The Postmodern Prometheus
rating: +37+x


SCPF Europan Outpost CANTOR

2050-06-12, Anno Terra



"So, what's the damage?"

There's a click click click as Milo's assistant runs up a database entry.

"Kyle Wheaton, biological age 31, chronological age the same. Left kidney missing, three old wounds in the abdomen — that's two bullet, one knife — and mild blunt force trauma to left shoulder. Partial prior removal of skin, bone, left kidney, subcutaneous fat, and some miscellaneous soft tissue and cartilage. A lot of replacement dermis that might be worth taking out for reuse, and most of his skeleton's artificial. He's honestly in fairly good health, all things considered."

The surgeon licks his lips and grins.

"Alright, I can work with this. What's most pressing?"

"Seems to be small intestine, pancreas, and anything ocular. Oh, and hearts are always needed, so see if his is any good."

Bending over the struggling figure, he cups their cheek lightly in his hand. With his free arm he begins to massage the side of their head, running a long fingernail under a flap of skin below their temple. Pulling the flap back reveals a layer of soft red meat, which can easily be twisted aside to expose the bone beneath. Milo does the same on the other side of his patient's skull, and in a matter of minutes their facial structure lies open like a blooming flower, spreading out radially in five neat strips. A click, a crunch, and a wet squelching noise, and Milo deposits the left eyeball on the tray next to him. The right one is placed next to it a few seconds later, followed by a few stringy lengths of nerve fibre and four pieces of beige material that look suspiciously like eyelids.

He calls to his assistant again. "Who's this going out to, lad?"

"Embrey, HMCL supervisor. Lost a good chunk of his skull in a recent breach."

"And the other one?"

"Storage. It's amazing how often Researchers blind themselves in the course of duty."

Milo snorts, and turns back to the former fugitive. They've stopped struggling now, and lie silently facing the ceiling, chest rising and falling in rapid bursts. He asks them to roll over; when they don't comply, he simply grasps them by the shoulder and forces them onto their stomach. Most people expect it to be easier to get to the digestive system from the front, but they're wrong — there's a series of notches between the lumbar vertebrae that allow you to pretty quickly empty the body from behind, and of course you avoid having to pluck out all the ribs individually if you want the heart and lungs.

Zzzzzip.

Milo pulls the patient's jumpsuit down to their waist, briefly unbuckling the restraints on their neck and midsection. Even if they'd been able to find the exit without eyes, there were always at least a dozen armed guards wandering the clinic at any one time. He wouldn't even have gotten out of the building. He'd consented to the procedure, and it was too late for second thoughts.

Zzzzzip.

Pink skin is rolled back, and a small pile of bone fragments begin to form next to the surgeon as he goes about his work. Metal and polymer are separated from flesh with the help of some surgical scissors, and a large tupperware box begins to slowly fill with bloody plastic. A kidney, a stomach, a length of gullet that he manages to free by disconnecting the skull from the neck and poking his fingers round against the trachea, and finally three discrete sections of the small intestine; each is laid carefully in its own sterile container, and packed in a crate with other miscellaneous viscera.

"Right arm in one piece?"

"Better not. Says here there's been an increase in damage below the wrist, so they'll probably want it separate. I'd say you're good to pack the legs on their own, though. Most likely they'll be able to make any adjustments during reattachment." A pause. "Actually, on the subject of reattachment, how's his wrist? Only, mine's been giving me gyp lately and I-"

Milo sighs. "I'm going to stop you right there, lad. If I could pull something like that, do you think I'd still be walking around in this heap of junk? There are almost always surgeons and engineers and gunmen who need the parts more than we do. You'll have to fill out the forms and get in the queue like the rest of them."

"Yeah, yeah, I know."

"Look at it this way: you've got a well paying job somewhere indoors, no pressing obligations, a health plan that renders you potentially immortal and a pension that's to die for. A little carpal tunnel every now and then's a small price to pay, right?"

"Mhm. I- yeah. Yeah, you're right. Shouldn't be ungrateful."

"Hah! Gratitude's got nothing to do with it, my boy. You've got a cushy number here that not many people know about — don't go spoiling it by drawing attention to yourself." Milo picks up a hand and gestures with it. "You know how many people think Deconstructionists still use scalpels and bone saws? If it became common knowledge that it was as easy as this, there'd be copies of thirty-four eighty-four in every bookstore and everybody'd be their own doctor, physician, and plastic surgeon. At this point, the only thing standing between me, you, and the unemployment office is the Overseers' paranoia. It's astounding enough that they opened it up to civilians."

"…Huh."

"Now, come help me put the rest of the fellow in suspension and then we'll go to lunch. I'm buying."

"Right, uh, yeah. Thanks."


"Buying or selling?"

Three hours prior to the events of the operating theatre, imminent patient Kyle Wheaton rubs the back of his neck nervously, feeling with worn fingertips the boundary between skin and metal. He traces ridges across his jawline, feeling the scars where they inserted the plastic replacement, rubbing the various accumulated skin-replacement polymers. The operations were smooth as anything, but the aftereffects were astonishing. Probably why they're so secretive about the whole thing. He drops his hand to his side and plunges it deep into his pocket, brushing up against his far-too-light wallet.

"S- selling."

The receptionist smiles, and nods. She looks about twenty, but given the circumstances she could be two-hundred.

"Bone, dermis, or viscera?"

He looks around. If he ran now, he could probably make it maybe ten, fifteen metres. The clinic was on a main road — it was gone twelve so the dome's floodlights would be off, but the abundant neon rendered the whole scene in near-perpetual noon. He'd likely be clearly visible to whatever Foundation agent or automated drone was stalking the streets, and the next alley would be… yeah, about twenty metres down. Surveillance was always tight, and had started getting tighter following the publicisation of Deconstruction. Nah, he'd have no chance.

"Sir, if you don't answer soon, we're going to have to ask you to leave."

They both knew what that meant. He'd be dead as soon as he left the sanctity of the clinic.

"Yeah, uh, sorry. I'd like to sell, um…" He shuts his eyes in subconscious defiance. "Wholesale."

The receptionist blinks, and Kyle can feel twenty pairs of eyes piercing the back of his neck. Resisting the urge to turn around, he waits for her response.

"I mean, if you're sure. Just sign these forms, and we'll bring you through into the operating room. You're a very brave man for doing this. You'll be helping a lot of people."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know."

"We don't tend to get many wholesales, you see. The process needs live patients, and most people aren't willing to hand themselves in prior to, to the end, so to speak. And of course, piecemeal trading tends to be more kidneys, skin, bone, intestine; stuff you can sort of do without, you know?"

Kyle, whose skeleton is currently 7% biomesh and 19% low-grade reinforced plastic, knows.

"You're very brave."

Kyle disagrees, and so doesn't correct her.

"You, um, need to sign at the bottom."

He wordlessly scribbles his signature along the dotted line, and the receptionist pulls the clipboard back. There's a faint susurration behind him as people start to break through the awkwardness that 'wholesale' entails.

"Right this way, sir."

He walks through the door.

***

You are on-record as Kyle Wheaton, identification number 000112b8ea59cf3. Is this information correct?

Kyle looks around the bright white cube. The walls and floor are the same featureless rubber tiles, and both doors are practically invisible when closed. The only distinguishing features are a camera in one corner and a metal grate not quite in the centre of the floor. "Yeah."

Please provide a non-colloquial response. You are on-record as Kyle Wheaton, identification number 000112b8ea59cf3. Is this information correct?

"Yea- yes. Yes it is."

A faint beep.

Are you are aware of the wholesale procedure, and what exactly it entails?

"I'm going to be butchered like a pig and sold for spare parts in your weird, secretive, Illuminati-ass organisation."

Another faint beep.

That is a… satisfactory answer. For future reference, a simple yes or no will suffice. You are aware that once the process has been completed, you will be placed in storage until such time as you are able to be reconstituted?

"Yes."

The beeps keep coming, just on the edge of hearing.

You are aware that, at the time of your storage, your private fund account will receive a payment of exactly five-hundred and twelve thousand US dollars, which will increase or decrease with inflation until such time as you are able to be reconstituted?

"Yes. That's the point."

I have to ask. You are aware that you may remain in suspension for a length of time not exceeding five hundred years, Anno Terra?

"Yeah."

Please provide a non-colloquial res-

"Yes! Yes, I'm aware."

Please repeat the following: 'I, Kyle Wheaton, consent to the Deconstruction procedure, knowing full well what said procedure involves'.

"Jesus, covering your ass much?"

Please repeat-

"I, Kyle Wheaton, consent to the Deconstruction procedure, knowing full well what said procedure involves."

A louder, longer beep.

Please remove all clothes and personal belongings and place them in the tray provided.

Kyle looks around the cube. Sure enough, a tray has extended out of an otherwise nondescript wall. He strips, and places the bundle of fabric in the blue plastic square, next to his keys, wallet, and phone. For a moment he stands naked, shivering in the cold recycled air.

Please put on the provided jumpsuit.

The tray slides away, and a second adjacent slot opens. From it, a grey jumpsuit bearing the Foundation insignia is extruded. Kyle slips into it — it's cheap cotton, and slightly too big.

Before the procedure begins, do you have any questions?

"Will it hurt?"

The AI takes a moment to respond.

Anaesthetic will not be provided due to complications arising from inflammation, but I am lead to believe that the experience is not painful. You may experience moderate to extreme discomfort during disassembly, but this should subside as you become accustomed to your remaining anatomical features. Do you have any further questions?

"No."

Please step through the door to your right. A medical professional will restrain you shortly.

He does so, and the lights in the cube switch off.


The operating theatre is dimmer without the surgical lamps, but not completely dark.

Kyle's eyes were currently staring at the inside of a plastic tub, of course, but if he had possessed his normal visual acuity he would have been one of an increasingly large number of humans to see something that had (for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years) remained a blissful mystery. He would have seen two figures — one old and grinning, one young and trying not to gag — lift what remained of his body from the slab and carry it to a second slab a little way away. He would have seen them lay him down and thread electrodes through his exposed brain tissue before tightening straps around his waist, neck, and the remainder of his forehead.

If he had had any nerves left in his throat, he would have felt a gag slide into place and would probably have tried to scream. If if his ears had still been connected to anything, he would have heard the sound of two men pulling a lever and watching him slide slowly into a slab-shaped hole in the wall. What little living tissue was left attached to the man would then have spent a very, very long time staring at nothing from the inside of a morgue drawer — a slightly modified one, true, but still undeniably a place for corpses to rest in temporary peace.

It was a lucky escape, then, that he was already blind.

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