The Machine

     STEAMPUNK   – Horror

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 If you don’t like horror I would give this one a miss!

 Professor Shakeshaft gradually stood up unwinding his stiff muscles. He turned away from the operating table and dropped the bullet into the enamel kidney dish that his assistant held out in front of him. He then looked down at the patient lying before him.

‘That’s all I can do John,’ he said to his assistant, ‘the other bullet is lodged too deep for me to get at. If I try to remove it I could kill him.’

‘What about the machine Professor, wouldn’t that be worth a try?’

‘No John, it’s not ready. There are several adjustments that need to be made before it can be used on a patient.’

‘He’ll die anyway if you don’t use it Sir. Surely it’s worth the risk!’

‘No John, I dare not. I daren’t!’

‘But he’ll die Sir if you don’t remove the other bullet! You can’t get to it – but the machine might! That must be worth a try Sir!’

Professor Shakeshaft looked across at his assistant’s eager face, so full of youth and enthusiasm. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps it was the only way – but if it went wrong the consequences would be enormous! He scratched his head and looked once more at the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury lying on the operating table. If the machine worked he may not only save the Prime Minister’s life but he may also acquire funding for his experimental research work. Perhaps after all the young John was right!

He looked back into the young man’s anxious eyes and spoke quietly.

‘You are right John! Go and fetch the machine!’

Without any hesitation John hurried out of the room, while the professor, hands clasped, muttered a silent prayer and waited.  John returned pushing a large, ungainly object that squeaked and grunted its way across the floor of the operating theatre, until it reached the Professor’s side.

The Professor leaned his tall, gaunt body across the operating table. The flickering gaslight reflected in his small, round, rimless spectacles as he took hold of the machine’s telescopic end. His gnarled fingers positioned the implement into the open wound that had been created by the removal of the first bullet. He then strapped the contraption across the Prime Minister’s chest.

‘Switch it on John,’ he said in a soft, deep voice as he straightened his back and moved away from the bed.

John moved behind the machine and turned a dial, bringing the machine to life. It coughed and spluttered and the two men watched as blood, bone and gristle were sucked inside the machine, before running along a clear glass tube and then being deposited into a bucket by the side of the bed.

They waited for a few moments longer, until the Professor suddenly shouted, ‘It’s not going to work John! I dare not leave it on any longer – it will suck out his organs if I do! Quickly, switch it off!’

John moved swiftly across to switch off the machine – but just as he was about to do so they both heard a clang, as the metal bullet that had been sucked along the glass tube fell out hitting the side of the bucket.

*****

It had been four months since Professor Shakeshaft and John Baker had performed the lifesaving operation on Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. They stood there now, in his office at 10 Downing Street, as he pinned a medal onto each of their jackets. They felt proud and delighted that the rotund, balding and bearded figure before them was looking so well, only because of their actions.

The P.M, wearing a dark frock coat with matching waste coat, along with light grey pin striped trousers, shook them both by the hand. He then took his pocket watch out of his waste coat pocket to check the time before asking them both to take the seats set out in front of his desk. He then put on the spectacles that were hanging from a chain around his neck and peered across at them.

‘I cannot tell you gentlemen how grateful I am! I understand such an operation has never been carried out before! Pray, tell me about it Professor, please explain to me the process that saved my life. They tell me a new machine was used, one that has never been used before. Is that correct?’

The Professor explained the operation and described how he had used the machine to extract the bullet lodged close to the Prime Minister’s heart. The P.M. listened attentively and after the Professor had finished speaking he rubbed his bearded chin.

‘Remarkable! I was indeed fortunate to be in the hands of such a talented physician.’ He coughed to clear his throat before continuing.  ‘I have heard it rumoured that the machine could have other possible uses. If it could suck out a bullet lodged in such a dangerous and difficult place, then surely it could be used to suck out other foreign bodies.’ He then sat forward in his chair before lowering his voice and continuing.

‘I am going to be straight with you gentlemen – and, of course, whatever I say to you while you are in this room must never be repeated! You are sworn to secrecy. I have no need to tell you the consequences if you were to break your silence!’

The two men listened, intrigued to hear what the great man had to tell them – and as they did, fear began to grip them.

‘As you know I am keen to promote the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, enabling us for the first time to intervene between parent and child. I am also aware, while so many unwanted children are being brought into our world, cruelty will never be wiped out. Our workhouses are becoming overloaded. Each day more and more young, fallen women are being taken into them. We look after them, offering them food and work, until their bastard children are born. The girl children then grow up and produce more illegitimate children of their own and so the whole cycle begins again! It cannot be allowed to go on! It is an affront to morality! Our country cannot afford to keep these wayward women!’

‘I understand your problem Prime Minister but I don’t quite see how we can help.’

‘Ah, but you can, Professor! That machine of yours – the one that sucked the bullet out of my body – could be used to suck out these unwanted embryos! Those that are not needed could be discarded – but others could be used for research! Imagine it Professor, you would be in charge of some of the greatest experimental medicine ever done in this country! We, the United Kingdom, could be the forerunner of medical research!’

The P.Ms eyes were wild with excitement as he set out his vision for the future.

‘I’m not sure Prime Minister – it does sound a little unethical.’

‘Unethical be damned! Think of the money we will be saving with no unwanted mouths to feed! Our workhouse bills would be cut by half!’

‘I don’t know Sir.’

‘This is not a choice you have to make Professor. It has already been decided. You will be given all the funds you need to make any adjustments to your machine. You will work for your country – and you will remember that your work is top secret. This must not become public knowledge. A laboratory will be set up for you with the most advanced medical equipment. As a doctor you must realise it will offer you an enormous opportunity to help mankind!’

As the Professor and John left 10 Downing Street they didn’t know whether to be excited or to feel very afraid!

*****

It was decided the girls that had their babies aborted would stay in the workhouse forever. They would cook and clean and never be allowed to go back into the outside world ever again, so they would be unable to tell their story.

Professor Shakeshaft became engrossed with his research work on the embryos and he soon forgot about his initial dilemma. He had a wonderful new laboratory attached to the workhouse, where he and John could carry on their work unseen. Many of the embryos were discarded but those kept for experimental purposes were initially kept alive and preserved in special glass containers. These containers of different sizes lined the walls of the laboratory, and infants at various stages of development gazed out.

As they got older a research crèche was needed and it was there that infants, who had never seen the outside world, played together. During the night a few of the workhouse girls were brought in to help look after the children, not realising that one of these children could be their own, as they thought their babies had been aborted or miscarried. As long as neither the workhouse girls nor their babies left the workhouse, the research programme was safe.

There were four infants in the crèche at that time, each being worked upon by the Professor, as he looked for a cure for diphtheria. As he and John left the lab that evening and handed over to the workhouse girls, everything looked to be under control. They padlocked the door behind them and let themselves out into the dull and dingy night. The lamplight reflected pools of warmth onto the rain soaked cobbles, as they walked along Cleveland Street to their respective lodgings, chatting amiably about their work.

The following morning was cold and damp as they walked under the workhouse arch to let themselves back into the austere three storey brick building. The gatehouse porter acknowledged their passing.  Shutting out the city’s gloomy greyness they unlocked the door leading to their laboratory – unprepared for the bloodbath that awaited them!

The Workhouse Carers they had left happy and healthy the evening before, were now lying on the floor in pools of blood, their stomachs having been eaten away, leaving a gaping hole. Inside the bloody hole, curled up, sucking their tiny fingers and gurgling contentedly, lay the research babies, blood still dripping from their rosebud lips.

One baby stirred and looked up at them.

‘Mama, Mama,’ it gurgled, before snuggling itself back down into the womb.

THE END

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