Author: John McLaughlin

Dr. Jan Gorlick retrieved a new Synthetic from the docking bay, guiding the naked man by the hand as they ambled slowly to the center of the lab. There, he tapped two keys in succession and his console beeped. Coolant escaped from the chamber before them as its translucent perma-plastique door swung open along its hinge.

“Peter, go ahead and step inside. Please watch your head.”

The Synthetic mounted one large step and turned his catatonic gaze on Gorlick.

“Thank you, Peter. We can now begin the procedure.”

The Synthetic’s forearms were gripped by two black handles at waist height, triggering the mechanism that would–in under two minutes–leave him a disembodied collection of bar-coded organs.

Gorlick hated this part, he truly did. His team would ask him with a pained expression, why must the Synthetics remain conscious during the procedure? He could not answer this with certainty, despite his many late hours pouring through the literature on neuromechs, lab-grown organoids, synthetic neural networks. There seemed to be a funny glitch in the procedure, no doubt about it, the result of which the Reapacking could be performed only on a semi-conscious subject.

The chamber door sealed with a click and a finely misted disinfectant sprayed from chrome jets mounted in the corners. In less than an instant a microblade incision formed along the Synthetic’s midside, revealing a patch of glistening pink muscle starting just beneath the pectorals and running to the lower abdomen. Even in the glazed semi-trance of a fugue state, Peter’s eyes popped from his skull.

Gorlick thumbed through an issue of TIME at his console.

Two sterile metallic arms worked with amazing speed to unfasten and sort the lab-grown organs. The GroTech large intestines were separated from the colon and sucked through a side portal into saline solution; the small intestines soon followed. All the while, a plastique trough collected the fluid that poured from Peter’s body cavities and splashed the chamber walls.

In the final 27 seconds–the most critical for future re-use of the Synthetic–Peter’s head was separated in full from the spinal column, trailing splayed bundles of neural sheath that would soon be interfaced with a new torso. The exposed stump was quickly submerged in nutrient-rich Smart Broth, another proud creation of Dr. Gorlick’s.

A cheerful beep signaled the end of the procedure and Gorlick glanced up from his magazine, just in time to see the Synthetic’s hollowed torso descend slowly to the level below.

“Dr. Gorlick–so sorry I’m late, terrible traffic. Never happen again.”

A pale young man in a lab coat appeared beside the console, sweating and barely able to stand upright.

“William, are you quite sure that you’re well?” Gorlick asked with a note of concern. “You look sick.”

“Oh yes, just overslept, very late night is all.”

“Let’s not repeat this. Go ahead and prepare the next chamber. I’ll need your help processing a few more units before we break for lunch.”

Gorlick turned to close Chamber One when a hard shove on the back threw him inside; the door vacuum-sealed shut as he turned to right himself.

William’s face was distorted by the plastique, a rictus grin slightly out of focus.

“What are you doing? Open this door right now.”

Gorlick’s heart rate now made speaking difficult; the carbon dioxide levels in the chamber didn’t help either. At that moment he noticed a deep pink groove running the circumference of William’s neck. A grim realization drenched him along with the jet-sprayed mist. The Reapacker user manual was indeed correct: the disinfectant left a bitter taste.