04. Cyborg Ella
Part I: Dirty Work
She was the only one in the room with robotic legs. Not the impressive Billion-Dollar-Man type, and not the kind amputee soldiers are given to stay in service. Her legs hissed and whirred with every move. Her body tilted awkwardly as she walked, almost always about to fall but never just quite. The paint job had cracked and disintegrated long ago, making the legs look more like odd parts from an old microwave-oven than the sleek chrome often associated with cyborgs.
She would never get chosen. Every time she stood in one of those lineups, no one picked her. Because everyone else in line was visibly strong and able-bodied; the type of workers business owners could use and be proud of. Not her, not the half-person.
So she couldn't believe it when old Maggie picked her. She suspected the day she got picked, it'd be by someone poor who couldn't afford any better. And if there's anything worse than being unemployed, it's being employed by the impoverished. Where no matter how hard you work, the most you could ever hope to become is as poor as the people you work for. And even that would be aiming too high.
Maggie was no poor woman. She wasn't wealthy but she was far from impoverished. She was a proud land-owner, self-sufficient and self-made. But she was getting old. Far more fit than most people her age, but no longer strong enough to handle the daily strain of manual labor. Her failing eyesight didn't help, nor did her punctured eardrum. Not to mention her cunty-ass daughters, too proud and –dare she admit it– too "educated" to appreciate the poetry of tending to the land.
Eleanor suspected as much when her eyes first locked with Maggie's. Eyes that were kind, gentle in power and sturdy in tenderness. She wanted to leave with Maggie so bad, escape the labor office and the sunless dormitory down below. She'd had enough of the flavorless pale goop they called food, and the taunting jeers of her alternating roommates. She had been there way too long, and she wasn't sure she could take it anymore.
Checkboxes were checked, forms were filled out, and agreements were signed. And finally, after a whirlwind of procedure, Eleanor and Maggie were out of there.
"It's almost like they didn't want to let you go", Maggie said with a chuckle as she lit a cigar.
"Oh I'm sure they're as happy as I am to see me leave", said Eleanor with a polite smile, her legs hissing and whirring as they walked.
"Now, for the sake of full disclosure", warned Maggie, "my daughters, about your age, can be... well, a little difficult sometimes."
Eleanor tried to hide her alarm, and continued to walk at old Maggie's pace. Hiss, whirr, hiss, whirr. "That shouldn't be a problem, Madame Maggie."
"Just Maggie is fine."
This made Eleanor smile. "I'm Eleanor", she said. Hiss, whirr, hiss, whirr.
“Yes, I know, I had to go through all those forms", said Maggie. "Too long, Ella-nour. Sounds funny. I'll call you Ella."
This, Eleanor did not like. But she kept quiet and carried on anyway. Hiss, whirr, hiss, whirr.
"Do you... do you hear that?" asked Maggie, her ears like broken antennae just barely catching the signal.
"Uhh, no I... oh, you mean my legs?" asked Ella.
Maggie halted in her steps, and gave Ella a look, not of a woman kind or tender, but of a woman betrayed.
Her failing eyes squinted at Ella's legs and tried hard to see what they couldn't see before. She then looked up at Ella before walking on. "It's okay", she said.
Ella followed. Hiss, Whirr, hiss, whirr.
"It's okay", said Maggie again, gritting her teeth, which Ella couldn't help but notice.
Part II: Lust For Life
Ella worked hard to prove her worth to Maggie, and it was working. Being a proud hard working woman herself, Maggie took a liking to Ella and her relentless work ethic. This was something Maggie's daughters took notice of, which of course prompted them to overload Ella's days with even more work. Aside from working the land, Ella was often asked to take on multiple chores. Loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, scrubbing floors, running out for groceries, and cleaning the bathrooms were but a few of those tasks. It's not like they were too busy to handle such functions themselves. As a matter of fact, they would often stand over Ella, and tell her how to go about doing things.
"You call that bathtub clean?" Malika -the eldest of the daughters– would often taunt.
"No! That's not how you fold clothes, dummy!" the other daughter, Sandra, would yell.
They would also have Ella make their beds, clean their mirrors, and shine their shoes, never enough to their satisfaction. The one thing they did not ever ask Ella to do was cook their food, because that they considered would be way too gross, something they never hid from Ella.
But even with all that work, the vast bulk of Ella's time was dedicated to working the land, the main crop of which was Jivama, the reed of life. Considered a miracle plant by people far and wide, Jivama gave them the bare essentials to survive. When crushed, one single reed produced a good half gallon of Jivaya, the requisite fluid for sustenance. The hard exterior shell of the plant was ground and baked into Jivak, the sturdy building blocks of homes and mass structures. The fibrous core protected by the shell was turned into Jiveet, a soft and durable thread for clothing. Drink, shelter, and dress: everything you need for survival in a single plant.
Strong, resilient reed though. Heavy too. Required a lot of work to handle. After chopping down the reeds with an axe, Ella would load them onto a cart, which she would then manually pull to a location where they would pile up and remain until a Float from Young's Ultimate Processing Plant Yard came to collect them. A YUPPY Float for short.
There were machines that could do Ella's job, but they were too expensive and awfully high maintenance. They only made sense if you had a farm triple the size of Maggie's. Only then would you grow enough Jivama to make up for a single machine's cost. And besides, Maggie figured, Ella was half machine anyway, and doing a fine enough job so far.
Unknown to Maggie however, was the harrowing pain shooting from Ella's legs up her spine. Ella hid it as best she could. She'd been homeless before, and it was something she was adamant about avoiding, no matter the price.
Part III: Break My Body
The Yuppy Float was minutes away from arriving, the first since Ella started the job, and there was still a small patch of Reeds not yet harvested. Maggie made it clear to Ella that if they missed any of the season's harvest, it would affect the pay they got from YUPPY. Maggie might've been strict, but she was no douchebag. She worked side-by-side Ella, chopping at the reeds and loading them onto the cart. By the time they were rolling the cart down the path to the pile, they could already see the approaching Float.
"C'mon, Ella, push, push!" yelled Maggie.
Ella pushed hard, ignoring the bolts of agony digging throughout her backside. Her legs hissed and puffed and, sporadically, went stiff. She ignored it all and pushed. The Float came closer and closer, Maggie and Ella pushed harder and harder. Until, just as they dropped the last of their Reeds in the pile, Ella felt a snap.
It was her right leg from the knee down, flung up in the air before landing in the jumble of Jivama. On the ground catching her breath and laughing a good laugh of relief, Maggie failed to take notice. She looked up with accomplished joy at the Yuppy Float elegantly lifting her harvest away.
Ella tried to hide the pain, but failed. She let out a loud horrible scream, and tears rolled down her face.
"What the? Oh Gods, Where is your leg?" asked Maggie.
"It snapped", screamed Ella.
"But where is it?!"
Ella pointed. Maggie looked up at the Float fading away into the distance. The pleasure in her eyes just a minute ago, now replaced with dread.
Part IV: Yuppy Song!
"Sir, I'm afraid if you don't get out of bed right this minute, your father will have my head."
"And that's supposed to concern me why?" asked Prince before tossing the blanket over his own head and burrowing into the mattress.
"Don't be mean", said Naomi, "I've worked very hard to make a man out of you and do not deserve to hear such cruel-hearted jokes."
"Leave him alone, leave him alone" dictated the synthesized voice of a mechanical jackalope, quickly joined by a gang of other frankensteined toys, all clawing at her feet. She kicked them relentlessly, as she often did, for she never hid her contempt for Prince's fucked up dolls.
She pulled the blanket off Prince, who then rose in superficial agony, eyes squinting from harsh violet sun.
"Nooooo! Don't!" he screamed, "the only reason you've worked so hard is because you’ve been paid so well.”
"Yeah. So well I live on a healthy diet of bird's milk and unicorn meat", said Naomi with a dose of sarcasm.
"Ha!" yelled Prince with amusement. "Tell you what, I'll get you exactly those things if you play my flute this morning."
"Prince! Your father is waiting!"
"Just a little?"
"Just a little, just a little!", came more of Prince's weird little dolls. Those of them that were operational anyway. The room was filled with piles upon piles of odd dismembered toys, things he bought obsessively just to tear them apart and inject with electronics.
Begrudgingly, Naomi began to take Prince's pants off.
"YAAAAAY!" all the toys cheered.
"Prince!" shouted his father's voice coming from the doorway, making all animated toys scurry away. "Why are you still in bed?"
"Oh Mr. Young", Naomi fumbled with Prince's pajama pants, "you know little Prince, he practically can't get dressed without my help, haha."
"No," said Mr. Young, "No, I did not know that, Naomi."
A brief silence. Awkward.
"Come, Naomi, Madame needs you in the kitchen for something I'm sure is far more worthy of your skills."
"Yessir, Mr. Young."
"And you, you little punk. Get dressed. You're coming with me to the Plant."
As Naomi was exiting, Mr. Young noticed she still had Prince's pants in her hands.
"Hey. Those. Give me."
Naomi handed Mr. Young the pants and swiftly disappeared before their stench made its way to his nostrils.
"And please", Mr. Young told his son, "take a shower before you get dressed?"
* * *
Mr. Young walked the Plant grounds with his boy who was clearly being groomed to take over. Something the Plant's chief of Operations, Mr. Punchrack, wasn't very keen on. But he knew this was the order of things, and the order of things were not to be tampered with, even if young Prince was less than interested in the mighty grandeur of the facility and its intricacies. With Mr. Young standing over his shoulder, Punchrack tried his damnedest to appeal to the boy's interests. He gestured with pride at the massive apparatus built to crush those hard resilient Javama reeds, and spoke fondly of the complex systems that funneled sap into the monumental tanks where it was thinned out for human consumption. He spoke of the brilliance of automation, and how it allowed for the crushed reeds to be shaped into cuboids and rolled out into the bowels of colossal ovens before coming out the other side as hard solid blocks of Jivak. Meanwhile, tons of Jivama core was tumble dried, and sent off to the other side of the factory where it was spun into the finest Jiveet thread, all within the same sprawling facility.
It was impressive, no doubt, but lacked the intimacy of the sort of hands-on machines Prince was typically interested in.
Punchrack directed the boy and his father to the point of entry, the docks, where Floats unloaded the latest harvest onto conveyor belts that directly connected to--
"Punchrack, what is that?" asked Mr. Young sternly.
Punchrack turned to look, and screamed in horror before rushing over to remove the mechanical leg off the conveyor belt. "It appears to be a... uh, old cybernetic limb, sir."
"I see. And what is it doing on a conveyor belt leading into the state-of-the-art wonder that is Young's Ultimate Processing Plant Yard?"
“I, uh... it, um", Punchrack fumbled for words, and Prince was only now starting to get quite amused.
"Must've landed in the Float by accident", said Punchrack apologetically.
"Right," said his boss. "And do we not have any quality control measures to make sure this object wouldn't end up where it isn't meant to?"
"Of course, sir!" said Punchrack with enthusiasm. "See, over there see? We have a number of personnel eyeing the belt and emptying it of all erroneous items, sir, see?"
The personnel were indeed there, one of who was picking his nose.
Mr. Young let his heavy gaze fall on Punchrack and rest there for a few moments before letting him have it. "This entire facility was built to avoid the possibility of human error, Punchrack. Yet, I see you, the Chief of Operations, have managed to make human error an essential part of the facility's point of entry of all places."
Punchrack wanted to die.
"Mechanize this shit," said the boss. "Include the filtration process at points of pickup if you can. No need for the Floats to lug around unnecessary weight."
"Genius, sir!" exclaimed Punchrack, raising both his fists, one holding the leg up in the air, which pulled both his boss's gaze, as well as Prince's, up towards it.
Punchrack lowered his hands with a tad of shame, "I'll figure it out and draw up plans immediately, sir."
"Good", said Mr. Young, his son nodding in approval. "As for you", Young told his kid before grabbing the leg from Punchrack's hand.
"Me, what did I do?!"
"You will take this leg", Young gave him the leg, "and find out where it came from. And when you do, you will give the person responsible a fine."
"You gotta be kidding me!"
"It's about time you got involved in the business, son."
Part V: A New Machine
Ella begged Maggie not to let her go, promised she could continue working. Maggie insisted it was impossible without both her legs, but Ella propped herself on a stick to feebly show what she could still do. Maggie's daughters enjoyed the spectacle, but Maggie still wasn't having it.
"I have a headful of ideas", insisted Ella.
"It's not ideas I want, it's a body," said Maggie. "A good strong, able body."
"Listen," insisted Ella, "my leg, I built it myself. I can build you a small Jivama processing machine."
"Ella... I'm sorry you're in this difficult position, but what you're saying is nonsense."
"No, I promise you. It's completely doable. The big central plant is only necessary for big quantities."
"Well what good would a miniature plant do me anyway?"
"Instead of using your earnings to buy Jivaya and Jiveet from the market, you could keep a small portion of your harvest for your own consumption, and process it yourself."
The idea began to appeal to Maggie.
"It would be much more cost-effective, and we could even make some extra Jivak and Jiveet in the process and sell those in the marketplace", insisted Ella.
"You... can build a machine to do all that?"
"I can, I really can. I promise you."
"Well if that's the case, why don't you just rebuild yourself a leg instead?" probed Maggie.
"Oh believe it or not a leg is far more complex. And costly!" explained Ella. "Nerves must connect to wires, and muscles must conjoin with hydraulics and hard gels."
Maggie and her daughters were impressed and a little surprised. Maggie didn't necessarily like the idea of a subordinate being smarter than her though. She produced a cigar and told Ella to light it up for her, which Ella happily did.
"How do you know all this stuff?" Maggie asked her.
"I... used to be an Engineer. Back home."
"You don't say?" said Maggie surprised. Both her daughters shared a look. Neither of them had good enough creds to get into Engineering School.
"I tried to stick around, but the war... it was a mess. I would've stayed and fought if there was an obvious side to join, but... it felt like a million separate factions, all equally messed up. So I walked, nothing on me but a backpack with a couple clothes and a handful of snacks. Ended up here."
"How'd you end up at the Labor Office though?" asked Maggie, "You didn't mention you were an engineer?"
"Yeah, I mentioned it to border police. They just laughed at me and gave me a form to fill out. After a few months in detention with no one to appeal to, found myself being taken to the Labor Office."
"Fucking Hell", puffed Maggie. "Alright, we'll try this machine of yours out. But don't think that'll exempt you from working the land, leg or no leg."
"I can do it," said Ella, "since we'll be setting aside some crops for personal use, what's left for next pickup's deadline shouldn't be a problem."
Part VI: Blasphemous Rumors
"Have you heard about Mr. Young's son?"
"They say he's looking for an amputated field worker."
"I heard they found a leg on the factory's conveyor belt."
"Sent the kid out to find out who's responsible and slap 'em with a fine."
"No way would they send the heir to the factory out for something so petty."
"He's got a fetish y'know."
"For mannequins, I heard."
"Broken mannequins. Mutilated mannequins."
"Rich people are weird."
"Maybe he's upgrading from plastic to real flesh and blood, eh?”
"You think he's on the lookout for a bride?"
All kinds of rumors about young Prince Young were spreading in the marketplace, which Ella frequented either for groceries or supplies. On her most recent visits, she started to notice something most uncomfortable: more and more amputated girls. They were especially present in the spare-parts section of the marketplace, where Ella went to get the final components necessary for her Jivama processing machine back at Maggie's farm.
* * *
The machine roared its first roar, and Ella pushed a few test reeds into its big hungry mouth which chewed them up like a starving beast. Maggie applauded from a distance and a little while later the two of them were celebrating with a toast of fresh Jivaya. Not Maggie's daughters though, for they were out on the town. Likely catching wind of Prince Young's impending arrival.
Part VII: Prince of Darkness
"You promise this is the last one?" Prince asked his Float as they approached Maggie's farm.
"Absolutely, sir" responded the dashboard.
"That's what you said last time."
"Pardon me, sir, but that's not true. I said we were almost done sir, almost."
“What kind of machine says 'almost'? You're a machine gods-dammit, just gimme a number!"
"We've been programmed to act more... human, sir. More personable and likable that way."
"Now who's shitty idea was that?"
The Float landed in the field and much to Prince's surprise no one was there to greet him, as had usually been the case on every other farm he passed through. He approached the farmhouse, artificial limb in hand, and made sure to announce his presence, but he was only met with eerie, desolate silence.
He could hear a distant rumbling though, likely coming from the other side of the house. He made his way in that direction, turned one corner after the other, until his eyes fell upon a sight most ghastly.
Ella was resisting being shoved into the makeshift processing machine by Maggie's daughters, both of whose legs were partially missing, spouting blood all over the place. The machine itself was already regurgitating bits of blood and bone and human flesh.
Prince stood there before the carnage not believing or understanding it, but there's no denying he was getting a boner. The two girls felt a gaze upon them, and were startled to find that their anticipated suitor was witnessing them in the process of killing another person.
"Oh!" said Sandra.
"Ohmygod", said her sister Malika, "You must be... Mr. Prince Young, we've heard so much about you!", fixing her hair with a bloody hand.
"We were just playing pretend!", continued Sandra.
"Riiiiiight", said Prince Young, his eyes scanning the gallons of blood everywhere.
"Syrup is so much fuuuun," said Sandra, dipping her finger into a pool of blood and sticking it into her mouth. "Mmm, yum."
Ella stared at them like a couple of crazies.
"Why are you all missing legs?" asked Prince Young with concern.
"Oh, we... we work so hard on the land and... y'know, accidents happen!" said Malika with a big smile.
"It looks like... you're still bleeding down there. Is that... is that a fresh wound?" asked Prince.
"No, it just bleeds sometimes that's all! I see you've found the rest of my leg somehow," said Sandra.
"No no, that's mine", said Malika.
"Now now, girls, easy way to find out who's leg it is", reassured the Prince.
Sandra was the first to try on the leg, but alas it was a failure. Her leg was missing from the thigh downward, and the artificial leg began from the knee. It just wasn't a match.
Malika's leg was lost at the knee, so she had a better chance. But she was awfully tall for a girl, and definitely too tall for the artificial limb. With its foot only barely reaching the ankle on her other leg.
Prince noticed that Ella too was missing a leg , and that in fact her other leg was also mechanical. And so asked for her to try it on as well. The two sisters protested, claiming that Ella hardly worked the land at all and thus the leg could not possibly be hers, but Prince insisted, saying he had strict instructions to have every amputated person on every farm try the leg.
The word "instructions" made them pause.
Ella, of course, knew the leg was hers, but feared the punishment she might receive once the Youngs found out. She had no choice but to comply with Prince's demands though and try on the limb. Of course, it fit her like a glove.
"Aha!" exclaimed Prince with excitement, "Finally!"
"What does this mean for me?", asked Ella.
"You're not the owner of this farm, are you?" asked Prince Young.
"No, I just... work here."
"Then you have nothing to worry about. Where's the owner? They are to be fined."
Ella, Malika, and Sandra all looked at the makeshift processing machine, still gurgling away with much flesh and blood. A ting of pain evident on Ella’s face.
"Uh, I guess you two are the owners now", said Ella to Malika and Sandra, both of who were in shock at this turn of events.
"Okay then", said Prince Young before using a handheld device to stamp a slip of fine paper and handing it to them.
Prince Young began to march away but then he stopped. He turned to Ella, "Say... those mechanical legs of yours are pretty cool. Who made them?"
"I did", said Ella confidently.
"Impressive”, said Prince, genuinely impressed. “Y'know... I mess around a bit with cybernetics myself. Small scale though, but I do have something of a collection."
"Nice", said Ella.
"Maybe you'd like to come check out my stuff sometime."
"Uh, yeah, sure why not?" said Ella a little surprised.
“Maybe you'd like to come check out my stuff right now?"
"Right... now?", Ella turned to look at Malika and Sandra, at the machine chewing up poor old Maggie, and at the sprawling farm of hard relentless labor. "Yeah, let's go."
Moments later they were both in Prince's Yuppy Float, lifting off and headed for his mansion.
"You better not turn out to be a creepy asshole" said Ella.
To which the Float's dashboard pretended to cough.
Authored June 2018
in Denver (CO)
Words & Pictures: Ganzeer
Editor: Dan Hill
Copyright © 2018 by Ganzeer, Inc.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License
in Denver (CO)
Words & Pictures: Ganzeer
Editor: Dan Hill
Copyright © 2018 by Ganzeer, Inc.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License