SEE YOU AGAIN by Hana Ageha
Translated by Toshiya Kamei
“See you, Mommy!” Nao waved Emi a frantic goodbye.
Emi crawled into a cab, rolled down the window, and forced an awkward smile.
“See you, sweetie ...” Her voice trailed off.
Kazuki picked Emi up in his arms and gave his wife a silent nod. A slight smile formed on his lips before her cab drove away.
“The Morgana, can you read me?” A female voice cracked over the comm. “This is the Terra Space Gate. Your ship will be transferred to an earthbound sequence shortly.”
Emi pressed glittering buttons on the control panel and leaned back against the cockpit seat.
Fifteen years had passed since she left Earth. Thanks to the advent of the spaceport in Earth’s orbit, she now had nothing much to do before landing. Outside the window, an enormous blue sphere—her home—loomed.
“I’m back at last,” Emi mumbled. When she departed Earth, she left everything behind, her small daughter in Kazuki’s arms. But Nao was never far from Emi’s mind. “She must’ve blossomed into a young woman,” she thought aloud. “I can’t wait to see her again.”
“Welcome home, Emi!” In the distance Kazuki waved and briskly walked toward Emi across a deserted lobby.
Kazuki tilted his head, puzzled, and narrowed his eyes. He kneeled on the floor and wrapped his long arms around Emi.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she whispered.
“What made you think that?”
Kazuki’s full head of hair, neatly parted, had turned partially grey. He wore a dark blue suit of good quality and polished, shiny shoes.
“You look great,” Emi said, relieved, as he moved away. “And everything seems peachy.”
“Nao.” Kazuki turned to a young girl standing behind him.
Emi’s heart pounded against her chest. Here she is. I’ve gotta say something. But what should I tell her?
“Why do you look like that? You look so ridiculous.” Nao opened her mouth before Emi did.
“Excuse me?” Emi swallowed her saliva. Nao’s unexpected words startled Emi.
In order to endure long-term space flight, Emi had forsaken her human body. Now she was encased in an artificial one. She stood less than one metre high because of the weight restrictions on her spaceship.
“Gee, you look worse than some ancient alien,” Nao spat out. “Pathetic. Yuck.”
“Hey, Nao!” Kazuki raised his voice. “That’s not how you talk to your own mother! Say hello to her.”
“See you later, Dad. I’ve got friends waiting for me.”
After Nao was gone, Kazuki stood, wearing a perplexed smile.
Nao behaves as if I were some stranger! My own daughter!
“I didn’t think you’d pick me up,” she mumbled as they headed toward the centre of Tokyo.
“Why not, Emi?” he asked. “I checked the Aerospace Bureau and followed your spaceship,” he said with pride in his voice.
“Why haven’t you found someone else?” Emi cast her gaze down. “Don’t you think Nao needs a mother?”
As she glanced at him sideways, he looked easy-going as ever, as if about to burst into song. The tiny crow’s feet formed at the corner of his smiling eyes.
“It’s your fault, Emi,” Kazuki said with a feigned annoyance, his eyes smiling. “You’ve ruined dating for me. Other women pale in comparison.”
Emi remained silent, at a loss for words.
Years ago, Emi had been in need of a corporate sponsor for her own deep-space exploration project. She had visited Morgana Inc., a leader in the aerospace industry. Emi’s enthusiasm won over Kazuki, the future head of the company and a scion of the founding family. She also won his heart.
Emi stared at her hands in her lap.
“Look at me.” She sighed.
“An android space explorer sounds cool.” Kazuki winked. “But Nao didn’t think so.” He chuckled.
“That’s not funny.” Emi pretended to pout. “Don’t wait for me next time, Kazuki. I’m serious. You’ll be an old man by the time I come back.”
“Sure. Be sure to stay in touch more frequently.” Kazuki frowned. “You’ve got me worried. Oh, I want you to take our superluminal communication device with you. It’s a prototype. We can now communicate without a time log. Isn’t that something?”
Emi gazed at him, her mouth agape. He reminded her why she had fallen for him in the first place and why she had left for space, leaving their daughter with him. She sank into the oversized seat.
“We should’ve gotten you a baby seat,” he said, looking worried. Emi glared at him.
A surge of nostalgia washed over her as Emi stepped into her house. To her surprise, nothing had changed since the day she left. Except for the housekeeping AI’s name.
“We now call it ‘Mom’,” Kazuki said, looking uncomfortable.
“Have I been replaced by the AI?”
“I’m starving!” Nao said as she came inside. “Mom, what are we having for dinner?”
“Me?” Emi stood up.
“No... I didn’t mean you. I’ll change in my room.”
“Okay, honey!” Kazuki said, beaming. “See you in a bit!” When he met Emi’s frozen gaze, his face turned serious.
“You can’t really blame Nao, can you?” Kazuki said. “She missed her mother.”
“I know. I’m glad the AI has helped her ease her loneliness.”
Despite her words, she felt despondent and fell silent. Dishes filled the dinner table. Kazuki cheerfully talked to fill the distance between him and Emi.
Nao took a seat, and the dinner began. Emi had nothing to do as she needed no food.
She’s all grown up. What can I tell her? I want her to know about what I do, at least. She opted to talk about planets she had explored. “Jupiter is a breath-taking sight. I wish you could see it up close.”
After an hour, Nao breathed an audible sigh, and a faraway look filled her eyes. Emi realized she had gotten carried away.
“You’re passionate as ever,” Kazuki said. “Just like when we met.” He looked at her with admiration in his eyes.
Nao got up. “Excuse me,” she said, smothering a yawn. “I’m going to bed. Tomorrow’s a school day.”
“I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” Emi said after Nao was out of sight. “I’ve just blabbered for an hour. After all these years—”
“She’s not used to having you around,” Kazuki mumbled. “Give her time.”
The following morning, Emi got up earlier than anyone else and walked into the kitchen.
“Mom,” Emi said to the AI.
No reply came. She reached her hand to turn the AI off.
“H-Kai, make Dad breakfast,” Nao said as soon as she came into the kitchen. “Just for him.”
“I changed it back,” Nao told Emi. “Because it was confusing.”
Without even looking toward Emi, she headed toward the genkan. Emi followed her.
“You love space so much, don’t you?” Nao said. “You named the AI after the double cluster h+χ.”
H-Kai stood for “housekeeping AI.” But it was also an astronomical reference. Emi had never told Kazuki the name had a double meaning. But Nao deduced it on her own.
“I’ve gotta go.” Nao shut the door against Emi.
The next exploration had been scheduled. Soon Emi would get ready for another take-off. There was not much time left for the three of them to reconnect. Kazuki was away on a business trip. Nao had stayed up late the night before and was still asleep. Emi reluctantly packed her belongings.
While waiting for her cab, she stared out the window, wondering what purpose her short visit had served. Perhaps she had merely confused Kazuki and Nao. Kazuki wanted Nao to join him in the family business and eventually take over the reins of the company when his time to retire came. Nao wasn’t sure. Even so, Emi wasn’t able to offer her any advice.
Her cab arrived, breaking her reverie.
“Are you leaving now?”
“Nao. It’s too early.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll go back to bed afterward.”
Nao grabbed Emi’s bags and headed toward the genkan. Emi felt the urge to talk to Nao. Now was her only chance.
“Is there something you want to tell me? About your future, for instance?”
“Did you remember when I was little? I waved you goodbye, screaming ‘See you!’”
Emi nodded, looking at Nao in the eye.
“I used to think you would fall from the sky to visit us every fifteen years.” She looked as if she was going to laugh and cry.
“I know. It was hard for me, too.”
“I don’t want to be like you, Mom. Leaving everyone who cares about you.”
“Will you join your father in the family business?”
“That’s not bad. But I may do something else.”
Nao raised her hand in silence.
Emi spent her last day with Kazuki at home. Nao was absent.
Time crawled. What if I had met him earlier? What if I had met him somewhere else? In a parallel universe, I might have spent my life next to Kazuki.
She would come back in another fifteen years.
“Won’t you feel lonely when Nao leaves home?”
“No,” he said with a smile. “As long as you write to me every day.”
“I’m on your side, Emi. I’ll wait for you.”
The clock on the wall told him it was time.
“I’ve gotta go.” Emi stood. “I didn’t see Nao today. Oh well.”
“Let me drive you.”
“Maybe this seat will come in handy when Nao has a baby.” Emi crawled inside, and the car rolled out from the garage and onto the driveway.
“Mom! Wait up!” Nao cried and ran toward the car. “I’ve made up my mind,” Nao said, out of breath. She placed her hand to the window.
“Mom, I want to be a scientist.”
“When you come back, I want to help you become human again.”
Kazuki beamed a radiant smile and nodded.
“When you get tired of exploring space, you should come home and relax with Dad. Poor him. He could use some company in his old age. Right, Dad?”
The words stuck in Emi’s throat, and she reached toward Nao’s cheek. They clasped each other’s hands.
“We’ll wait for you, Mom. See you!”
“Okay. See you!” As they drove away, Emi waved her goodbye and gazed toward the sky above.