First here's the story:
Chef Stephanie wasn’t at all what Emily had expected. The person in charge of food on the Nebula Zephyr was a tiny, slender woman with a cascade of unruly red curls tied back with a thick apple-green band and topped with the traditional chef’s hat. She wore an apron with “Boss” in purple glitter crystals across the bib. Her hands were typical cook’s hands, even in the modern era, with the scars from tiny cuts, the silver of an old burn mark and a thick callus at the base of her forefinger. Her grasp during the obligatory handshake was firm.
She eyed Emily up and down, green eyes narrowed. “You wish to lay the blame for the sick passengers at my feet? You think my food causes this problem?”
“Not at all. We’ll probably never know exactly what sickened them, and this doesn’t appear to be food poisoning. Much more likely to be something about how the meals are served. Maybe a buffet chafing dish not kept hot enough or food left out too long. Or someone not being diligent enough about handwashing.” The captain’s warning about treating Stephanie with kid gloves fresh in her mind, Emily attempted to be conciliatory. Unfortunately, her remarks appeared to inflame the man standing behind the chef.
Short, rotund and impeccably dressed in a uniform with creases like knives, he was all bluster. “My staff is fully trained and certified, highly professional. None of my people would ever commit a lapse in safety standards.”
“Dr. Shane, may I introduce Blake Radfor, the Zephyr’s maître d’?” Jake inserted himself into the conversation. “He’s got twenty years of service on some of the premier cruise lines under his belt.”
“Your staff members are human, and humans have momentary lapses, make mistakes,” Emily said as she shook hands. Radfor snatched his hand away even before the polite gesture was concluded. Keeping her temper, Emily continued. “Maeve is reviewing the records for the robo servers and autopreparers right now, so we’re covering all the possibilities.”
“Come into my office.” Stephanie cast a glance around the bustling kitchen. “We’re in the middle of lunch preparations, but I can be spared for a few moments.” She paused three times on the way to her office, however, to taste a sauce, to correct the way a sous chef was slicing vegetables and to adjust the flame on an old-fashioned range in the far corner where meat was searing. Emily bit her tongue and curbed her impatience.
The office was tiny, but the four of them managed to squeeze inside so the portal could close. Stephanie sat at the desk, Blake standing at her shoulder like a bodyguard. She picked up a wicked paring knife and began balancing it on the desk, tip down, holding her palm over the carved butt of the handle. “What do you need to know, Doctor?”
Is she trying to intimidate me now? Good luck, lady. I’ve been pursued by the Mawreg, so I’m not about to be cowed by a human with a sharp object. “Did we buy any local produce at the last stop that might have carried bacteria on board? Even though the symptoms don’t appear to be food poisoning, I want to eliminate as many potential problems as I can.”Head tilted, the chef said, “But yes, I took the opportunity to explore the market and enhance the menu with special vegetables from your planet."
Buy Links: Amazon Kobo Barnes & Noble