Saturday, September 29, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 11

How do you solve the unsolvable riddle?  By risking everything.

I lived my life by playing it safe for seven decades.  Old men either have storied lives or have avoided anything remotely interesting.  Before Jasper Finds came across me in the park, I had every intent to live another three decades exactly the way I’d lived the previous ones.  I wanted that century mark.

I know, it sounds a little silly.  The mileage doesn’t matter if you haven’t gone anywhere.  Except I never saw my life as boring.  I lived in the City of Tomorrow.  Every day was an adventure, even if I was a tourist in my own life.  I learned early on that there were things bigger than me, and I was okay with that.  My parents were humble, simple folk, and I fully expected to follow in their footsteps.  They came from a different time, though.  Metropolis didn’t exist for them.  It was everything for me.  I looked around and saw a wonderland, and that was enough.  I never gave much thought to how it came together, everything that so fascinated me, the landscape, the people, the collective manifest ambition.  I had none of my own.  I was content to live vicariously.  The world around me seemed like more than enough a challenge.

I shouldn’t sell myself so short.  I cobbled out a living by writing about my experiences.  It was nothing fancy, and I did it mostly for myself, working a mediocre job and spending the rest of the time doing what I loved.  I fashioned fantastic stories about the everyday wonders around me, and didn’t need exaggeration to capture them.  Most of it was fiction, but all of it was real.  What else could result from this place?

But I kept to myself.  I kept my head down.  Those who risk everything lose everything.  I risked little and spent a long time getting along.

When Jasper gave me his burden, it didn’t occur to me the extent to which he had drastically altered the course of my life, because at first it seemed exactly like what I’d been doing before.  Jasper had made a career of unearthing secrets.  I had made a hobby of it.  Turns out there are differences between careers and hobbies.

For instance, the people are real when you make it a career.  You can pretend that it’s all fiction when it’s a hobby, you can pretend that none of what you do makes any difference.  When you make it a career, everything matters.  What you do affects someone else.  When it’s just a hobby, you can keep to yourself and keep everything you do to yourself, but you no longer have that luxury when it’s a career.  You start matching faces and names.  You start interacting with the world around you, like stepping from a 2D image to 3D.

In some ways it’s the same, though.  You start immersing yourself in legend, because in a sense you’ve become a part of it.  Names that only seemed like fiction before become reality.  They take on a sense of urgency.  You become a part of the narrative.  You find that the end of someone else’s story becomes the beginning of yours.  In one sense, that was Jasper Finds to myself, but also much more than that.  The whole of the City of Tomorrow, in fact.  The story of the past being written into the future, with a little help from yours truly.

Something happened to the vision that motivated the founders of Metropolis, that key difference that separated it from the rest of the world.  Somewhere along the way, the mechanics started taking over and the vision was lost, and everyone started scrambling to reclaim it.  But in the absence of the vision, doubt started flooding in.  Did anyone truly know what was supposed to be done, what needed to be accomplished?  Jasper Finds figured that the link between the past and the future had to be reestablished, and dedicated his life to fulfilling that task.  Actually, he sacrificed it.

My task was to figure out what that meant, how close he’d gotten.  I’d stepped through the looking glass, saw the mechanics for myself, and now knew what was necessary to revive the vision.  And I think I knew what needed to be done, how to connect the City of Tomorrow to men who flew through the sky and made all us regular folk superfluous.  But then again, maybe that didn't have to be the case.

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