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 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 40, Allin, Tumble, and the rude young man named Guppy are trapped in a house that is surrounded by a dozens-deep wall of skeletons. Guppy warns that they should try to escape rather than wait for the clinkers to arrive, but Tumble suggests it might already be too late.
The Only City Left: Part 41
Guppy and I took our places at the window again to see what Tumble meant. The crowd of skeletons waited patiently about twenty feet away from the front of the house, but one section made way for someone to move from the back of the crowd to the front. No, not someone. Some thing.
“That’s a clinker,” Guppy whined. “We’re dead.”
Guppy might have thought we were dead, but the clinker actually looked dead, like a corpse that had been stitched back together and re-animated. The various pieces of flesh covering its body like some bizarre puzzle were of all different shades, and its hair, which sprung up in odd patches over its entire body, was likewise many colors. The overall effect was that of a sad, grisly parody of a human being.
It wore no clothing and had no distinguishing male or female body parts, but when it spoke, it was with a slick, masculine voice.
“Greetings, visitors, and welcome to Humanton, a pleasant suburban oasis,” its voice boomed out. It put on a big smile full of metallic teeth.
“Is that…?” I began.
“A robot, yes,” Guppy said. “Clinkers like to play at being human, except their idea of dressing up is wearing human skins.”
That explains all those “naked” skeletons out there, I realized with a shudder.
“Hey, I’m serious, let’s split up and get out of here,” Guppy repeated his desperate plan. “There’s only one of them right now, so two of us should be able to make it. I’ll take those odds!”
Tumble and I shushed him at the same time.
“Visitors! Our citizens have registered several complaints against you, including harassment, assault, and destruction of property,” the clinker continued in a slimily cheerful tone of voice. “Although this is frowned upon, if you leave this residence immediately with no further desecration of our homes or peoples, you will not be charged for your crimes.”
“The longer he talks, the more of them are gonna show up!” Guppy warned, looking back and forth between the window and the back of the house. “I’m telling you, we have to run for it. Now!”
“Go ahead,” I replied. “See how far you get through those skeletons.”
Guppy’s only response was an inarticulate moan, which I took for acknowledgement that I was speaking sense.
“So what’s your plan, Allin?” Tumble asked.
“Let’s see if we can talk our way out of this.”
Guppy put his head in his hands and repeated idiots, idiots, idiots under his breath, but didn’t stop me when I unlocked the window and slid it open a fraction.
“We didn’t mean to cause any harm,” I yelled outside. “If you clear a path for us, we’re more than happy to leave you in peace.”
The clinker’s smile grew improbably larger, straining the seams of the skin on its face, and it replied, “I sure am glad to be dealing with reasonable people. Please step outside so the immigration procedures can begin immediately.”
I yelled back, “Who said anything about immigrating?”
“Well, if you’re going to live here, you’ll have to immigrate, of course!” the clinker said. It tilted its head back and released a series of barks that I supposed were supposed to be laughter. When it looked at me again, the skin on its face was askew and the eye-holes did not line up correctly. It tugged down on its nose-skin and shook its head to fix itself. I turned away, bile rising in my throat. “I assure you the process is painless. Once complete, you will be assigned a house and receive gainful employment in one of many exciting careers, such as postal technician or shrub groomer!”
“Um, yeah, that sounds great,” I said, stalling for time while I racked my brain for a way out of this mess. “So what’s the process exactly?”
“I’m glad you asked,” it said, holding up its hands. “Immigration is much smoother if you understand the process.”
As it spoke, two extra pair of arms swiveled around from behind it. Instead of hands, each arm ended in an array of scalpels, drills, needles, pincers, and tiny, whirring saws.
“First off, I want to reassure you that the procedure will be so quick and efficient, you won’t feel a thing.”
Guppy whined and I could only stare, momentarily at a loss for words.
Tumble summed up my thoughts neatly: “I think perhaps we do need to attempt an escape.”
“I tried to tell you. I did,” Guppy said, while outside the clinker droned on about the latest advances in immigration technology. I did my best to ignore them both.
There was something nagging at the back of my mind, an idea for a possible way out.
“They’re insane. This is like their little human playhouse fantasy world,” Guppy babbled.
“Without the baggage of self-determination,” came part of the clinker’s spiel.
Something I saw when we searched the house. What what what?
“Allin?” Tumble asked quietly. I held up one finger and shook it. Wait.
“I’m so stupid. I never should have let them talk me into coming here.”
“Recycle your flesh, a small price to pay…”
C’mon, c’mon, Allin. Think!
“Oh man, he’s driving me crazy!” Guppy cried. “You, short guy, if he comes in here, shoot me first, please!”
“Will you shut up?” I hissed through my teeth. “You’re both driving me crazy!” I stopped then, and repeated the phrase in my head. Driving me crazy. No. Could it work? The ones outside do. It’s at least worth a shot.
“I have an idea,” I said. “Let’s go to the garage and check it out while he’s busy yapping away out there.”
“Got it, boss,” Tumble said with a nod of his hat. Guppy remained silent but followed along in a sulk.
“Brain stored in a safe container…” was the last I heard from the clinker as we made our way to the garage. Once inside, I flipped on the light and admired the sleek, midnight-blue, two-door car that I had first seen when we were checking the house earlier.
“Let’s see if this thing works,” I said.
Tumble opened the passenger-side door and looked around. He turned back to me and said, “Push-button ignition. If it will even start, though, does anyone know how to drive it?”
No one did, but now seemed like an excellent time to learn. Seconds later, I was behind the wheel, Guppy was in the passenger’s seat, and Tumble was jammed in between the two of us.
The car purred to life when I pressed the ignition. I guess in a town of mindless skeletons, theft is not a big issue. Well, that was about to change.
One pedal did nothing. The other revved the engine, which probably meant the end of any grace period we had been enjoying.
“Ready? Here we go,” I warned, and floored the second pedal.
The engine revved angrily, but the car didn’t move.
“Oh crap, is this thing just for show after all?” I asked. I pushed the pedal down as hard as I could, hoping it would make a difference. The car roared and rocked from side to side, but wouldn’t budge.
“Maybe this,” Tumble said.
I didn’t see what he did under his poncho. I simply heard a click. I still had the pedal to the floor.
We screamed in unison as the car shot forward and exploded through the flimsy garage door.
* * *
11/25/12 News: As this page goes live, I am 151 words short of meeting my goal of 50,000 words in November for National Novel Writing Month. That has brought me to Part 86 of The Only City Left and I expect to need another few thousand to finish the first draft, so it looks like it might end with Part 90 as I predicted a long time ago. I can’t wait to finish up the first draft and get to editing!
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!
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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.