Jacob buzzed Cindy in immediately, but he asked her to wait a few minutes prior to coming up to his dorm room. Cindy took the opportunity to sit and rest in the entrance hall. Like all government dorms, this one had a little rest area with a medium-sized cafeteria facility that served a limited selection of hot and cold food every day during the first two shifts. There was also a mail center—a neat collection of mailboxes lining one of the walls—and a laundry facility, the same as in Cindy’s building. All government dorm buildings were very similar, built from the same blueprints.
After catching her breath, Cindy realized that she was both hungry and thirsty. Of course, it could have been the smell of food coming from the kitchen. She got up and went to check out her options.
It was way past lunch and too early for dinner, but Cindy remembered that, aside from the two cups of water that she’d had this morning, she really hadn’t had anything else to eat or drink yet today. That was completely unprecedented; she was always very aware of her need for nourishment. But today, her body had let her down. Cindy wondered if it had something to do with all the extra weight she had suddenly been saddled with. Could it be that she didn’t really need to eat?
She might not need to eat, she thought, but she still craved the taste of food. In fact, just thinking about eating made her feel a little less anxious. So she reached for a can of orange soda and eyed a turkey meatball sub—the only hot sandwich option available.
“Cindy?” Jacob’s voice called out from the entrance hall.
Cindy put the soda down and walked back. She could get something after she said hello.
“There you are!” Jacob looked genuinely happy to see her. It made Cindy smile.
“Hi, Jacob. It’s great to see you, too. What’s happened to you in the last few days?”
“Oh.” Jacob’s face grew dark. “Come up. We can talk in my room.”
The way he spoke, and the expression on his face—on his whole body—made Cindy forget all about eating. She followed Jacob to the elevator. He went up first and was waiting for her when she arrived at his floor.
Jacob didn’t say a word. After he let Cindy in, he immediately reached for the plant box on the window. He lifted the lid off the box and turned it toward Cindy.
“See?” he said. “All dead.”
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry, Jacob. Why did the baby apple trees die?” Cindy felt tears in her eyes yet again. I’ll get completely dehydrated crying all the time, she thought.
“I’m not sure. I told you it was hard to figure out what kills them.” Jacob gently placed the box back on the windowsill.
“Is that why you haven’t been coming to see me?” Cindy asked.
“No. I’m sorry about that.” Jacob looked uncomfortable. “They’ve changed my route.”
“You no longer work my floor?”
“Not exactly,” he said. “I think someone caught on that I was helping you, and they changed my security ID to daytime only access for your floor. I tried to call you, but I couldn’t get through.”
“They’ve disconnected my phone.” Cindy had only noticed that her phone wasn’t working when she’d tried to order a pizza over the weekend. She had been planning to raise this as an issue with HR today, but…
“Bastards!” The way Jacob said it made Cindy all happy on the inside—better than orange soda, better than pizza.
“Oh, you don’t even know the half of it.” Cindy sat down on the only chair in the room and told Jacob about her dad’s death, the visit to her home town, and this morning’s exchange with the C.O.F.E. supervisor. It felt good to be able to vent her frustrations to someone. She’d felt so mistreated these last few days. Weeks, really.
“So they cut you off from tits?” he asked as Cindy finished her story.
“Yes. See?” And Cindy stood up and turned completely around, showing all the extra weight sagging off her body.
“Repulsive, right?” All of a sudden, Cindy was worried about being so hideously unattractive in front of Jacob. It’s not like he was anything more than a friend. But even a friend might lose interest in all these folds of fat.
“Oh, no! Nothing like that, Cindy! It’s just that… Bastards!”
“I agree.” And Cindy smiled at him.
“Oh, and I’m very sorry about your dad…”
“Well, it’s not like he cared anything about me, you know? So why should I care?” Cindy made a show of indifference, but it was hard.
Jacob saw through her act. “He was still your dad.”
“Well, we need to figure out how he died. So no one told you?”
“Nope. I wrote his name a thousand times all over the death papers they gave me to fill out as his next of kin. And in the end, this woman just said ‘Thank you very much’ and took them away like it was a perfectly normal thing to do. Strange.”
“Yeah, strange. And now they’re trying to punish you?”
“I guess. Frankly, I didn’t think they could do anything more to me. They were already burying me with work. What more could they do, right? But then this.” She swept her hands over her body. “I don’t even think it’s legal to take away a tits account that’s been paid for.”
“Now I’ll never even be able to have an account.” Cindy started to hyperventilate as she realized the implications of her lifetime bans. “First, no F.A.T.O.F.F. papers, ever. Now, no tits access. Not that the F.A.T.O.F.F. papers matter without tits access. Jacob, I’ll die young! People without tits don’t live long.”
Jacob went and filled a glass with water. He gave it to Cindy. “Drink.”
Cindy took the glass with a shaking hand. Some water spilled. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about that. Just drink. And then we’ll talk.” He crouched on the floor next to her feet, looking up at her tear-stained face. “I have something important to tell you, okay? So just drink and rest. And I’ll be right back.”
Jacob caught her eyes and Cindy nodded, drinking the water from the glass. It was cool and nice and really was making her feel better.
“Just sit here and drink. I’ll just step into the shower for a moment. Okay?”
Cindy nodded again. Jacob got up and walked behind the translucent brick wall of the bathroom enclosure.
Cindy heard some banging and a hushed curse. And a few minutes later, Jacob came out again.
Only it wasn’t her Jacob.
The man who came out of the bathroom was thin, or mostly so. He was wearing tight-fitting black tights and a t-shirt. The body revealed was not a perfect body of a tits-assisted specimen—it was lumpy, and the thighs and upper arms seemed disproportionately thick. There were also some strange folds around the middle, and it looked like there was some sagging flesh where a woman would have had breasts. But overall, this was not the body of a fat man. Not like Cindy’s body.
And most importantly, not the body Jacob had had just five minutes ago.
“What do you think?” Jacob asked. It was still his voice, his face, even if he did have the body of a stranger.
“Jacob, I… What happened?”
“Nothing bad, I assure you.” He was looking at Cindy and smiling a sweet gentle smile. “It’s still me. Just a little less of me than you thought,” he added playfully. “Here, you can feel.” He stepped forward. “Real body, not an illusion. It’s me, Cindy. Really!”
“But… but what happened to the rest of you?” The transformation left Cindy at a loss.
Jacob stepped back into the bathroom nook and pulled out a dead body. Cindy stifled a scream.
“No, no. It’s okay. Here.” Jacob shoved the deflated, boneless human body toward Cindy. She cringed. “Cindy, it’s fine. It’s just a fat suit. A bunch of silicon and cloth. It’s a costume. Just for show.”
“What? Why?” Cindy was relieved to know Jacob didn’t have an actual dead body in his shower, but she was still physically repulsed by the fake pink flesh and rolls of artificial fat. “Why?” she asked again.
“To keep the truth a secret,” he said.
“What truth? Secret from whom?” Cindy didn’t understand. Why would anyone pretend to be fat on purpose? The world was a grim, miserable place for fat people. People paid astronomical sums to keep themselves thin and beautiful. She didn’t know of anyone who would hide thinness. Well, not until now.
“They took away my tits account about five years ago,” Jacob explained. “It seems I have an unnatural interest in fresh food. I liked apples.”
“They cut you off because you liked to eat apples?”
“I had an ‘unhealthy interest’ in fruits, it seems. But you know what?”
“It turned out to be the best thing ever. I’ve lost the weight, Cindy. And I did it all by myself. I didn’t need tits.”
“Really. In fact, I believe a tits connection would have made it impossible for me to lose the weight. You see, we think—”
“We? Who’s we?”
“Just let me finish. We think tits works by setting a certain weight limit on the body. Anything over that limit gets sucked into the transdimensional void. People with federal assistance get a government-approved weight limit—the no-frills tits account. People who pay out of pocket can specify their own preferred limit, plus any number of enhancements.”
“Yeah, like giant breasts or super-sculpted muscles.”
“Like that. But the point is, they control what they want to weigh and from where in the body the extra, unwanted weight gets taken away. In either case—government-assisted tits or full-price tits—the weight gets set somewhere in the Transdimensional Industries computers. And it works the same for people like us. Like we used to be.”
“The buy-as-you-go tits program?”
“Well, we’re no longer people like us,” Cindy added.
“True, but not the point. The program works the same way whether you buy the fat storage up to what you want to weigh—or what the government thinks you should weigh—or whether you buy fat storage in small incremental amounts. It doesn’t matter, it’s all the same to the Transdimensional Industries computers. It’s just about where the set point is.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Cindy said. Jacob was very animated in his explanation, but he still wasn’t making much sense.
“Sorry. It’s just that we’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I know you’re new to all this.”
“Just try again,” Cindy said.
“Okay. So when you paid into the tits account, you basically were telling the computers to reduce your apparent weight. Your actual weight was the apparent weight plus the stuff you stored away in your tits account. Each time you added money into the account, your apparent weight was lowered and more fat was stored in tits. So there was never a way for you to lose weight on your own!”
Jacob seemed genuinely pleased with his explanation. Cindy wasn’t.
“Okay. Jacob, just assume I’m stupid.”
“You’re not stupid!”
“I said ‘assume.’ I’m not taking offense here. Why would it be impossible to lose weight if I had a tits account?”
“Because every time you lose a pound, the tits account just adjusts and draws that pound out of storage and into you. That’s why people are remarkably stable. It’s not possible to lose the apparent fat—tits compensates. And the world is set up so that dieting is strongly discouraged anyway. And since no one can lose weight, no one even tries.”
“But without tits?”
“Without tits, you can start losing weight.” Jacob motioned to his own body. “Every pound I lost, it showed. There was nothing to compensate. Got it?”
“So I could lose weight now too?”
“What do I have to do?” Cindy asked. This was the first bit of hope she had experienced today. Perhaps things just might be okay after all. Someday.
“Well, you need to reduce your calorie intake and you need to exercise more. There really isn’t any kind of magic trick here. Well…” Jacob got serious again, and Cindy felt panic reaching in to take hold of her again. “There is this,” he said, and he lifted his t-shirt.
What looked like lumps through the black cotton material were revealed to be loose folds of sagging skin. “Revolting, isn’t it?” Jacob said.
“Where did all that extra skin come from?”
“It used to hold the fat. But now that the fat isn’t there anymore… Well, the skin is still here.” Jacob pulled his shirt back down bashfully. “It’s really ugly, I know.”
“It’s better than being fat,” Cindy told him and smiled. “I’d take droopy skin over fat any day.”
“It’s still very heavy. It’s like thirty extra pounds of skin. I wish I could have it cut off,” Jacob said.
“Cut off? Like with a knife?”
“Sure. I certainly don’t need it. I’ll never get fat again. I’m done with that prison.”
“Wouldn’t the government clinic take care of that?” It seemed to Cindy that this was like a medical condition, like a cyst or a growth—and doctors routinely removed things like that.
“Oh, no. I’m never telling the government about my weight loss. That’s what the fat suit is all about.”
“You’re going to wear that horrible thing forever?”
“No. Of course not. We’re working on finding a way of getting out. And we even have some doctors now. We’ll be able to cut this stuff off someday.” Jacob wiggled the extra skin on his chest with both hands. The rippling motion propagated through his whole body. It looked funny, but it made Cindy sad. Had Jacob worked really hard; he deserved to have all of this gone.
“But why hide?”
“I think the government is mixed up in all this. You know, the way we’re told to eat all the time.”
“The way they track how much we eat and give us a reprimand when we skip a meal?” Cindy thought about the stern notices she’d gotten lately from the office manager in charge of food intake and nutrition monitoring.
“Yes. That’s why I asked to be transferred into the mail room,” Jacob said. “I get to move more, and I tend not to eat with other people. I throw out the food I don’t eat.”
That made Cindy gasp. It was bad to waste food.
“I know, I know. I found it difficult at first, too. But then I decided that I should be in control of what I put in my body, not the government. In any case, delivering mail puts me in the middle of everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I see it all. The supervisor writes up some new policy; the government issues an order; a secret package comes into the lab—I know it all. There’s no better position for someone like me.”
“And who are you, Jacob?”
“I’m a rebel.”