Its with a sad heart we have to let you know that Ben, the child with cancer we asked you to help support has passed away. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
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Chapter 12: The Confrontation
"And then I told the man, 'You can still win the hopping contest with two legs!' but he wouldn't relent, so in the end I ended up having to engineer him a detachable leg, just so he could win a hopping competition! I was so confused why it was important to him till I went there, and I saw what the prize was." Everyone leaned in, and he held the pause carefully, "And then I knew he'd made the right choice, because it was a lifetime supply of chocolate. And I knew I'd trade my left leg for that too!" Graelyn smiled as she ate her soup.
Enjoy your last meal. You'll be in the corner next.
* * * *
Sarah slid through the back alleys, using her camouflage to hide along the walls. She waited for two hours on a rooftop for the cleaning droids to get into the right position, and then made a running leap onto it. She chanced a glance back: the streets were empty. Her cloak made her invisible to cameras, so she was safe. Exhaling, she gripped the droid tightly as it began to scrub up the side of the Pyramid. She stayed perfectly still as it began its slow ascent.
* * * *
"This is crazy." Arch said to Alice. "Do you really think this will work?"
"It has to. I won't be able to get in on foot. I could get into the city with a camouflage cloak, but we can't find a way into the pyramid from the ground." Alice snapped another piece of the armor into place.
"No civilian casualties, and we'll be right at the source." Her facemask mechanically closed over her face, and her metal armor straight out of some company's weapon's development program looked like something off the cover of a sci-fi novel. It had been repainted a camouflage patterned black, and an emblem of a bird was on either shoulder. She flexed her fingers, his first reflex to, and he could hear the tiny motors working to move them.
"Its not a perfect fit, but I'll certainly survive our insertion."
"Well then, I guess our goal is set."
"I'd say Viva la Revolution, but you guys have passed that point." Alice nodded her armored head.
"It feels weird to be fighting for stability now... I suppose I'm not meant to live in this world."
"Don't say that..."
"We both know it’s true. I'm the Songbird of Liberation, not quarterly tax forms."
"I think you're more than you think you are." She didn't respond, just began checking her weaponry.
* * * *
Maria slipped up through the halls of the building, and passed through each security checkpoint without a hassle. If she could make this easier on everyone, she would. She knew where he'd be. She rode the lift to the top of the Pyramid, where he'd be waiting. Her left hand shook uncontrollably. This was never going to be easy.
* * * *
Manuel Salazar sat on the roof of the Pyramid of Nojpeten, leaning back in a lawn chair. Rather than a sacrificial altar, he'd put a park up here. There were trees, and paths, and a lawn. As well as tables and chairs. He checked the time on his phone: Lizette should have told Graelyn to come up here by now, and as he looked down, he heard one of the lifts 'ding' as it reached the apex. Graelyn stepped out, wearing the same outfit as yesterday.
"Do you like my park?" Graelyn stepped out onto the stone path and walked towards him.
"Its very nice. Why are you waiting up here?"
"I'm waiting for you, and for everyone else."
"Do you really think everyone is going to come and meet you on the roof to... What duke it out?"
"Yes." He reached over to a table, and pulled a beer off of it, that he popped the cap off and took a deep swig of. "That is exactly what is going to happen. Graelyn, have you ever wondered why I call people Senior and Seniorita?"
She shrugged, "You're from central America?"
"But really, you're from Russia, you don't run around calling people 'comrade!' all the time." Ah, well then. It was obvious when he put it that way.
"You're playing them." Salazar grinned, and his accent dropped away.
"I can talk in boring midwestern English if you wanted me to. I'm good with languages." The accent came back. "But when I talk like this, what do people assume about me?"
"That they're better than you."
"Why are you giving up that advantage to me? If this is an important ruse to keep up, why tell me?"
They hadn't heard the lift ding, and a woman walked towards them from it, she looked serious.
"Because when you're backed into a corner, letting people see your strategy is sometimes the only way to get out of it." Graelyn turned, and saw a woman she knew she'd seen before.... It took her a moment. She had been in Songbird's base.
"Manuel, watch out she's--"
"--With the Revolution? Oh, he knows." Manuel stood up, and walked up the woman, embracing her. Graelyn's jaw went a bit slack.
"Okay so you guys know each other."
"This is my sister Maria, Graelyn."
"Oh." She held out a hand, "A pleasure to be introduced." She shok her hand warmly.
"Manuel, you know why I'm here."
He went over to a case by his chair and pulled out another beer, offering it to Maria, she held out a hand to decline, and he replaced it.
"Of course I know why you're here. You want me to turn myself in so you can put on a nice show trial for me."
"It won't be a show trial. They're scared of you. You know that. We can get you life in prison. You can live, see your grandchildren, your children, someday your great grandchildren." Manuel shook his head.
"Maria, I can't do that. I can't live a life locked up. I can't be a pawn to oppress this city. I plan to die with dignity, or live with honor. I'm not going to back down."
"Why can't you just surrender? Make a peace deal?" Graelyn asked.
"They want my blood, little girl." It was the first time he'd talked down to her, "They need to make an example of me, to prove the old order is dead. I couldn't do anything to prove good intentions to them if I wanted to."
The board was set, a bishop moved into the field, but it didn't take the king.
* * * *
Sarah watched as the droid made the final steps of its ascent. Her artificial heart beat like an overbearing drum machine. Her handcrafted pores sweat in anticipation. She made the leap, her legs pushing like springs off of the droid, vaulting her through the air, up to the edge of the roof, to which she grabbed on with all her strength, and lifted herself up onto. She stood, and saw Manuel with two women, and bolted towards him. The three all turned, two of them in shock, one of them in pleasent surprise. She slid to a halt, her fists raised. One of the women, the white one, looked her up and down, clearly surprised to see her wearing a cheery sundress.
"Mister Salazar, you're in danger."
"Holy shit." The white girl said.
"You're goddamn right." Sarah replied.
"I'm not quite in danger yet. But I had no idea you'd be coming. I cannot say I'm not happy for you to be here." The two hugged, and the white girl kept looking back between them.
"She has metal teeth." She said confused.
"Mister Salazar fixed my body when I was a child. He saved my life, and made me more than I was." She held up a hand and clenched it into a fist, "The man is a saint."
"...Okay." She replied.
"Maria, Graelyn, meet Sarah MacLachlan. She's an old friend."
Black moves to castle, the rook takes its position to protect the king, after taking out an enemy rook on the road.
* * * *
"I need to get you out of here, I have connections, I can hide you on the rim."
"Wouldn't the Librarian have something to say about that?" Sarah seemed to pout for a moment, "...Yes...."
"I survive on Earth or I die. Are you prepared to help with that?" Sarah raised her head.
"I'll give my life for you, sir."
"Manuel, people are going to die for you, no matter what. They'll lay siege to this city if you live." Maria said, louder.
"Then I'll fight them." He shouted back.
"This is madness."
"This is war."
Graelyn looked up at the sky, where hundreds of objects streaked down through the darkening sky. Missiles and gunfire shot up from the ground, and many exploded in the air, blowing up into a rain of paper pamphlets that fell over the city.
"It’s just propaganda?" Graelyn asked.
"No," Maria answered, "Its cover."
One of the objects swerved around a missile, and accelerated towards the roof. Graelyn moved to cover her face as it impacted, sending a rain of torn up cobblestone spraying from where it landed.
From it rose two figures, one coated head to toe in a silvery sheen, swords sliding out of its arms. The other a blackbird, rifle in hand, rising from the firely crater.
"No. Not you Arch." Graelyn whispered.
The white player moves its Queen onto the field, along with a knight.
* * * *
"Arch no! What are you doing?" Graelyn yelled, and Chrome teeth ran forward, her fists out. "She's going to die, stop her!" She yelled again, and arch raised a sword to block her arm. It should have disarmed her literally, but the sword just cut through the skin. Chometeeth grinned, and punched Arch in the belly. He reeled, and tried to move his other sword into her gut. She twirled out of the way, and pulled her foot behind his leg, pulling his knee forward to trip him. As he fell, he used the moment of the fall to bring his other leg up into her chest, and the two fell to the ground together, they both rose again, and he swung at her, two which she blocked, and leaped over him, inhumanly high. But he followed the leap the same way. She grinned. They hit each other in the air and slid to the ground some distance from each other. Each rose into a sprinter's position, and charged. They collided with an unholy sound, leaving Arch dented, and Sarah's Jaw hanging off its hinge. She still looked eager as they began exchanging blows faster and faster, parrying each other's blows. He stabbed her in the leg. She ripped a piece of plating off his shoulder revealing the mechanical bits beneath. They slid back again, panting, and charged once again.
All the while Alice walked toward Salazar, her rifle in hand.
"So then, Songbird. It’s so nice for you to join me. Would you like a drink? I brought plenty." He offered her a beer, then a coke. She raised her gun. Sarah looked to her left, and as they began charging each other, knew she was out of time. She waited till Arch was close, and left herself open. His sword slid between her ribs, and she could hear him make a shocked sound as she rammed her hand through the exposed shoulder into his chest. He tried to break free of her, but it was too late-- she clenched her fist down on something inside Arch and threw him like a shot put, right into Songbird, who was knocked right over by the projectile. Alice was already rising, and Sarah slid between them, blood oozing out of her chest through her dress. Alice cursed as the suit began jerking, its internal mechanisms damaged from the impact, and pressed a release valve inside it with her tongue. The armor fell off of her like flower petals, and she rose out of it, rage in her eyes. Manuel pulled a pistol out, but instead of pointing it at Alice, set it on the table. Graelyn didn't understand, but she ran to Arch who had destroyed Salazar's chair, and was screaming in pain.
"Its going to be okay Arch..." She tried to comfort him, but she really didn't know if he would be. Why had Salazar chosen this fate? Why didn't Songbird just bomb him from orbit? Why did anyone have to fight anyone? Why couldn't they just leave each other alone? Why couldn't they just mind their own business? Black oil and red blood oozed onto Graelyn's dress and she felt rage flood her brain. This was everyone's fault. Salazar's, Songbird's, Arch's, Maria's, Sarah's, her own to. People were going to die, and there would be blood everywhere. She covered her face with her hands.
"You're a pathetic little thing." Her mother said, "Its no wonder you tried to take the easy way out." She felt the impact of her mother's hand, as she begged her to stop, and saw Sarah bleeding from the ribs, where she'd been hit so many times. "You'd stop this if you were strong. But you're not. You're going to be a good girl, because you know what you deserve." Graelyn began shaking. No NO NO this wasn't what she deserved this wasn't what anyone deserved, this war, this fighting, this bloodshed. She could do better. She could stop this. Arch moaned in pain. She looked at the gun on the table.
"You'll have to shoot me first if you want to get to him." Sarah yelled.
"Fine." Alice Said, and shot her in the leg five times. She dropped to the ground, and she and Arch made the same noises now.
"Alice, you don't have to do this." Maria said, "You're not the World Council. You're better than them."
She looked at Maria, her eyes burning, "I am utterly and only the World Council. If I don't do this they will burn this city to the ground to keep the world safe. You know that right? They're out for blood. And so am I." She narrowed her sights on Manuel.
"You might not want to watch this." Maria looked away. She knew she was right.
"I'm unarmed, I've offered you a drink, and you come here and shoot my friends. So this is the face of the revolution. I hope you're happy with what you've created."
"You know damn well what you stand for! I saw what Centro did. People were slaves to you. You could pay money to get away with murder. And I saw what happened in Mexico City."
"...What happened in Mexico City?" Salazar looked confused, and worried.
"You were on the board of Directors. You tell me. You saw what Graelyn Scythes did. And even if you didn't, you were part of the system that let that happen... That let...." Her gun shook in her hands.
"I cannot let you live Manuel Salazar. I have to kill you, for the sake of the future."
He chugged the rest of his beer, and threw it to the side.
"Then it is done." Sarah tried to rise again, but he gently pushed her down with his foot.
"Goodbye Maria, I'm glad you came. You could have let me die alone, I'm grateful for that." He reached out to her, and she took his hand for a moment, before stepping back again.
"Well then, Alice. Lets end your revolution. You win."
"NO!" Graelyn picked up the gun. She had never picked up a gun before, but she knew she could use it. She'd seen enough movies. She'd played enough games. The handle was cold in her hand, and she watched Alice's face turn slowly towards her, the trees moved slower to. "Alice, don't be the kind of person who'd do this. You're brave, and honest, this isn't the only-" But Graelyn Scythes, 17, had never held a gun before. She waved the gun to the side, to gesture, but her finger glanced down on the trigger. There wasn't time for anyone to react, there was just a quick cacophony of bangs, and a perfectly diagonal line of red holes appeared on Alice's chest.
"Oh." Alice said, and crumbled over. Graelyn dropped the gun and stared.
Manuel began laughing, and Graelyn just stared, her face pale. Alice lay there, blood coming out of places it was never meant to. It almost looked like she was shivering.
"You little bitch you thought you could take what was mine did you? Did you? You thought this was your world? This city is ours you brat! We're free without you." He went on and on, and Graelyn walked over to Alice, and knelt by her, taking her hand.
"I don't know what to do." Graelyn begged. Alice looked at her, and Graelyn couldn't figure out what the expression meant.
"Manuel!" Maria yelled, "Help her!"
"Why would I help her? Why in this whole world would I help her? The woman who has ruined everything I worked for. Who do you think I am Maria? A coward? I'm a Director, I can do what I like and no one can stop me? Who do you think I am?"
Graelyn looked down at Sarah, and up at Manuel.
"Manuel," she said, "You're a Doctor."
Manuel Salazar stood for a moment, his face slid back from his tirade, and he stared at the bleeding woman with red hair on the ground in front of him. He looked at Graelyn, and saw him squeeze Alice's hand.
"To me, you're a miracle." Sarah had said.
Manuel walked over to Alice, "Maria, get a medical staff up here for Arch and Sarah. I'll need my equipment as well. My phone is on the table, you know the pass-code."
"Now Graelyn, I'll need you to help me. We need to stop the bleeding. So follow my instructions precisely."
The hands of Manuel Salazar had been called a gift from God, and they worked faster than hands had any right to. He didn't even pause as people ran up handing him new equipment. He worked with perfect grace and stability, and as he removed the bullets, and reattached tissue, and sealed wounds, one could not help but admire those hands. Different hands went to work on Sarah and Arch, and the two were easily stabilized, though Arch's anatomy proved someone confusing at first. It came as no surprise if you saw those hands that Manuel saved Alice's life. And as they loaded her onto a gurney to take her away to the hospital. Manuel smiled at Graelyn.
"We saved her. You were right."
"You told me you had a facade. You were right to. It was more than just saying Senior." He placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Maybe now that I've saved her, we can work something out, me and the Council. This doesn’t have to be an apocalypse. Honor... Dignity, bullshit. We'll live. There will be a future."
She rose to her feet, "I'm glad for you, Manuel. But I crossed a line. I'm sorry."
Graelyn bolted without another word, running towards the side of the Pyramid. She focused on it. She could see the edge, it was like running towards a release. She could feel the muscles in her body like she'd only ever felt once before, felt her breath, felt her life, and she prepared to jump.
This was for the best, after all. She'd never screw up again. She'd never disappoint anyone again. Everything she did she'd ruined. They were better off without her.
"Graelyn!" She heard a voice, and she tried to stop. She ended up sort of falling over and sliding, as she looked up to see Lizette, who was there with several other Salazars at the lift. They had probably come to check up on things, or, well, it didn't matter. She rose again, on unsteady legs, and she looked back at the ledge. She wanted to. She really, truly wanted to. But she noticed something about Lizette. She was wearing the same dress as her, just many times smaller, and not stained with blood and oil. Lizette's small face was filled with shock.
Graelyn collapsed to her knees, unable to go any further, and for the first time she could remember in years, she began to sob. Lizette broke free of her parents and ran to her, wrapping her arms around her. Graelyn cried like she never knew she could cry, and Lizette stayed there with her, until the sun broke over the horizon, and a new dawn pushed its hand across the board of the world, and wiped the pieces clean.
The story continues next week! The aftermath of the confrontation will mean different things to everyone... And a new world no one expected.