“I need a body.”
The abbot drew on his cigarette, exhaled a cloud of soma, and flicked the butt off of the cloud island. It turned into a shimmering golden butterfly on its way down and fluttered away.
“We make bodies. What kind d’ya need?”
Milo touched the platinum ring on its leather thong. “Human female, approximately twenty-seven years old, four feet eleven inches, ninety pounds give or take. Do you do custom hair and eyes?”
“Hair or eyes?”
“Both. Tanned skin.”
“Gotcha. Will you be eating the body or fucking it?”
“Neither, which brings me to my next question—”
“No zombies. You ain’t got enough money to deal with the guys who’d come shut me down.”
“I am the guys who’d come shut you down.”
The abbot took in Milo’s tattoos, then looked down at Fairfax, who yawned. “That dog augmented?”
“If you like.”
“Shit. I run a clean house, Tracer…”
“Vitre. Milo Vitre.”
“I run a clean house, Tracer Vitre. We do resurrections sometimes, but only with a Federal warrant, and only with an agent present to take the deposition from the deceased. We put them down again afterward, every time, on my honor.”
Milo held up the ring. “You know what this is?”
The abbot wiped his grubby hands on his saffron robe and held the ring up to his ear. “You got some kind of mystical harmonic in there?” He licked it. “Bioelectric aura, too. Maybe telepsychic resonance. You want this in the body?”
“Slip it on her ring finger and then jumpstart her as if she was a resurrection.”
The abbot shot him a sidelong glance. “This official?”
“I’ll come back with the paperwork in a couple of days.”
The abbot was about to argue, but he looked down for a moment and saw Fairfax staring at him in a very definite way. He sighed. “I don’t know anything about anything and I’ll swear blind I never saw you. Come on down to the factory floor.”
Milo and Fairfax followed the monk down a misty stairway that felt like cotton candy under their feet, past a tree farm full of ficus trees, along a walkway with no handholds on the edge of a steep cliff, and finally into a mossy cave on the side of a hill. The abbot climbed into a kind of seat made from what appeared to be a rock naturally eroded to perfectly fit a man his size and put on a pair of spectacles whose lenses were thick slabs of opaque rock. He felt around next to his chair until he found a bamboo whistle and blew a note without ceremony.
“Okay, boys!” he bellowed. “Human female, twenty-seven, four eleven, ninety, skin tan, hair maroon, eyes maroon. Draw facial features from the collective unconscious, max resolution. Bring her in steady!”
A gong sounded in the distance. Unseen drums beat out a rapid tattoo. Suddenly the cave smelled of incense and the sea.
The body manufactured itself all at once, with no part being constructed before any other—Milo had seen the technique before on Nippon Prime, where his own arm had needed to be rebuilt after he had been beaten savagely by a bar full of ghouls. It started as a vaguely human-shaped haze of component atoms and became more and more solid until Epiphany Platinum was lying on the mossy floor.
The abbot blew another note on the whistle and peered at the body through his stone spectacles. “Lobsang!” he shouted impatiently.
A younger monk in a gray robe ran into the cave and prostrated himself briefly. “I wasn’t sleeping, boss!”
“Get the resurrection gear. And make it sudden—you’re on thin ice already, boy. This is Tracer Vitre. If he says ‘jump,’ you say ‘for how many reincarnations?’ Got it?”
Lobsang nodded nervously. “I’m on it, boss.” He bowed to Milo. “I live to serve, Tracer.” He scurried out of the cave.
“He’s not a bad kid,” remarked the abbot. “Good resurrectionist. He just partied too hard his last couple of lifetimes and his karmic reward was narcolepsy.”
Lobsang returned at a dead run a few minutes later with an unadorned copper box that looked like it would comfortably fit a pair of hunting boots. He placed it on the floor of the cave, next to Epiphany’s body. The abbot held out his hand to Milo.
Milo handed it to him. The abbot handed it to Lobsang, who took it reverently.
“By your leave, Tracer?” he said.
“Go for it.”
Lobsang placed the ring on Epiphany’s finger and assumed a lotus position. He began to chant, quietly at first, and then louder, and louder, and then louder than any sound a human voice should have been able to produce. Milo was about to break down and stick his fingers in his ears when Lobsang stopped abruptly. The lid of the box lifted and a cricket poked its head over the edge. Lobsang’s left hand moved to the box and the cricket jumped unerringly onto his outstretched finger. He brought his finger down to Epiphany’s ear and began to sing, the cricket chirping a rich, thrumming accompaniment.
Milo sat down and listened as Lobsang sang the story of Epiphany’s life, his reedy tenor beautiful beyond measure. She had been born rich, the daughter of an industrialist who bound her soul to an iron ring to be given as a gift to her future husband. She had stolen the ring and run away as a teenager, worked all kinds of dirty, dangerous jobs, and finally won entrance to the Institute of the Infinite as a medical student. She had graduated with honors, specializing in Emergency Medicine, and been granted her physician’s glyph. She had done her residency in Chiba on Nippon Prime, the heart of the most advanced medical community on any plane or planet. She had been filling in for a friend at a hospital on an asteroid mining colony called the Badlands when a monster made of gemstones had come through the wall of the emergency room and eaten her from the inside out. Then everything had gone black.
Lobsang stood up and bowed to the body. He dropped to one knee, pulled its jaw down carefully, and breathed a gentle breath into its mouth. He stood up again and stepped back. The room rippled.
Scars and discolorations appeared on various spots on the body. An arm broke at the wrist and reset itself. Acne appeared and disappeared. Finally, a spot of red appeared on Epiphany’s cheek. It became a fine, fine line of liquefied ruby, carving a trench along her cheekbone, around to her orbital bone, up to her forehead and down again, splitting and changing direction, cutting new trenches of glittering crimson until her physician’s glyph was complete. Her eyes opened, and she sat up and looked around.
“Where am I, please? This isn’t the Badlands.”
“Venus Gamma,” said the abbot. “You have been dead for two years. We resurrected you at the order of Tracer Vitre, here. He is a consulting magician and will answer your questions while we find you something to wear.”
Milo handed her his jacket and averted his eyes while she covered herself up. She was quite small, with intelligent eyes and the kind of hard muscles that have to be earned by constant use. Her movements were quick and precise, and she looked like she was quite capable of taking care of herself. Milo could tell by the prickling feeling in his face that the self-defense functions of the magical inscription on her face were armed, and that they were targeting him. He was about to tell Fairfax to stand down when he realized that she had slunk around behind him with her stump of a tail between her legs.
“My glyph is powered by stellar radiation,” Epiphany said tightly. “Atomic Schnauzers can smell the cosmic rays it emits when I’m stressed. Why am I here, please?”
“Dr. Platinum, you’ve been dead, but you’re alive now. Someone in authority told me that it wasn’t your time to go,” Milo said soothingly. “Please don’t hurt my dog. She’s here to help, and so am I.”
Epiphany put her hands on her head and screamed in anguish. She took a breath, screamed again, and began to cry. Milo looked helplessly around for the monks, then sat down next to her and hesitantly put his arms around her. “Shh, shh,” he said. “You’re all right. You’re all right.” He stroked her hair. “It’s going to be fine,” he said, not knowing whether or not this was true. She rested her head on his chest, put her arms around his waist, and fell instantly asleep.
Lobsang clambered into the cave, out of breath. He was holding a deep red silk linen robe and a pair of brocaded slippers. Milo looked up at him. “What is wrong with her, Lobsang?” he growled
Lobsang took Epiphany’s small body from Milo and dressed her with the practiced expertise of a funeral director. He put the slippers on her feet and helped Milo pick her back up. “Look,” he said tiredly. “She just came back from the dead. She’ll be fine, she just needs some carbohydrates and caffeine.”
“Do you have a cafeteria?”
The abbot stalked in. “We do, but you can’t use it.”
“No, you excuse me. I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to go, Tracer. This is all highly illegal.”
“I told you,” Milo said, irritated, “this is official. I’ll bring in the paperwork myself, in triplicate, if you want.”
“Yeah, I checked on that, Tracer. Miskatonic University is offline, and I just found out it’s been that way for the last two years. At best, this is an unofficial resurrection, and the only reason I’m not calling for Federal assistance is that they might tell me to call you.”
“Without Miskatonic, you troubleshooters are all unofficial. I’m not saying the wheel won’t turn for you again, but right now you got no authority. You gotta go.”
“Where am I supposed to take her?”
“I recommend a diner. Nothing like diner food to perk you up.”
Alexander Karelis is co-founder of Writers Room DC, a boutique co-working space for professional writers of fiction and creative non-fiction and the unofficial literary nexus of Washington D.C.