Nutra Bar

This post is a vignette, a snippet of time or a short episode depicting characters and helping establish what sort of world they live in. This post serves as an example for another post, which is located here.

The shrill sound of the alarm pulled Trill from his sleep. Still half asleep he groped around for his pants as the lights in his room slowly raised themselves. After splashing some water on his face and giving his teeth a quick scrub he joined the other residents of HomeCube 329, Floor 8 on their way down to the cafeteria.

He spotted his friend Mart in the line and elbowed his way over to him, causing some grumbling as he cut into the line.

“Morning Mart.” Said Trill, stifling a yawn. “How did you sleep?”

“Terribly, as usual.” Grumbled Mart, rubbing his back. “I swear the mat in my sleeping pod gets harder every day.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Said Trill as they approached the counter. “They probably think soft beds are irrelevant to a good night’s sleep.

A shiny metal robot, little more than a sentient vending machine, waited for them on the other side.

“Good morning Resident! Please present your thumbprint!” Said the robot in what some programmer clearly thought was a cheerful, friendly voice. Trill stuck his thumb on the touchpad, which flashed green.

“Hello Trill! Please enjoy your breakfast, courtesy of Nutra Bar! Nutra bar, for all your nutrition needs!” The door on the front of the robot popped open, revealing a small bar wrapped in silver foil and a metal cup full of hot liquid. After Mart had verified his identity and obtained his breakfast they made their way to one of the long tables that stretched the length of the room.

Trill opened his Nutra bar and bit into it, grimacing at the taste. The bars had a texture like wet cardboard and somehow managed to taste like an unholy mix of sweaty feet and farts.

“I know the robots don’t taste anything, but you think they would at least try and make these appetizing.” Grumbled Mart, choking down his Nutra bar. “I mean this is the only thing we ever get to eat, three meals a day for the entire year. It’s inhumane.”

Trill took a swig of his Nutra Coffee, which was really just the same ingredients from the Nutra bar served in liquid form and heated. No one he knew had had real coffee in decades, though it was rumoured that some of the elites were still able to gain access to real food.

“I heard a rumour the other day that they were experimenting with making a cherry flavoured Nutra bar, but the whole project had to be scrapped.”

“Cherry? Probably closer to cherry cough syrup. Do you remember how awful that stuff was? Anyways, at least it would have been different. Why did they stop?”

Trill took a swig of his Nutra Coffee, trying to wash the last sticky bits of Nutra Bar out of his throat. “Apparently it had a tendency to make the test subjects glow in the dark.”

Mart frowned, swirling the dregs around in his mug. “That isn’t so bad though. I mean it would probably be annoying at first, but you could get past it.”

“That may be true,” replied Trill, gathering up his cup and wrapper. “And that was considered an acceptable side effect. They were all ready to send it to the next stage of testing when all of the original test subjects dropped dead a week later from acute radiation poisoning. Even the robots have to admit that being dead is an unacceptable side effect for a food replacement bar.”

“I suppose you are right.” Replied Mart as they headed towards the exit. “Still, what a way to go. At least they got to spend their last week knowing they were the only people in the world who got to try flavoured Nutra bars.”

So, what did we learn about this world? First of all, it at least appears to be run by robots. Individuals live in large, anonymous, standardized dormitories and receive three meals a day that consists of food replacement bars called Nutra bars. Nutra bars is also clearly a brand name, signalling the existence of a mega-corporation. Even though the individuals do not get to choose whether or not they consume Nutra bars or Nutra coffee they are still subject to advertisements.

Before they receive their breakfasts both Mart and Trill have to verify their identities via thumbprint. This means their actions are tracked, and this technology is likely used to constrict their actions. Maybe individuals are only allowed one Nutra bar each meal, and the system is there to ensure no one tries to sneak an extra one. Maybe individuals who skip meals are reprimanded, or even punished.

When the characters drink their Nutra coffee Trill remembers what real coffee tastes like, and speculates that some elite individuals may still have access to “real food”. This implies that there is a class system in place as well as vast income inequalities. Both Trill and Mart remember what cherry cough syrup tastes like, implying that these huge societal changes are fairly recent and likely have only occurred over the course of one generation.

We don’t know what Trill and Mart do for a living, or even if they have jobs. How do they spend their days? This is a question you will want to ask yourself about your own characters.