Bewildering Stories

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The Bread Loser

by Sam Kenyon

Elwanoy stormed out of the pawn shop with more commotion than the Tin Man having a seizure. “Stupid bass-ackwards planet,” he muttered. He flung the ion jetpack onto his back and took off.

Flattening an old shopping cart, he landed behind the recently bankrupt department store where he had assumed occupancy. Elwanoy was so frustrated with Terran society that as he entered the building he disintegrated three “Going Out of Business Sale” signs into sawdust.

With a bit of tension relieved, he holstered his molecular disassembler and picked up a newspaper he noticed on the floor. “I’ve got to make money somehow,” he said to himself.

Elwanoy had arrived on Earth with a cargo hold full of hyperspace routers, FTL radios, holographic projectors, nanobot armor, and a whole case of quantum CPUs, among other examples of highly advanced technology. But he’d be damned if could sell any of these on Earth. He didn’t understand it. Either nobody was buying right now, or the government had made all his goods illegal for its own purposes, just like his malfunctioning government had banned artificial food.

The real reason Terrans didn’t buy his stuff was that they though he was a lunatic. As a trader, Elwanoy knew no other way of making money. All planets have monetary systems, but if he couldn’t tap into some of the local currency, he was doomed. He just couldn’t go back to his wife and children empty-handed. This trip was his family’s last hope to garner some edibles, as they were one of many trillions of families suffering from the massive intergalactic resource depression. Most high-technology gadgets were now basically worthless inside the normal trading loops. But the edge systems held untapped cornucopias of food sources. Hence Elwanoy’s uncertain mission to Earth.

Now, as he read the monthoid-old newspaper’s employment section with his English-to-Syfendonian(Mubashuxa dialect) translation goggles, Elwanoy’s hope was rekindled.

“Ha! All I have to do is get a job!” he said aloud. “Why, with my technical skills, they’ll be sure to hire me in this poor excuse for modern society!”

* * *

However, Elwanoy did not experience what he expected in the job market. He had no more luck getting hired, or even garnering an interview, than he had at pawning his foreign merchandise. He was slowly starving, having eaten nothing but carbo-pills for the last monthoid.

Like a wrung-out dirty rag, in a shiny pressure-suited kind of way, he entered the main office of Biocrobe, LLC.

The receptionist had seen some strange scientists and engineers come and go, but this was getting ridiculous. A large man clothed in what appeared to be a chrome biohazard suit and wearing some kind of buzzing contraption on his back was clanking (metal boots?) towards her.

“May I help you sir?”

“I’m here to apply for the job of —” Elwanoy glanced at a stained shred of newspaper. “— Senior Research Scientist in Bioinformatics.” His voice sounded harsh and slightly artificial, the result of the translation implant.

She stared at him for a moment; he nervously fingered the molecular disassembler hidden in his pocket.

“Uh, well, let me check on that. Yes, I’m afraid that position was filled last week. But if you would like to leave your résumé, Biocrobe will keep it on file for up to eighteen months and contact you if...“

“Well in that case,” Elwanoy said, resorting to his last desperate plan, “I would like to hire you.”

“Me?” she said.

“No, not you personally. This company!”

* * *

One monthoid later Biocrobe was not only completely under Elwanoy’s control, but also producing what he needed most: food. He had obtained executive command by a combination of force and demonstration. The authorities were handled carefully and had been convinced that the various “incidents” were merely accidents.

Corporate plans mutated from fundamental research and drug discovery into genetic nano-factories. After an unprecedented two year nonstop crunch period — during which the last round of investor funding was completely drained — Biocrobe was able to produce prototypes of a revolutionary new product: the portable food generator. It was a self-contained ecosystem in a package resembling a fish tank combined with a vending machine.

It harbored an array of small but high-wielding complementary flora that were engineered to survive on any number of a wide variety of sources: sunlight, water, insects, biological waste, etc. These miniature plants could essentially produce on demand all manner of fruits, vegetables and nuts. This was a dream come true for Elwanoy.

His family would never be in want for sustenance again. Plus, he might get rich selling these things on the black market.

Elwanoy dumped all the crates of technological marvels in his ship into the dumpsters behind the former department store. He filled the ship’s empty space with nearly a hundred of Biocrobe’s portable food generators and took off.

As Elwanoy’s ship disappeared into the sky, the private investigator that had been following him decided to explore the dumpsters.

* * *

Yukaze Makoto, the ousted CEO and cofounder of Biocrobe, now professionally depressed and in drowning in debt, threw his last hundred at the P. I. in exchange for a bit of info and a lot of provocative alien devices. Elwanoy had destroyed his company and his dream. Perhaps an idiot, Elwanoy was nevertheless on Yukaze’s shit list.

“You know I’m an alien, right?” said Goronth, the P. I.

“Of course I did, you fool!” said Yukaze. “Now leave!”

“Not so fast. You only gave me part of the payment. Where’s the rest?”

“Oh fine, here!” Yukaze pushed a box towards Goronth. “Take it and get lost.”

Goronth took the Biocrobe portable food generator and promptly brought it to his poverty-stricken home planet of Illodia. The only reason he could afford such a fast ship was because of a police forfeiture auction of seized merchandise from a drug-bust on Lepticron III.

Like Elwanoy’s planet Syfendonia, Illodia was under the ruthless control of the Regime. But very quickly Illodia was producing mass quantities of the food generators. New versions were coming out daily. The cheapest model, which only made doughnuts, was an instant bestseller.

The standard of living was raised and a booming economy emerged from illegal doughnut trafficking and the sales of the generators themselves — all in the course of a few monthoids. With the newfound wealth and food they restored their military and started rebelling against the hated Regime.

Meanwhile, Yukaze was reverse engineering the quantum computers and energy manipulators in the various technological marvels that Elwanoy had carelessly left behind for any unethical genius to exploit. Project Furutaka was progressing at a terrifying clip.

* * *

Elwanoy had been jumping through space for many monthoids. His ship was an old rust bucket that didn’t optimize the hyperjump network paths. Consequently, he was unaware of the recent galactic turmoil. When he finally arrive on Syfendonia, his wife, Kypola, greeted him with: “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you for yearoids!”

“Honey, there’s a lot of jumps to the edge systems. But it was worth the wait, I’ve got — “ he stammered, noticing the full pantry behind Kypola.

“What... where did all this food come from?” he said, aghast.

“Well, if your weren’t so busy risking your life at the end of the galaxy, you’d have heard the news — the Regime was suddenly overthrown in a coup by the rebel Illodians. They have a new kind of seemingly inexhaustible food source!”

Elwanoy looked at the food generator in his hands and wondered. It was very outdated now, worth almost nothing compared to the latest Illodian models. And he had a whole ship full of these obsolete versions. His kids ran into the kitchen. “Daddy!” they shouted, doughnut crumbs spilling from their mouths.

“Oh, and I hope you didn’t sell all of our merchandise,” Kypola said sternly. “Because it’s skyrocketed in value in the last — “

She was interrupted by catastrophe as Furutaka — an ethereal monster the size of a gas giant — consumed the entire planet of Syfendonia.

Copyright © 2004 by Sam Kenyon

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