As a result, the idea of doing something mildly subversive brought me some unexpected satisfaction as I pressed on through the narrow, sooty tunnel. I wondered what ol’ Freddy boy would say. Or what Agnes would say, for that matter! She’d throw a fit most likely, then who knows what sort of punishment she might subject me to?
It struck me as I thought about the day we met, that she was worlds more put together than anyone else in this place. Sharp as a tack! Not so much as a hint of the dopey, slow witted stupor I’d seen in Frederick and the others. Better breeding, perhaps? Grandpa must’ve seen the same qualities in her, to assign her a position of power within this orphanage.
I was hoping for another machine room. The last held a clue to Grandfather’s plans, with any luck there were more I’d not found yet. Instead, the first grating I came upon looked out into a nursery. Babies? Here? I suppose many of the workers I’ve seen were old enough to conceive. Provisions for the care of their offspring would be necessary.
It’s truly self sufficient, I quietly realized. Even if the steady stream of unwanted orphans from the city were to one day cease, I could see here a means of maintaining their numbers indefinitely. Girls, aged ten to twenty, walked up and down the rows of cribs to check on the gurgling infants within.
Here and there, diapers were being changed. A tangled mess of clear rubber tubing suspended from the ceiling carried milk or some other pale nutritional fluid to each of the cribs, each terminating in a rubber nipple similar to those found on baby bottles.
But for some curious reason, about a quarter of the cribs were segregated from the rest. A glass divider wall and a door separated them from the larger nursery, though the quality of their care appeared identical. Another door in the far wall led me to suspect I might spy some answers through the next grating, so I continued down the duct.
What I saw through it only confused me more than what I’d seen through the last. A recurring theme in this place, though so far I’d found nothing so strange about it that I couldn’t adapt. Babies from the smaller, separated section of the prior room were being washed and otherwise pampered.
One of the caretakers sprinkled the baby on the table before her with what I took for hygienic powder. When some of it reached my nostrils, I noticed it smelled strongly of cinnamon. Just then a team pushing a wheeled dolly came through double doors in the rear of the room. On the dolly was a familiar decorative jug.
As resplendent as ever. Not yet sealed though. I wonder if they meant to feed some of the broth to the little ones, though I should hardly think they could appreciate such a sophisticated flavor. Instead, something queer followed. The top half of the jug was unscrewed and set aside.
One by one, the naked little bundles of whimpering flesh were gently deposited into the jug until it was filled. I could just see little hands and feet flailing feebly over the rip of the jug’s lower half as the top half was replaced and screwed tightly to the bottom.
The team of youths operating the dolly then wheeled it abruptly out of the room for parts unknown. I just couldn’t make sense of it. Surely there are simpler, safer ways to transport young children. But then, is it for me to question how things are done here? It’s bad enough that I’m peeping.
I shuffled along until I reached the next grate. This room looked more like what I came in search of! Rusty pipes snaked to and fro across the ceiling, as well as up and down the walls. Valves protruded from the pipes at various junctures, a veritable crow’s nest of rusty, tangled iron.
I kicked out the grating with modest effort, again cringing at the thought it would be discovered. But the more I saw, the more questions arose. I could hardly make myself stop now, as I felt closer than ever to uncovering the mysteries of this place. It proved to be a bit of a trick to navigate the convoluted mess of pipes on my way across the room.
It didn’t look as though anybody was ever meant to come in here, except for rare maintenance. It simply wasn’t designed to be traversed by people. I ducked under a great ponderous pipe at waist level, listening to water rush through it as I did so.
Others sounded as if they carried steam, but the sound of rushing water was dominant overall. It seemed as if it must be something like a center for the distribution of the water we use to drink, to bathe and so forth. When I reached the end of the room, I was confronted with wall mounted machinery unfamiliar to me.
One of the pipes was labeled “To administration”. It looked normal enough. The pipes below it were labeled according to the floors they supplied water to…also unremarkable. What threw me off was the mechanism for adding some sort of dull grey concoction to every pipe other than the one headed for administrative rooms. My own and Agnes’, I assumed.
By watching the rate of flow in the array of delicate glass tubes which injected the grey solution into the various water pipes, I found that each pipe received a different amount. The lowest floors received the most. The higher floors received progressively less. The administrative rooms, uniquely, received none.
Could it possibly be something for dental hygiene? Or something to suppress fertility? That seemed unlikely, given that I’d just passed a nursery. I closely studied the great glass chamber of grey solution, noticing that it was water itself…just saturated with almost invisibly small metallic particulate.
It caught the light from the nearby bulb, appearing to me as grey, glittering sand. I followed the movement of the solution through a long, looping series of glass tubes very close to what I’ve seen in the employ of a chemist. The particulate faded and vanished along the way as if dissolving into the water, before being injected into the appropriate pipe.
I wondered if I could taste the difference. So far I’d only had water from my own room, the nearby bathroom or at meals. Although Frederick sure didn’t seem to mind what came out of the water fountain on the bike level the other day, so at the very least it couldn’t be foul tasting or poisonous.
I searched the area around the machinery for clues. All I could find was a brief set of instructions for the operation and maintenance of the “Limiter, version 1”. These instructions were divided into bullet points with crude adjacent illustrations of how to replace various parts, which I imagine someone like Freddy would find very helpful.
Stay Tuned for Part 15!