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Coming of Age Science Fiction Urban Fantasy

Nancy gazed through the porthole at the receding network of runways. That was close. If the MI6 director had failed to win over his French counterpart… Shuddering, she sank back against the headrest.

           “First visit to Paris, Mademoiselle?” Her seatmate’s gaze scarcely intersected with hers as he continued to polish his glasses.

           Not again. All week, the French contingent had patronized her with equally dismissive glances. Or they had, until the Proximian dispatch vaporized his warhead, mere nano seconds after her directive.

           Probably thinks I’m on pilgrimage to the City of Love. She barely managed to contain her snort, but instead paired an engaging smile with her best neophyte voice. “I attended the Eurochocolate festival! In Umbria! Paris was just the layover, so no visit this time.”

           “Just ze layover? How sad, to miss ze big chance of your life.”

           Too busy making sure you’d get to live out yours, bud. Her lips twitched. Stick to the script, Nance. “I’m an amateur chocolatier.”

           “Ahh.” His disdain morphed into pity. “So, you make ze little bonbon, oui?”

           Little bonbons that had saved his life, along with several million others. “I do. From ivory chocolate.”

           “Ivoire?” Shaking his head, he chuckled. “Pity. In France, we like only ze chocolat noir.  

           Trust me, last night you almost got more noir than you could handle. Maybe now, he’d consider her unworthy of his regard. I could use some sleep here!

           “So, is it worthwhile to make ze very long flight for ze very little contest?”

           Hmm, I just thwarted an intergalactic assault. She shrugged. “I like to think so.” Yawning pointedly into her fist, she froze as a familiar thrum vibrated in her cortex. Why not? “Care to try one, M’sieur?” She dangled her last two truffles in front of his nose.

           “No. As I said, I only eat ze— Mon Dieu!!!"

           Trying not to stare at his flaring nostrils, she wondered for the millionth time what such swift arousal felt like. The chocolate had never affected her this way, despite the volume she’d ingested. In the interests of science. But she’d yet to encounter anyone else whose olfactory receptors were immune to the volatile molecules of this particular formula.

           How would he react if denied a taste now? Not that she’d be so cruel. After all these years, she still expected people to do a snatch and grab. Instead, her targets invariably slid into Slow Mo, as though the chocolate exerted some kind of reverse kinetic tractor beam on them. She watched him gingerly place a morsel on his tongue.

           Right on cue, his eyes widened before closing again in delirious, reverent concentration. “C’est magnifique.

           She glanced at her watch and counted off five seconds, during which his murmurs grew more passionate. Now for the kicker. “You’re going to fall sleep for the remainder of the flight.”

           He proceeded to do exactly as she’d suggested. They always did.

           After returning the last truffle to her purse, Nancy slipped in her earbuds. Drained as she was, her recent experience almost guaranteed that she wouldn’t fall asleep for hours. 

           That Proximian had intrigued her more than most tasters. Not even the Mossad team had been able to determine whether an alien metabolism, if there was such a thing, would respond even remotely like that of a human. Yet she’d watched as its gesticulating maw calmed, as the surrounding tentacles undulated like an overly-friendly feline.

           Transfixed, she’d joined the delegates in holding their communal breath. Piece after piece of candy levitated into the alien’s… orifice?

           She’d forced herself to approach. The coalition had given no assurance that the alien would be able to understand her speech. Yet that inner resonance demanded a release, so she’d squeaked out, “Deactivate your weapon.”

           Immediately, cracks spread across the warhead. Before their eyes, the device melted and then vaporized. The German physicist later explained how she’d known it hadn’t merely been cloaked: the same sensor that had initially detected its nuclear capabilities had also registered its abrupt absence.   

           The Proximian executed a rapid series of messages: “Extremely positive response… Request more... Offering permanent alliance.”

           Now that she’d made the coalition a new BFF, she was free to make the ordinary truffles that were her passion. She smirked. As if truffles are ever ordinary. With any luck, she’d enjoy a week or two to herself before their next summons.

           Maybe she’d try that new ganache recipe from Instagram. Sounds heavenly. Long ago, she’d relinquished all thoughts of altering the recipe for the commissioned sweets. So not worth it. The risk of feeding impotent chocolate to a potent thug was too high. Besides, now that she’d been sanctioned by the global intelligence community, why jeopardize that rapport?

           Her throat tightened. If only Aiden shared the coalition’s admiration. Instead, he thought his mom was off chasing some mid-life delusion. ‘Trying to be the next Cadbury’s, are we?’ Double eye roll. He was civil enough, most days. Did his chores. Didn’t skip too many classes. Yet she’d trade this whole save-the-world gig for the connection they’d last enjoyed… When? Two years ago? Three?

           What she wouldn’t give for the freedom to explain. Actually, smart ass, your mom’s been helping the CIA, CSIS, Mossad, MI6, and a dozen others whose acronyms even you don’t know.

           How ironic, after years of Tom joking that she preferred chocolate to flowers, steak dinners, massages, or sex. Especially sex. ‘It’s your aphrodisiac, Nance. Your incentive. I’m lucky we married before your obsession started in earnest.’ 

           Good thing she had been obsessed. What if she hadn’t taken a batch to share with her co-workers that day? Or hadn’t been late taking the deposit to the bank? Or hadn't kept any leftovers in her purse? Worse, what if she’d dismissed that inexplicable prompting? Would I even be alive right now?

           Somewhere over the North Atlantic, she managed to catch a few hours of sleep. Vivid dreams transported her back to the bank, where she’d chatted to the pleasant chap ahead of her. Again, she was surprised to hear herself offer him a sample. His acceptance floored her, but not half so much as seeing the gun tucked in his belt. Despite the sense of déjà vu, she felt astonished by the weird urge to tell him to surrender. You could have knocked her over with a feather when he complied. Half a feather.

           Waking, she savored the memory. Tom had remained skeptical until he’d seen it on the news. ‘What happened, Babe?’

           How to explain? In the weeks following, she’d shrugged it off as the robber having a stroke or a psychotic episode. Good old Tom, unable to let it go, had pursued an explanation. Dissected it with his colleagues at McGill. Arranged the testing for her truffles. Then persevered when the chemical analysis turned up nada.

           She’d only agreed to a re-enactment so he’d drop it. His boss had played the thief. Nancy had felt that same, strange inner resonance distill into a sentient notion: I should give him a truffle. And order him to surrender.

           Everyone had laughed when the head of their department capitulated, dropping his “gun” and raising his hands in the air. He was just playing along, right? Having fun at their expense, right? Never mind that such tomfoolery went against his legendary, no-nonsense grain. Right.

           Then he’d asked, ‘What just happened?’ and they realized a more sobering dynamic was in play.

           They’d subjected Nancy’s recipe to every imaginable test: nothing conclusive. On a whim, she’d overcome her earlier embarrassment to mention her curious compulsion to Tom. Bingo. He’d insisted that this was the missing puzzle piece. If he hadn’t discussed it with a forensic psychiatrist, who’d taken it to his peers, who’d run another gamut of experiments, the incident would have vanished into the miasma of urban legend.

           Instead, people with authority and influence had used those capacities to convince others, with greater authority and influence, that Nancy’s ability had potential. In their circles, it was presented as a beneficial, and therefore tolerated, incidence of synchronicity. When they were alone, Tom lovingly referred to it as ‘Your super power, Babe.’

           Government agencies had worked hard to bury the bank anecdote. Within hours, it became extinct in every enclave of social media. Her usefulness to them was contingent upon her anonymity. Beyond official ranks, nobody besides Tom knew of her role.

           The magnitude of cases requesting her presence had evolved from banking incidents to hostage situations, to anything under Montreal’s jurisdiction that involved armed perps. Soon, other cities requested their help. Nancy erected reasonable boundaries around her availability. Aiden needed her. Tom needed to know she was safe. If the authorities expected her to stop making truffles for her own pleasure, well, they’d better not hold their breath.

           Four years ago, things had gone ballistic. A terrorist attack in London had resulted in someone who knew someone, who knew someone else, contacting CSIS for a loan of their secret weapon. Their weapon, purse in hand, boarded the next flight to Manchester, Heathrow being in lockdown.

           By her thirty-seventh birthday, Nancy had worked with most of the intelligence agencies she’d previously only known from movies, plus a few more. As desperate as they were for help, each country required persuasion about the need for her presence. A civilian? Then they saw her in action. Without fail, each nation ran trials to replicate her results. Without exception, each learned that the chocolate compound on its own was useless.

           It was her words, spoken within seconds of the subject tasting the truffles, that proved to be the catalyst. Even digital recordings of her voice hadn’t worked. No explanation had ever surfaced for what she alone could do. In time, they’d stopped asking her why. 

           The chocolate contest cover story segued into the creation of fictitious festival websites, so effective that they disappointed hundreds of applicants with news that the positions were filled. Better luck next time. Fake reports of the awards were posted, listing Nancy among the also-rans.

           This was the first time she’d been called to disarm an extra-terrestrial. In the back of a black Jaguar, no less. The Foreign Secretary had given her a ream of forms to sign as they drove. His explanation? Unless she agreed to keep the details of this assignment from everyone, including Tom, they’d abort her mission. The Canadian ambassador, also in attendance, explained that it was a reasonable request, in view of the circumstances. Seeing no alternative, she’d signed.

           Despite his superb English, the Secretary’s explanation left her confused. Alien? Proximian?? Nuclear warhead????? A glance at her fellow Canadian diffused any notion that he’d been joking.

           On their arrival at the incident site, the French had wondered whether she was the joke. This nondescript femme, a secret weapon? After wasting precious time, MI6 persuaded them to capitulate. Their inevitable surprise made her victory all the more gratifying. With the episode resolved, she still grappled with all that she’d have to hide from Tom.

           Next to her, the Frenchman snored, his slack face a testament to his utter contentment. 

           I want that.

           She blinked. Where’d that come from? Life was good. She and Tom loved each other more than ever. They still had time for the people they cared about, even if most of them assumed that crafting truffles was her greatest ambition. She always answered their frequent queries about a retail outlet, if not a franchise, with ‘Not yet. Family first.’ Aiden was still at home, after all.

           Except that he wasn’t at home.

           Bingo. The Proximian shouldn’t have been such a shock. After all, my own son is a flipping alien. Hostile? Check. Indecipherable? Check. Unaware of any normative requirements of human domesticity? Double check. If Aiden didn’t actually live on another planet, his attention was definitely galaxies away. Her jaw clenched. Teenagers.

           Aiden wasn’t blatantly hostile. Most of the time. His comments generally stopped short of anything that could get him grounded. Again, most of the time. Lately though, his attitude had worsened. She hadn’t thought it could deteriorate any more. Wrong again. At least I’m consistent.

           Was it too much to expect him to show a crumb of appreciation once in a while? She couldn’t recall the last time he’d hugged her. Or smiled without sarcasm. That’s who they should pit against all these terrorists and aliens: Snarky adolescents! Maybe seeing what she’d witnessed last night would straighten him out. Or make him wet himself. She sniggered.

           Thing was, she didn’t want him traumatized. Her fingers drummed on the armrest. If all the arrogant heads of state she’d encountered had been able to change their tune, was one moody seventeen-year-old such a stretch? Tom remained adamant. If Aiden knew the truth about her, he’d be impressed. She imagined them sitting on the couch together, her son’s face rapt and animated, his questions tumbling over each other. Too bad there wasn’t a super power that worked on kids.

           Tom had once asked if she’d ever use her power on anyone who wasn’t a criminal. ‘You mean on you?’ she’d quipped. ‘Nah, your biggest crime is wearing two different plaids together.’ While it was occasionally tempting to consider, especially around some of their pushier acquaintances, manipulation wasn’t her thing.

           Sadly, acting like a decent human being wasn’t Aiden’s. 

*****

           Aiden stood behind Tom-from-terra at the Arrivals gate. Any moment now, she’d appear, and the battle would begin anew.

           She has no idea how rough it’s been for me. Even if he tried to explain, she’d probably drop dead from shock. He rolled his eyes. Making sure that Tom-from-terra wasn’t watching, he did it again. Was there some as yet undiscovered way to infuse it with greater contempt? He hoped so.

           A weight of dread pooled in his gut. She’d wave at them, but her frontal features would signify intense disappointment when he didn’t reciprocate. Her desire for one of those curiously awkward limb encirclements would assault him with such intensity, he’d have to turn away. He could almost feel her disappointment impaling him.

           On the ride home, she’d try, but fail, to engage him in conversation. He’d respond with monosyllables, giving no evidence that he felt anything resembling affection, or even a hint of respect. It would completely demoralize her. Both parents would devise a consequence that he would later endure with stoicism.

           This time, he experimented with rolling only one eye. Strange things these humans did, assigning such significance to so small a gesture. He hated that it created such conflict in these two, whom he’d come to think of as his terran parents. Yet he had to keep up the pretence.

           Their lives depend on it.

           For eight terran years, he’d watched for an opportunity to get close to Nancy-from-terra. That it had arrived via a tragedy still pained him. When the genuine Aiden-from-terra first experimented with drugs, it had taken all his determination not to intervene, not to warn the juvenile terrestrial of how dangerous the biochemicals were.

           If he’d succeeded in protecting Aiden-from-terra, his mission would have failed. It had been one of the worst contradictions of his 200-plus years, watching Aiden-from-terra expire from an excess of the toxins he’d introduced into his bio-system. But it had also been the portal he’d sought. In the eighteen months since he’d inhabited their expired offspring’s bio-structure, he kept telling himself that at least he’d spared them intense grief. For now.

           He considered it an immense privilege to have been chosen for this mission. When it was discovered that an individual on this planet possessed the ability to modify the thoughts of another individual, far beyond the capabilities of his entire race, he’d applied for the position of supervising this extraordinary terrestrial.

           I’m sorry it’s been so challenging for you, Nancy-from-terra.   

           Their concern had been that the Proximians would make a similar discovery. There was nothing those inferior life-forms liked better than to exploit weaker civilizations for their own greedy ambitions. Until last night, that threat had remained theoretical. 

           Nancy-from-terra’s performance had been stellar. For all the terrestrials’ fascination with his kind, the fact of their existence had remained a game in the terran psyche. Not only had she taken the alien’s presence in stride, but she’d mastered her own fears to perform her duties, despite having no proof that her ability would prove effective against the Proximian.

           I was so honored to be your guardian in that moment.

           From their research, she had less than fifty terran years left before her life-force exited her bio-structure. If he succeeded, Nancy-from-terra’s ability would greatly impact the well-being of her race, and eventually of the galaxy. But to do that, he had to maintain his cover. For now, he’d act the part of the unappreciative offspring. Going by his research, that meant feigning disrespect for another three to five terran years.

           After that, the only stress he’d be required to give her would be the pain of not mating, thus depriving her of the next generation of offspring. From his research, the presence of second-generation progeny seemed to be as precious to terrestrials as they were to his own kind.

           So, in the words of his terran mother, he’d grit his mandibles and do his job. In time, he hoped to make her as proud of him as he was of her. By then, he’d have perfected both the terran grimace and that awkward encirclement of limbs, two curious behaviours whose current absence elevated her inner conflict. How he wished he could put her into stasis until that day.

           Patience, Nancy-from-terra. In time, you’ll have all the— what did they call them— smiles and hugs you desire.

August 13, 2021 20:52

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7 comments

Andrea Magee
07:44 Aug 16, 2021

You did a great job with this prompt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story!

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Sue Rau
19:53 Aug 16, 2021

Thanks, Andrea! Your comments are a huge encouragement.

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John Hanna
00:03 Aug 15, 2021

Only one submission! Incredible, I sure hope you keep on writing, this story was so imaginative and very human.

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Sue Rau
01:17 Aug 15, 2021

Thank you, John. I sure appreciate your encouragement!

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Tricia Shulist
15:11 Aug 14, 2021

That was really fun to read. I like the foreshadowing when Nancy says it’s like her son is an alien. I like that you were able to combine the two characters and their very different points-of-view. Very cool super power, as well. Thanks for this.

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Sue Rau
20:37 Aug 14, 2021

Hey, you're welcome, Tricia! I had a lot of fun with this, too.

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Sue Rau
22:49 Aug 14, 2021

Thank you for your comments - SO encouraging!!!!

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