Blackalope is definitely, or at least probably a book that I wrote. Its also probably, or at least definitely a book of poetry. The third book of poetry sequentially, though the second in reality. Its been done for years now, but I've been holding off releasing it for a variety of reasons. Namely that while people who have read the poems and essays in the book have adored them, not a single work from the book was accepted into even the smallest anthology I submitted it to over the course of three years. It wasn't till recently when a new round of preview readers encouraged me about the book's quality that I decided I should release it.
Second off, this is a book for adults. Kids shouldn't be near this book. Teens shouldn't read it. Its very dark, personal, poetry about adult topics.
But now, this book will be released.
This Halloween, October 31st, 2015, you'll be able to read Blackalope for the first time in print and for the Kindle.
Its possibly something you'd want. Or not. Or something.
by James Wylder
Today on Doctor Who, we dredge up the detritus. This is a story constructed out of old parts. There in the background-- is that the special weapons Dalek? The weirdly shaped one? It even gets a line this time. We mold this story together out of old parts and forgotten memories, and then tip the rubbish bin over on its side and burst forth anew from it. The nostalgia is the aesthetic, the old stories are what we remember, but its the new stories we keep creating that push us forward.
The episode is in every way a reflection, its title is a mirror of its predecessor, “The Magician's Apprentice,” the aesthetics mirror old Dalek stories from Hartnel to Cushing to Tennant, and the character interaction is a mirror of “The Genesis of the Daleks”, while the set up itself is a mirror of the previous series finale “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” where Missy takes up an old monster of the Doctor's and has a story with them. But again, its reversed.
Where before Missy was controlling the Cybermen, here she is fighting alongside the Doctor in a weird perverted way, teaming up with Clara to try to save him. Again, these scenes of Missy and Clara are mirrored with Davros and the Doctor. The reflections aren't what we expected of them, though. In getting to see how Missy handles a mission, we see up close and personal her excitable cruelty. She somehow works in a similar way to the Doctor, and yet not at all. You can tell that they grew up together, that their methods of problem resolution are tied together in a mutal understanding, and yet they are also incompatible. With how cruelly Missy treats Clara, one has to look back at Series 3 of Doctor who and shudder at what exactly Lucy Saxon had to go through. It must have been worse that we imagined it.
Strangely, we get to see the Doctor paired with Davros in a totally congenial way. The two of them get along for the most part, aside from the Doctor stealing Davros' chair, the Doctor shows real compassion for Davros on his deathbed (death... chair?). In what might be one of the most brilliant pieces of dialogue I've seen recently, Davros is informed of Gallifrey's survival, and is genuinely happy for the Doctor. At first, its confusing, but then Davros explains himself, and the scene manages to make Davros both more understandable, while also revealing him truly as the nationalist fascist he is as he gives a speech about how every man should have his own place he hails from. The speech is heartfelt, even though the scene itself is a ruse, and shows us more about the difference between Davros and the Doctor than we had before. Its not just that the Doctor wants Galifrey back, its that the Doctor wants it back because all the people there died, just just cause it was its home. Davros' tears somehow reduce Galifrey to simply being another pinprick on a map, a cultural joyland that should remain isolated, when the Doctor himself thrives on leaving, on exploring, on changing and understanding.
Thus, is Skarro rebuilt as a relic. The Daleks remade a city in the shape of their heritage, and let an old man drain their life away for the sake of the past. They are so hidebound to their own creation, their own story, that they cannot progress. When they finally do progress, taking the Doctor's regeneration energy, it destroys them. The very process of change is anathema to the fascism of the Daleks. They cannot truly progress to the next level without sacrificing their isolated purity. The Doctor meanwhile is able to survive by ignoring his own history. When all the Daleks expect him to have a sonic screwdriver, he has changed yet again, and has sonic shades. He is always adapting, always learning, and always, in the end, merciful.
The Doctor's great victory in the end, is corrupting the Daleks. By going back in time to save Davros, he drops a hint of color into their sea of white washed conformity. The Daleks can ask for mercy now, they know what it is, and they will be forever cursed by this taint of goodness. They will not be good, but their iron charge has that hint of hesitation, that tiny urge for decency. A defect that could not be put out. Always, mercy.
From all that defeat, from all that hell, from all that cultural detritus, something new is rising out of something old. Something holy from the sewers.
Lets note the funny bits, now, shall we?
-”The last chair on Skarro!” made me laugh harder than any joke on the show I can remember. A+ (also, a nice call back to the parody of Doctor Who Moffat wrote “The Curse of Fatal Death.”)
-”Your Sewers are Revolting!”
-”You are a bad doctor...”
-Missy poking Davros in the eye after she said she'd scratch his eyes out last episode. Nice.
-Oh, and if you rewatch “The Big Bang” from series 5, there is a scene with a Dalek that has some new meaning!.
Author's note: Here it is! The big show down! I hope you're excited for it. Oh, and the audio version of the story is a week behind. If you're listening, this week we have Chapter 11. Enjoy the read! Unfortunately, I also have sad news to bring you...
Its with a sad heart we have to let you know that Ben, the child with cancer we asked you to help support has passed away. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
Previous chapters are also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
Chapter 12: The Confrontation
There are times in life when you can't run away anymore. You run and run, but you find yourself in a corner, and there is nowhere else to go. At that point, you have choices. You can fight, you can surrender, you can beg, you can die... It’s not as simple as to just fight or die, but the choice you make in that moment will change your whole future. Graelyn had always run, but now she was in a corner, or at least a Pyramid. Lizette, had done her hair this morning, and she'd eaten lunch with the extended Salazar family, which had been an experience in itself. Manuel was something of a patriarch, and even more of raconteur. He wove stories from the head of the table that left everyone laughing and feeling genuinely at ease. They all knew the raid would be coming tonight. The city streets were empty now. But Manuel looked as though this were a normal Thursday.
"And then I told the man, 'You can still win the hopping contest with two legs!' but he wouldn't relent, so in the end I ended up having to engineer him a detachable leg, just so he could win a hopping competition! I was so confused why it was important to him till I went there, and I saw what the prize was." Everyone leaned in, and he held the pause carefully, "And then I knew he'd made the right choice, because it was a lifetime supply of chocolate. And I knew I'd trade my left leg for that too!" Graelyn smiled as she ate her soup.
Enjoy your last meal. You'll be in the corner next.
* * * *
Sarah slid through the back alleys, using her camouflage to hide along the walls. She waited for two hours on a rooftop for the cleaning droids to get into the right position, and then made a running leap onto it. She chanced a glance back: the streets were empty. Her cloak made her invisible to cameras, so she was safe. Exhaling, she gripped the droid tightly as it began to scrub up the side of the Pyramid. She stayed perfectly still as it began its slow ascent.
* * * *
"This is crazy." Arch said to Alice. "Do you really think this will work?"
"It has to. I won't be able to get in on foot. I could get into the city with a camouflage cloak, but we can't find a way into the pyramid from the ground." Alice snapped another piece of the armor into place.
"No civilian casualties, and we'll be right at the source." Her facemask mechanically closed over her face, and her metal armor straight out of some company's weapon's development program looked like something off the cover of a sci-fi novel. It had been repainted a camouflage patterned black, and an emblem of a bird was on either shoulder. She flexed her fingers, his first reflex to, and he could hear the tiny motors working to move them.
"Its not a perfect fit, but I'll certainly survive our insertion."
"Well then, I guess our goal is set."
"I'd say Viva la Revolution, but you guys have passed that point." Alice nodded her armored head.
"It feels weird to be fighting for stability now... I suppose I'm not meant to live in this world."
"Don't say that..."
"We both know it’s true. I'm the Songbird of Liberation, not quarterly tax forms."
"I think you're more than you think you are." She didn't respond, just began checking her weaponry.
* * * *
Maria slipped up through the halls of the building, and passed through each security checkpoint without a hassle. If she could make this easier on everyone, she would. She knew where he'd be. She rode the lift to the top of the Pyramid, where he'd be waiting. Her left hand shook uncontrollably. This was never going to be easy.
* * * *
Manuel Salazar sat on the roof of the Pyramid of Nojpeten, leaning back in a lawn chair. Rather than a sacrificial altar, he'd put a park up here. There were trees, and paths, and a lawn. As well as tables and chairs. He checked the time on his phone: Lizette should have told Graelyn to come up here by now, and as he looked down, he heard one of the lifts 'ding' as it reached the apex. Graelyn stepped out, wearing the same outfit as yesterday.
"Do you like my park?" Graelyn stepped out onto the stone path and walked towards him.
"Its very nice. Why are you waiting up here?"
"I'm waiting for you, and for everyone else."
"Do you really think everyone is going to come and meet you on the roof to... What duke it out?"
"Yes." He reached over to a table, and pulled a beer off of it, that he popped the cap off and took a deep swig of. "That is exactly what is going to happen. Graelyn, have you ever wondered why I call people Senior and Seniorita?"
She shrugged, "You're from central America?"
"But really, you're from Russia, you don't run around calling people 'comrade!' all the time." Ah, well then. It was obvious when he put it that way.
"You're playing them." Salazar grinned, and his accent dropped away.
"I can talk in boring midwestern English if you wanted me to. I'm good with languages." The accent came back. "But when I talk like this, what do people assume about me?"
"That they're better than you."
"Why are you giving up that advantage to me? If this is an important ruse to keep up, why tell me?"
They hadn't heard the lift ding, and a woman walked towards them from it, she looked serious.
"Because when you're backed into a corner, letting people see your strategy is sometimes the only way to get out of it." Graelyn turned, and saw a woman she knew she'd seen before.... It took her a moment. She had been in Songbird's base.
"Manuel, watch out she's--"
"--With the Revolution? Oh, he knows." Manuel stood up, and walked up the woman, embracing her. Graelyn's jaw went a bit slack.
"Okay so you guys know each other."
"This is my sister Maria, Graelyn."
"Oh." She held out a hand, "A pleasure to be introduced." She shok her hand warmly.
"Manuel, you know why I'm here."
He went over to a case by his chair and pulled out another beer, offering it to Maria, she held out a hand to decline, and he replaced it.
"Of course I know why you're here. You want me to turn myself in so you can put on a nice show trial for me."
"It won't be a show trial. They're scared of you. You know that. We can get you life in prison. You can live, see your grandchildren, your children, someday your great grandchildren." Manuel shook his head.
"Maria, I can't do that. I can't live a life locked up. I can't be a pawn to oppress this city. I plan to die with dignity, or live with honor. I'm not going to back down."
"Why can't you just surrender? Make a peace deal?" Graelyn asked.
"They want my blood, little girl." It was the first time he'd talked down to her, "They need to make an example of me, to prove the old order is dead. I couldn't do anything to prove good intentions to them if I wanted to."
The board was set, a bishop moved into the field, but it didn't take the king.
* * * *
Sarah watched as the droid made the final steps of its ascent. Her artificial heart beat like an overbearing drum machine. Her handcrafted pores sweat in anticipation. She made the leap, her legs pushing like springs off of the droid, vaulting her through the air, up to the edge of the roof, to which she grabbed on with all her strength, and lifted herself up onto. She stood, and saw Manuel with two women, and bolted towards him. The three all turned, two of them in shock, one of them in pleasent surprise. She slid to a halt, her fists raised. One of the women, the white one, looked her up and down, clearly surprised to see her wearing a cheery sundress.
"Mister Salazar, you're in danger."
"Holy shit." The white girl said.
"You're goddamn right." Sarah replied.
"I'm not quite in danger yet. But I had no idea you'd be coming. I cannot say I'm not happy for you to be here." The two hugged, and the white girl kept looking back between them.
"She has metal teeth." She said confused.
"Mister Salazar fixed my body when I was a child. He saved my life, and made me more than I was." She held up a hand and clenched it into a fist, "The man is a saint."
"...Okay." She replied.
"Maria, Graelyn, meet Sarah MacLachlan. She's an old friend."
Black moves to castle, the rook takes its position to protect the king, after taking out an enemy rook on the road.
* * * *
"I need to get you out of here, I have connections, I can hide you on the rim."
"Wouldn't the Librarian have something to say about that?" Sarah seemed to pout for a moment, "...Yes...."
"I survive on Earth or I die. Are you prepared to help with that?" Sarah raised her head.
"I'll give my life for you, sir."
"Manuel, people are going to die for you, no matter what. They'll lay siege to this city if you live." Maria said, louder.
"Then I'll fight them." He shouted back.
"This is madness."
"This is war."
Graelyn looked up at the sky, where hundreds of objects streaked down through the darkening sky. Missiles and gunfire shot up from the ground, and many exploded in the air, blowing up into a rain of paper pamphlets that fell over the city.
"It’s just propaganda?" Graelyn asked.
"No," Maria answered, "Its cover."
One of the objects swerved around a missile, and accelerated towards the roof. Graelyn moved to cover her face as it impacted, sending a rain of torn up cobblestone spraying from where it landed.
From it rose two figures, one coated head to toe in a silvery sheen, swords sliding out of its arms. The other a blackbird, rifle in hand, rising from the firely crater.
"No. Not you Arch." Graelyn whispered.
The white player moves its Queen onto the field, along with a knight.
* * * *
"Arch no! What are you doing?" Graelyn yelled, and Chrome teeth ran forward, her fists out. "She's going to die, stop her!" She yelled again, and arch raised a sword to block her arm. It should have disarmed her literally, but the sword just cut through the skin. Chometeeth grinned, and punched Arch in the belly. He reeled, and tried to move his other sword into her gut. She twirled out of the way, and pulled her foot behind his leg, pulling his knee forward to trip him. As he fell, he used the moment of the fall to bring his other leg up into her chest, and the two fell to the ground together, they both rose again, and he swung at her, two which she blocked, and leaped over him, inhumanly high. But he followed the leap the same way. She grinned. They hit each other in the air and slid to the ground some distance from each other. Each rose into a sprinter's position, and charged. They collided with an unholy sound, leaving Arch dented, and Sarah's Jaw hanging off its hinge. She still looked eager as they began exchanging blows faster and faster, parrying each other's blows. He stabbed her in the leg. She ripped a piece of plating off his shoulder revealing the mechanical bits beneath. They slid back again, panting, and charged once again.
All the while Alice walked toward Salazar, her rifle in hand.
"So then, Songbird. It’s so nice for you to join me. Would you like a drink? I brought plenty." He offered her a beer, then a coke. She raised her gun. Sarah looked to her left, and as they began charging each other, knew she was out of time. She waited till Arch was close, and left herself open. His sword slid between her ribs, and she could hear him make a shocked sound as she rammed her hand through the exposed shoulder into his chest. He tried to break free of her, but it was too late-- she clenched her fist down on something inside Arch and threw him like a shot put, right into Songbird, who was knocked right over by the projectile. Alice was already rising, and Sarah slid between them, blood oozing out of her chest through her dress. Alice cursed as the suit began jerking, its internal mechanisms damaged from the impact, and pressed a release valve inside it with her tongue. The armor fell off of her like flower petals, and she rose out of it, rage in her eyes. Manuel pulled a pistol out, but instead of pointing it at Alice, set it on the table. Graelyn didn't understand, but she ran to Arch who had destroyed Salazar's chair, and was screaming in pain.
"Its going to be okay Arch..." She tried to comfort him, but she really didn't know if he would be. Why had Salazar chosen this fate? Why didn't Songbird just bomb him from orbit? Why did anyone have to fight anyone? Why couldn't they just leave each other alone? Why couldn't they just mind their own business? Black oil and red blood oozed onto Graelyn's dress and she felt rage flood her brain. This was everyone's fault. Salazar's, Songbird's, Arch's, Maria's, Sarah's, her own to. People were going to die, and there would be blood everywhere. She covered her face with her hands.
"You're a pathetic little thing." Her mother said, "Its no wonder you tried to take the easy way out." She felt the impact of her mother's hand, as she begged her to stop, and saw Sarah bleeding from the ribs, where she'd been hit so many times. "You'd stop this if you were strong. But you're not. You're going to be a good girl, because you know what you deserve." Graelyn began shaking. No NO NO this wasn't what she deserved this wasn't what anyone deserved, this war, this fighting, this bloodshed. She could do better. She could stop this. Arch moaned in pain. She looked at the gun on the table.
"You'll have to shoot me first if you want to get to him." Sarah yelled.
"Fine." Alice Said, and shot her in the leg five times. She dropped to the ground, and she and Arch made the same noises now.
"Alice, you don't have to do this." Maria said, "You're not the World Council. You're better than them."
She looked at Maria, her eyes burning, "I am utterly and only the World Council. If I don't do this they will burn this city to the ground to keep the world safe. You know that right? They're out for blood. And so am I." She narrowed her sights on Manuel.
"You might not want to watch this." Maria looked away. She knew she was right.
"I'm unarmed, I've offered you a drink, and you come here and shoot my friends. So this is the face of the revolution. I hope you're happy with what you've created."
"You know damn well what you stand for! I saw what Centro did. People were slaves to you. You could pay money to get away with murder. And I saw what happened in Mexico City."
"...What happened in Mexico City?" Salazar looked confused, and worried.
"You were on the board of Directors. You tell me. You saw what Graelyn Scythes did. And even if you didn't, you were part of the system that let that happen... That let...." Her gun shook in her hands.
"I cannot let you live Manuel Salazar. I have to kill you, for the sake of the future."
He chugged the rest of his beer, and threw it to the side.
"Then it is done." Sarah tried to rise again, but he gently pushed her down with his foot.
"Goodbye Maria, I'm glad you came. You could have let me die alone, I'm grateful for that." He reached out to her, and she took his hand for a moment, before stepping back again.
"Well then, Alice. Lets end your revolution. You win."
"NO!" Graelyn picked up the gun. She had never picked up a gun before, but she knew she could use it. She'd seen enough movies. She'd played enough games. The handle was cold in her hand, and she watched Alice's face turn slowly towards her, the trees moved slower to. "Alice, don't be the kind of person who'd do this. You're brave, and honest, this isn't the only-" But Graelyn Scythes, 17, had never held a gun before. She waved the gun to the side, to gesture, but her finger glanced down on the trigger. There wasn't time for anyone to react, there was just a quick cacophony of bangs, and a perfectly diagonal line of red holes appeared on Alice's chest.
"Oh." Alice said, and crumbled over. Graelyn dropped the gun and stared.
Manuel began laughing, and Graelyn just stared, her face pale. Alice lay there, blood coming out of places it was never meant to. It almost looked like she was shivering.
"You little bitch you thought you could take what was mine did you? Did you? You thought this was your world? This city is ours you brat! We're free without you." He went on and on, and Graelyn walked over to Alice, and knelt by her, taking her hand.
"I don't know what to do." Graelyn begged. Alice looked at her, and Graelyn couldn't figure out what the expression meant.
"Manuel!" Maria yelled, "Help her!"
"Why would I help her? Why in this whole world would I help her? The woman who has ruined everything I worked for. Who do you think I am Maria? A coward? I'm a Director, I can do what I like and no one can stop me? Who do you think I am?"
Graelyn looked down at Sarah, and up at Manuel.
"Manuel," she said, "You're a Doctor."
Manuel Salazar stood for a moment, his face slid back from his tirade, and he stared at the bleeding woman with red hair on the ground in front of him. He looked at Graelyn, and saw him squeeze Alice's hand.
"To me, you're a miracle." Sarah had said.
Manuel walked over to Alice, "Maria, get a medical staff up here for Arch and Sarah. I'll need my equipment as well. My phone is on the table, you know the pass-code."
"Now Graelyn, I'll need you to help me. We need to stop the bleeding. So follow my instructions precisely."
The hands of Manuel Salazar had been called a gift from God, and they worked faster than hands had any right to. He didn't even pause as people ran up handing him new equipment. He worked with perfect grace and stability, and as he removed the bullets, and reattached tissue, and sealed wounds, one could not help but admire those hands. Different hands went to work on Sarah and Arch, and the two were easily stabilized, though Arch's anatomy proved someone confusing at first. It came as no surprise if you saw those hands that Manuel saved Alice's life. And as they loaded her onto a gurney to take her away to the hospital. Manuel smiled at Graelyn.
"We saved her. You were right."
"You told me you had a facade. You were right to. It was more than just saying Senior." He placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Maybe now that I've saved her, we can work something out, me and the Council. This doesn’t have to be an apocalypse. Honor... Dignity, bullshit. We'll live. There will be a future."
She rose to her feet, "I'm glad for you, Manuel. But I crossed a line. I'm sorry."
Graelyn bolted without another word, running towards the side of the Pyramid. She focused on it. She could see the edge, it was like running towards a release. She could feel the muscles in her body like she'd only ever felt once before, felt her breath, felt her life, and she prepared to jump.
This was for the best, after all. She'd never screw up again. She'd never disappoint anyone again. Everything she did she'd ruined. They were better off without her.
"Graelyn!" She heard a voice, and she tried to stop. She ended up sort of falling over and sliding, as she looked up to see Lizette, who was there with several other Salazars at the lift. They had probably come to check up on things, or, well, it didn't matter. She rose again, on unsteady legs, and she looked back at the ledge. She wanted to. She really, truly wanted to. But she noticed something about Lizette. She was wearing the same dress as her, just many times smaller, and not stained with blood and oil. Lizette's small face was filled with shock.
Graelyn collapsed to her knees, unable to go any further, and for the first time she could remember in years, she began to sob. Lizette broke free of her parents and ran to her, wrapping her arms around her. Graelyn cried like she never knew she could cry, and Lizette stayed there with her, until the sun broke over the horizon, and a new dawn pushed its hand across the board of the world, and wiped the pieces clean.
The story continues next week! The aftermath of the confrontation will mean different things to everyone... And a new world no one expected.
I'll be doing an analysis of every episode of Series 9 of Doctor Who after the episodes air. This is the first! Look forward to it for the rest of the season. -James Wylder
Television, or most entertainment, is made up of different pleasures. You go to a comedy for a taste of laughter, or to tragedy for tears, in a more general sense. But in a broader sense there are a whole pallet of tastes that make up entertainment. You might know this without even being able to express why when you are trying to think of a movie to watch, and think of two movies that are so very similar but you enjoy for different reasons and you feel a strong urge to watch one but not the other. The Magician's Apprentice knows its pleasures, and is unabashed in rolling them out on a tank for us.
What's really interesting about the episode is what those pleasures are, and exactly how unashamed of them the episode is. This is after all playing with the joy of nostalgia, and not just in the more vague way that TV often plays with nostalgia by throwing in tiny references, or bringing back an old villain for a new plot, but by directly tying the entire plot of this episode into the history of Doctor Who. From Missy's nonchalant, “Yes, I'm not dead just like always lets move on with the plot already,” to the casual use of Unit, all the way to showing off Davros, an old Dalek City, every sort of Dalek, and the clips of multiple Doctors from earlier in the show, its steeped in those things in a way that Doctor Who has shied away from since its return. Sure, the show has brought back plenty of old things, but it usually has done so in a way that it treats them as being new, or as tangential. Here, they are part of a past we are diving into. The past is the problem that needs to be solved, after all.
“Genesis of the Daleks” is one of the most revered Doctor Who stories, where the 4th Doctor and Davros square off for the first time, and the Doctor is given the chance to kill the Daleks forever, but doesn't. Its a moving moment for sure, but its also one that has been criticized: after all, if the Doctor had killed all the Daleks, it would have saved all the people they continually killed. This is dealt with in the episode itself, but not everyone buys the Doctor's reasoning on the matter. Here the consequences of his decision are laid out again for him: was it the right choice he made back then? We won't really find out where he falls on this question again till next week, but its a powerful one worth bringing up again.
But lets return to the pleasure of the past. With how much of my child hood was spent thinking through idea like, “but what if the Doctor returned to that story?” I find it totally charming that the show was finally brave enough to do so this directly. Not with a wink and a nod, but opening with it. This is after all an entire way we engage with stories: we pick apart their possibilities, create new futures and alternate routes for them. Now we've taken a chance and jumped down that rabbit hole. But even while its indulging in it, it stays away from the sort of excess that makes people despise this type of story: there are no long rambling explanations, and the problem isn't based around nonsense or technobabel. Instead, the story shows us what we need and centers the dilemma around the people involved in it.
Being that the entire revived series of Doctor Who has been written by fans who turned professional, there is something sweet about one of the overlooked pleasures of fanfiction being stripped of its thorns and made into a main course.
But lets not overlook the other fun that we had this week: first off, the Doctor played the guitar. Allow me to break my writing style for a moment to say oh wow that was so rad I mean wow that was super cool yes please I want more of that rock on you sunglassed powerchording hero. So yes, that was a highlight. Seeing Clara work with Missy was also fascinating, as Missy took on the role of the Doctor in the story, requiting Clara for the mission, leading her out onto Skarro's surface, figuring out problems and explaining the solutions, but also being utterly different than the Doctor even while she was similar by being utterly bonkers and without a trace of sanity.
Also, the very nice realization of the colony of snakes was fantastic, and it got the funniest line in the episode: “We're a democracy!”
These pleasures are just as important as the weightier ones, and that the show is so utterly fine with just sitting back and enjoying these moments makes it a delight. We're allowed to let Clara take a spin while walking on stars, and even though it barrels onto the next taste in its copious buffet, oh what a taste it was.
But in the end the thing I'll remember most from this is poor tiny Davros standing in a sea of hands with eyes. Those eyes that see and grab. They're always watching us. You have a one in a thousand chance of making it through, but can you? Whatever decision you make, you'll be seen. You can never escape horrors in a vacuum, nor end them. Maybe the scariest thing is knowing that even your hardest decisions, even your own death, are held to a captive audience, made of palms, or in the chair in front of the television.
But since we like being scared enough to watch this show, what could be more pleasurable than that?
Authors's note: due to illness the audio version of this chapter is delayed. I will be recording it this weekend. I'm truly sorry about any inconvenience. -Jim
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder, Special help with the Itza language by Anne Wylder (thank you!)
Previous chapters are also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
Chapter 11: NojPeten, k-in-k'äm-ik-ech! (Nojpeten, I Love You)
February, 1697 AD
Ajch'o' raised himself out of the water, and tried not to look back at the city, at his home. He failed. The Spanish banner flew high over the highest temple, and Ajch'o' could only turn his head away again. The flag was only so clear because of the flames, and the music to greet its rise was screaming.
“Ajch'o', come on!” He heard someone say. He kept moving forward, but he felt faint. It was hard to move his arm to run. Looking down, he saw he was bleeding. He'd been hit by something. A bullet? He wasn't sure. He could only keep on moving, trying to get as far away from the Spanish as he could. His vision was blurring. How had this happened? Today of all days, the last free Kingdom had fallen to the Spanish, and he had been there to see it crumble.
His friend Box-Keej had been killed, shot right through the heart. Ajch'o' had had to make a choice—try to avenge his friend and die from the next Spaniard, or one of their Mayan allies, or run. He saw his friend sputtering up blood on the ground, and he ran for the water. Most of the city did, they had fled. There was no one to come to their aid anymore, no one to fight with them. There had only been Nojpeten, the last great city. Not even a great city if he was being honest, it wasn't that big. But it had been home, and it had been theirs. What would have happened if they had all banded together to fight the Spanish? He pushed the thought out of his mind. It was not only too late, it was impossible. There were simply too many peoples, too many nations, and the Itza were just one of many who all had their own grudges and desires. He felt hopeless, and his strength gave out. He collapsed onto the ground, becoming deeply aware of how much blood he'd lost.
“Hey.” A voice said, “Oh man you are not in good shape. Don't worry, I've got some stuff for that.” He felt something slap onto his arm, where the bullet wound was, and his vision began to clear up.
“You're still missing a lot of blood, but that boost of adrenaline should kick you up now that your wound is being stitched up.” What was he talking about no one was sealing his wound there was just a weird blue blob on it. The owner of the voice slipped an arm under his shoulder and lifted him up.
“I'm sorry I couldn't come earlier. I can't say we didn't debate it, but in the end there was just no way we could predict where the timeline would go if we shifted it. Too risky, so we'll have to pull off our plan somewhere else in this universe. Probably the 2400's. Sorry this literally cannot make any sense to you, I just thought you deserved to know.” Ajch'o' turned his head to look at the man supporting him. He was wearing a strange gray garment, one he'd never seen before that covered his torso and arms with an opening in the front that had some sort of... metal teeth lining it on either side. It also had a hood with the crest of the sun right on the man's forehead at the peak of the hood.
“Who are you?”
“Just call me Vice, for now.” That was a weird name. The man's skin was even paler than the Spaniards, so maybe he was one of their kind. Was this a trap?
“I can't stay for much longer Ajch'o',” the man said as he set him down on a log. Ajch'o' got a glimpse of his back and saw that the sun was part of a pattern where it changed in phases down the hood and the spine till it became the moon.
“But I want you to remember Nojpeten. I want you to tell your children about it, and your children's children. A new Dawn is coming. You're just about 800 years off. You should have died here, that's about all I can change without getting noticed. You're welcome.” The man handed him a medallion, shaped like half a sun and half a moon. He turned it in his hand, it felt warm on the sun part and cold on the moon part. That was impossible. He looked up to ask the man a question, but he was gone.
“Ajch'o'!” He heard Tz'unu'un yell, she ran towards him, tears streaking down her face.
“They said you were dead, that you were shot!” She embraced him, he hadn't realized she was that worried about him... Cautiously he returned the embrace.
“We need to keep moving.” She said at last, and helped him up. The moved through the forest through the night, till the sun peaked over the horizon. There was a new dawn, and though he wouldn't live to see it to fruition, he'd lay the foundation.
July, 2495 AD
"That city used to be called Flores, before I became a Director at Centro Sytems. Now its returned to its old name, its real one. Nojpeten." The city was vast, starting on an island and sliding off it via huge bridges. At the center of the island was a gigantic skyscraper built in a similar shape to a Mayan Pyramid. "A long time ago my ancestors, the Itza people, ruled this land. But the Spanish took it from them. As is the way of the world." Graelyn stared out at the twinkling lights of the city, "Mayan-Futurism" maybe described the architecture best.
"I find it highly unlikely you don't have Spanish ancestors as well." Graelyn mused.
"Well of course I do." Manuel laughed, and sipped his wine. "I'm fairly certain I have an ancestor from nearly every continent if you nosed around enough. I don't give a damn about 'racial purity.' But its not just the percentage of your genetics that hail from a culture that define your heritage, its who you chose to idolize. Its what your heritage means to how the world defines you, and how you define the world." The city began to slip beneath them as they slowed down, and Graelyn could see people and cars in the dark streets below, moving around in the form of pin-prick shapes.
"Nojpeten represents our freedom, the last holdout against the Spanish, the last holdout against this so called revolution."
Graelyn turned to him sternly, "Mister Salazar, you don't honestly think you can beat them?"
He smirked, "Not in a straight fight. Funnily enough, I'll be beating them the way Revolutions beat their foes for years-- cunning. I know what their next move will be, and I'm ready for it here..." He sighed as he looked out at it, "This was all just a land of poor workers. Centro took very little notice of it except to throw us in their factories. But look what I made-- I gave my home dignity, success, purpose."
"It sounds like you and the Revolution actually have a lot in common." He sneered at her.
"Alice MacLeod wants to take what we built with our own hands and give it to everyone. This city isn't just my work, its the work of the people who live there. I don't care if her ideology wants us to be equal, we've been kicked down by the rest of the world for centuries. I'm not going to give that up just so a little girl can pretend to be Che Guevara."
Graelyn adjusted her glasses. Her prison clothes were still uncomfortable, and she missed her real glasses. If only they'd had time to grab her belongings...
"Mister Salazar, I want you to understand, and this is coming from someone who Alice MacLeod tried to murder, that I respect both of you."
He lowered his wine glass, and set it down gently, as the view from the window showed they were almost on the landing pad.
"Both of us? Curious."
"I think if the two of you could talk instead of fight each other, you might be able to come to some sort of arrangement. I don't think you're as different as you both think you are."
The craft landed, and the doors were opened.
"I doubt it. Now Graelyn, welcome to the city of the old gods."
* * * *
For the second time in not that long, Arch found himself waking up without control of his limbs. The camera of his eyes rebooted, and he began to take in the world around him, blurrily. His microphones switched back on, and he listened.
"I think he's waking up." The world began to come into focus, and he saw a woman squatting next to him, her face leaning into view. Behind her was another woman nursing a bruised head with a beret, Chantelle, Jack, and the man with lots of stubble who'd captured him in the first place. The gangs all here.
"Welcome back, we thought we might have lost you." Arch tried to sit up, but found his motors were still rebooting.
"That energy wave effected you hard. Your heart stopped, technically you died, while out of your prison cell."
"Your guards let me out."
"Oh no, those weren't my guards. Salazar clearly was interested in talking to you, he set it up with his plants. The question is now, what am I supposed to do with you?"
"I need to find Graelyn."
"Yes, I thought you might say that. She's with Salazar." His processors put extra effort into restarting his systems, and he bolted into a sitting position.
"He captured her?"
"I'll be generous: He freed her from prison and she was smart enough to realize it might save her from execution. You don't like Salazar do you?"
His arms began to get motor function back, and he tested them, moving his fingers. "I have reasons to hold a grudge on him."
"I'm curious as to why. If this is a new reality for you like you told me, he's not the same person."
Arch trained his eyes on her. "And neither is Graelyn."
"Then why a vendetta."
"I need questions answered."
"Then we both have a reason to see him."
"What are you going to do to him?"
"Whatever the Council decides for me to do."
"That's less decisive than I imagined."
"I'm not into lying. I want you to come with me. I'm going to confront him. Laying seige to a city like Nojpeten will cost countless lives. This isn't like New York where there was no way in but invasion. Salazar is the only thing holding this resistance together. If I get to him, we can take the city with only minimal fighting."
"And what does the council want you to do?"
She stared at him, her mouth very nearly forming words.
* * * *
Chess Mistress Hex, aka Ariadne Moore, aka Leesa... Oh, she called herself by too many names to list, you get the picture, leaned back in a plush chair on her starship. It was still a long flight to Alexandria, the Index headquarters. She closed the view ports with a grimace of disgust. She didn't want to see Earth, even as a tiny dot. That didn't mean she didn't have a plan to take advantage of the situation, but she struggled to think of something half so frustrating as losing the entire planet Earth to Revolutionary Communists. At least she'd bought out some of their leadership. Too many of them were true believers for it to be a pure victory, but she'd shored up some decent support. All would not be lost.
"Alexis, please give me a report on important events I've missed."
Alexis, identical in every way except for her docile mind, smiled as though she had won the lottery in getting to perform this task.
"Yes, Mistress Hex! The World Revolutionary Council has nearly secured the whole planet. The only real hold out is Nojpeten City, where Manuel Salazar has fled to along with Graelyn Scythes to make a last stand against the WRC."
Hex sat to attention so quickly her sunglasses went askew.
"Did you just say Manuel Salazar is still alive?"
"Yes Mistress, his escape plan went into effect before your agent could perform the assassination."
Hex stowed her sunglasses in her bag. Her face was placid, but something about her suggested she was preparing to tear out someone’s jugular.
"Alexis, order that agent to move immediately to Nojpeten."
"Of course Mistress. Also, your puppets on the WRC have informed us they are going to be voting on a plan to take care of the situation. What should I have them do?"
"Order them to..." She trailed off in thought and saw the solar system laid out like a chess board. She needed to kill a power piece, a piece that knew things about her she wouldn't like anyone to know now that the old rulebook had been thrown out... But wouldn't the best way to kill the piece to be to let another player play the match? To take that player off the board as well if they could?
"...order Alice MacLeod to make the assassination. She is the Songbird of Liberation. How fitting for her to make the final blow of their Revolution? And what a pity if she didn't come out of the assignment alive. Have my agent standing by in case she fails."
"Of course Mistress!"
"Oh, and Alexis, bring me a bottle of the 2227 Vintage. This has been a long week."
* * * *
Long-Knife Lazarus was the best killer in the universe, in his own opinion. It was easy to think that when he'd killed all of his targets he'd gotten in the same room as, and was still breathing. Working for the Index was easy money, go to exotic places, kill people, go home, get paid. He drank his margarita with relish, and waited for his contact.
"Lazarus." Chrometeeth slid into the seat at the table across from him. She wore a bright yellow sundress with moving images of a dancing cartoon mouse on it. Instead of eyes, she had a semi-oval band over her eye sockets he knew saw better than eyes ever could. Her hair was perfect. Her shoes were cute but practical. Her nails were pristine. She had a small matching handbag, and teeth made of metal that could rip a man's throat out. He knew her reputation very well: she looked 23, but she was far older than that now. She'd had more biological modifications than anyone he'd ever met, and he knew she could kill a room of normal people.
"Chrometeeth. I didn't realize you were still on earth."
"There's a lot of shit to fix up, this planet's been turned so upside down its head is red and its toes are blue. How's the alcohol?"
"Cheap and strong."
"Perfect." She ordered something intense, he knew her modified liver would make it the equivalent of drinking water for her.
"So then, I know you're here on a kill-job, and I'm here to facilitate it now that he origional plan fell through."
"Whose the mark?"
"Manuel Salazar, nearly the last of Centro's leadership." Sarah MacLachlan froze.
"You said you're here to kill Manuel Salazar."
"Orders right from the top, the Librarian himself." Well, herself, she thought, though that was need to know.
"Where's he holed up?" Lazarus pulled out a holoprojector and showed the layout of the main pyramid of Nojpeten.
"Nojpeten. His private city. Its basically a fortress, so gunning our way in won't work. It will have to be an infiltration job." She nodded.
"Any ideas before I chime in?" He expanded an area of the Pyramid to show the base.
"I think the best way would be via the direct exterior, there are cleaning robots that move along the outside in a strict schedule. I've found when one moves from the base to the crown during the movement. If I wear a camouflage cloak, it should be fairly simple. Its a security flaw that really wouldn't come up in peacetime." Chrometeeth smiled.
"Its a good plan." He smiled back.
"I'll take it." Her hand bolted forward like a bullet and grabbed Lazarus by the hair, slamming his head into the table. He moved to draw a gun, but he felt something jab into his neck.
"Shh, you'll be okay. You'll just be awful sleepy for a bit. You had so much to drink, and your mission has been canceled." She paid the tab, and slid out of the booth, carrying him like he'd passed out. She'd tie him up and lock him in a hotel room, disable any of his bio-mods that were built in weapons, and get to work. Sarah remembered her bones withering to mush, and the pain that could only be wiped away by enough drugs to numb her to the point of sensory deprivation. And she remembered Doctor Salazar.
* * * *
"The WRC ordered me to kill Salazar." Alice finished.
"I thought they were all about trials now?" Arch asked.
"They changed their minds."
"That doesn't sound like this is a normal decision."
"But you're doing it?" Alice sighed, and looked back at her team.
"Arch, how important is your freedom to you?"
He thought a moment, "Nearly the most important. Second to the freedom of my..." He struggled for a word, "Family. Friends. People."
"Then we understand each other. Arch, I'm not going to come out of this mission alive if I succeed." Jack looked horrified.
"Alice, you can't do this, your life is worth-"
"-more than the lives of the innocent people in that city? No. No its not Jack. I never thought I'd make it out of this war alive, and I've been proven right. But you Arch, you can help me get in there alive, rescue your friend, and ask your questions."
"How will I get out with her?"
"You're a walking army, I'm sure you'll figure something out."
"I'm surprised you trust me with this." She gave a sliver of a smile for the first time in their conversation.
"Do you know why we didn't cuff you Arch? Its not because we couldn't control you. If we wanted to, we could have knocked out your electronic systems. You're not invulnerable. I let you loose because from the moment you decided to negotiate with my soldiers instead of killing them that your appearance was not the sum of your character. You're not a walking weapon, you're a person who wants to protect a friend, who doesn't want to fight even though you'd be the best at it. Who doesn't like hurting people. I let you wander loose, and you trusted me to hold to me word in not killing you and your friend, and you never once tried to break out."
Arch rose to his feet, and dusted himself off.
"Okay, I'm in. I'll help. But on one extra condition."
"I get one of those hats." He pointed at Shona's beret.
* * * *
Graelyn had fallen asleep nearly as soon as she'd been shown her bed. She had no idea how long she slept, but she awoke to a full breakfast at her bedside, and a view from the high pyramid down across the city through her window. After she ate, there was a knock on her door, and a young girl, maybe 11 years old, the resemblance between her and Salazar was uncanny.
"Miss Scythes, good morning! My grandfather asked me to look in on you."
"Thank you, I'm feeling much better this morning."
"Would you like to change into something other than your prison garb?" Graelyn looked down at her ill fitting clothes."
"The shower and toilet are in the door right there." She pointed, "I'll go get some clothes for you while you shower." Given a chance to shower and change she threw herself into the task with a fervor, and after she spent plenty of time scrubbing the grime and blood out of her hair and skin, found herself with plenty of options for what to wear, as the granddaughter wheeled in an entire rack of clothes sizes for her perfectly. In the end she decided on a spun white dress with a black jacket cut so that its hem was only midway down the back as well as some matching sneakers, since she kept having to run through places in peril she decided she should abandon flats for the time being. When in Nojpeten, do like the Itza, she figured so she reluctantly agreed to let Salazar's granddaughter braid her hair. She went at it gleefully, her fingers working dextrously, and only occasionally causing Graelyn to wince when she pulled too hard.
"How does it look?" She asked Graelyn.
"It looks good Lizette." It really did, her hair looked fantastic, she wouldn't take the time to do this herself, but the new look made her feel refreshed after all the horror. She was finally stopped in one place, and the immeasurable weight of the last few days began to set in on her. She'd managed to end up in an alternate reality, watch herself die, get tossed between two skyscrapers, meet a woman who thought a city burning was nothing to get worked up about, lose the only person she knew from her own reality who she barely knew anyways, find out the other her had performed experiments on a living and unwilling person in her free time, get captured, went to jail, get broken out of jail, and then get flown to the prefecture of Guatemala.
"Your hail feels funny." Lizzette said, snapping her out of her thoughts.
"I mean, it doesn't feel like your hair." Graelyn touched her hair. It felt the same, if cleaner.
"Its not artificial or anything."
"I can't really explain it." Lizzette said.
"Right, well, how do you like living in Nojpeten?"
"Its really nice, people really respect Grandfather here. There are a lot of parades and parties throughout the year to." Graelyn smiled.
"That must be nice."
"Where are you from?"
"Moscow. Its colder there, a lot colder. It a very different sort of city. I still love it, in its own way. I never really felt at home there though."
"Do you have siblings?"
"Oh yeah, I have an older brother, and two older sisters. We weren't a very close family though."
"So you're the youngest?" Graelyn paused, and pursed her lips. Sort of?
"Cause I'm the youngest to!" Lizzette said excitedly, and held Graelyn's hand.
"How long will you be staying with us?" Graelyn shook her head.
"I really don't know. It depends on a lot of things... Did another girl come with us? She would have been dressed in prison garb to. She was about my age, black?" Lizette nodded, let go of Graelyn's hand and ran out of the room, only to return with the Intern, who was wearing jeans and a black top with lace edges. Graelyn stood up happily, "You're safe! I'm relieved." They awkwardly moved in to hug, but then gave up and settled on shaking hands.
"Do you think we're going to be safe here?" the Intern asked.
"Salazar has a plan, so I can only hope..."
"Grandad won't let anything happen to you!" Lizette enthused, "You can count on him." Graelyn smiled, she wasn't sure she believed her, but it was nice to hear nonetheless.
"Thank you Lizette. I'm sure he won't. By the way, I can't just keep calling you Intern."
"Actually, I'd prefer that."
"Are... You sure?" That was frankly, pretty weird.
"Yeah, it makes me feel safe right now." Sure, whatever.
"Alright then, Intern, Lizette, what is there to do around here?" Lizette tugged on her dress, and the Intern's jeans, and took them to the elevator. They exited through he cathedralesque lobby onto the sunny streets of Nojpeten, as street vendors yelled in Spanish selling their wares, a street preacher yelled something unintelligible, a group of kids played soccer in a small park... They walked through an art show taking up the sidewalks, and bought lunch from a vendor selling some sort of dish with vat-grown meat packed in fried corn dough, washing it down with apple flavored soda. For all the city seemed like that day, it was like there wasn't a war going on. But Graelyn knew that would change tomorrow, and even as they walked the festive streets trucks of troops moved through the city. The city knew war would come tomorrow in some form, but not today. Today was their day of peace, and the city in unison had decided that they wouldn't let tomorrow hold them back today. Lizette bought them all some rice and cinnamon ice cream, and the three sat by the lakeside, watching the light dance on the water.
She wondered if she'd have a day like this again.
* * * *
Alice handed Jack a box, and he looked at it perplexed.
"Okay, you have given me a box."
"There is a cat in it."
"That is an awful underhanded way to give someone a cat."
"Its not yours, well, it will be. Its mine."
Jack squinted, "Don't you hate cats?"
"It was Graelyn's. I promised her I'd look after it. I don't break promises. Anyways, when I don't come back, he'll need to be looked after."
"No, if you don't come back. If. And, no, not if, you're coming back." Alice smiled, reasurringly. Sure, Jack, if you need to believe that.
"His name is Captain Fudgesickle." Jack looked down at the box and back up at Alice.
"That is literally the worst name for a cat I have ever heard."
"Then I'm glad you're so committed to the revolution you can carry this burden."
* * * *
Maria moved through the jungle, and slipped in through the city gates at dawn. She was no different than any of the other travelers coming in and out, but she knew things they didn't. She moved through the streets calmly, towards the central pyramid. She had business with Manuel, revolutionary business, and he would not deny her. The WRC didn't know the area like she did, or the situation here. She could deal with this on her own. She reached a seemingly blank stretch of wall, and pressing her hand to it spoke a long series of letters and numbers quickly. It scanned her eyes, and took a sample of her DNA. She waited.
"Welcome, Maria Salazar." The wall slid open, and she slipped in. It just as quickly shut closed.
It had been a targeted risk, but he knew how family mattered to that man. He'd never deny his home to his sister.
* * * *
Chess Mistress Hex looked out at the data laid out in front of her: The board was set. The pieces were in place. There were pawns and knights, bishops and rooks, kings and queens. Each moved in its own way, and she had mapped their movements out. No plan was without risk, but nothing could be gained without chance. The pieces were assembled thus, and the game would be played in Manuel's foolhardy endeavor of a city of Nojpeten. That backward, moronic, useless wretch. Still, she was clever enough to know to never underestimate her pieces. This game would need to be played with the appropriate finesse and respect. With Salazar and Songbird dead, she could easily hold carrots in front of the World Revolutionary Council. She already had enough of them in her pockets. She could still make this loss into a win.
The board was set. White moves first. A hand reached out, across the lake in front of Nojpeten, and picked up a pawn.
There was nowhere to go but forward.
Next week: the dramatic confrontation. You won't want to miss it.
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!
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 9: Four Flashbacks and a Set up
“I think a big mistake we make when looking at our current society is we think of it as a pinnacle: that is to say that all of history has been leading up to where we are now in our world. Certainly we have more technology, and we have made strides that to our ancestors were unimaginable, but that doesn't mean that we are the first, and it doesn't mean that we are the best versions of ourselves, or even that our descendants will be. The equality of one society can drain away into oppression with the flip of a regime, and people can lose their rights just as quickly. Ideas can be forgotten, or called heretical, and the world can revert into a state that would have been called barbaric a few decades before while still being more advanced than it ever has been before. This happens when we stagnate. When we give up that desire to reach for the sky, and instead lower our arms with a shrug and say “eh, good enough” we will lose the Golden Age we have fought for, and have to perform alchemy to bring about a new one from whatever ours is made of. And I don't know about you, but I've never seen a politician who can pass for an alchemist.” -Professor Freeman Xavier
Graelyn looked down at her hands. These were hands that had done hours of pipeting, had stroked cats, had carried coffee, had run along the silent glass walls of Atlantis. There were cuffs around these hands, sturdy metal cuffs that didn't bend. Her wrists were sore as hell. Next to her, the intern of her other self sat frozen, her face trying awfully to conceal her terror. She glanced at Graelyn occasionally for support and she gave her back thin smiles, which was the most she could manage at the moment. Across from her was a man, she guessed from central America. He didn't look particularly bothered by the situation. Grey lines dotted his black hair in that signature way that screamed the man was at the strange meeting point between the wisdom of age and the physique of youth. The lines on his face showed he might be older than he looked though. The van bumped, and they both rose from their seats as far as their bindings would allow, only to crash back down. Graelyn stifled a grimace. The man looked totally non-plussed. She had seen him before. She stared at him. He raised an eyebrow.
“You look surprised.” He said. Songbird glanced over at them. She looked serious.
“I hadn't placed the name and the face before.” Graelyn replied.
“So no introduction needed?”
“I could afford one.”
“Director Manuel Salazar, Nojpeten Inc. Doctor, designer, medical revolutionary.”
The woman with red hair scoffed.
“Shut up, no talking.” One of the guards barked repetitively.
“Its alright.” The redhead said, “They're not getting out of this van.” Graelyn let the vehicle roll on a few more moments before she replied, staring at the redheaded woman.
“Who are you?” Graelyn asked the woman. The man snorted comically. She didn't look up.
“Don't tell me you don't know.” Graelyn shook her head, and despite the redhead not looking at her, she seemed to notice it.
“I'm Alice MacLeod, you might have heard me by the name the people have given me, the Songbird of Liberation.” Alice looked her in the eyes as she said 'songbird', narrowing her gaze into pinpricks of light that burned her retinas to meet. She turned her eyes away away.
“I take it you're important then.”
One of the guard's laughed, the Intern seemed to think Graelyn was trying to be snarky.
“You can't be serious.”
“I'm very serious. I don't know who you are.”
“You’re either a fantastic actor or a terrible one and I can't decide which.” Songbird idly checked her assault rife.
“What's this Revolution all about anyways?” Graelyn asked, a little too innocently, “I mean...” She couldn't actually figure out how to repair the implications of that statement.
“I've been wondering about you. What exactly you are. You know I threw you out a window earlier today.”
“Yes, I was there.”
“You were there twice. Not everyone can watch their own execution. So are you a clone? Or was the one I threw outside the window a clone?” Manuel laughed.
“Graelyn Scythes would never make a clone of herself. She's got too much pride in her uniqueness.” Graelyn stared daggers at him for that, and he just laughed at her.
“Are the rest of the Directors all dead?” He asked Songbird. She didn't reply, “Its not like we won't all find out later. Are Graelyn and I the last ones standing?”
“If that is Graelyn, then no, Ariadne Moore escaped to the rim.” Manuel scowled at that.
“The rest are all dead?” The Intern said, her voice cracking, her eyes brimming with tears.
“We're still alive, we can pull through.” Graelyn tried to reassure her.
“Oh, I wouldn't count on that.” Songbird replied, and the Intern began weeping.
“Intern, INTERN!” Manuel yelled. “Don't listen to her. She’s not a god. Now what's your name?”
“I'd rather they didn't know who my family was if I can help it.”
“Fair enough, Intern. I can respect that.”
“You're all responsible for numerous atrocities, or collaboration to them. We've noted them.”
“I'm certainly somebody with noting.” Somehow Manuel came off as charming rather than self-involved, but Graelyn wasn't sure how.
“Noted for your crimes.” Alice added.
“So, how did you get here?” Graelyn asked.
“Here is such a broad term. Here, there, time, place. Its all so transient. I'm sure it was a labor for all of us.”
* * * *
1: The Hands of Manuel Salazar
Manuel's hands worked with a fury, dancing through the incision with precision. The nurses had their roles choreographed perfectly, and the operating room was not so much full of blood but ballet, though there was certainly blood. Above him, the usual cadre of onlookers was observing the transplant, joined by a stranger they hadn't seen before. No one paid him much mind though. Salazar finished joining the last piece of flesh, and looked up at the nurses.
“Totally stable Doctor Salazar.” Salazar let out a pant.
“It didn't feel like a challenge.”
“That's good sir.” He shook his head as he exited the oporating room, and began to remove his garb and wash up. The other nurses could take the patient from here, so he and Nurse Maya exited.
“That boy's genetic abnormality should have been untreatable fatal sir, but you surgically corrected it. That was a miracle. No one has your hands.”
“Now that I've done it we can run it into the machines, they'll figure it out. These hands are nothing irreplaceable.” He splashed water on his face, and looked up into the mirror. Such a young face for a Doctor. Not ludicrously so like they did in the movies, but still younger than most. He dried his face, and got ready to great the well wishers as he exited. There they were in a throng, wanting to congratulate him, get on his good side, invite him to their dinner parties. He didn't pay attention as he nodded, smiled, and reponded by reflex. At the edge of the throng was a man though, so nondescript his face was replaced when Manuel looked away by the idea of a man's face in his mind. He waited patiently for Manuel to finish with the others. He didn't try to cut in till the last one sauntered off, leaving the two of them alone in the hallway.
“You're certainly patient.”
“Some things are better said carefully.” He didn't rush his words either.
“I am a busy man, you understand.”
“I won't waste words then. I work for a man on the Rim who wants you to perform an operation.” Manuel shook his head, “I can't be bought to leave my work on Earth for some backwoods Titan. Excuse me.” He began to move past the man.
“An operation you won't be allowed to do on Earth. Something no one has ever done in the history of humanity. Something that is impossible.” He stopped. Manuel turned. The nondescript man's face didn't seem to hold any expression he could pull ulterior motives out of.
“A complete skeletal transfer. In one operation.”
“That is impossible. You can't keep a human being alive and perform that operation. Maybe over the course of years or multiple operations-”
“With a completely metal skeleton.” Manuel stared at Mr. Nondescript, and broke down laughing. He laughed till the wall volunteered itself as his support to keep from flopping over on the ground like a fish.
“That- that is impossible. You have me there.” The man hadn't changed his impression.
“If you say so. However, we heard you were interested in a challenge.”
“That sort of operation would be illegal anyway, I couldn't do it. Too risky. The insurance company would never allow it.”
“They wouldn't know about it. No one would. But you would learn it was possible.” Salazar stood up again, and met his gaze.
“And if the patient died?”
“Then we would learn not to persue this line of research any further.”
It was tempting. It was so very tempting. He had run out of work to do here that was meaningful. He had his own medical technology company, but they were unable to compete against the existing monopolies in any meaningful way. He did surgeries that there was no known program for the machines to do, and each time lessened the number of possible surgeries for a human to work on in the process as the machines learned from him. He was in all likelihood making the last significant gains in surgery any human would.
Taking the final step was almost too much to resist.
“I am curious, ambiguous Seniõr, how did you learn about me?”
The man changed his expression for the first time. He smiled.
“She is already a fan of your products.”
Manuel stood in front of the door to the medical ward, running his hand along his smooth chin. The flight to Europa had been long but harmless, and Manuel was itching to begin. He had brought Maya with him, of course, but no one else. This was a sort of secret mission, medical espionage. He found it both funny and exhilarating to be going behind the backs of Earth's leadership. The unmemorable man opened the door, and gestured for him to enter in. Inside was a teenage girl's room, though one decidedly of a girl who didn't leave it often. There were medical apparatuses all over the place, and a large rack of books many of which were on seemingly advanced topics, especially anatomy, chemistry, and biology, a few on famous serial killers, some romance novels, some scifi novels about something called “The Next Generation with a man with a band over his eyes on the cover, and some of those inspirational essay books. The wall had a few paintings and posters, mainly of flowers and pastoral landscapes, but also of a death metal band or two. From the bed, his patient looked up at him. Not an inch of her skin was visible, as she was wearing a soft flexible suit from head to toe, her face an oval mask with a single eye on the right side. Manuel recognized the design well, it was his. A giant exclamation mark appeared on the girl's face, and he saw she was usuing it exactly as intended. The plush-lung was supposed to be a way for people who had incurable debilitating illnesses to live. The suit worked directly off signals from the brain, and made communication and movement possible for people it had been impossible for. Micro motors in the joints aided movement, the suit kept any extra germs out, and helped stabilize and treat any conditions of the patient within. For these patients, Manuel had figured that been trapped inside such a suit would be horrific as well as liberating, for even though it allowed patients with paralysis to walk thanks to its machinery, their expressions were muted by it as well. Thus he'd made the faceplate a screen that could instantly display images the patient wanted, helping them to express emotions and feelings without speaking. For those who had been in need of one, it was considered a miracle.
Of course, another company had claimed copyright infringement, and he had to be very careful about how he sold them, even though they were not selling them. Usually the suits had to be 'gifts'. But he was rich, so he didn't care.
An image of a happy face appeared on the faceplate. “Mister Salazar!” A voice said from the mask. She waved at him, and began to get out of her bed, the motors clearly doing the work for her limbs. She made her way over to him, and he gladly embraced her.
“You must be Sarah, I've heard a lot about you.” A heart appeared on her face.
“Probably not everything. The Librarian is always leaves a lot of omissions.”
“Omissions?” She made her way back to the bed and sat down.
“Well, did he tell you why he wants me fixed up?” Salazar followed her back to the bed.
“I was told he had a vested interest in you.”
“That's a way of putting it.” She reached over to her side table, and pulled out a tablet, which she pulled a picture up on, and handed to Manuel. The picture was of a 12 year old girl with white hair and eyes so pale blue they could only mean she was blind wearing a bright blue flower print dress. She didn't seem to realize the picture was being taken. A pair of sunglasses were on the coffee table in front of her. She was seated on a couch, next to two very burly men who'd clearly been jacked up on bio modifications. On the coffee table was a giant pile of money, as well as a giant pile of what were clearly bags of drugs. He looked up at her, surprised to say the least.
“I started learning how to make drugs at a very young age to make a living as an orphan. Bye the time I was ten, I had cornered the market in my neighborhood. By the time I was twelve, I had my own gang.” She sighed, “Naturally that didn't work out well. I got pretty badly hurt. I would have died if the Librarian hadn't taken me in.”
“So you were an ambitious twelve year old.”
“He thinks I'm special. I just did what I had to do to eat.”
“It looks like you did a bit more than that.” She held his gaze for a minute, or at least appeared to. She wasn't sure what to say to that.
“Well, anyways, I wasn't able to move at all until I got this suit. The Librarian had to pay under the table to get a hold of it, but it was for me,” he mouthed the words with her, “a miracle.”
“I read about your condition, the deterioration of your bones is pretty severe.” She nodded.
“Its not just my bones anymore. Everything is basically turning into fatty tissue in me. I'd be dead right now if I wasn't encased.” Manuel soured: he hadn't been told she'd deteriorated that much. He couldn't just do a skeletal transfer. The wheels in his brain began to turn, then spin, then they formed gyroscopes. “I see. Sarah, how much are you attached to your current body?” Sarah thought a moment, “I really couldn't care less about it. What are you thinking?”
“I'm thinking a skeletal transfer is small.” He grinned, “We could do a lot more for you.” She seemed to perk up, the servos in her back straightening her spine.
“Do whatever you want. I'm in for it.” He rose, “Then I'll begin planning-”
“-But I want to have electronic eyes.” He frowned.
“You could have the finest biological eyes in the solar system.”
She shook her head, “I was blind when I was born, and the first time I saw was when I was put in this suit. I don't want to learn to see again. Just give me the best sight you can. I don't care if it looks funny.”
“One last question Sarah, who is on those books? The “Next Generation” ones.”
“That's Geordie! He's blind but can see through an electronic band over his face.” Manuel smiled. It was so important for kids to see people they thought of like themselves on book covers. He walked to the exit, “Then Sarah, I'd say we have ourselves an operation.”
The operation was difficult to say the least: everything had to go, nearly. The skin had to be removed to be reattached later, as it was one of the few things worth saving. Her muscles and bones were basically mush, and most of her organs had failed at this point. He replaced all of them. Using a printer, he had manufactured her new body parts using an improved version of her genome, and carefully removed and reattached them to her system. He had to work carefully to assure compatibility. If the body rejected a new part, it would make the whole new system buggy. The new muscles were engineered like machines, and could lift more than an Olympic athlete. Her skeleton was the strongest metal alloy he could find that wouldn't be toxic to her system. Her organs were better than any person's. Her brain and nervous system remained, it was in some ways all that was left of her. In the end he threw out her skin to, after realizing that it just wasn't worth the effort to shape it to her new form, and had a machine print a new one around her. The surgery was exhausting, and took more than one day, during which Sarah remained totally sedated. When it was done, Salazar sealed up the final incision, and started at the person in front of him. She had been trapped in a body that would have died without him, and now he had made her a wholey new one, grown the organs and stitched her together.
“Good God.” Manuel said to Maya as she began to dress the unconscious girl in a hospital gown.
“I've broken the barrier down Maya. If I can do this, we can save anyone.”
“Anyone who can afford it.” Maya said without a hint of playfulness.
Manuel clenched his fist.
Sarah MacLachlan woke up to feel air on her skin. When was the last time she had felt that? She tried to recall, but it seemed too far away to nail down in any way. Her vision cut on, and she could see the ceiling, raining light down on her from luminescent panels. Raising her hands in front of her, she saw skin and nails. Her arms felt strong. Sitting up, she felt down her body, reaching under the hospital gown to feel her shoulders, her back, her breasts, her stomach, her sides, her hips, her legs, her toes. She felt her face, her cheeks and neck and ears and her new stubbly hair. She let out a shriek of joy, and carefully moved her legs out of the bed. Her touched the tiles-- they felt... cold! What a wonderful sensation, cold. She had been perfectly temperature controlled in her suit. What a joy to be cold! She took a breath and got to her feet. She stood, without any help, without motors pushing her. It was all her own body. She wanted to run! But she was still attached to the iv and didn't want to try to remove it herself. Pushing the iv with one hand across the room, she went to the mirror and stared at her own reflection. This was her face. Her own face, hers forever. Her hair was just stubble, but it looked like it would be brown when it grew out. She thought she'd have the white hair she had as a child, but whatever, she wasn't complaining. But the best touch was her eyes, because she didn't have them. Instead there was a half oval on her face running from temple to temple over where eyes would have been.
“Geordie LaForge.” She smiled, and the first real surprise happened. Her teeth, like the rest of her bones, were a shiny metal alloy peeking out from behind her gums. She was shocked, then shocked to see a look of shock on her new face, then she grinned.
“I like it. Chrome teeth.”
There was a knock on the door, and she said, with her own vocal chords, “Come in!”
Manuel entered, with his nurse Maya, and the nondescript man.
She scooted over with the iv as fast as she could, and embraced Manuel and Maya each in turn.
“You like the new digs?” He said with a smirk.
“I love them.” She became keenly aware she was smiling with those shiny teeth. Maybe she'd use that as a moniker.
“We know that you'll be working for the Librarian now, probably doing very illegal things, but try to remember what it was like to not have power.” She nodded.
“I will. What will you do now?” Manuel's face seemed to take on some sort of operatic tone.
“I'm going to remember what it was like to be powerless.”
The CEO of Algen-Hoser medical systems rubbed his 400 credit haircut warily.
“These numbers aren't good. How on Earth did this happen?”
Linda, a vice president, shook her head, “Earth is exactly how it didn't. Nojpeten inc. has been selling heavily off-world at discounted prices, and we suspect has found a partner in the rim who can smuggle the goods to earth and give them a cut of it.” The CEO looked up, “That's illegal!”
“We can't prove anything.”
“Well buy them out!”
She shook her head, “They are privately owned. We can't buy stock in them.”
“Unfortunately,” a new voice cut in, “Your investors aren't so faithful as mine.” A man in a gaudy black blazer with red and white stenciling on the breasts walked into the room like he owned it, holding a black briefcase.
“Excuse me, you're not allowed in here.” The man pulled up a chair to the CEO's desk, and put his feet on it. “Actually, I think you'll find I am.” He reached into the briefcase and pulled out a pile of documents, which he handed to the CEO, who looked over them bewildered.
“Sir?” Linda said.
“It says we've been bought out. The majority shareholder is now someone named... Manuel Salazar?” The interloper grinned and stretched back in the chair. “Yes, he now owns it. Really, he owns you. And being that I am him, I own you. So you can call me sir.”
The man set the forms down, “You insolent bastard. You can't just walk into my office and buy my company.” Manuel looked around wide eyed.
“What? I can't? Why didn't anyone tell me? Well, I suppose then I can't terminate you immediately. And cut your prices to something people here can actually afford.” The CEO stood up, gritting his teeth, “You can leave this room right now!”
“No, you can. Do you want me to call security on you?”
“This is my office!
Manuel smiled, and gently dusted his shoulder off.
“Maybe you gringos aren't used to being at the bottom of the food chain, but its too late for you. You're part of Nojpeten inc. You need to accept it, or you can be devoured.”
“Linda, get security get-” Linda bit her lip.
“No sir, I... I think its time for you to leave. I'm sure mister Salazar has a lot to get done today.”
The former CEO's jaw dropped, and Manuel reached over and ate one of the candies on his desk.
“Its my pleasure, “ Director Sarcozy began, “to welcome Mr. Salazar to the board of Directors of Centro Systems. Nojpeten Inc., has successfully taken the world stage in medical technology in only a few short years. We're honored to bring him on board today.” Manuel walked up to the front, and shook Ebeneezer Sarcozy's hand. The rest of the room applauded him, and he smiled. A woman in a very stylish black dress really stuck out to him though. He'd certainly heard of her, the illusive Director Ariadne Moore. She was smiling, but Salazar had seen a lot of people give him fake smiles before, and he knew this was a fake smile meant to show it was a fake smile. He could tell they were going to get along great. The meeting with the Directors was about what he expected, generic shadow government stuff. The cocktail party afterward was the really interesting part.
“So.” Ariadne said, walking up to him, putting on her sunglasses indoors, “You made it onto the board of Directors. I have to say, I'm surprised.”
“I have to say, I'm surprised you look so young.”
“You didn't invent medicine you know. You just undercut the people who did.”
“That's Capitalism for you.” She gave a polite smile, and he was reminded of Sarah's perfect smile he had crafted for her.
“Is it Capitalism? Well, let not get hung up on petty things like the correct definitions of words.”
“Oh I wouldn't dare to be petty.”
“But if this is Capitalism, then I may be interested in supplying capital to you.” Manuel raised an eyebrow.
“Don't act so surprised. I'm a business woman. I know when to invest.”
Manuel nodded, “Then I have an idea, a project, I think you might be interested in.”
* * * *
The car bumped again, and Songbird steadied herself against the side with her hand. Manuel looked like he was off somewhere else. Graelyn seemed like she was trying to avoid looking at anyone. Songbird assumed the girl was overwhelmed, which added to the clone theory. Outside the car a father put his arm out in front of his son, stopping him from walking any further towards the military caravan. A day ago, their world had been totally different. Maybe their home had been hit by a shell. Maybe they supported the revolution, maybe they were against it, but they would have to live in a world with it either way now. Two people couldn't tear down the whole world, let alone a caravan.
Songbird thought about those people as they kept driving. She'd never thought she'd win this, live in this new world. She thought she'd die clegging as she fired her last bullet into a Centro soldier. But here she was, alive. What would that even mean for her.
“What happened to the man in the apartment?” the girl who might have been Graelyn said.
“I'm surprised you're curious.”
“Of course I'm curious. I want to make sure he's okay.”
“You have no right to ask that. He'll be taken care of and given the best treatment.”
“You'd better. Him, the cat, and the intern here shouldn't be punished.”
“I've spent my whole life protecting the innocent, unlike you.”
There was silence following that, and Manuel looked between them like he was waiting for a commercial to end and a drama he liked to continue. The intern looked at the guards, hoping for one of them to be sympathetic towards her.
“How did you get here then?” maybe Graelyn asked, “Those people call you the Songbird of Liberty. What does that mean?” She turned back to her. She looked uncomfortable in the cuffs, and she remembered the first time she'd been forced to wear them. She bit back reflecting on it.
“It means that I've become a symbol of freedom against the oppressive systems on Earth.” Manuel scoffed at her.
“Well I've heard his story, though I'm still annoyed he won't tell the end of it.”
“He certainly talked himself up.”
“That was the truth, whether you believe me or not is your fault. I have to admit, I'm curious about your story to now.” Alice looked between them.
“I suppose we have to fill this drive somehow.”
* * * *
2: The Cry of the Songbird
Alice held her hands out to have the cuffs removed as her father finished signing the paperwork to get her released. “How you doing Donovan?”
“Oh, you know. It’s hard to get work these days.” The guard nodded solemnly.
“They'd certainly take you in the police force, regardless of your record--”
“You know that isn't happening Lisa.” She nodded without meeting his gaze.
“Come on Alice, let’s go.” She hugged her dad, and the two of them stepped out of the chilled police building into the summer sun.
“You can't keep doing this Alice, we can't afford to have you locked up... Longer.” She nodded.
“I'll be okay dad, I haven't gotten caught doing anything too bad.” He smiled, “Well, your mother would be worried sick to know you were doing anything too bad even if you weren't caught.” She held in a chuckle.
“This revolution dad, it needs everyone it can get.” He didn't argue, but he didn't agree.
Alice worked a boring job day in and day out, trying desperately to keep it for her family's sake. Her dad wasn't working anymore, thanks to being found out as a radical element and they needed the money more than anything. She walked home from work that day, her feet aching and sore from standing all day at the counter. Her shift didn't leave her much time to eat, but she didn't feel hungry, even though she knew she hadn't taken in anywhere near the calories she was supposed to. She felt wobbly, but she didn't complain, and tried her best to look less tired than she really was. That was when it happened: her day suddenly lost its monotony, lost its simplicity, and she rocketed into an adrenaline fueled awareness.
There were two Centro officers dragging a pair of men down the street, their faces against the concrete, scrambling with their hands to try to hold onto something in a desperate and futile attempt to not get arrested. One of the officers lowered a truncheon to one of the men's legs, and it was clear from the reaction that followed that the rod was electrified. Alice's face grew red.
Things had been better than this, but they were just spiraling worse and worse. Her fist clenched. She couldn't turn away from this. She couldn't. She didn't know those men, but she knew why they were being arrested: the “Anti-Sodom” law that had passed with a wide margin. Rights were being whittled away right out from under every person living on this street, and they all started at the two gay men being dragged on the concrete like this was still 500 years ago.
Alice walked toward the police slowly, and made her way to their right. She didn't make eye contact. The police glanced at her, but ignored her, and she got right beside one. Her bag shifted on her shoulder, and then she swung!
The shoulder bag hit the guard right in the side, knocking him off balance, and Alice followed it with her whole torso, clegging hard to make the impact as effective as possible. She heard a rib break. The other officer rushed her with his truncheon, but she ducked it, and reached a hand up beneath his face mask, and slid her fingers into the officer's stunned mouth, right between the cheek and the teeth, and then slid them out. The officer tilted his masked head to the side, started walking towards her, and then became wobbly, then fell over as the pill she'd slid into his mouth dissolved and took effect.
Alice grabbed the man's truncheon, and threatened the other officer with it who held her hands up. She grabbed the officer's cuffs, and bound both of them, then ran to the two men, trying to help them up.
“You need to get out of here.”
“Thank you.” the first man said from his bloody mouth.
“No time, you need to run, the police will be back in force, you and your partner need to run.” One helped the other up, and supported him with his arm. She watched them scamper down the alley. She stood alone in the center of the street, baton in hand. She tested the shock button.
“Well then, looks like prison it is.” It didn't take long for vehicles to float down from the sky and land around her, men and women dropping out in their best SWAT gear. Aw, they really did care.
“Unidentified person, please set the weapon down.”
“Unidentified? I'm Alice MacLeod. Would you like me to write it down for you?”
There was a brief silence. “Alice MacLeod would you please set the weapon down?”
“No. Viva la Revolution.”
She was told later she shouldn't have been able to live through the number of Tasers she was hit with.
Alice expected to go to prison. But she didn't. Instead she found herself released from custody like usual, with the guards being extra polite to her.
“I don't understand.” She said to Lisa, “I attacked corporate officers. That's a corporate offense.” Lisa screwed her mouth up, and then decided to tell her something.
“Someone paid for you to leave. The prison system is corporate, and if you want to pay your way out, you can.” Well, yes, everyone knew that. But no one she knew had enough money to pay to get her out of prison. When she was taken to the lobby, there wasn't her dad waiting there for her like usual, but a woman.
“Hello Alice. I'm Miranda.” The woman was Hispanic, probably mid twenties, wearing a gray hoodie under a suit jacket, and over a nice top, with slick black pants as well as oddly shaped sunglasses. The hoodie stood out like an elephant entered into a mouse beauty pageant. Miranda smiled at Lisa, and tipped the jailer appropriately.
“Hello.” This had to be some sort of cor prate requiting gig.
“You must have a lot of questions, but first off, no, this isn't some sort of corporate requiting gig.” She gestured for her to follow, and intrigued and confused, Alice followed her out the door. Miranda led them out of monitoring range of the police station before she spoke again.
“Well then, you made quite a mess of things. And while it would have been nice for you to have run your whole prison riot, I'm afraid things aren't going fast enough for my friends.”
“Excuse me, who on earth are you?”
“That's really none of your business.”
“I'm afraid it is, and what do you mean prison riot?” Miranda gave her a sly look.
“Do you really think you wouldn't have caused some sort of ruckus while you were in prison? I mean, look, you're a troublemaker. That's why we've been keeping track of you. We want this planet's revolution to get underway quickly and cleanly, without any of that messy in between.”
Alice nodded, “So you're part of a revolutionary organization on Earth?”
“Not on Earth, but I suppose revolutionary is the correct term. The revolution is inevitable, as is your victory.”
“I'm glad you have such confidence in the cause.”
“I have a certainty in it. But regardless, I can enable you to make this war short. Shorter than anyone thinks it will be. It will still take months, but not years.”
“That's impossible. I'm an idealist but Centro is so dug in...” Miranda put a finger to Alice's lips.
“Shh. Think bigger. What if I told you I could get you the codes to all of Centro's automated defense systems. You could shut them off. Appropriate them. Drop their drones from the sky. Turn off the camera system that lines the entire city.”
“That's impossible.” Alice laughed, this was insane.
“Then explain that.” Miranda pointed at the cameras on the street.
They had all turned to face the sky.
“We're not being watched. And you don't have to be. We have made the arrangements.” Miranda held out an old stye paper business card. On one side was a symbol of half a sun and half a crecent moon merged together, the sun's rays somehow seeming the twins of the moon's horns. On the other side was a post office box number with a key code beneath it.
“In that box is everything you need to overthrow the planetary system. You can only access it once, and the codes will be the codes for that week. Don't blow your opportunity.” Miranda took off her suit jacket and threw it at Alice, who caught it. It was a nice suit jacket. She turned and began to walk away, the back of the hoodie showing the progression of a sun into a moon through subtle metamorphosis.
“Why should I trust you?” Miranda shrugged.
“I don't care if you trust me. Fight a decade long war and decimate the planet. Your call.” Miranda turned into an alley, and Alice bolted after her, but she wasn't in the alley when she reached it.
She looked down at the thin piece of cardboard.
If this was real...
She put on Miranda's suit jacket, and slipped the card into her pocket. If it was real it meant the world.
It had taken a lot of persuading, a lot of yelling matches with different leaders over encrypted phone calls, but it was happening. Or would be, if this was real. She'd staked this all on trust in a stranger. But if it was real, it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. A once in a lifetime chance. If it wasn't real then Miranda was right, Alice would fight that ten year war. But... If she could avoid that. Turn the world over with minimal bloodshed. Alice inhaled, and held her breath as she walked towards the post office boxes, and held it still as she tapped the code into it.
“Okay, be real... Be real.” She reached inside, and found a small grey box with that same half moon half sun image on it. Pulling it out, she turned it over and over in her hands. There was a single hole in it: a standard computer connector port. It seemed pretty obvious how the thing had to work. Stuffing it inside her bag, she hurried outside. The box carried a heavy weight in her bag, and it drug her down. It was like she was carrying enough gold to buy the world from the hands of the corporate overlords she'd been fighting her whole life. She went back to her family's apartment, and got ready to make the call.
General Yul Hammontree had fought against Mars, he had been there during the great disaster there that ended the rebellion in Mars' favor. Yul had been at Venus during the disaster of the failed base there, and barely escaped with his life. But nothing prepared him for that Tuesday. Monday had been boring, he only remembered that he'd eaten a cheese sandwich during it, but Tuesday, oh, he'd never forget Tuesday. Pacing the room things seemed to be going in order for the first few hours of the day, and then... Then he noticed something.
“Corporal Talzin, bring up screen 51.” The Corporal did as ordered. He watched the footage. It was a street filled with people bustling through it.
“Corporal, bring up monday's footage, same time.” The Corporal did. They were the same. It was the same footage. The General yowled, and ran to the alert station, he jammed his finger at the touch screen, but nothing happened.
“What is going on?”
“I've lost control of my station sir!” Someone yelled, and then more voices joined in a chorus of it.
“We can't lose London, someone get in touch with the drone center--” Then he heard several shots, and turned to see a woman, flanked by a swarm of raggedy rebel soldiers walking into his command center, holding a battle rife.
“I'm afraid its too late for you. You know your people outside have been yelling into their communicators for half an hour while we fought our way in. You might want to put your weapons down on the floor. Several people did. Several tried to draw theirs. The latter were shot with cunning efficiency.
“Who do you think you are?”
“Alice MacLeod of the World Revolutionary Council. Who are you?”
“GENERAL Yul Hammontree. Now young lady you'll stand down.”
“The people are singing for liberty General, now get out of my way.” He puffed his chest out, and straightened his back.
“I'd rather die.” She shot him in the leg.
“Lets compromise.” She stepped over him and took out the box from her bag. They'd used it to break into the base, and it had done gloriously. But now... Now was the real test. She plugged into the console, and the screens in the room all lit up with that same sun/moon symbol.
“Hello, my name is Alistair.” The box crooned through the speakers, “Could you please supply me with your name and user name.”
“Alice MacLeod.” She said, kicking the General's hand away from the holstered gun he was reaching for and grabbing it herself. “User name....” She looked around the room. She used to sing in the tavern her Dad's friends met up in. They said her voice was pretty as a Nightingale, a wonderful Songbird. Well, it was her friend Jack who called her that first. She smiled at him, he was nervously holding a gun towards the crouched room of technicians.
“Call me Songbird.”
The screens displayed a black and white image of a songbird, and Alastair spoke again, “Alright then Songbird, I am at your command.”
She smiled, “They always said I'd set the world on fire. Lets get this started. From one bird to another, lets take theirs out of the sky.”
For hundreds of years the world had been monitored by a linked system of satilites and drones. For hundreds of years everyone knew that everything they said was being recorderd. And then, on a Tuesday, the drones fell from the sky. Next, the cities began to fall, and the people at the top who had feasted on the fruits of those beneath them came tumbling down, as it turned out, often fairly literally as Alice took a predilection towards executing CEO's by hanging them out of windows.
The prison labor camps were the next thing she freed. The people there, being worked to death for having wrong ideas, or wrong lifestyles cheered her as she liberated each camp. Their bodies thin and bruised, their cries weak. She got out of her vehicle and hugged them, touched their hands, talked to them. Soon they began to call her the Songbird, and it stuck. City by city fell, and it became clear the world would fall far quicker than the ten year war they had anticipated.
Then she wen to Mexico city.
Jack was by her side of course, he always was, as the hovering craft flew towards the city.
“So, Alice, I was thinking... When this is over...”
“There will be a lot of clean up work. We'll have to be really on top of the left over Centro elements.”
“No um, Alice, I mean, I was thinking about us.” She checked her rifle, it was in perfect order.
“About us what?”
“Alice, you know how I feel about you.” She sighed.
“Jack, I'm not interested in you. We've been through this.” She counted a moment in her head. “Nine times, actually. Well, maybe ten. Not sure if that counted.”
“Okay but, when the war is over...”
“Jack! I'm not interested in you. I don't want romance. I'm an aromantic asexual. You know what that means right?”
“Yeah, but I thought it might change when the war is over.” Alice scooted away from him a bit.
“I'm not who you want me to be Jack. I'm sorry.” The hovercraft landed, and they stormed off. She raised her rifle and tried to get back into the mindset she needed. The first Centro soldier popped up, and she was fast on the trigger, capping him right in the forehead before he could level his gun. The gunfire moved into full force, and she lost track of herself. She shot through the smoke, diving over barricades and obstacles, slamming her rifle butt into the jaws of enemies who slipped through the smoke, and leveling again quickly to take shots at those far away. She was made for this, and she was merciless, not out of anger but out of precision. Her violence was exact, and total. Her heart raced as she ran through, and shot a soldier trying to close a side door into the base before he could, slipping through right after him. She had forgotten that there was still a battle behind her as she stormed the hallway, not that there were many people in it. She shot those who opposed her, and tied up those who surrendered. The rest of her troops made it into the building, and she stood in the cleared space, leaving the rebels who saw her with the bold and ludicrous impression she could have done this herself.
“Is the outside secure?”
“Yes ma'am!” said a burly woman with vitiligo.
“Call me Alice. And good, what's your name soldier?”
“Chantelle ma'am.” Alice nodded.
“Lets move out then.”
The base was nearly empty, eerily. She'd expected more resistance. They walked through darkened barracks, and empty mess halls, till they reached a thick sealed door. Alice looked at Trevon, their resident door opener, who went to work on the lock with quick skill, and the aperture opened to reveal a room filled with several people in lab coats trying desperately to pry open a door.
“We need to get the back up hard drive wiped! Open it!” One yelled.
“The bomb will take care of it lets just get out of here!” Another yelled back.
“Can't you tell its meant to survive the explosion open it or-”
“Or what?” Alice said, striding into the room. The scientists huddled together.
“Where is the bomb?” It was an order, and the people knew it.
“Its... In the main factory floor.” One of them said, pointing towards another door. Alice strode confidently towards it, opened the door, and walked through.
There was a moment where no one could see Alice, and the room was silent. Then she walked back into the room, her rifle hanging loosely from her hand, then clattering to the floor. She shook gently, her eyes wide and full of lines of red. She nearly stumbled over and put her arm against the wall.
“Alice what-” Jack began, but she interrupted him. She thew up, keeling over to her knees, still shaking. Jack hurried over and put a hand on her. “What's wrong?” She looked up, her eyes boiling over, tears running down her face, and her hand finding the handle of the gun properly again.
“You. You did that.” She looked at the scientists.
“I.. How could you I...” She began gagging again, and threw up a second time. She staggered up and pointed the gun at them.
“Hold up Alice, don't do anything hasty.”
“No this isn't hasty. This—Jack you don't want to see what's in there I promise you.”
“There's nothing that could provoke you killing these people.” She looked at him like she had seen hell. And he shook his head and walked towards the door.
“Jack, don't go in there. I promise you, you can't unsee that. Don't.” He ignored her. He walked in. All they heard for the next two minutes was him screaming. He walked back in, even more shaken than Alice had been. He looked at her.
“Do it.” He muttered. “Do it.”
“We were just following Graelyn Scythes orders!” One of them yelled, “Please!”
“Just following orders?” Songbird's voice was loud enough to echo through the building.
“JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS? There is no order that could justify that.”
There were seven scientists in the room. Alice's hands shook so much she used ten bullets, but the effect was the same. Standing over their corpses, she motioned for Trevon to go in and disarm the bomb.
“I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to see that.” He nodded. He needed her help in the end do to shaking himself. But the bomb was disarmed. As they flew back, Songbird stared at the giant complex, the complex she never ever wanted to see again. She only had one thought that she said outloud during the trip back.
“I'm going to kill Graelyn Scythes.”
No one argued it.
* * * *
Graelyn stared at Alice, her hands were shaking. Her jaw trembled. She fingered the rather banged up cat pin on her lapel, but couldn't get a grip on it.
“What did you see in there.”
“I don't know!”
“YOU KNOW.” Alice yelled. “You can't tell me if you're really Graelyn Scythes you don't know what was behind that door and the only reason you're not dead yet is we don't know and the WRC is starting to cool down enough they want trials instead of battlefield executions. That and your friend made a strong case for your survival.”
“Arch?” She asked, full of hope.
“Yes. You can thank him later. If you're a brainwashed victim in all this, some poor confused clone, or... What he said you were in that elaborate story of his...”
“What did he say you were?” Manuel asked.
“The truth, I hope.”
“He said you were from an alternate reality. Balderdash, of course.”
“Ma'am, should you really be talking so much with the prisoners?” A woman with vitiligo skin said.
“Its alright Chantelle. I have leeway on this matter. The WRC is just as curious as we are.
“Well if we're telling our stories, what about you Intern?”
She shook her head, “I don't want to say anything I shouldn't. Get family in trouble.”
“Of course. How about you, Scythes? What kind of a last name is Scythes anyways, it sounds made up.”
“Its my real last name.”
“So then Graelyn,” Songbird interjected, “How did you get here?”
“Its... A long story.”
“Its still a long ride. We have time. Start from the beginning.”
“The beginning?” She knew where the story really began, but she didn't want to start there. She thought she'd begin somewhere easier to talk about, but when she started talking things spilled out she hadn't intended, and she kept talking. As beginnings go, it wasn't one she would write down.
* * * *
3: Happy Birthday Graelyn Scythes
Graelyn shifted her hand to swirl the beaker, holding it up to her eyes. It wasn't exactly reacting like it was supposed to, which was curious. The lack of reaction was just as interesting as getting one si--
“Graelyn didn't you say you had to be somewhere at 7?” She turned to look at the person speaking, it was Professor Hanson.
“Uh, yes I've got a date with Ashlyn then.”
“You probably want to get ready to go its a quarter till.” Shit, she was right and she'd late no matter what at this point. She jotted down the lack of reaction, cleaned up, took off her lab coat, and hustled out the door to the bus stop, checking the time on her phone over and over. The bus arrived a tiny bit late, and she bustled onto it, finding the perfect seat on it. The city rushed by the window, and she closed her eyes as the bus jostled her against the window.
Graelyn ran into the diner a fifteen minutes late, looking past the greeter for Ashlyn, who was sitting alone at a table for two looking boredly at her phone. Graelyn pointed to the table and the greeter let her through. She sat down, and hoped she looked decent.
“You're late.” Ashlyn said, scrolling through her phone.
“Sorry, I got caught up at work. I was testing reactions to a compound they've been developing at the lab for the team there-” Ashlyn put the phone in her pocket and gave Graelyn a look that said “shut up.”
“Look Graelyn, we need to talk.”
“Okay, well, I'm here so go ahead.”
“We can't keep doing this.” Graelyn was silent for a moment.
“If you mean me being late, I can set an alarm next time or...”
“No Graelyn. That's just a symptom. You forgetting to take enough time to set an alarm to remember our dates is a symptom. Honestly, why are you even in this relationship?” They stared at each other for a moment in silence. Graelyn rubbed her fingers together under the table. The waiter came by, and each of them ordered something, which felt like more commitment than was prudent with how things were going.
“Of course I want to be in a relationship with you, I dumped Petyr so we could date.”
“Yes, and when you dumped Petyr he told me to watch out for you because would act like you cared about people more than you did so they wouldn't leave you. You're fifteen Graelyn, you don't need to hold onto this like its going to be forever if you don't want it to be. I'm seventeen and I don't have to put up with this. Also you dodged the “why?” question.”
Graelyn squirmed in her seat she felt her face turning red, and her hands becoming ice. “We have so much planned out together. Getting an apartment together when you go back to London, supporting each other.” Ashlyn pursed her lips. Her shoulder length brown hair swaying back and forth as she leaned in. She always wore such nice outfits, summer dresses or skirts and sweaters. A few times suits, but the way she preferred skirts and dresses to pants was one of the things that had drawn them together in the first place.
“We do have a lot planned out. And that's why this is important, cause I'm not going through with a plan with someone who is only half involved in it. You're always late, you're nearly always distracted, when we are-”
“Not so loud!” Graelyn said glancing around as though anyone had been listening.
“Okay, quieter! Its like you're doing calculations in your head!”
“...But yeah I am doing calculations in my head. There's nothing wrong with that.”
“Did you ever think I might want more than you're giving me back? You always hold part of yourself back. You listen, but you don't talk about yourself, just your work. And who spends all their time at a lab at fifteen? I mean, I started dating you because you seemed a lot more mature than you are, you're two grades up in school and doing lab work, at fifteen. That's impressive, it really is, and I thought there would be more to you than that, but what else is there outside of it? Its like you were never a child.”
“I love music.” Graelyn said, her voice cracking, “and cats.” there was a pause, “and you.”
“Great, three things. I won't be here forever, I'm going back London when the summer starts, and I keep asking myself, will I miss you, will you miss me, or is the fact that you can move in with me just convenient for you?”
Graelyn's stomach churned, “Well, yes its convenient, but...” She struggled to find the words.
“I...” Ashlyn looked at her sadly. Their food came.
“We may as well enjoy one last meal together. Dig in.”
“Last? So, you're breaking up with me? That's it?” Graelyn's face drained of all its color. Her muscles retreated and she was only alive by the sign of her breath.
“I, look, I didn't want it to go this way, but it has to. I can't keep doing this Graelyn. You're not my only option you know.”
“How much does it hurt?” Graelyn asked.
“I need to know how much it hurts, you. Right now.” Ashlyn looked over her face, it was strangely impassive.
“To break up with you?”
“Why would you ask me that?” Graelyn shrugged.
“I want to know.”
“It hurts a lot, for the record.” Graelyn nodded. The gears were turning in Graelyn's head.
“I'm very disappointed this didn't work out. I'll have to take other measures.”
“The plan has to change.”
“The plan? That's what I was to you, a plan? You just needed me around for some benefit?”
“That's why we keep other people around. For their benefits. That's what a relationship is.”
“No we don't! Not normal people. Normal people think about how they care about other people, or their feelings.”
“I do care about you. I did think about your feelings, I asked how much this hurt you.”
“Like I'm an experiment. I didn't think when I'd break up with you you'd find a way to break my heart even more.” Graelyn shrugged.
“You can never achieve anything if you aren't willing to cut out your own heart. You can never advance unless you sacrifice what matters to you. You cut me out of your chest first. I don't benefit you anymore. And I can respect your calculation.”
“You sometimes barely talk like you're human. I didn't calculate leaving you.” Graelyn looked down at her plate.
“I'm good at calculation. I notice things. I just didn't want to believe them. But that's life, cutting things out, I should have expected it. I've been trying, I really have. You've always made me feel so free. But I can see I had things scrambled. Still, I notice things. So... Is there someone else?” Ashlyn looked awkward. She couldn't meet her gaze and stared off into another table's candle flame.
“Oh.” Graelyn said.
Graelyn had met Ashlyn when she had gotten bumped up another grade at the start of the school year. She was a foreign exchange student from London, or maybe Blackpool, she said both of them at various points, and Graelyn was instantly attracted to her. She had a sort of wide round face that was both beautiful and adorable, and she was always making funny quips. She'd mastered Russian in a flash, and was already making terrible puns. Graelyn and her began talking about each other's clothes, a topic Graelyn usually couldn't care less about but which suddenly took on a whole new dimension with her. Graelyn definitely thought she was hot, but there wasn't a romantic spark. She had only rarely felt that, for people she'd known a very long time, like Petyr, but Ashlyn was so much more interesting than Petyr, whose idea of a fun date was going somewhere and walking around for two hours, she decided it didn't matter. Maybe if she waited, the spark would come. She waited, and waited, and it never came. It occurred to her around this time that she could be attracted to anyone if they had enough charm or looks, so she was definitely Pansexual, but she had to be DemiRomantic, only attracted to people she'd developed an emotional connection to. She dumped Petyr for Ashlyn, and they seemed mostly happy together. But Ashlyn was right, she couldn't open up to her, she kept trying, but she couldn't. It didn't mean she didn't care, she wasn't sure what it meant.
“So who is it?”
“I didn't want you to find out this way.”
“All that stuff about what I've been doing, and you're telling me you found someone else. I may be a terrible girlfriend but at least I'm a loyal one. Who is it?”
“Just hold your hand still.”
“I'm trying.” Graelyn looked down as the machine began to carefully treat her nails. Ashlyn laughed from the chair next to the other machine, “Its just a manicure, you said you were cool with getting one when we were getting coffee.”
“It seemed like a good idea then.” The needles and lasers an other devices went to work layering color and detail onto her nails, when a holographic popup appeared.
“Oh not that, use your left hand, not the one being worked on right now, to close it.” Graelyn read the holo display.
“It says it can put a hard drive into the paint on my nail.”
“Yeah, its a cheap trick. Handy I guess. Handy, yeah?” Graelyn rolled her eyes.
“Right, well... Nothing subdermal or permanent right?” Ashlyn shook her head. Graelyn tapped yes, and the machine got right back to work. When they had finished, their nails were short, bold, and beautiful, layered in carefully chosen colors and shades.
“Ooo, yours are very nice. You got an ocean pattern.”
“I like the ocean.” She said plainly.
“Clearly. Look at mine!” Graelyn held her hand gently and examined the stylized blinking eyes on her fingernails. “They move!”
“That shouldn't surprise you, that's not that fancy.” Graelyn threaded her fingers through her own and smiled. “I like them.” She smiled back and running her fingers through Graelyn's hair, kissed her. They kissed deeper, and several adults walked past rolling their eyes as they are wont to do at teenagers Graelyn felt Ashlyn working at the back of her head, and then her hair dropping down from her pony tail. She pulled back.
“What was that about?”
“Just a subtle message to let your hair down once in a while.” She blushed, and leaned back in for another kiss.
“Marilyn.” Graelyn stood up. “You're dating another Lyn? Seriously?”
“Lyn and Lyn!” Graelyn held up the paper she'd drawn the words on sloppily. “Like a duo!”
“Well, definitely a duo, but I think we can do better than that for a couple name.” Ashlyn gestured for the pad of paper, and Graelyn handed it to her. She turned to a new page, and scooted over on the bed so Graelyn couldn't see it. Graelyn glanced back over at her homework.
“Lyn squared!” Ashlyn said holding up the paper, which of course had “Lyn^2” written on it. Graelyn grinned, picking up her homework.
“We should make t-shirts.” Graelyn lowered her homework slightly.
“My goodness we should.”
“That was our thing, Lyn^2...” She sat down, collecting herself.
“You're giving her one of the spare shirts aren't you.”
“No... No I wouldn't do that.”
“You're lying.” The waiter refilled their glasses.
“Okay maybe I am, but...” Graelyn slumped down, took off her glasses, and began rubbing her eyes.
“Oh no, no no no, no I've really hurt you I'm sorry I really didn't mean--.” Ashlyn reached out a hand nervously.
“Its just.... I... You couldn't have waited three days?”
“Whats... Whats in three days?”
“My birthday.” Ashlyn looked paralyzed.
“Don't worry about it,” Graelyn said calmly, “it was clearly my mistake.” Graelyn pulled the cheap ring on the necklace from over her head, and set it on the table.
“I'm sorry I wasn't good enough for you. I hope she likes this.”
“Graelyn...” She got up, paid at the counter, and went out the door.
* * * *
Graelyn got back into the house from work, she'd been dong the usual lab work: pipeting, filling out other people's paperwork, cleaning the equipment. She had texted a few people, but no one had responded. That was okay. She'd find a way to make today work. As she stepped into the living room, her mother was there, wearing a loose fitting blouse and beige slacks.
“And where have you been.” It wasn't really said like a question, so Graelyn didn't answer. She just tried to walk past. An arm reached out in front of her.
“No, not today, you're going to stay in here and talk to me.” She was tired of talks this week.
“Could I please just go to my room Mom...”
“No. I've had enough of 'your room' I went in there today—”
“You went in my room?” Graelyn's eyes went wide. She pulled her phone out of her bag, tapped the screen carefully, then set it on the mantle.
“Yes, I went into the room I gave you, and guess what I found?”
“What did you find?” Her mother reached down to the table and picked up several internship fliers.
“What did I find? I found these. Fliers for internships outside of Moscow. They weren't there when I checked your room yesterday.”
“I can go where I want.”
“You're just a teenager. What do you know about anything? Are you going to go off and explore the world like some useless hippee? You are staying right here, and you're going to be useful. You've never been as driven as your sister, or as smart as your brother, but I'm not going to let you be a total loss.”
Graelyn gritted her teeth. “You mean like Xandra. Maybe I'd like to be Xandra-” Her mother glared at her, and Graelyn's voice caught in her throat.
“You're not going anywhere, and that's final. You're staying here, and if you try to leave, I'm calling the police on you. And you're not seeing that... 'Girlfriend' of yours anymore. Ah yes, you thought you could keep that from me to. Many may have accepted that immoral bullshit centuries ago but us Scythes are better than that.”
“Well you got your wish she dumped me three days ago.” Graelyn muttered.
“Good. Then you won't be mad I burned everything with her name on it.” Graelyn gasped. She'd still held the Lyn^2 shirt while she'd slept this week, not that she'd ever let Ashlyn know that.
“You burned my things?”
“Yes. And I'm going to be keeping a much tighter leash on you, you little slut. I'll be picking you up when you finish your shifts now so you don't get up to anything. Understood?”
“Good. I'm glad we understand each other. I thought you might amount to something Graelyn.” She shook her head, “I really did. But you're just as much a disappointment as Xandra. Maybe we should set your sights lower, I don't think you can get into the programs I was expecting you to. You've put such a burden on me, I've worked so hard for you. How could you hurt me like this? My own daughter. I bet Andrei wouldn't have put us through this. It probably would have been better if you'd done a better job when you were 9.”
Graelyn had been making the slow shuffle back towards her room, ready to grab her phone and leave. But that stopped her. She gripped the edge of the mantle tight, her hands shaking. She'd been ready to give up. She had been.
“What did you say?”
“You know exactly what I said.” Graelyn began shaking uncontrollably, her teeth clenched together, she tried desperately to keep herself calm but it wasn't working.
“H-h-h,” she tried to breathe but it hurt to, “h-how dare y-you. How dare you!”
“How dare me?” Her mother reared on her, putting her strong hands on her and spinning her around like a beanpole. “HOW DARE ME?”
“S-s-see,” Graelyn stuttered through her fear, “this is why d-dad left.” Her mother's eyes turned into fireballs, and she felt the hands leave her sides. Her mother's breathing was heavy, and deep.
“W-” Graelyn began, but whatever it was was never said.
The blow came suddenly. Like a thunderclap. For a second Graelyn saw her mother's hand in the air and began the instinctive flinch, but the blows usually came where no one could see them. Her back, her chest, her sides. The slap hit her right on the side of the face. Not a light slap, but one with the weight of a punch. Her ear rang, her cheek burned like it had been splashed with fire. She tried to right herself, but another slap hit the other cheek and she lost her footing. Then again. She couldn't feel her glasses anymore, they must have fallen off, and she couldn't hear what her mother yelled through the ringing in her ears, just that there was yelling. She could barely see, everything looked cloudy, and she realized that she wasn't standing up anymore. A foot hit her in the ribs, and she cried out. “Mom, please.” She managed to whimper. But the foot came again. Then there was nothing, and she felt a hand around her pony tail. For a second she imagined Ashlyn had come to rescue her, but these were not those fingers, and they pulled up her whole body weight by her hair. She wobbled, and managed to stand, before another blow landed on her face. She rose again, hiding her own face with her hands. She held back her tears with years of practice.
“You will never talk to me like that again young lady. Never.” Graelyn nodded.
“Look at me when I'm talking to you!” She widened her fingers so her right eye was looking at her but not her left.
“That is the last outburst I will ever hear from you. You should be grateful I was this nice to you. You got lucky today young lady.” Graelyn nodded again.
“Yes, I did.”
“You're an idiot.” Her mother's face grew red, building up for the next explosion.
“I'm a what.”
“Y-you're an idiot.” Graelyn turned her face away so she couldn't see the right half of it, and pointed with her right hand at the mantle where her phone sat, gently recording the whole event. She returned her hand to her face.
“You shouldn't touch it. Its already uploaded and backed up.” Graelyn said, somewhat louder.
“You... You...” her mother's temper seemed to ebb, rise and fall, and then,
“Graelyn, sweetheart.” She wrapped her arms around her, pulling her hand covered face against her shoulder. “You know I didn't mean all that. I just get worked up sometimes, maybe we can loosen some things, get you more pocket money so you don't have to work as much... You know I love you right? I love you so much.” She stroked the back of her head like a lion pawing at a gazelle carcass.
“We'll work something out, mommy just doesn't want anything bad to happen to you. You know that right?” Graelyn began to nod into her shoulder, like she always did, but then forced out it out of her throat, with all her courage, with all her strength, with everything she could ever find in herself, she made her mouth say a word.
“What did you say?”
“I said no. I said no. I said no.” She backed out of the hug, still hiding her face.
“I said no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”
“You don't know what you're saying, just sit down and-” She threw her hands out to her sides, freeing her face.
“I know what I said. I'm leaving. I'm leaving and you're not stopping me. I'm going into my room, getting Mr. Sprinkles and my books and I am walking out that door and never coming back. And the next time you'll see me I'll be in court getting an emancipation from you. I'm not your goddamn toy anymore.”
Her mother stood there stunned, then seemed to think of something to say, “...Look how strong you are, my baby girl has finally-”
“I'm not hearing this! Stop it.” Graelyn made her way to the mantle, and fumbled for her glasses on the floor. They were cracked in the left lens. She put them back on, and grabbed her phone. She went into her room, and shoved anything she cared about into a backpack and a bag, then hugged Mr. Sprinkles and put him into his carrying case. She walked through the living room and out the door keeping a dead stare at the exit and ignoring the other person in the house. Her face ached, her side ached, but the sunlight felt different on her skin, either because she was free or because of the aching she wasn't sure. She looked up at that light like it was something new.
“Happy Birthday to me.”
Ashlyn and Marilyn sat in their matching Lyn^2 t-shirts on the couch when the doorbell rang. “Could you get that Ashlyn?” Her host mom yelled. Ashlyn made her way over to the door and opened it. There, with a bruised face, black eye, and cracked glasses was Graelyn Scythes.
“Hey.” Graelyn said.
“Hey.” Ashlyn replied.
“I know this isn't a good time, but could I ask a favor of you?”
A voice called from upstairs, “Who is it?”
“Graelyn.” Ashlyn said. There were the loud stomps of feet coming down the stairs.
“You can tell that no good-” Ashlyn's host mom Petra stopped as soon as she saw Graelyn on the doorstop.
“Oh my God.”
“I was just wondering if you could take in Mr. Sprinkles for a bit. I got kicked out of my mom's house.”
Petra ran towards the door and pulled Graelyn in, “What on earth happened to you?” Graelyn looked down at the floor, and setting the bag and catbox down, covered her face. Petra hugged her, and Graelyn took her hands away from her face and returned the hug.
“Ashlyn, you go make some tea for our guest.” Ashlyn nodded and ran off. Graelyn couldn't make herself cry. She tried. She felt like if there was a time she would, it was now. She began to wonder if she'd forgotten how.
Graelyn's therapist had been called, who had called a lawyer, and they had come over within the hour and talked to Graelyn. The case was solid as a brick wall. She'd get her emancipation, and the Lawyer was fairly certain she could get her a private room in a Centro corporate housing building for free. It all sounded perfectly good. Marilyn and Ashlyn had both been really nice, if awkward, as had Petra. She'd expected them to send her away. She had just thought it was worth the chance they could take the cat in.
“You're sleeping here, we have a spare futon in the basement.” Petra ordered, Graelyn shook her head.
“I can sleep on the floor in the lab, its 24 hours and there aren't many people there at night.” Petra looked at her, like what she was saying was not a normal thing to say. Graelyn was confused.
“Its really not a problem. I'm sure we'd all like to have you here.”
“I'm not so sure about that.” Petra put a gentle hand on her shoulder, it felt warm in a way hands rarely did.
“Ashlyn and Marilyn are fine with it, and I checked with my wife, she is to.” Graelyn smiled.
“Thank you.” She couldn't think of anything else to say.
“I don't actually know you guys very well. I don't want to be a burden.”
“You're not. There should be more fifteen-year-olds around this house anyways.”
“I'm sixteen,” Graelyn said, “and let me tell you, its been a weird birthday.”
* * * *
“...And then the door exploded in and you arrested me.” Graelyn said. Everyone was silent. The car bumped.
“That's quite the story.” Alice said, Graelyn couldn't read her. “Was it really necessary to tell us about the dancing?”
“I thought it was cheerful. Wasn't it cheerful?”
“After something like that, yeah, I suppose so. You sang the whole song though.”
“Did I? Sorry.” Graelyn put her hands on her lap.
“So you're not... Not really Director Scythes?” The Intern asked, “But... You're still Graelyn Scythes?”
“From another universe. I'm an Intern myself at the moment. Er, was.”
“So what's the verdict, Seniorita, believe her?” Manuel asked. Alice was impassive.
“We're almost at our stop, ma'am.”
The vehicle pulled into a prison, where the doors were opened by a group of revolutionaries. Waiting outside the vehicle were more soldiers, and under careful watch, Archimedes.
“Arch!” Graelyn yelled, only to be shouted down by a soldier. They were ran out into the yard, where Manuel was all smiles, and Arch stared at him. No one could see his expression. No one could tell he was staring as Songbird left the vehicle to cheer and a standing ovation, as the people clapped her on the shoulders and began singing “The Internationale”. No one noticed his fist clench as he stared at Manuel Salazar. No one realized the rage that was boiling inside him, and how much it was going to take to bottle it up.
* * * *
4: A Moment Had Passed, But We Never Forgot
“Hello, are you folks there?” Arch ran up to the com, along with the other children, who mobbed the com in joy, each pressing the button to greet their only visitor. The door opened up after decontamination, and the masked children tackled the man in hugs.
“Salazar,” said the Governor of Ahnerabe station from behind his mask, “I'm very sorry for the improper greeting, Salazar smiled back in reply.
“Its no problem! No problem.” None of them were used to him showing his face, and he looked embarrassed as he remembered, and covered his own up with a mask from a wall mount.
“Sorry, I always forget.”
“How is Earth?” Salazar shook his head.
“Its still a ruin. I've been working with the survivors to try to get something to grow outdoors, but the soil is so poisoned we cannot yet.” Salazar sighed, and wiped a tear from behind his mask.
“Your station will be our salvation I'm sure, and these children its future.” He ruffled the top of one of the fully enclosed children. They were all of course, encased. Everyone was, except those poor people on Earth, and there were only a handful of them left. When Salazar died, they wouldn't ever get another visitor. Salazar looked down at the tiny Arch, who like the other children was displaying a bit red heart icon on his face.
“Do you trust me children?”
The all exclaimed they did, and he opened a bag full of toys they began to loot through.
“You can always trust me.”
* * * *
Arch stared. And stared, until he was ushered to follow them into the building. But his fist stayed clenched and he muttered,
“Do you trust me?”
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.