Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cultural Exchange Night

Carbon had just dropped a tray and a squeeze tube off in front of Alex, tiny magnets clicking it down to the retractable table over the medi-board. She had excused herself to get her meal as she pushed off and glided into the hall, humming some tune he did not recognize. It was disconcerting to see her happy. That worried him a little. Shouldn't he be glad to see her happy? Maybe he just wasn’t used to it yet.

Gravity was still off, and wouldn’t be coming back on until they were alone in system, so the tray was a necessity. It kept the food from floating away. In this case, it kept a brick red sauce with unidentifiable white disks in place. It looked like someone had roughed it up a bit, too. Some green stuff that looked like it might have had lentils in it - he knew enough to not assume they were - and a yellow-orange cake-like thing rounded it out. It didn’t smell bad, just different. The squeeze tube was a mystery, though.

He turned it over, the markings on the bottom in the flowing Tslao script and a tiny magnetic node. Couldn’t tell it apart from what his beverage dispenser would have turned out. The cold liquid inside sloshed, a kind of deep golden brown in the translucent plastic. Alex twisted the top and smelled it. A little lemongrass, maybe a hint of cinnamon.

His right shoulder lifted in a shrug that stopped half-way across his chest and he sampled it. The scent carried over into the flavor. Earthy, a little bit spicy and gritty, maybe the consistency of an aqua fresca. It wasn’t bad. He sucked some more out of the tube.

Carbon stopped in the doorway, tray in one hand, two more beverage tubes in the other. Several emotions played over her face and he distinctly made out confusion and a flicker of revulsion before she settled on something that seemed to say what the hell are you doing?

He stopped drinking, twisted the cap closed and set it down where it had been. She glided over to the chair next to the board and floated him a second tube, this one with a gentle concave twist and filled with a faintly pink clear liquid. She pointed to the tube with the lemongrass-cinnamon stuff.

“That is a condiment. It goes on the green one.” She said it slowly, each word carefully pronounced and very amused.

“Ah. I see.” Good job on drinking the ketchup. Smooth. “So what is this?”

“Try it first. I did check to find what would be palatable for you and was pleased to see one of my favorite dishes was compatible. That would be the red one.”

Alex didn’t argue with that, applying some of the condiment to the green stuff before offering the tube to Carbon. She just shook her head.

That was fine. More for him. He closed it and set it back down.

He started eating before he gave himself a chance to think about it. The flavors largely didn’t make sense to him. The red sauce was chalky and savory at the same time, all at once kind of good and kind of bad. The white things may have been noodles... They didn’t have much flavor.

Alex looked at her food and cocked his head to the side. Her noodles were larger and cylindrical, about the size of the first joint on a finger. “Did you cut my food up for me? I can eat perfectly well, I don’t need that.”

“I did. Not for that reason.” She continued to pick her way through the main dish.

“Why would you do that, then?” He actually felt a little perturbed but kept eating as well. He hadn’t been a kid in a long time, and it felt rather denigrating to have his food cut up for him.

“Do you really wish to know?”

“Well, yeah. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t.”

Her shoulders raised in concession and she fished one of the white things out of her tray with her chopsticks and held it up for him to see. Golden compound eyes shined out of the deep red sauce, surprisingly vicious looking mouth parts beneath them. She popped it into her mouth and he figured out where that faint crunching noise had been coming from.

The primer had said they eat a lot of insects.

“They are better fresh, but are not safe to cultivate on a ship.” So very amused.

He gritted his teeth briefly and kept eating, formulating various reasons he should not feel weird eating bugs. Lots of societies on Earth eat insects. They’ll eat you if given the chance. Higher energy density. They worked, if only just enough for him to power through it. The green stuff was spicy and sweet, reminding him of Thai food. The cake and drink were both sweet with flavors he couldn’t quite place.

“It’s different, but I didn’t mind it. I’m not used to the flavors, I guess I have no idea if it was good or not.”

“Thank you for your honesty. I am glad you did not dislike it outright.”

“You’re welcome.” He relaxed as much as he could as she took cleared his table. Carbon was only gone a few moments before she returned and settled into the chair next to the medi-board again.

“Is there anything else you would like to know about us?”

“There is, but I still don’t know where to start.” He stopped and gesticulated, trying to figure out something to ask her. “no, actually, I do have one question.”

“What is it?”

“What does szhaan mean? It wasn’t in the primer and it’s been bothering me.”

“It is-” Carbon just stopped and coughed. What little skin he could see in her ears darkened as she looked away. “The- the translation is imprecise. It is something like using someone else to fulfill your own needs.”


  1. I love the clinical feel of the food and Alex's assessment of it. It fits an environment I see as very sterile.

  2. Good! I was sweating bullets over that, actually. I had gotten half way in and realized I had committed myself to the food thing and only had 500 more words to make it happen.

  3. The condiment bit was great. For a second I thought he'd done something a lot weirder by the look she gave him.

    I was a little thrown by szhaan, I thought it was something from an earlier chapter, but I couldn't find it when I looked back through them.

    Anyway, I liked the food exchange (especially the description of the bug/noodles). I wouldn't worry so much about word count if you have a good scene going, I don't think anyone will complain if you give us more.

  4. Yeah... I'm keeping track of things I need to fix when I compile this and szhaan as an over reaching feeling she had while picking his head (more on that on Thursday...) is going to come up. I only just recently started thinking more than a week ahead, hopefully it'll start to show.

    Still glad everyone likes the food thing. Had such a stress over it.

    I think the word count is going to be more of a guideline from here on out...

  5. I too enjoyed the food scene, and I like the idea that Alex is so willing to try something so different. It was also enjoyable to me the way that the food was both good and bad, something I guess which would be an acquired taste. It reminds me of countless scenes where someone waits breathlessly to discover whether another likes their cooking, only this time it's intergalactic. And yeah, I wouldn't stress re: word count. This is good stuff, man.

  6. We get a little look at part of why Alex is open minded in this week's update, too.

    Word count is now officially being ignored. Thank you!