Mr. Rock turned on his heel and paced once again along the street that by now could not have held any more mystery from him than a well traversed bride. The spring in his step had rusted and his gait had become less fluid. As curse
s accumulated in every joint in his body he began to dispatch ever more hate
ful glances at the sheet of paper in his hand and over the top of his dark glasses at the newly familiar lettering on the front of every building he passed. 'O, it's HIM again' the name of one building read for a microsecond.
It was on his sixth casual, unhurried search of the street that he noticed the uniformed man stood at about the distance of one hundred yards from him. Mr. Rock smiled with relief and with respect for the fine skill of his tormentor who had always taken care never to push Mr. Rock beyond the point that he might completely lose his mind.
Mr. Rock waved at the uniformed man, who continued to stand still facing the approaching Mr. Rock. Only when Mr. Rock had finally come to a stop in front of the uniformed man where nose touched nose and toes rested on toes did either man speak.
'You lost? What you after?' asked the uniformed man. He seemed to be wearing a poor attempt at an imitation police vest.
Mr. Rock's throat disobeyed his command to it to speak as had become one of its irritating habits, and all that came out was an unintelligible squawk. So Mr. Rock handed over the sheet of paper that had promised to him that he was in the right place. The uniformed man stared at the sheet until he could feel the scrambled puzzle correctly assemble itself momentarily.
'I did think you was looking for us. It's hard to find where we are, I don't think you'd have found us by looking. Come here, it's this way.'
Mr. Rock followed the uniformed man into a building named 'K NG BD LLAH HOUS '. They took the stairs up sixteen floors to the roof, from where they climbed down fire escape ladders that due to a series of oversights and poor decisions led only into a space that was enclosed within high walls on all four sides.
When they had reached the ground Mr. Rock looked up at the unlit sign that quietly confirmed the existence of the business that had never advertised except through whispers swapped between well-connected men. Humbly the sign proclaimed 'The Singer Center'.
'Everyone has trouble finding us the first time owing to our inconvenient location' the uniformed man said over his shoulder with a grin as he fumbled in his pockets for his keys. Mr. Rock had all of his attention concentrated on the task of trying not to look guilty or embarrassed so he gave no response, which caused him intolerable guilt.
The uniformed man placed the palm of his hand on a panel on the door and from its mere touch a mechanism in the door clicked and the door swung ajar. Mr. Rock took a moment to appreciate a marvel of modern technology.
'Stupid door never bloody locks itself like it should, I thought we'd gotten that fixed' the uniformed man muttered to himself as he heaved the door fully open, his cheery smile never fading for a moment. He directed Mr. Rock towards a desk behind which a young girl of indeterminate age and dimensions was sitting alert and motionless and might have been sitting since the moment that time meaningfully began, and he returned to his own post guarding the door.
The girl greeted Mr. Rock with a smile that was warm enough to put him at ease without being so warm as to be overly familiar. 'It's a pleasure to have you with us today Mr. ..?'
But the motor neurons that ran Mr. Rock's vocal apparatus were once again occupied with other matters. The non-euclidian geometry of the building inspired in Mr. Rock a tremendous sense of dread and confusion. This was a building that should not be! How could every angle be a right angle, and not only on the outside but inside too? And the four-millimetre-tall man who tipped his hat before disappearing right up into it was clearly a calculated touch with the purpose of confusing him to the point of getting him to spill his beans. Mr. Rock would have to keep his wits about him in this place.
'R.. Rock, I'm Rock' was what his mouth finally managed. 'I'm here because.. you know..'
'That's perfectly fine Mr. Rock. I just need you to fill this form and someone will be with you shortly to make sure you're looked after' said the girl, sliding a pen and a form towards him.
Next to 'Name' Mr. Rock wrote 'Rock'.
'This is all definitely, er..?' began Mr. Rock.
'I mean this is all, you know. This is.. legal, isn't it?' Next to 'Sex' he wrote 'female'.
The girl giggled, taking care not to show any malice. It was a fine line between kind and malicious laughter, and for some the line was fine indeed.
'There's no need to be guilty, really. Lots of people come here, all sorts of people. And you'll never come to any trouble for having been here, I promise you.' She took the form from Mr. Rock and raised an eyebrow. Next to 'Age' he had written 'under 12'.
'I hope you won't find it crass of me to enquire but I trust you're prepared for the cost of this particular service?'
Mr. Rock was once again at a loss for words. 'Y.. How..?'
'It's going to be ten thousand. We also offer a year's pass that allows you to visit as many times as you'd like over a year for only sixty thousand.'
Mr. Rock had to take some time to consider the offer but in the end he decided that it would not be worth it. It was half as much again as he was already paying for his house. It was as much as his first house had cost altogether! There was no way he would be able to explain it to his wife. In the end he decided that one visit would be enough for all time. The girl understood.
The uniformed man appeared from a corridor around another one of those damned corners and in silence led Mr. Rock towards a door behind which his greatest fantasy lay waiting for him, hairless, baby soft, uncorrupted. The uniformed man unlocked the door, handed the key to Mr. Rock, then walked back to the reception.
'Dirty bastards' said the girl.
'Now now, these dirty bastards are the only ones keeping our lights on. And you in synthecrack' returned the uniformed man with expertly disguised contempt. The girl blushed. 'We've all got our vices.'
Mr. Rock apologized for taking longer than his allotted hour and insisted on paying for the extra time. He leaned in towards the girl to ask whether it was too late to buy the year's ticket partly using the payment for that visit.
In 1975 Peter Singer published his magnum opus 'Animal Liberation' and the alienated masses devoured and digested it as those starved for a sense of identity would. A movement of sorts had soon knitted itself together from scant and wispy beginnings and went on more or less to follow a predictable course.
The original school of thought known as the Singerites (but only to themselves- to most they remained the same meat with different gravy), who thought that the relative morality of an act of exploitation of an animal is rightly judged according to the amount of suffering caused to the animal and the animal's capacity for suffering rather than its intelligence, were soon rivalled and practically succeeded by the Young Singerites who maintained that if an animal cannot suffer then it is not immoral to exploit it for the good of mankind, thus turning Singerism on its head.
The debate, though fiercely fought on both sides, remained of entirely academic interest to all and may have continued as such indefinitely if decades of research in many and vastly diverse fields had not culminated in April 1996 with Dr. Ghazali's perfected method for breeding animals with underdeveloped amygdalae which really were incapable of suffering but otherwise behaved perfectly normally.
'We only came up with the Ghazali method to make the vegans happy' was what Ghazali had once told a journalist. 'Cruelty free meat, there! They could have their cake and eat it. We'd also eliminated the need for all those criminally wasteful farming practices that the animal lovers demanded of farmers, letting the animals run around in the open. We'd solved everything.
'Before long the novelty wore off and the buying public came to decide that they were still as uncomfortable with eating genetically modified meat as they always had been. The cost of the breeding process was much greater than the value of the meat to the consumer and there was no reason for us to think it wouldn't remain so for a long time. Our patrons had begun to lose faith, we had to do what we had to do in order to stay profitable and keep the labs running and my scientists in work.
'Somebody suggested adapting the method for humans. Cruelty-free prostitution, nobody remembers whose idea it was. Then somebody suggested cruelty-free child prostitution. Nobody wanted the credit for the idea.
'Some of us might have flirted with ideas in the region of cannibalism, murder, and so on. But there's no way we could ever make a profit like that. Ironically we could have offered such services at very low rates if we used real home grown human people! The lives of people with loved ones and capacity for suffering don't cost anywhere near as much as Ghazali kids.
'We were able to define humans who were bred and produced by my process as 'artificial life' or who can remember what we called it. They were as good as inhuman anyway. Subhuman, in any event it opened up all the loopholes we needed. Legally it's exactly as if they're sex robots, only we never had to take any trouble over making robots more lifelike. We just made humans more robotlike!'