Otherworldly Pride and Prejudice

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Meredith has just torched the last of her bridges and now she's run out of second chances.

In a last bid to salvage her dignity from a tyranical father, she strikes out for another world--the world she left behind in her school days. It's only a stop gap plan to help her gather her strength and start over again.

But when Meredith left Lanfure, she left behind a man who has made a terrible mark in his world, and unknown to Meredith, she played a role in that terror. For years, he's been waiting for her return....

Masses of migrant workers squatted above the ashy, spittle-smattered pavement around  the Tri-Sect Transit Station, while commuters toed brazenly between them in squeaky, leather imports, hurrying to trains. I heaved my luggage up the deep, stone steps, then scanned the lower level of the station. 

Passengers hurried across the broad, marble corridors toward their  platforms, and very few onlookers stood back from the fray, loitering along the walls. Maybe I would board my train without ever meeting him. 

Needless worrying, he soon appeared out of a cloud of commuters, apparently recognizing me in spite of my recent, boyishly short haircut. So we were each surprised at the other’s appearance. On every other occasion, he had worn formless blue cotton fatigues—functional in the Lanfurian heat, but totally sexless. By his own account, he wasn’t supposed to wear civilian clothing. 

He wasn’t supposed to fraternize with aliens either, so obviously, he could make exceptions.

At six foot three inches, Solen Fromn made an imposing sight dressed in a fitted sleeveless shirt and designer denim. I had my doubts about his fashion, but no one could deny its facility for exposing his well sculpted musculature. With a flush of realization, I recognized I was responsible for this transformation, and it was a transformation. Dressed in his military uniform, he’d looked so much younger, scarcely as old as my scant twenty years. 

At first, he reproached me, though good-naturedly, for chopping my long hair, and let me know in no uncertain terms how he felt about females and hair length. I had rather fixed opinions about men in sleeveless denim, but I didn’t want to reform him, I wanted to see him in my rearview mirror. 

He made a gallant move for my bag and I surrendered it gladly as he chatted, giving no indication of ever having been the least bit ill—a condition, he had argued, brought on by my doubts about him. To be clear, they were not doubts; I was absolutely, positively not getting involved with a member of the Lanfurian military. I was not. I was not. I was not. 

“But you were involved, Ms. Shaw.” Ed, my interviewer, interrupted my narrative, though I had no illusions that Ed was his real name. We were sitting in a tiny vault within the H Wing of the Central Agency for Westavia World Security. Ed leaned back heavily in his government issued chair, his tortoise shell glasses in one hand, a faint smile in his wizened eyes. 

I sniffed. “He would have said we were, but I never agreed. I only ever met him because my roommate brought him home on a Sunday afternoon. Where was I supposed to go?” 

“Was she Lanfurian?” 

Lanfure and Westavian governed Earth shared no normalized diplomatic relations. Ergo, I had to catalogue all my ongoing Lanfurian acquaintances before I could qualify for a top secret security clearance. My acquaintance with the soldier wasn’t ongoing, but Ed was a thorough interviewer. He kept me talking until the story came out. 

“Cathian—South, obviously. I couldn’t share a dormitory with a national. It was strictly against the rules—their rules.” 

“Let’s get back to Solen Fromn at the transit station.” 

I breathed.There wasn’t much to it. The train whistled for boarding, and I thought, what a relief. But then he followed me onto the platform. With a flash of his military ID, they gave him instant passage.” 

“Perks of the trade.” Ed winked. 

“Exactly.” 

“He followed me aboard my car, and down to my berth. The next thing I knew, he’d taken up a conversation with another passenger. The passenger's eyes traveled from him to me and back again. He answered all kinds of questions personal to me. I didn’t like that, but I couldn’t argue. Instead—and this was so provoking—he draped one of his exquisite naked arms around my shoulder and completed the picture of the bourgeoisie, Westavia born expansionist flaunting her Lanfurian lover.” 

“Sounds awkward.” Ed grinned, unrepressed. 

“I knew what everyone was thinking, but it absolutely wasn’t true.” 

Ed’s grin widened. “Let’s give him full credit for trying.” 

“He’d written his family address in neat calligraphy on a small square of paper. I took it and folded it into my wallet. Then he made me promise to contact him, and so help me, I did promise—but it was a lie. By that time, passengers were filling the cars and we’d attracted a few stares, then a small crowd. He’d asked for the chance to say goodbye not to reason with me, and the audience ensured I didn’t try.” 

“For a moment, I thought he was going to lean in and lay one on me, right in the middle of that crowd of people, but he didn’t, and we’ll call that a mercy, though what he actually did was far weirder. ‘A spider,’ he said, was dangling from my hair, and he reached out to grab it. I winced. Something had stabbed my ear. And I thought it was the spider, which he had crushed in his hand. My ear didn’t bleed. It only tingled.”

“He returned to the platform only just before the train started moving, but planted himself outside my window, smiling through the glass. Then the train began to whine and slowly gather speed, and he changed. Up until then, it was as if he’d been playing a role, but no longer. His gaze held mine and the expression on his face slew me.” 

Ed paused, then asked, “Why?” 

“It was as if he were afraid for his life.” 

“Hm. And you never saw him again?” 

“Never. I couldn’t write to him. I’m not that person—it was all too…too…forbidden. Anyway, I left, and then we were worlds apart.” 

Ed nodded. “Take me back to your first meeting. How did that go?” 

I shrugged. “It was odd. I came home—from church, actually. (All Westavia and Earth born expats. Nothing to report there.) I opened the dorm room, and there sitting on the bed was this strapping, handsome Lanfurian soldier. My roommate was sitting at her desk, obviously enthralled with every word he spoke, while she probably understood less than half of it. And after traipsing across the city, I was too tired to go out again, so I stayed.” 

“What did you talk about?” 

“He talked a lot about the ‘peace loving Lanfurian Military.’”

Ed choked. “Peace loving? Of course, so long as you don’t express an adverse opinion.” 

“He meant they weren’t expansionist.” 

“Westavia isn’t expansionist.” 

“Ahem,” I cleared my throat. “Earth wasn’t expansionist?” 

“It was scarcely inhabited—and harshly abused. We saved this planet. Besides, that was mostly a private venture.” 

“I remember he talked a lot about military rules—like how he was breaking every one of them just being there in the room with us. I mean, nothing happened, but he was so far out of bounds, it gave meheart palpitations.” 

Ed gave a cynical grunt. “You didn’t notice a wire.” 

“I—no. He wasn’t wearing a wire.” 

“It may have been well hidden.” 

“Why would he—?” I flinched. “You think he was planted?” 

Ed shrugged. “It’s happened before. Did he give you any gifts?” 

I hesitated. “I refused it, but it was just a volume of Lanfurian literature. Nothing very personal.” Not exactly true, but I wasn’t going to get into that. 

“Did he talk about his salary?” 

“Yes.” 

“What did the book cost in relation to his monthly salary?” 

I sighed hard. “It was more than he made in a month. That gutted me. He was impoverished.” 

“Relax. He probably didn’t pay a dime for it. Did he buy you anything else?” 

“Dinner. It was nothing. A little street vendor.”

Ed leaned forward in his seat. “Were you ever…intimate?” 

The blood rushed to my face. “No.” 

“I can’t simply make assumptions about your relationship because it was brief—not in this business. Did he want to be?” 

“He claimed to be in love.” 

“But you weren’t.” 

“It was fraught, right? A member of the military, no less. He could have been arrested—I could have been arrested. He was big trouble.” 

Ed agreed. “But he didn’t seem to be worried about trouble.” 

I sighed. “Only intermittently.” 

“He spoke no English?” 

“A bad student. His own words.” 

“Which ear?” 

“What?” 

Which ear did the spider bite?” 

“Oh.” My hand flew unconsciously to my right ear. “It still tingles sometimes.” 

Ed gave me a wry smile full of unspoken innuendo. “I’ll bet it does.” He pulled a device from a black briefcase resting beside the table. The device was a little black box with a faint blue light. I’d never seen a commercial equivalent. He waved it by my right ear and the blue light turned red. 

“What is that?” 

“You’re wearing a tiny electronic device. A beacon, probably.” 

“A what?” 

“A chip. A tiny tracker. I’ve no idea how powerful, but it’s still functional.”

“You mean he planted that thing on me?” 

“He played you, and if I may say so, very smoothly.” 

Tension gripped my stomach and wave of nausea hit. “He played me?” 

“Relax. It could have gone much worse. Have you been back to Lanfure?” 

“Not to the Tri-sect.” 

“Just as well. I doubt you’d have met him again, but there would have been someone else.” 

“He conned me.” 

“Don’t take it personally. In this business, it happens. You can’t let it get to you.” Ed smiled, not an amused smile—a hardened, cynical smile. 

I blinked. “Can you remove the beacon?” 

“Yes.” 

“Do it now.” 

“We’ll get a doctor to do it.”

“No.” I ripped at my ear. “Do it now!” I tore at the tingling flesh with my fingernails, opening the skin. Blood spilled down my neck, staining the white collar of my shirt. 

Ed’s eyes widened to the whites as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. “It’s bleeding! Wait for a medic, at least.” 

I batted Ed’s handkerchief away. “I’d had my doubts, but part of me—damnit—believed what he said to me.”

Ed pressed his fingers into the table. “You were a student of Lanfurian language—which is rare enough among Westavian citizens. He knew we would need your skills in government and he was hoping to recruit you to his side, that’s all. He was right. At this moment, you’re in the exact position to benefit Lanfurian military intelligence. It’s why we do these interviews. We have to make sure you aren’t working for a hostile power.” 

“I thought I had a good sense of people.”

“You said it yourself. He was impoverished. He was doing his job. What would you do?” 

I dropped my voice. “I should really think about what I would do before we go any further.” Blood trickled down my neck. I ignored it. 

“We all play the game. You’ll be playing it, too.” 

I choked out a laugh, then slung my handbag over one shoulder. 

“Where are you going?” 

“I’m done.” 

“You walk away now and the process is over. You’ll never get a job at this agency. You’re a promising candidate. Don’t throw it away.”

I stopped and half turned back to Ed, who stood behind the interview table, glasses pulled from his face and his thinning hair ruffled. “I have my fair share of cynicism, but I didn’t have enough, did I Ed?” 

Ed shook his head. 

“If I take this job, I’ll never live. I’ll never know who is just playing the game, and who is sincere. I’ll operate inside the rule book with trap doors and Potemkin facades and houses of ginger bread. And the game will program my every thought. I’ll suspect everyone all the time, won’t I?” 

“Better than becoming a victim of lies.” 

“Yes, better. But not enough.” 

“What then?” Ed said. “What’s left?”

I wanted to think I knew the answer, but I didn’t really, and I stammered out, “I—I can be honest with myself, at least. This isn’t for me, Ed.” 

I let the door of the vault slam, but I could still hear Ed’s muffled voice calling after me, “You’ve got to get that chip removed properly! You have no idea what kind of trouble it may cause.” 

 


Submitted: November 07, 2020

© Copyright 2020 T. Cook. All rights reserved.

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