The Recipe Keeper

Brooka bowed over the engine of the ranch’s lander, her back aching from hours of contortion, and thought of recipes.

She most always recited her recipes in a silent mantra. Sometimes she started with the first one and proceeded straight through; other times, she chose a number at random—like thirty-three, the last one collected by her grandmother. This recipe told how to make butter by agitating cream until it solidified. That went well with forty-nine, the recipe for a bread loaf, though that was trickier to make on most worlds as wheat flour and rising agents could be hard to come by. Jurans, as they ruled over humanity, kept all the good stuff for themselves and controlled people in every possible way. All writing had to be in Juran. That’s why Brooka memorized her recipes. She could read and write only a few words from Old Earth, and she refused to preserve something so precious in the conqueror’s language.

“There!” Brooka declared, closing the lander’s hatch. “Try starting it up.”

A resident from the outpost revved up the lander. The engine worked with a smooth purr. Brooka packed her tools, her thoughts shifting to the best route to her next repair jobs in a city over the mountains. Jurans had supplemented brains that downloaded maps and utilized retinal overlays. People had to get by with rudimentary tech and skills.

“Hey,” a child whispered to Brooka. “Are you the recipe keeper?”

Her heart beat a little faster. It was always dangerous to admit what she did to strangers, but it was the only way to accumulate recipes. She had promised Grandmother that she would collect a hundred. She was at ninety-nine. Once her goal was met, she would stop gathering more She didn’t want to be executed like the dozen people Jurans had publicly exhibited on a neighboring continent the previous week. They had been accused of performing songs from Old Earth. To preserve the ancient ways was to foment rebellion.

“Yes,” she whispered back.

“My mama has one for you.” The child guided her across a courtyard, the manure stench strong from the massive cow dairy nearby. The milk and fuel byproducts of this operation would be for Juran use alone.

As soon as Brooka entered the family hut, the child’s mother greeted her with, “I have a recipe for quick cheese I can give you.”

“I know two other cheeses. Tell me yours,” said Brooka.

The family used stolen cow milk, heating it with some lemon juice and salt. Once that formed chunks—curds, she called them—they were gathered in a cloth and pressed to form a soft, solid mass. The leftover liquid watered nearby trees.

“I wish I had some to share with you,” murmured the woman, “but we always eat it right away.”

“Of course,” said Brooka. The longer contraband food was stored, the more likely it was someone would be caught with it. She repeated the recipe back to make sure she had it right; she did. “In turn, I’ll give you one for—”

“Mama!” the child burst into the room. “Auditor!”

Had Brooka been betrayed? She looked to the mother to find she looked terrified, too. “Oh, no!” she wailed.

Brooka hadn’t collected the whole 100 to be caught now. “This is what we’ll say,” she said, a plan forming in her mind.

When the Juran auditor entered a minute later, he found the two women seated, chewing their midday nutriloaves. Human adults were allotted three loaves each day, the brown bricks a perfect blend of nutrients to sustain an average person for six hours. Taste and texture were not taken into account.

“Resident.” The gangly humanoid Juran nodded to the woman, his accent indicating an off-planet origin. “Who are you, stranger?” He motioned to Brooka with his zap-stick.

“An itinerant mechanic. My itinerary was approved by the governor’s office,” Brooka replied in Juran. She leaned her head so he could scan the identification brand on her neck. “I just fixed the ranch’s lander. This woman,” she motioned to the cheesemaker, “was kind enough to invite me to share midday loaves.”

The auditor still held out his stick. If he declared Brooka was shirking her responsibilities, she would lose her job and freedom to travel. If he knew what she was really doing in the hut, she would lose her life.

He considered her with broad black eyes. “Eat, then, but your malingering ways have been noted in your file. Next time, you will not be treated with such generosity.” He sheathed his weapon, backing through the doorway.

“There won’t be a next time,” Brooka vowed.

The two women finished their loaves quickly and in silence. Brooka only spoke up again as she stood to depart.

“Thank you.” She still felt the need to whisper. The encounter left her feeling shaken, but triumphant. She had her hundred recipes, a perfect even number. She was done. “Do you know how to make butter?”

The woman leaned forward, eager. “I had it once.”

“You’ll need heavy cream from the dairy,” Brooka murmured, and told her recipe thirty-three.

Brooka experienced a profound sense of relief as she walked back to her lander—until she saw a man idling in the shadow of her transport.

“Hey,” he called softly. “I heard about you. If I give you a recipe, you give me one, too, right?”

She stopped. She didn’t need more! And yet, she recognized her fear and eagerness in his eyes. He trusted in her, a stranger. He hungered not only for a new, delicious recipe, but for a fragment of humanity’s past to carry into the future.

“Yes,” she said with a new sense of determination. “Tell me your recipe.”

One-hundred was indeed a nice and even number, but there were many more numbers just as nice.