The best butcher in the world
A short story about a speculative house made out of meat thanks to advances in synthetic biology.
The fingernail tiles tilt downwards, my vegetable leather shoes lose grip, and I slip across the open orifice. As soon as I’m pushed out of the lab, the orifice closes in a viscous contraction. I can open it again by pressing a secret spot, but I prefer to follow my own rules and unwind. The house didn’t even let me take off the lab coat or the bacterial cellulose gloves while I was in the lab, but I can’t complain. It’s my design. And it’s almost time for dinner.
Bioluminescent sap runs through the vascular tissue, lighting everything up. Clients will arrive soon, so I take my gloves off, run my hands through the walls’ muscles, and firmly knead the tense spots. A deep tissue massage is the secret sauce behind the gastronomic experience I offer, the reason why everyone says the beef I serve is the tenderest and juiciest in town.
Manuel’s is dry as a piece of cardboard.
Even though our synbio solutions are the ones being used to tackle climate change in developing countries, Manuel and I are best known for being the victims of torch-bearing right-wing extremists who acted on their crazy conspiracy theories.
Except for two meat houses we were growing on an isolated vertical farm, our entire company burned to the ground after the attack.
We moved to the outskirts of the city, purchased a large plot of land, and safely planted the meat houses.
In addition to sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, our houses trap insects with tentacles located both inside and outside the meat walls. Insects are the houses’ main source of nutrition. Ours is the meat we take from the houses’ muscles and cook in its internal biological ovens. When working on the thermoregulation design for the oven, we programmed the houses’ DNA to induce controlled hyperthermia in a specific cavity of the kitchen and contrasted the thermal increase with cold droplets expelled by sweat glands.
Most of our clients are foreigners who take a cable car in Medellín and ride up the side of the mountain, drifting over graffiti-adorned neighborhoods and a massive forest as they get to the top to have a unique gastronomic experience.
They’re already here, lining up outside. I cut some slices out of the walls and put them in the oven. The house recognizes the clients-with-a-reservation DNAs, and when their beef portions are ready, it opens up the entrance orifice to invite them in.
I have to admit getting into the restaurant business was Manuel’s idea. While we were brainstorming ways to fund our new lifestyle as hermit scientists — and after the failure of the synbio museum and the D.I.Y workshops — Manuel envisioned a beef restaurant made, quite literally, out of meat. Initially, I was apprehensive about whether it was a good idea or not, but ever since the opening, both houses have a constant flow of visitors.
I peek through the front eyelid: the line to my house is so long that it disappears into the forest.
I peek through the back eyelid: I can count on one hand the people lining up to Manuel’s house.
He knows that my meat is better than his, but his arrogance, and the fact that he came up with the idea first means he won’t ever ask me for help.
The entrance orifice opens up: here come the birds, genetically modified to sing at night and give the house an even more natural atmosphere. The birds are followed by the clients, eyes widening with astonishment as they sit on gluteus chairs. People take out their cellphones to photograph the tattooed art on the table skin. I used to serve the food on biodegradable plates and cutlery but I realized people prefer the experience of eating with their hands. Upon finishing, they throw the remaining beef scraps into the house’s large intestine and wash their hands with recycled, purified rainwater.
The birds leave after the last client. I’m so tired that I can’t wait to go to my fat-filled, soft-skin bed, but someone else comes in. It’s Manuel. He’s holding a blue rose, a look of admiration on his face.
If I hate Manuel it’s only because our intense working relationship has ruined any opportunity for romance.
“Hello,” he says, handing me the rose. “I’m here to congratulate you on being the best butcher in the world.”
“Love the blue color. How did you engineer it?”
“Typical Luisa. Why not just appreciate the beauty?”
A verbena scent; I’m moved by the surprising aromas in modified roses, but even more by the science behind it.
“Would you help me plant it? I’m going to the lab for surgical supplies.”
I enter the lab by pressing the secret spot. On my return, I can’t find Manuel. He’s outside the house, reading a message written on the wall with a bioluminescent spray: ‘Those who play God will be devoured by his fury.”
“Extremists,” Manuel says. “What I don’t get is, if they’re against us, why do they keep eating our meat? Anyway, I designed a solution to clean bioluminescent spray without hurting the walls.”
“Where is it?”
“In my room.”
“I’ll go get it,” I say, handing him the surgical tools. “Would you plant the rose, please?”
The entrance orifice of Manuel’s house doesn’t let me in. Weird, I have always been a welcomed guest. I go back to my house to ask Manuel what happened with my access, but the entrance orifice doesn’t let me in either. I press the secret access spot and the orifice opens in a violent spasm.
The blue rose is planted.
Manuel is, too.
He’s being swallowed by the house’s tentacles. I can only see his legs and shoes. The house is trembling, toxic gases forcing me out. I use all my strength to uproot the rose, leaving sap on the fingernail tiles. Just then, the house stops shaking. I grab some gauze to stop the bleeding.
I go to the lab, take a closer look at the rose, and recognize an engineered virus Manuel’s house used to infect mine.
While his body feeds my house, I don’t have time to grief — I’m too engaged by the science behind it.
We’re stronger now.
Together, we’ll destroy the evil neighbor.
That’s a type of beauty I can appreciate.