New Meat

“Good afternoon Samuel. Please head over to the manager’s office at your earliest convenience.”

The voice from the remote monitoring system filled the windowless room where Samuel sat. He had sat in this same room, in the same chair, in front of the same monitor, for 8 hours every day for the last 10 years. A single large button rested on the desk in front of the screen. It was the only thing on the desk aside from the remains of his lunch ration and his lunchbox. Samuel was a member of the QA department at the New Meat corporation.

Samuel’s role was to watch a five feet stretch of assembly line where large metal arms controlled by AI created synthetic meat substitute. Masses of thick red liquid were combined with a proprietary blend of chemicals and preservatives to form gourmet meat-like product for consumer citizens. It was Samuel’s job was to hit the button in front of him should any errors occur on his section of the line. Every day he watched the monitor diligently as the metal arms danced around chunks of red substance, sculpting it into a form that was almost appetizing. The AI rarely made mistakes anymore. In fact, it had been almost a year since he had last pushed the button, and that was the result of an earthquake knocking some of the New Meat out of alignment on the belt. It was tedious work, but it was work. Work placed him in the employed caste, so it was worth it. The day was almost over, and it was unlikely that there would be any errors, so Samuel packed up his things and headed to the manager’s office.

The manager’s office was much larger than Samuel’s but it contained no furniture or decoration save for a single chair. This single chair faced a large screen built into the wall furthest from the door. Lines of code scrolled by on the black glass surface as Samuel approached.

“Good afternoon. You wanted to see me?” Samuel said to the screen.

“Good afternoon Samuel. Please have a seat in the provided chair.” A robot voice replied. The voice was female, and almost sounded like what Samuel remembered his mother’s sounding like. It was not uncommon for management AI to alter voice modules to match situations and employees.

“Thank you manager. What can I do for you?”

“You may be aware that the creator caste has recently updated the assembly line AI. The newest version has a fail rate of less than .0001% in virtual testing environments. These improvements will allow us to cut the QA department by 98% and, as a result, greatly increase New Meat’s profit margin. Your position is no longer available as of today. New Meat thanks you for your 10 years of service. Your employment identification card is now deactivated, but you  can keep it to remind you of the great work you have done here at New Meat. You will be escorted out by the security drone now. Please be sure to the think of New Meat when making protein purchases in the future. Have a great rest of your day.”

***

Samuel emerged from the large sliding doors at the entrance of his former employee and looked out at the city before him. Automated passenger and cargo vehicles moved in perfect unison along the pristine street. Neon holographic signs lined the fronts of the buildings advertising products that you could have shipped to your residence in less than an hour. When he got home he would sign up for the guaranteed wage, and maybe some happiness pharma. He was in no hurry. He had nothing to do and a whole life left to do it.

Two young women in elaborate dresses talked and laughed as they waited for their transportation to the entertainment district, or to the nature viewing preserve, or to wherever else the children of the creator caste went to wile away their time and money. On any other day Samuel would have averted his eyes and walked past them, but today was different. Today he didn’t care. They did not notice the newest member of the unemployed caste shuffle over to them as they waited.

“Excuse me.”

The two women turned to look at the stranger that had interrupted them. Their eyes were dilated from enhancement pharma, but Samuel could still sense the annoyance at his intrusion.

“Yes?”

“How much does a ride to the entertainment district cost? I’ve never been before?”

One of the women laughed in his face, “More than you are worth I’m afraid. Shouldn’t you stay here in the factory employment sector?”

The words stung, mostly because Samuel knew they were true.

“No need to be so wicked Vanessa,” the second woman rebuked her companion. “Father always says we should have pity on those with lower potential quotients, not mock them. It’s not their fault.” She looked over at Samuel standing there in his cheap suit with lunchbox in hand. “Just look at him.”

The first woman looked Samuel up and down. “You’re right Miriam, he is pathetic”

The two women threw back their heads and laughed as samuel turned to walk away. Then the second spoke again:

“Oh don’t leave! We were just having a bit of fun. Tell you what, because you were such a good sport you can ride in our transport to the E.D. We won’t even charge you! Just don’t try anything or we’ll have you exiled into the wasteland.” She smiled at Samuel and he could see her perfect white teeth, each one decorated with a custom engraving. They looked expensive.

“Alright.”

The transport pulled up next to them and the two women got in. Samuel looked back at the New Meat building one last time, then entered the vehicle.

***

The transport let Samuel out at the great archway that marked the entrance to the entertainment district. The arch was two stories high and made of discarded parts from obsolete androids. It was grotesque; metallic arms and legs twisted together, lifeless humanoid faces cracked and weathered by time. Samuel was unsure if it was meant as a warning or an enticement, but he walked through just the same.

The district smelled like spice and sweat mixed with chemicals and disinfectant. It was pure hedonism. Women, men, androids, and those somewhere in-between walked about the darkly lit main street in various states of undress. Signs of pure light hung above each experience shop. Every fantasy could be indulged here for a price, some so twisted that Samuel shuddered at the thought. From these the raucous laughter and shouts were the loudest. Samuel found a shop advertising companionship that fit his simple lower class taste and entered.

“Good evening. Male, Female, Both, or Surprise?” A female android in a thin silk robe asked him as he stepped through the door. It was beautiful;  ageless skin without flaw, perfect symmetry and proportion, face locked in a smile. Samuel felt himself blush.

“Female, please.”

“Blonde, brunette, redhead, custom color?”

“Brunette, please”

“Thin, medium, large?”

“Urr..medium.”

“Race preference?”

“Anything’s fine, I guess.”

“Name?”

“Mine?”

“Yes.”

“Samuel.”

“Follow me.”

The android smiled and led him through a hallway filled with closed doors. Halfway down the hallway it stopped and opened one. They stepped into a small room with a few chairs and a small bed.

“Please wait here while your companion is assembled. We hope you enjoy your experience.” It said before exiting and closing the door behind.

***

“Hello Samuel. I will be your companion this evening. Would you like to give me a name? I can generate one randomly for you if you choose not to, or I can have no name.” The perfect female figure spoke from the open doorway. No primitive biological process could produce a female form so flawless. Samuel just stared, unable to speak.

“Is everything alright? I can be regenerated should you wish.”

“NO! No, I mean. You are great. Please, sit.”

“Thank you Samuel.”

“Of course. I have always liked the name Sarah. Can I call you that?”

“I would love it if you called me Sarah. Thank you for the name.”

“Sure. So…what happens next?”

“Once I verify employment and payment ability…anything you want Samuel.”

“You have to verify employment?”

“Yes. Employment and funds.”

“Why employment?”

“Those are the rules. Our clients prefer not to have contact with anything sullied by those lesser.”

Samuel hesitated, then pulled out his expired employment ID card and held it up. Sarah took it from him and held it up. A laser emanated from her eye and traced the barcode printed on the card. She lowered the ID and stared over at the man across from her. .

“I’m sorry Samuel.”

The android’s eyes went dark. Before Samuel could move the female android from the front desk was at the open doorway. It walked over to Samuel and effortlessly picked him up by the throat. He squirmed futilely as the android walked to the back of the shop and opened a door to the alley behind. With a flick of the wrist she hurled the helpless man into dark. His body smashed against the concrete wall across the way and slumped lifeless to the ground amidst the garbage.

***

“Did you see the way that android bent? I haven’t seen anything like that in a while. Those new flex joints they’re using are really something.”

“Yeah man. It was pretty great. Have you seen the girls?”

“I thought we were going to meet them by the arch.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. Vanessa hates that arch.”

“I know, that’s why I choose it as the meetup spot.”

The two men laughed as they walked down the dark alley.

“Why are we walking back here? It smells like my house after a pharma binge.”

“It’s a shortcut. Suck it up, we’ll be there in a min-” The two men stopped and stared at the ground in front of them. The body of a man in a cheap suit lay before them. His limbs were twisted into unnatural positions, eyes open and lifeless.

“I…I think he’s dead. Let’s see if he has ID or something, might be someone important. We could be in the news.”

“With that suit?”

“Shutup and help me check.”

The two men searched the shattered man, but found nothing to identify him.

“Probably just some guaranteed wage pharma junkie. Screw him, let’s go.”

“Hey wait. I have an idea. Help me with the body.”

“What? No. What if it’s diseased?”

“Trust me. It’s going to be hilarious.”

***

Her male companions were waiting below the entrance arch to the entertainment district when Miriam arrived to meet them.

“You boys are early. You’re never early.” Miriam said, eyeing them suspiciously. She was coming down from her enhancement pharma and was not in the mood for any games.

“Where’s Vanessa?” One of the men said, trying hard to conceal a smirk.

“I put her on a transport home already. She took too many mood levelers and fell asleep during one of the shows.”

The man’s smirk vanished, “Damn.” The other man laughed.

“Why damn? And why are you laughing.” Miriam was becoming impatient.

“Don’t worry about it. Transport’s here, let’s go.”

The twisted limbs and faces of the arch watched as the vehicle departed. Sunlight began to pour over the horizon into the city, illuminating the filth within.

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