Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

In Part Twenty-Eight, Allin tells Tyena he knows that she and Banshee are working together to convince him to accept the mission to infiltrate the Garden. Tyena admits Allin is right but explains that Banshee threatened her and Allin both with exile if she couldn’t convince him to accept. Allin resolves to leave Pudlington and invites Tyena. She accepts but asks for some time to get her stuff together. They agree to meet at her place in two hours. Allin seeks out Tumble so that he can go get his cocoon bag and gadgets from the Skunkworks, but when Tumble learns of Allin’s plans, he informs Allin that Tyena is actually a spy for Doyle and the werewolves! Allin is stunned and feels like an idiot for allowing her to manipulate him. Tumble admits Banshee was using her to coerce Allin, but there was never any threat of exile. Allin now resolves to leave Pudlington alone, but first he goes to tell Tyena off. Tyena admits she wanted to get Allin to go to the Garden since if he did, Doyle would free her mom (her brother is dead, murdered by the werewolves in front of her). She tells Allin that she wanted him to accept Banshee’s mission because then her mom would be free but Allin would still have a chance to survive his encounter with Doyle. Allin wonders why she didn’t just tell him the truth in the first place, but Tyena points out he wasn’t truthful about his connection to Doyle and the fact that he was actually a werewolf, too. Despite all that, she professes her love for Allin and asks him to go along with Banshee’s plan. Allin feels foolish and betrayed, so he rejects her and leaves her behind. At the gates of Pudlington, Banshee confronts Allin about his decision to leave, shaming him but not changing his mind. Outside of Pudlington, Allin readies himself to once again venture alone into the city called Earth, The Only City Left.

Starting in Part Thirty-One, Allin has to make his way out of Pudlington’s outer defenses, which means heading into the maze of trap-ridden ductwork surrounding the city. He ends up falling down a shaft to a spike-lined pit (an oldie but a goodie), but manages to grab on to the shaft wall with his cling-tight boots right before he would have been impaled. His cocoon bag was not so lucky, falling onto a spike and spilling nutrient jelly all over its contents. Allin makes it down to the floor and retrieves the bag when who arrives but Tumble, who has been assigned to watch over Allin. Reluctantly at first, Allin accepts Tumble’s help and they make it out of the feline death maze together. Allin then recruits Tumble to help him reach the Roof of the World. Tumble knows there is an elevator not that far away, so they head for it, only to be waylaid by a group of dirty, starving brigands on the way.


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 Hidden Underground

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

As I mentioned in my 2/1/12 post in regards to The Bean webcomic, I enjoy the idea of vast underground worlds that exist beneath the surface, hidden, secret, sinister perhaps, but full of the possibility of adventure.

The Mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings, the tunnels under the Fratelli’s hideout in The Goonies, underground London in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Zion from The Matrix trilogy; I can’t get enough of stories that involve a hidden, buried world beneath our own.

But what I find even more fascinating is the existence of “hidden” underground environments in the real world: subway stations, catacombs, mines, utility and sewer lines, cities built upon the ruins of other cities, and the like.

The Catacombs beneath Paris

Per this August 2010 article in The Wall Street Journal, there is “a network of 155 miles of tunnels” beneath Paris. 155 miles. That is the kind of information that blows my mind. That is an entire city beneath the city, and indeed, after a portion of the city collapsed into the catacombs in the late 1700s (due to the city growing and being built over underground quarries), the catacombs were shored up with walls that ran along the same lines as the city streets above. Think about that now. There was an entire city, a mirror city, that existed sub urbis, below the city. Not what you think of when you think of moving to the suburbs, huh? Since that time, the city above has changed, but the city below remains a mirror of a forgotten Paris. The WSJ article also touches on some of the people who head into the catacombs, known as cataphiles. Entering the non-public portions of the catacombs is illegal but usually only punished by a small fine if you are caught.

An excellent February 2011 National Geographic article fleshes out more of the history and details of the catacombs and the suburban spelunkers who visit them. This article paints a picture of the world beneath Paris: the sewers, the remains of the dead (over 6 million anonymous skeletons), the inspectors who work to prevent further collapses of the city into the subterranean world below, the cataphiles who map out the under-city, and the cataflics (cops whose beat is the catacombs) who seek them out.

Most recently, Wired had an article in their February 2012 issue about a collective of these cataphiles who use their knowledge of the Parisian catacombs to gain access to above-ground sites that are either rarely used or entirely abandoned, but which nonetheless are off limits to the public. A common theme of the article is how easy it is to infiltrate the catacombs and gain access to other areas from there. In fact, it was by heading underground thirty years ago and sneaking into the Ministry of Telecommunications to copy a map of the city’s network of tunnels that the group got its start. This collective, known as UX for Urban EXperiment, is actually trying to restore historic pieces of Paris that have been left to rot. What is incredible is that when they restore something or point out a security flaw in an important location, they are often ignored or worse, rebuffed. Case in point, see what happened after they told officials they had restored a 19th-century clock to working order.

Finally, re-reading these articles left me with a nagging suspicion that there was another article out there that I had read on the subject before any of these. A few Google searches later, I found it here. The article is from a zine called Infiltration that ran for 25 issues and was about “going places you’re not supposed to go, … the art of urban exploration…,” and it is a first-person account by Murray Battle of a couple of days spent in the catacombs with some cataphiles. It is more narrow in focus than the other articles mentioned above, being about one man’s journey rather than the catacombs in general, and so it makes for a nice, different perspective on the subject.

Subway/Metro/Underground Stations

To me, subways are the equivalent of monster-filled dungeons in a role-playing game. There are all these levels and passageways, long maze-like hallways, ramps and stairs, doors that go who knows where, forbidden tunnels that lead into darkness, magical transportation devices that whisk you from one spot to another, and of course, grave danger (the third rail, speeding trains, pet alligators that have been flushed down the drain, that sort of thing). I don’t think there has ever been a time that I have been in a subway and I haven’t started imagining heading down one of the tunnels when no one is looking, and finding some amazing adventure.

And then there are people who actually go and do just that, like Steve Duncan. I found this article on with an absolutely amazing video of Mr. Duncan leading cinematographer Andrew Wonder into the abandoned City Hall subway station and then to other off-limits areas of New York. The entire thing looks incredibly dangerous but it is fascinating. My heart was beating faster the whole time I watched the video. The subway portion ends at about 8:20 but if you have the time I think you will find yourself watching the whole thing (he also visits New York’s first sewer, Amtrak tunnels next to the Lincoln Tunnel, and the top of the Williamsburg Bridge).

You can find more pictures of the abandoned New York City Hall subway station at this link. (My thanks to So You Want to Be a Wizard author Diane Duane for sharing that link over on Google+.) A list of more abandoned New York City subway stations can be found here, with pictures of each one. And some more pictures and history can be found here. All in all, it is amazing and a bit creepy how much can exist underneath us, that we are never aware of or to which we are denied access.

Cappadocia, Turkey

I had never heard of the underground cities of Cappadocia before finding this web site, which describes the cities as being eighteen-stories deep with the ability to hold more than 20,000 people. Entire cave cities that held tens of thousands of people, connected by kilometers-long tunnels in some cases? Yes, please. But is this Bullshit or Not? Well, after a few hours of searching I can confirm they do exist, but I am not sure that they are as extensive as some sources would have me believe. There is this article, which states “The ancient underground cities of Cappadocia in central Turkey represent some of the finest examples of underground architecture known to exist. However their dimensions and interconnections are often vastly exaggerated.” Unfortunately, the only part of that article is English is the summary I just quoted; the rest is in German and so whatever answers it might hold are hidden to me.

This UNESCO video states that one underground town (which they frustratingly do not name) goes down eight stories. A Saturday Evening Post article from September 1980 describes the “subterranean city of Kaymakli,” which consists of “a seven-level labyrinth of corridors, connecting rooms, communal kitchens, wine cellars, granaries and even a chapel. … Kaymakli connects with a second underground city, Derinkuyu, via a 7-kilometer tunnel.” The article also refers to “great stone discs [that are] rolled aside from passageways where they once stood as barriers against intermittent raiders,” and you can see an example of one of these discs in the UNESCO video, where they claim that it weighs one ton and, once set in place, can only be opened from the inside. However, I could not find additional trusted references to the supposed kilometers-long connecting tunnel.

According to Wikipedia, Derinkuyu is 11 floors deep with a depth of about 280 feet. Per this Turkish travel site, there are a total of 36 such underground cities, with Derinkuyu being the deepest and Kaymakli being the widest.

Short of visiting Turkey (unlikely in my near future) or finding access to a better online library reference section (I will have to work on that), I may not be able to perfectly divide the fact from fiction for this underground environment. But even the low-end guess for the number of people who lived in these caves is 10,000, and they had food, livestock, work and storage space, and the ability to lock invaders out.It may not be as extensive or deep as Moria (probably a good thing), but this is exactly the sort of real-yet-fantastic environment that fires my imagination.

Our Morlock Future?

So what are the chances we might follow the cataphiles and Cappadocians back under the earth? Well, as this website points out, there are several hurdles to overcome for living underground: lack of natural sun and the day-night cycle will mess with our circadian rhythms and could lead to a vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also, depending on the depth you are living it and if you are going to return to the surface, decompression is an issue, just as it is for divers coming back up from the deep sea. Water is probably plentiful, but getting enough air is an issue. Technology can probably solve most of the physical issues, but the question remains of whether or not humans would be able to adapt to living underground long-term.

I was surprised to find that some people are already working underground (although in nearly all of the office jobs I have held, I might as well have been underground). According to “SubTropolis, U.S.A” (The Atlantic, May 2010), “With 5 million square feet of leased warehouse, light-industry, and office space, and a network of more than two miles of rail lines and six miles of roads, SubTropolis is the world’s largest underground business complex—and one of eight or so in the [Kansas City, Missouri] area.” The website for Space Center Kansas City boasts that they “have almost 7 million square feet of subsurface industrial real estate carved from natural limestone formations.” Pros of running your business in their underground facilities include reduced utility costs, “year round constant temperatures and covered parking.” (Emphasis mine, because I think it is funny that one of the pros of working underground is covered parking.)

I did run across some snippets of old information about Taisei Corporation and their planned Alice City in Japan, which according to this site would “incorporate a very wide and deep shaft [in the earth], within which would be built levels for habitation, all looking in toward a hollow core topped with a huge skylight,” but there is no current news about that project on Taisei Corporation’s website so I guess that did not happen. (Damn, that would have been cool.)

The best underground environments may still exist primarily in fiction, but even this brief look at some real-life settings has given me a lot of ideas for my own fiction work. I hope you found it interesting as well. If you have a favorite real or fictional underground environment, please share it with me. Until next time!