"I wonder why it snows here all the time?"
Chisato tried not to sigh. Claude was asking those questions again...
They were standing on top of the Tackle Tavern, that old bar she'd loved so much when she'd been a student. She was showing Claude around, or at least what little she remembered; she'd forgotten so much that she could honestly claim that she really didn't know much about the town anymore. It was a pretty long way up, and Claude had spent most of it just staring around town, brushing snow away from his jacket. She wished she could get him to lighten up; he was starting to show signs of strain, and if he collapsed from trying too hard to be the big hero, she wasn't going to have much to write articles about, was she?
At any rate, it wasn't like she hated people who asked questions on general principles; she was all for poking around and uncovering hidden truths. She knew very well that he wasn't a Nedian and that she needed to be tolerant of his occasional ignorance. Still, it was still difficult sometimes, like spending a lot of time around a very young child and being repeatedly asked why the sky was blue. Especially because the young man in question wasn't a child - in fact, Chisato sometimes found it difficult to believe that he was only a teenager. Sometimes he seemed so much older.
She shrugged and shook her head. "No one knows."
He looked at her curiously under the hood of his heavy black parka. "You've never even wondered, Chisato?"
"Well, maybe I did once, a long time ago," she said, shrugging. "I'd never even seen snow before I moved here, you know? I was always asking questions, always getting told that it had just always been that way. After a while, I figured there wasn't anything else to learn." She smiled at him. "Why worry about it? Maybe they didn't even have a reason."
Claude frowned and shook his head, shaking snowflakes off of the hood of his parka. "I... I'm sorry, but I can't believe that. I've studied artificial habitats before, and if there's one thing I learned it's that you can't just add things to a habitat for no reason. No matter how sophisticated they are, you're always dealing with limited resources."
Chisato didn't answer. After all, maybe that was true. And she really had asked questions about the snow when she first came to the town, but after a while it didn't matter so much. It was always there, like the green grass in North City - you might as well ask why that was there, if you were going to ask about the snow.
It was pretty, or at least she had thought so when she'd first arrived. Seeing the snow falling constantly past her window, feathery snowflakes settling like a heavy blanket over the landscape, drifting from a slate-grey sky... it had been very hypnotic. She wasn't really much of a poet, but that had inspired a few verses from her at first, until she'd realized that she wasn't really very good at poetry and should probably stick to prose. But after a while it was just cold and damp, more ice to fall down her parka and melt on her best suit jacket. It went from being a thing of beauty to an irritation, and then not even that as she just learned to deal with it. The way she'd felt about it before just felt childish to her, which was why Claude's questions bothered her so much.
"You know," Claude said after a long pause, "there was a holiday back on Earth called Christmas. It was one of the few really old holidays that survived the creation of the Federation and the establishment of the Unitary Government of Earth. Most of the people who still celebrate it associate it with weather like this..." He reached out with one hand, wrapped in a thick nylon glove, and caught a small, broken snowflake. "Every year when I was a child, my family - everyone who could come - would get together at my mom's favorite winter resort and celebrate Christmas in the snow. We'd make long garlands of popcorn and decorate a tree with shining lights and old glass ornaments, and we'd sing songs about peace and love and give each other gifts. I don't understand where all of the holiday came from, but I do know that it was very important to all of us." He shook his head. "Maybe Nede had a festival like that once, and that's why it snows here. Only they forgot about it, so now no one knows why."
"Well, I guess it's possible. But for one holiday? That seems like overkill, doesn't it?" Chisato asked, frowning a bit in spite of herself.
"It's the best I can come up with. I mean, there has to be something, right?"
She started to answer, but was distracted by a sound below them. She saw Rena closing the door to the Inn behind her and walking out into the snow - at least, she was pretty sure it was Rena. She was wearing the blue snowsuit that Chisato herself had helped her pick out from the local second-hand store. Apparently it had been warm on their home planet or something; they'd been totally unprepared for any sort of cold weather at all.
She didn't do anything at first, just walked around the square aimlessly, then finally stopped in front of the snowman that stood near the street leading to the campus. There had been a little boy working on a couple of snowmen every day they visited the town, brushing off the snow that had fallen on them and patting them lovingly back into shape. It was the first time that Chisato had ever seen snowmen there - she'd seen pictures in childrens' books, but not the real thing.
She watched Rena walk off to the side a bit, watched her scoop up an armful of snow and pat it into a clumsy ball. "Hey, look," she said, nudging Claude out of his melancholy reverie. "Isn't that Rena down there, building a snowman?"
"Huh?" He looked down. "I think so. She doesn't seem to be very good at it, though..."
"Maybe it doesn't snow much where she lives?" Chisato offered.
If Rena heard either of them, she made no sign of it. She worked on her snowman, concentrating on getting it into shape, constantly glancing over at the other and making small adjustments.
Soon her audience had doubled in size. The little boy ran out of his house and immediately ran up to her, and Chisato could hear him chattering, offering her advice about how to build it, how to shape its head and make its eyes. And soon enough Noel had come out of the Inn - Chisato knew it was him, she would've known that worn brown parka anywhere. All those years, and he still refused to get rid of the ugly thing. He didn't approach the two, instead preferring to watch the tableau from afar, as he so often did when Rena was involved. The poor guy; he had no idea how obvious he really was.
"You know," Claude continued in a hushed voice, "I always took those holidays for granted. When I was a kid I thought each year would be better than the last one. But they weren't... and when I was thirteen we decided that it wasn't worth the trouble to meet anymore. That was when Dad was off-planet for a three-year tour of duty, and Mom had just gotten a new project. Everyone was too busy or too tired to celebrate an old holiday like Christmas." He sighed again. "After that, all I ever got from anyone was a card with a few credits in it. I guess I was the only one who really missed the whole thing."
"I'm sorry," Chisato said. "It must've meant a lot to you."
"Well... yeah, it did." He paused for another moment, as they watched Rena poking twigs and small pieces of black rock into the snowman's face and body for its arms and eyes, the finishing touches. "It seems like it's the same way here, only just about everyone's gotten tired of it."
"Well, just think about it. Look at the snow, for starters. All this snow, and no one's playing in it except for Rena and that little kid. Have you ever seen anyone else playing in the snow here? I mean, you said you'd been here before, right?"
"Not for a long time," she said, "and I didn't really know it that well. But... no, you're right. I never saw anyone. If people want to play, they go to Fun City or somewhere like that. Giveaway was built for learning and research, not for fun."
"See, that's exactly what I mean. Everyone knows that they're not supposed to play here, so the only ones that do are the ones who don't know any better." He turned back to Rena and the boy, who were chattering at each other again as Noel watched from near the inn.
Then, without warning, Rena seemed to collapse in the snow, and her arms and legs seemed to thrash around her. Chisato jumped, and heard Noel cry out below them and run to Rena's side. She would've gone straight for the fire escape and joined them, if Claude hadn't grabbed her arm and restrained her. "It's okay," he said urgently. "She's not hurt - she's just making a snow angel."
"Oh," Chisato said, feeling a bit foolish. "A what?"
"A snow angel. It's... I don't know how to say it... it's something you make by lying down in the snow. Kids liked to make them back on Earth... and on Expel too, I guess." He smiled a little. "She'll get up soon. Just watch."
And sure enough, she did. She jumped up and squatted next to the shape, laughing merrily as Noel stood - the poor man was probably as confused as Chisato had been, just watching her as she squatted next to her creation and drew a circle over the impression her head had left with her gloved finger.
Chisato had to admit, it did look a little like an angel in a dress, complete with wings and a halo. She had to smile a bit, and then her smile widened as she watched Rena push Noel down on his back in the snow. She heard the young woman laugh as he moved his arms and legs in the snow experimentally, and soon enough another angel began to take shape.
"You see?" Claude was smiling beside her, watching the strange scene. "That's what I remember when I think of snow. That's what I used to love - making snow angels and building snowmen and trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue. Having big snowball fights with a bunch of my older cousins, building forts and igloos in the snow and seeing who can hide the longest...."
"It all seems so silly," Chisato said, although she couldn't say she entirely disapproved of it.
"It is a little silly, yeah. Maybe that's why so few people admit to it after a while." He looked back at her. "I don't think people ought to care about being silly and childish, if it's the right time for it. I think that people on Earth don't celebrate Christmas and holidays like that as much as they used to because they think they're just for children, but sometimes we need to act like children. It's the only way to keep from letting the world get us down."
Chisato thought of the Wise Men, of what was going to happen when they defeated them, and she had to admit Claude had a point. She'd been worrying about that for almost a week, now... maybe there had to be a time when she could just stop worrying. After all, worry never solved any problems; she just had to ask her mother about that, she thought wryly.
Besides, she told herself, just look at the people who were playing in the snow. Noel was actually smiling as Rena helped him up and pointed the angel he'd made out to her - and she couldn't help but notice that he didn't let go of her hand for quite some time, until she finally pulled herself away. She had to smile herself at that.
Then Rena got a very sly look on her face, and crouched down again to grab a handful of snow. She saw Noel approach her curiously, but then jump back as Rena tossed a snowball that hit him smack in the chest.
Claude whistled. "Uh-oh, she's a pretty good shot."
Noel cried out as another snowball hit him right on the cheek - the little boy next to the snowman had decided to join the fun. He started running away as both Rena and the boy advanced on him with more ammunition close at hand. The snowball fight was underway, just like that.
"What do you think, Chisato? Should we join them?" Claude had the biggest smile on his face she'd seen since, well, probably since she'd met him. "Looks like Noel could use a hand down there..."
"Sounds good to me!" She stood up and started gathering up some snow.
"Great! How about boys against girls?"
"Three against two? I don't think so," she said, chuckling. "Although I'm sure he'd appreciate the help," she added as she glanced down at Noel, who was trying vainly to dodge Rena's assault.
"Well, what do you suggest?"
"Hmm," she said, pretending to think hard about it. "I know, how about Nedians against Earthlings?"
"Hey!" Claude protested, laughing. "That's even worse!"
She laughed. "Well, then, we'll just make it a free-for-all and see what happens, hm?"
"Now that's more like it!" Claude turned to her, his arms full of snowballs. "So, what are we waiting for?"
Chisato laughed as they rushed down to the street, snowballs and laughter at the ready.