Night of the Rocket–Finsbury

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the fifth 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 Finsbury

The green-eyed farmers of Finsbury feed The Globe and furnish its timber from the rich bottomlands. Though spread far and wide, the brotherhood of Finsbury will band together to protect their lands from invaders, whether they be brigands or Whitehallers.

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

The Buried War

by Matthew Cross

Panthino clambered gingerly down from the hovertractor.

He would have leapt if not for his exoskeleton legs. Built by Finsbury mechs, who usually built tractors and harvesters, they were large and heavy but surprisingly fragile. And he was a big guy, bigger even than most Finsbies.  And he was still growing. He guessed that’s why his friends thought it was so funny to call him “Tiny-O” and sometimes just “Tiny.” Didn’t make sense to Panthino. The last part of his name was pronounced “theeno” not “thie-no” or “tie-no.”

But a lot about the world didn’t make sense to Panthino. Especially people. And most especially Desdemonia.

But Desdemonia never called him Tiny-O. She hardly ever said his name. But one time, when Lecter Gratanio was looking for a volunteer to paint props for the school play, she raised her hand. “Lecter, Panthino has a fair hand,” she said.

Panthino smiled in the darkness, lit only by the indirect lamps of the hovertrac. He did have a fair hand at drawing. He also had a fine hand at lettering, Ma said, especially for a boy. But no one needed drawing or lettering, not when you could find any kind of art you liked on Whitehall’s system.

His smile disappeared. He guessed Desdemonia was having fun at the Moon Dance in Southwark. Panthino had asked to attend her, but she had declined. “Oh, Panthino,” she had said, large green eyes shining, “I’m so sorry, but Gobbo already asked me yesterday. If I had known . . .”

Gobbo! Of course, it had been Gobbo. He had a way with the ladies. Panthino had been planning to ask Desdemonia for a week, but the time never seemed right. Finally, he had managed to wait for her along her path from school to home, positioning himself to stand casually beneath a tree, where she wouldn’t hear the straining servos in his legs as he walked.

Panthino smiled in the darkness, lit only by the indirect lamps of the hovertrac. Photo by Vincent Ledvina.

He kept reliving the moment over and over, thrilled by the way her lips formed the sounds of his name and at the same time struck down by the rejection. And only a day late!

So he did not go to the dance. Instead, he stayed home by the hob, pretending to read a trac manual with a kittercat on his lap and one of the old hounds at his feet. Kittercats and hounds liked to sleep by the warm hob of a night.

And when the red sensor light clicked on, he had volunteered with relief to go check the faulty tiller, even though it was a bit late and the tiller was almost to the Forest of Arden. He should have been at the dance right now. He should have gone anyway. Ma said so. But he couldn’t stand the sight of Gobbo pressing tightly against Desdemonia. Gobbo was alright, but he liked all the ladies and he liked to get handsy with them. Panthino’s large hands clenched on the tractor’s wheel at the thought. If he had gone, he would have decked Gobbo during the first dance. He just knew he would have.

Panthino was not quick to anger. He never got in fights. He just let insults roll off his back. But when it came to Desdemonia, the strongest feelings just welled up inside him. So he filled the hovertrac’s cabin with the loudest, angriest Belmont chantrock he could find. Normally, he liked the pop stuff coming out of Whitehall’s discos, but tonight the last thing he wanted to hear was dance music.

Kittercats and hounds liked to sleep by the warm hob of a night. Photo by Zane Lee.

What had he been thinking anyway? Asking Desdemonia, of all people—the smartest, most beautiful, most talented Desdemonia—to a dance! With his palsied legs and his rotten exoskeleton.

As he walked through the freshly tilled soil, sinking inches deep with each step, he shook his head, angry at himself. He was lucky to have these exo legs. Da worked hard managing three farms for the bank. It allowed Panthino to go to school full time. Not all his friends were so lucky. And Da made friends wherever he went, did favors for folks, and the village scratched together enough to buy the specialized parts the village mechanic could not find among his spare parts. Gratanio threw in the labor for free, saying he owed Da that and twice over. Panthino did not feel lucky, but he knew he was.

“Got food on the table and a roof over our head,” Da always said, looking at Ma across the table with a wink. “Not everyone in Finsbury has even that much. Be grateful, son. We’re lucky.”

Panthino deactivated the tiller with a remote. It had automatically shut itself off to preserve the motors, but better safe than sorry. Then he knelt down next to the tiller in the bright, bluish beams of the trac’s lamps.  He felt the cool, damp soil beneath his knee, even though it could not penetrate the dun coveralls he wore. “Let’s see what’s wrong with you, shall we?”

It turned out the tiller had hooked on something deep in the soil. Panthino sat in the dirt and patiently began digging around the tiller’s curved blades with some tools from his belt. He mumbled and chanted his way through the last song that had been playing in the cab. With his tools, he clanged on the side of the tiller when he got to the part with the hammers-on-anvil part. Bang, bang, bang-bang-bang, bang! The Mounty kids were really into hammer-on-anvil percussion. Tonight, it suited his mood.

Old Man Moon worked his way across the sky as Panthino worked. He finally cleared all the dirt around the blades and then reached carefully into the hole for the rock the tine must have caught. His gloves would protect his hands from the sharp blades, but not his elbow or his shoulder. He found the obstruction, but it was not rock. It was smooth, cold metal.

What on The Globe?!

He leaned back and thought a bit. It felt like the curved blade was hooked under a … well, under a handle. But he knew that couldn’t be true. He shrugged. He needed to unhook the tiller and pull it from the hole. Then he could see what the tiller had tried to dig up.

Panthino knelt in the dirt. He settled his grip on the heavy tiller and blew out a breath. He really needed to be standing to get the right leverage, but he didn’t think his exoskeleton could handle the weight. Fortunately, his large chest and arms were as big and as strong as almost anybody else’s legs.

He did not heave it. The blade was lodged under the handle. He tried to just pop the tiller up, just a little bit, and jiggle it. It took several tries, but Da had always told him that machines were like women, they required a lot of strength and a lot of patience. So he was patient. After several tries, he felt it release and he hauled the tiller out of the hole. He was sweating, despite the cool night air, and his arms trembled a bit.

Da was right! He always was. A lot of strength and a lot of patience. Did that really work with women, he wondered. Would that work with Desdemonia?

He checked to make sure the blades were not damaged. Tiller blades were expensive. If they were damaged, the bank would make Da pay to replace them, even though he didn’t own the land. With the remote, Panthino marked off a couple metes around each side of the hole as “off limits” for the tiller, turned it back on and sent it off to work.

Still breathing heavily, he clicked on a light from his tool belt and shone it into the hole. What he saw shocked him to the core. Not only was there a handle, but also the wheel of a hatch.

He found himself staring blindly off into the darkness. Towards the Forest of Arden. Sitting in the beams from the trac, everything outside their sphere seemed like uniform darkness. But he knew the farm sat on the forest’s edge. Over the years, as city populations grew, his family and other farmers on the north side of the village had expanded their fields into what was once forest land. They still found artifacts from the Seven Day War–usually just burnt drone pieces–in the soil now and then. All the kids in the border region had a small collection of odds and ends, maybe in a box or hidden in a favorite spot.  Some farmers even kept larger pieces in their barns to show off to guests.

At first, Panthino did not even relate the hatch to the ‘Hallers or the war. But his subconscious must have caught a whiff of something and set his eyes in the direction of the Forest of Arden. And kloms beyond the forest, Whitehall. What kind of ‘Haller war machine was big enough to need a hatch for a person? And how could such a large machine have gotten completely buried after the war?

With only a slight hesitation, Panthino reached down and spun the wheel. When it stopped, he turned the handle. Despite decades in the dirt, it moved smoothly. He lifted the hatch and caught a whiff of stale air.

Using his light to guide him, he carefully climbed down the metal ladder, raining down a small shower of dirt ahead of himself. In the strangeness of the moment, he missed the first hints. But he knew something felt wrong. The capsule was not large, just a long tube that formed a room half the size of the kitchen back home. The walls were filled with dusty shelves. In a step, he stood in front of a row of shelves. He wiped at the cobwebs with gloved hands and swiped awkwardly at the thick coating of dust.

Guns!

The walls were lined with loads and loads of guns. And not hunting guns like they took into the Forest of Arden in the fall with some hounds. These were weapons of war. But they were not ‘Haller weapons.  They were Finsby made. He recognized the sturdy, craftsmanlike work. There was none of the lightness or finesse of Whitehall about them.

He should have known the moment he saw the hatch. It bore the same hallmarks of Finsby craftsmen.

And then the blinking yellow light caught his eye.

It blinked from the darkness of the far side of the capsule. It drew him. It felt like he was floating as he strode towards it, shining his light ahead of him, and everything slowed down. He cast off a dust-covered tarp. Gleaming beneath the tarp as if fresh from the workshop was a sleek, shiny tube sitting on a frame with three knobby tires. He gazed at in wonder—having no idea what he was looking at.

He looked around the room, as if it would provide a clue. He saw all the guns racked across every spare centi and then back at the weapon. For that’s what it was. What it must be.

A cannon!

Shakily, Panthino climbed from the capsule. Photo by Bing-Hsun Wu.

Yes, some kind of newfangled cannon, maybe a force cannon or a plasma cannon. He shook his head. No, not newfangled. Old. Very old! Probably a relic from the Seven Day War. A secret Finsbury weapon that had never been used. And based on the blinking, yellow light, it probably still worked.

Shakily, Panthino climbed from the capsule. He wanted to get away from the cannon, from all the weapons. Who knew what would set them off?

He stood over the hole, thinking carefully. Those weapons were valuable. Even as old as they were, there was no tech in Finsbury like that, not that Panthino knew of. And that cannon thing. That was worth at least one of the farms Da managed, maybe worth all three farms.

And even half the guns down there would pay Whitehall surgeons to finally repair his real legs for good. He could walk and run and jump.

He could dance!

With fixed legs, he could court Desdemonia for real, not just a pity date!

Breathing heavily, he shook his head.

He should get Pa. He knew he should. And Da would tell the leaders in Southwark. And they would haul it away and … do what? The Southwark leaders were bankers, factors, merchants. With that lot, they’d probably sell it. To whom? Did it matter? It was their land, the bank’s and the factor’s anyway. They would claim it as their own. And give Da nothing.

Knowing the bank, they’d probably make Da and Panthino dig it up, the whole capsule, load it on a drone barge, and then pay them nothing. Panthino’s brow furrowed. Knowing those greedy bins, they’d threaten Da and Ma and Panthino, too, that if word got out, they’d lose their home. Tell the family they’d better keep quiet.

In anger, Panthino kicked dirt into the hole. He should just bury it. Bury it and forget about it. That would certainly be the best thing to do.

Then he heard a rumble overhead. He looked up and saw purple streaks across the sky.


I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share any comments below.

Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, where we finally reveal the mysterious crew of the rocket.

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

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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