༺ It’s Harder to Unlearn Something than to Teach them ༻
There was no sunlight in the depths of the abyss.
The innermost depths, cursed by Mother Earth herself.
In the land of only darkness, the only thing that announced the arrival of the morning was the rattling sound of an alarm. Instead of the warm morning rays, earsplitting ringing would force one up.
Instead of the deep blue sky, with clouds floating around like ships in the sea with warm sunshine and a refreshing breeze, which everyone could enjoy on the surface.
All the abyss had were angular buildings—that weren’t quite square—surrounded by rubble and adorned with artificial lights; a poor attempt at replicating the sun’s light.
Everything that came from nature was soothing, while artificial creations irritated one’s mood. Man-made objects were the waste products of a man’s body. They kept the best things within and expelled what was deemed disgusting. Perhaps that was why we lived amongst other men and avoided artificial scenery.
“…Fuck. Is there no way to make that alarm quieter?”
Massaging my stiff shoulder, I got up from the bed. My body, which had been exploited by the Dog King for the past two days, screamed in refusal to get up. But if I let that dreadful sound continue, it would surely eat away at the little strength I had left. That type of noise actively damaged the body.
All alarm clocks designed by the Military State were meant to be mounted to walls. This ensured that one needed to get up from bed in order to turn it off.
How befitting of a country that had no tolerance for laziness.
I staggered my way over to grab a chair, climbing on top of it to reach the gears of the alarm clock to input the correct combination.
One counterclockwise turn, four clockwise turns, and two counterclockwise turns.
With a chirp akin to that of a cricket, the alarm’s ringing grew faint. I didn’t exactly want to go back to sleep after that ordeal, so I began brushing my hair and pacing my room.
The alarm works, alright. These bastards.
The room was small, but it had everything I needed. To put it nicely, it was designed for efficiency. In reality, it meant they crammed too much into too small of a space. I could reach the closet with my left hand and touch the sink on the other side with my right. The tap water could be used for drinking or washing, but the allotted amount per day wasn’t enough for both.
However, the room next door was empty. There would be daily water in the other rooms too. I took a gulp of water from the tap; I planned to use the other rooms to shower. A tiny room smaller than an arm span. Originally designed for workers and prisoners, Tantalus was cramped and lacked space. The sturdy concrete walls only made it worse.
Fortunately, the mass prison break meant there were plenty of rooms to go around.
“Let’s tear down the wall and connect two rooms.”
What were the conditions for a great place to live in?
The answer was simple.
A place with sufficient resources and not too many people.
The reason large houses were expensive was because those neighborhoods had a lower population density.
Surprisingly, the current Tantalus… fulfilled all the conditions to constitute a great place to live in.
‘I’ll tear down those nasty walls and live like a king with five connected rooms. Five times the normal amount of water. With that, I could take a bath every day. Actually, I could just go directly to the water tank itself and take a dip there. It’s a lifestyle befitting an emperor!’
I grinned wickedly as I left the room. I slammed my lockless door shut, I was in the middle of planning my happy life.
Then, a familiar shadow appeared at the far end of the corridor.
…Why is this thing here?
Azzy zoomed through the corridor and began sniffing me while circling around me, as if to verify my identity. I felt as if she was ready to hunt her prey. In fear, I shook my head as hard as I could.
“A-Azzy! No, I can’t. Please. At this rate—”
“Woof! I’m hungry!”
After I heard those words, I let out a sigh of relief.
“You crazy bastards of the State… This is a food storage?”
In order to survive, one needed to eat. One needed to consume food and digest it in their stomach, and then break the food down into calories necessary to live. It was a law of nature so obvious that it didn’t need to be explained.
And the State, which was extremely resourceful in its methods, was willing to manipulate even this law of nature.
Tantalus, the mental education facility, wasn’t a place meant to keep people alive. It was meant to kill them.
It housed those that the State couldn’t kill themselves or would require too many resources to execute. Tantalus was a place where they would dump anyone who they deemed too troublesome to handle.
And the easiest way to whittle down people in an isolated environment was a method akin to those used by military strategists during war.
“Shit. We’re almost out of canned food too…”
There was still some food left. Obviously, some prisoners like Tyrkanzyaka wouldn’t die from starvation if you didn’t provide them with food only, only those types of prisoners would survive but that wasn’t what the State wanted.
“Even so, a prison this big has a food storage unit that’s only a square meter big? It’s actually disgusting how openly they’re willing to do such things.”
They made sure that it was impossible to ‘stockpile’ food. It was meant to cause fear and obedience among the prisoners, who would need to wait day to day for supplies to be sent down. They did this so that the prisoners would fight amongst themselves to claim more resources.
“They probably only provided the bare minimum to keep them from dying of starvation. They’d need to kill each other for more.”
However, as I said earlier, the current Tantalus was a place with few people and sufficient resources.
While the storage was puny for a prison of this size, there were currently only four residents in Tantalus including myself.
The vampire wouldn’t need to eat, and I could feed the dog our scraps. I only needed to worry about the Regressor and myself.
There was more than enough food for two. Especially since this was the abyss, which was free of things like bugs or fungus to spoil the food, which meant we didn’t need to worry about anything going bad.
“Tsk. Sorry, Azzy. You’re going to have to eat less.”
“Wowow?! Arf! Arf!”
Don’t bark. It can’t be helped since people come before dogs.
Three cans of meat, twenty-three cans of beans, and some starch and flour… It’d be boring meals, but enough to live off of. They’d also probably send some supplies. All things considered, I could eat plenty.
“I need to meet the vampire today, so I should eat a filling meal.”
On the first day, I just ate whatever I wanted. But since I needed to stay here for a while, I needed to formulate a diet.
‘Let’s try cooking.’
I opened a can of compressed beans and spooned it out into a pot.
“Azzy, do you like beans?”
“Woof! Beans, good!”
“Is there anything you don’t like?”
When I turned the tap on, water gushed out. The kitchen only had one flame, but the sink still worked fine. I added water to the dry beans and let soaked them. The dried beans sucked up the water in seconds.
In the manufacturing process, the beans had already been cooked with vegetables. If you just soaked and boiled them it would’ve made decent baked beans, but I wanted something more.
I made a dough from the flour, stretched it out, and covered it with a bowl before leaving it so I could continue working on the beans.
“Woof! Woof! Woof!”
Azzy skittered around the pot, excited at the swelling beans. It was an amount I didn’t expect to come out of such a small can. The change in volume was as big as having planted and harvested an entire can’s worth of bean seeds.
“Woof! It grew! More tasty things!”
The State sucked at many things, but they were amazing at making rations. They put a few days’ worths of beans into these tiny cans. It was only accomplishable because they were always focused on war. Condiments were items of luxury. Obviously, prisons lacked them. The only thing we had was some salt and dried cabbage. The State had even considered removing cabbages from prisons at one point due to their volume to calorie ratio.
I washed the cabbage and set it down. Azzy grimaced as she saw the greens.
“I don’t want grass!”
“I wasn’t even going to give you any. Don’t worry.”
‘Alright, let’s start cooking.’
After seasoning the beans with salt, I put the cabbage into the pot as well, and brought it to a boil. Meanwhile, I put the dough from earlier into the stovetop oven. While the stew boiled, I started adding some starch. The vegetables and water slowly turned into something more edible.
Now all that was left was to wait for it to finish cooking.
As I watched the stew boil, I kept hearing restless twitching near me. Azzy, who was several times more impatient than I was, started chasing her wagging tail around. She was kicking up all kinds of dust and fur. I frowned as I chastised her.
“Hey, hey. You’re getting fur everywhere. Go do that outside.”
“Even if you’re hungry, we’re going to end up having to eat your fur at this rate.”
She had a human form, so only her head and tail had hair.
So where was all this fur even coming from?
Azzy paused for a second, but then she began messing around again out of boredom. She was ready to smash her mouth into the pot, unable to withstand the delicious smell.
“Food, food, food, food, food, food!”
Ugh. She’s eyeing me with a strange look now.
If I waited any longer, I was going to be the one eaten. I quickly grabbed a ladle and began stirring the stew.
The crushed remains of the beans and cabbage gathered in the middle of the swirling pot. It was the scraps created in the production of the canned beans. I ladled all the scraps and dished it out to Azzy in the empty can.
Then, I took out the bell from my pocket and rang it.
– Ring, ring.
Azzy seemed to understand what the bell meant by now. Her eyes sparkled as she tensed up in anticipation.
I could see her lips smeared with her saliva. I set the can of scraps on the ground in front of her.
She immediately bent down and munched on it with delight. I looked at her with a soft smile as she ate.
I love dogs. They can eat whatever waste humans don’t want to.
Pleased, I hummed a tune while I finished cooking.
The soup had gained a slightly sweet taste. The starch stuck to my tongue, giving me a sense of satisfaction even before I swallowed it.
Now, it was time to eat.
I wiped the dusty table and rested the pot on top of it. I also pulled out the almost-bread from the oven. It was just canned beans and some flour, but it made a nice meal.
Maybe I should get into the mood.
I sat up straight at the table, closed my eyes, and gave a prayer to Mother Earth.
‘Thank you for my daily sustenance, and I pray that you look over me even in this accursed land. Now, let’s dig in.’
When I opened my eyes again, I saw a dog sitting up straight at the table.
“Hey, Azzy! Get down! What are you doing on top of the table?”
She demanded more food, while sticking out her paw. Didn’t I give her food already? I took a glance at the floor and saw that she had eaten it all. This selfish dog was eyeing my food after having already eaten hers.
Bad habits go far. Now she thinks she’s above humans.
I sternly told her off.
“Get down while I’m still being nice. This is a table where people eat.”
When her paw slammed the solid table, everything flew about three centimeters in the air. I could see the cooked beans enjoying their time in the air.
– Thunk, thunk.
The falling pot and cutlery made a unique tune as they fell back onto the table. It was like a symphony, except only with percussion instruments. Behind it, a dog was licking her lips, glaring straight at me.
With trembling hands, I picked up the can from the floor. She had licked it so clean, you’d swear it had just come out of the factory it was made in. Using it as a dish, I poured some of the soup into the—
…Using it as a dish, I poured a plentiful serving of beans and soup into the can. After shaking the bell again, I slid the can in front of her. Azzy immediately shoved her face into the can and started gobbling it down.
“Woof! Tasty! Beans are good!”
“Hmph. This is the last time. Don’t expect more next time.”
Dogs are terrible animals. They eat what people eat, freeloading off of humans like the idiotic, parasitic furballs they are.
Does she think she’s superior to humans? I’ll show her. She may be the Dog King, but that means she’s still just a dog. One day, sometime, somewhere, when I finally train you, I’ll make sure you don’t step out of line again. I’ll demonstrate why humans are at the top of the food chain.
…Man, these beans taste plain.