Author : Bob Newbell

The Landreb fleet didn’t travel across space. It simply appeared suddenly and without warning in low Earth orbit. One of the fifty starships fired an energy beam that obliterated an uninhabited islet in the Dodecanese Island chain mere moments after the vessels appeared in orbit. Less than a minute later, the following message was heard in dozens of languages on every radio and television frequency:

“Leaders of Earth, we are the Landreb. We are prepared to lay waste to the entire surface of your planet. Your only chance to avoid this fate is for the heads of state of the countries comprising the United Nations Security Council to meet with our representative at the United Nations building in New York City in precisely 72 Earth hours.”

I was part of the Secret Service detail assigned to the President. The Landreb representative entered the room on four stubby limbs. Its head towered two yards above its body. Think of a giraffe whose legs had been swapped with those of a German Shepard; that was this thing’s rough outline. It shambled across the room in an ungainly encounter suit. It seemed weighed down by Earth’s gravity. There were no introductions or other pleasantries.

“We,” the thing said in what sounded like English but was somehow being simultaneously spoken in the native languages of each of the world leaders, “are at war with a species we call the Soontet. The rivalry between our race and theirs is old and deep and there can be no peace until one side or the other is annihilated. Your world holds the key to the survival and victory of the Landreb race.

“Deny us what we demand, and your world will be destroyed. Comply, and we will give you technology it would take your species centuries to develop. For the survival of our civilization as well as your own, you will turn over to us this entire planet’s supply of Sanderson’s Old Fashioned Mustard.”

The dignitaries looked at each other with confusion. The President raised his hand and started to speak. The alien whirled on the American before he could utter a word.

“The yellow!” the Landreb insisted. “Not the spicy brown! Soontet physiology is resistant to the spicy brown mustard. And no competing brands! Our bioweapons researchers insist it must be Sanderson’s!” We had no choice but to capitulate.

And so the global economy shifted almost entirely to the production of Sanderson’s Old Fashioned Mustard. Sanderson Condiments, Inc. became the world’s most valuable company even as protesters picketed their factories and corporate offices, calling their executives and employees war criminals for being complicit in genocide.

After three years, the Landreb announced that the war was over. The weaponized hot dog and pretzel accompaniment had destroyed the Soontet. The Landreb kept their word about sharing their technology. Disease has been mostly eradicated. The planets of the solar system are now dotted with colonies that are on their way to becoming cities. We have journeyed outside the solar system. And we have encountered other intelligent species. Many regard humanity as a race of genocidal maniacs because of our role in the Soontet extinction. To others, we are a laughingstock, having become an interstellar civilization thanks to a third rate table condiment. And the pervasive sense of shame that has become the norm of human culture, the notion that one’s race is both monster and fool, has never diminished in the strange and morose years that have passed since we have made our way to the stars.

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