When Cindy awoke, she found herself back on the little bed in the office dorm. She was still wearing the white lab coat, but the sleeve of her left arm had been rolled up and there was a large bandage on the inside of her left elbow.
“She’s back.” It was Jacob’s voice.
“How are you feeling, Cindy?” Phebe bent over to look at her, checking her eyes.
“What happened?” Cindy asked. “I remember the blue lights of the cavern.”
“You just got a little sick,” Phebe reassured her. “It’s fine now.”
“Okay,” Cindy said, trying to sit up. She was actually feeling quite well now. “But I don’t really get what happened.”
“Some people react strongly to the light, that’s all,” Phebe said. “Now we know, and you know. So you can just stay away. No problem.”
From the way Phebe was talking—fast and in short bursts—Cindy figured that it was a problem. But there didn’t seem to be anything she could do about it at the moment.
“What time is it?” Cindy asked. Her watch was missing from her wrist.
“Dinnertime,” Phebe said. “Are you hungry? You haven’t had much to eat today.”
Cindy tried to think about it. She’d only had that apple and the sandwich that Jacob had made for her. That was it. Four weeks ago, that would have felt like a starvation diet. But now, Cindy didn’t really feel hungry.
“I can make you something,” Jacob offered. He was standing just outside of the modded cubicle, but the walls were as thin as a regular cubicle, and sound traveled freely.
“I think I’m not ready to eat just yet,” Cindy answered. She looked down at her left arm again. It hurt. “What’s this?” she asked, nodding at the bandage.
“Oh, we just needed to run a blood check. It’s nothing serious.” Phebe waved her hands and turned to leave. “Jacob will take care of you. I’ll get some dinner.”
Jacob was in immediately. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“Actually, I’m feeling quite well,” Cindy said. “Can you tell me about the blue light cavern? Where were we?”
Jacob turned to look over his shoulder. Cindy guessed he was checking to see if Phebe was out of earshot. Then he leaned in close. “Cindy, remember what you said just before you passed out? You guessed correctly, sort of…”
“Jacob, just tell me. I don’t really remember.” Cindy matched the volume of his voice, which was practically a whisper.
“We were looking into the tits output,” Jacob said. He paused, giving Cindy a chance to absorb the implication.
“I’m not stupid, Jacob. But I need more information than that. What’s a tits output?”
“There’s a balance to everything, Cindy. You know—for each action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.”
“I took high school physics. But transdimensional space doesn’t work like that.”
“Yes. Actually, yes, it does,” Jacob assured her. “We store all that extra human fat in the Transdimensional Industries Tanks, right?”
“Well, in order to do that, in order to stuff all that extra fat in there, we need to take something back.”
“You know, equal and opposite? If we put in, we take out.”
“So the stuff in that cave is what we take out?” Cindy asked. She felt the world spinning with the implications.
“But you said we eat that?” Cindy was starting to feel sick again.
“Yes. All those packages of food? Well, we use the stuff that comes out of tits on our side to make it.”
Cindy didn’t say anything. She really couldn’t. She had spent years—her whole life, really—eating pre-packaged food. So had everyone she knew. In the cafeterias, the snack bars, the coffee shops; at the street food vendors, restaurants, cafes, and food establishments of all kind; in all those places, people ate the goo from the blue light cave.
It was a lot to take in.
“I don’t think I can ever eat again,” Cindy said finally.
Jacob laughed. “I felt the same when I first saw it,” he said.
“And now? Can you eat this stuff now?” Cindy asked.
“Yes. I have to. I don’t really have a choice. I don’t want to starve. But I do try to eat fresh food when I can. That’s what we try to do here at the Farm. We try to make real food.”
“Apples are really hard. Phebe and Digger have been working on growing apples for well over a decade.”
“Sure. It takes time to grow an apple tree.” Jacob said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“I didn’t know.” It wasn’t obvious to Cindy.
“Here at the Farm we try to grow small things. Things that don’t take so long.”
“I would love to see that,” Cindy said. “I would like to see the Farm.”
“Tomorrow. If you’re feeling up to it, Digger and I will take you to our little farm.”
“Thank you,” Cindy managed to say. Jacob was smiling at her. She smiled back.
Cindy left Jacob, went to the little bathroom, and shut the door. She looked in the mirror; it wasn’t programmed to make her look thinner, and Cindy didn’t like what she saw. She looked down, and something caught her eye in the small wastebasket under the sink. It looked like a crumpled paycheck. Cindy plucked it from the trash and smoothed it out. It wasn’t a check, just a paystub; and it was made out to Dr. Phebe Pearson. On the top of the paystub was the name of her employer: Transdimensional Industries.
Cindy felt her heart speed up, and she grabbed the sink for support.