Welcome back to The Only City Left. Allin’s flashback continues, and some of the history of the planet-city Earth is shared herein. I have some more notes on the story but I’ll save them until the end of the post.
The Only City Left: Part Five
Glin’s Rising was one small portion of what might have been a sprawling suburban town before the entire world was paved over. The ceiling was several stories above us, so it had to have been built during an era of relative luxury, when smaller cities were only surrounded by the metal mega-city that Earth was becoming, rather than being entombed on one small level with another city built right on top of them, and another on top of them, and so on.
You get the picture. Humans never escaped the planet, never colonized the galaxy, but they also didn’t stop breeding and they needed to live somewhere. The answer was to build up into the sky, down into the ground, and out over every square inch of the planet, whether there was solid ground underneath or not. And at its height, it was a bustling, planet-sized world. Then something happened. Nobody really knows what. But after that, there weren’t enough people around to fill up the city, or to run it. It began to break down, to cede itself to other inhabitants who sprung up to fill the void left by humanity.
At least, that’s the story that everyone who’s left agrees on. We weren’t around for all that history, so what do we know?
With the population curve not just bottomed out but flat-lined, many people sought out the more open areas of the city to live. It was a testament to how few people were left that, even then, the entire population of Glin’s Rising needed only a few square blocks to spread out in.
Even if it hadn’t been such a small area to search, I wouldn’t have had any trouble finding my mother in it.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I heard her cry, and I smiled despite my mood. Someone was in for it. “If there’s one foot of copper wire you haven’t already stripped out of here, I’ll willingly walk into a clinker’s den and let them have my brain. But you know and I know that’s not going to happen because you haven’t seen this much copper in years.”
I followed her voice to the intersection of two roads, where a makeshift swap meet had been set up. As travelers and traders, our arrival had caused quite a stir. Not many people risk heading out into the interstices of the city, but those who do usually bring items to trade and, more importantly, fresh news.
I approached Mom and the vendor she was haggling with just as she turned around to pull the walk-away. She saw me, smiled, and winked.
“Oh good, you’re here, hon. You can help me find someone who’s serious about trading,” she dramatized.
“Fine, fine!” said the grizzled old man from behind his food-laden table. “Five pounds of nutri-bulbs for the lot!”
She ignored him and continued to walk away, drawing me along with her.
“Is your father ready, then?” she asked.
“Yes. But I don’t see why we have to leave so soon!”
“Six pounds!” yelled the man.
“I know this is hard on you, hon. You have to trust us that it’s for the best.”
“Seven pounds, final offer!”
“I like it here, Mom.”
We stopped walking and she put her hands on my shoulders, facing me.
“And someday, if you want, you can come back. But now we have to go, so you can spend your time complaining about it or you can go and tell her goodbye.”
I started to protest further, but instead of words I let out a big sigh. I wasn’t going to win this fight with both my parents in agreement, even if it wasn’t fair.
“How much time?”
“Meet us in an hour,” she said, and let me go.
She turned back around to the vendor and fell back into her routine: “Seven pounds, what do you take me for? Fifty feet of copper wire? I couldn’t part with it for less than fifteen pounds!”
I left the two of them to their duel (the vendor started to have a mock heart attack as I walked away) and went looking for Tyena. Ah, Tyena. The first time I set eyes on her, I swear I felt electricity all over my body, like static shocks popping against my skin. Turns out she felt the same. That has to mean something, right?
Sure, the less romantic would say that there are so few young people around that all we felt was a biological urge to reproduce. To that I say, maybe it was thinking like that which led us into this mess in the first place. My love for Tyena had nothing to do with my genes wanting to perpetuate themselves. It was her long red hair and alabaster skin, her blue eyes that you could swim in all day, and the silly, snorting laugh that she could not control when you tickled her just so. We had met two days ago, but those two days meant more to me than my entire life before then. And my parents insisted I give it up.
“Well, that’s just not happening, is it?” Tyena replied when I told her the bad news.
I had found her on the roof of an old, three-story retail store that overlooked the park that the Glinites use for their farming. She was in the middle of painting the park and city, except in her version, these great, tentacled monsters were erupting from the earth below and tearing the city apart. My kind of girl, Tyena.
“Well, it kind of is happening, because there’s no way they’ll let me stay.”
She set down her palette and stalked over to me.
“It’s simple then. I’m coming with you.”
“They’ll never go for that. They’re … weird about other people. I can’t explain it.”
She leaned in, raised one eyebrow, and gave me that wicked smile which made my hairs stand on end.
“Who says they have to know?”
* * *
3/17/2012 News: Maybe it goes without saying, but my idea for a planet-wide city is not an original one. Isaac Asimov’s Trantor is probably the most famous, and there’s Coruscant in the Star Wars universe. I wanted to write a story that included my love of buried/hidden cities, and what’s more buried than an entire planet where cities are layered on top of one another like pages in a book? As a setting, I think it is rich with possibilities, and I am enjoying exploring it along with Allin and my readers.
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