Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.
If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 36, Ballister warned Allin not to use the nearby elevator, as it leads directly into clinker territory.
The Only City Left: Part 37
We took the elevator.
I felt that Ballister’s warning, while polite, was also coming from someone who had chosen to hole up in a tiny room rather than risk making something more of life. If I stayed away from that elevator, that would be the first step on a path to my own tiny room in the bowels of the city. No thanks.
When I presented the warning to Tumble during breakfast, he agreed with me. “It’s good to be forewarned, though. How was the first watch?”
We had split up into watches because there’s trust and then there’s trust, and Tumble and I weren’t about to let our guard down with the same people who had tried to kill us only hours before. The thumping and clanking of machinery had kept me from falling asleep while on watch, but had also made it pretty miserable when it was my turn to rest.
“Yes, quite a way to live,” Tumble had opined, looking around the room. The food we had shared the night before was once again making the rounds of hungry mouths, and the mood in the room was more jubilant.
Ballister made a little speech when we told him that we were leaving and would not be taking his advice.
“It is said that when humanity abandoned Earth, only the foolish and the brave chose to stay behind. I have my opinion on which group our two new friends fall into, but as they shared their food with us, I’ll keep it to myself,” he said to much laughter. He held up his hands for quiet and continued, “May the gods be kind to you on your journey and may our paths cross again.”
The crowd mumbled their approval of Ballister’s sentiment and then he lead us out of their room and down the hallway a bit.
“I’ll not mince words now that we’re alone,” he told us in a gruff voice. “You’re idiots to risk your lives for a bit of sunlight. But you’re my kind of idiots, so here’s some wisdom. That elevator only goes to one floor and that’s clinker central. It was empty when I went, had a look-around, and turned tail. Well, mostly empty. You’ll see. That’s why I’m still alive to tell you this. But if you get up there and find some clinkers, do not hesitate to get the hell out of there and find another way. Any creatures capable of doing the things I saw, you do not want to be messing with. They won’t give a wad of spit for your fancy kung fu, neither, dwarf.”
I caught Ballister’s eye and gave him a silent thanks for keeping quiet about Tumble’s felinity, and then thanked him out loud for the repeated warning.
“You’re the most over-protective would-be murderer I’ve ever met,” I added with a grin. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.”
Ballister gave me a stern look, shook his head, and walked away with a wave of his hand but without another word.
“He’s an odd guy,” I remarked to Tumble.
“Coming from you, that’s quite an indictment,” he replied.
“No argument. So if we’re heading to our doom, let’s get going.”
The corridors on the way to the elevator were in greater disrepair than those from yesterday, which I hadn’t thought possible. They had no working lights at all and the floor was strewn with broken machinery, boxes, and piles of rubble higher than my head.
It took a while to carefully navigate the terrain by wristlight, and I envied Tumble’s surefootedness as he easily tackled each new obstacle.
“What is all this junk?” I grumbled.
“It’s meant to slow trespassers down, I would think,” Tumble said while leaping nimbly to the top of a stack of rusted metal crates. “The leftovers of some turf war, perhaps.”
“This city would be a whole lot easier to travel through if people cleaned up after themselves,” I complained as I hoisted myself slowly up the same stack, flecks of rust staining my hands and clothing.
“I’m sure that weighed heavily on their minds, your ancestors,” Tumble rasped. “‘Pave over the planet, build giant city, disappear. Whoops, we forgot to clean before we left.’”
I chuckled as he gave me a final hand up, and then he bounded and I climbed down the other side of the obstruction.
After a while of making slow progress this way, the going became easier, the piled-up trash diminishing in volume until the last fifty feet or so to the elevator door had no debris whatsoever. Tumble even went so far as to run a finger along the floor and show it to me. No dirt, no dust.
“Someone’s been doing their chores, wouldn’t you say?”
“Maybe the clinkers are clean freaks.”
Tumble sniffed and said, “Which would explain Ballister’s fear of them.”
Joking aside, I approached the cargo-sized elevator doors with much trepidation. I held my wristlight up to the call panel and saw that the down button had been gouged out.
“Good thing we’re heading up, then,” I said.
The Up button glowed when I pressed it, and there was a tiny whine of energy that I could feel more than hear. Tumble unholstered his gun and took up position on one side of the doors, so I stood on the other. Glancing around, I couldn’t help but think that the lack of cover meant no place to hide if something nasty popped out of the elevator upon arrival. But the only thing out of the ordinary when the doors opened was the working set of overhead lights inside the compartment.
Tumble leaned around to sweep the elevator with his gun, and said, “Looks clear. Now or never.”
We both stepped inside and, before we had turned around, the doors slid shut behind us and the elevator began its ascent. I spun around and saw that the controls were missing; where the buttons should be was a bare panel with some small, circular holes in it.
“Ballister didn’t mention this,” I said, my voice cracking.
“Things change,” Tumble replied. “Be ready.”
It felt like a long ride, and even though I was apprehensive about the possibility of a trap, I felt elated at how high up we were going. Finally, the elevator slowed to a stop, working more smoothly than anything in the decaying city had a right to. Tumble and I took up position on either side of the front of the elevator, and when the doors pulled apart and bright yellow light poured in, we each carefully peered around the edges.
I blinked my eyes, not only at the light but at the scene that unfolded before me. Beyond the elevator’s confines was a tableau I had only ever heard about in stories. Pastel-hued houses lined either side of a broad, paved avenue, each one with a white, wooden fence surrounding a brilliantly green lawn. Cars sat in driveways and along curbs and the sound of birds chirping came from inside the lush trees that towered in a row along the concrete sidewalks. The yellow glow came from banks of lights a few stories above street level.
“What in the world?” Tumble whispered.
He pointed with the barrel of his gun but I already saw them, the statues. Statues with clothing on? That doesn’t make sense. Maybe they’re mannequins. They were too far away for me to make out any details, but I could see that they were all posed performing mundane tasks. Some were in the middle of crossing the street, others working on their lawns, sitting on a porch swing, getting into a car.
It had probably been hundreds of years since a scene like this played out as part of everyday life, and seeing it as a still life gave me the chills. I rubbed the raised flesh on my arms and thought, Dammit, maybe Ballister was right after all.
* * *
10/28/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!
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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.