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.
At the end of Part 30, Allin struck out on his own again, leaving behind a distressed Tyena and a disappointed Banshee.
The Only City Left: Part 31
After leaving the Pudlington guards behind, I tried to retrace the path that Tumble and I had taken when we arrived here. Problem was, every hallway looked the same, the carpet a thin, gray, industrial-looking affair, the walls a uniform tan in color interrupted only by the occasional off-white, sealed-shut door.
Since I couldn’t find the exact way I had come in, and crawling through claustrophobic ventilation shafts didn’t sound appealing to me anyway, I decided to search for an alternate route out of the area.
An hour later, exasperated, I gave up on that idea. The hallways were like a maze, and though they were well-lit and safer than most of the City, I wasn’t making any progress. Instead of an exit, all I found were numerous dead-ends, locked doors that wouldn’t budge, and blank walls where I would have expected something, anything, stairs or an intersecting passageway or an empty elevator shaft. The cats had this sector locked down tight; I should have expected as much.
I guess it’s back into the ducts after all, I thought sourly. I stopped underneath the next grate I found, looked up at it, and took a moment to think about my next move.
This whole area was part of Pudlington’s outer defenses, after all. If someone could simply climb in and out through the air ducts, it wouldn’t be very effective. Tumble had disarmed traps along our way in, and I’d have to watch out for the same on the way out, but would the grate itself be dangerous?
“Only one way to find out,” I said out loud, my voice eerily muted in the empty, carpeted corridor.
I kneeled down and rummaged through my bag, pulling out a few tools and laying them on the floor beside me: magma stick, grapple gun, wristlight. I thought of the Skunkworks and sent a silent “Thank you” to the cats for not only sheltering me but also giving me access to a workshop. Without these gadgets, I wouldn’t even be able to make it out of Pudlington’s outer bailey.
The wristlight was the replacement I had made for my donated lantern coil. Simplest description: it was a tiny dome light on top of a plasteen wristband. Twist the dome one quarter turn and it emitted a cone of light pointing past my hand. Another quarter turn and it narrowed to a beam. A half turn and it opened fully to provide general illumination, like my lantern coil but not as strong. I also couldn’t reproduce the same vivid golden light as the coil, but given that I was using algae instead of sunlight, I thought I had done pretty well.
Next up on my list of gadgets to use was the grapple gun. It was a shame to use one of my few grapples to climb such a short distance, but without Tumble holding open the grate, there was no way I could jump up and climb into the duct behind it on my own. With a sigh, I stood in front of the wall to the left of the grate, held the gun straight up above me, and pulled the trigger.
The grapple slammed into and clung against the ceiling with a quick-acting epoxy I had cooked up, and I pulled myself up the few feet of rope that trailed from it, bracing myself against the wall with my cling-tight boots. Once I was situated next to the grate, I tested it with my magma stick. Unlike the grate I had entered through, this one didn’t lift up.
I shined the wristlight’s beam into the angled vents on the grate, but couldn’t tell if there was anything rigged on the other side. There was nothing else for it, though. I was going to have to risk that it wasn’t rigged with a trap, or if it was, that I could evade it. I clicked the magma stick on and slowly, carefully, dragged it along the perimeter of the grate. When I finished, the grate dropped to the floor below and I leaned away from the exposed opening, waiting for some sort of explosion or rain of metal shards to be triggered. When nothing happened, I leaned over and shone the wristlight into the shaft. Nothing but smooth metal walls ending in a T about ten feet back.
I sighed in relief and dropped back down to the floor, where I disconnected the rope from the grapple, retracted it, and stowed the gun and the magma stick back in my bag. Then I reached up and pushed the bag into the shaft ahead of me, gripped the bottom of the duct, and pulled myself up and in after it.
I made it in safely. No traps, no surprises, and my wristlight provided enough light to see by. I slithered forward, pushing my bag along. The shaft was barely wider than my body, and the sooner I was quit of it, the happier I’d be, but at least I had made it in. At the T, I chose the left path at random, pushed my bag in that direction, and contorted myself to follow after it. After some time in which the only other paths led back to the left (and presumably back to the same corridor I had just come from), there was a turn to the right in addition to the duct running straight ahead. For a change of pace, I went down the right path, stopping only when I heard an eerie clickclickclick sound.
My first thought was of the obscenely large rat that had attacked Tumble in these very ducts, but this fear was eclipsed by a second, more pressing concern as the metal floor beneath me tilted down suddenly. I fumbled at my backpack, which rested ahead of me on a stable piece of ductwork, but the floor beneath me angled away too quickly and I couldn’t get a firm grip. My fingers slipped off one by one and I found myself sliding headlong toward some uncertain fate.
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9/16/12 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.)
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.