Author: Matt Cowan
It is not unheard of for a subject in Our care to die: We look after so many, and the rigours of interstellar travel affect each species differently.
When it happens, We always try to follow local custom, to ensure the remains are disposed of in the correct manner. We may think and act as the Herd, but We understand that others do not.
Which leads me to the subject We have just laid to rest.
Our research showed that We were studying an undertaker of this particular species, an irony that has impressed itself upon me many times over the past few days. Saying that, how they dispose of their dead is unique in the cosmos.
I had to get special dispensation from the Central Herd in order to follow the deceased’s custom to the letter. It was not easy, but they relented at last when I presented the mounds of evidence We had accrued during Our studies.
The next difficulty was in finding someone to administer such a rite. Our usual undertaker refused on religious grounds, so it fell to me to perform the preparation of the remains.
I had to skin it first of all, which is far harder than it sounds. Our kind has never had to do anything so physically repulsive before. I believe the knowledge that I did this has changed my standing in the Herd, for the worse.
That wasn’t the hardest part, though. That was the removal of the internal organs. If I had not constantly reminded myself of the objective scientific worth of this creature, and the need to dispose of its remains in the correct fashion, I would not have finished.
Next came the cutting. I had to slice the body into two large racks, then into smaller pieces, separating the ribs from the flanks and the rump.
I do not want to talk about this.
Finally, the burial. The ritual called for a transparent coffin, something that is not uncommon among some of the more morbid species We’ve had stay with Us. I placed all the different parts of the body into their designated positions.
It was hard to see the individual it had been: all I saw was meat.
The last part of the custom was the most alien to Us, even me. This involved sticking little metal signs into each body part and selling slices of them to those who came to the service. The idea that the Undertaker should earn for his or her craft makes sense. But, slicing up pieces of the body and wrapping them in wax paper for the bereaved to – We assume – take home to a smaller shrine, or for a smaller, more intimate service, beggars the belief of even the most fervent faithful among the Herd.
It is possible that We have gotten this entirely wrong, though any other theories that have been put forward are far too vicious and distasteful to be given any credence.
I have done everything within my ability to make sure the body of the subject was treated with the same reverence and care that it would have had on its home planet.
I just sold the last few slices to one of the Herd who, like the rest, was unsure how to react. I believe he will do what I intend to: bury what little he has of the subject, so that its flesh will beget new life.
May it rest in peace.