Tom Robertson shot this moody, dreamy mountain-top shot in Skye in the United Kingdom. I assume it’s a multiple exposure because you can see through the person in this photo. It makes a beautiful image.
Tom also shoots some beautiful black and white images and artistic, moody and sometimes spooky photos. Make sure to check out his collection on Unsplash.com.
Nathan Dumlao shot this desert view, which proved to be perfect for the Mirrim scene in “The Voice of Beasts.” Nathan takes mountain, urban, and travel photos. Find more of his work at Unsplash.com/@Nate_Dumlao.
In the original photo, you can see the steampunk goggles are wrapped around a black bowler sitting atop an internally lit hat block. A very fun image! I love the subject of this photo and I love steampunk motifs. I can still recall the feeling of awe I had when I first saw steampunk costumes all those years ago at DragonCon in Atlanta.
Johnny Briggs, who hails from Scotland, shot this image. He loves taking photographs of “beautiful vintage and retro items, places, nature, and architecture.” Find more of his photography at Unsplash.com/@johnnyboylee.
Barge on the River
Erik Mclean shot this great photo of a rusting hulk sunk in the water. I don’t have any details on the photo, but it makes a mood shot for our trip down the Elizabeth River in our story. Erik likes urban, automotive and sky photography. He also has some very nice landscape and outdoors photos at Unsplash.com/@introspectivedsgn.
Zach Woolwine shot this sinuous dunes photo during a trip to Merzouga, Morocco. It provided a great image for the savagelands between Belmont and Whitehall on the Globe. Zack likes to take photos of cats, streets, food and San Francisco. Find more of his photos at Unsplash.com/@onebackpackphotography.
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
by Frasier Armitage
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.
On the Night of the Rocket, in the mountains of Belmont . . .
The Voice of Beasts
by Frasier Armitage
Purple streaked across the heavens as Lorenzo staggered over the mountain. Mist saturated his view, and a trail of violet blurred through vapor. He followed the light’s path as it burned above him, before it altered course and lowered as a distant speck. Then the lurid glare faded, but its afterglow still fell in shards of purple light, painting the sky.
The glow drew him, pulling him towards a sanctuary of light. Its trail was a road stretching out above him, beckoning him away from the mountain. Rocks jutted from the ground in random clusters. The only road to follow was the one above him.
He inched forwards, beginning his first reluctant steps away from Belmont, and the life he left behind. Each stride strengthened his resolve, and as the distance between Lorenzo and the city grew, so did the surety of his heart.
Navigating a way down the rockface of the mountainside strained the muscles which the mines had nourished. His tendons stretched as he clambered down steep embankments and clawed his way across narrow ledges.
The ground levelled, and a causeway wound a path towards a faint amber shimmer which danced over a gate. Everybody knew about the Gatekeeper who kept watch over the mountain, but he’d never pictured the gate that led to Belmont until he saw it now. He shied away from where the bizarre haze shielded the entrance, and took the road leading down the mountainside.
Dawn approached as Arrant Moon rose, reflecting the sun’s light. Day opened up to brighten the sky, and Lorenzo squinted through the onslaught of golden fire. His red eyes had never seen the sun. Twilight scorched his vision with disorienting intensity. He staggered as the world around him blurred in a blinding white.
Mist thinned until it vanished, the last barrier between the raging sun and his innocent eyes. The sound of water trickled across the flatland. A tree’s shade gave him a moment’s relief, and a shadow emerged in the direction of the water. He tottered towards it, feet dragging him forwards as daybreak fractured the world around him.
“Hey!” he called to the distant shadow. He flapped his arms. “Hey!”
The shadow sharpened as he neared it. A figure. They raised their hand and fixed a gun on Lorenzo.
“Help!” he cried.
The barrel of their pistol thundered as a bolt of blue plasma flashed. The shot brushed past his shoulder, whispering as it flew beyond him to strike a form behind. A body thudded to the ground. Lorenzo fell to his knees and turned to see a young man splayed lifeless. Plasma scorched his skin in burns and blotches.
But at the sight of the man’s face, Lorenzo fell. He shivered, pointing at it, his jaw agape. Staring back at him was his own face. A perfect replica of his own body lay dead on the ground before him.
Footsteps followed the shot, and the figure emerged from shadow. They holstered their gun and offered Lorenzo a hand.
“That was close,” they said. “It almost had you.” They hoisted Lorenzo to his feet, their face a blur.
“What almost had me?” Lorenzo asked.
“It’s a Mirrim. A mirrorbeast. Deadliest creature in the savagelands. It’s a good job you yelled, otherwise you’d have been the one lying in a heap.”
“That thing is a creature?”
The figure nodded. “A nasty critter. The only thing they’re good for is target practice.”
Lorenzo bowed. “Then I owe you my life.”
“Pfft. Are you kiddin’? You gave me the chance to shoot a Mirrim. If anything, it’s me who owes you. Where are you heading to anyway?”
Lorenzo shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m following the sky.”
“Okay. That doesn’t sound crazy at all. Why don’t we start with where you’re heading from?”
“I come from Belmont.”
“Belmont? Is that a joke?”
Lorenzo shook his head. “I swear it.”
It’s a Mirrim. A mirrorbeast. Deadliest creature in the savagelands.
The figure leaned closer and peered into Lorenzo’s squinting red eyes. “Well, would you look at that? A real-life Belmontian. That explains the outfit at least, or lack of.”
“What do you mean, outfit?”
“Your clothes. Those rags barely cover you.”
Lorenzo picked at the strands of fabric hanging loosely from his body. “We have no need of clothing when mist covers us.”
The figure’s hands rested on their hips. “I don’t know the rules in Belmont. But if you hadn’t noticed, it’s not exactly misty today. Come on. I’ve got a spare set of clothes in my skiv you can use.” They turned and slunk into the distance where the sound of rushing water cascaded.
Lorenzo tried to follow, staggering blindly. He waved his hands in front of him, shuffling across the plain.
“Are you okay?” they yelled.
“The light,” Lorenzo said. “It’s so intense, I can barely see.”
They appeared at his side. “Here.” A pair of goggles was pressed into his hand, the lenses tinted dark as coal. “We use them for sailing into the sun.”
He fixed them around his head and the light dimmed, softening everything into focus. The figure before him took shape. She smiled through thin lips, her yellow hair a mane of curls, and her startling blue eyes glistened like two hot flames. Clothing wrapped around her slender frame, hiding her body in oil-stained folds, and her waistcoat matched dark leather boots.
“Better?” she asked.
Lorenzo pirouetted to take in his surroundings. A river flowed not far from where they stood, and a machine that must’ve been her skiv hovered above the water. Behind him, across a flat plain, at the foot of the mountain where the mist clouded, lay the creature’s plasma-blistered body.
“Where is the tree?” he asked. “The one that gave me shade so I could see you?”
“The Mirrim was the tree,” she said. “It took a couple of seconds to shift from one form to another. That’s how it hunts. To match its prey, it becomes its prey.”
Lorenzo shuddered. “Why did I not hear the creature approaching?”
“That’s the one way to know if you’re dealing with a Mirrim or not. They make no sound. They can’t. Something about the way their skin changes means you’ll never hear them coming.”
“But I heard it fall.”
“Thanks to my plasma rounds.” She took her gun and kissed the barrel. “This baby’s never failed me yet.”
Lorenzo frowned. “How does it work?”
“The gun? You just point and shoot. What’s the matter? You never seen a gun before?”
Lorenzo stared at the corpse, transfixed by how easily it could’ve been him. “What should we do with it?”
“Let it rot. It’ll be a warning to passersby. Now are you coming, or not?” She raised an eyebrow and sauntered to the machine that floated above the water.
Lorenzo followed her up the rungs of the craft, the cold metal tingling his fingers as he hauled himself onto the hover’s deck.
She rooted through an old sack and tossed him some clothes.
“Thank you,” he said.
“No problem. You can pay me back later. The interest isn’t too steep.” She winked.
Lorenzo frowned. “What do you mean ‘pay you back’?”
She rolled her eyes. “Let me guess, you’re gonna try and tell me there’s no such thing as trade in Belmont, aren’t you? How gullible do you think I am?”
“The fire feeds all.”
“Not unless you feed it first. Everything’s a trade. See?”
Lorenzo rubbed his chin. “I have nothing of value to give you.”
“Not yet. But when word there’s a real-life Belmontian roaming around gets out, having you owe me a favor might come in handy, if you catch my drift.”
Lorenzo fumbled the clothes over his tattered rags. “I can tell you my name, if that’s worth anything?” he offered.
“Well someone’s got a high opinion of themselves, don’t they? Safe passage downriver and fresh clothes just to know your name. What are you? Royalty?”
“What would you give me for my name?”
“I’d trade like for like, if you’d accept those terms?”
“Alright. I accept. I’m Lorenzo.”
“Rosaline. But you can call me Ros.”
“Ros? That’s a short name compared to my own. I’ll take these as compensation.” Lorenzo glanced at the clothes he wore, the leather jacket and canvas sailor’s trousers, tucked into thick boots. He straightened the goggles over his eyes. “How do I look?”
“Like you still owe me, buster,” she said.
Ros stood at the hover’s prow and worked the gears with the grace and skill of an artisan. Engines roared as she slung the skiv around, and shot off down the river. Lorenzo toppled onto the deck. Spray rushed up the side of the barge, splashing over him.
Ros stifled a giggle into her sleeve.
Lorenzo peered over the hull’s edge, wind whipping his hair back. He staggered on deck, the motion throwing him from side to side. “What manner of beast is this?”
“It’s no beast. It’s my baby.”
“You said that about your gun. Are all your babies so deadly?”
Ros smiled. “Did you see those lights last night?”
“I can still see them.” Lorenzo stared at the purple trail leading across the skies.
“Really? I don’t see anything.” Ros shrugged. “Must be those pretty, red eyes of yours. What else can you see?”
“I see you. And this baby of yours. The land. And the sky. And a purple trail leading that way.”
“Towards Whitehall. It’s where we’re heading now.”
“To follow the lights?” he asked.
“Something like that. If you can see the afterburn, maybe your eyes would make a fair trade for those clothes.”
Lorenzo backed away, his face aghast. “You can’t have my eyes. Or else how would I see? Is this what the world is like? Full of people swapping limbs for finery and fetishes?”
“Pipe down, sailor. Your eyes can stay where they are. I just want you to show me the way. To the spot where they landed. That’s not too high a price to ask, is it?”
Lorenzo puffed a breath of relief. “I accept your terms, Ros. For what reason do you seek the purple sparks?”
She smiled. “Who knows what these newcomers might have to trade? Now, fair warning, this might get a little bumpy.”
Ros slammed the hover over the riverbank. Its pads reverberated as the ground undulated below. Lorenzo’s legs wobbled, and he gripped the helm.
Ros pushed him off the controls. “Keep those eyes peeled, Lorenzo. We’re heading into the savagelands. Quickest way to Whitehall. But Mirrims could be anywhere. Got it?”
They passed over the wilds of the savagelands in silence. But silence was the mark of the Mirrims. Lorenzo wanted to speak just to prove that he was still himself, but Ros hushed him with a look. She stalked the horizon with a predatory gaze, her hand resting on the hilt of her gun.
They passed rocks and the odd outcrop of grass, but could trust none of it. Not even the sand. Who could tell if a single grain was not a beast waiting for them, lurking?
In the distance, another barge ploughed across the bedrock and dunes. Their silhouette warped in the sun’s heat.
Ros nodded towards the craft. She placed a finger to her lips, and drew her gun.
The hover pulled alongside Ros, and she signalled with her arms to the captain of the barge, counting down from three, two, one.
She blasted a horn. But no blast came from the hover beside her.
It tilted to ram her and she fired a burst of plasma at the hull. Blue plasma burst like lightning across the hover as its metal shell writhed, morphing in and out of shape. The ship convulsed, and Ros fired again, before it collided with her hover, shunting it off course. Ros fell from the helm, and the gun clattered across the floor. Lorenzo toppled and when he rose, there were two of Ros on deck. He reached for the gun, and scooped it in his hands.
“Lorenzo. It’s me.” There was only one voice, but both of them moved their lips.
“Quiet,” he said.
Sweat poured down his brow as he glanced from left to right. Which of them is Ros and which is the creature?
“Lorenzo! It’s me! Use your ears!”
“I said quiet.” They both stood by the helm. “I just point and shoot, right?”
Both Rosalines nodded.
“Okay. You.” He signalled to the one nearest the throttle. “Step forward.”
They shuffled in front of the rudder, out of sight from the Ros that stood behind them.
“Where do I come from? Both of you point on three.” Lorenzo said. “Three. Two. One.”
The first Ros spun and pointed to the mountain in the distance. So did the Ros behind, at precisely the same moment.
Lorenzo shook his head. His hands rattled on the pistol. “Change places. You go behind, and you in front”
“On three, I want you to point to your baby. Three. Two. One.”
The Ros behind pointed one arm to the deck and her other arm at the gun he held, and the Ros in front frowned, pointing at their stomach. Lorenzo fired. The blast rippled over her body as plasma ignited her skin, charring her to a crisp.
The remaining Ros picked up the Mirrim and flung it over the side of the craft.
“Thanks,” she said.
Lorenzo’s shoulders relaxed at the sound of her voice. “You said your baby never lets you down. Does this settle our debt?”
She snatched the pistol from him and holstered it. “Keep your eyes peeled.”
“We’re nearly there,” he said. “The purple sparks gather ahead.”
Ros swung the hover in the direction Lorenzo pointed. They sped across the dunes, ever closer to discovering what manner of monster those lights had belonged to; ever nearer to where it lurked, waiting for them in the sand.
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 make sure to check back Friday for Part 2 of “The Voice of Beasts” by Frasier Armitage. Ranging from the harsh desert of the savagelands to the glass towers of Whitehall, Part 2 is filled with a race, a brawl, and a chase.
The photographers of Unsplash.com provided me with a great collection of photos for my story “Kite Night,” a Sci Fi story set on the planet called the Globe. (If you’ve not read the story, you’ll want to read it first, as this post contains some spoilers.)
Snowy Vin took this perfect photo of a single firework explosion against a dark night sky. She shot it at Lake Kawaguchi at Fujikawaguchiko, Japan and titled the photo “Firework.”
I used this photo for the story’s main title image. Because the original photo cropping is very square, I had to “extend” the black night sky through photo image magic to make it fit into my regular title image rectangle. And, of course, I added the text.
Siniz Kim shot this beautiful place setting. She titled it “Preparedness,” which is a great title. When I saw it, I knew it was perfect for the table Capt. Ward was setting in the officer’s mess. Siniz is the principal and founder at Zigzag GmbH in Stuttgart, Germany. You can find more of his street and outdoor images at unsplash.com/@siniz.
Orbs of the Multiverse
If you have read any of the previous Tales of the Globe, then you recognize this gorgeous photo as the first image for each story.
If I understand this correctly, Daniel created this beautiful image by mixing soap and oil. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but I’m no artist. This piece, Orbs of the Multiverse, is from his new Soap & Oil Planet series. To my eyes, it looks exactly like a planet floating in space, and I love his title for the piece. So I chose this image to represent the beautiful, blue planet of the Globe.
Raul Barrios shot this great image of a blacksmith forming a crowbar on an anvil with his blacksmith’s hammer at the ready. Raul shot this at the Blacktown City Medieval Fayre in Blacktown, Australia.
This photographed hammer or mallet is not covered in runes, but it is a blacksmith’s hammer, which the mysterious Vernon is carrying. Because he is from Belmont, Vernon knows blacksmithing and has tools of the trade. I think you’ll learn more about the mysterious Vernon of Belmont in stories to come.
Melanie Magdalena shot this mesmerizing photo, titled “Lift Off at Lantern Fest 2015,” at Sandia Speedway in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United States. As the photo’s title indicates, this is a photo of floating paper lanterns, not mechanical grav-tech drones. To hide the fact that these are paper lanterns, I cropped the photo and rotated it 90 degrees. I think the altered image does manage to convey floating, orange shapes in a night sky that might be futuristic drones, if you don’t look too closely. But I’m also glad to be able to share Melanie’s beautiful, original image here.
[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the final story of a set of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. At the bottom of this story are links to the other five stories. And there will be more to come. I promise!]
by Matthew Cross
The United Polity Ship Pacifica, a Naval carrier, slid towards the planet, riding down the bent space of the sun’s massive gravity well. Ward was a Marine, not a scientist, so she knew the general theory but not exactly how the Slide Engines worked. The details were classified anyway, one of many strategic advantages tightly controlled by the Polity’s military. With such massive military advantages, the war should have been going better. Raised by the Polity Navy on an academy ship, there was no one more loyal to the Polity of Unified Planets than Capt. Ward. But she knew to keep her doubts to herself.
Shipboard duties during a Slide for a Marine were light, so Ward kept her Marines busy with constant training, surprise drills and study. To keep the peace with the ship’s crew, Marines also volunteered for KP, swabbing decks and other scut work, to show they weren’t just freeloaders. It was all in the SEAL Leadership Manual. “Stick to the Manual, Ward, and you won’t go far wrong,” said Commander Argyle, when pinning on her captain’s bars.
“And when the Manual doesn’t cover it, Commander?” she remembered asking.
“SEALs were born and bred for off-Manual, Captain. Achieve the objective, by any means necessary.”
The SEALs have a lot of slogans. So many it’s a common joke in the Navy. Achieve the objective, by any means necessary, was one. It was not one of the cleverest or one of the most uplifting. It did not summarize what a SEAL was, but it cut straight to the heart of what a SEAL did.
Ward was in the Officer’s Mess, setting the table for Cookie, the chief steward. Technically, officers weren’t supposed to do scut work, but Ward found small ways to lighten the load or at least lighten the mood when shipboard. She didn’t mind. It reminded her of simpler times aboard the U.P.S. Euphorion, her first academy ship where all the students did whatever needed doing. Cookie came out from the galley and announced that the planet was within visual-light range.
Ward calmed the butterflies in her stomach and laid the last of the fine silver. She was proud her hands did not shake, not noticeably anyway.
“Wanna take dinner in your quarters, Captain?” Cookie asked.
“Yes, please,” Ward said gratefully. Cookie was shipborn and cared little for planets. But Ward was planetborn and raised until her academy years. She lived in space and had the bug for exploration, but landing on a planet was the closest she would ever come to returning home.
In her quarters, Ward turned on the high-tech holo equipment installed for her to review battlefields in space and on the ground. She had already been using the high-radiation scans to get the lay of the land. And her intelligence lieutenant had gleaned all he could from the planet’s communication’s transmissions that traveled this far. It was dimmed little.
These people clearly had no interest in contacting anyone offworld, which was very strange. What kind of backwards rock was she going to? But when the brilliant blue marble appeared in the middle of her quarters, she threw herself onto her berth and stared at it. Even at maximum magnification, even using AI estimations to fill in the image, it was no bigger than her thumb. When she cut the planet’s yellowish-white sun from the image, the planet looked tiny and fragile floating in the darkness of the room.
What kind of backwards rock was she going to?
She watched the planet, really just a half-sphere view, revolve in the sun’s light on the live feed as she took her dinner. Cookie delivered her meal in person, which made her blush. “Cookie, you shouldn’t play favorites!”
Cookie waved a large, pudgy hand, and tucked his thumbs into his straining apron strings. “You work as hard as any crew on this bucket and I seen you doin’ for favors for anyone and e’ryone. If Cap’n Ward wants to watch a blue rock spin here in the privacy of ‘er quarters, ‘en Captain’s P’rogative.”
“Captain’s Prerogative is a right of a ship’s captain, not a Marine captain,” Ward said, trying to reprimand Cookie with a stern voice but failing.
“Cap’n’s P’rogative,” Cookie said again and closed the door.
The food was excellent, of course, but Ward found herself picking at her food and letting it grow cold as she watched the slowly spinning blue orb.
First Sight was a tradition in the Navy. Unless the ship was engaged in battle, most of the crew was given light duties for as much as 20 hours. It was a sound policy. Even when sliding, the briefest interstellar trip took more than a year. And you couldn’t keep planetborn away from the viewscreens anyway. So ship captains gave a First Sight holiday. And when the holiday ended, they used the natural rise in energy to finish the many chores remaining before attaining an orbit.
Ward tried to enjoy the first hours of the holiday, but her mind kept reviewing her orders and her last transmission from 3Q Fleet Command. They had been pretty simple. Simple was good. But usually orders were very detailed, giving a company-grade officer little to do but review the extensive instructions and implement them.
Here it had been the opposite: Secure the planet against the enemy and begin extraction of resources vital to the Polity Navy. Destroy any resources of use to the enemy but not of use to the Navy. It was vague; dimmed-stars vague.
She had discussed it with Capt. Exeter, the ship’s captain, of course. He was polite and gave a few vague suggestions. Eventually, Ward quit asking. The answer was clear. No one knew anything about the planet or its resources. As the commanding officer of the landing, she would have to figure out on her own what resources needed extracting and what needed destroying.
There would be tough choices ahead. Ward had made tough choices before and she would have to make them again. That’s the price of a captain’s bars or any officer rank. But she didn’t have to like it.
So far, the butcher’s bill had been light. In three years of the Slide, they’d only had two engagements. The first had been a small skirmish not far out from Nestor, a Polity hub on the edge of Polity space where Ward had joined the U.P.S. Pacifica. That space, so close to a Polity stronghold, should have been cleared. Such was the state of the Polity in the Third Quadrant. No one spoke of it, or not in more than whispers, but loyalty to the Polity had been shrinking in the quadrant ever since Ward had graduated from the academy.
The skirmish had only lasted a few hours. Barely enough time for Ward and her Marines to get involved. They had loaded into transports for boarding the enemy ships but had been recalled after the enemy broke off.
Capt. Exeter had harried the departing ship with a long stream of salvos meant to provide cover for the returning transports. But the fleeing ship had fired off a few parting shots and managed to hit one of the transports. Twenty dead, all told, three Marine squads, a Navy pilot and a Gunner’s Mate.
Four fighters zipped out immediately to harry the pirate ship.
That would count against Capt. Exeter’s butcher’s bill, not her own, as it happened while the Marines were in a Navy transport. Not that it mattered to Exeter or Ward. The Navy kept track of such things, in case a court martial was necessary. But unless you were a complete vac out, nobody reviewed the figures, especially during times of war. What mattered was that personnel were lost. Friends and friends-of-friends. But there was always a butcher’s bill to be paid. Officers had to pay it, learn any lessons that could be learned and move on.
The second engagement had been more serious. Two years into the Slide they had run across an armed ship attacking a merchant vessel. Afterwards, opinions among the ship’s officers varied on whether the crew of the armed ship were seasoned pirates or just opportunists. But everyone agreed this was Polity space and the Polity Navy had the duty to stamp out piracy, even in contested Polity space.
The pirate ship and its target had been far off the Slide vector, so the best Capt. Exeter could do was reverse Slide Engines and provide cover fire. Four fighters zipped out immediately to harry the pirate ship. Ward and two transports of Marines were sent out close behind them.
Capt. Exeter had not deemed the engagement worth revving up and sending out one of the bombers. The bombers were not ideal for space engagements on anything smaller than a destroyer and were considered high-value assets. If the four fighters and Ward’s contingent could not get the job done, Exeter would harry the pirate from a distance but resume the Slide towards the objective, leaving Ward behind if he had to. Orders were orders. Achieve the objective.
Fighting pirates was like shooting fish in a barrel. They rarely had military training beyond the captain, they were undercrewed and sometimes half-starved. So Ward took seasoned lieutenants but the greenest Marines. Just for the exercise, she ordered the transport pilots to perform a running drop rather than land and lock on the ship. Ward’s squad took the main communications array. She told the lieutenant to synchronize explosions with the squad taking out the pirate’s main gun. Not necessary for this mission, but good practice.
Ward knew the man would take some time to die in space.
Ward stood on the hull watching the squad and monitoring the other squads on her comms and HUD. She turned when she felt the telltale vibration in her boot. One of the pirates had gotten bold, or was smarter than his mates, and came out an airlock. He never saw her. She was behind the hatch before it fully opened. When his head emerged, her serrated blade cut both his communications and air lines. He did not even realize it until he had fully emerged. Then she kicked him off into space.
He was so distracted with his flailing air line that he failed to notice he was untethered in space. Just in case he had a gun and came to his senses before he asphyxiated, she finished him with a couple taps from her sidearm.
By the time Ward rechecked her HUD, the ship’s weapons and comms were destroyed. Two squads near the bridge infiltrated, extracted the pirate captain, and set explosives on the bridge. Ward lost two Marines in the fight for the bridge. Not wanting to tempt fate, she ordered the transport pilots to come back for a lock-and-load. Before the bridge even blew, the two transports had departed, following the distant lights of the fighters on their way back to Pacifica.
From the brig, Ward presented the pirate captain to Capt. Exeter via comms. Exeter seemed uninterested in any intelligence the pirate captain held. He gave Ward’s intelligence officer one hour to extract what he could. Then Capt. Exeter appeared at the brig personally, listened to a quick summary of the facts gathered, and pronounced judgment.
“By the power vested in me as captain of this Polity ship, you are found guilty of high piracy. Sentencing is execution and vacuation. Sentence to be served immediately.” The pirate began to wail and tried to throw himself on his knees, but Capt. Exeter had already drawn his sidearm and fired two shots into the man’s chest. He aimed low, avoiding the heart, and Ward knew the man would take some time to die in space. A midshipman and a spacer dragged the pirate away to be vacced from the nearest airlock.
Ward set her landing course so that she would pass visibly over each of the cities from the southern coastal city to the subterranean settlements in the mountains to the north. She then circled back south to land in a field near the largest city, the one with skyscrapers.
As a SEAL, Ward was used to planning and making unseen penetrations of enemy lines. But these are Polity citizens, not enemies, not unless they choose to be, she reminded herself.
As she descended through the atmosphere, rather than dampen the sound, she chose vectors over each city that would direct the roar of her rockets for maximum effect. They would hear and feel the rumble overhead. She painted purple streaks across their sky.
With her noisy and highly visible entrance, she was making a statement. The Polity Navy has arrived. You are safe from the enemy. We are here. And she was summoning the planet’s leaders to meet her.
The Marine Lander sat squatly in the high grass on a rise overlooking the city and the river beyond. It was an ugly craft and painted an uglier color, a patchy mix of greens and browns meant to serve as generic camouflage on most breathable planets. Ward liked its sturdiness. She was a SEAL, not a pilot, so she was not a finesse flyer, and the Lander drove like a bus, but a sturdy, stable bus. She could land it in nearly any kind of weather. And the Marines liked it because it had heavy armor, lots of room and could even serve as living quarters on inhospitable planets.
It could be used to hop about a planet, too, but it ate rocket fuel like the beast that it was. Slide technology did not work well in atmospheres, and even older grav technology worked better close to the ground and not in high altitudes. So landings required rockets, and Marines used the Lander.
Ward joined the knot of lieutenants on the hummock. It was not good strategy for all the officers to gather in one place, but she allowed it. First, they were technically on a Polity planet. Second, this was largely a diplomatic mission and she was trying to get her officers, and herself, to think of it that way. Finally, their intelligence revealed that the city’s greatest weapons were the few pulsar cannons mounted on the walls, and Ward had landed beyond their range. A good thing. In their dress whites, the clutch of officers made an excellent target.
The nighttime landing was part of the plan, and so far, things were going to plan. The city residents hid behind some type of crude force wall. Shortly after dawn, after the city had ample time to view the Marine Lander by daylight, a door opened and several gravcraft exited and lined up before the city walls. Each was a small, armored craft with a single pilot. Finally, a sleek, blue vehicle that screamed unarmed civilian emerged and glided slowly towards the Marine Lander. In fact, it came at a reluctant crawl.
Ward called for a wheeled vehicle and grabbed one bottle from the case of wine she had brought as a gift for the city leaders. Alone, she drove to meet the blue vehicle halfway.
The city’s ambassador was a tall, thin man with short brown hair and blue eyes full of lively curiosity. His blue suit and bearing screamed civil servant. Maybe a leader of some type, but probably a bureaucrat and not a politician. A lucky break! She hated politicians. No, she loathed them.
“Welcome to the First City of Whitehall,” he said with a nervous smile and shaking hands. “I am Leonardo.”
He spoke Polityglot. Another lucky break! Ward knew this lucky streak could not last, but she would milk it for all it was worth.
After brief introductions, Leonardo invited her into the city. She countered by inviting him to join her in the front seat of her vehicle and to share a glass of wine. The bottle clearly piqued his interest. After only the quickest look over his shoulder at the city, he shrugged and joined her.
Looking through the viewpane at the City, Ward and Leonardo sipped their wine and talked. In an unspoken agreement, they took turns each asking one question and listening to the answer. Leonardo was clearly curious about Ward and the Polity, but even before the wine kicked in, his answers to her questions grew longer and longer. He clearly had a quick mind and enjoyed educating others.
In no time at all, Ward learned a great deal about the Globe and its governments. Sifting through Leonardo’s words and combining that with pieces gathered by Lt. Lancaster, her intelligence officer, she realized that the five cities were actually ruled by their own separate governments. Leonardo proudly stated that Whitehall was the technological hub and intimated it ruled all the cities, but Ward was also able to glean from a word here and a gesture there that the other cities might not agree.
They talked and drank as the largest moon, Leonardo called it the Swearing Moon, rose and skirted the horizon, and the sun rose to noon. Leonardo sent a grav-tech drone back to the city and a larger drone delivered lunch. Ward had another bottle of wine brought to them and they had a surprisingly pleasant and civilized lunch. Ward finally had to break out water to avoid consuming too much wine and to combat the heavy salt of Whitehaller fare.
The city leaders clearly overcame their initial fears because a communicator on Leonardo’s wrist began beeping and buzzing incessantly towards the end of the meal. Again, he invited her and her Marines into the city, but she shook her head. She had already made up her mind to wait for the leaders of the other cities. Whitehall might be the most powerful, but she did not want to play favorites. Not yet.
She made her first trade of the diplomatic mission. She knew that once Leonardo reentered the walls of Whitehall that he would be whisked away for a long debrief. Meanwhile, they would saddle her with a true politician, a know-nothing, who would wheedle her for favors before the other city’s leaders could arrive. So, she promised Leonardo she would answer two questions for every question she asked if he would stay. He eagerly agreed.
She decided to push her luck.
“Leonardo, the Polity Navy recognizes Whitehall as the First City of the Globe. It’s obvious, even from space.” She pointed into the sky for emphasis.
He nodded, agreeing with the obviousness of it.
She continued. “So, naturally, Whitehall should host the gathering here. Neutral ground but under protection of the First City.”
“You mean, out here, in the savagelands? I don’t want to alarm you, Madame, I mean, Captain, but we’re lucky the beasts have given us peace for this long.”
It took an hour more of negotiations, mostly Leonardo speaking and tapping on his wrist communicator with his superiors, but they eventually settled on hosting the cities’ leaders inside the Marine Lander with Ward’s Marines guarding the perimeter. Ward suspected that Leonardo had swindled her, with his wide eyes and his talk of beasts, so that he could get a good look up close inside the Lander. But the main bay of a Marine Lander held few military secrets.
That afternoon, Capt. Ward’s lucky streak ran out.
It started well enough. Every city’s leader eventually did show up, as she knew they would. A City Councilor from Finsbury was the first to arrive, a rotund woman with green eyes, named Calpurnia. Leonardo made polite introductions but there was clearly an uneasy tension between the thin man and the fat woman. Next to arrive was Eglamour, the owner and Head Gaffer of the Smith from the desert city of Westminster. A large, muscled man, he had the most striking eyes, dark with violet flecks, and Ward found herself staring.
Next to arrive was Solanio from the Newlondon Guild, who had the farthest to travel. He arrived almost at dusk, giving apologies for his lateness as there was some sort of “complication” with the Whitehall authorities. He said it with a serpentine smile and Ward took an instant dislike to him that she could not explain. Solanio also said he would speak for Belmont, and all the others nodded as if this was expected.
Whitehall’s Governor Octavius finally came out from Whitehall’s gates, with Whitehall’s Mayor Flavius at his elbow. Flavius smiled too much and rubbed his hands nervously. Octavius, a large man in every dimension, with white curling hair and brown eyes set in a pudgy face, was clearly trying to make an impression as the last to arrive. He brashly welcomed them all and Ward allowed him to wrest control as the host of the event. This was slightly spoiled when a hooded man from Belmont arrived to the shock of everyone. He quietly gave the name Vernon and melted to the back of the throng.
“Peace,” he said, quietly.
More bottles of wine were opened and Whitehall’s salty meats and cheeses, apparently quite a delicacy, were served. Everyone agreed jovially that the Polity’s wine suffered in comparison to Finsbury’s wines and beers, but they drank plenty just the same. The Lander’s normally cold main bay grew warm with bodies and good cheer. With the dignitaries half drunk, Ward decided it was the best time to make her announcement.
“Thank you all for such a warm welcome,” she began. “Especially to Whitehall and Governor Octavius, oh, and Mayor Flavius, for their hospitality.” There was a mumble of agreement. Ward had tried to pace her drinking throughout the day, but perhaps she had lost track, because she felt the warm glow of the collected guests. “Now it’s my turn to welcome you back to the protection of the Polity.”
At that, all noises stopped and all eyes looked at her soberly. Had she misjudged the moment? She pushed on. “I don’t yet understand the full history of the Globe, but I hope to. I plan to. I know your ancestors meant to leave Polity space in pursuit of …” She sought out Leonardo’s eyes.
“Peace,” he said, quietly.
“Yes, peace,” Ward echoed. “I know the Polity was at war when your people left.”
“Are you still at war?” someone called out.
“Yes,” Ward said. “Yes, unfortunately, we are at war, again. And the war threatens the Globe much as it threatened your home planet.”
“Not war. The Polity!” called out someone behind Ward.
“Yes, the Polity is the threat,” Governor Octavius said, almost at her elbow. “Authority ignited rebellion, as it always does!”
The Globe’s leaders all spoke at once. Faces red and voices raised, they ringed Ward, stepping closer. I’m vacced, she thought.
Then she thought of her two concealed knives. For a moment, she considered carving her way out of this ring. She closed her eyes and took a breath. Ridiculous! She didn’t need anything more than her bare hands to incapacitate these soft politicians. But that would solve nothing.
She needed to be diplomatic.
She was saved from coming up with a solution by the sound of metal on metal. Everyone turned to find the hooded Vernon from Belmont lightly banging on the wall of the Lander like a gong with a mallet. The metal mallet was small but sturdy and covered in runes. He must have brought it with him.
He was a strange figure, covered in a black cloak and hood. He almost seemed to stand in a dim spot of his own making, and Ward could not see any features of his face under the shadow of his hood. She just caught occasional glints of reflection where his eyes should be. Was he wearing mirrored goggles?
“Captain,” the man said quietly, “I recognize a smokescreen when I see it.”
“Yesss,” Solanio inserted himself, “I agree with the gentleman from Belmont. I’m certain that the Polity Navy does not have the resources to send a ship to every planet just for protection. Why have your generals sent you here? What could we have that you need?”
On the Naval Academy ship, she had learned the basics of government and politics. As an officer, she had studied rudimentary diplomacy. As a SEAL, she had studied how to destabilize governments and how to bolster them. Most SEALs were better with knives than words, but one lesson came to mind. In diplomatic situations, tell the truth when you can. And tell the truth when you must.
“Sirs, you are correct. While I have been sent to protect this planet from our enemies, I also have orders to protect and to collect resources to support the war.” There were mumbles, but they allowed her to continue. “Usually, taxes are collected in the form of Polity currency. I have been granted authority to forgive the 500 years of taxes due the Polity in return for full cooperation.”
The leaders exploded in a cacophony of epithets and strange phrases.
“Dogs of war!”
Governor Octavius stood on a chair that could barely handle his weight. “You preach peace, but you mean domination. This is why we escaped the Polity! We must unite to fight this!”
Flavius, beside him, weakly shook his fist in the air, but quickly jerked it down with a look from Ward.
Perhaps her greatest weapon was their disunity.
“Live free!” cried the Westminster delegate, but none of the others seemed ready to follow the Whitehall governor’s lead. Perhaps her greatest weapon was their disunity.
Taking a cue from Vernon, she banged the Lander’s hull with the tang of one of her knives, whipping it from concealment and returning it in one swift motion. The sound quieted most, but the eyes of those closest to her grew large at her expert handling of the knife, as well. There was diplomacy and there was diplomacy.
“There is no need to make any decisions tonight. I will visit each of your cities over the next few days. I will meet your leaders and answer what questions I can. Then I will begin a catalog of the planet’s resources. That will give each city time to meet, to vote, what-have-you, and make your decisions.”
“And what choice are you giving us?” asked Councilor Calpurnia from Finsbury.
Ward smiled. “I’m glad you asked.”
On cue, the back door of the Lander lowered and Ward led the way onto the grassy knoll. The night sky between the Lander and the city walls was filled with drones of all sizes. Glowing orange, they whizzed about madly overhead. The large, red Swearing Moon had circled the horizon during the day and hung just behind the city’s tallest skyscrapers, creating beautiful if ominous silhouettes.
“I’ve done some research on your home planet, the one your ancestors left. There was a tradition called Kite Day, where all the children flew paper cut-outs on the wind,” Ward said.
She did not know if this was true or not, but many cultures on many planets had a similar tradition. She had learned from Leonardo that the Globers had lived here 500 years and the space crossing had taken five generations, so she doubted they knew enough history of that last world to challenge her.
“The kites were flown as a symbol of peace and hope. So as a gift to the children of Whitehall, we purchased these drones. The children are flying them right now.”
“So many!” said Councilor Calpurnia.
“Costly,” said Westminster’s Eglamour. “And do the children get to keep the drones?” Ward could see calculation in his eyes.
“No, it’s part of a light show just for tonight,” Ward said. “Capt. Exeter of the U.P.S. Pacifica should be starting it any moment.”
Lasers struck from the sky. They touched the wildly flying drones, which exploded impressively in sparks and even gouts of flame. The Navy Gunner’s Mates could have destroyed all the drones in the span of five breaths, but they made a good show of it, drawing out the carnage for the count of one hundred.
When all the orange drones had been shot down, three remained. These were controlled by Ward’s Marines. They aligned and began flying in a huge circle between the Lander and the city, flying so quickly they formed three ribbons of light in the air. Red on top, then yellow, then blue. They matched the stripes on Ward’s sleeves. The colors of the Polity flag.
When the explosions ended, Ward could hear the claps and cheers from the distant city. The light show continued with fireworks from the city, mortars and even a cannon shot from the Lander, and more lasers from the Pacifica above.
Ward clapped and laughed when someone in the city even fired off some of the pulsar cannons.
The leaders around her stood stoic and unsmiling. The message, hidden in a light show for the children, had not been lost on them. There was no hiding from the power of the Polity Navy. They controlled space and now they controlled the Globe.
I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share any comments below.
Capt. Ward and the other characters you’ve met so far in the Globe Folio will return in even more stories soon. If you follow me on Twitter (@mattcrosswrites), you’ll see my announcements of new releases.