Repost: The Happy Ending
posted around 2 years ago.
The first thing we noticed, here on this small penal colony, was the roaches dying.
They just turned up everywhere, as always: in the showers, in the kitchens. only this time they, all of them were with their tiny legs up.
Roaches should be the least vulnerable to anything. Everyone says so. they should survive everything. yet they all died. within a few days, there were no more roaches. not one. no one cried about that. but they did scratch their heads.
what was going on?
Then, other insects followed, bees, spiders... even the worms. We would sweep the floor and carry of all those dried husks, those delicate wings. all dead.
Something was happening. The ecology of this place, it seemed, was coming apart. It happens sometimes on terraformed planets. Some miscalculation in the placement of
species. Some new mutation that was not envisioned. scary stuff.
They did some tests, back at the hospital, and found nada. So what to do?
wait it out. Best idea.
Like I said: These things happen. it takes time, but the biome sets itself right on a long enough time-span. New apex creatures, new niches will arise and things will re-balance. it’s going to be all right, you guys. calm down.
Then the fish ponds started reeking.dead fish floating...
Oh, that was a mess. The inmates were living mostly on these fish. I mean, they sent the chicken and beef and pork that we grow here only to the civilians. “grew” anyway, because the fish all died.
People were worried now. The colony was commercially viable because we were self-reliant, we even sent some stuff out-world, once every few months.
Now, we had nothing. The civilians were worried about their nice lives as practically slave owners with these production setups, with those work gangs from the prison we had to work for them for free.. A lot of worrying and sweating going around over these fish dying, I don’t mind telling you.
So all those fish died... and it stank!
ough. just a nightmare.
They sent us , the inmates, and we drained the ponds, tried to start again with a new batch of fish eggs. It didn’t catch. The little fishies would not live.
So no fishery. Oh, what a pity.. sad. we did have to clean it all though.
Mucking around in the sun, the seagulls and ravens diving here and there to catch a bite. for them it was an eating fest. They did not mind the smell as we did.
They should have: The birds died next, the stupid seagulls somehow came in contact with the other birds. Passed it on. All those chicken, all those turkeys, ducks and geese. we were even raising pheasants, some luxury supply scheme that some bigshot had.. Anyway, they all died. Stinking even worse than the fish.
Only then did they find the culprit. I was pulled out of the cleanup detail. Got a nice “promotion”.
It was a nano infestation.
the nanos did not react as a biological agent, and they cleared the standard screening. Slipping neatly through the cracks. No one knew about nanos as much as I did, at least not here.
You can say my life improved in a directly opposite relation with the biosphere. No more kitchen work, no more chores, no more sitting at indoctrination lessons that bored me to death.
No . I had a real job now...again.
I got a nice, comfy, air-conditioned office, and I got, essentially my old job back.
The pigs died next, cows and sheep too. Even the rats. Falling off their feet and into deep festering holes that the other inmates needed to dig, covering their noses and puking. And I was still at the office back in the hospital lab.
Actually, by the time they found out about the nanos, it was all too late. We were all contaminated. if you run a nano-specific test, and you’ll see. Everyone has some of these guys in their blood, spit, even just on their skin. But you’ll be hard pressed to find someone here that could do a nano-screening. All except for me, that is...
They sent for help with the Trans-Union. A special hospital ship came. We sent them all the info that I found. And they decided that, as the nanos seem to not respond to standard decontamination procedure, it was too dangerous to send any help down to us. No one wanted to run the risk of not being able to return to the ship. So they sent no one. Not people at least. They quarantined us all, and just air-dropped some more equipment and waited safely in orbit. Brave folks...
They gave interested instructions on lab work for me to do down here (“send samples up to us!? are you kidding? Just let us know how it turns out”). it was no big deal really, I’m very good at following orders. You shout “run an RT-Z5 test”, I shout “what bandwidth?”. They all trusted me implicitly and it felt good. We worked fine until they figured that this was not going to be resolved.
Funding was definitely running out for them like it was cool. So they eventually packed their bags and flew off to the next biohazard crisis.
And I was so crushed! I was starting to grow to like them.
Thing is, these nanos were definitely not human. That’s what I showed all of them. an alien life. An alien synthetic life. Super contagious, pervasive, highly aggressive.
It was differently structured, it showed on the machines. interesting geometry and function. but keep away, keep away, keep away.
what really sealed the deal for the biohazard team, to call it quits, was the very simple fact that the nanos did not hurt anyone, not the people anyway. . The roaches died, sure. The fish, the piggies all succumbed. All dead now. but not a single person kicked the bucket. Not an inmate, not a child. Nothing. It was, at least as far as they were concerned, a pest. Not a deadly pathogen.
I mean, sure, everyone started feeling a pinch when there was no meat anymore, just condensed shit. but except for that, it was not the big danger to humanity that they had initially thought.
OK then. Take an aspirin, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids and call me only when there’s a real emergency. And just like that, they were gone.
A bit of a disappointment to the hospital staff, I’ll tell you.
Let me explain: when the outbreak began, they did some thinking, and figured that their little bug is climbing up the food chain. Well obviously... Sooner or later it’s going to hit us, colonists.
They took all kinds of extra measures at the hospital. I saw it happening from my office. sometimes they asked me to lend a hand, which I did happily.
They did exercises, emergency triage, separation procedures, etc. They even built a bigger crematorium, to take care of the bodies, even after I warned them that merely burning the bodies, as we established already, did not kill off the nanos.
You can say we were in this strange limbo. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the first patient to show signs of dying from these bugs. every flu, every fever, was rushed over, like it was never before, keeping everybody in readiness, because every case could be it. the moment the nanos start going after us.
There’s a color code for emergency levels. “Red” alert is the end of days. “Green” was everything’s rosy. We were kept on “Blue”: keep an eye, keep training, keep alert. but don’t miss lunch, which by now was getting awfully miserable, without the meat portion.
So what do you do? Inmates inside the prison, auxiliaries outside. None of them had a bite of flesh in a while, and the government is too afraid to send help or even realistic instructions?
Well, thankfully, they stopped shipping prisoners. obvious. No one wants extra mouths to feed and besides, for insurance purposes, the entire planet was declared a no-fly zone.
But then, they, the big guys, reasoned that the relief effort such as it was (remember that big spaceship we sent you?) was already running the operational cost of the colony way deep in the red. So sorry guys, but we had to make some hard choices. Trim the living fat.
Make cutbacks. What they did, was to stop delivering meat products or anything else from other colonial settlements, not even by an airdrop.
Of course this did not go well with the settlers. They were not inmates. They ran contracts for the federales, and they were not down here for the fun of it. it stank, they were in danger of a hostile bug. The least that these big guys could do, is send over some food, right?
The colonial governor apologized to the civilians, a first in this place. Essentially, he said: “Sorry guys we are stuck here indefinitely. We are doing all we can to get over this. We even found a first-rate nano-engineer that has vast experience with nanobots. I am very confident, ladies and gentlemen, that he will sort out this thing eventually. Just hang on tight and remember that you signed up for this adventure, including the possible dangers. Right now though, times are hard and we will have to give up, me as well as you, on food deliveries from home. ”. He was laying all the pressure on me, thank you very much. But I carried on, stoically. Don’t you worry about me.
In the end, there was no real physical violence coming out of this unrest. These guys, the settlers, knew better than to make too much of a row. At least they were free, at least they were not held up in a cell. they remembered how quickly they could turn up on the other side, in times like these. That and the fact that the only guys with guns were the wardens.
We all gritted out teeth and started living a new kind of life. Adapting sadly, to the extinction event that befell us. it was nothing short of that. all the fauna died out. a lot of the plants, the flowering kind in particular did not survive long after, because nothing was there to help them pollinate. But some were bred to be self-pollinating, when they were first installed here on this planet. a backup for just an event like this.
But it looks and feels eerie. no sound of a bird. no spiders spinning cobwebs. nothing.
And so quiet!
The biggest change was the diet.
We started eating mostly legumes. Soy, chickpeas, peanuts. Jokes about the rise in methane levels died down pretty soon though. it wasn’t funny.
The eggs ran out.
the condensed milk ran out. no butter. no fish sticks for the kiddies.
But people are inventive. We needed to eat, so we went back to the historical database. We found ways. Cook an eggplant in the right way and it tastes like Foie gras, cook it differently and you’ve got mock-veal. Centuries of people trying to make one thing taste like another, for all kinds of reasons.
Even in the prison, the inmates were getting into the spirit. They had tofurkeys, and vegan sausages. “if you close your eyes” they said ” and imagine very hard, you can’t tell if it’s the real thing or not” of course they also could not stop asking me how the food was at the hospital, were I was taking my meals, so maybe their conviction was a bit lacking. But I can’t blame them: there is only so much ersatz schnitzel that you can eat, before a part of your brain starts asking hard existential questions.
Now don’t get me wrong: Vegan life is an honorable existence, admirable really, living your life completely free of hurting animals in any shape or form. It is honorable so long as it’s a choice. When it is not a choice, then you feel that you are no better off today as what prisoners used to be, living on crusty bread and water, only the civilians were not even prisoners.
The grocery just stopped serving fresh meat one day, and ran almost out of anything else soon after.
The thing is, we had all we could need physically. everything we needed to sustain our bodies. But the fact is, that without meat, there is no appetite. there is no will to eat.
something about those fats or amino acids. Or maybe it’s the texture. we need that, to feel hungry. to feel like we want to put another forkfull in our mouths.
All the while, the governor kept silent, trying to put a clamp on the murmurings. But it was hard. Everyone was thinking about meat, meat, meat. even fish, even an egg. something that used to move around...
There was also a feeling that some had it better than others. No, there were no decadent barbecues, and no one had a rack of ribs they were secretly carving, or a cellar full of hams. I mean, at first, there were, sure. Some ate through their assorted animal products early, others still found a stray piece of pork stashed in the freezer, forgotten in another age. maybe they just rationed things better. but after a few months no one had anything.
And when people have nothing, they think that others have something. They looked at the governor, and saw that he was still, as they said, pretty nice and fat. He wasn’t fat. He just had to wear a suite and tie. Underneath that, he was just as hungry as us.
His wife, too. A modern Mary Antuanet, lived her life as a kindergarten teacher slash book club enthusiast. Well. She found out that people stopped inviting her very quickly. Wagging tongues.
That is when they started talking.
You see, the death penalty was re-instated a while back, by month number three since the outbreak, among the inmates. All under the assumed emergency prerogative. One of the prison yards, in the middle of B-wing was re-designated as the gallows. The chief warden, in full agreement with the governor, got the construction crew to pour cement, get the planks.
Getting a scaffold together is not a difficult job. I wasn’t there, but I’m told that it took them less then three hours to construct a stage and a hanging post. No dramatic falling door, no lever. Just a simple kick-you-off sort of thing.
A day later they hung the first inmate. I think he was strung out for slapping one of the guards. Well. They hanged him for that. He was buried outside of the prison, not far, from where they buried all those pigs, by the way.
Prisons are hard places. People get respect and some degree of safety mostly by showing their strength, their ability to cause violence. Add the hunger for meat to that, and it is no surprise, that they started needing to string people up. It reached a point where it was almost once every week.
But now with this hunger , with this need to consume meat, with this desperation, people were just as “antsy” outside of prison as inside. things were getting unstable.
As a show of force. The governor started to conduct the hangings as a public event. Representatives of the civilian community were invited to attend the execution. So they came. What the hell right? It was boring and depressing every day. Maybe a bit of entertainment was in store. Oh. they came.
Standing around, where us inmates couldn’t see, they started the thing. An inmate was brought up, the charges read. The governor said some things, then also the warden. Someone said a prayer. They didn’t give him a chance to say his last words. This is not a movie. Real life here.
Then they put the noose over his head, tied his arms behind his back. It was then that people.. someone saw it. the sight of it was not very different from trussing up a pig. They pulled the lever that they eventually rigged up. And the body dropped.
It was a clean break, the neck snapped and no jerking around. I heard all about it at the hospital.
But then the imagination really started going. Because they asked one of the doctors to examine the body, make sure he’s good and dead. So the Doc comes over and opens the zipper of the guy’s shirt, to check the pulse with his stethoscope. And for a moment it looks like the doctor just slit his abdomen, again, like you do with a pig.
People started talking about possibilities then. At first just with very close friends, and just as a dark humor kind of thing. Just for laughs. And what were they talking about? What was this dark joke going around ? I think you can guess.
Fine. I’ll spell it out for you: “..So as long as we have executions...wow. look at that fresh meat..”
After a while it started to sound less and less like some sick joke and more like a wish list. And it was not comfortable. people started to really see what was going on. They were getting aware that they were talking about it frequently . They began talking about talking about it.
Now, just like you are shocked, uncomfortable with the thought, so did everyone over here. Dark humor is not a product of the evil in one’s self . It is a product of anxiety of the evil that we see around us. They were all joking because it dawned on them that this is were they were going: Cannibalism.
It seemed heinous! Disgusting!
But you’ve never lived through this kind of catastrophe. We were not starving physically. We had enough food in the shape of vegetation and fungus. We got all the vitamins and minerals and amino acids we needed, like I said. Everything.
And yet we were ravenous! We saw no animal life around us. And some kind of primordial instinct was kicking in. It’s what helped us survive through all those extinction events in the past. From those dinosaur days. This instinct maybe guides us like this: “if you see that every animal died out, even if you’re fed, for the moment, make it a habit to get some meat. Otherwise, the other survivors are going to chew on you one of these days”. It helped us get through a lot, historically speaking.
Remember also, that with the “no-fly zone” order , hovering over the planet, we were cut off, forever in quarantine. this thing that was going on was not going to end. This was it. This was all that was left of our lives. Eternal hunger and depression.
Let’s talk facts. After about a year and a half of living on this survival-veganism thing. We were just ragged. Not eating “right”, the total weight of the population dropped by more than thirty percent and not because we did not have anything to put on our plate.
It’s just that nobody was hungry enough for that lentil-patty sandwich. Especially since there wasn’t even any cheese to melt over the burger, and the only thing we’ve got to spread over the bread was mustard.
There are kids here, don’t forget. The kids actually adapted better than the adults, they got used to this , mainly because they didn’t remember the choices they missed out on. But the adults worried. Those kids need protein. They need to grow healthy. People talked in fear of dwarfism, dental problems, even dropping IQ’s .
Another thing that people found out was a marked decrease in pregnancies. The hospital had two obstetricians and a Gyno. Working full time to service both the civilians and the inmates from the “Pink” wing. And they noticed that they were spending more and more time in the coffee room, or filling in at night shifts at the ER, than actually delivering babies.
Was it related to the food problem? I’ll tell you what, sex drive was definitely down. Even in prison, when there is this sex thing going, people normally showing their strength through conquest. Even there, people were getting “milder”. Bland and non-aggressive.
Listening to the hospital staff, I got a lot more info than the other prisoners. I was invited to staff meetings, I had friendly conversations with the staff, who got used to see me in my orange jumpsuit. The fact that I got my own office, and was treated respectfully by the officials sent them a message “this guy is OK, could be trusted to keep his mouth shut”. After these statistics were going on, the result of our forced tofu-existence, they felt fear, those civilians. And fear you need to transmit to people that will comfort you. I got that. I guess I’m good at this sort of thing.
So the children need to be fed, the people need to get laid. All that drooling, all those dreams of burgers and hot dogs and steaks. and bacon!
People can’t help themselves.
They hide behind their civilized selves for so long, and then they remember why they have 4 canine teeth in their mouths. And it really isn’t for the soft, goopy stuff. It’s built to tear at something.
So they broke down.
It was a hard moment for most. Some protested what was being proposed.
I don’s even know what was the procedure to officially raise this possibility.
Maybe anonymous letters. Maybe somebody invited the governor to a sit-down. And over a glass or ten of whiskey they talked it out.
The governor was not the person to raise this possibility in the assembly. He needed to be seen as the sober person. But the motion was eventually raised. Someone stepped up and talked about this as a possible solution: Eat the dead.
You can guess how much support it got initially. People are respectable. Pious.
In a small colony, where everyone knows everyone, and life is so boring, gossip is as strong as coffee. So they were scrambling to one-up each other, who would be the most outraged by this proposal.
Another six months passed, and they were going completely the other way. In panic. The vote passed around 2 years after we got our last meat.
And the governor, with his emergency powers, did not veto the proposal.
He made a speech that this was part of the hardship that “We” had to face. Only temporarily to survive. We needed to be brave. And essentially, eat some meat. He legitimized it as the figurehead of the administration.
The next hanging was a week and a half away. I don’t know, if knowing that you might get served up as food decreased the stress in prison. It could be otherwise, the thought that meat was coming our way increased it, but the guards didn’t want to write people up, just so they would later eat them. everyone wants a clear conscience. But they did eventually get someone to swing.
They hanged a guy. And then, after they made sure he was dead, they cooked him. And since then, when one of the inmates got rowdy, a new optional dish gets served, for both the inmates and the civilians.
AND IT IS HEAVEN!
Wow. Sixteen years since I was caught. Sixteen years of eating just bland frank ’n beans and spam. And processed meat. and let’s not forget those last two years, of eating food that barely qualifies as such. Finally, I get to taste real food again! and it is perfectly allowed now!
All these years of waiting. And it’s SOOOOOO GOOOOOD . So good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it could be much better. Those amateurs don’t know much about how to fully make use of a human body. How to cook each part separately, to maximize the joy that you feel. The carnivorous satisfaction of eating.
And it is not only about food! It is knowing that you are surviving in a world of ashes. It gives you unimaginable satisfaction, this instinct, the one I was telling you about, that one that so seldom lights up. Only once in a million years...
Except for me. This instinct to eat my peers lit up sometimes in my early childhood. I found some kind of perverse joy in smelling other people’s blood. I got into scrapes in school, just for the rush of smelling the metallic scent of it. Blood shed by my “friend”. Only later though, I connected it to food. I started really eating only when I was in college. People started disappearing and they just thought it is the normal slasher thing.
But my method is more practical. I don’t need trophies, like some idiot. I don’t fetishise about this.
It is not sexual. I just need to eat. I got into nano-robotics, mainly because it gave me access to all these young healthy fellow-students. People you could easily invite over, for a study, then get a nice stock of meat for a year or so. And I use everything. Well, except for hair and nails. Everything. Everything can be cooked and eaten. Soups, casseroles, roasts. I even invented something to spread over a bread.
Now, I have favorites. The ribs are just amazing. Cook them overnight in a thick stew and I can just about tear up from thinking about it.
So these guys here, like I said, are amateurs. They cut the meat like it’s pork! It works only partially well. The hams can be smoked just like a pig’s. But they get too stringy. And the belly, the “bacon” part is wasted if you cut it to strips and fry. You lose so much...
Still, I can’t complain. Nothing works out a hundred percent. My plan though, did come off as I wanted it to. At least for the most part. I feel satisfied with that.
You see, no one will ever know that there was never any alien-nano infestation. It was all me.
Way back, while the police were starting to sense that I was having my culinary revolution, I had a chance to create these nanos. They are not so different from the standard medical bots. But mine are different primarily in their geometry and much more importantly, in their programming. I programmed them to stay dormant until they heard another specific signal. Then, I injected myself with them, and went about eating and eating and eating my colleagues. to my surprise, It took another three years for the detectives to catch me. They couldn’t even prove that I was a cannibal. Just a killer. Crime of passion. Second degree.
Then I came here. Started collecting all kinds of things: transistors and diodes and cards and chips. Got a name for myself as a mister fix-it , doing repair work officially or not. You have a secret com-unit, a neuro-sim stashed away? Well, walk over to my little nook and I’ll see what I can do to fix it, maybe even boost the signal. How about that? And I’ll just lift for myself some of the things I told you that were burnt out. The guards also gave me some things to fix. Like I said, I follow orders happily. Got everybody liking me.
I got a hold of everything I needed to trigger my little guys. The first thing I unleashed them on, was the cockroaches, which are very common here... Were.
The dead cockroaches, one or two, I then dumped in the fishing ponds, when I went there on a work detail.
I hated that part of prison life so much! Cleaning fish, hoisting nets, the smell of fish and algae. These guys had to go as they were the largest part of the biomass. Then it all started to spread pretty much on its own. It stank horribly but I lived with it, knowing that my plan was getting on the way, finally. I could practically taste the ribs again. But you have to be patient. The hardest part was ahead. All that long famine. That siege. That gruel that we were slopping.
Egghh. I feel sick of just thinking about soy .
Then they finally identified the nanos. But they didn’t seem to be the normal kind. Well, I was so excited to see my little guys under a microscope again, after so many years. I just juked the lab results so that no one could ever get wise to the fact. It was perfectly ordinary human nano engineering, just a little tweaked..
The programming, by the way was very simple: Identify animal life and kill it. Only exception is Homo-Sapience. Those you leave for me.
So these nanos get on the case. They grow and multiply and soon they kill everything. Even the worms inside your intestines they killed. Which is a good thing, since I knew that people would generally prefer to eat anything except for human flesh. Could you imagine eating intestinal parasites? Earwigs? Centipedes? I saved everybody the choice.
Everything else died off, and they got to find out what they’ve been missing all these years. What I was missing too. Badly.
As that I was the only technician with this sort of experience in the colony, well, they used me happily, and overnight my status in the colony changed. From a second rate non-violent bozo, to the head of the table (sort of) at the hospital. Criminal past or not.
So what if I had to share lunches with the hospital staff, wearing ankle bracelets? They got used to that. I was telling everyone it was a crime of passion. After all, we’ve all been at the brink. They sympathized with me, those nurses.
“It could have been me. Just bad luck.” One of them actually said this to me one day, during lunchbreak. We were talking about how we got here.
They couldn’t know, that it was just me and my little project, that got them to push that lentil stew around the bowl with absolutely no relish..
So now we are back to eating meat again. The best kind.
It’s a brave new world we’ve created. The world I created.
I just wonder sometimes; What will happen if they did find out? I mean, if they ever find out that these are not that different from the normal nanos. Will they force me to divulge the shut-off procedure. Will they torture me?
After all this feasting, will they shut the nanos off, and send an “all clear” back to home, asking for an urgent shipment of pigs and cows? Or will they keep things as they are? It’s so nice and juicy.
Could they turn their backs on that? Could they really? It’s not like they can just forget about what they put in their mouth. And if it is a moral objection that they have, well...were is this conscience of theirs these days, when they are chewing on Jack from D-wing? It all comes down to choices. They made theirs. They could have stuck to the seaweed special. But they definitely didn’t. We all had it. Everyone had at least some meat. We sucked on marrow together! We picked strings from the smoked ham out of our teeth! We’re all in it together! One big happy family.
And it’s not like it is an unfair thing. That is the best part. The guards do not go chasing after inmates to slaughter. They are much more lenient, actually, with the punishments they give out than before. Just once in a while, someone does what this place is set up to do: pull out a shiv, or a razor. And the punishment is justified. You can’t walk back after killing someone, so you get killed yourself. And you compensate society for the loss we feel.
I feel honestly that this system, fundamentally different as it is from the old world, is better. There are no lies anymore. Just the basic need to feed, coupled with the basic need for justice. I only regret that I didn’t set these nanos off , back home.