Octopi Adjacent

“Do you want the last one?”

“No, thank you,” she said, looking at the squirming creature with distaste. Saul shrugged, grabbed it by one of its back legs — the thing was programmed to have slow reactions, so although it twitched away from his hand instinctively, he caught it — and tossed the animal into his mouth. Crunch, chew, swallow. Saul coughed and said, “Yeow.”

Artwork by Marc-Anthony Macon.

“I wish they didn’t randomize the flavors,” she sighed. “That’s what happens when you prioritize art over commerce. I’m so tired of generative this, generative that. Can’t anything be planned anymore?”

“Stop being such a dish towel,” he told her.

“Do you mean wet blanket?”

The restaurant was crowded. The tables were full of pairs and parties, most giggling. Couples took turns pushing live hamster-like appetizers into each other’s mouths. Sweet, milky green tea sat at most of the diners’ elbows, half-drunk. The tureens and serving platters were occupied by living food of all sorts. The meals had strange limbs and their odd little bodies were smeared with sauce.

“Living food” was a misnomer, actually, but the imitation was convincing. Consequently, that’s what the newsvids said in their reviews: “living”. The kitchen was outfitted with processing vats and 3D printers. Edible computer chips were sourced from Indonesia and Appalachia. Poor places were convenient like that.

The waiter came by Saul’s table with a dessert menu. “The special tonight is marzipan unicorns,” he said brightly.

“Really?” she asked. “Not another one of these awful algorithm things?”

The waiter nodded sympathetically. “The cuisine does take some getting used to. Its… anatomy, I mean.” Then he smiled again: “Our chef is planning a night where you pick your own ingredients!”

“Good,” she said. “Because otherwise you’re going to go out of business. Randomizing flavors is a step too far. I’m okay with the wriggling — “

“Sorry my sister is a bitch,” Saul told the waiter, who began to look uncomfortable. “I’ll take one of those unicorns. Is it enough for two people? She needs to eat something.”

She sighed. “This had better be good marzipan.”

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