This is the first of a five installment, novel length story.
Bunk Room: Hour 2
The diagrams flew across the touch screen as Dash Kameku flicked through them absent-mindedly. He skimmed each one looking for a place to start, some nugget of insight or flashing text that more or less spelled “start here.” So far, his arrangement with Mr. Kimney had been entirely one-sided, though not from a lack of effort on Dash’s part. Bucketbot had become a big help in Dash’s duties aboard the ship, but recent events and the general workload had kept him from providing any real suggestions to the multitude of project files Kimney had transferred to him… and continued to transfer, almost daily. Dash’s eyelids drooped. The days had begun to run together. He resigned himself to giving the project files a serious once-over since he didn’t feel comfortable sleeping lately.
He continued browsing on auto-pilot. Throughout the documents, one recurring term offered some small glimmer of interest to him. Nanotech. Even though he studied applied energies, ion and particle accelerators, propulsion, and energy shielding in college, he was always intrigued by robotics. He had been working on his own robotic project for months and progress was steady, despite needing to teach himself the basics. He was in no way knowledgeable enough to figure out just what the deal with Blu was, but then he doubted anyone could explain that little stowaway robot. He set a flag for all documents marked “nanotech” and reclined in his chair at the terminal. He felt his eyelids grow heavier, but he knew he didn’t want to sleep. It had been this way since the Vark-incident; his eyes would ache and he’d fight against them. He rubbed at his eyes with his fingertips and let out a groan. He adjusted his vision, watching splotchy colors drift away from his field of view, and then fixed his stare at the monitor, looking at nothing in particular.
He knew everyone would be wake up soon, so he shut off the terminal and crawled into his bunk. He wrapped himself in a blanket as he stared at the plastisteel-tile ceiling. He continued staring for what seemed like an eternity, until finally he heard Guugel, the diminutive, one-eyed security guard, get up out of his own bunk to begin his day. A few minutes later he found himself, drifting off. Sleep overtook him.
Bunk Room: Hour 3
Dorian woke up two hours before his alarm. Again. His eyes were wide open as he stared at the time displayed on the front of his data-wallet, which rested on the nightstand next to his bunk.
He turned over and tried to go back to sleep. He enveloped himself in his covers, folding and tucking them under his body. He went into a fetal position. He closed his eyes as tight as he could, and breathed at steady rhythm. In and out. In… and out.
He threw the covers off of his body and grabbed for his data-wallet, picking it up and waking it with a tap on the screen. The lock screen was blank for now. If the ship was within galactic network range, there would be all sorts of notifications on the lock screen. With such limited network reception out in space, it seemed as if it was more of a glorified watch and music player than anything useful to him. He unlocked his data-wallet, went to the network settings and turned on the wireless radio. He waited, staring at his static home screen in the dim room.
His data-wallet began to vibrate in short bursts, buzzing over and over. Icons upon icons appeared. Windows popped up and tabs popped out of every direction of the screen. He made deft swipes and quick taps on the screen, clearing the notifications and pop-up windows. After a minute, the home screen was clear. He opened the social media folder and held his finger over the Spacebook icon. He hesitated for a second… before tapping on it.
He waited a moment as his news feed refreshed itself. His feed was now full of posts where his friends and university colleagues did their best to show off to one another. There was a picture of his sophomore friend Songo taking a selfie with an award for excellence in research from the Salderi Project. If Songo could help them find the cure for spacer-rot, he could cure himself of narcissism, too. Niloa, from Dorian’s xenoimmunology class, posed with her parrack friends in front of a climate-controlled display of tropical trees at the Skyhaven Parrack national embassy on Oonoo. Dorian wondered how such a cold woman found so many friends in such warm places. The rest of the feed consisted of ads for products he did not need and for concerts he wished he could attend. As he suspected, he had no messages.
He switched to the Hearpoint music application and checked his notifications for new music. His eyes widened as he saw the new release from Triflock, a popular trance group. Two parrack twins and one hauke posed in trendy clothes with closed eyes and somber expressions between the sun rising on a dark planet and the word “Migration”. This must have been their latest annual album. He placed a finger on the album art and heard a sample. Multiple synthesizer arpeggios murmured over a lead piano melody. The notes reverberated in Dorian’s ears before fading into silence. Dorian closed his eyes as he listened, feeling a chill run up his neck. Dorian began to download the album and forwarded a notification to Senn. Since Senn was the sort of person who would listen to the singles from an album and then go back to his favorite music from college, this notification might have been pointless. Still, if he was a fan of Triflock’s old material, he might like this new album.
Dorian queued up several more album and playlist downloads before exiting the application. He stifled a yawn and smacked his lips as he stared straight ahead in the dark, quiet room. The room seemed almost too quiet. When the ship was in transit, the silence was always underscored by a low hum that could be heard throughout the ship. He got out of bed and stood up, stretching himself out. The soft vibrations at his feet were missing, too. Did the ship stop moving? Great.
He put his data-wallet down on the nightstand and trudged towards the washroom. After a cold shower, he put on comfortable pants, a neutral-colored shirt, and slip-on shoes. He had nobody to impress, unless they were having a heart attack and he had to use the defibrillator on their chest. When they would come back to life, they would see him in his professional, no-nonsense clothes and feel impressed, marveling at the smart, quick-thinking medical intern who saved their life. As he walked to the galley for some breakfast, no one marveled at him at all.
Bunk Room: Hour 4
The black void was stifling. Dash struggled against it, but it seemed to enclose around him. It grew tighter and tighter around the contours of his body. He kicked and thrashed as hard as he could, but the sludgy darkness swirled and coalesced around him, and as he opened his mouth to scream, the void flowed into him. He couldn’t breathe, but he couldn’t die either. In panicked silence, he choked, almost drowning in black but then, suddenly, a reprieve. As the pressure subsided he found himself floating in nothingness. His breaths were gasping and desperate. He was no longer drowning but the ink still lingered in and around him.
It was then that he heard the tearing of fabric and saw a gleaming light rip through the darkness. A dagger tore through the void, leaving a gash of frayed black edges. The light was blinding, but Dash looked towards it to what existed beyond the veil. Vark came into view, his throat ripped out in gruesome detail… his gash throbbing with each labored breath and the red and pink insides of his neck slick and moist. Worst yet was the smile, as though he had knives where his teeth should have been.
Dash had only been asleep for a little over an hour when he found himself waking up from his latest nightmare. Everyone else was out of the bunk room by now, with the exception of Guugel, who was reclining on his bed, with little else to do today. Guugel’s single eye opened and turned to him.
Dash felt the question echo in his skull. He sat up and brushed some wet hair from his forehead.
Want to talk about it?
Dash grunted as he threw his legs over the side of his bed. He threw his head into his palms and replied “I’m fine.”
Guugel shrugged and lied back down, eye closed.
You really should open up about these sort of things.
“I’m not a fan of your voice bouncing around in my head like that.”
Heh. Maybe you shouldn’t leave the door open so wide.
Bunk Room: Hour 3
Dorian turned his face from the bright lights of the galley. The room smelled of coffee and protein paste, so someone must have had breakfast and left before he got there. He went into the fridge and got out a plastic tumbler. He closed the fridge and opened a nearby compartment, digging around for his freeze-dried oat packets. He looked at the design on the packaging, which displayed a cartoon grey smiling with the words “original flavor” below. He stretched his back as he poured the powder into the tumbler, which he filled with water, shook up, and stuck into the microwave. He checked his data-wallet again as he waited for the oats to cook. Senn’s icon on the Spacebook messenger app was green, so he was awake. No one else on the ship seemed to be online, though.
The microwave pinged, and Dorian handled the tumbler with care. He stirred the oats and took a whiff. Nice and inoffensive, just how he liked it. It would fill him up until he could have the instant noodles for lunch. Dinner was another situation, though. It was unclear if the ship’s current lack of forward momentum would spur Marken to make something special. Dorian shuddered at the thought.
He walked down the hallway to the medical bay and turned on the lights. They flickered on one by one as he set the tumbler down on a counter. He stirred the oats some more before scooping out some of the sludge and tasting it. Perfect. The cold tumbler had caused the hot oats to cool down faster than normal. This had been the most science he had applied in a long while, and it was not even related to his actual area of study.
He swallowed the oats as he booted up his medical console and logged into the operating system. He went over to his calendar application and checked his due dates. He sighed as he saw that his next psychological profile was due to be sent to his internship supervisor soon. With all of the recent drama, he had almost no time to begin the profile. And it was on Bernell Marken, who usually just went by Marken. It had been almost half a year, and while their paths crossed often, Dorian did not have much of a reason to have a casual chat with him. If he wanted to get this work done on time, he would have to find a reason to talk to him.
In the meantime, there were many emails to answer, and many, many articles to catch up on. He took a key ring from his pocket and unlocked a nearby drawer, taking out a pair of headphones. If he just left them around, a certain Parrack might choose to borrow them, and then he would never see them again. He plugged the headphones into his data-wallet and slipped them onto his aural patches, pressing play on the chillwave playlist. For the next few hours, all Dorian saw was his monitor and his data-wallet. He found himself lost in journals, emails and various online distractions.
Bunk Room: Hour 4
Kracker woke up with his feet on his pillow and his head buried under his blankets. As usual, for a few embarrassing moments, he wondered why it was so dark in the bunk room. He raised himself from his bed and tore the blanket off from over his head and peered around. Guugel was absent, as was Dorian, and Dash was shivering under his covers. Kracker listened to his friend whimper slightly. He frowned, but suddenly grew alarmed. The ship was running silent. Even as a war-era antique, the ship was relatively quiet, but the lack of noise now meant something was up with the auto-pilot. He threw himself toward the nightstand, grabbed his data-wallet from the charger and thumbed through the interface. He had synced his wallet to the ship’s A.I. and was relieved to see the ship’s computer code reply to his inquiry: Everything was fine and the ship was in a queue for the jump-gate. Ships ran idle in queues to preserve resources, but the odd part about all of this was that the queue had begun a couple hours prior. Kracker made his way to his drawer in the wall, pulled out some clothes, threw them on, and made his way to the helm.
Mara’s Bunk: Hour 4
Mara stared up at the ceiling of her room, hesitant to leave the comfort of her bed. She sighed and threw her legs over the side of her bunk, slid into a robe, and made her way to the utilitarian desk across from her bed. She took a seat and activated the computer interface. A display screen rose from the surface of the desk and flickered to life, a portion of the desk’s smooth surface morphing into an array of lit keys. She yawned and began to type:
There was no response. She rubbed her eyes with her palms, and spotted the typo. She typed again:
There was a short delay before a series of data flashed across her monitor, per usual. All of a sudden, it came to a stop. She saw a simple message.
Upper Common Room: Hour 4
As the first one in the kitchen, it seemed fair that Kracker get to decide the breakfast situation for the crew this morning, and, like always, he fixed some coffee with the nutriment-paste. The fruity flavor of the paste played well with the acidity of the coffee, and was pretty much exactly what he needed. Well, with just a dash of ale from his pocket-flask. Just a nip, really.
Coffee-substance in hand, Kracker entered the helm room and took his place in the pilot’s seat. With a few quick gestures he activated the displays and began combing through the data about the queue. He occasionally glanced up and out the primary window, observing dozens of other ships orbiting the jump-gate which, oddly enough, seemed to be deactivated. He did a double-take and returned to the data, eager to find out why the jump-gate was down. He continued to pour through the data with one finger as he took a sip of his coffee with his free-hand. He trilled slightly after a delicious gulp, loving the fruity note that lingered afterward. The logs were fairly standard so far, but then he found what he was looking for, a general warning from the jump-gate authority concerning an emergency shutdown. He raised a quizzical, feathery eyebrow and studied the message thoroughly. It was light on details, admittedly, but a gate-shutdown was serious business. Data could still be transferred between gates. The gates were vital to communication networks, but it seemed that ships were not permitted to travel through for now. That was worrisome and Kracker dove right into local broadband chatter to get a feel for the situation.
“This is pilot Toucair of the Lucky Strike. Anyone have more up to date info on the closure? Over.”
Kracker took another sip of his coffee.
A guttural voice bellowed across the broadband, “This is pilot Vobang of the Boulder Dasher. No updates yet. Over.”
“This is pilot Toucair of the Lucky Strike. Thanks for the update. Over.”
Current angles of investigation exhausted, Kracker leaned back in his seat, coffee in hand, waiting for whatever news would find its way to him.
Upper Common Room: Hour 4
Mara stifled yet another yawn as she entered the nav room. Kracker was already there, focused on his array of monitors. Mara’s entrance was a welcome reprieve from the idle chatter of spacers on the broadband. She had a couple slices of pom fruit from the galley tucked into a disposable towel, and she placed the package gently on her terminal. She dug into the package and popped a small, ruby-red slice into her mouth, savoring the mild, sour tang.
“Morning, Senn,” she said, wiping away some pom juice from the corner of her mouth.
Kracker didn’t turn away from his monitors but instead pulled down an arm-mounted monitor and opened up some relevant data.
“You may have noticed that the ship is in orbit around the jump-gate,” he said. “Turns out it’s been shut down for a bit.”
Mara’s eyes widened.
“ Beats me. They certainly haven’t told us anything. I’ve been tuning in on broadband, but nobody has any idea what’s going on.”
Mara sat down at her nav terminal with the creeping realization there would be very little for her to do today. She stared at her monitor as she mulled over this, figuring it was not true, after all. It was just a period of rest. Sometimes priorities shift.
“Is the gate still letting us transfer data?” she asked.
Kracker leaned back in the pilot’s seat.
“Yeah. I’ve been downloading Triflock’s new album all morning while I wait for more info. From what I’ve heard so far, it’s pretty good.”
Mara smiled. “I know of them, but I haven’t heard their latest stuff.”
“Same, but Dorian turned me on to their new stuff. He’s a nerd, but he knows good music. I’ll throw it in the ship’s music locker.”
“Thanks.” She jabbed at the touchscreen with her fingertips. “I’m gonna go ahead and download everyone’s mail since we have a stable connection.”
“Good idea.” Kracker swiped the screen and brought up his inbox. “It’s been a while since we were in decent network range.”
He took a sip from his flask and watched his inbox update. Dozens of messages pinged on the screen one after the other. By the time they had downloaded he had already trashed a handful. Mostly admail for feather-lice removal, artisan liquors, and a few outdated Zero-One race statistics updates.
Mara took a couple of bites from a juicy slice of pom as she watched the download box fill with what seemed like hundreds of messages. Unsurprising. They had been out for a few weeks with spotty Galactic Information Network reception and had been unable to update their message boxes. She took another bite and opened her freshly-updated inbox.
Kracker’s autopilot inbox culling halted, however, when he stumbled on his own surname. Sure enough it was followed up by the name Auzin. His mother. Kracker groaned, loudly. Mara turned away from her terminal.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
Kracker rested his head on his feathery hand, his voice was practically muffled by the tightly drawn beak he spoke through.
“Mail from my parents.”
Mara didn’t really know much about Kracker’s parents beyond the fact he didn’t get along well with them. She knew the feeling, she hadn’t heard from them in months.
“Maybe they’re just wishing you well?” she said comfortingly.
There was a pause.
“Parents are overrated…” The venom in his voice was unmistakable.
He went back to paging through his inbox as Mara started to scroll through her own, eager to see what else was happening in the galaxy. She had developed tunnel vision as of late and figured she needed to refresh herself on a broader scale. Her first refresher came when she found a message from an old university friend, Qarleen Kuil.
Hey, Mara. It’s been a while since we talked. How are you?
I wanted to tell you about this newsgroup for the Gnarlruut Strategist Club that just started up. Want me to see if I can add you to the subscription list? I recall you had a real knack for strategy games when we were at uni.
The GSC club members seemed to spread out across the Silver Spiral after uni, but it’s cool that this could bring us back together. I heard that a few of our former members got picked up by the Federation as consultants since our graduation. Might be cool to network with them!
Keep in touch,
She focused on the last line for a few moments. She had her hands prone over the keyboard, but could not compel them to type a response. She closed the message window for the moment. Consultants? Those dorks who weren’t even good at the games they played? She scratched her neck a little harder than she intended. She thought it best to move on to another message.
It turned out that the next message was from Dash’s cousin Shippena:
Hey girl! Haven’t heard from you in a while, or my brother much either for that matter. Grandpa says hi too. Anyways can you do me a fave? I got a gift for Dash for his birthday and stuff and I don’t quite know when you are gonna be in range of a Cosmart. If you are in range can you get his gift? I have the invoice attached to the message so you can just give them the number and they’ll give you the package. If you could get it wrapped and stuff and hold onto it for a few months that would be great too. Please give Dash me and grandpa’s love.
Seen any cuties lately? Tell me all about what is going on with you!
Talk about too much coffee. Mara made a mental note about Shippena’s request.
Mara swept her fingertips past a dozen advertisements, form messages and phishing schemes. She began to grow a little anxious. She picked up the last slice of pom fruit and tucked it into her mouth, chewing on it as she scrolled through the last dozen or so messages. She reached the last of her new messages and paused, keeping her finger on the screen. She lowered her head towards the keyboard and sighed. As always, there was no word from Mom and Dad. She checked her outgoing messages. At least her last few messages to her parents had been delivered. She took a deep breath and began writing a new message:
Hi Mom and Dad, It’s your daughter again.
I haven’t heard from either of you in a while and I am REALLY ANNOYED ABOUT THAT. (Okay maybe change that.) Last I heard you had an article published in an archaeology newsgroup. I was wondering if you could send me a link?
Anyway, I bet you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to…
At least, she hoped they had been wondering. She stared at the unfinished message which seemed to be going nowhere. Her fingers felt stiff again and she felt exhausted by simply closing the message window.
She had lied about not having read the article. She had actually read it six times after stumbling upon it. She opened her bookmark again.
RUINS OF ANCIENT TERREKIN COLONY FOUND ON AVABIA
Scientists have long suspected a common ancestor between the Terrekin and Repton, but recent evidence discovered by local archaeologists brings to light new evidence of ancient Terrekin having settled Avabia even prior to recorded Repton history on the planet…
She scrolled down the page, past images of the findings, conjectures and theories, and she narrowed her eyes. She found herself drawing her face closer and closer towards the screen, analyzing every word of the article. As she reached the end, there was a brief biography of her parents, the same one on every one of their articles. Alva and Ula Senten are experts in their fields in blah blah and live in the desert studying their knick knacks…
There was no mention of Mara or any of her accomplishments. Then again, what accomplishments were there to mention? She didn’t join the military academy, and now she was the captain of just some delivery ship. There had been some notable incidents, such as the terrorists at the amusement park, but why would anyone with a single-minded fetish for ancient cultures care about that? She would admit their work was important, and maybe even cool. But it was not her path, and as their daughter she was important too.
They didn’t seem to have any strong feelings about whether or not she would join the Federation military when she was considering it. It didn’t even seem like they had any concerns about her feelings when her ex, Baen, turned out to be a smuggler. They seemed more upset that they lost a member of their excavation team and the setbacks that arose from it. She stared at the screen with her legs crossed and a frown on her face. She sat there in silence for a while, neither her or Kracker saying a word. After ten minutes, she forced herself up from her chair and left the nav room in a huff.
Upper Common Room: Hour 5
The coffee this morning was thickened with a nutriment-paste to serve as a makeshift breakfast, but as always, the paste gave the coffee a sludgy texture and made it overly sweet. Dash never had much of a sweet tooth, so he grimaced as he gulped it down. By the time he was halfway through his mug in the galley, he noticed the ship was still not moving. The ship had its own particular vibration from the ion engines, and the absence of the periodic twitches meant the ship was in stasis. Everything else seemed to be nominal, but driven by curiosity and a desire to escape the sludgey breakfast beverage, Dash wandered over to the helm.
Unsurprisingly Kracker was splayed out in the pilot’s chair, one leg thrown over the arm and swinging back and forth as he focused on a ceiling-mounted screen brought into range by a simple arm mechanism. Dash knocked on the frame of the helm’s doorway, pulling Kracker from his data-trance.
“Hey, Kracker. What’s up with the idling?”
Kracker didn’t divert his attention away from the screen however, and continued to pour over empty status updates from the Jump-Gate Authority as he replied, “Jump-Gate authority has the gate shut down temporarily. Some kind of accident.”
Dash’s tone seemed absent. “Pretty serious?”
“They’re being vague. I’m looking into it.”
Dash leaned against the doorway.
“Hopefully not hacking.”
Kracker remembered the awkward conversation he had with Dash concerning an upload of Cyclopasian data involving a cult, of which he was sworn to secrecy about by the Federation, the Empire, and one very angry, aggressive Cyc named Orthos just an hour or so prior to his return to the ship at the time. Kracker practically winced at the recollection and pushed the monitor aside. He positioned himself to look at Dash with a look of utmost sincerity and wounded sensibilities at the accusation.
“Actually, I’m going to give them authorities the benefit of the doubt to release some info,” he rose out of the chair and stretched before continuing. His sprawled position for the past hour had left him a little cramped and sore. “I’m more worried that you’ve been acting like a zombie lately.”
Dash shuddered at this and rubbed the side of his head.. He didn’t need people fawning over him. Never did.
“Just a little bit of insomnia. My schedule is just a little off.” The room in front of him suddenly felt a lot smaller and Dash impulsively leaned his body away from the enclosed space.
Kracker frowned and placed a feathery elbow on the top of the pilot’s seat. “You know you can always get some sleep-aids from Dorian. I mean, with what happened a couple months ago-”
Dash cut him off, “I’m fine, seriously.” He pried himself from the doorway as he began to feel a little out of breath, backing away from the discussion. He was done with the conversation. “Just keep me posted on the jump-gate situation.” Dash finished his drink quickly and made his way down to the living quarters. He felt like working out and hoped that a little training could soothe his nerves.
Med Bay: Hour 5
Dorian reached the end of an article on Blassnaught digestion and he felt his own stomach grumble. If he had it his way, he would attach himself to an intravenous system that would supply him constant nourishment. Still, that would limit mobility, and it would just make him feel like someone on life support. He mulled over this proposition as he went back towards the galley for something else to eat. As he moved down the hallway, the smell of boiling water and strong spices began to fill the air.
As he feared, there was Marken, already at work on dinner. He stood on a special raised platform hugging the perimeter of the kitchen surfaces that allowed him to stand at the same height as most others who would enter the kitchen. He hummed to himself as he shook some spices into a bowl, wafting the aroma towards his twitching nose. His ears perked up and he looked up to see Dorian.
“Oh, hey, Dorian,” he said, giving a wave. Dorian gave him a slight smile as he moved past Marken, towards the compartment with his food. Marken resumed his preparation, beginning to hum again.
“And a little of this…” he said, taking another whiff. “That’s lovely.” Dorian rummaged around in the compartment for his packets of Nicor brand noodles. Where were they? Did he run out? Were they pushed behind something? Did someone take them? Senn, you’re a nice guy, but you’ve gotta lay off of the medic’s food! Dorian started to panic as he patted around in the compartment. The sooner he found the noodles, the sooner he could–
“Dorian, are you busy?” Marken asked. Dorian turned to look at Marken, trying to look calm.
“Uh…” Dorian stammered. “Not really?”
“Could you help me with this dish I’m making for tonight?” Marken asked. “I’m doing a bunch of different things here, and it would help if I had another set of hands. Don’t worry if you don’t have cooking experience; I’ll show you what to do.”
Dorian froze. He led himself into this situation. And now, he had no way out.
“Great! Come over here and grab an apron. I was just about to start.”
Dorian closed the compartment and walked over to the table next to Marken, where all of the ingredients were laid out. There were leaves, roots, spices, and vegetables of all shapes, sizes and colors. It bewildered Dorian and made him sweat a little. He noticed a bundled-up apron folded up next to the ingredients. He unfolded it and looked at the design on the front, which featured a bunch of partying Skyhavenites and read “THE HOTTER, THE BETTER.” He cringed at the design and reversed the apron before he put it on.
“Alright,” Marken said. “I’m going to make the main parts of the dish, and you’re gonna make little bunches of ingredients to put in after the main vegetables soften up a bit in the water. That way, all of the elements will have time to interact with one another, and it’ll make a nice combination of flavors that I think everyone will enjoy.” Dorian gulped.
“Okay…” he said.
“Think of it like an operation. I’m the head surgeon, and you’re the nurse.”
“I like to think my degree’s better than that…” Dorian said. Marken chuckled.
“Ha, well, I’m sorry. Anyway, you get the point. Let’s get cooking!”
Dorian nodded and reached towards a bowl.
“Hang on a second,” Marken said. Dorian looked towards him, who had his hands on his hips.
“You wouldn’t operate on a patient without sterilizing, would you?” Marken said.
Dorian felt a shock and avoided Marken’s stare. Marken laughed.
“Aw, just kidding. Still, you gotta clean up before you touch the food!”
Dorian washed his hands and went back over to the prep area.
“Okay,” Marken said. “This dish is called ‘Breela Meeha’, a Kemezeckian specialty. I read that it was invented by a junior chef in the kitchen of the king of the same name. True to the king who inspired it, it’s a loud, colorful dish. So, there’s a lot going on here.”
Dorian stared at the prep area. He walked into this. Was he even going to eat this? He got himself this far into it. He might as well see where this was going to go.
“Sounds interesting…?” Dorian said, cringing a little. Marken raised an eyebrow, but pointed a finger at a bowl full of long, green roots on Dorian’s side of the prep area.
“So, everything’s washed and ready. Go and chop up the flozan roots into pieces the size of a thumb and put it in this bowl,” Marken said. He handed Dorian a chef’s knife. “Hold it like this.” Dorian copied Marken’s grip and took out one of the roots. He aimed the knife and began moving it down before Marken stopped him.
“Do you want to cut off your fingers?” Marken said. “Curl them up to protect them.”
Dorian stared at Marken. If this was like surgery, then this felt like he was doing open-heart surgery with the head surgeon stopping him every five seconds. Dorian began to chop up the roots at his own pace. He glanced over at Marken, who whistled as he chopped up a head of ghorna in less than fifteen seconds. Dorian continued to chop up the roots until the bowl was full. Marken smiled.
“Good job,” he said, patting Dorian on the shoulder. Dorian found himself smiling, but forced himself back to a neutral expression.
“Thanks…” he said. This was going to be a long day.
They went through several more steps in the dish, chopping, dicing, shaving and preparing the vegetables. Dorian felt a little mortified when he kept being stopped by Marken, but he started to pick up some things. He might not have been as experienced as him, but he was catching up. As new and exciting as this was to Dorian, he had some pent-up anger, too. He longed for the noodles that were supposed to be where he put them.
“It’s great to have some help in the kitchen,” Marken said with a big smile. “When I was in university, I was an assistant in some of the culinary classes.”
“Really?” Dorian said, plugging his nose as he handled a pungent piece of purillo root.
“Yeah,” Marken said. “That’s where I met Dash and Kracker, you know.”
Dorian narrowed his eyes as he listened to Marken.
“Huh…” Dorian said.
They continued to prepare the food. Dorian felt his eyes start to droop. He was still hungry, and now he was tired again. He hoped they would be done soon. After some more work, they had almost all of the preparation done.
“Phew!” Marken said. “This chopping block hasn’t seen this much action since I got fired from my last kitchen job.” He chuckled and grinned at Dorian, who looked a little despondent. His enthusiasm turned into concern.
“Something wrong, Dorian?”
Dorian opened his eyes wide and shook his head.
“Nope, I’m fine,” he said. He felt like he was going to fall asleep right there. Please be done, please be done…
“This next part’s tricky,” Marken said, making Dorian’s hope fade away. “We have to put the ingredients into the pot in a certain order and with specific timing. If we do it right, it’ll turn out great. If not, well, at least we’ve got some compost.”
Dorian was glad that his boss had so much confidence in this dish. Still, Marken grinned and rubbed his hands together.
“So, let’s get to it,” Marken said.
They arranged the prepared ingredients next to the pot in a linear order. The water in the large pot next to them simmered. Dorian stood next to Marken, who asked him for various ingredients.
“Nova plant,” Marken said. Dorian handed him a bowl full of chopped, sinewy leaves that had a bitter smell. Marken dropped them in the pot one by one. “Minced koola.” Dorian handed him a bowl full of purple minced chunks with an acrid aroma. The more fragrant, weird things went in the pot, the more Dorian lost his appetite. If he didn’t have any noodles, he could just have oatmeal again. It would suck, but at least he wouldn’t have the runs later. Marken saw Dorian’s scrunched-up face and paused. They stared at each other. Marken looked disappointed.
“I have a feeling you’re not enjoying this,” Marken said. Dorian tried to avoid his glance.
“It’s…well, I’m just not sure if this is my kind of food, you know?” Dorian said. “I’m used to some pretty bland cooking. We don’t really have a lot of stuff like this back on Oonoo.”
Marken folded his arms and made an unsure look.
“Well, I think it’s just a matter of exposure,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to like before you try it.”
Dorian shook his head.
“You don’t understand. If I eat something as out-there as this, I don’t know how my body is going to react.”
“I’m telling you, this is how it is. The grey have a very particular set of things they can eat, and this has served us very well for many generations. We’re a very pragmatic set of people.”
“You’re speaking for your whole race. You can’t do that.”
“I can when we’re almost all the same. It’s not just a stereotype, it’s a biological truth. I stick to oatmeal and noodles for the most part because that’s all I need.”
Marken made a cross expression at Dorian. “You’re just picky. You’re using noodles as a crutch.”
Dorian shuddered slightly. As a Grey there was an expectation to keep emotions in check, something he always had trouble with. It was something that he and his brothers were all known for. He took a breath and replied,“No, I’m not.”
“Now you’re being a child,” Marken grumbled.
Dorian was incensed, but swallowed it down like a bitter pill.
Nav Room: Hour 5
Kracker shrugged and did some small stretches. Dash had been on edge for months, but usually improved when he eventually talked to someone about it. Kracker was in mid-stretch when he felt his stomach rumble. He realized that his coffee-concoction from earlier wasn’t enough to fill him up. He smoothed back some feathers on the top of his head, checked the stream of data on the monitors one last time, and made his way to the galley.
By the time he was in earshot of the clearly agitated Dorian and Marken, Kracker had already been confronted with a variety of barbed jabs exchanged between the pair. He made his way to the refrigerator as silently as he could, but with little luck as Marken had already noticed him. Kracker froze in place.
“Kracker, maybe you can help us out.”
Kracker glanced between the two. He opened his mouth slightly. “Well-”
Dorian was in a huff. “Marken thinks I’m overly picky.”
Kracker tilted his head, “Well-”
“He says I am using noodles as a crutch and I am a cutlery coward!”
“Culinary,” Marken interjected.
Kracker pinched his brow just above his eyes. “Well, I mean, Marken does have to cook extra stuff just for you a lot of the time.”
Dorian smirked. “Not just me. It’s a multi-racial crew. You don’t eat meat do you?”
“And my race has specific dietary concerns-”
“Ha!” Marken laughed. Kracker attempted to get to the refrigerator as the two continued to go back and forth..
Marken stood on the counter so he could meet Dorian’s eye-level. “I am well aware of your dietary restrictions, but you eat the same thing every time. EVERY TIME. A Grey can’t live by noodles alone! You’re the medic, you’re missing vital nutrients!”
“I take supplements!”
Kracker grabbed some slices of pom-fruit from a bag and closed the refrigerator, escaping back into the nav room. Dorian and Marken stared each other down.
“If you don’t want to help, you should have said so to begin with,” Marken said.
“You led me into it!”
“It was your choice, Dorian.”
Dorian leaned forward, causing Marken to back down off of the stool. “And I choose to leave!”
Dorian untied his apron and threw it on the floor. The aroma of the kitchen disappeared behind him as he went down the hallway towards the common room.