Read by Daniel Levia
“Huh?” was my not-so-intelligent reply as my brain stumbled on those two unexpected words. I looked my potential customer over: five eyes stared steadily back and something I might charitably have described as a tongue flicked the edges of its saw-toothed mouth. A Vryxillian. Hadn’t had one of those in my shop before.
“Got Human?” it rasped once more, leaning forward over the butcher’s block.
I’d heard about this – rumours, gossip, jokes that weren’t quite funny enough to be jokes. Technically, as applicants to the Council, we were off the menu. But I’d been on the Space Station long enough to know that “technically” just nudges up the rarity value. All my meats were incredibly expensive already of course – the cost of getting them there meant that my sausages really were worth their weight in gold. How much would a pound of human flesh cost? Or rather, how much could I charge for it?
I wondered if my reptilian client realised that I was human? And if it didn’t... “Not now,” I said. “But I can get some.”
The creature bared its teeth – all three rows – and I resisted an urge to take a sharp step back. Heck, I resisted an urge to run screaming from my butcher’s boutique and hitch a lift on the first freighter headed vaguely Sol-wards.
“Come back in two T’s,” I managed, referring to the Station’s orbital period.
After it had left, I closed up and entered the deep freeze thoughtfully. What would be most human like? Pig, perhaps. But how to get it the right shape?
The sad truth was that despite the high prices I could charge as the only purveyor of Earth-sourced meats this side of the galaxy, I was still struggling to pay the Space Station’s exorbitant rent. I could ill-afford to turn down any business that came my way. Any business at all. And really, a hankering for alien flesh was perfectly natural for any inquisitive, wealthy carnivore. That “alien” in this case happened to include human, well – so what? The first thing you had to do when you opened for business on a Station serving at least 34 different space-faring species, each with their own rules, customs and dietary taboos, was to check your Earth-based morality in at immigration. Especially if you ever wanted to turn a profit.
I looked up startled as the Vryxillian entered through the open frontage of the shop – a necessity when you’re not sure what shape and size your customers might be. I cursed, panic-hit the privacy button, and the colours and sounds of the mall faded behind a shimmering waterfall of liquid silver. It had been a slow day – too much time to think, to daydream, and somehow, when the one customer I was actually expecting returned, I wasn’t ready?
Clearing my throat, I lifted a parcel of brown paper onto the counter, untying the string to reveal the tattooed limb within. “A prime cut, sir” I said, as the Vryxillian repeated its terrifying display of teeth and reached out a black extremity towards mine.
I gripped the extended claw to shake on the deal as another claw latched firmly onto my upper arm.
“Not human,” the Vryxillian rasped as a third claw shot forward holding what looked like a chunky pen. “THIS human,” it said, as a forearm – my forearm, neatly severed at the elbow – dropped onto the counter, a puff of smoke from the instantaneously cauterised wound.
I staggered and fell as the black claws released me, crumpled to the floor staring at where my arm had been, the ringing in my ears and the tunnel vision warning me of an imminent blackout.
In the end, I didn’t faint. But it was touch and go, and I wasn’t paying much attention as the Vryxillian busied itself with its purchase and left, the bundle of carefully crafted horse meat wrapped in the fat and recently inked skin from a pig’s belly ignored where it lay on the counter top.
So it wasn’t until a bit later – a quart of ‘medicinal’ alcohol later – that I noticed that the alien had waved its charge card over my till on the way out, and I had to count the zeros twice before my befuddled brain could work out how much had just been deposited.
Enough anyway to pay for this fully working prosthetic – looks natural, doesn’t it? – and a round trip home. Nominally so, I can recuperate, but I’m not going to pass up the chance to replenish my supplies.
Which is why I’m here tonight. Let’s get the legalities out of the way first. True, as applicants to the Council, it is illegal to kill or maim a human for the purposes of eating him. But it is not illegal to eat human flesh – if it is given voluntarily, for example. And I can afford to pay handsomely, very handsomely indeed, for any volunteers among you. That Vryxillian was at the vanguard of a once-in-a-millennium migration for its kind, all passing through the Space Station sometime over the next five years. I intend to send them on their way happy, well fed, and with their purses a good deal lighter.