Aphelion Issue 250, Volume 24
May 2020
 
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Alien Steak for the Governor

by Jack Mellanby




Chef Jon slammed his cleaver through the pumpkin. The fruit’s crusty grey skin cracked open and its two halves fell either side of the antique steel blade, seeds wobbling in the blue flesh. A sweet smell rose up, and Chef Jon brought his fist down like a hammer onto the workbench.

“Damn!”

“Too sweet?” asked underchef Ngo, his accent English but the way he wrung his hands suggesting Italian. “Too bitter?”

Chef Jon clenched and unclenched his fists a couple of times. “Too bloody sweet,” he said. “I can already tell he won’t like it.”

The other underchef, the ever sullen frenchman Marc, drooped his head and sighed.

“Well, there’s still a few new pieces of fruit to try in the SR. Although I doubt they’ll be much use, judging from how the last bunch from that swamp went.”

“Put them in anyway,” said Chef Jon, thick moustache moving up and down as he talked. “We’ve only got an hour before the governor gets out his bath, and he’s gonna be in a bad mood after all the protests yesterday.”

Ngo put down his knife and walked over to the fridge, movements slow and back hunched in the manner of a man whose hope had long fled. Truth be told, it was incredible he hadn’t gone back to Earth by now.

A buzzer sounded in Chef Jon’s earpiece, and an artificial voice spoke. “Your requested item has arrived in the front unloading bay. Please come to terminal one.”

Chef Jon frowned. “I asked for it to be sent here directly. I’m busy making lunch.”

“It is unable to be transported to the Governor’s residence.”

A vein throbbed in his temple. “Fine. Get one of the porters to move it here.”

“Due to volatile circumstances, you are required to collect it in person.”

Chef Jon took a deep breath to calm the blood throbbing in his temples, and put down the cleaver to grab a carving knife. There could only be one kind of volatility that meant he was needed.

The hunting-drone had damned up. Whoever’d been watching it had let their gaze slip at the crucial moment. Not that Chef Jon could find more than a sliver of anger for them -- stressed people made mistakes, and stress was constant here.

“You two will need to manage lunch yourselves,” he said, sighing. “I’ve got to salvage dinner.”

Ngo and Marc looked at each other, nervous sweat beading on their foreheads.


*****



Only the governor had his own tram-pod, so Chef Jon had to board a public one. His backside itched as the plastic seat pressed his clothes into his skin, and the stuffy air was hard to breathe. The colony’s cooling system did its best, but it could never quite keep the jungle heat of Maurinus III’s southern continent out the public habitation zones.

He took his eyes from the mould and algae clouded ceiling and glanced around at the other passengers. Each one’s eyes were run through with red where it there should be white, and dark bags hung underneath. Images flashed in their pupils, crude polygonal representations of the outside world as seen from drone cameras, overlaid with lines of white code. The picture on one man’s lenses flashed and distorted and he gave a snarl of anger at the glitch. No doubt Marc and Ngo had just put a new fruit in the SR, short for Scanner/Reconstitutor. The machine drew massive amounts of processing power from the colony supercomputer, and whenever it was activated, drones went awry, careening off from the soil they ploughed and roads they built to crash into swamps or copses of spiky trees.

Chef Jon shook his head, glad of his chosen career. The life of a drone worker had never appealed to him, despite the solid pay. He’d always hated machines. Perhaps that was why he’d delved into the antiquated art of cooking, not for fun like most practitioners, but as a genuine career.

A sign lit up and the tram-pod slowed to a stop. Chef Jon got out looked around for the sign to terminal two. He saw it, as well as the press of onlookers beyond, and steeled his nerves. This would be ugly.

Using his thick forearms as a wedge, he pushed through the murmuring crowd, smelling sweat and something burnt. Those he shoved scowled at him, once for the push then again for whom he represented. Chef Jon felt a little guilt worm into his heart, but shook his head. Any guilt was undeserved; the lack of processing power was not his fault. Not directly.

He craned his neck to avoid the hostile glares and see how badly the drone had mangled what was meant to become the governor’s three course dinner, but only of average height, couldn’t quite see the damage. He shoved a final pair of women out of the way and broke from the crowd. Before him lay the heli-drone, propped up on six legs like an elephant-sized metal and plastic insect, holding something resembling a squashed crab in its network of claws.

“Chef Jon,” said the drone in its too-smooth synthetic voice. “I have brought the item you requested.” It dropped the beast to the pavement with a crunching thud and splatters of blue. Chef Jon held his anger, and grimaced.

The corpse had once been a fearsome predator, the lion of the thick, soggy skies of Maurinus III. Now it was a mess of smashed black carapace, dangling broken paddle-wings, and shredded meat leaking blue blood. Chef Jon breathed through his mouth to avoid the stench of cat piss and scorched marshmallow as he advanced, drawing out his carving knife.

Whispers sprang from the crowd, and Chef Jon gripped the knife tighter. He cut apart aliens every single day, since that was all the governor ever ate, but never one half burned and shredded, and always in the privacy of the kitchen. He prodded a ruined limb with one foot, and blue blood leaked from three knees, each one in various states of mangled. He cursed. A four leg roast was what he’d planned, selecting only the sweetest meat -- usually in the last segment for this class of animal. But as he poked through the remains, panic steadily mounted.

Could the SR make this green sac tasty? What about this eye? No, the governor hates eyes and it’s burned through the centre anyway. The jaws? All bone.

This leg at the back?

He bent down and ran his eyes over the top. So far, fine. Then he lifted it using both hands, turning it over with a clicking, crunching sound to examine the underside. Nothing wrong there either. The whole thing was unblemished, without a single scorch mark or crack on its carapace, and no blood leaked. Chef Jon bit his lower lip, sucked in air through his nose and let out it out in a long breath. This was something he could work with.

He knelt beside the top knee and worked the steel blade into the soft gap, feeling tendons spring back as he cut in. With a final snick, the limb detached. Chef Jon wiped his brow with his forearm and looked up. The crowd was still there, their faces twisted in disgust, but a kind of fascination in their eyes too. No doubt some wondered what it would taste like after the SR made it edible, but that was a privilege they’d never get to sample.

Chef Jon dropped his gaze back to the limb and parceled it up with thick clearwrap. Blue worked its way into the nooks and crannies of the folds, but none dripped out. He hefted it onto his shoulders, wincing at a slight crunch as one of the joints bent around his neck, and stood up with a heavy grunt.

A man stepped out of the crowd. He was a head taller than Chef Jon, with red-rimmed eyes and thin lips.

“Off to cook our governor something tasty?” he asked.

A blonde woman behind him tugged at his arm, hissing something under her breath.

He ignored her. “How much processing power does your machine use anyway?”

Chef Jon set his jaw and looked the young man in the eyes. “I don’t know. I’m not in charge of the computing supply. The governor is.”

“Well then, why don’t you ask him over his meal? If he has the time to talk between shoveling whatever that is,” he pointed at the leg, “into his mouth.”

“Stop it!” said the woman behind, giving Chef Jon’s residence badge a fearful glance, and pulling the man back by the shoulder. The man resisted.

“If you have a problem with the governor,” said Chef Jon, “You can take it up with him yourself.”

The young man curled his fingers. “I just might.”

Chef Jon was aware of another dozen men edging around behind him, one of them still with his VR contacts flashing polygons, moving in a trance, half in his overtime work and half in this makeshift mob. Slick sweat moved under Chef Jon’s palms as he adjusted his grip on the knife, steel flashing in the bright lights of the terminal.

“Stop!” said the woman, and grabbing the man’s arm and dragging him back. “Please. We have work to do at home. For the children.”

The man scowled at Chef Jon, backed away, and the rest of the men vanished into the crowd. Chef Jon adjusted the heavy leg on his shoulders and licked his dry lips. The colony was like pot full of boiling oil with the lid clamped on tight by the pudgy, gelatinous hand of a governor who threw tantrums at anything that did not go perfectly for him, with Chef Jon doing his best to ease the pressure every day.

He turned to heli-drone. “Take the rest outside. I don’t need it.”

“Understood.”

He watched the drone embrace the corpse with its metal pincers and fly back towards the airlock, then made his way to the next tram-pod, the crowd parting before him.


*****



After the ride, lengthened half an hour by delay due to suicide, then a full hour due to a dozen protestors chaining themselves to the tracks, Chef Jon made it back to the governor’s residence.

It was a tower, perfectly round in section and sporting an array of windows through which dim blues and purples shone, along with the dim silhouettes of alien beasts. Right now the governor would be in his afternoon bath, nude in the water with folds of belly suspended around him. The bathtub would appear as a rainbow coloured spring on another world, photorealistically rendered, creatures from the governor’s wildest dreams and the dark depths of the colony’s 3D modeling processors cavorting around him. Jets of water would simulate those creatures’ touch down to the last scale and tentacle.

Chef Jon went there occasionally, and was shocked each time by the excess. Last week, some cross between a giraffe and an octopus had been massaging the blob of a man, leaking precisely manufactured hallucinogens into his skin to give the governor waking dreams that had him shudder in ecstacy.

All of the image rendering, fluid-dynamic calculating, molecule production and body scanning for the baths used nearly a third of colony’s processing power. Another third was used when the scan/recon apparatus was in use. Nearly another third was used by the governor’s other personal entertainment systems. Eat, bathe, play games. That was all the fat man did.

A sliver of processing power was all the other ten thousand occupants had to do their jobs and live their lives.

Inequality was a constant here. Like everywhere, Chef Jon supposed.

The alien leg on Chef Jon’s back smacked into the side of the lift door with a metallic bang, knocking him unsteady for a second. He pressed the button marked K, felt gravity lighten, then deepen. The doors hissed open and he walked into the kitchen, a familiar sense of dread working its way into his heart.

Ngo and Marc were loading the dishwasher with nearly every piece of equipment the kitchen had, backs bent and blank faces cast to the ground. Ngo looked up, tear-stains around his eyes.

“He turned down lunch three times today. New record.”

Chef Jon bit his lips hard enough to hurt, and let the leg down onto the floor. “What did you make?”

“Chopped and sauteed whole frog, with a bowl of sweet pate, of all things, and a red pumpkin in syrup.” Ngo clenched his fists. “That was what he finally ate, at least. We had to throw away two frogs before then, as well as half a pig and I can’t even count how many fruits and vegetables.”

“Was that the back half of the pig we had in the cryogenics?” said Chef Jon, narrowing his eyes slightly. “You know he says the rear tendrils hurt his teeth.”

“He told Marc he wanted pork. Marc told him the back half was all we had. He told Marc he didn't care. Then he did care.”

Marc finished putting the last plate in the dishwasher. “He’s getting sick of the same stuff over and over, Chef,” he said. “I hope the thing on your back was worth the trouble.”

Chef Jon put his hand against the SR’s door. What a mess. This kind of bull had never happened back on earth. In his restaurant people had appreciated the food. Thanked him for it, and come back each month for the same traditional dishes with whatever spin he’d put on. But now his restaurant was gone, some glitzy new ‘imagination bar’ -- whatever the damn that was -- in its place. The governor, despite being a disgusting slop of grease, was one of the few who appreciated the value of traditional cooking techniques, and Chef Jon felt a certain obligation towards him.

There was also the problem that the more the governor was displeased with his meal, the more Chef Jon would have to use the SR, and the more restricted the processing power available to citizens would become. Then protests would flare further.

Governors and their staff had been torn limb from limb on this planet before.

Chef Jon did not want to be torn limb from limb.

“Right,” he said, swallowing. “Switch the dishwasher on then go get some rest. I’ll do dinner myself.”

“Are you sure?” said Ngo. “We can still--”

“No. Tired chefs make mistakes.”

Marc and Ngo nodded and did as they were bid, the kitchen door hissing shut behind them. Chef Jon rubbed his hands together. Him, alone in the kitchen. Despite the awful pressure, there was always something to smile about in that. He picked up the leg and made his way to the back of the kitchen, where the SR sat in the wall.

Or at least, its screen interface and door hatch sat there. Its power arrays and chemical factories sat in ten square metres of basement underneath the floor.

Chef Jon took off his backpack and untied the leg, fluids squishing inside the wrap making an ugly sound, then drew out the SR’s tray and placed the leg on it. He took the plastic wrap off. Blue juice leaked out like from a rotten thing and he coughed on the stench as he threw the wrapping into the biowaste bin. Buzzing smoothly, the door swung shut when Chef Jon stepped back. His stomach tightened. Next was the part when things sometimes went wrong.

He tapped the screen and a dozen laser beams stroked every millimetre of the leg. A mash of text detailing the exact compositions, shapes and types of proteins and fibres within, as well as the micro and macrostructure of the tissue they composed scrolled by unreadably quickly.

Sweat beaded on Jon’s forehead and ran down to his facemask. During reconstitution, even if it was only one in a thousand times, there was a chance the ingredient would be irrevocably ruined. Instead of the chemicals being precisely reacted and re-reacted into earth-like counterparts and put into the approximate structure of the original tissue, the supercomputer behind the wall would damn up. Half the proteins would be folded into irreversible tangles, and instead of a haunch of delicious animal, out would come jelly-like sludge smelling of toilet. Chef Jon squeezed his hands tight.

The play of laser-light clicked off, and the leg vanished. Ten seconds later, it appeared again, changed. Its colour was different, slightly darker, and its smell was not one of of ammonia, but a fragrance that took Chef Jon back to his earliest days as a chef -- the smell of raw meat ready to be transformed into a meal beyond delicious.

He grinned wide and pumped his fist, unhooked the tray and brought it to the larger workbench. The knives and various other equipments clanged as he pushed them to the side, scoring more lines in the maple-wood surface. Chef Jon gave the leg an experimental prod with a wooden spoon. It rolled, joint twisting and a little liquid dripping out, reminding him very much of king crab. Should he prepare it in the same way? Gently steam it? Perhaps he should serve it raw in the old Japanese style -- before they started pickling everything.

No. The governor was adventurous when it came to eating, but if the chef served him a raw dinner for the promised feast, he would look lazy.

Which would be very bad for the governor’s temper.

Some kind of smoke, then. But the whole leg wouldn’t quite fit in the smoker. He opened his hands and took a rough measure of each segment. One would just about fit. The other could be cut into three, one part boiled, one steamed and one, well, a little old style sushi might add some exoticism. He examined the meat again, peering into the cut end. It was still blue.

But gradually darkening.

Adrenaline sent lightning through Chef Jon’s nerves. He grabbed the exoskeleton and peered in closer. Took a sniff. The fresh, raw smell was diminishing.

The floor shook as he darted to the heavy equipment cupboard. He flung the doors open with a reverberating clang and took hold of the smoker in both hands. It was thirty-five kilos, and his back, shoulders and abdominals all strained as he took the weight. He made it half way before his legs began to cramp, and he attempted to lower it gently to the floor.

The thin steel edge slid from his palm and the smoker fell to the ground, hitting corner first before tipping onto its front. Something jangled and crashed inside.

“Damn!”

He pulled it up and saw that the front was cracked and one of the knobs had fallen off. Damn traditional equipment. It clanged once more as he kicked it, then he stood up, thighs protesting at the effort. Smoking was out; steaming would have to do.

Fortunately the steamer was not so heavy. Once Chef Jon had it on the workbench he pulled the meat from the exoskeleton and started slicing, knife disappearing into the meat with almost no resistance. Blue goo coated his gloves and he gave them a lick. It tasted great, both fishy and meaty. The sliminess was no good though -- he’d have to add something acidic.

He placed each piece of meat, cut into a variety of geometries along fat lines, into the steamer and shut the lid. He poured water in and switched the machine on. Tomatoes -- not actually tomatoes, being three pronged and purple, but that was what the first colonists had decided to call them -- went in after fifteen minutes, then he boiled some square potatoes and ovoid carrots. Next he prepared purple rice -- earth-grown -- and started on the sushi.

It would have to be the new style rather than the historic, he decided, since the meat was losing its freshness. A quick soak in vinegar would bring out the necessary flavours. He cut the remaining meat into rectangles, the rhythmic slicing calming his nerves, and threw them in the auto-pickler. He set the pieces of sushi in a spiral pattern, the least pickled towards the outer edge.

Chef Jon didn't know how much time had passed when a bell chimed above his head. The steward’s voice came through the tannoy.

“Mr Boucher, the governor has risen from his bath, and is looking forward to improving his mood by eating the exotic feast you promised him.”

“Tell him it’s be coming soon.”

“He would like it now.”

Chef Jon grimaced and laid another piece of meat on its square of rice, making sure to align it perfectly.

“Mr Boucher?”

“Five minutes!”

Hands and arms a blur of panic, he piled the steamed course onto a platter and shoved on the lid. Around the edge of the sushi platter he placed bits of the alien’s chitin in what he thought was a pleasingly random arrangement.

A different bell chimed, this time by the door.

“Yes!” he shouted. The steward, tall, tanned, and suited, entered.

“Is it--”

Chef Jon loaded the platters onto a serving trolley and wheeled it to the entrance. The steward stepped between it and the doorframe smooth as an octopus slipping past a rock, and took hold of its handle. Chef Jon followed him out.

As soon as the smell of lemon-fresh ventilated air replaced that of steam and sweat, his hands began to shake. There would no more rhythmic cutting, squeezing and tasting to season to take his mind off the governor now. They entered the elevator, and Chef Jon cast his eyes at the sushi. Was it a little inkier around the fat lines? He’d tasted a piece just before the first chime of the bell, and another before the second. They’d tasted sharp and delicious both times, but SR born meat was always an unknowable quantity. No matter how many cuts of cow, chicken and pig a chef had experienced cooking, with SR meat one had no way of knowing what could ruin it. Chef Jon hadn’t had a bad experience with pickling before, but that wasn’t to say this time wouldn’t be the first.

The elevator reached the final floor then shifted left, rolling the trolley a couple of centimetres. After a short and familiar length of time it stopped, the doors opened, and they walked into the dining room.

The governor, seated at the end of a gilded wooden table, looked at Chef Jon with small black eyes. He was enormous, tall as well as wide, and he sat up straight, dominating the rear of the dining room like a medieval king. His wife to the left was a stick insect in comparison.

The chair creaked as the governor shifted and patted his belly. “My stomach is awfully empty this afternoon,” he said, voice deep as a cello.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Chef Jon, swallowing saliva pooling around his gums. “I’m confident this meal will be to your liking. I put a great deal of effort into it.”

“I am interested in taste, not effort.”

Chef Jon nodded as the steward wheeled the platters to the governor’s table, slick hiss of its wheels like a snake in grass.

The governor looked at them.

“Don’t look very big.”

Chef Jon chose to say nothing as the steward stopped by the governor’s arm, which was nearly bursting from its sleeve, and laid out a knife, fork and pair of chopsticks on the table mat. The faux pond display on it rippled gently, but the governor’s gaze remained fixed on the platters. He gave a smile.

“Well, Jon, won’t you introduce me to the meal?”

Chef Jon cleared his throat.

“Of course. It is meat from the most fearsome predator on the planet. A beast with four wings, six legs and jaws stronger than a crocodile’s. Something no one has attempted to eat before.”

The governor frowned, flabs wrinkling above his eyes. “I don’t like gamey meat. I tried tiger once, in my schoolboy days. It was rather unpleasant.”

“Rest assured, the jaw-beast’s flesh is more like that of a crab than that of a tiger.”

“Aha! I do like crab, even if it is a little bland.”

“The jaw-beast’s meat is far from bland. It is rich, almost like horsemeat.”

The governor licked his lips. “I like horsemeat too.”

The steward lifted the gold cover off the main course. Steam billowed out, and the smell of fishy beef and tomato filled the room, so strong Chef Jon had to pinch his nose to stop himself sneezing.

“It’s steamed leg of jaw-beast,” he said, eyes watering. “Cut into shapes with tomatoes to accompany it. Please enjoy.”

The governor wiped tears away with his hands and coughed, while the steward held out a handkerchief for him. He spasmed a little, something in the side of his belly contracting and radiating twitches up to his face. Eyes blacker than black, he glared at Chef Jon.

“The taste is too strong. I can’t eat it.”

Chef Jon threw his hands to his temples and the pure frustration he’d been bottling up since before lunch exploded like a bottle of champagne.

“You haven’t even bloody tasted it yet!”

He bit his tongue. That had been a mistake. The governor’s fists clenched around his cutlery.

“I am a gourmand!” he shouted, spittle flying over the table. “I have tasted every food on earth and most of the food on this miserable swamp rock too! You dare question my palette? You’re my chef! You should know what I like! It is your job to serve me what I like!” He looked at his wife and let out a slow breath. From the set of her jaw, her teeth were clenched. “But you’re right, you’re right. I haven’t tasted it yet, no.”

“Please, help yourself,” said Chef Jon, knees quivering. “I am sure you will enjoy it.”

The governor nodded and stuck his fork into a square of meat. He wrinkled his nose and gave the food a tentative lick. Juice dripped like ink mixed with water, and Chef Jon watched it splash against the plate. The governor put the meat in his mouth, and his jowls wobbled as he chewed slowly, eyes closed, considering the flavour.

“It’s all right,” he said, looking back at Chef Jon. “But I was expecting more.”

“Try it with some tomato.”

He did so, but his expression remained flat. He tried it with carrots next, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes together, then through every combination of the three vegetables and the meat. After an age he finished, and frowned deeply.

“I was expecting more,” he said, voice lowered nearly to a growl.

“I am sure you will enjoy the next dish,” said Chef Jon, hands shaking like rats in a freezer. It took all the willpower he had to keep his voice from breaking.

He was not sure the governor would enjoy the sushi. In fact he was positively certain he would hate it. The steward lifted the gold cover away.

Blood rushed from Chef Jon’s face and he staggered back a step.

Every piece had turned black.

“How has this dish been cooked?” asked the governor, leaning towards the sushi. “It looks like squid. I hate squid.”

What had gone wrong? Some sort of chemical change, a reaction with the vinegar, bizarre charring from a runaway reaction. Chef Jon clenched his teeth to stop them chattering.

The governer banged the butt of his fork on the table, making a sharp crack that reverberated around the room. His wife and the steward winced, but Chef Jon was to tense even for that.

“Well?” said the governor.

“It’s... It’s not cooked. Raw. It’s sushi.”

The governor stood up, belly smacking the table, and he knocked his chair backwards to thump on the thick carpet. His face twisted with rage.

“I need my bath,” he said. “Steward! Prepare it!”

Outside, the lights in the town were on. People were making dinner now, their own cooking machines reconfiguring mashed and pureed Maurian vegetables into staple earth meals from their home cultures. Once the governor got into his baths and started to conjure up his fantasy creatures, the computing power for the colonists would vanish. Meals would turn to barely edible slop as their cooking machines switched to emergency mode. Their rage would be tremendous. Chef Jon remembered a news report from last year when five thousand colonists charged their governor’s residence and burned it to the ground. Goosebumps prickled all over.

“Wait!” he shouted. “Just try it! Please!”

The governor jabbed a sausage sized finger at him.

“You feed me raw food? Raw?” He grabbed at his stomach again, a handful of flab and shirt filling his palm. “I hired you because I thought you had a respect for food, and a respect for those who ate it! My bath, get me my bath!”

“You haven’t tried it yet! Just eat one piece, just one!”

The governor swore, picked up him fork and impaled a piece of sushi. He thrust it at Chef Jon, the prongs stopping a centimetre from his nose.

“You eat a piece then!” he screamed. “Tell me if it doesn’t make you sick, come on! Tell me!”

Chef Jon jerked his head forward like a lizard and took the piece of sushi into his mouth. He chewed, felt the black chunk coat his tongue with oil, then ran his tongue around his mouth.

The flavour was like truffles and chocolate, yet salty and meaty at the same time. The texture complemented it perfectly, with just enough sponginess to let out a little flavour with each chew, yet not so much to tire his jaw. And the smell! It drifted up into the nostrils from behind to create an aftertaste strong enough to be pleasurable, but far from overpowering. Chef Jon rolled the chewings around his mouth before swallowing, and looked the governor in the eye.

“It’s delicious,” he said. “Please try some. Please.”

“You’re lying,” said the governor, but something in Chef Jon’s voice, or more likely on his breath, made him hesitate. The creases on his forehead softened, and he took another piece of sushi on his fork.

“Please...” said Chef Jon, his voice no more than a hoarse whisper.

The governor bit a fat lip, flicked his eyes at his wife and the steward as still as stone, and opened his mouth. He put the piece in, chewed, and swallowed. He tilted his head to one side.

“It’s not bad,” he said, and took another on his fork. “Really not bad.”

He impaled another piece, then another, then another. Before long, black juice coated his lips and dribbled down his chin, and specks of rice were dotted around his lips. Within two minutes, he’d worked his way all down the spiral. The sushi was finished.

The governor rubbed his belly, belched, and sat back down -- the steward having righted the chair while he ate -- resting his hands behind his head.

“Was it to your liking, governor?” asked Chef Jon.

“Yes, very much so. Best thing I’ve eaten in years, as a matter of fact. Well done.”

Chef Jon, wiped his sweaty face on his sleeve. “Thank you.”

The governor stood. “I will go to bed now. One is meant to do that after medicine, or so I’ve been told. You can cancel the bath, Bain.”

The steward nodded, then the trio left the room, leaving Chef Jon alone. He sank into a spare dining chair and let out a sigh. Two empty platters lay on the table. One had driven him to despair and the other to salvation. The power of cooking was incredible; it was what had driven him to be a chef, all those years ago as a young man with big dreams.

He sat in the dining room for some time before looking out of the window. Lights lit up the colony, and he could see groups of people sitting and chatting, and knew if he was a bit closer he would be able to see their smiling faces. No one smashed windows or threw themselves in front of trains. Disaster averted. The governor’s mood would be a little cooler for the next few weeks, like it always was after a particularly good meal. His baths would grow shorter, and the colonists would grow a little less angry.

Next month, however, who could say what might happen?




THE END


2020 Jack Mellanby

Bio: Jack Mellanby is a fantasy and SF fanatic from New Zealand, currently teaching English in Japan. He writes obsessively and strives to turn even his strangest ideas to quality fiction.

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