In celebration of the release of Kameron Hurley’s MEET ME IN THE FUTURE, Tachyon presents glimpses from “one of the best short story collections you will read this year.” (B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog)
Elephants and Corpses
by Kameron Hurley
are only beautiful when they aren’t yours. It’s why Nev had
fallen in love with bodies in the first place. When you spent time
with the dead you could be anyone you wanted to be. They didn’t
know any better. They didn’t want to have long conversations about
it. They were vehicles. Transport. Tools. They were yours in a way
that no living thing ever could be.
stood at the end of the lower city’s smallest pier with Tera, his
body manager, while she snuffled and snorted with some airborne
contagion meant to make her smarter. She was learning to talk to the
dead, she said, and you only picked up a skill like that if you went
to some viral wizard who soaked your head in sputum and said a prayer
to the great glowing wheel of God’s eye that rode the eastern
horizon. Even now, the boiling mass of stars that made up the God’s
eye nebula was so bright Nev could see it in broad daylight. It was
getting closer, the priests all said. Going to gobble them up like
Tera needed to talk to the dead when Nev did just fine with them as
they were was a mystery. But it was her own body, her slice of the
final take to spend, and he wasn’t going to argue about what she
did with it.
buying these bodies or not?” said the old woman in the pirogue.
She’d hooked the little boat to the snarling amber head of a
long-mummified sea serpent fixed to the pier. In Nev’s fascination
with the dead body, he’d forgotten about the live one trying to
sell it to him.
rotten,” Tera said.
if we prepare it by day’s end,” Nev said. “Just the big one,
though. The kid, I can’t do anything with.”
pulled out a hexagonal coin stamped with the head of some long-dead
upstart; a senator, maybe, or a juris priest. The old folks in charge
called themselves all sorts of things over the years, but their money
spent the same. He wondered for a minute if the bodies were related;
kid and her secondary father, or kid and prime uncle. They were both
beginning to turn, now, the bodies slightly bloated, overfull, but he
could see the humanity, still; paintings in need of restoration.
body merc you are!” the old woman said. “Underpaying for prime
flesh. This is good flesh, here.” She rubbed her hands suggestively
over the body’s nearly hairless pate.
jabbed a finger at the empty pier behind him; she arrived with her
bodies too late—the fish mongers had long since run out of stock,
and the early risers had gone home. “Isn’t exactly a crowd, is
there?” He pushed his coat out of the way, revealing the curved
hilt of his scimitar.
snarled at him. It was such a funny expression, Nev almost laughed.
He flipped her the coin and told Tera to bring up the cart. Tera
grumbled and snuffled about it, but within a few minutes the body was
loaded. Tera took hold of the lead on their trumpeting miniature
elephant, Falid, and they followed the slippery boardwalk of the
humid lower city into the tiers of the workhouses and machinery shops
of the first circle. While they walked, Falid gripped Nev’s hand
with his trunk. Nev rubbed Falid’s head with his other hand. Falid
had been with him longer than Tera; he’d found the little elephant
partly skinned and left to rot in an irrigation ditch ten years
before. He’d nursed him back to health on cabbage and mango slices,
back when he could afford mangos.
For info on MEET ME IN THE FUTURE, visit the Tachyon page.