CH. 16 «Interplanetary Cuisine»



A dead calm came over the early afternoon. The wind dropped suddenly and the mixed feelings over our second day of fishing had just been stirred a little more. The sun was hot and Earth’s humidity made it so much worse, all 9 of us on this little charter boat huddled under the canopy in the middle of The Taurus. Yesterday had been much better, chasing Chesapeake Spadefish and Saturnian Seabass and catching them by the handful, little bastards putting up a fun fight. No such haul now though, today had only seen skates, rays and an occasional shark; one a little bay hammerhead my dad reeled up, but she bit through the line when she caught a glimpse of the boat and the eager, net-handed faces.

With our quarry of Corellian Cobia successfully eluding us and distaste taken in the turn the weather took, we needed something to lift our spirits. My father turned to Edd, the large grey-rooted Ionian, seated on the cooler closest to him. The two had been friends and business partners for ages, and after meeting him for the first time I realized why they stayed such good friends. Edd is an jolly old fellow who never runs out of stories and is always an absolute riot, the perfect kinda guy to have stuck with you on a dull day. All morning he had resorted to jokes and riddles to keep us awake while nothing took our bait, and now my father knew of a perfect weapon to unsheathe for this moment.

“Hey Edd,” he said with anxious grin, “Why don’t you tell everyone the Tortuga story?” This lit Edd’s face up like a Christmas tree, and he slapped his hands together licking his lips.

“What a splendid idea, my good man!” Edd turned to his now captive crowd. “I’d like to treat you gentlemen to an enchanted tale about Venusian dining, but first I’m afraid you must hear of the horrors of Saturnian Cuisine,” he said, meanwhile motioning for my father to supply him with a beer, at no time taking his attention off his audience.

“If ya don’t know of my past,” he begun, “I was an immigrant rover driver in New Tros, delivering pies all over Nuwerk. Oh it was the pits. One day I found a matchbook with a number for computer school on the back and I thought to myself ‘I’d do anything to get out of this void’ for the second time in my life. Buy the next year I was working for HAL Computers, designing reservation systems for interplanetary and eventually inter stellar travel companies, engineering credit mainframes and installing interplanetary intranets across the Solar system. It paid well, and they put me up in some of the nicest places in the system while I was on the job, sometimes staying for a month at a time. Well, lets just say I got a taste of culture.

“This one time I stayed on Mimas for a week, I asked my host to take me out to enjoy a traditional meal of his people. I didn’t want to see a single familiar word on the menu, just point to something and be pleasantly surprised. He knew just the place, and after he watered his plants for the evening he took me there with haste.

“Now you gotta understand my mood going into this: I sat down at a round table elbow to elbow with a dozen smelly Mimasians, all grabbing at the food in communal bowls with their bare hands. I didn’t see a single utensil or napkin, so instead I looked for a dish that everyone wasn’t knuckle deep and double dipping into. I spotted it, right next to me was a small plate piled with white objects about the size of golf balls that looked like they were covered in something like coconut. I grabbed it, noticed it was crunchy, but once I bit through the crispy exterior I was treated to the most amazing explosion of flavor. I smiled and grabbed two more, and had the third to my lips when my host came up and patted me on the shoulder. “Edd! You like the deep-fried pigeon heads!!” And sure enough, there was a little crispy beak and two little squinty eyes. Well what was I supposed to do, I popped it in my mouth, finished chewing and smiled.

“A couple of years later the company let me bring a friend to Rhea, while I was there to help program the computer at the then new Gaia spaceport. So I took Jon, who as Keret knows,” Edd said motioning to my smirking and nodding father, “is a most timid little man from Amalthea. He’s come fishing a few times–I’ll bring him next year, we’ll all have a real laugher. Anyway, Jon and I are sitting in a the most popular restaurant in this fledgling port’s boom-town. The first half of the evening he hardly moved, staring at his plate in contempt, trying to occupy his lips with a glass of beer for as much of the night as he could.

“‘Psst! Edd,’ Jon whispered leaning in to me, ‘We’re eating bait!’ I told him its not bait, it was Pingafish caught fresh that morning in this very port, and was renowned enough to bring us halfway around the moon in the middle of my vacation. ‘There’s no dish without fish!’ Jon said to me moments later after having his terrible epiphany. Its true, it was all seafood in front of us, but until that moment I had thought he was a real fisherman. I pointed to a plate “You like fried calamari, right?” I said indicating a tray of sauteed squid-like things beside him. He shrugged and picked up one of the whole squid-things with a pair of chopsticks and stuck it in his mouth headfirst. Upon biting into it, its tendrils began to move and wriggle, and in shock and disgust John spit out the living creature. He then received similar looks of shock and disgust from around the table, but at the taste he he left in everyone’s mouths. ‘I-I’ve got weak teeth,’ he came up with quickly, but no one bought it.

“Afterwards, I took John aside and scolded him about rejecting their food. Told him no matter how vile or disgusting of a spread he had to treat it like it was the most tender delicacy he had ever put to his pallet. ‘We gotta prove to these guys that Earthlings aren’t tasteless, uncultured insects,’ I recall saying.

“Well, I also I recall making the mistake of inviting Jon to come with me to Venus. We were heading near Ishtar just to visit a friend of mine who owned a brewery. We arrived at the portal of the Solar Beer Brewery and were greeted with cigars and given the grand tour by the short Europan owner. After meeting the factory floor girls, and finishing our cigars in his glass office overlooking the assembly line at full steam, he brought up nourishment. ‘I don’t know how you guys feel, you must be hungry after your flight, I know I’m famished. Let us get ourselves some food and drinks, yes?’ he offered.

I was eager and glanced at Jon who looked a little uneasy and asked ‘What about the factory, can you just leave it unsupervised?’ I could have shot him an icy glance, knowing what he was doing, but the Europan responded ‘Oh, not a worry at all’ he said , thumbing for a button on the handle of his chair, and suddenly the break whistle blew on the floor, “The girls will come with us,” he said with a grin.

“At the most popular restaurant in town we sat a dozen deep at the nicest table they could offer, with a giant bay window over looking the harbor and a saffron, early afternoon sea. By no coincidence, this establishment was sponsored by Sol Beer, and it was free as long as we kept refilling our glasses and posing for photos. After two hours of that punishment the food arrived, carried upon three giant wooden plates and set before us the table by shirtless waiters, and all the Venusian girls cheered. A fourth, smaller plate was brought and placed on our end of the table before of Jon and I. The small white golf ball shaped objects it contained made my heart jump up my throat, but I swallowed it back down. ‘Whats that?’ I dared to ask the Europan.

‘Oh, Edd! That is Tortuga, of course!’ he said with a smirking slur. A moment later a realized he meant sea turtle, sea turtle eggs, a species extinct on Earth and endangered on Venus. ‘You mean like ENDANGERED Tortuga?’ I spat out in dismay. ‘Yeah, they’re great, you gotta try them, here!’ He said picking up an illegal delicacy.

“He squeezed it in his finger tips and it warped like a water balloon. ‘It’s leathery like any other reptile egg, no? So you take a knife,’ he says lifting a small bladed scalpel with a carved wooden handle, and taking one of a half dozen multicolored sauces in front of him, he pours a bit into the slit. ‘Once you choose a sauce you just put it to your lips, and,’ he says before following his instructions, then squeezing the contents of it into his mouth and swallowing it down, then smiling says ‘That’s all there is. Go ahead, Edd!’

“I picked one up and held it in my fingertips, squeezing it a little to test its elasticity. I took the knife, cut my slit then inspected the sauces, picking my poison as it were. I picked a dark red sauce, figuring it would be spicy, I’d just burn out the flavor if it was gonna be as weak as I was expecting. I poured some in and held the prepared egg to my lips. When I squeezed that lump into my mouth I swear I almost lost my stomach, it had the taste and texture of a ripe ball of snot. And I don’t mean the pleasant, drippy snot, I’m talking about your lumpy, black-spotted-smoker’s phlegm. I smiled and looked down at Jon. It was his turn and his face was as red as his hair, he was slagging bricks and sweating bullets when I nudged him, almost jarring him from a trance. ‘It’s not hax,’ I lied to his face, ‘go ahead, Jon.’

“With a shaking hand he picked up the closest squishy egg, made a carefully though jittery incision, and without hesitation picked up the red sauce, having the same idea the I had to scorch his taste buds off. With a final nervous getsure he put the egg to his lips and squeezed. The expression on his face that followed was one of sheer terror. His eyes wide and searching for something, to help him, he finally sighed and pulled the egg away from his mouth. Clenched between his teeth was a poor, half-developed turtle embryo; little legs and a little head, with a little see-through shell. Just when I was just fearing the worst, John sighed again, remembering Rhea, he popped the little thing into his mouth and with a couple crunches swallowed it down and smiled.

“Our little Europan host had been flirting with a new employee this whole time, only tuning in halfway through, and had chosen a poor time to finish his glass. When he at last sipped it all it and set it down he exclaimed down the table ‘Oh gork, Jon! You got a fragged egg!’”

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PREV: CH. 15 «Here on Mars»

PREV: CH. 15 «Here on Mars»

NEXT: CH. 17 «Marsquake»

NEXT: CH. 17 «Marsquake»


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