Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 10: Grae is the New Black
Graelyn and Arch were permitted a few moments together, and their first reaction, much to both of their surprises, was to hug. It has been an exhausting day, and they clutched each other for a moment, Graelyn's breath moving in and out as she pressed her cheek to Arch's cold chest, and Arch's breath continuing to move in a steadily pumped stream.
"I recognized that man, in the van."
"So did I." "I wasn't sure if you would. What are you going to do?"
"I don't want to talk about it." She knew he meant it, and she didn't press the issue. But his answer didn't help but worry her more. The wind blew through, and the guard cursed as she had to hold her beret in place.
"They're going to put me on trial." Graelyn said softly.
"We'll make a case for you."
"They're out for blood. I, the me here, not me, did something in Mexico City. Something horrible. I don't know what." Arch rubbed her back gently.
"I don't think you're capable of anything terrible."
"You don't know me that well. Its in my blood."
"That may be true but I'm still on your side."
"How in Pluto's heart do you have so much trust in people." Arch shrugged. She could hear the machinery move in his shoulders through his chestplate.
"Its not so much that I trust people as I don't want to give up trusting them." Graelyn let go of the hug and sighed.
"I wish I had that luxury." Arch lowered his arms and made a motion like he was scratching his head, though he couldn't actually be scratching it of course.
"Its not a luxury, its more of a-"
"Time's up kids, lets move it." The guard nudged them with her rifle butt. Graelyn moved back, and moved her hands out in front of her where the handcuffs forcefully pulled together magnetically and resealed themselves together.
"Why doesn't arch get them?" She asked the guard.
"Look, we're all for keeping up appearances, but no one is under any illusions here." She just nodded. Everything was happening so fast, she wasn't sure who was being logical and who was being irrational anymore. Part of her doubted this was real, that her cuts and bruises had healed so fast from that gel, that she would be on trial for crimes that were her own but weren't, she felt an urge to go home, but she knew there was no such place. She was just as much at home here, being blown by a cold wind in handcuffs, as she was in a nice warm bed. At least she told herself as much.
"I have another question, where is my cat?"
"Captain Fudgesickles, the cat I was holding when your people broke down they door. You guys took him from me." The guard's face was impassive.
"You named a cat Captain Fudgesickles." It wasn't a question.
"And I would again, now where is he?" The guard shrugged.
"I really have no idea. Ask someone higher up the food chain."
"I thought you were all equal, or whatnot."
"Look lady, you don't have to be snarky. We're a military of course we have a hierarchy otherwise there wouldn't ever be a revolution. It would be like herding cats."
"What exactly is herding cats like?" Arch asked seriously.
"Its an expression, Arch." Graelyn tried to explain.
"Okay but you'd have to know what herding cats would be like to understand it. Are there cat farms--" The guard had had about enough of this, and Arch was led off who knows where else, and she was taken to processing. She'd never imagined she'd end up here like her sister Xandra, but she supposed there was room for more than one black sheep in the family. If she ever left here. If her family ever learned of her travels. If... What if they existed here to? They had to, didn't they? She existed, and her siblings were older than her... She was searched (again) for hidden weapons, a little roughly, and taken to get a mugshot. She stood in front of the wall holding up her personalized placard with her prison information, and stared dejectedly at the camera as they snapped pictures of her. She'd tried to remain uppity with the guard outside, but she felt the resolve draining out of her as they took her through each step of the process. She had to remove her clothes, for which she was at least allowed privacy, and put on the prison garb, which was made of a loose top and bottom woven out of fibers that acted as tracking chips, lit up under focused UV light, and could be wirelessly triggered to flash and wail like a siren, as well as give her electric shocks. If she tried to remove the garments outside of select areas of the prison, she would set off the clothes to do all three of those things. The same guard who had been with her outside took her neatly folded clothes and vacuum sealed them in a bag. They took her hair ties, and her hair was now loose at her shoulders, something it almost never was outside of sleeping and lounging around at home. She felt invaded as people looked at her hair down, and tried to hide her face. They took her glasses, and replicated her new ones just in case she'd hidden anything in her old ones. For all she knew Ariadne Moore had installed trackers in those glasses she'd given her: she'd never even considered it. The guards seemed mighty confused why she had glasses though.
"You could just get surgery, or get new eyes printed or grown." She heard the man she assume was the "Jack" from Alice's story say, he looked like her description of him, and his nametag said "Jack" which was another hint.
"There is nothing wrong with my eyes." She said for the 8,000th time in her life. She was also given new undergarments, new socks, and new shoes. They all didn't fit her quite right, and she felt uncomfortable walking around in them. Then the guards took her to a white room where a doctor gave her a full physical examination, took a blood sample from her, and had her pee in a cup.
"So am I in good health?" She asked.
Her Doctor gave her a polite smile, "We'll see after the tests." And opened the door for the guards to take her away to her new residence. Finally deposited, she stood in her cell, looking at her reflection in a mirror across from her on the other side of the bars.
"You don't even look like the same person." The guard in the red beret from the yard said.
"I don't think I am." Graelyn turned to the guard.
"What's your name?"
"Shona." She replied, "Shona Daniels."
"Why'd you join this fight?" Graelyn asked. "No big reason. No one shot my brother or anything maudlin like that, I just got tired of being pushed around."
"So now you push other people around?" Shona scrunched her nose up, "Its not that way at all. Its your lot who were pushing people around. Just because we bit back doesn't make us bad people."
"I can't argue with that. But I don't have a 'lot'. I don't even know whats going on anymore."
"I'm starting to suspect you don't." A new voice said. Shona saluted crisply, "At ease soldier." Alice stepped in, she didn't look quite as dignified as she did in the field. She looked as tired as Graelyn did, like she'd pulled a mask of resolve away. She walked up to the bars of Graelyn's jail cell. "But the question isn't do I believe your story, but will the people of Earth." Somehow without the pomp, her word's frightened Graelyn. Without the rhetoric, without the red tinted slogans, she felt her stomach churn. "You'll be put on trial soon, we're trying to find a lawyer to take your case but its proving difficult, and I'm afraid there is very little chance you won't be executed. I'm being honest with you Graelyn. I Can't control the World Revolutionary Council, I can only fight them so much, on so many things. I have to apologize: yours is a battle I can't waste my effort on. I genuinely believe you're innocent, so you deserve my apology." Graelyn didn't know what to say.
"That's it? You just... Come in here and tell me I'm going to die and you're sorry? My life has value. You can't just snuff it out because its inconvenient. You can't..."
"Its not that simple. Should I fight for you to not die, or wait to play my cards to sway some of the more heated members into not punishing whole innocent communities who picked the wrong side in a fight they had no control over? I'm sorry. This isn't easy, and this isn't simple. Making change last means making these choices." Graelyn's hands slipped from the bars, and she tottered back and forth like a metronome. Silently, she stumbled over to the bed in her cell, and sat down. Alice at least did her the courtesy of not looking away.
"I want you to look after my cat." Graelyn said, finally.
"I have a cat. One of your soldiers took him from me when you were arresting me. If you're going to wash your hands of my life you're not going to let my goddamn cat die." Alice didn't particularly like cats, at all, she was definitely more of a dog person. She thought cat's were selfish predators people were crazy enough to let into their home, but she couldn't say no to this.
"I'll take care of your cat."
"Thank you." Graelyn said. "I also want you to see if you can get that Intern released. She's just a scared and confused girl. She doesn't want to hurt anyone." Just like me, she thought. Alice nodded again, "I'll see what I can do." Maybe this was for the best, she thought. She'd always disappointed everyone. This wasn't the worst thing that could happen to her. She wouldn't have to worry about anything ever again. She'd just disappear into whatever awaited her after her death. Arch could stop worrying about her to. She'd have to reassure him to not try to get her out of the situation by mounting some sort of violent rescue. The more she thought about it, she more she liked the idea of being dead. It was something she tried not to think about, but here it was, and it was somehow reassuring.
"Alice... Songbird... What did the other me do in Mexico?" Alice looked at her sadly.
"You really, truly don't know do you."
"I know its something awful. Awful enough you shot those people." Alice broke her gaze away from Graelyn, "If you're going to die, its best you don't know. It will only make the end hurt more.
* * * *
Arch knew very well that his holding was a joke. The guards knew it. The Songbird knew it. So when he told the guard he needed to visit someone else in the prison, the guard sweated a bit as he called his superior.
"You know, uh, Sir, that this is highly unusual."
"Do I look usual to you?" Arch said, putting a mirror image of the guard on his body.
"No, uh, no you don't, sir." The guard's called him sir. He didn't imagine Graelyn was getting the same cozy treatment, but he had to play along if they were going to get out of this alive. And not just get out of this situation, but out of this reality. Arch had no idea how the experiment that had brought him here with Graelyn worked, but he know she was the only person with the know how to get him out of it.
"I want to see Manuel Salazar." Arch concluded.
* * * *
"You have a visitor." Shona said, knocking on the bars. Graelyn got up, and held her arms out for her cuffs to lock together, and was led to a room full of little cubicles with a pane of glass inside each one for people to talk to each other from either side. She was led to one, where the face that met her looked both shocked and overjoyed. It was her sister, Xandra. She was so much older now, she was older than Graelyn by three years, and with this place being 20 years beyond that ish, she had to be around 40. Her hair was in liberty spikes, she used to just have a Mohawk, and most of her head and visible skin was tattooed, along with copious piercings. She was smiling widely, and Graelyn couldn't help but smile back.
"Graelyn!" She heard her voice clearly though the soundproof glass. There had to be built in microphones and speakers she couldn't see, "I'd heard you were dead and... you're so young looking."
"Hi Xandra." Graelyn said, "I'm not actually sure where to start with explaining all of that."
"Dad's been so worried. We thought for sure you couldn't have made it after your brother got shot a few minutes in..." Graelyn put her hand against the glass, as though that could reassure her.
"What happened to him?" Xandra looked up confused. "Graelyn we already talked about this. You don't remember?"
"We didn't talk about this. It wasn't me you talked to." Xandra put a hand over her mouth.
"You're a clone. My sister said she'd never make a clone." "I... I'm not a clone." She sighed, "That would probably make more sense than the truth."
"Well... Whatever you are, I'm done dealing with it." She got up, and left the room. That was Xandra for you, leaving whenever things got rough.
* * * *
The doctor pulled the results up on the screens so Alice and the others could look at them.
"She's definitely not a clone. There are none of the tell tale signs of that, no implanted memories, no traits of vat growth, no attempts to make the cells look older than they are to cover up a rush growth job. Nearly no genetic differences either between the two subjects, except for a slight difference in hair color."
"Hair color?" Jack said from the back of the room.
"Yes, but we can't find any traces of modification. There are things we can look for to look for gene insertion or replacement, and there's no sign of it we can find in either genome." Graelyn's mugshot appeared side by side on a monitor next to a picture of a still living Graelyn shaking someone's hand and smiling for the camera: indeed, her hair was lighter, in the picture of the handshake than the mugshot. The mugshot Graelyn had rich black hair that was badly taken care of, while the one shaking hands had more of a very dark brown, and also had taken better care of it.
"Examining the corpse of Subject One," a picture of the dead woman appeared, rope marks on her neck and all appeared, causing a few people in the room to grimace, "we learned a few things. Subject Two had been exposed recently to several forms of radiation, that Subject One never had. We also learned that Subject Two had sustained several childhood injuries that Subject One hadn't, while they had both sustained one similar one."
"What sort of injuries?" Songbird asked.
"Well, look, we can examine people at a molecular level, but this part is still guesswork. If I were to guess I'd say she sustained regular beatings as a child." Alice nodded. Part of her had doubted that Graelyn hadn't just been making that story up to play on her emotions. Now that she knew it was true, she felt guilty for doubting her. Though it wasn't like she didn't have good reason to doubt any word that came out of Graelyn's mouth... But how brave of her to tell a car load of strangers.
"Anything else of interest?" Chantelle asked.
"Well, now that you mention it..." The Doctor tugged at their collar. "Look, this is weird. This is very weird." The doctor pulled up some data on the screens. "We can date cells fairly precisely now, and date a person. by them. Subject Two has not received any de-aging modification, and is around seventeen years old... But was born thirty-seven years ago.
"That's impossible!" Jack stated, obviously.
"Yes it is." Alice mused. "It utterly is."
* * * *
A group of Guards walked Arch down the hallway, through a security checkpoint, and through to another hallway. There they led him to a cell where a man lounged in his prison gear as though he was in a high class hotel.
"So you're the cyborg I've been hearing so much about." The man said in accented English. Arch analyzed the voice print and realized the man was intentionally accenting his voice more than he needed to, at least according to the software. He took it under note.
"Yes, I am."
"Awful kind of the prison to not even put you in prison garb. They scared of you?"
"Maybe they should be."
"I take it that might be a threat then." He swung his legs off the bed and rested his hands calmly on his knees. "Your name is Archimedes, no?"
"And yours is Manuel Salazar."
"You seem awful interested in me. Say, is there someone I should know with a grudge under that mask?" Arch tipped his head to the side like a dog trying to hear something.
"You don't recognize the mask?"
"Oh I recognize the mask. I designed it."
"Then you do know why I'm here."
"Do I?" He gave an exaggerated look of doubt. "Senior Archimedes, usually when people see me with that mask, they give me hugs. Which makes me wonder exactly who you think I am."
"Don't play coy with me. You designed this." He held his arm out, flexing his fingers. "Me." Salazer leaned in, putting his index fingers to his lips and his elbows to his knees.
"The curious thing is, there is something like you I thought of long ago."
"Well, it never happened."
Manuel finished explaining his plan to Ariadne Moore, and she burst out laughing.
"Oh, Manuel! A child wouldn’t invest their allowance into something that absurd. Now, tell me what it is you actually want me to invest in.” She paused, hoping to see the rage light up on his face. He held it in, but his lips pursed, and his chin trembled. Her grin melted into a cool smirk. “Oh my, now this is interesting. That was your honest proposal. How charming.”
“You're aware of what honesty is? You're full of surprises today.” She just kept smirking. Manuel grimaced and stormed off. There would be other plans.
Somewhere else, Manuel finished explaining his plan to Ariadne Moore, who took a curt sip of her tea.
"I think we can do business, Manuel. Let me assure you though, strictly business. My opinion of you remains the same."
"Likewise." He said smiling. Ahnerabe Station was a go.
"What do you mean it never happened?"
"I tried to get funding and it failed. Now I heard a curious story from your fellow, with the black hair, and you know, I was wondering how long it would take the people here to notice."
Arch leaned in this time, "Notice what?"
"A few things. Graelyn Scythes doesn't have black hair. It’s very dark brown. Close enough most people would miss it. You're part of a project I discarded forty years ago, and the guards who brought you in here are all from Guatemala."
Arch's body literally lit up in surprise. Salazar grinned, and then the anti-electronics grenades went off. And then the real bombs went off.
* * * *
Shona was looking through her phone, which she wasn't supposed to do, when the burst went off, and the phone went off, and the lights went off.
"Shit." She said, and before she could say another word a man wearing night vision goggles kicked the door open and shot her with a double punch taser/knock out dart. As she faded out, she could her explosions, and wondered if everything was going to be okay.
The world went dark for Graelyn, and she heard boots as she felt a shock as the electronics in her uniform shorted out. She heard the door to her cell unlock, and she heard a man say, "Quick, Director Scythes, take my hand." She grabbed on, and the man pulled her along as fast as he could through the dark. The emergency lights were even off, which was impressive. After opening a closed door by shooting out the lock, the man took her into the prison cafeteria, which was missing a wall, and prisoners were streaming out of into landing VTOLS. The man just pointed, and she didn't ask questions. Graelyn ran, other women in prison uniforms bumping into her as she did. No one bothered wondering why this was happening they just ran from the prison into the sunlight, where a defensive semicircle of soldiers was putting out covering fire to allow their escape.
"Graelyn Scythes, why don't you join me?" Said Salazar, from the doorway of his personal VTOL, "After all, I think we have some things to discuss on the trip over." She looked behind her to see several revolutionary guards making their way into the cafeteria, and she ran to his VTOL, taking his hand to lift her onboard as the began to lift off.
"Have you ever been to central America?" He asked.
"I can't say that I have." She replied over the engines.
"Oh, well this should be a treat for you." As the firefight continued below them, the door closed, and the VTOL accelerated, rushing past the sound barrier, as Salazar poured himself a glass of wine before the gunfire had even stopped ringing in her ears.
Come back next week to find out exactly where Graelyn is ending up-- and what will Songbird do now that there has been a prison break? Things are coming to a head so be sure to read next week's exciting chapter of 10kd!
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.