Perhaps it would have been better, somehow, if this had been sample #142 or #96 or #305, something innocuous and meaningless but no, it was sample number one, the first, and he already wanted to taste it.
He’d tried blaming a few other things. Perhaps it had reached some telepathic tendrils into his mind at the point of death to make him look at it hungrily because, hey, it wasn’t dead, it was just lying microscopically still, waiting to be ingested so its parasitic foetal cells could awaken and attach to his stomach lining and grow inside his blood.
Or: this was an important scientific experiment that needed to happen now before endless committees talked themselves into a tangle, and the whole thing got entrenched with the bioethics lot and tied up in the finickity parameters of some drawn-out lab test in which he would almost certainly not be involved.
Or: he needed to step up and be the pioneer because there were millions starving back home, billions soon, and here on Europa there was a nearly endless supply of these nutritionally rich organisms whose alarming rate of reproduction and ease of capture meant they were almost begging to be used to save an ailing species of twelve billion superior mouths.
But truth was, he just wanted to taste it.
He just wanted, more than anything, the experience of pressing the monochrome dough between his teeth, feeling the spread of its fizzing oil across his tongue while that sharp, salty, oaky aroma filled his mouth and coated his throat and washed him through. He’d seen the salivation of the others. They’d all thought it. But none had the guile, or the access.
So, he slipped the scalpel from his sleeve, angled his body to block the cameras, and sliced out a decent chunk from the thirteenth petri dish of Sample #1. It was the part he’d identified, in his head, as the flank. The morsel and the scalpel went back into his sleeve as he lowered the thirteenth petri into permanent cold storage.
Later, as he cooked it, he thought he saw, just for half a second, the meat twitch into life. He grinned at himself. He chuckled, he whistled, he shook his head, for it must’ve been the spit of the oil, the kick of the flame, a trick of the eye.
David Hartley writes strange stories about strange things for strange people. His work has appeared in Ambit, Black Static, and Structo, and he is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Manchester.