It was Tuesday when Sean first saw her leaning on the banister along the lip of the balcony overlooking the streets of the city. He stood silently, for minutes perhaps, surprised at the sight of her. He had not seen anyone, especially a woman so beautiful, lingering on the balcony for some time. Her gaze was pensive, lost in the mist that blanketed the city below. Sean scanned the area for prying eyes before he made his move. He did not want to upset the management and get himself booted from the premises, as was the typical response. But he quickly realized that they were alone out here.
He adjusted his tie, squared his shoulders and made his way through the rows of empty tables, trying to look nonchalant as he took a place a few yards from her. There, he set his gaze on the slow turbulence of the fog that hung on the towers of commerce dominating the skyline above an uncharacteristically quiet Rouge City, and pretended to be enjoying the view for a minute before he chanced a glance in her direction.
She was beautiful, chin held high and regal, the Nubian curves of her face framed by a mane of great black curls; her flesh a deep golden-brown that glowed in the sunlight; her body, graceful and strong under the blood-red satin of her gown.
She did not return his gaze.
"Some view, eh?" he said after a quick consideration.
There was a moment of silence before she responded, a perfectly timed beat wherein all space/time seemed to coalesce around the eyes that she set on him; pearls of amber that seemed to look right through him.
"Yes, it is" she said. A simple agreement, nothing more. Then she turned away.
Sean stood quietly for minutes, doing his best to calculate the depth of her response and what his next move should be. He became absorbed in the stillness of the morning as he considered his options. Then he turned to face her.
"I've heard that this is one of the best dining establishments in the city," he laughed, "But you really couldn't tell by looking, eh?" She did not respond. Sean donned an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, for being so forward" he said, "But it's rare to see someone so beautiful alone out here." He reached out cautiously. "My name is…"
"You'll have to excuse me," she interrupted, quickly, and set all the intensity of her gaze on him. "I'm waiting for someone," she explained, unapologetically, before she gathered and turned, moving away to stand at the corner of the balcony where she was silhouetted against the silver haze in the distance.
There was no need to calculate the severity of this response. Sean waved as he made his way back into the restaurant, hoping to catch her eye. But she did not seem to notice his departure.
He caught an elevator to the lobby and strode out into the stark glare of the morning sun, scanning the street for customers as the last of the night lights flicked off, allowing the life sustaining rays of the sun to illuminate the streets.
After a time he sat on a bench, waiting patiently for the plaza to come alive with throngs of pleasure seeking Orga.
That evening he saw her again, standing right where he'd left her, alone and lost in her thoughts, watching the night-lights of Rouge break through the gathering gloom. He recalled their last encounter and reconsidered his approach; undid his tie, strategically mussed his hair, and strolled lazily towards her. He took a place a diplomatic few yards away and glanced over the edge of the balcony.
"Some view, eh?" Sean said as the city lights sparked on, shooting multicolored beams up at them from various points below. The music in the plaza erupted into life suddenly, thumping primal rhythms that echoed against the glowing towers of Rouge and made their way up into the looming night. The sounds of laughter and merriment rode on that sound.
"Yes, it is, she said in agreement.
"You get used to it when you've been here long enough." he replied with a casual laugh. "I'm Sean," he explained quickly, stepping closer to offer his hand before she had a chance to walk away, again. But she surprised him by grasping it easily, as if she'd been awaiting this inevitable development.
"Hello, Sean," she responded. "Pleased to meet you." She said, cautiously, and went back to examining the spectacle of the night awakening.
"You're new around here, I can tell," Sean continued in a tone of genuine curiosity. "I never forget a face, and I know I've not seen one so beautiful as yours. Where are you from?"
"Not around here," she answered without looking at him.
"And where is that?"
She cast a curious look on Sean and then turned to face the empty rows of dining tables behind them. Sean noticed this distraction and followed her gaze to the cluster of tables sitting quiet before the great bay window of the restaurant. Inside was empty as well, as if the flock of nightly diners had made other dining arrangements or sought pleasures in the numerous casino's or Fun Zones along the plaza.
"I'm meeting someone here," she said with an apologetic smile. "But perhaps we can talk some other time?"
Sean acquiesced with a graceful bow. "I understand," he said sincerely. "I usually drop in a couple times a day, so maybe we'll…." But she had already started walking away, waving an arm over her shoulder to signify that she understood. Sean watched her step gracefully to a table where she pulled a chair aside and sat to wait. After a short time he walked slowly towards the exit; glancing over his shoulder to see if whomever she was meeting had arrived.
But she sat alone, staring out on the city, waiting patiently for a date or lover who'd obviously lost track of time.
He rode the elevator down again, wondering why the Zero-G descent chamber, which was usually teeming with laughing Orga floating their way down to the lobby, was so quiet. When he was on the street again, he started his frustrating search for customers, curiously troubled by the fact he could not get the lady in red from his memory.
Voices filled the air around him, advertisements and public services messages blaring in automatic sequence from indiscernible speakers mounted on lamp tops and in the bodies of the various statues that posed lewd suggestions along the walkways.
In time he sat, waiting for a customer to sit beside him. He might not have noticed, however, if one did. He was thinking of her, the girl from not around here.
He saw her again the next morning, Wednesday to be precise, and approached her with a casual smile.
She was even more beautiful; her face an exotic Euro-Asiatic mix, framed by a flowing mane of shimmering back hair; her flesh radiant gold, her body fragile and trim under the violent red of her gown.
"Some view, eh?" Sean said as he took a place close to her. She did not shy away. Indeed she shot him a quick knowing smile, as of she'd fully expected to see him again. Her eyes, an entrancing mix of azure and gold, seemed to chuckle at his new profile.
"Yes it is," she replied.
Sean nodded to acknowledge her acknowledgement and there was more silence as he considered his approach. Finally he stood upright and punched a finger resolutely over the edge of the banister.
"Did you know that it is precisely 755 feet and 7 inches to the street below?" he inquired rhetorically, "and, since the closing of the Spires tower in Los Angeles this restaurant is one of the highest un-submerged eating establishment in the world. Except for a little hut in the Himalayas where unemployed Shirpas gather to eat grubs or freeze dried worms or whatever it is they eat up there."
Her laughter was a little automatic, and a touch too exuberant for his jest, but he was encouraged that she did not ignore him. "It's true," he insisted, donning a look of feigned indignation.
She glanced at him from the corner of her eye and smiled a wry reproach. "I'm sure it is," she said with a laugh.
Sean took a step closer to her "Are you suggesting that I would lie about such a thing?" he asked with a wink.
"Yes," she said, suddenly serious "I believe that is the correct answer," she added, and turned to look, again, on the panorama of Rouge. Sean interpreted this as a gentle rebuff and accepted it gracefully. He propped his elbows on the banister and they were quiet again, watching the mist disperse as the city was revealed in the glow of the morning sun.
"I still don't know your name," Sean said, finally. "And that makes our conversations a little difficult, wouldn't you say?" he whispered as if trying to keep from being overheard by the rows of empty tables.
But she did not respond to this, just donned a curious troubled expression and turned into herself as she had done every time he'd left her sitting alone and forgotten by whomever she was waiting for.
"Waiting for someone," he finished for her and watched as she stepped away, glancing over her shoulder to let him know all was not lost.
He walked for a time, through the city before taking his place in the plaza. Then he sat to wait and think of her.
It was Friday when Sean saw her next, standing, again, in the glow of the rising sun, her dress burning a crimson radiance in the beams of light that broke through the morning clouds.
She was still beautiful; her face of handsome angular Germanic features, framed by a flowing mane of golden blonde hair; her flesh as smooth as cream, her body full and strong under the fraying red satin of her gown. The piercing blue of the eyes she sat on him told him that she remembered him too, though a new look, something like weariness, had begin to work its way into her expression.
He worked his way to the balcony and glanced over the edge. It was quiet and still.
"Some view, eh?" he said, looking away from the strange spectacle below and taking refuge, in her gaze, from the disquieting thoughts to which he could not give voice.
"Yes, it is," she agreed and turned to ponder the quiet city.
Sean calculated a reply and then punched a finger towards the quiet, empty restaurant behind them. "You know, the Gamble' Tower Restaurant feeds over a million customers in a single year? It's one of the busiest sit-in restaurants on the planet, second only to the giant tents in the forest where Outreach groups feed the vagabonds that populate the old ruins."
She didn't laugh at this so he recalibrated her profile and continued.
"Not that I find anything amusing in starving people, mind you, but I think it is an accurate…"
But she stopped him with a sudden cautious glance. Sean read the look in her eyes and understood it. There was nothing he could say, however, to address whatever concern may have generated such an expression.
So he turned and looked out on the city, wondering at the curious inactivity of the place.
"Have you ever thought about flying?" he asked, suddenly not really knowing where the thought came from. She did not respond, only gazed on him with an unguarded look.
"Well," he continued in an explanatory tone, "I only ask because of the many Orga I've seen jumping into the Zero-G chamber, and I've often wondered what pleasure they sought in that. It seems like the same thing they might find at the casinos, where they gamble their credits against the unpredictable element of chance. Or perhaps in the indefinable pleasure they seek to relive with us, where all their being is focused one that one moment of release. Would that be like flying to them?" he asked, somewhat rhetorically. He was about to elaborate but realized that he really couldn't.
The thought thread had run its course.
"I'm afraid I am waiting for someone," she said, quickly, as if to keep him from continuing, "But he hasn't..." but she stopped, as if lost for words, and pressed a finger to her lips in a simulated quizzical expression. Then she turned abruptly and headed for the tables where she sat and said nothing more.
Sean followed her halting steps and watched her for a moment, hoping that he might find out whom she was waiting for. But after a time he left to search for other customers. She was still sitting alone, when he left, gazing curiously at the fluctuating clouds that seemed lost somehow, floundering in the skies above the city.
Sean wasn't sure when he saw her next, or how many days had passed since their last meeting. She was sitting at the table where he'd last seen her; weary now, the grace of her shifting features stunted by the distant expression on her face. Her hands were locked before her, her fingers intertwined, twisting at the worn and dirty red cloth of her gown. Had she been waiting all this time? Or had she gone on with other business and returned to find the place as empty as when she'd left?
Sean moved slowly to the balcony and gazed over the railing, down onto the snow covered streets. Nothing moved but the scraps of paper whipped up and strewn about by shifting currents of air that dispersed as mysteriously as the crowds that had once populated the city.
"Some view, eh?" he said, taking a seat next to her.
"Yes it is," she replied, hesitantly, seemingly distracted by whatever dark thoughts plagued her mind.
"You know, Rouge City is one of the largest tourist attraction in the world, second only to Houston's new Planet Disney and that is only because Rouge doesn't attract as many children, being so unsuited for their patronage. But, strangely…." He stopped then, having no context in which to explain the disturbing lack of customers.
She surprised him, then, by reaching out and cupping his cheek in her hand. She looked at him this way for some time, then slid her gaze over his frame and took his hand in her won. She gazed at it for a moment as he pondered the lost expression in the beautifully shifting features of her face. "You're breaking," she observed aloud, and held his hand before his face, palm up, for him to examine.
She was right. Sean considered the holes in the deteriorating flesh of his hand and decided against looking at his face. It was probably too late to make any changes.
He looked back at her now and he decided to try once more. "Where are you from?" he asked, knowing, somehow, that it didn't really matter anymore. But, still, it would be nice to know.
She gazed at him for longer than it seemed necessary to consider her answer. "I… can't remember," she admitted after some time, "But I am sure it's not around here. I am only waiting for someone here, and not from here - as in to reside in a place; to inhabit or frequent a particular region or locality- response reference loop reset to default - waiting for someone. Perhaps we can talk later."
"Of course, I think I might have passed through there once," Sean replied.
He stood then, and excused himself, to let her wait for whomever it was that had abandoned her. Her face shifted once or twice as he left, but she was still beautiful, sitting alone and forgotten.
Sean sat in the plaza, in his usual place, and kept an eye out for customers. He hadn't seen any for some time, but this task was all he knew. Eventually the music blared to life from what few speakers remained of the sound system, the ones that had not cracked from the cold, and the great towers of the city began to glow again, drawing from the vast reserves of their solar cells. Automated sounds rose from beneath the pumping rhythm of the music, filling the city with simulated voices of merriment and laughter, and the lights burnt all around him, illuminating the low brooding clouds that hung above the automated ruins of Rouge City.
He was really looking forward to seeing her again. Maybe in the morning, if he still had the strength, he would join her at the dust-covered table in an empty restaurant at the end of history.