The death toll on Grismara climbed, decimating nearly every Mordesh on the planet. The Everlife Elixir gave immortality to the Mordesh while morphing and strengthening every disease and ailment on Grismara into the Contagion. No one was safe, and for many it was only a matter of time before they would all be reduced to the most basic instincts – kill and eat. Kaleri lay curled up on a small cot in a makeshift barracks, uncomfortable and tired. She could not sleep unless a small gun was under her pillow. Every time she closed her eyes she saw the hands grasping and tearing a hole in the small ship she had taken refuge in. Since they had arrived at their shelter, she watched people she met turn Ravenous in an instant. Lifting boxes, passing supplies, even on the perimeter while on a guard shift – they all turned with no warning and hesitation to kill them meant certain death. Every Mordesh was suspect, and many had taken to drowning their memories in what intoxicants they could get their hands on. Unfortunately, that meant a few of the Mordesh in camp had become Ravenous with no one catching on and more had perished. She turned to lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. Someone was crying into a pillow, muffling their sobs as best they could. They were all going to die here.
A few days ago, she and Amyara had been rescued from a mob of Ravenous by a small Exile shuttle. This small group of humans had been scouting the planet once they heard the Dominion had been looking to welcome a new race into the fold. They had worn Hazmat suits planetside so Kaleri wasn’t sure exactly who they were or what they looked like, but she was grateful for the timing. They informed Kaleri and Amyara that they had been asked to relocate any Mordesh they found to a safe location, but that they couldn’t stay too long. They were running out of supplies and needed to head back to the Exile fleet, far from here. Kaleri tried to pry information from the Exiles about the Widow, but they were just as clueless as she was. They hadn’t heard from the Widow since they reported back to her and it had been radio silence since. They had dropped them off at a small building that had been crudely fortified, shook their hands and took off, hoping to make one more planet sweep before rendezvousing with the fleet. Kaleri never saw them again.
She was finally dozing off when the sound of boots pounding the dirt made her sit up, alert. She grabbed the small gun from under her pillow. The lights flickered on and the Mordesh on their cots rose swiftly – no one had been sleeping. A Mordesh in a lab coat stood at the door. It was Amyara. She was flushed and breathing heavily but she was smiling. “I have news. Lazarin has created a counteragent for the Contagion.” A low mumble began among the Mordesh standing in the barracks. “It is not a cure, merely a filter for the malady but it will discontinue the development of the decay.” She looked uncomfortable for a moment, “It will require surgery and -” she wrung her hands together worriedly, “removal of some body parts and regular maintenance.” The Mordesh standing in the room looked at one another, unsure.
Kaleri stepped forward. “When do we depart?”
Amyara smiled, “There’s a shuttle outside.”
The lab had been state of the art before the fall of Grismara, but now it was little more than a field medical set up. A Mordesh woman in a lab coat waved them over to a door with a crudely painted “PATIENT ADMITTANCE” sign. Kaleri looked curiously at the woman checking them in. There were metal rings around her neck. Noting Kaleri’s gaze, she held up her hands in defense, “It’s not much, but for practical purposes the procedure must be performed here.” Nodding, Kaleri said, “We certainly don’t have a choice.” The woman scribbled something on her clip board and motioned for the group to follow her scanbot. “No, you don’t.” The group of Mordesh from the small bunker followed the floating bot as it led them down the twisting corridors. Another Mordesh motioned for them to stop in a makeshift waiting room at the end of the hall. He turned to greet them and the group gasped. His eyes were bright green, and his jaw was encased in metal with glowing tubes attached. There was metal around his neck, too but that was all that was visible. When he spoke his voice was low and gravely, almost mechanic. “You’ll all have to hold on here. The procedure is dangerous and we must proceed delicately. Therefore, a ticket system has been issued to -” Outcry from the group of Mordesh surrounding him drowned out his explanation. “Peace! Please! I understand this is difficult but disorder only serves to increase the interval you wait.” He smoothed his coat over his hips and held out a cup full of papers. “Take a ticket.”
Kaleri waited while the crowd snatched tickets out of the cup. Relieved murmurs and anguished moans accompanied glances at which ticket numbers they had pulled. Amyara stepped forward after most had cleared away, delicately plucked a ticket out of the cup and stepped back. Kaleri moved forward and took the final ticket. Number thirty. Her heart sank.
“Very good. Thank you.” Their guide turned to face the room. “Which of you has the first ticket?” Amyara raised her hand, tentatively. “Good. Follow me, please.” She looked guilty as she smiled and shrugged at Kaleri. Amyara turned to follow the man down the hall and Kaleri gave her an encouraging push. As she watched her go, she had a sudden realization that this could be the last time she saw her. Kaleri stepped quickly to catch up and grabbed Amyara’s forearm. “Wait, Amyara. My position in the order is well past yours. It’s possible I may not be present by the time your procedure is terminated.” She looked down at her feet. They had been through so much, she didn’t know what to say. Amyara gently put her arms around Kaleri and said, “I shall see you soon.”
Hours passed and Kaleri hadn’t moved from her seat. She had been nervously shaking her leg staring ahead at the admittance door. Perhaps it was nerves, but she thought she could feel little whispers of darkness at the edge of her mind. See little tendrils of smoke at the corners of her eyes. She sat back in her chair, biting her fingernails. She was so hungry. They weren’t letting anyone not fitted with this “stopgap” to see people recovering from the procedure. After all, anyone could turn Ravenous at any second. There were four of them left now. A woman was speaking to a sullen looking man when she dropped the glass she was holding. It shattered on the ground and Kaleri sat up and drew her gun. The man eyed her and said, “That is not necess-” the woman – turned Ravenous in a breath – grabbed his arms and with a mighty pull she threw him across the room. Screeching with rage, the Ravenous lunged towards another woman cowering in the corner. Kaleri aimed and shot the Ravenous but not quick enough to save the woman. Arms still extended in front of her, she dropped the gun and collapsed to the ground. So tired. So hungry. She felt strong arms lift her up. “Quicky! We may yet have a moment.” And then all was dark.