Chapter 26: Six mauled dogs
It’s two hours later by the time I’m back at Tungsten’s den. Climbing down the hatch and taking the same route as always. I know in my head these tunnels are vast but every time I come here the den feels just a little bit smaller.
I find Tungsten isn’t in the parlour so his lab is the next guess.
Opening the door I find Tungsten, his back turned to me, leaning over the wooden workbench got covered in sheets. He turns to me eyes big and hands covered in blood. “The hell are you doing back this early?”
“It’s been two hours. What are you working on?” I take a step closer. Tungsten rears up, spreading his arms in an attempt to cover my view of the reddish-brown…thing. “Look kid you don’t wanna know.”
“Is this what you brought back in the leather sack yesterday.”
“Kiddo, someone you cared for just died this isn’t the time.”
“What does that have to do with anything? Stegarius is a doll, besides I already saw all your jars and I can’t do anything until tonight anyway.”
Tungsten grunts “Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He steps aside to show a mangled mess of meat and fur.
“So…What am I looking at?”
“One of six mauled dogs.”
I pull up an eyebrow “Did you go out killing dogs last night?”
“What!? Are you crazy? Of course not. They were the product of an illegal dog-fighting ring in the basement of the soap factory and one of my acquaintances tipped me up before they got cleared away by the police.”
I nod understandingly “You were right, I didn’t want to know that.”
He rolls his eyes “I warned you.”
“Yeah yeah, so…what are you going to do with them?”
“Really!?” he asks incredulously.
I shrug “I mean now I know they’re here now anyway. Besides, if we’re to go through with the whole thing and make alchemy legal I must at least know the passing principles, right?” I think I can handle looking. It can’t get much worse than this right?
He pulls an eyebrow up at me “You want to learn modding now?”
“I want to know what I’m talking about when people start pushing back against the practice.”
He considers this for a good long moment, then shoves his chair back “That’s not even a bad idea. All right fine. “Here.” Tungsten says shoving a pair of leather gloves in my direction “You don’t want to touch it with bare hands.”
The gloves flop down onto the table. I look at him with big eyes “You want me to cut it? Can’t I watch?
“Crawling back already? You can’t learn modding by watching, you have to get a feel for it.”
“I can watch now then cut the next one?”
“This is my last one, I took care of the four oldest bodies last night before falling asleep, then cut the one after that in terms of freshness this morning so I saved the best for last. So it’s right now or wait till my next tip.”
“All right.” I swipe the gloves off the table and put them on.
“Do you know why you should never touch dead animals with bare hands?”
I pull my nose up at the carcass “Because it’s gross?”
“Well that, and sometimes it’s easy to spot a sick animal, sometimes there’s no way to tell what it died off unless you’ve seen it kick the dust. Modders have died before of animal diseases because they didn’t test their subjects correctly before implanting parts, or simply because they handled untested specimens without gloves.”
“How do you test the specimens?”
“We’ll get to that later, for now, I want to pull it apart so the parts can be categorized and stored. It looks like pretty recent kills, less than two days I think. But I want it packed before they turn.”
“How do you pack them?”
“Well, you grab a scalpel, and cut it up, as far as I know, there’s no diagram on where to cut. We all just mimic our teacher’s technique or make up our own. For now, I just want you to cut out the kidney, look carefully at the lines running in and out the organ and try to leave a nice long lead-in to help reattach it later.”
He hands me the scalpel and I take it, even through the leather gloves it feels cold, I wonder if that’s just my brain expecting it to be cold. Back when I was working for Mercury we’d use scalpels to dissect leaves to test for ether levels and it always stood out to me how cold they were.
I’m surprised to find the sight of a dead dog not as shocking as I thought it’d be.
I wonder if it helps it’s hardly recognisable as a dog anymore. It’s mostly just blood-stained fur pulled over meat.
The organs are already jostled up and practically spilling out, the bean-shaped organs are relatively easy to find under these circumstances. I try to push the scalpel into the slick mass but it slips aside.
“Push your hand behind the kidney to stabilise it. You need to give some counter pressure otherwise you end up just randomly stabbing the poor thing.”
“Oh…” I swallow, then push my hand into the cavity. It’s cold, of course, it’s not gonna be warm anymore but somehow I expected differently. I cup the kidney in my hand, then use the pinky on my scalpel hand to follow one of the blood vessels to about five centimetres out “Should I cut here?”
“Looks good to me.”
I cut the line loose. Then repeat five more times until the organ is completely free and just sort of slipping around the palm of my hand.
“Well done ion, you didn’t even throw up.” Tungsten puts a bloodied hand on my shoulder and then holds out a jar with a layer of liquid in it. “Just drop her in here and I’ll top her off with alcohol.”
I slip the organ in there, it splashes alcohol into the the sides of the jar.
“I doubt you’ll be doing this solo anytime soon but make sure the jars are boiled extensively to sterilise them before using them for tissue storage. You don’t want to have to throw away a liver because it got mouldy.” He explains as he opens up a glass bottle that says ‘alcohol 97% DO NOT DRINK’ and drowns the organ in it.
“Of course if you ever want to implant a preserved organ you have to put it through three days of water baths, discarding the water for fresh every morning to get rid of the alcohol, no sense putting in a fresh kidney if it breaks from alcohol poisoning the moment you put it in.”
“You put them back into living dogs?”
“For kidneys, it’s about once, twice a year. Corneas I did five times ever and I don’t recommend it. I even switched up a heart once, tensest operation I ever did.”
“You’re a veterinarian then?”
He shakes his head “I’m an alchemist, I just like dogs, they’re easier to deal with than people. Besides dog owners loathe watching their buddy die so I can ask a lot of cash for it.” He adds hastily.
I smile. “That’s so sweet.”
He shrugs then points a the pouch-shaped organ hugging the intestines “That’s the pancreas, are you ready to tackle that?”
“Uhm…where do I cut?”
“You can slide the scalpel underneath like this.” He takes the scalpel from my hands and carefully slides the blade under the tissue.
“I see.” I never thought there’d be this much…finesse involved. For someone with massive hands, he’s very precise.“Are there a lot of modders in Unebre?”
“No one has it as their main speciality anymore.”
He shrugs “I do whatever the job tells me to do as long as they pay the right price. But when you’re a modder ninety per cent of your energy goes to finding the right euphemisms to communicate to a customer what you intend to do without using any of the creepy terms. And when you run into the wrong customer or mess up the job you’re in trouble. The guy who taught me was a modder until he was found feet up in the canal neck chained to an anvil.”
That’s the risk you take, but because it’s illegal people will pay a lot of lodis to get things done.” He pulls the slug-like organ from the body and pops it into a jar “Still think you can change people’s mind about this stuff?”
“I don’t know, but I want to try.”
“Good, then you got my back and I got yours.”
“Thank you. I’ll need to go Utopia soon.”
“Ah, well in that case have fun.”
“Thanks, any tips on what to do if Neon’s there?”
“He won’t be, it’s too early. The man is practically nocturnal.”
“Oh, well, that’s a relief.” I take off the gloves and bow politely “Thank you for the lesson Tungsten.”
“Yeah, don’t mention it. Just get out there and save the world or something.”