Mushroom Soup for the Soul
Episode 4: Whispers In the Dark
Location: Tara's quarters
Tara hummed to herself as she set the table for dinner. She had invited Arnon over for dinner, and she was hoping she hadn't crossed a line in doing so. She knew that she was his patient and that he had to maintain a certain level of professionalism, but she felt she was getting to a point in her therapy where she felt more in control of herself, like maybe she didn't need Arnon's professionalism as much, that maybe she needed a friend more.
No no, don't go with the Plomeek soup! Arjin chimed in as Tara replicated their dinner, a light soup and salad. Tara stared at the bowls of soup in her hand; but she liked Plomeek soup!
Yeah, just as bland as everything else in your life...
Tara suddenly felt self-conscious and looked around. Her quarters were spartan, the only real personal touch in the room was Sage's dog bed and roughly carved rock on her desk, and then her clothes, all bland and grey... So much for feeling more in control of herself!
Don't listen to him, you look fine, your quarters are fine, but at least offer your guest something with a bit more flavor, Kareel offered gently. Tara set the bowls back into the replicator and once they disappeared she replicated a nice mushroom soup. Much better, Kareel affirmed, causing Tara to smile as she set the bowls on the table.
Arnon was a little nervous as he stood outside of Tara's quarters. He carried with him a bag with what looked like a bottle of wine (which is what it was, one from his clan's vineyards) and then some other stuff that wasn't easily identifiable. Arnon was nervous because he was treading on shaky ground. He enjoyed Tara's company. She was intelligent and insightful and she made him smile. All good qualities to have in a friend. Starfleet counselors were always in a difficult position, socially. Same with medical officers. Anyone you fraternized with might become your patient...or client, as Arnon preferred to refer to the people he helped. He had hesitated to take Tara up on her offer of dinner, but he decided to go for it and see what happened. Arnon needed friends and a social life as much as any other member of the crew. He took a deep breath punched the chime.
Hearing the chime, Tara started to freak out. She really needed to wear more color, he'd told her to experiment with color, and yet here she was wearing the same drab clothes as always!
Go answer the door before he thinks you stood him up, Arjin pointed out dryly. Taking the advice to heart, Tara took a deep breath, then answered the door.
"Doctor, so nice of you to come," Tara said earnestly, truly glad to share some non-professional time with him. Sage, her great white mastiff, was curious to see what had his master ins such a tiff and padded over to the door as well. "Oh, this is my dog Sage; I've had him since he was a puppy and I was stationed on Deep Space 12, and he was with me on Deep Space 10 when I was joined," Tara introduced her long-time companion.
"It was so nice of you to invite me," Arnon said. "And please, call me Arnon. This is for you, but give me a minute first."
Arnon held his hand out in front of Sage's nose, close enough for Sage to pick up his scent, but not so close as to be threatening, and waited to see if the giant dog would accept the offer to sniff his hand. If that went well, Arnon would pet the freakishly large canine, who frankly looked like a giant floof monster.
Sage gave the man a curious sniff, then eventually nuzzled his hand; he was alright...
"So what's this?" Tara asked when Arnon finally handed over the bag. "Wine? Oh lovely! And..." Although the other items in the bag perplexed Tara, which was easily readable on her face.
Arnon pet Sage and told him how good a dog he was and then picked up the bag.
"That's a surprise for later," he said. "One that I already have proof you'll enjoy! For now though, that soup you've set out smells wonderful. And Tara...really, thank you for inviting me to dinner. I could use an evening being someone's friend instead of their counselor."
"Oh, well thank you for coming," Tara replied warmly. "I really don't have many friends aside from Sage, and at the very least you do have some understanding of what's going on inside of me, so it's a relief not having to explain myself all over." She returned to the table where she scooped some lovely greens onto plates, then went back to the replicator, first getting a dog treat for Sage, who took his treat back to his bed to gnaw away, then she replicated a basket of bread and some dressing for the salad. "I hope the meal isn't too 'simple'; just be thankful my other halves talked me out of Plomeek soup," she remarked in an attempt at self-deprecating humor when she set the bread and dressing onto the table.
"Is it rude of me to actually be thankful that your inner voices talked you out of plomeek soup?" he asked. "With the pointed ears and slanted eyebrows, I get far too many offers of plomeek soup! Here, I'll open that wine bottle."
Arnon took the corkscrew he brought with him and deftly removed the cork with an audible 'pop'. He set it out on the table to let it breath a bit.
"So," Arnon said. "How was your day? And, asking as a friend, how are you holding up?"
Tara chuckled as well. "I was going to do Plomeek soup out of habit, because I actually rather like it, but... yeah, they talked me out of it," Tara said, then settled into her chair. "As for my day, it's tough. I keep thinking about Nathan... But I'm hanging in there; I definitely feel better than I did yesterday."
"I'm glad, Tara," Arnon said. "So, let's talk about less distressing things, shall we? I believe you were going to tell me about some of your past hosts?"
"Ah, well, there's just two," Tara said, taking the bottle of wine to pour a glass for Arnon and then for herself. "Kareel was the first, she was a physicist and a mother of four, so she tends to intervene when Arjin is being obnoxious; she lived a long, full life and when old age started to get the better of her, she began mentoring in anticipation for choosing a successor for Neprem. Then there was Arjin, he was always a trouble maker, but a brilliant Engineer. He chose to go to the Academy to earn his joining, and Kareel chose him purely because she thought it would be fun," Tara explain, then laughed softly. "And she was right; Neprem helped him to mellow out a bit, but it was still a lot of fun."
"Thank you," Arnon said, taking the glass of wine. "You look good when you laugh. You look good happy. We should find ways to make you smile and laugh more often."
"Arjin tries to make me laugh, but his sense of humor and mine don't exactly intersect," Tara remarked with a wry smile.
As if to illustrated that point, Arjin suddenly had a joke he wanted to tell Arnon. "No, I'm not telling him tha- you know what, fine, let's do this..." Tara said, then with an exasperated sigh and a roll of her eyes, she began to recite:
"On the chest of a barmaid named Gayle
Were printed the prices of ale
And on her behind,
For the sake of the blind
Was printed the same thing in braille."
Arnon laughed out loud.
"That was impressive," he said. "I like Arjin already. My turn."
Arnon thought a moment, then:
"A right twisted wench from Caprees-ed
Orgasmed each time that she sneez-ed
To the druggist she went
And laid down her last cent
Said, "A barrel of snuff, if you pleas-ed."
"Oh jeez, don't encourage him..." Tara said, rubbing her hand over her face, then as if if out of her control, she began speaking, her voice slightly muffled by her hand. "There once was a man from Madras, whose balls were constructed of- Arjin, I am seriously not saying this!"
Oh yes she was, and any empath worth their salt would hear Arjin giggling in the recesses of Tara's mind.
"There once was a man from Madras
Whose balls were constructed of brass
When they clanged together
They played Stormy Weather
And lightning shot out of his ass."
Arnon could not only feel Arjin's amusement. He could also feel Tara's discomfort. Her previous hosts shouldn't be taking control of her like that. Arnon kicked himself for not realizing that Arjin was making her uncomfortable.
"Tara," he said softly, tenderness obvious in his voice. "While I can appreciate Arjin Neprem's sense of humor, Tara Neprem is who I came here to enjoy a meal with. If this dirty little limerick contest is making you uncomfortable, we'll change topics."
"Thank you," Tara replied, lowering hands and relaxing in her chair a bit. "This is why matching symbionts to hosts is such a carefully guarded process, personalities have to be well-matched. Of course, there was no way anyone could have anticipated the side effect of joining with a former Guardian; my ability to manipulate the zhian of the symbionts has put me in the predicament I'm in now, these lives are supposed to be blended with me, but they're conscious, with an awareness separate from my own. Most days it's not so bad, but with the right provocation, well... Now you've seen what he can do."
"That must be frightening," he said. "Maybe not every time it happens, but...to feel so out of control. That must be very disturbing. I'm sorry, I should have realized what was happening sooner."
"It's alright, you couldn't have know," Tara replied with a meek smile. "It's not frightening, or even disturbing; in fact, it's not even all that uncommon a newly joined Trill to find oneself doing or saying things in this way as the various personalities mesh together, it's just a bit more pronounced in me. But I've been assured by the Symbiosis Commission that I'm tolerating this well and that it won't cause any lasting damage to my psyche or the symbiont's, just the occasional discomforting embarrassment as I learn to live with it." Despite the embarrassment, she was feeling oddly relaxed as she finally turned her attention to her soup; after all, the embarrassment was done and over with, and Arnon seemed pretty okay with this, so it really couldn't get much worse from here!
Or could it? Arnon ate his food in companionable silence with Tara for a bit. He felt slightly awkward around her once he realized that he wasn't sure how to be around her when he wasn't acting as a counselor.
"Do you have any siblings, Tara?" Arnon asked. "Most of our conversations have revolved around either your joining and how you're adjusting to it, or Nathan Hunter. Rigelians are organized in clans, and my mother was our clan's Matriarch. She had many husbands and children with all of them. I have more siblings than I can count, and don't get me started on in-laws and cousins."
"Oh, well, I don't know. Probably?" Tara answered with a shrug. "That may seem like a terrible response, but growing up in the Caves of Ma'Kala, there wasn't much emphasis on family. We were all family, in a way. In terms of biology, it's possible I may have a half brother through my father, but I am not entirely certain." Tara stirred at her soup, watching as the mushrooms and onions swirled around in the rich broth. "Before joining, I often wondered what it would be like to have a more normal family, and now I don't have to wonder; Arjin and I were quite similar in age and I knew him before his death, and I felt this kinship, like we could be siblings, and now I feel as though his family is my family... But re-association is forbidden, so I have never met them."
"The way that re-association rule is enforced has always been curious to me," Arnon said. "Joined-Trill Starfleet officers have had to 're-associate' with people from their past hosts many times, and yet they don't seem to get in trouble. Is that because they don't have a choice in the matter? Or is it perhaps because those Joined-Trills are not usually re-associating in the same roles?"
Tara had to think on this for a moment before replying. "Friendships are not as often seen as a taboo because said friendships are more easily able to morph into a new friendship dynamic, but romantic and familial relations from a symbiont's previous life are strictly off limits. A matter of choice, or lack there-of, for Starfleet Officers is taken into consideration in these kinds of situations, and the joined Trill must be very careful with how they conduct themselves in these situation. So, I could be stationed with Arjin's sister, who is also in Starfleet, and we could interact, but I would not be allowed to try to form a familial connection with her."
"That makes much more sense now," Arnon said. "That would be a very difficult situation for me to handle. I mean, if I encountered my children...did I ever mention that I have both a son and a daughter? If I encountered my children in such a situation, well, I think I have to break the rules!"
"Oh no, you've never mentioned this," Tara replied, now quite interested in this new direction the conversation was taking. "Please, tell me about them," she said, smiling. It was the mother in Kareel sparking this interest, although Tara herself was still keen to know about Arnon's family as well.
Arnon grinned. He loved his kids and he loved their mothers, even if he didn't see them that much anymore.
"Rhiannon and Carlos," he said. "I hope you won't be too scandalized to learn that they were born within months of each other to different mothers...in the same year?"
Tara chuckled. "Oh no, it's quite alright; every race, every culture has its own unique eccentricities, it adds flavor to the universe," she remarked with a smile. "Kareel had three children, two girls and a boy; I can feel her love for them, and the pride, as though it was my own, and yet they are older than me with children and even grandchildren of their own," she related with a bittersweet sigh. She often thought about looking up Kareel's family, but the benefits did not outweigh the risks of doing so.
"Well," he said. "It was less a cultural thing and more of just doing what worked for us. I met their mothers during the Cardassian Border Wars. Rachel was a Marine and Shannon was a Starfleet nurse. I had brief relationships with each of them individually, then introduced them to each other. They hit it off and eventually got married. Towards the end of the war, they were talking about children. They wanted me to be the father and let's just say they were interested in conceiving these children the old fashioned way, no test tubes or turkey basters. At that same time, I wanted to attend the University of Betazed, so we all moved there. Not long after, they were both pregnant, and nine months after that Rhiannon and Carlos were born. We all lived together on Betazed until the Federation-Klingon War started. I joined Starfleet as a commissioned officer this time, and they went to Rigel V to live with my clan. I've stayed a part of my children's lives ever since and they know me as their father. They're both at Starfleet Academy now."
"Oh wow, that makes Kareel's experience seem dull in comparison!" Tara exclaimed with amusement. By now, her glass of wine was nearly empty, as was Arnon's, so she topped them both off and took a sip from her glass. "Kareel married her college sweet-heart, but they waited to start a family until they had both graduated. After that, it was boringly standard, toss the contraceptives and hope for the best. The only real excitement in there had been that the girls were twins. And oddity of oddities, when they grew up they ended up marrying a set of twins, because apparently that's a thing? And their kids ended up disturbingly similar; Kareel had trouble remembering which grandchild belonged to what parent."
"Ha!" he said. "That must have caused confusion when they were babies, and I imagine that the kids purposely confused their parents whenever it suited them!"
"Uh, that would be the understatement of the century!" Tara replied, then laughed merrily. "But it was all quite wonderful for Kareel, and for me to have those experiences now is truly special."
"It sounds like it," Arnon said. "What about you? Do you see yourself with children of your own someday?"
"Oh I don't know about that... There is a certain appeal to the idea, but I don't know if it's for me," Tara admitted. "It also kind of helps having a partner; I know there's alternatives if I don't have a partner, but I... I don't think that having children is something I would want to do alone..."
"No," Arnon said. "I wouldn't want to do it that way, either. More wine?" Arnon offered to top off Tara's glass.
"Oh no, I think I've had enough for one night," Tara replied with a wave of her hand. "After all, I don't want to end up dancing on the table like at Nilani's welcoming party," she offered with a grin.
"I don't know," he said. "You're a good dancer...but I know that was way outside of your comfort zone. Don't worry, I won't try and get you drunk. Let me know when you're ready for desert. I have a surprise for you!"
Tara looked down at her dinner. Her soup was mostly gone, but she had barely nibbled on her salad, however she was still feeling pretty much done eating. "I guess now is as good a time as any," she replied, curious for what he had for her.
"Excellent!" Arnon rose from the table and helped clear it, then went over to the replicator and replicated two soda fountain glasses from Earth's 1950s. He brought them over to the table, then retrieved the bag he'd brought with him. Everything was still ice cold because of the containers they were in. He set everything out on the table.
"Okay," he said. "I made the chocolate syrup for these myself. My kids loved these when they were little. Still do, and, yes, it is extremely amusing to see their carefully constructed facades of young adulthood vanish when I bring out the ingredients."
Carefully, Arnon added chocolate syrup and cream to each sixteen ounce glass. He whipped each until smooth, then slowly added frigidly cold soda water to top off each glass. He stuck a straw in each and presented one to Tara.
"So," he said. "The other day I presented you with a chocolate phosphate. This is a little different. It's know as a Chocolate Egg Cream. Despite the name, there's no egg in it. The drink was popular in Jewish Delis on Earth and it is believed that the phrase 'egg cream' came from a Yiddish expression for good 'cream'. Yiddish was a dialect used by the Jewish people of Eastern Europe for a long time to speak among themselves in secret. It was made up of different languages, including German and Hebrew. Anyway, I know you like chocolate, so please, enjoy! If it's too rich for you, we can cut it with more soda water as you drink it down."
"Wow!" Tara said with wonder as she watched the drinks being mixed before her. Then when the finished drink was offered to her, she took a curious sip. "Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "Oh, you're right, it's quite rich!" she affirmed with a smile, then took another sip. "Though it's very good. Honestly, I've never been a fan of sweets before; well, to be fair, I think my palate was quite bland before I was joined, and you're getting me started on a dangerous path getting me addicted to all this chocolate," she said, her tone almost playful.
"I'm happy play supplier to your new found chocolate habit!" he said. "Besides, it's not like you're inhaling chocolate at every meal...wait...are you?"
"Oh goodness, no!" Tara replied with a laugh. "Although I have had a couple of those chocolate phosphates, just small ones as a special treat. Although I think this is my new favorite," she declared, then took another sip. "Hoo, but I do think you may need to dilute this just a bit."
"Allow me!" Arnon said. He took her glass and squirted more soda water into it and then stirred the contents until they were all mixed together. He handed Tara her glass back. "How's that?"
"Mmm, much better," Tara affirmed after another sip. "Well I must say, Doctor, you've proven to be quite amusing company whether in a session or not. I'm glad I invited you over for dinner, I had a good time. Thank you."
"I enjoyed myself as well," Arnon said, genuinely happy that he'd accepted the offer to join Tara for dinner. He'd been afraid socializing would make their relationship awkward, and they definitely needed time to work out the new dynamic, but...so far, so good. "Maybe we could make this a thing, dinner I mean, regularly?"
"I think I would like that," Tara replies with a smile. "Maybe next time, you can cook for me, and I can bring something special for you. Do you like music?" she asked.
"I absolutely adore music," Arnon said. "I'm very fond of Earth Jazz, Jazz Fusion, and Blues, as well as Andorian Blues, but I'm pretty open minded about music, especially if I'm sharing the experience with a friend."
"I've never explored jazz or blues, mostly Trill classics," Tara said. "Oh, sorry, I play the piano; mainly the Trill piano, but I picked up a little of the Earth piano when I dabbled with Earth Classical music at the Academy. But for you, I'll try to learn something either blues or jazz for our next dinner."
"That would be lovely," Arnon said. "I can't wait."