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 57, Allin was trying to exit the mersker village so that he could sneak around it and search for Matthias’ coil. The merskers, however, wouldn’t let him leave. Allin hit upon a plan involving the mersker’s weakness: light.
The Only City Left: Part 58
I once again casually strolled over to the edge of the village, but this time the suspicious merskers were on to me sooner. That was okay, though, because this time I headed to a different edge, the one where all the ghosts stood watching and waiting. I broke into a sprint and my pursuers did likewise, but I reached the ghosts first. Ignoring their stares—stare all you want, guys, but stay put, all right?—I looked back to see the approaching merskers already squinting against the concentrated ghost light. I smiled and plunged into the mass of ghosts.
The cold wiped the smile right off my face. Running through this many ghosts felt like swimming through a frigid pool. I looked back and saw the merskers stop and shield their eyes before giving up the chase. My plan had worked, but by the time I reached the far side of the ghostly crowd, I felt as if all my body heat had been sucked right out of me. I shook violently from the cold, and if that wasn’t enough to make my knees knock together, I noticed that the ghosts had turned as one to face me. This kind of attention I did not need.
I hugged myself, rubbed my arms for warmth, and waved a shaky goodbye to the ghosts.
“Thanks for the help. Be seeing you,” I said, teeth chattering. If I had expected any of the ghosts to crack a smile, I would have been disappointed.
Free from interference, I skulked around the outside of the village. Though the area was hilly with mounds of junk, the ambient ghost light allowed me to navigate. I topped a final hill and reached the back end of the bin I wanted, only to find that my mersker friend was back to work inside it, picking over and examining this and that broken device. He had his back to me but could turn and raise the alarm at any moment.
What now? I wondered. Wait for him to go away? That could take time I don’t have. I’m hungry. I’m cold. I’m tired of being pushed around. I’m tired of waiting.
I looked around at the trash around me until I saw a metal bar about two feet long. Carefully, I reached over and picked it up. It had a good heft to it but wasn’t too heavy to swing: a nice, makeshift club.
That’s when I realized: I was seriously considering braining the mersker in the bin because he stood between me and a chance at freedom. I didn’t owe the merskers anything, to be sure. They were holding me against my will, or had been until I scampered off, and they still had my bag and Matthias’ coil. But could I strike one of them down in cold blood to get what I wanted?
I gripped the metal bar tighter, scooted forward a little, oh so quietly, and reached the edge of the bin. I gripped it with my free hand and lifted one leg and then the other over the edge. Now I was sitting on the rear wall and the mersker stood within my reach.
I had to decide now, before he moved away or heard me: Do what needs to be done or stay my hand and remain a prisoner?
Before I could make up my mind, I heard a gunshot in the distance, followed by the sounds of engines revving. The mersker stopped what he was doing and his head shot up, facing away from me. He listened for a moment as the engine sounds grew louder, and then burrowed into a narrow crack in the pile of electronics and disappeared.
Had I really been about to brain him? Did I have the Arcady killer instinct after all? I didn’t have time to ponder those questions. Bright white floodlights lit up the village, sending the merskers into a panic. The sound of the engines cut off, to be replaced by hoots and hollers and more gunshots. Whatever this commotion was, it dashed my already fragile plan to pieces. I needed to get back to Matthias, to decide what to do next.
I stepped into the bin and crunched my way down the mound of electronics to the low front wall. Wrecked gadgets and broken machinery poured onto the ground around me as I slid out of the bin and landed on my backside. When I stood up I saw my cocoon bag nestled near the front of the bin, uncovered thanks to the mini-avalanche I had caused.
The sight of that old bag did more to warm me up than a raging fire could have. I grabbed it and was about to rush back to Matthias when I thought better of it. I could get caught and have it taken away again, so I stopped first and pulled out two items that I didn’t want to lose. One was my leftover nutri-bulb, which I immediately started to chew on, and the other was the only item I had made in the Skunkworks that could really be considered a weapon. I slipped it into my pants pocket and hoped it would still work in a pinch.
That done, I slipped the bag on again and sneaked around the edge of the village, back toward Matthias. I needn’t have worried about being stopped. The merskers had their hands full defending against the invaders.
I thought they were werewolves at first but realized that it was actually humans in bizarrely-decorated armor. They had pulled up in vehicles mounted with huge lights and directed them at the merskers, effectively paralyzing the light-sensitive creatures. Some merskers fought blind, inadvertently menacing friend and foe alike, but the invaders made a sport of shooting them down, laughing all the while. I thought of the weapon I had pocketed and felt deflated. At best I could take down one of them with it before they got me. Not good.
I managed to stay out of sight by dashing from hut to hut, but when I reached the merskers’ food bin and looked out to where Matthias had been lying in the clearing, he was gone.
“Hsst, boy. Don’t stand there like a fool. Hide!”
I looked down at where Matthias’ voice was coming from and saw that he had followed much the same plan as the mersker in the electronics bin. Except Matthias had been closest to the bin full of slimy, rotting fish and animals. Only his head showed above the mass of putrid food-stuff, and if he closed his eyes he could be just another mersker-meal waiting to happen as far as the invaders were concerned.
“Get in here before you draw their notice!”
Reluctantly, I squirmed my way in next to Matthias, but not before setting my bag down outside of the bin. No reason to foul that, too.
“You found your purse, I see. How about the coil?”
“I barely had a chance to look before these guys showed up. Friends of yours?”
“Slavers, most likely, since they’re using trank guns.”
I hadn’t realized that and I wasn’t sure if this made me feel better or worse for the already-downed merskers.
“So what do we do now?”
* * *
I moved into a smaller place recently, which took a lot of my time and energy, so for 11 days I did not write at all, and for a few days before that I only wrote a little. Two weeks without writing, so as you can see from my spreadsheet snapshot, I am far behind my goal. But we’re mostly settled into our new place and I am getting back into my routine of writing before everyone else wakes up and also during my kids’ nap-time. It feels good and I am confident I can get back on track with my goals, although it might take a couple of weeks. While I can be hard on myself, I still allow myself to be amazed that I am writing more now, consistently, than any other time in my life.
In other news, I have finally taken a stab at making a banner ad for The Only City Left, like many of the other Top Web Fiction serials have. So if you click the banner below, it will take you to the voting page for The Only City Left (and I’d appreciate the vote if you enjoyed this part of the story). I have no idea how to get the banner up at TWF, but perhaps one of my readers does? *Cough* Fiona? *Cough*
Not to be redundant, but for a quick way to show support for my writing (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.
If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.
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All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!
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.