By George Aitch
promised grand weather for the barbecue. This might have been the last
opportunity for a cookout before the long summer roasted the ground and drew
all moisture from the air, rending the atmosphere unbearable for more than a
few minutes at a time. Alfreda buzzed around her neighbours to broadcast their
invites while Heck, her husband, ported to the settlement to pick up supplies.
Everyone knew about the Yangs’ parties. The effort they put in was legendary,
plus they provided a great opportunity to network; all the big names from the
company would be there.
‘Come on over for a good old-fashioned B-B-Q
at the Yangs’ back yard! This afternoon at 26:00. Bring family, friends and
plenty of meat!’ stated the gram.
like to have put was “no xens”. She
couldn’t, of course; that sentiment was publically frowned upon in this new era
of tolerance. Wars had been fought by their grandparents against the many
flavours of xen and other extra-terrestrial wishwash and now politicians were
keen to be seen shaking hands with appendages on the casts and ushering in some
flimsy peace. They were employed by the company and even starting to interbreed
with humans. The very thought of it turned Alfreda’s stomach. What consenting
folk did in the privacy of their pods didn’t usually bother her, but this was a
step too far and she wouldn’t be having any of that type mingling in her yard.
to the house and strode through the doors to the kitchen, arms full. He laid
three thick paper bags on the counter, chock-full with Product A rations. Alfreda’s
husband was a thickly-built man with a growing bald spot. He adjusted his cap
and wiped his dirty hands on his overalls.
met Lou at the
trading post; the Bergmanns will shoot around this evening and say howdy.” He
trodden dust into the carpet. That was airbuffed nice this morning ready for
“He’s keen to show me this new Algonquin he ordered offworld. Brand new spec”.
really feel the need to rub our noses in it. You know you could afford one if
the Zsasz deal goes through.” Alfreda said.
transit fee and insurance coverage we couldn’t. Back on Xion these things’d
come cheap. Out here we haven’t got a dealership.”
There’s more opportunity for a company man to make his name on the frontier. It’s
good to get away from the hive. Look at how much space we’ve got.”
pecked her on
the cheek then fished around the drawers for his utensils. Carrying them
through the lock, he was hit by the sweltering heat. Their pod regulated the
temperature inside to a mild chill but there was nothing to be done to offset
the baking suns once you were outside.
set his tools
by the raystove and began to set it up. These ambient burners cooked things
slowly, from the inside out. Once done, the meat would be so tender as to fall
off the bone. His vehicle might not be up to scratch but he’d be damned if Lou
Bergmann would front him in a cookout.
warmed to life. Heck admired the machine, bathed in its turquoise glow. Laying
a hand to stroke its monitor, he could feel the source purring away underneath
the panelling. Dependability and durability were important out here, where
spare parts might be tough to come by. The raystove hadn’t let him down yet.
stood, the larger the sweat patches grew on his shirt. There was only so much
heat a man could take. It hadn’t been long yet you could have wrung his
overalls out like a washcloth. Heck raised his hand to his brow and squinted at
the suns. The evening would be less harsh, he hoped. There hadn’t been any
storms reported so the sunsset would be a display worth catching. That alone
should get people out into his yard, and then onto meeting his friends, eating
his food and talking to him. The Szasz deal was one thing, but there might be
potential to net a few other exchanges for the department after everyone had
had a few beers.
guests ported over and began to cluster on the deck. Alfreda circulated through
the crowd, sewing stragglers together by way of introduction and keeping
glasses topped up. Heck had re-entered the pod for his Product A supplies just
as the front lock disengaged, admitting three people.
Yang? Slap me silly and slice me a polka, how are ya buddy? It’s been too
long!” They hugged with backslaps all round. Ali’s son nestled at his mother’s
feet, glancing at the host with a guarded expression.
make it, Ali. How long has it been? Xion?” Heck said.
good to see you. Where’s Alfreda?”
the others. Go say hi.”
wife and ruffled his son’s hair. Ali stashed his beer in the cooler and went
out to meet and greet the rest of the partygoers. He returned to the cupboard
when the lock disengaged again. A willowy woman stood cautiously at the eaves.
In my pod
it’s Heck. How’re you doing? Can I get you a drink?” He ushered her through and
popped a beer before she’d answered.
she tested the new name, rolling it over her tongue “I’m just not used to all
this porting. I still get a little giddy.”
temporary transfer from central. She’d been sent from offworld to help set up
the company’s internal audit branch. She came recommended with great references
and a solid resume, however Heck had always found her timid. It was as though
she was always caught in the middle of something, as though speaking to the
department heads put her off balance. She hadn’t yet gelled with the rest of
the team; he often saw her taking lunch alone on the fifth floor cafeteria. No
matter, breaking the ice was what these meets were all about.
coming?” Heck had never met the man, though he’d heard Ana mentioning him once,
maybe at the orientation he’d given on her arrival. She’d also filed for
maternity leave later in the year, though wasn’t yet starting to show. He’d
helped her navigate the peculiar bureaucracy as she’d just started.
caught up, something last minute. I’m sorry. If you need him to get something I
could send a cast?”
dream of it. We’re well-provisioned enough, thank you.” Planting a solid hand
into her back, he steered her slight frame to the outside lock. It hissed and
admitted her. Heck watched from the window as Ana stood helpless until Alfreda
wandered over and introduced her to the Van Schoors. Shaking his head, he
heaved all the meat onto himself and rejoined the party outside.
handful of men
were standing about the raystove drinking sangrias. The fruit was locally
produced; the hydroponics had been up and running for a few decades now. Heck
joined them, dumping his bags on the side and checking the monitor for the
heat. As he began unpacking the cuts he’d bought in the settlement, his guests
fired questions about the capabilities of the cooker. Admitting no pride, he
answered in detail, reeling off numbers and grade which meant very little to
this baby?” said Lou with a hint of jealousy which Heck was delighted to hear.
came with us
in the move.” He answered.
came out of a
catalogue or something?”
department store in MC3 back on Xion. Had her for six years now without a
lifted the lid
to show off the grill. Though they might have been green with envy, the faces
of his colleagues were enriched by the turquoise glow coming from the source.
While they admired it, Heck loaded the grill with meat. This was his special
secret. Nobody knew what he’d bought, not even Alfreda. This stuff was a rare
commodity, special order only. He didn’t like to think what she might say to
flesh, supple and soft under his fingers, was placed onto the grill. The
positions had been tactically calculated to ensure maximum taste. Heck was an
artist and here was his canvas: rib cuts, flank and loin and all of it blue.
Not blue as in the rarest of steaks (though to be sure, these steaks were rare)
but blue as in colour; a deep navy which would lighten as the meat cooked.
got there?” Lou asked.
blue meat before chum?”
I heard of
that” said Victor Van Schoor “that’s the xen meat isn’t it? Where’d you get a
thing like that, Heck?”
Blue brand meat was xen-sourced, not that anyone who’d tried it cared. As well
as its unusual colour, blue meat was unparalleled for its taste and texture. In
the hundreds of years mankind had explored the corners of space, nothing had
come close to it. Back on Xion, it had been served in only the best of the best
restaurants, the most expensive thing on any menu. Heck had only sampled it on
a few occasions but the memory of its flavour had stayed with him. If he wanted
a reputation for the best cookouts in the colony, it would be blue meat helping
him claim it.
species the meat came from was only from a handful of worlds so it was
protected. Sourcing the stuff was nigh-impossible, though Heck had always taken
pride in his silver tongue. A couple of scribbles on the proper paperwork and
some credits in the right hands had loosened things up a bit. Officially, these
cuts had been imported as ‘exotic biological samples’.
and buns out on the long table. When the guests smelled the delicious aroma
wafting from the raystove, they began to form a queue for the food. Happy in
his role as host, Heck clicked his tongs together and served portions of blue
meat to the curious. One bite was all it took and they’d join the back of the
line for more.
asked Walda Van Schoor, Victor’s teenage daughter.
sure is little
lady” Heck replied.
know they’re sentient,
wife can fetch
you a salad if you like.”
You shouldn’t be serving this. We shouldn’t be eating this.”
Walda, don’t get caught up in a snag. Have you tried it? You might like it.”
Walda’s face flushed red. Her fists
clenched. She opened her mouth but then felt her father’s hand on her shoulder.
“You’re not refusing Mr Yang’s
hospitality, I hope.” Said Victor.
“—terribly rude to make a scene at a
family BBQ, I quite agree. Go on get yourself to your mother and stop being
me. Sorry about this, Heck.” Mr Van Schoor took his daughter’s hand and led her
off. He mouthed something over his shoulder but Heck couldn’t make it out. Next
to be served was Ana, who held out her plate, smiling politely.
saw what was for dinner her face froze. As if in a trance, she dropped the
plate and clutched her stomach.
meat is blue.”
special. I spare no expense for my guests.”
understand, I can’t eat this. No-one should eat this. This is wrong.” Her voice
was soft, though it had a hidden barb to it.
just Aasi meat.”
Aasi, you monster! Yown is an Aasi!” She was shouting. Her hands balled and
tightly wound the hem of her dress. Although the speakers still blared music
from the porch, the gentle hubbub from the crowd had frozen.
one of them?” Heck said in disbelief.
one of those things into your house and bed? Why, your parents must be ashamed
of you.” It was Alfreda, who had come over to see what the fuss was about.
better than a cannibal!”
I never. Heck,
are we eating alien meat again? What have I told you; that’s disgusting. I
can’t believe that you’d cook that awful trash.”
daggers at the Yangs. She looked like she might be sick. Nobody spoke. On the
grill, the meat spat and sizzled. It was at that unfortunate moment that the
port back in the pod engaged and Ana’s husband arrived.
even for an Aasi. Stood on his hind limbs, the tips of his ears caught in the
archway. His brilliant blue skin shone in the suns like lapis lazuli.
he said, flashing both rows of teeth. “I wasn’t sure if I could digest what you
were serving so I brought some snacks, though everyone’s welcome to try them.”
Ana rushed to his side and his face fell. This wasn’t the first time he’d been
the only xen in a room full of humans. He sensed the tension trapped in the
gun. I want that thing out of my pod.” Alfreda said under her breath.
between his wife and the alien visitor. “Ana, you’re gonna have to leave. We
didn’t invite this creature, even if we are happy to serve him.” This received
a few brittle laughs.
the same everywhere. How could you do this?” Ana spat. Her eyes were streaked
with tears. A warm prickle sat in her throat and permeated her remarks.
you’re one to
talk. Copulating with that thing. It sickens me.” Heck said.
dine on his flesh, though. I’ll be informing the governor of this. This is
illegal, what’s more it’s morally bankrupt. I thought better of you. You’re
from the hubworlds.”
to serve speciality cuisine to my friends, is all. Those xen are delicious.
What you’re doing is no better than laying with a steer or lamb for the
slaughter. It’s vile is what it is. Then you come into my cookout and insult me
and my guests by bringing that thing out here. We could do no better than to
carve him up where he stands.”
“I’m pregnant, Heck, you know this. What about
my Aasi children?”
look forward to
Aitch is a writer from Blackheath, London. You may find his work in places such
as Storgy, Litro, Bunbury Magazine and The Crazy Oik, among others.