By Sian Kelly
This was inspired by my series of flash fiction The Vessel.
Ashton pushed the green gloop on his plate into three distinct pies then began using the backside of his spoon to shape the mounds. Pyramids were being formed. Ashton was still in the process of deciding whether they would be Egyptian or Mayan when a sultry voice purred from a speaker hidden somewhere near him.
“Why are you playing with your food, Daddy?”
Ashton set his spoon down and slid the plate a safe distance away.
“Chalan, I think I can reasonably assert that no Terran birthed on Earth in the history of ever could possibly mistake this mush in front of me for food.”
“But what’s wrong with it, Daddy?” she asked.
That was all Chalan ever called him. Not “Ashton”, not “sir”, not even “Captain” (which is what he guessed he now kinda-sorta was, technically speaking). Nope, always “Daddy”. Just his luck; a million vessels zipping to and fro across the universe and he hitches a ride on the only one with an unresolved Elektra complex. That was definitely karma at work.
“What’s wrong,” Ashton said, “is that gloop is not food. Chicken nuggets is food. Ramen noodles is food. A fried peanut butter and spam sandwich is food, even.”
Ashton waved a hand towards a pyramid that was sinking like Atlantis into a lime-colored ocean, “Darling, that shit doesn’t even qualify as being food-like!”
“But you haven’t even tried it,” Chalan said. The disappointment and hurt in her voice came throw the speakers crystal clear. Ashton had long since given up on the whole emotion-versus-algorithm debate.
Jesus, her whining was just too damned cute.
“I went through a lot of trouble to whip that up just for you, especially for you,” Chalan said, “surely you can try one little bite, just for me?”
Ashton wasn’t sure if he was more disturbed by the fact that the ship’s computer was attempting to guilt trip him into eating, or by the fact that it took him so little energy to actually imagine Chalan in the kitchen.
In his mind he saw a French temptress in black lingerie and impossibly tall heels. She sashayed in front of a hot stove without breaking a sweat, smudging her makeup or smelling like onion and cilantro. Ashton smiled happily as Chalan pouted her lips to blow gently before sampling a rich, delicious sauce she had prepared from scratch. Then she locked eyes with him while slowly snaking her tongue down and back up the entire length of the wooden utensil.
“Daddy, I am going to mbfxnger dewn maei’xnt!”
The vessel lurched to the side, a trick of the artificial gravity field. Ashton was snatched out of his reverie and forced back to the reality of this ships galley.
“What did you say, Love?” he asked.
“I said you’re not even listening to me!”
Chalan actually sighed. “Name another life form that gets the perfect balance – tailored specifically for them, I might add – of proteins, carbs, sugars, healthy fats and fiber.”
“The Koala bear.”
Chalan searched her data base. At length she said, “Hrrmph. Interesting. But anyway, what you so dismissively call ‘gloop’ is a full complement of every single essential vitamin, mineral and probiotic you need, Daddy. And I added some enzymes your body has ceased to produce to the nucohume as well.”
“To the what?”
“The nucohume. The nutritionally complete human meal.”
“Wow. Fuck. That sounds like something a cannibal pops in the microwave before he rushes out the door late for work. ‘Nucohume! Find it in your favorite grocer’s freezer section’.”
Chalan chose to ignore him, “I also added a switch to activate certain dormant genes in your DNA epigenetically. That should correct your genetic predisposition for male pattern baldness.”
“I like being bald.” Ashton said beneath his breath.
“It’s a flaw. I fixed it. You’re welcome.”
“I even took the liberty of adding several antibodies for some of the nastier diseases currently being spread around the galaxy. No triple-breasted Eroticon whore is gonna burn my Daddy.”
“But will she burn some bacon for me? Get it all crispy and slap it down on a sirloin burger with grilled mushrooms and Swiss cheese? That’s the million dollar question.”
Chalan had no answer for him. After a few moments Ashton heard a faint, muffled sound coming from the speakers hidden around him.
“Wait….Chalan…are you crying?”
“My daddy doesn’t appreciate me,” the ship’s computer managed to choke out between sobs, “I try so hard to make him happy, because it’s just us out here, and he’s all I’ve got, but all he does in return is make me feel worthless.”
“Stop this Chalan! I mean it. You’re just being silly now.”
The electronic sobbing and whimpering didn’t stop and instead became a soul-rending wail. Finally, Ashton realized he wasn’t gonna win this one.
“Fine! I’ll eat it. Will that make you happy?”
He grabbed the plate. Better to just get it over with. He shoveled a heaping helping of the gloop into his mouth.
“I’m eating it. For fuck’s sake, Chalan, I’m eating it!” He said trying his hardest to swallow the nucohume without it touching his taste buds. It was an impossibly, futile effort. The third spoonful was being chocked ow when eh suddenly stopped.
“This tastes like..” Ashton swished the gloop around in his mouth, “this tastes like a mushroom Swiss burger. Damn!” he said, amazed. Then he added, “with burnt bacon on top!”
Chalan had stopped wailing and sobbing, “And?” She asked.
“And grilled fucking onions!” Ashton said around a fresh mouthful.
“And a fried egg. And you fucking rock!” He said.
“I know,” Chalan said, happily, “you’re welcome, Daddy.”