“What a marvelous coincidence finding you two here.”
Digger greeted Jacob and Cindy from a little bench just inside and out of view of the entrance to the underground garden cave.
The way Digger spoke made Cindy shiver. She felt Jacob tighten his grip on her hand.
“Hello, Digger,” Jacob replied in a falsely cheerful voice. “Cindy couldn’t sleep, so I took her for a little stroll.”
“Well, I had hoped that we would stroll over here together, Jacob,” Digger said and got up to join them. “You see, Cindy, we’ve invested decades of our lives to make all of this work. And we very rarely share our work with outsiders.” There was something vaguely threatening in Digger’s tone.
“I’m sorry to be the cause of any trouble,” Cindy said. “But it was my impression that you were planning to show me around the Farm anyway. We just got here a bit early. But if you’re up for it now…?”
Digger’s expression was blank as he eyed Cindy and then Jacob. Cindy found it even more uncomfortable than if he was openly hostile. This examination seem to last for a long time, but at last his expression softened and he said: “Shall we start then?”
Cindy could only nod. Digger was very good at unnerving her. She could feel that Jacob was flustered as well.
Digger led the way. The cave wasn’t as large as the tits cavern, and the walls didn’t give off a phosphorescent glow. Instead the room was lit by artificial lights, suspended from a central pole running along the entire length of the structure. They shined down on three rows of greenhouses. Cisterns of what must have been water sat at either end of each greenhouse.
“What are you growing here?” Cindy asked. The walls of the greenhouses were translucent but not transparent.
“Would you like to see?” Digger asked.
“Sure,” said Cindy, and she and Jacob followed Digger inside one of the greenhouses.
Inside, against the long walls, were two giant, rotating, wheeled contraptions. The wheels ran the length of the greenhouse. Six plant trays were suspended from each wheel in such a way as to keep the trays horizontal while the whole thing moved counter-clockwise, bringing each tray closer to the grow lights for a set period of time. It was an ingenious device that maximized the space and crop potential for each greenhouse.
“That’s very clever,” Cindy said in an amazed voice.
“We’re very proud of it,” Digger said. “We needed to increase food output from the greenhouses, and it was Jacob that came up with the rotating trays solution.”
“I used to ride a Ferris wheel when I was little. I loved that no one ever fell out even as the wheel turned,” Jacob explained. “It wasn’t difficult to make a leap from the kid ride to a plant ride.” He was clearly proud of his design—and pleased that Digger gave him credit.
“It’s just wonderful!” Cindy said. “What can you grow here?”
“We’ve started out with some lettuces and tubers. Potatoes, carrots, radishes, and such,” Digger said.
“That must be an amazing salad! I don’t think I’ve had lettuce, ever. And the only carrots and potatoes I’ve ever eaten were fully cooked.”
“Here.” Digger plucked a leaf and gave it to Cindy. “Chew on this.”
“I don’t need to wash it or anything?” Cindy was fighting a lifetime of instilled food rules. When Digger just smiled, Cindy put the leaf into her mouth and chewed. It tasted a bit peppery, but was mostly bland—sort of what she imagined grass would taste like if it was carefully grown in a greenhouse.
“What do you think?” Jacob asked.
“It’s good,” Cindy said, but she wasn’t a good liar, and Digger and Jacob laughed. The whole lettuce-eating thing broke through the tension. Everyone visibly relaxed.
After Cindy forced herself to swallow the greens, she asked, “Can I see a carrot, or something I’m more familiar with?”
“The carrots are too valuable to simply pull out for a taste sample,” Jacob said.
“And about those cooked carrots…” Digger started, but Jacob interrupted him.
“Do you have to?” Jacob asked.
Cindy looked from Digger to Jacob. Digger was visibly enjoying himself—he was prolonging the suspense, milking the drama of the moment. But Jacob looked unhappy. Whatever it was, he didn’t want Cindy to know about it just yet.
“I’m fine with it, Jacob. Don’t worry about me so much.” Cindy tried to mollify Jacob and take some of the joy from Digger.
“About those carrots,” Digger started again. “I would bet anything you’ve never really eaten one, cooked or otherwise.” And he looked at her, challenging her to prove him wrong.
“Well, I’ve eaten things that I thought and believed were carrots,” said Cindy carefully. “Are you telling me it was something else?”
“Carrots are just too valuable. Look around. This might be the world’s largest patch of carrots, right here.” He pointed to the planter boxes on their right.
Cindy looked at the little neat rows of green leaves, no longer than the length from the tip of her fingers to her elbow. “This?” she asked.
“Each little bunch is one little carrot,” Digger said. “I would estimate there are about three hundred potential carrots in here, and maybe another few hundred in the greenhouses in the adjacent caves. And this will be our biggest harvest ever.”
Cindy looked again. The plants were green and happy looking, although she couldn’t guess at the contents below the level of the soil. “Where are the carrots?” she finally asked. “Do you press them from the leaves and then add orange coloring?”
“The carrots are the roots. They look like long round cones,” Jacob said. “We usually see them as round coin slices in stews, or mashed into orange goo.”
“And speaking of goo,” Digger said, “the carrots you think you’ve eaten have been mass-produced from the tits goo.”
Cindy just stared. Conceptually, she understood when they told her that food was made from the transdimensional exchange of material, but somehow carrots were still carrots.
“All of it?” she asked.
“You mean all food? Yes,” said Digger. “All food is manufactured, molded, spiced, and colored to resemble the food we as humans used to eat before we stumbled on a cheaper and more reliable supply of food. No one has grown real food in decades. Farming is an expensive endeavor. It’s time-consuming; it’s hard labor. It’s fraught with problems—pests, disease, drought, rain, cold, heat, mold. I could go on and on about all the things that can go wrong with growing food.”
“So why are you doing it?” Cindy asked.
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Jacob said. “Because humans should not have to eat transdimensional goo.”
“And because we can no longer maintain the current system,” Digger added. “We can’t make people fat enough fast enough to feed the population of the whole world.”
“Oh my.” Cindy felt faint again. For the first time, the whole cycle of fat to tits to goo to fat became clear in her mind, and she felt sick.