Feet are washing up on the shores the Pacific Northwest.
K E A T O N C O O P E R
A remote corner on the private Arcadia Island, north of the San Juans, is host to a most peculiar facility--a place whose true purpose remains largely unknown to locals on surrounding islands and authorities alike. It is here our sordid tale of severed feet unfolds. You see, the Van den Meier Center for Anatomical Research is responsible for a great number of scientific advancements of which the broader scientific community are mostly unaware. You could say they operate largely outside of peer-review, and for that matter, outside of the law.
Doctor Geert Van den Meier left the Netherlands for the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest nearly a decade ago. He left in search of a primordial liquor said to course through spruce trees on this particular island. This liquor, called Klonos, is a type of resin with amniotic qualities. It is found nowhere else on the planet.
The laboratory stretches a solid three acres under what very much resembles a large hangar. On the field below are a series of ponds of Klonos thinned with a weak ethanol and saline solution to which somatic cells are added and allowed to stew for three to four weeks. After the Klonos solution inoculated with somatic cells gelatinizes, a senescence starter and an anesthesia are injected in six locations encircling the pond. In seven to ten days the subject, called a Pondling, is removed from the gelatin with the external appearance of an adult in their early thirties and from here can be sent to one of several different divisions. In some instances, they will be moved to Unit EIE-10 in order to receive a Perceptis AI upgrade, from where they'll be sent to Arcadia Prime on the opposite end of the Island. The Pondlings are then allowed to choose a name from a database of literary characters and are more or less allowed to live out a simulacrum of domestic life.
Beowulf and Elizabeth Bennet were extracted from the gelatin and received their Perceptis upgrades three years ago this day. They were partnered and sequestered eight months ago by Doctor Van den Meier personally, in a forested tract of the Island midway between the Research Center and Arcadia Prime. Their cottage, while cozy, was decorated with mid-century flair, including a pair of Eames Chairs in their den, a Saarinen Table in their dining nook and a handmade Danish teak crib.
It was in this way and many others that the Doctor was meticulous. So much of this experiment was about aesthetic, particularly with these two specimens. Beowulf and Elizabeth were special, you see. Unlike the other Pondlings, they were capable of producing offspring. You may ask yourself why fertile Pondlings are important at all when they can be grown in a vat in a matter of weeks. You see, Pondlings are merely a copy of existing DNA. If one adds somatic cells from two separate genetic sources into the Klonos solution during the gelatinization process, the results are, well, let's say less than viable. It is, therefore, impossible to create a Pondling with two distinct genetic "parent" cells, as it were. And, up until eight months ago, it was also thought impossible for two Pondlings to reproduce. But there it is. Elizabeth is 27 weeks pregnant.
The Doctor sits, legs crossed, in one of the Eames chairs and makes fleeting eye contact with both Elizabeth and Beowulf. He has a peculiar air about him this afternoon. He taps a ballpoint pen repeatedly over his top leg and lets out a hushed sigh.
"Darling," he says peering straight into Elizabeth's soul, "we've got to get this thing out of you. They're paying handsomely for it."
"But you said I could keep her..." she whimpers.
"Shush my dear. You can't keep it. You're just a copy. Pondlings know nothing of childrearing. Besides, your Originals already bought it."
"Please Doctor," says Beowulf, "we'll take care of her!"
"It's too late, Son! It's already been sold. I thought I should tell you in person, however. Tomorrow, I'll be back with a small dose of senescence starter, and we'll get it out, don't you worry."
Elizabeth and Beowulf know of a rowboat on the eastern shore of Arcadia. They surmise that if they can make the ten-mile hike through the forest tonight they should be able to reach the boat by morning. They don't know what exists beyond the Island, but they know of no other way to keep their daughter away from the Doctor. They pack lightly and set out first sign of dusk.
Elizabeth, being in her third trimester, of course, is in no position to make this trek, but Beowulf is doing the best he can to encourage her. The hoots and howls of various animals score the nighttime. They cannot tell where it is all coming from, and they're not sure if they're headed in the right direction either. The air is crisp, and the moon is hidden by its own shadow. They navigate primarily by smell. Every few meters, a wisp of sea air tickles their nostrils only to be overwhelmed once more by the piney terpenes of the Island's famous spruces. They come over a hill as the sun peaks over the east and they see the lonely rowboat tied up to driftwood on the beach below.
"We're nearly there, Elizabeth! Just a little further."
And when they come upon it, they breathe a sigh of relief. They're going to see their little one grow. And it's all too overwhelming.
The Doctor is waiting for them with a few large men in yellow hunting coats. He shakes his head in disappointment.
"You shouldn't have run. I have cameras everywhere, Pondlings. I will always find you when you run."
He motions for one of the men to take Elizabeth.
"Please! Leave her alone!"
And motions for the other two to take Beowulf.
"I have a special kind of punishment reserved for runners. Take her to the lab. Now, for you. You're going to hurt for this."
The Doctor has his men force Beowulf to the ground and lift his feet on the driftwood. Something glimmers behind one of their coats and it's unclear what it is. Beowulf pants ceaselessly now. One of the men pulls it out in full view: a felling axe, sharp as any he'd ever seen.
"I'm going to take your feet for this. There the only part of you leaving Arcadia."