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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?”