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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Laura grew up in a small north Mississippi town in a house where William Faulkner spent his toddler years. However, her preferred youthful reading was her older brother's science fiction paperbacks. She has spent most of her life south of Albuquerque, NM, where she lives with her husband and a variable number of cats. She is the author of the mystery Killer Miracle and the young adult novel Freaking Green. Her speculative fiction stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction and NewMyths.com. This is her first appearance in Daily Science Fiction. Her first speculative novel (title still in limbo) is forthcoming.

Imaging food is no simple job: adding oils to make things glisten, propping up stacked food with cardboard, substituting Elmer's Glue for milk so cereal won't look soggy. But I never expected Lucia's well-being to hang on my skill at manipulating culinary reality.
My company, Feed Your Head, subcontracted to supply the food imagery that would make our astronauts think they were eating their favorite meals instead of tasteless goo on their five-month trip to Mars. Multiply the failings of airline food by 10, and then multiply the time spent eating it by 150 days, and you get an idea of the problem.
So we prepare a truly beautiful meal, then photograph and scan it. While subjects are eating it, the brain-wiring folks are recording everything that happens in their gustatory cortices--every taste, every crunch, every delicious fragrance. Then, anyone who puts on the wired skullcap will experience eating that meal, even cannibals eating bean sprouts.
An all-out race to dominate the Red Planet had replaced the days of international missions in space. At least our crew, gathered at Cape Canaveral, came from all across the United States. This morning I would interview all six astronauts about their favorite meals and give the info to the chefs, who would start preparing the food.
Brad, the Houston-based pilot, wanted smoked brisket with burnt ends and potato salad. Noor, the navigator from Detroit, pined for her mother's stuffed vegetables, braised in complicated spices. Noboru, the payload specialist from Seattle wanted a chirashi bowl. Billy the engineer from New Mexico wanted Thanksgiving dinner, complete with red chile. Sally Alice, the medic from Huntsville, asked for field peas, creamed fresh corn, sliced tomatoes, and cornbread--southern cornbread, uncontaminated with sugar and wheat flour.
I braced myself for the last astronaut interview, the mission exo-botanist. Lucia, my fiancee, had so hoped to be chosen. She'd studied endlessly growing up in Miami, winning scholarships, working non-stop to qualify for a mission, but she'd received no notification of her selection.
The door flew open and Lucia walked in.
I half rose from my deck. She started laughing. "I was chosen last week, but I wanted to surprise you!"
After a brief personal interlude, we got down to business. "Um," she pondered, "we'll all be eating goo, but we can set the skull caps to make it seem like we're eating any one of the six meals. I guess I should choose something everybody likes."
"No, choose what you like." Lucia didn't eat red meat but loved seafood.
"Okay, I choose mahi-mahi with salsa verde, rice, and plantains."
Lucia lingered, and we went home together to celebrate, although I dreaded the round-trip total of eighteen months we'd be apart.
Launch day finally arrived; they allowed me to watch from Mission Control. I knew nothing about astronautics but I understood the jumping and cheering when Flight Director Rosa "The Rock" Ermatraude announced a successful launch. They also let me watch the ship dock at the space station while extra cargo pods were installed on its exterior. Two of the pods fed directly into the processor and contained ingredients for the nutrient goo, which I so fervently hoped would taste like home.
A few days later I awoke caressed by dreams of Lucia. The warmth lingered as I put on coffee.
Someone pounded on the door.
An accident? I hadn't heard a crash. Urgent knocking again. I looked out the window.
Ermatraude stood on the porch, flanked by two uniformed security guards--the movies' classic setup for notifying a family of death.
I went numb. Time stretched out past all relativity. I saw my hands unlock the door and open it. "Lucia?" I whispered.
"Lucia's fine." Ermatraude glanced around suspiciously and strode past me. "Back yard. Now."
I followed her out back. She scanned the grass and trees suspiciously.
"There's been an incident," she said. "Here. Sign this NDA." She handed me a clipboard and pen. When I started reading the dense print, she barked, "Hurry up. Just sign it."
I signed.
"Two days out from the space station," she said, "representatives of a... supposedly friendly nation caught up with the ship and attempted to hijack it. Luckily, our crew used the airlock override to immobilize them. Our crew all survived. Three of the boarders were killed."
My mouth dropped open.
"No one must ever, EVER, know about this incident. Direct confrontation is not currently in our interest. And our ship must reach Mars first."
"Why are you telling me all this?"
Ermatraude grimaced. "The attack damaged a supply pod on the exterior hull. It leaked its cargo of food base ingredients before anyone discovered it." She hurried on. "The food drops on Mars can resupply the crew once they land, but half their food for the trip is gone."
She traced circles in the grass with her toe. "I need to know whether your food simulations, which have worked well to overlay the non-existent taste of nutrient base, can disguise... more distinct flavors?"
"Probabl--" It dawned on me what she was asking. "No! No, you can't do that to the crew! You have to bring them home."
"It may not be necessary. They can stretch the rations in the intact pod. There're plant specimens on board. But if those run out, they'll... never know what they're eating. Unless you tell them."
"Of course they'll know! They'll see the bodies. They'd have to load them into the processor!"
"No. We'll tell them the EVA robots jettisoned the bodies and repaired the nutrient base pod. But the bots will load the bodies into the pod from outside the craft and repair the leak."
I couldn't speak. Lucia crowded everything else out of my mind. Lucia, so delicate, so gentle. So pescatarian. If she ever found out what she was eating, it would haunt her for the rest of her life.
It would be my life's work to keep the secret.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 13th, 2022

Author Comments

Coming from a family of foodies, I've always been depressed by the miserable quality or complete absence of decent eats in science fiction (Belter Chili excepted). "Carryout" combines that dissatisfaction with a variation on a personal game: "If I had to eat the same six meals over and over for the rest of my life, which meals would I choose?" Just to keep things in balance, the experience of eating the best is combined with eating the worst.

- Laura F Sanchez
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