Oct 29th: "Knights and Dragons" Story
Oct 31st: 10,000 Dawns Halloween Special, art by Annie Zhu
Nov 5th: The Adventures of Mister Sprinkles the Cat Sequel
Nov 12th: Jame Morrel Story
Nov 19th: (return to normal schedule) 10,000 Dawns Chapter 16
Previous chapters are also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
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If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
Bonus Story #2: Don Your Armor, Throw Down Your Sword
Don Your Armor, Throw Down Your Sword
a Songbird story by James Wylder
"To me, the Songbird is immortal, she's a symbol that will live on beyond any of us."
The ice cream dripped onto her shoe, and Alice cursed.
"The Songbird is the vengeance of the people incarnate, but also their conscience."
Alice stared at the two films in her cue on the projector and squinted. She sat there for five minutes trying to decide which one to watch before accidentally clicking on one and then just accepting it as her choice.
"I don't actually think she has a heart. She's cold, she's brutal. I wouldn't trust her."
Alice stopped her run at the playground where the little boy was crying. She came over and knelt down. "Hi there, what's wrong?" He pointed at his skinned knee. "Well, lets see what we can do about fixing you up."
"I don't thinks she's ever scared."
She bolted up in bed. The gun was going off again. "I don't know what to do." Graelyn said. Alice tried to say something back to her but her lungs were filling with blood. The gun went off again. She was falling again. "I don't know what to do." Her lungs were filling with blood. She clenched the bedsheets, she was here, she told herself. She was in her own bed. The cat walked over her, which usually would have been annoying, but this time was useful. She tried to focus on the cat, focus on the sheets, focus focus focus. She'd put a poster above her bed to focus on for just this purpose, it had an alphabet of different world revolutionaries on it in colorful caricature. She started focusing on the reality of the poster above her to. Focus.
In time, the flashback was over.
"Have you continued having trouble sleeping?" Her therapist asked.
"No. I'm doing great." Alice tried her best to lie through her tired lips and past her encircled eyes. The therapist sighed.
"Alice I'm here to help you. It's okay, this a safe place."
"I can't show that I'm weak. The people need me."
"You're not weak. You've survived so much."
"I shouldn't be letting this get to me, I should be over this. I've seen far worse things than that."
"Trauma isn't that simple, it's different for everyone and sometimes it doesn't make sense what parts of it hold us down. Everything you're feeling is legitimate."
"I know it is." She says. She's lying, of course.
Jack's shoulder bag swung with a deep weight, it had a strong strap, but it still looked like it might snap. Alice shook her head, trying to clear it. "You alright?" She nodded.
"I'm fine. I can't wait to get back on the shooting range. I need to get back in the action, I'm tired of sitting at home. I'm no good at it." Jack nodded, and they walked to the desk, signed in, scanned their ID's and got into the range. It was nearly empty, they'd chosen a low attendance time on purpose, and the only other occupant was a scruffy looking east-Asian man who was fussing over some antique guns rather than firing them. Jack ruffled through the bag, and pulled out a box of ammunition, and set it on the counter. Then he pulled out a rifle, and set it next to it. "Lets start you off with something low-caliber actually..." he mused, and pulled out a handgun, which he checked and, handed to Alice. She took it, and held it. What was in her hand? She looked down, and tilted her head to her side. That was a gun. Wait- who was holding the gun. It suddenly struck her this wasn't her perspective, this was Graelyn's. Alice was in front of her, staring dumbly. She would shoot her on accident. That would be horrible. There would be so much blood.
"Alice?" Jack said.
"Who's Alice?" She replied, "Where am I?" Jack's face fell, and he gently put his hand on hers.
"Maybe this wasn't a good idea... Lets just put that down."
"I don't know what to do." She said, then, "What have I done? I shot her."
Jack slipped the gun out of her hand. "No, you didn't shoot anyone. No one is shot."
"Can't you see me? I'm right there on the ground."
"No, you're right here, you're in the shooting range."
"Why are we here, I was on the roof..."
"Let's go home." He packed the bag up quickly, and began to lead her out.
"We need to get back to the roof there are people hurt there. I went there to kill him Jack."
"Its okay. Everyone's okay." He led her carefully out to the car, and called her therapist.
Alice sat in Doctor Chamali Tran's office, wringing her hands. She couldn't remember what Jack had said had happened, which just made her feel even smaller. Why couldn't she control herself? Why? Doctor Tran came back in.
"How are you feeling Alice?" She just kept wringing her hands, and looked down at them. Tran sat down across from her.
"So I heard you had a dissociative episode."
"I don't remember it."
"That's fairly common. Dissociation can be scary, but it's sort of like an inborn defense mechanism. When it's too painful to consider the pain happening to you, you stop realizing you're yourself."
"I doubt it's that simple."
"Of course it's not. But I think that's a good way of explaining it for you. You keep trying to fight the healing process. Your post traumatic stress isn't going to ever vanish, but you can manage it, and you can heal. You won't always be like this."
"Of course I will. I should have died during that war. I was supposed to die. I was meant to die! I didn't deserve to live through it. I don't want to be here. I'm a burden on everyone now, I'm just excess weight for my friends to carry they'd be better off without me!" Tran leaned in, carefully.
"You're alive, and people love you. You're not their burden, you're their friend. And they need you, still."
The call came for the group to mobilize, and Alice listened intently from her desk. She'd wanted to get back to work, but she still couldn't hold a gun, and she had tried and tried. Eventually she’d stopped after she realized how much of a burden she had to be, needing aid every time she failed. She was now filling out paper work, and doing tactical advising. She was bored out of her mind, but at least she was being useful. Jack, Chantelle, Trevon, Yi, Gerald, Shona, and the others walked by her window, suited up for the mission, slapping each other on the back and getting revved up. The anti-Communist groups had taken longer than expected to really organize, but organize they did, and not stopping them was their job. Strange how the people in the shadows were now the capitalists. It was a topsy turvy world. "Lets move out!" She heard Jack yell. She was proud of him, really. He wasn't a natural leader, but he'd taken up the mantle with grace. Good on him. She began to fill out the next form, and tried to not be jealous. She failed.
* * * *
“Alice, could you come down to the R&D center?” Alice was staring off, and it took her a moment to realize she was being spoken to over the intercom.
“What? Oh, yes, I can. What do you need me for?” She said pressing the button to talk back.
“No idea, just go there.” Weird, but not unusual in such a big base. Tidying up her paperwork, Alice went down the elevator to the Research labs, where she was greeted upon the doors opening to all of her friends standing around a pair of technicians.
“What if we made the flight take off radius higher? I mean, right now it has to be at an angle.” One said.
“Even if it was at a right angle, that would still be an angle.” The other replied.
Jack and co waved at her, and several couldn't help glancing at a tall object with a sheet over it. So this was what this was all about.
“Hello everyone, what exactly is going on here?”
“Well Alice, meet Jim and Annie, they basically create everything there is around here.”
“Hi.” They said in unison, and continued to squabble over take off angles. She noticed Jim talked the most, but seemed incapable of putting the schematics down on paper himself, which Annie did.
“I take it they've been working on something for your team?”
“Not for the team,” Chantelle cut in, “For you.”
“Me?” It seemed obvious, but she was surprised.
“Of course its for you you silly duck.” Yi replied. Annie and Jim moved away from the schematics and moved under the sheet with some tools, and there was a bit of noise.
“Well, what is it?”
“Are you two ready?” Jack asked.
“Yeah, we think so!” Annie replied, and they pulled the sheet off. Alice gasped. Under it was a full suit of mechanical armor like she'd worn on the roof in Nojpeten before it was demolished by Arch impacting it. “We managed to repair it, fix it all up-” Jim started
“-and make some improvements!” Annie finished. Alice walked up to it, and ran her fingers along the angles of the metal. It was painted black, with red highlights, and a rather generic looking bird painted in a circle on either shoulder plate.
“What kind of bird is that?” She asked.
“A songbird, of course!” Jim said.
“We couldn't actually decide on what kind of bird to put on there so its pretty vague looking. We can always change it to a new one.”
“I don't know what kind of bird you'd put on there anyways. Its fine for now.” She walked around the suit. It was fantastic, she could already tell many of the prototype's flaws had been ironed out.
“That's not all though!” Jim was practically giddy, “Should I tell her?”
“No I wanna tell her!”
“Okay you tell her.”
Annie looked very pumped about informing her of this next fact, “It flies!”
“What, you mean like, Iron Man or something?”
“Er, sort of.” She pulled out a remote control, and pushed a button: two short wings popped out of the suit, with a booster on either side.
“More like... The Iron Falcon.”
“The Iron Songbird.” Jim suggested.
“Just Songbird is fine.” Alice said. It felt nice to think of the suit being her persona, while her face was Alice, in a strange way.
“So do you want to do a test run?” Jack asked.
“Of course now, why do you think we brought you down here?” Alice's eyes lit up.
“Someone help me put this suit on, I'm not keen on hesitation!”
* * * *
She stood on top of the building, her metal feet somehow no heaver than her own. The motors moved as she turned her ankle in perfect synchronization. There was a heads up display in the helmet that ran her through the pre-flight procedures, and she payed close attention before booting up her wings. They sprung out of her back, and she grinned from ear to ear.
“Are you ready to go?” She heard Annie say in her ear.”
“Then you're clear to fly!” Jim said.
She turned the boosters on, and her feet lifted off the ground, she hovered for a moment, and then leaned forward, the rockets pushing her further off the ground and into the sky. The ground was left behind her, and she soared higher into the air. There below her was England, and as she flew on, the buildings passed below her like someone's model train set. The people moved between places like little dots. She passed an especially tall skyscraper, and watched the people look up from their desks at her. She waved at them as she passed, and got a few confused waves back.
“Control, I'm going to try some tricks.” There was a moment of hesitation before she heard Jim say back:
She rocketed higher, and spun through the air, barrel rolling through clouds and doing loopty-loops. A flock of birds passed by her like she was a casual sight for them. Glorious. Then she dove, picking up speed and feeling the G's as the ground grew closer and closer, she pulled up and rose like a roller coaster, giving a jubilant whoop into the comm. This was the greatest thing she'd ever gotten to do in her life. Settling into her flight, she began looking through the updates on the HUD. Most were boring, but one struck her.
“Hostage situation.” Followed by an address and further details.
“Annie, Jim, whats this hostage situation?”
“Jack and the others are already gearing up to help, and the police are there. You don't need to worry about it.” But she did worry about it. She asked the onboard computer to figure out the distance to the address.
“Its barely any trip at all for me, and they haven't even left yet.”
“Alice, listen to me, you haven't been cleared to return to a combat situation yet-” she turned the comm off. She was going to do this. She needed to do this.
The baby wouldn't stop crying, and it was driving Andrew mad.
“Could you keep that brat quiet?” He yelled.
“Jesus, Andrew, its just a baby.” Glen said. The mother shushed the baby and tried rocking it, but since he yelled it was only crying louder.
“Are we ready for the broadcast?” Glen nodded in reply. Andrew walked over to the camera.
“To the so-called “World Revolutionary Council”, we have one message: we demand a free, seceded England from your Communist tyranny. Unless you comply, one hostage will die every hour. That is all.” They cut the feed. There were a lot of hostages, and plenty of hours. They'd no doubt get to up the number they'd execute. Glen was looking a bit shaky, as were Amy and Lawrence.
“Come on, shape up.”
“Andrew, I think we've gone too far. I mean, I believe in the cause but...”
“Lawrence, listen to me: These aren't civilians. They became combatants as soon as they capitulated to the communist government of earth. Anyone who accepts their system is guilty of violence to our freedom. These aren't innocents. They're pawns.” Lawrence nodded, he still looked hesitant, but he didn't argue. Good enough.
“Sir?” Miriam said from the monitoring station, “There's something unusual on the cameras?”
“What kind of unusual.” She turned the monitor, and he saw a tiny blip flying towards them through the sky. Was that a drone? They couldn't possibly think they could take them out without killing all the civilians in the—not civilians, he reminded himself-- in the building. But what was it? It was moving fast, and the camera wasn't tracking it well. Old tech.
“Sir, I think its a-” It suddenly accelerated, and the wall burst open. Covering his eyes, he lowered his arm to try to make out what exactly was there. In the fading swirl of dust from the impact stood a towering figure of black and red.
“What the hell?”
“My name is Songbird,” A modulated voice boomed out of the machine, “and you're going to surrender now.” Andrew's jaw dropped for a moment, before he remembered he was holding a rifle. Without thinking he raised it, and fired off a burst of shots into the thing's chest. Suddenly it hunched over, covering its head.
Alice panted. Her mind swirled. She lowered a hand from her head, and put it to her chest, she raised it to her eyes, and looked at all the blood on her fleshy hand. “I don't know what to do.” Graelyn said.
She was dying and she knew it- no. No she wasn't dying. She needed to focus. She couldn't focus. She was being pulled between two places in time, and she couldn't control it.
“You keep trying to fight the healing process. Your post traumatic stress isn't going to ever vanish, but you can manage it, and you can heal. You won't always be like this."
She tried to remember the techniques she'd been taught.
Focus on where you are. She tapped her own helmet, and heard the hollow thud. She was in her armor. Jack had given her this armor, and the rest of her team, her friends: Chantelle, Trevon, Yi, Shona, Gerald... She shouldn't do this alone. She'd shut herself away like she could just get over what had happened, and she was going to die and let everyone who cared about her down. Her friends. Heck, those two weird mechanics who had cared enough to set all this up for her. She would die and let them all down. She was in a room. She was squatting in some rubble. She felt hands on her shoulders.
They're trying to break into my armor, she realized. Crack me open like a crab.
She tried to focus on her arm, just one arm. She didn't need the rest of her body, not yet. This was a nice arm. When she'd been little she'd used it to do one armed pull ups on the jungle gym for her dad to show off, trying not to let him know she she couldn't do them with the other arm yet, and could only do three. She'd used this arm to gesture while she was singing in the White Rabbit pub for her Dad and his comrades. She smiled. Yes, this was the right arm for this. She flexed her fingers, and felt her flesh.
I am here, right now, not anywhere else. I am here. I am here. I am here.
She swung her arm out, and knocked the wind out of a man, then reached out behind her, and casually grabbed a woman by the front of her bullet proof vest and swung her over her head to slam her down onto the floor. She moaned a bit.
“Like I was saying.” Alice said, “I'm the Songbird. And you need to surrender.” Andrew grimaced.
“So Alice MacLeod is back.”
“And better than ever.” She said, rising to her feet. She was actually trembling, not that he could tell.
“I've rigged this whole room to blow. I'll kill the symbol of this horrible 'revolution' and martyr myself. You've given me a gift.” Alice looked around at the room. This wasn't what she'd expected.
This was a Kid Kastle Fun Center. There were big animatronic animals paused in mid musical performance, and an abundance of arcade and ski-ball machines. There were lots of children, huddled with their parents or the people they'd gone to a birthday party with. Cold pizzas and abandoned cakes with pictures of cartoon characters topped the tables. She felt a stroke of rage. This man, whoever he was, was willing to put all of these children in danger for his little war?
Would she have done that?
It struck her how clearly the answer was no. It struck her how Manuel had thought the same, to put their fight somewhere no one else would get hurt. It struck her that Graelyn was willing to put herself in danger just to prevent her from crossing the line into murder. A red sheen coated her vision. She clenched her fists.
“You're a coward. I never once resorted to putting children in harm's way like this. Fight me like you stand for something.”
“Hah, bold words. Where's your gun?” She raised her chin.
“I don't need a gun. I've moved beyond guns. What's the point anyways? I'm not here to kill you.” The words surprised her, but she kept going, “I'm here to offer you a chance at a new world.”
“I don't want your new world!” he said grandly, “And neither do my soldiers. We don't want your false promises, we want Centro, a world where ambition isn't a sin.”
“It isn't a sin. And you won't be punished for ambition. Trying to murder children maybe, but not that.”
“You've murdered more people than I ever will.”
“Yes. And now the war is over. No matter what happens here today, we've won. You're holding up a children's pizza parlor. This isn't some bold move that will solidify the past you want to live in. That past is gone.” Alice looked at the other soldiers. “Its not coming back. But we don't have to keep killing each other. You'll kill some of our people, and then we'll hunt you down and kill more of you, and then you'll kill more of us, and so on and so forth... And what? What will you get out of it?”
“You led a revolution. You're goddamn hypocrite.”
“Maybe I am,” She held out an armored hand, “but you're all going to die here, you won't see any future. Give me the chance to show you mine. Its not what you want but... But we have to live in this world together. You're going to disagree with us, but there will always be people that do that. You can't stop people from thinking, even if you don't like it. I thought I'd die in the war, and maybe you did to. I thought I wouldn't have to deal with the consequences, the aftermath. But I do, and we can all live in this aftermath. Live together.”
Andrew raised a box with a button on it. The lights on the bombs around the room seemed to be eyes waiting for his order.
“I'd rather die.”
Suddenly, a hole appeared in his forehead, blood flooding out as he crumpled down. Alice looked to where the shot came from. The man who she'd hit in the chest, nametag said Glen, looked over at her, and dropped his rifle.
“We surrender.” The rest of the rifles dropped to the ground.
“We've got long lives ahead of us.” Songbird said back, “Make them count.”
She was greeted back at the base with cheers. After she got out of the suit, she was carried through the main hall on several people's shoulder's. No civilians had died, and other than the ringleader, the insurgents had all surrendered. Her friends patted her on the back, and there was a cake that someone had drawn her flying to the rescue on in red icing.
“I drew it!” Annie noted as the first slice was cut.
“Do you like it?”
“Oh I love it! Annie, could you draw something for me on the armor? I know what kind of bird I want on it.” Annie cocked her head to the side. Alice thought of those nights she sang for her Father and his friends in the White Rabbit, what they'd called her then. She flexed her hand.
“Make it a Nightingale.”
Alice was early for the appointment for once, which surprised Doctor Tran. She was never early, only late or precisely on time. She hadn't expected that, so had gone to get coffee. The aroma filled the space between them, sweet and bitter.
“Alice, what are you doing here early? Are you okay?” Alice shook her head.
“No, I'm not okay. I'm... I'm really not okay. I can't sleep. I have nightmares every night. I freeze up when I hold a gun. I sometimes relive being on that roof in Nojpeten over and over again like I was there... I... I'm not okay. And I'd really like to talk to you about it.” Doctor Tran smiled.
“I'm so glad to hear that. You're finally taking your armor off.”
“Oh not at all Doctor, I'm finally putting it on.”
Join us next week for the long awaited 10kd bonus story "Knights and Dragons"!