It was early morning. The sun had just risen, but I was already hard at work. Mop in hand, headphones in ears, I cleaned the expensive lobby floor of the Feed Corporation. Every day, six days a week, I started and ended my day here, keeping the place immaculate.
It needed to be. This company was the backbone of humanity. I was only a child when we ran out of food. But I remember the hardship and fear. We thought that life was doomed to extinction.
A cross-species virus had tainted, and eventually killed every non-human animal. Global warming resulted in bad pH levels in the earth. Crops barely grew, and those that did had become toxic.
But then the Feed Corporation figured it out. They were able to synthesize an answer. They created some kind of cloned meat-like product. They fed the world.
I was excited to work for such an amazing company, even if it was as their cleaning boy. The white marble shinned. The custodian closet situated deep in the building. My foot steps echoed through the halls. The place was a ghost town at this time of day.
Ready to push the mop inside, I pulled open the wooden door of the closet. A naked woman fell out. Stunned, I stepped back. She had a shaved head, and large doe eyes. She stared up at me. Her pale skin and low muscle tone made her appear fragile. She tried to stand, and fell.
I snatched the headphones from my ears and bent down to her.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She tilted her head, but didn’t respond.
I grabbed a tablecloth from within the closet and wrapped it around her. She flinched at my touch.
“Don’t worry. I just want to help you,” I said.
I Tucked my arm under hers, I helped her to her feet. Her legs wobbled beneath her. It was clear she’d need more assistance. I put my other arm under her knees, and picked her up. She clung to me weakly, burrowing her head against my chest.
“Do you have a name?” I asked her.
“Food,” she whispered.
Quickly, I headed towards the lobby. She needed a hospital. Or at least more help then I could give. We traveled down the long hall in silence. I turned the corner. I could see the sun coming through the glass entryway of the lobby.
As we got closer, a voice rose out behind me.
“Stop,” it said.
I turned around. One of the security guards was there. I had talked to him plenty of times through our long evenings together. On more than one occasion he had brought me coffee.
“Jim,” I said. “I’m glad your here. I found this girl in the closet.”
“Give her to me,” he said.
He came closer. Another guard appeared behind him.
“I was just going to get her to a hospital,” I said.
“We’ll take care of it,” he said.
I handed the girl to him. He took her in his arms. He walked back the direction we had come from.
“Where are you taking her? She needs a doctor,” I said.
He didn’t answer.
Confused, I turned back towards the entrance. Three more guards come into the room while I was distracted. They stood between me and the door.
“Hey guys. Crazy morning, huh? I was just going to go home,” I said.
They didn’t move.
I started to walk around them. They blocked me.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The owner of the company entered the building. He wore a dark suit and reflective sunglasses. The guards let him pass, and he walked up to me. He stopped just before me and removed his shades.
“Hello, Mark,” he said, reading my name tag.
“Hello, Mr. Jenson. It’s an honor to meet you,” I said.
“Yes. It’s a shame that it’s not under better circumstances. Seems that you’ve discovered something that you shouldn’t have.”
“The girl? Look, I don’t know what that’s about. She was trespassing and what you do with her is your business.”
“Really? She didn’t tell you anything?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “In fact the only word she said to me was… she said her name was food.”
I thought about it for a second. Then the pieces clicked. The product they offered wasn’t some synthesized wonder food at all. It was her. It was human.
Mr. Jenson saw the spark of realization in my eyes.
“There it is. See, I thought you seemed like a smart guy. Walk with me,” he said.
“Do I really have a choice?”
He didn’t answer, but started walking. The guards encouraged me to do the same. We stopped at a restricted area. He commanded the guards to wait as he placed his palm and was granted access. We went inside alone. I had never been in this area before.
Row after row, column after column, sat liquid filled chambers with bodies inside.
“You see, they’re not really people. They’re clones. They have no lives. They are born only for this.”
We walked through to another room. He opened the door and gestured for me to go in. I did. Instead of following me inside, he shut the door behind me.
“Hey!” I yelled and banged on the door.
They left me there for what felt like forever. A day passed. They presented me with food. I nearly ate it. But as I stared at what looked like food, I thought of the girl. I left it untouched. Two more days went by. A deep, gnawing hunger crept in. They presented me with food again. The smell left me wanting. Still, I resisted. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold out.
Two more days. All of my strength was gone. I was beginning to hallucinate. Once more, the presented me with food. I crawled over to the plate. Tears streamed down my face. I knew the reality of the food. I also knew that dying here wouldn’t help anything.
Hesitantly, I placed the food in my mouth. It was amazing. Before I knew it, I had gobbled the plate. I thought of the girl. I nearly vomited. I held it in. They kept me there a few more days, feeding me regularly. I ate it without protest.
Once they were convinced that I was on their side, they let me go. I signed a non-disclosure agreement. They gave me a settlement, and, with much argument, let me keep my job. I’d stay silent, for now. But sometime, somehow, I will save these people. Humanity will have to find another way.