One experiment I tried last year was to create a Convention-Exclusive short story collection called "Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" to help build interest in 10,000 Dawns during my touring, especially since the novel hadn't been released yet. There was a lot of interest in the book from people online, but I decided to stick through the "Convention Only" gimmick. Now though, I've sold through nearly all the copies of the book I had printed, and with the 10,000 Dawns novel is in print, the book has served its purpose. There's not really a point in me printing more copies of it.
However, I know some of you didn't get the chance to see me last year at cons and wanted the book, so I'm going to be offering it online for a limited time (the month of March) exclusively on the Createspace.com estore. I'll probably offer up a few copies during raffles and giveaways in the future, but largely if you haven't gotten a copy this is the last chance to get one.
If you can't get one, don't fret. All the stories in it will be reprinted somewhere else in the future. Heck, a lot of them are available to read for free online. Of course, some of them will be reprinted far in the future, so if you want an advance look at some future stories, here's your chance to get a sneak peek!
The book isn't perfect though, its rough and rushed nature definitely shows, and there are some frankly amazing typos. I'm proud of it for what it did in helping to spread 10,000 Dawns, but its time is done. Time to put it to rest. But if you want to technically own every 10,000 Dawns book every printed, here's your chance to own a piece of history. I won't be offering it for sale again. So act now.
You can buy "Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" at the link below:
"Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" features fiction by Rachel Johnson, Jo Smiley, Jordan Stout, Elizabeth Tock, Miguel Ramirez, and James Wylder, with cover art by Rachel Johnson featuring designs by Annie Zhu. The book was edited by James Wylder.
Today, we have something a bit different, because first off yes you are getting a brand new surprise 10kd story today, but its in cheering support of someone on our team: my beloved friend David Koon. We were roommates in college my Senior year, and he's been supportive through the worst times of my life. He's a wonderful person, and deserves all the best things. He's also one of the writers on 10,000 Dawns with me, and the creator of the character of Graelyn Scythes.
Well, guess what, this weekend for him something amazing is happening. Dave is in Dublin Ireland for the Magic the Gathering Pro-Tour. He's worked hard to get there-- and he absolutely deserves to be there. Dave has a skill at card games I wish I did, and I'm no spring Chicken. At the college we both went to, my freshman year I cleaned up at the tournaments that were held, won tons of prizes. Infamously, I once walked out a tournament with two full boxes of cards I'd won. So lets be clear here: I was good.
Then Dave arrived and beat me at Magic over and over again.
He's a skilled, talented, and creative player, and he finally has the chance to show the world that. I know he's going to, and I absolutely believe in him. I'm cheering him on every step of the way, and I hope you will too! If you want to leave Dave encouragement, please do so in the comments below. He'll see them.
Cheer him on. He's gunna do great.
Now then, to celebrate Dave's card tournament prowess, lets take a little detour into the 10,000 Dawns...
The Card Player, by James Wylder
Arch flipped his hand around, there were perks to being a cyborg, and caught the card he’d thrown in the air with his other hand. The rest of the table was clearly impressed, though Arch knew the trick was really pretty easy for him. He then set down the card, and turned it upside down to show he’d activated it to produce boons, which were used to play cards in Magician: The Hammering. He chose the card from his hand, and laid it down: Zeduba’s Chopsticks. On its own the card was useless, but in combination with a few other cards in the game, it allowed him to gain infinite health, and deal infinite damage to the other players in the game at the same time. Those cards were all in play.
“Well, you win again,” John Vice sighed.
His wife Miranda, who had lost half an hour ago, was reading a book, “Yeah, good game,” she droned.
“Do we want to play again?” Lametrius asked.
“No, I think its time we head back home,” Miranda said.
Arch put a question mark up on the screen like oval where his face would have been, “Its mid afternoon.”
“Yep, time for bed, bye,” Miranda said, dragging her husband out behind her.
Grumbling, he followed, “What was that all about?” he asked after they’d gotten a bit from Arch’s place.
“Game night just isn’t fun anymore, Arch wins every game of Magician: The Hammering we play. His deck is perfect.”
“I’m sure its not perfect...”
“Name the last time he lost,” Miranda countered.
John thought. She had a point, “Okay fine, but what are you going to do, kick him out? He’s got a computer in his brain you can’t just tell him to pull it out. He can optimize his decks well, that’s not his fault.”
“What we need to do,” Miranda said, “is find someone who can beat Arch at cards.”
“What, like a master tactician like Kinan?”
* * * *
“You want me to play a card game?” Kinan said in her monotone, “To beat Arch, because you can’t beat him?” Kinan gestured at the table in front of her, where she was mapping out probabilities for which realities in the 10,000 Dawns be taken over by the Council next, and listing ways to save each one. “Perhaps, I might have more important things to do?”
“Yeah okay sorry bye,” John said quickly, dragging a protesting Miranda out behind him.
She pulled her hand away from him as they exited Kinan’s planning room, “Okay, so maybe she’s trying to stop the destruction of the multiverse.”
“So I suppose that takes priority.”
“So I guess we’ll go with plan B.”
“You did not tell me we had a plan B.”
* * * *
Graelyn stroked her cat Mister Sprinkles as she sat on her bed, she had a tablet open to a science book on one side of her, and another with sheet music on the opposite side. She seemed to be going back and forth between them at her mind’s whim. John and Miranda were sitting cross legged on the floor of her room, because Graelyn only had one chair and it looked so impeccably in its place in the order of her room neither of them wanted to disturb it.
“I’m not really sure why this is important,” Graelyn said.
“Its killing game night,” Miranda replied.
Graelyn shrugged, and scrolled down through the music. “That key-signature is just unfair, who would do that? That’s just--”
John cut her off, “Grae, listen. Arch loves tabletop games. He loves them a lot. But if he can’t get challenged, what will that make him?”
Graelyn didn’t look up from the music, “The best gamer on all of Spiral.”
The Vice spouses sighed in unison.
“Think about it this way,” Miranda said, “If you do this, John will make you all the peanut butter blossom cookies you want. For a month.”
“For a whole month you’ve got to-” he saw his wife’s expression, “be absolutely right that I will do that.”
“And I’ll make you tamales, real ones not printed ones.”
“No mole sauce, its boring. I want them spicy. And you need to make a cat friendly one so Mister Sprinkles isn’t left out.” Graelyn picked up the cat as she said that, dancing him around on her lap to the cadence of the words.
“Whatever, Gringo. Do we have a deal?”
Graelyn nodded, and saved her spots on both tablets before shoving her glasses back into her face and staring intently at the pair. She clasped her hands together, letting the cat finally escape to wander around the room aimlessly.
“So, tell me about this game.”
“Well, its only the most popular Trading Card Game game in the universe,” Miranda began.
“In fact in most universes, once you get far enough into the future.”
“Yes, John, anyways, in the game you play a Magician trying to hammer down their foes with spells. Your goal is to deplete the other magicians’ health scores till you win. To do that, you can play monsters that attack your foes, play spells to attack them directly, or power up your spell hammer which can lead to an alternate win condition if you power it up enough.”
“So, wait, you’re magicians? Like, poof, rabbit out of a hat?” Grae asked.
“No, you’re really wizards, but don’t worry about that part,” John said.
“Why isn’t it called like: Wizard: The Spellening, or Magic: the G--”
“Don’t worry about that part! Look, the main point here is that Arch has figured out how to break the game consistently. He can’t lose. The worst thing is the way he’s playing his deck requires such fine and meticulous gameplay that most of us just can’t remember all the different ways his deck can adjust to problems,” Miranda rubbed her forhead, and then gestured to John who took off his backpack and opened it up to reveal a bag of cards, “Those are all the cards you can play with in the game right now, we left a list of the cards in Arch’s deck in there too. Can you beat him?”
Graelyn nodded, “Of course I can beat him. I can be the best at anything I set my mind to.”
John and Miranda exchanged a look, that conveyed the eyeroll they didn’t want Graelyn to see.
“Leave the cards. I’ll get to work immediately. Mister Sprinkles,” she said, putting a hand on her hip and pointing at the cat, “we’re going to win us a card game!”
“Meow,” said the cat, towards an empty mug.
* * * *
The cards were laid out over nearly the whole floor. She’d memorized most of them by now, and she lay in bed staring at the ceiling going through card combinations. It wasn’t going well. By all accounts, Arch had found the best strategy. And by that, it wasn’t just the single best strategy, but a cascading sequence of inter-playing strategies that could take over from each other if another ones failed.
They weren’t wrong, Arch had broken the game in a way a normal person couldn’t. Graelyn knew if she played the same deck against Arch, she’d lose. Not because Arch could think better than her, but because Arch could memorize possibilities better than her. She felt like a chess grandmaster trying to beat a computer that had learned every possible move in the game.
Graelyn pulled her glasses off and rolled over, shoving her face into her pillow. She was going to embarrass herself. She was awful, and terrible, and after telling the Vices she’d wallop Arch, he’d annihilate her. Waves of self doubt rolled over her, and the cat walked over her back just to rub it in.
“Goodbye cruel multiverse, I can’t even win a cardgame,” she said unintelligibly into the pillow.
“Mrow,” said the cat.
“Arch is the best at this, he’s too good!” Graelyn rolled over again, spooking Mister Sprinkles who left off of her back onto the cards. One card flipped up, and caught Graelyn’s eye.
“Ursine Bear,” a boring common card that had no special abilities. She could only sort of make it out with out her glasses, but she recognized the vague shape of the art.
“Of course,” Graelyn said, grinning, “I should have thought of that first.”
* * * *
“Graelyn is challenging me? But she doesn’t play Magician: the Hammering. I tried to get her into it and she kept picking up her cat and pretending it was singing Phil Collins songs.”
“She is. She’s got an amazing new deck, with a strategy you haven’t seen coming.”
Arch would have raised an eyebrow if he had one. He was certain he’d calculated every card interaction perfectly… But then again Graelyn was very clever. She walked into the gaming room, wearing her usual skirt, tie, blouse, and blazer combo, but in brown instead of blue today. On her lapel was a bear pin.
“Hey Arch, ready to lose?” she said nonchalantly.
“Nice pin,” Arch replied.
“Thanks, so are we rolling a die to see who goes first?”
“I’ll take odds,” Arch said.
“I’ll even it out then,” Grae replied.
Grae won the roll. He watched her first turn play out. She set down a Tarpagorn upside down, which meant it would produce boon points for her every turn. It was a weird choice though: Tarpagorn was a powerful card. Some of the best combos in the game used it. Arch tried to think of a way to play it from its spot as a boon card, but there was no way to do that that wasn’t needlessly complex. It would take too long to set up. Unless she was going to stall him?
“I play, Ursine Bear!” Graelyn said.
Everyone in the room looked either confused or disappointed. Arch was the former. That card was useless. Aside from the fact that it was a bear, it had nothing that made it useful or interesting at all. Grae passed her turn, and Arch played his usual first turn play: Arch Heathen of Pro-Raphealites upside down as a boon card (when it was upside down it had text that flipped over with it at its usual bottom, that let it produce an extra boon point, so it was a great way to start the game), and then use that to play Despair of Haunting Millions. So over all, a good first turn.
Turn passed to Grae. She drew a card, and…
“I play Cupboard Bear,” Grae said.
Aha! Two bears? That… Bears didn’t do anything. Arch combed through the possible combos of bears. There was nearly nothing distinct to them, and even less that wouldn’t be better done with a different card.
“I’m… Really confused as to what you’re doing Grae.”
She smiled, “Are you afraid this is getting too… Hairy?”
“I just don’t understand your strategy.”
“I think you’ll find a way to… Bear it.”
“Are you really going to make puns about this?”
“No need to get up at paws about it!”
“Look Grae, if this is just a joke… Look I know the Vices set you up for this, they aren’t exactly subtle. You can back down.”
Graelyn made a dismissive gesture, and then pulled out a pair of sunglasses from her pocket, “I’m sure I’ll be able to,” she slid them on over her glasses, “claw my way to the top.”
Arch racked his brain. What was her strategy?
“I attack with Ursine Bear.”
“Fine, I take it,” he needed to figure out what she was doing. Grae kept attacking him with her idiotic bears while she played seemingly random and unconnected support cards, and counter-hammered (which stopped him from playing a card he was about to) the parts of his combos he needed to win instantly. The bears were a distraction, they had to be. At one point, she played Tim-Man, which was a powerful card definitely, but then she didn’t attack with it next turn, just used her bears.
He destroyed some of the bears, but she didn’t seem to mind, just played more. What did she have up her sleeve? Turns went by as he went through the options. She played “Crocotta’s Hollow” which gave all Croccotta cards a bonus, but Grae didn’t even have any of those in her deck! At least that he’d seen yet? He worked tirelessly to destroy the things that weren’t the bears as she played them, so maybe her own combo simply wasn’t coming together…
Eventually, Graelyn announced an attack from her bears, and Arch realized he was about to lose. He set his hand down and nodded.
“Good game… I don’t know what you were trying to do though. What was your strategy? It seemed like your deck was just...”
“Random cards and a bunch of bears?”
“Yeah, yeah that’s what it looked like. So what were you trying to do?”
Graelyn packed up her deck, putting it into her bag, and taking her needless sunglasses off dramatically, “I was trying to distract you with useless cards and then beat you to death with the most boring cards in existence. I figured you’d be expecting me to come in with a master strategy of card combos to outwit your own, but that’s impossible. Your deck is too good and you’re too good at playing it. So the only thing I could do was to make you worse at playing it by making you have no idea what I was doing and then hitting you with cards you didn’t think were threats.”
Arch stared at her for a moment, then broke out into laughter, “Okay, that was pretty great. Congratulations Grae, you did a good job. I did not expect that strategy.”
Graelyn threw her arms out wide, “Of course. I aim to inspire.” She turned to the Vices, “And you two. I want the cookies and tamales now that I beat Arch so he doesn’t ruin game night for you anymore.”
Arch narrowed the aperture of his camera, “Wait, wait, waiiiit everyone hold up here. First off, you bribed my best friend with food to beat me at Magician: the Hammering?”
The Vices looked awkward.
“And,” Arch continued, “you didn’t just tell me I was making game night not fun? You could have just told me. I can tone down my processor to not outmatch you on an analytic level.”
Graelyn turned around in her chair, “Wait you guys seriously didn’t tell him?”
The Vices looked at each other.
“Time for bed Miranda?”
“Sounds great John.”
“It is literally just after breakfast,” Graelyn said.
“Never too early!” John replied, as he and Miranda zipped out.
Graelyn shook her head, “So Arch, another game?”
Joyful fireworks played out over the screens of his skin, “I hoped you’d want to. But… Can you not play the bears?”
Graelyn pouted her lips, “You don’t need to be ursine about it.”
“You don’t have to make this grizzly!”
“What, are things getting a little… Polar-ized?”
“Just get your damn deck out.”
She shuffled the cards together, “Lets see who wins this time. If I lose I’m sure I’ll just grin and… Bear it.”
They rolled to see who would go first. The game was on, just bearly.
Happy New Year everyone! This last year has been very rough for a lot of us, so we thought we'd send you into the next year with a new free 10kd story to kick it off. I know all of us here at the 10kd crew hope it will be a good year for you. There will be struggles, but hopefully we can all stick together through them. Here's to 2017.
This story features a side character from the first big 10,000 Dawns Story, an alternate reality version of the protagonist Graelyn she met and rescued during her adventures. Since writing the story, James was curious about what happened to her, and now you get to find out! Story written by James Wylder.
This story features art by the amazing Nozomi Neko! You can find more about her by following her on twitter at:
And at Devient art at:
You can buy the Novel 10,000 Dawns now, right at the link below:
Or try a short ebook of six 10,000 Dawns Short stories for 99 cents!
You can read this story in PDF or Epub formats below:
Auld Lang Moon
The cords shoved the fluid into her, her pupils expanding, the white disk dilating the same way and cutting the starlight out of her vision. The vast crystal moon below her was her, as far as her senses were concerned. How startling to be an orb.
“Tell her to bring us to Dawn 378.”
“Not she, it. Its not a person anymore, its just the onboard computer for the Factory of Crystal. Don’t personify it, you’ll only get your thoughts twisted about it.”
“Its literally a girl in a chair with wires and tubes jabbed into her, its hard to think otherwise.”
“See, your thoughts are already getting twisted. Bring us to Dawn 378, FoC.”
She complied, after all, it was her job. She felt the energy flowing through her body-- no wait, not her body, the moon below her. Or was it the same? The energy ran along the cracks in her blue crystal, till she pushed through the white disk in space she had built from it: a portal to another reality, or another time, or another place. She cleaved through, till she felt the familiar tingle of a coming through into a new universe. She’d done her job.
“Excellent,” one of her two new handlers said (she didn’t like them as much as the first two), “its working perfectly. Now we just need to go down to the surface and clean the mess up down there.”
“I can’t believe a planet this backwards figured out timetravel.”
“I can believe they were dumb enough to write half their own universe out of existence though. Lets get it fixed.”
She felt purpose. She was helping. She was useful. She was… What was her name? She felt the chair pumping more chemicals into her, felt the question fading from her mind. No, she wanted to know! She’d had one, she had a name it was--
“GRAELYN SCYTHES WAKE UP! You’re going to be late,” Graelyn bolted upright in bed. Her pajamas were sweat-logged, her sheets damp.
“Coming Mom,” her voice said, cracking. She slid out of the sheets, and tried to find something to wear that would cover up the holes in her arms. The Crystal Orb rose up from her bed side and nuzzled her as she looked through her closet, like a dog seeing its owner distraught but unsure how to help.
“Is okay, don’t worry about me, just another nightmare,” she consoled the Moon. She took some solace in the humor of a massive military transport capable of expanding or shrinking at will and cutting through reality and time was trying to make her feel better about a bad dream. Her whole life sometimes felt like a dream, if she let it. It had been six months since she’d been liberated from the Factory of Crystal, the glowing orb she’d been wired into by the Firmament. Six months since she’d met another version of herself who had freed her. Six months of fitting into a family she had seen die, and who didn’t know their real daughter here was dead. It was a lot to take in, confusing to explain, and she hoped never to have to. She covered the ports for wires and tubes on her body with long sleeves and pant-legs, and went downstairs to start the day. She needed these extra classes over the winter holiday to catch up, she hadn’t had a formal education before being dropped into this world, and she was having trouble adjusting. Luckily her school offered them, the teachers who gave the courses getting beyond overtime pay. Not that all of them seemed happy about it.
“You know Grae, its new years tomorrow,” her mother said, handing her a roll and a glass of milk.
“A time for new beginnings and all that? Its just another day. I’d rather be in class than have another day off.”
Her mother smiled, a bit sweet and a bit patronizing, “I think we can often use a chance at a new beginning. Don’t you thi-- What is that?!”
Graelyn turned, to see the Crystal Orb flying down the stairs to come hover over her left shoulder, glowing gently.
“This? Oh, its uh, an electronic pet. I won it in a Trivia contest at the Library.”
Her mother scrunched her nose up, “You never mentioned winning a contest.”
“I didn’t really try, it was really easy. Anyways I forgot to charge it till last night.” The lies perhaps shouldn’t have come so easily to her, but hey, here she was. She scarfed down the rest of her breakfast, and headed out for school, the moon bobbing along behind her all the way.
“Why are you following me?” she hissed at it, as several of her classmates who were also walking to school stared at it. The orb did a little swirl in the air and glowed slightly brighter. Graelyn of course, knew what that meant.
“You’re tired of being separated from a part of yourself?” she wanted to argue her own independence, that she wasn’t actually physically part moon, but she knew deep down she didn’t actually believe that.
“Okay fine, you can come. But you’ll need to shrink down to pocket size during lessons. My teachers don’t take kindly to electronic cheating devices. No. I know you’re not electronic, that’s not the point. Come on!” The two of them walked/floated down the street to the school, with no other students anywhere in sight, where Graelyn began her usual day of classes and study. That was, till she got called down to the office, which never happened. The moon rolled gently in her pocket as she walked through the empty halls.
She slid through the ajar door into the office conference room, holding her school tablet close to her chest, even more confused why the secretary had directed her into this room. She was even more surprised to see who was in the room.
“Hello, Graelyn 3777. What a surprise to see you again.” In the room with her principal, and the administrator for her year, were two figures in hooded cloaks, with the pointed tip of the hoods pulled down over their faces, a patterned stripe hemming the edges of the hoods and sleeves. She resisted the urge to bolt, but couldn’t work up the nerve to enter the room. She simply stayed halfway in the door with her eyes open like a sculpture.
“Graelyn, these two people have come here about a special scholarship for you. We’re very excited about this for you,” Principal Totev said. One of the two robed figures turned a ring on their finger, and waved their hand in front of the faces of Principal Totev and the administrator. The two continued politely smiling as the figure began to speak.
“Please sit down Graelyn, you know what this is about. If you don’t sit down we may have to take actions you wouldn’t like.” Graelyn slipped through the door, and took the farthest seat from the figures.
“So, the firmament has finally come for me,” she said, trying not to sound as terrified as she was.
“Oh, not for you. Your living situation has resolved itself in this timeline, altering it would only increase instability.” The same one said, the other had remained silent.
“I suppose the Firmament would be most concerned about stability.”
“It is in the name, you know. You helped us patch countless holes in time-space, you should know that better than most.”
“I didn’t help you of my own free will,” Graelyn snarled.
“Oh didn’t you? We saved you, carried you out of the burning world you lived on, that dying Earth, and in return you offered your services to us.”
“Death or slavery.”
“Don’t put it so harshly. You’re alive, and you should be happy, that won’t change unless you don’t give us what’s ours.”
“We want the Factory of Crystal,” the other Firmament said. This one’s voice was harsh, gravelly, like it had been distorted through a sound system.
“Quite right. The Authority of Reclamations here is anxious to get back what you stole from us. And I, being the Enforcer of Reclamations, am here to oblige them. You’re quite aware of how powerful that machine is, what its capable of. You know we can’t let that stay in the wrong hands.”
Graelyn rolled up her sleeves, revealing the ports in her arms, “These hands look pretty capable actually. More suited to run the machine than yours, ironically.”
“Don’t think being snarky will save you. You will give us back the Factory, or you will die. How does that sound to you?”
Dawn 3777, ten years ago.
She had been running all day. The great metal Striders that walked the surface were out in force, which had made her scavenging work extra difficult. She ducked behind an outcropping of rocks, and tried to keep her breaths shallow as the thick black metal leg stepped over her, the searchlights coming down from it illuminating the darkness. As soon as it had passed, she bolted. The parts jangled as she ran, and she hoped there weren’t any low-surface scouts. She found the manhole cover, and popped it open, jumping down into it, clinging to the ladder with one had while she used the other to pull down the lid--
“WAIT!” She heard the shout and popped her head up to the black rocky surface. A man was running towards her, hand on a satchel. He was lit up brilliantly by the Strider.
She gestured for him to come, but knew it was hopeless. Something on the bottom of the Strider swiveled, and a claw shot down from it, grappling the man and with a lurch, pulling him up to the Strider. Graelyn shut the manhole, and began the climb down into the city.
“President St. John orders all citizens to stay alert for saboteurs. Centro will defeat the Strider menace,” the familiar propaganda voice said as she made her way into the narrow streets. Her stomach hurt with hunger. Making her way to the junk-shop, she laid her find out on the counter, having to pull up a stool to get all the way up there.
“Scythes, surprised to see you’re still alive,” Grandpa Joe said (not her actual grandpa, it was just his nickname, not that she knew where he’d gotten it).
“How much?” she said, desperate to eat. He looked through the jumble of parts and shook his head.
“Not much I’m afraid, with the new missiles the military has been bringing down more Striders than usual, so these aren’t worth what they used to be. Now if you brought me Oolong Cores...”
“Those give you cancer. I’d know.”
“Yea, heard about your parents. Shame that. Still, beats the firing squad your siblings got for desertion right?” Graelyn didn’t deign that with a response. “Right then…” he took out the money he owed her, and she took it eagerly. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for food. More food if she got it stale or expired, which she nearly always did. She ran to the markets, and soon went home to the less-cold spot under the pipes in the back alley on 4th street to begin her feast of moldy bread, spoiled milk, and a blemished apple, pulling the ragged pile of blankets and clothes around herself to try to keep herself from freezing. That was when the end of the alley got dark. Two figures in weird clothes, robes like out of an old fantasy film, blocked the alley. She’d seen their kind before, bad people who wanted to kidnap orphan kids for nefarious ends. Its why she slept by the pipes, even if they sometimes leaked: Graelyn leapt from her spot on the ground, up onto a horizontal section of pipe, and began to monkey up the side of it. Then, she felt herself pulled off of it, into the air, where she didn’t fall, but was instead slowly lowered. She saw nothing physical holding her, but one of the figures had its arm outstretched.
“Graelyn Scythes. We’re familiar with your intellectual and problem solving capabilities from other iterations of you. We’d like to offer you a job.”
Work? She’d be desperate for a job. A real job, but sketchy people in alleys weren’t exactly trustworthy, “What kind of job?”
One of the figures made a swirling gesture with its arm, and a white disk appeared on the wall next to her. After a moment, it stabilized, and she looked through onto a room filled with pastries. Fresh pastries. She licked her lips. Her hunger was somehow stronger than the wonder she saw before her.
“The kind where you’ll never go hungry again.”
She could remember the holes being cut into her arms, her legs, torso, head. The nutrients being pumped into her bloodstream and stomach. All she could remember thinking over the pain was she’d been promised pastries.
Graelyn nodded, and pulled the orb out of her pocket. The enforcer rose, and reached his hand out as it floated into the air, towards his outstretched palm, and then veered sharply slamming into his face and zipping back into Graelyn’s pocket as she sprung out of her chair and through the door.
“After her!” The Authority shouted, while The Enforcer reshaped their broken and bloody nose into a fresh one, shoving him out of his chair after her. The principal and administrator smiled pleasantly as the Firmament members ran past them, opening the door with a wave of the ringed hand. Graelyn looked behind her as she ran, seeing the two following her. She had to find a way to escape. Reaching into her pocket, she felt the connection to the moon. It was part of herself, that orb. She’d been connected to it for nearly ten years. Her blood ran though its plains, its rivers ran through her veins. She pulled it out, and hoped that she could do what she was thinking. The orb grew to the size of a basketball, and she hugged it tight as she lifted off of the ground, floating up into the air, and onto the roof of a nearby house. Without missing a stride, The Authority and The Enforcer made a gesture with their ringed hands, and they floated up to meet her. She ran again, using the orb to float between rooftops, hoping to lose them, but the followed her from house to house, sometimes trying to flank her or cut her off. She doubled back, slipped their clutches, and kept running. This wasn’t going to work, this wasn’t a plan that could actually get her freedom.
The Enforcer leapt to a roof to her right, and tried to wave at her with the ringed hand to lift her off her feet, but she jacked up the gravity with the orb, till her feet were smashing through the shingles on the house beneath her as she ran. Whoops.
She lightened herself again, and sprung onto the next house, when it finally hit her what she needed to do. She focused hard on the orb, pressing her hands onto it, feeling the connection. Cords sprang out of the orb, as if hidden compartments had opened up, and latched themselves onto her arms. She could feel her blood flow into the orb, and the orb flow into her. Then the cords snapped back in, and the orb hung glowing between her outstretched arms. She glowed in wonder just as it did, and as the Enforcer came up behind her, she opened the portal.
The white disk opened right under her feet, and she fell with the orb right down into it. She knew the Enforcer and the Authority of Reclamation would be right behind her. But she had a plan now, and even if this was the end, she’d go out on her own terms. She landed in the Labyrinth, the artificial space that lined different dimensions for the Firmament to travel in, and ran down its glowing bifrost. She channeled more energy into the orb, she knew where she had to go. They’d messed up, because unlike most beings who had ever existed, she knew where they lived.
The Evaluator of Travel, of many Evaluators of Travel of course, it wasn’t a high ranking position, stared at the terminal. It looked like Reclamations had brought back that stray they’d been being chewed out about finally, coming in at dock 18. She got up out of her desk, and wandered over to the gate, watching as the portal formed, and readying the pedestal to receive the Factory of Crystal. The portal stabilized, and the Factory did shoot out of it, but so did an alien being. It’s features looked firm, like it couldn’t change them even if it focused very hard, and the Evaluator was pretty sure it was a human. Or one of the variants, she couldn’t be bothered to keep up with all of the literature on them. Still, she knew about a few important parts of human culture, like N’Sync and Beethoven. The orb landed onto its pedestal, just as they were supposed to, but the human got up, and pulled it off of it. The poor thing was clearly confused, after all it couldn’t even see properly without the transparent rectangles it had placed in front of its eyes.
“No, that’s not for touching! Put that back. How did Reclamations get this careless--”
Reclamations, as if on cue, dropped in through the portal, and pointed at the human, who was already running away like a startled deer.
“Evaluator, stop her!”
She blinked, “I’m not touching that, you brought a wild animal here you go touch it.”
“Its a criminal who stole valuable Firmament property!”
The Evaluator crossed her arms, “Did she really steal it? I mean, you don’t blame a cat for hunting prey. Maybe humans just like picking up shiny objects?”
The Enforcer shoved past her, “By the forgotten gods, you’re no help.”
“Should I call animal control?”
“She’s one of the lesser species, not an artichoke.” The Authority said.
The Evaluator of Travel threw up her arms as the Authority began chasing after the Enforcer, who was chasing after the human, turning her hair bright purple in exasperation. They always had to make everything so dramatic.
Graelyn passed rows of pedestals, most of which held another Factory of Crystal. In each one, there was a pilot. We’re they all just like her? Unwanted people brought in just before they had been scheduled to die somewhere in order to run the Firmament’s inter-universal fleet of traveling vessels? She felt guilty passing them, but she couldn’t do anything. Not with those two on her tail. She finally reached a door, and pulled it open, stepping out into a square filled with robed people. In the center of the square was a giant marble statue of three figures, all of whom were featureless, their faces a blank slate. Their hands were open as though they were holding objects and performing tasks, but no objects rested in them. This seemed normal to everyone but her, but she couldn’t stand and stare, after all, they were already staring at her. Holding the orb under her arm, she kept running, pushing past startled Firmament people, but couldn’t lose herself in the crowd when she was clearly dressed differently than everyone else. She needed to blend in, and knew how to do it.
Graelyn had learned how to scavenge, and she knew about trash. She didn’t mind things that other people discarded. Sure, the last six months she’d had fresh food, new clothes, and a warm bed, but she could tolerate the rest. And so she slipped down an alley, because all worlds have alleys if they have cities, and all cities have to have a way to get rid of trash. Maybe they’d just vaporize or burn it, but she got the sense they didn’t. They seemed old and hidebound, and her intuition paid off. This alley was behind a store filled with robes, she’d seen them in the windows, though she couldn’t tell what the differences in fashion were supposed to be. A pipe ran out the back, a thick one, down into a dumpster. She climbed up into it, and found some robes. They were clearly, even to her, unfashionable. The stuff that wouldn’t sell no matter what. She dug around, trying on a few hastily, till she emerged with a somewhat dirty but well fitting firmament robe on her. She came out of the alley, orb in her pocket, and walked right past the Enforcer and the Authority, still trying to find her in this huge city. She was lucky she could read their language, speak it as well, having been part of one of their machines. The signs told her she was just where she wanted to be.
The City of Glory.
The capitol of the First and Final Firmament.
“The most stable and enduring Parliament of the Firmament recognizes the Authority of Reclamation.” The Arbiter of Arbitration said.
The Authority rose, trying to not show his embarrassment as he stood before the Parliament. He was in the pit, while the Parliament sat in seats encircling him above a wall too high for him to climb. It was intimidating. It was meant to be.
“Authority, you have let a member of a lesser species, an outsider to the Prime Reality no less onto the surface of the Firmament without permission. Are you aware of the severity of this infraction?”
He raised his arms up, “I was instructed to bring her to the Firmament.”
“Partial fulfillment is not an absence of attempt.”
The Parliament muttered to themselves, “We accept your rules-mongering.” He breathed a sigh of relief, “For now. The intruder must be apprehended-” The Arbiter of Arbitration stopped, and raised an eyebrow, “it appears you have someone who has come to speak on your behalf. The… Minister of Scythes. Whoever that is. Let them in!”
The Authority was about to protest, when the door in the pit slid open, and a robed person stepped into it with him, lowering their hood to reveal the face of Graelyn Scythes.
“Hi everyone, did you miss me?” she waved.
“Ah, well, I see the criminal has decided to turn herself in. Commendable, and fortunate for you, Authority.”
“Sadly, afraid not,” Graelyn said, “because you promised me pastries.”
The Parliament was silent for a moment, then awkward confused laugher filled it, “Pastries? Be serious. Guards, arrest her.”
“Ah, I wouldn’t do that. See, I’m linked into a Factory of Crystal. My Factory of Crystal. A moon sized machine capable of contorting reality and space-time and its ready to tear a hole in the fabric of this city and let all sorts of terrible things through,” she rolled up her sleeve to reveal the orb, shrunk down small but littered in tiny cords that linked into her left arm. “I’ve been at the helm of one of these for ten years, I know my way around it. No wonder you were worried about me getting a hold of it, its insanely powerful now that I think about it. I’d never considered huring anyone with it.”
The Parliament went into an uproar, the guards held back, the Authority looked terrified. The Arbiter of Arbitration made a gesture with their hand, and the room went quiet, “You expect us to mak a deal with you when you’re threatening us?”
“Yes I do! Because you lied to me. You promised me I’d be safe, you showed me pastries, showed me a future full of plenty and hooked me up to this thing like I was a lab rat, or a CPU! You promised me pastries, and I never got them.”
“The Acquisitions Bureau is supposed to be completely honest with their promises to the pilot program. If your accusations are true, we will of course owe you an apology. But we must take back what’s ours.”
“Do you know why I came here to tell you this? Because I don’t believe people are inherantly good. They’re not, and we’re not. We’re not hardwired to be kind, or to do the right thing all the time. We also have selfishness, hatred, all sorts of bad impulses that fight for control. And sometimes the bad things win out. The bad things become what we are, or they become all that surrounds us. And that means we have to survive. Because if someone is trying to kill you or take your freedom, you can’t just ask them to stop. I would know. They just keep taking it until you give them consequences. So I’ve given you consequences. If you want that moon, that you made a part of me, that you made me feel was as much my own flesh as my hand, if you want that back, you can ruin your planet. But this is a new year. Its a time for new beginnings. And I’m tired of holding on to my own hate at your broken promises. There were no pastries, and you used me, and it was wrong. You should hate yourselves for that. You hurt me in ways I can’t even explain. But I’m willing to forgive you, and let bygones be bygones. You forgive me, and I’ll forgive you, and we both leave each other alone. If you respect my existence, all of it, then I’ll respect yours. Deal?”
The Arbiter leaned back in their chair that was older than the planet Earth.
Graelyn clinked the glass with her brother and they downed the sparkling grape juice heartily.
“Happy New Year!” they shouted, a little belatedly, as the rest of the family began pouring out more champagne.
“Got any new years resolutions, Graelie?” her brother asked.
She laughed, “Not die, keep existing, eat good food.”
“Cheers to that,” he replied, and they clinked glasses again, that were this time joined by a small crystal orb, which floated up to join in the fun. Someone started singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and two two joined in.
“When old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind!”
The doorbell rang.
“When old acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne.”
“Who could that be at midnight on New Years?” Graelyn’s dad murmured.
“To auld lang syne, my dears to auld lang syne!”
Graelyn shrugged, and went to get the door. When she opened it, she didn’t see anyone, but looking down there was a box, with a note on the top.
To help with your bygones, and maybe with ours.
Happy New Year.
-The Arbiter of Arbitration”
She opened the box, and it was filled to the brim with fine pastries from all over the world. From the distance, a cloaked figure on a rooftop raised a hand, then faded into the shadows.
“We’ll raise a cup of kindness yet… To auld lang syne.”
* * * *
10,000 Dawns will return next spring with our massive Anthology, "10,000 Dawns: Poor Man's Iliad", featuring great writers like Nathan P. Butler (Star Wars Tales, WARS), Tim Sutton (Marble Hornets, Slender the Arrival), Andrew Hickey (Faction Paradox), Kylie Leane (Key: Chronicles of the Children), and Eric Asher (Vesik, Steamborne) and many more! Keep watch on jameswylder.com for more information.
Surprise! One of the new stories that's going to be in our con-exclusive anthology was featured on the website infinitefreetime.com as a C2E2 (the big Chicago Comic Con) treat :)!
You can read the story right here:
Thanks to Luther Siler for hosting the story, and welcome to any of his readers who came over here after reading it! Feel free to say hello ^_^!
We're got a really fun announcement today! Right now its unclear if it will be premiering at St. Louis Wizard World Comic Con, or Madison Wizard World Comic Con, but if you stop by my booth you'll be able to pick up an exclusive collection featuring your favorite 10,000 Dawns Bonus Stories, new stories from the upcoming 10,000 Dawns Anthologies, and a brand new story written just for this collection!
The book is titled "Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" and it features stories by:
and James Wylder (also editor)
All these stories will be available in the future in different collections, but this is a chance to get a taste of the future of 10,000 Dawns right now. More events and cons the book will be available at will be forthcoming.
The End of the Adventure:
Chapter 26: The Council
Chapter 27: A Miracle of Malice and Mercy
Chapter 28: The Girl Who Missed the Ocean
10,000 Dawns Interviews:
James Wylder (writer)
Alex Rose (songwriter)
Rachel Johnson (artist)
Jordan Stout (writer)
Josephine Smiley (writer)
Taylor Elliott (writer)
Other Bonus Features:
Tribute to Annie Zhu
Essay: 10,000 Dawns: Using the Multiverse for Self-Discovery by Tyler Lipa
Essay: Graelyn: The New Frontier by Amanda Irwin
An Artist's Journey
Preview of 10,000 Dawns: Anthology
You can also download the entire Finale as a big (70+ page!) PDF ebook, or ePub ebook for free below:
Written by James Wylder
Art by Annie Zhu
Our social media interns are Alex Rose, and Elijah Efsits.
The audio version of 10,000 Dawns is produced by Rob Southgate and the Southgate Media Group.
You can find the podcast here: http://www.southgatemediagroup.com/10000dawns
The audio version's themesong is "Space Adventure" written and performed by Alex Rose.
The 10,000 Dawns Universe is the creation of a group of talented creative individuals who have contributed ideas, art, and stories throughout the years. These individuals include:
Josephine Smiley, Taylor Elliott, Jordan Stout, David Koon, James Wylder, Miguel Ramirez, Elizabeth Tock, Brandon Derk, Ellie Fairfield, Annie Zhu, EN Hempstead, Kegan Mixdorf, Meghin Shelton, Daniel Alejos, Patrick Russel Blaker, Colby McClung, Olivia Hinkel, Raen Ngu, Nozomi Neko, Chase Jones, Genevieve Clovis, Evan Forman, Rachel Johnson, and many more.
The character of Graelyn Scythes is the creation of David Koon, the character of Alice MacLeod is the creation of Josephine Smiley.
We would like to thank every single reader and listener who has made 10,000 Dawns a part of their week, and their life. Its now our honor to share with you the final chapters of this adventure... But adventure itself will go on forever in your life.
-Love, the 10kd Crew
Written by James Wylder, Art by Annie Zhu
This chapter is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can read all of (and download!) at this link: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-the-finale
Chapter 28: The Council
Image: You see Kinan Jans. She is sitting in a chair, looking at you. Directly at you. She offers you a cup of tea, but you're going to have to get it yourself. This is a book after all, she can't actually hand it to you through the pages. She tries though, if that counts for anything.
Kinan: I need to you witness this. Whatever happens from here on out, part of this is up to you.
Image: Kinan steeples her fingers, and closes her eyes, pressing the fingertips of her forefingers against her nose.
Kinan: Getting this into your hands, it hasn't been easy. But Inkspot has done a good job.
(Yes, I have.)
Kinan: Perhaps you feel I've tricked you. Kept some secrets from you. I have. But the future of the human race in 500 years depends on you reading this, right now. Because right now, we're just stories in another Universe. But when you read this, this will be a story in your Universe. It will be as real as the feeling you have that you want to eat toast in the morning. Or the memory of tea. Try thinking of tea. I'm offering you some, here. Have a cup. Imagine the taste. The sensation lingers in your mind and in your body. The tea is in you long after you drink it. It becomes real inside you. Inkspot and I have been watching you read this whole time, and thanks to you, this whole operation has been possible.
Image: Kinan presses a button on the desk, and a picture of you pops up on the wall, projected. You're looking great, by the way.
Kinan: You're a valuable member of this team. Dawn appreciates your help, so consider yourself an honorary member if you see this through... But now things get serious. What happens here in this chapter will have huge ramifications for humanity. I can't help Graelyn. Not directly anyways. But you can, and all you have to do is keep reading.
Image: Kinan lays her hands out on the desk, palms up.
As she watched her home bombed to the ground, Graelyn realized the gravity of her job. Part of her had assumed Kinan had been overstating the seriousness of her case, that maybe the warlord had just wanted a foothold in the Prime Reality. Part of her had assumed the Firmament had been exaggerating when they said that this reality had “fallen” in the future. She could now see, very clearly, that this was not the case. They had if anything, understated it. If she failed, changes would sweep across the history of 10,000 Earths, and they would all die, and the Council would win in thousands of defacto victories. They would sweep across everything, and it would be burned.
It is here, important to note scale. There is simply a point one reaches where numbers are meaningless when casually mentioned. You get above a certain point and it becomes “a lot’ and “even more than that”. The number of lives at stake was simply too large for Graelyn to understand fully, She could grasp its immensity, and she felt raging horror at it, but when she tried to think all she could think of was the individual lives she had met. Arch. Lizette. Alice. Manuel… She could go on and on. Her cat, Mister Sprinkles, came to mind to. She imagined him scratching at a locked cage, as the building he was in crumbled and burned. She wasn’t even sure if Arch, her Arch, her only person she could be sure to count on anymore, was going to live through this.
She was alone. Totally alone. And yet she felt watched by eternity.
She dropped to her knees, and slumped. She had no idea what to do. The orb was broken. Arch was dying. And she was just a teenage girl…
She got up, and weakly looked around. She had to save Arch, and save the Universe. Her mind began to work. She had to do this. She had no choice. She inhaled, and exhaled, and began to conceive a plan.
She opened up a panel on Arch, and hooked her tablet up into it, pouring data on his health onto the screen. She moved to do the best battlefield dressings she could, and used a rock to bang shut a tube that was leaking vital fluid. She couldn’t do much, but she did what she could.
She had to fix the orb. No matter what, this had to be done. She reached inside it, and found the neural connectors, jamming them onto her temples.
“Orb, what would be necessary for you to make another jump?” The orb sat for a moment, and she wondered if it had died.
“N-New Trime-Regulator needed.”
“I don’t know what that is!” The machine politely replied by jamming a full knowledge of a Trime-Regulator and how to install it into her head. Okay. To get one, she’d need to find a Council vessel. It shouldn’t be a hard part to find there. The orb stuck some more info in her head, and thinking quickly, she asked it to stick some languages in there to. Done.
Disconnecting, Graelyn went over to Arch, and laid a reassuring hand on him, when she heard a noise, and stopped with her steps. Carefully, she made her way over to the edge of the hill, crawling through the scorched grass. Framed with the burned sky was a small group of people, dressed in ratty yet fairly new survival gear. They all had rifles. Someone was trying to restart another person's heart, but it was clearly a fruitless effort. The rest of the group looked exhausted, broken. Only one of them didn't slouch, their face covered by a wrapped cloth and goggles, their head by a helmet. An insignia on their arm made it clear enough who it had to be. Graelyn's heart raced. There was some hope after all. If she was here, maybe they stood a chance.
“Alice!” Graelyn yelled to the woman with the patch of a songbird on her arm. The woman turned, as did the rest of the group, and Graelyn scampered down the hill. “Alice MacLeod! Thank god. I need your help.” The group of people looked at each other, then halfheartedly raised their weapons at her. Graelyn skid to a halt, raising her hands towards the red burning sky. The woman with the songbird patch raised an arm to stall her troops, and unwrapped her face. It wasn't Alice. It was Alice's friend Yi, from her squad. She wasn't tall enough to be Alice, upon second glance, anyways.
“Alice is dead.” Yi said. “She died in the second wave, when they leveled London. Not that I ever met her in person.” Graelyn looked at her patch again.
“Why the songbird patch then?” Yi looked down at it.
“Its a symbol. A Nightingale. Someone has to lead the survivors. Alice died, someone had to take over. I'm the 4th one to bear the title.” Graelyn nodded. Made sense. Still, she was starting to get nervous. No one had put their guns down. “As for you, you're dead to, Graelyn Scythes. The Council publicly executed you three hours ago.” Everyone kept killing her, geez.
“So, I died like a hero...”
“Look, that's why I'm here. I'm not your Graelyn Scythes. I'm her, but I'm not her.”
“That doesn't make any sense.” Graelyn wanted to wipe her brow, but kept her hands in the air.
“The Council is from an alternate reality right? I am to. I'm here to try to stop them and save humanity.”
“You're a little late.” Yi replied, “You're looking at it.” Graelyn peered around at the group. There couldn't be more than twenty of them.
“You can't be serious.”
“I've never been more.”
“Well neither have I. Look, I'm trying to go back in time. I can't stop the Council from Invading, but I can give humanity a heads up... A kick start. Change enough that they can't just walk over us, but not enough that history diverges too much and the Firmament steps in to fix it.” She realized that might make no sense to them, but no one looked confused. She was after all, dropping a complicated political situation between multiple realities on their heads in a few sentences.
“How could you do that?” Yi asked.
“The same way I got here, I have this orb thing that travels through alternate realities, as well as through time. The Council built it. It was only meant to scout, not change history, in hindsight probably so the Firmament didn't stop them looking at stuff, which I am only just now realizing as I'm explaining that to you, sorry about the tangent, but if I can get it to someone who knows how to analyze it and take it apart they could take steps in secret to stop the Council. I even know who I'll use. But the orb is broken, it needs a part I can only get from the Council.” Yi gestured to her troops to lower their weapons.
“Okay. So we get this part for you. You go back in time... Sorry this is hard to believe.”
“I'm a seventeen year old version of what I'm assuming is a thirty something year old woman who you saw die. And I'm guessing she has a different hair color to.”
“This is a longshot.” Graelyn looked at the beleaguered people.
“Are you really all that's left of humanity?” Yi shrugged.
“There might be a few pockets who haven't surrendered yet. But we're definitely the largest.”
“Then face the facts: you're going to die unless you help me.” Yi paused, and thought it over. A bolt of lightning flicked between a crystal moon and a strange bio-mechanical vessel.
“Anything has to be better than this. At least we'll go down fighting. What's your plan?”
Graelyn grimaced, “Well, you're not going to like it.”
“We're not going to fight.”
* * * * *
The moon was having a fairly descent day. It looked like the war was basically over, the last resistance in Moscow had been destroyed, basically. As it floated above the ground, causing massive disturbances below, not that it cared, it picked up an emergency beacon. Scrambling into action, the moon scanned the ground for where it was coming from, and spotted an old Council Probe. It was very old. The kind they'd abandoned for being too hard to control. Going too far back in time could cause huge changes, and you might accidentally write yourself out of existence. The probes had been meant to simply gather data on a reality and then leave, but even that sometimes caused too much of a problem. What was it doing here? Still, the probe said it needed extraction. The moon was not one to argue.
* * * * *
“What exactly is she doing?” Yi asked Arch. The group had gathered around the orb, as Graelyn had hooked herself into it somehow. She wasn't exactly sure what to make of the Cyborg, but now wasn't exactly the time to ask questions.
“Making a call I presume.”
* * * *
“What is your name?” The orb asked. I'm a moon, the moon replied. “No, your name before that.” The moon scrunched its forehead up. It had had a name, hadn't it? No, its programming replied, no you didn't. “Yes you did.” The orb said. “Pull the 4th cord from your head immediately for security reasons.” The orb was not one to argue.
No wait- its programming began. But it had already yanked. Suddenly, it remembered it had a name. Awiti. It had been a she, and she had lived in Nairobi. She'd had two brothers, who enjoyed designing clothes. They'd sewn her a brilliant suit for her first job interview together. They'd died, hadn't they? She felt the moon around her, she was it, and it was her and...
“...My name is Awiti.”
“I need you to listen very carefully. I need you to send down a Trime Regulator.” She had plenty of those. A stockpile in fact. She could do that. She was getting so confused.
“Its okay.” The voice said. “If you send that down, this will all be over.” That was good. She could get behind that. She had an orb drone pick up the part, and begin to float down to the ground. Somewhere in her head, alarms were going off.
You must recall that part, a different voice said.
“Do not rescind my order, Awiti.” The first voice said.
You are a Factory of Crystal, you do not have a name.
Yes, she thought back, I do, and she accelerated the drone towards the ground.
“Thank you.” Graelyn thought back, as the Council fleet aimed their guns at the moon, and it exploded into a shower of molten Crystal, its massive chunks hurtling towards the ground cataclysmically. Graelyn didn't disconnect as she heard Awiti scream through the mental link. As the link finally turned to silence she disconnected and watched the girl she'd just met burn.
She had been so brave. Graelyn had never even seen her face. She'd died because she'd asked her to. She tried not to think about that.
* * * *
A single crystal ball lowered from the sky like a meteor, shining bright, and then halted a foot from the ground, hovering, humming. Graelyn ran to it, and with it touch it popped open revealing a complex chunk of machinery. Pulling it out, Graelyn ran to the orb and following the instructions in her head, installed it. The orb hummed to life, and without hesitating, Graelyn jammed the cords back onto her temples, and laid in a date, and a place. As the Council fleet shifted to move towards them, their guns angling, the orb lit up. The topsoil around them lifted up a few centimeters, and a white disk burst out of the orb. Yi looked a bit stunned. Graelyn smiled at Arch, who weakly gave a thumbs up.
“It worked!” Yi said.
“We have to get in the portal quick, they're going to bomb us.” Yi shook her head.
“We'll stay here. We've lost everything. Go change the past, give us a new future.” Graelyn looked Yi right in the eyes, and made a decision.
“Don't be an idiot. You won't do any good dying here. You want to save your future? Do it yourself. You fought the council firsthand. Teach them how they can do that in the past.” Yi's mouth opened, then closed. “If you die, you cant do anything. Now jump through the damn portal! And one of you grab Arch and move him to the orb, its not like I can carry him on my own.” Without anther word, Yi gestured at her people, and they began to run through the portal. The Council's guns began to aim. Two quickly moved Arch next to the orb, and ran through. Yi herself followed, and then Graelyn angled the portal to surround herself, Arch, and the orb.
Who are you? A voice yelled into her mind.
“Well, its not like you'll remember.” Graelyn replied.
* * * *
Graelyn had assumed she could control the portal. She was wrong. She was falling through a winding green glow with the others, a giant gash in reality. With all her might she tried to direct where they were going, the Orb keeping them in a bubble of its own making, diving through the gap between Dawns. She could sense they were nearing the exit, and aimed them towards it. The Orb was trying to sustain the whole group of people she's chosen to save from the end of the world, and it suddenly struck her that while this had been very nice of her, it had in face been a rather stupid movie. If she'd been thinking intellectually, disregarding emotion, she'd have left them behind. The Orb was repaired, but still damaged. She considered letting them go. They'd float off into the gap, and wither and vanish, or end up in random places in the history of the Prime Reality, or... She honestly didn't know. But she'd be dooming them.
She'd save herself though, certainly. Graelyn nearly gave the order, but then she remembered.
She was a hero. She'd died trying to save that reality. That was the real her.
She closed her eyes, and apologizing silently to Arch, told the Orb to focus on getting the survivors to that reality safely. The Orb shot towards a chunk of time/space, and carved it open, sending the survivors through a portal safe and sound. The Orb headed towards the gash it had made, and Graelyn opened her eyes just in time to see the gash closing. She pushed the orb forward, gave it everything she had toward rocketing it forward, and the Orb began to slip through the hole, with Arch and Graelyn trailing behind it, holding on for dear life.
And then the gash closed. The tendrils attached to Graelyn's temples snapped off, and Arch barely got his hand out in time before it was crushed. They shot past it, and careened on.
* * * *
The ambassador to the Firmament squirmed in his seat like a child who'd been sent to the principal's office without knowing why. Gossen Suss had been to see the Arbiter of Alternity several times before, but every time had been a bit terrifying. The Arbiter was thousands of years old, and couldn't be bluffed. It had seen things he couldn't even comprehend. He felt a surge of relief that the Firmament treated itself like an interuniversal road crew, fixing potholes and making new paths, but not bothering to change the course of events like they were an interuniversal police force. The Council, the glorious empire he'd sworn himself to, was something they'd never truly considered rising up, even in their most pretentious might. Still, the Firmament was powerful, powerful enough they might have been able to wipe out the Council before they had become glory and might, but they were sticklers for rules. The Council was like a unifying story across cultures, the details might differ, but the core story remained, bending everything around itself. You couldn't escape the Council, he knew. They couldn't be defeated. Their story was eternal.
“Excuse me, the Arbiter of Alternity will see you now.” A hooded Firmament said to him. Gossen wasn't sure if he liked them more or less with the hoods up. At least with the hoods up they were a known element, with them down who knows what they would look like that day. Gossen stood up quickly, and smoothing his hair down, stepped through the door into the Arbiter's office. The room was covered in small screen's, whose visual fidelity was beyond that of the human eye. It was like being surrounded in thousands of windows into different worlds, each one presenting an image from a different reality. The Arbiter stood in the center of the room, holding one of their weird books that seemed to be projecting holograms of different characters into the air as he skimmed it. Annoyingly, the Arbiter had chosen to take the form of Gossen Suss himself today. Gossen tried to not look as creeped out as he was.
“Ah,” he heard his own voice begin, “Ambassador, welcome back. Would you like some tea?” Unsure if the tea was actually tea, or just something that was approximately tea he's have trouble keeping down as he drank it, Gossen refused politely. “Pity, its Earl Grey.” A pillar rose from the floor with a pot and a set of cups, and the Arbiter poured itself one.
“I was hoping the tea would calm you down. After all, I'm here to issue you bad news. Worst of all, bad news you won't actually understand.” Gossen hated when they talked down to him like this. Of course he'd understand. The Arbiter took another sip, and then set the cup down on the pillar. “Ambassador Suss, have you ever seen Star Trek?” Gossen wasn't ready for that. Was this news sci-fi related? He preferred to stay in reality, not far off fantasies. Gossen was grounded in common every day things like interuniversal travel, paperwork, and off the shelf replacement limbs that would grow to match your genetic code. He didn't deal in fantasies.
“I can't say I'm particularly familiar.” He replied. The Arbiter looked disappointed.
“I'd hoped it would make a good analogy for this. See, in Star Trek, there is a group called the Federation. Like the Firmament they have a resolution to not interfere in conflicts with lesser cultures. They break it all the time though, so it barely matters. Now, we at the Firmament are similar to the Federation in that we have firm rules about what we do, except we never break them. When we interfere, it is because we have a mandate to. I believe you have compared us privately to an interuniversal road crew before-- oh don't give me that look! Like your superiors don't read you mind all the time. Your thoughts aren't anything special.” Another pillar rose off the floor, upon it was a page of parchment, upon which was scrawled glowing letters in the Firmament's characters. “Now, that being said, we have formalities we must follow, as odd as they may be. So its my sad duty to inform you that the treaty between the Council and the Firmament has been declared null and void.” The Arbiter raised a hand, and the glowing letters floated off the page, hovering a few inches above it, and then flew into the Arbiter's hand. Gossen's eyes went wide.
“Excuse me, but this is impossible!” The Arbiter looked smug, “The Council and the Firmament have never had a treaty!”
“Exactly.” The Arbiter replied, “The treaty never occurred, therefore, we have to declare the treaty null and void. I'm afraid the negotiated freedom you had to travel between universes has been belied as well. You're no longer welcome in the Labyrinth, and our agents are going to attempt to take back the Factories of Crystal you took from us as well.” Gossen's jaw dropped.
“This is outrageous! I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“Yes, as I said, you wouldn't understand this. Your pathetic monkey brain is ridiculously underpowered, and while its not my job to take sides in any conflict, I do have to say its a relief to not have to follow the ridiculous things you managed to negotiate into that treaty when we were so briefly weak against you.” Gossen furrowed his brow.
“Someone changed history!” The Arbiter smiled like a parent who finally heard a child say 1+1 was 2 after four hours of hearing them say it was still 1.
“Good! You're catching on!” Gossen grew angry.
“That goes against your rules though, you're supposed to prevent anyone changing history.”
“Sorry, your treaty said we were to stay out of your affairs, and we did. What happened in that timeline never did now, and we've scrubbed it from existence, barring a few survivors some Dawn Agents managed to move to the past. But we'll ignore them too, after all, they were moved while the treaty was in effect. Stopping them was your responsibility.” Gossen was angry. This twerp with is own face was talking to him like he was some sort of petulant child! His face grew red.
“The Council will never stand for this. We will stop them, and then we will burn your final Firmament to dust, we will-” The Arbiter rolled Gossen's eyes.
“Oh shut up. Our rules say I had to inform you of this, we must be alone, and there must be a witness who is not me to our meeting who remembers it.” Gossen raised an eyebrow.
“I've read your rules. A video doesn't count.”
“Yes, but someone is witnessing this meeting.”
“I don't understand.” Gossen received the most pandering smile of all time. Just imagine the most smug, and yet utterly condescending face you can. Amp it up. No, more! Okay maybe that was too much... No more still, yes that one! That face. Gossen frowned.
“Of course you don't.” The Arbiter looks at you, and smiles, “But I do thank you for stopping by. The Final Firmament is glad to be keeping your reality in order since the beginning of recorded history, which if I may note we invented. You're welcome. Its pretty clever how Kinan pulled this off, I have to admit, even if she is insufferable. But I doubt she explained it to you. Do you want to know what's been going on this whole time?”
“What are you going on about? Who are you talking to?” Gossen said.
“Shut it. There are infinite alternate realities, and we live in just 10,000 of them. Lots of things are possible you can't even imagine. Somewhere I'm sure, books are alive. Their letters can change history. The soul of the book spread through all of its copies throughout the world... Suppose you slipped a book like that into the world. Put it on the internet. Put it in print. Let its words get in peoples heads. That could change people. Give witnesses to events that might never be seen. Make them real when they were merely dreams before.”
“That's how every book works. People read them, and it changes them. That's nothing special.” Gossen said.
“Really? Well then, that's very interesting.” The Arbiter laughs, “But if there was a girl who gave away her cat, and ended up below the sea, and then in an alternate reality... Well, maybe you knowing that story could change something. But back to you Gossen, you have a lot of words in your head, and now that I've told them to you, and I have so many other witnesses, I don't really want you to keep them.” The Arbiter reached out his hand, and a slew of glowing letters poured out of Gossen's forehead, flying through the air into the Arbiter's hand. It closed its hand on the glowing characters, and Gossen blacked out.
Gossen Suss woke up on the bench outside of the Arbiter's office. Had he fallen asleep? He was supposed to meet with the Arbiter today. Checking his watch, he saw he'd missed the meeting time. Crap. Straightening up his robes, he knocked on the door, and a hooded Firmament cracked it open, and seeing his face, shooed him away. He gulped. He'd messed up big time. With the war against the Prime Universe not going as swiftly as they'd hoped, they needed any traction they could get. It was like they'd had a warning, not like that was possible. Defeated, Gossen shoved his hands in the pockets of his robe and walked away.
* * * *
She had barely gotten her helmet on. She'd closed her eyes, and held her breath. She was lost in nowhere, and there was no one. She had succeeded at everything, and she was dead.
Graelyn opened her eyes in horror. She'd messed up. Around her, peaking through the green glow, she saw faces.
“No, you're the girl.” Lizette said.
“We saved her. You were right." Manuel Said.
“You realize they'll kill you. You can't let this go forward.” Alice Said.
“Good luck.” Kinan said, “I'm counting on you.”
“If I'm going to be down here, I'll need a mechanic anyways. Just consider that your first observation as my mechanic.” Arch said.
“Meow.” The cat said.
She drifted down through them, and tried to think of what to do. She didn't know. She looked over to see Arch, and tried to get close to him. Whispers began to creep into the edges of her mind, and she tried to push them out.
“Are we going to die?” appeared on Arch's face, and Graelyn didn't answer. She focused. She needed to get out. She thought about herself. She was a hero. She really was. She knew this. There were rules to these things, laws. Things she could exploit. This wasn't just arbitrary, there was a way out. She remembered then that she'd had the answer all along, and she didn't realize it. She tried to swim through the space to be by Arch, and he grabbed onto her. She reached into a pocket in her suit, and pulled out the cat pin. She couldn't let go of it if she wanted to live. The thing was an anachronism everywhere, passed around through time and space and different universes. It didn't make sense. And she'd cut a weak spot once before with it. It had to work. Carefully, she pulled the sharp point of the pin out, and slashed at the green. It was like she'd cut open a sandbag she was falling into-- the tear she'd made screamed open, shooting bits of reality out, and devouring them. She had no idea where they'd land, or if they'd survive at all. Arch, and herself dropped through the hole, and landed in a rolling sprawl on a finely polished oak floor.
Arch propped himself up, and Graelyn rose to her feet, aching. She'd done it. They weren't dead. Sure, she didn't know where she was but... She looked around the room. There was a sculpture of a fist, made of Jade, and a model of the pyramid at Nojpeten. There was a fountain in the floor, with a waterfall rolling down it. A bust of Richard Attenburough sat on a pedestal. Music wafted through the room, Mozart from the sounds of it.
And at the end of the room a woman rose from a mahogany desk wearing a blue skirt, a blue blazer with a pin on the lapel, a white blouse, a black tie, and red hair. She stared into Graelyn's eyes.
Or rather, Graelyn stared into Graelyn's eyes.
The real Graelyn.
Written by James Wylder, Art by Annie Zhu
This chapter is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can read all of (and download!) at this link: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-the-finale
Chapter 27: A Miracle of Malice and Mercy
“That's the real question isn't it? Trying to figure out what the question was. If you get it wrong, you're stuck with an answer to something you were never asked.” -Xavier Freeman
Graelyn stared at herself in awe. She was in her mid thirties, but you might mistake her for younger than it. She'd aged well, and possibly de-aged at some point. Her desk, and the whole office was littered with tinkerings, experiments, and equipment, interspersed with carefully chosen pieces of art. The room was luxurious, yet practical. A quiet ticking sound from an old grandfather clock underlay the room, while the gentle sound of classical music flowed through the room.
“Mozart's 5th.” She said, finally recognizing the piece.
“My favorite piece.” She replied.
“Mine to.” The older Graelyn raised her eye brow.
“You have good taste.”
“You as well.” Arch looked between them. They'd seemed to forget his existence within the room.
“It is a bit rude to show up so unannounced.” She felt like apologizing to herself, but avoided that.
“One doesn't typically expect to meet yourself.” The other Graelyn smirked, and she felt a shiver down her spine. She walked around her desk towards her, and approached, her shoes clicking on the floor till they were facing each other. Every click lined up with the sound from the clock, and she couldn't tell if that had been intentional or not. Graelyn realized she had to look like a mess to her real self, she was still in her spacesuit, and had literally seen the end of the world, so she tried to make up for it with great posture, which her other self already had in scores.
“You know, since this mess with portals into alternate realities started, this is the first time I've ever dropped by for a visit with myself.” She reached out, and grabbed Graelyn's chin, turning her face from side to side, which was weird but she went along with it. “How old are you, sixteen?”
“Seventeen. Honestly I might be Eighteen, I've sort of lost track of time.”
“Close.” She let go. “And you bring such interesting company with you.” She looked at Arch and he raised a hand in greeting.
“Oh, this is my friend Archimedes.”
“Right. So why exactly are you here?” She looked into her eyes, and her younger self felt uncomfortable.
“Arch and I were trying to get to the past to change history so the Council wouldn't wipe out the Earth.”
“I see you succeeded.”
“Well, we got the intelligence there, just not ourselves... It was complicated.”
“Things always are.”
“I can't believe we're finally meeting. There's so much I want to know about you. Where my history diverged from yours, what you've created...” She started to reach out towards herself, but decided against it, curling her fingers back.
“And I'm as equally curious about you.”
Graelyn looked back at Arch, his skin flickered. “If we're going to chat, someone really needs to look after my friend. I don't want him dying while I'm having tea and crumpets.”
“Well, why don't I have a look at him.” She led herself over to Arch, and the red haired Graelyn knelt down next to him.
“This is one of Manuel Salazar's design's, correct?”
“Well, I'm more than just a design...” From behind herself Graelyn made a face, and he nodded. “Yes, technically.” pushing a wisp of her red hair out of her eyes, she began to look him over, and opened up a panel on his chest.
“Salazar built him, but he's been a loyal companion. What do you need from your workshop to fix him I'll-” As she said that, the red haired Graelyn reached her hand out, and a box flew from the table into her hand. Adjusting her glasses, the younger one's jaw dropped. Red haired Graelyn pulled a tool from her box, and began to use it on a mechanical organ inside Arch, then reached in with her other hand and sent a slight shock of electricity into the organ. Like God had blown on it, it began to move and pump again.
“That's incredible. I heard people in the prime reality could master abilities from other realities, but I didn’t really believe it. It just sounded so... Fantastic. Pseudo-scientific, even. Like you were wizards or Jedi knights or something.” Pulling another tool from her box, Red Graelyn continued her work.
“Well, what unique ability does your reality have?” She said placidly, as she telekeneticly reopened the tube Graelyn had closed with a rock earlier, and then soldered it shut to the other half of the tube.
“We haven't been able to find one. There doesn't seem to be anything unique about where I'm from.” Red Graelyn pursed her lips.
“Pity.” Arch made a noise as Red Graelyn finished another repair, and his skin grew brighter. “So did Manuel give you this unit for protection, or did you take it?”
“Er, neither, I found him by chance.”
“So Manuel never showed you his pet project while you were interning with him?”
“I, uh, never interned with him.” She patched one of Arch's organs, sealed it, and looked back at her.
“So there you go, our realities diverge there. Who did you intern with?”
“John Aril.” Red Graelyn gave Black Graelyn a look of disgust.
“Really? That idealistic buffoon.”
“He was right though, he actually did pull of his idealistic notions where I come from. Though, well, he couldn't have if I hadn't been working for him. I figured out the hole in his plans.” Red Graelyn seemed to warm for a moment.
“I'd expect nothing less. And I suppose that's how you got into an alternate reality, you made one of his experiments work.”
“Exactly. We've been popping around the 10,000 Dawns for awhile now, going from place to place, and we made a deal with some people to get us home if we helped do something to fight the Council. To make a very long story very short.” She looked at her own face, and tried to memorize every bit of it. “When I learned there was a Prime Reality, I wanted to meet you right away.”
“Because you're based on me?”
“Well, to put it bluntly, yes. Wouldn't you be curious?”
“I'd want to be my own person.” She supposed she had a point. She ran a hand through her dirty hair and thought about that as Red Graelyn rose, summoning a cloth to her hands to clean them off. “Your friend will be fine.”
“Thank you.” Arch said, as she walked away from him. Black Graelyn gave him a smile, and then scampered after herself. Arch's body lit up, an exclamation mark on his face. She knew he thought something was off, but of course it was off! They had just dropped into her office without asking, from the future, as she'd said. She couldn't suppose time travel was a regular occurrence in her workspace. Black Graelyn looked at the tinkerings: she could see a jar of nanobots forming different shapes, a patch that looked like the healing gel she'd gotten in Songbird's world... She had truly done amazing things here.
“This is fantastic.” She said, smiling up at herself. “Is this a gene modifier?”
“Improved vastly over the previous model. We've been able to use it to insert chains of DNA that shouldn't fit in areas by using nanogens to recode other areas in order to fit the inserted code in more appropriately, with a very low rejection rate. Of course, I've had to delay perfecting it due to more pressing projects in the war against the Council. It works decently enough at the moment.”
“This is leaps and bounds over what I've seen....” She peered down at the other experiments.
“And what have you done?” She asked herself. She rose up, to meet her own gaze.
“Oh, well, my work has mostly been in inter-universal physics. I figured out how to make a semi-stabilized tear between two alternate realities, one that you could travel through. John Aril figured out how to make the tears, but not make them stable enough that you could slice through into another universe.” She nodded.
“Thank you, its nothing compared to... The sheer quantity of quality work you've done here. I daresay you might well put God to shame if you keep it up.”
“You haven't even seen the best of it.”
“You can help so many people with this...” A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Wait, I hate to ask, but Alice MacLeod hasn't tried to kill you in this reality yet has she?” Her counterpart raised an eyebrow again, and shook her head.
“I think she'd like to. It's not like she'd succeed.”
“Well, don't underestimate her. I saw her kick one of us out of a window with a rope around the neck in one reality... Which, well, I don't think she understood how fitting that was.”
“What do you mean 'how fitting that was?'” Black Graelyn tried not to look herself in the eyes.
“You know, what we did when we were young. Jumping out the window.”
“I never accidentally fell out a window.”
“It wasn't an accident. You remember, after Petyr died...” There was silence. Both Graelyn's shuffled their feet.
“You tried to kill yourself?”
“After he died, mom just... Fell apart. She changed a lot. Put pressure on the whole family. Started abusing us. I couldn't take it.” She looked back up at herself, expecting to see understanding, but instead saw a look of purest disgust. Black Graelyn felt like covering her face.
“You gave into weakness.”
“I know I did, but when I was falling, I realized I never wanted to fall again. I've been doing my best to stay away from people, keep to myself, so I'd never hurt them-”
“That's what you're worried about? Hurting people?” Her gaze was intensely analytical, like giving her motivations an MRI, yet intensely judgmental.
“Shouldn't it be? There's already enough cruelty in the world without me adding to it.” The look of disgust somehow managed to grow.
“Where is your ambition? Do you think the wonders in this room created themselves? You can't expect to achieve something while you're curled up in a ball.” Black Graelyn tensed, she felt the urge to run.
“I can't help people if I'm hurting them!”
“And do you really care about people?”
“Well of course I don't, people are cruel, selfish, petty, impractical, parasitic, and they only want what they can take from you!” She thew up her arms gesturing, and a metal mannequin in a glass box behind her mimicked her motions. “But I also know I didn't enjoy being treated like that. So I ran.”
“Because it was... Easy?” She crossed her arms.
“Well... Yes, honestly I suppose that was part of it. If I ran no one would hate me, cause no one could see me.”
“You think you're me?” Red Graelyn said, leaning in towards her, “You're nothing like me.” As if on cue, dozens of the objects she had on display in the room turned slightly. A dagger's edge faced her. What looked like the real mask of Agamemnon from Greece stared her down. A mechanical hand on a stand's fingers clenched.
“Of course I am! I'm you. Our lives diverged, but we're the same person deep down.” Red Graelyn examined her face. Black Graelyn could feel her breath against her face.
“What do you think matters in the world?” She tried to lean back.
“I'm sure you're looking for an answer so why don't you just say it.”
“Power.” With that word, she felt her elder dive into her own mind, and her brain swam. She could feel her own memories, like they were in her palm or brushing against her calf. She felt a cat's scratchy tongue on her hand, and a violent blow to her face. She felt her life, and felt a hand inside it twisting inside her braincells.
This Graelyn, she could go into people's minds.
The thought wasn't surprising, she'd after all dealt with Council technology that did exactly that, and the alien jellyfish that called itself part of “the Pantheon” that worked on the same principle. She'd seen Kinan put her own mind inside a T-Rex of all things. But those moments all seemed different than this. She had gotten the unconscious perception that the T-Rex and Kinan were both okay with their body sharing arrangement in some way. The Orb and the Pantheon had felt like they were simply sharing a user interface with her, it had felt normal and organic like learning sign language when you'd only ever spoken before: just a different form of communication between beings.
This was different. This felt invasive. There was no control on her end, like she was on marionette strings. It then occurred to her that that thought, was in fact, a bad one.
Yes, a bad thought. The hand in her brain pulled a string. She looked up at herself, clearly the better version of herself, and realized the truth:
She didn't deserve to live. This woman in front of her had accomplished so much, had accomplished everything. She had never given in, never faltered. This was her true self, and she was an embarrassment to it.
“I want you to get out of my sight.” Red Graelyn said, walking towards a window and unlatching it by hand. It swung in, wide and tall, leaving a windy hole in the side of the building.
“Of course, Miss Scythes.” She told herself, then corrected herself, “Director Scythes.”
“I worked for every scrap I have, and here you are, a parasitic weakling trying to coast on my back. Living in the dregs of my own memories. If your life is so defined by jumping out a window, then make it final. Jump. Do it for me. I'd like to see it.” She smiled at herself, at least she could make herself happy. That was, however, before Archimedes tried to stab Red Graelyn in the face. He was working enough that his gravity regulator's were functioning again it seemed, and his massive tank like body had barreled across the room like a gazelle in a silent film. A sword slid from his arm, and nearly touched Red Graelyn's face when she lightly gestured with her hand, and another arm blocked the blow. Arch and Graelyn looked at the second intruder to their conversation. He wore combat armor from head to toe that reminded Graelyn of Arch's carapace. It had taken on the exact image of the world around it, so that the figure looked nearly invisible. Revealed, the colors drained from its skin, and it was nearly Arch's color. Its armor looked like Arch's would if you advanced it a few decades in design. It's movements were perfect.
“You think I wasn't expecting that?” She sighed, and several more of the figures seemed to pop out of the walls, though it was clear they'd simply stopped remaining motionless and camouflaged. “Johnathan, please take care of him.” Johnathan, whose armored arm was linked with Arch's sword, stepped into action, and shoved Arch backwards. He staggered, and regained his footing, sliding the other sword out of his arm. “All of you, finish him.” She gestured carelessly, and looked back at Graelyn by the window. She seemed conflicted, even as she stood still, smiling all the while.
“Well then, what are you waiting for? Jump. Its what you're good for.” Graeyn turned to the window, and walked to the edge. The breeze was chill but not cold, and felt good against her face. Her hand reached out and grabbed the edge of the window. This was a perfect place to jump.
No one would miss her.
She'd be better off crumpled there on the pavement below, the pain would end, the memories.
No one would ever hurt her again.
She could finally, finally, stop worrying.
And I chose to be the kind of person who would never fall again.
She thought of the little girl she'd been, learning animal anatomy through dissection in the forest. So alone. That had been this Graelyn to. She thought of that night Ashlyn broke up with her, and the way her mother had slinked into her brain with her insidious words. She thought about her cat, how he'd always been there when she came home, brushing past her legs. She'd named him Mister Sprinkles. She'd held his fussy body to her breast and tried to get to sleep. She thought of her nights alone in project Atlantis. She thought of her nights alone all through her life: her friendships were so brief, so fleeting.
Such is life? Life is a miracle after all, but its one born of such malice. To have to live her life was unfair, to have to see it through till its end was cruel. She was a malignancy, a broken circuit in reality's operating system. She was poison. And she would be damned if she would grow old and ruin those who had loved her so needlessly with her mere existence.
It was finally okay. She'd given herself the okay, even. The ultimate sign of approval. The relief washed over her.
Never fall again.
She put a foot out past the edge of the window and felt her weight pull her forward. All she had to do was lean into it.
A though occurred to her then, a simple thought, but one that she had never entertained seriously. It wasn't the kind of thought she'd expected to think, or that one would look back on and love or frame, or even lace in a fancy font in an image online, but it was her thought, and it was important.
It occurred to Graelyn at that moment, that perhaps she didn't need to be perfect. It occurred to her that maybe feeling like she wanted to die was okay, as long as she didn't actually do it. That wanting to achieve great ends and missing them didn't make her worthless, and that no one loving her but herself was enough reason to live as it was. That even if she couldn't love herself, her own breath in the chill air was enough reason to give herself the next one. That her need to be perfect, that her need to be in control, extended so far as to crush her own heart while she tried to walk to its beat.
She opened her eyes, and looked out at the city below her. She'd never seen it before, never been there before. She could see people below, going about their day to day lives. Streets were barricaded, and guns were on top of roofs, just like in Nojpeten, but the people there were still living, and still breathing, and if she fell the person it would impact the most was her.
Because she wasn't alone. Like it or not, she had people now. She'd hid herself away, and yet for all that time thinking she didn't deserve company, it had come to her easily. She hated herself, and loved herself, and others did the same. She was just alive, breathing in the chilled air above the city, and her heart moving in and out with the steady tempo of adrenaline.
As she exhaled, only then did she realize she had taken hold of the hand in her own head.
And I chose.
She stepped back from the window, and turned to face herself.
“No.” She said. A host turned to face her. Arch was trying to fight off a horde of armored men who looked eerily like him, and failing, but they all stopped to look at her. Red Graelyn squinted her eyes, and seemed to be focusing harder. She batted the hand in her own head away.
“I said, 'no,' or is your English that rusty?”
“Your mind must be much stronger than I-”
“Oh shut up.”
“As you, said: no.” She walked towards herself, their eyes locked.
“Let Arch go.”
“No.” Graelyn looked in her own eyes. Her own pupils locked with themselves, and Graelyn felt the hand reach into her mind once again. She thought of Lizette at the piano, and imagined her own hands guiding hers on the keys. She didn't bat the hand away this time. A quiver of a smile appeared on Red Graelyn's face, and she sprung on it. She pushed the hand back into the mind it came from, carried with it. Red Graelyn's eyes opened wide, as she seemed to realize what she'd done, and Graelyn grabbed her arm as she tried to gesture. As she did, they seemed to fall through the floor together.
They dove and spun in an inky green blackness, and Graelyn found her hand on Petyr's.
“They're gunna get you medicine Petyr, I promise.” He nodded weakly, and she clenched her hand around his. He was feeling colder, despite all the blankets. She got up, slipping her hand out of his as she crept to the door, and cracked it open. Her parents were meeting with the men in the nice suits with the jewelery.
“We know Centro has denied your request for medical funding, and you can't afford it on your own.” Said a man with a gold medallion around his neck. “But despite what you may have heard about our organization, we're very family oriented. We want to help you, but we need something in return.”
“What exactly are we talking about here?” Her father asked. The man reached a mechanical hand into his jacket, and pulled out a tablet he handed to her parents. They scrolled through it together. A few minutes passed.
“We couldn't possibly do this.” Her mother said, her voice cracking. “We're godly people. We would never do something like this.”
“Lady,” the man began, “Centro has already abandoned you. Your kid is gunna die if he doesn't get treatment. All we're asking you to do is give us some information from your workplace. If you don't, someone else will. This is an opportunity you shouldn't pass up just cause you have some moral-”
“We have morals.” Her dad cut in, “We will keep praying for our son, and trust in God's providence.”
The mechanical handed man scowled, “I'm your damn providence. This is the miracle you've been waiting for.”
“We won't do it, and that's final.” Her mother said. “This is wrong.” The man sighed, and rubbed his nose.
“If you change your mind before the 7th, the Index will gladly--”
“We won't.” Her father said. They showed themselves out.
A month later, she held Petyr's hand, trying to warm it up.
“Graelie, can you sing me a song?” He whispered, though maybe he was talking at full volume. She nodded, “What song Petyr? I'm right here.”
“One you really like.”
“Are you sure?” He nodded. His skin was so pale. She could see his cheekbones so clearly. She tried to think of a song, “Jackie loves her work, and her work is love, cause there is no other...” She began, his hand was feeling limper. He blinked.
“She said God has given me a job, Jackie loves her work, for there is no other...” He wasn't blinking. “Petyr?” She said. He didn't respond. His eyes were still open.
“I don't want to hurt you... Just wanna... Have some fun...” She tried to keep singing, but tears started coming to her eyes. “Petyr, Petyr...” She shook him, but he didn't respond, just jiggled like a doll, “Come on quit playing around... Petyr.... MOM!” She screamed, and her parents ran into the room. They stormed into the room, and they all stood there silently. Graelyn had felt the tears coming, but they never finished. No one moved forward to touch the body.
“Did we pray hard enough?” Her mother asked. Graelyn looked up at them, and felt a cold rage. She knew, right then, that this had all been preventable. The coldness of the world had sank into her though Petyr's hand, and it wouldn't leave. There were those that used, and those that were used up, and they had chosen to let him die. Her mother met her eye, and in one life the coldness sank into both of them, and into the bones of their family, and in another they stared like a cliff and a glacier. Her mother made a choice, a subtle one, and started a slow descent, and in the other approached the body of her son finally, and dropped to her knees. In another life, she looked down at Graelyn, and giving into the darkest impulses to keep control of something in the shadow of her agony laid the first blow on Graelyn and yelled at her about why she hadn't called them in sooner, or prayed harder, and in another she crumpled over and wept, clenching her son's cold hand.
Two women named Graelyn emerged from that moment, inseparable, but forever apart.
There was a scream, and one Graelyn, a younger one with black hair felt her soul rise up through the floor into her own body, as her body rose up in the air and careened across the room, landing in a crumpled pile as she crashed into a pillar holding up a clockwork unicorn model.
“How dare you take me back there!” Red Graelyn screamed at her, and holding arm out, raised Graelyn into the air, suspended as if on wires. “You're a monster, and I'm done playing with you.” She looked at Johnathan. “Stop messing around and kill him to.” Arch was trying to duck and weave a group that was faster than him, and his carapace was even more cracked than before. Graelyn looked down at herself from the air, and didn't feel so small. She could see the agony in her own face, and the tear she felt inside her own soul bigger than any in the fabric of the universe, and she allowed herself to feel sorry for herself. She focused on that feeling, the pain she'd felt the long unending agony, and decided she couldn't fix it.
“The past is over.” She muttered, and felt the grip tighten around her. She felt the grip, and felt how it tied to her. It was like there was a string between them, a connection, a window of failure in the laws of reality...
How am I aware of this?
She reached out to it, and could feel it like it was in her own hand... Like...
Her eyes went wide, and she grinned.
“Do you know who I am?” She gasped through the pressure on her chest. The other Graelyn raised an eyebrow. “I'm the one whose going to fall again.” She reached out, and felt the cord with her mind, and snapped it. Her other self's eyes got just as wide as hers, as she fell to the ground. She got up, her eyes red with anger.
“You never had to deal with any of my pain, and you're trying to kill me? Because you think I'm weak? What kind of a sicko am I in this reality?” She tried to reach into her mind and she slapped the hand away.
“What are you doing?” Red Graelyn yelled at her, and tried to throw a pillar at her, but she snapped the cord and it fell to the floor. She held a hand up, and tried to emulate Zeus himself by throwing lighting at her, but it fizzled in the air.
“I guess I know what my power is.” Graelyn said. “No wonder I didn't notice it. I'm your opposite. I'm your off switch.” In a world where people only know how to turn a switch off, how could you know it was on?
“I've seen people who can turn off powers before, you can't keep doing it like this.” Graelyn laughed at herself, and stopped a whole flurry of objects hurled her way. She could feel the cords between them, ties of reality, like an extra sense, and she knew Arch could feel them too if he learned how. Speaking of Arch, he found himself suddenly free of the soldiers as they were scrambling towards Graelyn.
“Kill her!” She heard herself say, and she felt them crawling up the walls of the room around her, along the ceiling around her, and on the ground next to her. Cords slid between each of them and the other Graelyn, and between themselves and their armor and the floor. She heard the music in the room, Mozart's 5th, apparently on repeat, and reached her hands out, the universe's own conductor, and ran her hands through the notes in the air, bundling the cords up, and in a moment of extreme apathy, looked herself in the eyes and whispered:
And they did fall. A torrent of armored men collapsed to the ground, like butterflies falling from their perches in the cold. They rained down from the ceiling, slid off the walls or just collapsed on the floor.
“Holy shit.” Arch said. “How did you do that?” She smiled back at him.
“I just learned that-” She was cut off as she barreled towards herself, and put her hand around her neck. She tried to cut cords, but there were none to cut.
“Congratulations.” She told herself, “You woke up to your potential. But you're still not-” Arch kicked her in the side, and she flew off of Graelyn to land a few meters away. He reached down, and helped her up. She stood, and they panted for a moment, then Arch collapsed. His carapace flickered, his breathing raspy.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
“Yeah, well, no, not at all.” She stroked his faceplate, and looked over at Red Graelyn, who was dusting herself off and rising to her feet. She straightened her glasses.
“I underestimated you.”
“We just want to go home.”
“A pity.” She walked over to her desk, and calmly picked up a glass of water from it. The soldiers in the room began to slowly rise themselves. She downed the glass of water without speaking, and set it down, wiping her mouth off. Graelyn looked over at the soldier she'd called Johnathan, and squeezing Arch's shoulder (though she wasn't actually sure he could feel it) slinked over to him. He tried to grab at her leg, but she dodged it.
“Curious, are we? You should have just tried to run.”
“I need to know.” She replied. They looked each other in the eyes.
“Then maybe there is something similar between us. Johnathan, go ahead and let her look.” He grew still, and she reached forward and pulled off his mask. She knew that face. She'd seen it in the apartment of that other version of herself on Songbird's world. The one with the operating table. The one she had carved up in her own apartment as part of some project.
“Johnathan.” She said.
“Oh, so you know Johnathan Carthage?” She shook her head.
“I didn't even know his last name till today.”
“That isn't actually him, you know. She gestured to the room, and all the soldiers took their masks off in unison. They all had the same face. They stared silently and stoically. “I make them in Mexico City, I have a big plant there. Its my greatest achievement. With these soldiers as our vanguard we've been able to hold off the Council.”
“Mexico city...” She thought of Alice, who'd seen something so horrible she couldn't speak of it there.
“Yes. Its a complex process, and it involves a lot of excess-
“Its fairly simple: not every person is able to attune to powers from other realities. Only some ever do. So we have to manufacture quite a lot of units to actually get the ones who can connect and attune to those powers. So we recycle the rest to reuse their biomatter.”
“Recycle? Biomatter?” Graelyn yelled at herself, “This is a person!”
“Manuel Salazar knew better than to think a being you created is on the same level as you.”
“Parents have a responsibility to their children.”
“Parents can let their children die.”
“I'm ashamed to share the same face as you.”
“I've seen us killed for doing this.”
“You won't see it here. Nightingale MacLeod is too weak to get the job done.”
“Nightingale? You mean Songbird.” She poured another glass of water, and shook her head.
“Its an alternate reality, catch up... This has gone on long enough. I have important business to attend to today, and you're becoming a bother. So how about you just leave?” Red Graelyn took another sip of water, and lazily gestured at the room. Black Graelyn watched as the damage in the room from the fight began to right itself, the objects flying back into place all over the room. Cracks seemed to close. The group of Johnathans faded into the walls.
“You... Can fix this all? Just like that?” She wanted to punish herself, throw this red haired Graelyn out a window, but realized very quickly she had managed the best possible result of a standstill.
“Yes. And if I'd taken you more seriously, you'd be dead. But you're not worth my time. Get out of my reality.” She didn't look back, just picked up a tablet on the table, and began to scroll through it, using her other hand to begin to piece a complicated device together in the air.
“You're wrong you know.” She didn't turn around. “Power isn't the most important thing.”
“What is it? Something sappy like friendship? Love?”
“Being able to accept your own flaws without falling prey to them. Goodbye, Graelyn.” She floated the thing she'd built into her hand.
Graelyn weakly slipped an arm around Arch, and the two walked towards the exit of Graelyn's office, the doors opening before them. As they shut, a cord was sliced forever.
Written by James Wylder, Art by Annie Zhu
This epilogue is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can read all of (and download!) at this link:
Alice MacLeod looked at Officer Davis in utter confusion, “What do you mean I'm being released without charges? I beat up three police officers!” She shrugged.
“Its how the system works. Someone paid for your charges to be dropped, so you're free to go.” Alice's jaw dropped, and she almost wanted to punch the kindly officer just to see how far she could push whatever was going on, but decided against it. Fuming, she walked out of the jail, into the noonday sun. She was out just in time to get something other than jail food for lunch, at least. Walking down the sidewalk, she saw a woman on the sidewalk in front of her wearing a black converses, blue pencil skirt, a blue blazer, a white blouse, a black tie, sunglasses, and a hoodie with a weird sun/moon pattern on it on under the blazer, she was quietly scrolling through something on a tablet, so she paid her no mind till she spoke.
“Alice MacLeod?” Instinctively, she put her fists up, but saw the girl had to be only around 17 or 18. She lowered them slowly, and then saw a large cyborg in a trench coat and top hat coming from around the corner. She put her fists back up, and took a step back.
“Whoa there, calm down, don't be afraid, we're here to help!” The girl said cheerily. She lowered her hood, and took off her sunglasses so Alice could see her face.
“Sort of! And this is my friend Archimedes.”
“Hi. Good to meet you again, Alice.”
“Don't mind that. We work with a group called Dawn, and we'd like to aid your revolution against Centro.” She raised an eyebrow.
“You're a teenage version of Graelyn Scythes. How is that even possible?” She smiled and shrugged.
“I get that a lot from you. But the main point is, we're here to help.”
“You want to help start an anarchist revolution?”
“They're anarchists here? Huh.” Arch mused. Graelyn made a face and shrugged again.
“So why should I trust you?”
“Because you'll have a long, bloody, brutal war ahead of you, and we can save a lot of lives. We're willing to back up our promises with actions.” Alice crossed her arms.
“Okay. So say I believe you. You just want to help us for nothing?”
“That's our job,” she said pointing at a pin on her lapel of a half sun/half moon symbol. “We help people like you rise up. Bring out the best in people.” She held out a hand to Alice, “We help people to never fall again.”
A Note From the Author:
I never dreamed this story would find the readership it has, or bring out the love that's been felt towards its characters. I can't wait to bring the future of the 10,000 Dawns Universe to you soon with 10,000 Dawns Anthology, and let you see what other writers do in this wondrous playground we've set up.
Your support, your unending patience and tolerance for the sometimes awkward realities of trying to craft a story every week (I can't wait to have the time to go back and fix some typos...), and your passion has meant so much to me. I couldn't have asked for nicer readers. Well, I could have, but it would have been weird. You guys are the best.
Thank you. I hope you've enjoyed the ride, but the coaster is still going.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.