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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 39: Brown 185
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The computer was still working on trying to establish communication with the host computer when one of the indigs--Derek made an effort not to think of them as aliens, realizing that he and Vash were the aliens here--one of the indigs brought a tray of what Derek concluded was food and drink. He thanked the person who delivered it.
“Do you think it’s safe?” Vashti asked.
Derek shrugged. “I’ve no way to test it but to taste it, and even then I don’t expect it will be exactly palatable. What aliens can eat might be very like what we can eat, but even judging from the variety of earth cuisine, it’s not likely that what they like would taste particularly good to us.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’d say we eat it. It’s possible that they flavor their food with a bit of arsenic, or sweeten their drinks with ethylene glycol--”
“I’m sorry, with what?”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s a very sweet liquid that’s very deadly. Anyway, if they do, it kills us, and we’re in another world. However, to this point I’ve generally found that thinking creatures all seem able to eat each other’s foods. I’m guessing the worst that can happen is we can’t digest this stuff, like, all their proteins are different, and either we become malnourished or it just wreaks havoc with our digestive tracts. But I didn’t pack much food or water, so we’re kind of dependent on being able to eat what’s here, and since I don’t think they’re intentionally trying to kill us, this is our best bet for something safe to eat.”
He turned his attention to the tray. “Well, the puzzles continue.”
“The food has been placed on a tray, tray made of some kind of synthetic like plastic, and we’ve been provided with utensils not unlike forks and knives--but although the tray looks like something you’d use in a cafeteria, none of the food was served on plates. If you like, you can call it economizing--they have to clean the trays anyway, why dirty the plates?
“The food itself all comes from a technology that has several means of preserving things long term--some of this is still thawing, some had been canned, and some is freeze-dried--but none of it has been prepared, cooked or heated in any way. It’s as if they know how to open the packages and how to eat the food, but they don’t know how to cook anything. I mean, unless cooked food is reserved for themselves or for certain members of their society. I don’t cook, but even I would be able to do something with most of this stuff if I had a stove and a couple of pots or pans. The question is, why do they have food that was preserved using sophisticated technologies, but they don’t know how to cook it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how to cook.”
“Right--but you come from a society in which there are people who do know how to cook, and you know that many foods are better when cooked. These people either don’t know that or don’t care when they’re feeding prisoners. No, I think that the answer is that they didn’t preserve this food, and the people who did aren’t around to teach them. That means either they stole the food from someone who for some reason they can’t question, or they inherited the food from ancestors who had knowledge they’ve since lost.”
He looked at the tray of food. “I could probably warm some of that with my pyrogenesis. It might taste better. Also, I’ve got to start giving you lessons in psionic skills, because you’re likely to need them, and they work well here. What would you like to try first?”
“Oh, no, you’re not starting with the tough ones. I meant, what food do you want me to warm first?”
“Oh, and I meant, what is pyrogenesis?”
“Oh, right. Well, it’s a telekinetic skill by which I focus on moving the molecules in a substance at increasing speed. Everything, all matter including air, is made of tiny bits, molecules, and they’re always moving, but the more heat energy is in them the faster those molecules move, so if I move the molecules faster I cause them to have more heat in them.”
“So you can control the efriit?”
Derek laughed. “I don’t think so, but I’ve never tried. No, I’m sure that the efriit are very much involved with heat, but if so they must work with energy and molecules, because that turns out to be what heat actually is.”
“Let’s try that,” she said, pointing to something that appeared to be a frozen cut vegetable of some sort.
“O.K.,” he replied, and focused his mind on warming it for a couple minutes. “Well, I’ve never done this before--that is, I’ve never used it on food--so I have no idea how long is long enough, but see if that feels hot enough and not too hot.”
“Oh, I’d say it’s good.” She took a bite of it. “Oh, and it’s tasty, too.”
Derek took some. “Oh, yes, I’d say you chose well. Let’s hope it’s not supposed to be desert.”
They both laughed. They continued working through the foods, finding most of them at least edible. The drink was water, and they were soon satisfied.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #333: Uncertain Worlds. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: