Christopher Fungai Adeyemi was born in a small village near the equator of Earth at the waning edge of the twentieth century some twenty-eight years before star engines, and did not even use a computer before he was fifteen. In the research settlement near the equator of a different world, at the age of forty-three, everyone called him no other name but "Fun Guy", which he hated at first because by all rights he should have been addressed as "chef", but he grew to tolerate if not love the nickname.
"What is this?" was the phrase he said the most. One of the biologists, caked in mud from foot to chest, would bring in a wriggling nylon sack: "What is this?" Another would plunk down a handful of hairy weeds on his worktable: "What is this?" A basket of clicking seedpods: "What is this?" A jar of inky slime: "What is this?" They would answer with dense Latinish words that often incorporated their own names, and a guesstimated explanation of the organism's role in the local ecosystem, then would slap him on the shoulder and say, "See what you can do with this." It was Christopher's job to see what was edible.
One wall of the kitchen was lined with cages filled with rabbits, and Christopher used them to test for toxicity in the strange organisms brought into the settlement. It was occasionally cruel, and he hated to watch a rabbit twist in agony either to die or lay panting on the cage floor for several hours, but it was simple and cost-effective. There was lab equipment in the settlement that could be used to test for toxins but not every dangerous chemical was known to man and the rabbits were the discovers of several new ones. They were also used for meat, since they reproduced efficiently, but Christopher worried they would one day escape into the environment and wreck havoc as so many of their cousins and ancestors had done back on Earth.
"Why did you come here?" asked a molecular biologist named Felicity, as she gnawed on a tough 'vegetable' that he'd named kiwi root because it tasted vaguely like kiwi fruit.
Christopher was carefully preparing an emulsion that required precise quantities of ingredients so he did not appreciate the casual interrogation. He never interrupted them when they were doing their jobs, so, he thought, why would they do him the discourtesy of interrupting him?
"I wanted to get away from my village," he said tersely.
"Yes, in Africa."
"What was it like?"
"It was Earth," said Christopher, shaking his head.
"Yes, of course," said Felicity. She leaned back and put her dirty elbows on his clean counter. He glared at her. "What I meant was, what was it like growing up in your village?"
Christopher sighed deeply.
"It was fine, I guess. I knew everybody. I was practically related to everybody. I had a happy childhood."
"I always thought of Africa as a place where there's a lot of starving children and wars and stuff."
"Not in my village."
"So if you were happy, why did you leave?"
"To get an education. To see the world."
"Why did you come here?"
"Why did you?"
"Me?" asked Felicity. "This is where the action is at. Out here on the ever-expanding frontier. This is where I can make my name, see ridiculously new things--like the explorers of centuries ago. But why did you? You're not a scientist."
"Can you do without me?"
Felicity stopped chewing.
"Well I mean..." she stumbled over her words, "I guess I can still cook this stuff."
"But it would give you less time to make your name, wouldn't it?"
"I--I..." Felicity laughed nervously. "I didn't mean to imply that what you do isn't important or anything. It's just that you're kind of the exception out here. You know what I mean?"
Christopher carefully put his utensils down and adjusted his glasses.
"All of you have a lot of fun at my expense, and I what do I do? I do not complain. You think I'm somehow exotic, but I try not to let it get to me. I might not have anything named after me, but none of you have died from this food."
Felicity's cheeks were pink.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I...yeah, I'm sorry."
He nodded slightly, then grabbed up a bunch of fleshy leaves.
"Here," he said, handing them too her, "feed the bunnies. Make yourself useful if you're going to be in my kitchen."