corpus – 1.2

Content Warnings

Body horror

The first two are genre-typical and this is the only time I will warn for them. Please be prepared for a lot of body horror in this story.

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Elpida scrambled out of her coffin and landed on cold metal. The drop to the floor was a greater distance than she’d expected, her joints were stiff as fresh-drawn wire, and her soles were slicked with that thin, greasy fluid. Lances of red light strobed and stabbed, a flicker of electric blood in the air; the alarm pulsed out a moaning dirge; voices screamed in terror and pain, sobbed deep and hard, and laughed on the edge of loss.

Training took over. Elpida’s body became a coiled spring, fists raised for contact, eyes darting for a weapon or an enemy. She ignored the confusion, the screaming, the pain — and found nothing to fight.

There was no Silico war-monster dismantling victims bone by bone. No Legion soldiers pointing guns into a shivering huddle of bodies. No apparent threat for all her training to unleash itself upon.

Just four other girls, disgorged from metal boxes just like her. Naked, shivering, red-glazed flesh in the pulsing light.

“Last out!” howled the laughing voice.

The alarm died with a metallic screech. The red emergency light guttered out, clearing the blood from walls and floor and skin, leaving behind antiseptic white glare. Elpida just stood, mouth agape.

Hospital ward, reactor core, machine womb — the room was a nightmare.

And it was not Telokopolis. Elpida knew her city’s hidden guts: she had walked across the buried fields and over the shielded fusion generators below ground level; she had witnessed a combat frame under construction, the unspeakable machine-meat implanted as physical seeds; Nunnus had once shown her the heavily guarded forges where nanomachinery was bred in soupy grey vats, spied through armoured glass, because to enter would mean agonising death. She had visited both the gleaming tip of the spire and the ragged edges of the skirts. As Commander of the special project cadre, she had known all the city’s dirty secrets.

And this place wasn’t home.

The resurrection chamber was a cavern of metal, easily as large as a combat frame hanger, the ceiling hundreds of feet above Elpida’s head, lost in a thick tangle of tubes and cables and cross-beams. The floor was dense with machinery: banks of black glass blocks marched off toward distant walls, glowing inside with pinpoint lights and burning circuitry; oblong fluid tanks squatted at regular intervals like gigantic dead toads amid a field of petrified trees, empty now, but their insides were smeared with a faint glowing blue residue, the colour of Cherenkov radiation, of rampant mould, of unbounded electricity; curved nozzles of sweeping tunnel were attached to the ceiling, reaching almost to the floor, thick as trees, wrapped with torn plastic membranes and stress-torn wiring, their gaping dark ends dripping with that same faint bluish glow, like umbilicals freshly detached from some monstrous birth; the whole of one wall was taken up by a rippling, bubbling, leaden surface, like a computer readout made of living metal. Numbers and nonsense scrolled upward on that gigantic display, so fast that Elpida’s eyes rebelled and tore themselves away from the sight.

Once, out in the deep green, Elpida and three members of the cadre had brought down a large-scale Silico war-monster by tearing its skull open. They’d stood and watched the brain die, fascinated that something so seemingly alien was grown here on earth, cloned from terrestrial matter. Just like them.

This room was worse. It was like nothing she’d ever seen.

All of this machinery was focused on the centre of the room — on a wide rectangle of stainless steel flooring, freezing cold against Elpida’s bare feet. The rectangle sloped a little toward a drain grille, just off centre. At one end stood a human-scale control panel: a slab of esoteric metal and opaque plastic, banks of tiny screens and rows of buttons, thousands of switches and dials and toggles, tiny orange and red warning lights. None of it was labelled. Hundreds of braided wires, thick bundles of cable, and high-throughput fluid-lines led inward from the edge of that stainless steel rectangle, to the undersides of twelve identical coffins.

Two rows of six. Each coffin was raised on a plinth, like an operating table, or a sarcophagus.

Elpida’s box lay at the end of one row, nearest to the control panel. Of the twelve metal containers, seven others stood open: six lids had slid upward on smooth hydraulics, not failed like Elpida’s. A seventh box had been torn open from the inside, the lid hanging in loose twists of ruined metal. The remaining four coffins were still closed.

Three tracks of slick amniotic slime led away from the seven open boxes, in the opposite direction from the control panel. Across a hundred feet of bare metal, past dense-packed alien machinery, the slime trails resolved into jumbled footprints, then dried out. A human-sized door stood beyond the footprints, flanked by a set of lockers.

Four other human beings shivered in this steel cradle, all naked, all in shock, all coated in that oily transparent fluid from inside the coffins. Exposed to the air, the goo was rapidly drying, starting to crumble away in big soft flakes; the white light revealed a faint blue tint in the drying slime.

Elpida could feel it in her mouth, coating the inside of her nostrils, the tube of her throat, the orbs of her eyeballs. It tasted bitter and organic, like raw plant matter.

Furthest from Elpida, at the end of the row of coffins, was the girl who’d been crying in deep sorrow. Flame-red hair slicked to her neck and shoulders, skin pale and white, freckles thick on her face. Athletic, lean, maybe the same age as Elpida. She was down on her knees, cradling the chrome-and-matte of a brand new bionic right arm in her lap. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, but by the time Elpida recovered from the shock of the room, the red-haired girl had brought herself under strict control. She watched the rest of them with empty, cold eyes.

Two coffins closer was a young woman up on her feet. Slender and slight as a sapling, tall and elegant and darkly brown, with something of severe nobility about her face and her short-cropped dark hair. She was no older than Elpida either. Her right eye had been replaced with what Elpida guessed was a full-spectrum bionic: a solid ball of peat-green, innumerable tiny lenses flickering and dancing behind a layer of bio-plastic. She was in rapture, both eyes wide, mouth hanging open, staring at the machinery around them.

Down on the floor right next to Elpida was a third girl, equally brown but much smaller, built compact and hard like a boxer. Messy dark hair — visibly in need of cutting even despite the weight of the sticky fluid — neat little nose, bright dancing eyes. She was also lost in awe, staring down at her own body with sick relief. She was whole. No bionics.

The fourth girl was more metal than flesh.

Standing by the control panel was the single most heavily augmented human Elpida had ever seen, worse than any grizzled Legion veteran.

Her skin was pale-peach, similar to the now-sober redhead, her build petite and tiny. The slime in her dull blonde hair had nearly finished drying, leaving it clumped and sticking up. Her delicate-boned face was alight with manic energy, grey eyes like burning lead. As Elpida met those eyes, the augmented girl started laughing again, hysterical and broken by hiccups, almost hyperventilating.

Her legs and arms were both bionics. Sweeping curves of solid black and warning red, no concession made for cosmetic humanity. Each finger terminated in a hooked red claw. The girl retracted and extended these claws with a shick-shick noise as she laughed. Her feet were similar, more like raptor talons than simian digits, and they did not retract. She clicked on the metal when she moved.

A black and red tail curved from the base of her spine. Armoured, segmented, matching her bionic limbs, six feet long and thick as four of her arms combined. The structure was tipped with a red spike. A stinger.

Elpida had never seen anything like it before: non-human body plan bionics on a human being.

Two voices were still screaming — from inside their coffins.

Directly opposite Elpida, and two coffins down from her, a pair of voices were still confined inside cold metal. The one opposite sounded like she was in terrible pain. The one two down sounded so afraid she was going to tear her vocal chords.

Nobody was moving to help.

Failure glued Elpida’s soles to the freezing steel floor. Two dozen pairs of ghostly hands sealed around her ankles. Her dead cadre held her back.

Lead from the front, Old Lady Nunnus’ scratching voice echoed in memory. Lead by example. They’ve filled your head with nonsense, you were not born to lead. Nobody is. You earn it, and you earn it by the act.

Elpida had already led from the front, even before those words. Right from when the cadre was six years old, the first time they’d worked together to bring down something bigger than any single one of them, their first fight, their first kill. Elpida hadn’t planned it, but she’d brought the planners together. She hadn’t been the most aggressive girl, but she’d guided the aggression of Howl and Metris in the right direction. She hadn’t landed the killing blow, but she’d aimed it, permitted it, and taken responsibility for it. The cadre was her and she was the cadre. And she’d never left anybody behind, not even a corpse.

And now they were all dead, because of her mistakes. What right did she have to lead?

In the end Elpida moved only because she knew no other way of existing.

In three strides she was next to the coffin opposite. She banged on the lid.

“Hey! Hey, you’re not alone!” she called through the unyielding metal. “I’m gonna get you out!”

A yowl of pain answered. It might have been a word.

Elpida scrabbled at the coffin, searching for an external control panel, finding none, and then trying to jam her fingers into the seam of metal between lid and base. Now she’d been out of her own box for a few moments she felt as strong as ever, muscles taught and bunching, despite the aching soreness deep in her bones. She strained to shift the lid, but it wouldn’t give. The pained screaming had subsided. She pressed her ear to the lid in panic and heard panting from within.

She slapped the metal twice. “I can’t get it open! Is there a control panel in there? Try the buttons. Press something. Anything.”

Surigu?” came a reply. Not a word Elpida had ever heard. Some Upper-Spire isolate dialect?

The other four girls weren’t moving. The tall noble had covered her natural eye with one hand, in rapture at whatever she saw with her bionic. The un-augmented boxer was still lost in the sight of her own body. The cold redhead watched Elpida’s efforts with curiosity but no interest. The laughing cyborg was struggling not to start hyperventilating.

Elpida dropped her tone. Battlefield command. “Somebody help me, right now.”

The redhead didn’t move and the laughing girl didn’t react, but the other two did. The tall, willowy woman looked at her as if offended. The compact and athletic girl who’d been marvelling with numb awe over her own body, she looked up at Elpida as if coming out of a dream.

“You, hey,” Elpida said, clicking her fingers once and pointing at the girl. “What’s your name?”

“My name?”

She spoke Mid-Spire. Shocked and numb. Good enough.

“I’m Elpida. Your name, now.”

“ … I don’t … ”

“Name. Now.”

The compact girl blinked as if trying to decide. “Vict— Victoria. Vicky.”

“Vicky,” Elpida said, trying not to react because that wasn’t a name. ‘Victoria’ wasn’t like any name she’d ever heard in any language spoken on any tier of Telokopolis. She pointed at the other coffin, the one with the panicked screaming inside. “Vicky, bang on that box and tell her we’re coming. Then get over here and help me get this lid off. I think this one’s injured.”

Vicky didn’t waste time asking why. She clambered to her own naked, slick feet and did exactly as Elpida ordered. The terrified screaming did not abate after she banged on the lid, but she ran over to join Elpida by the other coffin.

“Both of us on the same side,” Elpida said, holding Vicky’s numb gaze to keep her here. “Lift with me on one. Three, two, one.”

Vicky was almost as fit as Elpida, with wiry muscles and a desperate strength, despite being a whole head shorter. But even with both of them straining, the lid refused to budge. The voice inside had faded to a whimper of pain.

The augmented girl was watching them, laughing like she was trying not to cry. Elpida caught her eye.

“Hey, hey there, you got my box open, didn’t you?” Elpida said. “You tore open your own box too, right? That was you? Help us, please.”

The laughing girl made a pitiful keening noise through her teeth, turning her head up to the ceiling and wailing a peal of laughter. Her bionic tail lashed downward and struck the floor. Then she just panted, right on the edge of personal madness.

“How many times?” said an empty voice.

Cold, calm, collected — the redhead at the far end of the row. She’d gotten to her feet, flexing her own bionic arm to test the fingers. She had addressed the augmented girl, but didn’t get a response. The augmented girl crossed to Elpida and Vicky on clicking feet, then jammed one blood-red hook-claw into the seam of metal. The coffin went pop as a seal was breached. Vicky grabbed the lid and pulled it upward, slowed by the hydraulic release.

The augmented girl turned away, already moving for the screamer in the other coffin.

Elpida and Vicky pulled a fifth arrival out of her near-stillbirth, lifting her from the coffin and setting her on her feet. The girl who’d been screaming in pain was like a porcelain doll, small and slender, muscles of a scholar, skin a dusky soft light brown, hair long and straight and black and stuck to her back, eyes huge and liquid in a moon-like face.

She was hissing and cringing with pain, fingernails digging into Elpida’s shoulder hard enough to draw blood. Both of her legs were fresh augmetics, high-spec chrome and artificial skin-coloured polymers, right up to her hip bone.

“Where does it hurt?” Elpida asked. “Hey, hey, look at me, focus. Where does it hurt?”

Nasas ungor. Faaa!” The doll-like girl spat a very un-doll-like word. She wriggled a slime-slick arm off Vicky and hung from Elpida alone.

“I don’t know what she’s speaking,” Elpida said to Vicky. “Do you?”

Vicky looked even more lost, struggling to keep up. “N-no, I—”

The doll-girl winced with a sudden spike of pain. “Of course they’re not going to understand me, they’re meant to be womb-born simpletons,” she said.

“Oh,” said Vicky.

“Coming through loud and clear now,” Elpida said.

The doll-girl blinked at them in shock, looking offended and wrong-footed. She raised her free hand and clicked her fingers in the air, twice. “End! Computer, end! This is perverse. Where are my controls? End! End!

“It’s not a simulation,” said the cold redhead. “It’s not virtual reality.”

The doll-like girl stared at her, then down at her own bionic limbs. “I’m not meant to have legs,” she murmured in disgust. “What is this? What— where— end! End!”

In the other row of coffins the augmented girl had sliced open the seal for the other difficult rebirth. The lid raised by itself on stiff hydraulics. A bundle of slime-streaked shivering flesh tumbled out onto the cold steel floor. Elpida crossed to her quickly, leaving Vicky to help the doll-girl stay standing. But she wasn’t fast enough. The girl who’d been screaming in fear was younger than the rest of them, only a teenager, plump and awkward and mousy, with hair the colour of wet sand and eyes red from weeping. She took one look at the augmented nightmare of red and black in front of her and cried even worse, screaming and cringing, clutching her arms across her naked body.

“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay!” Elpida went down on her knees and tried to catch the girl’s eyes. “It’s okay, nobody’s going to hurt you. I don’t know what’s going on either. My name is Elpida, what’s yours?”

But the terrified girl scrunched up her eyes and withdrew into herself, repeating a whisper over and over. “God is great, god is merciful, god is great, god is merciful, god is great, god is merciful. Please, please, oh lord please, forgive me, please. God is great, god is merciful. God is—”

Elpida didn’t have time to peel this one out of her fear. Two more coffins still lay shut, but there was no screaming.

“Can you open those two boxes?” Elpida asked the augmented girl. “I think you’re the only one who can.”

That delicate face, bright with madness, looked up, a full head and a half shorter than Elpida’s gene-engineered height. She wasn’t laughing now, only panting.

“No point,” she said, voice a high and scratchy quiver.

Elpida had seen combat fatigue before, post-traumatic stress disorder, the blank stare and emptiness of a Legion soldier who’d seen too much, fought for too long, been spread so thin that the person was tucked away inside layers of protective callus. This girl was so far over the edge that Elpida didn’t know how to bring her back. But she had to get those coffins open.

“What’s your name?” Elpida asked gently. “I’m Elpida.”

The augmented girl started laughing again, hard and painful. “Name?” she screeched. Then she threw her arms into the air, claws extended, tail stiff and stinger gleaming. “Ilyusha!”

She roared her own name like invoking an ancient god, then clicked over to the other two coffins and cut them open.

There was nothing alive in there.

Both coffins held a soup of dull blue slime around a half-formed mass of flesh, the vague outline of a human body. Melted eyeballs, mulched organs, exposed spars of unfinished bone. Elpida curdled inside and had to turn away. Ilyusha cupped her clawed hands, scooped up the blue fluid, and started noisily drinking the stuff.

“Where is this!?” demanded the doll-like girl. She still couldn’t work her augmetic legs, one arm clutched over Vicky’s shoulders. “Who are you people? I demand to be returned to my family’s … my … my … ” Her eyes went wide with horror, staring at nothing.

The shivering brown lump, the terrified girl huddled on the ground, broke off from her prayer. “It’s hell,” she murmured.

“Hell?” echoed the tall dark confident one. She spoke with a posh, Upper-Spire accent. She was still playing with the sight of her own bionic eye, barely looking at the other girls. “It is everything I was ever promised.”

Vicky blew out a deep breath. Elpida knew the look of a strong person struggling to hold it together. “I don’t understand this either. Does anybody?”

“Ha!” Ilyusha barked, chin wet with blue slime.

Elpida held Vicky’s eyes and said, “We’re gonna be fine, whatever this is and wherever we are. I’m Legion. Well, only technically, but I’m trained. If we’re inside a Silico facility or something, we need to get out. I know we won’t last out in the green without suits, but anything is better than waiting in here.”

Vicky looked at her like that made zero sense. So did the doll-girl.

“You are in charge of nothing,” said the tall Up-Spire woman, talking to the ceiling and the machines.

The cold redhead was stalking away, striding toward the human-sized door in the far wall, flexing her new bionic arm.

“Hey, stop!” Elpida called, then jogged after her. She turned back to the others and said, “Don’t go anywhere, don’t touch anything.” She pointed at the shivering, terrified girl, who had lapsed back into her prayer. “Somebody help her up.”

When Elpida caught up with the redhead the other girl didn’t stop walking.

“You seem to know what’s going on,” Elpida said as she drew level. “You said this isn’t a simulation. Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” the redhead said, cold and clipped. She didn’t spare a look for Elpida. They were almost to the door and the lockers.

“Hey, stop and explain.” Elpida grabbed the other girl’s arm and forced her to stop walking.

The redhead girl stopped, but her posture said she was about to punch Elpida in the face. Her posture said she knew how to fight, even with a brand-new artificial arm. Her posture said she was going to put several pounds of bionic metal through Elpida’s skull. Elpida brought her free hand up to block, but the other girl aborted the motion.

“Please,” Elpida said. “I’m sorry to lay hands on you but we’re all defenceless. One of those girls can’t walk and one is terrified out of her mind. The Upper-Spire lady, I don’t even know what’s going on with her. I need to know what’s happening. I’m Legion, and I don’t think you are, so unless you outrank me, that puts me in charge here. But you move like a soldier, you know how to handle yourself. Don’t leave me hanging.”

Ashes in her mouth. Commander of a dead cadre. Anybody else would make a better leader.

“It doesn’t matter,” the girl said. “Get moving or you’re dead.”

Elpida sighed. “What’s your name? I’m Elpida. Commander Elpida, technically.”

She could have choked on that word. Commander.

The girl paused, then studied Elpida between one blink and the next. Her eyes were the blue of an empty sky. “Pira.”

“Pira, great. You—”

“You’re military of some kind,” said Pira.

“Yeah. I said, I’m Legion, I’m—”

“If you move fast you might have a chance of getting out of here before the vultures arrive. Follow me.”

Pira slipped her wrist from Elpida’s gasp and turned toward the lockers.

“What about the others?” Elpida said. “I’m not leaving anybody behind. Nobody gets left behind.”

Everybody ends up dead.

“They’re dead,” Pira said. She banged open one of the lockers and pulled out a grey jumpsuit, tossed it over her shoulder, then reached back inside and hefted a weapon with one hand: some kind of electrical stun-baton. “Move.”

Elpida reached for her wrist again but Pira put the baton in the way. Elpida put her hands up.

“You’ve been through this before,” Elpida said. “You know what all this is, right? Where are we? I … I died.” Her voice threatened to break. “I remember dying. How is that … possible? And we’re not in Telokopolis.”

Pira held her gaze. “Wherever you’re from, tribe or city, it is dead and gone.”

“Telokopolis is forever.” Elpida said it in reflex.

Pira sighed. “You all say something like that.”

“It’s true. The city is eternal. The walls are impossible to crack. They’ll last thousands of years. Why are you saying this? Why would you say something like that?”

“The quicker you deal with it, the better your chances.” Pira stepped toward the door and it slid open with a mechanical hiss. She covered her retreat with the baton as she shot a final look at Elpida. “Follow me or stay with them.”

“Nobody gets left behind.”

Pira stepped through the door. It hissed shut as she turned away. “Your funeral.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Now we truly get underway. Shambling and moaning. But not that type of zombie?

This chapter (and the next!) is almost 4k words, which is double what I was expecting/planning for this story. Which is good! I might have to revise upward my original estimate of 2.5k words max for each chapter. We’ll see. Still only Saturdays for the moment.

If you want more Necroepilogos right away, there is now a tier for it on my patreon:


At current, this only offers a single chapter ahead, about 4k words.  Please, do feel free to wait until there’s plenty more to read!

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry now, hooray! If you like the story, go click button, more people will see!

And as always, thank you very much for reading. More soon!

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