By Stirling Edgewood
Bear the Ember, Chapter 15: Ideal Pastime
“I have dispatched the message advising our home planet of our altered itinerary,” she informed him.
“I imagine this will cause some small quantity of political upheaval on our home world,” he noted dryly. “At least, years from now, when the message arrives.”
“As you suggested, I refrained from all mention that our new destination is peopled by an alien species,” she added.
“Yes, best to let those with foreknowledge reveal this bit of disconcerting news as they deem fit.”
“At any rate, we have managed to put most of the ship’s repairs back to rights, so with fortune we will have an uneventful journey to the little blue stone,” she said hopefully.
“Yes, I am forever in your debt for your clever and industrious efforts. The rapid rehabilitation of our conveyance would have been impossible without your exertions, and I am truly grateful,” he said sincerely. “Yet our mission, though shortened, is still one of some years before we reach our new home, which is light years distant. Our new course, of necessity, leaves us far from the stream of resupply. The cargo sent to us must traverse decades before reaching us, and so cannot be redirected to our new path. I fear that our stocked supplies are inadequate to supporting both of us for the remaining journey. Reluctantly, I must inform you, that one of us will need to resubmit to the hibernatorium.”
“My dearest,” she began, “I was quite concerned about this same issue myself. It was with some dread that I contemplated our discussion of this. I was quite uncertain of your agreement on this point, and so am much relieved that our inclinations are aligned here.”
“I am similarly relieved,” he said. “I too feared your reaction, having so recently been awakened from the hibernatorium.”
“Excellent,” she replied, “then we are agreed. I beg you grant me the honor of preparing the hibernatorium to receive you.”
“Wait, what?” he spluttered. “To receive me? Surely I have misheard this.”
“Sir, you quite amaze me in this reaction. Must I remind you of the instruction of the Tome?”
“Apparently, you must. For I am unfamiliar with any codicil that would compel me to re-hibernate.”
“Perhaps your recent injuries have addled your mental faculties, rendering you forgetful of the Tome. For as you know, the Tome contains strong admonition against the hibernation of a woman in my condition.”
“Your condition?” he asked perplexed. “What condition is that? You seem wholly in good health.”
She looked at him significantly. His expression slowly changed from one of confusion, to one of even greater confusion.
“Do you mean to imply…” he began, but trailed off.
“I do indeed.” She replied simply.
“Why, you surprise me! I am entirely overthrown. You give me great and boundless joy!” He jumped up, rushed to her, and hugged her close.
“But my dear,” he began, “I do worry so. How will you get on while I am in hibernation?”
“Fear not,” she chided indulgingly. “I will be quite capable, and with any hint of extremis, I will de-hibernate you.”
“Well,” he asked, “when should we begin the hibernation process?”
“I think we should be not too hasty in this regard,” she replied coyly. “We have supplies enough for at least a few days together. And I do so dread the time without your comforting and protective presence.”
“Ahh, I also look with reluctance upon our coming time apart. Let us spend what time we can together. But with the ship repaired and our other activities complete, what shall we do? It has been so long since my every moment has not been consumed by urgent duty. I believe I have wholly forgotten the pleasures of idle pastimes.”
“Perhaps we should play a game,” she offered.
“A capital idea!” he exclaimed. “But our ships supplies, being so economic by necessity, do not include any games. Have you any suggestion?”
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled slyly, and said, “Indeed, I do. Hold a moment while I gather materials.”
She took a piece of paper, and a pencil, and began writing on the paper. Then, she tore the paper into strips, and placed the strips into a container. She held out the container to him, and said, “Pick one.”
He reached into the container, and pulled out a slip of paper. He held it out in front of him, and asked, “And now?”
“Why, read it of course,” she replied.
“It says, ‘Eleven’” He replied. “Fascinating, but what does it mean?”
“Well,” she replied with a naughty smirk, “Each piece of paper has a different number on it. The container holds exactly forty-two slips of paper.”
“But why forty-two?” he asked, confused. “The game is merely a reflection of your obsession with that particular part of the Tome,” she replied. “The one with precisely forty-two steps. Now, step eleven, sounds rather enticing, don’t you think? Shall we?”