𝗥𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗮 𝗗𝗼𝘀𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗛𝗼𝘁 𝗦𝗮𝘂𝗰𝗲
𝘣𝘺 𝘛𝘦𝘳𝘳𝘺 𝘚𝘢𝘯𝘷𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘦
Somewhere off Proxima b, Shantow and Eddy Sullivan reclined in their form-fitting seats, belts loosened, barely awake. They watched the planet’s wind-swept sandy surface and volcanoes just inside the dark zone roll under their low-flying spacecraft.
“So when and where do you want to jump?” Eddy asked.
“Let me pass some gas first,” Shantow replied, his translator working perfectly. “Hyperspace always disrupts my third stomach’s digestion.”
“I told you not to gobble that last dessert.”
“You’re right, you’re right. I don’t know how you humans can consume all that sugar. I get bloated, my fur gets brittle and my gonads bulge out.”
Shantow retired to his toilet. The spacecraft’s cabin filled with the hissing sound of gas that went on and on. The smiling Vulgarian returned to his seat next to Eddy and stared through the heavy glass screen into space.
“You okay?” Eddy asked.
“Yes, the pause that refreshes. I once had a cousin that exploded when his ship slid into a wormhole. They were picking him out of the ceiling vents for weeks after that.”
“Thanks for the warning. You passed enough gas in there to enable star formation.”
“Not funny, not funny.”
Eddy and Shantow had been in space for three earth-years since last leaving their home planets. They flew about the galaxy, visiting restaurants that catered to space travelers – only eateries that provided cuisine fit for Humans, Vulgarians, and those really weird Snapeds. They would write reviews for the local press, get free meals, income from Out of This World Magazine, and the chance to visit really strange places. They’d been flying for over 20 earth-years. Neither had an immediate family back on their home worlds since many years would have passed between each of their visits.
“So where to now?” Shantow asked.
“Well it’s a short hop to Lelande 21185b, assuming we can find a wormhole.”
“Didn’t we already stop there last year?”
“Yeah, but their Culinary Council announced a new café opening – supposedly a really fancy joint.”
“But will it have Vulgarian food? I’m not eating any more human stuff.”
“Yes, and they have Snaped cuisine – although we’ll have to find a taster to help us with our reviews.”
“Snaped food looks like excrement.” Shantow frowned, his stained beaver-like teeth protruding over a purple tongue.
“One creature’s food is another one’s crap,” Eddy cracked.
“Hey, I’m told us Vulgarians taste . . . well, the whole thing is . . . ”
The pair donned their specialized G-suits and activated the ship’s sensors, searching for the nearest wormhole. But Shantow pressed the abort key on the control panel and opened his helmet shield.
“What’s wrong?” Eddy asked. “More gas?”
“I don’t know . . . but I don’t like it. I think that last place we stopped, the one at the edge of the dark zone, gave me more than gas.”
“What did you eat?”
“One of my favorite dishes, lumpabach. It’s a combination of two meats rolled in what-you-would-call ground mustard seeds and deep-fried in sensquach oil with a dash of fuckadado spirits to glaze the final presentation. My Grandmother used to make it.”
“Why do you think it was that?”
“I don’t know – it just tasted wrong.”
“What do you mean, wrong?”
“Maybe the oil had gone bad or the meats they used included toxins. The Proximarians raise these strange lizards that look a lot like what we use on Vulgar. Maybe the substitution just didn’t work and the Fuckadado drew out the poisons or changed them chemically. I can only guess.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Go home. How far are we from Vulgar?”
Eddy punched in the coordinates and stared at his screen. “We’re close. At maximum hyperdrive, about seven earth-hours.”
“Let’s go. I don’t like this. I’m feeling really weird.”
Shantow’s eyes had turned pale yellow and his rodent nose dripped green mucus. His normally rapid breathing accelerated. Eddy ran to the medical supply cabinet and retrieved a thermometer. He pointed it at Shantow – 41° C, a full four degrees above normal.
“I feel dizzy. I need to lie down.”
Eddy helped Shantow out of his space suit, his friend almost toppling over. He carried him into the sleeping quarters. Shantow stretched out on his hard plank bed, strange singing sounds whistling between his teeth.
“What can I do? How can I help?” Eddy asked.
“Just let me rest. It may pass. But let’s get moving. I’m feeling really weak.”
“I’ll set the coordinates and be right back. You’re gonna be fine – we’ve gotten sick before after eating some really strange stuff.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just go.”
Eddy hurried to the control room, set a course for Vulgar and activated the hyperdrive. The viewport filled with a cloud of pale starlight with a denser center. His own stomach ached and he wondered if it were something they had both eaten or just sympathy pains. Returning to Shantow he found him breathing hard, his eyes closed, fur standing on end, his five paws extended and reaching for the ceiling.
“Take it easy, friend. We’ll be there in no time.”
“Water . . . I need water. And get me some benzocrackaloid tablets from the cabinet.”
Eddy hurried to comply. Shan downed the pills and lay back, his two-meter long body trembling.
“Do you want more heat?” Eddy asked.
“N . . . no. Ju . . . just give it a minute.”
Eddy stayed by his partner’s side, stroked his fur and talked about past successful exploits as culinary critics. The trip to Kepler 186f was one of their first. They had dined in a shadowy restaurant at high noon, the planet’s sun barely lighting the dining room, more like the glow of earth’s sun at dusk. But the wait staff were humanoids, attentive, and more than somewhat bodacious. Eddy had ordered beef tenderloin steak. It tasted like halibut. He then ordered the halibut and, yes, it tasted like steak.
Shantow rolled onto his side and opened his eyes. “That . . . that was the place . . . where I tried their version of spaghetti. It tasted like barslothian maggots to me. Never again. You humans have the weirdest taste buds.”
“You should talk. Your idea of breakfast would make me toss mine.”
Shantow gave a chuckle, then clutched his chest above his bulging stomachs and groaned. “Let’s not . . . talk about . . . food.”
“Okay. Do you want to sleep?”
“No. Read me something from one of your magazines.”
“You got it.”
Eddy keyed the vid screen in the side of the sleeping cabin and an edition of Better Domes and Guard Dens, only two hundred years old, came on.
“This thing must be from my doctor’s office,” Eddy muttered. He read an article, out loud, about constructing insulated domes on Trappist 1e and outfitting them in a Canadian style, creating friendly interiors for inhabitants to gaze at the planet’s frigid rocky surface.
Shantow mumbled comments as he read. After awhile the mumbling stopped and his distinctive snores filled the sleeping quarters. Eddy quietly left and returned to the control room. In less than seven hours their spacecraft dropped into final approach to the planet Vulgar. The descent to the spaceport proved uneventful. A waiting hovercraft ambulance spirited Shantow away to the hospital with Eddy riding along.
At the hospital, Shantow disappeared behind protective force fields and Eddy tried to find a seat in the waiting room crowded with Vulgarians, all chattering away in their native tongue. No other human was there and none of the furniture fit Eddy’s human form. He sat on the floor with his back against a wall.
Hours passed and he slept. Someone draped a blanket over him. He was finally shaken awake and stumbled to his feet. Three green-coated Vulgarians faced him, chattering to themselves.
One stepped forward and in a halting voice said, “We are sorry . . . Mr. Sullivan . . . your . . . friend Shantow has died.”
“But how? Why?” Eddy stammered.
“His heart quit. He was 132 earth-years old. It was his time.”
“He would never tell me his age. I would never have . . .”
The doctor made a chuckling sound. “Yes, vanity about age is something we Vulgarians have to deal with.”
“Us humans also.”
“We have found and have notified Shantow’s descendants. They will be responsible for all the arrangements. Are you familiar with Vulgarian death protocols?”
“No, Shantow and I never talked about it.”
“His descendants will contact you at your Earth address and will send the traditional materials.”
“What is that?”
“They will explain. We’re sorry for your loss.”
The three doctors dropped to all fives and hustled back through the force field into the bowels of the hospital. Eddy stood there stunned. What now? Should he retire and spend his remaining years at his Texas ranch? He had enough intergalactic credits to support himself in comfort. And Eddy was pushing 120 but still felt as healthy as an 80-year-old.
The flight to Earth passed quickly. He dropped through her atmosphere and landed at his sealed ranch house in the hill country north of San Antonio. The house’s automated maintenance systems had worked perfectly even though he’d been gone for more than five hundred years. The trees looked different and the city’s skyline seemed that much closer. But the quiet had been preserved.
Inside, he checked all the house’s systems. The vid-com would have to be updated but the solar/wind power systems still functioned without complaint. He peeled the covers off the furniture and sank into the soft cushions of his living room sofa – at last, something designed for human form and comfort.
A soft whoosh from outside roused him. A new type of hovercraft landed, deposited a smoking package on the ground and took off. Eddy approached the package. Labels plastered on all sides screamed, ”WARNING: Extreme Cold. Handle With Insulated Gloves.”
Eddy retrieved his pair from the garage and transported the package inside to his kitchen counter. Opening it he found a frozen clear plastic pouch containing something indistinguishable with a note attached, neatly printed in English:
Dear Eddy Sullivan,
In keeping with his wishes and our traditions, enclosed is a portion of Shantow’s left buttock, the tenderest part of a Vulgarian. You were such a good friend and your consumption of his remains will help honor him, our family, and he will become part of you forever.
Cousin, 21 times removed.
P.S. For best cooking results, Shantow recommends that he be slow roasted on an outdoor oak-fired barbeque and served with liberal doses of Texas Hot Sauce. Happy eating.
Eddy smiled to himself and checked his kitchen cabinets for unopened bottles of tequila or maybe a couple six-packs of Lone Star. He would have to consume a lot of it before trying to cook and eat Shantow. ✦