Frowning at the goo, I decided that Crawls-Through-Desert could clean it up and wondered how I’d make that stick. Meanwhile, Jaclyn had thought of something.
“Seven of us in one room? For a week? That’s going to be interesting and by interesting I mean, it’s going to be interesting if we’re still talking to each other by the end of it. But that’s not all, do we have food for a week?”
Marcus held up his hand. “I’ve got this one. Yes. We’ve got food. The ship’s got a machine that takes biological matter and converts it into food bars based on its profile for different species’ nutritional needs—“
Jaclyn’s eyes narrowed and she stared at Marcus. “Whoa. Wait a second. Where’s this biological matter coming from? Because there’s only one place I can think of where we’d get spare ‘biological matter’,” she glanced at the bathroom in the back, “and I don’t want to eat it.”
Tikki shook her head. “I wouldn’t worry very much. All the food systems that repurpose biological waste as food follow very strict guidelines so they’re perfectly safe. Well, except for ones the ones the Duguns use, but no one else uses those anyway. The Duguns evolved from carrion eaters after all.”
“No,” Jaclyn began.
Waving down Jaclyn’s objections with both hands, Marcus said, “It’s all real food. I bought it from the grocery store and everything. It’s normal stuff—meat, vegetables, spices… I even gave it recipes I liked—“
In a lower voice, she said, “What kind of recipes?”
“You know, normal stuff—pizza, hamburgers, pot roast, ribs… Plus stuff that Grandma makes. Plus food I like from the D’Onofrio side of the family—and that includes the restaurants. Awesome stuff. Oh yeah… And also some Indian, Thai, Korean, Vietamese and Mexican food because I like it. I tried for sushi too, but I’m not sure how well that worked.”
Marcus grinned. “Seriously. You’re going to like it.”
Cassie glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. “Didn’t you say it made food bars? None of that stuff sounds like food bars.”
Jaclyn nodded along as she talked. “Exactly. Plus, what about breakfasts? You didn’t say anything about that.”
Marcus shrugged. “Breakfasts are in there. It’ll be fine, and yes, they’re all food bars, but trust me, you’re going to like them. I tried a few and they taste more like the meal than you’d ever expect. Plus, one more thing… We’ve got a couple months of food even with seven people. We’ve got this week covered.”
“Cool,” I said. “What happens when food gets low? It sounds like we’ll run out of ingredients eventually. Does it substitute stuff in?”
“Kinda,” Marcus said. “I read in the manual that there’s a point where it prioritizes nutrition over aesthetics. I think it still uses the spices though.”
“That’s right!” Tikki said. “I don’t know if all of you know it, but I was training to be a life support engineer. They’re required by Alliance law to prioritize nutrition over taste because of some disturbing incidents early in Alliance history where the crews started eating each other when the food grew low.”
I thought about it. “I can see where that might be a problem in multi-species crews—“
“It was,” Tikki said. “There was a passenger ship early in Alliance history where they lost their engines and had to eat the beings that died to survive.”
Jaclyn stuck out her tongue. “Yuck. It sounds like the Donner party.”
Katuk looked from one of them to another. “What’s the Donner party?”
I said, “Travelers on our world got stuck in the mountains during the winter and ate their dead to survive.”
Katuk said, “Sensible. The dead no longer need their bodies and would have wished their companions to survive. It’s simply another way to serve.”
Cassie laughed. “Humans don’t see it that way. Most humans would be horrified to discover cannibalism.”
The Xiniti peered at her. “Certainly it would be wrong if the subject was killed to be eaten, but not if they were already dead and the living needed food.”
Jaclyn shook her head. “By our customs, it would be wrong either way. Sure people have done it, but only if they were desperate. Even then, they should have done something else.”
The ship notified me that we were near the gas giant and I extended the ship’s scoops and aimed for the gas giant. For the next hour, the ship gathered and processed water into fuel. Sometimes gas clouds would fill our view—the whole of the spaceship surrounded by a cloud.
Despite the clouds and the planet’s gravity, it didn’t take long to skim and process the fuel. The colonists’ ship did the same behind us and so we both were ready to jump as soon as we left its atmosphere.
“Last chance to go back to your ship,” I told Tikki. “Otherwise you’ll be stuck with us in one small cabin for a week.”
She shook her head. “Don’t worry about me. I’m having much more fun with all of you here. Everyone else is there with their family and I’m by myself, so I don’t know anyone there very well.”
“Okay, then,” I told her. “Remember that when you’re competing with the rest of us for the bathroom. You had a chance to avoid it.”
She laughed. “I’ll remember. Besides,” she stopped smiling, “even though my powers are limited, they’re active. The breeders try to be nice, but they’re still uncomfortable around me. Even sharing a bathroom is more comfortable than that.”
Not sure exactly what she meant, I nodded and brought the ship into near space. The colonists’ ship joined ours and the stars stretched as we flew away from the gas giant. When we had enough distance, I shifted us into jump drive, pulling the colonists’ ship along with us.
Once the gray, shadowy shapes of jumpspace appeared in the windows, I stepped out of my chair. We’d be here for five to nine days, depending on how well the assumptions I’d made matched the system we were heading for. However it worked out though, we were stuck here together for a while.
“Anybody want to play Monopoly?” I asked.