Lord Bor Damon
"My lord!" Librian called out, knocking on his master's bedroom door.
Bor Damon groaned something unintelligible from his huge, gilt four-poster bed, falling asleep again. The anxious old man thumped on the door.
"My lord, please wake up! This is most urgent!"
Bor Damon groaned again, sitting up among the thick sheets.
"What is it?" he growled, squinting.
In his younger days, Bor had once broken the neck of a nightly assassin who tried to murder him in his sleep - broken it with his bare hands - an event which had given Bor a reputation for terrible morning tempers. If someone dared to disturb his sleep now, he knew it had to be important; yet he still felt like killing when it happened.
"The expedition, my lord!"
Librian glanced about the castle corridor for unwanted listeners. He was not allowed to utter a word about the night excursions to anyone but Bor Damon.
"Wait," his lord commanded.
Bor rose up from bed. He was a squarely built, heavyset man with the large belly and short, gray hair of a middle-aged nobleman. Like most men of his caste, he wore no beard - but the stubble was showing now. Bor groped for his black wool dressing-gown with golden brocades, put it on on top of his nightshirt, and slipped into a pair of shoes. His wife, lying in an adjacent chamber, remained asleep. When he opened the thick steel-and-oak door, Bor found Librian standing outside, accompanied by the servant robot Surabot. He immediately took command of the situation.
"Come with me," Bor said calmly.
He strode off into an elevator, pressing the DOWN button - and descended from the castle's top-floor residence, ten levels down, to the underground chambers. The other two took another elevator. Only Bor's fingerprints would open the locks to these catacombs.
When Bor, Librian, and Surabot arrived in the cellar chambers, the other robots had already put the sarcophagus to rest on a stone table, in a corner of the large catacombs. The party walked closer to the table. Electric lamps lit up the quarters, and illuminated Bor's huge collection of bought and found curiosities...
Rusted and cracked helmets from forgotten wars...
The carcass of a four-wheeled vehicle found in an underground room full of the same artifacts...
Remains of all kinds of ancient robots and appliances...
Crumbling books in forgotten languages, such as "ZYNAPSTOUCH 2100 INSTRUCTION MANUAL"...
Plastic commodes with rows of buttons, melted together by some incredible heat...
Heaps of shiny plastic discs with holes in the middle, with no machinery accurate enough to read their damaged surfaces...
A green bronze sculpture of a man who might have been a king six hundred years ago, his name now gone...
And scores of withered pictures, paintings, and small plastic and metal tools; some recognizable, such as forks, knives, and spoons; others more puzzling.
Some of the old pictures were early representations of familiar religious icons, such as the Goddess, the Singing King, and their various incarnations. There were also pictures of heathen deities, forbidden by the church - Koban-Jem, Kristos, or the red demon Setan-Klaws. But the sarcophagus was unlike anything Bor had ever come across during his years as a collector. It seemed almost undamaged by the passage of time - as if made to last forever. Bor approached it warily, then halted.
"You have sterilized it, of course?" he asked Surabot.
The robot's head swivelled toward its master with an oily click.
"The artifact named 'DARC', the aircraft, and everything on it have been treated with the standard decontamination procedure, my lord. Just a moment - " Surabot's head turned to the sarcophagus. "The inside of the artifact named 'DARC' is shielded by some radiation-proof metal. If the artifact is opened, the risk of contamination increases, my lord."
Bor stood there scowling, thinking hard for a few moments, while Librian and the robots awaited his decision.
He said: "Librian, could that thing be an undetonated explosive charge, of the kind which the lord of Barcel dug up once? The one that went off and incinerated his entire city?"
Librian looked uncertain. He took off his round glasses and polished them with a cloth he took from his robe, then shook his white-haired, balding head.
"It does not appear so, my lord. The inscription says nothing about radiation, though a few units of gamma are leaking from inside. But the amount is so small, it cannot possibly be an infernal device... it is more likely to be a coffin. I have read about these in the old manuscripts..."
Librian put his glasses back on his nose, and extracted a small, leather-bound volume from one of his many pockets. He opened a page marked by a bookmark. Inside the volume were bound together some ancient, brown fragments of print in Old Juro, the dialect called Aenglich or Ingles. And he began quoting the text with an unsteady accent, gathered from years of research among those Northern city-dwellers who still recalled the pronounciation.
"'Why pay more? The Kryotek Company offers the chance of immortality at a price YOU can afford!' "The Kryotek Manuscript, which is at least eight hundred years old, promises a way of preserving the dead or dying until they would be reanimated and made immortal in the future." The old librarian assumed a more certain, lecturing tone: "Now, my lord, most scholars at our university hold this to be just another myth or heathen superstition. The Priestesses have demanded that such unholy books be burned - may the Goddess have mercy - but I always suspected that there might be some truth to it... that ancient peoples not only believed in preserving their bodies, but also had devised some practical method. The Doctors' Guild might be interested in this..."
Bor gave him a dark stare; Librian shrank in fear.
"The Doctors' Guild," Bor said in a hard, menacing voice, "would hardly applaud me for taking an old coffin into the city, with the risk of bringing the Plague here."
He walked up to the table and tapped on the sarcophagus' hard, shiny surface.
"And if it should contain some medical discovery, they would loathe me the worse - they are a zealous lot, those plaster-mongers." He added, in a less hard voice: "You have spent too much time with your books, my friend - forgotten about politics."
Bor looked down at the scratched plate, reading the worn letters to himself - Librian had taught him some Old Juro: "'D... Ars... Dars... Darc...' Still, the possibilities..."
The promise of immortality burned in his mind. The possibility to escape from the shackles of time - all too visible in this room filled with the marks of decay and oblivion. If the corpse in the coffin might still be alive... Bor was too cynical, too educated to be a pious man; life had taught him attention to harsh, practical matters. As ruler and chief protector of 11,000 subjects and his family, he ought not let personal wishes put their lives at risk. He should return the coffin to the Wastelands, leave it be. But if there was a way to keep this discovery safe and secret, until...
His curiosity fought his fear for a long moment; curiosity won. He put on a pair of gloves and bent down at the side plate, surveying it closely with a magnifying glass. The large letters were too scraped to make out anything more than D... ARC...; probably the name of the corpse. But Bor had an inkling the plate lacked something: why was there no date of birth or other information, as there used to be on old graves and coffins? Struck with sudden inspiration, Bor started feeling around and behind the edges of the wide nameplate. His fingers found a notch, two notches under the plate - two buttons! He tried pressing inwards, but they were stuck.
He urged forward the waiting metal servant Surabot - Vhustank, Avton, and Lachtfot had already jacked into some wall sockets to recharge their batteries.
"Surabot, push in the buttons down here," he ordered, and backed off as the robot calmly obeyed.
Librian warned him: "But my lord, be careful! Opening the chest could..."
Too late; the robot's steel fingers had already found the buttons and pressed hard enough to budge the dusty mechanism. There came a creaking, metallic twang; the plate shot out an inch from the sarcophagus' side, then slid aside on two railings. The two men stared.
Librian gasped; Bor Damon mumbled: "Great Goddess..."
Now they could see that the gilt plate had been covering a second plate, made of white metal - perhaps the first plate was a false lead, meant to be vandalized by grave-robbers. The second plate bore a much more detailed message, written in three old languages. Librian bent forward to read the fine Aenglich print:
CRYONIC FREEZE CAPSULE
CAUTION! CONTAINS LIQUID NITROGEN (N2), OXYGEN (O2), AND URANIUM (U235). FOLLOW OPENING INSTRUCTIONS CLOSELY. THIS CONTAINER HOLDS A LIVING HUMAN (NAME: DAVID ARCHIBALD; GENDER: MALE; AGE: 36 YEARS) FROZEN IN SUSPENSION. HE SUFFERS FROM A NON-INFECTIOUS DISEASE (SPINAL CANCER, MALIGNANT FORM) AND WILL NEED MEDICAL TREATMENT AS SOON AS HE IS REVIVED. SUCCESSFUL REANIMATION OF THIS PERSON WILL BE RICHLY REWARDED, AS HE IS VERY WEALTHY AND KNOWLEDGEABLE. PLEASE REPORT THE FINDING OF THIS CAPSULE TO ALL REMAINING RELATIVES. THE MAP SHOWS THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE PERSON INSIDE.
SIGNED BY DR. PERCIVAL TAKENAKA OF THE ROCKE FOUNDATION, LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN, NORTHERN EUROPE, DECEMBER 3, 1999 AD.
OPENING AND REVIVAL PROCEDURE
1. PLACE THE WHOLE CONTAINER IN A STERILE (GERM-FREE) ROOM AT A TEMPERATURE OF AT LEAST -30 DEGREES CELSIUS (=50 POINTS BELOW THE FREEZING-POINT OF MERCURY, 30 POINTS BELOW THE FREEZING-POINT OF WATER)2. OPEN THE OUTER SHELL LOCK, LOCATED UNDER THIS PLATE (TURN THE HANDLE LEFT UNTIL IT STOPS, THEN TURN RIGHT AND PULL), AND THE VACUUM SEAL WILL OPEN ITSELF FROM THE INSIDE.
3. THE INNER CYLINDER CONTAINS THE BODY. DO NOT LIFT THE INNER CYLINDER FROM THE SHOCK-PROOF SUSPENSION. CHECK THE POWER SUPPLY BY PRESSING THE INSPECTION BUTTONS NEXT TO THE URANIUM BATTERY (MARKED WITH RED LETTERS). IF FEWER THAN 2 OF THE 5 CONTROL LIGHTS LIGHT UP, THEN IMMEDIATELY CONTINUE THE REVIVAL PROCEDURE. (WARNING! THE BATTERY CONTAINS RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL. DO NOT TRY TO OPEN THE BATTERY CASING!)4. UNSCREW THE INSPECTION PLATE (MARKED WITH WHITE LETTERS) AND CHECK THE METER READINGS. IF THE READINGS ARE 2 OR MORE POINTS OFF THE FOLLOWING VALUES
THEN SLOWLY REFILL THE LIQUID NITROGEN AND OXYGEN SUPPLIES THROUGH THE VALVES MARKED WITH GREEN LETTERS (NITROGEN) AND BLUE LETTERS (OXYGEN), UNTIL THE READINGS BECOME "STABLE". ONLY THEN YOU MAY CONTINUE THE REVIVAL PROCEDURE.
5. UNSCREW AND OPEN THE TOP LID OF THE INNER CYLINDER. THE BODY IS WRAPPED IN METAL FOIL, AND VERY BRITTLE. CAREFULLY ROLL OUT THE BODY ON THE WHEELED TRAY INSIDE. (DANGER! THE TEMPERATURE INSIDE THE INNER CYLINDER MAY BE BELOW -180 CELSIUS DEGREES! USE PROTECTIVE CLOTHING!) WHEN THE BODY IS OUT OF THE CYLINDER, SEAL THE INNER CYLINDER TO KEEP THE COLD GASES INSIDE.
6. DOUSE THE FROZEN BODY IN...
The small type did not end until five steps later. The instructions were lengthy, but clear enough. Librian read quietly for a long while, with increasing wonder. Tears came to his old, pale eyes.
"Thank Goddess," he mumbled to himself. "I was right... what wonder this is!"
Bor Damon tried to read over the older man's shoulder; he could understand the words "CAUTION!", "RICHLY REWARDED", and "NON-INFECTIOUS DISEASE" without asking. The small world-map engraved next to the text was marked with an "X" at the artifact's country of origin.
"England," Bor read to himself. "I know it only from the oldest maps. The Eternal Ice covered it long ago. According to family legend, my red-haired ancestors came to Castilia from the northern part of England, called Scot-Land... and fought many great battles, until it settled in Castilia."
Librian looked up at Bor Damon with a pleading expression.
"My lord," he stuttered, "it is safe to do it! The frozen man inside dates back from before the two Great Wars, before the Plague - he has been forgotten for nine centuries! We can cure this man now, bring him back to life! Imagine what we could learn from him!"
He held up his hands, trembling with excitement. Bor gave him a grave look - and took off his gloves. He ran his bare hand across the smooth surface of the message plate, and shut his eyes.
Yes, Bor Damon thought, I can imagine what he could teach us. The same things that the ancients used to destroy entire cities in the wink of an eye; the forbidden knowledge that created the Plague; that turned the great plains of Juro into a wasteland, where we huddle together in our fortified cities at night, fearing the Lepers that haunt the land and our nightmares. Or - maybe a way to free ourselves from disease, from Lepers, from all our troubles. Is it worth the risk? Goddess; Singing King; give me strength! This responsibility is too heavy for just one man.
Minutes went by; Librian sat down and rested his legs. Surabot excused himself - he was powered by a radioactive battery, and ran without recharge day and night.
"My lord, it is six in the morning. I must attend to my duties, and report to my overseer."
Bor dismissed him and the other servants with the waving of a hand.
He scratched his stubbly chin and yawned, and told Librian: "So be it, then. We revive him. But keep quiet about it, and let me arrange the procedure with my most trusted men."
Bor locked the catacomb doors. The two men and the robots walked up the stairs, returned to the elevators, and went up. Around them, castle and city had already awakened. Thousands of people and a handful of robots busied themselves, washing, cleaning, dressing, ploughing, watering, harvesting, cooking, building, repairing, checking, going to school, going to morning mass, saying their prayers, living their daily life of toil and dreams.
Little did they expect their way of life would soon change profoundly, nor that their lord, Bor Damon, would be the instigator of change.
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