Terry Calen ~ 2001 16 450

Shadowdancer Chapter 25

part of: Shadowdancer

by Carrie Radna

Frieda looked down at the contents of her coral-hewn tray speechlessly. It was obvious that she was far away from home. She immediately missed her mother. With her horticultural mastery, Majia would be the perfect guinea pig to try out these foodstuffs, whatever they might be. She could almost see her giggling wildly, with Blondie swooning at full blast on the makeshift stereo, taking down notes on the specimens and feasting with sheer abandon. All Frieda could do was to stare, dumbfounded, open-mouthed, at her dinner. 
Jeil entered through the waterwall, this time as a nei-ta. She stopped in mid-sentence, “Fi-es! * Kenjaon’s in the garden. What’s going on?”
“Nothing so far. Methinks that the human girl is unsure of her palate and how it could handle our fine delicacies,” Mob commented out loud. 
“Come on, Mob. Frieda can take her time—she is not of this world, remember?” Turning to her patient, Xuam smiled gently. “It’s okay if you don’t want to try anything…our feelings will not be hurt; we promise,” she told the mystified Frieda. Xuam possessed the patience of 10 healers. Frieda shook her head as if she was attempting to loosen something hanging there, something invisible and non-existent, but the itch continued to be alive in her own body, beyond mere limbs, invading her skull. Finally, she spoke; her words were slow as land-based tortoises.
“Well—I guess I could try a little bit of something…” She was still unsure. She had a tendency to become so rigid in her routines that she hated to try out new things, but her hunger would not dissipate of its own will. She had to eat. She couldn’t remember the last real meal that she had in her own house. Her long-term memory of Earth had failed her. For now, she realized, she had to make whole new memories of herself. 
“Good girl!” Jeil encouraged as she sat down beside Frieda’s bed. Frieda looked up and answered, “Thanks Jeil. Hey, you changed back to female!”
“I did it for you,” Jeil assured her.
“That was nice, but I like you both ways. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female—you are still Jeil.”
Jeil’s breath was taken away by the girl’s honesty and acceptance. No other human had truly felt this way about the De’aiîo’eans. Both Mob and Xuam were speechless as well. At that moment, the three of them felt that Frieda was much more than another human patient needing their care, she was their friend. Suddenly Jeil had a plan to make her feel more comfortable about the food. 
“I’ll eat with you. If you do not like something, then give it to us,” she offered her solution.
“Agreed,” Frieda answered gratefully. Thank goodness I’m no longer alone, she told herself. 
It was time to dig right in, without any hesitation.
She carefully sized up her meal. Most of the food had a vegetable or fruit look to it. It seemed good enough to eat. She wondered why there were no grains or dairy items at all.
“Before I begin, I want to know why there’s no bread or milk-based products. Can you tell me?” 
“Let me explain…because we live under water!” Mob teased.
“Ha Ha.”
“Well, Mob does have a point,” commented Xuam. The only animals you would see living down here are water-based, like us, that don’t produce milk. As for grain, that is grown in Thíä-ei’r by the human women of the WOMYNDOME.”
This shocked Frieda.
“Wait a minute…more humans are here?”
“Yes, but in Thíä-ei’r,” Xuam explained. “Not many of them remain in Wýl.”
“Will I end up there?”
The three nei-tas were unsure about what to say. Finally Jeil answered, “I don’t know.”
Frieda sighed. At least that was honest. Or are they trying to hide something from me?
Jeil interrupted her thoughts, “Hey, we’re waiting for you to eat!”
“Sorry.”
Frieda picked up the first vegetable on her tray. It had a wide, flute shape, like an Easter lily and was a yellow, butter-colored object folded over in a tube in of many layers, with grainy yellow mustard-like powder falling out of the trumpet head. 
“That’s an Oongi,” Jeil instructed.
“What does it taste like?”
“It differs for everyone. I don’t care for them, but Oongis are Mob’s favorite food,” Xuam told her.
“That’s right. So you better eat it before I wrestle it from your hot hands,” Mob commented.
“Okay.” Frieda closed her eyes and bit into the Oongi. Like the color, surprisingly the texture melted in her mouth like cream butter (a different sensation from soy yogurt back home). The shell was like a navel orange, while the power inside the rolled-over flute tasted like fresh mint and edible clover.
“Wow!” Frieda exclaimed. “Why was I so afraid to try anything new?” She wanted to eat some more.
“Damn, she likes it…maybe I’ll fight for her Oongi while in the kitchen,” Mob thought out aloud, not realizing that she was speaking to everyone else in the room. The other nei-tas laughed.
“Asy,”** Mob commented slyly, grinning at Frieda’s yellow-streaked chin. Finishing up with the first course, Frieda was primed for the next one. 
Jeil pointed to another vegetable that resembled a ripe midnight blue tomato.
“This is a Yas,” she told Frieda. She picked up a knife and cut it open. A foul stench filled the area, which made Frieda cough. Gazing inside, it was much worse: the innards were loose and full of jelly, puke-colored, with swirls of puce colored, soft curd rippling through purple gelatin, resembling blood. 
Frieda wanted to be sick.
“I’m not eating this!” she protested. However, Jeil would not have any of her misgivings. 
“Look, just taste one drop of the innards with your tongue. It will be the most unexpected experience. Trust me. It’s a delicacy.”
“Fine,” Frieda coolly answered as she held her nose and put a bit of the soft curd/gel mixture in her mouth. To her amazement, the taste was as sweet as pomegranate and flowed smoothly around her gums. It was heavenly. There were no words to describe the taste; her eyes shone as she quickly devoured the Yas. The outer blue fruit tasted like lemon. 
“Can I have some more Yas?” she eagerly asked them.
“Try the others first,” instructed Xuam. Frieda wanted to swim in a vat of Yas innards. She was now a convert. She grabbed a handful of recesii, which resembled bright red Bing cherries without hesitation.
“Frieda, hold on…” Xuam started to say, but as the berries’ stones commenced the dissolving process in her mouth, it was extremely bitter and hot. Frieda instantly spat them out on the ground, totally disgusted.
“Ewww!” she yelled, trying to get it all out of her mouth. Xuam chuckled as she got up to fetch some water. As she poured it into a cup, she commented, “It happens each time a human tries to ingest recesii; it looks like something that comes from their home, but no.”
“I don’t understand,” Jeil said as Frieda continued hacking. She started to hum and rub her back to calm her, which did wonders.
“Yes, we humans do have a similar fruit called a ‘cherry’, which resembles a recesii in many ways, except one—the taste. Our cherry is extremely sweet, while this is bitter.” 
“Oh!” Jeil exclaimed. Turning towards Frieda, who was becoming putty in her capable hands, Jeil said, “I guess you better be careful! After all, ‘all things are not as they seem.’ That’s what my parent told me, since I was small.” She paused to hum again. 
Frieda lifted up her heavy head, eager for water and for anything besides recesii. She swore to take Jeil’s advice while she was here—and to never eat recesii again.
The rest of the meal was less traumatic. Gij was a white and silver blooming flower with fat petals and tasted like honey and sunshine tea. She learned it came in different colors was often brewed for hot drinks but could be eaten raw, as a garnish. Another garnish was the Kalr, bright orange carrot-like shreds that tasted like pure ginger. (Fortunately for Frieda, she loved ginger.) Awso was very strange, but somehow familiar—a lumpy concoction from a rose-colored spiked tubular, it resembled, and tasted like garlic-mashed potatoes, only with a pinkish hue. Woma was Frieda’s favorite next to Yas: bright green and black jewel-like seeds, with a combination of three flavors: strawberry, kiwi and melon. Very messy, but all so good! It was now her private candy.
The last seven samples were unusual at best. The first, Trawv, was basically jellyfish, like those living on Earth. It felt grimy and squishy as she chewed, and there was a weird salt and Tang aftertaste that she could not fully explain.
“Verrty Interest-sting,” she told the nei-tas with her mouth full.
“You don’t like it,” Mob guessed.
Frieda nodded in agreement. It was too hard to swallow. 
The Qwayo was slightly better, since it resembled basic Earth fish. Frieda was not used to fish at all. Ever since the start of the First Chemical War, not a single member from any watery species had survived the fallout that had poisoned lakes and rivers, leaving their hapless inhabitants to fill a watery, crowded grave. The meat was sweet and tender but unsettling. Frieda once again had to keep reminding herself that she was not on Earth anymore. She silently wondered what Eric was feeding Majia while she was gone. 
Five more things to savor…
Spind was a water sponge that was glazed over with Kalr syrup. The three nei-tas started to pant with longing. Frieda smiled. 
“Do you all want to have mine?” she offered.
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, yes. I’ll try it again, don’t worry…” Actually, it looked gross to her, but she could tell that the sponges were like sweets to them. She was willing to try the Zanr, or mini black starfish, but the meat was gummy and tasted like dirt.
“Please finish this as well,” Frieda said as she spat the meat out; it was rancid to her but tasty to De’aiîo’eans.
“You don’t know what you are missing!” Mob purred as she shoved a dozen exposed Spind into her eager, japing mouth, noisily sucking down the meat.
Yes, I do, she thought as she dosed her throat with clear water.
The final sample was a two-in-one: Tol, a bright turquoise, celery shaped-vegetable that tasted like black peppercorns, and Chut, a bland, gray bean paste, especially made to be served with Tol. It was all right…Frieda was not a big fan of pepper.
After the last course was finished, Frieda was both stuffed and thirsty. Jeil was fully prepared for her request and introduced a new drink—Lanonb. It tasted like a cross between anise and mango flavors, and was dark maroon in color. It was very refreshing, like a soft drink.
“You could heat this up as well,” Xuam suggested.
“Really?”
“Absolutely…it is like an Earth tea,” the healer told her.
It was very good… 
Frieda could not eat any more; she was stuffed to the gills with native De’aiîo’ean food, and it was satisfying. As the nei-tas left her so she could sleep for a while, she knew for the first time in a long while she was going to be okay. The pain that had formally resided in her sprained right arm was now completely gone.

*—Fi-es! = Hello! (Typical De’aiîo’ean greeting)
**—Asy = Shit.