Blake sometimes wondered why the company required them to work in such a sterile environment, considering what they did. Before entering, they were required to bathe, ensuring no contaminates would enter the facility. Then they put on a sterile one-piece jumpsuit which covered them from the neck down to their feet. White rubber boots were then fitted, then a headpiece which left only the eyes exposed. The last thing put on were a pair of goggles. Gloves were put on at the work station.
At eight every morning, Blake, along with her work partner Jensen, walked to their station. They waited until five after before the system came to life. They worked from a control panel, in front of which stood a sealed chamber of reinforced concrete and two-inch shatterproof safety glass. There was no way in, and theoretically no way for anything to get out, which made the safety requirements all the more puzzling.
“Another day,” Jensen said flatly,
“…another group recycled,” Blake whispered. Pushing a button, a door on the ceiling opened up, and something fell in, a broken tangle of limbs of what used to be a woman. A pair of robotic arms pushed the corpse onto the conveyor where the body was moved into view, in front of the pair.
“Oh, the joys of harvesting,” Jensen said in a bored drawl. “Imagine, one day we’ll be on the other side of this glass.”
“And cracking jokes about it, no doubt.”
Jensen grunted as he used a joystick to control a robotic arm. Meticulously, they removed every stitch of clothing, which in the corpses cases was a thin hospital gown. The subject, a young woman in her early twenties, lay there as Jensen eyed her hungrily. “You know, I’d totally do her, you know, if she was still alive.”
“You’d do her dead, no doubt. That’s probably why they’re on that side of the wall and we’re on this side.”
“That’s a bit out there, even for me. Still, what would it be like to screw a stiff?”
“I think maybe you need a new job, looking at live specimens.”
“Live girls fight back,” Jensen joked. “But even if I wanted to, what else am I qualified to do? We’re stuck here, you know?”
“I know,” Blake moaned. The corpse moved along the conveyor belt until it rested in front of her. Another body, this time of an elderly man fell through the opening, and came to rest in front of Jensen. Blake studied the girl carefully, removing any metal from her, earrings, tooth filling, and the like. She studied an x-ray to see if any metal rods or screws had been implanted.
A few minutes later, with only a few rings and one gold filling placed in a sealed bag, she injected the body with a liquid desiccant, to aid in drying out the body. With a push of another button, the girl’s body was pushed off onto a cart. The process was repeated until the cart held ten bodies, and then carted off to the drying room, where the bodies fluids were collected, purified, and then introduced back into the water supply.
“You know,” Blake spoke up again after almost an hour of absolute silence, “that we used to bury the dead.”
“Why the hell would we do that?” Jensen replied. “Seems like a waste of resources to me.”
“I think it’s fascinating,” Blake countered. “We once respected the remains of our loved ones.”
“What’s the point?”
“The point? The bodies would rot away and rejoin with the Earth. I think it’s a romantic notion.”
“Romantic my ass. This way is more efficient, and has the added benefit of not polluting the environment. We collect everything there is to collect, water, minerals, and whatever chemicals. All pathogens are destroyed. All that’s left is pure, clean materials that we can use to build our future.”
“And the fact that we may be consuming our loved ones doesn’t bother you?
“You’re being such a woman, B. Too emotional and melodramatic. We’re nothing but a matrix of organic compounds blundering about the world, mucking along until such a time that we’re called to be culled. It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal?” Blake asked incredulously. “It’s a big deal! We’re more than the sum of our parts, and our ancestors understood that. Now? We’re just a resource in potentia. A resource only to be harvested upon our death. Reduces the meaning of life to nil.”
“There is no inherent meaning to life, B,” Jensen argued as he striped another corpse. “We live, we die, and then that’s that. There is no hereafter, no afterlife. Those who believe otherwise are blind fools.”
“Are they?” Blake responded. “I’m not so sure anymore. If this is all there is, existence is pretty bleak.”
“That I can’t argue with.”
“Finally, something we agree with.”
The day remained uneventful until almost two. A body fell through the opening and promptly stood up. ” Oh look,” Jensen said gleefully. “I forgot about him.”
“Another execution?” Blake moaned. “Why aren’t they killed before they get here?”
“Why waste the resource?” Jensen pushed a couple of buttons, and then with the joystick aimed and fired a projectile into the condemned. It injected him with the liquid desiccant and within moments he fell to the ground, dehydration rapidly disabling him. Jensen proceeded to strip him of his clothing before Blake took over, removing all metallic objects from his body. The condemned shook, trying to break free, but the desiccant left him unable to use his muscles.
“Such a shame to torture him this way.” Blake protested feebly.
Jensen grunted. “Then he shouldn’t have done whatever it was he was found guilty of doing.
At three, they began disinfecting the chamber, and by fifteen til four, they were back in the changing area, their jumpsuits stripped and placed in the chutes that led to an incinerator. By four-thirty, they both had showered and dressed in their own clothes and headed home. Tomorrow they would begin to disassemble the dried remains of today’s batch, feeding the massive grinder which would pulverize the remains into dust, before placing the dust into the kilns to be fired, dried, and sterilized before shipping to the next facility to process and refine into useable materials.
As Blake sat down and pulled out a biscuit to snack on, she shuddered and wondered if she was eating the remains of someone she had harvested. There was no way to know, but the thought creeped her out as she took a bite. If I’m eating someone, she thought, at least they’re delicious.