This is the third excerpt to my latest novel Jade’s Dish. You can read the prior excerpts: 1 and 2. Before buying the book: Amazon
These were thin crust pizzas: nine inches in diameter. They were meant for individual consumption. From the televisions mounted beneath the serving counter at the food truck, I could observe that these pizzas were ready within fifteen minutes in the oven available to the chef and the android in the truck. There were several varieties of pizza: Margherita, pepperoni, sausage, supreme, and a dessert pizza were available. One caught my eye away from those standby choices though at most pizzerias.
I watched the human female chef spin the dough with her fingers. It was on the tip of her finger. It was precise. The dough looked fresh as there were several other mounds of it waiting for her to put it into a mechanical press shaped like a cylinder beside her oven. It was surprisingly low tech for a food tram. I’ve gone to one of these before. The line moved forward again and the two ahead of me placed their order for sandwich. That would maybe be for next time. Instead, I’d enjoy that pizza I wanted. They placed their orders to the android and I stepped forward to him after they moved to the left.
I had a closer gaze on the android now. It was a silver and black plated model. I couldn’t identify it. Typically, I can make out their identity right away by looking at their exposed parts. He was rather plain compared to most I didn’t even see a model name etched or painted on his torso at all. I dismissed those thoughts and placed my order to reply to its clockwork greeting of “May I take your order?”
I replied right away. “I’ll have the chicken and pesto pizza. Extra pesto, please.”
“Certainly, Patron. Anything to drink?”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. The passerby mentioned the lattes and cappuccinos. I thought about it some more, and decided that I needed one.
“Yes. I’ll have a latte. What flavors do you have when it comes to syrups?
The android nodded and took time to search the database it accessed internally. This was its own version of rote memory. It was searching through whatever many other inventories it had downloaded onto the drives within the systems it carried. That was its brain: a drive: solid state or cloud connection with a global or galactic server.
“What kind of flavor do you want?”
“Irish Cream, please.” The question was doing they, have it? The android simply nodded in affirmation and then said that the price of the meal altogether with chips, drink, and pizza was nine credits.
“That’s not bad. And you have Irish Cream syrup?”
“We do, Patron.”
I handed the credits over to him and complimented him on the price. “We do our best to keep our prices low. I buy the syrups and the coffee side of things. You’d be surprised at what we have in this vehicle’s compartments. What’s the name for this order?”
“Thanks, Rod. It will be out to you shortly.”
For fifteen minutes, I thought about what I had to do while studying the faces of the other patrons who had grabbed tables besides the tram. They were sipping on lattes and enjoying foodstuffs from the tram with expressions of satisfaction. One little boy was enjoying a hamburger while his parents both had bratwursts. They finished those and then they unwrapped their cyro-sealed ice cream sandwiches that were as big as the grip on my ancient Sig-Sauer. The ice cream was mint chocolate chip and the wafers were an odd reddish color? What was it? Rsis bread? Cherry Kolsve from Dnardaris Vis? Or was it the color changing cookies that changed colors from the Spacer’s Sinter on Bolin IV?
“What is that ice cream sandwich out of, Pal?” I asked this as the android approached me holding the latte he made for me. I included the possibilities I thought of, I should have used a razor laying around from an old friend Occam to figure out the answer though.
“Red Velvet Cake.” The android said this in an elevate monotone. It reminded me of that fellow Ben Stein from Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, an old Terran classic film from the 20th century about a teenager who skips school. His tone reminded me of an irate teacher in the film who calls out for the protagonist, if you can call him one.
“Good to know. A Terran classic. It probably goes well with the mint chocolate chip ice cream.”
“It does, Patron. Would you like to add one to your order for two credits?”
Why not. Live is short, we’re never promised another minute. Ask me how I know some time.
“Sure.” I handed him two credits. He took them and placed them in a tray located just below where a human’s clavicle was. He gestured at my latte. “Try it. Did I do well?”
Forceful, isn’t he?
I sipped the drink. The flavor of the Irish Crème was there, milky and boozy. The espresso was earthy, but brighter and more acidic than others. A burn of whisky was the finish followed by a hint of the espresso again.
“Good. Put booze in this, pal? It doesn’t taste like a latte I’ve had in other places.”
“No booze. The syrup is custom made on a cultural center station in another cluster. Synthetic alcohol substitute allows for the flavors, the feel of that bite without being a libation. I recommend it for your friends who want to get sloshed but can’t quit.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m an observer of human nature, Patron.”
“What do I call you, buddy?”
“K4PM, Food Service, Front of House: Automaton, Barista at The Hunger Eraser. My owner is Jade Novorisk. Is there anything else you need? I need to return to the counter in case of any customers returning?”
“No. I’m fine. Thanks though.”
“ORDER UP!” That had to be the chef’s voice. “Excuse me, Sir. I’ll grab your pizza.”
The android returned to the tram and came back to the table I had been sitting at. He opened the pizza box and inside was my gorgeous: tan, green, white, and red pizza. Along with that was a white wrapper cyrosealing my ice cream sandwich containing my dessert. The pizza was cut into six slices. I picked up the first and took a good-sized bite and took in the flavors I was expecting. I ended the bite just before the tomato.
“This is really good.” I said aloud. Looking up in embarrassment I realized no one was really watching. That was good. I could let my guard down here a bit. Nobody around here knew what I did. Save for the cops and they and I got around well. I took a second bite. I typically pulled off the tomatoes on pizza but this time I was pleasantly surprised with how it was tasting so I just went ahead and took the bite.
Balanced! Not acidic or too salty, nor is it sickly sweet. By golly this is excellent food.
I would have to compliment the chef. This was a fabulous pizza that reminded me of the one that used to be across from my building until the gang members came into the neighborhood. I managed to enjoy pizza on other worlds, but Goharti was a city with some homes, some apartments and few places of employment. An understrength planetary security force contained the gangs but did little to contain them. Their strategy of containment was their only method. My neighborhood was an exception because they had me as an asset from time to time. That is a story for later.
The dough was crispy, but not like a cracker, the sauce was the pesto and it was rich and creamy, and full flavored. When it came to the chicken it was moist and flaky. White meat, not dark. It was far from dry like some restaurant chicken can be when it is not fried or it has spent a long time in a refrigerator. The tomatoes were of a kind I hadn’t had too often before, but I thought they were Roma tomatoes. Old variety that had to be imported off world from Old Terra or a similar planet. Goharti had little good soil. It was all rock and that is how mining and metallurgical industries on this planet took root and began prospering. These were ingredients that were present on every bite. I savored each bite. This was nothing to complain about but everything to celebrate: this was wholesome food.
I opened the cyro wrapper for the ice cream sandwich and felt a freezing blast of air and the visible smoke reminded me of some frigid winters spent on DarveshnousXu-D I spent working on a case. I brought the ice cream dessert up to my lips and took a bite. The cookie sandwich portion was crispy and the flavor of red velvet was there. The mint chocolate chip ice cream was excellent! I began to eat faster. I had to stop myself due to a brain freeze creeping up on me. I’m glad I did as any more of it would have triggered one.
I looked up and realized that the other patrons had left here and I was the last person around the tram enjoying their delicious food from The Hunger Eraser. The whole of the patrons was leaving to depart to their business and work-related affairs, or perhaps they were on their ways to their homes, like I would be. The Hunger Eraser was a pleasant place to stop and grab a bite to eat. I typically don’t stick around to compliment chefs and cooks. I don’t like to make small talk, but something in my mind started to boil over to the point of where I needed to say something. It is one of those moments where you just must listen. I got up from my seat and made my way over to the tram. The android came into view and I smiled at him as I disposed of the now empty food containers they provided.
“That was delicious, Pal. My compliments to the chef.”
“Wait one moment, Patron.” He turned to the back of the tram from his post at the counter. “Miss Jade, a patron is pleased with their meal. They’d like to extend their compliments to you.”
“I’ll be right there.” This reply came from a sweet-sounding voice that was feminine but had a slight raspiness to it. I liked it already. I was picturing a tall redhead, a leggy blonde, or a gorgeous brunette. I wondered what kind of a model was going to be coming out of the back of the food tram. Would she be reminiscent of Anne Galatrox or Victoria Stanbridge from the holoscreens? Did I just tell you this?
“Thanks so much!” I heard this as she stepped into view after a single minute of waiting. I looked her over carefully, but swiftly before speaking to study her and not to perpetuate a long and lengthy silence. She was 5’ 3’’, and had blue eyes and small, thin lips. A cap, not a chef’s hat covered her blonde hair, but some of it popped out and I could observe a fish tail beyond her shoulders. A black quilted chef coat was her top. I couldn’t see any of her body below the counter as the tram itself was elevated in such a way to where I couldn’t look down and into the vehicle to see the passengers, in this case the staff’s feet. This was typical of food trams, trucks, and kiosks like this.
She bent her left arm at the elbow and waved. This wasn’t necessary as we were only a few feet away from each other rather than yards apart. Maybe I made her nervous? Maybe this was joke. I went ahead and told her what I had to say.
“Loved the food, Miss. I pass through this spaceport all the time and I’m shocked that I’ve never been to this tram before. The Hunger Eraser, is truly more than an eraser of hunger. It is also the best micro pizzeria I’ve been too ever. You have an incredible pesto! And what’s your secret to these great tomatoes? They’re magnificent!”
She smiled. “I’m glad you like the pizza. I’m proud of it. Trial and error are what got me to the answer about that. And as for the pesto, it is made from scratch in bulk. The tomatoes are supplied from off world by an orbital hydroponics station that just opened in the cluster. They’re specializing in Old Terran fruits and vegetables. The tomatoes are Romas, and they’re not too acidic like some. Most people love them, so I use them over something like cherry or hothouse tomatoes.”
“You know your products. I loved the dessert too.” She smiled at that and pointed at one of the cabinets. “I have plenty if you want another. There springily low in calories. Only one hundred and ten calories per sandwich and again, that was trial and error in my down time.” She said, ‘trial and error’ with a bit of dismay in her tone. I tried to cheer her back up. “What’s the story on that ice cream? That mint chocolate chip ice cream is incredible!”
She grabbed an ice cream sandwich from the cabinet and opened it. The steam and smoke from the liquid nitrogen cyro wrapper palled out like a lit cigarillo. “Inside each pack parallel to the crease is a tube full of liquid nitrogen. It keeps the ice cream cold without any freezer unit needed. The mint chocolate chip ice cream is made here with an ice cream maker at the start of each day and then sealed via this. The sandwiches vary completely.” She tore the sandwich in two and handed one half to me. I accepted it and thanked her. She continued. “This week I used red velvet cupcake remnants because I made one for someone’s birthday party, and next week I’ll be using cake batter cookies from a chocolate cake batter as those are more tradition and some people don’t like anything that’s. out of the? Hmmm?”
“Out of the ordinary?” I interjected. She nodded. “Thanks. Yes, out of the ordinary. People get comfortable with the usual and don’t open themselves up to new experiences unfortunately. And in my business, that’s not a good thing all the time as you are restricted with pleasing a certain number of palettes. That’s why Goharti seemed like a good place to go to, and I’m glad I’m here! Of course there are challenges here, but they can be overcome eventually. Travelers here are of all species. They have traveled the clusters, possibly the galaxies and they want to sample the cuisines of old terra or elsewhere. It has helped my business coming here and it sure beats Carkisebo and Devallis. Ever been to either?
“No. I’ve not. Never even heard of them.” She sighed and then spoke softly after looking around to the right or left while leaning out of the tram slightly. Counter surveillance? I was going to find out.
“Don’t go the only reason I was there is that they needed a sous chef. I’m glad I got my start there after culinary school. Why don’t you come back some time and we’ll talk more? You live in Goharti, right?”
“I do. What gave that away?”
“The locals don’t know about me yet really.”
“I see. How perceptive of you. I’ll stop by again too.”
“Splendid. I’m Jade, by the way.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Jade. I’m Rod, and I’m glad I met a talented chef today. I’ll speak to you later.”
I walked away feeling like a winner. It wasn’t pay day. I didn’t have five hundred credits in my pocket from a bonus I was expecting, but I made a new friend.
“It is good to be an extrovert at times.” I thought this aloud as I exited the spaceport.
After a fifty-minute train ride where I had no company save for a lone rodent resembling a mouse underneath a seat opposite from mine I finally managed to make it to my neighborhood. The automated conductor announced where we were in the usual monotone fashion. “15th and Stevens, Passengers exit now. Three stops on this line remain.” I exited and made my way down the steps from the platform’s security checkpoint and started walking towards my pad. The streets were quiet, and that was a good thing as I walked a few blocks down Stevens Avenue towards the seedier parts of town. After ten minutes of walking I turned onto Glenkass Avenue.
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