by Matthew Cross
Fear washed over Panthino as he carefully made his way down the stairs into the darkness below the warehouse’s butchering floor. Desdemonia led the way, sure-footed and calm. How she could remain so calm when they had been kidnapped, he did not know. But she seemed to know the pig butchers that had swept him from the village alleyway, and she had acted as his tour guide of the giant warehouse in the Shambles on the west side of Southwark, Finsbury’s center and marketplace.
Panthino’s bulky, mechanical exoskeleton that wrapped around him from the waist down worked much better in large open spaces, so he had to inch his way down the stairs carefully. Fortunately, the stairs were made of plascrete, stable as rock, so after the first step he was not afraid they would collapse under his weight. Even so, the servos whined as he struggled to make the complicated series of small movements necessary for walking down stairs. Even in the darkness, Panthino blushed at the whining noise they made.
By the time he reached the bottom, his eyes had become accustomed to the dim lighting. Some hallways branched off into complete darkness, but the dour driver of the pig truck that had brought them here and Desdemonia walked straight through an open doorway into a long room. It was a meeting room with a long plas table meant to look like wood and an assortment of beaten plas chairs. There was dim overhead lighting and a spotlight shone on one long wall. On the wall was a large decal, a large oval logo in black, nearly as tall as Desdemonia. The logo was of a circle of men facing outwards, away from the circle, and holding a variety of weapons. After a moment, Panthino recognized the shape they formed was roughly the outlines of the borders of Finsbury.
The driver took a seat at the head of the table and Desdemonia and Panthino took seats near him. Panthino’s legs were quaking and he laid a large hand on them to keep them from activating the exoskeleton servos. The room was cool, like a cave, and he tried to pretend that’s why his teeth started chattering.
Somehow, he knew all this had to do with the cache of weapons he had found on the Night of the Rocket beneath one of the border fields. But how did they know? Panthino had not told anyone but his father.
“Well, lad, Desdemonia speaks well of you,” the driver said at last. “Says your a smart one and you’ll help us. We already know about the weapons you found, and a pulse cannon. All we need you to do is tell us where to find it.”
Panthino was confused. Desdemonia had told them about him? What did that mean? Why had she been talking about him to their kidnappers? And when? And, again, how did they know about the weapons?
The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities
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.
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.
Panthino had promised Da not to say anything about the weapons. Panthino didn’t know what these pig butchers knew or how they knew it. But they didn’t know everything. They clearly didn’t know where the weapons cache was hidden, so they hadn’t seen him that night. Panthino had not told a soul, so the only person they could have learned from was Da.
“Where’s my Da?” Panthino suddenly demanded. His normally low voice came out hoarse and high but forceful just the same.
The driver smiled. “Don’t worry. Your Da’s still meeting with the Council. But we have friends at the Council, too, and we know everything your Da knows. We know you found the weapons buried in a capsule under a field. And your Da says there’s more like it. Says he knows where to find ‘em all. But the real question is, do you know where to find them all?”
Panthino shook his head. He didn’t know what the man was talking about. He had only found one capsule. An image flashed through his head, an image of his Da’s desk at home littered with paper maps. And then his father had closed the door and locked it, which he had never done before. Panthino shook his head violently to clear it.
“We assume it’s on one of the three farms your Da manages. We’ll find it eventually, even if you don’t help us, but we’d be grateful if you saved us the time.”
Panthino looked at Desdemonia. She gave a small smile and nodded, encouraging him to speak. Her large, dark green eyes glistened in the dimness. She looked so beautiful, dark curling hair framing a heart-shaped face. He leaned forward, his mouth opening. And he almost yielded. He wanted to do what she wanted. Whatever she wanted. But he tore his eyes from hers and stared at his lap, at his exoskeleton. He had promised Da, and a promise was a promise. He could not break it. Not even for Desdemonia.
“Well, then?” asked the man.
“Give him a moment,” Desdemonia said.
“‘s alright,” the man said. “I’ll give you two some time to talk and an’ him some time to think about it. Lads, put ‘em in the other room.”
Men materialized from the dark and grasped Desdemonia and Panthino by the arms, practically lifting Panthino, even with his heavy exoskeleton. Behind him, on the opposite wall from the logo, was a wall of glaze windows from waist high to the ceiling. In the center was a sliding glass door that Panthino had not noticed before. Before he could even think to resist, or where to go if he broke free, the men had hustled him into the adjoining room.
With one push to the chest, his legs gave out and he collapsed into a hard, metal chair. They strapped his arms and struggled to work the straps around his legs, finally just running the straps through his exoskeleton. Seeing two men strapping Desdemonia to a chair facing him, he struggled, but it was too late.
“Lads, cut it out. This ain’t funny,” Desdemonia said.
But in mere moments, the door slid shut and the men were gone.
Panthino looked wildly about. They were in a long, dark room the same size as the meeting room on the other side of the glaze wall. On this side of the window, the glaze was dark and opaque. There were no lights here, just a dim trickle of light from far overhead. He could hear the machinery of the slaughterhouse floor above thrumming and there was a thump.
“I’m sorry, Panthino,” Desdemonia said. She was just a dark shape in the dimness with the hint of a halo on the crown of her head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him. When my Da hears about this, there’ll be Hell to pay.”
Desdemonia’s voice was filled with anger, not fear. She knew these men. She was not afraid of them. But she was surprised by their violent methods, and Panthino found himself trembling. He gripped the arms of the chair to steady himself. It was sticky.
With the slightest whisper, the ceiling far above slid open and light shone down on them. Large, blocky shapes filled most of the ceiling, but around the edges was a metal grid, and white light shone down through it.
“Slavering beasts!” Desdemonia cursed, something Panthino had never heard her do. “We’re under the guillotine. I never realized . . .”
Panthino heard another hum and saw the disorienting colored lights from the guillotine room above. The conveyor belt hummed, and he realized where he was. Horror filled him. In the room above was the conveyor belt, and the laser guillotine, and the hog about to be beheaded. It was nearly silent, but then he heard the head drop onto the conveyor belt with a thump and roll loudly into a metal chute.
Then he felt it. A spray of warm liquid and the smell of copper.
“Ugh!” Desdemonia said at the same time.
To his rising horror, Panthino realized what the liquid was and what the sticky substance covering the chair was. It was pig’s blood.
The conveyor belt hummed again and Panthino heard the sound of the door in the room above. It slid up for the next hog to be sacrificed. The colored lights flared. It was happening all over again. That’s when Desdemonia began cursing loudly. And someone else began screaming. Panthino realized it was him.
The men made Desdemonia and Panthino sit through five more beheadings before the ceiling above them shut. With each slaughter, the pig’s blood spurted down on them. It was not a lot, but every time the light spray seemed to speckle Panthino’s head and drip down his face. Panthino struggled in his chair and shook his head wildly, but he was trapped and there was nothing he could do to move or even just wipe the warm blood from his face.
Finally, the sliding glaze door to the meeting room slid open. The large men swarmed through the door. They swept Desdemonia and Panthino back into the meeting room, pushed them down into the chairs and stepped just outside the zone of dim light. The man, the one who had driven them here in the pig truck, materialized out of the darkness. He threw each of them a towel and Desdemonia and Panthino wiped wildly at their faces and their hair.
The man waited patiently.
When Panthino had calmed enough to look at him, the man spoke.
“Now, I can make threats,” he said softly, reaching down and lifting Desdemonia’s hand. She struggled to pull it free, but he held it fast. He lifted it into the dim light so Panthino could see Desdemonia’s fine, thin fingers. “I could lop off one of these beauties, and I bet you’d spill everything you know, son. But we’re all friends here, and there’s no need for threats among friends, is there?”
Before Desdemonia even snatched her hand away, Panthino was talking. Gibbering really. He told them everything he knew about the the capsule filled with weapons. He talked and talked and talked. Anything to postpone more torture. Anything not to have to go back into that room slicked and sticky with pig’s blood. Anything to protect Desdemonia.
Panthino sat in the back of the hover as the men emerged from the ground, grinning and carrying an assortment of weapons. They had all returned from Southwark in an odd collection of hovers, bypassed the village and reached the field where Panthino had dug up the hatch to the capsule. Unlike the slow trip in the pig truck to Southwark, it seemed to take no time at all. The flow of men coming up from underground stopped and there was a huddle around the hole. The men mumbled excitedly, but they were too far away for Panthino to hear.
The huddle broke up with some men going down the hole and others walking to their hovers. After some time, there was a rumble and the ground shook. Then, to Panthino’s amazement, a huge hole opened up and the round, metal nose of a machine emerged from the dark soil. An engine revved and suddenly the ground erupted in dirt and dust. When the sound stopped and the dust settled, there sat in the middle of the field a huge, oblong vehicle on treads. “Tank” was the word that came to Panthino’s mind, even though he had never seen one.
Then he realized what it was. It was the outside of the capsule. Or rather, the buried capsule filled with weapons was actually just the inside of a long tank.
I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share any comments below.
Make sure to check back next Friday week–in a fortnight–for the next flash-fiction story set on the Globe, “The Burning Flame,” by Frasier Armitage.
In the meantime, you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change-Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change-Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- You just read: “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross
- “The Burning Flame–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Burning Flame–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Song of Thieves” by Frasier Armitage
- “The View from the Wall–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The View from the Wall–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Bounty” by Matthew Cross
- “Feral Fields” by Jeremy Wilson and Shanel Wilson