“It’s a good thing I brought a car with me this time,” Cindy heard Digger say.
She looked around. They were still at the Farm, inside one of the greenhouses. She was sitting on the ground between the rotating trays of carrots and lettuces.
“We couldn’t move you without damaging the plants,” Jacob told her. “Do you think you’re well enough to walk back to the car?”
“Yes, I think so,” Cindy said and carefully stood up. She didn’t want to harm anything around her. She only just barely fit between the plants on either side. “I didn’t damage anything already, did I?”
“No. Jacob guided you down as you started to look faint,” Digger said. “Ready to get back?”
They helped Cindy back out of the greenhouse and into the cave that housed the Farm. The car ride back took just ten minutes; Digger drove like a maniac again, but Cindy didn’t care. She kept thinking about the destructive consumption cycle Digger had revealed to her. It felt like the end of the world.
Back at the office dorm, Phebe was waiting for them, and she didn’t look happy at all. Cindy glanced over at Jacob and saw the guilty look on his face. She wondered if he would face repercussions for taking her to see the Farm. She hoped not, or at least hoped they wouldn’t be too severe.
“Hi, Phebe,” Cindy greeted Dr. Pearson. “I hope you didn’t lose much sleep on my account.”
“I did,” the woman said. “I think Jacob forgot just how serious our work here at the Farm is.”
“I’m sorry,” Cindy said. “I couldn’t sleep and so—”
“That’s not an excuse,” Phebe interrupted. “But I hope you now understand our work here a little better?”
“I’m not sure, frankly,” Cindy said. She’s been thinking about the Farm’s mission as they drove back. “You can’t possibly grow enough food.”
“So we shouldn’t even try?” Digger asked.
“That’s not what I meant exactly,” Cindy replied. “I just… It feels so hopeless,” she said finally.
“I rather like to think that what we do here is about hope,” Phebe replied. “It’s true, our little farming efforts won’t feed the world. But we have to start somewhere. We need to relearn the skills we’ve lost.”
“But the government…” Cindy started again.
“The government is focused on developing food addiction among the human population. That was the solution that worked for several generations,” Phebe said.
“But not anymore,” Cindy finished.
“No, not anymore,” Digger confirmed.
“How long?” Cindy asked. “How long before there’s not enough goo to go around?”
“Perhaps we have a decade. Most likely just a few years,” Phebe said.
“And then?” Cindy asked.
“What do you think?” Digger asked her.
“People starve. There’s panic. War. People die.”
“Many millions, probably billions of people will die,” Phebe said. “Our planet just can’t support the world’s population at its current level.”
“Does the government know this?” Cindy asked.
“The government is a political and social concept,” Digger said. “Some people working for the government know. Most don’t.”
“Then it’s hopeless,” Cindy said. She felt tears welling up in her eyes.
Phebe abruptly changed the subject. “Do you remember your mother?” she asked. It was the same question Digger had asked Cindy just a few hours ago.
“Why? What’s so important about her?” Cindy asked.
“We believe your mother had certain advantages,” Phebe replied.
“We think… or I should say, we believe that your mother had a mutation that made her naturally thin. She might not have needed tits at all,” Phebe said.
“A mutation? How do you know this?” Cindy asked. She hated how mysterious Phebe and Digger had been—and continued to be. It felt like they continuously told her only half-truths, at best.
“When your mother died, we were asked to consult on her case—well, on a case,” Digger explained.
Another mysterious half-truth. “What is that supposed to mean?” Cindy asked.
“What Digger is saying is that we’re not sure if the woman whose corpse we were asked to examine was your mother,” Phebe clarified. “But the dates fit. And there’s you.”
“What about me?” Cindy asked.
“Jacob told us how efficiently you’re losing weight,” Phebe said.
“Oh?” Cindy looked over at Jacob, who seemed to shrink into his seat. “I’m still fat.”
“But not as fat as you should be,” Digger said.
“It took us much, much longer to lose the weight that you’ve lost in just a few weeks,” Phebe explained. “Your mother died at the same time as the subject we studied, and your blood type matches hers, but those things in themselves aren’t proof that she actually was your mother. Your exceptional weight loss, on the other hand…”
“You took my blood without my permission?” Cindy heard herself yelling. She didn’t mean to lose it, but her arm still hurt, and Phebe was way out of line.
“Cindy, please,” Jacob piped up behind her.
“And you!” Cindy turned on Jacob. “You let them! Why didn’t you just ask? I would have been glad to work with you. Why are you so… so…”
“So secretive?” Phebe offered. “There’s a lot at stake, Cindy. And we’re telling you now.”
“So Jacob befriended me just to get to my blood? To find out if I was some sort of… mutant?” Cindy was hurt and scared all at the same time. She had trusted Jacob, thought of him as friend. And suddenly she realized that she had hoped he would be more than a friend someday.
“It wasn’t like that, Cindy,” Jacob pleaded. “Please, Cindy. It wasn’t like that.”
“Oh, and how was it, Jacob? Did these people here tell you to look me up and help me when my tits account got yanked?” Cindy was standing over Jacob and screaming now. If people were sleeping in the dorms around them, she didn’t care. “I thought… I thought…”
She ran out of steam. She didn’t want to be so angry; it wouldn’t get her out of here.
“These people aren’t monsters,” Jacob said. “They’re just trying to figure things out. Somebody has to.”
“Look, Cindy, we get that you’re upset,” Phebe began.
“Upset?” It came out as screech, but Cindy was working on getting her emotions under control.
“We only have a few years to solve a global problem. Your DNA might be part of that solution. A woman who might have been your mother was very special. But we need more to learn more. We need to do a cross match on your DNA; we need to know what it was that makes you different.”
But Cindy wasn’t hearing her. She was thinking about her mother, and how she’d looked before she went to the hospital—perfectly healthy. Cindy tried to get her emotions under control. When she finally spoke, her voice was calm, controlled. “What did they do to her?” she asked.
“Someone tried to pump her tits through in reverse,” Digger said. “They didn’t do it to deliberately hurt her. She went to the doctor because she started to lose weight. The doctor figured that her tits was malfunctioning. It was an honest mistake. The rest was just a tragic accident.”
“I see,” Cindy said. A tragic accident. Cindy’s world was spinning.
“And… what about my dad?” she asked.
“Your dad ran out of money,” Phebe said matter-of-factly. “So they shut off his tits account. The sudden transfer of fat from the tanks…” She paused, and her voice turned softer. “I’m sorry, Cindy. His body wasn’t able to accommodate the sudden weight change.”
Cindy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. They’d killed her father simply because he’d run out of money. “They pulled his tits, just like they pulled mine,” Cindy said, disbelievingly. “That’s not normal, is it?”
“No. It’s not. But we’re in the middle of worldwide depression. There are very little government funds to go around. And worse, we’re running out of the one, singularly important resource. The decision to pull the plug, so to speak, has been made all over the world.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Cindy asked quietly.
“Yes. But do you believe the government should have spared your dad’s life?”
“Yes! We don’t just kill people,” Cindy said.
“Actually, we do,” Phebe said. “But ‘we’ is not the right word. The collective ‘we’ is not necessarily a moral entity, at least not on an individual case basis. We face a limited resource; there’s simply not enough of it to go around. So some people will die. You’ve already figured that out. Your dad was not the first to succumb to tits shortages, nor will he be the last.” Her voice was calm and level, but she came across as ruthless in her assessment.
It took all Cindy had just to stop herself from physically lashing out at this horrible woman. She forced herself to sit back down in the chair and she wrapped her arms around herself. The government had decided that her dad wasn’t important enough to live. Perhaps he wasn’t to them, but he was to her. Wasn’t he? Cindy remembered the last time she’d seen her dad. He dropped by the C.O.F.E. office and took her out to lunch. They went someplace where he wouldn’t be embarrassed by his fat daughter. Then her stepmother showed up in the middle and insisted that he go with her somewhere else—and Cindy ended up sitting alone at the restaurant. He didn’t even hug her goodbye.
Okay, so Dexter Rella wouldn’t have won any Father of the Year awards; but did that give the government the right to kill him?
“It was still wrong,” Cindy said finally.
“Yes. It was,” Digger agreed. “And now what?”
“What do you mean?” Cindy asked. She felt drained, spent.
“What do you want to do?” he asked. “Do you want to rant and rage against the collective we, against the government? Or do you want to do something?”
Cindy looked at Digger. She didn’t like him. He seemed too comfortable with lying, too comfortable with the idea of millions of deaths. But he and Phebe and the rest of these Farmers were doing something. Jacob was right. Cindy felt a bit guilty for yelling at him earlier.
“What do you want me to do?” she finally asked.
“Here on the Farm, we’re working to develop alternate food sources. And Jacob is working on finding people like you and your mother. Those who will have the best chance of survival. We need to identify and gather anyone who can safely be separated from tits and guide them through the process,” Digger said.
“Jacob is doing that?”
“And we’re hoping you will too,” Phebe said. “But first we need to find out why you’re so special. If we can understand it, it may be easier for us to find others.”
“None of you have the mutation?” Cindy asked.
“No. We lost the weight the hard way,” Digger said.
“It took years,” Phebe added. “And we no longer have years.”
“So the people who don’t have the mutation, what will happen to them?” Cindy asked.
But she already knew the answer.
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