And now the hopefully anticipated ending to the short story Feed. As warned, it gets a bit on the gruesome side in this part. Quite graphic actually. Also, a reminder that the full story is available on my Short Fiction page which can be found with the link in this post or by using the tab at the top of this page.
Enjoy! Please feel free to let me know what you thought about this story. Good or bad your comments are welcome- and honesty is the best policy. Thanks for stopping by!
FEED (part 2)
Colin looked around the small grey room he found himself in. The last thing he remembered was his mother and father standing outside his stasis tube. They had said they’d be there when he awoke on their new home. But this looked nothing like the colony ship. How did he get here? Where was he? He jumped as a loud clanking sent a shudder through the small cube. A droning vibration and a feeling that the tiny room was moving. He was knocked forward as it thudded to a stop as if it had collided with something solid.
He jumped back when one of the walls opened and the sound rushed in. Cheering and shouting so loud he thought his ears might bleed. The light was so bright he covered his face with his hands, squinting as his eyes slowly adjusted. There was a clear chute in front of him, a long tube that dropped out of his view. Through the transparent plastic he could see millions of people seated and holding signs, waving their arms excitedly, all looking down onto a huge central area far below. The rows and rows of people, spread over dozens and dozens of balconies, stretched so far away from Colin that he lost sight of them. He cautioned a step forward to get a better view and saw thousands of tubes like his ringing the edge of each balcony, all leading down into what looked to be a maze of sorts.
Giant floating screens showed others, bloody and frightened wearing stained white jump suits with numbers and letters printed in black. Colin could feel his heart pounding faster as he looked down at his clothes, a crisp white jump suit tagged 6A55-37ZZ. Above the roar of the crowds he heard a horrible crying coming from the cell next to him, it sounded like a young girl. Then the deafening echo of a million loud speakers shook his insides, it overpowered every other sound.
“Next round! Next Round! Put your money down!”
Colin could feel the voice it was so loud. He clenched his jaw but still it felt as though his teeth would shake loose from his head.
“Murdered her family for her sweet sixteen, here’s Six-Alpha-Five-Nine-Dash-Four-One-Echo-November! Place your bets and find what she gets!”
Colin inched forward and looked down at the tier below him. The crowd was alive with people holding small data-pads, wildly punching away at their screens.
“Bets are done, let’s see who won!”
The crowd started chanting as the massive floating screens flipped to a multi-colored wheel with what Colin guessed were thousands of spaces.
“Spin to win! Spin to win!”
There was a sound clip that played as the wheel spun, a rapid clicking that slowed as the wheel slowed. The image on screen zoomed in on the slice of color that the pointer rested on. A cartoonish picture of a slide with an oversized buzzsaw blade at the bottom. Colin looked at it confused.
The loudspeaker crackled to life again, “Oh no! Take a short ride, on the Death Slide! Five way tie for the win, each winner has an equal share of four-hundred thousand credits! It pays when justice is served! Speaking of getting paid! Would you like to make more money? Sure, we all do! Now you can with the easy to use: 500 Steps To A More Productive You! For the low, low price of only three thousand credits you too can be more productive at work! At home! In every way possible! 500 Steps To A More Productive You has been used by millions of people- just like you- that wanted more from life! 500 Steps To A More Productive You has limited supplies, get yours now! Purchases of 500 Steps To A More Productive You can be made from your data-pad! Why wait? Act now!”
The crowds roared to life, some cheering some boo-ing. Colin could hear some heavy gearing, feel a soft shudder through his tin cell. And then the scream. He watched in horror as a young teenage girl, the girl who had been crying in the cell next to him, was dumped into the clear chute. She dropped out of his view but her descent was captured on the large view screens hovering in the middle of the arena. Cameras tracked her as the chute leveled out and the girl slowed. Colin could hear her screams all too well as they echoed back up the tube beside him.
As the whirring meat grinder came into view at the end of the poor girl’s tube, Colin tried to look away. Too late. He watched as what was once a young pretty girl became nothing more than a red liquid spray that oozed and coated the clear tube beyond. Colin dropped to his knees, his empty stomach pumping bile through his throat and out his mouth. It burned in his nostrils and he found himself starting to cry. He wanted his mother and father, his sisters and brother. He missed Mars. He wanted to go home.
A sudden fear rippled through him. Was his family here with him? Locked somewhere in a cell wearing the same jump suit? Colin started screaming.
“Twenty plus fires with a body count in the triple digits, you got him! Six-Alpha-Five-Five-Dash-Nine-Nine-Victor-Delta!”
Again the crowd started chanting, “Spin to win! Spin to win!”
Through tear filled eyes and wracking sobs he could see the wheel on the screen zipping round and round, hear the droning clicks of the pointer. The screen zoomed in on the wheel to show a picture of a silly clown with large shoes standing in a puddle, a cartoonish fish biting his toe.
“You just can’t lose! It’s Clown Shoes! No winners yet, all bets from this round add to the next jackpot! Remember folks, you too can have whiter teeth and fresher breath with Zingnamel! That’s right, get a hundred-watt smile and impress people who know you with Zingnamel, it’s like staring at the sun! From the makers of Dura Shine! Protect your car with Dura Shine! Both Zingnamel and Dura Shine are subsidiary affiliates of Food-2-U!”
Colin watched as an older man was sent sliding down the clear shute and dumped into an empty tank. He watched on the screen as the man looked around, the tank was empty with the exception of what looked like a pair of large plastic shoes, much like small kayaks about a foot long each. Without warning, sluice gates opened in the walls of the tank, brackish looking water spilling in. The man ran to the shoes and stepped a foot into each. He wobbled and flailed his arms to keep his balance as the water kept flooding in. Colin found himself almost relieved, the man was holding his balance and stayed atop of the rising water.
As he watched the screen he could see large fish spilling into the tank, the large piranha-like fish bumped the floats the man stood on. He wobbled as more fish banged against the bright red plastic. Colin felt as if he held his breath, and as he blinked the man was gone, the red floats drifting apart. Already the water was turning a deep red, frothing and bubbling as the fish frenzied and tore the man to pieces.
“What an end, what an end! Put your money down for the next round! Next we have a space explorer from Mars! Six-Alpha-Five-Five-Dash-Three-Seven-Zed-Zed!”
Again the millions strong crowd was busy hammering away at their data-pads, placing bets on what they thought and hoped the next death would be. Even in the small cell Colin could hear the tapping of fingers on gel-screens, the vicious excitement of a depraved audience. On the screen a timer ticked its way down to zero.
“Bets are done, let’s see who won!”
Again the crowd chanting, “Spin to win!”
Colin looked up from the numbers printed on his white jump suit, his heart hammered in his chest and his hands shook violently. He turned his back to the screens, the clicking of the dial feeling like needles in his brain. As the clicking slowed he was oblivious to the small thrumming in the back of his neck, the dimmest of flashes from a tiny embedded red blinking light beneath the skin. The dial stopped, Colin knew this was his end. No Mars, no FTL trip to the far edge of the Milky Way, no looking into the night sky from a brave new world. The end.
“Now that hits the spot. It’s the Sling Shot! And that’s not all! Once again, no one wins! What a surprise the winner of the next round will have with this huge jackpot! But first, are you tired of stress fractures and corrosion showing up on the sub-structure of your home? Worn out with the brittle flakes of UV reflective coating falling off your walls and vehicles? Worry no more! Get Bond-Fill! It smoothes the rough spots, it fills and strengthens cracks and pits! Bond-Fill, it gets the job done! Now available in plus-sized tubes!”
The back wall in the small cell began moving forward, pushing Colin into the chute. His stomach lurched as he dropped, sliding along the smooth walls. Everything was a blur, he could hear the cloth of his jump suit rustling with the wind rushing past him, hear his breath. And then the confining tube was gone and he was in the open air. It was a short drop and Colin landed hard in a large cloth scoop. He barely had time to see where he was before the cloth ripped and the frame whipped into the air. The mechanism looked like a steely catapult, the far wall of the room stained with drying blood and meaty bits.
The arena filled with gasps and frantic murmurs as Colin stood, shaking, the crotch of his pants soaking through with liquid fear.
“Well how about that! Looks like Sling Shot needs some repairs! But that’s good news for you viewers! Bonus round where the big money can be found! That’s right, it’s double your money time! As with any bonus round, place your bets down to the second! How long will it take for this criminal to meet his end? Bet now!”
Colin wiped tears from his face. Why did they called him a criminal? But that thought was deeply shadowed by what they were going to do to him. The crowd broke into a frenzy of excitement as the announcer’s voice boomed through the arena.
“Who’s hungry, who’s got the need? The need to Feed!”
The screams from the audience were so loud Colin thought his ears might rupture.
“Do you remember your wedding? You childhood? Your school days? Never forget again with Cerebral Clicker! A simple procedure that downloads your most valuable and cherished memories directly to your Stream Profile on your data-pad! That’s right! Share the digital copy with the people that know you on the Stream! Cerebral Clicker, never forget anything again!”
Their loud shouts and cries drummed through him, it was tormenting. But then he heard it, a rough buzzing. Rhythmic and organic, a sound of hard plates endlessly cracking against one another, chittering mouths and crawling legs. They came from holes opening in each of the four walls around him. Tiny black insects, their chitinous bodies shining in the brilliant light of the blue sun.
Colin screamed out, backing into the frame of the catapult. The beetles were everywhere, surrounding him. The floor was alive with twitching, so many hard legs clicking and tapping along the flat tiles. It was maddening. Colin was wailing uncontrollably, the sound of his wracked sobs lost amid the clatter of millions of bugs. Yet they only surrounded him, they stumbled as if confused leaving a ring of open tile around Colin. He never heard the screams of panic or the announcer’s shouts to make a calm exit, Colin was focused on the beetles around him. He waited for them to do something, anything, as long it would end.
He could hear loud speakers screaming out around him, flashes of light glaring through his blurred wet eyes. Suddenly there were arms wrapping around him and Colin was yanked into the air. The relentless sound of the insects was replaced by the quiet thrum of repulsor lifts and sirens. He chanced a look and wept, though with a relief he may never be able to fathom. It was Peace Enforcers, they were everywhere. The non-reflective blue and white skins of the rugged metal bodies flooded through the crowds. He was being lifted into the cabin of a hovering cruiser.
The calm digital voice of the Enforcer that held him broke through the terror he felt, “You are safe Citizen Colin Zimmerman, formerly of Mars. You will be processed and delivered to your parents as soon as transportation can be made available. You are safe Citizen Colin Zimmerman, formerly of Mars. You will be…”
Below him he could hear the announcers’ loud voice booming through the massive arena.
“Stay calm viewers! It seems we’ve had an accidental entry! Those responsible for this heinous act will be brought to justice! We’ll return to the games after this short break, and with new contestants! While you wait, our Snack Attendants are eager to serve you the finest in re-processed foods! Also, the driver of an orange three-door Faraday Cispa, ID Tag 334JM-888-QWT949, you’ve left your lights on! Please make your way to parking level 93, section J, row 16, space 671…”
The announcer continued in the excited drawl as the cruiser lifted out of the mile high arena walls. Colin couldn’t stop himself from weeping, the tears seemed to roll down his face as if he were trying to fill a sea. He found himself remembering when the schools on Mars had began swapping out the older digital prints for the modern biochips like the one now in his neck. Untraceable with a long range signal transmission, perhaps the frequency had been what had saved him from the beetles in that awful place. Surely it had led the Peace Enforcers to him.
* * * * *
Silo and Rigger ran through the crowds of people. Silo tried desperately to wipe the sweat from his flushed face, his greasy hair sticking to his forehead in clumped masses. The whine of Peace Enforcers seemed to be coming from everywhere. Rigger pulled hard on Silo’s arm, dragging him into a service corridor.
“What the hell man? I thought those people were clean?” Rigger had gone quite pale.
“I was told they were! And the scans didn’t pick up a single digital print!” Silo stretched his shirt to wipe his dripping face. “We got sold out! Had to be!”
“Damn it Silo! Who sold you the info on that ship?”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Silo looking at the muted flash beneath the skin of his arm. “They tracked our truck already. They know where we are.”
He held up his arm, showing the digital print to Rigger. Rigger sank down to the floor, trying to cover his own digital print with his hand. It would do no good. Their pictures would already be filling up the Data-Stream, everyone would recognize them. Hell, everyone on each and every colonized planet would know their faces. Be aware of their likes and dislikes, their favorite food, their medical history. For crying out loud- folks would know when they stopped to piss!
“I’m not running, Silo. We’re bound for the game floor no matter what we do. There’s no place to run. I’m giving up, they can take me,” said Rigger standing.
He walked passed Silo in a strange sort of daze, calm, his eyes showing that he could have been a million miles away. Silo looked around the service corridor. It was empty, the loud rush and clamor of voices echoing from the main halls. He spotted the door at the far end of the tunnel that led to the service ducts. A place normally reserved for repair drones and supervisors for the programming stations. Silo knew there must be some way out. There had to be. He could cut the digital print out of his arm, he just needed to find a tool or anything sharp. He would run.
He pushed through the small door, the air in the duct space felt stagnant. It was hotter here than standing in the bright blue sun. It didn’t matter. Then the idea hit him, he could see the pale blue light streaming in through what had to be a window. He scrambled towards it, the sweat dripping from his face and soggy shirt. His own stink of sweat and soiled under arms seemed to permeate the air around him. Finally he stopped before the outlet, stuck his head through the space into the open air. The whole was just large enough to accept the bulk of his gut. He jumped.
Silo was almost relieved as the air rushed around him. The blowing wind felt cool as it flew by his sweat soaked body, he found a small satisfaction that this was the first time he had felt cold on this hot planet. Silo shut his eyes, he could hear the dull pulsing sirens above the roar of the open air. He knew he was free though, the Enforcers had no time to catch him. Sure they knew exactly where he was, his digital print ensured that fact. But Silo knew they could never get to him in time. He was free, he had gotten away. With his eyes closed he could almost smell that real steak dinner. It was his one final thought as the ground rushed up to meet h-
* * * * *
Colin stepped out into the light of twin orange stars, a familiar color that reminded him of Sol, the sun Mars circled so far away. He shielded his eyes as he made his way across the tarmac to the terminal with the escort of the Enforcer that had rescued him. Standing just inside the glass doors, as it was against regulations for non-passengers to leave the terminal, stood his parents and siblings. Never had Colin been so overjoyed to see them all. He found himself starting to cry again.
Nothing else mattered to him at that moment. Not the immense pale trees with silvery leaves. Not the sweet smell of blue tinted grasses that surrounded the tarmac. Not the quiet rush of the endless waves of the golden ocean just the other side of the space port. Only his brother, three sisters, mother, and father.
In a reassuring monotone, the Enforcer spoke to him one last time as it pulled the door open for him. “You are safe Citizen Colin Zimmerman of Ril 3a. You are safe.”