Orange City by Lee Matthew Goldberg Genre: Science Fiction
Imagine a secret, hidden City that gives a second chance at life for those selected to come: felons, deformed outcasts, those on the fringe of the Outside World. Everyone gets a job, a place to live; but you are bound to the City forever. You can never leave.
Its citizens are ruled by a monstrous figure called the "Man" who resembles a giant demented spider from the lifelike robotic limbs attached to his body. Everyone follows the Man blindly, working hard to make their Promised Land stronger, too scared to defy him and be discarded to the Empty Zones.
After ten years as an advertising executive, Graham Weatherend receives an order to test a new client, Pow! Sodas. After one sip of the orange flavor, he becomes addicted, the sodas causing wild mood swings that finally wake him up to the prison he calls reality.
A dynamic mash-up of 1984 meets LOST, Orange City is a lurid, dystopian first book in a series that will continue with the explosive sequel Lemonworld.
At six on the dot, the gloved cellular let out a piercing ring. A timer turned on, ticking down with each buzz. E wouldn’t have long to remain idle. The entire pod apartment vibrated, and his capsule bed slid open. The white ceiling drew his attention, the walls devoid of color, a minimalist’s fantasy—nothing like a home.
Shades of the dream from last night still lingered. His knuckles painted with blood as he beat a shadow. The voice of the shadow belonging to a ten-year-old boy. The boy’s cries stabbing E’s ears. He shook that dream away.
He removed the intravenous tube that connected him to his bed and switched off the cooling mist which allowed him to slumber for days. He stretched his old bones, his hair standing up in a state of white shock like it had since he was a young man. Swinging his thick legs over the side of the bed, he yawned at the morning before finally answering his cell.
“I’ll be right there,” he coughed into the digital eye on his gloved palm.
He removed the glove and pushed a button on the side of the bed. Doors opening along the wall revealed a sliver of a kitchen with a piping pot of subpar and gritty coffee brewing on the counter— the best offered to the Scouts— and two sizzling poached eggs from a suspect source. He scarfed down the eggs and pushed another button to raise the shades along the lone wall facing east. The heart of The City hovered in the near distance, its new buildings staggering on one end like giant colorful stalagmites. Sipping his black coffee, he watched it in motion as he did every morning.
Between the Scouts and the rest of The City lay a half a mile of ice water. The City was made up of many Regions, his situated on the outskirts. Sometimes he wondered what it would be like to fall into those frosty waters and drift off to wherever it might choose to take him, no longer having to shuttle between The City and the faraway Outside World anymore. But instead of a dramatic suicide, he suited up and headed through the tunnel with a suitcase in hand like he had for twenty years. He’d convinced himself long ago that living here was better than rotting in prison like he would’ve been if they hadn’t selected him. At least he was still able to get lost in a bottle of whiskey or feel the sun against his cheek during
the few instances it was allowed to peek through the chronic clouds. Even though The City was far from ideal, the Outside World remained definitely worse. It reminded him too often of the man he used to be and of the terrible sins he’d committed. These thoughts returned at the beginning of every week while he geared up for another one, as he wondered if one day the Man in the Eye might give him a promotion and he wouldn’t have to be a Scout anymore.
That way, he’d never have to return to the Outside World.
Then, he could possibly be at peace, like all The City’s inhabitants wished.
As E’s taxi pulled up to the Walled Region of The City, the silhouette of the Man in the Eye Tower stood precisely in the same spot as always—immovable. The Man’s long arachnid-like arms stretched across the windows, his red eyes scanning every movement below from a hundred stories high. The rest of the buildings were less imposing than the Eye Tower, created with The City’s own twinkling glass. The maze of sidewalks below were clean enough to eat off, a stark contrast to the pod apartments in E’s Region, stacked beside one another like eggs in a crate, no sidewalks offering a chance for him to walk by a neighbor and mingle.
Passing a row of silent Guards, E fixed his mouth into a smile as he swiped his ID through the machine at the gate. Besides The Finances, The Scouts were the only other citizens allowed inside the Walled Region. The gate opened as two cameras zoomed in until they practically touched his face. The rest of the area, a square about a half-mile long, resembled a ghost town: not even a tumbleweed rolling past. But through the windows he caught a glimpse of The Finances, all required to be chained to their desks, each of them typing in sync with sweat pooling from their foreheads onto the keys.
E spied a rogue Finance, his eyes ringed with purple circles, scurrying into a blue glass building. Brain-fried and pallid, the Finance was downing a fistful of black market Levels while glancing at his watch in fright before stuffing the pill bottle back in his pocket. Clearly late, he’d receive a swift punishment for his tardiness.
In the center beamed the Eye Tower, showing its muscle. For the first ninety-nine stories, an elevator rose through black translucent glass to a windowed office at the top in the shape of an eye. Separate access was required, so E swiped his Scout ID again as two other cameras zoomed in and poked him in the face before massive doors clanged open at the bottom and he stepped inside.
The elevator whooshed up toward the sky, overlooking the entire City. Pockets of Empty Zones, barren wastelands for disobeying citizens, became visible along with the colorful high-rises of the new Downtown area. The Business Region was a blip at the other end, containing everything from the advertising firms, to a publishing house, to The City’s own movie studio that financed its one film plus all of the commercials and the porn. The Factory Region spewed smoke rings to the right. By the Wharf, a line of Guards monitored the waters with guns in hand; making sure that no one left or entered without an okay from the Man. The elevator continued to climb up higher into the gray clouds until it all seemed enveloped in a morose haze. E still held his smile, his cheek muscles starting to twitch.
A bell dinged as the elevator reached the top and opened to a metallic entranceway. The door to the Man’s office was also shaped like an eye, but closed, resembling a shuteye. An imposing Guard held post in front. Like all the Guards, he had a skintight white mask pulled over his face with holes cut out around the nostril area, replicating the Man’s mysterious visage. Past the entranceway was a long silver desk with the Man’s relatively new receptionist, Shelby. She had no left eye, the lid sewn shut. E knew the Man required all his secretaries to be missing one eye. Shelby was the fifth during his tenure.
“Morning, Shelby,” E said. “How are you doing today?”
“Morning,” she responded with a smile, her voice flat and lifeless. She typed something on the keyboard without looking away from the screen. Pushing an intercom button, she spoke into a speaker. “Scout E to see you, sir.”
A murmur hissed from the other end.
Shelby pushed a different button under her desk and the eye-shaped door parted. E gave a polite wave, but she was too absorbed in her work and only blinked her one eye in response.
E left his suitcase next to the Guard and walked through the eye. Once inside, the metal doors snapped shut. The spacious office was made up of thousands of small television screens and computers along the walls that monitored all aspects of The City. A life-sized wax statue of Stalin greeted all who entered with a salute. He knew of the dictator from history books when the Outside World was a very different place. E was always surprised about Stalin’s small stature; the top of the statue’s head barely came up to his own chin. A long table in the center held a mainframe computer and a dozen gloved cellular phones charging on robotic hands. Some of the phones were ringing, completely ignored.
The Man posed by the eye-shaped window. Most of the inhabitants only witnessed this mysterious figure on screens, but the fear he radiated was palpable: gaunt to the point of being grotesque, so emaciated that it seemed as if he could snap in two. He did not eat, only fed intravenously from a bubbling orange liquid attached to his side by a tube. E wasn’t sure if it filtered his waste, or was a breakfast that looked like some type of soda. The Man wore the same outfit as always: black suit, white collared shirt and a thin black tie. It was questionable whether the Man had ever changed his clothes, or if he’d lived in this shell of a suit for the past two decades. He often smelled like burning sugar mixed with sour chemicals, and E had to balance holding his breath while speaking so the Man’s fumes wouldn’t trigger any nausea.
Over the years, the Man had gotten taller and taller through elective surgeries that lengthened his legs until they became distorted. The Man’s extended arms were also his obsession and delight—thin-like branches. A few were long enough to reach from one end of the office to the other. His scientists had spent years perfecting these appendages, made from a mixture of aluminum alloy and real muscle and bone along with computer circuitry. Through chips inserted into his tendons, the Man’s brain signals were read by electrodes and used to guide these artificial devices. Some of his earlier limbs looked more robotic, but his latest were so lifelike, it was chilling to watch them in motion. E wondered how it looked under the Man’s suit: probably all bloody and deformed, a patchwork of humanity; but on the outside, the Man was truly a magnificent creature to behold, both threatening and eerily beautiful, like nothing E had ever witnessed or imagined before.
The Man’s few extra hands tapped a staccato beat against the windowpane. He rotated his face a few inches to the left. The mask he wore: a skintight white blur molded to his face. E assumed that he liked remaining an enigma.
“You’re late,” the Man said, his voice gummy as if he’d been chewing on honey.
A thousand excuses ran through E’s brain. None would suffice.
“I apologize, sir.”
The Man let out one solitary laugh through the holes in his mask for nostrils. An extended limb slithered past E and punched a few keys on a computer.
“Do you recognize this face?” the Man asked as E turned to a television screen. A young man’s headshot: thin face with barely any jaw, eyeglasses, and a forlorn gaze.
“Is that...Graham Weatherend?” E asked in shock.
E had not encountered that face in a long time and his legs went wobbly, the dreams that invaded last night coming back swiftly. He thought back to the year he spent with Graham over a decade ago; the year he was forced to be a monster. Now the boy was all grown up, but the sadness in his eyes remained. He was likely in his late teens now and would want nothing more than to pound E’s face to a bloody pulp should the two ever encounter each other again. E remembered how he would go to bed with the boy’s blood staining his fists, even after he’d washed them a thousand times. But he was forced to do that. He had no other choice.
“I do recognize him,” E said, softly. He tried hard not to show emotion, but it was difficult.
“We couldn’t touch him as a juvie, but our boy is nineteen now and has tried to rob a liquor store with a wooden gun. I’ll let you guess how that worked out for him. I assumed something like this would happen eventually.”
The Man’s long arm moved from the computer, brushing against E.
“I assumed one day it would be time for him to come to The City,” E replied, as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Graham’s computer image stared back, causing him to cringe.
“He’s young and malleable now,” the Man said. “He’ll be indebted to us if we bring him here, easier to fall in line. Who knows if that will be the case in a few years?”
“Won’t he recognize my voice?”
One of the Man’s hands groped his own chin, pondering.
“Doubtful. It’s been so long. We’ll insert a Blocker just in case. Anyway, he is looking at a couple of years up in a penitentiary with all his priors. He won’t be thinking about anything else but survival.”
“Are you sure I’m the right Scout to bring him over–”
The Man’s white face spun around. E tried to see something human in the midst of the Man’s facade but there was nothing: a hollow face like a puff of smoke.
“You are the only choice!” the Man hissed. He then cleared his throat, calming down. “I trust you, Scout E. You were one of the first we had here. Scouts M, X, K, R and A have either been promoted and live in the Estates now, or passed on. Maybe it’s finally time for a promotion for you, too?”
“A position inside The City?” E asked, salivating at the thought. He imagined himself living in the Estates Region with The City’s elite. An existence with all the amenities one could ask for, and more importantly, a better shot at never being banished to the Empty Zones.
“If you bring me Weatherend, and he comes without being forced, I will give you what you deserve. Recently, I’ve had to retire the Creative Director at Warton, Mind & Donovan Advertising and Concepts to the Zones. Terrible business.”
“No more Scouting?” E asked, careful with his tone, not wanting to seem too eager or ungrateful for the job he’d been given. The Man sometimes liked to play games to ferret out insubordination.
“I know it wouldn’t please you to be a Scout forever,” the Man said, sadly.
“It’s been an honor,” E replied, in his most convincing tone.
“Yes, as it should. I thought of giving you the Creative Director position, since you were once a chemical engineer in the Outside World.”
“I don’t see how that’s connected with advertising.”
The Man tapped his intravenous tank with one of his appendages, causing the liquid to bubble.
“Pow!” the Man chuckled, his mouth widening to resemble a black hole.
“I’m still not understanding–”
“Let’s say The City is on the forefront of a brand-new vision, one that we want the masses to believe in, but not simply because I tell them.”
“We’re years away from getting the tweaks just right. Think about Moods, how long those took to develop, or the Levels being sold on the black market now.”
“I’ve never taken–”
The Man held up one of his many hands. “I am not accusing. I am saying that advertisement firms are the face of The City, the true power. It will only be beneficial for you to work at one. And I will be putting Mr. Weatherend under you there.”
“But I would’ve been his Scout? We can’t know each other, that’s against the rules.” E knew the Scouts were kept separate from the rest of the citizens in a Region because of a sticky situation that had occurred during The City’s first few years when a Selected became unhappy with his new home and sought out the Scout that brought him there. The Scout ultimately got his throat slit, so now all interactions were forbidden between the two after the initial drop-off. Since the Scouts spent a good portion of their time in the Outside World, the pod apartments were mostly for them to sleep.
“I made the rules!” the Man said. “And this is what I wish. He’ll be blindfolded as always and won’t know that you were his Scout. And then once he gets here, I want you to make sure he stays insecure, subordinate, even scared. You will morph into a being he fears...again. This is imperative for what I have planned.”
The Man’s white face spun back around and he chuckled.
“Your head is so far up my ass that you can see out of my mouth. I like that about you, Scout E, I always have.”
E had no idea how to respond. He murmured a halfhearted, “Thank you.”
“Stalin said that ‘Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.’ Bring me Weatherend and you’ll be out of the pods by next week. You’ll be my eyes and ears at Warton, Mind & Donovan. As of late, I’ve been concerned about the Heads of all the major corporations. Even though I began here as a Head as well, I am so much more now. Sometimes that breeds jealousy, so I want you to be my consigliore. It will be our little secret. You’ll report to me if one of them is being insubordinate. How does that sound, my little please-and-thank-you lapdog?”
He reached out to pet Scout E’s white hair.
“There, there, little pet. Moy malen’kiy pitomets.” 1 The Man’s long pale fingers ran through E’s scalp.
“I trust you,” the Man said, his fingers gliding down to
E’s left eye. He closed the lid with a pleased shudder. “You have such a nice eye. If you ever want to give it over to my collection...?”
E exhaled. He never knew whether the Man might pluck out his eye on a whim.
“Yes... I will let you know if I ever decide.”
“Some were glad to give their eyes over. It is a sign of true devotion. Shelby’s was my latest. Gray. Rather rare.”
“Yes...rare,” E stammered. Sweat formed on his upper
lip. “Do you...uhh...have Mr. Weatherend’s file, sir?”
The Man woke from his dreamy stupor. He stopped caressing E’s eye and pulled up Graham’s file on the computer.
E moved back, taking a breath as the printer spit out a glossy copy.
“He’s in Dyanama,” the Man said, picking up the printed pages. “You will meet with a Scout H for this assignment. She is new and will need to be trained.”
“Are there any boundaries?” E asked.
The Man gurgled his laughs.
“You do like them fresh from the Outside World, don’t you?”
E looked down at his shoes to avoid eye contact.
“Yes, you certainly do. Like the one who got away...all because you lost your grip.”
The Man rested all of his hands on his stomach, satisfied with his dig.
E went to respond, but was at a loss for words. His face turning pale.
“Scout H knows to comply,” the Man said. “Just like you did with the former Scout A, and her odd predilections. And if Scout H doesn’t, I’ll know she’s not in it for the long haul, and her contract will be severed.”
His fingers caressed E’s eye again, one long fingernail circling around the left socket, drawn to it like an addict. E tried not to flinch.
“What does Scout H look like?”
“You’ll know when you see her. She’ll be wearing a piece of jewelry with an angel and devil on it as a marker. The penitentiary is in the outskirts of Dyanama. You’ll meet her at midnight tonight in a hole of a bar called Bombed Sally’s. There’s a boat waiting at the Wharf for you now.”
“Thank you again, sir. I will succeed.”
E’s mouth dropped, his face flushed with terror.
“I’m glad we’re clear,” the Man hissed until E finally nodded.
The Man then folded his many hands in front of him and turned back to his eye-shaped window as a sign that the conversation was over.
The eye-shaped door opened, and E slowly backed out until he could only see the Man’s faint, arachnid shadow before the door coldly snapped shut.
“Good-bye, Shelby,” he said, picking up his suitcase by the imposing Guard, but she only answered by pressing a button to call the elevator. He prepped his wide smile as the doors dinged open.
“Moy malen’kaya sobachka,” the Man laughed. Selected is crucial as I’m sure I made you aware. If you don’t succeed, I won’t hesitate to toss you into the Zones.”
Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of THE ANCESTOR, THE DESIRE CARD, SLOW DOWN and THE MENTOR from St. Martin's Press. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the 2018 Prix du Polar. ORANGE CITY, his first sci-fi novel, is forthcoming in 2021 along with his YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in the anthology DIRTY BOULEVARD, The Millions, Vol 1. Brooklyn, LitReactor, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Writer's Review, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, Essays & Fictions, The New Plains Review, and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series (guerrillalit.wordpress.com). He lives in New York City.
Rejection and being an author go hand in hand. Fiction is very subjective so what one person may like, another may hate. I have had two novels published, one by the indie press, New Pulp Press, and the other by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s; but before that, I had three novels rejected over the course of a few years and a lot of rejections from agents before I landed with Sam Hiyate of The Rights Factory. There were many times I thought I wouldn’t make it as an author, but I’m stubbornly determined and driven, and I used the rejections to make my writing better so I wouldn’t be rejected the next time.
The first set of rejections came from literary magazines until a few finally hit. Lit mags are a very smart way to start as a career as an author, since agents and editors and publishers will want to see some type of publications on your Writing Resume. It is guaranteed that more magazines will say no as opposed to yes. However, once one magazine accepts your work, you have a greater chance of getting another to bite, since you are beginning to establish yourself. The idea that you will be published in The New Yorker automatically will not happen, so forget about that. Begin with online journals and don’t worry about not getting paid, the exposure, even if it’s small, is better than a check.
The same goes for agents. Most agents will reject you because they are flooded with submissions. They also want to shape a writer’s career so they want to believe in you rather than just your one book. Have a follow up ready. More importantly, take the advice that they give if you’re lucky to get notes. My agent liked the book I initially sent him, but had a lot of revisions before he could sign me on. I listened to everything he said.
Editors are even trickier. An editor can love the book that an agent sends and then try to pitch it within his imprint and no one else bites. This had happened to me many times. They want to fall in love with your characters so other editors and their boss will fall in love with them too. There were moments I wanted to give up, but with every rejection I rewrote and edited the manuscript and also moved on to other projects as well. If you are writing a book and trying to sell it for ten years without any interest, it’s time to write a new one.
Finally, don’t let rejection get you down. I look at all the no’s I got now as evidence that I wasn’t ready to be published at the time and I needed to hone my work more. You only need one yes, so even though one day might deliver a flood of rejections to your inbox, the next day could bring that acceptance you’ve been waiting for.
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