Oh, and did you see our announcement last week about other 10kd spin off projects?
http://www.jameswylder.com/home/10000-dawns-news-from-the-future cause if you didn't, hey, there's a link right there.
I'd like to thank Annie for all her great work on the art, and also the producer of the audio version, Rob Southgate, for all his support in helping get this project off the ground. 10,000 Dawns has been a team effort, and their work really has mattered.
If you enjoy our return, please talk to us in the comments! We'd love to hear your thoughts! But I've prattled on long enough-- get reading! -Jim
Art by Annie Zhu, Story by James Wylder
All chapters are 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:
If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
Chapter 16: The World Was Wider, the Sky Was Bolder
If you open up a history book, you'll find someone's opinion about the nature of a person in history. Were they a rebel or a terrorist? A dictator or a stalwart against chaos? Did their hand grasp the oppressed in the drowning waters, or shove their head down to watch the bubbles? The same person can be so many different stories, and its up to you to decide which one to trust. So if you could see every version of a person, every ramification of choices they made or didn't make, would that give you a more complete view of the person, or just muddy the waters with things that person couldn't have known themselves. I'm not just waxing poetic here, this is what Graelyn was thinking as they stepped through portal after portal.
Graelyn had found the trips she'd taken through other portals disorienting, trippy even, at the worst terrifying, however the Portals that Kinan made were none of those things. Graelyn's stomach churned, and her skin pricked up, plus her ears popped and she lost track of gravity for a moment, but really compared to the other trips it was a walk in the park. They had come out the other side into a forest filled with tall trees with broad branches. The sound of owls hooting filled the space. They'd taken a few detours on their trip, and Graelyn hadn't actually thought to ask the obvious question yet.
“You're about to ask how I made that portal.”
“And how it didn't make you sick.” Graelyn just nodded. The members of Dawn filing out through the portal with them looked non-chalant.
“I've had a lot of experience with these. More than anyone else, and that's not talking myself up unfairly. Do you know where we are?” Arch had scanned the area, naturally, and responded.
“Wooded area, filled with large birds.”
“I kind of expected you to say 'avian creatures'.” John Vice said.
“Why would I say that?”
“You know, it sounds sci-fi.”
“They're just birds.” Arch replied.
“Just birds? Why, I should practically be insulted.” A large owl said, poking its head out from a hole in the side of a tree. By large owl, it should be explained we mean an owl 4 to 5 feet tall. Its huge eyes were shiny in the light.
“Ah, Manuel, how are you today?” Miranda asked, and reached into a bag, pulling out a large rat she threw to the owl. It caught it, and took a few seconds to snarf it down its beak.
“Delicious. I'm well. The forest is healthy, little to complain about.”
“We want to pass through the usual way, is that okay?” Miranda asked. The owl bobbed it's head.
“Of course. I see you have new ones with you. Anyone I know?” Miranda looked back at them.
“Is there a Graelyn Scythes Owl or an Archimedes Von Ahnerabe Owl?”
“They made human Graelyns and Arches to? How funny. Its hard to imagine them being anything other than owls you know!”
“I'm an owl here?” Graelyn ejaculated.
“Why of course.” Manuel the Owl said, “There's an Owl of all of you somewhere, except Kinan that is.” Graelyn and Arch exchanged a look.
“Why not Kinan?” Kinan gave the owl a look, and he ignored the question.
“I should go get them, keep walking through to the clearing, Dawn is always welcome in the Left-Winged forest.” Manuel Owl took flight, his mighty wings carrying him through the air. Kinan gave barely a gesture at all, and they kept moving. Little owl eyes peeped out of holes and nests. Some landed on branches above them to look down.
“I can't actually tell if any of these owls are supposed to be people we know.” Graelyn whispered.
“I can.” Said Arch, “I'm used to picking up people from things other than their face.” Graelyn supposed that made a lot of sense, judging by the snippet of footage she'd watched of where he came from.
“Like look, there's Doctor Hiriwa from your city.” Graelyn squinted at the owl, and she could sort of see what he was saying. The owl moved a bit like her. She wasn't sure if that actually proved anything, but it was interesting at least. They pressed on to the clearing, where there were perches set up in big rings like bleachers, which were filling up with owls. John and Miranda seemed to be taking point here, throwing the giant owls rats and mice from their bags (which definitely were not big enough to hold the amount of rats that were being chucked out of them.
“Welcome Owls of the Left-Winged forest, I'm Miranda Vice, this is Johnathan Vice-”
“Who are you? We are they!” hooted two owls, this was apparently a running gag because even though it wasn't actually funny everyone laughed, or did what Graelyn and Arch assumed was the 4 to 5 foot tall owl equivalent of laughing.
“And we are passing through with two new humans. Graelyn Scythes and Archimedes VonAhnerabe.” Two owls fluttered off their perches, and landed on the ground where they waddled on their talons up to Graelyn and Arch. The owl that was Arch seemed to have a mask, as the feathers on its face were white with a rim of gray around them. The other owl was, naturally for a Graelyn, gray. Their feathers were thick and deep, and their eyes the size of tennis balls.
“Youuu, are I?” The Graelyn owl said curiously. Graelyn felt the need to Curtsey, like she was Alice in wonderland.
“I never thought I would be an owl, anywhere.” She mused.
“Nor I a primate.” The owl moved its head to the side, and the two mirrored each other as they inspected each other. The Arch owl and Arch just looked at each other and nodded.
“You must feel so limited only able to walk on the ground. Doesn't that create difficulties for you?” Graelyn thought for a moment, “I've never really thought about that. I suppose that since I never had wings it doesn't seem like their absence is something I've put much thought into.” The owl bobbed up and down. “Do you regret not having opposable thumbs?”
“Hoo... I suppose not.” She moved from side to side on her perch, and opened and closed her left talons in thought.
“Arch, Graelyn.” Kinan said plainly, “Its time for us to keep moving. I have more things to show you.”
“Seeing myself as an owl is pretty spectacular.” Graelyn replied. Kinan shrugged.
“I suppose.” Arch looked around at the throng.
“Where's your owl Kinan?” Kinan looked away from them.
“There isn't one.” Arch and Graelyn looked at each other. She was clearly not saying something about something.
“I suppose we have to go then, owl selves.” Graelyn said.
“It was good briefly meeting you.” Arch added.
“Youuuu tooooooo.” They hooted in reply, and the pair of them waved as the owls bobbed a sort of goodbye. Kinan had already started walking, with most of Dawn following her instantly. Twigs cracked under their feet as they rushed to catch up, and Kinan reached into her bag, and pulled out a handful of blue dust that sparkled faintly in the light, and threw it in the air, running her hand through it lightly till it cracked into a swirling blue portal.
“Okay that looks like magic.” Arch muttered. He was right, it did. But there was a method to the madness Graelyn was sure of it. Magic wasn't real, and even if it was, Kinan didn't give off the vibes of being a wizard. She was so practical, so intentional. But that wasn't a very logical way to think about that, Graelyn was simply pouring through the mannerisms of wizards in stories she had read. There was always an element of whimsy or oddity around them in some way, even if they were orderly, that Kinan just didn't project. But what did Graelyn know anyways? This was foreign territory, and she needed very much to understand it. Stepping through the portal, Graelyn found herself and Arch alone with Kinan on the other side. Kinan was facing them, just as stoic as always.
“Where are the others?”
“I sent them home. We'll get there in time. But I need to show you things.' Graelyn looked down at her feet and saw a long crystal walkway, filled with what looked like blue sand.... Like what Kinan had thrown to make the portal. All around them there was an infinite star scape, but they could clearly breathe.
“Okay, this is different.” Arch said, “Where are we?”
“This is the bifrost. It has a couple names. Some call it the Labyrinth, some call it the back room or back stage. Pull away the curtains, and here we are underneath the universe. I call it the bifrost though. Its evocative.” She said. Graelyn knelt down and felt the crystal under her feet with her hands. It was definitely real.... She peered over the edge, and there was a vast depth with more stars.
“If this is between universes, why are there stars?” She inquired, grabbing her glasses quickly before they slid off her face into the void.
“There aren't. The space between universes is a place you are not supposed to go. If you couldn't already tell from the fact that there is a walkway, this is an artificial construct. Simply one more elaborate than you can dream up with concrete or steel. It just looks like there are stars.” Arch gently grabbed Graelyn by the back of the collar as she tried to peer under the bridge and nearly slid off.
“So, you built this?” Arch said.
“No. I just use it.” Arch was having a hard time reading Kinan. Her face just didn't move like it was supposed to, the more he looked at her the more he got the impression she didn't just have a good poker face, but that she couldn't move her face much for other reasons. Her slow, monotone speech being perhaps unintentional as well. At first he'd just thought it was an act, a way of holding back the liars and manipulators in the various worlds he met, but he was certain this was the best her body could do at expressing itself. It only got more confirmed as she kept talking as Graelyn quietly asked him to help her up cause she couldn't actually get up on her own from her position over the side.
“I'm going to show you what I'm fighting for, what I've given everything for, and I want you to understand why its so important to me that you get into the prime reality. You've seen a few alternate worlds so far. What have you thought?”
Graelyn dusted herself off and regained her footing. “Well, the owl reality was nice. I really enjoyed the Halloween reality.”
“Yes.” Kinan agreed flatly. “That was fun.” She finished without inflection.
“Songbird's world was... Scary in a lot of ways. I was in so much danger.” Kinan nodded.
“Not to mention the ones we went through ever so briefly,” Arch added, “The so called... Prime reality, with all the dead things in it. The little glimpses we saw of other worlds. And yeah, Songbird's world... I hope we don't end up in a place that dangerous again.”
“You thought you were in danger there?” Kinan said, and turned to continue walking down the walkway. They kept on silently for maybe half an hour, when Graelyn realized one of the 'stars' was getting... Closer.
“Each of those 'stars' is a door.” She said.
“More detail please.”
“No.” She reached a hand up, and the star accelerated, while a side path of the same material began extending from the walkway. She turned and stepped onto it, followed by the curious pair. The white disk met the end of the path, seemingly two dimensional, and then caved in on itself; it was suddenly a hold in the darkness, leading to an empty room made of the same crystal. One by one they hopped through the hole. There were no ill effects as they did so.
“The people who built the bifrost never intended for others to travel it, so for us to use it is complicated. No one can open up a door who hasn't already visited the reality it leads to. Its a silly rule, but its an effective security measure. Naturally that rule doesn't apply to the people who built it.” Kinan ran her hands along the walls, until she found something she was looking for (though what that was Graelyn didn't know) and pressed her hand on it. The crystal on the wall shaped itself into a wooden door, which Kinan turned the door knob of, but didn't open.
“Lesson one. There is a reality where anything is commonplace.” She shoved the door open and they found themselves in a dilapidated warehouse. It was very anticlimactic.
“Well... I think in my reality old warehouses are pretty common to.” Kinan gave her a blank look that still spoke volumes so she shut up.
“These doors all lead into carefully chosen locations that don't draw attention so you can move in and out of them without attracting suspicion. Close the door on your way out.” They did so, and walked past the rows of old boxes and messy crates. When Kinan opened the warehouse door to the sunlit streets of this new world though, Graelyn and Arch both gasped. There were frozen arcs in the sky, each melting in the sun. Some of the arcs were... Forming, and Arch soon spotted and pointed out to Graelyn that moving on the edges of the arcs were people.
“They're pushing themselves through the air with ice.” She let her jaw go a little loose. “Its amazing.” She got the impression from Kinan's eyes she might be smiling.
“It is.” Kinan gestured for them to come close to her, and then gesturing downwards with her hands formed ice beneath them. Graleyn gasped, and the three of them rose up into the sky, higher and higher, the city below them stretching out. It looked like Montreal.
“I didn't know Canadians could do this!” Graelyn joked.
“I didn't either...” Arch replied.
“That was a joke.”
“In this reality,” Kinan interjected, “everyone can create ice like this. Its normal.”
“So you were born here?” Arch asked.
“No.” She said without looking back.
“Then how do you do it?” Kinan hit the top of the ice arc, and began to form the path for their descent, rapidly lowering them onto a city street where their arrival was treated as pedestrian.
“I learned it.”
“Can I learn it?”
“Can we learn it?”
“Maybe.” They kept walking down the street. Things seemed so.... Ordinary. Graelyn would have expected this society would have diverged massively from the development of society she was familiar with. But there were the signs in French and English, there were the paved streets and glass shopfronts. A casual inspection showed that refrigerator technology was a bit different, but things were so identical as to be impossible. She passed a cafe, and watched a man touch his beer bottle to chill it to the proper temperature before he drank it.
“This world shouldn't exist.”
“Of course it should. There are infinite alternate realities, and this is just one where everything is nearly the same except people can create ice and lower temperatures naturally.” Kinan stopped in front of a shop, and turned to enter it. They were getting used to following her without her beckoning them on at this point, so they just tailed her inside. But Kinan pushed a hand against Graelyn's chest suddenly, and reached into her satchel, pulling out one of those hoodies every member of Dawn seemed to have, as well as a big pair of aviator sunglasses.
“Put these on, put the hood up.”
“I'm not part of your army, and this barely fits with what I'm wearing.”
“Do it.” Graelyn wanted to argue, and snarled, but realized she was totally in Kinan's power. She'd be left here, in some strange world where she couldn't do what the general population could if Kinan wanted to leave her here. Of course, Kinan also needed her for something...
“Fine.” Graelyn bit back, and grabbed the hoodie, slipping off her blazer and putting the hoodie on, pulling the hood up. “Could you hold this for me?” She said to Kinan, holding out the blazer.
“No need to get catty.” She replied, and put the jacket in her bag, finishing her entrance into what turned out to be an ice cream parlor. There were a bunch of red and white booths, and glass cases of ice cream with a girl working behind the counter, washing up come cups. At the sink.
“Whats the special today?” Kinan asked, and Graelyn Scythes turned around behind the counter, smiling.
“Blue moon, again. We didn't get a new flavor in so the boss decided to keep it.”
“I'm Canadian?” Our hoodied Graelyn asked.
“You're going to school here. Exchange program.” Kinan sort of whispered. “Do you guys like blue moon?”
“Sure.” Graelyn said.
“Never had it.” Arch replied.
“Three blue moon cones please.” They sat down at a booth, and Graelyn eyed herself wearing her new outfit in a mirror on the wall, glad she was wearing the hoodie and glasses, and mad at herself for being mad at Kinan. Behind the booth ice cream shop Graelyn began stirring together ice cream ingredients, and chilled them by hand into ice cream, which was apparently something you could do here. It was a few moments before Graelyn realized that this Graelyn had a different hair color than her. Her hair had almost a purple sheen to the black, and she looked out the windows to see if other people had the same shade (they did). She wrung her hands under the table. She was so many people. She was right there behind the counter. She was an owl. She was some sort of monster. She felt her shoulders pushing in on her body as though to crush the stress out of her.
“Three blue moon cones!” the other Graelyn said cheerily, handing them out. The other Graelyn looked at her a second, as though she recognized her, but must have decided she was mistaken, and leaving the bill walked back to the counter.
“You see,” Kinan said as though no time had passed, “there is a version of you here who can make ice. And a version of Arch. As well as every other person you've met in duplicate. Now why might that be?” Graelyn squinted at herself.
“You said all these realities are linked together?”
“So they are linked together on purpose. These realities aren't random. They're specific. The reason we're in a reality that is so much like our own but with people having this power isn't chance, someone wanted it this way.”
“Perhaps not intentionally, but that's how its worked out.”
“We haven't seen any other versions of you, Kinan.” Arch said.
“No you haven't.” Kinan replied.
“Is that just chance?”
Graelyn licked her ice cream. Apparently this version of her was pretty good at making it: it was smooth and creamy, not too soft but not too solid.
“The reality we're going to you called the Prime reality. All these realities are tied to it. So... All the people we're meeting are people who exist there, correct?” Graelyn said.
“You said you learned that power to use ice. So people can learn to use powers from the other realities? They can... Make themselves superheroes or Jedi or something?”
“But only if there is a version of themselves they can draw that power from.”
“So there is a version of you wandering around here running a rival ice cream parlor or something. Kinan's face screwed up minorly. It was subtle, but more than they had seen it do, like a drop of water in a desert.
“Ignore me in this. The people in the prime reality can learn the powers from these realities as long as they are linked. But its much harder for people in these realities to learn other powers.”
“You make it sound like we're second class citizens.” Arch said.
“That's exactly what we are.” Kinan replied, and got up with the bill to pay it. “I have more things to show you. The Ice Cream will keep through the biforst.”
* * * *
After flying through the sky back to the warehouse, and going back through the door, they got back on the bifrost, and walked for a long time. The stars started to vanish, and the path they took seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. A solitary door sat there, already connected to the path. Kinan touched it lovingly.
“Where are we going now?”
“You wondered where I was born?” Kinan said. “Let me show you.” She opened the door, and it looked like it led to... more blackness. Kinan stepped through the door onto more bifrost that extended through the doorway, and they followed her. There was only blackness.
“Is this another part of the Labrynth of bifrost?” Graelyn asked, noticing there was a sheen like a bubble around the brief bridge.
“No.” Kinan said. “This is where I was born.”
Trying to describe nothing is hard, but let us try. Imagine if you would, the sun. This is, if you're reading this on Earth, a rather regular fixture of your life. It is in the sky, it makes things warm, makes plants grow, brings life, and provides light. Now, imagine all the suns in the universe, each with all of their little balls of rock and gas around them. Millions of them and more. Now imagine them gone. Imagine not just their absence, but the absence of anything around them. No dust. No energy. No particles. No nothing. No way of sensing that there was anything, because there is no input coming towards you, no rays of light, no sound, no radiation, no debris. Nothing. Imagine you were standing on a bubble within that. You can breathe, so there is some noise, there is some light being made by the cyborg next to you's skin, or maybe you are the cyborg, but its still too quiet. Its quiet enough you can hear your own heartbeat without trying. You can hear your body at its most very basic, the sounds it makes so quiet that even the most subtle background noise would block out. So even though it is quiet, it is actually deafening. You're aware of yourself, you can hear your own movements and it feels like you're going to break your sinews because of the sound. Your breath increases. You know exactly how much is moving in and out of your lungs. Given enough time you could measure it by instinct if you didn't go insane first.
This is where Graelyn, Arch and Kinan stood. They were standing in a place that made nowhere seem like an inadequate word. This was the place Kinan was born. This was nothing.
“When I was a young girl, I lived on the last place surviving the heat death of the universe. The universe around us was eaten away to nothing, stolen, sucked out like a straw, and converted to energy.”
“How? That's impossible, humanity would have evolved or gone extinct by the time the universe got that far gone...”
“This wasn't a natural death, this was a murder.” Kinan turned, her head tilted down just slightly, her eyes burning. “Here is a hypothetical for you: someone finds a way to link realities to their own. Someone can draw from them, learn abilities not found in their own world. That's preposterous. It sounds like pseudo science at best, and magic at worst.” She narrowed her eyes further. “But presume you could do that. The amount of energy that would take, to bend or rewrite the laws of your own reality slightly to... channel that power would be immense, wouldn't it?”
“I mean, its impossible, but yeah, I have no idea how you'd do that, but if you could the amount of resources would be insane.”
“Good. Now accept this: its not impossible. Someone did it. Someone did the math, and figured out how to do that. Someone waiting on the other side of the mirror who can smile when you frown waiting to reach out and grab you by the neck. Now where would they get the resources? How could you fuel that?” She gestured into the darkness. “You're not going to devour your own universe for that are you? But there are other ones, 10,000 maybe, all ready for you to use as batteries to suck up and throw out when you're done.” Graelyn and Arch were silent. “Imagine you lived there. Imagine you watched the universe die around you. And imagine you found a way out. You'd want to stop that happening to other universes, wouldn't you?”
“I suppose I would.” Graelyn whispered.
“And would you Arch?”
“I think I'd have a moral obligation.” Kinan stormed past them, back out the door, and they scrambled to follow her. She created a new path, and followed it, pulling another door towards them and ripping it open, walking through it, and cracking open the door in the crystal room that followed it without pausing. Running after her, Arch exited the door first after Kinan, and stopped in the doorway, causing Graelyn to lightly push him. “Arch let me through.” He stayed put. “Arch, come on.” He stepped out of the way, and Graelyn stepped forward onto a dry field filled with dead plants. The sky was filled with cracks, blue cracks, and deep blue holes. Massive Crystal orbs floated in the sky, along with a vast plethora of different vessels moving back and forth between the ground and the sky. Between them all floated faceless blue beings shaped like people. They had no visible orifices, their blue skin coated them completely, but it seemed like they had jaws and such under the layer. Their legs hung beneath their body, unused as they flew. Each wore a garment sort of like a poncho. As they flew, occasionally crackles of electricity flew between them and the sky.
“Kinan... Kinan what are we looking at.”
“Earth.” She replied. They stared for a few more minutes, and a chunk of the ground in the distance suddenly began rising up, converted to blue energy.
“I need more of an explanation than that, what are we looking at!?!?” Graelyn said louder.
“You're looking at why I need to send you into the prime universe.”
“But what are they?!?” Graelyn pointed at the blue things, and Arch's skin instinctively flashed an uncomfortable static.
“Am I showing you too much at once? I thought this might be overwhelming.”
“You should have listened to your instincts!”
“That's the first inter-universal empire. I won't bore you with their history, it would only confuse this more... But here is the long and short of it. You connected to Songbird's Universe, and were able to move through into it. The prime reality did the same thing, only they connected to the universe these guys came from.”
“So... They're going to die?” Arch said.
“Yes.” Kinan started walking across the dry field, the grass crunching as she stepped.
“Where are you going?”
“Continuing the tour.” The giant Crystal orbs in the sky sent small bolts of lightning between them, and the wind screeched, a sound that was just plain incorrect for the wind to make.
Nervously, Graelyn gave Arch a look that seemed to communicate “I don't want to die, but hey she is our ride out of here so...?” and began to scamper after Kinan. Arch sighed, and looked up deeper into the sky. Dark shapes slowly latched onto the orbs, and then let go, their shapes were inconsistent, like they were a wide variety of somethings. Feeling the dead grass with his armored foot, and shifting it around, he began to follow them.
The ruins of civilization littered the ground. Was this Earth? Was this a colony world? Even though Kinan had answered that question, Graelyn couldn't even tell. The sky was purple-- but was that natural or just another sign of the ruin?
“We'll need to stay out of sight of the drones.” Kinan said, and began to walk towards a large reservoir of dirty water. Next to it were cages.
“Kinan, what are we looking at?”
“It will be clear in a moment.”
“Please, can't we just leave? I already agreed to do your dumb mission.”
“I know. But do you believe it?”
“What does that matter?” Kinan stopped, and looked back at her, then kept walking. Graelyn wasn't sure what that meant, but it became clear what was up ahead. The cages, hanging from cranes, were filled with people.
Graelyn looked up at the cage, filled with the malnourished people, who barely seemed to even notice her.
“They're in a cage Kinan. Why are they in a cage?”
“They'll be used as slaves to keep building the Empire. The Council needs them for whatever its trying to do.” Arch looked furious. His skin was glowing orange, then red. He wasn't hiding his feelings, and the suddenness of it threw Graelyn off.
“Arch?” She whispered.
“They're keeping them in cages? People. Like they're less than human.”
“That's what the council does. People from universes that shift in accordance with other universe aren't really people to them, after all their memories could change at the drop of a hat in another universe.” He stepped towards her, his skin shifting into flames.
“That's no excuse.”
“Oh, I agree.”
“Then we need to help these people!” Kinan stared back.
“We'll need all three of us. The question is, is Graelyn on board?” They both looked at her. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She felt cold, and tried not to look at them.
“Can't we just... Leave?”
“I mean, this is going to be really dangerous. And I've done a lot of dangerous stuff lately. Honestly I just want to go to sleep.” She shrugged, and tried to look like she was saying something normal.
“How could you even say that? How can you think back to the pain you lived through and see this and just.... Shrug?”
“I just don't think its my job. This is what Kinan wants to do, and apparently what you do. But I'm not meant for that kind of thing.” I'd poison it, she thought. Arch and Kinan were both so stoic, she had a hard time reading them, but the disappointment was radiating off them. Then the crane holding the cage began to move towards the reservoir.
“What are they doing?”
“It looks like the stock is too sick. They're not going to bother harvesting it, they'll just drown them. There are other worlds. Other universes. Its not our business, anyways.” The people scrambled in the cage, but did so so slowly... Graleyn remembered the sink.
Graelyn sat next to Trisha on the playground, swinging back and forth on the set.
“We're going to be too old for the playground next year.” Trisha said. Graelyn nodded.
“Maybe its time then.” Trisha raised an eyebrow, and stopped swinging.
“Time for what?”
“To run away from home.” Graelyn said.
“Graleyn be serious.” She stared at her own feet. Her slip on shoes were scuffed up.
“I am serious Trisha, I'm going to run away.”
“Why would you want to do that?” She didn't answer the question, just looked at her shoes and kept swinging.
Graelyn came in the door, sliding her shoes off, and setting her bag down.
“Mom, I'm home.”
“I'm in the kitchen dear!” Graelyn looked at Xandra's shoes, they were still there by the door. Mom hadn't moved them. She'd moved dad's leftover things so much quicker than Xandra's. Graelyn sighed, and walked into the kitchen, famished. She was ready for a snack.
“So Graelyn, I got a call from Trisha's mom a few minutes ago. She said you were planning on running away from home.” Graelyn looked at the kitchen counter to see Mister Sprinkles in a wire cage, not his usual cage, with a wire loop coming up out of the top of it.
“Mom what's going on?” She didn't answer, just put a plug in the sink, and began to fill it up. They stood there in silence at it filled, and then she shut it off.
“Graelyn, do you remember when your father left, with your brother and sister?”
“...Of course how could I forget.”
“And I got you and Xandra in the court settlement, while your father moved to New York with them. And then Xandra left, and hurt me so much. Now Graelyn, I have to wonder, how could you think of doing that to your mother?” She picked up the cage by the wire loop, and Mister sprinkles made uncomfortable noises as the cage wobbled. The wires themselves looked kind of painful.
“I can only assume you don't love me, that you want to cause me pain. Which is a cruel, cruel thing for a daughter to want to do to her mother.” Graelyn's eye's grew wide behind her glasses.
“Mom, I was just kidding about leaving. You know, it was a game.”
“Oh, Trisha's mom said you'd made yourself very clear you were serious. So serious about making me hurt.” She lowered the cage with Mister Sprinkles into the water, and then picking up a wooden spoon, shoved it down into the sink, displacing water all over the counter and onto the floor. Mister Sprinkles writhed and squealed as he began to be submerged in the water, scratching with his claws, biting, and trying desperately to keep his head above water. Graelyn ran for the sink, and tried to stop her mother.
“No, no you can't do that! Please you're hurting him!” She held the struggling Graelyn back with her other arm, and smiled faintly at her.
“I'm just trying to teach you a lesson. You want to hurt me, but you care so much about when your cat gets hurt. Do you love your cat more than me?” Mister Sprinkles was all the way underwater. He was thrashing in the small cage, his tiny eyes panicked. He was drowning.
“No, of course not.” She lied.
“Say it again.”
“No, I love you the most in all the world. You're the best mom ever, and I'm never leaving home.” Sprinkles began to fight less. His movements were getting sluggish.
“Do you promise?”
“Yes I promise!” She smiled, and pulled the cat out of the water. She set the cage on the counter, and let Graelyn get through to him finally. He was hacking up water, but looked like he'd be okay. She opened the cage up, and took him out gently, pressing the wet cat to her breast. Her mother began to fill the basin again. Graelyn stepped back.
“Now Graelyn, if you really love your mother, you'll prove it to her. Show me how much you love me. See how long you can hold your breath.” Graelyn looked at the sink.
“Do I... Have a target time I need to meet?”
“Oh, I'll know if you've been there long enough. See if you can hold your head down there till you can't bear it anymore, and then a little more. Or should I put the cat back in?” Graelyn kissed Mister Sprinkles' back, and set him down (he instantly scurried off to her room), then walked towards the sink. Her face was mirrored in it, and there was some cat hair floating on the top. Her mother's face came up behind her, and she felt a hand shove her down into the water.
Later, she sat curled up in the corner of her room, soaking wet but afraid to take her clothes off. She held Mister sprinkles (who unlike her was wrapped lovingly in a towel against her, and rocked back and forth gently.
“I just want them to leave us alone Mister Sprinkles. I just want to be alone.” He meowed. Her eyes darkened.
“What kind of person doesn't fall Mister Sprinkles?” There was no answer.
The people in the cages scampered slowly, and Graelyn closed her eyes. Fine, she thought. Fine, I'll get involved again. But she just wanted to go home.
Do I even have a home? She tried to think of what she meant by home and it seemed nebulous. She home she'd grown up in had been a terrible place. She'd been shaped by it, she was a part of it, and everything she touched went wrong, just like that gun in Nojpeten, just like Project Atlantis.
“Fine.” She said. “We need to save them. Tell me what to do. I don't know what to do.”
Kinan nodded. “Arch, you free the prisoners, Graelyn, you lead them back to the portal when he has, while he gets started on the next one.”
“What will you do?” Arch asked.
“Show off.” She said, and began sprinting. Arch didn't waste time, he unsheathed his swords, and using them to get handholds climbed his way up the crane. He reached the control module, and found.... Something that resembled a human sized jellyfish. That was surprising, especially since it had so many limbs on so many devices. Arch was curious, but he had a mission. He turned on the vibration function on his left sword, and jabbed it repeatedly at the transparent material that made up the cockpit. He pinged off, and focusing in on the grain of the material, jabbed again. This time the sword point hit a tiny indentation, and as he put pressure on it with the vibrating blade, cracks began forming around it. He'd had programing installed to do just this sort of thing, he realized. He wondered why. The window shattered, and the creature inside glowed faintly yellow as if in surprise. It reached towards him with one of its many tendrils, which Arch grabbed, and pulled on. It tried to send a surge of electricity through his body, but he was built to withstand surges like that, and his body automatically redirected the overflow back into his internal batteries, which he used to pull even harder. It wasn't expecting that, and he threw it down out of the cockpit with force. He slid into the crane's cockpit and tried to figure out the controls. At first it made no sense, but a program kicked in and began pointing out the most likely controls for him to use to get the crane to do what he wanted. He stopped the descent into the water, and then turned the crane towards the ground. Perfect.
Graelyn saw the jellyfish hit the ground, and ran over to it. What the heck was this thing? Was it an alien? She had always believed there was life beyond her star, and with so many alternate worlds it was a mathematical certainty. She had expected it to look different than a jellyfish though. It had a blue medusa, which pulses with either blue or yellow light. Ringing the medusa were a large number of tendrils, some ending in rounded tips, some with what looked like a single claw or a pincer, some with some sort of orifice on them. At the center of the bottom of the medusa was... A Glowing ball? She wasn't sure what that would biologically do but... It was definitely a thing.
“Are you alive?” She asked, fascinated. She crept closer to it, and reached her hand out to touch it. It was soft, coated in a fine layer of mucus. Amazing!
“Do you speak English? Vy govorite po-russki? Nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma? Parle vu le-” The thing cut her off, wrapping her wrist up in a tendril. She looked down at it as though it had betrayed her curiosity, but still whispered, “fascinating,” as another wrapped around her skull and she felt the electrical impulses surge through here.
“Who are you?” She felt a thought think.
“Graleyn Scythes.” She thought back. “Are you sending me thoughts directly to my brain through your tendrils?”
“You figured that out quickly.”
Graelyn found herself-- or maybe a conceptualization of herself? Standing in the forest filled with the owls. But she could tell this wasn't the real forest of owls, this was her memory of it. The details were only what she recalled, with bits clearly filled in incorrectly by her subconscious. The alien was floating there in front of her.
“You're clever for a human, Graelyn Scythes. We are the Pantheon. We lead the council under our Emperors. The reach of our tendrils goes beyond stars”
“...Okay that's cool uh, so you can go into people's minds?”
“Yes. That impresses you more than the Empire?”
“Well, I mean, anyone can build an empire. That happens all the time. Being able to go into people's minds is pretty special.” She felt it being confused by her reaction.
“There is no greater glory than to be a god, to be raised into the Pantheon. To be looked up by others.” Graelyn shrugged, and all the owls did to.
“I mean, I'm sure that took a lot of work, but all you have to do to get an Empire is be willing to be cruel. I could run an empire if I wanted. But that's boring. I'd rather learn something.”
she looked down to see a tendril coming out of her sleeve.”
“That's not what I see inside you, is it though? You're afraid of yourself.”
“Well I'm certainly not afraid of you.”
“I am in your mind.” Graelyn narrowed her eyes.
“Only as much as I'm letting you.”
“I can make you scared.”
“I can be cruel. Would you like to see me be cruel? Did you know I got a friend expelled from my school for reporting something to my mother? I plotted behind her back, and I hurt her.”
“And that you did that scares you.” The owls turned their backs.
“I just want people to leave me alone.”
“You're just one of many. You don't have the right to ask that. You're not important, you'll be submerged and we will change you. I can sense you, I can feel your anchor to the prime universe. We'll exploit that. You will become the you who lives there, I guarantee it. The changes are already happening.”
“What do you mean they're already happening?”
“Well-” The alien stopped talking, and the owls began to fade, the forest began to flicker.
“...Pantheon?” She said. And she opened her eyes to see the creature's medusa cut in half, and Kinan's blade already sweeping up to cut another in half. She leapt up, and landed on some sort of air craft, which she burred her sword in the engine of, then leapt off, slicing a flurry of the floating blue things as she fell. She landed on the side of the crane, clasping a cord on it with one hand, then springing off again to land on a much larger floating craft, which she began to carve open.
Graelyn looked around, and saw the cage of people. Springing up, she sloppily ran to it, and opened the latch. The people looked at her, as though they were unsure if they should leave the cage.
“Come on! Lets go, you're free, follow me!” She yelled, and gestured For them to run towards the door. Arch had dropped a second cage, so she ran over to it, avoiding the fallen members of the Council, and dodging more who fell. She didn't look down to see if it was Arch or Kinan cutting them down, but she tried not to look. She wasn't meant to be in a battle. She opened the other cage, and shooed the people out in the same direction. They were largely carrying each other, but no one picked up a little girl who was missing part of her leg, and looked barely there, Graelyn grabbed a man by the arm and yelled at him to pick her up but he just shoved her off and kept moving. Everyman for himself. Graelyn cursed, and ran to the little girl.
“Hey, hey are you alive?” She looked at her, her eyes sunken, and nodded. “Okay I'm going to get you out of here.” Graelyn was not a physically strong person, but she found lifting the little girl easy.
“What's your name?” She said, and the girl tired to say something back, but only her lips moved.
“Nice name.” Graelyn encouraged. And began to run after the survivors, yelling at them to go towards the door. She awkwardly opened the door, and the refugees flooded in. Through the crowd, a woman in a poodle skirt began cutting through.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Er, you're Jenny right?” Graelyn yelled over the clamor.
“Backgammon Jenny, yeah. I've been following making sure nothing went wrong. What's gone wrong?” Graelyn handed her the child.
“Kinan is saving a bunch of people.” Jenny sighed, and rolled her eyes behind her sunglasses.
“Of course she is.”
“Yes, I am. Jenny, get these people back to Spiral.” Kinan said, followed closely by Arch. They'd caught up quick. Jenny gave a crisp salute, somehow, while still holding the child, and began to usher the people away.
“Arch, Graelyn, a moment.” Kinan had them wait at the door, and they stared up at the giant crystal orbs, the little things moving back and forth between them, and the black blurs. They were starting to move towards them.
“Kinan, what on earth do you want from us? This is insane. This is impossible. I can't do anything to stop an army of flying.... Whatever those are.”
“You can. Remember, you can only go into a universe you'd been to.”
Graelyn remembered the universe she'd been in so briefly, that room full of bodies.
“You've been to the prime universe.”
Her cat paced its cage, it hadn't been fed yet today do to a computer error in the shelter. It was getting impatient.
“You and Arch can get there to a place early enough in its history you can change it, give them a fighting chance.”
She watched herself look over her own shoulder, ready to be kicked out the window.
“I can train you for what you need to do. It won't even be that complicated, but you're the only ones who can do it. I know this sounds ridiculous, but there are trillions of lives on the line here. I need you to do this, and then I'll send you home. I'll make your life easy, you can both live calm and wealthy. You can do what you always dreamed of doing. But I need you do do what I'm asking you to do.”
She curled up in her bed, holding the cat close to her chest. She tried to ignore the bruises on her chest, but it didn't quite work.
“Will you do this for me? For yourself?”
Graelyn was back in her own present, looking Kinan in the eyes. She turned to Arch, she wished he could read his face.
“I don't know how to say no to this. I don't think I could if I wanted to.” Arch nodded, and looked between both of them.
“When I was growing up, there was a man who thought he could make my life what he wanted. He built me up, built my family up, just to tear us all down for his own ends. We were like toys to him... Slaves, really. Do you really think I can say no when either when you tell me this? I'm not sure... I'm not sure I totally get it but...”
“You don't have to. Lets get out of here.” Kinan walked passed them.
“Kinan,” Graelyn said, looking out at the wasteland ahead of them, “if its as bad as you say here... Shouldn't we try to help more of the people here?” Kinan sighed.
“Its too late here. We already tried. We don't have an army big enough to fight that kind of war. I do what I can. We saved some.” She looked out across the fields, as another crack formed in the sky. “We have to fight the battles we can win.”
* * * *
The journey back through the bifrost was quiet. Graelyn still wasn't sure what to think... She felt like she was walking through a dream. But here she was, and her sore feet seemed to prove otherwise. Kinan took a new path, and at the edge of it, reached into her bag for more blue dust.
“Where is the door?” Arch asked.
“I'll have to make one. We're going somewhere outside of the builder's specifications.” Kinan threw the dust expertly, and moved her hand through it. Graelyn pulled up the shades and tried to watch it carefully. Kinan moved her hand through the dust in a circle, little tendrils of electricity slipping out of her fingertips. A swirling white portal appeared, and she gestured to them to go ahead of her. Graelyn held her hand out, and Arch took it, the two of them stepping into the portal together, letting the white energy enclose them as they walked.
The stepped out onto a grassy plain with a blue sky filled with floating islands. A massive crystal staircase went up the sky in the distance, spiraling up, and blobs of water floated through the sky like clouds. Graleyn could see people swimming in them-- someone waved at them and Arch waved back. Then they noticed the people in hoodies riding a brontosaurus in the distance, as if the scene couldn't get any weirder.
“Welcome,” Kinan said, “the home of Dawn. We call it Spiral.”
“Spiral.” Arch whispered, and they walked onto the grass, the sky welcoming them as the white swirls faded down into nothing.
Join us next week, where you'll get to explore Spiral! ... And see another dinosaur! Same Dawn time, same Dawn place, every Thursday right here! Let us know how you liked the story in the comments!