01 Feb Last Night I Went to a Human Auction
I’m a security specialist. I work for a man who oversees important events. I’m not talking weddings, birthdays, or even the Oscars.
I’m talking illegal shit.
I don’t care if you hate me. Honestly, I hate myself. So I’ll be honest. I’m with traffickers. Drugs, weapons, artifacts, people – you name it, I’ve seen it, and I protect the people who do it.
Anyway, last night I was assigned to an auction at the Getty Center.
Honestly, it was kind of plebeian compared to my usual jobs. The Getty – especially the Villa – is an insanely popular venue. With a little foresight and good financial sense, most middle class workers can rent it. Typically, people in my employer’s strata avoid things that regular people can obtain.
I arrived a couple hours ahead in order to scope the place. Not that you can case the Getty Center, but I know how to spot law enforcement. They’re usually the big concern, although my boss – let’s call him Joe – did tell me to look out for people who “change.” I figured he was talking about troublemakers who dye their hair in the bathroom or some shit. Believe it or not, that’s happened before.
Everything looked normal. I let him know, and he told me to wait.
Which I did, for over three hours, like a kid in timeout. This happens a lot. People aren’t exactly mindful of anyone they consider less important than themselves. While this applies to pretty much everyone, rich people take it to a transcendent level.
A man finally fetched me around dinnertime. After checking my credentials, he guided me through the museum without a word.
I’ve probably been to the Getty a hundred times. I can’t say I know it like the back of my hand, but I could definitely lead a guided tour.
At least that’s what I thought until yesterday. Within five minutes, the man had me in an area that I’d not only never seen, but couldn’t quite place in the context of the facility.
First, to be perfectly frank it was full of boring stuff: metal wall ornaments, contemporary-looking robes, and a scattering of what looked like old-school cell phones.
Second, it didn’t make sense spatially. My internal compass placed us somewhere behind the Sun King’s ridiculous excesses, but the size and shape of the area looked like it couldn’t possibly fit.
I chalked it up to disorientation and followed the man without a word.
He led me to a narrow staircase. We descended four flights of stairs that spilled us out into a concrete corridor. It stretched endlessly in both directions, but was empty except for security cameras and an industrial elevator.
We entered the elevator. After thirty seconds of vague, not-entirely-unpleasant vertigo, the elevator opened onto another corridor.
It was wider, whiter, and brighter, lit by warm lights that were almost indistinguishable from natural daylight. Fourteen recessed doors lined the hall. Only one was open. Pleasantly businesslike voices emanated from within.
The man pointed, then turned on his heel. I watched him get back into the elevator, mildly irritated. I expected that kind of treatment from employers, but come on. That fucker was as much hired help as me, and there he was treating me like a slug.
Anyhow, the room was nondescript: blandly sleek, with smooth white walls and recessed lighting along the baseboards and ceiling. It could have been any well-off company’s human resources office.
One man lounged at a foldout table. I knew he was a contractor like me. Late forties maybe, with a ridiculous head of salt-and-pepper hair, blue eyes, and sharp, strong features. He looked like a mercenary as envisioned by a Harlequin Romance writer. Something about him set off an internal alarm, but that’s pretty common with other contractors.
A handful of men and women chattered excitedly on the other side of the room. I can spot rich people as easily as I can spot law enforcement, and holy hell were these people rich.
Several more trickled in over the next hour, until the little room was uncomfortably crowded.
After a while, an impeccably-dressed organizer appeared in the doorway. He beckoned me and Mr. Harlequin. We came over. He closed the door and gave us a big, shit-eating grin.
“What was that?” Harlequin asked.
“What was what?”
“Sitting in there, seeing everyone’s faces and having everyone see mine.” The disrespect shocked me enough to glance up. His face was unsettlingly blank except for his eyes, which practically burned. I’d been wrong; they weren’t blue, but a glassy sea green.
“Think of it as an insurance policy,” the organizer said. “If we can all identify each other, we’re all much more likely to remain quiet. This way, please.”
He led us to the last door on the left. It looked exactly like all the others, but opened on a lavish, full-bore banquet hall that looked far, far too big to be in this corridor.
A breathtakingly huge Persian runner spread from end to end, deep burgundy contrasting with the white marble floor. Polished black walls glimmered faintly under soft lights. A ridiculously long table dominated the room, already set for the coming festivities.
“I thought this was an auction,” Harlequin said.
“An auction, followed by dinner.” The organizer smiled and led us to a small, recessed doorway behind the stage. “Now…I know you’ve both seen interesting things in your time. No doubt you’re both discreet. But I have to demand that, no matter what happens, you keep your fucking mouths shut.” He smiled again. “Forever and a day. Are we clear?”
“Yes,” we said in unison.
“Good.” He unlocked the door.
The room was dark, cramped, musty, and foul. Whispers and strains of odd songs echoed off the walls like disoriented birds.
He flicked on the lights, revealing rows upon rows of cages.
Women, children, and men of all ages. Animals, too, many of which I’ve never heard of.
The more I looked, the worse it got. A lot of the people weren’t right. A cluster of toddlers were stuffed in a tiny crate, each sporting a pair of white, baseball-sized eyes. I thought several men were singing, until we came upon a five-eyed man with three mouths. A different melody issued from each pair of lips. I saw a woman had long, iridescent feathers for hair that drifted like kelp in the sea, and grinning little girl with a strange, squat body that reminded me of a frog.
The organizer put Harlequin and I in our places, then gave us each a set of earplugs. “Don’t touch, don’t speak, don’t listen. I’ll be back shortly.”
He closed the door. Immediately I felt a hundred pairs of eyes on me, each stranger than the last. For the first time in years, I broke a sweat.
After a few minutes, the organizer strode in with two dozen people in tow. One of them, I noticed with relief, was my boss.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the organizer announced, “the specimens before you encompass both the most recent scientific breakthroughs and the most ancient of history. They are called acardiacs. The heartless. Bred for maximum potential and minimal distraction, these creatures represent the epitome of power and progress.”
He went on for several minutes. I strained to hear it all, but the earplugs were a little too effective. On top of that, his voice was annoying as hell which made me want to tune out.
After some time, the auction started.
The white-eyed children went together. To my surprise, several normal-looking adults and adolescents went for nearly equal numbers. The animals, the feather-haired woman, the three-mouthed man – all went for prices that made my head spin.
“Please remember,” the organizer said at the end, “that your acardiac has very specific dietary needs. In order to facilitate bonding and growth, each one comes with a complimentary snack bar.” He glanced meaningfully at a row of cages containing unremarkable human beings. Several began to scream and beat against the bars.
The buyers tittered. One even pointed and guffawed.
“Now,” the organizer said, “let’s eat!”
The crowd filed out into the banquet hall, chattering and laughing among themselves. The organizer quickly shut the door behind them, leaving us in darkness once again.
Immediately the normal people – the snacks – began to beg and scream. I hesitated for an instant, then pushed my earplugs in deep.
It didn’t help.
After a long time, the organizer returned with three people. They wore dark coats and pushed carts laden with vials and syringes. I watched, horrified, as they meticulously sedated the people in the cages. Doctors, I realized. They must be doctors.
“Altaire volunteered that one,” the organizer said, pointing at a quivering young man of maybe sixteen. “Cut him up. A bite will do.”
Then he exited hurriedly, looking queasy.
I’ve seen a lot of things. Now I can say live human butchery is one of them.
The doctors did their work quickly, separating flesh and bone and sinew with expert speed. The boy was partially conscious for some of it. He moaned and wept until they reached his knees, after which he went blessedly silent.
The monsters – the acardiacs – rustled and whispered in anticipation as the doctors worked.
The doctors reduced the boy to bones in a shockingly short span of time. They cubed the boy’s meat into a massive pile of pieces. Then they methodically tossed a piece to each acardiac. The three-mouthed man even received a piece for each pair of lips.
Finally, all that remained was a small pile. Two dozen pieces, maybe thirty.
One of the doctors knocked briskly on the door. The organizer opened it quickly and beckoned them out. He kept gesturing even after they’d left.
It took a long moment for me to realize he was beckoning me, too.
Mr. Harlequin and I had the epiphany at the same time, and strode forward in lockstep.
The organizer closed the door behind us and hissed: “Sit on the floor, on either side of him.” He pointed to a strikingly tall man at the head of the table.
We did as we were told.
The doctors slowly rounded the table, setting a piece of the boy’s meat on each plate. My stomach churned and I found myself praying, but of course it didn’t work. They set a piece of bloody skin in my hand, and one in Mr. Harlequin’s.
I glanced at him helplessly. He stared back, looking as pale and horrified as I felt. His eyes had changed, I saw. Not blue, not sea-green, but rich light brown. Almost amber. And his hair wasn’t salt and pepper anymore. It was a brilliant auburn-tinged silver I’ve never seen before.
“This is the final covenant,” the organizer barked. “The only thing asked of you in return. It binds us all and it saves us all.” He uttered a string of gibberish, then said: “Eat as one.”
My obedience wasn’t even in question. I put the piece in my mouth and swallowed. Between it and the collective, wet click of thirty swallowing throats, I almost threw up.
And that was the end.
The buyers, including my boss, left quickly. Once they’d gone, the organizer shoved fat envelopes into my hands. “Remember. Keep that pretty mouth shut until the end of fucking time.” He patted my shoulders, then gave Mr. Harlequin an envelope as well. “Thank you for your time and assistance. I’ll be in touch soon with both of you.”
He led us out of the hall, into the elevator, up the stairs, and out into the brisk night. A driver waited. Mr. Harelquin refused the offer and took off.
I took the ride.
It’s been almost twenty-four hours, and I don’t know.
I don’t know why the organizer paid me instead of my boss. I don’t what I saw. I don’t know what it means. I don’t even know what I’ve done.
But I have the terrible feeling I’ll be doing it again soon.