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.
At the end of Part 24, Tyena had gotten upset when asked about the fate of her family, so she went to spend some time alone. With nothing else to do, Allin asked Tumble if there was a workshop he could use.
The Only City Left: Part 25
I had asked Tumble for a workshop, expecting a tiny room with maybe some spare parts lying around that I could tinker with. Instead, after a quick stop to pick up my cocoon bag, he led me into the murky depths of Pudlington, ground level in the center of the city.
Everything was dim and the world was quiet except for the slow creaks and moans of the city above. Tumble had not brought a light with him—he could see well enough—and I no longer had my coil, so I followed him closely through long-abandoned streets until we came to a set of stairs that descended into the earth. The darkness in there was impenetrable.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I told him.
“Don’t worry, it’s clean. Here, take my hand.”
Reluctantly, I did so. When he said it was clean, he wasn’t talking lack of filth. What he meant was that nothing foul had taken up residence, nothing that thrived in darkness. I was a bit skeptical.
“Where are we going?” I whispered.
“You don’t need to whisper,” Tumble assured me in a full voice. “These tunnels are locked down tight. Nothing can get in here.”
“So why are we here?” I asked, my voice still low.
“You wanted a workshop, right? That’s where we’re headed,” Tumble said, as he led me around a corner and then down more stairs.
“Why is it all the way down here?”
“For one, it keeps out most curious cats. Not many people like coming down here,” he explained. “And for another, it’s far enough down that any explosions shouldn’t affect the rest of the city.”
“Explosions. You’re kidding, right?”
Tumble chuckled and replied, “You’ll see. Be patient.”
The only sounds were our footsteps and a background hum that told me these tunnels still had power and air. Fresh air or no, the darkness was suffocating. By the time Tumble called a halt, countless flights of steps and interminably long tunnels later, I was nearly crushing his hand in mine.
“Just one moment,” Tumble said.
I heard tiny beeps and then a hiss before a vertical slice of light appeared and began to widen before me. I squeezed my eyes shut against the sudden brightness.
“Please step inside as quickly as possible in case I was wrong about it being safe out here.”
“What?” I squeaked, stumbling forward with my eyes slitted open.
Tumble laughed and sealed the door shut behind us.
When my eyes had adjusted and I had blinked and wiped the tears from them, I gaped at the sight before me. Tumble and I stood on a balcony that ran around a large rectangular opening. Doors lined the walls around the balcony and cats in white lab coats moved to and fro about the area. I could hear the whirr of tools, the rumble of engines, the vibrant hum of massive amounts of energy. The room was lit by huge tubes of white light that ran across the ceiling and thinner ones that ran along the walls.
I stepped forward and put my hands on the balcony railing. From that vantage point I could see two more balconied levels below and then a floor filled with massive machinery being inspected and tended by groups of cats. Everything was white plastic, clear glass, and grey metal. Where Pudlington above felt lived-in and almost organic, down here everything was pristine and sterile.
“Welcome to the Skunkworks,” Tumble declared.
“What do you need all this for?” I marveled.
Tumbled led me clockwise along the balcony, greeting cats who we passed along the way.
“Running a city the size of Pudlington is no easy task. Energy, food-stuffs, defense, offense, building materials, we work on it all here,” he explained. He stopped in front of a door and entered another code on the keypad next to it. “Come on, you might be interested at what’s going on in this room.”
We stepped into a smaller room lit only by banks of monitors scattered throughout the space. As if timed to our arrival, the room suddenly lit up in bright yellow light and I felt a wave of heat wash over me. It was strong but it felt good, relaxing. I sighed contentedly.
“Yes, if nothing else, this would make an excellent attraction,” said a ginger-furred cat who walked up to us. “Come bask in the sun’s rays, feel its warmth even in the depths of the city!”
“Allin, meet Professor Copper,” Tumble said. “She’s the ones who is going to figure out how your lantern coil works.”
“You give me too much credit, Tumble,” the professor said. “All I’ve done so far is figure out how to adjust the strength of the sun mode.”
I looked past Copper to where my coil hung suspended in the center of an array of equipment. I walked up to it, palms out, and felt its heat. I had never seen Mom and Dad make the coil work like this, nor figured it out myself, and I told the professor as much.
“I see. Well, small victory then. Perhaps they were more familiar with the moon mode,” she said blithely.
As I was about to protest, Tumble stepped in and suggested that I might be able to provide some insight into the coil’s workings.
“Quite right,” Copper declared, and for the next few minutes, she pressed me for any details I could provide. She was particularly interested in whether or not I had heard any verbal commands given to the coils when the moonlight mode was activated.
“I don’t think so, but it was chaos all around me when I saw them, and it’s been years,” I said.
“I’ve tried all of the combinations of the buttons around the edge of the object, you see,” the professor explained. “That’s how I found a way to change the strength. But I suspect that some further means of input is required to switch modes. Verbal, telepathic, something like that.”
Once she was satisfied that I had no useful information to share, the professor left me in peace and Tumble led me to another room where I could work on my own projects.
I had done pretty well for myself in the past, scavenging what parts I could, cadging together tools and weapons from the detritus of past civilizations, but when I saw the setup in what was one tiny room of the larger complex, I realized I was basically at the level of banging two rocks together compared to the cats.
Still, they were running an entire city. I only needed some gadgets to make my journeys more manageable.
First things first: I had given away my lantern coil, and navigating the City without a light was akin to walking around with an “Eat Me” sign taped to my back. I needed a replacement light source.
I set my bag down on a workbench and asked Tumble, “You wouldn’t happen to have any bioluminescent algal scum, would you?”
“Let me check,” he replied, typing commands into a nearby terminal. “Yes, here we are. Green, red, or yellow?”
And that was the pattern for the rest of the day. It seemed that whatever I could imagine, whatever tool or ingredient or material I desired, Tumble would have it delivered from the storerooms.
“Um, I can’t, you know, pay for this stuff or anything,” I told Tumble later while working on a set of new grapples for my gun.
“I know, Allin. No payment is expected.”
“Is this Banshee’s way of making me feel guilty?”
“You could choose to see it that way, or you could accept that emperors are known for their magnanimous gestures and leave it at that.”
“Which do you think it is?”
Tumble scratched at his chin and tilted his head from side to side. “Perhaps a little of both.”
I set down a plasma welder, pulled the tinted safety goggles off, and narrowed my eyes at Tumble.
“Thanks for the honesty.”
Tumble bowed his head once and replied, “You are welcome. So are you reconsidering your answer to Emperor Banshee’s offer?”
“If I say no, will I get to come back here again?”
Tumble considered this and replied, “Why don’t I tell the Emperor you’re thinking about it.”
* * *
8/5/12 Notes: 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!
If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)
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.