Archive for May, 2013

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. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 63, Emperor Banshee told Allin that he had returned to Pudlington at the worst possible time.

The Only City Left: Part 64

“You have to understand that when you left, it was a great victory for Fordham and his ilk, who sought to portray me as weak for seeking a human ally. When Tumble returned with news of your death, this was further proof that I had been unwise to place my trust in you.”

A few minutes after our meeting in Tyena’s loft, a retinue of servants had entered the room and set out a meal for us on the rug in between three couches. Once they were gone, we continued our conversation over the delicious food and drink I had come to expect from an imperial meal in Pudlington. My enjoyment of the food was soured somewhat by Banshee’s breakdown of the political situation.

“To bring Ballister’s people and the ghosts with you when you returned, demanding that we open our gates…. You couldn’t have put me in a more precarious position. If I deny you, Fordham gets what he wants. But if I accept your offer, Fordham will claim I want humans to be our masters once again. I cannot rule a people who despise me, Allin.”

“I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused,” I said, and I meant it. I hadn’t considered Pudlington’s internal politics when I came up with my plan. To me, Banshee had seemed like he had everything under control. “I can’t take back what I’ve done, but I’ll do whatever I can to fix it. I’ll prove to Fordham that humans and cats can work together.”

Banshee laughed and ate half a pastry in one bite. Delicate flakes of crisp dough catapulted from his mouth and settled onto the fur of his chest and stomach before he brushed them off.

“You’ll sooner convince that Xerxes fellow that he’s alive than change Fordham’s mind. There are many cats who share his sentiments, and he is looking to ride their fears all the way to my throne.” He sighed, slapped his hands on his thighs, and moved from the floor to the couch, a glass of juice in one hand. He sank wearily into the cushions and took a sip. I stood up and took a seat across from him.

“But enough of that flea in my fur. What were you thinking, trying to force my hand like that? The cats are a proud and powerful people, Allin, and I will not allow a human boy to enter my realm and dictate policy, however any other cat feels about it.”

“I may not have handled it as well I could have, but I came back because you were right. Doyle needs to be stopped,” I said. I sat on the edge of the cushion and leaned forward. “But stopping him won’t be enough. What happens after that? Your people continue to live their comfortable lives in isolation and I keep on looking for the roof of the world? That’s all well and good for us, but is that enough? There are people suffering out there, and from worse dangers than werewolves.”

“Worrying about the greater good? Sounds like teenage philosophical moping to me.”

“Tumble put the ideas in my head, actually.”

“Why am I not surprised? My little brother always had too much idealism for his own good.”

“But he was right. It took me some time to realize it, and I know that whatever I do, there will always be darkness out there, but I’m tired of living my life hiding from it. I choose to face the darkness and fight back,” I said, punching my fist into my palm. “I’m asking for you to help me do that, to make Pudlington a safe haven for whoever needs it. Not just Ballister’s folk. Anyone.”

I thought of the merskers, of the people who lived openly in communities like Glin’s Rising or holed up in rooms like Ballister, of the drifters like me who couldn’t settle down because no place had the safety and resources needed to do so. Not all of them would accept an offer to live in Pudlington, but it would be nice to give them the option.

“You don’t know what you’re asking for, Allin,” Banshee said, leaning forward to match my pose. “One or two humans my people could accept, but not hordes of them. How long until they outnumber us? Until Pudlington belongs to them and we are tolerated as clever pets?”

“Is that Fordham speaking or you?”

“It is history speaking, Allin. Our fears are not unfounded.”

“It’s a problem to be solved. Together. You’re exaggerating human behavior and how quickly this would happen, anyway. The city isn’t exactly teeming with life out there.”

“Let’s say I allow this and people trickle in. Pudlington is big but it has limited resources. What happens when we run out of room, clean air, food, water? Where do you draw the line of who can come in and who can’t once we’re stretched to the limit?”

“Don’t draw a line; erase it. Expand the city. There’s no lack of uninhabited levels out there.

“Bah. It’s too risky.”

I got to my feet and began to pace back and forth in front of the couch.

“Doing nothing while people are dying, that’s what’s risky. You can’t keep Pudlington running forever if the rest of the world falls down around it. I’m sorry if humans mistreated your people in the past, but now it’s time to band together and fight or admit that we’re all just keeping busy while we wait for the Earth to die.”

I dropped back down to the couch with a flumph of cushions, exhausted by my own rant. Banshee set his glass down on the floor and leaned back, arms folded over his belly.

“You’ve changed, Allin. Your cynicism has been replaced with the idealism of youth, the certainty that the way you see things is the only right way. I liked the old you better.”

“The old me left you hanging.”

“Just so,” Banshee said with a nod. “You have given me much to think about, and I already had much on my mind before this talk. Now I am afraid I must transfer some of that burden to you. As you can see, Tyena is gone.”

“You haven’t locked her up, have you?”

“Would that I had done so, she’d be safer now.”

My heart beat faster. The last time I saw her, she told me she loved me and I threw it in her face. Had she done something rash in response?

“What do you mean? Where is she?”

“She was taken back to the Garden.”

* * *

Continue to Part 65.

5/5/13 News:

This was a weird week. I got to the end of Book 2’s first draft sooner than I expected, and then I felt a bit adrift. After all, I’ve been working on it for the past 10 weeks (minus a 3-week break for packing, moving, and unpacking). Suddenly being “done,” I didn’t quite know what to do next. So far, I’ve caught up on sleep and written a couple of non-TOCL blog posts. This week, I think I will catch up on some personal projects like organizing and uploading digital camera pictures and scanning documents, while also starting to make a to-do list of Book 1 edits. Here’s my stats for the week, such as they are. You’ll notice I didn’t reach my word goal, but I half-expected that. 1) I left out an epilogue, deciding instead to move that story to the beginning of Book 3. 2) There is one character whose story I struggled with and need to rework. At a certain point, I stopped worrying about writing his scenes. I know what will happen in them, but I’ll write them later. 3) Knowing that Book 1 might have some structural changes during the editing process ended up slowing my progress on Book 2. I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing something that might be affected by changes in Book 1.

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Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is 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.)

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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.

Crank up the 80s music on Pandora or YouTube, because we’re traveling back in time today on Lithicbee . Thanks to the 2 Warps to Neptune blog, fine purveyor of retro goodness, I have temporary possession of an Atari 7800 and a handful of games. I never actually owned the 7800 back in the day. We were an Atari 2600 and Colecovision family until the Nintendo Entertainment System came out (and later a string of DOS and Windows PCs) and blew those other systems out of the water. Oh, and we had Commodores, too, including the VIC-20, C64 and C128. It’s safe to say I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember.

So now that I’m in my mid-30s and have kids of my own, I was curious to see how a 30-year-old game system stands up to my memories and my kids’ expectations.

First, thanks to Greg at leftylimbo.com for relaying the 7800 to me. Here’s what the box looked like.

01soapbox

Once I got over my disappointment that my soap.com shipment had not arrived, I tore into the box to see what exactly was inside. Games, joysticks, bubble wrap, and oh yeah, a 7800!

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03ondisplayPitfall! is my addition to the relay, because I have fond memories of that game. It’s amazing how many games are still available on ebay for not that much money ($7 for Pitfall! with shipping. Not bad!) All that remained was to connect the 7800 to my TV using an RCA-to-coax adapter, turn it on, and start it up. It astonishes me that, nearly three decades later, the system works fine and all the games worked as well. My new Playstation 3 died in less than a year. Cue old man voice: “They don’t make them like they used to, I tell ya!”

04closeup

So how did the Atari 7800 stand up to my expectations after not playing these games for going on three decades? It depended on the game, really. Some I still enjoyed, some I would enjoy more on a system where the graphics were nicer, and some seemed like torture. My daughters, on the other hand, were happy to watch me play any and all of them, over and over, while they held unattached controllers and shouted encouragement. Overall, it was fun to show them these games from when I was a kid and see them capture their imagination as much as they once did mine. (Pitfall Harry now figures prominently in bedtime story requests. Go figure.)

In this and the following posts, I’ll take a closer look at some of the games, what they meant to me way back when, and how they hold up today.

Pitfall!

Of course, Pitfall! is the one I had the most nostalgia for, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed it the most. The gameplay is simple enough that my toddler daughters can describe it: “Jump over water. Jump over mud. Swing. Don’t fall into crocodile. Harry farts.” That last bit is due to the unfortunate-sounding noise Harry makes when he hits a stationary or rolling log. We suspect an allergy to fiber.

The game gives you 20 minutes to choose left or right (I always choose left) and run, run, run. After a few false starts, I survived that 20 minutes and discovered the secret ending … nothing happens. Game over. Curious, I checked Wikipedia to see what the point of the game was, if any. Basically, if you collect all the treasure and don’t die or run into a log or fall into a hole, you get a perfect score of 114,000. Needless to say, I did not earn the highest possible score, but I did earn a respectable 85,746.

pitfallfinalscore

When the game first came out, you only had to earn 20,000 points to score a Pitfall! Harry Explorer Club patch. I may be 30 years too late, but I’ll sport this picture of the patch with pride. (Patch image courtesy of atariage.com)

Pitfallpatch

If my nostalgia alone does not convince you to go find and play Pitfall!, consider the celebrity endorsement at the beginning of this wonderful commercial:

Yes, even young Jack Black thinks Pitfall! is awesome.

BurgerTime and Donkey Kong Junior

burgertime2600

Image courtesy of 8-bitcentral.com. Click image to read their in-depth review.

While Pitfall! was still fun and earned kudos from my daughters, some of the games do not stand up to the modern era at all, at least in their Atari 7800 iterations. BurgerTime is one of those games, although this is actually a version for the 2600, released in 1982. The graphics are so bad that you are being chased by flickering white and brown blocks while you try to drop your burger pieces on the plates below. Unfortunately, until you drop the pieces, they all look like yellow discs, and since the enemies flicker in and out of existence, it is hard to tell if you are going to evade them or just barely brush them, resulting in your death. (Another character with allergies: this time a chef allergic to his own food. Consider another career, Chef Pepper!)

Here’s how I remember the game, the Colecovision version. Of course, that version came out in 1984, so I was spoiled by the vastly-improved graphics.

Burger_Time_-_1984_-_Coleco

Image courtesy of gamesdbase.com. Click image to visit the BurgerTime entry on that site.

Needless to say, the adventures of Chef Pepper dropping yellow discs onto a plate to form something vaguely resembling a hamburger did not hold my attention for long. My daughters didn’t love or hate it, but Chef Pepper did not capture their imaginations in the way that Pitfall Harry did.

Donkey Kong Jr. similarly falls short compared to other versions. The graphics are meh, the controls are difficult, and seeing a non-Super Mario whipping animals into a furor has reopened old psychic wounds. How can you call yourself a hero, Mario, when you’ve never apologized for your treatment of Donkey Kong and his progeny?

mariocruel

Put down the whip, Mario. The Mushroom Kingdom beckons.

Donkey Kong Junior on the Colecovision was a big hit with my family. I have fond memories of taking turns playing it with my dad and older brother. To the Atari 7800 version version, I say, “You sir, are no Colecovision.”

That’s about all the retro goodness I have for today. I’ll get to the other games that came with the relay in a later post. If you are interested in joining in the Atari 7800 relay, check out this post on 2 Warps to Neptune.

For the second and final part in this series, read 80s Flashback: Atari 7800 (Part Two).