Kitchen Rules

Characters: G’fen, Manaar Rashid

After three days in the Phoenix’s load pan bay and recycling plants, G’fen had acquired a great deal of knowledge he could have lived quite happily without. Fortunately, he had just been reassigned to the galley.

He entered the main galley just past 0600 and found a human Ranger, a woman with rich brown skin and dark hair braided and piled high on her head, waiting for him. “Good morning,” she said. “My name is Manaar Rashid, and I’m told you’ve been assigned as my assistant for the next few days.”

“Yes, I was told I would be ‘peeling potatoes’…” G’fen had no idea what that meant.

Rashid grinned, handing him an apron. “Hylax seeds, to be precise … the Minbari equivalent.” She pointed to a large bowl of small red tubers. “I need you to use that small knife to cut away the outer layer. It’s quite thin. Would you prefer I demonstrate on the first one?”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” It really doesn’t take any skills to cut this…fruit? Vegetable? Whatever it is. G’fen began peeling away at the hylax.

Meanwhile, Rashid had begun cracking eggs out another large bowl. She would crack three into one pan, then one into a different pan, and back again. After a minute or two of this, she looked over at G’fen. “Good,” she said. “It’s important to get the peel off while leaving as much of the root behind as you can. No need to waste — so good work. Have you worked in a kitchen before, G’fen?”

“Not in any professional way… but most Narns are taught cooking abilities. The most common dish being breen.” It had been quite awhile since G’fen had had good breen, even bad breen for that matter.

“Ah yes, breen!” Rashid said with a grin. “I learned to make that before I ever left Earth — before I knew it was breen, really.”

“You, a human, can make breen? Explain.”

“Humans usually call it ‘Swedish meatballs,’ which is what I learned,” Rashid said, continuing to crack eggs as she talked. “I’ve always been interested in cooking. So whenever I go someplace new, I talk to any chefs I can find. When I visited Babylon 5 about a year ago, I talked to the chef at Fresh Air. When he put Swedish meatballs on the menu, one of his first customers was the Narn ambassador, who swore it was breen.”

“Interesting. You must prepare these ‘Swedish meatballs’ some time.”

“As a matter of fact, I was thinking about offering them for dinner tonight,” she said. “If we don’t use all the hylax at breakfast, they can be saved for that … hmm. Yes.” She finished cracking the eggs and looked over at G’fen’s progress. “Good. I’ve got to do the custard … if you finish those, you can start putting them through the processor.” She pointed to the small machine on a shelf nearby, and grabbed another large bowl. “The shredded hylax can go in there.”

She moved to the other end of the kitchen, taking the small bowl of cracked eggs with her.

G’fen put the hylax in the machine. How long would he be subjected to these jobs? At least he wasn’t still in the recycling center. It had been some time since he had talked to Kordieh. Some time since Darquin stripped him of his denn’bok and his security codes. Something had to give, or G’fen would no longer be amongst the sane.

As she came back toward him, Rashid paused a moment, reading the Narn’s silent expression. “You know, you could have gotten a lot worse,” she said.

“I… didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t need to,” she said. She looked at him again, and said — not unkindly — “Tell me something, G’fen. What did you join the Rangers for?”

G’fen thought for a second. “To be a part of something greater than myself.”

She nodded as she checked one of the ovens, then said, “Sometimes, doing that means you have to let some parts of yourself go. She said that, more than once.”

“What made you join the Rangers?”

Before she answered, Rashid took the bowl of shredded hylax from G’fen, handing him a box of fruit. “Slice that and put it in that big tray there,” she told him, as she started heating a griddle. Then she said, “Like you, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than I was, I suppose. I flew for Earthforce for a few years. When I heard about the Rangers, I had to join. I wanted to serve somewhere … that hadn’t yet been corrupted.”

G’fen did as he was told with the fruit. “I see you don’t think very highly of your military.”

“I did, once,” she said. “Then … then Clark and his ilk came along. And the civil war.” She started throwing handfuls of shredded hylax onto the griddle.

“Ah, yes I remember that. The important thing is that your president Clark is no longer in power, and many received the justice they deserved.”

“I wish it had been more,” she said. “Too many of the bastards got away with it.” Her voice was starting to rise. “And Clark himself didn’t even have the courage to face the music –” She abruptly cut herself off with a sigh.

“Damn,” she said softly, then turned to face G’fen. “Sorry,” she told him. “Thinking about that time, the hate I saw … what it made people do … always sets me off. I try not to think about it.”

G’fen said nothing. So many people on this ship were almost afraid of “hate.” To a Narn, hatred could keep you alive in hopless situations when all else failed.

There were several moments of awkward silence, as Rashid waited for the answer that did not come. She stared at G’fen, her face starting to flush. “Well,” she said finally, as she started flipping the half cooked hylax over, slapping the stacks back onto the searing griddle with far more force than was necessary, “maybe it’s true what half the ship is saying about you. I didn’t want to believe it, myself — because She believed in you. And I always trusted her.”

She. Ayeshalan. “Half the ship doesn’t know what it means to fight.”

“That may be,” she said. “But at least we know when to fight — and when not to.”

G’fen did not answer. He aggressively peeled some hylax.

“You don’t know that saying?” Rashid asked after a while. “It’s very old. From one of the greatest military sages Earth ever had. He also, I think, had a lot to say about knowing your enemy, and knowing yourself.”

“Why do you judge me?” G’fen expected lectures from people he knew… not people he had just met.

“Better me than Sech Turval — or Sech Te’Kai! back on Minbar,” Rashid shot back. Then she sighed. “Listen, G’fen. She saw something in you. For her sake, I want to do you a favor.” She looked at him. “What is the promise you carry?”

Why was she taking so much interest in him? Being so personal? “To honor my family.”

Rashid nodded, and said nothing for a minute, as she finished laying out trays of food. Finally, she asked quietly, “And how do you expect to do that, stuck here peeling hylax?”

“My thoughts exactly. Curing the hunger of this ship wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

She nodded. “Sure. Thing is, like I said a little while ago … in order to be part of something bigger than yourself, sometimes you have to give up part of yourself. Leastways, you’ve got to play by their rules.”

She looked around the kitchen. “That’s it for breakfast. Get yourself something to eat, and come back at 1700 to help me with dinner. We’ll do some breen if you’re up for it.”

G’fen bowed and left. He would play by the rules for now. Anything to get back to work.


Copyright (c) 2004 Jamie Lawson and Nick Wistner. All rights reserved.