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It was the most exclusive place on the entire planet. A haven of pure decadence and unparalleled luxury, with a waiting list so long that most people had long gone grey with age before they got a table.

It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Alfred smiled at his wife across the table. Jennifer’s eyes were sparkling with awe as the waiter set out the fine china in front of them.

“Would you like me to pour, madam?”

It was a traditional question. There were some guests who, through political influence or sheer wealth, were familiar enough with the process to serve themselves and who preferred to do so, but most people left it to the waiters.

“Yes, please,” she said breathlessly.

They both watched as the waiter poured a small amount of milk into the teacups.

“Real milk, madam,” the waiter said. “Fresh and pasteurised.”

“Real – you mean from a cow?”

He smiled. “Precisely, madam. We have a small herd of dairy cows raised specifically to provide milk for our customers.”

She swallowed and smiled nervously at Alfred. He smiled back. Neither of them had tasted real milk before, or seen a cow in anything other than pictures.

The waiter put down the milk jug and lifted the teapot. With one hand on the lid, he poured the tea expertly. Jennifer held her breath as she watched the hot brown liquid flow out of the spout into her cup.

“The tea is made with pure water,” the waiter said. “It is an ancient blend, grown and processed in the traditional manner as perfected back on Earth.”

He stirred each cup with a flourish, and bowed to each of them.

“Enjoy your tea, madam, sir.”

Alfred waited for Jennifer to lift her cup, but instead she stared at it, then up at him.

“How many water tokens did you save for this?”

He shrugged, trying to look carefree. He didn’t want to spoil it by telling her that he had used so many that he would have to take sand showers for the next couple of years.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Go on, drink it.”

She glanced around at the other drinkers to see how they held their cups, then lifted her cup of tea gently to her lips and took a sip.

“Oh Alfred,” she said, “It’s wonderful!”

He raised his cup towards her. “Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”

© Kari Fay

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