a milling production, perhaps

Berthauld Fregt had returned with the cavalry. The local police force, themselves a round up of former bandidos who had come to recognize the benefits of a more formalized enshrine of their talents, had roundly given Fregt a sneerful when he first approached them about a so-called “scientist of gross abuses” in their midst. How they asked over morning cervezas, could such a thing escape their attention?

This particular pueblo was a thriving, rattling place full of change. A rivalrous city was emerging from the desert and travelers, natives, and entrepreneurs from all different walks and feints in life were hurrying around town all day and all night to cull some advantage from the wagonloads of cash, crop, and cinder block that were daily alighting in the front vantage of the old mission. The mission’s Padres wept desperately for their former flocks to return but the sheep were scattering into milling, sewing, teamstering, and planting jobs. As the church frayed, the pueblo spread and exported itself like a dandelion’s float. From these ambitious seeds, stems of iron, wood, and splendour made haste into the endless, desert sky.

It was mostly curiosity that coaxed a small segment of the gendarmes to join Fregt at a blown out collide of mortar structures in an easterly part of the territory. This had probably once been a small village, knee deep in some meaningful agricultural production but had long since been wasted down to a nub. The entire acreage had been white washed by the bearing mein of the mid tropic sun. Wisps of plant life and a few bloated cacti peppered the landscape but otherwise, the only things that earned a shadow were the distant mountains and Fregt’s huddle of buildings that slumped even as they approached. A few of the policemen made mental notes that, pending a root canal of irrigation, this land was probably free for the asking. Hard labor was sold cheap back in town so it was possible that this scratch of land was one ink stamp shy of an orchard’s riches; depending on soil composition, that is. If the soil was poor, then perhaps a milling production instead. There was, afterall, some aspect of a road leading out here. Infrastructure is always worth its weight in padre’s gold.

Approaching the abandoned structure, Fregt pulled back an ancient iron door and lead the roguish constabulary inside a stifling series of chambers. To the constables’ amazement, the entire place was furnished. But not just furnished. Well appointed, in fact. Being constables, they had their hands in an overwhelming majority of items imported and sold within the territory limits. It shocked them that such an amalgam of plush chairs, ornate chests, cabinetry and candles had all managed to escape their taxing attentions. Fregt did not pause in the furnished rooms and ushered them further into an interior chamber.

Here is where the stench overtook them, dried out as it was. In the center of a ransacked room was a huge, cylindrical tank capable of holding at least 100 kilos. It had a funnel at the top and a small chute in the posterior. One of the policeman vomited on the spot. The room was covered in thick, dried blood. It was as if the entire floor had been plastered in acrylic red paint. Not an inch of smooth surface at all. Countless animal hides still attached to their long, striped tails stood in a tremendous pile in the far corner of the room. On the wall, there was a long blueprint that mirrored the machine in the center of the room. The blueprint was crooked, falling down by one corner. The schematic traced out a procedure from an obtuse and unwilling alpha to a ghastly and incomprehensible omega. Putting it mildly the machine was not of godly construction. But nor was it practical. It was a thing of pure artistry, possibly without any real purpose at all.

“It would seem, gentlemen,” Fregt said gloomily, “the doctor found ample use for your city’s stray cats.”

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