Night of the Rocket–Whitehall

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the third 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 Whitehall

Whitehall, the First City, rises in glittering, crystalline towers from the shores of Lake Avon. It’s brown-eyed scientists and engineers build wonders and, in their great minds, they believe they rule all of The Globe.

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

The Towers of Whitehall

by Jim Hamilton

Sunrise in Whitehall was always special. Especially on the days, like today, when the bright blue sky was cloudless and the full rays of the morning sun played out over the glittering glass towers. Both the reflection and refraction of its essence washed shimmering rainbows across the city that changed from moment to moment.

The glory of all of this was lost on Leonardo, who stood at the railing of the observation deck, high atop Central Tower. From his vantage point, he could see the entire city spread out below him, from the residential spires on the north side to the industrial section on the south. Beyond the perimeter walls, he could see the Elizabeth, which originated in the distant mountains and ran its natural course to the sea. As the sun rose higher, Leonardo watched as a barge arrived from upstream and pulled up to the quay. Right on time, he said to himself, and left his perch to go meet the barge. Its arrival made him feel marginally better, but he was still worried.

Photo by Mirza Babic.

Lucetta called out, “Stephano! Hurry up, or you’re going to be late for school!”

“I’m coming, Ma,” said her teenage son, as he came down the hallway from the bedrooms. He grabbed a bowl and poured some cereal into it before filling a glass with some juice from the dispenser. Grabbing a spoon, he carried them to the table where his mother sat, sipping her stim.

“Why are you wearing that horrible shirt?” She glanced down. “And those silly pants?”

“It’s what everyone else is wearing!” protested Stephano.

She played with her handheld game and sipped her stim. Photo by Ceyda Ciftci.

“Well, you’re not leaving the house looking like that.” She held up her finger to halt his protest. “You can wear that nice new outfit I bought for you yesterday.”

He sighed loudly and rolled his eyes before turning his attention to his cereal. His mother had no idea what school was like. As he ate, he glanced at her from time to time as she played with her handheld game and sipped her stim, occasionally tucking her short brown hair back over an ear.

He didn’t fault her for her strict ideals, as every generation up until now had simply followed the rituals of the previous generation. In his own case, it was twenty-two generations ago when they had landed on this planet and creatively named it “The Globe.” And, after twenty-two generations of the same silly rules and laws, Stephano, along with almost everyone else his age, felt the same way.

It was time for a change.

He finished his cereal and downed the last of his juice before finally breaking the silence. “I’m done, Ma. Can I get you a refill?” He stood and picked up his bowl and glass.

She glanced into her crystalline cup before swigging the last of her stim and handing it to her son. “A refill would be quite nice. Thanks!” He took it from her and set his bowl and glass in the sink. Filling her cup from the dispenser, he carried it back to the table and set it next to her.

“Here you go, Ma. I’m going to go change into my new outfit, and then I’m off to school!”

“Thank you, Stephano. You’re such a good son.” She smiled at him. “I’m lucky to have someone like you.”

He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m lucky to have you, too, Ma.”

Something on her handheld flashed and her attention turned back to her game again. Stephano shook his head and went to his room to change. When he returned, he had on baggy brown pants with an off-white long-sleeved shirt that buttoned down the front and had a bit of lace on the cuffs. On his feet, he still wore his sandals, but he was counting on his mother not noticing. He shouldered his backpack and headed for the door, calling out over his shoulder, “I’m leaving now!”

Without looking up from her game, she waved at him. “Have a good day at school!”

“Yes, Ma.” He closed the door to their home and took the lift down to the tube station in the basement of their tower. He headed straight for the public fresher and, a few minutes later, emerged wearing his sparkly sleeveless pullover and his ripped and faded durum flares. As he made his way to the tube platform, he saw two of his classmates in similar attire and ran to catch up with them.


Leonardo stood well back on the dock, watching as the crane unloaded the first of the two, giant, bell-shaped castings. Each of them was made from cast iron and took up nearly half of the drone barge that had ferried them down from the hills. The whine of the hover pallet increased slightly as the first one was gently lowered onto it. Then the pallet began its slow journey down the ramp that led into the bowels of Whitehall. He waited until the second one was transferred and then slowly followed it down the ramp.

The high towers of the city were mostly made from transparent, photo-voltaic cells. These provided a source of electricity during the day while spinning up three, giant, cast-iron flywheels that provided electricity during the night. Two weeks ago, a crack had opened up in the casing for one of them, and the engineers had struggled to get by with the other two.

Photo by Elias.

Leonardo wouldn’t be able to rest until they had repaired the third flywheel and had it up and running again. After ensuring that the castings reached their destination safely, he left their installation up to Tomasso, his best foreman, and took the lift up to the administration level.

Tapping on the doorframe to one of the offices, he said, “Do you have a moment, Iago?”

From behind his large desk, Iago looked up from his work. “Ah, Leonardo! Come right on in.” He stood and reached out to shake hands. “Thanks for coming by. I assume that you have an update on our power problem?”

“I do, sir.” Leonardo took a seat. “The new castings have arrived and I saw to it personally that they’re intact and cleared them to be installed. Tomasso and his crew should have everything completed before evening.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” Iago shook his head. “I don’t need to remind you what happened the last time.”

Leonardo shook his head as well. “No, sir. No need for that.” He hesitated before continuing. “As you know, since we’ve exhausted our supply of pollium, we can’t make any more photo-voltaic glass. The current ones that are still functioning are barely providing enough power as it is.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“You need to tell everyone, sir. If we start conserving our energy now, we can easily last a few more years.”

My son, Stephano, says that we need to learn how to live more simply.

“And then what?” asked Iago. He turned in his chair and gestured out the window that overlooked the city. “Whitehall only consumes a small amount of the power we generate. The power we beam to Belmont keeps their air-handlers running and their cauldrons bubbling.” He pointed again. “Likewise, the vast smelters in Westminster, the farming machinery in Finsbury, and the ships at sea out of Newlondon.”

He asked again, “And then what?”

“I don’t know, sir.” He laughed. “My son, Stephano, says that we need to learn how to live more simply. To quit consuming for the sole purpose of keeping people busy making things.” He smiled, wryly. “Maybe he’s right.”

Iago sighed. “I don’t understand today’s generation of teenagers. You and I just did as our parents told us to do, and they should be doing the same thing.” He drummed his fingers on his desktop. “Once they’re older, I’m sure that they’ll come to their senses.” He looked at Leonardo. “Anything else?”

Leonardo shook his head. “No, sir.” Standing up, he said, “I’m going back to the power room. I can’t rest until the flywheel’s back online.”

“I understand. Let me know if anything changes.”

“Will do, sir,” said Leonardo, and he turned and left the office.


“We’re spoiled rotten,” said Portia.

“I know,” replied Stephano. “Compared to everyone outside of Whitehall, we’ve got it easy.”

They were sitting side by side on one of the benches that ringed the slider park. It was a popular after-school hangout, and dozens of young people were riding their hoverboards up and down, over and under, and all around the contoured course. It was also one of the few places that they could be together without being teased by their classmates.

Photo by Mika Baumeister.

“We supply the other cities with radiated power and, in exchange, they supply us with the things we need that we can’t make for ourselves,” she replied. “But they’ve got the short end of the stick! Why can’t our parents understand that?”

Stephano snorted. “Because they’re old and stubborn and set in their ways.” He put his arm around her. “Are you sure that you want to go through with this?” She nodded. “Okay, then. I’ll buzz you when I’m leaving my tower and meet you at the jetty.”

“Okay,” she promised. Portia put her lips near his ear and whispered, “I love you, Stephano!”

He smiled and whispered back into her own ear, “I love you, too!”

When it was time to leave, Stephano walked with her to her own tower, where he stole a quick kiss before heading home with a slight spring in his step.

Photo by Clark Young.

Leonardo was reading in his study when a tap came at the door. He looked up to see his son standing in the doorway. “Come on in, Stephano.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, Da, but I’m headed to bed and I wanted to tell you goodnight.”

Leonardo was a bit surprised by this, but he didn’t let it show. “Well, thank you, son. That’s very thoughtful of you.” He smiled. “Was there something else that you wanted to tell me?”

Stephano nodded. “I know how disappointed you are that I never wanted to follow in your footsteps, and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry that I didn’t turn out as you and Ma wanted.”

Leonardo frowned. “Well, yes, I would have liked to have had you by my side as I worked on my projects, but disappointed? Never.” He smiled warmly. “Your mother and I have only wanted your happiness. You know that.”

“I know, Da.” Stephano hung his head. “I just think that there’s more to life than keeping the lights on. That’s all.” He looked back up. “Anyway, I love you and I’m sorry and I’m going to bed now.” He turned and left.

“Goodnight, Stephano,” called out Leonardo, but he wasn’t sure if his son heard him. I wonder what that was all about? he asked himself.


Stephano’s alarm woke him in the wee hours of the morning. He quietly got up and quickly got dressed—favorite shirt and durums, of course—before pulling the blanket off of his bed. Spreading it out in the middle of his bedroom floor, he began placing the inventory of items he was taking on top of it. Tying it up made a neat, if somewhat heavy, bundle.

He left his note on his bed, where it would be easily found, and eased his way to the outer door. Both of his parents were heavy sleepers and sneaking out had always been easy. Before he entered the lift, he alerted Portia. The drone barge left at dawn, and they had plenty of time to stow away on it.

They met at the jetty. Photo by Casey Horner.

As planned, they met at the jetty and he gave her a heartfelt hug. “Are you sure that you still want to go through with this?”

“Of course, Stephano. If we stay here, we can never be together.”

She kissed him deeply.

Their moment of passion was interrupted by a loud noise overhead. Looking up, they saw a bright, purple flash in the sky that was reflected everywhere by the crystalline towers of Whitehall.


If you enjoyed Jim’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 Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage. Set in the city of Newlondon, it’s filled with love, betrayal, and a suicidal quest aboard a “death ship.”

You can view the beautiful, original photos used to illustrate “Towers of Whitehall,” learn about the photographers, and follow links to their other work.

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

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Night of the Rocket–Westminster

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

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

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

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

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

The City of Westminster

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

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

Shadow of the Dunes

by Shanel Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

He nodded.

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

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

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

“I am ready when you are, sir.”

It was like following a shadow floating through the sand.

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

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

The stranger shrugged off the comment, pressing forward.

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

“Do as you must.”

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

Wisps of wind swirled sand around Emilia’s steps.

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

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

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

“Quiet!” Shadow hissed.

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

Shadow wheeled around to face Emilia.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stay down!” Shadow shouted to Emilia.

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

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

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

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

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

“Shadow?” Emilia gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine looked deeply into Emilia’s eyes.

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

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

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


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

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

Finally, you can also enjoy the first Globe Folio story: “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage. It’s a great read!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Night of the Rocket–Belmont

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the first 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 Belmont

Furthest north in the cold mountains lies the City of Belmont and its iron and coal mines. Eternal mists mix with billows of smoke to wreath the underground city in permanent clouds of smog. The mysterious Belmontians stick to their own, and some say they are so inbred they have red eyes.

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

Pillars of Smoke

by Frasier Armitage

A horn blasted through Belmont, carried in the smog. In another hour, Thinveil would chime. Lorenzo deactivated his pickaxe and stumbled into the elevator, a shadow among shadows as smoke saturated the air, turning everything into a haze of itself.

Bodies piled out, past the molten lake. Its liquid fire flowed from the Pillars of Belmont where a pneumatic kiln smelted ore in a river of purified iron. Photo by Ian Stauffer.

The lift ascended through the mountain’s core, and the Great Kiln’s pounding rhythm guided droves of spent workers from the mine.

“Hab-level,” the elevator squawked.

Bodies piled out, past the Pillars of Belmont, two colossal monuments carved inside the mountain. Between the pillars, a molten lake flowed. Its liquid fire traced a path through the habitat as the ancient kiln smelted ore in a river of purified iron. The pillars towered over the shrouded city, chiseled into the mountain’s heart. A temple to the fire.

Lorenzo tottered through a swarm of masked workers, naked save for their tools. None needed the extra weight of fabric when mist preserved their modesty better than clothing, and the city’s heat blazed as the sun.

He found his hab-unit, and his fingers smothered the iron keypad. Vents sealed behind him, pumping the air clear, revealing smudges of coal across his sweat-drenched body. He unclasped his breathing mask and hung it with his goggles on the wall. Pulses of air washed over him, cleansing him of the mine’s stain. A chill rippled his skin, and he clothed himself before he stepped into the hab.

“Lorenzo’s back!” his mother called out. Sylvia and Roderigo scurried to him, hugging his legs. His mother pulled the twins from him.

“At the rate they’re growing, they’ll be knocking me down soon,” Lorenzo said.

“We have news. Thank the flame.”

“Never. Your legs are strong as the two pillars.” She smiled.

“My son,” his father entered from the study. “Today is a good day.” He stood opposite Lorenzo and pressed his hands on the young man’s shoulders, his red eyes beaming. “We have news. Thank the flame.”

“What news?”

“You’ve been matched, my son.”

Lorenzo’s head dropped. “Father, I—”

“Narissa is to be your mate.”

“You know my feelings, father. How can you rejoice?”

“Shouldn’t I be happy you’ll have prospects, security, a wife?”

“A cage.”

His father released his arms. “Roderigo, Sylvia, go and play in the other room.”

The children disappeared, shepherded to the playroom by their mother.

“There is more to the world than smoke and mist, father.” Photo by Thomas Tixtaaz.

“How many times have I told you, son? You shouldn’t speak ill of Belmont.”

“There is more to the world than smoke and mist, father.” Lorenzo’s shoulders stiffened. “This city chokes us.”

“The fire warms and feeds us. Smoke keeps us safe.”

“You’re wrong. It’s the others, the outsiders who—”

“Hush, Lorenzo. Do you want the children to hear?” His father glanced over his shoulder. “Never speak of the outsiders. You know the law.”

“The world is a kiln. It forges us in its flames.”
Photo by Viviane Okubo.

Lorenzo threw his hands up. “What would we eat if we didn’t trade our minerals for their food? What would we breathe if we didn’t recycle their air? We’re prisoners inside this mountain.”

“We’re protected.”

“You mean concealed.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” His father pinched the bridge of his nose. “We hide in mist. We abide in safety. You know this.”

“What you call safety, I call a prison. We’re trapped here.”

“Trapped from what? What is freedom, son? What would you do with it?”

“I wouldn’t marry. Or stay in Belmont.”

“You want to leave? Leave the mountain which has cared for you. Abandon the mines that have welcomed and taught you? Are you so ungrateful?”

“Are you so blind? Would you rather I rot in this cage, father? This is not the only city in the world.”

His father rubbed his eyes. “What do you know of the world? The world is a kiln. It forges us in its flames. You can’t escape the fire.”

Lorenzo’s eyes glowed hot, burning red. Bloodflame seared hatred into his bones. “Look beyond the smoke, father. The outsiders could help us.”

“You know nothing of the outsiders, son.”

“You’re wrong. I’ve seen them.”

His father stilled, statuesque. “You’ve what?”

“From the mountaintop.”

“Since when have you been outside the mountain?”

Lorenzo puffed his chest. “I found an abandoned vent. The mist was thinner in the open. And at Thinveil, before our kiln pumps smog into the air, before the smoke thickens the mountain’s fog, I could see the lights.”

“There’s more beyond this mountain.”

“No, Lorenzo. I won’t hear it.”

“They were faint. But I saw them.”

His father shook the words out of his head. “You’re just a child, my son. You don’t know what you speak.”

“I know enough. There’s more beyond this mountain.”

“There is fire and family. And that is all.”

“Maybe for you, father. You can’t leave. You have the children, and mother. But I have no wife. No ties. Why shouldn’t I go?”

“Do you think me a slave, Lorenzo? That Roderigo and Sylvia imprison me? No. They’ve freed me. We’re all children of smoke. You’re free here. Belmont is free. Don’t you see that?”

“I see a tomb.”

His father paced the hab. “Maybe you’ll understand one day, when you and Narissa have children of your own. Come. Today is a good day. Accept your match and let’s eat.”

Lorenzo’s fists shook. Tears welled in his eyes, branding him in rage. “I won’t be buried in this mountain!” He turned to the airlock and snatched his breathing mask.

Mist blanketed everything, yet his eyes had never been clearer. Photo by Jackson Hendry.

“Lorenzo!” his father called after him. But it was too late. Smoke filled the hab, and Lorenzo vanished within it.

Through the city, he climbed. He scrambled to the derelict service hatch, and shimmied up the vent. Thinveil struck. The horn blared below as Lorenzo lifted himself onto the mountainside.

Mist blanketed everything, yet his eyes had never been clearer.

There is more, he thought. More beyond the smoke. More beyond Belmont. More waiting for me.

As if in answer, the sky erupted. A lurid purple spark, bright as molten ore, lit the mountaintop. Lorenzo shielded his eyes, but nothing could prevent the flame blazing across heaven, slicing through his sanctuary of smoke. As the light touched Lorenzo, it held no warmth. No comfort. And for the first time in his life, there was nowhere for him to hide.


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

And make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson. Set in the desert city of Westminster, it’s filled with action, intrigue, and swirling sands.

Finally, view the beautiful, original photos used to illustrate “Pillars of Smoke,” learn about the photographers, and follow links to their other work.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Inside Scoop–13 questions with Frasier Armitage on “Circle of Champions”

For the pass-the-baton story “Circle of Champions,” Frasier Armitage wrote the second segment. I wrote the first segment introducing our hero, Salem, and I gave Frasier the task of including some history, moving the story forward, and using the color “orange” in a mere 250 words.

This interview is full of spoilers, so read the completed story here first.

Frasier, who was the very first winner of my finish-my-story contest, considers himself a new writer. But he has a lot of polish and thinks a lot about details and the writing process.

Here’s my Q&A with Frasier on the behind-the-scenes creation of his story segment:

1) What did you first think when you were invited to participate? (Four writers wrote this story, each writing a 250-word segment before passing it to the next writer.)

My first thought was that this was a great idea. I love collaborating with authors.

But being asked to participate was actually a huge landmark for me. I’m just getting started as a writer, and this was the first time someone had approached me and asked for my writing. It gave me a feeling of legitimacy, like I was a real author. And you can’t beat that feeling.

[Editor’s Note: Of course, Frasier is a real writer, and he is also a real author, having completed his first manuscript. As of this writing, at least one agent has already requested a full manuscript. We hope a publisher snaps him up quickly!]

2) What did you think of your assignment? I wrote the first 250 words and then handed it off to you. I think I asked you to weave in some history.

You structured things really well by assigning each of us a specific brief. That way, every segment of the story fulfilled a purpose that fed into an overall arc, and would come together to form a cohesive whole.
I was tasked with adding history. At first, I thought about writing the origin of the Thunderdome, maybe as a flashback, or a time jump. I thought about writing the accounts of previous winners.


But every story belongs to a character. And this one belonged to Salem. So although it would’ve been fun to explore the world, I wanted to include as much character history as possible, while also backfilling some of the plot.
I figured that was the best way to fulfill the brief.

What kind of Sci Fi writer wouldn’t absolutely love to play around with giant mech-suit battles fought in space?

3) What was your first impression of the story?

One word: COOL! You’d written such a strong introduction, I couldn’t wait to get started on it. What kind of Sci Fi writer wouldn’t absolutely love to play around with giant mech-suit battles fought in space? I mean, you see how awesome that sounds, right?

4) What did you find most intimidating about the process?

I was afraid that I’d ruin what you’d started. I was the first person to add a section onto the story, which meant that there were two other writers counting on me to keep up the quality so that readers wouldn’t lose interest. I felt like I owed it to them to write a solid 250 words, which was a lot of self-imposed pressure.

Also, my brain is geared towards plot, so it was bizarre getting my head around the fact I wouldn’t be writing a resolution to the things I included. Trying to keep the plot as open ended as possible while maintaining a certain level of interest was an interesting challenge, and gave me a good chance to develop my writing skills.

5) Why did you accept the offer? I mean, it’s only 250 words, I paid nothing for them, and you had no idea whether this project would be a success or a disaster.

Any opportunity to write with other authors is too good to miss. I learn so much from every author I interact with, and I definitely learnt from you, Jim, and Shanel on this project. It was exactly what I hoped for. Plus, I’m a newbie writer without a fanbase, so what did I have to lose?

6) You began with the words “Come to Mama,” words spoken by Salem, but I almost felt that was you speaking. I felt you really got excited by the mecha or exo-suit concept.

I watch and read a lot of Sci Fi. There’s no other genre like it. My debut novel is a time-bending thriller set on Earth in a city where events in the present can alter history. It’s the polar opposite of exo-suits in space-arenas, so I was beyond excited to write something so different to what I’d been working on.

The line “Come to Mama” was born out of two factors. First, there’d been no dialogue in the story up to that point, so I tried to think about pacing and balance from the reader’s perspective, and knew I had to start with dialogue. And second, I spent a while building a picture of Salem from what you’d written about her, and when I typed “Come to Mama,” it was one of those eureka moments for a character where her personality just clicked.

Plus, when you’ve only got 250 words to work with, you’ve got to make every sentence count, so stripping down her reaction to just three words was a big win! It gave me room to pick up from where you left off and dive into something new.

7) Where did you get the idea of Neon Tigress?

When I imagined the origin of the Thunderdome, I’d pictured the contest as a Sci Fi extension of pro-wrestling, where larger than life personalities battle together to become the champion. Neon Tigress came out of that.

Plus, a tigress with neon stripes adds some cool imagery.

8) Why is she a tigress but her mecha is a banshee?

I figured that before she made her killer move, her armour would do something specific to signify that death was about to occur, similar to the banshees in folklore wailing to warn of death. And I can picture a tigress roaring before making her kill, so there was a tenuous link in my mind. Whether that was present on the page or not is another matter!

But I mainly wanted to convey that she had tricks up her sleeve that nobody else could match, in order to provide a decent obstacle for Salem.

9) Why is Neon Tigress a “founding fighter”? Tell me about the idea of her “returning from retirement.” Was that a breadcrumb you dropped to see if the other writers would pick it up?

I only had so much room to squeeze in some kind of origin for the competition. I could’ve written thousands of words on my segment! So I tried to imply as much as I could in as few words as possible.

The ‘founding fighters’ was an expression that came to me which might signify to the reader that Neon Tigress was a classic hero of the Thunderdome, and that she’d been there from the start, which would tie in with her being a big fighter when Salem was a girl. I figured that the “founding fighters” would be those iconic kinds of legends that never really fade from pop culture. And the only way to match Salem against her would be to bring her out of retirement for one final bout.

If Rocky got back in the ring, except he wore a giant robot exoskeleton, people would probably want to see what happened. Also, I was trying not to give too much away. I didn’t want to narrow the scope of the story by explaining everything. I wanted to expand it by alluding to a past that none of the other writers knew about!

But all we know about Salem’s mech is that it’s red, and it has dodgy thrusters!

10) I don’t think anyone carried forward the fact that Neon Tigress’s mech is a banshee. Thoughts? Where would you have taken that, if anywhere?

The banshee mech was something to demonstrate that Neon Tigress was impressive and intimidating. She has a custom banshee mech, but all we know about Salem’s mech is that it’s red, and it has dodgy thrusters! So it was my way of amping up the stakes, which the other writers did a brilliant job of.

You get the idea that Salem versus Tigress is like a David versus Goliath type of setup, and that’s largely down to the way that everybody else wrote their parts. But that’s exactly the impression I was hoping to achieve in their bout, so I was thrilled that the other writers chose to run with it.

11) As an additional challenge, one of your 250 words had to be the word “orange.” What did you think of that challenge? If you put the project together, would you have included additional writing challenges? Would they have been tougher?

The colour challenge was one of those extras that helped to frame where I was taking the story. I didn’t want to just throw it in there. I wanted it to feel like the colour belonged there. So it was good to figure out how that was going to work. Any more writing challenges, and I think my head would have exploded!

The great thing with the colour challenge was that you didn’t stifle our freedom in any way. If the challenge had been any more specific, then it might have hampered the story we could’ve told.

12) You live in England. Are you a football fan (what we call soccer in the U.S.)? You wrote “the emcee interrupted a carnival of klaxons from the VIP boxes.” I wondered if that was inspired by Earthly sports you follow. Any thoughts on the Thunderdome?

I grew up playing soccer, and I remember going to see my local soccer team play a few times, but there weren’t any klaxons—just a crowd of grown-ups chanting ceaselessly in the freezing cold!

I’ve always preferred playing sports to watching them. Having said that, I try my best to catch the Super Bowl every year. For us in the UK, that might mean staying up very late, hoping that if you keep eating hot dogs, you might make it to the final quarter before sleep defeats you. Or it might mean trying to catch a rerun the next day before your phone tells you who won!

I’m not a massive sports nut, but if the Thunderdome were real, I think I’d probably tune in! Probably more for the fact it’s mech-suits in space than the actual contest though!

13) To wrap up, I have to ask about Salem’s Mom saying the matches are rigged. How did you think that would play out in the story? Any hopes there? Or were you handing us an easy out for rescuing Salem?

I hoped my segment would feel like a complete story in and of itself, as well as part of the overall narrative. Because you were releasing the segments week by week, I was conscious of the need to satisfy a reader with the snapshot of the story they’d get that particular week. And being the plot-centric guy that I am, despite my best efforts not to resolve anything, I just couldn’t resist some kind of conclusion!

Salem’s Mom saying it was rigged was a way I could finish that part of the narrative while still opening up potential plot points for the following writers. Secretly, I was hoping that someone might pick up on it, and when you did, I fistpumped the air! It was an awesome ending, not because it referred back to my segment, but because the theme of everyone’s writing was consistent. It was a story about a girl who’d been fighting her whole life, and in the end, she finally won. The fact that the contest was rigged just makes her victory even sweeter. It couldn’t have ended better.


Please post your comments below. And feel free to leave questions for Frasier or me.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross