The Metropolis and the Nemesis

The Metropolis and the Nemesis

A Chapter by Kuandio



            I wandered the peripheries of the enormous city's central sector, where massive sky-rises cut deep into the noon sky. The district I navigated was nearer the outskirts; here most buildings existed in states of squalid disrepair, spray-painted, windows shattered. Still, the myriad of constructions made for a seemingly endless urban sprawl, punctuated by higher structures here and there, blocking out most of the horizon. Constantly I scanned the surroundings. Dangerous individuals had long been hunting me. Though I'd had no runins or close calls for weeks, and there was no clear indication they were closing in, I knew they were attempting to track me down even now. I sensed it like a faint tremor beneath the surface of everything.

            Hoping to throw off any potential hunters, I diverged from the streets, pushing past a gate and roaming into a vast parking lot. Not quite a parking lot, I soon discovered; something between that and a storage zone for vehicles, and to some extent a junkyard. Most of the cars stationed here were vans of a few different models. Surely, people would return for these vehicles, and just as undoubtedly, others would leave more vehicles here, temporarily, and permanently. No one else was to be seen in this area of immobile transports, and the environs looked safe; nonetheless, a subtle fear persisted, one that stalked me, akin to a distant shadow, and somehow reaching within me as well.

            Far in the distance, huge, bulky buildings, dozens and dozens of stories high, loomed. That was where I needed to go. Somewhere beyond existed the way out of the metropolis. Threading between the vehicles and mechanical ruins, I advanced towards the structures.

            I must have made it a third of the way through the depository, when I descried, roughly a half mile ahead, a man with a dog. The only souls thus far. My instincts told me to avoid them. Neither appeared to have noticed me, occupied as they were with scrounging about the mechanical detritus. Why their presence triggered fear, I cannot say, but it was sufficient to be alert and ready for anything. Fortunately, not long after spotting them, they became lost amidst the uneven maze of autos and scrap metal. Surely they had gone their way, elsewhere, and so I advanced, freer than before.

            Later, when turning around a deserted bus, I was so lost in musings of a better future, that I was caught off-guard and suddenly found myself standing less than a dozen paces from the stranger and the dog. The man was decades older than I, somewhere nearer a grandfather's age than a father's. He lay on his back, arms behind his head, resting against the hood of a large, dilapidated van. The dog was medium-sized, perhaps a german shepherd and golden retriever mix, though its coat was reddish-brown coat, and its tail fluffy. It eyed me neutrally. Then, to my slight shock, I noticed what I had overlooked: One of the man's pant legs was cut off not far below the hip, revealing a completely bionic leg, all black metal components engineered into a powerful build, with a foot, less like a human's and more like a bird' large talons. The old man casually smoked a joint, and greeted me cordially.

            After initial salutations and introductions, we got along surprisingly well, and I was quickly put at ease. Up close, I could see - more importantly, I could sense - that these two were no threat. The old man gave the air of a man who didn't have a care in the world, and this easy going vibe helped me relax further. Even the dog was quite friendly. The old man explained that whenever he went about to scavenge for mechanical scraps or units of value, that the dog aided him, for he had trained it to sniff for an array of things, as well as food, of course.

            The van that he rested against was his own. Within, he revealed to me that it was equipped with a variety of rudimentary as well as technological conveniences which he maintained, including a number of defensive measures, including weapons. There were also many curiosities in the way of gadgets and what not, stacked and strewn. The old man informed me he survived by collecting recyclable materials, and at other times salvaging machinery, usually damaged or discarded, which he then repaired, reequipped, and sold. Some parts he kept for himself. I also learned that he was a veteran of one of the major wars several decades past. Being on the losing side, and having lost his leg, he was shunned by society, discarded like these appliances and vehicles, to entropy, or oblivion. Therefore, this was the life he was forced to lead, to survive day to day, him and his dog. My first impression had been true; the man had been on his own for a very long time. Regardless, he was quite a positive individual, and this inspired me, to a certain extent. He even expressed that he felt freer, and less stressed now that he lived on the forgotten fringes of society than when he had once tried to partake of the expectations of its endless, cycling, toil.

            After revealing some of my plight, and that I was lost, the old man agreed to help by showing me the way ahead. I nearly objected, but I could see no reason to deny his aid. From the guts of the van, he un-racked two plasma handguns, and a short-rifle. One gun he gave me, the other he strapped under his jacket; the rifle he secured beside his beige backpack. Forthwith, we set out. He wielded a mechanical staff, that had the look of a covert weapon also. As we walked through the enormous depot, we talked now and then. The old man and his dog provided pleasant company, and before long I felt he was a friend I had known for much longer than the brief time I actually had spent in his presence. Conversation and a steady advance helped the time pass.

            An hour or two further on, we left the depot behind, and came to another zone, this dominated by huge, industrial buildings on either flank. Although I could not see it yet, I knew that where I wanted to go, needed to go, was on the other side of this series of massive complexes. Beyond, a network of roads and other forms of transportation awaited. This I knew by the maps of the city I had studied. If only I could reach that unseen zone, then I could find my way out of all this. Yes. Freedom was near.

            Roaming deeper into the sector of hulking structures, we came to a vast, sprawling marketplace. It was comprised of multiple levels, roofed, and circulated by thousands and thousands of people. Well lit neon signs advertised food, wares, and other services, some of these unprincipled. Rivers and streams of humanity were transported up and down giant escalators, as well as bridges, and moving causeways. The hum of their voices, of music, of numberless things happening at once, was like a sustaining ocean.

            The route we followed guided us through the very center. On all sides I observed just about every manner of good, and other forms of commerce, being bartered and bought, while music played in various stalls, and divers merchants shouted in an attempt to fish for customers. The old man confirmed my suspicions: We were in the metropolis' Black Market.

            Amid the hubbub and churning masses, and knowing that my future lay not far ahead - though I could not yet descry the roads and transports - I suddenly felt a new peace, and expansiveness. Finally, I had reached a higher stage in the journey of my life. Once I reached the transportation zone, I would go far beyond this city that had long tried to devour me. I breathed deep, contemplating the flowing progression of people along the escalators and other reaches, here, there, up, down, one way across, then the other, and on a movable staircase so colossal that I had never dared imagine such a thing could exist. Little by little, I felt I was watching a vision of humanity being recycled, over and over - a wheel turning, of fate, lives, and more, of things I was not sure I even wanted to understand.

            Plodding alongside me with his metal staff, the old man imparted some wisdom, more or less saying that people think they see something profound when they are at this stage of the journey, but that when you get further, your vision will clear, and then you will understand better. The truth was I did not fully understand these mysterious words, yet somehow they rang deep and true, as if touching the contours of a place where truth converged with revelation.

            We neared the transport zone. Despite this area still being obstructed from view, I knew my destination was close at hand, for signs indicated the way, and there were individuals I noticed who were making their way there. However, as we navigated the black market, an obscure intuition awoke, stirring fear. My mind quickly pieced together clues that during the past hours since arriving to the commerce zone, it had failed to recognize, and had only been tangentially aware of ...

            Someone, or maybe more than one person, had been tracking us. Yes, I had spotted the same figure several times, through the crowds, far behind us. Looking over my shoulder now, it was not long before I descried him again, several hundred yards back. Surely, it was one of them.

            The old man and I hurried through the presses. I tried to be calm, and act discreet as I stole glances behind us, yet panic was quickly building in me. To evade this unknown persecutor, the old man diverged into a series of aisles where wares of less common make were being shown. Here were far less people, which was at the same time reassuring as it was disquieting. Had they sent one hunter against me, or several? My mind raced. There was no security in this market, no law city enforcement, no one to turn to; yet even if there had been, it would have likely been to no avail.

            Despite my anxiety, time passed and we were untroubled; the steady hum of market life went on, and I relaxed by degrees. It seemed we had lost the killer. Perhaps there had never been one in the first place. Besides, how would they know to look for me here, of all places? Since of late I had so often been besieged by paranoia because of the dangers that stalked me, my traumatized and overworked mind had been overreacting.

            Calmer now, I browsed the items and considered purchasing a few things for my travels, provisions, and even a gadget or two for leisure. Envisioning the journey that awaited me, away from this city, perhaps from the entire world, I was turning down an aisle when a tall, powerfully built figure emerged at the other end of the aisle, and stood there, eclipsing my fate. Suddenly frozen, I was forced to face it.

            The android had passed unnoticed through the multitudes, so perfectly crafted was its human appearance; resembling a middle-aged man, with brownish-blonde hair and moustache. Over wide shoulders he wore a thick coat, open. The rest of him was clad in drab hues, with gloves, and black military boots. His stance was wary, arms akimbo, as if ready to draw a weapon. Cold, unblinking eyes fixed on me with fierce precision. The old man was somewhere else, a few aisles down, nowhere to be seen. I was alone against this nemesis.

            Mere heartbeats after locating me the android charged. I tried to draw the pistol but it fell from my panicked hands. No time to retrieve it. The diabolic machine fought savagely to annihilate me, and I did my best to avoid its crushing blows. Aisles were turned over, and the few people in the vicinity scattered like birds from a pouncing cat. The world turned in madness. Items clattered to the ground. I used anything to my avail to smash against the attacker. Regardless of my best efforts, it could not be defeated, only slowed. With heavy despair collapsing on me, I realized my struggle would soon prove in vain.

            The dog had found us and was barking wildly, providing just enough of a distraction for me to leap out of the machine's destructive path. I tried to flee one way, then the other, but the android swiftly cut off any escape route. We faced each other anew. I cursed the artificial creation and my life's broken hopes.

            Movement in the periphery of my vision caused me to turn. The old man had arrived, moving between me and the nemesis. Without stopping, the old man flipped his metal staff horizontally, manipulating a lever and a switch, then firing the staff like a long rifle at the android. From the base of the staff exploded a powerful pulse of electric-blue energy. The blast sent the machine reeling through stalls and aisles, until it lay amid ruins of merchandise, its body crackling with the charge.

            We both knew the android had only been temporarily incapacitated; and sure as gravity, it had already given signal to the other androids in the area as to our whereabouts. Therefore I the old man, followed by the dog, turned on our heels and fled.

            Once we had merged back into the flow of souls, and back on course to my destination, we moved faster than before, no longer taking any care to conceal our urgency. I could only pray we would lose the machine long enough.

            Further ahead, between towering buildings, I caught my first glimpse of the destination I had long dreamt of, and was in awe. To behold such a glorious vision, was like finally feeling the sweet caress of the ocean for the first time. Multiple levels of freeways ascended, in lanes and tunnels, with many vehicles and other transports zooming, lights aglow.

            My heart continued to rise with the first real hope I had known in years, perhaps even longer, indeed, perhaps my entire life.

            If I could only reach the transports, I would get away, and could find true freedom. A salvation that joined with the limitless skies.




© 2018 Kuandio

My Review

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• I wandered the peripheries of the enormous city's central sector , where massive sky-rises cut deep into the noon sky.

What hit me first, was that given that I have no idea of where we are in time and space, who I am, or what’s going on, this statement is meaningless. If I don’t know what city you mean, how can “the peripheries” bring any mental picture? You, of course, begin reading with the full knowledge of all that. So for you, this has context. In short: You can’t talk about what the reader has no context for till it’s introduced. A reader needs to know the three things I’ve mentioned (Who am I? Where am I? And, what’s going on?) as they read, to provide. context.

You talk about a “sky-rise” To a reader it could mean a tall building, an orbital elevator, or anything else. So for that reader, context is everything. Remember, your intent does not reach the page.

• The district I navigated was nearer the outskirts; here most buildings existed in states of squalid disrepair, spray-painted, windows shattered.

What you’re doing is transcribing yourself telling the story, and trying to give immediacy by substituting “I” for “he.” But that’s not first person viewpoint, as a publisher views that. And like any verbal storyteller you’re setting the scene before beginning the action—in effect, history instead of story. But would that work in film? No. The viewer expects to see the scene, not hear about it. In a film, in a glance, the viewer would know everything it takes thirty or more seconds to read about.

Can it work on the page? No for many reasons.

a) First is that you’re opening with a meaningless (to the reader) overview. The reader is told that “dangerous people” may be hunting our protagonist, whose age, occupation, etc, is unknown. Dangerous because they’re trying to serve a warrant? Trying to kill him/her? Dangerous because they’re insane? Bounty hunters? Radioactive? There could be hundreds of reasons, and as many definitions of what “dangerous means to him/her. But without even a hint of what world we’re on, or the smallest thing about the city, the statement they they are after him/her has no context for the reader. In fact, art the end of this we still don’t know the protagonist’s gender, and there has been not a word of dialog. So clearly, we are with the storyteller, not the one living the events, and hearing a synopsis of the events.

But story happens. And it happens in the moment the protagonist calls now, just like our lives do. And the moment you change to someone not on the scene, talking about it, you kill any feeling of realism, because it’s someone talking, not someone living. Our goal isn’t to make the reader know what happens, and what the protagonist felt. It’s to make them feel what the protagonist IS feeling. Think about yourself. If you’re reading a horror story. Do you want to know that the protagonist is frightened? Or do you want them to make YOU afraid to turn out the life?

b) Only you can hear your golden voice telling the story, because only you know how you expect to speak the words it as you perform. But the reader can’t know what a line will say, and after it’s read, it’s too late. And they don’t know your intended meaning. All they have is what the words suggest to them, based on their background. Have your computer read it aloud and you’ll hear that what the reader gets is far different from your performance. For them, all too often, it’s an emotion-free voice talking to them about things they have no context to understand.

Worse yet, the gestures you punctuate with, the expressions that illustrate emotion, and your body language are all missing, too.

And without your performance, what’s left but dry, emotionless words? In other words, you’re working hard, but using a tool-set inappropriate to the page.

Is it a matter of bad writing? Absolutely not. Talent? No again. It’s that because you, like all of us, leave your school days not knowing that we’re taught only how to write nonfiction, you’re trying to make use of the storytelling skills you own, and assume they’re what’s needed. And who’s to tell you you need more? Those who went through the same system, as it prepared us to hold a job?

See the problem? You’re working hard. You’ve shown the desire and the necessary perseverance. You have the story. But the simple fact is that if we want to write like a pro we need to know what the pro knows.

It’s not hard to find the information you need, once you learn that you need it. Nor is it expensive. It does take time to learn, integrate, and perfect those skills and tricks of the trade. But that’s true of any skill, so it’s no big deal.

Is this good news? Hell no. I was pretty upset when it was my turn to discover how much there was to learn, and that my “perfect story” was far from perfect. But it is something we all face, and after fixing the problem I sold my next novel, so the result is worth the effort.

Your local library system’s fiction writing section is filled with useful data, and well worth a visit. My personal suggestion is to seek the names, Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover. You might also want to dig around in the articles in my blog, for a kind of overview of the issues.

But whatever you do, hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein

Posted 3 Years Ago


3 Years Ago

You make many valid points, but it is surprising you continue to treat this piece like a story inste.. read more

3 Years Ago

• All I am doing is recoding the emotions and feelings as they came to me when awake, without fil.. read more

3 Years Ago

Lol. I wasn’t upset except for brief moments, and nothing like back in the day. Everyone except fo.. read more

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Added on January 28, 2018
Last Updated on January 28, 2018




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