Now Hiring: Canine Farming Technician
by Tony Noland
"It's... not quite what I expected."
The Operations Manager paused and looked at Henrique Marcos. "I thought you said you grew up on a canine farm."
"I did. My parent had a small operation in Florida. We ran about two hundred."
"Two hundred? Pssht," he snorted, "small is right. We've got two hundred head in this rack alone."
"Yes, I can see that. The heads, I mean. We just had... y'know, the whole body. This is just a little... well, like I said, it's not quite what I expected."
Mr. Daniels, the Manager, flicked on all the work lights and they walked into the room. Stacked floor to ceiling and swaying gently on movable shelves, row after row of human heads were secured onto steel trays, held in place with wide steel straps cinched tight over their eyes. Masses of tubes and wires were stapled onto the glistening gobbets of neck flesh at the base of each one. A large rod made of teflon-coated steel was pushed back against the molars and bolted in place, effectively holding the jaws wide apart. Every one of the pale, drawn faces twitched, making unfathomable expressions.
On this rack, every head had gaping, bleeding holes where their canines used to be.
Henrique said, "Are they... alive?" As soon as he asked the question, regretted it. "I mean, of course they're undead, I know how it all works, but I've never seen it done this way. It's just... I don't quite understand..."
"Look, kid. The operations manual you got during orientation should have explained all of this. Didn't the HR guys show you the videos?"
"I saw the safety videos and the ones about records management, HazMat regulations compliance and one about cultural sensitivity, but -"
"Oh, yeah, the cultural sensitivity thing is important. We've got some Catholics on staff who get pretty touchy on the subject of immortal souls."
"- but the file for the facilities overview video was messed up. The HR guy said I could come back and watch it another time."
"Yeah, well, don't bother. I can give it to you in a nutshell." Mr. Daniels stepped closer to one of the trays and waved a hand at the head. "OK, we keep vampires so we can extract their canines, right?"
"Sure, it's the basis of Immortality Serum."
"Right. Now, back in the old days, canine farmers would keep the vampires staked in place to a board, yank the canines out every week or so and send them off to be processed into the Serum. For little mom and pop operations like you grew up on, two hundred was about as many as you could handle, right?"
"I guess so."
"OK, so this is modern, scientific management, what the hippies call industrial farming." He took a pen from his pocket and pointed at the wet, pulsing, flesh around the grayish-pink vertebrae. "What do you see, Henrique? Or rather, what *don't* you see?"
Not wishing to be made a fool of, Henrique paused to look, then gave the obvious answer. "Um... a body?"
"Exactly! Turns out, the heads don't need to be attached to the body for the canines to regrow. They just need a source of blood and some means of pumping it through their system. Ordinarily, that would be their heart, but here, it's all pumps and tubing."
"But where's the body?"
"They're stored at a facility outside of Tuscon. The head maintains a psychic link to the body, so you can't just get rid of it. However, if you let the body flail around for a while, it uses up its reserve of energy. Then you can let it dry out, which helps the head to calm down, too. You gather up the bodies and stack them like cordwood out in the desert. The first HBS farms had a real problem with the heads going dormant, but the electrostim wiring fixed that."
"Head-Body Separation. Increases the efficiency of production by a factor of a thousand or more over the old board-and-blood canine farming."
"We used cow blood back home."
Daniels shook his head. "Not here. Synthetic hemoglobin suspended in a saline matrix. Without a body attached, they don't need much in the way of nutrition, just enough calcium oxalate to keep the teeth growing. Yep, we've got around twenty thousand head in this facility, producing about a hundred and sixty thousand teeth a month. And we're not even the company's biggest canine farm, not by a long shot."
Henrique whistled. "That's amazing. It would have taken us years to do that kind of production."
"Not only that, scientific farming yields a higher grade Immortality Serum. No matter what the hippies in the Local Serum movement say, the fact is, you can't supply the Serum needs of nineteen billion people without this kind of production efficiency. And I'll tell you something else, Henrique." Daniels leaned in close, as though confiding a state secret. "The company has big plans for us here."
"Yep. We're going to be testing a new kind of synthetic hemoglobin, one based on a gamma subunit. If everything goes as the R & D guys hope, it'll make a new kind of Serum, one that will let people go outside during the day."
"Nope. Just think of it: for the first time in over two hundred years, people will be able to withstand sunlight again while still enjoying the benefits of the Immortality Serum." Daniels hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and thrust his chest out. "God, it's a great time to be alive!"
My thanks to @thefourpartland and @MarcNash for the prompts "Days came to a strange end" and "canines", respectively.
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