The photos and photographers of The Buried War

The photographers of Unsplash.com provided me with a great collection of photos for my story “The Buried War,” a Sci Fi story set on the planet called The Globe. (If you have not read the story, you’ll want to read it first, as this post contains some spoilers.)

Let’s start with the logo for The Globe stories. I had to crop it quite a bit, which should probably be a crime. I committed it in international space, so I think I’m safe. But I do apologize to the artist. Then I added the text. Here is the original, unaltered photo in all its glory.

Orbs of the Multiverse by Daniel Olah.

Breathtaking, right?

If I understand this correctly, Daniel created this beautiful image by mixing soap and oil. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but I’m no artist. This piece, Orbs of the Multiverse, is from his new Soap & Oil Planet series. To my eyes, it looks exactly like a planet floating in space, and I love his title for the piece. So I chose this image to represent the beautiful, blue planet of The Globe.

Daniel is a freelance photographer. You can find his nature and landscape images at unsplash.com/@danesduet. You can also find his work at www.behance.net/danielolah and instagram.com/danesduet.

The Golden Fields of Finsbury

Sun shining over a golden field with a dark treeline and ridges in the distance.
Photo by Federico Respini.

Federico Respini took this resplendent photo of a field beneath a golden sun. Federico titled this photo “Brown Field,” which just does not do it justice. Of course, I used this as the main image to represent the farming community of Finsbury.

Federico wrote this on his unsplash.com page: “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.” Well, Federico is quite eloquent with the camera.

Federico hails from Fribourg, Switzerland. You can find more of his outdoor, star, and animal images at unsplash.com/@federicorespini.

Lights on a Farm Road

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

Vincent Ledvina took this stunning and creative shot of a starry sky over a farm road. I imagined the lights in the road were thrown by Panthino’s hovertrac and thought it perfect to illustrate Panthino stopping to repair the broken tiller.

This photo was shot somewhere in North Dakota in the United States.

Vincent hails from Grand Forks, North Dakota, and likes to take landscape and astronomy photographs. You can find more of his photos at unsplash.com/@vincentledvina. He also teaches photography on his YouTube channel, Apalapse.

The Hob

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

Zane Lee took this charming photo of a rustic fireplace that was perfect for a Finsbury farm. You can see more of Zane’s travel and car images at unsplash.com/@zane404. You can also find him on Instagram at instagram.com/zane.404.

Capsule

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

Bing-Hsun Wu shot this photo at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is located at Pier 86 along the Hudson River in Manhattan, New York, New York in the United States. He titled the photo “Climb Up.”

You can see Bing-Hsun’s nature and outdoor photos at unsplash.com/@binghsun.


In case you missed them, here are the first four tales in the Globe Folio:

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

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 Pa 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 Pa 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 Pa 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 Pa 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 Pa nothing.

Knowing the bank, they’d probably make Pa 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 Pa 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

The photos and photographers of Lucky Day

The photographers of Unsplash.com provided me with a great collection of photos for my March Contest story “Lucky Day,” a Sci Fi story set on the planet Hulm.( If you have not read the story, you’ll want to read it first, as this post contains some spoilers.)

Walls of Jaisalmer

Photo by Ali Zbeeb.

I love this beautify photo by Ali Zbeeb of a sandstone wall in Jaisalmer, India. The photo is titled “Walls of Jaisalmer.”

The color and textures are beautiful, but of course, the jutting stones that almost make a floating stairway along the wall really make the image. I like in particular how they lead upwards to the right. And I wonder if the contestants writing endings will right a positive, uplifting ending for “Lucky Day.” Only time will tell.

Note that on the story page, I darkened this photo a bit by making it just a little transparent and allowing a black background to show through. By doing this, I allowed the white lettering to stand out. Fun trick, huh? But I really do love the original colors, and I’m glad to show the unaltered photo here.

Ali is a self-described “Lebanese Visual Artist” based in Beirut. You can see more photos by Ali, including, food, street, dog, and Christmas photos, at unsplash.com/@alizbib.

Cabbage

Baba was making fried cabbage rolls for Lucky Day. Photo by Monika Grabkowska.

“Lucky Day” begins “Ophir woke in the dark to the thick, warm smell of cabbage cooking.” So I looked and looked for good photos of egg rolls to represent the story’s cabbage rolls. Finding none, I looked for cabbage stir fry in a pan but found none. Fortunately, I found this gorgeous photo by Monika Grabkowska. I’m not even positive these purple and green leafy plants are cabbage. But even if they are not, I think they could easily represent the cabbages of Hulm.

Monika, who describers herself as a “girl from Poland living in the UK,” is a food stylist and photographer. Looking at this gorgeous and delicious photo, how can you have any doubt she is a master of both? On unsplash.com, Monika writes that she “loves nature and healthy food.” And she also loves a good cup of coffee.

You can see more of Monika’s food and coffee images at unsplash.com/@moniqa and monikagrabkowska.com.

Dragon

Ophir did not see any dragons. Just men carrying two large, wobbling dog heads. Photo by Marilyn Paige.

Marilyn Paige shot this giant, green dragon head in Chinatown. I’m just not sure which Chinatown. It is a dragon head for parades, and if you view Marilyn’s photos as unsplash.com/@marilynhpaige, you can see more parade-related images.

Of course, in my story, this photo represented one of the two dragon heads that led the parade past Baba’s shop counter and Ophir’s home.

Town Square

Ophir took his tray and followed the crowd to the central square. Photo by Reiseuhu.

This photo actually comes from Reiseuhu, the German travel deal portal. They have their own Unsplash page at unsplash.com/@reiseuhu. You can also find more photos from their travels at www.instagram.com/reiseuhu.

This photo is titled “Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv, Israel.” But in my story, it represents part of the path Ophir takes from his home to the town square.

Sandstone Alleyway

Ophir stood in the shade of an alley, counting the rolls. Photo by Joshua Sukoff.

Joshua Sukoff took this beautiful photo of a bright, sunny day looking down a crumbly, aged alley of stonework and bricks. It was taken in Safed, Israel, and her merely titled it “Sandstone Alleyway.”

Joshua is a teenager from New York City who likes skiing and traveling photography. You can see more of his flying, skiing, and traveling photos at unsplash.com/@joshuas.

Win a cash prize if you write the best finish to my story–March Contest

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

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

Look here for contest rules.

Lucky Day

Ophir woke in the dark to the thick, warm smell of cabbage cooking.

The lights automatically turned on as he rose from bed. On Hulm, where the sun shone brightly most days, they never lacked for electricity. Baba had scavenged solar panels for the roof and, through constant care, kept the tricky wiring running. To Mama, he would say, “Habibti, as long as you are married to me, light shall always shine on your beautiful face and you shall feel the electricity of my love.”

“Habibti,” Mama would say with a small smile, “Light is plentiful on Hulm. Are you so generous you would also give me air to breathe and ground to walk on? I would much prefer a larger cistern.” But when Mama said it, she said it with such a soft smile and soft eyes that Ophir knew it was a joke.

Baba was making fried cabbage rolls for Lucky Day. Photo by Monika Grabkowska

Ophir snapped on his toolbelt and ran to the kitchen. Baba was making fried cabbage rolls for Lucky Day.

It was still dark outside, but Baba had been up for hours rolling out and cutting the dough. Baba only made vegetarian rolls. They cost less to make, but Ophir could only sell them for half the price of rolls filled with goat meat or even eggs. “Habibti, we don’t eat meat. Some of our friends do and some do not. But we will make sure our friends that don’t have a special treat for a festival day.”

Ophir helped fold the rolls as Baba began dropping them into the hot oil. The first batch always came out wrong and Baba let Ophir eat as many as he wanted from the first batch. Ophir crunched the crispy roll and hot cabbage juice flooded his mouth. The fried dough burnt his tongue.

Baba laughed as Ophir rolled the bite around his mouth and sucked in air, trying to cool the hot dough. Fried juices dripped from Ophir’s lips, and he laughed, too. “Couldn’t wait for it to cool, eh, Habibti?” Ophir shook his head, giggling.

It was going to be the best Lucky Day ever!

Most days, Baba was a mender and Mama was a weaver. Mama worked her looms in the back room where the good light shone in through the window. Baba sat at the counter on the front of the house, repairing small machines, family heirlooms that had cracked, and sometimes even favorite pairs of shoes. He also sold small machines and odds and ends that he had repaired but never been paid for.

It was going to be the best Lucky Day ever!

At sunrise, Mama produced another surprise. She had made a new apron for Ophir, a real shop apron made of sturdy material like Baba’s. And it had two large pockets on the front! Ophir donned the apron over his toolbelt to protect the tools. Mama cinched the strings and tied them behind his back. “You look just like your Baba, Habibti,” Mama whispered.

Baba and Ophir took up their stations at the counter. Baba sold cabbage rolls and Lucky Day ribbons made by Mama to the growing crowd. Ophir had grown tall the past year and he could finally see over the counter without standing on a stool. He handed out rolls while Baba handled the money.

Ophir did not see any dragons. Just men carrying two large, wobbling dog heads. Photo by Marilyn Paige.

The parade wound through every street of the village on the way to the central square. “Habibti, come look,” Baba called to Mama. “Come! Come! This year, they have made dragons!”

Mama came out from the kitchen, where she had been cooking more cabbage rolls. Baba wrapped his arms around Mama as they watched the dancing figures weave drunkenly up the dusty street. Ophir climbed up on the counter to see over the crowds lining the street. He did not see any dragons. Only men carrying two large, wobbling dog heads and lines of men and women behind carrying streamers. Then came the usual figures wearing headdresses of gold in the shapes of dogs, cats, camels and unicorns.  

When the crowd dwindled, Ophir took his tray and followed the crowd to the central square. There, the Eumda would make a speech and declare the day a holiday, even though everyone already knew that. The school was closed and the richest children in the village would buy the treats and play the games lined around the square. The poorest children would run and play, even if they could not afford the games or sweet treats. And, if they could steal a treat, they would.

None of the child thieves bothered Ophir. Only adults seemed to care for the cabbage rolls. Ophir circled the square, trying to make his voice heard over the adult vendors and the gleeful chatter surrounding him. Baba and Mama let him spend the whole day in the square. When his tray and the insulated box beneath were empty, he ran home and bounced on the balls of his feet, eager to return to the square, as Mama filled the box with steaming rolls. Baba counted the coins in the box. “Habibti, you have done well. Even better than last year. We are blessed by Lucky Day.”

Encouraged, Ophir ran back to the square. This time, he ignored the games and he zeroed in on the older adults, urging them to buy his wares and buy one for a friend. If he did well, perhaps they could buy Mama a new cistern. One without a weeping crack. And if he sold all the rolls, he could leave the tray at home and return to the square free to run and play with the others.

Business picked up at midday, and Ophir even sold a few rolls to his classmates for their lunch. Mama had run out of dough and Ophir’s box was only half full. He kept counting the rolls after every sale, counting down to when he could return an empty box with coins at the bottom to Baba.

Ophir took his tray and followed the crowd to the central square. Photo by Reiseuhu.

He stood in the shade of an alley, counting the rolls one more time when he heard the popping noises. At first, he thought it might be firecrackers. He looked up, eager to see the bright, sparking colors. Instead, a crush of people ran to the middle of the square. Then he heard gunfire. He turned to run down the alley, but there was already a soldier coming up the far end. Thinking of the coins, Ophir tried to run past the soldier, but the alley was too tight.

The soldier threw Ophir to ground. The man dumped the last of the rolls on the ground and scooped the coins into his pockets. Tears sprang to Ophir’s eyes. His whole family had worked so hard for that money. He rushed at the soldier and found himself suddenly sitting on the ground, his eye exploding in pain. The soldier laughed harshly and pushed Ophir into the square with the muzzle of his rifle. Soldiers with guns ringed the entire square.

Ophir was herded into Alththania’s pawn shop with dozens of villagers, mostly adults. The villagers were crying and screaming, but still they instinctively sorted themselves out. The men pushed the women behind them and faced the soldiers at the door. The women pushed the children to the back of the store, hushing and holding the smallest ones. Ophir was almost 13, but he was short for his age and he found himself at the back of the store with the children too big to carry.

He was afraid, especially when he heard more gunfire erupting outside. But it was distant, coming from other parts of the village, not the square. Ophir closed his eyes and prayed for Baba and Mama. Baba was smart. At the first sign of trouble, he would have dropped the swinging wood door that also acted as the stall’s awning and latched it tight. Soldiers would want nothing with a mender and his second-hand goods.

After the soldiers closed the door, the men in the front huddled together and spoke in low voices. Some of the women cried, and some of the women comforted those women and the children. “It’s OK, Habibti. Everything will be fine,” one woman said, rocking a child her lap.

“It’s a cleansing,” one young man said very loudly. “It’s happened elsewhere. And now it’s happening here. We’ll never …”

Ophir stood in the shade of an alley, counting the rolls. Photo by Joshua Sukoff.

The other men shouted him down, but their frenzied talk continued in a louder rumble.

If Ophir could just make it home, everything would be alright. But for security, Alththania’s shop had no windows. That had been the soldiers’ first mistake. Everyone knew that Alththania bought and sold gold, silver, and the occasional jewel. The glass case behind Ophir was filled with gold necklaces and rings and even a few ruby rings. It was the closest he had ever been to true wealth. But Alththania also bought and sold guns, everything from slug slingers to pulse rifles.

The soldiers had left the jewels, but they had removed the guns from the shelves. The wall behind the main counter had nothing left but empty shelves and wire hangers. But even Ophir knew Alththania kept some things hidden beneath the floorboards.

Ophir could not hear the details of the men’s talk up front, but it was clear there were two camps. One said to wait for the Eumda to sort things out, and the others were suggesting they do their own bargaining, purchase their way to freedom. “We are a poor village,” said a thin man with lined cheeks. “They will soon see that and be on their way.” That brought on doubtful grumbles.

Ophir took stock of his surroundings. There was a door to Alththania’s backroom. He knew all the village alleyways and there was no back door to the pawn shop. But he wanted to get away from the crying, snot-nosed children crowding around him. He wanted to stretch his legs.

Quietly, he crawled around the counter. Luckily, the room was not locked and Ophir crawled inside and latched the door behind him.

It was a small, cramped space with a desk in the front corner and a large safe, shelves on three walls and a large row of shelves running down the center of the room. Curious, Ophir examined the shelves. Like his father’s shop, it was filled with machinery, but expensive machines his father would never be allowed to work on. There were kitchen mixers, microwave ovens, and pulse massagers. They were not new, but they were not dusty or dented like the machines in Baba’s mending shop. Some even came with their own cloth or plastic covers.

In the far corner, where the automatic lighting barely reached, Ophir found the android. The head, torso and arms were all in one piece, sitting drunkenly on a stool. The legs were on a nearby shelf. They gleamed metallically in the dim light.

Ophir looked guiltily at the door, his fingers already itching to touch the android.

His father would have given a day’s wages just for five minutes with the android, working or not. Baba and Ophir had even talked of building their own android one day, but they all knew it was a dream. Like when Mama would buy one lottery ticket and they would take turns holding the ticket and saying what they would buy with the winnings.

Ophir looked guiltily at the door, his fingers already itching to touch the android. The door was still latched and he could not hear anything from the main room. He had more than five minutes. He might have hours and hours.

After examining the parts until he grew tired of standing, Ophir took the pieces to the desk to examine them more closely under the bright, white light of the wall lamp. All the connections seemed sound and clean. Ophir could not understand why the android had even been disassembled.

He only looked guiltily at the door once more before pulling the tools from his tool belt. He set to work, only pausing when he smelled smoke. The smell was very faint but acrid. Not the smell of hearth fires or cooking fires. He heard rumblings from the men in the main room, but there were no screams. He decided the fire must be from another part of the village.

Ophir lost track of time. Only when the start-up sequence began did he finally sit back with a sigh, rubbing his eyes. He heard a murmur from the main room and a strange noise.


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Matthew Cross

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Night of the Rocket–Newlondon

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the fourth 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 Newlondon

The delta city of Newlondon is home to blue-eyed fishermen and The Globe’s finest sailors. They sail the South Sea and ply the Elizabeth River, carrying trade all the way to Belmont.

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

The Beast Below

by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage

Death whispered in the waves as The Tempest left Newlondon behind. Water crashed up the boat’s side, spraying Antonio and stinging his eyes. He staggered across the deck.

Oars thrashed against the water as sailors battled the sea, their voices raised to the rhythm of their rowing. “Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”

The shadow of Newlondon’s harbor defenses disappeared in the fog shrouding the city, now a speck on the horizon, as the boat drew further into the ocean. On all sides, the open sea vanquished everything, including the death that lurked beneath the surface. The death that waits for me, Antonio thought.

“…Our eyes we’ll hide from the monster’s glow. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”

This far from land, the ocean was no more than a grave. How many bodies lay buried on its bottom?

How did I get into this mess? Antonio scolded himself. Better yet, how do I get out of it?

“…Unfurl the sail, the ale will flow. With sharpened spear we’ll slay the foe…”

He toyed with the loose thread wrapped around his finger and closed his eyes. Images of Bianca flooded his mind. He forgot the salty tang filling his nostrils, pushed away the wind whipping his cheeks raw, lost to the memory as the sailors’ chant drifted into the distance.

“…And bring him home for a pot of gold. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”

Blue fishing nets
Rigging and nets hung like tendrils of vines winding everywhere. Photo by Jonas Jacobsson.

Bianca’s siren song pulled him deeper. “Oh, Antonio, I am forever yours. Yes!”

How was that only yesterday? Now I’m on this deathship?

On the harbor cliff, Antonio took her tender hand. Bianca beamed at the delicate piece of twine circling her ring finger, and the matching one around Antonio’s.

“Marry me, Bianca. I’ll take every trade run from here to Belmont to afford a ring. I promise to give you the life you deserve.”


Antonio and Bianca, intertwined, weaved a path through the harbor back to his scow, oblivious to the incessant crowing of the crews preparing ships for launch. The tall masts of larger trade vessels towered over their heads. Rigging and nets hung like tendrils of vines winding everywhere.

“Antonio! Will you not stop for your best friend?” a voice demanded from behind.

Antonio and Bianca whirled to see a panting Solanio chasing after them.

“Solanio?”

“I’ve only been trying to catch you from three docks over. The fog isn’t that thick today, mate.”

“Sorry, friend. I think we may have been lost in a fog of our own making.” Antonio smiled at Bianca.

“It’s the most marvelous day, Solanio! Antonio has asked me to be his wife.”

“Glorious news indeed,” Solanio kissed Bianca’s hand and eyed the twine on her finger. “But it’ll take a lot more than the measly trading runs you’re doing to give this woman the ring she deserves.”

Antonio caught the faint darkness clouding his friend’s eyes. “I’m due to make one of those measly runs right now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Bianca gave Antonio a sweet kiss of goodbye. Solanio and Antonio watched as she headed into the village, deftly avoiding the fallen ropes at her feet.

“Let me know when you want to make some real money, brother. You don’t want that one slipping away,” said Solanio.

“I’m not desperate for one of your schemes yet, Solanio. See you tomorrow.”

Antonio hopped aboard his scow. He started the engine sequence and secured the rest of his cargo before pulling away from his slip.


Antonio disengaged the maglock, pushing away from Whitehall’s dock.

One more stop in Finsbury, then back to my Bianca.

The thought warmed him like the sun reflecting off the looming towers across the marsh. Antonio pushed the throttle, he couldn’t wait to return to that gloomy, beautiful port, and to his love.

Thud!

“What the–”

Something landed on the deck behind him. Antonio spun straight into a punch, throwing him off-balance. The cloaked figure didn’t wait for Antonio to regain his senses, lunging for the cargo.

“No!”

Antonio jumped on the pirate, prying him off the hold. The bandit swung again. This time, Antonio dodged and returned a slug, inflicting a sickening crack to his attacker’s ribs. The pirate grabbed a hidden laser-edged knife and slashed toward Antonio.

Antonio grabbed his opponent’s wrists as they grappled on the deck. Forearms bulging, the pirate pressed the knife toward Antonio’s neck.

“Bianca!”

Antonio kicked his attacker, grabbed a rigging knife from his boot, and stabbed in one swift rush. The bandit fell back on the deck, motionless. Antonio’s heart pounded as he looked to the pirate and then to the blade he still held in his hands.

A whirl overhead caught his attention. A Whitehall drone circled, then zoomed back toward the city.

What have I done?

Antonio covered the body with a tarp and sped back to Newlondon in the growing darkness. When he arrived, he docked in the visitor moorings instead of his own slip. He stowed the knife back in his boot and ran to Solanio’s office in the harbor.

“Solanio, I need your help!”

“Brother, what happened?”

“A pirate attacked me. There was a drone. It happened so fast. What am I to do?”

“I know a place for you to hide while I take care of everything. Follow me.”

Fishing nets wove along the dock like cobwebs. Photo by Manuel Sardo.

Solanio grabbed a chain of keys from the hook on his door and hastened to the harbor wall.

Antonio followed him through the fret that masked the city. The tang of fish stung the back of his throat, and voices from the market echoed in the distance above the cymbal-crash of waves. Fishing nets wove along the dock like cobwebs, and the salty fog surrounded the harbor’s defensive bastions.

“Over here.” Solanio stepped aboard a boat, fumbling with his keys. Antonio paused. Solanio unlatched a door. It swung open, leading below deck. “Antonio! What are you waiting for?”

“Bianca. They’ll come for her first. I need to get her out of—”

“Antonio. Listen to me. If the drone recorded you killing someone on the river, you need somewhere to lay low. Sea fret won’t keep you hidden long. Not from the drones.”

“But—”

“I’ll take care of Bianca. You have my oath.”

“You swear it?”

Solanio’s lips squirmed in an eel-like smile. “Leave her to me. She’ll come to no harm.”

Solanio grasped Antonio’s arm, compelling him into the cabin. Solanio closed the door, eclipsing Antonio in darkness. A click snapped through the lock. Antonio tried the handle, but it wouldn’t give.

“Solanio!” he cried.

His shoulder crashed against the bolted door. From beyond, voices and footsteps mingled, and the floor swayed with the familiar rocking that belongs to a boat on water. Antonio grabbed the knife from his boot and lit the blade. Its laser shimmered, revealing a hook and pole on the wall. Engines rumbled as he snatched the hook and fixed it on the door’s seam. He extinguished the knife, replacing it in his boot, and heaved. His sinews burned as he wrestled the latch over and over. All the while, the engine’s low murmur disguised his grunts.

Come on!

He threw himself upon the pole, wood splintering. The door split, sending Antonio stumbling onto the deck. Fog blanketed the ship. Through the mist emerged the captain’s hulking frame. His ice-blue eyes narrowed, and his lip curled into a smile as he stroked his beard and stomped towards Antonio.

“Well, well, well. What have we here? Looks like we’ve got ourselves a stowaway, lads!”

Antonio ran to the boat’s edge. Even at its widest stretch, he could swim the Elizabeth River without breaking a sweat.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the captain roared.

Antonio straightened up. “By how long we’ve been sailing, I reckon we must be near Westminster by now.”

Fog blanketed the ship. Photo by Joel Bengs.

The captain threw his head back. “Did you hear that, lads? This tar thinks we’re on the river!”

Crewmen howled, their laughs rippling across the deck.

The captain raised his hand, commanding quiet. “What’s your name, sailor?”

“Antonio.”

“Well, Antonio, welcome aboard The Tempest, the finest deathship this side of Belmont.”

Deathship! “You can’t be serious? We’re not—”

“Aye. We’re in open waters. Lads, kill the engines. Oars at the ready. If we’ve any hope of making it to the deep, we’ll need to run silent from here on out.”

Antonio’s mouth gaped open. “You’re a hunting ship?”

“That we are.”

“I never heard of a ship ever returning from a hunt.”

“We may make it back yet.” The captain winked. The engines’ rumble faded, and the ship lurched as it slowed.

Antonio scoured The Tempest for a way out. But all he saw was water and mist. “You have to turn around. I’m not supposed to be here.”

The captain shook his head. “You think any of us are supposed to be here? That any sane man would take on the hunt unless we weren’t up to our eyes in debt? Debt will drown you faster than the ocean, lad.”

“You mean—”

“If we return without a creature’s corpse, we’d be better off sunk. The only way I’m turning this boat around is with a kraken in tow. Y’hear?”

“But… it’s suicide.”

“That’s why they pay so much. Now, are you gonna grab an oar, or do I have to force you in the brig?”

Antonio shook his head. This can’t be happening. Solanio. You murderer.

The crew slung their oars over the side of the boat and cried out in song to the beat of their strokes.

“Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”


A strange fluorescence lit the ocean. Photo by Trevor McKinnon.

Antonio stroked the twine on his finger. He clasped his hands together, pretending it was Bianca’s, trying to remember the softness of her skin and push away the calluses of his own. He opened his eyes as The Tempest crested the waves.

A shudder rocked the boat.

“Hold, lads!” the captain bellowed.

The sailors lifted their oars, and a hush descended. Antonio turned his ear to the waves.

Another shunt wobbled the ship.

A chill shuddered through the breeze. Antonio stepped to the boat’s edge. He peered into the murky water, where a faint glow skittered across its surface.

A strange fluorescence lit the ocean, spreading, growing. It shone brighter still, and the water glistened in a deathly haze.

“Weapons at the ready!” the captain yelled.

Sailors manned the guns, replacing their oars with blaster rifles.

The underside of its tentacles emitted a blinding glow. Photo by Luana Azevedo.

The light intensified, as if the whole ocean were on fire. Then the creature broke through the flames. Its first tentacle writhed up from the abyss, stretching taller than the masts that lined the port, and wide as the pulsar turrets guarding the Elizabeth river.

Another tentacle broke through the inferno, twice as big, and still another, before the body of the creature turned the light to shadow. It shrieked a wail as it towered over the boat. A thick hide menaced its skin with spikes, like a thousand harpoons encrusted with boils hard as steel. The underside of its tentacles emitted a blinding glow, and a single green eye cast a light on the boat bright as the lighthouse on East Cove.

If hell had a hide, it would have chosen this one.

The ship pitched and rolled as more tentacles wrapped around the gunwale. Men clutched their rifles, eyes wide in terror.

“Steady, lads! Fire when ready!” the captain commanded.

The first blasts struck the beast’s side. It shuddered and shook but did not retreat.

“It’s laughing at us.” Antonio’s voice was lost in the roar of the tossing and thrashing.

The captain growled, trying to match the leviathan, and charged across the deck. As he aimed his rifle, a gnarled tentacle flicked him overboard. Antonio covered his gaping mouth with his hand. He felt the twine on his finger.

Bianca. Bianca. Bianca.

The mantra fueled Antonio into action.

“Aim at the eye! Don’t waste time on its hide.”

Half the men obeyed while the rest were either huddled crying for their mothers or frozen in panic. Rifle blasts battered where it’s face should be, though there was no sign of a mouth.

“Keep going, men! Blind the beast!”

In a rage, the creature slammed its body onto The Tempest’s deck. The shockwave flung most of the sailors to their watery graves. Those who braced themselves continued their attacks. Antonio searched frantically for a gun. Gobs of neon green littered the deck. The only thing he could grasp was the hook and pole he’d escaped the cabin with. Antonio secured his knife to the hook. He engaged the laser and faced the beast.

A shot landed squarely in the creature’s eye. It released an ear-piercing cry as its face split, revealing its cavernous maw. Spiraling rows of teeth vibrated from the roar, like tiny saw blades waiting to hack its victims. A vicious emerald light emanated from its throat, hypnotizing the other men. Antonio seized his chance and dodged the lacerating teeth, thrusting the makeshift harpoon deep into the roof of the glowing deathtrap.

“BIANCA!”

He sunk the knife, pulling the blade straight through the creature’s lantern eye, and sending it flying onto the deck. Brains and flesh rained down as the creature thrashed its last. Green ooze dripped from Antonio. The kraken’s eye stared at him from his feet, until its glow extinguished. The monster stilled, collapsed over the boat, almost bringing it under with its weight.

Antonio’s chest heaved. The creature’s stink invaded his nostrils, and he spat its bitterness from his mouth. He pocketed his knife and wiped the stain of the beast from his body.

It’ll take more than that to get rid of me, Solanio.

A violet hue danced across the waves.

Antonio grabbed an oar, and plunged it into the water, tugging with all his might. The few remaining sailors pitched their oars alongside him. His fingers wrapped around the wood so tight, it pressed the twine into his flesh, but all he could do was smile.

I’m coming, Bianca. Wait for me.

Then a faint glow shot across the surface of the water. He stopped rowing and craned his neck over the ship’s edge. A violet hue danced across the waves.

No. Not another. It can’t be.

He grabbed his blade and stood, calling out to the water.

“You can’t have me! I won’t let you!”

The glow intensified and the ocean lit up. But no creature emerged.

“Come on! Show yourself!”

He waited, but there was no beast. Only light. And then he looked up, towards the sky, where the same glow shimmered even brighter.


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

Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross. Set in the city of Finsbury, it’s filled with longing, regret, and a buried secret.

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

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross