“Inhuman Nature” by Arianne Ashford

Business was booming. As long as people were augmenting their bodies, I had plenty of business to go around. Hospitals and plastic surgeons from all over sent me their excess limbs, body fat, anything discarded from the human body that was no longer needed. When I had first started, there had been skeptics though most of my opposition came from righteous zealots about the sanctity of the human body, where money could be made there were investors.

While cyber enhancements became all the rage when technology peaked in medicine, recycling had never gone out of style – I clung to that in my business. We had grown so big and so quickly, you could even put a recycle marker on your ID and profile like your donor badge, he government giving us a slice of their tax pie. Why become waste after death when you could become a set of dinnerware for a happy family of four in place of those cancer-causing plastics? The public lapped it up, I even made bargains with doctors for small discounts to their procedures if patients opted to donate their replaced appendages.

We shifted from a small warehouse on the airdocks, to a factory in the business sector. I had shipments coming from around the globe and the colonies with human remnants to be used at Mortal Salvaging. We operated massive crematories, vats of fat, and assembly lines manned by robots and humans.

It was becoming a concern though that were growing too fast. The demand too high for our products produced from remains of the augmented or deceased. People were simply not dying fast enough with the numerous advantages of medicine in this day and age.

I started off small. It became a new clause anyone injured or killed on the job were required to donate lost extremities and their bodies to the company. With workplace accidents low, though, I had to think bigger. I ran campaigns of advertisements to up the increase in pledged donors, sought out hospitals that were not on our list of suppliers, and sent my best salesmen to pitch for anything they had. I even supplied money to boost the drive for alterations, to keep people chopping off their flesh for advanced robotics.

My next big step was reaching out to crime syndicates. I didn’t care where the fingers or bodies came from, but they had a place here in my factory. I was getting double the money for those deals, they paid under the table directly to me to dispose of their leftovers, and then I made profits off the recycled parts. The relationship also brought about new investors I didn’t mind making connections with. Mortal Salvaging at its fingers in the gangs and government.

“Should we be doing this?” My assistant asked beside me. We were crouched low in the alley, eyes on the little grouping of people.

I had a small circle of people I trusted or paid well enough for their loyalty. My assistant as well as the three other dockhands working the truck were some of them. I clutched the pistol tighter in my grip, licking my lips.

“Do you want to keep your job?” I challenged back, rising to stand tall. 

“Think of it as a service. We supply the industry and reduce the homeless population.”

“Of course, you’re right,” he agreed, shuffling to stand beside me.

I kept the laser gun behind me, my companion awkwardly holding the energy shotgun beneath his coat. We approached the half dozen men circled around a bonfire with smiles on our faces.

“Evening gentlemen,” I said when we got closer. I oddly never felt nervous during though.

I thought I would have been scared around mobsters, and I thought I would have been terrified to hold a gun and take a life but as I pulled my arms from behind my back and shot the first homeless closest to me, I was very clearly not afraid. We made short work, my assistant stopping two running away with a quick blast, and I eliminating the rest with a few quiet shots, the night filled with red flashes. A sharp whistled brought about the others who piled the bodies up into the truck.

The following evening, I was giving a press conference on the impacts of my new and growing business on the city.

“We’ve produced 1,000 new jobs, introduced a new recycling process, and our products are flying off the shelves. There’s even reports of homelessness down by 25% since we opened our doors.” I smiled with shining white teeth. I blinked augmented eyes at the crowd of reporters and cameras. I bowed out and left the financial discussion to my C.F.O.

I was growing fond of the night out-goings to find local resources, so much I began to do it alone. I didn’t always use a pistol either. If it was solo prey, I like using more manual objects – a hammer for instance was messy but effective. My favorite tool was the machete, not only useful but there was a fear factor involved in its imagery that presented itself to my victims…my cattle. When I had begun this method of farming, we charmed the vagrants onto the truck, promising them food and shelter; that had felt tedious and a waste of time. I found my method more practical, herding them, and slaughtering them.

“Ah,” I sighed freeing my machete from the fresh corpse of a homeless youth, her knees bruised, and arms scabbed from her drug use. I didn’t have to load anyone up on my excursions, unidentified bodies, unclaimed people who had no one to pay for burials automatically ended up on my assembly lines. We were a service to the public.

I wiped the blade off on her filthy coat and stepped over her, making sure not to leave any tracks in her blood. I had a cleanser spray with me that removed traces of my DNA, and a scrambler augmentation behind my ear that erased traces of me from any security cameras – a generous gift from my criminal syndicate friends. One wasn’t enough for me, as I treaded through the alley and across a parking lot, towards a known hotspot of destitution. Stalking forward I counted a few pedestrians moving by, avoiding the area I intently was drawn too. I was doing a service for my company that no one would understand, so what if I enjoyed it.

Coming up to the derelict building, there were too many for me to have my fun out in the open. Little groupings outside along the sidewalk, and I could see flickers of light inside through the broken windows of the old place. I sheathed my machete and, drew my coat closer to me and instead of going home, I dove in.

Drunk, strung out on drugs, or passed out they were too occupied to notice me different from any other homeless person. I stuck close to the walls and the shadows as I made my way inside, checking each room. I was on the fifth floor when I found my nest of business and pleasure. Three people were laid out on filthy mattresses, unconscious. I closed the door behind me and waited, watching them for any stirring. When no one moved I pulled my hammer from a loop on the backside of my belt.

I went for the blonde first, nudging her head off her companion’s shoulder with the claw of the hammer. Her face was grimy, and lips cracked and tinged with blue; they had huffed something to sleep. I glanced around and made a face at the aerosol cans I had stepped over to reach them. I was doing the world of service recycling these drug-addled wastes of flesh. I would give them purpose again.

Holding the hammer high above my head, I saw her eyes flicker moments before the face collided with the top of her head. I yanked it free and delivered another blow, the squelching sounds of bone breaking to give way to brain and fluids. Worried that the other two would wake, I slit their throats with the machete to keep them quiet. I then pried out anything that looked not biological to their forms with the claw. I tossed a metal arm aside, a false eye, and plates in the ribcage of another aside. I delivered the blade to each of their hearts – I wanted to ensure my cattle were never waking up.

There was no surprise as I sipped my coffee in the morning, watching the news highlight the building I had been in the night before. A drone filtered through each room, blurs of red to block out the bodies. I clicked a button on my remote and the censorship went away. I smiled into my cup and took a long drink, observing my work. After I had finished off the three, I had decided that I might as well service the whole building. I went from room to room and then picked off the others one by one. A few had run off when they found the trail of bodies, but I was gone by the time law enforcement arrived. I could see in the background one of the Mortal Salvaging vans, helping coroners load up bodies; perfect the company was getting good PR even.

My wife swept by me, grabbing a cup for herself and looked over at the news. She frowned deeply, far more empathetic than me.

“Those poor people,” she said softly, hand pressing to her stomach as if she’d be sick. She took the remote from me and turned the censorship back on; I kept my annoyance to myself and smiled at her.

“Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.” Her eyes narrowed at me. “They were not living good lives. Hopefully, no one was in pain long.” That seemed to passive her bleeding heart as she moved to the fridge to find breakfast.

“Where were you last night?” I choked on my coffee as she asked me.

“I woke up, it was nearly 1:00 and you weren’t there.”

“I had an itch to work,” I admitted.

“Couldn’t shake it so I went into the office.”

She kissed my cheek and praised me for my work ethic. I had to grin at that, I was working hard, a hands-on executive for the betterment of my business and the world.

When I went into the office a few hours later, they were already hauling in victims from the Vagrant Massacre, as they were calling it, to be repurposed as the amount of bodies were too many for the morgue. Good, the sooner they were disposed of and used, the less likelihood of evidence being discovered. I was a little inclined to be worried that my berserker mode last night had made me careless in clean up. In a showman ship of teamwork, I pulled on a worker’s uniform over my suit and helped move the bodies down to deconstruction.

On the hoverslab next to me, I leaned in close to the body, traversing down a hallway alone. I could hear the rasping crackle of breath in the man. I blinked, surprised, his face half-concaved from a hammer blow and his chest a definite wound where the machete had stabbed him. I detoured and moved the hoverslab into a workshop room used for prototype building. How the hell was he alive? I blinked and my eyes searched his body for augmentations but couldn’t see anything on the surface or beneath the skin. I a fit of annoyance, I plunged my fingers into the chest would and pried it open. There was a croak of agony from the man as I ripped his flesh apart to expose his ribcage. Blood poured as I stared at the slow beating mechanical heart in his chest. It was an old one, no wonder my sensors hadn’t picked it up. I tutted in disapproval of myself and pushed my fingers through the slits of the ribs to get to the heart. I couldn’t quite reach.

Instead of searching for something in the room, I double-timed my speed to take him to the furnace. As I lead him down the hallway, he grabbed my wrist with the strength of a fly. I shook him off me and smiled down at him.
“It’ll be over before you know it. A little heat,” I purred, explaining as I already felt warmer nearing the fires of disassembly, “and poof, you’re a vase.”

I heard him groan as I laughed, tilting the hoverslab to let his body slide off into the vat of piping-hot remains.

Now to wash this blood off my hands and get back to work…playtime was over.