"Where to?" asked the cabbie.
"Huh," said Chef Will Slocum, sitting in the back and trying not to think about the recent Xindi attack.
"Pal? I said, 'where to?'"
"Oh, uh, yeah, there's a fusion place in, um, over the bridge, right? In, I think it's in San Mateo."
"A restaurant. It's fusion cuisine. It's got a kind of fun name, one word. It's been reviewed; that was in the San Francisco Chronicle before, well, just before the attack."
"Oh, yeah! I know that place. It's called Voracious."
Will sat back, anticipating the meal to come. It was a small bit of luxury, a hoped-for escape, for right before the real work would begin. He was still going over the duty roster in his mind. The NX-01 was taking on fifteen MACOs, plus their commanding officer, a fellow named, what was it? Will had seen the communiqué but he had forgotten the name. No matter. He'd meet the fellow soon enough.
But right now, Will had to make some hard choices. He had a sous-chef, a saucier and a pastry chef, plus he had stewards like Preston Jennings, who had replaced Richard Daniels, a guy who, it had turned out, was a time traveler. Strange, Will thought to himself. Jennings was being moved over to Navigation. As for the others, they were being offloaded. The nascent Xindi war meant that Earth was not exactly a safe place, but the NX-01 would be even worse.
"There's no room for nonessential personnel," Captain Jonathan Archer had told him. And so Will had had to let all three of those helpers go, and he was wondering how he would feed so many people. He had wangled one last promise, one last favor, out of the captain. If he could find a person who could do everything that those three helpers had done, he could hire that person. But if not, he'd be forced to do most of the serving and chopping himself, with Jennings in if Navigation could spare him. And that was doubtful. Will sighed. He did not want to be fetching and carrying, if he could help it.
"Ah, here we are," said the cabbie. Will paid him and walked in.
He was seated in the roof deck area, where there were several tiny tables with cattails in vases on them. It was early April, and the air was chilly to be sitting outside, but he sat out there anyway. There were only a few other diners with him. It seemed that people were still too shell-shocked by the devastating attack on Earth to want to go out to eat. "What do you recommend?" he asked a server.
"The Harvest Salad and the duck burger."
"I'll take those, and I'd like the burger cooked rare. And a glass of your house Syrah."
"Of course, sir."
He waited and watched the few other diners. People looked somber, and were still at the stage of asking each other where they had been on that fateful day in March of 2153.
The salad arrived first. It was a colorful presentation, with a mix of fruits, vegetables and lettuces, and even some smoked almonds. "We have orange vinaigrette and we have Champagne vinaigrette. There are other choices, but those are recommended for the Harvest Salad. The chef made these both today," said the server, bringing over two carafes.
"Uh, the orange, please." She left the carafe with him and he poured a little on, and then mixed it a bit with the salad. There were blueberries, pineapples, red deer tongue lettuce, orange slices, pickled beet slices and red pepper rings, along with the almonds. He found himself practically licking the bowl.
"My compliments to the chef," he said.
"I'll tell her, sir," said the server as she brought over his burger.
"Actually, when I'm done, would it be possible to meet the chef?" he asked, "I, uh, I'm also a chef. I would consider it to be a professional courtesy."
"I'll see if she's free."
He ate his burger and drank his wine as he watched the sun go down. People departed quickly. It seemed that the attack had made some of them a bit afraid of the dark.
The server returned. "She's free but you'll need to go to the kitchen as we're closing up for the night. She needs to be there in order to get things put away."
"By all means." He paid his bill and followed her to the kitchen, which was in the basement.
In the kitchen was a short woman with light-blonde hair, wearing chef's whites and a New England Red Sox baseball cap. She was a middle-aged whirling dervish, tossing pans into soapy water while she kicked an over door closed and picked up a bag of lettuce to put it into the refrigeration unit. "Excuse me?" he asked.
"Huh? Are you here to help clean up? 'Cause I could use the help. It gets a little dark and everyone in San Francisco wants to be home and crawl under their bed, it seems."
"Uh, sure," he said, picking up a box of blueberries. "Do you have a particular shelf for these?"
"Fourth from the top," she said, "And then the pineapple goes to the right of it, thanks." She continued what she was doing for several minutes and then finally looked up. "Huh. I, um, the server mentioned something about a chef coming down here. I just realized; you must be him."
"I must be."
"Oh, sorry, I'm just, as you can see. They all scatter. I guess I don't blame them too much. If you've got someone to go running home to, I guess you just go." She got the last of the food into the refrigeration unit and shut the door. "I'd shake hands but my hands are a mess, and they're about to get worse," she indicated the sudsy water, filled with dirty pans, "but I'm Lili O'Day."
"I'm Will Slocum."
"Where are you a chef?" Lili asked as she scrubbed.
"On the NX-01."
"Oh, wow. I've always wondered what that was like."
"Have you ever been in space?"
"Sure I have. I was born on Titan, I went to school at the Mars Culinary Institute, and then my first gig was at the Tethys Tavern. I ended up here on Earth, oh my gosh; I can't remember. I was younger and less serious then, I'm thinking."
"We were all less serious. I think the attack changed everyone."
"Probably," she said, rinsing a pan and putting it onto an old-fashioned rack. "But there are still responsibilities. We may all want to crawl under our beds or rocks or whatever, but the food still needs to be put away. The dishes still need to be cleaned. The chopping has to be done, all of that."
"Don't you have a sous-chef for chopping?" he asked.
"I do, but the reliability is going down quite a bit. I end up doing most of the chopping and prep work these days. It's exhausting."
"Tell me about it," he commiserated.
She stopped what she was doing. "Yanno, I am a lousy hostess. I have a New York style cheesecake in the refrigeration unit. Top shelf. I just made it today. Plates are over there, and forks are in, uh, that drawer. Have some dessert on the house, Will."
"Will you join me?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. These can just soak." She cleaned her hands and then led him over to a back area where there was a computer on a desk, and two chairs. "The bills. I hate this part about owning a restaurant."
"I have to deal with a budget," he said, "so I understand, but there really aren't any bills in Starfleet."
"I imagine not. The little green men just barter, right?"
"Something like that. Uh, have you ever thought about giving this all up?"
"Most days. And more often since the attack. It's like no one wants to help; they're all scared. And all of the things I dislike about owning a restaurant – they just loom larger."
"How would you, um, would you ever consider cooking in space?"