A Beginning

4.75/5 (1)

Indriss Voss dragged his wife through shadowy alleys. The thin blanket he’d wrapped her in struggled under the weight. She’d been a slight woman as long as he’d known her, but she’d swollen with this last pregnancy. She had been so close to delivery that he was sure this third time would have given them the perfect little family they both so desperately wanted. He had been gentle with her belly when he’d wrapped her in the blankets and intended to carry her to the plant, but the weight of their almost family had been too much. The corners of the blanket were wet with pus, and he fought to maintain his grip. The alleys were empty save for the occasional man-sized lump he had to step over and a few passing late shift workers with their faces hidden futilely behind scarves. The sick were too busy dying, and the healthy were too hungry to notice a man dragging a heavy wet blanket through back alleys. The delicate pox-marked foot peeking out of the edge of the blanket went unnoticed as well.

The plant was empty and dark, but the machinery basically ran itself. There was no such thing as fresh air in the lower hive and the few recyclers on these levels couldn’t remove the stench of burning flesh or the salty tinge of bone dust from the air. This plant was never corpse-poor, but they were inundated with bodies now that the pox, which had ravaged the eastern spires, wormed its way into the heart of Hive Susurrus. The administratum had decreed that the risk to the corpse starch stores was too high and the pox-riddled bodies needed to be discarded, unused. Indriss saw maybe 1 or 2 suitable bodies a week when he worked the sorting station, the rest were funnelled underhive to the crematoria. What a waste, he thought, every time he shoved a corpse toward the incinerator. He wasn’t the only person in Hive Susurrus to think so either. Reports of violence at ration centres and fighting in the streets had been high for weeks. The hive would never survive without help and Indriss wanted to help. A few activation runes and his passkey were all he needed to start the grinder’s machinery rumbling. 

As he lay Leesa on the belt and pulled the blanket away, he saw her as he always did in his mind- a lithe brunette with eyes full of mystery. Not the way she was now, the way he had found her in their cramped hab. The silence should have been the first warning. Leesa and Indriss shared a hab unit with the families of four other men who worked in the corpse grinder plants. It was never, ever quiet, but it was always dark. Voss had been trying to get the lumens back on after a level-wide power surge fried them. He smacked his lamp pack a few times and it fizzled life in his palm. Leesa was a lump under threadbare, bunched blankets, her belly obvious even in the murk. She had been tossing fitfully. He perched on the edge of the bed and turned her toward him, before recoiling in horror. The whites of her eyes were yellow, and she was covered in a slick of sweat. Her chapped lips were bared in a rictus grin and her chattering teeth made her body shake. She was covered in lurid weeping boils. The tiny pustules grouped in threes all over her. The skin over each was stretched so thin by the growing putrescence underneath that it was transparent. She had burst many in her tortured sleep and a corona of yellow deliquescence surrounded her, soiling the sheets. 

He had knelt at her bedside, not wanting to watch but unable to look away as the life left her. With a trembling hand he pulled the dirty blankets away, knowing what he would find but hoping to be wrong. He choked on the stench. Under her, rust-colored blood mingled with the garishly yellow slime that coated her thighs. Her swollen belly rippled. Once. Twice. Indriss saw the faintest shape of a little foot weakly trying to kick its way out of the dark wet rot that would be its grave forever. A surprisingly strong wave of motion moved across her stomach, stretching the skin, bursting boils. He had heard a sickly wet squelch, reminiscent of a mouthful of moist corpse starch. He felt nauseous with grief, flayed by his despair. A black emptiness opened inside him. It was like looking down one of the great maintenance shafts that ferried the spoiled dead underhive. The longer he looked into that yawning darkness, the longer it looked into him. Only the darkness did not find him wanting, it was not chilled by his despair. It saw him, and he saw it. He saw an ember of truth at the bottom of the pit, he saw that death was not an ending, but a beginning. 

This job taught him that the living and the dead were irrevocably intertwined. Hive Susurrus did not have to starve slowly into oblivion. He did not have to languish, heartbroken while pestilence burned away his body. He would embrace the gifts of the dead and he would help the hive do the same. He would take this one, small leap of faith for them all. His wife and child would be with him always. No one need ever truly die. Indriss kissed Leesa, and the muculent ooze that seeped from her boils tasted like nectar. He thumbed the activation rune on the belt, and she slid forwards into the waiting tunnel of the corpse grinder. Indriss Voss felt fulfilled, maybe for the first time in his life.  As he wound his way through the dark passageways, he smiled at the trilateral clusters of boils blossoming across his hands. In the knowing dark, a fire kindled.

About the Author

E. Nicole Gary is a scientist and Warhammer lover. She received her PhD in microbiology and immunology from Drexel university college of medicine and studies vaccine design and immune responses. When she isn’t writing scientific manuscripts, she’s reading, watching, and writing sci-fi and horror. She loves wine, crochet, chaos, and laboratory mice. You can find her online @NickyinBrooklyn on instagram, twitter, and tiktok, and on the 40k bookclub she shares with her loyalist husband all linked below.