For those of you following along from previous weeks, I apologize for being so off and on lately. My work schedule has been an odd one and I’m squeaking in any hours I can to my writing projects (this being one). I’m thrilled with this week’s entry into the Last Son of Earth project, however and look forward to hearing your thoughts as we forge ahead in making a story together.
For this section, I wanted to focus on the “Call to Action”. Our hero’s ordinary world needed to be interrupted by an outside influence. I am especially enjoying the development of Tin Man – there is much to explore here, methinks.
If you haven’t been following along with our story, it’s best to start from the beginning and work your way up to this post today.
And now, Chapter 3 – Another Night in Steel City
Alden trudged home through the darkened, cobblestone streets of Steel City, kicking every scrap of trash in his path. He was furious with himself for having been so careless with his Compendium. After the Red-Eyes escorted him from the Lord’s Manor, Alden had been informed that his cycle permit had been temporarily revoked. He would have to walk five miles home tonight – just another way the arm of CON flexed its muscles to remind him who was really in control.
And so he walked, a bitter soul under the ever watchful eye of CON.
The city of industrial wonders, as it was known, was in many ways a machine to itself. Built on the backs and sweat of the citizens of the Construct, the man-made marvel formed of steel, stone and steam pipes moved with a life of its own. Like clockwork its citizens kept marching in lock step with CON’s orders and schedule – the lifeblood of the the perfect system formed for the common good.
After a citizen was assigned to his/her role in the grand Construct, you became part of it all. So long as you showed up each day, put in minimum effort for the Lords and Ladies who oversaw the system, you were rewarded with entertainment credits which could be used to dull the mind with further indoctrination through approved radio broadcasts and stage shows from the CON Network.
Beyond this, everyone received the same rewards for their labor. Food, shelter, and simple clothes were provided as a necessary means of keeping the populace happy. This was the only way of life the million men, women and children who resided within the great walls of the city had ever known.
Alden should have been happy here in the city of his birth, but as Assignment day neared he had become increasingly agitated. On one hand he was counting down the days until he would move out of his fourth mother’s home. She had been the worst of all moms he could recall. But there was always an underlining fear that the next phase of his life might be worse than even this one and so, he remained nervously conflicted about the fast approaching date.
When at last he did arrive at 52 Silver Lane, it was well after midnight. The only light left on in the entire complex was in a lower level bathroom window. Hoping to avoid any confrontation with his “mother”, Alden circled around to the back of the stone complex, shimmied up a drain pipe to the iron balcony on the second level and hoisted himself up and over it. From there he could access the window of the small bedroom that belonged to him. He gently worked the window frame loose, tossed his satchel inside and slipped inside onto his desktop.
He let a full minute pass in dead silence to ensure he made it without detection before hoping off the desk and heading across the room for his bedroom door. He inched it open and peered down the hall. Even from here he could hear his mother’s snoring through her own bedroom door.
Confident of his successful break in, he spun around and found himself instantly face to face with a pair of glowing amber eyes beneath a grey hood. It was all Alden could do to keep himself from screaming.
“Home so soon,” a dark, static voice asked from under the hood. The face upon which Alden looked was not that of a man, but of machine. It was an expressionless flat mask of steel accompanied by two circular electric eyes. Alden recognized the face immediately.
“Tin Man,” Alden gasped, “Don’t ever sneak up on me like that again. I nearly peed my pants.”
“I don’t sneak,” Tin Man replied, “I have been waiting here precisely as we decided.”
He had recovered the elaborate steam powered man from a junkyard just over a year ago. Having carefully reassembled the wonderful machine over the previous year, creatively improvising with random scraps of machinery where necessary, Alden was delighted upon completion to find that his hunk of junk could actually walk and talk and seemingly reason with him. Because of his creative construction, Tin Man walked in a lopsided manner, making him appear ready to fall over at any moment.
Though he was only scraps of metal, Alden soon came to realize that he had constructed much more than a machine. Tin Man had quickly become his only true friend. It was both extraordinary, and disturbing at the same time.
“Did anyone see you?” Alden asked, quickly moving to close the blinds on his window. Keeping Tin Man a secret was Alden’s primary concern. So far as he knew, the only ones who knew of Tin Man were himself and his mother. She kept quiet about it because she was worried the punishment for Alden’s actions would fall on her shoulders. Alden got the feeling that she was just as anxious for him and his things to move out as he was.
“Only your mother,” Tin Man explained. “Which reminds me, I have a message for you. Would you care to hear it?”
Alden rolled his eyes. “Not really,” he said glumly, pulling his outer jacket and t-shirt off as he prepared for bed. “But lets have it over with.”
At this Tin Man rewound an internal tape recorder and played back an audio message from a shrill voice through the speaker in his mouthpiece.
“Alden Two One. I’m extremely disappointed in you, young man. How many times have I told you to be back before curfew? Don’t you realize that if you are discovered, it is my head, not yours, that is going to be on the chopping block? Do you? What am I saying? Of course you do. It’s probably why you are doing it, no doubt. You are probably hoping they come looking for you so they’ll do away with me. Well listen here, son. You are NOT going to make a fool out of me. I’m eating your supper tonight. You can starve for all I care.”
“And another thing – would you tell this mechanical menace of yours to stay out of my bedroom? I caught him looking through my scrapbook again. It’s a meddlesome monster if you ask me. Nothing good can come of having a machine that can move about like this. I don’t care how friendly it seems.”
There was a brief pause and then, his mother added.
“Oh, and one more thing. I received a telegraph from some man who claims to be an uncle of yours. He said they’ve recovered something that belongs to you. He gave a strange sort of address. It’s on the counter. Nonsense if you ask me. Don’t let me catch you sneaking in the back window again. Heavens knows I’ve got enough trouble without you breaking your neck. I’m going to bed. Don’t expect breakfast in the morning either.”
At this, the recording ended abruptly.
“Is that all?” Alden asked.
Alden snuck quietly out of his room and recovered a scrap of paper from the kitchen counter then hurried back into his bedroom. He closed the door and read the telegraph aloud with curiosity. It read:
Alden Two One,
An article of some significance has been recovered for you.
It is worth your time to meet.
Back of the Scabbard
One Tonru St.
You’ll know when.
Until that moment, Alden had never heard of “uncle Jonas” before. It all seemed a bit strange.
“I wonder what it could be?” Alden pondered aloud.
“Perhaps a scabbard of some kind?” Tin Man ventured.
“I dunno. It’s probably just some kind of prank. I’ve never even heard of Tonru Street before.”
Alden tossed the note carelessly on his desk and threw himself onto his bed. It was getting late and he was getting tired. It had been a roller coaster day.
“Are you going to go?” Tin Man asked, his unblinking amber gaze still trained on the paper.
“Maybe,” Alden said with a yawn. “Right now, I just want to sleep. I’ve had a pretty crazy day.”
Tin Man moved to the corner of the room to shut down, but before he did he paused and asked another question.
“Why did you ignore my warnings in the field today?”
“I wasn’t ignoring you, I was listening to my instincts,” Alden responded. “Just a gut feeling I had that I was going to be able to make it.”
“Mathematically you were incorrect. Your instincts almost got you killed.”
“Maybe,” Alden said, mostly to himself. “But if we can’t trust ourselves, who can we trust?”
Tin Man seemed to ponder this for a moment.
“Good night, Alden Two One,” he said, shutting down at last.
“Good night, Tin Man.” Aldan said back.
He lay in bed exhausted, but too many questions gnawed at his mind to allow sleep to find him quickly. How did the CON Men know where he was? Who had found his Compendium? And what should he make of this mysterious new message from an uncle he’d never even heard of? Eventually sleep did come, but it was not without its own worries. It was a restless night for Alden.