Wednesday, 13 February 2013

DAWP

I waited for the spewing frenzy to finish. After a flurry of gagging and dry heaves Thom’s head rises up from the other side of my desk, followed by Baz’s.

“It’s not good then?” I ask pulling the plate of yellowish meat away from them.

It smells foul. Moments earlier it had been fine. I look up at Mike.

“It’s a defence mechanism. As soon as it’s chewed or comes into contact with digestive enzymes a chemical agent is triggered altering the structure of the flesh, making it taste repulsive,” Mike says, pulling some tweezers from the pocket of his white coat and poking at the plate. He travelled all the way to Europa from Earth with a white coat.

Thom wipes his mouth, threads of vomit dangling from his fingers.

“What about ultra heat treatment or deep freezing it?”

“We’ve tried, exactly the same result,” Mike picks up a globule in the tweezers and watches it slowly drip down on to the plate. “Interestingly the chemical signal can travel quite far, in this case from your mouths to the plate. But we’ve seen this effect happen over ten metres. Probably farther if there is a wind to carry it.”

“So the most populous food source on this moon turns rancid as soon as you take a bite from it. What about the other species?” I pin Mike with a stare. He looks away, fiddling with his coat cuffs.

“Nearly every species on the moon has the same defence mechanism, the only ones that don’t are a kind of shell-less lobster—”

“Now you’re talking,” I say with a grin.

“They feed off other creatures’ faeces, as soon as they are attacked they explode.”

Mike looks at Thom who shivers.

“Explode in a shower of—”

“Enough,” I turn my stare to Thom but he’s got the look of someone reliving their worst memory.

“I still feel dirty,” he mutters.

“You two, get back out there searching, we’ve got eighteen billion people back home counting on us,” I point to Thom and Baz, they trudge from the room. “You’d better keep working on a way to make this stuff taste good.”

“It’s impossible.”

“Make it possible,” I snarl and Mike trudges from the room.

*

A week later, a week of eating the processed algae we’ve got to live on, Mike and Thom come back to my office with a plate of something that smells delicious. I sit up in my seat, sniffing.

“What is it?” I’m salivating.

 “It’s high in nutrients,” Mike looks at a scratchy piece of paper. “Pretty much everything you need to grow up big and strong.”

“But what is it?”

“It doesn’t rot or go off in extreme heat or cold, in fact the longer you leave it the better it tastes.”

“But what is it?”

Thom looks at Mike.

“It’s Europa Cetacea Faeces.”

I lean back and send a sneaky glance to my desk screen, auto translate flashes up the meaning. I furrow my brow and make my pretend-thinking face.

“Europa Whale Poo?”

“Only we three know,” Mike says, leaning over the desk.

Thom grabs a chunk and pops it in his mouth.

“It tastes great,” he grins. “What does it matter?”

“You want us to harvest alien whale poo?”

“Delicious alien whale poo,” Thom scoops up some more.

“Can you stop eating that,” I grimace.

“Is it any worse than when we used to drink cow milk?” Mike asks.

“Look where that got us,” I stand up. “You need to find something else to send back.”

“We’ve got thousands of tons of it already,” Thom says, licking his fingers. “These whales are so big and it shifts through them fast.”

“Stop it,” I say.

“I’m with Thom,” Mike says. “It’s either this or set up the algae farms. They’ll take six months before they’re functioning. By then the capacity on earth will have been increased, it won’t be needed—”

“And this stuff actually tastes good!” Thom says.

I stare at them for a few seconds.

“Ok, I’ll file it. Don’t tell anyone else. Not even the crews.”

I start to fill the Xeno-food Source registration form. Mike and Thom peering at the screen over the desk.

“What can I put for the source?” I look at Mike.

“Fungal will do, they won’t be able to tell once it arrives back home.”

I fill in the nutritional details. Then look up from the screen.

“We need a name.”

“Delicious Alien Whale Poo gets my vote,” Thom says. “I can already see the packaging.”

“We’re not calling it that.” I look at the screen. “But…”

I type in DAWP.

“You,” I point at Mike. “Need to be ready for when the inspectors eventually come. We need as much information about why people shouldn’t eat this Delicious Alien Whale Poo.”

“Sure,” Mike says. “What do you think the time frame will be?”

“It’ll be at least three years before they arrive here. By that time we’ll have supplied millions of tons to Earth. Get processing it.”

Thom and Mike leave my office, leaving the plate of DAWP behind. It does smell fantastic. I lean forwards and flick the intercom switch.

“Get me a plate of algae.”