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Senses: Taste (2/5)



Senses. A ni-var, chapter 2/5
by athens7 (as Capt. J.T. Kirk)
and mazaher (as Cdr. Spock)
completed Stardate 2010:12:05:19:00 (ship’s time).
Notes to series:
A ni-var is a Vulcan term denoting a literary composition describing the same thing, event or series of events from two different points of view.
Endnote numbers make reference to the whole series, not to each story or chapter.

Touch, taste, sight, smell, sound. Parallel paths winding, intersecting, and finally coming together. Taste is a shared pleasure.

2.1. Spock
I bid him good night. Then I left.
I am still researching in my mind which Standard adjectives may best describe the experience I termed as “interesting” to my Captain. He answered with an attempt at humor that induced me to think he felt my acknowledgment was understated.
I was quite aware that it was.
“Overwhelming” is nearer to being an acceptable translation of the Vulcan “plo-sposhan-ahkh”, almost-like-a-war-beginning (4).
And in war with myself I have been indeed since the moment I crossed the door from the Captain’s quarters and found myself in the corridor, alone, with an unfamiliar warm feeling on my hand which had nothing at all to do with its actual surface temperature.
I almost ran to my own quarters.
The first thing I did once the door swooshed closed behind me was to lick my palm and fingers.
The taste of the Captain’s own skin, of Jim’s skin, salty and a little wet and a very little oily, made me shiver in the most unbecoming way.
When I was growing up, I was often shamed for my susceptivity to synesthesy. The spontaneous links formed between present sensation, especially gustative and/or olfactory, and past events or situations, was openly despised as one among my many mongrel traits: an instance of the peculiarly human, illogical inability to separate the here-and-now from knowledge of other regions of spacetime.
I had free access to a wide choice of Terran literature for the first time while completing my courses at Starfleet Academy, and at an early date I happened on an overlong and somewhat boring, but for some reason at one time famous, work by one Marcel Proust, who rhapsodized about which memories were unleashed when spoiling a perfectly acceptable cup of tea, by soaking into it a remarkably stodgy sample of baked food and then partaking of the result (5).
Since then, I had to admit that the customary Vulcan attitude to synesthesy has its merits.
All the same, analysis of the impact taste has on my awareness has been, and still is, something of a forbidden pleasure for me, in which I indulge in secret. The keyword here, Leonard would comment, being “pleasure”.
Yet what I saw in Jim’s eyes --so blue, so serious-- when our fingers clasped and we looked at each other, makes me think the unthinkable.
Maybe there are pleasures we can share.
It is the ship’s evening, 20:33.
I have invited my Captain to dinner.
The Captain and I are in my quarters, seated on opposite sides at my desk.
I have set the temperature of the room at 27.5 °C, that is 3.5 °C less than my lowest comfort point, while within the highest comfort point for the Captain.
I have added a thermal layer under my tunic.
The desk I have freed of any moveable implements, in order to use it as a dinner table and, later, as a base for the 3D chess set.
We have each selected our preferred food from the replicator.
I have chosen klitanta k'forati-mun (kleetanta with forati sauce) and kreyla bread, and a Terran fruit salad as dessert.
He has selected chicken nuggets with a double dose of fried potatoes, seasoned with ketchup, and a small green salad. The smell of the cooked poultry meat is slightly distasteful to me, but I have already resigned myself to the fact that life in this universe mostly survives by devouring itself.
Jim is now busy eating his salad. He wears a slight scowl, and when he catches me staring at him, he raises his face and begins an exaggerate munching motion, his lips narrowed and protruding, mimicking a Terran rodent I believe is called a rabbit.
“See what I have to live on. Bones will have my head if I don’t stuff myself up with grasses like a rabbit *before* I’m even allowed any real food”.
I have the impression that he considers food a safe topic for conversation. It is far from safe with me, but at the moment I think it prudent to follow his lead.
“Dr. McCoy’s recommendations are sometimes well-founded, and it seems that indeed a consistent habit of eating fresh vegetables is advantageous for human health in the long term. May I however ask you the reason for your choice of preferred food?”
Unexpectedly, he blushes a little, and lowers his eyes for a moment. He raises them again with a half-laugh.
“Fried chicken and French fries are the first thing I learned how to cook. My brother Sam taught me how to de-frost them directly in the pan, with plenty of oil on a hot flame. We de-frosted a lot when we were home alone. Frank was often out --my stepfather, the less said about him the better-- and mother... well, she wasn’t around much either”.
Again his eyes trail down to his plate, and he pushes the last of his salad around with his fork. Perhaps I was wrong believing food is a safe topic for him. I read about the relevance for the development of human personalities of satisfying food bestowed on children by older relatives. Were there no mother’s pancakes or grandmother’s pies for him when he was a child?
He has finished his salad. He now spears a chicken nugget and four ketchup-soaked fries on his fork.
“And you,” he asks brightly. “What’s that stuff you’re eating?”
He opens his mouth wide and fills it with food. The empty fork retracts, then stops mid-air as he munches, as though he has forgotten it there. He is looking at me with curiosity.
“Kreyla bread is a basic accompaniment to most Vulcan dishes. It is made with kheh grain meal, sometimes mixed with a portion of mashya tuber meal. Whenever her vegetable garden yielded a satisfying crop, my mother used to add a modicum of Terran sesame or cumin seeds. The latter I found particularly appetizing. Kleetanta is a sort of bean which is reaped, dried, crushed and soaked in salted water until it melts into a dense gelatinous substance. It is then cut into small cubes and stewed in a sauce made by boiling fori leaves until they become very tender, then passing the leaves and liquid through a mixer, turning it into a thick broth. Kleetanta has almost no taste by itself, but it enhances the effect of any added ingredient, especially forati sauce.”
Jim stares into my plate, then looks up at me.
“And, you like it?”
“It is a nutritious, healthy food.”
“But, do you *like* it?”
“It is... traditional.”
“Hm.” He sounds unconvinced. “May I have some?”
The fork in his hand comes suddenly to life, hovering above my plate, waiting for my permission. I nod. The fork comes down, pierces a cube of kleetanta delicately, then pushes it around gathering a layer of sauce. It is then turned carefully on itself, preventing the semiliquid sauce from dropping on the tabletop, and it quickly disappears with its load into his mouth.
He closes his eyes for a moment as he savors it.
“Not bad,” he says. “it doesn’t taste like celery. I hate celery. Want a French fry?”

Note (4): Most Vulcan words and phrases come from The Vulcan Language Institute Reclamation Project; for further details about the matter of this report, see in particular the page at http://www.stogeek.com/wiki/Vulcan_Food_and_Dishes.
Note (5): MARCEL PROUST, À la recherche du temps perdu, 1, Du côté de chez Swann, Paris: Gallimard, 1919, pt. 1, Combray.


2.2 Kirk

“Want a French fry?” I ask him, pushing my plate in his general direction. Spock looks at it with just the slightest trace of suspicion; then, he gracefully raises his fork, pierces two fries, dips them in the ketchup and finally eats. Each movement is careful and composed, as if part of a ritual.
He chews thoughtfully, in utter concentration, as if analysing every single nuance of taste, and finally swallows.
“They are… rather satisfactory.”
It takes me less than a second to translate.
“Aw, you like it, don’t you? Actually I had the impression that you preferred salty tangs.”
He lifts an eyebrow. Ops, maybe I’ve said too much. (Did I sound like a stalker?)
“In fact, Captain, your statement is correct. Vulcan tongue has such a shape so that we are predisposed to better perceive salty flavors, while our papillae are not particularly adequate for appreciating sweet foods.”
“Wait, what? You’re sayin’ you can’t enjoy chocolate and other toothsome munchies like that? That’s too bad… you don’t imagine what you’re missin’.”
“I confess, I am growing increasingly interested in the secret gustative pleasures held by this ‘chocolate’ you humans seem to be so fond of. You are not the first one who brings it to my consideration: Nyota has told me in more than one occasion that, not being able to taste chocolate, I am ‘missing one of the greatest sensorial experiences a living being could ever have’ .”
I can see that he instantly regrets having mentioned her, but this doesn’t stop me from asking: “So, um… is it all good between you two? I mean, I thought that lately on the Bridge…”
“I find that I am not amenable to this topic at the present time.” he says curtly, cutting me off.
He’s embarassed, and he’s already putting on the cloak of his Vulcan coolness, but I can’t let it happen, not when he was just starting to open up, so I add hastily: “Hey, it’s alright, there’s no need to talk about it. It’s your business, and it was stupid of me to pry.”
A strange silence heavy with implications and unasked questions ensues, giving me some minutes to reflect.
Really, just what was I thinking about when I accepted his invitation? And to his quarters, none the less! It’s been only two days since what in my mind I got used to call ‘the manual intercourse occurence’, and we both act as if it never happened. But how could I ever forget that look of longing and disbelief, that subdued undercurrent of thoughts and sensations going through my nerves, the aching feeling of the hand that had touched his, curling around my cock, the sour taste of my semen mixed with the sweet flavor of his skin...
Crap, this won’t do. I had better divert my thoughts pretty quickly, or else I might have to explain to my prim Vulcan First Officer why his Captain is sporting a sizeable hard-on while having dinner with him. Well, then let’s focus on the fact I still feel weird when having dinner with someone sitting at my same table. Problem is, the majority of people sees meals as a moment when family or friends get together and everyone shares his thoughts and what it’s happened to him during the day, but for me it was never like that.
Winona was often away, repairing engines on spaceships headed towards the furthest corners of the quadrant, and the scattered times she would finally get to spend shore leave on Earth she certainly had no time to waste with pots and burners, as she would be too busy quarreling with Frank over my last bravado (she would beg him to have patience and he would yell that he hadn’t married her to take care of the kids she was too scared to bring up on her own; and the morning after, more often than not, she would have already left).
Ah, Frank, the good ol’ bastard. Just the thought of him doing something as domestic and nice as cooking pancakes for me or for Sam makes me laugh, in a very bitter way. He wasn’t a bad person, not really, he just sucked at being the father; but in retrospect, who could blame him? That wasn’t the life he had bargained for, and the only way he knew how to vent his resentment was to treat us like shit.
So you see, for the entire duration of my childhood I’ve practically had to run on leftovers and frozen food. We ate in the living room just for Christmas or other special occasions (obviously my birthday wasn’t among them); during the rest of the year, my bed was my dinner table. Once I tried to build a synthesizer, but I only accomplished setting the kitchen on fire.
As for many other things, this too got worse after Sam left. From then on, it became a habit of mine to spend entire days without eating out in the fields and then come home in the middle of the night just to eat a sandwich stuffed with all I could find in the fridge and drink a glass of water.
Then I went to Tarsus IV and came back and developed a kosher eating disorder. But I’d prefer to skip this part.
When we first met, poor Bones was shocked to take in just how crazy my diet was and he decided to embark on the desperate mission to change it; against all odds, he’s pretty close to success, he and his lettuce leaves be damned.
My train of thought is broken off by the soft sound of Spock clearing his throat.
“Jim… I suppose I owe you an apology for my previous burst.”
“Spock, no – “
“Please, let me finish. I repeat that I do not wish to talk about Nyota, at least for now. But in spite of this, I promise that I will always endeavor to answer your queries, in any manner I will be able to.”
At these words, a small place inside me that I had forgotten lits like a candle. I smile and I stretch out my hand to pat his forearm: it’s the lightest of brushes, but it’s like I’ve just touched an uncovered high voltage cable.
“Thank you, my friend” I return, and I hope that he can tell how much I mean it. Now the least I can do is to bring the conversation back to safe topics.
“Actually, there’s something I’ve always been curious about.”
“You may ask.”
“Right, so: how exactly does vegetarianism work for Vulcans? Or should I say veganism?”
“ ‘Veganism’ is the human term that best translates this particular aspect of Vulcan philosophy.”
“Okay. So I always thought, surely Vulcans are not vegans for the same reasons that humans are. I mean, most humans choose vegetarianism in sign of protest against the barbaric methods in which animals are still bred and exploited in spite of the ever-increasing spread of replicators, and because of the impact that slaughterhouses have on the environment. But one can’t apply these motives to your species; you never developed a food industry like ours, for once. So, what are your justifications?”
“Your analysis is essentially correct. You see Jim, vegetarianism has been for centuries a deep-rooted trait of the Vulcan nature in which cultural, ethical and philosophical reasons mingle, but it has not always been so. Prior to the time of Surak, Vulcans were omnivorous (6), exactly like humans. Today, only outcasts and small cultural sub-groups –commonly referred to as the ‘V'tosh ka'tur’, the Vulcans without logic-- practise the eating of meat. Partly, Vulcans reject meat because it reminds us of our savage past, of the ancient times when we ran the risk of self-annihilation. ‘Kup-fun-tor ha'kiv na'ish du stau? Dom nam-tor vohris nem-tor ha'kiv’, Surak wrote. ‘Can you return life to what you kill? Then be slow to take life’. But Vulcan veganism is not founded solely on the respect of all life-forms, because in a strict scientific sense we all feed on death, including vegetarians; it is also about managing natural resources in the most favourable and efficient way for everyone. If refraining from animal products does not compromise our health and conjointly co-operates to preserve the equilibrium of the environment, then it is only logical to be vegetarians.”
Gods, I could listen to him lecturing for hours.
Spock looks at me with a raised eyebrow and barely-concealed amusement, and I realize that I’ve been staring for the past two minutes. I rouse myself and I try to look like I was doing it intentionally.
“Well, thank you Commander,” I say, displaying my most charming grin. “That was really enlightening.”
“Ask and it shall be given you, Captain.” (7)
Wish it were so simple. “I’ll try and keep that in mind.”

Note (6): All information relative to Vulcan vegetarianism and Vulcan sentences is taken from VegPeace.org: Vegan Raw Recipes Health Nonviolence Ecology - Vulcan Vegetarian at http://vegpeace.org/vulcanvegan.html
Note (7): Matthew, 7:7.


2.3. Spock

The Captain and I have been practising IDIC.
After the first meal we shared in private, we have consumed no less than four dinners, two lunches, and one breakfast together during a three weeks period, alternating location between his quarters and mine.
We are conducting an in-depth comparative study of Terran and Vulcan cuisine, with digressions on Andorian, Enaran and Maun-Ki influences on styles of nourishment in the Alpha quadrant (8).
We are also exploring each other’s tastes.
“Ask and it shall be given you”, I told him, on impulse, at one point of our first evening together.
I was hoping that he would ask, so that in turn I could give.
“I’ll try and keep that in mind,” he answered.
I was approaching consumption of my fruit salad, when a sudden imbalance in the pre-mixer chamber tuning was notified shipwide by Mr. Scott. The emergency repairs took 72.5 hours (Mr. Scott said something about the need for Starfleet to choose our dilithium providers more wisely, in order to prevent what he called “grit in the gas” to “clog the carburator”). 3.4 hours after the repairs were completed, Jim asked me to dinner in his quarters.
My hope had been fulfilled.
“Why don’t we choose each other’s food this time? Just for a laugh,” he said after our mutual greetings. “I want to know more about Vulcan food. And maybe you will allow me to bring a few more Terran dishes to your attention...? Although I’m sure you already know many of them, since...”
He stopped abruptly.
“Captain... Jim, you must not worry that mention of my mother displeases me. On the contrary, her life and personality being remembered fondly and often, is in a measure comforting to me. And yes, I am agreeable to sampling the Terran dishes you may care to recommend. By agreement between my parents, our family menus were closely Vulcan-oriented. There is much I don’t know about Terran food.”
He chose for me a rather flamboyant vegetable mix he called “caponata”, made with fried eggplant, celery and tomato cubes, sliced onions, capers, pine-nuts and olives, seasoned with vinegar and basil leaves. I liked this very much, and appreciated that he didn’t allow his personal displeasure with celery to influence his methods of research.
I conservatively selected for him plomeek soup and htorl crisps with spicy favini butter. He tasted the first spoonful carefully, gulped the second with rather more abandon, and then asked me for permission to dip his buttered crisp into the soup.
“Most Vulcans do dip their crisps into plomeek soup. Only a minority, to which I belong, prefer to keep their tastes separate.”
“You know, Cupcake --that’s Mr. Giotto-- says plomeek tastes like baby food. He calls it plasmomilla. But I really like it. It’s only bland at first try, but then it unfolds a sort of subtle aftertaste, like... pumpkin, and rice flour cream with milk. And a touch of almonds.”
He blushed.
“I hope I’m not saying anything offensive. Rice cream, with a drop of honey, is a long-standing favorite of mine. You may call it comfort food. Do you have comfort food on Vulcan?”
“Vulcan nutrition is chosen according to a physiological evaluation of the body’s needs. The needs of the mind are filled through meditation.”
“But states of mind and physiology are known to influence each other. You know, there’s a story told about what you may call an obsolete Terran deity, the Buddha. He was fasting and meditating in the shade of a tree, and had gone so long without food as to forget he was even hungry, but despite his efforts, his meditation was not going at all well. A woman happened to pass by; she had pity of this very thin man immersed in meditation and, careful not to disturb him, left at his feet a bowl of yoghurt and honey. After a while, the smell from the bowl roused the Buddha from his meditation. He realized he was very hungry, and ate up the contents of the bowl. Then he sat back again in the lotus position, and suddenly discovered that on a full belly he could meditate very much better indeed.”
“A fascinating tale, which however would not be willingly considered as evidence by the Vulcan Science Academy.”
“I don’t care a damn for the VSA’s opinion. I care about yours.”
I am made speechless when he looks at me like that.
Since then, we have tasted many other dishes: gespar and porridge, b’lltarr and pizza, t’mirak rice and black wild Canadian rice, mia-zed, noodles, Andorian tuber root (we both like it) and Enaran algae puffs (neither of us likes them).
We have taken morsels from each other’s plates.
Our fingers have occasionally touched.
We have shared the pleasures of exploration, taste, touch, and companionship.
As disgraceful as it is admitting this, even only to myself, I am becoming as addicted to his nearness as a moth to a light.
I am twice guilty: of greed, for never having enough of him, and of cowardice, for not having returned on the topic of the severance, at her request, of my former relationship with Ms. Uhura.
It seems there is nothing *I* can, personally, do for you. I wish there was, but what you need, anybody can give you. I don’t see any other way out than quit needing you myself, OK?
How can I tell my Captain that there is indeed something only one person can do for me, one special person I do need, and that he is that person?

Note (8): Information about xenogastronomy, here and further below, mostly comes from the data banks at Memory Alpha, category Food (http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Food). Maun-ki and htorl crisps: personal communication by a certain aged Vulcan-Terran hybrid informant who prefers to remain unnamed.
Next: Sight