I noticed the smell immediately when I entered Eta’s quarters. Not that it was a bad smell, but it was unusual - even more so than the invitation to dinner itself. I knew that she was still angry with me, even she had calmed down somewhat in the last weeks, so maybe this dinner invitation was her idea of peace talks.
But now this smell… could it be… I followed my nose towards the kitchen.
“You are cooking?”
Eta looked up from the inductive cooking field where she was stirring in three steaming pots, and smiled. “Hello to you too, Druur! I’m glad you came!”
“You are cooking. You, Mistress of all the Reactors!”
“You didn’t know that?” She chuckled. “Everybody needs a hobby! You shoot hi-sec miners, I cook. Sometimes.”
“About that.”, I began, a bit uncomfortably, putting the bottle I brought as present onto the counter. “You see…”
She cut me off, a stern look on her face. “Not now. We talk about that another time. For now, I just want to have dinner with my sister. Deal?”
“Deal.”, I agreed, somewhat relieved, and walked over to her. “What are you making?”
“Nothing fancy.” She gestured at the pots. “Pasta boiled in water until soft, standard tomato-based vegetable sauce, and of course, the Universal Sauce. Two servings each.”
“’Universal Sauce’?” I peeked into the pot. “All I see is a chopped onion sautéing in some oil on medium-high. And some green bits.”
“A bell pepper, chopped into small bits. And of course you don’t see more because it’s not done yet!” She peeked into the pot as well. “Ah, good, the onion is starting to glaze. Can you hand me the bacon and chilis please?”
I looked around, and quickly found the little bowl with the prepared ingredients; about two slices worth of chopped bacon, and a mixture of red and green chilis, chopped really fine. I handed the bowl to Eta who unceremoniously dumped it into the pot and gave it a vigorous stir.
“The chilis are the tricky part,” she explained conversationally, “it took me quite some time to find a good balance between heat and flavor which I liked. Right now I’m using a dried Habanero, a fresh Jalapeño and half a fresh Anaheim. Ok, this can now sauté for a couple of minutes.” She looked up, and her eyes fell on the bottle I had placed onto the counter. “You brought wine, excellent!”
“Arcturian Mega-Port,” I corrected. “I didn’t know what to expect, and this one goes with quite a range of foods. Plus, I still owed you one.”
“Well, open it! Let’s see if it’s really as good as advertised!” She took two glasses out of a cabinet and handed them to me. “But I don’t know what you mean with ‘owing me’.”
“Last year, you remember?” I answered filling the glasses and handing her one. “I was in a funk, you brought me out of it by signing me up for an Agony roam; and when I came back, there was a bottle of this port waiting in my quarters. I still don’t know how you had managed to arrange all that, but it had been the right thing at the right time.”
“Hmm…” She took a sip from her glass, and nodded appreciatively. “Not bad, not bad at all. Good choice.” She looked at me. “But that thing last year, that wasn’t me.”
“But who…”, I stuttered, “how…”
She took another sip. “I don’t know - but appears that you had an admirer, with connections.
“I say,” she continued, “don’t worry about it for now. Let your sub-conscious puzzle over that problem, while your consciousness takes a drink and enjoys it.” She stared at me until I dutifully drank from my port as well.
Boy, it was good.
I savored the warmth starting to spread out from my stomach, while pondering Eta’s suggestion. I could go back to that station and start digging into the security logs, but on the other hand, it’s been a year. Maybe she was right, and should let my sub-conscious do the work for once.
“Why ‘Universal Sauce’?”, I asked Eta, who had set down her glass and now chopped up a clove of garlic to add to the dish, followed by an 8oz package of sliced mushrooms and more stirring.
“Because it goes with, or on, almost everything.” She chuckled. “And in fact, you’re the reason I found this recipe in the first place.”
“One of the things I do on my Jita runs is trawl GalNet for interesting things to read, and on one run I had ended up somehow on a foodie discussion forum. … broth cube, broth cube, where did I put the broth cube? Oh, there it is. … And while I was scrolling through the posts, suddenly a name stuck out: ‘Freedom Front of Intaki’.”
Eta interrupted her stirring briefly to look at me. “And the reason the name stuck out was that I remembered you telling me about them when you came back from the Holoreel Convention - you had met some of them there.”
Taking another sip from my port, I frowned. “Freedom Front… Freedom Front… Oh! You mean the Intaki Liberation Front!”
“Yes, that one. Anyway, the name stuck out, so I got curious and looked closer, and behold: a recipe by the boss of the ILF.” She pursed her lips. “Or did she just comment on it? Don’t remember.” She shrugged. “In true Intaki style, the recipe looked quite spicy, so I gave it a try. And here we are. Speaking of which…”
She examined the contents of her pot. “Hmm, usually I add some water at this point, up to half a cup, but I think this time the bell pepper and mushrooms produced enough liquid.” She winked at me. “Can’t have water dilute the flavor, now, can we.” She grabbed a pitcher and poured a white liquid into the mixture.
“Cream,” she explained when she saw my questioning look. “About half a cup. And now: spices. Black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper - hmm, I think I’m going to skip the dried chilis today - ooooh, let my try a pinch of cumin as well.”
Eta gave the now white’ish mixture one more stir and then used her spoon to taste the sauce. It must have been good, because she nodded and reduced the heat.
“This now has to simmer for a bit, to thicken somewhat,” she said, “but it’s not that critical to get it really thick, because I’ll also dissolve a good handful of shredded cheese in it, right after turning off the heat. So I guess 10-15 minutes from now.” She picked up her glass again. “And until then we can…”
I never heard the end of that sentence because suddenly we were interrupted by a voice from outside the kitchen. A male voice.
“That smells good!”
I gave a start and almost dropped my glass. My hand went to my side arm, and I started scanning the kitchen for defensive positions when I suddenly realized that Eta was just standing there, with a grin on her face.
“You should see yourself!”, she laughed. Her eyes sparkled. “Come on, I want you to meet someone.”