Last Rites

Sy rounded the corner and could not help but gasp. The room where the ceremony was to take place was greener than any she’d ever seen since visiting the She’Ying domes as a child with her father. The glass ceiling was shaped like a cylindrical dome, sunlight pouring in from above. The walls were lined with plants of all shapes and sizes. Enormous red flowers with thick yellow stamen, bunches of small lilacs and a plant with fiery-looking flowers she knew as Chinese ixora. The room smelled wonderful, like the clearest air and most natural perfume she’d ever smelled. She vaguely wondered whether people on Earth lived like this all the time.

She looked herself over. She’d gotten a pitch black, sleeveless pantsuit with a high neckline, made of a silky synthetic fabric, from the quartermaster, along with a thin, dark grey jacket so her arms would be covered. Her dreads were tied back with a thick black ribbon, forming a neat bow, with the help of Piper. Since she’d never learned to walk in heels, she’d opted for a pair of glossy black step-in shoes with flat soles instead. She felt both pleased and uncomfortable with the outfit, the way people feel when they find out something they would ordinarily never wear looks good on them. Seeing the crowded rows of benches ahead, and the dais beyond, she swallowed hard. Turning to Piper, who’d stepped into the room next to her, she whispered: “Y’sure it’s okay?”

“I’m sure.” Piper replied softly. “And you look beautiful.” It wasn’t the time for vanities or compliments, but Sy looked so unsure of herself that the platinum haired Neo felt compelled to say something comforting. Decked in a white robe herself, she motioned for Sy to sit. “It will be okay. This is Calix and Gaige.” She motioned to the two dark clad Neo sitting in the row, who waved a quick hello. “They’ll be polite.” She patted Sy’s arm, and went to stand with Dove and the other bonded Neo. Sy whispered a “hi” to the two Neos, but otherwise contended herself with sitting quietly and waiting for the ceremony to begin.

Romeo though was oddly not present at the moment. So far the turn out seemed to be the entire Spire, with the ones called ‘Curators’ which seemed to be adult, un-bonded Neo’s, numbered less than 100. The young and new wore black while older and bonded pairs wore white robes akin to kimonos.

Eulogies were pointless in the Spire. Where every knew knew what was in each others head and the most an Alphas would say would be ‘He died like a real Alpha, he did what he was made to do.’ Besides, as was made painfully clear, words couldn’t express Blue’s loss.

The Curators who once had Alphas walked through first, led by the current eldest Pyria. They each went to their respective Alpha’s gravesite lighting incense before lining up along Zulu’s final resting place. Blue walked in leading a procession of bonded Neo’s all dressed in white kimonos. Followed soon after was the entirety of the Spire’s Alphas walking in lockstep dress in ceremonial military whites, right down to white shiny shoes, gloves and berets. Even their buttons and decorations where all white.

Blue carried a large black box, she clutched almost posessively. Clearly her Alphas remains. Each of the bonded Neo carried two elaborately folded joss papers, wishes and words of praise for a job well done. One was from themselves, one for their Alpha. One at a time, the Neo stepped up to the stone tablet, lighting the papers on fire and letting them burn completely, each bowing their head in respect to Blue as they did so. Prya handed Blue a quill, and in red ink, Blue wrote her name over Zulu’s on the box, a symbol that he was to wait for her. Blue’s hand shook, and small tear drops fell on the box until she finished. The Alpha’s parted the way each holding a salute as Blue crossed between them, laying the box inside a crypt. With an audible sob, she sealed the tomb, knowing the next time it would be opened would be to add her ashes. Then she and Zulu would be together again for eternity.

Sy sat watching silently. Her stomach felt tense and knotted, her breath dry. She felt both exposed and invisible, like she was intruding and supposed to be there at the same time. Several times, she wiped at her eyes, but gave up on the effort as Blue sealed the tomb. She took a shuddering breath and swallowed hard. She considered that here, at least, no one seemed to be paying her any attention. Everyone, especially the Neo, were entirely focused on Blue, supporting her in her grief.

Calix offered Sy a tissue, while Gaige offered Sy’s his hand for strength without saying a word. It was odd for the two young Neo, being with someone their own size that they didn’t just have an instant connection with, but tears were universal. Blue lit incense at Zulu’s gravesite, then stopped by the fire, dropping the final joss paper with Zulu’s barcode. She stood motionless as the fire enveloped it, not moving until it had completely turned to ash. The Alphas led the procession out of the crypts, followed by Blue, the bonded Neo, and the former bonded Neo.

“Rest in peace, Zulu 426 Mountain.” Piper thought, echoing the sentiments of the other Neo. And may your Neo, Jaiden “Blue Jay” Marks find peace of her own.

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