Archive for August, 2012

False Negative

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Science Fiction, Webzines, Writing

Hello constant readers. I wanted to drop a quick note to mention that my cyberpunk short story, False Negative, has been published in the latest issue of Electric Spec. This is my first published short story. My thanks to the editors at Electric Spec and specifically Lesley Smith!

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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 1-27. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 27, Allin caught Tyena having a heated argument with a Pudlington Guardsman. He was yelling at her about delays and lives being at stake. He fled when Allin arrived and Tyena said he was the messenger for a rich client. Allin told her he knew she was lying.

The Only City Left: Part 28

Tyena opened her mouth to answer me but no words came out. Rather than give her time to create a better story, I barreled ahead.

“I know what’s really going on,” I told her. I had suspected it for a while, but the presence of the guard confirmed it. “Did you guys think I was too stupid to figure it out?”

“Allin, no, you don’t understand,” she protested.

“I understand. Banshee knew I might say no, so he held you in check. Then sure enough, I tell him I’m leaving and who shows up in my room but you?” I asked rhetorically while pacing back and forth. I had anger and energy to burn, and it all came out in one torrent that didn’t allow Tyena to get a word in. “Your job was to what, keep reminding me that your family might be alive, until I felt bad enough to try to save them, to go on Banshee’s mission? Even though it’s more likely I’d die than be able to kill Doyle?”

Tyena stared at me, eyes wide, throughout my tirade. Only the tears pooling in the corners of her eyes slowed me down.

Words and tears spilled out of her simultaneously.

“He, he, Banshee told me I had to convince you to go,” she gasped out between sobs. “That if you wouldn’t do it, he’d exile us both.”

I cursed Banshee for his villainy and myself for being fool enough to trust him for this long.

“Let him exile us,” I said. “I don’t need Pudlington to be happy. And neither do you! Come with me, Tyena. We can find the Roof of the World together, feel real sunlight on our skin!”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“No, it’s not your fault that Banshee put you in an impossible situation. Will you come with me?”

Tyena wrapped herself around me, cried “Yes!” and kissed me. This was no peck on the cheek and there were no cats nearby to make me feel awkward.

Minutes later, we forced ourselves apart. Tyena looked happier than I had seen her in days, and I finally felt like I was doing the right thing. Banshee’s heavy-handedness had given me the freedom to choose my path without regrets.

“When are we leaving?” Tyena asked.

“Right now?” I answered, still in a daze.

Tyena made a face and looked all around her. “You’ve got to give me a little time to get some of my belongings together,” she insisted. “And don’t you have anything you need to do before we go?”

She was right. All my gadgets and my cocoon bag were still down in the Skunkworks.

“Okay, yeah. Meet back here in… two hours?”

“Perfect,” she agreed, and pulled me in for another long kiss. “See you then.”

“Yeah, perfect,” I repeated airily as she walked deeper into her loft.

I traced my path back to the exit, the dumb grin on my face transforming into a grimace as I made my way. Getting into the Skunkworks meant dealing with Tumble again, and I wasn’t exactly in the mood to deal with Banshee’s lapcat at the moment.

I didn’t really know what Tumble got up to when he wasn’t baby-sitting me, but with the help of some friendly cats I was able to track him down.

I found him leading a class of a dozen or so kittens in some sort of martial arts training, and when I arrived he nodded for me to wait at the back of the room.

He must have been near the end of the class already, because soon enough the kittens were bowing to him, he bowed back, and the kittens broke into raucous play, pitting their newly-learned skills against one another.

“Karate?” I asked when Tumble made his way over.

“Aikido,” he corrected. “A way to be one with the universe.”

I looked past him at kittens flinging each other around and giggling, and skeptically said, “Uh huh.”

“I thought you would be spending the rest of the day with Miss Branch,” he continued. “Is anything the matter?”

“No, things are great,” I answered. “But I want to get my things out of the ’Works. Will you take me?”

“If you want, I can have them sent up to you,” Tumble offered.

I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to Professor Copper, but if it meant less time with Tumble, all the better. I accepted.

“Have it sent to Tyena’s place,” I ordered, and turned around to leave.

“Allin, please wait,” Tumble requested softly.

I stopped, facing away from him, arms held stiffly at my side.

“Were you planning on saying goodbye?” he asked.

I rounded on Tumble and pointed at him accusingly.

“I don’t know. Were you a part of it?”

“A part of what?”

“Banshee’s plan to manipulate me into walking into the Garden.”

“I warned him not to push too hard,” Tumble whispered as if talking to himself. Louder, “The choice was always yours, Allin. Emperor Banshee merely wanted to help you see the necessity of his plan.”

I sneered. “By threatening to kick Tyena out unless she convinced me to go along?”

“Is that what you—?” Tumble started to ask.

He sighed and turned to watch his students, his hands clasped behind his back. He observed them for a while without speaking, and I was about to give up and leave when he spoke again.

“Allin, I was hoping you would have seen it on your own, but love is too powerful, I suppose, and can blind us all.”

I stepped up beside him and asked, “What are you talking about?”

He looked up and gestured for me to kneel, which I reluctantly did.

What’s going on here? I wondered.

He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes.

“There’s something you need to know before you go running off with Tyena. Yes, the Emperor asked her if she would help you see the importance of the mission, but he didn’t threaten her. She agreed to the plan gladly, for her own reasons.”

I could feel blood coursing through my temples, and my brain slowed down time as if to prevent Tumble from finishing his thought.

“You see, Allin, Tyena is a spy for Doyle, and has been ever since she arrived here.”

* * *

Continue to Part 29.

8/26/12 News: While this ending may not come as a surprise to you, it never fails to bring a smile to my face and produce a dun-dun-dunnnnnnn sound effect in my head.

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.

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.

In Part Twenty-Two, Allin learns what happened to Tyena after she left him three years ago. Namely, she got lost and was rescued by the cats, who took her in. Allin gives her an abbreviated version of his life events. After all, she might not take kindly to finding out that the man who ordered the werewolf invasion of Glin’s Rising, who kidnapped her family, is actually Allin’s uncle. Or that Allin is actually a werewolf, too. And when Tyena kisses him, he realizes he still has feelings for her.

The next morning, Allin wakes up with a hangover from his gerrybrook juice binge. Apparently, he ended up passing out before his makeout session with Tyena could lead to anything else. Tyena goes back to her place to get ready for breakfast, and Allin gets ready, too. Tumble arrives and escorts Allin to breakfast. He also shares that Emperor Banshee brews his own gerrybrook juice from a deadly flower; in fact, he’s a master of that craft. Still sick from drinking too much of the juice, Allin is glad when Tyena shows up and Tumble’s story is interrupted.

At breakfast, Tyena learns about the dangerous mission Banshee wants to send Allin on. In light of Tyena’s presence in Pudlington, Allin decides to reconsider Banshee’s offer, but this is really an excuse to spend time with Tyena. When Allin asks Tyena if she thinks her mom and brother might still be alive inside the Garden, she becomes sad and this puts a damper on the breakfast. She leaves to spend some time alone, leaving Allin with nothing to do, so he asks Tumble if there is a workshop he can use.

In Part Twenty-Five, Allin visits the Skunkworks, a huge lab and engineering bay in the subway tunnels below Pudlington. He meets Professor Copper, who is working on solving the mystery of Allin’s lantern coil. She has found a way to increase the output of the sun mode, but is unable to access the moon mode. He then works on his own gadgets, such as making a light source to replace his coil and grapples for his gun. When he is done for the day, he visits Tyena for dinner and finds her painting. He learns that she has filled several floors of one building with her artwork as a way to keep busy. They discuss Banshee’s character and his plans for Allin. Tyena evidently wishes Allin would accept the mission, on the chance he could rescue her family. Allin agrees to think on it further, but he is inwardly anxious about the prospect of accepting such a dangerous assignment. He spends the next several days alternating between time with Tyena and time down in the Skunkworks, and as much as he tries to avoid thinking about the mission, he is always being reminded of it. Upon returning to Tyena’s loft one night, he hears her arguing with someone who is telling her time is of the essence. When Allin confronts them, he sees a Pudlington Guard holding Tyena by the arms. When the guard abruptly leaves, Allin tells Tyena he knows what’s going on.

#

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 1-24 and then start from Part 25. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 26, Allin was feeling the pressure to agree to Banshee’s mission, so he told Tyena he would think about it. But while she slept, he just ran the same arguments for and against over and over in his mind, without coming to a conclusion.

The Only City Left: Part 27

Tumble woke us up the next morning and suggested I might want to return to my apartment to clean up before going down to the Skunkworks.

I ran a hand through my hair and turned to Tyena, who sat next to me. We both looked worse for having slept on the couch instead of a proper bed.

“What do you think,” I asked. “After we get ready, do you want to see what I’m working on down in the Skunkworks?”

Tumble coughed politely into his hand and cut in, “I am afraid the lovely Miss Branch does not have the Emperor’s permission to enter the ’Works. Perhaps you would like me to inquire about that?”

Before I could reply, Tyena answered, “That’s okay, boys. Allin, you can show me what you’re making when it’s done. I have some chores to do this morning anyway.”

She leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek.

“Don’t stay down there all day today, huh?”

That tiny kiss left me flustered—it certainly didn’t help that Tumble witnessed it—but I assured her I wouldn’t.

“Your reunion seems to be going… well,” Tumble said as he walked with me to my place. “Do you even need a room of your own anymore?”

I stopped in my tracks and I’m sure I blushed as I protested, “It’s not going that well, you pesky cat! Geez, we’ve barely had a few hours together awake. You don’t have to rush me!”

He gave me a sideways glance, twitched his whiskers, and said cryptically, “Time waits for no-one, young man,” before walking ahead with a chuckle.

In his curious feline way, Tumble was all too right. The next few days were some of the best of my life but they passed in a blur as I alternated between spending time with Tyena and tinkering in the Skunkworks. The only power outage in the sector was that I had a tough decision ever-present in the back of my mind: would I or wouldn’t I accept Emperor Banshee’s mission to infiltrate the Garden and assassinate my uncle?

No matter how hard I tried to avoid it, the question dogged me. In Pudlington Above, Tyena and I spent our days exploring the city, making our way through and between ancient buildings, marveling at hanging and rooftop gardens, and getting lost in the immense maze of platforms and rigging. In Pudlington Below, I continued to craft whatever useful gadgets I could fit into my cocoon bag, and I kept track of Professor Copper’s progress in analyzing the lantern coil.

As much as I tried to live in the moment and enjoy myself, it seemed that around every corner there was some reminder of what was at stake. While out exploring with Tyena, a wayward kitten ambushed us, keeping us at bay (and in fits of laughter) with his clumsy ferociousness, until his mother came along, cuffed him behind the ears, made him apologize, and carried him away. The kitten stuck his tongue out at us over his mother’s shoulder and I returned the gesture, laughing. When I looked to Tyena, though, her face had grown serious.

“I miss my mom,” she admitted, and then was quiet the rest of the afternoon.

Down in the Skunkworks, Professor Copper put her search for the lantern coil’s moonlight mode on hold.

“It’s like there’s a password, but I don’t even know how to input it, much less what it is,” she explained in frustration.

I commiserated with her, but couldn’t help but think that this meant I only had one option left now if I accepted the mission: give myself up to the wolves and hope for the best. It wasn’t a prospect that filled me with much hope.

Copper distracted me from my worried thoughts with her theory about how the sun- and moonlight were emitted by the coils in the first place. She was sure that the coils contained one end of a quantum tunnel, the other end of which was in orbit around the moon.

“Satellites, most likely,” she confided in me. “The light, either straight sunlight or reflected first off of the moon, enters the tunnel and is instantaneously co-translated into the coil, which diffuses it.”

“How can knowing that help you stop the werewolves?”

“Well, if we can’t destroy all the coils, which are the output end of the tunnel, perhaps we can destroy the satellite that harbors the input end. Then the coils are useless!”

It seemed like a good idea to me, if you didn’t let the fact that a satellite in orbit was even more unreachable than the roof of the world itself. Copper read my expression and nodded her head sadly.

“I know, there is little chance of success,” she acknowledged. “But I must continue to try. Did you hear? The wolves took another settlement today. The humans fought valiantly, but hundreds died and hundreds more were taken. I fear if we don’t stop the wolves soon, even the walls of Pudlington will not stand against them.”

With that heavy load on my chest, I had Tumble escort me out of the Skunkworks and I went to find Tyena to talk things over with her. When I reached her window, I heard indistinct raised voices from inside. I slipped through the window as quietly as I could and made my way through the cluttered floor until the voices grew loud enough that I could make out the words.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Tyena said, her voice pleading. “He has to understand that!”

“He understands that you’re playing around while lives are at stake!” came a male voice I didn’t recognize. “Do you understand the cost of any further delays?”

“I understand. Now let me go,” Tyena cried.

Her distress shocked me out of my curious eavesdropping. I rushed to her defense and was surprised to find her in the grip of a Pudlington Guardsman.

I yelled out and the pair of them looked at me in surprise. The guardsman pushed Tyena’s arms away and stalked past me.

“I was just leaving,” he said brusquely.

“Hey, you wait!” I yelled lamely at his retreating back, but Tyena came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay, let him go.”

I spun around to face her.

“It’s not okay. What’s going on? Who was that?” I demanded.

“A client,” Tyena said. “I mean, he works for a client. A rich, nasty client. I’m late on his portrait.”

I didn’t believe that story for an instant.

“Tyena, why are you lying to me?”

* * *

Continue to Part 28.

8/19/12 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.

4/4/2013 Note: I’ve had a sudden influx to this page from Facebook overnight and this morning. Is there any news I should know about that’s bringing folks to this particular page? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

It’s been a while since my last post but I can say I have spent the time well and I am feeling refreshed. So what’s new in the world of Lithicbee? Well for one I have a short story coming out in Electric Spec at the end of this month, called False Negative. There are some kind words about it from editor Lesley Smith here. Needless to say, I’m pretty happy about that. Also, I’m back to work on The Only City Left parts 31 and up and I’m quite excited about that as well. Besides those (and other) writing projects, I have also been reading a lot of short stories to get into the short story mindset, and I’ve managed to read a few novels and discover a few new-to-me webcomics, too. Here’s a sampling.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent (Shared World Anthology)

I grew up reading a lot of books (surprise!), and some of my favorites were the Thieves’ World books, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and later him and Lynn Abbey together. Not only were the stories full of swords-and-sorcery fun, the characters that each author brought to the book would sometimes pop up in the other authors’ stories, and there was an overarching plot that all the writers were working to build together. I loved it.

So when I saw a Kickstarter for Tales of the Emerald Serpent that promised to revive the old-school shared world anthology model, it was an easy decision to pledge for an e-book so I could at least check it out. How to judge a new shared world, though, against my glowing memories of books I hadn’t read in years? I would be happy if the book had: 1) an interwoven, overarching plot; 2) fun swords-and-sorcery stories with characters that I found intriguing; and 3) an interesting setting. Tales of the Emerald Serpent met my criteria and managed to surprise and impress me along the way. Here’s why.

Thieves’ World had the city of Sanctuary, an outpost city that contained a dangerous ghetto called the Maze. Emerald Serpent has Taux, a stone-carved city whose previous inhabitants fell prey to some Lovecraftian doom, leaving an empty but cursed city behind which was eventually reinhabited by those willing to risk life in a city whose very stones whisper curses at them. As settings go, it has great story potential and it feels well-realized. While this first volume focuses on the Maze-like Black Gate district, there are hints of other parts of the city that I hope will be fleshed out more in another volume, like the Wizards’ Tower.

The characters are a nice mix of scoundrels, mages, and fighters of various races, and in this universe different races have access to different elemental magic to a greater or lesser degree. I can easily say that I would be happy to read about all the main characters again, which goes along with my opinion that all the stories in this first volume are well-done. Standouts for me include editor Scott Taylor’s story “Charlatan,” for the sheer bravado of its main character, Savino; “Water Remembers” by Julie E. Czerneda, for crafting a story that works well in itself but that also left me wanting to find out what happened before the story began and what happens next; and “The One Thing You Can Never Trust” by Harry Connolly, for creating an unlikely action hero in Emil Lacosta, a mage who specializes in love potions. Talk about the power of love, Emil has it and he’s not afraid to use it, to deadly effect.

Those stories were great, but like I said, all the stories were good. The surprising part for me was how well woven together they were, too. I went into the book expecting the events in each story to follow the events of the one before it, and it took me a while to realize that the stories jump around in time quite a bit. Once I realized that, I also noticed how they fit together like intricate puzzle pieces, and by the end of the book I wanted to re-read the whole thing now that I “got it,” like when you got to the end of the Sixth Sense for the first time and wanted to immediately re-watch it. (I didn’t re-read it, though. Too much to do!)

If you like dueling swordsmen (and -women), magic-filled action and adventure, love both true and enchanted, and stories that work on their own and as part of a shared whole, get thee hence and pick up a copy of Tales of the Emerald Serpent. What Scott and the involved writers have accomplished is not only a solid shared-world book, but stories and characters that call out for a sequel. Here’s to a new era of shared worlds!

Requiem in the Key of Prose (short story)

Here’s your assignment: Write a gripping, touching science-fiction short story that is also a primer on a variety of writing techniques such as first person, present tense, flashback, metaphor, etc. Go ahead. It’s not that easy, is it? But Jake Kerr manages it quite deftly in the July 2012 issue of Lightspeed Magazine with his short story, “Requiem in the Key of Prose.” Kerr manages to speedily set up a world in which the Earth’s atmosphere has become unbreathable, forcing cities to dome themselves off and create their own oxygen. Into that setting enter Adam and Violet, a young couple who become inextricably tied up with ensuring the continued working of one dome city.

I was impressed with the speed and clarity with which Kerr sets up the world, Adam and Violet’s relationship, and the central conflict, and also how each segment of the story is a lesson in a specific writing techniques, without feeling at all pedantic. But don’t take my word for it. At less than 2500 words, this is a quick read I can recommend to even the most casual of readers.

The Adventures of Athena Wheatley (long-form webcomic)

The full title of this reality-skewing, time-traveling, gender-bending webcomic by Sylvan Migdal is The Adventures of Athena Wheatley, or, Warp & Weft; A Graphic Novel. I would describe it as The Time Machine meets Futurama by way of the sexual revolution, but that doesn’t really capture the fun and lunacy of this webcomic.

In the first three panels, a large piece of an Earth-like planet is shaved off from the rest of the planet by some mysterious force. (Maybe it’s the Earth in the future… the landmasses look different and there are two moons, but, well, anything is possible, as we later discover.) Anyway, in the aftermath of this apocalyptic event, we meet super-physicist Athena Wheatley, who is struck in the head by a protester’s rock and wakes up in the year 1841, where she runs a clock shop and, oh yeah, has a time machine in her basement.

So is the vision of the future we saw a true one, or is it all in Athena’s dreams? The answer is unclear because when Athena does travel to the future, it doesn’t look like the one she was dreaming about. The story shifts back and forth between realities as we are introduced to the evil Dr. Moultrie (you know he’s evil because not only does he steal Athena’s journal and claim credit for her work, but he eats some of her cheese and wipes his hands on her curtains, the fiend), an artist named Dave, an edutainment bot with wings named Twan, and a spaceship full of earth cheese, to name a few of the major players so far.

I may not understand what’s going on all the time, but the future world(s?) Athena adventures through are ridiculous and entertaining, and with the evil Dr. Moultrie on her trail and a planet sliced nearly in half, there is definitely an element of danger and tension that keeps the story from being merely a travelogue of future insanity. This is one webcomic that once I found it, I could not stop reading until I had caught up on it, so if you haven’t already, I recommend you go check it out. One caveat: if you’re put off by cartoon nudity and sexually explicit situations, you might want to stay away. The future (or at least one of them) is full of the stuff.

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 1-24 and then start from Part 25. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 25, Allin and Tumble were working on gadgets down in the Skunkworks.

The Only City Left: Part 26

After a full day down in the Skunkworks, we returned to Pudlington Above. Tumble dropped me off outside of Tyena’s window with a promise to have dinner sent to us. I thanked him and stepped inside.

Unlike the small but luxurious room I had been given, Tyena’s place turned out to be a wide-open loft. I made my way through a maze of easels, tables, couches, stacks of canvases, and shelves full of books and supplies until I found Tyena at a canvas that stood taller than she did. She had a brush in each hand and a semi-circle of paint cans around her feet.

I watched as she wielded her brushes like weapons, alternately dipping them into the paint and then attacking the canvas, mixing the colors together furiously. Under her assault, the canvas revealed a raw pustule of a creature from some chaotic realm, its array of arms ending in claws, tentacles, furred snouts and other strangenesses. Its eyes were rheumy but intense, staring at me over Tyena’s shoulder.

I guess I don’t need to ask how she’s feeling, I thought, and then said aloud, “Am I interrupting?”

She did a little full-body jerk and turned to me.

“Allin, I was beginning to worry you were going to stay hidden away all day.

“Sorry about that. I kind of lost track of time.”

She smiled and turned back to her painting.

“Me too, actually. What do you think?”

I walked up next to her and examined the hellspawn more closely. It gave me the chills and I told her so.

“Good,” she grinned, and set her brushes down. “Want to see more?”

I agreed and Tyena took me on a tour of her studio, which turned out to be the entire floor, more of a museum than a workspace.

“Well, I’ve been here for years,” she explained as I gawked at her prolific works. “I had to keep busy somehow. There’s loads more, anyway. I only moved onto this floor a few months ago. I’ve three other floors full besides this one!”

Not all of her paintings were dark and disturbing. In fact, many a cat had come to her for a portrait during her residence in Pudlington, and while she had given most away to the subjects, she had kept some “rejects” for herself, including one of Emperor Banshee.

She showed me where she hadn’t done justice to the scars on his cheek.

“It looks fine to me,” I said, and added, “What do you think of him?”

“I haven’t talked to him much, but he is the one who allowed me to stay in Pudlington, so he’s a good guy in my book,” she said. “The cats I talk to seem to think he’s a good leader, and fair. Why? What do you think?”

I shrugged. “He seems … earnest, if that makes sense. I don’t doubt his motives, but I think he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice some pawns to achieve his goals.”

“And you’re worried you’re a pawn?”

“I know I am. That’s what worries me.”

While we were talking, a pair of cats announced their presence. They were sent by Tumble and carried baskets full of fresh goodies for dinner. Once we assured them we wouldn’t need anything else for the evening, they left us alone.

We set up and ate dinner on a large rug between three couches. While we ate we talked about all sorts of things: our lives since we had seen each other last, close calls I had had out in the city, projects Tyena was working on, my visit to the Skunkworks. It was the most far-ranging conversation I had had since my parents died, and it went on long after the remains of our meal had grown cold on their plates.

Inevitably, the topic turned back to Banshee’s plan for me to invade the Garden. Tyena and I were snuggled up together on a couch, her back to me, and I had my arms around her. “What I said about Banshee earlier, I meant it,” Tyena explained. “I think you can trust him. If he believes you can get into the Garden, complete your mission, and get out safely, maybe you can.”

“Maybe,” I replied. “But I don’t share his confidence.”

With Copper unable to crack the mystery of the moonlight mode, the only option left was for me to walk straight into the Garden and hope Banshee was right in his assumption that the wolves still wanted me alive.

Doyle had sure seemed to be doing his level best to catch and kill me the other day, so I wasn’t too keen on putting Banshee’s assumption to the test.

“Is there any chance you’ll do it?”

That appeared to be the question of the day, first Tumble and now Tyena. It was wearing on me, but I knew that for Tyena it was wrapped up in her hopes that her family might yet be alive somewhere beyond the Garden’s walls. I had rejected Banshee’s offer the night before, but did Tyena’s presence—and her need—change my answer?

I know what Dad would have said. No way, Allin, it’s not worth the risk. And he was right. Look what happened to him and Mom when they tried to save Tyena. But they had saved her, and now she was here with me again. Mom would have said that was a sign. Maybe we died so that you could be here now, Allin, for her. Great, some help my parents were; they couldn’t even agree in my imagination.

What it came down to was that part of me wanted to say yes to please her and part of me wanted to say no because that was the smart play, the safe play.

Finally, because I needed to say something, I told her, “I’ll think about it.”

This seemed to be enough, because she pulled my arms tighter around her and squeezed herself against me.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Hours after she fell asleep that way, I still lay awake, the same arguments running endless circles through my mind without getting anywhere new.

* * *

Continue to Part 27.

8/12/12 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!

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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.

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 1-24. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 24, Tyena had gotten upset when asked about the fate of her family, so she went to spend some time alone. With nothing else to do, Allin asked Tumble if there was a workshop he could use.

The Only City Left: Part 25

I had asked Tumble for a workshop, expecting a tiny room with maybe some spare parts lying around that I could tinker with. Instead, after a quick stop to pick up my cocoon bag, he led me into the murky depths of Pudlington, ground level in the center of the city.

Everything was dim and the world was quiet except for the slow creaks and moans of the city above. Tumble had not brought a light with him—he could see well enough—and I no longer had my coil, so I followed him closely through long-abandoned streets until we came to a set of stairs that descended into the earth. The darkness in there was impenetrable.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I told him.

“Don’t worry, it’s clean. Here, take my hand.”

Reluctantly, I did so. When he said it was clean, he wasn’t talking lack of filth. What he meant was that nothing foul had taken up residence, nothing that thrived in darkness. I was a bit skeptical.

“Where are we going?” I whispered.

“You don’t need to whisper,” Tumble assured me in a full voice. “These tunnels are locked down tight. Nothing can get in here.”

“So why are we here?” I asked, my voice still low.

“You wanted a workshop, right? That’s where we’re headed,” Tumble said, as he led me around a corner and then down more stairs.

“Why is it all the way down here?”

“For one, it keeps out most curious cats. Not many people like coming down here,” he explained. “And for another, it’s far enough down that any explosions shouldn’t affect the rest of the city.”

“Explosions. You’re kidding, right?”

Tumble chuckled and replied, “You’ll see. Be patient.”

The only sounds were our footsteps and a background hum that told me these tunnels still had power and air. Fresh air or no, the darkness was suffocating. By the time Tumble called a halt, countless flights of steps and interminably long tunnels later, I was nearly crushing his hand in mine.

“Just one moment,” Tumble said.

I heard tiny beeps and then a hiss before a vertical slice of light appeared and began to widen before me. I squeezed my eyes shut against the sudden brightness.

“Please step inside as quickly as possible in case I was wrong about it being safe out here.”

“What?” I squeaked, stumbling forward with my eyes slitted open.

Tumble laughed and sealed the door shut behind us.

When my eyes had adjusted and I had blinked and wiped the tears from them, I gaped at the sight before me. Tumble and I stood on a balcony that ran around a large rectangular opening. Doors lined the walls around the balcony and cats in white lab coats moved to and fro about the area. I could hear the whirr of tools, the rumble of engines, the vibrant hum of massive amounts of energy. The room was lit by huge tubes of white light that ran across the ceiling and thinner ones that ran along the walls.

I stepped forward and put my hands on the balcony railing. From that vantage point I could see two more balconied levels below and then a floor filled with massive machinery being inspected and tended by groups of cats. Everything was white plastic, clear glass, and grey metal. Where Pudlington above felt lived-in and almost organic, down here everything was pristine and sterile.

“Welcome to the Skunkworks,” Tumble declared.

“What do you need all this for?” I marveled.

Tumbled led me clockwise along the balcony, greeting cats who we passed along the way.

“Running a city the size of Pudlington is no easy task. Energy, food-stuffs, defense, offense, building materials, we work on it all here,” he explained. He stopped in front of a door and entered another code on the keypad next to it. “Come on, you might be interested at what’s going on in this room.”

We stepped into a smaller room lit only by banks of monitors scattered throughout the space. As if timed to our arrival, the room suddenly lit up in bright yellow light and I felt a wave of heat wash over me. It was strong but it felt good, relaxing. I sighed contentedly.

“Yes, if nothing else, this would make an excellent attraction,” said a ginger-furred cat who walked up to us. “Come bask in the sun’s rays, feel its warmth even in the depths of the city!”

“Allin, meet Professor Copper,” Tumble said. “She’s the ones who is going to figure out how your lantern coil works.”

“You give me too much credit, Tumble,” the professor said. “All I’ve done so far is figure out how to adjust the strength of the sun mode.”

I looked past Copper to where my coil hung suspended in the center of an array of equipment. I walked up to it, palms out, and felt its heat. I had never seen Mom and Dad make the coil work like this, nor figured it out myself, and I told the professor as much.

“I see. Well, small victory then. Perhaps they were more familiar with the moon mode,” she said blithely.

As I was about to protest, Tumble stepped in and suggested that I might be able to provide some insight into the coil’s workings.

“Quite right,” Copper declared, and for the next few minutes, she pressed me for any details I could provide. She was particularly interested in whether or not I had heard any verbal commands given to the coils when the moonlight mode was activated.

“I don’t think so, but it was chaos all around me when I saw them, and it’s been years,” I said.

“I’ve tried all of the combinations of the buttons around the edge of the object, you see,” the professor explained. “That’s how I found a way to change the strength. But I suspect that some further means of input is required to switch modes. Verbal, telepathic, something like that.”

Once she was satisfied that I had no useful information to share, the professor left me in peace and Tumble led me to another room where I could work on my own projects.

I had done pretty well for myself in the past, scavenging what parts I could, cadging together tools and weapons from the detritus of past civilizations, but when I saw the setup in what was one tiny room of the larger complex, I realized I was basically at the level of banging two rocks together compared to the cats.

Still, they were running an entire city. I only needed some gadgets to make my journeys more manageable.

First things first: I had given away my lantern coil, and navigating the City without a light was akin to walking around with an “Eat Me” sign taped to my back. I needed a replacement light source.

I set my bag down on a workbench and asked Tumble, “You wouldn’t happen to have any bioluminescent algal scum, would you?”

“Let me check,” he replied, typing commands into a nearby terminal. “Yes, here we are. Green, red, or yellow?”

And that was the pattern for the rest of the day. It seemed that whatever I could imagine, whatever tool or ingredient or material I desired, Tumble would have it delivered from the storerooms.

“Um, I can’t, you know, pay for this stuff or anything,” I told Tumble later while working on a set of new grapples for my gun.

“I know, Allin. No payment is expected.”

“Is this Banshee’s way of making me feel guilty?”

“You could choose to see it that way, or you could accept that emperors are known for their magnanimous gestures and leave it at that.”

“Which do you think it is?”

Tumble scratched at his chin and tilted his head from side to side. “Perhaps a little of both.”

I set down a plasma welder, pulled the tinted safety goggles off, and narrowed my eyes at Tumble.

“Thanks for the honesty.”

Tumble bowed his head once and replied, “You are welcome. So are you reconsidering your answer to Emperor Banshee’s offer?”

“If I say no, will I get to come back here again?”

Tumble considered this and replied, “Why don’t I tell the Emperor you’re thinking about it.”

I grinned.

“Fair enough.”

* * *

Continue to Part 26.

8/5/12 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.