Tasting the season
Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz have a Patreon for their Hugo-Award-Winning podcast, Our Opinions are Correct.
And on that Patreon, they publish writing prompts. This week’s prompt was about families in space.
Several years ago, I was in an informal writing workshop with some friends and acquaintances and one of the weekly prompts was “tasting the season.” I wrote an epistolary story from a parent on an university exploration expedition to the child who got to stay home so as to not miss school.
I remembered the story, pulled it up, gave it some edits, and I’m posting it here in response to the new prompt.
12 Juli 2103
SS Johannes Kepler
Joint Oxford/University of California Expedition
My dear Stéphane,
Your sibling sends their love.
Again, I regret that I insisted that you stay in school while one of your mothers and Zuli tramp across the galaxy.
As I write, you are on vacation. Did you and your other mother go with your aunties and cousins to Vermont? I miss the lake at our camp.
We have an ‘endless’ pool in the rotation ring, but I would rather have an early morning swim in the lake.
Do you still spend the afternoons on Mount Royal with your friends?
I should not pry, but do you still fancy your classmate that you spent so much time with last summer? Esme, so shy around us. I hope you are treating them to ice creams, curries, poutines, and little Japanese candies.
Here, aboard the Kepler, the seasons never change. It is always early summer, except that I never need a jacket in the evenings. Half of the sciences staff would like to have a campfire in one of the hangers, so we could sing songs and roast sausages, and that drives the engineers mad. They have tried to accommodate us with something that looks like a sausage.
Is it as bland as the rest of the food. Imagine, a ship filled with people from around the world, and we let the British build the catering!
When we return, your other mother and I will visit every one of our favorite restaurants, for months.
We have anchored in a star system a hundred light years from Mother Earth, and will stay here for at least the summer (your summer, that is.) The planetary science team has the chance to do something other than download and study imaging from the advance team’s probes.
After we jumped in the robots investigating this system were chattering with our ship, excited (as much as machines become excited) about a world in the inner system.
On this world we’re orbiting, it has been winter a long time, my estimate is at least 50,000 years. Remember what I told you about ice ages on Earth? How the glaciers came down from the North and covered what would be Montreal, and people from Asia walked across what is now open sea to Alaska?
This world, even though it orbits close to its sun like Earth, is colder. The only open sea uncovered by ice is at the equator.
The engineers and the safety committee thought it would be safe enough to let the scientists come down from eternal summer and visit the ice world.
There’s no elevator stalk, so we rode down from the Kepler on a rocket plane. The advance probes had already peppered the world with a million little weather stations dropped as they flew by on their surveys, but we set one up of our own. We posed for podcasts as if we were those old explorers in Antarctica, bundled against the cold in heated suits. Even if the air was so cold that you had to wear a mask so that breathing didn’t hurt, we enjoyed having a sky over our heads and a horizon for the first time in months.
No, your sibling did not come with us, although she protested as robustly as you’d imagine. Four is too young for running around ice planets, even with of of their mothers looking out for them.
I packed some snow in a thermos and took it back to the Kepler after our outing on the surface. I gave some to the safety and biology team to check for hazards, and they ruled it clean.
I grabbed a bowl from the canteen, and brought out the precious little stash of maple syrup I packed. Just enough to remind Zuli and me of home when we needed it. I poured a little on the snow I brought back from the ice planet.
Even if we can’t enjoy real summer with you, we did get to taste winter.
There’s podcasts and video attached. I miss you both. Listen to your other mother and your aunties, be sweet to Esme, and I will write again as soon as we get another resupply packet coming through.
©️ 2021, Emma C. Humphries