Soylent Popplers (2-3-18)

The homeless population is disappearing and the food shortage is ending all thanks to the new factory. You think something is up and sneak into the factory, but you are surprised by what you find. [Link to post.]

I waited an hour after the sun came up. The factory, Industrial Soylent, shut down before dawn, and the employee parking lot was empty by the time the sun took its place in the sky. I still wanted to be sure. I expected some security guards maybe, but I hoped to avoid running into any employees. The factory only operated nocturnally, that piqued my initial suspicions.

I spent the last month and a half casing the factory. Learning the employee flow, and finding low security areas that might work for sneaking in. The factory was so new they still offered public tours to show off the advanced technology they used to feed the world on the cheap. I took the tour over a dozen times, and I still had no idea how any of it worked. I was just a reporter. No scientific expertise, but I knew bullshit when I heard it. None of my science contacts could tell me what a “retro encabulator” even was.

It was Saturday, and that meant two things. Leon was in the monitor room; he worked it every third day. When it lined up on Saturday it also meant the lush was nursing a hangover, and wouldn’t pay any attention to the screens. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. In my mind I ran through the halls again, reaffirming the route I knew would work. There was one section of the facility that the tour never visited. I decided to head there first.

Getting to the big door was easy, they had too much faith in Leon’s work ethic. I’m a short guy, 5’8″ on a good hair day. The black, solid metal door looked to be about three feet taller than me.  I tried to tug it open, and it moved. The door felt heavy. It did not enough to open, but it shifted enough to let me know it was unlocked. I dug up all my strength and pulled it open. Slowly. To my surprise the door was at least half a foot thick of solid metal.

I opened it just enough to slip through, and let it close behind me. It did not make a sound when it shut. I would not have noticed if it had. I stared at the wide open room. The floor sparkled golden white, from sunlight streaming in through skylights. The walls around the room were painted the darkest shade of black I’d ever seen. The color of the walls was so deep that the room looked like a platform floating in space. Machines formed a sort of tunnel in the center of the room. A conveyor belt seemed designed to feed into one side of the tunnel. Shipping containers labeled, “Industrial Soylent” were stacked on the other side of the tunnel.

The homeless population shrank steadily since the factory opened. During the last month and a half I counted six busloads of people arrive at the factory, then leave empty. I didn’t notice it at first, but once I started paying attention I realized none of the people on the buses ever left once they were dropped off. That added fuel to my suspicions, but I couldn’t just outright accuse them of feeding people to people. I needed proof. Seeing this tunnel of machinery made it much easier to imagine humans going in through the conveyor and food coming out the other end.

“You know we have tours available, if you wanted a proper look around.” I heard a woman’s voice behind me, and I whirled around. A tall, lithe woman with short blond hair stared at me through goldrimmed glasses. A burly security guard stood next to her, holding the surprisingly silent door open. Her eyes registered recognition.

“Oh. Then you do know about the tours already.” She turned to the guard. “Thanks, Frank. Get back to the monitor room.” He nodded and walked away, letting the door go. The woman stepped into the room in front of it, her high heels clicked on the bright white floor.

“It’s quite amusing finding you here like this.” She walked past me, hooking her arm into mine. Then she escorted me toward the tunnel. “15 facility tours is a bit suspicious, you know. After your last one I decided if you took another, you’d end up like Leon.” Never being one to volunteer information I shrugged.

“Who?” We reached the conveyor entrance to the tunnel. She pulled her arm out of mine, and I looked into the tunnel. I saw only darkness. There was no trace of light coming from the exit on the other side. I wondered if the interior of the tunnel was painted with the same black used on the walls. The woman’s thin lips turned upward at the corners, as if she was enjoying a pleasant memory.

“A former security guard, that didn’t take his job seriously enough.” She cocked her head backward toward the door to the room. “Allowishes over there is his replacement. Considering I’m standing here talking to you, I’d say he was a good hire.”

“What happened to Leon?” I asked, genuinely curious. I’d never met the man, but developed a sort of kinship with him while I watched the place. Despite his drinking problem he seemed to be a decent guy.

“Who knows?” She said with an over exaggerated shrug and a beaming smile. “Baked, boiled, fried, steamed, could be anything really.”

“I KNEW IT!” I shouted, and surprised even myself. Despite how horrible the reality was, I felt a slight bit of vindication. The woman’s smile disappeared and her face hardened.

“How? It’s impossible for you to have figured it out. If you did know the truth, you wouldn’t be sneaking around.” I shrugged.

“I don’t think you know how obvious you’re being. Bus loads of destitute folks empty out here, and they disappear. But somehow you’re able to produce enough high quality, low cost foods to make a solid dent in world hunger. Of COURSE you’re selling foods made from people.” Her stoneface demeanor cracked, and turned a slight shade of green.

“Oh my God that’s DISGUSTING! Is that what you think?!” Her hand moved down to hold her stomach steady. “Cannibalism?” She gave off a visible shudder. I’d had plenty of experience with women faking, and her disgust was real. It puzzled me.

“You mean you don’t? But you just said Leon…”  The green left her face and her eyes sparkled again.

“I told you that you didn’t know the truth. You’re gonna die, obviously,” she said. I nodded as my last hopes left me.

“Obviously.” I repeated.

“But I can’t have you dying thinking we’re cannibals here. I mean, as it is the long term effects of cannibalism are really bad from a health perspective. We’d be killing our customer base.”

“Well, you kind of are,” I said with a smirk. Knowing I was going to be dead soon loosened my mind a bit, and I felt free to speak it. A hint of a giggle escaped her upturned lips.

“You’re not wrong. Even with our low prices, homeless people just don’t have any money. So they don’t count. And, as much as we’re doing to ‘feed the world’…,” she used air quotes. “We still need to make a profit.”

“So then what? Humans go in here,” I pointed at the conveyor belt, ” and food comes out there?” I pointed to the other end of the tunnel. She nodded at me.

“Yes, but it’s what happens in the tunnel that’s special. You see, this magnificent machine isn’t a tunnel exactly. It’s more like a pair of doors back to back.”

“Doors?”

“Doors. This end is a portal to another planet. That end is a portal from that planet. We’ve established a trade agreement with them, and everyone prospers.”

“Another… planet? Aliens are real?” I felt faint with a combination of excitement and despair. This was the story of the century, and I would never get to write it.

“Yep. One homeless human is worth 1000 homeless aliens.” She shrugged. “Apparently they have a breeding problem. We send them our homeless. To eat, of course.” She smirked at me. “They send us theirs. To eat, of course. It works out nicely.”

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