Thursday: Chapter Eleven
A squat grey building of three or four stories stood between a field of what looked like beanstalks that stood up without runners and a muddy feedlot for pig-sized hairless rabbits. It had no identifying marks other than a plain white “101” to the right of the large double door.
Gall led Locke to a smaller door next to the large entrance. Inside, he found an enormous room, evidently made for large numbers of human bodies to be gathered before their disassembly began. It was cold, in sharp contrast to the June warmth outside. He prickled with gooseflesh.
Inside, the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of the equipment did not make it seem any warmer.
Human bodies lay at one end of the room, sprawled naked and unmoving across one another. There were silhouettes painted on the floor to show how bodies were supposed to lie, laid out neatly head to toe, in rows, but these niceties were not being observed at the moment.
They were crowded every which way, sometimes even piled on top of one another, without any consideration, except perhaps that the piles not be so high that the bodies on the bottom could not breathe.
And they were breathing. Their eyelids were fluttering, their facial muscles twitching, as they were lifted, one by one, from the pile. A hoover held a person’s shoulders and another the feet, and they were carried one by one to what looked like a table with a rounded end. The surface was topped by a broad band of red-stained leather that was being pulled by some means down the length of the strange table, so that the bodies were carried in a long line toward their fate.
“Who are these people?”
“Convicts, sentenced to death by the state of New York, or maybe this is the batch from New Jersey. In any event, all lawfully convicted, you may be sure, their execution assigned to our firm by an entirely legal process -- or else it will be entirely legal quite soon.”
A giant wheel stood to one side of the table. Within it, a stalwart plodded patiently forward, turning the wheel which drove smaller wheels inside the table. Slowly the bodies passed by workers in white overalls and white broadcloth shirts with white rubber aprons, their hands gloved in a pale corpse-coloured rubber, red-stained tools in their hands.
First a cut was made along the hairline, and then a faintly bluish liquid like kerosene stopped the bleeding almost instantly as it was poured into the wound. The scalp was peeled off and added to a bin full of scalps, and then they began peeling downward from the hairline, more of the bluish liquid poured over the skinless face to stop its bleeding. And then an eye was worked from the socket with a spoon . . . .
Locke understood the advantage of keeping the body alive, the organs going warm and palpitating into waiting tubs of incorruptant. And doubtless the victims were too far gone in drugged Oblivion to really be aware of what was happening to them.
But still . . . .
Locke followed Gall down the line. It was easier to look at the bodies once their faces were gone, although their hearts continued to beat while they were dissected.
The skin was removed in as complete a form as possible, the bleeding quickly staunched after each cut. All effort was made to get a “whole hide” from each body. Only the lips, the nipples, the genitalia and the anus were allowed to keep their skin.
Locke paused at the station where the pectoral muscles were removed. He noted that women’s breasts came off with the muscles, and that the vats into which the muscles were thrown were one of the few where genders were segregated.
All along the way, Locke and his guide were constantly being passed by hoovers pushing wheeled tubs of incorruptant, moving down the line with tubs filled with left arms or livers, moving up the line with tubs half-full of sloshing incorruptant.
On the bodies went, losing limbs, intestines, kidneys . . . .
Only when a body had been reduced to little more than heart, lungs and brain was the heart finally stopped, the remaining parts dropped immediately into waiting tubs of incorruptant. Only then were their death certificates signed by a vitalogist
Beyond the final disassembly station, the rolling belt continued. Here, the wheeled tubs were coming to rest at last, finding their places along the line.
The next day, Locke was unable to remember anything very clearly between watching the victims’ hearts being stopped, and sitting in an office drinking something with rum in it. In between he recalled only brief images:
A pair of dwarfish hoovers assembling the spinal column of a body in progress, like hideous children stacking blocks.
Shallow trays of small bones, just covered by incorruptant, sorted by size, with bones as long as Locke’s index finger in one, smaller ones in the next, down to bones that must have come from the hands of children, if not of rats.
A woman, sorting among bones to assemble abnormally large hands, singing tunelessly, “Your metatarsals will do for metacarpals, your metacarpals will do for phalanges, but what shall we do with your phalanges, my dear...?”
Brains, with attached spinal cords, being dropped into open skulls in a frighteningly casual fashion, the spinal cord slipped through the opening at the bottom and then through the vertebrae like a slimy silver rope threading a stack of needles.
A man pushing a wheeled tub full of human hearts, looking entirely too much like the street vendor who had sold Locke a chicken heart on Monday. He pulled a heart from his tub and laid it on the belt next to each nearly-complete hoover. Locke feared he would never be able to eat another chicken heart.
The tops of the skulls being fitted onto the brain pans, screws tightened to hold them together, and final features being added as well: heavy ridges to protect the extremely large eyes of this batch, ridges added to the skull for arm muscle attachment points. The skulls, fully assembled and with muscles and skin on, would not look even remotely human.
The hides being stitched onto the finished bodies, skins which had lain in vats of some mixture which had nourished them and irritated them until they grew thick and warty.
A man with a gigantic syringe, large enough to hold a quart of elixir vitae, injecting each hoover in the heart with the substance that would stir it to life.
Galvanic currents being applied to the finished hoovers, so that they finally began to quicken, their chests convulsing, their mouths gasping air, their limbs stirring to life.
The animated hoovers, looking like anthropomorphic moles (Locke supposed they were made for mining), being hauled to their feet and led to waiting cattle cars, which were quickly filled and then locked shut. Occasional hoovers were unable to stand -- those were carried away, either for minor adjustments or simply to be dissected and their parts reused.
When the rum appeared to have revived him, Locke was given into the care of a Mr. Ogle, a student of vitalogy. Ogle rode in a cab with Locke to a brownstone in the fashionable neighborhood of Second Avenue and 25th Street. Ogle must be from a well-off family, Locke thought with a corner of his mind, until they entered the house, and Locke found it was a brothel.
A hoover brothel, naturally, with a parlor in which no two of the whores were alike: one was impossibly thin except for impossibly large breasts. Another had a torso twice as long as a human’s, and was lounging in a fashion that suggested a serpent. A third was a great mass of corpulent flesh that seemed to extend in all directions. There were several which had been built in the semblance of barely-papescent young girls and even younger boys.
At the best of times, Locke had very little interest in the grotesque distortions of hoover prostitutes. After what he had seen at the evulsatorium, he was nauseated.
He came to a stop, pulling back against Ogle’s tug on his sleeve. Ogle turned back, frowning.
“Can’t I just have a quiet bed to sleep in?”
“What, you think on top of all the other cosseting we’re giving you, you’re going to be treated to the favors of the most exotic hoover pussy in New York? A quiet bed is exactly what you’re here for. Now come on and meet Madame LaLaurie.”
The lady of the house sat on a divan at one end of the parlor, beside a small stage where a quartet of nearly-identical hoovers sang a French song in elaborate harmony. She was a rather plain-looking woman with fair skin who had her hair elaborately dressed and wore a silk gown in the fashionable “mesenteric” print, but wore little makeup. She looked more like the manager of an expensive restaurant than a brothel-keeper.
He exchanged a few words with Madame LaLaurie without really noticing what either of them was saying. The pet at her feet stirred, and he finally looked at it.
It was a wolfhound, no, it was a kimmer pet of some sort, the size of a large dog, but thinner. It had long legs, the forelegs much thinner than the hind legs. It had no tail, and very sparse fur, except on its head, which gave it a sort of lion-like appearance, and a very flat snout . . . .
It wasn’t a kimmer. It was a hideously distorted hoover. A hoover made from human parts which had been constructed so that it could only go on all fours. Its joints were like those of quadrupeds -- perhaps they had been illegally taken from a dog or goat, or perhaps they had been manufactured. Its neckbones had been modified so it would look forward, rather than down, when on all fours.
Madame LaLaurie stroked the creature’s hair fondly, exactly as she might a dog.
“Arachne’s a good girl, isn’t she?”
The creature looked up at Locke with a truly wretched expression, and he looked away.
A hoover housekeeper took Locke upstairs and showed him into a relatively modest bedroom. It must have been a “work” room, though -- he was sure the hoover staff did not sleep in anything like this much comfort.
Lying in bed, Locke was unable to stop thinking about it all. He had seen the future as Mellonta Tauta wanted to make it. This was the future which they thought most people would find appealing. Locke dreaded the possibility that they were right.
About two o’clock in the morning, he went out into the hall, found a servant, and had her fetch an oneirant for him.
As he sat sipping at the warm little draught, which tasted of honey and milk, it occurred to Locke what the name Arachne might imply: according to legend, she was a woman who vainly boasted that her skills were as great as those of a goddess, and was punished with a degrading transformation. Who, he wondered, had Madame LaLaurie’s “Arachne” been before she was turned into the “dog” at Madame’s feet . . . ?