The farmer stood with a brooding gaze cast over his tanks of gestating meat. Hunks of pulsating red, suspended in thick luminous green. It was a beautiful sight, his carnery, but production was slow this week and the bottom lines were always getting tighter. To make matters worse, he had to get rid of Radek and Martin just a few weeks ago. The interns he brought in to succeed them were a sorry replacement for their expertise, but it had to be done.
One of those interns was fumbling with a container of some chemical with an unremembered multisyllabic name – the farmer didn’t care much for the science-y stuff, he was more of an administrator. He called to the intern from the gantry.
“Hunter, you tool, be careful with that jar, that stuff is expensive!”
The intern jumped with shock and dropped the jar, which exploded into pile of glass and viscous goop. “Oh christfuck it! Get as much as you can into a fresh container. I’m not buying more of that… iso-propropawhatever.” Close enough – the intern got the message and began picking up gloved handfuls of the corrosive goop and poured them into a new jar. Six years of college and he can’t hold a cunting jar.
Shaking his head, the farmer walked across the gantry to his office. He sat behind his empty desk and sent a message to his wife with his eyes.
BallyH-Farmah: Steak plz.
His wife replied with a thumbs up. That was the extent of her correspondence with him as of late — they hadn’t spoken in real life in months. Over EyeChat, daily they exchanged an average six messages, most of them coming from the farmer. She never makes an effort anymore. It’s not my fault that little bastard of ours ran off.
The farmer tried and failed to fight back the tears. Detecting the rise in saline levels on their surface, his eyes asked if he wanted calming imagery displayed to him. The farmer accepted. Soon he was laughing at videos of people getting beaten over the head with hammers, in line with what he had tagged in the past as “calming imagery”.
Back to normal, the farmer dismissed the videos. He had a lot of work to do – he’d catch holy hell from corporate if he didn’t meet his meat targets this month. He spent the next half hour pouring over bar charts, pie charts, and statistics all projected six feet in front of him by his eyes. The sensory overload was enough to drive some people mad. His hands were held out in front of him, manipulating the projections. To anyone not jacked in with him, he looked as if he were fondling a ghost’s breasts.
There was light tapping on the frosted glass portion of his door. Deforst. The glass defrosted. It was his other intern. “Come in”, he called. The intern was carrying the farmer’s steak. “Your wife sent me up with this, Mr. O’Callaghan.” He hated it when she did that. The other intern lay the plate and a knife and fork on the table. The good mood from the hammer videos had dissipated. He looked with a scowl from the vat-grown steak to the other intern. “Thank you. Fuck off.”
The other intern scurried out of the room. Like a rat or a pig or something. Frost. Lock. The window frosted, the door locked. The farmer needed something to cheer himself up. He pulled up his eating-steak-alone video. He watched it every evening.
When eyes were still prototypes they put them in to a bunch of animals to see if they were safe for people. This one dog had a bad reaction to them and bit a lab technician on the neck piercing his jugular – he bled out in minutes, writing and twitching. It was the middle of night, so no one was around to stop the dog from eating the guy, growling chewing growling chewing. The feed from the dog’s eyes had leaked some years later. The farmer picked up the steak with his hands and pretended he was eating a lab technician, growling chewing growling chewing.
He hated to admit it, but the steak he grew tasted like shit compared to the real cow you could get back when he was young. Back in his father’s day, before dear ol’ dad fell in to that slurry pit. Now most of the real cow got shipped straight to Britain. And we have to make do with this — I can barely pretend it’s a person.
He still hadn’t lost the taste for human meat. The hunger was greater than any he had felt before, and it grew inside him every day. People was better than if lab grown and real cow had a meat baby, drowned it in red wine, and then fried it with mushroom and onions.
If only Radek had gone to the gym more like the farmer had asked, he might have gotten more eating out of him. Martin had spoiled before he could finish him. But the farmer had a solution to that problem. He wouldn’t even have to kill anyone to keep his hunger sated.
Open Panel 3, Password: xf9bigfarmer. A panel in the wall slid up behind the farmer’s desk. The room was bathed in a green glow. The farmer twisted around in his chair. A red hunk of pulsating Radek, suspended in a tank of luminous green. A slowly reconstituting haunch of prime Polish-Irish beef. Licking his lips, the farmer put his hand to the glass. It’d be ready soon – even if like the steak he grew it didn’t taste the same as real people, it would still be something. A meagre satiation to stave off the great hunger.
Tests, he’d told Hunter the intern when he set the tank up. He was running tests. Ones that definitely shouldn’t be reported to his college, or corporate, or anyone if he hoped to snag a job after his internship was up. Jobs were gold dust, even with six years of college under your belt. Anyone could be bought with a job – especially one that practically does itself, like growing meat. That’s how corporate got him to abandon sentimentality and sell his father’s farm twenty year ago — by promising the farmer a job running the carnery they built on its ruins. Manager of Kerry’s first carnery – the title had a touch of prestige. Had. Before they sprang up everywhere to feed whole armies during the war.
The war. He was lucky enough to be exempt from the draft, on account of his job. But the some of the feeds he saw – the magnificent flashes of red, the agonized screams, the earth shattering detonations. It was as if he was actually there, on the streets of Vienna, in the Caucuses, the Dutch polders. Seeing Europe burn first hand – something changed in him as he watched more and more as the war dragged on. Before long, the farmer went from being horrified to ecstatic. The wounded — he wanted to touch them, rub them. For years after the war ended he’d spend hours in his eyes, looking at footage from all sides of people being exploded by bombs and bullets, enthralled.
Then a few months ago, around the time his son ran off, he found the dog video. After watching it, that was it. That was when the farmer knew he had to eat a person. Cow was out. Fake cow, doubly so. Late one night, he found Radek bent over one of the bases of one of the meat vats, fixing some technical fault. That was Radek’s thing, the electronics. The farmer snuck up behind him – Radek must’ve been jacked in or something, not to notice him – and bought a metal pipe down over his head.
Little did the farmer realise was Martin was still there too. He just rounded the corner as the farmer was kneeling, licking the wound he had made. Martin froze at the sight, involuntarily letting out a squeak. Like a rat or a pig or something. The farmer chased after Martin and-
A knock on the frosted glass broke his line of thought. Still hazy from his reminiscence, the farmer wasn’t thinking straight. Unlock. The door unlocked. The door opened – Shit. Close Panel 3, Passw—it was too late. The other intern had walked in. Just barged right in.
“I, uh, came to get your plate, boss.” His eyes flicked from the farmer, briefly to the meat tank in the wall behind the other intern. His face was bathed in the green glow of the tank. Confusion, then fear, spilled across his face as the farmer stood, his face dark with rage and ill intent.
“You should have knocked.” Close door. Lock. The door shut behind the other intern, his face turning around just in time to see the knob of the lock twist and click. “I-I’m sorry sir. I’ll knock next time.” The farmer took a step towards the other intern. “I’ll keep quiet about… that tank, whatever it is, I swear. I won’t tell corporate or nothing.” PA on. “Hunter, you can go home for the evening. Enjoy your night off”. The words echoed around the tank room outside. PA off. The other intern began crying. “I suggest you accept the calming imagery…” The farmer couldn’t remember his name “… other intern.”
Outside the door of the farmer’s office, a thud could be heard. Another. Thud. Thud. Thud. Crack. The glass defrosted, but not because the farmer gave the command. A red mess that was once an intern’s head was splattered all over the cracked glass, the goop running down the inside of the door. The farmer began scooping up messy handfuls and pouring them into his mouth.