This story was first published in Andromeda Spaceways Issue #59, in April 2014.
Reposted here because it is one of my favourites.
What if the aliens are tasty?
Nicholas P. Oakley
[Extract from the Helo-8 Xenoetiquette Manual, First Contact Guidelines, Vol. IV, ‘Troubleshooting and Less Common First Contact Problems’, Sections 600.1 – 1294.9, Fifteenth Imprint]
780.1 – Dining Out: What If The Aliens Are Tasty?
Don’t worry! This question comes up quite often. We know full well the stresses of space exploration. Between cryo sickness, the strenuous physiological and psychological demands of space travel, and encountering new forms of life in hostile environments and unfamiliar gravities, even the strongest and most experienced crews can find themselves in difficulty. And, as we saw in sections 702.1 [I Ate Something I Shouldn’t Have] and 745.18 [Emergency Contraceptive Measures], all sorts of strange and unexpected scenarios might arise when you least expect them, and hunger and curiosity are often — but not always — a bad mix. But we’re not here to judge. We understand that occasionally the omnivorous instincts of you or your travel-weary crew-mates might emerge when you least expect them to.
With that in mind, try to answer the following questions and read the guidelines for scenarios involving tasty aliens.
780.1.1 – How tasty?
This might be hard to decide after months or years eating ration gels and digging into calorie tubs, but do try to be impartial. How tasty are they really? If you were served the alien in question in a galactic hub restaurant, how would you rate the meal? Often the absence of choice might make something more appealing than it really is (again, see section 745.18 [Emergency Contraceptive Measures])
780.1.1a – They taste fantastic!
Great! Move to section 780.1.2.
780.1.1b – They are not really that tasty.
If you decide that they’re not actually all that tasty, you should probably reconsider eating them. There are often many negative repercussions to eating an alien lifeform that can be prevented simply by refraining from eating them in the first place.
If you find yourself unable to cease consumption, these sections might be useful:
1204.24 [Addiction: The Cold Turkey Approach]
677.1 [Help! I Think I’m Infected]
780.1.2 – Are they edible?
You’ve decided that the aliens really are tasty. Next, ask yourself this: are they edible? Are you sure? Do you experience stomach pains or similar, unwanted side effects? Does your digestive or nervous system react badly? Any skin rashes, difficulty breathing, unfamiliar sensations, previously unencountered dreams, ennui, out-of-character fits of psychosis, vampirism, cannibalism, zombieism (insatiable hunger) or unusual lumps and bumps?
780.1.2a – They are edible.
If you answered no to all of the above, congratulations, the aliens seem to be edible! Move to section 780.1.3
780.1.2b – They are not edible.
If you encountered any of the above or similar unwelcome side-effects, cease consumption — however tasty — and seek medical assistance immediately. The Xenoetiquette Academy and the authors associated with this First Contact Manual cannot be held responsible for any misadventure that might occur if this advice is ignored.
780.1.3 – Are there any other benefits?
Now we’ve established that the aliens are both tasty and edible, let’s consider for a moment whether there are any other positive side-effects. Whilst or immediately after eating them, have you encountered any of the following:
– Narcotic or hallucinogenic experiences?
– Pleasant tingling in the extremities?
– Mind-altering or prophetic dreams?
– Miraculous cures of any kind?
– The ability to communicate with and/or raise the dead, or similar paranormal abilities?
– A sense of well-being?
– Impossible or implausible feats of strength, cognition, agility, or virility?
If you answered yes to any of the above you might want to skip the rest of this guidance and move immediately to section 1044.7 [Licensing & Patenting], as well as browsing sections 1420.84 [Jackpot: Exploiting Your Discoveries] and 1744.2 [Capes 101: A Guide To Channelling Your Superpowers].
If there are no other benefits to consumption other than edibility and taste, move to the next section.
780.2 – Classifying your dinner
This can occasionally be tricky to figure out, depending on the alien species, but classification is important for determining future action, so do try your best.
780.2.1 – Flesh, eggs, infant, guts, milk, semen, unknown, other?
Are you able to determine what precisely you are eating? Is it part of the alien itself, or a secretion, bodily or reproductive fluid, infant, foetus, or similar? We suggest you refer to sections 140.1 through 300.99 of this handbook for an overview of xenobiology and identification procedures if you are unsure.
780.2.1a – It is the alien itself, or part of it.
If it is the alien itself, move to section 780.3.
If you are eating part of the alien, see section 780.3.4
780.2.1b – It is not the alien itself, but something derived from it.
Although at first glance eating by-products, derivatives or offspring of the alien species might seem kinder than consuming the alien itself, in some cases it is actually much worse. This is especially true when it comes to offspring. Whilst eggs, foetuses, infants or spawn might be tastier than their adult counterparts, many alien species actually regard such considerate gormandising on your behalf to be an act of war or, at the very least, mildly inconsiderate.
Always exercise caution and common sense when eating alien derivatives or offspring!
Remember, most species in the universe consider reproduction to be the sole purpose of their existence, so what might seem like a benevolent culinary choice might land you in more hot water than you imagined, however well-intentioned your motives. In some instances, otherwise passive species have been known to become hostile if you interfere with their reproductive efforts, their offspring (born or otherwise), or you attempt to extract resources (such as milk, egg sacs, regurgitated food, etc.) originally intended for their young for your lunch.
N.B. Eating excreted waste or faecal matter is almost universally considered a faux pas throughout the galaxy, but, unlike the consumption of other derivatives, a benign — if bizarre — practice. The authors suggest you use discretion.
For more unusual cases and outcomes of derived product consumption, you might like to refer to the following sections:
745.52 [Three’s a Crowd: Knowing When It’s OK To “Lend a Hand”]
992.81 [Blood Feuds: Prevention, Avoidance, Triumph]
101.1 [The Universal Apology: Saying Sorry Was Never So Easy]
780.2.1c – I’ve no idea what it is.
If the species isn’t in this manual, is unlike any other known classified species previously encountered, or you are simply unable to identify which part of the alien you are eating, don’t worry! Continue to follow the guidelines, paying particular attention to section 780.4.
You might also like to refer to section 140.5 [Linnaeus Who?] for guidelines on naming conventions.
780.3 – Further considerations before you dine.
Now that we have a fairly good idea about what we’re eating, and we’ve established that it is tasty and edible, we’ll discuss some further considerations before you dine.
780.3.1 – Does eating them cause the alien or its counterparts distress?
Distress is usually a good indicator that your actions are unwelcome, as well offering a crude guide to sentience and the alien’s ability to comprehend, experience or anticipate both fear and pain.
Unfortunately, distress may manifest itself in any number of ways. Amongst other things, the alien(s) might cry, challenge, scream, coerce, flash a variety of colours, fight, click, plead, imprison, dance, transform, shiver, litigate, curl up, explode, transcend, implode, or vibrate. Reading these signs can sometimes be difficult even for the most experienced explorer. Always try to remember that non-humanoid, energy lifeforms, and other rare alien species might display distress, pain, or grief in unfamiliar ways.
Where an alien species displays obvious signs of distress at your attempts to eat them, you might wish to reconsider your actions and find alternative sources of sustenance. If this isn’t an option, consider adopting more humane and/or sneakier methods of extracting the tasty parts.
These sections might be useful:
556.5 [Surprise!: Learning to Ninja Like a Pro]
1666.1 [Open Sesame: The Complete Tomb-raiding Guide]
600.1 [Just Relax: Improvised Surgical Methods]
780.3.2 – Do they die?
Depending on your choice, the alien you’ve got your eye on for the grill may or may not survive the experience. This really depends on what part of the alien you’re consuming, or if you’re eating a derivative/ infant. In some instances, you might need to kill many more than the alien(s) you intend to eat, because of resistance/rage/grief. Experience has taught us that avoiding any unnecessary killing is nearly always the best course of action, especially when a bit of thought and imagination might prevent indiscriminate slaughter.
With that in mind, you might like to ask yourself the following questions:
– Can I just eat part, rather than all, of this alien?
– Do I really need to kill this alien to get to the tasty portion?
– Is there a way I can limit or reduce the number of aliens I have to kill?
– Can I wait until the alien has died from natural causes before I eat them? (Caution: use extreme care when attempting to extract tasty parts post mortem; you might contract any number of diseases, and many species – even barely-sentient ones – consider desecration of corpses upsetting or offensive, and may react unpredictably).
– If I have to kill the alien, can I do it in a way that causes the alien or its family/ friends/ swarm/ colleagues/ civilization the least amount of suffering?
– Will killing or eating older, socially isolated, lower status, diseased, or undesirable individuals lead to less distress overall? (You could be considered a boon in prisons, hospitals or elderly housing facilities and their local equivalents, for example).
780.3.3 – Do they mind?
The universe gives many examples of species willing to give their lives, derivatives, or brood up for something they perceive to be as a ‘greater good’. It might only take a bit of persuasion for them to decide that you are that greater good.
Also remember that, whilst they might not seem particularly distressed by your actions, the alien(s) might display other, more nuanced examples of disapproval. Refer to section 303.1 [Is That A Tentacle In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?: 100 Quick Hints For Identifying Mood] if you need advice on reading alien physiology and emotional states.
The following sections might also be helpful:
422.1 [I Shot You But It’s OK: Learning The Art Of Persuasion]
423.1 [Calming The Storm: Effective Techniques For Resolving Any Argument]
780.3.4 – Do they need the part you’re eating?
This might seem like a difficult question. We understand that ‘need’ is a relative value. How many ribs or fingers does a humanoid really ‘need’, after all? Fortunately, we’ve come up with some general criteria for a quick pre-harvesting assessment.
The alien probably needs the portion/ part, if:
– They die.
– They are no longer able to copulate and/or reproduce.
– They are left, or likely to become, socially isolated.
– They are no longer able to move (only applies to species that were mobile pre-harvest)
– They are unlikely to survive for longer than 48 hours, or 10% of their expected lifespan (whichever is greater).
– They are left defenceless against other predators/ environmental dangers.
– They can no longer feed themselves unaided.
– They are left with less than half of their original body mass, or less than two thirds of their original appendages, heads, organs, epidermis/ shell, or senses.
Often secondary sexual characteristics – such as body hair, horns, tusks, feathers, extraneous energy fields etc. – can be taken with no long-term effect on the alien in question, apart from an impaired reproductive chance. Use your own judgement in these cases.
780.3.5 – Is there anything else to eat?
However you’ve found yourself surveying the indigenous population for culinary satisfaction, whether it be starvation, curiosity, revenge, boredom or practical joke, remember that in most cases there will always be something else to eat, even if your ship’s supplies are in some way compromised or diminished. If you really are in a pickle, we suggest eating non-sentient alien life first. This will nearly always lead to a better outcome than turning to the sentient or semi-sentient alien populace for dinner.
If you do choose this less fraught route, see sections 358.1 [Eating Your Greens: The Herbivore’s Guide] for identifying edible plants, seeds and fungi, and 1010.2 [How Much? Getting Your Credits’ Worth] for barter and trade advice.
You might surprise yourself by how easy it is to find viable nutritious alternatives! However, if you are unable to source a non-sentient alternative, we suggest you begin by munching on species from the bottom of the 300.1 [Sentience Spectrum] first, where possible.
Before you make your next interstellar trip we also suggest consulting our sister publication, A Comprehensive Explorer’s Handbook, which details many affordable and easily maintainable Cornucopia devices for your starship or exploration vessel, as well as other tips for budgeting enough supplies for your expedition, and how to make them last, including a number of delicious yet wholesome recipes.
If you answered yes to any of the questions in section 780.3, you should seriously reconsider continuing to consume the alien(s). Although tastiness might seem like a good indicator of whether or not you should be eating something, there are often other, less immediately apparent, factors that you should take into consideration. The less you antagonise or feast upon any undocumented alien species the better, as far as we at the Xenoetiquette Academy are concerned.
If you answered no to all of these questions we recommend you read the next subsection.
780.4 – Other Items For Your Consideration
The aliens might not display distress or disapproval, miss whatever portion of them that you’re tucking in to, or even gladly offer themselves, their body parts, secretions, or their offspring to you for brunch. However, here are some other things you might like to consider before you or your crew begin eating your fill.
780.4.1 – Biting Back: Knowing Your Sentience Spectrum
It is remarkably easy to cause offence to an alien species, often without even realising it! This is, of course, one of the perils of space exploration and first contact missions. So, even though their immediate reaction to you banqueting on them might seem to be passive acceptance, who knows what schemes of revenge they might be plotting, or cache of ancient superweapons their cloud city/swamp/airship/cave/metropolis/village/energy field/habitat/levitating island/biodome could be hiding. Always remember, then, that just because an alien species seems docile or accepting of your new-found appreciation of their flesh doesn’t always mean they aren’t plotting ways to murder you in your sleep.
It is therefore imperative that you exercise extreme caution when eating an alien species that rates above a 4-B on the [Sentience Spectrum], otherwise you or your future grandchildren might end up being dinner and/or victims of an intergalactic war of your making!
780.4.2 – Destined for Greatness & Hidden Depths, or, the Turellion Argument
Without Turellion’s work we would never have discovered the ribbondrive. Just think what our civilization would look like if an alien species had landed on Prime-12 and decided to cook her for supper! With that in mind, try to imagine what scientific, technological, cultural or sociological advances your dinner — or their descendants — might have made to the galaxy if they hadn’t been so tasty. This is especially true of those that rate high on the [Sentience Spectrum] or are still scored early on the 302.1 [Evolutionary Event Prediction Guidelines]. Many species or civilizations — or even individual aliens — that might seem crude, stupid, or underdeveloped to you could actually be destined for galactic greatness somewhere in their future, or even have hidden depths that you’re not able to comprehend. Just think how long the magnificent atazoid culture on Curesh’qah-Four went unnoticed and unappreciated for!
This might give you cause to rethink your dinner – what if you were dining on the grandmother or evolutionary forebear of the next Turellion, or even the next Turellion herself?
780.4.3 – The Dodo Effect: Recognising Impact
At the other end of the Turellion Argument are those alien populations that are completely unable to adapt to change. There may not be any Turellions in their future, and their evolutionary prospects could be bleak, but they nevertheless might still be worth saving from your mess hall. Some of us here at the Xenoetiquette Academy feel that these less fortunate species should be given some safeguards from the perils of the wider galaxy, and — sorry to say — that might mean protection from your appetite, too. Although largely an academic problem for first contact missions and prospecting crews, always try to keep in mind the impact of your presence on the alien species; and especially whether their tastiness might endanger their very existence if widely known. This is also true in cases where local ecosystems are small or fragile, or where a number of other species are in some way dependent on the lifeform you’ve earmarked for the oven. See 780.4.6 for more on this.
For tips on avoiding the Dodo Effect, see sections:
442.9 [House of Cards]
832.1 [In Too Deep: Knowing When to Back Away Slowly]
780.4.4 – Legal, Religious, Ethical, Other
No manual on eating tasty aliens could be called complete whilst leaving out some of the more academic theories on first contact missions and xenorelations. Inevitably, your actions will have a significant impact on how the alien species deals with both humanoid civilizations and the wider galaxy in the future. Try to remember that you are a representative of humanoids and intergalactic travellers everywhere, and act accordingly.
There are also many other legal, religious and ethical constraints on first contact explorers, and many trillions of words have been written about the killing, enslavement or exploitation of indigenous sentient and semi-sentient lifeforms, particularly for personal gain. Rehashing these arguments is beyond the scope of this manual, but remember that the consumption of alien lifeforms is frowned upon by many legal and moral authorities.
See the following appendices for more on this difficult topic:
Appendix #8200.1 [The Tangled Web: Legal Opinion and Exploration for Xenological Research and Exploitation, A Case Study History]
Appendix #445.89 [Holy Cow!: Religion and Food]
780.4.5 – Applying The Three Questions
The authors of this manual often use three simple questions for determining whether or not a particular action is the correct one during first contact missions. They might help you, too.
– If this was happening to me, how would I feel?
– Am I making the universe a better place by doing this?
– Does what I’m doing maximise general happiness, or just enhance my own?
If you’d like to explore these issues more carefully, see section 102.1 [Etiquette and Ethics: Empathy, Justice, Utility] for a comprehensive explanation and review.
780.4.6 – The Rarity Problem: Ocean or Oasis?
Taking a beaker of water from a vast ocean is quite different from taking the last drop from an oasis. In some parts of the galaxy, life is incredibly rare. That could be true of the alien species you plan to eat, too; there might only be several hundred or thousand individuals of the alien species in your sandwich, and they might be utterly unlike any other species in the known galaxy.
Rarity, then, poses its own unique problem for the hungry. In most cases, where your impact on an alien species is likely to be severe enough to cause widespread disruption or even destruction, we always advice that you observe from a distance anyway (see section 104.62 [A First Contact Primer: Knowing When To Walk/ Jump Away] for a reminder).
Remember, by choosing to consume a rare or marginal alien species, you might be:
– Jeopardising any chance for future study, including opportunities for xenological research, medical, genetic and technological discoveries, or cultural exchange.
– Committing xenocide (perhaps inadvertently).
– Committing ecocide, by creating a vacuum in the food chain that leads to the end of all lifeforms on the planet, not just the tasty ones.
For more on dealing with the Rarity Problem, see sections:
103.1 [Xenocide: Ten Simple Tips on Prevention]
1044.75 [License to Shill: How Licensing Your Discoveries Can Make You Rich]
780.5 – The Thoughtful Gourmand: Final Comments
We hope that this section of the manual has helped you determine what to do in case of tasty aliens. Most of this section is taken from a wide range of sources, and you can access more detailed guidance and references by visiting our [infosphere portal]. It also contains tips for determining nutritional value, lists thousands of recipes, provides “humane” slaughter techniques, and more!
Finally, remember that just because something is tasty doesn’t necessarily mean you should be putting it in your mouth!
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