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Advice From Mom

Posted on Wed Aug 25th, 2021 @ 9:50pm by Ensign Noah Balsam & Debbie Gless

Mission: The Place of Skulls
Location: Debbie's Diner; Deck Seven-Aft
Timeline: Mission Day 8 at 1700

[Mission Day 8]
[1700 Hours; the evening after "For Want of a Towel"]
[Debbie's Diner, Deck 7-Aft]

Gentle spirit nibbled at lips, and manipulated a Nakiri against an acrid-wafting red onion with surprising confidence. Noah Balsam found comfort in a kitchen space, though he had zero background in one. His background was thoroughly scientific. But there was something quite Zen about the regularity of putting a blade through a vegetable. It allowed his mind to drift into an expanse of imagination- at least until it came to the point that he had little purchase on the onion, and really had to guard his knuckles.

That was when Noah's technique evaporated. He turned the onion, turned his head and squinted at this rind of vegetable. His eyes watered and he swiped at them with a bare wrist. "... Nothing like the Mighty Quinn..." he whistled along with the flute solo of the old Manfred Mann song on the Diner's "Jukebox." Noah eyed the thin, regular slices he'd worked through, waving the knife in a vague circle above them. If the goal of using onion was to have it cook evenly... Noah nibbled his lip again.

"Everybody's building monuments... ships and boats..." he sang along, a little off-key. Singing, also, was not one of his great strengths. Noah's desire for precision finally pushed him to turn the onion, cut side down, and try to get the same thinness. He soon finished it off, and, lacking the confidence to wipe the blade with his fingers, he used the edge of the cutting board. "Ok I have the onions," Noah said over his shoulder. "Do you want them yet?"

Debbie, meanwhile, had been focused on the stewpot in front of her. Inside, a frothy broth of bouillabaisse happily simmered away, awaiting various ingredients to go with the fish (artificial as it was) already in the pot. Like Noah, she was humming along with the song -- an old favorite -- until it got to the part about Quinn the Eskimo making everyone doze. "Never understood that line," she chuckled, raising her own cutting board to slide a healthy pile of chopped carrots into the pot. They made a bloop-bloop-bloop sound as they hit the water and sank beneath the surface. "And sure baby, I'll take those," Deb said, trading her empty cutting board for the one covered in onions.

Into the stew the onions went but not before Debbie commented on them: "Nice technique there, sweetie. But remember, they'll cook down in the stew a bit, so it's OK to go a little thicker." Her tone was warm and encouraging rather than critical; she much preferred to build up rather than tear down. "Think you can manage the celery, baby? Here, like this," she said, turning to demonstrate the thickness she wanted with the swipe of her knife. The chunks were about half an inch thick. Trusting, she left Noah to the slicing and moved back to the pot, humming some more as she stirred what was going to be the dinner special.

With his elbows hyperextended, Noah leaned on the table and watched Debbie's instruction. He flashed his wide, bowed smile, "No problem," he said. He took the bunch of celery back to his station and gave his knife a once-through the sterilizer field. He watched as the ultra-purple light scanned the satin metal blade. And then he was living up his knife for the first half-inch. Or, in his mind, 1.27 centimeters. And he was engineering precise once again.

"My Mum loves this stuff... she snacks on it." That was a crackle as Noah removed another stalk to start. Then the gently, rhythmic thunk-thunk of blade coursing through crisp celery on to the cutting board. "Does Buh-bouillabaisse use mirepoix?" He asked over his shoulder.

"With or without peanut butter?" Debbie smirked, looking over at Noah as he handled the celery.

Noah grinned, "Uh I'm the only one that likes peanut butter in my family."

Debbie continued, "Personally, I can't stand the stuff unless it's slathered in smooth peanut butter or cut up and cooked into other dishes." As the young stick-bug-engineer cut up the celery, Deb was focused on the garlic in front of her. Breaking the cloves into several chunks, she placed each one in her garlic press and squished the juice directly into the simmering pot of fish, veggies, and broth. To Noah's question, she simply shrugged. "Mirepoix can be used but I'm a simple girl, Noah. Rather than cook and reduce it all down beforehand, I just toss everything into my pot and hope for the best," she guffawed as she squeezed another clove's juice into the pot.

"Oh okay," the stick bug boy chirped back contentedly.

"Speaking of your mom," Debbie looked again to Noah, "You two pretty close? Bet it's hard to know her little boy's eventually heading for parts unknown in the Delta Quadrant." Not that she had a son herself but Debbie had a close nephew not much older than Balsam. She could empathize with the separation.

Noah looked back. "Yeah," he said. "She's on Bajor now with her new partner. They amicably split a while ago. None of us live on Enceladus anymore." He shook his head. He found that profound- and hard to take, "She'll hate it. She'll think Delta Quadrant and her child being harvested for organs or..." he slid his knife against the chopping block to let loose the slices of celery that had stuck. "Assimilated by the Borg. She wants me to go to Cendo Prae. Catulla. Or maybe Jupiter Station or the Daystrom Institute."

He raised a brow, "I haven't told her yet about a few things..."

"Uh huh," Debbie said, voice gruff. "Whether she likes things or not, mister," her voice softened, "a mother deserves to know, don't you think?" Looking back from the stew pot -- the sounds of happily simmering soup coming from within -- Debbie shrugged. "She's not altogether far off, you know. Not to scare you but did you read our mission reports? She has reason to worry." The woman's thoughts went to Isaan, who'd been harvested herself by the Vidiians on the Adelphi's final mission.

"There was a very sweet girl. Used to work in Sickbay as a nurse. Loved my spaghetti and meatballs," Debbie recalled fondly. "And mapa bread. Can't forget the bread," she said, recalling how delighted Isaan's eyes had been at a garlic-and-butter baked version of the bread. "Anyway, they got her on our last mission. Scooped her on an away mission for organs. She never came back." Unless you count one of those assholes wearing her face, Deb thought to herself but did not say.

"All of that to say," Debbie stressed kindly, "call your mother. Tell her everything. And make sure she knows you've got Hurricane Gless looking after you, alright kid? Maybe she'll feel a little better knowing you're not out here alone." It was then that she took the chopped celery from Noah and added it to the mix. "That'll do nicely," Deb said, nodding as she regarded their handiwork. "Just gotta let this simmer for the next couple of hours and then we'll be ready for dinner."

Noah cleaned and sanitized his knife and butcher's block under the sonic wave and the sterilizing beam. He knew Debbie was right about telling his mother everything. But in truth, he was still trying to process it all himself. "I'll tell her, there's um, just a few things I have to make sense of first. You know?" He looked over his shoulder. Noah put away the utensils he'd been using and then finally sidled over to get a smell. "I'm sorry about the girl you knew." He said gently. "I read about some of the Vidiian technology at Academy. How they have something like an old tricorder, a phaser, and a transporter all in one. And their holographic technology was decades past our own when Voyager encountered them."

He folded his arms, "Wuh-what's mapa bread?"

Debbie nodded to the bit about the Vidiians' technology. "It's nasty stuff; I'm just glad that, for the moment at least, we're half a galaxy away from them." Deb made herself busy with clean-up as well, sanitizing her knives and cutting board before putting some half-used ingredients back into the cooling unit of the tiny kitchen. There wasn't a lot of room back there but it made talks like this one all the cozier. To Noah's question about the bread, the woman picked up a nearby PADD and called up a picture.

The loaf of bread onscreen was a squat dome -- round all around -- covered in a dusting of cracked flour. The bread looked dense and hearty vs. something light and airy. "It's a Bajoran dish," Debbie explained as Noah regarded the picture. "Popular among the refugee camps because it's easy to make and fills the belly rather well. I don't always have the ingredients for special requests like that one but I replicate and do-with things as best I can. I like to think my mapa bread is pretty good," she smiled.

Noah looked at the bread. And to his eyes, it appeared like some kind of lumpy loaf of mostly unleavened, sconce-like brick-ness. "I think I may've tried it during the survival training in the Sahara. I just duh-didn't know what the name of it was." He declined to mention that it gave him awful indigestion.

Setting the PADD aside, Debbie lowered her elbows to the table and rested her head on her hands. "Anything I can help be a sounding board for, kid?" she asked in reference to Noah figuring some things out. A large bubble of hot-pink gum grew from her mouth, becoming the size of an orange before it made a loud pop and deflated. A couple of quick flicks of Debbie's tongue brought the excess gum back into her mouth.

Noah's big mouth twisted. "Um." His lips puckered with a knot in the corner of his cheek. His eyes followed the progress of the bubble from start to exploded denouement. "Has uh, anyone walked in on you when you were naked before?" He finally admitted to the air of pensiveness that had bothered him all day. "Lieutenant Irynya... uh... she-she... it was awkward. And it got even more awkward."

So that was what was bothering Noah. "It's funny. We're all so self-conscious about our bodies but they're just meat and water when it comes down to it," Debbie smirked, hands going to her hips. Leave it to Debbie to reduce a life-altering moment to such simplicity. "Loads of people have seen me naked," she said, blowing (and popping) another bubble, this one the size of a large grapefruit. "Most of the time, it's cause it was expected. For sex, public showers, Betazoid weddings," Deb counted on her fingers, "but there's been a few times where it was a surprise."

"I'll never forget my roommate Jeanette in junior year of the Academy," she began, continuing to clean up the mess on the counter. Pointing to a pile of removed celery husk and other detritus near Noah -- signaling that he should help with clean up as well -- the woman seemed to get a case of the shivers all of a sudden. "She was supposed to be out studying with some friends all night. So I decided to take advantage of the situation and air dry after my shower. There I was," she painted a mental picture, "all sprawled out on the couch under a fan when who walks in? Jeanette! And to make matters worse, one of her friends was with her."

"You've never seen a woman run for her clothes as fast as I did," Debbie smacked her gum and laughed. "I was mortified, kid. I'm guessing you're feeling some of that, too?"

The stick bug of a Cadet smiled as Debbie shone her usual brightness and irreverence on the matter. "I got used to puh-public showers in the Academy. But this felt different. We both had to get on shift so... and... uh there are two stalls. After that it, it was still... wash up." Noah's eyes glanced at the simmering soup, wafting fresh rounds of aroma. "Buh-but she said... I shouldn't be so timid, I don't have anything to be ashamed of." His brow furrowed.

"Bodies are funny things. And I think," Debbie reached across the table to tip Noah's chin up, "we put a little too much emphasis on them, hmm?" She gently pinched his cheek then, withdrawing her bracelet-bedecked arm so that she could turn to stir the stew, the aromas intensifying as she did so. "Smells like home," Debbie smiled to herself, distractedly remembering her mother's bouillabaisse with fondness. But then she remembered the awkward kid -- a kid to her, at least -- sitting behind her. This restored her train of thought.

Noah smiled for the Matron even if he was still lingering with the battle. His pale cheek rosied where she pinched him and he too breathed. It was an alien smell to his background, but he'd had it in France, on the Mediterranean coast. And he knew he liked it a lot. "Too-too bad we don't have any escargot."

"Wouldn't that be lovely?" Deb replied with a nod. But then her thoughts were back on Noah's predicament. "Listen, if Irynya is complementing your body, she's probably right," Debbie began again, turning back from the soup. "She's pretty matter-of-fact about these kinds of things. If you'd ever gone bra shopping with her, you'd know," she clucked, reaching up to subconsciously boost her bustier. The garment had been obtained on Risa and did a fantastic job of keeping everything in its place. "Would it have been less awkward if she'd seen but not complimented you?"

Noah touched his chest. "I-I'm not even an A-cup, she'd struggle." He smiled ruefully. His head bobbed while he processed that. No that would have been even more awkward. But then he wished the whole thing hadn't happened. "She got stuck in the sonic shower after. So-so, uh, I had to go get my tools to get her out." He shrugged. "I tried not to look there." He shrugged again. "Um, your bouillabaisse needs good bread. Maybe not mapa bread unless... well maybe mapa bread. It sounds like it might, uh, be good at, you know..." He made a dipping and mopping motion with a piece of ghost bread in his hand.

Debbie unleashed a guffaw that practically shook the small kitchen. "Dunno kid, you'd be surprised what a good bra can do for your cleavage," she laughed, her face becoming effused with redness from the humor she was feeling. She was brash and spoke her mind, rarely editing herself. One of the things about Noah that she loved was that he never made her feel awkward for just being. Often, he lent himself to some of her baser antics, as he did now. "You're a joy to have around. Did you know that?" Debbie asked, her eyes sparkling.

Noah chuckled, "May-maybe she knows a good place to buy a jockstrap or s-something." Noah moved and put his long arms around the woman, "I like being around you too."

Debbie returned the hug hard, wrapping Noah up in the beariest of bear hugs before wiping some moisture from her eyes -- borne of laughing so hard -- and forcing herself to grow more serious. "Getting stuck in the shower sounds like an awkward situation for sure. But hey," she said encouragingly, "at least she was conscious. Imagine if you'd had to try to lift her out all on your own? Boobs have minds of their own. You never know where they're going to point. And if you're unconscious, forget it," Debbie chuckled with mirth as her thoughts then turned to Noah's question. She thought about it for a few moments and came to a decision.

"Kid, you're going to make your first loaf of mapa bread. Now don't be scared," Debbie said, beginning to pull down bowls in various sizes from a nearby cabinet, "you'll do just fine. It's easy, like I said. Otherwise they wouldn't have been able to so readily make it in the camps." She hoped this would assuage any fears Noah might have about taking on such a project himself. "I'll be here to guide you the whole way. I'll make some loaves, too -- we're going to need a lot if it's gonna be the official side for the dinner special." I'll save a slice for you, Isaan, Debbie thought to herself, wishing the young Trill woman were still around to enjoy her cooking.

Noah seemed willing, tippytoeing at the bowls to see which she pulled out. He decided he'd better change aprons then. "If-if I can do pizza crust I can try mapa bread. As, uh, as long as I don't offend their Gods and they send those uhh wraiths after me." Noah went for the flour. "Enriched or un-enriched flour?" He asked.

"I don't think the pah-wraiths are too worried about bad bread," Debbie said, blowing and popping her biggest bubble yet. After gathering all the gum back into her mouth -- needing the help of her fingers this time -- the woman set to washing her hands and snagging some ingredients of her own, indicating that Noah should grab the un-enriched variety. "If you want a dry, cracky bread for soup mopping, we need to go simple with the flour. Also, where did I put the damned yeast?" Debbie wondered, searching the cabinet until she'd pulled the container out with a loud "A ha!"

The two spent the next hour baking bread as the soup continued to simmer. By the time they'd finished, the diner beyond the kitchenette smelled amazing. People had already been streaming in for the dinner hour but elected to wait for the daily special to be ready. Moving out front, Debbie asked Noah to handle ladling soup into bowls and pulling off thick chunks of bread to plate aside them while she took the orders.

A couple of hours later, the last of the soup had been served but -- from a nearby warmer -- Debbie pulled out two bowls of the stew she'd stashed away for safekeeping. Along with what was left of the bread, she and Noah sat down to enjoy the fruits of their labors. "You did a wonderful job today, kid," she smiled warmly at the young man. "Thanks for all of your help. And for keeping me company," Debbie beamed.

"Thank you, too," Noah replied with his genuinely goofy smile. "It was fun. As always."

A Post By:

Debbie Gless
Bartender and Matron of Debbie's Diner

Midshipman Noah Balsam
Systems Specialist


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