Will her lost love hear her siren’s song?

Bianca stands atop the seaside cliffs of Newlondon

Siren’s Song

BY SHANEL WILSON

PART ONE

The cliff-top grasses swayed in the swirling wind. Waves violently crashed against the jagged rocks. The scent of salt and sea accosted Bianca’s senses, her heart filled with dread. The knots in her stomach warned that the coming storm wasn’t the only trouble brewing in the Globe’s waters. Bianca tucked a strand of her long, curly locks behind her ear, her eyes narrowed against the spray. Her fingers found the small piece of twine that encircled her ring finger. She sang, 

Storm’s a-coming, the gale will blow,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.
Thunder claps and rain clouds grow,
The squall will turn friend into foe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.

The blue crystal eye of the eel medallion she wore blinked. Bianca closed her eyes and squeezed the center of the medallion. The automated voice relayed the message her sister, Valentine, had sent.

It’s time. Swift as shadow.

“Short as any dream! My dear Antonio, you will wait no longer.” Bianca’s pulse pounded as she raced down the cliff side towards the harbor.

Carve the waves to save my beau,
It’s time to change this tale of woe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.
The scent of salt and sea accosted Bianca’s senses, her heart filled with dread. Photo by Gary Yost.

Tendrils of mist curled around Bianca’s feet as she strode the familiar path to her father’s merchant office overlooking the marina. She knew each cobble from years of racing Valentine to be the first to help Father open the office. The harsh shouts of the crews echoing around the harbor was the melody of her morning routine. Unlike every other morning, Bianca’s heart raced as she reached into her satchel to retrieve her key to the shop.

She knew each cobble from years of racing Valentine to be the first to help Father open the office.
Photo by Niklas Hamann.

The face of her beloved Antonio danced across her thoughts. Her wistfulness broke, knowing he was locked in some dark cell deep in Whitehall for a crime he didn’t commit. Valentine, with the help of her new love, Emilia, had vowed to help Bianca rescue Antonio. The trio had worked hard over the past week to devise a plan to rescue him. And today, that plan finally was set in motion. 

In the early morning mists of a secret estuary, Bianca and Valentine saw Emilia off as she headed upriver to Whitehall. Emilia’s ability to access areas of Whitehall as a Westminster Bride would be vital if they had any hopes to rescue Antonio without being captured themselves. Bianca remembered watching her sister say goodbye to her new flame. A bittersweet tug pulled at Bianca’s insides, knowing her sister had to part with her love in order to save Bianca’s own. Though both Valentine and Bianca had only met Emilia a week ago, Bianca could tell her sister was inextricably connected to the intelligent, brave yet trusting woman. Emilia seemed to have a knack for endearing herself to all she met, becoming fast friends with Bianca as well. Bianca still marveled that Emilia agreed without hesitation to help a group of strangers in a dangerous mission. 

The ocean breeze blew the memory of the morning out of Bianca’s mind. Bianca felt a wet splat on her head. A fat dew droplet had fallen from the wooden sign that hung above the office door. 

“Thanks for that.” Bianca raised an eyebrow to the swaying sign. 

The sign was a carved eel that circled back onto itself. Most residents of Newlondon had no idea that the nautical crest doubled as the secret symbol of the Shadow Walkers. Bianca’s father, Leonato, was the leader of the group of warriors and protectors who vowed to keep the peace of the Globe secretly from the shadows. Leonato used his merchant business as a reputable front to coordinate the Shadow Walkers’ missions under the watchful eye of the corrupt Guild. 

Bianca and Valentine grew up helping their father run the office, covering for him when he would be called out for a “meeting.” When they weren’t needed at the office, they would steal away into the misty woods or sneak out on their father’s skiv to explore and learn all they could from the Shadow Walkers. As they grew older, their paths diverged. Valentine became a Newlondon Guide–hired by residents of the Globe to provide safe passage in their travels to other cities–with hopes of someday becoming a full-fledged Shadow Walker. Bianca remained in Newlondon, running the merchant office, where she fell in love with Antonio, one of the traders her father hired. 

She brushed the water from her hair and unlocked the door. The door chimed, announcing her arrival. The musty smell of salty wood mingled with sea rose blossoms she had arranged on the front desk the day before. 

Photo by Rachael 🪐.

“Hello, Meg. Opening mode, please,” said Bianca to the automated digital assistant her father created to operate the controls in the office.

“Good morrow, Lady Bianca,” replied the AI assistant’s disembodied voice as it switched on the overhead lights. 

Bianca heaved a sigh as she rounded the front desk to begin sorting the invoices and logs left from the day prior. 

“What can I do for M’lady today?” Meg’s voice intoned happily.

“Normal operations protocols, Meg. Just another day at the shop.” Bianca tossed the stack of papers she had gathered into the box on the corner of the desk. 

But it’s not just another day, she thought. 

“Of course, M’lady,” Meg chirped.

Bianca shuffled to her desk in front of Leonato’s private office in the back and flopped into her chair. Bianca fiddled with the medallion around her neck. The design of the medallion was the same eel as the carved sign out front. Each Shadow Walker carried one as a means of communicating with the others around the Globe. Valentine had repurposed broken ones she had found in Father’s office so that she and Bianca could have their own private way to communicate. The crystal eye of the eel was dull and gray. It would blink a brilliant blue when Valentine sent a message. Bianca knew it was too early to expect any news, but patience had never been her strong suit. 

Emilia had set off on her mission, and Valentine was with the Shadow Walkers doing their part to prepare for Antonio’s rescue. All Bianca could do was go about her daily life and wait. It was only through the Shadow Walkers that they learned of Antonio’s imprisonment at the hands of his best friend, Solanio, and the Guild in the first place. It was decided that it would be best for Bianca to act the part of the innocent maiden waiting for her love to return from sea so that the Guild and Solanio believed their plan had succeeded. 

The mere thought of Solanio made Bianca’s stomach turn. Bianca’s cheeks burned as she gritted her teeth. She pushed back against her desk and strode over to the windows. The steady sway of tall ship masts filled her view. At the end of the main dock, workers scurried, carrying along wood planks and chairs. What are they up to? Bianca wondered.

Then she spotted the scoundrel. Solanio slunk around the workers, inspecting their every move. They must have been constructing an amphitheater for the auction of the kraken eye happening at the end of the week. Her fingers subconsciously found the twine on her finger. Her beloved Antonio bravely fought the kraken for that eye after Solanio locked him on a deathship. Then that snake, Solanio, ensured Antonio’s wrongful imprisonment. 

“That poisonous, bunched-back toad,” Bianca spat under her breath.

“Which mode would you like to set, M’lady?” Meg’s cheerful voice asked.

“Disregard, Meg. I was talking to myself.” Bianca shook her head.

“If you need a companion to speak with, you are welcome to speak to me. Lord Leonato programmed me with conversational capabilities.”

“Yes, I know, Meg. No, it’s fine. I’m just a little on edge today. Let’s get back to work.” 

“Of course, M’lady.” 

Bianca walked back to her desk, thankful it was so far away from the front window.


Bianca fell into her normal routine after a couple of days. Business at the merchant office picked up because of the Polity’s arrival, but there was a shortage of vessels because so many people ran to Whitehall to get a glimpse of the Polity soldiers and their lander. Everyone else was stockpiling as much as they could in case there was sudden demand for something the Polity might deem valuable. Bianca was grateful for the distraction of trying to coordinate traders and their runs to cover the new demand. Though, she couldn’t help feeling a sting each time she passed Antonio’s name on the roster. 

Each evening, Bianca would race home, hoping to catch Valentine as she returned from her day. Valentine filled in Bianca on all that her team of Shadow Walkers did for the day. After dinner, Bianca would help Valentine reassemble her pack just as Bianca had done for Father when she was young. Before turning in for the night, Bianca would anxiously wait on the edge of Valentine’s bed to hear the latest update from Emilia. When no new news came, Bianca would give her sister a hug and quietly pad back to her room. 

Before turning in for the night, Bianca would anxiously wait on the edge of Valentine’s bed to hear the latest update from Emilia.
Photo by Annie Spratt.

“This plan is going to work. We’ll get him, Bianca.” Valentine grasped Bianca’s hand as Bianca turned to leave one evening. 

“I know.” Bianca still faced the door, unable to face her sister.

“Come here. Staring out your window can wait for a few more minutes.” Valentine tugged Bianca back onto the bed. 

“That’s not what I have been doing!” Bianca pulled her hand away but stayed next to Valentine.

“I can see how you could forget since it’s only been a few days, but your sister is a Shadow Walker. We know things.” Valentine preened.

“How could I forget?” Bianca cracked a smile. “You only remind me every second you get a chance, Lady Shadow!” 

They broke into a fit of laughter. Bianca felt her shoulders relax as the giggles died down. 

“There’s my sister! I knew she was somewhere under that forlorn facade.” Valentine moved a strand of hair out of Bianca’s face. 

Bianca looked about Valentine’s room. Emilia’s hover trunk was at the foot of the bed. The glass iris Emilia had given Valentine rested on the desk below the simple paintings Valentine had created from her trips around the Globe. The piece of twine around Bianca’s finger began to burn as she twisted it absentmindedly. 

“Nothing will be the same now, will it? I mean, I knew things were changing. I was to be married and you were to become this great Shadow Walker. Each sister on her own path. But now, I’m not ready for any of it. Why can’t we just be girls again, playing our pretend games in the harbor’s shadows?” 

“I will always be your sister. That will never change.” Valentine looked Bianca in the eyes. “Besides, you will still be married. And you will be the most beautiful bride Newlondon has ever seen. Until I get married, that is.”

Bianca scowled but laughed. Valentine was right. Valentine was always there, no matter how far her travels had taken her. Their bond was stronger than even the most masterful knot tied by the finest Newlondon sailor. It was the world around them that was fraying. Once Antonio and Emilia were back with them, they could begin tying up all the loose ends and chase the life they all dreamed of.

“Then you better get more beauty rest, dear sister. You need it,” Bianca teased while wrapping Valentine in a warm hug. 

“I love you,” Valentine whispered.

“I love you, too.” Bianca gave Valentine a final squeeze and slipped into her own room. She sat in the window, staring at the sea, waiting for her love to return.

She sat in the window, staring at the sea, waiting for her love to return.
Photo by Zero Take.

If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. And please return on Friday, when we’ll unveil “Siren’s Song–Part II.” In the meantime, if you would like to read more about Newlondon, read “The Beast Below,” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Civil unrest grows, leaving new power up for grabs

A Matter of Details

BY MATTHEW CROSS

The Right Honorable Flavius, Mayor of Whitehall, Protector of the Gates and Keeper of the Seals, picked his nose thoughtfully. Ever since tramping outside the walls to that godforsaken Polity lander in the savagelands, his allergies had been acting up. He had a headache, his sinuses were clogged, and he was in an overall foul temper. As Whitehallers say, no good comes from leaving the gates of the First City.

And the protests did not help. A mob of protestors– an actual mob in Whitehall!–gathered every morning and ranted and raved outside Central Tower until very late at night. Flavius never had to see them in person, of course. He lived in the Mayor’s Mansion in Central Tower and took the elevator down to the Mayor’s Office in Central Tower. But even so, the news vids ran nonstop footage of the protests. 

Flavius flicked the large gob of phlegm at the trash bin. The booger stretched and twisted as it flew and splatted on the trash bin lid. The bin’s automatic sensors should have detected the booger’s flight and opened smoothly to catch the offending gob.

Flavius sighed. He flipped the tiny lever for his desk chair to roll him to the trash bin. From his lace-filled sleeve, he flourished a large, white handkerchief and leaned forward to wipe up the mess. As he bent, he noted the silvery, blinking light from the corner of his eye. He sat up and leaned back in his chair to watch what would happen.

The silvery light cascaded across its surface, expanding in concentric rings from the center.
Photo by Nicolas Picard

In the topmost corner of the coffered ceiling of his spacious office was a spider’s web. The silvery light cascaded across its surface, expanding in concentric rings from the center. Flavius had installed the lights as a notification system. It was unnecessary, of course, because the web also sent a signal to the comp on his desk, but he liked the little touches on his works of art. Details matter. The mechanical spider was already making its way silently down the wall to check out the top of the trash bin.

The spider was his own invention, of course. The web was actually a radio dish that monitored the room, and the spider was a hunter-seeker of bugs. It found spying threats and destroyed them. Not that Flavius was overly worried about microbot spies. After all, he was still the leading microbot scientist in Whitehall. Despite his mayoral duties, he retained an iron grip on the small Microbot Department. If not for him, there would probably be no microbot program in Whitehall Academy.

Microbots had fallen out of favor just as Flavius had managed to ruthlessly climb his way to the top of the Microbot Department. The Energy Department had determined that microbots did not use energy as efficiently as the walking automatons or specialized machinery. He still regarded the Energy Department with great suspicion, but it was one of the Academy’s most powerful departments. As a politician, you cannot hold grudges or make enemies of anyone you cannot swiftly and decisively crush. And despite himself, he liked Leonardo, who now headed the Energy Department. Leonardo was not a politician but a true man of science.

Flavius used his considerable power to keep the Microbot Department alive, focusing its efforts on military applications. The Defense Department was small but very well funded. And he kept a handful of nanobot researchers on staff as well, even though the materials on the Globe were oddly deficient for making truly effective nanobots. And something in the Globe’s air made them deteriorate quickly. Because he was the mayor, Octavius had given him a special dispensation to consult the archive records of the generation ship Shakespeare. Flavius learned that on other planets, his nanobot designs should last for years. On the Globe, where they deteriorated quickly in open air, nanobots were used mostly in one-time medical procedures. 

Photo by Joel Filipe.

His head ached. Even though his office was dozens of stories above the protests and even though it was sound proofed, he felt like he could dimly hear their harsh cries. His assistant, Menenius, assured Flavius it was his imagination. The malfunctioning trash bin lid was just one more irritant. It should have worked. Menenius would have to call the Central Tower technicians. Flavius had a mind to fire one of them over this. The problem was the Central Tower authority would hire the technician right back and just assign them to another government building. The technicians that kept the government offices running were getting older, but none of the young people these days wanted technician jobs. Everybody wanted to be a game designer, a video producer, or a data systems scientist.

But he might still fire a technician today. Even if the technician was rehired, he’d lose his pension, if Flavius insisted.

The door signal chimed. Flavius wiped up the gob of phlegm and raced his chair back behind his ponderous desk. He punched the blinking light on his screen and allowed Menenius to enter.

“Mr. Mayor,” Menenius said briskly, “I have some budget requests for you to approve. And, also, Captain Ward is waiting in the Mayor’s Lobby.”

“Captain Ward?” Flavius asked, alarmed. “How long have you kept her waiting? It better not be long, Menenius, or I’ll have your head.”

“No, she just arrived, Your Honor,” Menenius said. Menenius only used the honorific “Your Honor” when he thought Flavius was being peevish. 

“Stop handling me, Menenius, and help me with my coat.”

Menenius brought Flavius’s crushed velvet coat and helped the round man climb into the coat and arrange the sleeves. Menenius fanned Flavius with the papers he carried and then used a small brush from his pocket to arrange Flavius’s thinning, white hair. Menenius was a talented microbot designer, but he had insisted on serving as Flavius’s Chief of Staff and learning all the campaigning and politicking that came with the job. Sometimes Flavius thought it was a waste of a brilliant scientific mind. But then, the fact that Flavius had had to leave the hard sciences and enter politics himself was the waste of a brilliant scientific mind.

Menenius continued to fan Flavius’s face. Flavius closed his eyes and calmed himself. He imagined the inner workings of his spider hunter-seeker, remembering how he had arranged the hardware to fit just so inside the sleek metal body. The details mattered. The mental exercise centered him. He reopened his eyes. “Thank you, Menenius. I have a dreadful headache today.”

“Still, Mr. Mayor?” Menenius asked, his voice full of earnest sympathy. Menenius saved his sarcasm for outsiders, never using it against Flavius. “Shall I call the chemist and have them send up something stronger?”

Flavius sat up in his chair. “No, no, Menenius. Thank you. You always take such good care of me. I’m sorry I’ve been temperamental today. But that won’t be necessary. We must soldier on. Please show Captain Ward in, would you, and have Volumnia bring some refreshments.”

Menenius gave a small bow and swept out. In a moment, Captain Ward filled the doorway. She was tall for a woman, taller than Flavius himself by half a head, and as tall as Governor Octavius. But there was more to it than that. Even when standing completely still, she radiated a strong energy, as if she were barely containing a maelstrom of violence. She smiled and strolled across Flavius’s large office, her movements like that of a prowling catterwaul.

Flavius stood up and smiled broadly, rubbing his hands nervously in front of him. He gave a small bow.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, Flavius asked the delicate question.

“How are you faring in your visits with the other cities?” He wanted to know, but he also wanted to draw her attention away from the protests in Whitehall.

She grimaced. “Not well,” she said. “In Belmont, some madman has declared himself king and replaced the council. He killed two of my Marines, but before it’s over I think it will get worse. Can you tell me more than that?”

“No,” Flavius said, shaking his head. He had heard as much himself from his chief of police. And Gov. Octavius had been spreading word of the disaster publicly, blaming Capt. Ward and the Polity all the while that Ward had been gone from the city. He only seemed to quieten down after Ward returned to Whitehall. “I’m afraid Belmont is a closed book to the rest of the Globe. We have no diplomats and not even any sp– . . . er, men on the inside, as it were.”

Belmont had never proved to be a problem before. Flavius hardly even thought of Belmont as a city. It was merely a distant place where steel was made. He knew that every year the governor made a trek to the mountain to negotiate the terms of trade. The Belmontians should have come to Whitehall, of course, but none of them ever left the mountain, so the governor demeaned himself and went to Belmont. Distasteful, but Whitehall needed steel. 

And it was a good arrangement. The same deal was struck every year. The price of steel never changed. Whitehall guaranteed all of Belmont’s supplies from the other cities, and Belmont promised to provide the same volume of steel. The Belmontians must have excellent population control inside that mountain. They always delivered on time and never needed more nor less from the other cities. But if the Council had been violently overthrown, what would happen? His head pounded.

Flavius knew it was impossible, but he swore he could hear the mob below chanting.
Photo by Amir Arabshahi

Flavius knew it was impossible, but he swore he could hear the mob below chanting. If unchanging Belmont could suffer a coup, what could happen in his beloved Whitehall? Out of habit, his hand drifted toward a button that would summon the chief of police, but he drew his hand back and rubbed his hands together. Octavius was the rabble rouser. Once Flavius took care of Octavius, the mob would disappear like a handful of nanobot dust.

The captain brought him back to the present. “The Governor won’t meet with me,” she said. “If I understand Whitehall’s government structure, you govern here in the city and he handles relations with the other cities. And I was counting on his guidance with the leaders of the other cities.”

Once upon a time, the governor of Whitehall did more than handle the relations with the other cities. He governed the other cities as colonies. Over the years, the other cities grew in power and developed their own governments–actually a treasonous act–and the Governor of Whitehall, Protector of the Globe, Unifier of the People, waned in power. But those who know their history remember when Whitehall truly governed the entire Globe.

“What can you do to help?” Ward asked.

Flavius smiled and rubbed his hands nervously. “I wish that I could. I’ve appealed to Octavius numerous times, but he won’t speak even with me.”

Menenius had taken the elevator the ten stories up to the Governor’s office every day, but even the Governor’s staff would not meet with him. Flavius himself had even made the pilgrimage up the elevator once, and returned shamed-faced to his own offices after being turned away. Secretly, he had taken the elevator from his own residence near the top of Central Tower to the very top floor, called the Governor’s Mansion, where Octavius lived. Flavius went late in the evening when he knew Octavius was home and would still be awake. Octavius would not answer his door.

The Governor had an excellent selection of liquors that exceeded even Flavius’s own impressive home bar. Photo by Nick Rickert.

Octavius had refused to speak with Flavius ever since that night. The night they had returned from their first meeting with Captain Ward. The night that people were calling Kite Night. Shaken, Octavius and Flavius had returned to the Governor’s Mansion. They had stayed up late talking and drinking. As usual, Octavius did most of the talking and the drinking. He had an excellent selection of liquors that exceeded even Flavius’s own impressive home bar.

Octavius had raged and railed against the Polity, against the Polity Navy ship in orbit and against Captain Ward, whom Octavius simply called “that insufferable shrew.” The arguments were nothing new. Everyone on the Globe had learned since their first history classes as urchins that the Polity was trouble; that the Globers’ ancestors had fled the Polity aboard a generation ship, the Shakespeare, and settled the Globe far outside Polity space to be free of the Polity and its constant territorial wars. 

Captain Elizabeth–the first Captain Elizabeth of the Shakespeare–had warned them. Flavius silently intoned the words drilled into him since the first days of school. “This is why we can never return to the Polity, why we must remain vigilant to resist their false promises, why we must not look back, but fix our eyes on what lies ahead. The peace of our people depends upon it.”

And, yet, their ancestors had done nothing to protect the Globe from an invading force. Had done nothing to secure the space around the Globe. And that night, Capt. Ward had made sure all of the Globe understood the power of the Polity Navy. The UPS Pacifica’s lasers had destroyed hundreds of Whitehall’s drones in a “celebration.” Yes, Capt. Ward had bought up all the drones from Whitehall’s citizens beforehand and recruited the city’s children to pilot them. But then the Pacifica had destroyed them all in a barbaric show of raw, military power.

And the people had cheered! Flavius could distinctly remember standing next to Octavius on the grassy dunes, looking back at the glowing towers of Whitehall. The acrid smoke from the exploded drones filled the air and stung his nose. And then the people, his citizens, had raised a cheer that could be heard for hundreds of metes. Those fools had cheered!

And that night, for the first time, Flavius and Octavius could not reach agreement on how to govern the Globe together. Octavius raged and swore he would kill Captain Ward and her Marines and pull the Pacifica from the sky and throw it into the Southern Sea. And from the look in Octavius’s eyes, it was clear Octavius truly thought he could snatch the Pacifica from orbit with his bare hands and complete the act himself.

But Flavius knew that the might of the Polity, the Pacifica specifically, was too great for Whitehall to match. Long ago, the Globe had turned away from space and had lost the technology to even fly into the upper atmosphere. There was no choice but to capitulate. But Octavius would not hear it. And when Flavius would not agree to Octavius’s wild plans to overthrow the Polity, Octavius had actually cast Flavius out of the Governor’s Mansion.

Flavius smiled at his enemy across his desk. All he could do was bargain with Capt. Ward. And, on behalf of his people, he would bargain hard. But so far, she had been willing to pay for all her own expenses and to keep the Polity’s tax at 10 percent, as originally promised. And Whitehall could afford that, especially when most of the costs could be passed to the other cities. And even a full 10 percent was a fraction of the cost of a war.

“I’ll have to figure out something there,” Ward said, speaking of Octavius. Thankfully, she said nothing of the fact that Octavius was actually holding rallies throughout the city and drumming up the protests against the Polity. The idiot! That huge bombard of sack!

Something had to be done. Never in the history of Whitehall had the people protested the government. Never!

Flavius knew he had to stop Octavius. Now was the time to broach the subject with Capt. Ward. But it had to be done delicately. As they say, “In a major matter, no details are small.”

“You know,” Flavius said, “at one time, the Governor of the Globe and the Mayor of Whitehall were the same person. Some political scientists have gone so far as to say Whitehall would be stronger and better governed with a single, strong leader.”

Ward looked around the red-curtained room.
Photo by Avinash Kumar

Ward looked around the red-curtained room. Her eyes rested a moment on the spider web high in the coffered ceiling. She seemed distracted.

But Capt. Ward was a sly one. As if reading his mind, Capt. Ward said, “I don’t want to get involved in your internal politics.”

“So, you want me to take care of the problem, then?” Flavius asked, carefully.

“Yes, that would be best,” she said in an absent-minded voice. She was clearly pretending disinterest, distancing herself from an unpleasant matter.

“And . . .  you would trust me to use whatever methods I think best?” he asked slowly.

“Yes, of course,” Ward said. “You’re the Mayor.”

Flavius nodded. Capt. Ward was an occupier, but at least she had the propriety to respect the local leaders. He smiled but quickly suppressed the smile. This was a serious matter. He nodded again and rubbed his hands nervously together.

“Very well, then. I’ll take care of it,” he said.

Flavius changed the subject. They discussed the progress of the giant landing pad and warehouse complex Ward had asked to be built in the grassy dunes near the site of her ship’s landing. Ward did not seem to respect the dangers of the savagelands, but he was grateful she was building the complex outside the walls. She said she did not want the constant sound of rockets disturbing the peace in Whitehall. And space within Whitehall’s walls was always tight.

Even better, Ward was paying Whitehall’s engineers and construction crews to build the complex. So Whitehall had a chance to earn back the tax the Polity collected.


Photo by Petr Magera

Capt. Ward left the Mayor’s Office in a better mood than she had arrived. Despite Gov. Octavius’s public threats to overthrow the Polity, the city was mostly peaceful. Mayor Flavius kept the city running smoothly and construction had already begun on the space port so the taxed resources could be lifted to the Pacifica when it returned to orbit. No one on the Globe knew it, but the Pacifica had left orbit around the Globe to explore the rest of the system for resources valuable to the Polity. That left Ward and her Marines alone on the planet, but only she and the Marines knew that. For all the Globers knew, the Pacifica was right overhead with lasers and missiles at the ready.

Things in Whitehall were going so smoothly that her mind kept wandering back to the disaster in Belmont. A mad usurper king on a throne and two of her Marines dead! And, yet, try as she might, she could not think how she should have handled things differently. She had only introduced herself and the madman had beheaded two of her Marines! A diplomatic rule of first contact is that no one wanted war, at least, not before having a chance to size up the other side. But when dealing with a madman, you had to throw diplomatic rules out the hatch.

Riding the elevator alone to her own quarters in Central Tower, Ward paused and thought back on the conversation with the mayor. She did not want to make any diplomatic mistakes here. She tried to recount the conversation. She realized she had been distracted and lost focus. But everything she could recall seemed in order. Flavius was a nervous man and he clearly feared her. That could be dangerous if he felt cornered, but their interactions were always cordial. She had promised not to interfere with local politics and he would talk to Octavius. If she could just sit down with the governor and pick his brain about the other cities, perhaps she could avoid another disastrous first contact.

As for Flavius, she would let him handle the details.


If you enjoyed my story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Whitehall, read “The Towers of Whitehall” which kicked off the Whitehall stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Strange creatures lurk out in the dunes

Feral Fields

BY JEREMY WILSON AND SHANEL WILSON

The late afternoon light trickled through the crystalline window of Verges’s home in Westminster. He shuffled around his kitchen, filling his pockets with two-day-old fry bread before he left for his shift in the Wildcat Fields. Satisfied his pockets were full enough, he turned to the two work packs that hung from wooden hooks by the front door. The smaller one was covered in a thick layer of dust. Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.

Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.
Photo by Derick McKinney

“I should put that away already,” he grunted, as he slung his pack over his shoulder.

As Verges adjusted the straps of his pack, he squinted against the sun reflecting off a small picture frame hanging next to the wooden hooks. He didn’t need to see the picture to vividly recall its image: a smiling, curly-haired girl with a face full of freckles wrapping her arms around a jolly, bearded man in a happy hug. Verges’s beard was a lot grayer these days, and his beloved daughter, Cleo, was now grown and working as a Bride in Whitehall. He had hoped Cleo would inherit her mother’s oil-slick-colored eyes, but she had his bold, violet eyes instead. When she came of age, she left to fulfill her duty and become a Westminster Bride.

His house had grown quiet because of her absence the past few years, causing Verges to pick up as many shifts as his manager, Imogen, would allow him out in the Fields. He preferred to be out there anyway, where he could catch a glimpse of the feral creatures that lived in the savagelands surrounding the Wildcat Fields.


Verges stepped off the hover trolley when it reached the refinery. A crowd of crew persons waited to board, covered in dust and sweat from a long day managing the rigs out on the dunes. A few muttered hellos as Verges passed. He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.

He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.
Photo by Marten Bjork

Verges checked in on the console at the entrance. He noticed his partner, Lodovico, had not checked in yet, so he made his way to their hover to get it ready for a night out in the Fields. He threw his pack into the driver’s seat and started performing the safety checks.

“Oy there, weren’t you just here last night, Verges?” 

The voice startled Verges, causing him to bump his head on the undercarriage of the hover.  

“It’s got to be done, Aaron.” Verges rubbed his head as he stood to greet the tall, slim man.

“Well, it’s your lucky night. The rigs will get a night off from your poking and prodding. Lodovico has called out, so you don’t have a partner to go out on shift with. Something about his wife being nervous about the Polity’s captain arriving tomorrow.” Aaron leaned casually against Verges’s hover, picking his filthy nails.

“I doubt Tamera is the nervous one.” Verges scowled, strapping down the toolbag to the rear of the hover.

“You’re right about that, mate!” Aaron’s scraggly hair bounced as he snickered.

Verges‘s brows knitted together as he watched Aaron continue to lounge against the hover while Verges tried to finish the safety checks.

“On shift tonight with Tubal, are ya Aaron?” Verges shooed the younger man away from the hover so Verges could check the drill poles.

“Nah, I’m heading home. I saw you check in, so I thought I’d wander into the garage to say hello, let you know you were off the hook for the night.” Aaron perched on the hover parked across the way.

“Well, hello. I am sure your children will be waiting at the door for their dear old pop, don’t you think?”

“I suppose you’re right, as usual, Verges. You’re a wise old geezer. Want to catch the next trolley together?” Aaron hitched a thumb toward the door.

“Not tonight. I want to make sure the hover is ready for the next run.” Verges kept his eyes on the hover so he wouldn’t be tempted to escort Aaron out forcibly.

“Always thinking ahead, aren’t ya? Just don’t go out alone. You know how dangerous it is.” Aaron hopped down from the hover and started strolling to the door.

“Do you think I’ve forgotten the rules?” Verges called after him.

“Not at all, but that hasn’t stopped you before, old boy. G’night, Verges.” Aaron waved and disappeared through the door.

Verges grumbled but was glad to be left alone. Verges hadn’t gotten the chance to take the hover out solo at night in ages. While it was expressly against the Wildcat Field rules to go out into the Fields at night alone, he knew how to avoid the dangers and he knew Imogen would go easy on him if word got back to her. The rigs needed tending, especially if the Polity would soon be trying to take a share of the oil the Fields produced. Every drop would become that much more precious. Verges also would not miss an opportunity to encounter some of his feral friends, especially without Lodovico scaring them off every chance he got. Once he was comfortable that the hover was ready and sure that everyone else had gone home, Verges climbed into the driver’s seat and quietly steered the hover out to the dunes.

Just beyond the outskirts of town, Verges paused to watch the last rays of sunlight dance across the dunes. A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises. Verges inhaled deeply and smiled. He’d always loved Mary’s Irises. They were a sight to behold but nearly impossible to find, hidden among the sandstone crags and only blooming in the darkest hours of night. Their pale, translucent petals, speckled with crimson, suggested a fragile nature, but they were far hardier than most of the Smith workers he knew.

A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises.
Photo by Christian Lambert

When the sun finally disappeared below the shifting sands, Verges eased the hover onward toward the Barren Sea, where they’d left off tending the rigs the night before. The gentle breeze grew into a steady wind and the dunes began to hum. Lodovico always complained the sound gave him a headache, but Verges found it calming. Even so, it made his job trickier by masking the sounds of the creatures in the dunes.

He glided past dune after dune, his mind wandering to thoughts of his daughter. When she was younger, Verges would bring her along on nights when he would be tending the rigs solo. Together, they would repair the derricks and marvel at the creatures they came across. He wished she could be here now, but Whitehall had demanded that she stay to train other Brides. It had broken his heart, but he couldn’t say that he was surprised, knowing the incredible young woman she had become. Love and pride began to well up in the corners of his eyes.

Abruptly, the wind turned into a gale, pelting Verges with stinging sand and reducing his visibility to almost nothing. He slid his violet goggles into place to protect his eyes and veered the hover sharply north to cut through the Rift. When he reached it, he slowed again, buffeted by the wind.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes. Passing through it always filled Verges with a mix of unease and excitement thinking of what must be lurking in the labyrinth of slot canyons and caves branching out ever deeper into the planet. Traversing the canyon was actually the quickest way to get to the Barren Sea, but Imogen’s grandfather had forbidden the rig teams from passing this way since they’d lost several teams mysteriously during the last Alignment. Not that that had ever stopped Verges on nights when he was out alone.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes.
Photo by Tom Gainor.

Verges carefully navigated the hover into the canyon. On nights like this, the raging wind above would send sand cascading down the sculpted canyon walls, creating flowing curtains backlit by the blood-red Swearing Moon. A fist-sized puffadoon eyed him suspiciously from a nearby rock ledge as it gnawed on a sand hopper. It’s bloated, warty skin reflecting dull orange in Verges’s goggles.

As the canyon reached its narrowest point, the hover’s headlamps reflected off of what appeared to be a rippling, silvery pool on the canyon floor blocking his path. Easing the hover closer, he could see the pool was a writhing mass of silvery bodies. 

Verges smiled and readied the fry bread in his pocket. He tossed a piece toward the silvery mass and was greeted by a cacophony of excited clicks.

Quicksilvers.

Agile little beasts with black, beady eyes, sharp snouts, and shimmering hides that reflected light like a mirror. A single Quik was relatively harmless, but a family of them will make quick work of even the strongest man’s hubris. Normally they were found among the dunes, where many a weary traveler were enticed into an unpleasant demise thinking they had found water. Occasionally, though, a brood would wander into one of the canyons and take up residence.

Verges used the fry bread to lure the Quiks out of the way and slide the hover past, barely clearing the outcrops on either side. He had to bring the hover to a crawl to avoid wedging it in the narrow opening. Once through, he paused briefly to admire the small, silvery beasts.

The sound of rocks being knocked loose, amplified by the canyon walls, startled Verges and sent the quicksilvers scattering into clefts and crevices. He scanned the canyon walls and saw nothing, but he suddenly felt like he was being watched. Curiosity gave way to prudence, and he decided to continue on his way.

By the time he reached the other end of the canyon, the wind had died down. As he exited, he glanced back and thought he saw a shadow moving at the canyon’s mouth. He stopped the hover and watched intently, holding his breath. When nothing happened, he slowly pressed on into the Barren Sea.

He passed the first two rigs, having tended those last night. He quietly swore as he approached the third. The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.

The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.
Photo by Matt Hoffman.

Early Globers discovered the flowering vine growing straight out of the dunes and had named it so because of its beauty and tenacity. Ironically, it turned out that the vine fed on the very oil they were trying to extract and could wreak havoc on the rig machinery.

With a little effort, the vines could be trained to create a barrier around the rigs to keep the Quiks out. Verges found, though, that if he didn’t cut them back regularly, Hathaway’s Crown would quickly overtake the rig and force its way into the casings, seeking oil.

It had been less than a week since Verges had checked this rig, but already the vines had overtaken the structure. Cutting them back would take considerable time. Verges sighed. No need to be in a rush; that’s how accidents happen. 

He slid the hover next to the rig and switched off the engine. Without the hover engine running, Verges paused to enjoy the sounds of the sand for a moment. The peaceful calm belied the dangerous traps the dunes held. He glanced back toward the edge of the canyon. The rig was a good distance away from it, but something in the pit of his stomach didn’t trust that the shadow near the canyon wasn’t lurking in the darkness. Once he was satisfied that he was alone, Verges dug in his pack for his plasma shears. 

“Hathaway, I better have enough charge to cut away your crown,” Verges prayed, since he had neglected to charge the battery pack after using the shears the night before. 

Vine shears were standard issue for Wildcat Field workers, but Verges had modified his with plasma blades. They were risky because of how much ultraviolet light they emitted, but they cut his work time in half. It was a trade-off he was willing to make. He ignited the blades and set to work. 

After several hours, the canvas sack Verges used to collect the vine clippings was nearly full, even though he was only halfway through his trimming. He wiggled and tamped the sack to make more room before he reached for another piece of vine on the side of the rig. When he flicked the switch on the plasma blades, they popped and fizzled instead of igniting.

“Blast it.” Verges hit the blade handles against his palm several times. The blades stayed dark.

He looked back to the rig, vines still curling around the top of the derrick. If he left those there, the rig would be engulfed before he could return. Verges climbed back into the hover where he pulled out a long cable from under the controls. He inserted the cable into the charging port on the shears and paused, taking another look around the dunes. No signs of curious creatures, yet.

The night had grown dark and still. Normally Verges would have been disappointed to have such a quiet, creatureless night in the rigs, but he knew that could change as soon as he turned on the hover. Verges reached over and flipped the ignition switch. The hover engine purred like a kittercat, and he tried the switch on the shears again. Their violet glow instantly illuminated the buzzing hover. 

Verges jumped out of the hover and scrambled up the side of the derrick to reach the remaining vines. He took a deep breath to calm himself. He hated rushing, but dawn was approaching and he hadn’t given himself much of a choice. He made a mental note to keep a spare battery in his work pack to avoid this in the future. Verges looped the cable around the upper strut of the rig and continued trimming. Clippings fell to the sand, making soft thuds and sending grains of sand cascading down the side of the dune. 

Between the purr of the hover and focusing on the vines, Verges couldn’t hear the clippings fall. He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either. It wasn’t until he felt a tug on the cable connecting his shears to the hover that his attention was pulled away from the vines.

He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either.
Photo by Harpal Singh.

Beneath him, several bulbous eyes reflected the glow of his shears. The creature tossed its ragged, russet-colored mane and let out a low growl. It pawed the sand between them with one of its eight, spindly legs that was now entwined in the cable.

“A sand wraith!” Verges whispered into the night.

All the blood from his face drained when he locked eyes with the beast. Verges had never seen one before, nor had he met anyone who had. It was said that anyone who did never returned from the dunes. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Its head and body, it was said, resembled a monstrous, engorged lion, with jagged fangs curving out from its whiskered muzzle. It was thought that sand wraiths lurked in the canyons and only stalked prey into the dunes if they were particularly hungry. They would strike with unnatural speed, pinning their victims down in a flurry of legs while slowly ripping them apart. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger.

Verges noted that the legends were right about the beast’s fearsome lion and spider-like features, but its legs were not quite as tall. The wraith looked to be about his height if he had been on the ground next to it. Though, he knew those nimble legs could scale the derrick to reach him in seconds flat if it wished. Being caught in the cable would barely slow it down. 

The sand wraith’s growl grew into agitated grunts, its legs skittering in the sand as it pulled against the cable, nearly yanking the shears clean out of Verges’s hands. Verges flicked off the shears so neither of them would be sliced by the plasma. 

“Easy there.” Verges cautiously climbed down the derrick; his hand outstretched toward the sand wraith. 

It lowered its massive head and sneered; a low guttural roar shook the derrick as Verges landed in the sand. 

“I won’t hurt you.” Verges dropped the shears and held his hands up to show the beast he meant no harm.

It stepped backward, jolting the hover that was still connected by the cable to the shears and sending the hover crashing into the derrick. Verges lunged forward and rolled to avoid being pinned between the two. 

“Whoa!” Verges unsteadily got back to his feet, his sweaty face and neck now covered in sand. 

He slowly reached into the hover and killed the engine. Verges watched as the beast’s hackles seemed to drop and relax. Though he took that as a good sign, his heart pounded against his ribcage. He stepped forward, half bowed, while keeping his eyes locked with the wraith’s. The intense yellow of the wraith’s eyes glowed brightly because of his goggles, which had started fogging up from his sweat. He yanked them off and dropped them by his side. The air between them was thick with the beast’s hot, sticky breath.

“Let me help you.” Verges bent down and found the cable in the sand.

He reached a hand out, mere inches from the wraith’s trapped leg. He paused, bowed his head and then gently stroked its spike-like fur. The hairs bristled at his touch, creating a rasping sound as they rubbed together. Verges recoiled, watching the wraith’s every move. When it did not retreat or attack, he continued. Verges gingerly lifted its clawed foot pad and unwrapped the cable from its leg. Once freed, he set the leg back down into the sand and took a step back. 

The wraith snuffed and stamped its legs, stretching to its full height and causing Verges to stumble backwards a few paces. The wraith’s eight legs worked in perfect harmony as it stepped forward to close the gap between them. Verges held as still as he could, though he couldn’t mask the heaving of his chest.

The wraith crouched down, pressing its body against the sand and wrapping its legs around itself like a cage. It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 

Verges allowed himself to breathe again, watching the creature intently.

It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 
Photo by Tim Foster.

When the wraith finished slathering his boots, it stepped even closer, knocking Verges backwards, and shoved its oversized muzzle into Verges’s lap. Despite being perilously close to its fangs and nearly suffocated by its mane, Verges let out a giddy chuckle. Instinctively, he reached out and began to scratch the wraith behind its flattened ears, as if it were a kittercat.

A sudden, low, thundering noise caused Verges to pause and scan the horizon. Seeing no clouds, Verges was confused until he realized the sound was coming from the wraith. The more Verges scratched, the louder the rumbling got, and the heavier the wraith’s head became in his lap. He eventually had to stop scratching when the weight of the creature’s head threatened to crush him.

When Verges stopped, the wraith raised its head and stared at him intently, looking almost confused. Verges chuckled again and returned its gaze, losing himself in the wraith’s intense, golden eyes. After several long moments, a crackle of static burst from the comm on the hover, startling them both. The wraith leapt backward and reared up as if to attack the hover.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane.
Photo by David Gavi.

“Woah,” Verges intoned, trying to calm the beast. The creature’s many eyes darted from Verges to the hover and back.

It hesitated. When the comm remained silent, the wraith lowered itself back down but kept its distance. They stood watching each other.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane. From the direction of the Rift came a series of loud, short grunts. The wraith tilted its head toward the sound and returned a similar grunt. It padded a few steps before turning to regard Verges one last time. They locked eyes and then the wraith sped off toward the canyon, disappearing into the dunes as the first rays of light began to paint the mouth of the canyon in the distance.

Verges stared toward the canyon for several long minutes, his mind struggling to comprehend the night’s events. The comm crackled to life again, tearing Verges’s attention away from the creature.

“Verges,” came Aaron’s voice over the comm, “Verges, come back.”

He cursed and reached for the comm, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice, “What?!”

“No really, Verges, come back. You’d better get your tail back here before Imogen gets in or she’ll have your hide, gray and wrinkled as it is, old boy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Ma!” Verges shut off the comm and collected his tools. With one last glance toward the canyon, Verges eased the hover into the rising sun.


If you enjoyed Jeremy and Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Westminster, read “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Gremio meets an unexpected stranger during his trip to the big city

Bounty

BY MATTHEW CROSS

Gremio reined in his team of goats at the edge of the plateau.

He had seen the purple streaks painted across the sky a few nights before. He had wondered if the faint growling sound had been his imagination. He scanned the grass-covered dunes that led down to Whitehall and saw the spaceship. He might have missed the ship—colored tan and brown—except for a couple of small figures in white uniforms moving about and then some type of vehicle heading towards the force walls of Whitehall and its glittering towers beyond.

The ship sat almost directly east of the city and Gremio, coming from the savagelands, was approaching the city from the northeast. So it was easy for him to guide his wagon and the goats across the sloping plain and give the ship a wide berth. He lived a simple life. Growing up in Finsbury, he had been taught in school the evils of the Polity’s wars. He was as suspicious of offworlders as anyone else. While he was curious, he decided he would gladly go the rest of his life without meeting an offworlder.

His wife, Katherine, and their children depended on him. He could not afford to go risking his life mixing with offworlders, whether they be pirates or Polity.

“Polity!” he laughed. “It’s not likely to be them now, fellows, is it? We left them behind long ago. No, my money’s on pirates.”

Gremio reined in his team of goats at the edge of the plateau.
Photo by Mier Chen.

Walls surrounded the towers of Whitehall. Blue lightning fizzed across them as the shields’ halo danced over iron and stone. Behind the colossal walls, glass shards loomed into the heavens, light skimming over the sand from the reflections. 

Gremio drove the team right up to the city walls and waited patiently, whistling a tune poorly to himself. Because all travel on the Globe was along the Elizabeth River, which lay on the western side of the city, there were no buttons or knockers or any way on this side of the city to signal the officers of the City Guard inside. And because he eschewed all electronics, both on philosophical and safety reasons, he could not call inside. So he just waited until the programs monitoring all the city’s camera’s notified an officer.

Eventually, a door-sized space opened in the force wall. An officer in a brown uniform stepped through and Gremio could see the officer’s partner standing just inside the wall. “Greetings, officers. I’ve brought beasts for the Bounty. Bandersnatches, o’ course.”

“What’s that smell?” asked the officer, pulling a face. Even the officer’s helmet and visor could not keep out the smell of week-old bandersnatch.

“That smell, officer,” Gremio said, “is the bandersnatches. A frumious smell to be sure. But I roam far and wide to hunt these down. I can’t exactly bring ‘em in while they’re still fresh, can I?”

In fact, Gremio had intentionally loaded the last of the Bandersnatch heads onto his cart nearly a week ago and allowed them to bake in the sun and soften a good bit. They were covered in midges and other bitemes. But the goats did not seem to mind the smell, and Gremio was used to it after two days riding. Gremio reached behind him and tugged at the tarp underneath the heads, intentionally causing a wave of flies to rise up into the air. The officer flinched but held his ground.

“If you’ll just open the wall a bit wider,” Gremio said. “I’ll drive it on in and you can count it for the Bounty.”

“We can’t let something like that into the city. It’s a health code violation, for sure.”

Gremio, still sitting on the wagon seat, made a show of looking around the open countryside. “Well, officer, I can’t rightly leave my goats here on the plain. I’ve some shoppin’ to do in town and won’t be back ‘til nightfall. The beasts are sure to eat ‘em up long before that.”

The officer looked doubtfully at the goats, which stood shoulder high and had high, curving horns. They could, indeed, defend themselves quite well in the wild, especially the four of them together. But Gremio did not know this officer, so he had to put on the full show to make sure he received the maximum bounty.

“Usually, Officer Tranio lets me stake the goats inside the wall while he counts up the heads. I got ‘em on a tarp, and I can just pull that off for ya and leave ‘em right here.”

“How many bander-whats-its you got there?” the officer asked. The flies and the smell must have finally overwhelmed him because he backed nearly into the force wall to get as far away as possible from the wagon.

“Well, let’s see, I lost count. I figure I got ten back there, but you’re welcome to count ‘em, officer.” Gremio threw a wide smile.

The officer looked like the last thing he wanted to do was step closer to the back of the wagon.

“Well, that’s fine, we’ll just say ten then.”

In fact, Gremio knew the shaggy pile of rotting bandersnatches only contained eight heads. But so far, the officers at the gate had never bothered to count them.

Gremio hopped down off the wagon seat. He grunted as he pulled the tarp, tumbling the bandersnatch heads and partial bodies underneath onto the ground, mostly still on the tarp. He never knew what the Guard did with them after he left. Probably called some sanitation drones to haul them to a midden somewhere. He had lived in Whitehall for a bit, years and years ago, but no one seemed to know where all the trash went.

The officer had already stepped back inside the walls. They widened the gap for Gremio to bring in his team of four goats. “Watch, now, they like to bite and they will eat hats,” Gremio warned the officers, who walked across the weedy lot to a smooth sidewalk. Gremio staked the goats across the patch of weeds, each with a long lead so it could graze as it liked.

The officer handed Gremio a disposable handheld device with the Bounty credits for ten heads on it. The officer paused, knowing he should offer Gremio a courtesy ride in the cruiser and not just leave him in this seedy part of town. Gremio knew he smelled like rotten bandersnatch, but he waited three breaths and let the awkward silence grow.

Finally, he said, “Well, thank you, now officers. I think I’ll stretch my legs and then find me a good shower. No need to wait on me.”

“Are you sure . . . ,” the officer  said, while his partner started the hover’s engine. Gremio just waved them along with a smile. With a relieved sigh, the officer hopped in the cruiser and the guards disappeared.


The Heart of Whitehall.
Photo by rur.

After a shower and a quick bite at a boarding house he used in this part of town, Gremio took a train into the heart of Whitehall. It was midmorning already and he had to put in his orders quickly if he wanted them to be filled and delivered to the northern wall before nightfall.

The first stop was always the printers. Because they kept no electronics in the house, they read a lot of bound books. Paper books for the boys’ lessons, manuals for Gremio, and romances and crafting books for his Katherine. He took his time making his choices on the monitor in the lobby of the printers. He had a list from Kate, but she always finished the books on her lists long before it was time for another trip to Whitehall. The printer, who knew Gremio well, promised the books would be delivered to the northern wall by end of business, as always. Gremio nodded gratefully. At the last minute, he selected two more romance titles for his Kittercat. They always put her in an amorous mood. 

He spent the rest of the morning placing orders through monitors and in person at shop counters.

“Alas, poor Yorick!,” Gremio said, standing on the wide, white sidewalk and stretching his back. “Alas, poor me!”

He liked to visit the city. But he hated shopping. It wore him down. It was barely past lunchtime and he was exhausted.

A woman rushing by and looking only at her handheld device bumped into Gremio, nearly knocking him down. She dropped her handheld, which clattered across the sidewalk. She spared him only a glance. “Watch where you’re going, you lummox,” she said and then chased her handheld as the passing throng kicked it along.

Flummoxed, Gremio headed hurriedly in the other direction, even though he had nowhere in particular to go. He often felt guilty about collecting the Bounty. He and Kate provided quite nicely for themselves off the land, but they could not make the luxuries of civilization. And in the highlands where they lived, there was nothing they could raise or make of value to Whitehall. Just the beasts for the Bounty.

But when he ran into ‘Hallers like that woman . . . No, she ran into me! Well, a lot of that guilt just melted away.

He was hungry, but he also felt a bit parched. He knew of an alehouse or two where he could get a good Blue Plate special and a pint or two for a reasonable price. He took the stairs down into the train tunnels and hopped a train to the older eastside of town. Far from the river and riverpark views, the eastside buildings were rusted, metal structures and not the glittering, crystalline towers.

He took the stairs down into the train tunnels and hopped a train to the older eastside of town.
Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis.

Gremio found a seat at one of the few empty tables in the Pantaloon. In populous Whitehall, even the out-of-the-way dives were full of people. To Gremio, it always felt crowded inside the city walls. The Pantaloon was a Finsbury-style alehouse, windowless, dark, and full of smoke and vapors. It was as backwards and unfashionable as the painting on the Pantaloon’s wall outside—a painting of a fat, old gentleman giving a deep bow to a pretty young woman as he tried to look up her dress. That always gave Gremio a chuckle. With every visit to the Pantaloon, Gremio noted that he and the painted gentleman looked more and more alike. Like the gentleman, Gremio still wore the baggy trousers and open vest that were so fashionable a few decades ago in Whitehall. And Gremio had grown fatter and grayer of head, too.

But Kate didn’t seem to mind. She said with the years he only became more himself, and that she loved that. And living in the wilderness as they did, there was no other man to catch her eye. He was a lucky man.

As he ate, he went over his paper to-do list, checking off each item. He nodded with satisfaction. The only item he had left was to visit a jeweler. He and Kate had a big anniversary coming up. And as long as Whitehall paid out the Bounty each quarter, he would have enough disposable funds next visit to place an order for a sapphire necklace. Sapphires were her favorite.

Now there was nothing to do but kill time until the end of the business day, when his orders would be delivered to the northern wall. He considered going to a theater, but most of the new ones only offered loud, motion-filled, immersive experiences. Instead, he ordered a hookah for his table. Katherine wouldn’t let him smoke in the house, and once they had the boys, he had given up the recreational drugs so popular in his youth in Finsbury.

As soon as the server left, the front door opened, letting shafts of golden, afternoon light into the dim, smoky room. Gremio shielded his eyes. A man paused in the doorway, a silhouette with a glowing halo of gold around his head. Gremio attributed the halo entirely to the sunlight, but when the man entered and the door shut behind him, his golden hair continued to shine even in the dim alehouse lights. Gremio had never seen anything like it.

The man shuffled through the tables, trying to find a seat in the smoky dimness.

“Here,” Gremio called, raising his hand and giving a wave.

The man waded through the haze. And when the man appeared at Gremio’s table, it was a completely alien face that looked down on Gremio.

Gremio swallowed and then pasted on a wide grin. “I’ve got a seat free here. And a hookah on the way. Perhaps you’d care to pick up the first round?”

The man smiled, nodded, and slid onto the bench across from Gremio. 

“Thank you, kind sir,” the man said. Then he bowed awkwardly, while seated. “I am Hamlet and have just arrived in this fair city from Newlondon.”

Gremio knew it for a lie at once. This “Hamlet” had piercing blue eyes, which could mark him as a Newlondoner. And Gremio had seen some Newlondoners with hair bleached at the tips by the sun, but no Newlondoner had the pale skin or short, golden hair of this “Hamlet.” The hookah arrived and Hamlet joined Gremio for a smoke. Hamlet had clearly never seen a hookah before, but he watched Gremio carefully and learned quickly. Gremio hid a grin as Hamlet gulped and coughed the dewnut flavored fumes.

Hamlet had clearly never seen a hookah before, but he watched Gremio carefully and learned quickly.
Photo by Alena Plotnikova.

With fast, clipped speech, Hamlet fished for information about Whitehall’s politics. Gremio answered the questions he could, even though it was clear that this “Hamlet” was a spy from the offworld ship. The truth was, Gremio himself was an outsider in Whitehall, something any Whitehaller would know at a glance. What little Gremio knew of Whitehall’s government or politics was no secret.

The offworlder continued to pepper Gremio for three rounds of the hookah, but Gremio did not mind. Hamlet picked up the price of each round and ordered two pitchers of ale as well. It was a rare treat to spend time in the company of another man for a smoke and a drink, even if that man was an alien. Gremio held forth on his opinions of Whitehall, and Hamlet listened intently.

Eventually, the topic turned to Gremio’s favorite subject, besides Kate, which was himself.

“So you’re a Bounty Hunter?”

“Yes.”

“So you hunt down escaped fugitives?”

“What? No, I hunt the beasts, and I bring them in for the Bounty. That’s why it’s called a Bounty Hunter.”

Hamlet asked about the beasts. “Whitehallers clearly fear them, despite all their guns, but they don’t seem to know much about them.”

“The beasts don’t like ee-leck-tronics,” Gremio said. “Messes with their heads. Drives ‘em half blind and full crazy. I once saw a Scythebull ram a force wall until he kilt himself.”

The force walls attract the beasts from a distance, Gremio explained. And up close, it drives them to a frenzy. The further from the cities you travel, the safer it is, he explained. “O’ course, the Globe is full of dangerous animals, so you gotta have a slug thrower, just in case. But if you watch your step out there, a man like you’d be fine.”

“So . . . ,” Hamlet finally said. “You’re not really from Whitehall are you?”

When Gremio shook his head, Hamlet smiled and shook his own head ruefully.

“And you’d be one of them that came from the ship that landed,” Gremio said.

Hamlet’s eyes widened. “How did you know?”

Gremio felt sorry for the hapless spy. What could he say? The man’s hair, his skin, his speech, the way he dressed. Everything about him felt alien. As they had talked, Gremio had taken in the man’s features and even noticed in the gloom that the man’s facial features, his very bone structure, looked alien. Hamlet was clearly human, but he was just as clearly not a Glober.

“Well, there’s your name, for starters,” Gremio said, trying to be tactful.

“You mean Hamlet?”

“Keep it down. Don’t nobody say that name here,” Gremio said.

“Here in Whitehall?”

“Nowhere on the Globe.”

“And . . .  why? I thought Globers were mad about these ancient plays.”

“It’s because of the curse, of course.”

“I thought Macbeth was the cursed play.”

“I heard the same once,” Gremio said. “But on the Globe, the play of the Danish prince is tragedy twice over.”

After the first colonizers landed on the Globe, Gremio explained, they celebrated with a day of festivals along the riverfront. “A big shindig,” Gremio said. Capt. Elizabeth herself chose the play to end the evening, “the tragedy of the Danish prince,” Gremio said in a whisper. “And then the Wave come up the river and wiped out the entire plaza. Washed away nearly every body there. Ever since, don’t nobody put on that play and don’t nobody say that word.”

“Well . . . thank you for the information, friend. If you knew all along, why’d you help me?”

“For the drinks and the smokes, of course. Cheers!”

The stranger drew a fat, gold coin from a small pouch and left it on the table for the server. It was enough gold to pay the afternoon’s bill and then some. Then the offworlder slid the pouch over to Gremio. “Thanks again.”


Gremio went straight to the best jeweler he knew and placed the order for Kate’s sapphire necklace and a sapphire ring to match. He didn’t really believe in banks, but he did believe in bandits, especially outside the force walls, where he lived. So he went to a bank, cashed in the gold coins for Whitehall credits and opened an account. This would be his nest egg, in case the Bounty ever ended, or when he and Kate became too old to live in the wilds on their own.

Gremio went straight to the best jeweler he knew and placed the order for Kate’s sapphire necklace and a sapphire ring to match.
Photo by Sabrianna.

From the bank, he called the City Guard and asked for an officer to meet him at the northern wall to open the force wall. When Gremio arrived at the wall, he made a great show of slowly loading the pile of packages onto the wagon. The officers sighed and began helping him load. He hitched up the goats and gave the officers a winning smile and a large wave as he drove through the force wall.

Gremio drove up the slope to the plateau, recounting the wonders of the day. “Hamlet!” he said, slapping his knee. “By the gods, he picked Hamlet!” For a moment he stopped and looked over his shoulder superstitiously, but then he relaxed and chuckled aloud.

Two nights later, he reached home. Although he was eager to see Kate and the boys, he had to take care of the animals first. He worked by the light of the Swearing Moon and the smaller Arrant Moon. He put the goats in their pen with fresh feed and then went to check on the bandersnatches. All the beasts were calmly sleeping inside the enclosure. Despite their oversized heads and manxome jaws, they could be very gentle creatures. In another quarter, he’d take another load of heads into Whitehall.

Tired, he walked towards the house. He saw a light in the main room. They’d be up late, then, waiting for their gifts. With a smile, he went inside.


If you enjoyed my story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read “The Buried War” which kicked off the Finsbury stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Cleo finds a kindred spirit in her latest trainee, Emilia

Glass towers in shades of blue and green rise sharply into the sky

The View from the Wall

Part II

BY SHANEL WILSON

Emilia shifted her feet as she stood next to the desk where Cleo was stationed. If Emilia was successful in throwing the placement test just enough to land her a spot as a Vestra, she would gain access to security systems and learn about the shielding equipment. It was the only way she could think to get the mission to help rescue Antonio back on track. She said a silent prayer to Elizabeth Hathaway as Cleo studied the results on her comm tablet.

“Alright, I have your results.” Cleo looked up at Emilia, who bit her lip. “Not nervous are you, Emilia?”

“No, I just . . . I . . . oh. I guess I am!” Emilia laughed anxiously.

“I won’t keep you in suspense. You’re designated a Vestra.” Cleo smiled.

Emilia let out a breath. “Great. When can we start training?”

“Got somewhere to be?” Cleo stood, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, no. I guess I– I am just excited to know what I will be studying.” Emilia’s face flushed.

 “Glad to see you are so eager, but we can start tomorrow. Today has been long enough for you anyway.” Cleo motioned toward the lift.

“Yes, of course.” Emilia entered the lift. “Actually, I’m feeling a bit hungry. Am I able to explore the city on my own during training or am I restricted to my quarters?”

“Now that your eyes have recovered, you are welcome to come and go as you like, with a few minor restrictions. You need to be on time for training each day and you must be in quarters for nighttime curfew.” Cleo handed Emilia a miniature version of her comm tablet. “This will have your daily schedule and meeting location on it. It also has study materials you are able to look at after our sessions.”

“Thank you and that will not be a problem.” Emilia turned the tablet over in her hands. “Can you point me in the direction of somewhere to get a bite to eat?”

“I’ll do one better. I’ll take you to my favorite spot for when I’m missing home.” Cleo winked as she exited the lift.

“Lead the way!” Emilia jumped out of the lift to catch up with Cleo.

Once they exited the tower, Cleo led Emilia through the tree-lined plazas and gleaming white concourses that wound below the glittering spires. Emilia enjoyed the crisp evening air against her face as she took in all of the sights around her. Among the geometrical architecture, she felt worlds away from the warm, earthy streets of Westminster and the colorful prism of her room. Emilia realized for the first time since leaving, she missed home. Emilia was not sure why she had not felt that way in Newlondon, but she did know that whenever she was with Valentine, she felt close to home.

Cleo rounded a corner to stop at a grouping of tables under angled, glass awnings. Emilia’s mouth parted as she watched the purple hued light dance within the glass. 

“This canteen reused malfunctioning photo-voltaic cells for their awnings. To the Hallers and rest, it’s just a glass awning but to violet-eyed Westies and Brides, it’s a light show.” Cleo raised her eyebrows toward the awnings. 

“It’s beautiful! I could always see a bit of ultraviolet light, but this is unreal!” Emilia’s eyes sparkled as they reflected the light. 

“They also have the best Westie frybread this side of the river.” Cleo found a table next to a rail overlooking a fountain and the central plaza.

Cleo found a table next to a rail overlooking a fountain and the central plaza.
Photo by Gautam Krishnan.


Emilia sat across from Cleo, getting a better view of the fountain she had raced past this morning on her way to surgery. She saw the light posts flick on over crowds of people sitting on benches and strolling in the diminishing daylight. A golden-haired woman with blue eyes racing through the plaza holding hands with a young man in ill-fitting clothes caught Emilia’s eye. The woman’s eyes and the way she swiftly moved around the crowds reminded her of Valentine. She longed to be sitting here with Valentine, on an adventure, together. 

“It’s crazy down there. I mean it’s always busy at night with the restaurants and bars to tickle the Hallers’ fancies, but with everyone coming because of the Polity, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen here yet.” Cleo peered over the railing. 

“Yes, it does seem quite busy.” Emilia watched the mismatched couple. 

“A little overwhelmed? It’s okay. I was, too, when I first arrived.” Cleo waved for an automated waiter to take their order.

“How long ago was that?” Emilia turned back to face Cleo. 

“Long enough, I suppose. It doesn’t really matter much anymore. The Hallers are quite happy to have a Bride as a trainer so they can get back to other, ‘more important’ things.”

The auto-waiter hovered by their table.

“We’ll have two frybread-and-tuber specials, extra spice and two glasses of wine,” said Cleo. The auto-waiter beeped then hovered away.

“I’ve never had wine before. Father thought I was too young to drink.” Emilia’s eyes widened.

“If you’re old enough to be shipped here as a Bride, you deserve a drink.” Cleo winked.

“Thank you for taking care of me tonight. It’s odd being all alone in this new place.” Emilia batted her eyelashes like she had when she tried to charm the guard at the gate.

“No need to thank me, just cut out the cutesy act. I’m not some Haller you have to impress.” Cleo smirked. 

Emilia covered her face, then let out a laugh. She felt her shoulders relax as the auto-waiter brought their meal. Emilia knew she should not be letting her guard down with Cleo. Valentine would scold her for that. Yet, something inside told her that she could trust Cleo. 

Over dinner they shared about growing up in Westminster, Emilia in the Smith and Cleo in Wildcat Fields. Emilia listened intently to Cleo’s stories about the creatures she met with her father growing up. Cleo’s natural charm radiated from her like the lighted awnings above them. Emilia was about to ask another question when Cleo checked her comm tablet.

“Oh wow, we’ve had quite the chat haven’t we? We should head back so we are ready for training in the morning.” Cleo set her napkin on the table and stood.

“I’ve been having such a wonderful time hearing the stories about your childhood. It sounds like it was wonderful.” Emilia stood and they walked out of the canteen.

“It had its challenges, but I would gladly take those over being stuck inside these walls day in and day out.” Cleo’s shoulders tensed.

“I’m sorry, Cleo. The world is wider than our traditions and responsibilities. You’ll find your path.” Emilia linked arms with Cleo as they walked.

“What did they do to you in that surgical suite, give you a wisdom injection?” Cleo laughed. 

“Very funny. Trust me, you never know what life has for you around the next turn.” Emilia squeezed Cleo’s arm.


Over the next few days, Emilia’s nerves eased, and she fell into a comfortable routine. She started each day by rising early and taking a morning walk around the city. She quickly learned it was the quietest time around Whitehall, and she could wander anywhere she pleased, as long as it wasn’t locked or guarded that is. As she learned more about the security systems, she was able to memorize all the locations she decided needed more investigation.

She started each day by rising early and taking a morning walk around the city.
Photo by Leo Manjarrez.

Before her training session, Emilia would go back to her quarters to change into the uniform Cleo gave her to wear. Emilia mainly wore dresses at home, so the pants and fitted vest felt odd at first, but soon she relished the advantages of being able to crawl into a small workspace or onto a ladder with ease. Emilia’s favorite part of the outfit had to be the smaller version of Cleo’s toolbelt. There was a place for each of the beginner tools she’d need and a small pouch for the mini comm tablet. Emilia made sure to always arrive ahead of schedule to start the training session. She didn’t want to give Cleo any reason to suspect she was snooping around on her downtime. Emilia’s plan seemed to be working because Cleo was instantly impressed with Emilia’s work ethic and how quickly she learned. Emilia even surprised herself with how quickly she grasped the skills. 

In the evenings, Emilia would share a meal with Cleo in the colonnade. They spent hours laughing and sharing stories, becoming fast friends. Emilia would then excuse herself to take the long way back to her quarters. There were a lot more people out and about so she would make note of anything that caught her eye to come back to the following morning and explore in peace. When she got back to her quarters, she would check her medallion for any messages from Valentine. Emilia would send quick updates like “Learned about camera mounts today” or “Missing my Shadow.” She’d get messages like “Secured new intel” and “Thinking of my Iris” in return. It was miraculous to be able to communicate while she was away without having to use a drone, but it was limited. Emilia was keenly aware as each day passed how far away from Valentine she truly was.

One morning stroll, Emilia discovered an area by the south wall where there were more security cameras than anywhere else in Whitehall. There was no signage, but her eyes revealed that the doors in the area were protected by shielding as well. In her training, Cleo explained that shielding was generally used for exterior fortifications and rarely used inside any city in the Globe.

Photo by Scott Webb.

Ding.

“Oh blast!” Emilia pulled the mini comm tablet from her bag.

She had set an alert for herself in case she lost track of time exploring. Emilia hiked up her skirt and ran back to her quarters in the tower . Sweat was rolling down her temples as she dashed into her room and changed her clothes.

Ding.

“I know, I know! I’m going as fast as I can!” She shouted at her mini comm tablet.

She grabbed it off the bed as she slung her belt around her waist. She ran out her door and nearly collided with Cleo.

“Whoa!” Cleo grabbed Emilia’s shoulders to steady her.

“Oh! I apologize. I overslept and was racing to meet you on time.” Emilia panted and wiped her brow.

“These things happen, Emilia. No need to be in a rush, that’s how accidents happen. That was another one of my Dad’s favorite things to remind me of when I was little.” Cleo smirked.

“Yes, of course. I won’t let it happen again.” Emilia took a deep breath and smiled.

“That’s beautiful. I never noticed you wearing that before. It doesn’t look like something from home.” Cleo leaned closer to look at the eel coiled on Emilia’s medallion. Cleo reached a slim finger out to touch it when Emilia grasped the medallion with her palm.

“My father gave it to me. He went on many journeys and would return home with gifts from all his travels.” She tucked it quickly into her shirt.

“I see.” Cleo raised an eyebrow at Emilia.

“The schedule said our training will be on the wall armaments, correct?” Emilia fumbled to pull out her comm tablet.

Cleo crossed her arms across her chest and studied Emilia’s rosy cheeks. “A bit flustered today, are we?”

“I, I am just ready to start training. Shall we?” Emilia forced a smile and started toward the lift.

“Of course, Lady Vestra.” Cleo tipped an invisible hat to Emilia and followed her into the lift.


Cleo silently led Emilia through a set of narrow hallways inside the outer wall of Whitehall. While the exterior of Whitehall glistened in the sun like a crystal ornament in Emilia’s room back in Westminster, the worker passages were dank and dim. The overhead lights were fitted with special ultraviolet filaments, since it was mainly the Vestras that traversed them. 

Emilia bit her lip, hoping she hadn’t ruined their easy camaraderie with her carelessness. Emilia opened her mouth to say something when they reached a metal ladder mounted to the wall. Cleo wordlessly began climbing the ladder, so Emilia followed behind. Cleo opened the hatch on the ceiling, letting a flood of sunlight fill the darkness. Emilia lifted her hand to shield her eyes as she climbed out of the hatch.

Emilia found Cleo kneeling beside a metal circuit box with conduit coming out of each side. The shielding at top of the wall by Emilia glowed solid purple, but a few feet away by Cleo, it erratically flickered. Cleo gazed over the wall, studying the green sea of trees that lead to the Forest of Arden while she waited for Emilia to join her.

“Any creatures out today?” Emilia hedged, as she knelt beside Cleo.

“Most don’t venture this close in daylight. Plus, the shielding is quite effective, thanks to Vestras. Just don’t let a Haller hear you say that. They’ll think you are saying their engineering is less than perfect. If it was so perfect, why do they need us, huh?” Cleo continued to look out beyond the wall.

“Must be tough to be so close to the creatures you love but stuck behind this wall all the time.” Emilia readied her tools as Cleo taught her during their previous training sessions.

“Let’s just say, shielding days are bittersweet for me.” Cleo unlocked the box to reveal wires and circuits chaotically arranged inside. “Okay Emilia, tell me where we should start.”

Emilia looked inside the circuit box and saw a bare wire that blazed purple.

“That wire needs to be replaced and recapped,” Emilia responded.

“Okay, get to work.” Cleo sat back and closed her eyes.

Emilia set to work repairing the wire in the shielding circuit box using what she learned from Cleo’s previous training and the schematics she studied last night after curfew. As Emilia’s confidence grew with each repair Cleo led her through, she knew her training would be ending soon. She needed to make her escape before the Hallers tried to place her somewhere as a Vestra, but Emilia needed to know about the portion of the south wall she had found that morning. The more she thought about it, she was sure it must be where they were holding Antonio. Her training made it clear that if they had any hope of rescuing him, Emilia would need to stay in Whitehall to disable any security and shielding from inside the city.

Photo by Linh Ha.

“You said that shielding is only on the exterior of city walls and armaments, correct?” Emilia asked casually while tidying up the circuit box after the repair was complete.

“That’s correct.” Cleo reclined against the short wall behind them picking at her fingernails.

“Well, I noticed something funny on a morning walk recently. There is a portion of the south wall that has shielding on the interior side of the wall. Why would that be?” Emilia placed her last tool back in her tool belt.

“Would ‘recently’ be this morning?” Cleo flicked her eyes to meet Emilia’s.

Emilia’s cheeks burned before she could control them. She blew out a breath and leaned back against the wall next to Cleo.

“Was it that obvious I hadn’t just ‘overslept’?” Emilia hugged her knees to her chest.

“Otherwise, you are the sweatiest sleeper I’ve ever met.” Cleo cocked an eyebrow.

“I was really sweaty, wasn’t I?” Emilia laughed.

“You did look a bit like you had just come from a swim in Lake Avon.” Cleo rested her hands behind her head.

“Oh dear, what a sight I must have been! I like to take morning walks. Normally, I am better with my time than today,” said Emilia sheepishly.

“You could have told me the truth. You were still on time, but when you weren’t waiting for me early like normal, I came to find you. And when you got so flustered when I mentioned your necklace, I figured you just wanted your privacy.” Cleo’s gaze grew long again, scanning toward the tree line.

“It’s not that. I just . . . it’s complicated.” Emilia rested her hand on her chest where her medallion hung below her shirt.

“You don’t have to tell me your business. I’m just your trainer. You’ll be placed and moving on soon.” Cleo leaned forward to lock the circuit box with the keys on her belt.

“Cleo, please. If you were just my trainer, you would not spend every evening with me. You’ve become a sister to me. The big sister I wish I had back home.” Emilia rested her hand on Cleo’s arm. “And because of that, I don’t want to get you into any trouble with the Hallers. I wish we had met under different circumstances.”

“Trouble? Different circumstances? What are you talking about Emilia?” Cleo turned to face her.

“Just trust me, Cleo. You do not need to get tangled up in all this. Can you just tell me why there is shielding on the inner wall?”

“Something tells me you already know the answer.” Cleo frowned.

“I have a hunch, but it is very important that I know for sure. Please. Will you tell me?” Emilia pleaded.

“That’s the prison. They leave it unmarked. Only a Bride would be able to see the extra shielding so the average person wouldn’t think twice about it.”

“I knew it! I finally found it!” Emilia threw her fist in the air to celebrate her guess had been right.

“What’s going on? If I’m really your friend, Emilia, now trust me. Don’t worry about me and the Hallers. I can handle myself.” Cleo caught Emilia’s fist and looked directly into her eyes.

Emilia’s smile wavered. The lines around Cleo’s eyes tightened. They seemed to beg Emilia to tell Cleo the truth. Emilia closed her eyes and exhaled.

“I’m trying to help someone that is imprisoned, wrongfully, here in Whitehall. That’s why I need to know where the prison is,” Emilia said.

“A Westie? What did they do?” Cleo’s nose wrinkled.

“It’s not a Westie. I have not been exactly honest about this being my first time away from home.”

“You’re a Globe traveler then?” Cleo crossed her arms. 

“That is not quite it, either. I should have arrived in Whitehall the morning after the Polity landed. Instead, I went with the guide who took me through the savagelands to her home in Newlondon. We soon discovered that her sister’s fiancé was wrongly accused of smuggling and thrown into Whitehall’s prison. As we planned his rescue, I volunteered to come to Whitehall, since I could use my status as a Bride to gain access where they could not.” Emilia brushed the hair from her face. “When I was whisked into surgery immediately, I realized I underestimated how hard this would be. I’ve spent every morning before training trying to find where he might be without raising suspicion and how we would be able to get past the security and guards.”

Emilia waited as Cleo’s eyes pierced her own. Emilia’s ears were filled with the sound of her heart pounding in her chest. 

“That’s some story, Emilia.” Cleo blinked.

“I wasn’t planning on telling you any of this. At first, I wasn’t sure who I could trust. Then, as I got to know you more, I figured the less you knew, the better. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you if you got involved and things went wrong. Being forced to live behind one set of walls is more than enough for you to deal with.” Emilia motioned to the wall they sat on.

“My father always said that no creature should live their life in a cage. How ashamed he would be if he knew that’s how his daughter ended up.” Cleo’s eyes glistened.

“Then help me. Once we are done, you can be free to go where you please! The Hallers and the rest of the Globe are too concerned with the Polity and how they can exploit them. Plus, we can help protect you. You could slip away and finally be with the creatures you love so much.” Emilia leaned forward.

“Let’s fly.”
Photo by Tyler Rutherford.

Suddenly, a skycrawler pierced the treetops, flapping its terrible, scaly wings. Cleo stood to get a better view of the creature’s stilted flight. It let out a metallic screech before diving back into the verdant canopy again. Emilia stood beside Cleo with her hand out waiting. Cleo looked down at Emilia’s hand and back to where the skycrawler disappeared. Cleo lifted her chin and grasped Emilia’s hand.

“Let’s fly.”


If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Shanel’s “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross