Jacob arrived at Cindy’s government dorm building late Thursday evening. Most people were already turned in for the night—it was a school night, after all. Jacob wasn’t wearing his fat suit.
“I don’t think I would have recognized you…” Cindy needed a moment to gather herself. Jacob looked very different dressed in casual slacks, a dress shirt, and a jacket. The outfit was great at concealing the extra flesh hanging off what was now a skinny body.
He smiled at her amazement. “Glad you approve,” he said and quickly walked in and shut the door. “You look great yourself.”
Cindy was wearing her new black cotton frock dress. “I have a long way to go before my body resembles anything like yours.”
“I hope it never does,” Jacob said and beamed at her. It made Cindy blush. “It looks like you dropped at least fifteen pounds in the last two weeks. Maybe more?”
“I don’t really have a way to measure.” Scales were banned in government buildings. “But I had to go and buy a new dress, and it came from a section closer to the center.” Cindy was proud to judge her weight loss by the diminishing distance from the dress rack to the central cashier at the mall. As an indication of her accomplishment, it was as good as any.
“That’s great, Cindy,” Jacob said. (He was learning.) “But I guess this trip can’t come too soon. Are you ready to go?”
“What do I need to bring?”
“A change of clothes, toiletries, maybe a jacket. It gets cold where we’re going.”
Cindy didn’t have a jacket. The only sweater she owned had been ditched at the mall; it was ugly and a gift from her stepmother anyway. So she grabbed one of the scarves her dad had bought for her. It would have to do. All her things fit into a small backpack.
“Ready?” Jacob seemed impatient and kept checking his watch.
“Okay. If we hurry, we can catch the next train out of here. If we don’t, we’ll have to sit for an hour.”
Jacob smiled and grabbed her backpack. Together they made their way out of the building. The night was still and warm as they rushed down the street toward the train station. The people-movers had stopped working already, and the city sidewalks were empty. There was no one to note the strange couple running—a tall skinny man and a big woman in a black dress with long red-brown hair.
They made it just in time. Jacob already had the tickets. If he hadn’t, they would have had to have spent an hour waiting in the cavernous space of the central station, attracting unwanted attention from stationmasters and the city police.
Cindy and Jacob weren’t the only ones on the train. There were a few people going home from late dinners and other entertainments. A young couple, obviously on a date, was holding hands and paying attention only to each other. A group of laughing college kids appeared to be going home after some event. All were skinny and beautiful. In fact, the only person on the train who stood out was Cindy. She tried to hide, pushing herself deeper into the train seat.
Seeing her discomfort, Jacob took her hand.
“Don’t.” Cindy pulled her hand away. “People would stare.” Skinny people didn’t date fat people. It just wasn’t done. And Cindy didn’t want to attract any more attention then she was already generating. A few of the college kids gave her and Jacob curious glances.
Jacob didn’t pick up her hand again, but he did grab a discarded newspaper and held it as if to read, thereby blocking Cindy from the rest of the passengers. Cindy was grateful for his kindness.
Gradually, over the next hour, the train car cleared, until Jacob and Cindy were the only ones left. For a while, Cindy watched the landscape change from city high-rises and office buildings to the suburbs’ quaint rows of homes and shopping malls, and then to industrial facilities, where a few dilapidated buildings were mixed in among factories and data centers. After that it was too dark to see much outside the window.
“How far are we going?” Cindy asked. She’d never really seen the train tickets, even as Jacob had handed them to the conductor.
“Not much further,” he assured her, but he didn’t say what their final destination was.
Cindy was willing to wait; there wasn’t much else she could do. And she trusted Jacob. She was just feeling uneasy not knowing where she was going and whom she was meeting. Cindy preferred to carefully pre-visualize the near future; she was not a big fan of surprises. She worked hard to reduce the unknowns by carefully understanding the possibilities—the known unknowns. Like her father’s death—how did he die? This was one of the known unknowns. Jacob’s friends were something else—some mysterious mixture of known and unknown unknowns.
Finally, Jacob stood up and took Cindy’s hand. She didn’t object this time—there was no one left to observe them. “We’re here,” he said mysteriously, adding to Cindy’s dread. The train stopped, and they walked out into the night.
It was a tiny station, hardly more than a platform with an automatic ticket booth. Cindy looked around, but there really wasn’t much to see. They were in some kind of industrial complex. The walls of the buildings nearest to them were covered in graffiti, and there was a fence topped with razor wire—not terribly inviting or reassuring. Cindy shivered despite the warm breeze—this was not a place she would normally go to willingly. But this evening was far from normal.
“What now?” she asked in a small voice, trying to remain inconspicuous under the only cone of streetlight in the vicinity.
“We wait,” Jacob said. “My friends know we’re here. They’ll come and get us.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“What? Being here? Or my friends?”
“I don’t know. Both, I guess.” Cindy shivered. She felt very much out of control, too dependent on Jacob for her very survival.
“It’s a bit too far to walk from here, at least at night. So we’re just waiting for a car. Should be here any moment,” Jacob said. She noticed that he didn’t answer her question, but she let it go—again. She figured she was committed now anyway. Committed to whatever this was.
After a few minutes, a dim set of lights popped in and out of the night—a pair of headlights passing behind the various industrial relics scattered around the train station.
“There.” Jacob pointed out the car after Cindy was already tracking its progress. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
They walked down the stairs from the train platform and met the car below. It was a four-seater, driverless vehicle, an older model. And it was empty.
“Get in.” Jacob opened the door for Cindy, then climbed in after her. The car began moving as soon as the door was closed. It traveled at a steady pace; Cindy was sure her heart was beating faster than the motor.
She tried to examine her surroundings, but the car’s headlights were mainly there to keep pedestrians aware of the car’s passing—they were too dim to really illuminate anything beyond the front bumper.
“Don’t worry so much, Cindy,” Jacob said, trying to ease Cindy’s anxiety. “My friends are really nice, even if they don’t look or act that way.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“No, I mean it. They’re just worried about keeping their secrecy. So they preferred that I brought you to them in the dark. But they’re okay. Really.”
“I see. Did you first come here at night?”
“Well, it was different back then. We were just getting started. There’s much more to lose now.” Jacob was using a really soothing voice, which irritated Cindy. She wasn’t some sort of a child who needed to be pacified. Her anxiety turned into irritability and anger—a much better state of mind, in her opinion.
The car made a sharp turn and accelerated downward. Looking out the window, Cindy decided that they’d entered a tunnel. It would be difficult to find a way out, Cindy thought to herself. Before the tunnel, she had at least some hope that she could walk back to the train station on her own if she had to. But not now.
The tunnel went on for quite a while. At some point, the car stopped in front of a set of metal doors. But Jacob got out, punched a code into a little pad on the wall, then got back in the car. the doors opened and the car continued forward.
They passed into a well-lit space, and the effect was blinding. Purposely so, Cindy thought. She squinted her eyes, trying to keep some of her vision.
The car came to a stop. Someone opened Cindy’s door.
“Welcome to the Farm, Ms. Rella,” said a deep male voice.
“Please call me Cindy,” she said and stepped out of the car. Shielding her eyes with her hand, Cindy tried to get her bearings. They were in a large underground garage. There were a few other vehicles parked here—trucks and cars and some heavy machinery that Cindy didn’t recognize.
“I’m sure you had a long journey, Cindy. Come this way.”
The man took her gently but firmly by her upper arm. Cindy checked to see that Jacob was following them—he was—then let the man escort her forward.
“I’ll take you to our guest rooms. They aren’t much—we don’t get many visitors down here—but there’s a bed and a bathroom. All you need.”
Cindy tried to memorize the route they were taking from the garage. The man led them through sparsely lit concrete corridors with what looked like heavy-duty power lines running along the walls. Cindy tried to follow the cables for a while, but the route was too convoluted and she soon lost track.
“Here we are,” the man said after a few minutes, stopping in front of a heavy steel door. “Please keep your voices down. Most are already sleeping.” He opened the door and stepped back to let Cindy and Jacob enter.
Behind the door was a typical office layout, except this office had apparently been converted into living quarters. The center of the room still functioned like a cafeteria—there were tables and chairs and a refrigerator-microwave combo—but the food-dispensing kiosks were notably absent, having been replaced by cooking surfaces similar to, but much larger than, those in Jacob’s dorm. And all along the sides of the room, the office cubicles had been transformed into little bedrooms. The cubicle walls had been extended all the way to the ceiling, lending a bit of privacy to the cubicle occupants, and doors had been installed as well, though a few stood open.
“These are empty.” The man pointed to two adjoining cubicles that were located right next to the cooking station—clearly not the most desirable location. Noticing Cindy’s disapproving expression, the man added, “The rest are occupied, I’m afraid.”
That bit of information gave Cindy a clue to the number of people sheltered down here on the Farm. A quick count put the occupancy rate at about twenty. More than Cindy would have expected.
Jacob spoke up for the first time since they’d arrived. “The bathroom is just down that way,” he said. “I’ll walk you down after we get you settled, okay?”
“Sure,” Cindy said, and then turned back to the big man. He was wearing simple blue jeans and a checkered red flannel shirt. Very Farmer John, Cindy thought. And he was thin. Not as thin as thin people, but he sure wasn’t fat. Cindy figured he wasn’t connected to tits either. “One more thing,” she said. “What’s your name?”
The man smiled. “You can call me Digger. Everyone else does.”
“Nice to meet you, Digger.” Cindy extended her hand, and the man shook it. It didn’t make them friends, but it was a start.
“I’ll see you both in the morning,” Digger said, and he went to the cubicle bedroom next to the exit door, against the wall.
Cindy settled in—which involved little more than putting down her bag—and Jacob showed her to the bathroom. When she finally made it back to her little cubicle and closed her little door, she felt exhaustion sweep over her. It wasn’t that she was physically tired, but emotionally the day felt taxing. She passed out the minute she hit the pillow.