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Fast Food?

By Sally M
Page 1 of 1

Stealing a wondrous alien spaceship was one thing; staying alive to enjoy it another.

"Mmmm... stale cheese," Blake said finally. Eyes closed, he licked at the pinkish glop on one finger again. "Some sort of oil. And... pureed Sirian slimeworms."

He opened his eyes; both Avon and Jenna were watching him closely.

"Badly cooked pureed Sirian slimeworms," he added faintly. "Avon, I think I'm going to be..."

And he was, violently.

"No," Avon said calmly, holding his head, "that wasn't the one either."

"I hate to ask," Jenna said, "but when and where did you find out what Sirian slimeworms taste like?"

Avon turned a flat, mildly puzzled gaze to her. "We were both at Alpha schools, of course. They served them up twice a week, on reprocessed corn loaves. With kraut juice, at my school."

"And mine -" Blake coughed, and Avon held out another 'cup' of water - well, the only thing they'd found so far that held water, though they'd agreed it looked more like a footbath designed by some weird mutant octopus. It had been among a muddle of implements in a lower hold, most of which they couldn't imagine a use for - and weren't sure they wanted to.

At least they'd found the water, after five increasingly tense hours. Some sort of communal shower, Jenna had suggested - communal meaning at least five hundred people. She'd gotten soaked filling their comparatively tiny container, but water was more important than dignity. Then Avon had found what he thought were the food processors in another hold, vast vats that fed out processed mush in flavours unimagined by man or beast, with computer controls that Avon tried not to look too confused by. He fiddled with them, and came up with mush in flavours unfortunately all too imaginable.

Jenna was frowning. "I think," she said sharply, watching Blake's ashen face, "that we ought to take turns testing the stuff."

"Feel free," Avon said blandly, "though since you were obviously not at the same schools, you may have a less - adaptable - stomach."

"Then you could -"

"No," Blake coughed again, and sat up. "We agreed. This could be dangerous, possibly toxic, and at the moment, as pilot and computer technician, you're both needed more than I am."

Avon smiled sweetly. "Just at the moment, of course."

"Leave it, Jenna," Blake intervened before she snapped back. "Try again, Avon. That's closer," he shivered at the memory of the purple-streaked lumps that had been the previous effort, "but it's still inedible."

"If it's a choice between starving and slimeworms -"

Blake spoke softly. "They were very - very badly cooked, Avon."

Their eyes met, and Avon repressed a shudder. "All right," he said calmly. "Any suggestions?"

"As bland as possible, please," Blake leaned back and closed his eyes, exhausted. "I don't think I can take much more of this."

Avon stared at him through narrowed eyes, then turned his attention back to the control panel he had pulled apart in an effort to work the damned thing. Blake was all too aware that the man was simply refusing to openly admit that he couldn't master the alien computer system, as well as being worried by the consequences of not doing so. Personally, he was beginning to worry about a possible choice of starving or retching to death.

"Do you want to go and have a shower?" Jenna said, watching him. "At least we have one of those," she smiled slightly, "and more than big enough."

"No - no, thank you." He was too tired to move. "But you can."

She hesitated - it was tempting, even if being alone in a shower the size of a sporting field was somewhat disconcerting.

"Go on." Avon said. "Unless you wish to wait for company." His dark eyes flicked to Blake, then back, mocking her.

"Not yours, thank you."

"I'm cut to the quick," he purred, turning back to his work. Blake half-opened his eyes and smiled wearily at her, then closed them again.

Jenna shrugged, and left.

"She's wrong, you know," Avon said, quite conversationally.

"Mmm? About what?"

"I won't poison you. Well," with a slight, twisted, and utterly humourless grin, "not deliberately."

"I know that." At Avon's sceptical silence, Blake opened his eyes again. "The stuff is obviously made as food, and for some form of human. It hasn't killed me yet, so unless you've found the medical supplies, it's unlikely to do so no matter what you do to the taste and texture."

Avon's clapped his hands, slowly. "Well done, Blake that is almost logical."

"Besides, it's not your style."

"Ah," quickly, genuinely surprised, "and that would be -?"

"I'm not sure yet."

"But you think you know -"

"I'm not sure what you are, Avon," Blake said, "but I am sure what you're not."

Another silence, this one colder. "You could be wrong, Blake."

"Agreed."

"And remember, what you don't know could kill you."

Blake shrugged.

After a few minutes, Avon finally located what vaguely resembled the circuits he was used to, and forgot the other man in his work. This was the seventh time he'd tried, of course; despite what he'd said to Jenna, he was increasingly uncertain that Blake was adaptable enough to take much more 'testing' without a rest. He and Jenna could go for some time without food, of course, though the fasting on the London had reduced that option...

He flicked several switches, and the processor gave an electronic squawk and spat out a stream of dark red mush.

He shoved their make-shift 'bowl' under it, quickly enough to get most of it before the supply dribbled away, and looked down at it dubiously. It looked all right - well, better than anything they'd achieved as yet - a rich, tomato colour, with lumps of what appeared to be vegetable protein. And it smelt, if not familiar, almost appetising, with herbs of some sort and a faint, faux-protein aroma. He turned to hold it out to the self-appointed test subject, and stopped.

Blake seemed to be asleep, slumped back against the hard, icy bulkhead as if too exhausted to care how uncomfortable it was. In sleep, he was anything but beautiful, his face slackened, those large, over-bright eyes half-closed, the lines of tension and pain that were masked by his vitality now all too obvious - as well as the sickness from too many failed attempts at eating the utterly inedible for them.

Avon gazed down at him for a moment, mind curiously, confusingly blank. He put the 'bowl' down, scooped up a bit of the thick, stew-like stuff and put it to his mouth.

It tasted all right.

More than that, it almost tasted good. Far better at least than pureed Sirian slimeworms, badly cooked or not.

And it reminded him how hungry he was. He licked it from his hand, still watching Blake, then went to rub the hand clean against his jacket before remembering that they still didn't have a way to clean their one set of clothing each.

Next on the list. Soap. Avon shuddered inside to imagine what form that might take on this wonderful, fabulous, utterly alien ship. This was going to be a long journey to Cygnus Alpha...

Carefully, he rubbed his hand against the edge of Blake's tunic, then took the man's shoulder and shook it.

"Blake," he said softly. "Wake up, Blake. We have -" not a winner, he thought, not that good, "- survival rations. I think."


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