The entrée was a simple salad of rocket and dandelion leaves, tossed with a light dressing of raspberry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, topped with slivers of parmesan and fresh truffle shavings. He raised a forkful to his mouth and savoured the subtle combination of flavours.
He was eating alone. The Institute had offered to serve the meal for any guests he wanted to have as well, but there was no one he felt close enough to that he would have elected to share this moment with him. He was a loner, but that was nothing unusual for those who had come this far in the selection process. He ate the salad quickly, concentrating on the taste and texture of the food, trying to put the rest of his world aside.
As soon as the salad was finished, the silent waiter quickly whisked the empty plate away. While he waited for the next course, he drank from the glass of good Riesling, which had been his choice to begin the meal. Without the distraction of the food, his thoughts moved to his situation; the irrevocability of the step he would take on the morrow.
For human space exploration, the transformation offered only advantages. The more mass had to be accelerated to near-light speeds, the greater the amount of energy needed. Providing enough food for a human to consume over months and years was a major problem; and the efficiency of the human body in winning energy from food was laughable anyway – particularly when there was an alternative.
The next course came; fettuccini with small slices of freshly grilled wild salmon, covered with a lemon-cream sauce, lightly set off with dill. He chewed and swallowed, reflecting on the fact that this evening was the last time he would chew. From tomorrow onwards, chewing would become superfluous.
He would still drink, of course – his body would still need the same amount of water, even some more than in his present physiological state – but water was easily recycled, even in a small ship hurtling through the immense distances between the stars. But the biological process of producing energy through the basic chemical reaction between oxygen and sugar – burning carbohydrates – would no longer be necessary.
Tomorrow morning they would sedate him, insert a central venous catheter, and pour the nannites into his body. They would begin their busy work all through his organism on the cellular level and four weeks later he would awaken from his artificial cocoon state, the transformation complete.
The main course arrived; slices of roast duck, previously marinated in red wine, with ginger and garlic, couscous dumplings, and quickly stir-fried peppers, onions, courgettes and thinly-sliced water chestnuts. There was a gravy of the roasting duck juices, enhanced with the marinating theme of wine, ginger and garlic. The wine was a rich Haut-Brion Bordeaux.
As he savoured the duck and the wine, he thought of the changes which would take place in his body. He would grow much thinner and lighter, his skin taking on a green colour as it produced the specially designed chlorophyll-analogue which his system could now use to gain energy directly from light, any source of light. Some of his internal organs, like all those metres of intestines would practically disappear, others, above all the liver, modify themselves to take on adapted functions. How much more efficient, how wonderfully elegant, he thought. All he needed apart from light was water and minerals and trace elements (only a couple of grams daily), which could be dissolved in the water. The transformation would make it vastly easier for him to spend long periods in space and give him almost complete autonomy in his exploration of new planets. It would increase his life expectancy and the new, largely plant-based cellular structure of his body would be much more robust; better able to withstand long periods of high acceleration, radiation and hostile environments,
He was eating more slowly now, relishing the excellently cooked meal. His last meal. It was the sacrifice of feeding which had gripped the public imagination most about transformation and the reason why this ritual of the final meal, The Last Supper, had been initiated. Indeed, although it had never for a moment rocked his determination to take this step, the renunciation had seemed great. He had consoled himself with the thought that it was somehow fitting; that such major advantages, such fundamental metamorphoses, must, in some fashion, be appropriately paid for. Until his conversation this afternoon with Helga, his mentor. He watched her green eyes (gleaming in an even greener face) incredulously as she explained.
“… some kind of side-effect. We still don’t really understand how it works; despite all the progress we’ve made, there are still many functions of the brain we only imperfectly understand. At any rate, after transformation, you will discover that you won’t only obtain your energy from light, you will also … taste it.
“We keep this information confidential until immediately before transformation. We don’t want it to have an influence on our applicants or their screening process. But you have to be told before it happens – otherwise you will be very confused when you awake after transformation has been completed. It is a phenomenon which takes some getting used to.”
The waiter removed the remains of his dessert – a creation of mousses of various varieties of chocolate – and brought coffee and
Replete, he sipped the liquor. A smile played over his face.
To taste light, in all its wavelengths, all its combinations! An unexpected galaxy of gourmet pleasure opened itself before him, he who had been prepared to become an ultimate ascetic for the sake of knowledge and adventure.
The chocolate taste of Aldebaran.
The frothy roast chicken savour of the Orion Nebula.
The sweet lemon succulence of Sirius.
All the myriad flavours of the universe …