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The Next Formula

CB Droege is an author and voice actor from the Queen City living in the Millionendorf. His writing influences include Philip K. Dick, Bill Bryson, Isaac Asimov, David Sedaris, and Roger Zelazny. He loves wizards and time travel, but has an irrational distaste for time-traveling wizards. His latest books are Peacemaker and Other Stories and Recycled Comics Vol. 1. He recently edited Starward Tales II: Another Anthology of Speculative Legends. Learn more at cbdroege.com.
"I know that this whole project is very uncomfortable for you, William," Haalax said, "but I would like you to know that I have enjoyed working with you these past few years."
"Is that right?" Will asked without turning from his work. They were at a critical stage in the reaction of the current formula.
"Yes! Through you, I've found a new appreciation for Human science," Haalax continued. "Perhaps you are good for more than just one thing, after all." He laughed.
Will controlled his face easily. He'd had years of practice, dealing with Haalax and others of his race, "All these years, we've tried to tell you--"
"Your people certainly do have a knack for flavor-science that my people never developed."
"Yes, well..." Will struggled to keep the venom out of his voice, "We've had several food supply crises that your race seems not to have ever had."
"I suppose that's true." He laughed again, though with not so much feeling this time, letting it trail slowly off. "You should also know how important the work you're doing is."
"I know how important it is." Will said.
"The resources that the empire currently expends on harvest and transport are astounding." he said, "and if demand continues to accelerate, the supply won't last forever!"
They worked in silence for a while then, other than the occasional muttering or asking for a piece of equipment. When the reactions were complete, and the formula had reached its final state, Will placed the synthflesh under the warming hood next to another dish. Knowing it would take about an hour to set, the pair decided to take a lunch break.
Will spent his break in the downstairs cafeteria, where other humans were eating, and tried not to think about Haalax and his fellows in the cafeteria upstairs. Will wanted to speak with his colleagues about the progress he was making, but he knew they would not appreciate it being brought up at mealtime. Last time he had tried, he had put two of his friends off their lunches. So, instead, he nodded along to conversations about goings on in other parts of the facility, and answered questions about his weekend plans and opinions about the weather.
Feeling mostly unfulfilled after an hour in the cafeteria, he returned to the lab to find Haalax already there. "I took a short lunch," he explained unnecessarily, "I didn't want to try the new sample on a full stomach, or have eaten anything with spice right before the trial."
"Of course," Will said.
"It's ready now, I think," Haalax said, taking the dish from the warming hood, and setting it before him. Will could see that he was right, the synthflesh had set-up nicely. It looked perfect. He tried not to smell it.
Haalax lifted the plate to his wide mouth, and tipped it, sucking the flesh down with minimal chewing. He made an appreciative grunting sound. "Good, but I'm not sure...." He reached into the warming hood, and pulled out the second plate, the genuine sample. Haalax tipped the human flesh into his mouth similarly. He closed his eyes, and made a sound that will had come to recognize as true culinary pleasure. "It still doesn't quite compare to the real thing," he said when the morsel was gone. "You've done very good work here, William. We're perhaps only a couple years away from a real substitute."
Will shuddered. "Let's get to work on the next formula," he said, and turned toward his equipment.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 11th, 2017

The basic idea behind "The Next Formula" came out of a conversation with a friend in which we wondered where society would really go after encountering a carnivorous race of aliens who were partial to our flesh, and had a military upper-hand. Stories of such encounters often end up with humans being treated the way we treat cattle or poultry, trapped in cages or allowed to range, but disallowed the trappings of society. However, it seems more likely that an uneasy equilibrium would develop, and human society would adapt and continue to move forward even through such a trying exploitation. Our society might even become partly integrated with our new "masters." What does that society look like? The Next Formula is a glimpse at an answer to that question.

- C B Droege

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