Night of the Rocket–Westminster

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

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

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

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

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

The City of Westminster

To the west among the dunes lies the City of Westminster, the only city not built along the Elizabeth’s shores. The wealthy but rugged residents of this small city pull oil and glass from the sands to power Whitehall’s machines and build their towers. Across the Globe, Westminster Brides with violet eyes are highly prized.

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

Shadow of the Dunes

by Shanel Wilson

The sun’s warm rays gently peaked over the dunes that led to the Elizabeth, bathing the city of Westminster in a tangerine glow. Emilia moved through a kaleidoscope of colors; light refracting through each crystalline gem, flower and creature that decorated her bedroom. She leaned on her window’s ledge.

“Good morning,” Emilia murmured, watching the city come to life.

A tidy grid of streets lined with modest, plasterwork houses spread like a carpet below Emilia. Streetlights extinguished like a line of dominoes falling in succession as the sky brightened. The first trolley of the day whirled to its nearby stop. She watched as her fellow Westies boarded, heading to the Smith or the Wildcat Fields. She knew she would miss these tiny moments.

A loud rumble rattled her window. Her brothers’ hover cruiser roared out of the hover port below. They raced past the trolley toward the Smith.

“Disrespectful rampallians,” Emilia spat. But in truth, she was still jealous.

The Smith was the city’s imminent glass factory, run by her father, Eglamour. The Smith’s glass was renowned throughout the Globe. From the most delicate lens on a Newlondon lightship to the tallest tower in Whitehall, they were all made from the Smith’s glass. Her brothers each joined the Smith when they were old enough. Emilia grew restless, unable to join herself.

Emilia lived comfortably amidst beautiful glassworks. Photo by Lydia Williams.

As Eglamour’s daughter, Emilia lived comfortably amidst beautiful glassworks. When her mother died, Emilia took over the household, ensuring it was maintained. No matter how many times she pleaded to become a glassmith, nothing would sway him.

“But Father, I apprenticed at your hand before Mother died. You know that I have the skills. Surely, I could be allowed to join the Smith. The house will not suffer for it.”

“My answer has not changed, my flower. Can you not be contented to practice at our hot shop here at home?” Eglamour would reply gently, like many times before.

Emilia closed her eyes. The very reason why she had not been allowed to join her brothers. There were none in all of Westminster that rivaled the deep violet of Emilia’s eyes. They were the color of twilight over the dunes on a cool, spring night. No matter how hard Emilia tried to deny her destiny, it was true. Emilia was to be a Westminster Bride, for a Westminster Bride with Violet Eyes is Highly Prized. And today that journey would commence. 

Even while her heart still stung from being refused her true passion, she did find solace in being free from the plaster prison her home had become. She was the first of her family, aside from Eglamour on one of his trading trips, to leave Westminster and travel through the dunes.

That fancy cruiser won’t take you where I’m going, Emilia thought with a smirk.

She folded the last of her garments and placed them into her trunk. She gave one last lingering glance around her jewel-like room. Travel through the dunes was dangerous work, so only the essentials could be taken. Her eyes came to the glass Mary’s Iris she made as a girl. It was the first complete piece she made on her own. She sourced the purple manganese herself and crafted each of its petals, replicating an iris from her mother’s simple, desert garden.

A piece of home hidden away in her trunk. Photo by Pawel Czerwinski.

“Watch over me, Mother,” Emilia whispered into the petals.

She wrapped it carefully in her mother’s scarf, which Emilia had secretly taken after her mother’s death. A piece of home hidden away in her trunk.

“It is time, my flower,” Eglamour called from the lower level.

Emilia lowered the lid to the trunk. She strapped its tether around her wrist and engaged the gravitational lift. The tether glowed turquoise. She left her room for the last time, her trunk gliding behind her.

Eglamour arranged for the escort to take Emilia through the dunes. When they arrived at Trafalgar Gate, a lone cloaked figure stood in the shade of the wall. Turning to her father, Emilia wrapped him in a long embrace.

“Goodbye, Father. I will send a comm once I arrive in Whitehall.”

He nodded.

“I’m sorry I could not give you all that you dreamed for. I hope you can find new dreams to fill your heart,” he said, as he tucked a curl behind her ear.

His eyes betrayed his calm demeanor. The violet flecks in her father’s dark eyes always reminded Emilia of oil slicks shining in the sun. She placed a gentle hand on his cheek.

Eglamour gave a quick squeeze of her hand. Emilia turned to the stranger beneath the cloak.

“I am ready when you are, sir.”

It was like following a shadow floating through the sand.

The stranger nodded to Eglamour and strode away from the city and into the dunes. When Emilia realized there would be no further introduction, she darted to close the gap growing between them. Her trunk knocked into her heels as she scurried. Emilia strained to glimpse his face, but it was shadowed by his hood. He was slimmer than most men in Westminster and taller, too. She marveled at the blue of his cloak. It was as dark as a moonless midnight. It was like following a shadow floating through the sand.

“I assume you already know my name, but I do not know yours,” Emilia attempted.

The stranger shrugged off the comment, pressing forward.

“I would like to know who my travel companion is. Otherwise, I will simply call you Shadow.”

“Do as you must.”

Emilia barely heard the words escape the hood over the sound of their footfalls. But the Shadow spoke. The mystery of her companion was a challenge she was excited to solve.

Wisps of wind swirled sand around Emilia’s steps.

“Do you work in the Wildcat Fields? I’ve never seen anyone like you at the Smith when I would visit Father.”

Shadow’s fists tightened. The sun was sinking behind them as they continued toward the river. Wisps of wind swirled sand around Emilia’s steps. Shadow stopped suddenly atop a dune and scanned the horizon. Emilia tried to peer around Shadow’s shoulder to see into the hood.

“Have you traveled the dunes many times before, Shadow? I’ve heard such incredible stories, though my father has always returned safely home. Perhaps they were exaggerations.”

“Quiet!” Shadow hissed.

“I am simply trying to be friendly,” Emilia replied haughtily. “That’s something you could learn a thing or two about.”

Shadow wheeled around to face Emilia.

“This is not some walk in the park, Miss,” Shadow sneered. “If you aren’t careful, your prattling will attract all dune’s evils.”

Emilia hushed while her cheeks blazed from the scolding. She caught sight of the icy blue eyes beneath the hood, lit by the fading sunlight. They were pools of the coolest water one yearned to dive into on the hottest day. Emilia exhaled when she realized she had been holding her breath.

“Shall we?” Shadow turned with a frustrated flourish.

Emilia nodded and followed. She spoke no further but her mind raced with questions. Shadow’s voice was stern, but not nearly as gruff as the men she heard conversing with her father. And those blue eyes. No one in Westminster had eyes like those. In fact, there was no one in Westminster like Shadow. Was he a trader her father met in Whitehall? In all the stories she had heard, Whitehallers had very plain, brown eyes. None as dazzling as the blue ones that stared into her own violet eyes moments ago.

Darkness was hemming in around them . . . . Photo by Mike Yukhtenko.

Darkness was hemming in around them as they marched on. Emilia’s feet ached, but she dared not complain to Shadow. Shadow paused occasionally, checking the horizon, then he would resume his pace about a foot ahead of Emilia.

Suddenly, Emilia lurched. Her arm was pulled roughly behind her.

“Ow!” she exclaimed, the sound echoing off the sand around her.

Her trunk’s tether pulled taut. Her wrist burned where the tether was attached. The trunk sunk into the sand behind her, unmoving. The tether was still engaged, barely glowing against the darkness. Then she heard it. A deep, ragged, animal-like breath. Emilia’s hair stood up on end. A faint outline of a huge, bristly creature grew tall, standing on her trunk.

Something swooped past her toward the creature. The sound of metal rang in the air.

“Stay down!” Shadow shouted to Emilia.

Emilia dropped to the ground, gripping her tethered wrist with all her might. The sand shifted around her. She could hear muffled blows, growls and metallic zings clanging near her trunk. It lifted once as the beast was knocked off its perch. Breathing rapidly, Emilia inched her way back from the fight, tugging her trunk toward her. She got it close enough to grasp and draped her body over it. She closed her eyes as tightly. The sound of her breathing and her heartbeat filled her ears. She pictured Mother and her pale violet eyes to steady herself.

Something brushed Emilia’s shoulder, breaking her meditation. She recoiled and growled, trying to appear challenging to whatever was going to attack her.

“It’s OK now,” Shadow said calmly. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Emilia said, loosening her grip on her trunk.

Emilia felt the warmth of Shadow kneeling close to her. Comforted, Emilia lifted her head toward his voice. When she looked, Shadow’s hood was lowered, revealing the most beautiful woman Emilia had ever seen. Soft brown curls cascaded around the shoulders of the dark-blue cloak. Her blue eyes sparkled even in the lowest light.

“Shadow?” Emilia gasped.

“It’s Valentine. I’ve run the beast off, but we shouldn’t waste too much time. Are you able to walk?”

Emilia simply blinked, unable to find her voice. Valentine sheathed her sword and offered her hand, helping Emilia to her feet.

“Yes. I can walk,” Emilia said, finally. “Thank you. You saved my life.”

Valentine kept Emilia’s hand as they started forward once again.

“I apologize for the pretense earlier. It is not common for women to lead journeys through the dunes. I’ve grown accustomed to letting my companions assume what they will until we reach the river.”

Emilia was mystified. She searched for which question to ask first, but the gentle comfort of Valentine’s hand in hers distracted her mind. Their grip’s warmth spread, tingling to all corners of her body.

“To answer your questions from earlier, I do not work in the Wildcat Fields. I am from Newlondon, in the south. And, yes, I have traveled through the dunes many times. It is a dangerous journey, as you now know first-hand, but I have learned the perils and how to defend against them.”

Emilia looked at Valentine. She smiled gently at Valentine’s remembrance of her questions. Emilia studied the lines of Valentine’s face. She was strong and graceful. Emilia knew in her heart she would walk wherever Valentine led.

They arrived at the Elizabeth River well before sunrise. The remainder of their journey had been calm, but Emilia’s heart began to race as they reached the water’s edge. Valentine led Emilia to a ship moored at the end of the dock.

“My ship will carry us to Whitehall,” Valentine said, helping Emilia into the ship.

“Right. To Whitehall.” Emilia said it distractedly.

Far across the river were the twinkling of lights of Whitehall. Her destiny awaited. Emilia shook off a chill that crept up her spine. She opened her trunk and retrieved the Mary’s Iris from its wrappings.

“Would this pay for passage to Newlondon, with you?”

“I committed to your father,” Valentine said cautiously.

“A new dream fills my heart; his wish for me at our parting. Would you deny me the chance of chasing it?” Emilia said, taking Valentine’s hand.

Valentine looked deeply into Emilia’s eyes.

“I could deny you no such thing.” She gently kissed Emilia’s cheek.

Valentine took the crystal iris and traced each petal with her finger. She held it up to the light from the dock post. The iris’s delicate colors refracted across their faces just as the ship violently shook on the water.

Valentine instinctively drew Emilia close as streaks of purple blazed across the sky overhead.

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

Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on the Globe: “Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton. Set in the shining city of Whitehall, it’s filled with high-tech, a dire secret, and forbidden love.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

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