Short: Day 500, what's cooking precious?

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This is a short story sequel to Short: We don't believe in reincarnation in the ICA colony series of stories. If you need to start from the beginning, please go to Short: Last Day at the ICA.

This short story takes place about 500 days into a fictional ICA colony. This is not a cannon start to the game, but rather a dramatization of such. Enjoy!

BEGIN

Rainer smelled something. Something, amazing...

As he was a 2-year-old clone on an alien world, new experiences were par for the course. Still, the new smell was so unique, so unknown, and so alluring, he set down his wrench. Rolling out from under the armored flatbed truck he'd been servicing, Rainer's foot knocked over a stack of 3D-printed replacement parts. A towel was hanging on the truck's side, stuck on a set of three-foot long claw gashes in the truck's armor. He wiped off his hands and left the garage.

Walking out on the newly-paved inner courtyard of home base, he followed his nose. A dozen feet away, the door to the medical log cabin opened up as Doctor Julia emerged. "What's that smell?" she asked, sniffing.

Rainer looked around, then pointed across the courtyard at a barrel-contained fire out front of the dining hall and food-synth building. "Looks like Harvey's doing something," he said.

Julia put her arm in his as they walked over. Reaching Harvey, Rainer saw that their chief of agriculture had filled a metal barrel with a wood fire, covered it with a grate, and was burning several legs of lizard over the blaze.

"If you cook it they will come," Harvey said smugly, brushing a sweet smelling brown sauce over the roasting lizard.

"You're cooking?" Rainer asked. He knew about cooking, it was part of his skill map set, but he'd never seen the point of doing so when he could just cram everything into the nutrient machine.

"Why are you cooking?" Julia asked. "What's wrong with nutrient paste? This looks so...slow and work-intensive. What if you ruin it?"

Harvey put down his bowl of sauce and raised a dark brown eyebrow at them. "Have you never had real food? Not nutrient paste, but something that can't be sucked through a straw?"

"No," Rainer and Julia said at the same time. "I was raised on tubes and paste," Rainer said. "We all were. What's so great about cooking?"

"If the smell can't convince you," Harvey said, shrugging. "Just wait till it's on your plate."

"Haha, what's so great about plates?" Rainer said, since he ate from paste pouches every day.

"You'll see, come back at dinner time."

Two hours later, Rainer finished repairing the torn out transmission on the armored flatbed. He quickly cleaned up and made his way to the long log cabin everyone at Home Base slurped their meals at. There was already a crowd. The colony numbered twenty people now, and it was taking Rainer some getting used to.

"Hey there brother," Gunther said as he approached. Gunther, aka Rainer 2, threw an arm around Rainer 1's shoulder. "Are you ready for this?"

Rainer 1 smiled at his 'brother' Gunther. It was hella weird having a clone so they'd decided to pretend they were brothers to make things less awkward. Rainer thanked his own laid-back nature that Rainer 2 had been cool going by their shared middle name: Gunther. In a perverse twist of name preference, Rainer knew that the third him was going to get their first name.

"Come and get it!" Harvey said, banging on a metal sheet. "Plates are there, barbecued space lizard is here. Roast tubers are there. It's all HOT, I know that's a novelty kids, so don't burn your mouths. And no hands! I have forks and knives here!"

Rainer winced at Harvey's "kids" comment. Since their agricultural scientist somehow had a bevy of memories from his original, he had years of context to draw from as opposed to Rainer's 500 days of real-life experience. As the only code-R clone, Harvey liked to call everyone else "the kids".

His resentment vanished when it was his turn to get food though. Whatever his thoughts on the countless advantages and perfections of nutrient paste were, they were drowned out by the growl of his stomach. It made a convincing argument. He carved off a couple pounds of meat from the fat leg of lizard with newfound eagerness.

Loading up on the brown starchy roast tubers as well, Rainer made his way into the dining hall. The inside was an eating room filled mostly by a single long table and chairs. In the back was an open area in which the nutrient paste factory machine's output nozzle came in through the wall. Despite living on paste, they'd started making a routine of having everyone not on guard duty eat together, to help foster a sense of family.

Julia stood up once everyone was seated, causing silence to drop over the room.

"Thanks, everyone. Today we welcome Sato 2 to our group," Julia pointed at burly Japanese man sitting next to an identical version of himself. Both were wearing powered armor with the helmets off for dinner. Both had hard-set eyes and black hair. Cracking smiles, they waved. Rainer was caught Julia's groan.

"And they both want to go by Sato," she said. "Apparently the original Sato had a twin. So... let's all make the Sato twins feel welcome."

There were laughs and a round of clapping at that. Unable to tell them apart, the nearby table neighbors just pounded the backs of both Satos in camaraderie.

Harvey cleared his throat. Everyone stopped laughing to stare at their plates in drooling anticipation.

"And today Harvey has insisted on cooking dinner for all of us," Julia said.

"So dig in!" Harvey said, interrupting. Julia frowned, but let it go. The dining room was silent save for the clink of 3D-printed metal forks on their newly printed plates. Rainer raised a steaming piece of lizard to his mouth and bit down. A flavor unlike he'd ever had exploded into his mouth. He never knew that one could enjoy the texture of food, the chewiness and sweetness enhancing the meaty, fatty deliciousness.

"Wow, Harvey..." Gunther said in awe. Rainer nodded in agreement.

Rainer looked at the nutrient paste machine in the corner. He knew there was no going back. Leaning over to Julia, he said, "We're gonna need a cook next."

The End

Written by Travis Bach, If you'd like to see more of his fiction, please visit travisbach.net