Archive for July, 2012

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-21 and then start from Part 22. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 23, Tumble was telling Allin something about how gerrybrook juice is produced from a poisonous flower, but Allin didn’t really pay attention once Tyena showed up. Together, they headed off to breakfast with Emperor Banshee.

The Only City Left: Part 24

As with dinner, breakfast began when Banshee arrived and took his seat. Tyena and I sat on his left-hand side, Tumble on his right. Unlike dinner, no other cats were in attendance besides the ones serving us. It seemed that I was no longer a star attraction, which was fine with me.

Breakfast was such a feast that I quickly forgot my headache and queasy stomach and just tucked in. There were tiny hard-boiled eggs, breads with strange fruits baked in them, smoked fish laid out on a bed of leafy greens, flat cakes topped with jams and creams, and chunks of fresh fruit in all the colors of the rainbow. How the cats managed to produce such a meal, I had no idea, but it was another reason for me to re-think my intention to leave Pudlington. I could get used to this kind of living.

Which of course was exactly Banshee’s point, I was sure.

He wasted no time in pushing his advantage, either.

“I see you have been reacquainted with the beautiful Miss Branch,” he remarked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Curious that you didn’t mention she was here when I shared my story last night.”

“I did not want her presence to sway your decision,” he said.

I didn’t believe that for a second, but I didn’t want to call him on it.

Tyena set down her glass of something called orange juice (non-alcoholic, Tumble had assured me), and looked between Banshee and me.

“What decision would I have swayed?” she asked, her expression at once amused and sharp.

“It seems that despite our hospitality, young master Arcady does not wish to remain in Pudlington,” Banshee allowed.

If that isn’t putting his own spin on it! I thought. He’s making me sound like an idiot, wanting to leave all this.

Banshee seemed to want Tyena to be in the dark about why I was really leaving. I wasn’t having that.

“What he’s not telling you is that he wants to send me into the werewolves’ den.”

Tyena dropped her fork onto her plate with a loud tink of metal on china.

“Why would you risk sending Allin there?” she demanded of Banshee, leaning over me to get right in Banshee’s face.

“He seems to think that they want me alive,” I told her, putting my hand on hers.

She turned to face me, still half in my lap.

“But why would you give yourself up?”

“Allin,” cautioned Banshee.

“He wants me to kill their leader,” I told her, still unwilling to share all the details about my uncle. “The man who had my parents murdered and your family taken.”

Tyena sat back on the floor and returned her attention to Banshee.

“That sounds dangerous,” she said. “Why send Allin to do something you’re not willing to?”

“Fighting our way into the Garden would be a waste of catpower,” Banshee scoffed. “It’s as well defended as is Pudlington. But they want Allin there. They would let him in past all their defenses. What an opportunity! Alas, Allin has declined and chosen of his own will to leave.”

The anger Tyena had displayed toward Banshee was now redirected to me.

“You’re leaving?!”

“Yes. No. I mean, I was going to, but that was before I knew you were here,” I said, flustered. It suddenly felt ten degrees hotter and I wondered if the environmental systems in this sector were failing.

To save myself, I turned to Banshee and said, “If it’s all right with you, I would like to stay in Pudlington a little longer. I was… angry last night. I could use some more time to make up my mind.”

Truly, I had no intention of going along with Banshee’s plan no matter how long I thought on it, but I was afraid that if I didn’t at least pretend to consider it, I would no longer be welcome. Now that I had a reason to stay longer, I didn’t want to be on Banshee’s bad side.

“Pudlington is yours for as long as you like, Allin,” Banshee declared. “It was never an either/or proposition. Tumble will continue to assist you with all your needs while you remain here.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I felt more than a little bad to be abusing Banshee’s hospitality, but not bad enough to refuse it.

Tyena remained quiet and I noticed that although she pushed food around her plate, she had stopped eating.

“I wouldn’t have left without telling you first,” I told her.

She shook her head as if to clear it and turned to me. “No, Allin, it’s not that. Talk of the Garden. It reminded me of my mother is all.”

“I’m so sorry. Your mother and your brother. Do you think, I mean, might they still be alive?”

Tyena looked stricken and I felt like the world’s biggest fool for being so blunt about the fate of her family.

“It’s hard to have hope after all these years,” Tyena replied and then fell silent.

Banshee and Tumble held their tongues during this exchange, so it was on me to salvage the situation.

The problem was, I couldn’t think of an encouraging word that wouldn’t ring false, so I finished my breakfast in silence and the others followed my cue.

Banshee was called away on business toward the end of the meal and soon after that the servers cleared the plates and trays from the table, leaving the three of us in awkward silence until Tyena spoke up.

“I’m sorry for my dark mood, gentlemen. If you’ll excuse me, I need some time alone.”

Tumble stood and bowed, so I followed suit, feeling even more foolish as I mimicked his courtly behavior. Once Tyena had left, Tumble asked me how I intended to spend my time now that I was staying.

I had thought I would be spending it with Tyena, so now I was at a loss. Then a thought occurred to me.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a workshop I could use, would you?”

* * *

Continue to part 25.

7/29/12 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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-21 first and then start from Part 22. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 22, Allin realized he still had feelings for Tyena. I wonder if that will change his decision to leave Pudlington so soon?

The Only City Left: Part 23

The next morning, I woke up with the worst hangover I had ever had. It was also my first one, but I’m sure it would have ranked pretty high up there even if I had a dozen under my belt. The cats must have constitutions of iron to be able to process that gerrybrook juice and still function the next day. I was not so lucky.

I groaned inside a cocoon of blankets and assessed the situation. I was only wearing underwear, although I had no memory of stripping down. I was also covered in sweat and dying for a breath of fresh air. Although it meant risking the light and the pain that would bring, I couldn’t take it any longer, I had to be free of my blanketed prison.

I kicked my way free, gasped for a fresh breath, and opened my eyes as little as possible. Thankfully, someone had turned off the overhead light, so the only light came from the window and from under the bathroom door. I opened my eyes more fully and saw a shadow under the bathroom door from someone moving around inside. Tyena, presumably.

What happened? I struggled to remember last night, but it was all a hazy blur that wouldn’t come into focus through the throbbing pain in my skull.

I was still staring at the gap at the bottom of the bathroom door when it swung open. My eyes were wide and unprepared for the sudden blinding light. I cursed and grasped my head with both hands for fear it would crack open.

“Gah,” I managed to say before I buried my head underneath some pillows.

“Good morning to you, too,” Tyena replied, way too cheery for however early it was.

I peeked out from under the pillow and saw that Tyena looked fresh and clean in a new set of clothes. I, on the other hand, felt like I had been swimming in raw sewage while being beaten with steam pipes.

“Last night,” I asked. “Did we?”

“We kissed. You fell asleep. I’ll try not to take it personally.”

“Sorry. The juice,” I groaned. “Never again.”

She laughed and the spikes drilled further into my skull.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said as she sat down on the bed next to me. “Tumble’s been by looking for you. I told him you needed some more time. You might want to clean up before breakfast.”

My stomach curled in on itself protectively and some bile rose in my throat.

“I have some errands to run, but I’ve been invited to breakfast, too. I’ll see you there.”

She leaned over and kissed the pillow that lay on top of my head, then got up and left.

I lay there for a while before forcing myself up and into the shower. Hot water helped. A real shower! Working plumbing was always a nice find in the city, but hot water was a luxury beyond compare.

I felt a lot better when I was done, good enough to realize how embarrassing last night had been. Hi Tyena, so nice to see you again. What, you want to kiss? Okay, let’s … zzz … snore.

Still, she didn’t seem too put out, which left the possibility of more such opportunities wide open. And next time I would stay awake.

When I stepped out into the bedroom wrapped only in a towel, I found Tumble waiting for me inside, making the bed of all things.

“Rough night, Allin?” he asked and then continued without waiting for an answer. “Clean underclothes in the drawers. Best get ready. We have a nice big breakfast prepared for your farewell.”

Farewell? Oh yeah, I was leaving Pudlington today. At least, that was the plan before Tyena showed up. Well, maybe I would have to revisit that decision.

As I got dressed, the muted throbbing in my head moved to the forefront again, and Tumble remarked on my distress.

As I slipped my cling-tights on my feet, I said, “Tumble. Never let me drink any of that gerrybrook again. Ever.”

Tumble chuckled and finished patting the pillows down at the top of the bed.

“Duly noted. Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

With that, Tumble led me out of my room and we traversed the ramps, ropes, and platforms on the way to the feasting hall. Tumble was in a particularly talkative mood as we walked.

“I forgot how powerful gerrybrook can be for the uninitiated,” he commented.

I groaned and asked if we could talk about something else, but he plowed on.

“The curious thing about the flowers—you saw them in Emperor Banshee’s personal garden last night, by the way—as I was saying, the curious thing is that, untreated, they are as poisonous as they are beautiful.”

“You make alcohol out of a killer flower?” I gasped. “No wonder I feel sick.”

“You feel sick because you overindulged. Yes, gerrybrook is deadly, but prepared correctly it can be quite useful. The diluted poison is what gives it that kick.”

“It kicked me all right.”

“The juice you drank last night is from Emperor Banshee’s private stock,” Tumble continued. “He is a master in handling the flower, in taking something beautiful but deadly and turning it into something useful.”

All this bragging about Banshee and the gerrybrook flower was just reminding my body about the source of its current discomfort. Maybe Tumble was trying to punish me for not accepting Banshee’s request.

“Okay, okay,” I insisted. “Consider me impressed.”

Tumble stopped and put a hand on my side.

“No, Allin, I’m not trying to impress you, I’m trying to warn you.”

I gave Tumble a look and thought, Warn me about what? Was Banshee going to poison me at breakfast? That seemed far-fetched.

Before I could ask him what he meant, though, Tyena approached us.

“Fancy meeting you here, gentlemen,” she proclaimed. “Shall we continue on together?”

She held out her hand for me and I gladly accepted it. Together, we made our way to the feasting hall.

Behind us, I heard Tumble sigh.

* * *

Continue to Part 24.

7/22/12 News: 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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-21 first. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 21, Allin was ready to leave Pudlington after a good night’s sleep, but when he got back to his room, who did he find waiting for him? Tyena!

The Only City Left: Part 22

“Allin.”

It wasn’t a question. She was expecting me. Tyena turned around and there were tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. One, two, three steps and she was in my arms. We hugged fiercely, pushing against one another as if we could become one being if we only tried hard enough. I buried my head in her hair and breathed deeply. She smelled wonderful, she felt strong. This was the Tyena I had first met, not the broken, angry shell I had seen last.

We held on to each other like that for some time, until I could get my wits about me enough to pull my head back and ask, “What are you doing here?”

Her sigh spoke volumes. She broke her hold on me and I let her go.

“They didn’t tell you I was here?” she asked. “No, of course not. They do like their little games. C’mon, let’s sit down.”

There were no chairs, so we sat at the head of the bed with our backs to the wall. I turned my head to the right to watch her, my brain not wholly accepting her presence yet. She was the only person I had ever seen again after leaving them behind.

She was quiet, her well of words run dry for the moment. She stared straight ahead at the paintings on the far wall and I unabashedly watched her, drinking in all the details time had dulled in my memory.

When she turned to face me, my cheeks flushed and I took my turn staring at the triptych.

“When I left you, I was still half-crazed with what had happened to the town, to my family. I had no plan except getting back to Glin’s and then from there finding out where the wolves had taken everyone. What I would have done if I found them, one little girl all by myself, I have no idea.”

“Tyena, I’m sorry,” I started.

She grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight. I turned my head again and stared into her crystal blue eyes. I felt the same electric shock then as the first time I had met her.

“Don’t be. We were both in shock. We both reacted in our own way.” She let go my hand and hugged herself. “I ended up lost, half-starved. I could have wandered the corridors until I died, or found the wolves and been killed. Instead, I ended up in the cats’ territory and a patrol stumbled upon me. They took pity on me, took me in.”

She stood up and walked over to look at the painting more closely.

“They’ve let me stay, given me paints to work with, ancient books to read,” she said, her head falling to her chest as she spoke. “They’ve been so kind, Allin. But they’re not human. The way they think, it’s a little… off. You don’t know how happy I am to see another human. To see you.”

She lifted her head up, turned around, and stalked toward the bed. Before I knew what was happening, she was snuggled close against me.

“So how did you end up here?” she asked, her lips inches away from mine.

The lingering effects of the gerrybrook juice and Tyena’s proximity combined to rob me of my higher speech functions for a few awkward seconds.

Finally, I managed, “Cats.”

We were both silent after my masterfully succinct explanation, and then we simultaneously burst out laughing.

As the laughter petered out, I frowned and said, “But seriously, the cats saved me, too. I was being chased by a—”

I almost said “werewolf,” but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to speak of the creatures that had torn both our lives apart.

“A ghost,” I said instead. Well, it was partly true. “And I ended up stumbling into the cats’ territory, just like you did, I guess.”

“How lucky,” Tyena said.

Lucky, I thought. You don’t know the half of it. But I didn’t want to tell her that the cats had been watching out for me, that they had saved me from my own uncle, and that he was the one that had ordered Glin’s Rising to be culled in the first place. Oh yeah, and that I was probably a werewolf, too.

No, Tyena was back in my life and these were not topics I thought it would be smart to bring up if I wanted her to stick around. Instead, I changed the subject. “So how come I haven’t seen you until now? Why weren’t you at dinner?”

“Good question. Three days ago some cats invited me to join them on an expedition into the railway tunnels beneath Pudlington. Life can be pretty boring here, so I jumped at the chance. When we got back tonight, they told me you were here.”

“I got in yesterday,” I explained.

“But I bet they found out you were nearby right before I got invited on that trip. Convenient,” Tyena said with a raised eyebrow and a sly smile. “And then they hung one of my paintings up in your room. Subtle, those cats. Always testing, probing.”

“Why would they want to keep us apart?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They don’t think exactly like us, Allin,” Tyena explained. “But they know that we know each other, because I told them what happened in Glin’s. Maybe they didn’t want to shock you.”

“Well consider me shocked,” I grinned.

“You shock easily,” Tyena replied. “Consider this fair warning then. I’m about to kiss you.”

And she did.

I hadn’t thought much about Tyena since I had seen her last. Thinking about her meant thinking about all the horrible things that happened to us, that drove us apart. When I told our story earlier that evening, I had felt no trace of leftover passion, no regret for what might have been.

Even if someone had told me that we would meet again, I wouldn’t have cared. I was sure my feelings for Tyena had died.

I was wrong.

* * *

Onward to Part 23!

7/15/12 News: I made some changes to Part 21, nothing that changes the story, but after writing up to Part 30, I found I wanted to explain some things differently in Part 21. Welcome to the wonderful world of seeing a first draft in progress.

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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.

The Only City Left is my serialized, science-fiction/fantasy action-adventure tale about Allin Arcady’s adventures through a planet-sized city called Earth. Yes, thousands of years in the future, the Earth has become one giant layer-cake of a city. Once home to trillions of humans, it is now largely abandoned except for pockets of humanity here and there. In the absence of humans, other beings have begun to fill the void, making Earth a dangerous place for the remaining humans.

Since one of the difficulties of getting into a long-form serialized story is catching up on everything that happened before you discovered it, I offer this as-brief-as-I-could-make-it synopsis of The Story So Far. If at any point you want to jump into reading the actual story, head to the Table of Contents.

In Part One, we are introduced to Allin Arcady, a young man on his own who has one goal: to one day reach the roof of the world and see the Sun. To do that, he has to survive the perils of the city, like rogue cleaning machines called tacmites, or all-too-real ghosts that take offense at his presence. Normally Allin would just ignore the ghosts; they’re insubstantial and can’t do any real harm. Or so he thinks until he runs into a giant, snarling werewolf-looking ghost who is all too solid and who chases Allin into the tunnels between levels of the city. After barely making it through a flooded section of the tunnels, Allin loses consciousness and dreams of a time in his past when his parents were still alive.

This flashback begins in Part Four with Allin’s dad letting him know that they will be moving on from the community of Glin’s Rising post-haste. This is not happy news for 15-year-old Allin, who has fallen in love there with a girl named Tyena. When Allin asks his mom for help, she just tells him to say his goodbyes. When Allin tells Tyena that he has to leave, they come up with a plan for Tyena to follow the Arcady family out of Glin’s Rising.

When the Arcady family leaves Glin’s Rising via some maintenance tunnels, Allin spies Tyena chasing after them. She looks excited, or so Allin thinks. As he is walking with his parents, he realizes from their conversation that they are worried about someone who might have followed them to Glin’s Rising. It soon becomes clear to Allin that his parents bring trouble in their wake, and that’s why they were so eager to move on. Worried for Tyena, Allin runs back toward Glin’s Rising…

In Part Seven, Allin awakes just in time to realize the ghost werewolf is still chasing him. He narrowly escapes the ghost, but not before the werewolf reverts to his human form, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Allin’s father. After a feverish sleep—Allin picked up a virus swallowing some of the fetid water from the tunnels—Allin awakes to find a talking, bipedal cat named Tumble waiting for him. It seems Tumble is one of a whole society of genetically-altered felines which has survived and prospered in the time after the decline of humanity. Tumble bears an invitation for Allin from the cat emperor, Banshee. Allin accepts and they head to Pudlington, a human city entirely converted for feline use, with platforms, ramps, and rooms strung up between skyscrapers like a gigantic cat’s cradle.

In Part Twelve, Allin meets Emperor Banshee, who tells him that the werewolf ghost chasing Allin is in fact Allin’s own uncle. Banshee implies that this is the least of the secrets Allin’s parents kept from him. But before Banshee can share any more family history, he commands that the now-very-ill Allin be rested and healed. Allin protests to no avail. When he is better, a feast is thrown in his honor. At the feast, Allin asks to know why Banshee thinks that the ghost of a werewolf could be his uncle. In response, Banshee asks Allin to first share what he knows of his parents and their involvement with the werewolves, so that Banshee can know exactly what blanks need to be filled in. There is only one story Allin can think of to share on that subject: the story of how his parents died.

Part Fourteen begins that story, which also happens to be the continuation of the events in the earlier flashback. Allin makes it back to the outskirts of Glin’s Rising and is very worried since he has not run into Tyena along the way. Maybe she wasn’t running toward him earlier, but rather away from something else. He is about to go search for her when Mom and Dad show up. After a bit of a row, Dad agrees that they can go try to rescue Tyena. But when they enter Glin’s, it is entirely empty. Dad, hearing something that Allin does not, realizes that there are some people still around inside of an abandoned department store, and Tyena is one of them. The bad news is that she is with some of the dangerous people who are following the Arcadys. Dad forms a plan for him and Mom to distract the bad guys while Allin grabs Tyena, but when she screams from inside the store, Allin throws caution to the wind and runs in to save her. A fight ensues inside the darkness of the store, full of inexplicable flashes of light and the sound of beasts. Allin manages to grab Tyena but is confronted by a towering werewolf who blocks his path. He is about to be killed when Mom tackles the beast and plants a knife through its eye, but not before the beast guts Mom right before Allin’s eyes. Dad dies soon after, his last act to give Allin a glowing pendant that he always wore around his neck. One werewolf also survives the battle and collects similar pendants from the dead werewolves and from Allin’s mother. He tries to take the pendant from Allin but is too injured, so he flees with a promise to get it later. Surrounded by dead werewolves and his slain parents, Allin’s world goes dark.

Part Eighteen brings us back to the present, as Allin finishes telling his story to Emperor Banshee and the other assembled felines. The story ends with Allin and Tyena arguing over their next course of action. He wants to keep going in the direction his parents were traveling, away from the werewolves. Tyena wants to try to find her family members who have been taken by the wolves. Eventually, they split up and go their own ways.  Banshee chides Allin for thinking that Allin caused his parents’ death, saying that Mom and Dad Arcady made a choice for love, so Allin should not lessen their sacrifice by taking credit for their deaths. Banshee then dismisses his guests except for Allin and Tumble, and tells Allin he needs to talk about Allin’s uncle and why he has always been chasing Allin’s family. The answer: he never forgave Allin’s dad for killing him.

In Part Nineteen, Uncle Doyle Arcady’s history is discussed. Doyle was a small-time gang punk who somehow became a werewolf and started building a werewolf army. But if it is true werewolves need moonlight to transform, how would you do that underground? Doyle and his wolves were given a piece of technology that can emit moonlight even in the depths of the Earth. With that power, the gang of wolves bred terror and fear in the sectors it ruled over, and committed atrocities. Shockingly, Allin’s dad, Dylan, remained with this fearsome army for years, until he killed his brother Doyle over a girl, Jessie, who would become Allin’s mom. Unfortunately, Doyle survived his own death as a ghost (trust me on this one, too long to explain here), and after that hounded Dylan and Jessie for the rest of their days. Murder wasn’t Dylan’s only crime, though. He also stole some of the rare tech that allows werewolves to transform. Allin claims to have never seen such a device, but Banshee points out that Allin is wearing it around his neck: Dad’s lantern coil. Allin is not so sure. The coil has only ever emitted yellow light, as he demonstrates. Banshee and Tumble tense up, and Allin asks what their worry is. Banshee explains that the coils can emit either sunlight or moonlight, if you know how to operate them. Allin points out  that even if he somehow turned on the moonlight mode, it’s not like he’s a werewolf, right? Right? Well, as it turns out, both of Allin’s parents were werewolves, which makes him one by birth, albeit one who has never transformed before. Allin asks why Banshee would bring him into Pudlington if he might werewolf out at a moment’s notice. Banshee responds that if Allin could transform, he could infiltrate the werewolves’ lair and finish the job his dad started, namely, killing Doyle.

In Part Twenty-One, Allin points out that he doesn’t know how to turn on his coil’s moonlight mode. Banshee says that, as an alternative, Allin could turn himself in to Doyle, since Doyle wants him alive anyway. Once inside the Garden (the ironic name for the werewolves’ lair), Allin could murder Doyle and open the doors, so to speak, to a commando cat army. The more Allin thinks about this offer, the more horrified and offended he gets. He has just found out his dad was a murderer and possibly worse, that his mom and dad were secretly werewolves, and that he is also a werewolf. That’s a lot to take in, and on top of that, Banshee wants to recruit him to be an assassin? Allin isn’t having it. He gives his coil to the cats since they want to study it and because he sees it as part of the lies of his past, and he wants nothing more to do with his past. He tells Banshee he is leaving Pudlington tomorrow and then returns to his room for a final night’s rest in a comfortable bed. Who is waiting in his room when he arrives? None other than Tyena. Sometimes the past just won’t let go.

#

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.

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-17 and then jump into the story at Part 18. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 20, Emperor Banshee suggested that Allin might be able to infiltrate the werewolves’ lair and kill their leader, his uncle Doyle.

The Only City Left: Part 21

“You want me to sneak into my uncle’s secret lair and kill him? The giant ghost who was trying to kill me?” I half-spoke, half-laughed. “Why don’t you ask for something big next time?”

“It is a dangerous assignment, I’ll grant you,” Banshee said. “But one you are uniquely capable of completing.”

“Why me?”

“If you could transform into a werewolf, you have the best chance of anyone to get inside the Garden, find Doyle, and complete the mission. You’ll be just another wolf to them.”

“The Garden?”

“That’s what Doyle has named his ever-expanding empire. Ironic, I know.”

“Just because I look like one of them, I don’t think it will be as simple to get to Doyle as you’re making it out to be.”

Banshee nodded. “That is the other reason you are uniquely suited for this. Even if you can’t or don’t transform, you are still Doyle’s nephew, and by your own account his people had orders to bring you in alive. It’s perfect. Your safety is ensured and you will be right where we need you to be to end this threat.”

I began to pace back and forth in front of the two cats, all this new information racing through my brain, ricocheting around inside my skull.

“Let me…. For one moment, let me entertain the idea of going along with this. How exactly do you expect me to kill a ghost?”

Tumble held up one finger in protest. “Ghosts are nothing more than swarms of nano-bots imprinted with the memories of the deceased. They are mechanical, electrical, not spiritual, and so are susceptible to the same attack as any other mechanical creature.”

I stopped, hands on my hips.

“In other words, you want me to emp him.”

In theory, using an electro-magnetic pulse to kill a ghost should work the same as it did with the tacmites. It would wipe out all the saved information contained within the Lazarus swarm, along with the machinery of the nano-bots themselves. No more body, no more soul, no more ghost. In theory.

“Exactly,” Tumble said. “Our scientists will provide you with a tiny device that will go undetected if they search you. As soon as you’re in his presence, you set it off. Once Doyle’s gone, we’ll sweep in and clear up his crew.”

“One little problem with that scenario,” I said, shaking my head. “Doyle is not like any other ghost I’ve ever encountered, so there’s no guarantee your plan will work.”

“Yes,” Banshee drew the syllable out into a hiss. “We are aware that he has evolved past the normal bounds of the afterlife. He is solid. He can transform from werewolf to human and back at will. As you’re aware, this has its drawbacks as well.”

Damn straight. If Doyle had been able to phase through the hatch I slammed shut on him, I would have never escaped him.

“It is safe to assume that his altered state is one more gift from the unknown party that turned him in the first place. But this matters not,” Banshee said. “He may be a different sort of ghost, but he’s still a ghost, and we are confident that the E.M. pulse will disincorporate him.”

I stared at Banshee for a moment and then turned and walked over to one of the flowering bushes. I closed my eyes and breathed in the cloying aroma of the flowers as I tried to wrap my brain around all this information.

My parents: werewolves who lied to me my entire life.

My uncle who I didn’t even know existed until recently: a mutant werewolf ghost who wants me back in his life for reasons unknown.

Me: probably a werewolf, too, and in a unique position to finish the job that my father started nearly two decades ago. Namely, murdering my uncle.

And Banshee is confident his plan will work, I thought. Confident enough to send me into danger while he waits to see if it works.

“No,” I murmured. Then louder, “No!”

I turned around to face Banshee and Tumble. They were having a whispered conversation but stopped to listen to me.

“I appreciate the meal and all,” I said, closing the distance between us. “But as for the job offer, no thanks. You’ll have to find someone else crazy enough to try to kill my uncle.

“As for this,” I wrapped my fist around Dad’s lantern coil and yanked on it, snapping the necklace free. I threw it to the floor at Banshee’s feet. “Your scientists can have it, for all I care. It’s a lie, just like everything else I’ve ever known.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sleep on that nice bed one more time. Tomorrow, I’m out of here.”

Banshee glared at me and Tumble made as if to speak, but I interrupted him.

“Don’t mind me, I’ll find my own way back.”

I scarcely paid attention to my surroundings as I left the rooftop garden and descended into the city. Snippets of my conversation with Banshee played over and over in my head. I had learned so much about my parents and about myself, and none of it good.

Pudlington grew darker as I navigated its byways, and it wasn’t simply my mood. The city’s night-cycle had begun, and as the lights slowly dimmed and more and more shadows filled my path, I reached for my coil and grasped an empty space. Old habits.

The coil was a thing of my past and so was the entire sector. I decided that when I left Pudlington the next day, I would do my best to leave it all behind: the sector, the coil, the cats and wolves, the memories of Mom and Dad and Glin’s Rising. I was done with the past and only wanted to look to the future.

Meantime in the present, my feet carried me to the platform outside my room despite the dimming light and being lost in my own thoughts.

A sound from within broke me out of my reverie. Had Tumble beat me back here to try to convince me to follow Banshee’s plan? Good luck.

I ducked through the window and saw not a cat, but another human. A woman in a dark green satin dress, standing with her back to me as she inspected the triptych.

She had pale skin and fiery red hair that fell to her shoulders. My heart began to pound furiously against my rib cage and I broke out into an instant sweat.

I might have been done with my past, but it wasn’t done with me.

“Tyena.”

* * *

Get reacquainted with Tyena in Part 22, or read my notes first if you like.

7/8/12 News: So Allin said “No” to Banshee’s fine offer. Imagine that. Maybe Banshee doesn’t understand human psychology enough, because he really thought his sales pitch was going to work. Allin’s a hard sell, though. The last time he played the hero, things didn’t work out so well; he’s not exactly motivated to try it again. Of course, Banshee’s sales pitch might not be over yet, after all…

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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.

You may remember that a while back I was excited to start reading 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) the moment it came out. I started it on May 22nd, and finished it on July 6th. One-and-a-half months. I do not take that long to read books, but with 2312 I had to put it down a little over halfway through because I was just not that into it.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I told the book before letting it languish in the recesses of my Kindle, but like most everyone who uses that line, it was a half-truth at best.

You see, 2312 starts off well enough, with the Mercurian artist Swan er Hong dealing with the death of her beloved grandmother, Alex. As it turns out, Alex was a leader in the politics of the solar system, and her death may not have been natural. Enter inspector Jean Genette, a pint-sized human known as a ‘small,’ and Fitz Wahram, a roundish, toad-like human from Titan, who both are curious to know if Alex left Swan any information to pass along to them. Alex would not have used the network of artificial intelligences, or qubes, to pass along the information, because she and others are not sure anymore if they can trust that the qubes are working for humanity or for their own purposes.

I had high hopes for the book based on that premise, and back on 5/25/12, when I was about 10% in, I wrote, “I have trouble getting my head around some of the science, but it is balanced with interesting characters and a mystery to pull me past the parts that make my brain melt.” Unfortunately, the book turned up the power on the brain-melt ray after that and the plot became lost amidst a travelogue of the solar system. In the year 2312, we find, humans have spread throughout the system and genetically modified themselves as needed to fit each area’s niche (or just for the sake of it, I guess). You have the aforementioned smalls, who are about a third the size of a “normal” human, toad-like beings who live near Saturn, and relatively Earth-normal humans like Swan who nevertheless are both male and female and may have several genetic modifications made to their bodies for adaptive or cosmetic reasons.

There are also many wondrous settings to explore: hollowed-out asteroids that float between the planets, a flooded Manhattan, space elevators, and a rolling city that circumnavigates Mercury, to name a few. But as KSR geeks out on all the neat things we’ll be able to do to our bodies and environment in the future, he neglects to move the plot along for large swaths of the novel. I needed a lot less observations on how people live in crafted worlds and have sex in endless variations and more focus on characters and plot.

For much of the book, though, we only touch on moments in the lives of Swan, Wahram, and Genette, moving the plot forward minutely, while the large chunks of the book around each of these moments are as drowned in poetic language and techno-speak as future Manhattan is in water. I also found it too convenient that, while on Earth, Swan befriends an Earth native named Kiran who she rescues from poverty on Earth and deposits with friends on Venus, where he ends up discovering crucial information to move the plot along.

Add to all this a series of connective chapters that are “Extracts” and “Lists” that felt like a chore to read and which I only skimmed through past a certain point, and it slowed my reading speed down considerably, as nothing was pulling me forward. This would be when I stopped reading 2312 for an entire month, at about the 60% point of the book.

A couple of days ago, I picked 2312 back up to see if I could get through the rest; I hate leaving books unfinished. Lo and behold, the last third (roughly) of the book was much more plot- and character-focused. While it still didn’t have the satisfying thrill and pull of, say, KSR’s Mars trilogy, it moved a lot faster and at least provided an answer to the main mystery in the book and some character growth.

Maybe I am judging 2312 unfairly against some idealized memory of the Mars Trilogy, but in my mind at least, the Mars books were full of characters I cared about (whether I was rooting for or against them), with exciting and relatable science and politics thrown in. With 2312, even if I began to care about Swan or Wahram, the focus jumped around so much, and the places were given just as much emphasis as the characters (or more, usually), that I couldn’t nestle into the character’s minds and get to know them enough to care what happened to them next.

I feel like KSR wanted this book to be a piece of art more than one of fiction. He paints the world of 2312 vividly and in great detail, but there was not enough story woven through that world for me to want to explore it. It ended up being a bigger disappointment for being so highly anticipated.

Oh well, we’ll always have Mars.

So, I haven’t blogged in a while as I have been busy on other writing projects. However, I have some time, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on a book I enjoyed recently, vN by Madeline Ashby.

vN refers to “von Neumann-type humanoids,” but it might be easier to think of them as replicants (if you are at all familiar with Blade Runner, that is). vN is the story of one such replicant, Amy, who is thrust from childhood to adulthood in an instant (and oh what an instant!) and whose adventures in the great wide world make up the majority of the book.

Let me back up, though. The book’s prologue begins with a focus on her human “father,” Jack, and her mother, Charlotte. It was a little difficult for me to get into, with lots of information to digest about vNs and the near-future world that vN is set in. To summarize: Amy is a clone, or iteration, of Charlotte. She will eventually be an exact physical copy, but her parents are keeping her diet controlled to keep her growing at the same rate as a normal human child, which is a controversial decision. If Amy is given enough food, she would grow into her adult form almost immediately; to keep her child-like, her parents are sort of starving her.

So where did vNs come from in this world? The answer is kind of messed up. A religious zealot created them to remain on Earth after the rapture to serve the remaining humans and make their life easier. And “serve” is true in every sense. As one character explains to Amy later in the book: “That’s why you’ve got all the right holes and such. So people can indulge themselves without sin.” To ensure that vNs serve properly, they have a failsafe built in: if they see a human get hurt, they literally lose their mind and shut down. Not only that, this means that they have a built-in need to love humans and make them happy.

Yes, it is a bit sick and twisted, and much as in Blade Runner, this sets up vNs as second-class citizens, to be used and discarded as needed. Indeed, there are questions of whether or not vNs are even truly sentient, i.e., would they pass a Turing test? Jack is sure they would, but his vN wife Charlotte sometimes doubts that he is. Or is she programmed to express doubt to appear more sentient? Not even the vNs themselves are sure.

Once I got my head around the happenings in the prologue, I was able to read through the rest of the book much faster. The story is like the flip side of Blade Runner. Instead of being told from the bounty hunter’s point of view, we see the world through Amy’s eyes as she flees her hunters. Why is she being hunted? Well, it has to do with her grandmother, who is able to commit violent acts against humans. This means the built-in failsafe is not working for her, and if not for her, it might not be working for Amy either, since Amy belongs to the same clade as her grandmother. Understandably, the thought of a super-strong vN who can freely do violence to humans is something the human ruling class is fearful of, especially given the way vNs are treated.

vN is full of fantastic ideas and philosophical questions, which I enjoyed, but it is the plight of the all-too-human Amy which kept me reading in order to find out what would happen next. While vN is only Book One in The Machine Dynasty, I was satisfied with the book as a stand-alone novel (although I will definitely read any sequels). There were a few odd jumps from one scene to another in the book, but nothing I couldn’t figure out. If you like stories about artificial intelligence and  the question of what it means to be a person and a human, check out vN when it is released on 7/31/12.

Note: I received vN as an e-book Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher, Angry Robot Books. Why did I get an eARC? Long story short, after reading and enjoying a couple of other Angry Robot releases (Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights), I was exploring the Angry Robot website and found out about their Angry Robot Army, signed up, and was accepted. So here we are. Yes, I got the book for free. No, that doesn’t mean I am going to say I loved it if I didn’t, but in this case I actually liked vN a lot.