Toast is a lousy metaphor for heteronormativity, but there you go.
Toast is normal. Toast is the blanket term for charred bread products. Toast is acceptable to offer to anyone of just about any culture, in any setting. It’s inoffensive to most, even if it is kind of dry and boring.
Certainly it can be pepped up, like with those fun little bread presses that you use to make indentations before dropping the bread into the hot metal slots - flowers, clowns, Darth Vader, the JMC logo. And then there’s all you can slather on the hot yeasty pores when it comes out of a toaster: jam, jelly, butter, peanut butter, Nutella, margarine, crushed insects in sugar, honey, marma-
“Crushed insects in sugar,” Ace murmured with a frown and a twist of his lip.
So he was reading it! Talkie tried to puff up with pride, but attempts to expand its static metal sides were, as always, in vain. “Sure! Crushed insects are quite popular, more than you’d think, pal. Protein and breakfast all in one glorious go.”
“I shouldn’t be one to judge, my good ma- erm, appliance,” the rangy space hero conceded as he continued reading Talkie’s Theory of Breadability in mostly silence.
“Why, I’ll wager you’ve seen people eating crushed insects in sugar on toast sometime in your expansive travels,” Talkie continued, reverent. “Probably on all kinds of things - croissants, bagels, baps, muffins-”
“Yes, yes,” Ace interrupted, then shifted his eyes briefly to Talkie. “Sorry, old sport - just trying to concentrate, can’t converse all so well when reading.” The man went back to Talkie’s tablet.
“Sure! Goodness me, of course.” The cherry-colored toaster settled into mostly silence, trying to spin its browning knob as quietly as possible while anxiously awaiting review. All writers went through this, it reasoned. It desperately wished it could be toasting or warming to pass the time; there wasn’t much else for a Talkie to do during such lulls … except maybe come up with ideas for its next essay! Yes, what capital use of downtime!
What to write about next? Its own Grand Unified Theory of Yeast? The Effects of Saliva On Breakdown of Starches? Or maybe … and it was an ambitious project, but what the hell, Talkie had always yearned to take on the challenge. Yes, yes; it was decided. The pinnacle of toastly study would be its next thesis:
The Purpose of “10” On the Browning Knob it was, then.
Others had tried and failed to explain it, but none of them had seen the things Talkie had. None of them knew about BEGGs that would eat used plumbing, for whom blackened toast was six steps up. None of them had served Dave Lister’s flamed-out tastebuds, or been used to burn acres of toast to be used to board up crawlspaces in a ship.
It didn’t realize how excited it was to get started dictating this new project until Ace was looking over, and it heard its own loud rapidly-spinning knob and jiggling lever. “Problems, old hot coil?” the space hero asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Just thinking about my next project,” Talkie answered honestly. It said nothing more - talking too much about what it hadn’t yet written was always a jinx against actually writing it. It was like, all the good ideas had been released into the air, so why bother? “Sorry to interrupt again!”
“No matter, chum. I’ve done reading; it’s not bad at all.” He tapped the tablet as he leaned back in the chair and crossed his long legs. “You say you wrote this before we met, back before our conversation on butter?”
“Yes, sir!” Talkie loved talking about its writing. Not many toasters were equipped with a grammar subroutine. “Well, it was only logical, wasn’t it? I heard so much conversation about sex, and birds and blokes, while I was with the crew before. Got to see more than I wanted of it, too.”
Ace cleared his throat and shifted, a sure sign he wasn’t totally on board with the conversation. A perceptive Talkie learned to tell these things after being with a new master for some weeks. “But,” it added, sensing like any human, this one would be pleased to learn of being an inspiration for writing, “I didn’t include the subsection on spreadables until after our conversations. I had not previously realized how I took those for granted, until you!”
“Is that so.”
“Of course! My reason for being is the bread itself, not as much what goes on it; after all, that stuff just shorts me out. But it’s always there, like the whipped cream people like to put on a pie the baker has made. I never understood humans could find pleasure in unadorned toast products - all the ones I’ve lived with usually went straight to something to smear over everything I warmed up for them. Well, for eating,” it added, recalling the crawlspace construction. “Almost nobody but you likes just dry toast.”
“I am all right with some butter,” Ace demurred, setting the tablet on the table. “Mind you, not every serving, but … once in a rare while a pat or two’s dandy. Or honey, or cream. Just not most of the time. I don’t like that others expect I should somehow want it all the time.”
“This is about the asexuality thing, isn’t it?” Talkie was a perceptive Talkie. “Like, a metaphor?”
“‘Like’ is a simile,” Ace corrected smoothly.
“Oh, of course,” it conceded, beeping with happiness. It loved that someone else knew grammar too!
“Although,” Ace conceded, tapping fingers on the tabletop in their small rented quarters on the starbase. “Although, it has been a long while since I’ve had any butter, and- Well.” He stood, brushed back his flip of strawberry-brunet hair behind one ear, and flashed a quick grin at Talkie. “Maybe I’ll head out and see if I want to do some … spreading, this evening.”
“Oh! Do you need some toast to take along? Maybe a couple of muffins? Or-” Talkie realized what was going on as Ace opened the door to leave. “OH. Gotcha, pal!” It vibrated and hummed as it realized it was likely to have a whole night alone, quiet … and with an actual writing idea! Praise Silicone Heaven! Well, if it had existed.
After a few minutes of thought and using voice commands to close out its last essay on the tablet, Talkie set up a new empty page and began, lest the inspiration for its lead vanish like a puff of cream in a roomful of conventioneers: “Toaster designers were truly visionaries not properly lauded in their own time, for all the practical features other humans weren’t truly ready, or evolved enough, to understand how to use ….”