The Food Chain
by Hathno Paige
The Oresko's Captain walked to the console of Mr. Forster, his second in command. He sat down heavily, propping his arm on the console and rubbing his cranial horn with his hand. He was tired. The Oresko had been exploring this arm of the galaxy for almost two standard years without finding a single acceptable location for a new restaurant. Marak's, the biggest restaurant chain in the universe, did not tolerate ineffectual employees. If he didn't find a site soon, Marak's would have him piloting garbage scows for catering operations at some remote asteroid mine. He was having trouble sleeping, and his officers were under orders not to disturb him except for emergencies. Mr. Forster had rousted him with two hours in his sleep period to go. He was not happy. "Well Mr. Forster, give me the situation report."
"Yes, sir, Captain. Six hours ago our long-range scanners picked up a small ship moving in our vicinity. It's light-drive signal was similar to that of the ships recently purchased by the Gordegal Corporation for long-range exploration in this region of the galaxy. Finding no economic potential where we were currently exploring, I decided to follow them. We attached a remora eavesdropper to their hull, which has been transmitting their voice communication to us for the last five hours."
The captain said, "You should have woken me, Mr. Forster."
"Yes, sir, but at first it seemed like a routine operation." He paused, then added, "And, I had no idea what we were going to find. Destroying their ship was the only option."
"Destroying their ship?" The Captain's career flashed before his many eyes. "You actually destroyed a ship while I was sleeping?! Are you out of your mind Mr. Forster? Why?"
"Sir, if you'll just listen to this recording of their conversation I think you'll understand."
"I hope so, Mr. Forster. Begin."
* * *
"...Hey Bata, check out that one! That's a keeper, if there ever was one!"
"That is a big one. Let's see what the composition is. No good, Fizel. It's big, but too rich in fatty acids. How about that one over there?"
"Hey, that's an interesting one. Big, but not around the middle. How's the composition look?"
"Very good. Much higher ratio of amino to fatty acids. Also better on trace elements and... Can that be right? Fizel! You are not going to believe this. The taste index is off the scale! Most species in the galaxy are going to love the taste of these buggers."
"Are you sure? Last time you said that..."
"I'm sure, I'm getting no positives on any of the allergy tests. Everyone can eat these!"
"Yes! I knew it, Bata! I knew we were going to hit this time. A year of searching, and we finally hit it big!
"Looks like the legs will make the best eating, lots of meat. The upper body not so much. We could probably marinate the ribs and cook them on a spit."
"Stop, you're making me drool. We're gonna get rich off this, aren't we?"
"I think so. I'll bet old Gordegal himself will come to the opening of this place." They both laugh.
"Hey, but what about a restaurant site? That red planet further out from the star?"
"Didn't you catch that huge moon on the way in?"
"No I was playing wooka-hunter."
"Always playing games. If you weren't my brother..."
"But I am your brother, so tell me."
"The moon is perfect. It's about one-quarter the size of the planet. I have no idea what it's doing next to a planet this small, but it's perfect for us. Not too far from the food, and low enough gravity for cheap shuttle launches."
"So our transport costs are going to be nothing. We'll kill the competition!" After a pause, "Hey, what do you say we grab one and eat it now to celebrate?"
"You are certifiable Fizel! But, I like that about you. We've got enough demographic and compositional data, but we still need some samples. The computer says a bunch of them with the ideal balance of nutrients are clustered in places they call 'Fitness Centers'. I wonder what that name means?"
"I tell you what it means, it means easy collection and more profit for us!" They both laugh again.
"Gordegal is gonna love this place. How about this for a plan, you find us one to eat and a few to take back. I'll get our application off to the IBO, claiming this planet and moon in the name of Gordegal Restaurants..."
* * *
The voice was cut off mid-sentence by a loud explosion, which ended abruptly. Mr. Forster looked up at the Captain and said, "That's when we took them, sir, as soon as we were sure that they hadn't filed their claim."
The captain smiled. In order to guarantee exclusive rights to exploit a planet, one had to file a claim with the IBO, the Interstellar Business Office. As long as no one had filed anything about this planet, Marak's restaurants had complete dominion over this world and all the products that could be derived from it. "Have you verified their findings?"
"Yes sir, we have. The species is a gourmet item."
"Well played, Mr. Forster. Their misfortune, our good fortune. Get the claim sent off at once, I do not want to lose this one like those fools from Gordegal."
"Yes, sir, Captain."
"Excellent," the Captain said to himself. That dark side of the moon was going to be the perfect location for a new Marak's. Combined with a petting zoo of exotic animals from the blue planet below, it would be the most popular restaurant in this arm of the galaxy. Every ship in the vicinity would add it to its route. He would retire in style. And the best part was that Marak's would easily get the required permits from the Ministry for the Preservation of New Life Forms. With more than 5 billion of those delicious creatures crowding that small planet, any fool could see that Marak's would be doing this species a favor by harvesting them regularly.
Story copyright © 1998-99 by Hathno Paige <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Artwork "Coordoor" copyright © 1998-99 by Eric Seaholm <email@example.com>