Digger found Jacob and Cindy hanging out in the small dining area. Jacob was clearly infatuated with the girl, Digger noted, agreeing with Phebe’s assessment. But Cindy’s feelings toward Jacob were harder to read. Digger tried to imagine what Cindy would have looked like if she had grown up with a fully funded tits account. Did she look like the photo of the woman labeled Subject #2? He wasn’t sure. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
“Digger!” Jacob finally spotted the gruff man leaning on the doorframe, observing them.
“Did you get some rest?” Digger walked in, smiling widely at Cindy. “Did Jacob feed you?”
“He was a very gracious host,” Cindy replied, smiling back.
“But I would like to continue our tour, if you don’t mind.” Cindy was anxious to continue. She hated to feel that time was passing without her learning all she could from Jacob and his friends.
“But of course.” Digger waved for them to join him. “So. You might have been wondering what all those workers we observed today actually do at the factory—other than eat, of course.”
“I have to admit that I didn’t give it a thought. I’m still trying to process your description of the psychological assault we experienced at the food court,” Cindy said. “But now that you’ve mentioned it, what does that factory produce?”
“Food,” Digger said. He pulled open a small closet door. “Here. Put on these lab coats. Jacob, make sure to find something that will fit Cindy well. She is still in that awkward weight category.”
Cindy blushed a deep red. She didn’t want to be judged as too fat again. The hole in the fence was bad enough. But Digger didn’t seem to notice her discomfort. Jacob just rummaged noisily, finally emerging with three white coats.
“How’s this?” He gave one to Cindy.
Feeling apprehensive, Cindy put on what looked like a factory inspector’s uniform. It was a tight fit, but it wasn’t unseemly. Digger clipped an official-looking badge to her left breast pocket and gave another one to Jacob.
“Our disguises are complete,” Digger announced after he and Jacob buttoned up their lab coats and pinned their badges. “A few clipboards and hard hats, and no one would dream of challenging us.”
Cindy tugged on her badge. Her giant breasts were making it stick out almost horizontally. Digger and Jacob pretended not to notice.
“We’ll walk there, if you don’t mind.” Digger gave Cindy a quick look. She just nodded. She had grown used to walking long distances now—walking was a big part of her mail delivery job as well as part of her weight loss plan.
“Okay, then.” Digger pointed down the corridor. “Let’s walk.”
They set a brisk pace. Judging by the length of their drive to the community center, Cindy judged that the factory was quite a ways. But she didn’t mind. It would give her an opportunity to ask a few questions. She pulled even with Digger and was just about to start in on him when Digger questioned her instead.
“So, how well do you remember your real mother?” he asked.
Cindy was taken aback. That part of her life was deep history now, like it had happened to someone else. “I… was very young when she died,” Cindy said.
“You were seven?” Digger made it into a question.
“Almost eight, actually,” Cindy said.
“Old enough to remember,” he pushed.
“Is this important?” Cindy asked him. “I don’t really like to talk about my childhood.”
“I’m just trying to get to know you. If it was important to you, it seems worth knowing. Right?”
“Will my answers impact how much you tell me about what you and Jacob are doing here?” Cindy asked.
“Yes,” Digger said.
“Thank you for being honest,” Cindy said.
“You’re welcome. So. Are you going to tell me about your mother?”
“She was beautiful,” Cindy said after giving it some thought. She didn’t really want to get lost in the details of her feelings toward her parents. She didn’t feel like Digger had earned her confidence just yet. But she did want to learn the secrets that weren’t Jacob’s to share, so she carefully considered how to answer Digger’s question. “It wasn’t just her thinness, although she was that. My family—my dad, my mom, and me—we used to be on fully sponsored government tits accounts.”
Digger nodded, encouraging Cindy to go on.
“I don’t really know what happened with my mom’s tits. I remember my dad picking me up in the middle of a school day and taking me to the hospital. He said that there was an accident and my mom was hurt. But I never got to see her again.” Cindy remembered every moment of that day in crisp detail—the smell of the hospital waiting room, the hushed voices the doctors used when she was in the room, her dad’s wild eyes—but she wasn’t willing to share all that with Digger.
“So you never got to see her again?” Digger echoed Cindy’s words back at her. Repetition was a good tactic for getting information out of people.
“I’m sorry. It must have been terrible for you,” Jacob said. His face radiated empathy.
Digger gave him a look to shut him up, and Jacob withered under his stare and fell back a few steps.
“It wasn’t a good day,” Cindy agreed.
“And what happened then?” Digger wasn’t going to let go. He needed more information. If Cindy was a bit rattled by the questions, so be it. She’d get over it.
“We got a big settlement from Transdimensional Industries,” Cindy said.
“So they admitted fault?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that with the settlement, my dad and I were taken off the F.A.T.O.F.F. program.”
“Uh-huh. You could pay your own way with the money from the settlement.”
“Yes, I guess. But we didn’t have the money for long. Or at least not enough of it.”
“Not enough to keep your tits accounts fully funded,” Digger clarified.
“I guess. You seem to know everything already.” Cindy wondered just how much research into her background Jacob’s friends had already done. It made her feel exposed somehow.
“Not everything,” Digger assured her.
“Did Jacob tell you what happened at C.O.F.E.?” Cindy asked.
“You mean how they banned you from tits?”
“All of it. My stepmother’s visit. The F.A.T.O.F.F. papers that I bought and then lost. My dad’s death. All of it. Did he tell you all that?” Cindy looked back at Jacob. He was trying to avoid her eyes. So he has, Cindy decided.
“It wasn’t really a secret, was it?” Jacob asked, head down.
“No. It was common knowledge at C.O.F.E., I suppose,” Cindy said. But she still resented him for telling, and she planned on letting him know about it when they were alone.
“Don’t be upset with Jacob,” Digger said. “He wanted to bring you here, and we needed to know a few things before we could allow it.”
“Okay,” Cindy said.
“Okay then,” Digger replied. “Well, we’re almost here. Put on your hard hats, boys and girls. The show is on!”
The change was so sudden that Cindy tripped trying to get her hat on. Just ahead of them, a diffuse blue glow escaped from underneath a metal door. Cindy guessed that this was their destination. Digger opened the door by punching a code into a keypad. He walked in first.
“Okay, it’s safe,” he told Jacob and Cindy, waving them in and then shutting the door behind them.
Cindy stepped onto a metal balcony that ran the full circumference of a giant underground cavern. The balcony was very high off the ground. The blue light they had seen seeping out into the corridor was coming from the bioluminescent walls. The brightness appeared to be directly related to the distance from the floor—the walls were dimmer by the balcony, but got brighter the farther down they went, so that the glow was intense around the strange machinery on the bottom floor.
As Cindy looked down through the metal slots of the balcony, the blue light, radiating up through the holes and illuminating her feet, gave her vertigo. She grabbed the rails.
“You okay?” Jacob asked in a whisper.
Cindy could only nod. She didn’t feel okay, though.
“Welcome to the bio-vats,” Digger said. “This is where most of the protein structure of the mass-produced food is created. Beautiful, isn’t it?”
And it was. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Painfully beautiful.
“We eat that?” Cindy asked.
“We use it to make the food we eat. Yes,” Digger said.
“But what is it?” Cindy had no idea what she was looking at.
“It’s part of our exchange program. We store fat, we get back beautiful protein goo.”
“This is… tits?” Cindy didn’t know what she had expected Transdimensional Industries Tanks to look like, but this wasn’t it. “And we… eat that?”
Cindy’s head was starting to spin. She was holding on to the thin metal railing so hard she was afraid she would bend it.
“Jacob, get her out of here,” she heard Digger say. He sounded so far away. The blue light faded. “Damn, we should have taken the car.”
It was the last thing Cindy heard.