corpus – 1.3

Content Warnings

Implied cannibalism

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The machine womb was dying.

Elpida saw it when she turned away from the door and the row of lockers — and away from Pira, who was plunging on alone into the depths of what could only be a Silico hive out in the deep green, the kind of structure that the best alienists in Telokopolis had only guessed at. Pira had also taken the only weapon: the lockers did not contain a second stun-baton, only several more grey jumpsuits. Elpida wished Pira good luck; a Silico construct wouldn’t flinch from a cattle prod. But she couldn’t follow. Duty, training, and the weight of her dead cadre pulled her back toward the helpless, the injured, and the terrified. She jogged back toward the rectangle of stainless steel in the centre of the room, the dozen open metal coffins, and the five other girls, still shivering and naked.

All around them, the resurrection chamber was shutting down. The floor-to-ceiling display of living metal on the back wall had gone still, the scrolling numbers and figures and lines of code slowed to a ticking crawl. The rows of black glass blocks were going dark, the pin-prick lights winking off, the circuitry burning out. Thin fluid had ceased to drip from the vast nozzles attached to the ceiling. The smears of faint blue glow inside the oblong tanks had turned pale and dull. A necrotic shadow was falling across the machines.

Even the antiseptic white light was growing dim. Unaltered human eyes would not have detected the drop in luminescence, not yet, but Elpida had the genetic engineers of Telokopolis to thank for her excellent vision.

Elpida looked down at her own body as she jogged back toward the other girls. She felt fine, but she’d been mainlining adrenaline since before she’d kicked her way out of her own coffin; she might have missed something, she might be walking wounded, she might be a liability to the group.

Beneath the drying, flaking slime, her skin seemed as clean as if she’d just scrubbed down in the shower, her usual healthy pale copper-brown. She could no longer feel the sticky fluid coating her mouth and nostrils and eyeballs, as if absorbed into her body. The soreness was passing and she felt fitter than ever, lung capacity even higher than her enhanced baseline, vision sharper, reaction times faster, muscles supple as butter. She couldn’t find any wounds, but the old scars were present and correct: the medical incision low on the right side of her belly, from childhood, because even gene-edited little girls still risked appendicitis; the shallow, jagged strike across her left forearm, the only duelling scar she’d ever taken; and the bite mark near the base of her ribcage. Her fingers lingered for a moment near the impression of Howl’s teeth.

She ran her hand through her hair to rake out the drying slime — artificial white, melanin-blocked, the same as the rest of her vat-grown clade, selected by their makers so that none of them could ever be mistaken for natural human beings. Elpida wore her hair long, a statement and a challenge and a kind of camouflage; plenty of Legion rookies had fallen in sparring matches after assuming that her hair offered a weakness, a handhold, a ceremonial mistake.

She probed the base of her skull as she had inside the coffin. But her mind-machine interface socket was gone.

That was impossible. Surgical removal of an MMI implant would have killed her.

No, the Covenanters had done that with a bullet.

Elpida couldn’t process this loss. She would never again interface with a pilot suit or a combat frame. Or the others of her cadre — but they were all dead and gone. She would never even see them again, let alone be part of the same shared interface link.

She didn’t have time to let that feeling sink in. As she reached the other girls still clustered between the open coffins, she finally noticed her own bionic addition: her upper right arm.

Elpida stared in shock. From shoulder to elbow her right arm had been replaced with polymer and metal, artificial muscle fibres bunching beneath plates of flexible bio-plastic. It looked expensive and cosmetic. It felt natural to move. It matched her skin colour. Her own natural flesh resumed at the elbow, all the way to her fingertips, which was impossible.

Pass-through bionics? She’d never seen anything like it before.

A plug of memory sloshed free inside her skull — her final minutes, when the Covenanter soldiers in greensuit hoods had come to take her away for execution, last of her kind. She’d fought. She’d torn one man’s eye out. They’d had to break her right arm, pin it behind her back to get her cuffed. She’d kept yowling and kicking. She’d pinned one of them down with nothing but her body weight and bitten off two of his fingers. She’d almost strangled another with her broken arm.

She’d fought all the way down to the bullet.

“Why is she doing that?” somebody was saying. “Why is she doing that?”

Elpida looked up, jolted out of memory. It was Vicky, the compact, well-built young woman with the messy dark hair. She was still supporting the slender, doll-like girl who couldn’t work her augmetic legs, clinging to Vicky’s shoulder with one arm.

Vicky was talking about Ilyusha: the petite and heavily augmented girl was still slurping up handfuls of blue slime, scooping it from within one of the coffins which contained a half-melted corpse.

“Why is she drinking that?” Vicky demanded, voice quivering. “That’s a dead body. That was a person. Why are you doing that? Stop!”

Ilyusha’s eyes burned hot and grey over her own cupped hands. The blue slime on her chin contained thin traces of blood. She kept drinking.

“She’s eating a corpse!” Vicky said.

Ilyusha lowered her red-and-black bionic hands. “Opposite,” she said.

“Stop it!”

Elpida stepped between them and raised her voice, speaking command. “Slow down. None of us know why she’s doing that. None of us know each other. None of us know what’s going on here. Slow down.”

Vicky bit her lip. Ilyusha resumed drinking her handful of blue slime, but did not scoop up another. Her bionic tail waved back and forth, red-and-black more difficult to distinguish in the dimming light. The doll-like girl with the augmetic legs was clenching her jaw with suppressed pain. The tall dark Up-Spire lady wasn’t paying them any attention, still lost in the power of her new augmetic eyeball. The younger girl on the floor was rocking back and forth, whispering a prayer.

Elpida took charge. “The girl who just left, her name is Pira. I’ve never met her before. She said we need to move or we’re dead.” A necessary lie; Pira had actually said If you move fast you might have a chance of getting out of here before the vultures arrive. Elpida pointed upward. “And this room is shutting down. Whatever it’s done to us, it’s finished. We need to move before something comes to collect us, or to check on the malfunction. Are we all agreed?”

Vicky nodded, hesitant first, then firm. “Sounds good.”

None of the others answered. Ilyusha licked blue gunk off her face and fingers.

Elpida had to pull these people together, and fast. They wouldn’t last five seconds if a Silico construct came through that door. She pointed a knuckle at Victoria. “Vicky, right? We shared names earlier.” She tapped her own chest. “Elpida.”

“I remember,” said Vicky. She looked nervous but she didn’t freeze up. “Victoria Monaghan.”

Elpida pointed again. “Vicky, Ilyusha. Ilyusha, Vicky.”

Ilyusha acknowledged this by showing her teeth.

Elpida made eye contact with the doll-like girl still clinging to Vicky’s shoulder. Long black hair was plastered to the thin muscles of her neck and back. There was pain there, and humiliation, and wounded pride. “Hey, how are you holding up?” The girl didn’t answer, frowning harder. “What’s your name? You’ve already heard ours.”

“You may refer to me as Kagami,” the doll-like girl said. Curt, clipped, and cold.

“Kagami. Can you walk?”

Kagami looked away and did not answer. Vicky repeated her name too, but Kagami didn’t acknowledge that either.

Elpida turned toward the Up-Spire lady, tall and willowy, still lost in her private rapture, “Excuse me ma’am, may I have your name, please?”

The woman finally dragged her gaze back down to floor level. Her peat-green bionic eye contained no visible iris or pupil. Her high-boned, noble face and naked black skin was covered in a sheen of sweat, sticking the remnants of the coffin-slime to her flesh.

“Have?” she echoed, airy and haughty. “What will you do if I refuse, warrior? Will you threaten me? Beat me? Kill me?”

“Of course not. I’m trying to get us out of here. If you don’t want to give a name, give us something to call you.”

“What are names here? We are reborn, rebirthed again, remade in truth. My whole life was a lie, in service of a sight I did not possess. And now it is real. You cannot harm me anymore. You cannot even touch me. The gods will remake me again, as many times as I need. They have promised me that.” She slid a hand over her natural eye and stared at the others through a ball of peat-green. “I see the artifices of creation, everywhere. I see the craft-works in the air itself. I see the writing of the gods.”

Kagami spoke to nobody in particular: “Some fool put a bionic eye in a paleo dirt-eater. Sick.”

Nobody liked that. Elpida wasn’t certain what it meant, but Vicky gave Kagami a look of disgusted disbelief. Ilyusha perked up, staring hard at Kagami, flexing her claws on the ends of her fingers.

The paleo dirt-eater in question shot Kagami a deeply offended look and took a step toward her.

Elpida stuck out one hand. “No. We stick together. You two can settle your differences back in Telokopolis. You can duel to the floor for all I care. But if you fight here, you fight me first, and you won’t fight anything else after that. Look at me, you know what I am.”

The Up-Spire lady looked at Elpida. Lenses flickered in the peaty depths of her right eye. “I have no idea what you are. But I am not yours to command.”

“Name,” Elpida snapped. “Pick something.”


“Atyle,” Elpida repeated. “I’m not leaving anybody behind. So don’t make me drag you. No fighting.”

Atyle crossed her arms and looked down her nose at Elpida, but Elpida knew when she had somebody under control, for now. She turned away, toward the praying, shivering, terrified girl down on the floor. Younger, soft and pudgy and fragile, crying slow tears from squeezed-shut eyes, murmuring a repeating prayer to her god. Elpida crouched down right in front of her and made a conscious effort to soften her heart and her tone.

“Hey there,” she said. “I’m Elpida. Can you open your eyes and look at me? Can you do that for me? Please. Do that for me now. I need you to open your eyes for me.”

The younger girl snorted back a wad of mucus, then opened red-rimmed, dull green eyes. Her prayer trailed off. “God is merciful, God will show mercy to me, God is merciful, God will show mercy … ”

Elpida smiled. “Hey. My name is Elpida, what’s yours?”

The girl’s lips quivered as she answered. “Amina.”

“Amina. I knew another Amina, once. She was brave, and clever, and beat me in a fight one time. Amina, I’m going to get us out of here. That’s my job and I’m good at it. I’m Legion, I know what I’m doing, and I’m not going to leave you behind. Here.” She offered a hand.

Amina did not look at the hand. She stared into Elpida’s eyes, terrified beyond death. Something inside her was broken in a way Elpida did not recognise. “Where … where can you go, when you’re in hell?”

“Can you walk? If you can walk, I need you to walk. I need you to get to your feet, Amina. Can you do that for me? Do that for me, please. Take my hand. That’s it, yeah. You’re doing it, good. On your feet, there we go. Good!”

Amina stood, shivering, trying to cover her nudity with her arms. Elpida watched her look up at the dying, darkening resurrection chamber around them, and at the half-melted corpses in the two coffins Ilyusha had cut open, and then down at the last remaining source of strong light — the rim around the human-scale door at the far end of the room. Amina whimpered and lowered her eyes.

“We’re gonna get out of here,” Elpida repeated, then turned to the others. “Okay, listen up. Here’s the plan. If we’re in a Silico hive somewhere, we need to get out, into the green. I know that’s not great, but it’s better than staying in here. This place is probably crawling with Silico constructs.”

Elpida didn’t mention the uncomfortable truth; with her genetic immunological hardening she might last several weeks exposed out in the green, but without greensuits the others would have days at most. She’d cross that bridge when they reached it, find a way to communicate with Telokopolis, somehow.

“Silico?” Vicky echoed, then shook her head. “I don’t know that word. What are you talking about? You know what this place is?”

Elpida faltered, flat-footed. “Silico. The machines. Artificial life. You — you know this, every child of the city knows this.”

“What city?”

Elpida’s blood went cold. “ … Telokopolis.”

Vicky shook her head. Amina looked blank and terrified. Atyle shrugged. Ilyusha lost interest, dipped her taloned hands into one of the coffins again, and resumed drinking another helping of blood-laced goo.

Pira’s words whispered inside Elpida’s head: “Wherever you’re from, tribe or city, it is dead and gone.

“Telokopolis,” Elpida repeated. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Her gut clenched. She broke out in cold sweat. “The city. The last city. The needle amid the green. The great pyramid. The cradle of all human life. You … did you … what, grow up in the Skirts, in a slum? Never taught about what you live inside? Even the meanest of the Skirt slums has access to the networks, education, libraries, everything. Silico! You know what Silico are!” She pointed at Atyle. “You’re speaking Upper-Spire, don’t tell me you’re not.”

“Our consecrated warrior is confused,” Atyle said. “She doesn’t know she’s dead. We are all speaking the language of the gods, no?”

“Calm down, yeah?” Vicky said gently. “It’s okay. I’m sure your home is safe.”

“Of course it’s safe!” Elpida snapped. “It’s impregnable. Telokopolis is the greatest machine ever made by human hands. Telokopolis is forever.”

Kagami spoke without looking at anybody. “Miss rooty-tooty five rounds rapid is probably talking about a surface arcology. Not that anybody here except me knows what that word means.”

“I know what an arcology is,” Vicky said, suddenly frowning at Kagami. “I see one every fucking day.”

Kagami finally looked at her, lips curled in distaste. She wriggled her arm off Vicky’s shoulders and staggered free, trying to stand on her unfamiliar augmetic legs, gritting her teeth in pain. Vicky moved to offer more support, but Kagami hissed through her teeth and brushed her away. Angry and defiant, the doll-like young woman tried to straighten up, but she couldn’t hold her hips right. She was like a fawn who’d never walked before.

She jabbed a finger at the others in turn. “Arcology? You? You? What about you? No? Okay, start smaller. Electricity? You know what that is?”

Elpida nodded. So did Ilyusha. Atyle and Amina had never heard the word.

“Space flight? Nuclear fusion? Nanomachinery?” Kagami spat the words one after the other, too fast for the others to respond properly. Vicky and Elpida both nodded at most of them, but not ‘fourth-dimensional rotation theory’, ‘sub-surface borehole’, or ‘dead zone point occupation’. Ilyusha got a few, but not many.

Elpida interrupted, raising her voice. “What’s the point of this? We need to move.”

“We’re out of time,” Kagami said.

“Yeah, I agree. This room is going dark. The longer we wait, the greater the risk that something comes for us. We can talk later, once we’re out.”

“No, you barbarian mud-sucker. We’re out of time. Cast adrift. What year are you from?”

“Seventy one-three.” Elpida obeyed the order on reflex. In Kagami’s irritation she spoke a little like Old Lady Nunnus, enough to command for a moment.

Kagami clicked her fingers. “By what measurement?”

“Post-founding, obviously. Seven thousand and thirteen years of Telokopolis. What other measurement is there?”

“Useless!” Kagami threw her hands up in frustration. The motion cost her balance and almost sent her crashing onto her backside, but Vicky caught her. She didn’t get much gratitude. “Off me! Off! Fuck!” Kagami flailed at the other girl until Vicky retreated, hands up. “This can’t be real. No, this is some sick joke by my father. This isn’t real. This is a sim with the controls locked out.” She clicked her fingers on both hands and swiped her palms through the air, as if clearing cobwebs. “And why do I have these legs?! This is spitting in my face! Are you listening to this, you sick fuck?” She spoke to the air. “Put me back in my tank! Switch this off!”

Vicky said, “I don’t think this is virtual reality, or anything like that.”

“We are beyond death,” said Atyle. She was staring at Kagami, hand over her natural eye. “And we have been given gifts. You had no legs, in life?”

“Obviously!” Kagami spat.

Elpida’s mind was already jumping ahead three links in the chain of logic. She had been gene-selected for that: acceptance, adaptation, and action. Integrate information, assess battlefield conditions, never wallow in shock. Kagami’s hypothesis was not lost on her. These young women were not all from the same slice of human history. They were from before the city. Unthinkable.

How — she could not answer. This was beyond any science of the last human city.

Why — that was a relevant question. Why would a Silico hive resurrect a group of ancient human beings? Why her? For what purpose?

She glanced at the twelve open coffins. Between herself, Pira, and the others, that made seven. Two more had died unborn, the resurrection process incomplete; perhaps that’s what the alarm had been about. That left three remade people unaccounted for, with three trails of sticky slime leading toward the human-scale door at the far end of the dimming chamber.

Howl would have left the room, if she’d been first out. Howl would have pulled a Silico war-monster apart with her bare hands.

Elpida clung to an impossible hope.

But if Kagami’s conjecture was right, then the chance of that was next to nothing.

“I did not have the sight in life,” Atyle was saying. “It was all lies, every word, ever since I could speak. I lost all faith in the gods, and in the end they took my life for my transgressions. But now I see everything I was meant to. I see the roots of your metal legs inside your hips. I see the sparks they send up your spine. It is beautiful.”

“Atyle,” Elpida said. “Do you see a neural lace inside my skull? It should be a web of material embedded in my brain and spine.”

Atyle turned her peat-green bionic toward Elpida. “Yes. You have a long-tailed spider inside you. How curious.”

Elpida sighed with a relief she refused to feel. The MMI socket was gone, but the lace remained.

“What about me?” Vicky asked, voice too tight. “Do you see anything inside me?”

Atyle considered the compact, well-built girl for a moment. “Your heart is artifice. It pumps doubly as strong.”

Vicky’s hand went to her chest. The colour drained from her face, mouth hanging open, eyes far away. “We were crossing Woodward”, she murmured to herself. “An ammo run. Jess went down but I didn’t hear a thing. Too much rain. Then I … ” She raised her eyes to a vista only she could see. She clutched herself over the heart. “There was a sniper.”

“We are reborn,” Atyle said.

“We’re in hell,” Amina whimpered. She was trying not to cry, failing badly. “It’s true. We all died. I remember it.”

Kagami looked furious. “They flushed me. They fucking carted me to an airlock and flushed me onto the surface! I’m valuable! I’m supposed to be ransomed! I’m a fucking logician, they could have used me!” And then: “No, no no no, this isn’t real. This isn’t real.”

Elpida raised her voice. “We were all backed up somehow. Brought back. Reconstructed.”

Kagami turned on her. “Yes, you fuck, you and me perhaps! Maybe her too.” She jabbed a finger toward Vicky, almost unbalancing on her new legs. She grunted in pain to keep her feet. “But the paleo, and whatever she is? Explain that!”

“That doesn’t change the fact we should get out of here,” Elpida said. “There’s one door out, there’s no other route. We stick together.”

The antiseptic white light had dimmed to silver on every surface. The liquid metal screen was inert and blank. The banks of black glass blocks were opaque and lifeless, burned out, spent. The blue glow from the tanks and the coffins themselves had vanished completely, dried up, gone.

“I died,” Vicky said to herself. “We failed. We all failed. The revolution died, it must have died.”

“There’s nothing else,” Amina squeezed out. “There’s nowhere else. We’re in hell. We’ve all betrayed God. There is nowhere to go.”

“This isn’t real,” Kagami snapped. “None of you are real. Shut up!”

Elpida raised her voice. “There’s always somewhere to go. There’s Telokopolis. I don’t care where or when this is. The city will endure forever. A hundred years, a thousand, it will be there, and it will be there for us, for every human being. It will live until heat death or the close of the universe. And if you don’t know that, I’ll show you. We are all getting out of here. Now, Vicky, you help Kagami. Atyle, pull yourself together and take Amina’s hand. I’ll—”

A wet tearing sound interrupted her.

Ilyusha had reached inside one of the coffins, one that held a miscarried rebirth. She had torn free a chunk of bloody, melted flesh with her razor-tipped red fingers.

Elpida braced herself to watch the girl cram the unformed meat into her mouth. But Ilyusha stared back at them, leaden eyes dull and tired, the fire gone out. She snorted, tail lashing, then dropped the gobbet of gore onto the stainless steel floor with a wet splat.

“Getting dark in here,” she said.

She turned and stalked away toward the human-scale door, just like Pira had done, licking the blood and slime off her augmetic fingers.

Elpida wasn’t going to let this happen twice. She jabbed a finger at Vicky, then at Kagami. She grabbed Amina’s hand herself, and give Atyle a sharp look. They all followed after a fumbling moment, heading for the thin rime of light beyond the only way out.

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Dialogue sheds light, but opens the abyss of time. Out into the green, I suppose, praying for the city.

This chapter is also a big one again, 4k words! And so is the next! My goodness, I really am going to have to change the plans I had regarding chapter length. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. It’s letting me get this story underway with some bigger, juicier chunks of meat than I first thought I would.

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


Right now 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! If you like the story, go click button, and more people will see it!

Thank you for reading my little story! As always, more soon!

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