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The inside of the next warehouse was a deafening wall of misery.
Davey saw horrendous sights everywhere he looked.
The collection of atrocities showcased here even made the free range enclosures seem kind in comparison.
There were row upon row of tiny cages, no more than three feet by three, into which were crammed some of the most sorry-looking people Davey had ever seen.
The uniform in here was pale emaciation with blood to accessorise.
Sad eyes stared out at him.
Parchment-thin voices pleaded to set their owners free.
Whether it was from the cages or from their miserable lives wasn’t clear.
There were close to a hundred cages on the bottom level.
Above that, stretching up to the ceiling, were more rows than Davey could count at first glance.
He reckoned it was between twenty and forty.
Each cage had a human crammed into it.
The toilet facilities were conspicuous by their absence – each shell of a human had to go where they sat, leading to reeking trails of shit and piss running down into the cages below.
It seemed to be worst on the bottom as they were encrusted with the fallen excrement of the levels above them.
The smell made Davey hurl.
If there was any solace to be had from being at the top this was soon taken away by the furnace-like heat that filled the room.
Davey strained his eyes and saw naked bodies shivering on the upper levels of the cages, their bodies sheathed in dripping coats of sweat.
‘Help us,’ came the chorus.
‘Set us free.’
The worst plea was from a boy who looked a similar age to Davey. ‘Kill me,’ he simply said, tears rimming his sunken eyes.
Thousands of hands beat against the bars, creating a cacophony that went right through Davey.
His eyes too filled with tears.
One old man – sporting a blood-smeared white beard that made him look like an anorexic Santa – was hell-bent on ramming his head into the bars of his cage.
His forehead was a bloody welt of flesh which showcased gleaming streaks of bone.
The bars were thick with dripping blood.
The worst thing about it was the maniacal laugh he made as his head collided with the bars.
‘One blow closer to getting out of here,’ he cackled.
His emotions in tatters, Davey’s eyes scoured the cages.
Depravity, squalor and misery were tattooed on every inch of the room.
Davey jumped as he heard footsteps off to his right.
A muscular, squat Grim with a rifle slung over his shoulder came along the walkway towards him and began eyeing the cages with a cold, practical glare.
Davey felt his blood boiling a little hotter when he noticed that the Grim had a clipboard in his hand.
He’s doing a stock check, Davey thought, utterly furious.
Davey hid beside one of the cages, which housed a small boy who was sobbing and wailing with his head clasped in his hands.
The boy gripped Davey’s arm so hard his knuckles turned white.
His jaws suddenly opened and he started screaming at the top of his lungs.
His breath was warm and sour.
Blood-flecked spit hit Davey in the face and ran down, leaving trails in the grime.
The boy’s eyes had been removed, now just bloody holes in his face.
The empty sockets still wept blood as he screamed out his pain and misery.
In the corner of the next cell was a small puddle of vomit containing what looked like the partly digested remnants of an eyeball.
Davey gripped the boy’s hand hard and twisted, levering his thumb up to release his grip.
The boy let out a little cry that almost broke Davey’s heart.
Then a gruff voice shouted, ‘Someone fucking help me, I’ve got the bastard,’ and Davey’s attention was diverted.
He glanced over to see one of the prisoners had managed to wrap his bony forearm tight around the guard’s throat.
The guard was trying to squirm free, but already the prisoner had sunk his teeth into the side of his face and was beginning to chow down on the bloody flesh.
The prisoners in the neighbouring cells were doing their utmost to get to the terrified guard.
It reminded Davey of feeding time at the zoo.
Davey didn’t see what happened next – though the chilling screams and greedy slurping sounds were clue enough – as he was already on his way towards the next factory.
‘Prep-or-ayshon stay-shun,’ was emblazoned on the wall of this one in crude, spray-painted letters.
The words filled Davey with dread but he figured things couldn’t get much worse than what he had already seen.
Or could they?
The inside of the next warehouse was a total juxtaposition to that of its neighbours.
The cow noises shut off within a few feet of the door.
There were no human noises to cover up in here.
No agonised cries.
No dutiful grunts of rutting and fighting.
The noises in here were more of a mechanical nature.
He wasn’t sure exactly what he was walking into but it had already begun to make his skin crawl.
In contrast to the utter chaos and filth of the last two warehouses, this place was clinically clean.
The smell of bleach clung to his airwaves.
He saw no one out on the corridors.
No human cattle.
The calm was startling after the overwhelming scenes in the last few warehouses.
He walked towards the nearest doorway and at first thought he was under attack until he realised he was being hosed down with water.
The realisation of what he was walking into hit him like a speeding locomotive, but still he got a nasty shock when he saw what waited for him behind the third set of doors.
Everything in the place was white, sterile, stinking of bleach.
A man in pristine – Davey for a few seconds idly wondered how in this world of filth and smoke and blood and rot he had managed to keep a garment in such good condition – white overalls and a blue plastic face mask was tugging on a long metal chain, going hand over hand in a motion that reminded Davey of the movements he’d seen before when watching a boxer work a speedball.
The chain made a jingling racket that seemed to be the only sound in this room.
A second man was standing on a small, square metal platform.
Metal fences surrounded three sides of the work station.
He stood with his back to Davey, but it was clear he wore the same uniform in the same clinically clean condition as his colleague.
As the first man continued to pull the chain, a long metal rail came through a set of plastic curtains at the far end of the room.
Davey struggled to see what was happening until it was revealed in all of its grim glory.
And he promptly wished he hadn’t looked.
A naked, hairless man twitched and writhed, suspended upside down by chains around his bare ankles.
The chain was tight enough to create dark purple welts in the flesh around the base of his emaciated calves.
He shouted, but his cries were rendered mute by the removal of his tongue in the previous room of the warehouse.
Blood poured from his mouth, running down over his nose and dripping from his forehead in thick trails.
His eyes were wide, seemingly on the verge of flying out of his skull and landing at Davey’s feet.
The man on the platform moved in, and Davey was reminded of the ruthless efficiency of the Cullsmen.
There was no hesitation, no flicker of emotion, no remorse or even thought about what he was about to do.
He slammed a small – but heavy-headed – hammer into the base of the hanging man’s skull.
The resultant crack was enough to sicken Davey to the very pit of his stomach, even more so when it echoed around the warehouse for a few seconds after the impact.
The man went limp, thick strands of blood-flecked drool running out of his lips.
His eyes rolled back to reveal the whites, then his part of the rail moved along the tracks that ran overhead.
A shouting, shaven-headed woman came in next, again her cries rendered nonsensical by the removal of her tongue.
Again the working man approached.
Administered a cold, clinical blow of the hammer to the exact point where it was needed.
Again she went limp, blood pouring from her open jaws.
She was shunted along.
Another body came in.
Davey turned away, unwilling to witness this atrocity on a seemingly endless loop.
The next station was arguably worse; a worker in the warehouse’s uniform darting in and slashing the man’s throat with a long, curved blade.
Blood racing out.
The head lolling back, further widening the split in the throat.
The wound deep enough now to reveal the severed windpipe and gleaming sections of spine.
Gore sluicing down through the grated floor, already stained with the blood of hundreds, possibly thousands, of murdered innocents.
The chain clinking to the next station.
The man wiping his blade on a cloth in his left hand, readying himself for the arrival of the next corpse.
The next station was a man moving in fast, running his smaller, keener blade around the groin of the dead man on the hook, removing his genitals with expert care and skill.
The sickly plop as the removed organs landed in a huge barrow containing what looked like dozens more of the same.
He then ran his blade up from groin to sternum, cutting deep enough to reveal the bones and raw flesh beneath.
He pulled the flaps aside, reached in with a firm, fast hand and began pulling organs loose.
These flopped and plopped into a second blood-stained barrow with noises that wouldn’t normally have bothered Davey, but when taken in context made him feel like he was going insane.
When the organs were all removed, the worker pressed a button and the body clicked away to the next station.
Davey watched as the next man moved in and lifted the body from its hook.
The weight didn’t seem to bother him, but Davey supposed it had already had most of its innards torn loose by the previous worker.
The man moved in, what looked like a hacksaw in his hand.
The blade was encrusted with dried blood and chunks of powdered bone.
He cut through the man’s wrists, removing his hands.
The sawing of blade on bone was nauseating in the extreme.
The severed hands went into the worker’s barrow.
Likewise the feet when he’d sawn through the ankles.
The head was more awkward – the thick neck vertebrae snapped the saw blade, drawing a hail of muttered curses from the working man – but the axe positioned by the outer edge of the work station soon took care of the problem.
Dead eyes stared glassily up at the ceiling as the head landed in the barrow.
The working man rehung the body then pressed another button.
The carcass – easily mistaken for that of an animal now it was headless and handless – clunked along to the next station.
The next worker was a woman and this filled Davey with more dread than he’d thought possible.
In his experience of the world, men were capable of being cold, emotionless killers, but women were supposed to be loving, nurturing.
If they had learnt to ignore their emotions then the world was royally fucked.
She moved in and made quick, deep cuts down the arms and legs of the body and began to pull the skin loose.
It was obvious she’d had a lot of practise at this as the skin came off with ease.
She carefully placed it into a barrow by her work station, then pressed the button on the gleaming panel in front of her.
The next station had a man with an axe remove the limbs from the body and throw them in his barrow.
He chopped the rest of the carcass, then sent it to the next worker in the chain.
The next man was an expert with a knife; that much was clear from his smooth, clinical movements.
He removed flesh from bone, sinew from flesh.
All of the useful meat went into one barrow, the bones and gristle went into a second.
The body by now was gone, no more than the sum of its parts, merely a mysterious foodstuff for the unsuspecting – or possibly uncaring – dwellers of King Solomon’s Freelands.
The chain continued, bringing more of the human cattle to their grisly ends.
‘Eat up, Davey lad,’ Solomon’s booming voice echoed in his head.
He shook his head, his eyes clouded with tears.
‘Today’s top dog is tomorrow’s hot dog,’ Max’s voice chimed in.
Davey smacked his palm into his temple, wanting to clear it of the grisly images, but the sounds and smells of the room wouldn’t let him.
His head reeling, he made his way to the exit where his knees collapsed, dumping him on the floor.
The final warehouse wasn’t anywhere near as grisly but it was the most upsetting of all.
Davey staggered into the final warehouse on drunkard’s legs.
He was presented with an absolutely immense pile of what he at first took to be a new strain of hay, darker and thinner than the regular type.
It was only when he got closer and touched it that he realised what it was; the hair of the people who were being slaughtered in the abattoir.
He shook his head again, struggling to comprehend the sheer scale of the operation.
The pile of hair must have been thirty feet high.
He did his best not to imagine the number of people it would have taken to make a pile this size.
To comprehend how many had been murdered in order to supply the Freelands with food.
The next room arrived as fast as his jelly legs could carry him.
He felt like curling into a ball and sobbing until the end of time itself, but also felt like taking a flamethrower to the place and razing it to the ground.
Another part of him wanted to leave it be, to remain as a testament to the slaughter.
He saw vast piles of clothes and shoes, broken down roughly into men’s, women’s and children’s.
Again, these reached up to the ceiling, far too high to even guess at numbers.
The next room was full of tablets, mobile phones, I-pods, widescreen TVs, all the unnecessary shit that people – only a few years before the beginning of the end – had worked long hours to buy.
They kept these things on them right up until the end, he thought with a grim smile.
Still clinging on to their possessions as they went to their deaths.
In the end everyone’s belongings wind up like this; a huge pile of useless shit we no longer need.
Death on such a scale made it seem inconsequential.
It made everyday events trivial.
It made lives trivial.
This final warehouse was the thing that angered him the most, not just the scale of the slaughter, but the way the people’s clothes and belongings had been carelessly cast aside, leaving them naked and hairless and feral like fucking animals.
But this faded still in comparison to the anger he felt when he saw a blood-spattered teddy bear at the base of another vast pile of clothes.
They’re doing this to kids, he thought. For God’s sake, to kids!
Some kid came here seeking a better life, clutching onto this teddy as its one comfort in this harsh and alien environment.
It had been taken from them – forcibly if the blood stains were to be taken at face value – and discarded as though it no longer mattered.
All this shit had mattered to someone, at some time, and that was the thing that hurt the most about this.
That none of the possessions, or, more importantly, the people they belonged to, mattered to anyone.
That the only thought was that they were going to fill someone’s plate that night or the next night or the next.
His head reeled and he had to get out, before his chest closed up under the weight of the terror and sorrow he felt.
He clutched the teddy to his chest for a second before carefully placing it back on the pile.
Forced himself to move, even though his legs threatened to buckle and cast him to the floor.
He thought of what Cross had said, about the bomb in his bag.
About who was really doing the right thing.
He tried to balance the right things King Solomon had done – allowing people to live in abundance and merriment instead of religious mania and servitude – against this gargantuan wrong.
There was no time to think it over fully, as some of the guards were on their way out of the warehouses.
He waited no longer; he turned tail and ran back through the skinny alley towards the rest of the warehouses that ringed the central compound – King Solomon’s deepest, darkest secret.
As he reached the relative safety of the stone sector, he already knew what he needed to do with the deadly cargo in his bag.
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