Bread and Salt by Mark Silcox

BREAD AND SALT

Mark Silcox

As the stimulants entered his bloodstream, Klaus saw a human figure moving behind tracings of frost on a glass panel. It was his wife Claire, who had obviously already been released from dormancy. But this was wrong, he remembered: they had always made sure in the past that their two beds were perfectly synchronized. Neither of them much enjoyed the experience of re-entering the world alone.

She was still naked, leaning against the wall, massaging her right foot beneath the huge, framed Rembrandt original the Firm had sent them two sleep cycles ago. “Frostbite?” Klaus asked her, as his bed tilted forward and he stepped out into the conditioned air of the recovery room.

Claire smiled and walked up to him, sliding her arms over his shoulders. “Nothing serious. I’ve already sprayed it with analgesic. I’ll show it to a medical ’bot tonight, after the party’s over.”

Klaus kissed her lightly, still foggy in his mind, his limbs shivering. “It was only an eight-year freeze. Funny that the beds would malfunction like that after having worked well for almost two centuries.”

Claire stepped away from him and began to unfold the lightweight robe she had left out after their last awakening. “I should probably head to the kitchen and synth up a few trays of appetizers. I’ll grab a snack for you while I’m there.”

“Did the HouseMind explain to you when you woke up why our sleep cycles were out of sync?”

“Oh.” She pressed the palm of her hand against her forehead. “No! I guess it didn’t. That’s rather strange, isn’t it? I’m sorry darling—you know how absent-minded I can sometimes be right after a freeze.”

“HouseMind!” Klaus snapped, looking upwards at the speakers embedded in the corners of the room’s hand-painted ceiling. “This is the voice of Klaus Rumancek. Rehearse protocol E-16: Surface Memory Inventory. Please tell us everything that’s changed here over the past decade.”

His command was met with total silence.

The computer is down! Klaus felt an icy prickle at the bottom of his stomach. This had always been his deepest fear about the way that they lived. During the long uneventful periods between parties, both of them were utterly helpless in their beds while the machine maintained their home, managed their finances, preserved their art collection, and sustained their bodily functions. The ’Mind’s gently maternal voice was normally the first thing they heard after dormancy, reminding them of what tasks their employers needed them to perform during each cycle of wakefulness.

Klaus remembered that their latest round of visitors was scheduled to arrive on the interstellar galleon Cartier a few hours after they unfroze. Between now and then the pair of them had to synthesize and lay out a full, four-course meal, design a playlist of up-to-date popular music, and enlighten themselves on recent economic and political happenings throughout their region of the galaxy. Accomplishing all of this without the AI’s help would be nearly impossible.

He tilted his head back and was about to call out to the computer again. But then Claire’s eyes met his and wordlessly begged him: don’t!

Klaus looked his wife up and down. Claire swallowed and attempted a smile. She had always had a nervous disposition, but she seemed to have acquired a more cautious, tentative demeanor during their last few cycles together. A slender lock of her hair had turned a feathery silver during their last sleep. He drew her toward him for a longer embrace.

She pressed her face against his bare shoulder. “I know we don’t really dream in those beds,” she said, “but I always feel afterwards that I’ve experienced time going by. It’s like that poet from Kepler 61b said in the sonnet he read to us a few freezes ago. What was the line?”

Time always finds a way to speak its passing, even through the space between the stars.” Klaus stroked her back through the silky robe. “I’m sure everything will be fine, love. We set the clock so we’d be revived six full hours before the Cartier arrives. There should be plenty of time to check the circuits and fix the ’Mind before then.”

“I wonder who’ll be visiting with the crew of the Cartier. I hope they bring along another writer or a composer or something. It can be tiresome talking for the whole evening with commodity traders.”

“I looked at the passenger manifest just before we went dormant, but I’ve forgotten.” Klaus was getting antsy. If the ’Mind turned out to be seriously damaged and needed a full reboot, they’d have a pretty tight window to operate in before the evening’s festivities were in danger of being disturbed.

Claire suddenly became very brisk and cheerful. “Well, whoever is coming, at any rate, I’m sure they’ll want to hear all the gossip from planetside. You’d better go catch up on the news.”

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