“Heresy is the eternal dawn, the morning star, the glittering herald of the day. Heresy is the last and best thought. It is the perpetual New World, the unknown sea, toward which the brave all sail. It is the eternal horizon of progress. ― Robert G. Ingersoll, Heretics and Heresies: From ‘The Gods and Other Lectures’
The nurse studied the health monitor at the foot of the Dragon Creche and looked at the figure under the glass bubble. She felt a flash of anger thinking about the Cybrid getting the best care the Dragons could provide. The Cybrid rested peacefully while one of her Dragon sisters lay in a basement room secreted away in isolation like a lab rat with the plague.
“Heresy,” She whispered under her breath as she checked Mariah’s ventilation tubes, sensors, and intravenous dispensers.
* * *
The sky always seemed spectacular from the bluff overlooking the ocean. Peter looked out through the glass wall and watched the living mural of life and energy rush toward him on the offshore breeze. Such beauty and power, he thought, shouldn’t be a lab experiment for the grand dreams of men. The ever present gulls sailed over the shore while visions of Mariah played in Peter’s mind. He remembered how she looked and the nervous innocence in her face when she expressed her desire for acceptance.
Alexa touched her brother’s shoulder and looked out to see what held his attention for so long.
“Are you thinking about Mariah?”
“I haven’t thought of anything else for the last three months.”
“Did you know they were moving Gloria today?” Alexa watched her brother’s reaction. She knew he felt responsible for Gloria and Mariah’s terrible circumstance.
“You know she did it for me. Gloria knew judgment was harsh for disobeying, but she felt her duty was to protect the Dragons and me.”
Alexa looked down at the floor, feeling so much more was lost by the rift the incident caused. Many were polarized; some sided for the Cybrids’ equality and others opposed. Change from the status quo brought conflict. Hatred burned everyone on both sides of the issue.
“Will you go see her before they transport her?”
“Who is escorting her?”
“Jasmine’s daughter and her security team are taking her to Korea. She’ll finish her rehabilitation and be with others of her warrior class. It’s best for everyone.”
Peter hugged his sister and left for the parking garage to get his car. Later, the car wound down the coast road with the strobe of shadow and light from the sunlight shining through the trees much like that day he and Mariah rode to the symphony. The memory seared his mind. Peter recalled seeing Gloria and Mariah hauled away and Master Ong and Hue Long holding him back. Peter knew they would never tell him everything. He’d find out anyway.
Distracted, Peter drove past the guards in the parking basement of the Dragon’s biomedical facility. He had to decide what to say to Gloria. If only it was a simple matter of the heart. There was a lot more than his heart at stake. Peter had to think about what was good for his Dragon society and put his life out of sight and out of mind. It was his duty.
The Dragon made his way to the third level below the basement to the small security atrium. A woman sat watching her monitors until Peter approached her desk.
“Hello, Mr. Ivanovich. How can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Gloria.”
“Please wait in the reception room while I check if she can have visitors.”
“Sure.” Peter sensed something different about the girl, but couldn’t put his finger on it. He walked into the small reception room and sat down to wait.
After a few minutes, a voice called on the intercom.
“Mr. Ivanovich, please come to the security desk.”
Peter made his way to the desk, lost in his thoughts.
“I’m sorry sir, she can’t see you now. Can you come back tomorrow?”
“She’s leaving tomorrow, I’ll see her now.”
“I’m sorry sir, my orders are . . .”
Peter stared directly into the woman’s eyes as his own turned into vertical black slits surrounded by a golden iris. He saw her pupils vibrate as they scanned him. She was a Cybrid; a class he hadn’t seen before. Her mannerisms mimicked the Dragon Sisters. Peter made a mental note to find out just what in hell kind of experiments were going on in the basement without his knowledge.
“You are a Cybrid.”
“You know who I am?”
“Then you will unlock the door, or tomorrow you will be a delicious protein snack for my cat.”
The Cybrid’s unflinching pause as their eyes locked was a clear challenge to Peter’s authority. The Cybrid held her ground in defiance of the Cybrid protocol to obey the Dragon leaders. She pressed a button after she made her point.
“As you wish.”
The lock released on the massive door with the sound of metallic gears and rush of pressurized air. Peter made his way down the corridor to the last room and scanned the lock with his security card. The door opened, and he walked in.
Gloria stood with her back to him, touching a purple orchid with a fingertip and looking into the center of the bloom.
“I wondered if you’d come.”
“The guard had other plans.”
“I know. I told the girl to send you away.”
Peter walked up to his former lover as she turned to face him. She was dressed in a thin fabric smock and loose pants; the kind one wears in a hospital burn unit to avoid causing pain to sensitive skin. He could see all of her through the fabric. Her thin frame was held up by an exoskeleton in place of her once powerful legs. She’d struggled a great deal to live. Her emaciated body accentuated the size of her sad eyes. Peter felt stunned and kept his distance from Gloria.
“Does my new exoskeleton and chopstick legs keep you away now?”
“I didn’t realize . . . “ Peter murmured.
“How much I’ve suffered down here in this dungeon. You used to tear my clothes off for a chance to taste my love. Now, you stand and stare. Am I that ugly?”
Peter stepped closer and reached for her, but she dropped her head and turned away.
“You should go, Peter. I don’t want you to remember me this way. I’m a bio-engineered freak now, not the woman that gave you all there was of her to give.”
“I’m sorry Gloria. I never wanted this.”
Gloria faced Peter. Her angry eyes burned with accusation. “What did you want, Peter? Was it the taste of Cybrid flesh you desired over your own kind?”
“No. Why did you attack her?”
“To keep you from falling for her. It’s not you, she loves. It’s what you can do for her and the other Cybrids. She is using you to gain equality. Once they exert their liberties, they’ll enslave us. It has always been that way. Besides, you were my lover before she stepped on me to get to you. Wouldn’t you do the same for me?”
“Gloria, I . . .”
“Of course not.” The pain in Gloria’s face contorted the fresh scars of her reconstructive surgery. She turned back to her orchid and continued.
“It’s the code we live by, right? I’m a Sentinel. I have no rights of my own except the choosing of my death. I have less freedom and equality than your Cybrid.”
She turned around, and Peter held her to his chest. Her aching sobs ripped through him and guilt stabbed him like a demented stalker as she clamped on to him. Her tears and saliva soaked his shirt as she buried her face in his chest to stifle her pain.
“Peter, please promise me you won’t go to the Cybrid. Don’t let my life be meaningless.”
“Forget the Cybrids.” Peter implored.
He held Gloria and felt the flex panels of her exoskeleton attached to her back as he spoke.
“We are all living in a world we shaped to suit ourselves and our bodies are the product of decades of experiments, all for the Dragon Master’s plan none of us are privy to.”
He touched her face, two fingers lifting her chin, and continued speaking.
“Live for yourself from now on, Gloria. Find yourself in there somewhere. Your exoskeleton will give you the freedom to go as you please. You’ll be with your Dragon Sisters and Brothers who share your thoughts and lifestyle.”
“I don’t want to leave you, Peter.” Gloria cried.
Peter looked at her wet eyes and down her stained cheeks to the breastplate of her exoskeleton. Her ordeal had taken a toll on her. He kissed her with all the tenderness he could muster. They both knew it was their last kiss.
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