Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

[Note: There are two points in this work which resemble points in the program
Babylon 5:  the name of the base ("Schwarzkopf") and the name of the key
governmental body (Earth Union). These similarities are purely coincidental, for I wrote this
piece before Babylon 5 was even on the air.  I point this out as I do have a web
site devoted to Babylon 5, and so it is easy to make assumptions.  However, if you
think about it, these coincidences should not be all that surprising: a ship named after a battle
hero (we do the same today) and a governmental body patterned after the United States (what a
fine model!).]

     Lucy was awakened by a message coming through to her on the POINT frequency. 
She issued a hoarse command to the computer to turn the lights on very low.  Then she
queried the comm subcomputer to determine the originator of the message, the presence of
which in her in-box was indicated by a low, intermittent tone.

     "Message originator is Tristan Whitby, Earth Union Base Schwarzkopf," the computer
replied in the warm English accent that Lucy had programmed.

     She sat up in bed.  She had sent Tristan a message a day ago indicating that her frigate,
the E.U.S. Victory, was to make an unscheduled stop at Schwarzkopf, where
Tristan and several other of Lucy's good friends were currently working.  She had been
hoping that Tristan and company would have time for dinner with her on the one night that the
Victory would be docked at Schwarzkopf.

     "Play message,"  she ordered the comm computer.  

     "Playing," the computer responded.

     A handsome man appeared on the large monitor across the room from Lucy's bed.  His
dark hair, fair skin and blue eyes hinted at his English ancestry, and his broad smile sent a
current of pleasant anticipation through Lucy's stomach.

     "Hello, Lucy, love," he began brightly.  "It was a wonderful surprise hearing that
you'll be here tonight!  I can't wait to see you.  Everyone can make it for dinner, too, believe
it or not.  Why don't you notify me when you dock and if you've got some time maybe we
can get together for a drink before dinner.  Until then..."  He winked and the message ended,
the monitor going dark.

     Lucy sat staring thoughtfully at the dark screen for a moment.  Then she uttered, "File
message in 'Tristan' folder,"  to the computer.  It responded that it was doing so, and she sank
back onto her pillow, staring up at the ceiling.  She wondered if Tristan were as thrilled at the
prospect of seeing her as she was about seeing him.

     Lucy had had a crush on Tristan since their college days.  She had never let on, mostly
because she got mixed signals from him.  She did not want to risk ruining their friendship by
misinterpreting his feelings.  Nevertheless, whenever his signals tended toward the "positive",
as his current message had, all sorts of thoughts were triggered in Lucy's head.  "Negative"
signals from him made her vow that she would have to forget him, but she never followed
through.

                              ******

     Lucy and Tristan sat at Base Schwarzkopf's bar that evening, laughing and talking over
drinks.  She had managed to arrange the late afternoon and evening off duty, thanks to her
captain, who knew that she had friends at the base.  Lucy had last seen Tristan three months
ago, when she had been on shore-leave.  She had known Tristan and the others since their
university days of a decade past, but after graduation, she had entered the E.U. branch of the
Protection of Interplanetary Trade, or POINT, which was similar to Old Earth's United
Nations.  She now held the rank of lieutenant commander aboard the Victory,
which was a peace-keeping vessel in that quadrant of the galaxy.  Her friends had remained in
the civilian sector, though they were currently working with POINT-EU.  They were scientists
and were at Base Schwarzkopf to implement new long-range space vessel detection
technology.

     "So you still love cavorting around the galaxy?"  Tristan asked her as they quieted after
a particularly long laughing spree.

     "Yes, Tristan, as much as ever.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.  There's always
something new to do or see.  My work may be similar from day to day, but the details of it
are ever-changing.  We see new species of intelligent life all of the time!  We interact with
them!  We enter new parts of the sector, traveling where no humans have ever been.  The
freshness of that, the discovery-nature of it all, is simply indescribable, as it's always been."

     Tristan nodded.  "What about the strange nature of some of the species that you come
in contact with," he asked.  "I've never grilled you on this before, but do you feel repulsed by
some of them, or uncomfortable, or what have you?"

     Lucy cocked her head thoughtfully as she searched herself for an answer.  "I like to
think that I have a very open mind.  I haven't met a species that I found utterly repulsive.  It's
a given that most of them are incredibly different from us, but they also have some similarities
that we can sort of cling to that get us past any differences.  Too, what fascinates me most is
exploring the intellects of these beings.  They all have different philosophies, different
world-views -- it's absolutely fascinating."

     "Interesting," Tristan replied, now the thoughtful one, gazing into his pint of
synthesized Guinness Stout.  He finally looked up again.  "We do see our share of other beings
here at the base, but probably not as many as you.  They tend to just stop here for supplies and
move on; usually they don't even get off their ships.  But when I DO come into contact with
another species, my reaction tends to vary depending upon the beings' departure from
humanoidism.  The Croux, for example.  I can't get past the fact that I feel like I'm talking to
a reptile.  They're SO reptilian in appearance."

     "Yes, but have you spoken in depth with them?  I've found that good discussion
overcomes any physical repulsion that might otherwise be experienced.  It helps transcend the
purely physical aspects of other beings."

     "I see what you're saying, but for some reason I can't always get beyond the visual,"
Tristan replied.  Then he smiled mischievously.  "Speaking of visual, you look great, by the
way,"  he told her.  
 
     Lucy smiled back.  "Thank you.  I think I need to get you stationed aboard the
Victory," she said laughingly, thinking to herself that his words were another
"positive" sign.  Tristan laughed with her, and they rose to make their way to the restaurant
where they would be meeting the others.

     The group of six managed to get a table in front of the restaurant's spaceview window. 
Lucy was delighted to see the other members of "The Group", as the circle of friends had
come to be known.  They all looked fit and happy:  Sean and Lisa McCord were the only
married members of The Group, but Klaus Hauser and Adele Bayeux had recently become
engaged.  Lucy admired Adele's engagement ring and chatted energetically with all of her
friends over dinner.

     They caught up on events of the past three months.  The evening passed quickly, and
Lucy was surprised when the time came to order desserts.  Sean and Lisa suggested
Cymbidaean Black Cake, and everyone else agreed.  The cake had only recently been
introduced to the EU with the admission of the planet Cymbidaea into POINT.  No one at the
table but Sean and Lisa had ever eaten the dessert, but all had heard about it.  It was described
as a dark, dense confection made of spices which were grown only on Cymbidaea, and it was
rumored to taste like nothing else in the known galaxy.  It was apparently always served with a
large bowl of some sort of cream or sauce.  When their server brought the dish to the table,
Sean looked up.

     "You know, the first time Lisa and I ordered this, there happened to be a group of
Cymbidaean traders at the table across from us.  We had no idea how to eat it: do you pour
the cream on top, do you dunk the cake in the cream, do you eat them separately?  And do
you eat it with your fork, or with your fingers like Centaurian pudding?"

     Lisa continued.  "We watched the Cymbidaeans as closely as we could, without being
rude, to see how they ate it.  But every time we'd look up, a bite of the cake would be gone. 
We'd never see them actually serve or eat any.  Finally all the cake was gone.  It was weird!"

     "We decided they must eat like they communicate --
telepathically!"  Sean interjected.  Everyone laughed.

     "Did you ever find out, then?"  Adele asked.

     "Nope, we never did,"  Lisa replied.  "So now we just cut it into squares and pour the
cream on top.  It's the most incredible dessert I've ever tasted!"

     "That's what I hear," Lucy said.

     "I figured you would have had it, by now," Sean told Lucy.  "I thought you'd probably
had some that was made authentically by actual Cymbidaeans.  No?"

     "No.  We haven't seen many Cymbidaeans, ourselves.  But word gets around about
food as good as this is supposed to be." 

     "Well,"  Klaus said, "maybe you've heard how you're supposed to eat it, then?"

     Lucy shook her head.  "I can't say that I have, but I vote for pouring the cream on top,
like Sean and Lisa did. That's the most logical way to eat it.  I can't imagine how else the
Cymbidaeans would do it."

     Everyone seemed to agree that pouring the cream on top of the cake was the most
practical way to eat the dish.  Sean cut and served the cake, and Lisa spooned the cream over
the top of each slice.  Once everyone had been served, they all took a bite.

     Lucy felt her eyes widen in delight as the cake's flavor, mingled with the delicate taste
of the cream, hit her tongue.  She had never experienced anything like it, despite her heavy
sampling of many different cuisines from across the galaxy.  It seemed she was experiencing
numerous tastes simultaneously in the cake and was able to detect each one individually. 
Klaus, Adele and Tristan seemed to be enjoying the dish as much as Lucy.

     "I think you were all right -- this can be the only way the Cymbidaeans eat it," Tristan
exclaimed.

     They all savored the cake, eating it slowly and closing their eyes in gourmet ecstasy
after each bite.

     Unfortunately, Lucy received a message from the Victory indicating that she was
needed on-board to deal with some problems that had arisen in connection with preparing for
the ship's next assignment.  Thankfully The Group was just finishing up their after-dinner
drinks and had had some exceptionally pithy conversation through the evening.  Lucy kissed
everyone on the cheek, wanting to kiss Tristan on the lips but refraining, and bade them all
farewell.

     Lucy was rather down for the rest of the evening, disappointed that she had had to
depart so abruptly from her friends, especially Tristan.  She had hoped, based on the positive
signs he had given her, that he might say or do something to verify feelings for her that were
beyond friendship.  But he had not, and she would not see him again for who knew how long.

                              ******

     Lucy could not believe her fortune when, a few weeks after having seen her friends at
Schwarzkopf, she learned that Tristan would be meeting the Victory at Dega II. 
He would be hitching a ride on the Victory to Ronce, where POINT-EU was to
begin in-depth testing of the long range detection technology which Tristan and the rest of The
Group had been working on at Schwarzkopf.  Tristan was to oversee the testing at Ronce. 
Lucy met him when he came aboard the Victory.

     He smiled broadly when he saw her, and he greeted her with a warm embrace.  "How
are you?" he asked.  "What a treat it is to see you again so soon."

     Lucy marvelled mentally at yet another "positive" signal from him as she grinned.

     "This is great," she said as she took his arm and walked him out of the
Victory's docking area.  "I never figured I'd be lucky enough for such a
coincidence."

     "Ha!  You may not think of yourself as lucky after several weeks of having me on
board," he said playfully as they made their way through Victory's corridors.

     "That's true, but I can always have you put in detention if I get tired of you.  I'm
pretty good friends with the ship's chief of security, and he does owe me a favor."

     Tristan laughed as they boarded the elevator that would take them to the floor where
his quarters would be for the duration of his stay aboard the ship.

     Though Tristan's preparation for the testing that was to take place at Ronce kept him
fairly busy, he spent what free time he had with Lucy and some of her officer friends.  Lucy
continued to get mixed signals from Tristan as far as his feelings for her; she decided to play
along with him.  When he gave her "positive" signs, she responded in kind, and when he
treated her as a friend and nothing more, she treated him likewise.  It was a rather
disconcerting game at times, but she was not sure that she had any choice but to play it.

     Half way to Ronce, the Victory received orders to escort a delegation of Cymbidaeans
through an area of the sector that was prone to attacks by the Myllene.  The Myllene were at
war with the Delatorians in another quadrant.  As the Myllene world was not a member of
POINT, but the Delatorians were, POINT defended Delatorian ships from Myllene attack
outside of the war zone.  In retaliation, it was not unusual for the Myllene to sneak small
fighter craft into neighboring quadrants and attack the vessels of any POINT-member worlds. 
Because the Cymbidaeans were members of POINT, they were vulnerable to Myllene attacks. 
The Cymbidaean delegates would not be traveling far, and their destination was along the
Victory's course to Ronce, so the escort would not delay the start of Tristan's tests.

     Some of the members of the Cymbidaean delegation came aboard the
Victory to meet with the Captain and discuss the Myllene-Delatorian situation. 
Lucy met with them briefly before having to attend to duties elsewhere.  Cymbidaeans were
still rarely seen by EU personnel, but they were very human-like in appearance and
mannerisms except for their slightly enlarged craniums and the fact that they could not speak
but instead communicated through telepathy.  Lucy found them quite intriguing and looked
forward to the opportunity to communicate with them further.

     When her shift ended around dinner time that day, Lucy changed out of her uniform
and made her way to Lounge 3, where she was to meet Tristan for dinner.  She stepped into
the lounge and began scanning the room for her friend.  Her eyes stopped here and there on
faces she recognized, some of her shipmates smiling or waving at her.  Her gaze rested
momentarily on a far section of the lounge after she noticed some of the lounge's patrons
watching a group of strangers there.  She focused on the group which was attracting the
subdued attention of the other customers, and she saw five or six Cymbidaeans seated around a
large table.  Though they were not often seen by EU personnel, the Cymbidaeans' presence
did not warrant the attention of so many seasoned crew members, especially seasoned crew
members who often saw much stranger beings.  However, it was only a moment before Lucy
realized why so many were watching the Cymbidaeans, and despite her rank, she found herself
staring as well.  In the center of the Cymbidaeans' table was a large plate of Cymbidaean
Black Cake.  Amazingly, the cake seemed to be disappearing on its own!  And the
Cymbidaeans were eating the cream only, from separate bowls.  Lucy clamped her mouth shut
to keep it from falling open in shock.

     Tristan came to stand beside her, having spotted her, and they looked at one another
with wide eyes and then looked back at the Cymbidaeans.  Soon all of the cake was gone
without one Cymbidaean having touched it.  Lucy looked at Tristan again.

     "I don't believe it.  They do eat telepathically!" she whispered in disbelief.

     Tristan looked at her speechlessly.

     The Cymbidaeans had risen from their table and were filing toward the lounge's exit by
then.  They all walked past Lucy and Tristan, who tried not to stare at the amazing, bizarre
beings, but the last Cymbidaean in the line stopped beside Lucy.

     Lucy looked up, smiling, her rank as one of the ship's officers taking over.  The
Cymbidaean, a female, was smiling also.

     "Not even we eat telepathically," the Cymbidaean's telepathic words came
clearly in Lucy's mind.  "We are symbiants, hosts to micro-organisms we call sassissa.  It is
they who eat the black cake.  The cream alone is our dessert."  The Cymbidaean
then nodded politely at Lucy and Tristan and followed the rest of the group out of the lounge.

     Lucy choked down her rising gorge until she imagined the Cymbidaeans were well out
of mindshot, and then she turned to Tristan.

     "I think I'm going to be sick," she whispered.  She could not remember ever having
been so disgusted.  "We ate that Black Cake.  We ate food that was meant for
something out of a petrie dish!  And the thought of those microscopic bugs crawling all over
the Cymbidaeans...and across their table to the cake is -- revolting!" she whispered hoarsely.

     Tristan looked at her in surprise.  "Lucy, what happened to 'I've never met a species
that I found utterly repulsive'?" he asked, perfectly recalling her words from several weeks ago
on Base Schwarzkopf.  "Not only that, but we humans have got microscopic creatures
crawling all over us, too, as you well know."
     "But we don't know that other than by looking through a miscroscope.  It's
easy to dismiss. Our microscopic friends don't eat at our table with us!"  She
shook her head, her philosophy for dealing with other beings momentarily shattered.  She
wondered if she would ever again be able to assess new races purely by virtue of their
intellects.  She suspected that from that moment she would imagine that members of every
newly-encountered race were covered by millions of microscopic organisms, forks and knifes
in their microscopic hands -- or feelers -- or claws.  She looked up at Tristan, unable to say
more.
                              ******
     Near the end of Tristan's testing work at Ronce, he invited Lucy to his quarters for
dinner.  He had always had a talent for cooking, and Lucy had looked forward to the meal for
that reason, but her mind was primarily filled with anticipation as to what he might say to her
that evening.  During the course of his stay aboard the Victory, his "positive"
signs toward Lucy had far outnumbered any that could be construed as negative.  Lucy was
beginning to feel that something was truly happening between them, and she hoped that Tristan
planned to act upon that "something".  She had come to realize that her crush on Tristan had
grown and that she was falling in love with him.  She had promised herself that, if he did not
address their relationship in some manner that evening, she would bring it up.

     Tristan was still cooking when she arrived at his quarters.  He had opened a bottle of
red wine to allow it to breathe, and he poured her a glass.  She took it and asked if she could
help him with the cooking. She was not lacking in culinary skills, and Tristan knew that.

     "Sure," he said.  "You can start the butter melting over low heat."  He indicated a
quarter-pound of butter on the counter next to him.

     "Ah, what's this for?" Lucy queried as she stepped up beside him, looking at the
ingredients he had lined up.

     "Risotto alla Milanese," he announced, giving her a sidelong glance.  Lucy's eyes
widened.  He knew that she loved the Italian dish as much as he did.  She smiled broadly.

     "I'll do anything you want, for risotto," she said with a laugh, turning to cut the butter
into a waiting saucepan.

     Tristan's next words caught her completely by surprise.  "Will you let me kiss you,
then?" he asked.  She looked up at him to find him drawing closer to her, and she nodded.

     "Mmmm, yes," she said quietly, though she felt her heart beating all the way to her
toes.  He kissed her -- a lingering brush across her lips -- and then he drew away with a hint of
a smile on his face.

     The evening went just as Lucy had hoped it would.  They laughed together as they
cooked, but they became a bit more serious as they ate, allowing their conversation to slip into
the realm of feelings.  Tristan finally confirmed his feelings for Lucy, and they both agreed
that they would like to pursue a relationship, even a long-distance one.  Lucy marvelled
inwardly at all that was happening, and so quickly, for part of her had remained skeptical even
after Tristan had kissed her.  She had been disappointed so many times in the past by his mix
of "positive" and "negative" signs.  That disappointment seemed to be confined to the past,
now.

     Their conversation continued well after they had finished the main course, and they
were still seated at the dinner table, their empty plates before them, when Tristan cocked his
head.

     "I almost forgot dessert," he said.  Lucy smiled and arched her eyebrows in expectant
delight -- Tristan knew how much she loved desserts.  He bade her stay seated as he went to
fetch the confection.

     "I managed to get authentic ingredients for this, " he told her.  "It's just not the same
without the real stuff."

     Lucy's curiosity was piqued, and she looked up as Tristan returned to the table
balancing several dishes.  She realized immediately what he had prepared.  He placed a small
plate of Cymbidaean Black Cake in the center of the table.  Lucy bit her tongue.  Surely  he
remembered her reaction to seeing the Cymbidaeans eating the dish.  What was he thinking? 
She was surprised when he placed a bowl of the cream in front of each of them and then sat
down.  He immediately began eating his portion of cream.

     Lucy was quite confused.  Why was he eating the cream alone?  Had he decided to "do
as the Romans do"?  She was about to ask him when something in the center of the table
caught her eye.  She looked down and saw the Cymbidaean Black Cake there.  And she
realized in horror that the cake was disappearing, on its own, from the plate...