Flash Fiction by Viktor Kuprin
When the alien ship reached us, we were down to four hours of oxygen and nothing in our prospector ship’s food storage.
It was the Tsoor who rescued us, the ones who look like walking man-of-war jellyfish. Oh, they were nice and polite enough, and they even had a Tsooriski-to-Russki translator unit, thank God!
But they didn’t have any human food.
When I queried my hand-comp’s database, all it said about Tsoor nutrition was “Some terrestrial protein and carbohydrate compatibilities.” We didn’t have any choice. We were starving.
The Tsoor like to take their meals sitting in pools of their home world’s sea water. Anton and I sat soaking in the briny liquid when the biggest Tsoor brought the food, a metal pot filled with ball-shaped mollusks.
“God help us,” Anton muttered under his breath as our server crushed one of the gray shells with its tentacle-fingers, yanking out a still-quivering slab of pink-white meat.
“Shhh! Don’t offend it!” I warned.
After days without food, I didn’t care how badly it might taste. Or smell.
Big Tsoor picked up a shallow stone bowl filled with yellow powder and rolled the mollusk flesh in it. It offered the morsel to Anton.
“See. Food,” said the alien’s metallic translator voice.
Anton slowly accepted the dusted meat from Big Tsoor’s tentacle-fingers, pulled down his respirator mask, and leaned forward to sniff.
“Alan, I think it’s sulfur! They season with sulfur!”
Big Tsoor stood motionless, watching.
I urged Anton on. “Wipe some of the powder off and try it. Come on, it’s waiting for you to taste it.”
Anton used his thumb to clear most of the Tsoor seasoning off a side of the slab. He shut his eyes, bit, chewed, and gulped.
“It’s like a big prawn, but it reeks of rotten eggs,” he said between gasps.
Big Tsoor cracked another shell and another. We silently wolfed down the gritty shellfish.
When the pot was half empty, Big Tsoor held out its tentacled-hand towards us.
“Culinary exchange,” announced the translator.
Quickly I thumbed my hand-comp: “Tsoor guests at a formal dinner are expected to offer their hosts a token gift of food or drink in exchange for the meal.”
“It’s part of their hospitality custom. I’ll be right back.” Dripping wet, I ran out of the mess hall, across the airlock that connected our ships, and rushed to our all-but-empty galley.
Yes! On a rack was a half-filled bulb of Anne Bonny Cocktail Sauce. I squirted it into a bowl, hurried back to the alien dining hall, and sat back down in the warm brine.
I pointed to the shellfish and pantomimed rolling the meat in the red sauce. Our host understood, and it shoved a sauce-covered mollusk into its mouth sack.
Big Tsoor turned red, then purple. I could see its plum-shaped eye throbbing. Its tentacle-fingers clenched into tight coils.
The alien bolted straight up. Anton screamed. I tried to jump out of the pool.
Through the chaos, I could just make out the translator.