Updated: Feb 10
I am working on a roleplaying game based on my graphic novel Memories of Retrocity (Published in French in 2011), I decided to make the original texts available for you, revised translated in English.
I will drop them here while I go through the translation process.
Those are "pre-translations". They need to be proofread and modified before any official release. Hopefully you can enjoy the raw material!
Welcome to Retrocity.
Downtown Retrocity is something else.
The contrast is almost disturbing!
I don't know if it's because we're approaching Christmas, but the streets are full of people. From the young bourgeois couple shopping the windows, to the grandmother walking her winter-coated mechanical poodle, or the office worker in her forties trying to make her way through the crowd so as not to miss her date.
I felt wholly invigorated in the middle of this vast merry-party.
I was surrounded by people! Weird people in vintage clothes, looking straight out of the 50's, blending in the streets without paying the slightest attention to the sick people among them.
This couple I mentioned earlier, for instance: after choosing the pair of Hover shoes in the store, they came out, and I could see the man from the front. The right side of his face was covered in bandages around the prosthetic eye he had probably just implanted.
Or even this lamppost on which I leaned my shoulder to roll a cigarette... half-human, half-lamp! I could still distinguish the face and the right leg emerging from the steel. And in a sour female voice, "she" asked me if she could take a hit of my cigarette... and then proceeded to explain that this street lamp had once lit her first kiss...
I plunged back into my walkabout, amid fairy lights and Hover ads, celebrating Christmas in deep red.
I thought about moving here! Where the action is. To feel less alone, to meet people, to resume a normal everyday life. It smelled almost as good as Brooklyn during Christmas. It smelled of the cozy streets of old Chicago where my mom used to take me when I was a kid. And then... thinking about it, I thought that would be the worst decision I could make. To decide to settle in the heart of this city. My empty building, far from everything, protects me from this irony, from these illusions. The Retro-citizens who live here downtown do not see that they are sinking inexorably. They move blindly through their routine, unaware of all the ironic decadence surrounding them. Not understanding that their fate is already sealed within the city's walls.
Or maybe they know it very well and enjoy it as some kind of "last wishes of the condemned" ... So yes, maybe I'll settle there, but not before I'm at the end of the ribbon!
I did some shopping too! And it was really good to take some time for myself!
I got myself an electric razor. This thing has a weird look, full of little visible mechanisms. Even in the objects, the systems and gears remain apparent. It seems to define all the city's aesthetic tendencies.
And then I wanted to buy a phone to call some friend outside of town... but that was asking too much. The saleswoman just didn't understand. I dropped it after the third "yes, I understand sir, but why call out of town?" ".
I bought myself some "premium" Hover tobacco, spare socks, and a hopefully exquisite bottle of whisky. And then a … tie. To mark the occasion…
I don’t know why I do that.
I came across a computer store. Well, I should say a "typewriter-with-screen" store. Again this strange aesthetic. I bought a pair of ink ribbons for the machine there.
When dinner time came, I decided to land my butt on a small local restaurant bench. I ordered a chunk of red meat like I hadn't ingested anything for ages. "Hover Meat"...no further indications. But with a delicious chicken (yup) taste, melting in your mouth.
And then potatoes drowned in melted cheese.
The day passed quickly. The streets slowly emptied, and the silence got louder. Stuffed in my winter coat, I followed the flow of the last walkers up to the cast iron staircase of the aerial metro. Alone in the middle of everyone, my hands full of self-gifts. They were all going home to find their families. In their cozy little downtown apartments.
I looked at the subway map. The peripheral zones, where my apartment was, had been crossed out with an indelible marker. I decided to ride the train to the "erased" area and do the rest on foot. The iron monster traced through the buildings, on these great bridges suspended twenty stories above the ground, punctuated by the steady and hypnotizing sound of wheels passing over the junctions of the rails.
And then, end of the line.
I left the empty train. The lights went out. And I found myself on the empty platform. Like the day I arrived. Mist escaping from my mouth, and my arms full of Christmas packages.
I walked to and through the checkpoint, and returned to my apartment. In the cold, the dark, and the loneliness.
Dec 10, 2004
I still had in mind this strange ballet, where androids and the sickened mingle together in the apathetic crowd of citizens.I can see that a good part of the population is afflicted, and I even think I may start to vaguely grasp what that implies... vaguely. I'll have to take advantage of my "journalistic methods" to see what I can learn about what they call the Retro-Processus.
But as I was braingazing, I realized that the city had played a trick on me, again, and that I was completely lost. I had reached the outskirts, but my building was not visible anywhere. When I lived in Chicago, a friend used to tell me that "it is by getting lost within that you really discover a city". Well, no shit! And at this precise moment, I would have loved to let her know what I think of her little mantras.
After spinning round and around for a while, trying to find my way, I suddenly froze. A glow against the sky. Vibrant, ominous, vaporous orange glow. Like a mosquito, I headed for the light. Despite the pragmatic warnings of my conscience. "Another bullshit idea, Will!" shouted a voice from the past.
And I kept going anyway.
I stepped over the barbed wire installed across the street. Acrid smoke drilling my sinuses, I closed the collar of my coat to filter the fumes. Signs, hanging unscrewed or left on the ground, warning passers-by not to trespass. Watch me! And around the corner, the source of light finally appears.
Its tall and straight chimneys blasting the sky with the flames of Hell, the orange light. The stinking smoke is everywhere, and I began to understand the origin of the black cloud, constantly floating above the city, annihilating the sunlight. The heat was stifling. In the distance, I saw a truck, pulling an open container, entering the building through a garage door. Before it closes, I managed to discern what was piled up in the back of the vehicle:
Scrap metal. Shopping carts, cars. Prostheses too. Robotic arms, legs, but also heads and trunks. It is here that the Corporation finds the raw material for all its mechanical production. And even scraps from its own citizens, burned, melted down, recycled, and reconditioned. Here in Retrocity, even death does not mean rest.
Where they recycle and produce. Casting ominous shadows on the city walls.
I'll think twice before drinking again from a metal can.
Dec 13, 2004
I explored the building today! From the cellars to the roof.
The cellar's visit barely happened... once I managed to push the door hinges out of alignment, I found myself facing rubble of wood, stone, and metal. Impossible to go down, and ... well ... I was glad. Although I'm not a fan of ignoring what I might have found there.
I like mystery, but here there is something odd here ... something that makes surprises not so pleasant.
I walked around the hallways of the upper floors. Not reassured.
The center of the building is a large well rising to the roof. The apartments are organized around. This wide-open stairwell projects twisted shadows over the walls. And the sound of my boots echoes throughout the structure of metal and concrete.
So much space and emptiness!
Apartments with the same dimensions as mine, all over the building. Same configuration. Each with enough space for a couple with children. Two large bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom, toilet, office...
But ... the hell happened?
Everything has been abandoned, the furniture, the dishes on the tables, the family photos, all the things... they left everything behind them.
In one of the bathrooms, the mirror above the sink still bore a red-lipstick kiss, placed there by a long-gone lover.
And there I remained, contemplating the reflection of my tired face, lit by artificial light. The mark of the lips over my cheek, like a sign of affection I was too late to catch.
Crumbling paintings on the walls, floral tapestries collapsing on themselves, hardened leather furniture covered in dust...
I turned on a TV, somewhere on the third floor. And I found myself watching a Hover advertising program. No way to skip. Always the same talk. Aggravated by this intrusion into the silence, I tried to turn off the screen. But I couldn't find any cables or plugs...nothing. So Hover kept talking, flashing the space with old colors.
I discovered lots of curious stuff. Objects of anachronistic technology.
The city seem to have followed its own evolution since the 50's. Cut off from the world, it has frozen in its own version of time, evolving technologically at the goodwill of the powerful Corporation.
Any of these objects would attract the attention of the outside world. I'm still fascinated by those old-school typewriters with screens that I've seen at the store downtown, or that umbrella that closes with a "fishing rod"-style wheel. Why make it simple when you can complicate it, right?
Touching these bits and pieces of lives left a morbid taste in my throat, like I was an intruder, a grave robber.
I sat there, trying to play something on an out-of-tune piano, and then I headed back to my apartment.
And to my machine.
I am starting to like this place.
Tomorrow I have a meeting at the headquarters of the Corporation.
Dec 14, 2004
I met today with "J.Stockman 073", an individual in charge of Press and public relations for the Corporation, in a cold clinical office on the 28th floor of the North Tower.
073 was not very human. A heavy-set android, with an icy stare, programmed to serve reporters with the proper "official" answers to any questions they may have on any questionable matters.
I don't know what the Corporation is hiding behind this synthetic voice, but I’ll type down a quick summary of the info I got from the interview. It's not much, but at least it gives me a beginning of explanation concerning the things I saw since my arrival.
What is called "Retro-Processus" is nothing but a disease. A terrible and deadly illness with fascinating symptoms.
Appearing in the 1950s, with no given explanation, the disease is now eating away at the entire city, from the border walls to the most protected high-class neighborhoods.
There was a time when Retrocity didn't have that name, when citizens weren't even aware of the darkness to come ... when they still believed there were things to come. Instead, with the illness came decline and confinement.
The Retro-Processus is the cause of it all, the reason Retrocity was sealed off behind a wall. The reason why no one gets out. And why the world around protects itself from this large-scale cancer.
The Corporation describes the Retro-Processus as a violent and inexplicably fast spreading virus. The final stage of the disease is death by fusion between the diseased body with a specific inert object.
Yup, I just typed that.
The first sign of contamination is the sudden and growing attraction of the sick individual to a particular object. An object very dear to the ill. Something the person is emotionally attached to.
The second stage is the refusal of separation. The individual will simply refuse to get away from the object, or to let go of it.
After a few months begins the fusion, real, material, physical. The flesh mixes with the dead matter of the object... and this progresses until total absorption.
Corporation scientists argue that the virus is a manifestation of the human obsession with the material. Ignited by the desire for possession, for consumption, which has evolved beyond the fatal point ...
The first case officially listed is the "Train Driver": One evening, the horrified citizens saw a train of nightmares arriving at the station. The front of the locomotive was nothing other than a gigantic human skull, the remnant of the driver's face. The man got so attached to his train that he fell sick. The train would not operate during the fusion process and was retired. Until the fusion was complete. Then the train rode again. But on its own. Like a ghost.
"Madame Rain", was an old lady who walked the streets on rainy days with her fancy umbrella. But then she started doing the same on sunny days...until the broken umbrella was found left on the sidewalk, in the early morning. You could still discern the white hair of the deceased within the waterproof canvas.
The city itself is absorbing people. In her walls, in her doors, in the asphalt. The Retro-Citizens merge irremediably with what surrounds them. The stones cry out at night, and the streetlights are watching ... Retrocity is a living tomb.
Facing the rise of the virus, the first reflex of the citizens was to flee. The city emptied. Entire areas were abandoned. In a state of emergency, international governments came together to decide what action to take. They agreed behind closed doors to lock the place between gigantic walls and remove it from all maps. No one should come out, and no one should be able to speak.
The citizens found themselves left to their discarded fate, trapped in a dying city, trying to organize the chaos, deprived of resources, with no way to contact the "outside".
Thus was born Retrocity, in fear, in suffering.
The population gathered towards the center, in the few areas still receiving electricity. Leaving the shadows to the sick and the dying. And to the criminals sent here by the "outside" governments.
Exiled in the prison city.
As the Retro-Processus was ravaging the city, a team of scientists came up with a crazy theory, along with a "method" supposed to cure the disease. They were labeled as "marginal madmen" by the government. They organized within what was to become the Corporation. My interlocutor remained silent about the names of the funders. Refusing to acknowledge those who launched the initial research and achieved concrete results. Because it worked! The strange theory proved effective, and two years after the admittance of the first patients, the Corporation publicly announced that they could stop the Retro-Processus.
The theory was both simple and nuts. I alluded to it earlier, but it ‘s something along these lines: The disease attacks individuals who let their human emotions take over and get attached to something material. Therefore, by numbing human emotions, the processus can be stopped.
The remedy: to implant mechanical systems into the flesh of the Retro-Citizen. This would prevent or stop the contamination and progress of the virus. The presence of one or several foreign bodies acts like a shield, operating on the same scientific principle as a vaccine. The intent being to damage the integrity of the body, to separate individuals from what makes them human. Feelings, dreams, desires.
To de-humanize them, in order to save them from a de-humanizing virus.
Because of the growing number of patients, the Corporation quickly became a gigantic industry, an actual financial and political power. A symbol of salvation for Retro-Citizens. In less than three years, the city council was taken over, and the future of Retrocity has since been in the iron hands of the Corporation.
After an hour of conversation, I was dismissed and escorted back to the heavy doors. From the glass elevator that brought me back to the ground, I could see the smoke escaping from the titanic chimneys of the foundries in the distance. And from the surgical clinics...
All this makes me want to dig deeper. To stick my nose in the dirt like I can do so well. This virus appearing out of nowhere, and a Corporation playing with human bodies... the iceberg must have dark reflections below the surface.
Dec 16, 2004
So here is the deal: I am trapped in some kind of theater where a sinister play is taking place, of which I am the narrator.
What strikes me the most is the weird logic of this whole system ... Humans, androids, implants and prostheses... I've seen a bunch of cheap sci-fi movies, but it hits differently when you step straight into one! None of these oddities seem to bother anyone, and I already feel reprogrammed and sanitized, about to accept all of it as a new normal.
Retrocity feeds you with her languor, makes you swallow her ways. Then, when you're matured enough, she devours you, brutally, softly, like a starving lover ... until you become part of her.
I'm here for an indefinite time, it seems... At first, I used to check the mailbox every morning. Tomorrow I'll open it for the first time this week... I see my possible departure as a fading hope. If I cry for help, no one will hear me. If I escape before I can legally leave, it will be a manhunt, inside and out.
What do I fear the most? The government that got rid of me, or the Corporation watching over my exile?
And I feel the paranoia rising within: what if all this was final? What if this "reporter" mission was only a pretext to help pass the pill? To exile me quietly. Totally.