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 58, Allin and Matthias’ plan to escape the merskers was put on hold due to the arrival of a bigger threat: slavers.
The Only City Left: Part 59
“That’s your big plan? ‘We wait’?” I whispered to Matthias while watching the oddly-armored invaders begin to round up the merskers.
Each of the invading humans had a unique set of armor that was as much a work of found art as anything in the mersker’s village. They were clearly no strangers to life in this trash-filled under-city, but their cars and lights showed that they lived at a much higher level of civilization than the merskers did.
“Yes. We wait,” Matthias whispered back. “Hopefully they take what they want and leave without finding us.”
“And what if they do find us?”
“The Garden has dealings with the merskers and the slavers. I’ll invoke Doyle’s name. They’ll respect that.”
“Fat chance of that working without you being able to turn into a wolf.”
“Then why don’t you be quiet and pray they don’t find us?”
I took the first part of his advice, at least, but what ran through my head were questions, not prayers. Out in the center of the village, the slavers were lining up the merskers and putting them in chains. The ones who were already knocked out were piled together like sacks of flour. For all that the slavers had cars and weapons and art, they had no civility, no empathy toward their fellow residents of Earth. It sickened me to see them mistreat the merskers and laugh about it all the while.
Meanwhile, the silent army of ghosts remained in place, doing nothing. The slavers gave the ghosts a wide berth but otherwise ignored them. And what was I doing? Hiding in a disgusting stew of rotting carcasses, a potpourri of putrescence that included Guppy. He was just a kid, really, like me. We both made choices, good and bad, that led us to this bin. The difference was, Guppy had no more choices to make and I still did.
I could stay in hiding and wait for the slavers to leave. That might be the smart thing to do, the safe thing. Matthias would approve and, disturbingly enough, Dad probably would, too. After all, it fit perfectly with his “Always stay alive” maxim. But outside my safe, stink-filled hiding place, merskers were wailing. The invaders dealt harshly with the few who still struggled against their fate, forgoing the trank guns in favor of beating their recalcitrant captives into submission.
I owed the merskers nothing really. Some device of theirs had plucked me from a certain death, as it had for Matthias, but Guppy had not been so lucky. It was chance that saved me, not the merskers. Who knew what they had been planning to do to me if the slavers hadn’t shown up. I certainly hadn’t been free to leave. It would serve them right to get taken away and held captive in return, and it would free me to continue making my way to the roof of the world as best I could, once I ditched Matthias.
I looked over at him and saw that he had his eyes closed. The attack on the village was of such little concern to him that he could use this time to rest. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else. After all, as one of Doyle’s werewolves, he had probably participated in a scene like this hundreds of times. I felt disgusted. Not with Matthias. With myself.
If I did nothing, that would mean one more pocket of life, of light, would be snuffed out in the city. More lights would follow until the Earth became darker and darker and was snuffed out entirely. We might be the last remnants of humanity, but instead of helping one another out, we were killing each other off in a race to extinction.
In the end, Dad’s motto wasn’t enough. What good would it be for me to stay alive if the rest of the world died. I had to do more than survive and go sightseeing on the city’s roof. I had to follow Mom’s advice, not Dad’s. With darkness engulfing the world, I had to be a light in the dark.
I nudged Matthias and his eyes snapped open.
“If I can get you your coil, will you help the merskers?
He raised an eyebrow. “You have a plan?”
“I think so.”
“Fine, you bring me the coil and I’ll grind those slavers into dust. Not for the merskers. For me.”
I grimaced and pulled myself out of the muck. Matthias could justify his actions however he liked, so long as he helped. The slavers were loading the unconscious merskers into their trucks. I didn’t have much time.
I made the now-familiar trip back to the electronics bin, leaned over the back wall, and said, “Hey, guy, get your butt out here. I need your help.”
I didn’t get a response, so I pounded on the top of the junk pile a few times and said, “Come on! We don’t have much time!”
Maybe he recognized my voice, or figured out that a slaver wouldn’t bother to ask him to come out of hiding. Either way, the mersker poked his head out and eyed me warily.
I pointed to the center of the village, showing him that the slavers were finishing up loading his tranked kinfolk. The ones who were awake and chained together in lines would be next. The mersker made a tiny moan and turned back to me. His lips trembled and his eyes glistened with moisture.
I pointed first at myself and then to the other merskers. “I can help you, but I need the coil you guys took.” Gestures for necklace and blinding light. “Can you get it for me?”
The mersker blinked twice, looked at his friends again, and then crawled back into his hole.
Dirt! He’s not getting it. Or he’s too afraid to help. Now what? I could take out one of the slavers if I could get close enough, but then I’d be the next one in chains and loaded into a truck. I needed the coil so that Matthias could wolf out, or the merskers wouldn’t stand a chance.
I pounded on the trash again, in frustration this time, when out popped my mersker friend. He held the coil up to me with a questioning look on his face, as if he was asking, “Is this what you wanted?”
I smiled and took the coil from him
“Buddy, you just saved your village.”
* * *
It’s been a busy week for me personally and also for The Only City Left. I have an editor for Book One now and a second cover artist after the first had to bow out due to other commitments. I am also doing my best to catch up to my arbitrary word count goal for Book Two. Here are my stats for those who are interested in that sort of thing. For the next book, I will start my writing week on Monday, not Saturday, so I don’t start every week in the hole! (Sure, it’s all relative, but this is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy.)
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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.