“You’re late, Hansa,” called out one of the wags as I shrugged my way out of my coat. I glared over at him as I dropped the heavy, rain-sodden cover down on my chair, but he just shrugged.
“No respect,” I sighed, as the bartender brought my usual poison over to my spot on the bar. I scooped up the heavy tumbler of amber liquid. “And here I am, drinking. You know what I hate, Edo?”
Edo paused in his actions, left hand tucked inside a grimy cloth, formerly clean glass in his right. “What’s that, Hansa?”
“Liquid.” I pulled my lips back, looking down at my glass. “Fuckin’ liquid, everywhere. Rain outside, never stops. How long’s it been since we last had a sunny day? Eh? It’s permanent, now. Trying to wash us away.”
“The weather-casters say-” began one of the other grizzled men at the bar, but I scowled at him with such ferocity that he shut his mouth mid-sentence.
“The weather-casters ought to stand outside for a few hours, drown in it,” I grumbled. “Whole thing’s just a pile of corruption, the pilings getting washed away.” I dropped my drink back on the bar, pushed it away untouched. “Only problem with a flood, like in that old book, is that it’s coming too slow.”
Edo sidled back over towards me, his eyes not quite meeting mine. “Hansa, you’re a friend,” he murmured, still polishing that damn glass. “So as a friend, I’m telling you to keep your voice down. You don’t know who’s listening.”
“Don’t give a damn,” I grumbled.
“Well, you should. Saw a couple Peacekeepers glancing in here earlier. They might have a couple Ears in this place.” Now that he’d sufficiently dirtied the glass, he set it down amid its fellows. Turning towards me, he planted both hands on the bar. “What’s got you in this mood, anyway?”
I opened my mouth, intending to tell him that it was the system, the whole corruption eating away at me – but that wasn’t what came out.
“The woman,” I said.
Edo’s eyebrows crawled higher on his bald, polished dome. “A woman? You surprise me, Hansa.”
“Not mine,” I sighed. The words had come bubbling up from nowhere, but I felt them continuing, spilling out like a roof leak I couldn’t seal. “Outside, on the way here. Passed her, and she turned and looked back at me.”
How could I explain it to him? Edo was a good guy, a friend, but he knew his place. Everyone did, these days. We all moved through the rain, kept our heads down, shivered under our wet coats, did our jobs, nodded off in the constant gloom. No one talked about a future, not even a bleak one. Not these days, not since the cloudbursts opened. The holos still insisted that we were fortunate, but no one even bothered to listen to them any longer.
We all knew our places. The weather-casters tried to keep the rain from washing us away, the Precogs identified criminal and subversive elements, Peacekeepers listened through their Eyes and Ears and took away anyone who might raise their voice.
No one did, any longer. No point in it. No one even looked at each other, not really.
But she had. She’d looked at me, and deep inside my scarred, dead heart, I felt something stir.
I opened my mouth again, looking back up at Edo – but no words came. I saw her face again, burned into my mind. Lit beneath her sedge hat, lined with a glowstrip, her features were worn, but alive. Somehow, they possessed a vitality of their own, something that I couldn’t put into words.
I pushed the stool back, rose up to my feet. Edo’s frown deepened. “Hansa, where are you going?” he asked, his eyes darting down to my untouched drink in front of me.
I didn’t have an answer for him. Hell, I didn’t have an answer for myself. I didn’t know anything about her, and with my luck, the Precogs would catch my deviation. Old Hansa, already slipping at twenty-seven, not sticking around to nurse his normal tumbler of drink. It would look suspicious.
But now, I didn’t care any longer.
“Out,” I answered Edo shortly, pulling my coat over my shoulders. Still damp from the rain, but I could handle damp. I didn’t yet have the mold sinking its tendrils into my skin, didn’t need to worry so much about keeping the excess water off. “I’ll see you, Edo.”
He sighed, but he was a good friend. “I hope so, Hansa,” he answered softly. “Stay dry.”
“Stay dry,” I replied, and left the bar. Out into the eternal rain, out to find her.
And, for the first time in a long time, I thought about my future, where the endless paths through the rain might lead me.