Liv needed to get to that food line.
It should have been the last thing on her mind, but if she missed her chance to get rations they would not eat anything until Monday. Overhead the fluorescent lights felt like spotlights focused on her. She touched the disc she just placed in her left jacket pocket. The information she copied regarding XMeed’s secret project would leave the company in ruins.
Footsteps echoed on the hard, white tiles in the hallway. They would be at the door soon. Liv hurried to the rear of the laboratory and exited through a backdoor.
Out of the lab, she walked to the corner’s edge and peered down the hall. She waited while her boss, Doctor Edwards and his associate, Mr. Aimes, both unaware of her presence, entered the lab. Once they disappeared she moved off, eager to leave the lab with her cloning project behind.
Avoiding the cameras in the elevators, Liv crept down two flights of stairs to the underground parking garage. Jeff will be shocked and amazed when he looks over the data, she thought, as she peered past the entrance and scanned the garage for signs of life. Her fiancé was a political journalist for a news site. This was not his type of story, but he would know another journalist she could talk to. Months ago she told him that something unscrupulous was underfoot at XMeed. He had wanted her to leave it alone, but she just could not, not with her name attached to the project.
Liv crossed the massive garage to her white electric powered car, one of the few vehicles parked. She started the car and tried to imagine the garage full of vehicles at a time when no one worried about food lines and cloning humans was only thought of in the movies.
She pulled out of the garage. The project consumed her life for almost a year. She played such a small part. They wanted smaller, more efficient cloned human stomachs. It would help the obese they told her. They kept her in the dark about the other sections of the project. If only she knew.
Finally, parking in the lot of the city’s food center, she hopped out and ran inside. She took a position at the end of the line and someone slipped in behind her. A second later. A guard locked the front door.
Liv breathed a sigh of relief. Jeff was so upset the last time she was too late to receive rations. They had spent a week’s pay buying food on the black market in order to keep hunger at bay. Suddenly, the man behind her cackled and she glanced at him. He was ragged. Unshaven for quite some time, he sported a thick white beard that hung down the length of his neck. Patches of shorter snow colored hair rested on top of his head. The jacket he wore swallowed his arms, leaving only the tips of his fingers visible.
“I made it! It’s not going to be steak or lobster, but I’m eating tonight,” the unshaven man said. He cackled again, looking at Liv with a playful glint in his eyes. Liv merely smiled and turned around to face front, moving a step up with the line.
“You laugh,” the man said taking her smile as his cue, “but when I was little, my dad used to take me to these places that had wall-to-wall food. Buffets they were called. They even had rice and corn. Believe me, I’m speaking the truth.”
Liv had seen the archival footage of they way things were back then. Food appeared in almost every social scene. Businesses centered around food abounded. They sold edible products in carts on the street. Whole buildings, supermarkets, mainly sold food. All that changed when the grain stopped growing.
“Dang grain blight changed everything,” the unshaven man said in a solemn voice. “No more grain. No more feed for livestock. No more steak. Pets disappearing in the middle of the night. Police tried to stop that at first, but then they were starving to. Miss you ever had a Fluffy burger?”
Liv felt him peering over her shoulder as he waited for an answer. She kept her body still and her eyes facing forward until he got tired of waiting.
She sighed. The food supply never fully recovered after the grain disappeared. Scientists never discovered what stopped crops like rice and corn from growing. Not even cloning techniques brought grain plants to maturity. With a sense of dread she realized XMeed’s project could solve the food shortage problem and end humanity at the same time. No, she did not need to engage the man behind her about the famine troubles that hit the third decade of the twenty-first century. She had enough troubles now.
Liv reached the table at the front of the line. On either side stood a Food Service guard in a tan uniform and armed with a rifle. A scanner constructed with a robotic arm and a head like a flashlight, swiveled forward. Liv stuck her right hand under the scanner and waited for the red light to appear and disappear. With the RFID chip embedded in her hand read, she gave her attention to the woman seated at the table. A middle aged woman, dressed in the same uniform as the guards, sans the rifles, smiled pleasantly at her before reaching for one of the white plastic bags behind her.
“Here you go,” the woman said. “A bag of tomatoes, a bag of seaweed and nutrient bars.”
Thank goodness for hydroponic tomatoes. She smiled at the woman, who offered the same blank stare she gave Liv every time she came to the food center. Taking the bag, Liv rushed back to her car.
Liz whizzed by the sparse rush hour traffic. Traveling though Ghosttown was the fastest way home, but she did not want to get caught in her car alone at night. Rows of abandoned storefronts lined either side of the street. The drive was a straight run. In Ghosttown the power grid shut down years ago, so no stoplights worked to slow Liv down. As the sun set Liv rounded a corner, driving five minutes past abandoned rubble strewn lots before entering the parking lot of her building.
Minutes later Liv entered her apartment. Jeff always opened the curtains when he got home and they were pulled back now. With the curtains pulled back, the apartment’s living room windows gave a view of the night. Close to the apartment building a black void reigned, with no buildings and no light. Just rubble and empty space existed before you hit Ghosttown, the food center and the industrial park. XMeed, a beacon in the distance, with its lighted tower twinkled in the center of other similar tall buildings.
“Jeff!” Liv yelled while she looked out the window. “I knew there was something going on at work. I told you didn’t I.”
Soft footsteps made Liv turn around. “Told me what?”
“XMeed is part of a voluntary cloning human program,” she said. “They want low performing employees to sign their life away for five years so a clone can take their place. The clone does nothing but work. It doesn’t sleep much and survives on one nutrient bar a day.”
She took out the disc and waved in front of him. “I mean, who’s going to decide what a low performing employee is?”
“What is that?”
“I have all their plans right here, Jeff.” She gestured with the disc. “Their cloning procedures. Schematics for the cryogenic storage facilities for the employees. The names of companies that plan to pay for XMeed’s service. You need to contact your news friends. Someone into corporations. There’s no way the government would let them do this.”
Jeff shrugged. “Is that all you have?” he asked his voice bland, emotionless.
“Yes, but have you been listening to me? You’re not still upset about me working those late hours are you?”
“No.” Jeff reached for the disc. He flicked it over in his hand, then said, “But you are wrong about one thing.”
“What?” His subsequent silence gave Liv a chill. Something was very wrong. “What do you mean?”
“The procedure isn’t voluntary at all.”
From behind her a shadow appeared across the floor and Liv whirled around. Dr. Edwards approached her with a hypodermic needle in hand, while hands too strong to be Jeff’s grabbed her shoulders.
“This isn’t Jeff is it?” she asked as she struggled against the clone’s grip.
Dr. Edwards shook his head.“I’m sorry Liv, but see you in five years.”