In Part I, Lorenzo escapes Belmont, the city beneath the mountain, only to find a harsh, blinding landscape and dangerous beasts. Ros saves him from a Mirrim attack, and the two head for Whitehall, following the purple streaks across the sky . . .
The Voice of Beasts
Wind shrieked as it battered Lorenzo. He craned his neck over the hovercraft’s edge and squinted through his goggles.
“This is the place,” he said. “This is where the lights end.”
Ros brought the skiv to rest below the ridge of a swollen dune. Lorenzo scaled the sand and peered over its peak, with her at his side.
Whitehall’s towers glittered in the distance. Between the dunes and Whitehall stood a hulking monster of metal. Painted green and brown, it loomed from the ground like a mountain in itself, its landing gear propping it on insect legs.
It loomed from the ground like a mountain in itself, its landing gear propping it on insect legs.
“Could it be a Mirrim?” Lorenzo asked.
Ros peered through an eyeglass she carried on a necklace. “I’ve never seen one so big.”
“Where did it come from?”
Ros pointed to the heavens. “Only one place something like that could’ve been made. From the stars. It looks like the ships they used to tell us about in old fishermen’s stories.”
“On long sailing voyages, we told tales to pass the time. Warships came from the Polity and landed on a world, forcing our ancestors to flee across the sky to this one. I thought they were just fairy tales.”
“People came in ships like that to seek a home?”
Ros nodded. “Apparently.”
Lorenzo smiled. “Then we are the same. That ship and I. For am I not in search of the same thing?”
Ros frowned. “I don’t think Belmont and space are in quite the same league.”
“What do you know of Belmont? What do you know of these newcomers?”
“I know they dress a lot better than you. Here. Take a look.”
Lorenzo clunked the eyeglass onto his goggles and peered through. Around the giant frame, people stood in uniform, holding guns. They carried the authority of the Council of Belmont. Had they worn robes and hoods instead of guns, he would have feared them. As he peered closer, his stomach tortured him in waves of doubt.
These people seek a home. We are not so different. That is why the smoke of their trail has guided me to them. It has to be.
“What’s that?” Ros yanked the eyeglass from him.
A convoy of transports swept across the sand from the direction of Whitehall.
“A Mirrim?” Lorenzo asked.
“Nah. More likely a welcoming committee. Looks like we missed our shot.”
Lorenzo’s eyes widened behind his goggles. “You were going to shoot them?”
“No. Our shot at being the first to offer a trade. Those Whitehall goons will beat us to the punch. Come on. The best place for us now is the city. News travels fast. Let’s make sure we get it first.”
Ros slid back down the dune.
Lorenzo halted at the top. “Should we not warn them of the Mirrim?”
“By the looks of it, they can take care of themselves.” She pointed her fingers in the shape of a gun and mouthed ‘pew pew pew’ as she gestured her index finger firing rounds.
Lorenzo shook his head and scampered down the dune.
Not everyone is looking to kill something. There are some beasts who seek only some shelter and a little shade.
They approached the hover. Lorenzo halted, pulling at Ros’s elbow.
“How do we know that’s really your baby?” he asked.
She tutted and unfurled her gun. From the top of its barrel, she removed a shaft that formed a piccolo, and blew a melody through it. The ode drifted through the breeze until its sound touched the hover. At the end of her tune, its horn blared the final notes.
“That was beautiful,” Lorenzo said.
Ros reconnected the instrument to her weapon and holstered it, hauling herself on deck. Lorenzo followed.
She struck out across the sand for Whitehall. Lorenzo didn’t totter as the hover leapt over the dunes.
“You learn fast,” she said.
“We have a saying in Belmont. ‘When burned, only the fool keeps reaching for the fire.’ I will not be burned a second time, Ros.”
She flicked the hover onto automatic and scooped some fruit from a cubby in the helm-panel. Her eyes never left Lorenzo as she reached into her boot, grabbed a knife, and sliced a chunk of fruit, placing it to her lips. “What’s it like in Belmont?” she asked.
Lorenzo perched on the edge of the hull, his eyes returning to the distant mountain hidden by mist. “Have you ever seen a furnace blaze?”
“How far does the smoke rise?”
She licked her lips. “Depends. Sometimes on a still night, it feels like it scrapes the most distant stars.”
Lorenzo nodded. “Imagine if that smoke filled all the air. Made it impossible to see these stars you speak of.”
“Belmont is a furnace, Ros. The air is smoke. They’ve built pillars dedicated to fire, believing it protects them. But the flames imprison them. They cannot see or breathe or taste anything but its bitterness. Belmont is blind, Ros. As blind as I am without these.” He pointed to his goggles.
She sliced another lump of fruit and it slipped down her throat. “Sounds intense. I thought Newlondoners had it bad.”
“It’s where I’m from. Newlondon. The last city. We spend our lives on the water. The sea, the river, you name it.”
He raised an eyebrow. “But you get to sail where you wish?”
“Where others ask us to sail. Most of us are doomed to debt. We’re not a rich city. Not since pollium stopped washing up on shore. We don’t have the spires of Whitehall or the glass of Westminster to fall back on. So we sail where people tell us and hope that’ll be enough. You got family in Belmont?”
“I do. And it would’ve grown had I stayed. They’d already matched me.”
“Chosen me a bride. And from a good family, too.”
“You were gonna be married? Why didn’t you?”
Lorenzo’s brows knitted into a web. “When it comes to my life, should I not have a voice?”
“So you ran away?”
Lorenzo stood. “I would rather die screaming than be forced to live without a voice. If I’d stayed, I’d have been no better than that Mirrim lying at the foot of the mountain.”
Ros nodded. “What was her name? Your bride?”
“There are prisons with pretty names, too.”
She tossed him the other half of the fruit. He caught it, and she offered him the knife.
“Eat up,” Ros said. “You don’t want to enter Whitehall on an empty stomach.”
A line of yachts and barges snaked up and down the river, all the way to the city’s gates. The whole Globe had come to Whitehall, following the lights in the sky.
Three Moons had circled the heavens and twilight had settled by the time Ros passed safely through the checkpoint along the road to Whitehall.
“Come on,” she said, as they passed the city’s gate. “It’ll be quicker on foot.”
She grabbed Lorenzo’s hand and dragged him through a maze of gleaming glass towers. Dusk played its swooning song in the fading auburn light.
As night settled, a cavalry of bulbs lit up the city, twinkling brighter than the stars above. Crowds gathered in the restaurants and bars to sample Finsbury’s finest food. Whitehall was alive with expectation, a city brought to life by whispers of what might lie beyond its walls.
“Let’s get a table,” Ros said. “It’ll be the best way of finding out what’s happening.”
“How? By eating?”
“By listening.” She winked, yanking him into a colonnade of restaurants where the diners collected outside, and a thousand voices mingled in a symphony. “Table for two,” she said to an automated waiter, who flashed her a holo of the empty seats, and she selected the ones closest to the biggest table.
A white light glowed from the chairs, vanishing as they took their seats.
“I’ll have a grilled skycrawler, medium rare, with a side of greens,” Ros said. “What about you?”
“Same,” Lorenzo answered.
“And two ales.”
“Ales?” Lorenzo cocked his head.
Ros licked her scarlet lips. “Trust me.”
He shrugged. “Very well. Two ales for me as well.”
She giggled. “No. Those two ales were for both of us. You know what? It doesn’t matter.” She dug into the pockets of her waistcoat and fed the credits into the mechanised server. The automaton slunk away, its gears humming.
“We have nothing like this in Belmont,” Lorenzo said. “We eat with family.”
“Family is important to you, huh?”
“There is fire and family, and that is all. At least, that’s what my father told me. He would never have dreamed of a world where people ate together. He would’ve called them beasts and carnivores. He could be like that. Always so devoted.”
“Not a bad quality to have in a father. Devotion.”
“I tried to make him see. To open his eyes. But he wouldn’t listen.”
“Listening is how we learn. Speaking of.” Ros raised a finger to her lips, and tipped back in her chair. She swept her sun-goldened curls behind her ear and tilted her head towards the cacophony of voices ringing from the table behind her.
Lorenzo did the same.
“I heard,” a man’s voice said above the others, “that someone from each city has gone to meet with the Polity.”
“It’s definitely a Polity ship then?” a woman chimed.
“Didn’t you recognise it from the ancient texts? I always said those technical documents would come in handy,” another man blustered.
“Tosh and nonsense. You’ve been petitioning the libraries to burn those documents for years,” the woman said.
The automaton interrupted Lorenzo’s eavesdropping with two plates of steaming food.
Ros sat forwards and leaned into the aroma rising from the plate. “Smells good, right?”
Lorenzo nodded. I’m not eating with these strangers. I’m eating with her. There’s a difference.
He scooped up his utensils and copied Ros as she carved her skycrawler into bite-size morsels. He picked at the charred breast of the skycrawler and inclined his ear to the conversation on the table behind.
“Well, if it’s the Polity,” the woman said, “we shouldn’t be just sitting here waiting for them. We should take the initiative and attack.”
“Attack?” the man questioned.
“Absolutely. You know the Book of Shakespeare. The Polity are the reason we ended up on this world in the first place.”
“You think they mean to subjugate us?”
“Isn’t that what they did before?” she asked between mouthfuls of food.
“How many of their ships could they have sent?” the man said. “But instead, they chose a single vessel.”
“A rather large, single vessel, if you ask me. Don’t you think they were making a statement?”
“I don’t know. How about ‘don’t mess with us if you want to live’? I tell you, if we don’t act now, they’ll disrupt the peace here.”
Lorenzo shook his head, slamming his cutlery down and gulping his ale.
“What is it?” Ros asked.
“Those people behind us,” he said. “They’ve already sentenced the newcomers to death.”
“They’re Whitehallers. If they had their way, everyone would be sentenced to death. You might want to take it steady with that ale.”
He swigged the dregs of his first glass. The drink stung the back of his throat, but his head never felt so clear. “These people just want a home,” he shouted. “Anyone who can’t see that is as empty as a Mirrim.”
He glugged on his second glass of ale. A hand tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face the man from the table behind, his brown eyes swirling as Lorenzo tried to focus on them.
“You might want to keep your voice down,” the man said. “Not everyone takes as kindly to the thought of the Polity as you do, friend.”
Lorenzo wheeled on the man, swiping his hand away, losing his balance as he stood. “Listen, friend, I come from the mountain. They come from the sky. What’s the difference? If you want to kill them, you might as well be killing me.”
“Lorenzo, sit down!” Ros glanced around as a hush settled among the diners.
Lorenzo pressed his finger on the man’s chest. “You’re scared because they have a big ship and carry guns,” Lorenzo said. “Well, don’t you carry guns? I never saw a gun until today. But look!” Lorenzo pointed at the man’s hip, where he holstered an antique pistol. “You’re all killers.”
“Is it a crime to protect ourselves?” the woman said. “We have to keep the peace somehow.”
“Peace? You say you want peace, but you don’t want peace. You want control. There’s a difference.”
“Sit down, Lorenzo!” Ros stood and reached out for him, but he shrugged her off.
“You should listen to your lady, friend,” the man warned, and he tapped the pistol. “People who start shooting their mouth off might find themselves catching a blast.”
Bloodflame flashed across Lorenzo’s eyes. He snatched at the man’s weapon and yanked it from its holster. A raging fire coursed through his veins. He wrapped his hands around the pistol and bent the barrel until it almost snapped in two.
The man stepped back. “What are you?” he asked.
“This is the only way to peace, friend,” Lorenzo said. “I’ve lived my whole life trapped inside a cage that others made for me. But no more.”
As Lorenzo stepped forwards, people around him reached for their hips.
Blue lightning flashed over the crowd.
“Should we not accept these newcomers with open arms?” Lorenzo called out. “They are the same as you. The same as me. Do not be poisoned by how tall your glass towers reach. No matter how high they seem, they are still just glass. Who will join me in welcoming the Polity? Where is your—”
A shot rang out across the colonnade. Blue lightning flashed over the crowd. Ros snatched at the knife in her boot and hurled it at Lorenzo. Just before it struck his face, the path of the blast met with its metal, disintegrating it in a fizz of light.
Lorenzo fell to the floor, gripping his goggles. The flash overwhelmed him. The sound of a tussle bombarded his ears. Pounding fists silenced grunts. Boots slammed into flesh. Glass crashed all around him, as the frenzied air whooshed past his face.
His vision returned and he glimpsed a shadow darting in front of him. Then an explosion lit up the sky. Sparks rained down on the plaza of diners, before another boom signalled a hail of light.
Ros knelt beside him, grabbed her piccolo and blew a tune into it.
Then she stood and a flurry of air knocked Lorenzo back as a thunder of fists rocked the plaza even more than the explosions in the sky.
Above him, a hover descended, its horn blaring.
A hand grabbed Lorenzo and dragged him to his feet, forcing him up the rungs of the hover as eruptions overhead ignited the heavens.
Lorenzo stumbled over his feet, and the hand pushed him behind the helm-panel, before flinging the hover through winding city streets.
Drones pursued them, but Ros turned her pistol to them, and blue blasts swatted them out of the sky.
“What was all that about?” Ros said.
He raised his head. There wasn’t a scratch on her. “Ros, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Which is more than can be said for those Whitehallers.”
“You saved me. Again.”
“What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. Now are you gonna tell me what got you so riled up?”
Another boom thundered overhead as sparks speckled the sky.
“What is that?” He pointed up.
“Just a little light show to celebrate the arrival of the Polity. Something I overheard at dinner.”
“So much talk. So much hate. Why can’t people just accept one another?” Lorenzo shook his head. “My whole life, talk has kept me caged. I’m sick of it. I’d rather be in the company of Mirrims than listen to their babble.”
Ros swept through the city gate and plunged into the darkness beyond. She eased off the throttle and switched it to automatic, turning to Lorenzo and running a hand across his cheek. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Come on, let’s get you sobered up,” she said.
“No. Ros. I know exactly what I’m saying.” He took her hand in his. “Those people, they’re dangerous, Ros.”
“Nothing I can’t handle.”
“No. You don’t understand.” He gripped her hand. “I wish I could explain it. Thank you for saving me. For listening to me.”
She smiled. “You really think the Polity are harmless, don’t you?”
“I believe the only harm they bring is the hatred their presence stirs in the hearts of others.”
She rose and pulled her pistol from her hilt. “Okay, Lorenzo. I believe you. But until we reach the river, I have to keep watch. There could be any number of beasts stalking us right now, and we wouldn’t hear them coming.”
Lorenzo shook his head. “We’re safer here than back in that city.”
“What do you mean?”
He stared at the flashes of light raining down on Whitehall. “It’s not the beasts without a voice we should be worried about. It’s the creatures who speak which are most to be afeared.”
If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe series and then Part 1 of “The Voice of Beasts.”
In two weeks, the next installment of Nights of Revelation will take us to the desert dunes of Westminster in Shanel Wilson’s “The Sands of Change.” As the leaders of the oil fields and the glassworks feel their grip on power slipping, the next generation begins its rise to power. And the Polity’s arrival on the Globe only quickens the flow in the hour glass.