I remember I was out on a mission with my translator Plamen. We were way out in Aaha space, trying to sell a magnetic confinement fusion device as “human folk art.”
Here was the scam: you take this stellarator coil, which ought to work in theory, but has never managed to produce electricity economically. You sell the stellarator to an alien art collector, talking up its historical value as an example of the primitive handicraft of fusion power generation. Then it’s – whoops! something must have damaged the stellarator during delivery. So sorry! We’ll drop the price if you help us repair it. Then, we pay careful attention to the repairs, take our notes back to Earth, hand them to whoever we want to win the next Nobel Prize in physics, and Bob, as they say, is your uncle.
It didn’t work out that way. Of course, Plamen and I were given thorough check-ups before we left Earth, and of course we ate nothing but what came out of our Amazonian kitchen replicator. But I developed appendicitis, anyway.
I tried to muscle through it during meetings. I’d be doubled up in pain while male Aaha art students climbed over my back. They thought I was flirting with them! It wasn’t going to work.
Plamen said he had to do something. But what could he do? We were in a “nucleon arts college” tethered like a balloon to a neutron star made of negative matter, somewhere that isn’t even in Earth’s light cone. The Aahas had bought two-way ride vouchers for us with a return trip in three months, and a new one would cost more than the Earth (outside Amazonia) produced in a year. We were stuck, and medical facilities here would have no idea what to do with an appendix.
I still don’t know how Plamen found them. Some sort of alien social media? I shudder to think. All I remember is sweating on my cot while they poked at me. Aaha fingers, Beezle bugs, and some terrifying barbed thing that Plamen called a “gynosome.”
They weren’t doctors. There weren’t artists, either, exactly. And certainly not scientists. They asked me questions like “what is the diplomatic protocol for negotiations with your gut flora?” and “is cellulose a popular building material on Earth?” and “to the best of your memory, when was the last time your species engaged in folivory?”
I was given something to drink that tasted like electrolytes. “Calcium ions!” I heard one of them say as my vision went blurry. “Didn’t you do a project like that back in college?”
“Yes, but I never thought to combine it with hind-gut fermentation. What an idea! Symbiosis has been done to death of course, but making the mutualists prokaryotic is a good twist.”
When I regained consciousness, I had a headache and a potbelly, but the pain in my gut was gone.
When questioned, Plamen told me not to worry, the new tissue was all made in the kitchen replicator. When questioned again, more loudly, he said he was sorry. He’d been desperate. That’s why he’d delivered me up to a gang of speculative biologists.
“We can always get it removed,” he said, poking my large, new gut. “And in the mean time, you can eat all the leaves you want.”
Daniel M. Bensen