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art by Shannon N. Kelly

Biomass

Alex Stanmyer lives in a cramped attic apartment in Worcester, MA. He recently finished Clark University's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which specializes in urban education. He believes that science fiction allows us to ask the big questions--the ones that people have been struggling with since, well, forever. When he's not reading, writing, or teaching he likes to fish, hike, and drink way too much black coffee. Feel free to follow and get in touch with him through his Twitter @StandbyStanny.
This city is dying. Did you know that? There hasn't been a press release, but if you pay attention you can find the signs of decay yourself.
It's breathing heavier, for starters. Listen to its breathing next time you're lying in bed at night. I mean really listen. It's laboring just a little more than you remember it, I promise. Soon it'll start having real trouble. You'll be kept awake at night while it takes desperate, ragged, sucks through its pores.
You can smell the death too, if you go to one of the waste exits. When the crap comes careening out into the degrading pits take a whiff. It's all supposed to be sterile and odorless. Except it's not odorless anymore. There's the faintest hint of floral sweetness there. The telltale scent of oncoming rot.
The buildings are even starting to sag. Not on the street level of course, but go into a deep basement or look carefully next time you're on the subway. Look at the walls down there in the dark and you'll see that they're starting to sag ever so slightly, like the skin of a beautiful woman just entering middle age.
They told us that the living cities would be the answer. They would deal with waste, pollution, and energy as effectively as our own bodies. Global warming would be a thing of the past with the cities keeping close eyes on emissions. Beings of their size would live for thousands of years, they reasoned. But they didn't plan on a premature end, did they? What happens to the people when the billions of tons of flesh and bone that are their homes, schools, and workplaces collapse on them?
The crows will descend on the city's rotting flesh first, I imagine, but then they'll move on to our dead and dying. The Red Cross might come to try and help, but where would they put everyone?
It's not like we can pick up and move to Boston or Toronto or Denver or anywhere. The other cities would reject us; they would send their antibodies to eliminate us like we were an instance of the flu. Sure, the wealthy and powerful can afford the genetic therapy to be recognized by any city, but what about the rest of us? Are we going to be left here to die with our home?
You might be wondering how I came to notice the minutiae of our city's slow demise. It's a simple answer, really. I'm the one that set this thing rolling.
See, I was doing some commercial genetic therapy on the side. Nothing heavy; if someone wants to burn less and tan more, I can do that for them. I don't make people smarter or irresistible or any of that stuff that could get me in any real trouble; I always make sure to stay away from stuff that could upset the city's defenses. I sell my work cheaper than the name-brand stuff, and my customers know it's better quality than the assembly line shit that gets churned out overseas. I was tinkering with some code that would boost one of my clients' immune system--she was a kindergarten teacher and was tired of getting sick at the beginning of every new school year--when I accidentally muffed the batch. So I did what I had been doing with my failed batches for years; I dumped it down the drain.
I figured the city could handle it like it does everything else. I was wrong. I noticed the start of the city's downward spiral a couple days later when I realized that my shower's water pressure was just a bit low. Anyone else would just scratch that up as a routine problem, but I was paranoid. I went looking for more signs, and I found them.
I tried to make things right, I really did. I sent an anonymous tip to the city's physicians, and I've seen them out on the streets looking at the same symptoms that I have. If they have had any success it hasn't shown. Their defeated and downcast faces are what worry me most; if they can't fix the city, I doubt anyone can.
So now during the day I sit here in my apartment drinking beer while I wait for the walls to literally collapse on me. At night I wander the streets and look at the faces that I have doomed through their lamplit windows. They don't even know what's happening all around them. I think it's best that way.
Maybe the physicians will find a cure in time, though I doubt it.
The best I can do, I guess, is to say I'm sorry. When things finally give way at least you'll have someone to blame. That's all I can do. Forgive me. Please.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 6th, 2012


This story started with a question: what would happen if a city were to die? The thought came to me as I was looking out my back porch on a particularly grey, rainy, and pretty much all-around-miserable day. The idea, like the good ones do, hung around in my head for awhile, growing, twisting, and developing until it became a story. After some more thinking, writing, and rewriting I ended up with "Biomass," my first piece of published fiction.

- Alexander Stanmyer

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