Will Slocum knew a lot about chicken. How to roast it, fry it, boil it, bake it, smother it in cheese, make in Cajun, Mexican, Italian, what have you. Of course he did, he had been the Enterprise’s Head Chef since the very beginning. No one even called him Will any more, he was just called Chef, sort of like Coach or Captain or President. It felt good, that kind of recognition. Every morning he’d put on his chef’s whites and a vintage Boston Red Sox baseball cap – Will disdained toques; he found them pretentious and impractical – and strutted to work in the big kitchen. His assistants feared him, his public loved him and life was, in a word, perfect, except for the pesky fact that he never got close to anyone. He was always Chef, nameless, faceless and, he thought they all believed, utterly devoid of feelings or the need for non-work companionship.
So it made sense to him when he was alone in the big kitchen in 2152 and needed to start Captain Archer’s dinner. Roast chicken. Yes, that would be good. He had all of the ingredients but the lemon. For that, an assistant would have to call the Botanist and ask for a fresh lemon. But there were no assistants around, none at all, so Will sighed and punched the communications button on the wall, “Chef to Botany.”
A slightly breathless female voice answered, “Curtis here. What can we do for you?” Botany was an honorable enough profession, and sometimes there were exotic plants to look at, or herbal remedies that Dr. Phlox wanted somehow strengthened or otherwise improved, but the vast majority of the time in Botany was spent either nurturing the growth of edible plants or delivering them to the kitchen.
“You sound tired, Naomi. Look, can I have a Meyer Lemon? And some new carrots? Also, do you have any mint?”
“Yes, yes, of course, I’ll bring them over, my staff seem to have all run off and joined the circus or something.”
“Mine too. Thanks, I’ll see you soon. Slocum out,” Will went back to the business at hand. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, Fahrenheit, none of that Johnny-come-lately Celsius stuff for Will! He’d always preferred English measurements. Everything was easier to estimate than with Celsius, which always felt like a science experiment rather than cooking.
He took the chicken out, rinsed and gutted it and patted it dry. He melted margarine on the stove and smashed a couple of garlic cloves while saving a few intact. He grabbed the kosher salt and the pepper grinder, too. The chicken was put on a triangular rack in a large rectangular pan. He brushed the margarine on top of the bird and inside it, then sprinkled salt and cracked pepper on top. The smashed garlic was put into the crooks of the wings and inside the bird, and the whole cloves were placed inside the bird. He cleaned up a bit and turned the oven down to 350. Waiting, he tapped on the cutting board with a French knife. Where the hell was that gal? She was cute, sure, but lateness was something he didn’t want to have to tolerate.
Finally, he heard the chime at the door. Where the hell were his assistants? Someone else was supposed to be doing this! He answered the door. Naomi was winded and the corridor was chilly and smelled vaguely of rotten eggs. She fairly well stumbled inside, shaking hard, “Do you know what’s happening?” She coughed several times and her teeth could not stop chattering.
“Here, let me get you some water,” Will filled a glass at the sink and took the food from Naomi. He cut the lemon in half, seeded it and stuck both halves inside the bird. Then he put the bird in the oven and closed the oven door. He was about to start on the carrots and mint when Naomi’s cold hand took his arm, her nails pinching his flesh, “What? Are you turning cannibal on me?”
“I have to tell you what’s going on!” Naomi said angrily, “You have to stop cooking and start listening to me!”
Will put down the knife, “Okay, what’s this all about?”
“There are bodies out there. It’s cold and smelly and I didn’t see anybody else alive.”
“Yeah, you heard right. There’s something terrible going on, my assumption is that we’ve been boarded. And it’s cold. Really, really cold, like the inside of the freezer,” Naomi finished.
Will went to the communications button on the wall and called into it, “This is the kitchen. Is anyone out there?” The answer was static, static and more static. He shut off communications, “Do you think we’re the only living humans aboard?”
“I don’t know, but we should probably go under that assumption. What do you think we should do?”
“Well, we’re not exactly Security,” said Will, “And we won’t starve in here. But I think we should help anyone else out there. Maybe there’s someone in Engineering or on the Bridge, but they can’t hear us.”
“Right. And whoever did this is possibly out there. At the very least, we should figure on trying to contact the Vulcans or Starfleet or someone, assuming we can get communications going. Do you know what sector the ship’s in?”
“You’re asking me? Up until today it didn’t exactly matter to me where we went. Hmm, we need to decide what we’re going to do. Do you know for sure that the rest of the crew are really dead?”
“Well, it was so cold I didn’t stop and check anyone. But there was some sort of gas or something, the corridors all smell like rotten eggs, like sulphur. So it’s a tossup as to whether anyone’s alive.”
“Okay, let’s be optimistic and assume they’re all just knocked out. What would we do then?”
“Head to Environmental Controls and crank the heat,” said Naomi, shivering a little at the memory of the corridor, “And even if no one else is alive, that’s probably the way to go. I think it’s cold enough out there that any more than maybe a few minutes out there, and we’ll collapse from the cold,” She turned on the hot water in the sink until it really steamed, and stuck her frigid hands into it, “You got a dish towel?”
“Sure,” Will gave her one that was draped over his shoulder, and took another from the drawer, “Once the heat is on, what next? The Bridge?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Do you think that gas or whatever it was is still out there? If it is, we’ll need masks and I don’t have anything like that here.”
“Sure you do. Here, allow me to demonstrate,” Naomi stood behind Will and tied a dish towel around his mouth. She smelled a little bit like orchids. Then she tied a dish towel over her own mouth.
“We look like Wild West bandits. Pity we don’t have any six shooters. Actually, hang on, I’ve got something pretty good,” Will went over to the sink to take out the French knife and some other tools. Everything was soaking inside a large Dutch oven that was caked with last night’s grease. He was about to reach in when they both heard a high-pitched whine.
“What’s that?” whispered Naomi.
“I think that’s the boarding party. Here, take a handle of this, let’s give them a surprise,” They both took a handle of the huge cast-iron Dutch oven. It was filled with hot water, dirty silverware and kitchen tools, and it weighed a ton.
The door slid open and a greyish alien was behind it. The species was wholly unfamiliar, furry and snarling, “One, two, three!” called out Naomi. She and Will swung the Dutch oven back and forth a few times. Water sloshed out and then they released the huge pan onto the alien’s feet. The alien let out a howl and dissolved away in a transport beam.
There were kitchen tools everywhere, but there didn’t seem to be another alien. Will took the French knife and a cast-iron skillet. Naomi picked up a pot lid and a meat cleaver from off the floor, “Let’s go!” he said. He never thought he’d say that, ever.
They sidled down the hall, avoiding stepping on collapsed crew members who were thrown thither and yon. Naomi bent down and checked the fallen Travis Mayweather for a pulse, “I think he’s still alive,” she said.
“No time to check anyone else. We’ve gotta hurry or else we’re gonna freeze up, too,” said Will. He spun around, senses heightened, searching for aliens. He did not have to look far. A group of four were approaching.
Naomi frisbeed her pot lid at them. It whined slightly and hit the wall, “Dang, I missed!”
“Here, go this way,” exclaimed Will, “I’ll hold them off. Go!” he commanded.
She disappeared as he whirled around to face his opponents, “Okay, bring it on! Don’t think I don’t know how to use these!” he brandished the French knife and the cast-iron skillet at them. What followed was a blur of bodies and voices. Will moved like a whirling dervish, a smack of the skillet here, a stab with the knife there. Every time he injured an alien, it beamed away, but others joined from other parts of the ship. It was as if that was their method for handling injuries, to just remove their warriors immediately. But it was cold. He could feel himself getting slower, and losing his ability to function and reason. He couldn’t even remember how the aliens were retaliating. He was hit a bit, but that was about it, as if they had no real weapons other than the gas. And maybe they were out of gas.
He dropped like a rock and heard an industrial whooshing sound of air. It was Environmental Controls. The heat was back on. Now all he needed was time enough to survive, “Get down!” It was Travis’s voice. Will didn’t need to be told a second time. He hugged the floor. All he saw was Travis firing a phase pistol at the aliens.
He woke in Sick Bay, disoriented, “Did anyone chop those carrots?”
“Now, don’t worry about any carrots,” said Phlox, “You’re fortunate to be alive.”
“What, what about Naomi?”
“Ensign Curtis is fine, she’s been here every day since you were injured.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Almost a week,” Phlox adjusted something, “Oh, here she is now. Are you up for a visitor or two?”
“Yeah, I am.”
It was both Naomi and Captain Archer. He spoke, “It’s good to see you awake again. I understand you and Ensign Curtis here saved all of our lives.”
“I must still be sleeping, Captain,” said Will, “Come again?”
“Chef, we were boarded by Darvellians. They wanted us for scientific experiments but didn’t want to permanently harm us. So they didn’t carry any weapons. Instead, they released sulphur-oxylic gas into the atmosphere and turned the temperature down to minus twenty,” Will looked puzzled so Captain Archer added, “That’s Centigrade. But either way it’s mighty cold, particularly when you’re just wearing a regular uniform. Anyway, they missed the kitchen and the Botany lab. And you were warm anyway because of the oven in the kitchen and the tropical settings in Botany. Ensign Curtis here got to Environmental Controls while you took care of the Darvellians.”
“Was anyone else hurt?”
“Everyone had some form of hypothermia,” said Naomi, “But otherwise they were all right. You got a pretty nasty concussion; I guess the Darvellians had no qualms about damaging you when you attacked them.”
“Chef, I’ve contacted Starfleet Command and Admiral Gardner would like to send you and Ensign Curtis commendations for your active files.”
“Wow, that’s great,” said Will, “When can I get back to cooking?”
“In a few more days,” said Phlox, “You had a nasty bump and I don’t want you around knives and heating equipment until you’re 100%.”
“I’ve got to go,” said Captain Archer, “In the meantime, your assistants can run things. Don’t worry,” He left.
Phlox busied himself elsewhere. Naomi leaned over when Will motioned he wanted to say something to her, “Actually, that’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Will said, “My assistants are going to throw the schedule off completely.”
“Well, is it so bad if they mix things up?”
“Not too bad, except I was planning on making something vegetarian tonight.”
“Vegetarian? What brought that on?”
“Oh, I just want to get some fresh deliveries from a certain someone.”
“Are you sure that bonk on the head didn’t do more damage than we thought?” Naomi made as to go get Phlox.
Will sat up and took her hand before she got too far away, “I am very healthy, at least my heart is. Maybe it just took a fry pan to the head for me to realize certain things.”
“You should get bonked more often,” Naomi smiled and leaned over him, “Just don’t call me your little cabbage.”
“Works for me,” said Will dreamily, “I’m sure you can help me think of something sweeter.” Their kiss almost knocked him off the Sick Bay bed. They both knew that what was happening between them was something to nurture, and to savor.