From the self-published 49-page masterpiece Beer and Bioelectronics: Memoirs (Plural) of a Part-time Science Bro, by Dr. Toomani Katzenstuff. Excerpted by Zandra Renwick
Art by Leigh Legler
“Chaaaaarlie!” I bellowed, thundering up from the yard, brandishing the potato overhead like an incendiary weapon, a live grenade or molotov cocktail. My bathrobe flapped open and my fuzzy slippers slapped the backs of my heels in staccato machine-gun rhythm: fhlap fhlap fhlap fhlap!
My roommate sat on the couch hunched over an open box of junk cereal, full spoon halfway to his mouth heaped with toxic star and moon shapes marketed as having something to do with fruit. Under his cowlicked bedhead hair, he peered at me through cokebottle spectacles, which in this era of lunchtime surgeries were an affectation, myopia as lifestyle choice. “What’sup, roomie?”
Figuring with his terrible eyesight he might not recognize the lumpy ovoid item in my hand as a potato instead of my customary fresh morning egg straight from the backyard chicken coop, I stomped over (fhlap fhlap fhlap) and thrust it under his nose. “Does this look like an egg? That industrial chemical slop you guzzle for breakfast may be all right for some people, but you know I need organic protein in the morning.”
Even to me it sounded more indignant whine than righteous fury. But I was fed up with his additive manufacturing experiments disrupting my genetic modification trials. The world’s food situation was chaos on a global scale, and though Charlie and I shared the same funding (a sickly generous private research grant), the same house (cheapest we could find, and a landlord who put up with random power surges and backyard farming), and the same vision for the future (cheap global access to sustainable, accessible nourishment) … it sometimes felt like we approached everything from opposite sides of the same canyon.
My words must’ve hit home though; Charlie’s spine had gone ramrod straight and he was staring at the potato. “One of your chickens laid that?” he asked.
I harrumphed. “Not just this. A weird-coloured tomato. A small ear of corn. Something I swear is a butternut squash, though how that poor hen–”
Charlie snatched the potato from my hand and shot from the room, leaving an empty cereal box and a trail of stars littering the carpet. I ran after him–fhlap fhlap fhlap–back through hall, through kitchen, banging wide the screen door. I was panting by the time I reached the chicken coop to find Charlie thrusting his hand under each nesting hen’s warm feathered tail-end. With gleeful cackles, he dragged out one food article after another, mumbling what sounded like random word salad–solid substrate … nanostructure … dynamic stencil mask … unique material deposition process … innovative extrusion method–while he clutched the original potato one-armed to his chest alongside other slightly misshapen but unmistakable foodstuffs: a waffle, vegan beef jerky (?!?), an unappetizingly chicken-melted bar of chocolate. At the end of the row of nesting hens–annoyed hens now, clucking and tsking, though god knows they’re accustomed to me poking and prodding at them, collecting samples or feathers for analysis, stealing eggs daily like any backyard urban chicken farmer–Charlie stopped.
He blinked at me through his inane goggles, dopey grin splitting his face. “We’ve done it, old chum,” he said. “Additive manufacture of a variety of foods from a truly eco-viable printing source. A few rice-sized grains of bioelectronic nanotech in the feed, and the right chickens–your chickens, roomie, with the genetically modified innards you gave them–squeeze out a stunning variety of three-dimensional edible objects.”
I scowled. “Eggs are three-dimensional edible objects,” I said. “And I want one for breakfast.”
Charlie has always been a good roommate. He isn’t a neat freak, doesn’t mind late-night work schedules, and usually greets my pre-breakfast grouchiness with saintly cheer. This particular morning was no exception.
“You’re in luck, roomie–” His grin widened as he pulled his hand from the last nest in the row and handed me a perfect brown egg, straw-covered and scented like warm bird. “Because eggs happen to be a highly eco-sustainable Gallus gallus domesticus extruded-food specialty!”
I might never get Charlie to regularly include proper organic protein in his diet, but he joined me for breakfast that morning, and it tasted pretty damn fine, if I do say so myself. Waffle, hashbrowns, egg and veggie omelet stuffed with savoury shredded vegan jerky … hells, Charlie and I ate everything the hens laid that day but the chocolate.
It’s okay. Breakthroughs can feel like gigantic leaps, but sometimes you simply have to take baby steps, my friends. Baby steps.
A pioneer in underground research of applied bioelectronic husbandry, Dr. Katzenstuff has been largely ignored by contemporary biographers. Memoirs is an effort to right this incalculable wrong.*
*no animals were harmed in the making of this work
Zandra Renwick’s fiction has been translated into nine languages, performed on stage, and optioned for television. She writes in a triangulated midpoint between Portland (Oregon), Austin (Texas), and the heart of Canada’s capital city (Ottawa). More at zandrarenwick.com.
Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“Patent THIS” is © 2019 A. C. Renwick
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler