Imaginary Lunches

A Short Story By Michael Francis Anderson

Copyright 2005



Magnesium burns underwater. It radiates a white light so dazzling, that it masks

the sight of the fire that fuels it. It incinerates the oxygen, sending bubbles of carbon

dioxide upward, seeking escape from the press and pressure of liquid state.

The flare sits on the bumper of a submerged semi. A boy, ribs protruding, dark

hair swirling, struggles with a latch, rusty from years of corrosion in seawater. He

wears a diving mask with a small Mickey Mouse embossed on the front, just below the

faceplate. It is half-filled with water. He knows that inside the truck is the Mother Load,

the payoff that makes every other salvage run meaningless, the way out of poverty for his

mother…for him.

He tugs at the latch. It doesn’t move. He straddles the handle, a foot on either

side of the bumper; toes splayed against the oxidized metal; legs bent; arms at full

extension; fingers closed around the handle. Muscles, sinuous and lean, tighten across

his arms and back. The rust digs tiny cuts in his fingers. The air in his lungs sours.

Not until his chest burns, and spots pepper the edges of his vision does he swim

upward. He breaks the surface gasping. Treads water. Empties the liquid from his

mask. Inhales deeply, and dives. Again.

*     *     * 

The ocean water was thick with silt and debris—disintegrated paper and

cardboard swirled in the current—the flare in Tyler’s left hand illuminated no more

than a few feet of the interior of the sunken tractor-trailer. He had spent the entire day

searching the area the militia soldier had shown him on a disintegrating gas station map.

He was about to give up and return to Cocoa Island for the night when he caught sight of

the eighteen-wheeler.

No wonder the man had to abandon it when The Flood came. Not only was it

fifteen feet under water, but it had also rolled onto its side in a ditch. Tyler cursed the

militia guard for not giving him this detail, but really anything could have knocked the

truck over since the day it was abandoned in the rising water.

Hurricane Isaac came through this part of Florida three years ago. Tyler and

his family were still living with the Agri-Co-op in Southern Orlando then, but he

remembered the havoc that the storm caused in Kissimmee St. Cloud—half the orange

grove was uprooted. For all he knew the storm could have knocked the truck over and

even dragged it across the seabed.

It took him some time, but on his fifth dive, he finally got the door open. He

floated inside the trailer struggling to see through the murk. The first thing he noticed

was a mound of small silver cylinders. They reflected the light from the flare, shining

back at him like a future. He pushed his body through the water, wrapped his free hand

around one of them, lifted it away from its companions, and kicked up toward a breath of

fresh air. Refuse churned in his wake.

Everything’s going to change now, he thought to himself as he swam upward

dropping the flare to mark the location of the truck. With this haul, I can buy myself into

the Wet Mickeys; they’ll for sure have antibiotics for mom. I won’t have to sleep on slab

of concrete, and there’ll be better food than kibble.

I’ll get a gun, and then no one’s gonna fuck with me.

Tyler felt a smile spread across his face as his head emerged from the water. He

sucked in a deep breath. It tasted brackish and polluted, but he didn’t care. He hadn’t

had such a feeling of optimism since before The Flood—playing hide-and-seek with his

father in the backyard. The surface of the ocean was on fire with the reflection of the

sunset, clouds painted the sky like brush strokes, crimson closest to the horizon fading to

purple then black—the brightest stars were making their first appearance of the evening.

Venus was the most vivid of these lights, even though it was a planet and not a

star. Watching it glimmer in the heat of the waning day, his thoughts drifted to the news

he recently heard about the Mars Launch. The Chinese government, had completed

their vessel in orbit around the moon, and was waiting for the red planet to move into the

perfect position before they began their journey.

A swarm of flies, each the size of a grain of sand, hovered just above his head.

How they managed to find the one human face in miles of empty ocean baffled him. He

swatted at them absently, splashing saltwater across his cheek and lips.

Drifting on the gentle undulations of the sea, just a few miles south of Cape

Canaveral where NASA once launched The Space Shuttle into space, Tyler imagined

he was leaving Florida, and flying to a far away world where everything was new and

unexplored. Where he could wander off and get lost in the mystery of an undiscovered

landscape. On Mars there was no water, except maybe that frozen as ice. It was dry and

cold, with no insects, no malaria, no Corporations.

Someday Tyler would do it; just like in the books his father gave him. He would

put on his flight suit, strap into the chair designed to cradle him in safety as three times

the gravity of earth pressed down on him, and escape.

A copy of Ender’s Game, his favorite book, a gift from his father, got him here

today. He’d traded the battered paperback, its cover missing, and pages stained and

smudged with countless readings, to the militia guard in exchange for directions to this

After he learned that the truck was in Cocoa Beach, he was furious. The

information was useless to him. He might as well have bought a map to the center of a

shark’s stomach to retrieve some dead surfer’s ankle bracelet.

That book had sentimental value. He’d cared for it as if it were a wounded

animal, wrapping it tightly in layers of garbage-bag plastic to keep the moisture off it. He

only took it out to read when he knew he could protect it. But the militia guard’s story

intrigued him. The contents of the truck would be more than enough to buy his way into

the militia.

“Why haven’t you gone after it yourself?” Tyler had asked the guard.

He wasn’t naïve. He knew that given the chance, some people would do

anything, to get a hold of a precious item. The guard struck him as one of those people.

Tyler had interrogated the guard, and was told that it wasn’t worth it to him. He’d

already gotten his spot.

“The food is real food.” The man had said. “None of that vitamin enriched pulp

they give you at First Church… And my room is dry. I have windows that open and

close, plumbing.

“Do you even know what its like to not smell shit from the cesspits? Plus, we got

room with a television. And we pirate all the good corporate programming.

“Why would I want to lug a bunch of crap out of the bottom of the ocean? I have

everything I could want here with the Wet Mickeys.”

Tyler had stared at the man, looking deep into his eyes in search of the lie he was

certain was there.

“But you, kid.” The guard continued, “I’ve seen you before. Trading the useless

shit you find in those flooded basements over by Union Park. What do you get for stuff,

A little extra kibble? Come on. If I was in your shoes.” He looked down at Tyler’s bare

feet, and chuckled, “I’d be out there looking for that truck.”

The two haggled for a half hour before man’s sales pitch finally won Tyler over.

He’d handed the man the book, but held onto it until it was jerked from his grasp. “A

deal’s a deal,” the man said, staring intently at the manuscript as he fanned through the


Tyler still remembered what the man said when he got angry after finding out

where the truck was. “What’s the matter kid? You’re already an Untouchable, if they

catch you, they’ll just kick you out, and you can go back the next day.”

That was complete bullshit, and Tyler knew it, but the paperback was already in

the man’s pocket, and without a gun, Tyler had no means to get it back. When he walked

away from the gates, he knew that he’d never go after the truck.

But that was before his mother got sick. Before he had to cut his food ration in

half because she couldn’t get out of bed and get her own. Before the nights of laying

awake pressing a damp cloth against her forehead and whipping away the bloody phlegm

from her lips.

So he went. He didn’t tell her what he was doing, and she probably wouldn’t

have known what he was talking about if he did.

But it worked. He’d found it.

He floated on his back, hand clutched tightly around the shiny cylinder, ears just

below the waterline, enjoying the warmth of the Atlantic. He didn’t hear the whining

sound until it was right on top of him.

Then, directly above him, a miniature heli-drone, metallic and expensive-looking

with a small caliber mini-gun mounted on its nose, floated into view.

His mouth dropped open. The vision of a future full of possibility and promise,

so recently imagined, mutated into a nightmare, spilling over with anxiety and gloom.

Tyler dropped his treasure to the ocean floor. He tried to turn and dive, but

stopped when he saw the drone shift. The mini-gun was aimed directly at him and began

to spin. Its barrels focused on him like an unbreakable stare.

“Intruder…” said a voice, crackling and tinny, from a speaker above the

rotating barrels. “You are trespassing on a salvage claim that is the property of Rosche

Corporation. In accordance with The GBC Articles of Salvage Rights Section Nine-
Three-Seven-Dash-A, you are under arrest. Follow this drone, and be ready for further

instructions. Fail to immediately obey these instructions and you will be shot.”

The drone began to move away from Tyler, slowly.

For a moment, he just floated there, numb and astonished at his reversal of

fortune. But when the drone slowed to a stop, its electronic eye focusing on him, he

pushed himself into motion and swam after it. It flew backwards now with its gun

trained on him, but it still seemed to know where it was going. Shit! Thought Tyler How

the hell am I gonna get out of this? The significance of his capture began to click into

place in his brain. He might wind up on a penal farm, working twelve-hour days in the

heat. Hell, maybe they’ll just shoot me outright. He started to shake, and his stomach

turned in on itself. Tyler looked around as he swam, hoping to find something to hide

beneath. But the drone took him on a path away from any possible cover. I knew I

shouldn’t have made this run. I’m such an idiot.

The drone reached the roof of a submerged building; perhaps it was once an old-
fashion petroleum station. A large plastic starfish was mounted on a thick pole about

fifteen feet from the roof of the structure. Tyler remembered seeing the symbol on

television, or from the back seat of his parent’s car, before The Flood. But his parents

no longer had a car, petroleum or hydrogen powered, and the only time he ever saw a

television anymore was in Kibble Church.

The drone hovered over the sloped roof of the starfish building.

“Trespasser…” said the voice. “Climb atop this roof.”

Tyler did as instructed. The roof was waterlogged and spongy under his bare

feet. Several shingles were missing. The exposed wood was warped and moldy, and

there were no visible holes that he could dive into to freedom. And though Tyler knew

he could easily break through the roof with a few well-placed kicks, the drone would see

that as a violation, and shoot him on the spot.

Tyler was accustomed to the water; he’d spent the last seven years of his life

wading through it to higher ground. He was no stranger to solid surfaces either—

concrete, asphalt, Formica—these always left him feeling safe. But here atop the rotting

building, his feet marking impression in the decaying wood, he was overwhelmed by a

sense of uncertainty, as if at any moment the earth beneath his feet would fall away and

send him plummeting to an unknown fate.

“Observe, the flashing beacon to the southeast.” Said the voice of the mini-gun

Now that Tyler was standing above the waterline he could see much farther than

when he was floating in the ocean. He looked southeast, and sure enough, through the

dusk, he saw a blinking light atop a small stilted hut. How could he have missed that

guard shack earlier today, he thought. He’d done careful reconnaissance, but with his

head at sea level, he hadn’t noticed it.

“Swim to the beacon; do not attempt to escape. If you do, this drone will locate

you by your heat signature. Then it will shoot you.” Said the voice.

“Alright, already… I won’t try to escape.” Tyler said under his breath as he

slowly lowered himself back into the ocean. He swam southeast, doing his best to stay


He’d had experience with drones like this before. Run by dimwitted Artificial

Intelligence; just smart enough to do what they were told and little else. No doubt

someone was monitoring this one remotely.

The first time he’d seen one was the last time he trespassed on a corporate salvage

claim. It was almost three years ago, just after Hurricane Isaac. The crop had been

destroyed, and he and his family were hungry. The Co-op had little to offer in trade; in

fact not many Agri-Co-ops did that year. So the Co-op members, including his family

were forced to eat kibble, like Untouchables.

The Flood had taken away almost everything from his family, their home, his

school, his parent’s jobs; the list went on. But in the aftermath of the global disaster, they

had managed to gain a foothold on the collapsing cliff of society, a small safe spot in the

Agri-Co-op. There they had beds, electricity, walls and a roof. His mother taught math

to the other children. His father had worked hard in the fields to provide them with food.

At night he read to Tyler from a collection of paperback books, wrinkled and dog-eared.

But watching the expressions on his parent’s faces, as they poured boiled water

over what was once only food for pets, as they reluctantly chewed the softened chunks,

Tyler could see the last of their dignity evaporating like steam rising off a soggy bowl of

kibble. They spoke of a better harvest next year, and how they might get on the waiting

list for an indenture-ship with one of the big corporations. But Tyler could see that they

were just maintaining a front for him.

He knew because he did it all the time. He learned the slang that the other boys

used, and practiced it regularly. He spoke well at home, carefully thinking about his

words, watching for the pride he saw in his father’s face when did. But whenever he

hung out with his friends, he spoke a different language—one devoid of verbs and other

essential grammatical elements. “What’ up? Who Dat? Fuck-N-A!”

Tyler knew that it was better to appear the same as everyone else. Looking too

smart or too scared could only get him beat up or worse.

One night, after the leaders of the Co-Op passed around the kibble ration, Tyler

and a couple of friends sat discussing their predicament.

“Not gonna eat dat no more!” Said a boy called Picker. He wore a pair of patched

denim pants and carried thin piece of PVC piping he called his “Beat-down Stick”. His

hands were permanently stained with dirt. The same grime coated the rims around his


“Tru dat holmes.” Said another boy named Javier. “We ain’t no Untouchable

scum.” He scratched at a raw spot on his closely shaved head. “Dem corps, dey got de

shit. Dey ain’t lookin’; we scoop dat shit up, swap it fo a meal, no?”

Javier looked at Picker for a long time. Tyler could see in the young boys eyes

what Picker was thinking when Javier suggested they trespass the corporate claimed

salvage area, and it wasn’t thoughts of agreement. But Picker was easy, and Javier’s

stare cut through his resistance without another word spoken. Picker fiddled with the

PVC piping, twisting his hands around it until he noticed he was doing it. Then he

stopped, looking between Javier and Tyler with downcast eyes.

“Fo real.” He said weakly.

Watching Picker waiver and crumble under the older boy’s stare, gave Tyler the

time he needed to steel his own expression. He knew that his parents would be angry if

they found out what he was going to do, but if he could find some quality recyclables, he

could trade them for some real food, maybe enough to last the winter. So when Javier

looked in his direction, Tyler met him eye to eye, and simply said, “No doubt.”

A drone, just like the one hovering above him now, had caught him an hour later

trespassing in the corporate owned landfill. The GBCSF gave him The Mark of the

Untouchable that night—a tattooed barcode on the back of his right hand. His friends

managed to escape.

When he returned later that evening, he was not allowed back into the Co-op.

They scanned everyone who came through the gates because harboring a criminal would

bring the animosity of the GBCSF down on them.

He spent the night wide-awake in a ditch outside the walls, scared to death he

would be killed if he fell asleep. The next morning his parents found him standing by the

gates. They shouted at him, and cried with him. Then, because they were good parents,

as good as they could be given the circumstances, they left the Co-op to live the life of

exile with their only son.

Now days, he was happy if he was able to get a few bites of kibble. More often

than not, he went hungry. As an Untouchable, he had learned to eat only what he needed;

he lost weight until his skeleton could be studied without X-rays. His mother would tease

him gently as she pushed her own portion of Kibble in front of him. “If you don’t eat

more, your shoulder blades could put an eye out.”

But with less weight, his body didn’t need as much food. Sometimes though if

he went too long between meals he would stumble through the day, dizzy and depressed,

unable to scrounge for tradable goods in the corporate free zones. Lately with his mother

too sick to do any scavenging herself, he had this problem more often than not. The heat

never helped. In the afternoon humidity he sweated away what little nutrients he had

stored in his frail body. His stomach churned day and night, grinding away at imaginary


Maybe the guard won’t see my mark. Tyler thought as he fell into his swimmers


Shortly after becoming an Untouchable, he tattooed over the barcode with indigo

ink and a needle from his mother’s sewing kit—a poorly drawn picture of a Donald


His mother had later traded away that sewing kit and a number of other precious

items in exchange for the right to sleep in the parking garage where they lived now. The

three-story structure was no use to anyone anymore. It sat on a slight rise, but the roads

around it were three feet underwater. The Corporations had already ripped everything of

value out of the area, and donated the remaining structures to the poor. There was still

salvage to be found though, if you looked hard enough.

Tyler’s father had once said that the donation of the abandoned business park

wasn’t goodwill. Rather it was just a tactic to keep the Untouchables as far from the

corporate enclaves as possible. Tyler’s mother was ok with this, because that meant that

disputes were never settled by the GBCSF Shock Troops.

The indigents that lived closer to the center of Orlando, where the rich people

lived, often got caught up in food riots, and were gunned down when things got out

of hand. But out where Tyler and his family lived, the militias ruled. Out there, the

destitute were supplied by Agri-co-ops and bible-thumpers. There were never enough

people in one place to cause riots large enough that they couldn’t be broken up without a

loss of life.

The Wet-Mickeys, a militia that claimed the Western Orlando suburb where Tyler

lived, were good when it came to unrest. They used tear gas instead of bullets, and they

did their best to not shoot the canisters directly at the people. Though they were not so

friendly when it came to fighting other militias.

People died when two militias clashed, and not just other militia members.

Innocent sharecroppers died too. Day-laborers who had the misfortune to be caught

in the middle of a struggle for turf—workers who wanted nothing more but to try and

provide a meal for their families, so that their son’s didn’t have to eat bits of soy, crunchy

and stale, enriched with vitamins that turned his piss florescent green.

The First Church of Christ’s Return—called Kibble Church by the

Untouchables—wasn’t as brutal as the GBCSF. They gave food away to those who sat

through an entire service, but banned anyone who tried to cause a disturbance. To keep

the troublemakers out, they offered up half-pound bags of kibble as a reward to any

parishioner who turned in a banned member. Getting barred from Kibble Church was a

death sentence by starvation for an Untouchable.

Tyler knew the real reason that there were no food riots in or around the tented

services. He’d been to Kibble Church every week for the last three years, and more

than once, while sitting in the humid circus tent listening to the standard sermon on

Revelations, he’d dozed off, only to be prodded awake by the butt of an usher’s shotgun.

Some usher’s were more zealous than others—the really intense ones left oval-shaped

bruises on his back.

“The pain will bring you closer to Jesus.” They’d say.

Once, before the service ended, before the kibble was passed out, he’d been

escorted out of the tent for falling asleep a second time by two sub-machinegun toting

Youth Ministers.

“When you reach the tower, you will climb the ladder.” Said the drone, pulling

him out of his reverie.

The guard tower loomed in front of him now. It was larger up close than it looked

from the roof of the dilapidated gas station. Steel beams connected together by heavy

bolts crisscrossed their way up to the shack at the top. Anchored at the base was flat-
decked fan boat. It smelled of Petroleum.

Moisture eating nanites crawled across the surface of the metal tower. They

were too small to see individually, but as a group they looked like the oil rainbows Tyler

had seen on the surface of polluted puddles. The microscopic machines devoured the

ubiquitous moisture before it could become corrosion and destroy the structure. And

though he was consumed by fear, he still couldn’t help but stare at the nanotechnology

shielding, glistening in the last light of dusk. He’d heard about this before—tiny

machines the size of germs, working together on some grand single-minded task—never

tiring. Another reason people like his father couldn’t find jobs after The Flood.

He looked up to the top of the ladder, and began his climb. The microscopic

machines squirmed under his hands, as if the ladder was alive, and trying to escape

his grasp. He had to concentrate not to let go. Every few rungs he stopped and stared

closely, trying to see the tiny equipment.

He was six when the nuclear disaster in Antarctica shattered the western ice sheet

and raised sea level by twenty feet—Florida was one of the hardest hit areas in the world.

The Flood completely inundated most of the southern peninsula. Before that, his family

lived a modest life. He went to public school, used vouchers for his cafeteria lunch food,

and rode around in the back seat of his parent’s ten year-old Ford Taurus. He’d seen

affluence on television, but after the flood, his memory of it was more like a fantasy than

a true recollection.

But today he had seen riches—in the submerged truck, and here in front of him.

The minute devices dedicated to the preservation of an isolated guard tower in the middle

of the Cape Canaveral Corporate Salvage Zone were probably taken for granted by the

soldier at the top of the ladder, and by the corporation who put them here. But to Tyler,

they could buy him a whole new life; food for everyone in the parking garage; clothing;

sun block, his mother’s life.

For the first time he realized what his father meant when he would say, “It sickens

me that in a world with such glorious wealth, that there can be such abject poverty!”

In that moment, thinking about his father—the stories at bedtime, the crow’s feet

smiles, the humor in his voice, and the memory of his sudden and final absence tumbled

together with Tyler’s current dilemma. And as he approached the top of the ladder, the

world pressed down on him from all directions. His pulse quickened. He struggled to

breath. His vision blurred, and hot tears coursed down his face.

He wanted to stop climbing so the GBCSF guard wouldn’t see him cry. He

needed to be strong in front of his captor. Weakness was a sure invitation to a beating.

He tried to wipe his tears away, but they just gushed around his fingers—prune-
skinned from hours in the ocean. His breathing quickened, and when he attempted to

gain control, he hiccupped out a quiet sob. With one rung left before the open doorway

of the guard tower, he stopped. He couldn’t go any further. What would happen to him

in there? A mosquito landed on his wrist and plunged its stinger into his arm.

A second offense, how could I have gotten a second offense?

He looked down to the water below—a thirty-foot drop at least. He contemplated

jumping off. Perhaps a fall from this height would take him far enough under the surface

that the ocean water would slow the drone’s bullets to a non-lethal speed. He’d have to

push off—the tower was wider at the base than where he was now.

Forcing in a deep breath, he readied himself. The gun barrels begin to spin. The

metallic voice of the drone vibrated in his head—unheard warnings. The nanites writhed

under his fingers. He tensed his muscles, and thrust himself away from the ladder…

Artwork by karmamilitia

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