They were shown to a table in the restaurant pod which bulged from the seventieth floor of the arcology’s western extremity. He held the chair for her as she sat.
“I asked for the same table. Do you think it is?”
She looked around. “Perhaps. So much can change in three years.”
The waiter hovered. She offered it a languid wrist, keeping eyes and smile fixed on her companion. The waiter deftly scanned, then consulted the menu.
“Of Madam we have shank, breast, belly, tenderloin — ”
“Breast, I think.” She rolled the ‘r’ deliciously. “Medium rare. With a garlic infusion.”
“Of course. Sir?”
He fought with the cuff of his suit. The waiter read the chip.
“Of Sir we have shank, ribs, and belly.”
“No tenderloin? I was certain…”
“Sadly, Sir, the inventory would indicate not.”
“Oh, very well. The belly. Medium rare.”
The waiter nodded, withdrew.
“Why the face?” She asked.
“You know I’m not overly fond of garlic.”
“Oh, but, darling, it really does need something, believe me. You trust me, don’t you?”
“I could have sworn I still had tenderloin.”
“I’m sure they’re cooking you up another batch even as we speak.”
“But I wanted tonight to be just right.” He took a hurried sip of water. “There wouldn’t have been shortages — not in the same way — when we were eating food animals. One cow was pretty much interchangeable with another. You wanted more steak, just chop up another one and there you go. Oh, I know it was all such an incredibly inefficient use of resources, but there are times when I miss the simplicity. Did I say something funny?”
“You mustn’t be nervous, darling.” She lay her hand on his. “Don’t say you aren’t. You always start lecturing when you’re nervous.”
“I thought you liked my lectures.”
“I do. And just as well. I had to sit your Ethics of Food Production three times before you noticed me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could still quote large chunks of it. ‘Two factors coincided and conspired to create our current system of Personalised Dietary Protein manufacture. The first of these was the exponential escalation of environmental damage across traditional livestock rearing areas. The second was the mass expansion and socialisation of tissue production — ’”
“I prefer ‘democratisation’,” he said. “If we hadn’t kicked up such an almighty fuss, vat-grown organs would only be available to the super-rich. You’d have a cadre of businessmen and politicians living in near-immortality, while the rest of us plebs continued to wear out and fall apart. We made replacement organs a basic human right.” He became wistful. “That was the first time I took to the streets. We really achieved something back then.”
“Would you still have done it, if you’d known the cost? All those machines running all day every day, soaking up every available resource, hastening the collapse, churning out organs for a population increasing faster than ever.”
He considered it in silence for a moment, stroking the condensation on the outside of his water glass. Wondering, not for the first time, whether her generation blamed his for doing what they did. Outside, beyond the glass bubble of the restaurant pod, beyond the plastic of the arcology’s weather dome, the sun was setting, refracted into a blaze of red and orange by the thick dry dust in the atmosphere.
He answered slowly. “There are many brave actions which, in retrospect, seen through the lens of the years, seem foolish. And vice versa, of course.”
“It was a brave man who first ate what the machines produced,” she said, a challenge in her posture, her eyes. “But in hindsight it was the perfect — in fact, the logical — answer to the world’s food problems.”
“Desperation breeds bravery. The Genevans were besieged, holed up with their personal arsenals and enough medical hardware to save their entire population from heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver several times over but with no means to stop them from starving.”
“So it was inevitable?”
“And not without precedent, either. There are hundred-year-old rumours from Moscow and Stalingrad — and many more from more distant times of famine or disaster — of people, under exceptional circumstances, turning to cannibalism.” He dropped his voice on the last word.
“But it isn’t really — ” she mouthed the word — cannibalism — teasing him “ — if it’s your own flesh.”
He recognised the pattern of this argument from their early days.
“If you really believe they only ate their own,” he said.
“And you don’t?”
“There are many unanswered questions. Consider the difficulties, the complexity of the logistics of distributing food packages in a war-ravaged city while making sure that each person gets only their own personal meat… But in those post-war years the myth of ‘Geneva Chicken’ were so compelling, especially coming at a time when the Judeo-Christian world view and in particular its doctrine of dominion over all living things was rapidly falling out of favour…”
The waiter brought their meals, setting down the two plates of pale pink meat.
“But we don’t like to think about it too hard, or more than we have to, do we? There still remains that final taboo.”
“Darling, if you don’t want to, I’m not going to force you...”
He took her hand in his, squeezed it.
“Of all the hundred and thirty-six years I’ve lived, these last three spent with you have been the most wonderful. For you, anything.”
They swapped plates.