Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
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Chapter 9: Four Flashbacks and a Set up
“I think a big mistake we make when looking at our current society is we think of it as a pinnacle: that is to say that all of history has been leading up to where we are now in our world. Certainly we have more technology, and we have made strides that to our ancestors were unimaginable, but that doesn't mean that we are the first, and it doesn't mean that we are the best versions of ourselves, or even that our descendants will be. The equality of one society can drain away into oppression with the flip of a regime, and people can lose their rights just as quickly. Ideas can be forgotten, or called heretical, and the world can revert into a state that would have been called barbaric a few decades before while still being more advanced than it ever has been before. This happens when we stagnate. When we give up that desire to reach for the sky, and instead lower our arms with a shrug and say “eh, good enough” we will lose the Golden Age we have fought for, and have to perform alchemy to bring about a new one from whatever ours is made of. And I don't know about you, but I've never seen a politician who can pass for an alchemist.” -Professor Freeman Xavier
Graelyn looked down at her hands. These were hands that had done hours of pipeting, had stroked cats, had carried coffee, had run along the silent glass walls of Atlantis. There were cuffs around these hands, sturdy metal cuffs that didn't bend. Her wrists were sore as hell. Next to her, the intern of her other self sat frozen, her face trying awfully to conceal her terror. She glanced at Graelyn occasionally for support and she gave her back thin smiles, which was the most she could manage at the moment. Across from her was a man, she guessed from central America. He didn't look particularly bothered by the situation. Grey lines dotted his black hair in that signature way that screamed the man was at the strange meeting point between the wisdom of age and the physique of youth. The lines on his face showed he might be older than he looked though. The van bumped, and they both rose from their seats as far as their bindings would allow, only to crash back down. Graelyn stifled a grimace. The man looked totally non-plussed. She had seen him before. She stared at him. He raised an eyebrow.
“You look surprised.” He said. Songbird glanced over at them. She looked serious.
“I hadn't placed the name and the face before.” Graelyn replied.
“So no introduction needed?”
“I could afford one.”
“Director Manuel Salazar, Nojpeten Inc. Doctor, designer, medical revolutionary.”
The woman with red hair scoffed.
“Shut up, no talking.” One of the guards barked repetitively.
“Its alright.” The redhead said, “They're not getting out of this van.” Graelyn let the vehicle roll on a few more moments before she replied, staring at the redheaded woman.
“Who are you?” Graelyn asked the woman. The man snorted comically. She didn't look up.
“Don't tell me you don't know.” Graelyn shook her head, and despite the redhead not looking at her, she seemed to notice it.
“I'm Alice MacLeod, you might have heard me by the name the people have given me, the Songbird of Liberation.” Alice looked her in the eyes as she said 'songbird', narrowing her gaze into pinpricks of light that burned her retinas to meet. She turned her eyes away away.
“I take it you're important then.”
One of the guard's laughed, the Intern seemed to think Graelyn was trying to be snarky.
“You can't be serious.”
“I'm very serious. I don't know who you are.”
“You’re either a fantastic actor or a terrible one and I can't decide which.” Songbird idly checked her assault rife.
“What's this Revolution all about anyways?” Graelyn asked, a little too innocently, “I mean...” She couldn't actually figure out how to repair the implications of that statement.
“I've been wondering about you. What exactly you are. You know I threw you out a window earlier today.”
“Yes, I was there.”
“You were there twice. Not everyone can watch their own execution. So are you a clone? Or was the one I threw outside the window a clone?” Manuel laughed.
“Graelyn Scythes would never make a clone of herself. She's got too much pride in her uniqueness.” Graelyn stared daggers at him for that, and he just laughed at her.
“Are the rest of the Directors all dead?” He asked Songbird. She didn't reply, “Its not like we won't all find out later. Are Graelyn and I the last ones standing?”
“If that is Graelyn, then no, Ariadne Moore escaped to the rim.” Manuel scowled at that.
“The rest are all dead?” The Intern said, her voice cracking, her eyes brimming with tears.
“We're still alive, we can pull through.” Graelyn tried to reassure her.
“Oh, I wouldn't count on that.” Songbird replied, and the Intern began weeping.
“Intern, INTERN!” Manuel yelled. “Don't listen to her. She’s not a god. Now what's your name?”
“I'd rather they didn't know who my family was if I can help it.”
“Fair enough, Intern. I can respect that.”
“You're all responsible for numerous atrocities, or collaboration to them. We've noted them.”
“I'm certainly somebody with noting.” Somehow Manuel came off as charming rather than self-involved, but Graelyn wasn't sure how.
“Noted for your crimes.” Alice added.
“So, how did you get here?” Graelyn asked.
“Here is such a broad term. Here, there, time, place. Its all so transient. I'm sure it was a labor for all of us.”
* * * *
1: The Hands of Manuel Salazar
Manuel's hands worked with a fury, dancing through the incision with precision. The nurses had their roles choreographed perfectly, and the operating room was not so much full of blood but ballet, though there was certainly blood. Above him, the usual cadre of onlookers was observing the transplant, joined by a stranger they hadn't seen before. No one paid him much mind though. Salazar finished joining the last piece of flesh, and looked up at the nurses.
“Totally stable Doctor Salazar.” Salazar let out a pant.
“It didn't feel like a challenge.”
“That's good sir.” He shook his head as he exited the oporating room, and began to remove his garb and wash up. The other nurses could take the patient from here, so he and Nurse Maya exited.
“That boy's genetic abnormality should have been untreatable fatal sir, but you surgically corrected it. That was a miracle. No one has your hands.”
“Now that I've done it we can run it into the machines, they'll figure it out. These hands are nothing irreplaceable.” He splashed water on his face, and looked up into the mirror. Such a young face for a Doctor. Not ludicrously so like they did in the movies, but still younger than most. He dried his face, and got ready to great the well wishers as he exited. There they were in a throng, wanting to congratulate him, get on his good side, invite him to their dinner parties. He didn't pay attention as he nodded, smiled, and reponded by reflex. At the edge of the throng was a man though, so nondescript his face was replaced when Manuel looked away by the idea of a man's face in his mind. He waited patiently for Manuel to finish with the others. He didn't try to cut in till the last one sauntered off, leaving the two of them alone in the hallway.
“You're certainly patient.”
“Some things are better said carefully.” He didn't rush his words either.
“I am a busy man, you understand.”
“I won't waste words then. I work for a man on the Rim who wants you to perform an operation.” Manuel shook his head, “I can't be bought to leave my work on Earth for some backwoods Titan. Excuse me.” He began to move past the man.
“An operation you won't be allowed to do on Earth. Something no one has ever done in the history of humanity. Something that is impossible.” He stopped. Manuel turned. The nondescript man's face didn't seem to hold any expression he could pull ulterior motives out of.
“A complete skeletal transfer. In one operation.”
“That is impossible. You can't keep a human being alive and perform that operation. Maybe over the course of years or multiple operations-”
“With a completely metal skeleton.” Manuel stared at Mr. Nondescript, and broke down laughing. He laughed till the wall volunteered itself as his support to keep from flopping over on the ground like a fish.
“That- that is impossible. You have me there.” The man hadn't changed his impression.
“If you say so. However, we heard you were interested in a challenge.”
“That sort of operation would be illegal anyway, I couldn't do it. Too risky. The insurance company would never allow it.”
“They wouldn't know about it. No one would. But you would learn it was possible.” Salazar stood up again, and met his gaze.
“And if the patient died?”
“Then we would learn not to persue this line of research any further.”
It was tempting. It was so very tempting. He had run out of work to do here that was meaningful. He had his own medical technology company, but they were unable to compete against the existing monopolies in any meaningful way. He did surgeries that there was no known program for the machines to do, and each time lessened the number of possible surgeries for a human to work on in the process as the machines learned from him. He was in all likelihood making the last significant gains in surgery any human would.
Taking the final step was almost too much to resist.
“I am curious, ambiguous Seniõr, how did you learn about me?”
The man changed his expression for the first time. He smiled.
“She is already a fan of your products.”
Manuel stood in front of the door to the medical ward, running his hand along his smooth chin. The flight to Europa had been long but harmless, and Manuel was itching to begin. He had brought Maya with him, of course, but no one else. This was a sort of secret mission, medical espionage. He found it both funny and exhilarating to be going behind the backs of Earth's leadership. The unmemorable man opened the door, and gestured for him to enter in. Inside was a teenage girl's room, though one decidedly of a girl who didn't leave it often. There were medical apparatuses all over the place, and a large rack of books many of which were on seemingly advanced topics, especially anatomy, chemistry, and biology, a few on famous serial killers, some romance novels, some scifi novels about something called “The Next Generation with a man with a band over his eyes on the cover, and some of those inspirational essay books. The wall had a few paintings and posters, mainly of flowers and pastoral landscapes, but also of a death metal band or two. From the bed, his patient looked up at him. Not an inch of her skin was visible, as she was wearing a soft flexible suit from head to toe, her face an oval mask with a single eye on the right side. Manuel recognized the design well, it was his. A giant exclamation mark appeared on the girl's face, and he saw she was usuing it exactly as intended. The plush-lung was supposed to be a way for people who had incurable debilitating illnesses to live. The suit worked directly off signals from the brain, and made communication and movement possible for people it had been impossible for. Micro motors in the joints aided movement, the suit kept any extra germs out, and helped stabilize and treat any conditions of the patient within. For these patients, Manuel had figured that been trapped inside such a suit would be horrific as well as liberating, for even though it allowed patients with paralysis to walk thanks to its machinery, their expressions were muted by it as well. Thus he'd made the faceplate a screen that could instantly display images the patient wanted, helping them to express emotions and feelings without speaking. For those who had been in need of one, it was considered a miracle.
Of course, another company had claimed copyright infringement, and he had to be very careful about how he sold them, even though they were not selling them. Usually the suits had to be 'gifts'. But he was rich, so he didn't care.
An image of a happy face appeared on the faceplate. “Mister Salazar!” A voice said from the mask. She waved at him, and began to get out of her bed, the motors clearly doing the work for her limbs. She made her way over to him, and he gladly embraced her.
“You must be Sarah, I've heard a lot about you.” A heart appeared on her face.
“Probably not everything. The Librarian is always leaves a lot of omissions.”
“Omissions?” She made her way back to the bed and sat down.
“Well, did he tell you why he wants me fixed up?” Salazar followed her back to the bed.
“I was told he had a vested interest in you.”
“That's a way of putting it.” She reached over to her side table, and pulled out a tablet, which she pulled a picture up on, and handed to Manuel. The picture was of a 12 year old girl with white hair and eyes so pale blue they could only mean she was blind wearing a bright blue flower print dress. She didn't seem to realize the picture was being taken. A pair of sunglasses were on the coffee table in front of her. She was seated on a couch, next to two very burly men who'd clearly been jacked up on bio modifications. On the coffee table was a giant pile of money, as well as a giant pile of what were clearly bags of drugs. He looked up at her, surprised to say the least.
“I started learning how to make drugs at a very young age to make a living as an orphan. Bye the time I was ten, I had cornered the market in my neighborhood. By the time I was twelve, I had my own gang.” She sighed, “Naturally that didn't work out well. I got pretty badly hurt. I would have died if the Librarian hadn't taken me in.”
“So you were an ambitious twelve year old.”
“He thinks I'm special. I just did what I had to do to eat.”
“It looks like you did a bit more than that.” She held his gaze for a minute, or at least appeared to. She wasn't sure what to say to that.
“Well, anyways, I wasn't able to move at all until I got this suit. The Librarian had to pay under the table to get a hold of it, but it was for me,” he mouthed the words with her, “a miracle.”
“I read about your condition, the deterioration of your bones is pretty severe.” She nodded.
“Its not just my bones anymore. Everything is basically turning into fatty tissue in me. I'd be dead right now if I wasn't encased.” Manuel soured: he hadn't been told she'd deteriorated that much. He couldn't just do a skeletal transfer. The wheels in his brain began to turn, then spin, then they formed gyroscopes. “I see. Sarah, how much are you attached to your current body?” Sarah thought a moment, “I really couldn't care less about it. What are you thinking?”
“I'm thinking a skeletal transfer is small.” He grinned, “We could do a lot more for you.” She seemed to perk up, the servos in her back straightening her spine.
“Do whatever you want. I'm in for it.” He rose, “Then I'll begin planning-”
“-But I want to have electronic eyes.” He frowned.
“You could have the finest biological eyes in the solar system.”
She shook her head, “I was blind when I was born, and the first time I saw was when I was put in this suit. I don't want to learn to see again. Just give me the best sight you can. I don't care if it looks funny.”
“One last question Sarah, who is on those books? The “Next Generation” ones.”
“That's Geordie! He's blind but can see through an electronic band over his face.” Manuel smiled. It was so important for kids to see people they thought of like themselves on book covers. He walked to the exit, “Then Sarah, I'd say we have ourselves an operation.”
The operation was difficult to say the least: everything had to go, nearly. The skin had to be removed to be reattached later, as it was one of the few things worth saving. Her muscles and bones were basically mush, and most of her organs had failed at this point. He replaced all of them. Using a printer, he had manufactured her new body parts using an improved version of her genome, and carefully removed and reattached them to her system. He had to work carefully to assure compatibility. If the body rejected a new part, it would make the whole new system buggy. The new muscles were engineered like machines, and could lift more than an Olympic athlete. Her skeleton was the strongest metal alloy he could find that wouldn't be toxic to her system. Her organs were better than any person's. Her brain and nervous system remained, it was in some ways all that was left of her. In the end he threw out her skin to, after realizing that it just wasn't worth the effort to shape it to her new form, and had a machine print a new one around her. The surgery was exhausting, and took more than one day, during which Sarah remained totally sedated. When it was done, Salazar sealed up the final incision, and started at the person in front of him. She had been trapped in a body that would have died without him, and now he had made her a wholey new one, grown the organs and stitched her together.
“Good God.” Manuel said to Maya as she began to dress the unconscious girl in a hospital gown.
“I've broken the barrier down Maya. If I can do this, we can save anyone.”
“Anyone who can afford it.” Maya said without a hint of playfulness.
Manuel clenched his fist.
Sarah MacLachlan woke up to feel air on her skin. When was the last time she had felt that? She tried to recall, but it seemed too far away to nail down in any way. Her vision cut on, and she could see the ceiling, raining light down on her from luminescent panels. Raising her hands in front of her, she saw skin and nails. Her arms felt strong. Sitting up, she felt down her body, reaching under the hospital gown to feel her shoulders, her back, her breasts, her stomach, her sides, her hips, her legs, her toes. She felt her face, her cheeks and neck and ears and her new stubbly hair. She let out a shriek of joy, and carefully moved her legs out of the bed. Her touched the tiles-- they felt... cold! What a wonderful sensation, cold. She had been perfectly temperature controlled in her suit. What a joy to be cold! She took a breath and got to her feet. She stood, without any help, without motors pushing her. It was all her own body. She wanted to run! But she was still attached to the iv and didn't want to try to remove it herself. Pushing the iv with one hand across the room, she went to the mirror and stared at her own reflection. This was her face. Her own face, hers forever. Her hair was just stubble, but it looked like it would be brown when it grew out. She thought she'd have the white hair she had as a child, but whatever, she wasn't complaining. But the best touch was her eyes, because she didn't have them. Instead there was a half oval on her face running from temple to temple over where eyes would have been.
“Geordie LaForge.” She smiled, and the first real surprise happened. Her teeth, like the rest of her bones, were a shiny metal alloy peeking out from behind her gums. She was shocked, then shocked to see a look of shock on her new face, then she grinned.
“I like it. Chrome teeth.”
There was a knock on the door, and she said, with her own vocal chords, “Come in!”
Manuel entered, with his nurse Maya, and the nondescript man.
She scooted over with the iv as fast as she could, and embraced Manuel and Maya each in turn.
“You like the new digs?” He said with a smirk.
“I love them.” She became keenly aware she was smiling with those shiny teeth. Maybe she'd use that as a moniker.
“We know that you'll be working for the Librarian now, probably doing very illegal things, but try to remember what it was like to not have power.” She nodded.
“I will. What will you do now?” Manuel's face seemed to take on some sort of operatic tone.
“I'm going to remember what it was like to be powerless.”
The CEO of Algen-Hoser medical systems rubbed his 400 credit haircut warily.
“These numbers aren't good. How on Earth did this happen?”
Linda, a vice president, shook her head, “Earth is exactly how it didn't. Nojpeten inc. has been selling heavily off-world at discounted prices, and we suspect has found a partner in the rim who can smuggle the goods to earth and give them a cut of it.” The CEO looked up, “That's illegal!”
“We can't prove anything.”
“Well buy them out!”
She shook her head, “They are privately owned. We can't buy stock in them.”
“Unfortunately,” a new voice cut in, “Your investors aren't so faithful as mine.” A man in a gaudy black blazer with red and white stenciling on the breasts walked into the room like he owned it, holding a black briefcase.
“Excuse me, you're not allowed in here.” The man pulled up a chair to the CEO's desk, and put his feet on it. “Actually, I think you'll find I am.” He reached into the briefcase and pulled out a pile of documents, which he handed to the CEO, who looked over them bewildered.
“Sir?” Linda said.
“It says we've been bought out. The majority shareholder is now someone named... Manuel Salazar?” The interloper grinned and stretched back in the chair. “Yes, he now owns it. Really, he owns you. And being that I am him, I own you. So you can call me sir.”
The man set the forms down, “You insolent bastard. You can't just walk into my office and buy my company.” Manuel looked around wide eyed.
“What? I can't? Why didn't anyone tell me? Well, I suppose then I can't terminate you immediately. And cut your prices to something people here can actually afford.” The CEO stood up, gritting his teeth, “You can leave this room right now!”
“No, you can. Do you want me to call security on you?”
“This is my office!
Manuel smiled, and gently dusted his shoulder off.
“Maybe you gringos aren't used to being at the bottom of the food chain, but its too late for you. You're part of Nojpeten inc. You need to accept it, or you can be devoured.”
“Linda, get security get-” Linda bit her lip.
“No sir, I... I think its time for you to leave. I'm sure mister Salazar has a lot to get done today.”
The former CEO's jaw dropped, and Manuel reached over and ate one of the candies on his desk.
“Its my pleasure, “ Director Sarcozy began, “to welcome Mr. Salazar to the board of Directors of Centro Systems. Nojpeten Inc., has successfully taken the world stage in medical technology in only a few short years. We're honored to bring him on board today.” Manuel walked up to the front, and shook Ebeneezer Sarcozy's hand. The rest of the room applauded him, and he smiled. A woman in a very stylish black dress really stuck out to him though. He'd certainly heard of her, the illusive Director Ariadne Moore. She was smiling, but Salazar had seen a lot of people give him fake smiles before, and he knew this was a fake smile meant to show it was a fake smile. He could tell they were going to get along great. The meeting with the Directors was about what he expected, generic shadow government stuff. The cocktail party afterward was the really interesting part.
“So.” Ariadne said, walking up to him, putting on her sunglasses indoors, “You made it onto the board of Directors. I have to say, I'm surprised.”
“I have to say, I'm surprised you look so young.”
“You didn't invent medicine you know. You just undercut the people who did.”
“That's Capitalism for you.” She gave a polite smile, and he was reminded of Sarah's perfect smile he had crafted for her.
“Is it Capitalism? Well, let not get hung up on petty things like the correct definitions of words.”
“Oh I wouldn't dare to be petty.”
“But if this is Capitalism, then I may be interested in supplying capital to you.” Manuel raised an eyebrow.
“Don't act so surprised. I'm a business woman. I know when to invest.”
Manuel nodded, “Then I have an idea, a project, I think you might be interested in.”
* * * *
The car bumped again, and Songbird steadied herself against the side with her hand. Manuel looked like he was off somewhere else. Graelyn seemed like she was trying to avoid looking at anyone. Songbird assumed the girl was overwhelmed, which added to the clone theory. Outside the car a father put his arm out in front of his son, stopping him from walking any further towards the military caravan. A day ago, their world had been totally different. Maybe their home had been hit by a shell. Maybe they supported the revolution, maybe they were against it, but they would have to live in a world with it either way now. Two people couldn't tear down the whole world, let alone a caravan.
Songbird thought about those people as they kept driving. She'd never thought she'd win this, live in this new world. She thought she'd die clegging as she fired her last bullet into a Centro soldier. But here she was, alive. What would that even mean for her.
“What happened to the man in the apartment?” the girl who might have been Graelyn said.
“I'm surprised you're curious.”
“Of course I'm curious. I want to make sure he's okay.”
“You have no right to ask that. He'll be taken care of and given the best treatment.”
“You'd better. Him, the cat, and the intern here shouldn't be punished.”
“I've spent my whole life protecting the innocent, unlike you.”
There was silence following that, and Manuel looked between them like he was waiting for a commercial to end and a drama he liked to continue. The intern looked at the guards, hoping for one of them to be sympathetic towards her.
“How did you get here then?” maybe Graelyn asked, “Those people call you the Songbird of Liberty. What does that mean?” She turned back to her. She looked uncomfortable in the cuffs, and she remembered the first time she'd been forced to wear them. She bit back reflecting on it.
“It means that I've become a symbol of freedom against the oppressive systems on Earth.” Manuel scoffed at her.
“Well I've heard his story, though I'm still annoyed he won't tell the end of it.”
“He certainly talked himself up.”
“That was the truth, whether you believe me or not is your fault. I have to admit, I'm curious about your story to now.” Alice looked between them.
“I suppose we have to fill this drive somehow.”
* * * *
2: The Cry of the Songbird
Alice held her hands out to have the cuffs removed as her father finished signing the paperwork to get her released. “How you doing Donovan?”
“Oh, you know. It’s hard to get work these days.” The guard nodded solemnly.
“They'd certainly take you in the police force, regardless of your record--”
“You know that isn't happening Lisa.” She nodded without meeting his gaze.
“Come on Alice, let’s go.” She hugged her dad, and the two of them stepped out of the chilled police building into the summer sun.
“You can't keep doing this Alice, we can't afford to have you locked up... Longer.” She nodded.
“I'll be okay dad, I haven't gotten caught doing anything too bad.” He smiled, “Well, your mother would be worried sick to know you were doing anything too bad even if you weren't caught.” She held in a chuckle.
“This revolution dad, it needs everyone it can get.” He didn't argue, but he didn't agree.
Alice worked a boring job day in and day out, trying desperately to keep it for her family's sake. Her dad wasn't working anymore, thanks to being found out as a radical element and they needed the money more than anything. She walked home from work that day, her feet aching and sore from standing all day at the counter. Her shift didn't leave her much time to eat, but she didn't feel hungry, even though she knew she hadn't taken in anywhere near the calories she was supposed to. She felt wobbly, but she didn't complain, and tried her best to look less tired than she really was. That was when it happened: her day suddenly lost its monotony, lost its simplicity, and she rocketed into an adrenaline fueled awareness.
There were two Centro officers dragging a pair of men down the street, their faces against the concrete, scrambling with their hands to try to hold onto something in a desperate and futile attempt to not get arrested. One of the officers lowered a truncheon to one of the men's legs, and it was clear from the reaction that followed that the rod was electrified. Alice's face grew red.
Things had been better than this, but they were just spiraling worse and worse. Her fist clenched. She couldn't turn away from this. She couldn't. She didn't know those men, but she knew why they were being arrested: the “Anti-Sodom” law that had passed with a wide margin. Rights were being whittled away right out from under every person living on this street, and they all started at the two gay men being dragged on the concrete like this was still 500 years ago.
Alice walked toward the police slowly, and made her way to their right. She didn't make eye contact. The police glanced at her, but ignored her, and she got right beside one. Her bag shifted on her shoulder, and then she swung!
The shoulder bag hit the guard right in the side, knocking him off balance, and Alice followed it with her whole torso, clegging hard to make the impact as effective as possible. She heard a rib break. The other officer rushed her with his truncheon, but she ducked it, and reached a hand up beneath his face mask, and slid her fingers into the officer's stunned mouth, right between the cheek and the teeth, and then slid them out. The officer tilted his masked head to the side, started walking towards her, and then became wobbly, then fell over as the pill she'd slid into his mouth dissolved and took effect.
Alice grabbed the man's truncheon, and threatened the other officer with it who held her hands up. She grabbed the officer's cuffs, and bound both of them, then ran to the two men, trying to help them up.
“You need to get out of here.”
“Thank you.” the first man said from his bloody mouth.
“No time, you need to run, the police will be back in force, you and your partner need to run.” One helped the other up, and supported him with his arm. She watched them scamper down the alley. She stood alone in the center of the street, baton in hand. She tested the shock button.
“Well then, looks like prison it is.” It didn't take long for vehicles to float down from the sky and land around her, men and women dropping out in their best SWAT gear. Aw, they really did care.
“Unidentified person, please set the weapon down.”
“Unidentified? I'm Alice MacLeod. Would you like me to write it down for you?”
There was a brief silence. “Alice MacLeod would you please set the weapon down?”
“No. Viva la Revolution.”
She was told later she shouldn't have been able to live through the number of Tasers she was hit with.
Alice expected to go to prison. But she didn't. Instead she found herself released from custody like usual, with the guards being extra polite to her.
“I don't understand.” She said to Lisa, “I attacked corporate officers. That's a corporate offense.” Lisa screwed her mouth up, and then decided to tell her something.
“Someone paid for you to leave. The prison system is corporate, and if you want to pay your way out, you can.” Well, yes, everyone knew that. But no one she knew had enough money to pay to get her out of prison. When she was taken to the lobby, there wasn't her dad waiting there for her like usual, but a woman.
“Hello Alice. I'm Miranda.” The woman was Hispanic, probably mid twenties, wearing a gray hoodie under a suit jacket, and over a nice top, with slick black pants as well as oddly shaped sunglasses. The hoodie stood out like an elephant entered into a mouse beauty pageant. Miranda smiled at Lisa, and tipped the jailer appropriately.
“Hello.” This had to be some sort of cor prate requiting gig.
“You must have a lot of questions, but first off, no, this isn't some sort of corporate requiting gig.” She gestured for her to follow, and intrigued and confused, Alice followed her out the door. Miranda led them out of monitoring range of the police station before she spoke again.
“Well then, you made quite a mess of things. And while it would have been nice for you to have run your whole prison riot, I'm afraid things aren't going fast enough for my friends.”
“Excuse me, who on earth are you?”
“That's really none of your business.”
“I'm afraid it is, and what do you mean prison riot?” Miranda gave her a sly look.
“Do you really think you wouldn't have caused some sort of ruckus while you were in prison? I mean, look, you're a troublemaker. That's why we've been keeping track of you. We want this planet's revolution to get underway quickly and cleanly, without any of that messy in between.”
Alice nodded, “So you're part of a revolutionary organization on Earth?”
“Not on Earth, but I suppose revolutionary is the correct term. The revolution is inevitable, as is your victory.”
“I'm glad you have such confidence in the cause.”
“I have a certainty in it. But regardless, I can enable you to make this war short. Shorter than anyone thinks it will be. It will still take months, but not years.”
“That's impossible. I'm an idealist but Centro is so dug in...” Miranda put a finger to Alice's lips.
“Shh. Think bigger. What if I told you I could get you the codes to all of Centro's automated defense systems. You could shut them off. Appropriate them. Drop their drones from the sky. Turn off the camera system that lines the entire city.”
“That's impossible.” Alice laughed, this was insane.
“Then explain that.” Miranda pointed at the cameras on the street.
They had all turned to face the sky.
“We're not being watched. And you don't have to be. We have made the arrangements.” Miranda held out an old stye paper business card. On one side was a symbol of half a sun and half a crecent moon merged together, the sun's rays somehow seeming the twins of the moon's horns. On the other side was a post office box number with a key code beneath it.
“In that box is everything you need to overthrow the planetary system. You can only access it once, and the codes will be the codes for that week. Don't blow your opportunity.” Miranda took off her suit jacket and threw it at Alice, who caught it. It was a nice suit jacket. She turned and began to walk away, the back of the hoodie showing the progression of a sun into a moon through subtle metamorphosis.
“Why should I trust you?” Miranda shrugged.
“I don't care if you trust me. Fight a decade long war and decimate the planet. Your call.” Miranda turned into an alley, and Alice bolted after her, but she wasn't in the alley when she reached it.
She looked down at the thin piece of cardboard.
If this was real...
She put on Miranda's suit jacket, and slipped the card into her pocket. If it was real it meant the world.
It had taken a lot of persuading, a lot of yelling matches with different leaders over encrypted phone calls, but it was happening. Or would be, if this was real. She'd staked this all on trust in a stranger. But if it was real, it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. A once in a lifetime chance. If it wasn't real then Miranda was right, Alice would fight that ten year war. But... If she could avoid that. Turn the world over with minimal bloodshed. Alice inhaled, and held her breath as she walked towards the post office boxes, and held it still as she tapped the code into it.
“Okay, be real... Be real.” She reached inside, and found a small grey box with that same half moon half sun image on it. Pulling it out, she turned it over and over in her hands. There was a single hole in it: a standard computer connector port. It seemed pretty obvious how the thing had to work. Stuffing it inside her bag, she hurried outside. The box carried a heavy weight in her bag, and it drug her down. It was like she was carrying enough gold to buy the world from the hands of the corporate overlords she'd been fighting her whole life. She went back to her family's apartment, and got ready to make the call.
General Yul Hammontree had fought against Mars, he had been there during the great disaster there that ended the rebellion in Mars' favor. Yul had been at Venus during the disaster of the failed base there, and barely escaped with his life. But nothing prepared him for that Tuesday. Monday had been boring, he only remembered that he'd eaten a cheese sandwich during it, but Tuesday, oh, he'd never forget Tuesday. Pacing the room things seemed to be going in order for the first few hours of the day, and then... Then he noticed something.
“Corporal Talzin, bring up screen 51.” The Corporal did as ordered. He watched the footage. It was a street filled with people bustling through it.
“Corporal, bring up monday's footage, same time.” The Corporal did. They were the same. It was the same footage. The General yowled, and ran to the alert station, he jammed his finger at the touch screen, but nothing happened.
“What is going on?”
“I've lost control of my station sir!” Someone yelled, and then more voices joined in a chorus of it.
“We can't lose London, someone get in touch with the drone center--” Then he heard several shots, and turned to see a woman, flanked by a swarm of raggedy rebel soldiers walking into his command center, holding a battle rife.
“I'm afraid its too late for you. You know your people outside have been yelling into their communicators for half an hour while we fought our way in. You might want to put your weapons down on the floor. Several people did. Several tried to draw theirs. The latter were shot with cunning efficiency.
“Who do you think you are?”
“Alice MacLeod of the World Revolutionary Council. Who are you?”
“GENERAL Yul Hammontree. Now young lady you'll stand down.”
“The people are singing for liberty General, now get out of my way.” He puffed his chest out, and straightened his back.
“I'd rather die.” She shot him in the leg.
“Lets compromise.” She stepped over him and took out the box from her bag. They'd used it to break into the base, and it had done gloriously. But now... Now was the real test. She plugged into the console, and the screens in the room all lit up with that same sun/moon symbol.
“Hello, my name is Alistair.” The box crooned through the speakers, “Could you please supply me with your name and user name.”
“Alice MacLeod.” She said, kicking the General's hand away from the holstered gun he was reaching for and grabbing it herself. “User name....” She looked around the room. She used to sing in the tavern her Dad's friends met up in. They said her voice was pretty as a Nightingale, a wonderful Songbird. Well, it was her friend Jack who called her that first. She smiled at him, he was nervously holding a gun towards the crouched room of technicians.
“Call me Songbird.”
The screens displayed a black and white image of a songbird, and Alastair spoke again, “Alright then Songbird, I am at your command.”
She smiled, “They always said I'd set the world on fire. Lets get this started. From one bird to another, lets take theirs out of the sky.”
For hundreds of years the world had been monitored by a linked system of satilites and drones. For hundreds of years everyone knew that everything they said was being recorderd. And then, on a Tuesday, the drones fell from the sky. Next, the cities began to fall, and the people at the top who had feasted on the fruits of those beneath them came tumbling down, as it turned out, often fairly literally as Alice took a predilection towards executing CEO's by hanging them out of windows.
The prison labor camps were the next thing she freed. The people there, being worked to death for having wrong ideas, or wrong lifestyles cheered her as she liberated each camp. Their bodies thin and bruised, their cries weak. She got out of her vehicle and hugged them, touched their hands, talked to them. Soon they began to call her the Songbird, and it stuck. City by city fell, and it became clear the world would fall far quicker than the ten year war they had anticipated.
Then she wen to Mexico city.
Jack was by her side of course, he always was, as the hovering craft flew towards the city.
“So, Alice, I was thinking... When this is over...”
“There will be a lot of clean up work. We'll have to be really on top of the left over Centro elements.”
“No um, Alice, I mean, I was thinking about us.” She checked her rifle, it was in perfect order.
“About us what?”
“Alice, you know how I feel about you.” She sighed.
“Jack, I'm not interested in you. We've been through this.” She counted a moment in her head. “Nine times, actually. Well, maybe ten. Not sure if that counted.”
“Okay but, when the war is over...”
“Jack! I'm not interested in you. I don't want romance. I'm an aromantic asexual. You know what that means right?”
“Yeah, but I thought it might change when the war is over.” Alice scooted away from him a bit.
“I'm not who you want me to be Jack. I'm sorry.” The hovercraft landed, and they stormed off. She raised her rifle and tried to get back into the mindset she needed. The first Centro soldier popped up, and she was fast on the trigger, capping him right in the forehead before he could level his gun. The gunfire moved into full force, and she lost track of herself. She shot through the smoke, diving over barricades and obstacles, slamming her rifle butt into the jaws of enemies who slipped through the smoke, and leveling again quickly to take shots at those far away. She was made for this, and she was merciless, not out of anger but out of precision. Her violence was exact, and total. Her heart raced as she ran through, and shot a soldier trying to close a side door into the base before he could, slipping through right after him. She had forgotten that there was still a battle behind her as she stormed the hallway, not that there were many people in it. She shot those who opposed her, and tied up those who surrendered. The rest of her troops made it into the building, and she stood in the cleared space, leaving the rebels who saw her with the bold and ludicrous impression she could have done this herself.
“Is the outside secure?”
“Yes ma'am!” said a burly woman with vitiligo.
“Call me Alice. And good, what's your name soldier?”
“Chantelle ma'am.” Alice nodded.
“Lets move out then.”
The base was nearly empty, eerily. She'd expected more resistance. They walked through darkened barracks, and empty mess halls, till they reached a thick sealed door. Alice looked at Trevon, their resident door opener, who went to work on the lock with quick skill, and the aperture opened to reveal a room filled with several people in lab coats trying desperately to pry open a door.
“We need to get the back up hard drive wiped! Open it!” One yelled.
“The bomb will take care of it lets just get out of here!” Another yelled back.
“Can't you tell its meant to survive the explosion open it or-”
“Or what?” Alice said, striding into the room. The scientists huddled together.
“Where is the bomb?” It was an order, and the people knew it.
“Its... In the main factory floor.” One of them said, pointing towards another door. Alice strode confidently towards it, opened the door, and walked through.
There was a moment where no one could see Alice, and the room was silent. Then she walked back into the room, her rifle hanging loosely from her hand, then clattering to the floor. She shook gently, her eyes wide and full of lines of red. She nearly stumbled over and put her arm against the wall.
“Alice what-” Jack began, but she interrupted him. She thew up, keeling over to her knees, still shaking. Jack hurried over and put a hand on her. “What's wrong?” She looked up, her eyes boiling over, tears running down her face, and her hand finding the handle of the gun properly again.
“You. You did that.” She looked at the scientists.
“I.. How could you I...” She began gagging again, and threw up a second time. She staggered up and pointed the gun at them.
“Hold up Alice, don't do anything hasty.”
“No this isn't hasty. This—Jack you don't want to see what's in there I promise you.”
“There's nothing that could provoke you killing these people.” She looked at him like she had seen hell. And he shook his head and walked towards the door.
“Jack, don't go in there. I promise you, you can't unsee that. Don't.” He ignored her. He walked in. All they heard for the next two minutes was him screaming. He walked back in, even more shaken than Alice had been. He looked at her.
“Do it.” He muttered. “Do it.”
“We were just following Graelyn Scythes orders!” One of them yelled, “Please!”
“Just following orders?” Songbird's voice was loud enough to echo through the building.
“JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS? There is no order that could justify that.”
There were seven scientists in the room. Alice's hands shook so much she used ten bullets, but the effect was the same. Standing over their corpses, she motioned for Trevon to go in and disarm the bomb.
“I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to see that.” He nodded. He needed her help in the end do to shaking himself. But the bomb was disarmed. As they flew back, Songbird stared at the giant complex, the complex she never ever wanted to see again. She only had one thought that she said outloud during the trip back.
“I'm going to kill Graelyn Scythes.”
No one argued it.
* * * *
Graelyn stared at Alice, her hands were shaking. Her jaw trembled. She fingered the rather banged up cat pin on her lapel, but couldn't get a grip on it.
“What did you see in there.”
“I don't know!”
“YOU KNOW.” Alice yelled. “You can't tell me if you're really Graelyn Scythes you don't know what was behind that door and the only reason you're not dead yet is we don't know and the WRC is starting to cool down enough they want trials instead of battlefield executions. That and your friend made a strong case for your survival.”
“Arch?” She asked, full of hope.
“Yes. You can thank him later. If you're a brainwashed victim in all this, some poor confused clone, or... What he said you were in that elaborate story of his...”
“What did he say you were?” Manuel asked.
“The truth, I hope.”
“He said you were from an alternate reality. Balderdash, of course.”
“Ma'am, should you really be talking so much with the prisoners?” A woman with vitiligo skin said.
“Its alright Chantelle. I have leeway on this matter. The WRC is just as curious as we are.
“Well if we're telling our stories, what about you Intern?”
She shook her head, “I don't want to say anything I shouldn't. Get family in trouble.”
“Of course. How about you, Scythes? What kind of a last name is Scythes anyways, it sounds made up.”
“Its my real last name.”
“So then Graelyn,” Songbird interjected, “How did you get here?”
“Its... A long story.”
“Its still a long ride. We have time. Start from the beginning.”
“The beginning?” She knew where the story really began, but she didn't want to start there. She thought she'd begin somewhere easier to talk about, but when she started talking things spilled out she hadn't intended, and she kept talking. As beginnings go, it wasn't one she would write down.
* * * *
3: Happy Birthday Graelyn Scythes
Graelyn shifted her hand to swirl the beaker, holding it up to her eyes. It wasn't exactly reacting like it was supposed to, which was curious. The lack of reaction was just as interesting as getting one si--
“Graelyn didn't you say you had to be somewhere at 7?” She turned to look at the person speaking, it was Professor Hanson.
“Uh, yes I've got a date with Ashlyn then.”
“You probably want to get ready to go its a quarter till.” Shit, she was right and she'd late no matter what at this point. She jotted down the lack of reaction, cleaned up, took off her lab coat, and hustled out the door to the bus stop, checking the time on her phone over and over. The bus arrived a tiny bit late, and she bustled onto it, finding the perfect seat on it. The city rushed by the window, and she closed her eyes as the bus jostled her against the window.
Graelyn ran into the diner a fifteen minutes late, looking past the greeter for Ashlyn, who was sitting alone at a table for two looking boredly at her phone. Graelyn pointed to the table and the greeter let her through. She sat down, and hoped she looked decent.
“You're late.” Ashlyn said, scrolling through her phone.
“Sorry, I got caught up at work. I was testing reactions to a compound they've been developing at the lab for the team there-” Ashlyn put the phone in her pocket and gave Graelyn a look that said “shut up.”
“Look Graelyn, we need to talk.”
“Okay, well, I'm here so go ahead.”
“We can't keep doing this.” Graelyn was silent for a moment.
“If you mean me being late, I can set an alarm next time or...”
“No Graelyn. That's just a symptom. You forgetting to take enough time to set an alarm to remember our dates is a symptom. Honestly, why are you even in this relationship?” They stared at each other for a moment in silence. Graelyn rubbed her fingers together under the table. The waiter came by, and each of them ordered something, which felt like more commitment than was prudent with how things were going.
“Of course I want to be in a relationship with you, I dumped Petyr so we could date.”
“Yes, and when you dumped Petyr he told me to watch out for you because would act like you cared about people more than you did so they wouldn't leave you. You're fifteen Graelyn, you don't need to hold onto this like its going to be forever if you don't want it to be. I'm seventeen and I don't have to put up with this. Also you dodged the “why?” question.”
Graelyn squirmed in her seat she felt her face turning red, and her hands becoming ice. “We have so much planned out together. Getting an apartment together when you go back to London, supporting each other.” Ashlyn pursed her lips. Her shoulder length brown hair swaying back and forth as she leaned in. She always wore such nice outfits, summer dresses or skirts and sweaters. A few times suits, but the way she preferred skirts and dresses to pants was one of the things that had drawn them together in the first place.
“We do have a lot planned out. And that's why this is important, cause I'm not going through with a plan with someone who is only half involved in it. You're always late, you're nearly always distracted, when we are-”
“Not so loud!” Graelyn said glancing around as though anyone had been listening.
“Okay, quieter! Its like you're doing calculations in your head!”
“...But yeah I am doing calculations in my head. There's nothing wrong with that.”
“Did you ever think I might want more than you're giving me back? You always hold part of yourself back. You listen, but you don't talk about yourself, just your work. And who spends all their time at a lab at fifteen? I mean, I started dating you because you seemed a lot more mature than you are, you're two grades up in school and doing lab work, at fifteen. That's impressive, it really is, and I thought there would be more to you than that, but what else is there outside of it? Its like you were never a child.”
“I love music.” Graelyn said, her voice cracking, “and cats.” there was a pause, “and you.”
“Great, three things. I won't be here forever, I'm going back London when the summer starts, and I keep asking myself, will I miss you, will you miss me, or is the fact that you can move in with me just convenient for you?”
Graelyn's stomach churned, “Well, yes its convenient, but...” She struggled to find the words.
“I...” Ashlyn looked at her sadly. Their food came.
“We may as well enjoy one last meal together. Dig in.”
“Last? So, you're breaking up with me? That's it?” Graelyn's face drained of all its color. Her muscles retreated and she was only alive by the sign of her breath.
“I, look, I didn't want it to go this way, but it has to. I can't keep doing this Graelyn. You're not my only option you know.”
“How much does it hurt?” Graelyn asked.
“I need to know how much it hurts, you. Right now.” Ashlyn looked over her face, it was strangely impassive.
“To break up with you?”
“Why would you ask me that?” Graelyn shrugged.
“I want to know.”
“It hurts a lot, for the record.” Graelyn nodded. The gears were turning in Graelyn's head.
“I'm very disappointed this didn't work out. I'll have to take other measures.”
“The plan has to change.”
“The plan? That's what I was to you, a plan? You just needed me around for some benefit?”
“That's why we keep other people around. For their benefits. That's what a relationship is.”
“No we don't! Not normal people. Normal people think about how they care about other people, or their feelings.”
“I do care about you. I did think about your feelings, I asked how much this hurt you.”
“Like I'm an experiment. I didn't think when I'd break up with you you'd find a way to break my heart even more.” Graelyn shrugged.
“You can never achieve anything if you aren't willing to cut out your own heart. You can never advance unless you sacrifice what matters to you. You cut me out of your chest first. I don't benefit you anymore. And I can respect your calculation.”
“You sometimes barely talk like you're human. I didn't calculate leaving you.” Graelyn looked down at her plate.
“I'm good at calculation. I notice things. I just didn't want to believe them. But that's life, cutting things out, I should have expected it. I've been trying, I really have. You've always made me feel so free. But I can see I had things scrambled. Still, I notice things. So... Is there someone else?” Ashlyn looked awkward. She couldn't meet her gaze and stared off into another table's candle flame.
“Oh.” Graelyn said.
Graelyn had met Ashlyn when she had gotten bumped up another grade at the start of the school year. She was a foreign exchange student from London, or maybe Blackpool, she said both of them at various points, and Graelyn was instantly attracted to her. She had a sort of wide round face that was both beautiful and adorable, and she was always making funny quips. She'd mastered Russian in a flash, and was already making terrible puns. Graelyn and her began talking about each other's clothes, a topic Graelyn usually couldn't care less about but which suddenly took on a whole new dimension with her. Graelyn definitely thought she was hot, but there wasn't a romantic spark. She had only rarely felt that, for people she'd known a very long time, like Petyr, but Ashlyn was so much more interesting than Petyr, whose idea of a fun date was going somewhere and walking around for two hours, she decided it didn't matter. Maybe if she waited, the spark would come. She waited, and waited, and it never came. It occurred to her around this time that she could be attracted to anyone if they had enough charm or looks, so she was definitely Pansexual, but she had to be DemiRomantic, only attracted to people she'd developed an emotional connection to. She dumped Petyr for Ashlyn, and they seemed mostly happy together. But Ashlyn was right, she couldn't open up to her, she kept trying, but she couldn't. It didn't mean she didn't care, she wasn't sure what it meant.
“So who is it?”
“I didn't want you to find out this way.”
“All that stuff about what I've been doing, and you're telling me you found someone else. I may be a terrible girlfriend but at least I'm a loyal one. Who is it?”
“Just hold your hand still.”
“I'm trying.” Graelyn looked down as the machine began to carefully treat her nails. Ashlyn laughed from the chair next to the other machine, “Its just a manicure, you said you were cool with getting one when we were getting coffee.”
“It seemed like a good idea then.” The needles and lasers an other devices went to work layering color and detail onto her nails, when a holographic popup appeared.
“Oh not that, use your left hand, not the one being worked on right now, to close it.” Graelyn read the holo display.
“It says it can put a hard drive into the paint on my nail.”
“Yeah, its a cheap trick. Handy I guess. Handy, yeah?” Graelyn rolled her eyes.
“Right, well... Nothing subdermal or permanent right?” Ashlyn shook her head. Graelyn tapped yes, and the machine got right back to work. When they had finished, their nails were short, bold, and beautiful, layered in carefully chosen colors and shades.
“Ooo, yours are very nice. You got an ocean pattern.”
“I like the ocean.” She said plainly.
“Clearly. Look at mine!” Graelyn held her hand gently and examined the stylized blinking eyes on her fingernails. “They move!”
“That shouldn't surprise you, that's not that fancy.” Graelyn threaded her fingers through her own and smiled. “I like them.” She smiled back and running her fingers through Graelyn's hair, kissed her. They kissed deeper, and several adults walked past rolling their eyes as they are wont to do at teenagers Graelyn felt Ashlyn working at the back of her head, and then her hair dropping down from her pony tail. She pulled back.
“What was that about?”
“Just a subtle message to let your hair down once in a while.” She blushed, and leaned back in for another kiss.
“Marilyn.” Graelyn stood up. “You're dating another Lyn? Seriously?”
“Lyn and Lyn!” Graelyn held up the paper she'd drawn the words on sloppily. “Like a duo!”
“Well, definitely a duo, but I think we can do better than that for a couple name.” Ashlyn gestured for the pad of paper, and Graelyn handed it to her. She turned to a new page, and scooted over on the bed so Graelyn couldn't see it. Graelyn glanced back over at her homework.
“Lyn squared!” Ashlyn said holding up the paper, which of course had “Lyn^2” written on it. Graelyn grinned, picking up her homework.
“We should make t-shirts.” Graelyn lowered her homework slightly.
“My goodness we should.”
“That was our thing, Lyn^2...” She sat down, collecting herself.
“You're giving her one of the spare shirts aren't you.”
“No... No I wouldn't do that.”
“You're lying.” The waiter refilled their glasses.
“Okay maybe I am, but...” Graelyn slumped down, took off her glasses, and began rubbing her eyes.
“Oh no, no no no, no I've really hurt you I'm sorry I really didn't mean--.” Ashlyn reached out a hand nervously.
“Its just.... I... You couldn't have waited three days?”
“Whats... Whats in three days?”
“My birthday.” Ashlyn looked paralyzed.
“Don't worry about it,” Graelyn said calmly, “it was clearly my mistake.” Graelyn pulled the cheap ring on the necklace from over her head, and set it on the table.
“I'm sorry I wasn't good enough for you. I hope she likes this.”
“Graelyn...” She got up, paid at the counter, and went out the door.
* * * *
Graelyn got back into the house from work, she'd been dong the usual lab work: pipeting, filling out other people's paperwork, cleaning the equipment. She had texted a few people, but no one had responded. That was okay. She'd find a way to make today work. As she stepped into the living room, her mother was there, wearing a loose fitting blouse and beige slacks.
“And where have you been.” It wasn't really said like a question, so Graelyn didn't answer. She just tried to walk past. An arm reached out in front of her.
“No, not today, you're going to stay in here and talk to me.” She was tired of talks this week.
“Could I please just go to my room Mom...”
“No. I've had enough of 'your room' I went in there today—”
“You went in my room?” Graelyn's eyes went wide. She pulled her phone out of her bag, tapped the screen carefully, then set it on the mantle.
“Yes, I went into the room I gave you, and guess what I found?”
“What did you find?” Her mother reached down to the table and picked up several internship fliers.
“What did I find? I found these. Fliers for internships outside of Moscow. They weren't there when I checked your room yesterday.”
“I can go where I want.”
“You're just a teenager. What do you know about anything? Are you going to go off and explore the world like some useless hippee? You are staying right here, and you're going to be useful. You've never been as driven as your sister, or as smart as your brother, but I'm not going to let you be a total loss.”
Graelyn gritted her teeth. “You mean like Xandra. Maybe I'd like to be Xandra-” Her mother glared at her, and Graelyn's voice caught in her throat.
“You're not going anywhere, and that's final. You're staying here, and if you try to leave, I'm calling the police on you. And you're not seeing that... 'Girlfriend' of yours anymore. Ah yes, you thought you could keep that from me to. Many may have accepted that immoral bullshit centuries ago but us Scythes are better than that.”
“Well you got your wish she dumped me three days ago.” Graelyn muttered.
“Good. Then you won't be mad I burned everything with her name on it.” Graelyn gasped. She'd still held the Lyn^2 shirt while she'd slept this week, not that she'd ever let Ashlyn know that.
“You burned my things?”
“Yes. And I'm going to be keeping a much tighter leash on you, you little slut. I'll be picking you up when you finish your shifts now so you don't get up to anything. Understood?”
“Good. I'm glad we understand each other. I thought you might amount to something Graelyn.” She shook her head, “I really did. But you're just as much a disappointment as Xandra. Maybe we should set your sights lower, I don't think you can get into the programs I was expecting you to. You've put such a burden on me, I've worked so hard for you. How could you hurt me like this? My own daughter. I bet Andrei wouldn't have put us through this. It probably would have been better if you'd done a better job when you were 9.”
Graelyn had been making the slow shuffle back towards her room, ready to grab her phone and leave. But that stopped her. She gripped the edge of the mantle tight, her hands shaking. She'd been ready to give up. She had been.
“What did you say?”
“You know exactly what I said.” Graelyn began shaking uncontrollably, her teeth clenched together, she tried desperately to keep herself calm but it wasn't working.
“H-h-h,” she tried to breathe but it hurt to, “h-how dare y-you. How dare you!”
“How dare me?” Her mother reared on her, putting her strong hands on her and spinning her around like a beanpole. “HOW DARE ME?”
“S-s-see,” Graelyn stuttered through her fear, “this is why d-dad left.” Her mother's eyes turned into fireballs, and she felt the hands leave her sides. Her mother's breathing was heavy, and deep.
“W-” Graelyn began, but whatever it was was never said.
The blow came suddenly. Like a thunderclap. For a second Graelyn saw her mother's hand in the air and began the instinctive flinch, but the blows usually came where no one could see them. Her back, her chest, her sides. The slap hit her right on the side of the face. Not a light slap, but one with the weight of a punch. Her ear rang, her cheek burned like it had been splashed with fire. She tried to right herself, but another slap hit the other cheek and she lost her footing. Then again. She couldn't feel her glasses anymore, they must have fallen off, and she couldn't hear what her mother yelled through the ringing in her ears, just that there was yelling. She could barely see, everything looked cloudy, and she realized that she wasn't standing up anymore. A foot hit her in the ribs, and she cried out. “Mom, please.” She managed to whimper. But the foot came again. Then there was nothing, and she felt a hand around her pony tail. For a second she imagined Ashlyn had come to rescue her, but these were not those fingers, and they pulled up her whole body weight by her hair. She wobbled, and managed to stand, before another blow landed on her face. She rose again, hiding her own face with her hands. She held back her tears with years of practice.
“You will never talk to me like that again young lady. Never.” Graelyn nodded.
“Look at me when I'm talking to you!” She widened her fingers so her right eye was looking at her but not her left.
“That is the last outburst I will ever hear from you. You should be grateful I was this nice to you. You got lucky today young lady.” Graelyn nodded again.
“Yes, I did.”
“You're an idiot.” Her mother's face grew red, building up for the next explosion.
“I'm a what.”
“Y-you're an idiot.” Graelyn turned her face away so she couldn't see the right half of it, and pointed with her right hand at the mantle where her phone sat, gently recording the whole event. She returned her hand to her face.
“You shouldn't touch it. Its already uploaded and backed up.” Graelyn said, somewhat louder.
“You... You...” her mother's temper seemed to ebb, rise and fall, and then,
“Graelyn, sweetheart.” She wrapped her arms around her, pulling her hand covered face against her shoulder. “You know I didn't mean all that. I just get worked up sometimes, maybe we can loosen some things, get you more pocket money so you don't have to work as much... You know I love you right? I love you so much.” She stroked the back of her head like a lion pawing at a gazelle carcass.
“We'll work something out, mommy just doesn't want anything bad to happen to you. You know that right?” Graelyn began to nod into her shoulder, like she always did, but then forced out it out of her throat, with all her courage, with all her strength, with everything she could ever find in herself, she made her mouth say a word.
“What did you say?”
“I said no. I said no. I said no.” She backed out of the hug, still hiding her face.
“I said no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”
“You don't know what you're saying, just sit down and-” She threw her hands out to her sides, freeing her face.
“I know what I said. I'm leaving. I'm leaving and you're not stopping me. I'm going into my room, getting Mr. Sprinkles and my books and I am walking out that door and never coming back. And the next time you'll see me I'll be in court getting an emancipation from you. I'm not your goddamn toy anymore.”
Her mother stood there stunned, then seemed to think of something to say, “...Look how strong you are, my baby girl has finally-”
“I'm not hearing this! Stop it.” Graelyn made her way to the mantle, and fumbled for her glasses on the floor. They were cracked in the left lens. She put them back on, and grabbed her phone. She went into her room, and shoved anything she cared about into a backpack and a bag, then hugged Mr. Sprinkles and put him into his carrying case. She walked through the living room and out the door keeping a dead stare at the exit and ignoring the other person in the house. Her face ached, her side ached, but the sunlight felt different on her skin, either because she was free or because of the aching she wasn't sure. She looked up at that light like it was something new.
“Happy Birthday to me.”
Ashlyn and Marilyn sat in their matching Lyn^2 t-shirts on the couch when the doorbell rang. “Could you get that Ashlyn?” Her host mom yelled. Ashlyn made her way over to the door and opened it. There, with a bruised face, black eye, and cracked glasses was Graelyn Scythes.
“Hey.” Graelyn said.
“Hey.” Ashlyn replied.
“I know this isn't a good time, but could I ask a favor of you?”
A voice called from upstairs, “Who is it?”
“Graelyn.” Ashlyn said. There were the loud stomps of feet coming down the stairs.
“You can tell that no good-” Ashlyn's host mom Petra stopped as soon as she saw Graelyn on the doorstop.
“Oh my God.”
“I was just wondering if you could take in Mr. Sprinkles for a bit. I got kicked out of my mom's house.”
Petra ran towards the door and pulled Graelyn in, “What on earth happened to you?” Graelyn looked down at the floor, and setting the bag and catbox down, covered her face. Petra hugged her, and Graelyn took her hands away from her face and returned the hug.
“Ashlyn, you go make some tea for our guest.” Ashlyn nodded and ran off. Graelyn couldn't make herself cry. She tried. She felt like if there was a time she would, it was now. She began to wonder if she'd forgotten how.
Graelyn's therapist had been called, who had called a lawyer, and they had come over within the hour and talked to Graelyn. The case was solid as a brick wall. She'd get her emancipation, and the Lawyer was fairly certain she could get her a private room in a Centro corporate housing building for free. It all sounded perfectly good. Marilyn and Ashlyn had both been really nice, if awkward, as had Petra. She'd expected them to send her away. She had just thought it was worth the chance they could take the cat in.
“You're sleeping here, we have a spare futon in the basement.” Petra ordered, Graelyn shook her head.
“I can sleep on the floor in the lab, its 24 hours and there aren't many people there at night.” Petra looked at her, like what she was saying was not a normal thing to say. Graelyn was confused.
“Its really not a problem. I'm sure we'd all like to have you here.”
“I'm not so sure about that.” Petra put a gentle hand on her shoulder, it felt warm in a way hands rarely did.
“Ashlyn and Marilyn are fine with it, and I checked with my wife, she is to.” Graelyn smiled.
“Thank you.” She couldn't think of anything else to say.
“I don't actually know you guys very well. I don't want to be a burden.”
“You're not. There should be more fifteen-year-olds around this house anyways.”
“I'm sixteen,” Graelyn said, “and let me tell you, its been a weird birthday.”
* * * *
“...And then the door exploded in and you arrested me.” Graelyn said. Everyone was silent. The car bumped.
“That's quite the story.” Alice said, Graelyn couldn't read her. “Was it really necessary to tell us about the dancing?”
“I thought it was cheerful. Wasn't it cheerful?”
“After something like that, yeah, I suppose so. You sang the whole song though.”
“Did I? Sorry.” Graelyn put her hands on her lap.
“So you're not... Not really Director Scythes?” The Intern asked, “But... You're still Graelyn Scythes?”
“From another universe. I'm an Intern myself at the moment. Er, was.”
“So what's the verdict, Seniorita, believe her?” Manuel asked. Alice was impassive.
“We're almost at our stop, ma'am.”
The vehicle pulled into a prison, where the doors were opened by a group of revolutionaries. Waiting outside the vehicle were more soldiers, and under careful watch, Archimedes.
“Arch!” Graelyn yelled, only to be shouted down by a soldier. They were ran out into the yard, where Manuel was all smiles, and Arch stared at him. No one could see his expression. No one could tell he was staring as Songbird left the vehicle to cheer and a standing ovation, as the people clapped her on the shoulders and began singing “The Internationale”. No one noticed his fist clench as he stared at Manuel Salazar. No one realized the rage that was boiling inside him, and how much it was going to take to bottle it up.
* * * *
4: A Moment Had Passed, But We Never Forgot
“Hello, are you folks there?” Arch ran up to the com, along with the other children, who mobbed the com in joy, each pressing the button to greet their only visitor. The door opened up after decontamination, and the masked children tackled the man in hugs.
“Salazar,” said the Governor of Ahnerabe station from behind his mask, “I'm very sorry for the improper greeting, Salazar smiled back in reply.
“Its no problem! No problem.” None of them were used to him showing his face, and he looked embarrassed as he remembered, and covered his own up with a mask from a wall mount.
“Sorry, I always forget.”
“How is Earth?” Salazar shook his head.
“Its still a ruin. I've been working with the survivors to try to get something to grow outdoors, but the soil is so poisoned we cannot yet.” Salazar sighed, and wiped a tear from behind his mask.
“Your station will be our salvation I'm sure, and these children its future.” He ruffled the top of one of the fully enclosed children. They were all of course, encased. Everyone was, except those poor people on Earth, and there were only a handful of them left. When Salazar died, they wouldn't ever get another visitor. Salazar looked down at the tiny Arch, who like the other children was displaying a bit red heart icon on his face.
“Do you trust me children?”
The all exclaimed they did, and he opened a bag full of toys they began to loot through.
“You can always trust me.”
* * * *
Arch stared. And stared, until he was ushered to follow them into the building. But his fist stayed clenched and he muttered,
“Do you trust me?”
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
Note: The audio version of this chapter is slightly delayed. Apologies. -Jim
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
Chapter 8: Feline Inhibitions
Its Undoubtable, I love my Cat
Topic: What is Most Important to You? (Be Creative!)
Mrs. Andropov's Class
Teacher's note: Graelie, please stay on topic. While I understand your therapist is encouraging you to be more expressive of your feelings, next time try not to go off on so many tangents.
“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats.” -Albert Schweitzer
No one wanted me to have a cat, not my mother, or my father. But after the incident, my therapist made them. Indubitably, this was not the finest of circumstances for me to receive a cat, but nevertheless, I received one. His name is Mr. Sprinkles, which was also not what anyone wanted me to name him. My mother said I should name him after someone heroic and respectable, like Vladimir Putin, or Ayn Rand, or Josef Stalin. My father stayed silent on the matter. But I did not budge. I wanted my cat to be my cat.
I love my cat.
He is very fuzzy, and purrs when he sits on my lap. His jaws have been tempered by evolution to make him a natural predator, and his teeth are like needles. His claws have a natural retraction function, so they become nearly invisible beneath his fur. His body structure enables him to control his weight when falling to allow minimal damage to his structure when falling. He likes to listen to Mozart with me! He likes to eat fish! He is a carnivore, and has long whiskers. He is my best friend and I love him very much.
Some people say that cats are only looking out for themselves, and this makes them unkind. This is a lie, and lying is bad, unless you are lying to someone for their own good. Like if they are going to put their hand on a hot stove and you said, “don't put your hand on that stove!” and they said, “No that stove is not hot I do not believe you, uninformed child,” and so you said, “That stove is very dirty I cooked raw meat on it and used it as a cutting board and if you put your hand on it you will catch an easily preventable illness.” so they would stop, that would be okay. But lying about cats not being nice is bad. Cats look after themselves, which is a kindness. If more people would look after themselves, the world would be a better place after all. Mother always says that I can't count on anyone except myself, and if I leech off other people and don't do what I'm supposed to, I will be not only a burden on society, but be betraying my own potential. I do not want to betray my own potential, and I am scared of that. I am very scared I will amount to nothing. I am already nine years old and I have not made any significant scientific breakthroughs. I can already tell I am a failure.
Mr. Sprinkles does not care that I am not living up to my potential however. He always comes and rubs on my leg when I get home from school. I have started wearing more skirts so I can feel his fur on my calves for just this reason. He is the only person who doesn't judge me.
I love my cat.
* * * * *
Graelyn waited for the elevator to finish rising, and stepped into a dark hallway. The light flickered for a second, and then failed. “I'm sorry Director Scythes, we appear-pear-pear to b-b-be having technical difficulties.”
“Its alright.” Graelyn said, and pulled out her small tablet computer from her pocket. The screen was still repairing itself, but it seemed to be working enough to use as a flashlight. She shone it around, and took in the luxurious hall. The carpet was so thick and lush you could fall asleep on it, the walls had gold leaf in the artworks, and the lights were all dead.
As she waved the light around, she saw a hand raise in front of a set of eyes in the shadows. She took a step back. “Director Scythes?” A trembling voice asked.
“Who's there?” She someone get up and edge closer to her. It was a girl, about her own age, her hair in neat cornrows, her dark skin still wet under the eyes from crying. She was wearing fairly similar business clothes to Graelyn, except she had a better eye for style and could manage heels better.
“I'm, uh, the new intern. I've been with you since last tuesday, Director.” The girl stopped, she looked scared.
“What's wrong?” Graelyn looked behind her, as though a swarm of revolutionaries was creeping up.
“Nothing miss. I just, uh, you look so much younger.”
“Long story.” Graelyn fudged, “How long have you been waiting here?”
“Since the bombs started falling.” Graelyn nodded, she wasn't sure what that meant, but she knew it had to have been a long time.
“You don't have to stay here you know, you can leave.” The intern shook her head.
“I don't know where to go, Director. They've been executing collaborators.” That was certainly true.
“Come with me then.” The intern nodded, “I'm just going into my room.” This lie was strange to keep up, playing a boss of someone who was in reality her peer. She found being in charge like desert, however.
“If its all the same to you Director, could I wait out here?” Graelyn raised an eyebrow, but she didn't really care.
“Alright, wait out here then. I'll be back out in a bit.”
Graelyn turned, trying to pretend she was a figure in authority and not an intern herself. Walking along the wall she counted room numbers till she found the one she was looking for: 41-17: Director Graelyn Scythes.
Her hair bristled. She could feel an electric rush move through her. Her hand reached towards the panel on the door, and quivered in the air in front of it. When she moved it just another centimeter, the door would unlock, and she would be inside her own room, but a totally different her. Older. Accomplished... Dead. She shivered. She was excited, she was terrified.
She pressed her palm down on the pad, and the door made a clicking noise. She pressed, and it pushed open into an equally dark apartment.
Holding the tablet` out in front of her, she examined the inside: there was quite a lot of scientific equipment she could already tell, not to mention a very nice sound system. The floor was alternately lush and highly practical, with half the room looking like a lab, and the other half like a living room. It looked like there might be some sort of divider on the floor that could rise out of it.
Then she heard it.
It wasn't a loud noise, in fact it was quite soft, but it was all she needed to hear. Like it was muffled through a pillow, she heard a meow. Graelyn barreled in that direction, tripping over something square in the shadows and wincing, but not stopping. She opened another door to a room filled with all sorts of cat toys and structures: things to climb on and sit in. There was an empty food bowl next to an equally empty water bowl, and a litter box that looked like it was automated. The cat meowed. She ran over to the cage, and fiddled clumsily for the door latch. There, through the aperture, was a different cat. It was white with black splotches. “Of course its not my cat.” She thought, “Wherever I am, that woman in the car said I looked twenty years younger. A guess, but a good time frame. Its unlikely my cat could have survived that long.” The cat moved towards her hand, and began to rub against it. Instinctively, Graelyn began to scratch it behind the ear, and the cat closed its eyes in pleasure.
“You poor thing, left alone here. I bet you're hungry.” She picked up the cat, and cradled it against her breast. A little warm bundle, shifting and nuzzling. Graelyn foraged around awkwardly for the catfood, not wanting to set the cat down, but also needing to hold the light to actually see things, which left her having to set the tablet down and pick up over and over to reach for things. Finally she found the catfood, opened the meal, and squeezed it into a bowl. She pulled another dish from the cupboard, and filled it with water. Setting the cat down, she watched it begin to eat, its jaw moving in a perfect rhythm, its neck muscles working to move the food back. She smiled, and reached for its collar, feeling for a tag, which she found. Holding the light to it, she squinted, “Captain Fudgesickle.” Good name, she thought admiringly of herself. She ran her hand along his back. No, this wasn't her cat, but this cat had no one here. A Graelyn had picked him out, had raised him, and that Graelyn was gone. He wasn't Mister Sprinkles, but Captain Fudgesickle was still in need of a home. She would take care of him. The good Captain began to drink some water, and Graelyn continued examining the room. There was a workbench where this Graelyn had been working on some sort of robotic limb... Then she noticed it. There was someone else in the room. Sitting there the whole time, silently. She dropped the tablet, and heard the screen crack again.
“Hello.” She said as calmly as she could.
“I'm Graelyn, who are you?” Silence.
“Why are you here?” Silence.
She took a step towards him. It was a man, but she could tell he was... Modified. His skin bore numerous scars from surgeries, and she could see lines under his skin that were the trademarks of biomodifications. He looked at her, and remained silent.
“Can you talk?” He shook his head no.
“But you can do yes or no?” He nodded. She nodded back.
“Well then, are you going to kill me?” He shook his head.
“Do you want to?” He nodded. She leaned in closer: there had to be an incredible amount of biomods in this man. The only person she could think of with more was Arch, and he was a pretty ludicrous exception.
“Did... Did I do this to you?” He nodded.
“Did you volunteer?” He shook his head.
“Where did I?” He pointed to a wall, “Show me.” He rose, and walked over to the wall, somehow doing so in a way that was both stilted and fluid. Like a clockwork ballerina.
He pressed a button on the wall, and it slid open to reveal a room that was still completely lit. The whole thing was utterly white. An operating table sat in the center of it, and a large tray of surgical instruments sat on a tray next to it. Graelyn looked back at him.
“Me? I did this to you? I did this to you.” Her eyes grew wide. She looked back at him. She could feel her body trembling, like there was an earthquake in her heart. He squinted at her, and looked puzzled.
“I'm not her. I'm not... It wasn't me. I couldn't do...” She covered her face with her hands, and after a moment peaked out from between her fingers. She looked at the table. She could see herself there, slicing him open, crossing that line she'd felt in the ocean she hadn't wanted to believe she could leap.
“Could I?” As she stared at the operating table, the silence was deafened as three calibrated charges went off on the apartment door, and a crack team of Revolutionary commandos entered into the apartment, their guns trained on every living target.
“Hello Graelyn” A red haired woman said.
“You're under arrest.”
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
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Chapter 7: Viva La Impact
He tumbled through the air, again. He'd lost count of exactly how many times that had happened today. He'd been lucky to, the rocket hadn't detonated when it hit him for some reason, just kept pushing, and his processors worked faster than his brain in order to let go of the projectile before it detonated of its own accord. He watched the explosion above him as he fell, and even though he was really lucky to have not been killed by the high yield military technology, heard a little voice in the back of his head saying, “well, you survived the missile only to crack like an egg on the ground, so lucky is relative.” He sighed behind the mask, and spread himself out. His body actually could easily take this hit if he took the right precautions. He was made to take hits. He needed to time this perfects though. His internal sensors told him he'd hit terminal velocity, which wasn't good, but it did set clear perimeters for his landing. He neared the ground, a nice big area of tiled concrete, and just before he would hit, activated the weapons in his hands and feet. He pushed the energy out full force, draining the energy cells, and ruining the concrete he was over, which pushed him up enough that he went two feet up in the air, and then dropped back down with a loud 'clunk'. A few feet wasn't so bad.
Standing back up, brushing concrete dust off of himself, he examined his surroundings to see a small group of the fighters in rag tag uniforms with their jaws open, or eyes wide, or both, who appeared to be tying up a smaller group of uniformed soldiers who were equally shocked, their hands on their heads.
“Uh, don't mind me.” Arch said inadequately, “I'm uh, just passing through.” He gave them a thumbs up, and tried to casually walk away.
“Wait. Um, don't move?” One of the rag tag group said, raising a gun. Arch sighed, again.
“Can we not do this please?”
“Whose side are you on?” The man yelled back at him. His face was covered in a thin layer of grime from battle, his stubble sticking out from it.
“No one's side. I'm really not interested in this fight.” Arch took a few steps away from the group. He just couldn't catch a break.
“You're either on the side of the Revolution, or the side of the oppressors, there is no inbetween in a warzone.”
“I mean, traditionally don't medical staff—never mind forget it. Look, I don't know what you're standing for. I don't know what your revolution is, I just need to find my friend.” The man did something to the gun, Arch honestly wasn't sure if he was cocking it or taking a safety of, it didn't look like either, but it got the man's point across.
“Who's your friend.”
“No one you know.”
“Civilians have been evacuated from the area.”
“Have they? Great. Well she's a curious girl and you know what they say about curiosity.”
“It killed the cat.”
“It did? Okay, actually I didn't know they said that about curiosity, consider me educated. My point here is—”
The man's walkie-talkie buzzed. He answered it.
“Really?” He said into it. Then, “Right.”
He raised his gun again.
“Sir, you're under arrest for interfering in the execution of known criminals. Your safety is guaranteed if you co-operate.” Arch weighed his options: he could definitely take all of these troops. His internal processors had already mapped out how his body would move, how he could disarm each of them in turn. It had laid out different movement plots for killing, disarming, or capturing. But he also knew this was a group who knew his location, and who had vertical take off and landing craft (a vtol for short). In close enough proximity they only hadn't shot him again because of his proximity to their own troops. He needed to make sure Graelyn was okay, but there was more than one way to secure her safely.
“Okay, fine, I surrender. But I want to talk to your Commanding Officer. I need to make sure my friend is okay.”
“Oh don't worry,” the man replied, “she wants to talk to you to.”
Alice MacLeod stepped off the vtol, and handed off the rocket launcher to Xhang the special weapons expert, who was waiting for her to get off the thing. “The rocket's are defective, they probably sabotaged the software remotely since they couldn't get them out of our hands.” Xhang nodded, he looked exhausted, so Alice put a firm hand on his shoulder. “You're doing good work here Xhang, we wouldn't have been able to use any of these if it weren't for you. He smiled a bit, and she kept moving. She had a war to win still. Chantelle approached her from the door to the base, and began talking to her as soon as she was within clear listening distance. “Progress taking the city has been swift ma'am, word that most of the board of Directors are dead caused half their remaining forces to lay down arms all over the world. Unfortunately the other half are pretty entrenched.” Alice wiped her brow with her sleeve as she walked and nodded. “Half if better than I was expecting to be honest. That's great news.” Chantelle nodded, and then ran down some other information that wasn't much of a surprise. Long story short-- they were winning but taking out the fortified enemy positions was going to be tough, especially if she wanted to avoid civilian casualties.
She wanted more than anything to avoid civilian casualties.
“There is one more thing ma'am,”
“Please, just Alice.”
“Yes ma'am. The man you shot with the rocket survived the fall.” Alice stopped walking, and turned to fully face Chantelle.
“Excuse me? Did you just say he survived a fall out of the upper levels of a skyscraper?”
“I'm saying he fell, hit the ground, and then surrendered to some of our soldiers while trying to make some lame jokes. I said you'd want to talk to him.”
“Lame is an ablest slur Chantelle. Please don't use it.”
“And call me Alice, please.”
“I'll try to remember, Alice.”
Archimedes hadn't actually ever been in a jail cell before. The guards weren't quite sure what to make of him. They'd taken his coat, and tried to disarm him, but finding nothing of value in the coat and no way to access his internal systems gave up and gave him back the coat. He found the experience somewhat comforting, actually. Archimedes had grown up in enclosed spaces on the space station Ahnerabe, his room had been smaller than this cell. Everything on Earth had seemed to large when he got there—skyscrapers were towering over him filled with spacious apartments the tenants thought were tiny. There was no roof outdoors, and the sky seemed to go on forever into a heinous blue. He felt overwhelmed sometimes walking around out there, but he had acclimated enough to get through it. No one could see his face anyways. No one could tell when he was uncomfortable, and that was the way he liked it. Sitting there, cramped, he could finally exhale, and if he shut off his visual receptors off, it was nearly home.
A knock shattered the illusion.
“Hey, you've got a visitor.” An invisible voice said through the door.
“Let them in.” He responded calmly.
“She wants to meet you in a more comfortable location.” Arch looked around the cell, and turned off his microphone as he sighed, before turning it back on.
“Well, lead me there then.”
They didn't cuff Arch as they walked him down the hall, which showed either kindness or a basic knowledge of his mechabiology, and that he was clearly there because he chose to be. A glimmer of reason gave Arch a nudge of hope.
Alice MacLeod had a warm cup of tea, and an expansive view of the jailyard. Alice had been to jail many times, for protesting, for stealing food for her family. She had never been to prison though, and she'd always been in and out of the doors fairly quickly. Bailed out by her dad, or mom, or Jack, or any number of family friends. Standing here on the other side of the wall felt wrong.
We've won, she thought. We're the ones running prisons now. Good gods, if we get this wrong we could end up just as bad as the people we overthrew. She sipped her tea with a little less certainty until a knock came at the door. The woman who stepped in wasn't Chantelle, it was a different woman in revolutionary fatigues, one she didn't recognize. “I'm sorry, I was expecting someone else.” She said with as much certainty as she could.
“Right, well, I asked to bring the prisoner up to you so I could give you the report myself. I'm Maria, I'm from the Central and South American branch.”
“Oh, well you've come a long way.” She nodded briefly.
“I came to let you know we've brought Director Manuel Salazar here for trial.” Alice lowered her tea and raised an eyebrow.
“Excuse me, for trial? Cells were given explicit instruction to execute the Centro Systems Board of Directors upon capture. This is a revolution, not a parking dispute.”
“With all do respect, Alice, you don't understand the situation on the continent. Executing Manuel without a trial would have totally destroyed the faith we've managed to instil in our followers there.” Songbird stared back at Maria, her brow furrowed, and then loosened.
“Of course. We're far away from there, keeping the revolution together and preventing a civil war is of the utmost importance right now. I hope you also understand the necessity of executing the Centro Directors.”
“...The necessity you feel is apparent to us, yes. On that front, you'll be pleased. There are only two survivors.”
“Who is the second?”
“Ariadne Moore has fled off world, we're not entirely sure, but it looks like she'd made arrangements with a criminal collective on the rim to hole her up.” Alice nodded, it was unfortunate, but not unexpected. Getting all but two of them was, to be fair to herself, more than any one on the World Revolutionary Council had estimated they could realistically catch. Manuel Salazar would be dead soon anyways, his trial would be a magnificent work of theatre, they just had to make sure their theatrics paid off.
“Thank you for the report, Maria.” Alice said, putting on a politic smile.
“You're welcome. I'm sure people back home will be impressed I met the famous Songbird of Liberation.” She gave a dismissive gesture.
“I didn't chose that name, it sounds too grandiose anyways.” Maria nodded, “Anyways, I have a prisoner you wanted to talk to.”
Arch had been waiting outside the door patiently with his guards, and had taken to amusing them by showing off different patterns on his carapace, taking off his coat so he could show off as much of it as possible.
“Do a lava flow!” a stubbly man said. He complied, and the group of soldiers erupted into shouts of jubilation.
“That's amazing man!” A woman said, “Er, you are a man right.” Arch shrugged.
“I am most of the time. Not all, but whatever. Not sure there is a word for that.”
“Waterfall!” Another voice yelled, and Arch laid the pattern over himself, his whole body projecting the image of a rolling waterfall over it. The group erupted again, as the door opened back up.
“What exactly is going on here?” The group froze, and fell quickly into line. Arch threw his coat on, and found a hat being shoved on his head as he did so, “Thanks for the show, bro.” The stubbly man said as he did so.
“Nothing ma'am.” The woman who'd asked for his gender said. Maria screwed her lips up, and inspected the group.
“Alright, prisoner, go on in. Songbird awaits.”
Alice tapped the console that was supposed to select music for the suite. The machine was supposed to take voice commands, but was rejecting every one that she tried to tell it. She guessed the thing was only supposed to accept certain people's voices, and after a bit of cussing, she'd found the touch screen she was looking for. She quickly input the correct data, and then stared, unsure of what to put on at first. After some thought, she chose a classical playlist a CEO had uploaded to the system. The sound of strings filled the room, and she rose to her full height just in time for the door to open and the strange metal man from earlier to enter in.
“Ah, welcome. Please make yourself comfortable.” The man sat down on a large cushy sofa, and she wondered how exactly he wasn't breaking the thing.
“My name is Alice MacLeod, I'm sure by now you've heard of me.”
“Not really, I mean, I did a few seconds ago. And you shot me with a rocket. But other than that, no.” He paused, and without a hint of sarcasm asked, “Do people normally shoot strangers with rockets here?”
“No.” Alice said. She wasn't sure what else to say, “Who might you be?”
“Archimedes Artemis Von Ahnerabe.” He stood up, and made a sweeping bow, including pulling his cap off in a broad sweep before replacing it, “Well, what do you want to know about me? I'm afraid I'm still trying to get myself placed here. He seemed to focus on the music. Even with no facial expressions, she seemed to sense he recognized it.
“I have a lot of questions. For one you seem awful cavalier about getting shot at with a rocket.”
“It wasn't that bad. I'll gladly answer all of them, though I also have a request.” She pushed her lips out a little.
“Sure. Lets start with that.”
“I have a friend, a 17 year old girl. I need to make sure she is okay.”
“Seventeen years old you say?” Songbird brought up a hologram with a snap of Graelyn running into the room people were getting executed in. Arch had been a half second behind her, and there he was in 3D as well, with Songbird standing there in front of them with a shocked expression. He felt a touch of luck that the hologram was shown after the other person who looked like Graelyn had already disappeared. He didn't want to see the execution again.
“See, I think she might get confused for someone else.”
“Bring up Graelyn Scythes.” The machine refused to follow her command, and Songbird cursed again before squatting down next to a screen and putting in a command manually. A picture of an older Graelyn came up. She was standing next to a bunch of people in lab coats Arch didn't recognize, clearly positioned as their superior.
“This woman you mean?”
“See this is kind of what I was worried about.”
“Then explain it to me. What is Graelyn Scythes, who I personally executed, doing alive and seventeen years old guarded by a cyborg built by Nojpeten Inc. over twenty years ago, according to your tag.” He tilted his head to the side like a bird.
“I wasn't built by Nojpeten Inc.? I was built on Ahnerabe station.”
“I've never heard of that.”
“Its beside the point I-” The music began to loop, playing the same song again. Songbird looked at the computer like she was going to kick it.
“I know this song.” Arch said, “Graelyn played it for me. Mozart's 5th Symphony. I thought I'd recognized it.”
“Its beautiful.” Alice said, “Though I'm surprised I've never heard it before.”
“I was to.” They sat there, letting the music seep into the room. First it hit their ear drums, because that's where music always looks for first, but then it went into the windows and the birds outside became notes on the staff. It sank into the couch that shouldn't have supported Arch, and it became its strength. “Hold in there,” whispered the bass. The violins flooded the air-ducts, and the flutes made their way in between the folds of the carpet. The room took on the aire of the Symphony, and it became hard to disconnect the two from each other.
“This is Graelyn's song then? You're friend's hidden melody?”
“I suppose it’s something inside her, yes. Something she can't express but Mozart wrote down as a bunch of notes before any of us were born. Something lucky like that.” Songbird shook her head, and took a seat in a practical faux leather chair.
“I'm afraid it’s anything but lucky. You have confirmed your friend is Graelyn Scythes. You have confirmed that this is her favorite song, which I knew already I'm afraid. She paid the Moscow Philharmonic to play it four years ago. And yet, you want me to think your friend is not someone I'm looking for, when I am indeed looking for Graelyn Scythes. Indeed, I thought I'd killed her.”
Arch was silent. His face was silent. His body language was absent entirely, and might have been playing hookey. Arch spoke his next words surely. Carefully. Like a cat walking out a skyscraper window.
“What if I told you that she was not Graelyn Scythes, but was Graelyn Scythes. That here, where you are, she is not, but she is somewhere else.”
“Explain.” She said curtly.
“Do you know about the other world's theory?”
“That outside our own universe there are other ones, where every other possible existence is happening. Somewhere I lost the Revolution. Somewhere I went to prison. Somewhere humans have discovered aliens by now, or can't creal.”
“Wait what, sorry, I know I'm the one who is supposed to be trying to explain stuff right now, but what the heck is creal?” Songbird shifted in her seat.
“Uh, you know, crealing? You know...?” She threw her hand out in front of her like she was trying to explain her hands.
“Do you have a dictionary or something?” She dismissed that.
“How can you not know what crealing is? Haven't you ever done it?”
“I've never heard of it before.”
“It’s...” She took a moment, “It’s like, when you're going to do something and you want to do it really well, so you push a part of yourself really hard, and then you're focused on it. Your ability to do that one thing grows, and you're better at that one thing for a short time. You know, Creeling.”
“So it’s like a biomodification?” Alice looked indignant and shocked.
“What? No of course not, every human has had it for as long as humans have been humans. Dolphins have it to, for what it matters. You have it. Graelyn has it.”
“Is this like, a recent discovery?”
“No! Every human ever has had it. You're messing with me.” She looked angry. “Stop playing with me. I am not here to play games with every little counter-revolutionary who wants have their fun before they meet their end.” Her eyes bore into him. The music changed movements with perfect timing.
“Okay well, uh. I'm not playing with you. I'm from another universe. Another reality. Graelyn was part of some experiment to cut a hole into another reality, and it worked. In fact it sort of worked too well, because we're here and we don't have a way back.”
“A project to cut through realities? I've never heard of that.”
“Well, maybe it didn't work here. Graelyn was working for some guy named John Aril--”
Alice looked interested, or puzzled, “Graelyn never worked for Aril. She worked for Manuel Salazar.” Arch pointed, and made a sort-of-snappy sound as he did so. “Ah! See, alternate reality. So she isn't the Graelyn you're looking for, she's a different Graelyn, and you shouldn't kill her, because she is innocent in all this, and so am I.” He tried to make a gesture to show he was done with his speech, and it came out looking like he was going “ta-da!”.
“I find this difficult to believe to say the least.”
“Why don't you... Crealg about it?”
“Creal. And... That isn't how it works.”
“See, I have no idea how it does.”
“Let me explain something to you, Archimedes. I've been the leader of this revolution since the government jailed my father for treason.”
“Is he okay?”
“Yes, he was freed last year in the siege of-- I'm getting off track. I've seen Centro Systems do anything within their power to maintain their control over this world. They've killed their own people, they've shot us with drones, they've burned down towns. I would put absolutely nothing past them. The technology to make a person look infinitely younger has existed for a long time now, as has the technology to make clone replicants of a person at any age. Of course, such things are very expensive. But which is easier for me to believe: that your friend is really Graelyn Scythes, and a replicant of her was killed? Or that this version of her is from another dimension? I find it more likely to be the former. Its also possible that your version of Graelyn is a replicant that broke loose and just thinks she is Graelyn Scythes, but we'll be able to tell that when we take her into custody.”
Arch leaned in, “So... You're taking her into custody? Not killing on sight?”
“You haven't convinced me of your story. But I'm not in the business of killing innocent people. That's what this Revolution was founded to stop. If your friend is really innocent, she will be fine. She'll get a fair trial just like anyone else.
“A trial?” Arch rose.
“How else do you decide who is innocent and guilty? Do you really think the rest of the World Revolutionary Council would be willing to accept my word she was innocent even if I did believe you? As it is, you're not wanted for any crimes, and while you did attempt to aid an enemy of the state, I don't think you're a danger. After all,” She said standing up, “You helping us is probably the bet way to ensure her guaranteed safety. Because we know where she is.”
She walked out the door. Arch watched the door shut. On the back of the door was a poster, bold red with a black outline of Songbird's face. The word's “Follow Her Song.” Were written beneath the image. The still face of Songbird stared back at him.
He supposed he didn't have a choice.
The music looped again. He stood there silently. The music looped again.
He supposed he didn't have a choice.
How will Arch's team up with Songbird work out for him? How is Graelyn doing anyways? Why is everyone so mad? Where is the cat!?!?
Find out next week, on 10,000 Dawns!
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
Chapter 6: Coffee Cat
Kaitlin looked into the darkness of the cage, the all consuming shadow seemed at war with her eyes. “Okay, really no one has changed the bulb in there? It went out at 3 O'clock.”
“Sorry.” Jeff mumbled, rubbing his eyes, “Not exactly my best day ever.” She rolled her eyes at him, useless as ever.
“Fine. Whatever.” She'd have to do this herself, again. She went over to the supply maker, and tapped on the screen till the option for the type of bulb in the animal cages came up. Selecting it, the machine went to work printing the light bulb for her, and it popped out onto her waiting palm from the fabricator. It took seconds, the damn thing was horrificly slow. Kaitlin went to the cage, and opened it up, reaching into the ceiling of it, and unplugging the dead bulb before replacing it with the new one. It lit up to reveal a bland looking cat that blinked its eyes as though it had just been awoken from a pleasant nap. “Poor thing, you've been in the dark because Jeff was a big lazy meany.”
“Hey!” Jeff yelled from across the room. She reached in and scratched the cat's ear, it closed its eyes and made a soft rumbling purr as she continued.
“What's your name pretty cat?” She lifted its tag up to reveal the answer, “Mr. Sprinkles. That's quite the name.”
The cat had no discernible reaction to her running dialogue.
“I wonder who left you here huh? You're such a pretty cat.” No reaction.
“Hopefully someone comes in and adopts you soon. Poor thing. Being alone is the worst thing in the universe.”
Graelyn heard herself yell. Maybe there was a word in there, like “No!”, but it could have just been a yell. She couldn't remember regardless. Her eyes were fixed on the point where she had dropped off the side of the building. The rope hung there, swinging gently back and forth like a cradle. The woman with the red hair turned towards her, her eyes open wide, “What on Midgard?” Graelyn took a few steps backwards instinctively.
“You're dead.” The woman said to Graelyn, as a very pure statement of fact.
Graelyn turned and ran. She realized she'd passed Arch, and that he was now following behind her.
“We need to get out of this building.” Arch said. Graelyn nodded, she found she couldn't speak, so she just pointed downwards.
“No chance. They probably have this place locked down.” They hit a corner, and rounded it into another room filled with glass where two women with rifles were playing a boardgame. Through the window, another skyscraper could clearly be seen. The sound of footsteps behind them was deafening.
“Don't argue. Get on my back.” Arch ordered, and Graelyn complied, as he squatted down, wrapping her arms around his head and her legs around his torso. She was too shocked to really protest regardless, but his plan made sense, sort of. Then again, she felt panic run through her. He was actually going to do this. This was crazy!
Then the bullets started.
The glass in front of them took several hits, as did a potted plant, and Graelyn heard one ping off of Arch's calf. Then Arch began to move. It was like he'd been unleashed, his legs pumping like pistons, his feet charging forward. The two women began to reach for their rifles. Arch shot forward like a bullet, tearing up the carpet with his charge towards the window-- and smashed through it. Graelyn tucked her head down to avoid the glass, and saw the city underneath her, Arch's feet hanging beneath her like she was looking down into the water from a boat. The buildings and people went by in an instant, and she felt them falling in an arc. She braced herself, and felt the impact hard. They smashed through the next pane of glass, and Arch tumbled onto the floor, Graelyn losing her grip and tumbling off onto the lush carpet. Her heart was pounding like a hammer. She knew the adrenaline was staving off the feeling, but as she held her hands up above her face she could see they were littered with shards of glass.
“Graelyn? Graelyn you need to get up!” She felt large metalish hands pulling her into a sitting position, and she realized she didn't have her glasses as he was very blurry.
“I don't know what's going on but we have to keep mov-” Arch was cut off by a streak of fire and smoke that caught him in the torso, and pushed him back from Graelyn, out another window, and into the air. The streak then exploded, and she realized it had to be a rocket. Graelyn couldn't make noises, her voice was lost somewhere inside her and it wouldn't come out. She scampered up, and turned around to see the blurry shape of a vertical take off craft, a woman with red hair lowering the barrel of a rocket launcher.
Graelyn bolted, her instinct to escape kicking in stronger than she'd ever felt in her life. Was Arch dead? She had no idea. He'd survived the depths of the ocean, maybe he could survive a rocket launcher? She didn't know. She didn't even know where she was going, as her feet took her down an empty hallway to the emergency stairwell where she barreled down it, slamming into the metal railings and probably pushing bits of glass further into her body. Where was the damn cat? What was going on? Was she going to die? She tried to push all these thoughts out of her head, but she couldn't. She just kept running, her lungs were burning at this point, her legs felt like they were going to collapse, but she kept descending the stairwell, floor after floor, till she saw a nondescript door by the wall and shoved it open into an alley filled with trash. She kept running, out the alley, into a street where she could see some Centro company soldiers were exchanging bullets and plasma bolts with some of the Revolutionaries. She ran the opposite way. Okay, so she knew this was a full scale revolution then. She wasn't sure how long she could keep going before she collapsed, she was probably losing a lot of blood wasn't she? That couldn't be good. At that moment, she couldn't go any further. Her legs gave out, and she fell onto the pavement. This time, she got up quickly, but she didn't keep running, her head was woozy. She saw a black car coming through the fray, dodging a flaming barrel and clipping a running soldier from one side or the other.
“Hey, Graelyn.” She turned to the voice. She saw the fuzzy shape of a gray hoodie with something yellow on the crest of the hood, shorts... She'd seen that shape before.
“Come with me. I can get you out of here.” The shape held out a hand. The car pulled up to the other side of her, and a window rolled down.
“Get in. Honestly, darling, you should have flagged me down.” It was a woman's voice, and Graelyn found the candor of her somehow reassuring. She acted on impulse, and ran into the open car door. The car door closed, and the gray hoodied figure lowered its hand.
“Well, you are a mess. And great deal younger than I expected. Been getting gene therapy Graelyn?” Graelyn squinted at the shape. It looked like she had big alien bug eyes.
“Who are you?” The woman make a slurpy sound, and Graelyn realized she had a gigantic iced coffee.
“Ah. Alexis, please fabricate a new pair of glasses for our dear Miss Scythes.”
“Of course, Mistress!” A voice said through a speaker, and there was a short buzzing sound, followed by Graelyn feeling a hand place an object in her own palm. She slid the glasses on- they were a perfect prescription. Her injuries were pretty bad, and she was getting blood all over the leather seats. “Alexis, send back the medical kit as well. And make a note to have the car sent to the detailer's if it’s not obliterated in the revolution.” A box shot out of a hole in the wall, and the woman in front of her, who looked like a thin magazine model wearing big shades and a fashionable dress handed Graelyn the box, which she opened to find packets of blue gel. Graelyn picked it up, and looked back at the woman puzzled.
“Do you not recognize them?” the woman asked.
“I've never seen one before in my life.” The woman looked either confused or disappointed, it was hard to tell.
“Just put some of the gel on your injuries. Actually, a lot of it, I'll be realistic.” Graelyn ripped open the packet and began doing that. She felt a tingling on the back of her hands as she applied it, and the glass shards seemed to start dissolving! She stared down in awe.
“That's incredible! Are those nanobots?”
“Yes, that's right. I'm surprised you don't recognize them.”
“Are they common here?”
“No dear, you invented them. They cost a fortune.” Graelyn looked down at her hands, which were being stitched up before her eyes. “You'll still need some new blood, but you'll be alright.”
The car did a swift turn around a corner, and there was the sound of an explosion outside the window.
“Mistress Moore, I'm going to be taking the 54th Street route. It looks like there is a fight down 52nd.”
“Of course, Alexis. Use your best judgment.” She sipped more of the coffee, and dug into a bag for a biscotti, which she delicately dipped into her coffee after lifting the lid. “So, the billion credit question is: who exactly are you? Because Graelyn Scythes would never not take credit for that nano-cream. In fact, I daresay her pride is one of her most insufferable aspects.”
“My pride is not insufferable!”
“My point, precisely.” She smirked smugly at Graelyn, who grumpily pursed her lips as the woman took another bite of her biscotti, seeming to mull something over with every chew. A bomb went off in the distance. “Now, Graelyn has never made a clone of herself. Personally, I believe a properly modified clone is an indispensable asset for women of our caliber. But she never had one made — it’s not in her nature. Yet here you are. Which means I need an explanation.”
Graelyn looked out the tinted window. There were a group of fighters behind some rubble shooting at what must have been some sort of tank, before the car zoomed out of view of it all again.
“I am Graelyn Scythes. I'm just not in the right place.” She rubbed her temple, “You may find this hard to believe, but I'm from another reality. One where John Aril invented a way to cut into other dimensions.”
“No, that makes sense. I'm familiar with the science behind it. I actually put some money into that endeavor, but it never panned out. Besides, Graelyn has never been good enough an actress to pull off the confused and disheveled… thing,” she gave a waggle of her hand in Graelyn’s general direction. “You’re doing, and there’s no one else with the skill or motive to impersonate her so convincingly and come up with such a story. Biscotti?”
“Uh, sure.” Graelyn said, and found one of the cookies in her hand, and a small bottle of iced tea rising out of her arm rest.
“You said...” Graelyn began, her brain felt like it was sloshing back and forth in her skull and she couldn't seem to find the words in there for a moment, “you said a modified clone?”
“It’s a fairly basic principle, you can't have someone just as clever as you mucking about instead of taking your orders. So you pay handsome women and men in designer lab coats to make them more docile. Of course, that golden age is over as far as this planet goes.”
The woman tipped her sunglasses down, peering out the window and heaving a sigh before returning to her coffee, which Graelyn noticed was silently stirring itself. “I'm afraid I'm done with Earth. It was getting a bit stale anyway, really not my style. Too stuffy, too many ideologues. Is there a revolution where you come from?”
Graelyn couldn't help but think she was taking everything way too well, especially as an aircraft careened into a building in the distance, the explosion left a blinding flash in its wake. This woman didn't even flinch.
“How are you so... Reserved?” Graelyn said after the jolt from the plane crash had worked through her system.
The woman gave a curt bark of a laugh. “Darling, empires rise and fall, but the truly exceptional keep going. I've had a way off of this planet for years, and I already have some say in the working of the Revolution. Money works wonders, even with Communists as it turns out, so I'll still be able to keep track of things and minimize my asset loss. But as I asked: revolution. Your world. A thing?”
“No, not seriously. There are some scattered groups but they're not organized enough to really achieve much.” The woman on the train who'd asked her to join that revolutionary group came back to her, and she could almost feel an alternate life where she'd said yes in her fingertips. She shook her hand as if that could make her forget the sensation.
“I'm still surprised you believe me, that I'm from another reality.”
“This isn't my first rodeo. Not that I enjoy rodeos, mind you. I always thought Aril might be able to achieve his dream. If there is a reality where everything is possible, then he must have done it somewhere. Just a pity you showed up in this place at such a barbaric time. Speaking of which, there must be another version of you around here somewhere.”
Graelyn turned her face away from the woman, “Yes. They executed her.”
“Pity. A waste of a good brain. Even if her hubris did border on the intolerable. Ah well, c’est la vie. I'm nearing my stop. You can come with me, or I can let you off somewhere else.” Graelyn turned back to her.
“Where are you going?”
“To the rim. I own a moon there. A fairly nice one, as it were. You're welcome to join me.”
Graelyn felt a flood of feelings: going with this woman, this 'Mistress Moore' would probably be the safest route possible for her. She'd certainly not be on the hit list of a revolution. But two other thoughts left her unable to take the offer up. She didn't know if Arch was alive or dead, and if he was alive, even charred and barely living, she had gotten him into this and needed to get him out of it. Second off, if the version of Aril in this reality hadn't developed the technology to make portals... It could be because Graelyn hadn't interned with him. It was a somewhat narcissistic thought certainly, but she wasn't above thinking it. If that were the case, this Graelyn might still have her cat. Maybe the cat was dead though? It was apparently sometime in the future from her own time, the dead Graelyn had been much older than her. But the two chances were things she could not let go of-- those possibilities took over any certainty of safety, and she shook her head.
“No, I'm afraid I can't. I have responsibilities here.” The woman raised an eyebrow.
“So soon after you pop into a new reality? You are quick for commitment. Ah well, your loss. Shall I let you off at your apartment? If I know the you from this reality, and I do, there’s bound to be something useful in there. Or at the very least something interesting.”
“That sounds acceptable.” The car pulled to a stop.
“I knew it would. It’s been real, alternate reality teenage Graelyn. Mind the bombs.” As if on cue, the car door popped open, and promptly slammed behind her as she stepped into the sunlight. As she stared up at the building the car’s window rolled down, and the woman lowered her sunglasses to look at Graylen in the eyes. She hadn't gotten a good look at them before, but they looked off somehow to her, as if eyes here were different somehow. She felt interrogated. “And Graelyn?”
“Do take a biscotti for the road.” The woman extended a biscotti to Graelyn with a perfectly manicured hand. She took a hold if it as if she as being handed a baton, and in an instant there was only one hand on the biscotti. The woman raised her sunglasses and the window slid slut. With a screech of rubber the car sped off at top speed, only getting faster, till it made a wide turn into another avenue. The wind kicked at her hair, and Graelyn realized that she was totally alone on the street.
Her legs felt a lot more stable, after that blue goo, and she didn't have any trouble walking up to the building, where she put her John Arilhand up to the scanner on the door, and waited for the door to greet her with its pleasant, “Good afternoon, Director Scythes, can I do anything to make your return home more pleasant?”
“Yes.” She replied curtly, “I can't remember my room number, could you remind me?”
“Of course!” it replied.
Graelyn smiled, and stepped through into another life.
But what happened to Arch? Is he okay? Who is that red haired woman? Find out next time on 10,000 Dawns!
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
Chapter 5: Alternities
They spun through nothing. Graelyn felt her eyes take in light and things that weren't light. Her ears rang, and sang, and she heard colors and saw scents. Her dreams seemed to replace her blood, and her vomit was flower petals. The floor vanished and reappeared, and for a moment her feet were on a plane of endless glass with fine sand under it with a single moon in the sky. A man at a desk looked up at her from writing, and set his pen down.
She was then falling, clutching Arch's arm tightly as they dropped through airs filled with birds the size of jetliners with a hundred eyes. And then she dropped again, but this time onto metal.
It took her a second to move, to think, to do anything. Eventually, she heard the sound of her own breathing, that calm and saccharine in and out of air, calm trustworthy air. She looked down to see her glasses a blurry shape on a steel floor that seemed to be fading in and out between being red or silvery gray.
She tried to pick them up, but ended up collapsing. She pushed herself up to a sitting position, and grabbed her glasses, placing them back on her face. The floor was changing color because there was a flashing light. That should have been obvious, but clearly she wasn't entirely cognizant at the moment. Her hands were rough, like shed been rubbing them on sandpaper, and her knees were a bit bloody to. Looking to her right, she saw a railing, and pushed herself up on it. Her legs could hold her up, though they were a bit shaky. Where was Mr. Sprinkles? Was he okay? She tried to shove the cat out of her head, but somehow she couldn't. The distance she was from the cat felt tangible, like she had touched it when she went through the portal. That was silly though, she was clearly not doing well, and there were more important things going on than her cat like... Wait-- where was Arch!?! She looked around, and spotted him a bit further down the corridor she was in (ah, okay, a corridor) trying to pull himself out of a dent in the wall he'd made. As she creeped towards him, he succeeded.
“Hey.” She said, raspingly.
“You don't look so hot.”
“Worry about me later. We're lucky we can breathe. We could have come out anywhere.” That she was in an alternate dimension was not as exciting as she'd hoped. She could be anywhere, the people here could be nothing like those she knew, or not even people all together. That she was breathing and the corridor was built with handrails seemed to be a good sign though. Still, she was in another reality. The thought was awe inspiring, and she only wished she was more capable of enjoying it.
“Any idea where we are?” Graelyn shook her head, and kept walking down the corridor, till she reached a sign that she stared at for quite a bit of time.
“All Anubis Corp. Employees must make sure they are wearing proper protective gear before entering this area.” Graelyn staggered forward a bit more, and saw there was a door next to it. She really was struggling.
“Anubis Corp. Its possible this means we're... In... Sorry I need to catch my breath... A universe where John Aril also exists and is also doing things like he was in our reality. At least probably.” Arch reached out, and supported her.
“You got through all that pretty well it looks like.”
“I'm pretty durable.”
“Built Ford Tough.”
“Forget it.” The hallway didn't seem to seem to lead anywhere they could get through, locked and sealed doors, so they returned to the door with the sign telling them they needed protective gear.
“Want me to go first?” Arch asked as Graelyn stood wobbly in front of it.
She pressed the button by the door, and a hand print scan appeared. Throwing caution to the wind, she placed her hand on it. The scanner took longer than those things normally did, but finally responded in a cheerful voice: “Welcome Director Scythes!”
“You must be a big shot in this reality.”
“We must have arrived in the future of it. No way I'd be a Director at 17.” She neglected to mention that being a director wasn't a surprise at all, just that the technology also could make portals through time. She hadn't anticipated it being able to do that, which meant that she had a lot of recalculating to do.
The door slid open. Graelyn and Arch saw a vast platform, stretching out into a beautiful view of the stars. Corpses littered the platform, strange corpses, some human, some... Decidedly not. There was a glowing light at the platform's end, and it seemed to be spiraling out of control. It reminded Graelyn of the light from the portal. Standing not very far in front of them was an older man, not elderly, but his hair had lost his color. Vapor trailed up from his eCig.
“...Mr. Aril?” The man turned, and looked her up and down.
“Miss Scythes. You're looking Twenty years younger. I'm impressed.”
Graelyn followed the handrails, staggering as the enter structure shook.
“Where are we Mr. Aril?”
“This is my great creation, a machine that can draw in anything I want from any reality. Unfortunately some people weren't as keen on it as me, and its going to explode. Maybe implode. Honestly it will be educational to find out which.” Arch walked ahead of them both, and looked at one of the corpses. It was a Korean man in a suit with mechanical parts interspersed all over him, his head lilting in Arch's grasp.
“So it worked, we latched onto your portal.” Graelyn almost sounded proud. Aril looked at her, and puffed again at his eCig. “Really. I'm impressed. I wasn't expecting any stowaways on my project.” Graelyn smiled, not realizing there was some blood in between her teeth.
“Doesn't look like it was an easy journey for you.”
“Doesn't look like your facility is going to last the night.”
“Its not night, this is a spacestation.” That made sense.
“But no, its not. I'll need to be getting off here soon-” He was cut off by a rush of metal that threw him and Graelyn against the walls. The dark Arch ran toward Arch, swords out. The two collided with the sound of a car crash-- swords jabbing and gnashing lightning fast at each other. Graelyn turned to see if Aril was alright, only to see him running far off into the distance. Graelyn got up, and ran toward the fury. She needed to save Arch, not that she really knew anything about him, but he was the only familiar thing here and that meant something. Looking at the corpses, she saw something she'd recognized from research, and picked it up. It was heavy, and she could turn it, but she managed to turn it so she could access the selection screen, and point it in the general direction of the two Arches, tapping on the screen on the dark Arch over and over, who was going in for a blow at Arch's belly. The machine began to whirr, and then activated a powerful electromagnet and gravity distorter. Dark Arch looked at her for a moment, feeling a tugging and then flew back towards the wall smashing through it like a cannonball. Graelyn ran towards Arch, who looked impressed, taking his hand again and pulling him towards the violent blue swirl.
The dark Arch began to crawl out of the crumpled hole it was burrowed in. How much damage could he take? She and arch ran. Hard. Behind her, she thought she saw a person in a strange gray sweatshirt, but she had to still be groggy. The dark arch lurched forward.
“You can't seriously be thinking we go into another one of these.”
“Name another plan.” She tugged, he relented, and the two jumped into the blue swirl. She could see a face as she dived in, a red haired woman. She didn't recognize her at all.
This time was worse. Her legs felt like they were being torn apart. Her eyes rolled back so far in her head they ached. Her senses blurred. She felt sick. She landed in a pile of rubble that used to be a wall, looking into a bathroom. She worked herself back to her feet, checking Arch was still beside her (he was).
She worked forward again, towards some voices coming from the end of the hallway. Loud clear voices, she recognized one but couldn't quite make it out. Working her way out an open doorway, she greeted the sight of other humans welcomingly for half a second, before the reality of the scene set in.
She was high up in a skyscraper, and there were men and women there with guns. They were wearing sort-of-uniforms with matching patches that said “WRC”, like they were some sort of rag tag resistance. The wall in front of her was all glass, and she could see the Skyline clearly. She was fairly certain this was New York City. One of the people with guns was clearly in charge, a red-head with a beautiful round face and sharp chin, her hair short and practical. There were people lined up in front of the glass windows who were not armed. They were wearing suits. Many were sweating. There were nooses around their necks. Her eyes focused in on one in particular. A woman wearing a blue blazer, a blue skirt, a white blouse, and a black tie. Her lapel had a pin on it of a cat. She wore glasses over the small lines on her face, she was probably in her mid thirties.
The red-head spoke, and listed off a lot of names, but really Graelyn phased most of them out as she stared at the woman in front of her. “...John Aril, Vivian Marvel, and Graelyn Scythes, you are hereby sentenced to death by the World Revolutionary Council. May the gods have mercy on your souls.” Graelyn rushed forward, towards herself, as the men and women with guns each kicked a member of the lined up people with suits through a glass pane. She met her own gaze for just a moment. She could see her pupil's grow wide. Graelyn watched herself fall out the window, the rope going taut as she disappeared out of view.
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
I'll be participating in a Charity fundraiser podcast marathon this Saturday, August 1st for Ben, a young boy who is fighting cancer. During the Marathon I'll be reading an exclusive 10,000 Dawns Spin Off Story about Mister Sprinkles the Cat (as chosen by readers!). The story will also be posted here with a link to donate to Ben's fight. You can find out more about the marathon at the link below! Please tune in and help!
Chapter 4: There's More to the World Than you Realized
Graelyn was utterly shocked when she returned to the cafeteria.
“Arch.” She said breathlessly, “You have a hat.” He did indeed have a hat, a top hat, and on the front of his mask slightly above where the mouth would have been was the image of a cartoon mustache. Next to Arch was Jerry, who had a concerned look on his face. Across from them on the other side of the table was Dan, as well as Layla and Yossara.
“Dan gave it to me.” Arch said, waggling the mustache on his face. Graelyn blinked, and reminded herself that Arch had enough weaponry to kill them all a few times over.
“Okay.” Graelyn said.
“We're playing 'Robespierre' Jerry said pointing at a board game box. Graelyn nodded.
“Ah. Game night. Or whatever time it is.” She really had forgotten.
“Want to join in? Arch is just about to kill off the Girodins, which means he'll win and we can start a new round.” Graelyn hated game night. She avoided it at all costs whenever possible, and usually hid in her room saying she had work to do when it came up.
“Are top hats and mustaches period appropriate to the French Revolution?” She asked blandly.
“No, we were playing 'Steam Trains of Callisto' before this, and we thought it'd be funny.” Layla said, holding up the game box, which had a man with a top hat and an exact replica of Arch's mustache on his face. Graelyn nodded again. “I'll watch.” She said plainly, and sat down, back straight, hands on her lap.
The game was fairly interesting to watch, if a bit predictable. Every player was a different faction in the French Revolution and had to try to get the other factions executed either one at a time, or all at once. Once a player died they got to play as the 'mob' and tried to screw everyone over. Graelyn didn't know much about the French Revolution, and she couldn't tell if the game was actually educational or not. She was pretty certain that it was at least more educational than 'Steam Trains of Callisto'.
Arch was pretty good at the game, though he ended up losing to Yossara after she framed him for trying to smuggle an aristocrat to England. The whole table thought this was hilarious, for some reason, and Arch seemed pretty adept at making it funnier for the group by projecting weird things on his body, culminating in his own execution by guillotine displayed on his chest, where after his head was separated from his body and raised to the crowd, his mustache waggled, causing Jerry to fall out of his seat. Graelyn sat calmly, observing the whole affair. Wiping a tear of joy, Yossara stuttered a bit through the last bits of her laughter before asking,
“So, when did you get down here? I wasn't informed we were having-”
“He's a special project.” Graelyn cut in. “Mr. Aril wants to see how he works in the undersea environment.” Yossara frowned slightly, “And he left you to manage him?”
“He's not much trouble, getting the coffee doesn't take that much of my time. You guys have important work to do.”
“Of course.” She replied back.
“Speaking of which,” Dan said, “I'm actually ten minutes late for my shift. Not like Daria will care, but still.” He grabbed the top hat off of Arch and waved goodbye as he headed off. The others began packing up the games.
“Well, I hope your special project sticks around. He's ended up being a lot of fun.” Graelyn gave a faint smile.
“Well, the life of a special project is a weird one.” Arch said glumly, handing Jerry some cards. The game club headed out, and Arch looked over at Graelyn. He waggled the mustache. No reaction.
“So... What do you do for fun around here?”
“Not that, clearly. We have some time before things are ready.” She stood up, and gestured to him. “Come and see.”
Arch looked at the mini-sub warily. “Are you sure it can take my weight?” Graelyn had already ran off to the lockers to get into a wet suit, and was re-tying her hair back as she walked out.
“Yeah, I'm sure. I managed to pull you up with one of those you know.”
“Still, I might fall through the bottom.” Graelyn shook her head.
“I checked the internal weight limits. You could fit the crew of a ship in there. Well, not by mass, but you get the picture.”
“Gotcha.” Arch climbed the ladder up onto the sub, which did unbalance it a bit, but didn't flip it, and slipped into one of the passenger seats. Graelyn dropped into it, and closed the hatch.
“So whats the name of this sub?
“What do you call it?”
“I'm not good at coming up with names.” She said, flipping several switches, and Arch felt the sub roar to life beneath him before dampeners activated and the sub was silent as a 1910 film.
“This is where I go to escape.” The sub began to dive, and exited the city, its search lights cutting through the darkness. Graelyn fiddled with something on the touchscreen on the dashboard.
“Do you like music?” She asked. Arch shrugged, “Yeah, sure.”
She tapped a few things into it, and after a few moments of silence, Arch heard the sound of violins. The music started soft, then slowly rose like it was reaching towards the surface of the water, before diving quietly back down. As it played they surged through schools of fish more brilliant than rainbows, and through a rock trench that was filled with weird tube like creatures. As they did, a new movement started, this one more somber. Arch wasn't sure what wind instroments were playing, but they wove in and out of the strings as though participating in some slow dance. The ocean seemed the perfect place for this song. Something large and dark slipped by in the distance. And then, the strings rose! He could tell Graylin pushed harder on the acceleration. It wasn't even fast, but after that feeling of darkness, it felt so much brighter. The piece closed, and Graelyn looked over at him expectantly.
“I liked it. What was it?”
“Mozart's 5th Symphony.”
“Oh. I don't think I've ever heard it before.” She looked pleasantly surprised.
“Good. Most people say 'I thought the 5th was the one that goes 'dun dun dun DUN!'?' but that's Beethoven. I've always loved Mozart's 5th, even though no one knows it. Its frustrating at times, but I suppose it makes it mine in a way. Still, I actually wish more people were familiar with it. You almost never hear it.”
Arch thought a moment, “I'm not really familiar with what music people like.”
“You don't seem like the kind of guy who would.”
“I wonder though, it didn't have... A melody that sticks in your brain easily?”
“No, it doesn't. Its not catchy in the traditional sense, it doesn't have a hook. But it seeps into you. Or, at least it seeped into me.” Graelyn stopped the sub, and held it steady over the trench they'd passed over before (they'd apparently made a loop) letting the fish swim by again.
“Do you have a favorite song, Arch?” Arch thought hard.
“I haven't really put thought into that before.”
“No one has asked?”
“No one has asked.” Graelyn pulled her legs up onto her chair and tucked them into her chest.
“Well then, special project, I'm all ears.”
“I'd like it if you wouldn't call me that.” Graelyn didn't look so much sorry as though she had updated an internal spreadsheet. “Understood, Archimedes.”
“I guess... I like ride of the Valkyries by Wagner?”
“Richard Wagner. Interesting choice.” Graelyn reached over and tapped the screen a few times, pulling up the song, and playing it.
“Is it a bad choice?”
“A lot of people don't like Wagner. He had a lot of views that haven't aged well at all, to put it nicely, and well, the Nazis were super fond of him.”
“Nazis?” Arch said. Graelyn raised an eye brow.
“You're kidding right?” Arch shook his head.
“Should I... Know who the Nazis are?”
“Arch, do you know what that board game was based on?”
“I'm guessing it was based on a story about some sort of revolt in a fantasy land called 'France'. The manual had a lot of background info. Was it based on a book series?” Graelyn's eyes got incredibly wide.
“Arch, you said you were born on a spacestation. What did they tell you there about the outside world?”
Arch looked away from Graelyn, out the window into the faintly lit sea of shadows, “They told us there wasn't one.”
On the way back, Arch asked to hear Mozart's 5th again, and they were silent as the sub came back into port. Both of them waited for the last minute of the song to finish before disembarking. Graelyn went to the lockers to get changed again, and Arch stood out on the dock area, the only living thing in the room, silent as a manikin.
Graelyn emerged, dry and ready to go.
“Graelyn, one question.” She nodded for him to go ahead and ask.
“Did you go into my systems while I was asleep?”
“Yes. I didn't realize you were a person at first. I only discovered it when I realized your files were memories...” She felt a pang of guilt in her throat. She turned away from him, covering her face with her hands.
“I'm sorry.” He shook his head, “Its okay. I doubt you've seen anyone like me before. You were just examining a piece of junk you found.” He gently put a hand on her shoulder. She slowly lowered her hands.
“I don't feel like its that simple.”
“It is. I don't blame you, its okay, stop worrying about it. If I'm going to be down here, I'll need a mechanic anyways. Just consider that your first observation as my mechanic.” Graelyn exhaled, and nodded in relief. She felt like she had almost crossed a line drawn in the ocean's waves. She never wanted to hurt another person, even unintentionally. Taking a deep breath she put a smile on and turned back to Arch.
“So then Archimedes, are you ready to see why we built a city under the ocean?”
Near the center stood a man in an argyle sweater vest over a dress shirt, a tie loosely hanging around his neck. Despite the sign noting otherwise, he was smoking an electronic cigarette, the vapor rising up from it at regular intervals with a small blue glow.
“Who’s the hunk of iron?” he asked, as though he had turned away from looking at the gyroscope.
“I think its something for a special ops project. I’m showing him around.” The man nodded, and glanced at the nape of Arch's neck as though that explained everything. A woman in a lab coat who Arch guessed was Polynesian in origin looked up from connecting a big tube to look incredulously at the man, “Really Mr. Aril? You're not going to inquire further than that.”
“I know what I'm doing. Get back to work.”
“So, what is this place?” Arch asked. The question caused Graelyn to grin wildly.
“This my new friend, is a portal between dimensions.”
“You can make those? I thought that was something out of science fiction?” said the towering cyborg who had survived the crushing depths of the ocean.
“You can.” Said the man at the center of the room. “Or rather, we can, and we will.”
“But really, you shouldn’t.” said the man who had suddenly appeared in the room along with an equally towering figure that was identical to Archimedes but black and with no coat. The man finally looked away from the gyroscope, his e-cig going limp in his lips. “How on Earth did you get in here?”
Graelyn could hear Dr. Kalama mutter something about not asking that a minute ago, even as she backed up. “And where did you get one of those?” He continued, pointing at the black colored version of Arch.
“One of those?” Arch asked, getting no reply.
The man began looking around the room as though he was looking at a child’s science fair project.
“Decent, fairly decent. You haven’t stabilized the holding pattern though. No wonder you're using such touchy methods of finishing the project. Not that it matters. I’m here to shut your operation down.”
Grae’s boss chuckled at that, “really? On whose authority?”
“I work for a people who regulate things like this. You’re about to mess with the barrier between universes, and that is something I’m afraid I simply cannot abide.
“I'm on the board of Directors of Centro systems. I can do what I want. That's the reason we have a corpratocracy. I would have heard of an organization like yours. Surprise: I haven’t heard of such an organization.”
“A small species like yours wouldn’t have.”
Graelyn raised an eyebrow to that, as did Hiriwa, but Aril stayed stoic as though that was a normal thing to say in conversation.
“Even with one of those on your side, you're outnumbered, and there are security systems that were never listed on the plans if you've been snooping on them. There’s no way you can take us all down.”
“Oh really? Did you forget where you are?” As if on cue, the doors began to open. All of them, all over the base. Graelyn scampered from Arch to a switch board which she began to operate at intense speeds. Arch could hear the water coming into the base, rushing through the halls, as the gyroscope started spinning. The man who had appeared began yelling at Graelyn’s boss, who yelled back, and the black carapaced Arch began to move towards Archimedes. Arch shifted his shoulders, and pushed out swords that were apparently loaded in his arms as his opposite marched towards him, casually batting a man in a lab coat from his path as he did so. The opposite’s blades extended, and he began to raise his arms in a fighting stance, till Arch felt someone tugging on his arm. He began following the tug by rote, only to turn and see Graelyn leading him towards the spinning gyroscope which was now…. Glowing. “I turned it on!” she yelled over the din, “You'd better hope I was right about Tubol Cain!”
The water surged in, smashing men and women off their feet, or forcing them to clutch for their lives to tubes and consoles. The yelling intensified, and Graelyn and Arch stood right in front of the spinning machine. It was hard to tell where Aril was, maybe he'd left. Graelyn saw Dr. Kalama knocked off her feet, and the hand of security guard reach out for her before a rush of water blotted them out. The water was rising rapidly.
“Jump in it.” It did not look exactly safe.
“Are you crazy?”
“We’ll drown!” He felt like saying, “No, you’ll drown.” But then again, yes, she would drown. And whatever this was, it was dangerous. She looked at him, waiting, the water rising around her feet, the dark Arch sloshing towards them. He felt her grab his arm as a wash smashed into her side. Arch looked at her one more time, she bit her lip, and he stepped into the spinning glow.
Where will Graelyn and Arch end up? What's on the other side of the Portal? Did the experiment work? Is the cat okay? Find out next week, same cat time, same cat place for the next thrilling chapter of 10,000 Dawns!
And don't forget to check here Saturday for the charity bonus story!
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
I'll be participating in a Charity fundraiser podcast marathon for a child with cancer, more details at the link below. I'll be reading a special 10,000 Dawns side story on the air, and you can help chose what the story will be about! Post your ideas in the comments below! What you want to hear could be a new short story, and help a good cause.
Chapter 3: The Metal Man
Graelyn was still wringing the seawater from her hair as she looked at her catch. It hadn’t been easy to bring him inside, he weighed an incredible amount, and the little sub had strained and strained to pull him up into the station. She hadn’t been able to lift him herself, so she’d used the sub’s arms to load him onto a cart on the side of the docking station. She’d tried to move him herself out of curiosity, but mainly just ended up getting herself very wet.
“What secrets do you bring?” She said to herself, only to mentally chastise herself for sounding like a crazy scientist in a film.
Its face was an oval with one eye, on it's right side, and the rest of its face was a flat blank. Its fingers were segmented, as was most of its body, but it was in the shape of a human male. On the nape of the neck it said its name was “Archimedes” along with a serial number. Weirdly, it was wearing a trench coat. Graelyn ran her fingers along the material-- it was clearly some durable polymer, but the outer layer was transparent, and she couldn't think of who made anything like it. Was it a pose-able mannequin? A robot? She felt around, and noticed a few hidden bolts. Taking their covers off, she carefully unscrewed a few, and looked inside. There was an intense network of electronics and motors inside him, and from the way it was laid out she was guessing the outer layer of the carapace acted as one big screen. Maybe it was an automaton meant to display ads on its carapace? Closing the limb up, she explored further and found a latch on the back of the head with a standard data port in it. She plugged into it without a second thought, and as the drive she connected to loaded up, she suddenly felt invasive. She pushed the thought away, it was just the automaton's hard drive. The files were arranged by date, but one folder stuck out to her: 'hidden files'. She looked at the blank one eyed face, and clicked it. There were a ton of videos in it, so she just scrolled a bit and clicked one at random. She saw a first person perspective of this unit watching a Hispanic man in a blue jumpsuit with a wrench adjust something on its arm. The date in the corner was from seven years ago. She could see rows of similar units to the metal man all still and silent, and another man in a black blazer with red and white stenciling on the lapels and breasts smoking an old style cigar, not even an e-cig. “Raise your arm.” The arm raised in front of the camera. “So much can happen when you're asleep can't it?” The man turned to the camera and said in a Central American accent, “I think its about time you wake up today, no?” These were memories, these files were this person's memories. This was a person. She felt a rush of terror and power flow through her, and scrambled to exit the system. This was labeled hidden files. Why would that be in a person's brain? It can't access this.
Graelyn dropped the tablet, and pulled the cord out of the metal man's neck, slapping the latch closed. She put her hands over her face, and then lowered them trembling. There was silence, her heavy breathing filling it, and then a gentle humming began.
“You're awake.” He heard, it wasn't a question. It was a statement as clear as the existence of matter. Yes, he was. Exactly why he was awake was a different question. He tried to move his limbs.
“Shh, its alright. Stay calm. I've been examining you. It says your name is Archimedes Von Ahnerabe on your carapace, if you don't mind me using the term?” He found he could still nod, so he did.
“You've got built in weapon systems in your limbs, and even
if you didn't your arms are strong enough to literally pull me in half, so I figured it would be best to take some caution till I knew who you were.”
“Who are you?” he said, his voice sounding tinny and water logged.
“Graelyn Scythes, I'm an intern here at project Atlantis.”
“Never heard of it.”
“I also rescued you. You had quite the fall, and you're very heavy.”
“Thank you... Does anyone else know I'm here?” Graelyn
shook her head.
“No, but don’t get any ideas. Most of us keep to ourselves here. We're all working on
the same project, but I can't say any of us are particularly... Social. My boss wants this project done, so I'm doing it. Even though I don’t get to actually do much. Pays pretty well. Well, for
“Could I sit up?” Graelyn had almost forgotten.
“Oh, sure. Its not like you could get out of here alive if you tried to hurt me anyways.” She wandered around his body, and made a few adjustments. “Should work now.”
Archimedes sat up, keenly aware that her hands had been inside his limbs. It wasn't very different than a doctor messing with your insides he supposed, but it still felt funny. He tested his fingers, and got down from the table with a “thud” that rattled the room. Graelyn took a step back.
“No need to worry, I'm not going to hurt you.” She nodded,
though it wasn't the most reassuring thing in the world. It was one thing to know logically someone had no reason to hurt you, and another to stand in a room next to a
walking tank coated in enough airtight alloyed metal to not be crushed by the ocean, who knew you'd been messing with his servos. “Er, follow me,” she said. Graelyn lead him into a hallway filled with
portraits and sculptures of various sea gods and myths. Whoever picked them out wasn't too picky, and a lot of them just had to do with water. Arch stopped to look at them.
“You alright?” He nodded, “My family raised me on Greek Mythology. They're all gone now, but I still love it myself. This one is Odysseus trying to get home, over there is Artemis bathing and punishing the hunter who watched her, Poseidon's wrath...” He trailed off, and Graelyn wondered if patting him on the shoulder would be the appropriate response. “Never mind,” he finished, “its in the past.”
“I've always found the oceans fascinating, its one of the reasons I came here. Though the project itself isn't about that.”
“What is it about?”
“I'll show you later for now lets just get lunch.”
Arch looked around the vacant cafeteria, built large enough to house a feast for a small town, with its few dozen occupants munching away on this or that.
“This is... Weird.” He intoned.
“Yeah. Mr. Aril built the whole place as a front for this project. Its pretty large. He wanted people to think he was trying to build cities on the bottom of the sea floor and iron out all the problems people had had with that so that it was, you know, workable.” She walked over to the empty lunchline, and then to a touchscreen machine. Arch watched as she tapped a few buttons on the screen and a soft buzzing followed it, immediately joined by a meal dropping down onto a tray below the screen.
“Its a printer.” She explained, “It makes all the food down here from component parts. Its pretty good. Not up to real cooking, but you know, that's what happens when you sign up to live in a fake underwater city for a mysterious rarely seen benefactor.” Arch nodded. Sure, that's exactly what that's like. A common experience. He tapped the touch screen a few times, and chose a dinner of nutrient paste. Graelyn scrunched her face up at that, but he didn't care. This was home cooking.
The pair of them sat down at a table together, and Graelyn began cutting into an artificial chicken breast that had previously been a bag of deconstructed protein. Archimedes pulled a tube from underneath his mask and stuck it in the hot bowl of smooth nutrient soup.
“So, I have to be honest, I haven't ever seen a person like you before Arch. Are you from the rim? I hear the Rimwards out there are super keen on body enhancement, but it looks like you took it to another level.”
“I'm not from the Rim.” Arch clarified. Or didn't. Graelyn nodded and put some seasoned carrots on her fork. “So you're military then?”
“No. Not military.”
“Neither Earth nor Mars.” Graelyn furrowed her brow.
“You're a bit more complicated than I was anticipated, unless you're lying. Which honestly seems the most likely thing...” She chewed the carrots, swallowed them, and repeated the motion. They tasted a bit like honey and chilli peppers.
“But lets assume you're telling the truth.”
“If you are, this means that your answers probably are showing you come from a technicality. For instance, you weren't born on Earth, but Luna. Or perhaps you were born on a space station that is in the inner system rather than past Mars.”
“One of those is right.”
“Well this is a fun game. I'm from Russia, if that matters. You know, Mr. Von Ahnerabe, your last name is the weirdest part for me. I mean, there are a lot of weird things about you. You fell down the depths of the ocean, and didn't die for one, but also you fell in the middle of the ocean. You had to have gone quite a bit aways from shore to have dropped that far. At first I thought you were a spy, but you haven't acted like a spy.”
“Maybe I'm just a bad spy.”
“Hardly. You have enough firepower built into your carapace you could have killed every single person in this base twice over and maybe just had to take a water break.”
“My suit keeps me constantly hydrated.”
“Great! So no water break when you kill me.”
Archimedes suddenly looked awkward, “Okay, I'm not going to kill you. I mean, no. That's not a thing that, no, not that.” Graelyn smirked, “Well that's pleasing to be aware of. So why are you here.”
“I fell out of an air vehicle.”
“Fell? You really should work on securing yourself on your overseas journeys.”
“I was pushed.” She stirred her orange juice, “So this was an entirely unchosen journey. You had no idea we were here imitating John Galt.” Arch searched his memory banks, and returned no results about John Galt.
“I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the name.”
Graelyn made a subtle dismissive gesture. “Its from an old book my Mom made me read, this man named John Galt makes a city in the mountains where all the richest, smartest, most powerful people can seclude themselves from the rest of the world and leave it to die.”
“Does the world end in the book?” Graeyn shrugged, “Its been a long time since I read it, I only ever did once. I think we're supposed to assume it did.” Graelyn looked up at the ceiling, which was a glass passage for sea animals to swim through between the stories of the main compound. There were brilliant yellow fish, and some so clear you could see their veins and organs.
“No, I mean, the world clearly didn't end. That's the thing, there isn't ever really an apocalypse is there? Something always lives on. There's never really a cleansing.”
Archimedes was silent. Graelyn wen't back to her food. She'd probably said too much again.
“Are you familiar with Tubol Cain?” Graelyn shook her head as she ate some potato wedges.
“Its a myth from the apocrypha of this book series called, 'the Bible'.”
Graelyn laughed, “You talk about it like I might not have heard of it.”
“You're a fan to?”
“I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I'm familiar with the basic plotline.” She enjoyed carefully wording that response.
“Well, the book is connected by this being called Yahweh, who is a God.” How fresh off the boat was this guy? Graelyn jabbed another wedge into her mouth to obscure any tells she had, and the thought occurred to her, wherever this guy's boat came from, it had to have been rather secluded.”
“Yahweh goes in between all these characters, and sort of like... Influences them and sends them on missions. Its similar to how my gods do things, but Yahweh doesn't have to deal with any of the intra-Pantheon squabbling so it goes a lot easier for the God.” Graelyn nodded, this was more entertaining than Archimedes knew, but not for the same reasons he thought it was.
“So anyways, Yahweh had made some humans, Adam and Eve, and made this pact with them they could live in this awesome place away from everyone else, but they broke the contract so Yahweh kicked them out. They had some kids named Cain and Abel, and Cain killed Abel cause Yahweh liked Abel better, or something, and Cain got cursed. A bazillion years later, Yahweh decided to end the world in flood cause- oh sorry I left out an important bit. Yahweh has these servants called “Angels” they're pretty neat. Like, its probably why the God doesn't have to put up with a Pantheon. Anyways, some of these Angels decided to mate with humans, and had monster children called Nephilim. Yahweh thought this was messed up, and also realized the Nephilim were convincing the humans to be jerks to each other, so Yahweh was like, “screw it, I'm going to flood the whole Earth and start over!” Which can't have gone well with the other deities, but they don't deal with that part so I just have to imagine how those conversations went down. Yahweh decides a few people are going to be spared, just this guy named Noah and his family and their families. But this guy named Tubol Cain, at least according to the spin off books, he snuck on their boat and hid out. When the flood stopped Tubol Cain went off by himself, as this... Sort of lone survivor of this other way of living. Maybe it didn't deserve to survive, but it did in the form of him.”
Graelyn sipped the rest of her orange juice. “Its a pretty interesting story.”
“I always thought so. It reminds me of your John Galt story. I mean, isn't it just sort of naive to think that other people won't find a way to survive if you leave them to die?”
“That's what I didn't like about the book John Galt is in. Even if you buy the overall premise, the end doesn't work. They'll hide themselves away, but they won't spring up to claim the world when the rest of the world has died, there are too many Tubol Cains, and someone will find a way in the end. By hiding, they just ruin any chance they had of becoming the great people they wanted to be.”
Archimedes rolled the tube up from the empty bowl, and tucked it under his mask.
“So why are you hiding under the ocean then?” Graelyn was silent, and looked back up at the fishes.
“That's a complicated question. I'm not sure I can answer it.” Something large and dark swam above her head. “Maybe I'm searching for something.” Whatever it was, its tail swished in the shadows.
“Do you have any idea why we're down here?”
“None at all. Aside from it apparently not actually being a city.”
Graelyn looked back at Archimedes. She was still perplexed he was here at all, sitting here in front of her, his nearly featureless mask staring back at her. She wasn't entirely sure what the point was, but he'd certainly arrived.
“Yes. Yes that is the case. You know... Maybe that's been the problem.”
“That it's not a city?” She shook her head, “No, I mean, that we're trying to start something new, be explorers forging our way on our own... But that's just a story isn't it? Explorers find things because they follow in other people's footsteps, or get lucky or...” Graelyn's eyes went wide. Arch had no idea what she was thinking.
“Or hitch a ride on someone else's boat! Of course! We're not Noah, we need to be Tubol Cain!”
Arch wanted to nod, but that would almost feel dishonest under the circumstances.
“Sure. I guess.”
“I've got!” She stood up, her face beaming.
“It only took me a year but I did it!” She bolted out of the room, running into a chair on her way, and continuing down the hall way. Arch looked around the cafeteria; no one seemed to be really paying attention to him. He wasn't sure what to do with himself, so he kept seated. So many things were out of his control today.
Graelyn ran as fast as she could, hindered only by her skirt being a bit less functional than it could have been. She rounded the corner to the main facility, and ran in. Aril and Dr. Kalama were pouring over some data, both looking somewhat bored. “I figured it out! Dr. Kalama! Mr. Aril! I figured it out!”
“You got the Cappuccino maker working again?” Hiriwa asked seriously.
“No, I solved the problem. I figured out why the machine isn't working.” Hiriwa rolled her eyes.
“Miss Scythes, we brought you here on this internship so you could learn, not interf-” Mr. Aril waved a hand to cut off Dr. Kalama.
“Miss Scythes, you believe you have a solution?” He asked. Hiriwa grunted.
“Right now the machine is attempting to sort of... Carve into another dimension to put it roughly?”
“Yes, very roughly.” Hiriwa answered with a bit of spit.
“Well if the premises of the experiment are correct, there are an infinite number of alternate realities, including one where this experiment to cut through into another reality has not just already been successful, but is being successful at a concurrent moment.”
“Go on.” Aril crossed his arms.
“What we need to be trying to do is piggy back onto that attempt. Calibrate the machine not towards the fabric of another universe, but so our portal is linked with their own portal.” Graelyn looked up from her tirade of information hopefully, her eyes glinting with excitement.
“That's the same baloney as sitting there saying “maybe this will be the reality where another reality will cut into from their end' its not worth our time.” Hiriwa said.
“But its not-- we're familiar with our own device, it should be a lot easier to link it with itself rather than attempting to make a stable link with an unknown universe.”
“You're just--” Aril gave Hiriwa a look, subtle but clear. She became quiet.
“Recalibrate the machine. We'll try intern Scythe's idea. Its not like anything else has worked so far.” Aril walked away, and Hiriwa glared at Graelyn before walking off to begin her work. Graelyn felt her heart pounding, her skin flush. This would work, she knew it. All of this waiting would lead to the greatest scientific discovery of her lifetime. Things had been so stagnant here, nothing moved, but finally it would. Finally.
She watched them begin to modify the machine, and then she remembered she had just let an unauthorized cyborg with built in weapon systems on the station and left him alone. Her eyes widening for a different reason, she scampered out of the room.
Come back next week, July 30th, to find out what will happen when Graelyn finds Arch... And whether or not they can travel to other dimensions! Things are heating up in Atlantis so don't miss Chapter 4.
Written by James Wylder, Illustrated by Annie Zhu
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
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This Chapter features a song, you can find it here:
Chapter 2: The Lost Kingdom of Capitalism
Out in the ocean, there was a city. Not a city in any way that was really recognizable as one-- there were no skyscrapers, or parking-lots, or massive glowing signs. Instead, there were mushrooms: great bulbs of steel on stilts settled down deep on the ocean floor, nestled in the darkness. Graelyn could see them through the thick spotlights being poured on them for her convenience: the massive pieces of architecture that could house far more people than were actually living in them, not that she knew that yet. The bulbs were linked together by tunnels of some transparent thick material that held back the sea, and she was surprised how many windows there were.
“That's Hydrosight.” She could almost hear the words “Trademark” slip out after it, “Its John Aril's invention, a pressure resistant transparent material. Its what they're using on spaceships now-- its really expensive to make, but its as strong as what they make star dreadnaughts out of. Of course the military demands a huge discount, capitalism be damned.” Of course the military did, that was their job as the last real vestige of the United Nations (or any government for that matter) that still existed anymore. Centro Corp tolerated their existence, only in the way one might tolerate any sort of necessary evil. If they could rule the solar system through profit alone, they would. If they could rule the solar system at all they would. Sinking beneath the Atlantic, Graelyn closed her eyes for a moment and felt the rules slipping away. There was no Centro down here, no military, just John Aril's vision.
“Will I get to meet Mr. Aril?”
Dan shook his head, “No, Director Aril is a very busy man.” He emphasized the word Director, and Graelyn knew instantly what kind of man he was.
Director was a very special title, the kind of title everyone on Earth wanted to have, and few would ever get. In a land of equal opportunity, Directors were more equal than anyone else. Once you got the title of Director, you were part of the corporate Oligarchy for life. Some chose to take a direct part of the day to day running of Centro Systems, but most chose to take the title and run with it, using the lack of regulation it provided to essentially do whatever the hell they wanted. And by chance if you were a person who made their underlings correct new underlings about calling you a Director instead of Mister, you were probably an asshole.
“I see.” Said Graelyn. She respected John Aril immensely, he was the kind of person she wanted to be: a free and powerful scientist, no holds barred, doing what they wanted. A fish swam by the viewport, it was blue. She closed her eyes again. Maybe being the kind of person who forced people to call you Director was what she needed to do-- no one would walk on her, no one would push her down... She took a breath, and opened her eyes. The blue fish had swum back, a bit farther away now. “Its amazing you're building a city down here-- do you fish the fishes?” Dan laughed, “You really don't know do you?”
“You don't fish the fishes?”
“This isn't a city. Its a laboratory.” Graelyn blinked, and looked back at the huge steel mushrooms. She'd been anticipating helping to build a sustainable underwater community away from the surface, away from people, away from everything, but she didn't feel betrayed or lied to. Her eyes grew wide. Curiosity grew in her. The cat meowed in its cage on the surface. She turned to Dan, fully invested, not even caring that she really didn't like him at all, “So what are we here for?” He grinned, “I'll show you.”
* * * * *
The bathysphere connected with the station, and Graelyn made her way with Dan through the hallways that alternated between industrial steel with uncovered rivets, to what was nearly aesthetic excess with long corridors of thick transparent material that had works of art molded into its very form so that it was like walking through some sort of witch's ice palace. She supposed the duality fit a man like Aril, she knew very little about him personally, but she knew that he'd modeled his spaceship to have its front shaped the ancient Egyptian God Anubis' head, but was also a keen pragmatist who tolerated little that didn't advance his goal. “A man of art and means.” She muttered, hoping Dan wouldn't comment on it. “Precisely, you see, Aril...” He didn't say anything useful as he droned on for the next few minutes, so I'll spare you. Graelyn didn't have that luxury, and tried to remain polite to the person she'd be in close proximity to for the next... How long would she be down here anyways? Dan put a pass code into a door, placed his hand on a panel that took and tested a sample of his DNA, and stepped aside as the door opened to let Graelyn see exactly what was going on inside.
The door opened to industry: men, women, and people outside the gender binary were hard at work on what looked like a boring steel box the size of a building. Cords were being attached to large ports on the side, and people rushed in and out of a set of doors in the front of it. The area around it was largely paved, with holes for various tubes and cables dotting the artificial landscape. The room was huge and open, which seemed like a big waste of space for the amount of money it would have taken to make underwater, the ceiling had huge transparent sections, so it looked like there was a dark bluish green sky overhead, filled with the occasional wriggling scaly bird. Graelyn stepped into the room, and looked back at Dan, “Okay, I'm interested.”
“This must be the new intern.” She turned again to see a woman wearing the most stereotypical lab coat imaginable, as well as ornate but functional shoes with a moving pattern of an animated sea beast circling her feet, and unusually, also glasses. “Graelyn Scythes?” Graelyn extended a hand, “The very same. Doctor Kalama?” She nodded, “Hiriwa Kalama. You'll be down here for a while unless we have a sudden breakthrough, so we may as well get on a first name basis.” Graelyn nodded, “Of course. I'm a bit sketchy on what exactly we'll be having a breakthrough on however?” Hiriwa grinned, “Well, be prepared to have your socks knocked off.” Graelyn wasn't wearing socks, but whatever. Hiriwa gestured for her to follow her, and began walking towards the building at the center of the room, and was quickly followed.
The building opened up into a scene right out of a science fiction movie: a series of disks like a gyroscope were located at the room's center, spinning slowly. Pipes and cords lead into it from all over the room, some of which glowed a distinctive light blue. “This is the great experiment, the real reason we're all down here. Can you guess what its for?” Graelyn looked at the slowly rotating device, and furrowed her brow. The design was strange-- there had to be a reason for the twisting gyroscopic motion of the disks, but the gyroscope wasn't stabilizing anything, she could see, and didn't seem to be outputting any data.
“Don't force her to figure this out Hiriwa, I wouldn't be able to guess in her position.” All heads turned, and several people suddenly began to look much more productive. “Mr. Aril, I'm surprised to see you here.” Hiriwa said without a hint of inflection. He waved his hands dismissively.
“So you're the new intern then? I've got to warn you, you'll mostly be carrying coffee.”
“Comes with the job, sir,” She replied curtly.
“Eh, you can cut with that. We all know why we're here. But you seem curious, and that's a trait I want in my employees. So then, I am curious what you were about to guess?”
“I figure that the gyroscopic disks are meant to stabilize something they are also generating. I don't know what though.” He gave the thinnest smirk, which on his face gave the impression of a full faced grin. “Clever girl. Yes, that is what it does. But why I'm trying to do this would baffle most. Now, do you know why we're underwater?” Graelyn could see Hiriwa rolling her eyes as Aril did exactly what he'd said not to do. “No sir, not a clue.”
“The crushing pressure of the ocean is actually used to power the station, along with nuclear reactors naturally, but there is another reason. The underwater location gives us an advantage in the type of research we're doing, as we're trying to tap into some of the fields that underlay the universe itself, to cut through them to the other side.” Graelyn naturally raised an eyebrow.
“You're... You're trying to... Mess with the fabric of space somehow?”
“Not just mess with it. Since I was a little boy I've always known I wasn't alone. I've had this feeling that there was another version of me, trying to find me, trying to reach his hand out far enough to raise me up.” Graelyn looked over at Hiriwa, whose face was stoic.
“I can feel the tug through the space beneath me, I just need to cut through somehow, and there I'll be. Another reality.” Graelyn tried very hard to figure out what facial expression she should be making.
“Oh.” She said. Aril chuckled, “It sounds ludicrous, but its a certainty that other realities besides ours exist. We're trying to touch them.” She walked toward the device, and ran her narrow fingers down the metal. “How did you get Centro's approval for this? They would never-”
“Of course I didn't get Centro's approval. I don't need them to like me. I'm an innovator, and this will be something that will last beyond all of us.” He walked next to Graelyn, and put his hand on top of hers. “We're going to do this. Hiriwa, why don't we show her our progress.” Hiriwa gestured to a man in a labcoat with dreadlocks who began flipping switches. “You might want to step back.” The disks began spinning faster, and the cords glowed blue. In the center of the gyroscope, a single pinprick of light appeared, and then as they grew faster, expanded. They spun faster and faster and then they stopped moving, and the ball of light began to flatten out into something like a pane of light, shimmering like a lake. For a moment, Graelyn thought she saw figures through the disk, but then the light collapsed, and the machine shut down after trying to stabilize it.
“We're so close.”
“I saw something on the other side.” Graelyn said, her eyes like full moons.
“Of course you did. So then, are you in?”
“I'm in.” She said, and she believed, “We're going to get this done. We'll solve this problem. Its just out of our grasp and we'll figure this out!”
“That's a good girl.” Aril crooned, “But first, we need some lattes.” Graelyn had no idea where the coffee maker was, but she walked off to find it with her head held high. With her here, they'd no doubt get to the bottom of this problem in no time!
One year later.
Graelyn spun around in her desk chair, over and over again, she tried to keep her head twisting like a ballerina in order to avoid being dizzy, but she very much failed at that task and found herself getting very woozy. Kicking off one of the desks to send the chair into another rotation, missed the blip on the radar. She kept spinning, and then pushed off the console with her legs, and spun the chair faster around the center of the room. Ten minutes passed like this, then Graelyn got up, and put the coffee grounds in the machine. She was very careful about the process, if halfhearted, and made sure the measurements were precise. Then she spun around the room some more, and let out a droning “ugh.” Finally, the coffee was ready, and she poured several tall cups, fixed them to the drinker's specifications by memory, and grabbed her wireless earbuds. Popping them in, she pulled out her tablet and selected a song, “Miracle Goodnight” by David Bowie, the usual choice. She let the first few beats sink into her system, and balancing a tray of cups on each hand, slipped out of the monitoring room. Alone in the slick glass and steel hallways, Graelyn began to bob, her feet getting into the rhythm of the music.
“Heart tell me, turn it around. Head tell me, make it alright, nobody dancing--
She broke out into a dance, passing the statue of Artemis, and then instantly stopped as she entered Dan's office. She set his coffee on his desk silently as he examined a chart of something, and slipped back out, breaking back into her groove as soon as she was out of sight. She repeated this process, looping the song again since she was into it, as she dropped off the other cups of coffee. Yossara's, Jerry's, Layla's, Hiriwa's, Director Aril's... She caught glimpses of documents on desks; space/time fabric theories, something about a '2227 incident', none of it lingered on as she floated. Through the glass hallways, she danced to the melody, free of the coffee she slid around corners, and began to do some more complex moves, jamming all the way back to her office. The fishes got quite a show for certain. It was like a reverse aquarium.
“Ragged limbed and hungry mama, miracle no more.”
She sat back down, and began to spin in the chair again. Day in day out. She almost missed the radar again, but as she turned she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. Still spinning. she stopped herself, and tried to focus on what was on the radar screen as the world shifted slowly back into focus. Lots of things showed up on the radar, but nothing like that. For one thing, it was descending way too rapidly, and wasn't waggling around like a big fish. Something must have fallen from the sky and plopped right down through the depths of the ocean to say hello in an uncontrolled and deadly plummet. She first pressed the wrong button on the console, and cursed, but then hit the comm button, “Hey Jerry, anything scheduled to be dropped from the surface for some reason around here?” Jerry was silent for a moment, and she heard the sound of crunching popcorn. “Uh, no. I don't think we've ever had something like that scheduled ever?”
“That's what I thought, thanks.” She flipped the switch off. Alright then, not a normal occurrence. She'd been down here a year with nothing to show for it. She was seventeen now, and her time separated from the rest of the world was beginning to show on her. She thought a lot about her cat, and how Mr. Sprinkles was doing, she thought about hypothetical people she could have been friends with, inventing them whole cloth. There was Tannis, a dark skinned pre-med student who she could talk about biology with, but also classical Opera, something she'd had a bit of trouble with, and he could sweep her off and show her how to appreciate it, or Angela, a light skinned woman her own age with too many freckles in a band over her nose who loved to exercise and scale mountains. She imagined these friends, and their adventures together, but in reality she was mostly in this room watching the monitoring equipment, spinning in her chair, occasionally leaving to make coffee.
“Jerry, I'm going to take one of the mini-subs.”
“Uh, don't you need clearance for-”
“Oh come on, seriously? When was the last time anyone cared about clearance.”
“Aren't you underage to drive it?”
“I've driven them plenty of times when you weren't giving me grief, and I'm going to now once you shut up. I was just letting you know.” She turned the comm off, and started walking to the sub bay while Jerry ran his fingers through his hair in worried confusion. It was easy enough to do anything on the base if you just acted like you were allowed to do it. She stripped her clothes off and put on a wetsuit, then hopped into one of the docked minisubs. It was a strange looking little thing, with a big viewport, floodlights, maneuvering jets, and two mechanical arms she could control from the inside. She could tell that it was bought from an old scrapyard, or maybe a navy sale, but it worked. She closed the hatch, checked the pressure, and shot off into the murky beyond. The darkness enveloped her, and as she realized what the plummeting object was, she couldn't have been more surprised. The floodlights took it fully into view, and she made out arms and legs.
Check back here next Thursday, July 23rd, to find out what Graelyn found at the bottom of the ocean! (And don't be afraid to talk about this chapter in the comments!)
Introduction From the Author
Welcome to the world of 10,000 Dawns! Over the next few months you'll have the pleasure of reading a new chapter of this story every Thursday, written by me, James Wylder, and featuring beautiful art by Annie Zhu. This story wouldn't have been possible without David Koon, Josephine Smiley, Taylor Elliott, Jordan Stout, Miguel Ramirez, Elizabeth Tock, all the "Hanover Muppets" and everyone else who helped contribute to this story becoming what it is today. Thank you all so much.
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
You can also subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes and your RSS feed easily from libsyn:
It was not a golden age. Sure, everybody said so: the great architects of interstellar travel hammered away as Hephaestus on great hulls to travail the void of space, the financiers rising higher and higher above the flesh of Earth and Mars till they were barely mortal and called their penthouses Olympus. The people of grit and gumption strapped themselves into strange devices that contorted space and tore at gravity, and all of them said, “This is the time of mankind, this is the time of great deeds we will be remembered for, never to live in History's shadow and to bend and bow but to conquer it!” and they were all completely wrong.
The last great colonization of the Solar System had already taken its final step and, with a vain attempt to live on Venus tripped bloodily, leaving a sort of skinned-face spacestation hooked to the ground by an elevator in a synchronous orbit with the planet. It was hailed as a marvel as the sweaty men and women who made it smiled shakily knowing the true cataclysm of their failure on the planet's surface. No, this was not a Golden Age. This was an age of Fools Gold: a pyrite age. The suckers bought the tagline of course, and the solar system kept spinning. The great companies of earth took in massive profits, the exact same amount as the year before nearly to the decimal, and again and again. There was a repetition to it all, and then for a moment Mars got uppity, tired of corporate greed and tyranny, they threw off their shackles in a full scale revolution: students yelled from rooftops about freedom, heroes were martyred for a list of ideals, and the red planet ran red in a war so brief it would be forgotten if there were any other wars around it, and if the scale of its brevity were not still massive.
And for a moment, it looked like it could be a Golden Age: Earth came down from the clouds to innovate and show that their ideals were more than a Cloudcuckoland, Mars began an attempt at real communism, letting a massive computer run the equal distribution of wealth, giving the celestial body a brain-- things seemed almost glorious, flowing towards a climax, and then it stopped. Mars went from bold fierceness to stunned normality as quickly as it licked its wounds. Earth forgot about its dreams of capitalist innovation, and settled back into its chair, churning in smaller but still substantial profits, and the poor suckers scattered on the rim scavenged their way to another meal. The last gasp of progress exhaled, the Pyrite Age entered full swing, and the great men looked on last years dreams they had yet to realize and said, “this is the time to be alive.” Little did they know, it soon would be.
Down below the Atlantic Ocean, a man turned away from the Stars and hid his eyes from their broken promises of light. A man with few redeeming qualities, and fewer qualms, but certainly not stagnant. That's the thing about being interesting: it has nothing to do with goodness or wisdom, it has to do with action.
John Aril, CEO of Anubis Corp., put his foot in the Stagnant ocean, and churned up a hurricane. He sat in the room his invention was being built in, a room of bolts and steel plates fighting tirelessly to avoid being crushed by the water around it. Fish swam by, in ignorance of what was being done. The woman in the lab coat tightened a bolt and the metal and mirrors spun around each other, a pulsing sound began to drift from it like a stillborn heartbeat, “Its not quite ready sir.” He nodded, “We're not moving forward. We're stalling.” He looked up at the woman, “We need fresh blood. Pick out some new scientists to bring down here. Ones we've been overlooking, maybe because they're odd or don't work well with teams. Someone has to be able to solve the last hurdle.” The woman nodded, her name was Hiriwa, not that John cared, he'd be the one in the history books, and she knew it well. “Sir, could I also request we bring in an intern? I understand you're desire for a barebones staff, but it would help the team immensely to have someone to take care of mundane tasks like the Coffee. John put his two index fingers against his lips and nodded. “Done.” He pulled out his tablet, and scrolled through the top candidates-- they'd all been accepted elsewhere at this point, he'd delayed too long for the sake of saving a dollar, he coldly enforced a new rule in his brain to not do that again. Patience was a virtue, but only for the right reasons. He scrolled down into the second tier of candidates. All were the exact sort of people you'd expect to not quite make it into true excellence, the kind just one cent short of a dollar. He picked one at random. Sixteen year old girl, good at math and science, blah blah blah. She'd be getting the coffee anyways, the choice didn't really matter.
It was strange, that choice. Because as John Aril clicked the “accept” button next to Graelyn Scythe's smiling face, nothing noticeable happened, no men shouted on rooftops, or proclaimed that things were now not as they would ever be again, but the river in the ocean broke through its dam-- and flecks of gold began to spill into that sea of pyrite.
Chapter 1: The Cat that Missed Atlantis
Graelyn looked into the backseat, where Mr. Sprinkles the cat was pacing inside his cat-box, an awkward sort of pacing for such a small space that might be better described as ‘walking in a circle.’ She didn’t say anything, didn’t sigh or shake her head, just stared at the cat. The car was driving itself to the dock, she didn’t have to do anything as it went the regulation speeds throughout its trip, but she almost wished it had some manual controls so she could drive it today. Just sitting here felt wrong, and there was one stop before the docks. The car came to a halt in front of the facility, the large friendly sign at the front showing many animals each in a solid color looking happier than most animals ever did. Mr. Sprinkles meowed, and Graelyn popped open the car doors, and grabbed his carrying case out of the back seat. No one was there to greet her, this was solitary work, the kind of work one can only do yourself because if you don't you'll grind your teeth down with regret. She’d had the cat for a very long time, since it was a little kitten, and now it was time to say goodbye. She heard its claws scratch at the cage door to the box, and another meow. She almost began to shush him, but in the end couldn’t get up the heart.
She went inside, the cool green-blue colored glass doors moving apart like a biblical sea, and leading her into an equally chill colored room. “Hello, how can I help you today?” Graelyn walked up and matter of factly set the cat down on the long front desk. “This is Mr. Sprinkles. He is my cat. I am here to give him up for adoption.” The woman nodded, “Did you fill out the requisite paperw—“ The paperwork appeared in front of her, though of course on a tablet, not as actual paper, we’re not savages. “Ah, alright then. Everything seems to be in order… Ah you left blank 41B empty.” Graelyn peered over at it, “It says its optional.”
“It says its optional, but its not.” Graelyn sighed, bureaucracy at its finest.
41B: Why did you choose this shelter ?
Graelyn paused for a moment, and then entered her answer into the form: “This is a no kill shelter.”
“Good enough.” The lady smiled at her, “We’ll take good care of Mr. Sprinkles! Is there anything else we should know about his care.” There was a pause. Graelyn felt like every moment here was a waste of her time, this was only a cat after all, it wasn’t like she was giving up anything important… She went to bite her lip, but held back with perfect self control. She made a decision.
“He likes Mozart. Specifically the operas, mainly the Magic Flute. Don’t play him any junk by Handel. He hates Handel. Other Baroque is okay.” The lady opened her mouth, and closed it, “Er, of course. Thank you for that information.”
Graelyn left, knowing full well the woman didn’t give a damn about what music her cat liked to listen to. Still, the effort felt somehow worthwhile. She got back into the car, and told it to start for the docks. It began moving, its electric motor silently chugging away towards the ocean. She adjusted her skirt. She checked her pony-tail in the mirror, and shoved her glasses back towards her nose. There was something in her chest, and she couldn’t quite place what it was or what it was doing. She looked back at the friendly animal sign, and squirmed in her seat. Goodbye, Mr. Sprinkles, she thought, this is all for the greater good you know. She started thinking about who would miss her when she left, and came to the quick realization the only one who had a chance to was the cat.
Graelyn had received Mr. Sprinkles as a concession. The court ordered therapist had sat with her and her parents, and told them that what had happened was a serious matter the courts couldn’t simply overlook, and that something had to be done to show that Graelyn’s parents were doing their best to help their daughter. “But what she did was selfish, shortsighted, and unpragmatic.” Her mother monotoned. The therapist’s face seemed be a perfectly controlled mask, “That may be, but we still need to do something for Graelyn to show we’re helping to meet her needs. “Great she gets a trophy for it to.” Her mother snarled. “So Graelyn, what would you like?” Graelyn thought for a moment, swinging her legs under the chair. Her mother slapped her knee, and she stopped swinging her legs.
“I want a cat.” She said.
“Out of the question.”
“No, now wait a minute, cats largely take care of themselves aside from litter and food, and the courts love animals and think of service animals as a really good step towards recovery, probably because they are, but regardless, I think this is a very good move for all of you.”
Her mother nodded, “Okay. I think we can make this work then.”
Later they went to the petstore (“No second hand pets for my daughter, if we’re doing this she’s not getting a hand me down.”), the biggest one in the corporate sprawl of Moscow. There were hundreds of tiny cats running around in glass cages, meowing and mewing, taking naps or playing. Plenty of people came to watch the kittens, and today was no exception. Squeezing through the crowd, pushing her black hair out of the way of her glasses, she looked at them: there were brown kittens, black kittens, gray kittens with black spots and orange kittens with black stripes. There were Kittens like Dalmatians, and kittens with blots of different colors everywhere. There were energetic kittens practicing pouncing, and lazy ones taking naps. There were cuddly kittens curled up with each other, and loners away from the bunch. She gravitated toward the loners. One kitten was by itself, simply staring out the glass, as though it could make out some meaning beyond its prison walls by observing hard enough. Little Graelyn ran around the case to the other side, and lined her eyes up with the kitten’s, it tilted its head.
“I want that one she said.” Her mother got the attendant. “I’m naming him Mr. Sprinkles.” Her mother screwed her face up, “You’re not naming him-“
“I’m naming him that or I’m complaining to the therapist.” Her mother snarled… But she looked proud. Like her tiger cub had learned to bite.
The car started again, and Graelyn requested the car begin playing Mozart’s 5th Symphony. It asked her, as it always did, if she meant Beethoven’s. No, she responded, Mozart’s. She didn’t know why she liked Mozart’s 5th so much, but she did. Ever since she was a little girl she would curl up and listen to it with Mr. Sprinkles. He would purr, feeling like a groundquakes as the grass of his hair rolled over the plains under her hand. Combined with the notes, she felt at peace, like the earth itself was singing her a lullaby, the music softening the sounds from downstairs. The grass outside the window waving in the wind made her think of Mr. Sprinkles. It was good she’d left him, she told herself, that wasn’t a name fit for a woman going to work at a state of the art research facility.
Woman? You’re sixteen!
There were a lot of voices today. Maybe all of them were idiots. The car pulled in at the dock, and she stepped out into the shoreside sun. It was still a cresting dawn on the horizon, bathing the waters in a white flood of light.
She turned to face the envoy, who was wearing a suit jacket over a light-fiber t-shirt that was currently playing somewhat distorted images from Japanese horror movies on his chest. She could tell this job was going to be tasteful. “I’m Dan Kahn, I’m gunna be escorting you down to Atlantis. I take if you have the paperwork?” Always paperwork. She handed him the tablet, which again had no paper. He skimmed through it. “I don’t see a parent signature.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said frowning in that responsible adult way, “I’m sorry there was trouble at home.”
“There wasn’t. Not anymore. They were holding me back.” Naturally, he didn’t know what to say to that, so she walked past him and adjusted her shoulder bag. She was wearing the sort of outfit she’d wear if she was a cartoon character, a skirt cut just above the knees with matching blazer over a blouse and a tie. Usually the tie was black, and the blazer and skit were a deep blue. Today though, they were gray with a green tie. She wore a pin shaped like a smiling fish on her lapel, not because she felt particularly festive, but because she’d learned it put people at ease with her if she forced the effort. Her glasses had rectangular black rims, and were simple but stylish in all the best ways. Glasses weren’t the most common thing to see these days, and as they walked over to the diving pod, she hoped Dan wouldn’t ask about them.
“So you’re wearing glasses?”
“Heads up display? Don’t like retinal implants?”
She stepped onto the damp metal framework that led to the pod, reminding herself what a good idea it had been to wear flats today (she hated heels anyways), and didn’t look at him as he responded.
“My eyes are fine the way they are.”
“So they’re fake glasses?”
“You could get corrective surgery you know, the company would cover the cost…” Graelyn turned to look at him, her eyes narrowing beneath her glasses. She didn’t raise her volume, or change her expression, but somehow what she said felt like it cut a rib from his chest. “My. Eyes. Are. Fine. The. Way. They. Are.” She held his gaze for a moment, and walked up to the hatch of the pod, standing by it impatiently as if there was a late train.
“Sorry, geez.” He muttered as he opened the door. “Welcome aboard ice queen.” Graelyn gave him another look, almost piteously, and stepped inside. It was slightly rusty, which wasn’t a good sign, and a bit cozy. She set her handbag down next to her as he took the seat opposite her, putting her hands in the pockets of her blazer.
“Only us?” He nodded, and as he shut the hatch felt a tingle move down his spine. What if she is some sort of weirdo and kills me? He nervously looked back at her, she hadn’t changed her expression. Graelyn looked out the video screen connected to a camera on the exterior that acted as a window on the pod. Slowly, Dan pressed the button to begin lowering the pod. She kept her gaze on the ocean, and watched as the sky turned to sea, the green-blue waters enveloping her vision—and then there were fish! Swimming about in schools. Beautiful fish colored like rainbows, and shiny gray fish like darts. She let the half of her face Dan couldn’t see smile, and took her trembling hands out of her pockets to rub them. You can’t let them keep getting to you, you’re better than this, she thought. But no matter how she tried to hide it, she was scared. People would walk over you if you let them move a boot close to you. She suddenly thought about her cat. Not her cat anymore, she’d burned that bridge. Was he meowing for her? Did he even miss her. She knew that cats were more affectionate than some claimed, but she knew that he would forget about her and take to a new owner who fed him. The thought for some reason made her feel cold. She didn’t want to think about the cat anymore, but she began to imagine him swimming through the water outside the window, chasing the fish. Good ol’ Mister Sprinkles. Good ol…. She was freezing. She put her hands back into their pockets.
“So Dan, tell me about Atlantis.”
Check back here next Thursday, July 16th, to find out what is under the sea in Chapter 2...
10,000 Dawns begins officially tomorrow. To make things easier for anyone reading this chronologically in the future, I'm posting the preview chapter up as its own blog post.
You can listen to this Chapter as a podcast
via the Southgate Media Group:
The Universe began in chaos. Matter exploded outward, clumped together, tumbled off, and over a timescale nearly unfathomable formed the space we all live in. Through all of that, order formed, and order was the thing that kept the universe from falling into the anarchy of creation. In the grand scheme of things, there was no form of order more stern and heroic in its unwavering necessity for precision than the human invention of the Internship Application.
This particular internship Application was being filled out on an old maglev monorail that was old when other trains people called old were still sucking on their pacifiers on the assembly lines. The form was in the hands of a girl with black hair tied back in a pony tail in a blue skirt and suitjacket who gave off the distinct impression she'd worn a different copy of the same outfit yesterday. She shoved her glasses towards her nose, and tried to follow along with the instructions:
Welcome to your application to Project Atlantis, a subsidiary of Anubis Corp. Simply complete this short questionnaire of 270 questions, as well as your personal information, four recommendations, and a cover letter, and you'll be all set to-
She sighed. 270 Questions? She wasn't above putting in a little elbow grease, but the number seemed a bit excessive. She tapped in by rote her personal info, as well as the contact info for her recommendations, and began the long questionnaire. Whatever they needed to feel safe and secure, she supposed.
1. What would your reaction be if you found yourself unexpectedly drowning and being crushed by unsurvivable pressure?
Graelyn wasn't sure what she was expecting on the application, but it wasn't that. She held the tablet up to her mouth, and bit it lightly, as though the infantile gesture would help her think. It did, apparently, as she quickly tapped in the answer, “Die.” May as well be practical about this.
“Everyone on the ground now!” the man said, standing up, while he and several other men and women pulled out railgun-rifles. Graelyn looked up at them, as the rest of the compartment got to the ground. She looked at the time in the corner of the screen: 3:45. The application was due at 8 and she had to answer 269 questions. She groaned, and slumped down out of her seat onto the floor, trying to get back to her application as the people with weapons did whatever it was they were doing.
2. Consider the hypothetical situation where you meet yourself from another reality-- what would your first reaction be?
This was a tougher question, certainly not a one word one, but also not one that she'd need to spend a lot of time on. The revolutionaries casually went through the train, occasionally rifling through people's bag's, until they stopped at her.
“You, where's your bag?” Graelyn pointed to her purse, which was still up on the bench, and went back to her application. Graelyn supposed she wouldn't do anything rash, if she met herself. She'd probably just compare notes. She filled the blank in and moved onto the next question. “No devices.” The man said, leveling his gun at her. “Sorry, this is really important.”
“I don't want you reporting us.”
“You've already been reported by the automated camera system, calm down.” She said trying to focus. It wasn't like this was the first time she'd been in a hostage situation, she did live in the city after all. The man grimaced, and spitefully dumped her purse out on the seat, for which a woman who seemed to be in charge yelled at him, and made him apologize. Graelyn accepted the apology and tried to get on with the application. She breezed through a few questions, as the man rifled through the pile of her lip gloss, hair ties, sanitary pads, and tissues. “Nothing here ma'am,” he yelled and moved onto the next occupant, finally. She kept going, finally she was really in the zone on this!
24. A farmer has a chicken, a fox, and a bag of seed he needs to get across a river-
Easy. She'd memorized that puzzle.
25. If you were-
“You seem awfully calm.” The leading woman said. She'd walked up to her, rifle held patiently, a bandolier of ammo and grenades striking the light like she'd rehearsed this spot before.
“You guys have held up my train before. I have a lot of work to do.”
“You should care more about what's going on around you.”+
“You should get on with finding whatever you're here for.” She gave a curt laugh, like the kind gruff men make to bad jokes in movies.
“You'd make a good soldier.”
Graelyn ignored that, the woman was just distracting her now. She kept looking at her, and turned away as though disappointed. “Ma'am, we found it!” The man who had bothered her was now holding a balding man in a sportcoat by the elbow, and holding up a datacard in the other hand. “Good work, lets move out.”
“You'll never get away with this!” The balding man cried, “Centro has eyes everywhere. We'll find you!”
“You haven't yet!” Said the woman with a gleam in her eye, and punched the emergency release button for the door. The revolutionaries jumped out in perfect order, their feet and backs lighting up as they began a controlled flight downwards onto a rooftop. An older woman got up, and shut the door. For some reason there was applause, and Graelyn briefly took the time to put her things back in her purse. She looked down at the tablet, and was struck by how close she had nearly been to something totally different. She could have tried to foil the plotters somehow, she was clever, they might have just shot her, but it would have been memorable. The woman in charge, with a little talk in a different direction, might have offered to let her go with them. She could be in some dank basement learning how to assemble a railgun blindfolded, or glide through the air with an energy pack. There were so many possibilities, and she had chosen to finish filling out this internship application. It seemed heavy, like it was made of the plaques on buildings, or was secretly some monument.
She turned to the next question.
* * * * *
Graelyn Scythes got back to her one-room apartment, took off her blazer, skirt, and tie, picked up her cat Mr. Sprinkles who was desperately wanting some cuddling, reheated some old stir fry, and sat down on the couch. Only a hundred questions to go. She stroked Mr. Sprinkles, who purred deeply into her lap, grounding her, his soft fur felt nice on her bare legs.
171. Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?
Graelyn laughed, and checked no, but her face grew still. She didn't give a damn about the communists, but she suddenly wondered if she'd be able to believe in anything like that. She rubbed the cat behind the ears.
“I'd make a bad soldier Mr. Sprinkles.”
The revolutionaries had gotten something important she'd never know about. She never saw them again. Maybe they were shot dead. Maybe they made some secret victory. Rain started hitting the window pane, and she at least knew they would likely be wet. Mr. Sprinkles adjusted himself, making it very hard to move between the questions and picking at the stir fry. She resigned herself to the situation, as she had done through most of the day, and focused on the internship application.
“I'd make a bad soldier.”
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.