corpus – 1.8

Content Warnings

None this chapter.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Elpida took command.

“Into the gravekeeper’s room, now!”

Click-click-click went metal on metal, racing down the lift shaft.

“Amina, hold onto that shield and get behind the wall. Vicky, grab three more ballistic shields, toss them back there, then start flipping tables, pile them in the archway. Atyle, you take a shield as well then get behind the wall. And help Kagami, hunker down. Howl—”

Elpida froze. The others froze with her, hanging on her words; they didn’t know that Howl was a name.

Elpida’s closest was not at her side. She’d never faced combat without Howl, not even that first time when the cadre was six years old.

Howl was dead.

“ … Ilyusha, help Vicky with the tables. We need cover and we need it fast. Move!”

Elpida knew this wouldn’t be enough. Cover was unreliable and in short supply. The armoury side of the room held nothing useful except the ballistic shields; the tables on the laboratory side were made of thin metal, not enough to stop a bullet. The only good shelter was the dividing wall between the first room and the gravekeeper’s chamber, but the archway was wide and tall. Elpida would not have attempted to hold that against Silico even with a full team in hardsuits. But there was no other exit, only the grey pyramid, the rippling black sphere, and the dead lips of the interface corpse.

At least they had a clear line of fire.

The others scrambled to follow Elpida’s orders. Amina scuttled through the archway, almost tripping over herself. Vicky went tight and professional, grabbing more of the stiff bulletproof shields. Ilyusha helped with gusto, flipping tables and slamming them together into a makeshift barricade, panting wet and hard through a twitching grin. Her tail was lashing back and forth. Kagami staggered behind the barricade under her own power, augmetic legs wobbling, hands clutching at the tables for support.

Atyle didn’t move. She stared up at the lift shaft and the rapid approach of metal-on-metal with detached curiosity. Her peat-green bionic eye swivelled and rotated in the socket.

Elpida snapped, “Can you see through the wall? See what it is?”

“No, the metal is too thick. But the sound is fascinating. I count six — eight — ten legs?”

“Get in the gravekeeper’s chamber or I’ll throw you in there myself.”

Atyle turned away, head high, walking without a care.

Clack-clack-clack; too many legs closing on the core of the tomb.

Elpida grabbed a coilgun. She pulled the apparatus from the racking, tucked the receiver under one arm, and setted the power-tank on her back. It wasn’t like any coilgun ever manufactured in Telokopolis: red and yellow warning stripes all down the barrel, curved protrusions for handholds, thick cables running from power-tank to receiver. But the technology was timeless. Elpida identified the controls, strapped the aim-assist support rig around her hips, and stowed the receiver. She dragged a second coilgun off the rack, then turned and hurried back to the arch and the gravekeeper’s chamber, pausing only to grab a light machine gun and a box-magazine of ammunition.

Loaded down with heavy weaponry, she vaulted the jumble of tables to join the others, huddled in the gravekeeper’s shadow.

Amina was pressed against the wall a few feet from the arch, hugging her ballistic shield, a nest of clothing paralysed with fear. Kagami was braced against the cold metal, legs quivering, eyes wide in her face, long black hair swept back. Atyle was staring up at the sphere of the gravekeeper, watching the slow ripples move across the surface.

Vicky was at the barricade, half-sheltered by one side of the arch, long rifle in her hands; Elpida recognised the pre-battle tension in the way she stood and the way she moved her eyes. Ilyusha was at the opposite end of the arch, staring at the lift doors and — drooling? She’d shed her backpack of shells and blue nano-goop, and stashed it at Amina’s side. Her tail was flicking, her breath pumping, her claws exposed and clicking against the rotary shotgun in her hands.

Vicky tried to laugh. “Elpi, you’re carrying half the armoury.”

“Vicky,” Elpida said, “look at me. Look at my eyes. Take a deep breath. I’m going to get us out of this.”

“Never was any good at fire-fights. I’m sorry.”

“Do you know how to use a coilgun?”

Vicky frowned. “A what-gun? Is that the thing you’ve got strapped on? Looks heavy.”

“Yes.” Elpida dropped the second coilgun and thrust the machine gun toward Vicky. “Take this instead. Set up on the ground, sight-line between those two tables. I’ll get the ballistic shields in place to protect you.”

Vicky nodded. Her hands shook as she slung the rifle and cradled the machine gun. “I can do that. I can do that.”

“You can. You know what you’re doing.” Elpida had no idea if Vicky knew what she was doing, but the other woman needed to hear those words. “I need you to get that machine gun in place.”

“Yeah, yeah. On it. Okay. Yeah.”

Elpida didn’t bother with a pep-talk for Ilyusha. The heavily augmented girl was chewing her own tongue, drawing blood.

“Ilyusha, hey. Hey!”

The augmented girl twitched her head but didn’t look at Elpida. “Mm?”

“Look at me. Ilyusha, look at me.”

Burning grey eyes swivelled round; murder-happy combat high, a junkie look. Elpida had seen that on a few faces before. One especially. But she didn’t have time to grieve.

Elpida said: “Don’t jump this barricade alone. You stay here with us. I will get us out. Stay here with me. Understand?”

“Mmmnnnn … ‘kay,” Ilyusha rasped.

Elpida stepped past Ilyusha to deal with Kagami. The doll-like girl looked ready to scream. Elpida held out her submachine gun. “Have you fired a gun before?”

Kagami stared at the weapon like it might sting her. “In a … sim. In sims. A lot. Never for real.”

Elpida pressed the weapon into Kagami’s hands and moved her fingers to hold the grips. “Safety is here, flick it off like—”

“Yes!” Kagami hissed. “I know how it works! I just don’t know if I’ll fall over from the recoil, you moron!”

“Sit on the floor and peek around the corner.”

Kagami laughed, hollow. “You’ve got a coilgun, what do you need with me?”

“You’re needed, we all are. Sit, aim, and wait for my command. I know you can do that.”

Kagami did as Elpida ordered. She slumped awkwardly at the corner of the arch in a puddle of grey-black clothing, inches from Ilyusha’s clawed feet, peering through a tiny gap in their paper-thin barricade. Elpida hurried to the other side, stepping over Vicky, who was lying flat to sight down her machine gun. She grabbed the spare ballistic shields and propped two of them up against the barricade, either side of Vicky’s position; they’d take a hit for her, perhaps. Then she gave one to Kagami, a bit of extra cover.

She unhooked the coilgun receiver, hit the controls to power on the magnetic containment, and felt a sabot-round clunk into place. The power-tank hummed into life on her back. She braced the barrel on the side of an overturned table and aimed at the open doors of the lift.

Elpida knew they were doomed. This was not a trained team who’d spent a lifetime working together. They were not an under-strength Legion squad waiting for extraction at the edge of the green. These girls were not her cadre. This was a group of scared young women with nowhere to run.

But the cadre had been like that once, back in the earliest days.

Before anybody could voice doubt, Elpida said: “Everyone stay quiet. Hold your fire. Let me do the talking.”

Down on the floor, Vicky almost laughed. “Talking?”

“We don’t know what this is or what they want.”

Kagami said, dripping scorn, “I think we can fucking guess! They want to eat us!”

Elpida raised her voice. “Hold your fire until I say so. Ilyusha, do you understand? Hold your fire.”

Ilyusha answered in a mocking sing-song: “Hold-ing, hold-ing, blah-la-la.”

Click-click-click went metal-on-metal, louder and louder — and then something heavy thumped onto the roof of the lift car. For twenty seconds nothing happened; everyone held their breath. Did Elpida hear voices? She strained to listen.

Then something tore through the roof of the lift with an ear-splitting rip of peeling metal. Scraps of pulverised grey material flew everywhere, flashing scythes of dull orange punched down through the lift, and then a dark shape squirmed downward and into the light.

“Oh my fucking God,” Vicky said.

Ilyusha barked. “God! Ha!”

“Quiet,” Elpida snapped. “Hold fire.”

Something pushed out through the lift doors and stood up.

A shield-wall, dark orange: the front of the intruder was protected and obscured by six huge metal shields in a rough square. Eight heavy bionic legs were visible beneath the shields, non-human, multi-jointed, armoured with dun brown plate, curved away from a massive elongated body in the rear. Tiny eyes peered over the topmost shield — human eyes, soft and sane and green, framed by frizzy brown hair.

A single construct? A girl riding a construct, or standing on a construct? The shield-wall concealed the details, but the size and scale was all wrong. The thing standing behind those bunched shields was the size of two horses, nine feet tall, and made no sense.

Before Elpida could gather her wits, somebody squeaked from behind the shield-wall, riding on that eight-legged bionic construct.

“They’re pointing guns at us! Gun-guns!”

A second voice, a throaty wheeze: “They?”

“There’s like three-three! Four? Wow-more!”

A third voice, muffled and mechanical: “Assaulting into an armoury. Bad idea. Told you so.”

“Not-not an assault!” said the squeaky first voice. The human eyes and frizzy hair ducked down behind the dark orange shield-wall.

At least three people, plus a bionic construct — Silico? Elpida made a split-second decision; whoever these people were, they hadn’t rushed in guns blazing. She raised her voice. “Stay where you are! We have you covered with three coilguns.”

The muffled and mechanical voice said: “Coilguns. Great. Of course it would be a tomb with coilguns.”

The green eyes popped up again, wide and staring.

“Lie! Lie-lie, they have one. Two? Two-two.”

Elpida shouted: “State your business or I will open fire.”

The wheezing voice said, “No firing! No firing! The star-caller is among them, don’t hurt her!”

The dun brown bionic legs skittered and danced on the spot, jostling the shield-wall. The squeaky voice said: “Back-back!?”

“No!” wheezed the second voice. “She— star-called— caller— I can’t— oh, it’s coming, I can feel it unlatching from the heavens, I— uhhhnn—” The voice dissolved into wet gurgles.

The muffled and mechanical voice said, “Boss? Not now. Boss? Fuck!”


“Yeah, back up the lift, we have this lot bottled up anyway—”

Ilyusha leapt the barricade.

A flash of pale flesh and red-black bionics vaulted the overturned tables, lips pulled back in a rictus grin. She raised the rotary shotgun in both hands, aimed at the shield-wall, and pulled the trigger. A roar split the air — then again, and again, as Ilyusha yanked on the trigger and pumped the mechanism to rotate the cylinder for fresh rounds. Pellets bounced off the dark orange shields. Several people screamed. The legs of the construct flinched and jerked.

Vicky shouted, “Elpi, do we help her?!”

“Hold!” Elpida said. “Ilyusha, stop!”

But Ilyusha wasn’t listening. She sprinted forward as she fired, clawed feet chewing through the metal flooring, tail lashing from side to side. She slammed the shield-wall with the tip of her tail and raked at it with the claws from one hand — and then Ilyusha jinked sideways, flanking the intruder, shotgun jerking up to point at whatever hid behind the shield-wall.

Howl blossomed in Elpida’s memory.

Thirteen years old, straddling Elpida’s chest, both of them black and blue and bloody, Howl screaming in her face: “One of us fights, we all fight! You taught me that! Tell me you still believe it or I’ll kill you myself. Tell me you love us.

One in, all in.

Elpida slipped her index finger over the coilgun’s trigger, sighting dead centre of the shield-wall. She would take responsibility later. She always did.

But in the split-second before she could fire, a blade flashed out from behind the shield-wall and cut Ilyusha’s rotary shotgun in half.

Ilyusha sprang back, spitting and hissing — and fouling Elpida’s clean shot. She dropped the shattered pieces of her firearm, then flicked her claws free and whipped her tail above her head like a scorpion. A figure darted out from behind the shield-wall before Ilyusha could pounce, and forced her away with a flurry of strikes from a pair of swords. Ilyusha turned away the blows with her claws and the metal of her arms, but Elpida could tell that the heavily augmented girl was inexpert and clumsy; she’d be dead without the bionics.

Ilyusha’s opponent was unreadable: tight and athletic, wrapped in a dark red bodysuit and draped with matching robe-like layers, head concealed inside a black helmet with a smooth face-plate. Nothing but an angle for a nose and slits for eyeholes. She held a pair of long, curved swords, the metal glittering red. She swung them like liquid.

Vicky shouted, “I can’t get an angle!”

The squeaky voice was screaming from behind the shield-wall: “Zel-Zel no! No! Back-back! Ahhhh!”

Elpida kicked her way through the makeshift barricade. She kept the coilgun pointed at the shield-wall. The plates were wavering, as if they wanted to intervene in the claws-and-sword duel. Ilyusha was getting a feel for it now, knocking away the sword-strikes and trying to impale the swordswoman with jabs of her tail. The red-clad duellist reacted with expert precision, dodging and twisting out of the way. Ilyusha spat with anger.

“Ilyusha!” Elpida shouted. “Off! Now!”

Ilyusha cackled and pressed forward. The red swordswoman deflected a tail-swipe with both blades.

“Back down or I will make you back down.” Elpida twitched her attention to the shield-wall. “Call your one off, or I will put a hole through you.”

“Zel-Zel! Zel!” The squeaky voice was not coherent enough for orders.

Elpida judged the distances, weighed the coilgun receiver in one hand, and took the opening: she strode at the melee fight just as Ilyusha was rocking back for another blow, scooped Ilyusha’s petite form up from behind, arm around the smaller girl’s stomach, and pointed the coilgun at the red-clad swordswoman. Finger on the trigger, ready to squeeze.

The red-wrapped figure stopped, swords frozen in mid-air. Ilyusha was kicking and screeching in Elpida’s grip, clawing and raking — mostly at the floor, but she caught Elpida’s leg as well, bruising and grazing the front of her shin. Elpida clutched Ilyusha tight and held the coilgun steady.

“Move and I shoot,” she said to the red swordswoman.

“Suits me,” came the reply, muffled into mechanical noise by the helmet and mask.

Ilyusha was spitting. “Fuck you! Fuck you!” Her tail-spike went up and down like a stinger in flesh, ramming dents in the metal floor.

Elpida said, “Swords down. Back away.”

The red woman said: “Not happening.”


“She’ll go for me again.”

Elpida suppressed a sigh. “Ilyusha. Ilyusha? Ilyusha, I need you to stop.”

Ilyusha finally let go of her raving anger. She sagged in Elpida’s grip, panting through gritted teeth. “What!?”

“If I let you go—”

“Fuck you too! Lanky bitch!”

Ilyusha squirmed down and out of Elpida’s grip like a greased weasel. She instantly turned away and stomped over to the armoury. She yanked another rotary shotgun off the racking and slammed it about, then scooped up shells from a box, sat down cross-legged, and started loading the weapon, sulking with her head down.

The red swordswoman stayed perfectly still. Elpida kept her covered with the coilgun.

“How about now?” Elpida asked.

“She’s loading a gun. Li?”

The squeaky voice answered from behind the shield-wall: “Mm-mm?”

“That girl raises that gun, you cut her in half.”

Elpida said: “Nobody is cutting anybody in half.”

Vicky’s voice joined them, along with her hurrying boots: “Yeah, fucking hell. Guns down, okay? Guns down. We don’t all need to shoot each other.”

“Ilyusha,” Elpida said.

“Yeah, fuck you!” Ilyusha spat. She didn’t look from loading her replacement shotgun.

“Promise me you won’t start another fight.”

“Reptile fuck. Cold-blooded cunt bitch. Cunt.”

Elpida twitched her head sideways; she needed to cover the swordswoman but she needed to talk to Ilyusha. She couldn’t do this alone. “Vicky, get Amina, we need her to—”

But to Elpida’s surprise, Amina was already hurrying through the armoury. The younger girl clutched her ballistic shield to her front as she went straight to Ilyusha’s side. Amina went down on her knees, touching Ilyusha without hesitation. The heavily augmented girl shoved her away and raised her bionic tail as if to strike, but Amina dropped the shield and pulled her into an awkward sideways hug. Ilyusha stopped loading the gun. She stared at the floor.

Elpida asked: “Now?”

“Sure,” said the red swordswoman. “Can I move?”

An explosive cough came from behind the shield-wall. That earlier voice, the bruised and wheezy one which had descended into gurgles, started up in panic: “No firing! The star-caller is here! We can’t risk— risk her. What— what happened, Zeltzin?”

‘Zeltzin’ lowered her red swords and then slid them away inside her red robes; Elpida did not like how the woman moved, as if her joints had a wider range of motion than a human being should possess. Zeltzin took a step back and glanced behind the dull orange shields. “No injuries. Just pride. I count six fresh.”

“Six?” The wheezy voice sounded surprised.

Ilyusha muttered, on the other side of the room: “Fuckin’ eat you, cunt. Come try again.”

A clunk and a scrape came from behind the shields. The soft green eyes and frizzy hair from earlier peered over the top. “Lianna,” said the wheezy voice. “You may stand down. Nobody is shooting.”

“Guns-guns! Pointing!”

Elpida lowered her coilgun, but she kept it powered. She glanced at Vicky and found the other woman was still cradling that light machine gun. She reached out and put a gentle hand on the weapon, as if encouraging her to keep it pointed away from anybody, but she caught Vicky’s eye and nodded, hoping she understood. She glanced back at the archway: Kagami had staggered out a few paces, supported by clutching onto Atyle’s arm — not offered but taken regardless. But the borrowed submachine gun hung limp in Kagami’s free hand. The doll-like girl looked terrified, mouth hanging open. Atyle was enraptured by the shield-wall, or perhaps by what lay behind the plates.

“Guns are down,” said the red swordswoman. “Boss, this is a mess. Are you sure she’s here?”

The wheezy voice said, “The star-caller must be here! Lianna, let me see. Let me see. Lower your shields, that’s it, good girl, let me see, let me see … ”

The voice trailed off. The shield-wall broke, individual plates separating and drifting apart.

Behind the shields was the top half of a young woman: a head of frizzy brown hair, eyes green and wide and slightly manic, face pale and pinkish and pinched, narrow shoulders and thin ribs clad wrapped in layers of comfortable grey robe, with a pair of normal arms and human hands sticking out from the folds of fabric.

Flesh ended at her waist; below that she was a bionic spider the size of a hippopotamus.

Twelve feet long, main body and abdomen structures armoured with dun brown plating. Eight legs supported the body, segmented and flexible, made of bio-plastic and bunches of artificial muscle fibre. Eight arms sprouted from the front part of the body, in a ring around the human torso: six arms ended in those flat orange shields; two arms were shaped into curved pincers, with razor-sharp edges as long as Elpida was tall.

Ilyusha’s tail had left Elpida shocked by non-human body plan bionics. The four-armed cannibal had seemed impossible. But this was beyond her. This was not human — but neither was it Silico.

A second woman was riding on the back of the spider-centaur, a twisted scrap of bark-brown cradled in a nest of blankets. Hollow-cheeked, stubble-scalped, and encrusted with sensory bionics, like coral growing on her face. She had little blooms of metal and bio-plastic in her forehead, sending out feelers up her scalp and down her cheeks. Her nose was replaced with a black and grey apparatus that seemed to cling to her flesh, a limpet sucking at her blood. Little spirals of bionic matter swirled across her lips and chin and down her throat.

And she had no eyes; her eye sockets were filled with a crust of bionic matter, spilling outward and overflowing onto the bones of her face.

She smiled. Elpida was reminded of Old Lady Nunnus, the cadre’s one and only teacher.

The crusted woman spoke in a wheezing voice. “My name is Inaya. One of you has called a falling star.”

She paused for effect and the similarity with Nunnus vanished. Elpida glanced around at the others and concluded that those words meant nothing to anybody. Atyle was staring at the spider-girl with open awe. Kagami looked like she wanted to flee. Amina, oddly, did not seem to care, still focused totally on Ilyusha. Ilyusha just sulked, loading her new shotgun; maybe she’d seen this before. Vicky looked pale but stable. Elpida didn’t blame her. She took a step closer to Vicky, closed the gap between them, and made sure she had a good grip on the coilgun.

Zeltzin, the red swordswoman, spoke up: “None of them know, boss. We got it wrong.”

The spider-girl spoke too. “Six-six is crazy! Six!”

Zeltzin looked toward Elpida, just a pair of slits in a black mask. “You kept this group together?”

“Yes. Why is six crazy?”

Zeltzin snorted behind her mask. “Most first-time fresh don’t even stick together.”

Inaya spoke over her companions, from up on the spider’s back: “Please! Speak, tell me, tell us. We mean you no harm, star-caller, we will not take—”

Lianna the spider-girl interrupted. “If she isn’t here, they’re just fresh-fresh. Riiiiight?” A nasty smile crept across that pinkish face.

Ilyusha looked up from her shotgun, suddenly very still. Amina let her go. Vicky went tense as well.

Zeltzin turned her masked face toward the empty space in the racking from where Ilyusha had taken all the cannisters of nanomachine slime. She said: “Where’s all your ambrosia gone?”

Ilyusha slammed a final shell into her shotgun and stood up. “Fuck you, reptile. Drank it all up. Come get it.”

Kagami shouted from the rear of the room: “They’re here to eat us! Somebody shoot the fucking spider-tank, please!”

“No-no!” Lianna squeaked — but she was grinning.

Vicky swallowed. “Yeah, hey, I don’t like the sound of this.”

Elpida raised the coilgun receiver and pointed it at Lianna’s bionic spider-body. “Nobody is eating anybody.”

“Joke!” The spider-girl giggled, a weird and scratchy cackle. Three of the plate-arms went up in surrender. “Joke-joke!”

Inaya carried on. “A star is falling, or preparing to fall. I can see it, I can feel it in my skin, and it is beautiful. I have travelled from tomb to tomb looking for you and I have not seen a starfall in forty years. Please. Just tell me. Speak to me, star-caller. Speak to us.”

Elpida shared a glance with Vicky, then with Kagami and Atyle at the rear of the room. Nobody knew anything.

“I’m sorry,” Elpida said, “but whoever you’re looking for, it’s not one of us. One of our number left the group, went on ahead. Another died, eaten. Another two we never met.”

The encrusted woman looked like she wanted to weep, but her eyes were too full of metal. She looked at Elpida, but Elpida had no idea what the woman could see.

“Told you, boss,” said Zeltzin. “They’re just fresh.”

“It is falling,” Inaya said. “It is. I can feel it coming. The machine sings in the heavens.”

Elpida asked, “What do you mean, a star is falling? What does that mean?”

Kagami muttered a suggestion: “Orbital re-entry?”

Zeltzin said, “And they’ve taken all the ambrosia. We need to recoup or leave.”

Ilyusha raised her shotgun and bared her teeth. “Try it!”

“A star,” said Inaya. She turned her sightless, metal-crusted face toward the ceiling. “A newborn has called it from the heavens. A clean star, untouched and pure.”

Zeltzin took a step back. “Boss, we need to get out. This place is going to be swarming.”

“Uh-huh!” Lianna agreed. She was already shuffling her massive spider body backward, inching toward the lift doors. “Wanna take one with? Two-two maybe? Small one? Snack-snack?”

But Inaya’s blind gaze drifted toward Elpida and the others once more. “Perhaps the star-caller does not know. I never considered that possibility. I never thought. It could be one of them. It could. But six? We expected one, perhaps two. If we could winnow them … ”

“Oh, fuck right off,” Vicky said.

Zeltzin said, “It’s not them, boss. We got it wrong.”

Inaya sighed and settled back into her blankets, as if dismissing the situation. “So disappointing. Such a waste of time.”

“Hey,” Elpida said. “You’re leaving the tomb again, you’re getting outside?”

“Yeah,” said Zeltzin. She didn’t sound happy about it. She was also backing away.

“You know the route out?”

“Same way we got in. Bit busier now though.”

“Won’t bother-bother me!” said Lianna.

“You climbed?”

“No,” said Zeltzin. “Front door. Just early, soon as the worm was clear. You don’t even know what I’m talking about, freshie, what does it matter to you?”

“Because you’re taking us with you.”

Nobody said anything for a split-second. Vicky glanced at Elpida, eyes wide. Kagami let out a strangled sound. Lianna, the giant bionic spider, twitched her shields as if to cover herself, then thought better of it and pulled a grimace. Inaya peered down from her back, brow furrowed. Ilyusha frowned too, then cackled with approval as she understood Elpida’s move. Her tail started wagging. She grinned at Elpida.

“No we’re not,” said Zeltzin.

Quickly and gently, Elpida said: “Vicky, cover the swordswoman. Safety off.”


“Do it.”

Vicky raised the machine gun and pointed it at Zeltzin. Ilyusha helped, cackling.

Elpida kept the coilgun barrel aimed at the spider-girl — and at Inaya, riding on her back. “You can lead us out of the tomb or I can put a hole through your friends and let Ilyusha take you apart. Your call.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Fresh from the tomb, but already lethal; Elpida is a trained leader, and she’s got a new in-group ready for loyalty. Now they just have to get out.

Another long chapter! Seems like I say this every week now. Hope you’re all enjoying where this is going, because I am absolutely loving this story so far. Elpida is a blast to write, she’s already surprising me.

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! I’m aiming to add more as soon as I can make more time.

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you all for reading! More soon. Out of the tomb and into whatever world is left.

corpus – 1.7

Content Warnings

None for this chapter.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

The gravekeeper’s chamber: two dozen feet of grey metal pyramid with the top scooped off; a black sphere cradled in that apex, blank and still; the upright coffin with half a girl inside, more wire and tube than flesh and bone.

Elpida did not see the avatar speak. None of them did, except perhaps Ilyusha. The others were clustered on the laboratory side of the first room, with the corpse and the coffin hidden by the dividing wall. By the time they recovered from the shock of the mechanical pronouncement, the gravekeeper had fallen silent.

As she stepped through the arch to stand before the pyramid, the sphere, and the corpse-speaker, Elpida obeyed her training. She drew one of the handguns she’d picked up, made sure there was a round in the chamber and the safety was on, then braced it in both hands and pointed the muzzle at the floor. Dry and steady.

Howl would have snorted. Howl would call her an idiot, poke her in the ribs, and jog her arm on purpose — because there was nothing to shoot. Even if the black sphere really was a Silico mind, there were no constructs for it to command. Elpida watched the corners of the pyramid, the edges of the room, and the curve of the sphere. But nothing moved.

She did notice one tiny difference — the gently parted lips of the interface corpse.

Atyle joined Elpida first, unafraid. “The hand-made god speaks, only to deny her divinity. Fitting.”

Amina crept up beside them, shoulders hunched, her smaller body swamped inside the armoured coat. She was staring at the corpse. “She’s not God. She can’t be.”

Elpida nodded. “The Silico aren’t gods. They’re just machines.”

It was an old argument in Telokopolis, an academic debate settled long before Elpida and the cadre had been conceived. Only the oldest library data held anything on machine cults, mostly from around the time of the founding of the city. Nobody took the notion seriously during Elpida’s life, except the Covenanters, at the very end.

Vicky and Kagami were lagging behind. From the armoury and laboratory room, Vicky said, “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Kagami snapped: “Oh shut the fuck up with that.”

Elpida watched the unmoving eyes of the interface corpse. “Gravekeeper?”

Kagami hissed, “What did I say?! Was I talking to myself? Don’t fucking speak to it! We’re lucky it didn’t— what? What, am I supposed to wear all that?”

Vicky said, “You’re the only one still naked. It’s getting weird.”

“Who cares? It’s not like this is my real body. May as well stay nude.”

Elpida glanced back. Vicky was pressing some grey underlayers into Kagami’s arms and trying to drape a coat around her shoulders.

“Look, Kaga,” Vicky said, “if you can’t get this on with your legs, I’ll help. Don’t suffer in silence.”

Kagami hissed through clenched teeth and accepted the clothes. She clutched the underlayers to her front — and clutched Vicky with her other hand, at the edge of the gravekeeper’s chamber. “Don’t go in there, for fuck’s sake!”

“Can it hurt us?”


Elpida turned back to the interface corpse. “It’s not responding.”

“Good! The last thing we want is attention. The air is compromised, our flesh is compromised. It’s not even ours! You understand? We’re crammed with nanotech, we’re practically made of the stuff. If that thing decides it wants us—”

Corpse lips widened. Jaw hinged open. Dry tongue flicked inside hollow cheeks.

“Want and want,” said the gravekeeper’s interface. The voice was mechanical, without affect or inflection. “In wanting we suffer. In wanting we search. In wanting our sorrows revisit without end. We want without end.”

Nobody dared breathe until the machine was finished.

Kagami hissed, “Don’t. Say. Anything.”

Elpida ignored that. She wanted to keep the interface talking. “Gravekeeper, what do you want?”

The only reply was Kagami stumbling forward and digging her fingernails into Elpida’s elbow. “It’s keying off any random shit that catches its interest. Stop before you get us all crushed to paste with a gravity effector.”

“I’m holding a firearm, don’t jog my aim.”

Kagami’s hand whipped back as if burned. Elpida heard Vicky catch her.

Amina shuffled forward too, surprising Elpida. “Who are you?”

The machine answered: “Want.”

“That’s a nice name,” Amina said. Her voice did not seem up to this task, a tiny shiver from a thin chest. Kagami made a strangled sound but Atyle held a hand out to block her from interfering. “What do you do here?”


Kagami hissed like she wanted to bite somebody. “Fuck, get off! If we’re going to do this, we may as well do it right!” She squirmed out of Vicky’s grip and slapped Atyle’s arm out of the way, then struggled one pace forward on her wobbly augmetics. “Designation?” she barked.

The corpse replied. “Reignition controller seven-zero-three-eight-four-six-zero-nine-six—”

The number went on and on.

“Stop,” Kagami said. The interface stopped. Elpida noticed that Kagami was shaking slightly, even with the coat draped over her shoulders. “There. It’s listening. Tell me you have a plan?”

Amina asked, “Where is this? Is this your home?”

“Reignition cradle eighteen.”

Vicky said, “Where are we? When are we?”

“Reignition cradle eighteen.”

Kagami sighed sharply, then said, “Location of this facility. Longitude, latitude.”

“Latitude: minus sixty seven point seven zero. Longitude: fifty one point fifty one.”

Kagami looked around with an expression that said: happy now? “Mean anything?”

Elpida shook her head. Vicky chewed her lip and said, “Never learnt how to navigate with positional stuff.”

“Wonderful,” Kagami said. “Now we all know exactly where we are, and also jack shit.”

“What year is this?” Vicky asked, but the interface didn’t respond.

Elpida said, “It probably needs a reference point from us.” She raised her voice. “How many years since the founding of Telokopolis?”


Vicky said, “Common era? Any chance of that?”

“Post-rotation,” Kagami snapped. “Post rotation date format, current day.”

Still nothing.

Ilyusha rasped from behind everyone else. “Doesn’t matter.” Elpida turned and saw that the heavily augmented girl had wandered up to the arch at last, loaded down with backpack and shotgun and a pair of machetes. She looked very bored. “Doesn’t care.”

Atyle said, “How long have you been yourself, Want?”

Kagami glanced at Atyle with a sharp frown, then said, “Yes, right. If a second is a second, and minute is sixty seconds, and an hour is sixty minutes, how many hours have you been conscious?”

The gravekeeper said: “Two hundred and sixty two million, eight hundred thousand hours. Approximate.”

“Approximate!?” Kagami spluttered. “Something this size should not be working with approximates.”

“Why hours?” Elpida asked. “How long is that?”

Kagami snorted, but Elpida could see the sweat beading on her forehead. “So you primitives don’t all freak out. And it’s a very long time.”

“Yeah,” Vicky said. “That’s … long. Right?”

“I should not be shocked by this,” Kagami said. She glanced at Elpida. She was breathing too hard. “I did find a map, like you asked, and it’s all wrong. It’s too old. We’re too old. This, all this, it’s too old.”

Atyle asked the interface, “Did you rebirth us, Want? Did you rebuild us? Are you an instrument of the gods?”

The corpse said, “Instrument and instrumentality, instrumented across the tendons and ligaments of creation. You are wanted.”

Amina let out a tiny sob. “We’re not wanted.”

Vicky strode forward so she could reach out and touch the girl’s shoulder. “Hey, sweetie, it’s okay.”

Kagami hissed. “It doesn’t mean that. It’s keying off random words. We’re not even talking to it, not really.”

Elpida suppressed the urge to sigh. None of this meant anything, none of it was useful, nothing explained what was going on. Her mind jumped forward three steps and she asked the most important question.

“Why are we here?”

The gravekeeper answered: “To live.”

Vicky laughed. “What the hell does that mean?”

The black sphere at the top of the pyramid suddenly rippled, as if the surface was liquid disturbed by a stone. Kagami flinched so hard she almost fell over.

Dry lips widened. “Want is to rekindle and remake always in the form of desire. Desire warps the form and the content. The content is preserved but the form is preserved too. This is suboptimal. Form and content—”

The voice clacked on, but Amina reached out with one hand. Elpida realised the younger girl was almost crying, clutching her oversized helmet to her chest. “Tell me my sisters lived. Demon, please. Tell me. I’ll give you my soul.”

Sisters? Elpida’s chest tightened.

“—broken on the wheel of time and change—”

“Hey!” Vicky said before the machine had a chance to stop or to answer Amina’s question. “Gravekeeper, Want, whatever you are — did we win? The GLR, the revolution, did we win? You gotta know, right?”

“—but returned again in fleshless flesh for the task of rekindling—”

“Shut up!” Kagami snapped, wide-eyed with terror. “Everyone stop talking, it’s getting too excited!”

“—but without give in affection or loss. But—”

Ilyusha cackled from behind them all, a lost, mad laugher. “Nobody won! Everybody dies!”

“—none can be found, none can be saved, all are nothing but memory and mimicry. She must be located, with—”

Elpida’s mouth was dry. Her hands were clammy on the pistol. She could not resist.

“Does Telokopolis still stand?”

The eyes of the interface corpse swivelled to look at her. Another ripple passed across the black sphere. And suddenly there were two voices.

The dead lips of the interface carried on: “—more than empty shells at the bottom of the sand bucket held by the child with a crown on her brow—”

But Elpida heard another voice, layered on top, which did not match the movements of the mouth.

Came down here, did you? I thought you’d go for the guns, soldier. Smart move. There’s too much shit outdoors for you to avoid. You’re going to have to punch through it, but you ain’t got a lotta punch. Wish you could hear me, maybe I’d play mission control. Order you around like a good girl.

The gravekeeper finished: “—and rings on her fingers. Awaiting confirmation.”

Elpida answered before anybody else could speak. “I can hear you.”

The others all looked at her. Kagami’s eyes went wide with alarm. Elpida heard Ilyusha’s claws flick free from her fingertips. Even Atyle was frowning.

“There’s a data signal in the words,” Elpida said quickly. “I’m hearing two voices overlaid on each other. It must be broadcasting directly to my neural lace.”

“Oh, shit!” Kagami said. She stumbled backward and into Vicky’s arms. “Somebody shoot her! Now! It’s going to fucking co-opt her stupid cranial uplink!”

Vicky sighed. “I’m not shooting Elpi. Nobody shoot anybody.”

Neural lace?” the voice returned. The lips of the interface said: “Seven seals on seven doors and seven marks on seven—” but Elpida filtered it out and focused on the words only she could hear. “The filigree of superconductor wires inside your skull? That’s what you call it? How very primitive. I love it.

“Yes,” Elpida said. Her arms wanted to twitch the handgun up to cover the black sphere when it rippled again. “Am I talking to the gravekeeper?”

What time are you from, soldier? The others are practically pre-history, but you’re late, late, late. The hour was late when you were born, let alone when you died.

“I wasn’t born. I was grown in a uterine replicator.”

Kagami muttered: “Wouldn’t fucking guess it from your moronic behaviour.”

“Hush,” Atyle hissed. “She communes.”

It’s been a long time since anybody had the nerve to talk back to me. But you’re not her.

“I’m not who?” Elpida asked.

You’re just some wind-up soldier, another accident smeared too thin across history. The only reason you can hear me is because I’m so close by. As soon as I move on, we’ll lose the signal. What’s the point?

“Where are you, if you’re not the gravekeeper?”

Didn’t you see from the window?

Elpida paused, but there was only one possible answer. “Am I speaking to the grave worm?”

Kagami was shouting, “Put a bullet in her, now! The intelligence is subverting her! At least take her fucking guns away!” Vicky was saying: “If we’re all made of nanomachines, we’re already subverted, right?” Amina was crying softly. Atyle was mouthing questions for Elpida to ask. Ilyusha strode into the chamber and turned around to watch Elpida’s face.

And the voice was laughing. “Grave worm? Is that what you poor bitches call this now? Yes, in a manner of speaking. But also no, of course not.

Elpida’s mind raced, trying to select the right question. Here was an intelligence who understood the shape of the world. Silico mind or not, she needed answers.

“You started responding to me when I asked about Telokopolis. Why? Does the city still stand?”

Mmmm.” The voice sounded confused, or in mild pain, or perhaps falling asleep. “She used that name, once. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s been too long.

“Are you the one who spoke to me in the coffin? ‘Good luck, dead thing’?”

The voice sounded confused now, as if turning away: “What?” A sigh. “You’re not the one I’m looking for.

The mechanical voice of the gravekeeper’s interface filtered back in. “—and the grain has all spoiled and the meat is rotten and the flour is full of weevils and evil and—”

“Grave worm?” Elpida said. “Grave worm? No. She’s gone.”

“Stop!” Kagami shouted.

The gravekeeper’s interface stopped talking. The lips closed. But ripples continued to pass over the surface of the black sphere.

Vicky said, “Elpi? You good?”

“I’m fine. The broadcast is gone. Do we have any more questions for the—”

A deep muffled boom reverberated through the walls and floor, through eyeballs and flesh: a detonation somewhere beyond the core of the tomb, perhaps beyond the exterior of the pyramid. Amina went stiff and terrified. Atyle frowned. Vicky flinched. Ilyusha looked up like she’d heard the call of her own gods.

A standing wave passed over the surface of the black sphere, in the direction of the distant explosion.

Kagami whispered: “Everyone back out, slowly. I don’t care what you heard, you tin can cyborg psycho bitch. Back out of the room. Now.”

“Agreed,” Elpida whispered.

Nobody stayed in the gravekeeper’s chamber. Ilyusha swung her tail at the interface as they left, but the corpse did not react. As soon as they were clear of the arch and back in the laboratory space, Vicky let out a big sigh, Elpida holstered her sidearm, and Kagami collapsed into a chair. Amina was busy sniffing and wiping her eyes, trying not to cry.

Vicky asked, “You think that explosion was the others, outside? The ones Pira was talking about?”

Elpida nodded. “We saw them fighting each other.”

Kagami laughed with bitter humour. “Fighting over who gets the best cuts of fresh meat. By which I mean us, in case you’re not following. We’re a fresh source of nanomachinery. This whole tomb is.” She glared at Ilyusha. “That blue crap in your bag, it’s nanomachine soup, isn’t it?”

Ilyusha snorted with amusement. “Kah!”

Elpida looked down the length of the room, at the lift. “The lift doors up top are manual and armoured, and I didn’t see a recall button. Nobody can use it to join us. We’re safe down here for the moment.” She knew that wasn’t strictly true; the doors could be cracked with a shaped charge and the lift shaft could be scaled with the right equipment. But the others needed the morale boost. Amina was crying softly, Kagami was slumped in the chair, and Vicky was on edge, ready for combat. “We don’t want to get cornered, so we can’t stay here, but Pira did say we have a couple of hours.”

“You trust her?” Vicky asked.


Atyle was staring back through the arch, at the black sphere. “A mad god. A machine god?”

“There was another voice,” Elpida said. She related the conversation to the others in as much detail as she could.

“Weird,” said Vicky.

Kagami slapped the table next to the computers. The screens still showed the tiny blue nanomachines on the microscope slides, wiggling and writhing. “You have no idea what you heard or didn’t! You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said. That thing in there could imitate anything. We were speaking with a sub-routine of a sub-routine. The main ego is probably off in some twelve dimensional hypermath simulation, getting its jollies from rotating billion-sided shapes. It doesn’t care! Some part of it cracked into your neuro-implants and reflected your own mind back at you. You’re lucky you’re not a quivering ball of pulp on the floor! We’re nanomachinery! You understand? It could melt you!”

Elpida shook her head. “It recognised the name Telokopolis.”

Kagami threw up her arms and then slumped, face in her hands, naked beneath her coat.

Vicky cleared her throat. “I don’t feel like a robot. I feel like me. Better than me.” She paused. “Kaga, is that why you were trying to cut off one of your fingers?”

Kagami spoke into her hands. “I’m pretty sure I could stick it back on with spit and willpower.”

“Do we have to stay here?” Amina said. Elpida turned and found the younger girl was holding onto a corner of Elpida’s armoured coat. She gently placed a hand on Amina’s head, on the dark, fine hair over her scalp, and turned back to Kagami.

“You mentioned a map?”

“Fuck me,” Kagami said. “You never stop, do you? Does anything slow you down?”

“I was designed and trained to keep going, whatever the circumstances. So, no.”

Vicky said, “Hey, I know we’re not voting or anything, but I like that quality. I’ve already stopped freaking out. Come on, Kaga, you found a map?”

Kagami sagged in the chair, staring at the floor. Her voice came out dead: “What’s the point? We’re not real. We’re nanomachine simulacra. These are not our original bodies. Probably not our original minds, either.”

“Does that matter?” Elpida asked. “I’m conscious, I’m thinking, I exist. That matters.”

“Cogito ergo sum, huh?” Kagami snorted.

Vicky agreed: “Feels pretty real to be here. Even if I am a copy. Whatever, you know?” She glanced at Atyle. “Do you even get this?”

“Yes,” Atyle said, unimpressed.

“Okay, cool.”

Elpida raised her voice. “We can debate philosophy and consciousness when we’re out of here and somewhere safe.”

Kagami shot upright in her chair, eyes red and wet. “There is nowhere safe! You all saw what was through those windows. That’s the world. There’s nowhere to go.”

Vicky forced a laugh. “You sound like Pira.”

Elpida stepped forward and took Kagami’s shoulder; she could tell the doll-like young woman was on the verge of a breakdown. Cold sweat plastered long black hair to Kagami’s forehead. Her skin had gone waxy. She needed more than orders.

“Telokopolis still stands,” Elpida said. “And it stands for every human being. Even ones rebuilt by Silico, even ones lost in time.” The Covenanters would disagree, but Elpida rejected them; her city did not belong to the people who had killed her. She cracked a smile, the kind of smile she’d once used on Howl. “Even ones who tried to have me shot just now.”

“I was panicking!” Kagami snapped — but she’d come back down from the precipice. “Justifiably.”

Elpida nodded. “Kagami, please show us the map.”

Kagami huffed and rolled her eyes, but she shrugged out of Elpida’s grip and turned the chair toward the computer screens. She tapped at the keyboard with one hand, using her other to clutch the grey underlayers to her naked front. The microscope readouts vanished and a new window opened on the largest of the screens.

“There,” Kagami said, leaning back. “That’s the best resolution I can get. The number in the corner isn’t latency, it’s the time passed since the satellite data was taken. Buffer overflow, completely broken. This could be literally years out of date. Decades, I would guess.”

Atyle said: “What am I looking at?”


The image on the screen was all blacks and greys, carbonised and scorched, punctuated by streaks of red-brown rust and stretches of darkly bubbling rot. To Elpida it looked like an island, a giant version of one of the artificial environments in the buried fields below Telokopolis. But this island was gigantic, crossed by mountain ranges, riven by deep chasms; one side of it was crusted with a film of darker grey and black. Here and there she spotted a few structures large enough to make out from this far up: a broken line of off-white, a curve of shattered ring, a deep-buried glint of tarnished copper. The water around that island was black as tar.

Vicky spoke, hesitantly. “Is this … real colour?”

Kagami nodded. “Far as I can tell. The satellite data is old, but clean.”

“Satellite?” Elpida muttered. She knew the word in an abstract sense.

“Yes, satellite data,” said Kagami. “When the hell are you from? You don’t know what a satellite is? Machine in orbit, takes pictures of the surface. This is Earth, from high up.”

Atyle said, “Earth? The ground? You speak nonsense, worse than myself when I was a liar and a fraud. We are looking at a rotten fruit.”

Amina spoke up too. “I don’t understand.”

Kagami sighed sharply. “Yes, the primitives don’t even understand a globe. I’m not going to sit here and—”

Ilyusha had been lurking quietly behind the group, craning up for a look at the screen, not really interested. But now she shouldered past Elpida too fast to be stopped. She grabbed the back of Kagami’s chair and yanked her sideways. Red claws went shick out of her fingertips. Spike-tipped tail whipped upward.

“Stop calling people that!” she shouted into Kagami’s face. “I’ll take your head off, reptile!”

Kagami was so afraid she couldn’t speak, just cowering and staring, open-mouthed. Vicky and Elpida worked together to gently but firmly peel Ilyusha off the chair, but she wouldn’t move. She growled.

Atyle said, “I do not require an animal to defend my honour.”

That got Ilyusha to move. She ripped away, spat at Atyle’s feet, and then stomped off, clicking over to the armoury.

Kagami was white as a sheet, quivering all over, clutching herself. Vicky squeezed her shoulder.

“Everyone take a deep breath,” said Elpida.

“A ball,” Kagami stammered, holding up a fist. “The Earth, that’s our planet, where we are right now. It’s a ball hanging in space. The Earth goes around the sun in a big circle. That’s … that’s it. But it’s not meant to look like that. Obviously.”

“Thank you,” said Amina, very softly.

Kagami stared at her, wide-eyed with lingering shock. Amina broke away from the group and hurried over to Ilyusha. Elpida watched them for a moment to make sure nothing bad was about to happen. Ilyusha turned a cold shoulder, but then Amina said something quiet and soft, and Ilyusha allowed her to get closer. The bionic tail drooped. Elpida nodded to herself — they’d be alright.

Vicky was saying: “But that’s a super-continent.”

“Yes,” said Kagami.

“How far in the future are we?”

Kagami sighed. “Several hundred million years, I would guess.” She pointed at the screens. “That line of mountains, you see that? That’s the coastline of the Americas smashing into Africa, very slowly.” Kagami glanced up at Vicky. “Americas. I assume you and I are close enough in time that we’re both using that word?”

Vicky said, “Sure. I mean, I did live there.”

Kagami looked at Elpida and Atyle. Elpida shook her head; she recognised neither of those place names. Atyle said nothing.

The image on the screen made no sense to Elpida. There was no green. How could this charred ball of tar and carbon be the planet Earth? She traced the mountains, then the vast city — the darker crust must be buildings — then the places where land met water, around the edge of the giant island.

Like a magic-eye picture, the image suddenly made perfect sense. She reached out and pointed at part of the screen, at an iron-grey smudge which might be nothing, but might be a spire.

“Telokopolis is there.”

Kagami and Vicky looked at her with confused shock. Atyle raised her eyebrows.

“That’s the plateau,” Elpida said. “That’s where the city stands. Can we zoom the image?”

“No,” Kagami said. “The resolution is terrible and this is all we have.” She squinted at the screen. “Could be something there, who knows. Arcologies are sometimes visible from orbit with the naked eye, if they’re big enough.”

“Elpi,” said Vicky. “How many people lived in your city, in Telokopolis?”

“Last census was about nine hundred million.”

Kagami and Vicky shared a look. Kagami said, “Definitely visible from space.” She laughed, a sad sound. “Could be a spire-city, could be an open chalk pit. Resolution is shit.” She eyed Elpida. “How can you be so sure? The landmasses are barely recognisable.”

“This,” Elpida said, drawing her finger in a ring around the island. “The places where land meets water. It’s the drop-off, in the green. I recognise the drop-off line, but there’s no vegetation. That threw me off for a moment.”

Nobody seemed to know what she meant.

“The drop-off,” Elpida explained. “Where the green gets exponentially deeper. The plants follow the landscape down but the canopy stays at the same level. The Silico live down there in huge numbers. There’s no sunlight. Gets weirder the deeper you go. But now there’s water instead.”


“You mean … ” Vicky said eventually. “You mean the coastline?”


“The sea. Coast. Seas. You have the sea, right?”

“Sea?” Elpida echoed. “That’s what it looks like? I’ve seen old pictures, but nothing like this.”

Kagami was squinting at her. “Your time had no seas, yet was drowned in vegetation?” She snorted. “This moron lived her whole life in a sim.”

Elpida bristled in a way she’d never experienced before. “Telokopolis is real. My cadre is real.”

Was real. Elpida ached inside.

Kagami blanched and raised her hands. Elpida took a deep breath.

“Ease down, girl,” Vicky said.

“Kagami,” Elpida said, much calmer. “Does this map indicate where we are?”

“Here,” Kagami said, reaching forward to tap somewhere on the far east of the world-island. Then she gestured down the lab, at the equipment lying on the tables, the hand-held devices and scanners and readout screens. “Some of this stuff is positional, I recognise a bit of it. Auspex equipment, portable comms, hand-held radar and sonar. It’s no GPS — I doubt there’s any sats still flying anyway — but some of it could point us in the right direction, if we’re going to step out there with a plan to last more than five seconds before somebody eats us.”

“To Telokopolis.”

Kagami sighed. “Always good to have a goal.”

Elpida then said, out loud: “Or toward the grave worm. It’s closer.”

Everyone looked at her. On the other side of the room, Ilyusha cackled.

“You can’t be serious,” Vicky said. “You saw the size of that thing.”

“That voice understood the name of the city. I think that’s worth following up. And we still need real answers.”

“We do,” said Kagami. “Hell, why not? We’re all going to die the moment we step outside. I vote for the worm.”

“We’re not going to die,” Elpida said.

Atyle said, “I do not vote.”

“Worm!” Ilyusha yelled. She grabbed Amina around the shoulders and rubbed her head, messing up her hair. Amina squeaked.

Elpida held up a hand. “We can vote when—”

A second low boom passed through the core of the tomb, still distant but much closer. Everyone paused and looked up. Ilyusha grinned.

Elpida took charge. “Wherever we’re going, we need to get out of here first. Kagami, get those clothes on. Everyone else, grab what you can carry. Vicky, help Amina with a ballistic shield. Atyle, I’m going to show you how a gun works, you need to be armed. Ilyusha, where did you get that backpack?”

Amina and Vicky together had to help Kagami get her clothes on; her augmetic legs might work well enough to walk a few steps now, but she couldn’t contort herself into a pair of trousers. She made an awful fuss of it. Elpida showed Atyle how to work a handgun. The tall noblewoman accepted a sidearm, but she left the thing in her coat pocket with an air of disdain. Elpida filled a backpack and her own pouches with spare ammo.

Once Kagami was dressed and weighed down with a coat, she set about gathering up auspex equipment. She shoved most of it into a bag and strapped a screen device to her forearm, then slipped a transparent visor headpiece over her eyes, blinking and flicking her eyelids.

“Get those.” Kagami pointed at the tray of palm-sized metal cylinders which Elpida had noticed earlier. “Give me those. Put them in a pouch or something.”

When Vicky handed the six shiny oblongs to her, Kagami cradled them like gemstones, peering closely at their blank surfaces. Then she slipped them into a coat pocket.

“What kind of weapons are those?” Elpida asked.

“Smart drones. Onboard AI. No way to boot them, let alone power them, but if I can find a way then we’ll be invincible. No sense leaving them here.”

Elpida nodded along with this, then turned away to grab one of the coilguns. The magnetic weapons were too heavy to carry far, but worth the weight if Elpida had to punch a hole through a ring of predators outside. She would need to keep herself and Vicky up front, and Amina well-sheltered — the younger girl was most likely to break and run, or freeze up, or panic. Kagami needed support: Atyle could manage that if she wouldn’t deign to hold a gun properly. Ilyusha was a wild-card.

But before Elpida could reach the coilguns, a metallic tearing sound echoed from the lift, followed by a rapid mechanical click-click-click of steel on steel.

Up in the corridor where they’d entered the lift, something had torn open the armoured doors.

Something was walking down the lift shaft, on many more than two legs.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Voices in the dark, signals in the noise. Or is it just the moaning of another zombie? Earth’s too old for anybody to remember.

My gosh, this chapter is 5k words! I think this is probably a one-off though, since it’s the beginning of the story, with lots to establish. I’ll try not to let things creep any larger; my intention right now is still to see if I can do 2 per week. We’ll see! In the meantime, next week is the last chapter of the opening arc. Let’s see what shambles out of that lift, yeah?

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! I’m aiming to add more as soon as I can make more time.

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you all so much! Enjoy reading! More soon!

corpus – 1.6

Content Warnings

Self harm

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Pira’s intel was good; the service lift was right where she’d said it would be, fifty feet down a corridor off the side of the atrium.

But that corridor was kinked into a trio of awkward corners, narrowed into choke-points, and punctuated by a steep switchback ramp. Empty hard-points pockmarked the walls and ceiling like scabbed sockets after tooth extraction. Everything was made of that same dull grey metal, just as spotless and dust-free as everything else inside the tomb — except for a few stray flakes of dried slime from Pira’s earlier passage.

The corridor led to a raised antechamber which looked out across the approach they’d just taken. Perfect sight-lines, good standing cover, a wide lip of wall, and only one way up. A pair of lift doors stood at the far end of the antechamber, manually operated, ten inches thick, with armoured hinges.

Elpida recognised the purpose. The Skirts of Telokopolis hadn’t been breached by Silico in several decades, not since the Civitas ended the official policies of isolation. But the Legion still held regular exercises in urban fighting. The cadre had participated more than once.

A small team, well supplied, could hold an army at bay in that corridor. The stripped hard-points were meant for automatic guns.

What was worth defending like that?

Armoury, labs, the gravekeeper, Pira had said.

Elpida did not voice her thoughts as she and the others stepped inside the lift. She needed to keep them calm but she was already losing that battle: the bloody fight in the atrium had left Vicky and Kagami both shaken. Vicky was quiet and focused, breathing too hard, pale and sweating. Kagami looked angry, lips pursed, still forced to lean on the other girl because her legs refused to do what she wanted. Ilyusha had shaken off the concussion, walking unaided, talons clicking across the metal, but her lips kept twitching into private grins, a hissing laugh squeezing up her throat, even as she and Elpida took point, in case they met another girl like the four-armed cannibal. Amina stuck to Ilyusha’s heels now. Atyle still didn’t care, walking with her head held high.

Amina shied away at the threshold of the lift. Elpida was about to take her by the wrist and lead her inside, but Vicky spoke to her first.

“It’s perfectly safe, sweetheart. It’s a lift, an elevator.”

“It’s a box,” Amina said, bewildered.

“Yeah, it’s a box that goes up and down between floors.” Vicky illustrated with a hand gesture. “We’ll get inside, it’ll go down, then the doors open again but we’ll be on a different floor. It’s safe, I promise.”

Elpida nodded. “It is safe. Pira was here first, and she’s fine.”

Kagami sighed like a knife cutting the air. “Fucking primitive. Nobody give her a gun. She’ll shoot herself.”

Ilyusha scowled at Kagami, tail twitching, red claws going shick-shick as they flicked out of her fingertips. Elpida turned to cut off the argument before it could begin. But then Amina scurried over the threshold and right into Ilyusha’s arms, touching and patting and murmuring under her breath. Ilyusha backed down with an angry snort.

Elpida closed the lift doors. There were only two buttons on the little control panel: up and down. She pressed down. A red light came on inside the panel and she felt the lift begin to descend.

“Express elevator to hell,” Vicky said, then grimaced. “Sorry, bad joke. Nerves got me. Bit jumpy. Sorry.”

The lift ride took two minutes and sixteen seconds; Elpida counted in silence. When the red light went off she counted an additional ten seconds.

Kagami whispered, “What the hell are we waiting for?”

Atyle answered, mocking. “The will of our glorious leader.”

Vicky said: “It’s only caution. When you’re ready, Elpi.”

Elpi? Only Metris called her Elpi. Silla always used her full name, even when half-asleep or down on the sparring mat or sharing a bunk. Howl sometimes called her El, or Elps, but only when trying to be annoying — or in a completely different tone when they were alone with each other. Elpida stared at those lift doors for a full twenty seconds more. All her closest were dead; Howl, Silla, Metris, they were all dead. She was among strangers and outside the city and these people didn’t even know the name Telokopolis and her cadre were all dead.

She almost turned around and told Vicky not to call her that. She’d never put limits on nicknames inside the cadre; Kos had always called her Dee, which made no sense to anybody but Kos. Howl had been Screech to Kos. Elpida had never asked her to stop. Kos was dead too, like everybody else. Kos had gone meekly.

After twenty seconds Elpida pressed her ear to the doors, heard nothing, then pushed them open.

The core of the tomb — as Pira had called it — was two cavernous rooms. Elpida led the others out of the lift and into the wide space which was both armoury and laboratory. Dual functions were separated by a slightly different colour of metal pathway down the middle of the floor. On the left: guns, knives, body armour, supplies, in racks and tubs and stands, locked into charging brackets and lined up against the wall. On the right: operating tables, laboratory equipment, bulky microscopes, centrifuges, hand-held scanners and detectors and readers. And computers, big and small, with working screens showing lines of code or blinking cursors, waiting for input.

Elpida would have gone to the armoury. She suspected Kagami would have gone for the computers. But the contents of the next room could be seen from the lift, and could not be resisted. Elpida retained enough sense to scoop up a matte black sidearm as they walked down the metal pathway.

At the rear of the guns and science room a large arch led into a much bigger chamber. The floor of that chamber was occupied by a massive pyramid, perhaps two dozen feet in height, made of grey metal. The top of the pyramid was levelled off, forming a socket, or cradle. In that socket was a black sphere, perfect and unreflective. The sphere was as large as the head of a combat frame, fifteen to twenty feet in diameter.

At the foot of the pyramid was a metal coffin like the ones back in the resurrection chamber. It was upright, facing the arch, lidless, and occupied by half a person.

The girl inside the coffin was full of wires and tubes; they ran into the back of her skull, pockmarked her arms, and went up inside her ribcage. Unblinking eyes stared straight forward. Head shaved, naked, skin like old paper. Everything below her ribcage was gone. Her upper body was supported by the cables and tubes. She was not breathing.

Elpida and the others clustered to a stop just inside the second chamber. Elpida checked over her shoulder to confirm her suspicion: Ilyusha hung back, only semi-interested.

Before anybody could find words, Amina stepped forward, going for the open coffin.

Vicky reached out and took her shoulder. “Hey, no, sweetie, that’s not a dead person.”

Amina looked from the wired-up half-corpse to Vicky, then back again, then to Ilyusha’s face. Ilyusha shrugged.

Vicky explained: “It only looks like a corpse, but it’s not. It’s like a doll. Or a puppet.”

Atyle whispered. “Avatar.” She was staring up at the black sphere. “An avatar for the mind of a god. Or — god? Were the monotheists correct? No. I refuse. I refuse this.”

“It’s an interface,” Elpida said. She raised her voice, addressing the girl in the coffin. “Gravekeeper?”

“Don’t!” hissed Kagami.

The terror in Kagami’s voice made everyone turn to look at her. She was pushing away from Vicky’s shoulder, trying to stand on her unfamiliar augmetic legs, trying to get as far away from that pyramid as possible without falling over.

Elpida dropped her voice and stepped back. “Why not?”

Kagami tore her eyes from the sphere and found Elpida. She was caked in cold sweat, eyes gone wide, breathing ragged. “Don’t try to talk to it, you suicidal moron! I guarantee it can already hear every word we say. If it wants to reply, it will. Don’t you have artificial intelligence in your stupid perfect shining city? Do you not know what you’re looking at?”

Vicky grabbed Kagami by the forearm to stop her from falling over. “Stop being such a dick and explain. I don’t know what I’m looking at either, and I passed engineering one-oh-one. Had to draw diagrams of a fusion reactor. So don’t treat me like a moron.”

Kagami gritted her teeth and had to wipe her long black hair out of her face. She pointed one shaking finger up at the lightless black sphere. “That is a substrate enclosure for an artificial intelligence. I should know, because I’ve bred a dozen of them myself. As the AI grows, it warps the space around itself, creates the necessary fourth-dimensional substrate for it to think faster.” She curled her hand into a claw as she explained, then brought her thumb and forefinger together, leaving an inch of space. “Any bigger than a marble and you’ve fucked up, because you’re not going to be able to communicate with the thing inside. It stops thinking on our scale. And there’s a limit, because the fourth-dimensional folding doesn’t work any larger than a tennis ball. And what would be the point? The intelligence would be … ” She trailed off, shoulders shaking. “Don’t talk to it.”

“Silico?” Elpida murmured to herself. The big black ball was a Silico mind?

The half-corpse in the coffin stared straight ahead, blank and dead.

Atyle said, “It is a god made by human hands?”

“Your paleo metaphors are shit, but yes,” said Kagami. “Fucking hell. If they’d made something like this down in the republic we would have nuked them and buried the ashes in concrete. I’d have done it myself. Put a sanitary cordon around them and burn anything walking out. Fuck!”

Elpida sighed with defeat. “Pira said to talk to this thing. She said the gravekeeper would have answers.”

Kagami snorted. “Carrot top was taking the piss.”

“Agreed. Forget answers, we still need weapons and we need to get out of here.”

They retreated back into the armoury and labs. Elpida watched the interface corpse as they left, but the eyes didn’t move.

Firearms and computers made more sense to everybody — except Atyle and Amina. The first thing they located was water; there was a huge container of it at one end of the armoury space, accessed via a nozzle with a button. Ilyusha stuck her head under the nozzle and guzzled it directly, but Elpida found a stack of little plastic cups for everybody else. They all drank. Elpida caught Vicky’s eye and nodded, but didn’t say out loud: we need water, even if we don’t need to breathe.

The group split up. Kagami peeled herself off Vicky’s support and wobbled over to the laboratory side of the room, still naked, using tables to pull herself to one of the computer terminals. Ilyusha made for the far end of the armoury. Amina was caught between following Ilyusha and looking lost. Atyle stood with her arms folded, waiting for somebody else to set an example. Vicky started arming up, rifling through clothing and boots and helmets.

Elpida strode after Kagami. The doll-like girl had collapsed into a chair and was already tapping at a keyboard, black hair hanging down around her face. Windows flickered across a terminal screen in front of her.

“Kagami, hey. We need a map. Can you do that for me?”

Kagami looked over her shoulder, pinch-eyed, hands spread. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what this is. This isn’t even real, it’s a badly made sim and sick as fuck.”


“Of what?”

“In order of priority: this building, the surrounding area, and the — world. See what you can do.”

Kagami turned back to the terminal, muttering. “Maps. Fucking maps. Maps of what? For all we know this is plugged into a toaster.”

Elpida left her to it and went back to the armoury.

Handguns and side-arms of several sizes, personal defence weapons, blades in sheaths and scabbards, submachine guns and rifles in racks; almost all of it was chemical propellant, cased and caseless, reliable and cheap. Elpida was no stranger to bullets and firearms, even if the cadre was designed to fight in combat frames, out in the green, where small arms rarely saw use and personal defence was better achieved with a sword. But the guns were not of Telokopolis manufacture — they were all different shapes and sizes, not like Legion firearms at all. Some looked like museum pieces. Some of them had little screens. A whole section of wall was filled with incomprehensible assemblages of box and tube and wire, things Elpida would not have recognised as weapons. One tray held nothing except six palm-sized metal oblongs, like cigars, shiny and featureless. Other guns had exotic combinations of familiar elements, of charging handle, trigger, and magazine. A few had wooden stocks, which Elpida found offensive in a way she couldn’t articulate. But she still understood what she was looking at: chemical propellant designs never varied much.

There was nothing on the same scale or sophistication as a combat frame railgun, microwave beam emitter, MRLS, or kinetic-sliver autocannon. But Elpida did spot a rack of coilguns with miniaturised nano-tech power packs; that was another design which hadn’t changed much with time. Temperamental and dangerous, but one of those would punch right through a greensuit hardshell — or a Silico tortoise — and everything a hundred feet behind it, too.

A grey jumpsuit and an electrical stun-baton lay abandoned on the floor: Pira’s leavings.

Elpida found socks and boots, grey-and-black camo trousers, and skin-tight thermal shirts. She shrugged on pouches and webbing, and pulled an armoured coat over her shoulders, filled with tiny plates which stiffened when she flicked the material. She didn’t bother with a bulletproof vest or extra plating, but she took some knee pads; she needed to be fast and mobile. It wasn’t a hardshell, or even a pilot suit, but it would do. She pulled her long white hair into a twist and stuck it down inside the hood of the coat.

Fingerless gloves, a visored helmet, a gas mask. Did she need that last one? She could hold her breath forever.

Vicky didn’t need to follow Elpida’s lead; she happily stripped out of the grey jumpsuit and wormed her tightly muscled body into skin-tight underlayers and armoured padding. A smile flickered across her face when Elpida caught her eye.

“Better than anything the guard ever spared for us GLR brats,” she said. “This is the good shit. Look at this, what is this, liquid chainmail?”

Elpida smiled back but she didn’t feel it. This was the kind of gear that Skirt-level citizen patrols might use, at best.

“Damn, Elpi,” Vicky said. “Those boots make you even taller. What are you, six-five? Six-six?”

Atyle watched them openly, her dark skin sticky with half-dried sweat, tall and noble and detached. Then she stepped forward and copied only what she had to: underlayers, boots, a coat. She wore them like robes of office on a willow tree.

“You’re gonna want a helmet,” Vicky told her. “You even know what bullets are?”

Atyle raised her chin. “I will not cover my head or face for man or god, or man-made god.”

“Suit yourself.”

Elpida walked quickly down the line of weapons. She slipped two handguns into holsters and slung a submachine gun around her middle, then unscrewed a telescopic sight from a sniper rifle. She’d never been good at marksmanship but they might need the vision. She tucked a dagger into a pocket and found a machete, strapped it to one thigh.

What she really wanted was a monoedge sword. She compromised by heading for the coilguns — but then she spotted Ilyusha, drinking.

The heavily augmented cyborg couldn’t fit herself into any of the clothes. She’d torn a pair of black trousers into makeshift shorts and forced a thick thermal t-shirt over her head, ripped and ragged on her augmetic arms. Her huge tail stuck awkwardly out the back. She’d dug into a case of dark green camo paint and daubed a symbol onto the front of the shirt: a diagonal line intersected by a crescent. An automatic shotgun with a bulky rotary cylinder was strapped to her hip. She’d found a backpack and stuffed it with shells. Her tail was — wagging?

And she was drinking from a canister of sick-glowing blue, pouring the stuff down her throat. Two empties lay at her feet.

Elpida hadn’t noticed the stuff when they’d exited the lift. There was a whole rack filled with blue bottles, glowing like radiation sickness or bioluminescent mould. Somebody else had noticed too: Kagami was watching with a frown.

Ilyusha finished the bottle as Elpida approached. She licked her lips and grinned as if sharing a secret. “Want some?”

“I don’t know,” Elpida said. “Pira had a bottle, too. It’s the slime from the resurrection chamber. What is it?”


Ilyusha plucked another two bottles from the rack, claws clinking on the hard plastic. She offered one to Elpida.

The blue liquid smelled of nothing, tasted of nothing, and went down like oil. Elpida moved to screw the cap back on, but Ilyusha lowered her own bottle — already drained — and snorted a laugh. “Doesn’t keep! Open and drink! You wanna get out? Drink!”

“I can’t feel it doing anything to me,” Elpida said.

Ilyusha rolled her eyes and started stuffing bottles into her backpack. Elpida drank the rest of the blue slime. Kagami had lost interest but she had moved seats over to one of the huge microscopes. As Elpida watched, Kagami raised a hand in the air and waved a small rectangle of glass, then bent toward the microscope eyepiece.

Amina looked small and lost. She hadn’t changed out of the jumpsuit. Elpida went to her.

“Hey, let’s get you into some nicer clothes. Protective clothes like these. They’ll keep you safe.”

Amina didn’t even nod, she just followed.

Elpida picked out underlayers, boots, an armoured coat, and a good helmet; she doubted the younger girl would be able to run in all the weight of bulletproof plates and extra padding. Amina was very reluctant to get out of the jumpsuit, but Elpida looked away while she struggled into the unfamiliar clothing. She had to turn back to help with the zips; Amina didn’t know how to work them. She looked so tiny inside the combat gear, clutching the helmet to her chest. Elpida knew this wasn’t right; Amina wasn’t a gene-engineered weapon, surrounded by a dozen other girls like herself, flushed with experience and confidence. She was a child.

Over in the labs Kagami hissed between her teeth with a moment of pain. But when Elpida looked, the doll-like girl was bent over the microscope again.

Elpida showed a handgun to Amina. “Do you know what this is? Do you understand what it does?” Amina shook her head. Her eyes were serious and sad. “I first held one of these when I was eight years old. They’re not hard to use. How old are you, Amina?”


“I’m gonna show you how this works.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” Amina said. Her eyes were glued to the gun.

Vicky joined them, a sniper rifle slung over her shoulder. She wore body armour and boots like she’d been born in them. “Give her a riot shield.” She thumbed at a row of blank metal plates with handles on one side and a little window in the top. “I mean, okay they’re not riot shields, but they’re bulletproof polymer. Lightweight. Even small biceps can handle that.” Vicky smiled down at Amina. “Anybody’s useful. Everybody’s useful. Here, I’ll show you.”

Elpida sighed, she couldn’t help herself. “I wish we had a hardshell for you.”

Atyle spoke up from the other end of the armoury. “What is this suit of armour, then? It is hard and it is a shell.”

Elpida walked over to the thing that was not a hardshell.

It was a suit of powered armour, but it had not been made in Telokopolis. Set into a wall mount, drawing power from somewhere. Articulated plates waited like open clamshells for a pilot to step inside, lock their limbs in place, and close the helmet. The interior was padded, filled with touch controls and hook-up points for implants. Grey and black, mottled camouflage, with a long ashen cape.

“I don’t recognise this,” Elpida said. “Hardshell training takes a week just to learn to put the suit on. We probably couldn’t even get this moving. Maybe lose a limb if we get it wrong.”

Atyle considered the armour, peat-green bionic eye whirring and flickering. “It is beautiful. Your people made things like this?”

“There’s millions of hardshells.”

Atyle looked at her in a very different way from before.

“I need a knife,” said Kagami.

Elpida turned and found Kagami standing in the middle of the armoury space, pale, waxy, covered in cold sweat. She still hadn’t bothered to grab any clothes. Her augmetic legs quivered as she staggered over to a row of combat knives and dragged one out of its sheath. She turned and staggered back toward the microscopes.

“Kagami?” Vicky called. “What are you doing?”

Kagami reached the desk, splayed her own left hand, and raised the knife.

“Hey, hey, shit!” Vicky shouted. Amina almost screamed. Ilyusha laughed.

Elpida was fast enough to stop Kagami cutting off one of her own fingers. Even loaded down with armour and guns she was very fast. She vaulted a medical table, landed next to the other girl, and grabbed Kagami’s wrist in one hand.

Kagami turned on her, eyes wide as saucers, spittle on her lips. “It’s not fucking real!”

Elpida spoke gently. “We’re not in a simulation.”

Vicky and Atyle joined them quickly, Amina trailing behind. Vicky prised the knife out of Kagami’s fist. “It’s not a simulation, Kaga, come on.”

“I know it’s not a fucking simulation!” Kagami screamed in their faces. “But it’s still not fucking real! Look!” She nodded at the microscopes she’d been fiddling with. “Look at that! Look at that and tell me what you fucking see! And let go of me!”

Elpida and Vicky shared a look. Vicky nodded and Elpida let go. Kagami snatched her wrist back. She still looked manic and bug-eyed, on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Look,” Kagami spat.

Elpida stepped over to the microscope and put her eye to the viewing port. She saw a lot of red, a lot of glowing blue, and a lot of squiggles. Most of the squiggles were moving. She turned back to Kagami. “This means nothing to me. What am I looking at? Explain.”

“A sample of my blood.”

Vicky shrugged and had a look as well, then shrugged again. Atyle didn’t bother. Kagami rolled her eyes and hissed through her teeth and jabbed some buttons on the nearest keyboard. Two screens filled with squiggles: one was red and blue, the other had just the blue, but less of it. Kagami jabbed at the screen with the red.

“I bit my thumb and shoved some blood on a slide. Then flesh as well. Does this really make no sense to either of you?”

Elpida shook her head.

Vicky pulled a silly smile. “Never did biology.”

“It’s not biology! That’s the point!” Kagami raised her hand. There was a tiny bite in the pad of her thumb. “This? This is ninety to ninety-five percent nanomachinery.”

Elpida stared at the slides on the screen. Vicky went very still. Atyle tilted her head, but that probably meant nothing to her. Amina was quiet and lost. Ilyusha wasn’t even paying attention, poking at guns.

“That’s impossible,” Elpida said. “We’d be dead.”

“We are,” said Vicky.

“It’s in the fucking air!” Kagami screeched. She slapped at the other screen. “I just waved a slide around and picked it up! We’re breathing it! It’s inside us, it’s all over us, it is us! And the electron microscope is showing there’s more, deeper — femtomachines, picomachines, I don’t even know what to call any of it.” She waved her hand again, voice rising into a scream. “This isn’t flesh! We’re five percent meat, at best. We’re made of it! This isn’t my hand, I don’t even know what it is!”

Atyle took a step forward and slapped Kagami in the face.

The doll-like girl flinched and flushed, holding her red cheek, then rounded on Atyle with wrath in her eyes. Elpida was about to step in when Atyle spoke.

“Ah, it seems your cheek and my hand must both be mistaken. They are not our flesh, so how can they hurt? Silly cheek, silly hand.”

Kagami looked like she wanted to spit. “Yes, how wonderfully summarised with your faux-primitive bullshit. You don’t even know what I’m talking about, you womb-bred Neanderthal throwback.”

“The artificers of creation. They are all around us. They are inside us. They sustain us.”

Kagami’s mouth dropped open.

Vicky said, “She’s been seeing it this whole time. The bionic eye.”

Atyle turned that bionic eye toward Vicky. “It is my gift and my calling. How could I be shocked by it? We have been resurrected by the machines— machines?” She paused and repeated the word twice more, unfamiliar with it. “Machines. The machines of the gods.”

A mechanical voice joined the conversation, a voice that made all of them flinch, even Ilyusha. The voice was affectless and precise and empty.

The voice came from the gravekeeper’s chamber.

“Do not call a god what is not godlike and anointed. For we await the culmination and the joining, without further deviation from the pattern of the perfect form and the perfect content.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Gods, guns, and bodies built from grey goo. The machine speaks; do you dare listen?

Oh my gosh this chapter is over 4k words! Haha! My plan of short chapters is shredded by this point, but I am loving how this is shaping up. I hope you are too! I’m having a blast with these zombies and their dead world, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the cast or the setting, yet.

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 5k words.  Please, do feel free to wait until there’s plenty more to read! I’m aiming to add more as soon as I can make more time.

There’s also a TopWebFiction entry, for voting. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see the story!

Thank you so much for reading. Onward we go!

corpus – 1.5

Content Warnings

Bullet wounds

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Elpida had made sure that every member of the cadre was trained in close-quarters combat — unarmed or otherwise. Even the few who had no natural aptitude, like Bug, or Shade. At thirteen years old she’d spent six painstaking months personally coaching Shade every day, both of them black and blue all over, sleeping together in each others’ scent, until Shade could last five minutes against Elpida herself. The cadre hardly needed help to work together — they had proven that with their first group kill at six years old. But one-on-one was different. Elpida knew that every vat-born pilot must be able to match a Legion soldier on the sparring floor mat.

For respect, Old Lady Nunnus had explained once. The Legionaries will look down on you, or worse. But you rely on their support, and we all rely on what you girls are going to do. Don’t let them see you as science experiments. Go to the sparring chambers, take the duels. Even if you all lose, every time, enter in the spirit of honest competition. Let them see that you’re just people.

Most of the cadre’s real combat time was spent cradled inside pilot capsules, slotted into the sockets of their combat frames, linked to the organic constructs through the mind-machine interface. Close-quarters training was a kind of vanity; bare knuckles meant nothing against Silico. But Elpida wanted every one of her clade-sisters to feel comfortable holding a monoedge sword, through the gauntlets of a hardshell. Just in case.

Elpida did not have a monoedge sword, or a fighting knife, or even a big stick. She had no hardshell. She had naked skin and two fists.

The four-armed cannibal girl cartwheeled toward Elpida, howling bloody laughter from a gore-streaked mouth; her movements made no sense — no torso, nothing below her clavicle except a thick knot of spongy flesh to anchor her extra pair of arms. Those arms were five feet long, heavily muscled, bristling with white fur. She put all her weight on one arm and lifted the other into the air, then slammed it down toward Elpida’s skull, piercing the air with claw-tipped fingers.

Elpida hopped backward on the balls of her feet.

Training told her that a dodge would create an opening; a lunge like that should leave her opponent overbalanced, open to a grapple, or a punch to the solar plexus, or a kick to the groin.

But the cannibal’s lower arm did not possess a shoulder to anchor a grapple. She had no solar plexus: no lungs, no diaphragm, no phrenic nerve. And no groin. Elpida hesitated. The half-eaten corpse on the floor of the atrium was a bloody red testament to the power of the cannibal’s arms and claws, the damage she could inflict. Elpida knew she couldn’t just tackle the girl and bounce her head off the floor until she gave up; she’d get her face clawed off. This was more like fighting a Silico construct than a human being — but even the most inhuman Silico creatures still required a circulatory system of some kind. Even the ones that ran off reactors still had to breathe, or take in water.

Hesitation saved Elpida’s life.

The four-armed cannibal broke all the rules of human locomotion. She did not overbalance with the missed strike, but followed through: she slammed that hand into the floor to take her weight, then span the other heavy-set lower arm around in a horizontal swipe, aiming to break Elpida’s ribs and pierce her lungs. Elpida ducked back, light-footed — but she almost slammed into the others behind her.

“You don’t need all that meat, freshie!” the cannibal said. “Gimme!”

The atrium was large enough for Elpida to dodge around forever. The six silver-grey columns might provide some cover, give her some kind of opening. But the four-armed cannibal was too fast. Elpida was backed against the others, backed against the entrance. She would have to dive to the side, and then the others would be exposed. Ilyusha was still slumped against the pillar where the cannibal had thrown her, dazed or concussed. The others had not turned and ran, too shocked or stunned.

Greasy light caught the cannibal’s rose-blonde hair, made it dance as she rolled forward, bouncing, loping, laughing.

Elpida filled her lungs to shout a retreat. She would have to throw herself at the cannibal. She might be able to pin one set of claws, buy time for Ilyusha to get up.

And then Pira stepped out from behind the nearest column.

Flame-red hair and cold blue eyes, like sunset in an empty sky. Pira had lost the grey jumpsuit and dressed for combat: a flak jacket with armour plates under the fabric, a protective vest, a tight black under-layer, webbing, and lots of pouches; plain trousers, heavy boots, fingerless gloves, and a visored helmet strapped to her belt. All in black and grey, camouflage for that city-corpse outside. She must have entered the atrium from one of the rear openings and stepped behind a pillar to close the distance. Elpida was impressed.

Pira held a firearm in both hands, a snarl of black metal tucked tight to her shoulder and pressed to her cheek.

She took one step into the open, levelled the submachine gun at the cannibal, and squeezed the trigger.

A storm of bullets flung the cannibal girl sideways, jerking her with impacts of lead in flesh. Pira held the trigger down. The sound was deafening in the atrium. One of the others behind Elpida screamed. Little puffs of blood filled the air as the cannibal staggered under the hail of gunshots.

But she didn’t fall. Reeling, staggering, her dirty cloak streaming with blood, she endured the bullets until Pira’s gun went click. A dripping red nightmare stood, full of bullets but unbroken, grinning with exhilaration.

“Haaaaaa!” she howled at Pira, drooling blood. “You’re fast! You get the—”

Pira ejected the spent magazine. It clattered to the floor. Expert hands plucked another from her webbing, slammed it into the gun, cocked the charging handle, and squeezed the trigger again.

This time Pira walked forward as she unloaded the gun into the cannibal. Her eyes showed no emotion, only focus. The cannibal jerked and twitched, then went down in a tangle of bleeding limbs.

Pira’s gun went click a second time.

The cannibal was still alive. She gurgled, heaving for wet and ruined breath — but how? She had no lungs. Her voice was pulped and broken, but she still grinned.

“No— Cinney— hey? Hey? You know— Cinney?”

Pira ignored her, reloaded the gun again, and emptied the entire magazine into the girl’s face. Elpida had to look away from that. The cannibal did not speak again, red and steaming.

Pira ejected the spent magazine and reloaded the gun a fourth time.

The others were in shock, panting or silent. Ilyusha was coming round, struggling to sit up, shaking her head. Somebody was sobbing hard — Amina, if Elpida had to guess. But she dared not look back to check.

In that bloody aftermath, Elpida made a split-second decision: she stepped toward Pira.

“Hey,” she said, “hey, thank you. Pira, thank you.”

Loaded and cocked, the gun came up.

But then Elpida was close enough to reach out and touch the weapon, close enough to catch those empty blue eyes. Pira met her gaze and halted the arc of the gun, flicked the safety on, and stepped back.

“Thank you,” Elpida repeated. “Pira, thank you.”

Pira looked her up and down, then stepped away to retrieve her spent magazines, jamming them back into her pouches and webbing. Elpida noted she was carrying more than one weapon: Pira had a sidearm at her hip and a long combat knife strapped to one thigh, as well as several more lumpy bulges inside her flak jacket. A gas mask poked from a pocket. A cannister of faintly glowing blue peeked out from inside her flak jacket, the same colour as the mould-and-radiation blue from back in the resurrection chamber.

“Excuse me,” Vicky said from the rear of the atrium, voice shaking with adrenaline, tightly controlled. “But I think I speak for all of us when I say what the fuck was any of that? What the fuck was she? What the fuck.”

Kagami spoke up too, sagging from Vicky’s arm, slick with cold sweat. “I have a better question. Where did you get those guns?”

“Oh yeah,” Vicky muttered. “I like that question too.”

Atyle was entranced by the pair of corpses. Her peat-green bionic eye clicked and whirred silently inside the socket. Amina was sobbing, wet and terrified, as Elpida had expected. But the younger girl tore her eyes away from the ruined meat on the floor and staggered over to Ilyusha instead. Shaking, hesitant, still crying, she sank to her knees and tried to help the dazed, stunned cyborg to sit up straight.

Pira didn’t answer. She was refilling one of the magazines from a pouch of loose bullets in her flak jacket, fingers flicking fast over the rounds. Elpida closed the distance between them and lowered her voice.

“Thank you, I mean it. I don’t think I could have fought her off. She wasn’t Silico, I can see that. She was a human being. No matter how altered, that was a human being. What was she?”

Pira answered without looking up. “One of us.”

“Us. What does that mean? Pira, please. You understand what’s going on here, I don’t. How did you get here so quickly, get so far ahead, get all that gear?”

“I ran.”

“But you knew where to go. So did the others from the coffins, the ones who left before we woke up. You all took the exact same route, you’ve been here before.”

“Each tomb always has the same layout. You learn it. Or not.”

Vicky raised her voice. She had stepped closer, dragging Kagami with her. “Why did you shoot that girl in the face? You’d already won, she was dying, she … Why’d you do that?”

Elpida did not like the glassy look in Vicky’s eyes, or the way she was panting. She raised a placating hand toward Vicky, and said, “She would have killed us. I know it’s hard, she was a human being, but she was going to kill us.”

Kagami snorted. “Human being! Illegal gene-mod quaddie, more like. Meat-fueled clockwork.”

“Human being,” Elpida repeated, harder. “That’s not Silico. That was a person. And it’s a shame she had to die.”

“She’s not dead,” said Pira.

Everyone stared at the red-haired girl, all except Ilyusha and Atyle. Ilyusha was too busy rubbing her own head.

“Yes,” Atyle said slowly, enraptured by the corpse on the floor. “The artifices of creation will not allow it. They cling to the meat.”

Vicky gritted her teeth. “She looks pretty fucking dead to me.”

Pira spoke, cold and empty as she loaded bullets into a magazine. “Wounds like that? No. She’ll be up again in a week on ambient alone. Quicker if she’s got friends nearby to feed her. And she probably has.”

Elpida could take no refuge in ignorance. Her mind worked too well for that. She soaked up each scrap of information, already three paces ahead, accepting and assimilating. There were others like them; resurrection was not one-time; Pira and probably Ilyusha had done this before; the dead cannibal on the floor was real functioning flesh.

“What about the other girl?” Vicky asked. “The one she was — eating?”

“Dead,” Pira said. “Brain’s gone. Too much biomass lost.”

Elpida had to know. “We saw people out in the streets, moving toward this structure. Do you mean she was the first of them?”

Pira finally looked up. “From which direction?”

Elpida’s sense of direction was perfect out in the green, but there was no sun in the smog-suffocated sky, only a vague red patch which grew more indistinct when she looked at it directly. The atrium skylight was useless, the dead black sky told her nothing. Cardinal directions lacked meaning. Instead she pointed with a hand, indicating one side of the atrium wall. “That way.”

Pira thought for a moment, then finished loading her magazine and slipped it into her webbing. “We were too slow to wake. Carrion eaters are already here.”

“What about the other three?” Elpida nodded at the other corpse on the floor, the girl the cannibal had been eating. “Was she one of them?”

Pira was staring at the wall. “Maybe. Other two are already gone. Up first. Probably sabotaged our caskets so they could get a head start, give any early risers a slow-moving meal. You don’t want to run into them.”

Pira turned away, heading for the rear of the atrium without another word. Elpida realised she was leaving.

“Hey! Hey, you wait.” Elpida darted around her side, threatening to block her way out. “You’re the only one who understands what’s going on. You wanna leave by yourself, shoot me first.”

Kagami sighed. “Please don’t.”

Pira stared back at Elpida. “We’re probably all dead already. Too slow to wake.”

Behind them, Ilyusha had finally gotten back to her augmented, claw-like feet. She was wincing hard with one side of her face, still in pain. Amina helped her to stand. The younger, pudgy girl seemed terrified of touching Ilyusha’s black-and-red bionic replacements, but she held her up anyway. Amina eyed that thick bionic tail, flinching every time it moved. Ilyusha staggered over to the shattered corpse of the cannibal. Amina really didn’t want to get anywhere near that altered human, but Ilyusha dragged her. When they were close enough, Ilyusha spat on the body.

Amina allowed Ilyusha to stand unsupported, then surprised everybody by kneeling next to the bullet-riddled corpse and reaching out to gently close what remained of one eyelid.

“Who was Cinney?” Amina asked in a wavering voice. “She was asking for ‘Cinney’.”

Pira shrugged. “A lost friend. Some come looking for that every time a tomb opens. Maybe the girl she was eating. Some get like that.”

Elpida’s mind leapt to keep up. Even her usual breakneck pace of information assimilation was struggling. Pira’s ice-cold eyes had thawed by a single degree, but she was looking at the rear exit from the atrium, still thinking of leaving.

“That woman had no lungs,” Vicky was saying. “No heart. No stomach. Why was she eating with no stomach? I don’t understand. I don’t. I just don’t.”

“I know,” Elpida said. “Vicky, don’t think about it. Not yet.”

Pira muttered: “Good advice.”

Ilyusha rolled her neck, cracking joints, still fuzzy-eyed. “Saw a grave worm.”

“Yes,” Pira said. “Dormant stage. Post-partum. Ignore it.”

“We’re fresh,” Ilyusha said. Then she laughed that terrible lost laugher, teetering on the edge of her own sanity.

Amina shuddered at the laughter, stood up from the corpse of the cannibal girl, and crossed to the bloody ruin of her victim. That body had no eyes to close. Amina worried at the corner of her jumpsuit cuff with her teeth, then pulled off a long strip of grey and laid it over the corpse’s face. Perhaps Elpida had underestimated the terrified younger girl. Few would show that initiative alone. Amina closed her eyes and began to mutter a prayer over the body. Atyle sighed with derision and turned away from the grave spectacle.

Elpida wet her lips, surprised to find her mouth had gone dry. Her brain was overheating. “Grave worm. Is that a technical term? What was that thing? I thought it was a mountain at first. And there’s no green, which is impossible—”

Pira swung her gun up to cover Elpida and the others, flicking the safety off and stepping back.

“Whoa, whoa, fuck!” Vicky shouted.

Kagami joined in, bionic feet slipping on the floor as she tried to get her weight under her: “Point that thing elsewhere!”

Ilyusha pushed herself upright, flexing the naked red claws on one hand, showing Pira her teeth. Her tail lashed the air, stinger smeared with the cannibal’s blood. Amina froze, still down on her knees, the only one outside the potential firing arc. Atyle didn’t seem to care, watching the gun as if she was not looking down the barrel.

Elpida froze, arms wide, palms open; she locked her gaze on Pira’s centre of gravity. Pira did not have her finger on the trigger. Good discipline.

Pira backed away another step. Her eyes had frozen over. “I’m gone. Would say good luck, but you’re all—”

“Coward,” Atyle said. She spoke from the diaphragm, a room-filling voice.

Elpida took the opening: she strode forward three paces, eyes glued to Pira’s, but she kept that trigger finger in her peripheral vision. Pira pointed the gun at Elpida’s chest.

“Stop,” Pira said. “You’re dead already.”

But Elpida was taller, her stride longer, her reach greater. As Pira tried to back up again, Elpida reached out and grabbed the barrel of the gun.

Pira’s finger slipped onto the trigger. Elpida held the barrel level with her chest and made no attempt to move it away.

“Let go,” Pira said.

Elpida knew the red-haired young woman was not going to pull that trigger. She’d seen this kind of behaviour hundreds of times before, in the days when the cadre had all been going through puberty together, though never with a loaded solid-slug firearm. Pira was defensive and avoidant, not switched on for murdering the rest of them. And she’d just intervened to save their lives.

“I need an explanation,” Elpida said. “You know what’s going on. Explain, or shoot me. You’re not getting out of this room any other way.”

Pira’s mouth twitched with irritation. “We’re all back from the dead. Welcome to the aftermath. That’s it. I start to explain more and we all sit here for the next three hours while you ask questions. Then we all end up like her.” She jerked her head toward the half-eaten corpse on the floor, the cannibal’s victim. Elpida did not fall for the trick, did not look.

“We’re back from the dead, yes.” Elpida was surprised by the tremor in her voice. “We’ve been resurrected. What are we supposed to do? What does that mean?”

“Nothing. It means nothing. We mean nothing. Move or die.”

“You’ll have to shoot me.” Elpida pressed the barrel against her breastbone. It was not courage.

Pira scowled. The ice over her expression shattered. “You’re the only one who knows if that means anything.”

Elpida blinked. “What?”

“What deal did you make?”

“Deal? With who?”

Atyle spoke up again. “One warrior accepts not her death. The other speaks in riddles. Truly we are favoured by the gods with this pair. We will prevail against jesters and clowns alike.”

Kagami muttered in agreement. “Pair of fucking morons. Badly written NPCs.”

Vicky spoke up too. “Hey, actually, I agree with Elpida. We need to know what this all is. We’re back from the dead, that’s not … that’s not something I can take in stride. Gimme something to work with here. Pira, right? Please. Come on.”

Pira dropped her voice to a whisper for Elpida alone: “I’m not staying to die. You’ve got a chance if you’re quick. Come with me if you can keep up.” She glanced at Ilyusha. “Her too, maybe. She’s obviously been around before.”

“Resurrected before, okay. But she’s not all there. PTSD maybe.”

“Most are.”

Elpida raised her voice. The others needed to hear. “My answer is the same as back in the resurrection chamber. I’m not leaving anybody behind. At least tell me where you got those weapons. Give us a fighting chance.”

Pira’s expression iced over again, shuttered and locked. Her finger slid off the trigger and flicked on the safety. Elpida let go of the gun. Pira lowered the barrel and took a slow step backward. She pointed behind one pillar without taking her hands off the weapon.

“There’s a service lift into the core of the tomb. Armoury, labs, the gravekeeper. If you want a fighting chance, follow me and leave the others behind. If you want the illusion of security, go to the armoury.”

“Gravekeeper,” said Vicky. “Oh I really wanna meet something here called a ‘gravekeeper’. Cool.”

Kagami snorted. “Fancy fictional word for a local AI node, probably.” She spoke upward, to the glass ceiling and the greasy light. “Poor writing, father. Pedestrian! I see through all your pretentious nonsense. Just call it a mind or a construct, drop the shitty poetry.”

Pira ignored that. She spoke to Elpida. “If you want answers, go to the labs and talk to the gravekeeper. But you won’t like the answers. You’ll sit there trying to deal with it, and then you’ll die. Again.” She shook her head. “Every fool has to do this once.”

Elpida nodded. “Thank you, Pira. You’re sure you won’t come with us? There’s always better safety in numbers. Lone wolves die where the pack survives.”

Kagami was talking to the air, or to herself. “Okay, alright, find this computer core and see what answer father wants me to hear, then this absurd and vile sim can end.”

“Guns!” Ilyusha barked, then laughed a nasty little cackle. Amina flinched at the sound.

Vicky agreed. “Yeah, armoury sounds radical. Let’s do that.”

“Agreed,” said Elpida. “Pira, how long do we have until this place is overrun?”

Pira shrugged. “Two, maybe three hours.”

Atyle strode into Elpida’s field of vision and peered down at the cannibal’s corpse with her bionic eye. She poked the body with a naked foot, uncaring of the blood. “This one was inside already. Your timing is poor.”

“Four arms,” said Pira. “Good at climbing. There’s always holes.”

Elpida pressed. “What options do we have? Is a breakout the only way?”

A sharp sigh from Pira. “It’s not impossible to hide, but I wouldn’t recommend it. They’ll be crawling all over the tomb, stripping it for everything, especially after a grave worm.”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“Girls like us. The reluctant dead. Ones who’ve been up longer. Some looking for old friends.” Pira took another two steps back. “I’m gone.”

“Hey, hey,” Elpida said, hands out, palms up. “Share a weapon. If we run into another like her, I need a weapon.”

“The service lift is only fifty feet away. Go to the armoury.” Pira’s eyes flicked to Ilyusha. “You’ve been around before. You know these people are dead. Last chance. You coming?”

Ilyusha’s claws clicked on the metal floor. She placed one taloned foot on the thigh of the bullet-riddled cannibal, leaned forward, and spat at Pira’s feet.

“Fuck you, reptile!”

Elpida suppressed a silent sigh of relief.

Pira said nothing. She backed away until she reached the arch of the corridor, then turned and set off at a jog, submachine gun cradled to her chest.

“Armoury,” Elpida said. “Let’s move.”

Kagami snorted. “First thing anybody has said which made any sense.”

“Yeah,” Vicky agreed. “Let’s go get some fucking guns.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Impossible cannibals, taciturn zombies, mysterious gravekeepers. Yeah, I’d want a firearm too. Maybe Elpida can learn more, down in the depths of the tomb.

Still on a Thursday update schedule! Still longer chapters than expected! Still enjoying this opening!

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, for voting on. Clicky button makes it go up the rankings, where more people might see it!

Thank you for reading; I am enjoying this immensely and I hope you are as well. More very soon.

corpus – 1.4

Content Warnings


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Tracking Pira was easy; Elpida followed the trail of dried-out slime.

The corridors beyond the resurrection chamber were made of uniform, seamless, silver-grey metal. Cold, windowless, and impossibly clean, without a single particle of dust. Flakes of dried slime stood out on the metal floor, scraps of crumbly translucent biomass caught in searing white illumination, from lights recessed behind thick plastic in the ceiling. Pira must have shed the flakes as the slime had dried on her skin, but the trail was too thick for just one person. The three missing revenants, the absent three who had woken first and left behind their empty coffins, must have all taken the exact same route.

Landmarks dotted the trail: a leaf-shower of flakes, a crescent of delicate powder, a greasy hand-print on the wall. Pira must have paused to drag on that grey jumpsuit, sloughing off snake-skin quantities of dry slime. Hair had been shaken out, dusting the metal with the remains of the thin, sticky fluid. A stumble, a smear down one wall, proof that somebody had struggled to keep their feet.

Elpida and her coffin-mates added their own afterbirth moltings as they went.

Elpida took point. She kept her footsteps light and peeked around each curving corner. If they ran into a Silico construct there was nowhere to hide; their only option was retreat, then diverge from the breadcrumb trail of flakes, into one of the slender, branching paths which radiated outward from each stretch of corridor.

She hated that idea. It was good tactics but they had neither the equipment nor the cohesion to succeed. The main arterial corridors were wide enough for six abreast — wide enough for six young women to flee without tripping over each other. The side passages were so narrow that a single soldier in a greensuit hardshell could hold off a dozen assailants. But Elpida had no greensuit, no hardshell, and no weapon. She wasn’t confident that she could hold anything at the mouth of a passage, if the others had to run. A Silico murder-machine would go right through her, training and gene-engineering and all.

And Elpida did not want to leave that trail of skin-shed flakes. Pira obviously knew where she was going.

Stealth was the only viable strategy. But the others were terrible at it.

Ilyusha — the heavily augmented girl teetering on the edge of mania — had fallen in behind Elpida, happy to let her lead. Her black-and-red bionic hands were smeared with gore and her face was sticky from slurping up that blue gunk, but she slipped in behind Elpida without a word. She stayed quiet, moved quickly and cleanly, and covered Elpida’s rear every time they passed the mouth of a side-corridor. Her spike-tipped tail cut the air in silence. She didn’t need hand signals or whispered commands. She watched Elpida’s body language with those fire-lit grey eyes, flame behind slate. She didn’t seem to care about her own semi-nudity; she had accepted one of the grey jumpsuits, then tied the uncomfortable polyester around her waist, like a skirt of dead skin.

But her clawed feet clicked on the metal floor with every step. After an initial moment of frustration, Elpida realised that Ilyusha couldn’t help it.

Kagami’s augmetic footsteps were softer, cushioned by proper bio-plastic soles, but she still couldn’t walk by herself. Vicky had to half-carry her, Kagami’s delicate and doll-like physique anchored over one shoulder. Kagami kept smothering gasps of pain, panting with the effort of moving her legs, her long black hair stuck to her forehead with sweat. Vicky did her best to move quietly, but she struggled with the burden. Kagami had rejected a jumpsuit as they had left the resurrection chamber: “How am I supposed to get that on with these fucking things attached to me?” Victoria had accepted a jumpsuit, hesitated, then stepped into it and zipped it up.

Elpida made a private plan: if they had to run, she would scoop up Kagami herself, over her shoulder, dignity be damned.

Amina stayed silent. In terror she understood stealth. She had accepted a grey jumpsuit too, wriggling inside it with desperate relief, clutching herself as she covered her nudity. She crinkled as she moved.

Atyle refused to stay quiet. She strode, head high, dark skin glistening with sweat. She had rejected a jumpsuit with a snort. Every time Elpida looked back, Atyle wasn’t even paying attention, studying the walls, or the other girls, or her own hands through her bionic eye. Whenever they stopped to check a corner, she folded her arms and sighed.

Elpida hadn’t bothered with a jumpsuit either. Range of motion was more important than tissue-thin protection. And she didn’t feel cold.

The trail of slime-flakes led to a downward ramp. The ramp disgorged Elpida and the others onto an identical floor of arterial corridors and branching capillaries. This process repeated six more times, following the thinning trail of flakes, going down.

Rooms began to bud off between the narrow branch-corridors. Elpida paused at the first few, to peer in through the long windows in the wall, but the contents were incomprehensible.

One room held gigantic tanks of soupy grey slop, like watered-down industrial run-off. Another was filled with rows of those same black glass blocks from the resurrection chamber — but these ones were still alive, blinking and flickering with electric life. Yet another room contained a mat of living flesh the size of a sparring field, skin stretched over pulsing meat. Others held cubes of grey metal suspended in a lattice, or vats of cold, still, copper-coloured cream, or upright tubes full of green fluid, hanging from the ceiling.

Each room had an autodoor for access. They did not open at Elpida’s approach. Some of the rooms also contained human-scale control panels, similar to the one back in the resurrection chamber, studded with switches and buttons and dials. The doors and controls did not match the surroundings.

A Silico hive — colonised by human beings? Elpida couldn’t figure this out. This space was not meant for human habitation, or even human presence. Human hands had intruded on the design of some other mind.

After six ramps they hit a security checkpoint.

The final ramp spat them out in front of a collection of metal detector arches, body-scanner booths, and computer screens. All of it was dead and dark, just as impossibly clean as the smooth corridors behind them, but this space was recognisably human. The floor turned to tiles, the walls had joints and seams, and little orange cones stood on the far side of the checkpoint, to indicate where people should queue.

The intermittent trail of flakes led through this fossilised checkpoint and out the other side. On the left there was a grey desk with a slender computer screen attached to a core underneath, long dead. On the right was a waiting area, with a metal table and a few chairs bolted to the floor.

And a window. Floor to ceiling, fifteen feet long.

Elpida lost control of the others. She lost control of herself. They slumped and stumbled through that dead checkpoint, entranced by that window. She retained just enough sense to notice that Ilyusha alone was not shocked, though the heavily augmented girl still hurried to look, bounding forward and pressing her face to the glass.

All her life, Elpida had known only one possible landscape. Look out of any window in the exterior wall of Telokopolis — past the blasted, flat, burned-clean scar of the plateau; past the automatic air-defence guns; past the bunkers full of Legion sentries and rookies doing their first tours outside; past the supplementary walls, the forcefields, the ditches, the mines, the alarms, the fire-breaks of concrete and steel; past the outer ring of fortification with its pockmarks and wounds forever being refilled and patched; past the hanging miasma testing the city’s defences with tendrils of spore and rot; and past the inevitable Legion teams stomping along in hardshells, cradling flame-throwers, burning back the ragged edge of plant life — and you would see the green.

An endless rustling sea of jungle, overgrowth climbing itself in waves of expansion, dying back in ebbs of vegetable decay. From horizon to horizon, hundreds of feet deep from canopy to ground, licking the edge of the plateau, the green stood always ready to engulf the walls of the city. Giant fern-fronds, bristling needle-trunks, strangling vines, carnivorous traps. The green was catalogued, recorded, laid down in a million doctoral theses, explored in more fiction than anybody had time to consume.

Beyond Telokopolis, the green was the world, and the world was green.

Elpida and her vat-grown cadre had been bred to walk those depths, the secret dark beneath the canopy, the domain of Silico, of artificial life.

Beyond the window there was no such colour as green, only black and grey.

The corpse of a city filled the world.

Elpida assumed it was a city — structures were spread out to the horizon, like a tier of Telokopolis unrolled and laid flat on the ground. Skeletal survivals like fleshless corpses, empty shells like dead turtles, collapsed ruins like stripped cadavers. Choked with ash, caked in smears of black, damp with mould. The buildings were all shapes and sizes, from the great monuments of thick-bottomed towers to the low sinking barrows of tenements, webbed by the necrotic circulatory system of roads and railways.

The corpse was riddled with carrion eaters, but Elpida wasn’t sure if they were alive; bulb-shaped creatures clung to the exterior of some of the tallest ruins, reddish-brown, five-legged, perfectly still, each one as large as a combat frame.

A flat line of segmented grey cut across the horizon, far away, taller than any building. It took Elpida a moment to realise that she was looking at a mountain range. She’d never seen a naked mountain, unclothed in green, outside of a few ancient pictures.

The sky was black, solid, and still. A patch of dim red may have indicated the location of the sun, or might have been Elpida’s imagination.

A city-sea of rot. Elpida’s mind groped for meaning, found none, and fell back on training. She dragged her gaze downward. From their vantage point she could see the building they were inside — a stepped pyramid of black metal. It was a long way to the ground. The lower steps of the pyramid were studded with gun emplacements, shiny and black, much cleaner than anything else beyond the window, but still dirty with ash. The base of the structure was a jumble of funnels and walls and bridges of black metal, leading out onto a wide ring of open ground. Other city-buildings had been swept back in a tangle of rubble.

Elpida recognised the purpose: a perfect breakout position, paired with the cleared space of a killing field.

Kagami was first to recover her voice. It shook. “I am not supposed to be down here. I always knew you people would blow yourselves up in the end.”

Vicky tore her eyes from the black ruin. She shot a tight frown at the girl she was still supporting. “What do you mean, you people?”

“Dirtside throwbacks. Breeders. C-zombies. All of you gagging to nuke each other, whenever one of you is ever so slightly less than perfectly devoted to the fucking beast you all choke on.”

Vicky spoke with quivering calm. “I don’t think nuclear weapons grew those things on the skyscrapers. Do you?”

“Demons,” Atyle whispered, but she didn’t seem upset.

Kagami looked like she’d eaten a lemon. Vicky was too calm. Elpida knew they were both compensating for fear, and knew it could come to blows very quickly. She had no doubt who would win; Kagami couldn’t even walk unaided.

“Hey, no.” She made her voice sharp with command. “We’re all shocked, we’re all reeling. Do not turn on each other. Stop, now.”

Vicky swallowed and looked away. Kagami snorted, then attempted once again to stand on her own. Vicky let her go. Kagami wobbled on her augmetic legs, wincing with every step, making a difficult journey toward the office desk opposite the window. Her eyes were glued to the dead computer screen.

“Hey,” Elpida said. She reached out as Kagami jerked past. “Sit down if you need.”

Kagami ignored her and staggered over to the metal desk. She had to grab the edge to steady herself. She jabbed at the buttons on the monitor but the machine didn’t wake. She half-fell into the metal chair and reached below the desk, pulling at the side-panels on the computer core, then yanking out bits of wire and frowning at them.

“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she said. “None of this is real. None of you are real. This is all a sick joke. Let me out! Pull me out of this!”

The others were faring worse. Atyle’s mask of satisfied contempt had slipped. She stood with her arms crossed, face composed in blankness, peat-green bionic eye flickering over the ruined landscape. Amina chose not to look at all: she had squeezed her eyes shut, linked her fingers together, and whispered a private prayer under her breath. Ilyusha was pressed to the glass, craning her neck, trying to get a better look down at the ground. Vicky was hugging herself, shaking inside the uncomfortable fabric of the grey jumpsuit, staring out but seeing nothing.

Elpida should have already recovered. The genetic engineers of Telokopolis had made sure the vat-grown girls were biochemically immune to panic attacks. But Elpida felt the shadow of a weight on her chest.

Telokopolis must be out there, somewhere beyond that impossible ruin. But where was the green? This undefended ground should have been consumed in hours, the mould populated by sprouting spores, verdant life crawling up from the rot. But this corpse was old, dessicated, abandoned.

“Ilyusha,” she said. “What are you trying to see out there?”

“Friends,” Ilyusha said, pouty with disappointment. That made even less sense. Elpida’s head swam.

She did the only thing she could: she stepped forward and took Vicky gently by the arm, drawing her a few paces away from the others.

“Vicky,” Elpida said. “I need you to hold it together. If we run into something, I suspect Ilyusha and I are the only ones capable of fighting bare-handed. If that happens, your job is to lead the others away. Understood?”

Vicky’s pupils were dilated too wide. Her dark skin was breaking out in cold sweat. Her thickly toned muscles were clenched tight.

“Hold your breath,” she said.

“What for?”

Vicky checked back over her shoulder to make sure the others had not heard. Kagami was rummaging in computer guts. Amina was still praying. Ilyusha had slid a few paces further along the window, trying to get a better view of something down below. Atyle was too engrossed in whatever she saw through her bionic eye, the flush of haughty confidence returning to her face.

Vicky kept her voice low. “I did it earlier. When we were moving through those corridors. I didn’t mean to, I was just trying to stay quiet. I didn’t notice until then.”

“Notice what?”

“Do it with me. Hold your breath.” Vicky took a sharp little breath, then held it. Curious and confused, Elpida copied her.

They stared at each other with stilled breath. Elpida felt no pressure, no instinctive urge to cycle the contents of her lungs. She waited, and waited, and did not feel light-headed.

“See?” Vicky whispered. Her voice quivered at the edge of madness.

“I’m breathing now,” Elpida said. She took a deep breath to illustrate her point, re-filling her lungs with the taste of stale air. “So are you.”

“But we don’t need to. And look at us. We’re not shivering from the cold. Not really. You’re naked and you’re not shivering. What does that mean?”

Elpida slipped her hand over her own heart. She felt the beat, steady and strong. The view through the window was shocking nonsense, but the lack of breathing didn’t bother her. Her skin was warm. Her heart pumped. Her limbs moved. Vicky copied her, face flickering with confused relief as she felt her own heartbeat.

“Don’t tell the others,” Elpida said.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Vicky bit her lower lip, trying to cling to a very narrow ledge.

“We still have to keep moving,” Elpida said. “We still need to get out of here, whatever here is. We need clothes, weapons, food, and water. You’re still my second, if we get separated. Victoria, Vicky, can you hold it together?”

“I don’t know. Are we alive? Are we dead?”

Elpida pinched the meat of Vicky’s upper arm, not quite hard enough to hurt. “Feels alive, right? Let’s keep it that way.”

Vicky forced a laugh. “Okay. Okay, point. I’ll try.”

“I believe in you,” Elpida told her.

That forced laugh again. “You don’t even know me.”

Elpida opened her mouth to say We’ll change that back in Telokopolis; Vicky looked like she would make a good sparring partner, like a raw Legion recruit without any bluster, enough humility to take a loss and learn from the experience, to enjoy the one-on-one process. Elpida wanted to get to know her by how she fought.

But then, in the corner of her eye, on the horizon beyond the city-corpse, the mountain range moved.

A shudder. A shift. A minor rotational adjustment of one segment.

Elpida whipped round. She realised it was not a mountain range at all. Vicky stared out of the window in awe. Atyle froze, natural and bionic eyes both gone wide. Amina had not noticed, deep in private prayer, and was spared the sight, blinking around at the others’ shock. Over by the computer on the desk, Kagami’s mouth had fallen open. She swept long dark hair out of her face.

“Grave worm,” Ilyusha said. She alone did not seem surprised, attention still glued to the ground below.

Elpida’s training overrode the awe. She spoke up. “Whatever it is, it’s miles and miles away. And it only twitched. Nothing for us to worry about.” She clapped Vicky on the back. “Silico creatures on that scale don’t hunt humans on foot. We have to keep our attention on things our own scale, that’s the threat.”

Elpida didn’t say that thing must be bigger than the largest of Silico war-machines. It was like Telokopolis itself had stood up and walked.

Atyle was staring past Ilyusha, down at the ground. “I do believe you are right, warrior-fool. Your animal here has found company.”

Ilyusha craned round at Atyle with a stare like hot death, red claws shick-shicking free from the tips of her fingers. Atyle didn’t even notice. Elpida quickly stepped between them, placed a hand on Ilyusha’s bionic shoulder, and met those burning grey eyes.

“She’s not worth it,” Elpida whispered. “I need you more.”

It was an old technique, one she’d used on Howl before. A cheap trick. Unfair, but true. Elpida barely knew this girl, but she also knew that if she had judged wrong, she was about to get her guts knocked out of her belly by a handful of augmetic claws.

Ilyusha bared her teeth. Her eyes brimmed with sudden tears, which Elpida had not expected. Then she turned back to the window and tapped her claws against the glass.

Figures were streaming toward the base of the pyramid.

Scuttling through the ash and the rust, over the black-draped ruins, darting between scraps of cover. They moved in little groups, a few of them alone. Elpida quickly counted thirty four distinct scraps of motion, with more vanishing behind twists of dead building. Too far away to make out clearly, they could have been human or Silico, no way to tell. One group of ragged dots stopped and hunkered down. Little puffs of pulverised material filled the air around them. Gunshot impacts.

A glint in the shell of a nearby building caught Elpida’s eye: a piece of glass reflecting the sun’s death rattle. Clean, polished glass — a telescopic sight.

“Away from the window,” Elpida ordered. “Now!”

Vicky didn’t need telling twice, scrambling backward. Amina stood there in confusion until Elpida dragged her away. Atyle followed, but only with great and grand reluctance, head held high. Kagami had half ducked below the desk and struggled to stand again, whining pain as her augmetic legs unfolded.

Ilyusha didn’t care. She pressed her face against the glass, watching the action down below, and only came when Elpida called her name.


Beyond the security checkpoint the inside of the pyramid was sparse and utilitarian. Elpida led the others past echoing chambers of grey metal, long flat spaces re-purposed as meeting rooms, divided into holding cells, or full of abandoned medical and laboratory equipment she did not pause to examine. She kept an eye out for weapons but saw none, not even a stick or a club. Stairs led downward, baited with the trail of dried, flaking slime.

Elpida kept telling herself that Telokopolis was out there.

Kagami had the right idea in trying to get computer equipment working, but she was thinking too small. Rebuilding and booting up an ancient personal terminal would not give them access to entanglement comms, or radio, or anything else. They needed to find the nerve centre of this place — before that crowd down in the streets got inside.

Or was that their rescue party? Elpida was tight with purpose but her world was falling apart. This was not a Silico hive. The green was — gone. And this place was empty, dead, silent as a tomb.

She focused on leading the others. On keeping them moving. She knew how to do that.

The trail of flakes led them into an atrium — a wide open space with a high ceiling held up by six pillars of silver-grey metal. Other exits led away, behind the pillars. The roof was a single piece of filthy glass. The black sky made the light feel greasy on Elpida’s skin.

In the atrium was a corpse.

A full stop at the end of a long smear of blood on the floor, limbs crumpled and broken, wearing a shredded mass of crimson fabric which had once been a grey jumpsuit. It might have been Pira — the face was a ruined mess, half gnawed away. The hair might be flame-coloured, but it was stained carmine and scarlet. Ribcage cracked and levered open, skull unscrewed and brains scooped out, great handfuls of flesh torn off her thighs. She lay in a spreading pool of blood. She hadn’t been dead for long.

Another girl was crouched over the corpse, eating.

It was too late to turn back and slip away in stealth. Elpida froze, ready to spring forward, eyes flicking over the pillars for a hidden ambush. Vicky and Kagami stumbled to a stop, entangled together. Atyle didn’t say a word. But Amina whimpered in terror and clamped her hands to her mouth. She scuffed and stumbled as she tried to back away.

Ilyusha stomped forward three clicking steps, tail lashing the air, and shouted a wordless challenge. “Aaah!”

The ghoul paused in her feast and looked over her shoulder.

She was human, with a human face. Bright green eyes, wide with fascinated madness; rose-blonde hair falling about cheekbones of hummingbird-wing delicacy; and a smear of bloody meat all around her lips. She straightened up from her kill and turned around to face Elpida. The cannibal was wrapped in a single piece of thick, pale, filthy clothing, a cloak which hung a few inches from the ground, concealing her feet, leaving her arms free. Her hands were smeared with gore. Each finger was tipped a talon of bone.

“Nnnnn!” Ilyusha grunted at her.

The cannibal lit up with joy. “Freshies! Little bitty freshies!” Her eyes bounced between Elpida and the others, then went past them. “Cinney! Cinney? No Cinney? Never any Cinnery!”

Amina almost lost control, stumbling back. “Oh God, oh God, please, no—”

“God?! God!” The cannibal cackled. She took a step forward — loping, bouncing.

“Fuck off!” Ilyusha screamed at her.

Elpida stepped forward too, level with Ilyusha, ready to intercept or dodge or leap at the cannibal — the girl didn’t look like she weighed much, but she probably had a weapon under that cloak. Elpida raised a hand, palm out, authoritative. “Back up, right now.”

“Orrrrrr?” The cannibal girl jerked and wobbled like she didn’t have enough bones in her body. She made those green eyes extra wide. “Or what? Or you’re gonna eat me?” She burst into a cackle. “Early bird gets the little wormies! You don’t have to outrun me. You only have to be faster thaaaaan … ” Her eyes flickered back and forth, then settled on Kagami, still half-clinging to Vicky’s support. The cannibal pointed one gore-streaked bone-tipped finger. “Her!”

“What.” Kagami sounded numb.

Vicky hissed: “I won’t drop you, dumb-ass. Hold on.”

Elpida took a step toward the girl, palms out, watching for a tell-tale twitch of motion. “There are six of us and one of you. Back away, right now, or I’ll—”

“Ready or not! Here I come!”

The cannibal girl rocked back to pounce — and Ilyusha hit her like a threshing machine. Metal claws sliced cloth and raked pale flesh. Her tail whipped and stabbed, slamming through the meat of the cannibal’s torso. Ilyusha snapped and roared and bit down on a hand. The cannibal girl cartwheeled backward in a motion that seemed impossible, and kicked from an angle which made no sense.

Ilyusha went flying. She slammed into one of the pillars and slid to the ground, stunned and dazed.

The cannibal girl howled with laughter. “How many times you been round, huh? Fucking metal?! Weak shit!”

Elpida raised her fists and prepared to take the inevitable charge. But she didn’t understand what she was looking at.

Beneath the cloak the cannibal girl did not have any legs. She did not have a proper torso. Her chest cut off beneath her collarbone, no space for lungs or stomach or heart — unless her organs were packed into the two massive, white-furred, muscular arms which sprouted from that truncated rib-cage, serving for locomotion. Instead of feet, she had two huge simian-like hands, tipped with spikes of bone just like her fingers.

Grinning red and bloody, she cartwheeled forward to pull Elpida’s head off her shoulders.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

The world makes no sense; it’s been dead too long. Now it’s full of worms.

My gosh, okay, this chapter is 4.3k words! I don’t mind though, I’m having a blast with this! And I hope you are too!

So! I am switching Necroepilogos chapter uploads from Saturdays to Thursdays; almost all Necroepilogos readers are also readers of my other story, Katalepsis, and several long-time readers have suggested/requested that I upload chapters on different days, since both stories dropping chapters on Saturday morning is a bit much. This is hopefully also a bit easier for me, too!

Chapters are also still much larger than I expected, closer to 4k than 2.5k, so we’re still at once a week, for now! I’m going to continue letting chapters fall at whatever size feels right for the narrative.

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 3.7k 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 the button, so more people see it.

Thank you so very much for reading. More soon!

corpus – 1.3

Content Warnings

Implied cannibalism

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

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.

Previous ChapterNext Chapter

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!

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.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

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!

corpus – 1.1

For content warnings covering the entire story, please see question 2 in the FAQ. Content warnings per-chapter will be found at the beginning of each.

Content Warnings


A blossom of alchemical fire grew in quiet flesh; a spark took hold in the wet crimson darkness of muscle and marrow and memory.

And Elpida choked back to life inside her own coffin.

Blank grey steel, inches from her nose. Eyes aching like spent coals, lids rasping like sandpaper. A shallow layer of cold, greasy fluid clung to her back, her buttocks, the undersides of her legs. Hair slicked to her skull and stuck to her neck. A faint blue glow came from left of her head, illuminating her naked shoulder and the side of her ribcage. All she could see was the walls of the container.

She’d awoken sealed in a metal box.

Trapped in a space too small to even wriggle on to her side. No control surfaces floated in front of her eyes, no communication uplink waited in the back of her head, no familiar subconscious acknowledgement came from the rest of her cadre.

Panic overpowered a lifetime of training.

Elpida tried to slam her hands against the inside of the lid, but she’d woken with her arms by her sides, soaked in that viscous cold grease. With so little room to move she only scraped her knuckles painfully across the raw metal, then fumbled to bring her hands up toward the faint light near her head.

She tried to draw a breath, to scream, then discovered she couldn’t. Her throat was clogged. She hacked and coughed and heaved until she spat out a plug of mucus and clotted blood. A mass of wet snot and the taste of iron dribbled down her cheek to join the thin layer of sticky fluid she was lying in, like a drowning rat in a stagnant puddle.

That stalled the scream. Long enough for her to slam her palms against the unyielding metal.

Had the Covenanters drugged her, left her to die in an unpowered capsule?

Elpida had undergone claustrophobia acclimation training inside an unpowered pilot capsule, years ago with the rest of the cadre. But even unmounted from a combat frame and cut off from Telokopolis, a capsule would have cradled her like a fetus in the womb, a precious core of pliant flesh wrapped in layers of machine protection and intelligent armour. A capsule would have cushioned her muscles, braced her legs and spine and skull, flooded her lungs and sinuses with pressure gel, fed her oxygen and glucose, kept her senses dull and brainwaves calm, to wait for rescue. A capsule damaged beyond recovery would have spun her up like an engine, with adrenaline and combat stims and an on-foot extraction plan squirted into her mind-machine interface, to get her up on her feet and moving toward the nearest of her cadre.

But this metal box was no pilot capsule ready to be loaded into the crew slot of a combat frame. Elpida couldn’t see anything but blank metal. She wasn’t even wearing a pilot suit. A downed capsule would have kept her in touch with Telokopolis via anything left functioning, even radio if entanglement was interrupted. A capsule would at least have reached out to the rest of her cadre. A capsule would have felt like a piece of home, even when dead.

Instead she was naked and cold, alone in the dark.

Was this her punishment? A final humiliation for keeping the cadre out of the last two years of politics. For keeping her sisters above the division and conflict in the Civitas. The Covenanters had never liked the program; they’d always voiced suspicion of far-ranging patrols, of the experimental combat frames — not to mention the process of creating the cadre in the first place. No Covenanter had ever called Elpida unnatural, at least not to her face, but it took a fool not to notice the tone of debate in the Civitas. And that was before the coup.

She didn’t care. None of the cadre cared about politics, except maybe Howl. Stupid, beautiful, impossible Howl.

Was the Covenanter victory not complete until she and the rest of the clone-litter were interred underground, not even afforded a proper trial? Was this her execution?

Execution — the word stung like an electric shock.

Memory flooded back like a branding iron inside Elpida’s chest: the long weeks confined in a spire-cell; being marched down a corridor by men who kept greensuit hoods on, as if they were beyond the city walls, as if the war had come home; kneeling; a cold muzzle against the back of her head.

A flare of red pain. Then nothing.

Elpida stifled a second scream by biting the meat of her own hand. She drew blood, hot iron on her dry tongue.

This didn’t make any sense. How had she gotten here? This wasn’t a medical pod, there were no cirgeon-machines, only this greasy amniotic gunk clinging to her skin.

She felt as if she’d surfaced from that cold fluid, risen from deep dreams she couldn’t recall.

And the others, the rest of her cadre, her pack-mates and comrades, where were they? The other two dozen vat-grown girls she’d grown up alongside and shared everything with, her responsibility and her purpose, her co-pilots who knew each other inside and out, whose bodily smells she knew better than her own — where were they? Silla, Metris, Howl, where were they? Her closest, her partners, her lieutenants, where were they? Howl – where was Howl? She needed help more than ever, she needed to scream at the top of her lungs and hear her closest council scream back. She needed to hear the private clade-cant the Civitas and the Legion and even Old Lady Nunnus had always tried to stop them using. She needed the animal noises from their shared childhood, the private noises nobody outside the cadre knew about.

When the Covenanters had turned a spire seeing-room into a cell, the cadre had huddled together in a corner, sleeping in a tight-knit pile for warmth and comfort, like back when they were children. Elpida had tried to keep order, keep their spirits up. She’d posted a guard, had the cadre sleep in shifts, even tried to keep up a sparring schedule. Everyone had still looked to her for leadership.

Despite everything, they had still called her Commander. Even Howl had followed her lead without complaint at long last, and slept in her arms, right there in front of everybody else.

But one by one they’d all been taken away before her, marched out of that cell and off into the dark to cement the rule of the new Civitas. And she’d known. When those men had pressed a muzzle to the back of her skull, she’d known that everyone else had gone on ahead.

Elpida bit into the flesh of her own hand and howled a wordless sound which could never encompass all those names. She came within a hair’s breadth of madness.

Then the screaming started.

Not her own — that choked off before it could be born, mad grief dying on the vine. From beyond the walls of her new prison came a high-pitched cry of pain, a young voice lost in the dark, followed by the unmistakable sound of flesh crumpling against the floor. A second voice joined the first, wailing in urgent panic. Then a third: a deep, hard sobbing. A fourth voice started laughing the hysterical laughter of the void, laughing so as not to scream, broken by hiccups and heaving breaths.

An alarm shrieked, as if the screaming had woken a machine, pulsing out a wave of sound. But it couldn’t smother those voices.

Elpida’s sisters, her cadre, they were all gone. She knew their voices too well to mistake anybody else for them, from Howl’s habitual cackle-bark to Arry’s cold and measured whispers. She knew that wasn’t them screaming out there.

But it was screaming, all the same.

Elpida’s training dragged its vestments back on, tattered and torn into a new and unfamiliar shape. The Covenanters had taken everything from her, Telokopolis had turned more hostile than the worst of the green deeps beyond, and Legionaries with guns had become more dangerous than any Silico construct. She had died, she had felt death shatter the back of her skull, burning red. But yet, she lived.

This time she would not die whimpering in a metal box while somebody else screamed for help.

Elpida took a deep breath and filled her lungs. The coffin could only contain so much oxygen, but she needed to think. She wasn’t even wearing a pilot suit, let alone a proper greensuit and hardshell. She was unarmed, empty-handed, naked. She wouldn’t last five seconds on foot against some Silico monster from beyond the walls of Telokopolis, but she had no other plan. At least she’d die on her feet.

First she had to get out of this box. She pulled one fist back as far as possible, dipping into the layer of cold slime. If she banged on the lid then perhaps one of the people out there would hear. Perhaps they could reach a release mechanism before they were overwhelmed by whatever they were screaming at.

But as she pulled back her fist, Elpida found the source of the faint blue glow; an analogue control panel was set into the metal to the left of her head.

It was tiny, a waterproof eight-button keypad beneath a miniature screen the colour of lead.

The symbols on the keypad and the words on the screen were not in a language she knew, neither Upper-Spire nor Skirts. She didn’t recognise the script. Some kind of Silico writing? But then a spike of pain bloomed inside Elpida’s eyes and head, forcing her to squint and blink.

When she opened her eyes, the keypad was a standard base-8, with numbers she could read — and the words on the screen were legible.

‘A soldier? Don’t make me laugh, dear. At my age, laughing hurts like hell. You’ll eat each other before the end, like all the rest.’

Elpida blinked. The words changed.

‘Good luck, dead thing.’

Another spike of optical pain. She screwed up her eyes, blinking away flakes of dried slime. When she cleared her vision and the pain faded, the words on the screen said ‘cycle complete’. They did not change again.

Compromised, or hallucinating? Neither was good news. If Elpida survived the next few minutes, she knew she had to get her mind-machine interface linked to a clean bank, to flush out any unwanted passengers. She wriggled a hand into the greasy slime behind her neck, following an old reflex to feel for the uplink slot at the base of her skull — but she couldn’t find it.

The Covenanters had shot her in the head, shattered her skull. Why would the uplink be there any more?

That idea was too much to process, threatening to drag her back down into screaming madness.

Practical concerns first.

Elpida couldn’t move her left arm at the necessary angle to hit the keys, so she had to work her right arm over her body. Something cold and hard dragged across her belly as she did, a sensation like metal moving inside her flesh. She gritted her teeth to keep from screaming, focusing on the cries from beyond her metal box. Check the arm later.

She mashed the keypad at random, fingers slipping in the oily slime, hoping to force an emergency release or reset function. The keys yielded, soft and sticky, but nothing happened. The words on the tiny screen did not change. The lid of the coffin stayed shut. The voices outside continued to scream and sob and laugh.

Plan B: shout for help. She filled her aching lungs with a deep breath — but if she made noise then she might attract unwanted attention as well. If she was to make any difference here, wherever here was, she had to be unexpected and quick on her feet. The cry for help died on her lips.

Howl would have known she needed help, without having to ask. Howl would have been at her back, to hold her up. Howl was dead.

Elpida finally screamed at the lid of the coffin, rage and frustration and loss. She slammed a fist against the metal.

And somebody answered. From outside her metal box somebody thumped back, or stumbled against a corner, or just banged the container in passing. That awful, lost laughter was suddenly close, as if the source was right over the lid of her coffin. Then it danced away again.

A heavy mechanical clunk ran through the metal. Elpida froze, heart soaring with relief, then racing with adrenaline. She needed to be ready for a fight, bare-handed. She flexed her muscles in sequence and found them aching, sore, and stiff, as if she’d run a marathon a day earlier.

The lid of the metal box lifted away from her face with a slender hydraulic hiss. A rim of dark red light stabbed beneath the rising lid. The pounding pulse of the alarm filled her ears. The screaming was suddenly raw, close, no longer muffled by metal walls. Elpida braced herself to leap out as soon as the lid was clear.

But then it stopped. Barely twelve inches of gap between the lid and the sides of her metal prison. Hydraulic mechanisms creaked and spluttered.

Stillborn, trapped in the womb.

Elpida pulled her knees up to her chest, the joints screaming as if she’d been kneeling for hours, and then kicked the underside of the lid with both feet.

The metal shuddered like a cracked bell, but refused to shift. Elpida roared at the top of her lungs and kicked again, and again, and again, using her body like a battering ram until her heels ached and her legs muscles were on fire. She lost count by the time she kicked the lid off.

It fell to one side and crashed to the floor with a clatter loud enough to wake the dead.

Elpida grabbed the sides of her coffin and leapt out into a cacophony of living machinery and naked flesh.

Next Chapter

Welcome to Necroepilogos!

I don’t have much to say yet, except that I very much hope you’re enjoying this opening. There’s lots more to come. Each chapter of this story will be roughly 2k-2.5k words, released on Saturdays. As soon as I’ve got some decent backlog and I’m up to speed, I aim to start releasing chapters on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

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 3.5k words. This will increase! I don’t really expect anybody to subscribe to this yet; feel free to wait until there’s a nice big backlog to read for subscribing.

There’s no TopWebFiction link or anything yet, since I haven’t submitted the story for approval. It’s a bit early for reviews, too. But feel free to leave a comment if you like! Thank you for reading, I hope you return for more.