A GOURMET IN HYPERSPACE
A novel inspired by the question, What if we accustomed ourselves to act in accord with reason and science?
[Man] is still far from having accustomed himself
to act as reason and science would dictate.
--- Feodor Dostoevsky "Notes from Underground"
There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based
foods that are not better provided by plants.
--- T. Colin Campbell "The China Study"
Our planet, with its remarkable array of life,
is in imminent danger of crashing.
---James Hansen "Storms of My Grandchildren: The truth about
the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity" (2009)
There must be a better way of disposing of human wastes
than by putting them in our drinking water.
---Theodore Roosevelt (attribution uncertain)
L'avenir de l'homme, c'est la femme.
(The future of man is woman.)
Louis Aragon (French postcard inscription)
1.1 Alenby's Transition
1.1.1 An Inadvertent Excursion in Hyperspace
Air France Check In, Newark International Airport, Newark NJ USA u
6 pm Tuesday 1 April 1987
Next to his first sip of Château Latour 1961, Alenby rated his leap into the alien universe u as the most significant happening of his entire life.
That’s what he thought later. At the time, he didn’t think much of it at all. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, beyond some puzzling business at the Air France check-in.
The clerk took her time over scrutinizing his ticket and his passport. This Marie-Claude—so read the badge on her lapel—seemed to Alenby exceedingly small and thin. In a way she looked like a child perched there behind the Ambassador-Class check-in counter.
Marie-Claude was clearly not a child, however, for her lips had the pouty look that comes from years of practice in expressing desolation at some problem with one’s reservation on Air France. On this occasion she seemed poised to make some such announcement, but hesitated as if unsure of her ground. Eventually, seemingly flustered by signs of displeasure on the part of other waiting passengers, she hurried into the standard check-in routine. She spoke rapidly, and so softly that to hear her, Alenby was obliged to lean across the counter. An unusually low counter, he noticed then.
And glancing about the concourse, he saw that all the check-in counters were lower than they used to be, and all the passengers' luggage carts and their luggage and the passengers themselves were on the small side of normal. All these short thin people! It was so strange, he couldn't take it in. The reality bounced off his mind, so to speak, without leaving a trace.
Marie-Claude repeated her question: "Do you wish to check the baggages this evening, Excellency?"
Alenby smiled. Excellency—probably a form of address to do with some sort of promotion of Ambassador Class. Yet it fit his persona, for the tilt of his homburg, the soft gleam of his Italian leather shoes and the unfashionable but distinctive cut of his jacket and slacks lent him an air more ambassadorial than of most real-life ambassadors. His mind drifted ahead to his first lunch in France--his first plat de résistance. Breast of duck, naturally, but how prepared?
"Your baggages, Excellency? You are perhaps wishing to check the baggages?"
"—en coque de sel," he completed his thought in fluent but atrociously accented French. Observing the clerk’s puzzled expression, he added: "One valise, my dear young lady, which as you will observe, I have deposited on the scale—"
"Yes, Excellency, I have observed it, but…."
He was forced to acknowledge that her irritating French mannerism, the palms-up shrug, was justified. No valise where he had put it a moment earlier. Nothing, except a ghostly souvenir of that bulky object—70 pounds on the digital readout. Strange, he thought, but this time there was an easy explanation--he had quite simply had a brief episode of unconsciousness, a slight stroke perhaps.... Had he been in his right mind, he would have taken a medication, a blood thinner for example. But he was not in his right mind. He felt only hopelessness. Perhaps he was still unconscious....
Marie-Claude was darting nervous glances at him now. Not directly at him, but apparently at someone behind and slightly to one side. "I am filing the misplaced baggages form," he heard her saying. "You will be notified. That is then all, except"—she gestured to the digital display of the scale—"the overweight baggages fee, 40 pounds over at five equals 200 American dollars. Will Excellency prefer to pay cash, or…?"
Not deigning to protest that his bag was not over-weight (he distinctly remembered packing it precisely to the 70 pound limit) Alenby took out his wallet, peeled off two hundreds and dropped them down on to the counter.
"Thank you, Excellency!" Distractedly, the clerk swept the bills into a cash drawer. "You have the window seat 9A, as requested" she gabbled. "Boarding will be at 8:30 from Gate 90, conveniently accessible from the Ambassador Lounge on the first floor where complementary French Champagne is being offered here is your ticket and boarding pass have a good flight!" She still kept looked slightly to one side....
Taking the papers, Alenby turned to follow the clerk's glance and found himself looking into a pair of brown eyes, shiny—like chocolate-coated cherries, he thought—gazing up at him from under the brim of a green fedora. The short, slim woman smiled and looked away, and a moment later he saw her gliding through the crowded concourse in the direction of the nearest stairway.
She’s headed for the Ambassador Lounge, Alenby thought, and his thoughts turned to Champagne. A tall glass of Champagne, well chilled, with streams of tiny bubbles briskly ascending. On the nose, hints of tart apple, etc. He put himself in the picture—sniffing, sipping, occasionally tossing a bon mot to the lady with the shiny brown eyes. He picked up his Italian leather flight bag and followed her.
1.1.2 Meanwhile, back in U
Alenby's disappearance elicited no comment from friends or kin. Only his ex-wife recently divorced, the wealthy socialite Blanche de Noire, expressed regret. "Marshmallow, disappeared? But that's awful!" she is reported to have screamed. Her grief was not for Alenby, however. It was for the nickname she'd given him. Secure in her particular coterie, she had needed only to say "Marshmallow"--in a tone of voice hinting at his shortcoming as a lover--to set off absolute gales of laughter. His expression--glowering, oh it was absolutely hysterical!--he never did have a sense of humor. But without him, as the distraught lady is said to have wailed, "Marshmallow" was not funny any more.
The main-stream media had little to add. They simply noted that Alenby Faintwether Hoggett IV, age 45, was last seen in the Air France Terminal C, Newark International Airport, at 6:00 pm on Tuesday 1 April 1987, and offered a few biographical details of the vanished gentleman: Scion of an old-money (horse racing) family in bucolic Healthcareville, New Jersey. Educated at various elite private schools, including Rowan Hamilton Academy (swim team). Then Princeton (Republican Club, Cotillion Society). Then Oxford, on a Rhodes Scholarship his mother had bought for him. Vocation, Hollywood stunt driver. Avocation, gourmet with a passion for authentic traditional French regional dishes and wines.
As for the disappearance itself, witnesses agreed it was practically instantaneous and utterly non-violent. The bulky figure at the First Class check-in counter had simply and quite suddenly turned into...nothing. No sign of foul play. None expected, actually, since Alenby was not the sort to have any enemies. (The headwaiter in a pretentious French restaurant in Manhattan, whom he had once upbraided for confusing the cassoulet styles of Castelnaudery and Toulouse, had since admitted his error).
Could Alenby have suffered a fit of depression and taken his own life? Unlikely, given his movements immediately prior to his disappearance. He'd attended the opera and several concerts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He'd conferred with advisors about the disposition of the proceeds from the divorce. It was a substantial sum, thanks to a well crafted prenup that he'd put in place about the time the bride-to-be had started calling him "Marshmallow." He'd taken delivery of a shipment of gentleman's woolen clothing from Number 1 Savile Row, London. And he'd made a great many trans-Atlantic telephone calls to confirm that his new British sports car, a hand-made Borstal Aero, would be ready and waiting for him upon his arrival in Paris.
Most important, his medical support team confirmed that he was in tip top shape. He was overweight, but not yet obese. Tests had shown no problems more pressing than than slow-growing atherosclerosis and a tendency to colonic inflammation--both conditions being normal in a active American man his age. Most important, he was known to have been highly averse to risk of any kind, and very diligent about taking the various medications required to control the internal conditions mentioned, as well as his weight, his mood, his sleep--in short, to maintain perfect health.
In the absence of further news, speculation became the province of the tabloid press. The socially prominent couple Mr and Mrs Faintwether Hoggett IV, attendees at many a charity ball in support of the Metropolitan Opera and other worthy causes, were reported to be robots placed on Earth--and in Alenby's case, subsequently removed for needed repairs--by aliens. This had some claim to credence, since Blanche de Noire's camera-ready smile--lips forming a near-perfect rectangle framing a large number of blindingly white teeth--certainly had something robotic about it. Strange... but the reality was stranger.