Television Fed
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The door opened and Jacob filed into the testing cell. It was designed to imitate a living room: generic couch set in front of a flat-screen TV mounted on the far wall. Cheap, synthetic carpeting crunched underfoot as he crossed the room and sat down on the couch. The walls were painted a Robin egg blue.

There were curtains on the wall. That was new.

Jacob frowned as he settled into the couch cushions. Did the Foundation really think curtains were going to make a difference? That they were somehow going to do the trick? There was no window behind those squares of polyester — just more blank pastel sheetrock.

"Please proceed," a tinny voice said over the intercom system.

Jacob knew the drill. He fanned open the binder the researchers had given him, bracing it in his lap as he thumbed through the Contents section to find page one.

The television was less than four feet away, the screen tuned to a station of snow — white and black static. There was no sound, and no discernible powersource. Its vestigial three-pronged plug dangled impotently beneath the manufacturer's logo.

"Where are you from?" Jacob read from the binder, projecting his voice, speaking loudly and clearly for the sake of the recorders.

He counted to ten before reading the next question.

"Are you from this planet?"

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi… ten.

"Are you from this dimension?"

There was no response. There never was. Just the frenetic screen of electromagnetic background noise.

"What are you afraid of?"

Jacob's frown deepened, corrugating his brow. That question was a bit random.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…

"You must be scared. If you weren't, you'd communicate."

Okay… The researchers were obviously going with a new tactic today. It was about time, if you asked Jacob. For months he'd insisted that the questionnaires weren't eliciting any response and that they should try a different approach. It seemed like they'd finally listened to him.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…

"Pussy," he read.

Five hours later the door reopened and Jacob stepped out of the cell.

Testing was immediately succeeded by the DECON process. Even though he was pretty sure the television wasn't catching, every test was followed by decontamination — a scalding chemical shower that didn't just make Jacob's skin prune, but blister and peel as well. He shed layers of his skin like he was a goddamned molting snake. His shoes and overalls, along with the binder and microphone that'd been taped to his chest, were incinerated.

He left DECON looking like a newborn, flesh pink and puckered, any hair that'd grown back since last time bleached then singed away. He had no clue what they put in the water, but it left him stinking like struck-matches.

Then, after that, came the psychological exams.

Jacob was always exhausted afterwards, as if he'd just ran a marathon. He wasn't sure what caused it. Maybe it was the TV, leeching him of his lifeforce, draining him of what little vitality he still had left. Was that how it stayed charged?

Maybe it was the chemical showers. Maybe it was the tedious psych questions, or the utter lack of progress in testing. Or maybe it was all of the above, a combination of everything, crushing him under the cumulative weight and pressure.

God… he could really go for a beer right about now.

Dinner in the messhall came next. Jacob ate quietly by himself. After six months with the Foundation, he still hadn't grown used to the company of other people, having spent so long on death row. He kept one arm flung protectively around his cafeteria tray and eyed the other D-Class with suspicion, wondering what they'd been convicted of as he forked mashed potatoes into his mouth.

He had to give it to the Foundation on one account: their food was pretty damned good. The mashed potatoes were real, not just rehydrated flakes. Tonight, dinner also came with a cob of corn, and the protein was a bone-in teriyaki chicken breast. It was the kind of food Jacob would've only expected on death row for his last meal.

He watched as a man known solely by his numerical assignment, D-29840, sat down at a table across from him. The man was unique in his stubborn refusal to reveal his true name. Most inmates were all too eager to share their name, to be known as more than just a number. But not him.

D-29840 was an amputee, missing a foot and part of his hand. Jacob was unsure if it was a birth defect or something else. Probably 'something else', considering that half his face was melted, the ear on that side not much more than the worn stub of a pencil eraser and the eye a blind-white orb. That was definitely no birth defect.

What'd you do? It was a game he played with himself to help kill time, trying to puzzle out what the other D-Class had been and done in their past lives. In the Foundation, as a D-Class, you didn't have much else except time, and sometimes — especially at night — it could draw out like a blade. You're small and disabled. Probably something with women… or kids.

Not that he was one to point fingers. Jacob himself had been found guilty of murdering his own two children. His wife testified in court against him, sealing the death-penalty sentencing. Last he'd heard she'd moved to California and remarried, started a new family and got on with her life.

Sometimes he missed her so much it hurt… and them, of course. That went without saying. His two sons, Stephen and Patrick. There wasn't a day that went by that he didn't think of them.

After dinner the D-Class personnel were led back to their blocks. The Foundation was similar to deathrow in one aspect— each was granted their own individual cell. There was a television set in one of the corners, but Jacob never turned it on. He'd had enough TV for two lifetimes.

"Why do you eat people?"

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi… ten.

"Why do you eat people?" The notes in the binder indicated to repeat the question if no response was received.

The television remained a mute, unreadable rectangle of static.

Big surprise.

Jacob sighed. "Do you derive pleasure from it?"

He grimaced. A migraine was beginning to ripen. He could feel its faint whisperings gestate along his temples and forehead. It wasn't bad, not yet, but Jacob knew that was liable to change. This was how they always started, and soon those faint whisperings would graduate to an acute stabbing, as if there were a molten railroad spike being hammered into his skull. Repeatedly.

He rubbed his eyes. It was the goddamned television. It was the only light-source in the testing cell, and it threw layers of static snow on every surface in the room. Sometimes, Jacob became disoriented, and felt himself sinking into the static, as if it had depth.

Other times, he felt as though the screen were hypnotizing him, lulling him into a state that wasn't quite awake, but wasn't quite asleep, either. He was stuck in limbo until he eventually snapped out of it on his own accord. These trances lasted anywhere from less than a minute to almost half an hour.

Jacob wasn't entirely convinced the effects were even anomalous. The migraines, the hypnosis — it could've just been the natural result of staring at nothing but the television for hours and hours on end, the proximity of the screen and the lack of any pattern taking its toll on his mind.

It wasn't like he had any memory gaps. He remembered everything that occurred during the trances — he just continued to mechanically read the questions from the binder.

"Does eating people allow you to function without electricity?"

Snow. Just snow.

He gritted his teeth. "Do you enjoy the taste of people?"

Today, in the testing cell, there was a new coffee table that hadn't been there last time.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…

"Are people easily consumable?"

"Are people easily digestible?"

Jacob didn't really see the difference between the two questions, but apparently the Researchers did.

"How do you excrete…" he swallowed the lump in his throat. "… waste product?"

Jacob could feel his skin sloughing off in the DECON shower. When he stepped out, body steaming — no, that wasn't steam, it was smoke, his body was smoking— his nose began gushing blood. He'd just managed to staunch the flow and get himself cleaned up as the guards entered to collect him. It took every last bit of strength he had to put one foot in front of the other and follow the two men out. His hands trembled.

He didn't have much time left.

He sat in a small, darkened room. The post-psychological exams weren't conducted in person. They were held in what might've been a repurposed janitor's closet. The smell of amonia lingered. Jacob was seated by himself in a director's chair, staring into the cold, insectile lens of a camera.

"How have you been sleeping? a disembodied voice asked.

"Fine," Jacob lied.

"No more bad dreams?"

"No, not recently."

"What about your appetite?"

Jacob shrugged. "I've been eating fine, too," he answered, idly scratching behind his ear.

"Anymore migraines?"


"You're certain? We can give you something to help with the pain."

He shook his head. "No more migraines."

"What is your opinion of the most-recent questionnaire?"

Again, Jacob shrugged. He was used to the way the exams abruptly changed topics. They didn't catch him off guard… not anymore. "I think it's okay."

"Expound, please."

"Umm… I mean, I think you're on the right track, but I think you need to take it a step further."

"Expound, please," the disembodied voice repeated.

"Well… err… I feel like the questions aren't hard enough. That is to say, sir — um, ma'am? — they're not confrontational enough."

"We appreciate this honest feedback. Please, go on. Expound."

"I think we need to be more aggressive. I think we need to press the TV, really take it to the sonofabitch."

Dinner was barbecued ribs with sides of coleslaw and macaroni and cheese. For dessert there was apple crumble served à la mode. It wasn't his favorite, wasn't what he'd have chosen for a last meal, but he didn't care anymore.

He lay in bed long past 2200, lights out, a paperback novel tented and forgotten on his chest.

Tomorrow. There was one more test scheduled for tomorrow, and then the usual two-week moratorium while the researchers reviewed and poured over all their gathered data and reassessed.

It would have to be tomorrow.

Jacob wasn't sure he had two more weeks in him. His nosebleed had subsided… and then returned later that same night, this time lasting almost a full day. The infirmary staff had feared he was having a stroke and plugged his nostrils with tampons before giving him three aspirin tablets and sending him back to his block.

But that wasn't it.

His teeth and fingernails had started falling out, too. Not that many so far, but the loss was accelerating.

He had another migraine. Actually, it was the same one. He'd had it for about a week now.

He wasn't dumb enough to report any of it. The Foundation would find out, one way or another, without his help. His next physical was scheduled within the week. He figured there must've been some scrubbing agent in the showers. Or, maybe they were right to decontaminate him after every test and he was absorbing it from the TV. Either way, it didn't make any difference to him.

Tomorrow. It might be the last chance he ever got at that fucking television.

"Just relax," Fuentes, the head researcher, said to him as she taped the microphone to his hairless chest.

Then she smiled up at him.

Jacob smiled back, careful to keep his lips shut-tight so as not reveal any of the recent gaps.

As a D-Class, and before that a death row inmate, it'd been so long since anyone had so much as smiled at him, nevermind a pretty woman — a doctor, he reminded himself, Fuentes has a Ph.D. — that it impacted him more than he'd expected.

"You're going to be fine, Jake," she continued. She was still smiling. She had very nice teeth. "You've done this a million times before."

They called him by his name, too. All the Research staff did it, and most of the Foundation staff as a whole did it, as well. Jacob had assumed this normal until he discovered otherwise — the Research staff hardly ever addressed D-Class by their real names, and the rest of the Foundation almost never. It made it easier that way.

He accepted the binder passed to him by Fuentes and staggered down the hallway leading to the testing cell. He had to squint just to see straight, the migraine disrupting his eyesight. He used one hand to brace himself against the wall.

The door opened and Jacob stepped into the artificial living room. The door sealed shut behind him.

They added fresh-cut flowers this week, in a vase on top of the coffee table.

That's nice.

He went through the rote motions, the same as every other time. He sat down on the couch, choosing the middle cushion, dead-center in front of the television set.

He unfolded the binder in his lap.

"Please proceed," said the voice over the intercom. Always so polite to him.

Jacob erupted out of the seat, bounding up from the cushion, the binder forgotten, falling from his lap and onto the carpet. He grabbed the couch by the armrest and hauled it across the room, wedging it between the testing cell door and the far wall.

That wouldn't keep them out forever, but it might buy him a few minutes.

He'd purchased the television from a used-appliance store. He hadn't even been shopping for a TV, was out that day looking for a replacement dryer after theirs back at the house shit the bed, but the discount had just been too big to pass up. He'd bought it on the spot, surprising the boys when they got home from school.

"I don't have any more questions for you," he told the TV as he made certain the couch was jammed tight against the door. "We're done talking."

Images of his children stuttered across his mind. They'd never found Patrick's body. Stephen's… only half.

Jacob had come downstairs one morning to find Stephen lodged halfway in the television, his torso gone, little legs scissoring the air. And there was this motion… The TV would rock upwards, thirty degrees or so, before swinging back against the wall. A little more of Stephen would disappear each time. It was almost like the TV was chewing. Jacob had grabbed hold of his son's ankles and tried to wrestle him out, playing a game of tug-of-war with the television for what felt like hours, but in reality was probably less than a minute.

He could still hear Stephen's muffled cries, distant and faint.

No one had believed his side of the story. Not his wife, and especially not his attorneys, who'd talked him into pleading insanity. Jacob, stunned by grief and the paranormal death of his son that he'd witnessed, was unconcerned with his own fate, and went along with everything that'd been suggested to him.

An alarm was ringing in the testing cell.

Jacob slammed his fist into the screen. He counted along with each punch.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…

The third punch caused a slight crack. The fourth spiderwebbed the screen and ripped his knuckles open, dashing blood against the static. The blood immediately began to sizzle and bubble as if the screen were a hot skillet. Shards of red lighted the room.

Somebody was pounding on the other side of the test cell's door. Jacob ignored it.

The plug, hanging below the set, suddenly sprang to life, lashing him like a whip across Jacob's face.

Jacob took a step back, rubbing the newly-formed welt on his cheek. "Now that's more like it," he said, and laughed.

He flipped the coffee table upside down, legs pointed at the ceiling.

The plug quivered in the air, a coiled snake ready to strike.

He charged the television, ramming it with his shoulder and pistoning his fist into it again and again. The spiderweb cracks expanded. Pixels rippled, turning an irridescent pink, while others winked out.

Five Mississippi, six Mississippi, seven Mississippi, he counted.

He grabbed the TV by the top and bottom edges and pulled, pulled… He could feel it coming free from the wall-mounting brackets, tearing out of the studs. The power cord whipped him over and over. Jacob didn't even notice.

There was a noise — it might've been the TV shrieking. Or, it might've just been the sound of the metal brackets twisting and shearing.

Jacob liked to think it was the former.

The Foundation had come to collect him after spending ten years on death row for crimes he hadn't committed. They'd known his history, had intentionally selected him because of that history, aware of his motivations and that he'd eagerly accept the assignment.

The testing cell door was open, only a couple inches, but someone had managed to squeeze their arm through and was attempting to move the couch out of the way. They were shouting Jacob's name, trying to get his attention.

The TV finally broke away from the wall in a blizzard of plasterboard. Jacob hefted it over his head — the plug still whipping him — and brought it down on one of the tips of the upturned coffe table legs, putting all his weight behind it.

He felt the TV snap in half in his hands. Sparks flared and a thin column of smoke rose. He smelled fried circuits and something else, something sour and fermented.

The couch was flung out of the way as the room's door burst open and a team of Foundation guards rushed in, swinging their batons. Jacob was still laughing as they bowled into him and brought him to the floor, pinning his arms behind his back. Truncheons rained down on the back of his head, along his shoulders and spine. Somebody shocked him with a taser while another drove their knee into his back.

Jacob barely felt any of it. He released the last bit of lifeforce he'd been clinging to and let go. At least he'd done what he could for his two boys, and with that, he could die—not happy, but not so full of bitterness and remorse, either.

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