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 On the side of a lonely pot marked ridden road, a nameless child, ten years old at most, is using the very last of her energies, physical and spiritual, to take the final few shambling steps she'd ever take before falling on her hands and knees into the mud streak slush.

Headlights appear in the colorless winter haze, but they quickly over her and disappear. The touch of rushing air being their only acknowledgment. Torn inside out by hunger and breaking apart in the cold, she falls face-first into the gravel and takes a final few long and shallow breaths.

Silently hovering in the heavy grey sky, there was a spectator to witness these last gasps. It measured and recorded the rapidly fading heartbeat down to its last few pumps. Through a thermal vision lens, it watched her already diminished heat signature fade from a mass of weakening greens and yellows into a cold blue. When this process was over, the witness gently descended from the sky and swallowed the body whole before smoothly and quietly returning to the clouds.

The mechanical vulture eventually came down on a landing amid a block of towering greenhouses. It was greeted by an agricultural engineer, Seth, a somewhat portly and somewhat tall fellow, and his ten-year-old daughter Regina. 

When Seth saw the drone land, he looked at Regina and smiled. "Alright, let's go," he said playfully, teasing. Then, the machine's belly let out a hiss of compressed air and parted open, and a nauseating wave of odors hit their noses. 

"Ew, oh my god, dad!" Regina gagged as she pinched her nostrils closed.

"It's not gross!" Seth laughed.

"This is the stuff that helps us grow all our food. Like those strawberries you had this morning, it grew because of this! Seth said proudly.

"That's so disgusting. I don't think I can eat strawberries anymore."

Seth slipped on a pair of long latex gloves." We gotta get some samples to see how strong this stuff is."

"Oh my god, you mean you're actually going to touch it!" Regina gasped. 

Seth waved his hand "oh, it won't kill you."

Seth dug out a sample and poured it into a petri dish. He closed the lid and held the sample up to the light, gently shaking and sifting the contents. 

"Huh," he said after a moment.

"What is it?" asked Regina.

"Looks like an earring got in here somehow. It looks like it would fit your ear. You want it?" 

Regina rolled her eyes.


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