[Original Novella] The Grinding, Part 3 (the finale!)

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“Consider the Dragalong” bellowed the scratchy intercom voice, now coming from the beast before me. “The strength of a dozen men, but put together differently than nature recommends. Grabbing blindly at the earth, desperately pulling itself towards warmth and nourishment, as do we all. This piece started simply as storage for excess limbs. They stay fresher this way.”

I doubled back, now simply looking for my room. From there I assumed there was passage to the surface. I’d long since seen enough to prefer taking my chances in the snow. “You know why they sent me here? Cheap cold storage for the parts. They could not justify the expense otherwise, not to support such a notorious figure. But my work was altogether too revolutionary to dispense with! Instead they permit me to continue in secret. I send them useful findings, they send me care packages, as it were. New materials, new possibilities for expression. Sometimes prosthetics. Sometimes warm bodies. No distinction exists, soon after they arrive. It all flows into the ever-fresh, self-rejuvenating exhibition. Fueled by the new meat, sustained by it until it expires, then recycled into something original! A second chance at the spotlight.”

The cacophony enveloped me. The familiar distant grinding. The squeaky wheel of the creature behind me, dragging itself. The whirling blade. All of it surging, pulsing, an otherworldly rhythm. Echoing down the frozen corridors and out into the ice. I headed for the next door I saw with light on the other side and, upon barging through, immediately regretted it.

I don’t know what I expected. What I’d seen so far would be impossible to sustain otherwise. But I had to really see it, to put a name to the dread I’d felt until that moment. The room was just endless rows of pregnant women’s torsos. No head or limbs. The stumps capped off with tubes and wires trailing from them. Next to each, a monitor displaying a continuous sonogram of the developing fetus.

“Do take note, I am not without mercy. Their heads have been removed and put to better use elsewhere. This is a career I would not wish on my harshest critic” the staticy voice explained. “The ones born here are increasingly of inferior intellect. Too degenerated, after many years of recycling the same seed. I need them more as a self-replenishing supply of arms, legs, organs and other filler than anything else. The core must always be a well formed brain so that it understands what life was before, what has happened to it and what life will be for it going forward. This authentic psychological anguish and struggle for survival is the indispensable core of a triumphant piece.”

As I watched, an insemination machine on rails stopped dutifully beneath each torso, inserting the long metal proboscis and conceiving new life which could never imagine what was in store for it. The torsos furthest along in their pregnancies were being cut into by row after row of identical surgical robots like the one I’d seen earlier.

A cry pierced the air as one delivered a newborn into the world. It laid the quivering, bloody pup into an incubator on wheels topped with half of a human head with part of a smartphone where the eye should be. Its mouth haplessly flopped open and shut as it motored away, like a fish out of water. The whine of the electric motor driving it fading into the larger tapestry of sound, set against the distant grinding I now realized would truly never stop.

“The development of the young is accelerated with the same growth hormones you presently use on cattle, as well as steroids to promote muscle development. This often confuses the body with respect to gender, such that sometimes surgical corrections are necessary. From what limited information about the outside world I receive, I understand that’s become quite a popular procedure! I’ll have you know I was doing it before it was cool, culturally acceptable, or voluntary.”

“But the real problem is genetic degradation! It affects the brain first, and that directly impacts my craft. What’s needed to restore balance is an infusion of new DNA from a rugged, robust donor. That’s you, my friend! Enough material was taken while you slept for the next decade, easily. That will be your lasting contribution to my always growing body of work.”

I stumbled from the room, stunned and nauseous. When I felt I could stand, I ran. I can’t say for how long. I only stopped because the still fresh sutures joining one of my stumps to the prosthetic leg split. Blinding pain followed as the metal brace from the prosthetic leg, bolted directly to bone, split that bone into fragments and tore at the nerve as I collapsed into a blubbering heap. The abomination with the incubator for a belly lazily wheeled past. As it did, I looked upon the face of the infant inside with new understanding.

Above the ice, the storm had long since abated. The emergency beacon, activated when the plane first impacted, managed to get a signal out as the atmospheric conditions became more forgiving. “If you’re listening to this, stay close to the plane. If there are any fuel fires, put them out, but burn anything else away from the plane to stay warm. I had some colleagues at McMurdo pull some strings so I could be on the first flight out to your location. Hang tight darling, I’m coming to save you.”

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