“That explains so much!” Beri enthused. “You acted so much older than you looked, yet you seemed confused over things someone much younger would understand. How old were you when they put you into stasis?”
“One-hundred and thirty,” Lieder replied between bites. “In other words, so damn old that my body forgot how to eat. Thanks for letting me borrow a couple eggs, by the way.”
“Don’t mention it. They’re grown locally, and therefore really cheap.”
“Grown?” Lieder asked, confused by her word choice. “What, like grown on a tree?”
“Eggs from a tree?!” Beri laughed. “C’mon, they’d fall off and break when ripe. No, eggs are grown on a vine.”
“You’re serious.” Lieder said with widened eyes, his words more of an observation than a question. “Like grapes?”
“I noticed that too! They probably have a common ancestor. I’ve been to the egg farm, the crops look a lot like grape and tomato fields!”
Lieder was too busy gaping at his meal to respond.
“… what, where did you think eggs came from?” Beri asked hesitantly.
“Oh, I know exactly where we used to get them. That’s why this is such a surprise. We simply harvested them from chickens.”
“Chickens?!” Beri recoiled in surprise. “Like, the type of pheasant, chicken? You mean you’d eat what they lay in the nest, the kind of egg that would grow into a chick?”
“Yeah,” Lieder answered. “Didn’t you notice the similarity?”
“Well, obviously. I mean, they look so similar that it’s completely understandable that people would name the plant after it.”
“It’s more than ‘looking’ similar,” Lieder assured. He audited his breakfast, confirming to himself that he’d never suspected that these eggs were any different from the countless ones he’d eaten previous. “This is the same result you get when you break a chicken egg and cook it.”
Beri gasped. “That seems so cruel.”
Lieder shrugged. “It was one of those necessary evils that helped humanity rise above of the rest of the animal kingdom. I’m glad it’s no longer necessary.”
“Yeah, I just always had the impression that yours was a fairly advanced generation, and that’s a bit barbaric. Hey, do you think if we incubated an egg from the vine, it might hatch one day?”
Lieder’s eyes widened again. He had no idea if they’d already be fertilized somehow, but it seemed possible. “We’re going to have to try that one.”
“So wait, where did your generation get peanuts?”
“I think that was from a type of flower.”
“Oh, good. What about beef?”
Lieder paused, guilty and hesitant. “That’s probably just as cruel as the egg, though in quite a different way.”
Beri gasped. “Uh-oh. I don’t think I wanna know.”
“Then I won’t force it on you.”
“It seems like life must have been so hard back then!” Beri asserted. “It’s almost a wonder humanity survived at all. The wild world must be so unforgiving to force you to resort to such acts, I quite respect your people’s tenacity!”
“I think the same about my ancestors,” Lieder dismissed the compliment. “They’re your ancestors too, I guess, just further back. Trust me, their lives were immeasurably harder than ours.”
“Oh please, if our ancestry had been shared for that long, Sapients would be indistinguishable from the Peerage. I do appreciate the compliment, though.”
Lieder took another bite, elongating the pause by chewing it slowly. He wasn’t ready to fight her on the idea that she was inferior yet; after all, if the conventional wisdom was correct, and the life of a Sapient was better than the life of the average middle-to-lower class civilian of his time, it was likely that he should spend his time fighting a worthier cause.
“So have you ever heard of other Winkles?” Lieder asked, opting to get to the information he’d initially sought her for.
“Maybe?” Beri replied uncertainly. “You hear of so many incredible things in life that you never think you’ll see, it becomes hard to separate a lot of that from the stuff you experience in fiction.”
“Yeah, I’ve lived some things I have a hard time believing were real,” Lieder agreed with a smile. “I guess chances aren’t good that you’d know what the first thing Winkles do after waking up, then?”
“Can’t say that I do,” Beri confirmed. “Is that like a riddle or a joke, or do you mean literally? What was it you first did?”
“Not quite that literally, but it is a genuine question.” Lieder tried to clarify his curiosity. “I’m extremely interested in what’s happened since I was put to sleep. I don’t even know for sure how long it’s been.”
Beri gasped. “Really, you don’t even know how long it’s been? I guess it was pretentious of me to comment on your culture then, sincerest apologies.”
“No, not at all. It’s not like your observation was inaccurate. I was just hoping you might have an idea if there was any sort of institution or school that specializes in the adjustment of Winkles to the contemporary world.”
“Oh, I get what you meant by the ‘first thing’ Winkles do now. No, even if I have heard mention of Winkles before, I can’t imagine where you might go to help you adjust.” She paused, but not long enough for Lieder to speak. “You know, I’m surprised they released you to fend for yourself like this. That seems irresponsible.”
“I can’t comment on whether or not that’s typical,” Lieder admitted. “I’m pretty sure I offended the guy that came to pick me up, abandoning me might have been his way to get revenge.”
“That seems so extreme, just for one Peer offending another…”
“Well, it’s not like I got to be one-hundred and thirty by being unable to fend for myself,” Lieder said dismissively.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean to insinuate…”
“That’s not what you implied, either, it’s simply a factor that’s hard to see from your perspective.”
“Appreciations,” Beri said, somewhere between embarrassed and impressed. “You know, the more I think about it, the more I believe you don’t need any extra instruction to blend into modern society.”
“Thanks, but blending isn’t quite enough for me, I’m afraid.” Lieder frowned. “I wonder…”
“Well where I meant to go with that is you don’t look any older than the age when they start teaching some of that stuff,” Beri explained. “They develop critical thinking skills early on, the only history they bother with is just what’s needed to make sure the children understand something. They figure you can better absorb the past’s details once you can do the math and science behind it.”
Lieder thought about what she was saying for a moment. There was no way he could be mistaken as older than twenty; he’d guess his body was developmentally between fifteen and eighteen. There was no telling how different it might be in this era, so it was extremely likely she meant no insult, but the thought that she was recommending he go back to high school was enough to bring a horrified grimace to his face.
“D-did I say something bad?” Beri asked nervously. “Whatever it is, please know I didn’t mean to…”
“No, no,” Lieder shook his head rapidly, shaking off the expression as a dog does water. “That was my own imagination at work, you didn’t say anything wrong.”
It was the most natural conclusion a person could make, one that he’d probably have already considered if it weren’t so subconsciously revolting. For an old man of his history to pose as a student of a local high school… it sounded too much like the premise of a sitcom for him to believe that it had never been used before.
He’d kill the first person that ever confirmed that it had been.
“Despite what my face said just now,” Lieder continued. “I think that’s a really good suggestion. Where’s the nearest school?”
“Well, my old…” Beri began. “Wait, what am I saying? You’re a Peer! You belong in an Academy, not a school. I have no idea where the nearest one would be, but I’m sure your expander would guide you there. There’s bound to be one within a reasonable distance, there’s plenty of Peerage topside.”
Lieder resisted the urge to have her elaborate on what she meant by ‘topside.’
“I suppose it’s unlikely you’d know, but do you have any idea what they charge for enrollment? I don’t even know what people call currency these days, much less expect that I have any amount of it.”
“The Peerage exchange Regence and Sapients use Dispensation. I have no idea how they’d react to your situation, but there’s no gamble in asking them, is there?”
“I suppose not.” Lieder smiled. “After I finish this egg, I’ll start stumbling my way towards the nearest Academy.”
“Speaking of which, where did you guys get cheese?”
“That one’s not so much cruel like eggs; it’s strange though,” Lieder replied cautiously. “I’ve got to warn you, it might ruin cheese for you. Although, I’m pretty sure we were already making respectable substitutes from soy and stuff.”
“The first method must not have involved a fruit, then. Let’s skip that one. Salt?”
“You could always get that with a shovel or just wandering through the right area, if you were willing to work hard enough. We’d been harvesting it from the sea for a long time before I was born, too, there’s probably no big mystery behind that one.”
“Oh. Don’t ask me why, but I was convinced that one would be different too. How about Gubber?”
“I have no idea what Gubber is.”
“It’s an acquired taste, I can tell you that much.”