Beale was sweating. Not uncontrollably. Not so much that you could see it when he raised his tuxedo-clad arm to retrieve a serving tray from an overhead cupboard. But noticeably, and with a different kind of nervousness. Ironically, this should have been a piece of cake for him. He had the record time on the Gauntlet, after all. Now he just had to repeat something he’d already done flawlessly, as trained, for over a month.
That first day two years ago, he had arrived as instructed at the square, with high hopes of changing the world. A minute later, he stood befuddled, holding the rucksack his old friend – the one who had recruited him – had shoved into his hands, and contemplating the cryptic instructions she had breathlessly rattled off from rote before snatching his glasses and dashing away. “Start at Salsa and Seventh, then make a right somewhere between 4th and 5th. Oh, and you’d better eat before you start.” He learned later that last part was her own, unauthorized addition, and while it didn’t strictly give away much, it had made all the difference. Looking around, there had been only Joints in view. He couldn’t stomach printed food even on a regular day, and since this was apparently some kind of orienteering test, he really couldn’t afford to be dumbed down. Desperately, he opened the sack and found, unbelievably, a full, natural lunch, complete with what was obviously a tree-grown, organic apple. These guys must have a helluva budget, he thought as he sat down on some steps to eat and plan his strategy. Without the aid of his glasses, he had to use only his un-augmented brain and bio-senses to get to the rendezvous point. Luckily, he knew there was no street call Salsa, and with that as the starting point, he had unraveled the puzzle in less than 2 hours.
Now, stepping in front of the dumb-waiter, Beale paused for a millisecond before tripping the camouflaged button that would remarkably, silently switch out its contents, for the last time. Getting a design spec for this single slice of carrot cake had been hard, but as they say, you can find anything on the internet. Especially if you have the support and skills of a global terrorist network supporting you. Although it had taken some time, he had come to accept that what he was doing was indeed terrorism. Slow, subtle terrorism. Necessary terrorism for the good of mankind. But terrorism nonetheless. He liked to think that because he was now on an all-natural diet of precisely what his employer was supposed to be eating, swapped out from the dumbwaiter, that he now had the clarity of mind to especially appreciate the irony of poisoning a mogul over the course of two weeks using genetically therapeutic food manufactured by the same robotic printer/assembler the mogul had promulgated across the entire world. But truthfully, even the “dummies” that normally ate that crap could probably understand, and hopefully approve of, his actions. It was, after all, for their own good, even if they didn’t or couldn’t understand it yet.
“He’s on his last bite,” said the maid-servant as she raced past on her way back to the kitchen. That was the signal for dessert. According to Beale’s glasses, the mogul typically paused for 47.3 seconds between main course and dessert when lunching at home on Mondays by himself. But it also predicted that because of an appointment, he would be rushed today, and there was a 32% chance he would skip dessert altogether. Beale couldn’t afford for that to happen. The penultimate dose had to be delivered today for publicity reasons, and the mogul had evening plans that required his physical presence and wouldn’t be dining at home. When moguls died, authorities always did a thorough autopsy – a complete nanoscopic workup. After all, they weren’t supposed to die, except in accidents. And if Beale’s counterpart had indeed infiltrated the coroner’s office as planned, the results wouldn’t be squirreled away, but broadcast to the world. In the best case, the “dummies” would rise up. Beale was smart enough to know that was a very unlikely outcome. But the news of the death could lead to an influx of new recruits, and once the Movement had de-toxed them, they would be able to accomplish even more covert operations, and, he hoped, some day truly incite a revolution.
Reaching into the dumbwaiter, his gloved hand brushed the icing of the cake. Most moguls had a distinct lack of tolerance for imperfection, even though their food was paradoxically prepared using natural ingredients with an inconvenient tendency for just such imperfections. Beale’s mogul wasn’t quite so fussy, but he couldn’t take the chance of rejection, and hurriedly repaired the damage using his crumb sweeper. Normally, such an intimate interaction with food would elicit a visceral reaction, even mild salivation, but Beale knew how this “food” was made, and stoically placed the plate on the serving tray.
“No dessert today, Beale,” said the mogul as Beale approached, “Got a meeting, and want to take it upstairs.” He started pushing back his chair.
“But, sir.” Beale knew this was the wrong response. The right response came from the set, “Yes, sir”, “Very good, sir”, or “As you wish, sir.” But even with thirteen days of slow dosing, there was no guarantee the genetic therapy would take. This slice of cake had an especially high concentration of the triggering agent that put the odds of the mogul’s immune system failure at nearly 100%.
“Beg your pardon, sir. Just wanted to be sure your caloric intake was sufficient for peak performance at tonight’s Gala.”
The mogul thought for a second. “Good point, Beale. Wonder why my glasses didn’t point that out? Bring it up to the office, and I’ll try to squeeze in a few bites while on visual mute. Can’t guarantee anything though – those guys in Omaha usually let me do all the talking!”
(This piece was written as an entry to the Big Think Short Fiction Contest #1 : 1000 words of fiction around the theme “Future Food”)