It was the gun that got Liz’s attention. She hadn’t seen many guns in her life, had seen none at all in the protein plant before, and this was very definitely the first one to be pointed at her. The darkness of the barrel had a hypnotic draw that almost made her ignore the man behind it.
She raised her hands and stepped back, legs trembling, sweat breaking out across her brow. Her back pressed against the guard rail, hard and cold even through her overalls, and she found herself trapped, caught between the three terrorists and the vats below.
“We are the Real Food Front!” the leader of the terrorists bellowed. “We demand that you switch off these machines.”
When she looked back on it later, Liz realised that she should have just said, “yes, of course, right this way…”, but in the moment, her brain was lagging somewhere behind the dangers of reality.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because people should be people,” he said. “They should eat real animals and plants, not some synthetic protein pooped out by bacteria.”
“That’s not really how this-”
He waved the gun. Liz clamped her mouth shut, terrified that he might accidentally pull the trigger. It would be bad enough to get shot over this goop, never mind dying because some idiot’s finger slipped.
They stood staring at each other, both waiting, while his comrades peered down into the gently bubbling vats.
“I said switch it off,” the terrorist said.
“Oh!” Liz blinked, then laughed uncomfortably. “Sorry, I can’t. I don’t have that level of control.”
“Then you’re no use to us.”
He shoved her hard and she fell over the guard rail with a shriek. For a moment, the air rushed past, then she landed with a splat in the vat below.
Liz flailed wildly, trying to swim through a morass of bacteria, water, and the proteins they were making. Each breath was a desperate gasp as she felt herself sinking.
Then she remembered how shallow the vat was. Blushing with embarrassment, she got her feet underneath her and stood, chest-deep in goop.
“You will provide a warning to the world of the danger this place has unleashed!” the terrorist shouted, his voice echoing through the factory. One of his comrades held up a phone to film Liz. “As genetically modified bacteria dissolve your body, the world will see how deadly their food is, why they should return to the good old ways of real food.”
Liz raised her hand.
“What?” the terrorist asked.
“You know this won’t work, right?” Liz said. “These bacteria don’t eat anything but hydrogen. Even the ones that dissolve plastic can’t-”
“Of course I knew that! This was, um, a test, to show that you’re a real employee here. And now the world will see your face as we poison your precious artificial protein. No-one will be able to eat your barbaric products, as they bring the same death to the body they bring to the soul.”
One of the others had taken off a bulky backpack and pulled out a plastic sack. He ripped it open and poured white powder into the vat.
Liz raised her hand.
“What?” the lead terrorist snapped.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but that won’t work either. There are so many filters in this system that whatever you’ve put in, it’ll probably be taken out. And if not, it won’t make it past quality testing. Regulations are even tighter for us than for other food.”
The terrorist leaned forward, one hand gripping the guard rail. His face was red.
“I didn’t want to do this,” he said. “But you people have pushed us to it. For the sake of future generations, we must return to real food.”
He unzipped his jacket, revealing a mass of plasticine-like blocks and trailing wires. One of those wires let to the switch he pulled from his pocket.
“I may die,” he declared, chest thrust out as his comrade stepped back to film him, “but by sacrificing myself to destroy the very vats that poison our people, I bring this place to a halt and prove to the world that life is worth more than this.”
Liz raised her hand, but it was too late. The terrorist ran along the gantry, vaulted the guard rail, and landed with a splat in the next vat over, out of sight from her.
There was a muted thump. A fountain of bacteria-infused goo blasted into the air, then pattered down like a thick, pink rain. Liz, already coated from her fall, watched with a smile as the remaining terrorists tried to shake off the slime.
Then the doors burst open and the police ran in.
An hour later, Liz was sitting under a blanket beside the vats while a woman from HR failed to comfort her.
“This is going to be a disaster,” the woman said, shaking her head. “Never mind cleaning the vats, the publicity from it all-”
“We sell food powders with all the taste and glamour of plasticine,” Liz said. “Until today, we were as cool and edgy as a children’s TV presenter. Now our food has survived a terrorist attack.”
She got up and started looking around for new overalls.
“Unlike the Real Food Front, I think we’ll survive.”
A story inspired by real attempts to make food using gas and microorganisms. Because the world is a wild and wonderful place.
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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves
A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.
A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.
A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.
We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.
Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.