Author: Ken Poyner
We used to eat whole herds of ballan, letting them first graze a while to get used to the slightly thinner atmosphere, adjust to the new gravity. Company issued, company raised, they were better having fed a few cycles on the native grass, taken in some unprocessed air, gotten foot-steady with their new weight. Sweeter. For the last few years, we noticed the shipments getting slightly further apart, the size of the herds delivered seeming just a bit smaller. We figured some transportation official was skimming the shipment, taking a ballan here, a ballan there, selling at pure profit on the black market. Maybe he thought we did not count, would not notice. But then they stopped coming altogether. We pointed out to the home office that there was nothing here suitable to eat. We could starve before farmers, if they shifted a few here, could set in a crop. And it might take years of good guesses to see what might actually in this soil grow. They said they understood, and would get right on it. A few more transmissions, and then the home office went silent. In fact, the home world went silent and we started to worry what forms we should fill out and where we might send them. No response, no ballan. After a few planetary cycles, it was beginning to look quite grim.
Then this new food source started coming. A bit smaller, but from the point of starvation, anything looks like a feast. We peeled the outer skin, discovered right away there was a thinner inner skin to peel as well. Not much work once you learn how to hook it with a crooked tentacle. We ate right away when they first came. It had been a while since the last ballan, and our rationing plan had not been all that well thought out. But once we had our fill, had backed away from the face of famine, we thought: maybe like the ballan, if we let them be for a while, perhaps they would grow softer, lose a little of that hard metal taste. So, for now, we let them go on, let them practice their small industries. We stay out of their way. When we think the meat has come to prime, we can harvest the whole lot of them.