Written by James Wylder, Art by Annie Zhu
This chapter is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can read all of (and download!) at this link:
Chapter 28: The Girl That Missed the Ocean
She helped Arch make his way through the building, and out the front doors. Looking around, Graelyn still didn't know where they were at all.
“Do you recognize this place Arch?” He scanned the area.
“I think this is Indianapolis?”
“Indianapolis? Why would I want to be working in Indianapolis?”
“Your other self has clearly made some morally reprehensible and logically questionable choices, but from what's in my memory Indy seems like a pretty pleasant place...” Graelyn shifted her grip on Arch, and they made their way through the militarized city, making their way slowly to a train station.
“Where are we going?” Arch asked, as Graelyn gave the woman at the desk her Dawn payment card and shrugged in response, looking up at the list of destinations.
“...Annapolis.” She decided.
“Excuse me, but... Are you wearing a spacesuit?” The attendant asked. Graelyn slid the card further towards her.
The train ride was quiet. Few people rode there, and Arch watched Graelyn much of the time. He wasn't feeling great, naturally, but he got the sense she wasn't either. She stared out the window, the country side of North America flitting over her glasses in brief reflection. Her forehead touched the pane, her breath fogged the glass, making the glass warm itself to disperse the moisture.
“I filled out my internship application to Project Atlantis on a train, you know.” She said finally.
“Do you feel we're going full circle?” She shrugged.
The train got off at Annapolis, and Graelyn called an automated cab to drive them to the beach.
“There's still a beach here, so the world hasn't ended.” She nodded. “That's good, right?” She kept her forehead against the window, and didn't reply. The cab let them out at the beach, and Graelyn stepped out onto the sand, her space suit leaving moonman prints in it as she walked. Arch followed her for a moment, but let her finish walking by herself. She walked into the liminal tides, and sank down to her knees. She sank down, and looking out at the ocean, saw the immensity of it. This was the Atlantic, where she'd first gone down below and started this whole mess. There was the water, and she tried to become one with it as it rolled over her.
“I thought she'd be wonderful Arch.”
“I'm sorry.” Was all he could think to say, as the tears started rolling down her face.
“I thought I'd be this great hero, this amazing scientist... And I was a wonderful scientist, but... I was a monster? I was the sort of monster I'd always told myself I wouldn't be. That I had finally started to think I was wrong to think I could be. That was me in there. I treated you like Manuel treated you... Like a thing...”
“That wasn't you.” He tried to reassure her.
“But it was me! That was literally the real me.” The tide washed over her, and she began to weep. “I'd finally, finally thought I was someone worth while...”
“But you are someone worthwhile, you're not her. You share the same face, the same name, but you're not the same.”
“But we started the same, and I had it worse than her, easily worse. I could crash and turn into something even worse...”
“I don't think that's how that works.”
“And how is it fair that she gets everything I wanted while being so... Malicious? Her mother never hurt her. Her father didn't leave. And she turned out wrong?”
“Its not fair... But I don't think it was your pain that made you who you are, or her pleasure.”
“I'm destined to be her, whether I want to be or not.” Arch heard a meow, and saw a large black cat sitting nearby on the beach watching. He ignored it and continued.
“No, you're not. You have the power to make different choices.
“My life is defined by cruelty.”
“Your life is defined by more than that.”
“Like what?” He thought for a moment.
“Mercy. You ran from people because you didn't want to hurt them. You've got a heart in there that you're following the rhythm of, even if how you conduct the score isn't always the best way, despite everything, despite you being a version of that woman, you're not.”
“Than what's that make me? A miracle?”
“A miracle of malice and mercy.” She saw the sun glint off the water, and closed her eyes.
“I don't want to be alone anymore Arch.” She got up from the water, and looked him in the eye, “I want to join Dawn. I don't want to hide anymore. There are people like me who hurt people, groups like the Council who do it to... I want to be part of the fight against them. I want to stand for something.” Arch walked toward her, and stood in the water with her.
“Then I'm with you.”
“You don't have to join Dawn just because I'm going to, you have all sorts of other things to do.”
He took her hand, “You think I don't have things to stand for? The man who made me built me to be a slave, and thought I was less than human. In our own reality, in our home, my people are still slaves there, and I need to free them. Dawn is the only group I know who can help me do that. And even if I didn't have that to fight for, you're my friend. You stood with me, you rescued me. You could have been selfish and let me die or abandoned me. But you didn't. We're in this together now.” He placed his other hand around hers, her hand comforted by the cold carapace.
“We're joining Dawn.”
“Well that's the kind of touching shit I like to hear.” Backgammon Jenny said from next to the cat She got up, dusting the sand off her poodle skirt, and picked up the cat, who meowed as she did so, and placed him on her shoulder where he perched like a parrot.
“This is Salabaster. He's our cat.”
Graelyn and Arch looked at each other, and then back at her.
“How long have you been here and how did you get here?”
“I live here? Remember? I remember someone pointedly told you that earlier. Its nice to see someone else from Dawn here. Kinan can't come, obviously. Not yet anyways. So its up to me to get you out of here.”
“We need to make sure everyone we dropped in the past is okay.” Jenny nodded.
“I've never actually time traveled. Within my own reality before.”
“I think we can manage it now that Arch and I have done it...” Graelyn started trying to do some of the math in her head. “We'll need your help, but I think the three of us can pull it off.”
“We're going to Spiral.” Arch cut in, “I thought that was clear.” Jenny smiled:
“Like I said, home.”
“Wait,” Graelyn said, “There is something I need from our reality...” Arch nodded, then clutched his side.
“I don't think you totally fixed me up.” He said, his voice coarse.
“Ah.” Graelyn said, “To the past it is then.”
* * * * *
Heirum J. Whitehead was not having the greatest day ever. His company had been shut down by Centro, and taken over, and now he was on Mars, technically still in charge of it, but also in exile. Mars was okay, but everyone was a repressed Communist, and he just wanted to run a ridiculously profitable tech company. He poured another glass of ginger ale, and tried to resist the urge to go get some brandy. It was a hard urge to resist. Taking a sip, he set the glass down, and stared into the stagnant liquid. Then the liquid began to ripple. Raising an eyebrow, Heirum saw the ripples increase, and then in the center of his living room a large white swirling disk appeared.
Okay. That was new.
The next thing that happened was that a large number of things came through the disk.
-Seventeen people in what looked like ratty survival gear from a post apocalyptic world.
-A small crystal orb the size of a basketball.
-A larger orb made of metal and crystal.
He had barely had time to take in the reality of this occurrence, when a different disk appeared next to it, and from it popped out:
-A teenage girl in a spacesuit.
-A woman in a poodle skirt and turtleneck with a katana.
Heirum stared, and then took another drink, before remembering it was just ginger ale and wouldn't actually do anything towards steadying his nerves.
“Okay.” Heirum said. He wasn't sure what else to say at this point. The group of raggedy people scampered up, and raised up futuristic guns. Okay. The teenage girl ran over to the cyborg, and holding its hand, asked if it was okay. It nodded faintly.
“I hate to break up this touching moment.” Heirum said, “But, uh, what the hell?”
“You're the Heirum J. Whitehead guy?” A Chinese woman asked.
“I am the only Heirum J. Whitehead guy!” He responded defensively. The teenage girl kissed the cyborg's forehead, and then got up and walked over to him.
“Hi, Heirum. I'm Graelyn. That's Yi.” Yi waved, “That's Arch.” Arch waved, clearly in pain. “And that's Backgammon Jenny, don't ask about the name.”
“Hello to you. So, how terrified should I be right now? Scale of one to ten.” Graelyn shrugged.
“Depends on what you mean. You have nothing to fear from us. But the future is pretty scary. That's why we're here.”
Graelyn proceeded to tell Heirum a long story. It started in Atlantis, and ended in his living room on Mars, though it truly wasn't over yet. She told him about her friends, her enemies. She told him about Dawn, the Council, the Firmament. She told him about Alice's revolution, and she told him about Centro's future.
“And I know you'll help me, because you already have.”
“That's awful presumptuous of you.” She shrugged again.
“Its been a long couple of months.” Graelyn ran her hand through her hair, as the group of survivors explored his living room, knocking a few lamps and knick knacks over.
“So what do you want me to do?”
“Change the future. Start figuring out how to fight the Council in secret.” Heirum sipped his ginger ale, and rubbed his temples. “I know you will, because as I said, its literally proven you have.”
“You're asking a lot of a guy you just met.”
“I have a tendency to do that.” She replied. “But you won't be doing it alone. You'll have Yi's group to help you.” Heirum rubbed his chin.
“I want a cool title if we do this.” Graelyn rolled her eyes.
“Sure. Fine, whatever.”
“Like the Heirophant!”
“Whatever floats your boat. As long as you do it. There are a whole ton of things that will be paradoxes if you don't agree to this anyways, so...”
“Oh I'm doing it. Being the person important enough to save humanity, that's right up my alley.” He downed the rest of the Ginger ale. “I'll gladly be important.” Graelyn narrowed her eyes. If he was really agreeing to this, then she'd done it. She expected Kinan to jump out of a closet and congratulate her, but no one jumped out. No one even celebrated.
“Then I guess we have an accord.” She looked out the window of his room. It was the first time she'd seen Mars, and she wished her first time seeing it was under less stressful circumstances. It was a rolling ocher plain, a storm rolling across it, a forest of pastel Russian Olive trees attempting to survive in the thin atmosphere in the distance. It was beautiful. She made a note to come back, and see it all without the shadows around her eyes.
“I need someone to fix Arch.” She said. Heirum nodded, and poured himself more ginger ale, then pulled out his phone and tapped something into it. In a few minutes some technicians and medics arrived, surprised to find a group of armed people in the room, and began attempting to fix Arch. Graelyn paced, and gritted her teeth as they worked, and let Yi and Heirum begin discussing their new future. Arch's eye grew brighter, and they slowly figured out where to attach an IV to give him more blood. They had some trouble with his systems, but he was clearly stabilized now. She stayed out of the medical tech's way: if she was them she'd be want to be left to do their job, only jumping in to give them a brief primer on what little she knew about his internal workings. When they were finished, she walked back over to him. They'd laboriously moved him out of the living room into something like a garage or a workshop. There was all sorts of stuff in here as she looked around, some prototype parts labeled “Judicator Mark 2”, the Orb which had also been carted in here, some jetpacks, a hovercraft... Arch was on a concrete slab. Whatever gravitational regulators he had so he didn't break chairs in his body clearly weren't working anymore, as there was a broken cot he'd clearly been placed on originally. Graelyn knelt down by his slab side.
“Hey.” She said simply. He reached out and touched her face.
“I'm still a bit awestruck you came back for me.” She shrugged.
“I'm just trying to be the kind of person I should be. Anyways, you'd have done it.” He laughed.
“Thanks for the faith in me. You did all the hard work this time.”
“Only because you saved me on Triton.” He made a “Psh” sound, and a dismissive hand gesture in response. “You're really the only person I can totally trust Arch. Aside from my cat, I guess. You have no idea what you jumping in front of the orb mean to me.”
“You sort of totally outdid my heroism, if you didn't notice.”
“Oh hush. We've come a really long way. And now we can go home.” Arch nodded.
“Though what on Earth do you need to go back there for?” Jenny and Salabaster opened the door as if on cue.
“Well,” Graelyn Said, “I do have other friends.”
* * * *
Doctor Hiriwa closed the hatch, and panted as she slid down against it. With all the ruptrues throughout the base, she wasn't certain they'd be able to make it to the escape subs in time. Dan, Yossara, Layla, and Jerry along with much of the rest of the crew were busy panicking, while John Aril was quietly puffing on his ecig in the corner. Once again, she had to do the hard work.
“Can anyone see if the other halls are flooding?” She yelled, and Yossara and Jerry got to work checking.
“This one is!”
“So is this one.”
“We're trapped down here.” Aril said finally, and calmly. “The pressure outside those doors will kill any of us.” Somehow, this stopped the panicking. The room became quiet as the grave they all knew they were in. That was, until, the white light appeared. Stepping out from a hole in the world, came the intern, Graelyn Scythes, along with the Cyborg she had found. Behind her were a woman in a long brown coat with an undercut, and another with a turleneck and poodle skirt.
“Graelyn?” Yossara asked.
“The intern?” Dan said.
“Huh.” Aril added.
“Director Aril, I'd like to inform you that I'm resigning as your intern. Also, I'm here to rescue you.”
“Well then, Miss Scythes.” He said, rising to his feet. “I'd say that's a fair trade.”
* * * *
Katelyn had been running the desk at the shelter for a few months now, but she had never seen anything like the colorful group of characters who arrived through her green-blue glass doors that day. There was a tall cyborg in a trench-coat, a weird girl dressed like the 50's on cyberpunk, a woman wearing a long brown coat with an undercut who never smiled, and, for some reason most notably, that girl who'd shown up a year ago to drop her cat off. She looked much older than a year older though. The girl came to the desk, and she set down a tablet.
“I'd like to adopt a cat. Specifically, Mister Sprinkles.”
“The one you gave up for adoption.”
“How do you know, like, that it hasn't been adopted?”
“He hasn't, has he?”
“Well no, but its awfully presumptuous of you-”
“Look I filled out all the paperwork...” Katelyn sighed and looked it over. It was all filled in correctly.
“Fine, follow me.” The motley crew followed her into the back where there were rows of living spaces for different animals. She didn't need to be shown the number, she recognized her cat instantly.
“Mister Sprinkles!” She ran to the enclosure, and the cat came to the bars and gently nuzzled his face against her hand.
“I'm so sorry mister sprinkles. Can you forgive me? Yes you can!” She said in a weird sing songy voice.
“This is weird.” Jenny said.
“Agreed.” Kinan replied.
“Look, just let her be happy.” Arch whispered back. Katelyn unlocked the door, and Graelyn pulled the cat out it, holding him against her chest and feeling the gentle purr of him against her. She kissed him lightly on the head.
“Okay,” Graelyn said, “I'm ready to join your inter-universal paramilitary group now.”
“What?” Katelyn said.
“Glad to hear it. The hoodie suits you.” Kinan said, and opened up a swirling white portal, which the three of them stepped through, one by one. Katelyn stared as the swirling white portal collapsed into nothing. She couldn't understand how what happened made any sense with physics, with reality, with logic, with the basic rules of the world, and then she looked down at the correctly filled out paperwork...
Well, at least the important things in life were being done correctly.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.