The Soul Factory

Somewhere not on the physical plane, there was a long room filled with machines, raw materials, and assembly lines: a factory. Its small, gray workers were stirring random mixtures of the black oil of various sins and the warm, sweet syrup of myriad virtues into a thick clay which could be molded by the machine at one end of each assembly line into the correct shape. Soulmaking: A tedious and exhausting job.

The soulmakers existed only for this job, though, and there were hardly ever complaints or transfer requests filed. The last worker to transfer out was one by the name of Chip, and the soulmakers idly discussed him as they worked.

“He said,” recalled the storyteller, a female soulmixer named Gold, “that this job had no meaning. What do you think of that?”

She got a round of shrugs in reply. It wasn’t that any of them were unhappy with the job. It was that none of them could imagine feeling strongly enough about anything at all to file a transfer.

“Got to be done,” grunted a worker called Smoke as he and his partner, Brick, lifted a huge vat of viscous black sludge between them and dumped nearly half of it into Gold’s mixing bowl. Brick and Smoke portioned out the more unpleasant qualities of the souls of men.

The Soulmakers were equipped with sharp minds in order to make decisions about how much of each material to pour into any given mixture. Their only task was to make sure that it all came out even at the end of the day, not for the individual souls, but for the net amount of each material used. In this way, the Soulmakers kept the balance of good and evil as new souls came into the world. What happened to the balance after they got there was the affair of the human race.

Smoke’s laconic answer reflected the group’s general sentiment. It had to be done, and who else was going to do it? They were the Soulmakers. There was no point, they thought, in not doing what they were supposed to, what they had been expressly designed to do.

This was why Chip’s story had reached the status of a legend among the workers. His choice to change careers would forever be a mystery to them.

Gold stirred a few more times and then pushed the mixing bowl toward Flint along the conveyor belt. Flint had the job of allotting talents and abilities, and had a brightly-colored selection of vials on his worktable.

The mixture before him was thick, dark and ugly. He looked up to glare down the line at Smoke and Brick, through the tinted lenses of his protective goggles. They just gave him twin shrugs of unconcern.

“Had to use it all somewhere,” Smoke said.

Brick just nodded. For some reason that no one cared enough to figure out, Brick never spoke.

Flint turned back to the task at hand and frowned briefly in thought. There were few substances that would be compatible with such an unpleasant mixture. He carefully poured in a large portion of a clear liquid from a bottle labeled Intelligence. It was absorbed quickly into the black mass and the conveyor belt whisked the bowl away.

Records indicated this particular concoction would be shaped into the soul of one whose heartlessness and hunger for power would drive him to rule over and crush a small nation. But Flint and the others did not imagine this future as the Soul Clay was molded by the machine and then deposited into the chute.

It never occurred to the Soulmakers to wonder about the fate of the souls they concocted. Destiny wasn’t their job, after all. Their attention was always focused on the next task.

Another bowl came whirring toward Flint and he could see from a distance that this one would be much easier to work with. The solution in this bowl was translucent and tinted with a pleasant purple color. He poured in some sweet-scented magenta Music and some gently bubbling Resilience. He was pleased with the new, smooth texture, though his face, like every Soulmaker’s, was all but unreadable behind the wraparound goggles and the pall of factory pollution and chemical residue. He sent the bowl along for its final mixing before it went through the molding machine.

The records showed that this soul would belong to a girl born in the poorest part of a city. Her unfailing positive attitude, sincere kindness, and remarkable musical ability would help her get out of the city, though, and she would make a brighter life for herself. But she would get sick before she was middle-aged, and her soul would leave the world too soon.

“Looks like you’re almost out of Intelligence,” Gold remarked, squinting over at Flint’s work station between mixing bowls.

“I can see that,” he replied shortly.

Gold had an irritating habit of commenting on things which were not only obvious, but also frankly none of her business. They all knew the assembly line didn’t run efficiently if the workers were constantly looking at each other’s work or in any other way trying to keep the big picture in mind. It was death to everyone’s concentration.

“Messenger?” Flint said, without taking his eyes off the bowl of clay he was perusing, “Could you fill this bottle, please?”

Yet another small gray Soulmaker, in goggles and coveralls, took Flint’s Intelligence vial and disappeared into the maze of workers and machinery, heading for the mysterious filling station which existed somewhere in the cavernous room.

The Soulmakers who had the job of refilling everyone’s supplies knew all the secrets and shortcuts of the vast Soul Factory. The rest of the Soulmakers, however, knew almost nothing about what lay beyond their specific assembly line, beyond the one task to which they devoted all their concentration.

That messenger could have vanished in any direction at all and Flint would not have known the difference, even if he had bothered to watch him walk away. What difference did it make what the outer reaches of the factory looked like, anyway? He was sure it was all in perfect working order.

“Brick,” Smoke spoke sharply from the other end of the conveyor belt, “Carry that over here.”

There was a pause, then, “What’s the problem? It’s not that heavy, is it?”

Flint sent the bowl along and glanced over, despite himself, feeling as curious as he ever got.

Brick was standing next to a big tub of something brown and thick; it looked a lot like mud, and it certainly looked heavy. But Smoke had less compassion than most Soulmakers, which wasn’t much to begin with, and he just said impatiently, “Come on, Brick. I need that, and I can’t get up right now.”

He was looking down intently at his work as he put a scoop of gelatinous green Envy into a bowl and recorded a measurement.

Brick reluctantly gripped the edges of the tub with both hands, lifted it, and began to walk around the conveyor belt toward Smoke.

Flint returned his eyes to his work as another bowl was deposited in front of him. He studied the solution and reached for the vial he wanted without looking up. His hand found an empty space where it should have been.

“Where’s the Intelligence?” he asked aloud, speaking to no one in particular.

The great events of the universe have started out with the tiniest of triggers. Brick’s foot slipped. There was something on the floor.

He stumbled: a very small thing. He would have easily been able to regain his balance if not for the heavy tub he carried. He fell forward, crashing into the conveyor belt. The whole thing rocked. Bowls slid to the floor and shattered amid wordless cries which expressed a range of alien emotions, from outrage to disbelieving panic.

The contents of Brick’s tub oozed in a steady flow over the machine and, after a horrible grinding and jerking, it eventually stopped completely, its workings clogged with malevolent brown muck.

In a startling display of reflexes, Smoke leaped over the shuddering conveyor belt to lift the tub right side up again, and his arm swept across a table full of pots and jars of virtues.

The cry of the Soulmaker behind that table was by far the loudest and most horrified. His cry, unlike many of the others, contained words: “Those are flammable!”

His jars and pots fell to the floor. Several shattered, and several more bounced and then burst open. A dangerous mix of chemicals flowed over the factory floor.

The truth was that there was so much chemical pollution in the factory already that it was not at all surprising when several small fires immediately broke out.

No one moved. They didn’t have the first idea of what should be done. They all stared at the flames, which were, admittedly, a number of very interesting colors.

All work ceased, as every Soulmaker in the factory stared in horrified amazement at the chaos into which Flint’s assembly line had suddenly descended, unable to comprehend how such a thing could have been allowed to happen at all. The stares of the others did nothing for the nerves of the members of the assembly line in question.

Flint began trying to recall anything in his experience that might help him decide what kind of action should be taken, but before he could form any coherent chain of thought, the multicolored smoke reached the high ceiling and triggered a mechanism.

Water came gushing from above, extinguishing the fires immediately and soaking the Soulmakers to the skin. They all felt, unanimously, that all that water had not been necessary at all. Surely a slight sprinkle would have served the purpose. For the first time in his memory, Flint, and many of the others, experienced a desire to complain about something.

The downpour ceased gradually as some enormous reservoir somewhere was drained. Finally, it was done.

Uncomprehending shock was almost a tangible presence in the factory. Everyone started wiping the fog from their goggles. Several of the workers tried to use the sleeves of their coveralls to accomplish this task, but only succeeded in smearing more water over the lenses.

It occurred to Flint to remove the goggles altogether, and everyone followed him, eager to pretend that they had come up with the simple solution themselves. It was just that no one had ever had occasion to take off the protective goggles before.

With their vision properly restored, they all stared around at the devastation.

It was the water that had really done it. If not for the unexpected flood, the disaster would have been confined to one assembly line, but, as it was, conveyor belts and molding machines had short-circuited all over the factory, not to mention that frequent puddles speckled the floor and a lot of ingredients had been diluted. Several unstable chemicals were reacting to the water, bubbling in ways that caused anyone nearby to conclude that it might be a rather good idea to start backing away.

Silence reigned. No one wanted to be the first to speak, so it continued on. Finally, Flint cleared his throat. Someone had to say something, he thought determinedly.

When he opened his mouth, what came out was, “I didn’t know we had a sprinkler system.”

There were nods and murmurs of agreement. The messengers did not participate in this general admission of ignorance. They had known about the sprinkler system all along, and about many other things besides.

Released from their frozen spell by Flint’s voice, the crowd of Soulmakers began to get restless. They inspected broken machines and spilled ingredients, grumbling with displeasure and slogging through the puddles on the floor.

“How did this happen?” someone called out, and the question was immediately picked up and repeated.

“How did this happen?”

“How is this possible?”

“Who did this?”

“Who let this happen?”

And, all at once, Flint and his assembly line members found themselves the subject of attention once again, but now the stares were hard and demanding.

“Brick tripped,” Smoke informed everyone, shamelessly indicating his partner.

Every accusatory gaze in the factory turned to Brick, pinning him to the spot. He knelt to pick up something from the floor, then held it up for all to see.

It was a small, empty vial labeled Intelligence. The very small thing which had made him stumble.

“That’s mine!” Flint cried automatically, then regretted it as everyone turned their heads to look at him.

“I gave it to a messenger for a refill,” he explained.

They waited for him to continue. It seemed like there should be more to the story regarding the fate of the Intelligence vial, but Flint just shrugged helplessly and looked around for the messenger who had taken it.

He turned his head one way and then the other, trying to spot someone he recognized. Even before the thought was fully formed, an alarming realization hit him with a strange, icy jolt in the pit of his stomach.

He didn’t recognize anyone, not even the members of his own assembly line. He only knew who they were from the spots they were occupying along the now-broken conveyor belt.

Brick had to be the one standing over there next to the tub which had spilled, holding his Intelligence vial.

But he didn’t look like Brick. Another urgent thought interceded sharply: what did Brick look like?

Flint sank down onto the edge of the conveyor belt, feeling slightly dizzy from the shock and confusion which were rocking his view of the world. Finally, he admitted to the Soulmakers, all standing idle for the first time they could remember, “I can’t recognize anyone without their goggles.”

They all started to look around at each other, noting details they had never been able to see before, or, perhaps, never taken the time to notice.

It wasn’t only that the goggles were now gone; the water had washed much of the dirt and chemical residue from their hair and skin, and they no longer wore a uniform gray.

Smoke had piercing dark eyes and a scowl. Gold had long yellow hair, a fair complexion, and elegantly arched eyebrows. And Brick was broad-shouldered and dark-skinned, with wide green eyes that were regarding everything with a curious fascination.

“Everyone looks so different,” Gold said, after another moment of silence, which, unlike the previous silences, had been filled with wonder instead of shock and horror.

“What color are my eyes?” Flint asked suddenly. He felt slightly embarrassed for caring, but he was finding it fascinating to look into the eyes of the others and he desperately wanted to know what his own eyes looked like, and what they conveyed about him.

Gold leaned forward to see and they locked gazes. Flint found this experience slightly uncomfortable. None of them were used to direct eye contact.

“They’re blue,” she told him, “a dark blue. And you have lines around them. You must smile a lot. There, you’re smiling right now.”

Flint looked away.

“Since when do we care about our appearances?” Smoke spoke up, “We’re Soulmakers, not humans.”

The Soulmakers all had to agree that they had never thought about their appearances until a moment ago. Besides, they didn’t have time for vanity.

Flint once again took in the disaster that their factory had become, and he became aware of a nagging compulsion. He was a Soulmaker, and they all had a quota to fill and a deadline to meet. If they failed … well, he wasn’t certain of the details of what would happen then, but he was certain that it would be terrible for the entire human world. Unimaginably terrible.

“We need to clean this up and get back to work,” Flint stated.

They could all agree with that, but it didn’t get them very far. The mess looked simply overwhelming and they didn’t know where to start.

Someone in the crowd spoke up tentatively, “Would the Messengers have any idea of what to do?”

They all looked around. There was a confused moment. They all kept looking around. And then they finally accepted the fact that the Messengers were gone.

This was disturbing on several different levels. Firstly, it was shocking that a group of them could have disappeared without anyone noticing, and it was even more troubling to wonder why they were no longer present.

But their absence was also disturbing because the Messengers had been the keepers of the factory’s secrets. They knew their way around, they knew what to do when there was a problem, and they would certainly have known the protocol, if there was any, when it came to a crisis like this.

They all stood around staring at each other, with expressions of confusion, concern, and no small amount of outright fear. They all felt it: the pressing urgency of their job, and their factory was completely unable to function, and they didn’t know what to do, and the silent beginnings of panic were infusing the air with a creeping chill.

Once again, Flint felt the need to speak into the frozen quiet.

“Okay,” he said, trying to sound calm, although he was just as nervous as the others, “we need to contact someone.”

“But who do we call?”

“And how?”

The questions bubbled from the nervous crowd immediately. They were all looking at him, as though he would know, and Flint had no idea what to say next. His mouth went dry under the pressure of their expectant gazes.

Then he felt a light touch on his shoulder. Slightly startled, he looked over and followed Brick’s pointing finger with his eyes.

There was a blinking light on the wall. Flint moved toward it, and everyone else shuffled forward to see what he was looking at.

It was a small electrical box mounted on the wall, with buttons, a speaker, and a green light. An intercom! Had that been there all along? Flint wasn’t the only one to ask the question in the privacy of his mind. But, whether it had always existed or not, it was a welcome sight.

Hope hummed in the air.

“Go ahead, Flint,” Gold urged.

Flint looked back at everyone uncertainly, and they all gave him nods and gestures of encouragement.

He approached the blinking box and cleared his throat, then he pressed the TALK button and said, “Hello? We have an emergency.”

There was a buzz of static and then a brisk voice came through the speaker.

“Hello, Soulmakers. No new souls are coming through. What’s your situation?”

Flint took a breath and did his best to answer that question, stumbling over his words as he tried to describe exactly what had happened and what it meant.

“The messengers had to go on an errand,” the voice informed them, “They’ll be back in a short while.”

This was a small relief.

“We can afford a short delay,” the voice continued, “but not very long, so you all need to do damage control and start making souls again as soon as possible.”

This was not the response they had been expecting, not the reassurance they had been hoping for.

“We would like some help cleaning up,” Flint said into the speaker, after one look at the faces of his fellow workers, “we don’t know how to begin.”

The voice on the intercom replied, with a hint of laughter in the words, “Oh, you’re all perfectly capable of doing it yourselves. You have everything you need. Just go exploring and you’ll find it.”

The tone was not unfriendly, but nor was it understanding; it was light and teasing, and completely dismissive of the momentous event which had just shaken their lives and filled them with fear and uncertainty. It was irritating.

“May I ask who I’m speaking to?” Flint said, with a chilly edge to the question.

“This is Chip,” replied the intercom, “You remember me. I transferred to a management position. Now you have very little time. I’d start cleaning up if I were you.”

The intercom clicked, and they knew that Chip was no longer on the other end.

“Exploring?” Smoke made a valiant attempt to sound merely incredulous, but there was a distinct note of fear in his voice. “We can’t do that! We have no idea what’s out there! And what if we ruin something?”

There were uncomfortable murmurs from the crowd.

“It’s not really out there, is it?” Flint tried to reason away the uneasiness, “It’s just in here. It’s been here all along.”

“Flint’s right,” Gold supported him, “We should probably know what goes on in our own factory, anyway. Don’t you think? Especially if it’s the only way to get everything working again.”

Flint flashed her a grateful smile. Having an ally made him feel a dozen times more confident.

They ended up dividing into groups and wandering off in arbitrary directions, but, in time, the groups broke apart, as the Soulmakers became more comfortable with the idea of exploring and found fascinating things to examine.

Their factory held wonders. It held marvels and miracles. There were racks full of bottles of ingredients they had never heard of, and cupboards full of tools they had never used.

There were cabinets full of records, complicated charts and never-ending lists of the souls which were assembled each day in the factory, how much of each material went into them and what shape the molding machine had made them, but also who they were destined to be and the major choices which would face that soul as it went through its human life.

The Soulmakers were surprised at their ability to remember mixing many of the souls on record, and to find that they were endlessly interested to read about each soul’s fate.

“Look at this!” someone called out, voice echoing through the cavernous factory, “I think this is the filling station!”

Flint remembered thinking, just recently, that it didn’t matter in the least what the filling station looked like, but now he and many of the others rushed over to see it, unable to contain their curiosity.

It resembled a vending machine, except there was no slot for money. One only needed to punch in a code and hold a container under a spout, and the desired ingredient came streaming forth.

To the Soulmakers, it seemed magical. Although they had never really thought about it, they had expected the “filling station” to be a huge place with huge barrels of supplies in towering stacks.

They had fun discovering the stack of forms for filing transfers and complaints, and the machine which accepted them. They filed a few complaints, about the sprinkler system, the refusal of outside help, and the lack of a plan in case of emergencies.

“YOUR FORM HAS BEEN ACCEPTED,” the machine told them, each time they slid one into the slot.

The next thing that caught their collective attention was a cry of horror. They hurried to find its source.

A white-faced soulmaker was leaning against a door as if to hold it closed with his body.

“What is it?” they asked him, “What happened?”

But all he would say was, “Don’t look in there! Really, you don’t want to see it.”

Above the door was emblazoned SOULS IN NEED OF REPAIR.

As a general rule, the factory did not repair souls, only molded them and then sent them out into the world. There was no warranty policy. Flint was curious, but the face of the Soulmaker discouraged him from opening the door.

He was turning away when a shape seemed to fade into view next to him, and he looked over to meet Brick’s green eyes.

Brick gestured for Flint to follow him and led him to another door labeled WORLDVIEW. The room contained a large dark screen. Brick handed Flint a controller and showed him how to turn it on and manipulate the focus.

He could see everything that was happening on the human world, tune into whatever and whoever he wanted, watch it like a TV show. It was startling and slightly frightening and breathtakingly enchanting. It was, at times, positively beautiful, or profoundly disturbing.

Flint was sure that he could have sat there forever, watching the joys and sufferings of individuals the world over, but there was something tugging at his mind, derailing his concentration, fluttering urgently in his belly. If new souls were not made, this world, as it was now, would be turned upside-down. He absolutely had to do his job. It was more than a sense of responsibility; it was built into him, just like his ability to judge exactly how much of what chemical to add to a mixture at a glance.

It was his purpose for existing, and it was terribly time-sensitive. So he left the Worldview, wondering if he would ever get a chance to return.

While he had been thus absorbed, Smoke had found the cleaning supplies behind another door. Unlike the rest of them, Smoke had remained singlemindedly focused on the task at hand, and had not become distracted by the new discoveries being made around him.

Brooms, mops, buckets, receptacles for disposing of contaminated chemicals: there were even machine parts, although they all realized with consternation that none of them knew the first thing about fixing the machines.

“Let’s worry about the machines later,” Flint suggested, “we should do what we can first.”

This sentiment made them all feel better, at least for the time being, and they all fell to organizing themselves for the daunting task of remedying the disaster which had started all of this.

Flint moved through the crowd, making sure everyone had a task which suited them best and that they all understood what needed to be done.

“You’re a good leader,” Gold complimented him as she passed, carrying a bucket.

A leader. Flint, the Soulmaker whose existence had been measuring out talents from behind a table, was now a leader? Had he changed so much in so short a time? Or had he been like this all along and just not known?

Something beside him crackled, and Flint jumped. He was standing beside the intercom.

He pressed the TALK button.


“Hello. How’s the cleanup coming?”

“It’s progressing well. But we’re not sure how to fix the machines.”

Chip seemed to disregard this.

“We need a soul,” he announced firmly, “Right now.”

Flint checked on the situation; all the water was not even mopped up, and that was just a start. They were nowhere near ready to start soulmaking again.

“Right now?” he asked the intercom, “We can’t!”

“Seriously, it has to be now,” Chip said urgently and without any sympathy whatsoever, “Death waits for no man. And neither does birth.”

“But—“ Flint began a desperate protest.

“Figure something out,” Chip cut him off, and the intercom clicked, severing the connection.

As he looked around desperately for some kind of salvation, he realized that none of his fellow workers had really heard the conversation. They were talking and laughing as they worked, and some of them were even whistling, their voices mingling with the swish and clank of mopping and scooping.

They all looked so content. He could not bring himself to ruin it by telling them about the need for a soul that they simply couldn’t manufacture.

Whether they knew it or not, catastrophe would befall the human race. Everything, on this plane and the physical one, would be affected, all because the Soulmakers had failed.

He struggled to stave off the rising despair. No, he couldn’t let that happen. The factory had always been perfectly on time before and that could not change now.

A fierce pride surged through Flint along with a hard determination. This was the Soul Factory, and, come hell or high water, chemical spills or overly-powerful sprinkler systems, they would always deliver. All the necessary materials were right here, weren’t they? There had to be a way…

A strange idea began to take shape in his mind. It was so strange, so otherworldly, that he rejected it as completely impossible. He cast about for something else. But the more he thought, the more the idea kept coming up, growing stronger, insisting that it was the only option at the moment.

He tried to think of reasons why the idea would be obviously impossible, but nothing particularly convincing came to mind, except that it had never been done before, and that was no reason at all.

He was nervous. What if it went wrong? There was no other way, the idea insisted yet again, as if it was its own intelligent entity, with a powerful grip on his mind.

He quietly moved around the industrious Soulmakers to the place where the disaster had begun, at the beginning of his own assembly line. He took a clean mixing bowl from a neat stack, and a glass stirring rod from the cup and started to measure out ingredients.

He stared at Smoke’s tubs of thick, dark chemicals and struggled with how much of which ones to add to the bowl. His heart was pounding with urgency and the unsteady nerves of trying something completely and utterly unheard of. His mind was going blank, and it frightened him.

Then he looked over at the table of virtues, and he saw, in his head, which sins should go with which virtues for this particular soul, and it began to make some semblance of sense.

With his right hand, he scooped from Smoke’s tubs, and, with his left hand, he poured from the colored pots of virtues. They entered the bowl together, at the exact same time, and the necessary chemical composition started to run through Flint’s mind.

He stirred feverishly, mingling sins and virtues until he could not tell one from the other, and then he picked up the bowl and moved down the line, adding, measuring, and mixing, always mixing.

He jogged over to his own table of Talents and Abilities, and he knew exactly which ones this soul needed, more clearly and surely than he ever had before. He poured the rest of the bottle of Imagination into the bowl, and then suddenly cursed in frustration.

He saw his Intelligence vial sitting on the conveyor belt where Brick had placed it, completely empty. The most important thing was getting just the right amount of Intelligence into that bowl, and he had to do it RIGHT NOW!

He grabbed the little clear bottle and ran. Others jumped out of his way, wide-eyed with surprise and confusion. They stopped what they were doing and stared after him, but he ignored them and kept sprinting, zigzagging around machines and leaping over piles of supplies.

The single thing in his mind was that soul. It wasn’t just his job, it wasn’t just his responsibility, and it wasn’t just about the factory’s good reputation. It was all-encompassing. It was calling to him, hovering in his mind, almost formed, but, painfully, not quite there yet. He could not rest until it was exactly the way it had to be.

It took him precious seconds to remember where the filling station was, and even more time to use it and get what he needed.

He tore back through the maze of the factory until he finally reached the bowl, panting. He was vaguely aware, in some corner of his mind, that people had called out to him as he ran, asking him questions, sounding concerned, but that didn’t matter.

Only this soul mattered. This Soul was beautiful and special and important, and he was making it, every part of it, by himself, and it felt so incredibly right.

He actually laughed with relief when the Intelligence shimmered into the Soul Clay, and he stirred until he achieved the exact color and texture he knew was necessary.

He didn’t even glance at the molding machine. Even if it hadn’t been malfunctioning, he would never have let it touch his work. It seemed sacrilegious, a violation which he refused to even consider.

He scooped the clay into his hands and began rolling it between his fingers, flattening it under his palm, shaping the clay into curves and corners, swirls and smooth edges.

It seemed to hum between his hands, warm against his skin, and, at times, he could swear that it moved of its own accord, guiding his hands to the shape, rather than the other way around. It was an impossibly intricate structure which was utterly unique, which could never be replicated at any other place or time in the universe. Right here and right now, everything was exactly right for this soul to come into being.

Flint’s heart sang with harmony and destiny and purpose. And then he put the last touch and he knew that it was done. It was fully formed.

Reverently, he held it up and gazed at its beauty, feeling more accomplished, more fulfilled, than he could ever remember feeling.

As he looked at the special, irreplaceable shape he had molded, he could see, in his mind’s eye, how she would look as a sleeping newborn, as a laughing little girl, as a blossoming young lady, and then as a mature woman. He got a sense of her joys and sorrows, and his heart simultaneously ached and soared.

He cared so deeply about her with everything inside of him, and it was painful to part with her. He loved the beautiful soul which he had measured and mixed and molded with his own hands, and that was why he had to let her go, to the life that awaited her, with all its beauty and suffering.

He whispered, “Good luck,” and gently sent her on her way.

He came back to reality slowly. There was a wide circle of empty space around him, and everyone was staring at him in frozen wonder. Flint was pleased to note that most of the facial expressions were positive.

No one seemed to know what to say or do. They could not believe what they had just seen. The assembly line had ruled their lives forever, and, somehow, Flint had made a soul all by himself.

Then one Soulmaker stepped forward and came to stand beside Flint. It was Brick.

Something else happened then which had never happened before. Brick spoke.

He said simply, “Good job, Flint.”

Flint actually jumped with surprise.

“You can talk?” he asked.

Brick smiled.

“Yes,” he answered, “I just don’t like to,” and he moved away.

In the manager’s office above the Soul Factory, Chip finally relaxed in his chair and wiped his forehead with a hand that trembled slightly with relief.

Arranging for the disaster to occur had been risky, but he had been sure that his fellow Soulmakers could come to certain realizations on their own, if given the right circumstances. In the end, they had.

There had been some terrifying moments of doubt along the way, Chip would be the first to admit, as he eased the nervous tension from his muscles.

They had very nearly run out of time. There had been plenty of surprises. Chip had assumed that a leader would rise among the workers, but Flint would have been his last guess.

He glanced at the growing pile of forms on his desk. They were asking questions now, filing complaints, demanding that changes be made. They had discovered that there was a better way, and he was so proud of them.

He knew they could do it, even when he had been afraid for them. And, of course, he would have intervened if it had gotten completely out of control. The Soulmakers were never as alone as they had feared. No one ever is.

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