Science Fiction

Although the light blue substance frothing and bubbling in the large vat was labeled “soup” in the common galactic tongue, there clearly had not been a common galactic consensus on what, precisely, qualified as soup. Xera took a deep whiff of the steam rising from the pot and almost instantly regretted her decision. The fumes were hot and acrid, burning the hairs in her nose. Taking a step back, she waved her hand and looked over to Commander Jackson. “You can’t be serious. This is supposed to be shore leave, not a science experiment!”

Commander Jackson’s violet eyes lit up and she grinned widely. “Remember, Cadet Marcus, this is as much shore leave for you as it is a training mission. If you ever expect to break out of the enlisted ranks and become an officer, your skills in diplomatic situations are going to need to be finely honed.” She turned slightly, indicating the boiling stew with her hand, adding, “This might be a delicacy served at a diplomatic function for all you know. You should get used to trying foods you’re not accustomed to.”

Xera gave her commanding officer a stare she knew might—given to other commanders—have gotten her a day in the brig. She and Commander Jackson had been friends for years, though. It had been Emily that got her into the service, but there were some limits even their friendship could not breach. “Perhaps another day, Commander,” she said with a nod, giving a last dismissive glance at the soup.

Gaazivba naxa fragiziwit.”

Xera looked up at the tall, thin humanoid staring at her with black, bulbous eyes. The creature’s skin was several shades of fiery orange, and the velvet, violet garb it wore was a nice contrast to its skin. The species was not one she was familiar with, but then, Xera reminded herself, few she would encounter today would be. Commander Jackson had warned her that today’s mission was one of utmost secrecy, and that they would be deep in territory few Galactic Federation vessels had been to.

“I’m sorry,” Xera said with a wave of her hand. “Perhaps another time.” Looking one last time at the cerulean soup, she thought to herself, Perhaps another time when my stomach has been replaced with a cybernetic implant.

Nagaxa fragiziwit.”

The deep voice behind her reminded Xera that she and the Commander were not here alone, but rather were accompanied by a guide. She turned to look at the medium height Valxoran, a strange creature that—to her understanding—consisted of a single gender, neither male nor female. It looked strangely humanoid in appearance, although every muscular feature seemed exaggerated, as though its muscles were stuffed with extra padding. The jade green skin was a beautiful color, but it was blotched by gray and brown pock marks that had the look of some sort of rash. Xera had encountered several species with various similarities to the Valxoran, but none all wrapped together in as neat a package as presented by this one.

“What did you say?” Xera asked their guide, F’Blar-Gah. She immediately thought better of her choice and turned to ask Emily instead. “What did…” She stopped for a moment. The word “it” could certainly have negative connotations if that was not the preferred pronoun of the species. Swallowing her tongue briefly, Xera took a moment to recompose the question in her mind. “What was said, Commander?”

Commander Emily Jackson smiled at her with a pride perhaps only Xera could detect, but it was enough to make Xera return the smile. Finally, she’d done something right. Emily had convinced her to enlist, but there were so many rules and regulations in the Galactic Federation that she had started to wonder if she’d ever find her place within. Perhaps, today, on this strange little planet in the outer reaches of Triangulum, she had finally taken her first step toward finding that place.

“I don’t know,” Commander Jackson replied. “I’m afraid I haven’t yet learned the Valxoran language.”

Xera followed her commander’s gaze and looked back to the green-gray-brown figure expectantly.

“She asked. If.” F’Blar-Gah stopped speaking for a moment and stroked its chin with seven thing, long fingers. “Soup. You want.” It stopped speaking for another moment before adding. “No. I told.”

Nodding, Xera felt her stomach grumble. She definitely didn’t want any of that particular soup. Taking a good long look around the mall she was standing in, Xera searched for signs of anything remotely digestible. At this point, she would even take a hanging sausage like she had seen in a quaint little marketplace in Hamburg on Newterra. There were a great many stalls lining the market, some small with few patrons in front, aluminum and steel structures held together perhaps a little loosely for her comfort. Others were quite solid, looking significantly more reputable than the smaller booths. However, she quietly chastised herself, reminding herself that the best Chinese food often came from small, out-of-the way shops—particularly those on the upper causeways of Galactic Federation space-stations. There were a few signs, brightly lit, some holographic, others classical, with pictures of various delicacies that were probably nothing like the meats or vegetables she was clearly mistaking them for. Perhaps she would have to take a chance.

“So, F’Blar-Gah,” Xera began to ask, “what would you recommend?”

“This. Come this,” F’Blar-Gah responded, waving its seven-digit hand excitedly.

With a raised eyebrow, Xera shot a quick glance at Emily and chuckled with a light shrug. Stepping into cadence with her commanding officer, Xera hurriedly followed F’Blar-Gah, excited to see what food he had in mind. A moment later, she found herself frowning instead. They had passed several stalls with fare that had at least looked interesting. One had some noodle-type substance covered with a gravy and small chunks of what she hoped was meat, and another had what could have very well been a typical salad were it not for the orangish lettuce and other non-conventionally colored vegetables. Instead of one of these options, though, she found herself standing at another beaten-down stall, staring at a foamy pot of red-gray liquid. She might have called the color puce save for the single letter that differentiated between the color and the action she wanted to take after having taken a brief smell of the foul stew. Yet again, the sign near it read “soup.”

Gaazavivba naxa fragiziwit.”

Xera looked at Emily for a moment, noticing the Commander seemed somewhat indifferent to standing yet again in front of a soup stall. Curiously, the seller was another creature very similar to the one who had offered the cerulean soup. Slightly taller, but a little more muscular than the last purveyor of soup-like substances, this one’s orangish hues were spread out differently across its body, its rounded, ebon eyes staring at Xera unblinkingly.

She felt a little rude, but quickly waved her hands, unable to get beyond the stench of the stew. “No. Thank you, but no.”

Nagaxa fragiziwit,” F’Blar-Gah repeated for her.

Xera turned to face Emily again, trying to discern from her expression what her next move should be, but she knew the Commander was going to leave it to her to figure out how to get it across to F’Blar-Gah that she wanted something other than soup. Ah hah! she thought silently to herself. Perhaps it’s as easy as that!

“F’Blar-Gah. Soup no. Food good. Take please,” she said, trying to simplify her request as much as she could.

F’Blar-Gah nodded enthusiastically, his padded jowls shaking a bit as he did, and she was almost sure he had begun to drool. As the Valxoran turned to lead them on, Xera gave a perplexed sidelong glance to Emily, scrunching her brows together. She hadn’t quite expected that kind of excitement out of her request, but perhaps this time would be different.

As they walked, F’Blar-Gah led them past a stall that at first looked like it might be serving Chinese food. Little chunks of meat and a sweet-and-savory smelling sauce ladled over white rice. Xera lingered a little longer than she should have though, just long enough to see that the rice was moving. Shaking her head, she mumbled uhn-uh to herself, and started to think maybe her biggest lesson about her eventual journey up the chain of command was that she needed to learn to smuggle food of her own into diplomatic events.

When F’Blar-Gah finally came to a stop, Xera let out a hefty sigh and rolled her eyes. This time it had stopped right in front of a stall with a bubbling orange slop that she didn’t need to get anywhere near to smell the foul nature of. “Oh, come on…” she let slip before she caught herself and looked over to Commander Jackson. Emily still showed no sign of surprise. In fact, it almost seemed as though Emily had expected this to happen.

The tall, lanky fire-skinned creature behind the counter actually smiled, its curved, black eyes wider than the others previous had been. “Agaaza gaazavivba naxa fragiziwit!” it called out in a tone that seemed like excitement.

Before Xera could respond, F’Blar-Gah nodded with as much enthusiasm as he had before he’d led them to this stall. “Agagaxa fragiziwit!”

Xera stared at F’Blar-Gah for a moment. She titled her head slightly and said, “I hope you just said I really don’t want that soup…”

Before she could finish chastising F’Blar-Gah, she heard a noise behind her, something between a sloosh and splish. The noise was much like something very thick and wet being strained through holes a little too small. Turning around, she found herself staring at the orange-hued creature, but it was dripping with some sort of brown fluid. Its eyes were growing smaller too. In fact, now that she was studying it with concern, the entire humanoid was becoming somewhat smaller, and it wasn’t exactly dripping as it was become alive with the mocha fluid. Another moment later, she realized that the color was familiar to her, and she looked down at the back of her own hands. The creature’s coloration was becoming that of her own.

Staring back up with a sudden sense of fear, she watched as the face of the alien swiftly formed into her own features. She turned to say something to Emily, but Emily was already staring at her, a vile grin upon her face. “Welcome to the last day of your career in the Galactic Federation, Xera,” she said, her voice nothing like Emily’s. The tone had seemed like a mix of Emily’s voice and something deeper, more sinister. “Your sacrifice will not go to waste.

“Sacrifice?” Xera asked, reaching instinctively for her side-arm. She wasn’t quite certain what was going on, but this was not how Emily normally behaved either. As her hand touched her waist, she suddenly remembered Commander Jackson had instructed her to leave her weapon behind.

There was a deep growl from her right, and she turned to face F’Blar-Gah. In that moment, she wished she had run instead of standing around watching everything unfold. His torso had split in half, a maw of sharp teeth lining what looked to be a giant, vertical mouth. She went to scream at the exact same moment he leapt forward and engulfed her.

*    *    *

“Welcome to the fleet, Xera,” Commander Jackson smiled.

New Xera looked down at the bubbling soup and smiled. Taking a large cup, she scooped up some of the viscous orange liquid, and smiled as she took a huge swallow. “Ah, nutrients.”

“We’ll have to get that boyfriend of yours down here next visit,” Emily said with a wide, toothy grin.

It took a moment for New Xera to search the memories she had recently gained through her psychic link with Old Xera in the moments before her death, but then she stumbled across a visualization of a muscular man with a deep tan. “Oh, yes, she has many memories I can use. This will be great!”

Commander Jackson smiled and then turned to F’Blar-Gah and tossed him a small bag of gems. “Thank you again. We’ll be back with another… recruit… in a couple of weeks. It may take years, but we will bring the Galactic Federation to its knees.”

“And,” New Xera said with a quiet laugh, “we’re going to teach them to appreciate real soup.”

November 13, 2020 03:09

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22:55 Nov 18, 2020

Awesome! I love the detail you put in it. It was like going into a whole new world. Keep working hard:)


Jim Snyder
05:42 Nov 19, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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