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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
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The New Economics of Late Capitalism

The Meat Room
by John Leary

Negotiations began fifty-five years ago. The latest round starts today. We're sitting at the monitors, waiting to see who the other side is going to send into the room.
     Back during the initial negotiations, thousands and thousands of casualties ago, they were so stupid. In the Meat Room we have notes from dead old-timers, documenting the stupidity of these people. Some of the notes are pretty funny. For example, on the first day of the first round of negotiations, these people came into the negotiating room in their military uniforms. They just strode right in, decked up and down with ribbons and parachuting patches and regiment buttons and multicolored silk regalia bands. Our side took quick looks at our laminated pocket cards and immediately knew their ranks. They were even stupid enough to wear name tags.
     Within a year they were all dead.
     For the eighth round of negotiations, they used professional negotiators, men and women who were hired to argue then hide. We set out shiny cocktail stirs and plates of red gherkins. Intelligence reports told us they liked those things. We earned their trust. Even so, it took nearly two years to find them all.
     After each round of negotiations, Eradication Reports would pop up on the monitors and we would stand around the Meat Room and mock-shrug at each other: "Another one of their negotiators dead. Huh. Talk about rotten luck." Then we would laugh and smile grimly.
     At the beginning of the twenty-third round, we waited behind our monitors to see who would enter the negotiating room. Three men and two women entered proudly. They were from a neighboring area; they were third-party representatives. Their status as a third party gave them protection, even immunity. Or so they thought. We offered them apricot soda and candied carrots, as per the intelligence reports. They ate and drank with gusto, and negotiated with the lackadaisical fervor of the just. Three days after the round of negotiations concluded, we had tracked each one of them to their home, and each one was killed by a large stone dropped from a medium height.
     Our job in the Meat Room is tracking. We have advances they never had in the old days, more gadgets. But the other side is smarter now, too. They know that touching your lips to the shiny bulb of a cocktail stir leaves DNA residue. They know we can pack any food item with two or three rogue additives. Everyone remembers the first time we offered them the shaker of carob flakes and they declined, pulling out their own shaker. That was a day of crisis around here.
     From the moment they sit down, we are performing Heat-Vapor Resonance profiles on each one of them. Everyone in the world has a unique HVR profile. We feed their profiles into the databank and the satellites and drones go to work. Some guys complain that the technological advances make things more boring than the old days, but most of us realize how lucky we are to have steady jobs in today's economy. As the guys in Tech make new advances, pressure flows up to schedule more rounds of negotiations. With HVR, we are more efficient. We have had a hiring freeze, and two guys took early retirement.
     Some older guys talk of a golden age when the tech was fun but not flawless. The bulletin board in the lunchroom outside the Meat Room has thumbtacked pictures of some triumphs: Remote control rats made from C4. Small rubber balls filled with nitroglycerin pellets. Tiny exploding flowers. A coin with gas-lock charge so small that the detonation is no louder than a rat sneezing, but the charge abrades the skin and poison gets underneath: they get a little blister, then in fifty-six hours they are dead.
     Today is the first day of the latest round of negotiations, and the fifty-fifth anniversary of the first round of negotiations. We have heard from the guys in Dispatch that this is an important round, and the other side is going to use some new negotiators. We've been using anima-bots for ten years. The anima-bots are activated, waiting just outside the door to the negotiating room. On the monitors we see the doors, we see the table in the negotiating room. The table is covered with plates of shiny objects. If negotiations drag on long enough, one of their side will always get fatigued and will grab one of the shiny objects and pop it into his mouth, or touch it and pocket it.
     Despite the attrition among their negotiators, for the last fifteen rounds they have been represented by low-level officers. These young men negotiate with the raw vitriol of the inexperienced. In the days before the HRV profiles they would each get a paper clip. We would send the young men a letter with some photos of livid women enclosed. Intelligence reports told us that they like livid women. They would be smart enough to destroy the photos, but they would always retain the paper clip. Shiny objects are rare where they live. They would carry the paper clip around with them, pop it into their mouth when they were nervous. Shiny metal is something they suck on. The paper clips are poison, underneath a thin chrome layer.
     None of their low-level officers have been located in any of the neighboring quadrants. As we sit at the monitors, one of the guys asks the room, "What would you do? What would you send into the room?" We have different answers: Audio-animatronics, holograms, crystalline projections. We would never be so stupid as to send living people into the room. But we laugh. We know we are the only ones who can make even rudimentary proto-plastic figurines. They do not have the technology to do any of those things.
     We wait. They are late. Someone half-heartedly tries to start a betting pool as to whether they will even show up. On the monitors, we see the conference room door swing open, then close. It is heavy. The door opens again and their contingent comes in, walking close to each other, bumping each other. Girls. They are between eight and ten years old, dressed in denim and white blouses. We will wait a few minutes to observe them before sending in the anima-bots. We want them to relax so we can observe them. They all sit close to one another; they seem nervous. Two share one seat. One says "Ooooh!" at a plate of shiny objects, and they pass it around. Hair clips. They braid and clip one another's hair. We watch them carefully. Brown eyes and gentle lips. None of them look like our daughters. Some of them resemble, slightly, friends of our daughters.
     We are all a little disappointed. This is going to be so easy.




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