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. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)
At the end of Part 46, Allin’s grapple gun jammed (remember the nutrient jelly in the backpack?) and instead of heroically flying up into the air and away from danger, he fell into the dark, watery abyss.
The Only City Left: Part 47
Memories are funny. Some that you wish you could forget are always popping up to remind you of something stupid or embarrassing that you’ve done. Others slip through your fingers like water, and no matter how tight you grip them, they dribble away and evaporate. Sometimes, like when you’re plummeting blindly to your death amidst a deluge of water, they return.
Much of my childhood seemed monotonous. I had no friends besides my parents, and the three of us were always on the move: a never-ending family hike. For Dad, this was simply The Way Things Were, and he didn’t allow me to complain about it. Mom at least recognized that for a little kid it was a dull existence. She would sometimes tell stories to pass the time, and I would hang on her every word.
One time, when I was about 8 or 9 (age being a fuzzy concept in a dying city with no night and day), Dad was away on some mission of his, so on top of the normal boredom, there was the added dullness of staying locked in the same room for days on end, waiting for him to return.
“Mom, tell me a story,” I asked for probably the hundredth time in half that number of hours.
She sat on the floor facing the door, the lantern coil on her chest providing the only light in our cupboard-sized room. She rubbed it absentmindedly and hummed some private tune to herself, nodding her head to a beat only she could hear. She had been doing this for hours, lost in her own world, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I would burst out of my own skin if something didn’t change soon.
“Huh?” She seemed genuinely surprised to hear my whine, as if I had woken her from a deep sleep. “What is it, hon?”
“When’s Dad coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then tell me another story. I’m bored.”
She looked at me with her piercing blue eyes and for a moment I thought I was in trouble. Then she smiled and patted the floor next to her in invitation.
“So you want a story?” She looked at the closed door across from us for a few more seconds and then turned to me. She rested her arms on her knees and her chin on her arms and said, “Have I ever told you the story of the Princess and the Three Brothers?”
“A princess? Why can’t it be about a prince?”
“Because some stories can’t be controlled, and this one wants to be about a princess. Do you want to hear it or not?”
I did, even if it was about a princess. Anything was better than slowly going insane while she sat humming that tune.
You’ll be happy to know, this was no ordinary princess. She didn’t live in a castle, and nor were her parents the rulers of a vast kingdom. But that was okay, because the days of rulers and vast kingdoms were long past. The princess was happy to live in her own modest corner of the city, where her parents led a small but happy community in the day-to-day tasks of ensuring that everyone had enough food, water, and light to survive. It did not escape her parents’ notice that people now needed the same type of tending as the plants they grew, so they called their small community the Garden.
For many years, life was simple and peaceful in the Garden, and the young princess grew to be a young woman whom many thought beautiful. Word of the princess must have spread beyond the Garden, perhaps spoken of by one of the many traders who passed through hawking their wares. One day three brothers came to the Garden to meet her. They were known to the people of the Garden by reputation only, through tales told by those same traders. So it was that the princess and her parents knew that the brothers were a disreputable bunch, rowdies, trouble-makers. The princess was none too happy to learn, then, that each brother intended to ask her hand in marriage. Her parents, however, counseled her to hear the brothers out and see what they could offer her (and by extension, them) in exchange for her hand.
The oldest brother vowed to take her away from her tiny, provincial town. He promised that if she married him, she would never have to work for anything ever again. He boasted that he was strong enough that he could take whatever she wanted from those who were weaker.
The middle brother vowed that if she married him, he would take her on a tour of the world that was so thrilling and far-reaching, she would never wish to return to the insignificant portion of it she once called home.
The youngest brother vowed that if she married him, he could protect her from any danger, but he would need to keep her locked away in his dungeon to make sure she stayed safe.
Her parents urged her to pick one of the brothers as a suitor, for they feared that the brothers would not be pleased if they were denied, and would take their displeasure out on the Garden. The princess was terribly upset that her parents were willing to trade her for the safety of their town, but she obeyed their wishes. Since she was angry with her parents, she chose the middle brother, since his promise was to take her as far as away from her town as possible.
The oldest brother and the youngest brother were not pleased with her decision, but what could they do? She had chosen the middle brother and that was that. They returned to their territory, the princess said a terse goodbye to her parents, and the middle brother whisked her away on the honeymoon he had promised. It was an exciting trip, but also a sad one, for though her husband was more kind to her than she expected, she did not truly love him and he could not help but realize this. He asked if she would prefer to return to her home, and in a fit of homesickness, she said that she would very much like that. But when he brought her back to the tiny portion of the city she had once called home, they were both astonished to find that the town destroyed and its people vanished. The Garden was no more.
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