TITLE: Dining with Small Monsters
GENRE: culinary science fiction
WORD COUNT: 90,002
SUMMARY: A team of documentary makers set out to discover what may have poisoned the 42nd Emperor of the Andromeda Galaxy at his coronation banquet.


It was near the end of my late night shift when contestant number six managed to decapitate herself with the sonic toothbrush.

Instead of calling the emergency medical personnel first, the producer decided to call the director. It took a full ten minutes before the people in orange finally swarmed apartment six to take away what was left of the two pieces of the body. The message stream on my eye screen exploded into a flurry of outrage, disbelief, and cynical snarking.

I needed a drink. Preferably something strong enough to knock me off my feet.

“Good God,” exclaimed my co-worker for the fifth time. Whatever his name, maybe Bob, had just started working on the set of Extreme Living on New Caledonia, the latest in a long line of holographic reality shows produced by the Galactic Broadcasting Corporation, last week.

I tapped a few commands on the control panel and squinted at the monitoring screens in front of us. The scenes switched rapidly between the different apartments where the rest of the contestants resided. They were either all in bed or just getting out of bed. So far, so good.

“You should have been here earlier this season,” I told Bob. “Contestant number two blew himself up when he attempted to fire up a grill for the cooking challenge. And contestant number ten split his head open with the vertical challenge.”

“I thought this was just a show about twentieth-century living. I thought it was primitive but not that dangerous.”

“You must be kidding me, right?” I glanced at him, the silver words of the message stream giving his sweaty face a strange glow. “Did you sleep through history class?”

Bob just shook his head and stared at the monitor, wiping his forehead. I turned back. The scene had flickered back to apartment six. One of the emergency medical personnel was holding contestant number six's head. Her expression was of faint surprise.

I slumped in my seat, rubbing my eyes. I had one more hour before I was off. But given what had happened, I would probably end up spending an extra hour up briefing the morning crew on the latest set mishap. I wanted to sleep, not describe a decapitation to another holographic projectionist who probably wouldn't care anyway.

This was not something that I had imagined that I would do when I grew up. I wanted to make meaningful entertainment. Art. Everything was going so well when I got into the Andromeda Film School. And then I decided to make a documentary for my first year project. That was when everything went to hell.

And now, I was a temp at a substandard reality show where even contestants dying in cruel and unusual ways were doing nothing to stop the declining ratings.

The door at the back of the control room hissed open and the footsteps of the producer clumped toward us. The thick man with thinning hair stopped at the space between our chairs and brandished his data pad like a sword. “You two will have to stay here until the next shift arrives. What have you got on the vids?”

“Nothing of interest, sir,” Bob answered promptly as he straightened his back. Probably hoping to impress him. It wasn't going to work. He'd realize that after the first month. “The vids show contestant number six getting the sonic toothbrush to brush her teeth and turning it on when it suddenly exploded.”

“Damn.” The producer whacked his data pad against the back of Bob's chair. “That means we'll have to shell out the dough to her grieving family. There's no way we can call it a suicide?”

Bob glanced at me, looking even more nervous.

“No,” I said. I had been sending out my resume for the past three months. I had stopped trying to please the higher ups long ago. I didn't quit because, well, there was the paycheck. But for some reason, they had yet to fire me.

The producer gave me a sour look before he turned back to Bob. “Show me the vid feed again.”

I leaned back as my co-worker jiggled with the controls. The message stream on my eye screen had already trickled down to a few half-hearted jokes about when the show will finally kill itself off. A few of the messages were flagged. Those were from my parents. I ignored them. Then something flashed at the bottom of the eye screen. An incoming message of importance.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Bob and the producer were still examining the vids. I tapped my hands against my thighs to activate the sensors on the pads of my fingertips. I moved my fingers in specific patterns and accessed the message on my eye screen. The written message was short and to the point.

“Dear Ms. Euphrosyne Tanaka-Teng, We have reviewed your application and we are pleased to offer you a position on one of our experimental programs in development. This new show will be headed directly by Nigel Mot. If you wish to accept this position, please report to GBC headquarters as soon as possible. Sincerely, Rosalind Hect, GBC Program Coordinator.”

I stared at the silver words on my eye screen for a long moment before I rapidly typed out a terse response: “I accept.”

The message sent, I blew out a breath. A job. A real job where I could actually utilize my skills instead of sitting in a small control room like an underpaid security robot.

“You know, I'm not an expert about this,” the producer said, breaking my momentary euphoria. “Maybe we should show this to our lawyers.”

“All right.” Bob looked pale as if he was about to keel over in a faint. Shock, perhaps. This was the first time he had witnessed a death on the set. The producer nodded at that and then left.

“Maybe you should see a counselor,” I told him. “This sort of stuff can be hard for first timers.”

“Yeah. That sounds like a good idea.” He tried to shake his head and then he really did keel over.

I stared at Bob's body for a moment, not seeing the message stream continuing to scroll past my eyes. Screw it, the newbies always did this. I finally got out of my chair and walked out of the control room. I caught one of the emergency personnel walking by. The woman was holding a silver canister of decontaminant.

“There's a guy in there. I think he needs help.”

When she moved toward the control room, I quickly headed the opposite direction, avoiding the glance of the producer who was talking to another member of the crew. I slipped into the lift. I had been clocked out when I had exited the set floor. With the lift to myself, I trigged my fingers to send a message to the director.

“I quit.”

I walked out of the film building and into the New Caledonian morning feeling freer than I had in what seemed like forever.

copyright © 2001-2012 S. Y. Affolee