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.
This feature is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can find all of (and download!) at this link: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-the-finale
The Mexico City Tapes
Originally, during the trial of Graelyn Scythes, the prosecution was going to actually play the tape of what was going on at Mexico city. I decided to delete the scene: it was simply too early to reveal that to the reader, but I have preserved the contents of the tape itself for the curious.
A video began playing on the wall. It showed rows and rows of cloning cylinders, each with an identical man inside the cylinder. They bobbed in their amniotic fluid calmly. Then one dropped from the cylinder, out a hole in its bottom, and out of view.
"Where does that go?" A voice said from behind the camera. The voice is familiar. The Camera cuts.
We pick up again in a new location, where the camera is moving through a door. One of the bodies drops from the cieling, and falls onto a conveyer belt. The newly born man looks around, taking his new world in, and is then a crane leans down and circles around his head.
"What's it doing?"
"Its scanning him for something. Maybe checking a wireless connection? Ah, he has chips in his head. I think it is getting a full set of data out of him." The crane lifts up, and the conveyer belt begins moving him.
"Can we turn that off?"
"I don't know how, the thing is armored as hell, Trevon start trying to figure out how."
"Yessir." Graelyn recognized the voices. It was Songbird's team.
The conveyer took the man down the room as the team tried to catch up with him, cursing. He was elevated, and none of them could seem to climb the smooth sides to reach him. The conveyer belt then dropped the man into something like a huge fishbowl. He stood there, naked, still wet from birth, and confused. The crane moved over him, and began blinking."
"What's it doing?" The man suddenly began screaming. The bowl was filling with gas, gas that seemed to settle into the bottom of the tall bowl and not rise out of its brim.
"Break the bowl, get him out of there!" The soldiers fired on the bowl, but it didn't break. They pounded on it, but it didn't break. The man inside was clearly in horrible pain, but kept trying to leap for the brim of the bowl, as the crane above him kept blinking. He focused.
"He's trying to Clegg." Alice said, in horrified amazement. He didn't Clegg fast enough. He fell to the floor of the bowl, seizure, foam oozing out of his mouth. He stopped moving. Someone screamed.
"Oh God." Jack said.
"Shut this thing off Trevon."
"...Almost got it." He said sadly. It only then became clear that he was, in fact, still breathing, when body dropped through the floor. It turned off. Stepping forward, Jack looked down at the floor.
"Where did he go?"
"You know." Alice replied. He nodded. "Lets move."
The camera cuts.
We are standing in front of the door we saw Alice walkthrough before in Chapter 9. The one she threw up after coming back out of. She approaches the door. She puts her hand on the handle an grimaces.
She opens the door, and steps through. The room is cavernous, and is clearly divided into two sections. one is filled with dead bodies. While the machines have been turned off, it is obvious what was happening, as the different stations are still filled with corpses in different poses. The people fell from the hole in the ceiling, and were picked up by a meat hook. The hook carried them through different stations where their different component parts were removed efficiently, one at a time. First the skin, then some muscles and fat, then organs, etc. each station was frozen in a grotesque pantomime, midway through the procedure. many of the corpses have bullet holes in their heads. They are not in the poses of people who were unconscious through the procedure. They look like they were screaming. Alice runs over to the man who fell through the ceiling, and helps him up. Chantelle found a blanket somewhere, and wraps him in it. He looks totally bewildered. "Get him somewhere safe. We're... Going to need a team upstairs to get the others when they are... Born." Alice stammers out.
"Yes ma'am." Chantelle replies.
Alice gestures for the camera to follow her. "When we came in here, it was silent, aside from the whirring of the machinery and the... The sounds of the... Of what they were doing. The victims were fully conscious. But...
They, they made no sound. Their uh, they, we checked a body and it wasn't born with vocal chords... So..." She looks down to the ground. "We turned the machines off. But many of them were... Impossible to save. They were... Vacating too many vital fluids. So I made the call to put them out of their misery." She puts her hand over her mouth as she says that. Her eyes are welling with tears. She steadies herself.
"I'm sorry. We still have the other half of the room..." She gestures. There are what look like pens for holing cattle. Then there are disection tables, littered with bodies in various states of experimentation. There are many machines next to the tables, but their purpose is unclear.
"We already removed all of the survivors to a safe location, but they were standing here when we arrived. Just... Waiting. Calmly. From reading the logs of the on duty scientists, it appears they were... Mass producing people in order to try to find the secret of what makes humans clegg. The ones who were strong enough to clegg hard enough to jump out of the fishbowl were then... Examined to try to find what made them special. Those who did not were taken apart for their parts to make more people to do this to. Taken apart, like cleaning a chicken." She turns to the camera. Her eyes are on fire. "Graelyn Scythes ordered this. She directed this. She planned this. These weren't people to her they were... They were... Lab rats. She's a monster. She see's people as nothing more than a harvest to feed her goals. She is a blight on everything. A walking plague." She is more serious than you have ever seen someone.
"She deserves no mercy from us."
The video ends.
This feature is part of the 10,000 Dawns Finale, which you can find all of (and download!) at this link:
We thought we'd give you a glimpse behind the scenes into making the art of this grand adventure!
Exhibit 1: The First Sketch of Graelyn and Arch! Notice how its similar, but how Annie refined the details in her final versions. Many ideas changed during the early visuals of the characters and world.
Exhibit 2: Chapter 12: The Confrontation (Sketch to final version). Here you can see the basics of how a drawing went from Concept to completion. Note the addition of the swords in the final version!
Exhibit 3: Chapter 16: The World Was Wider, the Sky Was Bolder (Sketch to Final Version). During development, the whole composition changed, with the final version suiting the chapter's tone better.
Exhibit 4: Chapter 22: The Pavements the Limit ( Several drafts to final version). Chapter 22 proved to be the absolute hardest piece to nail down the art for. The dramatic and heartbreaking scene of Graelyn's suicide attempt went through several concepts and iterations to get it right. You can see several of the ideas Annie and Jim went through in trying to bring the scene to life correctly, until they settled on the final version that perfectly captured the moment.
Welcome to our Special preview of 10,000 Dawns: Anthology! This summer you'll be able to read exciting tales delving into the history of the 10,000 Dawns Universe. From the machinations of the Index on the rim, to the war between Centro Systems and Mars, you'll get to explore amazing new worlds, meet fantastic new characters, as well as learn more about old favorites.
This Excerpt comes from a story about two new characters named Zhang Han and Cornelia Carthage: two friends, one of whom believes in a cause worth going to war for... And is going to great lengths to prove it. We hope you enjoy the excerpt, and come back to check out the Anthology as it posts on jameswylder.com!
You'll get to read stories not just by James Wylder, but a slew of other talented writers like:
Josephine Smiley, Taylor Elliott, Jordan Stout, Elizabeth Tock, Miguel Ramirez, Colby McClung, Evan Forman, Genevieve Clovis, Briana Stanford, and more!
10,000 Dawns: Anthology. Coming this summer.
Story by James Wylder
Art of Zhang Han and Cornelia Carthage by Raen Ngu
This is part of the 10,000 Dawns finale, and is available for download in PDF or epub formats along with the rest of the finale celebration here: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-the-finale
Cornelia slapped the chemical pad on the edge of the door and ripped the back off. The hiss that followed and the bright yellow glow showed it had done its job. Now, Han thought, they just had to get off of this rock. The guards on the other side of the doors began to pound on them like somehow their fists could overcome a third of a meter of metal.
“Was this really your plan? If this was your plan—“
“This wasn’t my plan.” Cornelia replied. They both panted for a moment, then Cornelia turned and grinned. Her smile was infuriating but she couldn’t help but start to turn her own frown into something she wouldn’t let quite form a smile. “Mostly. But I can adapt to it. Ever flown a rocket?” Han shook her head.
“I'm a Marine, not a pilot.” Cornelia nodded and ran over to the control console. She looked it over, frowning.
“This is surprisingly complex for something whose sole job is to go 'up'.”
“They call it rocket-science for a reason you know.”
“Yeah, and we stopped using these for a reason to.” Cornelia replied, thumbing a few switches, and pulling open a big panel to fiddle with the wires. The lights became brighter, and consoles lit up throughout the room. They might just get off Titania yet, even if it was on a missile. Cornelia brightened up.
“This orbital rocket is an old re-purposed passenger rocket, so it was built to carry people! I mean, its technically a bomb now, but it'll do.”
“Cornelia, this rocket it meant to blow up a Centro battleship in orbit, not let us survive the trip...”
“It was meant to let people survive the trip a hundred and fifty years ago. Do you have a better plan?” Their banter was cut off by a crackling sound on the overhead speakers. It was a man's voice.
“Your friend is right, you'll never survive lift off. We'll blow you up remotely.”
“I cut that system first.” Cornelia said, Han hadn't even noticed.
“Wise. We'll still shoot you down.”
“That's up for discussion.”
“You think you're worth talking to.”
“We are. Plural.” She replied.
“Of course. You and your little friend are guilty of crimes against our people now. You should feel honored I took the time to speak to you personally.” The man's voice replied.
“So, who do I have the honor of speaking to?” Han mouthed “honor” back at Cornelia while making finger quotes and doing a short mocking dance. Cornelia turned away and Han secretly hoped she was rolling her eyes. She was a bit disappointed to see Cornelia was just walking towards a voice panel on the wall.
“You have the prestige of speaking with Corinthian Candlelight, a First Holder of Titania.” Han tapped Cornelia on the shoulder and mouthed.
“Corinthian Candlelight? Seriously?”
“The names just keep getting worse and worse don’t they?” She mouthed back. They really did. Meeting 'Alabaster Armoire' had been bad enough as it was.
“Hi Corinthian Candlelight, I’m Cornelia Carthage.”
There was a pause on the other side, probably someone was pulling up files.
“Never heard of you.”
“Well, data dumps take a while to arrive from Earth don’t they?” The man on the other end grunted.
“You’re certainly giving up a lot of information.”
“I have nothing to be afraid of from you.” She said plainly. Han scoffed. Cornelia made a face.
“You have a lot to be afraid of, Cornelia Carthage. The Vigilance of the Free Slavehold of Titania isn’t for sale to anyone from Earth. You know nothing of what its like on the Rim. You sit in your alabaster cities, and you pretend that life here on the Rim can be governed by the principles you decided are moral. But morality is—“
“Isn’t calling this place a “free slavehold” kind of… stupid? Like, I’m not a refined gentlemen, but isn’t that not how words work?” Han interjected.
“You insolent snot—“
“Like do you point at trees and call them horses? Or point at yourself and call it ‘not a thumbsucker’?” Cornelia kept in a snicker.
“You Centro people are all the same. You grew up rich and fat on Earth.”
“—Actually I’m from Mars. Cornelia is from Earth. I’m Zhang Han, Martian asskicker. And yes, that’s an official title.” The man grunted.
“Then you of all people should understand what we fought to build here. What we toiled to—“
“What others toiled to do for you.”
“Our hands guided theirs.”
“Your hands are too slippery with blood to guide anything.” There was a pause as long as 5 heart beats.
“You will regret this. Foreign spies aren’t welcome on this moon, and your punlishment will be severe. Maybe I’ll cut out your tongues and make you my personal concubines.”
“Wow, you are an idiot.” Han said.
“Don’t expect the slaveholder to be particularly moral, Han.” Cornelia shrugged. “Anyways, we’re going to kill him, right?” Han looked at Cornelia. This whole stupid endeavor had been her ploy to this moment, this agonizing moment. She’d wanted her to see this place, this hellhole dressed up in posh dresses and frock coats. Their eyes met. Han’s teeth slid slowly onto the top of her lower lip.
She was done with the military.
She was quitting.
She was going to join her friends in the independent Mars student rallies.
Heck, she was going to be a student again.
She was going to ask out that cute girl from the Black Hole Lounge and...
“Yeah. We’re going to kill him.” Han said, and she knew Cornelia had been right. These people on Titania, hidden in darkness and surrounded by gilded lights were now in two groups: those who she would kill, and those who would be liberated. She'd seen hell out here during the Rim Gang Wars, trying to bring order in the name of Centro Systems... But Cornelia wasn't just about order. She was about morality. Titania had been built on the backs of slaves, and it was a crime Han couldn't turn her back on. She had to do this. The pointless war on the Rim had changed in her head, a switch had flipped, and there was no going back. Cornelia grinned.
“Bold words, but you aren’t getting off this moon alive.”
“Am I not?” Cornelia said, bemused. Han really hoped she actually had something up her sleeve.
“We'll shoot your rocket down the minute it launches.”
“Will you?” Cornelia mused, and pulled a tablet out of her pocket, which was close enough to a sleeve in this case that Han was willing to let it count. The tablet lit up, showing a map of blips around the city.
“Because you gave me a full tour of your facilities, and its entirely possible I left things scattered around at the following co-ordinates. You might not want to touch them. They're dirty bombs, they'd ruin all the careful terraforming you've been having your slaves do to this moon... But its your call, I wouldn't want to decide for you.”
There was silence, and Han stared at Cornelia. This woman had thought this through so far ahead. Even when they were in a corner, she had a contingency. Any lingering doubt left her: she would gladly follow Cornelia into her war. Back into her nightmares.
“You wouldn't dare.” The man said, his voice cracking.
“I always dare.” She replied. “Now choose.”
This is the second half of a special two part bonus story! You can find the first part HERE: http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-bonus-story-10-part-1
Make sure to come back next week for the Grand Finale of Graelyn and Arch's adventure!
If you missed it, check out our big announcement about the Finale of the serial 10,000 Dawns story!
If you're new to 10kd, you can read all of it for free below:
You can read this story in PDF or Epub formats below:
The Mask of Apollo, Part 2
Ten Days Earlier
Kinan fiddled with the mask, and made a soft sound of annoyance.
“It doesn't fit... Do I really have to wear this the whole time?”
“Kinan, can I remind you whose plan this was? This plan you made up?” Kinan looked at her through the mask, and shrugged.
“Get me some padding foam and some glue.”
John and Miranda looked at Lametrius who was crossing her arms.
“I'll fix it later, can we go ahead and get this done?” Kinan nodded, and casually threw a handfull of crystal dust into the air, steping into the swirling portal she created as though it was a living room door. The portal led right into a massive hall, the main hall of a temple from the looks of it, where a throng of worshipers was standing in line to make libations to a statue of Apollo. Everyone stared at her. In a few moments, a proud looking Lametrius entered, wearing a very nice Hermes costume that looked a bit more like a superhero outfit than a period costume, Jenny who had barely changed to make herself look like Artemis (she had a bow, and had put a crescent moon on her hairband), and John and Miranda who were both on their phones. A man pouring a libation stood holding the cup, his mouth agape.
“Hi.” Kinan began. “I'm the god Apollo. The God of your city. Glorius as the morningtide.” She held her arms out wide. “Behold me mortals, and be afraid. Behold me and be glad.”
“You're not Apollo!” A priest shouted from next to the libation area, pointing wildly with his finger. Kinan sighed, and pointed at a vase, which exploded. Then she pointed at the ceiling and a swirling disk of fire appeared in it. Then she pressed a button on her belt and the Disco Remix “A Fifth of Beethoven” began playing from a speaker in her bag. Then she blew up another vase, just in case. The priest lowered his finger.
“Okay then... All hail Apollo! Welcome to our city! All hail his sister Artemis! All hail Hermes! All hail...” He looked at John and Miranda. “Their helpers!” John gave a thumbs up.
* * * *
Kinan entered back in through the walls, the sounds of the Greek army falling into confusion following loudly behind her. Jenny, or rather Artemis, hopped down from the wall and caught up with her.
“Was it really necessary to be that dramatic?” Kinan didn't answer, just handed her the stool. Jenny chucked it to the side of the street where one of the adoring throng grabbed it, and held it above her head in triumph yelling about having the stool of a god.
“Where's Hermes?” She finally said.
“Consulting with King Priam.”
Kinan just nodded, and they made their way to the royal palace. Troy was a magnificent city, but it was a much smaller one than most people would think. The world was much smaller then, its whole population dwarfed easily by colonies on other worlds considered tiny by the standards of Earth, which had tens of billions of people. Mars only had around 1 billion, and it still outdid the whole of this past. And yet, for its time it was grand. A time when single warriors could distinguish themselves so much in battle that armies trembled at the thought of them. Not because they were such incredible warriors compared to the present, but because every death was such a larger percent of humanity. Outside the walls, the Greek camp seemed to writhe in the wind, a mess of tarps and cloth fitted into the dirt and sand.
King Priam was an old man, but a fit one. He had the kind of muscles that were built into his frame over too many years to really ever get rid of all of them. His son, Hector, had the kind of muscles you saw in a body building magazine. Lametrius sat talking to both of them as Jenny and Kinan entered into the chamber.
“Ah, Apollo, Artemis. I was just telling the King about how we plan to relieve the food woes of his people.” Apollo nodded.
“Have you informed him of why we're here?” Lametrius looked at Kinan like she was going off script during a stage play.
Apollo looked at Priam.
“I'm going to fight Poseidon and Zeus. They should arrive to aid the Greeks soon.” Priam rose.
“My Lord Apollo... I can't imagine a battle of the gods will leave much left for us Mortals.” Apollo stared at him.
“Yes my Lord?”
“Let me know if you detect the arrival of other gods.” Lametrus frowned.
“Yes my lord.” Kinan began to exist, and Lametrius followed her till they were out of earshot.
“Kinan, what are you doing?”
“Luring Zeus and Poseidon here, exactly what I said.” Lametrius grabbed her by the arm.
“Don't give me that crap. What are you doing. This city is counting on us!” Apollo leaned down to stare into her eyes.
“This city is as good as dead, and always has been.” They didn't look away from each other.
“You might think its fine and dandy to walk into other people's lives and treat them like numbers on a spreadsheet, but people's lives are worth more than that Kinan. These people's to.” Kinan straightened her back.
“They're a means to an end. Do you see the worn walls of this city? They'll crumble. The Greeks will massacre this city in ten thousand realitites, commit crimes unspeakable, and yet so easily spoken. Would you have me save them all?” Lametrius scoweled, and walked over to a window, where she pointed out at the rows of buildings. Some children were kicking around an inflated sheep's bladder.
“I don't expect you to achieve miracles. I expect you to finish what you've started when you start it. These people expect us to save them. We can't just let them die.”
Kinan cocked her head to the side, the weighty mask glimmering off the light from the window. “You don't expect me to fight for them?”
“I expect you to be willing to sacrifice the city to meet your goals.”
“Don't badger me with this Lametrius. This is a trolly problem. If a city dies to save a universe, would you be so averse?” She was about to respond, but Kinan cut her off. “Regardless, that isn't my plan anyways. I'm drawing out gods.”
“And by gods you don't mean like, actual gods?”
* * * *
Agamemnon had drunk a lot of wine tonight. His finest warrior had fled with his boyfriend, and many troops had followed them. The war was not going well, not at all. He downed another goblet of the stuff, and snapped for his wine boy to bring him more. He snapped again. Nothing. Turning around, and the first sound of a yell beginning to seep out of his lips Agamemnon saw a pair of figures in black robes, each with a colored stripe running up one side of their garment. He set the cup down, and fumbled for his blade.
“Name yourselves. Where is my wine boy and how did you...”
He didn't finish. They pulled down their hoods, and he dropped to his knees.
“My gods.” He said. Poseidon and Zeus looked at each other. One rubbed their beard, having not shapeshifted from a clean shorn female form for the last few years, this thick beard was a stark change.
“Agamemnon,” Zeus said, “Poseidon and I have instruction for you, which you must follow to the letter.” Agamemnon nodded.
“Whatever you ask. Any sacrifice will be supplied.” Zeus waved a hand dismissively.
“That won't be necessary.” When he described what would be, Agamemnon was certainly confused.
* * * *
Kinan had slept in Apollo's throne, and woke up to a temple priestess bringing her a breakfast of cheese and grapes. It wasn't bad eating at all, though Kinan doubted the hygiene of the kitchen staff. She was lounging in the throne, kicking her legs back and forth, when Hector came running into the temple completely out of breath. She stopped kicking her legs and got immediately erect and godlike.
“What is it?” She asked. Hector bowed, and then fell to his knees.
“My lord Apollo, the Greeks have given us a gift, a giant wooden horse, the symbol of their god Poseidon.” Kinan rose to her feet. They weren't supposed to be doing that yet, it was way too early in the war for that! Then again she had messed up history... But then her mind snapped into place.
Of course. She'd gotten what she wanted. They'd noticed her.
“Take me to it.” She ordered. Hector rose, bowed again, and led her to the horse, which Jenny and Lametrius were already inspecting. Helen was walking around the horse, imitating the voices of Greek soldier's wives to draw them out if they were inside it.
“Why did you bring it inside the city walls?” Kinan asked Hector.
“The King ordered it my lord, the Greeks have packed up their camp and--” She walked past him. She'd read the book. The horse was big, and looked just like you've seen in the movies. She approached it, and ran her hand along the wood. Jenny and Lametrius approached her.
“There's no one inside it.” Jenny said.
“Are you sure?” Kinan said.
“Nearly positive.” Lametrius replied. “I'd have to crack it open to be sure.” Kinan nodded.
“I'll take a look inside it myself. Is there an entry point?” Lametrius pointed to a spot on the horse's belly. Kinan walked below it, and testing her legs for a moment, jumped straight up to grab onto the spaces between the planks of the wood. Lifting her legs up, she kicked out the hatch, as the crowd around the horse gasped, then swung inside it with an acrobatic leap. Kinan stared around in the darkness, and pulled out a flashlight, which she shone around the empty center. There was only one thing in the darkness: a single metal capsule. Approaching it, Kinan examined the markings on it, bringing the flashlight close to read the words.... Then stepped back, dropped the flashlight, and scampered backwards nearly falling out of the hole. Composing herself, she elegantly dropped down out of the hole, and tried to look as calm as she could as she walked towards her comrades.
“So what's in there?” Jenny said, throwing a rubber ball she'd somehow acquired up in the air over and over again.
“We have a situation.” Kinan said softly.
“What kind of situation?”
“They put a nuclear bomb inside of the Trojan horse.”
“What!?!” Jenny and Lametrius said in unison.
“Not so loud.” Kinan whispered, “The crowd is still here.”
“And why hasn't it gone off?” Lametrius asked.
“Because they wanted to wait till we were right next to it in case we-- Oh.” Kinan reached into her bag, and began running, she started pouring crystal dust in a circle, and Jenny and Lametrius followed. John and Miranda, who had been lazily sipping wine over by a haberdashery, leapt into action as well. The five of them made a circle of crystal dust around the horse, which Kinan struck with her sword, and a white swirling portal appeared inside of. The horse fell through, as Kinan crossed her fingers it wouldn't go off. Not yet, at least. As the ears of the horse sunk through the ground, she let out a sigh of relief.
“Hector, tell your father not to trust Greeks bearing gifts.” Apollo yelled as the swirling hole in reality closed.
Zeus and Poseidon were enjoying the attention from the Greeks, but they also very much just wanted to get on with trying to fix the mess in chronology that Kinan had caused.
“May we offer you more wine?” Menelaus asked.
“No, we're fine.” Poseidon said.
“Look, uh, my Lord. This whole war was stared because my property, you know, my wife Helen ran off with this guy named Paris because he 'treated me like a person' or something silly. Anyways, she's really really hot, and I know you're going to wreak vengeance on the city, but is there any chance you could get her back and make her into me again?” Poseidon and Zeus looked at each other, and each of them sighed internally.
“Look....” Zeus began.
“No.” Poseidon finished.
“Okay, yeah, that's cool I mean...” Poseidon shoved him away and walked to the portcullus of the ship. There was something falling from the sky.
“Arbiter.” She said, giving up on the beard, “We have a problem.” Zeus shoved her aside, and looked up at the falling nuclear horse.
“Well that's not good.”
* * * *
The mushroom cloud could be seen for miles. It had taken all of their efforts to shield the city from radiation, mainly with a portable shield generator they'd rigged up, but the truth was that they were low on crystal dust as it was, and very short on time. The city would likely die of radiation poisoning, and their crops and the fish in the sea were all either dead or poisonous. They'd have to evacuate all of Troy somewhere else. The blinding white flash had stunned the city, and they watched the Greek fleet vaporized from afar, not entirely aware what they had even just witnessed. The streets of the city bowed before them, and Lametrius and John looked fairly uncomfortable with it.
“Jesus Christ Kinan. You dropped the nuke on them. Jesus.”
“Maybe I finally have their attention. I was hoping the harp would be enough.”
Several minutes passed in silence, and then two black robed figures stepped out of a suddenly appearing swirling portal. Kinan looked into the crowd and saw a woman clutching a wooden stool to her chest. She gestured for her to come forward, and she did so. Kinan took the stool from her, sat down, and puled her harp out of her bag to begin playing it. The figured approached her, the city surrounded them.
“You moron. You killed every Greek who went into this war. You've ruined the history here. The Nuclear fallout alone...”
“You did that, actually.”
The other figure cut in, “We wanted you to run away! End your pointless game. We had safeguards in place so it didn't extend outside the city... But you ruined that!” Kinan kept strumming the harp.
“You seem to be at a complete loss as to what I want.” The two figures looked at each other, then crossed their arms in tandem.
“Okay, then, what do you want?” The male figure said.
“This.” Kinan replied.
“What do you mean, 'this', an ecological and chronological disaster?”
“No, for you to actually show up and listen to me. Do you even realize how hard it is to talk to you?”
“Dawn is a criminal and illegal army not recognized by the Last Firmament.” The female figure said.
“Yes, and thus, its very hard for me to get to speak to you.” The strumming continued. It sounded like 'Smoke on the Water.' “I called you, I sent ambassadors to you, I made friends with groups who you kicked out like the Knights of Sky. I tried over and over, yet you're willing to talk to a Council that burns whole worlds rather than me. So I did the only thing you couldn't resist: I burned history to the ground, and I did it dramatically. I played god, and got ontop of the high horse you reserved for yourself. Isn't it fun?” The Arbiter was becoming angrier.
“No, its not fun. The damage to this reality is nearly irreparable!” A humored sigh escaped the mask of Apollo.
“Now now gods, we all know that isn't true. Dawn is more than willing to help. As long as the resulting fix doesn't involve the casualties or war crimes that it would if it had run its course naturally.” The Arbiter gritted his teeth, then got himself new teeth and gritted those instead for a more satisfying sound.
“Fine. We'll fake the Greek army's memories. But for you to change history, you yourself will now have to go back in time before you went back in time and stop your own actions.”
“I'm not a newbie, I know how it works.”
“Only you can-”
“Yes. But for me to do that, you have to listen.” The Arbiter threw up his hands.
“Fine, what exactly do you want to talk about?” Kinan set down the harp and stood up. Her blue eyes shone through the gaps in the mask.
“You have a treaty with the Council. A Council who will burn whole worlds worse than the Greeks would burn this city. What if I told you I could make that treaty null and void, would you be willing to sign a new pact, one against their Empire? After all, they've basically made you into their tribute state. You're poor gods as it is.” The Arbiter crossed his arms.
“Good.” Kinan said, her face was the sun, and it reflected all things. The Firmament changed before her. “Then lets talk. An end to our war, if I bring you an end to your own subjugation.”
“Fine, but could you take that mask off already?” Apollo cocked his head.
“I'm not sure I understand, this is my face? Or perhaps you should go first. After all, I've always been the sun.”
Our hiatus continues with yet another bonus story! This one has been broken up into two parts, look for the second half soon!
If you missed it, check out our big announcement about the Finale of the serial 10,000 Dawns story!
If you're new to 10kd, you can read all of it for free below:
You can read this story in PDF or Epub formats below:
The Mask of Apollo (Part 1) by James Wylder
Lametrius carefully brushed the dirt off of the golden mask. Behind her, J-14 continually scanned her excavation, while Kinan and Jenny played cards on a mostly-flat rock. John and Miranda Vice were watching something on a tablet, while a few other Dawn members bustled around the dig site.
“Is it all dug out yet?” Jenny said sullenly.
“Hush.” Kinan said, playing a card that brought a scowl to Jenny's face.
Lametrius had finally worked away the excess dirt, and pulled out her flashlight, sticking it inbetween her teeth. It was daytime, but she wanted to see it shine, and oh did it shine. Gently, she lifted the mask out of the soil, and ran her thumb across it.
“Its in such good shape... I can't believe its so intact.” Jenny slapped a card down and swept a pile of cards up off the rock.
“Its so intact cause we traveled back in time to get it.”
“I thought it would be more, you know, melted.” Kinan folded, and walked over to the dig site. She hopped down into the hole, and looked at the shining mask.
“Huh.” She said. Lametrius frowned.
“You see one of the most beautiful pieces of goldworking in history, and you say 'huh'?” Kinan shrugged. “This is the mask of a God!”
“This is the mask of a man who dressed up as a god. Not that there is much of a difference.”
“Oh not this again.” Jenny cut in. Lametrius carried the mask out of the hole, and held it up to the sun. It was an important mask after all, and this was its counterpart. It was only right the mask of Apollo see the sun. It's features were perfect: some Trojan craftsman had put all their knowledge into this mask, and even a strong oponent of religon could see how someone could be taken in by its majesty. Without any pomp or grandeur, Kinan lightly took the mask out of her hands, and placed it upon her face. Turning to the group, she held her arms out as though telling the sun to continue its journey through the sky.
“Well, how do I look?”
She'd hate the truth, because she looked utterly like some sort of demi-god. With her binder on under her shirt, and the boyish features of the Apollo mask, Kinan took on an androgynous beauty out of myth.
“I think,” Miranda said, “that you're going to play the part in your plan perfectly.”
* * * *
The halls of the Firmament's government were older than time. Not that that was a sentence that particularly made sense, but it was true, sort of, maybe. At the very least people liked to say it was. Today though, the Courier of Stagnation was wishing that perhaps someone could have updated the internal transportation system. Maybe they could at least key her soul to the elevator so she wouldn't have to run up the steps? She was here to see the Arbiter of Chronology, and that was never the most fun. At least the Arbiter of Causality or the Arbiter of Infinity had a sense of humor. The Arbiter of Chronology on the other hand may as well have written a book on not getting people's jokes. Actually, he might have actually done that. She wasn't particularly sure anymore. She got to his thick Oak doors, and knocked. Then she knocked again. Eventually a hooded figure cracked the door.
“You know damn well why I'm here Lesser of Evils, and don't even try to pretend you're Greater of Good it still hasn't been funny since you started that last milenia.” The hooded figure awkwardly got out of her way as she barged into the Arbiter's office.
“Hey, Arbiter.” She said boldly. The Arbiter looked up, annoyed. “You do realize Dawn number 624 is having a massive, massive temporal disturbance right now?”
“I'm aware.” He droned. The room was coated in bookshelves-- and that wasn't an exaggeration. Bookshelves lined every wall, they were on the ceiling, somehow held in place from falling on their heads, and they sat below their feet. The Arbiter's desk was made of wood, but it too was stacked with books.
“I'm very busy writing history you know. There is quite a lot of it, and the annoying thing about it is it keeps happening. I really have a lot to catch up on.” Stagnation rolled her eyes, and moved to sit down. Books flew up from the floor to make a chair for her. She straightened her black robes, and tried to make the single off-center yellow stripe on them straight.
“If we don't fix this, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands. There are massive chronological repercussions to this, it seems very likely most people we were planning on having be born in that universe's future, indeed counting on, will not be.” He looked up from his book, and placed his quill in a holder.
“Its Dawn. They're changing things.”
“Dawn is always changing things. That's essentially their entire reason for existing. But usually they only manipulate later history, which is fairly innocuous.” She slammed her fist on a book on his desk dramatically, and he gave her a sour look. She pulled her hand back apologetically.
“Look, Arbiter, this is early history.”
“They wouldn’t dare. They know what happened why they tried to change the result at old Nojpeten…” She leaned in.
“They dare. You want to know what they did?” He sighed.
* * * *
Achilles walked in front of the Greek line, yelling his speech. He was talking them up, but also talking himself up. He hoped Patroclus was listening, after all, he was basically the cutest thing alive. He banged on his breastplate dramatically. Agamemnon and Menelaus were watching from the back. They were dressed in the best armor money could buy, but they knew who should go first. Looking up at the walls, Achilles had a momentary sense of doubt. Could they break these walls? Take Troy? He knew hypothetically they could… But in practice? He shook his head and beat his chest. He was a gorilla, or a lion, or… He tried to tell himself he was a man and cast out the doubts of his young age.
“Tonight, my Myrmidons, we will strike the heart of Troy, and they shall fear us for eternity!” The troops cheered, pounding the pommels of their spears into the dirt and yelling and chanting. Achilles soaked it all in, he was glorious, he was a--
“Fool.” A booming voice said from the walls of Troy. “Are you not aware this is my city?”
The gates opened, and the Myrmidons formed a shield wall, as a single figure walked out of the gates. The figure wore a long brown coat, and their face shone like the sun, molded of gold. In one hand they held a simple stool carved from a log, and in the other they held a harp. The figure faced the army, threw its stool down, sat on it, and began to strum out a refined melody on the harp. Everyone expected something to change but it just... Kept playing.
The soldiers looked at each other confused. Achilles was right there with them, but kept his calm. Looking back to Agamemnon, he hoped for an order. Agamemnon gestured to an archer, who notched his bow and carefully aimed an arrow at the harpist. With a downward chopping motion, he gave the signal, and the arrow let fly!
The harpist's hand moved like a whiplash, and grabbed the arrow out of the air, lightly dropped it on the sandy soil, and returned to strumming their harp. That certainly hadn't been what Achilles or Agamemnon expected. Achilles ran back through the lines to consult with the Kings. Most of them looked shocked, Odysseus was laughing his head off, however.
“That was downright impossible.” Agamemnon sputtered.
“We'll just wait them out, he'll have to get tired sometime.” Menelaus muttered. Odysseus laughed again, rolling his eyes.
“Meneleus, do you really think a creature from heaven or earth with the skill to grab an arrow on the air doesn't know exactly what they are doing in standing in front of us?” He chided.
“He's goading us!” Agamemnon yelled.
“How are we so sure its a man?” Achilles asked. All turned to him. Agamemnon raised his arms in greeting.
“Ah, our finest soldier. What insights do you have?” Achilles thought for a moment, Odysseus watched him. They met eyes, and Odysseus nodded, as if very curious what the boy had to say.
“They're trying to confuse us. It doesn't matter what action we take here, regardless of how we respond our men now know that the enemy can drop us to a standstill.” Odysseus smiled, and nodded to him. Agamemnon was a bit less calm, in that he began to throw a temper tantrum, yelling and kicking, and landing several blows on his cup bearer who crumpled over clutching his head, the wine he was carrying sinking into the ground.
“There's no need for that...” Odysseus said, with exasperation. They waited it out.
“Achilles!” He finally yelled, “Go kill that harpist.” Achilles nodded, and without another word began to walk through the lines to the harpist.
He reached the golden masked figure, and drew his sword. The music stopped, and the figure slowly raised its golden face to him. Beneath the mask, he could see pale blue eyes. Neither of them moved for a moment, Achilles' chest rose and fell, and he pointed his sword at the harpist.
“Arm yourself.” The harpist slowly tilted their head.
“Arm myself? What if I'm an army.” Achilles spat on the dirt.
“You're just a man with a boring sense of humor.”
“Am I?” It said back. “Someone really should have told me that before, I had no idea.” It began to play the harp again, and he thrust the sword under the man's mask.
“Fight me or die.”
“You can't kill a god, mortal. Didn't you hear what I said? This is my city.” Achilles felt his sword wobbling in his hands, and then it was pulled free! It flew spinning through the air, up to the top of the city walls. “Its time for you Greeks to go home.” Achilles was stunned, the troops were stunned, the kings were stunned. The figure resumed playing its harp.
“You can call me Apollo. I will go back in the city walls at sundown.” Achilles nodded, totally unsure of what he was suppose to say in reply to that. “Go, shoo. Tell your kings to go home.”
“They brought us here. Paris kidnapped Helen, Menelaus' wife and--” The god laughed.
“You really believe that? That the woman who taunts you every day from the city walls is here not of her own choice? You're being played for a fool Achilles. These men hold no love towards you aside from your skill with a sword. Do you really think they care for your life, or the life of your lover Patroclus?” Achilles blushed.
“We uh... Aren't lovers...”
“Achilles, don't lie to a god please its just embarrassing.”
“...Okay fine we're lovers.” Apollo threw his hands out.
“See? That wasn't so hard. Anyways everyone knows it. Well, aside from a few Historians who desperately want to ignore textual evidence who will say you're 'friends' but, they're the minority. You have a nice boyfriend. Don't die here with him.” Achilles took a step backwards, still facing Apollo, and then another, and then another.
He made his way all they way back to the lines of his men, bumping into one of their breastplates.
“Achilles, what did they say?” Agamemnon yelled, but Achilles didn't wait any longer. He pushed threw the soldiers, and made his way back to the camp. Finding his way to their tent, he pulled it open, and stepped inside, Patroclus sat up from the cot.
“Achilles, what...” But Achilles didn't say anything, he simply ran to his lover and kissed him.
“We're leaving.” He said, “This war is for fools.”
* * * *
“So do you see why we need to intervene?” Courier of Stagnation exclaimed. “They're ruining everything! That reality is going to be massively changed.” The Arbiter nodded, slowly.
“Well then, I suppose its time to take drastic action.” Courier smiled, good. “Its time for Dawn to face the night.”
Tune in soon for the dramatic conclusion! And make sure you visit jameswylder.com on March 3rd for the final chapters of the Serial 10,000 Dawns Adventure!
You've waited patiently...
...And now we can finally tell you when you can read the dramatic resolution to the 10,000 Dawns Adventure!
Dawn Rises March 3rd: The 10,000 Dawns Finale
For immediate release.
On March 3rd, 2016 the weekly journey readers have been taking for over half a year with the serial fictions story “10,000 Dawns” on jameswylder.com will come to an end, and a whole new set of futures will rise to follow it!
Written by James Wylder, and illustrated by Annie Zhu, 10,000 Dawns tells the story of a girl named Graelyn who is thrown into an alternate reality by a failed experiment, and finds herself having to confront paths in her life she never thought she could take. Filled with adventure, drama, and soft character moments, 10,000 Dawns is a unique Sci-Fi story about travelling through universes, finding yourself, and cats. With a steady readership eager for the conclusion, Mr. Wylder and Ms. Zhu have chosen to release the last three chapters of the story together on March 3rd, so the ending can be enjoyed to the fullest.
But that’s not all, long with three full chapters of the story, the finale will also include bonus features such as: Interviews with the creative team behind 10,000 Dawns, essays, A deleted scene from the Serial tale (that’s still canon!), and most importantly of all…
A preview of the exciting follow up, coming this summer: “10,000 Dawns: Anthology” which will expand and explore the universes of 10,000 dawns with all new adventures by writers such as: Josephine Smiley, Taylor Elliott, Jordan Stout, Elizabeth Tock, Luther Siler, Evan Forman, Genevieve Clovis, Brianna Stanford, James Wylder and more!
If you haven’t read 10,000 Dawns, now is the perfect time to catch up on the story (for free!) at jameswylder.com. There is also an audio podcast version of every chapter available (still for free!) from the Southgate Media Group.
10,000 Dawns Story Archive: http://www.jameswylder.com/read-every-chapter
Southgate Media Group Page: http://www.southgatemediagroup.com/10000dawns
Some important news before we start! If you're listening to our audio version (which is still a bit behind) this week you're going to notice we have a new theme song! The amazing Indianapolis musician Alex Rose has contributed our new theme song, "Space Adventure"! Its a wonderful song that really hits both the joy and sadness of 10,000 Dawns, and we really hope you enjoy it. Its going to be on her new album "Written All Over You" later this year, so keep a lookout for it! As a special treat you can download an MP3 of the song right here:
You can find Alex Rose on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Alexroseandthemagicalacoustic
And her Bandcamp (with another free download!) here: http://alexroseandthemagicalacoustic.bandcamp.com
Second, check back here tomorrow for the results of our 10,000 Dawns Bonus Story and Art Contest. Voting was intense, and went right up to the wire, so you won't want to miss the results!
Third off, yes, this is the last 10kd Chapter for a few weeks (but not story!). We'll be dropping the last few chapter all in one bundle in a few weeks, and we can promise you it will be worth the wait! Till then we will have bonus chapters filling in the gap, so you won't be going a week without 10kd in your life! Its been a joy bringing this story to you, and I can't wait to see it to the end... -Jim
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
All chapters are now available as a podcast from the Southgate Media Group!
You can subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
You can download the latest chapter below in PDF or epub formats:
Chapter 25: Half-Millenia Monsters
Dave Barker wiped the sweat off his face. The bomber was diving too fast, and the controls weren't responding. After all the flack they had taken, he wasn't surprised, but he still tried` jerking the controls, flipping the switches. He knew he was dead, but he still tried. He looked at the picture of Katherine he had pinned up on the console. He sighed.
“Our lives are just, corporeal tangents you know.” He said, stirring the coffee a year and a half ago.
She laughed, “What on earth does that even mean?”
“It means that our souls are eternal, we live on in our spirits and the lives we touch. Bits of us live on in humanity, we keep around bits of our history just by the act of existing. Each of us is just a corporeal manifestation of a part of the larger story of humanity, a tangent that is going to end someday in a grave. But though the tangent stops, the writer always gets back on course, and takes us somewhere new, carrying on parts of the past, not the best or the most good parts, more important than that, the parts that mattered enough for us to make as corporeal in our own flesh.”
“You are a pretentious snot Dave.” He smiled, “I am, but I honestly believe that.”
She raised her cup of coffee in a sort of salute, “Then maybe sincerity is part of your tangent.”
“Maybe I can be part of yours.”
“Is that your pick up line? A giant rambling pseudo-philosophical rant? Seriously.”
He shrugged, “I can't do anything better than a rambling rant, especially the pseudo-philosophical kind.” She smirked. “Then maybe sincerity is something I can get behind. At the very least, it will make an interesting tangent.” He'd made her that pin, and now she'd never see him--
He looked behind him, there was a woman there in a slightly baggy grey-white jumpsuit with a strange metal collar, she had a helmet in one of her hands, and glasses on her face.
“No time.” The woman pulled out something like a blow torch, and burned out a chunk of the floor in a split second. Jerry had come up from the back and was staring as well. She reached in, and placed a weird thing like a disk with metal spider legs in the hole, which began gyrating and whipping its limbs around. He felt the controls responding to his touch, and he jerked the plane back into the air.
“Special agent Graelyn Scythes. Don't ask how I got on the plane, its classified or something. Oh and look, I have a pin that looks just like yours, remember that.”
“Dave what's going on?”
“Shut up Jerry. Now Dave, lets get this plane back home.”
* * * * *
They landed to some surprise, and there was a big bustle as people ran up to the airplane. “How did you make it out alive?” the usual banal banter you get when people survive an ambush.
Graelyn rolled her eyes at the soldiers and officers who questioned why she was here, and flashed her forged identification, and then saw the base commander whom she showed her forged letter from FDR to. Knowing where she was going had its advantages. She didn't pay too much attention through all of it, She heard a big mix of “its an honor to have you here” and sexist 1940's garbage. She took the boat back to the country called the “United States” with all the enthusiasm of someone forced to go on a vacation they didn't want to. She tried to enjoy herself, to see the sights and taste the treats, but it all felt hollow. The boat rocked on the ocean as she sunned herself on the deck reading a book. The captain had protested, but she had a letter from FDR. She read a paperback copy of “the Great Gatsby”, a book about a man who tried to bring the past back by building his own private empire. But the past didn't come back and somebody shot him dead. “You can't bring back the past.”
“Oh but you can, old sport. You can.”
She rubbed her eyes from under her large sunglasses. Everyone wanted to go to the past it seemed but Graelyn, and she was the only one doing it. Life was often ironic and unfair. She thought about Arch, longing for his lost family. She could see him turning into Gatsby, rebuilding his home and trying to replicate his strange dead society... But it wouldn't work. She looked out at the ocean and it felt as far away to her as her own passions. She closed the paperback, finished, and turned over to sun her back. This tangent had no meaning to her, but at least she could get a tan.
* * * *
She was greeted at the docks by many men in military uniforms. She wished there had been some women in the gang sent to find her, and was sorely disappointed by the past.
“Graelyn Scythes?” A man in a very starched uniform said.
“Thats-a-me.” She replied.
“By the order of the United States Government, you're under arrest for forging executive documents.”
“Am I?” She replied.
“You treasonous dog.”
“I'm not a US Citizen you know, I'm actually Russian.” He scowled.
“I literally celebrate Alexander Hamilton's birthday as a holiday, lets not get carried away here.” The man's scowl deepened.
“I have orders to take your disrespectful self to meet with the President himself. Now I don't know why he wants to meet with you...”
“Because I'm a hero, now get me in the car already.” She sighed, leaning on the rail of the gangplank. He narrowed his eyes.
The White House was a museum, in Graelyn's time, and she'd visited there when her Father in Annapolis had gotten some visitation time with her. He'd shown her through the building, telling her facts about the different rooms. She'd even gotten to sit in the President's chair. The museum didn't get that many visitors, but it got enough to keep itself funded. She had spun around in the chair a few times while the tour guide texted his boyfriend on his cellphone, and imagined ruling a nation from that spot.
“I could get used to this.” She had thought to herself.
“Come on Graelie, I'll show you the picture of your favorite.” Holding his hand, they walked to the painting of Alexander Hamilton. She stared. Slowly, they made their way through paintings of other important figures.
“Who is that one dad?”
“That,” her father said, “is Franklin Dellano Roosevelt. He, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin helped win World War II together. He also interred people from Japan in camps during the war.”
“You mean Japanese spies?”
“No, just everyday people.” She nodded, and they moved on. She wished, as she was led through the White House while it was actually used, that she had paid more attention then. She was wearing her dress clothes again, rather than the spacesuit, so at least she looked nice, even if she was still looking massively anachronistic. A man led her to the President's office, and opened the door. Stepping in, she saw the silhouette of a man at a desk, a think line of smoke rising from a cigarette in a holder in his mouth.
“So,” FDR began, “you're our mysterious visitor.”
“And you're the leader of the Former Uni- of the United States of America.” An eyebrow raised on the man's face, and he gestured for her to come closer. He didn't look as ominous up close. He looked tired, ill, old. “My name is Graelyn Scythes.”
“So I've been told. You saved one of our airplanes, popping in out of nowhere on it, and then saved the pilot and the crew from certain death. Then you used a forged letter I never wrote in order to get through several layers of security.” Graelyn nodded, taking a seat in front of the desk.
“Yep, that about sums it up actually.”
“So then, I think you owe me an explanation.” Graelyn shrugged, reached into her pocket, pulled out her tablet, and switched it to hologram projection mode. She then pulled up a hologram of a man walking on the moon, not Neil Armstrong obviously, just a guy taking a casual stroll, with the Earth in the background. The cigarette fell out of FDR's mouth, smattering ash on the desk.
“I'm from the future.” She said. He nodded dumbly. “I've been sent here by the... United Nations Time Policing force. I'm here to retrieve another member of our personel that...” She was lying now, and winging it, and hoping she sounded believable. “...felll into enemy hands. It could upset the United States winning the war.”
“Good God, another one of you.”
“I mean, another time traveler. You get briefed on this when you become president, but I assumed three was going to be my limit. And none of them showed off their...” He waved at the hologram. “Usually they just shoot something in the office dramatically so it vaporizes, or show me a picture of my funeral or something.
“Ah.” Graelyn said.
“So, one of your agents has fallen into Nazi hands?” Graelyn nodded. FDR rubbed his forehead.
“Do you know where?” She shook her head. “What's he look like? What's his name?”
“Well, he's entirely coated in armor that acts like TV screens-” a knowing look came into FDR's eyes, and she stopped. He picked up is phone.
“Bring the file on the Machine-Man in here imediately.”
“Ah.” She said again, maybe this would be easier than she thought.
“We were already planning on sending a mission there, an airdrop.”
“Could I request Dave Barker be a pilot on the mission.” FDR picked up the cigarette, and puffed it. The smoke was noxious, and clearly filled with carcinogins. Graelyn scrunched her nose up.
“I suppose so. We'll simply add you to the mission roster. Let you take care of your buisiness.” She nodded.
“I do have one more question, sir.” He gestured with the cigarette for her to continue. She noted he was mainly using that arm. “Why did you inter the Americans of Japanese heritage during this war?” He puffed, and his face lowered so his glasses were white ovals of light.
“You have to do these things in times of war.”
“I mean, do you?” Graelyn pondered.
“If the people aren't secure, you can't have a people.” That had seemed true to her for so long. Her mother had weaned her on that. If she could be stronger than other people, she was free. If she could have something to ruin them, some security like Arch's offswitch code, no one could hurt her.
Said the people who hurt her. She felt a bit dizzy, but she asked the next question.
“But if you treat your own people like they are your enemy, if you hurt your friends to show your other friends you are strong and that people who like hurting the innocent won't hurt them while you're hurting the innocent, isn't that kind of messed up?” She decided that might be too coloquial, and added, “Doesn't that sink you from the moral high ground?”
He looked up at her, “I take it that decision is not remembered well.”
“Only by those who look for excuses to hurt the innocent while looking like saints.”
He nodded, and they sat in silence. After a few minutes, he gestured for her to leave, and she did so. The next day, she was on a plane to Europe.
Graelyn sat in the cockpit with Dave Barker. She was wearing her spacesuit, which kept her totally warm, everyone else was wearing thick jackets and breath masks. They'd be dropping by parachute just outside the compound, and working their way in. The Nazis were being pushed back towards Berlin, so she had no idea how many people would still be guarding this base, but hopefully not many. They flew through the clouds, and started to descend to the altitude they would drop from. Dave gestured to her, and she saluted, and made her way back, leaving a folder on her seat. She hadn't given him much info, but damn it, he deserved to know something.
“Agent Scythes,” The ground commander Captain Noble said, “are you ready to jump?” Graelyn nodded, her parachute was already on her back. They waited till they were in position, and then a door in the side of the plane slid open. One by one they jumped into the darkness.
“I'm coming Arch.” She thought. “I'm not leaving you behind.”
* * * *
“Ah, you're finally awake.” Said the man in the black uniform with the scarred face. “My name is Doctor Heisman, do you know who I am?” The machine man nodded.
“You asked me that yesterday.” Archimedes said. “And the day before.
“Just seeing how you are managing to cope without food and water.” He didn't tell them he had internal stores of both, and that he was operating in low-power mode anyways. They still worked at least, not like some of his systems.
“And what, pray tell, is that?” Heisman said, gesturing to the deactivate orb. When they'd landed in that field in Germany, it had switched off. The impact maybe? Maybe it had lost its connection with its masters? Maybe he'd just pulled on the right thing in its insides.
“Its a modern art piece I made, its fractures represent your fragile masculinity and constant need for affirmation.” The doctor's eye twitched, and picked up the crowbar. Angrily, he smacked Arch in the head with it. Once, twice, three times, ten times, twenty times... The cracks on his helmet where they had been focusing their blows grew.
“Where do you come from?”
“Who sent you here?”
“Your mother to tell you how disappointed in you she is.” Smack.
“Someday I will just kill you, and figure out how you work.”
“I'll just explode if you do that, so that will be fun for both of us.” He wasn't even lying. Arch had been trying to keep doctor Heisman busy. When he tried to get information out of Arch, who was shackled up against the wall with exceedingly thick chains and manacles, he forgot to experiment on the twins, and that was something Arch would take as much pain as possible to prevent. Luckily for Arch, he could turn his pain receptors off. He was fairly certain he had a skull fracture right now, but he didn't feel it. Occasionally, the doctor and his aides would try to look through the gashes in his sides the Orb had made. They didn't know what they were looking at, luckily. They also tried to look inside the Orb, and Arch secretly wished they'd accidentally activate the thing again. The twins were huddled together, or their equivalent of that when the Nazis were in the room, which was to sit together with their arms touching. Their heads were shaved, and they looked ill. From what the guards had said, these weren’t the first set of twins they'd had in the builing. From when he'd spoken to them when they were alone, he'd learned they were named Lala and Mirela, and were from a group of people called the Romani. He tried to give them a reasurring look, but wasn't sure he could in his curent state. His carapace flared with broken images. The doctor stepped back, in sudden awe. Then one of the side doors burst open.
“Sir,” a Nazi guard said, running into the room, “We've been found.”
“What do you mean we've been found? This base is buried inside a mountain.” The guard was sweating.
“Sir, I mean there is a girl and a group of Allied soldiers. She has some device that is opening all of our doors.” The doctor gestured with his crowbar.
* * * *
Corporal Halsey took out the last of the guards in the room as Graelyn ran to the next door, tablet in hand.
“I still can't believe what you're doing.” Captain Noble said. Graelyn shrugged.
“Its just an app. I downloaded it for fun a few years ago.” Old mechanical locks like this were nothing when you could just move all the parts around the electro magnet in her tablet. She didn't even have to do anything, she just put her tablet up to the lock and pressed the button.
“What's that on your.... Screen?” Noble asked.
“Oh! That's a yogurt ad. Its a free app, so, you know, it gets supported by ads.” He nodded, clearly not entirely understanding.
“Ope, all done.”
* * * *
Doctor Heisman was nervous. This wasn't supposed to happen. He had security, damn it, and they were supposed to stop things like this from happening. The allies couldn't possibly be able to manipulate locks, dead bolt seals... They couldn't! But they were, so now was no time to question it. He looked at his experiments. The twins, the machine-man, the orb. He gritted his teeth.
“We need to get rid of the evidence. Especially the other twins.” The remaining guards had entered the room.
“We need to prepare for a stand sir!” Said the captain of the guard.
“No, we need to-” They were cut off, as main doors to the chamber flew open, and a group of Allied troops including of all things a Russian teenager ran into the room. She held a black rectangle, they held rifles. The guards who raised their guns were picked off, swift shots to the head by trained marksmen. After this, the smart ones dropped their weapons. The teenager ran over to the machine man, and stroked his face.
“Oh God Arch, look what they did to you...” There were holes in his sides, and electric shock devices had been stuck in there. She carefully began to unclip them and pull them off. Doctor Heisman tried to flee, but was tackled by an Allied soldier, who gave him a rifle butt to the face.
“Jesus,” one of the soldiers said, kneeling by the twins, “sir, these are just kids over here.” The surviving Nazis were disarmed, and cordoned off in a corner of the room with armed guards, while the rest of the squad began to look through it. A medic began attending to the two children.
“I'm alright, Grae.” Arch said, his voice was modulated and distorted. His carapace flickered as he spoke.
“No, you really aren't.” She moved her hands along his injuries, “How bad do your damage sensors say it is?”
“...Well a lot of those are broken.” Graelyn shook her head, doing her best to patch him together how little she could.
“Why did you save me Arch? I should have been the one in chains. I tripped, I...”
“You're my friend.” She wanted to argue, she really did, but she just nodded. The Captain tapped her on the shoulder.
“Agent Scythes, when you have the time we found a locked door we can't open.” She nodded, and examining Arch's chains, pulled the blowtorch out of her bag.
“Ma'am, I think those chains are too thick for a blowtorch.” She wanted to say, “Not one from the future.” But she just gave him a sly grin, and did them in.
“Will you be okay Arch?” He tried to stand up, but couldn't.
“I'll just rest for a bit.” She reached out to put her hand on his shoulder, but pulled it back.
“I'll be right back.” The Captain led her to the door he'd spoken of, and she passed the twins who were slowly trying to eat some soup while a group of soldiers tended to them.
“Are those kids okay?” Graelyn whispered to the Captain. He shook his head.
“From what we've gathered their parents are dead, and the Nazis have been doing experiments on them.” Graelyn's eyes widened.
“You can't be serious.”
“I'm afraid I am, ma'am.” She looked at the kids. One of the soldiers was singing them a silly song. She looked at the marks on their bodies that weren’t even hidden. She thought of her mother, and how this made that look like a cakewalk. She felt fire rise inside her. She looked back at the Nazis in the corner.
It had been 500 years since the Nazis when she was born. They were boogeymen, evil phantoms of the past. Now they were all too real to her. It was like the version of them in her mind was one of a cartoon, and here in front of her was the real effects of it: starving, beaten, tortured children. She was all too aware this was real now, and her skin quaked. She shook her head, and lowered her tablet to the door. She activated the app. The little loading icon appeared, and then a big red X appeared “Lock damaged internally! Can't unlock!” That's wasn't normal. She felt the door around the edges: it had been melted shut into its frame. What was so important they would bother doing that, hastily and shoddily even, instead of leaving? Graelyn pulled out her blowtorch, and began to work around the edges. When she finished, she waited for the door to cool down, and then tested it to see if it moved on its hinges. It did. She smiled at the captain.
“You don't mind if I do the honors, Captain Noble?” He shook his head.
“All yours, Agent Scythes.” She tugged the heavy door open a crack, and slipped through.
There was a moment where no one could see Graelyn and the room was silent aside from the soldiers trying to cheer up the children. Then she walked back into the room, her tablet hanging loosely from her hand, then clattering to the floor. She shook gently, her eyes wide and full of lines of red. She nearly stumbled over and put her arm against the wall.
“Agent Scythes what-” Agent Noble began, but she interrupted him. She thew up, keeling over to her knees, still shaking. Arch looked worried, and tried to get up, but couldn't. Noble hurried over and put a hand on her. “What's wrong?” She looked up, her eyes boiling over, tears running down her face, and her hand reaching for the Captain's sidearm.
“Give me that.”
“Ma'am, you said you didn't want a gun when-”
“I know what I said. Give it to me.” She whispered. Hesitantly. He handed her the gun. She staggered over to the Nazi prisoners, the Allied guards eyed her warily as she approached.
“What did you see in there, Scythes?” Noble called, but she just kept walking.
“You. You did that.” She looked at the scientists, doctor Heisman in particular.
“I.. How could you I...” She began gagging again, and threw up a second time. She staggered up and pointed the gun at them. Noble ran after her, holding his hands up and getting up along side her.
“Hold up Graelyn, don't do anything hasty.”
“No this isn't hasty. This—Captain, you don't want to see what's in there I promise you.”
“There's nothing that could provoke you killing these people.” She looked at him like she had seen hell. “Okay then, tell me what you saw. Lets be reasonable about this.”
“There is nothing reasonable in that room, reason is the opposite of what is in that room...” Her eyes welled up again with tears, “there are bodies in there sir. Children's bodies. Twins. Dozens of them...” She backed up, losing her breath, supporting herself on the wall again for a moment before raising the gun again and gesturing towards the prisoners. “And they weren't just dead they were... Desecrated. You can't even imagine. You don't want to see it. I want to unsee it. How could you do that? To other human beings? What kind of person would you have to be?”
She saw the room where her other self had cut into Johnathan.
“What kind of monster?”
“We were just following Heisman's orders!” One of them yelled, pointing at the doctor, “Please!”
“Just following orders?” Graelyn's voice was loud enough to echo through the building.
“JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS? There is no order that could justify that.” Graelyn walked towards the doctor, and placed the gun against the doctor's head. “I should shoot you right now. You deserve it.” She waited for him to reply.
“They aren't real people.” He finally said. Her finger tightened a little on the trigger. She imagined she pulled the trigger. His brains blowing out the back of his head. She needed to kill him. He deserved it.
What kind of person doesn't fall?
She thought of Arch, and how he didn't kill Manuel, even when he could have. She thought of herself, in Songbird's world, and her crimes against humanity. That wasn't the real her. She knew that, deep inside. She wasn't a monster. She had to not be a monster. She wouldn't descend to their level. She wouldn't meet this injustice with terrified bloodshed. She took a deep breath, and lowered the gun, stepping back.
“Captain, please relieve me of this firearm.” He nodded, and took it from her palm. Graelyn slumped to her knees she looked doctor Heisman in the eyes.
“After this war there will be a trial, and you will be hung.” He scoffed. “I'm not showing you mercy. I'm showing you justice, and the world will see what you did here. Its not my job to punish you. Your victims will get to speak out against you, and you will crumble under their voice.” She got up, feeling weak, and went back over to Arch, she slumped down on the wall next to him.
“You did the right thing.” She rubbed her eyes.
“I'm not sure I did.”
“You're not a monster, Graelyn.” She nodded. They sat in silence. She reached over, and held his hand.
“We can't dally here, we need to get you to a place you can be repaired, and get the orb to a place someone can use it to prepare.” Arch nodded, as much as he could.
“What if that was the same place?” Graelyn raised an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that Heirum J. Whitehead guy owned a tech company right? Maybe he can do what we need.” Graelyn mulled it over. It wasn’t a bad plan, really.
“So there would be a big tech company working on a way to fight the Council for a few hundred years. That sounds like exactly what we're looking for.”
“If that's so, how do we get there?” Graelyn looked over at the broken orb.
“I'll just have to fiddle.”
As Graelyn went over to the Orb, the twins came over to Arch.
“Hey, how are you guys feeling?” He said, fuzzily.
“How are you feeling?” Mirela replied.
“I asked first.”
“Terrible, but better.” Lala answered.
“Same here. But you kids, you've got to stick together. You're family, that means something.”
“Its just us though....” Mirela said softly. Arch nodded, and then gestured to the Captain.
“What is it? You feeling alright?” Noble said squatting down.
“I'm fine. But we're going to have to leave here and I need to know these kids will be taken care of after the war, whatever that means.” Noble nodded, and smiled at the girls.
“I'll keep track of them. We'll make sure they're provided for.” Arch felt something shift inside him, and was glad he'd turned his pain of... But it was still terrifying even so, and if the system broke that turned off the pain...
“I'm glad to hear that captain.”
Graelyn fiddled. Cursing she reached in, pulled out two cords that resembled the tendrils on the Pantheon alien she'd met before, and with a disgruntled sigh pushed them onto her temples, closing her eyes and waiting for the inevitable mental battle. She scrunched her eyes up, and steeled herself.
“Please input a command!” A voice in her head thought.
“Oh thank God for once this is easy.”
The orb roared to life, its carapace lighting up in crystalline cracks and swirls. Graelyn thought about the date she needed to go to, and the Orb lit up.
“Warning: systems damaged.”
“Can you manage one more trip?”
“Systems will focus on procuring one more time-space jaunt. Further uses may result in complete atomic breakdown of the nearby area.” She sighed, one more hop it is.
“Arch, are you ready to go?” He nodded, and with the help of the soldiers, moved him over to the orb. Captain Noble took off his hat, and rubbed his scalp.
“So, what exactly are you going to be doing with... Whatever that is?”
“Tear a hole in reality in order to hop over to the future to prevent a future invasion from an alternate dimension.” He opened his mouth, but kept his teeth closed. “You'll be fine, its over half a milenia in the future. Anyways we're trying to stop it.” She looked over at Arch. He really didn't look in good shape. “You holding together?”
“My pain inhibitors are breaking down.
“Ah.” She said, and picked up the neural link cords.
“You might want to step back guys, we're about to do wonders.” They did. “Good knowing you guys, Captain, troops, twins.” She saluted. They all did to, well, the twins waved. Arch weakly waved back. Graelyn plugged herself into the orb, and its spiky limbs sprung to life, weaving a portal of blue light, and tearing a hole in the world that they dove through, leaving behind yet another past.
* * * *
Doctor Heisman was led to the gallows after his conviction. Captain Noble, and his unit, as well as a pair of Romani twins he was apparently looking after had given unflinching testimony. The conviction was unquestionable. He tried to keep his head up as they put the noose around his neck.
Someday, he thought, white people will rule this world with the lesser races in their place, and I will be remembered as a hero. He dropped. It wasn't quick.
His feet turned gently in the breeze. After some time, his left shoe fell off.
* * * *
“It’s not working right!” Graelyn screamed, banging on the side of the orb. Arch could only weakly nod. They shifted and jinked, falling this way and that, and then a white hole opened up below them, and they crashed and rolled onto the ground. Graelyn tumbled, her suit absorbing her impact, mostly, as she came to a stop next to a chunk of concrete. Arch fell like a rag doll, and stopped, unmoving. This was absolutely not what was supposed to happen. Graelyn rose to her feet, and looked at the sky: it was filled with strange vessels, some of them raining what looked like molten gold down on the city below. The city burned. She looked back at Arch, and seeing him unmoving ran to his side.
“Come on Arch, don’t give up now, come on…” She shook him gently, and me moaned. “Oh thank God…” She inspected his form, but wasn’t sure what she needed to do. His anatomy was so different!
“I’ll be right back Arch, I’m going to find some help.” Graelyn scampered up, her head was still dizzy from the landing, but she couldn’t wait. She ran across the scorched earth, and came up to the crest of the hill. A sign in Cyrillic said the date:
“Come ring in the new year with Centro News! 2496 is right at your finger tips!”
“Oh no.” Graelyn whispered, as she watched a skyscraper tumble onto the streets below. “This is Moscow. We’re too late. We’re too late.”
Next week, we'll be back with a bonus story, as well as the week after.
Then, in three weeks time be ready for the final dramatic chapters of 10,000 Dawns: Serial! Dropping all at once, with bonus features! Get ready, its going to be good...
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.