Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 4: There's More to the World Than you Realized
Graelyn was utterly shocked when she returned to the cafeteria.
“Arch.” She said breathlessly, “You have a hat.” He did indeed have a hat, a top hat, and on the front of his mask slightly above where the mouth would have been was the image of a cartoon mustache. Next to Arch was Jerry, who had a concerned look on his face. Across from them on the other side of the table was Dan, as well as Layla and Yossara.
“Dan gave it to me.” Arch said, waggling the mustache on his face. Graelyn blinked, and reminded herself that Arch had enough weaponry to kill them all a few times over.
“Okay.” Graelyn said.
“We're playing 'Robespierre' Jerry said pointing at a board game box. Graelyn nodded.
“Ah. Game night. Or whatever time it is.” She really had forgotten.
“Want to join in? Arch is just about to kill off the Girodins, which means he'll win and we can start a new round.” Graelyn hated game night. She avoided it at all costs whenever possible, and usually hid in her room saying she had work to do when it came up.
“Are top hats and mustaches period appropriate to the French Revolution?” She asked blandly.
“No, we were playing 'Steam Trains of Callisto' before this, and we thought it'd be funny.” Layla said, holding up the game box, which had a man with a top hat and an exact replica of Arch's mustache on his face. Graelyn nodded again. “I'll watch.” She said plainly, and sat down, back straight, hands on her lap.
The game was fairly interesting to watch, if a bit predictable. Every player was a different faction in the French Revolution and had to try to get the other factions executed either one at a time, or all at once. Once a player died they got to play as the 'mob' and tried to screw everyone over. Graelyn didn't know much about the French Revolution, and she couldn't tell if the game was actually educational or not. She was pretty certain that it was at least more educational than 'Steam Trains of Callisto'.
Arch was pretty good at the game, though he ended up losing to Yossara after she framed him for trying to smuggle an aristocrat to England. The whole table thought this was hilarious, for some reason, and Arch seemed pretty adept at making it funnier for the group by projecting weird things on his body, culminating in his own execution by guillotine displayed on his chest, where after his head was separated from his body and raised to the crowd, his mustache waggled, causing Jerry to fall out of his seat. Graelyn sat calmly, observing the whole affair. Wiping a tear of joy, Yossara stuttered a bit through the last bits of her laughter before asking,
“So, when did you get down here? I wasn't informed we were having-”
“He's a special project.” Graelyn cut in. “Mr. Aril wants to see how he works in the undersea environment.” Yossara frowned slightly, “And he left you to manage him?”
“He's not much trouble, getting the coffee doesn't take that much of my time. You guys have important work to do.”
“Of course.” She replied back.
“Speaking of which,” Dan said, “I'm actually ten minutes late for my shift. Not like Daria will care, but still.” He grabbed the top hat off of Arch and waved goodbye as he headed off. The others began packing up the games.
“Well, I hope your special project sticks around. He's ended up being a lot of fun.” Graelyn gave a faint smile.
“Well, the life of a special project is a weird one.” Arch said glumly, handing Jerry some cards. The game club headed out, and Arch looked over at Graelyn. He waggled the mustache. No reaction.
“So... What do you do for fun around here?”
“Not that, clearly. We have some time before things are ready.” She stood up, and gestured to him. “Come and see.”
Arch looked at the mini-sub warily. “Are you sure it can take my weight?” Graelyn had already ran off to the lockers to get into a wet suit, and was re-tying her hair back as she walked out.
“Yeah, I'm sure. I managed to pull you up with one of those you know.”
“Still, I might fall through the bottom.” Graelyn shook her head.
“I checked the internal weight limits. You could fit the crew of a ship in there. Well, not by mass, but you get the picture.”
“Gotcha.” Arch climbed the ladder up onto the sub, which did unbalance it a bit, but didn't flip it, and slipped into one of the passenger seats. Graelyn dropped into it, and closed the hatch.
“So whats the name of this sub?
“What do you call it?”
“I'm not good at coming up with names.” She said, flipping several switches, and Arch felt the sub roar to life beneath him before dampeners activated and the sub was silent as a 1910 film.
“This is where I go to escape.” The sub began to dive, and exited the city, its search lights cutting through the darkness. Graelyn fiddled with something on the touchscreen on the dashboard.
“Do you like music?” She asked. Arch shrugged, “Yeah, sure.”
She tapped a few things into it, and after a few moments of silence, Arch heard the sound of violins. The music started soft, then slowly rose like it was reaching towards the surface of the water, before diving quietly back down. As it played they surged through schools of fish more brilliant than rainbows, and through a rock trench that was filled with weird tube like creatures. As they did, a new movement started, this one more somber. Arch wasn't sure what wind instroments were playing, but they wove in and out of the strings as though participating in some slow dance. The ocean seemed the perfect place for this song. Something large and dark slipped by in the distance. And then, the strings rose! He could tell Graylin pushed harder on the acceleration. It wasn't even fast, but after that feeling of darkness, it felt so much brighter. The piece closed, and Graelyn looked over at him expectantly.
“I liked it. What was it?”
“Mozart's 5th Symphony.”
“Oh. I don't think I've ever heard it before.” She looked pleasantly surprised.
“Good. Most people say 'I thought the 5th was the one that goes 'dun dun dun DUN!'?' but that's Beethoven. I've always loved Mozart's 5th, even though no one knows it. Its frustrating at times, but I suppose it makes it mine in a way. Still, I actually wish more people were familiar with it. You almost never hear it.”
Arch thought a moment, “I'm not really familiar with what music people like.”
“You don't seem like the kind of guy who would.”
“I wonder though, it didn't have... A melody that sticks in your brain easily?”
“No, it doesn't. Its not catchy in the traditional sense, it doesn't have a hook. But it seeps into you. Or, at least it seeped into me.” Graelyn stopped the sub, and held it steady over the trench they'd passed over before (they'd apparently made a loop) letting the fish swim by again.
“Do you have a favorite song, Arch?” Arch thought hard.
“I haven't really put thought into that before.”
“No one has asked?”
“No one has asked.” Graelyn pulled her legs up onto her chair and tucked them into her chest.
“Well then, special project, I'm all ears.”
“I'd like it if you wouldn't call me that.” Graelyn didn't look so much sorry as though she had updated an internal spreadsheet. “Understood, Archimedes.”
“I guess... I like ride of the Valkyries by Wagner?”
“Richard Wagner. Interesting choice.” Graelyn reached over and tapped the screen a few times, pulling up the song, and playing it.
“Is it a bad choice?”
“A lot of people don't like Wagner. He had a lot of views that haven't aged well at all, to put it nicely, and well, the Nazis were super fond of him.”
“Nazis?” Arch said. Graelyn raised an eye brow.
“You're kidding right?” Arch shook his head.
“Should I... Know who the Nazis are?”
“Arch, do you know what that board game was based on?”
“I'm guessing it was based on a story about some sort of revolt in a fantasy land called 'France'. The manual had a lot of background info. Was it based on a book series?” Graelyn's eyes got incredibly wide.
“Arch, you said you were born on a spacestation. What did they tell you there about the outside world?”
Arch looked away from Graelyn, out the window into the faintly lit sea of shadows, “They told us there wasn't one.”
On the way back, Arch asked to hear Mozart's 5th again, and they were silent as the sub came back into port. Both of them waited for the last minute of the song to finish before disembarking. Graelyn went to the lockers to get changed again, and Arch stood out on the dock area, the only living thing in the room, silent as a manikin.
Graelyn emerged, dry and ready to go.
“Graelyn, one question.” She nodded for him to go ahead and ask.
“Did you go into my systems while I was asleep?”
“Yes. I didn't realize you were a person at first. I only discovered it when I realized your files were memories...” She felt a pang of guilt in her throat. She turned away from him, covering her face with her hands.
“I'm sorry.” He shook his head, “Its okay. I doubt you've seen anyone like me before. You were just examining a piece of junk you found.” He gently put a hand on her shoulder. She slowly lowered her hands.
“I don't feel like its that simple.”
“It is. I don't blame you, its okay, stop worrying about it. If I'm going to be down here, I'll need a mechanic anyways. Just consider that your first observation as my mechanic.” Graelyn exhaled, and nodded in relief. She felt like she had almost crossed a line drawn in the ocean's waves. She never wanted to hurt another person, even unintentionally. Taking a deep breath she put a smile on and turned back to Arch.
“So then Archimedes, are you ready to see why we built a city under the ocean?”
Near the center stood a man in an argyle sweater vest over a dress shirt, a tie loosely hanging around his neck. Despite the sign noting otherwise, he was smoking an electronic cigarette, the vapor rising up from it at regular intervals with a small blue glow.
“Who’s the hunk of iron?” he asked, as though he had turned away from looking at the gyroscope.
“I think its something for a special ops project. I’m showing him around.” The man nodded, and glanced at the nape of Arch's neck as though that explained everything. A woman in a lab coat who Arch guessed was Polynesian in origin looked up from connecting a big tube to look incredulously at the man, “Really Mr. Aril? You're not going to inquire further than that.”
“I know what I'm doing. Get back to work.”
“So, what is this place?” Arch asked. The question caused Graelyn to grin wildly.
“This my new friend, is a portal between dimensions.”
“You can make those? I thought that was something out of science fiction?” said the towering cyborg who had survived the crushing depths of the ocean.
“You can.” Said the man at the center of the room. “Or rather, we can, and we will.”
“But really, you shouldn’t.” said the man who had suddenly appeared in the room along with an equally towering figure that was identical to Archimedes but black and with no coat. The man finally looked away from the gyroscope, his e-cig going limp in his lips. “How on Earth did you get in here?”
Graelyn could hear Dr. Kalama mutter something about not asking that a minute ago, even as she backed up. “And where did you get one of those?” He continued, pointing at the black colored version of Arch.
“One of those?” Arch asked, getting no reply.
The man began looking around the room as though he was looking at a child’s science fair project.
“Decent, fairly decent. You haven’t stabilized the holding pattern though. No wonder you're using such touchy methods of finishing the project. Not that it matters. I’m here to shut your operation down.”
Grae’s boss chuckled at that, “really? On whose authority?”
“I work for a people who regulate things like this. You’re about to mess with the barrier between universes, and that is something I’m afraid I simply cannot abide.
“I'm on the board of Directors of Centro systems. I can do what I want. That's the reason we have a corpratocracy. I would have heard of an organization like yours. Surprise: I haven’t heard of such an organization.”
“A small species like yours wouldn’t have.”
Graelyn raised an eyebrow to that, as did Hiriwa, but Aril stayed stoic as though that was a normal thing to say in conversation.
“Even with one of those on your side, you're outnumbered, and there are security systems that were never listed on the plans if you've been snooping on them. There’s no way you can take us all down.”
“Oh really? Did you forget where you are?” As if on cue, the doors began to open. All of them, all over the base. Graelyn scampered from Arch to a switch board which she began to operate at intense speeds. Arch could hear the water coming into the base, rushing through the halls, as the gyroscope started spinning. The man who had appeared began yelling at Graelyn’s boss, who yelled back, and the black carapaced Arch began to move towards Archimedes. Arch shifted his shoulders, and pushed out swords that were apparently loaded in his arms as his opposite marched towards him, casually batting a man in a lab coat from his path as he did so. The opposite’s blades extended, and he began to raise his arms in a fighting stance, till Arch felt someone tugging on his arm. He began following the tug by rote, only to turn and see Graelyn leading him towards the spinning gyroscope which was now…. Glowing. “I turned it on!” she yelled over the din, “You'd better hope I was right about Tubol Cain!”
The water surged in, smashing men and women off their feet, or forcing them to clutch for their lives to tubes and consoles. The yelling intensified, and Graelyn and Arch stood right in front of the spinning machine. It was hard to tell where Aril was, maybe he'd left. Graelyn saw Dr. Kalama knocked off her feet, and the hand of security guard reach out for her before a rush of water blotted them out. The water was rising rapidly.
“Jump in it.” It did not look exactly safe.
“Are you crazy?”
“We’ll drown!” He felt like saying, “No, you’ll drown.” But then again, yes, she would drown. And whatever this was, it was dangerous. She looked at him, waiting, the water rising around her feet, the dark Arch sloshing towards them. He felt her grab his arm as a wash smashed into her side. Arch looked at her one more time, she bit her lip, and he stepped into the spinning glow.
Where will Graelyn and Arch end up? What's on the other side of the Portal? Did the experiment work? Is the cat okay? Find out next week, same cat time, same cat place for the next thrilling chapter of 10,000 Dawns!
And don't forget to check here Saturday for the charity bonus story!
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.