* * * * * *
“Muchos gracias, Senorita,” Fox said as the comely brunette placed a tray of hot rolls before him.
“De nada, Senor,” the woman replied, her face blushing deeply
As she walked away to serve other customers in the small, but crowded restaurant, Fox closed his eyes and tried to absorb his surroundings. Immediately, the aroma of the crisp buttery rolls assaulted his olfactory senses. He could hear the clinking of forks and knives on porcelain plates. It seemed a thousand conversations filtered into his ears – wedding news, gossip, opinions, he took it all in. This was real life to him, much better than listening out for intruders and possible ambushes.
He opened his eyes again, glanced around the eatery and watched an ethnic montage of men and women chatting while they ate their organic food. He had eaten here many times before. He liked that there were still some places in the world where he could eat real food instead of RDA shakes, and not pay an arm and a leg to do it. He needed organic food, if only so the delicious smells could arouse memories of better times, of home-cooked meals or of easygoing dinners with convivial friends.
He knew Cali, Colombia wasn’t as exotic as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or Montevideo, Uruguay, but it was quiet. Not as busy or as corrupt as the country’s capital, Bogota, it was now a center of technology and information. Despite this, the city had still maintained its character, its mellow tree-lined avenues and the ambience of a citizenry freed of the hectic life that dominated larger population centers.
It had been decades since the drug trade had died down here and around the world, thanks to a miracle drug that killed addiction and adverse reaction almost instantaneously. The criminal warlords and violent street gangs that had infected society and had once turned Cali into the cocaine cartel capital of the world died out along with the crippling addictions and associated brutality of illegal drug use. To this day, no one knew who had discovered and developed the wonder drug made from natural plants found in most of the world’s mountains. At the memory, Fox laughed to himself and took a big bite out of one of his buttery rolls.
None of this mattered now, though. Fox wasn’t here to interfere in anyone’s business or upset the status quo, if he could help it. He was just assessing the world situation, gathering information to make an accurate report for himself before he made his final departure. The rest of his time was meant to take in the sights, sounds and ultimate beauty of the planet and its people.
His waitress, Consuela, returned with a large tray. She carefully set a large plate of Brazilian steak and steamed broccoli before him. He inhaled deeply, letting the aroma of the broiled meat assail his senses. He liked nothing better than a well-cooked steak, no matter what the animal rights organizations felt about it.
“Excuse me, but I heard some congratulations for the couple in the corner by the front window,” Fox mentioned.
“Si, Senor, they are getting married,” Consuela answered, cocking her head in confusion that he could have discerned a conversation in the front of the restaurant from his table in the rear. “I did not think they were being so loud, Senor. I will ask them to be a little quieter.”
“People were speaking of it and it kind of came back to me,” Fox said, trying to cover the fact that his aural sensors had picked up the news. “Wish them every happiness, por favor.”
“Si, Senor, I will,” the comely waitress replied, happily. “She used to be my supervisor and he was her best customer. Oh, don’t they make a beautiful couple? If only they had the money for her dream wedding. She’s always wanted large bouquets of roses, a large church and a reception hall with food for all of her family. Maybe one day.”
He watched Consuela go over to the couple to relay his wish. He waved quickly at them and then resumed eating. Somehow, the food tasted even better than usual and he wondered if his increased euphoria at the couple’s happiness was to blame. He could certainly afford to extend a little good will. They weren’t responsible for his never marrying. He felt they deserved every happiness possible.
Consuela returned shortly with a small folder that held his charge. She walked off to check another table and Fox quickly opened the folder. He looked at the bill, but stopped for a moment. He glanced around at each table briefly, returned his gaze to the folder and made a quick calculation. He kept his head low so that no one would see his right eye flicker.
“Gracias, Senor,” Consuela said as she saw Fox leaving the restaurant.
She saw the red light flickering on the folder, signaling that full payment had been made and she picked it up. Upon opening it, she immediately felt faint and had to take a seat before she fell. Her manager walked over to her quickly.
“Are you okay, Consuela?” he asked, concerned.
She handed him the folder and he looked. He, too, nearly fainted. Somehow, Fox had figured out the costs of all the meals being consumed in the restaurant and had paid for every one of them. He had left Consuela a tip so large she would be able to pay her college tuition and keep a roof over her head for a year. Best of all, he had included a special bill item – full payment for a wedding in a large church, with lots of rose bouquets and enough money for a reception, a honeymoon and a gift to start a new life together.
The news left both waitress and manager reeling. They rushed outside, but Fox was gone. Consuela went back inside to break the news. Manuel lingered outside for a moment, his eyes focused in on the gray asphalt sidewalks and cobblestone streets. He had realized that such a monumental gift meant that, most likely, he would never see his best customer again and that made him very sad. He sighed heavily and then, putting on his best face, returned inside to join the cheering customers.
Fox was two blocks away when Manuel and Consuela had rushed outside. He hadn’t looked back. He knew it wasn’t good to look back. The engaged couple had only stirred up memories he’d buried. Memories of another time and place, of a happy couple talking merrily at an outdoor eatery in San Diego, California, by the old 32nd Street naval base. Before the Battle of Phuket changed everything, he thought ruefully.
Fox brought himself back to reality and he chided himself for bringing up memories again. He’d been doing it more and more lately. Maybe I’m just getting old, he told himself.
To get his mind off the past, he accessed his microcomputer and called up the information he’d amassed since he’d left his house. He had learned of Chiang’s promotion to head of the Praetorian Guard, but that hadn’t been unexpected; he was just surprised that the Federation Joint Chiefs had kept Mavromichalis on as his executive officer. He made a special note of a meeting of the Chiagas Board in Montevideo, Uruguay. He’d long suspected Dainmon Chiagas of trying to bring all of South America’s criminal gangs under his control, though his moves had been constantly thwarted by a lack of firepower to cow his opponents.
Fox moved on to the scene in Africa, Europe, Oceana, the always volatile Middle East and the rest of Asia. Nothing was amiss from the ordinary behind-the-scenes power grabs, though he made another special note of the increased pirate activity in the waters off Somalia. The government in Mogadishu had fallen again and the pirates’ main enemy in the Seychelles Coast Guard was preoccupied with reinforcing the island nation’s sea walls to stave off the rising ocean level.
His ears suddenly picked up sounds of feet scuffling on asphalt and he thought he heard a muffled voice. He turned into a narrow alley and stopped cold. Three burly men in old camouflage green army jackets and new retro black parachute pants were manhandling a girl who didn’t look to be close to eighteen. The largest had a hand over the girl’s mouth and a second man had grabbed her legs to pull her into the shadows.
“Look at what we got here,” the tallest thug said. “I get to be the first to pop that…”
He never completed his vulgar assertion, for his head pitched forward sharply, followed by his body. He dropped the girl and actually sailed over her to land face first on the pavement. The man to his left spun around just in time for Fox to slap him hard on his chest. He left his feet, sailed across the alley and smashed so hard into a brick wall that his head left a deep indentation. The girl would later tell police that it was like the man had been hit by a million-volt cattle prod.
The last thug took a huge roundhouse at Fox’s head, but had it blocked easily. He got a closed fist punch to his throat in reply. He gaggled and gurgled, desperately fighting for air as his body slid to the ground. He was lucky, though, his breathing only interrupted by the purplish bruise beneath his Adam’s Apple.
The ringleader of the rabble had recovered and he already found the space in his mouth where four of his newly cloned teeth had been. He ignored the girl scrambling out of his way, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out the laser-edged knife he’d stolen just that morning. He thrust it forward and charged at Fox, who just stood there, unmoving and totally oblivious to his immediate danger.
Fox dodged the knife easily, parrying the thrust and spinning the thug around. He wrapped his right arm around the man’s shoulder and moved his left hand to the right side of his chin. Using the man’s momentum against him, he pulled violently. He didn't need to hear the sickening crack to know the thug was dead from a broken neck, but the girl heard it and she puked even as the man's body toppled to the pavement.
After a moment, the girl jumped to her feet, wiping her mouth with her shirt and then staring, in shock, the dead body before her. She looked at the two badly injured thugs, breathing hard as she realized just how close she’d come to being violated. She wished she’d never listened to Marcos, the bouncer from the club she should never have been in. She was glad he’d have trouble breathing for the foreseeable future.
She smiled at his plight and then went to thank her savior. Something stopped her, however – his glowing blue right eye, in fact. She felt a chill run down her spine as she recalled the stories of the blue-eyed bogeyman that her mother had told her as a babe. This was no bedtime story, however. She was looking directly at The Adventurer and, far from being a monster, he’d actually saved her life.
“You know you’re not supposed to be here,” Fox said, matter-of-factly and with little emotion. “Go home. Now!”
She nodded readily, turned and ran down the other end of the alley as fast as her little legs could carry her. Behind her, Fox surveyed the damage he’d wrought. Just as quickly, though, his eye returned to its normal blue hue and Fox blinked rapidly as if coming out of a trance. His ears picked up the sounds of passing fusion cars and of a T-180 supersonic transport craft flying high overhead. He became aware of the warmth of the sun and of the coolness of the shadows cast by it into the alley.
“I guess some things never change,” he muttered with a heavy sigh.
And some things never will, right, Devereaux? Maybe we should take your own advice and go home?
"When I'm ready, okay," Fox snarled at his microcomputer's suggestion. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Africa.”
To be continued...
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For more exciting tales, check out the latest issues of Digital Digest at Amazon.
Gregory Marshall Smith
Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror author
Copyright © 2011 Gregory Marshall SmithAll rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.