Back in the dorm office, Digger allowed Cindy and Jacob to take a short break. “But we have more to do today,” he said before leaving them alone.
“So, what did you think?” Jacob asked Cindy as she sat down to a quick lunch he’d prepared for them. It wasn’t much, but it wasn’t completely pre-packaged fare either. Jacob had made nut-butter sandwiches with some sweet preserve on top. They both drank tap water.
“I’ve never seen anything so overwhelmingly relentless, so cruelly manipulative, in all my life,” Cindy said, talking as she was eating. “It feels… evil, on some fundamental level.”
“That was my reaction too when I first visited that place,” Jacob said. “But it was Digger’s explanation more than just the visit. I don’t think I would have been able to pick out all the different ways they’re influencing people’s decisions in there.”
Cindy nodded in agreement. “Now that Digger pointed it out, I can think back on my visits to the mall, or even just walking down city streets. There’s a lot of design there too. The ads are full of happy smiling people. What did he call it? The halo effect! It’s like we should believe what beautiful thin people tell us because of the way they look.”
“They look good, so what they’re selling is good too?”
“Yeah, like that. And I think it works,” Cindy added. “We want to be like the cool pretty people who are having all that fun eating all that food.”
“Did you notice the beautiful photographs of the food in the factory’s cafeteria?” Jacob asked.
Cindy nodded again. “They were hard to miss.”
“But when you actually open a package of food, it never looks as good as the photo,” Jacob said.
“You know those warm lights Digger pointed out? Well, I’ve always noticed that the employee cafeteria on my old floor at C.O.F.E. was lit differently from the rest of the floor. It had a pinkish glow. I think it did make the food there look better. Not as good as the photographs on the packages or the food ads, but much better than it looked back at my desk, in the glow of the computer terminal.”
“I think that’s why we were all encouraged to eat at the picnic tables in the employee cafeteria rather than at our desks,” Jacob said.
“And it was also more fun to eat with other people,” Cindy said. “I used to like taking food breaks and talking with people on my floor. Nothing serious, just gossip and such. But during my last weeks as a clerk at C.O.F.E., when everything went so badly and I was eating alone, I think that’s when I started to eat less. No one would even look at me, much less speak with me. So at breaks, I just wanted to be done as quickly as I could so I could go hide back in my cubicle.”
“And you started to lose the weight,” Jacob reminded her. “So it wasn’t all bad.”
“For a while it was, Jacob. I didn’t start to lose until after I got disconnected from tits. Before that, I was just a fat cow eating alone.” Cindy could feel her mood darken.
Jacob reached out and touched her hand. “You were never a fat cow, Cindy. Ever.” He looked so earnest that it almost made Cindy laugh. It was a horrible roller-coaster ride of divergent feelings.
“I think all this weight loss is making me more emotional,” she said.
“It might,” Jacob told her. “I felt a lot of different emotions when I was losing weight rapidly. I think we undergo body chemistry changes as the weight comes off, and that changes our brain chemistry too.”
“You think it’s dangerous?” Cindy asked.
“It doesn’t matter though.”
“I would still choose to lose the weight,” Cindy said. “If only others knew…”
“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.
“If only the other people in the office—and people in general—knew about the possibility of losing their weight naturally, I think people would opt out of tits.”
“It’s not as easy as that,” Jacob said, but he sounded strange. Cindy picked up on it right away.
“What are you not telling me?” she asked. With her sandwich eaten and her water almost finished, Cindy focused entirely on Jacob. Her gaze was making him squirm. He got up and gathered their plates and napkins, trying to be casual about the need to clean up.
“Jacob.” Cindy stopped him and made him sit back down at the table. “What is it? Spit it out. Remember, this weekend is about letting me in on all your secrets.”
“Not all secrets are mine to tell, Cindy.” Jacob stood back up to finish up cleaning the table.
“Okay, I’ll wait for Digger to come back then,” Cindy said.
She could see Jacob relax a bit. She wondered what made him so evasive. It seemed to be more than just the secret weight loss program.
Dr. Pearson—Phebe—joined them at the dorm office before Digger returned. She made herself some coffee and sat facing Cindy, observing her carefully. She seemed more available to talk than she had been that morning. Cindy wondered at Phebe’s change of heart. Or was it simple curiosity?
“So what do you think?” Phebe asked Cindy about her experience at the factory workers’ community center.
“Freaky,” Cindy said, while attempting to compose a better answer in her head.
“Cindy is really quick. Even Digger said so,” Jacob said, trying to smooth out the interaction. It seemed to Cindy that Jacob was a bit afraid of Dr. Pearson. She projected an aura of authority. Even Digger was deferential toward her.
“I’m sure the child is wonderful in every way.” Phebe smirked.
Cindy wondered what the woman’s problem was—why was she trying to pick a fight with her? The woman was insufferable.
Cindy was done taking abuse from this woman, done being treated as something unwanted, something to just get rid off. The vehemence of her own reaction surprised Cindy. Perhaps there was something to weight loss shifting brain chemistry. “I’m not a ‘child,’” Cindy said loudly. “I’m not a ‘girl.’ I’m not something that was brought here to interfere with your day. I’m—”
“That’s not how I meant it,” Phebe said. “But you’re right. I apologize.”
That was unexpected as well. Cindy just stared.
“Really?” Jacob asked. He was standing behind Cindy in some sort of protective hovering mode.
“Jacob, stop trying so hard,” Phebe said. “You don’t have to defend Cindy all the time. I think she can stand up for herself just fine. And the anxiety is clouding your thinking.”
“Sorry,” he repeated.
“Yes. I was out of line,” Phebe continued, speaking to Cindy. “Not that it’s an excuse, but I’ve been working very long hours and I’m stuck in here.” She waved her arms to indicate the dorm. “I hate working underground all the time.”
“But I thought the lights on the Farm mimicked sunlight?” Jacob said. Immediately his eyes got big and guilt and fear raced across his face. “Sorry!”
Phebe ignored him. “Now, Cindy, besides it being ‘freaky,’ what did you think of your little field trip?” Phebe asked again.
“I never realized how much design and thought went into developing such spaces,” Cindy said. “It feels like there’s a whole scientific field of study devoted to making people consume food.” Cindy tried to give a good answer despite the woman’s abusive behavior.
“Go on,” Phebe encouraged her.
“It seems like all that energy, all that creativity, could be used for something else. Something better,” Cindy finished.
“You’re right, there’s a lot of energy and serious thought dedicated to pushing food on the population. You should make the next deductive leap,” Phebe told her.
“It must be very important,” Cindy finally said.
“So much effort wouldn’t be spent without a very good reason. Which means something else is going on. Right?” Cindy felt like she was on the verge of making an important discovery.
“Very good. I look forward to showing you around the Farm tomorrow, Cindy Rella.” Phebe got up, smiled at Cindy, and walked out.
“Well, that went well,” Jacob commented in a small voice.
“Did it?” Cindy wasn’t sure about the whole interaction. And she realized that she wanted Phebe to like her, maybe even respect her. Maybe we’ll get along one day, she hoped. But she wasn’t going to be abused. “So what’s next, Jacob? When is Digger coming back?”