Gourmet Food

“Get off me!” Theo yelled, elbowing Thin in the ribs. Thin came awake just as the elbow struck him in the stomach. He turned and struck out. He felt his hand hit solid meat and bone. Theo groaned in the dark. Thin quickly found the lamp and lit it. Theo was laying on his skins with blood running from his nose.

“What is the matter with you?” Theo demanded.
“You hit me.”
“Of course I hit you, you were groaning and rolling around. I couldn’t sleep.”
Thin felt a little pride, and entirely too little remorse. Theo was well-known for striking others due to snoring, teeth-grinding, and nightmares. It was the first time that Theo had been struck back.
“You hit me!” Theo said again.
“Shut up or I will hit you again. Other’s are sleeping,” he growled as he held the wet cloth against Theo’s nose. Theo shut up, sniffling as he blotted the blood from his face.
“You were having nightmares,” Theo said defensively.

“My choice. They are my nightmares. Next time keep your hands to yourself.”
Theo nodded, blotting the dripping blood from his mouth.
“What were you dreaming?” he finally asked. Theo could never remember having a bad dream.
“It’s… none of your business. Theo, do you remember anybody leaving before ascension?”
“Leaving? Leaving what?”
“Leaving here. Has anybody run away before they could be taken to the Great Hat?”
“No… maybe. Why?”
“I think… never mind.”
“Are you thinking about that stupid rumor?” Theo scoffed.
“That’s ridiculous.”
“Why? Which part is ridiculous?”

“The whole thing. Why would they raise us as… food,” Theo finished in a whisper.
“Why not? Think about the circumstances. Compare it to other things, grapes, squash, carrots, apples. Where is the difference? You raise it to peak size, harvest it and eat it. Feeding anything beyond it’s maximum size is a waste of resources, and we are never fed beyond reaching our optimal size. We are plucked at the exact moment that we reach our normal adult proportions.”
“Why… I don’t know,” Theo said in a stricken voice. “But everybody knows…”

“They know the rumors spread by other ignorant people before. Nobody comes back, nobody knows for sure. Why is nobody allowed to return, unless they can’t return? The energy expenditure required to take people up to the Great Hat, would be less than that required to return them,” Thin pointed out. “And, why does the ship leave after Ascension, at about the same time each year? Where would they go, what would they do? Dispose of the food they have already processed?” Thin asked ruthlessly.
“You are frightening me,” Theo gasped, looking around at the darkness.
“Good. Now once more, have others escaped?”
“Yes, a few.”
“Where do they go?”
“South, supposedly to a great ocean. I’ve heard that there is a settlement there. It’s supposed to be full of old people who do not wish to… retire on the Great Hat,” Theo swallowed convulsively.
“Good, then Cassey and I will leave in the morning,” Thin said with finality.
“What… what if others would like to come?” Theo whispered.
“They can follow later. We must be discrete. If we all try to leave, the Great Hat will intervene.”
“Just me and my friend Rytha,” he begged.
“Later. You have nothing to fear, you have not reached the age of ascension. Lefa should go,” Thin mused.

Thin laid on his furs and tried to sleep. But sleep wouldn’t come. He heard the breathing around him, including the nervous breathing of Theo just inches away. Theo was a bully, but he was also a coward. He would try to come too. How could Thin stop him?

“It’s cold,” Cassey said, rubbing her arms. I should have brought a wrap.
“Exercise will warm us. Have you seen Lefa?”
“She’s saying her goodbyes,” Cassey nodded.
“I told her to say nothing to nobody,” Thin groaned.
“She couldn’t do that. People look up to her.”
“I suppose. I just wish she would hurry.”
“Here she comes now,” Cassey said happily. She wrapped her arms around Lefa as she appeared. Lefa looked unhappy.

“Let’s go,” Thin hissed in the darkness. It was near mid night or mid morning. The moon could rise at any moment. They needed to be out of the valley when it did.
“I… There are a few other’s,” Lefa said in fear.
“What?” Thin roared.

“They insisted on coming with me, I couldn’t stop them,” Lefa said as other shapes appeared out of the darkness. The hair stood up on the back of Thin’s neck when he saw at least 20 people standing around them. He groaned and looked up at the area devoid of stars. Were they awake? Could they see in the darkness. Surely they would search, with so many missing.

“We can’t,” Thin wailed.
“We must,” Cassey said, pulling the corner of Lefa’s wrap around her own body.
“Let’s go,” Thin said in a resigned voice. They had taken less that 100 steps when the dreaded white light came on. It stared wide around them, then narrowed, pushing everyone together with an invisible field of force.

Thin felt the hairs of his arms and his head, being yanked almost to the point of ripping them out. His clothes hung above him as if gravity had reversed itself. His feet suddenly left the ground. Some screamed, other’s laughed, caught up in the rapture of the myth. Thin was so afraid, he nearly fainted. He looked down at the dwindling village below him. He saw several people between him and the village, struggling as they rose.

Thin looked up to see the bottom of the ship now open. A reddish-orange light lit the interior. Smoke drifted from the bottom of the ship. Thin saw something, not sure of what it was until they drew closer. In horror he realized that he was looking at a being. This was no heavenly creature, it was a nightmare. A creature encased in a spiked reddish shell, with a trace of smoke coming from the shell and eyes that glowed yellow in a red, leathery face.

Heat radiated from the open bowels of the ship. Other’s began screaming. Thin looked for Cassey. She was still next to Lefa, only a few feet away. She reached toward him, horror twisting her beautiful face into a mask. Her mouth worked wordlessly. He could see the fear and anguish in her eyes.

Thin knew how this nightmare would end. He only hoped it would end quickly. As everyone hovered inside the ship, the opening began to close beneath them. As it did they fell to the deck. An invisible force lifted Lefa off the deck and pulled her toward a small booth to one side. She screamed, reaching for her nearest friend, but they were separated by an invisible field.

Thin looked helplessly around. He could see several red shelled creatures milling around on the catwalks above them. None seemed to be paying attention to what went on below. Thin made an attempt to escape. An invisible field knocked him back to the metal deck. He smelled blood and urine on the deck. It was the floor of a slaughter house. He stood in time to see Lefa’s struggling body being pulled into the little metal booth. As she was, the small door closed behind her, locking her struggling body inside.

She struggled for a moment, then stopped, looking at her fellow Fornecians over her right shoulder. The sudden whine of machinery startled her. Before she knew what was happening a series of large spinning blades entered the booth from all angles. Her frightened eyes widened as her head tilted forward and fell to the deck. It was soon followed by her arms, legs, and intestines. Thin watched in complete horror as the assorted parts of her dissected body fell to the deck along with a bucket full of blood. A fine mist came down inside the booth washing the blood away. A metal flapper came out of the wall and swept her body parts into an opening in the wall. Lefa was gone.

Thin backed away from the scene of horror. He felt cold metal against his back. He turned to find that the invisible field did not keep him away from the wall, it only kept him away from the others. He found two buttons and a series of wheels and levers behind him. He had been hoping to find a weapon. In a simplistic society he was not familiar with levers and buttons. But the different materials set them apart from the walls of the ship. In desperation he began pounding on buttons, pulling levers, and shortly afterwards he worked out how to turn the wheels. A loud banging sound issued from somewhere inside the ship. The croak of the evil creature’s language grew louder. He looked up to see several shelled creatures hurrying down ladders. The Fornecians were suddenly allowed to flock together. The field was no longer in place.

“Find weapons!” Thin shouted. “Kill them before they can kill you,” he pointed at the approaching creatures. He turned and continued turning wheels. Regen suddenly appeared at his side. Upon seeing how Thin turned the wheels, he stood at the endless bank of wheels and began turning some as well.

Another loud banging began, and Thin realized it was an alarm. Something they were doing was causing pandemonium throughout the ship. And anything bad for the ship, had to be good for the Fornecians.

Thin started to turn when he heard screams behind him. A hand touched his shoulder. He flinched and spun around. It was Cassey. Behind them the shelled creatures had reached the Fornecians. Some men were striking the shelled creatures with all manner of clubs. The shelled creatures grabbed the arms of many and pulled them along. The great heat of their bodies was burning the Fornecians where they touched them, and causing even more horror.

“Turn them,” Thin hissed at Cassey. I don’t know what it does, but it is doing something. Hurry.”
A third, even louder noise began. It was repeated all over the ship. The first of a series of explosions sounded far away inside the ship. A second came just as the ship lurched sickeningly. People fell. The shelled creatures struggled to keep their balance. They were approaching Thin and his friends. Thin intensified his attack on the wheels. A louder explosion sounded. The ship lurched again, then began to fall. There were more screams, followed by deathly silence as everyone became weightless. The sound of splashing water against the hull was followed by their deceleration. The ship seemed to bounce on the water, then began a slow turn upside down. In desperation, Thin ran for the far wall, pulling Cassey behind him. He knew the floor was about to become the ceiling. He found himself near the booth where Lefa had been slaughtered. He fell against the wall as the ship continued to turn. Suddenly it was over. The ship had settled on the lake, upside down because of it’s shape. A deathly silence settled over the ship. The sound of a few whimpers and cries for help, filtered through the large room.

Thin hurried over to the upside down catwalk. He looked over the side to see the shelled creatures laying on their backs, struggling to stand. Some appeared dead, but several were still moving. Thin found a sharp instrument lying on the catwalk behind him. He grabbed the three foot long wrench with the sharpened end and leaped down next to the first struggling creature. He raised the wrench high above his head and brought the sharpened end down on the base of the creature’s throat. It struggled and died, oozing steaming green blood.

“You see, they can be killed,” he yelled at the humans who still lived. “Kill them and free yourselves.”

Thin handed the wrench to Hugh and searched for more levers and buttons. It stood to reason, since the buttons and levers controlled things, there should be one which opened the huge metal doors. He found a bank of colored glass buttons. He surveyed them for a moment, then began pushing every last button, from top to bottom. Many alarms and bells sounded, but finally the huge metal doors began to open. Afraid that the ship may be under water, Thin grabbed Cassey’s and dragged her toward a series of pipes. They climbed the pipes until they reached the opening. The Great Hat was now upside down in the middle of the lake. It was high above the water line. A huge explosion nearly knocked Thin off his feet and into the deep hole of the ship. He struggled to maintain his balance. He looked down into the dark hole and yelled.

“Up here,” he called. “Escape while you can.”
He heard answering calls. He didn’t wait around to see if they escaped or not, his job was to get Cassey to safety.

Thin didn’t wait around to answer the questions of his fellow villagers. They would be told of the horrors inside the Great Hat by others. Thin wanted to escape. Others would ask where he was, and follow him before a next Great Hat could arrive.

Thin filled a pack with food from the central food storage. He took a selection of seeds and a few tools and weapons. He divided the weight between two packs, handed the smaller to Cassey and shouldered the larger himself. Among the questions and confusion they started toward the little-used pass, leading out of the valley.

Thin made plans as they plodded silently up the pass. They would make another village, one where there was no Great Hat. They would then warn the others. Thin had heard rumors that there were many Great Hat’s hovering around Fornecia. He must spread the word, he must tell everyone how to destroy the… ships. Everyone must know what the hovering ships were, and how to destroy them before even one more life was taken.

“Thin, what will we do?” Cassey called from behind him.
“We will do what has to be done,” he said, resettling his pack and climbing the trail, without looking back.

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