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.
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.”
“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?”
His father released his arms. “Roderigo, Sylvia, go and play in the other room.”
The children disappeared, shepherded to the playroom by their mother.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.