All through college, the three of us were best friends. When we graduated in ’18, Bob and I joined the Galactic Defense Force and got shipped off to the Sirius Sector, but Dmitri’s calling was Postdoctoral research, studying Xenobiology in the Vega system. We tried to keep in touch, but you know how those things work. It’s bad enough to write letters when you aren’t in the Force, and all that moving around really kills the motivation.

Anyways, I think it was Bob’s idea to drop in on Dmitri during our extended leave. Old time’s sake and all, he said, and I wasn’t going to argue. It would be nice to see the guy, so we rented a shuttle and picked up a couple cases of Sirian slurry and warped over to the coordinates we had from his last letter.

As usual, Dmitri was extremely enthusiastic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because of our visit. Apparently, the Bugus whogivesacrapus (I don’t remember the actual name, but I think I’m pretty close) was just hours away from the beginning of its mating cycle. This bug only mates one night in the 377-day year (poor bastards), and tonight was the night (lucky bastards). Dmitri had to leave immediately, but he told us to make ourselves at home, and he said he’d be back in time for supper the next day. After a quick hug and another apology, he disappeared into the woods with his sample pack.

For Dmitri, “home” was a five-room hut in the middle of a dense forest. It was primitive but livable, like something out of an old documentary. We cracked open the slurry and started a campfire in a pit out back, but when we reached the end of the first case, we realized we were pretty hungry. Of course, we hadn’t brought anything to eat, and when we searched Steve’s home we couldn’t figure out what was food and what was research.

We weren’t going to let that stop us. We were soldiers. Armed men trained in the art of survival. Despite the case of slurry, it only took us a couple minutes of tromping through the forest before we bagged a large, flightless bird with our phasers. One thing was certain: if people lived on this planet, they’d never go hungry. The thing must have weighed fifty kilos. While Bob prepared the “bird,” I constructed a spit and support over the fire. Three hours later, we were deep into our second case of slurry and feasting on roasted alien meat.

You know, during my years in the force, I’ve learned that there is one sure constant in the universe: extraterrestrial meat always tastes like chicken. There’s a scale of chicken, too. Good chicken, bad chicken. This was most definitely the former. In fact, it was so good that Bob and I tossed around the idea of bringing a couple back for the other guys in the Force. It took a few hours and a few more rounds of slurry, but eventually, we smothered the fire and called it a well-fed, well-drank night.

The next morning, we carved up the excess meat and hauled the bird carcass deep into the woods for the scavengers (Another constant: all life bearing planets have scavengers.) True to his word, Dmitri returned at about 1600 hours, and the reunion got into full swing. Bob and I shared our tales of adventure and interstellar conquests (complete with body measurements and, if we remembered them, names) while we sat by the campfire, eating leftovers and drinking the last of the slurry. Later, Dmitri chimed in with his boring stories of the indigenous flora and fauna of Vega-4. Scientists lead such wasted lives. We let him ramble for a few minutes, maybe an hour. It’s tough to tell when you’re half-asleep, but when he started telling us about his paper on the development of Vegan Civilization, we stopped him right there. “Whoa, hold on. Civilization?” Bob said. “Are you telling us this planet has intelligent life?”

“Absolutely,” replied Dmitri. “Although the Vegans are less technologically advanced than us, they are probably more advanced, socially. In fact, I’m living with a Vegan. This is the home of Meleagris Prime. He’s an “elder” here. I’ve been studying under him for the last three years. He’s a fascinating individual. Man, can that guy tell a funny story.” He held out his hand, palm down, approximately one meter above the ground. “He’s only about this tall. I can’t believe you haven’t met him yet. He’s usually home. Let me see if I can find him.” Dmitri jumped up and headed toward the hut. “You guys will love him. But be prepared, he’s not humanoid. He looks like a really fat turkey.”