Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer
Nine days after receiving the transmission from Claudia, Jisuk found himself sitting in a corner booth at the Leaping Cow pub, grateful that the iciness of his beer disguised its stagnant taste. It wasn’t hard to keep something cold on Luna Mal, where the school uniforms included heavy coats, but until this visit he’d never realized how well the temperature complimented (or disguised) the flavor of the region’s cuisine. When Claudia finally sauntered into the bar, ten minutes late, she unwrapped her scarf and yanked her hat from her head before dropping into place across from him. Her blond hair was a mess, and she smelled like damp wool. Jisuk had been annoyed since leaving Earth for the three day journey to Luna, and his contact’s tardiness didn’t help matters. Unfortunately, Jisuk knew he needed her.
Last year, Claudia had secured an exclusive contract for Mercurian saffron, and the spice had given his menu an advantage over the hydroponic dishes offered by his competition. Now, the rest of the gourmet world was beginning to realize that Terrans preferred their cuisine pulled from the soilâ€”a kind of nostalgia, he imaginedâ€”and if he didn’t come up with something new, he risked losing his prestige as an innovator.
Claudia yanked the drawstring of her bag and withdrew a dull metal box slightly larger than his palm. A portable refrigeration unit, he realized. She placed it on the table with a quiet thump and motioned for a server to bring her a glass of water.
“Joraberries,” Claudia told him with a broad smile.
Jisuk’s expression of interest showed a flicker of reservation. “Berries?”
“Not just berries. Joraberries.”
“If this is some kind of Frankenstein fruit, I’m not going to violate-”
“It’s not,” she interrupted. “It’s not engineered at all. All-natural and organic, fresh from an ice cave on Triton.” Her thumb rubbed the box’s fingerprint reader, but she didn’t lift the lid.
“Berries. From an ice cave.”
“The colonists have been living on them for years, but no one on this side of the asteroid belt has heard of them,” Claudia continued. “They’re seeds. Unfertilized, preserved by the nitrogen pools. Aged at least five centuries old. Since the plants are extinct, they’re a limited commodity. And I just bought the cave.”
“Show me,” Jisuk said. The lid of the box flipped open.
For a second, it was impossible to see the contents through the pale fog floating over the surface of the liquid nitrogen. After several seconds, however, the denser gas spilled over the edges and onto the table and revealed several clusters of translucent beads, each seed the size of a large marble and containing a black pit smaller than a sesame seed. They were submerged in the clear fluid, but Claudia retrieved a pair of plastic tongs from her bag and pulled one free, then dropped it into her glass of ice water.
“Like I said, I own the cave,” she said as the berry frosted to an almost opaque white, “and I’ve contracted two groups of migrant workers from Io. If you’re not interested in them, I’m sure Kerry Jenson will be.”
The mention of his main competitor caused Jisuk’s eyes to narrow. “If they’re any good, I’ll buy them,” he said. “If they’re not, it’ll be Jenson’s loss.”
Claudia shrugged. Seconds of silence passed before she fished the berry from the ice water with her tongs, then motioned for Jisuk to extend his hand. He complied. The skin of the seed felt like frozen leather. He touched his tongue to the berry, then popped it into his mouth and bit hard, hard enough to pop the thick coating. The inside was gelatinous but shot through with ice crystals–a fascinating texture, one strong enough to feature the betty prominantly in desserts. The taste developed a second later: sweet, but with an acidic tinge. Versatile, excellent for marinades, and he could already imagine a martini flavored by its extract.
“They’re good,” he said. He swallowed the gel and chewed the skin, which dissolved almost immediately into syrup. “Excellent.”
“It’s what I do,” Claudia said. She waited before continuing. “Thirteen credits a pound,” she told him. “Including shipping. They’ll come like this, in nitrogen.”
“Write up the contract,” Jisuk said after running his tongue across his teeth to lick away the last of the berry’s juice.
“You’ll have it within the week,” Claudia said, grinning before pulling her hat over her head and rising to her feet. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Jisuk nodded. He reached for her tongs, taking another icy sphere from the liquid and dipping it in the ice water to thaw.
“What about the colonists?” he asked as he lifted the berry to his mouth.
“What about them?”
“You said this is what they eat.”
“Oh, they’ll manage,” Claudia said. “They’re a resourceful people.”