Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 7: Viva La Impact
He tumbled through the air, again. He'd lost count of exactly how many times that had happened today. He'd been lucky to, the rocket hadn't detonated when it hit him for some reason, just kept pushing, and his processors worked faster than his brain in order to let go of the projectile before it detonated of its own accord. He watched the explosion above him as he fell, and even though he was really lucky to have not been killed by the high yield military technology, heard a little voice in the back of his head saying, “well, you survived the missile only to crack like an egg on the ground, so lucky is relative.” He sighed behind the mask, and spread himself out. His body actually could easily take this hit if he took the right precautions. He was made to take hits. He needed to time this perfects though. His internal sensors told him he'd hit terminal velocity, which wasn't good, but it did set clear perimeters for his landing. He neared the ground, a nice big area of tiled concrete, and just before he would hit, activated the weapons in his hands and feet. He pushed the energy out full force, draining the energy cells, and ruining the concrete he was over, which pushed him up enough that he went two feet up in the air, and then dropped back down with a loud 'clunk'. A few feet wasn't so bad.
Standing back up, brushing concrete dust off of himself, he examined his surroundings to see a small group of the fighters in rag tag uniforms with their jaws open, or eyes wide, or both, who appeared to be tying up a smaller group of uniformed soldiers who were equally shocked, their hands on their heads.
“Uh, don't mind me.” Arch said inadequately, “I'm uh, just passing through.” He gave them a thumbs up, and tried to casually walk away.
“Wait. Um, don't move?” One of the rag tag group said, raising a gun. Arch sighed, again.
“Can we not do this please?”
“Whose side are you on?” The man yelled back at him. His face was covered in a thin layer of grime from battle, his stubble sticking out from it.
“No one's side. I'm really not interested in this fight.” Arch took a few steps away from the group. He just couldn't catch a break.
“You're either on the side of the Revolution, or the side of the oppressors, there is no inbetween in a warzone.”
“I mean, traditionally don't medical staff—never mind forget it. Look, I don't know what you're standing for. I don't know what your revolution is, I just need to find my friend.” The man did something to the gun, Arch honestly wasn't sure if he was cocking it or taking a safety of, it didn't look like either, but it got the man's point across.
“Who's your friend.”
“No one you know.”
“Civilians have been evacuated from the area.”
“Have they? Great. Well she's a curious girl and you know what they say about curiosity.”
“It killed the cat.”
“It did? Okay, actually I didn't know they said that about curiosity, consider me educated. My point here is—”
The man's walkie-talkie buzzed. He answered it.
“Really?” He said into it. Then, “Right.”
He raised his gun again.
“Sir, you're under arrest for interfering in the execution of known criminals. Your safety is guaranteed if you co-operate.” Arch weighed his options: he could definitely take all of these troops. His internal processors had already mapped out how his body would move, how he could disarm each of them in turn. It had laid out different movement plots for killing, disarming, or capturing. But he also knew this was a group who knew his location, and who had vertical take off and landing craft (a vtol for short). In close enough proximity they only hadn't shot him again because of his proximity to their own troops. He needed to make sure Graelyn was okay, but there was more than one way to secure her safely.
“Okay, fine, I surrender. But I want to talk to your Commanding Officer. I need to make sure my friend is okay.”
“Oh don't worry,” the man replied, “she wants to talk to you to.”
Alice MacLeod stepped off the vtol, and handed off the rocket launcher to Xhang the special weapons expert, who was waiting for her to get off the thing. “The rocket's are defective, they probably sabotaged the software remotely since they couldn't get them out of our hands.” Xhang nodded, he looked exhausted, so Alice put a firm hand on his shoulder. “You're doing good work here Xhang, we wouldn't have been able to use any of these if it weren't for you. He smiled a bit, and she kept moving. She had a war to win still. Chantelle approached her from the door to the base, and began talking to her as soon as she was within clear listening distance. “Progress taking the city has been swift ma'am, word that most of the board of Directors are dead caused half their remaining forces to lay down arms all over the world. Unfortunately the other half are pretty entrenched.” Alice wiped her brow with her sleeve as she walked and nodded. “Half if better than I was expecting to be honest. That's great news.” Chantelle nodded, and then ran down some other information that wasn't much of a surprise. Long story short-- they were winning but taking out the fortified enemy positions was going to be tough, especially if she wanted to avoid civilian casualties.
She wanted more than anything to avoid civilian casualties.
“There is one more thing ma'am,”
“Please, just Alice.”
“Yes ma'am. The man you shot with the rocket survived the fall.” Alice stopped walking, and turned to fully face Chantelle.
“Excuse me? Did you just say he survived a fall out of the upper levels of a skyscraper?”
“I'm saying he fell, hit the ground, and then surrendered to some of our soldiers while trying to make some lame jokes. I said you'd want to talk to him.”
“Lame is an ablest slur Chantelle. Please don't use it.”
“And call me Alice, please.”
“I'll try to remember, Alice.”
Archimedes hadn't actually ever been in a jail cell before. The guards weren't quite sure what to make of him. They'd taken his coat, and tried to disarm him, but finding nothing of value in the coat and no way to access his internal systems gave up and gave him back the coat. He found the experience somewhat comforting, actually. Archimedes had grown up in enclosed spaces on the space station Ahnerabe, his room had been smaller than this cell. Everything on Earth had seemed to large when he got there—skyscrapers were towering over him filled with spacious apartments the tenants thought were tiny. There was no roof outdoors, and the sky seemed to go on forever into a heinous blue. He felt overwhelmed sometimes walking around out there, but he had acclimated enough to get through it. No one could see his face anyways. No one could tell when he was uncomfortable, and that was the way he liked it. Sitting there, cramped, he could finally exhale, and if he shut off his visual receptors off, it was nearly home.
A knock shattered the illusion.
“Hey, you've got a visitor.” An invisible voice said through the door.
“Let them in.” He responded calmly.
“She wants to meet you in a more comfortable location.” Arch looked around the cell, and turned off his microphone as he sighed, before turning it back on.
“Well, lead me there then.”
They didn't cuff Arch as they walked him down the hall, which showed either kindness or a basic knowledge of his mechabiology, and that he was clearly there because he chose to be. A glimmer of reason gave Arch a nudge of hope.
Alice MacLeod had a warm cup of tea, and an expansive view of the jailyard. Alice had been to jail many times, for protesting, for stealing food for her family. She had never been to prison though, and she'd always been in and out of the doors fairly quickly. Bailed out by her dad, or mom, or Jack, or any number of family friends. Standing here on the other side of the wall felt wrong.
We've won, she thought. We're the ones running prisons now. Good gods, if we get this wrong we could end up just as bad as the people we overthrew. She sipped her tea with a little less certainty until a knock came at the door. The woman who stepped in wasn't Chantelle, it was a different woman in revolutionary fatigues, one she didn't recognize. “I'm sorry, I was expecting someone else.” She said with as much certainty as she could.
“Right, well, I asked to bring the prisoner up to you so I could give you the report myself. I'm Maria, I'm from the Central and South American branch.”
“Oh, well you've come a long way.” She nodded briefly.
“I came to let you know we've brought Director Manuel Salazar here for trial.” Alice lowered her tea and raised an eyebrow.
“Excuse me, for trial? Cells were given explicit instruction to execute the Centro Systems Board of Directors upon capture. This is a revolution, not a parking dispute.”
“With all do respect, Alice, you don't understand the situation on the continent. Executing Manuel without a trial would have totally destroyed the faith we've managed to instil in our followers there.” Songbird stared back at Maria, her brow furrowed, and then loosened.
“Of course. We're far away from there, keeping the revolution together and preventing a civil war is of the utmost importance right now. I hope you also understand the necessity of executing the Centro Directors.”
“...The necessity you feel is apparent to us, yes. On that front, you'll be pleased. There are only two survivors.”
“Who is the second?”
“Ariadne Moore has fled off world, we're not entirely sure, but it looks like she'd made arrangements with a criminal collective on the rim to hole her up.” Alice nodded, it was unfortunate, but not unexpected. Getting all but two of them was, to be fair to herself, more than any one on the World Revolutionary Council had estimated they could realistically catch. Manuel Salazar would be dead soon anyways, his trial would be a magnificent work of theatre, they just had to make sure their theatrics paid off.
“Thank you for the report, Maria.” Alice said, putting on a politic smile.
“You're welcome. I'm sure people back home will be impressed I met the famous Songbird of Liberation.” She gave a dismissive gesture.
“I didn't chose that name, it sounds too grandiose anyways.” Maria nodded, “Anyways, I have a prisoner you wanted to talk to.”
Arch had been waiting outside the door patiently with his guards, and had taken to amusing them by showing off different patterns on his carapace, taking off his coat so he could show off as much of it as possible.
“Do a lava flow!” a stubbly man said. He complied, and the group of soldiers erupted into shouts of jubilation.
“That's amazing man!” A woman said, “Er, you are a man right.” Arch shrugged.
“I am most of the time. Not all, but whatever. Not sure there is a word for that.”
“Waterfall!” Another voice yelled, and Arch laid the pattern over himself, his whole body projecting the image of a rolling waterfall over it. The group erupted again, as the door opened back up.
“What exactly is going on here?” The group froze, and fell quickly into line. Arch threw his coat on, and found a hat being shoved on his head as he did so, “Thanks for the show, bro.” The stubbly man said as he did so.
“Nothing ma'am.” The woman who'd asked for his gender said. Maria screwed her lips up, and inspected the group.
“Alright, prisoner, go on in. Songbird awaits.”
Alice tapped the console that was supposed to select music for the suite. The machine was supposed to take voice commands, but was rejecting every one that she tried to tell it. She guessed the thing was only supposed to accept certain people's voices, and after a bit of cussing, she'd found the touch screen she was looking for. She quickly input the correct data, and then stared, unsure of what to put on at first. After some thought, she chose a classical playlist a CEO had uploaded to the system. The sound of strings filled the room, and she rose to her full height just in time for the door to open and the strange metal man from earlier to enter in.
“Ah, welcome. Please make yourself comfortable.” The man sat down on a large cushy sofa, and she wondered how exactly he wasn't breaking the thing.
“My name is Alice MacLeod, I'm sure by now you've heard of me.”
“Not really, I mean, I did a few seconds ago. And you shot me with a rocket. But other than that, no.” He paused, and without a hint of sarcasm asked, “Do people normally shoot strangers with rockets here?”
“No.” Alice said. She wasn't sure what else to say, “Who might you be?”
“Archimedes Artemis Von Ahnerabe.” He stood up, and made a sweeping bow, including pulling his cap off in a broad sweep before replacing it, “Well, what do you want to know about me? I'm afraid I'm still trying to get myself placed here. He seemed to focus on the music. Even with no facial expressions, she seemed to sense he recognized it.
“I have a lot of questions. For one you seem awful cavalier about getting shot at with a rocket.”
“It wasn't that bad. I'll gladly answer all of them, though I also have a request.” She pushed her lips out a little.
“Sure. Lets start with that.”
“I have a friend, a 17 year old girl. I need to make sure she is okay.”
“Seventeen years old you say?” Songbird brought up a hologram with a snap of Graelyn running into the room people were getting executed in. Arch had been a half second behind her, and there he was in 3D as well, with Songbird standing there in front of them with a shocked expression. He felt a touch of luck that the hologram was shown after the other person who looked like Graelyn had already disappeared. He didn't want to see the execution again.
“See, I think she might get confused for someone else.”
“Bring up Graelyn Scythes.” The machine refused to follow her command, and Songbird cursed again before squatting down next to a screen and putting in a command manually. A picture of an older Graelyn came up. She was standing next to a bunch of people in lab coats Arch didn't recognize, clearly positioned as their superior.
“This woman you mean?”
“See this is kind of what I was worried about.”
“Then explain it to me. What is Graelyn Scythes, who I personally executed, doing alive and seventeen years old guarded by a cyborg built by Nojpeten Inc. over twenty years ago, according to your tag.” He tilted his head to the side like a bird.
“I wasn't built by Nojpeten Inc.? I was built on Ahnerabe station.”
“I've never heard of that.”
“Its beside the point I-” The music began to loop, playing the same song again. Songbird looked at the computer like she was going to kick it.
“I know this song.” Arch said, “Graelyn played it for me. Mozart's 5th Symphony. I thought I'd recognized it.”
“Its beautiful.” Alice said, “Though I'm surprised I've never heard it before.”
“I was to.” They sat there, letting the music seep into the room. First it hit their ear drums, because that's where music always looks for first, but then it went into the windows and the birds outside became notes on the staff. It sank into the couch that shouldn't have supported Arch, and it became its strength. “Hold in there,” whispered the bass. The violins flooded the air-ducts, and the flutes made their way in between the folds of the carpet. The room took on the aire of the Symphony, and it became hard to disconnect the two from each other.
“This is Graelyn's song then? You're friend's hidden melody?”
“I suppose it’s something inside her, yes. Something she can't express but Mozart wrote down as a bunch of notes before any of us were born. Something lucky like that.” Songbird shook her head, and took a seat in a practical faux leather chair.
“I'm afraid it’s anything but lucky. You have confirmed your friend is Graelyn Scythes. You have confirmed that this is her favorite song, which I knew already I'm afraid. She paid the Moscow Philharmonic to play it four years ago. And yet, you want me to think your friend is not someone I'm looking for, when I am indeed looking for Graelyn Scythes. Indeed, I thought I'd killed her.”
Arch was silent. His face was silent. His body language was absent entirely, and might have been playing hookey. Arch spoke his next words surely. Carefully. Like a cat walking out a skyscraper window.
“What if I told you that she was not Graelyn Scythes, but was Graelyn Scythes. That here, where you are, she is not, but she is somewhere else.”
“Explain.” She said curtly.
“Do you know about the other world's theory?”
“That outside our own universe there are other ones, where every other possible existence is happening. Somewhere I lost the Revolution. Somewhere I went to prison. Somewhere humans have discovered aliens by now, or can't creal.”
“Wait what, sorry, I know I'm the one who is supposed to be trying to explain stuff right now, but what the heck is creal?” Songbird shifted in her seat.
“Uh, you know, crealing? You know...?” She threw her hand out in front of her like she was trying to explain her hands.
“Do you have a dictionary or something?” She dismissed that.
“How can you not know what crealing is? Haven't you ever done it?”
“I've never heard of it before.”
“It’s...” She took a moment, “It’s like, when you're going to do something and you want to do it really well, so you push a part of yourself really hard, and then you're focused on it. Your ability to do that one thing grows, and you're better at that one thing for a short time. You know, Creeling.”
“So it’s like a biomodification?” Alice looked indignant and shocked.
“What? No of course not, every human has had it for as long as humans have been humans. Dolphins have it to, for what it matters. You have it. Graelyn has it.”
“Is this like, a recent discovery?”
“No! Every human ever has had it. You're messing with me.” She looked angry. “Stop playing with me. I am not here to play games with every little counter-revolutionary who wants have their fun before they meet their end.” Her eyes bore into him. The music changed movements with perfect timing.
“Okay well, uh. I'm not playing with you. I'm from another universe. Another reality. Graelyn was part of some experiment to cut a hole into another reality, and it worked. In fact it sort of worked too well, because we're here and we don't have a way back.”
“A project to cut through realities? I've never heard of that.”
“Well, maybe it didn't work here. Graelyn was working for some guy named John Aril--”
Alice looked interested, or puzzled, “Graelyn never worked for Aril. She worked for Manuel Salazar.” Arch pointed, and made a sort-of-snappy sound as he did so. “Ah! See, alternate reality. So she isn't the Graelyn you're looking for, she's a different Graelyn, and you shouldn't kill her, because she is innocent in all this, and so am I.” He tried to make a gesture to show he was done with his speech, and it came out looking like he was going “ta-da!”.
“I find this difficult to believe to say the least.”
“Why don't you... Crealg about it?”
“Creal. And... That isn't how it works.”
“See, I have no idea how it does.”
“Let me explain something to you, Archimedes. I've been the leader of this revolution since the government jailed my father for treason.”
“Is he okay?”
“Yes, he was freed last year in the siege of-- I'm getting off track. I've seen Centro Systems do anything within their power to maintain their control over this world. They've killed their own people, they've shot us with drones, they've burned down towns. I would put absolutely nothing past them. The technology to make a person look infinitely younger has existed for a long time now, as has the technology to make clone replicants of a person at any age. Of course, such things are very expensive. But which is easier for me to believe: that your friend is really Graelyn Scythes, and a replicant of her was killed? Or that this version of her is from another dimension? I find it more likely to be the former. Its also possible that your version of Graelyn is a replicant that broke loose and just thinks she is Graelyn Scythes, but we'll be able to tell that when we take her into custody.”
Arch leaned in, “So... You're taking her into custody? Not killing on sight?”
“You haven't convinced me of your story. But I'm not in the business of killing innocent people. That's what this Revolution was founded to stop. If your friend is really innocent, she will be fine. She'll get a fair trial just like anyone else.
“A trial?” Arch rose.
“How else do you decide who is innocent and guilty? Do you really think the rest of the World Revolutionary Council would be willing to accept my word she was innocent even if I did believe you? As it is, you're not wanted for any crimes, and while you did attempt to aid an enemy of the state, I don't think you're a danger. After all,” She said standing up, “You helping us is probably the bet way to ensure her guaranteed safety. Because we know where she is.”
She walked out the door. Arch watched the door shut. On the back of the door was a poster, bold red with a black outline of Songbird's face. The word's “Follow Her Song.” Were written beneath the image. The still face of Songbird stared back at him.
He supposed he didn't have a choice.
The music looped again. He stood there silently. The music looped again.
He supposed he didn't have a choice.
How will Arch's team up with Songbird work out for him? How is Graelyn doing anyways? Why is everyone so mad? Where is the cat!?!?
Find out next week, on 10,000 Dawns!
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.