A response to RJ Clarken's Flashy Fiction post, "Monday Muchtime" and to the economist article on competitive BBQ called, "Smoke and Mirrors."
Mary Sue's mouth watered at the smells of real meat, instead of the vat-grown glop they ate the rest of the year. The company only bothered to ship meat once a year, a good enough reason to celebrate when it arrived. She would stuff herself today. And hopefully all year long if she, and more importantly her beau, pitmaster Butch, smoked the blue-ribboned batch. _Of course, Lady Luck don't always shine on the most deserving. Sometimes you had to make your own luck._
The BBQ Association had chalked white squares in the astroturf, an off-green that clashed with the muted olive glow of the sky through the dome. She walked outside the chalk and passed Ole Man Ribs with his seasoned grill, stained with a layer of smoke with thin veins surrounding dents that pocked the surface. Mary Sue squeezed the release that allowed the nano bots hidden away in her ball cap to fly out. She fluttered an eyelash at Ribs. He may have won the last five years in a row, she could see the meat on its bones, but not this year. The nanos would consume his prize-winning sauce and leave enough byproducts to cut his flavor.
Her work done for the day, Butch better do his part, she walked across the fair for a drink. She leaned against a booth's plasteel pole. "Hey sweetie. I'll have a fruit tea."
Mary Sue stopped amidst the milling crowd on her way back to the pits when she saw the half-dozen boys stuffing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into their mouths. She remembered what had happened years ago while people, a dark mass to her preoccupied senses, jostled past her. She'd been fourteen at a similar planet fair watching her brother from the stands as he crammed his face full of sandwiches. Her heart skipped a beat, even ten years later, at the way his face had turned blue and his chair tipped over. His hair had flopped like a mop as his body arced through the air. She'd raced to the stage, skinning her knee on its edge, and grasped his still twitching arms. His eyes, frantic, stared at the green Martian dome.
Mary Sue pushed on his chest in a mimicry of the CPR she'd seen in soaps on the holos, but that hadn't helped. It just made him grimace as half-chewed soy stained his lips. Bits of bread and soy butter filled his mouth. Her mother tried to pull the peanut butter crumbs out but it was glued in tight. She remembered the sirens that came from everywhere as the sirens echoed off the dome. Phantom echoes had haunted her for days afterward. Her brother had never been the same. Neither had Mary Sue. She decided she never wanted to have soy butter again. One of her friends told her that was wracked by arachibutyrophobia. She was fine with that.
Mary Sue squeezed through the crowd. She had things to do, important things like recipes for 365 days of meat. She couldn't let herself get stuck in the past.
The judges had already started walking down the line of competitors. She found Butch, he didn't seem to be where she'd left him, standing beside his smoker with a batch of ribs on a plate. They were smothered in a sauce that was more yellowish than the deep molasses typical of Butch's sauces. Mary Sue raised an eyebrow.
"New concoction." Butch placed a quick peck against her cheek and whispered in her ear. "It'll blow them away."
The judge selected a rib, chewing on the meat. He frowned and discarded the bone after one bite. Butch's smile disappeared like a miner trapped outside the dome after dark. She looked at the grill, noticing the bent fractures of Ole Man Rib's gear.
She punched Butch in the shoulder. "What did you do?"
"You said you wanted to win, no matter if we had cheat. Well, I swapped grills with the Ole Man. He's too fat on all that meat to notice these days."
Mary Sue squealed as she ran into the crowd. _Life wasn't fair._