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26 - Wondering and wandering

When I stepped off the shuttle on Taungoo, my room was not the first place I went. It was not the dock, the market, the ruins, my storage area, only one place, guided only by my nose, and in a surprising, almost involuntary hurry.
I arrived to find the noodle business in full swing and found my friend, the cook, his bald head and sculpted arms dancing about in a choreographed masterpiece among the plumes of roaring fire, the puffing, hissing steam and the pots and pans hanging about like laundry, happily filling bowls for me to deliver, before I had even offered. With a bigger smile and not a single word, I threw myself into the work.
It was tiring, but I felt a good sort of tired. After the mealtime rush, we sat down and talked over steaming bowls of our own and cups filled with that tea he makes. He had seen me a long way off and anticipated that I would come here before anywhere else. I noticed a strong curiosity brewing, and it was my turn to respond.
"I went to Daedelus with my friend, and I took the walk of P-15," I said. He set down his chopsticks, stopped chewing, sat back with a straight, rigid posture and stared right at me, clearly disturbed.
"I don't believe I have any future with those people," I continued, to his obvious relief. It was like a moment in time had been frozen, and the clock was running once again. He nodded, dug around in his noodles for a moment and began again to enjoy his meal.
"I think they followed me back to Tau, so I sneaked away from them and went to Nouveau Limoges," I added. "I had never seen a place so dressed-up and full of life."
"Cluttered, clustered, full of busy-bodies with nothing productive to do," he grunted back. "Nice place. I'll stay here."
"I was impressed with how careful they are about preserving the past, and our own people, by comparison--"
Again, he set his chopsticks down, but this time, he was pointing his finger at me and took a moment to draw in a slow breath. I had struck a nerve. "A man should avoid comparing things he does not understand. It is like the story of the chicken running from the snake, thinking the tiger, so much wiser, nobler, more colorful, would surely be a safer companion. In the end, he was lunch."
I sat there, not sure what to say.
"My people know very well that knowledge is power and a prize to be sought after," the old man went on. "The Gaule see it as candy to hand out in a dish, an appetizer for their unending parties. Meanwhile they can't decide what is music, so everyone joins in on the noise."
"But how can we find out how the catastrophe happened if--"
"Why are you so sure they didn't do it?" He paused a moment and went back to eating.
"So is there a balance?" I asked, afraid of offending him.
With his mouth full, he answered me. "Perhaps, but it is not among the Gaule. You do not know what they are capable of. A man should know his enemy. The snake that hides among us is a danger because it knows our ways and is hidden, but we can live among the snakes and be safe if we know their ways and are careful. Do you understand?"
"What are those? Tiger? Snake?" I had begun to wear upon him.
"Just be careful, and know the people around you. Don't be so quick to let your guard down. Now go get some rest. Dinner starts soon, and I need your help again. Two of my servers are off because they got married, and their friends are too drunk to keep their promise. You came just in time today. Don't be late tonight."
There was a fortune cookie with the dinner. "That wasn't chicken."
"Uhm . . . What's a chicken?" I asked, answered only be a stern gaze.


  1. A "chicken" is that thing that runs from the snake to the tiger and ends up as lunch. A "snake," I believe, is a pre-Cat creature that moved side-to-side while it moved forward, often winding between things. That, I think, is why we still call that kind of movement "snaking." I am given to understand that they looked a bit like large noodles.

    A "tiger" is--or rather was--a fabulous feline beast from the jungles of old-Earth Botswana, famed for its striped skin. I know this because I've seen a recreation of a tiger-skin rug at the Remembrance Lounge on Spirit of Botswana in Alpha Centauri. The displays there include several other fascinating ancient animals:

    • Lions--large tawny felines;
    • Gazelles--hooved quadrupeds with horns;
    • Zebras--hooved quadrupeds with black and white stripes (faux zebra-skin rugs also adorn the floors in the Oasis Lodge)
    • Leopards--felines with spots (usually tawny, but I'm told there was a variant called a "snow leopard" which was white);
    • Rhinos--big gray creatures with enormous horns sticking out of their noses, if you can believe it!
    • And giraffes--tall quadrupeds with remarkably long necks.

    Very educational; I highly recommend it if you're ever on the station. It's still difficult for me to imagine that our ancestors used the skin and fur of these fascinating animals as decorations, but apparently they did.

    Chicken is also a very common flavor of biomeat. (If you ever find yourself on the Ghost of Mali, also in Alpha Centauri, the Mirepoix Inn & Cafe has a bio-chicken potpie I find quite delicious.) Once upon a time I would have speculated that chicken was some sort of pre-Cat livestock... but now I figure it's just the default flavor, because so many supposedly different biomeats all seem to taste like chicken.

  2. So you are saying the cookie was correct?
    Thank you for that reference. Now I know I must go there some day. At least now I can look a little less foolish with my friend. You should try the noodles some time at the Broth Base. I warn you, though, you may find yourself compelled to share the joy by delivering some of those wonderful noodles to the happy customers who eagerly meet here each day.

  3. I remember the noodles of the Broth Base and Seishu Pub with great fondness. In fact, I remember the whole of Taungoo Station in much the same way, and might have considered settling down there were it not for the ubiquitous presence of the Kyaar. They made me decidedly uncomfortable.