The letters of the large sign, laser-graven-and-lit, within an almost transparent piece of aerogel plassteel, winked and fizzled above the loading docks: E-EKA-L COM-OD---ES . Eighty ublems before, when new, the sign had proclaimed EEEKAAL COMMODITIES as an up-and-comer on the Galactic Delicacies market. Ten lifespans had been spent by successive generations of the EEEKAAL Clan (“Purveyors To Fine Palates”) in working towards some sinecure in the Gourmandary Index of the ARM3 Stockmarket, but their efforts had been in vain.
After abandoning their failed initial A.&R. push (“MUCOUS FOR THE MASSES”) some sixty ublems ago, the firm had specialized, out of necessity, in plasmproteins: meatcuts of exotic,non-sentient (by GalFed Decree) animals, culled from the backwaters and fringes of the galactic protoplasm’s gene-pool; gathered at no little risk, and some great expense, occasioned by the necessary gathering expeditions to the non-federated planets on the fringes of Galactic society, by the scions of Clan Eeekaal in their frenzied, but somewhat less-than-profitable scurry for Position, and Power. Their fortunes had suffered and substantially waned, as the lack of repair to the dockside signad so graphically testified.
It was upon these rather serious distinctions of Dogmadirection, and the genetically inbred notion of Clan Viability , or “Glé”, that Eeekaal8, the great-great-great-great-great-grandclone of the original Eeekaal, ruminated, chewing upon a mass of the “Gl¥ph” ganglia he so favored, fetching a new one every 10 eeblems or so (the narcotic effect of the dying nerve cell’s chemicals fading, in the jaded, at about that interval); expectorating frequently into the iridium spittoon that sat, spattered with phosphorescent green globs, on the floor at the foot of his workstation module.
Synthsteak was fine for plebeians, but the omnivorous and carnivorous wealthy and upper-middle classes of ARM3 of the Galaxy [most notably those of the fourth planet of the star (known on the planet Earth as) Arcturus] demanded more: novelty and diversity, Eeekaal8 (who was a ManagerGrd.1) thought. One of the Clan’s only exclusive markets: the ferropotami of Mudheaven, as the Arcturun planet was known to its inhabitants, were becoming more and more demanding as their wealth and status in Galactic society increased.
Having cornered the market on a process for the production of supercooled subatomic ceramic enclosures essential in the current generation of GalFed FTL shipdrives, enzymes from their slushy excrement doing the job on special slips mined from deep beneath their bogwarrens; their prestige had waxed,as had their entrepreneurial irascibility. Pleasing these immense hulks (weighing nearly as much as one of the Clan’s Collector ships) of organic iron and concrete was becoming more and more difficult. Neither he, nor any of the expert enzyme tailors in his employ yet understood how these creatures exactly tasted anything; let alone how they were able to distinguish it from the ubiquitous rotting sludge that they habitually immersed themselves in. On the other tendril, his was not to reason why, his was but to profit, or die. Lack of profit had decreed the euthanastic demise of the first seven of his generation’s Comptroller Model, Eeekaals1-7, by the Clan’s Genetic Security Division Board; and he certainly did not want his existence “compassionately terminated” for the same reasons.
If the ferropotami’s taste receptor’s processes could be understood by his research staff, then specially crafted compounds could be synthesized particularly for their palates. Short of this, he was committed to providing them with copious (and thereby quite profitable) quantities of not only their favorite foods, but an neverending smorgasbord of new tastes and textures. Aesthetes they would never be, but those ferropotami sure did like to eat!
The search for new tastes for them and other of the Clan’s customers had become something of a mania in the last twenty ublems or so, and Eeekaal8 had ridden the current ARMwide tide of culinary curiosity to modest profit statements 2 ublems running now. Good thing too, considering the short leash that the G.S.D.B. had him on. Not only was he now this quadrant’s largest comestibles importer, but a chain of Clan Eeekaal’s Gourmet Restaurants were now becoming the talk of the Galactic Hub’s InfoNet’s society columns; thanks to a fortunate cost-and-demand analysis projection forwarded to the Clan Directors, through him, by his handpicked staff of market-systems researchers.
Under the swaying signad, Eeekaal8 examined the Bill of Lading from the Clan’s most recent expeditionary foray, with a constriction of his upper frontal commskinpatch, which, in his race, was the equivalent of a frown. He waved an extruded tendril, epidermally shaded red, at the obviously anxious Expedition SupervisorGrd. 3E, hight Eskal2, who had been regarding him uneasily from a respectful distance. Eskal2 had been hoping the boss would give the bill a cursory glance, sign it, and then leave. It would have simplified matters greatly. He prayed silently to Chaoim to protect him with some randomly distractive occurrence, who would feed his grubs if he lost his job, and thus his reproductive viability.
“So Kraaxmaal,” (for so were all probationary personages derogatorily referred to by their genetically proven superiors) “it seems you have declared a stowaway?”, Eeekaal8 signed gruffly, fixing the squirming subordinate with the triangulative positioning of three of his five red stalkeyes. He cocked one in a cynically speculative mannerism. “I suppose you were going to take care of this yourself?”
“Yessir . . . I mean, nossir. I mean . . .”
“Nevermind,” interposed Eeekaal8, inwardly amused by the roccoco genuflections of the underling. A flair for style, he thought, something the Clan should think about cultivating. Shaking off these unbidden genetic system’s analyses, with a hint of mock severity he said: “You know the law. Take me to the being! At once!”
The kraaxmall turned to comply, his psuedopodia visibly quivering.
“And Kraaxmaal . . .”
“Yes, Provenevolved One?”
“It had better be undamaged, physically and mentally! And have all the brainwave calibrations on the Larder unit’s sensor systems be given a through going over immediately! If this is an attempt at guilt expiation on your part, you’d better count your sperm cells, bub! You could be declared Non-Viable , easily!”
“Yessir!” replied Eskal2 stiffly, in a veritable paroxysm of reproductive-threat induced anguish, all appendages in subjugative display. He thanked the Entropic Godhead that he hadn’t accepted Bblogghan The Carpathian’s crudely attempted bribe for the anomalous creature. Then his spreggle really would have been cooked! He wiped the spez from his florns , and then led the way to the de-stasis unit’s processing area.
As they undulated purposefully over the plasmetal decking towards the stasis cells, Eeekaal8 thought ruefully about the current cost of the Clan’s expenditure for their mechanized collecting expeditions. If the Clan were fined for a contravention of GalFed Comestible Collection Regulations, it could seriously jeopardize the current profit statement, and, correspondingly, his future. If it was just a defective device, the Clan would be “non-responsible ”, according to law; but, if there was “sentient-error ”, even the threat of fines would effect their market standing. He knew that this particular Eskal2 model was of unimpeachable genetic integrity, and he would hate to have to sacrifice his existence for the good of the Clan. Nevertheless, his own pupae were, to him, more important than that.
He expelled internal gases in a sigh that roiled his commskinpatch as they approached the transparent barrierfield securing the first cell, and looked in with a great deal of apprehension, and no little curiosity.