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Corlea hurried from the Crystal Games, arriving at the Medilab within minutes. She opened the door and went inside. She walked through several rooms until she reached the rear of the building. In the middle of a small room, the Death Chamber presented an ominous finality. Its black metallic skin cast an iridescence luster that made Corlea shudder. The cube measured eight feet in each direction.
She checked with the Director of Termination to confirm that Markasa was actually inside. At the entry she hesitated, her mind swirling with conflicting emotions. Death was a usual occurrence in Crania but not for members of the Peer. While commoners lived no more than ninety years, Peer members, because of their chromatin injections, lived for five hundred years.
Corlea had never seen anyone die. The concept was foreign and incomprehensible. The last Peer member to die was one-hundred and twenty-one years ago. The director, a Red Physio, eyed her curiously. It was unprecedented that a Cranian would attend a death sequence. Corlea steadied her nerves with a deep breath and walked inside the Death Chamber.
The sealdor clicked behind her with a metallic echo, increasing the feeling of gloom. A chill rippled through her body. Her attractive face with its finely chiseled nose turned in a slow arc and studied the high-gloss burnished compartment in the shadowy light. She sat next to Markasa lying prone on the vapor pad.
Death arrived within hours after the first symptoms of chromatin failure, regression of motor function and constriction of connective tissue, followed by complete organ collapse.
Markasa's lips quivered, and her voice conveyed fear. "Corlea? Are you here?" Already, her sight had failed. Weakly, she lifted her hand. Her frizzled hair drooped with moisture tumbling over her forehead partially hiding swollen blood vessels.
Corlea held her teacher's hand tenderly. "Yes, I'm right here." All the wonderful times with Markasa filled her with an aching nostalgia, and her eyes misted over.
Markasa managed a feeble smile. "I'm so relieved you're here."
Corlea's voice choked with grief. "Thank you."
"It's my time to go into the void," Markasa whispered. With a withered hand, Markasa motioned for Corlea to lean closer. "You're the Carrier now. I pass the sacred trust to you."
Shock, then dread, transformed Corlea's face. "No, you can't mean it. I haven't studied long enough. I'm not ready." Markasa closed her eyes and gasped for breath. "No one ever is. I wasn't ready. But I've seen you grow. You have the mark."
She felt her mentor's grip weaken. "What do you mean?"
Markasa coughed and held her mouth. "Read Book Ten, Chapter Twelve, Verse One. Everything you need to know is there, my child."
Corlea visualized the sacred book, its thick gilt-edged pages promising wisdom. Silently, she cried out for deliverance from the burden suddenly thrust upon her. She realized the enormous gulf between being a student with detached interest and a teacher who had to preserve a philosophical position against severe repression.
Markasa paused to gather her breath, her words raspy and labored. "Our glory died when we came to this awful place, buried before we die. Underground like burrowing beasts. Nothing left of our decency, just decay and moral sludge now. The priests of power have won. Never forget that."
"I won't Markasa." Tears formed in her eyes.
Markasa's bony finger reached her lips, indicating silence. With great effort she reached into a pocket of her death shroud and handed Corlea a message orb. Their hands touched and gripped, concealing the exchange. Slowly, she grasped the orb, placed her hand in her own pocket, and released the orb.
"It comes now my child, the slow creep into nothing."
Corlea clutched the cold edge of the vapor pad. "No, Markasa, don't leave me."
Markasa tried to chuckle but coughed instead. "If only Galen could find a way to increase the cell nucleus divisions, I'd be happy to stay a little longer." Her face thickened into a pasty blue.
"Father has tried to extend it to fifty-one."
"Another ten years would be acceptable." Markasa smiled weakly. Her next words diminished in volume and spilled out in multi-layered fragments, barely audible. "Emerge my child and reach beyond your shadow, for you will be the Chosen One."
Then, her essence faded with her last exhale.
The flesh of Markasa disappeared in a vapor trail, her moisture gathered, transported into a ceiling aperture, and saved for plant growth. Only a cold dampness softened Corlea's palm where her mentor's hand had been. The wet spot on the vapor pad evaporated quickly with the faint whisper of the collector.
A small residue of bone dust remained on the pad. With tears blinding her vision, Corlea scooped the dust into a small mound, gathered it in her palm, and sprinkled it on the floor. An ancient scripture flashed through her mind, and she repeated the phrase in a soft, almost imperceptible voice. "A spark dies but the flame lives on," she mumbled.
Oblivious to Ruckers scurrying to their assigned work places in the subterranean high-domed caves and alcoves, she walked through the labyrinth of spacious caves, the light from the surface streaming down with dismal beams. The message orb seemed like a hot coal burning inside her pocket.
Once inside her rooms, she placed the orb on a shelf and retrieved the book from a drawer, putting them side by side. The holy book suggested wisdom, the orb contained Markasa's last words. The irony of it overwhelmed her, a message from the past, a message from the present. Her hands felt clammy as she thought about listening to the orb's contents. Why didn't Markasa tell her in the Death Chamber? Why the secrecy? Did it indicate a future full of peril?
She released her Techno Belt, placed it on the floor, and wedged her thin body into her favorite niche beside the window, looking at the buildings below. There was no one else now. Markasa had named her Carrier. She felt all alone, and a solitary chill crept up her arms and settled in her neck.
Suddenly, a soft whooshing sound, like the sealdor to her quarters opening and closing, startled her.
"Aezo, is that you? Go away." There was no answer.
Immediately, she sensed danger. In the dim blue light, a bulky shadow moved across the floor and up the wall opposite her. She held her breath as the creeping shadow stopped. The body odor was unmistakable.
The unseen Morda, a product of planned eugenics, moved closer, his stench clogging her nostrils. Feeling the hulk of him just beyond her vision, her heart pounded. Just out of reach on the floor, the T-Belt glowed with energy, its open fusion joint beckoned. She calculated the time necessary to snatch the belt and operate its controls. Trembling with excitement, she fought for self-control.
The Morda's guttural voice croaked, "Corla here. Come I for Corla. Must find Corla."
In one silken move, she rolled away from her niche and whirled around to face him, her willowy body pressed against the cold plasglas wall. The flash of sharpened steel in his hand blinded her momentarily.
The Morda's face glared hideously, puffy and mottled with grimy smudges, his pink wafer eyes floating in a pool of blood-shot crevices. He wiped his snotty nose on his left hand and grinned stupidly, moving his stunted, muscular body closer. His white suit was soiled with dirt, grease and food stains. She knew he lacked cunning, incapable of intelligence.
The typically vacant Morda stare, grotesque and primitive, expressed a feral look of desire. Coolly, she bent down to grab her belt, but he stepped forward and kicked it away from her. She watched it glide across the polished floor into a corner.
"Not get belt, make sure Corla not get belt."
"Who let you in? Who sent you?" She eyed him closely, unable to move. "Get back, return to your work station." Her voice commanded with persuasive strength, and she knew his limited brain struggled to ignore her order.
Clumsily, like a crippled animal, he lunged toward her. The upraised dagger descended toward her throat.
Corlea dipped under the thrust, rolled away on one shoulder, pushed off one foot, and leaped for the belt, sliding across the floor on her stomach until her hand clutched the fusion joint. She struggled to her feet and fastened the belt around her. She pressed the Cryotron function key which activated the synthesis between her body's energy and the belt's.
The Morda stumbled toward her again. "Must kill Corla. Corla not live any more. Corla die." The moronic cadence of his voice echoed off the walls of her living quarters.
Panic welled up inside her, and she forgot about not harming him. She raised her left forefinger, pointed it, and a cryo-stream ripped a hole in his suit and formed an icy spot on his chest. Dumbly, he looked down at his frozen skin. The Morda's expression changed to rage, his eyes fiery like a hungry predator before a kill. Blindly, he charged, the dagger raised high once more.
Just before his outstretched hand found its target, she pointed her finger again and released maximum stream. The frigid sting of cryonics brought the Morda's body upright and propelled him backwards, knocking him flat on his back. His head struck the floor, and he didn't move. She pointed her finger again and released another blast.
She clamped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with disbelief. "What have I done?" She had never used her cryonics before. Yet the pulse of her belt's power had filled her with a thrilling surge.
Moving quickly, she reached his side and kneeled, feeling his neck. No pulse. She lowered her head and listened at his chest. No heartbeat. Horrified and fascinated, she watched the Morda's transition, losing its body fluids. A liquid helium mist escaped from his mouth, nose and ears, creating a fog that hovered in the air around him.
Slowly, his eyelids fluttered, and his chest heaved for the last time. His eyes suddenly flamed out. The cryonic probes had removed his body heat by conduction. The blue bloated face stared at her, encased in a frozen shield of ice crystals, covering his body. Its eyes weren't eyes any more, only opaque marbles, bulging in death.