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.

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

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross