Are They Cake?

“Five minutes!” the PA drone calls out, winging past the nozzle tinting the fondant of Franklin’s left arm. He watches the drone zoom through the open trailer door—sees green fields, sunshine. Thinks of his allotment back home, Bolinda planting her seeds.

The fabricators have him by the armpits before he slides all the way to the floor.

“Now, now, Mr. Franklin, can’t have that, can we?” They haul him up, check his seams as they soothe and cajole. In the seat opposite, Geneva snickers into her smock. She is so pumped full of juice she is practically drooling. He snarls at her. They give him another dose.

* * *

“Tonight! It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for.”

Franklin wakes to the sound of the host’s nasal bellow booming through the speaker of his plexar tube. He doesn’t remember anything after makeup. But here he is, arranged on the display stool, ready to play.

“The final judging!” The applause sounds like rain tapping the tin roof of Franklin’s shelter. His eyes burn in the stale cold air of the tube; blinking is difficult. Geneva is in the tube to his right. Seventeen weeks ago, there had been thirty-two others on the stage with them.

“Our judges will review the two remaining contestants and we’ll find out who is the best at ‘caking it’ when we…cake it off!

The rain is harder now, Franklin thinks. Bolinda’s seedlings will wash away.

“Let’s meet our panel.”

The crowd hoots and stomps. The thumps of their metal and composite feet shake the stage. Franklin wants to stomp back, to howl and pound the walls of the tube. But he can’t; he can only breathe, try to blink, and hope he doesn’t shit himself again.

“First, Dr. Ska Hamelin, renowned biomechatronic artist and cake enthusiast!” the host continues. More cheers. “And Marn Estevez, owner of the EatLife consortium and UN global human food ambassador.”

Get on with it, thinks Franklin.

“And last but not least, our very own Nyla Yardi, winner of season twelve of Cake It Off!” The crowd erupts, whistling and screaming.

Franklin is starting to feel more relaxed; they must have upped the happy gas in his tube. They always do that right before the stage slides forward for the main event. This means it’s almost over. If he gets through this he’ll be rent-free for years. And Bolinda can finally buy a decent pair of legs.

The motor whirrs and Franklin readies for the stomach-lurching swivel as the stage swings into view. Their tubes are now lit from above and below, making them glow like relics in glass cases.

Franklin sees the glint of Nyla Yardi’s golden prosthetic with its flashing ruby lights as she waves at them from the judges’ table. He hates her the most; she should know better than to smile like that.

“Before us we have our final contestants. Each week they have managed to avoid elimination by appearing to be completely human in composition, while their comrades fell away, one by one…” The tubes spin slowly as the host continues. “Our cake fabricators really outdid themselves this year?” More applause. “But now things get interesting, am I right, Nyla?”

Nyla laughs, slaps her golden arm on the black lacquer of the judges’ table. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dan.” The audience roars. Franklin feels a twinge in the arm that is not vanilla sponge.

“You mean you don’t recall when Sid Arnaud’s hand was not, in fact, cake?”

The crowd breaks out in feverish laughter, the judge’s teeth shining in the lights. Franklin notices someone standing in the front row, waving silver fingers. They shout: “Hiiii, Nyla!”

The host swivels on his bearings. “Look, everyone, Sid’s here!” he announces.

“No hard feelings, right, Sid?” Nyla calls back. More laughter.

“Okay, okay, down to business.” The host swings back to the camera. “Our two remaining contestants are… Geneva, from Poplar. She’s a mother of nine and resplendent tonight in silver lamé. Who knows what lurks beneath the surface?”

Geneva rotates past. Her blue eyes are wide and blank.

“And Franklin, the hometown boy and single father of a young daughter who could use a little…” The screen lights up behind him: he knows it’s showing an image of Bolinda. “…leg up in life.”

Snickers. Franklin twinges. They are laughing at his daughter. Although everyone in this acid-seared sector had started life the same—born without an arm, a leg, a foot—they mock her bargain-basement prosthetics and wave their gold- and silver-coated exo-steel.  

“So, judges, your task is to select one remaining contestant and determine correctly which part of their anatomy is…made…of…cake.” The host pulls a long sword from the scabbard at his hip. “Please review Geneva and Franklin carefully. After all, we will have to test your decision…” Groans from the audience. “There are sixty seconds to choose who is ready to finally … Cake it off!” He lifts the sword, slashes it through the air.

The timer starts. Come on, Franklin thinks. Pick one and end this already. He feels the judges’ gazes as they look him over, seeking the cake disguised as part of his body. At this level of competition it could be anything, even an eye.

The buzzer sounds, a wash of relief floods through him. No matter what, it’s done.

* * *

He wakes in a darkened room. Machines beeping. A hospital.

“Dad,” says a familiar voice. “Dad!”

He tries to turn toward the voice. He can’t move.

“Dad.” Bolinda’s face is in front of his. She kisses his cheek. Hugs him around the neck. He struggles to hug her back, hold her tight. He’s done, he’s finally done. But he can’t sit up or move his working arm—

He gurgles around the tube in his mouth.

“Don’t,” Bolinda says. “You can’t talk right now. But it’s okay. You won! We’re going to be okay.”

He groans with relief. He wants to hold his daughter, cradle her, but he can’t move, can’t do anything at all.