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The Last Agent - Short Story by David King

“Maybe I like strangers,” she said. Marlene Dietrich or somebody.

But I was immune. The Engineers had done their job well.

“No. You just do as you’re told. Like everyone else.”

“So maybe I’ll do what you tell me.”

“Your price is too high for me. And you know it.”

She looked at me for a moment, face settled to one image. “Who are you, Mr K?”

That got me. I slid my arm around her waist. “Want to find out?”

She looked me right in the eye. “Yes,” she replied. “I think I do.”

We both needed answers. And the Orogolian was ecstatic.

“You flicky fluck,” he enthused. “You flicky fluck good.”

We caught an aerial tram outside the nightmare shop. Swaying pylons ramshackle iron structures flaring neon signs. Clank-clank-ding-ding. Six bodies with us the only ones not grey masses huddled over living death under the surveillance eye swivelling lense-in lense-out to cover us. Grimy window glimpses of shanty life sad domestic shadows in sliding magic lantern show. Clank-clank-ding-ding. Six agents gone seventh on his way. What happened to them? Met a movie star siren taken places unknown with no ticket ritorno?

Her name she said was Tiwi. I didn’t believe it. Disposable tools didn’t have names just numbers. Told her I was a sanitation project engineer to fix some problems diagrams figures maps sliding popping through my brain. Hypersleep fog gone for sure. Until she took me by the hand and said: “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I guess you haven’t eaten have you?”

She knew that much at least.

Alighted on rust-eaten metal platform dirty brown fumes swirling up from some kind of vortex below. The Trocadero. Flashing red neon palm out front. Six foot nine goon in uniform and cap to stymie any goodtime flow. Hey mistah miss you got ticket? Slow jazz from inside like old dimly-remembered black and white noir movie. She said Marvin and Marvin melted said welcome miss and meester open sesame to something like paradise.

Small round tables with white tablecloths and soft yellow lamps. Post Impressionist smudge of figures blurred faces soft hum of conversation. Movie memories down tin pan alley. Cliches. But that’s how the reality projector works.

Sitting at a table suddenly aware of cameras recording from every angle hum of conversation swirl of jazz a pre-recorded track faces bodies people all extras playing roles to suit.

“You normally greet sanitation engineers on a job?” I asked. “Or am I some kind of special?”

She gave me a look that said who are you kidding as a penguin pulled up in the guise of a pencil-thin mustachioed head waiter.

“The lobster is very good today, Madam,” he said.

“I’m sure it is,” she replied. “But this isn’t a lobster guy.”

She’d done her homework. Lobster never did it for me.

“Steak and fries would do fine,” I said.

“Then may I suggest a deconstruction of lamprey?” he offered haughtily, ignoring me.

“Deconstruction?” I queried.

“Very large, sir,” he said deigning reluctantly to acknowledge my presence. “Quite impossible to put on a plate whole.” Telepathically: “You are under surveillance. Anything you say or do may be used as evidence against you. You are under no obligation to continue. You may leave and forget this ever happened.”

But I was curious.

“Radioactive, too?” I pushed. “Make you glow in the dark or something?” Telepathically: “Don’t think you can threaten me, buster.”

Naturalmente.” Telepathically translated as “As you please, arsehole.”

So we knew where we stood.

“I think steak and fries actually. With French salad. And moutarde Francais, if you please.”

Just to let him know I wasn’t some hick from the sticks.

The head waiter clicked his heels and turned to her. “And Madam?”

She smiled. “I kind of like the idea of steak and fries,” she purred.

So we absolutely knew where we stood.

The head waiter blanched. “Certainly, madam. And to drink?”

She looked at me.

“Shiraz.” I said. “The ’28. You’d have that, wouldn’t you?”

The head waiter stiffened. I grinned.

“Should go pretty well with steak and fries, eh?”

“Sir,” he began with difficulty. “The ’28 is...”

“Expensive, right?” Another grin. Keep the choppers flashing. Wins every time.

“I may need proof of ability to pay.”

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