Keito was unhappily munching on yet another brown bar.
“Why do you only eat the protein bars that your spaceship makes?” Chloe had seen him eat dozens, probably hundreds of them. Whenever they left his spaceship for a time, he would print off a few and stuff them in a thigh pocket or a backpack. When they left the spaceship behind at Houston and took a walker to New New Orleans, he’d had a veritable crate of them. That and water were all he consumed.
Keito sighed. “It’s all I can eat.”
“It it like a food allergy or something?”
“Ehhh, more like an engineered dependency.”
“Aren’t you human? Did the Emporium do something to you when you were theirs?”
“That’s about it. They rebuilt my human body on their biosphere’s protein base, because that guaranteed compatibility with every other species in the consortium. Medical supplies, food, recreational drugs, all that — having their biology made me a better customer because I could use more of their products. And as a better customer, a better salesman.”
“That’s — are you okay?”
“Eh, I’m fine. Bland but filling, these bars. The ultimate meal replacement.” It sounded like he was reciting marketing materials.
“Is that what they are, some sort of meal square?”
“Well, there’s no raisins. The best flavor analogy I can come up with is like eating chocolate every day, to the point where it became as bland as spit.”
It was at this inopportune moment that Keito’s pet messenger robot reappeared, teleporting back from his smuggler friend in the Emporium with a fresh cassette of micro-missiles, a gift-wrapped blob, and an envelope. It skittered across the table to deposit the blob and envelope at Keito’s table setting, before dancing up Chloe’s arm and shoulder to nest in her hair. She giggled; it restocked its missile pod.
Keito picked up the note, and read aloud “‘Dearest Keito, we are happy to hear that you have made it safely to Earth, and that you have rejoined with your species. We’re sending a homecoming gift with the bot, which we found in a market stall in Lower Trelebnik. It’s probably been months since you last had a candy bar, if your ship exploded like all the rumors were saying. Let us know and we’ll send more goodies. And send us some Earth food!’” He put the letter down. “That’s the other thing. The ship’s food processor only makes this one flavor of bar because all the DRMed patterns have expired and this one counts as emergency rations, suitable for humanitarian purposes and feeding employees. They expect that employees will buy food offship, rather than relying on their actual home-and-business-and-spaceship to be able to provide food from feedstocks. ‘Eat local,’ they said. ‘It contributes to the Greater Economy,’ they said.”
“So did they do the protein normalization on all planets for the entire biosphere? Because that’s sick ay eff. Whole-planet bioengineering is godmode for any sort of terraforming effort.”
“Nah, they worked with what’s available. It would be too much work to normalize a whole planet’s proteins.”
“So then why’d they normalize the Emporium employees’ proteins? Wouldn’t you be out and about eating local food, with all its non-normalized proteins?”
“I… will be right back.” He disappeared into the office and returned with a pencil and index card, “’Dear Samedi, I still have my ship, but the food processor only makes the [translated as chocolate] meal bars. They rebuilt my body on Empy standard, to avoid allergies, right? Or did that get mistranslated too during the educational briefings? Happy Saturday, Keito.’ Okay where’s the crab?” He whistled a query; the bot tweedled back from its perch in Chloe’s fro. “Oh you bot, come here.” Obediently it jumped onto his arm. “Take this back to Samedi, and wait for his reply, and no shooting, please.” With a sulfurous whiff, it was gone.
Chloe sniffed at the stench. Keito looked thoughtful. “Smells like it displaced into the Upper Trelebnik, not the Lower. What’s he doing there, I wonder.”
Ten minutes later, the bot returned, carrying a note and another missile cassette. With grave anticipation Keito opened the note, and read it, and threw it across the table to Chloe. She picked it up, and began to read.
Keito stalked to the fridge, opened it, stared at the contents, closed the door. Went to the pantry, looked in there. Went to the door to the garage, opened it, and shouted, “Al! We’re going to dinner to night; I’m buying!”
Al, Chloe’s gourmand mechanic brother, shouted from beneath the walker, “What? Why?”
“Turducken translation errors!”
Chloe looked up from the note. “So they didn’t swap your proteins out, they just replaced your microbiome with something that could convert their proteins into ours?”
“And with a fecal transplant, I’ll be good to go for Earth food. So this is gonna sound gross, but believe me when I say they trained me in the technique as part of the medical training and I do have the tools for it on the ship — Chloe, will you be my fecal donor today? I really desire your gut’s ability to handle spices.”
“Oh, you say the sweetest things.”