Hot lips, the burning sensation, the delicious first bite into a drippy faux pork bun, bao. I drenched my tongue in sriracha and chili garlic, sipping out the inner soup. A broth droplet drifted away in zero-grav and I caught it on my tongue. I let it stay there, a perfect liquid globe, for a moment longer before chomping. The bao still had that pungent bite and tasted fresh, despite the filling of freeze-dried stir-fry that had been reconstituted the day before and gummed into the bao dough. It was special, even if it was leftovers. Everything was always leftovers in this ongoing feast of recyclables. You made it for my Float Day.
It burned good. Like you.
The day we both moved into the ISS, I celebrated with baijiu (which would transform into urine and potable water again). We shared a bedroom and then eventually a bed. It was cramped, just a bunk bed, but enough for us.
I didn’t know it then, but it was the happiest day of my life.
Your wicked smile followed me even when it was gone. Lightning-fast, struck from your face, as quick as prestofood when it dings “Dinner’s ready!”
The food for my Float Day was different from that, far from instant food. Hand-pressed, artisanally touched, delicately wrapped in pillowy dough. It was your work, as much of the attentiveness you put into machinery, swaddled in a palm-size bun. I felt a warmth from it that conveyed more than just an easy fling.
Maybe the care you put into the bun deluded me. Maybe I always knew what you were thinking— that you had ‘the myriad ways we could asphyxiate up here in this nothingness’ written on your face.
I asked you if you could see us together.
Your saucy reply was, “Of course, my savory sweet. You’re my bao boo.” I loved how you pulled back that long bang of onyx hair behind your ear and exposed that planet earring you wore. You always thought we would make it to Kepler-442b, our target destination. The colony accepted applications and every year we filled out the forms. Our ISS, of the many ISS’s out there, was a stepping stone. I didn’t realize that to you, it was more like a holding cell. You were itching to go.
I couldn’t forget that look of tangy flare, as you promised that we’d float on forever, together.
That reply rings in my ears, as I sit here, stuck on this rock.
My comm destroyed, my space shelter shredded and you.
You’re out there somewhere, floating, our aromatic vows, faded away in twin bursts.
This binary star system, like two orbiting baos in deep space, is so much less friendly than the protective solace of the realm of the ISS, with the shiny marble of Earth beaming below us. The two suns of this system, pure white, but yellowed from the weak, wispy atmosphere of this stark planet, burn bright with 5000-6000 Kelvin. We thought they’d be like our Sun on Earth from ISS, but from this distance, they are fiercer.
They glow, golden and searing, promising heat and a spicy ending. Maybe it’s like the furnace of our dreams, I think, in delirium. They look so hot. So, why does it feel so cold?
I imagine a long brown arm ending in a big hand, rough with your callouses from fastening all those tethers and handling machinery, scooping me up. Planets jangle on your bracelets, now phantasmal, inviting me to come. Shriveled me, freeze-drying as we speak, hoping to be reconstituted into something loving, recrafted and rearticulated. There was a bursting sound and a gash, and the slow leak of oxygen. It hissed at me, like the sound of buns being prepared in woven bamboo, the aromas filling the air. Oh, bamboo! Lost organic materials of a different world. The redolence recedes. My view of the two winking lights blur, unblur and reblur. This hiss, it’s so loud. It fills my ears, my helmet, the entire system. It has no succulent savory smell against grassy earthiness anymore, just the whiff of antiseptic from the auto-spray of the suit. My side is wet. I clamp it with a glove and the haptic touch detects warmth. I don’t dare to look. The thirst and the sudden frigidity envelops me. I shiver. How can it be this cold?
I yearn to be wrapped in a pillowy encasing, shaped in your plump fingers, and put onto a comfortable bed to be steamed.
I remember our steamy showers—skin on skin, mostly us wiping each other with rags, but still steamy from our breaths.
I remember the domed helmet, my reflection in the mirrored surface, my cheeks as warped and puffed as the bao’s doughy bread. I took off the helmet in our space station home and gave you your first kiss in the cosmos. It wasn’t far from Earth yet, but it was still in space.
And the regenerative water system, the life circulation, that squeeze bottle we used to drink from. It squirted out what constitutes us, good old H20. And on Float Day, good old Float Day, it was reconstituted to add in powdered-Sriracha-turned-gel. It was squeezed into a heart on the bao. By you, of course. You licked your fingers, calling me your “bao boo” again, taking a bite into the bun, wincing from the heat, the crimson-gelled heart on the slick flour surface buckling.
That heart crystallized to ice when you floated away.
D. A. Xiaolin Spires steps into portals and reappears in sites such as Hawai’i, NY, various parts of Asia and elsewhere, with her keyboard appendage attached. Besides Apparition Lit, her work appears in publications such as Clarkesworld, Analog, Nature, Terraform, Galaxy’s Edge, Fireside, Star*Line, Liquid Imagination, Andromeda Spaceways and anthologies such as Make Shift, Ride the Star Wind, Sharp and Sugar Tooth, Deep Signal, and Battling in All Her Finery. She has written about her love of food and food practices imbued in speculative fiction writing in this genre article. She also enjoys snarfing down buns and hand pies, of course! Another speculative story about appetizing buns appears here. Select stories can be read in German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Estonian, French and Japanese translation. She can be found on Bluesky @spires.bsky.social, Twitter @spireswriter, Mastodon: wandering.shop/@spireswriter and her website: daxiaolinspires.wordpress.com.
Sriracha Visions is the winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine Janurary Flash Fiction Challenge.