I wrote this story as part of a marital challenge; my husband and I, having had a couple of glasses of red one night, both went off to our respective computers for 90 minutes to see what we could come up with in terms of fiction, off the cuff. I’d had some chocolate with the red wine, and decided that chocolate would be the theme of my story. It wrote itself after that -!
It was like the old song Some Enchanted Evening, but if you’d have asked Jane, she would have said “Wha?” in vague tones, not recognising a song penned hundreds of years before she was born. And even so, she didn’t believe in romance.
Instead her crowded room was full of men and women with grey skin or green, one eye, maybe two, often three. The eyes she met were those with the same colour of her own, dark brown and, most particularly, human.
He sidled towards her, nibbling off the illicit little wafer that gave you the best high in the known universe. And by now the universe, by human standards, was very known indeed.
“Hiya.” Like her, he spoke the old Euro human dialect. He was about her age, the same mix of café au lait skin, dark, eyes, dark hair; a mix best suited to surviving the last days on planet Earth and that which had been exported out to the wider spheres.
“Hiya, innit.” She chewed on her own wafer. “Didn’t think I’d see none like you here. Human, innit.”
“Everybody comes to Rick’s,” he grinned, and indeed Rick’s nightclub, run by a skinny alien who affected a white suit, was THE place to seen and be seen. “What you called then?”
“Jane. Jane Smith.”
He was enchanted. Such a rare name, when all the old Earthstock girls he seemed to meet where called Wei Ling or Parvati. The slightly slanting eyes, the long dark hair hanging in wings either side of her face, the glistening silver dress that left too much long leg for comfort; he swallowed. “Ewan Eastend at your disposal.”
Jane was silent for a moment. It had been months since she’d met someone from Earth stock. She was paid as a translator for the Inter Galactic Embassies of the Universe (IGEU). Most beings she met had monikers that were beyond her comprehension or pronunciation. She pushed her hair back behind her ears and Ewan admired her cheekbones; he’d just spent six months with the people of Uvrishnakihoe (or that was how HE pronounced it anyway) whose cheekbones were a myth.
“Pleased to meet you, Ewan Eastend.” She held out her hand and the old-fashioned gesture made him blink violently. It had been so long since he’d seen it, been offered it. He took her hand and shook it, holding onto it for that moment too long that meant he gazed into her eyes.
And that was a pleasure too. If you gazed into the eyes of a women from Uvrishnakihoe for too long you were likely to get her pregnant and being the father of a dwarf with no cheekbones, four legs (three toes on each and all of them hammers), two almost useless arms and worst of all a nose with three nostrils was not to be borne. Not by this little black duck, Ewan told himself, although black ducks were long extinct. He’d seen footage of one though. It had quacked and shat in front of the camera.
“A real Earth Girl.” He grinned uselessly. He couldn’t stop.
She wished she hadn’t looked into his eyes – they were wicked and laughing, so alive compared to the regimented looks she intercepted during the working week. Jane Smith didn’t meet renegades very often. Her nights were usually spent at home, studying so she could get a qualification to take her away from the translation pool. She was only here at the interspecies network cocktail party tonight as a last minute instruction from her boss, who decided she needed to meet more people from different spheres – literally.
“I never seen Earth,” she admitted. “I were born on Mars, innit,” she blushed. “I didn’t think people still lived on Earth. Like, it was buggered and all that.”
Ewan didn’t work for the IGEU – it was run by the alien equivalent of the French, hence the Gallic acronym, and as such was gloriously corrupt and given to spouting whatever lies suited it. He worked for the grainrunners Baeraythlock-Marthales Systems; the modern day equivalent of gunrunners, selling grain and edible goods to the highest bidders. At the moment he had the most amazing deal going on the highest commodity known to civilisation: chocolate.
Now the cocoa bean can only survive, indeed thrive, in certain conditions. There was only one planet that could sustain it. Mars was hopeless, despite the hopeful name (everyone remembered the Mars brand from the old days and countless hectares of cocoa beans had been stuffed into the arid soil of the red planet with no success). Jupiter was too cold, Saturn too cloudy, and planets further out in the solar system in the far reaches of the Milky Way and beyond had also failed to nourish the picky seed.
No, there had only ever been Earth. Poor old Earth, given up three hundred years ago as a bad job, victim of global warming – or was it cooling, nobody was ever quite sure. Or perhaps a fuel crisis. Or was it terrorists with unspeakable bombs? Whatever, as Jane and in fact Ewan might say. But Earth was desolate, abandoned, infertile. IGEU had only last twelvemonth given up monitoring the planet as all intelligent life forms had left it; the last spaceship of cats had been delivered to Mars in spring.
“Earth,” Ewan sighed, thinking of the lush plantations of cocoa beans that awaited he and his colleagues. “Who said it was buggered?” he grinned, and then bit his lip. Shit, those blasted wafers! Here he was shouting his mouth off. As far as the universe was concerned, Earth was SO last millennium.
Jane was paid to merely translate, not read and digest. But translating was an intensely boring job. Copy thinking was the pits; you put the electrodes on, read the material in buggerbittese or some other strange language, translated it into Universal and a machine typed it up while you translated. Why on earth the machines needed the middle human she had no idea. They were intelligent enough to do it on their own, but she suspected that in IGEU’s case having lots of people employed made them important. She’d ingested some of the intensely boring stuff she’d translated, and had a hunch poor sad Earth was much more useful than commonly agreed.
“IGEU said it was buggered,” she suggested, accepting a nibble of his wafer and very aware that most of it had been nibbled by him. This was common knowledge and you didn’t have to work at IGEU to know that.
There was something about the way she nibbled, something about her teeth, so nice and white after the green fangs of the women of Uvrishnakihoe, that made Ewan’s insides contract and his mouth say , “Wanna see for yourself, innit?”
“What, go to Earth?” You’d have thought he’d suggested going to Brwx, which was about as far as you could go and still breathe.
“What’s wrong with that?” he murmured.
“Earth’s off limits,” she persisted. “It’s stuffed, you can’t even get into the atmosphere. Specially round where China used to be. That last bomb –it’s dangerous there still, innit.” Although there was a nifty little hole just south of the old New Zealand you could sneak through if you knew what you were doing. Or so last month’s report said as she’d translated it.
“Zat so?” He’d noticed the tiny implant sitting discreetly on the side of her neck, under her left ear, half hidden by the pretty gazanium earring that dangled and sparkled. It was a clear statement she was IGEU; he didn’t even have to stare to make out the fleur-de-lys logo.
IGEU, it should be stated, controlled pricing for almost all commodities graded as essential across beings and planets. Its whole being was about ensuring no black marketing took place, but like any large organisation there was corruption all through it, from its twin-skulled leader to its cleaning crew of quadruple-breasted Nuppuian women.
“It was on the news,” Jane said primly. “Everyone knows the news doesn’t lie.” The sparkle in her eyes and the curve of her mouth said she was mocking him – also that she found him very attractive, and was aware that the attraction was mutual.
Ewan shoved the last of his wafer into his mouth and the narcotic exploded joyfully. For a mad moment he forgot who he was, what he was doing here, who he worked for and who won the last Galaxy Cup. All he knew was he was gawping into the gorgeous face of a stunning Earth girl who worked for the enemy and, if he was any judge of character, was as partial to chocolate as the next lass. Much as people were partial to petrol last millennium. And oh, he wanted to give her a chocolate bar! Oh yeah, he wanted to give her one!
“Bet you ten zanos of chocolate that Earth is just fine, in fact Earth is so fine it’s providing the galaxy with every bit of black market chocolate you can find, innit.”
“You’re off your head.” Jane fumbled in her pocket for another wafer but she’d had the last one. Bugger! “You must be well gone, mate. How many those wafers you had? You hallucinatin or wha?” she said loudly. She dragged him to a quieter place and hissed, “Get a grip, Ewan Eastend. You wanna be arrested? There are spies all over this gaff. Start spoutin’ your mouth off and they’ll have you banged up. Then who’s a nice Earth girl like me gonna get chocolate off?”
“So you like a bit of cocoa then?” He grinned.
“Who doesn’t? Cost a bomb though, even through the back door at IGEU.” She took a deep breath. “I haven’t had chocolate for more than a twelvemonth. You have no idea what I’d give for just a small bar, a tiny bar of the darkest.”
Oh, that wistful face! That wistful HUMAN face, lusting for chocolate; eyes closed, lips parted, breathing quickened. Ewan, being an addict himself, knew the feeling all too well. And she was so beautiful in her lust.
He took her hand. “So come on then, the night’s young. Let’s get out of here and have a weekend away. And don’t say you hardly know me, you will by Monday. And I’ll even thrown in some chocolate,” he murmured into her delicate ear. “Don’t you want to see the planet of your ancestors? Do a quick orbit? Maybe even a touchdown?”
“What’s the price?” Jane said wearily. “There’s always a price. You have no idea how many guys have wanted to take me to another planet for a night or two.”
Ewan, admiring her golden cheeks, thought he could make a guess at the number but he’d be out by about 60. “A small price,” he murmured. “An introduction. At IGEU. How many people suffer there day after day, longing for the pure bliss of chocolate, the supreme stress relief, better than the strongest alcohol wafer sold? Better than the hash wafer? Pure, lovely chocolate… you could probably name at least a dozen people who’d pay for a taste…and that’s my price. A dozen names of people you’ll make happy.”
Twelve cocoa-hungry faces flitted in front of Jane’s eyes. How delighted they’d be if she whispered to them a name and place where they could buy the rare and exquisite food, so much more delicate and delicious than the processed meals that were government issue. And for herself? A trip to the planet shrouded in secrecy – there was no doubt Ewan knew of Earth’s back door too, that little private hole that let the discerning and careful through under the cloud base. A glimpse of where her family had come from. Had lived for hundreds, thousands of years. All those places from history documents – to be able to see them, or see where they’d been. It was SO tempting!
But her loyalty to her employer! Her job! Her livelihood! The roof over her head! The kindly two faces of her alien boss! She felt a pang of regret at what she was about to do and let her hand slip into Ewan’s. To her surprise there was a tiny package in insulated wrapping waiting for her fingers: chocolate! What WAS a girl to do? “So, where’s your spaceship cowboy, innit?”
God, it felt good to hold a human hand! Especially one with such a glorious body attached to it. Ewan felt a hundred feet tall in the human scale as they wound their way through the busy party, dodging tails and extra toes and patches of embarrassed slime. The night was clear, a superb night for flying! His ship was cashed up and fuelled up, ready for taxes and tolls and insane speeds to the land of cocoa, this lovely creature at his side. He longed to watch her eat the silken chocolate, see the delight on her face as it melted on her pretty pink tongue.
She was fiddling with her boot. Silly, silver, high-heeled; apparently one of the buckles was loose. She bent to it, dark hair swinging forward, hiding the hand that held the tiny transmitter to her mouth.
“Come and get him. He fell for it,” was all she said, and she stared at her glossy boots as the guards materialised around the man by her side, the chocolate melting swiftly in her hand.
© 2011 Caroline Sully. Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly forbidden.