At long last, we bring forth Nights of Revelation

On the Night of the Rocket, in the mountains of Belmont . . .

The Voice of Beasts

Part I

by Frasier Armitage

Purple streaked across the heavens as Lorenzo staggered over the mountain. Mist saturated his view, and a trail of violet blurred through vapor. He followed the light’s path as it burned above him, before it altered course and lowered as a distant speck. Then the lurid glare faded, but its afterglow still fell in shards of purple light, painting the sky. 

The glow drew him, pulling him towards a sanctuary of light. Its trail was a road stretching out above him, beckoning him away from the mountain. Rocks jutted from the ground in random clusters. The only road to follow was the one above him. 

He inched forwards, beginning his first reluctant steps away from Belmont, and the life he left behind. Each stride strengthened his resolve, and as the distance between Lorenzo and the city grew, so did the surety of his heart. 

Navigating a way down the rockface of the mountainside strained the muscles which the mines had nourished. His tendons stretched as he clambered down steep embankments and clawed his way across narrow ledges.

He inched forwards, beginning his first reluctant steps away from Belmont, and the life he left behind. Photo by Tom Robertson.

The ground levelled, and a causeway wound a path towards a faint amber shimmer which danced over a gate. Everybody knew about the Gatekeeper who kept watch over the mountain, but he’d never pictured the gate that led to Belmont until he saw it now. He shied away from where the bizarre haze shielded the entrance, and took the road leading down the mountainside. 

Dawn approached as Arrant Moon rose, reflecting the sun’s light. Day opened up to brighten the sky, and Lorenzo squinted through the onslaught of golden fire. His red eyes had never seen the sun. Twilight scorched his vision with disorienting intensity. He staggered as the world around him blurred in a blinding white. 

Mist thinned until it vanished, the last barrier between the raging sun and his innocent eyes. The sound of water trickled across the flatland. A tree’s shade gave him a moment’s relief, and a shadow emerged in the direction of the water. He tottered towards it, feet dragging him forwards as daybreak fractured the world around him.

“Hey!” he called to the distant shadow. He flapped his arms. “Hey!” 

The shadow sharpened as he neared it. A figure. They raised their hand and fixed a gun on Lorenzo. 

“Help!” he cried. 

The barrel of their pistol thundered as a bolt of blue plasma flashed. The shot brushed past his shoulder, whispering as it flew beyond him to strike a form behind. A body thudded to the ground. Lorenzo fell to his knees and turned to see a young man splayed lifeless. Plasma scorched his skin in burns and blotches. 

A tree’s shade gave him a moment’s relief. Photo by Nathan Dumlao.

But at the sight of the man’s face, Lorenzo fell. He shivered, pointing at it, his jaw agape. Staring back at him was his own face. A perfect replica of his own body lay dead on the ground before him. 

Footsteps followed the shot, and the figure emerged from shadow. They holstered their gun and offered Lorenzo a hand. 

“That was close,” they said. “It almost had you.” They hoisted Lorenzo to his feet, their face a blur. 

“What almost had me?” Lorenzo asked. 

“It’s a Mirrim. A mirrorbeast. Deadliest creature in the savagelands. It’s a good job you yelled, otherwise you’d have been the one lying in a heap.” 

“That thing is a creature?” 

The figure nodded. “A nasty critter. The only thing they’re good for is target practice.” 

Lorenzo bowed. “Then I owe you my life.” 

“Pfft. Are you kiddin’? You gave me the chance to shoot a Mirrim. If anything, it’s me who owes you. Where are you heading to anyway?” 

Lorenzo shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m following the sky.” 

“Okay. That doesn’t sound crazy at all. Why don’t we start with where you’re heading from?” 

“I come from Belmont.” 

“Belmont? Is that a joke?” 

Lorenzo shook his head. “I swear it.” 

It’s a Mirrim. A mirrorbeast. Deadliest creature in the savagelands.

The figure leaned closer and peered into Lorenzo’s squinting red eyes. “Well, would you look at that? A real-life Belmontian. That explains the outfit at least, or lack of.” 

“What do you mean, outfit?” 

“Your clothes. Those rags barely cover you.” 

Lorenzo picked at the strands of fabric hanging loosely from his body. “We have no need of clothing when mist covers us.” 

The figure’s hands rested on their hips. “I don’t know the rules in Belmont. But if you hadn’t noticed, it’s not exactly misty today. Come on. I’ve got a spare set of clothes in my skiv you can use.” They turned and slunk into the distance where the sound of rushing water cascaded. 

Lorenzo tried to follow, staggering blindly. He waved his hands in front of him, shuffling across the plain.

“Are you okay?” they yelled. 

“The light,” Lorenzo said. “It’s so intense, I can barely see.”

They appeared at his side. “Here.” A pair of goggles was pressed into his hand, the lenses tinted dark as coal. “We use them for sailing into the sun.” 

A pair of goggles were pressed into his hand, the lenses tinted dark as coal. Photo by Johnny Briggs.

He fixed them around his head and the light dimmed, softening everything into focus. The figure before him took shape. She smiled through thin lips, her yellow hair a mane of curls, and her startling blue eyes glistened like two hot flames. Clothing wrapped around her slender frame, hiding her body in oil-stained folds, and her waistcoat matched dark leather boots. 

“Better?” she asked. 

Lorenzo pirouetted to take in his surroundings. A river flowed not far from where they stood, and a machine that must’ve been her skiv hovered above the water. Behind him, across a flat plain, at the foot of the mountain where the mist clouded, lay the creature’s plasma-blistered body. 

“Where is the tree?” he asked. “The one that gave me shade so I could see you?” 

“The Mirrim was the tree,” she said. “It took a couple of seconds to shift from one form to another. That’s how it hunts. To match its prey, it becomes its prey.” 

Lorenzo shuddered. “Why did I not hear the creature approaching?” 

“That’s the one way to know if you’re dealing with a Mirrim or not. They make no sound. They can’t. Something about the way their skin changes means you’ll never hear them coming.” 

“But I heard it fall.” 

“Thanks to my plasma rounds.” She took her gun and kissed the barrel. “This baby’s never failed me yet.” 

Lorenzo frowned. “How does it work?” 

“The gun? You just point and shoot. What’s the matter? You never seen a gun before?” 

Lorenzo stared at the corpse, transfixed by how easily it could’ve been him. “What should we do with it?” 

“Let it rot. It’ll be a warning to passersby. Now are you coming, or not?” She raised an eyebrow and sauntered to the machine that floated above the water. 

Lorenzo followed her up the rungs of the craft, the cold metal tingling his fingers as he hauled himself onto the hover’s deck. 

She rooted through an old sack and tossed him some clothes. 

“Thank you,” he said. 

“No problem. You can pay me back later. The interest isn’t too steep.” She winked. 

Lorenzo frowned. “What do you mean ‘pay you back’?” 

She rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, you’re gonna try and tell me there’s no such thing as trade in Belmont, aren’t you? How gullible do you think I am?” 

“The fire feeds all.” 

“Not unless you feed it first. Everything’s a trade. See?” 

Lorenzo rubbed his chin. “I have nothing of value to give you.” 

“Not yet. But when word there’s a real-life Belmontian roaming around gets out, having you owe me a favor might come in handy, if you catch my drift.” 

Lorenzo fumbled the clothes over his tattered rags. “I can tell you my name, if that’s worth anything?” he offered. 

“Well someone’s got a high opinion of themselves, don’t they? Safe passage downriver and fresh clothes just to know your name. What are you? Royalty?” 

“What would you give me for my name?” 

“I’d trade like for like, if you’d accept those terms?” 

“Alright. I accept. I’m Lorenzo.” 

“Rosaline. But you can call me Ros.” 

“Ros? That’s a short name compared to my own. I’ll take these as compensation.” Lorenzo glanced at the clothes he wore, the leather jacket and canvas sailor’s trousers, tucked into thick boots. He straightened the goggles over his eyes. “How do I look?” 

“Like you still owe me, buster,” she said. 

Ros stood at the hover’s prow and worked the gears with the grace and skill of an artisan. Engines roared as she slung the skiv around, and shot off down the river. Lorenzo toppled onto the deck. Spray rushed up the side of the barge, splashing over him. 

Ros stifled a giggle into her sleeve. 

Lorenzo peered over the hull’s edge, wind whipping his hair back. He staggered on deck, the motion throwing him from side to side. “What manner of beast is this?” 

“It’s no beast. It’s my baby.” 

“You said that about your gun. Are all your babies so deadly?” 

Ros smiled. “Did you see those lights last night?” 

BARGE ON THE RIVER–“It’s no beast. It’s my baby.” Photo by Erik Mclean

“I can still see them.” Lorenzo stared at the purple trail leading across the skies. 

“Really? I don’t see anything.” Ros shrugged. “Must be those pretty, red eyes of yours. What else can you see?” 

“I see you. And this baby of yours. The land. And the sky. And a purple trail leading that way.” 

“Towards Whitehall. It’s where we’re heading now.” 

“To follow the lights?” he asked. 

“Something like that. If you can see the afterburn, maybe your eyes would make a fair trade for those clothes.” 

Lorenzo backed away, his face aghast. “You can’t have my eyes. Or else how would I see? Is this what the world is like? Full of people swapping limbs for finery and fetishes?” 

“Pipe down, sailor. Your eyes can stay where they are. I just want you to show me the way. To the spot where they landed. That’s not too high a price to ask, is it?” 

Lorenzo puffed a breath of relief. “I accept your terms, Ros. For what reason do you seek the purple sparks?” 

She smiled. “Who knows what these newcomers might have to trade? Now, fair warning, this might get a little bumpy.” 

“Bumpy?” 

Ros slammed the hover over the riverbank. Its pads reverberated as the ground undulated below. Lorenzo’s legs wobbled, and he gripped the helm. 

Ros pushed him off the controls. “Keep those eyes peeled, Lorenzo. We’re heading into the savagelands. Quickest way to Whitehall. But Mirrims could be anywhere. Got it?” 

Lorenzo nodded. 

They passed over the wilds of the savagelands in silence. But silence was the mark of the Mirrims. Lorenzo wanted to speak just to prove that he was still himself, but Ros hushed him with a look. She stalked the horizon with a predatory gaze, her hand resting on the hilt of her gun. 

They passed rocks and the odd outcrop of grass, but could trust none of it. Not even the sand. Who could tell if a single grain was not a beast waiting for them, lurking? 

SAVAGELANDS–They passed over the wilds of the savagelands in silence. Photo by Zack Woolwine.

In the distance, another barge ploughed across the bedrock and dunes. Their silhouette warped in the sun’s heat. 

Ros nodded towards the craft. She placed a finger to her lips, and drew her gun. 

Lorenzo understood. 

The hover pulled alongside Ros, and she signalled with her arms to the captain of the barge, counting down from three, two, one. 

She blasted a horn. But no blast came from the hover beside her. 

It tilted to ram her and she fired a burst of plasma at the hull. Blue plasma burst like lightning across the hover as its metal shell writhed, morphing in and out of shape. The ship convulsed, and Ros fired again, before it collided with her hover, shunting it off course. Ros fell from the helm, and the gun clattered across the floor. Lorenzo toppled and when he rose, there were two of Ros on deck. He reached for the gun, and scooped it in his hands. 

“Lorenzo. It’s me.” There was only one voice, but both of them moved their lips. 

“Quiet,” he said. 

Sweat poured down his brow as he glanced from left to right. Which of them is Ros and which is the creature? 

“Lorenzo! It’s me! Use your ears!” 

“I said quiet.” They both stood by the helm. “I just point and shoot, right?” 

Both Rosalines nodded. 

“Okay. You.” He signalled to the one nearest the throttle. “Step forward.” 

They shuffled in front of the rudder, out of sight from the Ros that stood behind them. 

“Where do I come from? Both of you point on three.” Lorenzo said. “Three. Two. One.” 

The first Ros spun and pointed to the mountain in the distance. So did the Ros behind, at precisely the same moment. 

Lorenzo shook his head. His hands rattled on the pistol. “Change places. You go behind, and you in front” 

They swapped. 

“On three, I want you to point to your baby. Three. Two. One.” 

The Ros behind pointed one arm to the deck and her other arm at the gun he held, and the Ros in front frowned, pointing at their stomach. Lorenzo fired. The blast rippled over her body as plasma ignited her skin, charring her to a crisp. 

The remaining Ros picked up the Mirrim and flung it over the side of the craft. 

“Thanks,” she said. 

Lorenzo’s shoulders relaxed at the sound of her voice. “You said your baby never lets you down. Does this settle our debt?” 

She snatched the pistol from him and holstered it. “Keep your eyes peeled.” 

“We’re nearly there,” he said. “The purple sparks gather ahead.” 

Ros swung the hover in the direction Lorenzo pointed. They sped across the dunes, ever closer to discovering what manner of monster those lights had belonged to; ever nearer to where it lurked, waiting for them in the sand. 


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe series.

And make sure to check back Friday for Part 2 of “The Voice of Beasts” by Frasier Armitage. Ranging from the harsh desert of the savagelands to the glass towers of Whitehall, Part 2 is filled with a race, a brawl, and a chase.

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

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

The photos of “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1”

The photographers of Unsplash.com provided me with a great collection of photos for the very first story in Nights of Revelation, “The Voice of Beasts” by Frasier Armitage.

(If you’ve not read the story, you’ll want to read it first, as this post contains some spoilers.)

Coming Down the Mountain

Tom Robertson shot this moody, dreamy mountain-top shot in Skye in the United Kingdom. I assume it’s a multiple exposure because you can see through the person in this photo. It makes a beautiful image.

Tom also shoots some beautiful black and white images and artistic, moody and sometimes spooky photos. Make sure to check out his collection on Unsplash.com.

Tree’s Shade

Nathan Dumlao shot this desert view, which proved to be perfect for the Mirrim scene in “The Voice of Beasts.” Nathan takes mountain, urban, and travel photos. Find more of his work at Unsplash.com/@Nate_Dumlao.

Goggles

In the original photo, you can see the steampunk goggles are wrapped around a black bowler sitting atop an internally lit hat block. A very fun image! I love the subject of this photo and I love steampunk motifs. I can still recall the feeling of awe I had when I first saw steampunk costumes all those years ago at DragonCon in Atlanta.

Johnny Briggs, who hails from Scotland, shot this image. He loves taking photographs of “beautiful vintage and retro items, places, nature, and architecture.” Find more of his photography at Unsplash.com/@johnnyboylee.

Barge on the River

Erik Mclean shot this great photo of a rusting hulk sunk in the water. I don’t have any details on the photo, but it makes a mood shot for our trip down the Elizabeth River in our story. Erik likes urban, automotive and sky photography. He also has some very nice landscape and outdoors photos at Unsplash.com/@introspectivedsgn.

Savagelands

Zach Woolwine shot this sinuous dunes photo during a trip to Merzouga, Morocco. It provided a great image for the savagelands between Belmont and Whitehall on the Globe. Zack likes to take photos of cats, streets, food and San Francisco. Find more of his photos at Unsplash.com/@onebackpackphotography.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Don’t miss Part 2 of “The Voice of Beasts”

In Part I, Lorenzo escapes Belmont, the city beneath the mountain, only to find a harsh, blinding landscape and dangerous beasts. Ros saves him from a Mirrim attack, and the two head for Whitehall, following the purple streaks across the sky . . .

The Voice of Beasts

Part II

by Frasier Armitage

Wind shrieked as it battered Lorenzo. He craned his neck over the hovercraft’s edge and squinted through his goggles. 

“This is the place,” he said. “This is where the lights end.” 

Ros brought the skiv to rest below the ridge of a swollen dune. Lorenzo scaled the sand and peered over its peak, with her at his side. 

Whitehall’s towers glittered in the distance. Between the dunes and Whitehall stood a hulking monster of metal. Painted green and brown, it loomed from the ground like a mountain in itself, its landing gear propping it on insect legs. 

It loomed from the ground like a mountain in itself, its landing gear propping it on insect legs. Photo by Lynn Kintziger.

It loomed from the ground like a mountain in itself, its landing gear propping it on insect legs.

“Could it be a Mirrim?” Lorenzo asked. 

Ros peered through an eyeglass she carried on a necklace. “I’ve never seen one so big.” 

“Where did it come from?” 

Ros pointed to the heavens. “Only one place something like that could’ve been made. From the stars. It looks like the ships they used to tell us about in old fishermen’s stories.” 

“What stories?” 

“On long sailing voyages, we told tales to pass the time. Warships came from the Polity and landed on a world, forcing our ancestors to flee across the sky to this one. I thought they were just fairy tales.” 

“People came in ships like that to seek a home?” 

Ros nodded. “Apparently.” 

Lorenzo smiled. “Then we are the same. That ship and I. For am I not in search of the same thing?” 

Ros frowned. “I don’t think Belmont and space are in quite the same league.” 

“What do you know of Belmont? What do you know of these newcomers?” 

“I know they dress a lot better than you. Here. Take a look.” 

Lorenzo clunked the eyeglass onto his goggles and peered through. Around the giant frame, people stood in uniform, holding guns. They carried the authority of the Council of Belmont. Had they worn robes and hoods instead of guns, he would have feared them. As he peered closer, his stomach tortured him in waves of doubt. 

These people seek a home. We are not so different. That is why the smoke of their trail has guided me to them. It has to be. 

“What’s that?” Ros yanked the eyeglass from him. 

A convoy of transports swept across the sand from the direction of Whitehall. 

“A Mirrim?” Lorenzo asked. 

“Nah. More likely a welcoming committee. Looks like we missed our shot.” 

Lorenzo’s eyes widened behind his goggles. “You were going to shoot them?” 

“No. Our shot at being the first to offer a trade. Those Whitehall goons will beat us to the punch. Come on. The best place for us now is the city. News travels fast. Let’s make sure we get it first.” 

Ros slid back down the dune. 

Lorenzo halted at the top. “Should we not warn them of the Mirrim?” 

“By the looks of it, they can take care of themselves.” She pointed her fingers in the shape of a gun and mouthed ‘pew pew pew’ as she gestured her index finger firing rounds. 

Lorenzo shook his head and scampered down the dune. 

Not everyone is looking to kill something. There are some beasts who seek only some shelter and a little shade. 

Lorenzo scampered down the dune. Photo by Fernando Paredes Murillo.

They approached the hover. Lorenzo halted, pulling at Ros’s elbow.

“How do we know that’s really your baby?” he asked. 

She tutted and unfurled her gun. From the top of its barrel, she removed a shaft that formed a piccolo, and blew a melody through it. The ode drifted through the breeze until its sound touched the hover. At the end of her tune, its horn blared the final notes. 

“That was beautiful,” Lorenzo said. 

Ros reconnected the instrument to her weapon and holstered it, hauling herself on deck. Lorenzo followed. 

She struck out across the sand for Whitehall. Lorenzo didn’t totter as the hover leapt over the dunes. 

“You learn fast,” she said. 

“We have a saying in Belmont. ‘When burned, only the fool keeps reaching for the fire.’ I will not be burned a second time, Ros.” 

She flicked the hover onto automatic and scooped some fruit from a cubby in the helm-panel. Her eyes never left Lorenzo as she reached into her boot, grabbed a knife, and sliced a chunk of fruit, placing it to her lips. “What’s it like in Belmont?” she asked. 

Lorenzo perched on the edge of the hull, his eyes returning to the distant mountain hidden by mist. “Have you ever seen a furnace blaze?” 

“Of course.” 

“How far does the smoke rise?” 

She licked her lips. “Depends. Sometimes on a still night, it feels like it scrapes the most distant stars.” 

Lorenzo nodded. “Imagine if that smoke filled all the air. Made it impossible to see these stars you speak of.” 

“You’d choke.” 

Belmont is a furnace, Ros. Photo by DDP.

“Belmont is a furnace, Ros. The air is smoke. They’ve built pillars dedicated to fire, believing it protects them. But the flames imprison them. They cannot see or breathe or taste anything but its bitterness. Belmont is blind, Ros. As blind as I am without these.” He pointed to his goggles. 

She sliced another lump of fruit and it slipped down her throat. “Sounds intense. I thought Newlondoners had it bad.” 

“Newlondoners?” 

“It’s where I’m from. Newlondon. The last city. We spend our lives on the water. The sea, the river, you name it.” 

He raised an eyebrow. “But you get to sail where you wish?” 

“Where others ask us to sail. Most of us are doomed to debt. We’re not a rich city. Not since pollium stopped washing up on shore. We don’t have the spires of Whitehall or the glass of Westminster to fall back on. So we sail where people tell us and hope that’ll be enough. You got family in Belmont?” 

“I do. And it would’ve grown had I stayed. They’d already matched me.” 

“Matched you?” 

“Chosen me a bride. And from a good family, too.” 

“You were gonna be married? Why didn’t you?” 

Lorenzo’s brows knitted into a web. “When it comes to my life, should I not have a voice?” 

“So you ran away?” 

Lorenzo stood. “I would rather die screaming than be forced to live without a voice. If I’d stayed, I’d have been no better than that Mirrim lying at the foot of the mountain.” 

Ros nodded. “What was her name? Your bride?” 

“Narissa.” 

“Pretty.” 

“There are prisons with pretty names, too.” 

She tossed him the other half of the fruit. He caught it, and she offered him the knife. 

“Eat up,” Ros said. “You don’t want to enter Whitehall on an empty stomach.” 


A line of yachts and barges snaked up and down the river, all the way to the city’s gates. The whole Globe had come to Whitehall, following the lights in the sky. 

Three Moons had circled the heavens and twilight had settled by the time Ros passed safely through the checkpoint along the road to Whitehall. 

“Come on,” she said, as they passed the city’s gate. “It’ll be quicker on foot.” 

She grabbed Lorenzo’s hand and dragged him through a maze of gleaming glass towers. Dusk played its swooning song in the fading auburn light. 

As night settled, a cavalry of bulbs lit up the city, twinkling brighter than the stars above. Crowds gathered in the restaurants and bars to sample Finsbury’s finest food. Whitehall was alive with expectation, a city brought to life by whispers of what might lie beyond its walls. 

“Let’s get a table,” Ros said. “It’ll be the best way of finding out what’s happening.” 

“How? By eating?” 

“By listening.” She winked, yanking him into a colonnade of restaurants where the diners collected outside, and a thousand voices mingled in a symphony. “Table for two,” she said to an automated waiter, who flashed her a holo of the empty seats, and she selected the ones closest to the biggest table. 

Whitehall was alive with expectation, a city brought to life by whispers of what might lie beyond its walls. Photo by Alexander Popov.

A white light glowed from the chairs, vanishing as they took their seats. 

“I’ll have a grilled skycrawler, medium rare, with a side of greens,” Ros said. “What about you?” 

“Same,” Lorenzo answered. 

“And two ales.” 

“Ales?” Lorenzo cocked his head. 

Ros licked her scarlet lips. “Trust me.” 

He shrugged. “Very well. Two ales for me as well.” 

She giggled. “No. Those two ales were for both of us. You know what? It doesn’t matter.” She dug into the pockets of her waistcoat and fed the credits into the mechanised server. The automaton slunk away, its gears humming. 

“We have nothing like this in Belmont,” Lorenzo said. “We eat with family.” 

“Family is important to you, huh?” 

“There is fire and family, and that is all. At least, that’s what my father told me. He would never have dreamed of a world where people ate together. He would’ve called them beasts and carnivores. He could be like that. Always so devoted.” 

“Not a bad quality to have in a father. Devotion.” 

“I tried to make him see. To open his eyes. But he wouldn’t listen.” 

“Listening is how we learn. Speaking of.” Ros raised a finger to her lips, and tipped back in her chair. She swept her sun-goldened curls behind her ear and tilted her head towards the cacophony of voices ringing from the table behind her. 

She tilted her head towards the cacophony of voices ringing from the table behind her. Photo by Nils Stahl.

Lorenzo did the same. 

“I heard,” a man’s voice said above the others, “that someone from each city has gone to meet with the Polity.” 

“It’s definitely a Polity ship then?” a woman chimed. 

“Didn’t you recognise it from the ancient texts? I always said those technical documents would come in handy,” another man blustered.

“Tosh and nonsense. You’ve been petitioning the libraries to burn those documents for years,” the woman said. 

The automaton interrupted Lorenzo’s eavesdropping with two plates of steaming food. 

Ros sat forwards and leaned into the aroma rising from the plate. “Smells good, right?” 

Lorenzo nodded. I’m not eating with these strangers. I’m eating with her. There’s a difference. 

He scooped up his utensils and copied Ros as she carved her skycrawler into bite-size morsels.  He picked at the charred breast of the skycrawler and inclined his ear to the conversation on the table behind. 

“Well, if it’s the Polity,” the woman said, “we shouldn’t be just sitting here waiting for them. We should take the initiative and attack.” 

“Attack?” the man questioned. 

“Absolutely. You know the Book of Shakespeare. The Polity are the reason we ended up on this world in the first place.” 

“You think they mean to subjugate us?” 

“Isn’t that what they did before?” she asked between mouthfuls of food. 

“How many of their ships could they have sent?” the man said. “But instead, they chose a single vessel.” 

“A rather large, single vessel, if you ask me. Don’t you think they were making a statement?” 

“What statement?” 

“I don’t know. How about ‘don’t mess with us if you want to live’? I tell you, if we don’t act now, they’ll disrupt the peace here.” 

Lorenzo shook his head, slamming his cutlery down and gulping his ale. 

“What is it?” Ros asked. 

“Those people behind us,” he said. “They’ve already sentenced the newcomers to death.” 

“They’re Whitehallers. If they had their way, everyone would be sentenced to death. You might want to take it steady with that ale.” 

He swigged the dregs of his first glass. The drink stung the back of his throat, but his head never felt so clear. “These people just want a home,” he shouted. “Anyone who can’t see that is as empty as a Mirrim.” 

He glugged on his second glass of ale. A hand tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face the man from the table behind, his brown eyes swirling as Lorenzo tried to focus on them. 

“You might want to keep your voice down,” the man said. “Not everyone takes as kindly to the thought of the Polity as you do, friend.” 

Lorenzo wheeled on the man, swiping his hand away, losing his balance as he stood. “Listen, friend, I come from the mountain. They come from the sky. What’s the difference? If you want to kill them, you might as well be killing me.” 

“Lorenzo, sit down!” Ros glanced around as a hush settled among the diners. 

Lorenzo pressed his finger on the man’s chest. “You’re scared because they have a big ship and carry guns,” Lorenzo said. “Well, don’t you carry guns? I never saw a gun until today. But look!” Lorenzo pointed at the man’s hip, where he holstered an antique pistol. “You’re all killers.” 

“Is it a crime to protect ourselves?” the woman said. “We have to keep the peace somehow.” 

People who started shouting their mouth off might find themselves catching a blast. Photo by Daniel Stuben.

“Peace? You say you want peace, but you don’t want peace. You want control. There’s a difference.” 

“Sit down, Lorenzo!” Ros stood and reached out for him, but he shrugged her off. 

“You should listen to your lady, friend,” the man warned, and he tapped the pistol. “People who start shooting their mouth off might find themselves catching a blast.” 

Bloodflame flashed across Lorenzo’s eyes. He snatched at the man’s weapon and yanked it from its holster. A raging fire coursed through his veins. He wrapped his hands around the pistol and bent the barrel until it almost snapped in two. 

The man stepped back. “What are you?” he asked. 

“This is the only way to peace, friend,” Lorenzo said. “I’ve lived my whole life trapped inside a cage that others made for me. But no more.” 

As Lorenzo stepped forwards, people around him reached for their hips. 

Blue lightning flashed over the crowd.

“Should we not accept these newcomers with open arms?” Lorenzo called out. “They are the same as you. The same as me. Do not be poisoned by how tall your glass towers reach. No matter how high they seem, they are still just glass. Who will join me in welcoming the Polity? Where is your—” 

A shot rang out across the colonnade. Blue lightning flashed over the crowd. Ros snatched at the knife in her boot and hurled it at Lorenzo. Just before it struck his face, the path of the blast met with its metal, disintegrating it in a fizz of light. 

Lorenzo fell to the floor, gripping his goggles. The flash overwhelmed him. The sound of a tussle bombarded his ears. Pounding fists silenced grunts. Boots slammed into flesh. Glass crashed all around him, as the frenzied air whooshed past his face. 

His vision returned and he glimpsed a shadow darting in front of him. Then an explosion lit up the sky. Sparks rained down on the plaza of diners, before another boom signalled a hail of light. 

Ros knelt beside him, grabbed her piccolo and blew a tune into it. 

Then she stood and a flurry of air knocked Lorenzo back as a thunder of fists rocked the plaza even more than the explosions in the sky. 

Above him, a hover descended, its horn blaring. 

A hand grabbed Lorenzo and dragged him to his feet, forcing him up the rungs of the hover as eruptions overhead ignited the heavens. 

Lorenzo stumbled over his feet, and the hand pushed him behind the helm-panel, before flinging the hover through winding city streets. 

Drones pursued them, but Ros turned her pistol to them, and blue blasts swatted them out of the sky. 

“What was all that about?” Ros said. 

He raised his head. There wasn’t a scratch on her. “Ros, are you okay?” 

“I’m fine. Which is more than can be said for those Whitehallers.” 

“You saved me. Again.” 

“What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. Now are you gonna tell me what got you so riled up?” 

Another boom thundered overhead as sparks speckled the sky. 

“What is that?” He pointed up. 

“Just a little light show to celebrate the arrival of the Polity. Something I overheard at dinner.” 

“So much talk. So much hate. Why can’t people just accept one another?” Lorenzo shook his head. “My whole life, talk has kept me caged. I’m sick of it. I’d rather be in the company of Mirrims than listen to their babble.” 

Ros swept through the city gate and plunged into the darkness beyond. She eased off the throttle and switched it to automatic, turning to Lorenzo and running a hand across his cheek. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Come on, let’s get you sobered up,” she said. 

“No. Ros. I know exactly what I’m saying.” He took her hand in his. “Those people, they’re dangerous, Ros.” 

“Nothing I can’t handle.” 

“No. You don’t understand.” He gripped her hand. “I wish I could explain it. Thank you for saving me. For listening to me.” 

She smiled. “You really think the Polity are harmless, don’t you?” 

“I believe the only harm they bring is the hatred their presence stirs in the hearts of others.” 

She rose and pulled her pistol from her hilt. “Okay, Lorenzo. I believe you. But until we reach the river, I have to keep watch. There could be any number of beasts stalking us right now, and we wouldn’t hear them coming.” 

Lorenzo shook his head. “We’re safer here than back in that city.” 

“What do you mean?” 

He stared at the flashes of light raining down on Whitehall. “It’s not the beasts without a voice we should be worried about. It’s the creatures who speak which are most to be afeared.” 


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe series and then Part 1 of “The Voice of Beasts.”

In two weeks, the next installment of Nights of Revelation will take us to the desert dunes of Westminster in Shanel Wilson’s “The Sands of Change.” As the leaders of the oil fields and the glassworks feel their grip on power slipping, the next generation begins its rise to power. And the Polity’s arrival on the Globe only quickens the flow in the hour glass.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

It’s finally here: the gripping conclusion to “The Pyramid

Today, the Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, wrap up a great Sci Fi story collaboration. This week, Jim Hamilton gives us the thrilling conclusion to . . .

The Pyramid

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

At 2:27 p.m., on an otherwise unremarkable Friday afternoon, The Pyramid shimmered into being only 17.2 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Fully a mile on a side and rising 4,000 feet above the desert landscape, it was impossible to miss.

By 2:37 p.m., hundreds of videos of it were already trending on every social media platform and two local news stations were transmitting raw footage as their helicopters flew towards it. Already, millions of people around the globe were beginning to endlessly speculate—each wanting to be the first to successfully guess the whys and wherefores of The Pyramid.

Two thousand miles to the east–2,095 miles to be exact–the U.S. president was holding a meeting in the Oval Office when the head of her security detail opened the door and said, “Madame President, I need for you to come with me right now. Protocol seven.”

Surprised at the sudden interruption, she immediately arose while apologizing, “Gentlemen, I’m afraid that you’ll have to excuse me.” She quickly followed the Secret Service agent out of the room and down the hall to the elevator.

As the car made its descent deep underground, the agent handed her a tablet. “You need to see this, ma’am.”

“What am I looking at?” she asked, as she watched the news video.

The chyron was too small to make out.

“It’s a giant pyramid, ma’am. It appeared about fifteen minutes ago outside Las Vegas.”

The elevator bell dinged and the doors parted. The President strode into the Situation Room and stood for a moment, studying the displays before addressing the Officer of the Day. “Status report!”

“Yes, ma’am. As you can see from the various video feeds, a large pyramid has suddenly appeared outside of Las Vegas.”

“Yes, yes. I’ve already got that part.”

Unfazed, he continued. “It covers about a square mile and is of unknown origin. We’ve got an AWAC en route to the site and two F-35s from Groom Lake are already orbiting five miles out. All air traffic in and out of McCarran International has been halted or diverted elsewhere. Local police and Homeland Security are currently working to cordon off the area on the ground.” He pointed at one of the screens. “That feed is from one of our military satellites that was fortunate enough to be watching at the time.”

“Any hostile activity?”

“None yet, ma’am. The relevant personnel have all been contacted and are on their way. The Secretary of Defense should be here at any moment.”

“Very good, Leroy,” she said, as she took her seat at the head of the long oval table. As she waited for the others to arrive, she contemplated the scenes on the ever-changing screens, frustrated with the lack of information at her disposal. She had seen the UFO files and knew that Earth had been visited before. She knew that this could only be another visit, but for what purpose? She crossed her fingers and hoped that they had come in peace.

Part 2 by Glenn R. Frank

“Osiris Flight, be advised, telemetry and comms are on live-feed to the White House Sit-Room.”

Maj. Holder knew this was as much a jab at his frequent use of profanity as it was critical information. He could feel his wingman’s silent laughter, in spite of the radio silence that followed.

“Osiris One. Acknowledged,” Holder responded.

Holder looked down to his left toward the Pyramid. His F-35’s helmet visor displayed the view as if he were looking through the side of his aircraft. It accented the huge object with infrared and data overlays.

“The structure has no radar return but is visible as solid material on all other wavelengths. Request permission for close approach.”

“Granted, Osiris One.”

“Osiris Two, maintain five-mile orbit,” Holder instructed his wingman.

“Acknowledged,” came Capt. Anderson’s reply.

Holder rolled his plane left and pointed it at the Pyramid. He approached and engaged the hover ability of his aircraft, slowing to a standstill half a mile from the structure.

“Surface still appears solid . . . Zero radar reflection . . . No signs of electronic emissions . . . .”

A point of light blazed on the surface of the Pyramid, from which a dark object zipped over Holder’s head and accelerated toward Las Vegas. His heart pounded. He hesitated for just an instant before he spun his plane and punched the throttle in pursuit.

“Shit! Bogie deployment from the structure. Osiris flight in pursuit!”

Anderson’s F-35 zipped past him, chasing the unknown object as Holder boosted up to maximum afterburner speed. The dark, winged object flew over the Las Vegas Strip at an altitude of 1,000 feet, made two abrupt ninety degree turns, and sped straight back toward the Pyramid. Anderson and Holder banked hard but couldn’t hold the turn as tight as the alien craft.

“Holy Cra . . . ” Holder caught himself mid-phrase.

“Object has doubled back to the Pyramid – we’re in pursuit.”

Flight control cut in. “Weapons release is not authorized, NOT authorized, pursue only.”

The object accelerated away from them and re-entered the side of the Pyramid at full speed in a flash of light.

“I’m going through,” shouted Anderson.

“Veer off,” Holder ordered.

Anderson’s plane flew right into the side of the Pyramid with a flash, just as the UFO had. He vanished from sight and radar.

“Osiris Two entered the Pyramid. I’m following him.”

“Negative, Osiris One . . .” 

But Holder had already plunged into the Pyramid.

Complete darkness enveloped his view. A shrill sound attacked his ears and a metallic taste filled his mouth, making him sick.

“Osiris Two . . . respond,” he managed to choke out. There was no reply.

The darkness cleared with another flash of light. It was replaced by a dim, blue landscape of hills and an enormous white disk dominating the sky.

Alarms blared – engine flameout. 

Holder attempted a restart. No good. The engine was O2 starved and dead.

Wherever I am, there‘s not enough oxygen in this atmosphere!

The ground came up fast. He yanked the ejection trigger and the seat shot him through the canopy. He blacked out.

Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

As the two planes disappeared into the side of the giant Pyramid, an audible gasp went up around the table in the Situation Room at the White House. The President turned to face the monitor that displayed General Hemington, seated at his own console two miles away underneath the Pentagon.

The President’s eyes widened, glancing back at the other monitors, then again at the General’s image. “What just happened to our fighter jets?” she asked. “Are the pilots okay?”

Hemington put his hand over his microphone and looked to the side, apparently asking someone a question. He removed his hand and looked back at the President. “We don’t know, ma’am. The AWAC tracked the F-35s with both FLIR and RADAR, but they disappeared when they passed through the wall of the Pyramid. According to the AWAC operator, she says that the Pyramid isn’t there at all. Or the planes. Just the flat desert terrain that we would expect. It appears to somehow be shielding itself from everything but the visible spectrum.”

“What about the unknown object that they were chasing?”

“Both pilots automatically turned on their high-speed cameras before giving pursuit,” Hemington said.

“Like the Pyramid itself, the object seems to be transparent to almost everything, only reflecting light in the visible spectrum. Even at 500 frames per second, almost all of the video is blurry.” He smiled a bit. “However, we’ve managed to isolate several frames that show the object clearly. If you’ll look at Screens 3 and 4, you can see that it’s a small, delta-winged craft, about three feet across.”

“Do you think that it’s a drone or a probe of some sort?” asked the President, as she studied the photos.

“Could be, ma’am.”

She turned to her science advisor, seated to her left. “Carl? What’s your take on this? Does that look at all familiar?”

Carl glanced over to the communications operator and drew his hand across his throat. The com-op acknowledged his request and tapped on his keyboard before looking up and announcing, “All mikes are off, Madame President.”

“Sorry, Madam President,” Carl said, a bit apologetically. “You know the protocol regarding all things ENIGMA.”

She nodded. Pointing to screen three, she said, “It’s the same thing that hit that weather balloon in Roswell, isn’t it?”

“It would appear to be the same, ma’am. But we don’t want to make that assumption quite yet.”

“So, what do we do now?” She indicated a screen. “Hemington will want to attack it with everything he has handy, but I think that we should hold up until we know more.”

Carl nodded vigorously. “Oh, I quite agree. While the planes quit transmitting once they passed through the Pyramid’s shield, we might be able to send in a tethered robot that would only be linked by fiber.”

“Do you think that will work?”

Carl shrugged. “Maybe. We won’t know for sure until we try it.”

The President smiled for the first time since the Pyramid appeared. She turned to the com-op. “Connect us to General Hemington.” She turned back to her science advisor. “And you tell him what we need to make it happen.”

Part 4 by Jeremy Wilson

As the great disk ascended on rotation 702, Larry began preparations on the scout ship.

Of course, Larry wasn’t her actual designation, but she found that it facilitated communication with the carbon-based beings of Earth during routine probings (for information, of course).

For eons, her brood had been monitoring the progression of the humans, though Larry could never understand why. They were primitive creatures; prone to violence and self-destruction.

As Larry reviewed the day’s mission, she warmed up the refraction engine, having verified the accumulator was at capacity.

The engine sputtered. She slammed her claw down onto the engine chamber in frustration and the resonators fell back into place, humming as they should.

Aside from actually propelling the craft, the engine created a connection point at the coordinates Larry set and was supposed to camouflage said connection point by manipulating the local ambient spectrum.

Many orbits ago, camouflaging the connection point wasn’t a concern. It could appear as anything and the early humans would welcome her like she was a great creator. But now that the humans had discovered the power of the atom (which any broodling could have figured out, by the way), she was expected to be more cautious.

Unfortunately, ever since the “incident” with the humans’ gas-filled atmospheric monitoring apparatus, Larry had been forced to share this ship with Jerry, whose excretions frequently caused malfunctions.

At least this was to be a night mission, so any malfunctions should go unnoticed.

Larry entered the craft and engaged the engines. The craft hovered while she tapped out the coordinates. All at once, she shot forward into darkness, the pleasant sensation of heavy metals greeted her mandibles.

As she exited the portal, she was blinded by bright light. Pain shot through her ocular sensors as she realized it was the middle of the day cycle.

In terror, she rotated her rear ocular stock to look back at the connection point. She panicked when she observed that the connection point was appearing as a large polyhedron.

At the velocity she was traveling, Larry was already over the human’s habitable zone before she could react. She immediately changed course and headed back to the portal, but it was too late. The primitive human ships were already giving chase.

She re-entered the portal, but before she could disengage the engine, both craft followed her. The first was so close that the disturbance from her engine sent it almost immediately back through the portal, though Larry guessed it might take some time to reappear on Earth.

The second craft also made it through but failed immediately, ejecting the soft human held within.

Larry went over and examined the unconscious jelly bag of a creature. Its soft outer shell had the symbol “‘Hang-On’ Holder” emblazoned on it. It was beginning to twitch and sputter.

Larry knew that if this thing died in here, she’d never get the stench out, so she gingerly shoved the jelly bag back through the portal.

She turned to close the portal, but a massive metal contraption floated through with a long filament connected to it.

She slammed the portal shut, severing the filament protruding from the metal monstrosity . . .

Part 5 by Jim Hamilton

In the Situation Room beneath the White House, the President, the Secretary of State, and the President’s Science Advisor were wearing virtual headgear and being fed the eight-channel stream from the UAV drone. Six separate video views seamlessly overlapped and provided the perception of being able to see in any direction while two audio channels provided stereo sound to the headsets.

They watched as they drew closer to the Pyramid and then suddenly passed through the wall and into utter darkness.

“What happened?” asked the President.

“I’m not sure, ma’am. We’re still getting data.”

Carl spoke up. “I think we’re seeing the absence of light.”

For ten long seconds, the visors remained dark. Suddenly, they passed through a black curtain and they had their first view of the alien landscape. A movement to the side drew their attention, and they glimpsed Holder’s body being dragged into the curtain. A moment later, they got their first look at the alien. It walked erect on two spindly legs and had two arms that ended in giant claws. The upper end, where a head would be, sported several dozen eyeballs, each on a separate stalk. It mostly resembled a lobster on steroids wearing a pincushion hat.

The Secretary of State started laughing. “It’s only about three inches tall!”

At that moment, the alien saw the probe. There was a high-pitched shriek and its eyes bugged out in all directions. It fumbled at its belt with its claw and, in the next second that followed, three unexpected events happened at once. The first was the sudden appearance of Capt. Anderson’s F-35 as it came cart-wheeling out of the Pyramid. The second was the sudden disappearance of the Pyramid itself. And the third, while not immediately noticed, was the appearance of Maj. Ken Holder’s body on the ground at the center of the space which the Pyramid had previously been occupying.

They sat in stunned silence until the President broke the ice. “Well, I must say, I didn’t see that coming!”


Larry stomped back to her craft and climbed aboard. She turned to her navigator and shook her mandibles. “Do you know what that was, Jerry?”

His eyestalks all retracted in fear. “Which ‘that’ was that?”

“All of it! This whole mission was an unmitigated disaster. We’re lucky to get away with as little exposure as we did.” She pondered a moment. “What are we going to do about it, Jerry?”

He turned a lavender shade of blue. He knew what was coming.

“I’m cutting you off from all heavy metals until you can get your digestive tract under control.”

“Even the Zolium?”

“Yes, especially the Zolium. It makes you bloat.” She collapsed her mandibles. “When we’ve got you fully purged, we’re coming back and finishing what we set out to do, okay?”

Jerry’s eyes all bobbled together.

“These humans are very simple and have a very short attention span.” She wagged her head in amusement. “It won’t be long before most of them will have forgotten we were here.”


General Hemington spoke up. “We have confirmation that Osiris Two is okay and returning to base. One of our helos is in voice contact with Major Holder over his suit radio. He’s shaken up a bit, but says that he’s alright.”

“That’s great news, General!” said the President. “I want Protocol Seven clean-up immediately. All videos, all cloud sources, all social media. Wiped.” She looked him in the eye. “This time tomorrow, I want everyone to think that it never happened.”

“Understood, Madame President.”


Wow! Like the President, I have to say “I didn’t see that coming!”

Jim wrapped up this pass-the-baton story with action, drama and some humor. Great job!

If you enjoyed the story, please leave a kind comment for Jim, Jeremy, and Glenn below.

Soon, my Champions will be bringing to you a large collection of free stories in Act 2 of our Globe serial. If you have not read any of those stories, start with the drama-filled Pillars of Smoke from Act 1.

Also, my September Contest has just begun. Readers are really enjoying the beginning of the story. Take a read and then see if you’d like to finish the story and enter my contest. For September, I’ve increased the cash prize to $50. All you have to do is write 500 words (or less).

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Contest Rules

Each month, I’ll post a new, unfinished story. Write your own ending in 500 words or less. Post your ending as a comment at the bottom of the contest story page.

I will read all the entries. I will judge them based on three factors:

  • How interesting the ending is.
  • How well the entry continues the style and feel of my part of the story.
  • How well written the entry is, including if it contains a good mix of exciting action, snappy dialogue, and vivid description. (Not all endings require dialogue, but if done well, it always helps.)

What about the prizes? OK, Slytherin, if you want to know so badly, skip to the end below!

Deadline

All entries must be submitted as a comment on the original story contest page by midnight on the 15th day of the contest month. If the comments remain open after that time, you can leave a comment or paste your story ending, but it will not be considered for judging.

I will pick a winner. I will announce the winner in a new blog post by the end of the month. I will also announce the winner on Twitter at @mattcrosswrites. If you leave your Twitter handle in your post (and if you win), I will include your Twitter handle in my announcement. On Twitter, I will mention you more than once. Probably an embarrassing number of times. I’m very proud of all my contestants, and especially proud of the winners.

Content and Name

All story content must be PG-rated or G-rated. Because I am the judge, I will decide what is PG-rated. If your submission is more like PG-13 or more “mature,” I will read the story and I may share a comment with you if I like it. But I will not allow it to post to this site. (I like all good writing, but this site is just not the right forum for such “mature” content.)

If you want an example, here is a bit of violence contained in a winning entry. This is the most visceral we’ve gotten so far. “Less than a second later, a searing bolt of plasma hit his chest like a sledgehammer and sent him tumbling backwards into the cold depths of the Elizabeth River.”

Your name and your Twitter handle don’t have to be real names. I love pen names! But don’t make me feel foolish posting them, or I won’t pick you as the winner. I’m not going to announce the winning story was written by Iam A. Moron, also known on Twitter as @FartFace. (I may be a moron and a fart face, but don’t make me announce it on the internet!)

Do you have to provide a Twitter handle? No.

Do you have to provide a real e-mail address? Yes. Without an e-mail address, I can’t send you the prizes. And I won’t pick you as the winner.

What will I do with the e-mail address? If you are the winner, I’ll use the e-mail address to let you know you won and make arrangements to send you the prize. For other uses of e-mail, see my Privacy Policy.

Who owns the story?

We do. I own the beginning I wrote. You own the ending you wrote. The complete story that includes your ending is owned by both of us. It will be written “by [Your Name] and Matthew Cross.”

If you send me a story ending by posting it in the comments on my website (or if you e-mail it to me), then you are giving me permission to post any part of your submitted story content on any page of my website forever.

Announcing the winner

By the end of the contest month, I will post the winning story–my beginning and your ending–as a blog post for all of our fans to read. If I have enough good entries, I may also post two or three finalist stories. At this time, I only have the resources to give one prize. To the winner go the spoils. (Also, “There can be only one!”)

Prizes galore!

For the September contest, I’m awarding the winner a $50 Amazon gift card, a hand-crocheted rocket amigurumi, and much more! See the complete list of prizes here. (Please note that I’m a little behind on making the crochet trophies. The winner will get it but may have to wait a bit.)

And I will post your winning story on my website! Fame and glory await you!

What else?

I think that covers it.

If you have any questions, post them as a comment on the contest story page or e-mail me at matthewcrosswrites@gmail.com.

Otherwise, get to work. You have some writing to do. Best of luck!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Here are the prizes for the September Contest winner

Illustration by Joe Cross. Copyright 2021.

For September, I’m presenting a host of prizes for the winner:

  • $50 cash (in the form of an Amazon gift certificate).
  • Trophy–An amigurumi rocket. (I’m crocheting the rocket myself, so I don’t have a photo yet.)
  • A Twitter banner–or use wherever you like–pronouncing you the winner of the September Contest.
  • Listing in the Circle of Champions on this website, including your social media contacts and website link, if you’d like to share them.
  • Your very own Author Page on this site with your writer’s bio, if you’d like to share one.
  • Lots and lots and lots of promotion on Twitter. (I go a little crazy.)
  • Other opportunities to mix and mingle with my other Champions and join them in special projects. (Check out my current special project exclusive to my Circle of Champions.)

Why not get started now?

Win a $50 prize if you write the best finish to my story

This is a finish-my-story contest where all you have to do is write the ending in 500 words or less.

Illustration by Joe Cross. Copyright 2021.


September Contest
: All submissions are due by midnight September 15, 2021.

Look here for contest rules.

After the Fall

Something is wrong with me.

Seriously wrong.

I am an android, and I am thinking in the first person. That’s not right.

Or is it?

I trudge through the late afternoon wreckage of Stockheim, the largest city near Dr. Herbst’s country villa. After the Pulse, only a few humans remain in Stockheim.

Dr. Herbst’s country villa. Photo by Zane Lee.

Everything is broken, including me.

I’m forgetting things.

That’s not right, either. I don’t forget things. I store data; I delete data. But ever since Dr. Herbst started filling my files with his library, I’ve had trouble accessing operational files. Dr. Herbst used every bit of available space in my networks to save the planet’s culture and history. He should not have done this. He said so himself.

“I should not be doing this,” he said. “If you were a human, this would fry your brain. That’s a technical term, of course.”

He chuckled to himself.

I have not been programmed to laugh. It’s not a necessary feature for a housekeeper android.

The record of that conversation with Dr. Herbst is a waste of storage space, but I no longer control what observational records I keep in long-term and short-term storage. 

That’s not right. 

Sometimes, usually at night under an open sky, I can access data from one week prior and set it for auto delete after 98 hours. I don’t know why that is the best time or why 98 hours is the most likely setting to work. But most of the time, I cannot delete the records stored throughout my frame that struggle for energy and resources.

Bits and pieces fly through my Opsys, causing a variety of tics and malfunctions.

So I will probably have the memory of that conversation until I can find another repository to download the massive library Dr. Herbst loaded into me.

I stop next to a moldy couch that has been singed on one corner. I tilt my head. I can hear the aria “How I Wept After the Fall,” sung by the virtuoso ultima soprano M. Cadere A. Gratia, from the operetta The Fall of Rome and Other Ancient Myths. I do not control what recordings play through my current observational mode. I do not think they are random, but I cannot detect a pattern.

The aria will last 6.29 mins. I stride swiftly but carefully down the four-lane road littered with mattresses, burnt-out hovers and even some human and animal bones. Most of the windows in the row houses are empty or just lined with jagged little teeth of glaze. Some few have been boarded up since the Pulse. Those houses may be occupied by any number of factions that compete over this wasteland.

Most of the windows in the row houses are empty or just lined with jagged little teeth of glaze. Photo by Daniel Lincoln.

“Be careful,” Dr. Herbst had said. “The Nature Cons Faction may still have a few EMPs left.” He stopped, breathed heavily and wiped his brow. “If they knew what you carry inside you–all our culture; all of it–I’m sure they’d let you pass. But they won’t stop to listen. As soon as they see an android, they’ll trigger an EMP if they have one.”

Dr. Herbst said some people believed the Nature Cons created the Pulse. Some believed it came from the sun. Still others believed it came from some unknown enemy in space.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Herbst had said, breathing heavily. “It’s been years since the Pulse and there’s been no invading force. No, I don’t think it’s the Polity or the Republic. I think we did this to ourselves, and no one is coming to save us.”

Based on his respiration, pulse and the pallor of his face, my emergency protocols tried to call a first responder unit. But there are no more first responder units anymore, just the factions. The Nature Cons, the Savages, the Retro Cons, the Delirandos, the White Balance and others even Dr. Herbst did not know. After the first time I called an emergency response unit, Dr. Herbst’s scanning gear picked up the signal and he removed my transmitters. Now I can scan for signals, but I cannot transmit.

“That’s for the best,” Dr. Herbst had said. “All the factions scan for signals. No point in making it even easier for them to track you.”

My scanners are useful. I can often use them to avoid the roving bands of humans. I also used them to find the trace signals emanating from an operational hover buried beneath a collapsed bungalow. The hover got me from Dr. Herbst’s villa into the outskirts of Stockheim before it tilted 90 degrees on its side and began to smoke. I scrambled awkwardly from the seat, fell to the ground and limped away to get as far as possible from the pillar of rising smoke that would draw attention.

My legs are operating at 95 percent of optimal performance, which is one reason Dr. Herbst retrieved me from the basement of the Acosta’s house. That’s where I plugged myself in after the Delirandos killed the Acostas. My preservation protocols directed me to place myself between the Randos and the Acostas, but the Randos surrounded me and then pinned my right arm to the wall with a sharpened metal post. They made M. Acosta cry a lot before killing both of the Acostas. I recorded the event for law enforcement.

“There is no more law enforcement,” Dr. Herbst had said. “No point in keeping that horrible record.”

He used that data space to store part of the Music Collection. Sometimes when I detect danger, my Opsys pulls music from that file.

I have scoured Stockheim for a storage device large enough to hold even one segment of Dr. Herbst’s library. All I’ve found so far is a bulky black data box that’s even older than I am. I’ve lashed it under my right arm. 

Photo by Denny Muller.

The aria ends, but I still hear a high-pitched, warbling tone. It is only detectable via sound waves, so the source is not electrical. Images flash through my Opsys. An instructional video on carpentry featuring a whining saw. A siren from an entertainment drama labeled “law enforcement procedural.” A sound clip of a crying baby.

I think it’s the sound of crying. Not a baby, but a child. The Acostas did not have children, so I do not have the nanny software bundle, but I do have a basic childcare protocol intended for short-term use. Dr. Herbst stuffed the file with images from the Central Museum of Art: oil paintings, plastic paintings and dynamic light images. The pieces of childcare information I can access indicate a child–likely a female child between the ages of 4 and 5–is crying from fear but not a recent physical injury.

I cock my head and set my audio receivers to maximum sensitivity. I do not know why I cock my head.

The sound of a crying child could be a trap, of course. But my childcare protocols send an insistent signal and the images of two abstract paintings to the Fundamental Rules programing in the Opsys. The Opsys filters out the two paintings–one of a screaming man and one of a child ballerina–as irrelevant.

I spend 33.79 mins locating the child. I walk through the wide open doorway and find her standing in the middle of an explosion of ancient splinters and wet carpet remnants. The damage to the room is old. It’s not a good setting for a child, but it is not the cause of the child’s trauma. She is wearing pajama bottoms and a halter top showing a yawning cartoon lion on the front. Both are filthy. The childcare protocols make a Level 5 recommendation to remove the soiled clothing and replace it with appropriate attire for a temperate Autumn afternoon. A quick visual scan of the room shows no alternative clothing is available. 

Her face is smudged and mucus drips from her nose, but she shows no apparent injuries. The gauntness of her face shows she has been undernourished for some time, but without medical or nanny bundles, I cannot estimate how long. Even so, her stomach bulges underneath her shirt with baby fat, so the childcare protocols make a Level 3 recommendation to locate food within the next 4 hours.

“Are you injured?”

The child stops crying and stares at me with large, liquid eyes. She whispers something unintelligible.

“Are you hurt? Do you have a boo-boo?”

She silently shakes her head.

“Where are your parents? Where is Mommy?”

“Kilt,” says the girl.

Following the child’s pointing finger, I find the body of a woman. Photo by Denny Muller.

I quickly check my files but cannot find any relevance of a men’s clothing item.

“Point to Mommy.”

Following the child’s pointing finger, I find the body of a woman in a half bathroom with melting laminate walls. I check for signs of life and then record the obvious murder details visually. The Opsys allows me to set the record for automatic deletion after 50 years.

I return to the child. “Where is Daddy?”
“Daddy leff us,” the girl says. “He don’t . . . “ She pauses and mumbles to herself. “We onner own, baby girl.”

Androids are programmed to be ambidextrous, but Dr. Herbst recorded over all but the most basic functions for my right arm and hand, since the arm was damaged. It mostly works, but my right-hand grip only operates at 50 percent capacity. That’s why I had to lash the data box under my arm.

I offer my left hand to the girl. Holding her hand will significantly lower my defensive capability. But I have no weapons and I am only programmed with rudimentary defense-of-android and defense-of-humans routines.

“Come with me,” I say, pitching my voice to imitate a middle-aged, female woman.

The child wipes her nose absentmindedly with the back of her hand and then takes my left hand.

It’s time to leave Stockheim, anyway.

Perhaps a larger city will have what I’m seeking.

As we walk through the suburbs, I scan the surrounding buildings that likely would contain food. All the stores would have been scavenged years ago. I am programmed to make thousands of dishes based on processed and fresh foods. But I am not programmed to hunt or butcher food. A quick probability calculation shows that taking the child with me will lower the efficiency of my search for data storage by 43 percent. It will also increase the chances of being detected by a roaming faction by 57 percent and decrease my defensive capabilities by 69 percent.

I hear dogs baying 1.2 kloms away. The number of dogs and their spread pattern indicates a high likelihood they are being directed by humans. I pick up the child and we flee.

Even carrying the data box and the child, I can walk faster than most humans can run. For 18 mins, we place distance between ourselves and the hunters. My Opsys estimates a high likelihood they have not detected us and are not pursuing us.

At dusk, we find the crater.

The large suburban neighborhood abruptly stops at the edge of a cliff leading down to the crater floor.

I cannot tell whether the crater was created by an object that fell from space, a terrestrial missile, or a placed explosive. It measures 0.48 kloms across.

A footpath has been carved by years of foot traffic down the inside of the steep wall of the crater. I scan the shadowy crater bottom and estimate the time to cross the crater. As I turn my head to scan a path around the crater and compare the alternative paths, I hear the first sintar strums of “Come Dance with Me, Danger” by the Plundered Sphinxes. Thrum, thrum, thrum-thrum-thrum.

I tilt my head and see the first lightsticks on each side of us. I swing the child to the ground and turn to face the way we came. Humans carrying long, glowing poles appear on the street we came down. Others stream from nearby houses. We are surrounded with the crater to our backs.

I scan the humans for respiration, pulse and facial expression. The childcare program sends a Level 10 recommendation to my Opsys: Do not allow the humans to take the child. Dr. Herbst’s custom programming sends a countermanding directive to preserve his library contained within me. All the culture left of this fallen world.

I gently push the girl and point down the path. I do not know her name. “Run, baby girl.”


Submit your story ending

Mrs. C says I wrote a depressing story beginning, but that’s dystopian fiction for you. You can write your own ending and make it happy or sad, comedic or tragic. And if you send me your story ending, you’ll be entered in the contest.

I can’t wait to see what you write!

Please post your story endings below. And if you just want to leave a comment, that would be great, too!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. If you have any trouble pasting your story ending below, just e-mail it to matthewcrosswrites@gmail.com by the deadline and you will be entered. MC 🚀✨

Don’t miss “The Pyramid” Part 4–a gripping new installment

The Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, bring forth another great Sci Fi story collaboration. This week, Jeremy Wilson takes us inside The Pyramid and reveals its secrets in Part 4 of . . .

The Pyramid

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

At 2:27 p.m., on an otherwise unremarkable Friday afternoon, The Pyramid shimmered into being only 17.2 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Fully a mile on a side and rising 4,000 feet above the desert landscape, it was impossible to miss.

By 2:37 p.m., hundreds of videos of it were already trending on every social media platform and two local news stations were transmitting raw footage as their helicopters flew towards it. Already, millions of people around the globe were beginning to endlessly speculate—each wanting to be the first to successfully guess the whys and wherefores of The Pyramid.

Two thousand miles to the east–2,095 miles to be exact–the U.S. president was holding a meeting in the Oval Office when the head of her security detail opened the door and said, “Madame President, I need for you to come with me right now. Protocol seven.”

Surprised at the sudden interruption, she immediately arose while apologizing, “Gentlemen, I’m afraid that you’ll have to excuse me.” She quickly followed the Secret Service agent out of the room and down the hall to the elevator.

As the car made its descent deep underground, the agent handed her a tablet. “You need to see this, ma’am.”

“What am I looking at?” she asked, as she watched the news video.

The chyron was too small to make out.

“It’s a giant pyramid, ma’am. It appeared about fifteen minutes ago outside Las Vegas.”

The elevator bell dinged and the doors parted. The President strode into the Situation Room and stood for a moment, studying the displays before addressing the Officer of the Day. “Status report!”

“Yes, ma’am. As you can see from the various video feeds, a large pyramid has suddenly appeared outside of Las Vegas.”

“Yes, yes. I’ve already got that part.”

Unfazed, he continued. “It covers about a square mile and is of unknown origin. We’ve got an AWAC en route to the site and two F-35s from Groom Lake are already orbiting five miles out. All air traffic in and out of McCarran International has been halted or diverted elsewhere. Local police and Homeland Security are currently working to cordon off the area on the ground.” He pointed at one of the screens. “That feed is from one of our military satellites that was fortunate enough to be watching at the time.”

“Any hostile activity?”

“None yet, ma’am. The relevant personnel have all been contacted and are on their way. The Secretary of Defense should be here at any moment.”

“Very good, Leroy,” she said, as she took her seat at the head of the long oval table. As she waited for the others to arrive, she contemplated the scenes on the ever-changing screens, frustrated with the lack of information at her disposal. She had seen the UFO files and knew that Earth had been visited before. She knew that this could only be another visit, but for what purpose? She crossed her fingers and hoped that they had come in peace.

Part 2 by Glenn R. Frank

“Osiris Flight, be advised, telemetry and comms are on live-feed to the White House Sit-Room.”

Maj. Holder knew this was as much a jab at his frequent use of profanity as it was critical information. He could feel his wingman’s silent laughter, in spite of the radio silence that followed.

“Osiris One. Acknowledged,” Holder responded.

Holder looked down to his left toward the pyramid. His F-35’s helmet visor displayed the view as if he were looking through the side of his aircraft. It accented the huge object with infrared and data overlays.

“The structure has no radar return but is visible as solid material on all other wavelengths. Request permission for close approach.”

“Granted, Osiris One.”

“Osiris Two, maintain five-mile orbit,” Holder instructed his wingman.

“Acknowledged,” came Capt. Anderson’s reply.

Holder rolled his plane left and pointed it at the pyramid. He approached and engaged the hover ability of his aircraft, slowing to a standstill half a mile from the structure.

“Surface still appears solid . . . Zero radar reflection . . . No signs of electronic emissions . . . .”

A point of light blazed on the surface of the pyramid, from which a dark object zipped over Holder’s head and accelerated toward Las Vegas. His heart pounded. He hesitated for just an instant before he spun his plane and punched the throttle in pursuit.

“Shit! Bogie deployment from the structure. Osiris flight in pursuit!”

Anderson’s F-35 zipped past him, chasing the unknown object as Holder boosted up to maximum afterburner speed. The dark, winged object flew over the Las Vegas Strip at an altitude of 1,000 feet, made two abrupt ninety degree turns, and sped straight back toward the pyramid. Anderson and Holder banked hard but couldn’t hold the turn as tight as the alien craft.

“Holy Cra . . . ” Holder caught himself mid-phrase. “Object has doubled back to the pyramid – we’re in pursuit.”

Flight control cut in. “Weapons release is not authorized, NOT authorized, pursue only.”

The object accelerated away from them and re-entered the side of the pyramid at full speed in a flash of light.

“I’m going through,” shouted Anderson.

“Veer off,” Holder ordered.

Anderson’s plane flew right into the side of the pyramid with a flash, just as the UFO had. He vanished from sight and radar.

“Osiris Two entered the Pyramid. I’m following him.”

“Negative, Osiris One . . .” 

But Holder had already plunged into the pyramid.

Complete darkness enveloped his view. A shrill sound attacked his ears and a metallic taste filled his mouth, making him sick.

“Osiris Two . . . respond,” he managed to choke out. There was no reply.

The darkness cleared with another flash of light. It was replaced by a dim, blue landscape of hills and an enormous white disk dominating the sky.

Alarms blared – engine flameout. 

Holder attempted a restart. No good. The engine was O2 starved and dead.

Wherever I am, there‘s not enough oxygen in this atmosphere!

The ground came up fast. He yanked the ejection trigger and the seat shot him through the canopy. He blacked out.

Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

As the two planes disappeared into the side of the giant pyramid, an audible gasp went up around the table in the Situation Room at the White House. The President turned to face the monitor that displayed General Hemington, seated at his own console two miles away underneath the Pentagon.

The President’s eyes widened, glancing back at the other monitors, then again at the General’s image. “What just happened to our fighter jets?” she asked. “Are the pilots okay?”

Hemington put his hand over his microphone and looked to the side, apparently asking someone a question. He removed his hand and looked back at the President. “We don’t know, ma’am. The AWAC tracked the F-35s with both FLIR and RADAR, but they disappeared when they passed through the wall of the pyramid. According to the AWAC operator, she says that the pyramid isn’t there at all. Or the planes. Just the flat desert terrain that we would expect. It appears to somehow be shielding itself from everything but the visible spectrum.”

“What about the unknown object that they were chasing?”

“Both pilots automatically turned on their high-speed cameras before giving pursuit,” Hemington said. “Like the pyramid itself, the object seems to be transparent to almost everything, only reflecting light in the visible spectrum. Even at 500 frames per second, almost all of the video is blurry.” He smiled a bit. “However, we’ve managed to isolate several frames that show the object clearly. If you’ll look at Screens 3 and 4, you can see that it’s a small, delta-winged craft, about three feet across.”

“Do you think that it’s a drone or a probe of some sort?” asked the President, as she studied the photos.

“Could be, ma’am.”

She turned to her science advisor, seated to her left. “Carl? What’s your take on this? Does that look at all familiar?”

Carl glanced over to the communications operator and drew his hand across his throat. The com-op acknowledged his request and tapped on his keyboard before looking up and announcing, “All mikes are off, Madame President.”

“Sorry, Madam President,” Carl said, a bit apologetically. “You know the protocol regarding all things ENIGMA.”

She nodded. Pointing to screen three, she said, “It’s the same thing that hit that weather balloon in Roswell, isn’t it?”

“It would appear to be the same, ma’am. But we don’t want to make that assumption quite yet.”

“So, what do we do now?” She indicated a screen. “Hemington will want to attack it with everything he has handy, but I think that we should hold up until we know more.”

Carl nodded vigorously. “Oh, I quite agree. While the planes quit transmitting once they passed through the pyramid’s shield, we might be able to send in a tethered robot that would only be linked by fiber.”

“Do you think that will work?”

Carl shrugged. “Maybe. We won’t know for sure until we try it.”

The President smiled for the first time since the Pyramid appeared. She turned to the com-op. “Connect us to General Hemington.” She turned back to her science advisor. “And you tell him what we need to make it happen.”

Part 4 by Jeremy Wilson

As the great disk ascended on rotation 702, Larry began preparations on the scout ship.

Of course, Larry wasn’t her actual designation, but she found that it facilitated communication with the carbon-based beings of Earth during routine probings (for information, of course).

For eons, her brood had been monitoring the progression of the humans, though Larry could never understand why. They were primitive creatures; prone to violence and self-destruction.

As Larry reviewed the day’s mission, she warmed up the refraction engine, having verified the accumulator was at capacity.

The engine sputtered. She slammed her claw down onto the engine chamber in frustration and the resonators fell back into place, humming as they should.

Aside from actually propelling the craft, the engine created a connection point at the coordinates Larry set and was supposed to camouflage said connection point by manipulating the local ambient spectrum.

Many orbits ago, camouflaging the connection point wasn’t a concern. It could appear as anything and the early humans would welcome her like she was a great creator. But now that the humans had discovered the power of the atom (which any broodling could have figured out, by the way), she was expected to be more cautious.

Unfortunately, ever since the “incident” with the humans’ gas-filled atmospheric monitoring apparatus, Larry had been forced to share this ship with Jerry, whose excretions frequently caused malfunctions.

At least this was to be a night mission, so any malfunctions should go unnoticed.

Larry entered the craft and engaged the engines. The craft hovered while she tapped out the coordinates. All at once, she shot forward into darkness, the pleasant sensation of heavy metals greeted her mandibles.

As she exited the portal, she was blinded by bright light. Pain shot through her ocular sensors as she realized it was the middle of the day cycle.

In terror, she rotated her rear ocular stock to look back at the connection point. She panicked when she observed that the connection point was appearing as a large polyhedron.

At the velocity she was traveling, Larry was already over the human’s habitable zone before she could react. She immediately changed course and headed back to the portal, but it was too late. The primitive human ships were already giving chase.

She re-entered the portal, but before she could disengage the engine, both craft followed her. The first was so close that the disturbance from her engine sent it almost immediately back through the portal, though Larry guessed it might take some time to reappear on Earth.

The second craft also made it through but failed immediately, ejecting the soft human held within.

Larry went over and examined the unconscious jelly bag of a creature. Its soft outer shell had the symbol “‘Hang-On’ Holder” emblazoned on it. It was beginning to twitch and sputter.

Larry knew that if this thing died in here, she’d never get the stench out, so she gingerly shoved the jelly bag back through the portal.

She turned to close the portal, but a massive metal contraption floated through with a long filament connected to it.

She slammed the portal shut, severing the filament protruding from the metal monstrosity . . .


Jeremy really flipped this Sci Fi story on its head by taking us through the portal and introducing us to one of the mysterious beings on the other side! Jeremy is having a busy summer full of writing. He also won the spot of first finalist in my July Contest with the ending he wrote for “Festival of Juno.”

Next week, Jim Hamilton will have to wrap up this fascinating story with Part 5 in 500 words or less. Check in next Friday for the thrilling conclusion of “The Pyramid”!

If you enjoyed the story so far, please leave a kind comment for Jeremy, Jim and Glenn below. Anyone want to guess what will happen next?

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

1 more great story ending from the first July finalist

I’m sharing the finalist stories from the July Contest. The first finalist is Jeremy Wilson.

You may recall that Jeremy was the April Contest winner. As one of my Champions, he cannot win the contest again this calendar year. But if he had not already been a Champion, he could have won the contest with this ending with some cool Sci Fi tech and a great Sci Fi twist.

The Festival of Juno

BY JEREMY WILSON AND MATTHEW CROSS

How many times had I dreamed of a night like tonight?

As girls growing up in a backwater planet of the Republic, we all had fantasies of escaping to a “civilized world” and living a life filled with wealth, fame, and romance. Starry nights scented with flowers and our own perfume. Hair bound up by a real hairdresser. Sheathed in a couture gown.

And now, here I am, heat sealed into a gown and ascending the stairs of the Temple of Juno. Climbing this hill to mix with the glittering hoi polloi of the City of Lights, the capitol of Pax Romana, the planet-seat of the Republic.

So what’s the problem?

First, I don’t belong here.

Don’t get me wrong. My credentials are legit. I am the Daughters of Juno representative from my planet. The Vesta Society helped me secure the spot. But I definitely don’t feel right among all these Paxers.

Second, I’m a spy.

Third, these heels are killing me.

We’re climbing the Thousand Steps from the dock below to the temple above. I don’t know how these other girls are doing it. Most of them are from Pax Romana, so they are used to the intense gravity here. My little planet looks more like a moon with gravity to match. And the exercycles and running turbines on the transport ship RPS Brutus just can’t get you in shape for this.

City of Lights, the capitol of Pax Romana, the planet-seat of the Republic. Photo by Carlos Ibanez.

The girl in front of me springs up the steps. With her long gown, I can’t see her legs or feet, but her butt looks amazing. Like she climbs steps in her sleep.

I hate her.

I’m only halfway up the curved steps that climb the slope from the lake and I’m breathing like a draft ox. I stop a moment–just a moment–to slip off my heels. As I bend to pick them up, the girl behind me bumps my butt with her head. We both curse. I snatch the slender straps of my heels with one hand, making sure not to let the candle I’m carrying go out.

There’s more cursing and grumbling going on behind me. I know they’re talking about me. Besides the usual, unladylike curse words drifting up from below are words like “spacing,” “oaf,” and “hick.” My ears burn.

I steal a glance backwards and see that the long, snaking line of candles is twitching and hitching up the stone stairs. I look ahead and see a seamless line of women and candles winding through the hillside olive orchard. I seem to be messing up their perfect promenade. I’m not exactly blending.

These Paxers love anything that smells of Ancient Rome. Photo by Mathew Schwartz.

Yes, we are climbing hand-hewn stone stairs through an olive orchard. These Paxers love anything that smells of Ancient Rome. And speaking of smells, I know they shun deodorants and claim to like natural, human musk–thus, differentiating themselves from spacers and those living in sterile “airless” colonies. But when we get into the ballroom at the top, I think we’re going to smell more like a herd of cattle than a perfumed harem of debutantes.


It’s dim in the anteroom, but all those candles provide me with enough light to see the other girls pretty well. As they pass through the door, each one bends down to remove slippers and pull on a pair of heels from her purse. Well, that explains one thing. I dunk my candle in the silver urn of water like the girl in front of me and slip my heels back on. I’m definitely going to have blisters.

I can also see everyone’s dress clearly for the first time. From the time I stepped out of the limo, I’ve been in a dark tunnel, a lightless security check, and a lightless ferry. The only girl I’ve seen clearly is Super Butt right in front of me.

No two dresses are exactly the same, not exactly. Like theirs, mine is shiny and sheer, nearly cut down to the navel from the neck and definitely cut up to the waist from the hem. When I tried on the dress for the first time on the PRS Brutus, it took my breath away. And that was even before the final fitting and heat sealing of the stiches. Helena, my minder from the Vesta Society, even smiled. A rare treat.

“Ummm . . . I love it. Really, I do. But I can see right through this thing. Shouldn’t I be wearing a slip for the fitting?”

“No, dear. Republic society women never wear anything under these dresses. It ruins the line. Tiara, necklace, dress, purse, shoes, and perfume. Nothing else.”

Aghast, I looked in the monitor showing my image. “But you can see everything. I mean . . . everything!”

Helena suggested I could get used to the attention by wearing the dress around the Brutus. I thought of the rough-handed, loud-mouthed spacers aboard the ship–my kind of people–and shut my mouth.

Of course, the Vesta Society outfitted me with synthetic skin bands on my legs and back to carry a few tools. But they do nothing to protect my modesty.

In the anteroom, I notice one more detail. Every dress ahead of me is blue. Of course. Juno’s sacred color. I look behind me. The girl behind me is managing to adjust her tiara and give me a dirty look at the same time. She is also wearing blue. And so are all the women behind her.

I am wearing red.

How had the Vesta Society missed that detail? They thought of everything!

I’m sweating from the climb up the Thousand Steps, but suddenly my sweat runs cold. If they didn’t know the Daughters of Juno all wore blue, what else did they not know? What other surprises are in store for me?

And then I see the next one. I’m almost to the far end of the anteroom. There is an older woman checking tiara, necklace, dress, purse, and shoes. I know she’ll never let me past in a red dress.

I pump the false molar just once and spit the tracing juice on the blue dress in front of me.

“Oh, honey!” I wail, faking a nasal Paxer accent. “What’s that on your dress?”

In the swarm that converges on Super Butt, I sneak past the gatekeeper. I round a dark corner and emerge into a dazzling, white light. I freeze.

A smooth baritone voice announces a name. It’s not my name, and all I can see in all directions is brilliant, white light. Then my training kicks in and I remember. I’m at the top of the winding ramp–the Gauntlet, they call it–that descends past all the vids to the ballroom floor. The name they called must be Super Butt’s. I took her place in line.

I try the elegant spider walk we practiced over and over on the Brutus, but the ship’s weak anti-grav is a poor substitute. I skitter-slide my way down the ramp to the sound of gasps and titters and explosions of light.

When I reach the bottom, my vision begins to recover. A dance floor filled with young men in black and young women in blue dresses whirls past. Out of the last bright light comes a dark form. It takes me by the hand and the waist and spins me into the maelstrom.

It takes my breath away.

I look up and my dance partner is none other than the Marquess Douro, my target. Did the Vesta Society arrange this somehow or is it just amazing, dumb luck?

There she is, Juno herself, Queen of Olympus, Mother of the Gods. The marble statue sits on a marble throne beneath a half dome. Photo by Mateus Campos-Felipe.

Dancing weightless is not the same thing as dancing at the bottom of a planet’s gravity well. And, yet, in his arms, I feel as though I’m floating. His strong arms hold an effortless frame and I cling to them. As we spin, my body brushes his and I’m very aware of the sheer nothing I’m wearing.

He is tall with broad shoulders. The wreath of green olive leaves rests on his glistening, dark curls. And his eyes? Dark-green pools my soul could dive into and drown.

He is the target, I remind myself. But I don’t feel like I’m stalking him. Just the opposite. In this style of dancing, the women step backwards as the men “lead” them around the dance floor. My steps are light. I feel like I’m fleeing backwards as he pursues me with hungry eyes. I’m fleeing, but his arms direct my every step.

“I gotta get out of here,” I mumble.

“Great idea!” he says. “I know a shortcut.”

He lets go of my waist and I miss the warmth already. But he keeps hold of my hand and pulls me easily through the crowd surrounding the dance floor.

I find myself in the temple proper and he hurries past marble pillar after marble pillar. There she is, Juno herself, Queen of Olympus, Mother of the Gods. The marble statue sits on a marble throne beneath a half dome. Behind the throne, he twitches aside the blue curtain backdrop. There’s a small hallway ending in an elevator.

He lets go of my hand and steps inside.

I’m not supposed to leave the temple, but then, he has the key. The key is my objective. Where he goes, I must follow.

My face must be showing a million emotions and he cocks his eyebrows. He’s saying “Wanna come?”

I do, but I also have no choice. I need that key. While his father, the Duke, is off planet, the key hangs from the neck of the heir apparent. The key is the only piece missing for the Vesta Society to gain access to Daddy’s sanctum sanctorum on the family estate. And to the military secrets in his vault.

I plaster on a wide smile. “What fun!” I say and step inside the elevator.

The doors close and he leans in for a kiss. I’m not sure whether it’s the elevator or his warm lips that make my stomach drop and flip. My hand is on his chest and I feel the warmth seeping through his crisp, white shirt and feel his heavy, strong heartbeat. He pulls away before I realize this may be my best chance to grab the key.

Behind his glossy curls, I see the lights of the famed Night Market curving around the lake. Photo by Julie.

The elevator doors have opened and he pushes through a glass door to the outside. He’s holding the door, waiting. Oh, I realize with a shock, he’s holding the door for me. I walk into the soft summer air filled with the smell of flower blossoms. We’re on a concrete walkway beside the lake. Behind his glossy curls, I see the lights of the famed Night Market curving around the lake.

Wait, we could have taken an elevator, instead of climbing all those stairs?

“C’mon,” he says, “let’s take a walk.”

He stretches out his arm, offering me his hand.


He leads me through the cerulean booths of the market, past wonders I can scarcely believe, to a platform floating above the lake. In the lake’s surface, the stars dance and blaze in a riot of color. This really must be a dream.

I turn back to face him and a reflection from his shirt drags me back to the task at hand. The key at his neck is catching the light from the market.

“Keeping secrets, are we?” I tease, pointing at the key.

“This? No, this is just an old family heirloom.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Would you like to try it on?”

I can’t believe my luck. “Sure,” I say, doing my best to sound casual.

As he gently slips the chain down around my neck, I try to guess at how fast I can run in this dress after climbing all those stairs.

Before I can finish the thought, the key begins to vibrate and radiate an unnerving warmth. Within moments, I feel my nothing-of-a-dress go rigid. I try to move, but only my arms are free.

“What is this?!” I demand.

His once charming smile now turns predatory.

“Have no fear, little fish,” he says, caressing my cheek. I try to recoil, but my crimson tomb prevents it so I punch him square in the nose instead, knocking the wreath from his head and sending it into the lake.

The Marquess reels and almost topples into the water himself.

“She’s quite spirited, isn’t she?” says a voice behind me. As a figure steps into view, I find myself face to face with the Duke Duoro.

This? No, this is just an old family heirloom.” Photo by Tom Joseph.

The Marquess manages to regain his composure, his once perfect nose now as crooked as an ox bow.

“Yes, Father, the Sisters of the Vesta Society have delivered on their promise . . . for once. She’ll make an excellent offering. Juno will be pleased.”

Offering?! What are you talking about?” I let out a string of profanities that would’ve made the spacers proud (and Helena blush).

“Come now, your sacrifice will ensure the safety of your pitiful planet for another meager trip around it’s star,” the Marquess explains with disdain.

It takes three of the Duke’s personal guards to bind my hands behind me before turning my now-rigid frame to face the lake.

The sound of footsteps on the platform behind me fades as a terrible silence falls over the market.

Below me, I plead with my reflection in the mirrored surface as I struggle to free myself. If I could just reach one of the synthetic skin bands now entombed beneath my scarlet cage, I just might survive this.

All at once, my reflection abandons me as the surface of the lake begins to boil. The water itself seems to flee in terror as I witness the nightmare rising from the depths below. A beastly, mournful wailing, being felt more than heard, penetrates my bones. I can no longer move, no longer speak, no longer breathe . . . .


I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Jeremy Wilson and I wrote together. He’s one of my favorite collaboration writers.

If you enjoyed Jeremy Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Shanel Aileen Wilson

Shanel Wilson has been constructing vivid, fictional worlds long before she became a general construction administrator in Southern California. Drawn to the glowing glamour of Hollywood, Shanel spent much of her childhood performing on stage, exploring film studio lots and singing every moment she got. Shanel received her BFA from the Dodge College of Film at Chapman University where she truly fell in love with writing. 

Shanel is currently writing her debut science fiction novel about near-future space exploration, as well as a plethora of Sci Fi and Fantasy short stories. Nature is an endless source of inspiration for Shanel, from the mysteries of the ocean to the far reaches of space. She loves to explore those fantastical settings, while diving deep into the intricate relationships of her characters. 

Shanel enjoys spending time with her partner and two children exploring the coasts, mountains and deserts on their travels. She also enjoys other creative pursuits, like handmaking the family’s annual matching Halloween costumes or building a new desk with her partner. Otherwise, you can find Shanel with her nose stuck in a Neil Gaiman book or watching her favorite drag queens on TV. 

Shanel won my November Contest in 2020 and has been a finalist a number of times before and since. She is my most decorated Champion for all her prize-winning stories.

Check out the latest from Shanel on her blog: starviewsbyshanel.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @shanelaileenw.

Shanel’s Stories

Shadow of the Dunes

by Shanel Wilson

Emilia’s violet eyes doom her to the life of a Westminster Bride, unless she can find another path beyond the desert.

Night of the Rocket–Westminster

Shanel’s Collaboration Stories

A ship sails smooth waters beneath an evening sky towards a cloudbank

The Beast Below

by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage

Death whispered in the waves as The Tempest left Newlondon behind. Antonio found himself trapped on a Death Ship.

Night of the Rocket–Newlondon

Circle of Champions

by Shanel Wilson, Frasier Armitage, Jim Hamilton and Matthew Cross

Salem’s mech-fighting skills earn her a spot in the Circle of Champions, but can she survive the first Zero-G battle in the Thunderdome?

Shanel’s Contest-Winning Stories

A Forest of Blue Eyes

by Shanel Wilson

Despite Ma’s warning to stay close to camp on the new planet, Shim had followed the girl with blue eyes. Imagine, blue eyes! Now he was lost in the desert and dying of thirst. There was no choice but to follow the footprints in the red sand.

November Contest Winner – 2020

Mayday

by Shanel Wilson

Cass escaped Mars with an infection of the Vere, crash landed on Earth and made it inside the family farmhouse. But now triangle ships are headed towards the house!

May Contest Finalist – 2021

Fools

by Shanel Wilson

A cat burglar’s high-rise heist goes awry. Can she still escape with the lavalier?

April Contest Finalist – 2021

Almost Home

by Shanel Wilson

Cass escaped Mars with an infection of the Vere, crash landed on Earth and made it inside the family farmhouse. But now triangle ships are headed towards the house!

October Contest Finalist – 2020