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.
The photographers of Unsplash.com provided me with a great collection of photos for my story “The Buried War,” a Sci Fi story set on the planet called The Globe. (If you have not read the story, you’ll want to read it first, as this post contains some spoilers.)
Let’s start with the logo for The Globe stories. I had to crop it quite a bit, which should probably be a crime. I committed it in international space, so I think I’m safe. But I do apologize to the artist. Then I added the text. Here is the original, unaltered photo in all its glory.
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.
Federico Respini took this resplendent photo of a field beneath a golden sun. Federico titled this photo “Brown Field,” which just does not do it justice. Of course, I used this as the main image to represent the farming community of Finsbury.
Federico wrote this on his unsplash.com page: “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.” Well, Federico is quite eloquent with the camera.
Vincent Ledvina took this stunning and creative shot of a starry sky over a farm road. I imagined the lights in the road were thrown by Panthino’s hovertrac and thought it perfect to illustrate Panthino stopping to repair the broken tiller.
This photo was shot somewhere in North Dakota in the United States.
Vincent hails from Grand Forks, North Dakota, and likes to take landscape and astronomy photographs. You can find more of his photos at unsplash.com/@vincentledvina. He also teaches photography on his YouTube channel, Apalapse.
Zane Lee took this charming photo of a rustic fireplace that was perfect for a Finsbury farm. You can see more of Zane’s travel and car images at unsplash.com/@zane404. You can also find him on Instagram at instagram.com/zane.404.
Bing-Hsun Wu shot this photo at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is located at Pier 86 along the Hudson River in Manhattan, New York, New York in the United States. He titled the photo “Climb Up.”
[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the fourth 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 Newlondon
The delta city of Newlondon is home to blue-eyed fishermen and The Globe’s finest sailors. They sail the South Sea and ply the Elizabeth River, carrying trade all the way to Belmont.
This story is set in Newlondon on the Night of the Rocket …
The Beast Below
by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
Death whispered in the waves as The Tempest left Newlondon behind. Water crashed up the boat’s side, spraying Antonio and stinging his eyes. He staggered across the deck.
Oars thrashed against the water as sailors battled the sea, their voices raised to the rhythm of their rowing. “Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”
The shadow of Newlondon’s harbor defenses disappeared in the fog shrouding the city, now a speck on the horizon, as the boat drew further into the ocean. On all sides, the open sea vanquished everything, including the death that lurked beneath the surface. The death that waits for me, Antonio thought.
“…Our eyes we’ll hide from the monster’s glow. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row…”
This far from land, the ocean was no more than a grave. How many bodies lay buried on its bottom?
How did I get into this mess? Antonio scolded himself. Better yet, how do I get out of it?
“…Unfurl the sail, the ale will flow. With sharpened spear we’ll slay the foe…”
He toyed with the loose thread wrapped around his finger and closed his eyes. Images of Bianca flooded his mind. He forgot the salty tang filling his nostrils, pushed away the wind whipping his cheeks raw, lost to the memory as the sailors’ chant drifted into the distance.
“…And bring him home for a pot of gold. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”
Bianca’s siren song pulled him deeper. “Oh, Antonio, I am forever yours. Yes!”
How was that only yesterday? Now I’m on this deathship?
On the harbor cliff, Antonio took her tender hand. Bianca beamed at the delicate piece of twine circling her ring finger, and the matching one around Antonio’s.
“Marry me, Bianca. I’ll take every trade run from here to Belmont to afford a ring. I promise to give you the life you deserve.”
Antonio and Bianca, intertwined, weaved a path through the harbor back to his scow, oblivious to the incessant crowing of the crews preparing ships for launch. The tall masts of larger trade vessels towered over their heads. Rigging and nets hung like tendrils of vines winding everywhere.
“Antonio! Will you not stop for your best friend?” a voice demanded from behind.
Antonio and Bianca whirled to see a panting Solanio chasing after them.
“I’ve only been trying to catch you from three docks over. The fog isn’t that thick today, mate.”
“Sorry, friend. I think we may have been lost in a fog of our own making.” Antonio smiled at Bianca.
“It’s the most marvelous day, Solanio! Antonio has asked me to be his wife.”
“Glorious news indeed,” Solanio kissed Bianca’s hand and eyed the twine on her finger. “But it’ll take a lot more than the measly trading runs you’re doing to give this woman the ring she deserves.”
Antonio caught the faint darkness clouding his friend’s eyes. “I’m due to make one of those measly runs right now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Bianca gave Antonio a sweet kiss of goodbye. Solanio and Antonio watched as she headed into the village, deftly avoiding the fallen ropes at her feet.
“Let me know when you want to make some real money, brother. You don’t want that one slipping away,” said Solanio.
“I’m not desperate for one of your schemes yet, Solanio. See you tomorrow.”
Antonio hopped aboard his scow. He started the engine sequence and secured the rest of his cargo before pulling away from his slip.
Antonio disengaged the maglock, pushing away from Whitehall’s dock.
One more stop in Finsbury, then back to my Bianca.
The thought warmed him like the sun reflecting off the looming towers across the marsh. Antonio pushed the throttle, he couldn’t wait to return to that gloomy, beautiful port, and to his love.
Something landed on the deck behind him. Antonio spun straight into a punch, throwing him off-balance. The cloaked figure didn’t wait for Antonio to regain his senses, lunging for the cargo.
Antonio jumped on the pirate, prying him off the hold. The bandit swung again. This time, Antonio dodged and returned a slug, inflicting a sickening crack to his attacker’s ribs. The pirate grabbed a hidden laser-edged knife and slashed toward Antonio.
Antonio grabbed his opponent’s wrists as they grappled on the deck. Forearms bulging, the pirate pressed the knife toward Antonio’s neck.
Antonio kicked his attacker, grabbed a rigging knife from his boot, and stabbed in one swift rush. The bandit fell back on the deck, motionless. Antonio’s heart pounded as he looked to the pirate and then to the blade he still held in his hands.
A whirl overhead caught his attention. A Whitehall drone circled, then zoomed back toward the city.
What have I done?
Antonio covered the body with a tarp and sped back to Newlondon in the growing darkness. When he arrived, he docked in the visitor moorings instead of his own slip. He stowed the knife back in his boot and ran to Solanio’s office in the harbor.
“Solanio, I need your help!”
“Brother, what happened?”
“A pirate attacked me. There was a drone. It happened so fast. What am I to do?”
“I know a place for you to hide while I take care of everything. Follow me.”
Solanio grabbed a chain of keys from the hook on his door and hastened to the harbor wall.
Antonio followed him through the fret that masked the city. The tang of fish stung the back of his throat, and voices from the market echoed in the distance above the cymbal-crash of waves. Fishing nets wove along the dock like cobwebs, and the salty fog surrounded the harbor’s defensive bastions.
“Over here.” Solanio stepped aboard a boat, fumbling with his keys. Antonio paused. Solanio unlatched a door. It swung open, leading below deck. “Antonio! What are you waiting for?”
“Bianca. They’ll come for her first. I need to get her out of—”
“Antonio. Listen to me. If the drone recorded you killing someone on the river, you need somewhere to lay low. Sea fret won’t keep you hidden long. Not from the drones.”
“I’ll take care of Bianca. You have my oath.”
“You swear it?”
Solanio’s lips squirmed in an eel-like smile. “Leave her to me. She’ll come to no harm.”
Solanio grasped Antonio’s arm, compelling him into the cabin. Solanio closed the door, eclipsing Antonio in darkness. A click snapped through the lock. Antonio tried the handle, but it wouldn’t give.
“Solanio!” he cried.
His shoulder crashed against the bolted door. From beyond, voices and footsteps mingled, and the floor swayed with the familiar rocking that belongs to a boat on water. Antonio grabbed the knife from his boot and lit the blade. Its laser shimmered, revealing a hook and pole on the wall. Engines rumbled as he snatched the hook and fixed it on the door’s seam. He extinguished the knife, replacing it in his boot, and heaved. His sinews burned as he wrestled the latch over and over. All the while, the engine’s low murmur disguised his grunts.
He threw himself upon the pole, wood splintering. The door split, sending Antonio stumbling onto the deck. Fog blanketed the ship. Through the mist emerged the captain’s hulking frame. His ice-blue eyes narrowed, and his lip curled into a smile as he stroked his beard and stomped towards Antonio.
“Well, well, well. What have we here? Looks like we’ve got ourselves a stowaway, lads!”
Antonio ran to the boat’s edge. Even at its widest stretch, he could swim the Elizabeth River without breaking a sweat.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the captain roared.
Antonio straightened up. “By how long we’ve been sailing, I reckon we must be near Westminster by now.”
The captain threw his head back. “Did you hear that, lads? This tar thinks we’re on the river!”
Crewmen howled, their laughs rippling across the deck.
The captain raised his hand, commanding quiet. “What’s your name, sailor?”
“Well, Antonio, welcome aboard The Tempest, the finest deathship this side of Belmont.”
Deathship! “You can’t be serious? We’re not—”
“Aye. We’re in open waters. Lads, kill the engines. Oars at the ready. If we’ve any hope of making it to the deep, we’ll need to run silent from here on out.”
Antonio’s mouth gaped open. “You’re a hunting ship?”
“That we are.”
“I never heard of a ship ever returning from a hunt.”
“We may make it back yet.” The captain winked. The engines’ rumble faded, and the ship lurched as it slowed.
Antonio scoured The Tempest for a way out. But all he saw was water and mist. “You have to turn around. I’m not supposed to be here.”
The captain shook his head. “You think any of us are supposed to be here? That any sane man would take on the hunt unless we weren’t up to our eyes in debt? Debt will drown you faster than the ocean, lad.”
“If we return without a creature’s corpse, we’d be better off sunk. The only way I’m turning this boat around is with a kraken in tow. Y’hear?”
“But… it’s suicide.”
“That’s why they pay so much. Now, are you gonna grab an oar, or do I have to force you in the brig?”
Antonio shook his head. This can’t be happening. Solanio. You murderer.
The crew slung their oars over the side of the boat and cried out in song to the beat of their strokes.
“Come face the beast from the deep below. Yo-ho-ho, row, nonny, row.”
Antonio stroked the twine on his finger. He clasped his hands together, pretending it was Bianca’s, trying to remember the softness of her skin and push away the calluses of his own. He opened his eyes as The Tempest crested the waves.
A shudder rocked the boat.
“Hold, lads!” the captain bellowed.
The sailors lifted their oars, and a hush descended. Antonio turned his ear to the waves.
Another shunt wobbled the ship.
A chill shuddered through the breeze. Antonio stepped to the boat’s edge. He peered into the murky water, where a faint glow skittered across its surface.
A strange fluorescence lit the ocean, spreading, growing. It shone brighter still, and the water glistened in a deathly haze.
“Weapons at the ready!” the captain yelled.
Sailors manned the guns, replacing their oars with blaster rifles.
The light intensified, as if the whole ocean were on fire. Then the creature broke through the flames. Its first tentacle writhed up from the abyss, stretching taller than the masts that lined the port, and wide as the pulsar turrets guarding the Elizabeth river.
Another tentacle broke through the inferno, twice as big, and still another, before the body of the creature turned the light to shadow. It shrieked a wail as it towered over the boat. A thick hide menaced its skin with spikes, like a thousand harpoons encrusted with boils hard as steel. The underside of its tentacles emitted a blinding glow, and a single green eye cast a light on the boat bright as the lighthouse on East Cove.
If hell had a hide, it would have chosen this one.
The ship pitched and rolled as more tentacles wrapped around the gunwale. Men clutched their rifles, eyes wide in terror.
“Steady, lads! Fire when ready!” the captain commanded.
The first blasts struck the beast’s side. It shuddered and shook but did not retreat.
“It’s laughing at us.” Antonio’s voice was lost in the roar of the tossing and thrashing.
The captain growled, trying to match the leviathan, and charged across the deck. As he aimed his rifle, a gnarled tentacle flicked him overboard. Antonio covered his gaping mouth with his hand. He felt the twine on his finger.
Bianca. Bianca. Bianca.
The mantra fueled Antonio into action.
“Aim at the eye! Don’t waste time on its hide.”
Half the men obeyed while the rest were either huddled crying for their mothers or frozen in panic. Rifle blasts battered where it’s face should be, though there was no sign of a mouth.
“Keep going, men! Blind the beast!”
In a rage, the creature slammed its body onto The Tempest’s deck. The shockwave flung most of the sailors to their watery graves. Those who braced themselves continued their attacks. Antonio searched frantically for a gun. Gobs of neon green littered the deck. The only thing he could grasp was the hook and pole he’d escaped the cabin with. Antonio secured his knife to the hook. He engaged the laser and faced the beast.
A shot landed squarely in the creature’s eye. It released an ear-piercing cry as its face split, revealing its cavernous maw. Spiraling rows of teeth vibrated from the roar, like tiny saw blades waiting to hack its victims. A vicious emerald light emanated from its throat, hypnotizing the other men. Antonio seized his chance and dodged the lacerating teeth, thrusting the makeshift harpoon deep into the roof of the glowing deathtrap.
He sunk the knife, pulling the blade straight through the creature’s lantern eye, and sending it flying onto the deck. Brains and flesh rained down as the creature thrashed its last. Green ooze dripped from Antonio. The kraken’s eye stared at him from his feet, until its glow extinguished. The monster stilled, collapsed over the boat, almost bringing it under with its weight.
Antonio’s chest heaved. The creature’s stink invaded his nostrils, and he spat its bitterness from his mouth. He pocketed his knife and wiped the stain of the beast from his body.
It’ll take more than that to get rid of me, Solanio.
A violet hue danced across the waves.
Antonio grabbed an oar, and plunged it into the water, tugging with all his might. The few remaining sailors pitched their oars alongside him. His fingers wrapped around the wood so tight, it pressed the twine into his flesh, but all he could do was smile.
I’m coming, Bianca. Wait for me.
Then a faint glow shot across the surface of the water. He stopped rowing and craned his neck over the ship’s edge. A violet hue danced across the waves.
No. Not another. It can’t be.
He grabbed his blade and stood, calling out to the water.
“You can’t have me! I won’t let you!”
The glow intensified and the ocean lit up. But no creature emerged.
“Come on! Show yourself!”
He waited, but there was no beast. Only light. And then he looked up, towards the sky, where the same glow shimmered even brighter.
If you enjoyed Frasier and Shanel’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 Buried War” by Matthew Cross. Set in the city of Finsbury, it’s filled with longing, regret, and a buried secret.
Finally, you can also enjoy the first three tales in the Globe Folio:
The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is
I started the story below. See how Katherine starts after the red line and carries the tale away to a shocking ending. A Romeo-and-Juliet story where Juliet grabs the lead and won’t let go.
INTRODUCTION: This story takes place on the planet simply known as The Globe, on a stretch of water between Whitehall, also called the First City, and the farming community of Finsbury to the south. Long before the Night of the Rocket and nearly fifty years before the Seven Day War there was …
The Secret War
by Katherine Shaw and Matthew Cross
Juliet gunned the thrusters of the hover.
She sped across the surface of Lake Avon, heading south towards the dark headland. Around that bend was the end of the lake and the beginning of freedom. The headland cinched the Elizabeth River’s waist back to her usual trim shape on her journey south to the farming community of Finsbury, the breadbasket of The Globe.
She glanced back at the bright lights of Whitehall’s crystalline towers. Whitehall–First City of The Globe. A twinge of guilt tugged at her. But she had made up her mind. Her parents had told her she had to choose between her family and Romeo. So she had chosen. She did not know what her future held or where she would live, but as long as she was with Romeo, nothing else mattered.
She pumped her thrusters, urging the hover forward, but the throttle was already fully open.
Ahead, the headland, dark with trees, formed a silhouette, refusing to reflect back the distant lights of Whitehall. It suddenly loomed up. It was too close and she was going too fast to make the bend into the main channel of the river.
Her hands twitched at the controls, her feet at the pedals, working thrusters and steering gyros at the same time to spin the hover. She used the hover’s own momentum to simultaneously slow her and spin her in the right direction. The hover, normally silent, growled in protest and threw a huge spray of water that glowed white in the darkness.
A twinge of guilt tugged at her. But she had made up her mind.
That would attract the attention of the lifeguard drones hovering high overhead. And the subaquatic monitors would record the unusual wave pattern. But as long as she didn’t capsize, they would not act. And no one would be alerted.
She knew her father monitored her movements, or leastways, his machines did, and some of his flunkies audited those data streams. But she had taken precautions.
She had removed her own tracker months ago. To avoid suspicions, she carried it with her throughout Whitehall, but whenever she left to meet Romeo, she clipped it to her cat, Thisbe. This night, she had not taken her own customized hover, choosing a plain, black model from the family boathouse from which she had removed all the trackers.
Even at sixteen, she was one of the best hover pilots in Whitehall, which meant she was one of the best anywhere north of Newlondon. (No one could compare with Newlondoners, who learned to sail before they learned to walk.) Her secret was her finesse. And being a girl, of course. Everyone knew girls made better pilots than ham-handed boys, who always tried to muscle the controls. That’s one reason she was driving further than Romeo to meet up tonight; she could drive faster and better in the dark. He was good at sports–really good–but even he had to admit she was the better pilot of the two. No one in Whitehall or Finsbury compared with her on a hover.
The hover dove into the near total darkness on the far side of the headland. The darkness was so complete, Juliet flinched from the sensation of colliding with something solid. The hover glided so smoothly and silently over the water, she felt almost as if she were floating in the vacuum of space. She held her breath. But the slight wind across her face brought her back to her senses and she clicked on the hover’s lights for the first time. It was safe. She was beyond sight, sound, or sensor of Whitehall. She was free!
She was free to see her Romeo!
The irony was not lost on her. On a planet named The Globe, everyone knew the story of Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers. Growing up, Juliet had never thought their story a romantic one. They were stupid. Killing themselves? For what? For love?
Of course, Romeo was the stupidest one. If he’d just waited a little bit longer. If he’d just made absolutely sure, Juliet would have woken up eventually. And they could have lived happily ever after. Boys are stupid! Except for Romeo, her Romeo, the real-life, living, breathing Romeo.
But dying for love didn’t seem quite so stupid now. Still, she and her Romeo would never do that. Would never and would never have to.
But dying for love didn’t seem quite so stupid now.
Life was funny, though. Or the universe had a perverse sense of humor.
She was hardly the first Juliet on The Globe to fall for a Romeo. She herself was the ninth-generation Juliet in her family. And it was said that on every block of Whitehall lived a Romeo, a Hamlet, and an Othello. Her older brother was an Othello.
Even so, she had promised herself she would never fall for a Romeo. It was so trite! So cheesy! A Romeo and a Juliet in love? Too easy to be a constant target of mockery. And, growing up, she never had to make herself promise not to fall in love with a Finsburian. No woman of Whitehall–or not one of standing, anyway–would be caught dead in Finsbury or give a clod-shoed Finsby a second of time. Clumsy, hulking, dirty farmers with cauliflower for brains. Those dirtwalkers didn’t appreciate the beauty of Whitehall’s crystalline towers and white ways. It’s customs and elevated manners. They didn’t appreciate Whitehall’s technological bounty. They dared to compare the value of their lowly vegetables with her father’s miracle machines.
Yet, Romeo was no hick and no fool. Yes, he was large. As tall as her father and twice as wide. Standing next to him was like standing next to a solid wall of muscle. Not that she was into big muscles or anything, but when he towered over her, his long brown curls brushing his broad shoulders …. She shivered at the thought.
She had to focus! She shook her head to clear it. She breathed in the cooling lake spray.
Her flare of rage at her parents had purged her twinge of guilt. They had done this! Not Romeo. Not she, Juliet. She had no desire to leave Whitehall. She loved her ancestral home, its culture and art, and most of all, its technology. Her love of machines and their secret languages was perhaps the one thing she and her father shared, besides DNA and a name.
But they had forced her hand. Her father especially. Her mother had sympathized. Had even pleaded in private with her husband, Escalus, the “King of Data Storage.” But when he said “No,” loudly enough for Juliet to hear him through doors that were supposed to be soundproof, her mother had caved. Worse, she had taken his side and tried to turn Juliet’s heart against Romeo. As if!
Turn her heart against her fair Romeo? Her Romeo of the glinting green eyes? Bright green eyes flecked with gold so it appeared that the sun always shone in them, even in the dark, shady places where they escaped to kiss. A girl could happily lose her soul in those green eyes. Perhaps that is what had happened to Juliet. Perhaps she had lost her soul to Romeo. If so, she did it gladly. He could have it a hundred times over.
So she had chosen the night carefully. Her father was very busy with a large project. He often worked late, but a few nights ago he had told Mom he would be working overnight on this project. That’s when Juliet knew she had to make her break for it. By dawn, she and Romeo could be so far gone that no one in Whitehall or Finsbury could ever find them.
Most days, Juliet was allowed to come and go without supervision. As long as her grades were good, she could travel anywhere in Whitehall or on Lake Avon without a living escort. Of course, there were always safety and security drones everywhere, even in the sewers and beneath Lake Avon. And lifeguard drones hung discretely high in the sky over the lake, watching everyone with electronic eyes.
She was even allowed to skim the lake in the middle of the night, if she liked–something none of her friends could do. As long as she earned good marks in school, her parents left her alone. And school wasn’t hard. She was smarter than most of her teachers. Like her father, study came easily to her, especially math and programming. And so she earned the highest marks and her parents got to brag about her achievements, as if they had had anything to do with it besides contributing the DNA.
Apparently the only thing she could not do was to see Romeo. Or any Finsby. Or have anything to do with Finsbury. And, right now, the only thing in the world worth doing was seeing Romeo. She had tried to resist him. She had tried to stay away. But she couldn’t. And when she saw his face again, after staying away a whole week, the sad look in his eyes hurt her doubly so.
She couldn’t stay away. She wouldn’t stay away. She was going to be with him, whatever it took.
She didn’t care about Finsbury. She didn’t care if the whole city–really just a noisy, smelly marketplace–and all the surrounding fields and farms burned in the fires of Belmont. All she cared about was that she was with Romeo. If that had to be in Finsbury, then so be it. She longed to be with him right now. Her Romeo of the broad shoulders and the lopsided grin.
Her stomach tingled as she envisioned that shy grin. And those full lips. Lips that kissed her beneath the tall trees of the Forest of Arden, the forest that formed the contested border between Whitehall and Finsbury.
She cruised through the darkness with only the wind in her ears to mar the silence. The hover’s lights shining on the dark water ahead hypnotized her. In the near darkness, it was easy to imagine Romeo’s hair, his face, his shoulders. She eagerly looked forward to their first embrace in freedom. To watch his face lower towards hers. To feel his soft lips on her own.
Even though she was used to traveling in darkness to see Romeo, her waking dream almost blinded her to her next landmark–a sandy beach. It was the first place after the headland that the high bank of the Elizabeth ran down to the water’s edge. Beyond the Lake of Avon, the Elizabeth River’s currents were treacherous and even this far north it was subject to tidal surges caused by The Globes moons.
The hover ran easily over the faintly glowing sands up to the tree line. The black hover slid silently beneath the trees of the Forest of Arden and followed a walking trail that bordered the Elizabeth.
Soon, very soon, she would meet Romeo on the southern edge of the forest. There, beneath the moonlight, she would tell him of her plan. After a few kisses, of course. Her plan for both of them to keep traveling south, all the way to Newlondon. He was not welcome in Whitehall. And she would not be welcome in Finsbury. And they couldn’t survive long in the wilderness.
She was carefully following the path bordering the Elizabeth River and planning her speech to Romeo when she heard the low growl. She flicked off her lights and let the hover glide to a complete stop. In the darkness, she strained with her ears to hear the sound more clearly. It was the low, sexy growl of a heavy hover engine, not the sound of a beast. A beast would have been less frightening.
She knew that engine–it belonged to the 9NUS Lion–her father’s newest line of heavy-duty hovers. “The 9NUS Lion … goes as fast as you like it,” her father had said with a smirk.
The 9NUS could tow heavy loads. Or it could be plated with armor and loaded up with weaponry for police or military action. She knew Whitehall had bought the whole lot.
Juliet was a quick study and it took her only seconds to put it together. Whitehall was sending troops under cover of night to raid Finsbury! And before they reached Finsbury, they would reach the edge of the forest … where Romeo was waiting for her!
All her fears were confirmed when the first hover–covered in some type of camouflage–blew past her in the darkness.
Juliet gunned her thrusters.
Laden with weapons and heavily armored, the 9NUS couldn’t reach its optimal speed, and Juliet’s small hover quickly caught up. With the lights off, she drifted behind her quarry in almost complete darkness, her engine drowned out by the guttural growl of the heavier vehicle.
He would be waiting for her now, emerald eyes glittering in the moonlight.
She had to think; with each lost second they drew closer to Romeo.
He would be waiting for her now, emerald eyes glittering in the moonlight, blind to the approaching danger. She had to save him!
With her eyes fixed straight ahead, she fumbled blindly in her satchel until her fingers closed around the energy pistol. She had smuggled it out of Othello’s room earlier that evening. Being an older boy, he already had access to firearms, though his bullish brain was too small to make proper use of it. Juliet had only practiced a handful of times, but that would have to be enough. She didn’t have a choice.
The trees began to thin on either side of the hovers – they were approaching the edge of the forest. It was now or never.
Narrowing her eyes, she drew the pistol and focused her aim on her target. If she could hit the fan just right, she could disable it and send the hover spinning into the forest, buying some time. She couldn’t stop the invasion, but she could save Romeo. Her Romeo.
The 9NUS slowed and then stopped. Juliet’s feet hit the pedals, slowing her own hover to a crawl.
“It looks like our story is a tragedy after all.”
Juliet’s trembling finger moved to the trigger, but halted as she recognized the figure stepping out of the cabin of the 9NUS. He was tall and, despite the helmet obscuring his eyes, his features were unmistakable.
Juliet could recognize her father from a mile away.
Her heart hammered against her ribs, but she didn’t move. Her outstretched arm was paralyzed, her white knuckles gripping the butt of the pistol. Her breath caught as the figure moved, and the piercing blue eyes of Escalus Andronicus locked onto her own, his face twisted in confusion.
His voice boomed, drowning out his rumbling hover and echoing out through the once peaceful forest. Juliet’s hands shook, sending small vibrations down the barrel of the pistol, still trained on its target.
“What the hell are you doing here?” He stepped closer to back of his hover, his face violet with rage. “Turn around and go home, you stupid girl!”
Juliet closed her eyes for a moment, her own hover propelling her slowly onward through the darkness. When she opened them again, her father was obscured through a veil of tears. Her hand moved slowly, the tremors steadying.
“It looks like our story is a tragedy after all,” she said, not caring whether she was heard. “Just not the one anyone expected.”
Juliet would never forget the look of betrayal in her father’s eyes as the realization struck him. Less than a second later, a searing bolt of plasma hit his chest like a sledgehammer and sent him tumbling backwards into the cold depths of the Elizabeth River.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Katherine Shaw and I wrote together. She’s a great collaboration writer!
If you enjoyed Katherine’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.
P.P.S. If you would like to read some more stories by Katherine and check out her new website, why not start here: www.katherineshawwrites.com/stories. (And make sure to scroll down to see all Katherine’s stories on that page.)