Senchado in Microgravity
by Dawn Vogel
It's hard to mark time on the Kyozist, but Asuna tells me it's been a year since our mother died.
"We should do a tea ceremony, Niko," she says. "She would have liked that."
My sister is correct, but she doesn't understand what she's proposing. In the lab, we've been experimenting with ways to achieve more controllable results in boiling liquids. It's difficult in microgravity--predictable, but volatile. I'm not sure I can make it work in a kettle in our quarters. "We'll need wagashi."
Asuna works in maintenance, but she makes friends everywhere she goes. Especially when they work in the kitchens. "I can get a few."
"And Mother's tea set."
Asuna pales, her voice trembling. "I don't know where it is."
I'm the elder sister, so it falls to me. "Get the wagashi." I grin. "Sakuramochi, if you can."
She scurries to her assignment, and I embark on mine. Looking through our narrow storage locker to find Mother's tea set.
We're fortunate we've been allowed to store anything. The Kyozist grows more crowded with each passing month. Had Mother not died in the line of service, we wouldn't be afforded such privilege. We'd have lost everything not deemed useful.
Mother's tea set is one such frivolity. It's been in the family for generations, and she insisted it accompany us to Solla.
I haven't opened the storage locker since we boxed up her things. Somehow, a year later, it still smells like she was just here, sorting the belongings we couldn't bear to part with. Distilling a life cut short into four small magnetic boxes meant few things kept, but the tea set must be here.
The first box is things that used to hang in Mother's room. The tea set isn't here, but I still look through the box. Pictures of Asuna and me, our matching haircuts and gapped teeth and awkward teenage years. Pictures of Father, who we buried on Earth, after a premature heart attack.
Mother's official portrait, her hair plaited and coiled around her head, but her eyes and smile belying the kindness and warmth her severe hair and uniform cannot smother. I trace the lines of her face, lost in thought.
I haven't found the tea set.
I repack the pictures but keep Mother's portrait and a photo of Father with Asuna and me where we're all laughing. Mother had said she wanted to put us all in her eye, which had started Father laughing, and then Asuna and I.
I take the time to label the box as Wall Hangings. The next box is things from her office, and I label that one as well.
Still no tea set.
There's not room in the cramped hall outside the storage closet for all four boxes. I need to lift the lowest two and put the first two beneath them, but I can't do that without letting go of the pictures of Mother and Father that I've clutched to my chest, frames and all.
Asuna pokes her head into the storage hall. "I've got the wagashi."
I shake my head. "I can't find the tea set."
She takes in the labels on the two boxes I've looked through, nodding slowly, but then her gaze lands on the pictures, and she's drawn to them.
"Why did we pack these up?" she asks.
I press them into her arms to relieve me of my burden. "You packed them." My response comes out as a snap. It's too late to bite it back.
She's quiet for a moment, as I restack the boxes. Only a sniffle reminds me she's still there.
I turn to see the tears streaming down her cheeks. My anger evaporates, and I embrace her.
"It's still too soon," she whispers.
She's right. I've been holding back my emotions in my focus on this futile search, but now her tears trigger my own, and we're both sobbing in the dusty hallway, outside the storage locker that smells like Mother.
We take the photos back to our living room, where we slot them into the standard issue wall mounts, removing the pen and ink sketches of places we've left behind on Earth, the artwork Mother loved, but Asuna and I never really cared for. We'd only left it up in her memory. Her portrait is a better choice.
Asuna unwraps the wagashi--an odd assortment, the sakuramochi in the center. My favorite.
I place the sakuramochi in front of Mother's portrait. It was her favorite too. Unrestrained, it hangs suspended in front of her image.
Asuna puts a plain mochi in front of the other picture. Father's favorite.
We don't have tea, but we have our wagashi. We can't light incense, but we have an old device brought with us from Earth that combines water vapor and scent to simulate the tradition. Mother used it every week when she meditated, somehow always keeping a stock of the cartridges it used.
We eat the rest of the wagashi together, sharing our memories of our parents. When we finish, we re-wrap the sakuramochi and the mochi in a cloth scented with the faux-incense.
We'll find the tea set next year.
Dawn Vogel's academic background is in history, so it's not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. Her steampunk series, Brass and Glass, is available from DefCon One Publishing. She lives in Seattle with her husband, author Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her:
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