Tea-Brewing at the End of Humanity

A story of mine was published in Issue 262 of AntipodeanSF (July 2020). It is a short story of some 800 words that I will share with you here. You can also find it on AntipodeanSF’s website.

Content warning: suicide (gentle).

Making tea by hand was tricky business. She had researched plants, flowers, and spices, recipes written up to two centuries beforehand. But time was growing short. It had taken months to acquire cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and the non-C spices. In the end, she had ordered loose black tea from a reseller in China.

The Omnioven was not designed to boil water. Rather, it was designed not to let its users boil water themselves. As long as she provided it with packaged food, it provided her with dinner. There were modders and tinkerers who played around with the appliance, and their communities had tricks for her. She had settled on one such hack, filling a glass container with water and sealing it partway, but hers was a newer model and would not be fooled.

“Nature to the rescue,” she said, realising what she had in this glass jar: a perfect instrument to brew sun tea. “Brew.” The thought inspired an odd thrill in her. She was self-sufficient, like a cavewoman. Well, maybe a Renaissance woman.

A crow landed on the railing of her balcony. It hopped closer to the experiment, turning its head this way and that.

As she watched through the door, she said, “I’ll put some out for you when it cools off, master crow.” The bird croaked and jumped off.

It was time: the sun hung just over distant towers, about to disappear. Her last sunset.

She could see gatherings held to celebrate the occasion. Neighbours assembled in yards and parks, each bringing homemade dishes from a time past. Family members had travelled far to be with their loved ones. “It’s a memorial of sorts, isn’t it?”

She made to lift the pitcher, but it was so hot she pulled her fingers away at the lightest touch. Using pan holders, she moved her tea back inside and set it down on her leisure desk. That was where she would have her last cup.

With a jerk of her head, the monitor came on. Her country’s leader appeared, accompanied by xir husband. “… a historic occasion and the last chapter of our history on Earth.” There was opposition to the plan, but it would not matter. It had been discussed for decades, since the solving of the Fermi paradox. At the time, the backlash had been severe. Over the years, clear sight prevailed. The Solution was in the water.

Her sister’s name lit up the control glass. “Answer,” she said. The politician vanished, replaced by features she had seen that morning. “Hello again.”

“Hello,” her sister answered. “I know we did this already, but I wanted to see you one last time.”

She smiled, gazing at the lines in her face. Was there a point in memorising them? “Here I am. I made my tea.”

With hesitation, she asked, “How was it?”

“I’m waiting for it to cool down.” They looked at each other in silence. “I’m sorry for not being there.”

“It’s fine. I understand why you’d want to be alone right now. Me, I can’t.”

“Obviously.” A sense of nervous anticipation amplified their laughter. When it subsided, she said, “I’m glad to have shared my life with you.”

Her sister nodded. “We’ve had a good life.” She looked down. “I guess this is it.”

“I guess so. Goodbye, Nefti.”

“Farewell.” That was so Nefti, to use such an old-fashioned word.

Back onscreen, the leader said, “It could never be avoided. All we could do was come to terms with what we are. Not just anomaly or happenstance, but ravagers. Faced with that realisation, I believe we have chosen the right path.”

“Off,” she said. Away the picture went, but the thoughts remained. Humanity lived at the expense of countless lifeforms; all species did. It would always be nature’s way. The most advanced one day realised that it was impossible not to harm, not to extinguish, no matter how hard they tried or how creative they became. There was only one way to stop the cycle.

As she poured the spiced tea, it rose in swirling brown waves up the white wall of her favourite cup. The splash of milk became expansive clouds below the surface. She added a spoonful of honey and blended the potion. A second cup, she filled and set outside for the crow, for whom it was safe; the Solution was designed for humans, and humans alone.

She returned to her leisure desk. The smell was enticing, and when she took a sip, it tasted like no chai tea she had ever tried before.

Warmth and death spread within her. Leaning back into her best chair, she watched the sky change to pink and orange tones. “It’s our turn now.”

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