A Fluke So Rare
by John DeLaughter
With an obscene gesture, the Russian Attaché for Cultural Affairs
raised his glass to the television screen and called out “Poshyel k
“And good riddance!” agreed the senior American Attaché.
The two men had been sitting in By Other Means since noon, engaged in a
private drinking game and filling the time as they waited for the end
of the most disastrous success of their careers. Nestled in a
nondescript building next to the Katharine Hepburn Garden, By Other
Means looked like a typical New York City brownstone from the outside;
only those with the appropriate accreditation (and the need-to-know as
judged by the various diplomatic staffs) ever discovered that it
actually housed the most exclusive watering hole in the city. The name
was an in-joke, but the diplomats were deadly serious about the bar and
its traditions. By Other Means was a place where the diplomats could
let their hair down, metaphorically speaking, and be themselves instead
of representing their country. The bar had been the site of three
weddings, two divorces, and several pregnancies; it was also where
nearly every diplomat in New York City had spent their scarce off hours
in the three months since the aliens had first parked themselves in
orbit around the Moon.
Looking around, the American commented “The UN must be empty.”
From their corner, the two could see groups of diplomats and career
bureaucrats watching the unfolding scene on the TV, anticipating the
moment when the aliens would leave. Mercifully, the sound was off and
all that could be seen was a spaceship floating near the Moon. Every
detail was visible, crystal clear and razor sharp, thanks to the cloud
of camera-toting satellites hovering just outside of the anti-meteorite
defenses of the alien ship. Many of the satellites bore the logo of
various news organizations; some of them even belonged to the
organizations whose logo they bore.
“Balvan dura!” said the American after another drink. Pausing in
thought, he asked his companion, “Should that be ‘durak’, Nikolai?”
“Does it matter, James?” the Russian replied. “Unless you plan on
marrying one of them, the question is, as you say, purely hypothetical.
In any case, I think it was we who were the balvan duraki.”
“We expected diplomats or, at worst, military,” Nikolai explained. “Instead, we got merchants.”
“What else would you expect?” James replied, holding up the vodka
bottle and giving it a waggle. At Nikolai’s nod, he poured another
round. “They don’t need to fight us for room or resources because there
are plenty of both in space. What they need is new markets and new
products. We gave them both.”
The aliens (no one wanted to call them “Cameleopardians” and their name
was unspeakable by humans so they just became “the aliens”) had made it
clear before they landed that they had no interest in Earth or humans.
They were here for business. The aliens wanted to see if there was
anything on Earth that was worth hauling back to their planet to sell.
So, much to the fury of the Secretary General, the first meeting of
mankind and aliens was a rummage sale. Every nation sat at a table
filled with their best and most impressive goods, hoping to entice the
aliens into a trade. But what could Earth offer that the aliens
couldn’t already make?
“I blame the Australians,” Nikolai said.
“You can’t blame them,” James replied. “They didn’t invent the aliens,
they just saw them first. It isn’t their fault that the aliens came
from Cameleopardis Gamma.”
“I do not blame them for that,” came the slightly bleary rejoinder. “I blame them for the Vegemite.”
The first meeting with the aliens had been an unmitigated disaster.
Every offering, from Germany’s anachronistic cuckoo clocks to Japan’s
ultra-sleek, newer than tomorrow semi-sentient computer had been
rejected out of hand.
At the second meeting, the Australians had put a jar of Vegemite on
their table. It was either a stroke of genius (if you believed the
press) or a faux pas of brobdignagian proportions (if you believed the
other diplomats), but it broke the logjam. The aliens tested the
Vegemite and started to chitter at each other. They smelled the
Vegemite and the chittering rose to near-deafening levels. They tasted
it and immediately sold Australia a device that ran on solar power and
converted sea water to fresh at the rate of 50,000 gallons per minute;
as a bonus, it sorted the resulting salts by elemental composition,
providing iodine, barium, halite, magnesium, and gold as secondary
products. All they asked in return was half of the Vegemite made for
the next ten years. The Australians fell over themselves agreeing.
James sipped at his vodka and looked at the spaceship on the TV again
before replying. “At least Vegemite was something that the aliens
wanted. Think about what a fiasco it would have been if we hadn’t had
“Something, yes. But maybe nothing would have been better,” Nikolai
said, regretfully. “Instead every country sold its food for their magic
“Some magic beads,” said James, unhappily. “Italy got a completely
frictionless coating that allows them to double the speed of their
aircraft in return for Parma ham. Brazil gave them açaí and they gave
Brazil a satellite powerful enough to deliver internet to the entire
“Yet neither your country nor mine were to their taste,” added Nikolai meditatively.
The Australian success set the table, figuratively and literally, for
the next meeting. The nations turned to organic products, ranging from
Russian vodka to French wine to American cheese. Based on the response
to Vegemite, most nations included at least one unusual dish in their
offerings. Norway tried hakarl. Sardinia brought casu marzu (rejected
without a second glance by the aliens; there were some things that even
they wouldn’t eat). Japan brought oniku.
The Russian poured another round and glared at the TV screen before
returning to their conversation. “Why don’t the aliens just synthesize
what they want?”
“They can’t,” James said as he shook his head. “One of our boffins
explained it to me like this: The human body is worth $12. The human
body is also worth $12,000,000.”
“Nyet. It is one or the other.”
“No, it really is both. The raw materials in our bodies, the oxygen,
carbon, and such, are only worth about $12. Raw materials are cheap.
But the human body uses those raw ingredients to make complex things
like insulin and endocrine and testosterone. Those things are hard to
synthesize; the cheapest way of getting them is extracting them from a
“But we make some of that now,” Nikolai insisted.
“Yes, but we do it by slipping part of us into bacteria. Those bugs
have part of our genetic code, the RNA or DNA or whatever it is that
tells our bodies how to make the stuff we want but that only works for
small stuff. We still can’t make convincing meat without using a real
The pair looked up as a cheer broke out. The spaceship was dwindling
rapidly, headed for home with a load of cargo and a promise to return
in two years with more and larger ships to reap the harvest that
mankind was only too willing to provide.
“So they decided that the best product Earth could supply was meat. Not
our art, not our music, just meat. Kozyoli.” Nikolai paused in thought.
“I don’t know if I should be insulted or relieved.”
“At least they only wanted one species,” said James. “In return, they
gave us an engine that can take us to the stars. Still, I will miss the
© 2017 John DeLaughter
Bio: John DeLaughter is a planetologist who is living on a
sailboat with Nimrod the cat.
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