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Verge 2012: Inverse

VINEGAR

Elizabeth Tan

We killed the inhabitants because we were dying. We do not think our actions improper. During the famine our stomachs bloated, thickened like voices. Our hunger had depth, and it was the solemn, infinite keel of gravity itself. We killed them because we were starving.

Fattened by millennia, they grew silently under their single moon, a pocket of existence under no jurisdiction. We knew as much about them as did the other colonies, and were as disinterested as the other colonies. Their nutritional value was not scientifically confirmed, but estimated, in one obscure study, to be negligible for most species.

The famine made us desperate. We conducted our own studies. Our first attempt resulted in the destruction of the specimen. After transportation, it was unusable. Subsequent attempts were conducted in the sample’s habitat. If we were to eat them, we soon realised, we would have to do so within their habitat. Our initial tests confirmed they were not poisonous.

During the famine, our technology had become rudimentary. We determined that one inhabitant was enough sustenance for just a quarter of a complete consumption cycle. Infants, almost nothing. As a source of nutrition, the inhabitants were barely sufficient, uneconomical even as a last resort. They did not have a discernible taste. But hunger has beggar’s eyes. We were turned simple by it, prideless.

The harvest was completed in a single day. We would not have had the technology for a war, nor did we have the infrastructure to cultivate the inhabitants. We were willing to die if we did not succeed with just one harvest.

Our studies confirmed that the inhabitants died without pain.

We feasted for several days. We did nothing except eat. By the third day, our mental acuity was restored to pre-famine level. Our thoughts could finally return to us, and we examined the habitat, all the dead specimens. Some of them were beginning to expire or succumb to ecological feedback. We did not know how much longer we would have to endure the famine.

Now that we had eaten, we could birth the technology to preserve the inhabitants so they would not disintegrate during travel. This process took us one week. We estimated that about five per cent of the inhabitants were unrecoverable. We deemed the harvest a success.

We subsisted on the preserved specimens for three months. After that time the famine ceased. Finally, we could eat our own food again. So grateful for this miracle, and so traumatised by the memory of hunger, we created a new tradition. Once a year, we consumed some of the specimens in remembrance of the famine. We developed the technology to preserve the remaining specimens indefinitely.

We did not consider trading the specimens with other colonies because the specimens were no longer mere sustenance, but gravely significant, a part of our history.

Over time, the tradition dwindled along with the supply of specimens. Our colony saw prosperity like no other. The specimens became a delicacy, eaten in sliver and wafer. The years had finally granted them taste, or perhaps the famine had instilled us with a permanent gratitude. The vinegar is our memory.

It was not until we had only seven specimens left that another colony began to question us. We were forthcoming about the history of the specimens. We did not realise that the inquiry would persist. We reiterated that the specimens had come from an area under no jurisdiction. We gave them data about the famine. We shared our research about the specimens, but of course, with so few left, the information was nearly obsolete. We continued to consume specimens during the inquiry.

We have scanned the original habitat several times. We are certain that there are no surviving specimens.

We understand that this inquiry is neutral, a census of the world’s resources and history. We do not think we have done anything improper. We are about to begin consuming the very last specimen. As an act of peace, and as the final stage of submitting our traumatic history to the archives, we have decided to divide the last specimen amongst the colonies. Each colony may do with their piece of the specimen as they wish. As for us, we have revived our tradition and will continue to eat this last specimen in exponentially smaller portions. We have the technology.

During the famine, there was a saying: Prosperity is relative survival. We told ourselves this as a reminder that suffering can be as arbitrary as prosperity. It was not our fault that we were starving. Sometimes there is no discernible causality, for this or any other events that circumscribe us. Perhaps that is why our trauma has remained unarticulated for the longest time. We eat silently, and silence eats us.

Our eyes, enlarged by memory, admit light; our cells are honeyed with maturity. We have persisted. We build, and build, and build.

Verge 2012: Inverse

   by Samantha Clifford and Rosalind Mcfarlane