September 26, 2025; 2:25 p.m.

Today the Dunkington Agency offered me a choice of two assignments:  catching and burning leaves or a stint as a foreign correspondent.  “I love to travel, but I’ve never filed a story,” I told my interviewer.  “Never mind,” she answered, “you’ll pick it up like magic.”  Later she treated me to a lavish lunch at the FOOD® outlet at the mall.  She also gave me this embossed Dunkington Dayminder, so I’ve decided to keep a diary. 

After lunch I went to Dunkington Outlet Store to get some things for my trip.  While trying to decide between luggage with an ethernet attachment or an elegant and costly baker’s tote, I ran into Barbara Barbarabar, my friend at the consolidator’s.  She asked, “So what’s new with you?  Still temping?”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” I said, gingerly picking up the tote and dangling it first from my right hand and then from my left— to really get the hang of it, so to speak.

“Getting any good assignments?”

“As of tomorrow I’ll be a foreign correspondent,” I said.  If Barbar was impressed, she didn’t let on.  “They’re sending me to the Landlocked Island, which is somewhere near Europe.”

“You sound very sure of yourself,” Barbar said.  “But do keep us in mind, do keep us in touch.”  Then she was gone.

“Keep us in touch,” I said out loud, wondering about this construction.  And then I realized that language was fast becoming a way of life for me.  That’s a good thing because I’m about to go to a place where people speak English, Portuguese, and a commercial validation mark-up language of the 27th magnitude.

Dateline September 27, 2025; 9:25 Greenwich Mean Time

In a place referred to by many as the Landlocked Island, striking navigational workers have paralyzed the inland sail industry. 

September 27, 2025; 21:25 Greenwich Mean Time

I filed my first story.  It wasn’t much.  So I decided to drown my anxieties at the Dunkington Hotel’s bar— it’s the nerve center, so to speak, of correspondents’ life here in the capital.  Usually I drink copper fizz like a high school girl, but tonight it’s rye and lime along with the seasoned pros, each slumped at his or her customary table.

After about half an hour of hoping to make an impression, I finally realized I was virtually invisible at the table under the plasma fountain.  I downed the rest of my rye, picked up a dish that had been filled with complimentary paper clips, and slowly made my way to the door.  It was a ploy, but no one seemed to notice.  Then, just as I was about to place my palm on the door’s red code, I heard a voice from a table in the shadows.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  I turned.  It was Geeena G., Brazil’s lead correspondent and women’s decorative swimming champion for three years running.

“You still have a lot to learn,” she said, but she sounded somewhat indulgent.  She gestured toward an empty chair and I sat down.  The waiter brought more rye and lime, as well as a dish brimful of candy animals, mostly ducks and ponies.

“They’re marzipan—a favorite of mine,” Geeena G. said, helping herself.  She was wearing a lace suit and a hand guard so big she had trouble getting the candy to her mouth.  “So tell me, how does it feel to be such a greenhorn?”

I shrugged and examined a marzipan duck. “At least the union has invited me to their next trade skills luncheon,” I said.

“Well, it’s a start,” Geeena G. replied.  Then she began to make calls on a state-of-the-art prosthetic radio.  She ordered dinner and a surveillance unit to be brought to her table at which point it became a low-level laser fortress, shutting me out altogether.

September 28, 2025; 6:25 GMT

Unexpectedly, Barbara Barbarabar has been assigned by the Dunkington Agency to work with me as a photographer.  At dawn I sat on a bench in Landlocked Square, eating FOOD® brought from home, while Barbar took some sunrise cliff shots.  The capital is very near the highest of the reinforced red rock cliffs that ring the island.  Several statues are there to remind us of numerous successful defenses of the island from naval assault (I wouldn’t have known this, except that I just read the flashing yellow plaque, thinking it was some sort of health alert).   This square is also where the Food Unification Tower stands (information from the flashing blue plaque), and by 9:00 there will be thousands of tourists here as well as a good number of demonstrators.  A huge rally is expected today (flashing orange plaque) to protest Trade Commission pressure to begin importing FOOD®.  Currently, this is the only country left in the world (flashing pink plaque) in which the population subsists entirely on food.  When I accepted this assignment, I had to sign an agreement to eat only FOOD® while I’m here, so I haven’t really tasted food yet.  Thinking about it made me hungry, though, so I had a little snack as I waited for Barbar to rappel down the cliff face and make her way over to my bench.

“I see you brought some FOOD® from home,” Barbar said. “What’s your favorite?”

I was sure she had signed the same agreement I had, but I said, “I don’t know where to start.  FOOD® is just good.  But as the commercials say, who doesn’t love the quick grace of gazelle fruit®?”

She nodded.  “Or the cool fun of marine potatoes®?”

“The security of raspberry weapons®?”

“Riding horse lemonade® on a hot day?”

“Snuggling in and snacking on cotton bread pajamas®?”

We sat there in silence as the sun rose, and then Barbar whispered, “So why don’t we go to the Food Unification Bistro and have some food?  We can call it research.”

As we walked toward the Bistro’s mauve flashing plaque, I threw my uneaten FOOD® onto the square for the pigeons.  They kept pecking at a mud-spattered amplification nodule and didn’t seem to notice.

Dateline September 28, 2025; 15:25 GMT

In the capital today thousands of demonstrators converged on Landlocked Square.  Most protested FOOD® by carrying food, whether in decorative arrangements, in refrigerated display units, or as part of the elaborate costumes being worn this fall in sympathy with striking navigational workers.  Gustation Minister Clindo Vapors addressed the crowd, repeating his government’s assurances about FOOD®, but demonstrators created his likeness out of food and ate him in effigy.  He was not available for comment.

September 28, 2025; 21:25 GMT

Tonight when I arrived at the Dunkington Hotel, Geeena G. was sitting with a member of the statuary patrol.  She waved me over to her table as soon as she saw me and introduced me to her companion.  His face glowed softly under a discreet coating of marble dust, and his robe gaped open above his tool belt, revealing a bronzed chest.

“I have some advice for you,” Geeena confided, licking something from the edge of her glass, “or rather it’s based on Lieutenant Colonel Roxm’s experience.”  She reached over to touch his arm, and her hand guard clashed with his tool belt, making a muffled clacking sound.  Then she adjusted her code diamond and continued:  “A statuary patrolman learns to be very quiescent, to be a living sensor, to feel his ontological similarities with inanimate matter, to dissipate the intensity of his reaction to the wavelengths of nature’s futile dance and adopt an almost tautological…”  She paused and looked toward the Lieutenant Colonel.  “Am I getting this right?” she asked.  He bit the feet off a marzipan duck and nodded.  “In other words the Lieutenant Colonel says you need to wise up.”

“Wise up to what?” I asked and then noted that Barbar had just come into the bar.  I really wanted to talk with her because she and I had eaten a particularly rich and delicious part of the effigy Gustation Minister at the demonstration, and since then I had been obsessing about whether or not this was prudent, either from a caloric or a diplomatic point of view.  I waved her over to our table, and then I realized that she was accompanied by another member of the statuary patrol, this one a Major General.  Lieutenant Colonel Roxm stood to attention.  Introductions and protocol followed.  A light cloud of marble dust accumulated.  Everyone ordered more rye and lime and commented on the chances the local text shelter team had of winning the all-island debates.  Geeena complimented Barbar’s weight cloak.  Barbar complimented Geeena’s eye comforter.  The Major General and the Lieutenant Colonel went to have a smoke in the dossier lounge (security clearance required).  I said, “Wise up to what?” on several occasions, but the social atmosphere was so sumptuous, so fraught with marzipan, that when I was at last left alone again, I realized my question had never been answered.

Dateline September 29, 2025; 5:25 GMT

National Inland Sail issued a statement to striking navigational workers today regarding its willingness to hire, train, and reward unskilled replacement workers.  Union officials called upon the Department of Labor and Leisure to intervene, but not before Inland Sail had staged a disinformation festival and convinced 3.5% of workers that FOOD® can compensate their losses at this time.  Union officials dismissed talk of a retaliatory hunger strike.  “As long as there’s a threat of FOOD®,” President Mario Morio noted, “it would be ridiculous to give up food for any length of time.”

September 29, 2025; 16:25 GMT

I’m worried about the fact that I’m not as worldly-wise as a correspondent should be, so I decided to try a text shelter.  But first I went to the Transit Library, to have high tea and do some research.  Then, despite Geeena G’s insistence that she wouldn’t be caught dead using a text shelter because of the demographics, I used one.  My writing improved a little and my complexion improved a lot.  The luncheon is tomorrow so both outcomes are good.

When I arrived on the sky platform, from which I could at last see the ocean, the text coach met me and showed me to a cubicle.  She was meticulously groomed and wore her credentials on a conforming eye patch that, combined with her crisp white uniform, gave her a rather nautical appearance.  “Will Madam be wearing an apron?” she asked pleasantly.  I accepted the apron and set to work.  After I had chosen the ethical parameters and applied a moisturizer, I was amazed by how well things went.  The text coach came by from time to time to offer towels and give short encouraging reports about national attitudes and the outside air temperature.  Finally, beaming, she took the finished story as though it were a fresh-baked loaf and sent it on its way.

“We’re always glad to be of service,” she said as she opened the door and helped me out onto the sky platform.  As I stood blinking in the ocean spray, a voice in the airwaves shouted, “Halt!” in English, Portuguese, and a commercial validation mark-up language of the 27th magnitude.  Then the text coach asked that I step back into the shelter and insert my credentials, which I did.  She closed the door and smiled nervously as she consulted her eye patch.  She frowned and looked carefully at a three-piece video chronometer in her pocket.  Then she said, “You’re free to go,” but I noticed her hands were shaking.  I stepped out onto the sky platform again and saw the Dunkington Heliform Air Patrol a short way out at sea, doing complex maneuvers over a group of basking sea lions.  The story I produced at the shelter follows:

Dateline September 29, 2025; 16:25 GMT

The Striking Navigational Workers Union of the Landlocked Island revealed today that their bid to buy National Inland Sail has been obstructed by a cartel-frenzy offensive on the part of Global Soil and Sail.  The Minister for Fair Market Practices was breakfasting with the President of Global Soil and Sail and could not be reached for comment.

September 30, 2025; 11:25 GMT

I skipped dinner last night and breakfast this morning, so I was really hungry when Barbar and I found our cubicle in the correspondents’ box overlooking west field at Landlocked Stadium.  Via transcendent projection, the chief protocol officers of the Navigational Workers Union gave a trade skills briefing called “Inland Sail:  Enforcement and Enhancement Options.”  Most of it went right over my head, but the music made it all seem worthwhile.  Featuring live performing grebes (the official mascot of the navigational workers), it had an almost hypnotic effect.

When the grebes finally stopped, Geeena G. and Lieutenant Colonel Roxm came noisily into our cubicle.  “Can you please excuse us?” Geeena said, rather breathlessly.  “The angle of inclination here is so much better, so much more auspicious, this is far more flattering than the cubicle we’ve been assigned to.”  Lieutenant Colonel Roxm nodded sagely, and I noticed that his robe had multiple reinforced folds that didn’t even ripple when he moved.  “I know you’re not quite up to speed, so don’t worry,” Geeena whispered in my ear.

“I’m getting there,” I said, but by then Geeena and Barbar were setting up a gameflank table, and Lieutenant Colonel Roxm was putting away his pedestal hammer.  Then the luncheon began.  The server-carvers were young male and female apprentices from the specialty wings of the inland sail industry and were dressed in the same displacement outfits they wore on parade.  They brought each item to us, just as it was being served to the thousands of navigational workers dining on the field below.  At the same time, information was presented about the food on the scoreboard opticon in English, Portuguese, and a commercial validation mark-up language of the 27th magnitude.  This was necessary for many of us correspondents because some of us had eaten little else but FOOD®.

Geeena told me the luncheon would probably last for five hours, and when I expressed surprise at this, she said that the dinners often go on for three days or more.  “They take food seriously here,” she said, first wearing and then eating a cunning marzipan pince-nez. 

“I’d like to know more,” I said.  “Can you recommend a good faxio-spacial display about it?”

“Hush and eat your lunch, and then you won’t need one,” Geeena said, and the server-carvers came so frequently after that, I didn’t have much choice.

After a number of dishes had been served, things got more baroque.  There was a champagne surf, a mixed nut pebble beach, and a cheese plate disguised as a shipwreck.  And when the dessert cart came—a banana bread coastal train that ran on its own buttered tracks — we just kept indulging ourselves.  At one point Barbar came dashing from the champagne surf and threw a fortune cookie that hit me squarely in the jaw.  I responded in kind, and before long everyone was tossing cookies and laughing uproariously—that is, until a serious-looking young woman came to deliver the toothpicks.  “Hey!” she shouted.  “Stop!”  We did as she asked and looked at her expectantly.  “How disappointing,” she said.  Barbar laughed and tossed another fortune cookie.   “I mean it,” she said.  “I’m a member of FOOD® Fight, and we take food very seriously.  We would certainly never play with it!”  She seemed genuinely distressed.  “We’ll just eat a few fortune cookies, and then we’ll go,” Geeena promised.  I picked up the cookie Barbar had lobbed at me earlier and cracked it open.  Then I unfurled my fortune.  “You are what you eat,” it said, and suddenly things became very clear.

Dateline September 30, 2025; 23:25 GMT

The Gustation Minister has intervened to prevent Global Soil and Sail from its takeover of National Inland Sail, thus allowing the Navigational Workers’ bid to succeed.  This followed the revelation that Global Soil and Sail, which owns the patent on FOOD®, planned to use the inland sail network to distribute FOOD®.  “Once FOOD® gets a foothold,” said the Minister, “you’re made of the stuff they own and they own the stuff you’re made of.  Global Soil and Sail can charge you with patent infringement if you stop eating FOOD®.”  The Patent Enforcement Militia at Global Soil and Sail could not be reached for comment.

October 1, 2025; 8:25 a.m.

The Dunkington Group, which owns the news service I was temping for as well as Global Soil and Sail, has decided to invent all its own news from now on and has no need for correspondents.  I have abruptly been returned home and given a long-term assignment catching and burning leaves.  Barbar, who enjoys working the combustion displacement mechanism, seems to take things in stride and reminds me that our employment prospects are much better than they were last week.  After all, autumn has only just begun.  But unfortunately, when lunchtime rolls around, the temporary service brings us free FOOD®—and makes sure that we eat it.