The man lay twitching on the grass, one leg hopelessly broken as the spokes on the bike turned in the morning breeze.

The giant green pack lay nearby, the lid fluttering and exposing wrapped cheeseburgers, boxes of fries and chicken wings and cans of coke.

He turned his head and smiled up at Andrew.

“Food here, sir.”

Andrew reached into his pocket and pulled out a fob. He pressed the button and the Tesla parked at the bottom of the road lit up.

He reached underneath the rider, carefully supporting his torso as he lifted him with a grunt.

The rider winced, his damaged leg flopping in the air.

“Would have been easier if I’d have had lunch first.” he said, with what he hoped was an optimistic grin. “Let’s get you to a hospital.”

“Foodhut bag, please sir.”

He draped the man over the backseat of the car and flicked the side of his fob. Overhead lights slowly phased on and the seats began to murmur as heat flooded through them.

“Lie back on the seats; they’re heated. Might take some of the pain away.”

The rider motioned, distracted, he lurched towards the bag still lying open on the grass repeatedly.


Andrew looked back at the green pack. He could hear the aluminium of the insulated lining crinkle in the soft breeze. A solitary cheeseburger flopped out, partly unwrapped. The miniature yellow triangle tongue of an American Kraft single flickered inside the cold bun.

“Shouldn’t we get you to a hospital first?” Andrew asked, weakly.

The rider shook his head gravely. “No, sir. Need Foodhut bag.”

Andrew wandered back across the front lawn as a thin patter of rain began. He flipped the lid back up and pulled the zipper across. He lifted the bag, hefting it.

It had to weigh a great deal, he considered. It was no wonder the rider toppled.

“Do you want the bike?” he called over.

The rider used his elbows to prop himself up and then shook his head.

Andrew jogged over, heavy bag in hand. The rain dripped down the thick exterior.

FOODHUT was emblazoned in bland white lettering, above an incredibly minimalist image of a burger that was little more than two ovals and a line.

Andrew chucked the bag onto the front passenger seat and climbed behind the wheel. It was all minimalist these days. The smaller it was, the easier it was to manage on apps, webpages, promotions. Colour it pink for Valentines, green and red for Christmas, orange for Halloween. It was all so basic.

The man in the back groaned.

“What’s your name?” Andrew asked, checking his review mirror as the car booted up and slowly began to reverse.


“Well, we’ll drop the bag back at Foodhut and then head over to the hospital.”

The man in the back smiled.

The rain rose to a dull clatter as the car pulled up to Foodhut. It was a grey and unassuming building that could have we’ll been anything at all were it not for a black and white plaque, one meter across labelled “Foodhut.” There no windows, ornaments, or decoration. It was like a prefab house crossed with an alien monolith.

There was no logo. Andrew supposed when you’re that close, you just don’t need one.

He opened to his passenger door, but to his surprise, Alexandru climbed out, hobbling on a single leg.

“I can carry you if you want.” said Andrew.

“It is fine. I go.” Alexandru replied. “Maybe support?”

Andrew pushed opened the doors and walked in, his right arm propping up Alexandru so he didn’t have to put too much pressure on his wounded leg.

The stench hit his nose: wood pine disinfectant, grilled meat, and something else saccharine. Like a bottle of syrup poured into a bucket of candyfloss. Clinically-clean metal chairs and tables were scattered seemingly haphazardly around the restaurant.

A man of about 20 stood behind a melamine counter. Above him, a minimalist black and white corkboard read out prices.



CHIPLETS — £3.99

THE DRINK — £1.99


Andrew got to the counter.

“I found one of your official riders. Not GrubHub or UberEats or Deliveroo or anything.”

The man behind the counter absent-mindedly picked at a pimple. A name badge attached to a grease-stained apron said “I’M NEIL, HAVE A FOODHUT DAY!”

The young man behind the counter nodded to Alexandru, who smiled somewhat stupidly.

Andrew couldn’t help but feel something was off. Perhaps Alexandru was a bit soft in the head, simple maybe, but that couldn’t be it.

Something else was up.

Neil clicked a finger and Alexandru sidled behind the counter and into the back.

Neil picked up a laminated card next to the card reader.

“Thank you for returning the Friendmonculus. Please accept this food voucher for a meal of your choosing.”

He pulled a metal disc from his pocket marked with the company logo and slid it across the counter, then placed the laminated card back to its home next to the card reader.

“I noticed this particular one is defective.” he continued.

Andrew bristled.

“He broke his leg. And why are you using Foodhut as an adjective anyway?”

He pointed at the badge. “Or, sorry, like a verb or a noun? How do you ‘have a Foodhut day?’

Neil shrugged. “Dunno what you’re talking about, man. Company policy or whatever, dude. Anyway, you have to watch this due to corporate laws. If you could stare into the screen above the counter, sir.”

Andrew looked up and realised that the “corkboard” was a television screen, no longer showing prices for strange meals that Andrew couldn’t understand, but now showing a black and white closed circuit camera. Alexandru stood in the back, idle.

Andrew looked down. No Neil.

He looked up and saw two people on the television. One of them was holding a knife.

He slashed a wide arc in front of Alexandru who was smiling widely at Neil, one hand raised slightly, perhaps to give a wave or a simple non-verbal ‘hello.’

Alexandru stopped smiling. A hand reached up to his neck as a torrent of dark grey flooded his hands. He dropped to the floor and began to twitch, seemingly choking himself to stop the bloodflow.

Andrew looked down from the television and saw Neil walk back to the front, wiping a dark green goo off of a box cutter. His horrified mouth sagged.

“What?” replied Neil. “Over in Bristol, they don’t even have box cutters. Have to snap their necks or whatever.”

“I’m calling the police, right fucking now.”

Neil raised an eyebrow. “Uhh, no you’re not. If you’d like, I can give you the card.”

He pulled out a draw and took out a gleaming stainless steel rolodex and pulled out a long piece of card. He handed it over.

Name: Alexandru Caraldi

Age: 36

Cause of Death: Bike Accident.

Friendmonculus Agented, 5% Salary.

Andrew put the card on the counter. His hands were shaking.

“So what, he wasn’t real?”

Neil let out a tired sigh. He sifted next to the card reader and pulled out another laminated card.

“Foodhut recognises all Friendmonculus as parallel to our rider partners, simply on a more accessible pay rate of roughly 5 percent of the 100% percent of a rider not on our Friendmonculus program. All Friendmonculuses that are defective will be killed and reassembled. Those that cannot will be reassembled as organic bicycles as part of our sustainability program.”

Neil dropped the card, as if bored of reading it.

“Would you like to redeem your voucher, sir?”

He looked down and saw the metal token in his hand.

Andrew slapped it on the counter.


He took a seat at one of the clinically clean tables and pulled out his mobile. Then he called the police.

‘Andrew Mallory. 53 Barker Way.”

There was several clicks as the call was routed through voice activated channels that noted his house, bank balance, and income.

“Evening, Andrew. Birmingham’s finest here.”

“I need you to arrest a man in a FoodHut, immediately.”

“Member of the public defacing private property?”

“No, a man had his throat slit.”

There was silence. Followed by typing.

“I think you may be mistaken, Mr. Mallory. You’re in a Foodhut which has not had any heat signatures removed in the last two hours.”

“His name was Alexandru.”

The policeman on the phone gave a noise that was halfway between a lightbulb gasp and a groan.

“You’re talking about a Friendmonculus, right? Yeah, pretty recent. Like, since last year? No heat signature on them; they’re dead.”

“Homonculus zombies?”

“Friendmonculus. It’s trademarked. Maybe don’t use that phrase in a Foodhut. You could be liable to be sued.”

Andrew rubbed his eyes. He must be going mad; he simply must.

“But don’t these people have rights?”

“Friendmonculuses. And not really. They’re only considered five percent people and get five percent of their pay. Which goes to their surviving family because the Friendmonculus doesn’t need to eat or—“

“Are you reading off of fucking plasticised cards too?!”

There was the sound of a card being dropped.

“Don’t swear at me, Mr. Mallory. I’m trying to help you here.”

“I’m sorry.”

Instantly, Andrew felt stupid. Why was he apologising at all?

“But can’t you do something?

“Legally, no. Morally, not sure. Foodhut are technically sponsors of the police and public works since the government realised it could just keep all the tax money for itself without using it. They fund the community, have for the last year. It’s all a bit Silicon-Valley-like; in fact, I think it’s the first restaurant exclusively owned by tech investors.”

He sighed.

“Sorry I can’t help you more, Andrew.”

There was a click.

“Enjoy your meal.”

Andrew jumped in his seat, having not seen Neil walking behind him.

A metal tray was placed in front of Andrew, containing three equidistance cardboard boxes and a cardboard drinks container. All of it was white and unlabelled.

Under each section was a small white slice of paper. Nutritional information.

He opened the package furthest on the right and was greeted by a pile of fries covered in glistening salt. He picked up a fry and popped it into his mouth. Chewed. Continued to chew. Moved the box to read the nutritional information slip. Continued to chew.



Viscose Casing (Sodium Hydroxide, Cellulose, Alder) Sugar, Potato Oil, Shredded Pulp (Salt, Beech), Plant Fiber.

Andrew continued chewing as he finished up the list and spotted a small piece of information at the bottom.

Suitable for Vegan and Vegetarians.

He chewed a few more, then moved on to the second box. It smelled slightly better.

On opening, a hiss of steam escaped the box. The skin on the “chicken” crackled slightly, then softened.

Andrew picked up a piece and chewed.

And chewed.

Once again, he pulled the nutritional information page and gleaned the top few words.



Breaded casing (spices, herbs, scented chicken-style gravy) cellulose, glucose syrup, pine tar—

He stopped chewing as his teeth bit through the oddly savoury hide of the chicken and hit something solid at the same time as he read what his teeth had hit.

—genetically modified pine needle “bone,” salt, sugar.

He pulled the miniature branch out of his mouth and noticed it had been whittled, probably by some sort of machine, into a chicken bone shape.

The next box.


He scrunched up the natural information. He didn’t want to read it.

He opened the box and saw a cheeseburger. He bit the bun. Wooden. He bit the “beef.” It tasted exactly the same as the bun. He closed the box.

He took a sip of the Drink. It tasted of cola. Then he thought of orangeade. Then it seemed to taste of that. Then lemonade. Once again, it changed. It had no nutritional information.

He picked up the meal and returned to the counter.

Neil took the tray and an aperture opened on the floor. He poured the entire contents down into the hole.

“Don’t you need to separate the food and the packaging or something?”

Neil shrugged. “One and the same, mate. The difference is the food is heated up and the packaging isn’t.

A smiling man with a bag wandered from the back and out of the door, tipping a wave as he left.

Neil tipped him a reluctant salute.

“It’s always a bit awkward after you take down a defective one, see?”

“How the fuck—“

Neil adjusted his nametag. “You know, you can peep in the back if you really want. I don’t really care.”

Andrew wandered around the counter and peered into the kitchen.

The entire kitchen was empty, with the exception of three walls which seemed to be made of a viscose liquid, arced by some sort of metal grate to stop them collapsing.

A message dinged somewhere and Neil slipped past him.

A human hand pressed out of the fluid, followed by an arm. Legs. Torso. A brown globlet shaped like a human male fell out and began to take on more human features like the first fish desperately clawing its way out of the ocean. The hands grew fingers. The legs grew feet, grew toes. The face constructed as the blob grappled the position its features. Finally, a uniform grew out of its skin.

It smiled at Neil and wandered to the front and then out of the restaurant, picking up a Foodhut delivery bag as it did so.

“They’ve got a shelf life of about three hours,” said Neil, cutting a square box out of one of the walls that began to regrow as soon as it was cut out. “Stops them wandering off. Apparently ageing-based deaths are mildly uncomfortable, so killing them is practically a mercy. They don’t have nerves.” He proceeded to cut out another box and then popped them on a glowing red circle on a counter in the middle of the room. They dinged just as another rider clawed its way into existence, clambered to barely functional feed and clawed the globulous boxes that were solidifying into takeaway boxes into a delivery bag.

Neil tutted. “Wish they wouldn’t go so fast. If it doesn’t set, the text on the box gets all smeared, then we get bad TripAdvisor reviews.”

Andrew nodded sagely, having somewhat signed out of the whole experience.

Neil began to stab the knife into the viscose wall which spurted goo into a small cup. He kept stabbing frenziedly until the cup was full, and then passed it to the rider who put a lid on it and then set off.

“Usually forgets the Drink.” Neil added. “Or the dipping sauce. Made of the same thing, coincidentally. Trick is you stab for the Drink, carve and cut for dipping sauce.”

“And it’s all made of the same thing?”

Neil furrowed his brow. “Not really; that wall is more beef flavoured and that one is more chicken flavoured. Only…have I been using them that way? Or interchangeably?”

He paused for a moment.

“Yeah, I guess they’re all made of the same thing. Paper, sugar, salt, and flavouring. Most of the money is in marketing and design. Plus it’s affordable compared to competitors. How didn’t you know this?”

“I’ve been working from home a lot,” Andrew admitted.

Neil shrugged. He did that a lot, Andrew noticed. “Fair enough. Anyway, if you could head out, it’s almost lunch time. I’ll have more orders coming in.”

As if on cue, two more messages dinged from somewhere and Neil turned back to the wall, raising his knife.


The sunset painted the hill in shades of golden crimson. The grey clouds of yesterday were nothing more than smoky whirls disappearing over the mountains, drizzling elsewhere.

The picnic blanket lay unfurled on the grass, with plates of cucumber sandwiches cocktail sausages, slices of quiche, sliced-up carrot batons, and hummus. Next to the platters on the blanket, an ice bucket was filled with glass bottles of elderflower cordial.

The smiling man panted as he trekked up the hill.

“Wow!” said Alexandru. “I never have been this far, sir!”

Andrew smiled, but something pinched at his heart. “It’s the furthest you’re contracted to go.”

Alexandru seemed to ignore this and reached for his pack.

“I got your food, sir,” he said, excitedly.

Andrew raised a hand. “No, it’s fine. I’ve got you some food. Sit down and have something to eat.”

The homunculus sat and grinned. He picked up a carrot stick and dipped it in the chickpea hummus. He took a bite and his eyes lit up.

“Wow! Thank you! I can’t stay long, you know; I only have an hour and a half.”

“I know,” Andrew replied.

He watched the creature as he merrily chewed the carrot stick. Eventually, he swallowed.

“This delicious, sir! Very thank you, sir!”

Andrew gestured to the rest of the food. “You can try anything else you want here.”

The sun dipped under the mountain. Oranges and yellows unfolded over the reds and golds. Soon, it would be dark.

“And you can call me Andrew,” added Andrew.

Alexandru tried a few other foods, his face growing brighter with each new food.

“Are you my friend, Andrew?” he said, his eyes examining a breadstick in pure wonder before eating three and washing them down with cordial.

“Yes,” said Andrew. “I’ll be your friend.”

Alexandru hugged him, beaming.

He pulled out another bottle of elderflower cordial from the ice bucket.

The ice inside was beginning to melt.

Underneath were two more bottles floating in the cold water.

A serrated knife rested on the bottom.