Author : Rick Tobin

“Let’s fly to Oberon for fresh grub. Old Billy’s is good. That crusty Aborigine’s got odd ancient cuisine that’ll sharpen our palates. Maybe invite Ciers over. Missed him lately.”

Jensen Elbat corrected the freighter’s navigation towards Uranus, a sharp turn from their delivery path to the Kuiper Belt mining colonies.

“Shouldn’t take us too far off schedule. We can say we avoided hot magnetic zones that keep migrating near Neptune’s orbit. Forget Ciers, though; he died during hydrogen refueling near Titan last week.”

Jensen’s co-pilot, Crandall Shantz, raised the nuclear control rods as the freighter adjusted to new coordinates.

The ship’s two-seat shuttle craft left the freighter orbiting over the pock-marked moon. Jensen set down in the icy landing field outside a flashing, orange sign advertising Old Billy’s restaurant. They were the only visitors. Merchant travel crumbled in the outer zones after renewal of conflicts between Earth and Mars.

Once beyond the pressurized hatches of the eatery, Elbat and Shantz removed their spacesuit helmets. Shantz noticed drifting piles of gray moon dust near the entry left by previous guests. Inside were sterile blue walls of harshly back-lighted acrylic perforated with insets of orange cubbyholes constructed of soft plastic and rubbery compounds. Feeding tubes and electrical lines draped to these narrow chambers through the acrylic ceiling from where foods were artificially manufactured above them. Across from the alcoves was a massive sign reading, “If the food’s too tough…grow a pair.”

Billy appeared as a holographic display in front of his customers. The Aborigine was traditionally dressed with white face markings and a loin cloth, with a boomerang draped from his throat on a bright-red bandana. “Mr. Elbat, so glad to have you back. Long time. And your companion?”

“Co-pilot Shantz. New here. Surprise us. I know you can.”

“So glad to,” Billy replied, coming in and out of focus in the flickering display. “Especially with a new war on. You be sure to tell others I’m still open.”

“Always will,” Elbat returned. “So what’s today’s special?”

“We got roast iguana with kangaroo sauce, sautéed carrot juice and a dessert of baked dagoba seeds wrapped in albino koala skin.”

Elbat whistled. “Make that two. He can take it, and don’t hold back on the hot sauce. We’re on a long run to the Belt. We’ll need all the heat we can get.”

“Coming up. You go ahead and get connected and it’ll be out in a few.”

Shantz pointed up at the display. “This place is weird. Never heard of carrots. And what’s the sign all about?”

“Old Earth joke,” Elbat replied. “When humans still had teeth. Couldn’t chew? Then grow a new set of dentures. Nobody has had any teeth in a thousand years, or hair, since all the exposure to heavy metals and deep space radiation. Let’s move into the food bays. This is a pleasure you won’t forget. Wished Ciers could have joined us.”

The men wriggled into the slick walls of the waiting cavities. The materials vibrated, fitting tight to them as flavor probes connected to their thalamus inlet sockets on the back of their necks, inputting programmed odors and tastes for Old Billy’s menu choices. Feeding tubes hooked to valve stems on their throat stomas, allowing direct esophageal deposits. They closed their eyes in ecstasy as the gray gooey goop slid into them. They chomped open mouthed with pink, empty gums as saliva dribbled over the outside of their suits. Old Billy sang a sacred walkabout chant from a forgotten homeland to aid their digestion.

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