Bewildering Stories

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Eating Everything

by Jörn Grote

I can eat nearly everything. In my stomach reside nanoscale machines from the cutting edge of technology, capable of taking everything apart, everything small enough to pass through my gullet. I had tested them.

Bolts. Nuts. Stones. Shards of glass. Acid.

Acid, you ask? Wouldn’t my throat be destroyed before the acid reached my stomach? No, the first thing they did was take out my gullet, my throat and my mouth and replace them with something more stable. Astonishingly, I can still taste the things I eat.

So, where was I? Yes. Acid. Bones. Tires. Iron bars.

Not something made of iron? Sure, and much denser things. Ah, I forgot to tell you about my teeth. Created from nearly indestructible matter. If I stood beside an nuclear bomb, my teeth would survive its explosion. Sadly, I wouldn’t.

Given the right atoms, the machines in my stomach could even produce all the things my body needs. Proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, fats and oils. They could extract any needed mineral out of earth I digest. Dirty water isn’t a problem anymore, nor are all the germs living in water. The machines take everything apart, be it organic or inorganic.

I was working, if you call eating unusual things “working,” in the research department of a big company that was a big player in the nanotech business. It had made them rich, and likely the company sought new ways to get even richer. Not that this was a problem for me. Who wouldn’t want to have money? Lots of it.

The scientists who had created the machines were happy. All minor tests had been fully successful. For weeks they had given me things to eat, and nothing had killed me so far. They had big plans. They dreamed of soldiers who could endure without food in harsh environments. They saw a big market for their product there, hoping to sell to nearly all the major countries in the world.

But in their hearts most of the scientists were good people. Or so they thought of themselves. They wanted to end hunger in the world.

Imagine, one of the them told me, the people in the Third World using your technology. With it they could eat the earth they are living on. There are people who live on mountains of garbage, he said. With that technology they could also eat it.

I didn’t tell him what was on my mind. Just because you live on top of a mountain of waste doesn’t mean you want to eat it. Also he forgot to remember that the whole system, including the operation, would cost around half a million. I thought it would be hard to find many people living on waste mountains in the Third World who had that kind of money.

But not all of the scientists were so unrealistic. They proposed a light version of the system I had installed in my body. No artificial gullet, throat or mouth. No unbreakable teeth. The only thing that would be used was a cheap variant of the machines I had in my stomach. Since they could be created cheaply, the company wouldn’t lose any money.

Their idea was to create a product line, targeted for poor people, that would allow its users to eat all sorts of rotten meat or other organic garbage. They hoped the governments in the Third World would buy massive chunks of the nanotech. The governments could get money to buy the technology for taking the garbage of the First World and use it to feed their people using this technology. It was perfect, wasn’t it?

Certainly the scientists wanted to know how someone would react eating all day long all that rotten waste. That was my call. They dumped me on a garbage ship full of rotten organic things.

This garbage, they told me, has all the things your body needs. The Squirms — they had finally found a name that everyone could agree on — could extract all things a human body needs to live.

The test was a complete failure. After three weeks I was nearly starved to death.


Isn’t it obvious? As I told you, I could still smell and also taste. Have you ever tried to eat something that has rotted for days? Imagine eating something that has been rotten for weeks or longer. The things I smelled on this ship were unimaginable.

But the taste was much worse. All the things I tried to eat. Horrible. Most of it I puked out seconds after I had eaten it. The smell and the taste of the garbage on that ship was the stuff nightmares are made off.

The scientists were worried. But not that much. Their prime market had been the military use of the product from the beginning, they told themselves. That was were the real money would come from. They had changed the name of the machines from Squirms to SQIRM. Nobody really knew what the abbreviation meant, but all people involved thought it would sell better with the change, when they would approach this special market. As if.

New tests were on their minds. Again they dumped me.

In the desert.

My job was to live for months from the things that were around me. Earth, stones, plants and all the other nice things mother nature had made, things that could be found in this harsh environment.

The only problem is, through millions of years humans have developed a certain sense of things that taste and things that don’t. Sure, I could eat plants that no normal human could eat, but they still tasted horrible. Not as bad as the things I had tried to eat on the garbage ship, but bad enough. After two weeks of eating sand and cactuses, I had had enough.

I made my way home. After days of walking I found a road and, shortly afterwards, a filthy food shop. I raided the shop. I think the employees had never seen a man before eating their food with such enthusiasm. It looked bad and filthy, but it tasted like manna from heaven.

Shortly after I had returned to the labs, they asked me if I would let them take out my sense for taste and smell. I had made all these tests, unwillingly, sure, but I had made them nonetheless. But this was going too far. I quit.

I didn’t quit formally, or they would have taken out their technology. I left without their approval, under cover of night, you could say.

I don’t know who’s playing their guinea pig now. Maybe they try to make the system work with taste and smell removed. I think that might work. But maybe they should hurry.

I mean, everybody needs money. And I figured I’d earned whatever the technology was worth. The technology I had taken with me had to be worth millions or more. I had to choose between different offers, and in the end I chose a small company. Not only did I get the money, I got to be partner in the business. They’ve reverse-engineered what I had in my body.

Together we made billions with a product targeted at people with digestive disorders, using only the nanoscale machines. You know, sometimes it’s the small things that count.

Sure, my former employers sued us when they found out what we had done, but it was too late for them. We had enough money to hire the best lawyers money could buy. But that was not the reason we won; the others had equally good lawyers. No, the reason was that they had problems finding a judge and jury who were neutral on the subject.

Can you imagine how many people have digestive orders, in your society where stress is so common? We won because the people who bought our product were legion.

Looking back I must laugh. The future is made by solving the simple things first. I know of a small group in Africa who distribute for free a pirate version of our product. I was one of its hidden financiers, using some of the money I had made. I hope it helps them a little bit.

I don’t fight the big things. Just digestive disorders. I’m content with that.

Copyright © 2004 by Jörn Grote

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