Memories of Retrocity (Part-01)
Updated: Feb 20
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 and translated into 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.
MEMORIES OF RETROCITY
This book is not a novel. Not a fiction. Do not expect entertainment. No happy ending.
This book is a testimony. The unique remnant of a doomed destiny.
As I am writing these lines, William is dead already.
I managed to leave Retrocity. I passed the wall on a rainy night. I think the city let me go. That I have served my time.
I lost the child this morning, just after breakfast. On the floor of my hotel room. My mechanical wombs could no longer contain this piece of life. I already knew. I always knew it would come to this, and maybe it is better this way.
You hold his journal in your hands. All that remains of William Drum. Of this man that has been trapped.
He wrote these lines in the middle of his stay.
It feels like a good introduction to his diary:
Six nights of rain.
The thick mist now engulfs the city. I see the building's tops piercing the garden of clouds, monoliths of stone and metal. They stretch out as far as the eye can see. Black towers lost in the foggy sky. Below, the metal, the asphalt, the city ... Retrocity.
I have been walking the streets for a while now. Weeks have become months.
My stay was not supposed to last, but the city swallowed me in.
Didn’t take long for me to realize it was a trap. I knew my superiors had sent me here for the sole purpose of making me disappear. And I understood, by dint of collecting testimonies and anecdotes: once inside the walls, the outside world forgets you, irremediably.
Retrocity is out of this world, moving in is dying.
And here I am. Obsessed with the sound of the machine, the keys, and the letters hitting the paper. An attempt to save some part of me through the act of writing.
The time always comes. When we see the end. When the only thing left to do is to stop and reflect.
I would gladly share some of these thoughts with the neighbor, but he has just merged with the chandelier of his living room.
Only I remain here.
Me, and the machine.
"And try to understand what this is all about!". That's the last thing the boss yelled at me before dropping me here. Today I can say it: it is about nothing at all. Nothing he wants to know.
I'm just stuck here.
And maybe I deserve this.
To end up in an apartment too big, in a building too empty.
In a deserted area of a city in agony.
Another night knocking my anxieties down.
Hammering the keys of a machine that seems to smile when I search for my words.
She is beautiful. The city. Taking you in.
I do not live in Retrocity, I haunt it.
Journal of William Drum
Nov 27, 2004
Nobody ends up here at random, and I was no exception to the rule.
In fact, I did something stupid. And rather than to try to save my ass, my superiors decided to send me here. Like all those sick people, criminals and whatnot, who have been dropped here to disappear.
Except that in my case, someone gave me a mission. A purpose that would keep me from sinking too quickly.
After the trial, when the decision was made to send me here, a journalist got in touch. Not a small freelancer from the sports section. But the director of a big national paper. He wanted to “know". He wanted to hit the jackpot. His pre-retirement scoop.
Well I think he’s got it!
No one can imagine what is going on inside the city walls.
If he was to ever share these notes with the rest of the world, he would be taken for a madman. So I guess I might as well go all the way, and write everything!
I like to write, and I found this old machine in a dark corner of the building.
Writing makes me feel sane, it gives me some distance. When I write, I become the memory of the city, her voice, the words she speaks within herself.
Cop is not an easy job. Often you must deny what the body tells you, just so you can keep on going during your third night without sleep, with the help of more or less legal chemicals.
That night I was not in a good state. Nervous. Wasting my time on a tense and nasty investigation, in the gloomy streets of Chicago. The reflective uniforms of the coroner guys were giving me a headache. My brain was trying to escape, and I could not focus. I was thinking about the hips of my boss's wife, with whom I was messing around for about six months already. It was not passion, but it was good. Guilty, dangerous, but good for both of us.
She had messaged me earlier, wanting to meet at our usual place.
It had been a while, and I wanted her warmth.
I joined her late. Soaked and cold under the rain.
But that night, she wasn’t alone. The husband, my boss, had followed her and was sitting in the chair, in the back of the room. And she was on the bed, her face buried in the palms of her hands. She had been crying.
He had the look in his eyes. The look of someone ready to end it.
He stood up and jumped at me.
I went straight for the jaw. Not a warning punch. Not a punch to show off. No, rather the kind of strike that brings one back to his own fragility, a punch that comes from the heart of a tired cop who can no longer stand his job and the face of his superior.
A blow, hard as a deadline.
I had demolished him.
He was laying there, and I realized I was as finished as he was.
Things went downhill from there.
The investigation revealed that the boss was completely loaded with cocaine that night.
To protect her, we lied about the relationship.
Nothing left to justify my presence in the hotel room.
It just became really messy.
The only option was to make me disappear.
And so, on a Thursday night of November, while people were happily gathering all across America around a dead and stuffed turkey, I was about pass through the doors of Retrocity.
I stepped off the train with my suitcase and inspected the surroundings.
The platforms were deserted, except for two or three railway workers.
Behind me, the gates of the city, through which my train had passed.
The gates were just an opening in the gigantic wall that stood there. With a bunch of miradors and barbed wire.
The train that had dropped me behind the jaws of this titanic structure had already left, back into the mist, squealing and smoking.
So I went on, forward on the empty platform. Alone. Fighting against all my instincts. “Do not. Turn back. You still can. You must leave". And I kept walking.
Everything happened fast. Chains on the gates, heavy harrow diving into the ground.
Three silhouettes approached on the poorly lit esplanade. Two bright projectors aimed at my face, dazzling me. I could barely distinguish who was talking to me. All three were wearing the same long dark coats and mafia-style hats.
These clothes could make anyone look elegant. But those guys felt lanky, stiff, and uncomfortable.
- "Mr. Drum?" Asked one of them.
- Yeah. William Drum”, I answered, dry. I was trying to use my hand as a cover. To block the blinding lights. I wanted to see his face, but I couldn’t - and I got worried. "So what's the plan? Straight to the cell or do I get to meet the warden before?"
- “Follow us, Mr. Drum. We are going to take you to your apartment, which is graciously provided by the Corporation" said the faceless bastard.
He was not the type of guy I'd be shooting the shit with. His tone was monotonous like a prison door. If I didn’t abuse coffee on the train, I’d be already asleep. I was completely exhausted. Only fear was keeping my body awake.
The two other guys walked by my sides.
Exactly at the same pace.
I began to understand why no one smiled when I compared this place to a prison earlier.
I never had any illusions about the true nature of this "transfer of Inspector W. Drum out of the state of Illinois due to annual restructuring of the Police Services"; but at this instant I was starting to perceive the depth of the pit in which I had been plunged face first. I was starting to measure the importance of my “little journalist job" for the Chicago Post. Something unspeakable and dreadful was buried in this city.
Or maybe Retrocity herself was a monster. All I knew at the time was that I had cold sweat running down my spine, goosebumps all over, and the need to run away.
I clenched my teeth and walked along.
We got in a nice car, Rolls-Royce style. A model I had never seen before. With a metal emblem I could not recognize. A "H" inside an "O". I suspected it was Hover, the company that "graciously provided me with an apartment".
The cop who spoke to me sat up front, with another getting behind the wheel. I sat with the third one, in the back. Yes, I say "the cop," because after more than a decade in the police force, you get to smell that particular mixture of authority and submission. Typical of the guy who is stuck between both sides of the ladder, scared of his boss, but happy to have been designated as the representative of order. Rising above the pleb in the hierarchy of power. I know, I still have leftovers.
But my career, my past, it all feels so distant already.
The car was going fast. The city was unfolding before my eyes. Sinister decorum. The neighborhoods adjoining the wall were deserted. Old buildings with black facades, broken windows letting go of thin veils and curtains, dragged outside by the wind. One street light out of ten was lit, blinking, illuminating old ads painted on the decayed walls, selling products from another time.
After ten minutes, we stopped in front of a large building, gray and dirty, blackened, taller than all those around. A colossus of at least twenty floors made of cracked concrete and metal beams. We had reached the periphery of the abandoned neighborhoods, the ones running along the ramparts.
The driver threw a bunch of keys in my direction.
- "Fifteenth floor, door 09, on the left. Goodbye, Mr. Drum, and welcome to Retrocity".
And that was all. Like that. I got out of the vehicle, picked up my suitcase and walked up to the building’s door.
The car took off, passing under the red sizzling neon light, advertising for Hover TVs.
And at this exact moment, I saw the face of the driver. A face that I have not been able to distinguish until now. A face I was not going to forget. The face of death. A mechanical skull. The silvery reflections of his metallic jaw disappeared at the corner of the street.
And then I was alone.
I walked inside the building. The main hall was better maintained than I suspected, given the outside appearance. It was dusty and really dark. The only light was coming from an opening at the top of the stairwell, moonlight filtered through broken glass.
I got inside the rusty elevator and closed the gate. It was working. Fifteenth floor, left ... While searching for the keys buried in my pocket, I heard a muffled sound coming from door number 14, on the other side of the corridor. It seems I had a neighbor.
The key turned in the lock. Home Sweet Home.
All things considered, it could have been much worse. I think I expected some kind of tomb. Instead, I was standing at the door of a gorgeous apartment. It was a spacious place, stinking dry decay and dust, but with a lot of character.
I found the machine lying there, in the middle of the living room, sitting on a wooden table: a typewriter.
A forty-year-old model at least. A pile of blank paper sheets at its side.
I threw my suitcase on the bed, in an explosion of particles.
I sat on the old leather chair, at the coffee table. And I started to write.
That's where I am now.
It's Thursday November 27th, no, wait, it's probably past midnight now.
It's Friday, November 28, my name is William S. Drum, and here's my story.
My story, and the one of a place called Retrocity.
Dec 06, 2004
Well, I believe this machine works properly.
I would rather watch something on TV, or listen to the radio, but this is not the kind of comfort available around here.
I was in exile, and every minute I spend here is a reminder of that.
Let me introduce you to the cozy bit of paradise I was sent to.
I’ll start by saying that I do not understand half the things I see, that I have no one to talk to, and that I am sincerely starting to freak out. I need to process all this. I need an interlocutor, even if it has to be myself. So I can put things in perspective. Reflect.
My apartment is on the fifteenth floor of an empty building. Almost empty. It is one of the tallest buildings in the area, with an unobstructed view over the ocean of ruins surrounding me. Everything is so strange here. Destroyed, abandoned, decayed.
There is tap water, but the taste … I’ll pass.
Apparently, this urban desert occupies the entire periphery of the city, all surrounded by a gigantic wall.
Gates permanently closed. My arrival seems to remain an exception.
I tried to visit the neighborhood this morning, and didn’t see anybody. Not a soul.
I wish I could tell you that I felt bad about it, that the absence of my human siblings makes me feel sad. But in fact I was rather happy to be alone, at least at the time.
Given the look of the area, I just happen to have a very bad feeling about the locals.
So yeah ... it's just the story of a lost cop exiled in a broken tower in the most deprived neighborhood of America's grimmest city.
Tomorrow, I'll go further. I will walk past the checkpoint at the end of my street, if I am allowed. And I will get closer to downtown.
Right now, it's “night time". The difference between day and night is subtle here. With the opaque black cloud floating permanently above the city and the winter coming, it is almost always dark. Let’s say that the night is just a little brighter between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon.
I lit a candle. I found it on the first floor, in what used to be the concierge's lodge. I can see electric lights farther away, towards downtown Retrocity, towards those tall towers that constantly spew a grayish-black smoke. Inhabited neighborhoods.
Because I'm finally starting to feel the need to see, meet, and talk to my fellow Retrocitizens.
Over there in the distance, there is life.
I know there is.
December 7th, 2004
I am still getting used to the machine. It works better tonight than it did this morning. This morning I almost threw the damn thing against the wall. Almost. Like this mechanical thing was the receptacle of all my tension and anxiety.
I need to watch my temper. That’s the kind of impulse that led me straight to the situation I am in now. The city, the exile. This is all I have left now. Without this journal, without the machine, I do not know what I would do to keep myself busy. To take care of the mind.
So I went out for a walk.
That was the plan for today anyway.
I just did not mean to go out so early. I was in the street by 9:30 in the morning.
Heading toward downtown.
The “watchers”, that’s how I call the guards at the checkpoint, let me go without asking questions! I guess I am already part of the scenery.
I saw their faces when I passed by. Monsters.
Monsters dressed in long coats and felt hats. Very “thirties” in their clothing style. But that's not what I'm referring to when I call them monsters. I am talking about their eyes. They shine with a weird dead light, cold and malevolent. I know I am overthinking this. It's nothing but typical electric ocular prostheses. But they look like the batteries are running low. I can't help it, it makes me very uncomfortable.
On some of them, the entire lower jaw has been replaced by a steel equivalent. Bare metal fangs and chromed molars, fleshless, smiling at you. Bestial, aggressive. Threatening.
Now that I’m in the comfort of my apartment, sitting at the table with a glass of scotch and typing all these things down on paper, I can pretend to be detached and relaxed about it. Writing is reassuring. But outside, alone in the death-stinking city, it's a whole different ball game. Outside, fear engulfs me. And it only leaves me once I am back in the apartment.
And there are things much worse than the “watchers”.
The streets are filled with people physically altered by biomechanical surgery. A whole section of the population walks with bits of metal grafted on their faces. In their bodies. Inlaid. It's like being in the nightmare of a writer from the 80s: "In the year 2000, everyone will have been transformed into mechanical monsters, robots, with implants and plugs, and the cars will fly over the city". Well, we have the monsters and the robots, but we seem to have forgotten about the flying cars.
The few children I have seen are not spared by the phenomenon. Approaching downtown, I met a legless kid, dragging herself across the street with her robotic arms. I don’t know what’s going on. Why they are undergoing these procedures. I just know that it is the Hover company that performs them ... I saw a huge neon billboard advertising the merits of implants, with no clear arguments other than “it will be great!”.
I decided to go for a drink. This I am familiar with.
I stepped into the first sketchy bar I found. I walked through the cloud of cigarette smoke and sat at the counter, in silence. I lit one.
And then I started to ask questions.
- "Say, why does everyone have ... you know ... on the face …" I told the barman while gesturing weird things with my hands to make him understand what I was referring to. "See, I'm new in the area, and ..."
... he stared at me quietly. For a minute.
And he turned around to take care of some other customers.
No answer. Ghosted. And I couldn’t even pretend to be surprised about it.
I tipped anyway and left.
(To be continued!)