Negotiations are more beastly than you would think

The Head on the Wall

By Matthew Cross

Capt. Ward landed her flier in the plaza in front of the domed building that served as the seat of government of Finsbury. The Globers called Finsbury a city, one of the five cities of the Globe, but the farmlands of Finsbury spread for hectares on either side of the Elizabeth River. Should it be called a county or a shire, she wondered.

Ward’s two escorts, Marines piloting their own fliers, quickly strode up on either side of her, eyes scanning the building ahead and the busy marketplace behind for dangers. Ward had already made her own preliminary threat assessment out of sheer habit and removed her helmet. She doubted there was any danger she could not handle on her own, and with two Polity Marines at her back, she knew only a Republic Special Forces team could match her. Nothing on the Globe, a sleepy, little, blue planet, frightened her.

That was not true. Failure frightened her. She feared not completing her mission successfully. And, unfortunately, what was needed here to extract the Globe’s resources for the Polity was diplomacy, Ward’s weakest skill.

She crossed the plaza to meet with the Finsbury contingent, led by Councilor Calpurnia, whom Ward had met at Whitehall on the now infamous “Kite Night.” Many Globers also called it the “Night of the Rocket.”

Councilor Calpurnia was a large woman. She wore a heavy layer of fat, but underneath that Ward noted strong muscles, probably earned from hard work in the woman’s youth. Calpurnia curtsied and Ward bowed. The men behind Calpurnia bowed. Ward surmised that Calpurnia was no token or figurehead. She had probably fought and clawed her way to the top of this men’s club, and Ward would not underestimate her.

Ward wore her dress whites, but the City Council of Finsbury all wore more casual, loose-fitting clothing, like nothing she had seen in Whitehall, where opulent and outrageous fashions ruled. All their clothing also had similar prints in mottled greens that Ward assumed was camouflage. To Ward, camouflage clothing meant military exercises, and she wondered what it meant in Finsbury.

After introductions were made, Calpurnia turned to Ward. “Captain, I bet you’re real good with a gun. Have you ever been hunting?”

Ward frowned, thinking. “I once tracked a Republic Special Forces unit across a frozen moon. I shot one and killed the second with my knife, but the third had frozen by the time I reached him.”

The councilors all stared at Ward. One with his mouth hanging open. Had she made another diplomatic error or perhaps a breach of protocol?

Calpurnia laughed, but it sounded strained. “Well, then, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble hunting the beasts with us today, Captain. The beasts don’t shoot back.”

Calpurnia laughed and the other councilors laughed with her.

“Let’s find you some suitable clothes, Captain. We don’t want a beast to bleed on your pretty, white duds.”


It took a squadron of hovers of all shapes and sizes to transport the councilors, their assistants, and all their gear into the countryside. Calpurnia insisted on driving Ward in her own personal hover, a sleek, emerald-green capsule that looked like it came from Whitehall. No one else among Finsbury’s leaders had such a luxurious craft, Ward noted. Ward’s escorts piloted their own fliers.

On the way, Calpurnia explained the history of the hunt. Since the founding of Belmont, its leaders, once called the Brethren of Finsbury, had sworn to protect the farmers from the beasts. Before there were force walls, just walls around the houses and wire fences around the fields, the beasts often invaded the farms, threatening farmers and their property. Whenever a farmer sent a drone with a call for help, the Brethren raced to the fields to provide protection.

“Now, the force walls protect us from the beasts. And, of course, Whitehall sends their Vestras to keep the walls running, and the Artemises to hunt down the worst of the beasts,” Calpurnia said. “If we need much protecting these days, it’s from the greed of Whitehall. They won’t share the secrets of the force walls or the power generation, so we’re forced to pay whatever price they demand. It’s our food what keeps them alive, but they set the price of their force walls high and value our food low.”

Calpurnia swept her hand across the windscreen, indicating the green fields before them that stretched to the horizon. “In a land of plenty, we still have children that starve. And now the Polity wants to take more of our food and call it the price of protection.”

Ward listened and held her tongue.”Listen more, and talk less,” said the SEAL Leadership Manual.

The assortment of hovers landed, kicking up thick, brown dust, in a green field bordered by a tall, humming force wall. Calpurnia walked over to a man standing next to a large, green piece of equipment, a cube-shaped vehicle of some type. After the dust cleared, the damage was obvious. The machine lay on its side and one side had been crushed in.

One Councilor whistled. “Stove it right in. And, look, there, horn marks. Gotta be a Sledgebeast.”

The Councilors unloaded wheeled riding vehicles. They drove around the field, tearing up the tender, green plants. The farmer said nothing, just stood there dourly with his arms crossed. After a while, the Councilors formed their vehicles in a half circle, laughing, making crude jokes and drinking canned ales. They checked their various blaster rifles, compared models and bragged of the even larger blasters they had on order from Whitehall.

Ward had only brought her personal sidearm and a few knives, one of them the laser-bladed knife from Vernon. Calpurnia inisted Ward take one of the many rifles on her wheeled vehicle, and nodded at the men. Ward took it as a gesture that she would fit in better if she took the rifle, so she did and examined the crude pulse weapon.

It turned out that “hunting” a Sledgebeast was simple. Drones were sent out to harry it in their direction. They saw a cloud of dust long before they saw the beast. Most of the Councilors took up positions standing up in their open-frame vehicles while a few raced across the fields on either side to flank the beast.

From the base of the dust cloud appeared a wedge of muscle on four hooves. It had a wide head and three long, curved horns. The ground trembled with its hoof beats. The men riding on either side repeatedly fired their pulse weapons at it. The beast veered left and right, but it did not stop. Then it ran into one of the vehicles, turning it over, before scraping a horn along the stacked stones of the inside of the force wall. The beast opened its mouth, but instead of a bellow, it issued a scream. As the beast drew closer, Ward’s assumption that it was a mammal changed. It seemed to be covered in a flowing layer of feathers.

Ward sensed fear and desperation from the beast. It was trapped inside the force wall and probably could not find its way out.

The Councilors in the semicircle had been firing their weapons repeatedly, some even reaching for a second weapon, long before the Sledgebeast was within range. They grinned and called out in their excitement, claiming to have hit it. The beast veered away from the wall, towards the half-ring of vehicles, and into a volley of pulse fire. The weapons definitely had an effect, but they seemed more to enrage than weaken the beast.

The Sledgebeast crashed into the force wall once again, jackknifed and suddenly faced the right flank of the arc of vehicles. It charged, turning over vehicles and throwing the passengers into the dirt. The hunters closest to Ward and Calpurnia managed to drop into their vehicles and speed clear, but Calpurnia stood her ground and fired relentlessly into the beast. With a flick of its thick neck, it threw an empty vehicle into the air, and then glared at Calpurnia. 

Calpurnia threw her discharged weapon in the dirt and reached for another from behind her seat. The beast raised a screeching cry and charged. Ward leapt from the passenger’s seat with two knives in her hands, one the laser knife from Vernon. She left the useless pulse weapon behind.

The Sledgebeast glared at Ward, and Ward only glared back. Her legs pumped and her knives flashed. Ward’s head-on charge seemed to confuse the Sledgebeast and it’s stride broke. That would not save Ward, who stood no taller than the beast’s shoulder, not unless she dove to the side at the last second. Ward did not think; she allowed her instincts to take over and her body to react with the lightning quickness of fast-twitch muscles.

She raced smoothly towards the beast, noting the long, upward curving horns and the beast’s broad head and broader neck. The head and neck were free of feathers, and she could see foamy sweat ran down its muscled neck and straining tendons. Then she saw them. Distended blood vessels running up from the body and along the neck to the massive head.

The Sledgebeast lowered its horns as it closed on her, but then it could not see straight ahead. She slid under the horns and jabbed upwards fiercely with both arms. Her SEAL knife glanced off the hard flesh but the laser knife found its mark, burning a path down the curved neck as the beast thundered over her. Ward wriggled between the pumping legs and rose to face the beast.

Gouting blood, it stumbled. It’s momentum carried it almost to Calpurnia’s vehicle. The beast’s legs gave out and the mountain of muscle slid through the soft dirt. A horn caught in the dirt, causing the body to spin. Calpurnia leapt free as two of the beast’s legs kicked out and hit the vehicle’s side. Even with only a fraction of the beast’s power behind those kicks, the vehicle jumped a few metes. The door was bashed in and one tire exploded.

Despite the injuries, many of the men were ecstatic and ran over to examine the beast. The assistants sent drones for more help and treated the wounded. Ward, covered in dirt and blood, looked over as her two Marine escorts running up. Despite being the ranking officer on the planet, she would have to explain herself to her chief of security and chief of intelligence. The Polity invested years and massive sums of money in training their officers, and officers could not endanger that investment by being reckless. 


Calpurnia was quiet as she flew the hover back to Southwark, Finsbury’s marketplace and government seat. Ward watched the pattern of the rows and rows of crops flash by and waited patiently.

“I know you saved my life back there,” Calpurnia said finally. “You coulda just jumped clear and left me there. But you risked your own life. I know that.”

“The Polity Navy protects citizens of the Polity. From any danger, seen or unseen,” Ward said.

Calpurnia shook her head. “Naw, Polity don’t care about a City Councilor or the whole City Council for that matter. You coulda let us all die and just bargained with our replacements, I bet.”

Of course, Calpurnia was correct. Ward was not technically required to protect citizens from natural disasters or their own foolishness. Still, Navy SEALs were not the kind to stand by when they could lend a hand.

“But don’t think I’ll bargain my own life against myself or Finsbury. You saved my life. What’s done is done. But I didn’t ask you to,” Calpurnia said.

“The Polity also does not have to bargain with City Councilors,” Ward said mildly. “When we last met in Whitehall, I said I would assess the resources here and determine how the tax will be apportioned. I’m trying to be fair and spread the burden among the cities. As you said, you have food here that the other cities need. I’ll take the ten percent tax of all food traveling north. That leaves the food that stays in Finsbury and even the food traveling south to Newlondon tax free.”

Calpurnia opened her mouth to protest but stopped. She stared straight ahead as she drove.

“Aboard your lander, I asked what choice you gave us,” Calpurnia said. “And then your ship in space showed us how you could rain fire like gods in the sky. And if all your soldiers are like you, we couldn’t even withstand you on our own ground.”

Ward was the only Polity SEAL sent on the mission to the Globe. No one else on the Pacifica had her fighting or tactical abilities. But there was no reason Calpurnia needed to know that.

“Still, if I want to keep my seat at the head of the Council, I need to come away with something,” Calpurnia said slyly.

“What do you want?” Ward asked.

It turned out to be far less than Ward imagined, and a bargain was struck.

Photo by Martin Adams

The Sledgebeast’s head would be mounted on the wall in City Council Hall. It was the largest Sledgebeast anyone had ever seen, and, apparently, the bragging rights meant something in Finsbury. All Ward had to do was allow Calpurnia to take the credit. 

Ward mounted her flier, pleased with the bargain. She now controlled ten percent of the food flowing to Westminster, Belmont and Whitehall. As a boon, she would give that to them for free to ease the burden of the oil and steel she had extracted from them to pay their own taxes to the Polity. That generosity should go a long way to relieve the tensions clearly building in Whitehall from the Polity’s presence.

With the exception of Belmont, things were looking up. Maybe, just maybe, she could change the Glober’s minds about the Polity.

With a sense of optimism, Ward flew back to Whitehall, watching the blood-red Swearing Moon circle the horizon to the north.


If you enjoyed my story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Finsbury, read “The Buried War” which kicked off the Finsbury stories in the Globe Folio series.

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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Bianca joins the Shadow Walkers to save her love

Bianca stands atop the seaside cliffs of Newlondon

Siren’s Song

BY SHANEL WILSON

PART TWO

Nearly a week had passed and still no real news from Emilia or from the Shadow Walkers. Bianca’s feet tapped under her desk anxiously. Leonato was out at a “meeting” and all of the traders had their assignments early because of the Kraken eye auction this afternoon. She could only organize the same stack of logs for so long. Bianca placed the last stack into her desk drawer then stood, stretching.

“I’ve been cooped up here long enough this week. I need the sea.” Bianca closed her hand around the twine that encircled her finger.

“That is a wise plan, M’lady. Would you like me to set the closing mode?” Meg asked.

“Yes, please.” Bianca walked to the front of the office.

“Have a pleasant rest of your day, Lady Bianca.” Meg switched off the overhead lights, leaving the office lit by the late morning haze. 

“Thank you, Meg.” Bianca felt the salty air on her cheeks as she opened the door.

Bianca pulled out her key and twisted it in the lock. She strode down the cobblestones. She needed to get out to the sea cliffs where she used to meet Antonio, the same cliffs where he had proposed before all of this mess got in the way. She needed the salty air and the crash of the waves against the rocks. She needed something that would make her feel closer to her love when he was so far away.

The quickest path was to cut through the docks. With the last minute preparations for the auction, the docks were full of activity. She saw colorful sails of ships from the other cities’ delegates arriving in the harbor. She was bombarded by the shouts of crews preparing the slips for their arrival. Bianca hoped she could sneak through the chaos without drawing too much attention to herself. She gracefully navigated through the twists and turns of the ropes strewn about. Overhead, the amphitheater cast an eerie shadow like a massive deathship looming taller than the masts and barge ships. Bianca sneered at the sight and turned to find a different way around to avoid it.

She gracefully navigated through the twists and turns of the ropes strewn about.
Photo by Denise Jans.

“Dear Bianca! What a surprise to see you out and about today!” A cold voice echoed off the sails surrounding her. 

Bianca stopped dead in her tracks, every muscle in her body tensing. The approaching sound of leather boots clicking on the wood planks of the dock sent a chill through her like someone had slipped a codfish down the back of her dress. Bianca fought to relax her face before she turned to see Solanio standing before her.

“Hello, Solanio. I hope you have been well.” Bianca strained to give a polite smile.

“Much better now that I have found you. I’ve missed that radiant face.” Solanio reached to touch her cheek. 

“Well, I see you have been very busy recently.” Bianca sashayed out of his reach and gestured to the amphitheater. 

“Ah, yes. Looks quite impressive, doesn’t it? Today is the culmination of much toil. Seeing you on this fateful day is a good sign. Please, will you walk with me for a while?” Solanio offered his elbow to Bianca.

Bianca hesitated as she felt the bile rise in her throat at the idea of touching the repugnant creature before her. Then she thought of the filthy Haller prison Solanio had sent Antonio to. Before her anger could boil over, Bianca swallowed hard and gingerly slipped her hand into his arm, letting him guide her toward the amphitheater. She remembered her father’s words, Shadow Walkers must use the cards they are dealt and gain the advantage. She might not be a Shadow Walker herself, but this was her chance to do something to help Antonio. 

“So where have you been hiding those blue eyes?” Solanio puffed his chest out as they passed a group of rough-hewn seamen, displaying Bianca for all to see. 

“I have been working in my father’s office, as always. With the arrival of the Polity, we’ve been quite busy. That commander of theirs must be important to need my Antonio for all this time.” Bianca tried to appear casual, glancing around the barges to avoid Solanio’s piercing gaze.  

“Ah, yes, well. I would have thought you had heard by now.” Solanio stretched his neck awkwardly. “I am sorry to bear this tragic news to my best friend’s fiancée, but Antonio has betrayed you, betrayed us all. He was caught smuggling by the Hallers while on the way to meet with the Polity. Terrible business, really. The silver lining is that we found out what kind of man he really was before you two were wed.”

Solanio barely hid his serpentine smile. Bianca’s blood boiled seeing how much delight Solanio was taking in telling her his deceptive tale. To cover the heated flush rushing to her cheeks, she let tears rim her eyes.

“No, that can’t be! You know Antonio would never do such a thing.” Bianca froze in place for dramatic effect and used the chance to pull her arm away from Solanio.

“It must be such a shock to hear. I was shocked to learn of it myself.” Solanio shook his head grimly. “I see now that his charm was a great disguise. Don’t be hard on yourself for believing him. I thought of him as a brother, and yet he turned out to be the most vile of villains.”

“I can’t believe he would do such a thing. Where is he? What is to become of him?” Bianca let her tears fall freely, hoping Solanio would believe her poor damsel act instead of seeing her hatred of him brimming inside her.  

“That is for Whitehall to decide. He’s better off there if you ask me. If he were to show his face in Newlondon after what he’s done, there would be a far worse fate than, say, being locked on a deathship for that traitor.” Solanio’s teeth clenched below his furrowed brow. 

Bianca took a step back as Solanio’s bared his teeth menacingly and his breathing grew ragged. A crewman’s whistle broke through the air, snapping Solanio out of his rage. He flicked his hair and smoothed his collar. The calm facade was restored, unnerving Bianca more than the monster below the surface she had just glimpsed.

“I really need to go.” Bianca backed away, not taking her eyes off of Solanio.

“I understand. I, myself, must meet someone before the start of the auction.” The darkness returned to Solanio’s eyes for an instant, confirming an undercurrent of malice before his long stride closed the gap between them, trapping Bianca against the side of a barge. “I am sure your pretty little head is just reeling with this sad news. Fear not though, I am always here for you, my dear Bianca.” 

“That is kind of you.” Bianca paled, barely summoning the words as he loomed over her.

“Bianca, would you promise me something? Would you honor me by coming to the auction? I believe you’ll find it highly enlightening.” Solanio took her hand, kissing it.

“I will try.” Bianca pulled her hand away as she slipped around him disappearing into the crowd before he could trap her again. 

Bianca pulled her hand away as she slipped around him, disappearing into the crowd before he could trap her again. 
Photo by Cas Holmes.

Bianca raced as fast as her legs could carry her, dodging nets and fishing pots. She shuddered, still feeling his hot breath on her cheek. She ran past the edge of the jetty, trying to escape from any lingering part of Solanio’s presence that might be clinging to her. Only once she reached the slope leading to the clifftop, did Bianca allow her pace to slow. 

She nestled into a soft patch of tall grasses and stared out at the tumultuous sea. She pulled out her medallion. She traced the curve of the eel and stopped at the crystal eye. She closed her eyes, willing it to blink with news from Valentine. When she opened them again, the crystal was still dull and lifeless. 

Bianca let the sea air wash over her, losing herself in thought. Hours passed and dark clouds began to gather over the rough waters. It felt like an omen blowing toward her. A song swelled in her soul and she let the words sail on the wind. A blue light pierced through the grey that swirled around her. The blue crystal eye of the eel medallion blinked. Bianca closed her eyes and squeezed the center of the medallion. The automated voice relayed Valentine’s message.

Bianca’s heart soared, knowing she would soon be reunited with her dear Antonio. She sang as she raced to meet Valentine, 

Carve the waves to save my beau,
It’s time to change this tale of woe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.

Water sprayed Bianca and Valentine’s cloaks as they sliced through the Elizabeth River toward Whitehall on Valentine’s stealthy skiv. The sisters sat pressed together behind the controls since the bow was covered in a tarp securing Valentine’s rigging and gear. Bianca couldn’t understand why the sharp smell of salt burned her nostrils this far up the river, but her thoughts were interrupted when Valentine handed Bianca a small key. 

“That key will unlock Antonio’s cell. Emilia’s message said that she would override the shielding and security protocols with her Bride trainer, Cleo, from the inside.” Valentine gripped the skiv controls as they edged around a sandy bank. “You need to get the key to Antonio. Emilia also sent a map that will lead you to a window slit in Antonio’s cell.”

Bianca stared at the delicate key. The small piece of metal was light as a quicksilver’s scale yet Bianca felt like she held the weight of the world in her hand. Without this key, there would be no rescue. 

“Me? Where are you going?” Bianca closed her hand around the key. 

“I have my own tasks. I need to make sure the Guild believes they’ve gotten away with their deceptions while keeping the meddling Hallers in the dark.”

“But once we have Antonio, we can’t let these villains get away. Solanio and the Guild have to pay for their cruelty once and for all!” Bianca’s cheeks burned as her anger bubbled to the surface.

“You know that Father has been waiting for his chance to uncover the treachery of the Guild for ages. Trust me. They will not be able to hide for much longer.” Valentine gently placed her hand on Bianca’s. “It is my job to make sure the Hallers don’t send their drones after us and alert the Guild. So I need to make sure the cell isn’t empty.”

“What are you trying to say?” Bianca’s brow furrowed.

“Do you remember the Shadow Walkers helped remove the body of that pirate I found on Antonio’s skiv?” Valentine slipped her hand back to the controls. 

Bianca’s eyes flew to the tarp in the bow. 
Photo by Shane.

Bianca’s eyes flew to the tarp in the bow.  

“No. You can’t be serious. How . . . ? Where . . . ?” Bianca stammered, her face turning green.

“Shadow Walkers embalmed the pirate in the brackish waters of one of our hidden estuaries when we got word of Antonio’s imprisonment. It became apparent that we would need a decoy to avoid suspicion if we hoped to successfully help Antonio escape.” Valentine slowed the skiv at the edge of the Forest of Arden. “The Hallers won’t even notice it’s a different person, though the salt did shrink him closer to Antonio’s height. As long as they have a body, they’ll think Antonio died, and their uneasy alliance with the Guild will be complete.” 

Bianca, mouth gaping, stared at her sister’s calm face. Although she knew the lengths the Shadow Walkers went to in order to complete the missions Leonato set for them, she was somehow unprepared when it was her own sister that was given such a grisly task. Bianca reached forward and pulled back a corner of the tarp. She found a pair of black boots identical to Antonio’s awkwardly pressed against the bulkhead. Her hand flew to cover her mouth with the sudden fear that if she removed the rest of the tarp, she would see Antonio’s face instead of the pirate’s. Valentine reached over Bianca and replaced the tarp over the pirate.

“Bianca, think for a moment. What a fitting end for the pirate that attacked Antonio, ultimately  bringing on all of this heartache and strife. Left in a cell to rot, it is exactly what a scoundrel like him deserves.” Valentine steered the skiv into a tall patch of shrubs and killed the engine.

Bianca intertwined her fingers to keep them from shaking. Valentine wrapped her arm around her sister, holding her for a moment. Bianca gave Valentine a squeeze back and a half-hearted smile in an unspoken gesture to let Valentine know she was okay once again. Valentine returned the squeeze then reached into her pack and pulled out a scroll.

“This is the map you’ll need. It will lead you to the wall to find Antonio’s cell. When your medallion blinks, send the key through the window slit. Then return here and stay out of sight.” Valentine handed Bianca the scroll. “Emilia will meet Antonio in the cell block and escort him through the Vestra work passages to an external door. I will get the pirate to his final resting place with Cleo. We will all meet you here.”

Bianca unrolled the map. Valentine used the secret code they had created as girls to label the landmarks. If someone found the map, they wouldn’t even know which way was up let alone where it led. The last bit of tension melted out of Bianca’s shoulders, knowing Valentine had thought of everything. 

“Okay, I will see you soon.” Bianca smiled at her sister, confident the plan was going to work. She would have Antonio in her arms again soon.


Bianca carefully made her way to the edge of the forest when Whitehall’s shining exterior wall came into view. She stayed within the safety of the treeline but kept the wall in her line of sight. Bianca read the next map point, labeled Anchor’s White to Bitter End. A white light usually was lit at the top of the mast when a boat was anchored. The boat Valentine meant must be Antonio’s cell. Bianca scanned the exterior wall again. Sure enough, she found a floodlight illuminating the pristine white wall. Through the light’s glare, she saw it.

“A window slit!” Bianca gripped the map tighter. “And to Bitter End . . . That means the end of an anchor. Antonio! It’s Antonio’s cell! Valentine, you clever girl.” Bianca hugged herself knowing Antonio was so close.

Bianca pulled the key out from her pocket. She unwound the twine Antonio had put on her finger and tied it into a small bow on the key. With the key in one hand and her eel medallion in the other, Bianca waited for her signal. Her legs shook and her palms became pools of sweat. She could barely restrain herself from running straight across the open field while screaming Antonio’s name. Bianca closed her eyes and took a long meditative breath. When she opened her eyes again, the eel’s eye pulsed blue. A jolt of electricity shot through Bianca’s veins. She carefully looked to see if the coast was clear. Satisfied that it was, she pulled her hood over her head and silently crossed the open field toward the light. 

When Bianca reached the edge of floodlight’s reach, her melody from the clifftop echoed in her mind. She waited just outside the pool of light and whistled her siren song, hoping Antonio would know she was close. A whistle of the same tune echoed in response. Antonio! It’s him! Bianca’s heart sang within her. She crossed into the light only long enough to throw the key through the slit. She heard a faint clank of metal hitting metal. She leaned against the wall separating her from Antonio for a moment to say a silent prayer of protection to Elizabeth Hathaway before she raced into the darkness to wait for her love.


Bianca tried to sit patiently in the skiv while she waited for everyone to return. Thunder clapped overhead and rain started pelting her cloak. The unease she felt watching the storm roll in over Newlondon’s cliffs earlier settled back in the pit of her stomach. She climbed out of the skiv to get some cover from the pounding rain. In a concealed patch of shrubs and trees, Bianca paced to keep warm and keep her mind from drowning in dread. 

A bolt of lightning illuminated the dank forest for a moment followed by an explosive rumble of thunder. Photo by Sebastian Unrau.

“What can be taking so long?” Bianca muttered to herself, feeling the panic rise in her throat as she squinted into the rainy darkness.

A bolt of lightning illuminated the dank forest for a moment followed by an explosive rumble of thunder. Bianca jumped at the commotion, gripping her cloak tighter around her shoulders. She slumped into the squishy patch of muddy grass, pulling her knees into her chest.

“What if they have been captured? I can’t bear to think what they will do to Antonio or Valentine, or to poor Emilia!” Bianca buried her face in her hands. 

“We can worry about that another day,” a deep voice called in the dark.

“Antonio?” Bianca bolted up. 

Squelching footsteps crept closer and Antonio, Valentine, Emilia and another woman came into view. They were dripping under the cloaks that Valentine had brought to conceal them during their escape. The new woman’s eyes were a light violet that shone in the darkness. The deep hollows of Antonio’s cheek were covered in long stubble and dark circles rimmed his eyes. Bianca leapt up and threw her arms around him, tears already streaming down her cheeks. 

“My dearest Bianca! I knew you would come for me.” Antonio nestled into the curls of Bianca’s hair.

“Always and forever, my love.” Bianca kissed Antonio deeply.

Antonio brushed the tears from Bianca’s cheeks as they both smiled. Antonio replaced the twine onto Bianca’s finger and kissed it gently. Bianca squeezed Antonio’s hand and turned to Valentine and Emilia. She wrapped them in a strong hug.  

“Bless Hathaway, you are all safe. Thank you, both of you. You have no idea the gift you’ve given me.” Bianca squeezed them both tighter. 

“I could not have done it without Cleo.” Emilia drew Cleo into the group hug. 

“Thank you, Cleo. I thought Emilia was unique in her willingness to aid a complete stranger, but I see it must be a remarkable trait you Westies share. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Bianca’s eyes glittered with new tears. 

“No one should be caged. I am glad that more than one of us could be freed tonight.” Cleo winked. 

Bianca’s heart felt as if it would burst out of her chest. Her family was complete once again.

Bianca entwined herself in Antonio’s arms. “Let’s go home.” 


If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Newlondon, read “The Beast Below,” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.

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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Will her lost love hear her siren’s song?

Bianca stands atop the seaside cliffs of Newlondon

Siren’s Song

BY SHANEL WILSON

PART ONE

The cliff-top grasses swayed in the swirling wind. Waves violently crashed against the jagged rocks. The scent of salt and sea accosted Bianca’s senses, her heart filled with dread. The knots in her stomach warned that the coming storm wasn’t the only trouble brewing in the Globe’s waters. Bianca tucked a strand of her long, curly locks behind her ear, her eyes narrowed against the spray. Her fingers found the small piece of twine that encircled her ring finger. She sang, 

Storm’s a-coming, the gale will blow,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.
Thunder claps and rain clouds grow,
The squall will turn friend into foe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.

The blue crystal eye of the eel medallion she wore blinked. Bianca closed her eyes and squeezed the center of the medallion. The automated voice relayed the message her sister, Valentine, had sent.

It’s time. Swift as shadow.

“Short as any dream! My dear Antonio, you will wait no longer.” Bianca’s pulse pounded as she raced down the cliff side towards the harbor.

Carve the waves to save my beau,
It’s time to change this tale of woe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.
The scent of salt and sea accosted Bianca’s senses, her heart filled with dread. Photo by Gary Yost.

Tendrils of mist curled around Bianca’s feet as she strode the familiar path to her father’s merchant office overlooking the marina. She knew each cobble from years of racing Valentine to be the first to help Father open the office. The harsh shouts of the crews echoing around the harbor was the melody of her morning routine. Unlike every other morning, Bianca’s heart raced as she reached into her satchel to retrieve her key to the shop.

She knew each cobble from years of racing Valentine to be the first to help Father open the office.
Photo by Niklas Hamann.

The face of her beloved Antonio danced across her thoughts. Her wistfulness broke, knowing he was locked in some dark cell deep in Whitehall for a crime he didn’t commit. Valentine, with the help of her new love, Emilia, had vowed to help Bianca rescue Antonio. The trio had worked hard over the past week to devise a plan to rescue him. And today, that plan finally was set in motion. 

In the early morning mists of a secret estuary, Bianca and Valentine saw Emilia off as she headed upriver to Whitehall. Emilia’s ability to access areas of Whitehall as a Westminster Bride would be vital if they had any hopes to rescue Antonio without being captured themselves. Bianca remembered watching her sister say goodbye to her new flame. A bittersweet tug pulled at Bianca’s insides, knowing her sister had to part with her love in order to save Bianca’s own. Though both Valentine and Bianca had only met Emilia a week ago, Bianca could tell her sister was inextricably connected to the intelligent, brave yet trusting woman. Emilia seemed to have a knack for endearing herself to all she met, becoming fast friends with Bianca as well. Bianca still marveled that Emilia agreed without hesitation to help a group of strangers in a dangerous mission. 

The ocean breeze blew the memory of the morning out of Bianca’s mind. Bianca felt a wet splat on her head. A fat dew droplet had fallen from the wooden sign that hung above the office door. 

“Thanks for that.” Bianca raised an eyebrow to the swaying sign. 

The sign was a carved eel that circled back onto itself. Most residents of Newlondon had no idea that the nautical crest doubled as the secret symbol of the Shadow Walkers. Bianca’s father, Leonato, was the leader of the group of warriors and protectors who vowed to keep the peace of the Globe secretly from the shadows. Leonato used his merchant business as a reputable front to coordinate the Shadow Walkers’ missions under the watchful eye of the corrupt Guild. 

Bianca and Valentine grew up helping their father run the office, covering for him when he would be called out for a “meeting.” When they weren’t needed at the office, they would steal away into the misty woods or sneak out on their father’s skiv to explore and learn all they could from the Shadow Walkers. As they grew older, their paths diverged. Valentine became a Newlondon Guide–hired by residents of the Globe to provide safe passage in their travels to other cities–with hopes of someday becoming a full-fledged Shadow Walker. Bianca remained in Newlondon, running the merchant office, where she fell in love with Antonio, one of the traders her father hired. 

She brushed the water from her hair and unlocked the door. The door chimed, announcing her arrival. The musty smell of salty wood mingled with sea rose blossoms she had arranged on the front desk the day before. 

Photo by Rachael 🪐.

“Hello, Meg. Opening mode, please,” said Bianca to the automated digital assistant her father created to operate the controls in the office.

“Good morrow, Lady Bianca,” replied the AI assistant’s disembodied voice as it switched on the overhead lights. 

Bianca heaved a sigh as she rounded the front desk to begin sorting the invoices and logs left from the day prior. 

“What can I do for M’lady today?” Meg’s voice intoned happily.

“Normal operations protocols, Meg. Just another day at the shop.” Bianca tossed the stack of papers she had gathered into the box on the corner of the desk. 

But it’s not just another day, she thought. 

“Of course, M’lady,” Meg chirped.

Bianca shuffled to her desk in front of Leonato’s private office in the back and flopped into her chair. Bianca fiddled with the medallion around her neck. The design of the medallion was the same eel as the carved sign out front. Each Shadow Walker carried one as a means of communicating with the others around the Globe. Valentine had repurposed broken ones she had found in Father’s office so that she and Bianca could have their own private way to communicate. The crystal eye of the eel was dull and gray. It would blink a brilliant blue when Valentine sent a message. Bianca knew it was too early to expect any news, but patience had never been her strong suit. 

Emilia had set off on her mission, and Valentine was with the Shadow Walkers doing their part to prepare for Antonio’s rescue. All Bianca could do was go about her daily life and wait. It was only through the Shadow Walkers that they learned of Antonio’s imprisonment at the hands of his best friend, Solanio, and the Guild in the first place. It was decided that it would be best for Bianca to act the part of the innocent maiden waiting for her love to return from sea so that the Guild and Solanio believed their plan had succeeded. 

The mere thought of Solanio made Bianca’s stomach turn. Bianca’s cheeks burned as she gritted her teeth. She pushed back against her desk and strode over to the windows. The steady sway of tall ship masts filled her view. At the end of the main dock, workers scurried, carrying along wood planks and chairs. What are they up to? Bianca wondered.

Then she spotted the scoundrel. Solanio slunk around the workers, inspecting their every move. They must have been constructing an amphitheater for the auction of the kraken eye happening at the end of the week. Her fingers subconsciously found the twine on her finger. Her beloved Antonio bravely fought the kraken for that eye after Solanio locked him on a deathship. Then that snake, Solanio, ensured Antonio’s wrongful imprisonment. 

“That poisonous, bunched-back toad,” Bianca spat under her breath.

“Which mode would you like to set, M’lady?” Meg’s cheerful voice asked.

“Disregard, Meg. I was talking to myself.” Bianca shook her head.

“If you need a companion to speak with, you are welcome to speak to me. Lord Leonato programmed me with conversational capabilities.”

“Yes, I know, Meg. No, it’s fine. I’m just a little on edge today. Let’s get back to work.” 

“Of course, M’lady.” 

Bianca walked back to her desk, thankful it was so far away from the front window.


Bianca fell into her normal routine after a couple of days. Business at the merchant office picked up because of the Polity’s arrival, but there was a shortage of vessels because so many people ran to Whitehall to get a glimpse of the Polity soldiers and their lander. Everyone else was stockpiling as much as they could in case there was sudden demand for something the Polity might deem valuable. Bianca was grateful for the distraction of trying to coordinate traders and their runs to cover the new demand. Though, she couldn’t help feeling a sting each time she passed Antonio’s name on the roster. 

Each evening, Bianca would race home, hoping to catch Valentine as she returned from her day. Valentine filled in Bianca on all that her team of Shadow Walkers did for the day. After dinner, Bianca would help Valentine reassemble her pack just as Bianca had done for Father when she was young. Before turning in for the night, Bianca would anxiously wait on the edge of Valentine’s bed to hear the latest update from Emilia. When no new news came, Bianca would give her sister a hug and quietly pad back to her room. 

Before turning in for the night, Bianca would anxiously wait on the edge of Valentine’s bed to hear the latest update from Emilia.
Photo by Annie Spratt.

“This plan is going to work. We’ll get him, Bianca.” Valentine grasped Bianca’s hand as Bianca turned to leave one evening. 

“I know.” Bianca still faced the door, unable to face her sister.

“Come here. Staring out your window can wait for a few more minutes.” Valentine tugged Bianca back onto the bed. 

“That’s not what I have been doing!” Bianca pulled her hand away but stayed next to Valentine.

“I can see how you could forget since it’s only been a few days, but your sister is a Shadow Walker. We know things.” Valentine preened.

“How could I forget?” Bianca cracked a smile. “You only remind me every second you get a chance, Lady Shadow!” 

They broke into a fit of laughter. Bianca felt her shoulders relax as the giggles died down. 

“There’s my sister! I knew she was somewhere under that forlorn facade.” Valentine moved a strand of hair out of Bianca’s face. 

Bianca looked about Valentine’s room. Emilia’s hover trunk was at the foot of the bed. The glass iris Emilia had given Valentine rested on the desk below the simple paintings Valentine had created from her trips around the Globe. The piece of twine around Bianca’s finger began to burn as she twisted it absentmindedly. 

“Nothing will be the same now, will it? I mean, I knew things were changing. I was to be married and you were to become this great Shadow Walker. Each sister on her own path. But now, I’m not ready for any of it. Why can’t we just be girls again, playing our pretend games in the harbor’s shadows?” 

“I will always be your sister. That will never change.” Valentine looked Bianca in the eyes. “Besides, you will still be married. And you will be the most beautiful bride Newlondon has ever seen. Until I get married, that is.”

Bianca scowled but laughed. Valentine was right. Valentine was always there, no matter how far her travels had taken her. Their bond was stronger than even the most masterful knot tied by the finest Newlondon sailor. It was the world around them that was fraying. Once Antonio and Emilia were back with them, they could begin tying up all the loose ends and chase the life they all dreamed of.

“Then you better get more beauty rest, dear sister. You need it,” Bianca teased while wrapping Valentine in a warm hug. 

“I love you,” Valentine whispered.

“I love you, too.” Bianca gave Valentine a final squeeze and slipped into her own room. She sat in the window, staring at the sea, waiting for her love to return.

She sat in the window, staring at the sea, waiting for her love to return.
Photo by Zero Take.

If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. And please return on Friday, when we’ll unveil “Siren’s Song–Part II.” In the meantime, if you would like to read more about Newlondon, read “The Beast Below,” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Civil unrest grows, leaving new power up for grabs

A Matter of Details

BY MATTHEW CROSS

The Right Honorable Flavius, Mayor of Whitehall, Protector of the Gates and Keeper of the Seals, picked his nose thoughtfully. Ever since tramping outside the walls to that godforsaken Polity lander in the savagelands, his allergies had been acting up. He had a headache, his sinuses were clogged, and he was in an overall foul temper. As Whitehallers say, no good comes from leaving the gates of the First City.

And the protests did not help. A mob of protestors– an actual mob in Whitehall!–gathered every morning and ranted and raved outside Central Tower until very late at night. Flavius never had to see them in person, of course. He lived in the Mayor’s Mansion in Central Tower and took the elevator down to the Mayor’s Office in Central Tower. But even so, the news vids ran nonstop footage of the protests. 

Flavius flicked the large gob of phlegm at the trash bin. The booger stretched and twisted as it flew and splatted on the trash bin lid. The bin’s automatic sensors should have detected the booger’s flight and opened smoothly to catch the offending gob.

Flavius sighed. He flipped the tiny lever for his desk chair to roll him to the trash bin. From his lace-filled sleeve, he flourished a large, white handkerchief and leaned forward to wipe up the mess. As he bent, he noted the silvery, blinking light from the corner of his eye. He sat up and leaned back in his chair to watch what would happen.

The silvery light cascaded across its surface, expanding in concentric rings from the center.
Photo by Nicolas Picard

In the topmost corner of the coffered ceiling of his spacious office was a spider’s web. The silvery light cascaded across its surface, expanding in concentric rings from the center. Flavius had installed the lights as a notification system. It was unnecessary, of course, because the web also sent a signal to the comp on his desk, but he liked the little touches on his works of art. Details matter. The mechanical spider was already making its way silently down the wall to check out the top of the trash bin.

The spider was his own invention, of course. The web was actually a radio dish that monitored the room, and the spider was a hunter-seeker of bugs. It found spying threats and destroyed them. Not that Flavius was overly worried about microbot spies. After all, he was still the leading microbot scientist in Whitehall. Despite his mayoral duties, he retained an iron grip on the small Microbot Department. If not for him, there would probably be no microbot program in Whitehall Academy.

Microbots had fallen out of favor just as Flavius had managed to ruthlessly climb his way to the top of the Microbot Department. The Energy Department had determined that microbots did not use energy as efficiently as the walking automatons or specialized machinery. He still regarded the Energy Department with great suspicion, but it was one of the Academy’s most powerful departments. As a politician, you cannot hold grudges or make enemies of anyone you cannot swiftly and decisively crush. And despite himself, he liked Leonardo, who now headed the Energy Department. Leonardo was not a politician but a true man of science.

Flavius used his considerable power to keep the Microbot Department alive, focusing its efforts on military applications. The Defense Department was small but very well funded. And he kept a handful of nanobot researchers on staff as well, even though the materials on the Globe were oddly deficient for making truly effective nanobots. And something in the Globe’s air made them deteriorate quickly. Because he was the mayor, Octavius had given him a special dispensation to consult the archive records of the generation ship Shakespeare. Flavius learned that on other planets, his nanobot designs should last for years. On the Globe, where they deteriorated quickly in open air, nanobots were used mostly in one-time medical procedures. 

Photo by Joel Filipe.

His head ached. Even though his office was dozens of stories above the protests and even though it was sound proofed, he felt like he could dimly hear their harsh cries. His assistant, Menenius, assured Flavius it was his imagination. The malfunctioning trash bin lid was just one more irritant. It should have worked. Menenius would have to call the Central Tower technicians. Flavius had a mind to fire one of them over this. The problem was the Central Tower authority would hire the technician right back and just assign them to another government building. The technicians that kept the government offices running were getting older, but none of the young people these days wanted technician jobs. Everybody wanted to be a game designer, a video producer, or a data systems scientist.

But he might still fire a technician today. Even if the technician was rehired, he’d lose his pension, if Flavius insisted.

The door signal chimed. Flavius wiped up the gob of phlegm and raced his chair back behind his ponderous desk. He punched the blinking light on his screen and allowed Menenius to enter.

“Mr. Mayor,” Menenius said briskly, “I have some budget requests for you to approve. And, also, Captain Ward is waiting in the Mayor’s Lobby.”

“Captain Ward?” Flavius asked, alarmed. “How long have you kept her waiting? It better not be long, Menenius, or I’ll have your head.”

“No, she just arrived, Your Honor,” Menenius said. Menenius only used the honorific “Your Honor” when he thought Flavius was being peevish. 

“Stop handling me, Menenius, and help me with my coat.”

Menenius brought Flavius’s crushed velvet coat and helped the round man climb into the coat and arrange the sleeves. Menenius fanned Flavius with the papers he carried and then used a small brush from his pocket to arrange Flavius’s thinning, white hair. Menenius was a talented microbot designer, but he had insisted on serving as Flavius’s Chief of Staff and learning all the campaigning and politicking that came with the job. Sometimes Flavius thought it was a waste of a brilliant scientific mind. But then, the fact that Flavius had had to leave the hard sciences and enter politics himself was the waste of a brilliant scientific mind.

Menenius continued to fan Flavius’s face. Flavius closed his eyes and calmed himself. He imagined the inner workings of his spider hunter-seeker, remembering how he had arranged the hardware to fit just so inside the sleek metal body. The details mattered. The mental exercise centered him. He reopened his eyes. “Thank you, Menenius. I have a dreadful headache today.”

“Still, Mr. Mayor?” Menenius asked, his voice full of earnest sympathy. Menenius saved his sarcasm for outsiders, never using it against Flavius. “Shall I call the chemist and have them send up something stronger?”

Flavius sat up in his chair. “No, no, Menenius. Thank you. You always take such good care of me. I’m sorry I’ve been temperamental today. But that won’t be necessary. We must soldier on. Please show Captain Ward in, would you, and have Volumnia bring some refreshments.”

Menenius gave a small bow and swept out. In a moment, Captain Ward filled the doorway. She was tall for a woman, taller than Flavius himself by half a head, and as tall as Governor Octavius. But there was more to it than that. Even when standing completely still, she radiated a strong energy, as if she were barely containing a maelstrom of violence. She smiled and strolled across Flavius’s large office, her movements like that of a prowling catterwaul.

Flavius stood up and smiled broadly, rubbing his hands nervously in front of him. He gave a small bow.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, Flavius asked the delicate question.

“How are you faring in your visits with the other cities?” He wanted to know, but he also wanted to draw her attention away from the protests in Whitehall.

She grimaced. “Not well,” she said. “In Belmont, some madman has declared himself king and replaced the council. He killed two of my Marines, but before it’s over I think it will get worse. Can you tell me more than that?”

“No,” Flavius said, shaking his head. He had heard as much himself from his chief of police. And Gov. Octavius had been spreading word of the disaster publicly, blaming Capt. Ward and the Polity all the while that Ward had been gone from the city. He only seemed to quieten down after Ward returned to Whitehall. “I’m afraid Belmont is a closed book to the rest of the Globe. We have no diplomats and not even any sp– . . . er, men on the inside, as it were.”

Belmont had never proved to be a problem before. Flavius hardly even thought of Belmont as a city. It was merely a distant place where steel was made. He knew that every year the governor made a trek to the mountain to negotiate the terms of trade. The Belmontians should have come to Whitehall, of course, but none of them ever left the mountain, so the governor demeaned himself and went to Belmont. Distasteful, but Whitehall needed steel. 

And it was a good arrangement. The same deal was struck every year. The price of steel never changed. Whitehall guaranteed all of Belmont’s supplies from the other cities, and Belmont promised to provide the same volume of steel. The Belmontians must have excellent population control inside that mountain. They always delivered on time and never needed more nor less from the other cities. But if the Council had been violently overthrown, what would happen? His head pounded.

Flavius knew it was impossible, but he swore he could hear the mob below chanting.
Photo by Amir Arabshahi

Flavius knew it was impossible, but he swore he could hear the mob below chanting. If unchanging Belmont could suffer a coup, what could happen in his beloved Whitehall? Out of habit, his hand drifted toward a button that would summon the chief of police, but he drew his hand back and rubbed his hands together. Octavius was the rabble rouser. Once Flavius took care of Octavius, the mob would disappear like a handful of nanobot dust.

The captain brought him back to the present. “The Governor won’t meet with me,” she said. “If I understand Whitehall’s government structure, you govern here in the city and he handles relations with the other cities. And I was counting on his guidance with the leaders of the other cities.”

Once upon a time, the governor of Whitehall did more than handle the relations with the other cities. He governed the other cities as colonies. Over the years, the other cities grew in power and developed their own governments–actually a treasonous act–and the Governor of Whitehall, Protector of the Globe, Unifier of the People, waned in power. But those who know their history remember when Whitehall truly governed the entire Globe.

“What can you do to help?” Ward asked.

Flavius smiled and rubbed his hands nervously. “I wish that I could. I’ve appealed to Octavius numerous times, but he won’t speak even with me.”

Menenius had taken the elevator the ten stories up to the Governor’s office every day, but even the Governor’s staff would not meet with him. Flavius himself had even made the pilgrimage up the elevator once, and returned shamed-faced to his own offices after being turned away. Secretly, he had taken the elevator from his own residence near the top of Central Tower to the very top floor, called the Governor’s Mansion, where Octavius lived. Flavius went late in the evening when he knew Octavius was home and would still be awake. Octavius would not answer his door.

The Governor had an excellent selection of liquors that exceeded even Flavius’s own impressive home bar. Photo by Nick Rickert.

Octavius had refused to speak with Flavius ever since that night. The night they had returned from their first meeting with Captain Ward. The night that people were calling Kite Night. Shaken, Octavius and Flavius had returned to the Governor’s Mansion. They had stayed up late talking and drinking. As usual, Octavius did most of the talking and the drinking. He had an excellent selection of liquors that exceeded even Flavius’s own impressive home bar.

Octavius had raged and railed against the Polity, against the Polity Navy ship in orbit and against Captain Ward, whom Octavius simply called “that insufferable shrew.” The arguments were nothing new. Everyone on the Globe had learned since their first history classes as urchins that the Polity was trouble; that the Globers’ ancestors had fled the Polity aboard a generation ship, the Shakespeare, and settled the Globe far outside Polity space to be free of the Polity and its constant territorial wars. 

Captain Elizabeth–the first Captain Elizabeth of the Shakespeare–had warned them. Flavius silently intoned the words drilled into him since the first days of school. “This is why we can never return to the Polity, why we must remain vigilant to resist their false promises, why we must not look back, but fix our eyes on what lies ahead. The peace of our people depends upon it.”

And, yet, their ancestors had done nothing to protect the Globe from an invading force. Had done nothing to secure the space around the Globe. And that night, Capt. Ward had made sure all of the Globe understood the power of the Polity Navy. The UPS Pacifica’s lasers had destroyed hundreds of Whitehall’s drones in a “celebration.” Yes, Capt. Ward had bought up all the drones from Whitehall’s citizens beforehand and recruited the city’s children to pilot them. But then the Pacifica had destroyed them all in a barbaric show of raw, military power.

And the people had cheered! Flavius could distinctly remember standing next to Octavius on the grassy dunes, looking back at the glowing towers of Whitehall. The acrid smoke from the exploded drones filled the air and stung his nose. And then the people, his citizens, had raised a cheer that could be heard for hundreds of metes. Those fools had cheered!

And that night, for the first time, Flavius and Octavius could not reach agreement on how to govern the Globe together. Octavius raged and swore he would kill Captain Ward and her Marines and pull the Pacifica from the sky and throw it into the Southern Sea. And from the look in Octavius’s eyes, it was clear Octavius truly thought he could snatch the Pacifica from orbit with his bare hands and complete the act himself.

But Flavius knew that the might of the Polity, the Pacifica specifically, was too great for Whitehall to match. Long ago, the Globe had turned away from space and had lost the technology to even fly into the upper atmosphere. There was no choice but to capitulate. But Octavius would not hear it. And when Flavius would not agree to Octavius’s wild plans to overthrow the Polity, Octavius had actually cast Flavius out of the Governor’s Mansion.

Flavius smiled at his enemy across his desk. All he could do was bargain with Capt. Ward. And, on behalf of his people, he would bargain hard. But so far, she had been willing to pay for all her own expenses and to keep the Polity’s tax at 10 percent, as originally promised. And Whitehall could afford that, especially when most of the costs could be passed to the other cities. And even a full 10 percent was a fraction of the cost of a war.

“I’ll have to figure out something there,” Ward said, speaking of Octavius. Thankfully, she said nothing of the fact that Octavius was actually holding rallies throughout the city and drumming up the protests against the Polity. The idiot! That huge bombard of sack!

Something had to be done. Never in the history of Whitehall had the people protested the government. Never!

Flavius knew he had to stop Octavius. Now was the time to broach the subject with Capt. Ward. But it had to be done delicately. As they say, “In a major matter, no details are small.”

“You know,” Flavius said, “at one time, the Governor of the Globe and the Mayor of Whitehall were the same person. Some political scientists have gone so far as to say Whitehall would be stronger and better governed with a single, strong leader.”

Ward looked around the red-curtained room.
Photo by Avinash Kumar

Ward looked around the red-curtained room. Her eyes rested a moment on the spider web high in the coffered ceiling. She seemed distracted.

But Capt. Ward was a sly one. As if reading his mind, Capt. Ward said, “I don’t want to get involved in your internal politics.”

“So, you want me to take care of the problem, then?” Flavius asked, carefully.

“Yes, that would be best,” she said in an absent-minded voice. She was clearly pretending disinterest, distancing herself from an unpleasant matter.

“And . . .  you would trust me to use whatever methods I think best?” he asked slowly.

“Yes, of course,” Ward said. “You’re the Mayor.”

Flavius nodded. Capt. Ward was an occupier, but at least she had the propriety to respect the local leaders. He smiled but quickly suppressed the smile. This was a serious matter. He nodded again and rubbed his hands nervously together.

“Very well, then. I’ll take care of it,” he said.

Flavius changed the subject. They discussed the progress of the giant landing pad and warehouse complex Ward had asked to be built in the grassy dunes near the site of her ship’s landing. Ward did not seem to respect the dangers of the savagelands, but he was grateful she was building the complex outside the walls. She said she did not want the constant sound of rockets disturbing the peace in Whitehall. And space within Whitehall’s walls was always tight.

Even better, Ward was paying Whitehall’s engineers and construction crews to build the complex. So Whitehall had a chance to earn back the tax the Polity collected.


Photo by Petr Magera

Capt. Ward left the Mayor’s Office in a better mood than she had arrived. Despite Gov. Octavius’s public threats to overthrow the Polity, the city was mostly peaceful. Mayor Flavius kept the city running smoothly and construction had already begun on the space port so the taxed resources could be lifted to the Pacifica when it returned to orbit. No one on the Globe knew it, but the Pacifica had left orbit around the Globe to explore the rest of the system for resources valuable to the Polity. That left Ward and her Marines alone on the planet, but only she and the Marines knew that. For all the Globers knew, the Pacifica was right overhead with lasers and missiles at the ready.

Things in Whitehall were going so smoothly that her mind kept wandering back to the disaster in Belmont. A mad usurper king on a throne and two of her Marines dead! And, yet, try as she might, she could not think how she should have handled things differently. She had only introduced herself and the madman had beheaded two of her Marines! A diplomatic rule of first contact is that no one wanted war, at least, not before having a chance to size up the other side. But when dealing with a madman, you had to throw diplomatic rules out the hatch.

Riding the elevator alone to her own quarters in Central Tower, Ward paused and thought back on the conversation with the mayor. She did not want to make any diplomatic mistakes here. She tried to recount the conversation. She realized she had been distracted and lost focus. But everything she could recall seemed in order. Flavius was a nervous man and he clearly feared her. That could be dangerous if he felt cornered, but their interactions were always cordial. She had promised not to interfere with local politics and he would talk to Octavius. If she could just sit down with the governor and pick his brain about the other cities, perhaps she could avoid another disastrous first contact.

As for Flavius, she would let him handle the details.


If you enjoyed my story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Whitehall, read “The Towers of Whitehall” which kicked off the Whitehall stories in the Globe Folio series.

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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Strange creatures lurk out in the dunes

Feral Fields

BY JEREMY WILSON AND SHANEL WILSON

The late afternoon light trickled through the crystalline window of Verges’s home in Westminster. He shuffled around his kitchen, filling his pockets with two-day-old fry bread before he left for his shift in the Wildcat Fields. Satisfied his pockets were full enough, he turned to the two work packs that hung from wooden hooks by the front door. The smaller one was covered in a thick layer of dust. Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.

Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.
Photo by Derick McKinney

“I should put that away already,” he grunted, as he slung his pack over his shoulder.

As Verges adjusted the straps of his pack, he squinted against the sun reflecting off a small picture frame hanging next to the wooden hooks. He didn’t need to see the picture to vividly recall its image: a smiling, curly-haired girl with a face full of freckles wrapping her arms around a jolly, bearded man in a happy hug. Verges’s beard was a lot grayer these days, and his beloved daughter, Cleo, was now grown and working as a Bride in Whitehall. He had hoped Cleo would inherit her mother’s oil-slick-colored eyes, but she had his bold, violet eyes instead. When she came of age, she left to fulfill her duty and become a Westminster Bride.

His house had grown quiet because of her absence the past few years, causing Verges to pick up as many shifts as his manager, Imogen, would allow him out in the Fields. He preferred to be out there anyway, where he could catch a glimpse of the feral creatures that lived in the savagelands surrounding the Wildcat Fields.


Verges stepped off the hover trolley when it reached the refinery. A crowd of crew persons waited to board, covered in dust and sweat from a long day managing the rigs out on the dunes. A few muttered hellos as Verges passed. He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.

He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.
Photo by Marten Bjork

Verges checked in on the console at the entrance. He noticed his partner, Lodovico, had not checked in yet, so he made his way to their hover to get it ready for a night out in the Fields. He threw his pack into the driver’s seat and started performing the safety checks.

“Oy there, weren’t you just here last night, Verges?” 

The voice startled Verges, causing him to bump his head on the undercarriage of the hover.  

“It’s got to be done, Aaron.” Verges rubbed his head as he stood to greet the tall, slim man.

“Well, it’s your lucky night. The rigs will get a night off from your poking and prodding. Lodovico has called out, so you don’t have a partner to go out on shift with. Something about his wife being nervous about the Polity’s captain arriving tomorrow.” Aaron leaned casually against Verges’s hover, picking his filthy nails.

“I doubt Tamera is the nervous one.” Verges scowled, strapping down the toolbag to the rear of the hover.

“You’re right about that, mate!” Aaron’s scraggly hair bounced as he snickered.

Verges‘s brows knitted together as he watched Aaron continue to lounge against the hover while Verges tried to finish the safety checks.

“On shift tonight with Tubal, are ya Aaron?” Verges shooed the younger man away from the hover so Verges could check the drill poles.

“Nah, I’m heading home. I saw you check in, so I thought I’d wander into the garage to say hello, let you know you were off the hook for the night.” Aaron perched on the hover parked across the way.

“Well, hello. I am sure your children will be waiting at the door for their dear old pop, don’t you think?”

“I suppose you’re right, as usual, Verges. You’re a wise old geezer. Want to catch the next trolley together?” Aaron hitched a thumb toward the door.

“Not tonight. I want to make sure the hover is ready for the next run.” Verges kept his eyes on the hover so he wouldn’t be tempted to escort Aaron out forcibly.

“Always thinking ahead, aren’t ya? Just don’t go out alone. You know how dangerous it is.” Aaron hopped down from the hover and started strolling to the door.

“Do you think I’ve forgotten the rules?” Verges called after him.

“Not at all, but that hasn’t stopped you before, old boy. G’night, Verges.” Aaron waved and disappeared through the door.

Verges grumbled but was glad to be left alone. Verges hadn’t gotten the chance to take the hover out solo at night in ages. While it was expressly against the Wildcat Field rules to go out into the Fields at night alone, he knew how to avoid the dangers and he knew Imogen would go easy on him if word got back to her. The rigs needed tending, especially if the Polity would soon be trying to take a share of the oil the Fields produced. Every drop would become that much more precious. Verges also would not miss an opportunity to encounter some of his feral friends, especially without Lodovico scaring them off every chance he got. Once he was comfortable that the hover was ready and sure that everyone else had gone home, Verges climbed into the driver’s seat and quietly steered the hover out to the dunes.

Just beyond the outskirts of town, Verges paused to watch the last rays of sunlight dance across the dunes. A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises. Verges inhaled deeply and smiled. He’d always loved Mary’s Irises. They were a sight to behold but nearly impossible to find, hidden among the sandstone crags and only blooming in the darkest hours of night. Their pale, translucent petals, speckled with crimson, suggested a fragile nature, but they were far hardier than most of the Smith workers he knew.

A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises.
Photo by Christian Lambert

When the sun finally disappeared below the shifting sands, Verges eased the hover onward toward the Barren Sea, where they’d left off tending the rigs the night before. The gentle breeze grew into a steady wind and the dunes began to hum. Lodovico always complained the sound gave him a headache, but Verges found it calming. Even so, it made his job trickier by masking the sounds of the creatures in the dunes.

He glided past dune after dune, his mind wandering to thoughts of his daughter. When she was younger, Verges would bring her along on nights when he would be tending the rigs solo. Together, they would repair the derricks and marvel at the creatures they came across. He wished she could be here now, but Whitehall had demanded that she stay to train other Brides. It had broken his heart, but he couldn’t say that he was surprised, knowing the incredible young woman she had become. Love and pride began to well up in the corners of his eyes.

Abruptly, the wind turned into a gale, pelting Verges with stinging sand and reducing his visibility to almost nothing. He slid his violet goggles into place to protect his eyes and veered the hover sharply north to cut through the Rift. When he reached it, he slowed again, buffeted by the wind.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes. Passing through it always filled Verges with a mix of unease and excitement thinking of what must be lurking in the labyrinth of slot canyons and caves branching out ever deeper into the planet. Traversing the canyon was actually the quickest way to get to the Barren Sea, but Imogen’s grandfather had forbidden the rig teams from passing this way since they’d lost several teams mysteriously during the last Alignment. Not that that had ever stopped Verges on nights when he was out alone.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes.
Photo by Tom Gainor.

Verges carefully navigated the hover into the canyon. On nights like this, the raging wind above would send sand cascading down the sculpted canyon walls, creating flowing curtains backlit by the blood-red Swearing Moon. A fist-sized puffadoon eyed him suspiciously from a nearby rock ledge as it gnawed on a sand hopper. It’s bloated, warty skin reflecting dull orange in Verges’s goggles.

As the canyon reached its narrowest point, the hover’s headlamps reflected off of what appeared to be a rippling, silvery pool on the canyon floor blocking his path. Easing the hover closer, he could see the pool was a writhing mass of silvery bodies. 

Verges smiled and readied the fry bread in his pocket. He tossed a piece toward the silvery mass and was greeted by a cacophony of excited clicks.

Quicksilvers.

Agile little beasts with black, beady eyes, sharp snouts, and shimmering hides that reflected light like a mirror. A single Quik was relatively harmless, but a family of them will make quick work of even the strongest man’s hubris. Normally they were found among the dunes, where many a weary traveler were enticed into an unpleasant demise thinking they had found water. Occasionally, though, a brood would wander into one of the canyons and take up residence.

Verges used the fry bread to lure the Quiks out of the way and slide the hover past, barely clearing the outcrops on either side. He had to bring the hover to a crawl to avoid wedging it in the narrow opening. Once through, he paused briefly to admire the small, silvery beasts.

The sound of rocks being knocked loose, amplified by the canyon walls, startled Verges and sent the quicksilvers scattering into clefts and crevices. He scanned the canyon walls and saw nothing, but he suddenly felt like he was being watched. Curiosity gave way to prudence, and he decided to continue on his way.

By the time he reached the other end of the canyon, the wind had died down. As he exited, he glanced back and thought he saw a shadow moving at the canyon’s mouth. He stopped the hover and watched intently, holding his breath. When nothing happened, he slowly pressed on into the Barren Sea.

He passed the first two rigs, having tended those last night. He quietly swore as he approached the third. The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.

The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.
Photo by Matt Hoffman.

Early Globers discovered the flowering vine growing straight out of the dunes and had named it so because of its beauty and tenacity. Ironically, it turned out that the vine fed on the very oil they were trying to extract and could wreak havoc on the rig machinery.

With a little effort, the vines could be trained to create a barrier around the rigs to keep the Quiks out. Verges found, though, that if he didn’t cut them back regularly, Hathaway’s Crown would quickly overtake the rig and force its way into the casings, seeking oil.

It had been less than a week since Verges had checked this rig, but already the vines had overtaken the structure. Cutting them back would take considerable time. Verges sighed. No need to be in a rush; that’s how accidents happen. 

He slid the hover next to the rig and switched off the engine. Without the hover engine running, Verges paused to enjoy the sounds of the sand for a moment. The peaceful calm belied the dangerous traps the dunes held. He glanced back toward the edge of the canyon. The rig was a good distance away from it, but something in the pit of his stomach didn’t trust that the shadow near the canyon wasn’t lurking in the darkness. Once he was satisfied that he was alone, Verges dug in his pack for his plasma shears. 

“Hathaway, I better have enough charge to cut away your crown,” Verges prayed, since he had neglected to charge the battery pack after using the shears the night before. 

Vine shears were standard issue for Wildcat Field workers, but Verges had modified his with plasma blades. They were risky because of how much ultraviolet light they emitted, but they cut his work time in half. It was a trade-off he was willing to make. He ignited the blades and set to work. 

After several hours, the canvas sack Verges used to collect the vine clippings was nearly full, even though he was only halfway through his trimming. He wiggled and tamped the sack to make more room before he reached for another piece of vine on the side of the rig. When he flicked the switch on the plasma blades, they popped and fizzled instead of igniting.

“Blast it.” Verges hit the blade handles against his palm several times. The blades stayed dark.

He looked back to the rig, vines still curling around the top of the derrick. If he left those there, the rig would be engulfed before he could return. Verges climbed back into the hover where he pulled out a long cable from under the controls. He inserted the cable into the charging port on the shears and paused, taking another look around the dunes. No signs of curious creatures, yet.

The night had grown dark and still. Normally Verges would have been disappointed to have such a quiet, creatureless night in the rigs, but he knew that could change as soon as he turned on the hover. Verges reached over and flipped the ignition switch. The hover engine purred like a kittercat, and he tried the switch on the shears again. Their violet glow instantly illuminated the buzzing hover. 

Verges jumped out of the hover and scrambled up the side of the derrick to reach the remaining vines. He took a deep breath to calm himself. He hated rushing, but dawn was approaching and he hadn’t given himself much of a choice. He made a mental note to keep a spare battery in his work pack to avoid this in the future. Verges looped the cable around the upper strut of the rig and continued trimming. Clippings fell to the sand, making soft thuds and sending grains of sand cascading down the side of the dune. 

Between the purr of the hover and focusing on the vines, Verges couldn’t hear the clippings fall. He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either. It wasn’t until he felt a tug on the cable connecting his shears to the hover that his attention was pulled away from the vines.

He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either.
Photo by Harpal Singh.

Beneath him, several bulbous eyes reflected the glow of his shears. The creature tossed its ragged, russet-colored mane and let out a low growl. It pawed the sand between them with one of its eight, spindly legs that was now entwined in the cable.

“A sand wraith!” Verges whispered into the night.

All the blood from his face drained when he locked eyes with the beast. Verges had never seen one before, nor had he met anyone who had. It was said that anyone who did never returned from the dunes. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Its head and body, it was said, resembled a monstrous, engorged lion, with jagged fangs curving out from its whiskered muzzle. It was thought that sand wraiths lurked in the canyons and only stalked prey into the dunes if they were particularly hungry. They would strike with unnatural speed, pinning their victims down in a flurry of legs while slowly ripping them apart. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger.

Verges noted that the legends were right about the beast’s fearsome lion and spider-like features, but its legs were not quite as tall. The wraith looked to be about his height if he had been on the ground next to it. Though, he knew those nimble legs could scale the derrick to reach him in seconds flat if it wished. Being caught in the cable would barely slow it down. 

The sand wraith’s growl grew into agitated grunts, its legs skittering in the sand as it pulled against the cable, nearly yanking the shears clean out of Verges’s hands. Verges flicked off the shears so neither of them would be sliced by the plasma. 

“Easy there.” Verges cautiously climbed down the derrick; his hand outstretched toward the sand wraith. 

It lowered its massive head and sneered; a low guttural roar shook the derrick as Verges landed in the sand. 

“I won’t hurt you.” Verges dropped the shears and held his hands up to show the beast he meant no harm.

It stepped backward, jolting the hover that was still connected by the cable to the shears and sending the hover crashing into the derrick. Verges lunged forward and rolled to avoid being pinned between the two. 

“Whoa!” Verges unsteadily got back to his feet, his sweaty face and neck now covered in sand. 

He slowly reached into the hover and killed the engine. Verges watched as the beast’s hackles seemed to drop and relax. Though he took that as a good sign, his heart pounded against his ribcage. He stepped forward, half bowed, while keeping his eyes locked with the wraith’s. The intense yellow of the wraith’s eyes glowed brightly because of his goggles, which had started fogging up from his sweat. He yanked them off and dropped them by his side. The air between them was thick with the beast’s hot, sticky breath.

“Let me help you.” Verges bent down and found the cable in the sand.

He reached a hand out, mere inches from the wraith’s trapped leg. He paused, bowed his head and then gently stroked its spike-like fur. The hairs bristled at his touch, creating a rasping sound as they rubbed together. Verges recoiled, watching the wraith’s every move. When it did not retreat or attack, he continued. Verges gingerly lifted its clawed foot pad and unwrapped the cable from its leg. Once freed, he set the leg back down into the sand and took a step back. 

The wraith snuffed and stamped its legs, stretching to its full height and causing Verges to stumble backwards a few paces. The wraith’s eight legs worked in perfect harmony as it stepped forward to close the gap between them. Verges held as still as he could, though he couldn’t mask the heaving of his chest.

The wraith crouched down, pressing its body against the sand and wrapping its legs around itself like a cage. It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 

Verges allowed himself to breathe again, watching the creature intently.

It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 
Photo by Tim Foster.

When the wraith finished slathering his boots, it stepped even closer, knocking Verges backwards, and shoved its oversized muzzle into Verges’s lap. Despite being perilously close to its fangs and nearly suffocated by its mane, Verges let out a giddy chuckle. Instinctively, he reached out and began to scratch the wraith behind its flattened ears, as if it were a kittercat.

A sudden, low, thundering noise caused Verges to pause and scan the horizon. Seeing no clouds, Verges was confused until he realized the sound was coming from the wraith. The more Verges scratched, the louder the rumbling got, and the heavier the wraith’s head became in his lap. He eventually had to stop scratching when the weight of the creature’s head threatened to crush him.

When Verges stopped, the wraith raised its head and stared at him intently, looking almost confused. Verges chuckled again and returned its gaze, losing himself in the wraith’s intense, golden eyes. After several long moments, a crackle of static burst from the comm on the hover, startling them both. The wraith leapt backward and reared up as if to attack the hover.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane.
Photo by David Gavi.

“Woah,” Verges intoned, trying to calm the beast. The creature’s many eyes darted from Verges to the hover and back.

It hesitated. When the comm remained silent, the wraith lowered itself back down but kept its distance. They stood watching each other.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane. From the direction of the Rift came a series of loud, short grunts. The wraith tilted its head toward the sound and returned a similar grunt. It padded a few steps before turning to regard Verges one last time. They locked eyes and then the wraith sped off toward the canyon, disappearing into the dunes as the first rays of light began to paint the mouth of the canyon in the distance.

Verges stared toward the canyon for several long minutes, his mind struggling to comprehend the night’s events. The comm crackled to life again, tearing Verges’s attention away from the creature.

“Verges,” came Aaron’s voice over the comm, “Verges, come back.”

He cursed and reached for the comm, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice, “What?!”

“No really, Verges, come back. You’d better get your tail back here before Imogen gets in or she’ll have your hide, gray and wrinkled as it is, old boy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Ma!” Verges shut off the comm and collected his tools. With one last glance toward the canyon, Verges eased the hover into the rising sun.


If you enjoyed Jeremy and Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Westminster, read “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross