In the year 2099 the sun shined down upon an earth sheathed in iron and steel, an armored earth crashing through its orbit like a juggernaut. Here and there mountains penetrated the metallic plates that mankind had fastened over the nations in building the World City; mountains like Kilimanjaro, McKinley, Everest, the tallest and most implacable mountains. Only these rose above the roof of the gleaming City.
Like the mountains, the oceans too had resisted humanity’s attempts to enclose them and although great swaths of coastline had been built out, extended over the surging waters on huge pylons, the greater part of the sea still bulged and squalled in full sunlight or beat furiously upon the sea-gates of The City during winter storms.
Aside from the stubborn mountains and the unconquerable seas, there were corridors of leafless forest and poisoned foothill which had remained free of construction merely because The City had not reached them yet. It was within these few barren zones that the Homeless lived their final years. I say lived but it was a mean living at best. Survival really. A baleful retreat before the walls of an exponentially growing city organism. Places where it was said a dung-beetle couldn’t live the Homeless stoically hammered in their tent-pegs. They didn’t thrive by any means, but for a time they managed a rugged existence outside the confines and sterility of the torpid World City.
There came a day though when those loose tribes of nameless men and women could no longer hold together against the machine-like growth of The City. All resources went into the belly of the one-world construct. All food, fuel and fodder. Entire farmlands were roofed over and incorporated into the whole, becoming hydroponic factories that would never again see the light of the sun. Soon this was done everywhere and bulk produce became exclusive to the enclosed City. Except that which a person might scratch out of the polluted dirt, there was little to eat outside the City’s metallic walls and that condition only worsened as the walls grew closer together and the displaced were driven into alleyways of stagnant wastewater ponds and concrete aqueducts; rusted steel derricks and mile-upon-mile of sightless black solar-panels staring at the sky.
Now, The City was not quite as bloodless and dispassionate as it seemed. It always held its hand out to anyone willing to assimilate into it. As it grew to encompass the world, in fact, it threw its doors open so that all who were left outside could come inside if they wished. And they did. In the end, there were very few people left who were sturdy enough or foolhardy enough or who had the peculiar spirit necessary to make a go of it outside the walls; to inhabit that mad wilderness of rats and sink-holes and forests of re-bar moaning in the wind.
For many years there were less than a dozen Homeless in the world. Then there were five. Then there were two. And finally there was only one…Joe.
Joe sat on a stump and pondered the city. Its hardened-steel wall towered over him and stretched away endlessly to his right and left creating the illusion of a monumental vertical plane that only ended at the ground. And yet, even there beneath the ground, Joe knew there were factories and pumps and boilers and all manner of machinery and equipment and garages and warehouses and, well, everything, everything it took to sustain mankind. The sun-browned vagabond had come to refer to the monstrous city as the “hyperlopolis” and it presented itself to him as an enigma. At times it seemed a grand undertaking and the enclosed city almost reminded him of an egg, or a cocoon from which would emerge someday a new kind of man, a better man. At other times he stood under the moon and watched the steam rising from the overlapping scales and wet metal-plates of the thing and it seemed evil somehow, a foul creature that had devoured mankind and now lay corpulent and farting beneath the witless stars.
Joe had developed a plan, a strategy for remaining outside the walls of the city for as long as possible. It would mean his always being on the go and never settling anywhere for too long, never having ties with anything, anyplace. Ironically, it meant living his life exactly the way he’d always lived it. In that fashion, the only one he knew, he would circumnavigate his world and find avenues leading to other, larger ranges. He would hunt and explore and always keep the city on his right shoulder. And so it happened that as the city was an enigma to Joe so too did Joe become an enigma to those in the city who gazed out of their windows at night and saw his fire in the hills.
One day Joe was scrounging around in a pile of debris when a worker from the city approached him. The conversation went something like this:
Worker: “Are you Joe?”
Joe: “Well, that is my name.”
Worker: “You have a following in the World City, did you know that?”
Worker: “Well you do, and they’re pulling for you, whatever it is that you’re searching for they want you to find. What are you looking for, Joe, is there anything we can give you?”
Joe: “Um, just my freedom and.. . well, do you have a smoke?”
Worker: “A smoke?”
Joe: “You know, a cigarette.”
Worker: “Oh, no. No one smokes anymore, Joe. But you can have your freedom, we don’t want to take that from you..”
Joe: “But the city just keeps growing, where will I find freedom when all there is is the city on all sides and me in the middle?”
(At this point the man leaned toward Joe and his manner became conspiratorial. Joe realized that the man was not just a “worker” but something else, maybe a friend. As the man continued talking others from the city came on the scene and he was forced to finish in a whisper.)
Worker: “Joe, keep going as you are going. It will lead you out onto a broad plain, maybe a years travel on foot. The City is slowing down. I’ll meet you there!”
With those words the “worker” joined his fellows and disappeared back into the city leaving Joe baffled and a little excited: “The city is slowing down”, the man had said, what had he meant by that?
Joe hurried through the nearly defoliated wilderness, fording septic streams and scaling the walls of monumental earth-moving projects. He crossed alkali deserts and clawed his way over mountains whose slopes had been scarred by cyclopean digging machines and whose heights had been reduced to jagged pinnacles by dynamiting and flying work-platforms equipped with rotary hammers and mechanical grapplers. The last of the old world was being dismantled to build the new world and Joe was caught in the middle, trapped at the moment of birth of a new paradigm. What would be lost and what would be retained in this new world was anyone’s guess. As for Joe, well, he chose not to guess but to act. Pure will drove him on as he made his way through the scoured wilderness, always within sight of the daunting structure.
Food was difficult to come by but Joe kept moving so the game trails he did discover were fresh and the hunting, though laborious, was sufficient. Add to that the occasional wild orchard hung with green apples or the bramble dripping with blackberries and one might understand how Joe, though never quite full, was never quite empty during his travels and even grew stronger as a result.
There was one other phenomenon that contributed to Joe’s overall welfare and that was the sudden and unexpected generosity of the people from within the city who he met outside the walls. Almost daily he came upon open service-doors or sally-ports and often there were military or maintenance personnel present who seemed eager to engage Joe in conversation and to give him small gifts: Chocolate, coffee, clean socks, liquor. One ancient soldier, after seeing Joe’s old 22. rifle, disappeared into the city and reemerged a short time later with a handful of shiny brass 22. cartridges he’d been holding on to for years, “souvenirs from the old days” he’d called them. Little-by-little, Joe fell under the impression that to the people of the city he was something special, something outside of their everyday experience and so achieved a kind of imminence in their eyes. This was a comfort to Joe considering that a mere forty years before there had been a popular political movement within the city that had as it’s primary goal the eradication of all the homeless tribes, all the nomads, all the “individualists” who chose to remain outside the walls. The going had been rough for a while, with bands of vigilantes roving the countryside, raiding Homeless encampments and engaging in gun-battles with the few Homeless able to arm themselves. But eventually passions cooled and relative sanity returned to the city.
The damage had been done though and for years those who lived in the wilderness avoided the walls and the people who lived behind them; fear had been high and hope low but now, at the eleventh hour, hope had returned. Joe wondered what it all meant, where it was all leading because it seemed to be leading somewhere. These thoughts accompanied him as he pushed his way through the poisoned land. In his mind his solitary journey began to take on a different shade of meaning, it became intertwined with the fact of the city and it’s inhabitants. For a long time now he had been looking at his eventual merging into the mass of the city as something inevitable. Now there seemed to be room for something else. But what? Joe just didn’t know.
END OF PART ONE
Wayne Myers is a homeless writer. He works in mostly in noisy, crowded coffee shops.