Bread

Sugar water nice and warm

Add the yeast and mix it in

Lots of flour to give it form

Bake it for a crispy skin

 

The song, as all songs were, was sung in time to the steady rhythm of the floor. I knew it well, as I knew the songs for cakes, flatbread, and even some kinds of muffin. It was a simplification of the process, but you learned it early and never really stopped singing it as you baked. The plumbers, electricians and midwives all had their own songs that they hummed to themselves as they worked. Even the biologists and the astrophysicists had songs, but they were long and complicated and not at all catchy.

I was at the stage now where I had to knead. It was the most engaging part of the process, but also the most physically demanding. Fold and push. Fold and push. There were ten thousand people, and all of them wanted bread. That meant a lot of dough.

Of course, I wasn’t the only baker. There were many of us in the room, kneading in time to the song and singing in time to the floor. When the dough was kneaded through, we covered it and let it sit as we prepared a new batch. Then the ovens, waves of heat rolling over our faces as we opened the doors, took out the fragrant last batch and put in the next. Then we did the whole thing all over again.

 

Sugar water nice and warm

Add the yeast and mix it in

Lots of flour to give it form

Bake it for a crispy skin

 

I knew when the workday was over before I glanced at the overhead stainless steel clock. The beat of your life takes you in and gives you form like the powdery flour gives body to the bread. I didn’t talk to any of the other bakers as I returned my bowl and dosing cups to their familiar shelves. I didn’t need to. We had done the same thing as each other all day. We had the same experiences, the same stories to tell.

I frowned as I put away my favourite rolling pin. The wooden handle, so smooth and adapted to my palms, had cracked clean off. I would have to get it replaced.

*

Lying on my back in the field of wheat, I could see the great wheel above me, and beyond it the stars. Threading between the stars, so subtle you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking, were the spider webs, stretching their familiar filaments across the sky. I liked looking at the stars. Every few years I would see how their patterns had changed over time, and I would come up with new constellations. I had a book with constellations going all the way back to when I was five.

‘Wow, we have a whole wheat field?’

‘Of course, you dingus,’ I replied, without moving my head. ‘How do you think we get flour for the bread?’

Drew was a few years older than me. He gingerly took a seat, trying not to bend too many stalks. ‘I don’t know anything about that. That’s your job to know about. I have to know the periodic table and how atoms interact.’

‘Atom brain,’ I said with a smile. I liked Drew, even if his job was useless and he was my fourth cousin, which ruled out marriage. Drew liked me too, which was why he came down to the wheat field almost as often as I did.

‘The spider webs have gotten bigger,’ he noted.

I looked up with passing interest. ‘Have they?’ I saw a small group of workers flying among them, coating them with some kind of paste. They were singing, but I couldn’t hear the words.

‘Yeah.’ Drew stuck out his legs and rocked his feet on their heels, left and right. ‘Why are we here?’

‘I know why I’m here,’ I laughed. ‘I don’t know why you’re here. Apparently, they think someone’s going to need to learn the periodic table one day.’

‘It’s interesting stuff,’ Drew said. ‘I know it’s going to be useful some day. But that’s not why I’m here. Do you think you exist in this world to make bread? Why are we all here in the first place?’

‘We need bread,’ I said staunchly. ‘We don’t need atoms. And where else would we be?’

‘That’s not…’ Drew began, and stopped. I looked at him and he was staring up at the sky.

The workers were milling around in a frantic buzz. One was clearly shouting at us.

As the glass shattered, it did not fall at our feet. It disappeared, swallowed upwards by the void. The floor screeched with the stress, no longer the heartbeat it had been. I grasped frantically at stalks of wheat but they were being pulled up as I was. Drew tumbled like a rag doll beside me, hurtling toward the sky. I closed my eyes.

The next thing I felt was the grip of strong arms around me. A man in a glass helmet and a reflective yellow suit had me. I screamed at him to get Drew, but I don’t think he heard me over the rush of escaping air. Still I kept screaming until I saw the other man in a hover bike and Drew, secured in a practiced grip. Then I blacked out.

Later, when it was clear I had suffered no lasting damage and the nurse reluctantly let me go, I went back to the wheat room and looked through the window inside. There were figures, in their shining protective suits, replacing panels of glass. As they drifted, I turned to the panel near me and switched the radio to their channel. They were singing to each other, of course, as they worked.

Patch the star ship, keep it tight,

Keep away the deadly night,

Keep our vessel free to roam,

Find a place to call our home.

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I Die When I Am Six

Cold, light. Confusion. A mother. She is so happy. I cry because I’m cold. A father, too. He is also happy.

 

The smooth paper-white woman with a soothing voice tells my parents something. My father cries. My mother turns white. They are unhappy. I’m scared and I cry even more. “No!” my mother shouts and pushes over the woman. The woman doesn’t mind, but my father picks her up and looks around. “It’s an expensive piece of equipment,” he says and sets the woman upright. She has a shiny silver scratch. Mother just cries.

 

I grow bigger and stronger and Mom and Dad love me very much. My name is Sophie and I’m four. Mom always tells me I’ll be alright after all. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I know Dad doesn’t believe it.

 

Dad is very smart. He has a lab in the basement I’m not allowed to go into and he is on the phone a lot. He has some robots but they don’t look much like people. He has friends that come into his basement sometimes to see what he’s doing. Sometimes they come out and they are very happy. Then they talk warmly with Mom and everyone hugs a lot. Everyone is happy, but sometimes someone looks at me and gets a little sad, but then they hide it.

 

I’m five. I get tired sometimes. Then my heart races and I have to sit down. It’s so annoying. It even hurts Mom and Dad when they see it, so I try not to play too much. It’s hard to, anyway. But Dad lets me go into his lab! It has a lot of microscopes. And there are some mice, which I like to look at when Dad takes my blood. He tells me he’ll make me better.

 

I die when I am six.

 

My name is Sophie. I’m four, and my Dad loves me very much. My Mom sometimes cries when she looks at me, and she says I’m not the same as Sophie. I don’t know what that means, since I am Sophie. I don’t know any other people named Sophie. But Dad says I’m “genetically identical”. I like the sound of those words, but I can’t say them yet. Once I got close to saying them, and I ran to tell Mom, but she just got angry.

 

A while ago, Mom went away. She hasn’t come back yet. Dad says she’ll be back soon, and he loves me very much, because I’m Sophie. I know I’m Sophie, and I know Dad loves me, but when will Mom be back? Did she go away because I’m genetically identical?

 

It’s my fifth birthday, and I’m eating cake when my chest starts to hurt really bad. I tell Dad and he goes quiet for a while. Then he takes me down into his laboratory. I’ve never been down here before. There are some mice, and some monkeys too. I didn’t know Dad had pet monkeys. They don’t look like the monkeys on TV. I ask Dad what their names are, and he laughs and shakes his head. Dad sits me down on his chair and takes my blood. Needles scare me a little, but brave girls don’t cry at little things like needles. Besides, I’m looking at the monkeys.

 

I see a big glass tube full of water. “What’s that?” I ask Dad, and he tells me it’s where I was born. He says it with a smile like it’s a joke. I stare at it while Dad puts my blood in a little fridge. I imagine what it must be like to swim in it. It looks cold. I shudder, and then start to cough. Dad quickly brings me upstairs to bed.

 

I die when I am six.

 

My name is Sophie, and I’m four. Most kids have a mom and a dad, but I only have a dad. He’s older than most kid’s dads, and he has a big black and grey beard. He’s very important and lots of people come to see him. We have a big house, so it’s very easy to hide when people come over. I wonder how kids in smaller houses hide when people come over. Dad has taught me how, and I’m very good at it. Sometimes the robots help me. Once some people came over and I didn’t have time to hide. Dad told them I was a robot! I acted as much like a robot as I could and tried very hard not to giggle.

 

Dad likes to bring me on trips with him. We live in California, so we sometimes go to Disneyland. Once we even go to the moon. I expected the rocket to be very loud, but it’s very quiet inside. The weirdest thing Is when I turn over the roof became the floor and nothing falls over. There are a lot of fun things to do on the moon. My space suit doesn’t fit me very well, because Dad says they only have a few sizes for kids. I have to wear my space suit when we aren’t in the big glass room with the lady who explains things. We see a family at the moon. The dad and the kids don’t pay any attention to us, but the mom looks at me and turns white. She shouts at Dad and Dad calls her a word I can’t say and then we have to leave. It’s scary. I ask Dad who the lady was and he just calls her that word again. Then he says sorry and doesn’t talk until we get back to Earth.

 

Being scared makes me tired. My chest hurts and Dad makes me stay in bed.

 

Light. Warm. I wake up inside the tube where I have been all my life. The man with the grey beard who comes to see me all the time is there, and a lot of other men. They are wearing blue and are very angry. The man with the beard is kneeling down with his hands behind his back. “She’s not finished yet!” he yells. I don’t understand, but I’m scared. I thrash around and scream as much as I can and the men in blue jump. They say something very angry. “She’s awake?” one says. “Why don’t they live past six?” another demands. “You had their genome at your fingertips. You could have fixed them. You’re sick.” The man with the beard just cries softly.

 

My name is Sophie. I’m five and I live in an orphanage with a lot of nuns. My favourite is Sister Rose who hugs me a lot. She tells me that God loves me very much and so does she. Sometimes I ask her who my mom and dad were, but she won’t tell me yet. But she says my dad was very smart.

 

I’m six now. I like to run around and play with the other kids. Sister Rose says she wishes she had half my energy. She asks about my heart, but I don’t know what she’s talking about. My heart’s just fine.