My mother was eaten last year. My father will be butchered tomorrow. And I will come of age in 16 years. It is 2182, and we are food.
Tony stared listlessly at his nutri-string, twirling it around his fork without eating. Alex was shovelling high fat coconut paste into his mouth with one hand and mending his shoe with his other. The image made Tony sick.
“Dad, doesn’t it strike you as odd that –”
“Not today Tony.” Said Alex, looking up and grinning broadly. “I’m in a good mood.” He turned his attention back to his food and shoe.
Not ever then. Couldn’t he see the senselessness? Tomorrow night Alex would be on the dinner plate of a Gorgesk politician or bureaucrat as steak, sausage, pâté, or all three. It was a great honour to be eaten by a high-ranking Gorgesk; the cause for Alex’s high spirits today. A high fat diet for the last 6 months had allowed him to finally crack 200 kg, amidst much celebration. ‘A good eating size’, as the Gorgesk children would say.
A blast of air through the old mechanical whistle signalled 10 minutes to shift-start. Alex noisily slurped the last drops of paste off his bowl and placed it in the wash trough. “See you tonight Tony!” he sang, not even glancing back.
“Yeah, see you.” Tony whispered. He handed Lucy her high protein lunch which she took without a word, skipping out the door on her way to trade school. Now that Tony was 14 he had started working in the fields, doing whatever odd job was required. He hadn’t done that well in trade school. Too much thinking, the headmistress said. If Tony was lucky he might work his way up to taskmaster, increasing his lifespan by 4 whole years. Good taskmasters were far too valuable to eat so young.
Tony stepped out of the small cabin and looked up. It had only taken 15 years for the Gorgesk industrial might to demolish the skyline of human cities and replace it with their own, but the knowledge that another version of this world had even existed was lost to humans. Tony had known no other sight, but something told him that things had once been different. Flashing neon lights and holo-screens lit up the grey morning sky showcasing the ultimate neural-holo entertainment or the finest cut of human, and how good it was with a rich mushroom sauce stuffed in between two slices of lightly toasted bread.
The whistle blew for the second time. Startled out of his reverie, Tony sprinted down the dusty path to his designated land plot.
“Stop eating them?” Sta’bek laughed. “What have you been dripping? I want some.” He rose from a leather-backed chair and started gathering his crystals for work.
“I’m serious,” groaned the exasperated Gorgesk child. “It’s cruel to keep humans locked up. Rin’des was saying –”
“Rin’des says a lot of things. Such young radicals ought to be incinerated. Lucky for your friend I’m not the Minister for Intelligence.” Sta’bek looked despondently at his daughter. “I used to be like you, you know; so young and full of idealism. But then I grew up and realised there are two sides to every story. We don’t treat humans cruelly; we keep them in wide open spaces so they have room to move and be happy. Besides, they wouldn’t exist at all if we weren’t breeding them.”
“But what’s the difference between humans and other animals?”
“Why Law’bek.” Sta’bek smiled patronisingly. “We breed them. Food is what they’re for!”
“That doesn’t make it right! Besides, papers from the Academy of Health on Gres’nak all show how unhealthy human is.”
Sta’bek’s shrugged. “Vested interests. Gres’nak produces high protein grasses and has lost half its market share since we started exporting human.”
“Can the same not be said of us?”
“That’s enough. I’m the Minister of Agriculture, and I’m not going to stand here and be lectured by an uneducated girl. I’m banning your hexalink access for a week. You’re becoming radicalised.” His insides burning, he covered the distance to the meta-wall in three strides. Just before he passed through, his hearts softened and he sighed. “What if you were stuck on a deserted planet and there was nothing but humans to eat? What would you do Law’bek? You wouldn’t starve yourself, be reasonable.” He glanced back, hoping to see some change of heart.
“What if you lived in the Gorgesk Empire where there was an abundance of all types of food and we didn’t have to cause suffering to other life forms?”
Bile rose in Sta’bek’s mouth and his face turned a dull orange. Pincers shaking, he struggled to contain his rage. “One month.” The door closed.
Dust. Tony trod through the soft, ashen soil, dragging his heels. He was carrying water for two humans pushing a plough through the earth who were apparently accustomed to the dry air. Tony was so parched he drank almost as much water as his work companions. Their muscles were well defined from 8 years of back breaking farm work, 14 hours a day. It was a wonder they had made it, plough pushers were notorious for dropping dead within a few years. A lack of will to serve the Gorgesk, the superintendent would boom. An unjust system, Tony would murmur.
Finally summoning the courage to speak his mind, he quickened his pace to catch the pair and spoke as quietly as he could. His voice caught for a moment as he fought through the bottled up emotions. “My father is being slaughtered tomorrow.” He croaked.
“Congratulations.” Said the female neutrally said without turning. The male just grunted.
“No, that’s not what I-”
“Stop, we get it. Alex was lucky enough to get a token desk job and grow fit for a bureau’s belly. Pushers can only dream of being such delicacies.” The male scowled but remained silent.
“It’s all wrong! We shouldn’t have to live for the Gorgesk. We are our own people, we deserve to be…” Tony trailed off. He couldn’t think of a word that described what he felt. Tony stole a glance at the taskmaster who was eyeing him warily from a distance, whip in hand. The ultimate insult, surely, to have convinced humans to whip humans. Tony waited until she had turned away before continuing. “We shouldn’t let the Gorgesk eat us.”
The woman paled but kept pushing. Thinking perhaps he had not been heard, Tony got a little closer. “We should-”
The force of the blow sent Tony and the jug flying to ground, the precious water greedily guzzled by the soil. Tasting blood mingled with the dust, he tried to stand, but was struck down by another fist. The male was standing over him, eyes wild. “You would have us all incinerated! And for what?”
“Jim, he’s so young!”
“I’m done Liz, this has to stop. His words will poison us all. This is how it has always been, and this is how it always will be.” A buzzing noise caused Jim to turn just in time to see the whip, which caught him on the bridge of his nose instead of the ear it was aiming for. The pain was so intense that for a moment, he could only bring a shaking hand to the ruined mess.
“Did anyone else hear the whistle? I didn’t. Is my hearing shot in my old age?”
“No taskmaster.” Liz answered for Jim as he struggled to come to terms with his new face.
“Good. Back to the plough.” The taskmaster lazily powered down her electro-whip and slung it over her shoulder, stroking it with one hand and watching the plough pushers go. A gift from the superintendent for her years of service. A good taskmaster will live 4 years longer, the best maybe 5. Tamara was 36 and still had not received a call to the slaughterhouse. Tony had heard this was against even Gorgesk agricultural regulations, but loopholes were always found in extenuating circumstances. “It’s unfortunate that the superintendent chose today to show our plot to the off-world visitors.” Tony only now noticed the 6 Gorgesk on the hill behind them, their gaze following Jim and the plough. One was the superintendent and two were armed guards, but the other three were unfamiliar, wearing exotic colours and cloths. One was holding a small recording device and watched the scene unfold with wide, panicked eyes. “Why was he hitting you, boy?” Tamara knew his name. Holding his nose, Tony rose to his knees.
“I’d tell you if I knew, taskmaster.”
“Always a trouble maker.” Tamara said softly, still watching Jim go. Tony wasn’t sure who she was referring to.