Michiko Sings Away Her Sorrows

Michiko Lins waited for her next assignment in the canteen of a transport carrier.

She glanced at a tablet on the table in front of her.

Blank.

It had been a long hour, waiting for the assignment from headquarters that would change her life. Again. At least for the next few months. Crazy to think that her life was in the government’s hands.

She couldn't take the waiting.

There were so many places the Galaxy Corps could send her.

Some of them made her nervous. Like the border planets near Argus. Or the colonies deep in the recesses of the galaxy, where no one would hear her communications for hours if something went wrong.

Yet she kept telling herself that she signed up for this.

She closed her eyes and listened to the ship’s quiet hum as it cruised through space. The canteen smelled like a global kitchen—on the various stoves, there were skillets with remnants of curry, rice, beans, and other foods the passengers had made for lunch just a little while ago. A plate of half-eaten pork dumplings and rice balls sat on her plate, next to the tablet, along with a cup of yerba mate tea.

Again her eyes went to the tablet.

Nothing.

She sighed, cradling the acoustic guitar on her lap.

She rolled her finger tips across the strings. Quietly, slowly, she began to play a gentle samba.

A samba for all the people she'd known. A samba for all the places she'd been. A samba for love, a samba for sadness, a samba for all those feelings in between. She held in her mind’s eye her mother, pale and beautiful in a kimono, her dad, tall and dark in a soccer jersey, the blue ocean shores of her home planet, Asiazil, the sunlight shining on the water, the dancing sands, the echoes of beach laughter among gentle waves, smiling faces, the dancing—so much dancing!—and drums and berimbaus and guitars and singing—men and women singing and crooning! In an instant she was back on Asiazil, sitting on a rock on a windswept shore, watching the sunset through a vermilion torii gate in the distance. She was singing, one leg crossed over the other, picking out chords randomly and seeing where the song went. Major chords and minor chords and jazz chords that only Asiazil could pull off. Her home planet’s name and essence was an idea born from a song lyric written hundreds of years ago, one she hoped the planet would always live up to.

She sang.

In Portguese.

In Japanese.

In English.

And the time just passed her by like the ocean waves and the herds of clouds in the blue sky, and smells of the fragrant flowers and the intoxicating bento boxes with eel and crab and smoked Brazilian beef.

She sang of home. And for a moment she wished she was there, but then she realized that she could not go back.

Not yet.

Her fingers told her that the song was almost over.

She picked a final chord and arpeggiated it, letting the notes linger before she took her fingers off the strings.

She nodded in satisfaction, looking out the circular window at the stars blinking outside amidst hyperspace.

“That was some beautiful playing,” a voice said. A chubby twenty-something man leaned in the doorway to the canteen, arms folded. He had red hair and a shaggy beard, and he wore a gray t-shirt  with blue G on the left side. His shirt was tucked into cargo pants—the Galaxy Corps uniform. She was so wrapped up in playing that she didn't hear him enter.

“Hey, thanks,” Michiko said. “I’m not bothering you, am I? Because if I am—”

“Not at all,” the man said. “The opposite.”

“Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?” the man asked. “Good god. I didn’t even know music like that was possible.”

“I learned it back home,” Michiko said, putting her guitar into a black nylon case.

Michiko grabbed her tea cup—a smooth, shiny gourd with a metal spoon sticking out of a clump of green tea leaves—and she covered it with a napkin.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Just a taste from home,” she said. “It’s called chimarrão.”

“Chima-what?”

“Nevermind.”

The man walked to the table and extended his hand.

“Rudy Rundgren,” he said. “Nice to see another Galaxy Corps member here. I was starting to think I was all alone.”

“Michiko Lins,” she said. “Nice to meet you, too, Rudy.”

“So help me understand,” Rudy said, hesitating.

A question was coming. The kind she always got whenever someone met her for the first time. After all, she didn’t look like most people. Olive-skinned with slanted eyes, long curly black hair, and very short height. She looked like a little girl even though she was already out of college. Sometimes it was the looks; other times it was her slight accent that no one could ever place, a kind of lilting Portguese but not quite.

“My mom has Japanese blood and my dad has Brazilian blood,” she said.

Rudy stammered.

“That was your question, wasn’t it?” Michiko asked.

Rudy rubbed his head. “Yeah, sorry if I offended. I figured with the guitar and the tea that you were from Asiazil, but I always hate to ask, you know?”

“No, I get it all the time,” she said, smiling. “I guess you could call me east by south.”

“Huh?”

“You know, back on Earth. Long time ago. Japan was east. Brazil was south. It's a song reference, like our entire planet. Too obscure, I guess.”

She laughed at her own joke.

“Well, whatever you want to call yourself,” Rudy said, “you can play guitar like that all day and night and you won’t hear a complaint from me.”

***

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