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“ That guy’s the angriest loneliest guy I know! “ George laughed. “ Says he’s in love! Every time I visit a cyberdoll I fall in love, too! “

     Tokyo, 2360, and Ric Henry let them laugh. 

     He drank his beer and didn’t care because he knew what was real and he had been through too much in his forty-eight years to care anyway. Besides, he liked George, and they worked together.

     Twenty years ago Ric had been a pilot and fought against the Sten in space at outer Eres-19 and the catalyst jumps at lightspeed had damaged him. He was slow these days but not so slow he couldn’t still work as an engineer. Fixing robotics and machinery in the factories was all he had until he met Sora.

     He finished his beer and said goodnight to George and the boys and stepped outside. It was raining. A flash of sheet lightning silhouetted the traffic in the sky and he thought, Sora. My future

     Twenty years ago he flew suicide missions and saved lives and liberated a species from itself at war with itself and now he was forgot about and drinking with George at The Red Umbrella. The place was a dive anyway. 

     All that time ago he had loved a woman but she left him for a banker of all things and she got married and had children without Ric and he used his credentials as an engineer to join the Command and he became a pilot and went to war. It was an escape from pain for him.

     Sora was Japanese. He did love her. They had spent too much time together for him not to. She was beautiful, smart, always doing something with her hair, but she was secretive if he asked questions and she changed the subject. She was thirty.

     They met on one of those gentle rainy Tokyo nights which were frequent that time of year and she was struggling with her jacket. He stepped to her casually and unexpectedly and fixed it for her. They had missed their transport and he offered to share a taxi with her. She accepted.

     In the taxi she was quiet and he tried telling her she was pretty as a compliment and made small talk about a cat he fed, which sometimes sat outside his window at night.

     Eventually she turned to face him, saying politely, “ You talk too much. “

     He chuckled, “ But it got you to say something. “

     The following morning on the transport to work she sat beside him and said, “ I’m a cleaner for an office block in the city. My name is Sora. You can talk to me. “

     Over the following weeks they started seeing each other on her terms. He was never to come to her house, especially uninvited, and they weren’t to swap contact details. 

On Sundays they would meet in the city and walk and talk and dine together. She was very interested in his job. She liked it because without the machines, the working industry stops and no-one gets to eat.

     He laughed about it, “ I work in a canning factory! It’s not glorious. You make it sound like I’m saving the world! “

     She said, very seriously, “ You are. “

     He contemplated it and considered she may be right and he told her briefly about being a pilot but shucked it off as unimportant.

     Then came the night at The Red Umbrella when he told George he was in love and George told everybody and outside it started to rain again and Ric had to get out of there. 

     Sora stopped catching the transport and he wondered why and wanted to go to her house but he knew she really would never speak to him again if he did that.

     Three weeks passed and life went on without her and one evening at the bar George sat down with him and bought him a drink, and said, “ I’m sorry I laughed at you. About that girl you were seein’, you know? Oh, sorry, I meant woman. You haven’t seen her lately, though, have you? “

     “ No, Ric said. “ Nowhere in sight. “

     “ Yeah, well, I have somethin’ to tell you. I don’t want you to get mad at me for tellin’ you this, but she’s married, Ric. “

     “ What? Don’t be silly! “

     “ You said yourself you don’t go over there and she won’t let you have her number. I saw it with my own eyes, brother man. She was walkin’ with her arm around him. He’s an older guy than us. Rich lookin’ guy, too. He was shieldin’ her from the rain with an umbrella. She was happy. “

     Ric threw his drink back and said, “ I don’t believe you. I’ve never seen her wearing any rings, especially not a wedding ring. Not once. Not even on the night I met her. “

     He flicked the drink George bought him and left the bar quickly. 

     Outside it was raining again and he swore at it and walked the two hours home in the downpour. He had some thinking to do.

     It took a few days for him to come to terms with it and one morning Sora got on the transport and sat beside him. She was happy to see him.

     “ Hello, “ she said. “ Have you missed me? I’ve missed you. I’ve been very busy. I’m sorry. “

     He didn’t see a wedding ring on her finger, but he couldn’t help himself, and asked, “ Where’s your wedding ring? “

     “ What? What do you mean? Why aren’t you happy to see me? “

     “ You’re married, aren’t you? “

     “ Who told you that nonsense? “

     Sora pressed the exit button and the transport stopped suddenly. She grabbed Ric by his arm, saying, “ You come with me now. “

     As the transport left she was furious, “ Who told you I was married? It’s untrue! “ 

     “ My friend saw you with your husband. “

     “ My husband? I’ve never been in love before until I met you! You’re stupid! “

     “ My friend saw you with your husband. You had your arm around him and you were happy. “

     “ That doesn’t make sense! I don’t know any old men except my father! “

     Ric was puzzled, “ Your father? “

     “ Yes! That’s who I live with! He’s very strict and has been unwell. I would have told you if I could but I didn’t want you to have my contact because I didn’t want to be bothered while I was at home caring for him. My mother died twelve years ago and he has no-one else. I’m sorry I kept things from you but I didn’t know if I would like you or not and I am in love with you. You make a smile and you make me laugh and you’re gentle and you open doors and seat me at tables. Of course I love you. “

     There were no tears in her eyes, her lip didn’t quiver, and a piece of her fringe hung over her eye. He gently moved it out of the way.

     “ So you love me? “ he quizzed. 

     She shoved him playfully, “ Yes! You’re so stupid sometimes! You never think anything you do is good enough.  I know you were a pilot. I know you’ve forgotten about it, but I won’t do that to you. I’ve thought of you every day. You’re a good man. “

     He put his hand on her arm and it took a few moments before they hugged each other and he said, “ I’ve missed you and I love you, too. Can I introduce myself to your father? It’ll be okay. “

     She was quiet for a moment, then thoughtfully said, “ Yes. It’s about time. “ 

     Overhead the traffic was shadowed against sunlight.

     It wasn’t raining that day.


L Christopher Hennessy lives in Coffs Harbour NSW, Australia. His poetry and stories have been published worldwide. He lives quietly and should probably have a cat.


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