This is a chapter from my recently published book, The Trouble With Thieves, co-authored with my wife, Ande Li. The main character has just arrived at a hotel, and he’s about to meet the only woman he’s ever loved. Only he’s been away for a while. (Note the double-bars || are used as quotes in a different language.)
Freshly groomed, Kormèr anxiously strolled into the lounge. He hadn’t felt this nervous about meeting a woman in a very long time. But Sylvestra was no ordinary woman. And he had left her somewhat unexpectedly. The fact that she was here now, that she had come knowing he too would be here was promising. But he couldn’t be sure of the reception; she could be here to start over or just as easily to slap him.
He spotted her perched at the bar, and his heart leaped. Until that very moment, Kormèr’s presence here on Averia had been surreal. Seeing Sylvestra, resplendent in her snowy-white plumage, solidified the reality of the moment.
He approached her from the side, not wanting to sneak up on her. She noticed him almost immediately, her glittering black eyes turning to meet his, questioningly. He realized she probably didn’t recognize him with his moustache and beard.
She glanced down at the dozen red hwyiite he offered her, then her eyes widened with recognition.
||KL!|| She stood and embraced him warmly.
||It’s so good to see you again,|| he trilled, wishing the embrace could go on. He then saw an image of him and the girls on a flimsy on the bar top. Judging by the background, it had to have been the image taken by the robo-patroller.
Kormèr and Sylvestra separated finally and held each other at arms-length, smiling, studying.
||It’s good to see you well, KL.|| She spoke honestly but with an effort.
Kormèr frowned, reading her mood. ||I went over it so many times and always came to the same conclusion. I had to leave.||
||You could’ve handled it better,|| she twittered, her words biting but mitigated by the passage of time. In that sentence he knew that he’d done the right thing. She had moved past him at some point during the last few years and had gone on with her life. Things had worked out as well as he could have hoped, given their circumstances.
||I was younger then, less wise. But even now I can’t imagine how I was brave enough to leave you sleeping that morning. It would have been impossible to say goodbye to you had you been awake.||
She smiled and shook her head. ||Still the smooth-talker.||
||I never say anything that isn’t true.||
||That’s true enough, from what I remember,|| she chirped, settling back onto the bar perch and placing the flowers beside the flimsy.
Kormèr grabbed a stool and sat beside her. ||Do I still warrant so much attention?|| he asked, pointing to the image on the flimsy.
||Well, you’re not exactly the most welcome person in the city. But you raised a red flag again when you didn’t register at any port. That tends to get the chief of police involved. And you know how cranky she can get.||
||I remember,|| he twittered, chuckling.
||Still using the portal, I take it?||
Kormèr nodded. ||And still getting into trouble with it, as you can see.||
||The two Terran females? I presume that the records request will come back empty then?||
||Most likely. Or they might come back as deceased several centuries ago.||
Sylvestra shook her head. ||Well, you vouched for them, and I trust your choice of acquaintance. If you say they won’t cause any trouble in my city…||
||Fair enough.|| She glanced at the photo again. ||You know, I almost didn’t recognize you.|| She gestured to his beard. ||And what’s that for? It looks painful, like pin feathers coming in!||
||You don’t like it? I got tired of shaving constantly.||
She cocked her head to study it. ||It’s… different. It makes you look so much older. In fact, many things about you have changed. Just how old are you now?||
||Almost five Elmarian,|| he chirped, basing his age on linear time. The problem with traveling via portal was that time lost its linearity. So Kormèr wasn’t sure exactly what his age was any longer. It was simply easier to stick to the linear standard of five Elmarian years. He calculated in his head to the Terran standard that Sylvestra was more familiar with. ||Almost twenty.||
Her eyes went wide with shock. ||B…but how can that be? You were fourteen, and it hasn’t even been three years.||
||The mixed blessing of portal travel,|| he sighed. ||I’ve skipped through time, but time has kept pace with me.||
||You’ve been away for almost six years! This is so strange.|| She frowned, eyes fixed on the flimsy.
||What? The portal stuff…||
||No. Well, not entirely. But you’ve had so much time to… change, grow.||
Kormèr realized something about his age was bothering her. But there could be so many reasons. ||You were older than I was then. I’ve only evened things out, inadvertently.||
||Even then you were mature beyond your years. Now I must seem like a child to you.||
||Of course not! Is that what bothers you?|| Kormèr resisted the urge to caress her crest feathers. She wasn’t ready for that yet and maybe would never be again.
She looked at him and laughed, a mingling of confusion and sadness. ||I don’t know what bothers me. Maybe this was a mistake.|| She grabbed the flimsy and stood.
||Sylvee, wait.|| Kormèr stood to follow her, but she stopped him with her nails poised at his chest, just barely touching him.
||No, KL. Please stay. It was very nice seeing you again. Be well.||
He watched her go, not entirely sure why she was leaving or why he wasn’t ignoring her last words and going after her. This was not how he’d expected their meeting to go at all.
||Need a drink, friend?|| asked the bartender.
Kormèr turned to him and noticed the flowers still sitting on the bar top. ||Not right now,|| he chirped, grabbing the flowers. ||Thank you.|| He headed for his room.
Sylvestra leaped away from the entrance to Cheerees, spread her wings and glided, aiming somewhere in between her home and the precinct. She was torn between going to the office to bury herself in work or going home to do the same. For the moment at least, she ended up doing neither.
She alighted on the upper promenade and did something she rarely did these days, stroll. She wondered why she didn’t go for walks more often. Somehow work just kept her occupied. It wasn’t like there was a lot of crime in Birshetland. With eighty percent of the population being Averian, and punishments being quite severe, crimes committed by Averians were less than one percent of all crime. And that was out of an already extremely low crime rate.
Freet-See was another matter entirely. Being a port city, it was home to many more off-worlders. It was also the largest business center on the planet. Shady businessmen frequently made the mistake of thinking that Averia, but more specifically, Freet-See would make a good place to conduct their illegal activities. They were quickly discovering the harsh reality. The word was getting out, that on Averia, “justice moves as fast as a hungry raptor, and is twice as mean.”
Naturally the police was involved in many aspects of daily Birshettan life other than crime-fighting. But is that what keeps me so busy? wondered Sylvestra. Or am I just making excuses for my not taking the time to relax more often?
And now, on top of it all, Kormèr’s here again.
She took a perch at the border of a decorative garden. The fragrance of its many flowers combined into an intoxicatingly sweet mix. It made Sylvestra think of food and of how she’d imagined that her reunion with Kormèr would have resulted in their dining together.
She sighed and looked across the way to a public bath where several Averian families were socializing during their early evening constitutional. The bath reminded her of when she had first met Kormèr. She imagined they would always invoke those memories in her. Kormèr and his cavalier ways.
No, not cavalier, she reasoned. He’s anything but cavalier. He’s… frustrating!
Maybe so. But it was your idea to go meet him at the hotel. What did you expect? Her eyes were on the bathers, but her focus was somewhere else. I didn’t know what to expect, she finally decided. That’s why I had to go meet him. To see him and understand why he was back. The stupid thing is, I still have no idea.
She sighed. Returning to the office was out of the question. She wouldn’t get any work done anyway. She leaped from the perch and headed for him.
Sylvestra heard her comm chiming as she got to her door. She hurried in and saw that the call was from the precinct, one of her sergeants in fact. The small video window expanded at a touch of her talon. ||Chrreel, here.||
||Chief, we seem to have another SEP,|| chirped the young female. ||We don’t have a good image of him, but even so, he doesn’t come close to any of the Terrans currently scanned.||
||Details?|| prompted Sylvestra while checking her mail queue just below the video window on the comm console.
||Male; Caucasian; roughly in his teens; sandy-brown hair; glasses. He was first seen when he fell from nowhere into PB-six—||
Sylvestra’s crest feathers perked. ||Wait. Did you say he fell from nowhere?||
||That’s correct. Just prior to midday, he appeared on cit-cam, falling from above.||
||That was before Lezàl’s arrival. Why wasn’t this brought to my attention earlier?||
||Sorry, Chief. The Terran was drenched and it took some time to verify that he wasn’t in the scan logs. Lezàl was… easier to flag as an SEP. Do you think their arrivals are related?||
Sylvestra started to say that there was no sense jumping to conclusions when her eye caught a flash of red reflected in the mirror beside the comm console. She spun around and found a vase with the dozen red hwyiite sitting perfectly in the center of her coffee table. ||I would say that’s a very good possibility.|| Oh! He’s such a pain in the tail!
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