“So you seen, it’s just like any other machine. They come in broke, you send ‘em out fixed.”
“But… you send them where?”
The Head gives you a look like you’re a particularly interesting type of broken. “Into… the… bodies…”
You step back, looking around the clattering, busy room to avoid that piercing gaze. All around you, people run around, sparks fly, and machines hum. They move in perfect rhythm, echoing the odd hammering of your heart against your ribs. Why are you sweating? This needs to be done, after all.
You’re going to be professional. You said you would be, after all, when you were assigned here. So you look back at the Head, as if your skin wasn’t crawling. “Where do the souls come from?”
The Head’s lips twist, and he stabs a finger at the intake pipe, high up near the ceiling of the opposite wall. Glowing wisps travel along it, pulsing in crimson, azure, verdant green, dandelion yellow, or blazing orange. Some drift along with soothing serenity, while others collide with their neighbors and whip in a twisting frenzy. Souls, battling it out without the trappings of corporeal form.
But that wasn’t what you were asking.
The Head’s expression doesn’t bode well if you continue interrogating. You move forward, drifting toward the wall under the tube of luminous spirits. Faint screams travel to your ears, and you hold yourself very still to avoid shuddering. There’s a crack in the wall, so you peer through it, though you already know what you’ll find. That explains why the Soul Mechanic Shop is next to the prison.
Every single prisoner fights. Guards in black uniforms and stern expressions strap them down to the machine. Even when they must surely know it’s hopeless, not a single man or woman ceases the struggle. Not until the machine turns on, and the whipping, twisting soul emerges into the tube and the person goes calm and still. No longer a person. A shell.
You step back, turning around. The Head has gone—no doubt he’s got other things to do. Mechanics to organize. Machines to check. Souls to… fix. You shake yourself a little. The prisoners are violent, dangerous. They are deviant to the very core of them, to their very soul, which is why this place exists. Though the person can no longer re-enter society, the soul, at least, can be fixed.
So why do your heartstrings twist and clamor?
You follow the pipe, circling around the machines it enters, past the stations of mechanics with their various tubes and tools and electrified implements, and out the other side. The tube continues, though none of the wisps inside struggle any longer. For some reason, your heart sinks. Something vital has been lost, and no one in the shop has even noticed. Or perhaps they have noticed, but no longer care. That would be even worse.
The souls glow a unified blue, sedate, calm, passive, as they travel along the tube to the other wall. There’s a crack there, too, almost as if this was designed to satisfy newbie curiosity. Surely others before you have had these same questions, and surely the Head treated them with the same distant, distracted disdain. You peek through, of course. What else are you going to do?
A hospital. Not just infants on the other side, but patients lying in white smocks, as if asleep. Until the blue souls enter through the tubes that narrow, thinner and thinner until they enter the body through the big vein in the neck. One by one, the patients awake, disconnect themselves from the machine, and move on. Nurses or doctors, you aren’t sure which, replace those who leave the room with others, all sedated or unconscious or comatose. No one speaks a word. Only the squeak of the bed wheels and the hum of the life support apparatus makes a sound. It’s all done in perfect calm.
You do shudder now. Staring at the vibrancy of the spirits before the machines, and their calm afterward. As if the… as if the very soul has been sucked from them.
A wrench lies nearby. This is a mechanic shop, after all. You pick it up, heft its weight, and step forward.
It’s not smart, what you do. Not safe. But you don’t wait for the Head to inform you of that.
Because when a Heart breaks, it doesn’t only have to break itself.