I'm one of the five humans in your local McDonalds experience 2041.
They'll probably trademark that soon. McDonalds pride themselves on not having an entirely robotic crew. Burger King and KFC went the robot way over a decade ago; most of the high street names have used robots since the Mark 2 range came out in '37.
But here I am, flesh and bone and trying to scrape my way through life. And McDonalds are proud of my existence.
I don't understand why. I go to Burger King all the time and I like their robots. They're well-spoken, they deliver service-with-a-freaking-smile no matter how many hours they've been turned on, they're fast. Everything a human isn't. Especially somewhere like McDonalds.
Every morning I see those damned golden arches gleaming through the smog on my way to work. The store's at the end of a long crowded street so it makes me think of the old 'light at the end of the tunnel' saying. Except that the light's a cruddy old light bulb at a dead end. The tunnel collapsed. Story of my life.
According to the other three humans here – the store manager's technically a human but I don't class arseholes as wholly human – I have the easiest job.
I work up at the first window of the drive-thru. When a car comes through the drive-thru arch, that damn bing-bong goes off like a sonic boom above my head. I take the customer's order and their money. Then I send them down to Window 2, where they collect their order. Packaged by a twin team of one robot and one human. The human – Tracey, though she likes to be called Tray – hands the order out the window. We used to have three windows – Window 1 took the order and Window 2 took the money – but McDonalds can't be bothered to pay two people to do something one person can do with only a little more effort.
When I'm not taking orders I sit on a box and put happy meal toys in happy meal boxes. Then I put the boxes on a conveyer belt to Window 2 and the Front Counter, for Tray, the other two humans and the supporting robots to fill with greasy goodness.
I think I'm going mad.
Of course, we're not supposed to have madness any more. It's apparently been wiped from our genes.
No gene can withstand Window 1.
I looked up from my mountain of happy meal boxes and realised that the last bing bong hadn't come from the echoes in my head but from the real world. I heaved my butt off my box and plodded the one pace to the window. I slid aside the glass and got a lungful of smog before Fatso and her fat kids pulled up in my vision.
Fatso visits at least two times a day. She usually brings her kids. They make me think of what a plastic glove looks like when you pump air into it: stuffed, stretched, overfull, on the verge of exploding.
I've never seen the husband. Maybe he's already exploded. Or maybe he woke up one morning and looked at what lay beside him.
"What can I get you guys today?" All fake smile, on my face and in my voice. I've got quite good at looking like I can stand my job.
The fat family rattled off a list of burgers and ubersized meals.
We brought back supersize in 2012. Ubersized appeared on our menu in 2029. There's a rumour that we'll have an even bigger size but no one can think of a name. Just like there's difficulty in the world at large finding a word to express a body size larger than obese.
Fatso and her fatties moved on to Window 2. I watched their hovercar shudder slightly. I could picture their hovercar falling out the sky one day. I grinned at the thought; probably my only genuine smile all day.
I sank back onto my box and stared at the happy meal boxes. I imagined tearing them apart and force-feeding them to Fatso's kiddies.
I leaned back against the wall and glanced sideways. I could watch the goings-on in the kitchen through a crack in the plastiboard wall. Apparently the previous Window 1 crew member had put it there to give him something more interesting to see.
I watched the Mark 1 robots cooking. They're very simple-looking, kind of like Barbies and Action Man dolls and just as sexually-endowed as the latter, decked out in McDonalds garb that gave no clues to the robots' supposed gender. I saw one carry a box of McBurger patties into the kitchen and place it in the grill-side freezer. I caught a glimpse of his/her badge – it said Zeta 5.
The McBurger replaced the Big Mac as McDonald's signature burger in the late twenties. Similar to the Quarterpounder, but with its own unique sauce. The meat tastes a little like pork.
We used to chant along with that. Bing bong – win-dow. Back in the day when the store was filled with the sounds of humanity.
The driver was a skinny girl. Don't see many of those any more – skinny people, that is. Especially at McDonalds. She had lovely breasts, pert and spherical. Unlike Tray's drooping bags.
"Hiya," she said, looking at me with a delicately-featured face. "How are you today?"
I didn't know what to say.
"Please, be honest," she continued. "I'm not trying to catch you out."
"Shite," I said. "I feel like shite."
The girl nodded, as if she had been expecting that. "Have you had a McBurger lately?"
I absent-mindedly rubbed a hand over my gut, sure she was being snide about my weight. "What's it to you?" I said curtly.
The girl shook her head, throwing her honey-coloured curls into a dance around her face. "I didn't mean to be rude, honestly." She leant forward and winked at me. "I bet you don't know what's in them," she said in a conspiratory voice.
"They're synthesised meat. Suitable for vegetarians and meat lovers. McDonalds wanted to prove that synthesised meat can be as good as the real thing."
The girl waved her hand dismissively. "It's a lie," she said fiercely.
"So what are they made of?" I said, perhaps a little too snappily than I should have. She was a customer, after all.
"Man flesh," she said dramatically.
Heard it all before. Jokes down the pub that McDonalds make their burgers out of humans. After all, the punters say, where do all those criminals disappear to? And if you hear something in a pub you know it's a lie. An urban myth to scare kiddies off eating junk food. It obviously worked for Stick Girl here. Tray and me, we're too smart for that old gag.
"What can I get for you today?" I asked.
Stick Girl sighed and inclined her head slightly. "Acceptance of the truth," she said softly, and drove on without ordering any food.
The supper rush came and went. It seems no one can be bothered to cook these days; they just come to McDonalds.
When night began to penetrate the smog and the customer flow slowed to a dribble, I activated the stand-in robot and took my break. I sat on my box and watched the kitchen through the crack.
Zeta 5 carried another box of McBurger patties to the grill-side freezer. He/she tripped on the way past the crack, dropping the box. Several patties spilled out and one skittered through the crack and fell against my shoe.
I bent over and picked it up. Pinkish clumps of meat mashed together in a frozen circle.
I swear, my blood froze when I saw a whitish discolouration. It looked like a human fingernail.
I frantically pulled it out of the patty and stared at it. I held it next to one of my own nails.
I felt faint.
I think I went mad then.
I tore at the crack, pulling aside the plastiboard so that I could get to the kitchen. I staggered in, still holding the nail and the patty.
The robots paused momentarily to look at me then returned to their tasks.
I whirled around and saw the door that the McBurger-carrying robot must have come from. I barged through it, thinking that maybe I'd find the source of the burgers. Something to tell me the truth.
The moment I stepped into the featureless grey corridor I heard a whirring sound. I followed my ears. I walked about twenty metres down the corridor and stopped in front of a steel door. It was ajar. I pushed it and stepped into a garishly lit room filled with noise. In front of me stood a strange contraption. A large steel vat, so high I couldn't see what it contained, seemed to be the source of the whirring. A steel tube – I realised it was the same width as a McBurger patty – connected the vat to a cube-like object that had 'Liquid Nitrogen Freezing Unit' printed on the outside. McBurger patties popped out of that and into boxes identical to the ones Zeta 5 had carried.
Robots stood behind the machine, presumably checking everything ran smoothly.
The arsehole himself, my store manager, stood in front of the vat.
He turned around and smiled coldly at me. "Dan, why are you here?" he demanded. His cool, almost sugary voice made me shudder.
Lamely I said, "I found a fingernail."
The arsehole's gaze moved beyond me and he nodded.
Something hit the back of my head and I saw stars explode in front of my eyes. I crumpled to the floor, almost unconscious.
"Zeta 5, put him in the vat with the rest of the meat," the arsehole demanded.
The last thing I heard was-
A/N: My first ever short story. Was it any good? Was the plot interesting? Was the ending good/twisty enough?
Can you tell I work at McDonalds? I got the inspiration for this while making burgers.