roderigo, Sylvia, go and play in the other room.”

The children disappeared, shepherded to the playroom by their mother.

“There is more to the world than smoke and mist, father.” Photo by Thomas Tixtaaz.

“How many times have I told you, son? You shouldn’t speak ill of Belmont.”

“There is more to the world than smoke and mist, father.” Lorenzo’s shoulders stiffened. “This city chokes us.”

“The fire warms and feeds us. Smoke keeps us safe.”

“You’re wrong. It’s the others, the outsiders who—”

“Hush, Lorenzo. Do you want the children to hear?” His father glanced over his shoulder. “Never speak of the outsiders. You know the law.”

“The world is a kiln. It forges us in its flames.”
Photo by Viviane Okubo.

Lorenzo threw his hands up. “What would we eat if we didn’t trade our minerals for their food? What would we breathe if we didn’t recycle their air? We’re prisoners inside this mountain.”

“We’re protected.”

“You mean concealed.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” His father pinched the bridge of his nose. “We hide in mist. We abide in safety. You know this.”

“What you call safety, I call a prison. We’re trapped here.”

“Trapped from what? What is freedom, son? What would you do with it?”

“I wouldn’t marry. Or stay in Belmont.”

“You want to leave? Leave the mountain which has cared for you. Abandon the mines that have welcomed and taught you? Are you so ungrateful?”

“Are you so blind? Would you rather I rot in this cage, father? This is not the only city in the world.”

His father rubbed his eyes. “What do you know of the world? The world is a kiln. It forges us in its flames. You can’t escape the fire.”

Lorenzo’s eyes glowed hot, burning red. Bloodflame seared hatred into his bones. “Look beyond the smoke, father. The outsiders could help us.”

“You know nothing of the outsiders, son.”

“You’re wrong. I’ve seen them.”

His father stilled, statuesque. “You’ve what?”

“From the mountaintop.”

“Since when have you been outside the mountain?”

Lorenzo puffed his chest. “I found an abandoned vent. The mist was thinner in the open. And at Thinveil, before our kiln pumps smog into the air, before the smoke thickens the mountain’s fog, I could see the lights.”

“There’s more beyond this mountain.”

“No, Lorenzo. I won’t hear it.”

“They were faint. But I saw them.”

His father shook the words out of his head. “You’re just a child, my son. You don’t know what you speak.”

“I know enough. There’s more beyond this mountain.”

“There is fire and family. And that is all.”

“Maybe for you, father. You can’t leave. You have the children, and mother. But I have no wife. No ties. Why shouldn’t I go?”

“Do you think me a slave, Lorenzo? That Roderigo and Sylvia imprison me? No. They’ve freed me. We’re all children of smoke. You’re free here. Belmont is free. Don’t you see that?”

“I see a tomb.”

His father paced the hab. “Maybe you’ll understand one day, when you and Narissa have children of your own. Come. Today is a good day. Accept your match and let’s eat.”

Lorenzo’s fists shook. Tears welled in his eyes, branding him in rage. “I won’t be buried in this mountain!” He turned to the airlock and snatched his breathing mask.

Mist blanketed everything, yet his eyes had never been clearer. Photo by Jackson Hendry.

“Lorenzo!” his father called after him. But it was too late. Smoke filled the hab, and Lorenzo vanished within it.

Through the city, he climbed. He scrambled to the derelict service hatch, and shimmied up the vent. Thinveil struck. The horn blared below as Lorenzo lifted himself onto the mountainside.

Mist blanketed everything, yet his eyes had never been clearer.

There is more, he thought. More beyond the smoke. More beyond Belmont. More waiting for me.

As if in answer, the sky erupted. A lurid purple spark, bright as molten ore, lit the mountaintop. Lorenzo shielded his eyes, but nothing could prevent the flame blazing across heaven, slicing through his sanctuary of smoke. As the light touched Lorenzo, it held no warmth. No comfort. And for the first time in his life, there was nowhere for him to hide.


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson. Set in the desert city of Westminster, it’s filled with action, intrigue, and swirling sands.

Finally, view the beautiful, original photos used to illustrate “Pillars of Smoke,” learn about the photographers, and follow links to their other work.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross