"We're all consumers. Cogs in a vast machine. Let's hope we remain a vital, integral part of it all."
I can see them now, the guts, squirming, wet and glistening, making that cold-noodle-sound they make as they quiver and thrash, half-alive, inside the collection bins. I can still smell the stink of them shivering there after having been squeezed empty of half-digested meal and feces, and then flushed with preservatives. The sour vinegar odor and the dense stench of farmyard waste overpower my senses and I want to retch. If I close my eyes, though only to blink, I see countless tons of freshly harvested entrails smashed against the transparent plastic of the bins, oozing and creeping along the flat, see-through surface of their containers like grotesque tentacles searching for sustenance.
Disemboweled guts, I learned young, can 'live' a surprisingly long time without the body that they once served. Disembodied stomachs, intestines and sundry organs can pulse spasmodically for hours without guidance or control of the flesh. They crawl across the plastic like a squid might air-drown while sliming across a pitiless rock. They suck and smack and squeak along the plastic, searching for something known only to them. I see them whenever I close my eyes, if only to blink, immeasurable cubic meters of guts… writhing in the collection bins.
When I open my eyes, I see the machine. It works relentlessly. When I open my eyes, the machine is all know. I become it. It becomes me. We are a million tiny parts made of metal and plastic, all working together like the minute cells of a larger living thing that struggles to fashion something artificial, mysterious and complicated. Indeed, the machine is comprised of tiny, complicated pieces, while I, myself, am comprised of tiny, complicated pieces. We two together labor eternally, unceasingly to copy thousands upon thousands of yet another tiny, complicated piece of something much larger and more complicated, still.
I look into the gnashing works of the machine, and I watch the production line wend its way through the monster's guts on its way to becoming the thing the machine is built to produce. I wonder what sort of thing we build together. Whatever that small assembly of smaller things might become, I know we have produced millions of them together. Maybe we produced billions of them, since I came here two seasons ago.
What are they? What do they do? Why must we make so many of them?
The machine that makes them knows the answers to these questions, I think. The machine has a superior understanding of our joined purpose. The machine knows truths that I cannot guess.
One of its many appendages beckons me, and the machine rings a bell. I push a red button. I change a small spool of silver wire from empty to full. I push a green button. The machine rings a bell. Everything continues as before, unabated.
I know secretly to myself, though I would never say, that the machine can push its own buttons, if it chose. I think it often does these things for itself, anyway. Occasionally, for whatever set of reasons I cannot understand, it needs my help. Something way down deep inside of it gets stuck, and then something else that should un-stick the first thing gets jammed, and then a third thing that should un-jam the second thing misfires… and so on, I think, all the way back through the machine's guts to me, where I sit on this hard metal chair without a cushion.
I sit here all day, sixteen hours per day, and I watch the machine make whatever it is the machine makes. I read its greasy dials. I monitor its dinghy readouts. I push its worn buttons and I listen to its flat, tinny bells. Occasionally, I lay the smooth part of my right hand onto the machine's pulsating hide and I say out loud, 'She's running smooth today!' I don't know why I do this, either, except this is the way the man before me instructed me to do it.
As far as I could discern, the entire world is one of two things. It is either a vast, endlessly working and tireless machine. Or, it is an endless green sea full of writhing guts distributed into identical rows of massive collection bins. I thought perhaps these little things that the machine makes without stopping might be intended for those gut-harvesting contraptions that fill the bins. Then I thought perhaps the guts must somehow feed the machine and its human components in order to keep the gut-harvesters working.
In between it all, as I well knew from experience, the monstrous mechanism made holes for young, un-trained human components called 'schools', where the machine taught its human components how to interact with the higher purpose that was the machine, itself. I lived there for the first ten years of my life, before they sent me to harvest guts, before they sacrificed me to the machine. There, in 'school', I learned a number. It is the number 'nine'. I learned that a red-colored number 'nine' on dial number one meant that I should push the red button and then say 'error forty-six' out loud to nobody in particular, since only the machine could hear. I further learned that a black number 'nine' on any of the other gauges meant nothing. When I saw black number 'nines' there, I did nothing in response.
I learned many things in 'school'. I learned to hold my urine, feces, hunger and discomfort for sixteen hours at a time. The punishments for failures of these lessons were awful, as machines do not much appreciate the human-nature of human components. Then again, as I also know well, the machine expresses dissatisfaction when any one of its countless parts fails outside the parameters of 'scheduled maintenance'. Failures are intolerable.
This is the democracy of the machine. No one part is more important than another. All parts matter, as all parts are required. Finally, all parts are expendable, replaceable on a known schedule within precise timetables. From initial manufacture and storage then to deployment and obsolescence, all the machine's cogs and gears get their fair share of care and maintenance. Nothing and no one is forgotten. All are expected to serve in their own time and way.
At the end of sixteen hours, the machine stops. Another, longer more pleasant bell sounds. I climb down off of my hard metal seat without a cushion, and I follow a catwalk through the machine's guts to a steel door. I press my hand onto a flat plate in the center of the door. It opens. Beyond it, other human components make their way to the next door at the far end of the next catwalk.
One by one, we file through this door, pressing our palms to a scanner near the frame. Machines watch us carefully. Machines guide and direct us, where we err or stray.