Science Fiction

Date:       The thirteenth sidereal unit of the Savory cycle

23,678th Brantur

Place: The Great Temple of Adephagia, in the Citrea Nebula sector

The high-back chair of pretentious design stiffened his body even more than he expected. His full dress blacks didn’t help either. Jackson Graylor, Plenipotentiary of the Benevolent Dominion of Humanity, shifted his backside in the seat, again. Longing for the command stool on his ship, he contemplated the platter he had long emptied. It lay before him flanked by rows of more cutlery than he knew what to do with.

The remains of skorbian pâté—now crusted—painted the well of the pink metallic plate like faint brush-strokes. Its curvature distorted the reflection of the chandeliers floating above the banquet table. They literally floated—a wasteful use of technology if he ever saw one. Out of instinct he calculated the number of meals the cost of this single extravagant dish equated to on his home colony—approximately two hundred. His upper right cuspid gnawed the corner of his lower lip as images of starving terra-formers flashed across his mind. Forcing a smile stopped the gnawing, but his fingers began tapping away at the armrest, taking over the task of releasing frustration and disgust. And they call this lavish monstrosity a temple. For worshippers of Mammon, perhaps.

Across the banquet table from him sat Conciliator Kupidir of the Lukulli Coalition. His long vermillion hair, tied in a bow, flowed down over his left shoulder. His lanky hands stretched out from his elegant amber robes and held up his plate of pâté as he examined and sniffed it, even bringing it close to his ear at different angles. He forked a morsel and carried it to his mouth, and ruminated and mumbled with closed eyes, only to repeat the process all over.

Graylor had no idea how long this had gone on for. Lukulli protocol strictly forbade timepieces of any kind in the banquet room—on no account should eating be rushed, tradition demanded. But he caught a silvery glint in the corner of his eye and glanced to his right. His vessel in orbit came into view for the third time and arced across the transparent dome cupping the main banquet hall they dined in—they sat like two flyspecks in a crystal salad bowl flipped upside down. Estimating the intervals between his ship’s appearances, he reckoned they had been sitting for nearly sixty minutes in this hall on this glorified asteroid-base the Lukulli called Adephagia, their high temple dedicated to the single most important thing driving their civilization—food. His stomach threatened to growl. He should have listened to his adjutants and eaten prior to attending the dinner. The negotiations promised to become protracted; Kupidir had barely tackled the appetizer.

As prearranged, the conference followed traditional Lukulli custom. Each side prepared dishes native to their respective home worlds or colonies, and served them alternately as the parties discussed agenda items. Graylor brought a team of highly trained cooks and ingredients specially for the occasion. He initially resisted his appointment as ambassador. Dominion diplomats served primarily as soldiers, and as a ship’s captain fighting battles suited him more than arguing at table. “For the Lukulli eating is warfare, Graylor,” the commander in chief said. ”So I need my best soldier out there. And don’t forget to brush up on your manners.”

As with most conflicts, territory was at stake. Over centuries the Lukkuli Coalition encroached ever closer on the Benevolent Dominion of Humanity’s outermost star systems, surrounding them from all sides. The Dominion maintained a corridor of access to maintain supply and food lines to the colonists in these remote systems, but the Coalition now asserted their sovereign rights over the corridor—backing up their claims with far-fetched reasoning and historical records Dominion politicians denounced as dubious at best. Without the corridor, the Dominion would lose the outer colonies to the Coalition.

“I hope the pâté is to Your Excellency’s liking?” Graylor asked and sipped his goblet. The alcohol suppressor he swallowed before the dinner prevented inebriation, but at the rate things proceeded here, he wondered if two doses would have been wiser.

“Very quiet.” Kupidir laid down his utensil and wiped his mouth. More than three quarters of the hors-d’ouevre remained unconsumed.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The food, I mean. It’s rather quiet isn’t it? Are all Earth dishes this quiet?”

“Well. . .y-yes, Earth foods do tend to be taciturn but I think Your Excellency will find that they make up for their audible shyness with vibrant flavor.” In his mind Graylor wagered if Kupidir were to actually experience starvation, he wouldn’t give an Elyrian horse’s rump whether the few crumbs he scrounged burst into song or not.

“We believe a meal should engage all five senses in its orchestration of flavor.” Kupidir pushed away his plate and signaled the serving drone to bring in the next course.

“Yes, indeed. The Five Pillars of Truth as expounded by the great Dronax, if I recall correctly.” Graylor hoped Lukulli gastronomy and philosophy—one and the same thing for their culture—didn’t remain the constant topic of conversation. His adjutants crash-coursed him the night before. Nevertheless, his well of knowledge in these matters remained shallow.

“Ah, how gratifying it is to dine with someone who has read our classics.” Kupidir grinned and nodded his head as he sat back and made room for the drones serving the next course. “You grace us with your erudition, Ambassador, which perfectly matches the color of your austere uniform if I may say so. Black denotes wisdom for the Lukulli.”

The next dish consisted of gelatinous spheres the size of pool balls carefully balanced on an elevated plate. Within the translucent balls swirled prismatic clouds of dense gas, constantly shifting color. Wafts of tanginess stung the nose, and the orbs rang like chimes whenever they bumped into one another.

“Eyes of Moxilla, from Kreon 3” Kupidir said and pierced one of the spheres with an elongated fork. He deftly swirled the escaping polychromatic mist into a small clump using the fork and swallowed it down without chewing. “Prepared the traditional way, it goes without saying.”

Graylor caught only half the mist. The rest floated quietly toward the dome ceiling, beyond which the blackness of space loomed. The great Citrea Nebula shone orange in the distance.

Growing impatient, Graylor wiped his mouth with his napkin and corrected his posture, poising himself to broach the primary purpose of their meeting. “I thank Your Excellency for giving me the honor to partake of this wonderful meal—“

“Oh I am relieved to hear you are enjoying it. But there’s plenty more to follow, so do tuck in. We’ve only just started, haven’t we? I so look forward to the rest of your Earth dishes. It is I, Ambassador, who should thank you for such an educational culinary experience.”

“Your Excellency honors me. But if I may be allowed to bring up the main topic of our negotiations, namely the issue pertaining to the corridor—“

“Oh dear, must we really rush into such vulgar topics so quickly?” Kupidir grinned, despite his protestations. He put down his fork. “Very well, we are aware of the human proclivity for impatience. I suppose it’s time we ‘got down to business.’” He tilted his head, feigning uncertainty. “Is that the correct phrase?”

“Your Excellency’s impeccable command of Dominion standard honors us.” Graylor got the hang of talking like this, which came as a surprise to him, a working-class man who climbed up the ranks in military service. “I am grateful to have the honor of presenting to you the Dominion’s thoughts and stance on the issue of the corridor.”

“I am all ears, Ambassador.” Kupidir picked up his fork and speared another sphere. “Please, don’t mind my eating. I find it simply impossible to think when I’m not consuming food.”

Fifteen courses later the two still had not reached an agreement. Graylor refused to even consider Kupidir’s proposal to allow the Dominion free passage through the corridor so long as the Dominion joined the Lukkuli Coalition, becoming, in effect, a vassal state. For his part, Kupidir categorically rejected Graylor’s offer to grant the Coalition use of the passage for peaceful purposes only, provided the Coalition guaranteed Dominion sovereignty over the territory and its outer colonies by treaty.

At the doors to the shuttle bay, Graylor bowed and bad farewell. “It is most unfortunate we could not come to an agreement, Your Excellency. Nevertheless, I shall be eternally grateful for the memorable meal.”

“It would have tasted abundantly better had we come to an agreement. But as Dralax teaches us, there are problems even a good meal cannot solve, more’s the pity. I bid you farewell, Ambassador Graylor, and safe journeys. Till our next meal.”

On the journey back to Earth, Graylor hoped his next foray into Coalition territory would not involve him in his capacity as a soldier. Yet four weeks later, his worst fears came to pass. A skirmish between Dominion and Coalition patrols escalated into war, each side blaming the other for starting it.


Date:      The fourth sidereal unit of the Tart cycle

23,699th Brantur

Place: The Great Temple of Adephagia, in the Citrea Nebula sector

The wreckage of vessels from both fleets orbited above the banquet dome, cluttering the view of the nebula. Graylor carried the weight of the astronomical number of casualties on his shoulders as he sat once again in the banquet hall of the great temple. Too many people no longer existed, no longer ate meals, all because he didn’t come to an agreement seven years ago at this very table.

“I share in your remorse. But you mustn’t feel solely responsible, Ambassador,” Kupidir said. “A chain of events far beyond our control had already brought our sides to the brink of hostilities when we last dined here.” He lifted his hand, ordering the drones to begin serving.

“But we could have prevented the carnage,” Garylor said. Seven years of war had drained him of his earlier vigor. “Our peoples held out a slim hope we would avert war. And we failed them, Your Excellency.” The form of address flowed out naturally, bewildering Graylor himself. The instincts of a soldier had taken backstage to those of a diplomat.

“Come now, Ambassador, we both represented the best interests of our peoples at the time. The results were tragic, but not all is lost. For here we find ourselves again, dining together and negotiating an armistice.”

“Trillions of casualties later.” Graylor’s upper right canine gnawed his lower lip. 

The drones brought in bowls of layered soup and laid them gently in front of them. A clear liquid with a faint hue of blue lay above a creamier layer of white. Small berries floated on the surface, rustling as they slowly dissolved.

“Ulovian broth layered over Vichyssoise,” Kupidir said, examining the culinary amalgam. “A prelate of this temple suggested the recipe. He thought it fitting as a symbol of our two realms ceasing hostilities and coexisting side by side.”

“It resembles the shallows of a sea along a sandy beach on Earth.” Graylor tilted his head and brought his ear close to the bowl. “And the rustling of waves.”

“And it reminds me of the white slush basins on Lukullus, when the rains blanket them with water. The sound, of course, would be the pattering of rain.”

Graylor partook of the simple meal, finalizing the details of the armistice with Kupidir. Diplomats had hammered out nearly all the points in advance; Graylor and Kupidir only needed to make fine adjustments within the overall scope of the agreement. A drone hovering over them minuted the proceedings.

“There is one final point I wish to add, Ambassador.” Kupidir laid down his spoon and wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“But of course, Your Excellency.” Graylor scooped up the remnants of his vichyssoise.

“Today shall be the last day you address me as that, Ambassador.”

Graylor raised an eyebrow.

“Now that we have concluded our armistice, I shall abdicate tomorrow morning. Within the day the high council will convene and elect a new Conciliator.”

Graylor fixed him with a stare. “But would it not be wiser to stay on and ensure the peace we brokered lasts?”

“Like all people in our positions, I have my share of detractors, and many are keen to blame me for the war, and I don’t blame them for doing so.”

“Yet you said yourself we shouldn’t bear the entire responsibility ourselves.”

“True, not the entire responsibility, but perhaps the greater part of it. But other considerations have also led me to the decision.” The drones sailed in and cleared the table. Kupidir stood up and viewed the expanse outside the dome. “I believe I can better serve the peace in another capacity.” Kupidir smiled and headed for the edge of the dome.

“And that is?” Graylor asked, following Kupidir.

“I shall join the Adephagian order and devote my culinary skills here, as a prelate.”

Graylor didn’t know what to make of the revelation. “I never knew you had religious aspirations as well, Your Excellency.” He caught up with Kupidir and stood beside him.

“Food informs everything, Ambassador—religion, philosophy, politics, economics, society, the arts—the list goes on forever. If both sides diverted the majority of their resources to securing food for all and cultivating gastronomical culture, this stretch of the galaxy would perhaps become a more peaceful place, would you not agree?

“I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps some good will come out of the war after all.”

“This temple must therefore serve as a paragon of the armistice, where both sides come to discuss differences over an exquisite meal.” Kupidir turned to Graylor. “And for that to happen, I need you to work together with me, Ambassador.”

“Certainly, Your Excellency. My government and I will be more than happy to cooperate where we can.”

“No, Ambassador. I mean I need you here as my equal counterpart. We must jointly serve this temple’s new mission of peace.” Kupidir smiled and raised his hand. “And it’s no use protesting, Ambassador. I shan’t take no for an answer. Besides, Her Most August Highness Vivian, Praetrix of the Benevolent Dominion of Humanity, has already granted me approval personally this morning. She is in agreement that you are the best candidate. You wouldn’t want to disappoint your head of state now, would you? Come, Ambassador, there is still much to chew on, as it were. Our work is only beginning.” Kupidir turned and headed back to the banquet table, signaling the drones to serve the next course.

July 02, 2021 14:48

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Jason Ivey
08:38 Jul 04, 2021

An intriguing glimpse into political relations of a distant future! I enjoyed your clever linguistic references to gastronomical matters and thorough incorporation of food into the story. Great work :)


Jon R. Miller
11:04 Jul 04, 2021

Thank you for noticing the references! :> It was fun writing this.


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Tom D
16:13 Jul 03, 2021

Excellent entry in the ‘Millerverse’! The concept of a civilisation built around gastronomy was a fascinating and well-realised one - loved the description of the dishes, particularly the Eyes of Moxilla which I could really picture! Also very much enjoyed the politics, especially the use of dubious historical records to fabricate claims to the corridor…thought the characterisation of the soldier-cum-ambassador Graylor was also great. Fantastic job!


Jon R. Miller
17:08 Jul 03, 2021

I'm glad you liked the Eyes of Moxilla! :> I did too. It was so tempting to just go on with the scene of the two eating, with descriptions of all sorts of neat dishes. Foodie space opera could be really interesting if done well, I think. :> Thank you as always for your kind, helpful, and encouraging comments!


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