Introduction From the Author
Welcome to the world of 10,000 Dawns! Over the next few months you'll have the pleasure of reading a new chapter of this story every Thursday, written by me, James Wylder, and featuring beautiful art by Annie Zhu. This story wouldn't have been possible without David Koon, Josephine Smiley, Taylor Elliott, Jordan Stout, Miguel Ramirez, Elizabeth Tock, all the "Hanover Muppets" and everyone else who helped contribute to this story becoming what it is today. Thank you all so much.
This chapter is also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
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It was not a golden age. Sure, everybody said so: the great architects of interstellar travel hammered away as Hephaestus on great hulls to travail the void of space, the financiers rising higher and higher above the flesh of Earth and Mars till they were barely mortal and called their penthouses Olympus. The people of grit and gumption strapped themselves into strange devices that contorted space and tore at gravity, and all of them said, “This is the time of mankind, this is the time of great deeds we will be remembered for, never to live in History's shadow and to bend and bow but to conquer it!” and they were all completely wrong.
The last great colonization of the Solar System had already taken its final step and, with a vain attempt to live on Venus tripped bloodily, leaving a sort of skinned-face spacestation hooked to the ground by an elevator in a synchronous orbit with the planet. It was hailed as a marvel as the sweaty men and women who made it smiled shakily knowing the true cataclysm of their failure on the planet's surface. No, this was not a Golden Age. This was an age of Fools Gold: a pyrite age. The suckers bought the tagline of course, and the solar system kept spinning. The great companies of earth took in massive profits, the exact same amount as the year before nearly to the decimal, and again and again. There was a repetition to it all, and then for a moment Mars got uppity, tired of corporate greed and tyranny, they threw off their shackles in a full scale revolution: students yelled from rooftops about freedom, heroes were martyred for a list of ideals, and the red planet ran red in a war so brief it would be forgotten if there were any other wars around it, and if the scale of its brevity were not still massive.
And for a moment, it looked like it could be a Golden Age: Earth came down from the clouds to innovate and show that their ideals were more than a Cloudcuckoland, Mars began an attempt at real communism, letting a massive computer run the equal distribution of wealth, giving the celestial body a brain-- things seemed almost glorious, flowing towards a climax, and then it stopped. Mars went from bold fierceness to stunned normality as quickly as it licked its wounds. Earth forgot about its dreams of capitalist innovation, and settled back into its chair, churning in smaller but still substantial profits, and the poor suckers scattered on the rim scavenged their way to another meal. The last gasp of progress exhaled, the Pyrite Age entered full swing, and the great men looked on last years dreams they had yet to realize and said, “this is the time to be alive.” Little did they know, it soon would be.
Down below the Atlantic Ocean, a man turned away from the Stars and hid his eyes from their broken promises of light. A man with few redeeming qualities, and fewer qualms, but certainly not stagnant. That's the thing about being interesting: it has nothing to do with goodness or wisdom, it has to do with action.
John Aril, CEO of Anubis Corp., put his foot in the Stagnant ocean, and churned up a hurricane. He sat in the room his invention was being built in, a room of bolts and steel plates fighting tirelessly to avoid being crushed by the water around it. Fish swam by, in ignorance of what was being done. The woman in the lab coat tightened a bolt and the metal and mirrors spun around each other, a pulsing sound began to drift from it like a stillborn heartbeat, “Its not quite ready sir.” He nodded, “We're not moving forward. We're stalling.” He looked up at the woman, “We need fresh blood. Pick out some new scientists to bring down here. Ones we've been overlooking, maybe because they're odd or don't work well with teams. Someone has to be able to solve the last hurdle.” The woman nodded, her name was Hiriwa, not that John cared, he'd be the one in the history books, and she knew it well. “Sir, could I also request we bring in an intern? I understand you're desire for a barebones staff, but it would help the team immensely to have someone to take care of mundane tasks like the Coffee. John put his two index fingers against his lips and nodded. “Done.” He pulled out his tablet, and scrolled through the top candidates-- they'd all been accepted elsewhere at this point, he'd delayed too long for the sake of saving a dollar, he coldly enforced a new rule in his brain to not do that again. Patience was a virtue, but only for the right reasons. He scrolled down into the second tier of candidates. All were the exact sort of people you'd expect to not quite make it into true excellence, the kind just one cent short of a dollar. He picked one at random. Sixteen year old girl, good at math and science, blah blah blah. She'd be getting the coffee anyways, the choice didn't really matter.
It was strange, that choice. Because as John Aril clicked the “accept” button next to Graelyn Scythe's smiling face, nothing noticeable happened, no men shouted on rooftops, or proclaimed that things were now not as they would ever be again, but the river in the ocean broke through its dam-- and flecks of gold began to spill into that sea of pyrite.
Chapter 1: The Cat that Missed Atlantis
Graelyn looked into the backseat, where Mr. Sprinkles the cat was pacing inside his cat-box, an awkward sort of pacing for such a small space that might be better described as ‘walking in a circle.’ She didn’t say anything, didn’t sigh or shake her head, just stared at the cat. The car was driving itself to the dock, she didn’t have to do anything as it went the regulation speeds throughout its trip, but she almost wished it had some manual controls so she could drive it today. Just sitting here felt wrong, and there was one stop before the docks. The car came to a halt in front of the facility, the large friendly sign at the front showing many animals each in a solid color looking happier than most animals ever did. Mr. Sprinkles meowed, and Graelyn popped open the car doors, and grabbed his carrying case out of the back seat. No one was there to greet her, this was solitary work, the kind of work one can only do yourself because if you don't you'll grind your teeth down with regret. She’d had the cat for a very long time, since it was a little kitten, and now it was time to say goodbye. She heard its claws scratch at the cage door to the box, and another meow. She almost began to shush him, but in the end couldn’t get up the heart.
She went inside, the cool green-blue colored glass doors moving apart like a biblical sea, and leading her into an equally chill colored room. “Hello, how can I help you today?” Graelyn walked up and matter of factly set the cat down on the long front desk. “This is Mr. Sprinkles. He is my cat. I am here to give him up for adoption.” The woman nodded, “Did you fill out the requisite paperw—“ The paperwork appeared in front of her, though of course on a tablet, not as actual paper, we’re not savages. “Ah, alright then. Everything seems to be in order… Ah you left blank 41B empty.” Graelyn peered over at it, “It says its optional.”
“It says its optional, but its not.” Graelyn sighed, bureaucracy at its finest.
41B: Why did you choose this shelter ?
Graelyn paused for a moment, and then entered her answer into the form: “This is a no kill shelter.”
“Good enough.” The lady smiled at her, “We’ll take good care of Mr. Sprinkles! Is there anything else we should know about his care.” There was a pause. Graelyn felt like every moment here was a waste of her time, this was only a cat after all, it wasn’t like she was giving up anything important… She went to bite her lip, but held back with perfect self control. She made a decision.
“He likes Mozart. Specifically the operas, mainly the Magic Flute. Don’t play him any junk by Handel. He hates Handel. Other Baroque is okay.” The lady opened her mouth, and closed it, “Er, of course. Thank you for that information.”
Graelyn left, knowing full well the woman didn’t give a damn about what music her cat liked to listen to. Still, the effort felt somehow worthwhile. She got back into the car, and told it to start for the docks. It began moving, its electric motor silently chugging away towards the ocean. She adjusted her skirt. She checked her pony-tail in the mirror, and shoved her glasses back towards her nose. There was something in her chest, and she couldn’t quite place what it was or what it was doing. She looked back at the friendly animal sign, and squirmed in her seat. Goodbye, Mr. Sprinkles, she thought, this is all for the greater good you know. She started thinking about who would miss her when she left, and came to the quick realization the only one who had a chance to was the cat.
Graelyn had received Mr. Sprinkles as a concession. The court ordered therapist had sat with her and her parents, and told them that what had happened was a serious matter the courts couldn’t simply overlook, and that something had to be done to show that Graelyn’s parents were doing their best to help their daughter. “But what she did was selfish, shortsighted, and unpragmatic.” Her mother monotoned. The therapist’s face seemed be a perfectly controlled mask, “That may be, but we still need to do something for Graelyn to show we’re helping to meet her needs. “Great she gets a trophy for it to.” Her mother snarled. “So Graelyn, what would you like?” Graelyn thought for a moment, swinging her legs under the chair. Her mother slapped her knee, and she stopped swinging her legs.
“I want a cat.” She said.
“Out of the question.”
“No, now wait a minute, cats largely take care of themselves aside from litter and food, and the courts love animals and think of service animals as a really good step towards recovery, probably because they are, but regardless, I think this is a very good move for all of you.”
Her mother nodded, “Okay. I think we can make this work then.”
Later they went to the petstore (“No second hand pets for my daughter, if we’re doing this she’s not getting a hand me down.”), the biggest one in the corporate sprawl of Moscow. There were hundreds of tiny cats running around in glass cages, meowing and mewing, taking naps or playing. Plenty of people came to watch the kittens, and today was no exception. Squeezing through the crowd, pushing her black hair out of the way of her glasses, she looked at them: there were brown kittens, black kittens, gray kittens with black spots and orange kittens with black stripes. There were Kittens like Dalmatians, and kittens with blots of different colors everywhere. There were energetic kittens practicing pouncing, and lazy ones taking naps. There were cuddly kittens curled up with each other, and loners away from the bunch. She gravitated toward the loners. One kitten was by itself, simply staring out the glass, as though it could make out some meaning beyond its prison walls by observing hard enough. Little Graelyn ran around the case to the other side, and lined her eyes up with the kitten’s, it tilted its head.
“I want that one she said.” Her mother got the attendant. “I’m naming him Mr. Sprinkles.” Her mother screwed her face up, “You’re not naming him-“
“I’m naming him that or I’m complaining to the therapist.” Her mother snarled… But she looked proud. Like her tiger cub had learned to bite.
The car started again, and Graelyn requested the car begin playing Mozart’s 5th Symphony. It asked her, as it always did, if she meant Beethoven’s. No, she responded, Mozart’s. She didn’t know why she liked Mozart’s 5th so much, but she did. Ever since she was a little girl she would curl up and listen to it with Mr. Sprinkles. He would purr, feeling like a groundquakes as the grass of his hair rolled over the plains under her hand. Combined with the notes, she felt at peace, like the earth itself was singing her a lullaby, the music softening the sounds from downstairs. The grass outside the window waving in the wind made her think of Mr. Sprinkles. It was good she’d left him, she told herself, that wasn’t a name fit for a woman going to work at a state of the art research facility.
Woman? You’re sixteen!
There were a lot of voices today. Maybe all of them were idiots. The car pulled in at the dock, and she stepped out into the shoreside sun. It was still a cresting dawn on the horizon, bathing the waters in a white flood of light.
She turned to face the envoy, who was wearing a suit jacket over a light-fiber t-shirt that was currently playing somewhat distorted images from Japanese horror movies on his chest. She could tell this job was going to be tasteful. “I’m Dan Kahn, I’m gunna be escorting you down to Atlantis. I take if you have the paperwork?” Always paperwork. She handed him the tablet, which again had no paper. He skimmed through it. “I don’t see a parent signature.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said frowning in that responsible adult way, “I’m sorry there was trouble at home.”
“There wasn’t. Not anymore. They were holding me back.” Naturally, he didn’t know what to say to that, so she walked past him and adjusted her shoulder bag. She was wearing the sort of outfit she’d wear if she was a cartoon character, a skirt cut just above the knees with matching blazer over a blouse and a tie. Usually the tie was black, and the blazer and skit were a deep blue. Today though, they were gray with a green tie. She wore a pin shaped like a smiling fish on her lapel, not because she felt particularly festive, but because she’d learned it put people at ease with her if she forced the effort. Her glasses had rectangular black rims, and were simple but stylish in all the best ways. Glasses weren’t the most common thing to see these days, and as they walked over to the diving pod, she hoped Dan wouldn’t ask about them.
“So you’re wearing glasses?”
“Heads up display? Don’t like retinal implants?”
She stepped onto the damp metal framework that led to the pod, reminding herself what a good idea it had been to wear flats today (she hated heels anyways), and didn’t look at him as he responded.
“My eyes are fine the way they are.”
“So they’re fake glasses?”
“You could get corrective surgery you know, the company would cover the cost…” Graelyn turned to look at him, her eyes narrowing beneath her glasses. She didn’t raise her volume, or change her expression, but somehow what she said felt like it cut a rib from his chest. “My. Eyes. Are. Fine. The. Way. They. Are.” She held his gaze for a moment, and walked up to the hatch of the pod, standing by it impatiently as if there was a late train.
“Sorry, geez.” He muttered as he opened the door. “Welcome aboard ice queen.” Graelyn gave him another look, almost piteously, and stepped inside. It was slightly rusty, which wasn’t a good sign, and a bit cozy. She set her handbag down next to her as he took the seat opposite her, putting her hands in the pockets of her blazer.
“Only us?” He nodded, and as he shut the hatch felt a tingle move down his spine. What if she is some sort of weirdo and kills me? He nervously looked back at her, she hadn’t changed her expression. Graelyn looked out the video screen connected to a camera on the exterior that acted as a window on the pod. Slowly, Dan pressed the button to begin lowering the pod. She kept her gaze on the ocean, and watched as the sky turned to sea, the green-blue waters enveloping her vision—and then there were fish! Swimming about in schools. Beautiful fish colored like rainbows, and shiny gray fish like darts. She let the half of her face Dan couldn’t see smile, and took her trembling hands out of her pockets to rub them. You can’t let them keep getting to you, you’re better than this, she thought. But no matter how she tried to hide it, she was scared. People would walk over you if you let them move a boot close to you. She suddenly thought about her cat. Not her cat anymore, she’d burned that bridge. Was he meowing for her? Did he even miss her. She knew that cats were more affectionate than some claimed, but she knew that he would forget about her and take to a new owner who fed him. The thought for some reason made her feel cold. She didn’t want to think about the cat anymore, but she began to imagine him swimming through the water outside the window, chasing the fish. Good ol’ Mister Sprinkles. Good ol…. She was freezing. She put her hands back into their pockets.
“So Dan, tell me about Atlantis.”
Check back here next Thursday, July 16th, to find out what is under the sea in Chapter 2...