Because not everything I write is bug and blood and deserts.
Well, not all deserts, anyway.
From the latest WIP, a short story titled, “Sense of Dark.”
Everything that mattered happened in the dark.
It was eighteen in the morning, the deepest part of the black, with the promise of dawn another eight hours distant. This was when they brought in the suicides, the lunatics, the infanticides, the condemned; all the twisted and brutalized bodies that the day shift refused to process and management wanted processed quickly… but after dark.
In their long, stark-white rooms, the butchers worked nimbly, silently during the long twenty-hour cycle of night.
The body was just another bruised husk, some mangled thing the techs hauled in under the ruinous glare of the organic overlights. The worms were dying in the casings up there, so the light along the far edge of the operating room was pale lavender instead of white.
“Where did you find her?” Sohaila asked, ripping open the green slick that protected the corpse. She never did like the quiet. Every new body was another excuse for chatter, for warmth – anything to prove she was alive.
“Water? Port? Elevator? It matters.”
The tech sighed. He was a new kid, a couple months on the job. His partner was already finishing up the check-in on her slide. Sohaila saw it in his face already that he wouldn’t make it on the dark shift. Living your life in the dark was one thing, but living your life in the dark with corpses was another.
“There are three in this sector. Which one?”
Beneath the slick, the body was dry and desiccated. If they were anywhere near a desert, some forensic might have guessed she was a mummy right off, but with all the elevators opening up into vacuum now and the Nothing that had torn apart the world on the other side of the water bay a decade before, the desert was the least likely guess on how this one had met its end. The body was curled up on its side, elbows tucked, mouth yawning, feet crossed. It was naked, which wasn’t so unusual. Bodies that came in this way were the sort that got stripped of all valuables – either right before they died or soon after. Especially if they died near an elevator where the throwoffs and castaways congregated.
“All right,” Sohaila said. She reached behind her for the bone saw.
The boy tech turned away quickly. “Done, Paya?”
“We’re checked in. Verified she’s not in the system. Some stray.” Paya, the girl tech, tapped her forehead at Sohaila. “See you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Sohaila said. There were always plenty of bodies. What they all lacked was the time to process them.
She cracked open the chest and studied the state of the organs. More or less salvageable, with some creative treatment. She began preparing her solution. During the day shift, they sometimes bothered with an autopsy, but at night management expressly forbid it. It cut into profits, and at no gain. If they accidently processed someone with legal funeral rights, it would cost them less to pay out than it cost the butchers to perform an autopsy on every wayward body that crossed the slab. A fruitful, virus-like populace out here made life cheap, and litigation cheaper.
She turned the body over for better access to the kidneys. They were easier to rehydrate from behind. As she did, she noted an indentation just above the left hip. Someone had been peeling at the skin. She rubbed at it, and saw the traces of some kind of inked tattoo. A little chill ran up her spine. She pulled her hands away, let the body fall back. Took a breath. They tattooed company girls on the left hip, the ones management imported for the C-level executives from other worlds on the Inner Rim. Too many bodies meant the new ones that got in had to be signed in and accounted for at all times. And anybody they imported from beyond the vacuum… came in at great and terrible expense.
Sohaila grabbed a specimen slide and scraped quickly at the grit beneath the body’s nails and stored it in the transparent slide. She turned and slipped it into the particle analyzer behind her, switched it on.
She started, and knocked the analyzer off. Turned.
Giati, one of the butchers who worked near reception, smiled at her from the door. There was a familiar man behind her, dressed in a formal gray doctor’s coat.
“Sorry, Dr. Dirish is taking this one tonight,” Giati said.
Sohaila opened her mouth to ask what managmeent’s top day doctor was doing working in the dark.
“Have you started?” Dr. Dirish said before she could speak. He pushed past Giati and went straight for the body.
“No, not yet. Just opened the chest. The organs are good.”
“Perfect, that’s fine.” He pulled the slick back closed over the body. It hissed and melted and sealed itself back up. He smiled thinly. “Did you remove anything from the body?”
“No, nothing,” Sohaila said.
“Wonderful. Perfect. Giati, excuse me.” He released the body’s carriage, and the carriage floated free of the examining table. “Good night. I’ll be sure to have them send you the next one.”
Sohaila forced a smile. Watched the doctor and Giati leave, pushing the body out ahead of them.
Then she was alone again. No people. No bodies. The room was very still.
“Well,” she said aloud. “That’s that, isn’t it?”