As soon as Sta’bek left she pulled out her hexalink crystal and downloaded every political journal in reverse chronological order to physical storage. Just 30 seconds into the download her connection went dead. She was lucky he hadn’t just accessed the house computer with his neural implant the moment he left the room. No matter, she had the last 3 weeks of every political article written on human agricultural policy to play with.
She read through each article, almost all of which were pro-human consumption (those that weren’t were ridiculed and published in less mainstream news outlets), and thought of ways to counter each claim being made. The nutrition part was easy. There was plenty of research that linked human consumption to long term health issues, and it was surprisingly easy to show that the studies which ‘show’ that human is healthy were funded by the regional planetary government or humaneries. The environmental part was a little harder, but it was still true that it took hundreds of kilograms of food to make just one kilogram of human, not to mention the extra water, fuel and land required. Some of the newer colonies had stagnated and couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices charged for human exports, and would certainly benefit from the extra resources.
Law’bek glanced up at the window – already dark. Curse the short days on this forsaken rock. She rubbed her eyes and went searching for food. On phasing into the cold room, an overwhelmingly pungent scent ambushed her senses. Leftover human. Her appetite evaporated, she slid back through the meta-wall and ran back to her room. She reached for her crystal to bury herself once more in research, but it wasn’t there. Icy tendrils crept down her neck. What if he had seen-
“Not bad so far Law.” Law’bek jumped to her feet and whirled around.
“Drak’sah Rin,” she cursed, “how did you get in here?”
“The old fool’s security system could do with an upgrade.” Law’bek went orange. She despised her father, of course, but he was hers to despise. “With a bit of flourish it might be worthy of one of the top outlets.” By ‘we’ he meant ‘I’, of course. Why are the most gifted ones such glandings? Somehow she was able to swallow her pride and calm herself until the orange dissipated. For the humans, she reminded herself.
“Well, let’s get to work.” She said, smiling frostily.
Alex squeezed through the front door, sweating slightly under his own weight. “Take care of your sister, won’t you?” Alex wasn’t really looking for an answer; he was too caught up in his own ecstasy. Without looking back, he strutted proudly down the road towards the slaughterhouse. Jealous eyes with murderous glints followed him the whole way. Tony held back his tears for a moment, building a painful pressure, before succumbing to loud, violent sobs. Lucy looked up at him in innocent confusion. Not that she didn’t know her father was going to be eaten shortly; she was confused about Tony’s reaction.
“Itsa natural Tony.” As if that made everything better.
Later, at his lunch break, he sat apart from the rest of the farm gang, aimlessly sloshing his bread through the thin nutri-gruel. He was on water duty again today. Jim was absent, probably put down for disrupting the work gang, and his pusher-partner had been reassigned to fertilising. He was startled by the sound of the bench creaking across from him. He looked up and recoiled. The taskmaster only sat across from you if you were in trouble.
“Tony, I’m not here to hurt you.” She said in a surprisingly gentle voice. Tony didn’t believe it; he had seen her lull workers into a false sense of security before. She touched his hand. He looked up and saw her smiling. “I know how you feel.” Her voice went softer, almost impossible to hear. “And I feel the same.” His heart almost stopped. He felt dizzy and could hardly respond. “I’ve felt the same way as you since I was your age, and I’ve been working my way up from the inside ever since. I’m so close to being able to do something, but I need your help.” Tony was incredulous. It was all he could do to nod. Her gaze went from kind to serious. “But this sulking won’t help anyone. You need to be strong, or you won’t be of any use to me. Eat your food Tony. For me. For us all.”
She released his hand and sat back. Tony smiled up at her and raised the sopping wet bread to his mouth. He gingerly placed it on his tongue and swallowed. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to enjoy the flavour. When he opened them, they felt puffy. He tried to blink but found that he couldn’t, his eyes were slowly expanding and his eyelids wouldn’t reach around anymore. He struggled to his feet and knocked over the rest of the gruel in panic. He writhed on the ground as the pain took hold of his whole body. The taskmaster stood over him. He reached his hand up to her, silently begging, hoping. But she didn’t take it. The gruel was already a distant memory. All he could taste was the dust.
The sound of metal on metal was occasionally punctuated by a polite exclamation of wonder and compliments to the chef at the discovery of some subtle new flavour. Steak, sausages and pate were brought out in varying configurations and combinations for Sta’bek and his guests to enjoy. Law’bek sat sullenly at the end of the table. Her father gave her a reproaching look as she piled her plate with boring legumes which were supposed to be a garnish, but otherwise ignored her, focussing his charm and guile on the off-world delegates.
“Exquisite Sta’bek, simply exquisite. I’ve tasted human in holo but the reality is just so… enthralling. My delegation and I were just this week wondering why it’s so hard to come at Parliament Central on Gron’lek.”
“I’m actively campaigning for an increase in production. Our new breeding program has increased output by-”
“Yes very clever I’m sure, but we were wondering why no one has implemented farms on other worlds.” Sta’bek almost dropped his skewer. He had been dreading this moment. The exclusivity of humans being bred on this world was what had helped it grow so rapidly from a border colony to a bustling economy. If they were to lose the monopoly their way of life would surely end.
“Ah yes, the Minister for Finance and I were just the other day discussing how we might get financing for such a venture. All it would take is-”
“Minister Foy’gra.” Said the delegate, his smile hardening. An old political opponent. “Well I think that’s a terrible idea. Humans obviously belong on this world. You’re a fool for even listening to such nonsense.”
“Yes, of course Minister Grep’san, it was foolish of me to say.” Sta’bek averted his gaze and felt his face burn blue. Grep’san took this as embarrassment and turned away.
“Young Law’bek, you are saving the human for last I see?” Sta’bek’s colour flashed a panicked purple. Law’bek looked at Sta’bek, perhaps begging for reprieve.
Don’t make me say it. Her face seemed to say, a complex mix of colours swirling. But Sta’bek did not yield. “Show Minister Grep’san how much you enjoy our fine produce Law’bek.” For what seemed like an eternity, Law’bek held her father’s gaze. Finally she could suffer it no longer.
“This food is not what you think it is!” she blurted. “The humans are intelligent, they are treated cruelly and-”
“My dear Law’bek is suffering from protein deprivation.” Sta’bek announced, signalling to the guards. “Will you escort her upstairs?”
Law’bek rose to her feet before the surprised guards could start towards her. “No no, I’m old enough to escort myself.” As she turned to leave she noticed the younger, quiet delegate looking at her with wide eyes, which were averted so quickly she couldn’t be sure he was looking in the first place. As she left, the conversation gradually returned to normal.
Law’bek woke later from a fitful, broken slumber to a loud ping emanating from her crystal. Message. As she reached for it, she remembered that her hexalink access had been revoked. Odd, only ministers could override such a block. There was an item on her crystal from an anonymous author titled ‘The Truth’. She watched it, then re-watched it, then laughed. From footage of human working and living conditions taken the day before to old health publications that had been covered up, it was all the evidence she needed to convince Parliament Central to abolish human breeding. Of course, she would have to forge the author’s credentials, but she did have access to a certain minister’s hexalink account. She had never met a live human, but she knew how overjoyed they would be when they found out they would never end up on the plate of a Gorgesk politician or bureaucrat again.
That’s the end… for now! Drop your thoughts in the comments below.