In a distant future, the last donuts on earth are discovered by a hungry guy
| Word count: 1,362
Prompt: 'Honesty may be the best policy but it's important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.' G. Carlin
I pushed the shield and felt it vibrate against my fingertips. At last I had found an active stasis locker! I tried to turn the power knob but it was stuck in place by a layer of rust. Jiggling it carefully, patiently, the knob at last turned with a click and the shield collapsed. I slid a panel aside revealing the locker's contents - a pink cardboard box. I pulled the flimsy lid off and twelve golden discs met my eyes. I knew what they were - I'd seen holograms from the old days.
"Shon!" called Warrez from two levels down, "find anything?"
Two days of searching this derelict warehouse had turned up very little. Most of the stasis lockers we'd found so far were dead, their power connections corrupted, their contents decayed into dust.
"Um..." Honesty is the best policy, writes The Sage, but the second best policy is dishonesty. "Uh, nothing here," I told him. I grabbed the box and looked around but saw nowhere to hide. The place was a maze of steel grid stairs and walkways, six underground levels housing thousands of stasis lockers.
Stealth was difficult. My five foot ten frame was unusually tall for a worker and stood out. Every step I took on the steel catwalk crashed and echoed. I leaned against a cold steel girder that was out of sight of the other searchers. The ancient orange paint had decayed and it came off like powder onto my grubby coveralls. I rubbed orange powder off my hands and opened the box. They were still slightly warm. Someone, centuries ago, must have taken them right out of an oven and put them in stasis. I lifted one and held it to my nose. It smelled like heaven.
I get two square meals a day, same as any worker, and I had just eaten six hours ago, but my stomach growled. I closed my eyes and considered how we had got to this point.
In the distant past a series of activist groups sabotaged food they thought no one should eat - wheat was the first to go, destroyed by a virus cultured by an anti-gluten lot. Then red meat was made an allergen by an animal rights group. It got out of hand. Bananas were made toxic, then poultry and so on and on. The only things we could eat now were turnips and a species of mud fish that is able to process toxins out of their systems.
If I was caught the donuts would go straight to admin, and judging by the fat men and women in admin they'd pig them down immediately. Admins! Useless geeks who tinkered with gadgets and experimented with theories while the rest of us went hungry. To be fair, it was admins who had found this warehouse after it had been hidden and forgotten for centuries.
So close! I was about to take a bite when the stairway rattled and Nokee poked her sleek black-haired head over the rail. Warrez, the other member of my team, was right behind her. I hastily pushed the pink box behind the girder.
"Look!" said Nokee. She was breathing hard from taking three flights of stairs but she was too impatient to catch her breath. She held up a small paper cylinder "I found this," she wheezed, "A whole pack of them actually - in a stasis locker! At least we know that some of them are working. I was beginning to think there wasn't a live stasis locker in this whole place." she held it out to me. "What do you think it is?" She waved it under my nose. It had a bitter-sweet smell.
"Maybe it's a writing tool." I dragged it on the floor but it just left behind tiny pieces of dry plant matter.
Warrez was standing a few yards away. Suddenly he sniffed. "Hey, what's that smell?" He headed for the girder where the donuts were hid.
I lept to my feet. "Wait!" I grabbed his arm.
"What?" He frowned.
"Um. Don't go. We need your advice on... the paper cylinder thingies." I was stalling. I'd already worked out that the paper thing was what the ancients called cigars.
Warrez eyed me with suspicion. "What're you hiding, Shon, you rat?" He pushed past me, following the odor wafting from the pink box. Nokee crowded in beside him. They both gasped when Warrez opened the lid, revealing the donuts.
"Pastry," whispered Nokee, in a low, almost reverent voice. Then she squared her shoulders. "We have to get these to admin."
"Listen," I was desperate. The donuts were slipping through my hands (so to speak). The thought of finding and never tasting was too much to bare. "Listen, you guys. Think. If admin gets their hands on these we'll never get a single taste. Come on. We are the ones that have been doing all the work. Burning all the calories." Nokee and Warrez still looked doubtful. "You guys," I took on a wheedling tone, "Doesn't The Sage tell us that dishonesty is the second best policy?"
"Well, yah," said Warrez, "But some folks think he was just joking when he said that."
I took another tack. "How about just one donut? One for each of us, that leaves nine donuts for the admin? Isn't that reasonable?"
Nokee and Warrez exchanged a look. "Well... okay," said Warrez, "you talked us into it."
Warrez held out the box and each of us took a donut. It was the best thing I had ever eaten. A thousand times better than even my gran's turnip pie. I savored every bite. And then... I must have gone into some sort of trance and so did my colleagues because we couldn't stop eating. Nothing mattered to me except the next bite. We reached for another, and another. I blinked. The three of us stood there, looking at the empty pink box.
"Hear ye, hear ye!" Someone on the lower levels was shouting into a loud speaker. "All searchers report to level one. Repeat. Level one, everybody!"
I shoved the empty donut box into a broken stasis locker, licked the crumbs off my lips, and followed Nokee and Warrez down the stairs. We all wore guilty expressions.
We fell in with the rest of the searchers already waiting on the first level. Twelve teams of three, thirty six searchers, stood at attention, all wearing identical tan coveralls.
Four workers came through the loading doors wheeling a mechanical device mounted on a cart. Behind it strode an admin man. I knew he was admin by his girth. He must have had at least a thirty inch waist.
He clasped his hands behind his back and faced us, puffing his chest out importantly. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said in a thin reedy voice, "This is really an honor. I mean really and truly. We are marking history. Oh yes indeed..." as he twittered on, my mind wandered to musings on donuts. So good - and now all gone. Suddenly something the admin man said brought me out of my revery with a jump.
"Attendez vou, my friends!" He held up a bunch of turnips. "Observe, ordinary vegetables." At the front of the device were two silver discs about twelve inches across. He placed the turnips on one of the discs, then covered each disc with a silver dome. He spun a dial. The machine whirred, indicator lights flashed. After a minute the machine went dark followed by a small clear ting. He removed the two domes and lo! Identical turnip bunches lay on each disc. The admin man chuckled at our astonished faces.
"This, friends, is a replicator!" he chortled. "Yes, indeed, at long last it has been perfected. So, all you have to do, my dears, when and if you find something worthy, is bring it to the replicator and we can make enough for everybody! Oh yes indeed. Now be off with you and find us something to replicate."
Warrez and Nokee glared at me accusingly, their eyes burning with rage. I slunk away to resume the search among the stasis lockers. Maybe I could find a potato.