Song of Thieves
Cordelia’s chains rattled against the prison wall, the only music she’d heard in years. Memories of old shanties came to her in quiet hours between the rising of the moons, and she whistled them when she closed her eyes. But the curl of the ocean’s waves cresting on the shore was no more than a forgotten dream.
How many cycles had she spent inside this cell? And for what? A single moment of foolishness. Her best cycles gone, never to be recovered, and no one to mourn for them. She clanged her chains against the stone that held her irons and played a dirge that only she could hear.
“Inmate,” a voice echoed through the dark. “Why do you make such a racket?”
Cordelia stopped clattering her chains, and sang towards the voice, combing her fingers through wiry strands of black, matted hair.
There once was a maiden put to sea, Of gentle face and soul was she,
‘Til the day that she became a thief,
And the jailer threw away the key.
She stopped, and raised her hands to her mouth, her fingers dancing as she blew.
“What are you doing?” the voice asked.
“Playing the tune on my piccolo,” Cordelia replied, her head swaying in the silence.
“Well, I hope it’s a short tune. We have important matters to discuss.”
Cordelia straightened. If this wasn’t a guard, then who? No visitor had ever bothered to trudge the dungeons of the brig for her sake.
She peered through the dark. But the figure to whom the voice belonged remained an outline, a silhouette without features.
“Forgive me, sir,” Cordelia said. “But I receive so little company. Won’t you come in and sit down?” She gestured to the middle of the cell.
The figure didn’t so much as flinch, choosing to remain in shadow. “I heard a story about you.”
“Is that so?” she asked.
“That you were caught stealing a pendant from the wife of a Newlondon Guild member.”
Cordelia scowled, her cheeks reddening as the blue of her eyes turned to ice. “Is that such a crime to deserve banishment? Is it fair? Me. Banished. For what? I warned her that she had no right to that pendant. It belonged to another. And when I hatched a plot to return it to its rightful owner, I was the one punished. If you came to see a thief, you’ll be disappointed. Better for you to make an appointment with the Guild. All you see here is a self-righteous fool.” She stomped across her cell, hands on hips.
“You have no love for Newlondon’s Guild?”
“And I told them so. It’s why I’m here, isn’t it? Locked up like an animal all these years in a Haller cell.”
The figure shifted, and a shaft of light exposed the fringe of their cape. “It’s a shame you’re not a thief. I was rather hoping I might find one in these parts.” They turned to leave, and footsteps faded into the distance.
“Wait!” Cordelia cried. “Sir, I beg you. Don’t go. Let me steal a word with you.”
“Ah, so you would steal from me after all?”
“If you wish it, sir. You have a very fine cape. A Whitehall garment. And I detect the aroma of influence in the scent you wear.” Cordelia squinted, yearning to snatch a glimpse of the man. “Why would a man of influence visit a lowly woman such as me?”
The figure crept closer. “I see that nothing in this darkness is hidden from you. Not so mad as you would have me believe, are you?”
Cordelia brushed frayed ends of hair behind her ear. “It passes the time, to play the fool.”
“Then let us stop speaking foolishly. For there is already so little time. Do you know of the Polity?”
“Only from old fishermen’s tales.”
“Then you do not know that they are here? On the Globe as we speak?”
Cordelia shook her head violently, as though someone had tossed her overboard. “I get it. You’re here to mock the mad girl who dared speak her mind. Very well. I beseech you, sir, tell me your best stories. I shall believe them all.”
“It’s true.” From his palm, an image glowed. A ship bigger than any hovercraft Cordelia had ever seen illuminated from the orb he carried.
The hologram danced over Cordelia’s eyes. “Is that real?”
“It rests on sand no more than a klom beyond that wall.” The figure zoomed in to the hull, where a dozen smaller vessels attached to the larger craft. He let the image linger on the small, one-person flier, and then extinguished the projection.
“And why would you show this to me?” Cordelia crossed her arms.
“I heard another story about you.”
“That you were the finest pilot in all Newlondon.”
Cordelia’s lips curled. “You’re a well-informed man.”
“I heard that you could pilot anything.”
“Anything that moves,” Cordelia bragged.
“Could you pilot one of those ships? The solo-fliers?” The figure stepped towards the bars of the cell, his body rigid. The air between them sparked with a restless electricity.
Cordelia shrugged. “Like I said. Anything that moves.”
The figure’s shoulders eased, and he reached into his robe. “Then I wish to make a trade with you.”
It had been so long since Cordelia had traded anything but her memories. Blood surged through her veins with more force than the ocean’s waves. “State your terms,” she said.
“You’ll play the thief, and steal a ship. You’ll take it from the surface and fly beyond the sky to dock with the good ship Shakespeare. Once aboard, you’ll find a command console and program a specific series of instructions into it, and unless you hear from me otherwise, you’ll leave before the Shakespeare comes crashing down on our Polity friends.”
Cordelia’s laughter skittered through the cell. And people thought she was mad! “A hover can only reach thirty metes above the surface,” she said. “Even children know as much. But a craft that can sail above the sky? Impossible.”
“And yet, there it is.” The figure lit the projection once more.
Cordelia stared at it, analyzing the design. The closer she surveyed it, the quicker she lost her smile. “I’ve never seen technology like this before.”
“But you can fly it?”
“Over land. Sure. But into the heavens? I haven’t been free of this cell for many cycles. And you ask me to rise above the surface of the Globe?”
“Would you rather stay where you are?”
Cordelia folded her arms, and rubbed her chin. “I know the Shakespeare remains in the sky. You can make it out glowing as a speck in the heavens. Newlondoners use it to guide them when the light fades. But you wish me to actually go there? To cross that distance?”
“A feat no other Glober has ever performed.”
Cordelia shook her head. “And what would you trade for these services?”
The figure slipped his hand from his robe and dangled a key from a chain. “Once your task is complete, you’ll be free.”
Cordelia’s eyes locked on the key, transfixed by it. But her instincts prevented her from snatching it. She knew better than to make a deal without knowing all the angles. “Just tell me one thing, sir — what are these commands you wish for me to give the Shakespeare?”
The figure snarled below his breath, his hands clenched into fists. “The Polity have us in their palm. They rule from on high. Another ship lurks above us in the sky. They call it—the Pacifica. I’ve tracked this vessel using sensors on the Shakespeare—”
“Wait,” Cordelia interjected. “You can communicate with the Shakespeare?”
The figure straightened the collar of his cape. “There are certain men in Whitehall who hold such power.”
Cordelia nodded. “Then you truly are a man of influence. If you can communicate with the ship, why not give it your instructions from here? Why do you need me?”
“We receive telemetry, meteorological data, topographical charts from the Shakespeare. Things like these. But we cannot broadcast messages. When our ancestors traveled across the heavens and settled here, they landed in transport ships, and left the great engine which had carried them in the sky.”
“The Shakespeare. I know my history.”
“Then you know it is much more than just an engine. It is a city. But a city that the Polity believe is dead. I intend to bring it to life.”
Cordelia’s eyes frosted over once more. “You’re going to turn it into a weapon, aren’t you?”
“There is a city in the sky which belongs to the Polity. They look down on us as insects. Unless they can believe that we are every bit as human as them, they will not hesitate to crush us.”
Cordelia stroked her chin. “So you wish to destroy them first? What of peace?”
“There can be no peace without talk. I don’t intend to use the Shakespeare without reason. I shall try to persuade them in negotiations. But there is no harm in securing a little leverage. Once you reach the Shakespeare, if I succeed in convincing the Polity of our independence, then I shall contact you with the abort codes. Look out for my signal by scanning the rooftop of Whitehall’s tallest tower. But if you do not receive my signal, then we must strike first, or not at all.”
Cordelia considered his words, and raised her arm towards the bars of her cell. “Then I believe we have reached an accord.”
The figure inserted the key into the lock, dispelling the electric charge running through the bars. He twisted the latch and flung the door open. His cape followed behind him as he strode across the cell and shook her arm, before he unfastened her chains.
Cordelia’s eyes widened as the insignia of his cape fluttered in the light. “Why, Governor, I didn’t realise I was in such distinguished company.” She bowed to him.
The Governor of Whitehall put his hands on her arms, straightened her upright, and smiled. “Needless to say, if anyone finds out about our agreement, then you won’t be returning here. There’s a spot outside the city you’ll end up in. Where the Mirrim roam.”
“Governor, you need not threaten me. Once we have reached an accord, there is no question of my loyalty. I may be a thief, but I’m no liar.”
The Governor nodded. “Now, pay attention while I teach you the commands I wish for you to input.”
He smiled. “And then all you have to do is figure out how to steal a Polity flier.”
Music spilled from the tavern in Newlondon, flooding the dock with its cheer. A Polity officer stumbled from the bar, his boots staggering across the cobbles as he swayed to the tune. The stench of ale on his breath clouded the air around him.
“Hey, handsome,” Cordelia called from an alleyway.
The officer turned on the spot, and through bleary eyes, toured the contours of her body, before coming to rest on those blue irises, almost glowing in the darkness. He flashed his best Polity smile and stumbled towards the alley. “You talking to me?” he slurred.
“I don’t see any other handsome men around here. Do you?”
He turned left and right, but the harbor was empty, save for the slosh of waves and the odd fishing net. “What’s a lady such as you doing alone on a night like this?”
Cordelia backed into the alleyway. “How would you like to remedy that?” she whispered as she slunk into the shadows.
His eyes bulged as he wobbled closer, striking blind into the narrow alley. Darkness consumed him, and he reached through it for the promise of the maiden’s lips. A pinprick jabbed his neck, and he swatted it away, thinking it no more than an insect bite.
“Come to me, my pretty Glober. And let me show you what the Polity can do.” He tumbled into the wall. His head swam. From the bite on his neck, heat spread down his back. His vision clouded and he lost his footing, collapsing in a heap as the black fog of unconsciousness overwhelmed him.
Cordelia pocketed the syringe, offering a silent thanks to the Finsber who’d mixed the sleeping cocktail. She stooped to the officer and searched his pockets until she found his ident-strip.
She flicked her wrist, and a drone whirled down from where it had hovered overhead.
“Copy the data,” she instructed it. The drone emitted a green strobing beam as it scanned the ident-strip, duplicating the information into its storage banks. The beam vanished.
Cordelia replaced the item on the officer and left him sleeping. “Sweet dreams,” she whispered. Then she turned to the drone. “Inform the Governor that we move at dawn, and return to the meeting point.”
The drone thrummed skyward, vanishing from sight.
She turned to the officer and blew him a kiss. “Better luck next time,” she said, leaving him to sleep off his stupor as she disappeared into the night.
The engine of the Governor’s hovercraft rattled, skirting the desert. Strapped below the underside of the craft, Cordelia clung to the frame. Sand kicked up her back. Why couldn’t they have just put her in the trunk, like she’d asked?
Brakes whistled, biting her ears as the hover screeched to a halt in the shadow of the Polity’s lander.
Cordelia’s sinews roared. She breathed through the pain. Beside her, two sets of feet exited the craft, and voices drifted to meet them.
“Governor, this is an unexpected pleasure,” a woman said.
“Captain Ward,” the Governor answered, “I wonder if you’d permit me the pleasure of your company. There’s a small matter I wish to discuss with you.”
“It couldn’t wait?”
“I’m afraid not. May we come aboard?”
Cordelia’s skin itched as the pause stretched into an eternity. Since when did the Governor of Whitehall have to beg for an audience with anyone?
She allowed her body to lower into the straps that held her in place, and craned her neck for a glimpse beyond the hovercraft. From her waist, she slipped a pistol from its holster, loading the pellet she’d purchased from one of Westminster’s beast-chasers. In all her trades along the river, she’d never succeeded in obtaining bullets from an Artemis. But she’d never had the Haller’s credits to barter with before. If every Newlondoner knew the value of Haller credits, they’d all be working for the Governor.
Cordelia snapped the barrel shut, taking aim at the hulking metal landing-frame of the Polity’s cruiser. Its size dwarfed everything she’d thought possible in an airship. How could something so colossal ever lift from the ground? Still, at least it made an easy target.
Come on, she thought. Hurry up, Governor. I agreed you’d be on board before I fired. But a girl can only wait so long.
She strained her wrist, stretching it for a clear shot at the prow, her finger closing in on the trigger.
“Fine,” Ward capitulated. “I can spare a few minutes.”
The feet beside the hovercraft shuffled towards the lander, and the huge mouth of the shuttlebay consumed them all.
Cordelia’s lip curled. Here goes nothing.
She released the shot, and the pellet flew through the air, erupting in clear goo across the lander’s hull.
Across the sand, a rumble echoed.
Cordelia snatched the knife from her hilt, and sliced the straps that held her to the underside of the Governor’s hovercraft.
The rumble grew louder. Louder.
She checked her hoverpads were fastened tight to her boots.
Grains of sand shuddered as the ground slithered around the lander.
Cordelia took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
From the heavens, a thousand skycrawlers descended. The beating of their wings forcing the sand to shiver beneath them. They dove at the lander, snapping at each other with fangs of steel, all of them drawn by the Artemis’s lure, splattered across the hull.
Countless beasts crowded, wrestling for a taste of the clear nectar, the air filled with their beating wings. There were so many, they blocked the sun.
Cordelia activated the hoverpads on her boots and emerged from her hiding place under the hovercraft, lifting from the clawing nest of skycrawlers. Their distraction disguised her flight perfectly, and she landed on a wing of the Polity ship, deactivating the boots as she ran towards the nearest solo craft.
Below, between the screeches of the beasts, Polity officers emerged from the lander, blasting rifles into the pack, but still the skycrawlers lusted for a morsel of the clear liquid.
Cordelia flicked her wrist, and the drone zipped across the sky, appearing at her side.
“You got those credentials?” Cordelia asked the drone. It scanned the copied ident-strip across a panel on the solo-flier, and a green light flickered as the cockpit slid open with a hiss. Cordelia climbed in and eased herself behind where the rudder should’ve been. But instead, a series of wheels and levers protruded from a console.
It’s okay. All machines are the same.
As the carnage crescendoed on lander’s hull, the shrieking beasts flapped in a frenzy, rifle blasts following them. Talons slashed against reptilian hides, spewing the ground with a carnival of torn flesh and neon blood.
This must be the thrusters. And here’s the tiller.
Cordelia reached on instinct for the controls, and the whoosh of hydraulics released the clamp which fixed the flier to the main ship. She called to the drone, “Engage protocol Mirrim.”
The drone bleeped and lowered to where the clamp was open. It scanned the flier’s systems and duplicated the readings showing on the console, then it pressed itself onto the clamp, allowing the vice to squeeze its frame until it closed. The drone plugged into the Polity’s systems, and fed data back so that if anyone ran a diagnostic, they’d see a solo flier on the readout, exactly where it should be. A perfect switch. Unless the Polity did a manual inspection. But what were the chances of that when all the readouts looked normal?
Skycrawlers broke from the surface, rising in spirals like a swirling cyclone. Cordelia lifted with them, shielded from view in the melee of beating wings. She secured the latch on the cockpit door, and strapped in for the ascent.
Everything shrunk as she drew further up. Below, she saw the spires of Whitehall diminish until they were the size of children’s toys. Desert stretched all the way to the misty mountains of Belmont. The river seemed no more than a pencil line, tracing a path to the ocean. Waves patterned the sea like rips in fabric, their majestic surf reduced to mere ripples.
She reached out to taste the ocean air, the desert’s heat, the mountain’s mist. But she met only the stale glass of the cockpit window.
Cordelia glanced around her. There were four walls, the same as her cell. And no way out. She could no more reach out and touch the Globe than if she were back in the brig, chained to the wall. And then the sky darkened as the atmosphere thinned.
Her hand pressed against the glass, searching for a connection to the world, but it had been robbed from her. Yet, such a world that she beheld—the beauty of it startled her as much as its vastness. How small the Polity. How tiny was Whitehall. The higher she climbed, the greater the wonder of her vista magnified. She sailed above the sky, looking down on the Globe, and as her eyes absorbed the planet unfolding before her, Cordelia’s head filled with music. An aria unlike any that she’d ever heard.
She raised her fingers to her mouth and imagined the piccolo piping the tune. When she opened her eyes, the planet sparkled brighter than any treasure. A perfect pendant to adorn the heavens.
The world she saw didn’t belong to any of them. Hallers, the Guild, the Polity. None of them. And as she joined the company of stars, her voice called out in song—
The world is not ours,Not the land or the seas,To the Globe be the power.All who take it are thieves.
If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below.
We will be seeing more of Governor Octavius in future installments of “Nights of Revelation,” and we’ll catch up with Cordelia in Act 3 of the Globe Folio series.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change–Part 1″ by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change–Part 2″ by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1″ by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross
- “The Burning Flame–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Burning Flame–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- You just read: “Song of Thieves” by Frasier Armitage