None this chapter.
Thump thump thump came a knocking at the bunker door.
Pira surged to her feet, submachine gun in her hands. She racked the charging handle, flicked the safety off, and tucked the gun tight against her shoulder; she aimed the weapon up the short flight of stairs, at the barred metal door.
“Hold!” Elpida hissed. “Everyone hold!”
Down in the nest of coats in the corner, Amina choked out a gasp and covered her mouth. Her eyes were wide and shining with sudden tears in the dim illumination from the glow-stick. Ilyusha snorted and stirred next to her, squinting awake and working her jaw, tail scraping across the concrete floor. Kagami let go of Elpida’s arm and slumped against the wall; she scrambled with her auspex gear, pulling the visor back up over her eyes.
Vicky started to get up, cradling the skinless muscle of her reattached arm, wincing through her teeth.
“Vicky, stay down,” Elpida whispered. She shouldered her own submachine gun. Her heart jerked and fluttered. Her chest felt like it was full of glass. She kept coughing.
Vicky wheezed: “But I can—”
“Stay down, your job is to rest.” There was no other exit from the bunker, no retreat. Elpida whispered, “Kagami, can you tell us what’s out there?”
“Shit, no I can’t! It takes time to boot this up, I need time! Fuck!”
Ilyusha shook her head like a wet dog, still waking up, throwing the coats off her augmented body and hopping to her feet.
Elpida hissed: “Everyone hold, hold still until Kagami—”
Pira raised her voice, shouting up toward the metal door: “We are heavily armed and wide awake. And we’re not the fresh resurrections from the tomb. Go elsewhere.”
Silence. Ilyusha’s claws scratched against the concrete. Amina panted through her nose. Elpida choked down another cough. Cold wind scraped across the exterior of the bunker.
A voice called through the door: “A foul wind blows, warrior. I require a redoubt. Or am I exiled for my transgressions, cast out into the wilderness with the beasts of the field?”
Vicky croaked, “Atyle! That’s her!”
“Sounds like her,” Elpida said. Silico could imitate human speech; some kinds of higher-order combat drones were designed for such tricks. Some of the rarest kinds of Silico — the most complex and difficult ones — even seemed to understand what they were saying, sometimes. “Kagami?”
Kagami was frowning through her visor. “Big mess of nanomachines in the shape of a person, right outside the front door. Just like us, like all the others. It’s one of us. Big power signature though. Non-nuclear. Fuck, it might be her. What the fuck has she been doing all this time?”
Ilyusha squawked: “Crawling back!”
Pira didn’t move, weapon aimed at the door, sky-blue eyes flat and cold, flame-red hair tucked over one shoulder.
“Pira,” Elpida hissed. She coughed again. “Expert opinion.”
Pira said, “Probably is her.”
“Is it safe to let her in? Is it safe to open that door?”
“She may have joined another group. She may have friends we don’t know about. She may be planning to kill us all to steal the nanos you took from the tomb.”
Ilyusha snorted, “Fucking reptile. Fuck you.”
Elpida put one hand out to hold off Ilyusha. “We’re not leaving her out there.”
Pira said, “You don’t even know that woman. How much do you trust her?”
“Nobody gets left behind. Telokopolis denies nobody. Kagami, is she alone?”
Kagami craned her head to look in all directions, left and right, even up at the ceiling of the concrete bunker. “Nothing else I can see.”
Elpida said, “We’re opening that door.”
Pira let out a tiny sigh and jerked her gun down. She pointed at Vicky. “Hold that light up.” Then to Elpida: “I’ll get the door, you cover me. Safety off. Don’t hesitate.”
Elpida nodded. “I’ve got your back.”
They climbed the steps together. Ilyusha trailed after them, claws clicking, tail swishing, stretching sleepy muscles. The shadows lay thick at the top of the steps, even with the glow-stick held up high in the room behind them. Elpida levelled her weapon and swallowed a cough. Pira lifted the bar out of the way, turned the handle, and flung the door open.
Beyond the door was a shallow-sided concrete basin, damp and dirty, clogged with puddles of stagnant water; the rotten city reared behind, like a row of teeth in the mouth of a skull. Far away to the right — the north? — a slow plume of black smoke was rising between the necrotic buildings. An uneven false horizon towered over it all: the graveworm, distant and still. The cloud-smothered sky brooded overhead, glowing dim red in one forgotten corner.
Atyle stood tall and dark in her armoured coat, bare head held high, a smirk on her lips.
The coilgun power-tank was strapped to her back, the aim-assist rig secured around her slender hips. She held the receiver in both hands — muzzle pointed at Elpida.
“Warrior!” she said in greeting.
Elpida coughed. “Shoot me or get inside.”
Atyle’s smirk widened. She awkwardly lowered the coilgun receiver and sauntered through the bunker door. Elpida realised that Atyle didn’t know how to stow the receiver in the rig; the coilgun wasn’t active or charged, and the rig wasn’t properly situated — the straps were knotted together to keep it from falling off. Pira slammed the door shut and got the bar back in place. Atyle paraded down the steps, glanced around the bunker, and took a bow as best she could with the coilgun strapped to her back.
Vicky laughed from down the floor: ““Welcome back, hey!” Then she winced. “Ow! She comes back with heavy weapons, though. Worth it.”
Amina was saying, “Oh, oh oh,” over and over again.
Ilyusha cackled. “Score!”
Elpida approached Atyle. “I don’t know how you did this, but well done. You want a hand taking that off? I know how heavy it is.”
Atyle turned narrow eyes on Elpida; she was brimming with self-satisfaction. “Undress me, warrior.”
Elpida took the coilgun receiver from Atyle and locked it properly to the aim-assist rig, then went behind her and supported the power-tank while Atyle untied the knots and shook the rig free. The position made Elpida’s ribs scream, but she endured the pain, coughing hard until she could lower the power-tank and the rig to the concrete floor.
Kagami was saying: “It’s been over twelve hours. How the hell did you survive by yourself? What were you even doing?”
“Waiting, mostly. With a brief period of enjoyment.”
Vicky asked, “Have you slept? Eaten?”
“No. Your arm is reattached. That is beautiful.”
“Ha,” Vicky said. “I wish.”
Elpida said, “You don’t seem surprised to see me alive.”
Atyle answered by making her peat-green bionic eye whirr and flex inside the socket. She looked down at Elpida’s blood-crusted chest, at the holes in her grey underlayers, at the stained emergency blanket beneath the coat draped over her shoulders. “I saw you through the walls, warrior. And I knew you would rise again. You have proven yourself. The gods have chosen you, and closed your wounds.”
Vicky muttered, “Pira did that, actually.”
Kagami pulled the auspex equipment off her face. “That’s how you found us again, isn’t it? That bionic eye. Fucking hell, I may as well be using a sextant by comparison, navigating by the fucking stars.”
“Hey,” Vicky croaked, “thanks for coming back. Thanks for bringing the firepower, too.”
Ilyusha slid up and elbowed Atyle in the ribs, grinning with all her teeth. Atyle’s smug satisfaction curdled only a little when she looked down at the heavily augmented girl.
Elpida asked, “Why did you come back?”
Atyle looked right at her, one eye bright and sparking, the other a ball of green bio-plastic without pupil or iris. “Slayer of monsters, you are not nothing without your spear, for it was not with the spear that you landed the blow. But it is more entertaining to see you with a weapon in your hands.”
Elpida laughed. Her heart jerked. She coughed.
Pira said, sudden and sharp: “How did you recover the coilgun?”
Atyle got smug again. “Battlefield ravens strip the dead for choice parts. I found their nest and crept inside and took what is ours. I see as midday in the dark, I see through stone and metal and flesh, I see the wave of thoughts inside the skulls of the living. I am everything I was always meant to be. This was nothing. A trifle. A pleasure.”
Pira pressed. “Another coherent group? And they didn’t catch you? Didn’t even see you?”
“I walk as a ghost walks.”
Vicky said, “Hell yeah. Sneaky bitch. And hey, I mean that as a compliment.”
Ilyusha laughed. “Biiiitch.” She flung herself back down next to Amina in a clatter of bionic limbs, snuggling against the younger girl. Amina seemed completely lost.
Pira asked, “Did they strip the zombie? Did they have the cyclic coilgun?”
Atyle raised her eyebrows at Pira. “They did take the weapon from the monster. Alas, I could not carry that as well.”
Pira’s eyes flicked back up the steps, to the barred metal door. “How many of them are there? Where exactly? How are they armed?”
Elpida placed a gentle hand on Pira’s shoulder. “Hey. We still need to talk. Don’t go running off alone. I said you’re under my protection if you stay. I mean that.”
Pira blazed with a sudden frown. She spoke quick and hard: “This group is too large and carrying too much dead weight to move around without being noticed, but too small, too unaugmented, and too lightly armed to present a credible deterrent. The first pack of predators will eat us alive. One revenant from beyond the graveworm line would go through us in thirty seconds. We need an edge. Portable heavy weapons are the easiest choice.” She jabbed a finger at the coilgun. “That’s a start, but it’s not good enough. We want that cyclic coilgun before somebody attaches it to themselves or it gets traded away.” She paused. “That, or somebody is going to have to drink all the nanos and accept the consequences.”
Elpida nodded. This didn’t sound like a ploy to leave the rest of them behind; this was Pira trying to help. Elpida said, “Atyle, did that group look like they were going to move any time soon?”
Pira said, “The graveworm is still post-partum, nobody’s going to be moving far, but things can shift quickly in the period after opening a tomb. They move, we lose them, we lose the gun.”
Atyle snorted delicately: “I lose nothing.”
Kagami sighed. “Yeah, I bet you don’t — you can’t. Not with that eye.”
Atyle smirked. “Jealous, scribe?”
“Yes,” Kagami grunted.
But Elpida was more interested in Pira. “Post-partum,” she echoed.
Vicky added from down on the floor: “This shit is too weird for me right now.”
Pira sighed. “The period after restocking a tomb. It’s complicated. Explaining will take time.”
Elpida nodded. “Pira, tell us what you know first, then we’ll go get the cyclic coilgun. Please, don’t risk leaving us in the dark.”
Pira stared back with eyes like the sky over the green. Then she pulled away and returned to her spot. She sat down, folded her arms, and closed her eyes. “Fine. But don’t make me repeat myself.”
Elpida assisted Kagami with sitting down on a folded coat; the petite, doll-like girl was more capable of manipulating the knees and hip-joints of her augmetic legs now, but she still hissed and winced with pain whenever she had to push against her range of motion. Amina burrowed back down in her nest, big eyes staring out at everybody else with barely suppressed fear. Elpida showed Atyle to the cistern with the brackish water, at the other end of the bunker. Ilyusha bounced back up to her claws and followed, clicking across the concrete and through the cloying darkness. Atyle drank from her own cupped hands, uncaring of the stagnant taste.
Ilyusha stared up at Elpida, waiting. Her tail was wagging.
Elpida said: “You don’t seem surprised to see me alive, either. You’ve seen this happen before, haven’t you? Many times?”
Ilyusha nodded, hissing a laugh through her teeth.
Elpida said, “Ilyusha—” Then she stopped.
Earlier, Vicky had called Ilyusha ‘Illy’, but Elpida wasn’t certain if she could do that. Nicknames had been for the cadre. The cadre was gone, Howl was gone, they were all gone. But she had promised inside her own mind that she would praise Ilyusha. Her throat grew thick. She coughed as her heart spasmed.
“Ilyusha,” she tried again. “Vicky called you Illy. May I—”
Ilyusha nodded. “Mm!”
“Illy, then. Illy, you did really well back there, with the Silico — with the zombie. And before, with the retreat from the tomb. You did great work. Thank you for covering my back; we wouldn’t have survived without you. I owe you. Thank you.”
Elpida reached down and squeezed Ilyusha’s shoulder, where black-red bionic met pale flesh. Ilyusha laughed, happy and grinning, and bumped her head against Elpida’s forearm. Her tail tapped on the concrete floor. One red-clawed bionic hand closed around Elpida’s flesh, the claws naked and sharp but not cutting through clothing or skin. Ilyusha tightened her grip just enough to scrape — then she let go. She was bouncing on her clawed feet.
Elpida’s heart ached. Too much like Howl, though Howl would never have reciprocated the physical in front of another person; Atyle watched the exchange without comment. Elpida had to swallow another cough.
“How’s your wound?” she asked.
“Gone!” Ilyusha barked. “Blue shit’s good, yeah? How’s yours? Lots!”
“Painful,” Elpida said. “But I’ll live.”
Ilyusha laughed. “Ha!”
They returned to the others. Vicky had been in the middle of saying something to Kagami, but she trailed off. Atyle took a corner for herself, sitting cross-legged and straight backed on a spare coat, a subtle smile on her darkly sharp face. She looked untouched by her lonely mission. Ilyusha burrowed back into the nest she shared with Amina. Elpida did not try to sit back down on the coats where she had lain while dead; she wasn’t sure if she would be able to stand back up again. Her chest felt like it was made of bone shards and hot ashes. Her back still felt cold whenever she inhaled. She leaned against a wall instead, coughing into her hand.
Amina was staring at Elpida, eyes wide in her little brown face. Elpida smiled back and said, “I’m alive. It’s okay.”
Vicky spoke gently through her own pain. “Hey, Amina, honey, it’s fine. Elpida’s all better. She died, but she’s back again. Not so different to what happened to us up in the tomb, right?”
Amina murmured, “What was it like?”
Elpida said: “Being dead?” Amina nodded. “I don’t remember anything. I’m sorry, Amina. Maybe I wasn’t really dead.”
Amina said, “You were. You were cold.”
Pira was still sitting against the wall, eyes closed, arms folded. Elpida said her name. “Pira?”
“Tell us everything you know.”
Pira was silent for a moment, then: “If I do that, we’ll be here until the graveworm starts moving.”
Kagami tutted. “What does that even mean? What does it serve you, being such a cryptic bitch? Do you get off on this? Are we being hazed?”
Pira opened her eyes, dispassionate and distant. “It means I’ve done this for so long that I don’t know where to start. And I don’t have any real answers. What do you want to know?”
Elpida shared a look with the others; she wanted to let them go first, establish a baseline, hold her own questions in reserve for the moments Pira seemed most open. Vicky was frowning, chewing her lip, cradling her skinless arm in her lap. Kagami looked angry and offended. Atyle seemed like she didn’t really care, watching the moment unfold with detached dignity, her bionic eye glinting in the blue glow-stick light. Amina was bewildered. Ilyusha just snuggled down next to the younger girl; her naked red claws curled against the cold concrete floor.
Kagami huffed. “We all saw the satellite pictures down in the gravekeeper’s chamber. And by the way, fuck you for pointing us toward that thing. A massive AI substrate enclosure, really? Thank you for the total lack of fucking warning. If you hadn’t come back for us out there I would have assumed you were trying to get us all killed, you insufferable cunt.”
Elpida put out a hand. “Hey, Kagami. Cool down.”
Kagami threw up her hands. “Yes. Fine. I’m just getting us all on the same page. We saw the satellite pictures. Me, her, and her.” Kagami indicated herself, Elpida, and Vicky. “We understand what we saw. These two don’t.” She pointed at Amina and Atyle. Then at Ilyusha. “Her I have no fucking idea. No offence, you … whatever you are.”
Ilyusha cackled. “Ilyusha!”
Pira listened, but said nothing.
“So,” Kagami spat. “When is this? What’s the date?”
Pira shrugged. “I have no idea. Late.”
Vicky laughed, but there was no humour in it. “Late. Right.”
Kagami took another shot. “When are you from? What era? What year, by your calendar?”
Pira blinked. “A while before all this.”
Kagami barked a laugh. “That could mean anything. We’re all from before this. What is going on, hmm? Why were we brought back from the fucking dead? Because I remember dying. I think we all do.” She glanced around the bunker. Elpida nodded. Vicky took an unstable breath. Amina whimpered. “What’s doing this to us? And why?”
Atyle said, “The gods do not explain themselves to mortals.”
“Pah!” Kagami spat.
Pira glanced sidelong at Atyle. “That’s as good an answer as any.”
Kagami swallowed, blinking rapidly. “You’re joking. You have to know something. There has to be a reason for this. Why are we here? What for? What is in command of all this?”
Pira just stared.
Kagami went on, breathing too hard: “Alright. Some runaway AI process is doing this. There’s no purpose. No meaning. None of this means anything. You just exist. We’re all here just to exist. Great. How the fuck are we being resurrected, huh? How is this madness bringing back cave-people?” She waved a wave toward Atyle. “Explain that!”
Elpida spoke up before Kagami could panic further. “Pira, how long have you been doing this for? How many times have you been resurrected?”
Pira blinked slowly. “Do you have anything to draw with?”
They did; Ilyusha had taken several sticks of camo paint from the tomb armoury: green, brown, grey, black. Pira accepted a stick of black, then stood up and started drawing on the concrete wall. Vicky held the glow-stick up higher. “May as well crack another,” said Pira. Vicky did, doubling the sickly blue light lying still and soft over Pira’s back as she worked.
“This is what I know,” said Pira. “There are two distinct systems in operation. One system is comprised of the tombs and the graveworms.”
She stepped to the side so the others could see the drawing on the wall: it was a very rough version of the map they’d seen down in the gravekeeper’s chamber. The world — a single landmass — was represented by a lumpy circle, gnarled at the bottom. Pira had separated the landmass roughly down the middle with a dotted line, and labelled the right half as ‘city’. Several tiny stepped pyramids were dotted throughout the city: the tombs. A number of wiggly lines were labelled ‘worms’. Three tall triangles sat at equidistant points within the city, forming a larger triangle; each of these was labelled ‘tower’. A single massive curve of black on the left of the map — to the west — indicated something beyond the city; Pira had labelled this as ‘ring segment’.
“Oh shit,” Vicky croaked. “Names and all. Good sign or bad? Heh. Uh, poor joke. Sorry.”
Ilyusha laughed. “Worm’s too small!”
Kagami muttered, “Yes, considering what we saw earlier. That thing is the size of a mountain. Worms? Plural?”
Pira nodded. “Yes.”
Elpida asked, “How many graveworms? How many tombs?”
Pira glanced back at her rough map. When she spoke, her voice was dead and flat. “I know of sixty two tombs across the east of the continent — in the city — but I stopped counting. Graveworms, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. More than two. A dozen. Maybe. The graveworms move on circuits between the tombs. A worm reaches a tomb, restocks it with nanomachines, then the tomb spits out more of us.”
“Why?” Kagami said. “Why! Why us, specifically?”
“I don’t know,” Pira said. Kagami shook her head.
“But what’s the graveworm?” Vicky asked, frowning. “The gravekeeper, that was an AI, right? Is the worm the same?”
“I don’t know,” Pira said. “The gravekeepers run the resurrection process. The worms restock. I don’t know why. I don’t know what the purpose is. I don’t know. Anybody who tells you they know … ” Pira trailed off, jaw tight. She swallowed. “Nobody knows. Not for sure.”
Vicky said, “Why do you call them ‘graveworms’? Odd word choice is all.”
“I picked it up from somebody else, a long time ago.”
Elpida asked, “What’s inside the graveworms?”
Pira stared at her, through her, then blinked. “The graveworms are giant nanomachine forges. They produce raw blue in vast quantities. It takes a lot to resurrect one of us from scratch, in the tombs: somewhere over a million gallons of the stuff per revenant.” She shook her head. “But you can’t get inside them. You can’t get anywhere near them. Here.”
She turned back to the wall and drew a second diagram: the graveworm seen from above, represented by a pair of wiggly lines joined at one end, with a blank circle for a head. Then she added two concentric rings around the worm. She labelled the space closest to the worm as ‘danger’, the middle area as ‘safe zone’, and the area beyond both rings as ‘wild’. Then she tapped the innermost ring, closest to the worm.
“Too close to a graveworm and you run into the worm guardians, the machinery it maintains to protect itself.” She nodded at the coilgun. “We could probably kill one with that, but there’s always a lot of them. If we ever seem like we’re getting the upper hand, the graveworm can escalate. It can manufacture infinite guardians for itself. We can’t.” Pira tapped the area outside the rings. “Too far from the worm, that’s wilderness. That’s where the zombies wander. The nano-shit and the necromancer leftovers, things like the zombie back at the tomb. Things you wouldn’t believe. But the graveworm’s defences means they never come too close.” Then she tapped the space between the two rings, the ‘safe zone’. “This is where we — revenants, people from the tombs — this is where we’re relatively safe. In the shadow of a graveworm. But not from each other.”
Kagami started laughing, sad, slow, pained. “You’re joking? You’re joking. What is this? What is this bullshit?”
Vicky swallowed. “Like extremophiles around a hydrothermal vent. A goldilocks zone.”
Pira nodded. “I’ve heard that comparison before.”
Amina was saying in a tiny voice: “I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I-I’m sorry, I don’t … ”
Ilyusha whispered something directly into Amina’s ear. Amina swallowed and stared at Ilyusha. The heavily augmented girl just laughed and nodded back. Atyle was taking all this in with serene detachment; perhaps she already knew.
Kagami said, “You can’t venture away from one of these nanomachine sludge monsters? You live around while it moves? What do you do, build fucking shanty towns?”
Pira shrugged. “Only the most heavily augmented have any chance of surviving beyond the graveworm. That zombie, earlier? That was nothing.”
Elpida muttered, “Silico drone. I agree.”
Pira went on, “Normally a creature like that wouldn’t come so close to a graveworm. That’s why everybody was surprised. Something drew it in close, made it take the risk. If we hadn’t killed it, worm guardians would probably have responded in an hour or two. Too late for us.”
Elpida was struggling to absorb this information. She had no idea what a hydrothermal vent was, but she could see the logic. Pira’s diagram on the wall was so simple, so straightforward, though the elements it described were as big as mountains; all these resurrected human beings, crammed into a narrow strip of life around a giant machine. All the genetic engineers of Telokopolis could never have prepared her for this. But Old Lady Nunnus had done a good job of making Elpida flexible. And her cadre had kept her focused on what really mattered. Her mind hungered for more information; she could tell this was not yet a complete picture.
“How wide is that safe zone?” she asked.
Pira said, “About a mile. The edges are fuzzy, not exact.”
“How often does a graveworm move? How fast?”
Pira shrugged. “It depends. Sometimes they don’t move for days, or weeks, or longer. I knew one which stayed in place for six years. Heard tell of another which didn’t move for five decades. Mostly it’s days. Sometimes hours. As for how fast, not much. They stop and start. There’s time for sleep and rest.”
Kagami snorted. “That sounds designed. There’s a mind behind this.”
Pira answered without looking at her. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t know.”
Elpida kept going, pressing for useful intel. “How many of us are there? People from the tomb, revenants?”
Pira said, “Around this worm, considering the size of it, maybe a couple of thousand.”
Vicky said, voice shaking, staring at the black drawings on the wall: “This is it? This the entire world now? Giant machines and the undead crawling around their feet? That’s it? There’s nothing else out there?” She was hunched forward slightly, cradling her wounded arm, breathing too fast.
Elpida said, “Vicky, it’s okay. Vicky?”
Pira sighed and closed her eyes briefly. “There’s plenty out there.”
“What?” Vicky demanded. “What, then?!”
“Zombies. There is nothing left alive, not in the traditional meaning of ‘alive’. Even the moss and lichen are nanomachine based. Everything is dead.” Pira sighed. “I’m … sorry.”
Vicky laughed a laugh that was more like a sob, wincing in pain. “That’s it? That’s the world. Why was everyone fighting at the tomb, then? Why aren’t we all banded together? What are we doing alone in this bunker?”
Amina said, “We’re in hell. I told you. It’s hell.”
Elpida raised her voice, though it made her lungs hurt: “We’re not in hell. Pira, something you said earlier has stuck in my mind. You said ‘One revenant from beyond the graveworm line would go through us in thirty seconds.’”
Pira held her gaze, cold and exhausted.
Elpida explained. “You’ve consistently used the word revenant to describe us, and only us. Everything else is zombies. How does one of us come from beyond the graveworm safe zone? You said only the most heavily augmented have any chance of surviving out there. Are there people out there, like us?”
Pira said nothing.
Vicky said, “Her story’s gotten mixed up. Can’t keep it straight, can you?”
Kagami hissed, “Wait. Back up. How do you know what the giant worm-construct makes if you can’t get inside?”
“Deductive reasoning,” Pira said. “They restock the tombs, it’s the only way. And the ambient nanomachine levels in the air are higher around the graveworm. It’s another reason to stick close. You heal faster and you won’t starve to death.”
Elpida said, “You said we didn’t need food.”
Ilyusha was smirking up at Pira, as if this was all silly or irrelevant. Elpida said, “Illy, you’ve been here before as well. Have you—”
A high-pitched whine cut in at the edge of Elpida’s hearing; her heart lurched and fluttered; her head rang from the inside; her eyes watered; her stomach roiled. She thought she was having a medical event, another step of the nanomachine-accelerated healing process — but the others winced and blinked as well. Amina whimpered in shock. Ilyusha’s claws flicked in and out. Somebody said, voice muffled: “What— ow— what—”
Pira turned grey. Her eyes went wide. She didn’t reach for her gun.
Elpida said, “Pira, what—”
Pira hissed through clenched teeth: “Nobody move. No sound. Don’t breathe. That’s worm-guard.”
Graveworms and revenants, an ecosystem of the not-really-living. And zombies beyond the flickering light. I must admit that I have had an incredible time crafting this setting, behind the scenes, and this is only a tiny glimpse. Pira doesn’t know everything, after all, as she is at pains to repeat. Hope you enjoy where this is going, because I sure am!
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Hooo-boy! Information at last, like water in a desert. Or like a coil gun to an unarmed group. Yay Atyle’s back! X-Ray (and definitely a couple other versions) Vision leading to super sneaking. Always love a hypercompetent character with a few screws loose.
“In the shadow of a graveworm” sounds like a book title. Very atmospheric.
Very interested to eventually learn how the tombs resurrect them with the memories of their old lives. On each circuit, the graveworms probably pick up raw materials that they convert into the nanomachine sludge, they deposit in the tombs. The tombs then use technowizardry to re-create the bodies of the dead, insert augments to patch up how they died, then some how splices their souls and memories back into the bodies. Do the tombs need the original body for that? Perhaps the brain needs to remain intact for a successful resurrection. Amina seems to be the oldest of them, her body might have been preserved in some way to keep the brain intact, mummification or something.
Yup! Finally some real exposition, from somebody who knows (some of) what is going on. Sort of. Pira’s knowledge is of course limited by her own experiences, and she hasn’t finished yet, but at least Elpida has something more to go on now.
Atyle turns out to be hypercompetent, indeed! She kept that under wraps, or she’s been showing it the whole time without saying anything. She sure did learn how to use that eye quickly.
“In the shadow of a graveworm”, indeed, thank you!
And yes, how the girls are actually brought back is a huge question still without an answer. Kagami wanted to know, but Pira doesn’t have anything to say. Very bizarre, indeed.
“Her tail taped on the concrete floor” taped = tapped.
I love the the setting and world you have crafted here, nice job author.
Thank you for the chapter.
Thank you for the correction! Well spotted!
Really glad you enjoyed this exposition; I’ve put a lot of work into the setting behind the scenes, thank you so much!
And you are very welcome, glad you enjoyed the chapter!
Thank you for the chapter.
Typed the wrong sentence. Thank you for replying.
You’re always very welcome!
Hmmm. First, love the lore. What there was and what there is. My guess is someone either found a way to repel the silico, or they evolved to convert everything that isn’t them into something that’s close enough. Regardless of my brain dead, heh, takes, thanks for the chapter!
You’re very welcome, glad you enjoyed reading it! I put a lot into figuring out the setting and mechanics behind the scenes, so it’s really gratifying to see readers coming up with theories about how it all fits together.
Atyle seems more chatty and engaged than before. I think she decided being part of a group was better than being alone. And she is the only person who seems completely cool with the situation. I get the impression she was blind in her previous life and now to not only have sight but have supersight is so awesome it dwarfs all other concerns.
Atyle seems to be impressed by Elpida’s performance! She may have returned for her alone, after seeing her defeat the zombie.
Something about Atyle’s prior worldview has indeed helped her take this new world in her stride, as normal, as something she can understand on her own terms. Almost too well …
Blind! Perhaps. She does have one bionic eye and one normal, fleshy eye. Perhaps she lacked sight in another sense of the word, though.