Simple Things 2: The Breakfast of Losers
"Hand me the cornflakes, will you?"
Time of day in space is a product of experimentation and negotiation. On a ship populated by six different species the compromise that everybody agrees on, inevitably will not agree with anybody. Days are always slightly too long or too short, always slightly out of synch with any given species' biorhythm. The result is a permanent sense of jet-lag that breakfast does little to alleviate.
"The cornflakes, please?" A girl's voice, growing insistent.
Five people in various stages of early morning grouchiness are assembled around a u-shaped table decked out in a variety of dishes. It could be a tableau of plenty. Pilot watches his charges from the clamshell in the background.
"Guys, I'm telling you. This has to be one of the saddest foodstuffs ever invented in the Uncharted Territories. And, in view of the fact that these parts count food cubes among their culinary staples, that is... oh boy, I can't even tell you how sad that is."
Blue and dusty when dry, the 'cornflakes' dissolve into a thick, pale porridge when mixed with water. Their original name, as D'Argo observed after their recent acquisition, had rather more syllables than so flavourless a food deserved. Crichton has to admit, though, that the alien cereal bears only a fleeting resemblance to the Earth food he named them for.
"This," Crichton holds up a spoonful of goop, "is probably sadder than all and any of the kinds of food cubes we've tried. Except perhaps the teal ones. Those could probably trigger mass suicides."
"The ones we called 'karbak'?" D'Argo asks. "Actually, I thought those were rather nice. For the first couple of weekens, anyway."
"I remember," Rygel remarks. "That was when we established that the evolution of the ridiculous length of the Luxan tongue must have come at the price of irreparably distorting your race's taste sensorium."
Crichton screws up his face. "Dude, D, I have to agree with Rygel there. If you liked those cubes, something's seriously wrong with your taste buds, bud."
"It's not my fault that all your races lack the facility to distinguish six of the eleven basic flavours. The karbak had the most amazing yamu flavour when combined with some tomato juice."
Renaming their dietary supplies has become a sort of ritual with Moya's crew. It does nothing to improve the hit and miss quality of the items in question, but it gives them all a welcome opportunity to reminisce.
"Hey. Cornflakes. Please. I'm starving," Chiana reminds them.
"Why did we buy this exactly?" Crichton grouses as he passes the container to the Nebari.
"We didn't buy it, we stole it," D'Argo corrects.
"We didn't," Chiana asserts her moral standards. "To snurch something, you have to want to snurch it. These people didn't let us pay."
"Morons. If they had any intelligence in their elongated heads they would have waited for the money before trying to trap us in a stinking swamp," the dominar's grating voice expounds.
"I suppose they expected to catch us, then take away all our currency," the Nebari snickers.
Lack of currency and fear of being recognized, now that altogether too many planets are strewn with wanted beacons, have made reluctant shoppers of the Uncharted Territories' most wanted band of alleged terrorists. Too often their attempts at buying provisions have ended in frantic races for the transport pod. Purchasing weapons supplies, in particular, has become almost prohibitively difficult.
"Of course they expected to catch us." Rygel harrumphs. "But they would have had to dig us and the currency out of the mud first, wouldn't they? Any plan that requires digging your bounty out of stinking mud is not a smart plan. . . I hate mud."
"They clearly didn't expect we would take their merchandise with us. . . That was quick thinking there, Pip."
She grins, brightly: "Always."
"She should have taken something more palatable," the dominar complains. "Those crustaceans looked most delicious. Ah, I'd sell my thronesled for a portion of Hynerian crustaceans."
"Fried juva nuts," D'Argo interrupts. "Lo'lann used to make them with baata syrup. Jothee loved to throw them. They'd stick to the ceiling for days," he chuckles fondly.
"Pancakes. Peanut butter. Eggs. Orange juice. Come on guys, let's not torture ourselves. I think a change of topic would do us a world of good, right now."
"Ryge. Toss me that. . . What did we call it?" Chiana extends a demanding arm towards the Hynerian who has monopolized a round box of a red powdery spice. Rygel bares his teeth and snarls.
"This is common property, your lowness." With casual ease, Aeryn reaches across the table and snatches the treasure from the spluttering Hynerian.
"Hey, thanks." Chiana blinks, surprised. Aeryn, however, makes no move to pass her the container. Instead, she weighs it in her hand, then removes the lid and licks a finger to poke into the powder. Chiana cocks her head, undecided as to whether she should feel annoyed.
"I think we had decided to call that 'onlux'," D'Argo remarks. Aeryn's finger, red with the powdery stuff, stops in mid-air.
"Onlux? You mean clorium? But that's one of the seven forbidden cargoes." She eyes her finger suspiciously.
"And believe me, so should this be," D'Argo confides in the tone of one disclosing a delicate secret.
Very carefully, Aeryn wipes her finger on her trousers and puts the box down. A small green hand immediately makes a grab for it, but a slim grey arm is faster, not to mention longer. Chiana giggles triumphantly.
"You sure you want to eat that?" Crichton cautions from his place on the periphery, frowning slightly as the Nebari adds a generous helping of onlux to her cornflake mush.
"Yeah, why not? It can't make this any worse."
"Well, but as D'Argo said. . ."
"No risk, no fun," she grins and stirs her food, then takes a spoonful. Everybody watches as she moves the portion around in her mouth for a while, then swallows it. She gives them a radiant smile and pours another helping into her bowl, her companions still watching her, waiting, perhaps, for her to sprout an additional limb or two. When nothing of the sort happens, they one by one return their attention to their own joyless breakfast. Only Rygel continues to glare.
A swish of the door and a whiff of scented oils announces the last crew member.
"The Goddess grant you a good day."
Crichton looks up.
"Zhaan. You look great. Sleep well? Dreams of photogasms on the beach. . .?"
A generous blue smile. "I didn't sleep tonight. The Seek requires quiet, John. I prefer to do my meditating when you are at rest. It affords its own kind of relaxation."
"Right. Well, have some cornflakes, anyway. Breakfast monochrome."
Zhaan takes a seat and begins to fill a bowl with the proffered flakes.
"Is this what we got on that last commerce planet? It will be good to have something other than food cubes."
"Yes, and no. Yes, this is our latest acquisition. And no, it isn't any better than food cubes," D'Argo says.
"Folks, we need to figure out how to risk our damn lives for more worthwhile stuff," Crichton suggests. "I really don't want to die for something that isn't even sugar-frosted."
Zhaan adds water to her bowl, dips in a spoon and tastes the blue slop. Despite the discipline of the Seek, she does not quite manage to keep the disappointment from her face. She puts her spoon down, and gives her shipmates a resigned smile: "Well; it will keep us alive and fed for a few weekens. We should be grateful for that, at least."
A giggle rises from the other end of the table. All heads turn to the Nebari, who is busy cleaning the last of her cornflakes from her bowl. She ceremonially licks the last of it off her finger and puts the bowl back on the table. Then she gets up, the container of onlux in one hand, and darts around the table. Before anyone can react, she has poured some of the red powder into Zhaan's bowl. The cornflakes turn an alarming purple.
"Try it!" she says.
Crichton makes a doubtful sound, and Zhaan pauses, spoon lifted. Chiana laughs again; moves in a way that suggests that her joints do not work quite the way most of her shipmates' do. The motion ripples up her spine and ends in a fluid turn-and-push of the head. They have known her long enough to read that as encouragement.
"Uhm," says D'Argo.
"Go on! Try it!" urges Chiana. "I'm not gonna poison you!"
Zhaan dips her spoon.
They watch, but for a moment nothing spectacular happens. Then, a beatific smile blossoms on the priestess's face.
"This is good!" She swallows another spoonful, exhibiting every sign of delight.
They are taken aback. They eye the violently-coloured sludge as if they expect it to climb out of the bowl and walk away on purple pseudopodia. A bubble slowly breaks through the surface; pops soundlessly as they watch.
The Delvian laughs. She looks around from one skeptical face to the other. "What did you expect?"
"Well," Aeryn ventures, "none of those two. . . components. . . is very appetising."
"Especially the onlux," D'Argo adds, eyes round and sincere.
"But, dearest D'Argo. Aeryn." Zhaan smiles. "We are all of us familiar with the miracle of unlikely combinations, are we not?"
Crichton extends a hand. "Pass me the onlux."