Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 6: Coffee Cat
Kaitlin looked into the darkness of the cage, the all consuming shadow seemed at war with her eyes. “Okay, really no one has changed the bulb in there? It went out at 3 O'clock.”
“Sorry.” Jeff mumbled, rubbing his eyes, “Not exactly my best day ever.” She rolled her eyes at him, useless as ever.
“Fine. Whatever.” She'd have to do this herself, again. She went over to the supply maker, and tapped on the screen till the option for the type of bulb in the animal cages came up. Selecting it, the machine went to work printing the light bulb for her, and it popped out onto her waiting palm from the fabricator. It took seconds, the damn thing was horrificly slow. Kaitlin went to the cage, and opened it up, reaching into the ceiling of it, and unplugging the dead bulb before replacing it with the new one. It lit up to reveal a bland looking cat that blinked its eyes as though it had just been awoken from a pleasant nap. “Poor thing, you've been in the dark because Jeff was a big lazy meany.”
“Hey!” Jeff yelled from across the room. She reached in and scratched the cat's ear, it closed its eyes and made a soft rumbling purr as she continued.
“What's your name pretty cat?” She lifted its tag up to reveal the answer, “Mr. Sprinkles. That's quite the name.”
The cat had no discernible reaction to her running dialogue.
“I wonder who left you here huh? You're such a pretty cat.” No reaction.
“Hopefully someone comes in and adopts you soon. Poor thing. Being alone is the worst thing in the universe.”
Graelyn heard herself yell. Maybe there was a word in there, like “No!”, but it could have just been a yell. She couldn't remember regardless. Her eyes were fixed on the point where she had dropped off the side of the building. The rope hung there, swinging gently back and forth like a cradle. The woman with the red hair turned towards her, her eyes open wide, “What on Midgard?” Graelyn took a few steps backwards instinctively.
“You're dead.” The woman said to Graelyn, as a very pure statement of fact.
Graelyn turned and ran. She realized she'd passed Arch, and that he was now following behind her.
“We need to get out of this building.” Arch said. Graelyn nodded, she found she couldn't speak, so she just pointed downwards.
“No chance. They probably have this place locked down.” They hit a corner, and rounded it into another room filled with glass where two women with rifles were playing a boardgame. Through the window, another skyscraper could clearly be seen. The sound of footsteps behind them was deafening.
“Don't argue. Get on my back.” Arch ordered, and Graelyn complied, as he squatted down, wrapping her arms around his head and her legs around his torso. She was too shocked to really protest regardless, but his plan made sense, sort of. Then again, she felt panic run through her. He was actually going to do this. This was crazy!
Then the bullets started.
The glass in front of them took several hits, as did a potted plant, and Graelyn heard one ping off of Arch's calf. Then Arch began to move. It was like he'd been unleashed, his legs pumping like pistons, his feet charging forward. The two women began to reach for their rifles. Arch shot forward like a bullet, tearing up the carpet with his charge towards the window-- and smashed through it. Graelyn tucked her head down to avoid the glass, and saw the city underneath her, Arch's feet hanging beneath her like she was looking down into the water from a boat. The buildings and people went by in an instant, and she felt them falling in an arc. She braced herself, and felt the impact hard. They smashed through the next pane of glass, and Arch tumbled onto the floor, Graelyn losing her grip and tumbling off onto the lush carpet. Her heart was pounding like a hammer. She knew the adrenaline was staving off the feeling, but as she held her hands up above her face she could see they were littered with shards of glass.
“Graelyn? Graelyn you need to get up!” She felt large metalish hands pulling her into a sitting position, and she realized she didn't have her glasses as he was very blurry.
“I don't know what's going on but we have to keep mov-” Arch was cut off by a streak of fire and smoke that caught him in the torso, and pushed him back from Graelyn, out another window, and into the air. The streak then exploded, and she realized it had to be a rocket. Graelyn couldn't make noises, her voice was lost somewhere inside her and it wouldn't come out. She scampered up, and turned around to see the blurry shape of a vertical take off craft, a woman with red hair lowering the barrel of a rocket launcher.
Graelyn bolted, her instinct to escape kicking in stronger than she'd ever felt in her life. Was Arch dead? She had no idea. He'd survived the depths of the ocean, maybe he could survive a rocket launcher? She didn't know. She didn't even know where she was going, as her feet took her down an empty hallway to the emergency stairwell where she barreled down it, slamming into the metal railings and probably pushing bits of glass further into her body. Where was the damn cat? What was going on? Was she going to die? She tried to push all these thoughts out of her head, but she couldn't. She just kept running, her lungs were burning at this point, her legs felt like they were going to collapse, but she kept descending the stairwell, floor after floor, till she saw a nondescript door by the wall and shoved it open into an alley filled with trash. She kept running, out the alley, into a street where she could see some Centro company soldiers were exchanging bullets and plasma bolts with some of the Revolutionaries. She ran the opposite way. Okay, so she knew this was a full scale revolution then. She wasn't sure how long she could keep going before she collapsed, she was probably losing a lot of blood wasn't she? That couldn't be good. At that moment, she couldn't go any further. Her legs gave out, and she fell onto the pavement. This time, she got up quickly, but she didn't keep running, her head was woozy. She saw a black car coming through the fray, dodging a flaming barrel and clipping a running soldier from one side or the other.
“Hey, Graelyn.” She turned to the voice. She saw the fuzzy shape of a gray hoodie with something yellow on the crest of the hood, shorts... She'd seen that shape before.
“Come with me. I can get you out of here.” The shape held out a hand. The car pulled up to the other side of her, and a window rolled down.
“Get in. Honestly, darling, you should have flagged me down.” It was a woman's voice, and Graelyn found the candor of her somehow reassuring. She acted on impulse, and ran into the open car door. The car door closed, and the gray hoodied figure lowered its hand.
“Well, you are a mess. And great deal younger than I expected. Been getting gene therapy Graelyn?” Graelyn squinted at the shape. It looked like she had big alien bug eyes.
“Who are you?” The woman make a slurpy sound, and Graelyn realized she had a gigantic iced coffee.
“Ah. Alexis, please fabricate a new pair of glasses for our dear Miss Scythes.”
“Of course, Mistress!” A voice said through a speaker, and there was a short buzzing sound, followed by Graelyn feeling a hand place an object in her own palm. She slid the glasses on- they were a perfect prescription. Her injuries were pretty bad, and she was getting blood all over the leather seats. “Alexis, send back the medical kit as well. And make a note to have the car sent to the detailer's if it’s not obliterated in the revolution.” A box shot out of a hole in the wall, and the woman in front of her, who looked like a thin magazine model wearing big shades and a fashionable dress handed Graelyn the box, which she opened to find packets of blue gel. Graelyn picked it up, and looked back at the woman puzzled.
“Do you not recognize them?” the woman asked.
“I've never seen one before in my life.” The woman looked either confused or disappointed, it was hard to tell.
“Just put some of the gel on your injuries. Actually, a lot of it, I'll be realistic.” Graelyn ripped open the packet and began doing that. She felt a tingling on the back of her hands as she applied it, and the glass shards seemed to start dissolving! She stared down in awe.
“That's incredible! Are those nanobots?”
“Yes, that's right. I'm surprised you don't recognize them.”
“Are they common here?”
“No dear, you invented them. They cost a fortune.” Graelyn looked down at her hands, which were being stitched up before her eyes. “You'll still need some new blood, but you'll be alright.”
The car did a swift turn around a corner, and there was the sound of an explosion outside the window.
“Mistress Moore, I'm going to be taking the 54th Street route. It looks like there is a fight down 52nd.”
“Of course, Alexis. Use your best judgment.” She sipped more of the coffee, and dug into a bag for a biscotti, which she delicately dipped into her coffee after lifting the lid. “So, the billion credit question is: who exactly are you? Because Graelyn Scythes would never not take credit for that nano-cream. In fact, I daresay her pride is one of her most insufferable aspects.”
“My pride is not insufferable!”
“My point, precisely.” She smirked smugly at Graelyn, who grumpily pursed her lips as the woman took another bite of her biscotti, seeming to mull something over with every chew. A bomb went off in the distance. “Now, Graelyn has never made a clone of herself. Personally, I believe a properly modified clone is an indispensable asset for women of our caliber. But she never had one made — it’s not in her nature. Yet here you are. Which means I need an explanation.”
Graelyn looked out the tinted window. There were a group of fighters behind some rubble shooting at what must have been some sort of tank, before the car zoomed out of view of it all again.
“I am Graelyn Scythes. I'm just not in the right place.” She rubbed her temple, “You may find this hard to believe, but I'm from another reality. One where John Aril invented a way to cut into other dimensions.”
“No, that makes sense. I'm familiar with the science behind it. I actually put some money into that endeavor, but it never panned out. Besides, Graelyn has never been good enough an actress to pull off the confused and disheveled… thing,” she gave a waggle of her hand in Graelyn’s general direction. “You’re doing, and there’s no one else with the skill or motive to impersonate her so convincingly and come up with such a story. Biscotti?”
“Uh, sure.” Graelyn said, and found one of the cookies in her hand, and a small bottle of iced tea rising out of her arm rest.
“You said...” Graelyn began, her brain felt like it was sloshing back and forth in her skull and she couldn't seem to find the words in there for a moment, “you said a modified clone?”
“It’s a fairly basic principle, you can't have someone just as clever as you mucking about instead of taking your orders. So you pay handsome women and men in designer lab coats to make them more docile. Of course, that golden age is over as far as this planet goes.”
The woman tipped her sunglasses down, peering out the window and heaving a sigh before returning to her coffee, which Graelyn noticed was silently stirring itself. “I'm afraid I'm done with Earth. It was getting a bit stale anyway, really not my style. Too stuffy, too many ideologues. Is there a revolution where you come from?”
Graelyn couldn't help but think she was taking everything way too well, especially as an aircraft careened into a building in the distance, the explosion left a blinding flash in its wake. This woman didn't even flinch.
“How are you so... Reserved?” Graelyn said after the jolt from the plane crash had worked through her system.
The woman gave a curt bark of a laugh. “Darling, empires rise and fall, but the truly exceptional keep going. I've had a way off of this planet for years, and I already have some say in the working of the Revolution. Money works wonders, even with Communists as it turns out, so I'll still be able to keep track of things and minimize my asset loss. But as I asked: revolution. Your world. A thing?”
“No, not seriously. There are some scattered groups but they're not organized enough to really achieve much.” The woman on the train who'd asked her to join that revolutionary group came back to her, and she could almost feel an alternate life where she'd said yes in her fingertips. She shook her hand as if that could make her forget the sensation.
“I'm still surprised you believe me, that I'm from another reality.”
“This isn't my first rodeo. Not that I enjoy rodeos, mind you. I always thought Aril might be able to achieve his dream. If there is a reality where everything is possible, then he must have done it somewhere. Just a pity you showed up in this place at such a barbaric time. Speaking of which, there must be another version of you around here somewhere.”
Graelyn turned her face away from the woman, “Yes. They executed her.”
“Pity. A waste of a good brain. Even if her hubris did border on the intolerable. Ah well, c’est la vie. I'm nearing my stop. You can come with me, or I can let you off somewhere else.” Graelyn turned back to her.
“Where are you going?”
“To the rim. I own a moon there. A fairly nice one, as it were. You're welcome to join me.”
Graelyn felt a flood of feelings: going with this woman, this 'Mistress Moore' would probably be the safest route possible for her. She'd certainly not be on the hit list of a revolution. But two other thoughts left her unable to take the offer up. She didn't know if Arch was alive or dead, and if he was alive, even charred and barely living, she had gotten him into this and needed to get him out of it. Second off, if the version of Aril in this reality hadn't developed the technology to make portals... It could be because Graelyn hadn't interned with him. It was a somewhat narcissistic thought certainly, but she wasn't above thinking it. If that were the case, this Graelyn might still have her cat. Maybe the cat was dead though? It was apparently sometime in the future from her own time, the dead Graelyn had been much older than her. But the two chances were things she could not let go of-- those possibilities took over any certainty of safety, and she shook her head.
“No, I'm afraid I can't. I have responsibilities here.” The woman raised an eyebrow.
“So soon after you pop into a new reality? You are quick for commitment. Ah well, your loss. Shall I let you off at your apartment? If I know the you from this reality, and I do, there’s bound to be something useful in there. Or at the very least something interesting.”
“That sounds acceptable.” The car pulled to a stop.
“I knew it would. It’s been real, alternate reality teenage Graelyn. Mind the bombs.” As if on cue, the car door popped open, and promptly slammed behind her as she stepped into the sunlight. As she stared up at the building the car’s window rolled down, and the woman lowered her sunglasses to look at Graylen in the eyes. She hadn't gotten a good look at them before, but they looked off somehow to her, as if eyes here were different somehow. She felt interrogated. “And Graelyn?”
“Do take a biscotti for the road.” The woman extended a biscotti to Graelyn with a perfectly manicured hand. She took a hold if it as if she as being handed a baton, and in an instant there was only one hand on the biscotti. The woman raised her sunglasses and the window slid slut. With a screech of rubber the car sped off at top speed, only getting faster, till it made a wide turn into another avenue. The wind kicked at her hair, and Graelyn realized that she was totally alone on the street.
Her legs felt a lot more stable, after that blue goo, and she didn't have any trouble walking up to the building, where she put her John Arilhand up to the scanner on the door, and waited for the door to greet her with its pleasant, “Good afternoon, Director Scythes, can I do anything to make your return home more pleasant?”
“Yes.” She replied curtly, “I can't remember my room number, could you remind me?”
“Of course!” it replied.
Graelyn smiled, and stepped through into another life.
But what happened to Arch? Is he okay? Who is that red haired woman? Find out next time on 10,000 Dawns!
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.