Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
I can’t find the words to describe what Jerome is eating.
“How can you?”
He grins around a mouthful.
“Crash land on Lear II. Spend a month waiting for Integral Retrieval to realise your beacon is not a test, and a further six months waiting for the rescue ship to traverse a significant portion of the known universe to collect you. Started out there were six of us. Only me and Gerd made it, because we discovered that Alentl can be eaten raw. You cook them and these,” he flicks an off-white pod from the meat to land on a little pile of matching pods, “burst and drench the whole thing in poison.”
“I understand that. What I don’t understand is: you’re not on Lear II anymore. Why still eat this?”
He finishes his mouthful and grimaces at me.
“Like I said, we survived because we found we could eat Alentl raw. But, I’m still here because Gerd ate less Alentl than me.”
“Still don’t understand.”
He points to the pods.
“They’re the eggs of a critter the Contraxans have named ‘Jerochymia’. They’re also the reason Alentl can eat Posrium, the poisonous weeds that grow all over Lear II. The pods start off as microscopic spores, absorb the toxins, and grow. It seems to be an accident of nature, because while they absorb the toxins, the same toxins keep them from transforming into intermediate forms. When an Alentl dies, it stops eating, the toxin levels drop, and matured parasites eventually hatch from the corpse. They’re really pretty: like long-legged spider crabs made of amethysts and rubies.”
I reach a shaking hand for my drink.
“If you’re a human, when you eat Alentl, you ingest the tiny spores that will eventually grow into pods. When you stop eating Alentl, you stop getting the residual toxins that prevent those spores from transforming into the larval form of Jerochymia that will eat you from the inside out. They’re not so pretty. Look like sabre-toothed hagfish.”
Another pod is flicked from another chunk of flesh.
“I hate this stuff.”
He chews and swallows.