Against her judgment Colli stepped down, then down again to the next, and the next… “One, two.” The only thing she could do was count each time her foot hit a solid surface. The final stair spread out onto a wet, stony floor. Below and above, small dots of light twinkled with the soft hum of the voice that counted with her.
“Twelve. Thirteen. See that wasn’t so hard.”
“I’m right here.” From the gloom Mary stepped forward. With a strong grip on Colli’s arm, she led her through a doorway.
Dark cleared. Soft, muted light gave form to a male sitting behind a desk in the far corner of the tiny room. Five steps in any direction Colli could touch the walls. She didn’t. Water trickled over green moss that spread out to cover the shiny floor. The sound of her footsteps softened when she stepped onto it. A strange warmth spread into her.
Commander Sung looked at her from the far side of the desk. It formed a barrier between them. “I hope you changed your mind.” With his left hand, he played with the silver white strands of his hair. In his right he held a syringe.
“I…I’m not sure.” Doubt that racked her body flooded into her voice. “Isn’t it too late?” The hope in her words betrayed her. Mary let go of the hold she’d kept on Colli’s arm, but remained close.
“Do you have your discharge?” Sung let go of his hair and held out his left hand.
Colli reached inside the red bag that she carried with her wherever she went. She rummaged around for the small handful of change she carried inside. Among them, a small brown coin, the size of a dime clanked against the larger ones. It had been her hope and salvation, her chance for escape. Now instead of the ugly brown color she remembered, it took on a glistening quality, golden with promise. She handed it to Sung, then put the others back.
“See. It didn’t like your choice either,” he chuckled and placed it into the top of a small writing pad. Over the surface words appeared. Colli had read them many times before.
I, Collianna O’Glacken, hereby recant my dedication to The Discipline. Her signature spread out after the simple sentence.
“There can be one small change.” Sung stood and moved around from behind the desk. Pushing Mary aside, he faced Colli. He held up the syringe. “This will stop the process of the injection you received to nullify the implants. It will regenerate the connections. The sensation is not pleasant. More important it is…” The fire in his crystal blue eyes dug into her. “More important,” Sung repeated, “this time it is final. There will not be another chance to change your mind.” His words hung in the air.
All Colli’s determination to follow her own life, to flee the terror of being in control over others gathered in her.
“You–” Mary started to say.
“No,” Sung interrupted. “It must be her choice.”
At first Colli could not face the glare from her former commander. How can I? She remembered back to the incident. Marcus’ soft brown eyes blinked trustingly at her. They had grown up together, lived in the same residential complex all their lives.
“I trusted you.” His words of accusation dug into her as he lay dying.
With the forefinger of his left hand Sung lifted her chin. “It wasn’t your fault.” He repeated the words all the others had said after the training accident. “You couldn’t control his choice.” Sung stepped back. “Now. It is your choice. Without you many more will die. Some like Trevan who have the potential to bring worlds together. But you know that. So decide.”
Beware what you wish for. Gram’s words again returned.
“I only wanted to make a difference.” Colli looked up. There really was only one decision. Even though it had to be her words, there had never been an alternative.
“So?” Sung held up his right hand
Mary kept silent.
“I accept.” All the finality she had ever experienced rang in her words. She pressed her right hand over the writing pad. On it the words changed. I, Collianna O’Glacken, accept my destiny.
Sung brought the syringe up. It hissed against Colli’s neck. Agony she could never have imagined surged through her.