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I once read a short story about a few ships from Earth who were sent out to either find a better planet or help humanity in some way. The fleet encounters another alien ship (that had malfunctioned? or were in conflict with?) and the captain of one of the Earth ships decides to bring aboard the alien crew. These end up taking over the ship and seem fascinated by the humans.

At one point one of the alien underlings can't help but smell one of the human's hair and becomes almost crazy with the smell. Its superior tells him to stop. There's a general subterfuge going on and you start to realise that the aliens have an insatiable appetite for human protein.

The captain decides to side with the aliens so as to not get eaten. The aliens take the surviving crew of four in the human ship back to their planet and recall all of their ships as they have realised that there's a whole planet (Earth) worth of protein which they plan to invade and feast on.

They host a planet wide party as finding humans means they will have plenty to eat. Apparently they had exhausted all of their food supply and were surviving only on synthetic supplements. The captain realises the impending doom for all humanity and as a last heroic act turns on the ship's engine (which was only designed to be turned on in the vacuum of space) and it causes a chain reaction which obliterates the alien planet and causes xenocide...and saves humanity.

Can anyone remember the author and name of this story? Looking at my cat I can't help but see a parallel...

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    The interstellar-travel-capable beings hadn't thought of farming? – James from NZ May 28 '18 at 1:54
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    That may have been explained in some way in the story? I think they were more akin to a viral species which had consumed all life on their planet (but hadn't resorted to cannibalism). I get your point, though. They may have been on the point of extinction. – Doooor May 28 '18 at 2:26
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    @JamesfromNZ Not sure if farming people would be much better... – Zev Spitz May 28 '18 at 11:38
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This is Murray Leinster's "Proxima Centauri" -- See Wikipedia for a good short summary. It's basically a good match: Earth expedition, aliens, liking for human protein, ship's engine setting off chain reaction and destroying planet. The only difference is that instead of being feline, the aliens are mobile, carnivorous plants.

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    It is, indeed. Thank you! I have found the book where I read it which is also mentioned in the Wikipedia summary link you provided - Asimov's Before the Golden Age. When commenting about this short story, in particular about plants being the predator as opposed to the animals thus challenging established assumptions, he says that he 'did not forget the lesson, and sometimes I tried to make use of it. In my first full-length novel, Pebble in the Sky, I pitted Earth against the galaxy-but made Earth the villain.' It sounds like this story served as influence for his later work. – Doooor May 28 '18 at 3:23
  • Did they have artificial nutrients here? – Adamant May 28 '18 at 4:21
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    The bit about the engines was that they needed a containment field or something to prevent the chain reaction. The hero who turned on the engines was being coerced by the aliens to show them how the engines worked so they could build their own. He conveniently neglected to mention or enable the containment field. The main character and his love interest had been dropped at a nearby planet to become cattle and watched the plant planet explode. I also read it in "Before the Golden Age". I highly recommend that book. – Euro Micelli May 28 '18 at 5:51

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