Like the Prose: Challenge #17 – Begin your story with the first line of a famous novel or short story. (I used the first line of The Awakening, by Kate Chopin).
A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: “Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”
It was rare to see an old Earth animal in a place like this, rarer still to encounter one that spoke French – and obscure French at that – but I chose not to heed its advice to ‘go away.’ Instead, I reached for the bright new keypad set into the peeling blue paint of the ancient door and entered the code I’d been provided.
For several seconds I was convinced the code was a dud, that the door would remain shut, but finally there was a deep thud from within, followed by a series of clicks and whirrs and then it swung open.
Inside, I found a lively café. The scents of coffee, spices and just a hint of smoke from clove cigarettes perfumed the room and the buzz of conversation was at the perfect level for anything from a discrete affair or clandestine business – loud enough to dissuade eavesdroppers but not so loud that a quiet conversation was impossible.
Scanning the room, I found an empty table against a wall with a view of the door. Claiming it, I sat down and perused the menu. Basic Terran bistro fare mixed with more exotic offerings including pub food from about seven of the non-aligned worlds. Impressive. A server came to take my order. “Just espresso for now,” I said. “I’m waiting for someone.”
I knew I should eat, but I also knew that if I waited for my… appointment… to arrive, there was a good chance the bill would come out of his credit account rather than mine.
I was halfway through my second cup when he sat down opposite me with no greeting whatsoever.
“You’re late,” I observed.
“You were early.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You’re always early.”
I bristled as much because he was right as because he knew me well enough to point it out. Unsurprising, really. He’d been my handler for half a decade longer than he’d been my lover, and another two years since we’d ended that aspect of our association. I pasted a fake smile on my face. “Are we eating?”
We called the server back over. He ordered a burger, fries, a beer. Earth food. I chose a baked fish dish from Pacifica and replaced my espresso with a glass of firefruit cider from an obscure planet I didn’t think anyone else had ever been to.
As was our habit, we didn’t talk business until we had our food, and then it was conducted between bites.
“The gunrunners out of Aldebaran?” he asked.
“Hancho Alliance is behind it,” I said. “Authorities nabbed them this morning, local time, and you’ll find that Orzo wired payment to your account.”
“The arranged marriage between…”
“The princess from Betelgeuse and the prince from Hattaras Six? They’ve agreed to move forward for the good of their planets. The trade agreement that was part of the marriage contract was crucial in order to maintain peace in the space lanes.”
“Doesn’t it bug you the way we talk about space lanes as if they’re narrow corridors we have to stick to instead of huge expanses of vast nothingness?” He often diverged into philosophic questions.
“It does,” I agreed. “But language isn’t mine to change.”
We went over several more cases I’d handled for him, and then I reached into my pocked and handed over a data solid.
“My final expense report. My notes on everything else. There are one or two long-term projects that haven’t been resolved. You’ll need a new field agent.”
I saw his eyes, his face, change as they registered what I was really telling him.
“Sasha – no.”
“Martigan – ” I matched his tone. “- yes.”
“Because it’s time. Because the ‘negotiation’ between the Betelgeusians and Hattarians nearly got me killed. Again. Because…”
“Because you met someone.”
“Who is he? Jonas? Noah? Benjaril?”
I shook my head. “No one you know. No one in the business. He’s… normal.”
I smirked. “As much as any of us are, these days.” Pure humans didn’t really exist anymore. All the species of humanoid had been intermixing for centuries.
“You won’t be able to stay out of it,” he said. “Normal life… it’ll kill you. You’re built for adventure and intrigue, Sasha.”
I was silent for a long moment. In a slow voice I suggested, “Maybe… adventure and intrigue are what you make them. Maybe… learning to be in once place and discovering all the secrets of one person… maybe that’s its own form.” I pushed away my plate, drained my glass, wiped the corners of my mouth with my napkin. “I should go,” I said, rising.
“No, Martigan. It’s time.”
He met my eyes and held my gaze with his for several seconds. Then he nodded. “Okay. Yeah. Okay.” He took a beat, and then favored me with the insouciant grin that had made me fall for him in the first place. “I’ll be seeing you.”
I kissed his cheek. “No, you won’t.”
The voices of the other patrons drowned out the clicking of my heels on the floor of the café as I walked out the way I’d come in. I felt Martigan watching me, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of looking back.
The parrot in the cage squawked at me as I passed it and repeated its earlier admonition: “Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”
But the words didn’t ward me away so much as remind me of a song I once heard in an ancient film, and I sang it to myself as I headed toward the transport station that would take me to the man I was going to build a new – normal – life with:
“Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, monsieur
Allez-vous-en, go away
Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, monsieur
I have no time for you today.”
“Allez-vous En” was written by Kate & Anna McGarrigle.